Monday, August 30, 2010

In Search of the Perfect Pizza

For the last few weeks, I have been slowly but surely gearing myself up to take on The Pizza. The thing is...well actually, there are several things. First, I do not bake. Or rather, I bake occasionally, when the moon is a nice bright shade of blue, but it is not my thing. I do not have an intuition for what proportions will make bread rise, or what combination of whatnot belongs in the cake batter. I bake with teaspoons at the ready and a close eye on the recipe, and a healthy amount of skepticism about what will happen to the thing once I put it in the oven.

Second, pizza is so often a fast food, if not in the Domino's sort of way, then in the (no doubt light-years healthier but still highly processed) Trader Joe's pop-something-gourmet-in-the-oven sort of way. And, even if it's homemade, it seems difficult to avoid the highly processed thing, given that the base is made of white flour. Nothing whole-grain about it. Even if you made it out of whole wheat flour. Unless...unless you made it out of stone-ground whole wheat flour.

Unless that.

Here then was the tripartite mission that began to form in the shadowy culinary corners of my brain: Learn how to (a) make pizza using (b) stone-ground whole wheat flour for the crust in a way that is (c) delicious. Right then.

Step 1: Find stone-ground whole wheat bread flour. This part was actually easy -- Bob's Red Mill makes stone-ground everything (not to mention lovely steel cut oats) and was well-stocked at our coop.

Step 2: Find a whole wheat pizza crust recipe. Also easy: The New York Times has one here.

Step 3: Make a pizza.

Have I mentioned that I don't bake?

Okay, here goes:

First, I made the dough for the crust from the NYTimes recipe. This picture is meant not so much to showcase my nonexistent kneading skills, as to record for all time the fact that I was in remarkably close proximity to bread dough and it did not burst into flames.

After flattening the dough on a cornmeal-dusted surface, I brushed it with 1-2 cloves pressed garlic mixed with a little olive oil, then topped with some grated Parmesan and pastured jack cheese (enough to lightly cover the crust up to about an inch from the outside), then sliced ripe tomatoes, Genovese basil chiffonade, and a little crumbled local goat cheese.

Then, I baked it for about 15 minutes at 450 until the crust was golden brown. I may or may not have spent a large portion of that time staring through the oven door at it as the crust started to look like an actual pizza crust, and I am sure I did not hoot with glee when the first pizza crust bubble formed. I mean, that would be ridiculous.

And the finished product?

Decidedly gorgeous, and pretty darn tasty. The toppings were amazing, thanks in large part to our produce box (which supplied the incredible tomatoes and fresh Genovese basil), and the crust was definitely decent.

Nonetheless, Step 4: Achieve Pizza Crust Perfection is still a work in progress. Stay tuned.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Cucumber Gazpacho with Lemon Basil Infusion

Clearly, our diet yesterday had to involve a lot of ice cream and sorbet, but we did manage to work in a cold, soft vegetable course as well with the cucumbers from our CSA box. We had one Armenian cucumber and several round, light colored ones that I think are called apple cucumbers, along with some lemon basil that we still hadn't used in anything.

After a little Google detective work, I came across this recipe for gazpacho, toward which I normally feel ambivalent at best, but this version was delicious and surprisingly easy to make. I followed the recipe she gives fairly closely (the "Home Version" one) except that I used less olive oil and a bit less lemon juice, Aleppo pepper instead of cayenne (enough to give it a little kick), and made a lemon basil infusion to drizzle over the top (mince some lemon basil leaves and combine with a bit of olive oil and a pinch of salt, and let sit for a little while before using).

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Toasted Polenta with Tomato and Avocado

The husband had his wisdom teeth out today, which meant the plan for open-faced sandwiches had to morph into something more soft and smushy. So voila: A recipe for the puffy-cheeked that doesn't involve canned soup. And best of all, it was delicious enough that we'd make it again, even on a day without dental trauma.

