Thursday, August 30, 2012

Lentils with green beans (or green beans with lentils) : a fast and easy vegetarian dinner

I generally avoid partially prepared foods for reasons of cost and taste, but sometimes there is no time for anything and compromises are necessary.  You can get washed and trimmed vegetables and precooked lentils, beets and potatoes.  It beats ordering in or going out, in terms of health, taste, cost and even time.  I threw this dish together with them in less than 30 minutes, a simply spiced stew of green beans and lentils.  I seasoned it with cumin and Kirmizi pepper, and topped it with garlic flavored yogurt.  It is a very flexible dish, so I will give some variations at the end.  You could fancy up the yogurt topping with a mint and pepper butter, or skip it entirely and add some pomegranate molasses to the sauce and top the stew with feta.  And on, and on, and on.  I tend to swing Middle Eastern with ingredients like this, but they are amenable to a host of flavors.

Lentil and green bean stew:
  • 1 teaspoon - 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon whole cumin seed
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon flavorful red pepper (Aleppo, Kirmizi or Urfa)
  • salt and black pepper to taste
  • 1 pound green beans, washed, trimmed and halved (I used haricots verts from Trader Joe's)
  • 15 ounce can diced tomatoes (I like Muir Glen fire roasted)
  • 2 cups cooked French lentils (you can either boil a cup for 20-30 minutes, or do as I did and use the precooked kind from Trader Joe's or Fairway, which come in vacuum-sealed 500 gram packages)
  • 1/2 cup garlic flavored yogurt (directions below)
  1. Spray a nonstick skillet and heat olive oil on medium until hot.
  2. Add olive oil, let heat for about 30 seconds, and add cumin seeds.  Cook until aromatics are a few shades darker, but do not burn.
  3. Add onions, turn heat to high and cook for about 5 minutes until soft.
  4. Add red pepper, salt and black pepper and stir for about a minute until aromatic.
  5. Add the green beans and cook for 5 minutes stirring occasionally.
  6. Add the tomatoes and cook for 5-10 minutes until well cooked -- there are few adequate words in the English language to describe and undercooked canned tomato.
  7. Add the lentils and any liquid in the package and cook to heat through, about another 5 minutes. If it is dry, add a little water to keep it from scorching.
  8. Serve w on rice or bulgur (my favorite quick method is below), or with pita. Garlic-flavored yogurt goes well with this.   It is good reheated or cold the next day.
  9. Serves 4 generously as a main dish.
Quick bulgur: Coarse bulgur goes best here and nothing could be easier.  Bulgur may be a 10,000 year-old convenience food.  It is already cooked and just needs to be rehydrated and warmed.  Forget most of the fancy pilaf recipes.  Take one part of bulgur and put it in a microwave-safe serving dish.  Sprinkle salt lightly over the top, and pour on 1 part boiling water.  Stir to mix, cover and leave it sit until the water is absorbed, about 20 minutes.  Cover dish with a paper towel and zap in microwave until warm.  For 3-4 servings, I used 1 cup of bulgur and water and zap them for about two and a half minutes.

Garlic yogurt:  On a cutting  board, smash a medium clove of garlic with a broad bladed knife and remove the skin.  Sprinkle with coarse salt, about 1/4 teaspoon.  Mash the salt into the garlic with the side of the blade.  In about 30 seconds or so, it should be reduced to a puree. If not, chop is a bit with the sharp edge, and then go back to mashing.  Scrape the garlic into a small bowl, and then stir in 1/2 to 3/4 cup of yogurt of your choice and fat level.  I really like goat's milk yogurt here.  This is a wonderful topping for all kinds of Middle Eastern dishes and especially good with those in tomato sauce.

Flavored butter or oil:  Heat 1 - 2 tablespoons olive oil or butter on medium heat until melted.  Add 1/2 teaspoon each finely ground black pepper and Aleppo, Urfa or Kirmizi pepper.  Let these heat, being careful not to burn, for about a minute.  If you want, and for a rather wild flavor, add 1 teaspoon of dried spearmint or 1/2 teaspoon of dried tarragon, forced through a sieve.  Cook about 30 seconds.  You make pour this directly over the lentil and green bean stew, or pour it over the yogurt, which will then be particularly beautiful.  If you are pouring it over the yogurt, the stew is best served with the yogurt on top rather than on the side.

