Saturday, January 30, 2010

opportunity knocks


The cupboards are wide open and spice jars are everywhere. It is a marathon Indian cooking evening I am sharing with my brother who is visiting from the Dominican Republic. We decided to go spicy because my husband is not going to be home and therefore I won't have to deal with table-side complaints! I have been waiting for a chance to explore some of the recipes on the web site Manjula's Kitchen featuring Indian Vegetarian cooking. In particular I was eager to try the Saag Paneer, one of my favorite spinach dishes of all time. 
My brother and I chose several recipes from the site to sample and got down to business. We wanted to try a bread recipe and a lentil recipe as well. While we kneaded and stirred and grated ingredients we chattered away, catching up on each other's families. My brother lives in Santiago, Dominican Republic with his wife and three boys. He described his first earthquake, the recent one in Haiti, that rocked his world over 150 hundreds miles away. "The ground shook for at least 45 seconds. It was the most alarming, humbling and profoundly disorienting experience I have ever had," he told me. Nothing was damaged, but for his family it was a potent reminder of the forces beyond one's control.

For our cooking marathon we stuck pretty much to the recipes as written, with some minor changes.
The Bread:

The bread recipe called for a filling of cauliflower, but we decided to swap it with grated pumpkin and zucchini instead.
The simple bread dough consists of whole wheat flower and water. It is rolled out, filled with the stuffing and then rolled again. The technique was easy and fun and the filling variations seem endless.

The Saag Paneer:
The saag paneer or palak paneer recipe was a little more complicated and required several steps. Paneer is an Indian cheese that can be made at home. I had some in my freezer and so we used that.
I defrosted the paneer and cut it into cubes. I am not sure if freezing was such a good idea. The texture seemed perhaps a little too chewy.
The cubes of paneer are pan fried till golden brown before being added to the spinach.

To make the spinach you start with tomatoes and spices that are cooked until reduced by half.
The spinach is then added into the pan. The recipe calls for astaftida which adds an oniony flavor. I did not have any so we added a chopped shallot as substitute. For a finishing touch, a mixture of flour and heavy cream is added. We decided the dish still tasted a little raw so we added some water and let it cook down for an extra 15-20 minutes.

The red lentil recipe I ended up making up myself, starting with a paste of ginger, garlic, sugar and scallions that I hand pounded with mortar and pestle. The lentils are cooked in water with this paste until thick. We stirred into the finished lentils the rest of the vegetable filling leftover from the bread and that worked out very well.
Our feast was a great success. As usual, my house filled up with kids as the food hit the table. Everything looked so colorful on the plate. My brother suggested Kingfisher beer as the beverage of choice. We could not find it at the local supermarket, but I will keep an eye out for it when I next hit the Indian markets of Jackson Heights.

Palak Paneer- from Manjula's Kitchen

Palak Paneer is creamy spinach with paneer (indian home made paneer). This is a very popular with youngsters and served in every indian resturant. The creamy texture of spinach with paneer is a very good combination.
Serves 4.
  • 1 10 oz package of chopped frozen spinach or 4 cups of fresh finely chopped spinach
  • 1/3 lb paneer
  • 2 medium tomatoes, pureed
  • 1 teaspoon chopped ginger
  • 1 teaspoon coriander powder (dhania)
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder (haldi)
  • 1/2 teaspoon red chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin seed (jeera)
  • Pinch of asafetida (hing)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • 2 tablespoons of whole wheat flour
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 tomato thinly sliced to garnish
  1. If using frozen spinach thaw and blend it just for a minute so spinach has a creamy texture but without becoming pasty.
  2. blend the tomatoes and ginger to make puree.
  3. Mix coriander, turmeric, and red chili with tomato puree and set aside.
  4. Mix whole-wheat flour with heavy cream and set aside.
  5. Cube the paneer in about half inch pieces and deep fry them on medium high heat just for few minutes so paneer become very light gold in color, take paneer out on paper towel so extra oil can be absorbed.
  6. Heat the oil in a saucepan. Test the heat by adding one cumin seed to the oil; if it cracks right away it is ready.
  7. Add hing and cumin seed. After cumin seeds crack, add the tomato puree mixture, and let it cook for a few minutes until the tomato puree is about half in volume.
  8. Add the spinach, and let it cook on low medium heat for about 10 minutes covered.
  9. Add heavy cream mixture and let this cook another four to five minutes.
  10. Add paneer and fold it gently with spinach and let it simmer for a 2-3 minutes. Pot should remain covered until the cooking is finished, otherwise the spinach will splatter.
  11. Transfer the spinach to a serving dish and spread the tomato slices over the top, and cover the dish so tomato slices get tender with the steam from the spinach.
You can replace the heavy cream with 1 1/2 cups of milk.

Gobhi parathas (stuffed cauliflower bread) -from Manjula's Kitchen
Makes 6 parathas.
1 cup whole-wheat flour
1/2 cup water (Use more as needed)
1/2 teaspoon of salt

  • Filling:

    • 2 cup shredded cauliflower
    • 1/2 teaspoon ajwain
    • 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds (Jeera)
    • 1 chopped green chili
    • 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro (green coriander)
    • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Also needed:

    • 1/4 cup whole-wheat flour for rolling
    • Oil to cook

  1. Mix flour, salt and water together to make a soft dough (if the dough is hard add a little more water). I like mixing the dough by hand.
  2. Knead the dough for a few minutes on a lightly greased surface to make a smooth and pliable dough.
  3. Set the dough aside and cover with a damp cloth. Let the dough rest for at least ten minutes.

