Sunday, September 30, 2007

Potato Tacos with Chipotle Tomato Sauce

We had a 24-hour taco stand across the street when we lived in San Diego, and whenever we feel too burned out to even think about dinner, going out for tacos is always the easiest option (although now we have to walk a whole two blocks. Life is rough). But this past Thursday, we felt just energetic enough to make our own damn tacos. Here's how to do it, for the next time you find yourself cursing up and down that you didn't move somewhere with a 24-hour taco stand across the street. Any leftover filling is great over rice for lunch the next day.

The Nearest Taqueria Is Still Too Far Away

1 dried chipotle chile
3 medium-sized tomatoes
1 onion: half minced, half thinly sliced into half moons
1/4 cup olive oil
3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon paprika (smoked Spanish paprika if you have it)
6 small yellow-fleshed potatoes (we used German Butterball)
2 tablespoons canola oil
4 corn tortillas
1/4 bunch cilantro, minced

How Do I Turn This Into Dinner?

Place the chipotle chile in a small bowl and pour boiling water over it. Cover with a plate and let it sit and soften while you do everything else.

Roughly chop tomatoes and combine in a baking dish with olive oil, garlic, oregano, paprika, salt, and pepper. Stir to coat, then broil for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until tomatoes start to blacken just a little. When the tomatoes are just beginning to show tinges of black, remove from broiler and transfer the mixture to the blender. Add the soaked chipotle and blend on high speed until you have a smooth sauce.

Dice potatoes and drop in boiling water for 5-10 minutes, until just tender. (You can do this while the tomatoes are broiling). When potatoes are barely tender, drain and saute in canola oil over medium-high heat for about 5-7 minutes, until they start to brown. Pour the sauce onto the potatoes and continue cooking for 2-3 minutes, stirring to coat, until sauce evaporates a bit.

Spoon filling onto tortillas and top with minced cilantro and finely sliced onion half moons.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Rosemary-Threaded Figs with Cashew Cream

We threw a tapas-and-games party on Saturday night and needed a not-too-rich dessert to round out a decadent spread. We made our household gazpacho and three tapas (tortilla espanola, marinated semisoft cheeses with garlic & rosemary and soft cheeses with honey) from Tapas: A Taste of Spain in America, plus a guest brought gorgonzola-stuffed dates wrapped in bacon. So we created this fall incarnation of a dessert we love to make with whatever fruit is in season. (We've also made a summer version with grilled peaches and a blueberry reduction, and a Christmas version with grilled pears and an apple cider reduction).

For the cashew cream:
1 cup raw cashews
4 cups water
2 tablespoons agave nectar (or maple syrup or honey)
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the threaded figs:
18-20 fresh black or purple figs
6 branches fresh rosemary
2 tablespoons butter or Earth Balance
1 tablespoon honey
1/4 teaspoon each cinnamon, allspice and cardamom

For the delicious dessert assembly:

Soak the cashews in 4 cups of water for as long as you can--at least 3 hours, but they'll get softer (and achieve a creamier texture) if you soak them for longer. You can also soak the rosemary branches if you want--they only need about 20 minutes. This will keep them from burning in the oven, but I forgot to do this once and it wasn't catastrophic.

When you're ready, remove cashews from water with a slotted spoon and place in the food processor with 1/2 cup of the soaking water, agave/maple syrup/honey, cinnamon and vanilla extract. Blend until smooth--you can add more water as necessary, but you want this to have the consistency of a pudding rather than a sauce.

Preheat the oven** to broil. Thread 3-4 figs onto each rosemary branch. Melt butter and honey in the microwave for about a minute and mix in cinnamon, cardamom and allspice. Brush figs with butter-honey mixture and place in the broiler on a foil-lined cookie sheet:

Broil about 3-4 minutes on each side, brushing with more butter-honey marinade mixture halfway through. Serve figs with a dollop of cashew cream. If you're serving more people than you have rosemary branches, you can snip branches between figs with kitchen scissors to create individual servings.

