30 March 2013

Sweet and Spicy Dipping Sauce


My fridge is littered with little containers of this and that. It's a reusable glass jar and tupperware minefield in there. First there's the accoutrements - 3 kinds of homemade pickles, 2 kinds of olives, preserved lemons, green harissa, red harissa, capers, Spanish white anchovies, and more. There's the tiniest serving of leftover roast carrots, grilled peppers, a swipe of hummus, a bit of grilled skirt steak that Paul can toss into a sandwich. Suffice it to say, I hate wasting food. That little tiny portion leftover from dinner? It's a perfect snack! The 3 olives left in the jar, I can use them in a salad!

My weird hoarding tendencies aside, I like to keep a lot of good sauces and condiments in the fridge because they make putting together a flavorful meal simple and fast. Got a batch of Momofuku's ginger-scallion sauce in the fridge? Boil some soba noodles and fry an egg and a delicious meal is made. Some boring grilled eggplant is perked up with a bit of tahini sauce.

This sweet and sour sauce, which I discovered in the margins of a cookbook, is one of those things that you see on the table of Vietnamese restaurants and always assume that it's some magical complex concoction. In fact, it takes about five minutes to make using things you probably have in your pantry. Frankly, you could put this stuff on just about anything (grilled chicken, a sandwich, some battered and fried shrimp, coconut fried rice, you get the idea here). Yet another staple to add to the jars in the fridge.

Spring is coming!

Sweet and Spicy Dipping Sauce
Adapted from Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet.

1/2 cup rice vinegar, or a mixture of half cider vinegar, half white vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
pinch salt
1 garlic clove, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons red pepper flakes

1. Place all ingredients in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer, swirl the pan, ensuring that all the sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and let cool. Store in fridge.

23 March 2013

Roasted Pepper, Blood Orange, and Olive Salad


I really love weeknight cooking. When I first started cooking seriously, I used to try to replicate restaurant dishes, to make fancy preparations and desserts straight out of Pierre Herme. But since then, as I've grown and matured in other parts of my life, I've found that making a good meal at home, whether for a small group of friends, or just for the two of us, is the cooking I really love. That even a simple roast chicken, with some good gratin potatoes and a green salad, can be my favorite kind of cooking. Or an easy pepper salad alongside some quinoa and lamb chops.

This easy salad takes a page from both classic Moroccan and Algerian cooking, both of which love orange-based and grilled-pepper-based salads. We got some pretty good jarred roasted red peppers the other day - the kind that are firm and not slimy - and they made this salad really easy. Blood oranges are not a must for this salad, regular oranges will do just fine.

Roasted Pepper, Blood Orange, and Olive Salad

3 roasted red peppers, jarred or freshly roasted and peeled
2 blood oranges or one large navel orange
a handful of black olives, pitted and chopped
olive oil, salt
chopped cilantro and parsley for topping

1. Slice peppers lengthwise and arrange on a platter.
2. Supreme oranges, working over a bowl to catch the juices. Arrange oranges over peppers. Sprinkle olives over top.
3. Whisk a bit of olive oil and a pinch of salt in with the orange juice you caught in the bowl. Pour dressing over top, sprinkle with herbs. Serve.

18 March 2013

Lemon-Thyme Pan Roasted Chicken Breasts


I know, chicken breasts, right? Quite possibly the world's most boring ingredient. Ubiquitous, often dry, reminiscent of diets. But, truth be told, I only started eating chicken itself a few years ago. I wasn't vegetarian, I just wasn't really into chicken. Until one day, as if some genetic switch had flipped on, I discovered the joy of a good Sunday-night roast chicken. The smell so familiar from my childhood was now actually tempting and pleasant to me. After that, I discovered braised chicken thighs, and only now, at almost 30 (30!) years old, have I started eating chicken breasts.

The secret here is a technique called butter basting. Essentially as the chicken is cooking, you tilt the pan and gently spoon the butter in the pan over the top of the chicken breasts repeatedly. This is a great technique for any quick sauteed meat or fish dish. I finish the chicken in the oven, and then you can serve it as is, or it's also great cut up over a salad. Our current favorite salad includes chicken, lettuce, avocado, freshly shaved coconut, and thinly sliced kumquats with a chili dressing. It is by far the best use of kumquats I've come across, and Paul has even named it the "Chili CLACK salad."

Lemon-Thyme Pan Roasted Chicken Breasts
I did not give precise cooking times here because this is really something you need to do by feel. Chicken breasts can vary greatly in terms of size, and the type of pan and amount of heat your stove gives off can make a big difference, therefore you have to use your instincts.

2 chicken breasts
1 lemon, halved
olive oil, salt, pepper
1 tablespoon butter
a few sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves separated (dried can work too)

1. Preheat oven to 400F. If you have a convection setting turn that on.
2. Place chicken breasts in a shallow bowl. Squeeze one half of the lemon over the top. Generously sprinkle salt and pepper on both sides of chicken. Let sit for about 10 minutes.
3. Preheat a glug of olive oil in a medium sized saute pan. Add in the butter and swirl it around as it foams, the pan should be hot. Place chicken breasts top-side down in the pan, sprinkle half the thyme over top. Turn heat to medium and cook until nicely browned on one side, gently tilting the pan and spooning the butter over top of the chicken numerous times throughout. Flip the chicken breasts over, sprinkle remaining thyme over top, and cook another 3-5 minutes spooning butter over top a few times, until browned on the second side. 
4. Slide the chicken into the oven and cook until chicken is done. On most chicken breasts there is naturally a sort of flap or indent along the center, and you can just peak in there to make sure it's not pink. Place chicken on plates, drizzle any remaining pan sauce over top. Serve with lemon wedges.

