Nosh: Roasted Parsnip Fries

Welcome to the easiest and most versatile recipe you’ll ever…ever…encounter.

In the long, cold winter nights, like everybody else, I long for comfort foods. You know the kind, the ones that exude savory warmth and just make you feel good and safe and warm, from your heart outwards. For me–and believe me when I say I have no idea why–I get the warm-fuzzies from parsnips.

Parsnips are a less-popular cousin of the carrot, and while I enjoy the noble carrot, I have no idea why parsnips take second place. They taste better. You can do more things with them. And their flesh is almost-creamy, so you get a textural treat as well. If parsnips are still in the ground when the first frost hits, they become even sweeter than they are in summer, so yay for winter produce! They weren’t anything I ever ate when I was a kid; I didn’t have my first parsnip until well into my adulthood, but I took to them so fast it’s like I’m making up for lost time. I’ve eaten them practically every way possible; roasted with balsamic glaze, mashed, sauteed…you name it, I’ve tried it. But turning them into oven-roasted fries is my current favorite parnsip incarnation, as it fills both my inner yearnings for yummy parsnips and the “I want to eat my weight in french fries” craving.  Here’s what you need:

  • 1 lb. parsnips
  • Olive oil, enough to coat the parsnips
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Seriously. That is all you need. More on this in a little bit.

Preheat your oven. Remember how I said this was versatile? Well. Are you roasting anything else this evening? Put the parsnips in at that temperature. Depending on the size and thickness at which you slice them, they may take a little more time, or a little less, than the expected 400°, 25-30 minutes, cooking time and temp. For example: we have sliced them thicker, and let them cook in a 450° oven for twenty minutes, turning them once mid-cook-time. In today’s blog, the parsnips were cut super-thin and cooked for exactly 22 minutes at 390° (the spinach and mushroom tart we made for dinner had a very specific temperature, it was kind of funny), and they came out beautifully browned and crispy. (And the tart was OK, but I won’t be blogging about it. Please focus on my beautiful parsnips.) The point is, you can make this recipe work with whatever else you’re roasting.

Often, the core of a parsnip is a little woody. Your first objective once the ‘snip is washed and peeled is to take out that woody core, so cut the parsnip in half. You’ll see a definite line where the core differentiates from the flesh. Carve out the core and start slicing your parsnips into surprisingly addictive ersatz fries.

Cored, and ready for fry creation.

Cored, and ready for fry creation.

A few things.

1) If you have a mandoline you’re not terrified of using, that would make the julienning process easier. I do not have a mandoline that doesn’t terrify me. Look at this as an opportunity to improve your knife skills. Slicing them is the hardest part of the entire recipe, and slicing’s not so bad, right?

2) I think thinner is better, in this instance. The parsnips bake up nice and crispy when they’re cut thin, but of course, this is your kitchen so cut the fries as thick or thin as you like.

When you’re done, you’ll have a beautiful pile of parsnips.

IMG_0223-001

Just waiting for you to do with them what you will.

Toss them with the oil and your choice of seasonings. I’ve seen them roasted with a wide range of herbs and spices, so if you’re devoted to the idea of adding in more spices, the go for it! You can use thyme, or rosemary, or Aleppo pepper,  or chili powder, or Parmesan cheese, and so on, and so on. But I recommend making them relatively au naturel the first time ’round, so you get to experience beautiful parsnips in their inherent radiant beauty. Sometimes, less is more.

Once you’ve herbed and spiced and oiled your ‘snips, lay them out in a single layer on a baking sheet.

Pretty much it.

That’s pretty much it.

Then pop them into your nice hot oven. Turn them once every ten minutes to ensure even cooking and so you can check on them. As I said before, these were in for exactly 22 minutes. We probably could have pulled them at the 20-minute mark, but we gave them a few extra moments to maximize future crunch. When we were done, we had a beautiful pile of gorgeous, totally delicious parsnip fries.

Don't even think about trying to steal fries off my plate.

Don’t even think about trying to steal these fries off my plate.

George and I have been known to eat every last bit of parsnip in one sitting; they are THAT good. And they’re best when they’re crispy-fresh, straight out of the oven. Overnight, they tend to soften, though they still taste incredible. We’ve probably made these a dozen times in the past few months, and will make them again and again. Because parsnips.

