Musings about Food & the Politics of Food.

TartQueen's Kitchen



Pickled Okra 0

Posted on June 19, 2017 by Sahar

 

Pickled Okra. Big and little.

Here in Central Texas, okra season is in full swing. Because the growing season here is so long, okra is essentially available from June through roughly October or until the first frost.

Pickled okra is a great Texas, and throughout the southern US, food tradition.  Every southern grandma seems to have a recipe.

People either love or hate okra. The main complaint about okra is the “slime” factor.  The slime is called “mucilage” (sounds gross, I know).  It is the result of protein and carbohydrates in the okra pods and leaves.  If you’ve ever had a thick gumbo, thank the mucilage.  When the pods are cut and cooked with liquid, the okra tends to become slimy.  The way to avoid this is to cook the okra whole; the best way to do this is over direct heat and pan roast (this is delicious, by the way).

There is a subtle yet distinct difference between pickling and fermentation.  Pickling is the process of preserving food in a highly acidic medium (usually vinegar).  Fermentation generally starts with salt as a starter and allows what is being fermented to create its own acidic liquid (lactic acid).  Fermentation is generally considered the healthier of the two processes because the lactic acid helps with the digestive process.

In short, pickling is controlled preservation while fermentation is controlled rot (but in a good way).

**************

A few notes on the recipe:

  1.  The type of okra I use in the recipe is called Emerald King.  It is more tender and less stringy than other types of okra.  While you can use any type of okra you prefer or have access to, I’ve used this because it’s what Carol Ann grows at Boggy Creek Farm.
  2. The reason pickling salt is used is to help draw moisture from the item being pickled.  It is a very fine grain pure salt that contains no iodine or anti-caking additives.  If needed, you can use kosher salt (but be sure it is pure). Because table salt contains additives, you shouldn’t use it in pickling or fermenting.
  3. Another way to help keep your pickles from becoming mushy over time (and they will as the initial heating as well as the acidic environment chemically cooking your pickles), you can use either fig or grape leaves.  These leaves contain natural alum that help to draw moisture from the pickles. You can also use up to 1/4 teaspoon of alum per quart of liquid if fresh leaves are not available.
  4. You can also use half & half white/apple cider vinegar or all white vinegar if you prefer.  Just be sure you use 5% acidity vinegar.  There is 9% white vinegar available (mainly in Texas and parts of the South), but it is used mainly for cleaning, not food.  Be sure to look at the label carefully.
  5. While I have included a pickling spice recipe, you can adjust this one to your taste or use whatever pickling spice blend you prefer.

 

The Ingredients

 

6 1-pint regular-mouth jars with lids and rims, washed

Pickling Spice:

1 tbsp. Red Pepper Flakes

1 tbsp. Mustard Seed

1 tbsp. Coriander Seed

1 tbsp. Black Peppercorns

2 tsp. Allspice

1 tsp. Fennel Seed

Clockwise from top left: red pepper flakes, lemon slices, black pepper corns, coriander seed, fennel seed, bay leaves, whole allspice, brown mustard seeds, garlic cloves

 

3 lbs. Okra, washed and caps trimmed

Emerald King Okra with tops trimmed

3 c. Apple Cider Vinegar

3 c. Water

3 tbsp. Pickling Salt

8-12 peeled whole garlic cloves, optional

Lemon Slices, optional

Fresh Grape or Fig Leaves

Fresh grape leaves

 

In a small bowl, mix the pickling spices together.  Set aside.

Place a jar rack inside a large canning pot and fill it with water.  Set the jars in the rack and make sure the water is at least 1″ above the tops of the jars. Cover the pot and bring the water to a boil.  Turn down the heat to medium-low and let the water continue to simmer. Place the lids in a small saucepan of simmering water and let sit. (Don’t bring the water with the lids to a boil; it will melt the seal.)

Meanwhile, make the brine.  Combine the vinegar, water, and pickling salt in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil.  Lower the heat to low and allow the brine to stay hot while you fill the jars.

Carefully remove the jars from the canning pot, making sure to drain all the water out of them. (I like to put the jars on a baking sheet lined with a towel for easier transport across the kitchen.)

In a bottom of each jar, place 1-2 grape or fig leaves (depending on size), a lemon slice (if using), and 1 tablespoon of the pickling spice. Carefully pack the okra in the jars, alternating tips up or down so that the okra interlocks and you’re able to pack as much in as possible. If you’re using garlic cloves, be sure to pack those in as you can in amongst the okra.

Leaves, spice blend, and lemon in the jar.

A few top down.

A few top up. You want to get as many in the jar as you can. It will save on brine and help limit air bubbles.  Air, in this case, is the enemy. Plus, more goodness in the jar. I swear there are garlic cloves in there somewhere.

Slowly and carefully pour in the hot brine in each jar, leaving 1/2-inch head space.  Use a wooden or plastic chopstick or the end of your headspace tool to remove any air bubbles.  Once you have done that, measure the headspace again and add more brine if necessary.

Wipe the rims of the jars, place the lids on top, and screw on the rings so they’re hand-tight.  Carefully place the jars back into the canning pot, making sure the water is at least 1″ above the tops of the jars, cover the pot, and bring the water to a boil.  Process the jars for 10 minutes starting when the water comes to a boil.

After you have processed the jars, carefully remove them from the water and place on racks to cool.  If the jars seal (you will hear a “pop” as the lids seal), tighten the rings.  If the jar doesn’t seal, you can simply put the jar in the fridge and eat it within 2-3 weeks.

Either way, let the pickles sit for at least a week before eating.

Classic Southern Delicacy.

 

Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Simple All-Purpose Marinara Sauce 1

Posted on May 12, 2015 by Sahar

When I was younger – much younger – I was an avid Nancy Drew Mysteries reader.  I think I had 20 or so of the books.  My goal at the time was to read through all of them (I think there were 55 at the time).  I never made that goal, but I did get one thing so much cooler – The Nancy Drew Cookbook.

One of my first and most treasured cookbooks.

One of my first and most treasured cookbooks.

It’s one of three cookbooks I received from my mom that I absolutely treasure.  The other two are The Little House Cookbook (based on recipes from the Little House books) and Mom’s first cookbook, Wendy’s Kitchen Debut. I may give away or sell my other cookbooks, but I’ll be buried with these.

There was a recipe in Nancy Drew that I really wanted to try. In Chapter 6 –  Album of International Recipes – I came across a recipe called “Italian Salsa di Pomodoro”.  Not knowing what the Italian meant, I read the recipe anyway and figured out it was spaghetti sauce. It was so different from the sauce that Mom made (hers is a wonderful amalgamation of sauce and lots of vegetables; sometimes, she would make meatballs, too). This was just a simple unadorned sauce.

The first time I made it, I think I burned the onions.  I still finished the sauce and the family gamely ate it.  I’ve since gotten better.

This book was also responsible for the infamous “A Keene Soup”, or, as my family called it, Peanut Butter Soup.  It was not a success. In fact, it was really gross. They’ve never let me live it down. I don’t blame them.

However, the “Old Attic Stuffed Tomato” and “Flag Cake Symbol” from Chapter 5 – “Nancy Tells Her Holiday Secrets” were pretty successful. I liked the stuffing so much that I was nibbling on it while I was making the recipe. That’s when Mom had to point out to me that eating raw sausage wasn’t a good idea.

