Monday, September 21, 2015

Tomato Emergency

Everybody is drowning in a tsunami of tomatoes right now and asking me what to do to get out from under all that luscious fruit.
Well, here are a few ideas. The Provencal fresh tomato soup is a recipe I got from a housewife 45 years ago and it's still everybody's favorite. The senior citizens group I worked with to process their garden bounty loved it.  Also Ottolenghi's cherry tomato soup is a preview from his yet as unreleased cookbook.  So to the tomato!

Marcella Hazan’s basic Italian tomato sauce

2 cups tomatoes, with their juices (this is just under 2 lbs)
5 tbsp butter
1 onion, peeled and cut in half

Combine the tomatoes, their juices, the butter and the onion halves in a saucepan. Add a pinch or two of salt. Place over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Cook, uncovered, for about 45 minutes. Stir occasionally, mashing any large pieces of tomato with a spoon. Add salt as needed. Discard the onion before tossing the sauce with pasta. This recipe makes enough sauce for a pound of pasta.

Yotam Ottolenghi’s cherry tomato spaghetti sauce
3 tbsp olive oil
2 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced very thinly
2 ½ lbs cherry tomatoes, cut in half
½ tsp sugar (or a bit more or less, depending on the tomatoes’ sweetness)
optionally:2 dried ancho chillies, roughly torn
6 lg basil leaves, torn, plus 2 extra, finely chopped just before serving, to garnish

Put the oil in a large sauté pan on a medium-high heat. Once hot, add the garlic and fry for up to a minute, stirring a few times, until it’s just starting to caramelize. Add the tomatoes (be gentle, or the oil may spit), sugar, chilies and half a teaspoon of salt. Add 1 cup water and stir through for four minutes, until the tomatoes are starting to break down and the liquid is bubbling. Turn down the heat to medium-low and cook for an hour, stirring every once in a while, until the tomatoes have completely broken down and the sauce has thickened. Stir through the torn basil and keep
somewhere warm.

Nepali Tomato Achar (Sauce, Dip, Chutney)
1 lb. approx. ripe tomatoes, cored
3 dried arbol chilies or 1 fresh Serrano or Thai chili
2 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
1/2” piece of fresh ginger, peeled and minced OR ¼ tsp ground ginger
½ tsp ground turmeric
2 tbsp freshly chopped cilantro leaves
¼ tsp salt

Roast tomatoes at 375º for 15-18 minutes until they are ready to burst.  Cool, and remove skin if the tomatoes are large. Meanwhile, quickly sear the dried chilies in a small nonstick frying pan or skillet—heat the pan, put them in and cook one minute over high heat, shaking the pan.This adds roasted flavor to the achar. In a blender or food processor, combine all ingredients and puree into a thick, dipping sauce. Serve with scrambled eggs, dumplings, corncakes, grits, grilled vegetables, just about everything. It beats ketchup.

Another Shakshuka recipe

½ tsp cumin seeds
7/8 c olive or vegetable oil
2 lge onions, peeled and sliced
2 red and 2 yellow peppers, cored and cut into thin strips
4 tsp muscovado/turbinado sugar
2 bay leaves
6 sprigs thyme, picked and chopped
2 tbsp flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1 bunch fresh cilantro, chopped
6 ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped
½ tsp saffron strands
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper
Up to 1 c water
8 free-range eggs

In a large saucepan, dry-roast the cumin on high heat for two minutes. Add the oil and sauté the onions for two minutes. Add the peppers, sugar, bay leaves, thyme, parsley and two tbsp cilantro, and cook on high heat to get a nice color. Add tomatoes, saffron, cayenne, salt and pepper. Cook on low heat for 15 minutes, adding enough water to keep it the consistency of a pasta sauce. Taste and adjust the seasoning. It should be potent and flavorful. You can prepare this part in advance.

Place four saucepans on medium heat and divide the mixture between them. Break two eggs into each pan, pouring into gaps in the mixture. Sprinkle with salt, cover and cook very gently for 10-12 minutes, until the egg just sets. Sprinkle with cilantro and serve with pita.

