Avocado Spread: Winter Greens

On a recent cold weekend in Detroit, two of the restaurants that I visited were serving avocado in all of its creamy glory. Avocado’s rich green color is a welcome sight, much like the first shoots that peek through the snow and mulch as soon as the weather turns to spring. The velvety texture of avocado is just as warming to the soul as is a drizzle of melted cheese on soup during a wintry spell. Red Dunn Kitchen plated the avocado on toasted wheat bread under piles of arugula, crowned with a poached egg. Selden Standard served creamy whipped avocado framed with beets and micro greens.

During winter, the silky consistency of an avocado boldly stands up to hearty winter flavors — which inspired my pairing of an avocado spread with roasted vegetables. In summer, chunks of avocado are a fantastic complement to the sweet tomatoes used in salsa or they can be added as a welcome layer in picnic sandwiches. Avocado contains many nutrients, and wears its superfood status rightfully all year round.

Avocado Spread

Avocado – 1, ripe

Lemon juice – ½ tbsp

Salt – ¼ tsp

Serrano chili – ½, cut finely (optional)

  • Peel the ripe avocado just before preparing the spread.
  • Remove the seed (but keep aside) and dice the flesh into big chunks.
  • Add the chunks of avocado into a food processor and process until you have a creamy spread.
  • Store the spread in a bowl. Season with salt and lemon. Add the chili for a spicy kick. Bury the seed in the spread, if keeping the mixture refrigerated. The seed prevents some of the discoloration that occurs once the avocado has been cut.

Serve immediately. Spread a thick layer on toasted bread or serve as colorful sauce-like condiment around hearty root vegetables.

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Communal Meal: Fresh Pasta

Inspired by a pasta-making class, a friend suggested that we hold a pasta cook-off. The ingredients were identical – flour and eggs. The combination of semolina flour and “00” flour gave the pasta both texture and lightness, while the eggs added density, color, and richness to the dough. We could agree on those basic components, but we differed in our processes. Our challenge lay with the implements used to mix the flour and eggs (fork versus fingers) and in the rolling and stretching of the kneaded dough (her KitchenAid versus my hand-cranked pasta machine).

There was flour on both sides of the kitchen counter, as we sieved and measured the night away! My friend used a fork to mix in the beaten eggs, whereas I used my fingers for a more old-fashioned approach. While we waited the 30 minutes necessary for the dough to rest, we cleared the kitchen, set the table, and drank wine. Then we rolled (rolling pin versus hand-stretching) and folded the dough before passing it through the KitchenAid or the hand-cranked machine. She trimmed the dough by hand into wide strips, while I got more uniform spaghetti-thin and wider strips from my cutting attachment. However, both of our pasta was uniformly delicious! We served the pasta with three different sauces that we’d previously made and brought to the cook-off, matching flavors with the differing widths of pasta. The widest pasta was reserved for the rich pork ragout, the medium-cut pasta with an eggplant and roasted pepper sauce, and the spaghetti-thin pasta worked well with the plain marinara sauce.

We ended up with the best of a potluck and communal meal at the end of the evening. Cooking together allows people of all ages and abilities to contribute to a meal, something to keep in mind for the holiday visitors soon to come! (If you need ideas, other favorites include cheese fondue, shabu shabu, and injera)

