Monday, December 27, 2010

Chick pea and coconut curry with sweet potatoes

I love my pressure cooker.  It makes a great bean or lentil soup in a fraction of the time it would take to cook conventionally, and can cook a clod into submission in minutes rather than hours.  But, I find that for cooking beans and bean stews, rather than soups, it can be dicey.  They can easily get pressured into a pap, and you need to cook them with too much liquid for the result to be a thick stew, rather than a soup, if that is what you want.

There is an interesting looking recipe for chick peas cooked with sweet potatoes and coconut milk in Lorna Sass's Great Vegetarian Cooking Under Pressure.  However,  I found the pressure cooker version of this too liquid, and the sweet potatoes tended to dissolve into a puree, which is something my wife doesn't like.   I substituted a vegan Thai curry paste for the curry power (many curry pastes are made with fermented shrimp) and added some lemongrass, for a more Thai flavor.  I also reengineered Sass's recipe for conventional cooking, and the consensus was that it is a keeper:

Chickpea and coconut curry with sweet potatoes

  • 1 pound dried chickpeas (or 2 large cans)
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil (coconut oil is actually very nice here)
  • 2 large shallots, sliced
  • 2-4 cloves sliced garlic (if my mother isn't coming to dinner)
  • 1 tablespoon Thai-style red vegan curry paste (if you don't care about the shrimp you can use any kind;  if you can't find it, you can use curry powder  -- the dish will be good, but just not quite as good)
  • 1 stalk lemongrass, rinsed trimmed and dried outer leaves removed if necessary, and cut into two inch pieces
  • 14 ounce can diced tomatoes (I use Muir Glen fire-roasted)
  • 14 ounce can coconut milk (light is fine)
  • 1 tablespoon Bragg's amino's or soy sauce
  • salt to taste
  • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
  • 1-2  sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch dice

  1. If using dried chick peas, pick over for any stones, rinse, and soak 8 hours or over night. Alternatively, you can quick soak them by boiling them for 1 minute and then setting them aside, covered for an hour or two.
  2. Drain and rinse the soaked chick peas. Put them in a 3- to 4-quart pot, cover with water by about one inch and bring to the boil.  Skim off the foam if there is any, turn the heat down to medium, and simmer until just a bit firmer than you like.  It is hard to predict the time, but depending on the age of the chickpeas, how fast they are cooking, and how long they soaked, it should take between 25 and 45 minutes.   (You can do this beforehand -- they will keep several days in the fridge or frozen for months.)  
  3. If you are using the cans, just drain and rinse well.
  4. While the chick peas are cooking, heat the oil on high in a medium nonstick skillet, add shallots, salt lightly and cook until they begin to brown.  Add garlic if you are using and stir a few times.
  5. Turn heat to low, add curry paste, and cook another minute, stirring. Add lemongrass and cook for a few seconds.
  6. Add the tomatoes and half of the cilantro, turn heat to high, and cook for about 5-8 minutes until it turns into a sauce.
  7. Add coconut milk, and simmer on medium low until it thickens.  Add the Bragg's aminos or soy sauce.
  8. Add the sauce mixture to the chick peas, stir in the sweet potatoes, and cook until the peas and potatoes are done to your liking, about 20 minutes.
  9. Garnish with the remaining cilantro and serve with rice and lime wedges, and with a hot sauce like sambal oelek for those who want it.
  10. This is a vegetarian main dish for four or a side for eight to ten. 

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Monitoring blogs, and squash with tahini.

I am still trying to get my hands around the kind of monitoring and analytics that you can do with a blog, and I continue to be intrigued.  Part of this is being a data and information junkie.  Part may just be nosiness. After all, I spent much of my professional career as a archivist, which includes reading other peoples correspondence. (It's really nothing like The Lives of Others.  Really.)  It is more the thrill of human connection.

In the past few weeks, I saw that a reader from Austin, Texas spent a considerable amount of time on the site, most likely reading my post on Mexican/Syrian-Jewish style brisked in response to a query looking for "mexican brisket."  I hope that this reader tried this recipe and was not disappointed, since, although I am very proud of it, it is not a typical Mexican dish.  I have also noticed, for example, that someone, or some people from Glasgow, Scotland visit my blog with some regularity.   They must be disappointed that I haven't posted anything new for over three weeks. At least I hope that they are.

I have lots of reasons.  Life got busy.  Cooking got monotonous in an effort to fight the Thanksgiving to New Year bulge.  Most importantly, I have found myself cooking from recipes already on the blog or using cookbook recipes and not modifying them enough to make them worth posting.  (If I substitute short ribs for lamb shanks in a stew with quince, chestnuts and pomegranate juice, add some Indian spices, etc., should I really bother posting?)   One new dish that  I did make was a room temperature appetizer of pan-roasted winter squash with tahini.  I used to a be a confirmed squash hater, and the one day a number of years ago I made a spicy Bengali squash dish with chili, mustard seeds, and coconut from Bharti Kirchner's (tragically out-of-print) The Healthy Cuisine of India: Recipes from the Bengal Region, and I was a convert.  It was a revelation when the squash wasn't drowned in maple syrup or brown sugar. 

So, for my Glaswegian readers, and anyone else waiting on the other end of the ether for a recipe, here is;

Winter squash with tahini

  • 2 cups winter squash cut into 1/2 inch cubes (I like butternut, red kuri, or kabocha here)
  • olive oil
  • salt
  • sugar if needed
  • tahini sauce:  1/4 cup tahini, 1 clove garlic, coarse salt, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, up to about 1/4 cup water
  • handful chopped flat leaf parsley, to taste

  1. Heat olive oil, a spoon or so, in  medium nonstick skillet, on medium heat.  Add squash cubes and salt lightly. 
  2. Cook on medium-high heat, tossing or stirring occasionally, until the squash is tender and well caramelized.  If it doesn't have a nice, rich taste, sprinkle a little sugar on it, less than  a teaspoon, toward the end of cooking. Remove to a bowl when done.
  3. Meanwhile, make the tahini sauce:  Make the tahini sauce: smash the garlic with coarse salt to make a puree, and stir in the tahini.  Stir in the lemon juice.  The tahini will become very stiff.  Dribble in the water, a few drops at the time.  The sauce will stiffen some more, and then loosen to the texture of a thick cream. It is hard to tell exactly how much water you will use, but it is usually approximately equal to the amount of tahini, or a little more. The sauce should be on the thicker side, but still pourable.
  4. Pour the sauce over the squash.  Mix in parsley when cool.
  5. Serve with warm pita bread.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Who uses recipes? A recipe for Hungarian Cabbage Salad

If you generally find my writing style annoying, you may find this post is obnoxiously self-congratulatory. If so, just skip it.  I think it goes with the territory of blogging.

I NEVER participate in chain letters.  So, of course, when I got a recipe exchange chain, I couldn't resist, especially since it came from a reliable and upstanding source.  You send out the letter to 20 other people with two names on it, the person who sent it to you and your own name.  Each recipient is supposed to send a recipe to the person who originally sent the letter to you, and then send it along to 20 more recipients who in turn will send you recipes.

The first response I got was from Tony.  I didn't send the recipe exchange letter to him, but my cousin did.  He didn't send a recipe but asked, "Who uses recipes?"  Good question.  A mutual acquaintance of ours uses recipes, and when a recipe calls for 1 tablespoon of chopped ginger, this individual has been known to chop the ginger and pack it into a measuring tablespoon to make sure that he has the right amount.  This is one extreme.  Tony is probably the other extreme.  Most of use fall somewhere in between.  Readers of this blog will have observed that I rarely bake, because I don't have the patience to follow the directions precisely or the equanimity to deal with the results when they don't come out as they should.  But when I cook,  I still like recipes because I like the variety that they bring to my cooking.  I rarely follow recipes as they are written, but they are a useful starting point.  I find that when I don't use recipes, food tastes like me, rather than like itself. Who born outside of Bengal could make a Bengali fish stew without using a recipe, at least the first time, and probably many other times as well? I tend to remember and internalize recipes better than less significant information, like my childrens' names, and usually don't need to refer to a cookbook or an online recipe, but behind most of what I cook, there is a recipe somewhere.  Which brings me (almost) to this post's recipe.

We have been members of a foreign affairs discussion group for decades, since time out of mind (an English common law formula) and I had hair.  Sometimes the discussions are interesting and surprising, but we have been doing it long enough that everyone usually knows what everyone else is going to say.  Still, we have a good time and enjoy each others' company, and every meeting is preceded by a pot luck where the host makes the main dish(es).  Debbie and Eli have only been in the group for a few years, so they can occasionally surprise us with their opinions, and Debbie usually surprises us with her cooking. Debbie uses recipes, and this is nothing to be ashamed of. She is of Hungarian extraction, and Eli  Iraqi via Israel.  Usually she makes Iraqi food, though sometimes Hungarian as well.  At our most recent meeting, she made chicken paprikash and an Iraqi stew of chicken meatballs with dried fruit.  When I volunteered to bring a side I had intended to make shlishkes, a Hungarian dish of potato dumplings (or pasta) dressed with toasted challah crumbs and highly seasoned with salt, pepper and sugar.  Carbs in carb sauce, what could be bad?  But she sent me an email that she was already making dumplings (halushki) and rice, so I should bring something less starchy.  So I brought a Hungarian cabbage salad that everybody loved, and several people asked for the recipe.  What recipe?  I make a cabbage salad that is a descendant of the recipe in the Cuisine of Hungary by George Lang, who as far as anybody knows never had any hair. (I have the 1971 edition and it is one of the greatest cookbooks ever written.) But I depart from it in important ways (he blanches the cabbage, who can be bothered?) and my recipe also owes a lot to the cabbage salad sold by the Kosher Marketplace on Broadway and 90th.  And to my own imagination. So here is the cabbage salad that I make, written down for the first time. It's really not much of a recipe, so feel free to play around with it:

