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Archive for March, 2013

We’re going to do things a little differently today. I’d like to introduce you to Josh Lewin, Executive Chef of Beacon Hill Bistro. We met earlier this year at a dinner he hosted in honor of Tamar Adler and her book, An Everlasting Meal (I’m a fan!). If you haven’t tried his food yet, I’d suggest heading over to Charles Street and pulling up a chair next to the window in the long and narrow, two-table deep restaurant. Josh wanted to share with you the tradition of celebrating Nowruz, Persian New Year, as one of the many ways he opens his arms to welcome Spring. At his restaurant, he hosts Passover seders and Easter brunch. With friends, he celebrates Nowruz, Persian New Year, and makes the traditional fish dish, Sabzi Polo Mahi. ~ Gayle

***

We inch toward Spring this year with baited breath as the calendar’s turn last week was sandwiched between an ice storm one day and the threat of a slushy accumulation the next. Images of green and sprouting seeds unfortunately remain strictly in our dreams.

And yet, we inch along and stubbornly prepare to celebrate, weather be damned. This year, Passover falls early and finds itself overlapping with Easter and the likely less familiar celebration of the Persian New Year, Nowruz, which always falls on the first day of Spring and for the thirteen days following. The Nowruz celebration is enjoyed by most Iranians, regardless of their religion.

Like Passover with its seder plate and Easter with its eggs and bunnies, Norwuz is a holiday steeped in symbolic tradition. The word Nowruz means “new day” and the Haft-Seen (seven S’s) table setting is part of its celebration.  These seven S’s refer to the Farsi spelling of the required items which in English include garlic, apple, sumac, bean sprouts, oleaster fruit, vinegar, and a sweet pudding made from wheat germ.  Some welcome additions to the standard list might include a mirror, a goldfish, rosewater, or even painted eggs. As on the Seder plate, each item has its purpose and is a poignant reminder of the holiday.

The Nowruz festivities start with a thorough Spring cleaning, or khouneh tekouni, which, to those of you preparing for Passover by searching for crumbs in every corner of your house, probably sounds familiar. The goal is to clear the space to make room for the hope of a happy new year. Over the course of nearly two weeks, the old is phased out and hospitality is offered to friends and family. Like the first cuttings of Spring flowers, such as hyacinth and daffodil which traditionally decorate the holiday home, a new year begins.

So, this year, as various calendars converge to celebrate Spring, I offer this love letter to a global approach to the turning season. May we all appreciate the thawing of our previous experiences, leaving us a fertile platform for a fresh start.  May we clean our homes and welcome our families. And may we celebrate each other, where we’ve been, where we hope to go.

May we set our tables with the symbols of our chosen tradition. May we see our favorite memories in them. May we create new ones. And as in the Sephardic tradition, may we be sent on our way with a bit of broken bread (afikomen) to carry with us into whatever is next, for luck, remembrance, hope.

Eid eh shomah mobarak. Chag  same’ach. Happy Spring, everyone!

***

Josh explained to me the symbolism of each element on the Haft-Seen table, which, like in his restaurant, take advantage of local produce and are prepared with patience and care.

Sabzeh. Mung bean sprouts. Symbolizes rebirth.

Samanu. A pudding made of wheat germ. Pictured here is simply wheat germ, not pudding’d. Symbolizes affluence

Senjed. A fruit called oleaster. Not thought to be common here. But it actually is a common invasive plant species called the autumn olive (or autumn berry, or russian olive). I use it at the restaurant to make a sorbet, it has a flavor similar to cranberry, but a bit sweeter. It gets the name “autumn olive” from the shape of it’s leaves. One of our farmers in South Dartmouth forages it for us. Pictured here is the pickled fruit. Traditionally it would be dried fruit.

Sir. Garlic. Symbolizing medicine. Pictured is local garlic that we cured in house.

Sib. Apple. Symbolizing beauty and health. Locally grown Cortland apple.

