Skip to content

Posts tagged ‘appetizer’

Hummus – stuffing our pockets

Hummus was one of the first things I learned to make as a 20-something year old bent on eating well, while not making life difficult on relatives of cows I’d grown to love as a girl. The hummus of those days has morphed a number of times over, as we ourselves tend to do.

Back then I used canned chickpeas. I prefer to cook my own these days, but I’d much rather use canned chickpeas than face the dreadful plight of hummus-lessness when the mood for hummus-in-a-hurry strikes. I’m not at all a fanatic about cooking my own and  always have canned chickpeas on hand. BUT, I do think home-cooked beans are noticably better-textured and flavored and if you want to consider giving it a gohere are some reasons why you might consider it too -

You’ll cook them with no preservatives, no gross amounts of salt in the canning liquid – (though not all canned beans come loaded this way.) You can use some of your own cooking liquid to puree in with the beans. (Much better than plain water.) I won’t use the liquid if they’re canned. A batch of your own fresh-cooked chickpeas is a fraction of the cost of canned. There’s less to throw away (or recycle.) And then, there’s the taste.

One of the changes to my hummus has come about quite recently – only since developing a mad crush on Ottolenghi (I mean, his recipes!) It would seem that the skins of the chickpeas, even when the beans are cooked to softness, retain a bit of their toughness unless measures are taken to further soften them. Ottolenghi adds baking soda to both the soaking water, and then again to the cooking pot. This addition and sufficient cooking time are  probably THE keys to THE creamiest, most velvety hummus your mouth will ever taste. I’d like to compare it to ambrosia’s savory cousin, but having never tasted ambrosia…Anyway…

Another measure which I’ve read about recently – in several places – seems awfully tedious at first. – but perhaps especially in the case when canned beans are used, worth the extra effort. You squeeze each and every little chickpea between thumb and forefinger, easily slipping them out of their filmy skins. This happens all the more easily with the addition of baking soda to the cooking water. (It’s as if they were itching to shed them, and you came along, right place, right time.) What’s left, once these naked beans are pureed with garlic and fresh lemon juice and tahini (the “butter” of sesame seeds”) is exquisitely smooth.

________________

The pita-pocket sandwich is just about whatever you’d like it to be. What I’d like it to be goes something like this:

Home-baked pita, sliced in half. A good slathering of lemony hummus, topped with thinly-sliced tomatoes and English cucumbers (the kind with the very small seeds); perhaps some sprouts or pea-shoots or micro-greens; maybe some delicate leaves of Spring lettuce, or any other lettuce shredded; perhaps some shredded carrot; a little feta; thin slices of red onion; perhaps some marinated & grilled kabobs of fish or chicken (or you decide); definitely some Greek-style yogurt or tzatziki. And maybe an extra drizzle of olive oil. And because each half is fairly small and because life comes with SO many choices, and choosing is sometimes very hard, make them every which way.

PitaHummus-3

But DO start with the hummus:

PitaHummus-2

The Hummus

_______

1¼ cups dried chickpeas, soaked in cold water overnight (See NOTE)

1½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)

Juice of 2 to 2½ lemons, or to taste

2 or 3 cloves garlic, crushed

salt to taste

4 – 5 Tablespoons tahini (sesame paste)

a pinch (or several) of ground cumin

extra virgin olive oil

_____

OPTIONAL: see below for optional garnishes & serving suggestions

Hummus becomes a personal thing over the years. You find what you like – more garlicky or lemony, or less? – more tahini, less tahini? – more herbs or none at all? It pays to taste a little as you go. Taste your tahini before you start. Is it bitter? Then go with far less than what’s shown above. (I ruined a batch once with tahini far different than what I was used to.) Add most of the lemon and 2 cloves of garlic to start. It won’t be the right consistency yet, but Taste. If it’s tasting about right, don’t add the rest until closer to the end if at all. You’ll develop your own perfect proportions. With that out of the way, here’s the method -

NOTE: 1¼ cups dried chickpeas will equal about 3¾ cups cooked - if you use canned chickpeas you can give them a little extra cooking time in fresh water to soften them further, and then if you like, remove the skins from them as well.