**We used the broiler because we don't have a grill, but these would be delicious grilled.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Mjeddra: New, Improved and Sprouted

Mjeddra is a traditional Syrian dish of basmati rice, lentils and fried onions, topped with yogurt or sour cream. My grandmother makes me mjeddra every time I come to visit, and it's been a beloved staple in every kitchen I've had. It's comforting, filling and addictive. A brief history of its evolution in my repertoire:

(1) After our last visit to Grandma's, my sister pointed out that she and I both make mjeddra with equal parts rice and lentils, while Grandma's mjeddra is more like rice studded with occasional lentils. I don't know when this deviation happened, since we both learned to make it from her, but I do prefer it with equal parts rice and lentils (shhh--good thing Grandma doesn't use the Internet!).
(2) When Phoebe and I first made the whole grain commitment, we started making it with long-grain brown rice instead of the traditional basmati rice.
(3) Wednesday night, we tried using sprouted lentils since we're obsessed with our Sproutman hemp sprouting bag.

The following recipe is for the third and final incarnation, which we think is the best yet. While I grew up eating this topped with just yogurt or sour cream, other Syrian & Lebanese cooks make a raita-type cucumber & yogurt sauce for the top, so we marinated some cucumbers in lemon juice and arranged them on top of the mjeddra. This is optional if you don't have time or cucumbers; just plain yogurt is delicious.

The Parts

1 cup (dry measure) sprouted brown or green lentils
1 cup long-grain brown or brown basmati rice
1 onion, sliced into thin rings
1/4 cup canola oil (or other high-heat oil)
1 English cucumber
juice of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon olive oil
yogurt or sour cream

More Than Their Sum

A note on the lentils: We measured one cup of dry lentils, soaked them overnight, then left them hanging in the sprout bag for two days (rinsing 2-3 times daily). If you don't have a sprout bag, soak them overnight, then put them in a jar with a cheesecloth lid and turn the jar on its side to drain, covered by a cloth. Rinse a few times a day by filling the jar with water, swishing it around, and then turning it over to drain. One-day sprouts would work fine in this recipe but two-day sprouts have such cute little tails.

Rinse rice in a strainer while you boil 2 and 1/2 cups of water in a saucepan. When water has boiled, add rice, return to boil and then simmer until all water is absorbed, about 40-45 minutes. Meanwhile, if you're doing the cucumber garnish, chop the cucumber into small cubes and mix with lemon juice, olive oil and salt. Let it marinate while you cook the rice.

Another thing to do while the rice is cooking: onions! Heat oil over medium-high heat in a cast-iron skillet or heavy-bottomed frying pan. Add the sliced onions and fry, stirring occasionally, until they are crispy and brown. Remove them promptly with a slotted spatula to prevent burning (but keep the cooking oil). When the rice is mostly cooked, bring about four cups of water to boil in a second pot and boil the lentils until they are soft -- about five minutes.

When the rice and lentils are both finished, mix them together with the canola oil. Add a generous amount of salt and pepper to taste, then top with fried onions, cucumbers and yogurt.

Getting Old School:

If you don't want to sprout your lentils, you can make this the old-fashioned way. Cook 1 cup of dry lentils in with the rice, adding two more cups of water.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Spicy Black Prince Gazpacho

This soup (plus some grilled cheese) was the perfect quick Sunday night dinner to end a day of errands. We had a few voluptuous Black Prince heirloom tomatoes, so this came out a sensuous shade of dark red, but you can use whatever tomatoes you have around.

What To Put In Your Blender

6 large tomatoes, chopped
1 scallion, chopped
1 large clove garlic, minced
juice of 1 lemon
1 slice of bread (yes, you can use 100% whole wheat--we did--or rice bread)
1-2 raw serrano chiles, well minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon smoked spanish paprika (optional, but so good if you have it)
a sprig of oregano
a sprig of cilantro
a few chives (optional)
a sprig of parsley (optional)
salt and pepper to taste

Okay--blend (in batches, if needed). That's it!

