Thursday, May 13, 2010

Tortillas in Black Bean Sauce

We love many things at Picante, but our favorite brunch item hands-down is the enfrijoladas, a homey dish made of their handmade tortillas smothered in black bean sauce and drizzled with crema. We decided to attempt enfrijoladas using our new favorite Cook's Illustrated method for cooking beans: brining them overnight in salt water. The brining allows salt flavor to fully penetrate the beans, leaving them tender and delicious. Throwing the beans into the slow-cooker once they've been brined saves active cooking time and develops a rich sauce.

3 tablespoons table salt
2 cups dried black beans, picked over and washed
1 tablespoon cumin
1 tablespoon butter
2 cloves garlic, peeled and left whole
3 cups vegetable stock
10 corn tortillas

For toppings:
wedges of lime
chopped cilantro
fire-roasted chiles or salsa
crumbled queso fresco or cotija

First, stir the salt in 4 quarts (16 cups) cold water in the slow-cooker vessel and add the beans. Let the beans soak overnight, at least 8 hours. In the morning, drain beans, rinse well, and return to the slow-cooker with the cumin, butter, garlic, stock and 5 cups water. Cook on low heat for 8 hours.

Puree the beans and their liquid in small batches in a blender. Warm the tortillas in a dry skillet or in the microwave. Douse the tortillas well with black bean sauce and fold into quarters. Serve immediately, topped with lime, cilantro, spicy stuff, and cheese.

If you're saving any to eat later, wait to add the sauce until just before serving.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

South Indian Pancakes

We've been working on our recipe for dosas--savory fermented rice and dal pancakes--for years now. Sometimes the batter came out well, but we had trouble getting it to rise consistently. Our eureka moment about dosas happened in India last winter, watching the cooking instructor pour perfectly bubbly batter onto a hot griddle. It's hot in India! That's why the batter ferments so perfectly and gets so bubbly. So, if we could just get our dosa batter to India temperatures at home, we could make real Indian dosas that stay together and fold nicely. Success!

Making dosa batter takes a few tries to master, so don't bust this one out for that big first date until you've practiced a few times. You can also use dosa batter for uttapam, which thicker and sturdier, like a personal pizza. We've provided recipes for both here. If you want to make some of each, make the uttapam while the batter is still thick, then thin it down for dosas.

1 cup parboiled rice (boil 1 cup rice in a large pot of water for 5 minutes; drain.)
2 cups raw rice
1 cup urad dal
2 teaspoons fenugreek seeds
1 teaspoon salt

This works equally well with brown rice, white rice, or a combo.

Combine everything, except the salt, in a large bowl with enough lukewarm water to cover and allow to soak overnight. Drain, reserving the liquids. Blend until you have a consistency like thick pancake batter, adding only enough of the soaking water to lubricate your blender. Pour into a bowl that leaves room for the batter to double in size.

Cover with a towel and place somewhere warm. The batter likes to be 85-95 degrees Fahrenheit. In Kerala, that's just room temperature. Here in Berkeley, we use our dehydrator, which has adjustable temperature settings. We've heard of other creative solutions like leaving it in the oven on low, with the door propped open, or near a radiator. Within eight hours, the dough will double and fill with tiny bubbles. You should detect a pleasantly sour, yeasty smell. If your dough doesn't rise after the first eight hours, you don't have to give up! Try adjusting your heat source and give it another eight hours. Once your batter has risen, mix in the salt and proceed with one of the following recipes.


1 batch of batter, risen
coconut oil for frying (Coconut oil is solid in cold weather, but will quickly become liquid if you leave the bottle somewhere warm. Liquid oil is much easier to drizzle!)

Choice of toppings:
chopped red onion
finely minced green chili
chopped cilantro leaves
chopped tomato
chopped nuts
minced fresh herbs
cubed feta (not traditional, but quite delicious!)

Heat a well-seasoned cast iron or crepe pan over medium-high heat, and coat the pan lightly with oil. When the oil is as hot as possible without smoking, pour about a 1/4 cup of batter into the center of the pan. Quickly toss on some toppings, plus a little drizzle of oil around the edges.

