Roasted red peppers are a staple in my kitchen.
When simply dressed with olive oil and a splash of good quality balsamic vinegar, roasted peppers make an easy, flavorful appetizer. As a side dish, they perk up even the most pedestrian meal.
My favorite way to roast peppers is over a wood fire. In summer, we often cook over an outdoor grill. The best time to roast peppers is shortly after starting the fire, when the flames are still too high for grilling. With an active flame, pepper skins char quickly, leaving the flesh perfectly cooked.
In summer, peppers are in season and I buy them in quantity. We roast and peel all the peppers at one time, and freeze them in individual plastic sandwich bags. I use frozen roasted red peppers all winter to add an extra layer of flavor to soups and sauces.
When it’s too cold to cook outside, the easiest way to roast one or two peppers is directly over a gas burner. This is what I did last week when I wanted to enhance lentil soup with roasted red peppers, but had used up my entire frozen supply.
The rich, smoky taste of peppers dramatically improves an otherwise straightforward lentil soup. Because I pureed the peppers, their flavor permeated every bite without overpowering the fennel and lentils.
Since only two of us were eating, I had enough soup to freeze for another day. I’m looking forward to it.
Roasted Red Pepper, Fennel, and Lentil Soup (Κόκκινες Πιπεριές, Μάραθο, και Φακές)
Serves 4 - 6
Some jalapeño peppers are spicy, while others are quite mild. Taste the jalapeños before adding them to the soup, and adjust the amount accordingly.
3 cups diced onions, 1/2” dice
1 cup diced carrots, 1/2” dice
1 cup diced celery, 1/2” dice
1 cup diced fennel bulb, 1/2” dice
1/4 cup olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbsp. minced garlic
1 tsp. Aleppo pepper or 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper
1 Tbsp. fennel seeds, crushed
1 cup lentils, any kind (picked over to remove detritus and rinsed)
8 cups vegetable or chicken stock
2 red bell peppers, roasted and peeled (see NOTE below)
1 – 2 jalapeño or other spicy pepper, roasted and peeled (optional) (see NOTE below)
Sauté the onions, carrots, celery, and fennel bulb, lightly seasoned with salt and freshly ground black pepper, in olive oil until the onions soften and begin to turn golden. Stir in the garlic, Aleppo pepper, and fennel seeds and cook for 1 minute. Add the lentils and stir until they are coated with oil. Stir in the stock and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 20 – 30 minutes, or until the lentils are tender, but not mushy.
While the soup is simmering, puree the roasted peppers and jalapeños in a blender or food processor. When the lentils are tender, stir the pureed peppers into the soup. Serve immediately.
NOTE on Roasting Peppers: The traditional method of roasting peppers is over a hot wood fire, but you can also roast them on a gas grill, directly on a gas burner, under the broiler, or by baking in a 450° oven for 30 minutes. Unless you are baking them, turn the peppers frequently to ensure the skins char evenly and the flesh beneath doesn’t overcook. When the skin is completely blackened, place the peppers in a brown paper bag or plastic wrap covered bowl. When the peppers are cool enough to handle, poke a hole in each pepper’s bottom and reserve any liquid inside for adding to the soup. Peel away the peppers’ burnt skin, gently scraping away any stuck bits with a knife. Don’t rinse the peppers in water, as doing so washes away too much flavor. Remove and discard the stem, seeds, and any white pulp inside the pepper.
NOTE on Storing Roasted Peppers: Roasted peppers can be refrigerated and stored in a glass jar, topped with olive oil, for about a week. They also freeze well sealed in portion-sized sandwich bags.
This is my entry for No Croutons Required hosted by Lisa's Kitchen and Tinned Tomatoes.
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
Roasted red peppers are a staple in my kitchen.
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
Before I left Alaska to fly south, we'd had days of snow followed by a windstorm. After wind packed down the snow, it warmed up and started raining. Rain on top of hard-packed snow turns into glare ice.
When the plane landed in Seattle, it was 50°F and the sun was shining. Crocuses and other early bloomers stood proud against the dark soil. A first blush of pink cherry blossoms lit up leafless branches. Dog walkers were everywhere; half weren’t wearing coats. Spring is racing to arrive in the Pacific Northwest.
At Whole Foods, the entryway was brimming with a colorful explosion of locally grown tulips and daffodils. A women and her daughter debated which was better: yellow tulips with red stripes or red tulips with yellow stripes.
Whole Foods’ produce section is always amusing; mountains of glowing vegetables spread out in every direction. Luckily, I’m staying with my sister, who has a fully equipped kitchen.
We were drawn to the crinkled, darkly green leaves of Lacinato kale and decided to turn it into crostini for that night’s dinner. Giant, first-of-the year, frost-kissed artichokes were also too good to pass up. We opted to pair the artichokes with garlicky aioli and grilled pork and fennel sausages.
As we picked out kale, we decided to use it for a crostini topping seasoned with garlic, hot peppers, and dried currants. Then we passed the cheese counter. My sister snagged a chunk of myzithra, a semi-dried Greek sheep cheese that would add the crowning touch to kale crostini.
Back at home, I destemmed kale, while my sister minced garlic. I remembered how fun it is to cook with her and how much I enjoy my rare opportunities to do so. She has finely tuned taste buds and excellent kitchen skills, the two ingredients most necessary for good cooks.
A healthy dose of garlic in the crostini topping bound the robust kale, spicy peppers, and salty cheese together. The finished kale mix was something I’d enjoy for dinner, on its own, any day of the week.
Kale and Myzithra Crostini made a savory and unusual vegetarian appetizer. They were delicious hot, and retained their full flavor when served two hours later at room temperature.
