Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Colorful, classy, nutritious winter eating in a snap

Those of us living in the land of snows or far from the joy of California's year round farmers' vegetable laden markets need not despair. Winter brings some of the most colorful and heartwarming dishes to our lives. There's absolutely no need to encourage agribusiness by rushing after imported tomatoes, eggplants, cucumbers and other watery joys of summer. Now is the time, the perfect time, for braised red cabbage, orange winter squash, bright green broccolini/ rapini with pine nuts and pasta, gorgeous ocher rutabagas mashed, crispy sautéed potatoes with onions and dill, delicately pink cooked quince and a multicolored slaw of red/green cabbages, white daikon, purple and orange carrots, with pale green fennel. All those colors and tastes make a table as festive as the season.

Pumpkin Potato Fritatta
This burst of yellow sunshine is perfect for a brunch with the leftover holiday ham or for a vegetarian potluck and it won't crimp your holiday spending.
Cuts into 8-10 wedges

1 white onion, peeled and sliced into thin rings
1 large potato (just under 1 lb)
1¼ lb sugar pumpkin or butternut squash
¼ c olive oil
1 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tbsp fresh sage, finely chopped, or 2 tsp dried
1/4 tsp ground allspice
1/2 tsp dried rosemary
Pinch of red pepper flakes
Salt and black pepper
8 eggs
1/2 c milk (skim is fine)
¼ c grated cheese (Parmesan, Asiago, Gruyere, Jack—your choice)
pinch of nutmeg
fresh parsley for garnish

Peel the pumpkin or squash and cut it into thin rings or half rings or failing that, strips.
In a medium frying pan with a lid, heat olive oil with 1 tbsp butter and sauté onion for 2 minutes. Add the potato and pumpkin, stirring until each slice is glistening. Cover the pan, lower the heat to simmer and cook 15 minutes, stirring occasionally-- if sticking occurs, add a little water, until the vegetables are soft.  Add all but a pinch of the sage, rosemary, allspice, salt and pepper and cook uncovered another minute. Scrape the pan contents into a bowl.
Preheat oven to 375º.
In a large bowl, beat the eggs with the milk, red pepper flakes, salt and black pepper. Melt enough butter to fully and thickly cover the bottom of the pan you cooked the potatoes in. Pour the vegetables back into the pan, try to level them evenly, then pour the eggs over them. Cook the frittata over low heat about 10 minutes. As the edges start to set, use a spatula to ease them away from the pan sides back toward the center. Once the frittata is almost entirely set but still has a wobbly top, toss on the grated cheese. Remove from stove top and stick into the oven for 3-5 minutes, until cheese melts and egg top is firm. 
Remove from oven. Sprinkle the top with the remaining sage, a pinch of nutmeg and some chopped fresh parsley.  Cut in wedges to serve warm or at room temperature.

Broccolini/Rapini aka Broccoli Raab
Forget about those giant stalks of broccoli and think small: tasty and small-- the joy of broccolini (the youthful broccoli before it thickens with age) and rapini/broccoli raab (the original leafy form from which those gigantic florets were later developed). See that picture on the lower left and go get some. Bring home the vitamins--especially A, the estrogen, the iron and calcium, folate, potassium--it's got the whole shebang.
Think garlic, lots of it, toasted pine nuts and pasta, small like orechiette, farfalle and cavatelli. If you're not vegetarian, think a teeny taste of pepperoni, hot sausage or chorizo. Any which way, think delicious and super nutritious: a treat that doesn't pack calories or cholesterol.
What to do?
Chop it into bite sized pieces. Drop the rapini into rapidly boiling, heavily salted water for 1 minute to remove its bitterness, then drain well. Drop the broccolini into rapidly boiling salted water for 5-8 minutes until it's soft. Remove it with a slotted spoon or spatula to drain in a colander so you can save the water for cooking the pasta.
Cook the pasta according to the package just past al dente: softness is critical here.
Dice a small red onion and 1 large garlic clove for every person you are feeding. Garlic is the taste here--ideal for winter because garlic goes straight to the lungs and works like a janitor clearing them. If you are adding pepperoni or chorizon, one thin slice chorizo or two pepperoni per person cut into bits will do it.

Get out a sauté pan and heavily coat the bottom with olive oil. Get it warm over medium heat and stir in a few twists of freshly ground black pepper, a pinch of red pepper flakes, the meat and 1 tbsp pine nuts (use 2 if you're doing this for more than 4). Lower heat so nothing burns and stir in the diced onion. Cook until the onion softens and starts to look translucent, 3-5 minutes. Add the drained broccolini or rapini along with 2 tbsp your best olive oil, the garlic and a good pinch of sea salt. Stir to blend, raise heat to medium and sauté, adding olive oil if the broccoli isn't glistening, until everything is soft. Reduce heat to simmer and wait for the pasta.

Before you drain the pasta, take 1 tbsp of the cooking water per person, up to 4, and stir it into the broccoli. Drain the pasta, add it to the pan and before you stir it in, salt it, drizzle 2-3 tbsp best olive oil and add a twist from the black pepper grinder. Optionally now you can add 1 tbsp coarse bread crumbs per person. Stir it all up over medium heat for a minute. The broccoli and pasta should be equally soft and merge nicely. Serve with lots of freshly grated Parmesan cheese and satisfaction.