Hungarian Cabbage Salad

  • 1-1.5 pounds of cabbage (one small head or 1/2 of a large head)
  • Salt
  • 1 bunch of scallions, white and light green parts
  • 1 bunch of dill
  • Olive oil, about 1/4 cup, more if you aren't worried about calories
  • Cider vinegar, about 2 tablespoons 
  • 1/2 of a small onion, coarsely grated
  • 1 teaspoon Bragg's aminos, unless you are sick of them 
  • 1/2 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon caraway seeds, bruised by pounding them lightly in a mortar or pestle or crushing them with the side of a knife
  • 1 teaspoon sweet paprika

  1. Clean the cabbage by removing the outer leaves.  I have heard that once you do this, the cabbage is so clean that tap water will only make it dirtier.
  2. Cut in quarters and remove the core.
  3. Shred very finely.  You can use a mandoline if you have one.  What I do is cut it into very thin shreds with a very sharp knife, starting at the top with the cut surface facing down.  After several cut, given the way I hold the knife, there will be an overhand, so I rotate the cabbage so that the cut surface faces up and continue cutting it into fine shreds, almost slivers.  This doesn't take long and the cabbage seems to come out fine enough this way.
  4. Put the cabbage in a large bowl and salt lightly.
  5. Chop the dill and scallions and toss into the cabbage.
  6. Whisk together the remaining ingredients for the dressing.  Taste that it has the right balance of sweet and sour. Toss with the cabbage.
  7. Weight down the salad:  this softens it without blanching.  Cover the top with some plastic wrap or wax paper, put a plate or pot cover on it, and weight it down with a heavy object.  I use a Thai mortar.  A large can would do as well.  Leave it for as long as you want, but at least an hour.
  8. Chill.  Toss and taste for salt before you serve.  This amount should serve 4-6 generously.  
  9. The cabbage will also soften as it is left.  It is best later the day you make it or the next day.  It can be kept longer, but should not be considered a long-term asset. 

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Mexican vegetable soup

I have nothing interesting to say about this, other than that it is easy,  good, and can be made vegetarian or with chicken broth.  We always make it vegetarian.  It is a light meal by itself unless you serve it in very small quantities as a first course and a more substantial meal if you add roasted tofu or shredded chicken. People seem to love mixing in their own garnishes.  Since it does not contain potatoes, it freezes well.  Try it!

Mexican vegetable soup

  • 1-2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 onions finely chopped
  • 1 stalk celery finely chopped
  • 1 carrot peeled and finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 1/2 pound green beans, trimmed and cut into 1 inch lengths
  • 2-3 small zucchini scrubbed and cut into 1/2 inch dice
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 - 1 teaspoon dried chipotle pepper (the larger amount results in a much spicier soup)
  • pinch (and I mean a pinch) oregano
  • 1 sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch dice (ok to substitute about 2 cups butternut squash cut into 3/4 inch dice)
  • 1 can crushed tomatoes or puree, 15 oz  (Muir Glen fire-roasted crushed tomatoes adds a nice smoky taste)
  • 2 cups cooked chick peas (canned are acceptable, but then you can't use the liquid -- see below)
  • bay leaf
  • 6- 8 cups liquid (chick pea broth, vegetable broth, or water and bouillon cube -- see below)
  • several sprigs cilantro, well washed
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • optional:  roasted tofu  (see below)
  • garnishes:  chopped red or white onion, lime quarters, chopped cilantro, sour cream, grated cheddar or cotija cheese, chopped jalapeno, toasted tortilla strips (see below)
  1. Heat the oil on medium in a 4 quart pot and add onions, celery and carrot, a bit of salt, and saute until soft but not brown.  (This is really very flexible.  You can add the vegetables to the pot as you are finished chopping them.)
  2. Add the green beans and zucchini as they are ready.
  3. Add the garlic and saute for a minute.
  4. Add the cumin, chipotle and oregano and saute for another minute.
  5. Add the sweet potatoes, tomato puree, chickpeas, liquid and bay leaf.  Push the cilantro into one corner (you can tie it if you want, but I don't bother) and bring to the boil.  Simmer about 20 minutes until the vegetables are tender.
  6. Fish out the coriander, and if you can the bay leaf.
  7. Correct taste for salt and pepper, and if using, add roasted tofu and warm through.
  8. Serve with garnishes, as many as you want, but serve either the sour cream and grated cheese OR the lime, not both.    This makes a pretty hefty dinner for 4.
Non vegetarian variation:  use chicken broth and some poached shredded chicken breast.  I would leave out the cream and cheese here but it is up to you.  This makes more of a hearty main dish.

Cooking liquid:  If you cook your own chick peas, you can use the cooking liquid as some or all of your broth.  One cup dried chickpeas will yield the right amount cooked and will probably leave you with between 3 and 4 cups of liquid.  The rest can be made up with vegetable stock (I used Tabatchnick's boxed) or bouillon.

Tortilla strips:  These are sort of like Chinese noodles made out of corn, and thought they are traditionally fried, you can bake them which is both easier and far lower in calories.  Take white corn tortillas, cut them in half, and then cut the halves into 1/4 inch strips. For this quantity of soup, 6-8 tortillas is more than enough and will probably leave some for snacking.   Line a baking sheet with foil (to make it easier to clean) and spray with vegetable oil spray.  Scatter the tortilla strips in on the pan, spray with more spray, and bake in a 300 degree oven for about 30 minutes.   They are done when they are lightly browned and crisp. Separate them gently and put them in a bowl to serve.  It is difficult to be precise about the time since it depends on so many variables, like the size of the pan, etc.  You can also bake these longer at lower heat, in which case it will take longer they will become less brown or on higher heat, in which case you have to watch them more carefully.   You can use the same method for tortilla chips by cutting the tortillas into sixths, or make tostadas by using whole tortillas.  I find that whole tortillas work best directly on a rack which allows the air to circulate so that they dry out very quickly, and should be done in 15-20 minutes.  I will post some recipes for tostadas shortly.

Roasted tofu:  If you add this, it becomes a pretty hefty dish.  Take about half a pound of tofu and cut into 1/2  inch dice.   Marinate in a combination of pureed onion, a spoon or so of Bragg's amino (or soy sauce or salt), and about a teaspoons of ground cumin for between 30 minutes and a few hours.  Take the cubes out of the marinade, put on a sprayed or greased baking sheet (line with foil first if you want) , spray again, and roast for about 30 minutes in a 450 degree oven until lightly browned.  You can vary the marinade depending on the dish.  This cubes are also good tossed into salads if you have any left over.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Easy kadaif: another recipe for curly halvah

One of the neat things about blogging is tracking use.  For most of my blog's existence, my tracking was limited to seeing how many hits I got.  The more hits, the less vulnerable my rather precarious psychic health.  However, I have begun to play around with some of the more sophisticated management tools, and which enable you to look more closely at traffic sources.  Many users come to my blog from Facebook, thanks to my shameless self promotion on that social medium.  However, a number do come over the web from search engines.  The latke recipe that I posted last year has gotten a lot of hits in response to queries like "best latke recipe" (as if Google knew).  The lesson here is that in the absence of metatags, use a lot of superlatives in your text and file names.

Recently I got a hit in response to a query looking for "desserts made with curly halvah."  Last year I posted a recipe for kadaif  which relies on curly halvah.  It is my reconstruction of the version served at the Hummus Place and uses the shredded wheat pastry used in Middle Eastern desserts.  Though easy, at least by my standards, it is best made for a crowd. Here is an easier version, which you can make for for yourself if you want.  It is also suitable for those of you who were put off by my recent report of burning the kadaif pastry (and almost burning us out of our apartment). It is not quite a recipe, but it is fun to make and eat, and there is no danger of burning anything:

Easy kadaif:

  1. Crumble a few small shredded wheats or about 1/3 of a large one into a bowl.  For a New England variant, use a spoon of Grape Nuts Cereal.
  2. Top with a scoop of vanilla ice cream (or if you want pareve, coconut sorbet or soy ice cream).
  3. Drizzle some date honey or dark regular honey over the ice cream.
  4. Top with some curly halvah which you pull into shreds by hand.
  5. That's it.
Note on curly halvah:  The only brand which I have been able to find is Achva, from Israel.  It is wonderful by itself with tea, and better in kadaif.   I used to stock up on it because I could only find it at Kalustyan's in the east 20s, but it has since made its appearance on the Upper West Side.  This is a good thing, because it does not last forever and is best used fresh.  As it sits, it tends to compress.  You can still separate it carefully by hand to make it fluffy again.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Veal, cauliflower and tahini stew, and how memory works, and doesn't

Multitasking becomes difficult as one ages, and this can lead to culinary disasters, as I have noted in reporting on nearly causing a house fire when making kadaif.  One of the nice things about stews is that they are made for multitasking.  You can leave them simmer while you do other things, something very useful for those of us who work at home.  However, it is a mistake to try browning while multitasking.

The other day, I made this veal stew while working at home on a project that involved comparing several proposals and therefore a lot of attention to detail.  You have to brown the veal well, best done in a few batches so as not to crowd the pan and cause the meat to steam. The first batch of meat came out beautifully, and I got a bit complacent with the second batch and returned to my proposals while I left the veal to brown. I could smell the veal browning nicely from where I was sitting and then forgot about it as I was involved in work. Our friendly fire alarm screaming "Fire! Fire!" reminded me that this was not a good idea.    I removed the meat, which was slightly scorched but not burnt, though the meat glaze in the skillet was to far gone to use.  (The hard gunk that coats a pan after you brown meat is really heavily reduced and caramelized meat broth, and deglazing is the process of dissolving this with liquids to add lots of flavor to your dish.) Even though I couldn't use the meat glaze, and transferred the veal to a new pan while I soaked the skillet, the dish was still pretty good. 

What is funny is that even though I forgot  about my browning meat, this recipe is inspired by I dish that I had some time around 1975.  It was a veal with tahini served by a restaurant called Kineret that I think was located on 7th Avenue and Barrow Street in the Village.  I went with two friends who didn't really get along (I haven't seen either one in nearly 20 years) so it was not a particularly pleasant evening.  But the food was, and I remember it over three decades later.  I just couldn't remember that I had started browning meat in the other room a few minutes before.  Go figure.