Kale and Myzithra Crostini (Χόρτα και Μυζήθρα Κροστίνι)
Makes 16 crostini
1 bunch of kale or other greens, cleaned and stemmed (1 1/2 cups blanched and chopped)
4 tsp. minced fresh garlic
2 Tbsp. olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp. sambal oelek or sriracha (fresh chili paste)
3 Tbsp. dried currants
1/2 cup sliced and crumbled myzithra or ricotta salata cheese
16 slices of baguette, 1/2” thick
Blanch the kale in boiling salted water for 3 minutes, or until it is tender (older greens may take longer). Drain and squeeze out excess water. Roughly chop the kale.
Over medium heat, sauté the garlic, lightly seasoned with salt and freshly ground black pepper, in olive oil. Cook for 2 minutes, being careful not to burn the garlic. Add the chili paste and kale, and stir to coat the kale with oil. Stir in the currants and cook over low heat for 5 minutes, adding a little water if the greens seem too dry. Turn off the heat and stir in the myzithra. Taste and add salt or freshly ground black pepper, if needed.
Lightly toast the slices of baguette, and top each one with a large spoonful of kale mix. Serve hot or at room temperature.
Sunday, February 17, 2008
I love second-hand stores.
What do I buy? Pretty much anything. Most frequently it’s clothes, dishes, glassware, kitchen tools, or books.
I’m happier wearing clothes that didn’t cost an arm and a leg. Because I'm a thrift store regular, I make amazing finds. Lately, my husband’s been looking debonair in an Armani blazer I bought for $1.00. It’s in flawless condition and fits him perfectly.
Since I’ve been writing Mediterranean Cooking in Alaska, I’ve purchased an assortment of second-hand plates and bowls. They help make my photographs more interesting and allow me to use dishes that best set off each individual recipe.
Since we’re both notorious breakers, I long ago gave up buying nice wine glasses. The few we have left are put away and brought out only for company. For us, thrift store glassware is definitely the way to go.
Most of the dishes, pots and pans, and kitchen tools in our Greek house came from American second-hand stores and were hauled to Greece in our baggage. The pride of my Greek kitchen is a Kitchenaid stand mixer I bought for $12.50 at Salvation Army.
Our Greek relatives don’t understand why I would buy anything second-hand. They find the whole concept to be confusing and vaguely distasteful. Why would we want something that had been previously owned by a stranger? Not surprisingly, there isn’t a single second-hand store on the island.
I’ve bought and thoroughly enjoyed used books I never would've bought new. One of these books is A Passion for Vegetables: Simple and Inspired Recipes from Around the Globe by British chef Paul Gayler. Published in 2000 for $35.00, I brought the book home for the shockingly high price of $3.50.
A Passion for Vegetables is full of interesting ideas for cooking vegetables (it is not 100% vegetarian). Gus Filgate’s photographs are gorgeous and very inspirational.
Lately I’ve been thinking about Gayler’s recipe for celery root (celeriac) waffles and smoked salmon. I had a celery root from Full Circle Farm and plenty of Gravlax in the freezer. I paired the two for brunch last Saturday.
Although I liked Gayler’s concept, I modified his recipe to eliminate waste and make a batter that worked in my waffle iron. The result was a crisp waffle with a mild celery flavor that nicely complemented Gravlax. I finished the dish with a dollop of tasty horseradish cream and a sprinkling of fresh dill.
Although we enjoyed it for brunch, Celery Root Waffles with Smoked Salmon (or Gravlax) and Horseradish Cream would make a scrumptious cold appetizer. I’m definitely making this again.
Celery Root Waffles with Smoked Salmon and Horseradish Cream
Makes 6 6 - 7” waffles (serves 4 for brunch) or 24 appetizer pieces
Adapted from A Passion for Vegetables by Paul Gayler (Lyons Press 2000)
1 pound celery root (3/4 pound cleaned)
1 1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup all purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
Freshly ground black or pepper
3 Tbsp. butter
6 Tbsp. whipping cream
1 1/2 Tbsp. prepared horseradish
3 Tbsp. finely minced red onion or chives
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
1/8 tsp. salt
6 - 8 ounces thinly sliced smoked salmon, lox, or gravlax
2 Tbsp. minced dill
Prepare the Celery Root: Cut the top and bottom off the celery root, leaving broad flat surfaces on either end. Put the celery root on a cutting board with a flat side down. Use a sharp knife and cut down towards the board to remove the peel; doing this in small pieces makes the job faster and easier. Once the celery root is peeled, cut it in half and then in wedges. Use a paring knife to remove the soft cottony center of each wedge. For pictures of how to do this, go here.
Cut the wedges of celery root into chunks. Put the milk and celery root in a saucepan, bring to a boil, turn down the heat, and simmer for 20 minutes, or until the celery root is tender.
Make the Horseradish Cream: While the celery root is simmering, whisk the whipping cream until it starts to stiffen. Whisk in the horseradish, minced onions, lemon juice, and salt until the cream is fully whipped.
Make the Waffles: When the celery root is tender, remove it from the heat. Puree the milk and celery root using a stick blender, food processor, or blender. Quickly whisk 1/2 cup of celery root puree into the eggs, and then whisk this mixture back into the celery root puree.
Whisk in the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and freshly ground black pepper. Melt the butter and whisk it into the batter.
Preheat the waffle iron and cook the waffles. As each waffle is done, put it on a baking rack to cool; this helps prevent condensation and keeps the waffles crisp.
To Serve: Cut or break each waffle into quarters. Arrange a slice of smoked salmon or gravlax on the waffle, top with a small dollop of horseradish cream, and sprinkle with minced dill.
This is my entry for Weekend Herb Blogging, hosted this week by Lia from Swirling Notions.
