Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Jerusalem, a Cookbook: Turkey & Zucchini Meatballs...

My favorite new reading companion, Jerusalem, by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, has some of the most intriguing, flavorful, and beautiful recipes that I have ever encountered in a cookbook.  Most of the featured dishes include ample amounts of vegetables married with fragrant herbs and spices that just call out to me.  Indeed, as New York Times food critic Julia Moskin generously (and accurately) writes in her July 30, 2013 book review, "Jerusalem seems like an open door to a new realm of flavor.  The recipes are full of sun, accented with salt, and rife with crunchy and creamy contrasts. There are new grains, greens and spices to explore, and fistfuls of garlic, capers, feta cheese and other familiar ingredients from around the Mediterranean."

What I especially love is that these two accomplished chefs grew up (at the same time) on opposite sides of a divided city (Sami Tamimi hails from the Arab East while Yotam Ottolenghi grew up in the Jewish West).  Only later were they brought together in London, where they discovered their parallel histories and became close friends -- and ultimately collaborators in this "inherently controversial" and very personal cookbook about the cuisine of their home city, Jerusalem, with all of its diversity.

Jerusalem is seriously the first cookbook that I have ever wanted to cook my way though to completion (and yes, I do own Mastering the Art of French Cooking!).  In the few short weeks since I acquired the book, I have already made several more trips than usual to my local Middle Eastern market to pick up ingredients that have never before seen the inside of my pantry or refrigerator.  Likewise, the recipes and the authors' stories have inspired me to use familiar ingredients in new and different ways.

The following recipe captured my attention early on because, although a meatball recipe, the meatballs themselves are absolutely loaded with vegetables.  In fact, my husband Asaf, a devoted and proud carnivore, expressed absolute disbelief when I told him the delicious meatballs I had served him for dinner were mostly zucchini!
* * * * *

So here is Ottolenghi and Tamimi's recipe for Turkey & Zucchini [mini] burgers with green onion & cumin, just one of many simple, delicious, and surprising recipes that fill the pages of this amazing cookbook.

In a large bowl combine 1lb. of ground turkey and 2 cups of coarsely grated zucchini.  [That's about 2 standard zucchinis or 1 large one.]

Thinly slice 3 green onions, 2 tablespoons each of chopped mint and chopped cilantro, and 2 cloves of crushed garlic.

Measure out 1 teaspoon of ground cumin, 1 teaspoon of salt, 1/2 teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper, and 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne pepper.

Combine all the ingredients, along with 1 fresh egg.

Next, form the mini burgers (about 18-20).  [Note, the mixture is very wet, so I found it was easiest to form the burgers by the tablespoon full.  This is a rustic dish, so the shapes do not need to be perfect by any means.]

Next, pour about 6 tablespoons of sunflower oil into a large frying pan, heat over medium heat until hot, and sear meatballs in small batches on all sides.  Cook each batch for about 4 minutes [or a little longer] until golden brown.

Carefully transfer the seared meatballs to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake in a 425°F  oven for 5-7 minutes until cooked through.

Serve meatballs either warm or room temperature with a garlic infused yogurt dipping sauce (recipe below) spooned over them or on the side.

Ottolenghi and Tamimi's recipe for Sour Cream, Yogurt, and Sumac Sauce, which can be made ahead of time and refrigerated:

Combine the following ingredients and refrigerate until ready to serve:
1/2 cup of sour cream,
2/3 cup of plain yogurt,
1 teaspoon of lemon zest,
1 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice,
1 small clove of garlic (crushed),
1-1/2 tablespoons of olive oil,
1 tablespoon of sumac,
1/2 teaspoon of salt, and
1/4 teaspoon of fresh ground black pepper.

[Note, I think these meatballs are also delicious served with a more straightforward yogurt and garlic sauce, which you can make by following the same recipe but eliminating the sour cream, lemon, sumac and black pepper, and reducing the amount of olive oil to about a teaspoonful.]