Tomato Pie

Serves 6-8

For the pie dough:

1 stick unsalted butter, cut into 6-8 pieces

1¼ cup unbleached flour

pinch of salt

1/8 tsp vinegar

1 egg

Heat oven to 350º. Butter an 8-9” pie plate.

Combine butter, flour and salt in a food processor or mixer just until the butter breaks up and the contents look like coarse meal.  Add the vinegar and egg and process only until the dough comes together.

Use your hands to quickly congeal the dough into fat pancake. Don’t let it get warm. Now you can either press the dough into the buttered pie plate or you can roll it out on waxed or parchment paper and flip it in. Cover the crust with waxed or parchment paper and put something ovenproof and weighty (pie weights, of course, if you have them) into the pie.  Bake the crust for 15 minutes so it starts to crisp.  Remove from the oven.

For the pie filling:

6 sprigs flat leaf parsley, leaves only

1 tsp pine nuts

2 tbsp breadcrumbs

¼ tsp cracked or ground black pepper

pinch of red pepper flakes

pinch of salt

1 tbsp dried thyme leaves (heaping)

1 medium onion, red or white, diced

1 tsp dried oregano leaves

3 large tomatoes, cored and cut into chunks

1 1/2 cup grated mozzarella cheese

½-2/3 cup grated Parmesan or Asiago cheese

¾ cup mayonnaise

1 tsp olive oil

In a small food processor, combine the parsley, pine nuts, breadcrumbs and spices. Process to make something close to a loose paste.

Cover the bottom of the crusted pie plate with the onions. Sprinkle them with oregano.  Cover the onions with the half the tomatoes, distributing them evenly.

Spread the parsley paste across the top and cover with the remaining tomatoes.

Combine the cheeses and mayonnaise in a small bowl. Spread this across the top of the pie.  Drizzle olive oil on the cheese.

Bake at 350º about 35-45 minutes until the cheese is browned, the tomatoes are bubbling and the crust is crisp.  Serve warm.

Gazpacho (Cold Spanish Tomato Soup)

serves 4-6

1½ lbs tomatoes                       2 medium cucumbers

1 green pepper, seeded           ¼ cup wine vinegar

1 medium onion, peeled          ¼ tsp dried tarragon leaves

1 cup tomato juice                   2 garlic cloves, peeled

Pinch of salt

Combine all ingredients in a blender or processor and process until nearly smooth with a few small chunks remaining for texture. Chill. Serve in bowls or glasses, garnished with bite-sized garlic croutons or chopped scallion and/or chopped cilantro.

Mexican Pico de Gallo, aka fresh salsa

Makes about 2½ cups

1 ¼ lb fresh tomatoes cored and chopped to fit into the food processor

1 sm red onion, coarsely chopped

1 serrano pepper, seeded and halved

juice of a lime

salt to your taste

¼ c cilantro leaves

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and carefully chop so you still detect pieces of tomato. Do not purée.

Roasted Tomato Salsa

1½ lb fresh tomatoes or cherry tomatoes

1 onion, peeled and quartered

1 Serrano pepper, seeded

1 clove garlic

juice of a lime

salt to your taste

1/4c chopped cilantro leaves

Put the tomatoes, onion, pepper and garlic on a cookie sheet lined with parchment and roast them at 425º until soft and starting to brown.

Put roasted vegetables in a blender/processor with the remaining ingredients and whiz into a thick dip.

And finally, here is a very old fashioned recipe from an old canning book I keep around.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Go Green: Eat the Beans

Green beans don't get much respect or attention. They're not glamorous, they're not scarce, babies eat them mashed. But they are nutritious. Did you know that today's green beans, mostly seedless pods, were yesterday's dhal providers? That's right: they used to be bred for the bean inside; then somebody got the bright idea of trying the pod itself. That's why you find bean pods of all thicknesses, from the anorexic French fillet to the fat, flat Italian Romano. They also come long, very very long in Asia.
Green beans used to be called string beans but that zipper thread, which originally released the dhal, has been bred out. So now they're often called "snap beans" because they have a crunchy snap when you break them.