Saturday, February 16, 2008
Chickens are ever-present in the village. Crowing roosters wake us in the morning. Chickens that have flown the coop stroll the streets at leisure, darting in and out to catch an insect or avoid a passing car. When you can find the hens’ hidden nests, field chicken eggs are remarkably good. The yolks range from deep gold to bright orange and have wonderful flavor. Making a meal from farm fresh eggs is a treat I never tire of having. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Meandering our way down farm roads, we keep a sharp eye out for chickens. The field birds are free to go wherever they want, which is often scratching dirt in the middle of the road.
As a child of suburban America, the only live chickens I ever saw were in the smelly livestock exhibit at the county fair. For me, chicken meant a smooth pink carcass, wrapped in plastic and stuffed with a bag of giblets.
On one of my early trips to Greece, we got off the plane and drove straight to cousin Froso’s house. She was in her courtyard, up to her elbows in chicken feathers and blood. One of her roosters had been a compulsive crower, so was headed for the pot. Two hens were stacked nearby, waiting to be plucked.
The air surrounding Froso was full of flying feathers, as she deftly and rapidly cleaned the birds. The graphic scene was a far cry from the tidy, factory-cleaned chicken to which I was accustomed.
The day after we saw her plucking it, Froso served us rooster in tomato sauce in honor of our arrival. It was splendid; the rooster was tender and savory and tasted better than any chicken I’d eaten in my life.
Roosters are prized on the island for their full flavor. Long, slow cooking tenderizes the bird, which otherwise would be tough.
Rooster cooked in tomato sauce - Rooster Kokkinistos - is festive fare. It is served on name days (celebrated in Greece and similar to birthdays in America) and to welcome those returning from abroad. Traditional islanders make Rooster Kokkinistos for the August 15 Feast of the Virgin Mary, a major holiday in Greece.
Serving long-cooked rooster stew during August heat may seem counter-intuitive. The wheat harvest, however, occurs mid-summer. Chickens gorge on fresh grain left in the fields after combines pass through. By August, they are fat and at their peak of flavor.
Except in the village, we don’t have access to roosters. In Alaska, I make Chicken Kokkinistos using the best quality birds I can find, preferably organic and free range. The aromatic Kokkinistos sauce, rich with tomatoes, onions, and cinnamon, enhances the mild flavor of supermarket chicken. Its flavors spirit me back to the village.
Chicken Kokkinistos with Potatoes [Πετ’νός (Κόκορας) Κοκκινιστός με Πατάτες]
Serves 6 - 8
Adapted from Συνταγές Λημνιακής Κουζίνας by Ουρανία Βαγιάκου (Athens 2000)
Thin egg noodles can be substituted for potatoes in this dish. Simply add uncooked noodles to the sauce for the last 15 minutes, and simmer until the noodles are done, adding water if necessary. The amount of cinnamon called for in the recipe is just enough to add flavor without overwhelming the sauce. I prefer using spicy “Saigon” cinnamon in this savory dish; standard supermarket cinnamon is fine, although its flavor is milder. “Saigon” cinnamon is sold by specialty spice sellers and upscale supermarket brands. It’s important to remove the whole cloves before serving Chicken Kokkinistos; they are not pleasant to bite into. You can wrap the cloves in cheesecloth before adding to the sauce to make them easier to remove. I rarely take the time to do so; I count the number of cloves and fish around in the sauce until I account for them all.
3 - 3 1/2 pound chicken, cut up or 3 pounds chicken thighs
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup olive oil, divided
4 cups diced yellow onions, 1/4” dice
2 Tbsp. minced garlic
2 cups dry white wine
3 cups, or 2 14.5-ounce cans, diced tomatoes with their juices
3 cups water
3 bay leaves
6 whole cloves
1 tsp. cinnamon, preferably Vietnamese Cassia "Saigon" Cinnamon
1 tsp. sugar
2 pounds potatoes, preferably red or Yukon Gold
Wash and dry the chicken well. Season the pieces on both sides with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Heat 1/4 cup olive oil in a large pot until it’s very hot but not smoking (if oil is very hot, chicken skin is less likely to stick to the pan). Place the chicken in the pot, skin side down, and let cook until it’s well browned. Turn over and brown the other side of the chicken. Brown the chicken in batches; don’t try to crowd all the chicken into the pot at one time or the chicken will steam rather than brown.
Remove the chicken from the pot, and pour off most of the oil, leaving only enough to sauté the onions. Cook the onions in the remaining oil until they soften and begin to turn golden, scraping up any browned bits on the bottom of the pot. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute.
Add the wine, and cook until it is reduced by half. Stir in the tomatoes and their juices, water, bay leaves, cloves, cinnamon, and sugar. Return the chicken to the pot, submerging it in the sauce. Bring the sauce to a boil, reduce heat to low, and simmer uncovered for 45 minutes. Taste and add cinnamon, as needed.
While the chicken is cooking, peel the potatoes, cut them into large chunks, and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Fry batches of potatoes in the remaining 1/4 olive oil until they are nicely browned on all sides, but not cooked through. Remove potatoes from the oil and drain on paper towels.
After the chicken has cooked for 45 minutes, remove the 6 whole cloves from the sauce. Stir in the browned potatoes and cook for 15 minutes, or until the potatoes are cooked, the chicken is tender, and the sauce has thickened. Taste and add salt or freshly ground black pepper, as needed.
Serve with a crisp green salad, slices of feta cheese, black olives, and crusty bread.
When you can find the hens’ hidden nests, field chicken eggs are remarkably good. The yolks range from deep gold to bright orange and have wonderful flavor. Making a meal from farm fresh eggs is a treat I never tire of having.
Friday, February 15, 2008
It's been snowing off and on for three days. Today the wind started up. I went outside to retrieve the garbage can lid and came back chilled to the bone.
For dinner, I wanted something solid and warming, so decided to roast butternut squash and turn it into a gratin. To balance the squash's sweetness, I added caramelized onions and nutty graviera cheese.