Other flavors:  You can add a handful of fresh coriander when you add the green beans, and top it with more fresh coriander.  Add some sliced garlic, abut 4 cloves, when the onions are done and a teaspoon of pomegranate molasses with the tomatoes, and then top the stew with about 1 cup  of crumbled feta and heat a few minutes so it starts to melt.  Don't use yogurt in this case.  Omit the cumin seeds and add 1/2 teaspoon allspice or cinnamon when you add the tomatoes.  Experiment with different kinds of pepper. Experiment in general!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Almond rum punch

This is a very easy cocktail that can be thrown together quickly with stuff that you have in the house, provided that you have a well-stocked bar (with bitters, dark rum and maraschino liqueur) , someone on a low-carb diet (unsweetened almond milk) and like to cook Indian food (cardamom) .  With these things on hand, it is a cinch.
We were approaching the end of our Cape rental and were left with half a container of diet almond milk and a bit of rum. The cocktail for that night was an Aperol spritz, and some of the people with less mature palates did not take to its slightly bitter orange flavor.  So this served as a backup and it also enabled us to follow the categorical imperative (for some -- or does this violate the meaning of the term?) of not wasting or throwing out food. Cardamom syrup is very easy to cook up if you don't have any on hand. The punch tastes extremely creamy, but has no cream, only lowfat nut milk.  It is also pareve, a nice bonus.
Almond Rum Punch

Ingredients and method
Mix the following ingredients in a pitcher that holds six cups or more:
  • 2 cups unsweetened almond milk (I used Blue Diamond Vanilla; if you use p lain, add 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup dark rum, like Gosling's
  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup cardamom syrup
  • 1/4 cup maraschino liqueur (optional but highly desirable)
  • 4 dashes Angostura bitters
 Add ice to fill the pitcher and stir for another minute.  Taste it, and if you would like it sweeter, add more cardamom syrup (if you want it sweeter and more fragrant) or maraschino (if tyou want it sweeter and boozier).  Pour into glasses with more ice if desired and enjoy.

Serves 4-6.

Cardamom syrup: Combine 1 cup white sugar, 1.5 cups water and 15 cardamom pods, lightly crushed. Bring to a boil, and cook or about 10 minutes on medium until you have a thick syrup. Let cool, and then strain into a clean jar and store in the refrigerator. Makes about 1 cup. 

Friday, August 24, 2012

Singapore chili chicken on toast

Exoskeletons do not fit comfortably into an observant Jewish diet.  With the exception of a few species of locusts, which some Yemenites eat, Jews who observe the dietary laws refrained from eating Arthropoda which includes crustaceans  ( shrimp, lobster, crab, prawn  etc) as well as insects and spiders.   While few miss the grasshoppers ( chapulines in Mexico, served w tortillas and guacamole as well as in many other preparations) many consider forgoing shrimp, lobster and crab and act of true self-denial.  For me, the taste of the flesh is almost beside the point.  What I miss is the joy, experienced in its purest form in an Asian, especially Malaysian restaurant, or in a Maryland crab house, of sucking spices off shells.  If you are like me, this dish is for you.  Even if you aren't, and eat lobster and crab all the time,  it is very good, and cooking chicken is a whole lot easier than cooking crab or lobster.

This dish is inspired by the Chili Crab with Toast of the Fatty Crab and Sam Sifton's Fathers' Day interpretation with lobster from the New York Times, neither of which I have had, both of which I occasionally dream about.  Chicken, especially the backs, substitute very nicely for the crustaceans and give lots of spice-sucking pleasure.  To mellow out the sauce, rather than the obscene (in a good sense) amount of butter that is called for, I use light coconut milk, which avoids the meat-dairy prohibition (not to discuss here the issue of why chicken is considered meat like a milk-producing mammal).  The total experience is different (I assume) but still more than satisfying. It is a mess in the best sense of the word.  Lobster bibs would not be amiss, and use lots of napkins.
The dish looks harder than it is and takes about an hour, beginning to end.  the chicken is browned in the broiler or on the grill after simmering (what I call Filipino Adobo-style) which makes it a lot easier, and gives you nice crisp and tasty skin at the end. We experimented with several different garnish combinations, and thought that the mint and salty roasted peanuts were the best.  We also tried a variety of breads and did not come to a consensus, so I discuss this at the end.  The recipe below serves 8.  You can halve it and just use the chicken, but you may want to throw in some wings or backs if you have any around for the chewing pleasure.

