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Archive for May, 2016

full on

Get out the basket, because it’s picnic weather. My windows are thrown open and all the fans I own are whipping around the grass-scented fresh air to the tune of the roaring lawnmowers outside. I’m resisting the urge to turn on the air conditioning just yet. While there’s nothing more boring than discussing the weather, this year’s been a weird one, with an unseasonably warm winter, an unseasonably cold spring, and now, full on sticky summer. Luckily, the garbage lining the streets hasn’t yet started to stink. Ahhhh, life in New York City. No wonder it clears out once the temperature rises. And I have a few escapes planned myself, thanks to a couple of friends with pools in the ‘burbs and an upcoming trip to Iceland (!!). Tomorrow, I plan to pick up a few stalks of rhubarb at the green market and bring them out to one of said friends with a pool and bake us something sweet (this? this? or perhaps a variation on this?).

Anyway, I want to pass along a quick recipe for the hibiscus drink that I made a few weeks ago (spiked with alcohol) and have not been able to stop drinking (sans alcohol) as the mercury’s inched up. It’s an agua fresca (“fresh water”), traditionally a mix of fruit, flowers, or seeds with water and a little sugar served in Central America. I had my first sips of the fruity variety a few years back in Panama – one morning papaya, another morning watermelon – and since them have tended to make floral versions, almost like a lightly sweetened herbal iced tea, which more properly would be called a tisane or infusion.

I buy the flowers in tea bag form for ease and laziness, but you can always use dried flowers if you prefer and strain them out after steeping. No recipe is needed for these: 2-4 tea bags per quart of hot water (depending on how strong you want your tea), steep for a long time, add some sugar (or agave) to taste, and chill. Lavender works great (4 bags) and I love to drink a relaxing glass before bed. Also fresh mint, which is obviously not a flower. Next up: elder flower because I love St-Germaine.

My agua de jamaica, i.e., hibiscus drink, has a few more ingredients than flower + water + sugar. I like to add lime juice and blueberries – after a few hours, those berries are reminiscent of the fruit at the bottom of the sangria jug. You can also cold brew or add ginger and cinnamon.

Happy summering, all!

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Hibiscus agua fresca

This recipe is incredibly easy, but you do need to prepare it far enough in advance to let the drink cool. When I made this for a crowd (6 quarts!), I boiled the flowers in a large pot and then stuck the whole thing in the freezer because my guest were arriving in less than 2 hours. Then I added the blueberries and poured it over glasses full of ice.

Hibiscus is pretty potent, so you don’t need to use too many tea bags. If you want your drink more of a spritzer, seep the tea bags in just 1 cup of water, pour the concentrate into a glass and fill with seltzer. You can also spike your drink with vodka, tequila, or gin.

Makes 1 quart

– 3 1/2 C water

– 2 hibiscus herbal tea bags

– 1-2 T sugar

– 1 lime for juice (1 1/2 – 2 T)

– 1/2 C rinsed blueberries

Steep. Boil water and pour it over the tea bags and sugar in a pitcher that can withstand the heat (or use a pot). Let steep for 30 minutes. Remove bags.

Juice. Squeeze the lime into the infusion and taste for sweetness, adding more if necessary.

Chill. Allow the mix to come to room temperature and then put it into the fridge (or freezer) until very cold.

Serve. Once cold, add blueberries (the berries might get mushy if you put them in the infusion hot) and serve.

 

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On Sunday, I watched the documentary film In Search of Israeli Cuisine as part of a celebration of Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s independence day. Afterwards, a friend and I followed our grumbling stomachs to a nearby Israeli restaurant for an early dinner. (And, of course, dessert.) If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know that I have a lot of wonderful things to say about Michael Solomonov, the film’s guide through the country and its restaurant and home kitchens.

Unable to get the food porn out of my head, I made a late lunch today inspired by sabich, an Iraqi sandwich often sold in Israel alongside falafel and schwarma. It’s a pita stuffed with fried eggplant, hard boiled eggs, chopped vegetables, hummus, and tehina, all drizzled with amba, a pickled mango sauce seasoned with turmeric and fenugreek.

Before we go any further, there’s some fun etymology to discuss – and you know how I like my etymology. First off, sabich. There are a few theories about the origins of the name of this sandwich introduced to Israel by Iraqi Jews who fled anti-Semitic violence in the 1040s and 50s. It may be a variation on sabah which means morning in Arabic and refers to the fact that Iraqi Jews eat cold eggplant and eggs and the mezze on shabbat morning. Or perhaps it’s a Hebrew acronym for the main ingredients – salat (salad), beitzim (eggs), chatzilim (eggplant). Or even the first name of an enterprising gentleman who opened a sabich stand soon after immigrating. As for the word amba, it is Sanskrit for mango and the ingredient is thought to be a version of mango chutney brought back from India by Baghdadi Jewish merchants.

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For my sandwich, I used what I had in the house. A hunk of rye. A small eggplant that I sliced and broiled. A few hard-boiled eggs that I guillotined with my newest gadget. Some tehina that I picked up at Seed + Mill. (Have you been yet? No? Well, what are you waiting for? Unless you don’t like fresh tehina, funky flavors of halva, and goat milk soft serve.) And a jar of amba. I ate it open faced and call it a tartine because I’m fancy like that.

For more history on sabich, read what Saveur published a few years back. For a more authentic recipe, see what Yotam Ottolenghi has to say on the topic. And if you live in New York and just want to eat, head over to Taim (kosher).

Sabich tartine

Not really a recipe, here are some guidelines to make a simplified sabich-style open-faced sandwich.

In my experience, sabich always makes a mess – probably because it’s usually served in over-stuffed pita – but a particularly damning one since amba stains whatever it drips on. Though a bit precious, I ate one of my tartines with knife and fork. The second one I folded in half, wrapped in several paper towels, and ate on the run as I rushed to pilates class. Classy, I know. You can also roll the ingredients into a tortilla. To make this Iraqi sandwich more traditional, chop up some tomato and cucumber salad salad, slice a  few pickles, and stuff everything into a pita with hummus. 

Makes 2 open-faced sandwiches

Turn on your broiler.

Put 2 eggs in a pot of cold water, bring to a boil, and then remove from heat, cover, and let sit for 10 minutes to cook (or just hard-cook them however you’d like). Run the eggs under cold water until cool enough to touch and remove shells. Thinly slice.

While the eggs are cooking, slice a small eggplant (mine was a petite 5-inch American/Italian variety) into ~1/4-inch rounds. Arrange the eggplant on a parchment-lined baking sheet, and brush each side with 1-2 tablespoons olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Broil for 3-8 minutes (depends how close your pan is to the broiler) until starting to brown, and then flip and broil for another 3-8 minutes.

Mix 1/4 cup tehina with about 2 tablespoons cold water. It will seize up and thicken – that’s OK for now. Squeeze in half a lemon (about 2 tablespoons juice) and keep mixing. Stir in more cold water, teaspoon by teaspoon, until you reach the consistency you want. I wanted more of a spread (as opposed to a sauce), so I used about 3 tablespoons of water total.

Spread tehina on two slices of rye bread (I like Balthazar’s rye boule). Layer the eggs and eggplant. Drizzle with amba (I found mine at Holyland Market on Saint Mark’s Place).

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