  1. Mix all filling ingredients together by hand. After mixing let the filling settle for about 5 minutes. Note: Shred the cauliflower using a shredder (electric or manual). However, do not use a food processor to blend the cauliflower, as the cauliflower will become too moist and hard to work with.
  2. Squeeze the cauliflower mix in order to take out as much water as possible.
Making of paratha

  1. Divide the dough and cauliflower mixture into 6 equal parts.
  2. Roll the dough into 3 inch diameter circles. Put the filling in the center. Seal by pulling the edges of the rolled dough together to make a ball. Proceed to make all six balls.
  3. Each ball needs to settle for two minutes before rolling. Note: If you don’t wait long enough the cauliflower mixture will seep through the edges when rolling the parathas.
  4. Heat the skillet on medium high. Note: An iron skillet works best. To see if the skillet is ready, put a couple of drops of water on it. If the water sizzles right away, the skillet is ready.
  5. To make it easier to roll the balls, first roll them in dry whole-wheat flour.
  6. Lightly press the ball on the sealed side and keep it on the topside when rolling. Roll the ball light handed in to 6 inch circles. To reduce the stickiness on the rolling pin or rolling surface, sprinkle dry whole-wheat flour on both side of the semi-rolled paratha.
  7. Place the paratha over the skillet. You will see the color change and the paratha will bubble in different places.
  8. Then turn the paratha over. Paratha should have golden-brown spots. Wait a few seconds and put 1 teaspoon of oil over paratha and spread the oil on the topside. Flip the paratha and lightly press the puffed areas with a spatula.
  9. Flip again and press with the spatula making sure the paratha is golden-brown on both sides.
  10. Cool the Parathas on a wire rack so they don’t get soggy.
  11. Parathas can be kept outside wrapped in aluminum foil or a cover container for 2 days or they can be refrigerated for 5-6 days (wrapped aluminum foil). To re-heat warm on a skillet or toaster oven.

Wow! Sounds amazing. I hope it all came out as wonderful as it sounds! I have to try that bread!! I think your brother had a good idea when he suggested beer with these dishes. There are scores of interesting beers that pair beautifully with Indian food. Beer is often my libation of choice when dining at local "bring-your-own" Indian establishments.

Indian food is absolutely one of my favorite cuisines. Back in my pre-children days I would spend a whole Sunday afternoon preparing Indian dishes. I would start my day in "Little India" in Manhattan buying the necessary ingredients I could not find locally at the time (this was several years ago before international spices starting popping up in regular supermarket chains). The rest of the day would consist of toasting spices, crushing them with a mortar and pestle, and concocting various renditions of curries and vindaloos. Ahhh, back in the day....

One of my favorite wines to enjoy with Indian cuisine is Vouvray, a white from the Loire Valley in France. I LOVE Vouvray. Made from 100% Chenin Blanc, this incredible wine is made in a variety of styles ranging from dry, to sparkling, to sweet. The wines are known for having high acidity. Dry or Sec styles will have more pronounced acidity than the sweeter styles. Vouvray are wonderful when paired alongside rich, hearty dishes.

An off-dry (or slightly sweet) style would be my pick to accompany the spicy flavors of Indian food. This delightful white typically exhibits flavors of nuts, figs and honey. Indian food screams for a wine which is slightly sweet. Definitely avoid high-alcohol wines and very tannic ones as well. These qualities will only serve to exacerbate the heat of the food and will leave your taste buds in shambles. The sweet fruit of Vouvray will soothe the palate mitigating the fiery heat of the food, making it a perfect fit for Indian!

If you are adamant about having red, be sure to choose one that is low in tannins, such as a Pinot Noir or perhaps Beaujolais. Whatever you choose, I'm sure Deb's recipes will be another great hit!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

back to beans

The working title of this post was "Bleak House," but that just seemed well, too bleak. Late January leaves one scrounging around for ways to lift the spirits. Even my vase arrangements consist of bare twigs. If I am lucky they will slowly bud and I will get a tiny taste of things to come.
The wind and rain this week provided an abundance of broken tree branches to bring indoors for forcing.

Scrounging was the theme of the day as I looked in my fridge for something to cook. Cooking often means always having an assortment of leftover odds and ends to choose from. Today's pick was a bit of sauteed spinach, some cooked quinoa and a handful of chickpeas. Amanda had expressed interest in a bean burger post so I thought why not? These three items could make a good meal and if I added some spices it might be even delicious.
Leftover ingredients can lend themselves to beautiful new creations in the kitchen.

Spice mixtures are a great way to perk up simple ingredients. They are also a great way to add versatility without having to buy and blend all the separate spices yourself. These premixed blends are also a simple way to sample the flavor base of another cuisine. When I travel I always look for culinary items that express the region I have visited. Curry powder and Herbs de Provence are two examples of spice blends that reflect a specific culinary culture.  Don't overlook airports as a great place to pick up local food items if you haven't already grabbed some during your stay.
This Caribbean spice blend added some warmth to a cold day.

Today, for my chickpea and quinoa burgers, I pulled out some Island Creole Seasoning I found at the St. John Spice store when I was in St. John, US Virgin Islands last year. The blend consists of salt, cayenne pepper, thyme, marjoram, garlic, onions and bay leaf. What would have taken me several minutes to assemble myself was immediately at hand in this blend. The bean patties took me 15 minutes to prepare from start to finish. AND they came out sooooooooo good. I often wonder if the mere act of pan frying makes everything delicious. Well it certainly doesn't hurt!
Because all the ingredients are already cooked, the patties only need a few minutes of pan frying.