1 cup organic polenta/coarsely ground cornmeal
2 cups water
1/4 cup milk (optional)
1/3 cup grated pepper jack (or substitute Monterey Jack or cheddar)*
1-2 ripe tomatoes, peeled and diced (or just diced, if you're not post-dentist)
1 avocado, diced

Heat some water in a teapot. Meanwhile, place a smallish pot over medium-high heat. Add polenta and toast, stirring or tossing from time to time, for a minute. Push to the side of the pot, drizzle in a little olive oil, and stir to coat the grains. Adjust heat to medium. Continue toasting and stirring until polenta is fragrant and just starting to turn golden.

Add two cups of hot water to the polenta and stir, breaking up any clumps. Add the milk and a pinch of salt, bring to a simmer, and cook gently, stirring, for 2 minutes or until it thickens to just a little wetter than the desired consistency. Cover, remove from heat, and let sit for a minute.

Serve into bowls, sprinkle with cheese, and top with tomato and avocado.

Serves 2.

*If you live in northern California, Petaluma Creamery's pepper jack is creamier and pepperier than any other we've tasted and comes from local pastured cows (as does anything from Spring Hill Cheese Company). It's also somehow ridiculously inexpensive despite all that.

Update: See also this variation.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Nicoise(ish) Salad

Leftover quail eggs, green and yellow beans, and baby greens in the fridge, and a toasty 106 degrees outside? Clearly the evening called for a cool summertime salad and a distinct lack of grocery-shopping. I've never found Nicoise salads to be particularly appealing (partly because I don't like most olives, so here I substituted a green variety that isn't pickled, which makes it taste much more olive oil-esque and less olive-y), but this adulterated version was pretty darn good.


Mixed baby greens & (optional) a handful of baby arugula
1 1/2 cups cooked cannellini beans* (or substitute canned)
1 can (hook-and-line/troll caught) albacore tuna, drained
2-3 shallots, halved and thinly sliced
1 tsp black mustard seeds
Several handfuls green and/or yellow beans
4 quail eggs (or sub 1 regular egg, boiled & sliced)
2-3 tbsp good quality extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp sherry vinegar
Zest of 1 lemon
Sliced olives (green or black)
1 tbsp chopped parsley, plus a little extra for garnish
2 sprigs oregano, finely chopped
Salt & freshly ground black pepper

In a wide pan, heat a little olive oil over medium-high heat. Add shallot and mustard seeds and saute for 1-2 minutes till soft, then add green beans and continue to saute, stirring, until just tender (after a couple minutes, you can add a tbsp of water and cover for a minute or two to cook them quickly without letting them dry out). Set aside to cool.

In a small pot, bring water to a simmer. Carefully poke holes in the big end of each quail egg with a pushpin (start very gently and twist the pin back and forth, just until it goes through the shell). Lay the eggs in a slotted spoon, then lower into the simmering water for just under 3 minutes. Raise spoon out of water, drain, and run under cool water for about 20 seconds. Peel each quail egg (by far the best way I found to do this was to gently crack the shell on all sides to smithereens, then gently peel while holding the egg under a light drizzle of cold water). Cut each egg in half and set aside. (As far as we can tell, after eating this salad, quail eggs were invented so that one could eat a medium-boiled egg with some yolk in every bite. If you by any chance feel exceedingly warm and fuzzy toward egg yolks, which certain authors of certain blogs do, quail eggs would be a good thing to track down somewhere and incorporate into some sort of arrangement where they go into your mouth, and you smile in blissful happiness.)

Combine tuna with a little olive oil in a bowl, then add cannellini beans and a little salt and pepper (unless your tuna and/or beans are already very salty -- if so, make sure to taste before you salt more).

Whisk olive oil, sherry vinegar, lemon zest, oregano, parsley, salt, and pepper together in a small bowl.

Toss the greens with a couple spoonfuls of dressing and arrange as a bed on each plate. Top with green beans on one side, white beans and tuna on the other. Drizzle with 1-2 more spoonfuls of dressing per plate. Sprinkle extra shallots from the pan over the top, along with the olives and extra parsley, and arrange the eggs on the top. Garnish with a sprig of parsley or oregano, and serve. (If it tastes at all bland, it needs a bit more salt and/or pepper to help the flavors pop out.)