Pasta

“00” flour – 2 cups, sieved

Semolina flour – 2 cups, sieved

Eggs – 4, plus two yolks

  • Heap the two flours separately. Bring them together, forming a small well in the middle.
  • Break an egg into the middle, and using your fingers (or fork) start to form a mixture pulling in the two flours from the sides of the well to combine with the egg – until you get a runny consistency. Keep pulling the flour into the middle of the well and mixing and kneading as you go.
  • When the mixture loses its stickiness, break the next egg into the middle. Continue the process, until all the eggs and two yolks are incorporated into the dough.
  • Pull, stretch, and knead the dough, adding flour as needed. The dough is ready, when pulled apart there are no sticky bits in the middle. The dough should be just firm enough, such that an indented thumbprint would show.
  • Place the dough in a wet towel to prevent drying.
  • Set aside for at least ½ hour.
  • Sieve the excess flour and keep it aside, ready for dusting.
  • When the dough is ready, slice the dough into four equal parts.
  • Work with one portion at a time, while keeping the others covered in moist cloth.
  • Flatten the dough with your fingers. Feed the dough through the machine that is set on the lowest setting (1). The first pass lengthens the dough a little. Fold over the dough and pass through the setting at least 4-5 times, continuing to fold the dough both in half and along the edges. Dust with sieved flour to keep the dough from sticking to the counter.
  • Move up the setting to 3, and repeat at least three times, making sure you get a straight edge, working with aligning the dough. Continue, until you have an even sheet of stretched dough.
  • Move the setting to 5 or 6 and pass the now lengthened sheet through at least twice, dusting with flour as needed.
  • Cut the thin sheet into shapes, or use the cutter on the machine to make thin, medium-size or fat ribbons.
  • Repeat with other sections.
  • The cut pasta can be placed on parchment paper, until ready to cook. Alternatively, freeze the pasta to use within a month.

 

Serve with your favorite sauce. Tomato sauce.

 

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Pawpaw Kulfi

Kulfi is a velvety-rich milk dessert, and I will always remember pista (pistachio) kulfi, sold at the 100-year-old Irani creamery in Mumbai, for its vivid green color and dense consistency. Churned ice cream has air pockets that create fluffy lightness; but in kulfi,  reduced milk produces an impenetrable creamy thickness. Plain milk (malai) or pistachio are the two most common flavors, but you’ll usually see mango kulfi during the short season of the prized Alphonso mango — as everybody tries to extend the flavor of this fast-ripening fruit. When I was given a pawpaw at Ferderber Farms in Pennsylvania, the farmer’s wife pointed out its similarity to two tropical fruits of my childhood, mango and custard apple. The pawpaw also shares a small window of time when the fruit is at its best, and I created a pawpaw kulfi to prolong this summer treat.

Native to Pennsylvania and the Eastern part of the country, pawpaw has floral notes and a green outer skin that is like that of a mango. The pale silk-colored flesh, complete with several large black seeds that neatly run through its middle, is similar to custard apple. Pawpaw is an ancient fruit tree, although it has been less popular for awhile. However, if you are in the Pennsylvania area, keep an eye out for this fruit.: Pawpaw is delicious on its own, and can also be substituted in any recipe that uses mango.

Pawpaw Kulfi

Whole milk – 2 cups

Evaporated milk – 1½ cup

Condensed milk – ¼ cup

Cardamom pods – 3

Pawpaw – 1, peeled, flesh mashed

Unsalted pistachio nuts – crushed for decoration

  • Add the milk and evaporated milk to a cast iron pan. Bring to a boil, and then immediately lower the heat to simmer. Stir continuously for the next five minutes. Fold in any milky film that forms on the surface.
  • Add the condensed milk and the cardamom pods. Cook for 15-20 minutes, stirring continuously. The milk will thicken as it reduces in volume.
  • Remove from heat.
  • While the milk is still hot, add the mashed pawpaw, stirring until well incorporated.
  • Discard the cardamom pods.
  • Let the kulfi cool to room temperature.
  • Once cooled, pour the kulfi into small individual glass cups or molds and cover with aluminum foil. Alternatively, pour into a large stainless steel container with a lid. Freeze for about eight hours.
  • When ready to serve, dip the individual moulds into hot water, allowing the hot water to come up the sides and loosen the kulfi from the mold. Serve immediately.
  • Decorate with pistachio slivers.

 

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Heavenly Bread: Pão De Deus

In every culture, freshly baked bread evokes waking up to scents of a whole new day of possibilities. While traveling in Portugal, I ate the most delicious bread, or pão. The soft, round rolls were very similar to a snack from my childhood called pau bhaji, a small bun topped with mixed vegetables. I then made the connection that the word pau came via the Portuguese who had traveled to India to trade for spices. In Portugal, pão is eaten straight from the bakery with a strong cup of coffee.