(Side note: Mom, did you ever imagine, when I was a kid, that I would be such a vegetable junkie? No. Me neither.) 

 

Nosh: Baked Zucchini Coins

Note: However much I tell you to make of this dish…double it. George and I used two medium-sized zucchini when we made this, and had only a teeny tiny little bit left over, which he ate all of the next day and I didn’t get any and I’m still pouting about it because I wanted more. That is all. Time for business.

Ahhhh, zucchini. It’s one of those vegetables. It can be kind of bland, kind of squishy, is often overly-dunked in butter to the point of being slick. And it is everywhere, as it is force-grown year round (though it’s best in summer…grilled, with some fresh herbs to finish, but I digress) so it almost becomes overlooked. Zucchini is that song you’ve heard a thousand times and aren’t quite sick of, but meh, it’s OK; it’s that perfunctory sandwich you eat at your desk because you need to eat so you don’t die. That’s often how I feel about zucchini’s contribution to the vegetable world.

There are notable exceptions to zucchini’s meh standing. Happily, this is one. As an added bonus, it’s pretty easy. Slicing the zucchini is the hardest part. That and the waiting, because they do take about a half an hour or forty minutes to cook. Here’s what you need:

  • 2 (at least) zucchinis
  • 1-2 Tablespoons your choice of flour (rice, AP, chickpea…whatever you prefer)
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon thyme (or herb/herbs of your choice*)
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper/Aleppo pepper, entirely optional
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
  • Olive oil cooking spray

 Preheat the oven at 350°.  Spray baking sheets with cooking spray. Take zucchinis and slice them fairly thin; aim for slices that are about the width of a quarter (or a Euro, if you’re more familiar with cash across the pond). If you let the slices sit and they start to weep (release the water in their cells), blot them. If they don’t start to weep, carry on!

Toss the veggies in a mixing bowl. Sprinkle them with thyme, red pepper flakes, and salt and pepper. *Or, use whatever combination of herbs you’d like. Ground fennel and onion? Go for it. Herbes de Provence? Sounds yummy. Garlic powder and oregano? Molto bene! It’s your kitchen, it’s up to you. Toss the zucchini slices with the herbs, then add the flour (full disclosure: I used rice flour here) and toss again. You just want the flour to lightly adhere to the zucchini; in no way do you want a thick coating.

Right.

Right.

Lay the zucchini slices in a single layer on your oil-sprayed baking sheets. Redistribute any seasonings that stayed in the bottom of your mixing bowl, onto the zucchini, because who wants to waste anything that tastes good? Once this is done, spray the up-sides of the zucchini with cooking spray, so both sides of it have a nice, but light, oven-crisping-friendly layer of oil.

Ready to roll.

Ready to roll.

NOTE: Some of the slices you see before you are kind of thick. These will still be delicious, they just won’t get super-crispy. I admit that crispy = even yummier, but you’ll hardly suffer if you end up with some thicker slices.

Put this in the oven. Bake for 30-40 minutes, until they’re done, flipping the slices every ten minutes. You’ll end up with an insanely addictive zucchini side dish that looks kind of like this.

I'd eat it.

I’d eat it.

We served these with herb and cheese grits and a green salad, and OMG yes, they were fan-fricking-tastic. George and I love us some grits but we couldn’t decide which of the dishes were the star of the dinner show, which (if you’re going to have problems) is a great problem to have. We could have doubled the amount of zucchini we made and not gotten sick of eating it; next time we make these coins, we’ll make extra for sure. This is an easy, tasty, not-your-run-of-the-mill approach to a common and often sadly under-loved vegetable. Try this dish and let your love run deep.

Nosh: Herb and Cheese Grits

I am, undeniably, a northerner. I come from a land where the word d-o-g is pronounced “dawg”, where the temperature has to dip far below 60°F before we even consider a sweater. I come from a place where we say “youze” instead of “y’all” (or “all y’all”), and where calling someone “ma’am” is the polite way to insult someone to her face, kind of like how “bless your heart” actually means, “you idiot”. (To my friends from the south…you know what I mean.) But despite our cultural differences, there is one thing for certain that we can agree on.