To drink, beer is the logical choice, but some reds could stand up to it, like a good Aussie Shiraz or a Monje Tinto Tradicional from Tenerife on the Canary Islands -- we are talking serous terroir here.  A truly beautiful pairing is Cassis, not the black currant liqueur but the white wine from Provence. This would go particularly well with  Vietnamese red cabbage salad, though the pecans are optional and the grilled chicken or tofu unnecessary.

Singapore Chili Chicken with Toast

  • 1-2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 inch piece ginger, finely chopped
  • 2-3 stalks of lemon grass, outer leaves removed and cut into two inch pieces
  • 30-50 fresh curry leaves (optional but highly desirable)
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 15 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 1 chicken, about 3 pounds, cut into eighths
  • 3-4 pounds chicken backs and wings
  • 12 ounces tomato paste (one large or two small cans)
  • 2 cups white wine or vermouth (you can substitute water, just add more lime at the end)
  • 4 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 4 tablespoons kecap manis (Indonesian sweet soy sauce; if not available substitute 3 tablespoons brown sugar and an additional tablespoon of soy)
  • 4-6 tablespoons Sriracha sauce
  • 2 cans  light coconut milk (you can use regular)
  • juice of two limes
  • bread:   8-12 large slices peasant bread, lightly toasted and rubbed on both sides with garlic (see below)
  • 1/2-1 cup roasted, salted peanuts chopped
  • 1/2-1 cup chopped fresh mint
  1. Heat the oil is a very large pot on medium heat and add the ginger, lemon grass and curry leaves.  Saute for two minutes until fragrant.
  2. Add the onions and saute on high for 5 minutes until soft and just beginning to brown around the edges.
  3. Add the garlic, turn heat down to medium and saute another minute.
  4. Add tomato paste and saute with the aromatics until glossy.
  5. Add the vermouth or water and stir until you have a saucy consistency.
  6. Add the chicken and the parts, and stir well to combine.  Simmer for about 10 minutes on medium covered.  It is not necessary to brown the chicken.
  7. Add the soy, kecap manis, coconut milk and  4 tablespoons of Sriracha.  The chicken should be just about covered, if not add more water.
  8. Bring to a boil, then turn down heat to medium-low and simmer for 30-40 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes.  The chicken will be done when the meat and skin starts to pull away from the bones.
  9. While the chicken is cooking, prepare the toast and garnishes.
  10. Remove the chicken to a large baking or broiling pan (lined with foil if you want to make clean up easier)  with skin side down to start.  Broil about 6 inches from the heat until well browned, between 5 and 10 minutes. Turn the chicken over and broil on the skin side until well browned.  Turn off the oven if the sauce is not finished.  If you have a gas grill, through the chicken on that on high heat and grill until well browned on all sides.
  11. Meanwhile, boil until the sauce is very thick , about 10-15 minutes.
  12. Add the lime juice.  Taste the sauce and add more Sriracha if you want.  You may find that the coconut milk has blunted some of its edge.
  13. To serve, take one or two very large, deep platters and put half of the toasted bread on the bottom.  Arrange the chicken on top of the bread and pour the sauce on top.  Arrange the remaining toast around the edges so that it remains crisp.  Sprinkle with chopped mint, then the peanuts.  (I like the larger amounts of garnish, esp. the mint.)
  14. Serves 8 generously.

The bread:  My son and I thought that this was best with a plain white peasant bread.  We were fortunate to have a loaf from the Terranova Bakery, which is in the Arthur Avenue neighborhood of the Bronx.  They also make nice pepper frissell, which are hard biscuits, which is what my wife preferred.  No need to toast these. A toasted sourdough would also be good.  I would avoid any bread that is too sweet, or a whole-grain bread.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Short Beach Sling aka Malay Madness

We have been renting on the same house on Short Beach Road in Centerville on Cape Cod for the past five years or so.  We have been renting with the same friends and cousins albeit in different locations on the Cape for the past 20 years or so, skipping a year here and there and always being sorry when we do.

When we started, a bottle of wine might do it for much of the week.  Now we do a case or two of wine and an indeterminate quantity of beer.  This happens as one ages.  We recently added a cocktails.  We worked our way up from Palomas introduced by my brother-in-law a few years ago and now have what a restaurant might call a cocktail program -- a different cocktail each night usually paired with an appropriate snack and ideally in harmony with the main dish.