Quick Choucroute (Sauerkraut, aka fermented cabbage)
This is not going to have the total heft and subtlety of the magnificent slow braised dish from Alsace but it's hearty, heartwarming, nutritious (all that ferment, protein and vitamins) and traditional for the holiday season in northern France.
For 4
2 med white onions, peeled and cut into thin rings
2 garlic cloves, peeled, mashed and minced
2 sm tart crisp apples, diced
4 tennis ball size potatoes, cut into quarters
sm piece slab bacon or salt pork
1/4 lb pancetta or pork belly or smoked bacon, sliced
2 hot dogs (they can be beef if you like)
2 hot sausages
1/2 lb pork loin, cut into strips or chunks
1/2 tsp juniper berries
1 tsp celery seed
2 1/2 lbs fresh sauerkraut
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 c fresh apple cider

Mustard for serving

Put the salt pork/slab bacon bit a large heavy gauge lidded casserole over medium heat and cook until it releases fat to cover the bottom of the pot. Add the pancetta/pork belly, bacon and cook until it starts to crisp, then flip it. Add the onions and cook until they are soft and translucent, 5 -8 minutes. Add the pork loin and brown it on both sides. Add the potatoes, some freshly ground black pepper and garlic. Cook another 2-3 minutes to flavor the potatoes. Add the hot dogs and sausages to the pot. Cook another 2-3 minutes. Add the sauerkraut, apples, juniper berries, celery seed and another twist of the pepper mill. Pour in the cider. Cook 2 -3 minutes until the sauerkraut gets warm, then cover the pan, reduce heat to low and cook 30 minutes or until everything is cooked through. Check from time to time that it isn't drying out and add cider or water if it is. The sauerkraut should be juicy.

Serve with mustard for the meats.

Winter Vegetable Timbale 
From Veggiyana, the Dharma of Cooking, a glamorous "cake" of winter vegetables certain to be a conversation piece on any table. You can serve it atop steamed kale leaves for drama.

serves 8

1 parsnip, peeled and grated
1 large carrot, peeled and grated
1 small rutabaga, peeled and grated
1 small winter squash (e.g. red kuri, sugar pumpkin or butternut), peeled and grated
1 red onion, peeled and diced
4 tbsp butter
6 eggs
¾ cup breadcrumbs, matzo meal or panko
1/3 cup grated cheddar cheese
2/3 cup grated Gruyere cheese
1cup heavy cream
Optional: ¼ tsp smoked paprika
2 tbsp chopped fresh chives
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley leaves
¼ tsp nutmeg
1 tsp salt

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and butter a Bundt pan, ring mold, or medium sized tube pan—any baking pan with a hole in the center.

Mix the grated vegetables. You will need 5 cups.

In a large sauté pan over medium heat melt butter. Add onion and sauté until slightly soft. Add 5 cups of the mixed grated vegetables and blend.  Sauté over medium heat until the vegetables are soft and start to cling together, 10-12 minutes.  Remove from heat and cool.

In a large bowl whip eggs. Add cooked vegetables, stirring well to coat. Add salt, then cheeses, breadcrumbs, chives and parsley. Stir in cream, add optional smoked paprika and nutmeg and blend everything well.

Pour the mixture into the buttered pan or mold. Bake until a tester (a skewer, strand of spaghetti or cake tester) comes out clean. The ring mold will cook faster than pans with higher sides, so the cooking time will be between 35 and 45 minutes, faster in convection ovens. Let it cool at least 5 minutes before unmolding. 

Red Cabbage with potatoes, prunes and caraway
That bowl on the right in the photo at the top has red cabbage braised without the potatoes. The chopped prunes made it marvelously sweet, which played well against the hints of balsamic vinegar. For the holiday red and green, top it with a sprinkle of fresh dill.

 Serves 4-6
1 med red (aka purple) cabbage, cored and shredded
1 med/lg yellow onion, sliced in thin rings that are halved
1 tsp caraway seed
2 sm/med potatoes, scrubbed and cut into bite size chunks
6 pitted prunes, chopped (if you prefer you can use 1/4 c dark raisins)
2 garlic cloves peeled and minced
1 tbsp ghee or unsalted butter
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 c fresh apple cider
2 tsp balsamic vinegar
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to your taste
1 tbsp freshly chopped dill or 1 tsp smashed dill seed.

In a med/lg lidded pot, heat the ghee/butter and olive oil over medium. Add the onions, stir to coat them and sauté lowering heat if necessary so they don't burn until soft and translucent, maybe 5 minutes. Add the cabbage, caraway seed and prunes/raisins. Stir to blend and coat. If it looks dry add 1 tbsp butter/ghee. Sauté  3-5 minutes. Add the potatoes, garlic, balsamic vinegar and cider, salt and pepper. Continue to cook until everything in the pot is hot, then cover, lower heat to low/simmer and cook 30 minutes,  stirring from time to time and checking that it isn't drying out. Add cider or water if it is. Add the dill. Put the lid back on and simmer another 15 minutes. Everything should now be soft. Taste for seasonings and adjust.