What to Put Atop Your Blended Soup
1 cucumber, diced
a drizzle of balsamic vinegar

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Caramelized Leeks with Roasted Tomatoes and Pomegranate

This dish was created for a Rosh Hashanah gathering. Leeks and pomegranates are both symbolic foods traditionally eaten for the Jewish New Year, and while tomatoes aren't an official symbolic food, they are (1) round, and can thus be used in lieu of more traditional apples to symbolize the roundness of the year, (2) linguistically tied to apples in Italian and (3) still abundant and delicious. The inspiration for this dish is a simpler leek-and-tomato mezze dish my father always makes for Rosh Hashanah; I've cooked the leeks longer, roasted the tomatoes instead of frying them, and added pomegranate seeds, pomegranate molasses and lemon zest.

The Symbolic Props

3 tablespoons olive oil
2 whole large tomatoes (I used Black Prince)
2 large leeks, rinsed and bottom part sliced thinly
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
zest of 1/2 a lemon
seeds from 1/2 a pomegranate
minced parsley for the top

The Method

Preheat oven to 300. Coat the whole tomatoes in one tablespoon of the olive oil, place on a cookie sheet and roast in the oven for 1 and a half to 2 hours.

Meanwhile, heat the remaining two tablespoons of olive oil in a cast-iron skillet. Add leeks, salt and pepper. Saute leeks slowly over medium-high heat, stirring so they don't burn to the bottom, for 30-45 minutes, adding more olive oil if needed. They'll slowly start to wither and brown--I took mine off after 30 minutes because I had to get out of the house ASAP, but they could have gone for longer.

When leeks and tomatoes are done, roughly chop tomatoes and add to a serving bowl with the leeks. Stir in pomegranate molasses and lemon zest and taste for salt and pepper. Top with parsley and pomegranate seeds.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Work Snacks: Oven-Dried Charantais Melon

My sister's friend Tom is the (un?)official melon man at the Saturday farmer's market Happy Boy Farms stand. He's been generous with samples and melon advice all summer, so when I ran into him on Saturday en route to the Happy Boy stand and heard that someone had just stolen $100 from the Happy Boy cash box, I was even more determined to buy melons before the season ended. I picked up three small charantais melons ($7 back in the Happy Boy cash box, you soulless thief!), which are so densely flavored that sometimes I forget I'm not eating a butternut squash. We love the dried melon from Full Belly Farm, so we decided to try it out on our own, undeterred by recent oven-drying mishaps. (Apparently dried melons also have their fair share of haters, presumably because the drying intensifies that meaty, musky flavor. Whatever; people are crazy). And-YAY!-we emerged unscathed from this oven-drying experiment, with a nice heap of dried melon for mid-afternoon noshing.

We took a two-pronged approach: slicing half of the melon as thin as possible to dry on top of the stove, and slicing the remaining melon 1/2-inch thick to dry in the oven.

We stovetop-dried the thinly sliced melon for 5 hours while roasting tomatoes in the oven, then finished them by briefly oven-drying on 200 for 10 minutes. The result: Terra-Chip-like crisps of paper-thin melon.

The thicker slices went in the oven on 175 for 4 hours, and we flipped the slices over halfway through cooking. Then we turned off the oven and let them sit overnight. The trick is to use the hot oven to get the melons close to finished, then take away the heat at first sign of burning and let them coast. The result: dried-apple-like consistency with heavenly melon scent.

