Thursday, October 5, 2017

Smoky Summer Squash and Yogurt Spread | The Recipe Hunters

By nature of its definition, the “sustainable” part of “sustainable food” can be expounded in different ways. The most widely used description pertains to the environmental component, i.e., conserving ecological balance through mindful environmental practices—eating locally to reduce carbon footprint, enhance the wellbeing of the local farming community, that sort of thing.

The social component, while omnipresent, is sometimes overlooked. A sustainable food system should enhance a community’s social well-being, celebrate their social values. For example, the social interaction at a farmers market contributes to its sustainability, in addition to the local nature of the produce. As would using that produce to cook a meal for a group of friends or family. In the world of sustainable food, the act of eating together— sharing experiences, passing down recipes— is not as perfunctory as one might think.

All over the world, cultures retain livelihood partially thanks to this social environment built upon food. A tapestry of food, interaction, and stories weave together to create the way of life that defines a people. This is sustainability—both in terms of food, and the inherent meaning of the word itself. Propelling a particular identity forward, one that happens to be grounded in food. Everyone has their own, and The Recipe Hunters are hungry, literally, to seek them out.

Over the summer I had the privilege of meeting the self-titled Recipe Hunters, Leila Elamine and Anthony Morano, and was deeply moved by the work they do. In a nutshell, Leila and Anthony travel the globe to find authentic and traditional family recipes, recording the stories behind the people and dishes as they go. To understand the seasonal produce of a particular region, they volunteer at local farms; immersing themselves in the culture they wish to capture. “Once we find someone special who cooks traditional food with passion, experience, and love, we record the entire process with photography, video, and writing,” they explain. Their mission boils down to using food as a medium to build community, preserve culture heritage, and re-establish the dining table as the familial centerpiece.

The first week in August, Leila and Anthony hosted a restaurant takeover to cook a feast of mezze recipes they had “hunted” during their travels in the Middle East. As guests, we traversed a whirlwind journey to Lebanon, Palestine, Egypt, and Syria by flavor, each stop accompanied by an intimate anecdote from Leila and Anthony’s time spent in that region. They would fondly recall a cook by name, who we could conveniently follow on the menu. Rather then eat zaa’tar, I ate Doha’s zaa’tar. Amal’s hummus. Marietta’s eggplant fritters. To acknowledge the authors of each recipe in writing was to bridge their distance, allowing their identities to dine in NYC with us along with their fare and tales.

Mezze is one of my favorite categories of cuisine, and I could wax poetic about Khuta’s Zahra Bi Tahineh, roasted cauliflower drizzled in tahini sauce, and Elena’s elioti, unleavened olive and cilantro bread, until the cows come home. But if I had to choose just one dish out of the 11 served that was my favorite, I think it would be Mtabal Koosa Ma’Laban by Doha from Palestine: a summer squash and yogurt spread I greedily and sloppily slathered over pita after pita. A sucker for mashed vegetable dips (see my Roasted Cauliflower and Garlic dip) I loved the way the deeply roasted earthy-sweet squash pulp tasted with the tart, creamy yogurt; whisked amply with brazen garlic, slick grassy olive oil, and quality sea salt. This dip will remind you of others in the region—tzatziki and labneh to name a few—but truly maintains an identity of its own with the delightful smoky summer squash. (For apartment-dwellers lacking a grill, charring vegetables on an open gas-burning stove top is a wonderful way to char the skin to a blackened crisp and achieve that grill-scorched flavor on the interior. Just make sure you monitor said veggies carefully so they don't catch on fire)! A cinch to whip up, the dip is aptly seasonal despite the cooling weather: summer squash are still prolific at the farmers markets right now.

Hungry to keep living vicariously through The Recipe Hunters? Visit their website or YouTube Channel to watch their culinary adventures in action and get more delicious, storied recipes.