Back to the sauce: as I progressed as a cook, I set aside this little book, but I always remembered the base of this recipe – onion, tomato, olive oil, salt, pepper, sugar – and decided to make my own sauce recipe that would be simple, quick, and versatile.  I think this sauce is it.  I’ve used it as a base for Red Clam Sauce, added Italian Sausage, added shrimp, made Chicken Parmesan, Lasagna, as a pizza sauce, etc. The list is extensive.

 

A few notes:

1.  If you can’t find or don’t want to use fresh basil, you can use any other fresh herb you prefer.  Just be judicious with the amount. For example, if you use too much oregano, your sauce will taste like soap.  Always begin with less than you think you need.  You can always add, but you can’t take out.

2.  You can also use dried herbs in this recipe.  Begin with 1 teaspoon and add it when you add the red pepper flakes to the onion & garlic.

3.  You can add any protein to this sauce.  Just add it when you add the fresh basil at the end.  If it’s something like sausage, be sure to cook it before adding to the sauce.  If it’s fish or shellfish, you can add it raw, but just make sure it’s cut into small enough pieces that the heat of the sauce will cook it through.

4.  This recipe makes a lot of sauce.  It freezes well and can be frozen for 3-4 months.

 

 

The Ingredients

The Ingredients

From top left:

From top left: red pepper flakes, kosher salt, ground black pepper, sugar, garlic cloves

 

2 tbsp. olive oil

1 small onion, minced

4 cl. garlic, minced

IMG_3340

1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes, or to taste

1 6-oz. can tomato paste

1 15-oz. can tomato sauce

1 28-oz. can whole or chopped tomatoes, with their juice

Salt to taste

Black pepper to taste

Sugar to taste

Water or vegetable broth, as needed

1 bunch fresh basil, torn into small pieces or cut into julienne

1 lb. pasta of your choice, cooked according to the package directions

 

1.  Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat.  Add the onions and garlic and sauté until the onion begins to soften, about 3 – 5 minutes.  Stir frequently.

Sauteeing the onion and garlic

Sautéing the onion and garlic

2.  Add the red pepper flakes (and dried herbs, if using) and saute for another 1 – 2 minutes.

Adding the pepper flakes

Adding the pepper flakes

Lower heat to medium and add the tomato paste and cook, stirring frequently, until the paste begins to take on a burnt-orange color. (If the paste begins to stick to the bottom or becomes too brown, add a little water or broth.)

The tomato paste turns burnt orange as you cook it because you're cooking the sugars in to tomato.

The tomato paste turns burnt orange as you cook it because you’re cooking the sugars in the tomato.  It adds a little sweetness to the sauce and helps smooth out some of the heavy flavor of the paste.

3.  Add the tomato sauce, tomatoes (with their juice), 1/2 teaspoon each salt, pepper, and sugar.  If the sauce is very thick, add some water or broth to thin it a bit. (Be careful, there will be some spatter as the sauce begins to bubble.)

Adding everything else.

Adding everything else.

Lower the heat to medium-low, partially cover, and cook for 30 minutes.  Stir frequently.

Cooking the sauce.

Cooking the sauce. I know I said partially cover. So, do as I say, not as I do.

4.  Meanwhile, make the pasta.  Cook until al dente, drain, and set aside.

5.  After the first 30 minutes, take the sauce off the heat. If you like, mash down any whole tomatoes left with a potato masher and taste for seasoning.

After 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes.

I like to use whole tomatoes in my sauce, so I'll take the potato masher when the sauce has cooked and break them down.

I like to use whole tomatoes in my sauce, so I’ll take the potato masher when the sauce has cooked and break them down.

Stir in the basil and let it simply infuse into the sauce for at least 15 minutes.  If you are adding any protein, add it when you stir in the basil.  Taste for seasoning again.

The basil stirred in and infusing.  Now is also the time you would add any additional protein.  The residual heat from the sauce will cook most small shellfish and heat through any already cooked meat.

The basil stirred in and infusing. Now is also the time you would add any additional protein. The residual heat from the sauce will cook most small shellfish and heat through any already cooked meat.

In general, you can serve this with any cheese you prefer (unless you’re making this into a seafood sauce; in that case, cheese is verboten), but I usually just use Parmesan.

Without Parmesan. In this example, I added meatballs to the sauce at Husband Steve's request.

Without Parmesan. In this example, I added meatballs to the sauce at Husband Steve’s request.

Dressed with Parmesan.

Dressed with Parmesan.

 

Buon Appetito!

 

Addendum: A quick julienne primer

In this recipe, you can most certainly simply tear the basil leaves and add them to the sauce.  However, I like to cut them into a julienne.  Basically cutting the basil into very thin strips.

You can use this technique for many different herbs and vegetables.

First, stack some basil leaves together

First: Stack some basil leaves together

IMG_3347

Second: Roll the basil into a tight roll.

IMG_3348

Third: With a very sharp knife, cut the roll lengthwise into very this strips.

IMG_3351

Forth: Separate the strips by basically working the roll apart with your fingers.

Now, it’s ready to add to your recipe.

 

 

Pasta alla Puttanesca 0

Posted on March 25, 2015 by Sahar

 

I have to admit, sometimes, in this wanna-be low-carb world, I just want to enjoy a big bowl of pasta. It’s quick, easy, satisfying, and filling. But, of course, as always and most importantly, delicious.

So, I’m going to introduce you to one of my & Husband Steve’s favorite pasta dishes. Pasta alla Puttanesca.

 

Pasta alla Puttanesca literally translates into “Whores’ Pasta”.  Its origin myths are a bit murky, but by most accounts, it’s a dish that dates back only about 50 – 60 years and was most likely created in southern Italy.

Some say the dish was invented by an Italian restaurateur who had an influx of customers near closing time one evening and threw together what he had left over – some olives, tomatoes, and peppers. Another origin story is that is was named “puttanesca” because it was easy and everything went into it. A third story is “decent” Italian housewives made this sauce with whatever they had laying around and threw it at ladies of the night while screaming “puttana!”.

I’m not so sure about the third one. But, who knows?

 

This is an easy dish.  From prep to eating, it takes no more than 45 minutes.

A few notes:

1.  Since there are no true hard and fast rules for this dish – except that it must have the tomatoes, olives, and peppers – you can add or remove ingredients as you like.  That being said, I like to think I’ve at least stayed with the spirit of the original recipe.

2.  Some recipes have anchovies, some don’t. If you want to make this dish vegetarian/vegan, certainly omit the anchovies.

3.  It’s also very important to at least roughly chop the olives.  Even if you do buy olives that say “pitted”, pits will happen.  The chopping will help you find any before your guests or family do.

4.  Be sure to taste the finished sauce before adding any additional salt. The olives are in brine, the anchovies are salted, and the capers are either in brine or salt.  While you can rinse the excess saltiness off the olives and capers, some salt will still be there.

5.  Occasionally, I like to use some of the oil from the anchovy jar with the olive oil. I really like anchovies.

 

 

The Ingredients

The Ingredients

From top left: red pepper flakes, salt-cured capers, olive oil, garlic, anchovies

From top left: red pepper flakes, salt-cured capers, olive oil, garlic, anchovies

It's important to at least roughly chop the olives, even if they're pitted. Sometimes, pits will still happen. It's better you find them during prep than your family or guests to find them during dinner.

It’s important to at least roughly chop the olives, even if they’re pitted. Sometimes, pits will still happen. It’s better you find them during prep than your family or guests to find them during dinner.

