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Archive for the ‘legumes’ Category

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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oh là là

Let me set the scene for you.

Me. Hair blown straight, curled at the ends. Liner and mascara framing my eyes. Black and white knit jacket, zipper on a bias, edged in soft black leather. Black pencil skirt, black tights, black boots balanced on three-inch heels. Head to toe, ready to impress.

The room. One long table in front of the window, lined with wine glasses and bottles of red and bottles of white. Ten round tables, ten plates of macarons, ten seated men. The sound of French chatter. Lots of smiles. This is speed dating at the French Library.

I walk towards the empty chair, hand plunged into the depths of my purse, feeling for … for what? a pen? my phone? a beret? I don’t remember … for whatever I’m looking for. My fingers fumble over something they don’t recognize. It’s round and plastic and squishy. Eyes locked with my first “date,” I withdraw a totoche. Lilli‘s pink pacifier weighs awkwardly in my palm. I stare down at it. I stare up the man standing in front of me.

In my mind, I explain that last night I met my friends’ newborn daughter and, oh  là!, her binky must have fallen into my bag. Out loud I merely say, oh là ! and stuff the totoche back into my bag.

I tilt my head and brush back my hair and bat my lashes and shrug. He shakes my hand and says bon soir. We sit down.

That was my Valentine’s Day. How was yours?

bulgur and chickpea salad with parsley and mint

Bulgur and chickpea salad with parsley and mint

Here’s a salad that I made for lunch a few weeks back. It has nothing to do with this story, but I’ve been meaning to share it for a while. Inspired by a pile of small cucumbers and a bouquet of herbs, I found this tabouli-inspired recipe. I added the extra step of peeling the chickpeas. This takes about 5 minutes per can and, while some might find it tedious, I find it soothing to fall into a rhythm while letting my mind wander

Makes 4 lunches

- 1 C medium or coarse bulgur (I used coarse)

- 2 C water

- 2 15-ounce can chick peas

- 25-30 sprigs fresh parsley (1/2 C finely chopped)

- 15 sprigs fresh mint (1/4 C finely chopped)

- 3 small (Persian) or 3/4 large (English) cucumbers

- 3 scallions

- 1/4 C fresh lemon juice

- 1/3 C extra virgin olive oil

- 1/2 t cumin

- salt and pepper

Simmer. For coarse bulgur: Bring the water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add the bulgur and salt to taste, reduce the heat, cover and simmer 20 minutes or until the water is absorbed. Remove from the heat, and allow to sit undisturbed for 10 minutes. For medium bulgur: Place the bulgur in a bowl with 1/2 teaspoon salt and pour on 2 cups hot or boiling water. Allow to sit for 20 to 25 minutes, until most of the water is absorbed. Drain and squeeze out the water.

Peel. Rinse and drain the chick peas and then peel them. Grasp each chickpea between your thumb and forefinger, apply a little bit of pressure, and the outer transparent skin will slip right off. Each can took me about 5 minutes.

Chop. Finely chop the parsley and mint. Cut the cucumber into approximately 1/2-inch cubes. Slice the scallions into thin rounds up until the point where the green turns dark.

Shake. Shake in a jar (or whisk in a bowl) lemon juice and olive oil with cumin. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Toss.  Mix the bulgur, chickpeas, herbs, and scallions in a bowl. Toss with half the salad dressing, adding more to taste. The salad is even better the next day.

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Last night as the wind whistled outside my window and the city prepared for Sandy to blow through, I flopped into bed and flipped open Tamar Adler‘s book which I’ve been slowly devouring. The bookmark was stuck between pages 198 and 199. The book opened to Chapter 17, fittingly called “How to Weather a Storm.” (Fair warning: this post might read like a dissertation with its quotes galore, but the passages I cite are too good, their sentiment too true, for any clumsy paraphrasing. I hope you’ll understand.)

Right up front in the introduction to her book, Adler explains that she modeled An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace after MFK Fisher’s How to Cook a Wolf. She describes her inspiration as “a book about cooking defiantly, amid the mess of war and the pains of bare pantries.” There’s no war around here, but there is a mess outside. The pantry may not be bare, at least not in my kitchen, but there’s nothing like a hurricane to make  you think about what might happen if  you have to subsist on whatever you have on hand with little hope of rapid replenishment.