Smoky Summer Squash and Yogurt Spread (Mtabal Koosa Ma’Laban)
By Doha via The Recipe Hunters

4 medium sized summer squash
1.5 cloves of garlic
5 tsp sea salt
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 cup of tart, plain yogurt

1. Fire roast the summer squash or cook them directly over a medium-high flame on a gas burner until their skins are charred and their insides are soft.
2. Using a mortar and a pestle, mash the garlic with the salt.
3. In a bowl, stir the garlic and salt in the yogurt. Peel open the squash and use a spoon or your hands to crape the pulp into the yogurt. Stir the yogurt until everything is evenly dispersed.
4. Drizzle with EVOO and serve with lots of pita.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Quick & Easy Pickles

Today, I introduce to you a cure for summer vegetable anxiety: quick and easy homemade pickles. Despite the fact that I consume more vegetables than anyone I know, I cannot keep up with all the veggies I’ve been buying at the farmers market. Peppers, squash, okra, fennel, zucchini, beets, much is in season right now, and though I try to gather only what I'll eat for the week, I'm so tickled by all of the out-of-the-box heirloom varieties that I end up buying triple the amount I set out to. I'm sorry, but who can resist purple carrots, avocado zucchini, and yellow cucumbers!? Not this girl. 

Now, what is an overly-eager vegetable splurger to do in this situation? I marvel at the idea of making preserves— peeling open a jar of home-canned tomatoes in the dead of winter for a delicious flashback to summer—but in true New Yorker fashion, I have no patience and no storage space. If I'm going to pickle or preserve, it's gotta work at my speed and be ready to eat by the next day. Enter Quick & Easy Pickles.

Sensationally vinegary with just the right amount of sweet and salty, these pickles are a cinch to whip up, requiring 30 minutes of pickling time and lasting for at least 2 weeks. You can eat them with anything and everything: on top of sandwiches, mixed into salads, a kimchi substitute in a homemade rice or grain bowl. They are virtually giardiniera in the fast lane—that lovely mix of antipasto vegetables you see sometimes at Italian restaurants. Fittingly, giardiniera translates to "garden" in English; the method was traditionally used to preserve prolific homegrown vegetables.

So back to those nonconformist heirloom veggies—what a perfect place to showcase those vibrant purple, yellow and orange hues! I urge you to seek out the craziest-colored produce you can find for this sprightly relish. Purple cauliflower is definitely up for my next batch.

Quick & Easy Pickles (from Nutrition Action newsletter)

Enough thinly sliced vegetables to fill 1 pint-sized Mason jar (16 oz), tightly packed (try onion, carrot, fennel, cucumber, cauliflower, pepper)
¼ cup white wine vinegar
1 tsp salt
1 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp pickling spices

Bring vinegar, salt, sugar, pickling spices and ¾ cup water to boil. Pour over the vegetables to cover. Chill for at least half an hour before serving.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Fusilli with Pea Pesto

Peas, please! I have a strange obsession with peas. English peas, shelling peas, sugar snap peas, you name it—I find all peas as delightful as a chocolate and vanilla swirled soft-serve ice cream cone on a hot summer day. I keep them year round in the freezer, where they require frequent restocking—once I start on those tiny frozen sweet pops of flavor, I just can’t stop.

Once upon a time, peas were synonymous with institutionalized, terrible settings like hospitals and
nursing homes. Here, I think of the dulled, sickly hue of canned peas slopped unceremoniously onto a cafeteria tray: “Maude picked at her meatloaf, instant mashed potatoes, and peas with repugnance as her IV dripped in the background.” But peas—as my father says of Pittsburgh— are undergoing a renaissance. I’ve seen them smashed alongside avocado in swanky guacamoles, and taking center stage in all sorts of creative pestos. A long overdue recognition, as these pint-sized pod-dwellers have been enhancing my pastas, stir fries, salads and sauces for years. And what do you know—tis the season for local peas. Let us shell with abandon!

The following recipe is for Fusilli with Pea Pesto. I will say right now that neither hubby nor I are basil pesto enthusiasts, but we loved this recipe. While I find basil pesto a bit too grassy and harsh, this pea pesto was sweet, richly flavored and smooth, totally dulcet and the perfect mild, hot-summer-night dressing to a lazy pasta bowl. In fact, I first made this pesto on one of those unbearably humid summer evenings, and I didn’t even make the pesto from scratch—just picked up a container from Whole Foods (I love how they add pepitas) and blended some fresh peas right in. The pasta was a one-pot affair, I added halved cherry tomatoes and canned chickpeas to the boiling water just a few minutes before straining. I’m providing the cheat-recipe below, but Smitten Kitchen makes a lovely from-scratch version here.

The result was sheer perfection: a 15-minute dinner as satisfying as it is summerish. If you have access to a local farmers market, do take the time to go pick out your peas fresh—the sorting process is enjoyably tactile and almost cathartic (do you exercise to relieve stress? No, I pick through and shell peas) and the local pods are unequivocally worth it.

