28 March 2014

Making Oatmeal Cocoa Nib Muffins

I may have a .gif problem. Someone help.

Making the batter for leftover oatmeal muffins:

Find the recipe over at Orangette. I used cocoa nibs and a leftover batch of oat bran cereal -- we prefer oat bran to rolled oats, it's one of our favorite breakfasts. (I know, this house is just FULL of crazy fun! Gettin wild with the oat bran, people. Hold on to your hats!)

Time for muffins!

24 March 2014

Local Ingredient Spotlight

It's time for another edition of local ingredient spotlight! Today, our survey of North African ingredients includes two of my favorites: barley couscous and hmis, a green chile sauce.

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Barley couscous comes in several different varieties, they differ slightly in color (darker or lighter) and size. Barley cuscous is slightly trickier than regular couscous to prepare, as it can quickly turn to mush if you add too much water during the moistening and steaming process, and alternately it can be too crunchy if you don't add enough water.

I actually prefer this couscous to regular couscous, it has an earthier nutty flavor, and is great as a base for a salad with roast vegetables and some herbs and cheese. Lots of the barley couscous packages in Algeria have funny advertisements that say "good for colon health" which is basically a way of saying this stuff has your daily dose of fiber.

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Hmis is basically the green version of harissa, made from green chile peppers. I prefer to buy hmis from one of the olive and harissa vendors, but most Algerians rely on the canned stuff. It is extremely spicy! The classic way to serve hmis is to mix it with a lot (a lot!) of good olive oil, and lots of green olives, and then serve it as a dip. We like to put it on our morning omelets also.

Every time I see some avant-garde recipe for "green harissa," usually filled with anomalies like cilantro, mint and dill (ugh), I sigh and think about how the recipe author would be much better off if they just knew about hmis!

Past Ingredient Spotlights: Rechta noodles, shirsh el-halweh, breads of Algeria, garantita, desert truffles and meshwiyya.

17 March 2014

Persian Sweet and Sour Soup


I used to really love getting cookbooks from the library, and there were some volumes that I would take out and renew over and over again. Najmieh Batmaglij's "Food of Life" was one of those books that kept returning to my coffee table, though that was many years ago. Getting books from the library was long ago a family tradition, we went every Sunday to check-out new books, and even though it was an ugly florescent-lit space, it is still a good memory for me, the excitement of finding something new to read.

In college, I worked on Sundays in the library as a work-study (funny how traditions repeat themselves), and that is where my cookbook reading began in earnest. On my lunch break I would go up to the cookbook floor and find the books I would take home for that week. Sometimes I would cart home a heavy bagful of them back to my apartment, my arms aching by the time I got to my front door. I rarely cooked from them, but I read from them each night before I went to bed, de-stressing at the end of a long day of dancing and studying by contemplating the ratios of a chocolate mousse recipe (Pierre Herme was a favorite at the time). To this day, when my husband marvels at why I know this or that about cooking, it is almost always because of all the cookbooks I read in those days.


When I saw Batmanglij's book was re-issued recently with new photos, I remembered my old dog-eared library copy, and ordered my very own edition. Before it even arrived, I found myself craving those uniquely Persian flavors, the sour limes and crispy rice dishes. Persian soups, almost more stew-like in consistency, are amazingly complex in both taste and ingredients. They often involve adding ingredients slowly over many hours, layering flavor over flavor. There are often miles and miles of herbs and greens melted into the stew, lots of onions, a touch of meat, legumes, and flavor builders like sour grape juice (verjus) and sizzled garlic.


In this sweet and sour Persian soup, there is a lot going on -- meatballs, herbs, lentils, dried fruit and nuts, not to mention the sweet and sour elements from vinegar and molasses. It's the kind of dish you should make on a quiet weekend afternoon and then eat all week long, where you'll find the soup is almost certainly better on the second and even third day. It is also a forgiving recipe - I couldn't find any yellow lentils, so I used orange lentils, if you don't have beet leaves you could use spinach or turnip greens. Grape molasses (available in Middle Eastern in shops) can be substituted with honey for the sweet element. Like the library, there's something communal in a big extended recipe like this, the ideas shared, the flavors layered together, the sort of thing you cook together and eat with family or friends around the table, passing some extra sizzled garlic to share.

Persian Sweet and Sour Soup (Osh-e miveh)
This complex soup takes time to make, but other than chopping some herbs and making some very basic meatballs, the preparation is simple and the whole endeavor is quite easy going. I made this recipe while also making some bread to serve along side it. Adapted from Najmieh Batmanglij.