_____

Read more

a menu for valentines & a stacked bistro salad

Can I see a show of hands? Who among you would like to spend several hours in the kitchen preparing a beautiful meal for your love on Valentines Day?     Oh. Well that’s surprising.  Alright then, Plan B. Who among you would like to spend under an hour (excluding dessert) preparing a luscious and (well) sort of sexy Valentine dinner? We got some hands on that one!

Let’s talk about the menu then…You with your hands up…this is for you…(the  others, you’re obviously being well taken care of.) What are we looking for in a meal for lovers? Ok, it was already decided that we want it easy. Of course you’re right. After all, where do we want to spend our love and energy?  (That’s rhetorical – thanks, but no need to share.)

Ok. What else? Color? Good! It should be pretty shouldn’t it. Sensuous? Oh, I like that! What else? Not too heavy? Oh that’s a good one, yes! Who’s looking to drift into a coma immediately after pushing their plate back. Anything else? Oh, taste! Of course! It should taste really good!

What do you think of this then?

A Valentine Dinner for Lovers

~

To whet (& wet) the Appetite:

Passion Fruit Cocktails for Two

Stacked Crab Bistro Salad with Cilantro Lime Vinaigrette

Dinner:

Seared Sesame-Encrusted Ahi Tuna

Snap Peas with Shiitake Mushrooms and Ginger

 oh-so Forbidden Rice

Dessert:

a sweet multitude of options

~

Tomorrow I’ll post the 3 dinner items, along with how to get it done in less than 1 hour, with just a tiny bit of prep work the night before.  Each is so easy.

I’ll have one more dessert as an option, posted Saturday I think.

Now, for the appetizer:

Read more

a fork with a taste for adventure

When I was a newly-turned teen, my mother suddenly (and inexplicably) turned adventuresome in the kitchen. She’d always been a good cook, and our meals never lacked for flavor, but they never ventured beyond our borders either (unless you count England, and I’m sorry, I just can’t. Meaning no disrespect at all!) Meals at our house had followed along very traditional lines, until…around the time she married the man who was to become Dad to us.

Dad was Greek and maybe it was just his colorful character alone, or the foods he’d bring home from Foti’s (very Greek) deli; or the influence of Dad’s mom Yaya, who’d make us Sunday dinners of Greek roasted chicken doused in fresh lemon and filled with whole heads of garlic and her plump handful of oregano from the garden, and her zucchini and okra in a skillet, and her brilliant yellow-orange zucchini blossoms, dipped in egg batter and fried. Or maybe too, it was that Dad insisted for special outings we drop into Poncho’s Mexican restaurant, which was, strange to say, our family’s first introduction to south of the border. Maybe it was a combination of these things – or maybe it was that Mom enrolled in college for the first time  – Mom was herself becoming more adventuresome and her new spirit found its way onto our table.

In any event, whatever the cause, dinner became, more and more, an exotic experience. That’s not to say it became the norm for us to eat things beyond the familiar, or that we came to the table dressed in saris.  Just that we gradually came to be more curious, more daring, more open to new things, until gradually we’d developed a real appetite for the gorgeously exotic on our plates, a hunger for something not yet tasted.

I don’t eat many “meats”. Poultry and seafood’s about it for me. But vegetables, and fruits, and grains and beans and spices from all over the planet, those I find endlessly enticing. And so it is, that when I first set eyes on Yotam Ottolenghi’s newest book Plenty, I was smitten! This dish that I’m about to fix and share is the very dish that graces the cover. It sucked me in with a rush like a door just opened onto a wind storm. I was a goner.

Ottolenghi, chef and co-owner of several restaurants called by his name (including one in London) writes a weekly column for the London Guardian on vegetarian cooking, though he himself is not vegetarian. From Israel, he draws on a wealth of culinary traditions, with a strong focus on the Mediterranean basin. His dishes may very well scratch every culinary itch I have, one by one.

