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Archive for the ‘spread’ Category

the burn of sun

I woke up this morning well before my alarm. I forgot to close my curtains last night and the sun, as it rises over the city, pokes around the neighboring building and eventually finds my face. I thought about burrowing under the covers to hide, but instead I just let the sun shine bright, my eyes squinting in protest.

I’ve been leaving a notebook by my bed for morning pages, so I shimmy to a sitting position, pulling an extra pillow behind my back, and reach for my pen. The window is open and the fan is on, my hair blowing before I tie it back into a knot. My phone is already pre-set with a twelve-minute timer. Ready? Start.

I write about how overcast it’s been and how nice it is to feel the burn of sun on my skin again. I shift on the mattress and angle myself so that my face hides in the shade of one of the narrow window panes. The shadow of my pen, tall like a skyscraper, drags across the paper, its point meets my script with the beginning of each word. I work out the exact angle to hold the notebook, the pen so that the shadow lifts and creeps back on to the page. I write really small and the shadow stays nearly still, a silent ventriloquist. Then, with a sweeping gesture, the shadow flies across the paper.

These are the shadows I avoid in photos, I write, but I think this morning that it might be fun to use them.

hot silane on feta toast, in the shadows

Breakfast was feta on rye toast with silan, also known as date honey. Less cloying than the bee-made stuff but with a similar viscosity, silan is a commonly-used sweetener in Israel and I’ve been playing around with it of late. A few weeks ago, a bunch of us from the restaurant did a pizza crawl that started at Rubirosa in Little Italy and ended in Brooklyn at Paulie Gee’s where I tried hot honey for the first time. A few days after I got back from Italy, I decided to try my hand at making my own version of this sticky spicy mess.

The impetus was laundry avoidance, an upcoming barbecue, and a large bag of tiny dried peppers. I had picked up the peperoncino piccante intero at a grocery story in an effort to use up my last few euro coins before heading to the Palermo airport. Given how small the peppers were, ranging in size from a half- to a full inch, I figured they’d be mighty spicy. But a tablespoon scooped into a pot of simmering silan barely registered as heat on my tongue. So I kept adding and tasting, adding and tasting, until I landed on a sweet mixture with a slow tingling burn that builds in the back of your mouth.

I’ve mostly been eating it as you can see in the photos, drizzled on salty cheese. I’ll be bringing some to Meira‘s this weekend and I imagine it’ll end up getting splashed into a drink or two, perhaps with some lime and gin.

Here are a few more photos, out of the shadows this time.

hot silan

hot silan

Spicy silan

I reviewed a few recipes (here, here, here, and here) and came up with some tips for making my own hot honey. Here’s what I’ve learned:

Temperature. You want to get the silan/honey hot enough that the peppers will infuse their heat without burning the sugars. Several recipes using actual honey recommend keeping the temperature under 150°F to maintain the health benefits of raw honey, so I pulled out my candy thermometer to see what was going on. Since i’m not concerned about honey as a healing food and I was using silan anyway, I ignored the 150-mark and focused more on making sure that it didn’t exceed the boiling point of water (212°F) at which point evaporation would begin (resulting in a change in the consistency – I didn’t want to make candy) and above which the sugars themselves would eventually burn (starting at about 230°F). Essentially, if the mix starts to bubble and froth, turn the heat down. If you’ve got a candy thermometer, try to keep the temperature around a safe180-200°F. 

Spiciness. The commercial hot honeys i’ve tried are really hot. Really hot. I believe they use fresh chili peppers and may add vinegar. Mine is more of a medium hot.  I’ve tried this recipe with both silan and honey, with small whole dried peppers and with pepper flakes. As I’m sure you know, the smaller the pepper, the spicier, so use your judgment. Start with 1 or 2 teaspoons pepper, especially if you’re using flakes and taste as you go. 

Tasting. After each addition, let the peppers simmer in the honey for 10 minutes before tasting. To taste, drip a little honey onto a plate and let it cool down for at least 30 seconds before tasting. You do not want to put nearly boiling sugar anywhere near your body.

