Flirting with Flavour


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Photo Essay: North London Markets

So, Saturday, instead of studying for exams, I wandered through North and East London, visiting markets and gawking at street art along the way.

Notting Hill Farmers’ Market

notting hill gate farmers' market

notting hill farmers’ market

yes, i did buy some of that spectacular looking rhubarb

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walking through the market

this mushroom man has the most amazing mushrooms I have ever seen. and they taste great too!

this mushroom man has the most amazing mushrooms I have ever seen. and they taste great too!

Picking out a Chelsea Bun. S said it's the best she's had in London! (and for only £1!)

Picking out a Chelsea Bun. S said it’s the best she’s had in London! (and for only £1!)

Flourish Bakery

Flourish Bakery – doesn’t it all just look great? i wish they did more wheat-free breads

Walking from Bethnal Green Station to Broadway Market

stik. on mare st, cambridge heath.

stik. on mare st, cambridge heath.

more street (roof?) art on mare st, cambridge heath

more street (roof?) art on mare st, cambridge heath

by the Andrews Rd entrance to the Regent's Canal Towpath

by the Andrews Rd entrance to the Regent’s Canal Towpath

Regent’s Canal Towpath

the floating bookshop. regent's canal

the floating bookshop. regent’s canal

word on the water

word on the water

Broadway Market

didgeridoo

didgeridoo

Fiendish & Goode.

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fiendish & goode – their gluten free selection was outrageous. definitely going back for more.

violet cakes. i managed to snag a vegan spelt chocolate cupcake w/ violet frosting

violet cakes. i managed to snag a vegan spelt chocolate cupcake w/ violet frosting

Market in the Schoolyard (London Fields)

getting my smoothie fix at the schoolyard market

getting my smoothie fix at the schoolyard market

Netil Market

Cooking Cooks.

cooking cooks

cooking cooks

Breddo’s Taco Shack. 

street taco brunch - the rave from breddo's taco shack

street taco brunch – the rave from breddo’s taco shack

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Perfect Pizza

I never liked pizza when I could have it, but as soon as I found out that I was allergic to wheat and cow dairy, it seemed the greatest injustice in the world to be unable to indulge in everyone’s favourite fast food – pizza.  Even then, I understood the irony.  The grass is always greener, right?

topped and ready to go

topped and ready to go

Luckily, my mom – always game for anything baking related, especially if it contained yeast – took up her dough hook and would make homemade pizza dough for the occasional treat.  I don’t think I helped once in this process, while still at home.  So that once I got to school and had that pizza craving, it was inextricably linked to a longing for home.

Four years later, I no longer get so homesick, but I’ve made pizza quite a few times – mostly using our trusty recipe from the New Balance Cookbook – and I wonder what took me so long to join in the fun.  If you have never played around with yeasted dough before, do it.  Seriously, what’s stopping you?  Is it the kneading and rising and the instructions that say that the dough should be ‘springy’?  I’ll be the first to admit, having only become fully comfortable with breads and other doughs after working in the bakery, that it’s easier to learn these things from an experienced hand.  In person.  The in person bit can be key.  But, pizza dough is a great place to start.  It’s extremely forgiving and sometimes even no-knead, like this one from Jim Lahey of Sullivan St Bakery.  If you’re ever in New York, GO!  And try his take on a sourdough – it’s out of this world.

fresh from the oven

fresh from the oven

Plus, you get fresh, homemade pizza at the end of your experiment, and a compliment from your Italian (former) flatmate.  What could be better?

omnomnom

omnomnom

Jim Lahey’s Pizza Crust
from My Bread.  I found it on Dinner: A Love Story [which is a fantastic blog – you should check it out!]

Yield: 2 balls of dough for 2 thin pizza crusts

Ingredients:

3 3/4 cups flour (I use a mixture of 2/3 white and 1/3 whole spelt)
2 1/2 teaspoons instant or other active dry yeast
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon sugar
1 1/3 cup room-temperature water

Method:

In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, yeast, salt, and sugar. Add the water and, using a wooden spoon or your hand, mix until blended, at least 30 seconds. The dough will be stiff, not wet and sticky.

