December 22, 2014 Two Dips for Holiday Entertaining

 

DSC_0253aHere are two new recipes to add to your holiday entertaining repetoire.  Kabocha squash and olive pomegranate walnut dips are unique, flavorful and will take you out of the everyday French onion and spinach dip rut.

Olive, pomegranate and walnut dip is also known as Zeytoon Parvardeh and originates from the northern Iranian province of Gilan, where fruit, olive and nut trees abound. Pomegranates, in peak season now, are used in two ways, for the crunchy seeds and deliciously tart pomegranate molasses. Pomegranate molasses can be purchased at Middle Eastern markets or if you are feeling a little adventurous, you can make your own by cooking down pomegranate juice with a little lemon juice, much in the same way a balsamic vinegar reduction is made. Olives, another major component in this dish, are pitted and  chopped to about the size of the pomegranate seeds. My choice was a mild buttery Castelvetrano, but any variety that is briny, not bitter will work. Walnuts are traditionally used in this dish but another Middle Eastern favorite, pistachios, would be a good  substitute.

This “dip” has the chunky consistency of a tapenade or a relish and in one instance I saw it referred to as a salad. We used it as a topping for fish and I could see it topping sliced lamb in a pita.  If you chopped the ingredients in a food processor as it was called for in some of the versions of the recipe, it would have more of the consistency of a dip.  Though tarragon compliments the flavors of the ingredients in this dish, some of the more authentic recipes called for mint and a seasoning called golpar or Persian hogweed. Used with vegetarian and bean dishes, it is often incorrectly sold labeled as angelica. Golpar translates to “rose feather” and has been described as fragrant and reminiscent of pepper or cardamom. Sounds like something I will have to seek out in the future.

We use winter squash in soups, casseroles and side dishes, why not in a dip? I improvised this recipe with ingredients I had in my kitchen. The honeyed sweetness and custardy texture of kabocha squash is a natural for a dip. The goat cheese brings a little creamy saltiness and contrasts with the heat of the curry powder. Sweet or hot curry powder would work according to your taste.The juice of a lemon brightens all the flavors. Kabocha squash dip is a natural for pita triangles or vegetable crudite.  Serve the olive, pomegranate and walnut dip with crostini that has been topped with a thin layer of chevre.

Green Olive, Walnut and Pomegranate Dip

Makes 2 1/4cups

Ingredients

  • 1/2c walnuts
  • 2c pitted briny green olives, finely chopped
  • 1/2c pomegranate seeds
  • 3T pomegranate molasses
  • 3T finely chopped tarragon
  • 3T extra virgin olive oil
  • 1T red wine vinegar
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

 

DSC_0168aDSC_0250aDirections

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Spread the walnuts in a pie plate and bake until toasted, 10 minutes. Let cool, then finely chop.
  2. In a bowl, mix the walnuts with the other ingredients and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with pita chips, crudité or as a topping for fish.

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DSC_0266aKabocha Squash Dip

Makes 2 1/2 cups

Ingredients

  • 1 small Kabocha squash
  • 4oz soft goat cheese at room temperature
  • 1/3c tahini
  • 2t or more curry powder (mild, hot, your choice)
  • Juice of one small lemon
  • Half and half or cream to thin out texture
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

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Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 425°F. Cut Kabocha squash into 2″ wedges, place on a baking sheet cut side up and brush lightly with olive oil. Bake squash until tender and browned in spots, about 45 minutes. Check half way through baking to flip the tray around. Let squash cool.
  2. Scrape two packed cups squash from the skin, save any additional squash for another use. Put squash, goat cheese, tahini, curry powder, juice of a lemon in a food processor and pulse until nearly smooth. Add a little cream to thin out, pulse until smooth. Season with salt and pepper and additional curry powder if desired.
  3. Scrape into a bowl and serve with crackers or crudité.

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December 12, 2014 Creamy Kale Gratin

DSC_0072aWhen it comes to Thanksgiving I’m “all about the sides”. Now don’t get me wrong, we had three turkeys for Thanksgiving, roasted, grilled and smoked, all cooked to perfection by my hubby. No fried turkey this year, we tried it one Thanksgiving and the combination of a deep fryer and a windy day on a wooden deck made for an interesting and potentially dangerous afternoon.