Pão de Deus dough must rise twice before being baked, which gives the bread its fluffy texture. The slightly caramelized coconut topping imparts both a finishing crunch and a hint of sweetness. Pãu is usually eaten at breakfast, but I found that freezing the rolls and pulling them out as needed for an anytime snack was equally delicious! I was not surprised to learn that the Portuguese translation for these rolls is “bread of the Gods.”

Pão De Deus

Recipe reprinted from The Great British Baking show’s Ruby Tandoh:(https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/aug/01/ruby-tandoh-baking-recipes-portuguese-cakes-buns-tarts)
For the dough
10g instant dried yeast
300ml full fat milk, lukewarm
500g strong white flour
1 tsp salt
25g caster sugar
50g butter, softened

For the topping
150g desiccated coconut
150g caster sugar
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
30g butter, softened

For the glaze
1 large egg
1 tbsp caster sugar

  • Stir the yeast into the lukewarm milk and leave for a few minutes. Stir the flour, salt and sugar together in a large bowl, then add the milk and yeast mixture and the softened butter. Mix together thoroughly then knead for 10 minutes, until smooth and elastic. Leave to rise in a bowl covered with saran wrap. It’s ready after 90 minutes or so, once it has doubled in size.
  • Once the dough has risen, divide the dough into 12 equal pieces and roll into balls. Pinch the dough underneath to give a smooth top surface. Set the buns on a lightly greased baking tray and cover with saran wrap. Leave to rise for an hour, or until twice their original size, by which time they should feel spongy and soft.
  • While the buns rise, combine the ingredients for the coconut topping and whisk the egg and sugar together for the glaze. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4.
  • Brush the buns with egg glaze, add a heaped tablespoon of the coconut mixture of each, and bake for 25 minutes in the middle of the oven, until the dough is tan and well-risen and the topping is golden – check after 15 minutes and if the tops are darkening, cover loosely with foil. Let cool. Makes 12 rolls.

 

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Coffee With Chicory


I confess that I am a coffee addict, and I hold family genes responsible for my chicory-flavored coffee cravings. Chicory is a root that adds the noticeable tang to medium roasted South Indian coffee. A member of the dandelion-family, the root was once used to stretch coffee rations in Asia and Europe. South Indians continue to mix chicory with coffee beans for the distinctive peppery flavor that it provides, but I’ve also ordered a cup of the blend in cafes in New Orleans. When coffee and milk are frothed together, the foam brings to the forefront both the aroma and flavor of chicory.

Long before machines gurgled and hissed out steaming milk, a frothy cup of coffee was achieved simply. All that is required are two separate tumblers, one with fresh filtered coffee and another with hot milk (often mixed with sugar). The hot milk is directly poured into the brewed coffee, starting with the vessels two inches apart and deftly raising one of the tumblers up to and approximately an arms’ length height. This introduces aeration and forms the distinctive top layer of bubbles. This method of producing a foamy cup is still practiced in everyday tea and coffee houses all over India.

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Brussels Sprouts: Robust Flavor For Meatless Days

Usually by March, along with impending snowstorms, I am done with Brussels sprouts. They are one of the few green vegetables that are around all winter. While I was trying to not eat meat during Lent, I re-discovered their robust taste. All it took was to cut the tightly interwoven leafy capsules a little differently, and the flavor unfolded in a surprising new way.

Boiling Brussels sprouts releases their sulfur compounds, not always creating an enticing aroma in the kitchen. Roasting the vegetables brings out the flavor, but it can take up to 50 minutes for the leafy heart to soften. When the sprouts are sliced on the bias, just as you would cut an onion, both of the above issues are addressed. Peeling back the outermost leaf and then slicing through the sprouts eliminates having to discard each of the brown or yellowing leaves; they simply fall away and can be picked out. With a quick misting of oil and a flash under the broiler, the sliced Brussels sprouts become a mixture of charred leaves and a softened core with a crunchy, sweet taste.

Rich in vitamin C and K, the grilled sprouts can be combined with hardy mushrooms to add heft to a meatless meal.

