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Sweet Corn and Sour Nectarine Rye-bouleh

September 12, 2013 1 comment

“I give you this to take with you:
Nothing remains as it was. If you know this, you can
begin again, with pure joy in the uprooting.”
― Judith Minty, Letters to My Daughters

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And so, dear readers, we have moved again. From Tennessee where so many life events (some good, and some bad,) have come and gone, the winds of change have filled our sails once again and we have embarked on a new journey. This time lady fortune has lured us further Westward to the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, just east of The City of Angels. Had you asked me in June, I would never have guessed that we would end up living in Greater Los Angeles. But here we are, with a new home, and new jobs, getting back into the swing of things. Its a new swing but it has a nice groove; and with my penchant for produce, I could certainly do much worse than to end up in LA.

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Though we were sad to leave behind our phenomenal CSA program in Tennessee, we are so fortunate to have moved to an area where high-quality farmers markets are abundant. We have tried three of the area’s local markets so far and have been overwhelmingly impressed by the variety of local ingredients and handmade goods. The knowledge and passion of the vendors and artisans gives the market its buzz and verve. Fruit vendors proudly pass out samples of their home grown produce and will gladly spend time with conscious consumers to explain their growing practices. Artisans offer up color on the inspiration for their wares which vary from market to market but include an immense variety of goods from beautiful handmade soaps, to aged balsamic vinegar, to home dried fruits, freshly popped kettle corn, local honey, and a multitude of baked goods. These are the markets I have been longing for – and with the scent of sweet summer fruit in the air and passion emanating from each booth, inspiration abounds.
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Now in its 13th year, The South Pasadena Farmers Market has a strong reputation as one of the best in Greater Los Angeles. Situated smack dab in the middle of what is arguably one of the most picture-perfect towns in the local area, the farmers market buzzes with activity every Thursday evening. The sense of community is immensely strong at this evening market. Parents bring their children to participate in sing-a-longs led by a local musician. Food stalls serve up dinner to hungry shoppers who set themselves down at communal picnic tables to enjoy their feast “en plein air.” Produce purveyors banter with their regulars while welcoming newcomers into the fold proffering up wedges of nectarines and samples of fresh pea pods for old and new shoppers alike, whetting their appetite for the weeks peak produce.

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It was one such sample of a tangy golden nectarine that seeded the inspiration for this salad. Only a stones throw from Georgia, we were plenty fortunate in Tennessee to be on the receiving end of the region’s well renown peaches. But despite Georgia’s claims of dominance in the production of peaches, I have been overwhelmingly impressed by the variety and quality of stone fruit for sale at the Pasadena Area’s farmers markets. To preserve their delicate flesh from bruising, most peaches, plums, and nectarines are picked, packed, and taken to market just a day or so before they fully ripen. Though I have traditionally found underripe fruits to be unpleasantly tart, or lacking in flavor, some of the semi-firm nectarines offered up for sample struck a cord. Tangy but sweet, firm but not crunchy, the nectarine shows a different color and new versatility when eaten just before it reaches the pinnacle of ripeness. In this salad that sweet yet tart flavor plays well with the zesty chiles, sweet summer corn, and punchy onion; and the fruit brings a citrusy brightness acting as a foil for the earthy rye berries that make up the bulk of this grain-based dish.

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The original recipe called for cucumbers but I have adapted it here to include some lovely golden zucchini in its stead. As we typically prepare dishes for Dustin’s packed lunches in advance, I wanted to use a vegetable that would keep well in the salad for a few days and not leach too much water into the dish, hence the swapping in of zucchini for cucumbers. For similar reasons, I would strongly suggest using a golden zucchini over a yellow summer squash. If you cannot find golden zucchini at your local market, feel free to substitute a the traditional green variety that is so insanely abundant during the summer season.