I love fall vegetables, a variety of interesting winter squashes, beautiful brassicas and hearty root vegetables all appear at our table. In previous years I would make myself crazy with last minute preparations for a half dozen complicated side dishes before we sat down to Thanksgiving dinner. Now I like to roast a combination of root vegetables tossed with olive oil, salt and freshly ground pepper and supplement them with some other interesting sides.

If I am at home in the early afternoon I will occasionally turn on “The Chew”, a television program that has been described as “The View” for foodies. The panel includes among others, star chef, restauranteur and cookbook author, Mario Batali, and it was Mario’s recipe this day that caught my attention, Creamy Kale Gratin.
We are not newcomers on the ever expanding kale bandwagon. Joe has been growing it in the fall for quite a few years, before it achieved it’s current celebrity status. This year’s crop was abundant. He grew both the Red Russian variety with it’s reddish purple stems and curly leaves and the Lacinato or dinosaur kale with crinkly long dark green leaves. What most people don’t know is that after the first frost, kale becomes sweeter and could easily convert the most die hard kale hater.

Today’s episode was titled potluck party, focusing on dishes you could bring to a Thanksgiving dinner and I’m sure this dish would be a hit at any potluck meal, Thanksgiving or otherwise. Mario compared this dish to steakhouse creamed spinach, only made with kale. Mario had the assistance of actress Katherine Heigl, best known for her Emmy winning role on Grey’s Anatomy.  Her job, along with promoting her new television series, was to chop some of the kale while Mario made the Bechamel  sauce. I saw that chef Michael Symon was at the ready, most likely in case the task was too much for her to handle. I noticed she did a fine job, Michael said with a bit of surprise that she did a good job and Mario commented on her “mad skills”. She explained that she played a cook in one of her movies (Life As We Know It; I checked)  and they taught her to properly chop. She refered to it as a hidden talent, one of those things you learn as an actor.

The kale leaves are roughly chopped to the stem. Twenty cups may seem like a large quantity but like all greens, they cook down quickly. Rather than putting the stems in the trash, Mario puts the stems in half full pickle jars and snacks on them the next day. The kale is cooked in a large sautepan until wilted, it will cook fully when it is combined with the cheese sauce and croutons. A layer of croutons is placed on the bottom of a large buttered gratin dish. The next layer is the kale combined with the very cheesy sauce seasoned with freshly ground nutmeg. The remaining croutons are layered on top.

Either variety of  kale is suitable for this recipe. From my observation of the video it looks like they used a curly variety, I used the darker Lacinato with long crinkly leaves. I prepped my dish the day before, stopping before sprinkling the croutons with olive oil, salt and pepper. I brought the dish to room temperature the next day, finished the final steps and baked the gratin. The last dilemma the Chew tackled was how do you eat the bread bit? Fork and knife is fine but if you want to pick it up like a crostini, that’s just fine too.   We all enjoyed the gratin, a delicious way to enjoy one of the final offerings of the fall garden.

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Lacinato kale in the fall garden.

Creamy Kale Gratin

Serves 10

Ingredients

  • 20 cups Russian or Lacinato kale, stems removed and roughly chopped
  • 1 loaf sourdough bread, cut into 1/2 inch slices
  • 6 T butter, and additional butter for the baking dish
  • 1/2c shallots, sliced
  • 1t red pepper flakes
  • 1/4c all purpose flour
  • 1 1/2c milk
  • 1 1/2c heavy cream
  • 8oz grated gruyere cheese
  • 8oz grated sharp white cheddar cheese
  • 1/2c crème fraiche
  • 1/2c Parmigiano Reggiano, freshly grated
  • 1/2t freshly grated nutmeg

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F
  2. Preheat a large sauté pan over medium high heat. Add 2 tablespoons butter and a drizzle of olive oil. When the butter has melted, add the shallots, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes. Sauté until translucent, about 4 minutes. Add the kale and season with salt and pepper. Sauté until wilted about 4 minutes. Set aside.
  3. Meanwhile, in a separate heavy bottomed pot (think Le Creuset) , melt 4 tablespoons butter. Add flour and stir to combine. Cook the flour mixture for 2 minutes, stirring continuously. Slowly pour in the milk and cream and whisk to combine. Continue to cook,, stirring continuously with a wooden spoon, until the béchamel sauce coats the back of a wooden spoon (about 5 minutes). Remove from the heat. Add in the cheeses and whisk until smooth. Season with freshly grated nutmeg, salt and pepper. Stir in the reserved kale mixture.
  4. Butter a large gratin baking dish. Lay an even layer of the read slices in the bottom of the gratin dish. Pour the creamy kale over the bread. Top the casserole with the remaining bread slices, placing them tightly together. Season the bread with salt and pepper and drizzle with olive oil. Place in the oven to bake for 30 minutes, until the topping is golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.
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A rough chop is all you need for this dish.