Grits. Beautiful grits. I love ’em. Weird, right? I know! It surprised me too, but my love runs deep. I love ’em for breakfast with bacon and hot sauce and toast. I love them smothered in onions and cheese. I would love them with shrimp but I’m allergic, so I’ll leave that low country treat to the fine Carolinians that it won’t kill. And I love them when they’re quick-cooking, when they’re slow-cooking, and either makes me happy when I have them for dinner. I’m not talking about the grits’ cousin, the finely-ground, smooth beauty that is polenta. I love that too, but in a different way. I love the nubbly, hearty, coarsely textured porridge that is a beautiful serving of pure comfort. And it warms you from the insides on a cold winter’s night, like the ones we’ve been having here in the frozen northeast. Here’s what I used:

  • 1 medium onion, cut into a small (ish) dice
  • 2 or 3 (or more) cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 Tablespoons oil (olive, vegetable, sunflower, whatever you prefer)
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
  • Salt and black pepper (season now, and again at the end of the cooking time)
  • 1 cup corn kernels (frozen is fine)
  • 2 cups almond milk (or regular milk, if you prefer, but almond milk = OMG YES in grits)
  • 2 cups water or broth
  • 1 cup grits, quick-cooking grits are just fine
  • 1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 2 teaspoons butter
  • 1 Tablespoon each of chives and parsley, finely chopped

There ain’t much about making grits that’s pretty, so let’s just get right down to it. Get out a fairly large pot-one big enough to accommodate 4 cups worth of cooking liquid, plus vegetables–with a heavy bottom. Put oil in the bottom of the pan over medium heat. While the oil is heating, chop onions and garlic.

Yes. That really is how much garlic I used. And I'm not ashamed.

Yes. This really is how much garlic I use. And I’m not ashamed.

When the oil is hot, add onions and garlic, and a shot of salt and pepper. Let them saute together for a few minutes, then add thyme leaves. Give the leaves a few minutes to incorporate themselves with the onions and garlic, then add in the corn and, if you’re at all like me, another mega-hit of black pepper.

IMG_0107-001

There is so much good happening in this pot, I swear it should almost be illegal. Almost.

Be careful with adding too much salt at this point; you’re going to put some cheese in soon, and that will bring a load of salt to the dish. Patience. You can always add more at the end.

Let the corn and onions saute together for a few minutes. Grate the cheese and chop the herbs you’re going to finish the grits with, in the meantime. Once the veggies have had a few minutes to cook together, add the almond milk or milk, and water or broth. It’s up to you as to what you have and what you prefer to use. Scrape up any brown bits that have cooked onto the bottom of the pot and let that incorporate into the cooking liquid. Bring that to a boil and once the boil happens, you can whisk in your grits. BEAR THIS IN MIND: if you use quick-cooking grits, the dish will move very quickly to completion once the grits hit the liquid. Make sure your finishing prep work is done before you pour the grits in so you can add everything with smooth assurance and you’re not frantic.

Back to the instructions. When it boils, whisk in your grits.

Everybody in the pool! Wheeee!

Everybody in the pool! Wheeee!

Stir stir stir! Again, if you use quick-cooking grits this will start to thicken almost immediately; check your container to see roughly how long the cook time will take. (I sound like a shill for the quick-cook variety but if that’s what you use, this whole dish can come together in about twenty minutes.) When the grits have thickened into a creamy mass, add the cheese, chives, parsley, and butter.

I know it looks like an insane amount of parsley but I also chopped a bunch to add to my salad. Plus, I like it.

I know it looks like an insane amount of parsley but I also chopped a bunch to add to my salad. Plus, I like it.

Stir that in and before you know it, you’ll have a beautiful, rich, fragrant batch of grits that will warm you to your bones. Check for seasonings and add more salt and pepper, if necessary. I would add more black pepper, just because I can’t help myself. But that’s me.

The grits you’ll end up with will be richly textured, simultaneously creamy and coarse. They have a savory bite from the onion and bursts of sweetness from the corn kernels. And they’re satisfyingly warming in the winter cold, but also promise a little bit of summer thanks to corn and herbs.

Oh hell yes.

Oh hell yes.

We enjoyed our grits with roasted zucchini coins and a green salad. And then I ate grits again for lunch. Why? Because I could, that’s why. 

