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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Monday, January 10, 2022

Smoked Herring and Buckwheat Blinis

I was busy baking cookies and more cookies and celebrating the holidays. But, now I want to tell you all about a new cookbook. I received a review copy of Take One Fish: The New School of Scale-to-Tail Cooking and Eating by Josh Niland, and I was excited to read about his approach to using more of each fish and using less popular types of fish. I had recently watched the documentary Seaspiracy. That film goes into detail showing that certification programs aren’t always what we expect them to be. A sustainably-caught label on fish at the grocery store may not mean much. I wasn’t feeling so great about meals from our oceans. When I opened this book, right off the bat in the introduction it’s explained that NIland’s approach to fish increases its usable yield considerably. His goal is for every fish caught to “generate the yield of two” by using more than just fillets. If chefs followed his lead, fewer fish could feed more people. He understands that not everyone catches and butchers her own fish, and he offers suggestions for how to make the most of store-bought fish pieces and how to ask for cuts that aren’t usually in the seafood case. The book’s sections are ordered by size of fish, each chapter is devoted to a type of fish, and there are stunning photos throughout. At the start of the chapters, there are suggestions for other types of fish that would work for the recipes. The John Dory chapter is a great example of the overall intent. Niland is able to use 90% of the whole weight of John Dory. There’s Salt and Pepper John Dory Tripe that looks like crispy calamari; a tagine made with tail shanks; John Dory Chops with Anchovy and Reaper Butter and Jerk Cauliflower that I have marked for the cauliflower alone; and John Dory Liver Terrine with Chopped Sauternes Jelly. One of the prettiest dishes is the Raw Flounder, Fragrant Leaves, Herbs and Citrus Dressing that’s shown served as a taco of sorts in thinly-sliced daikon. And, there are actual tacos made with Swordfish al Pastor. Fish fat is even featured since it does account for a substantial amount of total weight. The head note for the Kingfish Fat Caramel Macarons explains that the “result was delicious, with only a very mild hint of fish flavor.” For another foray into sweets, there’s a Custard Tart with Sardine Garum Caramel that has me very curious. I was pulled in by the X-Small section with the Pissaldiere and Pichade both made with fresh sardines rather than salted anchovies. Then, I set about making the Smoked Herring and Buckwheat Blinis. 

I had definitely used buckwheat flour before and may have even used it in some type of pancakes, but I had never made proper blinis. The batter was made in a few steps involving warmed milk, yeast, a mix of flours, egg yolks, and whisked egg whites that were gently folded into the mix. I cooked the blinis on a griddle with melted butter brushed over the surface. The smoked herring was steeped in milk with a bay leaf before being mashed with butter, lemon juice, and olive oil. I should mention, the recipe as shown below calls for a mix of smoked herring and cooked white fish. I used all smoked herring. Mashed potato and more butter were added before creme fraiche and chives were folded in to form the brandade. If you have chiled the brandade before serving, you should let it sit at room temperature for a bit to soften to a scoopable state. Lots of garnishes were prepped including cornichons, capers, radishes, and arugula. 

I love a serve-yourself hors d’oeuvre with lots of options for toppings. The smoked herring brandade was spooned onto a blini, and sliced cornichon, capers, radish slices, and baby arugula leaves were balanced on top. The pickled and peppery toppings balanced the rich brandade, and the buckwheat blinis were perfect delivery vehicles for everything. I’m still thinking twice before trusting every certification label, and I'm eating a bit less seafood that I previously did. But, I’m delighted to use more tiny fish like herring and to make use of more of each fish whenever I can. 

Smoked Herring and Buckwheat Blinis 
Recipes excerpted with permission from Take One Fish: The New School of Scale-to-Tail Cooking and Eating by Josh Niland published by Hardie Grant Books, August 2021. 

This tastes as joyful as it looks, with the condiments lifting the smoked herring brandade into truly celebratory territory. Blinis are not hard to make but they often fall down for a few basic reasons: a stodgy mix that hasn’t been lightened with egg white or leavened with yeast, too much ghee in the frying pan (creating a greasy crust around the edges) or sitting around for too long after being cooked. The other challenge is getting the size and colouring consistent, but here, practice makes perfect. As long as you keep all of the above in mind, you’ll be fine. 