Cover the bowl and let sit at room temperature until the dough has more than doubled in volume, about 2 hours.

Divide the dough in two and shape each into flattened balls. (Dough can be frozen at this point.)

When you are ready to make a pizza, preheat oven to 500°F (260C) roll out one ball of dough in a rectangular shape and place on an oiled cookie sheet.  I generally sprinkle some cornmeal on the bottom of mine, instead of oil, and it works fine.

Top with desired toppings (my personal favourite is just a tiny bit of sauce with sautéed mushrooms and onions, topped with fresh tomatoes mozzarella and basil) and bake at 500°F (260C) for about 15-20 minutes.  Keep an eye on the cheese and crust while it bakes to make sure it doesn’t burn.


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Seven-Fruit Fruit Salad

My mom, Gil, and I are all gathered in the living of our doublewide trailer, home away from home, in Virginia.  I’m standing at the bar separating the kitchen from the dining room (if it can be called that – it’s really just a table and some chairs with a few feet separating it from the couch in the so-called living room), on the kitchen side, slicing banana into three bowls, already nearly overflowing with fruits.  It has probably taken me upwards of twenty minutes just to cut the fruit.   What can I say?  I have a meticulous eye for equal portions.  Plus, it’s just plain relaxing.  The rhythm of knife and thumb working in harmony pushes any stressful thoughts into the farthest reaches of my mind.  And when you finally put that first spoonful into your mouth and the sour of the kiwi mixes with the cool-fresh-picked taste of blueberries and the sugary sweet strawberries… throw in some peaches and banana, maybe some mango, what the hell, throw in any and every fruit you can dream up.  It’s heaven; in it’s simplest sense.  It tastes of sun and fresh starts.  It tastes of summer breezes and auspiciousness.

Sorry, was I saying something?  Oh right!  I was just putting the finishing touches on our fruit salads for consumption on a particularly summery March morning.  ‘How many fruits are there in it?’ asked Gil.  ‘Four.‘  ‘Then it’s not a fruit salad.  Gotta have five fruits to be a fruit salad.’  I protest that we can only use what we have and we only have blueberries, bananas, strawberries, and clementines.  So, sorry if that’s not five fruits.  I know it is a fruitless (sorry!) road to go down, as I’ve been hearing the same story since I was seven years old.  Suddenly I have a thought – well, do you not want yours then, Gil?  I’ll gladly take one for the team…

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As you might have guessed, he sucked it up and ate his [gasp!] four-fruit-salad.  I mean, who’s going to turn down a fruit salad?  Unless it’s one of those desperate fruit cups sadly resigned to a life in the refrigerator section of the local market or the airport café.  I will admit to having succumbed to these specimen in moments of weakness – aka waiting for a flight and not wanting to partake in any of the baked goods that would inevitably mean death by wheat for me.  And you know what?  They’re not that bad.  Still, I’ll take the fresh, real version any day.

Guess what, Gil!  Today, not only did I have five fruits for my fruit salad, I had seven.  That’s right, seven!!  Thank goodness for the coming of summer!  Oh, and, perhaps, globalisation for bringing me kiwis from Italy and nectarines from South Africa…

What follows is a recipe for one BIG bowl of fruit – aka a fruit salad.  You could share, but trust me you won’t want to.  If there are multiple yous that want to partake, just make twice as much and employ that meticulous eye to make sure none of your portion accidentally ends up in someone else’s bowl…

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7-Fruit Fruit Salad

Ingredients:
1 kiwi
1 nectarine
1 banana
A handful of blueberries
4 or 5 small strawberries
1/3 of a mango
1 small pear
¼ cup nonfat Greek yoghurt
Your favourite granola

Method:
Slice all fruit into a bowl (It’s okay to day dream a bit, but don’t cut yourself!).  Top with yoghurt (I usually use Greek or sheep) and some of your favourite granola.  Mine is Kazzie’s, but it’s not available outside of the Shenandoah Valley yet, so some great alternatives are Lizi’s Original and (if you’re in the mood for a particularly sweet treat) Belgian Chocolate granola.