These patties had a nice texture due to the quinoa- very light and almost fluffy. The spinach added some color and a little depth, but no pronounced bitterness. You could serve this to a non-spinach eating person and they would probably not notice or mind. The chickpeas served as a hearty, nutty-flavored base for the whole thing.
Quinoa, a whole grain found in most supermarkets and health food stores cooks like rice in 20 minutes.

I would not expect most people to have this particular combination of leftovers available at any given time. The point here is to allow things to happen in the kitchen.  Beans + Veg + Starch + Spice. A simple formula that can have happy, easy and QUICK dining results!

Chickpea, Quinoa & Spinach Burgers
1 cup of cooked chickpeas
1/2 cup cooked spinach, squeezed of excess liquid and chopped
1 cup of cooked quinoa
1/4 cup grated onion
1 teaspoon of a spice blend of your choice
1 egg
3 Tbs. flour

for frying- 2 Tbs. canola oil

Roughly mash the chickpeas with a potato masher. To the chickpeas add the rest of the ingredients and blend well with a spoon. Divide into burger shapes. Heat the frying oil and when hot, pan-fry the patties for 3 minutes on each side.

serves 2

Before getting into what I already have in mind for the wine, I want to quickly comment on the Arame dish from our last post. Deb's recipe was easy and outstanding! I am now addicted to this dish and in fact, I'm going to run to the store after work to stock up on Arame so I can make a big batch! (I wonder if it's possible to eat too much Arame?) Love it! Can honestly say Deb's dish is one of my favorite new recipes!

Now - onto the Chickpea burgers - again, seems straightforward, healthy, and has ingredients typically on hand. Love that combination! I want a wine with good fruit, but an earthy quality as well. I personally want red with these burgers. I want something simple, yet elegant, not something overly complex or intense. Just an everyday red that I can enjoy next to a casual meal. One of my favorite red wines is the Chateau Pesquie Cuvee Terrasses. The 2008 vintage just arrived and it promises to be as delicious as the past vintages. For $11.99 (and consistently highly-rated) this is the quintessential everyday wine. It is soft, with red and black fruit flavors and a hint of spice. The fruit is lush. Hailing from the Cote de Ventoux region of the Rhone Valley, the wine is a blend of 70% Grenache and 30% Syrah.

If you are using Indian spices, Caribbean spices, or what have you, the wine should be a great match. I love the idea of some "stronger" spices with this wine. The thought of a combination of Indian spices, for example, enjoyed in conjuction with some kind of fruit side, like a mango chutney, causes me to salivate. So it is with this wine. The spices in the burgers combined with the beautiful fruit-forwardness of the wine should work famously together!

Also remember, you don't have to go find this exact wine! (Though it is worth seeking out!). You can go into your friendly neighborhood wine shop and ask for their recommendations on a wine from the Cote du Ventoux- or ask for a grenache/syrah blend. Wines from this region, or of this type of blend, in general will work just as well!

Monday, January 25, 2010

a gift from the sea

Torrey Pines Beach, La Jolla, CA (no, I'm not there now)
Arame- It sounds like the name of a mythological Greek goddess. This humble little seaweed otherwise known as sea vegetable or "edible ocean plant" is one of many truly delicious options for a well rounded vegetarian diet (or any diet for that matter). I first encountered Sea Vegetables (they have a little bit of a PR problem being called seaweed, not appetizing I guess, so the name has been dignified as a full fledged vege- NOT A WEED!), when I went to culinary school. The teacher, Melanie Ferreira, extolled the benefits of a daily diet of sea vegetables and used herself as a living example of all its virtues. I had to admit at the time that Melanie looked like the picture of health, a mother of several boys she had glowing skin and shiny shiny hair. I have had a lifelong obsession with all things oceanic and had no qualms exploring the sea VEGETABLE world with Chef Melanie's guidance. 
I know what you are thinking- seaweed, that stuff that gets washed up on the beach and is only good to mulch your garden with (yes it is!)
This is a beach on Anna Marie Island, Florida.

Arame can be found in any health food store. It is purchased dry and quickly revives after being soaked in water. The Eden Foods site describes arame thus:
The most mild tasting of all sea vegetables, hand harvested in the wild, shredded, cooked, and naturally air dried. Versatile, quick cooking and easy to prepare. Rich in dietary fiber, low calorie, low sodium, and a good source of vitamin A, calcium, and magnesium. Great in salads and sautéed vegetable dishes.
This is dried arame straight out of the package (or you can buy it loose in bulk at Integral Yoga Natural Foods, my FAVORITE health food store)

Easy to like, easy to cook and good for you. Arame, you goddess you! I love to add her (!) to stir-fried rice and miso soups. She gets along well with other vegetables and brings some drama with her deep black color. The first sea vege recipe I learned was a stir-fry with julienned carrots. It came to mind today because I still have some sesame paste on hand and that will be a perfect compliment to this dish. AND Amanda happened to mention to me that she is currently exploring sea vegetable recipes.  Is there really a wine to pair with it?
Remember Home Cooks- you don't have to get too obsessed with your julienne cuts. The idea is to get everything roughly the same size so they cook at the same rate. 
A julienne cut gives you lots of surface area so everything cooks QUICKLY!

