Light. This is the challenge, this time of year.
Daily, my work alternates from the kitchen to my home office perch; each space has walls of windows to keep me in tune with the rhythm of the day. Lately I’ve been caught off guard, absorbed by testing recipes, cooking meals, or writing articles, only to look up and find myself shrouded in darkness. The hours move so rapidly, yet I think I’m keeping up.
Suddenly, the curtain drops. Night is here. At 4:45!
Some days I fret at my missed opportunities of sunlight, the better photographs, the lifted spirits. I tell myself–tomorrow, tomorrow—although we know, headed into winter, that each tomorrow means even less.
Moving deeper into the season, I have to capture that light in other ways.
Some mornings Bill and I rise very early, drive to Warner Park, and hike the 2 1/2 mile trail that loops around the wooded hills. Wearing headlamps, we begin in pre-dawn darkness, and find our way along the craggy path. Sometimes I’ll hear the who-who of owls call, or the rustle of a wild turkey flock on its own forest trek. Sometimes I’ll see a set of headlamps on the trail ahead of me, only to realize that it is a set of glowing eyes. A deer!
After thirty minutes of so, we turn off our headlamps. The world is dim, almost colorless, but visible. And then, sunrise.
Ah! Surrounded by hickory and beech trees, their leaves already yellow, we become enveloped in shimmering gold light.
Light and Balance. We need these in the food we eat too.
Today I am sharing two light and leafy recipes–one is a salad, the other cooked greens. Both autumn dishes help to balance out the heavy, hearty fare that defines the approaching holiday season.
I have been relishing fennel, its crunch and lively anise flavor enmeshed in a salad of Honeycrisp apples and clementines. My new favorite! This is a salad of fresh contrasts, melding sweet, peppery, citric, licorice and pungent tastes, with no cooking required. Just skilled prep—apples cut into thin batons, clementines peeled, sectioned and sliced, fennel and red onion almost shaved. Liberally season with salt and black pepper, which will help each element release its juices. Add salted Marcona almonds and your choice of a salty blue (gorgonzola, maytag, danish…)
The dressing is basic. Use a good olive oil—this beauty is from my friends’ biodynamic farm in Tuscany near the Tyrrhennian Sea—and a shake of white balsamic vinegar. As I have learned from Rachel in measuring this, use the Italian sensibility: “q.b.” quanto basto-–what is enough—in other words, use your good judgment.
A member of the chicory family, escarole is a beautiful and mildly bitter green that resembles leafy lettuce. Its core leaves, small and delicate, are ideal in a salad. But the whole head, sliced into ribbons, yields to heat readily, collapsing into a great delectable sopping mound. It makes a sumptuous side dish on its own, or can be spooned over rice or pasta. Served with beans or cornbread, it becomes an Italian dish that has migrated to the South.
In this pot, reds complement the greens. Red onion, red wine vinegar, and a handful of currants to bring pops of sweetness to the dish. You may use golden raisins in place of the currants; either dried fruit will gain a jewel-like glisten in the saute.
I could tell you, “Be grateful for your greens!”–because I am really reminding myself of the same.
Enjoy them chilled crisp in the salad bowl, or braised supple in the Dutch oven.
Enjoy your time with loved ones.
In this season of indulgence, enjoy some time of light and balance.
HONEYCRISP APPLE-CLEMENTINE-FENNEL SALAD
1 Honeycrisp apple, cut into small batons
3-4 clementines, peeled, sectioned, and cut into pieces
1 fennel bulb , shaved or sliced thinly
1/2 medium red onion, sliced thinly
1/2 cup Marcona almonds
1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar
1/2 pound mixed leaf lettuces
Place the prepared apples, clementines, fennel, and red onion into a large chilled bowl. Add the almonds and blue cheese crumbles.
Sprinkle the salt and black pepper over the salad ingredients, followed by the olive oil and white balsamic vinegar. Top with mixed lettuces.
Toss the salad gently but thoroughly, so that the myriad ingredients are well-dispersed and the lightly coated with the oil and vinegar. Taste and adjust for seasonings.
Makes 8-10 servings
WILTED ESCAROLE WITH RED ONION, GARLIC, AND CURRANTS adapted from Cooking Light
5-6 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup sliced red onion
3 cloves minced garlic
2-3 dried red chiles
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3-1/2 cup dried currants
1 large head of escarole, leaves washed and sliced into 1/2 ” thick ribbons
2-3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Place a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the olive oil. Stir in the red onion, garlic, and dried red peppers. Season with salt and saute the mixture for 2 minutes. The red onion will become translucent. Add the dried currants and saute for another minute.
Add the escarole ribbons. Stir and fold them in the red onion mixture. The heat will cause the escarole leaves to collapse and wilt. Add the red wine vinegar. Cover and reduce the heat to low. Allow the escarole to braise for 5 minutes.
Makes 8 servings
The unpredictability of harvests causes me to marvel at the steadfast dedication of farmers. One season to the next, they never know how well or poorly a crop will do, despite all care and meticulous planning. And, under the same weather conditions, one planting will thrive, while another fizzles.
In 2010, Gigi had a bumper crop of figs. In the two years that followed, her trees bore meager fruit. It had us worried—was 2010 a fluke? Last week, that notion was dispelled when Gigi called me with this report:
“We need to pick figs. Now!”
Her trees were–and still are—covered. Plump ripe knobs, some royal purple, others streaked greenish-brown, are ready to be plucked and relished. The next morning, I met Gigi at the garden. We picked a fast 100, and two days later, I returned to gather another basketful.
Joy. The figs are back, with the promise of so many more to come. Time to enjoy them now, and preserve them for the future.
My plan was two-fold. I could envision delectable figs roasted to sweetness, tucked in lettuce leaves with goat cheese, chives, and bacon for a summer meal. (almonds for my vegetarians!) What I didn’t use in the salad, I’d put up in mason jars. Roasted Figs in Syrup!
