August 23, 2009

Indian-Spiced Okra

An Indian-style spice mixture is my favorite way to dress up fresh okra. Keeping the okra pods whole prevents them from becoming overly mucilaginous.
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 small onion, thinly sliced (about 1/4 cup)
1 clove garlic, chopped
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp chili powder
1/4 tsp ground turmeric
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp fennel seeds, lightly crushed with mortar and pestle
1 pound okra, stems removed (slice right at the base of the stem, avoid cutting into the pod)
1 Tbsp lemon juice
sea salt 
freshly ground black pepper
  • Heat oil and butter in a saute pan over medium heat.
  • Saute onion with a pinch of salt until it starts to soften, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and saute for another minute, stirring.
  • Add spices and stir for 1 minute. Add okra and a pinch of salt, and stir to coat evenly with the spices. 
  • Add 1/3 cup water to the pan, stir, and cover. Cook for 8-10 minutes, or until okra is tender. Add a little more water if the pan gets too dry.
  • Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  • Great as a side dish or as a main course over brown basmati rice.

August 12, 2009

Vegetable Swapping Hits NYC

The author's analogies are a little over the top in this article . Example: shiso tastes like old mutton romping through cilantro. Seriously? Well, it's entirely possible that I haven't paid close enough attention to the subtleties of the shiso leaf. But if I had a garden, I would totally do this veggie-swapping thing. Unfortunately I haven't worked up the motivation to plant the fire escape yet.

August 11, 2009

Maple-Mustard String Beans

My new favorite kitchen gadget that I now can't imagine living without: an expandable steamer. Now I can cook veggies till perfectly crisp-tender without waiting for a big pot of water to boil for blanching or having to shock the vegetables in an ice bath. (Although you could still use an ice bath after steaming if you want the vegetables to be cold right away.) Steaming, as opposed to blanching or boiling, also keeps more nutrients in the vegetables you are cooking.

To steam, bring a small amount of water (about an inch deep) to a boil in a pot or large saucepan that is wide enough to hold the steamer basket. Place steamer in the pot, making sure the water does not touch the bottom of the basket. Arrange veggies in the basket, cover the pot, turn heat to low, and steam to desired doneness. 

Maple-Mustard String Beans
Serves 4 to 6 as a side dish

1 to 1-1/2 pounds string beans (I used a combination of green and yellow)
1 Tbsp whole-grain Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp maple syrup (I like Grade B - it's darker and richer,  great for dressings)
1 Tbsp red wine vinegar
4 Tbsp XVOO
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
  • Wash string beans and trim stem ends.  Steam beans until they tender but still have some bite, 8 to 10 minutes. 
  • Whisk together Dijon mustard, maple syrup, red wine vinegar, and pinches of salt and pepper in a large bowl. Slowly add olive oil, whisking constantly.
  • Add string beans to bowl with vinaigrette while they are hot, and toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper, if desired, to taste.
  • Serve warm or at room temperature.

August 5, 2009

Heirloom Tomato and Peach Caprese Salad with Balsamic-Shallot Vinaigrette

Well, it was bound to happen. In the midst of a summer with above-average rainfall and below-average temperatures, it's finally gotten hot as hell here in nyc. I can't bear to do anything that will raise the temperature of my apartment by even a fraction of a degree, which rules out turning on the oven and lighting a stove burner. So my dinners are mostly going to be salads for the foreseeable future.

A fungus referred to as "late blight" has decimated tomato crops throughout the Northeast this summer. So I was surprised to visit the greenmarket today and find a decent selection of heirloom tomatoes (to read more about the blight, see here and here). Immediately an image of one of my favorite salads popped into my head: the classic Caprese -- fat slices of tomato and fresh mozzarella interspersed with fragrant basil leaves and finished with drizzles of extra-virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

Then I spotted beautiful peaches and thought: why not include them too? With a huge bunch of fresh basil (some for the salad, the rest for pesto) and a couple of fat shallots in my arms, my dinner shopping was just about done. Unfortunately, the one cheese stand at the market did not have fresh mozzarella, so I had to buy that from the grocery store. But otherwise this dish is completely farmers' market-sourced (okay, not counting oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper).

Another benefit of buying fresh herbs during the workday - my office was filled with the heavenly perfume of fresh basil all afternoon. Which, I can now report, is quite an effective treatment for computer fog.

Heirloom Tomato and Peach Caprese Salad with Balsamic-Shallot Vinaigrette
(Amounts here are for a salad that serves 1 as a main course or 2 as a side dish)

2 heirloom tomatoes (about 1/2 to 3/4 pound), cut into 1/2-inch thick slices 
1 large ripe peach, cut into 1/2-inch thick slices
6-8 fresh basil leaves
1-2 ounces fresh mozzarella, cut into 1/2 inch slices
1 tsp minced shallot
2 tsp balsamic vinegar (I used a superrich, syrupy 9-year-aged balsamic from Oliviers & Co.)
1 Tbsp + 2 tsp XVOO
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
  • Arrange tomato, peach, and mozzarella slices on a plate or platter, inserting a basil leaf every few slices. (This can be done up to a few hours before serving; keep in the fridge and let sit at room temp for about 30 minutes before serving).
  • Whisk together shallot, balsamic vinegar, and olive oil, and season to taste with salt and pepper.
  • Drizzle vinaigrette over salad just before serving.