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From place to place, vendor to vendor, and varietal to varietal, I find there is so much variance in corn. Some summer corn is so sweet and tender that I will happily eat it “raw,” cut straight from the cob (or perhaps still on it.) If you are lucky enough to happen upon corn that is brilliant in its naked state, simply remove it from the cob and add it to the salad uncooked. At times I find corn to be too starchy to eat without at least some cooking. There are countless ways to cook corn and virtually all will work for this dish. If you happen to be lighting up the grill you can simply wrap the shucked corn in foil and let them steam in the foil for a 10 – 15 minutes, or until the kernels darken ever so slightly in color and become tender allow the corn to cool before severing the kernels  from the cob. Another method I like involves removing the kernels from the cob and briefly blanching these in boiling water. Once the water has returned to a boil, leave kernels to bubble away for about two minutes before removing them with a slotted spoon to a prepared ice bath. The ice bath will halt the cooking process and brighten the color of the corn slightly. If using this method, allow the kernels to drain well before adding them to the salad.

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Sweet Corn and Sour Nectarine Rye-bouleh (adapted from Kitchen Confidante)

128g (1 C) Cracked Rye
2 Ears of Sweet Corn, Raw, Steamed, or Boiled (See Note on Corn Above)
2 Slightly Firm Nectarines, Pitted and Diced
1/2 C Diced Red Onion
2 Small Golden Zucchini, Diced
1/2 Hatch Chile, Seeds Removed, Finely Sliced
1/2 C Chopped Cilantro
1/4 C Chopped Mint
Juice of 1/2 a Lemon, Strained
1 TBSP Sherry Vinegar
1/2 TSP Agave
1/4 Cup Good Olive Oil

In a medium saucepan (with a lid) bring 3 cups of water to a boil. While the water is coming to a boil, place the cracked rye in a fine mesh strainer. Rinse the rye in several “changes” of water, as you would rice before cooking. Once the water has boiled add a pinch of salt and the grains. Once the pot has returned to a boil, place the lid on the pot and remove it from the heat. Let it stand for at least 5 minutes before removing the lid and tasting one of the grains. The grains should no longer be crunchy but should still have a somewhat firm texture. If they are not soft enough, return the lid to the pot and let stand several more minutes before testing again. Once the grains are to your liking, drain in a fine mesh colander and rinse with cool water to stop the cooking process. Give the colander a few shakes to rid it of some of the excess water and leave the grains to drain while you prepare the remaining ingredients.

Place corn, nectarines, onion, zucchini, and chiles in a large bowl and toss to combine. Add cilantro, mint, lemon juice, sherry, agave, olive oil, a liberal pinch of salt and several cracks of pepper and toss again. Add the well drained rye berries and stir to combine. Taste for seasoning and adjust to your liking with salt, pepper, lemon juice, and olive oil.

To Eat? Or Not To Eat (Meat)? – Black Bean Soup with Canadian Bacon

Right now my loving husband is working on our next post. I don’t want to give too much away, but I will hint at the fact that the love of my life, and our household’s chief engineer, is going to be presenting to you an essay and some technical hints on the preparation of one of our most favorite libations. But for more on that, you will have to wait, at least a teensy while longer.

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And now that I have piqued your interest with a glimpse of things to come I would like to switch gears entirely to discuss the topic that has been “top of mind” for me over the last few months. I have spent a great deal of time lately ruminating on ideas related to the grand theme (and current social buzz word) of “Sustainability.” More specifically, I have been reading, researching and listening to various different sources in hopes of developing some deeper understanding of how my decisions, as a consumer, impact the environment, and, furthermore, how environmental impacts may threaten future generations ability to thrive.

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The modern American Diet, with its focus on meat protein and packaged convenience foods, has taken a toll both on the health of our people and on the environment. I recently completed an eye-opening course on the American Food System on Coursera. The course provided an impactful overview of both historical and modern systems of agriculture and food animal production, as well as the policies, such as the American “Farm Bill”, which drive the complex networks of subsidies as well as the protocol governing food assistance programs and the dissemination of information related to nutrition. But among the many segments was most illuminating to me were the lectures on industrial food animal production systems and their environmental and health costs.

