September 24, 2017 Braised Chicken Thighs with Tomatillo Sauce

When is a tomato not a tomato? When it’s a tomatillo. Yes, their aliases include Mexican husk tomato and “tomato verde” and both tomatillos and tomatoes are members of the nightshade family, but that’s where the similarities end.

Years ago tomatillos were one of those “let’s try this and see” additions to the garden. I certainly wasn’t familiar with the sprawling bushy plants that first produce lots of leaves and little yellow flowers. These flowers eventually turn into bright green papery Chinese lanterns. The tomatillo grows inside this husk and when the fruit is mature, the husk dries out and turns a tan color and the tomatillo splits the husk open. Under that husk they look like hard little green tomatoes. They have a bright fresh flavor, a little citrusy and herbal. I have used them for salsa verde and a  chicken tomatillo soup. This time I wanted to use tomatillos in a sauce for braised chicken thighs. I found my inspiration from Mexican cooking authority, Rick Bayless. His recipe for a braised pork loin in tomatillo sauce could be adapted for chicken so I knew I would be getting the direction I needed.

Start the dish by making the tomatillo sauce or salsa, remember, salsa is the Spanish word for sauce. Turn the broiler to high and move the oven rack to the highest position.Remove the papery husks from the tomatillos and rinse off the sticky residue, that residue is a natural deterrent to insects. In this case it took 28 tomatillos to make a pound. Put them on a foil lined baking sheet, stem side down so they won’t roll around as much. It is a good idea to double up on the baking sheets so they won’t buckle under the broiler from the heat. Add one green jalapeno to the sheet and broil until the tomatillos are roasted, even blackened in spots and very soft. Transfer everything, including the juices to a blender and process until smooth. Set the sauce aside while you brown the chicken.

In a 4-5 quart Dutch oven, brown the chicken pieces. You will need to do this in batches, the chicken should be golden brown, not stewed. Rick instructs that you use either all white meat (breast) or all dark (thighs) because the cooking times will be different, I find that dark meat holds up better to the braising process. After the meat is browned it is removed to a plate. No need to rinse the pot, now it’s time to finish off the sauce.

Return the Dutch oven to medium heat and cook the onion and garlic. Raise the temperature to medium high and add the tomatillo puree. Cook until it is dark green and thickened, this concentrates the flavors of the sauce.  A little water thins out the sauce, Rick feels the addition of stock would make the sauce too rich. Now is the time to add some heavy or sour cream if desired. It lightens up the sauce and I liked it with the chicken. Add some fresh cilantro or the more traditional purslane also known as verdolagas in Mexico. I will definitely try that when purslane makes an appearance in the garden again. Nestle the chicken pieces in the sauce, put the lid on and cook in the oven for thirty minutes.

Potatoes add an earthy element to the dish. Parboil some red potatoes while the chicken is cooking, close to the end of the cooking they are nestled in the sauce between the chicken pieces. Serve the chicken topped with sauce with some potatoes on the side. The end result is a rich, warm satisfying dish and the perfect transition from summer to fall cooking.

Tomatillo on the vine, not ready for picking yet.

Ripe green and purple tomatillos.

It took 28 tomatillos to make a pound.
Roast tomatillos until soft and blackened in spots. Make sure the juices go in the blender too.
Blended tomatillos.
Chicken thighs are browned, then nestled in the tomatillo sauce.

Braised Chicken Thighs in Tomatillo Sauce

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

  • 1 lb fresh tomatillos
  • 1 medium jalapeno pepper
  • Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
  • 8 medium skin on, bone in chicken thighs, 2½ to 3 lbs
  • 1½ T olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely sliced
  • 3 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped’
  • 1/3 c chopped cilantro
  • A little crema or heavy cream if desired
  • 1¼ lbs red skinned potatoes, scrubbed and quartered

