Thursday, November 17, 2022

Blistered Peppers with Mozzarella and Croutons

Scrappy cooking, or cooking outside the lines, is a fun approach to putting a meal on the table. That’s the style you’ll find in I Dream of Dinner by Ali Slagle. I’ve been cooking through my review copy. The recipes are intended to give “just enough structure to get you to excellent meals, in your kitchen, your way.” They should all require no more than 45 minutes to make and ten or fewer ingredients. What I always enjoy in a cookbook is an offering of alternatives for swapping out ingredients or making little changes, and those suggestions are in abundance throughout the book. The recipes are written to walk you through the entire process of making each dish. So, rather than calling for a pre-prepped ingredient in the list, just the item itself is listed and any prep work is described in the instructions. The goal is to prevent you from seeing a short recipe and not realizing everything in it requires several minutes of attention before you can begin. I just have one little quibble with the way the ingredient lists are written: there are no quantities in the lists. You have to read the recipe to find out how much of each ingredient is needed. But, otherwise, I have been enjoying this “fast and loose way of cooking.” It could be that I have a thing for eggs lately, but I wanted to taste everything in the Eggs chapter. The Fried Egg Salad is a mix of vegetables skewing toward escabeche with lettuce to which chopped fried eggs are added. Alternative routes for this include a romaine salad with olive oil braised chickpeas or a Thai salad among others. I had to try the Crispy Potato, Egg, and Cheese Taco because that combination can do no wrong. Shredded potato was fried in butter in rounds to fit the tortillas; shredded cheese was sprinkled on top; and an egg was cooked on top of the cheese. It was simple and lovely. The Beans chapter is fun too. I have my eye on the Big Beans with Breadcrumbs wherein gigante beans are browned in oil in a hot pan before panko crumbs are added with butter and cooked until they coat the beans which are then served with dressed salad greens. The other chapters include Pasta, Grains, Vegetables, Chicken, Beef Pork and Lamb, and Sea Creatures. I made the Sticky Chicken with Pickled Vegetables, and it’s a delightfully quick and tasty take on teriyaki. Alternatives include making this with tofu or salmon and adding vegetables. I plan to do all those things. The Tomatillo Poached Cod is like a streamlined pozole. I did actually cook dried hominy rather than using canned, but it was still a very approachable dish with great flavor. And, one recipe tip that I will use repeatedly from now on is to add grated zucchini to ground chicken for burgers. The dish I want to tell you more about, though, is Blistered Peppers with Mozzarella and Croutons. 

I had lots of local, sweet peppers in various sizes to use in this dish. The peppers, some chopped and some just stemmed in my case, were cooked in olive oil with garlic, smoked paprika, and red pepper flakes in a Dutch oven in the oven until the peppers were blistered. Next, almonds were chopped and tossed with bread chunks and olive oil. The mix was seasoned with salt and pepper, and it was baked until golden. Some of the excess oil from the peppers was poured over the bread and almonds, and minced garlic and sherry vinegar were added as well. Last, fresh mozzarella was cut into pieces and layered with the peppers, chickpeas, and croutons and almonds on a serving platter. 

This dish was a delightful mix of flavors and textures. And, like all the other recipes, it came with great ideas to repurpose in others. The idea of using warm excess oil from the peppers to dress the croutons and almonds could apply in so many other dishes. And, that’s the intention here. The recipes inspire all sorts of directions for experimentation, and also happen to be delicious just as they are.

