Nosh: Zaalouk al Qarnabit (Cauliflower Dip)

I was looking at a friend’s photos of the lovely Thanksgiving event they attended, when I noticed a sign for something called “zaalouk al qarnabit”. Hmmm, I thought. Food I don’t know about? Zaalouk whaaa…? I am so intrigued! What on Earth could that be?

Turns out, as exotic as this sounds, it’s a cauliflower dip. If you must know, it translates as “mashed cauliflower”, which sounds like something far less shrouded in dusky mystery, but it is delicious all the same. Zaalouk al qarnabit is almost, kind of but not really, like a Moroccan-style cauliflower salsa that could be modified for any variety of things. It’s delicious as a dip, scooped up on a nice, crisp crostini, but I could also imagine it on top of some cous cous, or on top of a piece of grilled chicken (or fish, I suppose, but I’m not really a seafood fan). I need to make it again because I keep on imagining it with cinnamon added to the spice mix, but that’s for a future blog. The recipe, as written below, is the one I used.

A word to potential zaalouk al qarnabit eaters: if you do not like garlic, this dish is not for you.

  •  1 large head cauliflower
  • 2 ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
  • 1 heaping teaspoon tomato paste, if necessary
  • 6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup (I generally think of fresh parsley in terms of handsful, so if you would prefer to think of it this way, take one large handful) chopped parsley, divided in half
  • 4 teaspoons paprika — or a combination of 2 tsp sweet/2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tablespoon cumin
  • 2 teaspoons salt, or to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon or more urfa biber
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 of a preserved lemon, cut into small dice
  • Olive oil

Urfa biber is ground Turkish pepper, that is incredibly complex. It’s a little spicy, a little smoky, almost raisin-y/licorice-y/vanilla-y. Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, even here in central PA it’s not terribly hard to get your hands on, but if you don’t have any, toss in a little additional black pepper and maybe some healthy pinches of red pepper flakes/smoked paprika/ground fennel, if you’re feeling creative. It still won’t be quite the same, but you know. Close enough.

As for preserved lemons, what can I say? Buy some. They’ll last forever in your fridge. If you’ve got a few weeks you can make them; they’re apparently not hard to make, but they need time to sit. (FUTURE PROJECT! Stay tuned; I’ll let you know how it goes.) Apparently, if you absolutely don’t have access to preserved lemons you can peel them and saute the rind (pith and all) in some oil with salt and a touch of sugar, which will mellow the lemony bite, but the salty briny bite of preserved lemon is pretty distinct and difficult to approximate. Seriously. Buy some.

Put a nice big pot of water on the stove to boil, big enough to boil an entire head of cauliflower in. You’ll add salt to the water for the cauliflower, but let it come to a boil first. Take your tomatoes in hand. Put little X’s in the bottoms of the tomatoes and, when the unsalted water comes to a boil, dunk the tomatoes in the boiling water for 30 seconds or so to loosen their skins and make them easier to peel.

Just peel along the X.

Just peel along the X. I was making a double-batch of zaalouk al qarnabit, which is why I have a ton of tomatoes in this photo.

Set them aside to cool, so they’re ready to peel, seed, and chop later. Using the same pot of water, add salt, and keep it hot for cauliflower.

One of the nice things about this dish–besides its being delicious and relatively easy to make–is that it uses nearly every part of the cauliflower. Leaves, stem, florets, everything can go in except for any gnarly bits you may trim off, so there’s virtually no waste. I found the cauliflower trimming to be the most taxing part of this zaalouk process, so take care of that first. Cut stems and florets into chunks that are roughly the same size. You want them to be a comparable consistency when you mash them, but don’t make yourself crazy. Keep leaves, stems, and florets in distinct piles.

Really. This was the hardest part.

Really. This was the hardest part.

Put the sturdy stems of the cauliflower into the boiling water first and let them soften for two or three minutes before adding the florets; they’re tougher and need a little more time in the water. Next, add the florets and let them boil until everything is nice and soft to the tooth, another 7 or 8 minutes.

Meanwhile, peel, seed, and chop the tomatoes, and chop as much garlic as you think you can stand.

Vampire-free food, right here.

Vampire-free food, right here.

When the cauliflower is soft, reserve about a half a cup of the salted water, then drain off the water. Let the cauliflower sit in the sink to drain as much as possible. Get some olive oil going in a roomy pan and add the tomatoes and garlic. Since these tomatoes are off-season and not terribly…tomato-y…I added a healthy teaspoon of tomato paste to the pan, so this food had a really solid flavor base to build on. Once the tomatoes start to break down and convert into a sauce, add the pepper and/or urfa biber, paprika(s), and cumin. Don’t add any salt yet; see if you want or need it at the end. The cauliflower is salted, and preserved lemons are really salty, so you might not need any more. Wait and see.