Fusilli with Pea Pesto
Serves 4

6 oz basil pesto (I like Whole Foods version with pepitas, or make from scratch)
1½ cups fresh peas (from approximately 1½ pounds peas in pods)
¾ cup grape tomatoes, halved
1 cup canned chickpeas, drained
12 oz fusilli pasta (I used Norwich Meadow Farm jerusalem artichoke fusilli, which is fantastic)
Parmesan cheese, for garnish

1. Cook the peas. Fill a large bowl with ice water. Bring a small saucepan of lightly salted water to a boil, add peas and cook for 2 minutes, then drain and add to the ice water. Drain again. 

2. In a large bowl, combine the prepared pesto and cooked peas. Use an immersion blender to blend uniformly. (Alternatively, use a blender). It should be very thick, as you'll add liquid later.

3. Cook pasta al dente according to package directions. 2-3 minutes before draining, add grape tomatoes and chickpeas to the pot. Reserve about 2 cups pasta cooking water, then drain and return pasta, tomatoes, and chickpeas to pot. Over moderate heat, toss contents with pesto and as much reserved pasta water as needed to smooth and distribute pesto. Adjust seasonings to taste. Serve immediately, topped with fresh Parmesan.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Summer Farro Salad with Cubed Mozzarella, Tomato & Fresh Herbs

Like your favorite college sweatshirt, this Summer Farro Salad with Cubed Mozzarella, Tomato & Fresh Herbs is comfy, trusty, and familiar—as if you've known it for years. Embark on the recipe and you'll be swooning at first bite, a budding courtship that will blossom quickly into a dependable old pal. This recipe is a shoo-in for your regular summer salad rotation, so you're sure to remain well acquainted.

Can a salad be described as easygoing? This one-pot farro bowl is a pleasurable cinch.  It's effortless to make, store, transport, and keep. The ancillary ingredients are common enough to appeal to any crowd—who can't resist briny olives, juicy tomatoes, and fresh parsley/basil in a slug of tangy vinegar and slick olive oil?—yet just different enough to incite intrigued pause. I know, you were expecting feta after hearing olives and tomatoes, but how refreshing are those soft, tender cubes of mozzarella instead? Did you notice that instead of depending on the dressing to brighten the earthy crunch of farro, the grain is delicately encased in it's own thick, caramelized broth, thanks to cooking along side fresh parsley, garlic and onion in stock-like fashion?

Easygoing yet intriguing, the definition of a winning crowd-pleaser. This salad screams "summer picnic" all over it, and it delivers exceptionally.

How familiar are you with farro? Let's switch gears to talk about this wholesome grain. As I recently learned from the Greenmarket Regional Grains Project, a Grow NYC-backed endeavor to encourage consumers to buy locally milled and grown grains & legumes, farro is not a single entity. Rather, it is the blanket term for a family of three grains: farro piccolo (einkorn), farro medio (emmer) and farro grande (spelt). Emmer, the kind most often found in the US, is available in two forms: whole, with a hardened texture similar to popcorn kernels, and softer pearled, resembling the look of barley. Whole farro takes longer to cook—you're looking at 60-75 minutes of simmering unless soaked in advance overnight. Pearled farro has had some of it's bran removed (the seed's outer skin) and thus cooks closer to 15-20 minutes. Does it matter which variety you buy? Not really. Losing some bran in the pearled variety does eliminate a bit of fiber, but the good stuff— "the disease-preventing, metabolism-boosting, blood-sugar-stabilizing, cholesterol-lowering antioxidants, fibers, vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, and the like", according to Serious Eats Guide to Whole Grains—is found in the germ, which maintains intact for both varietals.

Given that this recipe is a Northeast locavore's dream—tomatoes, red onion, zucchini, parsley and basil are all in season at the farmers markets—why not go local for your grains, too? "The new frontier in local food," says the Regional Grains Project. In a season where vegetable-speckled, oil and vinegar based salads reign supreme, the timing sure is right.