Serves 2.

*Rinse and pick through dried beans carefully, then soak overnight in cold water, or put in a pot with enough water to cover by 1-2 inches and bring to a boil, simmer for 2-3 minutes, then turn off heat and let soak for an hour. Then, put in a pot with fresh water (about an inch above the beans), a bay leaf, and a few whole peeled garlic cloves, bring to a boil, and simmer for 60-90 minutes until tender.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Cucumber Salad with Toasted Sesame Seeds

Found in our CSA box: Armenian cucumbers (light-colored and long, and apparently actually a melon impersonating a cucumber, which seems pretty impressive as melon acting skills go.)

2 long Armenian cucumbers, peeled and diced (or substitute any sweet, crunchy cucumber)
1 tsp black sesame seeds
Seasoned rice vinegar

Heat a small pan over medium-high heat. When hot, put in the sesame seeds and toast, shaking the pan or stirring frequently, for 2-3 minutes until fragrant. Remove from heat.

Peel and dice cucumber. Sprinkle liberally with rice vinegar to taste (it should taste flavorful but not strong). Stick in the fridge for a couple minutes to let the cucumbers crisp, then toss, adjust rice vinegar if necessary, and serve sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds.

Serves 3, or 2 very greedy diners, and goes well with the salmon below.

Grilled Salmon with Mustard and Scallions

I realize that there are several salmon recipes already on here, but Costco has wild sockeye right now for a ridiculously low price and we feel obligated to take full, weekly advantage.

2 scallions, sliced and then coarsely diced a few times (white and light green parts)
1 clove garlic, pressed
1 tsp whole grain dijon mustard
A slosh of soy sauce
2 sloshes of rice wine
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp toasted sesame oil

Wild salmon (enough for 2)
1/2 avocado, diced, for garnish (optional)

Whisk marinade ingredients together. Pour over the salmon and let marinate in the fridge for 20-30 minutes.

Grill on high for about 3 minutes (skin side down), then flip. Spoon extra scallions over the top, and grill another 1-3 minutes on the second side, depending on how thick the salmon is. (We were once told, in a friendly but firm way, that the only way to eat salmon was medium rare, by the co-owner of one of our favorite French restaurants in Manhattan. After taking her advice for our dinner that night, we were converted. I can't pull off the same Parisian flair or authoritative gaze, but seriously: try it. You'll feel warm fuzzies for the French and possibly all humankind.)

Serve over rice (e.g., Bhutanese red rice: saute a little olive oil and onion over medium heat until soft, then add 3/4 cups red rice and saute for another minute. Add 1 cup water, cover, and bring to a boil. Turn heat down to low and simmer for 20 minutes, then uncover and turn heat to medium, stirring until the excess water evaporates. Push rice to the side of the pan, add a tsp of pasture butter and a sprinkling of mustard seeds to the bottom of the pan and let simmer for a few seconds, then turn off the heat and stir the rice to coat).

Serves 2. Goes well with cucumber salad (above).

Saturday, August 21, 2010

One More Reason to Eat Local

The egg recall this week underscored for me yet one more reason to eat local. While the headlines blared with long lists of brands and plant numbers that might have been affected, and readers from coast to coast went to check whether the eggs they bought in a nearby supermarket that were labeled Lucerne, or Albertson, or Farm Fresh (that one is particularly ironic), or Dutch Farms, or nine (nine!) other different brands could have been affected by a salmonella outbreak all the way over in Iowa, I thought about the eggs I ate that morning and how they came from a farm in Orland, CA, about 90 minutes away from where I live, and went on to read something else in the newspaper.

