28 June 2013

Caponata: the perfect patio snack

Caponata, a Sicilian dish of eggplants, sometimes fish, and other vegetables, is already pretty worldly; thanks to their geographical location along an important ancient trade route, many Sicilian dishes display similar influences from Greece, Spain, and the Middle East. My particular version is a slight departure from what I originally learned, but it certainly doesn’t depart from the basic flavor profile. I also roast the vegetables instead of frying in heavy oil, but you can do whatever you want.  I like to serve this at room temperature (not hot!) with crusty bread and chilled white wine, preferably bubbly.  

Global Caponata

Serves 6-8 as a snack for your Prosecco

1 ½ pounds eggplant, cut into 1-inch cubes
olive oil
1 small yellow onion, chopped
½ pound tomatoes, cut into 1-inch cubes
1/3 pound red bell pepper, cut into 1-inch squares
2 tablespoons fresh basil, chiffonaded
1 tablespoon fresh mint, chiffonaded
½ cup roughly chopped mixed olives
½ cup thinly sliced celery ribs
2 tablespoons capers
2 tablespoons sliced almonds
2 tablespoons raisins
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 teaspoons sugar
1 tablespoon pomegranate seeds
Toasted bread for serving

Place chopped eggplant in a colander in the sink along with about 2 teaspoons salt.  Toss gently to cover eggplant and let stand 30 minutes.  Then, rinse eggplant under cold water and squeeze dry in handfuls.  

On parchment-lined baking sheets, spread the onion, celery, red bell pepper, basil, and mint. Top that with scattered chopped tomato and a pinch of salt.  Top tomatoes with the chopped eggplant and drizzle with olive oil.  Roast in an oven at 375°F for 20 minutes, or until eggplant is thoroughly cooked.  

Meanwhile, in a small microwaveable bowl, combine the vinegar, raisins, and sugar.  Heat 1 minute on high and whisk until sugar is completely dissolved. When vegetables are done, place in a large serving bowl and pour vinegar dressing on top; stir to coat.  Add the olives, capers, pomegranate seeds, and almonds and give it another stir.  Allow to cool to room temperature before serving.  This will also keep in the refrigerator up to one week; bring back up to room temperature before serving.  

25 June 2013

Recipe review: no-cook steel cut oats

When we make steel-cut oats at our house, it is a monumental project--minimum of an hour from start to finish.  And I never want to cook (or wait) that long for my breakfast.  I was skeptical of this recipe published in Vegetarian Times a while back which claimed that steel cut oats could soak overnight and would be deemed edible by morning.  They are chewier and firmer this way compared to cooking them, but the texture has grown on me, and the simplified procedure won me over immediately.

I haven't modified this except for flavoring; you could experiment even further.  I do like heating some up in a bowl with a little extra milk just to finish softening the oats, and I always top it with some kind of fruit, nuts, and usually yogurt.

PS--If you skip the chia seeds, the oatmeal will be a little closer to crunchy in the morning.  They also provide a complete protein, so it's really worth springing for them.

Vegetarian Times' Overnight Chai Steel-Cut Oats

Makes 2 servings

  • 1 cup steel-cut oats
  • 1 cup vanilla almond or soy milk (or plain milk and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla)
  • 2 tablespoons chia seeds
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
  • ¼ teaspoon  ground ginger 
  • ¼ teaspoon  ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 pinch nutmeg
  • 1 pinch black pepper
  • 1-2 teaspoons honey
  • 1 Tbs. shredded coconut (optional)
Place all ingredients in a Tupperware-ish container or a jar with a lid.  Stir to coat thoroughly.  In the morning, heat half in the microwave with about 2 tablespoons of milk and top with fruit, nuts, etc.  Keeps 4-5 days in the refrigerator.  

21 June 2013

Fun with watermelon

When I was a kid, I loved watermelon.  We never did anything exciting with it--just cut it up and ate it on the back porch, sticky juice dripping everywhere (come to think of it, my mom was pretty smart for not letting us in the house until we were finished).  As a single adult, I never bought it, because the thought of going through a whole watermelon was daunting.  And they never seemed all that cheap in my urban-ish grocery stores, anyway.  As a married lady, I can always hand remaining watermelon to my husband, who serves so many functions in the household, but human garbage disposal is definitely at the top of the list when leftovers are getting old (thanks, honey).  But somehow I had gotten over watermelon from my years off the stuff, and I sort of assumed it was just a childish treat without much nutritional importance, anyway.  I was dead wrong about that: the stuff is loaded with vitamins A & C, potassium, and lycopene.  It's also loaded with sugar, but it's still better for you than beer.

