Friday, April 13, 2012

Baba Ghanouj

People generally are not fence sitters when it comes to eggplant, which is a good thing.  I like a group that isn't shy about its opinions, so it seems only fitting that eggplant be served at book club, where opinions run rampant.

Some people do not like eggplant because it is bitter or because its texture is (some say) slimy or mushy or because it has a tendency to take on the flavors of the ingredients around it rather than stand bold on its own.  I am not those people.  I have always liked eggplant.  I like its hint of bitterness, its silken texture, and its willingness to sit back and not always be the star.  Fry it, bake it, grill it, lather it in olive oil or tomato sauce or just plain serve it with salt, I say, bring on the eggplant.  But this recipe for baba ghanoush (or how Claudia Roden spells it--baba ghanouj--but don't worry there are as many ways to spell it as there are to make it) is, let's face it, a gateway recipe for those of you who are not fans.

So last night, in the midst of a rather impressive thunderstorm--which we don't get here on the West Coast all that often (thank you climate change?)--a group of six of us gathered round a spread of delicious food to discuss Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake.  People had as many opinions about Oryx and Crake as people often do about eggplant; sadly, I had not reread the book* since my original reading in 2009, so I was woefully underprepared.  While most found the book to be predictable and not very futuristic, I remember finding it a clever comment on the present--so much so, I bought the parallel novel, The Year of the Flood, when it first came out and took five students to hear Atwood read when she was on her book tour in San Francisco. 

*In my defense, I am knee deep in reading Love in the Time of Cholera.

(this is only a fraction of the spread... I took the picture before four people arrived with more food!)

So while I was not necessarily able to extol the virtues of Atwood, we did all eat and eat well, including the wonderful little bit of eggplant.  And most delightfully, people had opinions, lots of them, which I always love.

Baba Ghanouj
Adapted from  The New Book of Middle Eastern Food

Serves 4

2 medium or large eggplants, about 1 pound
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
4 tablespoons tahini
juice of 2 lemons
salt, to taste
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
olive oil and parsley for garnish

1.   Preheat a broiler or an oven to 400 degrees. Prick the eggplant skin with a fork to allow steam to escape while cooking and so the eggplant doesn't explode (which sounds more exciting than it is).  (Even better, grill the eggplant outdoors on a grill to get maximum smoky flavor.  But hey, you do what you have to do in a rainstorm).

2.  Bake or broil the eggplants for about 15 to 45 minutes, turning frequently until the eggplants are charred and slightly wrinkled.  If you broil the eggplant, be sure to keep a close eye on it.  The eggplant is smokier this way but you have to pay closer attention.  If you decide to bake, it's less hands on.

3.  Peel the eggplant and scoop the flesh.  Put the eggplant flesh in a colander and evenly sprinkle a teaspoon or two of salt over it and let the eggplant drain awhile. (This helps reduce the bitterness for those of you who are not lovers of eggplant).

4.  Mash the eggplants with a fork until creamy  (I generally use a pastry cutter.  Does the trick faster--although it does leave the baba ghanoush chunkier). Add the finely minced garlic, tahini, and lemon juice slowly while mixing. Season with salt and add the ground cumin. Taste and adjust the seasoning as necessary.  (Seriously, you might want a lot more garlic or less tahini or more lemon.  Baba ghanoush is one of those dishes that should be a little different each time you make it.)

5.  Serve (best at room temperature) with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of parsley.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Papparadelle and Spring Vegetable Ragout

Spring!  Spring!  The farmers markets are slow to bring out the bounty but it's true--spring is trying it's hardest to be here.  Dull roots are stirring.  Lilacs are breeding.  How I love April, if only because I get to read Eliot:

April is the cruellest month, breeding

Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering        
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.
Summer surprised us, coming over the Starnbergersee
With a shower of rain; we stopped in the colonnade,
And went on in sunlight, into the Hofgarten,
And drank coffee, and talked for an hour.
Bin gar keine Russin, stamm’ aus Litauen, echt deutsch.
And when we were children, staying at the archduke’s,
My cousin’s, he took me out on a sled,
And I was frightened. He said, Marie,
Marie, hold on tight. And down we went.
In the mountains, there you feel free.
I read, much of the night, and go south in the winter.