Reading Adler’s chapter on eating out of cans in the face of little, I was reminded of my favorite chapter in Luisa Weiss‘s first book, My Berlin Kitchen, another recent bedtime companion. The chapter is called “Depression Stew” and the way I read it, it’s about the loneliness of Paris. I couldn’t help but relate to Luisa’s story (we met a few weeks ago, so I think it’s OK for us to be on a first name basis) of living in Paris and wanting to be an insider, wanting to have someone to share the city with. She writes, “I went to classes by day and walked the streets alone in the evening, sometimes ducking into one of the city’s myriad one-room movie theaters tucked away in small side streets to escape the increasing seclusion I felt.”  I too spent time in Paris, often alone, often lonely. One summer, I too took (dance) classes and wandered the streets on my own.  And while I did go on a few dates with a guy, when it was quickly clear that there was no future for us, he said, “I’ll never forget you as the girl who was lost in Paris.”

Reading Luisa contemplate the “Depression Stew” she made in her barely-wingspan Parisian kitchen felt familiar to me. Luisa had learned to make Depression Stew from her father who liked to think of it as “the kind of food  you’d eat during a financial depression, cheap and filling and healthy.” When she made it that year in Paris, she felt  that the stew could also serve as “a remedy for more personal lows.” Even though I preferred to eat out with a book that summer rather than cooking anything in the similarly tiny kitchen of my one-room rented Left Bank apartment, I knew what she was talking about.

When I first bookmarked Luisa’s stew, I thought I’d make it when I was feeling a bit blue and I’d write about being lost in Paris. But after reading Adler’s Chapter 17 last night and watching reports of the strengthening storm and its havoc this morning, it seemed more fitting to write about the stew’s humble beginnings.

I imagine Adler would approve heartily of Depression Stew. She recommends that you “get out a pot and a pan, and decide that no matter how hard the wind is whipping at the windows, you will be well fed through the storm.” She talks a lot about canned tomatoes and canned beans. The latter she says need a good long simmer in olive oil to “become really likable.” Even better if you cook them up with onion and garlic. And that’s where Luisa’s stew begins. And then Luisa fills out the aromatics with whatever is in the fridge – carrot, potato, zucchini – and a can of tomatoes. Luckily I had everything I needed for Depression Stew. A couple of carrots that were a bit droopy, a handful of potatoes a bit soft, half a baguette a bit stale — food that might otherwise be headed for the garbage had this stew not saved them.

I’m weathering hurricane Sandy just fine so far. Thanks, ladies, for keeping me company. I’m very lucky.

PS – a quick thank you to What’s Cookin for sharing my blog with their readers

Hurricane Stew

This is one of those clean-out-the-fridge-and-pantry recipes. Use whatever vegetables you have on hand, just make sure to add the harder ones (e.g., carrots, parsnips) early and the more delicate ones (e.g., potatoes, zucchini) later. If you have a bit of stale (or fresh) baguette on hand, cut it into thin slices and make garlic toasts to float on top of the stew. If you have lemon and parsley lying around, a quick squeeze and a sprinkle really brightens up the dish. 

Serves 2-3

- 3 T olive oil, and more for drizzling

- 1 medium yellow onion

- 4 cloves garlic, divided

- 2 carrots

- 5-6  baby Dutch yellow potatoes (or 1-2 large potatoes; any thin-skinned potatoes will do)

- 1 28-oz can peeled plum tomatoes

- salt

- red pepper flakes/crushed red pepper

- 1 15.5-oz can Roman beans (also called cranberry beans and barlotti beans)

- stale baguette

- lemon

- parsley

Heat. Heat the olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat.

Dice. While the oil is heating, dice the onion and mince three cloves of garlic.

Cook. Add the onion and garlic and cook,  stirring every once in a while, for about five minutes until the onion is soft and translucent. If the onion starts to brown, turn down the heat.

Dice again and keep cooking. While the onion is cooking, dice the carrots and potatoes. Add them to the pan and keep cooking for another five minutes or so. Continue to stir every once in a while.

Squish and keep cooking. This is the really fun part. Pour the tomatoes in a large bowl and squish the tomatoes  between your fingers, squeezing to break them up into small pieces. If there are any cores that feel rough, throw them out.  Add the tomatoes, salt to taste, and a shake or two of red pepper flakes to the pot. Continue to cook for another five minutes. And continue to stir periodically.

Drain and keep cooking. Drain the beans and rinse in cold water several times. Add them to the pot, stir gently, and bring the whole thing to a simmer. Turn the heat to low and keep the stew at a slow simmer for about 30 minutes. Cover the pot and add extra water if the stew gets too thick.

