Alaska Memories and a recipe for Shrimp, Kale and Pearl Couscous

Alaska Memories and a recipe for Shrimp, Kale and Pearl Couscous

tutkabay6-592x370

It would have been simpler to meditate. Instead, I traveled to Alaska. More specifically, I traveled 3,000 miles on three planes of diminishing size, and one water taxi to Tutka Bay Lodge. Tutka Bay sits at the mouth of a rugged seven-mile fjord stretching into the glacier capped Kenai mountains, 125 air miles south of Anchorage. It’s not accessible by road, only by sea plane or a water taxi which multitasks as a mail and food delivery service, garbage collection, and all-purpose passenger shuttle to and from Homer, the closest town accessible by road. If you want to get away from it all, this is for you. It’s well worth the trip.

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Before you pack your compass, first aid kit, and water purification tablets, let’s be perfectly clear. This is not roughing it. This is not even glamping. This is wilderness isolation in extreme comfort. You will find yourself in a lodge, tucked into plush beds in cozy private cabins, waited upon 24/7 by an attentive staff, and dining in a first class restaurant. Sure, you are in the remote wilderness on a spit of land flanked by a rugged fjord and craggy mountains dotted with old growth Sitka spruce. Yes, that’s an ancient volcano looming in the distance, waiting ever so patiently for another opportunity to express itself. Indeed, you will be sharing your outdoor space with resident bald eagles, floating otters, and possibly an orca or two. You will also be pampered, fed and catered to in a lodge staffed with servers doubling as mountain guides, valets doubling as naturalists, and professional chefs doubling as culinary instructors in a teaching kitchen converted from a re-purposed two-story crabbing boat.

Widgeon Lynda Balslev

Tutka Cooking Class Lynda Balslev

Halibut

The point is that there is something for everyone at Tutka, with the most notable activity being nothing. Because, while your every whim will be addressed and serviced, your tummy fed, your fitness itch scratched, your need for nature connected, you will find yourself in the most spectacular vignette of nowhere, amidst staggering scenery and blissful solitude. Activities are plentiful, and peace is everywhere, which yields the treasure of perspective and balance. So, whether you crave a weekend or a week to find your center, this is the the place to be. Just leave yourself a day to get there.

alaska makos taxi

Tutka kayaks Lynda Balslev
Needless to say, the seafood is glorious in this part of the world. The following recipe is inspired by a meal I enjoyed at Tutka Bay Lodge.

Shrimp Kale and Pearl Cousous
Serves 4 to 6Alaska Shrimp Tutka

Ingredients:
Extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups pearl (Israeli) cousous
2 cups plus 1/4 cup chicken stock
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest plus extra for garnish
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 pound large (18/20) shrimp, peeled and deveined, tails intact
1/2 teaspoon red chile flakes
1 bunch purple or curly green kale, tough ribs removed, torn into 2-inch pieces
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 cup fresh thyme leaves, chopped fresh oregano leaves and chives

Method:
1. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a wide skillet over medium heat. Add the couscous, stir to coat, and cook until the couscous is toasted light golden, about 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Carefully add the 2 cups stock (it will sizzle). Reduce the heat to low, cover the skillet and simmer until all of the liquid is absorbed and the couscous is tender. Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon juice and zest, the paprika, cumin, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. Keep warm.

2. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a clean skillet (preferably cast iron) over medium heat. Season the shrimp with salt and pepper. Add the shrimp in one layer to the skillet. Cook until bright pink and lightly seared on both sides and cooked through, 3 to 4 minutes, turning once. Transfer with a slotted spoon to a plate.

3. In the same skillet, heat 1 tablespoon oil and the red chili flakes over medium heat. Add the kale and garlic and sauté until the kale leaves begin to wilt, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the 1/4 cup stock and continue to sauté until the liquid evaporates, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat and season with salt.

4. To serve, divide the couscous between serving plates or shallow bowls. Top with the kale. Arrange the shrimp over the kale. Garnish with the fresh herbs and additional lemon zest.

Homer View Lynda Balslev

 

Lamb Merguez Patties and Couscous Salad

Lamb Kefta Patties
Feeling spicy? When I crave a good dose of spice and heat I head to Asia, the Middle East or North Africa (well, in my dreams). In reality, I head to my kitchen, where I fling open the spice cabinet and get cooking. I made these merguez patties recently when I was craving the heat and fragrance of North Africa: harissa, garlic, coriander, and mint. These feisty patties hit the spot – well, an airline ticket would have really hit the spot, but, hey, this was a pretty good stand in for a week night.

What really tipped these patties for me was the use of whole spices that I toasted and ground in my mortar. If you haven’t tried doing this, then you are missing a big component in the flavor department. It’s not as complicated as it sounds, and the results are well worth it. Whole spices are readily found in the spice section of your supermarket, gourmet and spice shops – even online. When you are ready to use the spices, toast the seeds in a dry skillet over medium heat until fragrant, about 1 minute. Then transfer to a spice grinder or a mortar, and blitz or pound the spices until fine. The flavor is light years better than pre-ground spice.