Oh, I love the opening stanza to the opening section of The Waste Land. The painful enjambment of the opening three lines, the end stop, then two more enjambments and another end stop.  We're on edge, hanging onto participle phrases.  But it's spring.  We're supposed to be blossoming, but spring won't let us, and when it does, such growth is painful.  We seemed so much more satiated with the warm covering of snow.  Oh, and then there's that breathless repetition of Marie, once herself in the spring of youth.  The resignation and safety and barrenness of going south in the winter. The knowledge there will be no more mountain sledding with cousin archduke once spring comes around.  No wonder we're so reluctant to give up winter and head into spring.

But then spring means that there are fava beans and artichokes and leeks and fennel!  Oh Marie, Marie.  Let go of winter.  There are vegetables to eat!  Don't go south--you'll miss out on the rain, which has been falling all day and night for the past 36 hours (and isn't supposed to stop until the weekend).  That means there will be mushrooms again soon.  And there's asparagus and peas and cherries and the first strawberries just around the corner.  Oh Marie, Marie. There's winter to let slip away and spring to let slowly creep in.

I know, I know.  It's not fashionable to love The Waste Land or pasta primavera (which this Greens recipe is, although all gussied up).  But I do.  I do.  I love the buttoned up repression of Eliot with his rolled trousers and his severely parted hair.  And I love the 80s spotlight on pasta primavera, complete with oodles of butter.  And let's face it, this is Deborah Madison's glamorized pasta primavera, what with fava beans and artichokes.  While time consuming to prep the artichokes and shell the beans, this pasta tastes green and light and verdant.  Verdant!  When was the last time you ate something verdant?  So take the time.  Carve out the chokes.  Squeeze the beans from their casings.  Rinse the leeks in a change of water.  And then settle in with a bowl of pasta and listen to the end of winter.  I think you can hear it now.



Papparadelle and Spring Vegetable Ragout
Adapted from  The Greens Cookbook

Serves 4

1/2 pound papparadelle
2 leeks, white parts only
4 medium artichokes
juice of 2 lemons
1 1/2 pounds fava beans
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 small fennel bulb, trimmed, quartered and sliced into 1/4-inch pieces
2 teaspoons tarragon, chopped
3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon parsley, chopped

1. Bring a large pot of water to boil.

2.  Slice the leeks in half lengthwise; then slice about 1/4 inch thick.  Wash them well.

3.  Put the lemon juice into two cups of water.  Remove the stem from each artichoke and discard the dark outer leaves, snapping them off at the base, until you reach the pale inner leaves.  Cut off the top two thirds of the leaves and trim round the base.  Quarter the artichokes and remove the choke with a paring knife.  Place the pieces in the acidulated water, so that they won't turn brown.

4.  Warm the olive oil in a wide skillet.  Add the leeks and the drained artichokes, and saute for one minute over medium-high heat.  Add the garlic, fennel, tarragon and some salt; then pour about 1 1/2 cups of water from the pasta pot.  Cover the pan, lower the heat, and stew until the artichokes are tender, about 15-20 minutes.

5.  Meanwhile, shell the fava beans an cook them in the pasta water for about 1 minute.  Remove them to a bowl of cool water, then one by one, squeeze the outer pale green skin to release the bright green bean underneath it.  Set aside.

6.  Add the pasta to the water and cook until the noodles are done--about 6-7 minutes.  Drain.

7.  In the last 2 minutes of cooking the artichoke mixture, add the butter and the fava beans.

8.  Combine the pasta and the vegetable ragout, and toss well with tongs to coat the noodles with the sauce.  Season with pepper and Parmesan.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Seared Lamb in Swarthy Pasilla-Honey Sauce

I used to not be a fan of lamb.  In fact, if this blog has taught me anything, it is that many of the foods I used to not be a fan of require a cheering section.  That cheering section is now me.  Lamb, asparagus, liver, kale.  I was blinded by youth and the limited palate of a child raised by a single mother.  Although, admittedly kohlrabi and turnips remain vegetabilis non grata around here.

