Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Rate My Raita!

I made takka tin again for din din! Annoying rhymes aside, it really is a wonderful dish. It's great hot (spice and temperature!) off the stove, heated up for lunch, on its own, and over rice. Since it's got quite a bit of heat to it I decided to whip up a quick raita to cool things off. Once again I'm not sure how authentic this is, and to be truthful I decided to wing it when I got into the kitchen. If only I'd had some fluffy naan with which to scoop everything up. Shovel, even. Double truth: I ate the whole bowlful with a spoon but it could have easily served three or four. I started with this recipe on Epicurious and made the following changes:
  • I seeded the cucumber and diced it coarsely instead of using a grater.
  • Rather than two cups of yogurt, I used only one. It'll be better if the yogurt has been strained (Greek style). It's no tragedy if it's not.
  • Cumin is an acquired taste. I've acquired it. I shook a lot of seeds into a pan to gently toast them. Do this on low heat and watch for flying objects.
  • Surprise! I added a diced mango!
  • A little bit of hot paprika goes a long way. I added a quick shake for depth of flavor, but don't overdo it. You want the raita to be the antidote to your fiery takka tin.
  • I did not chill it. Too hungry.
I could give you a song, but then again I could also give you Chris Kattan's greatest hits as Mango on Saturday Night Live:

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Lean, Mean, Green Bean Machine

You know a dish is good when after cooking it one night you immediately march back to the grocery store and get supplies for another batch. Truth: French beans were on sale for $1.25 per pound, which was extra motivation. And these weren't some sad, brown specimens. They were crisp and sweet when raw, and just deliciously seasoned after following the lead of Deb at Smitten Kitchen. Deb, please allow me to correct your French and pluralize the name of this dish as Haricots Vert with Shallots (surely you'll want more than one!). Did you know the word zydeco is believed to be derived from les haricots? I'm Cajun, so you know I'm close to authoritative on this subject. Speaking of which, I am ashamed I didn't have a specific dish planned for Mardi Gras but there's only one food I associate with the holiday: king cake. I had two different versions shipped up to me from Louisiana, one of which had a pecan praline filling. It was divine. I will be working it off at the gym for a month. A few notes that are mostly differences of taste:
  • I suggest cooking the green beans for a full 4 minutes before cooling. And the cooling step is very important to the whole blanching process, though I'm not completely convinced an ice bath is necessary. A thorough rinse under a cold faucet should do the trick.
  • I like browned shallots and I like lots of them. Again, more of a difference of taste. Adjust the quantity and cooking time to your preference.
  • Sure, they look prettier on the plate left intact. But unless you're eating them with your hands as Deb suggests, it might be more practical to halve the beans once they've been blanched. Everyone will look much more polite eating them this way, if that's a concern.

Double truth: the side tag is a bit of a misnomer: I ate a huge batch of these alone for dinner. Here is your shopping list (I'm doubling the starting quantity):

  • 1 pound of French beans, trimmed and tailed
  • 2-3 shallots
  • 2-3 teaspoons butter
  • 4+ tablespoons diced tomatoes
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • lemon wedges

Blanch...BLANCHE! Oh Rue McClanahan, you minx. May you rest in peace. In memoriam, I'm suggesting the Golden Girls theme song as a musical pairing. That came out of nowhere, right?

Monday, March 7, 2011

Sage Advice

Sage advice: make this dish! See what I did there?!

Geez. You're right. That was terrible, and I do apologize. But I also recommend this white bean salad wholeheartedly. It's packed with protein, which will help you make it through those longer workdays. Or, if you are lucky enough to spend your weekends wandering the idyllic landscape, it can power you through long walks in the afternoon sun. I don't often get the chance to use sage in my cooking and thus don't quite know what to do with it. This is a start. If you have leftover leaves from making this recipe, my suggestion is to follow my lead and fry them in butter as an accompaniment to your morning eggs. I'll try to stay on task here and point out that I've made a few adjustments to the recipe, which you can find here on Epicurious:
  • As usual, I feel the recipe calls for far too much olive oil. I start with water-packed tuna and only add oil once all the other ingredients are mixed. I doubled the recipe and still only used about one tablespoon of [good] olive oil.
  • Using the original portions, add at least one tablespoon of minced sundried tomatoes. I think their sweetness really balances the tang of the vinegar. To me they are so integral to the dish's success that I forgot they aren't included in the original recipe.

