27 October 2013

Sizzled Eggplant with Yogurt and Almonds

Olive Jar

By Naomi Shihab Nye

In the corner of every Arab kitchen,
        an enormous plastic container
of olives is waiting for another meal.
        Green tight-skinned olives,
planets with slightly pointed ends—
        after breakfast, lunch, each plate
hosts a pyramid of pits in one corner.
        Hands cross in the center
of the table over the olive bowl.
        If there are any left they go back to
the olive jar to soak again with sliced lemon and oil.
        Everyone says
it was a good year for the trees.

At the border an Israeli crossing-guard asked
        where I was going in Israel.
To the West Bank, I said. To a village of
        olives and almonds.
To see my people.

What kind of people? Arab people?

Uncles and aunts, grandmother, first and second
cousins. Olive-gatherers.

Do you plan to speak with anyone? he said.
        His voice was harder
and harder, bitten between the teeth.

I wanted to say, No, I have come all this way
        for a silent reunion.
But he held my passport in his hands.
Yes, I said, We will talk a little bit. Families and
my father's preference in shoes, our grandmother's
love for sweaters.
We will share steaming glasses of tea,
the sweetness filling our throats.
Someone will laugh long and loosely,
so tears cloud my voice: O space of ocean waves,
how long you tumble between us, how little you

We will eat cabbage rolls, rice with sugar and milk,
crisply sizzled eggplant. When the olives come
        sailing past
in their little white boat, we will line them
        on our plates
like punctuation. What do governments have to do
with such pleasure? Question mark.
YES I love you! Swooping exclamation.
Or the indelible thesis statement:
        it is with great dignity
we press you to our lips.


Sizzled Eggplant with Yogurt and Almonds
Slices of eggplant sauteed in a pan with generous amounts of olive oil until melting and tender on the inside but just crisped on the outside. They truly sizzle as they cook. A simple topping of thick yogurt and some almonds and parsley.

4-5 small size (5-6 inches long) firm eggplant
olive oil
1 cup plain Greek-style yogurt or labane
1 small lemon
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1/2 cup blanched almonds
pinch or two of Aleppo pepper or other mild chili pepper
equipment: optional, but a splatter screen is nice to have here

1. Trim off the top and bottom of the eggplant and then slice it vertically into thick strips. Sprinkle salt on one side of the strip.
2. Heat a generous amount of olive oil in a large pan over medium (not high!) heat. The olive oil should fill the bottom of the pan by about 1/4 inch deep. When the olive oil is hot, add the first batch of eggplant slices, salt-side up, being sure not to overcrowd the pan. Cook until lightly browned on the first side and the eggplant is almost totally tender when pierced with a knife, this could take as long as five to seven minutes. Flip the eggplant slices over as they are ready, sprinkle the opposite sides with salt, and let cook until browned and lightly crisped on the outside, but still very tender in the middle. Keep an eye on the heat and adjust it as necessary. Remove eggplant slices to drain on paper towels.
3. Repeat the process in batches with the remaining eggplant slices, topping up the olive oil as necessary. 
4. Place your yogurt in a bowl and zest the lemon into the bowl. Halve the lemon and squeeze the lemon juice from half the lemon into the yogurt. Season with a big pinch of salt and stir to mix well.
5. Arrange a layer of eggplant slices in the bottom of your dish. Drizzle some yogurt, sprinkle parlsey and Aleppo pepper over top. Repeat the layering of eggplant with yogurt, herbs and spice.
6. Finally, heat up that same pan you were using for the eggplant, and saute the almonds in the pan until lightly browned all over. Pour the toasted almonds over the top of the eggplant, sprinkle with salt, and serve.

20 October 2013

Grilled Fruit Salad with Crisped Speck, Goat Cheese, and Pecans

My friends. I have recently become fascinated with this thing you call Pinterest. Apparently, it's a pin board, and as far as I can tell, people use them to pin millions of hair style ideas for their wedding. And also to plan their wedding, when they are not, in fact, expecting to get married anytime soon. So it's confusing. Forgive me if I'm a little slow, but I do live in North Africa, and the internets are not so great here.