Cook the tomatoes and spices all together, until they’re heady and fragrant and brown and the pan looks almost dry.

Rich, brown, delicious flavors happening here.

Rich, brown, delicious flavors happening here.

While this is cooking, chop half the parsley, the preserved lemon (I picked out the seeds and used all the rest of it) and the cauliflower leaves. Chop the preserved lemons very small! They’re quite powerful. You don’t want to blast someone with a large chunk of lemon. Toss in some of that reserved cauliflower water in the bottom of the pan, just enough to make it easy to pull up the browned and luscious bits from the bottom, and give the parsley, etc., something to hang out in.

Yep. Just like that.

Yep. Just like that.

Give them a few minutes to cook together, then add the drained cauliflower and mash. And mash. And mash. Keep the heat on low, as you’re trying to cook out any remaining water. Who wants a watery dip that oozes all over everyone? Not this girl. You could probably throw everything into a food processor, but 1) the cauliflower is super-soft, so if this takes you any longer than five minutes to mash, something isn’t right, 2) you’d lose the benefit of cooking out the excess water and 3) it’s supposed to be a little textured, rather than smooth and pasty. When the cauliflower is fully integrated with the tomato/spice mixture, and it’s the consistency you want, and it’s not watery, you’re ready. Now give it a taste, and add salt if you think it’s necessary.

You can make this a day ahead of time, if necessary. Overnight in the fridge won’t hurt it at all. In fact, the flavors get to mingle that way. I liked it even more once it sat for a night.

Chop the remainder of the fresh parsley, and garnish. Sprinkle some additional paprika on top if you’re so inspired. You can also garnish with slivers of olives, or some more preserved lemon peel. Serve with crostini, or pita, or crackers. And feast.

Snack time!

Snack time!

Delicious. Vegan. Healthy. Gorgeous. Interesting. And you can pretty much rest assured that if you bring zaalouk al qarnabit to a party, you won’t have anyone else’s version of this dish to compete with. Dazzle your friends! And–more importantly–dazzle yourself. Enjoy!

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Travel Theme: Slow

Ailsa has echoed the words I’ve heard over and over this past week: Can you believe it’s already December? Oh my stars, how the time has flown!

And you know, it’s true. I kind of can’t believe it myself. I mean…I have cookies to make! Presents to buy! A holiday visiting schedule to plan! And a birthday to have! What the hell? Is it really December?

Consequently, Ailsa’s travel theme this week is: slow. Ooh, nice. So get on over to Where’s My Backpack?, put your feet up, and relax.

Milton State Park is just up the road from my house. While it’s got its fair share of natural beauty, there are those odd bits of random debris that either get dumped or make their way up from the river, and are strangely beautiful in their own, slowly deteriorating way.

Time is having its way with this old tank.

Time is having its way with this old tank.

It’s been two years since Hurricane Sandy tore its way through the Jersey shore, and parts of the town of Seaside Heights have been slow to rebuild. Not that it’s the town’s fault, mind you. It’s just that there was an insane amount (technically referred to as a “staggering shit-ton”) of repair work that needed to be done, all along the NJ/NY/DE coasts.

Some day...

Not cool, Sandy. Not. Cool.

Closer to home, and with happier implications, on a lazy summer day I took a bike ride along our fine rail trail. The air was thick and heavy, and you had to push through it to go forward. Insects let out a slow buzz around my head and the bold, bright sun pushed every living thing back into the comfort of shade. Even the cows couldn’t be bothered.

Central PA was burdened by summer this day.

Cow stays under the tree branch, because being out in the sun = a whole lot of nope.

While visiting my boyfriend’s family, we took a side trip to The Meadowlands Museum for a slice of Rutherford history. It was very well done, with thoughtful exhibits that highlighted topics of industrial, ecological and cultural importance to the area. In the basement, though, they had tables filled with items that didn’t quite belong anywhere yet, and were in the process of being catalogued. Like this device, which is perhaps the slowest way I can imagine to crank out fresh-squeezed citrus juices (though I’d bet it would extract every single drop).

Crank that orange like it ain't no thing.

Crank that orange like it ain’t no thing.

And finally…

Check out the slow, steady flow of the beautiful Susquehanna River. I get to feast my eyes on this every day.

Home.

Home.