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Not only do Industrial Food Animal Production systems have a stark impact on the ecology of the immediately surrounding area, but the industry’s hunger for resources, from water, to energy, to pharmaceuticals is stripping the nation of many resources and putting us at risk for environmental disaster. And that is to say nothing of the nasty byproducts of the production such as animal waste, methane gas, and potential for diseases that come hand in hand with large scale facilities. It is clear that something needs to change, in terms of our patterns of meat consumption (which, until recently, had been on the sharp rise over the course of the last century) as current trends are simply not sustainable.

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While the facts of food animal production are certainly harrowing and, indeed, a bit off-putting, for me, the solution to lessening the impact of my food choices on the environment is not to simply forgo meat altogether. It is clear to me that meat protein should play a far smaller role in our modern diet. In our home, we have committed to eating less than a single small (3-4oz) serving of meat per day and endeavor to vote with our food dollars to support farmers who use sustainable practices in raising food animals. The recipe for black bean soup featured below was developed around a traditional practice of using a small portion of meat as flavoring for an otherwise plant-based meal. While the amount of meat used may be small, it’s smoky and savory favors make a big impact on the hearty soup, which is a warming treat to share with loved ones on a rainy spring day.

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Before I delve into the recipe, lets take a moment to talk about soaking beans. If you look through our blog history you will note that I have shifted away from using canned beans. Canned beans are a great convenience food and can make a quick addition to a dish in a pinch but what you gain in convenience comes at a nutritional cost. Canned beans are traditionally packed with sodium, while rinsing the beans before using them does make an impact on the amount of sodium that makes its way into the final dish, even proper rinsing techniques are only able to mitigate about 40% of the added sodium. Dried beans are not an ingredient that can be used instantaneously in the way that they canned counterparts may be, but I, personally, find them no less convenient. Not only do I find the home cooked beans to be superior from a textural perspective, but I appreciate the opportunity to soak, rinse, resoak, and rerinse the beans before cooking. Putting the beans through multiple (2-3) changes of water over the course of an 8+ hour soaking process helps to rid the end product of some of the indigestible carbohydrates that give beans the monicker of the “magical fruit.”

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One final note here on using dried beans, the dried nature of the beans used in this dish allows for them to be cooked for a much longer period of time without compromising the texture of the bean. With the longer cooking window the beans absorb a greater deal of flavor from the bacon and aromatics in the soup creating a richer end product. If substituting canned beans the overall cooking time for the soup will need to be much shorter in order to avoid reducing the beans to mush.

Black Bean Soup with Bacon (Serves 8)

500g (2.5c) Dried Black Beans
3 TBSP Extra Virgin Olive Oil (Divided)
About 15 Slices of Thinly Cut Canadian Bacon
1 Large Yellow Onion, Chopped
2 Cubanelle Peppers, Diced
3 Cloves of Garlic, Minced
1 TSP Chipotle Powder (or Hot Smoked Paprika)
1 TSP Ground Cumin
1oz Tequilla (Blanco, or Reposado are OK – I would Avoid Anejo)
1/2 a Bunch of Cilantro, Washed Well and Chopped
1 TBSP Lime Juice
Salt and Pepper to Taste

Start by soaking your beans. I start mine in the evening after dinner and drain them and change out the water just before going to bed. If you are concerned about wasting water – the liquid drained off of the beans can easily be saved to water houseplants.

Once the beans have soaked for at least 8 hours, drain them again and set them aside.

Heat 1 TBSP of the olive oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the canadian bacon and cook until any fat has rendered and the meat is slightly browned. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon to a paper towel lined plate and set aside. Add and onions and sauté until soft, add the Cubanelles and continue to cook until they too soften.  Stir in the canadian bacon, garlic, chipotle, and cumin and sautee for another minute or so before tipping in about 8 cups of water. Add the beans to the pot and stir.

