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KotW: Homemade Tahini. August 27, 2008

Posted by schizodigestive in Kip of the Week, quick & dirty, vegetarian.
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Eggplants, like so many vegetables, have become stunningly expensive in my neighborhood. So when they’re on sale I tend to buy quite a few… and that’s why I ended up needing to make baba ghanouj the other day. But I was out of tahini — the oily paste of finely ground sesame seeds that’s indispensable for Middle Eastern appetizers.

My usual supermarket had stopped carrying it. I went to Trader Joe’s and they didn’t have it, which was silly, because they had eight or nine kinds of peanut butter. I went to the supermarket I don’t go to, and they didn’t have it either, which was unnerving, because I think of this stuff as a staple. Then I said to myself, c’mon, scruffy, you know tahini doesn’t grow in tin cans on trees.

I bought half a pound of Mexican sesame seed, brought it home and started poking around for technique. This is what I came up with:

1 1/2 cups hulled white sesame seed
about 1 1/2 cups boiling water

Put the seed in a large measuring cup and pour the boiling water over it — it should just cover. Put a saucer over the top of the cup and leave it undisturbed for 45 minutes. All, or almost all, of the water should be absorbed. Drain off surplus water if any and put the soaked seed in a food processor with

1/4 teaspoon salt

Start the mixture spinning while you drizzle in

Five tablespoons light sesame oil, or a mixture of three tablespoons corn or canola oil with two tablespoons dark (Japanese) sesame oil

Process this for a good five to ten minutes. Pack it tightly in an airtight container and refrigerate. Your result won’t be as smooth as commercial tahini, because it won’t be as finely ground; but mine came out with hints of the seeds in it, a beautiful arctic white, and with absolutely profound flavor. Not only is this excellent recourse if you can’t find ready-made tahini at the market, but if you have a good source of bulk sesame seeds, it’s a whole lot cheaper!

© /KC August 2008

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Portobello Mushrooms & Mozzarella August 21, 2008

Posted by sarawr in quick & dirty, vegetarian.
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I have been so busy lately, guys. Busy, and kind of whacked out by the weather — it’s hot! Now it’s cold! It’s wet and gloomy! No, it’s sunny and bright! Between the insane not-quite-fall weather and the busybusybusy pace, I was a little stressed out about cooking. Sandwiches aren’t quite right for a day that started out with hot coffee and cold toes, but roasts make my sunny afternoon kitchen all sweaty and hellish. What to make?

Enter: portobello mushrooms with mozzarella. They’re just the right combination of hot, but not hell-kitchen hot; fresh, but not out-of-season spring salad fresh; summery, but not, you know, July summery. And? They’re hella quick and easy, which is great for that “OMG school just started and I’m on deadline and GAHHHHHH who invented 24-hour days, anyway?” panic.

YOU’LL NEED:
A bunch of portobellos, dependent upon how many people you’re feeding and how hungry they are
Soy sauce
Some water
Three or four cloves of garlic
Mozzarella cheese

WHAT TO DO:
Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Mix up a marinade composed of 1 part soy sauce, 2 parts water, and some crushed and chopped garlic. (I usually make three ‘shrooms and use 1/4 cup soy sauce, 3/4 cup water.) Lay your mushrooms out in a glass baking dish, frilly side up. Pour the marinade over them so that they’re completely soaked, there’s a generous puddle in the dish, but they’re not actually floating. Pop the whole thing, uncovered, into the oven for about 15 minutes. While they’re sizzling away, grate a very generous handful (or two) of mozzarella. Add it to the mushrooms when the 15 minutes are up and continue to cook for about five minutes more — just long enough that the cheese melts and the mushrooms turn a little dark and wilty.

NOM NOM NOM. You can eat these on a delicious whole-wheat roll like burgers, chomp them down plain, or cut them into strips and have them with bleu cheese dip. (Yes. Mozzarella and bleu cheese. YOU WILL THANK ME LATER.) They make an awesome easy lunch, and they’re a great substitute for summer meats (burgers, steaks, etc.). Go forth and savor the fungal flavor.

Kip of the Week: Salmon in Bruschetta Crust August 20, 2008

Posted by schizodigestive in entertaining, Kip of the Week, tomato.
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Of the dishes i make — that is, that I made up — this is my personal favorite. The crust, besides being loaded with flavor of its own, seals natural flavor and moisture into the underlying fillet. And with salmon costing what it does today, who would dare dry it out?

