Flirting with Flavour


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Harissa and Honey Marinade

This past February I returned to the UK for three weeks to visit friends and clear my head. I am very lucky in that I was adopted into two wonderful families during my years living over there, both with mums whose skill in the kitchen is unparalleled. In fact, much of my cooking-coming-of-age took place in one of those inspiring kitchens, which had previously played host to the culinary explorations of Nigella Lawson! Or, at least, being that it was the previous home of Nigel Lawson, I like to tell myself that.

The Playhouse in the Garden

Every once in a while a flavour profile will leave you so captivated that you just must go back for seconds. And thirds. And perhaps fourths? I had sent a copy of Balaboosta to A as a Chanukkah/New Years gift and then received one myself for Christmas, but had yet to crack it open. Lucky for me, A’s mum had and a good number of the dishes we ate over the week I stayed with them were inspired by it. Everything was delicious. Having first been thoughtfully crafted by Einat Admony and then recreated by A’s mum, it couldn’t not be.

aubergine with harissa-honey chickpeas

But what was the dish that sparked a flood of inspiration? That would be the Harissa and Honey Hot Wings. A’s mum used the whole chicken and it worked just as well, serving it with crisped lacinato kale, which I now simply cannot imagine this dish without. The honey perfectly balances the heat of the harissa, which is much more subtle and full-bodied than the spice of a jalapeño. I, who rarely takes seconds, simply had to have another piece. This is huge for one who, in the past, has avoided all things spicy, because they tend to make my head explode. Rest assured those of you reading this who also struggle with spice. Yes, you may want to use a bit less harissa (I sometimes go a bit overboard, it’s just that good), but if you are working on embracing spice like I am, it will help turn your life around!

Upon my return to Philly, I had to find harissa and quick! Einat does give a recipe for making your own harissa, which I would like to try sometime, but for now I am happy using Les Moulins Mahjoub’s traditional harissa spread. I have used the harissa and honey marinade on anything and everything (but chicken!): chickpeas, mushrooms, cauliflower, broccoli, all of these together, you name it. It works and it is delicious! And I almost always serve it on a bed of crisped lacinato kale. I suppose any kale would do, I just happen to be partial to this Italian variety. Most recently I have also started serving it with roasted aubergine, since it’s in season. Like I said, it’s a winning flavour profile, with which you really can’t go wrong!

ready to go in the oven

So enough chit chatting away, here is the recipe I know you’ve all been waiting for. I wouldn’t judge if you had even skipped straight to the bottom of the page… No, but really.

 

Harissa and Honey Marinade

Ingredients

½ cup honey

1/3 cup olive oil

3 Tbsp harissa

2 Tbsp fresh lime juice

1 Tbsp kosher salt

Method

Whisk together all the ingredients. Taste and, if you think you can take a little extra kick, add another dollop of harissa. I dare you.

* * *

And here is a recipe to use the marine to make my favourite quick dinner of roasted aubergine topped w/ harissa-honey chickpeas and mushrooms.  It makes enough to 2, or 1 with leftovers for lunch the next day!

Ingredients

1/2 recipe of Harissa and Honey Marinade

2 baby aubergines

1 can organic chickpeas (it really does make a difference to use organic)

10 baby bella mushrooms

8 leaves of Lacinato Kale with the ends cut off

Method

1. Preheat oven to 375F

2. Prepare the harissa and honey marinade.  Chop mushrooms into quarters and place in medium bowl.  Rinse chickpeas, combine with the quartered-mushrooms, and toss with the marinade.  Allow to sit for about 15 minutes.

3. After about 10 minutes, slice each aubergine in half lengthwise, leaving a thin layer of skin connecting the 2 halves on one side.  Score each half with a knife, making sure not to cut through the skin.  Place aubergine in an oven-proof pan, then pour the chickpea-mushroom mixture over them.

4. Bake at 375F for 25-30 minutes, until the aubergine yields easily to a fork.

5. While the aubergine mixture is baking, crisp the kale in a cast-iron pan.  Drizzle 1 TBLS of olive oil in the pan and heat over medium-low heat then place a few leaves at a time in the pan and sprinkle with some sea salt.  Once crisp, but not burnt, remove from pan and continue until all leaves are done.  If you plan on having leftovers, I recommend only crisping the kale you will use in the moment.

6. Enjoy!!


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What to do with a green papaya?

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Papayas are tricky. At least I find them to be so. You buy them and set them out to ripen and before you know it, it’s gone bad. OR, in your haste to avoid the former, you cut into it too early and all your sweet anticipation is dashed by a bitterness that just won’t go away. But perfectly ripe papaya is just so melt-in-your-mouth delicious that despite all of that, you know you’ll try again the next time you’re at the store.

So last time, my mom and I decided to hell with it, we’re getting a green papaya. You see, green papaya is simply unripe papaya, with one great advantage. You buy it unripe, you know that when you cut into it, it will be unripe. No surprises, which means you can actually plan on using it at a specific time without worrying if it will taste right or not. Of course, if you’re looking for a sweet, fruity treat, green papaya will not satisfy your craving. But if you’re ready for some adventurous food experimentation, then green papaya is your easy ticket to bliss. Especially if you have a food processor. If you don’t already, go out an buy one now. Seriously. Not only does it make it easy peasy to grate an entire papaya into green papaya salad, it is the means by which you will whip up heaven in a bowl. Oops, I meant hummus.