In fact, I can look up the farm where our eggs are laid on Google Maps and see the grass where the chickens are pastured. Given that an increasing number of industrialized egg producers are starting to market one or two of the many brands they produce to appeal to the organic/health-conscious crowd, plastering buzzwords like "free-range" and "all-vegetarian feed!" on the outside of the carton (which doesn't mean much of anything -- you want to look for the word pastured), it's nice to be able to look up the actual farm and see actual grass. (In contrast, it turns out that many of the seemingly-small-farm egg brands sold around here come from one centralized, industrialized plant with a few big chicken warehouses and no grass in sight, including "Judy's Family Farm" organic eggs and Uncle Eddie's free-range eggs and several others that pretend to be local, family-run enterprises. is a good resource for tracking down real local farms and ranches in your area that produce grass-fed meat and poultry.)

It's not that eating local protects you from ever possibly getting contaminated food (although as the film "Food, Inc" points out, a number of industrialized food practices do increase the chances of disease, either for the animals or for the people eating the food or both). But it seems kind of crazy that a contamination problem in Galt, Iowa, could affect half a billion eggs sold nationwide. And according to this article, the huge livestock firm that may be responsible for the outbreak has already been associated with an array of charges from violating environmental laws to mistreating female workers. How insane is it to think that the store-brand eggs you can buy at a nearby supermarket might come from 2,000 miles away, and that buying those eggs sends your money to an immense and almost invisible firm that has a record of mistreating employees and the environment, not to mention its animals?

I would never in a million years hand my money to people who were known to do things like leave chickens to suffocate in garbage cans, fire employees for their (lack of) religious beliefs, maintain a work environment that a Labor Secretary called "as dangerous and oppressive as any sweatshop we have seen," and sexually assault their female workers. But apparently, up until just a few weeks ago, I was doing exactly that.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Tomatoes Stuffed with Sushi Rice and Quail Egg

Just when we thought our CSA box couldn't get any more interesting, we opened it today to find ten little quail eggs in a miniature egg container:

Del Rio Botanical always sends a little insert describing what on earth they've sent you and some suggestions on what to do with it. This week, they recommended poaching the quail eggs and putting them on top of some cavern striped tomatoes (also in the produce box) stuffed with sushi rice. After careful calculation, I estimated that there was approximately one snowball's chance in a flying pig that I was going to be able to poach a quail egg with any sort of success, so instead, I just cracked them on top of the stuffed tomato and let them bake in the oven, which worked out pretty well.

4-6 cavern striped tomatoes (or other good stuffing tomato)
2/3 cups uncooked sushi rice (you could probably substitute Arborio rice, but the cooking time would be a little different)
Seasoned rice vinegar
1 cup cooked and chopped spinach (or 1 cup thawed frozen spinach, packed)
1 medium shallot, chopped
4-6 quail eggs

Combine the rice and a little over 3/4 cups water in a small pot, bring to a boil, turn down heat, and simmer for 15 minutes. Turn off the heat and sprinkle liberally with seasoned rice vinegar and stir to coat the grains. Adjust rice vinegar to taste (the rice will get diluted by other things, so make it definitely flavorful but not overly strong).

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 400 degrees. Slice the top off each tomato and cut or scoop out the inside. Place on a foil-lined baking pan.

Saute the shallot with some olive oil in a fry pan over medium heat for a few minutes. Just as it begins to brown, add the spinach, stir a few times, and turn off the heat. Fold in the rice with a rice paddle.

If the tomatoes are pretty big, precook them in the oven for 5-7 minutes before stuffing.

Fill each tomato with the rice and spinach mixture, and then press your fingertip into the top of each mound of rice to make a slight indentation for the quail egg. Take a quail egg and crack it against the back of a knife (the trick is to do this firmly and fearlessly, but not so hard that you smash the egg into tiny pieces. They're stronger than you think, though, so give them a good whack to crack both the shell and the inner skin. If you're tentative, the shell gets very crumbly). Work a fingernail into the crack and gently peel back the top of the shell. Slide the egg out gently into the indentation you made in the rice-filled tomato, taking care not to break the yolk if possible. Repeat for each tomato.