For musical accompaniment, slow down with Simon & Garfunkel's "Scarborough Fair." Here are those ingredients for your shopping list:

  • 1 6 ounce can of tuna

  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

  • 1/3 cup chopped red onion

  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

  • 4 teaspoons chopped fresh sage, or 1 teaspoon dried sage leaves

  • 2 cups cannelini beans, cooked

  • 1 tablespoon minced sundried tomatoes

Bon appetit!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Phool's Gold

Cauliflower (phool gobi) is one of maybe three things in season right now. This is hyperbole for sure. But I know I'm not the only one who can't make it through an entire season of root vegetables without several bouts of foot-stamping frustration at the state of our farmers' markets. When I visited my local this past Saturday, the produce guys hadn't even bothered to turn up. A few apples and a quart of delicious cider made their way into my bag, and nothing else. Though we've had brief flirtations with warmer weather--it got up to 68 degrees on a recent Friday--the temperature stays firmly in the lower third of the thermometer. My remedy for this is hot food made extra spicy. Knowing very little about Indian food--aside from knowing that I enjoy a lot of it--I cannot confirm the authenticity of this dish. All I know is its festive colors (very poorly captured by my camera) and lip-smacking flavors distract me from the whipping winds outside. Find this recipe for taka tin (stir fry) in the NY Times Diner's Journal. You'll note it is vegan: no ghee here. You'll need:
  • 1 large whole cauliflower, cut into 2-inch florets
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 3/4 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 to 2 fresh Thai bird chilies, seeded and finely minced (I used dried chilies but you can employ whatever you have on hand that is spiciest)
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • Small pinch chili powder
  • 1/3 teaspoon turmeric
  • Salt
  • Half a small orange bell pepper, cut into 1-inch dice
  • Half a small red bell pepper, cut into 1-inch dice
  • 3 large plum tomatoes, cut into 1-inch dice
  • 2 tablespoons cilantro, chopped
  • lemon wedges

As Mathur says, the tomatoes give the dish tang. To really drive the idea home I finish with a good squeeze of lemon. If you dislike sour food, skip it. I find the method described to be fairly flawless apart from adding the cumin seeds to a pan over high heat. You will want to do this somewhat carefully since small seeds in hot oil have a tendency to POP up at your face. I add the whole bell peppers diced, and to be honest I once made this with only half a head of cauliflower. It was no less delicious. Feeds four, and is great served over a bed of fluffy rice.

Feeling exotic? Listen to the song of last summer, "Surprise Hotel" by Fool's Gold:

I feel warmer already watching that video.

Friday, February 25, 2011

How to Slice an Onion

Slicing an onion, to some, is like boiling water--a simple culinary exercise that can be done automatically and without much thought. This confidence comes from experience. But some of us are just extremely clumsy no matter how many hours we log in the kitchen. Which is a roundabout way of saying I cut myself real bad chopping an onion earlier this month. I've shown it to friends from nurses to brawny men who play full-contact sports and they all have the same reaction: cringing, tongues stuck out, "GUAHHHH GET IT AWAY FROM ME!" This can all be avoided by being mindful and keeping best practices in mind. I know I've mentioned using a fan to blow those tear-enducing gases away while you chop. The most important trick, however, is the finger tuck. You're practically digging your nails into the skin of the onion, pulling them under the knuckles. This way you'll hit the flat of the blade of your knife against your knuckles before you have a chance to lose any finger tips. I like the skin trick on this video.

You'll notice--no surprises--that my next recipe is onion free.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Soup in the Second Degree

Oh boy, did I underestimate this guy. I wouldn't call this a premeditated soup. This is soup perpetrated in the second degree. I had the cannelini beans presoaked because a quick inventory of my pantry earlier in the week informed me that little else was on hand. Two unharmed heads of garlic had been purchased with the idea of oven-roasting them for no reason other than it is seriously delicious. Things just turned out well for the soup bandit and this recipe. I cooked the beans and garlic while watching TV and put the whole thing together before turning in for bed. Though not particularly hungry, I fixed myself a small bowl to taste. And when I had finished that, I got back up and served myself another. This will be enough for two, and I regret not having made more. I'm presenting the original proportions that I cooked with, but I suggest doubling everything.

