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Archive for the ‘Ethnic Food’ Category

When Life Gives You Lemons

Have you ever looked through a cookbook and you find a recipe think you’d love, but it has an ingredient you’ve never heard of and you just don’t want to deal with it so you  turn the page and decide to make something else? Preserved lemons always used to capture that feeling for me. They are almost impossible to find in stores, and few cookbooks give clear directions on how to make them at home. The truth is that they are incredibly easy to make and essential to many Moroccan, Middle Eastern and even Mediterranean dishes. They have become an essential ingredient in our house and we regularly teach students how to make them in our Spice Market classes.

 lemons selected to be preserved

 

This ingredient is seemingly exotic but oh-so-simple and will give so much zest to your meals that I just had to share it. Preserved lemons are tangy and have an interesting texture, a perfect addition to grilled meats in the summer, stews in the winter, or cous cous year round. Here’s how you make them:

 fresh lemons

 

First, try and find  small and ripe organic lemons. You will need between 8 and 12 of them, along with ¼ cup kosher salt and a one quart sterilized canning jar. Wash lemons thoroughly. Remember, you will be eating the peel, not the pulp. Cut a thin slice from the top and bottom of the lemons.

 

both top and bottom sliced

 

Make four deep vertical cuts three-quarters of the way down the fruit, but make sure the lemon is still attached at the base.

 

lemons sliced in 4 quadrants

 

Place a generous tablespoon of salt on the bottom of the sterile jar.

 

place salt on bottom of jar

 

Carefully open a lemon and generously sprinkle salt evenly throughout the quarters (about one generous teaspoon per lemon).

 

lemons sprinkled with salt

 

Place the lemon in the jar.

 

stuffing lemons in the jar

 

Repeat the process of salting and stuffing the lemons in the jar, making sure to press the lemons down hard with a clean spoon to release the juices and make room for the remaining lemons.

 

filing up the jar!

 

When the jar is full, place the remaining salt in the jar (it should be at least a tablespoon) and fill in the gaps with fresh lemon juice. Store the lemons in a cool place for at least a month, and shake the jar daily to evenly distribute the salt and juice

 

pouring the lemon juice to the top

 
When the lemons are ready for use, rinse the lemons as needed, or else they will be too salty. Cut away the pulp inside and then slice or chop the rind according to the recipe you are using. Preserved lemons will keep for at least 6 months before opening the jar, but do refrigerate them once they are opened. Enjoy!


finished preserved lemons

 

lemons ready to be preserved

As Seen on TV: Thai Scented Asparagus Soup

Cooking for a living has begun to take over all of my thoughts. Isabella’s newly sewn pink dress isn’t an article of clothing, but a piece of watermelon. Everywhere I go I think about new dishes and ingredients, and there is no off button to press. Just dials on the stove to let me make more food. I feel like a composer sometimes, only instead of notes, I hear shallots, pancetta and fried chicken. It’s driving me crazy, really it is. I love love love teaching people to cook… but seriously. Enough is enough.

 

Though as problems go, this is probably a good one to have...

 

 

This recipe was born out of one of these fits of inspiration. We often teach a cream of asparagus soup in our spring classes, but I was making a Thai dish one day and the idea to infuse it with coconut, lemongrass and ginger just jumped into my head.  It has quickly become a family favorite and it worked out so well that I used it for my latest appearance on Connecticut Style. Although a video exists on WTNH, it was very fast, and we thought you’d appreciate seeing how to make this lively Asian inspired soup step-by-step, so here it is:

 

 Good things lie in store

 

We start with the freshest ingredients, which includes, lemon juice, lemongrass, ginger, asparagus and coconut milk,  but there are others as well, including yellow onions and chicken or vegetable broth.

 

Visions of coconuts dance in my head

 

First, we need to peel the lemongrass, an ingredient commonly found in Asian food stores and in some supermarkets, especially Whole Foods.

 

This is the reason, by the way, that thai food is so amazing. This is the secret. Right here.

 

Then you have to cut most of the stalk away. We only want the part of the lemongrass that has purple rings.