Veal, cauliflower and tahini stew

  • 2 pounds stewing veal, ideally from the shoulder, cut in 1 inch cubes
  • olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, very finely chopped
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper
  • 2 cloves garlic, mashed
  • 1 head cauliflower
  • olive oil spray
  • tahini sauce:  1 tablespoon to 1/4 cup tahini, 1 clove garlic, coarse salt, the juice of one lemon, and some water
  1. Heat a large skillet (ideally not nonstick, since it produces better browning and glaze) on high and add 1 or 2 tablespoons of olive oil.
  2. Add half of the veal, drying the pieces as you put them in.  Turn with tongs to brown on all sides.  Remove the veal to a bowl and add the rest, adding a little more oil if necessary.  Don't leave the room while browning.  Bring a book if you get bored.  Remove the veal to the bowl with the rest and season it all lightly with salt and pepper.
  3. Add a bit more oil to the skillet, and add the onion and a bit of salt and saute until it is just starting to brown.
  4. Add the allspice, Aleppo pepper, and about 10 grinds of a pepper mill.  Saute a minute.
  5. Add the crushed garlic to the skillet and saute another minute.
  6. Return the meat to the skillet, cover, turn heat down to low and stew gently for about an hour. The meat should cook in its own juices, but check it occasionally to stir and if it dries out, add a few spoons of boiling water.  Check it after an hour to see if it is tender and succulent.  It should take between and hour and 90 minutes to get tender.
  7. While the veal is cooking, roast the cauliflower.  Preheat oven to 425, separate florets, put on a large baking sheet lined with foil and sprayed with olive oil spray, spray again, and bake 20 minutes.  Broil until nicely browned but not burnt.  (Again, it is a good idea to stay in the kitchen while you are broiling the cauliflower.
  8. Make the tahini sauce: smash the garlic with coarse salt to make a puree, and stir in the tahini.  Stir in the lemon juice.  The tahini will become very stiff.  Dribble in the water, a few drops at the time.  The sauce will stiffen some more, and then loosen to the texture of a thick cream. It is hard to tell exactly how much water you will use, but it is usually approximately equal to the amount of tahini, or a little more.  The quantity of tahini you will use is up to you.  A sauce based on 1 tablespoon of tahini will add a certain je ne sais quoi to the stew, but it will not be a noticeable tahini sauce.  The larger quantity will.  Both are good, and it is up to you.
  9. When the veal is tender, Add the cauliflower and tahini sauce and cook for 10 minutes more.  Taste and correct for salt.
  10. Serves 4 generously.  This is very good with roasted squash, rice, and pita or Uzbek bread.
Make ahead note:  If you want to make this dish in advance, it is a good idea to prepare the components separately. All can be prepared  a day or more in advance.  Combine veal, cauliflower and tahini when you reheat.

Variation with leftovers:  If you have some leftovers, you can try this variation.  Take 1/2 pound of cremini mushrooms, wash and slice.  (To wash mushrooms forget about washing them individually with a damp paper towel.  Just dump them in a bowl of water, swish them around, and when you take them out, dry them with the paper towel.  It is both faster and more effective than the other method.)  Saute the mushrooms on high until well browned in a nonstick skillet with a little olive oil.  Add the leftover stew, cover, and heat until warm.  The dish will have an entirely different character.  

    Thursday, November 11, 2010


    Blogging is basically a form a bloviating, and when I look over my past recipes/blog entries, they sometimes read like a victorious general bragging about one triumphant battle after another.  So, a dose of humility is sometimes called for.  This comes in two forms.

    The easiest way to consume humble pie in relation to one's blog is to check on the usage statistics.  They are never going to be as good as you hope, and often are nil.  (One of my favorite T-shirts bears the message "More people have read this T-shirt than your blog."  How true.) Another way of stepping back from culinary triumphalism is to report on the all-to-frequent disasters that one doesn't easily share with others.

    A number of months ago, I posted an easy wonderful recipe for deconstructed kadaif which I actually served to guests for Shabbat dinner last week.  When you bake the shredded wheat, it should come out looking like this:

    If anything, this is slightly undercooked.  This is because the last time I tried to make this dish was over the summer when my cousins were visiting from France.  Though they are extremely laid back, being from France, it was important that we impress them with our food, and we decided to make the kadaif for dessert one night.  The shredded wheat was probably still a little frozen when I put it in the oven, so it took a long time to turn the nice golden color.  So rather than turn up the heat, I turned on the broiler, and forgot about it for a few minutes.  The fire alarm started screaming "Fire! Fire!" and I remembered that I had forgotten something. The apartment filled with smoke. I saw the shredded wheat on fire through the oven window, and locked the oven using the self-clean lock and waited for the flames to die down and the smoke to stop pouring out, which took about 10 minutes.  This is what came out of the oven:

      A little humility is a good thing.  We had sorbet for dessert.

    Wednesday, November 10, 2010

    Arugula, pepita, and Parmesan salad

    The other night for dinner, Amy said that she was tired of the same old cucumber and tomato salads and was in the mood for arugula, pumpkin seeds and cheese.  So that is what we had, and it was really good.  This is how you do it:

    Arugula, pepita, and Parmesan salad

    • 6-8 cups loosely packed arugula (ideally farm-fresh, dirty and spicy, not the prewashed stuff though this is acceptable if you are pressed for time)
    • 1/4- 1/2 cup hulled pumpkin seeds (pepitas, with the shell removed)
    • shaved Parmesan cheese to taste, about 1/2 cup (good Grana Padano does nicely as well)
    • dressing of 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard, 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar, 2 teaspoons pumpkin seed oil, and 2 teaspoons olive oil
    • Salt and pepper to taste

    1. Wash and dry the arugula well.  This may involve soaking it in several changes of water until it runs clear, spinning it dry, and wrapping in in toweling and leaving it in the fridge for a few hours.  Or maybe not.
    2. Toast the pumpkin seeds in a heavy skillet until they swell and pop but do not burn.  Put in a dish to cool for a few minutes.
    3. Shave the Parmesan using a vegetable peeler.  This is a great way to use up the cheese next to the rind that is difficult to grate.  The rinds themselves should of course be saved and used in vegetarian soups, to which they add a deep umami flavor.
    4. Put the mustard in a small dish, whisk in the vinegar, and then whisk in the oils.  (I used a fork -- I am using whisk hear as a verb without reference to the specific implement.)   Dip in a leaf to taste, and whisk in more oil or vinegar as needed.
    5. Put the arugula in a large salad bowl, add pumpkin seeds and shaved cheese, salt and pepper to taste, and drizzle on the dressing.  Toss very well.  It may not seem like enough dressing, but it probably is if you have enough room and patience to toss it.  If not, add a bit more oil and vinegar, going light on the vinegar.
    This serves 2-4, depending on what else you are having and when you are eating it.  Amy thought it would be good with thinly sliced tart apples, and she is probably right and we will try it that way next time.  I think it would also be good with pears, but she hates pears (a hatred that I have found is shared by many people) so I am probably on my own for that one.

    Tuesday, November 9, 2010

    Khachapuri: Georgian cheese bread

    Back in June I was delegated with cooking a Father's Day dinner, and I made this cheese bread, sort of a flat Georgian (as in Tiblisi, not Atlanta) calzone.  I ran into Naomi on the street and was bragging/complaining about having to cook my own dinner that day and I told her what I was making.  She said that I had to send her the recipe for the khachapuri.  I said I would soon, five months have passed, and since today is her birthday, I thought I should finally get around to posting it.

    This is lightly adapted from the recipe in Paula Wolfert's The Cooking of the Eastern Mediterranean, which consists mostly of recipes from Greece and Macedonia, Syria, Southeastern Turkey (especially Gaziantep), and Georgia.  Many of Wolfert's later books have been justly criticized for being a pastiche of recipes from magazine articles, and Georgia doesn't really qualify as Mediterranean, but most of the recipes in this book are REALLY good, so who cares.  Believe it or not, I have tried a lot of khachapuri recipes in my day, and this one works the best.  I have modified it by making the crust a bit softer, and the filling a tangier, cheesier (American cheese consumption has tripled since 1970 so this would seem to be consonant with contemporary tastes) and more custardy.

    So happy birthday Naomi -- maybe Tabitha will like this.  Most people do:

    Kachapuri (Georgian Cheese Bread)

    • 2 cups all purpose flour
    • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
    • 3/4 cup plain yogurt (lowfat is ok, nonfat isn't, nor is the thick Greek yogurt)
    • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
    • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
    • large pinch salt
    • 6 ounces pound Greek or Bulgarian feta, or a bit more if you want, crumbled
    • 8 ounces fresh salted mozzarella
    • Salt and pepper to season
    • 3 eggs, beaten well
    • 1 tablespoon or a bit more of butter or oil to cook

    1. Set aside 1/4 cup of flour for dusting when you roll out the dough (you may need more). Put another 1/4 cup of flour in a mixing bowl,  blend in the oil and then the yogurt, stirring in the same direction. 
    2. With a fork, mix the remainder of the flour with the cornstarch, baking soda and salt.  Add to the mixture in the other bowl a bit at a time, continuing to stir in the same direction.  When the dough being to adhere, dust with the flour that you set aside cover with a towel and set aside for 2 hours.  You can also put the dough in a plastic bag in the fridge overnight at this point.
    3. Mix the cheeses, salt and pepper (I like it peppery, about 15 turns of the grinder) and the eggs.
    4. Divide the dough in 2 even pieces, and pat one into a flat dish on a floured surface where you can roll it out.  Roll the dough to a circle about 10 inches, flouring the dough and the rolling pin and being careful not to break it.  If you can't get it quite this big, that is OK, just plan on using a bit less of the cheese filling.  
    5. Put half the cheese filling in a disk in the center, leaving a large border around, about 5 inches.  
    6. Bring the four edges of the dough together like an envelope to cover the filling and pinch with your fingers.  Pat into a 7 inch disk. Don't worry if it is not perfectly round. 
    7. Repeat with the remaining dough and cheese.
    8. Heat the butter on low in two 8 or 9 inch nonstick or cast iron skillets and transfer the pies to them, flat bottom side down. 
    9. Cover and cook the pies about 15 minutes,  flip, cover and cook 15 minutes more.  By cooking the seamless side down first the top side will cook lightly, making it less likely that the cheese will leak.  Even if it does when you flip it, don't worry, it will just turn into tasty crusty cheese.
    10. Ideally, these should be served at once, piping hot, but they can also be made in advance, wrapped in foil, and reheated in the oven.  They will even last for a few days in the fridge.  I have never tried freezing them.  
    11. They are traditionally served with tkemali, a Georgian sour plum sauce.  Since this is not readily available, I have served it with prune or rhubarb sauce or a sour Indian chutney out of a jar. It is also just fine by itself. See the recipes below.