4 French shallots, finely diced

90 g (3 oz/1⁄2 cup) cornichons, drained and finely diced

60 g (2 oz/1⁄2 cup) tiny salted capers, rinsed and drained

8 radishes, cut into thin wedges 
 30 g (1 oz/1 cup) picked watercress extra-virgin olive oil, for dressing 
sea salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper

seeded mustard, to serve (optional) 

Smoked herring brandade 
80 g (23/4 oz) Smoked Herring Fillet 

210 ml (7 fl oz) full-cream (whole) milk 
1 bay leaf

70 g (2 1⁄2 oz) skinless, boneless white-fleshed fish, such as ling or snapper 
60 g (2 oz) butter, softened

juice of 1⁄2 lemon

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil 
60 g (2 oz) mashed potato 
fine salt

1 1⁄2 tablespoons sour cream or crème fraîche, plus extra to serve

2 bunches chives, very finely chopped 

Buckwheat blinis 
125 g (4 1⁄2 oz) buckwheat flour

125 g (4 1⁄2 oz) plain (all-purpose) flour 
1 teaspoon fine salt

250 ml (8 1⁄2 fl oz/1 cup) full-cream (whole) milk

10 g (1⁄4 oz) dried yeast 
3 eggs, separated 
ghee, for pan-frying 

To make the brandade, check the smoked herring meat and make sure it is boneless and skinless. Put the milk and bay leaf in a small saucepan and bring to the boil, then remove from the heat and add the smoked herring. Leave for 10 minutes, then strain the herring and discard the milk (or keep it to use in mashed potatoes or a root vegetable soup). Steam the white fish in a bamboo steamer for 5 minutes or until the flesh is cooked and flakes apart easily. Put the herring and fish in a small bowl, add half the butter and mash together with a fork. Drizzle over the lemon juice and 1 tablespoon olive oil, mixing with the fork as you go, then add the mashed potato and mix well. Add the remaining butter and olive oil and mix again, then season to taste with salt. Leave the mixture to cool, then fold in the sour cream or crème fraîche. Chill in the fridge for at least 1 hour. 

For the blinis, sift both flours and the salt into a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Pour the milk into a small saucepan and warm to blood temperature over a low heat. Remove from the heat, add the yeast and let it dissolve, then stand for 5 minutes until frothy. Turn the mixer onto a low speed and combine the flours and the salt. Slowly pour in the milk and mix for 2 minutes to form a smooth batter. Cover the bowl with a tea towel (dish towel) and allow to prove in a warm place for 45 minutes or until doubled in size. Add the egg yolks to the batter and mix with a whisk for 1 minute. Add the egg whites to the very clean bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, and whisk the whites to soft peaks. Add half to the batter and gently fold through to loosen it, then fold in the remaining egg white (this second batch aerates the batter to give the blini the desired lightness). Set aside to prove for another 15 minutes. 

To cook the blinis, heat a wide-based cast-iron frying pan over a medium-low heat for a good 2 minutes before starting. It’s important that the pan is hot. Add 1 tablespoon ghee and swirl it around to ensure the base is well greased, with a very light haze coming off the ghee. Working in batches of six, add a tablespoon of batter for each blini to the pan, taking care to create neat circles. Cook for 30 seconds or until the edges are lightly golden and bubbles start to appear on the tops. Flip the blinis over and cook for another 30–60 seconds until they are firm but soft to the touch and the centres are set. Transfer to a wire rack to cool or place in a cloth napkin to keep warm. Repeat with the remaining batter. You should have enough to make 25–30 blinis. 

To serve, assemble the shallot, cornichon, capers and radish separately alongside the herring brandade. Top the brandade with the finely chopped chives, dress the watercress with a little olive oil and season. Serve with the blinis and a little seeded mustard, if you like.

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Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Spiced Saba, Raisin, and Nut Cookies