 

You want it to look like this, otherwise there will be tons of aweful tough bits

 

Then – and really pay attention to this or the lemongrass with be tough and stringy – you have to smash it hard several times with a knife. Until it looks like this

 

Smashingly beautiful :D I would recommend going even farther than this, because it will assure you have very very small pieces.

 

 

Then put the lemongrass in a mini food processor with a teaspoon or two of oil until finely minced and looks like this:

 

 

Finely Chopped Lemongrass

 

 

Then you need to peel the ginger. You can peel it in many different ways by using a melon baller, sturdy spoon or vegetable peeler. Afterwards, finely  mince the ginger in a mini chopper as well. You can, obviously, do that by hand, it will just take much longer.

 

 

 

 

After sautéeing the onions until they are glassy, add the lemongrass and ginger and continue sautéeing until the ginger and lemongrass start to soften, about 2-3 minutes.  Add the asparagus, salt and pepper and cook for another five minutes.

 

Make sure everything is coating everything so the flavors all blend nicely together

 

 

Add the broth (chicken or vegetable – we like to use vegetable when we’re cooking for a crowd, since then we can make this vegan and everyone can eat it!) and give the mixture a good stir in a large pot, such as a Dutch oven. Cook for 15 minutes and then puree the soup either in a blender (after letting the mixture cool) or an immersion blender right inside the pot, our preferred choice.

 

 

 

Add a bit of lemon, give it a good stir, and serve. The great thing about this soup, next to the amazing flavor, is that it tastes great for several days and can certainly be made the day before company. And there you have it! Serve with a garnish of mint, or chives.

 

 

Click here to get the complete recipe written up on Food52!

Grain of Salt: May the Odds Be Ever in your Flavor

I apologize if this post comes out a little incoherent, but if it does, you can blame it on Suzanne Collins and how I haven’t been sleeping. On the suggestion of absolutely everyone, I finally started reading the Hunger Games books a few weeks ago and several sleepless nights later I had finished the first one. And when I finished and began deeply reflecting, I realized that Suzanne’s ultimate goal must have been to make her readers hungry. I was hungry for more book, because my sister was harboring the other two in Connecticut, I was hungry for a visual, since the movie had not yet come out, and most of all, I was hungry for the Lamb Stew with Dried Plums that Katniss waves in our faces at least ten times over the course of the book. The Capitol (bad guys) may be the epitome of evil, but it would appear they really know how to eat.

 

why the ball jars you ask? i wish i could tell you, but then i'd have to kill you.

 

I would know, because I’ve had that stew, or at least my mom’s perfect rendition, a million times before. It’s my family’s resident Jewish Holiday Meal – we make it every Passover and Rosh Hashannah and then some. There’s a reason that, even when she has chance, Katniss consistently picks this – if the Capitol version is anything like mom’s, it doesn’t pay to be creative. You just can’t do better. My craving was sadly unappeased by the otherwise excellent movie, which ignored the culinary scene altogether. So when I called home last Wednesday to plan my upcoming weekend in Connecticut, I could only think of the one thing vital to my survival.* With three extremely important holidays (Easter, Passover, My Birthday) to observe in three extremely short days, I was terrified that maybe we’d had to abandon our tradition in favor of simpler options. So when mom affirmed that we were, indeed, having Lamb Stew for Friday night dinner all I wanted to do was sing it to the world. “Ah ha!” I thought. “The movie is still relatively new and buzzworthy… I’m going to capitalize on this to the max.” And so, dear readers, I would like to ask that you get very excited right about now, because I am about to change your life forever. This stew, which actually hails from somewhere in North Africa, is succulent, savory and satisfying. The sweet tartness of the plums make it perfect for autumn, the substantialness of it makes it amazing in winter, and the tenderness of the lamb makes it sing all the way through late Spring. It is great for any day, though we like to save this one for Holidays, since it’s perfect for Easter, for Passover and, of course, for any extremely important birthday. I certainly ate some of it every day this weekend. And the recipe is below, right before your very eyes!

