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Code Orange – Ottolenghi’s Spicy Carrot Salad with Preserved Lemon

Those who know me know I love carrots. Carrots of all shapes, varieties, colors – I love them all equally. I love that they are so savory and yet when cooked, release an amazing amount of sugar. I love how they impart an essential and irreplaceable earthy sweetness on broths and stews. I love the sound, the snap, they make when you crunch them between your teeth. I love them so much that I once ate enough carrots to tint my skin (mainly my face and hands but especially the webbing between each finger) orange. I was ushered to the doctor by my mother who was highly concerned at my fake-tan-ish glow, and told I would need to go cold turkey on my favorite vice for a while.

Perhaps it is the season, there aren’t a lot of enticing veggies around at this time of year, but I have been back on my “drug” of choice lately, it makes part of my (almost) nightly post-gym snack of carrots, raisins, and a bit of yogurt or turkey. I have, luckily, learned some restraint over the years, while the carrot habit has returned, the hue has not. And my favorite snack has found its way into other dishes as well. This last weekend Dustin and I took on the rather spicy carrot salad featured in my one of my favorite cookbooks, “Plenty” by Yatam Ottolenghi. The salad reminds me of one we frequently ordered at the middle eastern restaurant on the University of Delaware campus where Dustin and I had our first date. The al dente carrots mix with the herbs and spices to form a zesty salad that makes a nice side for grilled meats, a zingy addition to salads, and a great stand alone snack.

Carrots are, unsurprisingly, quite good for you. Carrots are notoriously high in beta carotene, and powerful anti-oxidants. Carrots are also quite rich in Vitamin A, Vitamin K, and serve as a much needed source of fiber. Carrots can be grown nearly year round and are one of the most predominantly consumed vegetables in the US. China is the world’s leading grower of carrots but they have been widely cultivated in Europe since the 15th century. The original varieties grow in Europe were primarily red, purple, and yellow heirloom varieties. Carrots provide the most nutrients when eaten shortly after harvesting. Look for carrots that are firm and free of splits, preferable with the greens still in tact as the greens are an excellent indicator of freshness. The greens are indeed edible and can be cooked along side other dark leaf greens in traditional “greens” dishes. The greens should be detached from the roots before storing in the refrigerator as the tops will wick away moisture from the carrots themselves.

Spicy Carrot Salad, Adapted From”Plenty”by Yatam Ottolenghi

2 LB Carrots
1/3 Cup Olive Oil, Plus Extra for Serving
1 Medium Onion, Finely Chopped
3 Garlic Cloves, Crushed and Chopped
2-3 Medium Green Chilies, Finely Chopped (Seeds Removed for Less Heat)
2 Green Onions, Finely Chopped
1/8 TSP Ground Cloves
1/4 TSP Ground Ginger
1/2 TSP Ground Coriander
3/4 TSP Ground Cinnamon
1 TSP Hot Smoked Paprika
1 TSP Ground Cumin
1 TBSP White Wine Vinegar or Sherry Vinegar
1 Chopped Preserved (or Pickled) Lemon
1 1/4 Cups Cilantro, Rinsed and Chopped
Ground Sumac for Garnish
1/2 Cup Greek Yogurt

Peel the carrots and cut them into fun shapes of equivalent size, approximately 1/2 inch thick.  Place in a large saucepan of salted water and bring to a boil.  When the water is boiling, reduce to a simmer and cook for about 10 minutes until just tender.  Drain and leave out.

Heat the olive oil in a large pan and saute the onion for 12-15 minutes until soft and lightly caramelized.  Add the carrots to the pan, followed by the remaining ingredients except cilantro and yogurt.  Remove the pan from heat, season with a hefty dose of salt, stir everything together well and allow to cool.

Before serving, stir in the cilantro, adjusting the seasoning to taste in necessary.  Serve as a delicious side dish or fresh crunchy snack, along with a spoonful of yogurt, shake or two of ground sumac, a drizzle of olive oil, and extra cilantro.