Winter Squash stuffed with Red Beans, and Coconut Rice

Another recipe from Veggiyana, the Dharma of Cooking, modified here by the addition of meat if you want it. It cries out for jerk flavored chicken because the red beans and coconut rice is Jamaican. You can substitute small orange or buttercup squashes for the acorn.

serves 8
 NOTE: If you want to put in the chicken, get one boneless thigh per person, marinate it for at least 30 minutes in lime juice with jerk spices. Cover the bottom of a frying pan with 1/4" corn oil, get it hot and carefully put the chicken in skin side down. Fry 10 minutes, then flip and fry 5 minutes. Cut up the meat and put it in with the rice before stuffing the squash. Or just serve it along side.

8 small acorn or dumpling winter squash
2 tbsp unsalted butter, in bits
1 tbsp olive or corn oil
1 cup long grain rice
1 15 oz can pinto or red kidney beans, drained
1 cup coconut milk (lite is okay)
1 small hot red pepper, seeded and minced
1 med/lg onion, peeled and finely diced
½ tsp dried thyme
1 tsp ground allspice
1/8 tsp salt
1/8 tsp fresh or coarse ground black pepper
¼ cup (4 tbsp apple cider or pure apple juice)
½ tsp ground cinnamon
pinches of salt
½ bunch fresh cilantro leaves, chopped for garnish

Slice the point off the bottom of each squash to flatten it so it sits steady on its own. Put the squashes in a microwave on medium for 1 min 30 seconds to slightly soften. (Microwave times vary with the machine’s strength so the goal is to produce squash that isn’t rock hard.) Let sit 5 minutes. Neatly cut about ¼” off the top. Scoop out any remaining pulp at the top to get to the cavity. Clean out the seeds and strings.  Preheat the oven to 350º.

Heat the oil in a large saucepan that has a cover. Add the onion and sauté on med heat until soft and golden.  Add the thyme, hot red pepper, allspice, black pepper and rice and stir to blend.

Add the coconut milk. Now add enough water to cover the rice by 1 inch. Add the salt and beans. Bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat to simmer. Simmer 20 minutes, checking that it doesn’t burn and adding ¼ cup of water at a time to prevent that.

Put a bit of butter and 1/2 tbsp apple cider/juice in the bottom of each hollowed out squash. Add a pinch of ground cinnamon and a pinch of salt. Swirl the seasoned liquid around so it reaches all the squash. Fill the squash to the top with the rice and beans--and optional chicken, heaping it no more than ¼-½ inch from the top.

Fill a half-sheet baking pan with ½ inch water and arrange the squash in it.  Cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake at 350 degrees until squash is tender, 40-50 minutes. Garnish the top of each squash with a few chopped cilantro leaves to serve.

And finally, a recipe I hope to try this week--my version of someone's else's. I will confirm results next post.
Moroccan Chicken with Quince

Serves 6
¼ c vegetable oil
2 lbs chicken thighs
2 onions, finely diced
salt and freshly ground black pepper to your taste
 ½ tsp paprika
 ¼ tsp chili, Aleppo or cayenne pepper
1 bunch fresh cilantro, finely chopped
a pinch of saffron
½ tsp ground ginger 
sm stick of cinnamon
 2 tbsp raisins or 8 pitted fresh dates
1 lb quince, cut in half and cored, then the pieces cut in half again
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
butter or ghee 60g
Season the chicken with the paprika, chili and black pepper. In a large sauté pan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the seasoned chicken, skin side down, and brown it. Flip it and sauté another 5 minutes. Remove from the pot, add the onions and soften them in the oil. Do not burn or brown them.
Put the chicken and onions in a large casserole pot. Season with salt and pepper. Add 3 cups chicken stock to the pot—or enough to cover the chicken. Add the saffron, ginger, cinnamon stick and fresh cilantro. Add the raisins or dates. Bring the pot to a boil, then lower heat to simmer. Cover the pot and simmer 30-40 minutes. The chicken should be falling off its bones.
While that’s happening, melt the butter or ghee on low heat in a small sauté or frying pan. Add the quince and sauté five minutes.  Once the chicken has been in the pot ½ hour, add the quince and lemon juice. Cook until the quince is tender.
Serve with couscous or fregola.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Part 7: Chickpeas, the little black dress of the kitchen, adorned for winter

Taking a break from holiday hoopla to offer simple, sane, nourishing chickpea recipes perfect for this dark, cold time of year. Chickpeas are never not the perfect thing to serve and right now when everyone is so rushed, it's a gift to be able to open a can of chickpeas and create a meal in minutes.

Moroccan Chickpea Tagine
Serve with couscous and a green vegetable if you're vegetarian/vegan. Or use this is a very tasty side dish with roasted meats or chicken. Take this heartwarming dish to a potluck with pride.  Most of the ingredients are the tantalizing spices so it's really quite simple to prepare and colorful to serve.
serves 4-6 as a meal, 8 as a side dish

1/4 c olive oil
1 med/lg onion diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp harissa (hot sauce)
1 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground turmeric
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1  140z can or box chopped tomatoes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to your taste
2 15 oz cans cooked chickpeas
1/4 c chopped flat leaf parsley
3 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro leaves

 Heat the olive oil in a medium casserole. Add the onion and sauté on medium heat 5-7 minutes until it's soft. Stir in the garlic, harissa and spices. Simmer 2 minutes, adding oil if the pot looks dry. Stir in the tomatoes and sugar, salt and pepper. Cover the pot and simmer 20 minutes to get a rich sauce.