Slide the pan into the oven and bake for 7-10 minutes until whites become opaque. Serve on a bed of lightly dressed mixed baby greens.

Serves 2 for a light lunch.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Stir-fried Amaranth Greens with Toasted Almonds and Mustard Seeds

Easy and delicious (good for when you totally forgot the leafy green side dish till the last moment):

A couple handfuls amaranth greens, per person
1/4-1/2 tsp black and/or yellow mustard seeds, per person
1 tbsp sliced almonds, per person
Olive oil
Kosher salt

Toast almonds in a wide pan over medium-high heat, stirring or tossing frequently. Just as they begin to brown, add a tablespoon or two of olive oil and stir to coat, then immediately add the mustard seeds. Stir and fry for a few seconds, then add the amaranth greens. Cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally and pressing the leaves against the pan for a few seconds from time to time. Add a tablespoon or so of water, cover the pan, and let steam for few moments till the water evaporates, then uncover, sprinkle with a little salt, and serve.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

In Which the Scientists Discover Food

So this month's Journal of the American Medical Association has a commentary written by two Harvard nutrition experts advocating, of all things, changing the focus of our dietary guidelines from nutrients to foods. According to the authors, "the evidence now demonstrates the major limitations of nutrient-based metrics for prevention of chronic disease" (Mozaffarian and Ludwig, 2010, p. 681). For instance, they cite accumulating research suggesting that fat and even saturated fat intake is pretty much unrelated to the risk of developing chronic illnesses like heart disease.

They go on to say that "in contrast with discrete nutrients, specific foods and dietary patterns substantially affect chronic disease risk, as shown by controlled trials of risk factors and prospective cohorts of disease endpoints. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and nuts are consistently associated with lower risk of disease" (p. 681). Fish also get an evidence-based thumbs up. Meanwhile, research shows that highly processed foods are associated with an increased risk of chronic diseases, and the authors go on to suggest that we need to understand that the health consequences of consuming different foods probably reflect complicated interactions of different nutrients within each food, the way food is prepared, and combinations of foods within larger dietary patterns. Not to mention that "the greater the focus on nutrients, the less healthful foods have become" (p. 682).

Sound familiar? It's kind of neat to see the same ideas that Pollan highlights making their way into mainstream medical science. Here's hoping the U.S. dietary guidelines, which I think are due to be revised this year, start adopting food-centered rather than nutrient-centered guidelines, as these authors advocate. It seems like changing the language we use to talk about and evaluate health and nutrition from nutrients to foods could go a long way toward changing the way we eat.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Sauteed Baby Corn

Have I mentioned I love our new weekly produce box? Two weeks in a row of fresh baby corn = quite a bit of food-centered happiness.

Fresh baby corn
Olive oil
Garlic, pressed (1-2 cloves per 6 ears, or rather earlettes)
Salt & pepper

Saute the garlic in a little olive oil over medium heat for a minute or so. Add the baby corn, turning it to coat it with the garlic. Turn heat up slightly and saute for 3-7 minutes, turning the corn from time to time, until tender (time depends on how small the corn is. You can eat it raw, so it's okay if the inside is still crunchy when you're done. We had some very small ones that cooked all the way through, a couple bigger ones that had a crunchy center, and several that browned on the outside, and all were delicious). If the pan starts to dry out, add about 2 tbsp water, cover, and steam for a minute to finish cooking. Sprinkle with salt and pepper before serving.

6-8 earlettes will serve 2 as a side vegetable.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Nectarines with Anise Hyssop and Moscato Drizzle

If you ever find yourself within reach of some fresh anise hyssop, grab it and make this. Anise hyssop, as we discovered this week after finding it in our CSA box, turns out to be an herb that tastes remarkably like those little sugar-coated fennel seeds often found in Indian restaurants. You might find it at a farmer's market, growing in your garden already (it has pretty purple flowers), or nestled between two other things you've never seen before in your own produce box.

