Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Ethiopian Collard Greens (Gomen) with Awaze

Nine times out of ten when I go out for Ethiopian, I get the vegetarian sampler, typically, red lentils (miser wot), yellow split peas (kik atecha), and a double order of Ethiopian collard greens (gomen). Always satisfying and pleasantly fills my belly, though the lamb dishes are really good too. All served on top of a spongy sour bread called injera (traditionally made from the ancient grain, Teff), which you pick up with your fingers and use to scoop up your food (who doesn't like to get a bit messy and eat with their hands from time to time?)

And, I  always ask for a big bowl of awaze with my meal (along with a few refills during the course of the meal), which always sparks a few comments like, more awaze? oh, you like it hot! Awaze (pronounced a-wa-ze), a slightly firery Ethiopian sauce made from the spice mixture berbere, along with a few other ingredients (keep reading; the recipe for awaze follows). This particular recipe for awaze, courtesy of a our friend Ashi from [the former] Queen of Sheba Cafe in Chicago. Unfortunately, I just read that Sheba closed (so sad); hopefully you have moved on to bigger and better things.

Always found that place a bit quirky. A bit of a hole in the wall, but the food was consistently good; although, they would run out of dishes quite often, and most of the time they weren't that busy? And, it was not uncommon to see a few gentlemen walk in (often beer in hand) and head straight downstairs, or pop up for some beer and then quickly disappear again (men's social club? Ethiopian mob?? I's Chicago after all, better known for Michael Jordan and Al Capone). I never had the courage to ask what was going on; oh well, I guess it will forever remain a mystery.

I'm not a huge fan of boiled "mushy" vegetables. However, collards are a bit tougher, hardier green, and can withstand a bit of braising. This dish calls for a few unusual spices (like nigella seeds) and the Ethiopian spice mixture known as berbere, which may take some searching. For those of you in the DC area you can find berbere here and in Chi-town you can find some here. The rest of the spices can be found at spice shops like here or here and Indian grocery stores like here.

Clockwise from upper left: ground black cardamom, fenugreek seeds, berbere, nigella seeds

A chile and spice blend used to season many Ethiopian dishes. There are many variations of spices that make up this blend, including fenugreek, ground chiles, paprika, ginger powder, onion powder, ground cardamom, ground nutmeg, garlic powder, ground cloves, ground cinnamon, and ground allspice.

Nigella Seeds (aka Charnushka)
Tiny, black, smoky flavored seeds found atop Jewish rye bread in New York. Used in Armenia, Lebanon, Israel, and India. Also referred to as black caraway or kalonji, nigella seeds, used in garam masala.

Cultivated since ancient times, fenugreek has a sweet, savory flavor that is prized in the Middle East and Northern Africa. Fenugreek is best known in America as an indispensable ingredient in the curry dishes of Southern India.

Clockwise from upper left: Injera, Awaze, Gomen

adapted from Saveur
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1⁄8 teaspoon ground black cardamom
1⁄8 teaspoon ground fenugreek (used a spice/coffee grinder)
1⁄8  teaspoon nigella seeds 
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 to 4 Thai chiles, minced (2 for mild; 4 for medium heat)
1  1-inch piece ginger, peeled and grated
1 1⁄2 pounds collard greens, stemmed and cut crosswise into 1⁄4-inch strips 
Sea salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste

Heat the butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add the cardamom, fenugreek, and nigella and cook, stirring often, until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Increase the heat to medium-high and add the oil. Add the onions and cook, stirring often, until  browned, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic, Thai chiles, and ginger and cook, stirring often, until soft and fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add the collards, 1
1⁄3 cups water, and salt and pepper; cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally, until the collards are tender, 50–55 minutes. Serve hot with a side of awaze.

3 tablespoons berbere
1 1/2 tablespoons water
1 1/2 tablespoons red wine
1 tablespoon lime juice
Pinch of sea salt
Pinch of cayenne

Add all the ingredients to a small bowl and mix well.

Note: should be the consistency of ketchup.If too thick add a little more water, if too thin add a little more berbere, until you get the right consistency.

And, a little bit of sunshine to brighten up the day...

Friday, November 18, 2011

Kabocha Squash-Carrot Cake with Pecan Streusal

I don't have much of a sweet tooth, nor am I much of a baker per se, but I do rather like the idea of incorporating local seasonal vegetables into dessert.  The basis for the cake batter--kabocha squash that I steamed and whipped into a puree and grated carrots--makes for an extremely moist, but light and airy cake, that's not overly sweet. The topping, just a simple streusel of chopped pecans, a little flour, cinnamon, and brown sugar (some dried coconut flakes would be a nice addition), provides a nice little bit of crunch on top. Fresh pecans, a big bag of, courtesy of Patrick's recent trip to Charleston, S.C. My type of gift (he also brought home a big bag of low-country Cajun boiled peanuts; yum!).