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Shakshuka

I purposefully stopped eating hummus 9 days before leaving for Israel so that I would be able to indulge without feeling the effects of an overdose.  Yes, even I can overdose on hummus.  The theme of this trip, though, turned out to be shakshuka.  What’s that, you ask?  The best way I can think to describe it is as eggs poached in a thick, spiced (and slightly spicy) tomato sauce.  But that really doesn’t do it justice.

Here – a picture is worth a thousand words…

shakshuka

shakshuka

The young girl who piled grated parmesan onto her pasta to mask the taste of even a teaspoon of tomato sauce (if she let that sauce even touch her dish) would hardly recognise the one sitting here writing that one of her new favourite dishes is entirely tomato-based!  I am living proof that taste buds evolve.  And thank goodness for that, because otherwise I wouldn’t be able to appreciate the delights of blue cheese, olives, or … shakshuka!

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poaching the eggs

I have been playing around with a couple of different recipes for shakshuka since September, mostly relying on the many variations by Yotam Ottolenghi.  Last week, however, in googling shakshuka recipes for what must have been the hundredth time, I came across David Lebovitz’s blog on the subject.  Already a frequenter of his ‘sweet life in Paris’ site for all things desert related, his description of the lingering nature of the seasoning in this remarkable dish rung true for me.  I decided to give his attempt at recreating the flavours we had both fallen in love with a try.

I invited MC over for dinner and told her we were going to make my new favourite food.  She’d never tried it, let along heard of it.  No pressure.

The spices that make shakshuka so delicious are common in the Middle East and North Africa, but only recently becoming known to me.  I must admit that as I putzed around in the kitchen, chopping, sautéing, and smelling spices, it was not immediately clear to me that this was going to recreate the dish I was so craving.  But as the sauce simmered and eggs cooked, the scent wafting from the pan brought me back to a hot afternoon sitting in Bacci Café mopping up thickly simmered tomatoes married together by a soft, persistent web of spices.

It brought me back even further to a warm evening last August, in HaMarakia in Jerusalem, when I took my first bite from a still steaming pain, too hot to touch, slightly confused by the presence of a fork in my hand instead of a spoon (because it had been described to me as a soup).  Mmmm.  Shakshuka.

shakshuka at hamarakia

shakshuka at hamarakia

Shakshuka it the perfect one pot meal.  It should be served with warm, crusty bread.  Trust me, you’ll want it to help you wipe your bowl/pan clean.  Tonight I also decided to make tahina, a sauce made from tahini, lemon, garlic, and water, to dip the bread in.  And thanks to MC, I discovered that the tahina and shakshuka go really well together.

You can find David Lebovitz’s inspired recipe here.

dinkelbrot + tahina

dinkelbrot + tahina

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a simple + delicious dinner

Tahina (tahini sauce)
from Jerusalem, by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi

Ingredients

150g light tahini paste
120 ml water
2 TBSP lemon juice
1 medium garlic clove, crushed
¼ tsp salt

Method

The fat and solids of the tahini tend to separate, so before starting make sure you’ve mixed the tahini well in its tub.

Put the paste into a medium mixing bowl and add the water, lemon juice, garlic and salt. Stir with a small whisk (or fork) until you get a thick sauce, the consistency of clear honey or just a bit runnier.  I actually, sometimes keep it a bit on the thicker side.  If you want it runnier, add a couple extra drops of water.  Don’t be alarmed if it seems to separate at first, all the ingredients will come together.

This makes approximately 350ml of sauce, which will keep in the fridge for about 1 week.  Before using from the fridge, stir again to loosen it up and add a little liquid if necessary.


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Avocado + Tomato Quinoa Salad

Flavours have a remarkable ability to evoke memories of people, places, events, feelings from times gone by, as well as hope for times to come.  We all have our comfort foods.  Have you ever stopped to think about why you find that macaroni & cheese so comforting?  Or that broccoli flatbread?  Or that special bar of Fazer chocolate?  Next time, think about it.  Chances are it subconsciously brings you back to some happy memory.  And sometimes it’s not such a subconscious choice – like my liberal use of tahini in the past few weeks, to bring my tastebuds back to sun-kissed Tel Aviv.