Bring the soup to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. While the soup does not require constant monitoring at this point be sure to periodically check on the pot to ensure that there is still enough liquid present to cover the beans. About every 20 minutes or so, skim off any foam that rises to the surface, and then give the mixture a few slow stirs to ensure nothing sticks to the bottom of the pot. Be sure to do this in this order, skimming first and then stirring, as you do not want to stir the foam back into the soup.

The cooking time for dried beans can vary widely depending on the age of the beans and length of soaking time. After the first hour and a half of cooking time test one of the beans to see if it is tender. To do so, remove a bean or two and set it on a plate, as the beans may still be rock hard it might not be the best plan to toss it in your mouth and chomp down – instead test one between your thumb and forefinger to see if there is any give. If the bean is still completely hard keep the pot simmering away and test again after another 30 minutes have elapsed. If the bean has reasonable give you can move on to an actual taste test to better gauge the texture. When Dustin is put in charge of testing the doneness of things he invariably asks me how to know when it is done – here I will offer the same advice I give to him, when you like the way the beans taste, and the texture is to your liking, they are done. Once the beans are cooked to your preference, stir in the tequila, about half of the chopped cilantro, and the lime juice. Taste the soup and determine if more lime, cilantro, or salt is needed and adjust these seasonings until they, too, meet your flavor preferences.

This soup is great on its own but also pairs well with homemade cornbread – I love the cornbread recipe featured on the Anson Mills website. The recipe is as simple as it gets but is remarkably good. If you have not explored Anson Mills’ site before, it is a stunning resource for information on grains such as Oats, Corn, and Rice and their freshly milled ingredients are a world above anything available in even the best grocery stores.

Spring Clean Out – Bright and Herby Green Couscous

It’s a bit overwhelming to think we are moving again in less than two weeks. There are some ways in which I actually like moving. As a big proponent of the “use it or lose it” mantra, moving offers an opportunity to revamp, reorganize, and sift through any accumulated clutter. Having moved to Nashville within the last year, it was easy to determine which items we had not used since moving in and make judgements as to whether to donate them, recycle them, or hold out hope that we might find just the right use for that odd utensil, or the perfect occasion for a never worn dress.

The same clean out fervor carries over to the pantry. Spices that have not been used in the months that have eclipsed since the move in date should likely be tossed, especially if ground. And while I have a soft spot for “ancient grains,” the same does not apply to old stale ones. Nuts, too, begin to decline rapidly once they pass their peak. Dustin and I had a great wealth of couscous sitting in a Ball Jar on our grains shelf, and an old bag of shelled pistachios that were about to go over the proverbial hill. When I came across a recipe in Yotam Ottolenghi’s “Plenty” for green couscous, that incorporated the tiny grains with a vivacious herb sauce and toasted pistachios, I knew I found a winner.

In the spring, more than ever, I love making bright herbaceous dishes. Perhaps it’s just that many of my favorite herbs are just starting to peek through the ground, and maybe it’s because green is the unofficial color of springtime, but bright punch flavors draw me in after the heavy stews, soups, and braises that dominate winters comfort cuisine. This salad actually pairs very well alongside a heavier dish like a Tagine, and is great a day (or even two) later over a bed of bright greens with grilled chicken, shrimp, or tofu.

From a health perspective this couscous salad covers its bases. Couscous is made from semolina flour, traditionally the semolina was rolled into tiny pellets and then tossed in flour to keep the pellets from sticking together, before left to dry. While couscous is more akin to a pasta than a whole grain, a whole wheat variety may be substituted for the traditional white variety adding additional protein and fiber to this dish. If you want to go a step further and up the ante to a full on whole grain, cracked bulgur wheat, millet, or quinoa may be swapped in for the couscous. It will alter the flavor slightly but should be a delicious and nutritious dish nonetheless.

