Monday, April 29, 2013

Sweet and Smoky Beet Burgers

This Sweet and Smoky Beet Burger recipe comes straight out of my newly purchased cookbook, The New Persian Kitchen by Louisa Shafia. Believe it or not, I’m not a big cookbook buyer: I guess I can partially blame this on the lack of storage space in my closet of an apartment, but mostly it’s because I seek out a lot of my recipes from cooking websites and blogs. (Plus my two staple cookbooks, The Moosewood Cookbook and American Medical Association’s Family Health Cookbook, are so wonderfully comprehensive.)

That being said, what drove me to purchase The New Persian Kitchen? Specifically, to pre-order and carry home upon its arrival, hugged tightly in my arms, like a proud, excited child who had just acquired her very first homework assignment?
The descriptors in this recipe title —sweet and smoky—hold a clue. What drew me to The New Persian Kitchen was the juxtaposition of savory and sweet in almost every recipe.  Riddled with the aromatic fresh herbs one would expect from Middle Eastern cooking: dill, mint, parsley, cilantro, and tarragon; a heavy reliance on onions and garlic, and unique regional spices such as turmeric, dried limes, and lemony sumac; this cookbook has it’s savory and spice side down pat. But what really intrigued me were the natural sweet flavors it was always paired with: pomegranate molasses, chopped dates, dried cherries, rose petals.  The result is a balance of “hot” (gardi) and “cold” (sarmi) flavors, as Louisa describes, which play off each other in a most harmonious and flavorful fashion.

Case in point: these delicious burgers! Smoky paprika, sautéed onions and garlic, and earthy lentils and brown rice make up the bulk of the “meat” of these burgers, which are dotted with jewels of golden raisins, sweet beets, and nutty walnuts. (Yes, spend that extra $3 and buy golden raisins. It’s worth it!) These bursts of sweet flavor offer a pleasing, unexpected jolt that make this “veggie burger” anything but your plain ol’. Upgrade your choice of condiment by replacing ketchup with a saucy fruit chutney or cool mix of plain Greek yogurt, diced cucumbers and tomatoes stirred in red wine vinegar, and generous sprinkling of fresh dill.
This recipe makes 8 servings. I recommend making the entire batch and refrigerating (for up to 5 days) or freezing the remainder for another meal. Between the lentils and brown rice, the burgers take a bit of time to make, so get your prep done in one fell swoop to eliminate the time commitment for next round!

Sweet and Smoky Beet Burgers (from The New Persian Kitchen)
Serves 8

2 tablespoons grapeseed or olive oil, plus extra for searing
1 yellow onion, thinly sliced (about 2 cups)
1 cup peeled and grated beets (from about 1 small beet)
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 cup walnuts
½ cup golden raisins
2 teaspoons sweet smoked paprika
½ cup cooked green lentils, rinsed and rained
2 teaspoons sea salt, plus more for seasoning
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more for seasoning
2 cups cooked short-grain brown rice, at room temperature
1 egg

1. In a medium skillet, warm the grapeseed or olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until it starts to soften and caramelize, about 10 minutes.
2. Reduce the heat to medium-low and add the beets, garlic, walnuts, raisins and paprika. Cook, stirring frequently, until the beets are starting to brown and the walnuts are toasted, about 8 minutes.
3. Transfer the onion-beet mixture to the bowl of a food processor and pulse several times until chunky. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and add the lentils, sea salt and black pepper. Set aside.
4. Replace the bowl of the food processor (without washing) and blend the brown rice with the egg until a coarse puree forms. Add the rice mixture to the onion-lentil mixture and mix with your hands until combined. Divide the mixture into 8 portions and shape each one into a patty just under 1 inch thick.
5. In a large cast-iron skillet set over medium heat, warm enough grapeseed or olive oil to coat the bottom. Place the patties in the skillet and cook undisturbed for 5 minutes. Gently flip the patties and reduce the heat to low. Cover the skillet and cook the patties until they are warmed through and have a firm, golden-brown crust, 8 to 10 minutes longer. Remove the patties from the skillet and serve immediately with desired accompaniments.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Veggie Loaded Huevos Rancheros

This Veggie Loaded Huevos Rancheros recipe is inspired by my brunch at Esperanto last Saturday.  Sitting blissfully at a corner table next to large open windows on this warm(er) spring day, my two friends and I were thoroughly content as we made our way through fresh guava mimosas and a delightful huevos rancheros plate layered with crispy tortilla, soft eggs, and ample black beans & pico de gallo. As we stood up to leave, I felt a feeling I've never felt before after a leisurely weekend (and slightly hungover) restaurant brunch: I was perfectly satisfied. No bursting at the seams, cant-wait-to-unbutton-my-jeans i'm soooo full feeling. I might actually be hungry again in a few hours.

