Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Roasted Broccoli and Cauliflower Soup

A warm bowl of soup on a cold day is perfect for almost anybody. This velvety green soup gets its vibrant green color from the addition of fresh baby spinach while it gets is smooth texture from the roasted broccoli and cauliflower. Roasting the vegetables gives the soup an additional layer of complexity which one does not get from just boiled vegetables. The flavor of the vegetables is concentrated with roasting.

For people who like roasted vegetables, like me, resisting the temptation to pop these in your mouth before they hit the blender, might be hard. But if these vegetables are not part of your regular repertoire, then this is a great way to include them. The soup is deliciously creamy without any cream added. I add fresh thyme for that extra layer of flavor and some lemon zest for freshness. Served with shaved Parmesan cheese and warm garlic bread, this is a great lunch or a wonderful supper.

Roasted Broccoli and Cauliflower Soup

1 lb broccoli
½ lb cauliflower, florets only
1 cup chopped onion
3 cloves of garlic, finely minced
½ cup chopped carrots – about 1 large carrot
3 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
Zest of 2 lemons
2 cups baby spinach
4 cups vegetable broth or equivalent stock cubes + water
Salt to taste (will depend on the salt content of the broth)
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Parmesan cheese
Hot water on standby for pureeing if necessary

1.      Preheat oven to 350°F.
2.      Separate the florets from the broccoli stems and cut the larger ones into half, ensuring that they are all the same size. Similarly, separate the florets of the cauliflower as well and cut them to ensure they are the same size as the broccoli.
3.      If the broccoli stems are tender, peel the tough outer skin and trim off the fibrous ends. Cut the stems into ½ inch pieces.
4.      Toss the broccoli and cauliflower florets with 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil and 1 teaspoon of kosher salt. Lay them out in a single layer on a large baking sheet. Cook in the middle rack for 30 minutes. The vegetables will be ready to eat by then – if not put them back for longer.
5.      In the meantime, heat a large saucepan or soup pot with 2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil and add the minced garlic and the chopped onion. Add the garlic and cook until light brown. Add the onion and carrot and season with ½ teaspoon kosher salt and pepper. Cook the vegetables slowly until tender, about 10 minutes. The vegetables should not turn brown.
6.      Add the thyme and stir. Add the broccoli stems if using, stock, and salt and pepper, to taste, and bring to a boil. Cook for about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat.
7.      The soup needs to be pureed in batches in the blender. Add some of the spinach, some of the roasted vegetables and some of the lemon zest to each batch and then puree it. If there is not enough stock to get the blender moving add ladlefuls of hot water to the blender.
8.      Return the soup to the pan and reheat over gentle heat. Taste and adjust the salt and pepper. Also, if the soup is too thick, add some warm water and reheat the soup gently.
9.      Serve with warm garlic bread and shavings of fresh Parmesan cheese.

Serves 4 as a meal or 6 to 8 as a first course.

Note: This soup freezes well.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Steamed spinach with garlic chips

Stir fried spinach with garlic is always on a Chinese restaurant menu and we like to eat it often. Until recently, when I read in the WHFoods website that spinach needs to be boiled to help reduce its concentration of oxalic acid. However, it is recommended that it be boiled for just a minute to  minimize loss of nutrients and flavor.

In this quick and delicious recipe, I blanch the spinach and top it with fried garlic and toasted sesame seeds. For the salty touch, I add some good quality light soy sauce and finish it with a fragrant toasted sesame oil. If  you like simple and flavorful Chinese food, you will love this dish.