You also find beans in many colors: green, yellow (sometimes called "wax" beans), purple (although most of the purple turn green as they cook). You should take some home when you find them. The pods are 
 loaded with vitamins K (exceeding the daily dose guideline), C and A, plus iron, manganese and calcium.

Green beans are overly used as everybody's go-to side dish because they go with everything, everybody goes for them and you can go from farm to table in minutes. Here's a good basic example, from How to Fix a Leek....the book. 
Garlic Green Beans 
serves 4

3/4 lb green beans, stems off
1 lg garlic clove, crushed and minced
1 tbsp unsalted butter
Coarse sea salt to your taste

Melt butter in a sauté pan over medium heat and add the beans. Stir while they sauté until the butter begins to brown. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer 10-15 minutes until beans are tender. Stir occasionally. Finally stir in the garlic, season with coarse salt and serve hot.

Here's a Southern side that makes a perfect autumn presentation right now:
Green Beans with Pears 

3/4 lb whole green beans
2 pears, peeled and sliced the long way
2 tbsp melted butter
2 tbsp brown or turbinado sugar
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to your taste

Steam the green beans in salted water with a pinch of sugar (helps keep them green) until they are just tender to the touch of a fork. Drain well.
In a large skillet over medium/high head, in the melted butter sauté the pears, brown sugar and vinegar five minutes or until the pears are just starting to be tender to a fork. They should not get soggy.
 Stir the cooked green beans in with the pears. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

If you find the skinny little French "haricot vert" (literally "green bean"), run home and make yourself a Salade Nicoise. There is no must-do recipe for this. It's a salad traditionally composed from these ingredients: grilled/sautéed fresh tuna or canned tuna packed in olive oil, hard boiled egg in halves or quarters, juicy fresh red tomatoes in wedges, haricot vert just steamed for a minute or two so they don't go limp and refreshed in ice water to save their snap, small boiled or roasted new potatoes cut into large bite-sized chunks, black olives and slivers of green pepper.  Honest cooks don't cheat by adding lettuce but you can cut in a cucumber or leave out the green pepper.  Dress it with the basic French vinaigrette: 1 tbsp wine vinegar to 3 tbsp olive oil plus a small smashed, minced garlic clove and pinch of Dijon mustard. Salt and fresh pepper of course.  I sometimes sacrilegiously add capers. 

 In this photo at right, I was flush with fillet beans but out of tuna so substituted grilled Halloumi cheese.
If you want another salad or cold antipasto/meze, try the wildly popular one that starts my book: Veggiyana, the Dharma of Cooking.
Armenian Green Beans, a great summer olive oil food to lube you
  serves 6-8 

2 lbs green beans (e.g. Kentucky wonder, Blue lake), ends off
1 c olive oil
1 lg red onion, sliced into very thin rings
5 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 tsp dried oregano
2 tsp dried thyme
3 tbsp chopped fresh flat parsley leaves
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/8 tsp salt
3 med tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1/3 c chopped fresh dill

Cut the beans into 3-4 inch long pieces, trying to keep them uniform and in one direction for the final effect.
Heat olive oil in a heavy gauge casserole. Add onion rings and sauté over medium heat until they are soft and glossy. Add the garlic. Add the beans in one direction, then the rest of the ingredients EXCEPT dill.
Lower heat to simmer, cover and cook 25-30 minutes until beans are tender. Their color will fade. Remove from heat. Stir in dill and cool. Chill in the refrigerator. It will last several days.

This is a one-bean salad. You can make multi-bean salads, most traditionally Three Bean Salad. For this you cut the green beans down into 1-1 1/2" pieces and steam them in salted water until they just start to feel tender to a fork. Immediately drain and rinse under cold water. Drain well.  Put your cooked beans in a medium serving bowl and season them with dried oregano. Add a well drained can of kidney beans and well drained can of chickpeas. Cut a small red onion into thin disks and cut those disks in half before adding to the salad. Salt and pepper plus a vinegar dressing does it.  The other version of Three Bean Salad incorporates green beans with yellow beans and red kidney beans. You prepare the wax beans same way as the green ones. And by now you've probably figured out you can put them altogether for Four Bean Salad.  Must say colorwise I prefer softer pink pinto beans to the red kidneys.