So here – with a thankful nod to my mom who grew this wild love of food in me, and to my Dad who might have grown it in her -

from the cover of Plenty -

Eggplant with Buttermilk Sauce

(serves 4 as starter – or 2 for dinner with a salad & bread) large and long eggplants

  • 2 large and long eggplants
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1½ teaspoon lemon thyme leaves, plus a few whole sprigs to garnish
  • Maldon sea salt (or any flaky sea salt) and black pepper
  • 1 pomegranate
  • 1 teaspoon za’atar (see NOTE)

Sauce

  • 9 Tablespoons buttermilk (just over ½ cup)
  • ½ cup Greek yogurt
  • 1½ Tablespoons olive oil, plus a drizzle to finish
  • 1 small garlic clove, crushed
  • pinch of salt

NOTE: Za’atar – here is one thing that may be a bit of an obstacle in Ottolenghi’s book(s)…because he’s drawing on his (and other) heritages, some ingredients – in particular the spices and spice blends – will be very unfamiliar, and not always easily obtained. I ordered my little bottle of za’atar from the Spice House on-line. $4.99. Za’atar is a spice blend, and like others, the ingredient list and proportions can vary. One recipe for it that I found on-line included sumac, thyme, roasted sesame seeds, marjoram, oregano and salt. Sumac is acidic, quite tart, much like a lemon, and is considered an essential culinary ingredient in much of the Middle East. It’s by far the predominant  ingredient in this blend. Since sumac isn’t on my grocery shelf either, I decided just to go ahead and order the za’atar on line. You could read more on sumac or order it, here. If you’re feeling particularly adventuresome, simply add the herbs called for in the za’atar ingredient list along with lemon for something approximating this dish. Or wait, as I did, for the za’atar to arrive on your welcome mat.)

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Cut the eggplants in half lengthwise, cutting straight through the green stalk – which stays intact just for the looks of it. Using a small sharp knife, make three or four parallel incisions in the cut side of each eggplant half as deeply as possible but being careful not to cut through to the skin. Repeat at a 45° angle to create a diamond-shaped pattern.

Place the eggplant halves, cut-side up, on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Brush them with olive oil and continue brushing until all the oil has been absorbed. Sprinkle with the lemon thyme leaves and salt and pepper.

Roast for 45 minutes up to an hour, depending on size of eggplant. The flesh should be soft, flavorful and nicely browned. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely.

Removing pomegranate seeds: While the eggplants are in the oven, cut the pomegranate into two horizontal halves. Holding one half, cut side down, in the palm of your hand, place over a deep bowl and begin smacking the top-side of the fruit with a wooden spoon. Smack harder as you go to release the deepest of the pomegranate seeds into the bowl. Remove any white pitch that fell in along with. (Illustrated here.) Read more

Spicy Candied Pecans (or Walnuts)

Here’s another one of the appetizers served at our Beat the Winter Blues Party .  I’ve tried a number of recipes for candied nuts over the years, but my favorite is this.  (Judging from responses to these sweet and savory bites, I’m not alone.) I’ve made it with both pecans and walnuts, and though I love walnuts, pecans definitely have the edge here – something about their sweetness offset by the savory heat of the spices is just right.

Spicy Candied Pecans

Preheat oven to 350°F.

  • 4 cups pecans

Spread the nuts in a shallow pan (either a broiler pan or a jelly roll pan will do.)  Roast for 8 minutes.

Remove from the oven and drizzle on to the hot nuts…

  • 1/4 cup maple syrup (grade B is darker and has a bit more maple-y flavor)
  • 1/4 cup brown rice syrup

Stir to coat well, and then pop them back into the oven to roast another 10 minutes.

While the nuts are roasting, in a small bowl mix together:

  • 2 T. sugar
  • 1 t. ground cumin
  • 1/2 t. chili powder
  • 1 t. salt (or 1-1/2 if using Kosher)
  • 2 t. paprika
  • 1/8 t. (to as much as 1/4 t.) cayenne pepper

Place a piece of parchment paper on the counter and wait – (have you noticed that smell in your kitchen? ah!) When the nuts come out of the oven for the second time, quickly sprinkle the spices over them and mix well to coat.  Quickly spread the candied nuts onto the parchment paper to cool, breaking the clumps apart with your fingers when they’re just cooled down enough to touch.  Store airtight. (These make a nice gift too, in a pretty container or vintage jar.)