I attribute this feeling to the nature of Latin American cuisine (Esparanto is Brazilian). While American (most notably, Southern) style brunch is often loaded with heavy cheese, pork-stuffed in every place possible, and bursting with butter, carbs and cholesterol, the Latin American reliance on spice rather than fat makes it a much lighter option in the brunch circuit. Instead of reaching for butter or syrup to top off our meal, the ultimate huevos rancheros condiment is hot sauce; packing a fiery punch at 0 cals. The hallmarks of huevos rancheros—fiberous black beans, veggie-chocked pico de gallo, whole-grain corn tortillas—are totally low cal and healthy; and deserve the credit for saving you from the (third trimester) food baby a lot of us feel after brunch. Of course, the healthiness of your meal will vary depending on the amount of oil and cheese used in its preparation, which is why making your own version at home is the perfect way to go!

Inside my own kitchen, the ravenous vegivore inside me hungered for more green. To satisfy my feisty craving, I did a quick saute of diced zucchini and onion to add an extra veggie-filled layer to my huevos rancheros. The result was exactly what I was looking for: the zucchini not only paired seamlessly with the pico de gallo and beans; but gave me more to munch on (sans added cals) as I stacked my tortilla high.

You can cheese up this recipe to your own liking—I recently realized that I am not as big of a fan of cheese (GASP) as some of my other friends. Don't get me wrong, I like cheese a lot! And I used to say I love it until I saw the sheer delight that my peers consume blocks of it with and realized well...I don't like it THAT much! For this recipe, it's fun to sprinkle a layer of shredded cheese atop each layer—after the egg, then veggies, then salsa, then beans—and finally one on top. That being said, be mindful of how much you use—I recommend no more than 1/4 cup a serving of low-calorie cheese. Because I am just a cheese liker and not a cheese lover, I only sprinkled my cheese atop the egg as it was cooking for melty yummy perfection.

The spiciness of this recipe begs for a sweet brunch cocktail alongside it. I loved my guava mimosa; how about a blood orange screwdriver? Muddled fruit caipirinha? Morning sangria? Which one will you choose to accompany your picante breakfast plate?

Veggie Loaded Huevos Rancheros
Serves 2

2/3 cup diced tomato
1 jalapeño, minced
2 tbsp diced onion + 1/4 cup (for zucchini mixture)
1 zucchini, diced
1/4 cup packed chopped cilantro
juice of 1 lime
salt & pepper to taste
1/2 cup drained black beans
1/2 cup shredded cheese (reduced fat cheddar or Trader Joe's Shredded Lite Mexican Blend)
2 large whole wheat or corn tortillas
2 eggs
Hot Sauce (optional)

1. Prepare pico de gallo. Mix diced tomato, jalapeño, 2 tbsp onion, cilantro, lime juice, and generous sprinkle of salt & pepper in a small bowl. Set aside.

2. Prepare zucchini mixture. Heat 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add zucchini and 1/4 cup onion and saute (stirring frequently), uncovered, until onions soften and zucchini begins to brown, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle with salt & pepper and set aside in a small bowl.

3. Prepare tortilla. In a toaster oven, bake tortilla at 425 degrees until it browns and crisps, almost to the point of burning. (If you don't have a toaster oven you can do this in a regular oven or crisp via stovetop in the large skillet over high heat, covered, turning over once.) Place tortilla on serving plate.

4. Cook eggs. Spray large skillet with cooking spray or coat with an olive oil mister over high heat. Crack eggs over pan. When edges start to brown and crackle (about 1-2 minutes) gently flip eggs over, being careful not to break the yolk. Cook for another 2 minutes, and then set atop respective tortillas.

