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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

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!

 

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!

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