Arame and Carrot Stir-Fry

1 Tbs. Canola oil
2 cups of Carrots, cut into a julienne
1 cup of Arame, soaked in water for 15 minutes
3 scallions minced
1 tsp. Soy Sauce
2 tsp. Sesame oil
1 Tbs. Sesame Paste- see recipe below
Heat the oil in a wok and when it is hot and beginning to ripple add the carrots and quickly stir-fry for 3-5 minutes till they begin to soften and turn a little golden and slightly crispy. Drain the arame from the soaking liquid and add it to the carrots in the wok along with the scallions. Stir-fry for another 2 minutes, add the soy sauce, the sesame oil and the sesame paste. Heat through for another minute and serve.
serves 2-4

Sesame Paste-Toast 6 Tbs. sesame seeds in a dry pan for 2-3 minutes till they slightly change color. Put in a spice grinder and grind into a  powder. Put this powder into a food processor and add 1/2 cup more sesame seeds1/4 cup soy sauce and 2 Tbs. sugar. Process into a paste. The paste will store well in the fridge for several weeks.

When I discover a new, exciting author, I tend to stick with that author for awhile, reading everything he/she has written. And so it is when I discover a new food. Though I can't say I've really just discovered seaweed - I've been eating it since the '70's in sushi and salads. I did however just discover cooking with it. I am now obsessed and must cook every recipe I can get my hands on! Thanks Deb, for one that sounds easy and delicious! And very healthy!

I made a salad from Arame a few days ago and loved it! It was from Mark Bittman's new book, How to Cook Everything Vegetarian (which, by the way, is superb!) It was very basic and delicious. Similar to Deb's but without the carrots. Tonight, I will try it Deb's way. (Deb - any advice on how to make the sesame paste without a spice grinder? Not sure if I have time to get to Chef's Central today!)

I also tried Wakame the other day. Opened the bag and it was EXTREMELY salty, so I didn't do much with it. One of the recommendations on the bag was to roast it and eat it crispy, like chips. So I tried it. Still couldn't deal with the salt. Oh well.

As I always mention, I think about the sauce when pairing veggies with wine. However, I am going to make an exception on this one. I will consider both the seasonings and the arame flavors. I love the smell and flavors of the ocean, which one can capture in seaweed. This is what I smell and taste when I eat sea vegetables. Wines that come to mind are ones that pair well with all of the creatures of the sea like mussels, clams, shrimp, etc. I want something white, minerally, and crisp which will pair perfectly with all sorts of seafood. If it pairs will with raw oysters and clams, I see no reason why it shouldn't be a great match for seaweed!

Pinot Blanc from Alsace is my first pick. In Alsace, this is a staple when it comes to pairing wine with shellfish. (As is Muscadet from the Loire which would also make a beautiful accompaniment to Deb's salad). One of my favorite whites during the warmer weather is a blend of Sylvaner and Pinot Blanc - the Dopff & Irion Crustaces.  (Sylvaner is a white varietal grown primarily in Alsace and Germany). A perfect match for all things "Ocean"! The fresh, clean flavors of the wine will be terrific along side this sea vegetable salad! Seaweed salads themselves are light and crisp, so definitely look for a wine with similar characteristics. Sometimes, when pairing wine and food, contrasting flavors and textures works beautifully. However, in this situation, match a lighter style wine to this dish!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Surprise Hit

Racing through the supermarket yesterday looking for food to feed my family I plopped a big bag of green beans onto the check-out counter. When I got home and unpacked the food I had to ask myself what was I thinking? Green beans are no good this time of year. And with no exception, this batch was lumpy and somewhat limp, a sure sign of age. As Billie Holiday sings in the opening refrain to A Foggy Day- "I had a feeling of self pity. What to do, what to do, what to do?" The only appealing choice was to deep fry the beans to bring out their flavor and try to compensate for their texture. Blanching or steaming would only accentuate the flaws, creating a rubbery, bland and very uninteresting bean.

With careful sorting and trimming I managed to rescue a reasonable pile of beans. Next, I set up my wok for deep frying. Woks are a great tool for this. Their wide shape and deep sloping sides make manipulating frying foods easy. I wanted to use only a cup of canola oil so I had to fry in small batches.

It took no more than three minutes of frying each batch and the beans came out great! The color perked up and the natural nutty flavor became pronounced. I would happily eat them this way with a little salt, but I wanted to take it a little further.

Chopped ginger, sliced scallions and some dried chilies become the aromatics for this dish.
After pouring the hot oil out of the wok I briefly sauteed some aromatics and tossed the beans back in. I had some homemade sesame paste on hand so I tossed a spoonful on top of the beans, added a splash of rice vinegar and heated everything through.

Pity no more! Did this taste good! The aromatics delivered some punch and the sesame paste created depth. I would consider this a hit and even allow another out-of-season bag of beans to find their way home with me again.

Sesame Paste
-I came across this recipe recently published in the NY Times as part of a larger recipe.  The paste is  really versatile and can be added to many dishes adding a nutty sweet/salty flavor.

Toast 6 Tbs. sesame seeds in a dry pan for 2-3 minutes till they slightly change color. Put in a spice grinder and grind into a  powder. Put this powder into a food processor and add 1/2 cup more sesame seeds, 1/4 cup soy sauce and 2 Tbs. sugar. Process into a paste. The paste will store well in the fridge for several weeks.