Steamed spinach with garlic chips

1 ½ bunches organic spinach
4 large cloves of garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
1 tablespoon canola oil
¼ teaspoon red chili flakes
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
1 ½ tablespoon light soy sauce
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
2 ½ tablespoon toasted sesame seeds

  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the spinach leaves a handful at a time and cook for 1 minute. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside in a colander to drain completely.
  2. Heat 1 tablespoon canola oil in a small saucepan – the smallest you can find, since we need to fry the garlic. If the pan is large, you will need more oil to fry. Add the garlic slices, chili flakes and salt to the oil and cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes so that the garlic turns light brown and flavors the oil without being burnt.
  3. Removed the drained spinach to a serving platter and pour the garlic and the leftover oil over the spinach. Drizzle with the soy sauce and the toasted sesame oil. Finally sprinkle the toasted sesame seeds.
Serves 3 – 4 as a side dish

Note: I have given a link to a small saucepan - you will find it very useful if you want to cook a small amount of aromatics in very little oil, instead of using a regular saucepan. Also, great for Indian cooking, where the boiled lentils need to be tempered with spices.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Quinoa burger with sweet potato fries

Quinoa is a great health food and finally after mainly failed attempts, I can vouch for the fact that they make good burgers. My previous attempts at making quinoa burgers had been quite disappointing - mainly for two reasons: the burger would fall apart, since I didn't add the egg for binding (family members are not in favor of the smell of eggs) and it wasn't quite as flavorful as we would have liked it to be. This time, I nailed both those issues. I used ground flax seeds as a binder and managed to get a perfect mix of spice and vegetables in the burger itself. Additionally the toppings really sealed the deal.

This burger turned out crispy on the outside and moist on the inside. The subtle flavor of the leeks and zucchini permeated through the burger with a little additional texture from the mushrooms and bits of tangy feta cheese popping in almost every bite. The topping of the luscious and sweet roasted red peppers dressed with a few drops of balsamic cream (reduced balsamic vinegar) was absolute perfection and a little Dijon mustard spread on one side of the roll, made for the perfect burger.

The sweet potato fries coated with lemon garlic pepper and fresh thyme are a great complement to the burger.

Quinoa Burger with Sweet Potato Fries

Assembled quinoa burgers

½ cup quinoa
1 cup finely chopped leeks, white and light green parts only
2 large cloves of garlic, finely minced
1 tablespoon finely minced, jalapeno pepper (you could remove the seeds if you don’t like too much heat)
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
3 large white button mushroom, coarsely chopped
1 ½ tablespoon extra virgin olive oil + extra for pan frying
½ medium sized zucchini, finely grated (about 1 cup)
2 oz Greek feta – cut into small dice
1 tablespoon ground flax seeds or 1 egg
1 roasted red pepper (jarred or home made – for homemade roast in a 400°F oven for 30 to 40 minutes and then remove the skin, pith and seeds)
Balsamic cream for dressing

1.      Wash the quinoa well to remove the bitter flavor from the saponin. Add 1 cup water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer covered for 15 minutes till all the water has absorbed. Set aside to cool.
2.      In the meantime, take 1 tablespoon of ground flax seeds and 3 tablespoon water and let the mixture sit for 10 minutes. It will become like gel and will act as a replacement for 1 egg. [If you don’t have ground flax seeds, you can grind ½ tablespoon of seeds in your coffee grinder to yield 1 tablespoon of ground flax seeds.]
3.      In a small sauté pan, heat the olive oil and add the minced, garlic, leeks and jalapeño and cook over medium heat for 3 to 4 minutes till the leeks have softened. Add the mushrooms at this point and continue to cook for another 3 to 4 minutes till the mushrooms have softened and become light brown. Add ¼ teaspoon kosher salt and mix well. Combine the leek and mushroom mixture with the cooled quinoa.
4.      Squeeze the grated zucchini to remove the excess moisture and add to the quinoa mixture as well. Finally add the diced feta cheese and the ground flax seed gel. Mix well. Divide the mixture into quarters and form four burgers.
5.      Refrigerate for 30 minutes to an hour before pan frying, to ensure that they don’t break apart.
6.      Heat a non-stick sauté pan with 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil. When the oil is hot, gently slide the burger into the pan and cook for 5 to 7 minutes on each side over medium high heat. The burger must get a crisp exterior to contrast with the soft interior.
7.      Serve on a burger bun with Dijon mustard and dress with the roasted red pepper strips topped with a few drops of balsamic cream and some sweet potato fries.
 Serves 4

