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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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!

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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.