The pistachios in this dish provide a nice textural contrast to the chewy toothsome grains, leafy greens, and soft onion. From a nutritional perspective they add a great deal as a good source of healthy fat, B Vitamins, fiber, and pop of protein. I have upped the amount of parsley in this recipe from Yotam’s original 1/2 cup because, compared with cilantro, it packs a nutritional wallop. Not only is it high in dietary fiber, but is also a rich source of Vitamins K, C, and A. So go on and dig into this bright herbaceous dish, your body and your taste buds will thank you.

Green Couscous – from Yotam Ottolenghi’s “plenty”

For the Herb Paste
1/2 C Chopped Flat-leaf Parsley
1/2 C Chopped Cilantro
2 TBSP Chopped FreshTarragon
4 TBSP Chopped Fresh Mint
6 TBSP Olive Oil

For the Couscous
1 C Couscous
3/4 C Boiling Water or Stock
1 TBSP Olive Oil
1 Lg Onion, Thinly Sliced
1/2 TSP Fine Sea Salt
1/4 TSP Ground Cumin

To Finish
1/2 C Unsalted Pistachios, Toasted and Coarsely Chopped
3 Scallions, Finely Sliced
1 Fresh Chile, Such as a Jalapeño, Finely Sliced (I Like This Spicy So I Substituted a Serrano)
1 1/2 C Arugula Leaves, Chopped

To make the herb paste combine all ingredients, save the olive oil, in a food processor and pulse. Add olive oil in a steady stream until the mixture resembles a smooth paste. Taste and add a bit of salt and pepper as needed.

To make the couscous, place couscous in a large bowl and add boiling water or stock. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it stand for 10 minutes. Fluff gently with a fork to break up any big chunks and set aside.

In a sauté pan heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onion, cumin, and salt and sauté until the onion is golden and soft.

In a large bowl, combine couscous and half of the herb paste. taste and add more herb paste a bit at a time until you like the balance of flavor. You can serve the remaining sauce on the side so that diners can adjust for individual taste. Add pistachios, scallions, green chile, and arugula and toss gently.

Enjoy!

Addicted to Ottolenghi – Red Lentil Soup with Fried Tofu and Spicy Chickpeas

For the last month or so Dustin and I have sought solace from the cold winter weather in hearty meaty sauces, stews, and chilis. This past weekend, with warm weather on the horizon, we looked to change tempo with a meat free weekend of cooking. Thinking of ways to make protein packed vegetarian mains my mind drifted straight to lentils. Lentils are by far my favorite vegetarian protein. I love that they are so amazingly versatile, the many different varieties make them well suited for a variety of different types of dishes. Firmer lentils such as puy and beluga add a nice toothsome bite to salads and can withstand longer cooking times without turning to mush. Yellow and red lentils, on the other hand, are easily transformed into smooth soups and make an excellent base for silky purees and dips.

There are few cooks famous for vegetarian cooking, and even fewer who approach meatless cuisine with the same innovative zeal as Yatam Ottolenghi. I love looking through Ottolenghi’s archived recipes on the BBC’s website. The hundreds of vegetarian recipes provide a breath of fresh air when my usual fail safe flavors prove boring and stale. This can be especially useful during the winter months when the variety of produce is limited and inspiration is hard to come by.

As if that wasn’t enough reason to scour the web for Yatam’s delicious dishes, many of his dishes offer creative ways to take advantage of dried legumes and whole grains, all of which are relatively inexpensive and incredible healthy. We typically have a wealth of stored legumes in the pantry but if you don’t have these on hand it is fun to peruse the dried goods section of Whole Foods (or other health foods markets that offer bulk grain bins) looking for new whole grains to try. I have been reading lately about many of the bargain options available at Whole Foods, it appears that many of their stores offer tours to show shoppers thrifty and healthy options.