When the pancake looks firm enough to flip (3-5 minutes), gently loosen it with a clean, greased metal spatula. Flip it over and cook for another 3-5 minutes. Carefully scrape away any bits that stuck to the pan and add a little more oil. When the oil is hot, begin your next pancake. Serve warm, with a selection of curries and chutneys.


1 batch of batter, risen
coconut oil for frying

Stir a little water into your batter for a crepe-like consistency. Heat a well-seasoned cast iron or crepe pan over medium-high heat, and coat the pan lightly with coconut oil. When the oil is as hot as possible without smoking, pour about a 1/4 cup of batter into the center of the pan, spreading it around in a spiral pattern with the back of your ladle. It should be thin, with some lacy areas, but no large holes. Pour a fine drizzle of oil around the edges to help them get crispy.

Cook for about 3 minutes, or until the dosa easily lifts from the pan. If your dosa is nice and thin, you won't need to fry on both sides -- just transfer to a plate, fill with a thick curry and serve. If your dosa came out a little too thick, there's no harm in flipping it over to make sure it's cooked on both sides.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Broccoli Noodle Casserole

What can we say?--it was rainy out and we were feeling nostalgic for the vegetarian casseroles of the 1970's, so we crafted this adaptation of a noodle casserole recipe in our favorite Eastern European cookbook. Parents, consider this dish a useful weapon in the battle to get your pasta-worshipping kids to eat their broccoli. It's Mollie-Katzen-tastic with both sour cream and cottage cheese, and we've tinkered with it to ensure that the broccoli doesn't get overdone during the baking process.

16 ounces whole wheat fusilli or rotini
1 head broccoli, broken into bite-sized pieces
2 cups cottage cheese
1 cup sour cream
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon paprika
black pepper
1 onion, chopped fine

Optional toppings:
1/4 cup breadcrumbs
olive oil
more paprika

Preheat oven to 350. Cook the pasta until al dente. Steam the broccoli (try this in a steamer basket over the pasta!) until barely fork-tender. Meanwhile, mix the cottage cheese, sour cream, salt, paprika and pepper. Grease a casserole dish. Combine all of the ingredients, except the toppings, in the casserole dish. Drizzle the top with a little olive oil, then breadcrumbs, then a sprinkling of paprika. Bake for 45 minutes.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Hamine Eggs, for Grandma Olga

We had been planning since last Passover to post this recipe around now, reasoning that you'd be most interested in Seder recipe ideas right before the big day. Now that it's finally posting time, we want to dedicate this post to Hannah's Grandma Olga, an amazing cook and a fabulous lady who passed away earlier this month. While she never used the internet and thus never read the blog, she has been such an inspiration for our work: Grandma Olga was all about making things from scratch with the best produce she could find, and her recipes are behind many of our posts, like date charoset, mjeddra and fried eggplant. We feel so lucky to have inherited her recipe journal, a 1964 date book packed with her own handwritten recipes, recipe cards from relatives, recipes clipped from the newspaper, recipes from the back of a Quaker Oats box. There is no time of the year I associate with Grandma Olga more so than Passover, when she would to make jars of her famous date charoset for all the households in our family, lemony-minty hamud that perfumed the whole house, and perfectly-tanned hamine eggs. So Grandma Olga, this one's for you.

Hard-boiled eggs are a traditional fixture on the Passover Seder plate. The Syrian-Jewish version, hamine eggs, involves slowly cooking the eggs overnight with onion skins and coffee grounds, which turns the flesh a beautiful tan color. Last year, we started to make hamine eggs for Passover and realized that while we had plenty of onion skins, the tiny bag of 2-year-old coffee in the freezer had vanished. We did, however, have a box of lapsang souchong tea bags and decided to try them instead. Lapsang souchong is a smoked black tea with an amazing flavor, and our finished eggs were deliciously rich and smoky. Throw these on your Seder plate and everyone will be hooked!

This does take a while, but nearly all of the time is inactive and you can either do this overnight or try it in a Crock-Pot if you don't feel like being confined to your house for 6-8 hours.