The Winter Season – Greens and Grains Gratin

At times, its hard to find inspiration for a new post. Or really to get excited about cooking anything at all. Writers block seems to strike at the oddest and most inconvenient of times and I find this only compounded during the winter. Its ironic, really, that during the season when we have the most time and desire to stay in the house, the availability of fresh crops is at its lowest point. During the summer months I tend to find my culinary muse in markets, the desire to write about a dish often stems from my interaction with its grower – from seeing tomatoes piled high in barrels, or melons, still covered in dirt, sitting in an old wheel barrel. We are so fortunate that during the spring, summer, and early fall, there is a weekly farmers market held on our block, local farmers bring their just picked crops,and locals make their way down to mingle, and seek out the week’s best wares.

Buying veggies from a supermarket, however nice that market may be, just isn’t the same. So much of the personal nature of the food buying experience, which, for me, really drives a connection to quality, sustainable wares, is lost. No wonder we Americans eat so much mass produced product, its hard to get excited about local, sustainable agriculture and humanely produced meats and dairy when shopping in a florescent lit, big-chain market. And, unfortunately, many of the smaller local stores in Nashville, can’t pull in enough volume to drive the turnover rates needed to keep local veggies at peak freshness. Alas, during the winter months, I find I need to dig for inspiration elsewhere.

A lot of times, when the season deals a blank hand, and am suffering from a lack of inspiration, I turn to my much neglected pantry for ideas. Surveying my shelves and jars for items calling out to be used, I noticed that an overwhelming wealth of grains had taken over my closet and sought out a recipe. I started searching the blog-osphere for recipes and came across a site I had never seen before called “The Yellow House.” Their stories and photos are incredible, and, for me it was an immediate source of the inspiration I so sorely craved. My eye caught on a recipe for “Greens and Grains with Browned Yogurt Topping.” The authors intro, with beautiful pictures, and a compelling story on recycling leftovers won my heat and I was sold on giving this odd sounding dish a try.

And, boy, am I sure glad I took the leap. This dish is certainly one of my new winter favorites. The combination of grains and creamy topping is at once homey and comforting – almost reminiscent of a holiday casserole – and at the same time it is a reassuringly healthy one pot meal. As I started to combine the ingredients, I noticed a lot of similarities between this dish and an old Greek Diner Staple, Moussaka. Moussaka is an eggplant and ground meat based dish, with a creamy and decadent bechamel topping and spiced tomato sauce. I have always likened it to a Greek sort of lasagna, minus, of course, the noodles. This wholesome dish embodies the same textural and flavor couplings as moussaka by contrasting the taste of a creamy topping against spiced filling and the sensation of smooth sauce and toothsome grains. Musing on Moussaka, I was inspired to put my own twist on the author’s recipe by incorporating Middle Eastern spices, such as hot smoked paprika, lemon, aleppo pepper, and sumac into the dish.

I purchased ground Sumac, which I use in this recipe, from Whole Foods, but it can likely be found at many middle eastern markets as well. The spice has a distinctive citrusy flavor and a beautiful burgundy color. While, from a flavor perspective, there is no real substitute, the sumac is not integral to the success of the dish and may be omitted if not available. The sumac used for culinary purposes comes from a variety of non-poisonous sumac that grows wild in the middle east. Aleppo pepper can be purchased at many culinary stores and gourmet food shops, I have seen it both at Williams Sonoma and Whole Foods, but if neither of these are located near to you it is also available for purchase online through Penzy’s Spices. Aleppo is a ground pepper flake made from a moderately hot Turkish pepper. It is far more flavorful than it is spicy, if none is available Ancho Chili Powder makes a fine substitute.

Greens and Grains Gratin Adapted from a recipe by The Yellow House

1 Large Bunch of Winter Greens (Swiss Chard, Kale, or Mustard Greens work best), Stems Separated from Leaves, Washed
2 Cloves of Garlic, Minced
2 Shallots, Minced
1/2 Cup Grated Parmesan Cheese
3 Cups Cooked Grains (I used a mixture of Quinoa, Wheat Berries, and Farro)
Juice of 1/2 a Lemon, Plus 1 TSP Finely Grated Lemon Zest
1/2 TSP Hot Smoked Paprika
1/2 TSP Aleppo Pepper Flakes
1 Cup Greek Style Yogurt (I used a 2% variety)
3 eggs
Ground Sumac for Sprinkling on Top

Preheat the oven to 350 degreese

To prep the greens, take the washed stems and chop into 1/2 inch pieces. Stack the leaves of the greens on top of one another. Orient the leaves so that the long side faces you and roll into a long, tight bundle. Cut the bundle into 1/2 inch segments. You should be left with long ribbons. Keep these separate from the stems as they will be incorporated at different times during the cooking process.