This dish certainly packs a healthy punch. The lentils themselves are rich in protein. While they are members of the legume family, unlike beans they are free of sulfur an, therefore don’t cause the same “wind” issues as their beany brethren. Lentils have been a dietary mainstay since biblical times. They are, in fact, featured in the book of Genesis, where Esau sells his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of lentils. The coconut milk in this dish provides a nice substitute for heavy cream – which is more often used to create a creamy flavor in pureed soups. It also keeps this dish vegan friendly. I recommend using Chaokoh brand coconut milk, which is typically available at Asian markets – it is amazingly rich and smooth. While you can use lite coconut milk, I recommend using the full fat variety as it adds needed body and richness and helps the spices shine. The tofu and chickpeas are both “optional” – if you don’t have the time or don’t want to fry up the tofu it can easily be omitted. Both of these add a nice textural contrast to the smooth creamy soup.

Red Lentil Soup with Fried Tofu and Spicy Chickpeas Adapted from a Recipe from Yatam Ottolenghi

2 TBSP Sunflower Oil
1 Large Onion, Chopped
4 Cloves Garlic, Minced
One 3 Inch Piece of Ginger, Chopped
¾ TSP Each Ground Cumin, Turmeric, and Coriander
One Pinch Each Ground Cardamom and Ground Cinnamon
400ml Good Quality Coconut Milk
250g Red Lentils
Thickly Peeled Skin of ½ Lemon, Plus Juice of 1 Lemon

For Chili Oil
1 TSP Cumin Seeds
¾ TSP Aleppo Pepper Flakes

For Fried Tofu
50g Corn Flour
220 Firm Tofu, Cut into 1 Inch Cubes

For Chickpeas
1 Can Cooked Chickpeas, Drained
1/2 TSP Ground Cumin
1/2 TSP Smoked Paprika
1/4 TSP Salt

To Garnish
3 TBSP Chopped Cilantro

Heat two tablespoons of sunflower oil in a medium saucepan. Add the onion and on medium-low heat sweat for eight minutes until soft. Add the garlic, ginger and ground spices, and cook, stirring, for eight minutes. Add 900ml water, the coconut milk, lentils and lemon skin (not the juice). Bring to a boil, then simmer until the lentils are soft, about 20 minutes. Remove the lemon skin, add one and a quarter teaspoons of salt and some pepper. Allow to cool slightly and then blend until smooth. Taste and add more salt to taste.

Pour another two tablespoons of oil into a small saucepan and heat. Add the cumin seeds and chilli flakes, and cook on low heat for a minute. Tip out into a heatproof bowl.

Wipe clean the saucepan and pour in enough oil to come 2cm up the sides. While the oil is heating up, mix the corn flour with a quarter-teaspoon of salt and some white pepper. Toss the tofu in the corn flour, shake off any excess and fry in batches until golden, about five minutes (the oil must be just hot enough gently to fry the tofu). Drain on kitchen towel and set aside somewhere warm.

For the chickpeas – preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Toss the chickpeas with 1 TBSP sunflower or olive oil and the spices. Spread in a single layer on a sheet pan and roast in the oven until browned and crunchy and 25 minutes.

To serve, heat up the soup, stir in the lemon juice and divide between four bowls. Top each with some fried tofu, crunchy chickpeas, and a drizzle of the cumin and chilli oil, and finish with a sprinkling of cilantro.

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.

Cooler by The Minute – Sweet Potato Tartelettes

I have always had a soft spot for layered dishes, its beautiful when the many elements of a dish can build on one another harmoniously. Traditional french desserts often employ a layering technique to entice the diner with perfectly executed layers of decadent fillings, providing not only flavor, but textural contrast to each bite. Rustic savory tarts and lasagnas are even better in my mind, the home-made element of this layering creates slight anomalies in the spread of ingredients and makes each bite slightly unique. Allowing the diner to experience different combinations and quantities of flavors in unison, and to quest for their perfect bite.