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Brussels Sprouts And Mushrooms

Brussels sprouts – 1 lb

Oyster Mushrooms – ½ lb

Garlic cloves – 5-6, peeled and sliced

Dried red chili – 2-3

Olive Oil – 1 tbsp, plus misting

Salt and Pepper – to taste

Preheat the broiler

  • Chop the mushrooms roughly and keep aside.
  • Peel the first outer layer of the sprouts. Cut the sprouts thinly on the diagonal. Discard any outer leaf that looks old or brown.
  • Put the sliced sprouts on an aluminum foil. Mist them with olive oil, mixing them so that all the sprouts get coated with oil.
  • Add salt and pepper and mix.
  • Broil for five minutes, turning them frequently. Some of the individual leaves will char, but this adds a smoky flavor.
  • While the sprouts are under the broiler, heat oil in the pan.
  • Add garlic cloves and cook until they are lightly browned.
  • Add the dried red chilies and cook until they stop sizzling, a few seconds.
  • Add the mushroom and cook until soft.
  • Add the cooked Brussels sprout to the mushroom mixture. Mix and season according to taste.
  • Serve with grilled salmon or vegetable lasagna.

Finding Cultural Cohesion in Middle East Through A Cookbook

I came late to the Jerusalem cookbook, but as always in times of crises, sometimes inspiration finds you. At the end of a week dominated by headlines, I found an eggplant recipe that spoke to the interwoven food histories that exist in the Middle East. While faiths are varied, the food provides cross-cultural links that inspire celebration and conviviality rather than division.

In ancient Levantine, Asian, and European cuisines, eggplant is simply eaten fried. When an eggplant is broiled or roasted over a flame, the charred and blackened skin can be scraped away to reveal flesh that is both moist and sweet. In many Middle Eastern recipes, the resulting flesh is pureed further to make a variety of snack (meze). Keeping some of the burnt skin in the salad mentioned below adds a smoky depth. With minor additions, the salad can be adapted for all cuisines.

Eggplant Salad

(Adapted from: Jerusalem: A Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sam Tamimi)

Eggplant – 1, cubed and baked

Tomatoes – 1, chopped and cubed

Cucumber – ½ chopped and cubed

Spring onions or shallot – 1, chopped finely

Fresh Parsley – 1½ tbsp

Lemon – juice from ½ lemon

Naan or Pita – 1

Yogurt – 2 tbsp

Salt and pepper – to taste

Hard boiled Egg – 1, sliced into half

Olive oil – ½ tbsp

Mango pickle – 1 tbsp

Zhoug – 1 tbsp (optional)

  • Mix the cooked eggplant, tomatoes, cucumber, onion, and parsley. Season with salt and pepper. Add the lemon juice and egg.
  • Warm the naan or pita and lay it across the serving plate.
  • Spread yogurt across the pita bread. (The spread could also be hummus or tahini.)
  • Place the salad mixture over the naan or pita bread.
  • Drizzle olive oil on top.
  • Serve with mango pickle or zhoug.

Note: Zhoug is a condiment that combines fresh cilantro and parsley, green chilies, and dried aromatic spices of cardamom, cumin, and cloves. These ingredients, along with oil, sugar, salt and garlic are blended in a food processor to make a robust paste.

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Burnt Eggplant With Garlic, Lemon & Pomegranate Seeds

Eggplant – 2

Garlic cloves – 2, minced

Lemon – 1, zest and juice

Flat leaf parsley – 3 stalks, remove leaves and chop roughly

Mint leaves – 3 stalks, remove the leaves and chop roughly

Pomegranate seeds – 2 tbsp

Salt and pepper – to taste

  • Broil the eggplant under a broiler for about 1 hour, turning it every 15-20 minutes.
  • When all the sides are charred, remove and cool. The skin comes away easily. Using a fork, scrape the flesh away in a smooth top-to-bottom motion. Let the flesh drain in a colander to remove all the liquid.
  • Meanwhile, mix all of the remaining ingredients, keeping aside a few pomegranate seeds.Add these ingredients to the eggplant.
  • When ready to serve, heap the eggplant mixture onto a plate.
  • Garnish with pomegranate seeds.

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