    One large pie: You can also make a single large pie by rolling the dough into a 14 inch circle and using a large 12-inch skillet to cook it. You will have a pie about 10 inches round. It will look much more impressive, but also be more difficult to  handle, so you are better off making the two pies the first time you try it.

    Sauces:  Saute about 3 cloves of sliced garlic in oil until soft but not brown.  Add a sliced fresh red or green chili with the seeds, or 1/2 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes.  Add a cup or two of sliced rhubarb (in the spring) or pitted sliced Italian prune plums (in the fall) , 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and if you want it a bit sweet, 1 tablespoon of brown or white sugar.  Cook for about 10 minutes until it becomes a sauce.  Add a handful of chopped fresh coriander and cook a few minutes more.  This chutney also goes nicely with roast chicken. I have never tried it with cranberries in the late fall or winter, but I don't see why it wouldn't work, though I would add more sugar.

    Monday, November 8, 2010

    Tofu makhani

    I have been meditating for almost two years, generally using a mindfulness practice.  One focuses on the breath, letting sensations and thoughts arise as they come up, noticing them, and letting them pass without attachment.  The biggest challenge that I face in mindfulness is letting go of my planning thoughts, especially planning meals.  Much of my time in meditation is spent desperately trying to let go of the plans for my next dinner or Shabbat meal.  This generally takes the form of menu planning, but on occasion focuses on specific dishes. Sometimes it is even productive, if not mindful, and leads to a successful meal or a new dish.  Last Friday morning I was sitting at home, and spent much of my time worrying about what to serve with a meal of vegetarian hot borscht, basmati rice with mung beans, Kashmiri collards and Sri Lankan sweet potatoes, a very low protein meal.  My attention shifted to tofu, and then a dish that I will call tofu makhani emerged in my consciousness. (Do you think I am kidding?)  This is vegetarian version of murgh makhani, a dish of tandoori chicken or chicken tikka served in a spiced tomato sauce with butter and cream.  It was probably one of those treatments of leftovers that took the already delicious leftovers to a whole new level of deliciousness.

    Lord help me, but I never thought that I would prepare a dish like this, which is based on tofu marinated in tandoori spices with fake pareve chicken broth powder, then baked and broiled, and served in a sauce.  The components are like independent modules.  The tofu, inspired by the method of abusing tofu used at The Cheese Factory in Wisconsin Dells, can be used with other sauces or none at all.  The marinade and the sauce are inspired by various recipes of Madhur Jaffrey's.  The sauce could be used for all sorts of other things.  It is one of those sauces that would even make floor tiles edible. (Another is raw cashew chutney, about which I will post shortly.)  My current state of spiritual development precludes me from using it as originally intended, with tandoori chicken, however, it would be good with grilled or fried paneer cheese, many roasted vegetables (especially cauliflower), fish (saute it first or it will make the sauce watery), and if you want to get elaborate, vegetarian kofta (meatballs).

    This dish is much easier than it sounds.  It helps to demonstrate, if anyone needs the proof, that tofu or vegetarian food need not be health food. Here is how you make it:

    Tofu makhani


    For tofu:
    • 2 pounds extra firm tofu, each cut into 6 "cutlets"
    • 10 cloves of garlic (I use one package of the pre-peeled garlic)
    • 2 inch piece ginger, peeled and sliced
    • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
    • 1 tablespoon ground coriander
    • 1 teaspoon garam masala
    • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
    • 1/4 teaspoon mace
    • 1/4 teaspoon cloves
    • 2 tablespoons Osem pareve chicken soup powder, optional (forgive me)
    • juice of 2 limes
    • 2-4 tablespoons vegetable oil
    • salt (use more if you don't use the soup powder)
    • 1/4 cup water or more to make an easily spreadable paste and help dissolve the soup powder
    • Vegetable oil spray
    For sauce and to serve:

    • 10-20 cloves garlic
    • 1 inch piece ginger, peeled and sliced
    • 1 medium onion, diced
    • 1-4  tablespoons vegetable oil
    • 2 sticks cinnamon (regular cinnamon, i.e. cassia, preferred here)
    • 2 bay leaves
    • 4 cloves
    • 12 black peppercorns
    • 8 green cardamom pods
    • 2 whole dried red chilies, or to taste
    • 3 cups tomato puree
    • salt
    • 1-2 cups heavy cream, to taste and depending on your cardiologists advice
    • 1-4 tablespoons sweet butter cut into pats and softened at room temperature
    • 1/4 cup chopped fresh coriander
    1. To make the marinade, chop the garlic and ginger in a food processor or blender.  Add the spices and the other ingredients through the salt, and puree until a paste.  Add water as desired to make it a loose paste.
    2. Smear the paste over the tofu and put in a container in the refrigerator.  Let marinate for at least 2 hours, or as long as 24.
    3. When ready to cook,preheat the oven to 450, and remove the tofu from the refrigerator.
    4. Line a large baking sheet with aluminum foil, and spray liberally with the oil spray.
    5. Remove the tofu from the marinade, scrape off most of the excess, and put on the baking sheet.  Spray the top liberally with the oil spray.
    6. Bake in the middle of the oven for 30 minutes.
    7. Broil on high for 5 minutes, to brown the top lightly, being careful not to burn.
    8. Meanwhile, start the sauce.  Take the butter out to soften now so you don't forget. 
    9. Puree the onions, garlic and ginger in a processor or blender.
    10. Heat the oil on high in a very large skillet, nonstick if you are using less oil.
    11. Add the whole spices and cook until they puff and begin to change color, but be careful not to burn.
    12. Add the paste from the blender (averting your face) and cook on high for about 3 minutes stirring constantly, or until it looses its raw aroma.  Be careful not to brown.
    13. Add the tomato puree, about 1 teaspoon of salt or to taste, and cook on high, stirring occasionally, or until the oil begins to separate and it turns into a sauce, about 10-15 minutes.  Be careful not to scorch, especially if you use a regular skillet. Add a bit of water if it reduces too quickly.
    14. Turn the heat down to medium-low and add the cream.  Stir well to incorporate and cook about 10 minutes or more to reduce and thicken.  Taste for salt and correct seasonings.
    15. Add tofu to the sauce and reheat on low.  Add the butter and stir in carefully so as not to break the tofu, and heat until it melts in.
    16. Remove tofu to a serving dish, pour the sauce over, garnish with chopped fresh coriander, and serve.
    17. Serves 6.
    Make ahead tips:  If you don't plan to serve this right away, prepare slightly differently.  Put the broiled tofu in a baking dish, pour the warm sauce over, and dot with the butter.  Cover and leave in a 200-225 degree oven for up to 2 or even 3 hours until ready to serve.  Garnish with coriander.

    The marinade:  There was a lot of discussion at the table when we served this as to how much difference the marinade made to the final results.  While I thought that the marinade could be simplified drastically, everyone else seemed to think it was essential and said to leave it alone.  Next time I will try it with just onions, garlic, lime juice, salt and garam masala. 

    Variations:  You could serve the tofu in many other kinds of sauces.  Any Indian style tomato sauce would work well, even without the cream.  You could also try some of those jarred Indian sauces that they have in the market now, though I never would.  You can vary the marinade to something more European (say onion, garlic, salt, soup powder, water and some herbs) and serve it in a mushroom and marsala sauce or a mushrooms and sour cream sauce.  Go wild! It's only tofu.

    Friday, November 5, 2010

    Red stuff?

    This week's Torah reading, Parshat Toledot, leaves open many questions.  Which brother is really meant to serve which (the text is oracular and ambiguous)? Why is there room for only one blessing in the house of Isaac?  Does Jacob really fool Isaac with his cheesy disguise?  But in my mind, one question surmounts all the others.  How did lentil stew become the red stuff that Esau demanded in exchange for his birthright, without red pepper or tomato, which are new world ingredients and not available at all in the Middle East until the sixteenth century?

    I have been worrying about this for over 30 years, and I am no closer to a solution.  Red, or actually salmon colored skinned lentils turn yellow with cooking.  Well-browned onions are, well, brown.  I can't imagine beets doing anything for this dish.  Part of the answer may lie in the semantic range of the word adom, which may only approximate that of the color red.  My college Latin teacher wrote her master's thesis on color terms across a number of languages, particularly the Romance languages, English,  Japanese and classical Latin and Greek, and used to talk all the time about how variable color terms are across cultures. I remember teaching English to Cambodian refugees in the Bronx in the early 1980s, and how they gave me a hard time when I said that an apple was red, and I am talking about a Red Delicious or Macintosh, not a Granny Smith.  The redness of the apple seemed axiomatic to me, but they would not be convinced, and saw more green, yellow or even brown.