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Vegan Red Lentil (& Bulgur) Balls - Mercimek "Köftesi"

Mercimek Köftesi are these delicious, nutritious, and very satisfying vegan bitesmade of red lentils, bulgur, onions, and lots of herbs and spices.  They are full of flavor, loaded with protein, and really quite substantial.  I often make a batch and take several to work with me for lunch, and most recently I brought a platter to book club to share with the amazing group of women that I read and socialize with every month.

First, I measure out 1 cup of red lentils and 1 cup of very fine bulgur (also known as "Bulgur No. 1").  Both items are commonly available in supermarkets that carry a variety of ethnic foods, and any Middle Eastern market should definitely have them in stock.  Bulgur No. 1 is distinguishable from its coarser bulgur brethren (that is, Bulgur Nos. 2, 3, and even 4) in that it is so fine that it can be used in recipes where the bulgur is not actually cooked, such as in Tabbouleh.  Here, Bulgur No. 1 is essential and can not be replaced with another grade.

I start by rinsing the red lentils really well. 


Then I cook the lentils in 2 cups of boiling hot water, along with 1/2 teaspoon of salt, over medium-low heat for 10-15 minutes until completely tender.  Some water should remain in the pot after cooking.  Next, I turn off the heat and add 1 cup of fine bulgur to the lentils, stir, cover the pot, and let the ingredients rest together for about an hour until the mixture cools off and all the water has been absorbed.  In the meantime, I finely dice and saute 1 white onion in about a tablespoon of olive oil over a medium heat for 2-3 minutes until the onion becomes tender.  Then I add a teaspoon of paprika to the onion, saute for another minute, and set it aside.

During this waiting period I also measure out the dry ingredients --1 teaspoon of ground cumin, and 1/2 - 1 teaspoon of red pepper (depending on the level of heat you want) -- and I coarsely chop up 4-5 scallions and finely chop up a handful of fresh mint and a handful of fresh flat leaf parsley (about 1/3 cup each).

After the hour has passed, I spoon the well-rested lentil/bulgur mixture into a large bowl, and check to make sure it is moist. (It should be about the consistency of cookie dough.)  If it is too dry, I add a bit of hot water and some olive oil until a dough-like consistency is reached.  Then I stir in the sauteed onions along with 1 tablespoon of good tomato paste.

Next, I fold in the herbs and spices, followed by juice from half a lemon and some salt and black pepper.  Now it is time to taste the mixture and adjust the spices by adding more salt, lemon, cumin, or red pepper to taste.

Once the flavor is perfect, I form about 20-25 oval or round bite-sized balls, like so, and arrange them on a serving plate.  They should be served at room temperature with fresh lemon and a side of small lettuce leaves.  And if you would like to make them in advance, simply cover and store them in the refrigerator, and bring them to room temperature before serving. They are delicious on their own, with a squeeze of lemon...

... or wrapped in a lettuce leaf for a bit of crunch.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Medley of Leek, Carrot, Squash and Tomato Cooked in Olive Oil -- Zeytınyağlı Pırasa (Kind Of, Sort Of)

It's not that I dislike meat, it's just that I really LOVE vegetables, and let's face it, vegetables are exceedingly more attractive than animal flesh, and they require a lot less processing to make them taste delicious.  Take this super simple vegetable medley comprised of leeks, carrots, squash, tomatoes, and onion, cooked with a bit of rice in some extra virgin olive oil, and seasoned with nothing more than salt, ground black pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice.  This is actually my loose interpretation of the Turkish olive oil dish Zeytınyağlı Pırasa, or Leeks in Olive Oil, and it is really delicious.  In fact, my guinea pigs for this lovely plate of cooked vegetables were my sixteen year old son Noah and his posse, Wylie, Khing, and Kha, and I must say this group of insatiable teenage boys pretty much devoured the entire plate of cooked vegetables, which of course made me very happy!

* * * * *

I start with 4 leeks, 3 long, skinny carrots, 2 yellow zucchinis (you can certainly substitute green ones), 1 medium sized tomato, and 1/2 a white onion.  First, I wash the leeks really well, slice them -- at an angle -- into a combination of 1-inch and 2-inch pieces, including some of the more tender green portions, and wash them a second time.  Next I slice all the remaining vegetables into long, thin slices, like so.

