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Archive for April, 2012

I’ve been wanting to tell you about something amazing that I made. Well, two somethings to be exact. But I didn’t really know where to start.

The first draft of my post began with blah blah blah. Seriously, the text read “blah blah blah … <<INSERT RECIPES>>.” My second and third drafts were not much better. So I did what I could while my thoughts stewed. The pictures were taken and the best ones were chosen and cropped and sharpened and uploaded. The recipes carefully typed out. And then everything sat in an intro-less draft, gathering cyber dust.

Everything I wrote sounded like this: I went to a great restaurant, I’ve already told you about it, and here are a few recipes. Boring, no?

But today when I opened the latest Food & Wine, I realized what that meal was, and the recipes are finally ready for their debut.  Dana Cowen opens the issue with what almost sounds like a confession: “Over the past two years, I’ve joined the ranks for the world’s food pilgrims – people who plan a whole trip just to have a single meal.” She goes on to talk about recipes that inspire wanderlust and trips planned for the sole purpose of reaching a destination restaurant.

I’ve admitted — bragged even — that I travel to eat. That I’ve wandered the streets, lusting after the best a new city can offer. You hear it all the time, that life is the journey, not the destination.

But here’s my own dirty little secret: sometimes it’s just all about the destination.

I’ve told you about the destinationZahav restaurant in Philadelphia. Perhaps you could even say that I took a long journey to get there – that going to medical school in Philadelphia led me to business school in Philadelphia led me to an annual conference that brought me to Philadelphia a few weeks ago. Yes, this was an important journey. But then I almost skipped the conference this year. And then I thought about Zahav. And then I registered for the conference. I didn’t go to the restaurant because I happened to be in town for a conference. Instead, I decided to go to the conference as an excuse to go to Zahav. Not that you need an excuse.

I was in Philadelphia for less than twenty-four hours. I landed, took a taxi to my hotel, changed my clothes, took a taxi to Zahav, ate an obscene amount of food, took a taxi to my hotel, went to the conference, took a taxi to the airport and headed to Vegas. There was no journey, just a destination. And it was worth it. The flight, the hotel, the conference, the calories.

I guess at the end of the day, I’ve still said what I always intended: I went to a great restaurant, I’ve already told you about it, and here are a few recipes. Enjoy…until you can go to Philadelphia for the real thing.

Zahav’s hummus with cumin, paprika, and sumac

I adapted this hummus from Chef Michael Solomonov’s recipe in Food & Wine. Most meals at Zahav start with a tower of salatim (cold salads), a dish of freshly house-made hummus, and  steaming rolled-up laffa bread. It’s worth taking the time to use dried chickpeas — the extra steps of soaking them overnight and then boiling them the next day result in a silky smooth texture that canned just can’t replicate. This recipe makes 4 cups of hummus which is quite a lot. My six guests and I barely ate half of what I made. The leftover hummus is great for a few days, but without preservatives, that’s about as long as you can keep it in the fridge. And, please, if you want to be authentic, call it hoo-moose with a guttural h if you can manage it.

-  1/2 pound dried chickpeas

- 1 T baking soda

- 7 (or more) large garlic cloves, unpeeled

- 1/4 C extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for garnish

- 1/4 t ground cumin

- 1/4 C tahina (tahina separates pretty easily, so  bring it to room temperature so that it’s easier to stir to incorporate).

- 1/4 C fresh lemon juice

- kosher salt

- cumin, paprika, and sumac for garnish

- 1/4 C chopped parsley

Soak. In a large bowl, cover the dried chickpeas with 2 inches of water and stir in the baking soda. Refrigerate overnight.

Simmer. The next morning, drain and rinse the chickpeas under cold water. Pour them into a saucepan and cover with 2 inches of fresh water. Add the unpeeled garlic cloves and bring everything to a boil. Turn down the heat (but not too low) and simmer, covered for about 40 minutes. The chickpeas should be tender but not mushy. Scoop out about a cup of water (to use later) and then drain the chickpeas. Rinse the chickpeas under cold water. Peel the garlic cloves.

Puree. In a food processor, puree the chickpeas with 1/2 C of the reserved cooking water, 1/4 C of olive oil and the garlic cloves. Then add cumin, tahina, and lemon juice. Continue to puree until really creamy. Season with salt.

Serve. Fill a flat serving bowl with the hummus, smoothing out the top. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with cumin, paprika, and sumac (or whatever spices you like) and parsley. I served mine in a pan and warmed the whole thing up in the oven for a few minutes before garnishing.

Middle Eastern chicken skewers

This recipe is adapted from Chef Michael Solomonov’s lamb skewers in Food & Wine — I just replaced the lamb with chicken. The main dishes at Zahav are called al-ha’esh, literally on the fire. Their kitchen has a coal grill; in my apartment, I use a grill pan. I doubled the recipe and next time will triple it. There was not a single piece of chicken remaining among the six carnivores at the table. The chicken is really moist, so it doesn’t need extra sauce, but the marinade is so good, it’s a pity to waste. Boil it down (since it’s been mingling with raw chicken) and dip pita in it or pour it over couscous.