Serving suggestions:  These are absolutely wonderful in a salad.  I’ll give a favorite salad to utilize these nuts in an upcoming post.  You can chop them up and roll a log of chevre over them and serve with crackers or crusty baguette.  Or chopped and scattered over green beans or yams or – .  And always as they are, straight from the jar, with nothing but your fingers.

This recipe came by way of my dear friend Carolyn, and to her, from another friend. That’s the way it goes with good eats.  The original recipe called for corn syrup.  I’ve replaced it with brown rice syrup, and not only is their taste improved (yes, hard to believe), but they’re crunchier and healthier too!

~ ~ ~

For a printer-friendly version of this recipe, click here

~ ~ ~

Stuffed Mushrooms

Who has ever looked on a raw mushroom, all pudgy and pale, and swooned?  Even those of us who salivate to hear today’s special soup will be “a ragout of forest-found chanterelles”, or the chef’s risotto is one “teeming with wild morels and shavings of Romano.” Love them though we do, even WE can’t call them “pretty.”  Their photos, air-brushed to perfection, rarely grace the covers of food magazines.  The best we might say for their looks is that they’re sometimes “cute”…the caricatured little stools of toads or umbrellas for woodland fairies.  Mushrooms are rather shy, and enormously humble.  (Consider their beginnings!)  They’re simply ordinary little earth-lings capable of extraordinary delights when the heat’s turned up!

But if they weren’t (by general consensus) attractive when raw, they become even less so when the heat’s turned up.  A uniformly earthy brown, their plumpness lost to the broth, limp as a dishrag. How sad.  Photos never capture their good side.

All of this to say, you won’t find a photo here designed to entice you into the following recipe.  Turning instead to your mushroom memories and your own magnificent imagination, can you picture this…..?   A savory, pungent amalgam of chopped fennel, sun-dried tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, fresh basil and shredded Italian cheese – all those sunny things from a sunny place, filling the cavity of an earthly little ‘shroom, baked ’til nearly soft, a one-bite wonder.  Ahh, I thought maybe you could.  So here you have them…

Italian stuffed mushrooms

(or – putting the fun in fungi…)

  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 24 2-inch diameter mushrooms, stems removed and chopped, caps reserved
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh fennel bulb
  • 1/4 cup chopped, drained oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 cup grated Fontina cheese
  • 1/2 cup freshly-grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup (packed) chopped fresh basil
  • 1 large egg, lightly whisked
  • additional oil for brushing

Preheat your oven to 350°F.  Lightly brush a 14 x 10 inch glass baking sheet or jelly roll pan with oil.  Heat the 2 T. of olive oil in a heavy medium-size skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the chopped mushroom stems, fennel, sun-dried tomatoes and garlic. Sauté until the stems and fennel are softened and beginning to brown, about 12 minutes. Transfer to a medium bowl and cool for about ten minutes. Stir in the cheeses, and then the basil. Season the  filling to taste with salt and pepper, and only then add in the egg. Arrange the mushrooms, empty bellies facing up. Brush their cavities lightly with additional oil, and then mound the filling inside, pressing it to adhere and completely fill the space.  (HINT:  putting the filling inside a zip-lock bag and then cutting a small triangle from one bottom corner allows you to squeeze the filling into the mushrooms, much like you’d use a pastry bag. Using the back of a spoon you can pack the filling down to make a little room for more.) Bake until the mushrooms are tender and the filling is heated through, about 25 minutes. This is a tasty, satisfying part of a vegetarian meal, or a crowd-pleasing appetizer.

(This recipe is slightly adapted from one first appearing in Bon Appétit, March/2003. This post was first published in cooking-spree, March 2011.)

For a printer-friendly version of this recipe, click here

~ ~ ~

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 4,755 other followers