So remember, folks, to take a few minutes and breathe every now and again. Maybe we can’t slow down time, but we can manage our reaction to it. And check out the other folks participating in Ailsa’s travel challenge! Maybe you’ll find something in there that will inspire your own entry… :)

Travel Theme: Colourful

This week at Where’s My Backpack?, Ailsa has declared her travel theme to be “colourful”, in order to beat the doldrums that accompany the shortened days that come with winter. Is the lack of sunlight getting you down? Don’t worry! I’ve got some colorful plays with light, right here.

Starting off close to home, this is taken from inside the tasting room at a local winery, Fero Vineyards. It was a grey and rainy day, and I loved how this Italian horn pendant lamp was a bright spot against the weather.

A bright spot on a rainy day.

A bright spot on a rainy day.

While in Cleveland, City of Light, City of Magic, George and I were drawn in like moths to flame, to the bright lights in the alley that led us to the restaurant Zocalo. The food was…eh, OK. But the tequileria was superb.

What, like you wouldn't go check this out? #oohshiny

What, like you wouldn’t go check this out? #oohshiny

The subtle lavender-pinks and golds of a sunrise on Surfside Beach, SC, have to make a body feel better against the long nights. Check out my brother, looking all stoic and philosophical, one man standing alone to face the relentless forces of nature, yada yada yada.

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Waking up early pays off when you get to see something like this.

Staying in South Carolina…

We went to the Nights of a Thousand Candles at Brookgreen Gardens, all of which was INSANELY gorgeous. The gardens had lights dripping from anything that could hold a strand, floating on anything watery, wrapped around even the vaguest semblance of a trunk. And then they had this leaping goat-legged fellow.

I like the cut of his jib.

I like the cut of his jib.

Meanwhile, up in Vermont

Even in winter, you can find bright bursts of color. Here are some winter berries, dusted in frost and morning light.

Don't eat them. But they sure look purty.

Don’t eat them. But they sure look purty.

Go check out the rest of the participants in Ailsa’s travel theme! Or–hey, why not?–play along yourself. See you around the interwebs!

Here’s Randy Newman, singing about Cleveland, to play you out… 

EAT ME: The Food Photo Series

Hey, folks! All the photos, and all the food, I’ve worked on in relation to this blog have paid off! I just got back from hanging my pictures at Cherry Alley Cafe, a local coffee shop, as their artist of the month. Check it out!

eat me jpg

If you’re anywhere in the area, please feel free to drop on by. The food is delicious, the coffee is excellent, and it’s a totally relaxed place to spend some time. Reading. Chilling. Bring your computer and have your way with their wi-fi. It’s all good.

If you’re nowhere near the area and are reading this, chances are you’ve already seen most of the images I selected because they’re all food, mostly culled from the very blog in front of you. But nevertheless…here’s a sneak peek.

breskvice being placed

The joy of cookies. I need to start planning my Christmas baking soon.

Or there’s this one…

olives 8x10

When I say “A quarter-cup of olives”, I mean it.

But that’s it! I said good day! And go check it out if you get the chance. 

Thank you, friends, for reading. And thank you, good people of Cherry Alley Cafe, for asking me if I wanted to hang some photos. It’s an honor and a thrill.

Big Heron in my Back Yard

(With a grateful nod to The Dead Milkmen).

The other morning, George came running into the bedroom to rouse me from my morning Sudoku: “Hey! Check it out! There’s a great blue heron out back!”

Really?

Really.

They’re not terribly uncommon around us, but they’re not something we get on or near our property, since we don’t have a water source. I do, FYI, know someone who’s back yard fish pond has been fished out by herons dropping by, which is something my local friends should take under advisement if they’re considering any landscape renovations. I mean, seriously, people. It’s like setting out an all-heron sushi buffet, and I digress.

A few days ago, we had a nearly biblical-level deluge in the ‘burg; I even joked on the Facebooks about needing to build an ark. When it rains very hard our neighbor’s poorly-drained farmlet floods. This creates a temporary lake and paves the way for unexpected visitors. We’ve had ducks and geese swimming mid-farm-property, which is kind of surreal. There may not have been fish at the farmlet, but there are plenty of snakes and frogs and crickets and mice for an opportunistic heron to feast on.

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Surprise!

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So, you got any fi– heyyyy, what’s that thing?

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Ooh! Or there’s that thing, too!

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No but really, which is my better side?

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This is my “pensive” look. I’m just waiting. For Godot. Or a snake. All the same to me.

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HA! FLAPPING DEATH FROM ABOVE!

A few things:

Hooray for zoom lenses! I was at least a hundred feet away when I took these pictures.

They really are magnificent to look at.

So long as you don’t try to keep a stocked koi pond. (For future reference.)

Travel Theme: Orange

This week at Where’s My Backpack?, Ailsa misses the sun and longs for some fiery, bright orange to brighten up the days. Mmmmkay. I’m in.