Heat a large cast iron skillet (see note above for alternatives*) over medium high heat. Once the pan is hot add about 2 TBSP of olive oil until shimmering. Add shallots and garlic and saute until fragrant, if they start to really brown turn down the heat so that they become soft and translucent. Add the grain stems, paprika, and a pinch of salt. Saute, stirring occasionally until the stems are slightly softened- 2-3 mins. Add the leaves to the pan along with the Aleppo Pepper and sautee until the greens are just tender. Remove from the heat and place in a large bowl along with the grains.

Toss the grain and greens mixture with your hands. Add lemon juice and 1/2 of the Parmesan and mix well. Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed. Mix in one of the eggs until well incorporated and spread into the bottom of the cast iron skillet (if the skillet is not well seasoned, oil it before adding the grains.)

In a medium sized bowl mix eggs with yogurt and remaining Parmesan. Spread on top of the grain and smooth out the top. Sprinkle a light covering of sumac on top.

Bake in the oven for approximately 30 minutes, or until the topping is set and slightly browned. Serve along side a light salad and enjoy this homey and healthy winter feast. The dish keeps well wrapped in saran wrap for 3 or so days.

A Side to Remember – Classic Tabbouleh

I love to peruse the New York Times dining section, in particular I am continually amazed by the column called “The Minimalist.” Mark Bittman, it’s author, is a culinary genius, his recipes are so diverse and yet are all reduced quite elegantly to a set of simply choreographed video recipes. The other night I followed Bittman’s advice and roasted a chicken, it was beautiful and golden and juicy. But I’m not really here to talk about the chicken, Mark Bittman’s post does that so well already. What I would like to share with you today is the side dish we enjoyed with that delectable bird.

Tabbouleh is one of the Middle East’s most popular dishes, and eating this it immediately becomes clear why. This flavorful dish is coated with a light lemon based dressing perfumed with the nutty notes of toasted cumin and a slightly spicy punch of cayenne. Actually, the name Tabbouleh comes from the Arabic word Tabil, which means to spice or season, its no wonder that the spices in this dish are featured front and center. Additionally the salad is chock full of one of my favorite grains of all time, bulgur. Bulgur is a whole grain made from white wheat that has been par boiled and dried. The par boiling makes this grain quick to prepare, to make the tabbouleh the bulgur only needs to be soaked in boiled water for about 20 mins and then drained.

I always recommend using farm fresh tomatoes when cooking if they are readily available, however, for this dish, finding the worlds best tomatoes is less crucial than it would be in, say, a tomato mozzarella salad. I used some nice, ripe looking Romas with great success. I am fairly certain that, if you wanted to, you could swap the tomatoes out entirely for some nice crisp cucumbers, though you would not get the striking color contrast of green on red that the tomatoes provide. For this dish you will likely need a little more salt than you initially expect, so season, taste, and season some more. I find that it is helpful to let the dish sit for a few minutes after it is all mixed together, before adding in the additional seasonings as the flavors will meld during those few minutes of rest and give you a more accurate picture of what the dish will taste like come dinner time. The flavors pair quite well with any grilled meat or veggie, lamb or eggplant kebabs would go stunningly with this, leftovers, if you have any, can be served up for lunch the next day in a wrap with hummus or turkey. However you choose to enjoy this dish, share with friends and family and dig in!

Classic Tabbouleh

1 Cup Fine Bulgur Soaked in Just Boiled Water for 20 mins (or until al dente)
6 TBSP Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/2 Cup Freshly Squeezed Lemon Juice
2 TSP Ground Toasted Cumin
1 TSP Aleppo Pepper Flakes
1 TBSP Kosher Salt
5 Roma Tomatoes, Chopped
5 Scallions, Whites Chopped into Thin Rounds
1 Bunch Flat Leaf Parsley, Thick Stems Trimmed off, Chopped
3 TBSP Mint Chopped (or 2 TSP dried)

Soak bulgur in just boiled water until al dente and drain well.

Mix olive oil, lemon juice, cumin, aleppo, and salt together in a small bowl and mix.