Summer Farro Salad with Cubed Mozzarella, Tomato & Herbs
(from Food52)
Serves 8 to 12

For the salad
2 cups uncooked farro 
1 medium red onion, cut in half 
1 clove garlic 
handful of fresh parsley plus 1 tablespoon finely chopped 
1/2 tsp salt, plus more if needed 
1 cup finely diced (about 1/4 "cubes) fresh mozzarella cheese 
2 tsp minced pitted kalamata olives 
1 pint grape tomatoes, cut into quarters 
1 zucchini, cut in quarters lengthwise and thinly sliced (optional)
1 Tbsp finely chopped fresh basil 
Freshly ground pepper, to taste 

For the dressing
Scant 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (can use less, I used 1/8 cup)
1 tsp balsamic vinegar 
1 Tbsp red wine vinegar 
2 tsp honey 

1. Add the farro, one onion half, garlic, handful of parsley and salt along with 2 3/4 cups water to a 2 quart pot. Bring to a boil, then cover, reduce to a simmer, and cook for 10 minutes*. Turn off burner and let sit, covered, for 5 more minutes. Discard the onion, garlic and large pieces of parsley. Spread out on a rimmed sheet pan and let cool completely (do not skip this step or the mozzarella will melt into the finished dish). 
2. Whisk together the olive oil, vinegars and honey to prepare the dressing. Chop the remaining onion half finely. Add onion, cooled farro, mozzarella, kalamata olives, tomatoes, zucchini, remaining tablespoon of parsley and basil to a deep bowl. Pour the dressing over the ingredients and stir well to combine, using a long wooden spoon or rubber spatula. Season with salt and pepper. The salad is ready to serve, but can also be made and stored in the fridge, covered, one day ahead.

*This is the cooking time for pearled farro. Whole farro will take anywhere from 40 to 75 minutes to cook. Monitor and taste frequently to determine when the grain is ready—it should be easy to bite yet slightly firm, like al dente pasta. 

Monday, June 12, 2017

Spicy Peanut Dressing

Don’t cook. Here’s why.

Last weekend I saw the first batch of local summer squash (shout out to New Jerz and your slightly warmer climate) oblong, squat, or slender in a rainbow of buttercup yellow and sage green; sugar snap peas, shelling peas, fava beans; tomatoes large and small. The bounty will continue to amass, accruing peppers, stone fruits, and cucumbers, begetting infinite possibilities in the kitchen. But for me, the time has never been riper to not cook.

By not cook, I mean not heat; rather, enjoy these fruits and vegetables in their raw form. Just yesterday I purchased my first local strawberries and was blown away by how juicy, sweet, and intensely flavorful the pint-sized locals compared to the genetically-altered Driscoll giants. We all know that less food miles equals a fresher foodstuff, rendering it unequivocally superior in taste as well. But in the colder months, when the only options are supermarket produce hailing from other continents, it can be easy to forget just how monumental the flavor gap is. I grew used to my Trader Joe’s sugar snap peas, until they once again became available to me locally. The difference is night and day.

What I ask is simple: take a moment to delight in the vim and vigor of local produce. Even if it’s just cutting a slice of zucchini before it goes into the pan for stir-fry, experience what that difference tastes like.

This Spicy Peanut Dressing is a versatile condiment to relish all vegetables in their uncooked glory. It can live as a summer crudité dipping sauce, a chopped leafy green salad dressing, or the flavor mainstay of cold sesame noodles/zucchini noodles. It is sweet and nutty, spicy and vinegary, and overall, utterly drinkable (spotted: husband consuming sauce by the spoonful out of the jar. I’m only guilty of petty misdemeanor plate-licking). On these 90+ degree days, where the thought of turning on a stovetop burner feels like it might be the final straw to literally melt you into a puddle, pull out this dressing. (It keeps for weeks in the fridge, tripling the recipe is highly recommended). Pair with any variety of cool, crisp vegetables. Rinse, repeat, all throughout summer. 

A few ideas for ingredient combinations (just add protein):
  • Lacinato kale, mint, cucumber, pomegranate seeds
  • Soba noodles, cabbage, carrot , mango, sesame seeds
  • Rice wrappers, cucumber, jicama, bell pepper, scallions
  • Lettuce cups, sweet potato, radish, cilantro 

Spicy Peanut Dressing (from Food52)
Makes 3/4 of a cup; dressing for 4

3 tablespoons smooth natural peanut butter
3 tablespoons warm water
3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses or honey
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon fresh garlic, minced
2 teaspoons fresh ginger, peeled and minced
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon dried red chili flakes

Mix together all ingredients by hand or in a blender.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Asparagus, Pea and Goat Cheese Frittata