 

 

1 lb. spaghetti

2 tbsp. olive oil

4 cloves garlic, minced

8 – 10 anchovy filets, minced

1 tsp. red pepper flakes, or to taste

1 28-oz. can chopped tomatoes (with their juice)

1 1/2 c. pitted black or mixed black and green olives, roughly chopped

2 tbsp. capers, rinsed

Salt to taste

 

Parmesan, fresh grated

 

 

1.  Cook the pasta according to the package directions.  Drain and set aside.

2.  In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat.  Add the garlic, pepper flakes, and anchovies.  Saute for 1 – 2 minutes.

Sauteing the garlic, red pepper flakes, and anchovies. The anchovies will melt right down. Lovely.

Sauteing the garlic, red pepper flakes, and anchovies. The anchovies will melt right down. Lovely.

3.  Add the tomatoes, capers, and olives.  Lower the heat to medium and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  You want some of the liquid from the tomatoes to evaporate and the sauce to thicken slightly.

Adding the tomatoes, capers, and olives.

Adding the tomatoes, capers, and olives.

 

4.  Take the skillet off the heat and toss the spaghetti in the sauce.  Taste for salt (you’ll very likely not need it).

Tossing the pasta with the sauce. Take your time with this step. You want to be sure to coat the pasta and mix in everything as thoroughly as possible.

Tossing the pasta with the sauce. Take your time with this step. You want to be sure to coat the pasta and mix in everything as thoroughly as possible.

 

Serve with a generous helping of Parmesan.

IMG_3085

 

Buon Appetito!

 

Chicken Tortilla Soup 0

Posted on December 19, 2014 by Sahar

As I sit here on this rainy & chilly day, my mind and appetite turn to soup.

This recipe for Chicken Tortilla Soup is a hearty soup that is quick (especially if you use leftover or store-bought rotisserie chicken) and can be easily be made either ahead or after a day at work. Or, almost better yet, what to feed your family the day before a big holiday (hint, hint); this recipe can easily be doubled.

This soup is certainly a recipe that shouts TexMex at you. It  is certainly more Tex than Mex – mainly because Mexican cuisine doesn’t use blended chili powders. If any chile powders are used at all, they are of a single chile (i.e. ancho, guajillo).

This soup can also easily be made vegetarian by using vegetable broth and omitting the chicken. If you want the added protein, you can add beans, extra-firm tofu, seitan, tempeh, or even simply extra hominy in place of the chicken.

 

The ingredients (chicken broth not shown)

The ingredients (chicken broth not shown)

The hominy. I like to use both yellow and white. It's simply a personal preference. There's absolutely no difference in the flavor.

The hominy. I like to use both yellow and white. It’s simply a personal preference. There’s absolutely no difference in the flavor. For a brief explanation of what exactly hominy is, go here.

From top:

From top: grapeseed oil, cumin, Mexican oregano, black pepper, cayenne pepper, salt, San Antonio chili powder

 

2 tbsp. vegetable oil (you can also use grapeseed or canola oil)

1 small onion, minced

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 small (4 oz.) can diced green chiles (hot or mild)

-or-

1 small  (7 oz.) can salsa verde

1 tbsp. chili powder (I like San Antonio blend)

1 tsp. Mexican oregano

1 tsp. ground cumin

1/2 tsp. cayenne

1 tsp. salt, more to taste

1 tsp. black pepper, more to taste

2 cans hominy, drained

1 15 oz. can chopped tomatoes (I like Muir Glen Fire Roasted)

4 c. chicken broth

4 c. cooked, shredded chicken

Lime juice, to taste

1/2 c. chopped cilantro

 

Vegetable oil for frying

 

The condiments

The condiments

 

Shredded Cabbage

Chopped Green Onion

Crispy Tortilla Strips

Lime Wedges

Sour Cream

 

 

1.  In a large saucepan, heat the oil over medium-high heat.  Saute the onion and garlic until the onion is soft, about 3-5 minutes.

Sauteing the onions and garlic.

Sauteing the onions and garlic.

Add the chiles or salsa verde and saute for another 2-3 minutes.

Adding the salsa verde. I used salsa in this recipe because it's what I had at home.

Adding the salsa verde. I used salsa in this recipe because it’s what I had at home. if you are using salsa, be sure to let it cook down by at least half.

2.  Add the chili powder, oregano, cumin, cayenne, salt, and pepper.  Saute for 1-2 minutes or until the fragrance comes up.

Adding the spices. be sure to stir pretty much constantly; you want the spices to have a scent (this means the oils are cooking). You want to take care not to burn them.

Adding the spices. Be sure to stir pretty much constantly; you want the spices to have a scent (this means the oils are cooking). You want to take care not to burn them.

Add the hominy and tomatoes and saute another 2-3 minutes.

Adding the tomatoes and hominy.

Adding the tomatoes and hominy.

3.  Add the chicken broth.

Adding the chicken broth. Once the soup is cooking, be sure to stir frequently to keep the hominy from sticking to the bottom of the pot.

Adding the chicken broth. Once the soup is cooking, be sure to stir frequently to keep the hominy from sticking to the bottom of the pot.

Cover the saucepan and bring the broth to a boil. Uncover, lower the heat to medium, and simmer for 30 minutes.  Taste for seasoning.

After 30 minutes. The soup should be somewhat thickened from the hominy.

After 30 minutes. The soup should be somewhat thickened from the hominy.

4.  While the soup is cooking, make the tortilla strips.  Take 6-8 tortillas and cut them into roughly 1/4-inch wide strips.

Tortilla strips. Be sure to use a very sharp knife so you can get even strips without tearing up the tortillas.

Tortilla strips. Be sure to use a very sharp knife so you can get even strips without tearing up the tortillas.

Be sure to separate them.  Heat a medium (9-inch) skillet with about 1/2-inch of vegetable oil over medium-high heat.  Test the oil by dropping a strip in the oil; it should immediately sizzle. Fry the strips in small batches until they are crispy.

Frying the strips. Be sure to keep them as separated as possible and fry in small batches. Frying the strips should take no more than 60 - 90 seconds per batch.

Frying the strips. Be sure to keep them as separated as possible and fry in small batches. Frying the strips should take no more than 60 – 90 seconds per batch.

Drain the strips on paper towels. (Alternately, you can simply serve the whole tortillas or tortilla chips on the side.)

The finished strips.

The finished strips.

5.  After the initial cooking time, add the chicken, lime juice, and cilantro.  Cook for a further 5 minutes.  Taste for seasoning.

Adding the chicken, cilantro, and lime juice. At this point you're simply heating the chicken through. Be sure to taste for seasoning.

Adding the chicken, cilantro, and lime juice. At this point you’re simply heating the chicken through. Be sure to taste for seasoning.

6.  Serve the soup with the tortilla strips, cabbage, green onion, extra lime wedges, and sour cream.

The finished soup. Pretty, huh?

The naked finished soup. it’s great just like this.

The fully dressed soup. Perfect for a chilly, rainy night.

The fully dressed soup. Perfect for a chilly, rainy night.

Enjoy!

Kidra قدرة 4

Posted on October 06, 2014 by Sahar

I’ve been feeling sentimental lately thinking about the foods from my childhood years.  I’d forgotten how good some of them were and still are.  It must also come with the realization that I’ve hit middle age and how I really need to eat healthier.

Kidra is another one of those dishes from our childhood that my sisters and I remember fondly.  It was an every-once-in-a-while dish; it was never one of Mom’s favorites, so we didn’t have it too often. But, when we did have it, my sisters and I would gorge.