The result was exactly what I wanted. By the time dinner was over, I was warm and cozy and once again enjoying our snowy vistas.
Roasted Butternut Squash and Onion Gratin (Κολοκύθα και Κρεμμύδια στο Φούρνο)
Serves 4 - 6 as a main course or 8 - 12 as a side dish
The gratin may be baked in either a 9” square pan or a 9” x 13” pan, depending on whether you want a thicker gratin (use the square pan) or more area of cheese crust (use the rectangular pan). I cut up and roast the squash in olive oil before layering it with onions. I do this because caramelizing the squash significantly improves the gratin’s flavor. If you want to avoid olive oil, cut the squash in half, roast halves on parchment paper - cut-side down - at 375°F until tender, scoop out the flesh, and cut into 3/4” dice.
2 1/2 pound butternut squash (2 pounds cleaned; 6 cups cut in 3/4” dice)
4 cups diced onions (1/2” dice) (1 1/2 pounds)
4 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
Freshly ground black pepper
4 tsp. minced garlic
1 tsp. Aleppo pepper or 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper (optional)
4 tsp. minced fresh rosemary
4 tsp. minced fresh thyme
1 - 2 cups (4 ounces) grated graviera, comte, or gruyere cheese (1 cup for 9” pan, 2 cups for 9” x 13” pan)
1 cup half and half
Preheat oven to 450°F.
Roasting the Squash: Remove the skin of the squash with a knife or vegetable peeler, cut in half and remove the seeds, and cut into 3/4” dice. Put the squash on a rimmed baking sheet and toss it with salt, freshly ground black pepper, and 2 tbsp. olive oil. Bake for 40 – 45 minutes or until the squash is browned on at least one side. Remove from the oven. (The recipe may be made ahead to this point.) Turn the oven heat down to 375°F.
Cooking the Onions: While the squash is cooking, sauté the onion, lightly seasoned with salt and freshly ground black pepper, in the remaining 2 Tbsp. olive oil until it starts to brown. Add the garlic and Aleppo pepper and cook for 1 minute. Turn off the heat, and stir in the rosemary and thyme. (The recipe may be made ahead to this point.)
Layering the Gratin: In an oiled baking pan, spread out half the onions. Top with a layer of roasted squash, then a layer of the remaining onions, then a layer of the cheese. Pour the half and half evenly over the cheese. Bake at 375°F for 30 – 40 minutes or until the cheese has formed a nice brown crust. Serve immediately.
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
Bean spreads are a staple throughout the Mediterranean and Middle East. Because bean spreads are delicious when made with canned beans, they are a quick and easy appetizer.
Hummus, a combination of chickpeas, garlic, tahini, lemon juice, and olive oil, is one of the Middle East’s most common bean spreads. I recently made a delicious variation on hummus using white cannellini beans. I found the recipe because I am participating in Taste and Create.
Taste and Create is an event created by For the Love of Food in which food writers are paired with a randomly assigned partner, and asked to cook and review one recipe from their partner’s blog. Taste and Create gives writers the opportunity to have their recipes tested by a peer.
This month I was paired with Holly, who blogs at Phemomenon. Holly was inspired to create White Bean “Hummus” after tasting a similar dish at a restaurant. Holly bakes her bean spread with a bread crumb and parmesan crust, and says it is delicious. She advises it can also be served at room temperature without the crust and with a little olive oil drizzled on top, and that is the version I made.
The flavors in Holly’s White Bean “Hummus” are nicely balanced. It is garlicky, but not overwhelmingly so, and has just enough rosemary to fully round out the other ingredients.
Holly serves her bean spread with Piadine, a traditional soft and chewy Italian flatbread from Emilia Romagna that cooks quickly in a grill pan. Serve the Piadine with Holly’s flavorful “Hummus," along with fresh carrots, peppers, and other vegetables.
My friend Maria of Organically Cooked lives in Hania, Crete. She asked if Piadine could be used as Greek pita bread to serve with souvlaki or kebab. The answer is an emphatic yes. The texture of Piadine is much like Greek pita bread, and the slightly smoky flavor it gets from the grill is a perfect match for souvlaki.I’ll happily make both recipes again.
White Bean “Hummus”
Adapted from Phemomenon
The flavor of hummus is brighter if canned beans are drained and rinsed before using. To impart more bean flavor, follow Holly’s lead and substitute some of the bean canning liquid for the water in the recipe. I made up for not baking the hummus with a cheese crust by adding more olive oil than is called for in Holly’s original recipe. For vegan or Lenten hummus, leave out the optional parmesan cheese.
1 15-ounce can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 Tbsp. tahini
1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 Tbsp. fresh rosemary, chopped
3 Tbsp. freshly grated parmesan cheese (optional)
1/2 tsp. Aleppo pepper or 1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper
Freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbsp. water
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Place all the ingredients in a food processor and blend until the ingredients have formed a soft creamy paste, adding water or olive oil as necessary to achieve the consistency you desire. Taste and correct the seasoning for garlic, lemon juice, and salt. To serve, spread on a plate, drizzle with olive oil, and garnish with black olives.
Piadine (Italian Flatbread)
Makes 6 flatbreads
Adapted from NapaStyle via Phemomenon
Cut the Piadine into triangles or wedges to serve it with White Bean “Hummus.” Piadine also makes a wonderful wrap for a salumi sandwich or Caesar salad.
1 1/2 cups warm water
2 1/4 tsp. dry yeast (1 packet)
3 1/2 – 4 cups all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 tsp. salt
Mix 1/2 cup water, yeast, and 1/2 cup flour and let sit for 15 minutes, or until the mixture starts to bubble. Using a stand mixer with the paddle attachment (or by hand with a wooden spoon), mix in the remaining water, 3 cups flour, olive oil and salt. When the dough starts clumping together, switch to the dough hook (or to kneading by hand). Knead, adding flour as necessary, until the dough is smooth and silky, about 5 minutes.