Toast. Slice the stale baguette – you’ll want two pieces per person. Cut the last garlic clove in half and rub the cut edge on the baguette slices. Then drizzle or brush each slice with olive oil. Pop the baguette slices on a piece of aluminum foil and into a toaster (or regular) oven set to 350ºF. Toast for a few minutes on each side until the baguette starts to brown.

Serve. Squeeze lemon juice over the stew right before serving. Spoon into a bowl, sprinkle with minced parsley, and float a couple of pieces of toast  on top.

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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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the weekend end

As I send this post out into the world, I’m sure most of you are getting ready for the weekend. I like to think that if weekend were a Jewish holiday, Thursday night would be “erev weekend” – the night before the weekend begins and the time to start celebrating.

But, I’m not here to talk about the beginning of the weekend or Friday night dinner. Today, we’re talking about the end of the weekend ritual. The Sunday search through the fridge, quick look on the web, consultation with a towering stack of cookbooks followed by a flurry of knives and cutting boards and pots and pans.

Soup is almost always on the agenda these days as the temperature drops below freezing and I am oh so thankful that I have an indoor parking garage.

For the past two weeks, the weekend end ritual fell on a Monday. A Monday! Twice in a row!

Last Monday, I came home to an empty fridge after hours and hours of flying back from Vienna. A quick trip to the store with an idea or two in mind, and a beautiful parsnip parsley soup emerged (thanks Jess).

This Monday was the end of another particularly joyously long weekend. After waking up late,  I settled on my sofa with a steaming cup of coffee, some toast spread with cheese that tastes better than butter, a pile of cookbooks, and my laptop.

The rummaging turned up a few pounds of  butternut squash, already cleaned and peeled and begging to be used. On the door of the fridge, a bouquet of cilantro in a glass of water. In a mason jar, preserved lemons that I made a few weeks ago, awaiting their debut. In the freezer, broth made last month from a couple of roasted chickens.

The flipping through pages, both virtual and real, turned up a hearty squash soup with a kick (you know how I like a kick).

The hearty would come from beans.

The kick from Middle Eastern spice.

Deciding to hibernate for the day, I made everything the slow, (almost) no shortcuts, from scratch way. I soaked and boiled and cooked and roasted and processed and blended.

The soup warmed the apartment and filled it with the scent of delicious.

Happy erev weekend!

Butternut squash and cannellini soup with chermoula

This soup is a mesh of a few difference recipes I found. The idea for using cannellini beans came from Bon Appetit. The spice mixture is based on Maroud Lahlou‘s red chermoula (Moroccan spice paste)and Yotam Ottolenghi‘s ultimate winter couscous.

This soup is a whole day affair, at least the way I made it with dried beans, oven-roasted squash, and chermoula.  But don’t be daunted. There are a few shortcuts you can take that should give you a very good soup in around an hour tops. First, use canned beans – you’ll just need to saute the onion and garlic in the soup pot before adding the rest of the ingredients. Second, don’t roast the squash. Third, skip the chermoula spice paste and just add half the amount of each of the spices directly to the soup with the squash.  

I use preserved lemons here. You can buy them jarred or make them from scratch. To make then from scratch, quarter lemons (regular or meyers) and layer them in a jar with tons of salt. Make sure the lemons are really tightly packed and have enough juice and salt to completely fill the jar. Let the jar sit in a cabinet for about a week and then transfer to the fridge for three weeks. Every few days, flip the jar upside down to mix everything around. Once the lemon rinds soften, they’re ready to use. When you want to add them to something, discard the pulp and only use the peel.

For the beans:

- 1 1/2 C dried cannellini beans or 4 C canned cannellini beans

- 1 bay leaf

- 1 onion

- 4 garlic cloves

- kosher salt

For the chermoula spice paste:

- 1/2 of a preserved lemon (~2 T chopped rind)

- 4 cloves garlic (~2 t chopped)

- 1 T cumin

- 2 t sweet paprika

- 1/2 t hot paprika

- 1/4 t cinnamon

- small bunch fresh cilantro (~2 T chopped)

- 2 T harissa

- 6 T crushed tomatoes

For the soup:

- 2 large butternut squashes (about 3 – 4 pounds total)

- olive oil

- 2 T cumin

- kosher salt

- 4 C chicken or vegetable broth

Make the beans. I used Michael Ruhlman’s instructions as a guideline.

Boil and soak. Pick through the dried  beans and remove any rocks or discolored beans. Bring to a  boil 3 parts cold water with 1 part dried beans (so, 4.5 C water, 1.5 C beans) and the bay leaf. Boil for 10 minutes and then turn off heat. Soak for an hour. Remove bay leaf, drain beans, rinse out pot, and add back the beans.