Directions

  1. Roast the tomatillos and chile on a baking sheet four inches below a very hot broiler until darkly roasted, even blackened in spots, about 5 minutes. Flip them over and roast on the other side for another 4-5 minutes. Tomatillos should be splotchy black and the chile soft and cooked through.
  2. Cool a bit then transfer everything, including the juices that have accumulated on the tray to a blender. Process until smoothly pureed.
  3. Set a 4-5 quart Dutch oven over medium heat, when the oil is hot add chicken pieces skin side down. It is best to do this in batches, you want the chicken to brown, not stew. Brown the chicken on the first side for 5 minutes, then turn over and brown on the other side. Remove the chicken pieces to a plate and keep warm.
  4. In the same Dutch oven over medium heat, add the onion and cook, stirring regularly, until golden, about 7 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook a minute longer. Raise the heat to medium heat and when the oil is sizzling, add the tomatillo puree all at once. Stir until it is darker and noticeably thicker. Add 1 ½ cups of water and the cilantro. If you desire a mellower sauce add about a ½ cup cream or sour cream to the sauce. Taste and season with a little salt. Stir the sauce well to combine.
  5. Heat oven to 325°F. Nestle the chicken pieces in the warm sauce, cover the pot and set in the oven. Cook for 30 minutes.
  6. While the chicken is cooking, simmer the potatoes in a pan of salted water to cover until tender, about 10 minutes. Drain and set aside.
  7. When the chicken has cooked for thirty minutes, nestle the cooked potatoes into the sauce around the meat. Recover and cook for another 5-10 minutes.
  8. Serve the chicken and potatoes with the sauce over it.

June 13, 2017 Green Harissa

Harissa is a spicy and aromatic chili sauce, commonly found in the cooking of the North African countries of Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria. The basic recipe calls for hot peppers, garlic, salt, olive oil and spices. This version from Vedge , a vegetarian restaurant in Philadelphia, uses green jalapenos, onions, garlic, a generous amount of fresh cilantro, along with dried coriander and cumin. Cilantro haters can substitute parsley or half parsley and half fresh spinach. Some mint might be interesting in the mix.

The original recipe called for 2 jalapenos, one was enough for my palate, remember you can always add more heat, it’s harder to take it away. It’s a good idea to wear gloves when handling chilies. Chili oil on sensitive parts of your body (hands, lips, eyes etc.) will burn for a long time. Chili oil is not water soluble, it’s fat soluble. So if you get some on your hands, rub some cooking oil into your hands before washing with soap and water.

Serve green harissa as a sauce for grilled vegetables and fish, lamb burgers, an unconventional taco topping, the possibilities are endless.

Green Harissa

Makes 1 cup

Ingredients

  • 2 c loosely packed cilantro leaves
  • 1 c finely chopped onion
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 2 jalapeno peppers, stems and seeds removed
  • 2 T or more olive oil
  • 2 T rice wine vinegar
  • 1 t ground coriander
  • 1 t ground cumin
  • 1 t salt
  • 1 t freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 t sugar
Cilantro in the greenhouse.

 

Directions

  1. Combine all of the ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth

June 11, 2017 Carrot Top Pesto

Spring is an ideal time for planting root vegetables like turnips, beets and carrots. They especially love the cooler temperatures that we have been blessed with this spring. We try to be frugal with seeds, so the ones that aren’t planted are saved from season to season. I catalog them alphabetically like a card file in clamshell plastic containers that in a previous life held spinach or lettuce from a big box store. I use 3×5 cards to separate them into specific categories, beets, cucumbers, fennel etc. This year I even did a little clean up, getting rid of all packets before 2013.

Last year a friend gave Joe quite a few packets of carrot seeds he purchased on sale. Some were planted but most went into storage in the fridge over the winter. He wasn’t certain how many of them would germinate this season so he planted them very densely. As luck would have it, every carrot seed germinated.  Now it was time for some serious thinning.

Thinning is a necessary step in vegetable gardening if you want to have mature healthy plants. This can be done in stages. Armed with my Cutco scissors, I did the first thinning when the plants were about four inches tall. Pulling out the unwanted seedlings can often pull out the ones you wanted to leave growing. I snipped the plants at the soil line. With a colander full of the lacy feathery tops I thought about how I could use them. I remembered that parsley and carrots are related so I tasted a few of them. They have an herbaceous flavor, that to me was reminiscent of parsley.

I have made pesto with basil and arugula, why not carrot tops? I used a basic formula that I have used to make other types of pesto, herbs or a green, in this case carrot tops, garlic, nuts, a hard cheese and olive oil. Baby carrot greens are more delicate in flavor and are a special reward for the gardener. Organically grown full-sized carrot greens can be used too, eliminating any thick stems. I used my pesto as a topping for roasted salmon. It would work with chicken breasts and of course, roasted carrots.

