Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Colorful Carrots

One of my go-to side dishes when I'm pressed for time, I have been making this very simple and lovely carrot dish for years.  A delicious and nutritious family favorite, many a hand has been slapped while reaching in to grab a carrot before dinner is served.

I start with about 6 medium sized carrots, which I clean and trim.  If the carrots are organic, I don't peel them, and if they are not, I do.  I love using these colorful "high pigment" carrot varieties for that wow factor, but more often than not I end up using basic orange carrots, and the result is still very eye-catching.

Next, I slice the carrots into uniform sized sticks, as shown.  (I just love the deep purple ones with the cream colored interior!)

After that, I boil the carrots in salted water until they are just fork tender.  For me, this half raw, half cooked preparation represents a satisfactory trade-off, as the longer the carrots cook, the sweeter they will taste, but their nutrition value will also be compromised.

In the meantime I prepare my toppings.  They include a large clove of minced garlic, one fresh purple or green onion sliced very thin (including some of the green stems), a handful of Italian flat leaf parsley chopped well, 2 tablespoons of very good extra virgin olive oil, and the juice from half a lemon.

When the carrots are perfectly tender, I drain them and immediately plunk them into a bath of ice water to arrest the cooking.

Then I line the carrots up in a serving dish, toss in the olive oil and lemon, garlic, onion, and parsley, sprinkle in some Kosher salt and plenty of fresh ground black pepper, and serve.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Baby Bella's Bursting with Bulgur and Perfectly Plated

This earthy and rustic vegan mushroom dish features baby portobello mushrooms coated with olive oil, garlic, and Mediterranean spices, roasted for 25 minutes, and then stuffed with a lively mixture of bulgur, green olives, mint, parsley, onion and roasted almonds.  The rich ingredients, and the contrasting textures and flavors, make for an amazing and satisfying bite of food.

I start by cleaning and removing the stems from about 10 baby portobello mushrooms.  Then, with a sharp knife, I score the top of each mushroom with crisscross scores, taking care not to cut in so deep that the mushrooms break.

Next, I preheat my oven to 400 degrees and assemble the ingredients needed for a quick and simple chermoula sauce.  They include 1 large clove of crushed garlic, 1/2 teaspoon each of ground cumin, ground coriander, ground red pepper, and paprika, 1/4 teaspoon of kosher salt, 1/4 cup of very good olive oil, and a tablespoon of fresh lemon juice.  I combine and whisk the ingredients together in a small bowl to form a smooth marinade.

Then I carefully spoon and brush the chermoula sauce all over the top and bottom of each of the mushrooms, place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper (top side up), and roast the portobellos for about 25 minutes.

While the mushrooms are roasting I prepare the bulgur filling.  First I measure out 1/2 cup of fine bulgur (bulgur No. 1) into a bowl, cover the bulgur with 1/2 cup of boiling water, add in a tablespoon of olive oil, stir once, cover the bowl tightly, and let it rest until all the water is absorbed -- about 15 minutes.

In the meantime I prepare the ingredients to fold into the bulgur.  They include 1 thinly sliced green onion (including the green stems), 1/4 cup each of sliced tangy green olives, finely chopped mint, and finely chopped flat leaf parsley, and about 15 roasted almonds, coarsely chopped.   After the bulgur has absorbed all the liquid, I fluff it with a fork and add in some salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste.  Then I stir in the olives, herbs and almonds, add a tablespoon of fresh lemon juice, and sprinkle in a hint red pepper for a little heat (optional).  Then I taste the bulgur and adjust the seasonings as needed.

When the mushrooms are done cooking,  I let them rest for a bit and then I stuff them with as much of the bulgur mixture as they can hold (saving any leftover bulgur for another day's lunch). The mushrooms are now ready to plate and serve.

And in this gorgeous plate that my friend Francesco designed, I found the perfect canvas for my beautiful stuffed mushrooms! 

Friday, January 10, 2014

Puréed Roasted Beets with Toasted Hazelnuts and Blue Cheese

I adapted this delicious vegetarian roasted beet recipe from my favorite new cookbook Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, and I promise you the luxurious texture and amazing flavor of this appetizer will woo even the most ardent beet-hater.  

I start by washing and trimming 3 medium sized beets, reserving the tender leaves for salad.  Next I roast the beets, uncovered, in a 400 degree oven for about an hour.  The beets are ready when you can easily insert a knife or fork into the center.  Roasting the beets, as opposed to boiling them, is essential for this recipe because the beets need that rich and gooey texture that roasting imparts. During the last 15 minutes of cooking I put about 10 hazelnuts into the hot oven and toast them off as well.  They will be used later in the garnish.

When the beets are cool enough to handle, I remove the outer skin and cut each into 6 or 8 smaller pieces.  In addition, I peel and crush 2 cloves of garlic and measure out 1/2 cup of really good plain Greek yogurt.

I put the roasted beets, crushed garlic, and just a pinch of Kosher salt into a blender or food processor and blend to break up the beets.  Then I add in the yogurt and continue blending until the consistency is smooth and velvety.