Somaq. Sumac. Symbolizing sunrise. Traditionally the fresh fruit would be featured. But with the slow arrival of Spring, I could not collect any fresh sumac. The dried spice is pictured. I love sumac. A lot.

Serkeh. Vinegar. Symbolizing old age, and patience. Pictured is a chardonnay vinegar in which we preserved tulsi, the holy basil of India. We made this last fall (yay, patience).

There are a number of extras sometimes included at the Haft-Seen table. I include rose water. I carefully distilled this rose water from the petals of beach (wrinkled) roses that I collected over the summer on the beach in Wesport with Eva, of Eva’s Garden in South Dartmouth.

***

Sabzi Polo Mahi

Herbed rice with fish is a traditional meal eaten early in the Nowruz celebrations. In Persian cooking, the rice would be boiled briefly and then layered and steamed with herbs, aromatic vegetables, and spices. A skilled cook, using this method, ends up with perfectly cooked and flavored rice as well as a layer of crispy cooked rice from the bottom of the pot, called tadeek. Anyone who’s eaten a properly cooked paella will be familiar with the concept.

Without a Persian mentor to teach you the technique, I suggest cooking your rice using the risotto method, which allows you to control the flavor from the beginning, and also finish with a respectable tadeek. Use freshly ground spices if at all possible, you owe yourself that.

Persian Jews are largely Sephardic, so they eat rice over Passover. If you’re Askenazi (from Eastern Europe), you can replace the rice with quinoa. As a seed, quinoa is  a great substitution for those who need one, given we are celebrating seeds and new growth anyway.  Follow the simple cooking instructions for quinoa, but rather than cooking in plain water or broth,  flavor your cooking water to mimic the Sabzi Polo by bringing your cooking liquid to a boil with  garlic, cinnamon, and herbs and steeping it for an hour.

I’ve chosen to use a fish called hake for this recipe. It is a close cousin to cod, and usually readily available in a dedicated fish market. Hake is a popular choice among Sephardic Jewish cooks in Spain, wehre they would call it merluza. Traditionally this might be a whole fried fish. 

Serves 6.

For the rice:

- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

- 2 tablespoons butter

- kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

- 1/4 teaspoon ground fenugreek

- 2 cloves garlic, finely diced

- 1 cup spanish onion, finely diced

- 4 cups arborio rice

- 6 cups warm water, vegetable broth, or other cooking liquid

- 2 cups finely chopped herbs, use your favorites. dill, parsley, cilantro, chives, … as you please.

In a wide, shallow skillet with a heavy bottom, heat the oil and butter over medium high heat. Add the onion, garlic, spices, and about 2 teaspoons of salt. Cook this, gently, until vegetables are soft, but avoid any browning.

Add the rice and stir to coat, cook about 2 minutes.

Add liquid to cover and stir, continuously. As the water reduces, continue to add more until rice is fully cooked. Simple rule for when to add more liquid… when the liquid won’t immediately return to fill the space it has been stirred away from, it is time for more.  The rice will let you know when it is cooked, by sight and taste. This will take about 20 minutes.

Just before finishing the cooking. Turn the flame to high. Stir once, then resist the urge to stir again. You will smell rice toasting. Give it two minutes, quickly stir in the fresh herbs and adjust with salt and pepper if needed.  Then remove the rice on top and you’ll be left with tadeek below. Reverse them for serving, tadeek over the top!

For the fish:

- 6 5-oz portions of hake fillet

- 2 cups matzoh meal mixed with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

- olive oil for cooking

Heat a heavy bottomed pan, large enough to hold the fish without crowding, over medium high heat with the oil.

Coat the fish on both sides with the seasoned matzoh meal and add to the hot pan, cooking for about 3 minutes, then rotate 90 degrees and cook one more minute. Turn the fish and finish cooking on the second side, for 3 to 4 more minutes depending on thickness.