Wow! This looks so awesome and pretty straightfoward! And green beans are one of the few vegetables my husband will eat! Perfect! As is the case in pairing veggies with wine, always remember to pair the wine to the sauce or seasonings, not the veggie itself. Certain wines just work so unbelievably well with Asian flavors - Gewurtztraminer, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Pinot Blanc. But at the wine shop, we've been promoting one Pinot Gris in particular, and it therefore is jumping out at me as the perfect wine for this dish.

It is the Domaine Alfred Chamisal Vineyards Pinot Gris 2007. For those of you unfamiliar with this varietal, it is the same as Pinot Grigio - just goes by a different name in this part of the world. And, it is stylistically very different depending upon it's homeland. In Italy, Pinot Grigio is leaner and crisper. In places like Oregon, California and Germany, the wine is typically fuller bodied with a wonderful oily, creamy texture - exactly what I look for in a white. It is delicious - rich with flavors of peach, fig and elements of spice.

Pinot Gris is also incredibly versatile when it comes to food. It is marvelous when paired with highly spiced foods, but will also be fine next to more delicate flavors. It has a great deal of fruit and the pairings are endless! When dining on Thai, Mexican, or Asian cuisine, be sure to consider this fun, affordable varietal.
Domaine Alfred is located in the Edna Valley in California. They also make terrific Chardonnay and Pinot Noir as well. The Pinot Gris can be found for $11.99. A true bargain!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

something different

This week's episode of No Reservations got me hankering for something exotic. Anthony Bourdain was wandering all over Istanbul eating everything in sight. The one dish that really caught my eye was part of a home-cooked meal; baked artichoke hearts with peas and fava bean puree. Wow.
As I generally do after watching one of his shows, I wandered over to my cookbooks and scanned around for further inspiration. This time I  immediately gravitated towards Paula Wolfert, someone I consider a high priestess of Meditteranian cookbook writers. Her meticulous research and devotion to authenticity always provides interesting reading. The two books of hers that I own (Mediterranean Cooking and The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen) did not have the recipe I was looking for, but I got distracted by her Turkish Red Lentil Soup.

Dried Red lentils are so pretty AND they are easy to cook. Too bad they lose their pert orange color; when cooked and tender they turn a pale yellow.

The soup recipe sounded easy to make so I gave it a try. The procedure was basically just cooking onions, garlic, red lentils and rice in water till softened. The unusal part of the recipe is that as a finishing touch Wolfert has you create a roux from butter and flour, cooking until it is "hazelnut brown" in color and then adding stock to it before adding this to the soup. This was an unfamiliar technique for me as far as soups go, so I was excited to try it. Leave plenty of time to cook the roux, if you try this. I cooked mine on the lowest heat for about 45 minutes, which was as long as it took for the lentils to cook.
The other intriguing finish was a SIZZLE created by melting butter and then briefly sauting paprika and dried mint and then stirring that into the soup as a garnish.


Well, the soup came out great, very smooth and creamy, almost too smooth, I think.  I would probably only puree half the ingredients next time and leave some texture. The flavor was surprisingly exotic and unfamiliar considering the simple ingredients. I really felt like I was tasting something different. What a nice treat, and I did not have to leave home!

Turkish Red Lentil Soup
adapted from Paula Wolfert's The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen
For the Soup:
1Tb butter
1/3 cup grated onion (one small onion)
1 clove of garlic, mashed
1 cup red lentils, rinsed and drained
2 Tbs white rice
1/2 cup chopped tomatoes
1 1/2 quarts water

For the Roux:
2 Tbs butter
2 Tbs flour
2 cups vegetable stock

For the SIZZLE:
1 Tbs. butter
2 tsp paprika
1 tsp dried mint, pressed through a sieve to make a powder

To make the soup- In a large soup pot, saute the onion and garlic in the butter for 5 minutes, till golden. Add the lentils, rice, tomatoes and water and bring to a boil. Cover pot and lower  flame to a simmer, cook for 45 minutes.

MEANWHILE- to make the roux- In a small sauce pan melt the butter, then add the flour and whisk to combine so there are no lumps. Slowly heat the mixture under a VERY low flame and stir from time to time. The roux will gradually take on a warm golden color. Wolfert says go for a hazelnut brown, which took me about 45 minutes to achieve. Slowly add in the stock, whisking to prevent lumps. Cook for 5 minutes.

Back to the soup- Transfer half the soup with a slotted spoon to a food processor or blender and the other half to a clean pot. Don't add all the liquid, you wont need it, remember you are going to be adding two more cups of the roux liquid into this. Blend the soup until it is very smooth and add it to the pot with the unblended half. Add the roux liquid to the soup pot and warm  everything together for 5 minutes on a low heat.

Make the SIZZLE: In a very small pot, melt the butter and add the paprika and the mint. Cook for 5 minutes and then drizzle the sizzle into the finished soup.

serves 4

Monday, January 18, 2010

Good friends Good food

Winter entertaining has a completely different rhythm than summer parties. The warm summer months are great for spontaneous gatherings that can flow outdoors, last minute salads tossed together and lots of fresh ingredients coming off the grill.
Things really slow down in the winter. It is a time for more intimate occasions and a little more thought must go into the planning. Winter is the perfect time to make food well in advance. Slow cooked recipes are great to make the day before a party, allowing all the flavors set-up and deepen. That frees you up to address other party planning issues like table setting and decor.
Setting up a self service wine bar will make hosting easier.