Flour a board or counter, dump out the dough, and knead for 1 minute. Put the dough in a lightly floured bowl and cover the bowl with plastic wrap and a dish towel. Let dough rise for 1 hour, or until it has doubled in size.
Punch down the dough and divide it into six balls. (The dough may be made ahead to this point and refrigerated or frozen. To use, remove from the refrigerator or freezer and bring to room temperature.)
Roll out the balls one at a time into an 8- to 9-inch round. (While one flatbread is cooking, roll out the next.)
Heat a cast iron grill or frying pan until it is smoking hot. Reduce the heat to medium, and put a rolled-out dough round in the hot pan. When the surface of the dough starts to bubble and it is starting to brown on the other side, turn it over and cook the second side. When it is done, brush lightly with olive oil and sprinkle with a little course salt. Place on a rack to cool. Repeat with the remaining dough rounds. Serve.
This is my entry for Bread Baking Day #7: Flatbreads hosted by Chili und Ciabatta.
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
I’ve eaten countless bowls of Fasolakia in Greece. I enjoy it best when I’m sitting outdoors under a shade tree, eating slowly to make it last, sipping wine, and watching the world go by.
In Alaska, I make Fasolakia often. Our climate may not be commodious, but the flavors of Fasolakia bring me straight back to Greece even when it’s snowing outside.
During the many Greek Orthodox fasting periods, green beans are braised in tomato sauce seasoned with fresh herbs. Sometimes potato, zucchini, or other vegetables are included in the stew. Although they don’t contain meat, these slow-cooked braises are full of flavor.
At other times of the year, green beans are braised with lamb or beef. Both are delicious. In Greece, I make this with low cost, high quality local lamb. In Alaska, I prefer using beef due to the cost and quality of lamb available in my state.
Greeks would say this dish is made with veal (moschari - μοσχάρι) rather than beef (vothino - βοδινό, a term you rarely hear in Greece). Greek “veal,” however, is very different than what is called veal in American markets.
American veal comes from milk fed calves between one and three months old, and its flavor is very mild. Greek veal, on the other hand, generally comes from yearlings or older cattle. It’s flavorful meat and much closer to what is sold as beef in American markets than it is to American veal.
Costco, my local warehouse store, carries reasonably priced boneless short ribs; I like using them for stew because they have more flavor than leaner cuts of beef. The short ribs’ fat and connective tissue melt into the braising liquid, leaving the meat fork tender. The fat can easily be skimmed off before adding green beans to the stew.
Normally, I prefer cooking meat on the bone, since bones add good flavor and texture. It is quicker and easier, however, to use boneless cuts for stew, which is what I do when I don’t have time to fiddle with removing the bones.
Beef and Green Bean Stew is wonderful with feta cheese, olives, plenty of crusty bread for sopping up the flavorful sauce, and a glass of full-bodied red wine.
Greek Beef and Green Bean Stew (Μοσχάρι με Φασολάκια)
I usually make this recipe with fresh green beans and it’s fantastic, but the glorious sauce makes even frozen green beans taste amazingly good. Sometimes I add potatoes, which contrast nicely with the vivid tomato sauce. To include potatoes, add an additional cup of beef stock and 1 pound of peeled potatoes cut into 1” – 2” chunks; I prefer using Yukon Gold or red potatoes. Add the potatoes at the same time as the beans.
2 1/2 pounds boneless short ribs or other beef suitable for stewing
2 Tbsp. olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
3 cups diced onion, 1/2” dice
1 cup diced carrots, 1/2” dice
1 cup diced celery, 1/2” dice
1 Tbsp. minced garlic
1 tsp. Aleppo pepper or 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper
1 cup dry white wine
3 cups ground tomatoes, fresh or canned
2 cups beef stock
1 pound fresh, or 10 ounces frozen and thawed, green beans
1/2 cup minced fresh parsley
1/4 cup minced fresh mint
Wash and dry the beef, trim off and discard any large pieces of fat, and season the meat with salt and freshly ground black pepper. In a large pot, heat the olive oil and brown the meat on all sides; do this in batches to ensure the meat browns rather than steams. When the meat is browned, remove it from the pan with a slotted spoon, leaving the oil in the pan.
Stir in the onions, lightly seasoned with salt and freshly ground black pepper, and sauté until the onions soften. Use the moisture from the onions to help scrape up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Stir in the carrots and celery and continue to sauté until the onions begin to brown. Stir in the garlic and Aleppo pepper and cook for 1 minute.
Stir in the wine and cook until the wine has reduced by half. Return the meat and its juices to the pan, along with the tomatoes and beef stock; stir well to combine. Bring the liquid to a boil, cover the pan, turn down the heat to low, and simmer until the meat is very tender, about 1 1/2 - 2 hours, depending on the cut of beef.
While the beef is simmering, wash the green beans. If you are using fresh beans, break off both ends, and break in half. If you are using frozen beans, cut them in half.
After the meat has simmered for two hours, skim off any fat floating on the surface of the stew. Stir in the green beans, parsley, and mint. Continue to simmer for 45 – 60 minutes, or until the beans are very tender. Taste for seasoning and add salt and freshly ground black pepper as needed.
Monday, February 11, 2008
3 Recipes: Preserved Lemons & Candied Lemon Peel & Sparkling Lemonade and Mint (Λεμόνια στην Άρμη & Γλυκά Φλούδα του Λεμονιού & Λεμονάδα με Δυόσμος)
I used to make Moroccan food all the time. Its spice-rich flavors please my palate.