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A week and a half into daylight savings time and just a few hours before the first official day of spring, my balcony is blanketed with a fresh coating of snow, and the white stuff keeps coming down. Before we leave behind the hardy greens and show up at the farmers market each week to greet a new crop of, well, crops – pea shoots! morels! corn! zucchini! tomatoes! strawberries! blueberries! – I have one last kale recipe to share. You know, just in case the lamb part of March doesn’t arrive on schedule.

This kale story started last week. It was one of those evenings after work when I found myself  in the kitchen, hands on hips, peering listlessly into the fridge at a container of  baby kale, a bag of carrots, a few stalks of celery, and, oh yeah, a dwindling bowl of Meyer lemons. Resisting the gelato just inches away in the freezer, I turned on my heel and climbed on the couch, plucking a cookbook off a pile en route and balancing it on my cross-legged lap.

Canal House Cooks Every Day was the book. It had been floating around my apartment for a few weeks, from bed to coffee table to chair to said pile, spine-cracked but splatter-free. At first glance, the book is daunting. No picture on the front, no dust jacket, just a big red hardback with shiny gold and blue print. I could imagine mistaking it for a law text. Nestled among the gorgeous pictures, the recipes are written in big blocks of text that reminded me of one of my first cookbooks, Fannie Farmer, which, nostalgia aside, is not the most approachable of kitchen guides.

But, and there’s always a but, in this case a fortuitous but, on that particular evening last week, I brushed my fingers over the cloth-bound cover, soft and warm to the touch, and went straight to the recipe index. There was a single recipe under kale: Barlotti beans with sauteed baby kale, page 283.

The ingredient list was short. The instructions, once you skip the part about cooking your beans from dried, were short too.

kale and beans, dinner

Less than twenty minutes later, I sat down with my bowl of beans and greens and started the book from the beginning, no longer merely skimming recipe titles. I read about how the author duo, Melissa Hamilton and Christopher Hirscheimer, left their commutes behind for a kitchen atelier in which to start a business, independently launching a thrice-yearly seasonal food publication. In between cooking and photographing sessions, the two women prepare lunch and other treats which turned into this cookbook, a compendium of a year’s worth of recipes. It’s what they cook every day without being everyday cooking (hence the title).

Many of the recipes in the book are simple, some more suggestion than instruction. In a less-than-stellar review of the first of the team’s seasonal series, Nora Ephron wrote, ” The cookbook has very few recipes and although many look perfectly workable, there’s almost nothing in Canal House Cooking that’s singing, Cook Me, Cook Me.  Which is one of the things I look for when I first open a cookbook.”

I’ll admit, I had the same initial impression of  Hamilton and Hirscheimer’s Every Day. Luckily I dug a little deeper to discover a gem. I suspect this first recipe will send me back to Every Day once that first spring produce arrives.

Happy end of winter, all. And good riddance.

Kale and beans

Greens and beans (or baby kale and cannellini beans)

Hamilton and Hirscheimer use borlotti beans and prepare them from dried, but I like tender, thin-skinned cannellini beans and I had a can of them just waiting in my pantry. The only thing this dish could use is a crunch. I think next time I’ll add some toasted pine nuts. 

2 servings

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet (mine is 11-inches in diameter) over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add a chopped onion and saute until brown (you’re almost stir-frying here). Lower heat and add 2 garlic cloves, cut into thin slivers. Saute until the garlic softens, but don’t let it burn. Add to the pan 3 large handfuls of baby kale (if you’re the measuring type, this is about 3 packed cups) enough to fill the pan to overflowing. Let the kale wilt, stirring periodically, until all of the kale is a bright dark green. Meanwhile, drain a 15.5-ounce can of cannellini beans and rinse a few times with cold water. Add them to the skillet and stir until warmed through. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Zest and juice a lemon over the skillet.

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I realize that these scones might not look like much.

There’s no shiny glaze, no bright fruits dotting the surface, but scrolling past these unassuming little lumps of baked dough would be a mistake.