Lamb Merguez Patties and Couscous Salad

Prep Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 2 hours and 15 minutes
Makes 18 to 20 (2-inch) patties

Couscous Salad:
1 1/2 cups couscous
1 1/4 cup water
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small red bell pepper, finely diced
1 small poblano or green pepper, finely diced
1/2 small red onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint leaves
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Lamb Merguez Patties:
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
2 pounds ground lamb
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons harissa paste
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1. Prepare the couscous: Place the couscous, water, lemon juice and olive oil in a large bowl. Bring to a simmer, cover the pot, and remove from the heat. Let stand until liquid is absorbed and couscous is tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Fluff with a fork, add the remaining ingredients, and stir to combine.
2. Prepare the patties: Toast the cumin, coriander and fennel seeds in a dry skillet over medium heat until fragrant, about 1 minute. Grind to a fine powder in a mortar with pestle or a spice grinder.
3. Transfer the remaining patty ingredients to a large bowl. Add the toasted spices and mix until combined without overworking the meat. Form into 2-inch patties. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or overnight.
4. Remove the patties from the refrigerator and let stand 10 minutes. Grill over direct high heat or pan-in fry in 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat until brown and cooked through, 8 to 10 minutes, turning once.  Serve with couscous salad, pita bread, Greek yogurt, and a squirt of harissa if you’re feeling extra spicy.

Moroccan Lamb Stew with Apricots and Chickpeas

lamb tagine

This lamb stew is inspired by a traditional Moroccan meat and vegetable tagine and Mrouzia, a rich celebratory stew sweetened with fruit and honey. I have scaled the sweetness back, reducing the honey (or brown sugar in this case) and relying on dried apricots, which  melt into the stock while simmering to provide subtle sweetness. The meat can be rubbed with the spices and cooked straight away, but if you have the time, rub the meat the night before preparing and refrigerate. The longer the meat can sit with the spices, the deeper the flavor.

Moroccan Lamb Stew with Apricots and Chickpeas

This recipe includes ras el hanout, which is an important spice blend in North African cuisine. It means “top of the shop” and includes a laundry list of aromatic and piquant spices, a combination which will vary from kitchen to kitchen, cook to cook. You can purchase ras el hanout in specialty stores or well-stocked supermarkets. Serves 6.

1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 1/2  to 3 pounds lamb shoulder or leg, cut into 1 1/2-inch chunks
1 medium onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes
1 (14-ounce) can Italian plum tomatoes with juice
2 to 3 cups chicken stock
12 dried unsulphured apricots (or dried figs), halved
1 (2-inch) cinnamon stick
2 teaspoons ras el hanout
1 large carrot, cut into 1/4-inch thick slices
1 (14-ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 tablespoons brown sugar or honey
Harissa or red chili paste, optional
Fresh cilantro sprigs

1. Combine 1/4 cup olive oil, the coriander, cumin, paprika, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1 teaspoon black pepper in a small bowl and 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 for up to 24 hours.
2. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Heat the 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 and repeat with remaining lamb.
3. Pour off the fat and add 1 tablespoon oil and the onion to the same pot. Sauté the onion over medium heat until softened, about 2 minutes, stirring up the brown bits. Add the garlic, ginger, and red chili flakes and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the tomatoes, 2 cups chicken stock, the apricots, cinnamon stick, ras el hanout, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper.  Return the lamb and any collected juices to the pot and submerge in the stock. (Add more chicken stock to cover, if necessary.) Bring to a boil, then cover the pot and transfer to the oven and cook until the lamb is tender, about 2 hours, stirring once or twice.
4. Transfer the pot to the stovetop and stir in the carrots and chickpeas. Simmer, uncovered, over medium-low heat until the carrots are tender and the sauce reduces and thickens to a stew consistency, about 20 minutes, skimming the fat as much as possible. Stir in the brown sugar and taste for seasoning. If more heat is desired, stir in a few teaspoons of harissa.
5. Serve warm, ladled over couscous and garnish with cilantro.

TasteTravel – Alaska: Tutka Bay Lodge and a recipe for Shrimp, Kale and Israeli Couscous

TasteTravel – Alaska: Tutka Bay Lodge and a recipe for Shrimp, Kale and Israeli Couscous

tbl_AA5D_MG_1283-325x325It would have been simpler to meditate. Instead, last summer I traveled to Alaska. More specifically, I traveled 3,000 miles on three planes of diminishing size, and one water taxi to Tutka Bay Lodge. Tutka Bay sits at the mouth of a rugged seven-mile fjord stretching into the glacier capped Kenai mountains, 125 air miles south of Anchorage. It’s not accessible by road, only by sea plane or a water taxi from Homer which multitasks as a mail and food delivery, garbage collection, and all-purpose shuttle. If you want to get away from it all, this is for you. It’s well worth the trip.