 

Consider our gift to you, for whatever holiday (or lack thereof) you celebrated last weekend. If you’re Christian I hope the Easter Bunny brought you as much chocolate as he brought Francesca, if you’re Jewish I hope you remember that butter and honey make Matzah palatable, if you’re a half-and-half like me, I hope you’re a bit less confused than I am, and whoever you are I hope you celebrated my birthday in style. Happy Passover, Happy Easter, Happy Hunger Games, and may the odds be ever in your favor.

 

 

*I would not last long in the Hunger Games

A Grain of Salt: School Days

I know it’s been almost a week since Taste of the Nation, but I had to wait until now to post so I could calm down and organize my thoughts just a tad. And yes, it really did take that long. For such a small city, New Haven has a scarily good food scene – in my thoroughly unbiased opinion, it’s way better per capita than New York’s. So a night of running wildly between tables and tables of the city’s best food? You can’t even begin to comprehend what that kind of thing does to my mind.

 

Our table in setup mode. When we had such noble intentions of keeping things organized ;)

 

It’s a little sick, I know, but we started planning this year’s table at Taste of the Nation 2011. We decided to play up the fact that we’re a school, so we divided the table up into three sections: Chemistry, complete with beakers, dry ice, and Turkish Mint Lemonade…

 

I tried to capture a full rack but we just couldn't keep it on the shelves. Though a scary number of people refused it because it wasn't alcoholic. Oy vey.

 

European History, featuring the many cookbooks of Europe and Penne with Saffron Cream, Peas and Pancetta…

 

Pasta teaches you about Europe, no question about it

 

And Environmental Science, for which we made three kinds of Chocolate Bark – Zingiber Cranbaca (Cranberries, Pistachios and Crystalized Ginger), Lavandula Salis (Lavender, Almond, Apricot and Sea Salt) and Potatochipus Dulcis (Potato Chip, Pretzel and Dulce de Leche).

 

Clockwise from Left: little wooden cones for our bark samples; envi sci bird with eggs made out of gum (yes, since you asked, somebody did ask if they could eat one eat one), and a sampling of chocolate barks

 

I know, right? We’re just too clever for our own good. Anyway, last year, we were a bit disorganized and unwittingly overambitious and we got to Woolsey Hall, where the event is held, about a minute before it started. This year we were determined not to let that happen again. So instead we were the first people there! As mom went to get the food and Isabella, I set up our table and spied on everyone else setting up theirs. And I got to make friends with all the other chefs. Everyone had way too much fun.

 

Volunteers putting bags together for us fancy shmancy chefs. Free extra large t-shirt :D You know you're jealous.

 

From Plan B Burger Bar. Can you even believe how beautiful? Fun fact – Plan B was going to throw all this away, but we saved it and gave it to one of the volunteers who took it to feed her goat ;)

 

I love love LOVE the guys of Box 63 :D

 

Flowers from Thali & Oaxaca (by which I mean flowers and a watermelon, but really what's the dif?)

 

Then everybody arrived, and the highlight of my year began. Duff went on stage to greet everyone (yes sir, that’s a name drop) and told everyone to donate money and also “get wasted” (classy). And then we set about giving out food, as dad brought us a steady supply of the best of the room (before things quieted down and we got to go exploring later). Highlights included Foie Gras with Milk-Honey Cream and Cranberries, and also an incredible Duck Pastrami Ruben from Bella Bella Gourmet, Biscotti from Sono Baking Company, Donuts with Chocolate-Bacon Glaze from Box 63 and Bailey Hazen Blue Cheese with Dried Figs from Caseus. Oh and this Butterscotch Pudding with Dulce de Leche, Homemade Marshmallows and Sea Salt from Heirloom. I don’t even like Butterscotch and this was amazing.

 

You don't even understand how much I don't like butterscotch. But seriously, so amazing.

 

Sadly all good things must come to an end. Nine o’clock came and it was time to pack up. Though naturally, Isabella and I pounced on Duff (I did it again!) at the last minute to make sure he tried our test tube lemonade, which said was “really, really good.” Which is not quite up to last year’s “Damn…” but it was the end of the night, so it’ll do ;) We’re still devouring the leftovers, and while we’d love to share them with you in person, we can’t because you’re not here. So instead we’re going to spend the next week showering you with recipes, starting now with the Mint Lemonade. Also please read below to learn more about Share our Strength, and make a donation if you can!