Simmer. Rough chop one onion, sliver 4 cloves of garlic, and add them to the beans. Fill the pot one inch over the beans with cold water (for this amount of beans, I used 6 cups of water). Simmer for 1 – 2 more  hours. When you can smell the beans and they’re almost tender enough (after 1.5 hour in my case), generously salt. By generously I mean a good palmful or two. The water should taste as salty as the ocean (similar to pasta water). Continue to cook until tender – you should be able to bite into them with almost no resistance. If the beans start to get mushy, it’s not a big deal because you’ll be pureeing the soup soon anyway.

Drain. Drain the cooked beans and onion and then add them back to the pot.

Make the chermoula.

Prep. Remove the preserved lemon peel from the flesh (slide your finger under the peel and the flesh should pop out pretty easily. Chop the lemon peel finely. Chop garlic.

Process. Put all the spices, cilantro, harissa, and tomatoes into a food processor (a mini one will do just fine). Pulse until everything comes together into a bright red paste.  Add salt to taste.

Make the soup.

Prep. Preheat oven to 450°F. Peel, seed, and chop squash into evenly sized chunks — the bigger the cubes, the longer they will take to roast; I typically cut into 3/4 – 1 inch chunks.

Roast. Cover cookie sheet with parchment. Spread squash out in single layer, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with cumin and salt, and shake around in the pan. Roast for 15-20 minutes, shaking the pan mid-way through to make sure the squash cooks evenly. The squash is ready when it’s nicely browned and yields easily with a fork.

Simmer. Add squash to the pot with the beans in it. Add half the chermoula or spices now and mix everything together. Pour in 4 C broth and simmer for 15-20 minutes until the broth (without any squash or beans) has a nice flavor.

Puree. Use an immersion blender to puree the soup.

Serve. Garnish with a nice scoop of chermoula, some cilantro, and a few very thin slivers of preserved lemons.

Or … make it the easy way.

Saute. In a large pot, heat the  olive oil until it glistens. Saute garlic and onion.

Add. Add half the amount of each ingredient in the chermoula spice paste directly to the pan and mix with the garlic and onion.

Add more. Add beans (drained and rinsed) and cubed butternut squash.

One more addition. Pour in broth.

Simmer. Bring the soup to a boil and then drop down to a simmer until the squash is tender.

Blend. Whir the soup with an immersion blender until smooth.

Eat. Garnish with a few sprigs of cilantro and dig in.

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but first

Today was stocks and soups day in my cooking class. There will be much more on that later, but first, a quick post and recipe.

Last night was closet cleaning out time.

Actually, it’s always closet cleaning out time at my place. This time, the cleaning extended to the fridge and pantry. I used up 4 cans of black beans, a can of crushed tomatoes, a bunch of onions and garlic, and some labne from the fridge.

Voilà – soup.

Black bean soup with cumin labne

The inspiration for this soup came from Smitten Kitchen’s own black bean soup with toasted cumin crema. I ditched the peppers, used canned beans instead of dried, added tomatoes, and substituted labne for the crème fraîche. My soup is thinner and more  brown in color (due to the tomatoes).

- olive oil

- 2 onions

- 3T chopped garlic (3-4 cloves)

- 1 T chopped chipotle pepper in adobo sauce (this was about a single chipotle pepper plus adobo sauce)

- 1 T (or more) cumin

- 1 C crushed canned tomatoes

- 4 15.5 oz cans black beans (I used Goya)

- 5-6 C water

- lime juice

- labne (thick middle eastern yogurt – similar to sour cream)

Prep. Chop onions and garlic. Finely chop chipotle. Drain beans and sprinkle with some baking soda (helps make them more digestible).

Cook. Saute onion in oil until brown, about 8-10 mins. Add garlic, chipotle (and all that adobo sauce), and spices. Cook over low-medium heat for another 5 minutes. Add tomatoes and water. Simmer about 15 minutes. Rinse the baking soda off the black beans, and dump them into the soup. After another 10 minutes, whizz with an immersion blender and add salt and lime juice to taste.

Top. Thin labne with some warm water and mix with cumin. Add a dollop of labne to the soup and sprinkle a little cumin on top.

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I failed my first test today.

Not the first one in my life, of course. Just the first one of my cooking techniques course.

Today was knife skills. After waking up at 8 am (on a Sunday!) and fortifying myself for the drive through the first inches of snow on the ground (in October!) with a strong cup of coffee and over easy egg on toast, I sat myself down on a little chair with a little arm desk attached. I felt like I was back in high school.

