Lamb, Bulgur and Chickpea Stew with Roasted Eggplant

lamb bulgur stew tastefood

The other day, for the first time I made kibbeh, the Lebanese version of kefta or croquettes. A key ingredient in kibbeh is bulgur (cracked wheat), which was a revelation to me. I was afraid the bulgur would add a mealiness to the croquettes, but in fact it remained firm, adding a satisfying bite (and crunch when pan fried) to the ground meat. I liked this combination so much I decided to try it in a stew with tomatoes, white wine and plenty of spices. The bulgur slurped up the liquid producing a thick and dense ragout. While it could easily have been served in bowls as a hearty stew, I spooned it over roasted eggplant to lighten it up a bit. The results resembled a deconstructed dolma or vegetable stuffed with ground meat and grains, typically served in Turkish and Middle Eastern cuisine. All that was needed was a bit of crumbled feta and fresh mint to freshen up this lovely dish, and I know I’ll be making it again.

Lamb, Bulgur and Chickpea Stew with Roasted Eggplant

Serves 4 to 6

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 pound ground lamb
1/2 cup bulgur
1 cup white wine
1 (28-ounce) can Italian plum tomatoes with juices
1 cup chicken stock or water
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes
1/2 teaspoon coriander
1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas (garbanzos) drained and rinsed
1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped green cabbage

1 medium eggplant, sliced crosswise 3/8-inch thick
Olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Crumbled feta cheese
Fresh mint leaves, torn

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a pot or Dutch oven. Add the onion, garlic and lamb. Cook until the onion softens and the lamb browns, stirring frequently, about 5 minutes. Add the wine and deglaze the pan, stirring up any brown bits with a wooden spoon. Add the tomatoes, stock, bulgur, paprika, cumin, cinnamon, and coriander. Simmer, partially covered, until the bulgur is tender, about 20 minutes. The stew will have thickened at this point. If desired, add more water or stock to thin to desired consistency. Add the salt and black pepper and taste for seasoning. Stir in the chickpeas and cabbage and cook over medium-low heat until the cabbage is wilted, 10 to 12 minutes.

While the stew is simmering, arrange the eggplant slices in one layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Brush on both sides with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Broil on the top rack of the oven until golden brown on both sides, turning once.

To serve, spoon the ragout over the eggplant. Sprinkle with feta and garnish with mint. Serve warm.

Kale Gratin

kale gratins tastefood.jpg

Winter Greens Gratin

Gratins are a great way to eat your vegetables, especially in the winter. Who can resist bubbling pots of roasted vegetables and winter greens, crispy golden on the top and cheesy-creamy in the center? Hearty earthy greens, such as kale, spinach and chard, stand up exceedingly well to rich bechamel and melted cheese (what wouldn’t?) Serve in a large gratin dish for family style dining or spoon into individual ramekins for fancy serving. Either way, you can be sure that everyone will be eating their greens.

Kale Gratin
Feel free to add other greens or vegetables, such as chopped broccoli or cauliflower. Pecorino or Gruyere cheese may be substituted for the Parmigiano. Serves 4 to 6

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large shallot, finely chopped, about 1/2 cup
1 to 2 bunches kale (Tuscan or curly), tough ribs removed, coarsely chopped (about 10 cups)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup finely grated Parmigiano cheese, divided
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Heat the oil in a deep skillet or wide saucepan over medium heat. Add the shallot and saute 1 minute. Add the kale and saute until slightly wilted, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat. In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the flour and cook, stirring, until light golden, about 2 minutes. Whisk in the milk and cream. Simmer, stirring, until thickened. Whisk in 1/4 cup cheese, the salt, pepper and nutmeg until the cheese melts and the sauce is smooth. Pour over the kale and stir to combine. Transfer to a buttered gratin dish or individual ramekins. Top with the remaining cheese. Transfer to oven and bake until the tops of the gratins are golden brown and bubbly, about 25 minutes. Serve warm.

Salmon and Spinach Chowder

It’s the time of year for bowl-food. When the weather is grey, wintry and cold, there’s nothing more satisfying then a big bowl of dinner. Steaming hot and full of hearty healthy flavors and ingredients, it’s meant to be eaten with big spoons and napkins to catch the dribbles.