There’s something about Italian sweets that fascinates me. Sometimes the flavor combinations are unexpected and delicious, and sometimes the draw is obvious as with gelato. I was happily transported to Italy and specifically with some recipes to Sardinia while reading my review copy of La Vita e Dolce: Italian–Inspired Desserts by Letitia Clark. Clark, and English pastry chef, wrote this book from her home in Sardinia just as the pandemic was getting started. She writes that she wanted to “cling to and celebrate those moments of sweet, everyday pleasure.” Making sweet treats at home is a simple way to experience and share a bit of joy each day. And for me, making and sharing Italian sweets is particularly enjoyable. I’ve posted before about my deep affection for anginetti cookies which are lemony, little round delights, and I was thrilled with pezzetti di cannella that bring together cocoa, cinnamon, and lemon zest in a fabulous, glazed cookie. And, of course, the savory-sweet combination of grapes and rosemary in schiacciata all’uva is divine. So, I couldn’t wait to peruse this new book. It includes cookies, tarts, cakes, spoonable sweets, yeasted and fried treats, gelato, and sweets to give as gifts. The recipes were all created in a very approachable manner for the home cook. I could spend serious time with the gelato chapter alone. From the Sparkling Lemon Sorbetto to the Ricotta and Fig Ripple Gelato, there are tips for best results and anecdotes about gelato shops in Italy. I got stuck in the Gifts chapter wanting to try the Chocolate, Hazelnut, and Sour Cherry Salame and realizing I’ve never made Panforte, yet. As I read through the book, I decided I need more Torta della Nonna in my life as well as Crostata de Marmellata. I quickly became jealous as Clark described the quality of the fruit available in Sardinia. Still, I want to try the Citrus, Campari, and Yoghurt Upside-Down Cake with what I can get here. First, though, the Pabassinus cookies or Spiced Saba, Raisin, and Nut Cookies had my full attention. The mix of cinnamon, cloves, aniseed, and lemon zest with saba and the nuts and raisins sounded like a combination I had to taste. The fact that the cookies are traditionally decorated with sprinkles just reinforced my interest in them. 

In the head note, it’s explained that the cookies’ name comes from the Sardinian word for raisin which is “pabassa.” Step one was procuring some saba, and that was easy enough with an online order. To begin the cookie dough, slivered almonds and walnuts were toasted and then chopped. The aniseed was toasted in a dry skillet and then crushed with a mortar and pestle. The raisins were soaked to plump them, and I used orange juice for that. The prepped nuts, aniseed, and drained raisins were mixed with flour, sugar, softened butter, egg, salt, baking powder, cinnamon, ground cloves, saba, and lemon zest to form a dough. After chilling the dough for 30 minutes, it was rolled and cut into diagonal shapes. The cut cookies were baked, cooled, and dipped into confectioner’s sugar glaze before being showered with sprinkles. 

How can sprinkles not make you happy? The idea of this book was to spread joy, and these cookies most definitely did that. I loved the mix of flavors from the spices, the brightness of the citrus zest, and the tangy sweetness of the saba. It’s going to be fun to have even more Italian sweet treats to enjoy at home and to share with others. 


Spiced Saba, Raisin, and Nut Cookies
Recipe excerpted with permission from La Vita e Dolce: Italian–Inspired Desserts by Letitia Clark, published by Hardie Grant Books, June 2021. 

These little diamond-shaped biscuits are found all over Sardinia, with recipes differing from region to region. Pabassinus, deriving their name from the Sardinian word pabassa, which means ‘raisin’, are traditionally made for All Saints’ Day (1 November), the addition of spices, citrus zest and a large quantity of dried fruit and nuts being the edible markers of religious festivals. Crumbly, nutty and wonderfully spicy, they are so inseparable from the period leading up to Ognissanti that when I asked a friend if she would make them with me in September, she point-blank refused. I first made these with a friend’s aunt, who measured everything by eye (‘quanto basta!’) and baked them in a wood-fired oven as she had done on the same day every year for her entire life. Many households in Sardinia still have these ovens, which are lit for special occasions. Traditionally bread is baked first, then, as the temperature cools, the dolci are baked afterwards. Saba, or sapa is a dark, richly flavoured syrup made from cooked grape must. Traditionally in Sardinia this was also made from prickly pears (fichi d’India), which grow wild all over the countryside. They were gathered with canes and then boiled down with water to produce a thick, dusky syrup which was then used as a sweetener. Few people make this syrup now, but sapa made from grapes is still used for many traditional dolci. If you can’t find sapa, then a dark honey, black treacle or date molasses are all good substitutes. The biscuits are usually decorated with a simple white glacé icing and multi-coloured sprinkles (Sardinians are inordinately fond of sprinkles) but they are also very good un-iced and unsprinkled. They keep well in an airtight container for a few days. 

