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.

Nosh: Green and Black Olive Tapenade with Fennel

You know when you start getting those party invitations, and they say something like, “Bring finger food!  A small dish to share!  Some nibbles!”?  And you know that chips will be in abundance and someone will surely already have hummus and it’s not like you can bring soup and you may have to work your way past at least one–maybe two–variations of a 7-layer dip?  Dilemma.  And party season is fast approaching.

In the interests of full disclosure, I confess that I’m ready to fall to my knees and thank God/the universe/the deities of all trendy foods that we’re witnessing the slow, groaning, agonizingly prolonged end of that spinach dip/bread bowl combo.  Enough, people.  I’m like, “Oh, you’re going to be at X party, and you’re bringing spinach dip?  Sorry I’ll miss it; I’ve got to stay in that night and count my armpit hairs.” This is not “just saying”.  This is unrepentant, detached honesty.  And I digress.

What to bring?  Relax, people, Imma help.  Make tapenade!  It’s quick, it’s easy, it’s no-cook, it just requires a food processor or blender (the processor is slightly better in this instance since it won’t require as much “open the top and push it back down onto the blades”, and blender users, you know what I’m talking about, but if you don’t have said processor then blend away!).  You can add whatever seasonings you’d like, though I reallllllllly recommend using ground fennel.  Here’s what you need:

  • 1 cup pitted (as in, pits are removed for you.  It’s not hard to pit olives but nevertheless, why not make it easier on yourself?) olives.  I used both green and black olives, but you can use whatever kind you’d like.
  • 1 tablespoon capers, drained and rinsed
  • 1 lemon, zested and juiced
  • 1 teaspoon ground fennel
  • 1/4 cup (or, if you measure like me, 1 smallish handful) fresh parsley
  • 2 or 3 cloves garlic
  • a shake or two of crushed red pepper flakes, if you’re so inclined
  • ground black pepper, to taste

The hardest part of the tapenade (provided you bought olives sans pits) will be grinding your fennel seed.

Have at it.

Have at it.

Just put your fennel in your handy-dandy mortar and pestle and tear into it and 45(ish) seconds later, you’ve got beautiful freshly ground fennel seed.  Prepare to be knocked over by the fragrance that wafts up at you; who knew dried seeds could smell so good?  Or you could put it in a spice grinder.  Or buy ground fennel.  Whatever works.

Oh!  And remember, when dealing with lemons, zest first, then juice.  Trying to do it the other way around = not so much.

So.

That’s about it for specialty instructions.  You could chop your garlic slightly, or maybe coarsely chop your parsley; I think I waved the knife menacingly at my garlic but really, it’s going into a thing with giant whirly blades and I am perfectly happy to let it do the work for me.  Take all your ingredients and put them in your food processor.

Everybody in the pool!

Everybody in the pool!

And whirr until everything is nicely ground together.  You don’t want a smooth paste; you still want to see slightly chunky bits of olives and garlic and parsley.  Put the tapenade in a serving bowl and drizzle with a little bit of extra-virgin olive oil to really round out the rich, warm, olive-y taste.

Yum!

Yum!

A few things…

1. Notice I didn’t mention adding salt.  Olives and capers are salty enough, I think, and I generally never (ever) add salt to tapenade.  If you must, then wait until the very end, after everything is blended, to see how much or how little you’ll think is necessary.

2.  Give capers a chance.  I know that a lot of people in the US aren’t familiar with capers–they’re brined! they look like mutant peas!–but these little flavor bombs of salty-vinegary tang are totally worth a shot.

3.  I continue to run across people who can’t eat garlic because they’re allergic.  My heart goes out to them.  If you can’t eat said garlic, then remove it from this recipe, that’s fine.  Toss in extra capers.  Or!  Try something different.  You could add in shallots.  If you don’t want to keep it vegetarian, then I bet some crisped pancetta would be a welcome addition.  Or add a strip of orange rind (which I would probably slightly chop before whirring, since that can be tough to get through) for a citrus tapenade.

4.  Mmmm, orange rind.

5.  Once it’s ready, grab a sleeve of crackers or some sliced bread, and go.  Have fun!  Avoid the spinach dip.

I love tapenade, even though I sort of have a love/hate relationship with olives.  I do enjoy them, but I find myself easily overwhelmed by them.  I made this for a friend the other night who also loves/hates olives but digs a good tapenade.  He said, “What’s great about this version is there’s enough other stuff going on that I don’t feel like I’m just eating olives.  I keep getting distracted by the other flavors, but then I get the taste of these really great olives.  It’s fun.”

*joy*

*joy*

And friends, that is what I call a kitchen win.

We served this with butternut squash pasta, roasted kohlrabi, roasted cauliflower (coming soon) and a green salad.

Enjoy!

Roasted Red Pepper-Walnut Dip (Muhammara)

During one of my semi-annual trips to visit my old Russian professor in the Boston area, George and I got to experience the red pepper dip known as muhammara for the first time.

Oh. Em. Geeeeee.

Amazing.  It was deeply flavored and fruity and sweet and spicy and roasty and redolent of garlic and rich, toasted walnuts.  All that in one dish?  Yeah!  I knew after trying it that my mission (which I chose to accept) was to learn how to make it myself, since my local supermarket sure isn’t carrying pre-packaged muhammara.  Happily, they carry all components.  After years of tasting and experimentation (a rough job, I know), I can finally say neener neener, made it myself, and celebrate one more weirdo recipe in the repertoire.