Time to thin the carrots.
The first thinning of carrot greens.

Carrot Top Pesto

Makes about a cup

Ingredients

  • 3 cups lightly packed carrot tops
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 3 T pine nuts
  • ¼ c extra virgin olive oil, more if needed to make a paste
  • ¼ c grated Parmesan cheese
  • Kosher salt and pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Place the carrot tops, garlic and pine nuts in the bowl of a food processor.
  2. Pulse until coarsely chopped. With the motor running, slowly add olive oil until a paste forms. Add cheese and pulse several times to combine.
  3. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Use immediately or cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 2 days.

May 30, 2017 Baked Halibut with Bouillabaisse Sauce and Green Olive Tapenade

Fish is on the menu at our house three nights a week and though the method of cooking is usually the same, I am always looking for new ways to complement it. This recipe, Baked Cod Fillet with Bouillabaisse Sauce with Green Olive Tapenade from the April issue of Food and Wine seemed to fit that bill. It combines the classic flavors of bouillabaisse: fennel, garlic, saffron and tomatoes, to make a delicious sauce along with a quick briny olive tapenade.

The origins of bouillabaisse can be traced as far back as the ancient Greeks and was the humble fare of fishermen in Provence, specifically from the port city of Marseille. The best of the catch would be sold to restaurants while the less desirable bony rockfish and shellfish would become part of the fisherman’s dinner, a stew cooked with sea water and simmered over an open fire. Bouillabaisse has come a long way since then to become one of the most iconic French dishes.

The first step of the recipe is to chop the fennel, leek, onion and celery. This can be done by hand or a food processor makes quick work of this step. Just be certain that all pieces are relatively the same size to ensure even cooking. Sauté the vegetables over medium heat until softened then add the garlic and saffron. Saffron adds a subtle flavor and aroma and its beautiful golden color. At about forty dollars a bottle, Pernod is an ingredient I could not justify buying since I was only using a few tablespoons. It adds a subtle anise flavor so if you have some on hand, by all means use it. Add dry white wine and vermouth to the pot and reduce the liquid by half. Next into the pot are halved and smashed cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes are an acceptable substitute here.

The next step is to make fish stock. I am fortunate to have an outstanding fish market that supplies me with fish bones and heads needed for stock making. If making fish stock would stop you from making this recipe, substitute clam broth or  fish bouillon.  Always taste products like this first, since they can be salty. After the sauce cooks, cool slightly and carefully discard the fish bones if using. Use an immersion blender to puree the sauce then pass it through a food mill into a sauce pan. Keep the sauce warm over low heat.

The green olive tapenade is very easy to do and adds a briny contrast to the rich sauce. Cook the fish according to your favorite method, we use the Canadian fisheries method with consistent results. The sauce and the tapenade can be made several days ahead making this an impressive recipe for entertaining.

Baked Halibut with Bouillabaisse Sauce and Green Olive Tapenade

Serves four

Ingredients for the sauce

  • 4 T extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1-1 lb fennel bulb, trimmed and finely chopped
  • 1 large leek, trimmed and finely chopped, white and light green parts only
  • 1 medium white onion, finely chopped
  • 2 celery ribs, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • ¼ t saffron threads
  • 2 T Pernod or pastis (optional)
  • ¾ c dry white wine
  • ¾ c dry vermouth
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved and smashed
  • ½ t smoked paprika
  • 2 lbs white fish bones, rinsed and dried
  • 2 t fresh lemon juice (plus more for drizzling)
  • Kosher salt
  • Four 6-oz. white fish fillets like cod, halibut, grouper

Directions for the sauce

  1. In a large enameled cast-iron casserole, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Add the fennel, leek, onion and celery and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally until the vegetables are softened, about 8 minutes.
  2. Stir in the garlic and the saffron and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes
  3. Add the Pernod (if using) and cook until the liquid has evaporated, about 2 minutes. Add the wine and vermouth and cook until the liquid is reduced by about half, about 8 minutes. Add the tomatoes and paprika and simmer over medium heat until the liquid is reduced by half, about 5 minutes.
  4. In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Add the fish bones and cook over medium high heat, turning once, about 5 minutes.
  5. Transfer the bones to the casserole and add two cups of water. Cover partially and simmer over moderately low heat for 30 minutes. Let the sauce cool slightly then discard the fish bones.
  6. Using an immersion blender puree the sauce, then strain through the fine mesh of a food mill into a medium saucepan. Add 2 teaspoons lemon juice, season with salt and keep warm.