I began by halving the figs and arranging them on a baking sheet scattered with thin lemon wedges. After I dusted them with sugar and a spritz of white balsamic vinegar, I placed them into the hot oven.
I had forgotten how effective and deeply delicious this method is. Very quickly the sugar melts as the figs release their juices. The lemon and vinegar meld into the mix, enhancing the figgy taste, while balancing the sweetness. A gorgeous caramel-ruby syrup results, glazing the fruit in the pan. And that tangy syrup becomes the perfect medium to drizzle into the lettuce cups, the salad’s dressing really.
As for the rest, well, I have a few ideas. I love them baked on flatbread with prosciutto, leeks, and soft gorgonzola. The figs in syrup are sublime with mascarpone on a slice of crusty toasted baguette. Check out Cooking Light’s Guide to Figs for other tips and recipes. I am always open to new recipes with this ancient, treasured fruit, and would love to have your recommendations, too.
Of course, we fig lovers know that there is nothing quite like that one, sun-warmed and ripe right off the tree, sticky to the touch and honeyed to the bite.
ROASTED FIG-GOAT CHEESE-BUTTER LETTUCE CUPS
25 leaves butter (or Boston) lettuce, washed and spun dry
1 11 ounce log plain goat cheese
8-10 strips thick slab cut bacon cooked crisp and crumbled -OR-
1/2 cup sliced toasted almonds
1 1/2 cups roasted figs in syrup (recipe follows)
coarse ground black pepper
Arrange butter lettuce leaves on a platter. Cut the goat cheese log into small slices or pieces, placing a piece into each lettuce cup.
Sprinkle the goat cheese with chives.
Sprinkle cooked bacon or toasted almonds into the cups.
Place a fig half over the goat cheese.
Drizzle with figgy syrup and season with coarse ground black pepper.
Makes 25 appetizers or 10-12 mains.
ROASTED FIGS IN SYRUP
15 ripe figs, washed, dried and cut in half lengthwise
1 lemon, sliced into 10 wedges
1/4 cup sugar
2-3 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Place the fig halves on a baking sheet. Scatter the lemon wedges around the figs.
Sprinkle the sugar over the figs. Sprinkle the vinegar over the sugared figs.
Place into the oven and roast for 10-12 minutes, rotating the pan after the halfway (5-6 minutes) mark.
Cook until the figs become puffed and release their juices.
The juices will meld with the melted sugar and vinegar to make a luscious syrup.
Remove from the oven and cool. Place the fig and lemon pieces into a medium bowl or 12 ounce jar. Scrape the accumulated juices-syrup from the pan over the figs.
Makes 1 1/2 cups.
Note: You may double the batch and preserve the figs and syrup in 3-8 ounce jars and process in a hot water bath for 15 minutes.
“This sauce, is it cherry?” Wendy asked.
“It has a dark cherry color,” Paulette said, dabbing a little on her tongue. “But I don’t know,” her voice trailed off.
” I bet it’s a mixture of berries,” said Marty, spooning the garnet glaze over the meat.
I smiled and shook my head.
“Plum, perhaps?” asked Rick.
No one at potluck was able to identify the fruit at the heart of this sauce.
But when I informed them that it was pomegranate, there was a collective nod and murmur, “Ahhhhh.”
Bottled pomegranate juice arrived on the food scene as the new darling almost a decade ago. Antioxidant-rich, packed with vitamins A, C, and E, the tart claret juice is now beyond a trend, and well-established in the culinary world.
Still, I had cooked with it on rare occasions. Had our roles been reversed, I doubt that I would have correctly identified the fruit either.
Wanting to cook a turkey breast for our potluck, I did a little on-line research to find some new method or preparation. Of all the recipes I pored over, this one leapt out.
Smoke-roasted turkey breast with pomegranate-thyme glaze was one of five holiday bird recipes, but it’s silly to wait until Thanksgiving for such a dish. For its versatility and taste, turkey should be welcome any time of year. It is especially good for potlucks and the like–even a plump breast of turkey can ably feed a crowd.
And, in summer, having your main cooking source placed outside makes good sense.
Garlic, shallots and fresh thyme ground with olive oil and a splash of POM make a delectable seasoning rub for the bird.
The recipe is appealing, too, for its laissez-faire nature. I could put the breast on my smoker grill (I have a Big Green Egg) and then go about my business. The smoker works its magic for hours out in the heat of the day, while I am inside,
Adding soaked wood chips to those smoldering coals imparts another sweet layer of flavor. If you don’t have a smoker, you can slow-roast the turkey in your oven. You won’t get that smoky taste or distinctive pink-tinged ring permeating the meat. But the herbs and tart fruitiness will still bring intriguing tastes that partner well with turkey, but are a step out of the usual.
The glaze takes up where the pesto rub leaves off. Pomegranate’s inherent tang is both bolstered and balanced with brown sugar and vinegar. You can make it while the turkey is cooking along.
It has its own laissez-faire way. At a simmer, it reduces over the course of half an hour. Or so.
You just need to give it an occasional stir.
Even so, it is not a thick glaze–to its benefit. The thin syrup glosses over the breast, staining the skin and meat with a beautiful red violet color. Both look and taste hint at fall.
I suspect the glaze would be just as delicious brushed onto chicken or duck. Pork too!
adapted from Cooking Light
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 shallot or 1/3 cup white onion, diced
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
1 1/2 cups pomegranate juice
1/4 cup brown sugar (I used Demerara)
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
pinch or two red pepper flakes
Warm olive oil in a deep skillet. Saute garlic and shallots for 1-2 minutes, until softened. Stir in thyme leaves, pomegranate juice, brown sugar and vinegar. Season with salt, black pepper, and a sprinkle or two red pepper flakes. Allow the mixture to cook on low for at about thirty minutes, until it reduces by half, to a thin syrup.