Makes 1 1/2 cups

– 1 1/2 C silan (or honey)

– 3-4 T dried red chili peppers or 1-2 T crushed red pepper

Heat. Bring silan and 1 tablespoon peppers to a simmer (180 – 200°F) in a medium-sized pot. After 15 minutes, taste for spiciness (see note). Add more pepper and continue simmering until you reach the heat level you want.

Filter. Allow the silan to cool for at least 5 minutes. Pour the cooled silan through a fine-mesh strainer into a clean jar.

Store. Store at room temperature.

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nibbles and bubbles

So, about that little birthday shindig.

Muhammara

It was a totally last minute thing. I sent out an email to a whole bunch of friends and bought several bottles of bubbly – prosecco, franciacorta, and champagne – from the restaurant the day before my birthday. I spent the morning of the big day scrambling to get everything together.

I gathered a selection of cheese and then paired each one – aged cheddar with pear slices, brie with spicy schug, and manchego with tart cherry and apricot jam. I’m partial to the thin crackers these days, particularly those from Waterwheel34º, and Finn Crisp.

And then, to keep things healthy, I sliced some peppers and pulled apart a bunch of endive leaves for dipping.

As far as the dips, I made two.

The first is muhammara, If you haven’t yet met, let me get you properly acquainted. Muhamarra is a Syrian red pepper spread, thickened with walnuts and bread crumbs. It’s tangy with pomegranate molasses and has a smoky heat that builds bite by bite. I add a little silan – date honey – for sweetness. It’s one of those throw-everything-in-the-food-processor-and-push-a-button recipes. It’s a nice alternative to hummus

And speaking of hummus, twenty minutes before my guests were slated to arrive, I decided I didn’t have enough food, so I rinsed out my food processor and threw together a quick batch.

It was nice having an open house rather than a full-out dinner. People popped in for some nibbles and a glass (or two) of bubbles; some stayed, others rushed home to relieve babysitters, and friends from different parts of my life had a chance to meet.

Even after making a care package for my sister to take home, I had enough leftover muhammara for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I spread it on toast and topped it with egg. I slathered it on a baguette with grilled chicken breast. I tossed it with pasta. And once I exhausted my supply, I made a batch to bring to the restaurant to share with my team. So, Cat, this recipe is for you, but please bring back my bowl!

Muhammara

This recipe is adapted from Claudia Roden‘s The Book of Jewish Food, Gourmet, and Sweet Amandine. I like my muhammara smooth and the consistency of hummus, but I typically see it more coarsely ground. Depending on the consistency that you’d like, you can thicken with extra walnuts and breadcrumbs or thin with olive oil. Bear in mind that the muhammara will thicken in the refrigerator and as the breadcrumbs absorb liquid. 

Muhammara is not the prettiest of spreads, so I like to swirl it into a bowl with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of pomegranate arils and parsley.

Makes 2 1/2 cups

– 1 16-oz roasted peppers in jar, drained

– 1 1/2 C walnuts, toasted

– 1/2 C panko breadcrumbs

– 3 T pomegranate molasses

– 2 T lemon juice

– 2 t silan (date honey) or honey

– 1 1/2 t cumin

– 1/2 t cayenne

– 1/2 t sweet paprika

– 3 cloves garlic, minced

– 1/2 t salt (to taste)

– 2 – 4 T olive oil

– chopped parsley and pomegranate arils for garnish

Mix. In a food processor, blend together the peppers, walnuts, breadcrumbs, pomegranate molasses, lemon juice, silan, spices, garlic, and salt until smooth. With the motor running, pour in 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a steady stream until creamy. Tweak the consistency – if too thick, add more oil; if too thin, add more nuts and/or breadcrumbs.

Serve. Garnish with olive oil, pomegranate arils, and parsley.

Store. Muhammara keeps in the refrigerator for 3-4 days and it freezes beautifully.