Why I quit cooking Moroccan, I have no idea. It wasn’t a conscious decision to stop, but it's been years since I made more than a couple Moroccan dishes a year. In the past week, I’ve read about Elly’s Moroccan Chicken with Lentils and Mike’s Moroccan Lemon and Olive Chicken.
Now I’m craving Moroccan.
When we regularly ate the foods of Morocco, I always kept a jar of preserved lemons in the refrigerator. Yesterday I started a batch as a first step in restocking my Moroccan pantry.
I preserve lemons in lemon juice and salt. When I juice the lemons, I’m left with too many lemon peels to throw away. Instead, I peel the lemons before I juice them and make Candied Lemon Peel.
Of course, after making Candied Lemon Peel, I’m left with too much lemon syrup to throw away. The lemon syrup is a perfect building block for making Sparkling Lemonade with Mint, a light and refreshing thirst-quencher.
Preserved Lemons (Λεμόνια στην Άρμη)
For extra flavor, add Preserved Lemons to salads, vegetables, sauces, poultry, or fish.
1 cup salt
1 1/2 cups lemon juice (4 – 6 lemons)
Sterilize a large jar (2 quart) and lid.
Cut off the top and bottom of each lemon, without cutting into the flesh. Reserve the ends for another use, such as Candied Lemon Peel (see below). Cut the lemons into quarters, but do not cut all the way through – leave the lemons connected at one end. Thickly layer salt into the cuts, and pack lemons into the sterilized jar. Pour in enough lemon juice to cover the lemons.
Cover and let sit at room temperature for 7 days. Turn the jar several times a day to evenly distribute the brine. After 7 days, top off the jar with olive oil (to prevent spoilage) and refrigerate. The preserved lemons are now ready to use.
To use preserved lemons, remove the lemon flesh and discard. Rinse the peel and chop into appropriate sized pieces for the recipe you’re making.
Candied Lemon Peel (Γλυκά Φλούδα του Λεμονιού)
Candied lemon peel is tasty on its own as a sweet treat, and adds flavor when added to cookies, cakes, or ice cream.
2 cups lemon peel (peel from 4 - 6 lemons)
3 cups sugar, divided
2 cups water
Peel the lemons in large pieces. With a sharp knife, remove as much white pith from the lemon peels as is possible; the edge of a teaspoon works well to remove pith from a lemon’s top or bottom end. Place the peels in a pot, cover with cold water, bring to a boil, cook for one minute, and drain. Return peels to the pot, cover with cold water, bring to a boil, cook for one minute, and drain. Cut the blanched peel into thin strips.
Microwave method: Mix 2 cups sugar and water in a microwave-safe bowl. Cook for 10 minutes on high. Stir. Cook for 10 minutes on high. Stir. Cook for 4 more minutes on high. Stir the lemon peel into the syrup. Microwave on high for 8 minutes.
Stovetop method: Mix 2 cups sugar and water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Cook, without stirring, over medium heat until you have light syrup, about 45 minutes. Stir in the strips of lemon peel and cook for 10 minutes.
Let the lemon peels sit in the syrup until the syrup is cool and the lemon peels slightly translucent (I let the peels sit in the syrup overnight). Drain the lemon peel and reserve the syrup for another use.
Put the remaining 1 cup sugar in a plastic bag. Add a handful of lemon strips to the sugar and shake until the pieces of peel are completely coated with sugar. Spread out the candied peel on two baking sheets and let sit until dry. Repeat until all the lemon strips are coated with sugar.
Put in an airtight jar and store in the refrigerator.
Sparkling Lemonade with Mint (Λεμονάδα με Δυόσμος)
Makes 1 drink
1 sprig mint
3 Tbsp. lemon syrup (see Note)
1 cup seltzer water or club soda
Pull the mint leaves off the stem and crush them in your fingers. Put them in a glass, along with the lemon syrup and seltzer water. Stir to combine. Add ice cubes and serve.
NOTE: Use leftover syrup from the Candied Lemon Peel recipe (above), or make a simple sugar and water syrup with 1 cup sugar and 1 cup water, using the method in the Candied Lemon Peel recipe. When the sugar and water form a light syrup, let it cool, and add 1 1/2 cups fresh lemon juice.
This is my entry for Weekend Herb Blogging, hosted this week by Erin from The Skinny Gourmet.
Sunday, February 10, 2008
Recipe: Beet, Fennel, and Leek Salad with Lemon-Ginger Dressing (Παντζάρια, Μάραθο και Πράσο Σαλάτα με Πιπερόριζα Σάλτσα)
My favorite salads are the serendipitous surprises that spring into being when I clean my vegetable drawers. Beet, Fennel, and Leek Salad with Lemon-Ginger Dressing (Παντζάρια, Μάραθο και Πράσο Σαλάτα με Πιπερόριζα Σάλτσα) ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
On the Friday before my Full Circle Farm CSA box is due, I rummage through the refrigerator to discover what ingredients most need to be used. This week it was the last of my roasted beets, a sturdy fennel bulb, and a bag of leeks that had been lingering unused for way too long.
To tie the beets, fennel, and leeks together, I needed a dressing that would stand up to their strong flavors. I started with lemon and olive oil, a classic Greek pairing called Latholemono, and spiced it up fresh garlic and ginger. Honey, sherry vinegar, and ground coriander balanced the garlic and ginger and, with a little salt and freshly ground black pepper, the dressing was done.
The tangy dressing enhances the earthy beets, fresh clean-tasting fennel, and subtly sweet leeks for a salad that is good on its own, or as an accompaniment to roast chicken or fish.
Serves 4 – 6
The easiest way to peel ginger is to scrape off the peel with the edge of a teaspoon. To mince peeled ginger, cut it across the grain into thin slices and whack each slice with a meat pounder. The slices break up into small pieces; if you prefer a finer mince, chop up the small pieces with a chef’s knife.