Makes 30 larger or 40 smaller cookies – enough for a festa 

100 g (3 1⁄2 oz) blanched almonds 
70 g (2 1⁄2 oz) walnuts
2 tsp aniseed

120 g (4 oz) raisins 
270 g (10 oz/2 1⁄4 cups) 00 or plain (all-purpose) flour, plus extra to dust 
140 g (4 1⁄2 oz/2 2⁄3 cups) sugar

120 g (4 oz) butter or lard, at room temperature

1 egg and 1 egg yolk

1⁄2 tsp salt

1 tsp baking powder

pinch of cinnamon

pinch of ground cloves (optional) 
1 tbsp saba

zest of 1 lemon

zest of 1 orange 

For the icing 
130 g (4 oz/1 cup) icing (confectioner’s) sugar 
2 tbsp lemon juice (juice of 1 lemon, roughly) 
sprinkles (optional) 

Preheat the oven to 180oC (350oF/Gas 4). Arrange the almonds over the base of a baking tray (pan) and roast in the oven until just lightly golden, about 8–10 minutes. Remove from the oven and chop the almonds lengthways into nibs. Chop the walnuts roughly. 

Toast the aniseed in a dry shallow pan for 1–2 minutes or until it begins to smell good. Remove and bash the seeds gently in a pestle and mortar, or in a deep bowl using the bottom of a rolling pin. Soak the raisins in boiling water (or tea or coffee or anything hot you have to hand – fennel tea would also be nice) until softened (around 3 minutes). Drain them well in a sieve, squeezing to remove any excess liquid. 

In a bowl, mix together the chopped nuts, bashed aniseed and soaked raisins with the rest of the ingredients using your hands (messy but satisfying) or using a wooden spoon until you have a smooth dough. Wrap the dough in clingfilm (plastic wrap) and leave to rest in the fridge while you clean up. Once the dough has rested for 30 minutes, roll it out on a work surface dusted with flour. Roll out to 1 cm (1⁄2 in) thickness, then cut diagonally into large-ish diamond shapes, re-rolling and cutting any edges until you have used all of the dough. 

Place on a baking sheet lined with baking parchment and bake for 12–15 minutes (keep a close eye on them as they burn fast). Remove and leave to cool. 

To make the icing, mix the icing sugar with the lemon juice in a small bowl until just at pouring consistency. Decorate the biscuits with the icing and sprinkles, if using.

Note: These are almost always made into rough diagonals here in Sardinia, but if you prefer to use your favorite cookie cutter then feel free to do so. They’d make very good Christmas cookies too.

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Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Arepitas and Tomato Coriander Jam

I definitely remember an episode of Parts Unknown involving Bourdain visiting Colombia and eating arepas. I just checked, and that would have been in 2013. So, I’ve been curious about arepas and wondering how to make them at least since then. The new book Colombiana: A Rediscovery of Recipes and Rituals from the Soul of Colombia by Mariana Velasquez, of which I received a review copy, has taught me to make arepas and so much more about Colombian food. Velasquez has worked in restaurant kitchens, tested and developed recipes for food magazines, styled food for photo shoots, and contributed to other cookbooks all while living in the US for more than half of her life. This book brings all those skills together with an opportunity to share the cuisine of her homeland. There are recipes for the morning, menus for lunch or dinner including lots of tempting cocktails, afternoon snacks, favorite everyday dishes of hers that might not be strictly Colombian in origin, and desserts. I noticed the cocktails as soon as I started turning the pages. Aguadiente, called the national liqueur of Colombia, appears in a few of them. The Mistela de Mora is started by infusing aguadiente with blackberries, green peppercorns, and bay leaves. And, the Coquito Mio sounds delicious with coconut liqueur, aged rum, lime juice, and coconut water. Each menu is introduced with a setting of a particular place in Colombia and time of year. Reading about Bogota, at 8,500 feet above sea level, on a cool, fall day made me want to try the dishes even more. That menu includes a potato soup with corn, chicken, and capers and a strawberry meringue with dandelion cream for dessert. The author’s father was of Syrian-Lebanese decent, and Middle Eastern immigrants arrived in the Sinu River Valley of Colombia in the late 1800s and early 1900s. This brought new flavors to the area that are reflected in a menu with stuffed yucca fritters with creme fraiche, olives, hummus, pita bread; yam soup with cheese; and a mango-sesame baked Alaska. There are sweet and savory empanadas, shrimp cocktail, and ice cream sandwiches with molasses cookies and malt ice cream. One snack I couldn’t wait to try was the Alegrias de Coco y Anis. These are popcorn balls held together by date syrup and tahini. They’re usually made with a small type of popcorn, coconut flakes, and anis seeds. I can report they did not last long in my house. But, let’s get back to those arepas. 