Sweet Potato Fries
2 large oriental sweet potatoes
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 ½ tablespoons lemon pepper (dried garlic bits mixed with coarsely ground black pepper is a good substitute)
2 sprigs of fresh thyme
¾ teaspoon kosher salt

  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F.
  2. Peel and cut the sweet potatoes into French fries. Toss them with the olive oil, lemon pepper and the thyme leaves.
  3. Arrange on a baking sheet and bake in the preheated oven in the middle rack for 15 minutes. Remove and flip and continue to brown the other side for another 10 minutes. At this point, check the fries – they should be a beautiful golden brown. [They will not be very crisp, since sweet potato fries do not really crisp up]. Remove from the oven and serve with the burger.
Serves 4

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Crispy okra fries

Crispy okra - the perfect dish to convert an okra hater to a okra lover. And if you love okra already, you will absolutely make this your go to recipe. A lot of Indian restaurants serve deep fried okra as a first course and it is positively delicious. On the menu it is called 'kurkuri bhindi' which translates to crispy okra. The crispness comes from deep frying of course, but this baked version comes pretty close and my dinner guests loved it when I served them as finger food with cocktails.

The key to getting a non-slimy okra dish is to make sure that the okra is super dry before you cut it and super fresh as well. I cut them into thin strips (I have noticed that the okra gets slimy when it is cut into slices), toss them in some oil and coat them in a light and dry tempura like coating with rice flour and spices. Then they are baked in a hot oven till they are crispy but not dry. If the okra is overcooked (and I have done it before, while trying to keep it warm in the oven), they become too dry and loose all their flavor. Also, too high temperatures tends to burn them off faster than cooking them. This is the perfect combination of heat, and spices which makes a truly delectable dish.

Crispy Okra Fries
1 ½ lbs okra
2 tablespoons canola oil
3 tablespoons rice flour
1 teaspoon ajwain seeds
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon turmeric powder [I used more - hence the fries look too yellow]

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 °F.
  2. Trim the top of the okra and cut vertically down the middle. If the okra is thick, cut further into half lengthwise to get long strips. It is important to try to cut down the middle in order to keep the seeds intact.
  3. Transfer the sliced okra to a large bowl and toss with the 2 tablespoons canola oil.
  4. Make a spice mix with the rice flour, ajwain, cayenne, turmeric and salt and sprinkle evenly over the okra. This should be done after tossing with the oil, in order for the spice mix to stick to the okra. Mix well.
  5. Lay out on a large baking sheet as spread out as possible. Bake for 20 minutes. Toss and bake again for 20 more minutes. The okra should be crispy and a little bit chewy.
  6. Serve as a snack or as a side with rice and a curry.
Serves 3 as a side dish and 6 as finger food or an appetizer. If you are serving it as an appetizer, toss it at the last minute with some thinly slivered onions, tomatoes and chopped cilantro, dressed in lemon juice salt and pepper.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Tofu in a sweet and sour sauce

Sweet and sour pork, sweet and sour chicken, and sweet sour everything else are omnipresent in a Chinese take out menu. But not many serve sweet and sour tofu. Being a vegetarian family, we are always looking to convert a meat dish to suit us.

Most sweet and sour dishes, have onions, bell peppers and pineapples. I like pineapples but not in savory foods - hence I decided to omit that from my rendition of this dish. I also don't like to eat deep fried food, which is essentially how this dish starts - lightly battered deep fried meat or fish pieces bathed in a thick sweet and sour sauce - I find more sweet than sour.

For my sweet and sour tofu, I coat the tofu pieces in a light coating of cornflour and saute it in a little oil till it gets a light brown crust and then cook it with the vegetables in the sweet and slightly tangy sauce. Children love this dish since it is not spicy at all. Great crowd pleaser.