5. Sprinkle 1 tbsp of cheese over the egg. Divide zucchini mixture evenly over two tortillas, and add another tbsp of cheese. Add beans to each tortilla along with a third tbsp of cheese. Top off tortillas with evenly divided pico de gallo, and garnish with last tablespoon of cheese. Serve with hot sauce, if desired. Buen Provecho!

Friday, April 12, 2013

Cod and Spring Vegetables en Papillote

Last week, the New York Times published an article called "Banish Winter with the Taste of Spring",  characterizing the locavore's springtime dilemma. Come the first sign of warm weather, New Yorkers whet their appetites for the season's namesake veggies; peas, asparagus, and artichokes are a few greener favorites that immediately conjure up cravings for the fresher, brighter meals of Spring. But trek to the Greenmarket, and only winter's meager leftovers can be found: potatoes, a few stray root vegetables, apples. We're still a month away before local fresh produce catches up to our lightened appetites.

So, what is the Springtime locavore to do? Author David Tanis offers two options: first, mimic spring by cooking with fresh herbs and focusing on brothy soups and green foods; and second, cheat! While eating local is important, these vegetables are available at the supermarket via crops in places where the season has already arrived. Salivating for Spring big-time, I followed both pieces of Tanis's advice and created this Cod and Spring Vegetables en Papillote.

En papillote? Sounds fancy. And while this dish certainly delivers impressive sophistication in both presentation and taste, the preparation is super easy—and clean-up zilch! This dish is like a present: the fish and veggies are wrapped up "en papillote" (aka in paper/parchment), then baked in their own juices until succulent and tender—your only job is to place it in the oven. Less than 30 minutes later, voila! Unwrapping the paper reveals dinner steamed to perfection, surrounded by a fragrant, flavorful broth that begs for a crusty baguette or bed of whole grains for sopping up. Oh, and that "clean-up" I was talking about? Since the dish only touched the paper it was encased in, crumple it up and throw it in the garbage—your pan stays spanking clean.

The vegetables and herbs that go en papillote are for you to choose. I threw in grape tomatoes, zucchini, capers, and artichokes; but was also considering asparagus, peas, leeks, and yellow squash. Anything will taste good in the lovely, light broth of chicken stock, white wine, and fresh lemon juice. For herbs I chose cilantro, but parsley, mint, and basil will work well too. Throw in a fresh sprig of thyme or oregano to really hone in that garden-fresh Springtime flavor. The diced jalapeño contributes a spicy kick to contrast nicely against the broth's mellow flavors.

This Cod and Spring Vegetables en Papillote can be prepared with frozen or fresh fish. I chose cod because it is mild in taste, reasonably priced, and generally sustainable (most atlantic cod in the US is imported from Iceland and the northeast Arctic, where fisheries are well-managed and the cod population increasing.) If you can, choose hook-and-line caught cod: it is Monterey Bay Aquarium's "best choice" thanks to low levels of bycatch and habitat damage.

Serve with a light white wine, fresh green salad, and sop-friendly grain of your choice (brown rice, cous-cous, and quinoa are all good options.) And as you throw out that parchment paper, say a final goodbye to the hearty stews and thick leafy greens of winter: Spring is here!

Cod and Spring Vegetables en Papillote
Serves 2

- parchment paper or aluminum foil
- 2 cod fillets, fresh or frozen
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
- 2 scallions, chopped
- 2 zucchini, julienned
- 2 tbsp capers
- 3/4 cup artichoke hearts, diced (about 5 canned)
- 1 jalapeño pepper, minced
- 1/4 cup cilantro (and/or parsley, mint, basil)
- juice of 1 lemon
- 1/2 cup chicken broth
- 1/3 cup white wine
- 1 tbsp EVOO

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Tear off a sheet of aluminum foil or parchment paper large enough to cover two times the surface area of your baking pan. (You are going to be wrapping up the fish just like a present, so it's better to be safe than sorry and end up with extra papillote. To create a traditional papillote pocket, click here.)

2. Center the papillote in the baking pan, and crease firmly around the inside edges to line it. (There should be ample paper hanging off each side.) Lightly mist the surface with an olive oil spritzer (or 1 tbsp olive oil.) Add cod filets to pan, sprinkle with salt & pepper, and flip over. Set cod fillets aside.