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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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I’ve been back from vacation in Panama for several days and have just resigned myself to admitting that I will be backdating my blog posts for a while because I like having a chronological record of what I’ve been up to, but I can’t resist posting the new things that I’ve been cooking or experiencing. So, it’s cheating a little bit, but I’m admitting it outright…and I’m being fully transparent.

It’s my blog and I’ll backdate if I want to!

Ok, needless apology over, let’s move on.

Spicy carrot tortellini with lemon cumin sauce

One of my favorite foodbloggers is Sarah over at FoodBridge. When I joined FoodBuzz a few months ago, she was one of the first “friends” I made and we have developed a consistent dialogue over our blogs and Twitter despite the physical distance that separates us. I’m always inspired by the food she makes, the history she collects about dishes and ingredients and her friends and neighbors, and her daily adventures in the markets, beaches, and nature in one of my favorite countries and its surroundings (and the recipes she discovers from friends made along the way). And her judo-attired son bakes cookies and cleans up!

I have been thinking about the Moroccan Carrot Ravioli with Lemon Zest and Harissa that Sarah made a few weeks ago, and last night was the night to finally make this dish. The main food I had in my kitchen was a bunch of CSA greenery (parsley, cukes, scallions) that would lend themselves nicely to a big Israeli-style salad when added to a few tomatoes and olives, garlic scapes (ooh, I can’t wait to make Dorie Greenspan’s scape pesto), and a pound of carrots (but no onions which I would have needed if I wanted to make a soup).

I also dug around and found some schug in the fridge (which I often substitute for harissa in a pinch because the commercially available schug in the US is very similar and made with red chili peppers though the authentic Yemenite version is made from hot green peppers and cilantro) and a package of wonton wrappers in the freezer. Given that my pasta maker is at my parents’ house and is too heavy to reasonably ship (yes, when I was in 6th grade and we had to prepare a meal for our families and write it up to learn how to give clear directions, I, the annoying over-achiever, managed to prepare steak, homemade pasta, and chocolate chip pound cake in comparison to classmates’ PB&J sandwiches…), the wonton wrappers would have to do. As a lazy and hungry foodie, I use wrappers all the time.

Now, Sarah incorporated her spicy harissa into her pasta dough, but I couldn’t since I was using wontons, so I decided to make a spicier filling, pilfered from Ana Sortun’s Oleana restaurant. If you live in Cambridge, Boston, or within a 100 mile radius, a visit to Sortun’s restaurant or cafe is de rigueur — check out what my friend and fellow blogger, Jess wrote about Oleana and Sofra over at Sweet Amandine.

Spicy Carrot Tortellini with Lemon Cumin Sauce

spicy carrot tortellini with lemon cumin sauce


The overall recipe and sauce are inspired  by Sarah Melamed’s Moroccan Carrot Ravioli with Lemon Zest and Harissa. The filling is just barely modified from Ana Sortun’s Spicy Carrot Puree in “Spice: Flavors of the Eastern Mediterranean,” as quoted in Julia Moskin’s NYT article entitled, THE CHEF: ANA SORTUN; Spices by the Handful, Not by the Pinch” (June 14, 2006). The filling is easy to make and most of the time is spent away from the kitchen as the carrots cook or letting the flavors co-mingle. Plus everything is made in one pot! Wonton wrappers when boiled allow the bright orange filling to shine through and the sweet-spicy mix picks up the acidity in the fresh squeeze of lemon in the sauce/dressing. This sauce was inspired by the lemon zest that Sarah put in her filling.

