30 October 2010


Chermoula is a seafood marinade used in Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria. Although it's traditionally used just as a marinade, it's pretty good used in other applications, a spicy mix of garlic, cilantro, olive oil, lemon, chili pepper, and seasonings. It's not unlike chimichurri in Argentina. Often fish or seafood are rolled in chermoula, and then layered in a dish with onions and tomatoes and other ingredients to make a tagine. Stay tuned for a tagine recipe coming soon.



1 large bunch cilantro
1 small bunch flat-leaf parsley
1 small red chili pepper, seeds removed and pepper chopped
1 small garlic glove, minced
1 teaspoon each cumin, coriander, salt
juice of 1 lemon
1/3 cup olive oil

1. Dice the cilantro and parsley leaves as finely as possible. Combine remaining ingredients.

19 October 2010

Travels & Interludes


Writing a food blog for over three years is a difficult thing. There are only so many ways I can tell you that something is delicious without starting to sound cliche and repetitive. And there are only so many stories one can tell about, say, cauliflower, or fresh basil. The same words become tired, as if a piano off key, and you start to recognize that same tiredness in other food writers' writing. But I've been traveling for most of the past month, eating lobster in Maine and roast eggplant in the Middle East and gratin dauphinois in Paris,and if those things don't inspire you I don't know what does.

reine claude!

It had been a few years since I've been to Paris, and I felt when we were leaving as if I were being cleaved away from a trip that wasn't ready to end. Oh, sure there were strikes and protests, and the Picasso museum is closed until 2012, but there was delicious stinky cheese to be eaten on a picnic and petanques players in the Luxembourg gardens, and the most delicious meal I've had in quite a long time eaten in a tiny bistro with an old zinc bar and antique silver flatware.


In the middle east, pomegranates are in season, and at juice stands everywhere you can find fresh squeezed pomegranate juice and (my favorite), carrot juice. Fresh dates are in season, bright yellow fading to sticky sweet brown, plump figs, and a reminder that no one does chickpeas quite like the Lebanese.

luxembourg gardens

There are times writing here that I want desperately to talk about anything but food. To tell you about the latest novel I've read or my thoughts about health care reform or to discuss the deepening divide within Lebanon. And then there are times when I've got a great dish I want to share with you but I forgot to take a picture or it came out horribly, or I just can't think of anything to say. That's where travel comes in, time on the plane to plow through novels and time to see new things. So, I hope I've returned re-invigorated and re-inspired, and happy to spend some quality time with my kitchen again.

Recommended in Paris:

Le Chardenoux

Bistro founded in 1908 with classic French cooking executed to perfection. Warm service concludes with a fresh madeline offered to you straight out of the baking tray along with the check.

Shan Gout
Exquisite Chinese food in a tiny place near Bastille, nice wines and delicious cooking, we loved the sichuan eggplant and the crispy sesame pork.

The hot table in Paris, be sure to reserve ahead.

Le Verre Vole
Also very trendy, this tiny place isn't fancy but is fun, and specializes in offal (think pigs ears and boudin noir).

Marche Aligre, for a good market experience.

12 October 2010

Sort-of Mohnkuchen

I made this cake for a party we had at the tail-end of summer, and it got completely over-shadowed by the sour cherry pie Paul made. I don't blame them, it was a damn-good sour cherry pie, but I still like this cake, even if it's not the most popular girl in the room. There's something delectable of the soft souffle-like cake made with ground poppy seeds and topped with tangy cream cheese frosting.


This cake is something I invented many years ago (years!), inspired by the Austrian sweet mohnkuchen. Mohenkuchen is a poppy seed cake, made with a crumbly shortbread bottom, a sweet pure-black poppy seed filling, and a streusel topping. This cake takes it inspiration from that poppy-seed filling, but turns to a French technique and a bit of my own improvisation.


To make the cake a bit healthier, I substitute prune puree for some of the butter. The prune puree also adds a depth of flavor and sweetness to the cake. If you don't feel like making the puree yourself, baby food work perfectly. This sounds odd, but if you think of baby food as just small jars of fruit purees, they're actually great for use in baking to add moisture and flavor to cakes.

Anyway, I don't mind if this isn't going to be the stand-out cake in the room, it's subtle and complex (and frankly rather expensive to make). But it's sort of a stealth favorite, sneaking up on you slowly until it takes a place in your repertoire.

Poppy Seed Cake (Inspired by Mohnkuchen)

6 tablespoons butter, softened
1/2 cup prune puree (I use prune baby food)
1 cup sugar
1 1/4 cups poppy seeds, coarsely ground in a spice grinder
1/2 cup flour
4 eggs, separated
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar (optional)
zest of 1 orange or lemon
1 teaspoon vanilla or almond extract
1/2 recipe cream cheese frosting*
candied walnuts for topping

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease a springform tin and line with parchment paper, grease parchment paper.
2. Cream butter and sugar. Add in egg yolks and extract. Add in prune puree. Stir in the ground poppy seeds and flour.
3. Beat egg whites with a pinch of cream of tartar to stiff peaks.
4. Gently fold egg whites into cake batter in batches using a spatula until the mixture is just combined. Transfer to prepared pan. Bake 40-45 minutes, until puffed and browned on top. Let cool completely.
5. Top the cake with cream cheese frosting and candied walnuts as desired.