3. Add the grape tomatoes, zucchini, scallion, jalapeño, capers, and artichokes to the papillote. Mix vegetables together. Place the cod fillets over the vegetables. Sprinkle cilantro (and other desired herbs) evenly over fish and veggies. Pour chicken broth, white wine, and lemon juice evenly over the contents of the papillote. Fold the excess paper over the fish mixture, just like closing a box, so contents are completely sealed.

4. Bake for 30 minutes if fish is frozen, and 15 minutes if fish is thawed. Season with more salt & pepper to taste. Serve over rice, cous-cous, quinoa, or pasta; or with whole-grain sliced baguette. Pour excess broth over fish upon serving.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Shrimp Sauté, sans Flambé

I'm going to start this post with a caveat: there will be no lighting your kitchen on fire in the making of this dish! My oh-so-poetic title for this Shrimp Sauté, sans Flambé dish is not a flambé-gone-terribly-wrong kitchen horror story, but rather a well thought out cautionary approach with a likable rhyme to boot. I intentionally skipped the risk of lighting my kitchen (and myself) on fire by foregoing the flambé step. For all my chef 101s, flambé (pronounced flahm-BAY) is when one adds alcohol to a hot pan to create a burst of flames. But I am posting this recipe because despite forgoing the flames, this dish still has serious fire— and is totally delish.
Inspired by Waverly's Shrimp Sautee with a Flambe and a Jete, I set out to make a simple stew of fresh shrimp, dry Vermouth, diced tomatoes, and feta; confident that I couldn't go wrong with this tried-and-true Mediterranean combo. Starting off with a garlicky, chile flake base was a no-brainer too. I knew the dish would be good. But I hoped, sans flambé, it could still be great.

It wasn't just great. It was AMAZING! I had no intention of even posting this afterthought of a quick weeknight dinner, but the dish was all around excellent and I couldn't wait to share it with you. I've made a lot of pleasant yet mediocre white wine and tomato sauces for quick meals in the past, but the secret to this recipe is to use dry Vermouth—the naturally infused herbs in the alcohol pair perfectly with the succulent shrimp, which maintain that wonderful fire-kissed taste from the very first step, a quick sauté on high heat. Spicy chili flakes offer a nice kick against the acidic tomatoes and lemon. I wrote that baking the skillet to melt the feta was optional...but do you really want to skip that bubbling, golden goodness? I served this dish atop a hearty bed of quinoa, accompanied by a light salad of arugala tossed with olive oil, the lemon half you don't need for this recipe, and salt & pepper.  All done in 25 minutes from start to finish. So maybe no flame, but certainly worthy of a jeté!

Shrimp Sauté, sans Flambé
Serves 2

2 tbsp EVOO, divided
1/2 lb (about 22) raw shrimp, peeled, deveined, and patted dry
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1/4 tsp hot red pepper flakes
1/2 cup dry Vermouth
1 15 oz can diced tomatoes, drained
1/4 cup chopped parsley + 2 tbsp, divided
1/4 cup crumbed feta
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 cup cooked quinoa

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

2. Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Flash cook shrimp for 1 minute, stirring frequently, until shrimp just begins to pink and the outsides turn brown. Remove shrimp from heat and set aside in a small bowl.

3. Add remaining olive oil (1 tbsp) to the skillet; reduce heat to medium- low. Add in garlic and red pepper flakes, stirring constantly so garlic does not burn, for 2 minutes. Add in 1/4 cup dry Vermouth and cook until Vermouth thickens and half the liquid is evaporated; about 3 minutes.

4. Return heat to medium and add tomatoes to skillet. Cook for 2 minutes and add the rest of the Vermouth (1/4 cup), chopped parsley, and dash of salt & pepper. (lf at this point too much liquid has evaporated, pour in more Vermouth.) After 1 minute, return shrimp to skillet. Turn off heat.

5. Sprinkle juice from 1/2 lemon over shrimp and tomato mixture, and add the crumbled feta cheese. Place skillet in the oven and bake for 6 minutes, or until cheese is melted and golden on top. (This step can be skipped if you don't mind forgoing the baked feta. Simply sprinkle in skillet and stir around for a more cheesy sauce; or sprinkle raw feta atop dish before serving as a garnish.)

6. Remove skillet from oven. Pour contents of skillet evenly over 2 bowls of quinoa, and sprinkle with remaining chopped parsley.