    So who knows what made the red stuff red, and if it was even what we would call red.  But, if you want to make the recipe for yourself, here is a recipe for lentil stew:

    Lentil Stew (not really red)

    • 2 tablespoons or more of olive oil
    • 1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
    • 1 large onion, diced
      1 cup lentils, preferably French green lentils or whole masoor dal, washed well
    • Salt and pepper, butter and lemon to taste
    For serving
    • Browned onions (optional but very desirable -- you will be tempted to sell your birthright too if you smell these cooking):  Saute 1  large onion, sliced in thin  half moons and lightly salted, in plenty of olive oil in a non stick skillet until well browned.  It takes time, so be patient, and be careful so they crisp without burning.  Start on high heat and turn it down as they  color and shrivel.
    • Chopped vegetable salad:  cukes, tomatoes, radishes, scallions, green peppers diced fine and either mixed together or kept separately.
    •  Plain boiled brown or white rice and/or pita bread.
    • Cubed feta cheese
    • Tahini sauce:  smash a clove of garlic with a little salt and mash to a puree.Mix in 1/4 cup of tahini.  Mix in 1 tablespoon of lemon juice.  It will get tough.  Add water very slowly, until it gets tougher and then thins out to the texture of thick cream.  It will take most likely  between 1/2 and 3/4 cup of water.
    1. Heat olive oil on medium.  Add cumin seed and saute until they turn a few shades darker.  Be careful not to brown.
    2. Add onions and salt lightly, and saute until light brown.
    3. Add lentils, saute with onions for a minute, and add 3 cups of water.
    4. Simmer until tender, about 1/2 hour.  Boil off extra water or add more if necessary.
    5. Add salt and pepper to taste and stir in a little butter and lemon.
    6. Serves about 4 with the garnishes.

    Shabbat shalom!

    Sunday, October 31, 2010

    Mexican Brisket in the Style of Syrian Jews

    I am not a competitive person.  Last year, one of my birthday dinners was prepared by my friend Jay and it was the Mexican brisket recipe that I blogged on last November.  So, when they came for a birthday Shabbat dinner last Friday (his wife's birthday is the same week as mine), I had to prepare a better Mexican-style brisket.

    This recipe is 100% inauthentic.  It was inspired by a broadcast in March 27, 2010 of the Splendid Table, when  Lynne Rossetto Kasper interviewed Patty Jinich about the Jewish cooking of Mexico.  Amongst other things, they discussed the happy marriage of Mexican and Jewish cooking, especially the cooking of Jews from Syria.  Mexico City has a significant Syrian Jewish community,  and I thought that it would be fun to try a brisket in this style.  So, I used tamarind, apricots and allspice, very typical of Syrian food, along with ancho and mulato chilies and other Mexican herbs and spices. The recipes in the back of my mind when I prepared this were Jennifer Abadi's Chicken with Apricots from A Fistful of Lentils, and Diane Kennedy's Pollo Enchilado from her Mexican Regional Cooking.  I don't think that cooking and serving a whole brisket is typical of either Mexican cooking or Syrian Jewish food, but it works well here and the long cooking allows the meat to absorb all the flavors. Modesty aside (blogs are not the place for modesty), it was magnificent.  Jay said that this was better than his. But then, I'm not competitive.

    If anyone is actually familiar with the cooking of Mexican and/or Syrian Jews, I would love to hear your reaction. 

    Mexican Brisket in the Style of Syrian Jews

    • 3-4 pound brisket, top-of-rib roast or similar cut (fatty second cut brisket is probably best -- this is soul food, not health food)
    • 1 tablespoon canola oil
    • 6 dried chiles, a combination of ancho and mulato
    • 25 almonds with the skin on
    • 4 cloves
    • 8 black peppercorns
    • 1 stick Mexican cinnamon (see below)
    • 1 large or 2 medium onions, chopped
    • salt to taste
    • 1 teaspoon ground allspice
    • 1/8 teaspoon oregano
    • 1/4 teaspoon thyme
    • 1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper (if unavailable, substitute a teaspoon of paprika and a pinch of cayenne)
    • 28 ounce can crushed tomatoes (I use Muir Glen fire roasted)
    • 3/4 cup tamarind paste (or substitute 1-2 tablespoons concentrate -- see below)
    • 1-2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
    • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
    • 1 cup dried apricots
    • 6-8 whole medium potatoes, peeled (medium starchy rather than waxy or russet is what I used)

    1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
    2. Heat the oil in a large skillet or roasting pan, and brown the meat on high.  Since the shape will be irregular, it will not become uniformly brown.  Don't sweat it.
    3. Meanwhile, toast the chilies lightly on a cast iron skillet.  Snip them open with kitchen scissors and remove as many of the seeds and veins as you can.  
    4. Remove the meat from the skillet to a roasting pan or a plate, and saute the chilies in the fat remaining on medium heat.  They will become slightly crisp.  Be careful not to burn or they will become bitter. Remove to a blender.  
    5. Add the almond, cloves, peppercorns and cinnamon to the skillet and saute gently until they swell and the spices become aromatic.  Add to the blender.
    6. Add the onions to the skillet, salt lightly and saute until soft but not brown. Add the allspice, oregano, thyme and Aleppo pepper and saute a few minutes until aromatic.
    7. Add the tomatoes, tamarind, brown sugar, Worcestershire and a teaspoon of salt and simmer about 3 minutes to combine.  Taste the sauce which should be balanced between sweet, sour and salty, with the sour notes dominating since the apricots and chilies will add additional sweetness.  Correct seasonings with more tamarind, salt, brown sugar or Worcestershire to taste.  Add to the blender.
    8. Blend until well pureed.  It may take a few minutes and  need a little coaxing, but you should do OK if you work your way up from a slow to high speed.  I find that a good blender does a much better job than a food processor at breaking down the chilies and cinnamon stick.
    9. Put a little sauce on the bottom of a large flattish roasting pan.  Put the meat on top and the potatoes around.  Top with the apricots and pour the rest of the sauce over it.  Cover the dish with foil or a cover if it comes with one.
    10. Put the dish in the oven, turn the heat down to 325, and bake for 3-4 hours until the meat is very tender.  Check about an hour before done and add a bit of boiling water if the sauce looks like it is starting to scorch.
    11. Slice meat against the grain and on an angle, and  return to the sauce, and keep warm until you serve.  This is nice served with just challah and the potatoes which absorb lots of flavor from the sauce.  If you don't make it on Shabbat, corn tortillas would be very welcome.  It would also go well with rice or with sliced grilled polenta.  This quantity will serve 6 people generously.
    Caution:  The sauce is delicious but dangerous to all kinds of fabrics.  It is similar to a class of moles called manchamanteles which  are made with chilies and fruit and translates literally as "table cloth stainers."  Believe it. My wife and I honeymooned in Mexico (Mexico City, Oaxaca and San Miguel D'Allende) and we ruined an article of clothing every day of our trip because of the chili sauces.  Perhaps the future of indelible inks lies in the combination of chilies and lipids.

    Make ahead notes:  Unless you want to spend all day in the kitchen, this dish is best made in advance. Add a bit of boiling water before you reheat it to thin the sauce a bit and prevent scorching. Leave the meat whole.  I find that when people prepare a brisket in advance and slice it before letting it sit and reheating it, it tastes like leftovers and is a waste of effort.  You can also cook it for 2 hours the first day and another two the day you plan to serve it. However, it takes a long time for the meat to come up to cooking temperature if it has spent the night in the refrigerator.    The leftovers are great with soft corn tortillas.

    Cinnamon: Mexicans are very particular about their cinnamon, which they call canela and is also known as true cinnamon or Ceylon cinnamon.  What we generally call cinnamon is actually cassia.   (Who knew?) True cinnamon is milder, sweeter, and much softer.  Cassia is harder and sharper.  Almost all ground cinnamon sold in American groceries is cassia, unless it is labeled otherwise.  If you cannot find true cinnamon, I would use 1 teaspoon of ground regular cinnamon (cassia) and add it with the other ground spices to the sauteed onions.

    Tamarind:  Syrian Jews would generally use a sauce of tamarind and sugar that you prepare yourself or buy in a few stores in Brooklyn or Mexico City.  You can also use prepared tamarind paste, which is even available heckshered now, or make your own which is not that hard.  Take a block of tamarind (available in Indian and Southeast Asian groceries) about the size of an egg and put in in a container with 1 cup of water, cover and zap in the microwave for 5 minutes.  Let it sit until cool, and the press the liquid and paste though a wire strainer, leaving the seeds and other debris behind.  This doesn't take long and is rather therapeutic, and should give you the right amount for this recipe.  You can always add more Worcestershire, which is tamarind based.  A concentrate like Tamcom would be a last resort for me.

    Sunday, October 17, 2010

    Chicken with pasta, inspired by Greece and Syria

    On of the under-reported joys of parenthood is being able to eat your kids' leftovers.  It may be as simple as picking at the food that adheres to their clothing when they are done eating (only try this with very young children) or nabbing half a hot dog (if people still feed their children hot dogs) that is left on their plate.  My favorite juvenile leftover, however, is pasta.  When they were young, my kids were VERY picky eaters-- no longer, fortunately.  More than one friend has commented that this at least partially proved the existence of a just God with a sense of humor.  They ate a lot of pasta, seasoned at times with nothing more than air.  Salt and butter came later, and tomato sauce much later. Cheese is a relatively recent addition to the pasta plate, that Maya started eating in her teen years and Harry not at all with the occasional exception of mozzarella..  We call Maya the Cheeze Wizard and a substantial amount of our family's food budget when she is home goes to buying good cheese, especially parmesan.  We can go through two pounds of Parmiggiano-Reggiano a week.  We have tried to slip in some Grana Padano, but it apparently won't do.  But I digress.  To me, the best thing about my kids' pasta habit was that we would get to zap the leftover in the microwave for a few minutes, covered loosely with paper towel.  Throw in some Parmesan, mozzarella or other cheese if you kids' pasta was cheese-less. What comes out was a combination of somewhat overcooked pasta in the center, surrounded by amazing crusty pasta.  If you are the kind of person who likes picking the hard bits from the edges of a pasta casserole, and who doesn't, try this some day.  If you are this kind of person, this recipe is also for you.

    Both Syrian Jews and Greeks make chicken with macaroni pasta.  I have been toying with this recipe for years, combining seasonings and methods.  There was a time when I would rub the chicken with spices, leave overnight, roast it, cook the tomato sauce in the pan juices, add the semi cooked pasta, and then toss it altogether and cook some more.  I decided that life is to short and have come up with a version that I like and that I find pretty easy to prepare.  It uses the Filipino method of stewing the chicken without browning and then broiling it after to crisp the skin.  This dish will be done minimal harm if is sits for a while in a warm oven before serving it, which makes it great for company or a Friday night dinner.