SMOKED TURKEY BREAST
1 6 lb turkey breast
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
2 tablespoons pomegranate juice
2 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon black pepper, divided
paprika–to sprinkle over turkey breast
2 cups wood chips, soaked (applewood, cherrywood, hickory, mesquite–your choice)
Rinse and dry turkey breast.
Place olive oil, thyme leaves, garlic, pomegranate juice, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper into a food processor. Pulse until the ingredients become a kind of rough pesto.
Lift the skin of the turkey and liberally rub the thyme mixture onto the flesh.
Sprinkle the exterior of the bird with remaining salt, black pepper, and a light dusting of paprika.
Prepare grill, adding soaked wood chips to the coals. When the temperature gauge reaches 200 degrees, place the turkey breast on the grill. Cover and allow it to smoke for about 3 hours. At that point, brush on some glaze and let the breast finish for another 30 minutes. Check the internal temperature of the bird–it should register 165 degrees to be done.
Remove from the smoker grill. As the turkey cools, continue brushing with more glaze.
Cut into nice 1/4″ slices and arrange on a platter, drizzling glaze over the slices.
Serve with remaining glaze in a bowl on the side. Serves 10
We are blissfully in the thick, luscious thick of tomato season in Tennessee.
At the farmers’ market, I am agog at the array of bushel baskets, heaped with Bradleys and Brandywines, Lemon Boys and Purple Cherokees. I’m tempted by Mortgage Lifters, if for nothing but cunning name alone, and those crazy striped Green Zebras that don’t taste green at all.
Have you ever tried the red and yellow variegated ones, sometimes called Candystripers? How about those delicate peach tomatoes with the fuzzy skins?
It makes me not mind the thick heat around here—as long as I can include these gorgeous heirlooms in our summertime dining.
So many tomatoes, so many ways to enjoy them, and a few glorious weeks to indulge in the bounty. Salsas, soups, panzanellas, pastas, deep dish pies and napoleons…like you, I’m ever on the lookout for another tomato-centric recipe.
Lately I’ve been in a building mode, constructions! inspired by this stack I found on Cooking Light’s website.
Artful towers of tomatoes get vitality (and height!) from myriad ingredients sandwiched between their slices. These structures require almost no cooking: a few strips of bacon fried crisp in the skillet, a half cup of balsamic vinegar reduced in a pot to a syrup.
That minimal stovetop time is a real boon in summer. Eaten with a fork and knife, the tomato towers have a meatiness that satisfies greedy appetites, while being cool and refreshing. They can be elegant. They are fun.
I’ve taken two different approaches in assembling my towers. The first is a natural–a vertical caprese, brandishing the colors of the Italian flag in tomato-fresh mozzarella-basil. Layer in a sliver of red onion, to give a little bite. I like to use balsamic vinegar reduction–the syrup is deeply sweet-tart and makes beautiful striping over the stack and plate. Use your best olive oil; this is what is was made for!
Going forward, you can get creative; change it up. Maybe add a layer of cucumber or zucchini. Substitute the mozzarella with a slather of ricotta or mascapone. Tuck in a ripple of prosciutto. No basil on hand? Try oregano or thyme.
Tower Two takes a Southern stance, layering elements of my favorite sandwich, the BLT, (actually, the BLTCA: bacon-lettuce-tomato-cheddar-avocado!) under a pour of chive-laced buttermilk dressing. How can you go wrong with that? It could only be improved with some grilled corn, cut off the cob, and strewn over the stack.
Remember–don’t refrigerate tomatoes! Chilling them changes their structure and makes them mealy.
a variety of ripe heirloom tomatoes, cored and cut into 1/2 ” slices
a few cherry or grape tomatoes, halved, for garnishing
1/2 lb. fresh mozzarella, cut into 1/4″ inch rounds
handful of fresh basil leaves
1/2 small red onion, sliced thinly
1/4 cup balsamic syrup
1/4 cup favorite extra virgin olive oil
cracked black pepper
Start with large flat tomato slices as your foundation. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place a basil leaf (or two) on top, then a little bit of red onion. Cover each with a piece of mozzarella. Dot with good olive oil and drizzle with balsamic syrup. Repeat the layering, topping with cherry or grape tomato halves and more basil. Secure with a long toothpick or short skewer. Pour olive oil over each tower, along with a zig-zag of balsamic syrup. Serve.
a variety of ripe heirloom tomatoes, cored and cut into 1/2″ slices
a few cherry or grape tomatoes, halved, for garnishing
6 slices bacon, cooked crisp
1/2 avocado, sliced
4-6 slices sharp white cheddar (you may crumble or shred the cheese)
buttermilk dressing (recipe below)
salt and black pepper
Start with a large flat tomato slice as your foundation. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add a slice or two of avocado, followed by bacon strip and cheddar. Spoon a little buttermilk dressing over the top. Repeat layers, spooning a generous amount of buttermilk dressing. Secure with a long toothpick or short skewer. Make as many towers as you would like, allowing one per person. Pass a few grinds of black pepper over the lot and serve.
1 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
1/4 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 heaping tablespoons fresh chives, finely chopped
Pour buttermilk into a non-reactive bowl. Stir in lemon juice and white wine vinegar. Allow the mixture to sit and thicken for ten minutes. If it clabbers, don’t worry. It will become smooth again when stirred or whisked.
Add granulated garlic, salt, pepper, and chives. Stir well. Cover and refrigerate. The dressing will continue to thicken and its tangy flavors will develop. (If you want it thicker, (and richer) whisk in a dollop or two of mayo. Whoa.
Makes one cup.
Bittersweet Chocolate Pudding with cocoa dusted whipped cream
Maple-Mustard Glazed Salmon Steaks, roasted golden cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and sweet onions, scallion-jasmine rice
Always start with chocolate—then work backwards.