Ingredients for the Green Olive Tapenade

  • ¼ c green pitted olives
  • 2 T rinsed and drained capers
  • 2 T flat leaved parsley
  • 2 T extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 ½ T fresh lemon juice
  • kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Directions for the Green Olive Tapenade

  1.  Place the first five ingredients in the bowl of a mini food processor and pulse until combined and roughly chopped. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Cooking the Fish

  1. Preheat oven to 450°F.
  2. Coat a shallow baking dish with non stick spray. Season the fish fillets with salt.
  3. Measure your fish fillets at the thickest point. Bake the fish for 10 minutes for every inch of thickness.

Finishing the Dish

  1. Ladle the sauce into 4 shallow bowls and top each one with a cod fillet Spoon the tapenade over the fish. Drizzle with more olive oil and lemon juice. Serve immediately.

September 15, 2016 Harissa

dsc_7983aThe challenge facing us in late summer/early fall is preserving the harvest.  A prime example is hot peppers. In tropical climates they thrive as perennials and can grow for many years. It would be great if I could just walk down to the garden in January to pick a few fresh jalapenos. But given the fact that January temperatures where we live are below freezing and pepper plants prefer a daytime temperature of 65-80°F, it won’t be happening anytime soon . So it is necessary to find methods of preservation now to enjoy them later while the peppers are at their peak. Every year I freeze whole peppers, dry them, make chili flakes, pickle jalapenos, I’m even making sriracha now, but a new method is always welcome.
A very simple recipe I found for eggplant, another garden stalwart, suggested topping grilled slices with prepared harissa and yogurt. In the past I purchased harissa in a jar or a tube at the middle eastern stand at the local farmers market. This time I decided to see if this was something I could make myself. Harissa, is a garlicky spicy condiment found in the Northwest African countries of Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia. It can be used as a condiment for meat or fish, roasted vegetables, stirred into soups and stews and served alongside couscous. Think sriracha with more complexity. It’s ingredients can include roasted peppers, garlic, chile peppers of all varieties, fragrant spices such as coriander, cumin and caraway, dried mint, lemon and olive oil. There is no one master recipe for harissa. The ingredients in harissa vary by country, ethnicity, even neighborhood. You can adjust the heat by the number and type of chilies you use, just remember, harissa is supposed to be hot.

My recipe is a little different from most since I used fresh hot peppers, not dried ones that need to be reconstituted. This meant using double the amount of peppers. I used one red bell pepper, four mild poblano peppers and a mix of jalapeno, cayenne and ancho. I added a little tomato paste for sweetness, preserved lemon peel with just a little juice, chopped garlic, smoked paprika and an aromatic spice blend. I think the spice blend is what really gives this dish its unique flavor. Whole spices, coriander, cumin and caraway are toasted in a small skillet until the fragrance fills your kitchen. I find it easiest to grind them in a mortar and pestle, a mini food processor doesn’t quite give the consistency you are looking for.

All the peppers need to be charred to remove the skin. I did this in a hot oven, turning occasionally to blacken all the sides. I put the charred peppers in a bowl and covered it tightly with plastic wrap to steam the peppers. It is important for to wear rubber gloves when removing the skin, seeds and stem from the hot peppers. Conventional wisdom for years has said that the hottest part of the pepper is the seeds. A recent study however has shown that even though the seeds pack some heat, it’s actually the placenta, the white tissue that holds the seeds that is the source of the most heat. As you peel the peppers put them into piles, no heat, some heat and hottest. That way you can hold back on some of the hottest peppers until you are certain the sauce will be palatable for you.

Combine the chilies, toasted spices, garlic, salt and other optional ingredients in a food processor. With the food processor running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil until you have a smooth, thick paste. Scrape down the sides occasionally. Taste, now is the time to add that extra pepper if desired. As I said before, harissa is supposed to be hot. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer harissa to clean jars, top with a thin layer of olive oil and store in the refrigerator for several weeks. Since I freeze pesto I may try to see if harissa can be frozen too.