While that's cooking, put the chickpeas in a bowl and cover them with cold water. Lift them up handfuls at a time, shake the bowl, rub the chickpeas between your hands, do whatever to loosen their nearly invisible skins. These will float to the top. Skim them off. Not to worry if you can't do this perfectly or at all. Drain the chickpeas well and stir them into the tomato sauce. Cover the pot again and simmer for 20-25 minutes,  adding 2-3 tbsps of water if the tagine looks dry.

Remove from the stove. Stir in the parsley and cilantro. Taste and adjust the salt, cumin and/or harissa to your taste. Serve with couscous or flatbread.

Newari Kwaati, a nine bean restorative soup from Nepal
This very special, beloved soup/stew from the Kathmandu valley of Nepal is in Veggiyana, the Dharma of Cooking. The fat chickpeas stand out among the other beans and small lentils. Taken together, these nine beans are thought to restore and nourish the body after it's been through tough weather, childbirth, surgery, illness and the ravages of aging. The medicinal value is often overshadowed by the addictive taste.

Serves 8-10

¼ cup dried whole mung beans, soaked overnight
¼ cup soybeans, soaked overnight
2 tbsp mustard, corn, sunflower, safflower or olive oil
1 lg onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1” fresh ginger root, peeled and minced or grated
1 tsp fenugreek seeds
2 bay leaves
1 15 oz can chickpeas (garbanzos), drained
1 15 oz can red kidney beans, drained
1 15 oz can black-eyed peas, drained
1 15 oz can cannellini or any white beans, drained
1 15 oz can black beans, drained
1 tsp ground turmeric
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp arbol chili powder (or any chili powder that’s mildly hot)
1 tsp salt
1cup water
3 cups vegetable broth (or water)
fresh cilantro leaves for garnish, chopped
1 tsp. caraway seeds, lightly fried in 1 tsp butter/ghee for optional garnish

Drain soybeans and mung beans. Put soybeans in a saucepan, cover well with water, bring to a boil, reduce heat and cook 30 minutes. Add mung beans and cook another 20 minutes or until both beans are soft but not mushy. Drain.

In a soup pot or large casserole, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion, garlic and ginger. Sauté 4-5 minutes until onion is soft and golden. Stir in fenugreek and add bay leaves.  Cook 30 seconds. Add all beans, spices and salt. Carefully blend.  Add water and broth. Bring to a boil, cover, lower heat and simmer 30 minutes. 

To serve: remove bay leaves.  Garnish with chopped cilantro and, optionally, caraway seeds.  Serve in soup bowls. Optionally, serve over aromatic rice.

Ottoman Chickpea Pilaf
Supposedly, the secret of this palace dish was solid gold balls were strewn among the chickpeas. You may not want to go that far but you could get the effect serving this in a glittery bowl or with the edible gold leaf often sold at Indian markets. 
Serves 4

1 cup drained cook chickpeas
2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tbsp olive oil
1 med white onion, diced
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp paprika or ground Aleppo pepper
1 full cup long grain rice, rinsed and drained (Basmati works well here)
2 1/2 c chicken or vegetable broth
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to your taste

Put the chickpeas in a bowl with the cumin and Aleppo pepper and roll them around to coat them.
In a heavy gauge casserole or pan with a lid, over med heat melt the butter and oil, stir in the onion and sauté  5-7 minutes until it's soft. Lower the heat if necessary so you don't burn it.  Add the rice, chickpeas and broth. Add salt and pepper to your taste. Bring to a boil, lower the heat to low/simmer, partly cover the pot and simmer 10 minutes or until almost all the water has been absorbed.

Turn off the heat, cover the pan with a clean dry dish towel and put the lid tightly on top to seal the pan closed. Let the rice steam this way 10 minutes. Remove the lid, towel and fluff up the rice with a fork before serving. To serve you can add pieces of the edible gold leaf.

North African Couscous with Seven Vegetables (one of them is chickpeas)
This is another treasured recipe in Veggiyana, the Dharma of Cooking. If you're not vegetarian you can add stewing lamb or beef. This is a great party dish. The saffron makes it special.

Serves 8 -10

4 tbsp butter or ghee
2 onions, peeled and quartered (veg 1)
OPTIONAL: 1 1/2 lb stewing lamb or beef cut into bite sized pieces
2 cinnamon sticks
½ tsp turmeric
1/8 tsp saffron, pulverized
1/4 tsp allspice
2 tsp cracked or freshly ground black pepper
1 chili pepper, seeded and diced (veg 2)
4 tomatoes, blanched and skinned (veg 3)
1 tsp salt
1/3 cup fresh parsley and cilantro leaves mixed, not chopped
1 lb turnips, peeled and sliced into disks (veg 4)
1 lb carrots, peeled and cut into 1½” lengths (veg 5)
1quart vegetable broth
1 lb zucchini, about 4 medium squashes (veg 6)
1 15oz can cooked chickpeas (veg 7)
¼ cup raisins, try not to use golden as they won’t show up well
4 tbsp mashed pumpkin (in case you don't want to count the chili pepper as a veg)
 1 lb couscous, packaged is fine
handful finely diced fresh cilantro leaves

In a large heavy gauge casserole or soup pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Add onions, optional meat, cinnamon, turmeric, saffron, black pepper, allspice, chili pepper, tomatoes, salt and parsley. Sauté 10 minutes, shaking the pot a few times so the butter touches everything.  Add turnips, carrots and vegetable broth. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer and cover. Simmer 30 minutes.  Add zucchini, chickpeas and raisins. Cover and continue to simmer another 20-25 minutes. Stir in the mashed pumpkin which will slightly thicken the broth. Cover and simmer 10 more minutes.