For the filling: (Note: I halved Chef Sortun’s recipe because I only had 1 pound of carrots)

This filling can also serve as a spread and makes 4 to 6 servings, or~1.5 C

– 1 pound carrots, peeled and cut into large pieces
– 3 T extra virgin olive oil, more to taste
– 1 T white wine vinegar
– 2 t schug or harissa (hot pepper sauce available at Middle Eastern and specialty markets; original recipe calls for harissa but I only had schug in my fridge; the brand I used is Sabra)
– 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
– 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
– Salt and pepper to taste

(NOTE: These directions were pretty perfect, so I kept them pretty much as is…)

Boil carrots until very tender, about 20 minutes. Drain and return to pan, tossing over medium heat until dry. Coarsely mash with potato masher or fork.

mashed carrots

Stir in remaining ingredients and set aside for 30 minutes to let flavors blend. Season, transfer to bowl, drizzle with more olive oil and serve with crusty bread, if desired. Or, use as tortellini or other pasta filling.

Sortun's spicy carrot puree

For the tortellini:

Wonton wrappers (the brand I used is Nasoya)
Bowl of water

Once you get the hang of it, making the tortellini by hand is pretty quick and easy.You want to keep the wrappers from drying out so that they won’t crack, so only peel them from the stack one at a time and keep the rest in the packaging or under a barely moist paper towel.

Hold a wrapper in your hand and spoon ~ 1 heaping t of filling into center. Dip your index finger of the other hand into the bowl of water and moisten two edges of the wrapper.

filled and ready to fold

Fold wrapper in half diagonally, sealing the wet edges into a triange…

make a triangle

… and then bring the two long corners together opposite of the other corner, sealing with another dab of water to form a tortellini.

tortelllini formed

Repeat with the remaining wrappers (I made 10 for myself).

tortellinis and filling

Carefully drop tortellinis into salted boiling water, lower heat, and simmer for ~ 5 minutes.

Prepare sauce:

This is enough sauce for 1 serving – modify as appropriate. I’m not sure if it’s technically called a sauce if it’s not cooked … perhaps this is just a dressing.

Juice of 1/2 lemon (~1-2 T)
1-2 T excellent extra virgin olive oil
a few pinches cumin (~1/4 t?)
salt and pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients and pour over warm pasta.

I served the pasta with a simple salad of red leaf topped with hummus, za’atar, extra virgin, salt and pepper, and whatever lemon juice was left over from the lemon half that didn’t go into the sauce.

dinner

If you want to make your own harissa, check out Sarah’s recipe.

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Music seems to be inspiring a fair amount of my cooking these days. No big surprise since I like to consider myself a dancer.

One of the most amazing groups to come out of Israel over the past few years is the Idan Raichel Project.  My Frenchie friend Lau did it once again — she introduced me to this collaborative a couple years ago and I find them utterly inspiring and a taste of the beauty of Israel.

– Raichel’s start in the army rock band – such a common career starter for many Israelis where compulsory conscription is a way of life

– His rare ability to bring together the different musical styles that have coalesced upon Israel, mixing and matching instruments and languages without the cacophony that sometimes exists in real life

– The sheer variety of his work, from mystic notes that seem to emanate from Tzfat to prayer and verses that might be heard at the Kotel (Western Wall) in Jerusalem to reggae or electronica that could hold its own in a club in Tel Aviv to ballads that are universal anywhere in the world

For Israel’s 60th anniversary, Raichel was interviewed for the “My Hatikva”  project and speaks about his hope (“hatikva,” also the name of Israel’s national anthem) for Israel as a melting pot and land of immigrants while still maintaining tolerance for different cultural and religious identities.

The official video on the “My Hatikva” website is at http://www.myhatikva.com/MultiMedia.aspx?MI=68

When I learned that the Idan Raichel Project would be performing here in Boston, I booked my ticket and organized a group of friends to come with me immediately. I was just that excited (I don’t normally plan very far in advance!). And the concert last week did not disappoint.

The music performed was a mix of their prior two albums and their newest one that has a bit more of a global feel but is still distinctly Israeli. Despite the Project being named after him, Raichel seemed content to sit off to stage right, playing his keyboard most of the time and leaving most of the stage work to the three vocalists who not only sang but swayed, rocked, and even jumped to the music – not to entertain an audience, but because they really seemed to enjoy their work.