You need a food processor and a 9×13 pyrex baking pan.

two-pound skinless fillet of king salmon [warehouse store fillet is excellent]
three or four slices firm coarse-grained bread, or 12-15″ of a baguette, toasted hard [sourdough if you can get it, stale is fine]
three cloves garlic
one tablespoon fresh or one teaspoon dried rosemary
four big pieces roasted red bell pepper from a jar; rinse to remove the black bits of skin
½ cup wet-pack sun-dried tomatoes with some of the oil [if dry-pack are all you can get, add oil]
olive oil as needed for procedure

Preheat oven to 375° F.

In the food processor, grind the bread, garlic and rosemary to crumbs. Add the bell pepper and tomatoes and keep grinding till the result is like fine gravel; then drizzle olive oil into the top chute till the mixture gathers into a ball. This is usually not more than one tablespoon of oil.

Oil the underside of the fish and lay it on the baking pan. Spread the mixture over the top side of the fish and press it down to a firm even layer, leaving no gaps. Do leave a small space between the edge of the crust and the pan, or it will burn where it touches the glass.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the crust is an earthy black-speckled red like firebrick.

Good sides for this: Spinach pasta, or polenta with mushrooms, or corn on the cob, and a biiiig green salad. If you’re having wine with dinner, this is one of the few fish dishes I know that really will stand up to a chardonnay.

© /KC August 2008

KotW: Taste of Nepal [review] August 14, 2008

Posted by schizodigestive in cookbooks, entertaining, exotic!, herbs & spices, Kip of the Week, salads, tomato, vegetarian.
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TASTE OF NEPAL
Jyoti Pathak
New York: Hippocrene Press, 2007
ISBN 0-7818-1121-X
470 pp. hardcover
$27.50 list

The cuisines of the roof of the world — eastern Afghanistan, eastern Pakistan, the Punjab, Tibet, Nepal, Sikkim and Bhutan — are as distinct from each other as the great cuisines of Europe, and they’re all terrific. But dishes from these countries aren’t easy to find in most restaurants, and recipes on the net are sparse. This is a pity, because good Afghani, Tibetan or Nepali food will truly expand your culinary horizons.

I was introduced to Nepali food when Adri, fresh from a trip to Kathmandu, sat down with me in my kitchen and we tried to figure out how to make dal bhaat that tasted real. At that time, I had never been able to find a Nepali cookbook in English, still less a comprehensive one. Today, happily, that lack is remedied with Jyoti Pathak’s Taste of Nepal, which is a pleasure to read, a joy to cook from, and as authentic as could be.

The book begins with a section on snacks and appetizers, which are a national tradition in Nepal — partly because Nepalis eat two meals a day and fill the interim with enthusiastic snacking, and partly because local hospitality demands that any visitor, even a surprise visitor, be welcomed with food ready on the spot. Nepali snacks (khaajaa) somewhat resemble Indian chaat, except that they’re tastier, more adventurous, and often more complicated; many of them involve cheura, or pressed rice flakes, a Nepali nibbling staple.

Nepali cooking offers a wide variety of carbs, and meticulous attention is paid to rice, to dal (beans, lentils, and peas), and to bread (roti); there are over a dozen bread recipes in this book, some quite exotic. Vegetable recipes, meanwhile, draw from far-flung sources, so that some here seem almost Chinese, some Indian, and some Pacific.

In Nepal, as the author says, “meat is a high status food and does not feature frequently in the regular diet of most people,” so the majority of meat recipes here are for banquet dishes, with long lists of ingredients and complex preparations. Many call for goat, the staple meat of Nepal. There are also recipes for lamb, pork, and venison, but not for beef, since most Nepalis are of the Hindu faith and avoid beef for religious reasons.

Many of the poultry dishes here, including tandoori chicken, seem very Indian, but the recipes for Cornish hen, turkey, quail, and pheasant are far off that beaten path. Again, many of these dishes are meant for holidays and festivals, but for the right occasions, elaborate preparation would be worth it.

Fish is popular in Nepal because it signifies good luck, prosperity, and happiness. Ocean fish is not available; fish is line-caught from Himalayan rivers and either prepared as fresh as possible, or smoked or dried for storage. Preparations here are simple and are mostly fish fries or curries.