Tofu in a sweet and sour sauce
14 oz firm Lite tofu (Nasoya brand – has less fat then regular tofu)
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine
½ large green bell pepper, cut into ½ inch dice
1 medium red bell pepper, cut into ½ inch dice
½ medium yellow onion, cut into ½ inch dice
1 large clove of garlic, minced
½ teaspoon kosher salt
6 tablespoons canola oil
For the sweet and sour sauce
2 tablespoons tomato ketchup
1 tablespoon plum sauce (Lee Kum Kee brand)
½ tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 ½ teaspoon rice vinegar
½ tablespoon vegetarian oyster sauce
½ teaspoon granulated sugar
4 tablespoons water
½ teaspoon sesame oil

  1. Press the tofu with some weights to remove the excess moisture and then cut into 1 inch cubes. Sprinkle the cornstarch over the tofu pieces to coat evenly and then mix in the rice wine to give the tofu a sticky coating.
  2. Heat a large heavy bottomed wok – I used a non-stick wok – with 4 teaspoons canola oil. Add the tofu pieces and cook for about 2 minutes on each side so that the tofu develops a light brown crust. [If you like, you can also deep fry the tofu pieces – this will give it more of a  restaurant feel]. Remove the browned tofu pieces from the work and set aside.
  3. Add 2 more teaspoons of canola oil to the wok and add the minced garlic and the chopped onion. Sprinkle a pinch of salt to ensure that the onion does not brown. Sauté over medium high heat for a couple of minutes till the onion starts to look translucent. Add the diced bell pepper and ½ teaspoon kosher salt and continue to cook for 3 more minutes.
  4. In the meantime, mix all the ingredients for the sauce and set aside.
  5. Add the tofu pieces and the sauce to the onion and bell pepper mixture and mix well. Cook till the sauce is sticky and glossy.
  6. Remove and serve immediately with steamed rice and a vegetable side dish like Asparagus or Eggplant.
Serves 3

Friday, January 20, 2012

Mushroom and Spinach Panini

Outside of Italy, panini is referred to a toasted grilled sandwich, which is typically filled with some kind of filling either cooked or raw and cheese. The cheese acts as the glue which keeps the bread together. I love eating these for lunch or for dinner with a soup and a green salad.

Today, I made a mushroom and baby spinach panini - simply sauteed cremini and button mushrooms with shallots and lightly wilted baby spinach. I like to use a mix of mushrooms for additional flavor and texture. The cremini mushrooms are more meaty than the white button mushrooms. But any other combination or mushrooms of just one kind will work.

The key to a panini filling that it should be dry - otherwise the sandwich will become soggy. Using spinach is tricky since it releases a lot of moisture while it is being cooled.  I find baby spinach releases less moisture than regular spinach especially if spun dry in a salad spinner. Also, added at the last minute prevents it from becoming watery.

For this panini, I used Iberico cheese which is of Spanish origin made with a blend of pasteurized milk from cows, goats and sheep. It is slightly tangy as well as rich and buttery. It is a great table cheese as part of tapas as well as good for melting. However, you could use any other melting cheese.

Mushroom and Spinach panini
Mushroom and spinach filling

6 slices good quality large slice sandwich bread – I like to use artisanal French bread
4 oz cremini mushrooms, thinly sliced
4 oz button mushrooms, thinly sliced
2 medium shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
2 generous cups baby spinach leaves, tightly packed
1 ½ tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
A few grinds of fresh black pepper
Thinly sliced Iberico cheese – quantity depends on how cheesy you like your sandwich

Heat a large heavy bottomed non-stick sauté pan over high heat. Add the olive oil, the sliced mushrooms and the sliced shallots. Cook over medium high heat for five minutes without stirring. At this point the mixture will look watery – add the salt and pepper, stir and continue to cook for another 5 minutes. Soon the mushrooms will begin to brown and the shallots will caramelize.

30 seconds before turning off the heat, add the baby spinach leaves and stir continuously till the leaves are just wilted. Remove from pan to cool before adding to the sandwich.

Heat a grill pan with a press or panini pan over medium heat. Assemble the sandwich by laying out a few slices of cheese, topped with the filling and (chili flakes if desired), and another few slices of cheese. Cover with the second slice and place on the panini press on top and cook the sandwich over medium heat for 2 to 3 minutes on each side.