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Thursday, October 6, 2022

Salt-and-Pepper Cod with Turmeric Noodles

When I flip through a new cookbook and just know the dishes shown are going to taste great, it’s a sure sign I’ll be spending a lot of time with that book. That’s what happened with the review copy I received of The Cook You Want to Be by Andy Baraghani. His food is self-described as maybe “a touch too lemony;” he claims to use “a ridiculous amount of herbs;” and he prefers “vegetables to meat.” So, it’s pretty much perfect to my taste. Every dish seems to include some kind of special touch that boosts the flavor, and there’s a chapter for just that purpose. The Mighty Little Recipes chapter includes sauces and toppings that add that extra something. My first stop in the book was to try the Creamy Nuoc Cham from this chapter. Pureed cashews give it the creamy texture, and I used it as a dipping sauce for roasted shrimp. So many things caught my eye as I read through the book. All of the egg recipes did, especially the Crispy Chickpea Bowls with Lemony Yogurt and Chile-Stained Fried Eggs. I stopped twice in the Snacks to Share chapter to try the Broken Feta with Sizzled Mint and Walnuts and the Nuts to Drink With. The mix of lemongrass, garlic, red pepper flakes, and honey made those nuts particularly addictive. The Salads chapter delivers with Parmesan-Kale Chip Salad with Tangy Mustard Dressing and Juicy Tomatoes with Italian Chile Crisp among several others. The Vegetables chapter shows that creamy nuoc cham served with Charred Brussels Sprouts as well as Roasted Carrots with Hot Green Tahini, and now I can’t wait for those vegetables to come into season. I could live in the Grains chapter and can’t wait to try the Fregola with Buttery Clams and Yuzu Kosho. I had lots of local zucchini on hand, so I made the Farro with Melty Zucchini and Sumac. The Castelvetrano olives, red wine vinegar, and sumac made it delicious. There are also meat recipes and a slim chapter for sweets. But, next, I turned to the Salt-and-Pepper Cod with Turmeric Noodles. 

The dish is an adaptation of cha ca la vong but with an addition of butter in the noodles. Here, the nuoc cham with fresh chiles, garlic, fish sauce, and lime juice is not made creamy. It’s a runny sauce to drizzle over the fish and noodles. Grated ginger and garlic were coated on pieces salt-and-pepper-seasoned cod before the fish was seared in a hot pan. Dried vermicelli noodles were cooked and drained and then tossed in melted butter with ground turmeric. To serve, the noodles formed a bed for pieces of cod that were topped with lots of chopped herbs and green onion. Dill is traditional here but I used a mix of herbs. More herbs on the side are fun to add to each bite along with the sauce. 

Like all the recipes in this book, this one was uncomplicated but flavor-forward. It’s easy enough to be on regular rotation, but pretty enough to impress. And, that’s exactly the point of these dishes. As the author says, they should impress “not just your friends but yourself!” And, they will.

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Monday, August 22, 2022

Carrot and Saffron Socca

I’m in mourning. That’s the only way to describe it. I received a note in the mail informing me that Martha Stewart Living magazine will no longer be published. It was a shock because no announcement had been made in the magazine; I hadn’t seen anything about it on social media; and Martha did not call me personally to discuss the matter. How has this happened? I subscribed for at least 23 years and maybe longer. I’ve learned so many things from Martha’s tv shows, books, and especially the magazine that I read every month. Trust me, the jokes about Martha are not lost on me, but I’m a fan and have a huge appreciation for her expertise and ability to teach. I have a special file system just for pages I’ve cut from the magazine and kept over all the years of subscribing, and now nothing more will be added to it. I guess I have to try to move on. On the bright side, a lot of people have worked with Martha over the years, and they will continue to share what they learned from her. For instance, Jess Damuck worked with Martha in various roles including in the test kitchen of the Martha Stewart Living tv show, and her book Salad Freak is clearly influenced by this experience. I read my review copy with delight to learn of how Damuck made lunches for Martha by “preparing each component with more focus and attention that I even knew I had in me.” She became enamored with salads for freshness, flavor, and composition. The recipes are organized by season, and the photos display all the lovely colors and textures of each dish. Some are hearty salads as meals in themselves and some are lighter. There are salads with fruits and fruit-only salads. I’ll be turning back to the Winter chapter for all the uses of citrus, but there’s also a Caesar Salad Pizza in that chapter that I’m sure to try before the season arrives. In the Spring chapter, you’ll find the Martha’s Mango and Mozzarella with Young Lettuces salad that I want to try and not just because of the story about Martha in the head note. I made the Simple Egg Salad with Lots of Dill but made it a little less simple with some added pickled jalapeno and green onion. There’s an Ode to the Scuttlebutt salad that I loved seeing because it’s based on a sandwich from the former Saltie restaurant. I have the book of that name and made that sandwich for this blog once upon a time. And, there are lots of terrific salads with tomatoes for summer like the BLT Potato Salad and Snoop’s BBQ Chicken Cobb Salad with All the Good Stuff. Damuck mentions serving cut fruit and vegetables on ice and how refreshing that is in the summer. She also uses a melon baller in more than one recipe. I felt so validated by that. I love using a melon baller. So, of course, I made the Balled Melon as a Snack and served it on ice. When fall arrives, I’ll be making the Shredded Kale and Brussels Sprouts with Roasted Squash and Pomegranate salad and the Crispy Calamari with Carrots, Frisee, and Ginger salad. For today, I want to tell you more about the Carrot and Saffron Socca. 