Nectarines (could substitute peaches), pits removed and sliced into wedges
Moscato (a current favorite is Trader Joe's Late Harvest 2009)
Fresh anise hyssop (2-3 leaves per nectarine)

Arrange the nectarines on a plate. Make a chiffonade from the anise hyssop: tightly roll the leaves and then slice the roll into thin ribbons. Sprinkle over the fruit, drizzle lightly with about one spoonful of Moscato per nectarine, garnish with anise hyssop flowers, and serve.

Goes well with a glass of Moscato or a cup of fresh mint and anise hyssop tea (just steep a handful of leaves in hot water for a few minutes before pouring).

Monday, August 9, 2010

Smoked Salmon and Cucumber Salad with Dill

On Friday, we received our very first CSA box from Del Rio Botanical. We pick it up at a little market right near our house. I've never been quite so excited about groceries (food, yes; dessert, obviously, but not groceries, until now). I took deep calming breaths before entering the store, though, and managed not to hug the grocery guy who handed it to us, although I think he may have noticed me bouncing up and down a little (just a little, I swear) on our way out.

Our first box has (clockwise from the top left): White zucchini, cilantro, mint and anise hyssop, green and yellow beans, cavern striped tomatoes, amaranth greens, black plums, and fresh baby corn.

First, we tackled the amaranth greens, which were gone in a day and a half (stir-fried under dinner one night with chickpeas and topped with a stuffed cavern striped tomato; sauteed with shallot and garlic and parsley and then stirred with a couple of eggs the next morning for brunch -- basically a variation on the Soft Set Eggs recipe from a couple of weeks ago).

Then last night, we roasted the green and yellow string beans and decided to take on the remaining Italian citrone cucumbers, which I had never seen before they appeared in our produce box. My husband thought of making a salad with smoked salmon and dill. Since we had quite a few of the cucumbers, we served the salad over a bed of sliced cucumber dressed with a little dill and white wine vinegar. The whole thing made for a lovely, light, refreshing summertime meal.

About 5-6 inches of cucumber, peeled and diced
Rice vinegar (seasoned or unseasoned)
2 tbsp finely chopped scallion (white and light green parts), divided
1-2 tsp chopped fresh dill, divided
3-4 oz wild smoked salmon, coarsely chopped (you want about equal parts smoked salmon and cucumber in the salad)
Olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
Ak-mak crackers (or another stone-ground wheat cracker)

Combine cucumber, 1 tbsp of the scallions, and 1 tsp of the dill in a small bowl, sprinkle liberally with rice vinegar, and let sit for at least ten minutes. Drain most of the excess vinegar out the side of the bowl.

Then, add the smoked salmon and the rest of the scallions and stir to mix. Liberally douse with olive oil (about 1-2 tbsp -- enough to moisten the salad throughout) and add a generous amount of black pepper. Add additional dill to taste. Drizzle with a little lemon juice, and serve with the crackers.

Serves 2 with something else alongside (e.g., veggies stir-fried or roasted with mustard seeds and topped with a little salt and lemon juice before serving). Pairs well with a slightly dry Viognier (e.g., Yalumba 2009, currently on sale at Costco).

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Best. Chickpeas. Ever.

At some point last week, I decided it was about time to learn to soak my own beans. Now, if you've soaked beans before, you probably think this is about as momentous an announcement as someone declaring they've decided to stamp their own envelope in the old-fashioned, lick-it-yourself sort of way.

But, if you're like me and tend to assume beans grow in cans in the supermarket aisle, you may not yet know that home-soaked beans (or home-grown beans, as my husband dubbed them after noting that they grew to twice their initial size after soaking and had therefore been grown, in the home -- can't argue with that) are (a) simple to prepare (kind of embarrassingly simple, actually, in light of the fact that I had never considered doing it before), (b) way cheaper, especially for anyone moving their culinary practices in an eat-food-mostly-plants sort of direction, and (c) way tastier. This last one nobody told me, which has me slightly irked because I'm pretty sure I would have done this sooner if they had. Although maybe I wouldn't have believed it could make that much of a difference. But apparently home "grown" beans have an entirely different taste, and texture, than their canny canny cousins.