I love to eat chowders year round, especially in the winter when creamy dishes hit the spot. I often add a number of ingredients to my chowder in addition to the requisite fish. While most firm fleshed fish work in chowders, my favorite is salmon. Its buttery oil-rich flesh shines in a creamy stock and is a perfect accompaniment to earthy vegetables, crucifers and greens.

We don’t usually have left-over salmon in our house, since it’s often gobbled up the moment it hits our dinner plates. In the rare occurrence when there is some filets left, I’ll often add them to the next day’s chowder. While this recipe starts with the premise of using raw fish, pre-cooked leftovers work just as well. Considering how expensive salmon can be, this is a great way to get two fabulous meals from one purchase. You just need to be lucky enough to have the leftovers.

Salmon and Spinach Chowder

Feel free to improvise with your greens. Kale or chard may be substituted for the spinach. If you are cauliflower-averse, you can omit it and add extra spinach.

Serves 4

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 cups water
2 medium yukon gold potatoes, about 3/4 pound, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 1/2 cups bite-sized cauliflower florets
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon Tabasco
1 cup heavy cream
1 to 1 1/4 pounds salmon filet, skin and pin-bones removed, cut in 3/4-inch chunks
1 bunch fresh spinach leaves, stems removed, torn into large pieces
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Fresh chopped dill

Heat the oil and melt the butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until softened, about 2 minutes. Add the flour and cook, stirring, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the water and whisk to blend the flour. Add the potatoes and cauliflower. There should be enough water to cover the vegetables. If not, add more water to cover. Simmer, partially covered, until vegetables are tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Stir in the paprika, Tabasco, and cream. Bring to a simmer. Add the salmon and simmer until cooked (or heated) through. Stir in the spinach and briefly cook until bright green in color and wilted, about 1 minute. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Ladle into soup bowls. Garnish with fresh dill and serve immediately.

Valentine’s Chocolate


Flourless Chile Chocolate Cake

It’s no secret that I am a huge fan of dark chocolate, and my friends know it. So when I was recently gifted a box of Swiss chocolate from a longtime friend visiting from Geneva, I did the natural thing: I hid it. I could say it was under the guise of recipe research, but who would I be kidding?

My preferred chocolate is very dark with little bling. However, with that said, I do from time to time like to mess with my chocolate. My favorite embellishments are almonds, sea salt and chili. None of these additions detract from the richness of the chocolate, nor do they add any cloying sweetness. Rather they seem to amplify the deep chocolate flavor, while tickling the taste buds and hitting a few always-welcome umami notes.

bark balslev

Aztec Chocolate Bark

So for a little Valentines Day present, I have for you not one but two recipes with a version of spiced up chocolate. After all, there’s nothing wrong with spicing anything up around Valentine’s Day. The first recipe is for Aztec Chocolate Bark which you can find in a column I wrote for The Weiser Kitchen on Swiss chocolate (of course). And since love and chocolate go hand in hand with abundance (or at least they should), I will share with you below this recipe for Chile Spiced Flourless Chocolate Cake. Happy Valentine’s Day!

Flourless Chile-Chocolate Cake
Serves 10 to 12

1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into 6 pieces
12 ounces dark (70%) chocolate, finely chopped
6 large eggs, room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon chipotle chili powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
Powder sugar

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 9-inch springform pan. Line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper and butter the parchment. Melt the butter and chocolate in a double boiler over barely simmering water making sure that the bottom of the bowl does not come in contact with the water, stirring occasionally. Whisk the eggs and sugar together in a large bowl. Add the melted chocolate, vanilla, chili powder, cinnamon, salt and cayenne. Stir to combine. Pour into the prepared springform. Bake until the cake is set and the top begins to crack, about 40 minutes. (The center will still be moist.) Cool completely on a rack. Remove the side of the pan and transfer to a serving plate. (Cake may be made up to one day in advance. Cover and refrigerate.) Serve sprinkled with powder sugar before serving.

Roasted Cauliflower with Chilies, Lemon and Mint

cauliflower tastefoodEat your vegetables – Roasted Cauliflower

It’s a hunch, but I would be willing to bet that you could persuade the most ardent veggie haters to try this cauliflower recipe. Roasting cauliflower magically transforms the snow white crucifer with cabbage-y notes into a tender yet crispy, caramelized treat, coaxing out its natural sweetness and nuttiness. Simple seasonings, such as paprika, salt and pepper gently enhance the flavor. You can serve it simply like that, or go the full Monty and toss it with chilies, lemon and mint.