Winter is the time to pull out the good china if you have any.  Why not use some of those precious things you would not consider bringing outdoors. Sometimes I have a party just to use a special bowl that I end up planning a menu around. These are not quick tips. Cooking and entertaining are a lot of work and there is no getting around it. The idea is to make the work pleasurable. Use your prettiest dishes, who cares if your set does not match?  My dessert plates are a complete mishmash of everything from fine Limoge porcelain to a cherished plastic Batman plate.

I don't think twice about presenting them at the table together (especially by dessert time when everyone is full, happy and a little tipsy perhaps!).

Recently tried recipes have worked really well for me this winter. The collard greens and black-eyed peas were VERY good the next day when I served them. The color was dulled down, but the flavor was UP UP UP.  It emerged from the pot rich and deep and very satisfying.
The butternut squash soup with chilies and green apple also improved overnight. One guest commented that the flavor wanted to get sweet, but then pulled back to spicy. That is the kind of complexity in a dish that you are going for.

Part of the fun of a dinner party is trying different wines.

Olga's raw kale salad is another dish that needs to be made in advance. Full disclosure here. I tried to make this salad and was still perplexed by the results. I asked a few friends to sample my efforts and the responses ran the gamut from yeah to nay. My conclusion is that it will definitely appeal to some and perhaps not so much for others. I suspect that Olga's own version is far superior to mine, so I will leave it to her, with much appreciation for her contribution!

Here is what I did:
The acid bath- I used my purple basil vinegar, some dried chilies, garlic cloves and coriander seeds and sweetened it with some simple syrup. I heated this in a small pot for a few minutes to develop the flavors.

The hardware- Chopped kale, sliced cukes, sundried tomatoes, sliced lemons, mint, & arugula. The cucumbers tasted great but the kale remained chewy even after four days of marinating.

Entertaining friends and family is the sweet part of life. Don't be afraid to take on a dinner party or two this winter. People LOVE to be cooked for and it is such a nice way for us to slow down and savor our blessings.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Euphoria Revisited

While planning the menu for my husband's birthday dinner party this week, a friend reminded me of a dish I had made a year ago for the Presidential Inauguration party I hosted in my home. That was a euphoric occasion. I even created a drink I dubbed the Obama Cocktail made with Jamaican sorrel and champagne. I can barely remember what I made to eat ( I was euphoric, remember), but my friend prodded me to recall the kale and black-eyed pea dish I served. Ah yes, that WAS good.
Collard greens, like kale, have a deep rich flavor.

It was a recipe I had come across and then adapted a bit, as I am wont to do. But to recreate that sequence of events seemed unlikely. So, I am starting from scratch, making a dish I think will be filling, flavorful and festive. Truth be told, I am sick of kale at the moment (the experimenting with that raw kale salad has not gone as planned and the results won't be revealed for at least another post or two) so I picked up some collard greens instead.

After sauteeing them with onions and garlic, I threw in one of those mealy tomatoes I happened to have left over, to add a little color. Simmered with the BE peas and some white wine and a little water or stock the collards will be tender in about half an hour.

This dish is being made a day in advance so the flavors can improve overnight. I am going to finish it with a handful of fresh chopped herbs and a drizzle of really good olive oil.

Amanda is on vacation this week so I will tell you about the wine I used for this recipe. It is a Josephine Dubois 2008 Grande Reserve Chardonnay Bourgogne. What drew me to this wine other than the price tag of $9.99? I don't generally drink Chardonnay, but years ago I visited the Bourgogne region of France and it has become one of my favorites for wine, so I thought I could take a chance. And, it IS a really nice wine- fruity with a decent body- not terribly complex but more than a single note- with a slightly mineraly finish to add sophistication. I like!

I suspect we are going to be talking avocados when Amanda returns from Mexico next week. Meanwhile I am going to take a poke at my marinating raw kale that at this point still tastes likes sour rubber bands.

Collard Greens with Black-Eyed Peas
2 Tbs olive oil
1 onion chopped
3 garlic cloves chopped
1 large bunch of collard greens, *chopped- see below
salt & pepper to taste
1 tomato, roughly chopped
1 can of Black eyed peas, drained of liquid and rinsed
1/2 cup white wine
1 cup water
3 Tbs. fresh herbs (parsley, oregano, sage, dill) roughly chopped
1 Tbs. good quality extra virgin olive oil

*to chop collard greens fold leaf in half and cut out the rib. Take the leaves and pile them up and roll into a "cigar" and chop into one inch pieces.

Heat oil in pan and add garlic and onion. Cook 5-8 minutes till they are soft and golden. Add the collard greens and the salt and pepper and cook for 15 minutes till the greens begin to soften and wilt. Add the tomato, the black-eyed peas and the wine and cook another 5 minutes. Add a cup of water and bring to a simmer and cover. Allow to cook for another 20 minutes until the greens are softened. Add the chopped herbs and the extra virgin olive oil and heat for another 2-3 minutes. serves 4

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

bring on the tomatoes

Years ago, when I was a very young girl, long before my mother hit the Gourmet magazines and learned how to cook, my favorite winter day treat was a bowl of Campbell's tomato soup. We would make it with a can of milk instead of water and swirl a dot of butter in the bowl letting it melt into the hot soup. The preferred accompaniment was saltine crackers topped with more butter. Yum yum. I was a salt freak from a very young age and this meal was the jackpot.