That’s my rule, when it comes to making my dad his special Father’s Day lunch. At a spry 87 years, he doesn’t want any thing, but a well-prepared meal capped by a deep dark decadent chocolate dessert insures a happy day for the man.
This year, I chose something treasured from his past: chocolate pudding.
For many years, his mother, my Nana, would make chocolate pudding from scratch. She would make it in big batches–chilled in a pretty crystal bowl or served in individual ceramic crocks–at least once a week when he was growing up, a tradition she continued when she came to live with us.
My sisters and I knew we’d have to be patient—puddings take an eternity to make, by a child’s sense of time. But that patience would be rewarded with the pot and spoon–which we attacked, greedily running our fingers along the pot’s sides and bottom to lap up every delicious smidge. And licking that spoon ( the prize–who would get the spoon?) like it was a great chocolate lollipop.
Chocolate pudding is uncomplicated: essentially milk, sugar, very good bittersweet chocolate, and a little cornstarch for thickening. Vanilla, coffee, creme de cacao, raspberry coulis: any other enhancements are up to you. The beauty of the pudding is in its basic premise: a delivery of creamy smooth chocolate comfort, easy-peasy to make.
The rest is all about hovering over the saucepan, stirring with diligence to insure that smooth texture, waiting for the pudding to bubble and burp. And by an adult’s time sense, it doesn’t really take that long. Maybe 15 minutes.
While the pudding cools, you can whip up the rest of the meal–beginning with the maple-mustard glaze for the salmon steaks.
Simple components: country-style Dijon mustard whisked with maple syrup, balsamic vinegar and a splash of orange juice. It does wonders in a short time, imparting dark tangy sweetness to the fish. You can marinate the salmon for as little as 20 minutes, or several hours (more time is better).
I’ve made it on three different occasions–a grilled fillet flaked onto toasts for cocktail party, whole roasted fillets for a large buffet dinner, and now these steaks for Dad.
The combination works really well-a bit of an update on those honey dijon tastes. Maple syrup comes across less sweet, with more complexity. You may use a smooth Dijon mustard, but I like the pop of the mustard seeds, especially when heated. This is a recipe whose elegant result belies its simplicity.
To round out the plate:
I found this pretty golden cauliflower at Smiley’s booth at our Nashville Farmers Market. With a cooler start to our spring, it’s been nice to have some of these cruciferous veggies available in June. My dad is not a big eater of vegetables, but he loves onions and (oddly) anything from the cabbage family is tops in his book.
We’ve talked before about the ubiquitous roasting of vegetables–how it transforms the cauliflower into something crispy and sweet, the way the petals of Brussels sprouts become light caramel chips.
MAPLE-MUSTARD GLAZED SALMON STEAKS (adapted from Cooking Light)
3 tablespoons maple syrup
3 tablespoons coarse grain Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon orange juice
1/4 teaspoon cracked black pepper
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
olive or canola oil
4 5-6oz. salmon steaks
Place the maple syrup, coarse grain mustard, balsamic vinegar and orange juice into a mixing bowl and whisk until blended. Stir in salt and pepper.
Place salmon steaks into a large zip lock bag. Pour in the marinade/glaze. Seal and refrigerate. Marinate for a couple of hours.
Prepare outdoor grill, broilerpan, or stovetop grill pan with a little oil. Heat.
Sear salmon steaks–about 6 minutes per side. Baste with reserved marinade. When the fish flakes easily with a fork, remove from heat.
BITTERSWEET CHOCOLATE PUDDING WITH COCOA-DUSTED WHIPPED CREAM
6 tablespoons turbinado sugar
4 tablespoons cornstarch
pinch sea salt
2 3/4 cups 2% milk
2 tablespoons strong coffee
2 teaspoons vanilla
6 oz. bittersweet chocolate (70%) chopped
1/2 pint heavy cream
2-3 tablespoons confectioners sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon cocoa–to dust over the whipped cream
Whisk sugar, cornstarch and salt together in a heavy-bottomed medium saucepan.* Turn on heat to medium. Slowly pour in milk, whisking constantly, followed by coffee and vanilla. Stir-stir-stir! Over 15 minutes time, the mixture will begin to thicken, coating the back of a wooden spoon. When the rich chocolate mixture begins to burp and bubble, remove from heat. Keep stirring.
Using a heat-proof spatula, spoon and scrape the pudding into individual ramekins. Allow to cool slightly before refrigerating. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and chill for a couple of hours. ( If you don’t want “pudding skin,” press plastic wrap directly onto the pudding surface.
Before serving: whip cream and dollop onto puddings. Dust with cocoa powder and serve.
Makes 6 individual ramekins.
*Many recipes call for using a double boiler, which I applaud–this works beautifully. But I will make just as smooth a pudding using my heavy-bottomed stainless steel saucepan on medium low heat, and that diligent hover-and-stir.
Who wants to lick the spoon?
Stories and recipes: what better way to learn about the culture of a people who live in a distant land?
In The Honey Thief Najaf Mazari spins a series of tales, taken from the centuries-long oral tradition of his tribe, the Hazara. A native of Afghanistan ( he escaped the Taliban in 2000, and lives in Australia) , he partnered with writer and friend Robert Hillman to give a permanent voice to the spoken lore of the war-torn nation’s third largest ethnic group.
Centered on characters, some ancient, some modern day: Among the cast, you’ll be introduced to a musician with extraordinary levitating talents, a wise and patient beekeeper, a revered Master Poisoner, and a boy with an uncanny gift for attracting riches. The stories are unusual and beguiling, have elements of magic and wonder. There are struggles, heartaches, and triumphs. There is laughter. There is hope.
The stories speak, too, of the Hazara love of their land, of its natural beauty.