08 March 2013

What We Brought Home from the Market


Someone commented recently that I should post more pictures of Algiers here, and while I would like to take more photos of Algiers, a recent news story came to mind. A young man was here as part of a delegation, something to do with preserving the old buildings of Algiers, and he was out taking a photo of an historic building when police came up and began questioning him. The foreigner was detained by the police for a day before the matter was sorted out and he was released. (For French speakers, this story was in Tout Sur Algerie). So, unfortunately, I'm not very brave about taking photos.

Until I am confident enough to take photos of the markets here, I thought I would share some pictures of what we brought home from the market this week. As usual, I went a little overboard at Premier Mai. We got some usual things like pumpkin, frisee lettuce, swiss chard and the like. Here are some of the more uniquely Algerian items we picked up.


Desert Truffles - lots of vendors had these, and while I'd seen them before in Syria I'd never bought one. These truffles occur in the desert where lightning strikes and when just the right amount of other magical elements occur. They are somewhat potato-like and I have a couple recipes for tagines with them. (Bedouins apparently call them the potatoes of thunder.)


Lamb's Liver - Yes, I bought this huge liver, and let's just say it was not cheap. At my last physical exam I was told I had severe B12-deficiency anemia, so since then I take supplements and try to eat liver on occasion. I particularly like a quick saute of chicken liver with pomegranate molasses and lots of caramelized onions. Lamb's liver is new to me, I admit I have no idea what I'm going to do with this thing.


Green Pepper Dip and Pickled Cauliflower - The guy at the market told me the name of the green pepper dip but I have already forgotten it (mshay, shmay? oy, Algerian dialect is so weird). It is quite common, and is sort of a cousin to felfel. A lot of people mix in some green olives when they serve this with kesra bread as an appetizer.


Turkey Merguez - We love the local merguez here, it is fantastic, but also rather artery-clogging. I had never seen any other sausage here, and I'm excited to try this turkey version. It smells deliciously of garlic.


Spices - I needed some ginger but of course couldn't resist getting some other things as well. I got the tagine spice mix and some piment fort, which I have been warned is extremely spicy.


Quinces and Little Asian Pears -  It's the end of the season for quince, so I thought I'd make some more to have for dessert this week.


I'd never seen these peppers in the market, but the red ones are the ones used to make harissa. So of course I had to buy them. 


Some date filled semolina cakes to take to the office.

05 March 2013

Quick Pickled Carrots and Turnips


A little while ago I listened to an interview with Sander Katz about probiotic and fermented foods. Given that I am a champion consumer of yogurt, I am also a strong believer in its healing power as a cure for traveler's stomach ailments. (Side note: knock on wood we have not had a single episode of such thing in Algiers, which I'm amazed by. Though it's possible I got every possible virus and bacteria in two years in Syria.) Anyway, it's possible all my favorite foods - bread, coffee, yogurt, stinky cheese - are fermented foods.

And of course pickles. My favorite kinds of pickles are those made with really crunchy vegetables - carrots, turnips, radishes, and especially cauliflower. I really like to put pickled carrots into sandwiches, or just to nibble on before dinner. This recipe was inspired by one in Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet.

Quick Pickled Carrots and Turnips

1/2 lb carrots, peeled and cut into batons
1/2 lb turnips, peeled and cut into batons
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup rice vinegar (white vinegar can work too)
2 tablespoons sugar
1 pinch grains of paradise or black peppercorns

1. Place carrots and turnips into glass jars. Place remaining ingredients into a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Once the salt and sugar have dissolved, shut off the heat, let the pan sit to cool for 4-5 minutes (it will still be warm). Pour the warm brine mixture over the carrots and turnips. Seal the jars. Let sit on the counter until cooled to room temperature, then store in the fridge.
2. Can be eaten after a few hours, but I find best at the 2-3 day mark. Keeps for a long time.

01 March 2013

Friday Link Love


The rainy season persists in Algiers, not a day goes by without a lovely mix of five-minute bursts of rain, or persistent hail/snow/sleet, wind, and 40-degree temperatures. I was lucky to escape to Egypt for a bit of sun and some time to fill up on hummus (seemingly non-existant in Algeria). I bought a big box of dates at the market and have been eating them, filled with peanut butter, chopped into my yogurt, pretty much nonstop. I have some recipes floating about waiting to be posted here, but in the meantime, here's a few things that have caught my eye.

Bram Cookware - beautiful clay vessels, many North African made items (Egyptian bean pots! Tunisian tagines! Cazuelas!)

Paul is eyeing this for his next pie-venture - Chocolate Chess Pie

If only I could get dark greens here, this would be a great use of local ingredients - Rapini with Harissa and Preserved Lemon

Oma & Bella - in our movie queue

Friday night tune -  Cayucas, High School Lover