Prepare couscous according to package instructions.

Mound couscous on a very large serving platter. Press a well in the center and fill it with the vegetables removed from the pot with a slotted spoon to drain them. Ladle broth over the whole platter and serve.  (Note: if there is too much broth, pour some into a gravy boat to serve on the side.) Top everything with a handful of finely diced fresh cilantro leaves.

Chickpea Ragout with Cauliflower and Apricots
Another treat from Veggiyana, the Dharma of Cooking, appropriate and colorful for this time of year. Don't be turned off by the long ingredient list: most of it is spice.

Serves 8-10

3  15 oz cans chick peas, drained and rinsed
3 ½ cups vegetable or chicken broth broth
2 bay leaves
1 cinnamon stick
5 cardamom pods, cracked
6 whole cloves
12-14 whole black peppercorns
4 tbsp olive or vegetable oil
1  3” piece ginger, peeled
5 lg garlic cloves, peeled
1 lg red onion, finely chopped
2 Serrano chilies, seeded and chopped (use 1 Habanero or scotch bonnet or tiny Thai chili, seeded and chopped if you can’t find Serranos)
½ tsp salt
1 tsp ground cumin
½ tsp ground coriander
¼ tsp ground turmeric
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
1 cup chopped tomatoes with juice
1 lg cauliflower, cored and cut into florets
8 dried apricot halves
½ lb okra, halved lengthwise
juice of 1 lime
¼ cup chopped fresh mint leaves or 2 tbsp dried
¼ cup chopped fresh flat or curly leaf parsley leaves

Combine the bay leaves, cinnamon stick, cardamom pods, cloves and peppercorns in a piece of cheese cloth, spice bag or perhaps a tea leaf filter bag, and tie it tightly with non plastic string. Put the spice bag in the bottom of a large casserole or medium soup pot. Add the vegetable broth. Cover and simmer on medium 10-12 minutes.

In a mini food processor, or by hand, chop and blend the garlic and ginger into an almost paste. 
 Heat a medium skillet and add the olive oil.  When it is hot, add the garlic/ginger paste, Serrano chilies and diced onion. Brown 5 minutes over medium heat. If necessary, lower heat to avoid burning. Add salt, cumin, coriander, turmeric and nutmeg. Stir fry one minute until mixture is fragrant.

Pour this onion mix into the broth and blend.  Add chickpeas, tomatoes, and apricots. Cook 5 minutes uncovered over medium heat.  Add cauliflower and continue to cook until it is almost tender, 5-8 minutes. Add okra and cook 5 more minutes. 

Discard the spice bag.  Add the lime juice. Taste and adjust salt. Garnish with mint and parsley and serve over couscous, fregola, freekah or quinoa, perhaps with a side of tsatziki or raita.  You could add a platter of roasted lamb.

This tastes even better the next day. Leave the spice bag in overnight.

 Winter Squash Tagine with Chickpea Couscous
Here's an alternative to the couscous with seven vegetables: a squash tagine on top of couscous with harissa and chickpeas in it instead of the tagine. 
Serves 4

¾ lb shallots
2 tbsp olive oil
2 lb butternut squash, peeled, seeded and chunked
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground ginger
2 ½ c vegetable broth
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to your taste
1 doz pitted prunes
2 tsp honey
2 red bell peppers, seeded and cut into large bite sized pieces
3 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro leaves
2 tbsp chopped fresh mint leaves
10 oz couscous
1 tbsp harissa
½ tsp salt
1 can chickpeas, drained
handful toasted blanched slivered almonds

In a large lidded casserole or pan, heat the oil and sauté the shallots 5 min. until they are soft and browning. Add the squash and spices, stirring to blend for 1 min. Pour in the broth, season with salt and pepper. Stir in the prunes and honey. Cover and simmer 8 -10 min.
Add the red peppers and continue cook 8-10 min until they are tender. Stir in the cilantro and mint.

Put the couscous in a bowl and pour ¾ c boiling water over it. Stir in the harissa and ½ tsp salt. Add the chickpeas, cover the bowl and let it sit 5 min. Fluff up with a fork and serve with the tagine, almonds and extra mint.


Tuesday, November 28, 2017

More cooking up holiday gifts

Here's the open secret of holiday eating: we use spices and sweets at this dark time of year to warm the body in the cold. Cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and cloves--the traditional holiday spices--are all known to raise body temperature. And a bit of sugar heats up the metabolism--a little extra wood on the fire. That's why all the holiday cookies and cakes, spiced cider, spiced eggnog and gingerbread everything. The gift of warmth is the gift of life is the gift of love.  And making these with kids is the gift of enduringly happy memories.

In keeping with no fuss sweets, here's one of the perennial favorites from Veggiyana, the Dharma of Cooking
Date Bars with Walnuts, Sesame and Coconut
makes about 2 doz. 