Roasted Cauliflower with Chilies, Lemon and Mint

Sambal Olek is a Southeast Asian chili sauce. It’s Middle Eastern cousin, Harissa, may be substituted. Serves 4.

1 large head cauliflower
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
Finely grated zest from 1/2 lemon
3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
Harissa or Sambal Olek

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Slice the cauliflower, top to bottom into 3/4-inch slices. (Slicing the cauliflower will provide flat sides which will brown easily when roasting). Cut away the thick stems, and gently break the florets apart into large bite-sized pieces. Place in a large bowl. Add the garlic, 2 tablespoons olive oil, paprika, salt and pepper. Gently toss to coat, then spread onto a rimmed baking sheet. Some of the florets will break into small pieces, but that’s ok – the little bits will get nice and brown while roasting.

Roast on the bottom rack in the oven until the cauliflower turns brown on the bottom, about 20 minutes. Transfer the pan to the top third of the oven and continue to roast until golden brown on top and tender, about 20 minutes. Transfer to a serving platter. Drizzle with extra olive oil. Drop small spoonfuls of sambal olek over the cauliflower and garnish with lemon zest and mint. Serve warm or at room temperature with extra chile sauce on the side.

Simple Suppers: Pasta with Bacon and Arugula

bacon arugula pasta tastefood

Friday Night Pasta – Spaghetti, Bacon, Arugula, Cheese

The busier I get, the more I crave simplicity. And the busier I get, the more elusive simplicity becomes. It’s time to take charge. While I might not be able to simplify my calendar or clear my work load with the snap of my fingers, and how I  wish I could simplify my clothes closet and garage storage with a Bewitching wiggle of my nose  - I can at least simplify my dinner. In fact, simple dinners are often the best. Minimal, fresh and light, composed in less than 30 minutes, these dinners do not skimp on flavor, and offer require double portions, because they taste so good. Many Italian recipes fall into this category. This recipe takes inspiration from Cacio e Pepe, the humble Roman dish consisting of pasta, olive oil, cheese and cracked pepper, glistening with reserved pasta water. Of course, since I can at best call myself a sometimes-simplifier, I couldn’t resist throwing in a few more ingredients for good measure. No one will argue with bacon, is my bet.

Spaghetti with Bacon and Arugula

I used spaghetti, because that’s what I had on hand. Bucatini or gemelli would work well, too. Serves 4.

8 ounces thick cut bacon, cut into 3/4-inch pieces
1/2 cup breadcrumbs or Panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup plus 1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup finely grated Pecorino Romano cheese
1 pound spaghetti
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon crushed red chili flakes
2 to 3 cups fresh arugula

Heat a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the bacon and fry until crisp and golden. Transfer to a plate lined with a paper towel. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon bacon fat from the skillet. Add the breadcrumbs, salt and black pepper. Toast over medium heat until golden, about 1 minute. Transfer to a bowl to cool, then add 1/4 cup Parmigiano and stir to blend.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil. Cook the pasta 1 minute less than package instructions for al dente. Scoop out and reserve 1 cup cooking water and drain the pasta.
Heat the oil in a deep skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and chili flakes and saute until aromatic, about 30 seconds. Add 1/2 cup reserved water, the pasta, 1/2 cup Parmesan and the Pecorino to the pan, stirring and tossing constantly to melt the cheese and evenly coat the pasta. (If too thick, add additional water a little at a time to reach desired consistency). Remove from heat. Add the bacon, half of the breadcrumbs, and the arugula; toss to warm through. Serve immediately with remaining breadcrumbs sprinkled over the pasta.

Thai Marinated Skirt Steak with Sesame Noodles and Cilantro

cilantro steak tf

There is something supremely satisfying about serving a complete dinner heaped on a platter. It’s great for family-style dining, allowing everyone to dig into a meal that combines meat, greens and, in this case, noodles. This Thai-inspired recipe embraces budget friendly skirt steak – a flavorful cut of meat that loves a good marinade. The sweet, sour, and salty marinade tenderizes the meat while infusing it with addictive Thai flavor and spice. The longer the beef can marinate the better, but that’s the only time consuming step of this dish (with zero effort, just advance planning). Otherwise, once the ingredients are on hand this dish comes together quickly for a family friendly weeknight dinner that will have everyone reaching for seconds.