Soup base:
2 onions, thinly sliced
1/2 cup yellow split peas or orange lentils
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
5 cups broth, 5 cups water (or 10 cups water)
1 cup chopped parsley
1 cup chopped green onions
1/2 cup chopped beet leaves (or spinach)
1 cup chopped cilantro

1 small onion
1 lb ground lamb, veal, or chicken
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon each pepper, turmeric, cinnamon
2 tablespoons chopped parsley

Finishing the soup:
1 cup pitted prunes
1 cup dried apricots
1/2 cup rice
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/4 cup grape molasses, date molasses, or honey
1/4 cup red wine vinegar, sour orange juice, or lemon juice

2 tablespoons butter
5  cloves garlic
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
2 teaspoons crushed dried mint flakes

1. Prepare the meatballs by mixing together all the ingredients with your hands. Form into small meatballs, place on a tray, and refrigerate.
2. Heat some olive oil in the bottom of a heavy-bottomed pot. Add the onions and cook over medium heat, stirring, until the onions soften and caramelize, about 20-30 minutes. Add in the turmeric and split peas or lentils, and stir everything around until it is fragrant, about a minute.
3. Add in the broth/water combination and season well with salt. Let the mixture simmer for about 30 minutes if using split peas, and only 10 minutes if using orange lentils. Add in all the greens and let simmer for another 15 minutes, until wilted.
4. Add in the meatballs, prunes, and apricots, season again with salt, and simmer for 20 minutes.
5. Add the rice and walnuts. Let simmer for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, stir together your sweet and sour elements in a bowl (the vinegar and molasses, or whatever you are using). Taste the sweet-sour mixture for balance. After 30 minutes, stir in the the sweet-sour mixture and stir everything together to combine. Taste the soup for seasoning. Remove the soup from the heat and let rest while you prepare the garnish.
6. Before serving, prepare the garnish. Melt the butter in a small skillet Add the garlic, turmeric, and dried mint until sizzling. Ladle the warm soup into bowl and top each bowl with a bit of the butter/garlic mixture. Serve.

10 March 2014

Pumpkin and White Beans with Sizzled Lamb, Yogurt, Mint

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Winter is pretty much over here in North Africa, in fact it barely happened at all this year, but I know that for readers in America the snow and ice pummels on in what everyone keeps telling me is "the longest winter EVER." So, while fava beans and daffodils are all a-spring here, you will forgive me a few more wintery dishes made in a warm dark depths of our late night kitchen.

Most of the things that I rely on for quick weeknight dinners follow one of a few basic formulas, and this is no exception. If you notice that this recipe bears striking similarity to say, this pumpkin/chickpea salad, or this roast cauliflower salad, you would be correct. One of my most relied on formulas is the equation of roast/sautéed vegetable + legume + herbs + yogurt/tahini sauce + topping (nuts, meat, etc). If you play this equation out, you get:

- sautéed eggplant and chickpea salad with tahini and pine nuts
- roast pumpkin and chickpea salad with yogurt/tahini sauce and almonds
- caramelized fennel and onion with white beans, shredded chicken, tarragon yogurt dressing
- roast cauliflower and lentil salad with fennel fronds and hazelnuts
- sautéed zucchini with black beans, cilantro, spicy labne, and peanuts

See how easy that is? And I just made up half of those dishes. (Now I want to try that lentil-hazelnut salad!) In this case, I had leftover white beans and leftover braised lamb in the fridge. Combined with roast pumpkin and a lively harissa-yogurt sauce, this is an easy quick dinner.

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Pumpkin and White Beans with Sizzled Lamb, Yogurt, Mint
Never underestimate how a squeeze of fresh lemon can brighten a dish like this. This is best served while still fresh from the fryer, so-to-speak.

3 cups cubed pumpkin or butternut squash
1 teaspoon each cinnamon, allspice
2 cups cooked white beans
1 cup shredded leftover lamb
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1 teaspoon harissa, or other chile paste
1 tablespoon tahini
1 lemon, halved
1 sprig mint, leaves chopped
3-4 tablespoons bacon fat, duck fat, or oil

1. Preheat oven to 425F. Line a baking sheet with tin foil. Line a plate with a double-layer of paper towels.
2. Toss the pumpkin with olive oil to coat, and the cinnamon, allspice, and 2 pinches salt. Scatter the pumpkin on the baking sheet and roast for 20-25 minutes, until tender when pierced with a knife and brown on the edges. When done, remove from the oven and scatter the roast pumpkin on a serving dish.
3. Meanwhile, make the yogurt dressing by combining the yogurt, harissa, and tahini, with salt and the juice of half a lemon. Stir together and taste for seasoning.
4. Heat the fat in a heavy pan, it should be hot. Add the white beans and fry until the edges are sizzled and browned. Remove with a slotted spoon and transfer to a paper towel to drain.
5. Add the shredded lamb to the fat and cook the lamb until nicely crisped and sizzled. Remove the lamb to the paper towel to drain. Sprinkle beans and lamb liberally with salt.
6. Add the beans and lamb to the platter with the pumpkin. Squeeze the remaining lemon half over top. Pour the yogurt sauce over top and sprinkle the mint leaves over. Serve immediately.

06 March 2014

Making Shakshouka

A .gif of us making shakshouka topped with plain yogurt and mint. Enjoy!

Find a recipe for shakshouka here. Shakshouka is pronounced with the kh sound and not the hard K sound -- sha-khh-shuuu-ka.