Thursday, October 29, 2009

Recipe: Chickpea Stew with Mint and Feta (Ρεβύθια με Φέτα και Δυόσμος)

I’m just back from Seattle, where my sister lives and my mom has resettled. After her crazy awful 2009 (husband of 65 years died, sold her home of 50 years, moved to a small apartment in a new city), my mom is positively engaged in her new life. Her motto: “Choose Happiness.” My mom, always quirky but never boring, is an inspiration.

Regular readers know nothing makes me happier than cooking with my sister. A couple days into the visit, we dished up a delicious dinner of salmon and lentils with red wine sauce. The food was beautiful; my sister suggested I take a picture and blog the meal (another day, I promise). I was too hungry for photography.

Over dinner, my sister claimed it was traditional for me to blog about one meal cooked in her kitchen each visit. Who knew? It’s funny how traditions sneak into your life without warning. And ignoring tradition, even one newly adopted, is bad juju. So that night, I found myself lying in bed dreaming up recipes.

At the store, we’d just bought chickpeas and gorgeous lamb steaks. My sister was out of coriander, so we'd bought some of that too. I decided to pair the chickpeas and coriander in a stew with plenty of fresh mint. The next day we went to Big John’s PFI, a Seattle store with a great cheese selection, and bought Greek sheep feta (and, of course, much more), the perfect finishing ingredient for chickpea stew.

Sadly, the Seattle stew pictures didn’t turn out (bad lighting, no tripod), so I “forced” myself to remake the stew when I returned to Alaska. Since I’d been craving leftover chickpeas during the foodless flight home, I was quite happy to make them again, especially because the stew goes together so quickly. It was as tasty the second time as it was in Seattle. This time, I ate the leftovers, and the flavor, already great, was even better the next day.

With generous quantities of mint, my chickpea stew goes particularly well with lamb. It also makes a deliciously filling meal on its own. The recipe has definitely been added to my permanent rotating repertoire.

Chickpea Stew with Mint and Feta (Ρεβύθια με Φέτα και Δυόσμος)
Serves 4

Serve as a side dish with grilled lamb or chicken, or as a main course with steamed rice or couscous. A crisp green salad nicely completes the meal.

3 cups diced yellow onions, 1/4” dice
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
1 cup diced carrots, 1/4” dice
1 cup diced celery, 1/4” dice
1 Tbsp. minced garlic
2 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
2 14.5-oz. cans diced tomatoes
3 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas or 2 15-oz. cans, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup minced fresh parsley
1/2 cup minced fresh mint
1 1/2 cups crumbled feta

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 carrots and celery and sauté for 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic, ground coriander, and crushed red pepper flakes and cook for 1 minute. Stir in the tomatoes and chickpeas and bring to a boil. Cover, turn down the heat, and simmer for 45 minutes, or until the sauce thickens and the flavors meld. Stir in the parsley and mint and cook for 5 minutes. Stir in the feta and serve immediately.
This is my entry for Weekend Herb Blogging hosted this week Katie from Eat This.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Eggplant Recipes: Melitzanosalata & Hünkar Beğendi with Tomato-Lamb Stew (Μελιτζανοσαλάτα με Πιπεριές & Χιουνκιάρ Μπεγiεντί με Αρνί Κατσαρόλας)

Two simple and delicious ways to use eggplant are Eggplant-Red Pepper Dip (Melitzanosalata) and Hünkar Beğendi, a smoky eggplant purée that pairs perfectly with Tomato-Lamb Stew.

Even though we recently returned from Greece, I’m still craving Greek food. Luckily, when I went to Costco to restock our supplies, they had fresh eggplant and figs. Combined with the lamb, crusty bread, and cheese Costco always has on hand (and a quick trip to the farmers’ market for a pile of vegetables), we had everything necessary for a Greek feast. Or two. Or ten.

I was particularly happy about the eggplant. They were in perfect condition: firm flesh and shiny, unmarred skin. Unlike many eggplant sold in Anchorage, these were picked small, and hadn’t developed a large mass of seeds inside.

The Costco eggplant came 4 to the 1.75-pound bag. To be efficient and save energy, I oven-roasted them all at one time. (If you want to store eggplant raw,
here’s how.) Half the roasted eggplant went immediately into Melitzanosalata; the other two I refrigerated to save for Hünkar Beğendi.