As a postscript, the harissa received immediate approval from Joe who topped cucumber slices with harissa as an after work snack.

dsc_7947a
A harvest of both bell and hot peppers.

Harissa

Makes 2 cups

Ingredients

  • 1 medium bell pepper
  • 8 to 10 ounces fresh chili peppers of varying heat, poblano, ancho, jalapeno, cayenne
  • 2 t cumin seed
  • 2 t coriander seed
  • 2 t caraway seed
  • 3 to 4 cloves of peeled garlic
  • 1 T tomato paste
  • 1 t preserved lemon peel
  • 1 t juice from preserved lemon
  • 1 t smoked paprika
  • Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
  • 3-4 T extra virgin olive oil

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 425°F.Line a baking sheet with foil. Place all the peppers on the baking sheet and roast for 10 minutes.
  2. Turn the smaller peppers over and roast for another 10 minutes, until the skins are blackened. Remove them to a bowl. Turn the bell and poblano peppers over and roast for another 10-15 minutes, until the skins are blackened.
  3. Remove all the peppers to the bowl and tightly cover with plastic wrap to steam the skin.
  4. Place the cumin, coriander and caraway seed into a dry skillet over medium heat. Toast until seeds have darkened a bit and have become fragrant.
  5. Pour toasted seeds into the bowl of a mortar and pestle. Crush seeds to a powder.
  6. Using rubber gloves to protect your hands, stem, skin and seed the peppers.
  7. Place the peppers (hold back a few hot ones if you are concerned), toasted seeds, garlic, tomato paste, preserved lemon peel and juice, smoked paprika into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse to combine the ingredients, scraping down the sides.
  8. With the food processor running, add the olive oil in a steady stream until you have a smooth, thick paste. Taste, add salt and pepper to your liking and pulse in the extra peppers if desired.
  9. Transfer harissa to clean jars and top with a thin layer of olive oil. Store in the refrigerator for several months.
Place the peppers on a foil lined baking sheet for easy clean up.
Place the peppers on a foil lined baking sheet for easy clean up.

dsc_7952a

Cumin, coriander and caraway seeds are toasted in a dry pan.
Cumin, coriander and caraway seeds are toasted in a dry pan.

dsc_7956a

Pulverize the seeds in a mortar and pestle or spice grinder. Smells great.
Pulverize the seeds in a mortar and pestle or spice grinder. Smells great.
dsc_7962a
Stem, seed and skin the peppers. Be sure to wear gloves to protect your hands from the hot peppers.

 

dsc_7965a
I added some preserved lemon peel and tomato paste.
Everything is combined in the food processor.
Everything is combined in the food processor. Add olive oil to make a thick paste.

dsc_7974a

October 31, 2015 Homemade Hot Pepper Sauces

DSC_4979aLast weeks plunge into the deep freeze meant it was time for one final harvest of hot peppers. With a formula that worked and an abundant source of peppers the challenge was to make a few hot sauces using the same method as the sriracha sauce from a few weeks ago. I first tried the NuMex Suave Orange peppers and several days later using green and red pasilla peppers and green poblano peppers. The jars fermented on the back kitchen countertop for about a week. I wasn’t sure what the results would be so my expectations weren’t very high.

To finish, I followed the same procedure for each variety, transferring the chopped chilis to the food processor, adding enough (1/3 to 1/2cup) white vinegar to puree until smooth. I carefully washed out the processor between peppers to keep each type as pure as possible. I strained the mixture through the medium disc of the food mill to eliminate any seeds. I think it’s easier than the mesh strainer and gives the finished product a little texture.

Now for some taste testing. The Numex Suave Orange has the flavor nuances of the habanero that are usually missed because the heat dominates. The sauce has a citrusy flavor with hints of orange and lemon and finishes with a little heat. The green pasilla flavor reminds me of green bell pepper and has a touch of moderate heat. The green poblano has an initial hint of sweetness and finishes with more heat than the green pasilla. I especially like the red pasilla sauce. The color is a deep dark red and the flavor is rich and full but not too hot. I think it would be the perfect addition to a chili recipe.