Bon appetit, y’all! And to my fellow Yankees, do yourselves a favor and give grits a chance, huh? Eh, c’mere, youze. Ahhhh, fuhgeddaboudit.

Nosh: Hot Pepper and Tomato Sauce

Hey, all.

First things first: regarding my previous post about damage done to my external hard drive, the verdict is in. My photographs have been deemed unrecoverable. Gone. Kaput. I still have some stored in various places, and (silver lining, I suppose) most of the images I posted on this blog are what I considered among the best of my photographs. So I have the blog photos too, of course. It breaks my heart; there were a lot of shots I wasn’t done with yet, but I wallowed long enough and wallowing won’t bring them back. The fact remains that they are unrecoverable and I am tired of wallowing. Ever forward.

Now. On to the good stuff.

Oh, this pepper…sauce? Condiment? Magical addition to one’s food lineup? A word of warning: if you don’t like garlic or hot and spicy food, then this recipe is soooooo not for you. But for me? Garlic + spicy = perfect. We are in the home stretch of vegan January (necessary to rid myself of the clutter of forty pounds of butter I ate while making cookies this holiday season) so it’s perfect for us to eat right now, but it’s always good. I’ve made this so many times that I don’t remember where I first heard about it, and I think by now the recipe for it has coded itself into my DNA. Do note: it takes 40-45 minutes to cook, so it’s not a super-speedy recipe, but it’s all delicious. Here’s what you need:

  • 2 large-ish bell peppers (whichever color you prefer)
  • 2 hot peppers; I generally stick with serranos but use whatever you’d like
  • 2 or 3 or 4 cloves of garlic; it’s all dependent on your taste. And my taste for garlic is deep and abiding.
  • 2 cups tomato puree
  • 1 (ish) cup vegetable stock
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Oil

That’s it! No long list of spices, no hard-to-get ingredients. That’s one of the things I love about this pepper sauce. It’s a simple approach that makes things that already taste really good, like peppers and tomatoes and garlic, even better. Getting started: Assemble your ingredients.

Off to a good start!

Off to a good start!

Start some oil in a pan, over low-to-medium heat. Cut the bell peppers into nice, bitey chunks. Slice the serranos into nice, thin wheels. The sauce is supposed to be hot, so don’t remove the seeds from the hot peppers. Cut the garlic into thin slivers. Toss everything in the pan and add some salt.

Use gentle heat to coax out the flavors.

Use gentle heat to coax out the flavors.

Let these start to cook, but stay nearby and stir the peppers and garlic fairly regularly. You want them to get soft, you don’t want them to fry and get crisp. After about twenty minutes, they should be nice and soft–not totally squishy, but definitely flexible.

On their way to savory goodness.

On their way to savory goodness.

Once the peppers and garlic are ready, add the tomato puree and enough vegetable stock to give the ingredients something to hang out in for a while. I found that a cup of stock tends to work. Give the mixture a taste; because of the varying and unpredictable heat of hot peppers (if you look up serranos on the Scoville Heat Scale, you’ll see their heat ranges from 6,000 to 23,000 units, and there’s no way to tell which peppers are hottest without cutting them open and tasting them), your sauce may actually need another jolt of spice.

If you find that’s the case, don’t be afraid to shake in a little more hot pepper; cayenne works well. But be judicious about adding in extra cayenne. The sauce will thicken and concentrate the flavors, and you don’t want your beautiful spicy sauce to morph into a pan full of molten agony. If it’s still not spicy enough for your liking at the end of the cooking time, sprinkle in a little more cayenne and call it a day. Continue the cooking at the same medium-low temperature, and–again–stir it fairly regularly. At the end of another twenty minutes or so, you should have a nice, thick sauce. You can always use the back of the spoon test to see if the sauce is thick enough. Add salt and black pepper to taste.

Yep. Plenty thick.

Yep. Plenty thick.

Ahhhh…now it’s ready.

So what do we do with this? Oh, so very many things. This hot pepper sauce can be:

  • Schmeared on sandwiches
  • Stirred into pasta sauce
  • On top of chicken breast
  • It tastes great with arugula. So…anything with that
  • Mixed into beans
  • Over a baked potato topped with broccoli and cheese (I speak from experience)
  • And so on. The possibilities are endless!