I start by heating up 1/4 cup of very good olive oil in a shallow pot, and sautéing the onion over a medium heat for about 2 minutes, until tender.  Then I add the leeks and carrots, and continue to sauté for 2 more minutes, stirring pretty much constantly.

Next, I add in the squash and tomatoes, along with a couple of fresh basil leaves, and sauté everything, stirring gently, for just a few more minutes.

I sprinkle in a scant 1/3 cup of long grain rice, along with a 1/2 teaspoon sea salt, a few grinds of fresh ground black pepper, and about 2 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice.  Finally, I pour 1-1/2 cups of hot water over the top, give everything a quick stir, and when the liquid comes to a boil, I cover the pot, and simmer everything over a very low heat for about 30 minutes until the rice is cooked and the vegetables are tender (but not mushy).

The finished dish has a great balance of color, texture, and flavor.  This large plate of vegetables was gobbled up by the boys so quickly, in fact, that I wish I had made more!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

A Beautiful Bowl...of Chana Masala

I stared for a long time at this beautiful bowl that my friend Francesco lovingly made by hand, trying to figure out what dish would most appropriately fulfill its destiny.  One thing was certain -- this bowl most definitely longed to be filled with something spicy, and HOT.

My head immediately went to India.  Francesco has traveled extensively there, and Indian food, while not really part of my culinary repertoire, has long been among my favorite cuisines (thanks to the Samtani family!).  Moreover, Indian cuisine includes many exciting, healthy, and flavorful vegan dishes, making it an especially appealing VB6 option.  Plus I was in luck because my "peachy" friend Sheila had recently given me her top secret Indian curry recipe as a birthday gift, and along with it, an amazing array of Indian spices. And while Sheila's curry recipe -- which is phenomenal, by the way! -- definitely goes with me to the grave, I decided the spices were fair game, as they included just what I needed to make a fabulously spicy and delicious Chana Masala.

* * *

To make Chana Masala, first I measure out and prepare the spices, as there are many!  They include 1 teaspoon of ground coriander, 1 teaspoon of ground cumin, 1/2 teaspoon of ground turmeric, and 1/4 teaspoon of Indian chilli powder (you can substitute cayenne pepper).  These four ingredients can be combined as they are added into the dish at the same time.  To the extent I have the whole spices on hand (in this case whole coriander and cumin), I like to grind them fresh, for a deeper flavor, but of course pre-ground spices are certainly fine.  

Separately I measure out 1 teaspoon of cumin seeds, which I toast in a hot dry frying pan for several minutes, shaking constantly so that they don't burn.  

Finally, I measure out and combine 1 teaspoon of paprika, 1/2 teaspoon of garam masala, and 1/4 teaspoon of sea salt, as these three ingredients will also be added to the dish at the same time.  I also gather the remaining ingredients -- a 15 ounce can of garbanzo beans, 1 white onion, 1 Roma tomato, 1 Serrano pepper, a chunk of fresh ginger, 1 clove of fresh garlic, and half a lemon.

I start by chopping the onion and sautéing it in 2 teaspoons of light olive oil over medium heat for a few minutes until it is tender, and then I add in the first round of spices (the ground coriander, ground cumin, ground turmeric, and chilli powder), and I cook everything together for a minute or so.

Next I chop up the Roma tomato, sprinkle it with just a bit of sea salt (to enhance the flavor of the tomato), and stir it in with the onions and spices.

Then I rinse, drain, and add in the garbanzo beans, along with 1/2 cup of water.

I let that cook on a low simmer for a few minutes, and then I stir in about 1 tablespoon of lemon juice along with the toasted cumin seeds and the remaining spices (the paprika, garam masala, and sea salt), cover the pot, and let everything simmer together for about 5 minutes.  

While that's cooking, I remove the seeds and chop up the Serrano pepper into tiny pieces, and I grate about 1/2 teaspoon of fresh ginger, toss both into the pot, and let everything simmer on a very low heat while the flavors marry -- about another 30 minutes or so.

I serve the Chana Masala with a side of basmati rice, and for Francesco I include a spicy Serrano pepper to chomp on -- just divine!

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