I loved the idea of making mini arepas or arepitas. The method is the same, they’re just made smaller. I started by placing an order with Rancho Gordo for dried hominy. It was soaked overnight, drained, and cooked until tender. Some cooking liquid was saved, and the hominy was drained. It was placed in a food processor with reserved cooking liquid, butter, and salt and was processed until smooth. Small balls of dough were formed and then flattened into thick rounds before being cooked on each side in a small bit of hot oil in a cast-iron skillet until charred and golden in spots. The tomato jam paired with the arepitas was inspired by a Paula Wolfert recipe from The Food of Morocco. Velasquez styled this dish for that book in Marrakesh where it was photographed. For the jam, canned tomatoes were combined with paprika, garlic, coriander seeds, salt, pepper, and olive oil in the blender and pureed. The mixture was then cooked slowly over low heat until reduced and thickened. 

The little arepas were thick enough to stay tender on the inside while the surfaces were crispy, and the tomato jam was a terrific topping. I want to use leftovers stored in the freezer for brunch with eggs. And, I want to have a constant supply of arepas in my freezer. Until I have a chance to go see for myself all the places mentioned throughout the book and taste the dishes where they originated, I can keep learning about Colombia by cooking these recipes.

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Thursday, September 23, 2021

Blackout Onigiri

Sometimes a first impression is completely wrong. I admit it. I was wrong. When I took a first glance at Super Natural Simple: Whole-Food, Vegetarian Recipes for Real Life by Heidi Swanson of which I received a review copy, I wasn’t sure I would be very interested. Those first few pages I glimpsed included some very simple ideas like a bean salad made with canned beans and a few other ingredients and packaged root vegetable chips that get warmed in the oven and tossed with oil, green onion, and lemon zest. Maybe I was in the mood to be more challenged that day? As I started reading the book, and I really do read all of my cookbooks, I kept encountering dish after dish that I wanted to make. I think I tried more recipes from this book than any other before its first mention here. The recipes are streamlined, the ingredient lists are mostly pretty short, and there are things I’ll be making repeatedly for years to come. One that I’ve already made a couple of times and wish I had a constant supply of is the Puffed Rice Party Mix made with unsweetened rice cereal, raw peanuts, raw cashews, raw peptias, flaked coconut, crumbled nori, and spices including turmeric. It’s a delicious and nutritious snack mix. The turmeric will stain your fingers as you eat it, but it’s so addictive you won’t mind. Or, you’ll use a spoon. One of the other first recipes I tried was the Lemon-Garlic Pita Chips, and that was as simple as it gets with pita cut into wedges and tossed with olive oil, minced garlic, and lemon zest before being toasted in the oven. Those chips were then cut into shards to garnish the Coconut Asparagus Soup that was thickened with potato and brightened with lemon. The Weeknight Pot Stickers is another dish I’ll return to often. Dumpling wrappers were filled with the Lemony Carrot Salad, from The Best Salads chapter, and crumbled tofu. They were then fried and steamed and served with ponzu and chile oil. I suspect the Som Tum Noodles will also become a regular in my meal rotation. As promised in the head note, they were sweet, sour, salty, and spicy. Rice noodles were cooked with added turmeric in the water and were then tossed with cherry tomatoes, grated carrots, cucumber, chopped kale, herbs, and a spicy lime and soy dressing. And, there are sweets too. I made the Sunflower Brittle because I was intrigued to see a recipe for a brittle with no refined sugar. It's made with just maple syrup, and it was fantastic. After all those recipes that I’ve already tried and more that are flagged, I then read the Power Pantry chapter. This is where you’ll find basics like sauces, dressings, pickles, broths, and seasoned salt, etc. There are some nutritional powerhouses here like the Omega Seed Spread and the Purple Jasmine Rice, Seeds and Spices. This chapter is where I found the Blackout Beans and Rice recipe and the recommendation to use it in the onigiri found in a previous chapter. I’d never made onigiri before and couldn’t wait to try. 

To start, black rice, black beluga lentils, and black sesame seeds were rinsed in a strainer and then transferred to a bowl. Water was added, and the mixture was left in the refrigerator overnight to soak. The next day, the mixture was placed in a saucepan, coconut milk and salt were added, and it was cooked until the liquid had been absorbed and the rice and lentils were cooked through. Once cool enough to handle, the mixture was formed into triangles. And, that’s when I decided I want an onigiri press because I’m definitely going to make this and other versions in the future. In the book, the triangles were grilled and glazed with a harissa-tamari sauce. I went with gochujang instead of harissa, and I griddled out of fear of the triangles breaking and falling through the grill. They were served with a green onion garnish and more glaze. 