 

 

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Share our Strength, an amazing organization dedicated to ending childhood hunger in America. Through programs like Cooking Matters, the Great American Bake Sale and, of course, Taste of the Nation, Share our Strength raises awareness (and, more importantly, money) to feed children in local communities. We’re lucky enough to cook at High School in the Community, a school in one of New Haven’s more impoverished areas, where Chef Cheryl Barbara told us that many of her kids only eat the lunch they get at school, because there’s not enough food for them at home for breakfast or dinner. (Cheryl herself makes sure the kids get balanced, nutritious meals at school, sends kids home with non-perishables if she knows they don’t have enough to eat at school, and sets up a food distribution center from her van to make sure her kids get enough to eat during the summer. Isn’t that so cool? Don’t you wish you were more like her?)

Anyway, Taste of the Nation events are held all over the country, and feature the best chefs and mixologists of the area. 100% of money raised from ticket sales and donations stays right in the area it’s raised, so local chefs are helping local kids. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – if there’s an event in your area, go to it. And click on the picture below to make a donation!

 

Click to go to the donation page!

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Click for Printable Version!

 

Grain of Salt: Seoul Food

I don’t know about you, and maybe this is silly of me, but every time I go to an East Asian Restaurant, I always feel like their food is worlds away from my ability level. Especially since I’d never even tried Korean before coming to New York, I felt like that was just something I was going to have to splurge on every once in a while, or else rely on my Korean friends to make it for me. It just tastes like a cleverly guarded secret – the kind that you couldn’t figure out, even if you were lucky enough to find a recipe for it. But luckily enough, I happen to be living with one of those Korean friends, and using my expert espionage skills (asking for her recipe) I’ve discovered, much to my embarrassment, that I just wasn’t asking the right people.

 Serve with white rice (or brown if you're boring like us) and the meal is perfect and complete. I swear you'll feel like you've come home.

 

Like most cuisines, Korean food is based mainly on a few different base flavors. Most of these you can find at your average supermarket – soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar, garlic. And if you can only find these, and you use them in the right proportions, your food will still taste pretty Korean, and very delicious. But my favorite ingredient is this stuff called gochujang. This spicy red pepper paste, which you can buy at Asian supermarkets, is like a powerhouse of concentrated flavor, and this is what really makes Korean food taste Korean. When I give a recipe here that calls for it, that’s just an approximation of what a person with decent spicy tolerance can take. But if your spicy tolerance is better than mine (or if you don’t mind suffering for the sake of taste) feel free to go above and beyond. It’s so good.

 

Magic ingredient – cost us only $4.99 and lasts forever... and your Asian store is probably a lot cheaper than mine.

 

Julia’s given me a couple of different recipes, but I’m going to start with this addictive comfort stew called Tak Toritang, which is the first meal she made for us. It’s a classic meat and potatoes dish, that’s boiled in a highly flavored broth so that the chicken gets addictively fall-off-the-bone tender. The flavor profile of this dish really transcends nationality. It reminds me so much of the all-appealing dishes mommy used to make when I was younger – and this, too, is really a perfect winter weeknight dinner food as long as everybody involved enjoys spicy (tone down the pepper paste if they don’t). It all cooks in one pot, it’s super flavorful, it warms you up, and it has that inexplicable “home” taste that you can’t describe… but you know it when you taste it. It’s basically the Asian equivalent of soul food (hence the unbearable title of this post).

 

This is what it looks like as it's cooking. it's even kind of photogenic, as stew goes.

 

More addictive Korean recipes, including some awesome sides, are forthcoming. But make this one-dish dinner sometime very, very soon. If you’ve got the winter blues (or if you don’t) it will make your week, I promise.

(adapted from allrecipes.com )

Watermelon Salad – As Featured at the Wooster Square Farmers Market

One of the things I assumed I would miss most when switching careers from journalist to cooking school owner was meeting interesting characters and walking into scenes you never dreamed you’d find yourself in, like walking up the steps of City Hall and interviewing Mayor Ed Koch during an election bid in 1981 at the ripe old age of 18.