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This sweet potato tart, inspired by a recipe found in Yatam Ottolenghi’s first cookbook titled “Ottolenghi” fits squarely into that quirky, imperfect category that I so love. There really are just so many things to love about this dish. The hominess of sweet potatoes contrasts beautifully with the refined puff pastry. I use store bought pastry from Trader Joes which is really almost as good as store bought pastry gets, it is only a hair less superb than the ultra supreme DuFour Pastry which Whole Foods carries, but costs only a third of the price. I stock up on TJ’s puff pastry so that I have it on hand when I need to pull off something impressive looking for a party in a hurry.

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Now, if I am being perfectly honest, I don’t think that I could call this dish “healthy” but as far as fancy looking party appetizers are concerned, they aren’t all that bad either. The sweet potatoes themselves are actually quite good for you, they are great sources of beta carotene, vitamin A, vitamin C, and a number of B vitamins. Pumpkin seeds, often called pepitas, are also on the healthy side of the fence in this dish. The small seeds, which typically come from a pumpkin or other small gourd, are great sources of manganese, magnesium, and iron. Not too shabby for a decadently delicious appetizer.

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Sweet Potato Tartelettes – Inspired by Yatam Ottolenghi

2 Nicely Proportioned Sweet Potatoes – See Note Below
1 Sheet of Frozen Puff Pastry (Or Homemade, If You Really Want to Make the Rest of Us Look Bad)
1 Egg Slightly Beaten
2 TBSP Sour Cream
1/2 A Jalapeno Pepper, Minced
2 TBSP Pumpkin Seeds
A Small Piece of Hard Goats’ or Sheeps’ Milk Cheese Such as Manchego for Grating
2-3 TBSP Chopped Cilantro
3 TBSP Olive Oil
1 TSP Freshly Squeezed Lime Juice
Salt and Freshly Cracked Pepper

For this recipe you want to select two fairly evenly shaped sweet potatoes, about 2 inches wide by 5 inches long. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. While the oven heats scrub each potato under water with a potato scrubber. Lay the potatoes flat on a cutting board. Puncture each on the side that rests facing up several times with a knife. Place in a baking dish and roast in the oven until quite soft and sweet smelling, about an hour.Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the pan on a rack.

If using frozen pastry dough (highly recommended) remove the dough from the freezer and lay a single sheet out on a cutting board. Cut your pastry dough into 2 inch by 4 inch rectangles.  Whisk an egg with a little bit of water and brush lightly on pastry.  Allow it to dry for 2 minutes before spreading a light layer of sour cream onto each pastry, keeping a centimeter or so rim clean around the edges.

Place a few slices of sweet potato on each slice. Top with a slight sprinkling of chopped chilis, followed by a pinch or two of salt and a few grinds of pepper. On top of this layer the pumpkin seeds and a fine grating of cheese.

Bake in the oven until golden, about 20 minutes.

While the tarts bake mix together the garlic, cilantro, oil, and lime juice in a bowl, add a small pinch of salt and pepper and set aside.

Check to make sure the bottoms are cooked and crisp, not clear and soggy. Allow to cool on the pan for a few minutes before drizzling some of dressing mixture (there should be a light drizzle, be careful not to drench them.) These can be served hot or cooled slightly to just above room temp.

 

A Spoonful of Comfort – Mangalore Chicken Curry

When the going gets rough, the tough eat curry, or at least I do. It might seem a bit odd to some that curry is my comfort food but I grew up in a quasi Indian family. By this I mean an Americanized, but notably not American Indian, household that was neither strict nor religious but which held dear a love of all things garlicy, oniony, salty, and spicy. All holiday celebrations featured a big batch of my dad’s single curry recipe, which he concocted shortly after moving to the US back in the 60s. The dish falls somewhere between Thai and Indian and reflects what was a vast unavaiability of Indian ingredients and spices that are now almost ubiquitous in the many Indian markets that can be found all over the US.