Tonight's main dish was a farkashert version of Fatty Crab's Chili Crab on Toast, made with chicken instead of crab or lobster and light coconut milk instead of butter  I will post this recipe shortly.  As a cocktail beforehand,  I thought about a Singapore Sling but I don't care much for pineapple juice, so I put this together, based on mango/peach/orange juice.  It is moderately strong, but you could always add more gin if you want it stiffer.  This is probably as close as I will get to a girlie drink, though it is not overly sweet because of the gin and lime juice.  The cardamom syrup is provides a fragrant accent.  You could cut it down or leave it out if it seems to sweet for you, or try it with cardamom bitters instead.  Quite nice, especially with chili coconut peanuts and fried tempeh with 3 sambals (sweet chili, peanut, and tamarind), but you don't have to wait for a neocolonial pseudo Southeast Asian meal to make this.  I called it Malay Madness, but the others in a house had different ideas, so the consensus was Short Beach sling:

Short Beach Sling, aka Malay Madness  (serves 4 to 6)


  • 4 cups mango/peach/orange juice
  • 1 cup gin
  • 3 ounces maraschino liqueur
  • 3 ounces Benedictine
  • 1 ounce creme de cassis,  Cherry Heering, or other dark cherry brandy
  • 3 ounces lime juice
  • 1/4 cup cardamom syrup (see below)
  • 8 shakes each Angostura and orange bitters

  1. Mix everything together in a large 3 quart pitcher.  Chill well in the refrigerator or freezer.
  2. Add enough ice to the pitcher to come almost to the top.  Stir for 1 minute.
  3. Serve in whatever kind of glass you want (we are in a rental and use whatever is available) with some of the ice from the pitcher.  If you have little umbrellas or maraschino cherries you can garnish it with that, but you really don't have to.  You can easily double or halve the recipe. 
Cardamom syrup:  Combine 1 cup white sugar, 1 cup water and 15 cardamom pods, lightly crushed. Bring to a boil, and cook or about 15 minutes on medium until you have a thick syrup.  Let cool, and then strain into a clean jar and store in the refrigerator.  Makes about 1 cup.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Educational cocktails: the Bikkur fizz and the Minim-tini

I have been going through a number of significant spiritual transformations of late.  Not least of these is my shift to cocktail consumption. For most of my life, I freely impugned the masculinity of both male and female friends who consumed mixed drinks.  My standards were very stringent. In my mind the difference between a single malt scotch straight up and a scotch on the rocks was far greater than what I saw as the minimal distance between scotch on the rocks and the girliest of girlie drinks.  Well, I have had to drink crow, and over the past year or so have come to enjoy cocktails as much as anyone.  Which brings me to Parshat Eikev.

Last week was Shabbat Eikev, and the weekly Torah reading includes the statement "God your Lord is bringing you to a good land - a land with flowing streams and underground springs gushing out in valley and mountain.  It is a land of wheat, barley, grapes, figs and pomegranates, a land of oil-olive and honey.  (Deuteronomy 8:7-8.  Because the products on the list are all from plants, the honey is traditionally interpreted as date honey rather than bee honey.)   These seven items are known as the shivat ha-minim or the seven species of plants characteristic of the land of Israel.  This was the produce deemed suitable for presentation as first fruits, or Bikkurim, in Temple times.  

To me, this sounded like the list of ingredients for some interesting cocktails.  I created two, the Bikkur fizz and the Minim-tini.   (Particular thanks to Rabbi Kara Tav for helping to come up with the names.) They are both good, if rather strong, and excellent conversation starters.  They are most suitable for serving on Tu BeShevat, the New Year of Trees when it is customary to eat produce from Israel; Yom Ha-atzma'ut, Israeli Independence Day; Shavuot, when the first fruits were customarily brought to the Temple (though the prayer for the presentation of the Bikkurim has become the core of the Passover Haggadah, though that is another story); Shabbat Eikev, when the list of shivat ha-minim  is read, or whenever you want a tasty, somewhat fruity drink with a story to go with it.  Try to make thes with at least some Israeli or Palestinian products if you can find them -- it is good for a cocktail celebrating the land to include some fruits of the land.