Then I transfer the beet purée to a bowl and drizzle in 1 tablespoon of good olive oil, some fresh ground black pepper, and a bit more salt if needed.

Just before serving I prepare the garnish of toasted hazelnuts coarsely crushed, 1 scallion sliced very, very thin at an angle, and a rounded tablespoon of crumbled blue cheese (you can substitute feta cheese if you like).

I carefully transfer the beet purée to a flat serving dish, and with a small spoon or the tip of a knife I weave in just a tiny bit of plain yogurt, which adds a nice color contrast.  I drizzle the top with another tablespoon of olive oil and a bit more fresh ground black pepper, and I scatter the garnish across the top.

It's delicious served on top of warm thin sourdough bread slices.  Even the kids loved it!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Spinach and Feta Cheese Börek (Turkish Savory Spinach and Feta Cheese Pie)

Earlier this week I celebrated my 29th wedding anniversary.  For 29 years I have been married to my husband Asaf, and for at least 29 years I have been cooking the food of his homeland, not because he insists at all, but because I do.  Turkish cuisine is simply the greatest cuisine in the world. There, I've said it! 

So, having cooked so many Turkish recipes for so many years, how is it possible that I had never made a full on börek before?  After all, börek is a Turkish staple food, much like bread or rice or soup, and in fact every Turkish cookbook I own has an entire section devoted to börek.  Don't get me wrong -- I've made all kinds of sigara börek and little triangular börek, both stuffed with various fillings, but I never attempted to make full pan of honest to goodness börek, and I'm not exactly certain why.  I think I just generally have an aversion to frozen filo dough.  Frankly, the very thought of working with those paper-thin sheets of fragile pastry scares me a bit.  So why now?  Well, a few weeks ago I made an impulse purchase and bought a really pretty Turkish glass pedestal serving plate.  I had been enjoying the plate as a decorative piece, but I had been unable to figure out what to serve on it.  It seemed to call out for a dessert of some sort, such as a cake or a pie, but I'm just not that into desserts.  As I stared at it, I kept envisioning the golden glass serving plate filled with beautiful buttery pie wedges.  And then it dawned on me that my new plate might best fulfill its destiny if it were covered it with wedges of Turkish savory pie, (i.e., börek), cooked in a circular pan.  My vision was so clear that I decided I must confront my fear of filo dough head on and give this börek thing a try, and I'm so thankful that I did, as the börek was a resounding success.  Asaf, who is quite picky when it comes to börek, absolutely loved it as did the other Turks that were force fed my börek over the last two days.  In fact, Asaf's first comment was, "Mandy, you could sell this! It's that good."  (Thanks, honey.  You made my day!)  So here is the recipe, step by step. 

First defrost and squeeze all the excess water from 2 pounds of frozen chopped spinach.

Then assemble the remaining ingredients:  1 roll of defrosted filo dough (about 16-20 sheets), 1-1/4 cups of plain Greek yogurt, 2 sticks of butter, 10 ounces of good feta cheese, 2 eggs, 1/2 cup of chopped white onion, and 1/4 cup chopped flat leaf parsley.

First carefully melt the butter and allow it to completely cool down.

In the meantime sauté the chopped onion in a bit of olive oil, as well as a tablespoon of the melted butter, for about 2 minutes, and then add the chopped spinach and continue to sauté for about 5 more minutes.  Season with a bit of salt and allow the mixture rest until cool.

Crumble the feta cheese with a fork, and add in the chopped parsley.

Once the melted butter comes to room temperature, combine it with the yogurt.  Then lightly whisk the two eggs and stir them into the yogurt and butter mixture.

Now it's time to assemble the börek.  First, lightly grease the baking pan.  I used a large round pan, but you can certainly use a rectangular pan, which is actually the more common presentation.  Carefully place one or two sheets of filo dough on the bottom of the pan to fully cover it, allowing the sides to droop over the edges of the pan.  Generously brush on the yogurt mixture, fold in the drooping edges, and then add another layer of filo dough and brush again with the yogurt mixture. Continue layering in this manner until you have used half of the sheets of filo dough.

Now fold the sautéed spinach and onion into the feta cheese mixture, stir well, and spread all of it evenly over layers of filo dough in the pan.  At this point I like to add a few grinds of black pepper, and a teaspoon of Turkish red pepper, but both are optional.

Now cover the mixture with another layer of filo dough, brush with the yogurt mixture, and continue layering and brushing until you have used up all the filo dough in one roll.  Be sure to brush the very top layer with the yogurt mixture as well.

With a sharp knife, before any baking commences, cut the pastry into serving sizes, whether they be wedges or squares, and cook uncovered in a 375 degree oven for 40-45 minutes.  

The börek is ready when the top is golden brown.

It's best warm, 10 minutes out of the oven.  Wow, I feel like I've met a culinary challenge head on, and I am certain I have a lot of börek dishes in my future.