“I could take you places in the north close to the Oxus river that would steal your breath away; places that you would not believe could exist as I lead you through an arid landscape of broken rock and red sand and stunted bushes. Then you would suddenly find yourself gazing down from a mountain pass on the river shining under a blue sky and a green carpet climbing up the slopes. And you would think, ‘Ah! This is Paradise!”
And, while I would encourage you to take delight in exploring this world through these tales, I think you’ll also be drawn in by Mazari’s discussion of the cooking of the Hazara. He devotes a couple of chapters to his people’s diet, their pantry of staples, and some favored dishes.
What I especially enjoyed about delving into these food chapters is that Mazari’s voice is so clear and present in the narrative. Ingredients and specialty dishes are described in a humorous and engaging manner. It’s like he is right there with you in the kitchen, talking you through the recipe.
Take, for example, his Lamb with Spinach, which I chose to make. It is a dish of celebrations, always served at weddings.
“With this dish,” he writes, “your jaws and teeth get a holiday. The lamb has to melt in your mouth and just the pressure of your palate will bring out all the flavour that the meat has absorbed from the spices and herbs. So, good lamb, no excuses, cut from the leg, one-and-a-half kilos.”
I’ve transcribed his recipe in a more traditional American way,
but it is faithful to his instructions. He calls for “pinches” of seasonings, for instance–for which I have given teaspoon measurements. In this regard, he says, “You judge.”
Lamb is prepared in a gentle saute, its delectable taste enhanced in a steady building of flavors and spice. You don’t want these to obscure the flavor of the lamb, or overwhelm it. Onions are critical in Afghan cooking and impart earthy sweetness. Garlic is important too, added with more restraint.
One-by-one, fragrant spices–turmeric, cinnamon, cardamom, and nutmeg– are stirred into the stew. Stock, tomatoes, and their juices give the meat a medium in which to bathe and tenderize.
After a turn in the oven, the lamb is ready for its final touches–spinach, lemon zest, and a “proper” yogurt (NOT that foolish kind with strawberries and bananas, Mazari cajoles!)
What emerges is a rich lamb stew, complex in spicing, melt-away in texture. Because I like heat, I added some cayenne, (not too much, Mazari cautions) which elevates all of the taste layers.
How fine to dine in an Afghan tradition. Sabzi Gosht is indeed Feast-worthy!
SABZI GOSHT (LAMB WITH SPINACH) adapted from The Honey Thief by Najaf Mazari and Robert Hillman
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 lbs. lamb, cut from the leg into 1″ cubes
2 large yellow onions, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cardamom
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne (optional)
1 cup beef stock
5 large ripe tomatoes, or 1 28 oz. can plum tomatoes
1 bunch fresh baby spoon spinach
1 cup plain yogurt
zest from 1 lemon
1/3 cup toasted pine nuts
Warm olive oil on medium heat in a heavy-duty pot–best if the pot can go from stovetop to oven. You’ll begin by sauteing in stages.
Add lamb and begin to brown the meat–don’t crowd the pieces.
Stir in the diced onion and continue sauteing for a few minutes. Stir in the garlic.
One by one, stir in the spices—turmeric, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom—and then stir in the black pepper and salt.
Add the tomatoes and cook for another 3-4 minutes.
Pour in stock. Stir well.
Cover and place in the oven, preheated to 300 degrees.
Allow the lamb to cook for for 1 1/2-2 hours.
Remove from oven and stir in the spinach. The heat will collapse and cook the leaves.
Fold in plain yogurt and lemon zest.
Taste for salt and seasonings.
Let the stew “settle” for about 15 minutes–allow the flavors to marry.
Serve over basmati rice and garnish with toasted pine nuts.
Makes 6 servings.
Cauliflower Cauliflower Cauliflower
Lately this cruciferous vegetable, a beautiful mind, a compact head of rumbled white curd, has been The Thing
The Veggie King !
Raw, roasted, boiled, steamed, sauteed,
it has turned up in all kinds of dishes that I have eaten at restaurants, or read about in blogs, or cooked at home.
What was once commonly boiled into oblivion and buttered, or chopped into florets and tossed onto a tray with other crudites and dip, has taken on new respect and new dimension.
At Etch, a forward restaurant in our downtown area, chef Deb Paquette makes magic with that vegetable. A recent lunch special featured a riff on an egg salad sandwich–using blanched cauliflower. The components–aioli, mustard, capers, onions, celery, and olives–all cloaked the “curd” in what had the feel and flavor of egg salad,
but no eggs.
Trust me, it was an improvement over an egg salad sandwich.
She also serves raw cauliflower curds broken into granules and folded with creamy feta to spread on a crostini. Incredible.
Our food blogging friends have made terrific contributions of late, as well.
Check ‘em out:
Rachel made a lush casserole, “cauli-cheese” where the florets melt under a blanket of perfectly made bechamel.
Faith roasted a head generously doused in her “bloomin” Indian spices.
Over at Food 52, the editors highlighted slabs of cauliflower, grilled like steaks.
It’s a testament to good change, creativity,
And the versatile meaty nature of this vegetable.
I have one to toss into the fray: roasted cauliflower with sweet red pepper sauce over vegetarian brown rice, dusted with buttery Marcona almonds, and chopped scallions.
The recipe is simple–and points more to technique than ingredients. But it yields a delicious main-dish meal that satisfies many dietary concerns.
Not only vegetarian, it is vegan AND gluten-free.
But “meaty” enough to make us omnivores happy too.
The recipe is in three parts, but easily accomplished in about the same time. (it won’t challenge your multi-tasking too much!)
While you’re roasting the grand florets, simply brushed with good olive oil and sea salt, you can also roast red bell peppers, onions, and garlic on a separate tray. As the nubbed edges of curd get that compelling brown crisp, red bells and company get charred and candied.
Caramel sweetness all around.
Meanwhile, make the brown rice.
