lemon

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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Freezing Lemons and Limes

This past weekend, I had a farewell party for friends who were moving across the country. Although I tried to make things perfect, I forgot to buy lemons and limes to garnish pre-dinner drinks and to provide an acidic balance to my Indian dinner. However, when a guest asked for a lemon wedge, I remembered that I had both fruits in the freezer. A quick 20-second turn in the microwave, and the fruit cut easily and tasted as flavorful as if fresh.

Lemons and limes are readily available, but they can be pricey off-season. Besides thrift and convenience, the advantage of frozen fruit is that it still retains moisture and nutritional benefits. Citrus packs a solid vitamin C punch, and the juice is often used in home remedies. I freeze the fruit whole (grating the rinds to add as aromatic seasonings) and as cut wedges (adding them to cold and hot drinks). I liberally use lime juice in my favorite summer dish, Lime Rice, but I have lately taken to substituting cauliflower to make a less starchy version.

Lime “Rice” (with cauliflower)

Cauliflower Rice – 2 cups

Oil – 3 tbsp

Mustard seeds – ½ tsp

Cumin seeds – ½ tsp

Lentils (red or green) – ½ tbsp

Whole, dried red chili – 2-3

Asafetida powder – ¼ tsp

Turmeric powder – ¼ tsp

Salt – to taste

Lime –1, juice

Curry leaves – 2-3 stalks

Cashew nuts or peanuts – ½ cup, dry roasted

 

  • Heat the oil in a wok or pan.
  • Add the mustard seeds to the hot oil.
  • As soon as mustard seeds start to pop, add the cumin seeds and lentils.
  • Once the cumin seeds start to sizzle, add the chilies, asafetida powder and turmeric powder.
  • Add the curry leaves and stir for a few seconds.
  • Add the cauliflower “rice” to the pan. Lower the flame and sprinkle a tablespoon of salted water. Cover and let the cauliflower cook in the steam, about 3-4 minutes.
  • Remove the pan from the stove.
  • Add lime juice and salt, adjusting their balance according to your taste.
  • Garnish with cashew nuts or peanuts.

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Chilies For Summer

A. and N. recently commented that one of my recipes was tongue-numbingly spicy! I hadn’t taken into account my tolerance for chilies, and had assumed giving a range, between say 1-2 chilies in a recipe, would be a sufficient warning. The fiery heat in a spicy dish comes from both the number of chilies added and the type of chili used.

Chilies are available most commonly in red and green colors – the red chili is spicier than green, while the darker green varieties are hotter than the paler ones. The Scoville scale, which measures for the pungency in both chilies and other spicy food, can only serve as a guideline. For example, Carolina Reaper is now the hottest chili pepper available pushing bhut or ghost pepper down the scale; bhut when I was growing up was the hottest chili known and those who ate it were looked on with hushed admiration. Serrano, which I use, is three-quarters way down the chart, but obviously is still too hot for A. and N.

Heat receptors on our tongue feel the chili burn, and people with more heat receptors are more sensitive. A compound found in a chili called capsaicin is responsible for the burn or chili heat. As you build up a tolerance to spicy food (by eating more because you enjoy the kick), these receptors become less responsive. Why bother suffering to build up a tolerance? Chilies have anti-oxidant properties and provide vitamin C – roughly six oranges’ worth in one chili. The other advantage of eating spicy hot food (especially prevalent during these summer months!) is that the chilies cool you down more effectively. Chili heat increases blood circulation and metabolism, which increases perspiration – releasing heat and cooling down the body naturally.

Following some basic precautions, spicing up food with chilies is adding yet another flavor enhancer to a meal.

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Precautions:

  • The capsaicin gland is in the white pith-like tissue in the center of the chili fruit. Remove this spongy tissue along with the seeds attached to it for a milder flavor.
  • After chopping the chilies, wash your hands well with soap and water to prevent the burn irritating your skin.
  • If a recipe gives you a range, start with the smallest number of chilies in the range.

How To Tone Down A Spicy Dish:

  • Once a dish is cooked and tastes spicy hot, the dish can be saved by adding a teaspoon or two of sugar to counter the heat. Sour flavors are also known to reduce the heat. Add a little lime or lemon juice to the dish.
  • Dairy products also counter chili burn. In Indian meals, dairy products such as yogurt are added to the dish or served on the side. In Thai dishes, coconut cream serves to balance the heat. In Mexican food, sour cream is served with spicy guacamole and meat.
  • Drink buttermilk or milk with the spicy dish or eat a carbohydrate such as bread or rice to minimize the chili heat.

Summertime And Livin’ Should Be Easy: Mixed Seafood Grill

On a hot and lazy summer afternoon, I channeled the Gershwin brothers’ lyrics and decided on an easy and simple menu – grilled seafood. Inspired mainly by a large not-often seen cleaned octopus at the supermarket, I added a few squid, shrimp, and scallops as well to throw on the barbecue. The well-thumbed copy of The Barbecue Bible by Steven Raichlen had a recipe for the octopus with a few ingredients and little effort that would be in keeping with theme of the afternoon.  The grilled octopus, however, had enough flavor to balance the other seafood that only needed a light seasoning of salt and pepper to make for an easy summertime, grilled meal.