Sitting in these little chairs, we learned the anatomy of a knife from tang to tip. How to hold a chef’s knife. How to sharpen a knife. How to test the sharpness of a knife by slicing right through a piece of paper.

We learned knife etiquette. Keep knives sharp. Always cut away from yourself. Never hand a knife to another chef; place it on the table and let him pick it up himself. Walk with your knife pointed downward. “A falling knife has no handle; do not attempt to catch it.” Clean and dry your knives as quickly as possible. Never put your knives in a dishwasher. Keep knives sharp.

We chose our knives and made our way over to a large stainless steel table set with a pile of vegetables at each of a dozen stations. We wrapped an apron around our waists and tucked a towel in the ties. I positioned myself in front of the stove and salamander to keep warm. We set our cutting boards down on a cloth so they wouldn’t move, placed a dough scraper under the right side of the board.

We practiced holding our knives: choke up on the bolster, just in front of the handle. We practiced our “claw” hand – curling our left fingers under and our thumbs in to hold our vegetables without slicing off a finger.

And then we set to work. We cried our way through a fine chop of an onion. We minced garlic and turned it into a paste with the tip of our knives.

We made batonnets from potatoes – just a fancy name for cutting them into french fry shapes. Then we diced cubes of all sizes. We medium diced zucchini (1/2 inch all around). We seeded peppers and tomatoes and cut them into a small dice (1/4 inch). We julienned carrots and bruniosed – cut them into teeny tiny cubes (officially 1/8 inch). I quickly learned that uniformity will be my struggle.

Next we sliced. Carrots into rondelles (coins), half moons and quarter moons. Celery into diagonal/bias cuts. Fennel shaved as thin as possible (mandoline optional).

Herbs followed. A few quick chifonnades of parsley and we had a nice fine chop without bruithsing the leaves and losing the flavors onto the board. Tiny slices of chives – as thin as possible. Rosemary chopped super fine. Get the picture with herbs? Teeny teeny tiny.

We also suprêmed oranges. I ate mine.

Finally we got cooking. Vegetables into some olive oil with canned tomatoes. Pasta into a huge pot of boiling salted water, and then into the vegetables. Parsley, chives, and garlic paste into melted butter, then butter brushed onto a split baguette and tucked into the oven. Potatoes soaking in water dried off and dropped into hot oil. And then tossed with parmesan and rosemary.

And then we dined.

When I got home, I tested my knives. I held up in front of me a piece of paper between two fingers. I held my favorite knife above the edge of the  paper and slowly lowered it, waiting for the swift swoosh of a nice long cut. Instead, barely a crinkle. The paper buckled under the weight of the knife, crunched a bit, and remained intact. I honed the knife and tried again. Crunch. Second knife. Crunch. Third. Crunch. Fourth. Crunch.

Oy.

But after failure, success.

Using some of my new techniques and holding my (dull) knife correctly for once, I rough chopped many of the same ingredients from the morning into a stew for the week.

Moroccan beef and chickpea tagine.

I’m working on one pot meals. This is my first. And it’s good enough for company. Especially in front of a fireplace.

A tagine is a north African stew made in a dish called a tagine with a tight-fitting, pointy domed top. It is traditionally served over couscous. The inspiration for this recipe comes from my friend Sarah at FoodBridge (she actually made couscous from scratch!) and Deb at Smitten Kitchen and I used what I could find in my fridge. Butternut squash would be a great addition. When I made this, I made two versions – one with meat and one veggie. For the veggie version, I added extra chickpeas and made the stew in pretty much the exact same way. My friend Ilana told me that her Moroccan friends use really large chunks – whole carrots, potatoes and zucchini cut in half – and each person cuts off a few pieces of what they want. I’m going to try that next time.

If  you don’t want to use canned chick peas, you’ll need prepare dried chickpeas a day in advance. Sort through the dried chickpeas to remove any black ones or little stones. Soak them in at least three times the amount of water overnight (~10-12 hours) with a large pinch of baking soda. Rinse them off the next day and pour into at least double the amount of boiling water. Reduce to a simmer and cover for about 1.5  hours until tender but not falling apart. Drain and add to stew.