Thai Marinated Skirt Steak with Sesame Noodles
Serves 4

Marinade:
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 lemongrass stalk, outer leaves removed, finely chopped
3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons Sriracha or sweet chili sauce
1 tablespoon fish sauce

1 1/2 pounds skirt steak
8 ounces Chinese Chow Mein or Vietnamese wheat noodles

Dressing:
1 small garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons tahini
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 teaspoons finely grated ginger
1/2 teaspoon Sriracha or hot sauce
1/4 teaspoon sugar

Peanut or vegetable oil
3 scallions, white and green parts thinly sliced
1 red or green jalapeno chili pepper, stemmed and seeded, finely chopped
1 cup fresh cilantro sprigs (or more to taste)
1 tablespoon toasted seseame seeds

Combine the marinade ingredients in a large bowl and whisk to blend. Slice the skirt steak on the diagonal against the grain into 1-inch strips. Add to the marinade and toss to coat.  Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours or up to 24 hours. Remove from refrigerator 30 minutes before proceeding with recipe.

Cook the noodles until al dente per manufacturer’s instructions. Drain and transfer to a bowl. While the noodles are cooking, whisk the dressing ingredients in a small bowl. Pour half of the dressing over the drained noodles and toss to thoroughly coat.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add the skirt steak in batches without overcrowding the pan. Sear the steak on both sides until cooked to desired doneness, about 2 minutes each side for medium. Transfer to a plate and repeat with remaining meat.

To serve, arrange the noodles on a platter or individual serving plates. Top with skirt steak strips. Scatter the scallions, cilantro, chili pepper and sesame seeds over. Drizzle with the remaining dressing, to taste. Serve warm.

Parsnip and Celery Root Soup

root soup tastefood
Parsnip and Celery Root Soup

White root vegetables do the talking in this rich and velvety soup that will leave you guessing it’s laden with cream. Well, guess again. This humble soup is light and healthy, thickened by parsnips and celery root with a good splash of milk. The sweet and nutty root vegetables are tempered by garlic and thyme for a well rounded and slurp-worthy bowl of goodness that promises to keep you warm in the cold weather.

root soup viewWhite Roots

Parsnip and Celery Root Soup

Feel free to change the ratio of veggies and/or add Jerusalem artichokes to the mix. Just be sure to keep the total weight at 2 pounds. Serves 4 to 6.

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped, about 1 cup
1 pound parnsips, peeled, cut into 3/4-inch chunks
1 pound celery root, peeled, cut into 3/4-inch chunks
3 cloves garlic, chopped
4 cups chicken stock
2 sprigs thyme
1/2 cup whole milk plus more to taste
1 teaspoon salt, or more to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until translucent without coloring, about 3 minutes. Add the parsnips, celery root, and garlic. Sauté until the vegetables begin to soften, 2 to3 minutes. Add the chicken stock and thyme. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer until the vegetables are very soft, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove the thyme sprigs. Carefully transfer the soup to a food processor (or use an immersion blender) and purée until smooth. Return to the soup pot. Add the milk, salt and pepper.  If too thick, add more milk to your desired consistency and taste for seasoning. Serve warm.

Moroccan Lamb Stew with Figs and Chickpeas

It’s the time of year when I have an urge to travel. Call it cabin fever, restlessness, or simply the craving to be somewhere different, where it’s warm, spicy and balmy. The sights, smells and sounds of new cultures are revitalizing. Time slows down, and the smallest details are observed and savored  amidst a kaleidescope of impressions. It just so happens that this is also the time of year when my urge to travel collides with real life. It’s the middle of the school year, I have work deadlines, and the contents of my piggy bank were spent at Christmas. So I improvise, and my travels occur in the kitchen, where I replace my passport with the jars in my spice drawer and concoct recipes inspired by the exotic flavors, heat and aromas of far flung destinations.

Moroccan Lamb Stew with Chickpeas and Figs

The secret ingredient in this North African inspired stew is ras el hanout. Ras el hanout is a  spice blend which may include upwards of 50 spices, including cinnamon, cardamom, clove, turmeric and cayenne. The name, translated, means head of the shop, meaning the best on offer. Like many spice blends, there is no one way to make it, and variations exist from home to home, merchant to merchant. You can find ras el hanout in the spice section of your supermarket or specialty stores. If you cannot locate it, then I encourage you to try to make your own version. It’s easy to do, and I’ve included a recipe below.