I admit; I have shunned brown rice, and wrongly so. It stuck in my mind that it takes too long to cook. I also believe that I had one too many dishes of it, improperly prepared. You’ve probably experienced it too–either undercooked and waaaaay too chewy, or underseasoned and overcooked: gummy and insipid.
This recipe is more about technique. When you soak and rinse the brown rice and “scrub” the grains between your fingers, it helps to soften the outer husk. Cooking in vegetable broth helps infuse more flavor. I discovered that it takes less liquid and less time to cook, and yields savory rice, not clumpy, but plump nutlike grains.
This rice, which we know is better for you, is now a pleasure to eat.
CAULIFLOWER WITH ROASTED RED PEPPER PUREE, BROWN RICE, MARCONA ALMONDS
1 large head cauliflower, cleaned, and cut into large florets
olive oil, to brush over florets
salt and black pepper to sprinkle over florets
to garnish later:
1/2 cup Marcona almonds
1/4 cup chopped scallions
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Place cauliflower pieces onto a baking sheet and brush with olive oil.
Sprinkle salt and black pepper over the pieces.
Roast until caramelized, about 15 minutes.
Keep cauliflower warm in the oven (set on 200) until time to assemble the dish.
ROASTED SWEET RED BELL PEPPER SAUCE
2 red bell peppers, cut in half, seeded
½ medium onion, cut into chunks
3 cloves garlic
salt and black pepper
¼ teaspoon cayenne
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Brush red pepper halves with olive oil and place on baking sheet.
Brush onion chunks with olive oil and place next to pepper halves.
Coat garlic cloves with olive oil and place underneath pepper halves.
Sprinkle with salt and black pepper.
Roast until the pepper skins get blackened and blistered—about 15 minutes.
Cool and remove skins.
Place roasted peppers, onions, garlic, and any residual oil into a food processor fitted with a swivel blade.
Add ¼ teaspoon (or less) of cayenne, if desired.
Process until smooth.
Keep sauce warm in a saucepan on the stovetop.
SAVORY BROWN RICE IN VEGETABLE BROTH
1 1/4 cups brown rice
2 cups vegetable stock
Place rice in a large bowl and cover with water. Let this sit for 5-10 minutes.
Stir the grains around in the bowl—you’ll notice that the water has become cloudy.
Return the rice to the bowl and cover with fresh water.
Dip your hand into the bowl, and rub the grains between your thumb and fingers, “scrubbing” the grains. Drain.
Place rice in a large saucepan. Stir in vegetable stock. Bring to a boil.
Cover and simmer for 25 minutes. Turn off heat and let the rice sit and steam for another 10 minutes.
Fluff with a fork and serve.
Makes 2 1/2 cups cooked rice
Place a layer of cooked brown rice on the bottom of a casserole or baking dish. Nap a layer of roasted red pepper sauce over the rice, and nestle the roasted cauliflower pieces into the sauce. Dot remaining sauce over the cauliflower, garnish with marcona almonds and cilantro.
POST SCRIPT: Several of you have been very kind to check on me, in my blogging absence. I’m happy to report that I am making excellent progress on the cookbook, which has taken so much of my attention. I’m seeing an end point–and ahead of my May deadline. So, with luck, I’ll be around here a bit more. Nancy
What started out in the summer of 2009 as an experiment to foster community and share good food has continued to bring together 25 or so folks and their delectable contributions—- now going on 4 years. In fact, we’ll be gathering at Gigi’s next week, making it our 40th feast, since inception.
Our group has been fairly fluid. We have the stalwarts, potluckers who would never miss coming, unless some dire circumstance arose. Others attend multiple times a year, and there are a few whose smiling faces we see only now and then. People have rotated in and out; big change, be it marriage, divorce, job transfer, graduate school, health issues, new baby—Life—is mirrored in that rotation.
And, new people, enthusiastic about cooking and sharing, continue to join in the fun.
Over the years, we’ve made many friends and had terrific meals. We kept a loose journal, a place where each month, guests would sign in and write down the name of their dish. It didn’t take long for us to see what was happening. So many fresh, creative, seasonal contributions, running the gamut of salads, soups, entrees, hors d’oeuvres, casseroles, desserts, and cocktails showed up at the table. In the quest for good food and community, I think we achieved Gigi’s intention.
And, an unintended result: a cookbook deal.
I am happy to report that The Third Thursday Community Potluck Cookbook is slated to be published by Thomas Nelson in Spring 2014. (Thomas Nelson is a local publishing house acquired last summer by Harper Collins.) It will have a collection of stories and recipes that elevate the potluck dinner from ordinary to extraordinary.
I am the cookbook’s author. I am ecstatic.
For quite some time now, I have been busy collecting the recipes, testing and editing them, and writing the accompanying headnotes, tips, and stories. My deadline is May 21st–just a little over 4 months to complete and deliver the manuscript.
I’m making good, steady progress. I am not panicked. Yet.
However, those demands have placed some restraints on the time that I have to spend with you here.
No worries, I’ll still be around, checking in, reading your posts and giving you updates on my cooking world, be it in or outside the cookbook.
In the meantime, I thought I’d share a recipe that I recently recreated for the book.
I say “recreated” because the person who conceived the dish and brought it to potluck doesn’t remember exactly how she made it. She just relayed the ingredient list and general instructions to me. What I remembered was that it was a delicious dish using three types of sweet potato. Like many of our potluck offerings, it was a little step up and away from the usual–always welcome—and therefore worth pursuing.
There are so many kinds of sweet potatoes available at the market these days, sporting peels and flesh of different hues, with names like Jewel, Garnet, Boniato, Star Leaf, or Beauregard. While they all cook in about the same amount of time, they vary in taste and texture.
The orange Beaureguard from Louisiana tastes a little sweeter than the creamy white Star Leaf. The Star Leaf and Boniato have firmer, drier texture, reminiscent of regular potatoes. The Garnet has a beautiful deep red exterior.