They’re the most breakfast-y of scones I’ve ever known. And though I’ve never tried hot oatmeal – there’s just something about the texture that turns me off – I imagine that anyone raised on the stuff will find a familiar cozy feeling with each nibble. The scones are grounded in a healthy dose of oats, nearly as much oat as flour, which gives them heft without density. They get their sweetness from maple syrup (it’s in season right now, so go out and grab a gallon of fresh grade B), so they taste and smell of nectar and nature. Toasted pecans lend a buttery crunch. And then there’s butter and cream to round it all out.

Also, they take just a few minutes to throw together. In the time it takes to pre-heat your oven (mind you, mine takes ten minutes), you’ll have toasted and chopped the pecans, rubbed butter into flour, whisked maple into cream, mixed wet ingredients into dry, and scooped up these unremarkable looking lumps of dough. But bake these little guys up, and you’ll believe me when I say they’re all that.

No bag of chips necessary.

oatmeal maple pecan scones

Oatmeal maple pecan scones

Adapted from Flour, but just barely. I skipped the raisins and glaze in the original recipe, and made much smaller scones which reduced the baking time from 40 minutes to 25. Make sure to toast the pecans – I scatter them on a cookie sheet and pop them in the oven while it’s heating up. As for the maple syrup, buy grade B which is darker and mapley-er than grade A. You can also freeze the unbaked scones: scoop out the dough, freeze them on a baking sheet, and wrap them well in plastic. Then bake them straight from the freezer, adding about 5 minutes to the baking time. 

Makes 2 dozen small scones

- 3/4 – 1 C pecans (I used halves, but feel free to use pre-chopped)

- 1 1/2 C flour

- 1 1/4 C old-fashioned rolled oats

- 1 1/2 t baking powder

- 1/4 t baking soda

- 1/4 t kosher salt

- 1/2 C cold unsalted butter

- 1/3 C cold heavy cream

- 1/2 C maple syrup

- 1 cold egg

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Toast. Scatter the pecans on a baking sheet and toast in the oven while it’s preheating. This should take less than 10 minutes – the pecans are done when they color slightly and you can smell their nuttiness. Once the pecans have cooled, chop them.

Mix. Using a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, mix together the flour, oats, baking powder, and baking soda on low-speed for 10 to 15 seconds, or until just combined. Cut the cold butter into small cubes and scatter into the bowl. Mix on low-speed for about 30 seconds on low-speed, or until the butter is somewhat broken down and grape-sized pieces are still visible. (Or just dig your hands in and rub the butter into the flour with your fingers).

Whisk. In a small bowl, whisk together the cream, maple syrup, and egg until thoroughly mixed.

Mix again. On low speed, pour the cream mixture into the flour-butter mixture and mix for 20-30 seconds or just until the dough comes together. It will be fairly wet and you will still be able to see some pieces of butter. Stir in the cooled chopped pecans.

Scoop. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Scoop dough – about 3 tablespoons per scone – onto the parchment. I used a tablespoon-sized scooper and mounded one heaping tablespoon on top of another heaping tablespoon. A regular tablespoon and a gentle nudge with your finger will work just fine here as well. At this point, I slipped half of the scooped dough onto a baking sheet and into the freezer, eventually packing them up in a few plastic bags.

oatmeal maple pecan scones, scooped and frozen, ready to be baked

Bake. Bake for 25 minutes, or until the scones are golden brown on top. If you’re taking the dough straight from the freezer, baking will take about 30 minutes.

Store. The scones are best on the day they’re baked. However, if you can’t eat every last one, wrap up the leftovers and freeze them. I love them straight from the freezer; otherwise they thaw in just a few minutes.

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like her mother

Today’s recipe is dedicated to Lilli Virginia. We met the other week when I brought over dinner for her newly-minted parents, salad for Molly and meat (a turkey variation on this) for Rich.

Lilly is a stunning baby girl with a strong showing of light hair, searching blue eyes, a rosebud mouth, and ten tiny fingers and ten tiny toes. Her cat Rooster seems to like her, though he does periodically get jealous and try to  commandeer her favorite chair.

Like her mother, she’s generous. Molly lent me a cookbook, and Lilli slipped her binky into my purse.