Bikkur Fizz  (1 serving)

  • 1 teaspoon date honey (Silan)
  • 1 chopped green olive or 1/2 teaspoon brine from the jar
  • 1 tablespoon fig jam
  • 1/2 ounce scotch (barley)
  • 1 ounce fig brandy (popular among Tunisian Jews --a good product is available from France called Boukha Bokobsa and easy to find around Pesach;  there is also a product from Yonkers call Mahia that you can use; if you cannot find either, proportionately increase the scotch and brandy)
  • 1/2 ounce grape brandy
  • dash Angostura bitters
  • 2-3 ounces pomegranate juice (well-chilled, OK to use more if you want a less alcoholic drink)
  • 2-4 ounces wheat beer (well chilled)
  • twist of orange rind
  1. Muddle together the date honey,, olive and fig jam in a cocktail shaker. 
  2. Stir in the scotch and brandies until well mixed.
  3. Add the bitters and pomegranate juice.
  4. Add ice to the shaker and shake for 15-30 seconds until the mixture is very cold.
  5. Rub the orange twist around an 8 ounce or larger  drinking or wine glass.
  6. Strain in the mixture from the shaker.
  7. Top off with beer and serve.
Making this drink for a crowd:  Depending on the size of your shaker, you can make up to 3 serings with relative ease.   A different strategy is needed for a larger crowd.  Prepare everything through the bitters in a shaker, holding back on the pomegranate juice and the beer.  After shaking, strain into a large pitcher with some ice in it, add the pomegranate juice and stir.  Put orange twists in each glass, distribute the mixture from the pitcher, and top off with beer.

Minim-tini  (1 serving)

  • 1/2 teaspoon each pomegranate molasses, date honey (silan), and brine from a green olive jar or can
  • 1/2 oz scotch
  • 1/2 oz fig brandy
  • 1/2 oz white vermouth
  • 1 oz gin (citrus-y new Amsterdam gin worked very well here;  most gins are made with wheat)
  • lemon twist

  1. Rinse a martini or similar glass with water and put in the freezer to chill while you prepare the drink.
  2. Mix pomegranate molasses, date honey and the bring in a large glass or small cocktail shaker until smooth.  
  3. Stir int he Scotch, brandy, vermouth and gin, making sure that the other ingredients are dissolved well.  Fill the glass or shaker with ice and stir for 60 seconds.
  4. Scrunch the twist, rub along the inside of the martini glass, and strain the contents of the
  5. mixing utensil into the martini glass and serve.

Why the brine?  While it adds a savory note to the cocktail that offsets the sweetness of the other ingredients, the primary reason is visual.  Due to the pomegranate and date, the drink takes on an amber color.  The sight of an olive resting in the bottom of this cocktail is not as appealing as that of a green olive in clear spirits.  If you don't believe it, try it for yourself. 

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Lentil Salad, Southern-Indian style

This incentive for this recipe was to do something with the half package of precooked lentils that we had left over from the pre-Tisha B'Av meal.  The package said they would only last for two days, so we had to act fast.  If you have the ingredients on hand, this is a cinch.  Some of the ingredients are optional, so I also suggest alternatives for a slightly less "authentic" salad, though there is nothing authentic about this in the first place.  In particular, I encourage the substitution of garlic for the hing/asafoetida, which is a sulfurous resin used by Vaishnava Hindus who, for reasons that I have never been able to understand, do not consume onions or garlic.  If you have it on hand and have the taste for it, the hing is great, but otherwise you should be proud to prepare this with garlic.

This recipe is based on poriyals, a group of Southern Indian dishes in which vegetables are stir-fried with mustard seeds and other ingredients. I made this with about 2 cups of leftover cooked lentils, which made a nice-sized side dish for 4 or a vegetarian main dish for 2.  You could easily double the recipe.  If you don't have cooked lentils on hand, boil one cup of dry French green lentils (or smaller black Beluga lentils) in a lot of unsalted water.  It should take about 20-25 minutes, but start tasting them before, since you want them cooked through but firm.  However, the precooked lentils are great and the dish requires no cooking except for the spices at the end. 