In dry, dusty Colorado, watermelon is thirst-quenching, cold, and refreshing, and it's also cheap out here in the sticks, living near so many farms that grow the stuff.  So, I'm bringing watermelon back to the table this summer.  This may not be revolutionary to those of you who have been loyal to this old friend all along, but perhaps my little experiments will find their way to your tables, too.

Cucumber and Watermelon Salad

I know, why didn't I think of it sooner?

Serves 4

1 pound cucumbers, cut in half lengthwise and then sliced into thin half-circles
3 cups chunked watermelon
1/4 of a red onion, diced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon rice vinegar

Combine all ingredients and serve immediately.

Watermelon and Apple Cider Vinegar Tonic

Loosely adapted from Louisa Shafia's New Persian Kitchen, this is a clever way to incorporate that daily dose of apple cider vinegar we're all supposed to be drinking every day.

Serves 2

1 cup water
2 tablespoons honey
2 cups chopped watermelon
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

Combine all ingredients in a blender and process until smooth.  Drink immediately.

Watermelon and Tomato Salad

Wonderfully weird, and totally perfect.

Serves 4

2 cups fresh tomato, chopped
2 cups fresh watermelon, chopped
6 large basil leaves, chiffonaded
tablespoon lime juice
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients and serve immediately.

18 June 2013

Recipe review: vinegar carrots with sesame seeds

This is another easy, quick side dish from Louisa Shafia's The New Persian Kitchen; it works with any kind of grilled meat or vegetables, quiche, or alongside a rice pilaf for lunch.  I simplified the preparation of the carrots, which are peeled into long, thin ribbons in the original, because I think they're awkward to eat.  But if you want to get fancy, you could do that instead.

Vinegar Carrots with Sesame Seeds

Serves 4

1/2 cup sesame seeds
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons white vinegar
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
salt to taste
1 1/2 pounds carrots, peeled or cleaned and sliced into thin discs
1 cup tightly packed fresh cilantro

In a small bowl, whisk together garlic, vinegars. honey, sesame oil, red pepper flakes, sesame seeds, and about 1 teaspoon salt.  Pour the dressing over the carrots, and the cilantro, and toss to coat.  Season with more salt if necessary and serve.

(This is a photo of the original recipe from The New Persian Kitchen.)

14 June 2013

I wanted to go to Asia but all I got was some peas...

My friends recently toured Southeast Asia and posted some great photos of delicious-looking food and fun times every step of the way.  Around the same time, I started noticing all the newly available fresh produce at my local hippy-dippy natural food store, and the beautiful sugar snap peas, combined with my mild jealousy towards my friends eating their hearts out in Singapore, yielded this recipe. You can make a lot of substitutions here--change the noodles, the veggies, the fresh herbs, trade the tofu for meat (the marinade works just as well).  But don't skip the mayonnaise, which I know sounds insane, but it is oh-so-good.  If you do and I find out, I will physically fight you.

Creamy Asian Noodle Bowl

Serves 4

½ block extra firm tofu
Tofu marinade:
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 teaspoons Sriracha sauce
1 teaspoon lime juice
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
½ teaspoon toasted sesame oil

Peanut oil for frying
2 packages instant ramen noodles
8 dried shitake mushrooms, broken into small pieces
6 dried Thai red chili peppers, whole
¼ red onion, finely diced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 pound sugar snap peas, trimmed and cut into ½-inch pieces on the bias
1 small red pepper, cut into similar-sized pieces
¼ cup mayonnaise
1/8 cup rice vinegar
¼ teaspoon fish sauce
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

Prepare ahead: press the tofu until most water is release, about 30 minutes.  Combine all marinade ingredients in a small container.  Cut the pressed tofu into bite-sized pieces and place in the marinade, shaking or stirring gently to coat evenly.  You can leave this on the counter and occasionally stir it while you chop your vegetables and cook.

In a medium saucepan, heat enough water to cook the noodles along with one of the ramen seasoning packets (I always get “Oriental Flavor”).  When the water comes to a boil, throw in the mushrooms and noodles and cook until done.  While you are doing this, steam the sugar snap peas and bell pepper; this can be done in a steamer above the cooking noodle if you have one, or in a separate pot if you don’t.

Meanwhile, heat about 2 teaspoons of peanut oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Sauté the dried peppers, onion, and garlic until soft and fragrant.  Scrape into a small bowl and wipe excess oil off the side of the pan.  Return pan to medium-high heat, add 2 tablespoons of peanut oil, and when it smokes, add the marinated tofu.  (Keep any excess marinade for the end.) The liquid from the marinade will cause a lot of spitting, so I remove the pan from the heat in order to do this, then put it back on the burner.  Cook tofu until browned on each side, flipping once in the middle.