But what I have really become obsessed with is why and how people use Pinterest to pin recipes. Or really not-recipes, as I like to call them. Based on a recent analysis of the most popular food posts on Pinterest, I have broken them down into the following categories for you:
  • I'm on this stupid diet and I'll do anything to get around it (see: Paleo cinnamon rolls, Vegan bacon, Paleo burritos)
  • At least 90% of the recipes are made in a crockpot using store-bought mixes. Hint: combining some chicken and two sauce packs is not cooking. Also, if you were wondering why America has an obesity problem, here's a hint.
  • How to make food not look like food! (Bacon turtles)
  • Food coloring 101
  • Pretty pictures of food that do not, in fact, actually link to a recipe.
I don't want to go on a rant here, but I am actually quite fascinated with this anthropologically. What does it mean that people are sitting around pinning recipes that they will never make, because they in fact aren't recipes at all? Why do we want our food to not look like food? What's so wrong with an apple actually looking like an apple? And, I know they're convenient, but why exactly are we so obsessed with crockpots? A pot and a stove have always been perfectly functional for me.

On another level, I will admit that I find myself so removed from this phenomenon because, well, I live in Algeria. I live somewhere where there is NO store-bought mix option. There's no boneless skinless chicken breast option, unless you're doing the butchering yourself, there's no bottled barbeque sauce. When my greengrocer tells me the strawberries are good this week, I ask whether they're local or imported, because I know the imported ones are five-times the price. I live somewhere where when I go to the market in the morning and the watermelon guy is offloading watermelons from his truck, it's not all "ohh I met the farmer" and it's so good to know where he comes from and  "farm to table." It's just a guy and his watermelons because that's the way it is. Where my carrots shrivel up and get all soft two days after I buy them, because that's what carrots SHOULD do.


So yes, I got all ranty. Fine. But here's the thing, I have a Pinterest account. And the other day, I saw a recipe for a cake with smoked fruit. That smoked fruit thing really stuck in my head, and it rattled around in there for a while. And I thought of a salad with smoked fruit. And that salad with smoked fruit, well I sort of become obsessed with it. And I made it, and it was delicious. (If you're lazy, just grilling the fruit, or sauteeing in a grill pan also works). So, I guess this whole Pinterest sharing idea thing works out after all. Just don't expect me to be posting the recipe for jello cookies anytime soon.

**We're currently eating our way through Sicily, if you're interested in following along with our fooding adventures (spleen sandwiches! wineries! gelato!), click on the Instagram link at the top right of the page.**

Grilled Fruit Salad with Crisped Speck, Goat Cheese, and Pecans
Honestly, I don't think anyone really needs quantities for a salad recipe. I mean, I'm assuming you can make a salad right? Make enough for however many people you want to serve. I promise, it will be okay.

stone fruits, firm-ripe, pitted and halved (I used prune plums, apricots, and peaches)
speck, cut into batons (bacon can also work)
goat cheese, crumbled
torn lettuce, we used a kind of butter lettuce, but whatever you'd like
vinaigrette: olive oil, white wine vinegar, salt
black pepper

1. Mix together your vinaigrette - you want two parts oil to one part vinegar, then season with salt.
2. In a small pan, crisp the speck over medium heat until crispy and some of the fat in rendered out, Drain on a paper towel. Using the same pan, toast the pecans in the rendered fat. Drain pecans on a paper towel and sprinkle with salt.
3. Preheat a grill, a smoker box, or a grill pan, rub lightly with oil. Grill the fruit, cut side down first, until nice solid grill marks appear, about 3-5 minutes. Flip the fruit and grill another 2-5 minutes on the other side, until browned but not falling apart. Set aside.
4. Assemble the salad. Toss the lettuce with the dressing in a large bowl. Arrange the pecans, speck, fruit and goat cheese over top. Crack some black pepper over the whole thing. Serve with a knife and fork.

14 October 2013

Olive Oil Cornmeal Cakes


Over and over again, I'm drawn to crunch. That corner of the brownie pan with its crusty bits? I have my eye on it. The crackly top of baked lasagna? Oh yeah, it's mine. Crispy crunchy baked potato skins with crackling cheese on top? Pass them this way. Do I have a problem? Cornmeal is a great way to add crunch to a baked good, so naturally I'm particularly fond of it.