- 1 medium onion, quartered

- 1 garlic clove, peeled

- 4 (or more) sprigs of flat leaf parsley

- 1-2 lemons (for 1/2 t zest and 3 T of juice)

- 1 t ras al hanout spice mixture (I used this instead of allspice)

- 1 T kosher salt

- Pinch of saffron threads

- 2 1/2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts

- 1/4 C vegetable oil

Puree.In a blender or food processor, puree onion, garlic, parsley, lemon juice and zest, ras al hanout (or allspice), salt, and saffron.

Cut. Cut the chicken into cubes, approximately 1-inch on each side.

Marinate. Fill a large ziplock bag with the chicken and then pour the puree over it. Shake everything around until the chicken is well coated. Zip the bag, pressing out any air. Refrigerate overnight (or at least 6 hours).

Grill. Preheat a grill pan. Remove chicken chunks and thread them onto skewers (about 4-5 per). Reserve the marinade. Brush the chicken skewers with oil and grill over high heat until all sides are lightly charred, about 10 minutes or so. You want to turn the meat occasionally – you’ll know it’s ready to be turned when it easily releases from the pan. If it sticks, don’t touch it. Poke a knife into a piece of chicken to make sure it’s cooked all the way through and not pink inside.

Boil. Pour the remaining marinade into a pan and bring to a boil. Serve with the skewers or on rice or couscous.

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that wasn’t that

A few weeks ago, a friend dropped by for dinner. Having no set plans for what to make, we scrounged around my apartment but, to borrow a line from Old Mother Hubbard, the cupboard was bare. Well, not entirely bare. (This is my kitchen we’re talking about here.) There were eggs in the fridge and onions in the basket.  And then we found 2 slices of good old American cheese. An omelette was on the agenda. More correctly, it was on the menu. Even more correctly, it was the menu.

We sautéed the onions, then let them brown even more. We cracked a handful of eggs (literally, one for each finger) into a bowl, whisked them up with a bit of milk, and poured them in the pan. They bubbled a bit  and we lowered the heat  and pushed the mix around , scraping up the cooking edges and letting the raw egg flow underneath. We salted and peppered and dropped down the cheese. A few more minutes and we folded the omelette onto a large plate and dug in with two forks.

One taste and the omelette reminded me of something. Another taste. And another. And then it came to me. The omelette tasted like Passover. The holiday when dietary restrictions can make life difficult for a week. Especially when one likes to eat as much as I do. Especially when one refuses to eat matzah or matzah meal (finely ground matzah crumbs used like flour) after the seder. Save for the occasional matzah ball.

So we finished the omelette and enjoyed the evening. And that was that.

But that wasn’t that. I had to get that omelette out of my mind. Denial about the upcoming Passover holiday (it’s now in 2 days!) can be a powerful motivator.

And so the next morning, I awoke with a craving for another omelette. I know, I know, that’s a lot of eggs in less than 24 hours. But I was determined to redeem the omelette with another that bore nary a resemblance to traditional Passover food.

So I scrounged a bit more and I found some arugula. Bingo! The peppery, slightly bitter green holds up quite nicely in an omelette, developing a delicate, not-mushy wilt. To keep with the Passover theme, some of my Sephardi friends place arugula on their seder plates in lieu of the Ashkenazi horseradish. A tour of my spice rack turned up some cumin. And then there was a handful of shredded mozzarella lurking in the back of my fridge.

Breakfast eaten, I hopped in the car to buy groceries.

Arugula and cumin omelette

Turn burner to medium-high and add a pat or two of butter to a nonstick pan.  While the pan is heating and the butter is melting, whisk together 2 eggs and a splash of milk. Chop up some angula (or fresh herbs – parsley, chives) and whisk into the eggs. Pour the egg mixture into the pan and swirl so that it covers the entire bottom. With a spatula, start to drag the cooking edges into the center, tilting the pan to help the runnier egg in the center move to the edges. Lower the heat a bit and work your way around the entire pan like this a few times. Don’t let the eggs firm up yet. Sprinkle with a handful of shredded mozzarella (or other mild cheese), a few grinds of pepper, a nice pinch of salt, and a really nice pinch of ground cumin. Bonus points if you first toast cumin seeds and then grind them really fine with a mortar and pestle, but I can’t imagine quite that much work in the morning while my coffee is brewing. Give the cheese a minute or two to melt. When the eggs are still a little runny, fold over one edge of the omelette towards the center. Loosen the rest of the egg, and then slide it onto a plate, flipping the folded edge over. Sprinkle with  a few more grinds of pepper and some extra arugula/herbs.

** PS, Ever wonder where the word omelette comes from? Well, for all  you etymology buffs out there, I did a little research and the history is a bit convoluted.  Start with the Old French (that’s old with a capital O) word “la lemelle” which means a small thin pan. Then pronounce it just a tiny bit differently to get “l’alemelle.” Now misspell it a bit for “alemette.” And then perform a metathesis — switch a few letters to get “amalette.” Voilà, omelette! For those of you really into etymology and linguistics, matethesis is used in French (and other languages) to develop slang. Verlan, a French slang, transposes letters and syllables. Its name itself is verlan for the word l’envers — the inverse.  A woman, une femme, becomes une meuf.  A guy, un mec, becomes un keum or un quèm. Cool (in English) becomes looc. French, francais, becomes céfran. Looc, no? But don’t go to Paris and use verlan as a foreigner — you will not get good service in a cafe, and that’s not a risk anyone should take.**

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