Here’s what I used:

  • 2 fresh roasted red peppers, peeled and seeded, plus the liquor they exude after roasting
  • 2/3 cup (ish) plain bread crumbs (or maybe not as much, or maybe more; it depends on what you need to achieve the right texture)
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, toasted
  • 2 or 3 or 4 garlic cloves, to taste
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons pomegranate molasses (check the ubiquitously dubbed “international” section of your grocery store)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes (or none, or more, purely to taste)
  • salt and pepper to taste (if you use pre-roasted peppers, be sure to go easy on the salt since they will be saltier than if you roast them yourself)
  • olive oil for garnish

The first thing to do is roast the peppers.  (If you are pressed for time you surely may use jarred or frozen roasted peppers.  Just drain or defrost them and make sure they’re peeled and seeded.)  There are two different camps surrounding roasted peppers; you can char them at high heat just so the skins blister off, but the flesh of the peppers really won’t cook.  Or, you could roast them at a lower heat so the peppers cook thoroughly.  It depends on what you want to achieve.  I chose to roast the peppers at a lower, slower heat (400°, 20 minutes, turn once, back in the oven for 20 more minutes) since I wanted them to be softer and more amenable to become a dip, and not as dependent on a fatty olive oil added at the end to provide a soft texture.  Plus, I love the liquid they exude.

Mmmm, peppery goodness.

Mmmm, silky pepper goodness.

See that golden liquor oozing out among the roasted peppers?  That’s pure concentrated pepper sweetness, and it would be a crime to not include that in your dish; it is TOO GOOD.  Once the peppers are roasted and cooled  (in a heat-proof bowl that’s covered with plastic wrap, so the skins will steam apart from the flesh, making your job that much easier), peel them, pull out the stems and seeds, put the roasted pepper flesh into a food processor and strain that pepper liquor into your food processor as well.  You won’t regret it.  If you use jarred or frozen peppers, you won’t have this, and you’ll need to resist the temptation to use the liquid from the jar.  It’s probably going to be too salty and/or vinegary to be of much use; you can throw in a splash of cranberry juice or broth or water if you want to get a little extra liquid rolling around in your dip.

While the peppers are roasting, measure out your walnuts, put them in a dry pan (meaning, one with no oil in it) and let it start warming over a medium heat.  Don’t wander too far away since it won’t take long for the walnuts to start to brown and once they’re brown they’re ready to burn.  Don’t let that happen.  Also, you need at least 1/3 cup, but make 1/2.  You may need more than the third, depending on how soft (or not) the dip is when you first blend it, and walnuts will help add structure.  Besides, the temptation to snack on fresh-roasted walnuts is great, and you wouldn’t want to short the muhammara.  I speak from experience here.

And so.  Put all ingredients except the olive oil in a food processor; remember to start with 1/3 cup each of bread crumbs and walnuts, and then taste test your muhammara so you may appropriately tinker.

Give it a whirl!

Give it a whirl!

Blend, scrape down the food processor bowl, taste.  Repeat.  Bread crumbs and walnuts will provide structure so if your dip is too runny, add in a little bit more of one or the other (or both!) at a time.  You’ll want it to be firm yet scoopable, like a really thick hummus.  Scoop it into a bowl, drizzle it with a little olive oil for a garnish and serve with bread or crackers or pita wedges.

Hell yeah.

Hell yeah.

Trust me, once you try this you’ll want it again.  And again.  And again.  Bonus: it’s easy!  Enjoy.  xoxo

Nosh: Spiced Olives

Hey, folks.

I’m about to give you the easiest recipe, and the most workable recipe, for an appetizer, or if you’re putting out a tapas spread, or if you just happen to have some olives laying around and don’t know what to do with them.  It is easiest and most beloved recipe in all the lands, both known and unknown.  You’re welcome.

It’s so easy you don’t even need pictorial assistance.  What you do need is:

One container of olives.  I like to buy the nice kalamata olives you get at the deli counter, but you can use jarred, or canned.  They just shouldn’t be stuffed with anything.

Chopped garlic.  Or not.  Whichever and how much you would prefer.

A strip or two of citrus peel.  If you have just oranges, use oranges.  If you have just lemons, use those.  If you have both in the house, take a strip of each, if you’d like.  And then  juice whatever you’ve used and save the juice for future use.

A sprig of fresh rosemary.  Dried also works.  Or thyme, or oregano, if you’d prefer.

A shake of crushed red pepper, if you’d like.

Some black pepper.  Not optional.  🙂  Since we’re talking about olives, no, you don’t need salt.

Put the olives in a saute pan with some oil.  Heat.  Toss in everything else.  Saute at medium heat for about five minutes, maybe.  Until the citrus peel and the rosemary meld into one fragrant unit with the garlic, and the olives look like they’ve picked up a little bit of color.

Put the whole thing in a serving bowl.

Eat.

These are always a win with my friends.

Five minutes.  Eight, if take extra-special care to chop the garlic.

And it contributes prettily to a nice spread you can put out to welcome hungry weekend guests after they’ve made a long drive to hang out with you.

Sorry about the weird Batman-like angle; I admittedly rushed the shot.

It’s only civil.

Here’s the olives, with a sharp cheddar and some mild goat cheese, apples (that I prevented from browning by tossing them in the lemon juice squeezed from the lemon I peeled for the citrus strip), crackers, crisped baguette slices, and a delicious grainy mustard.  And oven-roasted tomatoes; you can find that recipe here.

Enjoy!

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