Numex Suave Orange Peppers
Numex Suave Orange Peppers
DSC_4858a
The habanero peppers on the left measure a tongue burning 100,000 to 300,000 on the Scoville scale while the Numex Suave Orange on the right are a very mild 800!
Adding peppers and garlic to the food processor.
Adding peppers and garlic to the food processor.
Chop the peppers as finely as possible.
Chop the peppers as finely as possible.
The peppers ferment for about a week.
The peppers ferment for about a week.
DSC_4985a
The finished product

July 26, 2015 Cauliflower “Alfredo” Sauce

DSC_3786aCauliflower is the vegetable master of disguise. We love it cut into florets or “steaks”  roasted with olive oil, salt and pepper and chow down on it like popcorn. It makes a satisfying substitute for mashed potatoes, and chopped finely it can replace couscous or other grains in some recipes. So my ears perked up the other day when I heard yet another way to use cauliflower.

If I am at home in the early afternoon I will turn on “The Chew”, a television program that has been described as “The View” for foodies. A recipe that caught my attention recently was a side by side comparison of traditional  Alfredo sauce, prepared by Iron Chef and restauranteur Michael Symon, with a “lightened up” version of the sauce, made by natural foods chef and author, Daphne Oz.

Michael and Daphne’s sauces start out with same five ingredients, shallots, parmesan cheese, extra virgin olive oil, parsley and butter. As Michael pointed out, he learned from fellow chef Mario Batali, traditional Alfredo sauce in Italy is butter, a little bit of the pasta water and Parmesan cheese.  It does not include heavy cream, an American addition to the dish. Michael and Daphne both added shallots to their sauce, also not traditional but adding an additional smoky sweet note to the sauce.

Here is where the recipes diverge. Michael’s traditional version of the sauce used one whole stick of butter and a cup of Parmesan cheese. Although Daphne’s recipe did include a quarter of the amount of the butter and cheese in Michael’s recipe, most of the velvety texture came from, you guessed it, cauliflower. She boiled cauliflower in milk and pureed it to make the base for the sauce. Cauliflower acted as a binder and gave the sauce it’s smoothness.

This was a recipe I had to try for myself. The recipe starts with four cups of cauliflower florets and a cup of milk added to a saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook until fork tender, about 10-12 minutes. Strain out the cauliflower pieces and add to a blender, then add milk and butter. To make this a non-dairy preparation use almond milk and a butter substitute like Earth Balance.  Puree the ingredients until smooth and season with salt and pepper.

Shallots are sauteed in olive oil until softened and the pan is deglazed with a little white wine. Add the cauliflower puree to the pan and loosen the sauce with a little water or milk. Freshly grated Parmesan, nutmeg and a little chopped parsley are the finishing touches to the sauce. Both Daphne and Michael used fettucine noodles for their finished dish. Since we have eating our share of zucchini “noodles” this summer, I thought this would be another way to use them. I took zucchini noodles, added them to a saute pan to reduce as much liquid as possible and warm them up a bit.  I only cook them for a few minutes  since I still want them to retain a litttle crunch.

The sauce holds well and if you are going to make it, double up, use the whole head of cauliflower and freeze some for later use. I’m also thinking of using this as a substitute for bechamel sauce in my moussaka once the eggplants start rolling in.  As Daphne said, this is a sauce that will let you indulge without the guilt.

DSC_3845a

DSC_3779a

Cauliflower Alfredo Sauce

Serves six

Ingredients

  • 4c cauliflower, cut into chunks
  • 1 c milk
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2T butter
  • 1-2T olive oil
  • 1 large shallot, finely minced (about ¼c)
  • ½c white wine
  • ¼c finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • ¼t freshly grated nutmeg

Directions

  1. Put the cauliflower and the milk in a large saucepan and season with salt and pepper. Note:milk will not cover the cauliflower.
  2. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer , cover and cook until fork tender, about 10-12 minutes.
  3. Using a slotted utensil, transfer the cauliflower to a blender. Add the milk and butter and puree until smooth. Season with salt and pepper.
  4. Place a large sauté pan over medium heat and add 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the shallot and cook for 2-3 minutes, or until slightly tender.
  5. Deglaze with the white wine and reduce liquid by half, 1-2 minutes.
  6. Add the cauliflower puree to the pan, if sauce is too thick, add a little water or milk.
  7. Add freshly ground nutmeg and stir in the Parmesan.