When the tofu is golden on both sides, lower heat to medium low.  Stir in the steamed vegetables, cooked noodles with mushrooms, and any remaining marinade form the tofu.  In the small bowl with the onions and garlic, add the mayonnaise, vinegar, fish sauce, and cilantro.  Stir to combine, then stir into the noodle mixture in the pan.  Heat through and serve with fresh lime wedges and Ponzu sauce.

11 June 2013

Recipe review: chicken kebabs in yogurt marinade

This is another fantastic recipe from Louisa Shafia's The New Persian Kitchen, though I have made a couple of simplifications in the version I have included below.  This marinade yielded the most tender, tangy chicken I've ever had done on the grill, while still managing to achieve a great char.  I added some hunks of onion and zucchini to these kebabs, though the original recipe calls for cherry tomatoes, instead.

Served with the Tomato and Cucumber Salad I reviewed last week from this book and my Greek Lemon Rice with Lentils, this made for a great afternoon barbecue last weekend.

Chicken Kebabs in Yogurt Marinade: Joojeh Kebab
Modified from Louisa Shafia's The New Persian Kitchen

Serves 4

5 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup lemon juice
1 cup plain yogurt
1 scant teaspoon ground turmeric
salt and black pepper to taste
1+ pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 small zucchini, cut into 1/2-inch rounds
1/2 while onion, cut into large wedges
olive oil for drizzling

In a large, freezer-weight zip-top bag, combine the garlic, lemon juice, yogurt, and turmeric until smooth (just squeeze the bag until it's mixed together).  Season the cut chicken with salt and pepper and add to the bag, massaging to combine.  Refrigerate overnight.

When ready to grill, place pieces of onion, chicken, and zucchini on skewers, allowing extra marinade to drip off chicken before placing on the grill.  Drizzle generously on both sides with olive oil and cook over hot coals until charred.  This took me 20 minutes, turning twice while cooking

07 June 2013

A (boozy) chicken in the pot...

Comforting and creamy, this simple meal takes less than an hour to prepare.  The egg noodles are not necessary--rice, couscous, or whatever grain you prefer will work just as well.  In fact, salted steel cut oats are quite pleasant and hearty.

It's also a great way to use up leftover cream cheese when your short-lived love affair with bagels dies for the fifteen thousandth time. (Or is that just me?)

Chardonnay Chicken

Serves 4

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 large chicken breasts, cut into 2- inch chunks
2 shallots, diced
1 clove garlic, diced
8 oz. mixed mushrooms, washed and sliced
2 tablespoons sundried tomatoes, julienned
1 tablespoon capers
1 head broccoli, cut into bite-sized pieces (stem, too)
1/3 cup chardonnay (I like Mirassou, which is brighter and less buttery than most)
1 tablespoon grainy mustard
¼ cup cream cheese (low fat is fine)
1 teaspoon summer savory
Salt and black pepper to taste
1 pound egg noodles

Cook noodles in salted water according to package directions.

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium high heat.  Season the chicken with salt and pepper.  Cook the chicken pieces, flipping once, until lightly browned, about 6 minutes total. Reduce to medium heat and add the broccoli, shallots and garlic, stirring constantly until fragrant, about 2 minutes.  Add the mushrooms and sauté until they begin to give off their juices, about 5 minutes.  Add the chardonnay and grainy mustard, stir to combine into a broth, cover and lower heat to a simmer.  Cook on low until chicken is tender, about 10 minutes.  As you are draining noodles, stir in the cream cheese, summer savory and more slat and pepper, if desired.  Heat through, about 1 minute, and serve over pasta.

04 June 2013

Recipe Review: tomato and cucumber salad from The New Persian Kitchen

Louisa Shafia has a real gem of a cookbook in her The New Persian Kitchen, published earlier this year. The recipes are accessible and easy to love, though you might find yourself visiting Amazon for dried limes or pomegranate molasses, depending on where you live.  This recipe is as simple as it gets, and it's delicious.  Bring it on a picnic this summer!

Louisa Shafia's Tomato and Cucumber Salad

Serves 6

4 cucumbers
2 large tomatoes
1/2 a red onion
2 tablespoons dried mint
1/2 cup lime juice
salt and pepper to taste

Dice the cucumbers, tomatoes, and onions in similarly-sized pieces.  Hold your hands over the salad and rub the mint between your palms.  Add the lime juice, salt and pepper to taste, and stir thoroughly to combine.

(I also tossed some leftover cooked lentils in one day and it made a great lunch.)