Musicians were also given a chance to shine — for example, the percussionist responsible for the water sounds in the following clip, Mei Nahar (“River Waters”), performed a several minute long solo on a few wooden bowls filled with water. The audience, judging by the silence that allowed us to hear (miked) water drops and rhythms played on the surface of water, was enraptured.

The  namesake song of Raichel’s third album, Mima’amakim – “Out of the Depths,” starts with what I have come to learn is a typical traditional Ethiopian melody (“Nah no nah no na’ay…”) that is emblematic of his earlier work and leads into a haunting song in Hebrew.

The concert last week and songs like this inspired  me to make a lentil dish that can go either Ethiopian or Yemenite depending on which spice mixture is used — berbere (which can be approximated with red chile powder and onions in a pinch) or cumin, respectively.

“Salata Idan” – East African Fusion Lentil Dip, the Yemenite Version

Salata Idan

Adapted from Gil Marks’ Olive Trees and Honey. In celebration of Idan Raichel’s artistry, bringing together the diversity of Israel’s people, and sharing our rich and varied culture with the world.

Makes about 3 cups. Best served at room temperature; flavor improves after ingredients mingle for a day or two.

– 1 C brown or green lentils, picked over and rinsed (use plain lentils; save the fancy French de Puy lentils for when you want to make a salad (like the Ethiopian version below) of soup since these keep their shape nicely and do not break down as easily)

– 4 C water

– 1 bay leaf

– ½ t dried thyme

For dressing:

– ½ C tehina – I use Joyva, which is a pure puree of sesame seeds, many others contain chickpeas and other ingredients, so they are closer to tehina spreads

– ½ C lemon juice (2 lemons) + zest of 1 lemon (why not!)

– 1 C of fresh green herbs — my preference is a mix of cilantro and mint, but you can also use parsley

– 1 t kosher salt

– Scant ½ t ground black pepper

– 1 clove garlic (can substitute 1t garlic powder or 1t garlic salt and reduce regular salt if you don’t have fresh garlic)

– 1 t ground cumin

– 1/4 C extra-virgin olive oil

In large saucepan, combine lentils, water, bay leaf and thyme. Bring to boil, cover, and reduce heat to medium low; simmer until tender but not mushy, ~ 25 minutes.

Cooked lentils

Remove bay leaf, drain (if any water remains, especially if using de Puy lentils) and put in large bowl.
Add all ingredients to lentils and use mortar and pestle, potato masher, or (my personal favorite) immersion blender to smush the combined salad into a paste.

lentils and dressing

no need to make the dressing in a separate bowl...I just did it for illustrative purposes

Serve at room temperature with pita or fresh vegetable crudité. I made some toasted lavash crisps lightly sprayed with olive oil and sprinkled with garlic salt.

"salata Idan"

funny...it looks almost exactly like the dressing alone

To make the Ethiopian version: This is more of a lentil salad, so de Puy lentils will work better. Saute one onion and 1-2 seeded and minced jalepeño or other hot peppers in vegetable oil and add to lentils. Adjust dressing as follows – omit tehina and reduce lemon juice to 2 T.

***

And I’ll just leave you with one more video — a trailer of Tomer Heymann‘s documentary, Black Over White, about the Idan Raichel project concert tour to Ethiopia with a short exerpt of the song Milim Yafot Me’eleh (Words More Beautiful than These).

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cannellini bean spread with sun-dried tomato and basil

cannellini bean spread with sun-dried tomato and basil

Cannellini beans must be one of the worlds perfect foods  – their soft creamy texture barely encumbered by a thin shell, the outside barely distinguished from inside. A very close relative of the kidney bean, but more delicate. They are great warmed or cold with only a slight give when you bite it. Plus they have pretty good nutritional value, providing 15 g protein, 11 g fiber, and over 20% of the USRDA of iron and magnesium in a cup.