Saffron was steeped in warm water and then was mixed with chickpea flour and olive oil to make the socca batter. A cast iron skillet was warmed in the oven as it pre-heated. The warm skillet was then placed on top of the stove, oil was added, and sliced scallions were cooked before the socca batter was added. The skillet went back into the oven for 10 minutes before the broiler was turned on for a few minutes to brown the top of the socca. Meanwhile, I had some local carrots and daikon radish that I sliced on a mandoline. The slices were crisped in ice water before being drained and dried. The recipe suggests making pesto from the carrot tops, but mine didn’t come with tops. I used basil and parsley from my herb garden instead. The cooked socca was topped with the shaved vegetables, dollops of pesto, crumbles of local feta, sunflower seeds instead of sliced almonds in my case, and crushed red chiles. 

I loved everything about this dish. The saffron in the socca was divine and so was topping socca with a crisp, fresh salad. The ice water bath gave the shaved vegetables nice shapes and crunchy texture. And, the feta and pesto brought richness and great flavor. Maybe I’ll find a way to go on without Living magazine in my life--but only if I keep coming across books like this full of really good ideas.

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Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Soy Sauce Fried Chicken with Jalapenos

Food ties together so many parts of our lives. Eric Kim learned from working as a food writer that “we can never really run away from who we are.” He moved back home to Atlanta at the start of the pandemic to cook with his mother and work on the book Korean American and found a bit of his identity in the process. I recently received a review copy. Transcribing his mother’s recipes and transforming them into his own made clear his understanding of being an American who is also Korean. The recipes are specific dishes fondly remembered from his upbringing with some of his own takes. There are Korean flavors with American ingredients and vice versa and a mix of the two. It’s a personal look at life through food and how his family prepared these dishes with lots of endearing stories throughout. A great example of how Korean and American concepts collide is the Gochugaru Shrimp and Roasted Seaweed Grits. The creamy, buttered grits are flavored with crushed gim, which is roasted seaweed, and sesame oil while the shrimp are bathed in lots of garlic, gochugaru, fish sauce, and lemon juice. The richness of the butter brings all these flavors together magically. I also tried the Roasted Seaweek Sour Cream Dip that I made with skyr from a local producer, and I have the page marked for Crispy Yangnyeom Chickpeas with Caramelized Honey. Of course, there are multiple variations of kimchi and recipes that incorporate kimchi like the cold noodle dish Kimchi Bibimguksu with Grape Tomatoes, Caramelized-Kimchi Baked Potatoes, and Kimchi Sandwiches on Milk Bread. There are some recipes I look forward to making my own. I’d love to try some meatless fillings for Kimbap, but two options are included with Spam and Perilla and Cheeseburger. And, I want to try Sheet-Pam Bibimbap with all sorts of vegetables. There are fish, chicken, and beef dishes; stews; vegetable recipes honoring Kim’s mother’s garden; and a chapter of Feasts. The chapters are rounded out with one for sweets that includes a Dalgona Butterscotch Sauce for ice cream that I have to try. It was the Soy Sauce Fried Chicken, though, that I turned to next. 