Dilly Beans
You can keep green beans around by pickling them and everybody loves them with cocktails or beside an egg salad or grill cheese sandwich or right out of the jar. You will need 3 1-quart canning jars.

2 lbs sturdy green beans, cut to fit the height of the jar, probably 4 inches
8 lg garlic cloves, halved and smashed
3 tsp red pepper flakes
3 tbsp dill seed
2 1/2 c white vinegar (do not try fancy vinegar)
2 1/2 c water
1/4 c kosher or pickling salt (do not use regular salt)
3 1 qt canning jars with lids

Sterilize jars in boiling water. Remove but do not dry or throw out the water. Keep it simmering. Put 4 garlic halves, 1 tsp red pepper flakes and 1 tbsp dill seed in each jar. Then fill the jars very tightly with upright raw beans, squeezing them in around the sides to be sure the jar is full. This is the hardest part.
In a large saucepan, combine vinegar, water and salt. Stir to dissolve the salt, bring to a full boil and be sure the salt is fully dissolved. Immediately ladle the hot vinegar mix into the jars, filling each to 1/4" of the top. Shake jars to remove air bubbles. Be sure you have no air bubbles. Seal jars with lids and rings. Put back in the boiling water bath for 20 minutes. Remove and cool. Listen for the lids to pop so you know they are securely sealed. Be sure they are sealed tightly. Cool, label and store in your pantry. Once opened, if there are any left, store in the jars in the refrigerator.

Spicy Chinese Beans
serves 4-6

1 lb Royal Burgundy, Kentucky Wonder or Blue Lake beans trimmed and washed; the idea is sturdy bean
2 c peanut oil (this has the highest smoke point)
2 sm chili peppers, seeded and minced
2 lg garlic cloves, smashed and minced
1 tbsp Hoisin sauce
2" piece fresh ginger, peeled and minced or grated
1 tbsp rice wine or sherry vinegar
3-4 scallions, finely chopped
1 tbsp dark soy sauce
Optional: 1/4 lb ground pork

Heat the oil in a large wok or chef's pan until it sizzles. (This is why peanut oil.) Deep fry the beans 3-4 minutes, in batches if necessary, until they begin to wrinkle. Drain on paper towels.

Transfer 2 tbsp of that hot oil to a clean wok or skillet or chef's pan. Turn heat to medium high. Add garlic, ginger, scallions and optional pork. Stir-fry 30 seconds. Add chili. Stir-fry 30 seconds. Add remaining ingredients plus 1 tbsp water. Stir to blend. Lower heat to medium and warm 1 minute. Add beans, blend into the sauce and heat through to serve.

And finally, if you have Asian long beans, this is the dish for you. It will also work with longer Kentucky Wonder or Blue Lake beans. The Japanese recipe comes from Veggiyana, the Dharma of Cooking.
Soba Noodles with Shiitake Mushrooms and Green Beans
serves 8

¾ lb soba noodles

3 tbsp corn oil

2 tbsp sesame oil

3 lg garlic cloves, peeled, smashed and sliced into very thin strips

½ tsp red pepper flakes

½ lb Chinese long beans or any green bean like Blue Lake or Kentucky Wonder, cut uniformly into 2- 2½ ” lengths

¼ cup vegetable broth or water

1 bunch scallions, cleaned and minced

10 oz. shitake mushrooms, stems off, washed and sliced into thin strips

3 ½ tbsp Chinese rice wine or Japanese Mirin

4 tbsp soy sauce

Fresh cilantro leaves, chopped for garnish

Cook the soba noodles in boiling water according to package instructions. Drain and coat with 1 tbsp sesame oil.

In a wok or other large sauté pan, heat corn oil and 1 tbsp sesame oil over medium high heat. Add garlic and red pepper flakes, lower heat to medium and sauté 30 seconds.

Add green beans and ¼ cup vegetable broth or water. Stir-fry over medium low heat 1-2 minutes until the liquid has mostly evaporated.