Locavores, rejoice. After an interminable wait, spring’s signature produce has finally arrived. Cue major farmers market kvelling over Saturday's visit to Abingdon Square Greenmarket, where ramps, fiddlehead ferns, rhubarb, grape tomatoes, and the king of them all, asparagus, were brightly displayed in ravishing novelty. It’s even the season for eggs—fowl egg-laying is triggered by lengthening daylight come Spring.
Cup of Jo—one of my favorite lifestyle blogs —is conducting a recipe series this month featuring the best of seasonal produce, so I tackled their very first featured recipe: Asparagus, Pea and Goat Cheese Frittata. Normally, I shirk away from frittatas, as this egg preparation tends to be a saturated fat surfeit that's way too rich for my palate. Indeed, the original recipe called for plenteous amounts of oil, butter, and heavy cream in addition to fat-rich eggs and goat cheese. But I was not to be deterred! I eliminated (most) of these extra fat sources and added a healthy dosage of asparagus for a result that was spot on spring-lite: fresh veggies stole the spotlight instead of being overshadowed by their artery-clogging peers, with a tinge of buttery goat cheese folded into the fluffy eggs for a wholesome finish.

You could even call this frittata a veggie-spiked Spanish omelet, as layers of potato are an instrumental addition to the veggies, cheese, and egg. Stacked in classic Spanish tortilla style, the sweet, buttery potatoes add true substance to the dish—you don't even need a slice of toast on the side for that carb fix. It also makes the frittata extremely versatile for any meal. While I ate it two days in a row for breakfast, it made a satisfying dinner the next few nights as well (and kept, in the fridge, like a gem).

Cooking time may vary: I shaved off about 10 minutes on the potatoes and forwent letting them cool, but noticed my eggs needed a bit more than the allotted 35-40 minutes to cook (stick a knife in the center and when it emerges cleanly, you are good to go). I acknowledge that this recipe is a time commitment, and other egg preparations could be completed with the same ingredients in a fraction of the time. But I promise: when you cut into that first slice of beautifully layered potato and egg pie, it is so worth it.

Asparagus, Pea and Goat Cheese Frittata (lightened up from Cup of Jo)
Serves 6

2 Tbsp canola oil
1 small yellow onion, cut in half and into medium slices
3 large russet potatoes, peeled and sliced 1⁄8-inch thick
Kosher salt
Freshly cracked black pepper
6 large eggs
2 Tbsp finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
1⁄4 cup low-fat milk
Half a bunch asparagus, ends removed and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 cup peas (if frozen, thawed)
1⁄3 cup crumbled goat cheese

1. Place a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 400F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and set aside.

2.In a medium sauté pan set over medium heat, heat 1 tablespoon oil. Add the onions and cook, stirring, for 6 minutes, until translucent and just starting to brown. Add 3 tablespoons of water and cook for about 4 minutes, scraping up any brown bits from the bottom of the pan, until the water evaporates and the onions take on a uniform brown color.

3,Transfer the onions to the prepared roasting pan. Add the potato slices and toss well. Add 1 tablespoon of oil and season generously with salt and pepper. Toss with tongs. Cover the pan with foil.

4. Bake until the potatoes are tender, 25 to 30 minutes. Let cool for 15 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 350F.

5. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, parsley and milk. Stir in the peas, asparagus, and half of the goat cheese. Season with salt and pepper.

6. Coat a 10-inch cast-iron skillet set over medium-high heat with cooking spray or an additional tablespoon of oil. Add half of the cooked potatoes and goat cheese to the pan. Top with half of the egg mixture, spreading the veggies as evenly as possible across the pan. Add the remaining potatoes, followed by the remaining egg mixture, again spreading the remaining peas, asparagus and goat cheese across the tortilla. Cover with foil.

7. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for 5 to 10 more minutes, until the tortilla is slightly browned and lightly puffed. Slice and serve directly from the skillet, warm or at room temperature.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Roasted Cauliflower and Garlic Dip

I would argue that NYC Jews exiting to suburbia for their respective Passover seders is a modern yet terrifically spot-on reenactment of the Jewish Exodus in BCE. Seriously, let's count the parallels. First, the Jews leave in a haste. Pharaoh wasn't joking around; New Yorkers are always in a rush. Second, the journey was long. Eek, the desert is huge; but subway to train station to train to car and back again ain't quite the picnic, either. Third, they took everything they owned. Possessions, livestock, unleavened breads; I am carrying this morning's gym bag, a bag of winter clothing I need my mother to store in her basement, my purse, a box of everything Tam Tam's, and....

