28 November 2010

The Difference Between Roasting and Frying


I've been meaning to write this post for a long time, so long in fact, that this recipe has changed since I originally intended to write about it. That's a good thing, meaning that this recipe is a favorite of ours and that it is quality controlled and tested (another way of saying I ate a lot of it). But the thing I've been meaning to write about is the difference between roasting and frying. If you were to ask a Western chef, say Michael Ruhlman, about the difference, he would probably give you a long answer about heat and molecules and fat absorption. But in the most of the world (that is in the 2nd and 3rd worlds), there is one distinction between frying and roasting: money.

The cost of cooking fuel is a major expense in many households and it costs a whole lot more to heat an oven at a consistent temperature than it does to use a relatively small flame to heat a pot of frying oil. And I'm not talking just about poverty here, for middle class families in places like Iraq and Syria, where people have modern ovens and cooking appliances, the oven is still reserved for use sparingly, for special occasions and big cuts of meat, because of the cost associated. And in many places like China and Japan, ovens aren't even a standard part of the kitchen.


I say this mainly because there are several Middle Eastern recipes where I adapt frying to roasting. Frankly, I don't want to wrestle a pot of boiling oil, and roasting is a bit more healthful and easier. In the case of this recipe, it started with a simple preparation for cauliflower. The cauliflower is broken into florets, fried in a shallow pan of oil, and served with a squeeze of lemon and maybe a bit of tahini sauce. It's addictive, in a way you never thought cauliflower could be.

I roast the cauliflower in a pan in the oven, which means you can roast the entire head at once. I originally served the cauliflower with just a drizzling of tahini sauce, then I added a few slivered almonds, then some golden raisins, and so on until I arrived at this salad. It's crunchy and creamy and tart and perfect for winter.


Roast Cauliflowers with Tahini, Almond, and Pomegranate
Don't be surprised if you find you can eat a whole head of roast cauliflower yourself, it's surprisingly addictive. Pine nuts can also be used in place of almonds.

1 large head of cauliflower
olive oil
salt and pepper
1 recipe tahini sauce
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup slivered almonds
1/2 cup pomegranate seeds
1 cup of chopped parsley and cilantro (mixed)

1. Preheat oven to 410 F. Place head of cauliflower sideways on a large cutting board, and start slicing about 1/2 inch slices across the top. There will be a mess of tiny florets everywhere, that's okay. When you reach the core, slice the sides of the cauliflower in the same manner. Chop any large florets into smaller bits (about 1-2 inch pieces). Discard core.

2. Drizzle olive oil over a large baking sheet. Add all the cauliflower to the baking sheet, drizzle with a bit more olive oil and roll around so that cauliflower is coated in oil. Season well with salt and pepper. Roast cauliflower for 25-35 minutes, until browned in spots and large pieces of cauliflower are tender when poked with a knife.

3. Meanwhile, while cauliflower is roasting, place raisins in a bowl and pour boiling water over the cover. Let sit to plump. Toast almonds in a skillet until lightly browned and fragrant.

4. Transfer cauliflower to a serving bowl. Drain raisins, and add raisins, almonds, and herbs to cauliflower, stirring to mix. Drizzle tahini sauce over top (you may not use all of it). Sprinkle pomegranate seeds over. Serve warm or at room temperature.

20 November 2010

A Middle Eastern Thankgiving

A few years ago at Thanksgiving dinner, a friend who knows about this blog, asked me if I thought it would be possible to do a Middle Eastern Thanksgiving. Despite some people's scepticism, I said I actually thought it was a great idea. Middle Eastern cooking makes great use of spices like cinnamon and allspice, and they have numerous recipes for things like pumpkin and kale and nuts.

My goal here was to do things that hemmed closely to the traditional Thanksgiving, as opposed to just throwing some tabbouleh and hummus next to the turkey. The only real challenge was the stuffing (aka dressing), especially given my great love of cornbread dressing. But a rice pilaf was a good substitute.