Slice into half and serve.

Note: The stuffing has numerous possibilities like a quesadilla filling, pasta topping, bruschetta topping with melted cheese on top, mixed into a plain risotto etc.

You might also like Corn and Pesto Panini and Egg sandwich with Harissa

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Pasta with black eyed peas and parsley pesto

This recipe is inspired by a black eyed pea focaccia sandwich that I had many years ago in a market in Perth. It was the first time I was eating black eyed peas not cooked with Indian spices. The focaccia was lightly toasted and stuffed with black eyed peas smashed with some roasted garlic, roasted red peppers,  and arugula. It was fresh and filling.

I really liked the combination of ingredients and wanted to use them in a pasta. When I started thinking about it, black eyed peas and pasta sounded like it would not go together, but then again, pasta with cannellini beans is very common.  Hence, I decided to go ahead with it and the result was very successful. I cooked some black eyed peas and sauteed them with some sweet and tangy sun dried tomatoes in olive oil to crisp the beans a tiny bit. I skipped the roasted red peppers since I didn't have any and added roasted cippolini onions and fingerling potatoes and tied it all together with a parsley and walnut pesto. Every bite of this pasta has a variety of textures and flavors and makes a great winter dish. It is a wonderful dish for entertaining, since all the components can be made in advance - all you have to do is boil the pasta and toss together.

Pasta with black eyed peas and parsley pesto

3 cups campanelle pasta (It is a flower shaped pasta – any other short cut pasta will work, but these look very pretty)
6 oz cippollini onions (about 10 small onions)
6 oz organic fingerling potatoes (I like the Earthbound brand)
1/3 cup dried black eyed peas 
½ cup sundried tomatoes (I used the dehydrated ones)
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
7 tablespoons parsley walnut pesto (recipe follows)

  1. In a small bowl, cover the dried black eyed peas with 3 inches of water and let it stand overnight. When you are ready to use them, drain. In a small saucepan, add the drained black eyed peas and 3 inches of water and ¼ teaspoon kosher salt and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to simmer, cook for 25 minutes till the black eyed peas are tender. Skim occasionally while simmering. Drain and set aside.

  1. While the black eyed peas are cooking, preheat the oven to 400 °F.

  1. In the meantime, slice off the top and bottom of the cippollini onions and peel off the skin. Toss them with 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil and ¼ teaspoon kosher salt and some freshly ground black pepper. Note: It is important that the onions be small, otherwise cut into halves or quarters after roasting depending on size so that they can be eaten in one bite. Set them on one side of a baking sheet.

  1. Wash the fingerling potatoes and cut them down the middle lengthwise. If the potatoes are long, cut them so that they are about an inch and a half to two inches max to mimic the length of the pasta, in this case campanelle or flower pasta. Toss with 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil and ¼ teaspoon kosher salt and some freshly ground black pepper. Transfer the potatoes to the same baking sheet as the onions, cut side down, so that they get a nice brown color and a crisp crust.

  1. Place the baking sheet in the center rack of the pre-heated oven. After 20 minutes, flip the potatoes and the onions to brown the other side. Put them back in the oven and remove after 10 more minutes. Set them aside to cool if not adding to the pasta immediately.

  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and add the pasta. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring it once to ensure it does not stick to the pot. Drain the pasta to be added to the black eyed peas and sundried tomato mixture.

  1. While the pasta is cooking, chop the sun dried tomatoes into ½ inch pieces. Heat a medium skillet with 1 tablespoon olive oil and add the drained and cooked black eyed peas and the chopped sundried tomatoes. Cook over medium heat for 2 minutes till the black eyed peas are slightly crisp. Add the roasted onions, fingerling potatoes, drained pasta and toss well. Add the parsley pesto and mix well.

Serves 3 as a Main course with a green salad and some garlic bread.