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A layer of bread slices are placed at the bottom of the dish.

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Next, a layer of creamy, cheesy kale.

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Then another layer of sourdough bread rounds.

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Brush sourdough lightly with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper and bake. Delicious!

 

December 7, 2014 Roasted Butternut Squash Soup with Asian Pear and Ginger

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Squash soup is a constant on our Thanksgiving table. As a novice cook it was the tried and true Silver Palate version of butternut squash soup with apples and curry that I turned to. This delicious soup with a little bit of sweet and a little bit of spice was always met with rave reviews from friends and family. In recent years I have tried to change it up a little. My basic formula is to combine a winter squash whether it’s Hubbard, butternut, kabocha, with a fall fruit like apples or pears and spiced with flavors that remind me of fall, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice or ginger.

This year’s recipe was developed with inspiration from a visit to the farmers market, butternut squash soup with fresh ginger and Asian pears. When choosing a butternut squash look for one that is evenly beige in color and heavy for it’s size. There should be about an inch of intact stem and the skin should be matte, not shiny in appearance. If the stem is removed, it is easier for bacteria to enter the squash. A shiny butternut squash was picked too young, or worse, waxed. I look for a butternut with a thicker “neck” and a smaller ball. I cut the squash in two pieces, where the neck meets the ball. I find that it’s easier to peel in two separate units. I prefer a vegetable peeler for this task but a thin bladed sharp knife will work as well. I don’t always have the time, but when I do I also toast the seeds for a snack or a garnish.

Butternut squash is a common find at the farmers market in the fall  but freshly harvested ginger, that was a new discovery for me. The most visible difference in the freshly harvested ginger was that the skin was soft, not woody and the flesh was much juicier. A little investigation and I discovered it’s not that difficult to grow your own ginger, in our case indoors, since we lack the year round tropical climate. We can try this in the spring when the ginger at the supermarket is at it’s freshest and easiest to root. I’m sure I can convince Joe to try this, maybe growing our own will be the alternative to the shriveled up piece I always seem to have in the fridge.

Asian pears are native to China, Taiwan, Korea and Japan and we even have a few trees in our orchard. The fruit is pome shaped like an apple and unlike it’s European counterparts must fully ripen on the tree. Also, Asian pears are consumed when the flesh is firm and crisp with a somewhat gritty texture, not buttery soft like an Anjou or Bosc.

This is an easy soup to put together, toss the cubed vegetables with olive oil, salt and pepper and roast until they are soft and browned in places.  The vegetables are pureed in the food processor with just enough chicken stock to make a thick soup. Cook the puree mixture over medium heat to blend the flavors together. If this soup is made in advance, it will thicken as it sits, just add enough chicken broth to thin it out.

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Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

Serves eight

Ingredients

  • 1 large butternut squash 4-5 lbs., peeled and cut into 1-inch dice
  • 1 Asian pear, peeled, cored and sliced
  • 1 medium onion in 1-inch dice
  • 2 carrots, peeled in 1-inch dice
  • 1 large stalk celery in 1-inch dice
  • 1 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled if necessary, cut into 6-8 pieces
  • 3T olive oil
  • 3-4 cups low sodium chicken broth
  • Kosher salt and pepper

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F. In a large bowl combine the butternut squash cubes and olive oil. Mix together, coating the cubes well. Sprinkle with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper.  Spread  the squash pieces evenly on a rimmed baking sheet. Be sure not to crowd.
  2. In the same bowl, toss the pear, carrots and celery to coat with the olive oil that remained in the bowl. Sprinkle with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper.  Place on a second baking sheet and place both sheets in the oven. Roast for 35-40 minutes, rotating trays top and bottom halfway through the cooking time. Vegetables should be soft and browned.
  3. In batches, add the roasted cubes to the food processor with enough chicken stock to blend the mixture. Add blended vegetables to a large soup pot and cook over medium heat. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer, covered for twenty minutes.
  4. Serve soup warm garnished with pear slices.
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Fresh ginger, the skin is much softer and the ginger is juicier.