 This Roasted Cauliflower and Garlic Dip. A lovely, rich, transportable, picturesque display of an appetizer that does Passover well—and if you can nail the travel, unrefrigeration, and chametz restrictions of this fine holiday, you can do anything.

What I like so much about this dip applies to my Butternut Squash & Tahini Spread as well—it has that sensationally creamy texture so essential to the condiment's namesake, plus interesting, fresh flavors that one just cannot create with an off-the-shelf hummus. (I love hummus as much as the next person, but does anything say "I tried" less?) Here, richness has depth from earthy cauliflower, deeply roasted garlic and toasted pepitas, made sprightly with bright lemon and sweet nutmeg. A generous glug of good quality olive oil ensures a grassy, golden finish.  Finally, the bowl is topped with verdant parsley dice and whole pepitas, adding aesthetic flare to the modest-looking dip. If laying the bowl on a board, consider adding whole parsley sprigs and lemon quarters to up the visual ante even more.

For Passover, serve the Roasted Cauliflower and Garlic Dip with veggie sticks and Tam Tam crackers (I will point out here that the fiber-rich cauliflower will help with some of the digestive hold-ups, if you will, of an 8-day matzoh diet). If making the dip any other day, accompany with toasted pita wedges or flatbread.

Roasted Cauliflower and Garlic Dip (from Cup of Jo)
Serves 6

4 cups 3/4-inch thick cauliflower florets
1 head garlic, root end trimmed and broken into cloves
4 tbsp plus 2 tsp extra virgin olive oil, divided
2 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
3 tbsp pepitas
2 tbsp minced flatleaf parsley
Sea salt
Ground cayenne pepper to taste
Flatbreads or crackers, for serving

1. Preheat oven to 425F.

2. In a medium-sized bowl, toss cauliflower florets and garlic cloves (still in their papery skin) with 1 tbsp olive oil. Spread on a rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle generously with sea salt. Make sure garlic is tucked up against the cauliflower florets to protect it from the heat. Flipping halfway through, roast until cauliflower is tender and golden, about 20-25 minutes. Set aside to cool.

3. Meanwhile, set a small skillet over medium heat. Add 1 teaspoon olive oil, then the pepitas. Toast 2-3 minutes, just until the seeds become fragrant and a few start to pop. Toss with sea salt and set aside.

4. When cool enough to handle, squeeze roasted garlic out of the papery skins.

5. In the bowl of a food processor, pulse to combine roasted cauliflower and garlic, 2 tablespoons toasted pepitas, lemon juice, nutmeg and cayenne pepper to taste. With food processor running, drizzle in 3 tablespoons olive oil (for a creamier dip, add up to 2 more tablespoons olive oil). Taste and add additional sea salt, cayenne and lemon juice as needed.

6. Spoon dip into a wide bowl, drizzle with remaining teaspoon olive oil, minced parsley and remaining toasted pepitas. Serve with warm flatbread triangles, crackers, or raw veggie sticks. 

Friday, March 10, 2017

Rice, Twice as Nice: Kitchen Sink Fried & Sweet with Carrots and Nuts

Do you own a rice cooker? As a Manhattan apartment dweller, space constraints force me to be extremely particular about which kitchen gadgets I choose to invest in. I can’t imagine life without my rice cooker, even though its permanent storage space is on top of my refrigerator.

The premise of the rice cooker is this. You rinse your rice (they are SO insistent on this), dump it into the cooker with equal parts water plus ½ cup, and leave. Well, you don’t have to leave, but what you won’t face is the following scenario: keeping an eye on your rice for 40 minutes, cursing every time it bubbles over and raging when you YET AGAIN end up with an areal coating of burnt rice stuck to the bottom of the pan.
The rice cooker, on the other hand, serves up perfectly cooked rice; fluffy, light, and airy, plus 40 minutes of pure leisure. Mine also cooks quinoa, and the consistency is spot-on every time as well. However, most cookers require a minimum amount of dried grains—about two cups—and the large yield has caused me to get extremely creative with my usage of rice. I’d like to share with you two of my favorite recipes so far: Goop’s Kitchen Sink Fried Rice and Louisa Shafia’s Sweet Rice with Carrots and Nuts.
(This is probably the point where you’re expecting me to reveal the brand of my rice cooker and a footnote that this post was paid for by the brand. Here’s the truth: my rice cooker got recalled, and I’ve been wallowing in self-pity over my regression to burnt sticky saucepan rice as I wait for its replacement. Which only further affirms my argument for the necessity of the cooker!)