First, check out the gorgeous orange bill and throat pouch of the double-crested cormorant. I saw this beauty when I was somewhere near Point Pleasant, NJ, the weekend after my niece’s wedding. Can I tell you exactly where I saw it? No. Thankfully, cormorants are hardy creatures whose numbers are on the rise. If you really want to see one for yourself, it shouldn’t be that hard.

I don't know why it's double-crested. It just is.

I don’t know why it’s double-crested. It just is.

During a recent trip to Baltimore, we saw an Orioles game. It was great fun indeed. But there was SO. MUCH. ORANGE.

SAAA-WING, batter batter batter, SWING!

SAAA-WING, batter batter batter, SWING!

This past February, I was walking around my yard (or “touring the estate”, as we like to say), I found this lonely leaf, stuck in the branches of a rather confused pussy willow. It was warm, it started to bud early, then it snowed…poor plant. But I don’t mind saying I was glad to get the picture, with the orange of the dried leaf highlighted by the sun, beaming as it made its way full west.

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Hey there, leaf. Thanks for catching the sun like that.

I was ridiculously taken by the bright orange keys on the old-fashioned cash register on display at the Meadowlands Museum. This fascinating little museum is three floors of thoughtfully curated, locally-minded, educational entertainment. I could’ve sat in the fluorescent-paint-illuminated coal hole all day. And they had old, leather football helmets that, when I thought of getting hit while wearing one, made me cringe. Bye bye, brain. But. They also had this cash register, which had (seemingly) random orange number keys and a big orange no-sale key. No sale, our Spanish speakers will attest, also means “Don’t leave”. This makes me kind of wistful and sad. I took about a thousand pictures of this thing.

Wait, but...what? Where you going? :(

Wait, but…what? Where you going? :(

And finally.

We went to Concord, MA for an afternoon while visiting my beloved Russian professor. We saw the illustrious North Bridge (American history buffs, you know the place of which I speak!) and the North Bridge Visitor’s Center. They were prepping for a wedding that was going to take place…very soon in proximity to our visit. Like, that day. I don’t know when it was scheduled to start, I wasn’t invited. Regardless, the wedding event doer guy (wedding planner? Florist? Groom? Not sure of his role) had that air of a man who was just…waiting. For longer than he wanted to wait. With a big old bouquet of bright orange roses.

The flowers were quite beautiful.

The flowers were quite beautiful.

So that’s my orange. What have you got? 

See you ’round Ailsa’s page!

Travel Theme: Horizons

This week at Where’s My Backpack?, Ailsa asks us to look to the horizon for her travel theme. So, OK. Off into the distance!

George and I recently went to visit his daughter in Baltimore. The first night we were there we went out, you know. Dinner, cocktails, that sort of thing. The next day we walked around the city and then went to a baseball game, which was great fun but made for a long day. That night, we decided the right thing to do was have pizza and wine on the rooftop deck, and admire the skyline as the sun set. Here is Baltimore’s iconic Domino Sugars sign, seen over the rooftops of Locust Point.

Ahh, beautiful Domino Sugar sign...

Ahh, beautiful Domino Sugar sign. Even from the back you’re sassy.

This picture was taken closer to home for me. It was so close, in fact, I was home. We had some fantastic fog roll in from Buffalo Creek (Crick, if you’re local) one night, and this was how my back yard looked. I love that you have no idea where the tree line ends and the sky begins. Oh yeah. There’s a whole line of trees in that fog.

There's a crick and some trees back there. I swear.

There’s a crick and some trees back there. I swear.

This past December, we were in Myrtle Beach for our niece’s college graduation. When we were on our way out to dinner, a crazy-strong storm blew in–we were completely waterlogged crossing the street from the parking lot to the restaurant’s lobby–and we were a little early for the dinner rush, so I could run around the restaurant at will. The restaurant was right on the beach, and I ran around from room to room (big restaurant) looking out all the windows at the soaked world outside. This is what I got.

That is some angry ocean.

That sure is some angry ocean.

Sometimes…oh, this kills me…sometimes, cliches and stereotypes have some basis in fact. And New Jersey’s snark-riddled reputation as a land of refineries and factories and traffic…well, there’s this section along the Turnpike that George and I joke about, that we know we’re home when we see it. (Jersey peeps,’fess up, you do it too.) But. Sigh.

Cars and smokestacks, far as the eye can see.

Cars and smokestacks, far as the eye can see.

However! New Jersey also gives it up for moments like these.

Sunset, Normandy Beach, NJ.

Yes.

Yes.

What’s on your horizon?

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