I don’t know why I’d never tried making onigiri before, but I’m so glad I finally did. Forming the rice triangles was fun, and I look forward to trying different variations. The surfaces got a little toasty from the final cooking, and the glaze added a punch of flavor. With so many dishes I’ll be making again and more that I still want to try, this book will be a permanent fixture in my kitchen.

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Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Roasted Potatoes with Apricot Harissa

I do enjoy reading a cookbook in which the author writes candidly about how she really prepares various dishes. That was the case with Cook, Eat, Repeat: Ingredients, Recipes, and Stories by Nigella Lawson of which I received a review copy. In this book, the chapters are divided not by breakfast, lunch, and dinner or by season or by category of food. Instead, the chapters are themes introduced by a written explanation that includes how Lawson approaches ingredients, how she cooks for herself versus for guests, and how she uses leftovers for instance. The themes may seem random, but the writing offers more information than recipes on their own ever could. And, each recipe includes more than a headnote. Before the ingredient list and instructions, there is a page or two of writing about how the dish came about, how it can be modified at different times of year or for different occasions, and sometimes meandering thoughts on similar dishes. Meandering isn’t a criticism here. I quite enjoyed the foray through variations and executions. The first chapter is A for Anchovy, and I was delighted by the description of ways to enjoy anchovies on bread. She carefully explains the quantity and temperature of butter for an ideal base for anchovies on bread before describing a version of this she had in Milan that came with roasted red pepper slices. Then, she goes on to discuss crostini with mozzarella, burrata, or stracciatella that’s topped with an anchovy fillet. By the end of this intro to the chapter and before even reading through the recipes, I was doing a search to order anchovies. In the chapter Pleasures, she wholeheartedly supports the seeking of pleasure in food and suggests guilty pleasures have no place in the world of eating since there should be no guilt in culinary joy. The recipes here include a Crab Mac ‘N’ Cheese, a Fried Chicken Sandwich, and Creme Caramel for One that I want to try. The book was finished during the pandemic, so the chapter Much Depends on Dinner took on a new meaning since dinner parties have become tricky or unadvisable depending on the current state of things. Here, you’ll find chicken dishes, lasagna, and roasted vegetables. I was inspired to try the Beet and Chickpea Dip recipe in this chapter. In its intro, there’s a discussion of dips to offer rather than complicated appetizers that includes an aside about a green salsa made with cilantro and jalapeno and the Burnt Onion and Eggplant dip included earlier in the book. This inspired me to whip up a chips and dip Friday with eggplant dip and roasted salsa. And, from later in that chapter, I had to try the Vegan Lemon Polenta Cake that I topped with a blueberry sauce. The dish I want to tell you more about, though, is the Roasted Potatoes with Apricot Harissa. The harissa appears a couple of times in the book. It’s used on a sheet pan chicken dish with sweet potatoes and again with roasted cauliflower and spinach. In the intro to the cauliflower recipe, there’s a mention of using the harissa on roasted potatoes with specific instructions for how to do that, and that’s what I did. 

I had local potatoes and sweet peppers from Boggy Creek Farm, so the time was right for this dish. Both were chopped into big chunks. The potatoes were coated with olive oil and some of the harissa before being spread on a baking sheet. A few tablespoons of water were added before the pan went into a hot oven. After 20 minutes or so, I added the pepper chunks and stirred the mixture around to distribute the harissa and oil. The mixture roasted another 20 minutes or so until the potatoes were crisp outside, tender inside, and the peppers were browned. For the harissa, I used the dried peppers I had on hand which on that day were pasillas and anchos. They were stemmed and seeded and rehydrated in boiling water. Coriander, cumin, and cardamom seeds were toasted. The softened chiles, spices, some garlic, dried apricots, turmeric, smoked paprika, olive oil, apple cider vinegar, and salt were all added to a food processor and pureed. I omitted the ginger that was part of the ingredient list. 

Happily, this made enough harissa for a few uses, and I have a jar in the freezer. The sweetness of the apricots plays nicely off the bitterness of the dried chiles. It was fantastic with the roasted potatoes and peppers, and I can’t wait to try it with cauliflower and/or chicken. Or, I might meander a bit myself and try it on fish or with roasted mushrooms. That might not happen until after I’ve tried all those options for anchovies on bread though.

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