I made these cakes late one night when I was home alone, futzing around the kitchen, looking for something sweet. I picked out the cornmeal for crunch, chose olive oil for the unique flavor and how easy it is to use during baking, some egg yolks leftover from another project, sugar and a splash of booze because, why the hell not? And voila, a cake recipe was born. I used these great non-stick molds I bought at E. Dehilirin in Paris, which makes them perfect snack cake size. Happy midnight snacking!

Olive Oil Cornmeal Cakes
Being the daughter of Southerners, I'm kind of picky about my cornmeal. Too coarse a grind of cornmeal and these would be unpleasant too eat, too fine a grind and they lose some of their characteristic crunch. I'm partial to Anson Mills brand. If you use Bob's Red Mill their standard cornmeal is too coarse, I would pulse it a few times in a coffee grinder.

6 egg yolks (or 3 whole eggs)
1 cup sugar
1 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons amaretto
zest of 1 lemon
1 cup flour
1 cup medium-grind cornmeal
1/2 teaspoon each baking powder and baking soda
pinch salt
powdered sugar, for dusting
equipment: silicone cake mold pan

1. Preheat oven to 375F. Grease molds with a neutral oil.
2. Combine the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, soda, and salt in a small bowl.
3. In a large bowl, beat together the egg yolks and sugar until they are thick, lightened in color, and form ribbons when drizzled from the whisk. Beat in the olive oil and the amaretto. Zest the lemon into the bowl. Stir in the flour in a few swift strokes, combining just so that no white streaks remain, but do not overbeat.
4. Pour batter into the molds, filling about 2/3 of the way full. Bake 25-35 minutes, until golden and a cake tester comes out clean. Baking time can vary greatly depending on the size of your cakes and material of your pan, so keep an eye on them and use your judgment.
5. Let cakes cool for 5-10 minutes before gently removing them from the molds. Cool on a cooling rack. When cool, dust with powdered sugar if desired.

09 October 2013

Ottolenghi's Green Gazpacho

The past few summers I've been really into making gazapachos - classic ones, and variations like salmorejo or ajo blanco. My gazpacho season really gets going around August, when tomatoes and peppers are abundant and it's too hot to do any real cooking. This summer, I spotted a recipe for a green gazpacho from the Ottolenghi Cookbook (shamefully I had never seen this recipe even though I actually own this cookbook -- it's at my uncle's house in America -- but you are in luck because it's just been issued for the first time in the States!)


The recipe caught my eye because it can be very difficult, if not impossible, to get dark leafy greens into my diet here in Algeria. Who knew you could crave arugula? The spinach here is sold in leaves at least 2 feet tall and tough as nails, and the only other green option is the occasional Swiss chard bunch, or the copious amount of parsley and herbs that I already eat. A big green puree sounded right up my alley. The lovely thing about this gazpacho is that it has enough other things going on -- spicy green peppers, toasty walnuts, basil -- to make sure it doesn't come across as health food. Even my tough spinach blended in as a complimentary color, playing off the other flavors. I really love the addition of nuts to gazpacho, and the walnuts here add a depth and meatiness to the soup, though I bet almonds would also be great.

We had this as a main course for dinner, but I think it would make a lovely and unique starter for a dinner party or a side dish in little soup shooters. You can fancy up the toppings with Greek yogurt or toasted walnuts or spices like red pepper flakes or freshly grated nutmeg.


Ottolenghi's Green Gazpacho
Depending on how much water content is in your cucumbers and peppers, you may need a touch more water to get this to blend smoothly. Use a good fruity olive oil, as the flavor will come through.

2 small ribs celery
1 medium-sized poblano pepper (or green bell pepper)
2 small cucumbers
3-4 cups spinach, chopped if leaves are large (I used 3 cups)
1/2 cup basil leaves, or a mix of basil/parsley/cilantro/mint
1 scallion, white and green parts
1 small green chile pepper, stemmed and seeded and minced
1 slice stale bread, torn
1 clove garlic
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
3/4 cup toasted walnuts
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon honey
sea salt and white pepper to taste
1/2 cup olive oil, plus more for serving