This recipe is from Kim’s Aunt Georgia, and it’s the crispiest chicken ever. The pieces are coated in potato starch and fried twice before being tossed in a spicy, soy sauce glaze. I've fried things all sorts of ways such as in a simple flour coating, in a three-step breaded coating, in nut crusts, etc. But, this was my introduction to using potato starch. It really does make an incredibly crunchy exterior. I used thighs, legs, and lots of wings from Shirttail Creek Farm. The sauce was a mix of oil, sliced garlic, sliced jalapenos, brown sugar, and soy sauce. It was warmed until bubbling in a skillet, and the twice-fried chicken was turned in it before plating. An important accompaniment is the Chicken Radishes. They are simply pickled radishes in distilled vinegar that go perfectly with the rich, fried chicken, and I luckily had some local radishes to use the day I made them. 

Bright, acidic radishes with the crunchiest, spicy chicken was a fantastic combination. I highly recommend the duo. It can’t be easy for immigrants like Kim’s parents to navigate unfamiliar ingredients in attempting to make the kind of food they know and love. But, this book shows the evolution of just that and how new dishes came to be. We’re lucky to get to share in their inventiveness. 

Aunt Georgia’s Soy Sauce Fried Chicken with Jalapeños 
Recipe reprinted with publisher’s permission from Korean American. 

My Aunt Georgia’s fried chicken is unmatched. I love how simple her recipe is, and within its simplicity—the careful combination of garlic, jalapeños, brown sugar, and soy sauce—lies great complexity. Her chicken stays crunchy for hours, thanks to the potato starch coating and the double fry, not to mention the savory, spicy glaze that candies the outsides. For balance, be sure to have this with the Somaek and the Chicken Radishes. 

1 whole chicken (3 to 3½ pounds), cut into 10 serving pieces 
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper 
2 cups potato starch 
Vegetable oil 
7 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced 
3 large jalapeños, thinly sliced 
1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar 
1/4 cup soy sauce 

SERVES 6 TO 8 

1. In a large bowl or resealable plastic bag, add the chicken pieces and season with salt and pepper. Add 1 cup of the potato starch and toss to coat each piece. Remove the chicken pieces and repeat. Add the pieces to the bowl or bag, sprinkle in the remaining 1 cup potato starch and toss to coat each piece again. Set aside on a plate until the starch on the chicken begins to look wet, about 15 minutes. 
2. Pour 2 inches oil (enough to cover the chicken pieces while frying) into a large Dutch oven. Heat over medium-high heat to 350°F. 
3. Line a plate with paper towels. Working in batches of a few pieces at a time, add the chicken to the hot oil and fry until lightly golden, about 4 minutes per batch. Transfer the fried chicken to the paper towels. Then, fry these same pieces a second time until golden brown, about 8 minutes per batch. Set these twice-fried chicken pieces aside on a wire rack until you’ve double-fried all of the chicken. 
4. In a medium skillet, combine ½ cup vegetable oil, the garlic, 2 of the jalapeños, the brown sugar, and soy sauce and set over medium-high heat until it bubbles up. Add a few pieces of the fried chicken to the sauce and use tongs to quickly turn them over in the glaze just until coated. Remove and transfer to a serving platter. Repeat with the remaining chicken. 
5. Garnish the fried chicken with the remaining jalapeño slices and serve immediately or at room temperature, when the soy sauce glaze on the outside will be at its crunchiest. 