1/3 cup lemon juice
1/3 cup olive oil
2 tsp. minced garlic
1/4 cup peeled and minced fresh ginger
1 tsp. honey
2 Tbsp. red wine or sherry vinegar
1 tsp. whole coriander, crushed
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
4 medium beets, peeled and roasted (see NOTE below)
1 large fennel bulb (3 cups thinly sliced)
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 leek, white and light green parts only (1 1/2 cups thinly sliced)
Mix all the dressing ingredients together.
Cut each beet in lengthwise quarters, and each quarter into 3 wedges. Stir the beets into the dressing. (This can be done several days ahead.)
Cut the stalks off the fennel bulb and reserve for another use. Using a vegetable peeler or sharp knife, remove any darkened or damaged portions of the bulb. Cut the fennel bulb into quarters. Cut out and discard the fennel’s core. Cut the fennel quarters crosswise into vey thin slices (using a mandolin makes this task go quickly), and toss with 1 Tbsp. lemon juice (this prevents the fennel pieces from discoloring).
Cut the white and light green parts of the leek in half lengthwise. Rinse the leek under running water, separating the layers to remove any trapped dirt. Cut the leek crosswise into very thin slices. Stir the leeks into the sliced fennel. (This can be done several hours ahead.)
Spread the fennel and leeks over a large plate or individual salad plates, making an indentation in the center for the beets. Lift the beets out of the dressing with a slotted spoon and place in the indentation. Drizzle the salad with dressing and serve immediately.
NOTE on Roasting Beets: Preheat the oven to 400°F. Wash the beets, cut off the greens leaving an inch of stem (don't cut into the beet itself), rub the beets with olive oil, and wrap tightly in a foil packet (or place in a tightly covered baking dish). Bake for 40 minutes to 1 1/2 hours, depending on the size of the beets and how fresh they are. The beets are done when they're tender if poked with a knife or skewer. Let the beets cool, and slip off their skins (I wear gloves when I do this to protect my hands from staining). (These can be made ahead and kept in the refrigerator for about a week.)
Beet, Fennel, and Leek Salad with Lemon-Ginger Dressing (Παντζάρια, Μάραθο και Πράσο Σαλάτα με Πιπερόριζα Σάλτσα)
Thursday, February 7, 2008
This week Alaska held its presidential caucuses. My caucus site was a zoo; people were packed like sardines into the available space. In Anchorage, you rarely see crowds like this and I’ve never seen more Alaskans gathered for a political event.
Traffic was jammed up for miles; we parked at a shopping center across the way. With temperatures hovering around -10°F, the hatless walk between the shopping center and the caucus site was invigorating. The tops of my ears were complaining bitterly.
An amazing aspect of the event was the attendees’ joviality. Despite traffic jams, freezing weather, overflow crowds, delays, and the general disorganization that occurs when too many people are packed into too small a space, everyone seemed happy and excited to be present.
The opposing camps in my district laughed and joked together as we were sorted and counted. No matter how the primaries ultimately turn out, the engaged and enthusiastic crowds seemed a promising omen for the general election in November.
When I got home from politicking, I was past ready for dinner and wanted something to ward off the subzero weather. I happily dug into a bowl of leftover Greek Cabbage and Rice. I had originally served the Cabbage and Rice as an accompaniment to Grilled Pork Steak, a recipe in Tastes Like Home: Mediterranean Cooking in Alaska.
Cabbage and Rice is flavored with onions and tomato paste. These savory flavors, paired with sweet dried currants, turn Cabbage and Rice into a filling vegetarian main course. For meat eaters, it is equally tasty served as a side dish with pork or chicken.
Greek Cabbage and Rice (Λαχανόρυζο)
Serves 2 - 3 as a main course, or 4 - 6 as a side dish
1 small green cabbage (about 2 pounds)
3 cups diced onions, 1/2” dice
1/4 cup olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
3 Tbsp. tomato paste
1 Tbsp. dried thyme, crushed
2 cups water, divided
1/2 cup rice
1/4 cup dried currants
Discard any tough or damaged outside cabbage leaves. Cut the cabbage into quarters; cut out and discard the core. Cut the cabbage quarters crosswise into 1/2” strips.
In a pan large enough to hold all the ingredients, sauté the onions, lightly seasoned with salt and freshly ground black pepper, in olive oil until they soften and start to turn golden. Stir in the cabbage, lightly season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, and cook until the cabbage wilts. Stir in the tomato paste and dried thyme and cook for 1 minute. Stir in 1 1/2 cups water, bring to a boil, cover, reduce the heat, and simmer for 20 minutes.
Stir in the rice, dried currants, and remaining 1/2 cup water. Cover and cook over low heat for 20 minutes or until the rice is done. Serve immediately.
This is my entry for Weekend Herb Blogging, hosted this week by Ulrike from Kuchenlatein.
Tuesday, February 5, 2008
It’s lucky I love colorful food. There’s been nice big bunches of bright red beets in my last few Full Circle Farm CSA boxes. Roasted Beet and Garlic Tart (Παντζαρόπιτα)
The best thing about an abundance of beets is being able to experiment. I’ve already written about my savory Roasted Beet and Thyme Risotto, and just completed testing on a wonderful Roasted Beet and Garlic Tart. The tart was inspired by the traditional Greek pairing of beets and skordalia, a strongly flavored garlic sauce.
In the last few months, I’ve made beet tarts with golden beets, chiogga beets, and blood-red beets. I’ve tried various combinations of herbs and spices, and different amounts of onions and garlic. I’ve tested crusts with butter, crusts with olive oil, and crusts with both.