On other things it was much easier to find a good substitute, like pearl onions with a touch of tamarind and swiss chard with a tahini sauce. For the potato kibbeh, imagine mashed potatoes mixed with caramelized onions and then baked until the top is crackly and crispy. I've been told that people actually prefer the mashed carrots to overly-sweet mashed sweet potatoes.

As for the turkey, it's a completely traditional roasting recipe that we tested out last week. A good rubbing of butter, salt, and pepper, and that's pretty much it. But it came out perfectly, moist breast meat and falling-off the bone thighs. But the gravy, infused with some reduced pomegranate gravy, is what makes it special.

As for dessert, what could be more similar to pecan pie than baklava, or a sweet date tart. I know everyone has their die-hard Thanksgiving traditions, but hopefully this can serve as some food for thought for future meals. After all, roast turkey should be served more than once a year. Happy Thankgiving to you and yours!

Pumpkin Hummus
Olive-Potato Bites

Turkey with Pomegranate Gravy (recipe follows)

Pearl Onions in Tamarind
Swiss Chard with Tahini
Potato Kibbeh in a Tray
Anbari Rice Pilaf
Mashed Carrot Salad

Flaky Sesame Rolls

Custard Baklava or Regular Baklava
Marya's Date Tart

(another good addition: Bulgur Salad with Walnuts and Pomegranate)

tahinli baked

Turkey with Pomegranate Gravy
Adapted from Gourmet.

For turkey

* 1 (12 to 14 lb) turkey, any quills removed
* turkey neck and giblets reserved for making stock
* 6 tablespoons butter, softened, plus 4 tbl melted butter for basting
* 1 tablespoon salt
* 1 1/2 teaspoons black pepper
* 1 onion, quartered
* 4 fresh thyme sprigs

For gravy

* 16 oz bottled pomegranate juice
* pan juices (and roasting pan) from turkey
* about 3 cups hot turkey giblet stock
* 1 cup water
* 4 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1. For stock: place neck and giblets (not liver) in a saucepan with one small chopped onion, one clove onion, one chopped carrot, and some salt, pepper and any herbs you have on hand. Cover with water and set to very low simmer for 2-3 hours, or until you're ready to make the gravy.

2. For pomegranate: Place pomegranate juice in a saucepan and simmer until reduced to 2/3 to 1/2 a cup. Set aside.

3. Preheat oven to 350 F. Rinse and pat dry turkey. From the neck, gently run fingers under skin of turkey to loosen the skin all over breast and thighs. Grabbing bits of softened butter with your fingers, work the butter under the skin all over breast and thighs to cover them with butter. Rub turkey outside all over with salt and pepper. Stuff cavity with onion and thyme and place on roasting rack in roasting pan.

4. Place in oven and bake, basting with melted butter every 20-30 minutes, until turkey is golden brown and thermometer inserted into fleshy part of a thigh (do not touch bone) registers 170°F, 2 1/2 to 3 hours. (If turkey is browning too quickly, tent with foil. If bottom of pan looks like it's burning, add some water to pan juices.)

5. Remove turkey from oven, tilting turkey so any juice in cavity run into pan. Move turkey to carving board and tent with foil. Let rest 30 minutes (this temp will rise to 180 F).

6. Meanwhile, pour off any pan juices into a container and place in the fridge. Straddle roasting pan over two burners, add water and cook to deglaze pan, scraping up any brown bits, about 1 minute. Pour liquid through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl. Add enough turkey stock to pan juices to total 3 cups liquid.

7. Skim 4 tbl of fat off the top of the container you placed in the fridge. Whisk together fat and flour in a heavy saucepan and cook roux over moderately low heat, whisking, until pale golden, 7 to 10 minutes. Add hot stock mixture in a stream, whisking constantly to prevent lumps. Bring to a boil, whisking, and add pomegranate syrup, then reduce heat and simmer, whisking occasionally, until thickened, about 5 minutes.