Add mushrooms, scallion and rice wine, blending with other ingredients. Cover and cook 3 minutes or until mushrooms are soft and shiny. Remove cover.
Add soba and soy sauce, carefully blending with large forks or pasta implements. Continue cooking over medium low heat until noodles are hot, 1-2 minutes. Remove from heat. Garnish with freshly chopped cilantro and serve.

As for those big fat flat Romano beans, here are two ideas:

Stew 2 lbs Romano beans with 2 lbs boneless lamb, 2 sliced onions, chopped parsley and garlic, white wine and whole tomatoes. 
Or stir-fry them in peanut oil with green chilies, ginger, garlic and unsweetened coconut milk.


Friday, September 11, 2015

Pick a pack of peppers

Peppers in all sizes, shapes and colors are flowing at high tide through farmers' markets right now, and at prices so low they're impossible to resist. You shouldn't. Peppers are vitamin dense, unique sources of mega vitamin C, vitamin E, and these six carotenoids: alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, lycopene, lutein, cryptoxanthin and zeaxanthin. Lycopene is supposed to be the magical nutrient in tomatoes.

A green pepper left on the vine will eventually become a red pepper the way a green tomato becomes a red one. That longer waiting time is what makes them more expensive the rest of the year. Just be sure you buy ones that still have crunch when you touch them. Roasted red peppers are what some people and some jar labels call pimentos. You can roast, grill or blister them on a gas burner, then pop them in a brown bag to burst their thin membrane so you can get it off. Roasted red pepper halves marinated in a garlicky olive oil for an hour or more, then lightly salted, are a traditional Italian antipasto. They are sensational with soft goat cheese on top or you can even wrap the pepper around the cheese and secure it with a toothpick. Roasted red peppers have huge affinity with corn and corn meal in all forms.

The dark almost black green Poblano pepper from Mexico has a smoky spiciness to it that really perks up many dishes and is traditionally the pepper used for chili relleno. It's best to roast or blister it, then put it hot in a brown bag to burst its thin membrane so you can remove it before cooking. You can add minced pieces to your cornbread batter to perk it up, and also add pieces of pimento for even more vivid color and taste. In fact, you can make memorable cornbread or muffins by including both those peppers plus a minced hot one and corn kernels.

You can also make a very memorable succotash right now by sauteeing in butter a small minced purple/red onion, a small red or green bell or a poblano pepper diced and a tsp dried oregano. When the onion is soft, stir in 2/3 cup cooked kidney or pinto beans and the corn kernels off 2 cobs. Season heavily with salt and freshly ground black pepper and cook until corn and beans are hot. Stir in a handful of freshly chopped cilantro leaves.

Here are a few basic ways to savor all the peppers you can get right now.

This traditional Basque dish has endless uses, if not just eaten on its own. It can be put on pasta--particularly penne, or, as in Hungary, in rice with hot sausages added (Lezco). It's a terrific topper for scrambled eggs or a filling for omelets. It compliments grilled meat. I also like serving this colorful concoction beside a ham and grits souffle. This recipe is in Veggiyana, the Dharma of Cooking.
serves 4-6

1 large green bell pepper, washed and seeded

1 large red bell pepper, washed and seeded

1 yellow or orange bell pepper, washed and seeded

1 med-lg red onion, peeled

3 lg garlic cloves, peeled and minced

¼ tsp dried oregano leaves

1/8 tsp salt

3-4 tbsp olive oil

Fresh ground black pepper to your taste

Optional additions: 1 cup chopped tomatoes

1 small Poblano pepper (if you want some chili hotness) treated like the bell peppers

¼ cup chopped fresh flat leaf parsley for garnish

Slice all the bell peppers into long thin strips. Optionally, you can julienne them into short, thin matchsticks.

Cut the onion into thin rings, then in half and break the rings apart into thin half moon pieces. (Cut in half again if you are making matchsticks out of the peppers so everything is uniform size.)

In a large sauté pan, heat the oil (use enough tbsp to thickly coat the entire bottom of the pan.  Add the garlic and oregano leaves and stir-fry over medium heat for 30 seconds.  Add the onion and sauté for another 30 seconds.