Monday, September 10, 2007

What To Do With A Weekend's Worth of Early Girl Tomatoes

When Denise, our local tomato pusher, stopped by after the Thursday market with a flat of Early Girl tomatoes, we jumped at the chance to do some hard core tomato projects. The booty: sun-dried tomatoes, oven-roasted tomatoes packed in olive oil and tomato-coconut soup. Here's Denise, with that charming all-your-friends-are-doing-it grin:

Part One: Burn 'Em to a Crisp

For our first project, we wanted to sun-dry tomatoes sans sun. Triangulating from a few internet recipes designed for a gas stove, we decided to halve the tomatoes, sprinkle them generously with salt, and dry them in the oven on 200 overnight. Here's what we started with:

And here's how it ended:

So we tried again with a few more mixed methods: (1) turning the oven down to 175 and cracking the oven door open--still too hot, (2) turning off the heat and letting the tomatoes sit in a pre-heated oven--not quite hot enough, and (3) letting the tomatoes sit on top of the stove while we oven-roasted some more fortunate tomatoes--just right, but takes forever. Finally, we ended up with about 2 cups of stovetop-dried tomatoes:

The take-away: The sun may be fickle, and it may give you skin cancer, but it appears to be the only reliable method for producing sun-dried tomatoes if, like us, you have an electric stove that doesn't have a "warm" setting. But try this out on your gas stoves, and let us know how it goes.

Step Two: Dry Our Tears, Fire Up the Oven, and Bring on the Olive Oil

Since we still had seventy tomatoes left and needed to keep the oven going for stovetop-dried tomatoes, we rolled up our sleeves and tried out the Figs Olives Wine recipe for roasted tomatoes preserved in olive oil. For those of you with electric stoves, we lowered the heat to 200 degrees. The drool-inducing final product:

I'm going to keep these in the fridge until, like, February... Yeah, right.

Step Three: Quick Monday Night Tomato-Coconut Soup

Phoebe's stepmother recently sent over The Everything Indian Cookbook by Monica Bhide. And while it doesn't have any pictures for our food porn fix, it does offer this more-than-the-sum-of-its-parts soup, delicious over rice and ideal for a minimal-effort Monday evening dinner. Our slightly modified version follows; we left the skins on our tomatoes since they were so new and delicious, eliminated the added water to sharpen the flavors, increased the number of chiles and added powdered cumin at the end.

Tamatar Ka Shorba

4 large tomatoes (or 10 Early Girl tomatoes, in our case)
1 teaspoon cumin seeds, toasted in a dry skillet
salt to taste
1 14-ounce can coconut milk
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 sprigs curry leaves, stemmed
1/2 teaspoon black mustard seeds
3 dried red chiles, roughly pounded
1/2 teaspoon powdered cumin

Puree tomatoes, cumin seeds and salt in a blender until tomatoes are completely pulverized. Pour into a medium-sized saucepan, bring to a boil, and simmer 15 minutes. Add coconut milk and simmer for another 5 minutes. Meanwhile, heat oil in a small skillet and add curry leaves, mustard seeds, chiles and cumin. When the mustard seeds pop, pour the oil and seasonings into the soup.

A note about curry leaves: these can be found in Indian markets, and if you don't have access to them, don't substitute curry powder--these are the leaves of the kari plant and bear no botanical or gustatory relationship to curry powder. There's no real substitute, but Madhur Jaffrey's World Vegetarian suggests holy basil for a different flavor.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Tart Basil Iced Tea

Last week, we went to the free-cone one-year-anniversary extravaganza at Ici and tried the basil ice cream. It was delicious, and really got us thinking about the versatility of basil. So, in the spirit of giving basil the freedom to break from its eternal pairing with tomatoes, we made this tea last night as a hot beverage and came back to it this afternoon as a refreshing cold drink. Think basil-infused lemonade, with a hint of mint.

The Inputs

6 cups boiling water
4 sprigs basil
1 sprig mint
1 teaspoon tamarind concentrate
Liquid sweetener (honey/agave) or sugar to taste

The Output

Place mint and basil in a large bowl and cover with boiling water. Steep for about half an hour, then remove herbs, stir in tamarind and sweeten to taste (which, in Phoebe's case, is no sweetener at all--I like a generous glug of agave). Have a cup while it's hot, then transfer to a pitcher or clean glass jar and refrigerate.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Chilaquiles with Kale and Guacamole

Yeah, so this lez-mex household favorite is even more bastardized than our tortilla soup. Traditional chilaquiles and our chilaquiles have some common attributes--great way to use stale tortillas, ideal for any meal or a snack, good hangover food--but we really took some liberties here to make it a super-simple one-pot meal. Because this is last-minute, nothing-in-the-fridge-but-stale-tortillas food, we've divided the ingredients list into bare-cupboard necessities and optional, delicious embellishments. This may sound like a lot of tortillas, but it's just right as dinner for two.