8. Carve turkey and serve with gravy.

15 November 2010

The Month of Eating French

Well, I had a fish tagine recipe all ready to go for you all, but it seems my computer ate it, and then I decided to give up and go to Chicago to eat delicious food at Topolobampo and Blackbird. I'm kidding, but I highly recommend some margaritas the next time your computer goes on the fritz.

Besides, ever since we got back from France I've been on a full-on French cooking kick. First I made pain d'epices (from this recipe), which is deceiving because you expect it to be a sweet and it's really just a bread.

Then there were stuffed poussins with pearl onions and a fabulous cream sauce (adapted from this recipe). Damn, poussins are expensive in the U.S., but they were delectable.

There were two attempts to recreate the fabulous gratin dauphinois we had, trying both Julia Child's and Anthony Bourdain's recipes. Bourdain won, for what it's worth.

And by the time I got around to making a chicken liver pâté, I think Paul was about to call the psych consult. "You don't even like pâté," he said. Luckily, the guests at our party did.

But all this was not before I made, not one, not two, but three tarte tatins. What can I say? Tarte tatins are pretty damn awesome. We made one with pears and cardamom, and two with apples. Despite many people's fear of caramel, tarte tatin is much easier than you'd think, and you don't even have to make a true caramel. Afterward the oven should do the work for you. Even if you aren't in French cooking madness mode, it's worth a try.

(Lentil de Puy Salad with Pomegranate and Fennel)

Tarte Tatin
Though puff pastry is 100% traditional, I confess that I also like to make this with a nice thick pie dough. The crispiness of the pastry stands up nicely to the apples. Can be made with pears, make sure to used firm pears.

5-6 large cooking apples (we used staymans)
juice of 1 lemon
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
4 Tbl unsalted butter
14 ounces puff pastry (or pie crust)

1. Peel and quarter the apples, removing the cores such that each quarter has a flat inner side. Toss the apple quarters in a large bowl with the lemon juice and ½ cup of the sugar. Set aside while you start the caramel, about 30 minutes.

2. In a 9-inch cast-iron skillet melt 4 tablespoons of the butter. Add the remaining 1 cup sugar, mixing with a fork or flat whisk. Cook the mixture over medium-low heat, stirring regularly, for about 15 minutes, or until the mixture has come together in a smooth, bubbly, pale caramel color. Do not let it get too dark.

3. Turn the heat off and carefully add apple quarters, arranging them rounded-side-down in a decorative pattern. Arrange a second layer of apples on top wherever they fit, closely packed. I usually cut up any larger ones for smaller pieces in the second layer.

4. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

5. Cook the apples over medium-low heat for about 20 minutes, occasionally spooning the bubbling caramel liquid over them. Press them down gently with the back of a spoon — don’t worry if they shift a bit in the liquid; just move them back to where they were. Shift the pan as necessary so that the apples cook evenly. They are ready when the liquid in the pan has turned to a thick, amber ooze. The apples should still be slightly firm. Do not allow them to get entirely soft.

6. While the apples are cooking, roll out the pastry. Cut out a circle about 10 inches in diameter (1/2 inch wider all around than the skillet), and trim away any excess. When apples are ready, carefully lay the pastry circle over the apples in the skillet, tucking the overlap down between the apples and the inside of the pan.

7. Place the skillet on a rimmed baking sheet, and bake for about 30-35 minutes, until the pastry has risen, and is dry and golden brown. Remove the skillet from the oven, and let it to rest for a minute or two. Tilt the pan and look down inside the edge: if there is a lot of juice, pour most of it off into the sink. [Do not pour it all off, or the apples may stick to the pan.] Place a serving platter upside-down over the skillet and, working quickly and carefully, invert the tart onto the platter. Rearrange any apple slices that may have slipped or stuck to the skillet.