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Grilled Octopus

Octopus – 1lb, cleaned and trimmed

Red wine vinegar – 1 tbsp

Lemon juice – 1 tbsp

Oregano – 1 tsp

Salt and pepper – ½ tsp each

Olive oil – 3-6 tbsp

Parsley – 3-4 sprigs

Lemon wedges – 2

  • Preheat the grill to high.
  • Peel, scrape the reddish skin off the octopus and rinse the octopus, if not already cleaned.
  • Oil the grill grate, and lay the octopus on the grill. Keep turning with tongs until nicely charred, about 3-6 minutes on each side.
  • Cut the octopus into small bite-sized pieces and put them into a bowl.
  • Combine all the remaining ingredients and whisk. Pour this marinade over the grilled octopus and let the octopus sit for 10-30 minutes.
  • Serve warm or at room temperature.

Serve with coleslaw or green salad and grilled corn.

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

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When Life Gives You Lemons…

The moment I heard the weather predictions were for another dismal snow season, I immediately began thinking of ways to prolong summer. Lemon is a quintessential summer association. As A. (visiting this weekend) and I read through my mother’s lemon snow pudding recipe, we were both struck by how efficiently the one lemon in the recipe was used. Inspired by this economical use, I decided to craft a whole menu to highlight lemon’s unmistakably tart flavor.

Riffing off the refreshingly sweet-sour nimbu pani (lemonade) of my youth, I made the digestif Limoncello. Inspired by my travel to Sorrento’s lemon groves, where the large, bright-yellow lemons are used in making this distinctive liqueur, I bought 12 fresh lemons. Scraping the zest was tedious, but I knew to be patient – the rind-soaked spirit would be ready in five weeks. The digestif would be a delicious reminder of summer warmth, and would see me through any harsh winter.

Since I was now left with 12 rind-less lemons, I decided to use the fruit to stuff a whole chicken that I planned to roast. The roasted chicken had only a mild hint of lemon, but the acidity from the juice helped to tenderize the chicken and make it moist. However, the same lemon added to the fresh stock, made with the giblets, was one of the tastiest I’ve had. The tartness of the lemon offset the fat, making the stock light and aromatic. The lemon brightened up a winter dish, and we used the moist meat the next day for a light summer salad.

That feeling of lightness carried through to the delicate lemon snow pudding. I was inspired by the clever use of separating both the eggs (yolk and white) and lemons (juice and zest), and how both separate parts came together harmoniously in the final dish. The egg white meringue and the lemon juice formed an airy base, while the yolk and lemon rind in the custard rounded off the silky flavors in this lemon meringue-like pudding.

Roast Chicken with Lemon

Whole chicken – 1, (4 lb)

Lemon – 1

Fresh herbs (oregano, sage) – 1-2 sprigs

Butter – 1 tbsp

Salt and pepper – 1 tbsp. each

Oven temperature 375°F

  • Remove the chicken giblets (in a plastic bag) from the cavity of the chicken and wash the chicken well.
  • Pat the chicken dry with paper towels.
  • Slice the lemon into half and squeeze out the juice. Reserve.
  • Mix the butter, herbs, salt, and pepper together. Spread the mixture over the chicken.
  • Put the squeezed lemon half into the cavity of the chicken.
  • Bake for 80 minutes, (20 minutes per pound) in total, with the final 20 minutes at 425°F for a golden skin. Check with a meat thermometer to see it has reached an internal temperature of 170°F.

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Lemon Snow Pudding with Custard

Egg white – 1

Sugar – 1 tbsp

Lime – ½

Gelatin (unflavored) – 1 tsp

Lemon yellow food color – optional

  • Fill a large pan with water.
  • Mix the lime, sugar, and gelatin with one tablespoon of water in a saucepan that will fit in the large pan. Place it in the large pan.
  • Bring the water to a rolling boil, while continuously stirring the mixture in the smaller pan.
  • Once all the sugar and gelatin have dissolved, remove from heat. Cool.
  • Whisk the egg white in a bowl, either with a fork or an electric whisk. Continue until it becomes firm. Tip: when you tilt the bowl, the egg white should not slip out.
  • Add the cooled lemon mixture, whisking it carefully, into the egg white mixture.
  • Add a drop of the yellow coloring.
  • Refrigerate until ready to be served with custard.

For the Custard

Egg yolk – 1

Milk – 1 cup, warmed

Sugar – 1 tbsp.

  • Boil water in a larger pan.
  • Whisk the egg yolk in another pan.
  • Add sugar and warmed milk to the yolk. Mix.
  • Place the egg mixture pan in the larger pan. Stir continuously. This method, where the heat is not in direct contact with the ingredients, is called double boiling and prevents the egg mixture from curdling. In about 5-6 minutes, the mixture thickens. Tip: dip a metal spoon into the mixture. Run a finger on the back of the spoon.  If it leaves a mark, then the custard is ready.
  • Cool the custard.
  • Scrape zests into the custard.

 

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