Traditionally, it’s a recipe that is baked in a large narrow-necked clay pot called a tanour (التنور).  The pot was filled with the ingredients, sealed with a flour and water paste, and buried in an oven built into the sand where it was left to cook for hours and up to overnight.  Once cities started growing, people would send not only their bread to the bakeries, but their tanour pots as well.  In some very remote areas, the Bedouin still cook Kidra this way.

Now, many families have tanours made of lined copper that can be placed in the oven or on the stove (my parents have one) and it generally takes less than an hour for the Kidra to cook.

This is dish cooked all through the Palestinian regions and families in the Middle East, but it is most popular in Gaza, where, from what I can tell, the dish originated.

 

A few notes:

1.  If you don’t have a tanour, don’t worry.  I don’t either.  I used my Dutch oven.  It works well.

2.  Lamb is the most traditional meat to use in this dish.  You can use beef if you prefer.  Either way, be sure to use a stew meat (shoulder, round).

3.  Some people will use saffron or osfour (the stamen of the safflower) to give the dish a yellow color.  It is totally optional.  My parents never used either of these in this recipe, so I don’t either.

4.  Another traditional ingredient in this recipe is whole heads of garlic that are added just before the tanour goes into the oven.  My parents never used garlic in their Kidra.  After doing some research, I decided I wanted to add garlic in my own recipe.  However, instead of whole heads of garlic, I use peeled cloves. I like it.

Again, this is completely optional.

5.  If you don’t have whole cardamom pods for this dish, it will be fine without them.  However, you do miss out on some of the traditional flavor if you don’t use them.

6.  While white rice is most commonly used, you can use brown long-grain rice (brown basmati works well).  Just add an additional 1/2 cup of liquid and add 15 -20 minutes to the cooking time.

7.  You can make this vegetarian by using vegetable broth or water, omitting the meat, and adding more chick peas and/or fava beans.  If you’d like to add some green, use fresh green beans (not haricot vert) and saute them at the same time as you would the chick peas.

 

The Ingredients

The Ingredients

Clockwise from top left:

Clockwise from top left: ground cardamom, cardamom pods, black pepper, salt, ground cumin, ground allspice. Center: olive oil

If your garlic cloves are large, cut them down to make the cloves more equal in size.

If your garlic cloves are large, cut them down to make the cloves more equal in size.  Also, be sure to cut off the stem end because it doesn’t cook down and has an unpleasant texture.

1 lb. lamb or beef stew meat, cut into 1″ cubes

1 1/2 tsp. salt

1 tsp. black pepper

1 tsp. allspice

1/2 tsp. cumin

1/4 tsp. ground cardamom

2 tbsp. olive oil, more if needed

1 med. onion, chopped fine

1 head garlic, cloves separated and peeled, larger cloves cut in halves or quarters

1 1/2 c. long grain rice

1 15-oz. can chick peas (garbanzos), drained

6 – 8 cardamom pods

3 c. chicken broth or water, more if needed

 

 

1.  Preheat the oven to 325F.  In a medium bowl, toss the meat with the spices.

Spiced lamb.

Spiced lamb.

2.  In a Dutch oven, or, if you’re lucky, you have a tanour, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat.  Brown the meat in batches; you want to get a good sear on the meat.  If you crowd the pan, they will simply steam.

Browning the meat.  Don't crowd the pan or instead of a nice brown crust, you'll end up with grayed steamed meat.

Browning the meat. Don’t crowd the pan or instead of a nice brown crust, you’ll end up with grayed steamed meat.

After each batch of meat is browned, take it out of the Dutch oven and set it aside.  Repeat until all of the meat is done.

The finished (so far) meat.  I just put it in the overturned Dutch oven lid. It's a Dad thing.

The finished (so far) meat. I just put it in the overturned Dutch oven lid. It’s a Dad thing.

3.  Saute the onions and garlic in the Dutch oven, about 5 minutes.  If you need to keep the brown bits on the bottom from burning, add about 1/4 cup of water or broth to help deglaze the pan. (It doesn’t have to be an exact measurement. Just eyeball it.)  Stir frequently.

Cooking the onion and garlic.  If you need to, like I did here, add a little water or broth to deglaze the pan to keep the lovely browned bits from burning.

Cooking the onion and garlic. If you need to, like I did here, add a little water or broth to deglaze the pan to keep the lovely browned bits from burning.

4.  Add the rice and cook for another 2 – 3 minutes.  Stir constantly.

Adding the rice.

Adding the rice.

Add the chick peas and cook another 2 – 3 minutes.  Again, stir often.

Adding in the chick peas.

Adding in the chick peas.

Then add back in the meat, cardamom pods, and the water or broth.

Adding the meat, cardamom pods, and broth.

Adding the meat, cardamom pods, and broth.

5.  Bring the water or broth to a boil on the stove.  Cover the Dutch oven and place it on the middle rack in the oven and bake for 30 – 45 minutes, or until the liquid has been absorbed and the rice is cooked.

In the oven.

In the oven.

Alternately, you can cook this fully on the stove (especially of you don’t have an oven-safe pot) on low heat for about 45 minutes, or, again, until the liquid has been absorbed and the rice is cooked.

6.  Serve with plain yogurt or cucumber-yogurt salad.

If you use cardamom pods, be sure to let your guests know.  The pods infuse a wonderful flavor but aren’t great to bite into.

Sahtein! صحتين !

Sahtein! صحتين !

 

 

Lentil Soup شوربة دس and Artichokes with Coriander اضيوكي مع الكزبرة 2

Posted on September 28, 2014 by Sahar

I am now going to introduce you to two more dishes from the Middle East – one from my childhood and one I discovered more recently.  Lentil Soup and Artichokes with Coriander.

Lentil Soup (Shorbat Adas) is a very popular dish during Ramadan. Soup is a traditional way to break the fast and the heartiness of this soup is perfect for that.  Some people will put cooked ground beef or lamb in the soup, others balls of Kefta (basically, ground meat with onion, parsley, and spices).  Some will also use dried bread and puree it into the soup to thicken it. Sliced radishes are also a popular addition.

The Artichokes with Coriander (Ard al-shokeh ma’kuzbara) is a more recent discovery for me. It’s a dish popular in Jericho in the early summer when artichokes are in season.  Here, I’ve used frozen artichokes.  This way, I can eat this dish at any time of year.  Mainly, though, because I really don’t like to clean artichokes.

 

A few notes:

1.  The soup is really best with the red lentils.  They have a lighter, slightly sweeter flavor that’s best for the soup.  They’re much more readily available than they used to be.

2.  Be sure to wash the lentils.  They’re generally dusty when they’re packed.  While processing methods have become better, sometimes, especially if they’re from a bulk bin, they may also have small rocks or dirt. So, be sure to check them carefully.

3.  As with most soups, this is even better the next day and freezes well.  When you reheat the soup, be sure to add a little broth or water because it thickens up as it sits.

4.  If you want a smoother soup, then you can puree it.  However, I prefer a little texture in the soup.

5.  You can easily make the soup vegan by using either vegetable broth or water.

6.  Don’t use marinated artichokes packed in olive oil.  Be sure, especially with canned or jarred ones, that they are packed in water.  Or, if you’re using frozen, they’re unseasoned.

7.  If you don’t like cilantro (coriander), you can use parsley.  It obviously won’t taste the same, but it will work.

 

The ingredients

The ingredients

The lentils. Red lentils work best in this soup. They're much more readily available than in the past.