So, I soaked some cannellini beans last week, and got hooked, and yesterday morning found me trying my hand at chickpeas. Which were again incredibly easy. If (like me) you have no clue how to do this, here's a cheat sheet:
1. Rinse a bunch of dried chickpeas, checking through them carefully for stones
2. Throw in a pot of water (the water should be several inches above the beans, because they'll expand quite a bit), bring to a boil, and boil for two minutes
3. Turn off the heat and let them to soak for about two hours (you can also just let them soak in cold water overnight, instead)
4. Drain and rinse the beans, then add them back to the pot with some fresh water and a few whole peeled cloves of garlic, and simmer them for another 60-80 minutes until they're tender
5. Drain and stick in the fridge until you're ready to use them

6. Optional, but highly recommended: Make the following recipe. Which turned out to be...well, what the title says.

3 cups cooked chickpeas (soaked and cooked yourself, else canned)
1 Meyer lemon, zested and cut in half
2 cloves garlic, pressed
Salt & pepper
Ñora pepper (optional)
1 yellow onion, chopped
3/4 cup black Forbidden rice (could substitute brown basmati rice & adjust the cooking time)
Saffron threads
Scant 1/2 tsp cumin seeds (or two generous pinches)
Scant 1/2 tsp yellow mustard seeds (or two generous pinches)
1/4 cup broth or water
3/4 cups cooked chopped spinach (frozen works: thaw for 2 minutes in the microwave and then drain. If fresh, blanch, drain, then chop)
1/4 tsp ground turmeric
Aleppo or other hot pepper, to taste
Pinch or two ground cumin
Pinch or two sweet paprika

Whisk the juice of half the lemon with a generous glug of olive oil in a bowl. Add the garlic, a pinch of salt, and some black pepper and ñora pepper if you have it. Add the chickpeas, stir to coat, and marinate in the fridge for about half an hour.

Saute about a quarter of the chopped onion in a small pot over medium heat until it softens. Add the black rice and a pinch of saffron and cook, stirring, for a minute or two, then add a little less than one cup of water. Cover, bring to a boil, then turn heat down and simmer for 20 minutes or until done. (If there is extra liquid left at the end, uncover, turn heat to medium, and cook for another minute, stirring to evaporate the water.)

Meanwhile, heat about 2 tbsp olive oil in a wide pan over medium-high heat. When hot, add the cumin and mustard seeds and toast until they start to pop (about 10-20 seconds). Immediately add the rest of the onion and cook, stirring, for several minutes. Just as it starts to brown, add the chickpeas (and a little more olive oil if it's too dry) and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 3 more minutes.

Next, add the spinach, turmeric, a pinch or two of salt, pepper, and Aleppo. Cook, stirring, for a few more minutes, adding the broth as it starts to get dry. (Depending on how cooked your chickpeas were to begin with, you may want to cover the pan and let it simmer for a couple minutes at this point.)

Add the cooked rice, stir, and cook for a minute or two until heated through. Then dust with a bit of cumin and just a little paprika. Add the lemon zest, cook for about 30 more seconds, and then turn off the heat. Cover pan and let sit for 10 minutes to blend the flavors. Adjust salt and pepper to taste.

Serve hot or at room temperature, garnished with a lemon wedge. Goes well with roasted carrots with cumin seeds (below).

Serves 3-4 (or 2 for dinner with some leftovers)

Roasted Carrots with Cumin Seeds

Who can resist rainbow carrots?

Okay, possibly large portions of the population. But so far anyway, not me.

1 bunch whole carrots, brushed clean and with stems removed
Olive oil
Cumin seeds

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Coat a small roasting pan with a little olive oil (I use what appears to be a nonstick loaf pan...although I have definitely never used it to bake, so for all I know it could be some sort of pudding mold or a playpen for cupcakes. In any event, it makes a good carrot-roasting pan because it's the perfect length and keeps the carrots crowded together, which prevents them from drying out).

