cilantro

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.

img_6932

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.

img_6935

Compound Butter: Solidifying Flavors

I was alerted to the death of Michele Ferrero, the renowned maker of Nutella, by a flurry of texts from A. and N. – huge Nutella fans. I read in her obituary that Nutella  was discovered accidentally. With cocoa being in short supply during the war, hazelnuts were added to cocoa powder to get the same creamy consistency associated with chocolate. The concept of stretching food is all too familiar to a home cook, and I was reminded of this when I made compound butter.

Compound butter is easily created by whipping unsalted butter with herbs or interesting combinations such as lemon zest and herbs or hazelnuts and cocoa. There are two advantages in creating compound butter;  the flavor and aroma of herbs are preserved, and their essence can be summoned up instantly. For example, in the middle of another cold spell, adding compound butter made with fresh cilantro and lemon zest  gave tilapia the fragrance and taste associated with summer and warmth.

The process of making compound butter is simple. All you need is butter at room temperature, parchment paper or saran wrap (which I prefer), and your imagination. Start with readily-available ingredients like herbs, but before long, you will be trying different blends and pairings. An added bonus is that there are no right or wrong measurements – just trust your taste.

IMG_2841

Lemon Zests and Cilantro Compound Butter

Lemon –1, zest

Unsalted Butter (room temperature) – 4 tbsp

Cilantro – 1/3 bunch, washed and leaves chopped

Salt – ¼ tsp

Saran wrap

  • Whip the butter and all the ingredients in a bowl, until well incorporated.
  • Pile the mixture onto the saran wrap. Form the mixture into a log shape. Roll the saran wrap tightly around the log of compound butter. Freeze or chill until needed.
  • When ready to use, cut a disc or two and add them directly into the skillet to flavor fish or vegetables.

 

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Note: The hazelnut and cocoa compound butter that I made worked well as a sweet spread, while the balsamic vinegar and cracked pepper butter was simply tossed with cooked kale and mushrooms.

What Is In A Name? Relish/Chutney/Pickles

I come from a culture that eats pickles and chutneys at every meal. As we snacked on samosas that I served with coriander chutney, A. voiced her curiosity about the difference between these two condiments. Chutney is a spiced condiment made with fresh herbs that are crushed in a mortar and pestle and usually eaten immediately. Indian pickles are made with fresh fruits and vegetables that are picked at their prime and preserved (with lemon, tamarind, or vinegar)  to be enjoyed well past the fruit’s season. As I explained the difference, I realized that relish, chutney, and pickles are different names for seasoned sauces. They all fit under the broader term of condiments.

Condiments balance out a meal’s bitter, hot, salty, sour, or sweet aspects. Sometimes, as in a salad dressing, they aid in bringing together disparate flavors of bitter greens, juicy tomato, and creamy avocado. Often, as in the case of mustard and coriander chutney, they add pungency that cuts into fatty sausage or spices up a samosa (a potato-filled pastry). Condiments in each culture may look different, but I am amazed at similarities in techniques that were used (such as the mortar and pestle to crush and release flavors), and the principal ingredients (like herbs and spices).

As I gathered the last of my basil and coriander from the garden, it was their fragrance that inspired me to make three enduring condiments: Pesto, Coriander Chutney, and Pico de Gallo. While cooking, the aromatic scent of crushed leaves and the texture of coriander chutney reminded me of pesto — before I had even made it!

Pesto

Basil – 4 cups

Garlic cloves – 4

Pine nuts – 1 cup

Olive oil – ¾ cup

Parmesan-Reggiano cheese – 1 cup

Salt and pepper – 1 tsp. each

 

  • Wash the basil and drain well. Remove the stalks.
  • In a food processor, mince the garlic, pine nuts, and cheese.
  • Keeping the food processor running, add the basil leaves and oil.
  • Stop intermittently to push the contents from the sides of the processor. Process until you have a grainy, semi-liquid paste.
  • Season with salt and pepper.

 

Pesto can be mixed in with fresh pasta or used as a salad dressing.

 

IMG_2082

Coriander (Cilantro) Chutney

Coriander – 1 bunch

Jalapeno (Serrano) – 2

Lemon juice – from 1 lemon

Ginger – 1-inch

Cumin seeds – 1 tsp

Red onion – ¼

Vegetable oil – 1 tsp

Sugar – 1 tsp

Salt – 1 tsp

 

  • Wash the coriander and drain well. Remove the thick stalks.
  • Process the jalapeno, ginger, cumin, and red onion in a food processor.
  • Stop intermittently to push the contents from the sides of the processor.
  • Add the coriander and oil and continue processing, until you have a semi-liquid paste.
  • Add the lemon juice, sugar, and salt. Taste and adjust to balance the salt-sour-sweet flavors. Refrigerate.

 

Coriander chutney can be eaten with samosas and other snacks. It can be spread, like butter, on bread and served with thinly sliced tomatoes.

 

IMG_2095

Pico de Gallo

 

Juicy, heirloom tomatoes – 3, chopped

Garlic cloves – 3, chopped finely

Red onion – ½, chopped finely

Cilantro (Coriander) leaves – ¼ bunch, roughly chopped

Jalapeno – ½, chopped finely

Lemon juice – from ½ a lemon

Salt — 1 tsp

Cumin – ½ tsp. (optional)

 

  • Mix all the chopped ingredients in a large bowl.
  • Add the lemon juice and salt.
  • Refrigerate until needed.

 

This Mexican salsa, without avocado, is an easy side salad that works with meat or fish-based main dishes.

IMG_2086