We are on spring break around here, which means lots of yoga and running and lounging.  There will be lots of grading, but I seem to be putting that off.  In the mean time, the husband and I are rewatching The Wire (we're in the fifth and final season, and I am reminded that while it is a somewhat ridiculous season with a horrible subplot, everything but that subplot is captivating).  I am also reading Love in the Time of Cholera, a book that I am reserving judgment on for now.  I suspect it would have been a plot I found more captivating had I read it as a teen but now in my dotage, I see that the love here is, indeed, a sickness.  Nonetheless, it makes for a fine morning listening to the rain outside.

Last night, I made this yummy little Rick Bayless lamb.  It's truly spectacular.  Granted, I did not use pasilla peppers (admittedly, I just couldn't find them at the Bowl) and I suspect that this dish would be delightfully different had I used only pasillas ("broad-shouldered," Bayless' words there), but I improvised with the chiles I had and tucked one chipotle in there for a smoky feel.  This is also the first time I roasted garlic like this--normally I fire up the oven and do a whole head.  But I liked this quick method on the stove top.  I like how the browned lamb produces little bits of meaty goodness.  The combination of the chile sauce with the honey makes for a spicy and sweet palate energizer.  But the star of this little dish, surprisingly, is the sweet potato.  A bit of it breaks up as you ladle it into your dish, which makes the sauce very thick.  And the sweetness of the potato is perfect (with the honey) to contrast with the blast of heat from the peppers.  I would like to say we had leftovers, but I would be lying.

This morning, I have granola baking downstairs while I sit surrounded by cookbooks and one cat (we're down to one cat now).  My granola skills are improving, thanks to Ina Garten.  (Nowadays, I use rye flakes and quinoa flakes as well as the oats.  I use flax seeds, sunflower seeds, wheat bran, and any dried fruit available.  As for oil--nixed it.  As for sweetener, just a little agave syrup.)  I keep getting a smell of the sweetness of oats.  In a half an hour, I need to rally in order to head to yoga, and then, an eight mile run.  Whew.  That's a busy morning.  But I do have some lamb I need to run off. 

Seared Lamb in Swarthy Pasilla-Honey Sauce

4 Servings

6 cloves garlic, unpeeled
6 dried chiles, stemmed and seeded  (Bayless says Pasilla, I used a combination of Ancho, Chipotle and Guajillo peppers)
1 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cumin
1-2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1-1 1/2 pounds well-trimmed, boneless lamb for stew, cut into 1-inch cubes (I used chops that I had the butcher trim and chop up--it was eight dollars cheaper at the butcher!)
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1/2 cups beef broth
1 medium-size sweet potato, peeled, cut into 1-inch cubes (or 8 ounces of acorn squash, cubed)
1/4 to 1/3 cup honey
Cilantro for garnish

1.  Roast the unpeeled garlic on an ungreased griddle or heavy skillet over medium heat, turning occasionally, until soft, about 15 minutes.  Cool and peel.

2.  While the garlic is roasting, toast the chiles on another side of the griddle or skillet: 1-2 at a time, open them flat and press down firmly on the hot surface with a spatula.  In a small bowl, cover the chiles with hot water and rehydrate for 30 minutes.  Drain, reserving 1/2 cup of the soaking water.

3.  In a blender, combine the chiles, 1/2 cup of the soaking liquid, garlic, oregano, pepper and cumin.  Blend into a smooth puree.  If necessary add water, a little at a time.  Press through a mesh sieve into a small bowl.

4.  In a large heavy skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over medium-high heat.  In batches, brown the meat on all sides. 

5.  Brown onion.  Return all of the meat to the pan and stir in the chile seasoning and cook until the chile mixture is very thick, about 3 minutes.  Stir in the broth, partially cover, and simmer over low heat for 25 minutes.

6.  Add the sweet potato and stir to coat with sauce; continue simmering until the meat and potato are tender, about 30 minutes.

7.  Stir in enough honey to give the sauce a slightly sweet edge, then season with salt.  Simmer 5 minutes longer to blend the flavors. Garnish with cilantro.

Family Feast April 2012

We decided that every fourth month, we are going to venture out to try a new restaurant as Family Dinner.  Our first choice---


April 07, 2012