4 cups pitted dates (about 1 lb)
½ cup ghee
Optional: splash of rose water or orange flower water
1½ cup whole almonds or walnuts
pinch of ground cinnamon
2 tbsp sesame seeds, lightly toasted
1-2 tbsp lightly toasted shredded coconut (depending on how much you like it)

Line an 8” x 8” square pan with parchment or waxed paper, bringing it up the sides so you can grab it easily. Very lightly grease the paper with Crisco, corn oil or canola oil. If you are using coconut, sprinkle 1 tbsp around.

Toast the nuts on a baking sheet at 350º  5 minutes or until you can smell their aroma.  While warm, coarsely chop and sprinkle with ground cinnamon.

Coarsely chop dates (you can use the pulse button on a food processor).
 Melt ghee in a large heavy gauge pot over medium heat. Lower heat and add chopped dates and optional fragrant water, stirring to blend. Cover and cook over low heat 10 minutes or until the dates soften into a thick paste.

Put half the date mixture into the square pan. Run cold water on an icing or other spatula and use the cold, damp instrument to spread the hot dates evenly in the pan. Pour chopped nuts on top. Put the spatula under cold water again and use it to spread them evenly while pushing them down into the dates. Cover the nuts with a layer of the remaining date paste, spreading it evenly with a cold, wet spatula. Push this layer down into the nut layer. Sprinkle sesame seeds and optional remaining coconut on top and lightly press them down into the dates.

Set the pan aside to cool for at least one hour. You can speed things up by putting it in the fridge. Pull the parchment or waxed paper up so the date bars come out of the pan and put them on a flat cutting surface.  Cut into small bars or squares. Keep refrigerated until gifted.

 And here's another healthy nourishing treat from the same book:

Sesame Chews
No wonder Ali Baba said Open Sesame! The sesame seed, tiny though it be, is a huge treasure chest of protein, vitamins, oil and fiber.
 Makes about 3 dozen

2 cups sesame seeds (white or brown)
½ tsp grated lemon zest
¼ cup sugar
¾ cup best quality honey (Greek Attiki recommended)
¼ tsp combined spices: ground nutmeg, cloves and cardamom
½ tsp sesame oil

Coat the bottom and sides of a small cookie sheet, baking tray or square baking dish with the sesame oil.

Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan, blend well and cook over medium heat until the sesame seeds are toasted, about 15-18 minutes. Pour onto the oiled surface and spread so that the mixture is uniformly just under or about 1/2 inch thick. Smooth the top.  Let cool an hour or more. Refrigerate if you want to be sure it's hardened enough. 

Cut into bite-size squares.  Store in a tightly sealed container.

 Danish Cardamom Coffee Cake
1/2 lb unsalted butter
1 c sugar
1 c dried currants
zest of 1 lemon, grated
zest of 1 orange, grated
1 tbsp ground cardamom
1 tsp vanilla
2 c all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
6 eggs
2 tbsp cinnamon sugar

Preheat oven to 350º. Butter a loaf pan.
Cream butter and sugar. Add the grated zests, currants, cardamom and vanilla. Blend.
Beat in the eggs one by one. Mix flour and baking powder, then slowly add to the dough.
Fill the buttered pan evenly, level the top and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. Bake 45-50 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean.  Cool and remove from pan. Wrap in decorative tin foil and tie with ribbon.

Spiced Roasted Pumpkin Seeds
These tasty morsels of vital minerals and vitamins jazz up a winter salad, a cream soup, baked winter squash, and anything with avocado. They are a gift to folks pressed for cooking time and tastes as well as the gift of good health and eating habits to children. My favorite spice mix for them is Ethiopian Berbere but you can use plain chili powder or curry powder if you prefer. Just keep them savory, not sweet. I gift these in tea canisters, small pottery bowls or pretty little glass jars. I keep my own in a glass jar in the fridge and use them all winter.

1 lb raw pumpkin seeds
2 tbsp corn oil
1 tsp fine sea salt
1/4 c your chosen spice (e.g. curry powder, plain chili powder, mix of cumin/coriander/chili or berbere*)

Preheat oven to 325º. Line a baking/cookie sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat to save clean up. If you don't have either, don't worry. 

Toss the pumpkin seeds in a bowl with the corn oil, sea salt and half the spice mixture. Spread them out on a baking sheet into a single layer.  Roast 20-30 minutes until they are crispy and lightly browned. Put them hot in a bowl with the remaining spice plus an extra pinch of salt if you like snacks salty and toss to coat.  Cool before packing.

*Berbere spice mix (This is a real gift in and of itself because this is the best ever taste for chicken, lentils, baked potatoes, just about everything! It is my gift to you.) You will have plenty left from the pumpkin seeds to use all winter.

2 tsp. coriander seeds
1 tsp. fenugreek seeds
12 tsp. black peppercorns
14 tsp. whole allspice
6 white cardamom pods
4 whole cloves
12 cup dried onion flakes (optional)
5 dried chiles de árbol, stemmed, seeded,
and broken into small pieces
3 tbsp. paprika
2 tsp. kosher salt
12 tsp. ground nutmeg
12 tsp. ground ginger
12 tsp. ground cinnamon

In a small skillet, combine coriander seeds, fenugreek seeds, black peppercorns, allspice, cardamom pods, and cloves. Toast spices over medium heat, swirling skillet constantly, until fragrant, about 4 minutes.  Let cool slightly; transfer to a spice grinder along with onion flakes and grind until fine. Add chilies, and grind with the other spices until fine.  Transfer the mixture to a bowl and stir in paprika, salt, nutmeg, ginger, and cinnamon. Store in an airtight container for up to 6 months.