Add all the peppers, trying to keep them in a uniform direction. Continue cooking over medium to medium low heat until the pepper strips are soft but haven’t lost their bright colors. This will take 10-15 minutes. Add the salt and pepper. Remove from heat. (If you are using tomatoes, add them here and continue to sauté over medium low heat until they are mushy.) That's it.

Macedonian Bean Soup
Peppers perk up beans like nothing else so never hesitate to put them together like this recipe so fearlessly does.  
Serves 6

1 lb dried white beans (Great Northern, Kidney, navy, cannellini)

2 med/lg carrots, peeled and diced

2 stalks celery with leaves, diced

1 lg onion, peeled and diced

1/4 tsp freshly ground or cracked black pepper

1 tsp dried sage

3½ cups vegetable broth

3 red bell peppers, roasted and peeled

2 yellow or orange bell peppers, roasted and peeled

2 tbsp red wine vinegar (Balsamic is too strong)

5-6 tbsp olive oil

18-20 pitted Kalamata olives, slivered

Salt to your taste

1 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

 Pick over the beans. Soak in enough water to cover and refrigerate overnight.

Roast the peppers. Remove stems, skin membrane and seeds. Chop into small ¼” cubes.  Combine peppers, vinegar and 1 tbsp olive oil in a glass or ceramic small bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Drain the beans. Put in a large pan, cover well with cold water and bring to a boil.

Boil for 5 minutes. Drain well.

In a large, heavy gauge pot, heat enough olive oil 4-5 tbsp to cover the bottom.

Add carrots, celery, onion, black pepper and sage. Sauté on low heat for 2 minutes or until vegetables are soft. Stir in the beans. Add broth. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 1½ hours until beans are tender

Drain peppers. Add peppers and olives to the warm soup. Add salt to your taste and finally add the lemon juice. Serve immediately.

This unique Palestinian/Israeli/Levantine homecooking dish, piles on the peppers to make a rich, lipsmacking tomato sauce in which to poach eggs. A perfect brunch, lunch, midnight supper. You can hold the sauce a day or two until you're ready for the eggs. There are as many ways to make this as Middle Eastern housewives who do. This is simply my simplified version.

Serves 4

3 tbsp fruity olive oil

3 lg garlic cloves, minced

1 lg red onion, diced

1 med green bell pepper, seeded and chunked

1 sm yellow bell pepper, seeded and chunked

1-2 hot chili peppers like Serrano or real jalapeno, seeded and minced

2 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp ground coriander

½ tsp caraway seeds, smashed or ground

1-2 tsp smoked paprika

¼ tsp dried mint leaves

¼ tsp turmeric

¼ tsp ground cayenne or arbol chili powder

pinch ground cinnamon

1 tsp wine/balsamic vinegar

½ tsp honey

1 tsp tomato paste

2-3 cups chopped tomatoes in their juice


black pepper to taste

8 eggs

1 bunch fresh cilantro, stemmed, washed and chopped for garnish

optional add ons: feta cheese, pitted black kalamata olives, chopped spinach

In a large heavy-gauge sauté pan that has a lid, heat olive oil. Sauté onions, bell and chili peppers and garlic over medium heat til soft, about 5 minutes.  Add the spices—cumin through cinnamon—and heat until fragrant, maybe 60-90 seconds.

Stir in vinegar, tomato paste, honey and tomatoes.  Season with salt and pepper.

Cook until the sauce thickens, maybe 10-12 minutes depending on how juicy the tomatoes were.  Taste for flavor and add seasonings to your taste.

Get the sauce very hot and bubbly over medium heat and have the pan lid handy.  Carefully create 8 small pockets in the sauce and crack an egg into each one. Try to nudge a little sauce into the eggwhites.  Cover and continue cooking to poach the eggs to your liking.

Uncover the pan. Add the optionals you desire. Let them heat up 1 minute. Remove pan from heat. Garnish with chopped cilantro and serve right out of the pan.