12 eggs
Skins from 3-5 onions
10 Lapsang Souchong tea bags
1 teaspoon canola oil

Place eggs in a large saucepan and cover with cold water. Add the onion skins, tea bags and oil and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to very low. Simmer, partially covered, for 6-8 hours. Any cracks in the eggshells will create beautiful dark veins on the egg whites. Drain the eggs, discard the tea bags and onion skins, and peel the eggs once they've cooled.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Nettle Frittata (not to be confused with Nelly Furtado)

Our outdoorsy friend Tanya makes an annual pilgrimage into the wilds to pick nettles. Then she makes some of them into a savory pie for her yearly Pi Day party. This year, we went along for the nettle harvest and made a frittata variation on her delicious pie. If you would like to try Tanya's version, she uses a mashed potato crust from Mollie Katzen's Enchanted Broccoli Forest, and a spinach pie recipe from Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.

Why nettles? They're full of iron, calcium and antioxidants. They taste like sort of like spinach, but with more integrity and less sliminess. You can substitute spinach if nettles are inaccessible in your area. If you do get your hands on some nettles, make sure those hands are gloved--nettles, when raw, are covered in stinging hairs.

A big bunch of nettles (two cups, once steamed and chopped)
1 tablespoon ghee (or butter or oil)
1/2 an onion, chopped fine
3 scallions, chopped
1 tablespoon chopped dill
2 eggs
1 tablespoon sour cream
2 cups small curd cottage cheese
1/2 teaspoon salt
black pepper
zest of one lemon
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Put on some heavy gardening gloves and remove the stems from the nettles. Steam the leaves until wilted. (This will kill their stingers.) Rinse and drain well, then chop.

Meanwhile, melt the ghee in a 10-inch cast-iron pan on medium heat. Saute the onion until softened, then add the scallions and saute for two more minutes. Remove from heat; stir in the nettles and dill.

Combine the eggs, sour cream, cottage cheese, salt, pepper and lemon zest in a separate bowl. Once the cast-iron pan has cooled for a few minutes (enough to keep the eggs from cooking on contact), fold the egg mixture into the nettle mixture. Sprinkle the top with Parmesan.

Bake at 350 until the eggs are set and the top is browned (about 30 minutes).

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Paprika, Green Bean and Potato Stew

Phoebe was a pretty picky eater as a kid, but always made an exception for her mom's paprika-flavored potato stew. The recipe, which originally included chunks of hot dog or sausage, was passed on to Phoebe's mom by a Hungarian girl back in the 70's and Phoebe's mom started using green beans instead of hot dog chunks. Phoebe's family always called this dish paprikash, but a little wikipedia research revealed that paprikash is a chicken and sour cream sauce over noodles, while this dish is actually called paprikás krumpli.

3 tablespoons butter or olive oil
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons paprika
1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon cayenne (optional)
4 cups green beans, chopped into 1" pieces
4 cups Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into 1" cubes
2 cups canned tomatoes (diced or pureed)
3/4 teaspoon salt

Melt the butter in a sauce pan, then saute the onions until softened. Remove from the heat and immediately stir in the paprika and cayenne. Add the rest of the ingredients and enough water to cover the vegetables. Return to the heat and simmer until the potatoes and green beans are cooked, but still tender.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Syrian Orange Salad

It's still citrus season in Berkeley, which means we can't get enough of the mandarins, pomelos and sweet limes overflowing at the farmers' market. Alongside these more exotic offerings, we're adoring the navel oranges and wanted to share this simple preparation we've been enjoying for years. It can be breakfast, dessert, a snack or a palate cleanser. What we love about this dish is how easily it transforms a plain old fruit snack into something special; we even used to make this in our dining hall in college with nothing but an orange, a knife, a bowl and some honey. But if you have or can seek out the orange blossom water (you can find it in Middle Eastern grocery stores), the extra citrus perfume elevates the entire experience to something pretty heavenly.

We've blathered about the elegant potential of supreming citrus before, and once again refer you to this helpful tutorial if you need a visual to go with our instructions.