* Cream cheese frosting - beat together 1/2 lb cream cheese, 1/2 stick (4 tbl) butter, 2 cups confectioners sugar, 1 tbl vanilla extract.

08 October 2010

Meatballs in Swiss Chard and Tahini Sauce

swiss chard, tahini, meatballs
I'm going to start this off by saying, I don't think this recipe really worked. In fact, it seems almost cruel to be posting this now - I'm in Paris oggling the beautiful markets, the abundance of fall squashes, and remembering back to this recipe made on a dark night in my poorly-lit kitchen with a recipe that only half-way worked.

swiss chard

This is an uncommon but not unusual recipe in the Levant, pairing a garlicky swiss chard and tahini sauce with meatballs. Sometimes the meatballs are plain, sometimes they are more fancy, made with kibbeh instead of meatballs. And sometimes this dish can be vegetarian, with chickpeas replacing the meatballs.

tomatoes cookingmeatballs

But here's the deal, I love the swiss chard and tahini sauce, it' the bright spot in this recipe. Friends, this part is a "put-it-in-the-recipe-file" keeper, it's garlicky and creamy and crunchy, and best of all good for you. I also like the meatballs, and really, who doesn't love a good meatball? But together, I just think this combination doesn't work. Maybe if you cooked the meatballs together with the chard for longer, maybe then the flavors would blend. But as it stands it's like two clashing armies battling it out for your taste buds.

So take my advice and just make the swiss chard sauce. Add in some chickpeas if you want the heft of a vegetarian main course. Serve it warm or cold, serve it over couscous or bulgur. Make some meatballs another time.

swiss chard, tahini, meatballs

Meatballs in Swiss Chard and Tahini Sauce

Adapted from various sources. Please read the above post for recommendations.
1 lb ground lamb
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon baharat
1 onion, divided in half
olive oil salt
2 cups chopped tomatoes (canned or fresh)
2 gloves garlic, minced
1 bunch swiss chard
1.2 teaspooon Aleppo pepper
1/2 cup walnuts, toasted
1 recipe tahini sauce (see previous)

1. Grate half of the onion on the holes of a box grater. Mix together the meat, onion, salt, and seasoning, kneading the mixture with your hands until it is smooth and sticky. (Alternately, you can grind the onion in the food processor, then add the remaining ingredients, pulsing to combine.) Roll into meatballs about 1 inch in diameter and refrigerate.
2. Dice the remaining onion and mice the garlic. Heat some olive oil in a saute pan, then saute the onion and garlic until softened. Add the tomatoes, season with salt, and cook until slightly broken down and saucey, about 15-20 minutes. Set aside.
3. Meanwhile, set a pot of water to boil. Remove the ribs from the swiss chard and roughly chop. Add to the boiling water and blanch the chard to soften. Remove with a slotted spoon and chop finely. Add the chard and Aleppo pepper to the tomato sauce, return to heat, and cook until the chard is soft and cooked through. Set tomato sauce aside to cool down.
4. Heat up some oil in a very large frying pan, add the meatballs and cook the meatballs until well browned and cooked through (this may take quite a while). Work in batches if necessary.
5. Stir the half the tahini sauce into the now-cool swiss chard, and stir in the walnuts. Place the warm meatballs on top. Sprinkle with cilantro. Serve.

05 October 2010

Basic Technique: Tahini Sauce

Here's a basic technique of Middle Eastern cuisine: tahini sauce. This is the classic way of preparing tahini, not just a sauce but a component of a myriad of dishes. Add pureed chickpeas to this and you have hummus, add mashed eggplant to it and you have baba ghanoush. Drizzle it on top of fish, toss it with dice tomatoes, or stir it into cooked swiss chard. This technique is embedded in hundreds of Middle Eastern recipe.

tahini sauce
This technique also has a cool chemical reaction in it: the interaction between the tahini and the lemon juice. The acid in the lemon juice causes a very runny tahini sauce to thicken up and become stiff and solid. (Any chemists out there who can explain this??)

This is an old school recipe that's best done with a mortar and pestle. You can do this in a food processor, but I rarely do (mainly because I hate cleaning the food processor), but also because I find it doesn't do a very good job smashing the garlic.

Tahini Sauce
This sauce is classic, and rarely needs anything else, but feel free to try adding a pinch of cumin or Aleppo pepper just to mix things up.

1 garlic clove
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup tahini
juice of 2 lemons (must be fresh!)

1. Bash the garlic and salt in a mortar and pestle until it reaches a smooth paste. Transfer the paste to a bowl and stir in the tahini.
2. Add in the lemon juice, you will see the sauce become very white and "tight." Slowly add in water until the mixture reaches a smooth paste (don't be surprised, you may have to add up to 1 to 2 cups of water). The sauce should be thick put pourable. Season as desired.