The lentils. Red lentils work best in this soup. They’re much more readily available than in the past.

From the top:

From the top: salt, pepper, olive oil, flour, cumin

Lentil Soup

1 1/2 c. red lentils, washed and drained

4 c. broth (chicken, beef, lamb, vegetable) or water

1 med. onion, minced

3 cl. garlic, minced

1 tbsp. flour

1 tsp. salt, or to taste

1 tsp. black pepper, or to taste

1 tsp. cumin

2 tbsp. olive oil

Juice of one lemon, or to taste

 

1.  In a large saucepan, place the onion, garlic, lentils, and broth or water.

Lentils, onion, and garlic in the saucepan awaiting the broth.

Lentils, onion, and garlic in the saucepan awaiting the broth.

Cover and bring to a boil.  Keep the saucepan covered, turn the heat down to medium-low, and simmer for 45 minutes.  Stir occasionally.

The boiling pot.

The boiling pot.

2.  Meanwhile, in a small bowl, mix together the flour, salt, pepper, cumin, and olive oil.

The oil, flour, and spices mixed together. It smells lovely.

The oil, flour, and spices mixed together. It smells lovely.

Add the mixture to the lentils after the first 45 minutes of cooking.

 

The soup after the first 45 minutes of cooking time.  Sorry, the lentils don't stay red.  They turn to a dull gold-yellow.

The soup after the first 45 minutes of cooking time. Sorry, the lentils don’t stay red. They turn to a dull gold-yellow.

After adding the oil-spice mixture.

After adding the oil-spice mixture.

After you add the oil & spices, cook for another 15 minutes, uncovered.  Stir occasionally.

3.  Add the lemon juice and cook another 5 minutes.

My old-style lemon reamer. One of my favorite things I received from my mother-in-law.

My old-style lemon reamer. One of my favorite things I received from my mother-in-law.

Taste for seasoning.  Serve with a drizzle of olive oil over the top and some extra lemon on the side.

The finished soup.

The finished soup.  Perfect.

 

 

 

The ingredients

The ingredients

Salt, pepper, olive oil

Salt, pepper, olive oil

The artichokes.  I used frozen ones in this recipe. If you do get jarred or canned, bue sure they aren't marinated ones.

The artichokes. I used frozen ones in this recipe. If you do get jarred or canned, be sure they aren’t marinated & flavored  ones.

Artichokes with Coriander

2 lb. artichoke hearts (2 bags frozen-thawed or 6 cans drained)

4 tbsp. olive oil

3 cl. garlic, minced

1/2 c. coriander (cilantro), chopped

1 tsp. salt, or to taste

1 tsp. black pepper, or to taste

1/4 c. lemon juice, or to taste

 

1.  In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat.  Add the garlic and cook for 1 – 2 minutes.

Cooking the garlic.

Cooking the garlic.

Add the artichokes hearts and cook another 5 minutes.

Adding the artichokes. Be sure to continue stirring frequently to keep the garlic from burning.

Adding the artichokes. Be sure to continue stirring frequently to keep the garlic from burning.

Add the coriander (cilantro), salt, and pepper.  Cook another 5 minutes. Stir frequently.

Adding the coriander (cilantro).

Adding the coriander (cilantro).

2.  Add the lemon juice and cook another 2 minutes.  Remove the skillet from the heat and taste for seasoning.

The finished artichokes.

The finished artichokes.

3.  You can serve this either warm or room temperature.  This dish can also be made a day in advance.  Warm it slightly or let it come to room temperature before serving.

Sahtein! صحتين

Sahtein! صحتين

In this post, I served the soup with toasted split pita bread to make a sort of cracker.  You can also serve with warm pita or a cracker of your choice.  The plainer the better.

 

 

Panzanella 0

Posted on August 25, 2014 by Sahar

Panzanella is one of those dishes that simply screams summer.  It is at its best when tomatoes are in season, and, especially, fresh from your own garden.

Panzanella (literally meaning “bread in a small basket) is a Tuscan recipe that, before the 20th Century, was based on onions, bread, olive oil, and basil.  It wasn’t until the 20th Century that tomatoes were added; no doubt out of desperation and poverty.

The earliest known description of Panzanella is by the painter Angolo di Cosimo (“Bronzino”; 1503 – 1572).  He sings the praises of onions with oil and vinegar served with toast and, a page later, speaks of a salad of onions, purslane, and cucumbers.

The best things about this recipe? It’s easy, fast, and there’s no cooking involved. More reasons it’s perfect for summer.

(some information from wikipedia.org)

A few notes:

1.  This should go without saying, but use the best ingredients you can find and/or afford.  Panzanella traditionally has few ingredients, so they all need to shine.  There’s no way to mask indifferent ingredients in this recipe.

2.  Use at least day-old bread.  If your bread is too fresh, it will become gummy.  Also, use a good European-style crusty bread.  Most American-style breads don’t have the hard crust needed.

3.  Some Panzanella recipes soak the bread in water and then squeeze it out before using.  Others will have the bread soak in olive oil.  I use the latter method.  I prefer some bite to my bread; I find the water method makes the bread too soggy for my taste.  However, if the bread you are using is very hard, then the water method may be the way to go. Be sure to slice the bread into thick slices and soak for about 20 minutes.  Squeeze out the water before cutting or tearing the bread. (Perhaps even do half-and-half water and tomato juice.)

4.  The traditional Tuscan recipe has tomatoes, onions, basil, bread, olive oil, salt & pepper.  However, other recipes may include: cucumbers, lettuce, olives, fresh mozzarella, celery, carrots, parsley, chopped eggs, tuna, anchovies, bell peppers, lemon juice, red wine vinegar, anchovies, and garlic.  A Tuscan would frown upon these additions; however, feel free to add them if you like. (I do use garlic. Sometimes red wine vinegar.)

5.  This salad is really best the day it’s made.  You can eat it the next day (just let it come to room temperature after you take it out of the fridge), but the bread will be soggy.  Unless that’s what you prefer.

 

The ingredients

The ingredients (the tomatoes I chose to use were small-to-medium sized, but they still added up to roughly 2 lbs.)

1 med. loaf day-old (at least) crusty bread, torn or cut into bite-sized pieces

The cubed bread. I used an Italian rustic whole-wheat bread.

The cubed bread. I used an Italian rustic whole-wheat bread.

6 large tomatoes (approximately 2 lbs.), roughly chopped (don’t seed the tomatoes; you want the juice)

1/2 c. extra virgin olive oil, more if needed

1 bu. basil, chopped or torn

2 cl. garlic, minced

1/2 of a medium red onion, very thinly sliced

Salt & Pepper to taste

 

1.  Mix together the bread, tomatoes, and olive oil.  Mix thoroughly and let sit for at least 20 minutes or up to 1 hour at room temperature.

The first three ingredients mixed together. Now, the waiting begins.

The first three ingredients mixed together. Now, the waiting begins.

2.  Add the remaining ingredients and combine thoroughly.  Taste for seasoning and saturation of the bread.  Adjust as needed.  Serve immediately.

Buon Appetito!

Buon Appetito!

Typically, this is served alone.  However, it will go well with just about any protein – especially grilled meat.

 

Enjoy!