My original thought was to pair the cake with some homemade cinnamon pumpkin gelato, but have not got around to preparing this as of yet (still on my ever growing mental list of things to make); maybe a bit too ambitious. Probably a good thing, as I really don't need to have cake and gelato hanging out in the kitchen, tempting me, calling my name. Instead, opted for a little scoop of salted caramel gelato from a local artisan, who makes some really tasty (and highly addictive) gelato. Or, just a little bit of vanilla ice cream or whipped cream topping would be a nice and simple addition. Or, enjoy on its own. Although, love when the gelato melts a bit and seeps into the top layer of the cake.

Kabocha Squash-Carrot Cake with Pecan Streusel
Pecan Streusel:
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup coarsely chopped pecans

In a small bowl, mix together the flour, brown sugar, and cinnamon. Drizzle in the olive oil. Add the chopped pecans and mix to incorporate.

Cake Mix:
2 cups pureed kabocha squash (or pumpkin)
2 medium carrots, grated
3/4 cup whole milk
3/4 cup olive oil
1 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons maple syrup
2 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon pumpkin spice (or 1 teaspoon ground ginger, 3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg, 1/8 teaspoon ground clove)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter a 9"x 9" baking ban.

In a large bowl, mix the squash/pumpkin puree, carrots, milk, oil, sugar, and maple syrup. In another bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, salt, and spices. Pour the flour-spice mixture into the squash/pumpkin mixture and fold with a spatula until just incorporated (do not overmix). Pour the batter into the baking pan. Top with the pecan streusel and bake for 45 to 50 minutes, until the center is baked through. Remove from the oven and let cool. Serve with a scoop of ice cream/gelato on top.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Indian-Spiced Kabocha Squash Curry and Autumn Colors

I had two kabocha squash staring at me on the kitchen counter for the past couple of weeks (went a little overboard at the farmers' market yet again). Kabocha, a Japanese varietal, is my favorite type of winter squash. I've used them before to make soup, risotto, gnocchi, ravioli, cake, pie, and bread., but, this time, wanted to do something a bit different. Hmmm...

After much contemplation, settled on a recipe I found in Raghavan Iyer's 660 Curries (who would have thought there could be so many different curry recipes). A rather gloomy (and rainy) day calls for a comforting bowl of stew or curry of sorts. Since kabocha squash tend to be a bit on the sweet side, balancing it with an appropriate amount of heat, in addition to a unique mixture of various Indian spices, adds just the right depth of flavor.

This dish is not hard to prepare -- just takes a bit of preparation, including a trip to a local Indian grocery store for the essentials. Once you have all your ingredients, a bit of roasting and grinding of spices, as well as some chopping, dicing, and slicing of various vegetables, c'est tout.  Then into a big pot to simmer for a bit. Okay, maybe a few more steps than that, but still manageable. I made a few deviations from the original recipe, as it called for a pressure cooker (which I do not have). It also calls for preparation of three different spice mixtures: 1) sambhar masala, 2) garam masala, and 3) Madras curry powder. I opted to make the first, and went with good quality, store-bought spice mixes for the latter two.

That brings me to the sambhar masala, an unfamiliar combination of flavors (to most) made from an assortment of spices (including fresh curry leaves, coriander, cumin, fenugreek, and cinnamon sticks, to name a few) and legumes in the form of yellow split peas. This masala can also be used to spice up everyday dishes such as stir-fries and other stews. Given my affinity for heat, I also sprinkled a bit of the sahmbar  over the finished dish to add a bit more kick (oh yea, there is a good amount of dried cayenne chiles in this mix). You can prepare the sambhar masala ahead of time. Store in an air-tight container at room temperature for up to 2 months.You can also prepare the curry in advance, and let the flavors marry overnight in the refrigerator. It will taste even better the next day.

Now, just need to figure out what to do with the other kabocha squash. Thinking pumpkin bread with some cinnamon spiced pumpkin gelato? Decisions, decisions...

