Saturday, September 17, 2016

Israeli couscous with squash blossoms

Israeli couscous makes a delicious side or an appetizer. Combined with squash blossoms, roasted garlic, Parmesan cheese and parsley, the creamy dish resembles a risotto, but ready in a lot less time. Squash blossoms are also sometimes called zucchini flowers, but they can come from any summer or even winter squash. They are the edible flowers of the squash plant and usually come in yellow and orange shades. Squash blossoms are soft, delicate, and have a mild taste. This is a healthy, delicate, colorful and elegant dish. The flowers add a sweet taste to the dish.

Israeli couscous with squash blossoms

1/2 cup Israeli couscous
8 zucchini blossoms
8 large cloves of garlic with skin ( or 1 whole head of garlic)
1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley
2 tablespoon + 2 teaspoons good quality extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons pine nuts
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese pieces
1 teaspoon lemon zest
Salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper

  1. Preheat your oven to 400°F.  Peel and discard the papery outer layers of the whole garlic bulb, leaving intact the skins of the individual cloves of garlic. Using a sharp knife, cut 1/4 to a 1/2 inch from the top of cloves, exposing the individual cloves of garlic.
  2. Place the garlic head in a piece of foil large enough to wrap it. Drizzle 2  teaspoons of olive oil over the exposed head. Cover the bulb with aluminum foil and place it on a baking sheet. Bake on the middle rack for 25-30 minutes, or until the cloves feel soft when pressed. If the cloves are small you might need less time. Check in the middle of baking to ensure the garlic is not turning dark brown as they will dry out. Once soft, remove and keep aside.
  3. Put the pine-nuts in a dry skillet and cook over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until golden in spots, about 3 minutes. Set aside to cool.
  4. In a small saucepan bring 3/4th cup of water to a boil. Add the couscous with 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt and bring to a boil once again. Reduce heat to simmer, cover the pan and cook for 10 to 15 minutes as per instructions on the box. The water should be completely absorbed. If there is excess water, drain the water. 
  5. While the couscous is boiling, prep the blossoms. Gently open the petals and check for bugs, as you might find a lingering insect or even a bee in there — you can turn it upside down and give it a gentle shake. Next, remove any pistil or stamen by using your fingers to snap them off. Give the blossoms a rough chop and place them at the bottom of the serving dish. 
  6. Once the couscous is ready, remove from the pan and lay it over the chopped blossoms. The heat from the couscous will help to cook the blossoms. In a small bowl, squeeze out the garlic from the roasted cloves to get about two tablespoons of garlic paste (balance can be used for toast), and blend it with 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, 1/8th teaspoon salt, and freshly ground black pepper. Toss the couscous and blossom mixture with the roasted garlic mixture. Now gently mix in the lemon zest, bits of Parmesan cheese and the toasted nuts. Sprinkle with the chopped parsley and it is ready to serve.
Serves 2 as a side

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Lentil and potato salad with caramelized garlic and Parmesan dressing

Caramelized garlic is the star of this salad. I borrowed the recipe for the garlic from Yotam Ottolenghi's garlic tart. Soft and sweet nuggets of deliciousness are spread throughout the salad - just enough to add the element of surprise but not in every bite. Lentils and crispy potatoes provide bulk and baby arugula is the perfect green with a mild bite. The Dijon Parmesan dressing ties it all together beautifully. Makes the ideal main course salad. While this is a lengthy recipe with many steps, the end result is worth all the effort - after all it is "The Main Course"!

Lentil and potato salad with caramelized garlic and Parmesan dressing

1 cup French green lentils
9 large fingerling potatoes
1 large bulb of garlic, cloves separated and peeled
1 tablespoon chopped thyme
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon good quality balsamic vinegar
1/3 cup water + more for boiling
Freshly ground black pepper
pinch of salt
2 large handfuls of baby arugula, washed and dried

1 tablespoon good quality red wine vinegar
4 tablespoons good quality extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons finely grated parmesan cheese
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

  1. Add 3 cups of water and 1 cup lentils to a 3 quart saucepan and bring the water to a boil. Simmer over medium low heat for about 10 minutes. Add 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt and continue to simmer for 10 to 15 more minutes till the lentils are cooked but not mushy. If the water has not absorbed, drain the excess water. Transfer to a glass bowl and set aside.
  2. In another saucepan, boil the fingerling potatoes with the skin in plenty of salted water, for about 10 to 15 minutes till the a knife pierced through goes through. Drain and let them cool. Peel and slice the potatoes about 1/4 inch thick. Preheat the oven to 400 F. While the oven is heating, toss the potatoes with 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, a sprinkling of kosher salt and a generous grind of black pepper. Arrange the sliced potatoes in a single layer on a baking sheet and place it in the middle rack of the preheated oven and cook for 12 minutes. Flip and cook for another 12 to 15 minutes till they are crisp and golden. Remove from the oven and set aside
  3. While the potatoes are cooking, place the peeled garlic cloves in a small saucepan with enough water to cover the garlic cloves. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook for 3 minutes. Drain and set aside. Wipe the saucepan dry and add the cloves and 1 teaspoon olive oil  and fry on  high heat for exactly 2 minutes just to brown a tiny bit.  Add the balsamic vinegar, 1/3 cup water and bring to the boil.  Simmer gently for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes add the sugar, chopped thyme and a pinch of kosher salt and continue  to cook on a medium heat for a further 10 minutes, or until the liquid has evaporated and the garlic cloves are coated in a dark caramel syrup. Set aside.
  4. Whisk all the ingredients of the dressing till it is emulsified. 
  5. To assemble the salad, spread the arugula on the serving platter. Warm the lentils if they were made in advance - 1 minute in the microwave oven will be adequate. Toss the lentils with half of the dressing and then place the warm lentils on the arugula. Scatter the crisp potatoes on top of the lentils and tuck the caramelized garlic spread evenly all over the platter. Drizzle rest of the dressing on top. And its ready to serve.
Serves 3 as a main course.

Note; The potatoes should be the last thing cooked as they are best warm!