Per person:
1 navel orange (the slightly reddish one pictured above is a cara cara)
Honey or agave nectar to taste, depending on how sweet the orange is
A pinch of cinnamon
A few drops of orange blossom water (optional)

Slice off the top and bottom of each orange. Carve off the peel from the sides and then cut out the orange sections over a bowl, leaving the membranes behind. Squeeze the extra juice from the membranes into the bowl with the oranges. Stir in honey or agave, cinnamon and optional orange blossom water.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Home-Fermented Sauerkraut

Why the multiple sauerkraut-employing recipes lately? Oh, because we have a bumper crop of homemade sauerkraut! Fermenting sauerkraut is totally easy and will make you feel like an old-timey kitchen rock star.

1 large green cabbage
Kosher salt

First, a note on salt: Sandor Katz's guideline for salt is three tablespoons per five pounds of cabbage. You don't need to worry about hitting that exact amount, though. Just add salt one teaspoon at a time; keep going until it tastes pleasantly salty, like french fries. (If you end up with too-salty kraut, rinse it off before eating.)

Trim away any brown or wilted parts of the cabbage. Slice the leaves and core into fine ribbons. In a large, non-reactive container, sprinkle the cabbage with kosher salt and massage it vigorously. Keep massaging and adding salt until the cabbage has given off a lot of water.

Pack the cabbage and cabbage juice into quart jars (two or more, as needed). Smash down the cabbage well, so that you have at least 1/2 inch of liquid on top. Fill a smaller jar with water and use it to weigh down the cabbage so that no cabbage rises to the surface. Some sauerkraut-makers put all of their cabbage in a large crock and use a plate to weigh down the top. We like the dual jar method because it makes it easy to minimize the surface area and you can see through the glass to tell whether you've got your cabbage fully submerged. Fermentation happens underwater, while mold formation happens on the surface. Therefore, less surface area equals less mold.

Cover the jars with a cloth and place in a dark corner. Once a day, take out the small jar, remove any mold that may have formed on the surface (but don't worry about it too much) and smash down the cabbage as much as you can. (Keep those potentially reactive metal utensils away! Wood or plastic are fine.) Rinse off the small jar and return to its original position.

Depending on the season--summer heat means quicker fermentation--your cabbage will show signs of fermentation in one to three days. You may see tiny bubbles forming or hear a fizzing noise. The kraut will begin to smell sour. Keep giving it daily attention and tasting.

Once it's been bubbling and tasting sour for a whole week, put a lid on the kraut and transfer to the refrigerator. In Ye Olden Times, people left their kraut in the root cellar for months or years, but we like to get ours into the refrigerator while it's young--the kraut stays crunchier that way, and is also a bit less sour.

You can begin to eat the kraut now, or wait for it to get a little more sour. The kraut will keep for a very long time in the fridge.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Cilantro-Lime Beet Salad with Cotija

We invented this salad when we needed a potluck dish for a tamale party, hence the Mexican flavorings of lime, cilantro, red onion and cotija. The tang of the quick-pickled onions and cilantro-lime dressing and salty cotija cheese are perfect counterparts to the sweet beets.

Cotija is a hard, salty Mexican cheese; if you can't find it, try ricotta salata (probably not a helpful substitute suggestion if you don't have a bountiful cheese selection in your grocery store!) or feta (which is softer and will have a different flavor, but still delivers the saltiness you're after).

6 large beets
1 small red onion, sliced into thin half-moons
3 limes
1/4 cup packed chopped cilantro (plus some extra for garnish)
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 ounces cotija cheese, cubed

Scrub the beets and place in a large saucepan with plenty of water to cover. Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer 45 minutes to an hour, until beets are very tender when poked with a knife. Drain and cool.

Meanwhile, place the onions in a bowl with the juice of 2 of the limes and a few shakes of salt. Marinate while you boil the beets and make the dressing--they'll be less harsh and slightly pickled when you're ready to add them.

When the beets have cooled down, peel them and chop into 1-inch cubes. To make the dressing, combine the zest and juice of the remaining lime, olive oil, cilantro, cayenne and salt in a food processor and pulse until you have a smooth green mixture. Toss the beets with the dressing and top with the pickled onions (and their juice), cotija and some extra cilantro for garnish.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Bubble and Kraut

Bubble and Squeak is an English dish made with leftover mashed potatoes and cooked cabbage. We like cabbage fine, but we like kraut a whole lot better, so we made the substitution and were thrilled with the results. Phoebe meant to take a picture of the full turnout, but she accidentally ate the first batch while the second was frying. It's that good.