Parsley walnut pesto

2 cups parsley leaves only
2 cloves of garlic, coarsely chopped
2/3 cup walnuts
½ cup extra virgin olive oil or walnut oil
½ teaspoon kosher salt

Place all the ingredients in a food processor except the oil and continue to pulse until it almost begins to form a paste. Scrape down the sides with a spatula. Then with the food processor still running, slowly add the oil till the mixture is well blended.

Makes little more than a cup.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Orange tea cake with boozy raisins

Every evening I crave something sweet with my tea and a dressed up pound cake is my go to snack. There are a couple of variations of pound cakes in my post Trio of tea cakes. This version has raisins soaked in orange liquor inspired by David Lebovitz's Chocolate cherry fruitcake, which I had made for Thanksgiving last year.

This cake requires a little bit of planning since the raisins need to be soaked the night before so that they can absorb the alcohol and become plump and juicy. Of course the longer you soak the dried fruit the tastier they will be. I also added some orange oil to carry through the orange flavor, but you could substitute orange zest if you didn't have the oil. Also, if you are not into alcohol, you could soak the raisins in orange juice as well.

Orange Tea cake with cointreau soaked raisins

1/3 cup Thomson seedless raisins
3 tablespoon Cointreau or Grand Marnier
½ cup + 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
2 large eggs at room temperature (not jumbo or extra large)
8 tablespoons or 4 oz unsalted butter at room temperature
1 cup unbleached all purpose flour (I use King Arthur brand flour)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon good quality vanilla essence
¼ teaspoon orange oil or grated zest of one orange

1. Preheat the oven to 350 °F. Butter a 1 lb loaf pan (8 1/2" x 4 1/2" x 2 3/4" high) with parchment paper.

2. Sift the flour and baking powder.

3. In a stand mixer, beat the butter and the sugar at high speed till it is light and fluffy. The butter and sugar mixture will begin to turn white and will not be grainy.

4. Add the eggs one at a time and beat till each is incorporated. Add the vanilla essence, any cointreau or orange juice that has not been absorbed by the raisins and the orange oil or orange zest and beat till just mixed.

5. Add the flour mixture keeping the mixer on low till it is just incorporated. Mix in the raisins using a spatula.
6. Pour the dough into the prepared loaf pan and place in the center rack of the pre-heated oven for 35 to 40 minutes. The timing will depend on the type of pan that you are using and your oven. Check after 30 minutes – if a wooden skewer comes out clean, the cake is ready.

7. Remove from the oven and cool in the pan on a cooling rack for 10 minutes and then remove from the pan and move to the cooling rack to cool completely.

Makes a 1 lb cake

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Moroccan Vegetable stew with preserved lemons

Every Moroccan restaurant that I have been to, has a version of this stew as their only vegetarian main course. These days, I don't order it any more and stick to the vegetarian appetizers but make my version of this stew at home. It is an ideal one pot meal - easy, tasty and nutritious. The chickpeas provide the much needed protein, and the melange of vegetables provide different textures and flavors along with the aromatic tomato based broth.

In one of my previous posts, I have another version of this stew, but this one is extra special with the addition of the preserved lemon and Harissa. Preserved lemons are lemons simply preserved in brine. They are available in most good grocery stores or you can make your own with a recipe from Simply Recipes. They give a beautiful tangy freshness to the dish when added at the end. Harissa is a North African hot red pepper  paste combined with some spices which can be used to give any dish a wonderful kick. There are many varieties of Harissa available in the market, but I like the ones which do not have bell peppers or tomatoes, since the addition of these two ingredients makes the paste sweet and I feel loses its authenticity.

The list of ingredients seems intimidating at first, but most of them are always available except for possibly the preserved lemons and the Harissa. Both have many uses - hence it is worth picking them up. There is a recipe for an egg sandwich with Harissa if you want to find another use for it.