The Essentials

3 tablespoons peanut oil
5 tortillas, sliced into strips
3 eggs, beaten with 1/2 tsp dried oregano and 1/8 teaspoon cayenne
2 cloves garlic
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1 chile pepper (we use serrano, but anything works, and if you're down to zero groceries, a dried red chile will work here too).

The Add-ins

1-2 shallots or 2 scallions, thinly sliced
3 tiny tomatoes (or one large one), diced
3 tbs. salsa (for the very lazy among you)
1/2 cup finely sliced mushrooms
3-4 leaves kale or spinach, diced
fresh herbs like oregano or dill

The Topping Options

diced avocado or guacamole (see recipe below)
crumbled white cheese
fresh herbs like cilantro or basil
sour cream
more salsa (lazy, lazy bastards)

The Method:

Make sure everything is chopped and ready to go, because this will come together in minutes and you don't want the tortillas to burn while you're chopping the chile.

Heat oil in a wok. When oil is hot, throw in tortilla strips. Fry until they are just starting to turn crispy and the edges are beginning to brown. Clear out a space in the middle of the wok and add garlic, shallots or scallions, chile and cumin. Stir for 30 seconds. Add mushrooms and tomatoes or salsa, then stir a minute or until tomatoes are starting to wither. Add the spinach or kale and any fresh herbs (excluding anything you want to use for toppings) and stir for about a minute, until the greens wilt. Once again, clear out a spot in the center, add another teaspoon of oil, and pour in the beaten eggs. Scramble egg in center until mostly cooked, then stir everything together until eggs are fully cooked. Top with whatever garnishes you desire. Taste for salt, then eat the whole thing.


Surely everyone has their own guacamole recipe by now? If not, here's what we make with our chilaquiles.

1 avocado
1 fresh chile pepper, minced (we leave the seeds in for spicy fun)
1 scallion, minced
2 tbs. minced cilantro
the juice of 1/2 a lemon
a pinch of cumin
salt to taste

Combine, smash, enjoy.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Work Snacks: Raw Zucchini Discs with Mint-Tahini Sauce

We both love to nibble at work, and we like to mix it up a little so we're not eating yogurt and Luna Bars all the time. We'll be posting innovative office snack ideas as they come along--to start, here's *another* way to use summer squash. The recipe for the sauce is from a recent acquisition, RAWVolution by Matt Amsden. We spent a few days snickering at the multiple gratuitous photos of Matt Amsden looking smoldering and raw-fed: Matt on the beach canoodling with some girl, Matt doing topless yoga that hints at his Kama Sutra-like abilities, Matt seductively smelling jars in the bulk section of a natural foods store! But once we stopped smirking, we came across this fragrant hummus alternative, and it's fantastic as a mid-day snack with raw veggies.

The Recipe

3/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup Nama shoyu (we used Braggs Liquid Aminos)
2-3 cloves garlic, peeled
1 cup raw tahini
1 bunch fresh mint leaves, stems removed

In a high-speed blender (we used a food processor), combine all of the ingredients and blend until smooth.

Notes from the test kitchen: This makes 2 cups--we decided to scale it down to 1/4 recipe. Also, we added a squirt of agave nectar, because we're addicted like that.

Serving suggestion: slice a zucchini on the bias into oval-shaped discs. When you want variety, try it with carrots, snap peas or tortilla chips!

