Monday, June 30, 2014

Barley salad with grilled zucchini, sugar snap peas and feta cheese

This salad spells summer on a plate. Fresh sugar snap peas and lightly grilled zucchini with a wonderfully tangy, salty, spicy marinated feta cheese combined with chewy bits of pearl barley is very refreshing and satisfying on a hot summer day. If I had fresh mint leaves, I would have added them to the salad - I think it would have worked well. The great thing about barley is that it is very versatile - you can serve it warm or at room temperature. Perfect salad for making ahead and entertaining.

Barley salad with grilled zucchini, sugar snap peas and feta cheese
1/2 cup pearl barley {I used the quick cooking Trader Joes variety}
1 cup Greek feta cheese
1 medium zucchini, cut into 3/4th inch disks
1 cup sugar snap peas
Olive oil for grilling
Kosher salt

Marinade for Feta cheese
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  1. The feta cheese needs to be marinated for at least 2 hours. Hence, this should be done ahead. Cut the feta into 1/2 inch cubes and lightly toss with the 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, dried oregano and chili flakes. Cover and keep refrigerated till serving.
  2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and add the sugar snap peas for 1 to 2 minutes depending on the size. Remove with a slotted spoon and place in an ice water bath to stop cooking and retain the crunch. Now add the pearl barley and cook for 12 minutes. Drain and keep in the serving bowl. Drain the sugar snap peas and add to the cooked barley.
  3. Heat a grill pan over medium high heat. Toss the sliced zucchini with a little olive oil and a sprinkling of kosher salt. When the grill is hot, place the zucchini slices on the grill. Cook for about 5 minutes on each side. The zucchini should have nice grill marks, but not become mushy. Remove with tongs onto a cutting board and cut each slice into quarters. Mix with the barley and blanched sugar snap peas. 
  4. If serving warm, toss with the marinated feta cheese along with the oil used for marination. Taste for seasoning and adjust to taste. This salad can also be served at room temperature.
Serves 3
Note: Here is a little primer on different kinds of feta cheese. I like Israeli feta very much but for this recipe Greek feta works best, thanks to its bold flavor.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Fig, strawberry, and almond frangipane tart

I normally make my own pie crusts from scratch, but a couple of weeks back I was doing some weeknight entertaining and wanted to serve a home made dessert. A ready made pie crust was perfect for the quick berry crostata. As you know, each package contains two crusts. I still had one left and wanted to make something different. The stores are full of bright and juicy fruits at this time of the year and I decided to make a fig and strawberry tart. While looking for ideas to fill my tart, I came across Martha Stewart's Fig and Strawberry Tart recipe. Her filling had hazelnuts which I did not have and substituted with almonds. It was a superb tart - wish I had made the crust from scratch to get that nice flaky crust, but even so, it was delicious. The combination of figs and strawberries worked really well - sweetness from the figs, complemented the slight tartness of the strawberries.

Fig, strawberry and almond frangipane tart

One pie crust to fit a 10 inch fluted tart pan [I used Immaculate Baking crusts available at Whole Foods]
3/4 cup blanched almonds
1/2 cup packed light-brown sugar
Scant 1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
8 oz fresh ripe figs, trimmed and halved lengthwise
8 oz strawberries, halved {really small ones can be kept whole}
  1. Preheat the oven as per the directions on the pie crust box. Place the pie dough into the tart pan carefully so as no to tear it. Gently press down the sides to ensure the dough is evenly spread and roll off the extra with a rolling pin to trim the edges. Place the pan on a baking sheet and bake as per instructions for a tart which needs to be filled after the shell is cooked till light brown. Remove from the oven and let it cool. 
  2. In the meantime, pulse the almonds in the food processor till they are finely chopped. Add the granulated sugar and the brown sugar and salt and pulse to combine with the almonds.
  3. Add the butter, eggs and vanilla and pulse until the mixture is smooth. Pour the mixture into the baked tart shell and spread evenly. Place the halved figs cut side up around the tart and then arrange the strawberries in the center.
  4. The tart filling needs to be cooked at 350 F. If the shell was cooked at a higher temperature, make sure you check and reduce it to 350 F. Place the filled tart in the center rack of the oven on a baking sheet and cook for 30 minutes. Reduce the heat to 325 F and cook for another half hour. By now, the tart will have a dark brown color. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Serves 6

Monday, June 9, 2014

Moroccan orzo salad with roasted corn, zucchini and harissa

Summer is here and the combination of zucchini and corn is on every menu. Today's combination spices a simple orzo salad with the Moroccan spice paste, harissa and some preserved lemons. A generous portion of feta makes this salad complete. It is important to use a good quality spicy harissa, since the flavor of the salad relies a lot on the spiciness of the harissa.