Kabocha Squash Curry
2 cups, 1-inch cubed kabocha squash
1/2 cup pigeon peas (toovar dal)
1/4 cup green lentils (moong dal)
1/4 cup yellow split peas (chana dal)
2 medium red onion, 1 chopped into 1-inch cubes, 1 halved and thinly sliced
1 medium carrot, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch slices
1 medium potato (such as russet or Yukon Gold), cut into 1/2-inch cubes (place in a bowl of cold water to prevent browning)
1 teaspoon tumeric
1/2  teaspoon cayenne
3/4 teaspoon hot smoked paprika
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 garlic cloves, peeled, thinly sliced
1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes
2 teaspoons sea salt
1 teaspoon Sambhar masala (recipe below)
1 teaspoon curry powder
1/2 teaspoon garam masala
8 ounces baby spinach leaves
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, finely chopped

Rinse the pigeon peas, green lentils, and yellow split peas under water and add to a large pot or dutch oven with 3 cups of water. Bring to a boil. Add the pumpkin, cubed onion, carrot, potato, tumeric, cayenne, and paprika. Simmer over low heat for 12 to 14 minutes, until the vegetables just become tender, and the peas and lentils are cooked through.

Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the sliced onions and garlic, and saute, until the onions are soft and turn brown, about 8 to 10 minutes. Add the canned tomatoes and their juices, the salt, Sambhar masala, curry powder, and garam masala. Cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes are soft and turn reddish-brown, about 6 to 8 minutes. 

Add the tomato mixture to the legume-vegetable mixture, along with the spinach and cilantro. Stir to incorporate. Simmer over medium heat, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the flavors marry, 6 to 8 minutes.

Serve hot with flatbread (chappatis or roti or naan).

Did you know that orange is not the only color of carrots? In fact, there are many different varieties of carrots, in all shades of the rainbow, including yellow, red, and purple...with cool names like purple-haze, cosmic-purple, atomic-red, and solar-yellow.

Sambhar Masala
1/2 packed cup fresh curry leaves
1/2 cup dried cayenne peppers
1/4 cup yellow split peas (chana dal)
1/4 cup coriander seeds
2 tablespoons cumin seeds
1 tablespoon fenugreek seeds
1 tablespoon black (or yellow) mustard seeds
1 tablespoon white poppy seeds (optional)
2 (3-inch pieces) cinnamon sticks, broken into small pieces
1 tablespoon vegetable oil

Combine all the spices in a medium-size bowl. Drizzle the oil over them and toss well, coating the spices evenly with the oil.

Preheat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the mixture and roast, stirring constantly, until the curry leaves curl up and appear dry and brittle, the chiles blacken slightly, the split peas turn dar
k brown, the coriander, cumin, and fenugreek turn reddish-brown, the mustard seeds pop, and the poppy seeds are tan, 3 to 4 minutes.

Transfer the spice mix to a plate to cool. Once cool, finely grind in batches using a spice grinder or coffee grinder. Store in a air-tight container, for up to 2 months.

The raw ingredients for the Sambhar new favorite blend of spices. Also great simply sprinkled over sauteed vegetables, such as broccoli, green beans, cauliflower, etc.

After roasting in a a hot skillet...

Then, ground in batches, in a spice/coffee grinder...

That's Oia, he's a very curious cat.

And, the final product (earthy and complex, with a bit of a kick from the cayenne chiles)...

Fall has arrived....funny, in the ten years that I resided in Chicago, I can't recall the leaves turning such vibrant shades. Maybe because in Chicago, the seasons seem to go straight from summer to winter, bypassing fall altogether, or so it seems. These autumn colors are quite striking.  I took advantage of a recent beautiful day to capture a few photos.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Mixed Greens Salad with Watermelon Radish, Crispy Shallots, and Sweet and Spicy Rosemary Nuts

I love having friends over for dinner, and the corresponding time spent in the kitchen preparing the dinner (along with shopping at the farmers' market for the ingredients, hitting a few specialty shops for the perfect cheese, cut of meat, and/or bottle [or three] of wine). Interestingly, more often than not, the salad is what people comment about most. A simple salad to be sure, nothing more than a collection of salad greens (maybe a little mesclun, frisee, arugula, and whatever else I find that day), thinly sliced vegetables (a few carrots, radish), maybe a few toasted nuts or seeds, good olive oil and vinegar, and salt and pepper, that's it.

If you spend any time surfing the web and browsing other food blogs, you might conclude that everybody cooks from scratch. Accordingly, seems a bit silly to have a post on the humble salad, as there's no cooking involved. If nothing else, I hope this post inspires a few to  get in the kitchen -- if for no other reason than to prepare a salad. Use some or all of the ingredients, and, whenever possible, substitute with what's in season where you live (the latter which pretty much guarantees one great salad).

I always try to vary my salads a bit. This week, watermelon radish is the star. At first glance, the watermelon radish may not catch your attention -- a somewhat boring pale green exterior. But when you slice them open, they are the most vibrant shade of pink. Watermelon radish, an heirloom variety of daikon radish, is a bit milder (less bitter) and sweeter than other varieties. They add crispness and vibrancy to any salad. I like to thinly slice them (with a mandolin) and toss with the salad greens. Alternatively, you can easily whip up a batch of pickled watermelon radish. A lot of recipes for pickled vegetables call for a fair amount of sugar. In my opinion, watermelon radish has just enough inherent sweetness such that I keep the added sugar to a minimum.

