Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Capellini {Angel Hair pasta} with fava beans and mint pesto

Truly spectacular is what my family called it. Fava beans are in season and so is mint. They are a perfect combination. The freshness of the mint complements the earthy flavor of the fava beans. I also added a handful of frozen peas for freshness, but if you had fresh English peas, they would be perfect.

Fava beans are cumbersome to clean, since it is a three step process and once they are shelled, there is not much left. You have to shell a lot of pods to get a decent amount of beans to work with. Once shelled, the beans need to be separated by size unless you are lucky enough to get all of them in with the same size. Then they need to be steamed - I find the fastest way to do this is to take a shortcut and use the microwave. Once steamed, the dark green beans will almost peek out from their tough and thick skins. Gently press the beans out of their skins. Finally they are ready to be eaten.

I tossed capellini pasta with a mint and pistachio pesto, fresh cooked fava and some frozen peas and it made for a perfect summer evening dish.

Capellini with fava beans and mint pesto

8 oz capellini (angel hair pasta)
2 lbs fresh fava beans in their pods
1/2 cup fresh green peas blanched or frozen peas (defrosted)
1 cup fresh mint leaves, washed and dried
2 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
1/2 cup shelled roasted unsalted pistachios
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (use the good quality stuff since there is no cooking involved)
scant 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Parmesan cheese for grating table-side
  1. First lets tackle the fava beans. Check out the link at the end of the recipe if you would like to see a video showing how to clean the fava beans. But, it is very simple. Shell the beans like you would shell peas. Then segregate the beans by size, since they will take different times to cook. You don't want to eat mushy beans - they are extremely distasteful. Place the large beans in a microwave safe container and add a little water. Cook covered for 2 minutes. Do the same for the small beans but cook for 1 minute. Drain and cool. Then ease the beans out of the skin without breaking them.
  2. Before you make pesto, add water to a 5-6 quart saucepan or dutch oven and bring to a boil for cooking the pasta. While the water comes to a boil, make the pesto. 
  3. For the pesto, add the garlic and pistachio to the food processor and give it a few pulses. Then add two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and scant 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt and give it a few more pulses till the pistachio and garlic forms a coarse paste. Now add the mint leaves and the balance two tablespoons olive oil and let it process till the mint leaves are fully incorporated.
  4. Cook the pasta as per the instructions on the box - capellini takes only 3 minutes to cook. Save 1/2 cup water before draining the water to thin the sauce if required.
  5. In a large mixing bowl, place the peeled favas, blanched green peas or defrosted green peas and the mint pesto. Add the drained pasta and toss well. You might need to add a few tablespoons of the saved pasta water to thin the sauce. 
  6. Serve with a generous grating of parmesan cheese tableside.
Serves 3

Note: Here is a video on how to clean fava beans.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Stir-fried eggplant and potatoes with coriander

The difference between a good dish and a great dish has a lot to do with the quality of ingredients. Freshness of the spices contributes greatly to the taste of the dish. It has been a year nice I stopped using pre-ground spices and it has made a world of difference to the taste of my simple dishes.

Last week, the farmers' market had the most gorgeous eggplants and I picked up two large fellows, a little more than a pound each. I used one for this simple dish and the awesome flavor comes from the freshly ground coriander seeds. Usually eggplants require a lot of oil to taste good, but precooking them in the microwave saves you from using so much oil and keeps the dish healthy without compromising on taste.

Stir Fried eggplant and potatoes with coriander

1 lb purple eggplant – chopped into ½ inch cubes
1 medium sized russet or any other potato, boiled and cut into ½ inch cubes
5 teaspoons canola oil
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1/8th teaspoon turmeric powder
¼ teaspoon cayenne powder
1 tablespoon freshly ground coriander powder
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
Scant 1 teaspoon dry mango powder (amchur)
¼ cup fresh cilantro leaves, finely chopped

1. In a microwave safe container, place the eggplant cubes and cook covered in the microwave for 4 to 7 minutes. When the eggplant is soft, it is considered ready. The time will depend on the power of the microwave as well as the quality of eggplant. If the eggplant has a lot of seeds, it will take longer to cook.
2. In the meantime, heat a large heavy bottomed non-stick skillet with canola oil. Add the cumin seeds. When the oil is hot, the seeds will pop. Add the boiled potato cubes to the oil and toss to mix well. Add ¼ teaspoon salt. Cook over medium heat for 3 minutes till the potatoes turn a little brown around the edges.
3. Now add the eggplant from the microwave – discard the water that might accumulate at the bottom of the bowl. Add the turmeric, cayenne and coriander powder and another ¼ teaspoon salt. Mix well and continue to cook for another 4 to 5 minutes till the spices have coated the vegetables and the vegetables look like the picture above.
4. Finally add the mango powder and the fresh cilantro leaves and cook for another minute. Taste for seasonings and adjust the salt.
5. Serve warm with a lentil soup (dal) and rice or pita