Moroccan Vegetable Stew with Preserved lemons
1 14 oz can of organic chickpeas
2 celery stalks
2 small organic carrots with tops
1 medium zucchini
3 small Yukon gold potatoes
3 large leaves of organic Swiss chard
1 ½ cups of crushed tomatoes (a 14 oz can - I used the whole san marzano tomatoes and crushed them in the food processor, with a quick pulse)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 small preserved lemon, finely minced
1 inch piece of cinnamon
1 cup chopped white onion
2 large cloves of garlic, finely minced
1 ½ tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon red chili flakes
1 teaspoon Harissa paste
1 ½ - 2 cups water and 1 cube of vegetable bouillon or 1 ½ - 2 cups vegetable stock
1 cup couscous

Vegetable Prep
  1. Chop the celery into ½ inch pieces
  2. Peel and chop the carrots into ¼ inch rounds
  3. Trim the zucchini and cut vertically down the middle and then halve the pieces vertically again. Cut the four vertical pieces into ½ inch pieces
  4. Peel and cut the potatoes into ½ inch pieces
  5. Separate the stem from the leaves of the Swiss chard. Cut the stems into ½ inch pieces and chop the leaves coarsely

1. Heat a 3 quart heavy bottomed saucepan with extra virgin olive oil. Add the cinnamon stick and cook for 30 seconds till it unfurls. Add the onion and garlic and cook for a few minutes over medium heat till the onion has softened but not brown.
2. Add the drained chickpeas and the chopped vegetables except the Swiss chard leaves. Add the ground cumin, and red chili flakes and mix well. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes for all the flavors to meld. Add the chopped Swiss chard leaves and mix once. Add the crushed tomatoes and cook for 5 to 6 minutes till the mixture starts to look a little dry. At this point add the vegetable stock or the vegetable bouillon cube crumbled and water. (I like the Rapunzel brand of vegetable bouillon cubes with no added salt.) Bring the mixture to a boil and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook uncovered for about 15 minutes. Check to see if the potatoes are cooked. If the stew is getting too dry, then add another ½ cup stock or water. If the potatoes are cooked add the Harissa paste and cook for a couple of minutes. Finally add the minced preserved lemon and mix into the stew. The stew is now ready to serve.
3. Cook the couscous as per the directions on the box. I like using Bobs’ Red Mill couscous. Add 1 cup boiling water to the couscous and stir. Cover and keep for 5 minutes. Remove the cover and fluff with a fork.
4. Serve the stew in shallow bowls, with steaming couscous at the bottom topped with ladlefuls of the stew to the side and a small dollop of harissa on top.

Serves 3 as a Main course.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Cauliflower with Ajwain

Cauliflower is one of my favorite vegetables since it  is mild and picks up flavors easily. I like it sauteed and roasted. Sauteing cauliflower with Indian spices works very well since it infuses the cauliflower with loads of flavor and there is a wide variety of spices to choose from to make a different tasting dish every time.

Ajwain is an Indian spice which looks like celery seeds but smells like thyme. If you like thyme, you will like this seed. It is more aromatic than thyme and a little goes a long way. I like to use it to flavor stir fries featuring  cauliflower, okra, potatoes, paneer, as well as mushrooms. You can purchase ajwain seeds in any Indian grocery store or online at Penzeys.

Here I combine ajwain with cauliflower and spice it up a little more with chili flakes and a final sprinkling of dried mango powder, which is tangy. (If you don't have dry mango powder, you can skip it, or substitute with a tablespoon of lime juice - the dish will still taste great).  Cilantro leaves added at the end lend some freshness to the dish and are very aromatic.