1/2 lb cannelini beans, dry (Great Northern or navy beans work as well)
2 tablespoons roasted garlic
1 cup vegetable broth
1/2 cup cream or half and half
1/2 head of cauliflower
1 tablespoon oregano
salt to taste
olive oil

-Cook the presoaked, well-rinsed white beans until very soft (a little over an hour) but do not salt them.
-Preheat your oven to 350.
-Place each head of garlic in a piece of aluminum foil. Soak the tops with olive oil, sprinkle a bit of black pepper on top if you like, and close up the foil. You can cut the bottoms off the garlic heads beforehand to make extraction easier, but I don't find this step necessary. Cook for about an hour and 15 minutes. Once they come out of the oven, open the foil and let cool. Do not handle until at room temperature.
-Press gently at the tip of each clove to extract the garlic. It should be buttery in consistency. You can squeeze the whole thing in your fist to amuse yourself, but it gets pretty messy.
-Combine the white beans, broth, cream, and oregano in a food processor and blend. Add two tablespoons of the roasted garlic and a couple pinches of salt--you shouldn't need very much. Blend again.
-Heat a skillet and coat the bottom with olive oil.
-Break up the cauliflower florets into bite-sized pieces.
-Salt and fry the cauliflower on medium-high heat until you get a bit of char.
-Serve the soup topped with the fried cauliflower.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

You say tomato, I say tabbouleh!

TAKE TWO. I've been a bad blogger. Not only have I been hoarding drafts of recipes (the arduous task of pressing "publish" has proved too intimidating!), I've also neglected the comments. And just now I deleted an entire entry on accident. If you endeavor to make that lentil soup again--and don't be afraid to tinker, as I was amused to see a very similar recipe on another blog that added onions and cream--here is a great dish to include as a side. I absolutely love tabbouleh. I'm also a big fan of the mezze tradition, being one of those diners who can never decide on just one dish from the menu! Having grown up eating a lot of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean food, I can honestly say tabbouleh is one of my favorite dishes among their cuisine. It's usually one of the first things gone from my mezze plate. It also works as a great salad when serving with heavier options, like lamb skewers. Don't forget the piping hot pita! Here's your shopping list:

1/4 cup mint
1/2 cup parsley
1/4 cup red onion
3/4 cup dry bulghur wheat
1/2 dry pint grape tomatoes
1 cucumber, seeded
1 lemon, juiced
olive oil (the good stuff), to taste
salt, to taste

To cook the bulghur wheat, place it in a heat-proof container and cover with boiling water straight from the kettle. Let stand for 15 minutes. While the bulghur cooks, very finely chop the herbs and vegetables. I use grape tomatoes in the winter since larger varities lack flavor out of season. You can halve or quarter them to give the tabbouleh texture. If all you have on hand are one of those larger tomatoes, be sure to seed it. One step you do not want to skip: seeding the cucumber. It's annoying and messy--I do it over the sink--but it makes a dramatic difference in the final product. Your tabbouleh will be very watery if you neglect to do so. I also prefer a very fine chop, so almost all the ingredients are uniform in size along with the wheat. Cool the bulghur in a sieve under a cold stream of water. Combine all the ingredients along with a good glug of olive oil and a few shakes of sea salt (less than you think you need). I've been using the everyday olive oil from Olivier et Co. lately. While I wasn't that impressed tasting it in store, it has proven to be a solid performer in every dish I've used it. For authenticity, Minerva olive oils from Greece are reliably good. If you prefer a greener tabbouleh, double the parsley and mint. You can also omit the mint if it's too difficult to find this time of year. For the adventurous, finish with a dusting of cayenne pepper. Give the ingredients a few hours (ideally, overnight) to mingle in the fridge. I warn against oversalting since the incubation period will really intenfisy the flavors. Serves at least four side portions, or two greedy diners.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Fennel Fever

I adore fennel. It is one of those rare those vegetables that, when I find it at its freshest, imparts a feeling of glee and excitement. Part of the latter stems (pardon the pun) from the fact that I'm still discovering new ways to prepare it. Skewered on kebabs, fennel makes an unusual replacement for onion. And I love it in an omelette. But this recipe uses it raw, fresh and green. The bright citrus flavors make it a great palate cleanser during a larger meal. Or you can prepare it as I did the other night, as a dinner with a toasted pita dressed in za'atar spices. We'll talk about my love of sumac soon.