Both rice recipes are excellent, and shine in their own right. Kitchen Sink Fried Rice is the ultimate flexibility recipe, a chance to use up any combination of leftover vegetables and always triumph due to its vibrant Asian flavors, accented by fresh herbs and biting ginger. You can elevate this dish even more by forgoing the egg and adding a piece of miso-glazed cod on top, as impressive as it is (surprisingly) easy.
Louisa Shafia’s Sweet Rice with Carrots and Nuts takes you on a journey to Persia, a magnificent adventure in honeyed flavors and hues. Spices cinnamon, cardamom, turmeric, and saffron render the rice exotic, while orange zest provides a nice bite against the sweet. Coconut oil provides a rich, nutty undertone as well. This recipe shines on its own, and is served best accompanied by a simple roast chicken. If you are looking for a satisfying, compelling dish for a dinner party, Shafia’s sweet rice can be your centerpiece.
Of course, you don't need a rice cooker for these recipes, and a (closely-watched) saucepan will produce more than adequate rice. But if you do choose to invest, remember that besides producing excellent rice, the cooker forces you to expand your recipe repertoire—you’ll be surprised just how electric rice can be!

Kitchen Sink Fried Rice (from Goop)
Serves 2

3 Tbsp olive, coconut, or canola oil, divided
2 beaten eggs
1 to 2 cups leftover cooked brown rice
1 to 2 cups leftover mixed veggies, finely chopped (such as mushrooms, carrots, cabbage, broccoli, bok choy)
2 tsp minced or grated ginger
2 garlic cloves, grated
2 Tbsp fish sauce
2 Tbsp soy sauce or coconut aminos
2 scallions, thinly sliced
2 Tbsp each basil, cilantro, mint (or a combination)
2 large wedges of lime

1. (This first direction is if you are using egg. If pairing with cod, skip to step 2 and see cod recipe below). Heat 1 Tbsp of the oil in a wok or 12-inch nonstick sauté pan over medium heat. Add the egg and a pinch of salt, and scramble the egg until just cooked but still soft. Transfer to your serving dish.
2. Add another Tbsp of oil to the pan, turn the heat to medium high, and sauté the veggies until just cooked through (this will vary depending on the type and size of veggies). Transfer to the dish with the scrambled egg.
3. Pour in the last Tbsp of olive oil and add the rice, cooking over medium high heat for 1 minute, or until starting to brown and sizzle.
4. Add the ginger and garlic and cook 30 seconds, stirring constantly.
5. Add back in the egg and veggies and pour in the fish sauce and soy sauce/coconut aminos. Cook for 30 seconds just to combine all of the ingredients and flavors.
6. Mix in the scallion and fresh herbs and serve each portion with a wedge of lime.

Miso Glazed Cod (from Ellie Krieger)
Serves 2

2 (6-ounce) cod fillets
2 Tbsp white miso
1 Tbsp dark brown sugar
½ tsp toasted sesame oil
1 Tbsp mirin (Japanese cooking wine)
Toasted sesame seeds and scallions, for garnish (optional)

1. Preheat broiler.
2. Rinse fish fillets and pat dry with paper towels. Combine miso, brown sugar, sesame oil and mirin and stir well until brown sugar is fully dissolved.
3. Brush about 2 Tbsp miso glaze on each fish fillet. Marinate for at least 30 minutes, or up to 1 hour. Place fish under broiler for 3 to 4 minutes, or until top is slightly charred and glaze has caramelized. Remove fish from oven and brush with remaining glaze. Lower oven to 375 degrees F. Cook an additional 5 to 6 minutes, until fish is flaky but not overcooked.
4. Serve with toasted sesame seeds and scallions, if desired.