This salad can be made in advance and served at room temperature. The key is to add the hot orzo to the raw shredded zucchini to soften the zucchini a little bit without really cooking it.

Moroccan orzo salad with roasted corn, zuchhini and harissa
3/4th cup orzo
1 medium zucchini
1 fresh corn on the cob
3 large cloves of garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
1 small preserved lemon
2 teaspoons spicy harissa [I use harissa from Le Pain Quotidien]
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup feta cheese crumbled
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
A few grinds of  fresh black pepper
  1. Roast the corn over an open flame. Then shave the kernels with a paring knife, collecting the kernels in the serving bowl.
  2. Cut the zucchini into thin long shreds using a mandoline or a food processor with a wide mouth. A regular shredder will leach too much water from the zucchini and will make the salad mushy. Transfer the shredded zucchini along with the roasted corn into the serving bowl.
  3. Boil the orzo in a large pot of salted boiling water. The Barilla brand takes 9 to 10 minutes for al dente pasta. Drain when cooked and add the hot orzo to the vegetables. The heat from the orzo will wilt the zucchini slightly.
  4. While the orzo is boiling, heat a small saucepan with 1.5 tablespoons of olive oil over medium low heat and add the sliced garlic along with a pinch of salt. The salt will help the garlic soften and the low heat will infuse the oil with the garlic flavor without browning the garlic. This should take about 5 to 6 minutes depending on how thin the garlic is sliced. Transfer to a bowl and let it cool. Once cool, mix in the two teaspoons of harissa paste. Pour the mixture of garlic and harissa into the serving bowl.
  5. Remove the seeds and flesh from the preserved lemon. Thinly slice the skin and chop into bits. Toss into the orzo mixture. Gently mix the orzo and the vegetables so that the harissa mixture evenly coats the salad.
  6. Finally add a few grindings of fresh black pepper and another pinch of salt. Sprinkle with the crumbled feta and lightly mix.
Serves 3

Notes: Preserved Lemons can be purchased online at Sur La Table

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Quinoa, potato and tuscan kale patties

These veggie patties are tasty, nutritious and extremely easy to make. The small amount of potato added to the mix eliminates the need for eggs as a binding agent and makes this the perfect vegan main course. The quinoa is cooked with the leeks and mixed with the grated carrot and the mashed potato (great if you want to use up the leftover mashed potato). The kale leaves are blanched, drained and chopped and added to the quinoa, potato mixture. A little salt and black pepper are the only flavorings added to these burgers to retain the flavor of the vegetables.
The patties are cooked on a non-stick griddle to get a crisp exterior while still maintaining a moist interior. These can be eaten in between a bun or just by themselves. My daughter loves these by itself with a little bit of mustard and ketchup on the side and of course some baked fries.

Quinoa, Potato and Tuscan Kale burgers
1 cup quinoa
1 cup finely chopped leeks
1/2 cup grated carrot
1 cup mashed potato (I like to put mine through a ricer to remove any lumps)
1 cup cooked tuscan kale leaves, finely chopped
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
Olive oil for pan frying
  1. Wash the quinoa in a sieve to get rid of the bitter saponin that coats the quinoa grains.
  2. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a 3 quart saucepan. Add the chopped leeks and 1/4 teaspoon salt and cook over medium heat for 2 minutes till the leeks begin to soften. Add the washed and drained quinoa to the leeks. Cook over medium heat for another 3 minutes to toast the quinoa. 
  3. Add 2 cups water and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and cook covered for 15 minutes. Remove the cover, raise the heat and cook for another minute or two till all the water has absorbed into the quinoa. Turn off the heat and set aside to cool.
  4. Mix the cooled quinoa mixture with the grated carrot, mashed potato, cooked kale, salt and pepper and form them in 2.5 inch patties and lay on a lined baking sheet. Refrigerate the patties for at least one hour, so that they hold their shape.
  5. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a 10" heavy non-stick pan over medium heat. Remove the patties from the refrigerator and carefully place them in the hot oil so as not to break them. Fry for about 3 to 4 minutes on one side to get a nice golden color - flip with a flat spatula and continue to cook on the other side for 4 more minutes. Remove when golden brown on both sides. 
  6. Serve warm with a salad, fries and ketchup. Or tuck them into a burger bun for a satisfying veggie burger.
Makes 6 patties