Fire-grilled eggplant tastes better in recipes than oven-roasted but, the day I cooked eggplant, we were too damn tired from the trip home to start a fire. To add smokiness to my Melitzanosalata, I added a grilled-over-a-gas-burner red pepper. It’s lucky there were only two of us; the pepper-laden Melitzanosalata disappeared quickly.

I used a different technique to add smokiness to Hünkar Beğendi. I had roasted 2 eggplants whole, and stored them without breaking the skins (if you break the skins, the eggplant juices leak out). I took the eggplant directly out of the refrigerator and charred their skins over a gas burner. Because the eggplants were cold when I started charring them, they didn’t leak juices over the stove, as I 'd feared they might. This “smoking” technique was quick, easy, worked well, and added lots of flavor. I’ll do it again.

Hünkar Beğendi is a famous Turkish eggplant dish that’s also made in Greece, particularly in areas where
many people have roots in Constantinople (Istanbul), Smyrna (Izmir), or other parts of Anatolia (Asia Minor). Translations for “Hünkar Beğendi” abound: Sultan’s Delight, Sultan’s Pleasure, The Sultan Liked It, Her Majesty’s Delight, Her Majesty’s Favorite, and The Sultan Approved.

The origins of Hünkar Beğendi are murky.
Some say the dish was created in the early-17th century for Sultan Murad IV (who was half-Greek). Others say it was created for a French empress in the late 19th century. My favorite version of this story is in The Art of Turkish Cooking by Neset Eren (New York 1969):

When the Empress Eugénie, the wife of Napoleon III, was in Istanbul as the guest of Sultan Abdulaziz, the Ottoman emperor, she fell in love with eggplant purée, at that time a specialty of the Topkapi Palace. She asked her host if he would allow his chef to teach her cook how to prepare it. The sultan obliged. The next day the French chef requested an audience with the empress and begged to be excused from this impossible task. “I took my book and my scales to the Turkish chef,” he said, “and he threw them out. ‘An imperial chef,’ he told me, ‘cooks with his feelings, his eyes, his nose.’” The empress returned to France without the recipe for her favorite dish.
Lords of the Horizons: A History of the Ottoman Empire (London 1998), historian Jason Goodwin repeats the Empress Eugénie story. However, in Η Οθωμανική Μαγειρική: 99 Παλατιανές Συνταγές (Ottoman Cooking: 99 Recipes from the Palace) (Athens 2004), an extremely interesting and well-researched book, author Marianna Gerasimos says:

I searched hard to find how and when the famous eggplant puree, called Hünkar Beğendi, entered Ottoman cuisine. … There are many rumors and allegations about [it being made for Empress Eugénie] but, for now, there is no written historical evidence of this.
Although Empress Eugénie may not have feasted on Hünkar Beğendi, I certainly have. In the same way that mashed potatoes are exactly right with turkey and gravy, Hünkar Beğendi and Lamb Stew are wonderful together.

Eggplant-Red Pepper Dip (Melitzanosalata) (Μελιτζανοσαλάτα με Πιπεριές)
Makes 1 cup
The smoky flavor of eggplant grilled over an open fire makes the best Melitzanosalata, although it’s not absolutely necessary to success. When I don’t want to start a fire, I oven-roast the eggplant and add a grilled red pepper for smokiness. Although you can make Melitzanosalata in a food processor, I far prefer the more rustic texture that results from knife-chopping the eggplant. Serve with crusty bread and olives for a tasty appetizer, or as a flavorful accompaniment to grilled meat.

1 1-pound eggplant, or 2 1/2-pound eggplants
Olive oil
1 red bell pepper
2 cloves garlic
1/2 tsp. salt
Freshly ground black pepper
4-6 tsp. white wine vinegar
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Rub the whole, uncut eggplant with olive oil, and place on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake for 45 – 70 minutes, depending on the size of the eggplant, or until the eggplant collapses and is cooked all the way through. (Better yet, grill the eggplant over fire until it’s cooked through.) Peel the eggplant, cut it into large chunks, and place the chunks in a colander for 15 minutes to let some of the juices drain off. When the eggplant is cool enough to handle, use your hands to squeeze out as much liquid as you can.

Roast and clean the pepper (see Note below).