August 2, 2009

Summery Zucchini, Sweet Corn, and Arugula Salad

This salad is summer in a bowl! I am not normally a fan of raw zucchini, but when it's sliced paper-thin, tossed with sea salt, and allowed to hang out for a while to draw out moisture, it becomes tender and delicate, retaining its freshness but losing the raw taste. I learned this technique from chef Myra Kornfeld during a class this weekend at the Natural Gourmet Institute.

You can slice the zucchini with a mandoline, the slicing attachment of a food processor (great if you're doing a large quantity), or, if you're feeling particularly masochistic and/or want to practice your knife skills, with a good old chef's knife.

Combined with quick-sauteed corn, peppery arugula, a good extra-virgin olive oil, and a sprinkling of parmesan, I've discovered my new favorite summer salad.

Zucchini, Sweet Corn, and Arugula Salad
Serves 2 as a main course or 4 as a side dish

1 medium zucchini
Kernels from 2 ears of fresh corn
8 ounces of arugula, washed well and dried (about 3 cups)
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
freshly grated parmesan (optional)
  • Slice the zucchini into paper-thin rounds and combine with 1 tsp sea salt in a colander placed over a bowl. Let sit for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally until much of the moisture has been drawn out of the zucchini and it is tender and pliable. Rinse the zucchini with water and pat dry.
  • Saute the corn kernels in 1 tbsp olive oil with pinches of salt and pepper for 2-3 minutes.
  • In a large bowl, combine the arugula, zucchini, and corn. Toss with 2-3 tbsp olive oil and salt and pepper to taste.
  • Top with grated parmesan, if desired.

Butternut Squash, Fennel, and Chickpea Tagine with Couscous Pilaf

Tagine is a traditional North African dish named after the clay pot in which it is made, which has a flat bottom and a conical lid. During cooking, the lid collects condensation and transfers the moisture back to the food at the base, making it a perfect vessel for braising. A tagine is often used to make a stew-like dish including meat, such as lamb or chicken, vegetables, a variety of spices, dried fruit, olives, and preserved lemons. 

I wanted to make a vegetarian tagine, and decided on a sweet and savory combination of butternut squash, fennel, chickpeas, and apricots. For the spice blend, I turned to a terrific combination of cinnamon, cumin, coriander, ginger, nutmeg, and vanilla bean, from a chicken tagine recipe by Mark Bittman. The vanilla bean is the key to the dish, so don't leave it out - it adds incredible flavor and aroma.

Since I don't have an actual tagine, I used an enamel-covered cast iron pot with a lid, which works fine.

Butternut Squash, Fennel, and Chickpea Tagine
Serves 4 to 6

2 tbsp XVOO
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 large onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
pinch of nutmeg
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp coriander
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/2 vanilla bean
1 fennel bulb, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 1 cup)
1 small butternut squash, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 1-1/2 cups)
1 15-ounce can chick peas, rinsed and drained
3 small to medium size tomatoes, diced (about 1 1/2 to 2 cups; canned diced tomatoes would also be fine)
1/2 cup unsulfured dried apricots, chopped
sea salt
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • Heat olive oil and butter in a heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Add onions and a pinch of salt, and saute until soft, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and stir for 1 minute. Stir in spices and vanilla bean.
  • Add the fennel and butternut squash to the pot with a pinch of salt, stirring to coat the vegetables with the spices.
  • Stir in chickpeas, tomatoes, and dried apricots. Bring to a simmer, cover pot, and cook over low-medium heat for about 45 minutes. The butternut squash should be tender but not mushy.
  • Season to taste with salt and pepper, and drizzle with a little more olive oil if desired. 
  • Serve over couscous pilaf (below) and garnish with chopped parsley.

Couscous Pilaf with Cashews, Raisins, and Fennel Seed
Serves 4 to 6

2 tsp fennel seeds
1/2 cup raw cashews, chopped
1 cup couscous
1/3 cup raisins
1/4 tsp salt
1-2 tbsp XVOO
Freshly ground black pepper
  • Toast fennel seeds in a small, heavy-bottomed saute pan. Transfer fennel seeds to a bowl and then toast the chopped cashews.
  • Combine couscous, raisins, and salt in a medium bowl. Add 1-1/2 cups boiling water, stir, cover, and let sit for 5 minutes.
  • Fluff couscous with a fork, and stir in fennel seeds, cashews, and olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. 

August 1, 2009

Cooking as the latest spectator sport

An excellent article by Michael Pollan in this weekend's New York Times Magazine examines the paradox of our growing obsession with food shows and dwindling interest in doing any actual cooking.