  • 1 medium-large bulb of fennel, chopped with its greens
  • the zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/3 cup of grated Parmigiano Reggiano
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons of olive oil (use the good stuff)
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • lots of fresh cracked pepper
Combine all the ingredients in a bowl to coat the fennel well with the oil and cheese. I've taken to collecting olive oils in my travels. For this recipe I used a Croatian olive oil infused with orange essence. Top with freshly ground pepper. Serves two. Ukusan!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Mrs. Bea's New Year Cabbage

As the first week of the new year draws to a close, I--very belatedly--offer up a tradition that my Southern family and our former housekeeper Mrs. Bea have passed on to me. To be healthy, wealthy, and wise in the new year we cook cabbage and black eyed peas on January 1st of every year. The cabbage is for green bills of money, and the black eyed peas are the change! Mrs. Bea had a way with cooking things like turnip greens and cabbage, vegetables that many children would be inclined to hide in their napkins. Or in their milk--my sister did this once with broccoli. If you're a meat lover, try serving this cabbage with sausage links and mustard. Fish lovers might enjoy its pairing with herring and pickled onions. I, unabashedly, ate several plates of it atop brown rice and black eyed peas seasoned with Tony Chachere's (make a similar mix with salt, garlic powder, and cayenne pepper). The sweetness of the cabbage goes well with the saltiness of the other foods. You'll need:
  • 1/2 a large head of cabbage, cut into 1/2"-1" strips
  • 2-4 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 2 packets of Splenda, or 2+ tablespoons sugar

Chop the cabbage while heating a large stockpot, adding a tablespoon of olive oil. Remember: hot pan, cold oil. Toss the cabbage with the remaining olive oil as you add it into the pot. You want all the leaves to be lightly coated, but not dripping in oil. Once the cabbage has begun to wilt add in your sweetener. Cook on medium-high heat, stirring often, until the leaves' edges have browned and taken on a caramelized quality. I am never able to cook this dish to finish without taking several bites along the way.

Monday, January 3, 2011

The Lunch Which Cooks Itself

Who knew kale was such an exotic vegetable? Let's get back to basics with this recipe featuring the mighty lentil. It's quick and easy to cook, but still packs a nutritional punch. I even made this soup while getting ready for work the other morning--and if you've seen me in a professional environment you should be able to guess correctly that I don't invest a lot of time in that. One of the best things about this soup is that it just begs for all sorts of fun toppings. Here's what you need:

  • 1 cup red or yellow lentils (dry)
  • 1 large carrot
  • 1 large celery stalk, plus its greens
  • 2 1/2 cups of vegetable broth (you can cheat and throw in water with a bouillon cube)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 or 2 juicy lemons
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • cherry tomatoes, feta, cumin seeds, red pepper flakes to garnish

Simmer the lentils in the broth with the celery (reserving the greens) and carrot for 15 minutes on medium heat, until the lentils have absorbed all the liquid. If you're down to cubes of bouillon, worry not, for this really is the most lenient recipe. Cool for a few minutes before pureeing in a food processor, adding the salt, lemon juice, and olive oil. If you're using an immersion blender, be sure to chop the carrots and celery before cooking. Add water to thin to your desired consistency. Serve with a toasted pita and garnish with chopped celery greens (highly recommended!), feta, spices, and cherry tomatoes. I included my favorite additions but would also suggest sumac, roasted peppers, and Greek yogurt. Puckerfaces likes me can add the juice of the second lemon, but others may want to stick with just one. Yields two heaping, satisfying bowls.