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.