I can’t wait to watch Lilli grow.

bitter greens, butternut squash, beets with honey harissa dressing

Bitter greens salad with roasted vegetables, wheat berries, and honey harissa dressing

This recipe started with The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook‘s honey and harissa farro salad. At the end of the day, the only thing that I didn’t change around too much was the dressing, because Deb is, in my book, the queen of dressings. I replaced the farro with wheat berries, carrots and parsnips with butternut squash and beets. I skipped the mint and parsley and cheese. I added  handfuls of bitter greens. But that dressing, oh that dressing. It now has a permanent place in my fridge and I’ve thrown it on everything – a pile of greens, a fried egg, cauliflower – I’ve made all of these above.

This salad looks like a lot of work, but I tend to prepare most of the ingredients in advance so I can throw together a salad in just a few minutes. I roast beets and squash on Sunday evenings. I make more grains than I need for any particular recipe, and then freeze whatever is left over in sandwich bags. Then I defrost a bag containing a few handfuls or so, and throw into my salad. The photos contain wheat berries, but I used bulgur for Molly because it’s what I had around. 

Let’s talk a bit about grains for a bit. I‘ve provided directions for wheat berries below, though I’d suggest you follow the directions on the package of whatever grains you buy. There’s also the question of  pre-soaking. Some recipes recommend soaking the wheat berries overnight  in four times their volume of water. I’ve soaked and I’ve not soaked, and have had success both ways. I’ve also started using my pressure cooker which reduced the cooking time by about half. I’ve referenced this before, but it’s worth mentioning again – check out the “beyond rice” guide  from the January 2013 Cook’s Illustrated for more info on cooking grains.

Makes enough for 3 – 4

- 3 medium-sized beets (I used golden beets in the photos)

- 2 1/2 pounds butternut squash (~1 1/2 – 2 pounds peeled and seeded)

- 3-4 T olive oil, divided

- kosher salt and pepper

- 1/2 C uncooked or 1 1/2 C cooked wheat berries (or other grains)

-  5-6 handfuls of bitter greens: I used baby kale, arugula, and mizuna

 – honey harissa dressing (recipe below)

Prep. Preheat oven to 425ºF. Scrub beets and cut off any greens (save them to cook like chard later if you’d like). No need to peel the beets until after they’re roasted. Peel and seed the squash, and then cut it into bite-sized cubes.

Roast. Place the beets on aluminum foil, drizzle with about a tablespoon of olive oil. Wrap up the beets tightly. Line cookie sheet with aluminum foil and spread the squash in an even layer. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and a few grinds of pepper. Check the squash a few times to shake everything around. Remove the squash when it’s ready, about 45 minutes. The beets will take about an hour and a half  (or shorter/longer depending on size of the beets), so leave them in the oven until the tip of a knife pierces easily. I generally check them after an hour.

Simmer. While the vegetables are roasting, bring to a boil 2 cups water and then add the wheat berries and a pinch of salt. Lower the temperature and simmer uncovered

Peel. When the beets are cool enough to handle, don a pair of gloves (I get my doctor friends to give me surgical gloves, but dedicated dish- washing gloves are great) and peel the skin right off.

Slice. Slice the beets into cubes around the same size as the squash.

Tear. Tear the leaves into bite sized pieces.

Serve. Toss the leaves with the beets and squash and half the dressing. Add more dressing to taste.

Honey harissa dressing

Harissa is a spicy North African chili paste that you can find in Middle Eastern and kosher grocery stores. I highly recommend doubling or tripling this recipe and drizzling it over other vegetables later in the week. 

-  4 T olive oil

- 1 t harissa

- 2 t honey

- 1 lemon for  2 -3 T  juice

- 1/2 t cumin

- salt

Shake. Shake all the ingredients in a jar. Taste a green leaf dipped in the dressing and adjust as needed. I found that I needed to use at least a teaspoon of salt to counteract the honey. And if you like things spicy, add more harissa.

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