- 2-3 pounds of stew meat

- olive oil

- spices to taste (I like a lot of spice, and have provided approximate measurements):

- cumin (1-2 T)

- cinnamon (1/2 – 1 T)

- nutmeg (pinch)

- dried coriander (1/2 – 1T)

- turmeric (1/4 t)

- ginger powder (1/2 t)

- several saffron strands seeped 5 minutes in hot water)

- 8-10 C water

- 1 large onion

- 3-4 large carrots (or 2 large handfuls of baby carrots)

- 3-4  celery stalks

- 3-4 thin-skinned potatoes

- 2 large zucchini

- 3-4 C chickpeas

- salt and pepper

Braise. Heat enough olive oil to cover the bottom of a large heavy pan (I used a large 6 3/4 quart cocotte) until it glistens. Cut meat into smaller pieces (3/4 to 1-inch cubes) and brown with half the spices. Add the water and bring to a boil. Scrape up the good bits stuck to the bottom of the pan. Turn down the heat and simmer, covered, for 30-40 minutes until the meat starts to get tender.

Prep the vegetables. Rough chop onions into large pieces. Cut baby carrots in half or peel and cut carrots into 1-inch pieces. Cut celery into 1-inch pieces. Scrub the potatoes and dice into 1-inch cubes. Cut zucchini into large half moons.

Simmer. When meat is tender, add harder vegetables – onions, carrots, potatoes – and the rest of the spices, salt, and pepper. Simmer, covered, for another 30-40 minutes until vegetables are tender. Add zucchini and simmer for another 20 minutes. Add chickpeas in the last 10 minutes.

Serve. Pour meat, vegetables, and broth over couscous (or Israeli couscous, sometimes called p’titim in Hebrew or acini de pepe in Italian)

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Egyptian takeout

I started a new job a little over a month ago, and with less time for cooking, I have been relegated to picking up soup almost every day from Milk Street Cafe, conveniently located across the street from my office. At first it was a treat, buying lunch every day, but as I’m adapting to my job, enough is enough. I like to know what’s in my food and I like my way of spicing things. And I like spice!

My lunch requirements are pretty simple. Warm (especially these days). Filling. A good mix of protein and carbs. But not too heavy to leave me sleepy.

This weekend, I finally recreated the koshary that I tried in Egypt about 2 months ago, and have found it to be a perfect pack-up-and-go lunch of comfort. This makes sense because koshary is a very inexpensive, ubiquitous, vegetarian street food. To get authentic koshary, I asked my tour guide to take me to one of the hole-in-the-wall koshary establishments. She suggested that the driver pick some up for me while I was at the Egypt museum, but I insisted on going to pick it up myself. Little did my tour guide know that I was hoping to ask for the recipe.

After the museum, I hopped back into the tour bus and reminded my tour guide that I wanted to get koshary. “Are you sure you really want to get it yourself?” she asked. Again. I tried to explain that I like cooking and wanted to take pictures as the driver left the main highway and turned onto narrower and narrower streets lined with parked cars and pedestrians. Eventually the driver pulled over onto the sidewalk and the tour guide walked me past the takeout window and into the restaurant.

The tour guide led me into the small restaurant lined wall-to-wall with customers. We joined the line in front of the register and I paid 5 Egyptian pounds (less than a dollar) for my lunch. I took my ticket about 6 feet over to the right to the cooking and serving station and picked up my lunch. I then asked the tour guide to help me inquire about the recipe. But she just wanted to get out and continue on our tour. So, I settled for a few pictures and left without my recipe. We were in and out in less than 5 minutes.

We hustled back to the bus and I settled down to eat my lunch.

The bus lurched to a start as I opened up the packages. The larger one contained pasta (a slightly bizarre mix of short spaghetti, a lentil and tomato sauce (with a few chickpeas thrown in), and covered with fried onions. The smaller one  tasted like white vinegar with salt and pepper.

About 20 minutes later, and almost at the bottom of my koshary, we arrived at the pyramids at Giza.

Koshary-esque

This recipe is my attempt to recreate the koshary that I tried. Its not necessarily authentic but it tastes great. My adaptation eliminates chickpeas and fried onions tossed on top. But I  could not neglect the splash of vinegar at the end. This is great served fresh or packed up for lunch the next day. You do need to plan this recipe a bit in advance as the lentils need to be soaked for 8 hours before cooking.

- 1 C French (de Puy) lentils, uncooked

- 2-3 T olive oil

- 2 medium onions

- 2 T cumin

- 1 T coriander

- 1-2 t cayenne pepper

- 2 t sumac

- 1 28-oz can chopped tomatoes

- short noodles, e.g., broken angel hair, macaroni, or ditalini

- white vinegar

Prepare lentils. Soak lentils 8-hours or overnight in more than enough water to cover. The water will turn a reddish brown. Drain and rinse, and then bring to a boil in a large pot of water. Reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Even though de Puy lentils are less likely than brown lentils to become mushy, you still don’t want to overcook.