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Monday, June 6, 2022

Crispy Fonio Cakes with Hearts of Palm, Scallions, and Old Bay


In 2017, Joshua McFadden’s Six Seasons became a favorite of mine. I live for the brined and roasted nuts from that book and make that recipe with every kind of nut on regular rotation. I grab the book for seasonal inspiration for every vegetable too. So, I knew I was going to enjoy cooking from his new book, Grains for Every Season, of which I received a review copy. He explains in the introduction that this book is not intended as an encyclopedia of all grains. Rather, it’s an exploration of the grains he cooks with often. The chapters are titled by type of grain, and each starts with specific info about the grain, cooking times, and nutritional details. I read through the book, then immediately started jumping from one chapter to another trying various dishes. And, I have several pages marked with more things to try. There are simple things like the five different seasoning suggestions for popcorn, and there are more time-consuming recipes like the Whole Wheat and Ricotta Cavatelli. For the cavatelli, a particular machine is suggested, Elisa’s Cavatelli Maker from Fante’s, and I had to stop everything to search for it online. Then, I got distracted by the Blonde Blondies because apparently, blonde chocolate, also known as caramelized white chocolate, has become a thing you can buy rather than make yourself and no one told me. Next, I was fascinated to learn that McFadden previously worked at Franny’s in Brooklyn before it closed, and the Franny’s cookbook is another favorite of mine. For years, I’ve been meaning to circle back to the Franny’s book for the clam pizza. It’s a little involved, but I still want to give it a go. In this book, that very clam pizza is reimagined as a slab pie with a whole wheat crust. It has white wine and cream sauce with lots of shucked clams. There are several other pizza topping ideas too. In the wheat chapter alone, there are tortillas, pitas, English muffins, and even whole wheat angel food cake. Spelt flour is used for a Savory Morning Bun, freekah appears in a Seafood Chowder with Potaotes and Corn, and farro is made like risotto in the style of cacio e pepe. Clearly, I’m finding a lot to like in this book. Here’s what I’ve made so far: Tabbouleh for Every Season; Super-Crisp Flatbread That Tastes Like Cheez-Its (only better I say); Wild Rice Salad with Roasted Beets, Cucumber, and Dill; and Snack Bars with Quinoa, Mango, Nuts, and Coconut. And, I have to tell you more about the Crispy Fonio Cakes. 

This recipe is from the Millet chapter, and millet always used to be easy enough to find at the grocery store. Things happen these days. Some days supply seems normal, other days things I depend on finding just aren’t available. So it was with millet. But, fonio was available, and it’s a great substitute for millet. Also, the recipe called for shrimp, but I opted to go plant-based and used chopped hearts of palm instead. The cooked fonio was mixed with the chopped hearts of palm, green onions, Cajun seasoning, lemon zest, yogurt, and flour and the mixture was formed into fritters for frying. The recipe as written in the book appears below. To serve, there's a list of optional sauces, and all the recipes for those sauces are at the back of the book. I chose the Turmeric Mayo made with mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, ground turmeric, lemon juice, onion powder, and salt. 

Despite the liberties I took with the ingredients, these crispy cakes were delicious, and the turmeric mayo is something I’ll make again and again for lots of other uses too. Often, there are whole chapters in cookbooks that I never use. For instance, if a chapter is devoted to beef dishes, I will probably never cook from it. But, every chapter in this book is of keen interest to me. All the grains and all the ways they’re used will keep me busy in the kitchen with this book. 

Crispy Millet Cakes with Shrimp, Scallions, and Old Bay
Excerpted with permission from Grains for Every Season by Joshua McFadden (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2022. 

These tasty, golden-crusted patties are a brilliant showcase for millet. The grain’s neutral flavor lets the mild shrimp shine and nicely absorbs the ever-so-spicy Old Bay flavors. Millet’s texture is tender but toothy, which makes the patties substantial enough to serve on a bun as a seafood sandwich with a slice of tomato and some crispy iceberg lettuce or with an egg on top for breakfast. And millet is gluten-free, so if you use millet flour as the binder, you’re good. 

Serves 4 to 6 

1 cup (200 g) uncooked millet 
Kosher salt 
4 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled 
1 pound (450 g) shrimp, preferably wild-caught, peeled and deveined 
1 bunch scallions (about 6), thinly sliced 
2 tablespoons Old Bay seasoning 
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon 
2 large eggs, beaten 
2 tablespoons plain whole-milk or low-fat yogurt 
1 cup (120 g) millet flour, barley flour, or brown rice flour (or any wheat flour, if you are okay with gluten) 
Vegetable or extra-virgin olive oil, for frying 
Lemon wedges, for squeezing 

Put the millet in a medium saucepan and add water to cover by 3 inches (7.5 cm), 1 tablespoon salt, and the garlic. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce to a simmer, and cook until very tender and no longer chalky, about 20 minutes. Drain the millet and garlic, shaking to remove excess water. Let sit for a few minutes, then spread it onto a baking sheet and let dry, raking through the grains a few times for even drying. 