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November 20, 2014 Mahi Mahi with Pomegranate Salsa

DSC_0009aFish is always my go-to selection for a quick and healthy dinner.  This weekend my fish market had quite a few excellent varieties and some beautiful mahi mahi fillets caught my eye.

Also known as dolphin fish, the Hawaiian name, mahi mahi, was used first by restaurants to distinguish it from the mammal. Despite the Hawaiian name, mahi mahi is mostly fished on the Atlantic coast. Wild caught in the United States from Massachusetts to Texas, it is considered a “best choice” by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch. Mahi mahi are fished by longline methods or troll and pole. These methods limit the accidental catch of sea turtles and other threatened species.

Mahi mahi is a lean fish with a delicate, mildly pronounced flavor and medium texture. The flesh usually has strips of brown running down the center of the fillet. This is a harmless discoloration, some (not us) think this makes the fish less attractive so they trim it off. Be sure to remove the skin before cooking, it is tough and tasteless. Halibut would be a good substitution if mahi mahi is not available.

We cook our fish very simply and compliment it with a bright sauce. I wanted to take advantage of seasonal fall ingredients and I noticed a display of pomegranates at the front of the supermarket. Whether it was inspiration or the power of suggestion, I’m not certain, I planned to make a pomegranate salsa. I combined jewel toned pomegranate arils with juicy pineapple, crispy cucumber and red onion. A little jalapeno from the garden provided enough heat to contrast with the sweet and I finished the salsa with a little cilantro. Served with rice and avocado slices and a salad, this made a quick and delicious dinner. This salsa would be good with tortilla or pita chips or even as a bruschetta with a creamy goat cheese.

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Mahi Mahi with Pomegranate Salsa

Serves four

Ingredients

  • 4 mahi mahi fillets, 6 oz each
  • Cooked jasmine or other long grain rice
  • Sliced avocado
  1. Preheat  oven to 450°F.
  2. Measure the fillets at their thickest point. Season fish with salt and pepper and place on a baking sheet.
  3. Bake fish for 10 minutes for every inch of thickness. If you check internal temperatures, it should be about 130°F. Remember fish will continue to cook even off the heat.
  4. Mound the rice on plates and top with fish and salsa. Arrange avocado slices on the side. Sprinkle with cilantro and serve with lime wedges.

Pomegranate Salsa

Makes about 4 cups

Ingredients

  • 1c pomegranate arils
  • 3/4c peeled and diced cucumber
  • 3/4c diced pineapple
  • 1/4c diced red onion
  • 1-3 jalapeno peppers, seeded and minced
  • 1/3c diced sweet red pepper
  • 2T fresh lime juice
  • 1/3c finely chopped cilantro

Directions

  1. Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and stir to combine. Taste for heat preference and additional jalapeno if desired.

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November 16, 2014 NuMex Suave Orange Peppers

DSC_9452aA warm early fall, plant cages and a drip irrigation system all contributed to a bumper crop of sweet and hot peppers this season. One of the most interesting varieties we grew was the Nu Mex Suave Orange.  In appearance, this pepper closely resembles a habenaro. If you are not familiar with habenaros, they are one of the hottest varieties grown. Pepper heat is rated on the Scoville scale. For example, jalapenos are around 25,000 units, hot enough to satisfy most palates. The red Savina habenaro is 577,000 Scoville units, a bit too hot for all but the most dedicated pepperheads to enjoy.

So why was there a need to breed a mild habenaro? In addition to their heat, habenaros have a unique flavor that most people couldn’t taste because they couldn’t get past the scorching heat.

This is where the developers of new pepper breeds came in. With seed donated from a chile aficionado from Texas, and many seeding trials, the varieties, Nu Mex Suave Red and Orange pepper were originated.  Nu Mex is the name for products created at the agricultural experimentation station at New Mexico State University at Las Cruces and suave, meaning mellow or smooth, emphasizes the mild nature of the chile. Nu Mex Suaves look like a cross between a habenaro and a Scotch bonnet, another hot chili, used in Jamaican jerk sauces and salsa.