While generally a man of very, very, few words, occasionally I can get my dad going on stories about his early years here. He initially moved here to attend graduate school at Cornell, he will typically note that in comparison to the university education he received at India’s notoriously tough IIT, Cornell’s Graduate Engineering Program was a bit of a breeze. Which was convenient as he quickly decided that it was far too cold to venture out of his room to attend lectures. In addition to missing the significantly more temperate environment of India’s Maharashtra region, my father longed for the pungent and familiar flavors of Indian cuisine.

Its is funny, though not surprising, that as more and more first generation Indians have emigrated to the US, the availability of authentic Indian cuisine has skyrocketed. Even in the middle of the country, in Nashville TN, there are several decent Indian restaurants that feature slightly Americanized versions of Indian dishes. And at least 20 Indian stores are scattered around the city.

When I returned from a long week of business meetings, hotels, and bland food I could not wait to cook up a big batch of chicken curry. Rather than cooking the heavy creamy curry that my father so often made, when making curries at home I typically look to the lighter, and spicier notes of South Indian cooking for inspiration. This curry is derived from a recipe I found for a Mangalore Style Chicken Curry. Mangalore is situated on India’s South West coast, just south of Goa. True to South Indian cuisine the curries of the region include the nutty notes of coconut, herbaceous flavors of curry leaves, and creamy taste of coconut milk, all of which can be found in this chicken curry.

While I made this curry with boneless skinless Chicken thighs, you can use any chicken you like. I prefer to use boneless skinless chicken as it makes it much easier to eat, and the lack of skin keeps the dish from becoming too oily. The chicken thighs stand up well to long cooking without drying and impart a nice rich and meaty flavor to the dish. I tend to go a bit heavy on ginger as I like the hot spicy flavor it gives the curry, feel free to reduce the amount of ginger if you are not a big fan. I use one long hot Indian chile, generally a Kashmiri Lal Mirchi Chile, seeds in, cut in half lengthwise. If you don’t like heat leave it out, or seed it, your choice.

You will see below that I attempted to cook this in a large cast iron skillet. This made for great photos, HOWEVER, I ended up having too much curry in the skillet and had to transfer it to a large pot so that it could simmer without boiling over. I highly recommend using a large cooking vessel for this project.

Mangalore Chicken Curry

For the Curry Paste:
1 Cup Grated Coconut (NOT Sweetened)
2 Cups Chopped Onion
2 TSP Red Pepper Flakes
25 Peppercorns
8 Cloves Garlic
2 1/2 Inch Segment of Ginger
1 TSP Turmeric
3 TBSP Coriander Powder
1 Cup Coconut Milk

For the Main Dish:
6 Cups Chicken Cubes (I Used Boneless Skinless Chicken Thighs)
1 Medium Onion Thinly Sliced
6 Fist Sized Red Bliss Potatoes Cut into 1 Inch Cubes
1 Hot Indian Chili Sliced Down the Center, Lengthwise
2 TBSP Good Quality Curry Powder
About 30 Curry Leaves
4 TBSP Tomato Puree
1 Cup Coconut Milk
About 1 1/2 Cups Water
1-2 TSP Salt

In a large pan, dry toast the coconut until golden. Remove the coconut from the pan and set aside.

Heat approximately 2 TBSP oil in a large pot, when the oil is hot fry the onions over med heat for about 3 mins. Add the garlic, ginger, toasted coconut and spices and fry another 5 mins. Add coconut milk and stir to deglaze the pan.

Remove the pan from the heat, transfer to a food processor and mix until it forms a smooth paste.

Rinse the pot and dry it. Place it back on the stove and heat 3 TBSP oil until hot. Add chicken and fry over med high heat until seared on the outside. Add onions, chili, potatoes and curry powder and fry until onions are slightly colored. Add curry leaves and tomato paste and fry for an additional minute before adding coconut milk, all of the curry paste, and water. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Place a lid on the pot and simmer for 30 mins.

Taste and add salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for an additional 15 mins. Taste for seasoning again. Serve with rice or nan and enjoy!

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