Smash the garlic with a fork, but leave in the mix. Cut the shrimp into small pieces, so that they distribute well in the fritter mix, but large enough that they remain succulent. Cut “large” shrimp into 10 pieces. Transfer the millet to a bowl. Add the shrimp, scallions, Old Bay, and lemon zest. Toss to mix. Whisk together the eggs and yogurt in a small bowl and fold into the millet mixture. Let sit for a couple of minutes, then fold in half the flour—add only enough to make a shapeable batter. To test, shape about 1/4 cup (60 ml) of batter into a little puck. If it holds together, you’re good. If it’s too sloppy to hold together, stir in a bit more flour and repeat the test. 

To cook, arrange a double layer of paper towels on a tray. To shallow-fry, pour about 1/4 inch (6 mm) of oil into a large heavy skillet. To deep-fry, pour 3 inches (7.5 cm) of oil into a deep pot (be sure the pot is deep enough that the oil can’t bubble up and overflow). Heat the oil to 335°F (168°C). Add a few patties and fry until deep golden brown and fully cooked inside (including the shrimp), about 4 minutes on each side, depending on the size of your patties. (Don’t overcrowd the pan, and wait a few seconds before adding more patties so the oil temperature doesn’t dip.) Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on the paper towels; cook the remaining patties. 

Serve hot, with lemon wedges and the condiment/sauce of your choice.

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Thursday, April 21, 2022

Syrian-Style Flatbreads

Savoir vivre
, I think, sums up the lure of French style. It’s defined near the beginning of the book Work Food: Paris of which I received a review copy. It means “having an intelligent approach to enjoying life, greeting each situation with refinement and poise.” The reader is encouraged to “embody this attention to detail” when preparing the dishes in the book for results that are emblematic of Parisian cuisine. That sounds almost strict, but the stories throughout the book actually showcase a very down-to-earth, welcoming style of entertaining and cooking at home. But, the cooking described is done with care and with specific ingredients suited to the time of year. One very casual entertaining option mentioned is the apero dinatoire which involves an offering of charcuterie, cheeses, simple dishes either purchased or quickly made like slow-roasted cherry tomatoes, breads, etc. The classic French dishes and anecdotes with the recipes are splendid. There’s a spinach tart inspired by a grandmother’s recipe made after a trip to a street market for the freshest spinach. Herb-Poached Fish with Beurre Blanc Sauce and pickled shallots is a recipe shared from mother to daughter with coaching via video call. You’ll find Coq au Vin, Steak Frites, and Quiche Lorraine among the well-known French favorites. There are also descriptions of French breads, wines, and cheeses to keep in mind. In the sweets chapter, I was enchanted by the Parisian Black and White Cookies and had to try them. Shortbread dough is made in both vanilla and chocolate. Then, two logs are formed: one with chocolate dough in the center and vanilla wrapped around and a second made the opposite way. Sadly, my dough turned out a bit dry, and I blame the flour that sometimes needs more moisture than it should. I wasn’t happy with the look of my cookies, but the taste was delicious. The Creme Brulee, Ile Flotantes, and Crispy Almond Cookies beckon as well. But, what repeatedly caught my attention as I read through the book were the dishes that aren’t traditionally French. The Tunisian Salad with preserved lemon and harissa, the West African Rice with Fish and Vegetables with chile-marinated and panfried fish, and the Syrian-Style Flatbreads added some interesting flavor twists to the collected recipes here. It was the photo of the flatbread that inspired me to try it. 