I’ve always been a canned bean fan for ease of preparation, but I recently decided to try reconstituting dried cannellini beans when I was making soup the other night. I did my research — how long to soak the beans in advance? How long to cook them? I found a few good online resources here (info on all beans, but cooking instructions are for pressure cooker), here, and here. Consensus seemed to be that cannellini beans need at least 4 hours soaking and then about 45 minutes to an hour to cook on the stovetop. My friend Julie, aka Yulinka, always adds baking soda to her beans to aid in digestion, so you can add this to the soaking liquid.

I soaked the little white beans no larger than pebbles for their allotted four hours and then some. Fretted when the wrinkled skin expanded faster than their insides so they looked like opaque white raisins. Breathed a sigh of relief when the insides caught up and the beans had tripled in size and started to look like the canned variety after about 2-3 hours. Tasted the post-soaked, pre-cooked version just to check the texture — yup, they definitely still need to be coooked. And then 45 minutes on the stove in 3X as much water and a few pinches of salt. Watched them like a hawk. 45 minutes came and went. Not ready yet. 1 hour, almost there. Step away for a moment. Beans split, thin skins separated from creamy centers. Disaster.

cannellini beans

Luckily I had a can of white beans to throw into the soup and refrigerated this tasty but ugly mess for another day and a little inspiration to hit.

This came soon enough when, even though I have already professed a distaste for sun-dried tomatoes, I decided to embrace my attempts at reconstituting dried foods and hope for the best. Worst case scenario, if I pureed everything together, it probably couldn’t be so bad.

The resulting white bean spread got the nod of approval from my downstairs neighbor/foodie cook and ardent recipe follower, Bruce and his always ready with a tasting spoon wife, Judy.

Italian-esque White Bean Spread

I have no idea whether this is remotely Italian, but cannellini beans are often used in Italian cooking and the classic tomato-basil combination evokes a caprese salad (sans mozzerella). Instead of reconstituting the dried tomatoes, you can use sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil and use the olive oil from the jar (if you have enough) which should be infused with that tomato taste. The cayenne gives the spread a kick at the back of the tongue that intensifies the longer the ingredients have to mesh.

Makes ~ 1.5 C and keeps for about a week refrigerated

1/2 C dry cannellini beans, reconstituted in 1.5 C water (~1C) or 1 can (15.5 oz)

5 sun-dried tomatoes (dried)

3T extra virgin olive oil, separated

zest and juice of 1 lemon (~1 1/2 T)

1/2 t cayenne pepper

2 T fresh basil (I used basil that I had frozen the last time I cut down my basil plant), or 2 t dried; can probably substitute other Italian herb to taste such as oregano or thyme

1-2 t kosher salt (to taste)

1/2 – 1 t freshly ground pepper (to taste)

Prepare cannellini beans. Rinse and sort beans (remove any stones and debris) and then soak at room temperature for at least 4 hour or overnight. Don’t worry if they get wrinkled initially – eventually the beans will expand to fill their  skins. Simmer beans in fresh water to cover for ~1  hour (or more) with a few pinches kosher salt. Don’t worry if they split because you’re going to puree them anyway! OR – use one can of beans, rinsed and drained.

Prepare sun-dried tomatoes. Option 1 (quick method) – microwave 5 tomatoes in 2T olive oil for 3-4 minutes in 1-minute increments (handle carefully because oil will be hot). This will quickly infuse the oil with the intense tomato flavor. Allow to cool to room temperature and then cut tomatoes into thin slivers — I found kitchen shears easier to use than a knife. Option 2 – soak tomatoes in boiled water for 15 minutes (don’t over soak), drain, cut into slivers, and either soak in olive oil, or use as is.

sun-dried tomatoes, reconstituted using Option 1; note infused olive oil

sun-dried tomatoes, reconstituted using Option 1; note infused olive oil

Add tomatoes and infused oil to beans in a large bowl. Zest lemon over bowl and then add its juice. Add cayenne, salt and pepper to taste, and herbs, ideally basil. Use immersion blender to puree and add additional olive oil to attain desired consistency.

Serve with baguette or pita.

white bean dip

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