DSC_3802a

March 4, 2015 Turkish Tarator Sauce

DSC_1788a

What’s in a name? When it comes to food, it may depend on what country you are in. Tarator is a prime example of this. In the Balkans, it is a cold yogurt based soup made with cucumbers and seasoned with dill and lemon, similar to the ingredients in Greek tzatziki. In many Middle Eastern countries, Tarator is a sauce or a dip based on sesame tahini. The tarator of Turkey is a savory sauce, thickened with nuts and used with a wide variety of foods.

This recipe, a Turkish tarator sauce from Fine Cooking magazine is courtesy of  James Beard award winning chef Ana Sortum. Her travels as a young chef exposed her to the exciting, flavorful home cooking of Turkey. When she returned to Cambridge, Massachusetts, she opened her first restaurant, Oleana combinig the bold flavors of the eastern Mediterranean with farm fresh ingredients.

Tarator is very easy to make. As with many traditional sauces, it was first made with a mortar and pestle, but a blender brings this sauce together in less than five minutes. Nuts are the base of the sauce and provide it’s richness. I have seen everything from walnuts, to hazelnuts to pine nuts used in different versions of this recipe, blanched almonds are the chef’s choice in this recipe. Some recipes also include bread as an additional thickener but I found this unnecessary.  Combine nuts, olive oil, lemon juice, water and garlic in the food processor. Blend until smooth and thick, scrape down the sides several times during this process, it takes about 3 minutes.  Season to taste with salt and pepper. When serving, garnish with some toasted almonds.

Use good ingredients, not those nuts that have been sitting in your cabinet for months, fresh lemon juice and a quality extra virgin olive oil. I purchase my best oils from The Tubby Olive. Their oils are sourced from small farm producers and I am able to taste what I buy. Unfortunately not every bottle of olive oil labeled extra virgin, actually is.   If you are interested in some good information regarding the misrepresentation of the origins and quality of some brands of olive oil, check here.

Tarator is traditionally served with a wide variety of dishes, ranging from grilled eggplant, beets and fried seafood. I served it with roasted salmon and lightly blanched sugar snap peas.  It would also be a flavorful dip for crudite or a sauce for fried calamari.

Turkish Tarator Sauce

Makes about a cup

Ingredients

  • 1/2 c blanched whole almonds
  • 2T toasted and chopped almonds for garnish
  • 1/4c extra virgin olive oil
  • 2t fresh lemon juice
  • 1 1/2t chopped garlic
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

DSC_1779a

Directions

  1. In a blender, puree the whole almonds, olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and 1/2c water until completely smooth and thick, at least 3 minutes.
  2. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Sauce keeps covered and refrigerated up to 3 days.

DSC_1799a

DSC_1790a

November 20, 2014 Mahi Mahi with Pomegranate Salsa

DSC_0009aFish is always my go-to selection for a quick and healthy dinner.  This weekend my fish market had quite a few excellent varieties and some beautiful mahi mahi fillets caught my eye.

Also known as dolphin fish, the Hawaiian name, mahi mahi, was used first by restaurants to distinguish it from the mammal. Despite the Hawaiian name, mahi mahi is mostly fished on the Atlantic coast. Wild caught in the United States from Massachusetts to Texas, it is considered a “best choice” by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch. Mahi mahi are fished by longline methods or troll and pole. These methods limit the accidental catch of sea turtles and other threatened species.

Mahi mahi is a lean fish with a delicate, mildly pronounced flavor and medium texture. The flesh usually has strips of brown running down the center of the fillet. This is a harmless discoloration, some (not us) think this makes the fish less attractive so they trim it off. Be sure to remove the skin before cooking, it is tough and tasteless. Halibut would be a good substitution if mahi mahi is not available.

We cook our fish very simply and compliment it with a bright sauce. I wanted to take advantage of seasonal fall ingredients and I noticed a display of pomegranates at the front of the supermarket. Whether it was inspiration or the power of suggestion, I’m not certain, I planned to make a pomegranate salsa. I combined jewel toned pomegranate arils with juicy pineapple, crispy cucumber and red onion. A little jalapeno from the garden provided enough heat to contrast with the sweet and I finished the salsa with a little cilantro. Served with rice and avocado slices and a salad, this made a quick and delicious dinner. This salsa would be good with tortilla or pita chips or even as a bruschetta with a creamy goat cheese.