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bread fresh from the oven at lehamim bakery

Travelling with me usually turns into a food tour of whichever country, city, town I happen to be in.  However, since my last trip to Israel was for research, I made a conscious decision to not allow food to distract me.  I was there to work!  Now that does not mean that I suddenly practiced food tourism abstinence.  Can you imagine?  I certainly can’t.  Talk about food bringing you to happier places – in my opinion, a certain amount of food discovery is necessary for life!  That said, it doesn’t have to mean spending all day traipsing north, south, east, west, through various neighbourhoods and markets, sampling the best halva here, the best hummus there, and seeking out the best spices and fresh dates over there.  It can also happen through one of the simplest of foods – the sandwich.

What?  You say, the sandwich?  What could possibly be so novel about a sandwich that it satisfies my thirst for new flavours at every turn?  Well, delicious rye bread from Lehamim Bakery, a Tel Aviv stalwart, certainly helps.  Everything they turn out from their various locations across the city is delicious.  My favourite, though, is their flagship shop cum café on Rechov Ha’hashmona’im.  The atmosphere is electric with fresh baked goods produced 24 hours a day.  That’s right 24 hours a day, all week, except for Saturday.  A morning spent there chatting with friends and family over a coffee and almond croissant is hard to beat.  And best of all, they make a spelt challah and quite a few products that are 100% rye! 

lehamim almond croissant

lehamim’s almond croissant (with Y’s sneaking fingers!)

lehamim rugelach

oh and their rugelach are seriously to die for. just looking at them is making my mouth water!

So, yes, the first ingredient to a truly special sandwich is obviously the bread.  But what really transports the eater is the flavour combination, because it is something unique to each culture.  The particular combination that has been haunting me ever since Y first made me this sandwich is tomato, avocado, and tahini.  Tomato and avocado are delicious no matter what (although I didn’t always think so, as muchomonisia could tell you), but it is the tahini that transports it to the next level.  Tahini.  All it is is sesame paste and yet it has the power to take ordinary ingredients and make them exceptional.  Without tahini, for example, there would be no hummus or baba ghanoush!  And – there would be no sandwich!

atqs2

avocado + tomato quinoa salad w/ tahini

When I had to decide what to bring to a potluck dinner on Friday the answer was immediately obvious to me.  No, not the sandwich (which I have been eating practically every day since being back from Israel), but I would utilise the same flavour combination to make a delicious quinoa salad.  The result satisfied all my cravings and disappeared rather quickly from the dinner table, so I’d say it was a success! 

atqs3

avocado + tomato quinoa salad w/ tahini

Below is the recipe, so you can try it yourself.  Or, just top a slice of your favourite bread with some avocado and tomato and a drizzle of tahini to spice up your usual lunchtime sandwich.

 

Avocado + Tomato Quinoa Salad

Serves 4 as main or 6-8 as side

1½ cups quinoa
3 cups water
1 cube of low-sodium veg. stock
1½ avocados
2 tomatoes
¼ toasted almonds (optional)
2-3 TBSP tahini (start with less and add more to taste)
juice from ¼-½ of a lemon (start with less and add more to taste)

Method

Combine quinoa, water, and vegetable stock cube in a medium saucepan.  Bring to a boil and reduce heat to simmer.  Simmer until the quinoa has unfurled and the water is soaked up, about 15 minutes.  Be careful not to burn the bottom.

Remove the cooked quinoa to a bowl and allow to cool.  If you don’t have time to allow it to cool, it’s okay to skip this.

While the quinoa is cooling, cube the avocados and tomatoes.

Drizzle the tahini and lemon juice over the quinoa and mix well.  Taste to make sure the flavour is to your liking.  Add the avocado and tomato and almonds and mix again. 