    Chicken with pasta

    • 2 tablespoons olive oil, and a bit more for oiling the baking dish
    • 2 cloves
    • 2 bay leaves
    • 1 stick cinnamon
    • 1 medium-large onion, chopped
    • salt and pepper
    • 5 or more cloves garlic, sliced or chopped
    • 28 ounce can diced tomatoes, with their juice (I like Muir Glen fire roasted)
    • 1 teaspoons ground allspice
    • 1-2 teaspoons Alleppo pepper
    • 4 pounds chicken parts (I used a chicken  cut into eights plus a few thighs, a little more or less won't hurt)
    • 1 pound tubular pasta
    • Bring several quarts of water to the boil in a large pot to cook the pasta.  Salt it well.  Meanwhile, do the rest of the recipe.
    • Heat olive oil on medium in a large 5 -6 quart pot.
    • Add cloves, bay leaves and cinnamon stick, Stir around for a few seconds and add the onion, a little salt, and cook until soft but not brown.
    • Add the garlic and cook for a minute or two.
    • Add the tomatoes and their juice, the allspice, and the Alleppo pepper.  Cook on high for about 5 minutes.
    • Add the chicken, some salt and pepper, bring the boil, turn heat down to medium-low, cover and simmer for about 40 minutes until chicken is barely done, or slightly underdone.  Remove chicken to an oven dish.
    • Meanwhile, cook the pasta in boiling water for no more than 2-3 minutes.  Drain, run under cold water to stop the cooking, and drain well.
    • Broil the chicken, skin-side up, until the skin is crisp but not too brown, because it will cook more later. 
    • Set oven temperature to 425.
    • While the chicken is broiling, add pasta to the sauce in the pot, and cook on high heat for about 5 minutes.  The past should still be very al dente.  
    • Spray or lightly oil a large, fairly shallow bake and serve dish. A shallower dish will give you crustier pasta.  Pour in the pasta and bake in the oven about 20 minutes.
    • Put the chicken on top, skin side up, and bake another 10-20 minutes until cooked through.  If you want, brown the chicken a bit more at the end to crisp and get the pasta crusty.
    Cooking the pasta:  If I really had the courage of my convictions, I would skip the preliminary boiling of the pasta and just cook it in the tomato sauce before baking it.  There should be enough liquid since the chicken, onions and tomatoes give off a lot of juice.  This would make it easier to keep the pasta al dente.  However, there is nothing wrong with a casserole where the pasta is slightly soft in the center and crusty around the edges.  If you do try this without pre-boiling the pasta before I do, post a comment to let everyone know how it turns out.

    Leftovers:  One one level, this is what the dish is all about. To make it easier to reheat, remove the chicken meat from the skin and bones and shred coarsely, ideally with your hands.  Oil or spray a baking dish, and add half the remaining pasta.  What sauce there is will have mostly been absorbed and the rest will be solid from the amount of gelatin. Top with the chicken, and top with the remaining pasta and spray with some oil spray.  I find that I don't care for chicken reheated in the microwave, so I would bake it about 45 minutes in a 400 degree oven, until the top is crusty.  You could also zap it if you want, but be sure not to cover it with plastic wrap or a regular cover or the pasta will get soggy.  Use paper towel or wax paper. 

    Boiling water:  This should probably be the first thing that you do when you start to prepare any meal whether or not you will actually need it later..  Boiling water takes time, and you don't want to have to wait for it.

    Wednesday, October 6, 2010

    Chicken cutlets with peppers and capers

    I am not really a photo person, and frequent readers of this blog (there are at least three of you I think) will know this from the paucity of photos of food that I post, in contrast to most other food blogs. Trying to photograph food makes me realize why food photography is a profession unto itself, and often involves doing things to the food that make it inedible, but pretty under the camera. The photo at left of today's dish I think provides ample evidence as to why I do this so infrequently. Amy said "It looks like lobster," which may have its merits, but isn't what I cooked.

    Basically, I am a textual rather than visual person. If a picture is worth a thousand words, I would rather read the words, and it doesn't take all that long. To say that there is little visual record of my second child is an understatement, but my understanding is that this is a fate common to many second children. More out of the ordinary is that we have relatively few pictures of our first child. (She will say we actually have more of her brother but she is wrong.) So, readers will have to be satisfied with recipes, like this one, a Spanish style chicken scallopine. I made it with ground almonds left over from Pesach (which did not yet have a freezer smell) to accommodate Amy's low carb diet (I complain about it, but she looks fabulous). Here it is:

    Chicken cutlets with peppers and capers

    • 1 pound thin sliced chicken cutlets
    • 1/2 cup ground almonds
    • salt
    • 1 tablespoon smoked Spanish paprika
    • oil spray
    • 2 tablespoons olive oil
    • 1/4 cup finely chopped shallots
    • 3 cloves garlic, smashed and chopped
    • handful of finely chopped flat leaf parsley
    • 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
    • 1/4 cup chicken broth, white wine, or dry sherry (I prefer the broth; I used boxed Tabatchnick's which is acceptable in small quantities especially since it is overwhelmed by the other flavors)
    • 1/2 cup shredded or diced roasted peppers (I used jarred piquillo peppers from Spain, rinsed very well)
    • 1 tablespoon capers, small or large, rinsed

    1. Mix ground almonds, 1 teaspoon of salt, and paprika and put on a plate. Dredge chicken cutlets in the mixture as if you were breading or flouring them. (You could also defy the low-carb rule and use flour, but the almonds really taste good in this dish.)
    2. Spray a large nonstick skillet, heat on high, and add one tablespoon of olive oil.
    3. Add chicken cutlets and cook on high until browned on both sides. If not quite done, cook a bit more. (This will take between 6 and as much as 15 minutes, depending on the actually thickness of the cutlets, how cold they are, your heat sources, the conductivity of your pan, and how crowded the pan is, etc., etc., etc.)
    4. Remove chicken cutlets to a large serving platter when done.
    5. Add remaining tablespoon of oil to the pan and heat on high.
    6. Add shallots, sprinkle with a pinch of salt, and saute for 2 minutes.
    7. Add garlic, stir a few times, and add half the chopped parsley. Deglaze pan with the sherry vinegar and the stock or wine. Cook down until reduced a bit.
    8. Add peppers and capers and continue to reduce until there is relatively little liquid.
    9. Return cutlets to pan to warm through, and transfer back to the serving platter and top with peppers, capers, sauce and remaining parsley.
    10. Serves 4. We had it with pan roasted red kuri squash, but it would go better with a nice, crusty baguette.

    Monday, October 4, 2010

    Simply delicious turnips

    I posted an Indian-style version of this recipe when we got salad turnips from our CSA last year. These are the small (no more than walnut-sized) tender turnips that you can either cook or eat raw. Even though I love Indian food as much as I do, there are some times when you just want a simpler flavor, so I just sauteed the turnips and their greens with butter:

    Sauteed Turnips

    • 1 bunch salad turnips (the size bunch we got serves two, and had 5 turnips)
    • 1-2 teaspoons butter
    • salt and pepper

    1. Separate the turnips from their greens and cut off the coarser stems. Trim each turnip and cut into 6-8 wedges, but there is no need to peel them. Wash the greens well, by swishing them in a large bowl of water. Change the water several times if necessary until all the sand is gone. Shred the greens into 1/2 inch ribbons.
    2. Heat butter in a nonstick skillet with a cover.
    3. Add turnips and saute on medium-high heat until light brown, tossing occasionally.
    4. Season with salt and pepper, and put the greens on top of the turnips. Cover and steam on medium heat for 5 minutes.

    That's it! Even Amy like them, and she is usually turnip averse.

    Fakejitas #2

    This is a slightly more conventional take on vegetarian fajitas, made with fake meat, than the one that I posted on Sept. 21 as Fakejitas #1. I can't necessarily decide which one I prefer. This version is made with sweet red and green peppers, with a little kick provided by ground chile chipotle. What may make it unauthentic (are any fajitas unauthentic, let alone those made with soy strips or seitan?) is the use of a tomato-ey sauce, but I find that this is necessary when you don't use real meat. Also, I always serve these with corn tortillas, rather than flour, which would be more authentic for a Northern Mexican or Tex-Mex dish, because they are healthier (lower in fat and higher in calcium) and taste better besides. Heat them up any way you want, but preferably directly over a flame as I direct in Fakejitas #1.

    Fakejitas #2

    • Oil spray
    • 1-2 tablespoons vegetable oil (peanut, corn or canola work well)
    • 2 medium or one large white or yellow onion, cut into wedges
    • salt
    • 1 large sweet green pepper, seeded and cut into strips
    • 1 large sweet red pepper, seeded and cut into strips
    • 6-8 cloves of garlic, slices
    • 8 -12 ounces fake meat strips (chicken or beef flavored seitan, or fake steak soy strips like Morningstar farms meal starter or Lightlife steak strips)
    • 1 teaspoon - 1 tablespoon Bragg's aminos
    • 1 teaspoon to one tablespoon olive oil
    • 28 ounce can diced tomatoes, or whole tomatoes diced, save juice (Muir Glen fire-roasted tomatoes will add a nice smokey flavor)
    • 1 teaspoon ground chili chipotle
    To serve
    • Corn tortillas (about 3 or 4 per serving)
    • Sour cream
    • Salsa (see recipe below; don't even think of using jarred salsa)
    • Sliced avocado

    1. Spray a large nonstick skillet with oil spray.
    2. Heat 1 teaspoon to one tablespoon of the vegetable oil in the skillet on high, add onions, salt lighly, and stir fry until they begin to soften.
    3. Add peppers and continue to stir fry until they are cooked but not too soft. The vegetables will take 10 minutes or less total.
    4. Add 2 cloves of sliced garlic and stir fry some more. Add one teaspoon Bragg's if you are using.
    5. Remove vegetables to a serving dish.
    6. Add a bit more oil to the skillet, heat, and add the fake meat, shredding any large pieces if necessary and stir fry until seared, about 3-5 minutes.
    7. Add 2 more cloves sliced garlic, stir a bit, and add another teaspoon or two of Bragg's. Stir until absorbed and remove to the dish with the vegetables.
    8. Heat the olive oil in the skillet, add the remaining sliced garlic, saute until soft but not brown, about one minute, and add the diced tomatoes, their juice, and the chipotle. Cook on high until the sauce is thick, about 10 minutes.
    9. Return veggies and fake meat to the skillet and stir fry until combined. Taste for salt and add more if needed. It should be dry rather than soupy.
    10. Serves four with tortillas, sour cream, salsa and avocado.
    An idea with leftovers: Beat about 4 eggs, mix with the leftovers, and cook in a nonstick skillet into a pancake-style omelet (actually a Spanish tortilla, but that is too confusing) with a little oil until done. Broil to cook the top.