It’s fun and flavorful to use a trio in a dish.
Roasted together they make a simple, savory ensemble, appealing both to eye and palate. And, this glaze melding dried apricots, leeks, and balsamic vinegar painted over the planks brings a bit more excitement: that step up and away from the usual we all relish.
SWEET POTATO TRIO WITH DRIED APRICOT-LEEK-BALSAMIC GLAZE
2 each: Garnet, Jewel, Boniato sweet potatoes (about 5 lbs.)
½ cup dried apricots, cut into slivers
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 leek, cleaned and cut into ½ “ pieces
½ cup flat leaf parsley, chopped, plus some for garnishing
coarse ground black pepper
Scrub and rinse the sweet potatoes. Cut into planks or wedges, like steak fries. Toss in olive oil and lay out on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with kosher salt and bake in a preheated 375 degree oven until tender with crispy browned edges—about 25 minutes.
Heat balsamic vinegar and pour over slivered apricots in a bowl.
Heat a skillet on medium and add olive oil. Put in leeks and sauté until softened and somewhat translucent—about 4 minutes. Stir in ½ cup parsley, and then apricots in balsamic. Remove from heat.
Arrange roasted sweet potato planks in layered circular fashion, mandala-like, in a round baking dish. Spoon apricot-leek-balsamic glaze over the layers and top. Garnish with chopped parsley. Serve warm or room temperature.
Acorn Squash Rings stuffed with Sorghum Apples and Pecans
Yukon Gold-Sweet Potato Gratin
There’s a thin line to walk at family holiday gatherings, where Traditions and The New intersect. Expectations for the Usual vie for their place at the Thanksgiving table, as does the Desire for Something Different. If you are like me, you would never dream of replacing the roast turkey. Oh, I’ve refined my recipe over the years. And I’ve completely veered away from how I had it prepared, growing up.
Back in the day, my dad was in charge of cooking the turkey. He would cover the entire bird with bacon strips, which would essentially baste it as it roasted. When done, the bacon was practically annealed onto the golden brown skin. He’d cook it early in the day, let it rest before carving, and saunter off to the den to watch a football game.
Crazed with hunger, we kids would sneak into the kitchen, and greedily pick off the bacon strips, which couldn’t help but tear things up. With a piece of bacon came a piece of skin, oops, and then a hunk of meat. By the time the poor turkey reached the table, it was a rather ravaged looking carcass.
Much as we all loved the bacon, no one missed the “bacon-turkey” when I took over the helm of holiday hosting. My replacement, a garlic-sage-butter baste (slathered under the turkey skin) is much-loved, and arrives like a showpiece on the table.
But, no turkey? Unthinkable! There would upheaval, shouts of betrayal, dejection.
However, times change; diets and tastes change.
When you want to introduce something really new, that’s where the side dishes come in.
When our Third Thursday Community Potluck meets in November, it is a serendipitous convenience that it is held exactly one week before Thanksgiving. (always the fourth Thursday!) Our guests come bearing a bounty of intriguing dishes, ideal for holiday serving. I’m sharing two favorites with you today, for your consideration. Both are vegetarian and gluten-free, one is suitable for vegans. Bearing in mind shifting dietary needs, these are sure to please everyone.
The first dish combines Yukon Gold potatoes and sweet potatoes, peeled, thinly sliced, and layered in a gratin. I love the random look of the overlapping orange and yellow discs. And, grating fresh nutmeg over each layer imparts a subtle spicy note.
The liquid in which these potatoes cook is half-and-half infused with shallots, chives, and flat leaf parsley. Shredded Gruyere cheese enrichens the dish, beautifully melting throughout the layers. If you can locate Comte, an artisanal French cheese that is possibly better than Gruyere, I recommend it.
The layers meld as they bake, but the naturally (and barely) sweet tastes of both potatoes shine through.
YUKON GOLD-SWEET POTATO-GRATIN
4-5 tablespoons butter, softened
2 shallots, diced
2 cups half-and-half
2 heaping tablespoons fresh Italian parsley, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh chives, finely chopped
1 teaspoons sea salt
½ teaspoon white pepper
whole nutmeg—for finely grating
1 ½ lbs. Yukon Gold potatoes, cleaned
1 ½ lbs. sweet potatoes, cleaned
1 ½ cups Gruyere cheese, shredded
¼ cup grated Parmegianno-Regianno
13”x9” deep baking dish
Using one tablespoon of the butter, coat the baking dish.
In a saucepan on medium heat, sauté the shallots in three tablespoons butter until translucent. Add the half-and-half, parsley, chives, salt, and white pepper. Stir well until warmed. Remove from heat.
Peel Yukon gold and sweet potatoes. Slice very thin (1/8’) and layer the bottom of the baking dish in overlapping circles. It’s fine to layer them randomly—a few slices of one potatoes, followed by the other. Grate some fresh nutmeg over the slices.
Stir and cover with a thin layer of seasoned half-and half. Sprinkle with ½ cup Gruyere. Repeat with another layer of sliced potatoes, arranged in similar fashion. Follow with grated nutmeg. Cover again with more liquid, followed by Gruyere. Press down with the back of a wooden spoon to make sure the liquid seeping through all the overlapping slices.
Finish with final of sliced potatoes, half-and-half, remaining cheeses. Dot the top with remaining butter.
Cover with aluminum foil and baking in a preheated 375 degree oven for 30 minutes.
Uncover and finish baking for another 15-20 minutes, until casserole is browned, and potatoes feel tender when pierced.
The acorn squash rings make a pretty presentation, and couldn’t be simpler to make. Here in the South, we love sorghum, which adds a mineral sweetness to the apple stuffing. But other syrups would work just as readily. Maple syrup would be a terrific choice.
Apples and winter squashes always pair well. Choose a firm, tart apple, like Granny Smith or Jonathan or Ginger Gold. Pecan pieces and diced shallots are folded with apples, the pecans become toasted in the bake.