It has been a long time since I have had Campbell's tomato soup, and of course I now make my own. But when I consider making it as a winter treat I run into a dilemma. Fresh tomatoes found in the market this time of year are not worthy of anything, hard and mealy as they may be. My solution has been to come up with a soup recipe I call Winter Tomato Soup, a name which makes me snicker with skepticism, except I made it up myself. To start things off I break one of my cardinal rules and actually buy a few hard mealy tomatoes. Yes, I admit it.
If I had been lucky enough this summer to come across a batch of tomatoes in season that I could have frozen, well then, that would be a different story. But what with the tomato blight and all, well, alas.

To these sad dreary pale sorry excuses of a soup base I add lots of yummy WINTERY things like leeks and carrots and onions. So, the soup is more of a mixed vegetable puree, like a V8 as it were. The tomatoes don't do much of the talking, they are there to lend a little color and acidity. I play a lot with the seasoning of salt and pepper and add sugar to complete the balance because you really can't predict how much flavor your vegetables are going to have this time of year. Even carrots are now out of the ground and sitting in cold storage for a few months. Ok, maybe they came from Mexico or someplace, but if they are from say, Florida, they might well be covered in icicles this week, what with the temperature drop.
Tomatoes out of season will have a pronounced white center .

Winter root vegetables will bring substance and flavor to the tomato soup.
Any mix of root vegetables will work for his recipe. Roughly chop them to approximately equal size so they will cook at the same rate.

This soup does not exactly reach the nirvana heights of my early experiences with Campbell's, but my tastes have changed and I have come to appreciate this stand-in which can actually hold its own at the table. It comes together nicely and the sweet tart blend of vegetables will do the trick on a cold day. Serve with saltines if you like!

Winter Tomato Soup
1 Tbs. olive oil
1 onion, roughly chopped
1 leek, roughly chopped
3 cups root vegetables, roughly chopped (any combination of carrot, turnip, rutabega, parsnip)
4 tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 teas. salt
1/2 tsp. ground pepper
1 Tbs.sugar
2 cups water
1 Tbs. butter

Heat oil in a large sauce pan. Add onions and root vegetables and 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper and lightly sweat the vegetables for five minutes till they just begin to soften around the edges. While the root vegetables are sweating, add 1/2 a teaspoon of salt to the chopped tomatoes and toss in  bowl. Allow the tomatoes to marinate in the salt for a few minutes until the juice begins to flow out.  Add the tomatoes and their juices to the pot and add 2 cups of water. Bring soup to a simmer and cook uncovered for about 30 minutes, until all the vegetables are soft when pierced with a knife.

Allow the soup to cool for a few minutes before pureeing in batches in a food processor. If you want a smoother texture, strain soup in a colander after pureeing. Return soup to a clean pot and TASTE! Adjust seasoning, add a Tbs. butter,  heat and serve.

Finish with an additional little pat of butter in each bowl if you are feeling indulgent!

I have to say I only acquired a taste for tomato soup in my later years. Don't get me wrong - I always have loved tomatoes. But for some reason, it's something I was never exposed to much as a kid. I was always a Campbell's Chicken Soup kinda girl - you remember the one with the "curly" pasta. Loved it! Never was big on the tomato soup. Didn't make much sense since I loved all things tomato. But I have developed a taste for it and now find it very satisfying.

The acidity in the soup from the tomatoes will require a wine with low tannins. I would go for a wine that is notoriously delicious with pizza - for the same reason.  My choice for this recipe would be Barbera. Barbera hails from Italy, and is the second most widely planted grape in the country, next to Sangiovese. Look to the Piedmont for the highest quality Barbera. Though, nowadays Barbera can be found in other places like Slovenia and California. I love Barbera from California! Typically, Barbera will exhibit flavors and aromas of red fruit, and may have some undertones of smoke, vanilla, or toast which come as a result of barrel ageing.

One of my favorite Barberas is the Vietti Barbera d'Asti Tre Vigne 2007, which comes from Piedmont. Vietti makes fabulous wines in general. Antonio Galloni from The Wine Advocate calls it "one of Italy's finest values" as it retails for under $20. Smoky, clean and silky, the wine exhibits nice juicy fruit and would certainly shine next to Deb's Winter Tomato Soup!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

baby it's cold outside

Oooooh, man it is cold out. I am not much for this weather. It is only good for one thing- staying home to cook! Yeah, you saw that coming. The fun of changing seasons for a cook is the fun of changing cooking techniques. Slow, long braises and stews, roastings and bakings comprise my winter activities in the kitchen. And then there is all the tasting. What am I complaining about?

White beans happened to be on my mind. Amanda's white bean, barley and kale soup  was a great starting point, but I didn't have barley nor kale on hand (yes, the kale is marinating in a vinegar bath as we speak). What I had on hand was sun-dried tomatoes. My thought was to make a bean dish that would feature the tomatoes as a bright surprising accent to counterpoint the savory-creamy-earthy flavor of the beans. The bean dish could be served with rice as a warm comfort meal on a cold day.
Small dried white beans cook in about an hour without soaking. I put them in a pot covered in 3 inches of cold water, bring them up to a boil, cover and simmer at a low temp for at least an hour till they are tender and creamy.

Oh, the challenges of photographing food while it is cooking. See how my camera lens has fogged up with the cooking steam. I let the beans cook and allow most of the water to absorb.

For flavoring I round up the usual suspects; garlic onions celery carrots.
Do you see what looks like a rock at the right edge of the cutting board? It IS a rock (or should I say a stone?) I call it my kitchen rock. It was picked up on the beach at Ditch Plains, Montauk and I use it to smash garlic cloves. I crush seeds and nuts with it too. Not just any rock would do. I picked up and threw back many a rock in choosing the one with the smooth surface that fit my hand perfectly.  It is a great tool, very early cavewoman.