I’ve read a little about lahmajun, or Syrian flatbread, before. The crust is so thin. In the book, it’s topped with spicy ground lamb. I went a different route and topped mine with grated halloumi, but I used the sauce as written. The dough was just flour, water, and salt. After mixing, it was set aside while making the sauce. The sauce was a mix of grated tomato, minced garlic, minced onion, parsley, cayenne, and cumin. The dough was divided, rolled into ovals that were placed on parchment paper, topped with sauce and grated cheese, then transferred to a pre-heated baking sheet, and placed in a hot oven just until the edges began to brown. The dough should remain foldable and not become crisp throughout. A bright, fresh topping was made from parsley leaves, minced onion, Aleppo pepper, and I added chopped olives. That mixture was spooned on top of the flatbreads before serving. 

What I learned about this type of flatbread from this recipe is that you should roll it up and eat it like a burrito. That was a fabulous way to enjoy it. Bits of the edges of crust were crunchy, but the center was tender enough to roll. There was a hit of spice from the Aleppo pepper and freshness from the parsley. Now, I just need to experience this while actually in Paris.

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Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Mashed Chickpeas with Turmeric

I don’t remember exactly when I became obsessed with cookbooks. But, I do recall that in the early days, I read about Judith Jones. I learned how she was the editor who brought Mastering the Art of French Cooking into being. She worked with so many cooking legends from Julia Child to Claudia Roden, Madhur Jaffrey, Edna Lewis, Irene Kuo, Marcella Hazan, Marion Cunningham, and on and on. I started collecting books by each of them. It’s no surprise that I was delighted to read the latest by Claudia Roden. This new book shares her favorite dishes from several seaports and cities around the Mediterranean where she has spent a career reporting on the cuisines. I received a review copy of Claudia Roden's Mediterranean: Treasured Recipes from a Lifetime of Travel, and in it she tells of fond memories of places she lived or visited and the recipes from those places that are her favorites and ones she prepares for family and friends. The photos show the food, of course, but also the idyllic places mentioned. A quote by Joseph Pla at the beginning of the book reads: “Cooking is the landscape in a saucepan.” That sums it up. The recipes include everything you need to plan a simple meal for entertaining: Appetizers, Soups, Salads, Vegetable sides, With grain, Seafood, Meat and poultry, and Desserts. The first recipe in the book sent me on my way to make some focaccia that’s perfect with the dips and spreads for appetizers. Also, I made the Green Olive, Walnut, and Pomegranate Salad right away. The story behind the Sweet-and-Sour Peperonata sounds like a book of its own. It’s about a visit to Palermo and a dinner in an aristocrat’s palazzo. That’s soon followed by a description of farmer’s market shopping in Provence. I’m looking forward to spring shopping at our local farm stands when I can gather everything for the Lemony Roast Potatoes with Cherry Tomatoes and Garlic. There are couscous, polenta, barley, rice and pasta dishes. One of the simplest, Malloreddus al Caprino Fresco, from Sardinia has me intrigued. It involves just pasta, fresh goat cheese, lemon and orange zest, and saffron. There’s even a simplified b’stilla made with chicken and topped with puff pastry. But, the desserts might the simplest of all. The no-churn, frozen Parfait Mocha Praline topped with a chopped hazelnut brittle looks delicious and easy to execute. Before I try that, I have to tell you about the Mashed Chickpeas with Turmeric. 

Chickpeas with turmeric comes from Tunisia, but the added toppings are up to you to pick and choose from several Mediterranean options. The chickpeas were soaked overnight before being drained and then placed in a large saucepan with lots of fresh water and some baking soda to help them soften. Peeled garlic cloves and ground turmeric were added, and the chickpeas simmered until tender. The goal was for the liquid to reduce to a small bit of thick sauce while the chickpeas cooked. A few whole chickpeas were kept aside for garnish before the rest with the sauce was transferred to a food processor. Olive oil, lemon juice, and salt and pepper were added before pureeing. 

I served the puree with olives, parsley, the reserved whole chickpeas, and a drizzle of olive oil on top. Being transported to the Mediterranean, even if only virtually, is a joy. These simplified dishes can bring all the flavors into your kitchen with ease. My obsession with cookbooks hasn’t waned, and I’m happy to add this one to the collection.


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