Red Pepper Sauce
Better than ketchup on burgers and steak, great on spaghetti instead of tomato sauce, a tasty smear for corn on the cob, zesty topping for baked potatoes, change of pace pizza sauce with or without ricotta cheese blended in, omelet filling, dip for deep fried winter squash wedges or coating for steamed cauliflower...there's nothing this doesn't enhance. And it freezes so you enjoy it in February. This recipe is in How to Fix a Leek....the book.
 Makes 1 cup
2 tbsp olive oil                           3 lg or 4 med/sm red bell peppers, cored and seeded

4 garlic cloves, sliced                1 mildly hot pepper (Poblano, jalapeno)

½ tsp dried oregano                  2 tbsp fresh basil OR coriander (your taste)

1 tbsp wine vinegar                   1/8 tsp salt

Slice red peppers into thin strips. Dice hot pepper. Chop the herb. Heat oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add bell peppers, garlic and oregano. Sauté 15 minutes on medium low heat. Stir in vinegar, hot pepper and salt. Sauté 10 minutes. Stir in the herb. Simmer 5 minutes. Purée in a blender or processor.



Saturday, September 5, 2015

Shame and Blame

Saturday night special: news just in print that cucumbers imported from Mexico and sold in 28 states have caused a major salmonella outbreak that's already killed one 99-year-old women and sent 285 others to a hospital. Cucumbers, the water fountains of our summer diet are weapons of mass destruction.

Hello. Hello. This is the first week of September in the United States. There is NOT a farmers' market anywhere between the Atlantic and Pacific whose stands don't runneth over with cucumbers right now. Picklers, slicers, Persians, English. With all that bounty cheap and available, why would anyone buy an imported supermarket cucumber at this harvest moment?

Another reason to frequent your farmers' market because your life depends on it.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Surfing the Harvest High Tide

Farmers' Markets and gardens are overflowing now with produce, so what to do with all this precious richness? A few ideas for immediate consumption:

Chopped Salad with Tahini
This is a Levant version of Greek Salad.
serves 4
6 ripe plum tomatoes, cut into bite-size dice
2 mini-cucumbers, trimmed and cut into bite-size dice
1 red pepper, seeds, stalk and pith removed, cut into bite-size dice
5 spring onions, trimmed and thinly sliced on an angle
1/3 c coriander leaves, roughly chopped
2 tbsp lemon juice
3 tbsp olive oil
1/2 lb feta, cut into 4 rectangular blocks
4 tbsp tahini
2 tsp za’atar**
Put the chopped tomatoes in a sieve over a bowl for 20 minutes. Discard the resulting juice and put the tomatoes, cucumbers, pepper, spring onions and coriander in a large bowl. Add the lemon juice, oil and half a teaspoon of salt, and stir gently to combine.
To serve, arrange the feta on four plates and spoon the salad on top, making sure some of the feta remains visible. Pour a spoonful of tahini over each portion and finish with a sprinkle of za’atar.

**This is a Levantine spice mix you can replicate if you can't find it already packaged. It's thyme, oregano, ground sesame seeds, salt and sometimes marjoram or sumac. It's tangy.

Roasted Vegetables Armenian style
serves 4-5

 6 oz. cabbage, sliced into 3 wedges (keep the core in – it’s the best bit)
1 lg carrot  peeled and thickly sliced
1 med/lg zucchini thickly sliced
2 celery stalks, thickly sliced
1 red/purple onion, quartered
1/2 lb cauliflower stalks and florets, chopped
1 med red pepper cored, deseeded and roughly chopped
1/4 c olive oil
1 beefsteak or other large tomato, thickly sliced
1 tbsp dill, chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to your taste
Pinch of crushed chili flakes
Pinch of cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 400º.  Place all the vegetables except the tomato in a large roasting tin. Pour over the oil and season well with salt and pepper. Add pinch of cinnamon. Mix everything together with your hands and bake for 30 minutes until the edges of the vegetables start to char.
Arrange the tomato slices on top, season with salt and pepper. Continue to bake another 15 minutes. Sprinkle over the chopped dill and serve.