Mix together bulgur, tomatoes, parsley, scallions, and mint in a large bowl. Dress lightly with some of the dressing and toss. Taste. Let it sit for 5 mins and taste again, adding additional dressing if needed.

A Cake for My Man – Lemon Poppyseed “Bird Day” Cake

September 22, 2011 Leave a comment

As I have mentioned countless times before, I am not much of a baker. But as birthdays demand cake, and cake necessitates baking, the advent of Dustin’s birthday this past weekend meant that I would have to face my fears and measure, weigh, level and blend my way to (hopefully) cake-y success. I asked my man what type of cake he wanted for his birthday and true to form he shrugged and said, “whatever.” At this point we were already several hours into the actual Birth-day, sitting in the car, on the way to partake in Dustin’s chosen activity for this “big day” – climbing. D was about half way into a lemon poppy seed muffin that we had bought at a local coffee shop before heading out. I posed to him the idea of a simple lemon poppy quick bread with powdered sugar sprinkled on top and got an enthusiastic response.


As I had never made a lemon poppy seed cake before, I went to my go to source to see if I could find a recipe. Deb, of Smitten Kitchen, has long been an inspiration to me, her world famous blog, and the writing therein were a major driving force behind my decision to start a blog of my own. As many Smitten Kitchen readers know, Deb has something of a soft spot for cakes. In fact, the recipe section of her blog categorizes cakes into two separate types – Celebration Cakes, and Everyday Cakes. To some this lemon poppy quick bread, which was part of her simpler cake collection, may seem like a bit of a cop out for a birthday cake for the main man in my life. But as I read Deb’s description of this cake, a cake that she had tasted once, in a NY cafe, and then spent years reminiscing and gushing over, I was sold on making it.

And let me tell you, ladies and gentlemen, that this cake lives up to Deb’s glowing remarks. In fact it is quite certainly the best lemon-scented, poppy-seeded baked good I have ever had. The level of poppy seed goodness contained in this cake goes far beyond what is normally included in a lemon poppy confection; and the actual lemon flavor comes, not from sour lemon juice, but from the strong smell, and slight taste of lemon zest. The eight – yep count them – eight, yolks and one egg do NOT make this cake taste egg-y in any way, rather they make it so brilliantly rich and complement the cakes buttery notes beautifully. And if you are worried about letting the whites go unused I can assure you that there are countless ways to make those reserved whites shine. From meringues to omelets, egg whites are used on their own in a variety of recipe. One of the best things about this cake is that it is great the next day and travels well, meaning that you can take leftovers to work, or share your baking success with friends on a fall a picnic. No matter how you choose to enjoy it, this cake is definitely well worth the effort and is a great recipe to add to your repertoire.

Poppy Seed Lemon Cake
Originally from a Food and Wine recipe by Kurt Gutenbrunner, but found online courtesy of Smitten Kitchen

2/3 Cup Sugar
8 Egg Yolks
1 Lg. Egg
1 1/2 TBSP Lemon Zest
1/2 C. Flour
1/2 C. Cornstarch
Pinch of Salt
2 Sticks Unsalted Butter, Melted and Cooled to Room Temp
1/3 C. Poppy Seeds

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Butter a bunt pan liberally. Also spray the underside (the duller side) of a piece of aluminum foil with cooking spray (I like the organic canola spray from Trader Joes) and set aside.

Sift flour, cornstarch, and salt into a medium bowl and set aside.

Beat the sugar and eggs (yolks and whole egg) in the bowl of an electric mixer over med-high speed for about 8 mins. The mixture should be fluffy at the point and a bit lighter in color. Beat in the zest. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the flour mixture to the yolks.

Add butter and poppy seeds and continue to mix on low until just combined.

Pour the batter into the pan and cover tightly with the foil. Bake in the oven for 35-45 mins or until the cake starts to pull away from the sides of the bunt pan, and a tester comes out clean. Discard the foil and allow the cake to cool in the pan on a wire rack for 15 mins before turning it out of the pan onto the rack to finish cooling.

If your cake sticks a bit, like mine did, put the entire pan in the freezer for 4 or 5 mins and then try inverting it again gently. The freezing will cause the cake to contract in the pan and hopefully loosen it from the sides enough for it to come out in one clean piece.

Dust with powdered sugar and enjoy!

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