In addition to watermelon radish, I added crispy shallots, sweet and spicy rosemary nuts, and goat cheese, and tossed the salad with homemade balsamic dressing (finished with freshly ground black pepper and a sprinkling of coarse grey sea salt).

Had this for lunch after my Sunday run. It totally hit the spot!

Plain (left); Pickled (right)

The Salad
Greens -- mix of frisee, arugula, a few radicchio leaves, mesclun mix, pea shoots 
Watermelon radish, thinly sliced (plain or pickled)
Crispy shallots
Balsamic dressing
Sweet and spicy rosemary nuts (recipe here)
Goat cheese
Coarse sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Crispy Shallots
You may want to double or triple this recipe, as these are quite tasty. With each batch, just replenish the olive oil and repeat.

3 shallots, thinly sliced
1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil
Pinch of sea salt

Heat a small pan with the olive oil over medium heat. When hot, add the shallots, mixing occasionally, about 3 to 5 minutes, until crispy and golden brown. With a slotted spoon, remove the shallots and drain on a paper towel.

Balsamic Dressing
1 cup of olive oil
1/2 cup of balsamic vinegar
2 cloves garlic, peeled
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

With a mortar and pestle (or side of a chef's knife) pound a pinch of sea salt and the garlic until it forms a paste. Add the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, smashed garlic, salt, and black pepper to a bowl, and whisk to incorporate.

Pickled Watermelon Radish
Am still working on the perfect recipe for pickled watermelon radish. Anybody have a great recipe that doesn't call for lots of sugar?

2-3 watermelon radish, thinly sliced (a mandolin is great for this)
1/2 cup rice wine vinegar
1/4 cup water
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon black mustard seeds
Healthy pinch of red pepper flakes
~5 whole black peppercorns

Place the sliced watermelon radish in an airtight glass container. Mix the rice wine vinegar, water, sea salt, sugar, mustard seeds, red pepper flakes, and black peppercorns. Pour over the watermelon radishes. Refrigerate for at least 8 hours.

The recipe for the Sweet and Spicy Rosemary Nuts is courtesy of Food Blogga. The recipe can be found here.  I love the combination of the honey and rosemary with just a hint of cayenne. The only change I made was the addition of some pumpkin seeds; the recipe is perfect as is and is decidedly addictive.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Pan-Roasted Whole Porgy with Asian-Inspired Sauce

Picked up a whole Porgy at my favorite Asian grocery store. Rockfish, Sea Bass, Pampano, Branzini, Barramundi, or any firm whole white fish (preferably wild and sustainably caught) are suitable substitutes; or whatever  you can find locally. 

Normally, I stuff the fish with fresh herbs and grill or pan-fry.  But in my ever growing curiosity and search for new and interesting flavors, decided to do something a little different.  Paired this whole Porgy with a tangy Asian sauce of tamarind, cilantro, fish sauce, serrano chiles, ginger, lemongrass, garlic, and a little brown sugar.  Love the combination of these flavors -- a bit of sweet, salty, sour, earthy, and heat; all combine to form a complex and tasty sauce to accompany this pan-roasted fish. 

And, let me let you in on a little secret -- this dish is really easy to prepare.  

It may look like I spent a lot of effort to prepare this dish; on the contrary, it is surprisingly easy, and you need no more than about 20 minutes to whip this up.  To prepare the sauce, simply toss the ingredients in a food processor or blender, and pulse for a few seconds (you can also make by hand if you wish using a mortar and pestle), then simmer for a few minutes.  To prepare the fish, just season the fish, heat a pan, and cook for about 7 1/2 to 8 minutes per side.  You'll know the fish is ready to be flipped when the skin releases easily from the pan.  While you may be tempted to fuss with the fish while it's cooking, there is no need.  Just allow it the full amount of time per side; otherwise, if you flip too soon, the skin may stick to the pan, and you'll loose that crispy skin -- one of the best parts of the fish. Easy as that!

One additional note, be sure to have your fishmonger clean and scale the fish (ask to them leave the head and tail intact).  If, like me, you forgot to have it gutted and scaled, no worries.  It really isn't that difficult to scale and clean a fish, provided you don't mind a little blood and guts.  To scale the fish, run the edge of a sharp knife over the skin of the fish (in the direction of tail to head) until all the scales have been removed (do this over the kitchen sink).  Run your fingers over the skin, it should be completely smooth. If you still feel or see any scales, repeat previous step until they are all removed.  Next, run your knife along the under belly of the fish and, using your fingers, scoop out the guts.  Rinse the cavity with water.  Done.