The first thing we made with this batch was hummus and pita pizzas. Homemade pizzas of any ilk are a great way to use up random leftovers and/or open things in the fridge, so see what you’ve got in there and go for it. Here’s how:

Preheat the oven to 400°. Smear some hummus on howevermany pita breads you want to make and place them on a cookie tray. Spread some of your delicious, spicy, peppery, tomato-y sauce on the hummus.

Oh, hells yeah!

Oh, hells yeah!

This is a delicious nosh as it stands, right now, with nothing else done to it. But hold on! We can make it even better.

Top this with whatever you choose. George and I had some onions we’d chopped up and an open bag of arugula (a staple in this house) sitting in our fridge, so on they went. We also had a bunch of leftover roasted acorn squash, so that got chopped up and put on top.

Almost home!

Almost home!

We put that in the oven and let it all roast for 12-ish minutes; turn the baking sheet once after 8 minutes or so to check on how it’s doing. When you take the pitas out of the oven, top them with some fresh parsley, if  you have any on hand. In the end, you’ll have a lovely, toasty pita topped with roasted veggies, hummus that turns almost nutty in the oven, and this amazing, savory, thick, spicy, all-around vegtastic, and (best of all) healthy sauce. Because that’s how we do in central PA.

Plus, it's good cold the next day.

Plus, it’s good cold the next day.

Vegan January ain’t so hard to handle when you get to eat food like this. Enjoy!

Nosh: Roasted Spiced Beet Tatin

I’m not sure why, but I woke up yesterday with a hankering for beets, and a desire to putter around in the kitchen. Sometimes, good things happen when I start to putter. Mmmm, beets. Sweet, earthy, dense, jewel-colored, beautiful. Beets!

A few days ago a friend of mine posted a link to a beet tarte tatin, which is basically beets made like an upside down cake, topped with puff pastry. Savory beets + buttery pastry? I’m in! But here’s the thing: every single recipe for a beet tarte tatin that I found online involved drowning roasted beets in butter and sugar, before baking them inside pastry that is inherently butter-gorged. It’s a delicious idea in principle, but this? Is totally unnecessary. Beets are the candy of the vegetable world. They’re grown FOR their sugar. Adding sugar to them is overkill. And how much butter do you really need to eat at dinner? Save your butter intake for the shortbreads you’re sure to encounter this holiday season.

So what’s a girl to do? We improvise.

Here’s the basic principle of a tarte tatin: arrange edibles in a pleasing design in the bottom of a cake pan, cover with puff pastry, bake, invert, eat. Got it. Now let’s get to it! REMEMBER: This is a dish made for a day you have time to putter; it will probably take about an hour and a half (maybe even closer to two hours) from start to finish, between the prep-work and the cook time. And so, with no further ado…

  • 3 good-sized beets, scrubbed, peeled, and cut into quarters, then roasted according to this recipe (so you’ll also need thyme/rosemary/cinnamon/red pepper flakes, red wine and balsamic vinegars, salt & pepper, see recipe link for specifics)
  • 1 large red onion
  •  1 smallish handful (1/4 cup, maybe?) pine nuts; walnuts (chopped) would also be nice here if you didn’t have pine nuts on hand
  • 1 sheet puff pastry, thawed
  • 1/2 cup grated horseradish cheese or Swiss cheese (optional)
  • olive oil

Take the puff pastry out of the freezer and let it sit on the counter to defrost. Don’t leave it in the fridge to defrost; I’ve found out the hard way that it won’t defrost in there as much as you would like. Just set it on a plate on your counter top and forget about it for the next 50 minutes or so.  I’m assuming you’re using frozen puff pastry, because… No reason. Just because. Look, I make a lot of stuff from scratch. But delicate pastries like this? I’ll buy it pre-packaged, thank you very much.  Preheat the oven to 400°, because the first thing you’ll want to do is peel and roast the beets. Bear in mind that you want them to look pretty post-roast, so when you prep them for roasting, cut them into uniform-looking quarters. 

Now get to roasting, gorgeous beetses!

Now get to roasting, gorgeous beetses!

