Nosh: Salad with Grilled Asparagus, Potatoes, and Lemon-Caper Vinaigrette

I love summertime salads. Great big salads, accented with all sorts of lovely, yummy, seasonal things.

Though I confess, as I sit here eating leftover salad for breakfast, that maybe I am a tad overly fond of the greens. Eh. There are worse things I could do.

So I wanted a salad, and I had a hankering for lemon-caper something. But, I also wanted asparagus and potatoes, because I like to eat those things and I am a simple creature bent on satisfying my wants. Here’s how it all went down.

  • 1 bunch asparagus
  • 1/4 teaspoon of herbes de Provence or tarragon
  • 1.5-2 pounds Yukon Gold (OR red OR new) potatoes
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried rosemary (crushed)
  • Olive oil
  • Salt & pepper
  • 2 Tablespoons fresh chives, chopped

For the dressing

  • 2 Tablespoons capers
  • 1 Tablespoon shallot (or mild onion), minced
  • Juice and zest from one lemon
  • 1 Tablespoon finely chopped parsley
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
  • 1/4-1/2 cup white balsamic vinegar (OR white wine vinegar OR champagne vinegar)
  • 1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • black pepper to taste
  • 1/2 (ish) cup olive oil

Salad, prepared however you prefer

A few rounds of thick pita bread, for serving

The hardest ingredient to work with in this recipe is the potatoes because they have to be boiled first. I chose Yukon Golds for this because…well, because I like how they taste, and because I think their waxy texture holds up better to  a double-cooking process than floury russet potatoes. Take smallish whole potatoes, or cut them so they are halved and roughly the same size (but do not slice or dice yet). You can peel them if you’d like. I didn’t bother. Boil them until they are fork-tender. They can be a little underdone when you decide to drain them, as they’re going to cook further on the grill. But they should be at the very least, nearly done. Set aside to cool.

While the potatoes are boiling, prep the asparagus. Snap off the woody ends (no knife required! Just bend a stalk and it will naturally break at the spot where tender stalk meets tougher bottom) and put in a mixing bowl. Toss with oil, salt, pepper, and the seasoning of your choice. I like herbes de Provence, with its mix of herbs and fragrant hint of lavender.

Springtime veggies make me so happy.

Springtime veggies make me so happy.

Set these aside, and make your dressing.

Get a big container–a nice big soup bowl with a lid, or a Ball jar that you can close and shake. Spoon capers into a strainer and rinse. Assemble ingredients.

Fact: I haven't purchased salad dressing for my home in years.

Fact: I haven’t purchased salad dressing for my home in years.

Remember to zest your lemon before you juice it. And the capers are going to get minced, too. Chop everything that needs to be chopped (including parsley, strangely absent from this picture), and dump it all in the mixing container. Add in honey, thyme, mustard, and lemon juice. Add the white balsamic vinegar into the mix. If you want a thicker dressing, add less vinegar. If you’d like it thinner, add a little more. Black pepper goes in now, too, and I use kind of a lot of it in here; using my pepper mill, I probably added ten turns of the grinder. Add according to your taste. But be careful with salt! Even though you’ve rinsed the capers they’ve been pickled in brine and can still be salty. Taste your dressing first before you add any extra salt, and do that at the end, after everything else has been mixed in.

Whisk in oil until it’s fully incorporated. I generally like to have an almost even proportion of oil to vinegar, so if you’ve got a half-cup of vinegar, look to add roughly that much oil. Taste, and adjust. Does it need salt? More pepper? A dash more honey or another hit of mustard? This dressing should be savory and lemony and a little bit sweet, with a refreshing, green bite from the capers. When you’re satisfied, set it aside.

Heat your grill/grill pan. I used the double-griller that stretches across two burners on my stove but of course, this can also go outside. Get it ready to go at a medium/medium-high heat.

Take cooled potatoes and slice them into half-inch (or thicker) slices. Toss with olive oil, salt, pepper, and rosemary.

It was hard for me to not eat these as-is. But hold on! They get even better.

It was hard for me to not eat these as-is. But hold on! They get even better.

When the grill is hot, put the asparagus and potatoes on the burners, then let ’em go. The asparagus will cook much more quickly than the potatoes so don’t wander too far off while they’re cooking. Also, I had to cook in batches for purposes of space. That’s the beauty of salads. If the food gets a little cool…so what?

While the potatoes and asparagus are grilling, make your salad. I had feta cheese so we made sort-of a Greek salad, but really. Make whatever kind of salad you’d like. 

Turn the asparagus at least once to ensure even cooking, and if the stalks are thin they should be done in five minutes.  Put on a serving platter and drizzle with some lemon-caper vinaigrette.

Yeah. It was as good as it looks.

Yeah. It was as good as it looks.

The potatoes will take a little longer–flip them when you take the asparagus off the grill. They get all texturally fun, though, as the inside stays soft and potato-y while the outside crisps up from the grill. When they’re done, toss with chives et voila! In a serving bowl.