Last post coming: cookies!

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Cooking up Holiday Gifts

This is the annual DIY holiday gift post because it never gets old. People have enough stuff and sizes are impossible to gauge from afar but everybody has to eat so food always fits. It's especially welcomed if it's not sugary sweet, gluten filled and short-lived. Plus nothing says "I love you" more than hand-made home-cooked nourishment wrapped with a bow. People get it!  A friend actually bought a bread making machine so she'd have really good bread to go with all the "really good" jam I sent.

Another plus: the recipes here are so simple kids can help you do it, and there's no better bonding or teaching tool than a kitchen. That's where the happiest memories are made. What better gift?

So here are a few simple treats from Sandy Claus you can whip up, wrap up and hand out. Some are new, some repeats from posts past.

Chocolate Truffle Cake
Easier than pie this ridiculously rich gluten and almost sugar free chocolate fudge cake you fill anyway you like: with dried figs, dried dates, dried cherries, roasted pecans, pistachios, toasted almonds, toasted coconut... . A tiny taste goes a long way! And this lasts a long time stored in the fridge. Wrap it in tin foil and tie it up with a bright red ribbon and bow.

1/2 lb dark chocolate (more than  70% cacao)
1/2 c unsalted butter (1 stick)
4 large eggs
pinch of sea salt
1 1/2 c mixed dried fruits, nuts and/or coconut *
1/4 tsp orange flower or rose water (optional)
1/4 tsp spice (your choice: cardamom, nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, black pepper, anise--a mixture?)
1 tbsp cocoa powder
*use dried figs, dried dates, dried cherries or dried cranberries, toasted pecans or almonds, pistachios, toasted coconut, candied ginger....

Preheat the oven to 350º. Heavily butter or line with parchment a 6-7" cake or pie pan. 
In a double boiler or bain marie, over barely simmering water (in the bottom pot) on low heat, melt the chocolate and butter together.  Remove from heat. One by one whisk in the eggs. With a wooden spoon, stir in the salt and your fruit/nut combo and flavoring/spices. Blend so it's all very smooth and shiny. Pour everything into the prepared pan, level the top and smooth it. Bake 15-20 minutes until a tester comes out clean and the cake is solid. Let it cool at least 15 minutes. Remove from the pan and dust the top with the cocoa.  That's it!

Spiced Nuts: Vanilla Walnuts
These are what everybody waits for every year so I get into production mode. Happily they are ridiculously simple to make. Kids can do it.  I usually go to Chinatown to buy festive but cheap tea canisters to put them in, that pretty storage can being the lasting and infinitely useful part of the gift. Some years I've posted a cocoa pecans recipe so you can scroll back to find that if you prefer. Or curried walnuts. But these have always been the killer. Some folks are deadly allergic to walnuts so be careful who you hand them to.

This makes 4 cups, which easily fills 6 standard tea canisters
1 lb walnut halves
1/2 c sugar
2 1/2 tbsp corn oil (do not try to use olive, please)
1 tbsp vanilla (be generous not skimpy, this is the key here)
1/2 tsp salt (fine works best)
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1/4 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 tsp ground allspice
(not to worry if you don't have all these spices, just make your own flavor combo)

 Preheat oven to 325º. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicon mat. (This is just to keep it clean and make it easier, so if you have neither, no worries.)
Combine the corn oil, sugar and vanilla in a large bowl. Blanch the walnuts in boiling water 60 seconds. Drain well. While they are still hot, blend them with the corn oil mix. Let them sit in it 10 minutes, then spread them on the baking tray (aka cookie sheet) and bake 30-35 minutes until they are brown and crisp. Try to flip them over at least once and also check that none are burning.

While they bake, clean the bowl, dry it carefully and mix the salt and spices in it. As soon as the walnuts come from the oven, stir them into the spice bowl to coat them. Let them cool either in the bowl or spread back out on the cookie sheet (baking tray). Distribute them in airtight containers like tea canisters.

Spanish Dried Fig and Almond Cake (Pan de Higos)
Large slivers of this beloved winter treat are wrapped and sold at gourmet markets for mucho dinero but you can make your own quickly and cheaply with no fuss or time. It's always welcomed, a real winner that's gluten-free, sugar-free, nourishing, tasty and perfect with a quiet cup of tea and/or a piece of cheese. Plus it lasts a long time. I usually wrap mine in the parchment paper it was formed it and tie it up with a bright ribbon and bow. You can also wrap it in shiny foil.

The long slivers you see in gourmet markets come from a very large "cake." I make individual ones to give away in a 5" baking dish. The proportions below are perfect for just that. I don't like to endorse a commercial supplier but the truth is I always use one container of Trader Joe's mission figs for each cake. It just always works out well. I line the dish with parchment paper so the finished cake comes out clean.

Another admission: my Catalan friend remembers making these with her grandmother. Back then they hand cut and flattened each fig, slipping an almond in as they went.  I just toss all the stem-free figs into a food processor and voila! in seconds fig cake! I can't taste any negative difference between these methods.

1 lb dried figs, stems removed
1 tbsp brandy
1/4 tsp anise seed
pinch of ground cloves
1 tbsp honey
10 raw almonds

Put the figs, brandy, anise, clove and honey in a food processor and whir 3-5 seconds to get the figs chopped.  Add the almonds and whir just long enough to get the chopped figs to stick together. You should be able to see the almond pieces. Don't pulverize them if you can help it.