The fatter ends of the beets are pretty dense, so give these about 40-45 minutes to roast. Toss with herbs, spices, vinegars, salt and pepper, and oil, and put it in the oven. Turn once about halfway through. When they’re done, set them aside, but you’ll be using them fairly soon after they’re out of the oven so don’t worry about letting them cool completely. Drop the oven temperature to 350°.

While the beets are roasting, thinly slice the red onion into nice, big rounds, sprinkle them with some salt, toss them with oil, and get them in a pan over medium-low heat. These are going to caramelize, and that takes…oh, about 40-45 minutes. Once they start to soften and turn gold, then brown, you will need to pay a little attention to them. You don’t want them to get crisp, just soft and sweet, so stir them fairly often. If you notice them starting to stick to the bottom of the pan, you can do one of two things to loosen them. You can 1) add more oil, which I don’t favor, because I feel like it just fattens up the works, or 2) toss in a little veggie broth or water, which I do favor. It also helps steam them into softness, and is that much less oil you need to worry about. Eventually, the onions will turn rich and brown and soft and super-sweet, and you’ll remember that the world is indeed a beautiful place, that you can extract such gorgeous flavor from a sulfuric root vegetable.

Almost too good to be true.

Almost too good to be true.

Once the beets are cooked and the onions are caramelized, take an 8-inch cake pan and grease it with a little bit of olive oil (meaning: pour a little dime-sized spot of olive oil in the cake pan and rub it around the bottom and sides with a bit of paper towel). Start to arrange your beets in a pretty pattern. Pay attention to this detail because it will figure into the presentation later. When you invert the tatin to serve it, you’ll want the beets to be the stars of the show. Try and imagine how they’ll look, upside down and backwards. :)

It's worth it. Trust me.

It’s worth it. Trust me.

Nice, evenly-spaced circles look great and require practically no skill to arrange. That’s what I went for.

Top this with caramelized onions, and then top the onions with a sprinkling of pine nuts.

I love it when a plan starts to come together.

I love it when a plan starts to come together.

The beets and the onions are both seasoned with salt and/or pepper, so I wouldn’t opt to add any more seasoning at this stage. Just let the foods as they’ve been cooked come together. Top the beets and onions with the sheet of puff pastry. You may need to roll the puff pastry out to get it to cover the entirety of the pan, but that’s easy to do. Just lay it on a flat surface and make a few passes over it with a rolling pin. It should readily stretch. Then you just lay it out on top of your cake pan, trim off any crazy excess corners, and tuck the pastry all around the edges of the pan.

See? Easy-peasy.

See? Easy-peasy.

Note the holes. This dough is docked, which means I poked a bunch of holes in it with a fork. Now it won’t bake up to be super-puffy, just kind of puffy, yet still totally delicious. Put it in the oven for 30 minutes, turning once half-way through. When you take it out, it should be toasted and beautiful.

Golden perfection!

Golden, slightly puffy perfection!

Let this sit for 10 minutes to give the tatin a chance to set. Now is the time to decide what to do: do you want to serve it as-is? Or do you intend to top it with cheese and broil it for a few minutes? Because…

If you want to serve it as-is, put the serving dish you plan to present it on, on top of the cake pan. If you want to top it with cheese and put it in the broiler, put a cookie sheet on top of the cake pan. Then: FLIP!

YES!

YES!

I told you that my anal-retentive attention to detail would pay off. 

Wait, let’s get another food-porn look at this, shall we?

Well, hello, beautiful.

Well, hello, beautiful.

I did choose to top this with horseradish cheese, because I think almost everything is better with horseradish cheese. But for real, it is perfectly heavenly right now. You could go cheeseless and be fine. But me?  I cheesed it up and stuck it under the broiler for a few more minutes.

Now I'm sad I don't have any more leftovers.

Now I’m sad I don’t have any more leftovers.

We ate this with a simple tossed salad with arugula, and a roasted pear and pumpkin soup (recipe coming). It was a table full of warm, wintery comfort. It wasn’t a speedy dish to put together, it was absolutely a “Sunday in the kitchen” sort of meal, but it’s surprisingly easy and oh, so, so satisfying. Enjoy! I know I did.

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!

Nosh: Apricot-Radicchio Crostini

Who’s ready for a bite of summer?