DSC_0002a

Mahi Mahi with Pomegranate Salsa

Serves four

Ingredients

  • 4 mahi mahi fillets, 6 oz each
  • Cooked jasmine or other long grain rice
  • Sliced avocado
  1. Preheat  oven to 450°F.
  2. Measure the fillets at their thickest point. Season fish with salt and pepper and place on a baking sheet.
  3. Bake fish for 10 minutes for every inch of thickness. If you check internal temperatures, it should be about 130°F. Remember fish will continue to cook even off the heat.
  4. Mound the rice on plates and top with fish and salsa. Arrange avocado slices on the side. Sprinkle with cilantro and serve with lime wedges.

Pomegranate Salsa

Makes about 4 cups

Ingredients

  • 1c pomegranate arils
  • 3/4c peeled and diced cucumber
  • 3/4c diced pineapple
  • 1/4c diced red onion
  • 1-3 jalapeno peppers, seeded and minced
  • 1/3c diced sweet red pepper
  • 2T fresh lime juice
  • 1/3c finely chopped cilantro

Directions

  1. Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and stir to combine. Taste for heat preference and additional jalapeno if desired.

DSC_0012a

August 19, 2014 Tzatziki Sauce

DSC_8546aIt’s a deliciously creamy sauce or dip based on yogurt, cucumbers and dill, and yes the Greeks do have a word for that, tzatziki. Pronounced in English, zat-zee-key, it is a traditional Greek “meze” or something to whet the appetite. I serve it with chicken, fish and vegetables. Tzatziki is also great as a sauce with gyros or wraps.

Until the last several years, you would have needed to drain the yogurt for several hours before proceding with the recipe. With the advent of Greek yogurt, that step is eliminated. “Greek style” yogurt is strained to remove the whey, the watery part. The term “Greek” is not regulated and some yogurts are thickened with cornstarch and milk protein concentrates. Read the label, Greek yogurt should contain only milk and live active cultures. In Greece, sheep’s milk yogurt is traditionally used in tzatziki, I have read that it is sweeter and richer than cow or goat’s milk yogurt. If you are using regular yogurt it needs to be drained in a fine mesh sieve or cheesecloth for about four hours to obtain the thicker texture of Greek yogurt.

Grated cucumber, garlic, dill and sometimes mint are added to the yogurt base. Peel and seed the cucumber before grating. I use a teaspoon to make one long scoop down the middle to eliminate the seeds. Keep the cucumber in halves, they are large enough to shred on a box grater without hurting  your fingers. Put the shredded cucumber in a strainer over a bowl and sprinkle a little salt on it. This will drain out some of the excess liquid. I squeeze out the rest of the liquid by putting the cucumber in a clean cloth dishtowel and wringing it out. Alternately, squeeze the cucumber in your hands. This is an important step to ensure the sauce does not become watery.

The dill and mint should be fresh and if I am adding mint I will wait until right before serving since just picked mint can overwhelm the dish. Tzatziki is a versatile sauce that combines the slightly sour tang of yogurt along with the cool refreshing flavors of cucumber, dill and mint. It’s a great addition to your summer menus.

Tzatziki Sauce

Makes about two cups

Ingredients

  • 1-1/2 c plain whole or 2% milk yogurt, preferably Greek
  • 2 medium cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 3/4 c peeled, seeded, and grated cucumber
  • 1 T fresh lemon juice
  • 2 t chopped fresh dill
  • 2t finely chopped mint (optional)
  • 2 t extra-virgin olive oil

Directions

  1. Put the cucumber in a colander over a bowl and lightly sprinkle with salt. After a half hour wrap the cucumber in a clean cloth dishtowel and squeeze as much liquid out of it as you can. Alternately, squeeze the liquid out with your hands.
  2. Add the chopped garlic, cucumber, lemon juice, dill, and olive oil to the yogurt mixture. Stir to blend and season to taste with salt. Cover and chill for at least 4 hours before serving.
Make Ahead Tips

The dip can be made up to a day ahead.

DSC_8611a