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The fruits are about 2 inches in size, plump, wrinkled and bright orange yellow in color.  Suaves have a citrusy flavor with an orange lemony overtone. The heat is felt in the back of the mouth and throat as opposed to a jalapeno where you will experience the heat on your tongue and lips.

Their wrinkled appearance and thin waxy skin make them a poor candidate for roasting. I used them in salads and had my own experiment with some mini stuffed peppers. I also froze several bags  and look forward to the mild heat and citrusy flavor they will add to soups, stews and other dishes.

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November 11, 2014 Puerto Rican Coleslaw

DSC_9489aA flavorful salad that’s a healthier alternative to mayonnaise based slaws. Crispy cabbage, celery and radishes are combined with sweet Sungold tomatoes in this very easy to make dish. Why is it considered Puerto Rican? Couldn’t find a definitive answer for that, but the addition of some sliced hearts of palm would give it a real Caribbean flair. Serve with a grilled steak or roast chicken, the leftovers keep for several days, that is, if you can keep it that long.

Puerto Rican Coleslaw

Makes about six servings

Ingredients

  • 6-8 c finely chopped green cabbage
  • 1 c diced small tomatoes
  • ½ c chopped celery, if the stalks are large, cut in half lengthwise first
  • 1/2c chopped celery leaves
  • 6-7 radishes, cut root and stem off first, then cut into half moon slices
  • ¼ c sliced green onion
  • 2 T apple cider vinegar
  • 1 t fresh lime juice
  • ½ t kosher salt, or more to taste
  • ¼  to 1/2t hot pepper sauce, I used sriracha sauce
  • 3T grapeseed or canola oil

Directions

  1. Chop up the cabbage, tomatoes and celery leaves, and slice celery, radishes and green onions, and toss into a large bowl. You can make this part ahead, place it in a container with a lid and pop it in the fridge until you’re ready to make the salad.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together apple cider vinegar, lime juice, salt, hot sauce and oil. Taste to see if you want to add more hot sauce.
  3. Toss salad with the dressing. You can make this salad ahead and store it in the fridge for a few hours before you’re ready to serve.

October 25, 2014 Cauliflower Salad

DSC_9433a“Gifted” with another box of Brassicas this week, I was looking for a way to use cauliflower in a fall salad. A new cookbook, Bar Tartine : Techniques and Recipes, gave me the salad I was looking for.

Opened in 2005, Bar Tartine, located in the Mission District of San Francisco is an offshoot of the highly praised San Francisco bakery, Tartine. In addition to doing their own curing, preserving and in-house fermenting, the food draws influences from countries as diverse as Norway, Japan and Hungary.

The cauliflower is broken down into tiny florets, save the rest to make cauliflower “mashed potatoes”. In a bowl with the yogurt dressing, combine the florets with cucumbers, chickpeas and mushrooms. Our garden provided me with the radishes and serrano peppers needed for this salad. I was hesitant to use the two serranos as suggested, ours get quite hot so I went with just one. The yogurt dressing tamed the chiles heat quite a bit.
Resist the urge to roast or blanch the cauliflower before adding it to the salad, if you normally dislike it raw.  Marinating small florets in the dressing softens them up considerably without making them mushy. The yogurt dressing is especially good and would work well with other salad combinations.

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Assembled ingredients for the yogurt dressing.

 

Bar Tartine Cauliflower Salad

Serves 6

Ingredients

For the dressing

  • 1 c Greek style yogurt, regular or low fat
  • 5T sunflower oil
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2T freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1T red wine vinegar
  • 1T honey
  • 1 1/2t fine grain sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Directions for the dressing

  1. In a bowl large enough to hold all the salad components, whisk together the yogurt, sunflower oil, garlic, lemon juice, vinegar, honey, salt and pepper to taste. If not using immediately, store dressing in an airtight container. Dressing can be made several days ahead.

Ingredients for the salad

  • 6-8 c cauliflower, trimmed into tiny florets
  • 2 medium cucumbers, peeled, seeded if necessary, cut into small dice
  • 4-5 scallions, cut into 1/4″ rounds
  • 1c cooked chickpeas, fresh is best but rinsed well and drained thoroughy if canned.
  • 8oz mushrooms, button or shiitake, quartered
  • 6-8 radishes, ends trimmed and thinly sliced
  • 1 or 2 green serrano chiles, stemmed, seeded and thinly sliced
  • 1/4c sunflower seeds, lightly toasted
  • 1/4c each chopped fresh flat leafed parsley, dill and tarragon

Directions for the salad

  1. Add the cauliflower, cucumbers, scallions, chickpeas, mushrooms, radishes, chilies, sunflower seeds and herbs to the bowl toss lightly and let stand for 15 minutes.
  2. During this time the vegetables will begin to exude some liquid the cauliflower will soften. Toss again and transfer salad to a bowl. Leftovers should keep for several days, if you can keep them around that long!