Wishing you all a very Happy Thanksgiving.
If you are traveling, travel safely. Enjoy one another’s company, and dine well.
We are headed for DC to be with my daughter and son-in-law, and I plan to stay until my grandbaby is born! Stay tuned. We are full of excitement and gratitude.
ACORN SQUASH RINGS STUFFED WITH SORGHUM APPLES AND PECANS (vegan)
2 large acorn squashes
2 large baking apples, such as Granny Smith, Golden Delicious, Gingergold
2/3 cup chopped shallots
2/3 cup pecan pieces
¼ cup sorghum
¾ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
olive oil—for brushing squash rings
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Slice squashes into rings, almost an inch in thickness. Depending on the size of the squash, you can get 5-6 rings from each one. Scoop out the seeds, and lay the rings on a parchment lined baking sheet. Brush the rings with olive oil.
Wash, core and dice apples into ½” chunks. Place into a bowl. Add shallots, pecan pieces, sorghum, salt and black pepper. Toss, so that all the pieces are coated with the sorghum.
Mound sorghum apple mixture into the center of each ring.
Bake for 25 minutes.
Makes 10-12 rings
It is a wonderful moment, when a food writer makes the leap from blog to book. As a follower and supporter, I applaud her achievement. I am also pleased to take part in the launch.
Her book, An Edible Mosaic: Middle Eastern Fare with Extraordinary Flair, compiles over 100 recipes that come from the region known as The Levant, (Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine,) where Faith has both traveled and lived.
Not only does Faith have a love for the cuisine, she also has an inside track to its traditions. Her Syrian mother-in-law, Sahar, has guided her on authentic recipes and techniques. Faith has put this knowledge into practice, and created recipes that are enticing but not overwhelming to the novice cook.
Her book is an excellent introduction to this healthful, flavorful cooking. And, her photographs are beautiful.
The recipe that she asked me to share is a fragrant rice dish, flecked with onion, sultanas, and pine nuts. It is uncomplicated to prepare, yet possesses complex tastes. Basmati rice alone has a wonderful nutlike flavor; the other ingredients bring toasted notes, sweetness, and a hint of pungent spice.
The original recipe calls for saffron, those delicate, heady, and costly stigmas collected from a type of crocus. If you don’t have saffron in your pantry, Faith writes that turmeric is an acceptable (and widely used) substitute. The result will be less sophisticated, but delicious, nonetheless.
Either way, the rice has versatile applications, and, by virtue of being vegan and gluten-free friendly, universal appeal.
The trick to making the grains light and separate is by rinsing them in warm water. (This could be a wide-spread regional technique-my friend Muna from Iraq insists that the rice be rinsed 3 times–until the water is clear!)
This releases the starches that can cause clumpy-sticky rice. This also serves to soften the grains, thereby lessening the amount of water needed in the actual cooking.
Another trick is sauteing the rice before adding the liquid. First, Faith pan-toasts the pine nuts in oil. After removing the golden bits, she stirs the onions and ultimately the rice in the now-toasty oil. When you add the water, you’ll notice that it is at a much smaller ratio than, say, conventional recipes that call for 2:1. This is almost 1:1.
Covered, the rice absorbs all the flavor, and steams into a savory dish, ready for any accompaniment. Faith recommends a shrimp-tomato dish, also featured in her book.
For my meal, I marinated and pan-grilled thick lamb chops in a piquant blend of coriander, cumin, and cayenne. The marinade quickly infuses that lamb with flavor, and grills to a nice charry crust. You can use this for cubes of kebab meat, too, with great success. It’s a recipe that we teach our young chefs in Teen Cooking Camp.
SAFFRON RICE WITH GOLDEN RAISINS AND PINE NUTS
Recipe courtesy of An Edible Mosaic: Middle Eastern Fare with Extraordinary Flair by Faith Gorsky (Tuttle Publishing; Nov. 2012); reprinted with permission.
Serves 4 to 6
Preparation Time: 10 minutes
Cooking Time: 20 minutes, plus 15 minutes to let the rice sit after cooking
1½ cups (325 g) basmati rice
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons pine nuts
1 onion, ﬁnely diced
4 tablespoons sultanas (golden raisins)
1¾ cups (425 ml) boiling water
¾ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon saffron threads (or ½ teaspoon turmeric)
1. Soak the rice in tepid water for 10 minutes; drain. While the rice is soaking, put half a kettle of water on to boil.
2. Add the oil to a medium, thick-bottomed lidded saucepan over medium heat. Add the pine nuts and cook until golden brown, about 1 to 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Transfer the pine nuts to a small bowl and set aside.
3. Add the onion to the saucepan in which you cooked the pine nuts. Cook until softened and just starting to brown, about 5 to 7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the rice and cook 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in the sultanas, boiling water, salt, and saffron (or turmeric), turn the heat up to high, and bring it to a rolling boil.
4. Give the rice a stir, then cover the saucepan, turn the heat down to very low, and cook until tender, about 10 minutes (do not open the lid during this time). Turn the heat off and let the rice sit (covered) 15 minutes, then ﬂuff with a fork.
5. Transfer to a serving dish and sprinkle the toasted pine nuts on top; serve.
OPTIONAL Add two pods of cardamom, two whole cloves, and one 2-inch (5 cm) piece of cinnamon stick at the same time that you add the rice.
CORIANDER-SPICED LAMB CHOPS
1 ½ tablespoons olive oil
½ teaspoon red wine vinegar
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
¼ teaspoon cayenne
¼ teaspoon salt
2- 1″ thick lamb chops
Whisk the ingredients together in a medium bowl.
Add the lamb. Toss to evenly coat. Marinate 10-15 minutes.
Skillet-sear on medium heat, 4-5 minutes per side, until the meat is crusty brown but still pink inside.