    Wednesday, September 29, 2010

    Nut case: cashew butter and banana sandwich

    Is he nuts? Why bother posting this as a "recipe?" Because it is good, not to mention easy.

    One of the advantages of working at home is not having to go out to lunch. One of the disadvantages of working at home is there may be nothing to eat, even in our kitchen, so sometimes I find myself scraping the bottom of the barrel. This leads to eating things like the sardine and avocado sandwich that I posted about a few days ago, and to rigorous experimentation with banana and nut butter sandwiches.

    I have never been a peanut butter and jelly fan. I hate the way the bread absorbs the jelly and turns squishy and purple-ish or red-ish. So decades went by between elementary school and fatherhood when I didn't eat peanut butter sandwiches at all. Then my kids would eat them, with jelly, honey or banana, and I found that I kind of liked nut butter and banana.

    Over the past week or two I decided to try a variety of nut butters : peanut, almond and cashew. We usually don't stock cashew butter, but we had a jar hanging around from Pesach, and it won hands down. There is something about it that brings out the inherent sweetness of the banana. So here is the recipe (is this a bit excessive?):

    Cashew butter and banana sandwich

    • 2 slices bread, preferably whole-grain
    • 1 small, ripe banana (it should have at least a few brown spots)
    • cashew butter

    1. Toast the bread.
    2. Smear one or both pieces of bread with the cashew butter.
    3. Slice banana about 1/4 inch thick and put on the toast.
    4. Put the two pieces of bread together, and cut sandwich in half.

    Serves one.

    Monday, September 27, 2010

    Zuppa/Sop/Soup : Zuppa di cavolo/Cabbage soup

    Etymologically, soup is less about broth than about bread. I got to thinking about this when I wondered what makes Zuppa Inglese, essentially an Italian trifle, a soup. The answer is that Zuppa Inglese is not a zuppa because it is a liquid soup, but because it is based on cake (a stand in for bread) soaked in rum syrup (a stand in for broth). Thus, Zuppa di Pesce is not just fish and seafood cooked in tomato sauce. It needs toasted bread, or those hard thick peppery crackers (frisselle?) in the bowl to become a zuppa. When we were in Southern Italy, zuppa di pesce was much drier than what we get here, a dish of fish cooked in tomato sauce, with some of the scant liquid spooned over toasted bread. Indeed, our word soup is etymologically related to the Late Latin suppa, which is bread soaked in liquid. Soup is a sop more that a broth. The bread turns it into more of a main dish than a first course and it is a great way of making sure that old or stale bread does not go to waste.

    It is with this in mind that I approached the soggy defrosted head of cabbage leaking all over my fridge a few weeks ago. The story will be too familiar to readers of my facebook page. I was going to try to reconstruct my grandmother's recipe for stuffed cabbage for Rosh Hashana, so I had frozen a large cabbage the week before labor day. I really understood why the unit of measurement for cabbage is a head. It was like having a houseguest in our freezer, or at least the severed head of one. Then came the call from my brother that his family did not want stuffed cabbage for dinner, but rather the more traditional holiday dish of Semur Daging, an Indonesian beef stew with spices and sweet soy sauce. So, we made a special trip to Chinatown for Bango Kecap Manis, said to be a tastier sweet soy sauce than the more readily available brand, ABC. We found it after visiting five stores, on Mulberry street in a place stocking groceries from all over Southeast asia. I made a big pot (about 6 pounds of meat) of Semur Daging, and then got another call from my brother saying that his daughter was no longer eating read meat, could we have something else.

    She had leftover salmon, but we were stuck with this head in our freezer, and given the scarcity of freezer space in most NYC apartments , this was not a sustainable situation. I transferred the head to the fridge, where it took about three days to defrost. Freezing and defrosting is the alternative to blanching to soften and separate cabbage leaves, and it worked beautifully. I made a Georgian (as in Tiblisi, not Atlanta) cabbage roll stuffed with walnut paste, and it was a big hit with our guests the first night of RH. This is shaped more like a Japanese nori roll than traditional stuffed cabbage, and the stuffing tastes a bit funky and consists of walnuts, garlic, basil, cilantro, vinegar, marigold and fenugreek leaves.

    But I was now stuck with the inside of a defrosted cabbage in our fridge. It did not represent the kind of space crisis that a whole head in the freezer did, but was unwelcome none the less. So, what to do? Soup! Rather than going for a Jewish or Northern European Cabbage Soup, we had some nice bread getting stale on our counter, so we went with a zuppa. Here is a method, more than a recipe. You can make it with different vegetables, or a combination, and add beans if you want. You can even make it with rice or pasta rather than bread, but then it wouldn't be soup.

    Zuppa di cavolo

    • 1 slice of bread per person (see below)
    • a few cloves peeled fresh garlic
    • butter and/or olive oil (see below on cooking fat)
    • finely chopped onion, carrot and celery (about 1-2 cups total)
    • canned or fresh tomato (here I used about 1/2 of a 16 ounce can, drained and chopped; you can use as little as one tomato, or as much as the entire can; blanch and skin fresh tomatoes if you use them)
    • cabbage: about 2-4 cups, shredded (green or savoy, fresh or defrosted)
    • liquid, about 4 cups (see below)
    • 1 bay leaf (optional)
    • salt and pepper
    • 1 or 2 pieces of rind from chunks of Parmesan or Grana Padano cheese scraped to remove any unidentifiable growths (optional, but adds a lot of flavor -- see below)
    • fresh grated Parmesan or Grana Padano cheese

    1. If the bread slices are very large, cut them in half so that they will fit in your soup bowls. If it is already stale, toast it lightly to dry out more. Otherwise, toast lightly and then leave in a low oven to dry while you make the soup.
    2. When the bread is done, rub it on both sides with a peeled clove of garlic, One clove is usually good for 2 slices of bread.
    3. Heat the fat (between 1 teaspoon and 3 tablespoons, it is up to you) in a 4 quart soup pot.
    4. Add the onions, carrots and celery, salt lightly to help them sweat, and saute until soft but not brown.
    5. Add the cabbage and saute for a few minutes with the vegetable.
    6. Add the diced tomato and saute.
    7. Add liquid and the cheese rinds, and a few grinds of pepper, bring to a boil, and cook about 1/2 hour.
    8. Taste for salt and pepper -- the amount will depend on the saltiness of the liquid that you used.
    9. To serve, put a piece of bread in each soup bowl, top with the vegetables and broth, and serve with grated cheese.
    10. This is a dinner for 4 with a salad.

    Cook's perk: The cheese rinds add great flavor to the broth, and should stay in the pot and not go in the soup plate. Actually, they should go in the cooks mouth while they are hot and before the soup makes it to the table. The rinds become soft, gooey and edible. Depending on the cheese, and on how long the soup is cooked, they will either have a deep cheesy flavor, or just the ghost of a flavor that was once there. Either is profound. As you use Parmesan or grana, just save the rinds in a plastic bag in the freezer, and use when you make soup.

    The bread: The bread can be white or whole grain, sourdough or regular as long as it is NOT SWEET. We like it with "peasant breads," ciabatta, or a sourdough whole wheat. This time we made it with something called "wine bread" which was like a light sourdough, which my parents picked up at a farmers' market on Long Island. If you know that you will be making this, cut the bread a day or so before, and leave it in a paper bag or wrapped in paper towels were it will get slightly stale. Florentine bread is ideal but rarely found in the US. It is made without salt, so it does not attract water and gets stale rather than moldy. I believe that Dante, who was a political exile, complained that "the bread of exile is bitter and salty." He should be taken literally on this.

    The fat: Originally, this was almost certainly made with lard or for those who could afford it, guanciale (salted pork jowl) or pancetta (rolled salted but not smoked bacon). Having given up pork products, I find it is still wonderful with butter and/or olive oil. If you want to add a little funkiness, you might dissolve and anchovy fillet or two in the fat before adding the onions. I haven't tried this myself yet since my wife is anchovy averse and has limited cabbage tolerance, so I didn't want to press my luck.

    The liquid: We generally use water with one Telma pareve beef bullion cube. We add a few rinds of cheese, which adds a remarkable, deep umami flavor to the broth. You can use homemade or boxed (not canned!!) broths, though Italian home cooks would probably use a cube. If you make this with beans and use home-cooked beans, the bean broth can be used and is rich and tasty. Salt towards the end to make sure that you don't oversalt.

    Variations: You don't need a soggy defrosted cabbage to make this dish. A fresh green or savoy cabbage would also do nicely. It can also be made with zucchini, green beans, spinach (don't cook this so long -- 5 or 10 minutes will do), lancinato kale, or escarole. If using escarole or kale, go light on the tomato, and white beans are particularly good. The beans can be cannellini, navy, or great northern. If you use canned beans, discard the vile liquid, rinse very well, and add toward the end. If you cooked the beans yourself, use the broth in the cooking liquid.

    Starch variations: You can leave out the bread and use short soup pasta like ditalini or orzo, or add a few spoons of arborio rice. Cook these for about 10 minutes after you add them. However, as said above, it will no longer be soup, rather some kind of minestra. However, it will still be good.

    Wednesday, September 22, 2010

    Avocado with fish

    Avocado with fish, especially smoked fish or canned sardines, is a great food combo, and one which you don't encounter all that frequently. You may be served a ceviche with avocado, and Mary Feinberg often bring a wonderful sandwich of baguette with avocado and smoked salmon to shul potlucks. But there are a wide variety of easy dishes that you can make for yourself or company. You can cut avocado into wedges and wrap it in smoked salmon and fasten it with a toothpick. Try Mary's sandwich with or without butter. Or spread mashed avocado on whole grain toast and top with smoked trout and eat it as an open faced sandwich. Try avocado instead of cream cheese on your bagel and lox, or top pumpernickel with whitefish salad, avocado and tomato. Here are two easy recipes worth trying.