Sweet Rice with Carrots and Nuts (from Lousia Shafia)
Serves 6

2 cups white basmati rice, soaked in cold water for 1 hour (soaking optional)
3 cups water
Sea salt
2 Tbsp butter or unrefined coconut oil, at room temperature (optional, I omitted this)
2 to 3 Tbsp unrefined coconut oil
1 yellow onion, finely diced
2 cups grated carrots (about 3 large carrots)
½ cup slivered or coarsely chopped almonds, toasted
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground cardamom
¼ tsp ground turmeric
½ cup pistachios, coarsely chopped, plus 1 Tbsp for garnish
Grated zest of 1 large orange
¼ cup honey (I used 1/8 cup, I suggest halving if you are sensitive to sweetness)
½ tsp saffron, ground and steeped in 1 Tbsp hot water

1. Cook rice in rice cooker, or: Drain the rice and rinse under cold water until the water runs clear. In a stockpot, combine the water and a pinch of salt and bring to a boil. Add the rice, return to a boil, then turn down the heat to its lowest setting. Cover and cook for 20 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the rice rest for 5 minutes, then dot with the butter (optional) and fluff with a fork. The rice should be dry and fluffy.
2. While the rice cooks, heat a small skillet over medium heat and sauté the onion in the coconut oil for about 15 minutes, until lightly browned. Add the carrots, almonds, cinnamon, cardamom, and turmeric, and cook, stirring often, for about 10 minutes, until the carrots are tender. Add 1/2 cup pistachios, the orange zest, and the honey and cook for about 2 minutes, until heated through. Season with salt.
3. Scoop the rice into a large bowl. Add the carrot mixture and drizzle in the saffron. Mix gently and season with salt. Garnish with the remaining 1 Tbsp pistachios.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Spring Quinoa Bowl with Asparagus and Peas

Although I could singlehandedly stage an all-night Talkathon with the amount I have to say about my love for winter root vegetables, these balmy 60 degree days have got me seriously craving some springtime fare. Signatures like peas, asparagus, and radishes won’t be available locally until the beginning of May, but this Spring Quinoa Bowl with Asparagus and Peas totally satisfies the yearning. (New mantra: if you can’t shop locally, shop for an ingredient list that can be exclusively filled at Trader Joe’s). Somewhere in between a salad and a grain bowl, this hearty dish showcases spring’s best produce offerings, plus a major protein boost from chickpeas and hard-boiled egg. Finished with a lemony-mustard vinaigrette, the bright, citrusy flavors create the perfect palate as we eagerly anticipate spring’s arrival.

Lunch? Dinner? Likely both, as this verdant bowl begs to be doubled or tripled, a big-batch dish for sure. Substitutions are highly encouraged: swapping is the name of the game here. Sick of quinoa? Try farro or orzo instead. Craving something nutty? Forget pepitas, and garnish with chopped almonds or toasted pistachios. Looking for an alternate protein source? Try subbing feta cheese for chickpeas, or shrimp for the hard-boiled egg. Mint would go beautifully instead of parsley. And because I just presented you with a trendy, whole-ingredient grain bowl: yes, sliced avocado would be a lovely addition too.
Spring Quinoa Bowl with Asparagus and Peas (adopted from Two Peas & Their Pod)
Serves 2


For the bowl:
½ cup raw quinoa
6 oz asparagus (about 10 thick spears), trimmed
½ cup English peas
¾ cup chickpeas
4 radishes, sliced
¼ cup toasted pepitas
2 Tbsp parsley, chopped
2 hard-boiled eggs, sliced
2 large handfuls of arugula (about 4 cups)

For the dressing:
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
1 Tbsp white wine vinegar
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp Dijon mustard
½ tsp honey
Salt & pepper

1.     Roast the asparagus. Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Lay out a sheet of tin foil over a baking pan, and toss asparagus with 1 tsp olive oil, salt, and pepper. Bake until just tender, 12 to 15 minutes (less for thin spears). After they’ve cooled, chop spears into 1-inch pieces.
2.     Cook the quinoa. Rinse quinoa thoroughly under cold water, then place in a small saucepan with 1 cup of water. Cover pot and bring to a boil, then simmer until liquid is absorbed, 15 to 20 minutes. Fluff with a fork.

3.     Make the dressing. Combine the lemon zest and juice, vinegar, oil, mustard, honey, salt, and pepper together and whisk thoroughly. Adjust seasonings to taste.

4.     Assemble the bowls, dividing the ingredients equally between the two.  Start with placing the arugula in a wide, shallow bowl. Top with half the quinoa, asparagus, peas, chickpeas, radishes, and egg.  Drizzle the dressing. Top with pepitas and parsley before serving.