Does it get better than this?

Does it get better than this?

Grill the pita bread.

Really. You’ll thank me for it. You’ll only need like two minutes per side and the flavor gets beautifully deep and surprising. I mean, it’s pita, right? But oh, what an effect the grill has on it.

Yum. YUM.

Yum. YUM.

Cut the pita into quarters when it’s done.

Gather everything together and bring it out onto your fantastic, aesthetically pleasing back porch, which you have just freed from all its winter grime.

Feast.

Feast.

This? Is the way to eat a summertime salad. But if you don’t have the back porch, don’t let that stop you! This would taste great if you were seated at a little kitchen table with a single candle burning in the middle for a soft glow, or spread out on a blanket on the floor of your living room while the rain fell outside. 

Ha! Now I need to remember to make this again for an indoor picnic. 

Whatever, so long as I get to eat it again.

I hope you enjoy! 

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Nosh: Grilled Fennel with Orange and Parsley

Ahhh, the weather is warming up! Birds are singing, flowers are blooming, and spring is springing itself all over the place. This breezy, glorious weather also beckons us outside, making us think of back yard parties and long candle-lit summer nights with friends, after a feast that you’ve grilled outdoors. With this in mind, I’m offering up grilled fennel with orange and parsley. It’s one of my favorite grilled sides, one that’s easy and quick, and takes almost no skill to execute successfully. 

Ironically, I am not an outdoorsy girl (mosquitos love me) and I grill inside. Eh. Whatever works. (And, bonus! I do this all through the winter.) If you love to grill your food then invest in a grill pan; you won’t regret it. To the grilling purists who are apoplectic at the thought of taking it indoors, I apologize if I hurt your heart. But it won’t change me. Moving on.

I love the savory twist that comes from a fresh fennel plant. Yes, the seeds are pungent and taste of licorice. When fennel is raw the sharp licorice taste remains. Once it starts to cook, the flavor mellows into a sort of caramel-crisp-crunchy, mildly-anise-y flavor bomb that moves into your brain as one of those, “Oh, man, I don’t know when I’ve had this but I know I’ve always liked it!” sort of taste memories. There is much to love about a good bulb of fennel. And you can use all of it, bulb, stem and leaf, so none of it goes to waste. Extra-fun!

When you do cook it, bear in mind that one bulb will produce a tremendous amount of food. I’ve never needed more than one bulb when I cook for two people, and we always have leftovers. If you’re cooking for four, you might need to add in another bulb, but if there’s only two people to feed…here’s what I used:

  • 1 fresh fennel bulb, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 tsp dried rosemary (or other favorite herb)
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper (to taste)
  • 1 Tablespoon orange zest
  • 2 Tablespoons chopped parsley

Put a grill pan on your stovetop and turn the burners on (or heat your grill) so it will be ready and waiting for the fennel. You’ll want it to get kind of hot, so a medium-to-medium-high heat will do nicely.

If any of the outside leaves of the fennel look gnarly or damaged, peel them off and throw them away. Cut fennel stalks and fronds off the bulb and save them for another use (think garnishes, or soup stocks). Cut the fennel bulb in half. You could cut the core out if you’d prefer. I usually cut the core because it’s a little tougher than the rest of the fennel, but if you don’t feel like it, it’s not a big deal. You’ll be cutting thin slices, it will all cook. Cut fennel into nice narrow strips and toss in a mixing bowl. Then add in rosemary, salt, pepper, and oil. Give it a stir.

Isn't it gorgeous?

Isn’t it gorgeous?

Turn fennel on to your waiting, heated grill pan. If you have a single-burner pan (like the one I used here) you may have to cook the fennel in two batches. Like I said, one bulb can provide an enormous amount of food; and you really need to provide food with adequate room to cook in. It’s OK. The fennel is nice and thin, so even if you have to split the batch it won’t take long.

Give it room. Show it love. Or, use a larger grilling surface if you're in a hurry.

Give it room. Show it love. Or, use a larger grilling surface–an outdoor grill, or a double-burner grill pan– if you’re in a hurry.

Leave the fennel strips alone for a few minutes. While they cook you can zest your orange and clean and chop the parsley. Give the fennel a stir on the grill after they’ve been browning for a few minutes. If they’ve been on your grill for five minutes and haven’t started to brown yet, then turn up the heat because your pan isn’t hot enough. Once they’ve gotten that lovely, grill-specific, brown-in-some-places-kind-of-charred-in-others look, and are soft and mellow (yet savory and still pleasantly crunchy), put it back in the mixing bowl. Add in orange zest and parsley.

Really. All there is to it.

Really. All there is to it.

Combine all ingredients. Taste a piece and decide if you need to adjust for more seasonings. More salt? Pepper? Nothing? Something? Ready? FEAST!