Cauliflower with Ajwain
1 ¼ lbs cauliflower florets
1 ½ tablespoon canola oil
1 teaspoon ajwain seeds
1 teaspoon red chili flakes (or to taste)
¾ teaspoon turmeric powder
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon dry mango powder (amchur)
½ cut finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves

  1. Separate the florets of the cauliflower and slice them into ¼ inch slices.
  2. Heat a large heavy bottomed skillet with canola oil. Add the ajwain seeds and the chili flakes and heat them both for 30 seconds to flavor the oil. Add the sliced cauliflower to the pan and toss to mix well. Add the turmeric powder and mix once more. Cook for a couple of minutes and then add the salt. Mix the salt into the cauliflower and spice mixture and cover the pan and cook over medium heat for 4 minutes. The salt will draw the water out of the cauliflower and create steam which will quickly cook the cauliflower.
  3. Remove the cover and raise the heat to medium high and sauté for 3 more minutes till the edges are light brown. Add the dry mango powder and ½ the chopped cilantro leaves and mix well. Cook for 30 seconds and remove from the heat. Garnish with the remaining chopped cilantro leaves before serving.
Serves 2 to 3 as part of a multi course meal.

Note: If you like cauliflower, you may want to try some of the other cauliflower recipes here.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Grapefruit salad

Simple, fresh and delicious - these are three words that describe this salad. Only two ingredients - grapefruits and lettuce and a light dressing using grapefruit juice, white balsamic vinegar, mustard and honey. I like to use white balsamic vinegar for this dressing since it is milder and lighter in taste than regular balsamic vinegar.

For the last month, grapefruits are in season and they are absolutely lip smackingly good. Hence, I decided to eat them with very little fuss. You could add thinly sliced red onions as well as some toasted salted pistachios for kick and crunch, but this version is just to celebrate the grapefruit.

Grapefruit salad
2 large pink grapefruits (not pomelo's)
12 large leaves of butter lettuce or green leaf lettuce (it is important that the lettuce is very fresh since this salad has very few ingredients)

4 tablespoons grapefruit juice
2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 teaspoon honey
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

  1.  Using a paring knife, cut off a slice from the top and bottom of the grapefruit to expose the flesh. Set the grapefruit on the cutting board and using the curve of the fruit as your guide, peel off the rind  including the white pith from top to bottom. Then, working over a bowl to collect the juices, cut between the segments and remove the segments using your paring knife. Squeeze the juice out of the remaining part of the grapefruit once the segments have been removed. Save the juice for the dressing.
  2. Tear the lettuce into large pieces in line with the grapefruits.
  3. Whisk all the ingredients for the dressing and pour over the grapefruit. Toss lightly, so as not to break up the segments of the fruit. Serve on a bed of the lettuce leaves.
Serves 4

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Nicoise Salad - without the fish

Nicoise salad is a French composed salad typically containing lettuce, haricot vert, potatoes,  anchovies and olives. In the U.S. seared fresh tuna or canned tuna are added to the salad instead of the anchovies and boiled eggs show up as well.

My version is completely vegetarian – I use waxy fingerling potatoes, crisp green beans, fresh juicy tomatoes, tangy olives and spicy red onions, dressed with a wonderful herb packed dressing. This is a hearty salad which works well as a main course.

Nicoise salad without Tuna

12 medium fingerling potatoes
1/2 lb green beans, trimmed
handful of kalamata olives - to taste
2 vine ripened tomatoes cut into wedges or handful of cherry tomatoes
1/4 cup finely sliced red onion
Basil, thyme and caper dressing (recipe below)

1. Cut the fingerling potatoes down the middle vertically to expose as much surface area to absorb the dressing. If the potatoes are not the same size, cut them to be almost the same size so that they cook evenly. Set up a steamer and steam the potatoes for 10 minutes. If you do not have a steamer basket you could boil the potatoes as well. In that case, cut the potatoes after boiling, otherwise they will lose their structure.
2. Steam the beans for 6 to 8 minutes till they are crisp tender.
3. Arrange the steamed potatoes, beans, tomatoes, onions and olives on a platter and pour the dressing over the vegetables while the potatoes and beans are still warm.

Serves 4 as a side or 3 as a main course

1/2 cup tightly packed basil leaves
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1 teaspoon non-pareil capers rinsed and drained
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon white balsamic vinegar or white wine vinegar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 clove of garlic, chopped
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1. Add all of the above ingredients in a food processor except the olive oil and process till they are combined.
2. Pour in the olive oil with the motor running to emulsify the dressing.

Makes ½ cup – enough for the salad