Serves 3 to 4 as a side

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Red lentil and bulgur soup

Continuing on my desire to eat Turkish food, I made a red lentil soup with bulgur, which is a very popular soup in Turkey. In some versions, rice is added to it along with fresh tomatoes and the entire mixture is pureed. I prefer my soups to have texture and I did not puree mine. The addition of dried mint makes this soup different from a regular red lentil soup and gives it that wonderful lemony flavor, which is enhanced by a squeeze of lemon before serving.
If you have fresh mint, you could dress the soup with some finely sliced mint leaves to enhance the flavor of the dried mint.

Red lentil and bulgur soup

1/2 cup red lentils, washed and rinsed
1/4 cup fine bulgur
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 clove of fresh garlic, peeled and minced
1 cup minced yellow onion
1 tablespoon concentrated tomato paste
1/8 teaspoon dried chili flakes
1/4 teaspoon dried spearmint
4 cups vegetable or chicken stock OR (vegetable stock cubes or chicken stock cubes + 4 cups water)
salt to taste (adjust depending on the salt content of the stock)
Freshly squeezed lemon juice to serve
  1. Heat a 3 qt sauce stainless steel saucepan over medium heat and had the butter to it. Once the butter melts (make sure it does not turn brown), add the minced garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Then add the minced onion and a pinch of salt which will prevent the onions from browning. Cook the onions for a few minutes till they are translucent. 
  2. Now add the tomato paste and the dried chili flakes and cook for 2 to 3 minutes over medium low heat. Add the washed lentils and the bulgur and stir the mixture till all the grains of the bulgur and the lentil is well coated. 
  3. Add the dried mint and the stock or stock cubes crumbled and 4 cups of water and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and continue to cook for about 15 to 20 minutes till the lentils are cooked. Taste and adjust the salt.
  4. Served with freshly squeezed lemon juice and pita bread for dipping.
Serves 3 as a first course or 2 for lunch with a salad.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Potato and bulgur kofte

Having lived in Turkey, I go through phases when I want to eat home made Turkish food. This potato and bulgur kofte is one of those dishes which I don't see served in a Turkish restaurant in New York City. Hence I decided to make them for dinner tonight.
Unlike most kofte's these are not fried or baked - the Turks have variations of these with red lentils as well, which is more common. In my interpretation, the bulgur is mixed with some tomato paste for color and harissa for spice (the authentic version has chili paste or chili flakes) and soaked with some hot water allowing the bulgur to cook. The potatoes are boiled, peeled and mashed. The mashed potatoes are combined with the soaked bulgur, once they have absorbed all the liquid. Finally, finely chopped parsley is added to the mixture and they are made into little balls. It served with a simple salad of tomatoes, lettuce, cucumber, feta and olives.

Potato and bulgur kofte

1/2 cup fine bulgur wheat
2 small russet potatoes
1 1/2 tablespoon good quality extra virgin olive oil or more to taste
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon concentrated tomato paste
1 teaspoon harissa
1 1/2 teaspoon toasted cumin powder
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup finely chopped parsley
2 spring onions, finely chopped
1/2 cup hot water
  1. Add the chopped spring onions,  harissa and tomato sauce to the bulgur and mix well to ensure the harissa and tomato paste coats all the bulgur. Add 1/2 cup hot water and keep covered for 15 minutes. Remove the cover - the bulgur would have absorbed all the water - if not replace the cover and check after 5 minutes.
  2. In the meantime boil the potatoes in their jackets - or peel, cut into quarters and boil. Once the potatoes are boiled, remove the peel if you have chosen the first method. Put the peeled potatoes through a ricer and press through to get fluffy mashed potatoes. (If you don't have a ricer, mash the potatoes with your hands). Mix the riced potatoes with 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, ground cumin, olive oil and freshly ground black pepper and mash with the fluffed up bulgur mixture. Finally add the minced parsley and mix well to ensure the entire mixture has little flecks of green.
  3. Using your hands shape the bulgur, potato mixture into little balls, the size of golf balls. Serve with a salad.
Makes 18 golf ball sized kofte