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October 20, 2014 Cauliflower Tabbouleh

DSC_9376aCauliflower is a master of disguises. Toss cauliflower with olive oil, salt, freshly ground pepper and herbs of your choice and roast it. The florets carmelize and develop a nutty quality, reminiscent of popcorn. Because that’s how you will consume it, like popcorn. Or simmer it until very tender, mash it up with milk and butter (or your reasonable substitute of choice) and you have a side as flavorful as any bowl of mashed potatoes.

This time cauliflower takes the place of coarsely ground bulgur in a mock tabbouleh. Taboulleh is a Lebanese herb salad with bulgur, as food historian Clifford A. Wright points out in his book, Little Foods of the Mediterranean, not a bulgur salad with herbs. The advantage of using cauliflower is that, unlike bulgur, it will not continue to expand as the dish sits. By the nature of the vegetables in it, the mock tabbouleh will exude more liquid, so be judicious in the amount of dressing you use. If you have any leftover the next day, drain any excess liquid off before serving.

This was an opportunity for me to use a new acquision in my battery of herbs and spices, sumac. Not related to the poisonous variety, it is extracted from the berries of a bush that grows wild in Mediteranean regions. The berries or drupes are ground into a reddish powder that adds an astringent lemony taste to salads or meat dishes. Combined with dried thyme and sesame seeds, it’s also part of a seasoning blend from the Middle East called z’atar.

Other additions to the salad could include chickpeas or some finely chopped bell pepper. For an “authentic” presentation, serve with romaine lettuce leaves to scoop up the tabbouleh. This is a recipe that got a big thumbs up from my hubby, who thought it tasted even better the second day.

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Use quick on and off pulses to chop the cauliflower florets finely to resemble medium grain bulgur.

Cauliflower Tabboulleh

Serves 6-8

Ingredients for the Dressing

  • 1T finely grated lemon zest
  • 3T fresh lemon juice
  • 1T red wine vinegar
  • 1/3-1/2c safflower or avocado oil
  • 1/2t  ground cumin
  • 1/2t  ground sumac
  • 1t kosher salt
  • 1/4t freshly ground black pepper

Directions for the dressing

  1. In a small bowl, whisk together lemon zest, lemon juice,vinegar, oil, cumin, sumac, salt and pepper. Set aside

Ingredients for the tabboulleh

  • 6-8 c cauliflower florets, use the stem part to make cauliflower “mashed potatoes”
  • 1c chopped cucumber, peeled, seeded and chopped into 1/2″ dice
  • 1c chopped tomato
  • 1 1/2c fresh flat leaf parsley leaves, chopped
  • 1/2c dill leaves, chopped
  • 1/4-1/2c mint leaves, chopped
  • 3-4 green onions, thinly sliced
  • 2 cloves finely minced garlic

Directions for the tabboulleh

  1. Chop cauliflower florets in a very fine dice, either with a box grater, by hand or in a food processor with short, quick pulses.  Do not overcrowd the processor, you may have to do this in batches. The final product should resemble medium bulgur grains. Transfer the chopped cauliflower to a large bowl. Add the chopped cucumber and tomato.
  2. Add chopped parsley, dill, mint, green onion and garlic to workbowl to chop more finely. Transfer to the bowl with the cauliflower. Gently mix to combine, add dressing and mix again. Taste for seasoning and serve.

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October 15, 2014 Baked Chiles Rellenos

DSC_9331aMy first exposure to Mexican cuisine didn’t occur until I was in college and that was limited to ketchupy salsa and salty tortilla chips. A few years later, I experienced the contrast of the good Mexican food  produced in a hole in the wall, mom and pop restaurant with a mediocre chain restaurant (remember Chi Chi’s anyone?)