Add the carrots to the pan, brush with olive oil, and set them in the oven to roast. After 20 minutes, take them out, sprinkle lightly with cumin seeds, turn them gently, and sprinkle again. Roast for another 10-30 minutes, turning every 10 minutes or so, until the thickest part of the carrot is tender (total roasting time will depend on how thick your carrots are). Sprinkle with a little salt, and serve.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Lunchtime Leftovers: Seared Kale with Lemon and Smoked Salmon

I know, I know, enough with the kale already, but I had leftovers from the last few recipes, and this turned out so ridiculously easy and delicious that I had to post it.

Smoked salmon
Leftover chopped red kale (this stayed good in the fridge for a surprisingly long time, even though it was already chopped... I think it's from four or five days ago)
Some frozen chopped onion
(if you're like me and keep some frozen on hand for quick dishes -- if not, fresh works too)
Olive oil, salt, and pepper
Crackers or flatbread ( we had ak-mak crackers on hand, which are made from stone ground wheat and just a handful of other ingredients, and which brought out the flavors in the kale)

Heat a pan over medium-high heat. When hot, toss in a few tbsp frozen onion per person and let the excess water evaporate for 10-20 seconds, stirring occasionally. Then add a little olive oil and continue to cook for a couple minutes until onion is slightly browned. Add the kale (a generous handful per person), drizzle a little more olive oil over the top, and sprinkle with a little salt and a lot of black pepper. Cook the kale for 1-2 minutes, pressing it down against the pan with the back of a spatula for a few seconds at a time, then turning it and pressing the other side down. Turn off heat, add a generous squeeze of lemon juice, stir, and serve with the crackers and smoked salmon. (To eat, make open-faced sandwiches on the crackers with the salmon and the kale on top).

Monday, August 2, 2010

Smoked Salmon Risotto with Kale

Ha! Take that, kale. I have cooked you, and you are delicious.

As risottos go, this one is fairly simple to prepare (as in, there aren't too many ingredients, and they don't need to be cooked separately or cut in intricate ways), but the resulting flavor is complex enough to keep things interesting. 

Olive oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, pressed
1 rounded cup of Arborio rice
About 4 cups of broth*
Dry white cooking wine
1 bunch dino kale, sliced into ribbons, rinsed, and dried in a salad spinner
6 oz smoked wild salmon, sliced crosswise into strips (and separated into individual pieces if necessary, so they don't clump together when you add them to the risotto) 
1 Meyer lemon, zested and halved
1 tbsp chopped flat leaf parsley
Freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano

And any of the following that strike your fancy:
Some asparagus, thinly sliced at an angle (diagonally across the stem)
A scattering of frozen peas
A handful of baby arugula

Heat the broth in a small pot until it simmers, then turn off heat. Leave covered on the stove.

Heat a generous glug of olive oil in a big pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion and saute until translucent. Turn the heat down to medium, then add the garlic and cook for another minute or two. Next, add the rice, stirring to coat the grains. After a minute or so, add 1-2 ladles full of white wine and cook, stirring, until it evaporates. Add a ladle full of broth, and again simmer, stirring, until the excess liquid is gone. Continue adding broth and stirring until rice is just tender and most of the broth is used up.

Then, add the kale and any other vegetables you'd like along with another ladle full of broth. Cook for a few minutes until wilted or tender (asparagus will take the longest, so add it first if you're including it. Kale and peas seem to need about 2-3 minutes, and baby arugula barely needs any time at all). Next, add the smoked salmon, lemon zest, juice of half the lemon, and parsley, and turn off the heat right away. Stir everything together gently, adding a bit of the remaining broth if it seems at all dry. Pepper liberally, stir in the grated Parmesan, and serve. Garnish with a half-slice of Meyer lemon and a sprig of parsley, or sprinkle a little chopped parsley over the top.

Serves 4, or two for dinner and two for lunch the next day.

*Half chicken and half veggie works well.