These vegetables I consider my base flavor. They get lightly sauteed in olive oil and salt and pepper till they just begin to soften but still have a crunch. I want them to retain their shape in the final dish.

Next I think about my accent flavors. In this case it is chopped parsley, sun-dried tomatoes, a bay leaf and two dried chilies. These will give the dish it's distinctive identity. I add them to the pan with the other vegetables and cook for a few minutes to let all the flavors mingle and develop.

Once everything is at their peak doneness I turn off the heat and wait for the beans to finish cooking. You will notice that I am cooking the beans separately from the flavorings at this point. That is because I want all the ingredients to retain their identities and not turn to total mush during the slow process of cooking the beans. Once the beans are cooked I drain them from whatever cooking liquid is left and combine them with the sauteed ingredients.

I will cook everything together briefly and adjust the seasoning and even add some lemon zest, grated cheese and a swirl of high quality olive oil to finish the dish. The flavors get even better if you refrigerate it overnight. This is a yummy, hearty dish that warms the soul but still has a light flavor with the promise of springtime in the crunchy vegetables and sunny warmth of the tomatoes.

An alternative to this is to make it into a soup. Add some vegetable or chicken stock to the finished dish above (and in this case I added some spinach for color) and cook for another 15 minutes for the flavors to further develop.
 Both dishes taste great. The sun-dried tomato adds the tart brightness I am looking for. The carrots and celery still have a little crunch which adds texture and interest. Pluck out the bay leaf and the chilies before serving if you like. My daughter's boyfriend declared the soup a winner and polished it off before I could put away any leftovers. He suggested I make a bigger batch next time. Got it.

White Beans with Sun-dried Tomatoes
1/2 lb. dried white beans
2 quarts of water
1 Tbs. olive oil
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
1 onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
1/2 cup parsley, chopped
1 bay leaf
2 dried chiles
salt and pepper to taste

6 cups vegetable or chicken stock
1 cup of cooked chopped spinach

Finish bean dish or soup with:
1 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbs. lemon zest
3 Tbs. grated Parmesan cheese

Sort through dried beans, rinse and put in large pot with 2 quarts of water or enough to cover them by three inches. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer for at least on hour till beans are soft and creamy.
In a saute pan heat the olive oil. Add the garlic, onions, carrot and celery and cook for about five minutes until they begin to soften a bit. Add the parsley, tomatoes bay leaf and chilies and continue to cook for another 3-4 minutes. Adjust seasonings with salt and pepper.
Drain the cooked beans and add the vegetables in a small pot. Heat through for about 8 minutes.
For the soup: Add 6 cups of chicken or vegetable stock and 1 cup of cooked chopped spinach. Cook for 15 mintues. 
Finish dish with lemon zest, grated cheese and or olive oil if you like.

Deb - I'm anxious to find out how your kale dish turns out! Let me know! This white bean stew sounds so "comforting". I spend a lot of time in the kitchen during the winter, and probably 80% of my concoctions are stews and soups. Just so wonderful and perfect in so many ways. For lunch, dinner and really anytime of the day, they are the quintessential wintertime meal!

For a wine, I'm first thinking of the beans and their "earthy and creamy" characteristics you talk about. This makes me think immediately of a red burgundy, famous for the very same qualities. The problem is, however, the high price tag associated with red Burgundy. In Burgundy, the wines are "classified" according to their geographical location. Instead of the producer's name being prominent on the label, the location is more focused upon. The producer's name usually shows up somewhere on the label, but it is typically not what you see first when you look at the label. The designations from best quality down are Grand Crus, Premier Crus, village appellations and regional appellations. Grand Cru Burgundy are extremely expensive (typically $100+), and are site-specific, produced from only the best vineyard sites. The name of the vineyard is listed as the name of the appellation on the label, i.e Corton. Premier Cru wines are the next level down, and are also site specific though the sites are not of the same quality as Grand Cru. On the label, you will see the name of the village of origin, then the Premier Cru status (1er Cru), and finally the vineyard name.  Next come Village wines, which are made from a blend of wines from "lesser" vineyard sites. Specific qualities and characteristics are attributed to wines from the individual villages. Regional wines are made from wines coming from an area much larger than an individual village. The system can be somewhat confusing when first starting out in an attempt to understand how the wines are classified. But - I am slowly getting to my point here. Under the group of regional wines, there is a subgroup called AOC Bourgogne. These are "generic" wines, and can be made anywhere throughout the region. The wines are simpler, yet still representative of the village. And, the wines are not made for long term cellaring/drinking, but rather should be enjoyed in  the near term.

Sooooo, my point is this - although Burgundy prices are extremely high, it is possible to find some of the AOC Bourgogne wines which are priced much more affordably, yet are delicious and true to the terroir of their villages. This is what I'd recommend for a "comfort" food. I just wanted to give a little explanation and "lesson" about what differentiates one Burgundy from another.

Domaine Fichet Bourgogne Tradition 2007 is a great choice for this dish. Oh - I forgot to mention for those of you who are not familiar with Burgundy - they are always 100% Pinot Noir (except for Beaujolais which is made from the Gamay grape). The Tradition has the typical fruit of Pinot from Burgundy, and that wonderful earthiness which will pair so perfectly with Deb's dish. It is soft and easy drinking, and can be found for $14.99.