As it was with other foreign cuisines I was unfamiliar with, I gained knowledge of the food by reading cookbooks. The cookbooks of Diana Kennedy and Rick Bayless introduced me to Mexican cuisine that varies from state to state, much the same as it does in the United States.  I bought a press and set out to make my own tortillas using a product I never heard of before, masa harina. My well intentioned attempts were less than perfect for certain but I developed an appreciation for how it was done.

Then, there were the many varieties of peppers, used both fresh and dried I was unfamiliar with, their heat measured on the Scoville scale.  Some were hot, like the jalapeno and serrano, others very hot,  habenero and Scotch bonnet, others with only mild heat, like poblanos and pasillas. The herbs, not readily available thirty years ago in markets like cilantro and Mexican oregano, were accessible to us as gardeners. There is always a small patch of cilantro in the garden in the warmer months, and we have a large Mexican oregano plant that Joe dries at the end of the season. We use hot peppers in their fresh, frozen and dried states. It has always surprised me that dried peppers, several years old are still as hot as a fresh one.
This year we have had a bumper crop of peppers, both sweet and hot. The peppers that are supposed to be hot, are hot. We learned last year, after a disappointing crop of rather mild jalapenos, the plants need to be stressed, as in, no special watering or fertilizing to produce hot peppers. I guess there is a life lesson there, but we can leave that for another time.
Another reason for the excellent pepper crop were the plant supports. When a plant starts producing peppers, it can weigh down the plant and many of the peppers touch the ground, making them susceptible to damage from pests and rotting. The delicate pepper plants stand tall with the supports and the peppers have room to grow.

We had the largest crop ever of poblano chiles. Poblanos have a dark green skin and left to ripen further on the vine will turn red. They are somewhat heart-shaped, 3-6 inches long and 2-3 inches wide. Which brings me to another pet peeve of mine. Our seed packet identified the pepper as an ancho and it was in actuality, a poblano. Poblano is the raw or cooked form of the pepper, it is only referred to as an ancho in it’s dried form. I had enough poblano peppers this season to dry some and to use some fresh.

Feeling ambitious, I decided to make my own interpretation of chiles rellenos. I will not lie to you and say this is an easy, quick, weeknight meal. The Mexican version of stuffed peppers, the translation of chiles rellenos, does take considerable time. The peppers were picked, sorted, with the wrinklier ones assigned to the drying pile. The chiles were roasted over the gas flame on the stove over the asador. Once charred on all sides I placed them in a large paper grocery bag to steam the peppers, loosening the skins even further and making them easier to peel. Remove the skin by running your hands down the chile, use a damp towel to remove any skin than won’t easily come off. Once peeled, the pepper is slit on the side so that you can remove the seed sac (Diana Kennedy refers to this as the placenta) and any large ribs.

Now it’s time to fill your peppers. I used about 1/3 to 1/2 cup filling per pepper. Some recipes instruct you to close the peppers up with toothpicks but I found the peeled pepper skin adheres nicely to itself. Most recipes call for dipping the peppers, first in flour, then in a egg and flour batter and fried in hot oil. I wanted to attempt something a bit simpler, so I dipped the peppers in an egg wash and rolled them in panko crumbs and baked them. I served them with an easy sauce of roasted tomatoes, cooked with onion, chipotle chile and some of the adobo sauce that the chipotles are packed in.

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Poblano pepper on the vine.

Baked Chiles Rellenos

Make one dozen stuffed chiles

Ingredients

  • 12 Poblano peppers, fresh, red or green with smooth, not wrinkly sides if possible

Directions

  1. For a gas stove, arrange the chiles over a lit burner (you can fit two to three per burner). For an electric stove, arrange all chiles on a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet and position it 4 inches below a hot broiler. As each side blackens and blisters, turn the chiles with tongs until they’re blistered all over.
  2. Immediately put the chiles in a large bowl, cover, and let steam for 15 minutes. Remove the skin with your fingers or a paper towel. (It’s OK if you can’t remove all of it.)
  3. Slit the chiles lengthwise, starting about 1/2 inch from the stem and ending about 1/2 inch from the point. Remove the seed core, being careful not to damage the stem.