 

 

Look at that hair....

 

But over the last two years, I realized my fears were completely and delightfully unfounded. If you really love to cook you can end up doing the same kind of research and probing as any journalist – you should see my library of cookbooks and magazine clippings!  Now, instead of hunting down subjects for a story, I’m hunting down ingredients and sharing recipes with people, from farmer’s markets to subway platforms. People always have a recipe to share, just like they had great leads to tell me in the past.

 

 

 

Of course you probably wonder how this relates to recipes and cooking, so I’ll step off memory lane and get to the point. Recently we started a new series of cooking classes called Spice Market, where we teach how to blend spices and herbs for exotic cuisines. Our first class took us to India, Morocco and Turkey, and we had to learn about ingredients even we rarely, if ever, used before, like asafoetida, preserved lemons and rosewater. Where do you get such ingredients? Some you can make yourself (come back soon and you’ll see a post on preserved lemons), but others, like rosewater, you may have to hunt for.

 

 

I googled preserved lemons and rosewater and was lucky enough to find a store called Sayad International specializing in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine, not far from our house. The store was filled with exotically flavored ingredients, such as pickled wild cucumbers, Moroccan sardines, and dried hibiscus flowers. The store, which smells like Persian tea, dried fruits and spices was cramped and dark but full of discoveries. It’s the kind of place you say,  “I hope I remember this place next time I’m looking for [blank].” I can’t imagine we’d ever need Moroccan sardines, but I was thrilled to know that I wouldn’t have to travel long distances (or pay high shipping charges) if I did.

 

 

We’ve all passed over recipes because we don’t want to deal with finding a weird ingredient or an odd kitchen gizmo. Take these moments as opportunities for adventure. You can always order these things online, but your life will be so much richer if you jump in the car and track them down yourselves.

 

 

In honor of these adventures, I’m going to share a recipe inspired by the research I did for our first Spice Market class. The rosewater and mint really makes the watermelon come alive, and it’s the perfect, refreshing way to end a highly flavorful meal. So bring this tiny adventure into your home, and try to find mini food adventures where you live. You are almost guaranteed to have a great story to tell and maybe even a new recipe when you return.

 Enjoy!

Recipe!

Indian Summer

We’ve had these twelve mangoes lying around the test kitchen for days now, which were off limits because Mom was going to use them to make mango soup. But they were getting ripe and I was getting impatient, and while the weather here isn’t exactly warm (at all) it’s going to be soon (I hope) and I knew that someday soon I would need to be refreshed and it would just stink if I let the opportunity to develop a perfect mango lassi recipe pass me by.

 

 

So I pulled out my trusty blender and got to work. There are several difficulties to successfully pulling off a mango lassi. The first is the mango. Many recipes call for Alphonso Mango Pulp, a pre-sweetened puree that you can buy on Amazon or at Indian Supermarkets. This is certainly the most authentic way to go about doing  things, and it’s made with super-flavorful Alphonso mangoes, that only grow in India. But I opted out for several reasons. First of all, I had twelve ripe mangoes sitting in my kitchen. Second, canned Alphonso mangoes are kind of hard to get, and really expensive if you do have to buy them online. And since I would never wish expense anyone (remember, I’m a college student), I decided to go with fresh. To mimic the sweetened puree, and maximize mangoey-ness, I mashed the mangoes first, to release the juices, and then mixed them with a little bit of sugar (but not too much) to intensify their flavor but not sweeten them too much. It worked perfectly.

 

Then I had to think about the yogurt. A bunch of recipes swear by goat yogurt, which I find a bit suspect. But I tried it anyway, and frankly, even if it were more authentic (which it’s not) it doesn’t taste that different from cow yogurt – just a bit more like goat cheese. It’s delicious, but it’s also much runnier than regular yogurt, so it hurts the lassi’s texture. Regular yogurt, on the other hand, passed both flavor and texture tests.