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Apple and Pear Crumble (or an initiation into intuitive baking)

I have always wanted to be one of those people who could look at ingredients and intuitively combine them to create something wonderfully delicious, no recipe needed.  I have combined recipes before, taking and leaving different pieces of up to 7 or 8 different recipes, thus creating my own.  I’ve always been slightly intimidated to simply go forth without any reference point, though.

Last month, while in Israel, I received a special request to make apple pie.  I was there doing research and visiting my cousin J who moved to Tel Aviv to marry Y, an Israeli girl who has since become more like a big sister to me.  It seems that one of the things J missed most from the US was apple pie!  (Is there anything more quintessentially American?)

apple and pear crumble 1

apple and pear crumble

Now, I’m not a huge apple pie maker – there are usually blueberries or peaches, or both! (why not go wild?!) involved – and to find spelt flour in Tel Aviv at such late notice, while certainly possible, was a task made that much more challenging by the fact that it was Shabbat.  So, I improvised.  Despite Tel Aviv’s ardent refusal to jump on the religious bandwagon and shut down for Shabbat, the only grocery stores open are AMPM, so, of course, a trip there was necessitated.

J and I had a fabulous hummus dinner (more on that later), after which I scoured the meagre, though sufficient, selections of the nearby AMPM to see what I could do about this apple pie.  No Meghan-friendly flour, so…. How about a crumble?  No whole almonds – that’s okay, they had bags of chopped and crumbled almonds and walnuts.  No brown sugar?  Demerara will do – just adds a bit of an extra crunch.  The apples looked “meh”, but the pears looked pretty “all right”, so why not combine the two?  Plus, they’re getting cooked, so who really cares about a few surface-level blemishes.  What we care about is flavour!

apple and pear crumble 3

getting up close and personal with the crumble

Ingredients bought we headed home.  It was already quite late, but that’s never stopped me before.  I think J & Y were a bit surprised that I was baking at such a late hour (we actually fell asleep and didn’t even try it until the next morning!), but after being robbed by the AMPM’s monopoly on Shabbat grocery shopping, there was no way I was going to wait until the next day to be faced with the knowledge that I could have made this crumble for half, or even a third, of the price… [Note to self – don’t let Shabbat get the better of you, next time think ahead!]

The recipe below is the result of this late night endeavour as well as two subsequent trials and tweakings.  It’s still lacking a certain something, which if you figure out what it is, I’d love to hear it!  But, I am particularly proud of this recipe, because it has inaugurated me into the club of intuitive, recipe-less bakers. So, yay!

apple and pear crumble 2

the crumble topped with plain sheep yoghurt – delicious!

apple and pear crumble4

3 hungry people can make a good dent pretty quickly!

Apple & Pear Crumble
Preheat oven to 180C

Filling:

4 medium-sized tart apples, chopped in large chunks
3 pears, chopped in large chunks
~ 1 inch of ginger, grated
juice from 1 orange
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp nutmeg (optional)
¼ tsp ground ginger (if you don’t have fresh ginger)
juice from 3-4 passion fruits (optional)
3-4 TBSP date syrup (depending on how sweet the fruit is)
juice from about half a lemon (depending on how sour the fruit is)

Method:

Combine above ingredients in a bowl, making sure the fruit is well coated with the spices and juices. Pour into pie pan or whatever vessel you’re using.

Topping:

~ 1 ½ cups rolled oats
¾ cup chopped nuts (any combination you like – I generally do almonds and walnuts)
½ tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
½ – ¾ cup brown sugar (depending on how sweet you want it)
5-6 TBSP (or glugs) melted butter or vegetable oil

Method:

Combine the dry ingredients in another bowl and then add the butter or oil and mix with your fingers until you have a sand-like consistency.  Crumble the mixture on top of the fruit mixture.

Bake for 30-40 minutes in an oven that has been preheated to 180C. It should be bubbling, the fruit should be tender (if stick a knife or fork into it), and the top should be brown. If the top browns before it is finished cooking, cover with foil. Alternatively, if the top is not crisp or brown enough for your liking, you can turn the oven heat up to 200C for 5 minutes to brown it.