15 April 2014

How to Prep an Artichoke


1. Prepare a bowl of acidulated water, this will prevent the artichokes from discoloring.
2. Peel away the lower leaves with your hands until the whole base of the choke is exposed. (Save the leaves, you can steam them and serve them with dip, or use them to make a vegetable stock.)
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3. Cut off and discard the top of the artichoke, You want to cut right along where the top of the fleshy choke is, which is usually lower than where you think it is. Knowing where to cut takes a bit of practice, but you'll get the hang of it.
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4. Also trim the base stem. If you plan to stuff the artichoke bottoms, you should discard the whole stem. For other artichoke dishes or you can leave about 1-2 inches of the stem on, it is tender and edible.

5. Use your knife to trim away any green spots from the base (underside) of the artichoke bottom. Also peel the outer layer of the stem, if you left the stem on. It doesn't have to be perfect or smooth, but you want to get rid of the green bits some they will be tough.
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6. Now, with your knife or a sharp-edged spoon, trim away the inner fuzzy choke. I like to do this part last since it discolors quickly. Again, it doesn't have to be perfect, just trim away the sharp and fuzzy parts of the choke.
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7. Place the artichoke in the water and repeat with remaining. 
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Artichoke recipes: Artichokes with Meat and Tahini Sauce, Artichokes with Peas and Favas, Artichokes with Oranges, Saffron, Almonds and Olives

01 April 2014

Turkish Tahini Flatbread

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We have just returned from two amazing weeks traveling through the Moroccan countryside, and I have SO MANY exciting food things to share with you (and other adventures, like driving through river beds in a crappy rental Peugeot)! But before I can get all my thoughts and pictures organized, we have to talk about this tahini bread that I made before we left.

As you can imagine, and I hope many of you readers share this obsession with me, the phrase "tahini bread" is music to my little ears. I still love this flaky tahini bread I made many years ago. Naturally, when I wanted to make one of the breads from Classical Turkish Cooking, of course I settled on the tahinli recipe. I read over the recipe, where I learned this was not the traditional flaky rolls (tahinli ekmek or tahinli corek) but a tahini flatbread (tahinli katmer).

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I am a really strong believer that, when making a recipe you've never made before, you should always read the recipe through thoroughly, preferably twice. But, we don't all always follow our own rules now, do we?? (I certainly hope not, life would be so boring if we did.) So in this case, reading the recipe through meant sort of skimming the one page of dense text. "Yeah, yeah, roll, layer dough with tahini filling, roll, fold, roll. That's it," I thought.

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Fast forward to me in my kitchen, staring at the recipe in disbelief, thinking, "wait I have to fold AGAIN?" ... "the dough has to rest AGAIN??" ... and the sudden realization that I had endeavored upon making an item that was akin to making PUFF PASTRY. Now making puff pastry is all fine and good when you actually plan to be making puff pastry. Realizing you're unintentionally half way through making puff pastry on a weekday night when you just wanted to get dinner on the table is another matter altogether. (As my friend says, I need to know if we're going to do the hard workouts at least one day in advance, gotta psyche myself up!)

However, the upside to all this is that the idea of making puff pastry with tahini is pretty darn cool right?! It's not a true puff pastry, but I like the idea of a flaky tahini-embedded dough to use as a crust for a savory pie or tart. It's something I'd like to play with in the future, provided I have some time to psyche myself up for it. In the meantime, these breads are delicious, nutty and rich with tahini. If you plan some extra time to make these, they are quite rewarding.

P.S. Culinary nerd note: In making these I couldn't help notice a similarity in the technique between the Turkish katmer bread and the North African msemmen bread. Perhaps an old Ottoman influence? Then again, layered flaky flatbreads are traditional in many ancient cuisines.

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Turkish Tahini Flatbread
The original recipe actually had one additional fold before rolling and cooking the breads, but I've eliminated it because I felt the final fold smooshed out the tahini too much. (Yes, smooshed is a technical term). You want to handle the dough both gently and firmly, like good parenting, to preserve the individual tahini layers.

2 cups all purpose flour, plus more for rolling
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold and cut into small pieces
3/4 cup milk

1/2 cup tahini
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
oil or clarified butter for cooking the breads

1. Combine flour and salt in a medium sized bowl. Add in the butter pieces and rub with your fingertips until the butter is distributed like small pebbles in the dough. Make a well in the center of the dough and pour in the milk. Mix in the milk to form a dough, knead the dough for five minutes until it is very smooth. Place the dough in a buttered bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rest for 1 hour.
2. Meanwhile, mix together the tahini and butter, pressing with the back of a spoon until well mixed.
3. Divide the dough into 8 balls and cover with a damp towel, let rest 20 minutes.
4. On a floured work surface, roll out one ball of dough to a 7 or 8 inch circle. Spread some of the tahini-butter mixture over the dough circle and set aside. Roll out another dough circle, place that circle over the first circle, and spread with more tahini mixture. Continue rolling and stacking the dough circles, coating each layer with the tahini mixture, until you have 4 dough lyers stacked (do not coat the fourth dough layer with the tahini mixture). Crimp the edges of the 4-layer dough/tahini stack to seal. Repeat with the next four balls of dough. You will not use up all the tahini mixture. Cover your two stacks with the damp towel and let rest 15-20 minutes.
5. Again working on a floured work surface, take the first dough stack and, working gently at first, roll it out into a wide circle. The dough should be about 1/4 inch thick. Spread with some more tahini mixture and roll up like a jelly roll. Repeat with the second dough round. Cover the two jelly rolls with a damp towel and let rest 15 minutes.
6. Cut each jelly roll into 4 sections, and pinch the edges of each section to seal in the tahini.  On a lightly floured work surface, roll out each section gently until just flat, you should have a medium sized (about 6 inch) square or rectangle.
7. Heat some oil or clarified butter in a skillet or griddle until hot. Cook the breads, about 1 minute each side, until brown blisters appear on the bread and the dough is cooked. Regulate the heat as you work so that the pan is not too hot or too cool. Serve the breads warm.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Meatballs:
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

Garnish:
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
salt

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.