Momo (dumplings) may have originated in Tibet but are wildly popular in all Himalayan countries, and a real delicacy. Filled with chicken, lamb, pork, or mixed vegetables, these are bigger, juicier, and more substantial than either Chinese wonton or Korean-Japanese gyoza. Usually they are steamed, but they can also be sautéed like potstickers.

The section on salads, chutneys, and pickles is worth the price of the book, and rather than go into tedious detail, I’ll give one recipe here:

NO-COOK TOMATO CHUTNEY (Na Pakaayeko Golbheda ko Chutney)

This recipe is my daughter Sapana’s favorite way of preparing a quick chutney. The amount of chili may be adjusted to suit your taste.

6 medium tomatoes, roughly chopped (about 6 cups)
8 to 10 fresh hot green chilies, roughly chopped
1/2 cup finely chopped cilantro
2 medium cloves garlic, peeled
2 teaspoons peeled and roughly chopped fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon Szechuan pepper (timmur), finely ground with a mortar and pestle
1 teaspoon mustard oil
1 tablespoon fresh lemon or lime juice

Place the tomatoes, green chilies, cilantro, garlic, ginger, salt and timmur in a food processor or blender and process until smooth. Transfer to a bowl, and mix it with the mustard oil and lemon juice. Taste, adjust the seasonings, and serve immediately or cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. The chutney keeps refrigerated for 2 to 3 days.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

The book is rounded out with a nice section on desserts — most of which, unsurprisingly, are milk-based — one on drinks, mostly teas, and one on “after-meal refreshers,” which are highly spiced or intensely fruit-flavored savory snacks. In short, Nepali cuisine and its materials and methods are covered here from end to end, and you could rely on this book when you prepared a banquet, working from the banquet menus in the book’s last section, “Planning and Serving Nepali Meals.”

If you find some ingredients unfamiliar — and I certainly did — you’ll find comfort in the extensive glossaries of ingredients and of Nepali-English culinary terms. Finally, this book proudly includes an index detailed enough to be usable, which is a great asset especially to a cookbook.

I can’t say enough good things about Taste of Nepal, although I’ve tried. You could try a recipe from this book every day for a year, and you wouldn’t run out. Recipes were obviously developed in collaboration and extensively tested; nothing here is faddish, flippant, or obvious. Finally, as a matter of meticulous production, each recipe is complete on one page or on two facing pages so you can put the book in your cookbook holder and get going. It’s a small thing, but the whole book shows that kind of care.

If you’re at all interested in expanding your culinary repertory, you deserve to have Taste of Nepal on your kitchen bookshelf.

(c) /KC August 2008

KotW: Beef & Lime Pasta Salad August 7, 2008

Posted by sarawr in entertaining, exotic!, Kip of the Week, red meat.
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[This week’s post is the long-awaited beef & lime pasta salad. It’s a great summer recipe for using up all those leftover grilled steaks, and it’s novel enough to serve when you want to impress. Let’s give a big hand to Kip, the only Schizo who’s not also a slacker!]

I often think that limes get a bad rap. Too often, lime is thought of merely as a dessert ingredient while its blond and blowsy cousin, the lemon, gets to star in an amazing variety of productions. The line gets much more respect in countries with truly sophisticated spicy cuisines, like Cuba, India, and Thailand. This recipe uses lime juice and zest as the top notes for a dinner salad that’s a little different.

1 lb. fusilli, penne, farfalle, broken-up perciatelli, or elbow macaroni
2 cups medium to medium-rare roast beef or steak, slivered
1 cup stock
1/2 cup pine nuts or slivered almonds
2 to 4 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup good olive oil
1 large or 2 small limes, zest and juice
shredded Romano cheese, to taste
romaine leaves

Start cooking pasta. In a largish pot, saute the minced garlic and nuts in the olive oil till golden, pour in the stock to stop the cooking. Keep mixture at simmer and, when pasta is cooked al dente, add the pasta and the beef. Refrigerate.

Before serving, add the lime juice, the lime zest and the cheese, and mix again. Serve on romaine leaves.

This recipe is somewhat of a work in progress, and I could see adding ingredients like shredded ginger, shredded basil, nam pla, coconut milk, roasted red bell peppers, roasted cherry tomatoes, diced mango…depending on which direction you want to take it. If you feel like trying this and think of any other exhilarating additions, please mail me at panterazero[AT]gmail.com!

(c) /KC July 2008