Make sauce. Chop onions and saute in olive oil. Add spices and continue to cook until fragrant. Add tomatoes and simmer for 15 minutes, adding lentils after the first 5 minutes.

Boil. Make pasta according to the package directions.

Assemble dish. Fill bowl halfway with pasta and top with the same amount of lentil sauce. Toss on a splash of vinegar.

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As Winter so dutifully introduced itself to us here in the Northeast the day before the solstice with almost a foot of real snow in Boston (as opposed to the sprinkling earlier in the month), last week I found myself with a small surplus of Autumn fruit that I felt the need to use up. Persimmons and pomegranates nearing the end of their season beckoned to be used up before they perished. A potluck lunch for which I had committed to make a vegetarian protein main dish (what, no meat???) proved the perfect excuse.

Quinoa was to be the instrument, and if you may recall, I like mine well-dressed. Challenged to find a dressing that would incorporate the fruit without being sweet, I lucked upon a fabulous recipe that fit all my requirements and allowed me to test out some roasted walnut oil that I recently bought (wait until I tell you about the avocado oil I’ve been throwing on all my salads for weeks…)

Fall Quinoa

Adapted from a recipe in the Seattle Times and serves 12-14 as a side dish. (Sorry folks, I just can’t think of quinoa as a main dish.)

- 2 C quinoa – I used a mix of red and white quinoa

- 4 C water

- 1 can (16.5 oz) chickpeas

- 2-3 persimmons (should be firm)

- 1 pomegranate

- 5 green onions

- 1/2 cup walnut pieces

- 1 T pomegranate concentrate

- 1 t Dijon mustard

- 1/4 C tablespoons red wine vinegar

- 1/3 C walnut oil (or olive oil)

- Kosher salt, to taste

- Freshly ground pepper, to taste

Prepare quinoa. Put  2 C quinoa, 1 tsp salt, and 4 C water  in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover pan and cook for 13 to 15 minutes, until water is absorbed. Fluff with fork. Turn off the heat and let the quinoa sit covered until it has cooled completely. Or just follow directions given with your quinoa (including whether it needs to be pre-rinsed).

Roast walnuts. Roast walnuts in a dry skillet over low heat until fragrant (<10 minutes) — watch carefully to prevent from burning.

Prepare remaining ingredients. Peel and dice persimmons. Remove seeds from pomegranate. Thinly slice the green onions.

Make dressing. Mix together pomegranate concentrate, mustard, and vinegar. Slowly whisk in the walnut oil. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Throw it all together. Once quinoa is cool, add chick peas (rinsed), walnuts, persimmons, pomegranate seeds, and green onion (reserving a few for garnish). Lightly toss with 1/2 dressing, adding more to taste.

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pomegranate chicken kabobs cooling, ready to pack up

I’m still a little bit confused by New England weather. I mean, I lived here a few years ago when I went to The College (how’s that for subtle?), so I was ready for a long Winter. I was even prepared for the little peek of early Spring followed by a couple more snow storms. But I keep trying to figure out Summer, and I want to compare it to places that I am familiar with. I thought perhaps summer might be a little bit like LA’s “June Gloom”. Or San Francisco where the fog rolls out every morning. But I think it’s just unique with its own, er, charm. I’ve decided that it’s just predictably unpredictable.

All I know is that when I pulled together a last-minute potluck picnic last weekend to celebrate my friend Marina’s coming to town and fully anticipated that it would be held on my living room floor, I awoke last Saturday morning after a week of drizzle to a gorgeous sunshiny day. I even cleaned up my place anticipating a toddler’s grabby hands (or at least took care of the things that reached about waist-level for me).

So my friends and I were blessed with a beautiful day, an outdoor picnic, a bounty of food, and of course a fun afternoon with each other (and I got a relatively mess-free home…at least up to toddler-eye-view).

Here’s the menu, and like I did for my last dinner party, I’ll try to fill out the recipes as I go along.

the prettiest Challah I’ve ever made thanks to a new braiding technique

Guacamole (below)

Corn Edamame Salad (below)

Mayo-free Egg Salad (below)

Quinoa-Mango Salad with Lime-Cumin Vinaigrette (made with Spinach)

Pomegranate Chicken Kabobs (below)

Simple Chocolate Cake

Contributions from friends (feel free to send recipes or include in comments): Green Salad, Wine, Fruit Salad, Halva

Here are the salads that I made.