Recipe for the filling and finishing the chiles

Ingredients

  • 1/2 c low fat or regular ricotta cheese
  • 1/4c crumbled feta
  • 1/2c shredded jack or cheddar cheese
  • 3/4c well drained chopped spinach or chard (I used chard)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 large egg
  • 1c panko crumbs (more or less)

Directions for the filling and finishing the chiles

  1. Preheat oven to 425°F.
  2. Combine the first four ingredients in a medium bowl. Mix well and season to taste with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper.
  3. Spoon about 1/2 cup of the filling into each chile and then press the cut edges together. (If the chiles tear, press the torn edges together.) Arrange the chiles on a tray or baking sheet.
  4. Whisk egg with 1/2 cup water in bowl. Spread panko crumbs on a small plate.
  5. Dip chiles in egg wash. Coat with breadcrumbs. Place on baking sheet, and bake 20 to 25 minutes, or until golden.

Ingredients for the sauce

  • 1/2c finely chopped onion
  • 2 tsp. chili powder
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1 28-oz. can whole tomatoes
  • 1 canned chipotle chile in adobo sauce, drained

Directions for sauce

  1.  Heat oil in saucepan over medium heat. Add onion, chili powder, and cumin, and cook 4 to 5 minutes, or until onion is soft and spices are fragrant.
  2. Add tomatoes, and simmer 10 minutes, breaking up tomatoes with spatula or wooden spoon. Transfer to blender, add chipotle chile, and blend until sauce is smooth.
  3. Serve chiles rellenos in sauce.

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I like to roast pepper on an asador, an open grated grill over the gas flame.

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October 9, 2014 Broccoli Soup

DSC_9270aOne day last week I received several phone calls and a text message from my husband at his office in a very short period of time. I wasn’t sure what was up since I had just been there, so I had to find out what was so urgent. “Are you near by? he asked, “A patient came in and brought me some of the biggest broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage I’ve ever seen.”  I wasn’t, nearby that is, so he planned to bring them home that evening.

When he came in that evening, something was missing, the vegetables. Joe left them in the computer room on his way out and since computer rooms can get a little warm, we promptly hopped back into the car and back to the office to rescue the Brassicas and the computer room from smelling like broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage!

With the advent of autumn and cooler temperatures  a new harvest of Brassicas are arriving at local farmers markets.Brassicas are a genus of plant in the mustard family. They are less frequently referred to these days, as cruciferous vegetables, giving note to the crosslike shape of plant’s flowers. The usual suspects we think of most are broccoli, cauliflower and brussels sprouts but they also include all types of radishes, turnips and even watercress. Brassicas are counted as some of the healthiest vegetables around containing high amounts of vitamin A caretonoids, vitamin C, folic acid and fiber.

With these huge veggies staring me down every time I opened the refrigerator door, the obvious question came, how was I going to use them? Cauliflower was an easy start, I like to toss the florets with olive oil, kosher salt and Aleppo and chipotle pepper. Roasted until it was a warm golden brown, we devoured the whole tray, before we even sat down to dinner one night.

Broccoli soup has always been a cooler weather favorite of ours. Previous recipes I have made were heavy in the cream, butter and cheese department. My rich broccoli cheddar soup was a yearly birthday request from one of my co workers many years ago. This time I wanted to try something a little lighter. The recipe I chose this time showcases the sweet and flavorful broccoli, accented by just a little bit of fresh herbs. Don’t forget to use the broccoli stalks as well, especially when you have very fresh broccoli, they have as much flavor as the florets. Half and half is optional, I thought the soup had a creamy texture without it.
This is a healthy soothing soup that would pair well with a salad for lunch but is elegant enough to serve as a first course when you are entertaining. Now it’s back to the kitchen for me to find creative ways to use cabbage!

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A very healthy head of broccoli.

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Ingredients, ready to go.

 

Broccoli Soup

Serves four

Ingredients

  • 1T butter
  • 1T extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 stalk celery chopped
  • 1t each of fresh parsley and thyme
  • 8c chopped broccoli (use both the stems and florets)
  • 6c reduced sodium chicken broth or vegetable broth
  • 1/2c half and half (optional)
  • Freshly ground pepper and kosher salt to taste

Directions

  1. Heat butter and oil in a Dutch oven over medium high heat until the butter melts. Add onion and celery; cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, 4 to 6 minutes.
  2. Add garlic, thyme and parsley; cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
  3. Stir in broccoli. Add broth; bring to simmer over high heat and reduce heat to maintain the simmer. Cook until the broccoli is very tender, about 8 minutes.
  4. Puree the soup in batches in a blender until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir in half and half if desired.

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