I was invited to a gigantic, mid-summer girls’ night at a friend’s house, and in the interests of friendship I offered to get there early to help set up. Which, of course, meant I didn’t have the luxury of doing that last minute, panic-and-run-around-while-I-get-something-ready dash through the kitchen. I needed something easy. I needed something portable. And it was summer, so I didn’t really want to tie myself to the kitchen for something fussy and elaborate (and long on the feet and sweaty).  What to do?

Seriously. apricot-radicchio crostini. They are ridiculously easy. A minimum of cooking. You can pack them up and go. And they are delicious. Here’s what you need:

  • 1 long baguette
  • 3-4 apricots (or 3 peaches), ripe but not super-soft; the super-soft ones don’t make pretty slices
  • 1/2 a small head of radicchio (more on this in a minute)
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 handful walnuts (or pecans, they’d also be lovely)
  • 1-2 teaspoons poppy seeds
  • shaved slices of pecorino romano cheese
  • chives (or parsley or tarragon) to garnish
  • salt/pepper/oil, as needed

First things first: get the hot stuff out of the way. Brown your baguette and toast your walnuts. This is–really–the only time you’ll need the hotbox for this recipe, so get it over with. Heat the oven to 350°; while that is warming up, slice your baguette into nice even slices, no more than ½ inch thick. Daub the bread generously on both sides with olive oil so it gets nice and brown and crispy once it goes into the oven.

It's an assembly line of deliciousness.

It’s an assembly line of deliciousness.

Put them in; flip once after 7 or 8 minutes. Keep an eye on them, and another 5 or 7 (ish) minutes later, they should be golden and crunchy and ready to eat. Set aside.

While the bread is cooking, toast the walnuts. Set out a heat-proof bowl to pour them into when they’re done toasting. Break the walnuts into small chunks and put them in a dry pan, over medium heat.

Yup. Just like that.

Yup. Just like that.

Stay there with them, and shake the pan every minute or two. When you start to smell lovely, toasty walnut that gives you a warm, happy feeling inside, take them off the heat. They’re done, and nuts will burn easily once they’ve reached the point of doneness. Put your walnuts into the handy bowl you’ve already set up. Put them aside.

 I had some beautiful, rosy-cheeked apricots that I couldn’t wait to get my hands on. They were so gorgeous they practically glowed with their own inner light.

Hey there, beautiful.

Hey there, beautiful.

Cut the apricots (or peaches, if you can’t find apricots) into thin slices. Mix with the cooled walnuts. 

Take half a head of radicchio and cut into fine shreds. Mix with poppy seeds and the zest and juice of one lemon. Remember, zest first, then juice.

Oh look, poppies!  *name that movie*

Yesssss, poppies! *name that movie*

Please note a few things about radicchio: it is an incredibly hardy vegetable, so IF you cut half the head, mix it with lemon, and end up with a reasonable pile of leftover lemony radicchio…yes, it will wilt slightly overnight but will retain its overall crunch. And it is fantastic the next day on a pita with some hummus and cucumbers. For the remaining half a head, it’s summer, so fire up the grill (or get out your grill pan if you hate cooking outdoors) and grill it.

Chop chives into little bitses. Get beautiful shavings of pecorino romano cheese thanks to the clever use of a vegetable peeler. 

That's all you need for fancy. A vegetable peeler.

That’s all you need for fancy. A vegetable peeler.

You most certainly may use parmesan cheese if that’s what you have in your fridge, but I think pecorino romano is a better choice for this dish. It’s sharper and less nutty, and I think it’s got more of a salty bite, so it provides a fun contrast. But hey, it’s your kitchen. Go with your heart.

Got everything? Great. Start to assemble the crostini. It’s pretty simple. Lay out your bread, then put down a layer of the apricot/walnut mixture, top that with radicchio, then top that with cheese, chives, a sprinkling of salt and pepper, and a little drizzle of oil.

Dig in, y'all!

Dig in, y’all!

Let’s review: Easy? Check! Almost no-cook? Check! Portable? Check! Provides a great contrasting combination of crunchy, sweet, bitter, salty, savory? Check! It’s easy to do something later with unused but prepped ingredients? Check! Super-portable? Check! They taste great the next day?

Ummm.

I can’t tell you that. There weren’t any left to bring back home.

Mission accomplished.

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