 

 

 

Three Dressings 0

Posted on July 30, 2014 by Sahar

Ranch, Blue Cheese, Thousand Island.  Three dressings that have been ubiquitous  on the American Dinner Table for decades.  Of course, being American, these dressings have been adapted to serve other purposes than just coating lettuce.  They are used for dipping vegetables, marinating, as a sandwich ingredient, and for mitigating the heat of Buffalo Wings.

Each one of these has an origin story that shows off, even in some small way, American ingenuity, taste, and not a little desperation.

Ranch Dressing was created on the true-life Hidden Valley Ranch (a dude ranch) near Santa Barbara, CA.  The originator, Steve Henson, was said to have come up with the original recipe while working as an electrical contractor in Alaska.  When he and his wife opened their dude ranch in the early 1950’s, they served the dressing to guests and it became a hit.  They began selling kits to guests to take home and make their own dressing (just add buttermilk).  The Hensons managed to build a small empire on their dressing, eventually selling their company to Clorox in the early 1970’s (the company still owns the brand).

Thousand Island Dressing has a slightly more murky history.  One story is that Oscar (Oscar of the Waldorf) Tschirky introduced the dressing to patrons of the Waldorf Hotel in New York via his boss, George Boldt, who was served the dressing while on a boat tour in the Thousand Islands in upstate New York.  It was said the chef on board basically threw together a salad dressing with whatever he had on hand, and it became a hit.  Another story, probably the more likely one, is that Sophia LaLonde, the wife of the fishing guide at the Herald House on the Thousand Islands, came up with the recipe in or around 1911 to serve at the hotel and shore dinners there.  The Broadway actress May Irwin enjoyed the dressing so much she asked for the recipe.  Mrs. LaLonde obliged, and Ms. Irwin took it back to New York and gave the recipe to Mr. Boldt so the kitchen could prepare it for her.  Once the Waldorf began offering the dressing to its patrons, the dressing became popular throughout the country.  The Holiday House Hotel in the Thousand Islands still sells the original recipe dressing at the hotel and online.

Blue Cheese Dressing has a very murky origin story.  It has been suggested that it originated in France, but that’s highly unlikely.  The French prefer lighter vinaigrette-style dressing on their salad; it’s doubtful that putting cheese in their salads would even occur to the French.  Blue cheese has been in America since at least the Revolution where that well-noted Francophile, Thomas Jefferson, enjoyed it at his dinner table.  The first recorded evidence of Blue Cheese Dressing as we’ve come to know it (Then known as Roquefort Dressing) was in Edgewater Hotel Salad Book in 1928.  An earlier version of the dressing appears in the Fannie Farmer’s 1918 Cookbook.  By the 1930’s the dressing had spread in popularity not only through Fannie Farmer, but also through Irma Rombauer’s ubiquitous book, The Joy of Cooking.

(some historical information from wikipedia.org, justserved.onthetable.us, thousandislandslife.com)

A few notes:

1.  All three of these recipes can easily be made vegan.

For the Ranch:  Omit the sour cream; substitute vegan mayonnaise and plain soy milk.

For the Blue Cheese:  Omit the sour cream and cheese; substitute vegan mayonnaise and plain soy milk; use crumbled hard

tofu to get the texture of the cheese; add tahini and apple cider vinegar (start with just a small

amount and add to taste).  If you have some nutritional yeast, you can also use that for additional cheesy flavor.

For the Thousand Island:  Substitute the mayonnaise for vegan mayonnaise.

2.  If you can find it (and it’s getting easier to), use “country style” buttermilk.  The flavor and thickness make so much difference in the finished dressing.

3.  If you must use dried herbs in the Ranch Dressing, use 1/2 the amount of the fresh in the recipe.  The dressing will need to  sit for an hour for the herbs to infuse their flavor.

4.  For the Blue Cheese Dressing, I used Amish Blue.  I have used gorgonzola, roquefort, and Stilton in the past.  Extravagant, but delicious.   You can use any type of blue cheese you like – as your cheese department and budget will allow.

5.  For the Thousand Island, I usually add more than 1 teaspoon of horseradish depending on what I’ll use it for (i.e. Reubens). So, adjust according to your taste.

6.  You can substitute low-fat yogurt for some or all of the sour cream.  If you must.

7.  All of these dressings will last up to a week.  If they begin to separate, just give them a stir.  The Blue Cheese Dressing, will, however, thin out considerably as it sits.  Just add more mayonnaise and sour cream to thicken.

Now, I will say, these are my versions of these dressings (and, no doubt, many others have made these same adjustments).  You can certainly add, subtract, and/or change ingredients.  For example, the original Thousand Island Dressing uses finely chopped egg in the recipe; I don’t. The original Ranch Dressing is made with buttermilk only; I’ve added mayonnaise.  I’ve added lemon juice to the Blue Cheese Dressing. I, like many, have also added bacon from time to time (it’s excellent on burgers when you feel like indulging).

Sometimes, I like to go all ’70’s and use an Iceberg wedge when I serve any of these dressings.  A dear, late friend of mine, Chef Roger Mollett, used to say, “Iceberg is the polyester of lettuce”.  He’s right, you know.

Uniquely American. From top clockwise: Thousand Island, Blue Cheese, Ranch

Uniquely American. From top clockwise: Thousand Island, Blue Cheese, Ranch

 

All of these dressings are made the same way:

1.  Add the ingredients into a bowl and mix thoroughly.

2.  Let sit for at least an hour, taste and adjust for seasoning.

3. Serve with salad or other food of your choice.

 

The Ingredients

The Ingredients

Salt, Pepper, Garlic

Salt, Pepper, Garlic

Ranch Dressing

1 c. mayonnaise

1/4 c. sour cream

1/4 c. buttermilk

1 clove garlic, very finely minced

1 tbsp. chives or scallion tops, very thinly sliced

If you don't have chives, thinly sliced scallion tops work as well.

If you don’t have chives, thinly sliced scallion tops work as well.

2 tbsp. dill, finely minced

Fresh dill is what really makes this dressing so delicious.

Fresh dill is what really makes this dressing so delicious.

1/4 c. parsley, finely minced

You can use either curly or flat-leaf parsley.

You can use either curly or flat-leaf parsley.

1 tsp. lemon juice

Salt & pepper to taste

Everything in the bowl.

Everything in the bowl.

Mixing. The buttermilk will be stubborn and not want to incorporate at first. But, trust me, it all comes together.

Mixing. The buttermilk will be stubborn and not want to incorporate at first. But, trust me, it all comes together.

Not pretty. But it's damn indulgent.

Not pretty. But it’s damn indulgent.

 

 

 

The Ingredients

The Ingredients

Blue Cheese Dressing

1 c. mayonnaise

1/2 c. sour cream

1 1/2 c. blue cheese, crumbled

I used Amish Blue for this example. You can use any blue cheese you like.

I used Amish Blue for this example. You can use any blue cheese you like.

2 tsp. lemon juice

1 tsp. black pepper

Buttermilk, as needed

Mixing in the blue cheese. It's a lot. If you have to cruble your blue cheese (as opposed to buying it already crumbled), leave the pieces different sizes.  It makes for a more interesting texture.

Mixing in the blue cheese. It’s a lot.
If you have to crumble your blue cheese (as opposed to buying it already crumbled), leave the pieces different sizes. It makes for a more interesting texture.

Mixing in the pepper and lemon juice.

Mixing in the pepper and lemon juice.

My favorite.

My favorite.