Arugula, Mint and Summer Squash Potage

There comes a point in the summer when you just don't want to see summer squash anymore. But before you get to that point--or maybe when you think you're on the brink of it--try this velvety soup. The mint is a wonderful enhancement to otherwise mild zucchini. Also, part of what can make zucchini and other summer squash unappetizing is their tendency to become mushy and waterlogged when cooked; this soup stops sogginess in its tracks by roasting the zucchini on high heat to concentrate the natural sugars and dry it out a little. What's left is just enough liquid to make a soup--no cream or stock necessary!

You can use any kind of green summer squash here. The other ingredients are also flexible to meet whatever is available; you can substitute spinach or sorrel for the arugula and basil, parsley or other herbs for the mint.

The Ingredients:

6 summer squash, diced (NOTE: Squash will cook down a lot--we used 3 and were left with about two servings, so this is scaled up a bit)
1 small onion, sliced
4 whole garlic cloves
Olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 lb. arugula
6 sprigs fresh mint, stemmed and chopped

The Method:

In a 9 x 13 baking dish, combine squash, onion, garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast on 425 for 30-35 minutes, or until squash and onions are starting to brown. Transfer vegetables and any extra oil to a blender, add arugula and mint, and blend until smooth.

Taste for salt and pepper. Serve as is--or with a swirl of yogurt.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Rosy Peach Pops

These might look like the fruit pops you already make, but adding rosewater and cardamom really takes this snack to the next level--perfumed and unforgettable. Also, a nice save when you arrive home from the farmer's market to find that you've accidentally banged up your peaches. This is also a nice opportunity to praise agave nectar, our household sweetener of choice! It has a low glycemic index (for the sugar-sensitive among you) and is sweet enough that you only need a little. It doesn't have a strong flavor, so it's a much better sugar substitute than maple syrup or honey.

4 peaches, roughly chopped
1/2 teaspoon rosewater
1/4 teaspoon cardamom
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup agave nectar (to taste, depending on how sweet your peaches are).

Blend all ingredients and pour into popsicle molds.

Freeze until you can't wait any longer. Eat.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Spicy Tortilla Soup with Heirloom Tomatoes

Welcome to the blog, everyone! For the first post, here is one of our favorite household originals. This post is tagged "Lez-Mex," our signature brand of bastardized Mexican classics. About a year ago, we were trying to imitate a Mexican tortilla soup, and decided to forgo the traditional chicken broth in favor of an all-tomato base. This is a lovely, sensuous way to showcase late-summer heirloom tomatoes like these:

The Soup:

4-6 large heirloom tomatoes, diced
1 onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1 serrano chile, roughly chopped
Olive oil
1/2 teaspoon Spanish smoked paprika (pimenton de la vera)
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
Salt and pepper to taste
3 red, yellow or orange peppers (don't use green peppers--they're gross!)

The Finishing Touches:

5 corn tortillas, sliced into 1 and a 1/2 inch-long strips
Peanut or canola oil for frying
Diced avocado
Crumbled white cheese like cotija, feta or ricotta salata (optional but scrumptious)
Minced cilantro

The Recipe:

Set oven to broil. In a large casserole dish, combine tomatoes, onion, garlic, chile, paprika, cumin, salt and pepper. Toss liberally with olive oil (wear gloves or use a fork when mixing oil and chiles--I had to learn this the hard way and spent most of the evening with my hands in a bowl of milk!) and deposit casserole dish in the oven. Bake for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until tomatoes and onion are starting to char. Meanwhile, roast peppers in the broiler, turning until blackened on all sides.

When peppers are completely blackened, remove from broiler and place in a paper bag to steam. Transfer the tomato-onion mixture to your blender. When the peppers have cooled down, peel off the charred skins, remove cores and seeds, chop roughly and add to the blender. Blend until the soup is smooth and reddish-orange.

Garnish time! Fry the tortilla strips in canola or peanut oil until golden and crisp, then remove to a paper-towel-lined plate. Ladle soup into bowls and garnish with tortilla strips, optional cheese, cilantro and avocado slices.