    Smoked salmon with Scandinavian guacamole

    I am sure they could do something with this on Prairie Home Companion along the lines of Ajua hot sauce. In any case, it is a very easy and delicious appetizer.

    • 1 ripe avocado
    • 3 finely chopped scallions
    • small handful of finely chopped dill
    • juice of 1/4 lemon
    • Salt
    • 4 ounces smoked salmon
    • large whole grain crackers like Ryvita or Wasa, or sliced whole grain bread or toast, cut into smallish pieces
    1. Mash the avocado with the next four ingredients. Do this shortly before serving. Put in a bowl.
    2. Arrange salmon on a plate. Top with a little more fresh dill if you would like.
    3. Put the crackers or bread in a serving basket.
    4. To serve, everyone spreads some guacamole on the crackers or bread, tops with salmon, and that's it.

    Sardine and Avocado Sandwich

    This is based on a recipe from Paula Wolfert's The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen. I am not sure what makes it slow or Mediterranean. It is based on a Canary Islands recipe, with sounds more African and Atlantic. It was adapted from a far more complicated recipe by Ferran Adria of El Bulli fame, so I guess that is the Mediterranean connection. It reminds me of a comment I heard once that most of her books, particularly the later ones, are a pastiche of recipes that Wolfert picked up doing research for travel articles. That having been said, most of her recipes are really good. I have simplified it still further so that it is a lunch sandwich rather than an appetizer. One of the joys of working at home is that you can have things like this for lunch. Just don't eat it before a business meeting, unless your meeting is with a cat food company.

    Ingredients (for one largish slice of bread -- multiply as you will; I have 2 slices for lunch, some may only eat one)
    • 1 slice whole grain bread
    • 1 clove garlic (optional)
    • butter (optional)
    • 1/2 can sardines packed in olive oil (2 sardines)
    • 1/8 - 1/4 ripe avocado
    • a few shreds of red onion or scallion
    • drizzle of sherry (preferred) or red wine vinegar

    1. Toast the bread. Rub it with the clove of garlic and spread lightly with butter if desired.
    2. Spread with the sliced avocado.
    3. Top with the sardines, filleted if you wish.
    4. Top with onion or scallion and drizzle very lightly with vinegar.
    5. Eat as an open faced sandwich.

    Tuesday, September 21, 2010

    Fakejitas #1

    Please forgive the awful pun, but since I use fake meat strips I thought it was appropriate. Though Mexicans would probably refer to this as ropa vieja (old rags) and make it with boiled shredded beef, it is not far from what Americans call fajitas. I make it with fake meat, either Lightlife Smartstrips Steak-style strips, or Morningstar farms frozen steak strips. They are far lower in calories, and you can still have sour cream and do no damage in terms of either cholesterol or kashrut. God forgive me, I never thought I would say this, but I have become rather fond of fake meat.

    This dish really requires poblano chilies. Their flavor is deep, rich and unique, it doesn't take long to roast and peel them, and the dish would not be the same without them. When I get around to it, I will post another version of fakejitas which is more generic and tomato-y and acceptable to use regular sweet peppers. If you must, you can use canned green chilies here, but the poblanos are worth the minimal extra effort.

    Fakejitas (vegetarian Mexican ropa vieja)

    • Oil spray
    • 2 poblano peppers
    • Peanut oil (between 1 and 2 tablespoons, depending on your preference)
    • 6-10 ounces vegetarian steak strips
    • 1 medium white onion, cut in half and sliced about 1/4 inch thick (the size of a peach; red or yellow is acceptable if you cant find white)
    • salt and pepper
    • 2 cloves garlic peeled and sliced
    • 1 teaspoon Bragg's aminos (optional but adds a lot of umami flavor)
    • 2 eggs, beaten lightly with a pinch of salt

    To serve
    • Corn tortillas (this amount makes 6-8 soft tacos and serves 2-3, see below on reheating)
    • Sour cream
    • Salsa (see recipe below; don't even think of using jarred salsa)
    • Sliced avocado

    1. To prepare the poblanos, spray them with the oil spray or rub them lightly with oil. Stick them over a high gas flame on your stove (if you have an electric stove, get a gas one) and turn them around with tongs until they are blackened all over, for between 5 and 10 minutes. Watch carefully so that they don't burn. When well blackened, remove them and either wrap them in paper towel or put them in a paper bag and set them aside until they cool. They will steam a bit while they cool and the skin will loosen.
    2. Remove the blackened skin with your fingers. (You may want to wear gloves or use paper towels if your skin is very sensitive or you are in the habit or rubbing sensitive body parts like your eyes. Poblanos are only mildly hot, but they can tingle.) Run under water if necessary and remove as much skin as you can. Cut open the pepper, remove the stem, ribs and seeds, and cut into 1/4 inch vertical strips. These are called rajas.
    3. Spray a medium nonstick skillet with oil spray, heat on high, add a bit of oil and add the fake steak. Stir fry a few minutes until browned and remove to a serving bowl.
    4. Add a bit more oil to the skillet and add the onions, salt lightly, and saute on high without browning until they being to soften.
    5. Add rajas and cook about 3 minutes more.
    6. Add the garlic and cook for another minute.
    7. Add the fake steak, the Bragg's and heat through. Taste for salt -- it probably won't need any more.
    8. If you are using the eggs, push the mixture over to one side of the skillet, add the beaten eggs, and cook until almost done. Break it up with a spatula and mix into the other stuff.
    9. Put in a bowl and serve.
    10. To eat, smear a little sour cream on a warm tortilla, add some of the fakejitas, a slice of avocado, salsa, and wrap it up and eat it.

    Reheating corn tortillas: Turn on a gas burner and turn to medium low. Add a tortilla, heat for about 30 seconds, adjusting the heat so that it does not burn, and put another tortilla directly on top of it. Flip it over (using tongs, not your fingers!) so that the cold tortilla is over the flame, and heat for another 30 seconds. Add another cold tortilla on top, flip over, and repeat for up to a dozen tortillas. Wrap the tortillas in a clean dishtowel and serve as soon as possible. I have tried many methods and like this one the best. There is a satisfying, elemental quality to this technique, and the slight char on the tortillas adds much more flavor than a sojourn in the microwave.

    Salsa: I never understood why people buy jarred salsa when all you need to make salsa mexicana is a few ingredients and a sharp knife. Mix about 1/4 of a medium white or red onion, finely chopped, with a smallish chopped tomato, a chopped serrano or jalapeno chili (remove the seeds if you want it less hot), and a handful of chopped fresh cilantro and some salt. Let it sit for a few minutes, and add a tablespoon of water if you want it more liquid. That's it.

    Sunday, September 5, 2010

    Yellow tomato gazpacho

    Our CSA (community supported agriculture coop) requires members to volunteer one shift each season, to either set up or clean up after everything is finished. The volunteers who work the clean up shift get to take what they want from the produce that is left. I try to time my shift to coincide with peak tomato season. The problem is that by the end of the evening, what is left can be more than a bit bruised. We had some great heirloom tomatoes, but all the red varieties were gone or in sad shape by the end of the night. However, I did get to take home a good quantity of slightly bruised yellow heirloom tomatoes. I think that the variety was "yellow queen" which is a light yellow, almost cream color and sometimes has a slight blush. They are low in acid but still had a rich tomato flavor. They were so delicate that they had practically turned to gazpacho by the time that I got them home, so here is what I did with them:

    Yellow tomato gazpacho

    • 1 clove garlic, peeled (1 more if you want, but the croutons will add more garlic flavor)
    • 1.5 to 2 pounds yellow tomatoes ( trim off the mushy bits if you want)
    • 3-4 ounces day old bread, crusts removed
    • 1/4 to 1/2 cup olive oil
    • 1-2 tablespoons vinegar (I used sherry vinegar)
    • Salt
    • 1 cup chopped English or Persian cucumbers, peeled if desired
    • 1 cup halved cherry tomatoes
    • 1 recipe croutons (see the recipe for white almond gazpacho I posted last month)

    1. With the motor running, drop the garlic through the opening of a blender (or feeder tube of a food processor) which will pulverize it. This is actually fun, and you may be tempted to use too much garlic. Don't.
    2. Add the tomatoes and blend to a puree.
    3. Run the bread briefly under water, squeeze dry, add the bread to the blender and puree some more.
    4. With the motor running, drizzle in the olive oil, one tablespoon of the vinegar and about 1 teaspoon or regular or 2 teaspoons of coarse salt.
    5. Shut the motor, taste for seasoning, and add more salt and vinegar if you want, and run the blender briefly to incorporate.
    6. Push the soup through a sieve, pressing so that it all passes through. This will vastly improve the texture of the final soup.
    7. Chill well, for a few hours or overnight.
    8. Serve in small soup bowls and pass cherry tomatoes, cucumber, and croutons for garnish.

    Additions: This soup has a wonderful, pure tomato flavor. You can add parsley, cilantro or some jalapeno pepper if you want, but why?

    The bread: People think gazpacho is about the tomatoes, but it is really about the bread. I once read that it comes from the Arabic for "bread and vinegar" and the first syllable sounds like khubz, Arabic for bread. I haven't been able to verify this but it has the ring of truth. Spaniards still serve white gazpacho, often with almonds, where the bread is even more central. I find that bread mellows out the flavors, particularly of the garlic and vinegar and lets the tomato shine through. Without the bread, it is far to acid and the garlic rapidly takes on an off flavor. If you have never made gazpacho with bread before, try it. It will be a revelation. It is important to use a non-sweet loaf that is not sourdough. A peasant-style white loaf, french bread, or ciabatta works best.

    The vinegar: The flavor and color will change subtly with the kind of vinegar you use. I love the flavor of sherry vinegar in this dish, but you could easily use white wine, champagne, or red wine vinegar. Rice vinegar is probably too mild for yellow tomatoes. Don't even think of using balsamic.