 

 

 

The Ingredients

The Ingredients

 

Thousand Island Dressing

1 c. mayonnaise

1/4 c. ketchup

1 tbsp. onion, very finely minced

1 1/2 tbsp. sweet relish

1 1/2 tbsp. dill relish

1 tsp. horseradish

From top right, clockwise:

From top right, clockwise: minced onion (I had some scallion, so I used that), dill relish, sweet relish, horseradish, pepper, salt

1 tsp. lemon juice

Salt & Pepper to taste

Mixing

Mixing

Sweet-tart goodness

Sweet-tart goodness

The best way to test a dressing – any dressing – is to use some of the greens you’ll be serving it with to better gauge the flavors and how they taste together.

Testing the Thousand Island Dressing.

Testing the Thousand Island Dressing.

Plus, as well know, when you’re adjusting recipes standing up in the kitchen, the calories don’t count. Plus, hey, it’s lettuce.

 

Enjoy!

 

 

Caesar Salad 0

Posted on June 16, 2014 by Sahar

The classic Caesar Salad can make a diner recall the days of martini lunches, 2-inch steaks, paneled dining rooms, and the Rat Pack.  In short, it’s an American classic.

An American classic that originated in Tijuana, Mexico.

Legend has it that Caesar Cardini, a restauranteur in San Diego, invented the salad in 1924.  He also operated a restaurant in Tijuana to circumvent Prohibition.  According to his daughter, the Caesar Salad was invented out of sheer necessity when the kitchen supplies were depleted.

After a rush on the restaurant one July evening,  Cardini made do with what he had, adding the dramatic flair of the tableside preparation by the chef.  And thousands of tableside performances were born.

So, now you know. It has nothing to do with Julius Caesar (other than the fact that both he and Caesar Cardini were both Italian – technically). And, when my sisters and & I were kids, our dad try to convince us that it was invented by Caesar Romero. (You know, the Joker in the 1960’s “Batman” series.)

*******************

A few notes:

1.  I (and many others) use anchovies in the dressing.  The original recipe didn’t use them; the anchovy flavor came from Worchestershire sauce.  If you would prefer to leave them out, go ahead.

2. To make this dressing vegetarian/vegan, omit the egg, anchovies, and Worchestershire Sauce and use vegan mayonnaise and vegetarian Worchestershire Sauce.

3.  If you find the addition of all extra virgin olive oil too strong, you can cut it with half pure olive oil or an unflavored oil like vegetable or grapeseed.

4.  Since this recipe does use raw egg yolks, it is best not to serve this to anyone who might have a compromised immune system. Healthy adults should be fine  – especially if the eggs are fresh.  However, if you are concerned about using raw eggs, substitute the mayonnaise.

5.  Croutons are essential in this recipe.  You can buy them, but they are easy to make.  I’ve included instructions.

6.  When you grate the cheese, don’t use a Microplane; the cheese will be too fine.  Either do shavings of cheese with a vegetable peeler or a larger grater.

7.  The most common proteins served with Caesar Salad are grilled chicken or shrimp.  However, this does go with almost anything. Or, alone.

 

The Crouton Ingredients

The Crouton Ingredients

The seasonings I used:

The crouton seasonings I used: (clockwise from top: Italian Seasoning; Kosher Salt; Cayenne Pepper; ground Black Pepper)

The Caesar Salad Ingredients

The Caesar Salad Ingredients

Clockwise from top: Dijon Mustard; Worchestershire Sauce; Black Pepper, Red Wine Vinegar

Clockwise from top: Dijon Mustard; Worchestershire Sauce; Black Pepper, Red Wine Vinegar

 

2 heads Romaine Lettuce, cleaned and cut into bite-sized pieces

 

Croutons:

4 c. day-old bread, cut into 1/2″ cubes

1/4 c. olive oil (you can use either extra virgin or pure)

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. black pepper

up to 2 tsp. additional seasoning, if desired

 

Dressing:

3 cloves garlic

6 ea. anchovy filets

2 egg yolks  -or- 1/4 c. mayonnaise

1 tsp. Dijon mustard

1 tsp. red wine vinegar

1 tbsp. lemon juice

1 tbsp. Worchestershire sauce

1/2 tsp. black pepper, or to taste

Pinch salt

1/2 c. Extra Virgin Olive Oil

 

Grated Parmesan, Grana Padana, or Romano cheese

 

1.  Make the croutons: Preheat the oven to 250F.  Line a large baking sheet with foil and lightly coat with pan spray or line with parchment paper.  Set aside.  In a large bowl, toss the bread cubes with the oil, salt & pepper, and whatever other seasonings you like.  Spread the cubes out in an even layer on the baking sheet and place in the oven.

Croutons ready for the oven.

Croutons ready for the oven.

2.  Bake them for one hour, or until they are dried and crispy.  Set aside and let cool.

The finished croutons. Easy, right?

The finished croutons. Easy, right?

3.  Meanwhile, make the dressing: Have a blender or food processor running.  Drop in the garlic and anchovies and let them chop.  Turn off the blender or processor and add all of the other ingredients, except the oil.  Blend or process until all the ingredients are incorporated.

Everything except the oil

Everything except the oil.

4.  With the processor or blender running, slowly add the oil.  (You don’t want to add it too fast or it won’t incorporate and your dressing will separate.)

Adding the oil. Be sure to do this in a slow, steady stream.

Adding the oil. Be sure to do this in a slow, steady stream.

When you’re done processing/blending the dressing, taste it for seasoning.  It will be thick.

The finished dressing.

The finished dressing.

5.  Place a couple of big handfuls of the lettuce in a large bowl.  Drizzle over about a tablespoon or two of the dressing and toss until the leaves are lightly coated. (You don’t want the leaves soggy, just lightly coated.)  Place the lettuce on a plate and add some of the cheese and croutons on top.  Some people also like to sprinkle on some additional black pepper as well.  Have a bowl of the dressing on the side in case anyone wants more.

Buen Apetito!

Buen Apetito!

The dressing will last 3 – 4 days in the refrigerator if you use eggs and up to 1 week if you use mayonnaise.  The croutons will keep a week in an airtight container.

 

Salade Niçoise 0

Posted on June 11, 2014 by Sahar

Salade Niçoise has its origins in Nice, Provence, France.   No one really knows the complete origin story of this dish.  However, there is the ongoing legend that Catherine d’Medici brought a form of it to France before her marriage to Henri II.  How much credibility this has, I don’t know; but Nice is less than 20 miles across the Mediterranean from Italy.

The basis for this salad is its seasonality.  You use what you have fresh and in season.  Few, if any, of the ingredients are to be cooked (although, more modern versions certainly ignore this edict).  And, because of Nice’s proximity to the Mediterranean (and Italy), tuna and anchovies were added somewhere along the way.

The always main components of this dish are eggs (usually hard-boiled; sometimes poached), tomatoes, black (preferably niçoise) olives, green beans, and either tuna, anchovies, or both. It is always dressed with a vinaigrette. There are recipes that include artichoke hearts, white beans, radishes, potatoes, beets, corn, bell peppers, asparagus, cucumbers, green olives, mayonnaise, mushrooms, basil, tarragon, rosemary, and scallions.  Just to name a few.

So, basically, a French Cobb Salad made with whatever the chef has fresh in their kitchen.

I myself prefer a much more simplified version.  I try to stay as close to the traditional as possible.  By keeping it simple, I feel, each component can come through.  According to David Lebovitz’s post on Salade Niçoise (http://tinyurl.com/4rfsgjf), the original recipe stated that you don’t use anything cooked in the salad except for the eggs.  Nor are tuna and anchovies ever in the salad together. Well, I certainly bucked that tradition.  I think it’s all right in this case since cooks in Provence skirt the rules on this as well.