Place the eggplant flesh on a cutting board, finely chop, and put in a bowl. Finely chop the roasted red pepper and add to the bowl. Purée the garlic by mashing it into the salt, and add to the bowl. Add freshly ground black pepper, 4 tsp. vinegar, and extra virgin olive oil, and mix well. Taste and add vinegar or salt, as needed.

To serve, spread the Melitzanosalata evenly over a plate and drizzle with a small amount of extra virgin olive oil.

Note on Roasting and Cleaning 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 (without a pan), under the broiler, or by baking in a 450° oven for 30 minutes. Unless you are baking them in the oven, turn the peppers frequently as they roast to ensure the skins char evenly and the flesh doesn’t overcook. When the skin is completely blackened, place the peppers in a paper bag and close it up for 5 minutes. Hot pepper flesh releases steam in the closed bag, loosening the charred skin and making it easier to peel.

Once the peppers are cool enough to handle, remove the burned skin from the softened flesh with your fingers or a paper towel, gently scraping away any stuck bits with a knife. Resist the temptation to rinse the peppers in water, as doing so washes away too much flavor. If necessary, dip your fingers in a bowl of water to release clinging charred pepper skins. Remove the seeds and any white pulp from the inside of the pepper.

Smoky Eggplant Purée with Tomato-Lamb Stew (Hünkar Beğendi) (Χιουνκιάρ Μπεγiεντί με Αρνί Κατσαρόλας)
Serves 4
Beef can be substituted for lamb in the stew; meatballs and grilled meats also go well with Hünkar Beğendi. In Anchorage, the best price for lamb is often on boneless leg roasts at Costco. I cut out and grill a couple “steaks” from the center of the roast, and then make stew out of each end. If you use lamb with bones, cook them in the stew for extra flavor. Unlike Melitzanosalata, smokiness is an essential flavor in Hünkar Beğendi. If you don’t have access to a grill, oven-roast the eggplant as described in the Melitzanosalata recipe, refrigerate them without puncturing the skin, and thoroughly char the skins directly over a gas burner.

Tomato-Lamb Stew:
1 1/2 – 1 3/4 lb. boneless lamb, excess fat removed
Freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 cups diced yellow onion, 1/4” dice
1 Tbsp. minced garlic
1 tsp. Aleppo pepper or 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
1 14.5 ounce can (or 2 cups fresh) diced tomatoes
1 Tbsp. dried oregano, crushed
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
2 cups water

Smoky Eggplant Purée:
1 1-pound eggplant, or 2 1/2-pound eggplants
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 cup whole milk
2 Tbsp. butter
3 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
1/2 cup grated kasseri or Romano cheese
Pinch of nutmeg

Make the Tomato-Lamb Stew: Wash and dry the meat, cut it into 1” cubes, and season on both sides with salt and freshly ground black pepper. In a large pot, cook the lamb in olive oil until it is browned all over. Stir in the onions, lightly season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, and sauté until the onions begin to turn golden. Stir in the garlic and Aleppo pepper and cook for 1 minute. Stir in the tomatoes, oregano, tomato paste, and water, bring to a boil, cover, turn down the heat as low as possible, and simmer for 1 hour. Remove the cover and simmer for 30-60 minutes, or until the lamb is very tender and the sauce the thickness you prefer. Stir the sauce from time to time and, if it starts sticking, add a little bit more water. Taste and add salt and freshly ground black pepper, as needed. (The stew can be made ahead, refrigerated, and reheated just before serving.)

Make the Smoky Eggplant Purée: Grill the eggplant whole until it softens, collapses, and is slightly charred on all sides (or oven-roast and char as described in note above). Peel the eggplant, cut it into large chunks, and place the chunks in a colander for 15 minutes to let some of the juices drain off. When the eggplant is cool enough to handle, use your hands to squeeze out as much liquid as you can. Place the eggplant flesh on a cutting board, finely chop, and sprinkle with the lemon juice.

Warm the milk over low heat or in the microwave. Melt the butter in a saucepan, mix in the flour and cook for two minutes, stirring constantly; be careful not to brown this mixture. Slowly stir in the warm milk and cook, stirring, until the sauce is thick and smooth. Add the eggplant, cheese, and nutmeg and cook, stirring constantly, until the ingredients are thoroughly combined. Taste and add salt, as needed.