1. You'll probably have to do this in two batches so I find it's best to get a big bowl and as you chop just add things to the bowl. Roughly chop the celery, poblano pepper, cucumbers, scallion, and chile pepper and add to the bowl. Add the spinach, basil or herbs, torn bread, garlic, and walnuts to the bowl, and toss everything with your hands to distribute.
2. In a bowl or large Pyrex measuring cup, combine the water, honey, and vinegar.
3. Add in half of the water mixture to your blender. Add half of the vegetable/nut mix to the blender. Season with salt and pepper. Blend the mixture until well combined and smooth. With the blender running, drizzle in 1/4 cup of olive oil slowly so that it emulsifies into the soup. Taste for seasoning and salt/pepper to taste. Transfer to a storage container.
4. Repeat the process with the remaining water, vegetables, salt/pepper, and olive oil. Transfer the remaining mix to your storage container.
5. Chill the gazpacho for at least 4 hours before serving. If the gazpacho gets too thick add a bit more water. Stir well, serve with a bit of olive oil drizzled on top.

05 October 2013

Local Food Spotlight: Garantita

I was going to explain to you about the classic Algerian street food, garantita, but then I found this great little YouTube video, and I think they do a pretty good job of explaining it themselves!

Garantita is a simple mixture of chickpea flour, water or milk, and an egg, baked to create a quivering loaf. Sandwich it in a baguette and top with harissa and mayonnaise. Like a lot of Algerian food, it's carb-centric and filling! You can see how garantita is the Mediterranean cousin of other chickpea-flour street foods like socca and farinata.

01 October 2013

Double Cauliflower

Paul was out of town a few weeks ago, and as anyone with a significant other knows, that can be a bit of a double-edged sword. Usually I start off excited at the prospect of an empty house, not having to make dinner or do dishes, and just eating watermelon for dinner and having time to read and organize my closet, and finally clean out my desk. (Really, I have the most boring ideas of fun, don't I?)

But inevitably what happens is I get home from work, stare at my empty home, and wonder why on earth I thought this alone time was going to be so great after all? Then I usually rustle up some vegetable to eat and try and find something to watch on Netflix and count how many days it is until Paul comes home.

When I'm not eating hunks of watermelon for dinner, a couple of my favorite home-alone meals are a quick and easy red lentil dal, and some kind of just-vegetables dish. A baked sweet potato say, or a big pile of braised cabbage. In this iteration, I was playing around with the idea of using only a head of cauliflower to make dinner. I came up with sort of cauliflower two ways - a soft, creamy, lemony cauliflower puree, topped with a crunchy roasted cauliflower topping. It's quite delicious, and an entertaining way to tell someone you ate a whole head of cauliflower for dinner. What do you cook when you're home alone?

Double Cauliflower
You can mix this up however you'd like, I imagine the topping would take nicely to a few olives or capers, or you can add in a 1/2 cup of white beans to the puree, etc. Serves 1-2 people. 

1 large head cauliflower
2 tablespoons butter
zest of 1 lemon
1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan or pecorino romano
salt, pepper, olive oil
1/4 cup pine nuts
chopped parsley and paprika, for serving

1. Set a pot of salted water to boil. Preheat the oven to 425F. Line a small baking sheet with foil. Get out a food processor and put the butter in the food processor bowl.
2. Remove any green leaves from the cauliflower. Cut away the florets and stems of your cauliflower until only the thick center core remains, discard the center core. Now, take any large florets and stem pieces and move them to one side of your cutting board, and take all the small little floret pieces and bits and move them to the other side of the cutting board. If you find you have not many small pieces, slice some little small floret pieces off the bigger pieces so you have about 1-1 1/2 cups small florets.
3. Place the small florets in the foil-lined baking sheet and toss with olive oil and salt to coat. Place in the oven to roast. Toss the florets occasionally to ensure they cook evenly. It should take about 20 minutes for the cauliflower to roast In the last five minutes before the cauliflower is done, toss in the pine nuts so that they toast. Remove from the oven when browned and tender when pierced with a knife.
4. Meanwhile, place all the large florets and stem pieces and put them in the boiling water. Boil until just tender. Remove the cauliflower with a slotted spoon, being sure to drain well, and transfer the cauliflower to the processor. Season with salt and run the food processor until the cauliflower is a smooth puree. Zest the lemon directly into the food processor bowl, add in the cheese and a bit of black pepper. Pulse food processor to combine. Taste for seasoning.
5. Scoop the cauliflower puree into a bowl. Pile the roasted cauliflower and pine nuts on top. Top with parsley and a sprinkling of paprika and serve warm.