Thai Green Papaya Salad (Som Tum)

Ingredients

1 green (unripe) papaya
1 carrot
1 red bell pepper
1 cup roasted, unsalted peanuts

1/2 jalapeño pepper
3 T chopped cilantro
4 T lime juice
3 T soy sauce or tamari
1 T fish sauce (can simply use all soy sauce/tamari to make it vegetarian)
2 cloves crushed garlic
3 T coconut sugar (can also use palm sugar or regular sugar)

Method

1. Peel the papaya and remove the seeds.
2. Grate the papaya, carrot, and pepper. You will get about 4 cups of grated fruit/veggies all together. Set aside
3. Dice the jalapeño and macerate in a mortar and pestle to release the juices.
4. In a large bowl combine the papaya, carrot, red pepper, cilantro, & macerated jalapeño.
5. Add the lime juice, soy sauce, fish sauce, sugar, & garlic. Mix well, making sure to crush everything together so the sauces and fruits/veggies mix entirely.
6. Taste and adjust seasoning to your liking. Once you are happy with it, toss in the peanuts & serve. Enjoy!


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Driving over the bridge from New Hampshire into Maine, I’m greeted by a sign exclaming: Welcome to Vacationland!

The past week has been full of good friends and good food, starting with an impromptu batch of homemade shakshuka and ending with a full array of vegan, gluten free ice creams, with lots of lobster in between.  It had been at least 10 years since I was last in Maine and I had never been to Boston, so I was certainly determined to experience the most I could!

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Shakshuka success! (photocredit: David Friedkin)

What a delight it was to wake up in the middle of the Maine woods this Saturday morning, the smell of french toast wafting up the stairs.  I wandered down to find H in the kitchen with her mom and the ensuing girl-talk, and fresh scrambled eggs with red onion and mushrooms her mom whipped up for me (since I couldn’t eat the french toast), were both highlights of the weekend.

Vacationland!!

Vacationland!!

Later in the day, I had the opportunity to visit my grandmother’s best friend right on the water in Biddeford Pool, basking equally in the stunning coastline, good company, and delicious lobster roll – sans roll, of course, which really just meant oodles and oodles of lobster meat on a few greens 🙂 – at Pier 77.

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The View from Pier 77

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The outside of Pier 77

And to finish off a glorious day, H’s parents took us all out to Boone’s in Portland, where if I hadn’t yet had enough lobster, I made sure to get my fix on all things seafood.  To start our table shared fried oysters and clams (in a GF batter!), as well as 4 different types of oysters on the halfshell.  While, I could have done without the clams, the oysters – raw and fried – were outrageous.  I usually don’t care for raw oysters, but these ones were perfectly tender and slid right down.  For the main, I lucked out and was sitting with three other foodies, also wanting to try everything, so we decided to get a bunch of dishes and split them:

New England Clam Chowder;
Crab Cakes;
Baked Stuffed Lobster with Scallops;
Baked Stuffed Haddock with Lobster and Buerre Blanc;
Charred Arctic Char a la plancha with a Buerre Blanc Sauce;
accompanied by sides of crispy brussel sprouts and coleslaw.

It was a LOT of food and we licked our plates clean, leaving just enough room for dessert – an outrageously rich flourless chocolate cake covered in dark chocolate ganach and studded with York’s peppermint patties to celebrate H’s mom’s birthday (and made by her as well – can you tell yet, how much I admire this woman?!).

Sunday night became a St Andrews reunion, running into former hallmates and catching up with Principal Louise Richardson at the Boston screening of Ever to Excel.  Afterwards, a few of us broke (gluten free) bread and wine at Legal Test Kitchen.  I got lobster again.  I know what you’re thinking – branch out girl!!  But let me tell you, when one is used to only partaking in lobster once a year and the said specimen generally comes from ShopRite, the fresh Maine variety is a temptation that it would be a sin to turn down!

“angry lobster” (GF)

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Crema Catalana (perhaps better known as Creme Brule)

Sharing all these delicious meals to you is making my mouth water, despite having just eating the best gluten free pizza I’ve ever had at the Two Boots in Grand Central Terminal (today is another travel day, this time destination: home).  By the way, if you ever find yourself at Two Boots (they have locations all over NYC as well as in Baltimore and New Orleans), I highly recommend the Tony Clifton – shitake mushrooms, vidalia onions, sweet red pepper peto, and mozzarella.  The plain cheese pizza is very good, as well, and the crust is thin and NOT grainy.  What a concept!  Even my food-normal friend enjoyed it, though she did comment that the wheat crust was better.

All of the above are more than enough to get excited about going to either Maine or Boston (or both!), but the crowning glory was dessert last night.  I had dinner at Canary Square in Jamaican Plain with 2 dear Pocono friends, which was great.  Canary Square is farm to table, definitely worth checking out.  But their dessert list wasn’t exactly inspired, so we took a walk down the street and were lured into a small storefront, FoMu, calling itself “alternative ice cream and cafe”. Turns out there is no dairy in the entire store.  None.  The majority of their ice creams are made with coconut milk, though there are a few soy-based, and the flavours range from dark chocolate, to cardamom pistachio, from avocado, to mocha chip, from apple spice donut, to pumpkin spice.  You get it.  They have basically every flavour you could ever imagine.  You can imagine what a treat this was, since I am usually relegated to whatever non-dairy flavour the supermarket has on its shelf and while these have certainly expanded over recent years, FoMu blew them all out of the water.  It was heaven.  I got my favourite gelato combo – dark chocolate with cardamom pistachio and chocolate chunks.  Yum.  Next time you are in Boston, go there.  And if anyone from FoMu reads this – can you please open a store in Philly?!

mint chip with rainbow sprinkles

mint chip with rainbow sprinkles

dark chocolate + cardamom pisatchio topped with TAZO chocolate chunks

dark chocolate + cardamom pisatchio topped with TAZO chocolate chunks

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espresso “ice cream” topped with Newman O’s

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“fall into FoMU” – yes please!


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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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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.