Moroccan Lamb Stew with Chickpeas and Figs

Serves 6 to 8.

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground paprika
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 1/2  to  3 pounds lamb shoulder or leg, cut in 1 1/2-inch chunks
1 large onion, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1 (14 ounce) can Italian plum tomatoes with juice
2 cups chicken stock
12 dried Calimyrna or Turkish figs, halved
1 cinnamon stick
2 teaspoons ras el hanout (recipe below)
1 (14 ounce) can chickpeas, drained
1 tablespoon brown sugar

Harissa or red chili paste
Fresh cilantro sprigs

Combine 1/4 cup olive oil, the coriander, cumin, paprika, 2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon black pepper in a small bowl. Mix to form a paste. Place the lamb in a large bowl and rub the paste all over the meat. Let stand at room temperature for 1 hour or refrigerate covered for up to 24 hours.
Preheat the oven to 325°F. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a Dutch oven or oven proof pot with lid over medium-high heat. Add the lamb in batches and brown on all sides, taking care not to overcrowd the pan. Transfer the lamb to a plate or bowl.
Add the onion and carrot to the same pot. Saute until softened, about 2 minutes, stirring up any brown bits. Add the garlic and ginger and saute until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the tomatoes, chicken stock, figs, cinnamon stick, ras el hanout, 1 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon black pepper.  Return the lamb and any collected juices to the pot, submerging it in the stock. (Add additional chicken stock to cover, if necessary.) Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and cover pot. Transfer to oven and bake until lamb is falling apart tender, about 2 hours.
Transfer pot to stove. Remove lamb and vegetables with a slotted spoon and place in a bowl. Bring stock to a boil over medium-high heat. Boil uncovered until sauce is reduced by about half and thickened, skimming any fat.  Stir in the chickpeas and taste to check for seasoning. If necessary add a tablespoon of brown sugar to the stock. Return the lamb and vegetables to the pot. Serve warm spooned over couscous. Pass bowls of harissa and fresh cilantro around the table as condiments.

Ras El Hanout
adapted from The Food of Morocco by Tess Mallos

Be sure to use very fresh spices, or grind the whole dried spices.

3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3 teaspoons ground coriander
3 teaspoons ground nutmeg
2 teaspoons allspice
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground turmeric
2 teaspoons ground black pepper
2 teaspoons ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne

Combine all the spices together. Store in a glass jar in a cool, dark place.
(Recipe may be halved.)

Pork Stew with Prunes and Armagnac

Here is an in-your-face stew, which says to the cold winter season: Bring it on. Nothing is bashful about this stew. Fortified with wine and spirits, perfumed with rosemary and juniper, this is a hearty slow-cooked wonder and a perfect vehicle for pork. The key ingredient, of course, is the Armagnac, a French brandy derived from grapes, in which inky prunes macerate, before the whole lot is dumped into the stock. Just be sure to pour yourself a little to enjoy before and after this rich and warming meal.

Pork Stew with Prunes and Armangnac

Serves 6.

20 prunes
3/4 cup Armagnac brandy
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
3 pounds pork shoulder meat, excess fat trimmed, cut into 2-inch chunks
4 ounces bacon, coarsely chopped
2 large carrots, chopped
1 large yellow onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 bottle full bodied red wine
2 bay leaves
1 bouguet garni: 4 juniper berries, 3 rosemary sprigs, 2 thyme sprigs, handful of parsley leaves

Combine prunes and Armagnac in a bowl. Let sit at least one hour.
Preheat oven to 325 F. Heat olive oil over medium-high heat in a dutch oven or oven-proof pot with lid. Season the meat all over with salt and pepper. Sauté in batches, without overcrowding, until brown on all sides. Transfer meat to a bowl. Add bacon to dutch oven and sauté until the fat renders. Add carrots and onion. Sauté 5 minutes. Add garlic and sauté 1 minute. Return meat to the pot with any accumulated juices. Add prunes with Armagnac, wine, bay leaves, bouquet garni, 1 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon black pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Cover pan and transfer to oven. Bake until meat is very tender, 2 1/2 – 3 hours. Remove from oven and taste to check seasoning. Remove and discard bay leaves and bouquet garni. (Stew may be prepared up to two days in advance. Warm over low heat or in a 300 F. oven before serving.) Serve with mashed potatoes or polenta.