1) Guacamole

I normally add tomatoes to my guac, but I didn’t have any this week. However, I did have a jalepeno so this one came out nice and spicy.

Mash together flesh of 2 avocados, 1/2 finely diced jalapeno = ~1t (seeds removed – and don’t attempt to put on your contact lenses after dicing like I did!), 1T grated onion (optional), 2-3 generous pinches salt, and 2-3 T lime juice. You can also add some cayenne pepper or cumin.

2) Corn Edamame Salad with Pink Salt

This is a very easy salad that I threw together with things I had in my fridge, freezer, and pantry, adjusting and tasting as I went along. This made about 4-5 C salad and there was about 1/2 C remaining for me to take a picture of the next day (but my pic came out blurry).

Roast 3 ears of corn in oven as directed a few weeks ago. Cut kernels off of cob.

corn cut off the cob

Cook 1 bag (10 oz) frozen shelled edamame — I microwaved in a bowl with 3T water and a pinch of salt for 1-2 minutes. Drain water.

Mix corn with cooked drained edamame and add some quartered baby tomatoes (15-20).

corn edamame tomatoes

Dress with  rice vinegar (2-3T), toasted sesame oil (2T) and a pinch of salt. Serve with Hawaiian pink sea salt. I bought this pink sea salt at Target (I can’t seem to find it on their website any more) and its ingredients are sea salt and Hawaiian Alaea. A quick online search revealed that alaea refers to a harvested Hawaiian reddish clay that contains iron oxide; alaea salt is traditionally used in ceremonies to cleanse, purify and bless tools and canoes and imparts security on the item being blessed, and in healing rituals for medicinal purposes.

Hawaiian Pink Sea Salt

3) The Baking Architect‘s Egg Salad with Mushrooms

Ellie, aka, The Baking Architect, serves this no-mayo egg salad before many of her lunches. She forwarded me this recipe guide in the middle of a busy Friday to help me prepare for my picnic when I realized I had no mayo and was already boiling my eggs. I have put in my own measurements, but you can obviously adapt for whatever sized crowd you have.

Boil 8 eggs. The fail-proof method I learned for perfect boiled eggs is as follows: Prick a hole in the end of each egg with a clean pin. Place eggs in pot and cover with cold water. Bring water to a boil and then reduce heat to simmer for 10 minutes. Drain out hot water and refill with cold water to stop cooking. Shake eggs around in pot to crack eggs. Shells will come off easily when cool, and yolks will be creamy.

Sautée sliced mushrooms (I sliced about 10 cremini mushrooms) with 1 diced onion and a pinch of salt and some garlic powder — or minced fresh garlic (1-2 t) — in plenty of olive oil (3T).

Allow eggs to cool and then dice the eggs in two directions on an egg slicer. Add the mushroom-onion sautée and mix well. Serve cold or at room temperature.

~~~

And now for the chicken:

4) Pomegranate Chicken Kabobs

Since this was a last-minute picnic, I tried to avoid doing a major shopping trip and used as much food as I had in my kitchen as possible. I remembered that I had a fair amount of dressing left over from that salad with beets and ruby red grapefruit that I made for my dinner party the prior week and figured it might make a good chicken marinade. It did and this chicken would also  be great thrown atop the salad if you decided to make the two dishes together. This is a really easy dish to make on a grill, grill pan, or my old stand-by, the George Foreman.

Make pomegranate marinade (see original post for more detail): Whisk together 1/3 – 1/2 C pomegranate juice, ~1T sugar, 6T orange-flavored olive oil, and salt, and taste. Adjust seasoning as necessary.

Cut 4-6 boneless skinless chicken breasts into bite-sized chunks. Soak in marinade in fridge for at least 2 hours.

Thread onto bamboo skewers (I put 4 chunks per skewer and made a dozen skewers, putting a beet on the end of each) and grill a few minutes on each side until fully cooked.

Pomegranate chicken kabobs on the "grill"

I let the kabobs cool a bit before packing them up in an rinsed out salad container for easy transport the next day (I was still hoping for nice weather, and my wish was granted).

These kabobs were a favorite of Mo’s — Jamie and Brad’s toddler — as he wandered around the mini Japanese zen park down the street from my place, navigating the huge “upside-down wok” and fake grass (that we were happy to discover does not seem to retain rain water from previous nights).  They were also a hit with Lola, Dani’s puppy, who kept sniffing at our licked-clean skewers after gobbling up the one chunk that slipped through Mo’s fingers.

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