My finished tart recipe layers roasted beets and onions sautéed until sweet, and is seasoned liberally with fresh garlic and thyme. Feta cheese and sour cream add tang, and a crisp, flaky crust balances the filling’s strong flavors.
Roasted Beet and Garlic Tart is equally good served hot or at room temperature (I’ve been known to eat it cold, straight from the refrigerator). As a result, it can easily be made ahead and served as an appetizer or first course.
Makes one 9-inch tart; serves 4 -6
The tart can be made successfully with any variety of beet. No matter the variety, I always roast beets to concentrate and enhance their flavor. Using a little butter in the crust (filo) isn’t traditional (nor is this tart), but it adds good flavor and flakiness. Olive oil can fully replace the butter, and the crust will be tasty, but slightly tougher. Add more water to make the crust if butter is left out. The dough may also be made by hand. If mixing by hand, make sure the olive oil is evenly distributed in the flour and use a fork or pastry cutter to add the butter.
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Roasted Beet and Garlic Tart (Παντζαρόπιτα)
Saturday, February 2, 2008
For Alaskans tired of the monotonous winter landscape, a quick trip to Vancouver Island, British Columbia provides great relief. It is vibrantly green, punctuated by spectacular ocean vistas, and easily accessible from Seattle via high-speed ferry.
Several years ago, I took a spring trip to Vancouver Island with my sister. We visited wineries, ate delicious food prepared by creative chefs, and enjoyed the sun as we randomly walked and drove country roads.
While in Victoria, the Island’s main city, we reminisced about our annual visits there as kids. We talked our way into the motel room where our family always stayed and laughed about lemon curd on toast; a taste treat we associate with the Island.
In recent years, artists and wineries clustered in the Island’s Cowichan Valley have attracted a new wave of visitors. Cowichan, a First Nation word meaning “land warmed by the sun,” has a micro-climate well-suited for growing grapes. The wines we tasted were surprisingly good.
Hilary’s Cheese on Cherry Point Road was one of the trip’s highlights. Because we were there off-season, Hilary had time to give us a tour of his cheese making facilities. He explained his production methods and gave us tastes of wonderful Trappist and Camembert-style cheeses.
At Hilary’s, in addition to cheese, I bought a jar of dukkah (or duqqa), a Middle Eastern spice and nut mix I learned about from my Egyptian friend Nawal. When I interviewed Nawal for Tastes Like Home: Mediterranean Cooking in Alaska, she told me to dip bread in olive oil and then in dukkah. I followed Nawal’s instructions with the dukkah I bought from Hilary’s, and immediately enjoyed the combination.
Judging from Internet ads, dukkah is quite popular in Australia, though I’ve never seen it sold in Alaska. So when my Canadian dukkah was gone, I investigated how to make my own. I studied Nawal’s recipe, went through my cookbooks, and researched dukkah online. I discovered there are as many recipes for it as there are cooks.
Any kind of nut is fine for dukkah; hazelnuts or almonds are frequently used. Sesame, coriander, cumin, and black pepper are in most dukkah recipes, but the proportions of each vary widely. Some recipes include mint, thyme, red pepper, turmeric, caraway, cinnamon, or clove.
It took me three tries before I came up with a combination I loved. After finalizing the recipe, I found myself grabbing pinches of dukkah for a mid-afternoon snack and using it to perk up simple roast vegetables. Dukkah is amazingly addictive and versatile.
Makes 1 cup
To eat Dukkah like an Egyptian, follow Nawal’s instructions and dip bread in oil and then in Dukkah. You can also mix Dukkah and olive oil for an easy, last-minute appetizer. Dukkah is good on potatoes, hard boiled eggs, roasted vegetables, or sprinkled over a plate of feta cheese, fresh tomatoes, and sliced cucumbers. Fish, chicken, and lamb all benefit from a dusting of Dukkah. The spice combination in this recipe is my own; the technique for roasting nuts and spices was adapted from Rose Levy Berenbaum.
1/2 cup unblanched almonds
1/4 cup sesame seeds
2 Tbsp. cumin seeds
2 Tbsp. coriander seeds
1 Tbsp. black peppercorns
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. sugar
Preheat oven to 325°F.
Put almonds on a baking sheet. Put the sesame seeds, cumin seeds, and coriander seeds in three separate oven-proof baking cups, and put the cups on the baking sheet. Roast the cumin seeds for five minutes, the coriander seeds for seven minutes, and the almonds and sesame seeds for 10 minutes.
Grind the black peppercorns, cumin seeds, and coriander seeds in a spice grinder until they are roughly ground (or you can pound them in a mortar and pestle). Put in a bowl large enough to hold all the ingredients. Grind the sesame seeds and then the almonds until roughly ground and add to the bowl (the almonds should be slightly chunky). Add the salt and sugar.
Mix all the ingredients together. Store in the refrigerator or freezer.
Roast Cauliflower with Dukkah
Serves 2 as a main course or 4 – 6 as an appetizer
Dukkah goes particularly well with the slightly nutty flavor of roast cauliflower.
1 pound cauliflower florets
1/2 tsp. salt
1/3 cup olive oil
2 – 4 Tbsp. dukkah
Preheat oven to 500°F.
Wash and dry the cauliflower and break or cut it into florets. Place the cauliflower florets in a baking pan large enough to hold them in a single layer. The cauliflower should not be jammed together in the pan or it will steam rather than cook properly. Season with salt and drizzle with olive oil. Sir well to coat the florets evenly.
Roast for 10 -1 5 minutes, or until the cauliflower begins to brown. The length of cooking time depends on the size of the cauliflower florets, and how soft you like cauliflower. Since I like roast cauliflower a little crisp, I generally cook it for the shorter time.
When the cauliflower is done, sprinkle with 2 Tbsp. dukkah and stir to evenly distribute. Taste and add more dukkah, as desired.