Line a shallow, flat 5" baking dish or straight-sided bowl with enough parchment paper to eventually cover over the top completely.  Dump the contents of the food processor onto the parchment and using a spatula of some sort flatten the mixture into a "cake" that fills the dish. Level the top. Cover it over with the parchment paper. Now, put some heavy weight on top to press this down for 24 hours and set is aside on the counter til then. I use a big can of tomatoes with a smaller can on top or a heavy stone Buddha statue --anything that weighs heavily will work.  After 24 hours, remove the weight, open the parchment and stick your finger on the cake to see if it's solidly congealed. Remove the parchment with the cake in it from the dish, wrap it around the cake tightly and you're done. I store mine in the fridge until I wrap and give them away.

Dilly Beans
Because kids love 'em and everybody can use a little ferment in their lives. You can also do this with asparagus (pictured here) but that veg is very out of season and not so native right now as green beans.
To present as a gift, wrap in tissue paper: place jar in the center of two pieces and raise the sides up. Gather at the top with thin ribbon.

4 1-quart canning jars with new lids
2+ lbs. green beans
8 lg garlic cloves, halved and smashed
2 tsp red pepper flakes
4 tbsp dill seeds
2½ cups white vinegar
2½ cups water
¼ cup kosher salt (not regular salt)

Sterilize jars in boiling water.
Pull the “twiggy” ends off the beans and wash them. Dry carefully. Put one into the jar to measure how long it can be to be slightly shorter than the jar and cut it. Use this to cut all the beans into that same length. Put 4 garlic halves, 1/2 tsp chili pepper flakes and 1 tbsp dill seeds in each jar. Fill each jar tightly with the green beans, trying to keep them all standing up in the same direction.
In a large saucepan, combine the water, vinegar and salt. Stir to dissolve salt and bring to a full boil. Ladle the hot liquid into jars, filling to ¼” of the top. Shake jars to remove air bubbles. Seal jars. Put back in boiling water 20 minutes. Remove from heat. Listen for the lids to “pop” so you know the jars are securely sealed

More in the next post and then back to chickpeas, the little black dress of the kitchen, part 7.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

super fast easy last minute Thanksgiving gems

A friend told me my recipes as easy and fast as I think they are seem to be too complex and time consuming for her. She wants in and out of the kitchen in minutes. So here is just about the fastest easiest way I know to put an All-American dish on the Thanksgiving table:

And BTW on the corn pudding in the last post, if you don't have fresh corn, use two boxes of frozen or 3 cans. You need between 3-4 cups.

Serves 4-6 (double for a bigger party)

1 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tbsp corn oil
2 cans of corn kernels, rinsed and drained
1 can red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 Poblano pepper
1 red pepper, bell or Fresno or similar
1 sm red onion, diced
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp ground sage
1 tsp dried oregano
wedge of fresh lime
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to your taste

If you have time to roast the red and green pepper (12-15 min at 425º) go for it. If you can't, no worries.
Dice the raw or roasted pepper into bite-sized pieces.

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter into the oil over med heat. Add the diced onion, stir to coat it and cook over med heat 3-5 minutes until it's soft. Throw in everything else, stir to blend and add 1-2 tbsp water so nothing burns. Put a lid on the pot, lower heat to simmer and cook until everything is hot--3-5 minutes. To serve, remove the lime, check for salt and adjust if necessary. You can garnish this is you want with chopped fresh cilantro leaves or sage.

This is one of the simple fancy dishes I am making, from my book Veggiyana, the Dharma of Cooking:
Serves 6-8

1 tbsp olive oil (you can use butter if you prefer)
1 small onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
2 c heavy cream
½ tsp salt
½ tsp coarsely ground black pepper
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
¼ tsp dried rosemary leaves
1 star anise, crushed (if you don’t have star anise, substitute ½ tsp dried tarragon or 1/8 tsp ground cloves)
1 ¼ lb baking potatoes, peeled and sliced into thin disks
1 large rutabaga (1lb), peeled and sliced into thin disks
1 large leek, sliced into thin disks and washed
½ lb. Gruyere cheese, grated

Preheat oven to 375º and get out a baking dish approximately 11” x 7”. 

Heat the olive oil in a small sauté pan.  Add the garlic and onion and sauté over medium heat 3 minutes, until the onion starts to soften.  Remove from heat and add the salt, pepper and nutmeg.  Stir in the cream.

Spread the leeks evenly around the bottom of the baking dish. Don’t worry if there are gaps, just be sure they are uniform.  Cover the leeks with a layer of potatoes (half the potatoes). Sprinkle the rosemary over the potatoes, then sprinkle ½ cup of cheese. Add a layer of rutabaga, using half of what you have. Sprinkle the crushed star anise around this layer and then ½ cup cheese too. Repeat a layer of potatoes and cheese, then a layer of rutabaga. Pour the creamy onion mixture over everything as evenly as you can and bake for 30 minutes in convection or 35 minutes in a regular oven.  Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top and continue to bake another 12-15 minutes, or until the rutabaga is tender and the cream seems to be solid.

Remove from the oven and let it cool 5 minutes before serving.  You can sparingly add freshly chopped flat leaf parsley for color if you wish.