The egg is not traditional or necessary, but we like how it helps the potatoes hold together. If you're vegan, just skip it and enjoy the softer texture. We served ours on a bed of sauerkraut with a dollop of sour cream. They're also good plain!

2 cups mashed potatoes*
3/4 cup sauerkraut (we use the fermented kind)
1 egg
Butter for frying

Stir together the egg, potatoes, and sauerkraut. Melt about 1 tablespoon butter in a cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. When the butter is hot, but not smoking, add heaping tablespoons of batter, smashed down with the back of the spoon. When the bottoms are golden brown and crisp, flip and cook the other side.

*Simple mashed potato recipe:
Peel and dice 3 small Yukon gold potatoes and boil until soft. Drain all but 1/2 cup of cooking water. Add butter, salt and pepper, and mash. For extra fluffiness, whisk vigorously for several minutes.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Black Pepper Vinaigrette

The vinaigrette recipe in the September issue of Cook's Illustrated (thanks for the gift subscription, Sarah!) has totally revolutionized our home salad dressing preparation. Having discovered the optimal balance of oil and vinegar, we took advantage of our stash from Kerala and, instead of grinding in a few shakes of black pepper, used a whole tablespoon. One of the major lessons we picked up in India is that black pepper doesn't have to be the afterthought it often becomes in Western cooking--it's an amazing spice that deserves to occasionally be celebrated on its own. For maximum impact, your pepper should be freshly and coarsely ground. Here, we served it with a baby spinach and arugula mix topped with cubed Parmesan and pepitas.

1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon coarsely ground black pepper
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon mustard

Combine all ingredients in a squeeze bottle. Shake well to emulsify and pour over your salad of choice!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Warm Beet Salad with Potatoes and Sauerkraut

We'd hate to call this a potato salad because of the slimy mayonnaise memories "potato salad" evokes. So let's just call this Russian dish, inspired by a version we devoured at Sadko, a beet salad with potatoes. You can still serve it cold in situations that normally call for potato salad, like summertime picnics, but when served warm, it can keep your blood from freezing during those long Siberian winters.

3 large waxy potatoes (with or without skin)
3 large beets
1 1/2 cups sauerkraut, chopped
3 tablespoons dill, minced
3 scallion, chopped
1 tablespoon white vinegar
3 tablespoons olive oil (plus more for roasting)

Peel the beets and chop them into 1/2 inch cubes. Toss with a little olive oil and salt on a baking tray. Roast at 350 until fork-tender (about 40-50 minutes).

Meanwhile, chop the potatoes into 1/2 inch cubes. Boil in water until tender, then drain and rinse in cold water.

Toss together all of the ingredients and taste for salt. Serve slightly warm or cold.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Crispy, Buttery, Smoky Potatoes and Cauliflower

These potatoes and cauliflower are absolutely addictive. Our secret? A whole stick of butter. Okay, it's not much of a secret, but you'll still impress your friends when you serve this dish. Make sure to use unsalted butter or else you could end up with a very salty final product. If you're on a diet, you could cut it down to maybe 4 tablespoons of butter, but any less and it won't crisp.

1 head of cauliflower, broken into bite-sized florettes
3 medium Yukon gold potatoes, cut into 1/8" slices
1 stick unsalted butter (yep, 8 tablespoons)
black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons smoked Spanish paprika
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 350. Toss cauliflower, potatoes, melted butter, salt, pepper and 1 teaspoon smoked paprika. Bake in a cast-iron skillet, loosely covered with foil, for 30 minutes. Remove the cover, turn heat up to 375, and roast for another 35-45 minutes, until potatoes are browned and crispy in places. Sprinkle Parmesan cheese over the top, shake on a little more paprika, and return to oven for a few more minutes, until the cheese is melted. Let sit for a few minutes, then hold the potatoes in place with a lid and pour off the excess melted butter.