To serve, spoon some Smoky Eggplant Purée onto a plate and top with the Tomato-Lamb Stew.
This is my entry for
Weekend Herb Blogging, hosted this week by Cinzia from Cindystar.

Bob, in a rabbit stupor

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Recipe: Clams and Giant White Beans with Buttery Wine Broth (Κυδώνια με Γίγαντες)

Last fall we took a quick trip to San Francisco where, unsurprisingly, the weather was cloudy and the food delicious. One Saturday we went to the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, ogled vegetables and local cheeses, and ate at Hog Island Oyster Company. Though our table was outside on the chilly plaza, we warmed ourselves with champagne and garlicky Clams with Gigantes and Buttery Wine Broth. We walked away happy.

Gigantes, also known as
giant Greek beans or Phaseolus coccineus (multiflorus), have a starchy texture that is a perfect foil for sauces of all kinds. They're a PGI product of Greece, and always a treat to eat. (In the European Union, a PGI designation identifies foods grown in unique regions that have special qualities and characteristics.)

When I was working, I made steamed clams because they were quick. Now I just make them because they taste good. 

Clams with Giant White Beans and Buttery Wine Broth (Κυδώνια με Γίγαντες)
Serves 4
Inspired by Hog Island Oyster Company, San Francisco, California
If you prefer not to eat butter, this dish is delicious when made with extra-virgin olive oil. Gigantes may be cooked several days ahead (or canned beans may be used), in which case this makes a deliciously quick mid-week meal. 

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Saturday, October 10, 2009

Recipe: Romanesco Broccoli, Cauliflower, and Brussels Sprouts with Mustard-Caper Butter

Assuming the weather holds, there are two more Saturday Farmers’ Markets this year in Anchorage: October 10 and October 17. Last week the tables were well-stocked with a wide array of vegetables; our purchases included lime-green Romanesco broccoli, yellow cauliflower, and a fresh-cut stalk of Brussels sprouts.

These vegetables, combined with a simple Mustard-Caper Butter, are absolutely delicious on their own, or served with grilled meat, poultry, or sausages. I rarely cook with butter, but do so here because it just tastes so damn good. Quick - head to your nearest farmers’ market for the ingredients!

Romanesco Broccoli, Cauliflower, and Brussels Sprouts with Mustard-Caper Butter
Serves 6-8
Adapted from Local Flavors, Deborah Madison (New York 2002)
Roasting the vegetables concentrates and sweetens their flavor. However, you can simplify the dish even further by steaming the vegetables instead. Whether you steam or roast, make sure not to overcook the vegetables; they are best when they retain a little crunch. If you don't have access to beautiful Romanesco broccoli, regular broccoli can be substituted.

Mustard Caper Butter:
2 garlic cloves
1/4-1/2 tsp. salt
3 Tbsp. chopped thyme
1/4 cup drained small capers, rinsed
1 Tbsp. finely grated lemon peel
Freshly ground black pepper
6 Tbsp. butter, softened
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard

1 stalk (or 1 pound) Brussels sprouts
1 small head Romanesco or regular broccoli
1 small head white cauliflower
2 Tbsp. olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 450°F.

Make the Mustard-Caper Butter: Pound the garlic with 1/4 tsp. salt in a mortar until smooth. Pound the thyme, capers, lemon peel, and freshly ground black pepper into the garlic. Pound in the butter and mustard, making sure the other ingredients are evenly distributed in the butter. You can also mix the butter in a food processor. If you do, add the capers only after the other ingredients are thoroughly combined and pulse in the capers so they stay a little chunky. (The butter can be made ahead, refrigerated, and brought to room temperature before serving.)

Cook the Vegetables: Snap the Brussels sprouts off the stalk, trim off their tough base, and slice them in half. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the Brussels sprouts and cook for 3 minutes. Drain and rinse with very cold water. Cut the cauliflower and Romanesco broccoli into florets. Put the vegetables, including the drained Brussels sprouts, on a rimmed baking sheet and toss with olive oil and a light sprinkling of salt and freshly ground black pepper. Bake for 10 minutes.

Finish the Dish: Put the roasted vegetables in a bowl and toss with the Mustard-Caper Butter until it melts and coats the vegetables. Taste and add salt or freshly ground black pepper, as needed.
This is my entry for Weekend Herb Blogging, hosted this week by lovely Susan from The Well-Seasoned Cook.