Finally I had to consider what other ingredients they might need. Some recipes call for only mango and yogurt, several call for cardamom and many others call for milk. I made one with just mango and yogurt. It tasted delicious – like a fantastic mango smoothie. But it didn’t taste like a lassi. I tried adding the cardamom – also delicious, and decidedly Indian, but definitely not a lassi. I decided to try one last time, eliminating the cardamom and adding a cup of milk. It was perfect. It was tangy, mangoey and creamy – everything a lassi should be.

 

 

Rest assured this recipe has been meticulously tested and adjusted to taste just like it would at your favorite restaurant – we would never stand for sloppy imitations. These are super healthy, and super easy to make. And they’ll be perfect for keeping you cool when, any day now, summer shows up.

 

Mango Lassi
Serves 2-3… or 1 ;-)

2 cups mango in 1-inch cubes
1 tsp sugar
1-1.5 cups yogurt (less yogurt will taste more mangoey, which I prefer, but more will taste a bit more authentic)
1 cup milk

1. Mash mangoes in a large bowl, and stir in sugar. Let stand for 20-30 minutes. There should be around 1.5 cups of puree.
2. Pour mangoes, yogurt and milk into blender. Blend until completely smooth. I recommend going on your blender’s highest setting, because otherwise the mangoes can end up stringy, which is gross.
3. Pour into glasses and try not to drink all of them yourself.

{note – for an exotic and delicious twist, add a pinch of ground cardamom}

Fall at its Finest

I love autumn for so many reasons – the soft lighting, the crisp air, and the beautiful foliage – but somehow things always come back to food for us. Even when I was a little girl, great food superseded all other experiences. Sure, I was excited to go back to school and for Halloween, but what I really loved were the comfort foods my mother made in the fall. She used to make these wonderful Austrian plum dumplings called Zwetschgenknoedel. These cozy and rich Austrian potato dumplings are filled with Italian plums and have just enough sugar and cinnamon to be called dessert.

When I went to college, I had Zwetschgenknoedel withdrawal every fall, and for years afterward I would beg my mother for the recipe. Like so many great cooks of her generation, she said there was no recipe and she would add a little of this and that each time. But in recent years, Gabrielle and Isabella got so tired of hearing about these special dumplings they begged their Oma to try to write it down. Fortunately, it was much easier to do than she predicted. They’re actually quite easy to make, and they’re spectacularly delicious.

Most Americans have never had these delectable dumplings before. I’ve never seen them on a menu or sold anywhere. In Germany and Austria, they are as common as apple pie and it’s easy to see why. There is nothing better than one or two of these dumplings with a cup of tea after a light lunch or dinner. Help me spread the word and share this link with all of your foodie friends. I assure you, they will be grateful.

Zwetschgenknoedel (Plum Dumplings)

2 Russet potatoes
1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons butter
Pinch of Salt
1 whole egg plus 1 egg yolk
About 12 Italian Plums (sometimes called prunes) or damson plums
¾ cup sugar1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup bread crumbs

1. Boil 2 russet potatoes until soft (at least ½ hour).
2. Peel off skin and add 1/3 stick butter sliced. Mash potatoes and butter until smooth.
3. Add a dash of salt and mix again. Let cool.
4. Melt 1/2 cup butter in a 12 inch saucepan.
5. Add sugar, cinnamon, and bread crumbs and heat until breadcrumbs are slightly browned. Set aside and cool.
6. Mix one whole egg and one yolk into the potatoes, along with one cup of flour.
7. Mix well and knead until dough is smooth (you may need a little more flour).
8. Shape the dough into a 4 inch by 6 inch rectangle
9. Wash and dry plums
10. Cut approximately 1/2 inch of dough (depending on the size of the plums) and flatten into round shape in the palm of your hand (dough should be about an 1/8 of an inch thick when flattened out).
11. Wrap dough around the plum, making sure to cover it completely.
12. Repeat until all the plums are wrapped.
13. Fill a 6 quart pot two-thirds of the way with lightly salted water.
14. Place the dumplings  gently in the water and let come to a boil again.
15. Reduce to a simmer and cook until you can see the juice “bleeding” inside the dumplings.
16. Remove with a slotted spoon and roll into the bread crumb mixture.
17. Let cool 15 minutes and serve.

 

 

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