We served this with some ravioli and a side salad, but this could go with anything. With burgers. ON burgers. With grilled chicken, or crepes, or as a fruity and refreshing counter to a rich pulled pork. It’s such a simple side with readily-available ingredients, and it’s so easy to make. 

Plus, it looks great. Helloooo, you sexy dish.

Plus, it looks great. Helloooo, you sexy dish.

Don’t let the licorice-y reputation of fennel turn you off. When cooked, fennel offers an entirely different taste experience. Give it a shot! Explore your produce department. You never know what kind of new favorite thing you might encounter along the way.

Enjoy!

Nosh: Super-Garlicky Mashed Potatoes (Sort-Of Skordalia)

Hi all! I know my food writing hasn’t been happening much. So much of my time has been taken up teaching Zumba and getting certified to teach Body Combat…and baking cookies…and blah blah blah…that I haven’t spent nearly as much time in the kitchen as I would have liked. Thank goodness for George. Well, thank goodness for him for many reasons; among those is the fact that he’s a great cook and has picked up my kitchen slack without complaint, keeping me fed and watered and healthy.

Today’s recipe is a take on skordalia, a classic Greek appetizer/dip/sauce made of garlic and potatoes. I can’t remember the first place I’d ever even heard of skordalia, though I suspect it was somewhere in Toronto’s Greektown. (Side note: if you go to Toronto, GO TO GREEKTOWN. Because yum! And fun. And why not? I digress.) What is this thing, I thought to myself, as I looked at the fragrant dish before me. This rich, super-garlicky, potato-tastic thing, that gives me so much joy to eat? Why have I not heard of it before? And why am I not eating more of it?

It’s that sort of moment that forces me to take a situation into my own hands. Now, I readily admit that this is in no way a traditional, dippable, sauce-able skordalia recipe, and I don’t want to infuriate the Greek community by trying to claim otherwise. Rather, I took the ingredients and now enjoy sort-of skordalia as beautiful, smooth, super-garlicky mashed potatoes, ones that are totally vegan.

Vegan? Mashed potatoes? That are rich and creamy and mooshy and delicious? Yes, way! You’ll need:

  • 2-ish pounds of your favorite mashing potato (I favor Yukon golds, but it’s your call)
  • 5 or 6 or 8 cloves of garlic. As much as you can stand, really. Peeled and smashed.
  • A good, flavorful extra-virgin olive oil. Amount is dependent on the texture you want
  • 1/2 tsp (ish) dried rosemary, or thyme, or your favorite herb
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Chopped parsley, or chives, for garnish
  • Note: traditionally, skordalia involves mixing in lemon juice too. I don’t care for it, but if you want to try it, go for it!

Wash and peel your potatoes, and chop them into 1-inch (or so) cubes. Smash and peel garlic. Put them all in a big pot and cover with water.

Notice the big clove of garlic, front and center.

Notice the big clove of garlic, front and center.

Make sure the pot you use is big enough to accommodate everything. Food needs adequate space to cook in. The starch from the potatoes will foam in the pot; if you don’t allow enough room for that then you’ll spend much of your time cleaning up foam overspill on your stove. Let the potatoes and garlic come to a boil and cook for 15 or 20 minutes, until the potatoes are fork tender. Before draining, reserve about a cup’s worth of the starchy, potato-y boiling water. Then drain, and put the potatoes and garlic back in the pot you boiled them in, and have at them with a masher.

Could these ingredients be any simpler?

Could these ingredients be any simpler?

As you begin mashing the potatoes and garlic (yes, all together), start incorporating the other ingredients. Add some salt and pepper and rosemary right away, so the hot potatoes can soak up all that good flavor. Then add in the starchy water and olive oil incrementally. Mash, and test for texture and taste. And mash, and add some more pepper and rosemary if necessary, and test again, until you’re happy with the flavor and have all the lumps out. You’ll be amazed by how successfully the water and oil come together to form a deceptively creamy potato mash.  When you’re ready, give the potatoes a whip.

Whip it good.

Whip it good.

Whip the potatoes until they’re pillowy. They were so soft and pliable I didn’t even need the electric blender, which remained in its box, unopened and forlorn.

Then spoon the potatoes out into a lovely serving bowl and top with a little additional olive oil and your garnish of choice. This dish is ridiculously versatile and goes with anything you’d normally eat with traditional mashed potatoes, whether it’s at a backyard summer party or at the holiday table.

I'm going to go and have some right now.

I’m going to go and have some right now.

Plus, they taste even better the next day.

Now, I know as well as anybody that it’s hard to compete with a buttery, creamy batch of mashed potatoes, and when I was in the throes of my picky-kid eating stage, traditional mashed potatoes were one of the few things I would eat without complaint. I still adore them. But this version, with loads of garlic flavor and zero dairy, is an incredibly satisfying alternative.

Give ’em a shot! Let me know what you think. Happy cooking!

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: 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: 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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