Zucchini Flan
1½ pounds zucchini, thinly sliced
 Salt and pepper
4 eggs
2 ½ cups milk or half-and-half
 Pinch of grated nutmeg
1 tsp chopped thyme
 A few torn basil leaves
1 tbsp minced fresh flat leaf parsley 
2 tbsp butter for greasing baking dish
4 oz grated cheese, such as Gruyère or Jack

Heat oven to 375º. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add zucchini and blanch for 1 minute. Drain and spread zucchini out to cool on a towel. Season lightly with salt and pepper.
Beat eggs and milk with 1/2 teaspoon salt, then add nutmeg, thyme,  basil leaves and parsley.
Butter a 2-quart low-sided baking dish, and arrange blanched zucchini over bottom. Scatter cheese over zucchini, then pour in custard.
Bake for 30 minutes or until custard is still a bit jiggly, but an inserted knife comes out clean. Cool to room temperature before serving.

Vegetable Biryani
 An aromatic, elegant Indian party dish that just takes time but is not at all difficult.
A perfect summer meal with a side of raita/tsatziki, sliced fresh tomatoes and a garlic naan. Even blueberry chutney!
Serves 6-8

Grind together this spice mix:
2 1/2” fresh ginger root, peeled
4 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
3 cardamom pods (if you don’t have pods use 1/4 tsp ground cardamom)
2” cinnamon stick or 1 heaping tsp ground cinnamon
3 whole cloves
1/2 tsp black peppercorns

Make rice
Wash 2 cups good quality Basmati rice and cook until tender with
3 1/2 cups water
2 tbsp ghee or unsalted butter
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp saffron soaked in 1 tbsp warm water
 When rice is cooked, stir in the saffron with its water.

Heart of the Biryani
1 tbsp corn, mustard, safflower or olive oil
2 tbsp ghee or unsalted butter
1 lg yellow onion, peeled, halved, then sliced into very thin wedges that will break up into thin strings of onion
1 Indian or Chinese eggplant, chopped into bite-sized pieces
1 1/2 cup fresh or frozen green peas
3 med carrots, diced
2 med Yukon gold or purple potatoes, washed and diced
handful of green beans (10-12) diced
1 cup either finely shredded and diced red cabbage or corn
1 medium yellow or zucchini squash, diced
1/2 tsp chili powder (Arbol is most authentic if you have it)
1 tsp anise or fennel seeds
1 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
1 tsp salt
1 c coconut milk
Optional: you may need 1/2 c vegetable broth if the pot gets too dry.

In a medium soup pot or casserole, heat oil and ghee over medium flame.
When the mix is hot, add onions with a pinch of salt and sauté until onions are soft and translucent, 3-5 minutes.  Now stir in the spice mix you ground and continue to sauté until it’s aromatic and the onions have a golden color, another 3-5 minutes.

Add the chopped vegetables, chili powder and fennel seeds. Stir to blend and continue cooking until the vegetables are hot. Add the coconut milk, salt and chopped cilantro. Stir to blend. Cover and cook over low heat until vegetables are soft, checking to insure there is always some juice in the pot (1/4-1/3 cup is fine). Add broth if necessary.
 Once vegetables are soft and rice is cooked, combine them in a large, wide pan or serving dish.

Finishing touches
Melt 1/2 cup ghee or butter in a small frying pan or skillet.
When it’s hot, add 1/2 cup raw almonds.
Sauté 3-5 minutes until almonds are hot and coated with butter.
Toss in 1/4 tsp salt.
Pour contents of the frying pan over the biryani.
Optional: you can also fry a small onion, thinly sliced, in butter until it’s crisply brown and put it on top as the final fillip of tastiness.

Fruit Soup
recipe in Veggiyana, the Dharma of Cooking

Serves 5-6

1 banana, peeled
1 apple, cored, peeled and quartered
1 peach, peeled and quartered
½ cantaloupe, peeled and chunked
2-3 tbsp. honey or real maple syrup
1cup plain yogurt
½ tsp. ground nutmeg
handful fresh mint leaves
1 tbsp fresh squeezed limejuice
1 ¼ cup unsweetened apple juice or, if you prefer, orange juice
  garnish: fresh blueberries

Combine everything but the apple juice in a blender or food processor. Start to puree and after a few seconds pour the apple juice in as a steady stream to make a soup. It should be thick enough to eat with a spoon but not too thick to pour.
 Serve garnished with fresh blueberries.