A few notes:

1.  You can use canned tuna in place of the tuna steak.  2 cans should be sufficient (but you can use more if you like).  Be sure to use a good quality brand packed in olive oil.  Be sure to read the label and avoid any that have extra flavoring (StarKist comes to mind).  Drain off the oil before you add the tuna to the salad.

2.  if you can’t find Niçoise olives, you can use Kalamata.  Just be sure to chop them a bit before adding to the salad.

3.  If you are using pitted olives, be aware that pits can still occur (especially with Kalamatas).  Whether you’re using whole or pitted olives, warn your guests about the pits.

4.  If you want to make this dish vegetarian/vegan, omit the anchovies, tuna, and eggs.  Use chopped garbanzo beans in place of the tuna (or, use a good recipe for “garbanzo tuna”; there are many available) and soft or firm-silken tofu cut into bite-sized pieces in place of the eggs.

5.  Some will lay the salad components on the serving dish separately, while others make more of a tossed salad-style.  It’s up to you how you like to serve.

 

The Ingredients

The Ingredients

Big Eye Tuna. You can use canned tuna,  but fresh is better.

Big Eye Tuna. You can use canned tuna, but fresh is better.

Nicoise Olives. These have a slightly smoky, peppery flavor.  These are pitted, but if you do have to use whole olives, let your diners know.

Nicoise Olives. They are a small olive with a slightly smoky, peppery flavor. These are pitted, but if you do have to use whole olives, let your diners know.

 

From the top and l-r:

From the top and l-r: olive oil; sugar; minced garlic, anchovies, Dijon mustard; black pepper, kosher salt, red wine vinegar

 

Vinaigrette

2 tbsp. red or white wine vinegar

1 tbsp. Dijon mustard

1 cl. garlic, minced

1 tbsp. shallot or onion, minced

1/2 tsp. each salt, black pepper, sugar

3 – 4 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

 

About 1 lb. fresh tuna steak -or- 2 to 3 cans good quality olive oil packed tuna

2 tomatoes, seeded and chopped -or- 1/2 pt. cherry tomatoes, cut in half

1/2 c. red onion, very thinly sliced

1 c. black olives, preferably Niçoise (if you can get pitted, all the better)

1 c. green beans, preferably haricot vert, cut into 1/2-inch pieces -or- fresh fava beans -or- edamame beans

1 bu. Italian parsley, chopped

4 ea. hard boiled eggs

4 ea. anchovies, minced

4 c. mixed greens (any you like; my personal preference is baby spinach & arugula)

 

 

1.  Make the vinaigrette: In either a medium bowl (if making by hand) or in a food processor or blender, mix together all of the ingredients except for the oil.  Either constantly whisking the mixture by hand or with the food processor or blender turned on, pour in the oil in a slow, steady stream. (You don’t want to add the oil too quickly; it won’t incorporate and the vinaigrette will separate.)

Once you have mixed in all the oil, taste for seasoning and adjust if you like.   Set the vinaigrette aside.

The finsihed vinaigrette. I like it a little more on the sharp side.  If you want a milder flavor, use more oil.

The finished vinaigrette. I like it a little more on the sharp side. If you want a milder flavor, add more oil.

2.  Prepare the fava beans (if using):  As you probably noticed in the main ingredient photo, fava bean pods are quite large.  To open them, you will need to press the pod lightly on the seam and pry open with your fingers (it’s easier than it sounds).  Remove the seeds and place them into a bowl.

Fresh fava bean. The pods are fairly deceptive. They're thick with an almost cottony inside and anywhere from 3 - 5 beans inside.  The pods should be bright green (a little speckling is fine), shiny, and no soft spots.  The beans inside should be plump and light green (this is from the extra skin on the beans that you'll remove later). If you find any beans that are brown, discard them.

Fresh fava bean. The pods are fairly deceptive. They’re thick with an almost cottony inside with any where from 3 – 5 beans. The pods should be bright green (a little speckling is fine), shiny, and no soft spots. The beans inside should be plump and light green (this is from the extra skin on the beans that you’ll remove later). If you find any beans that are brown or shriveled, discard them.

The shelled beans.

The shelled beans.

Fill a medium saucepan with water and bring to a boil.  Add the fava beans and blanch for 3 – 5 minutes.  Drain the beans and either run them under cold water or plunge them into ice water.  Drain.

The beans after boiling.

The beans after boiling.  Notice how the skins are loosened.

Here’s how to remove the skins from the beans in 3 easy photos:

Getting ready to peel the bean.

Getting ready to peel the bean.

To peel the bean, simply make a small tear in the skin to expose the bean...

To peel the bean, simply make a small tear in the skin to expose the bean.

Then, slip the bean out of the skin. Discard the skin.  Add the beans to the bowl.

Then, slip the bean out of the skin. Discard the skin. Add the beans to the bowl.

Easy.

If you can’t get fava beans (they’re still fairly seasonal), you can either use blanched French green beans (haricot vert – a very thin green bean) cut into 1/2″ lengths or edamame beans (If you use frozen, just cook them according to the direction on the package and let cool.)

3.  Boil the eggs:  There are no doubt a thousand ways to boil and peel eggs.  Some work, some don’t.  For me, the best way I’ve found is to place the eggs in a saucepan filled with water and bring it to a boil.  As soon as the water comes to a boil, turn off the heat and let the eggs sit for 10 minutes.

Drain off the water and immediately place the eggs into ice water and crack the shells (leave the eggs under the water).  This allows the water the get between the shell and egg and make it easier to peel.

After boiling the eggs, immediately plunge them into ice water and crack the shells.  The water will get between the shell and egg and it will be easier to peel.

After boiling the eggs, immediately plunge them into ice water and crack the shells. The water will get between the shell and egg and it will be easier to peel.

ta da!

ta da!

Cut the eggs into quarters lengthwise and set aside.

3.  Cook the tuna:  Lightly coat the tuna in olive oil and sprinkle on some salt and pepper on each side.  Heat a skillet over high heat on the stove.  When the skillet is hot, lay the tuna steak in the skillet and let it sear until the side is lightly browned.  Turn the steak over and sear the other side.

Now, if you like your tuna very rare, you can stop at this point.  If you prefer medium-rare to medium, continue to cook the tuna on the stove, turning once more, until it’s done to your preference.

If you prefer your tuna well-done (as my husband does – at least for this), have your oven preheated to 450F.  If your skillet is oven-proof, take the skillet off the heat and place it in the oven for 5 – 7 minutes, depending on the thickness of the tuna steak.

Searing the tuna.

Searing the tuna.

Remove the skillet from the heat, take the tuna out of the skillet and set it on a plate to cool slightly.  When it is cool enough to handle, either cut the tuna into bite-sized pieces (as I prefer), or you can chop it so that it resembles canned tuna.

4.  Place all of the vegetables (except the mixed greens), olives, eggs, anchovies, and tuna into a large bowl.

Ready for the tuna and vinaigrette

Ready for the tuna and vinaigrette. Pretty, isn’t it?

Pour over the vinaigrette and mix thoroughly.

5.  Place a large handful of the greens on a plate.  Take a couple of large scoops of the salad and place it on top of the greens.  Be sure to get a little of everything.   Serve immediately.

Bon Appetit!

Bon Appetit!

 

 

 

 



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