Lentil Salad, Southern-Indian style

  • 2 cups cooked French lentils (see above)
  • juice of 1 lime
  • salt
  • 1/4 cup grated coconut (ideally fresh or defrosted frozen, otherwise dry, reconstituted briefly in hot water or in the microwave)
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh coriander
  • 1-2 tablespoons oil (ideally light sesame oil, otherwise vegetable oil -- see below)
  • 1 tablespoon brown mustard seeds
  • 1 teaspoon urad dal (hulled, split white dal, optional but highly desirable)
  • 15-25 fresh curry leaves (optional but highly desirable)
  • 1 thin hot green chili, sliced (leave the seeds in for heat)
  • 1/8 teaspoon hing or 1 clove garlic, peeled and chopped
  • 1 tablespoon sesame seeds (ideally raw, but roasted is ok, optional)
  1. Put the lentils in a serving bowl, mix in the lime juice (use a bit more if you want) and season with salt.  Taste, because precooked lentils are already salted.
  2. Top with the coriander, and then the coconut.
  3. Have all of your other ingredients ready, since it will go very fast.
  4. Heat the oil in a small skillet on high heat. (I actually use a jezve, a Turkish coffee pot.) Add the mustard seeds, and when they pop, add the dal and cook until they just begin to color lightly, about 30 seconds to a minute. Don't let them brown since they will cook further.
  5.  If using, add the hing and let sizzle a few seconds and then add the curry leaves, chili and garlic (if using), stirring after each addition.   Turn the heat down until the garlic looses its raw aroma, less than one minute.  Stir in the sesame seeds and cook briefly until they being to color, also less than a minute.
  6. Pour the oil and spices over the coriander and coconut, and serve.  It can wait up to an hour without going in the refrigerator.  When serving, toss the salad together at the table to mix in the spiced oil.
  7. For a slightly less attractive, but tastier dish, add the spiced oil to the lentils and mix well before topping with the coriander and coconut. 
  8. Serves 2 as a main or 4 as a side or appetizer.
The oil:  The classic Southern Indian cooking oil is sesame oil.  Unlike East Asian oils, it is not roasted.  It is a yellow color with a nutty aroma and it can withstand a bit more heat,.  The best choice is a sesame oil from an Indian grocery, otherwise an unroasted sesame oil which should be available in the health food store or in the health food section of a supermarket.  An interesting choice would be coconut oil which is very typical of the cooking of Kerala, but since it congeals at room temperature, you would have to serve it on warm, freshly cooked lentils and serve it at once rather than letting it sit.  You can also use a regular vegetable oil other than olive oil.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Kale rib soup with rice

It has been a while since I paid tribute to the memory of Birdie Paris,  my wife's aunt and force of nature. Coincidentally, last time was in connection with her recipe for kale soup. She never made this kale soup, but certainly would have been proud of me for coming up with it.  Birdie was one of the most generous people in the world, but she was also one of the most frugal.  We used to say that she would give you the clothes off her back, and then tell you what she paid for them and most importantly, what it was marked down from.  While such frugality was not uncommon in people born after the First World War who came of age during the Great Depression, Birdie brought it to new levels.  She would brag about buying dented cans and expired and marked-down meat and claimed to have built their Cape house on the savings. . She would buy scraps of leftover cold cuts at the deli counter and turn them into a (mighty tasty) antipasto, of course reciting the price of  each component as she dished it out..  Her daughter Susan says that it took her years to realize that she did not need to buy tuna fish just because it was on sale, and, if she wanted to, she could but it even if it was not on sale.
We have become addicted to kale salads but are often trim off the leaves and are left with a whole lot of ribs.  Here is something tasty to do with them:

Kale rib soup with rice

  • Ribs from one very large bunch of kale, preferably Tuscan (lacinato) kale, which will yield about one quart chopped
  • 1-2 tablespoons olive oil
  • medium onion, chopped
  • carrot, peeled and chopped
  • 2-3 ribs celery, trimmed stringed and chopped
  • 2 or more cloves or garlic, sliced
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste (more if you like it tomatoey, which I do not)
  • 5-6 cups liquid (I used water and a tablespoon of Osem powder;  a homemade vegetable stock would be nice if you are so inclined)
  • Parmesan cheese rind (a two inch piece is fine, but the more the merrier)
  • Bay leaf
  • 1/4 cup short grain rice, like Arborio or Spanish rice
  • grated Parmesan cheese for serving
  1. When you make the kale salad, you will strip the leaves off the stems, which will keep for a week or more in the refrigerator. 
  2. You can use all of the ribs except for the hard, woody stems which may still be attached, particularly if you got the kale from a farmers' market or CSA. Strip the ribs off the stem and discard the stem, since it is too fibrous to use.
  3. Rinse the ribs and chop them.  You should have about one quart.
  4. Heat the olive oil in a 3-4 quart soup pot and add, as you are finished preparing the, the onion, carrot, celery and garlic.  Stir occasionally until soft but not brown, about 5 minutes total.
  5. Add the chopped kale ribs, and saute for a few minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the tomato paste and stir until it is mixed in.
  6. Add the liquid, cheese rind, bay leaf and some grindings of pepper and bring to the boil. Turn heat down and simmer for  about 20 minutes, partially covered.  
  7. Taste the kale, which should be cooked but still somewhat firm before adding the rice.  Cook a few minutes more if necessary.  Add more salt if needed -- the rice will absorb some salt so it should taste every so slightly on the salty side.
  8. Add the rice and cook uncovered for 10 minutes.  Cover the pot and let stand for 5 minutes before serving.  The rice should be cooked but al dente, with a little toothiness.  If you want more tender rice, cook it a few minutes more.
  9. Serve with grated cheese.  Serves 6-8 as a first course and 3-4 as a very hearty main dish.
Variations: Rice is our favorite, but you can also prepare this with soup pasta (like ditalini) or toasted bread.  Just substitute the pasta for the rice, but cook the kale a little longer and  only cook the pasta for 5 minutes after adding.  If you use bread, the best choice is a stale, non-sweet whole grain loaf cut into 1-inch thick slices.  Toast them and rub with garlic and pour the soup (not a true zuppa/sop) over it when you serve. This can also be served with frissell, the hard biscuts available in some Italian bakeries. It is particularly good with pepper frissell. The soup itself should cook about 10 minutes more to tenderize the kale ribs.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Zucchini and caraway dip

Caraway and harissa are classic Tunisian seasonings and pair well with zucchini in an appetizer salad.  However, the classic way of preparing this dish is to boil and mash the zucchini which leads to the water problem. (See my earlier post in connection with a zucchini and tomato salad.)   While you are left with a lovely light green puree, you are also left with something of a soggy, bland mess that seems not to hold and highlight the spices.  The better alternative was to grate, salt and then saute the squash.  The water was eliminated and the flavors concentrated. (My theory is that many flavors are fat, rather than water soluble and that vegetables are almost always bettter sauteed than boiled or steamed.)
Here is a less refined, easier and spicier version of the salad.  Rather than salting the squash after grating and letting it drain, I found that you can just saute it a few minutes longer.  It eliminates a step, a lot of mess, makes the saltiness of the dish easier to control and really doesn't take much more cooking.  By sauteing the squash with garlic, harissa and ground caraway, you are left with an extremely tasty puree that is a welcome relief from the usual appetizer salads. This is a good way to use up some of those large zucchini clubs that people seem to accumulate in July and August, but it is even better made with tasty, small, tender squash. 

Zucchini and caraway dip

  • 2 pounds zucchini
  • 1-2 tablespoons olive oil
  • salt
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 teaspoon harissa (preferably one with a good hit of garlic)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground caraway seeds
  • 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
  1. Wash the zucchini well.  Zucchini often has a lot of grit embedded in its skin, and the best way to deal with this is to soak it for about 15 minutes.  Then run it under cold water, and scrape away any parts which are still gritty.  If it is a hopeless case, just peel it, it won't hurt the dish too much.
  2. Grate the zucchini on the large holes of a box grater.
  3. Heat the olive oil, reserving one teaspoon,  on medium high in a very large nonstick skillet and add the zucchini shreds.  Salt lightly.  
  4. Cook  on a high flame for about 15 minutes, until the squash is well-cooked and lightly browned.  You will be left with about 2 cups.
  5. Meanwhile, smash the garlic, peel it, and mash to a paste with some salt using the side and edge of a broad knife.
  6. Move the zucchini over to the size and add about a teaspoon more oil.  While stirring, add garlic and saute around 30 seconds, add the caraway for 30 seconds more,  then the harissa for 30 seconds more.  Then incorporate the seasonings into the cooked squash.
  7. Turn off the heat,
  8. Makes around 2 cups. Serve with crackers, bread or raw vegetables as an appetizer spread to 4-8 people, depending on what else is on the table.  It also makes a nice sandwich spread on whole grain bread and topped with pitted oil cured olives, sliced feta cheese and tomatoes.