tutkabay6-592x370

2aab009c32016fff053aae9391389902

Before you pack your compass, first aid kit, and water purification tablets, let’s be perfectly clear. This is not roughing it. This is not even glamping. This is wilderness isolation in extreme comfort. You will find yourself in a lodge, tucked into plush beds in cozy private cabins, waited upon 24/7 by an attentive staff, and dining in a first class restaurant. Sure, you are in the remote wilderness on a spit of land flanked by a rugged fjord and craggy mountains dotted with old growth Sitka spruce. Yes, that’s an ancient volcano looming in the distance, waiting ever so patiently for another opportunity to express itself. Indeed, you will be sharing your outdoor space with resident bald eagles, floating otters, and possibly an orca or two. You will also be pampered, fed and catered to in a lodge staffed with servers doubling as mountain guides, valets doubling as naturalists, and professional chefs doubling as culinary instructors in a teaching kitchen converted from a re-purposed two-story crabbing boat.

Widgeon Lynda Balslev

Tutka Cooking Class Lynda Balslev

Halibut The point is that there is something for everyone at Tutka, with the most notable activity being nothing. Because, while your every whim will be addressed and serviced, your tummy fed, your fitness itch scratched, your need for nature connected, you will find yourself in the most spectacular vignette of nowhere, amidst staggering scenery and blissful solitude. Activities are plentiful, and peace is everywhere, which yields the treasure of perspective and balance. So, whether you crave a weekend or a week to find your center, this is the the place to be. Just leave yourself a day to get there.

alaska makos taxi

Tutka kayaks Lynda Balslev
The following recipe is inspired by a delicious memory from Tutka Bay Lodge.

Shrimp Kale and Israeli Cousous
Serves 4 to 6

Alaska Shrimp Tutka

Ingredients:
Extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups Israeli cousous
2 cups chicken stock, plus 1/4 cup
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 pound large (18/20) shrimp, peeled and deveined, tails intact
1/2 teaspoon red chile flakes
1 bunch purple kale, tough ribs removed, torn into 2-inch pieces
1 garlic clove, minced

Method:
Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a wide skillet over medium heat. Add the couscous and stir to coat. Cook until the couscous is light golden, 2 to 3 minutes, stirring frequently. Carefully add the 2 cups stock. Reduce heat to low, then cover and simmer until all the liquid is absorbed and the couscous is tender. Remove from heat and stir in the lemon juice and zest, paprika, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. Keep warm.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a cast iron skillet over medium heat. Season the shrimp with salt and pepper. Add the shrimp in one layer to the skillet. Cook until golden brown on both sides and cooked through, turning once. Transfer with a slotted spoon to a plate.

In the same skillet, heat 1 tablespoon oil and the red chili flakes over medium heat. Add the kale and garlic and sauté until the kale leaves begin to wilt, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the 1/4 cup stock and continue to sauté until liquid evaporates, about 1 minute. Remove from heat. Season with salt.

To serve, divide the couscous between serving plates or shallow bowls. Top with the kale. Arrange the shrimp over the kale. Garnish with fresh snipped herbs such as oregano, thyme leaves and chives.
Homer View Lynda Balslev

Top 3 photos courtesy of Tutka Bay Lodge. All other photos by Lynda Balslev.

Warm Cauliflower Couscous with Lemon and Chiles

Cauliflower couscous tfCauliflower Couscous – Posted by Lynda Balslev

The secret to this gluten-free side dish is cauliflower – not as an addition to a salad of couscous grains, but as a replacement. That’s right – it’s all cauliflower, finely chopped to the size of couscous or rice grains, then tumbled with lemon, chiles and fresh herbs. Cauliflower holds its texture beautifully, either raw or, in this case, sautéed, providing a mild, nutty flavor and firm bite that will likely leave your dinner guests stymied and then pleasantly surprised.

Warm Cauliflower Couscous with Lemon and Chiles
Serves 4 to 6 as a side dish

1 small head cauliflower, about 1 1/4 pound
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
3 thin scallions, white and green parts thinly sliced
1 jalapeño pepper, stemmed and seeded, finely chopped
1 sweet “Jimmy Nardello” pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
1/2 cup parsley leaves, chopped
1/2 cup cilantro leaves, chopped
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1. Remove the leaves and core of the cauliflower. Coarsely chop the florets and place in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until the florets are finely chopped, 10 to 12 times.
2. Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the cauliflower and salt and sauté until beginning to soften, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the garlic, paprika, cumin, and red chili flakes, Continue to cook until the cauliflower is tender but not mushy, 3 to 4 minutes.
3. Remove from the heat and stir in the remaining ingredients. Taste for seasoning. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Lamb Merguez Patties with Couscous Salad

merguez tastefood

~ Moroccan Spiced Lamb Merguez Patties ~

Feeling spicy? When I crave a good dose of spice and fragrance I head to Asia, the Middle East or North Africa…in my dreams. In reality I head to my kitchen, where I fling open the spice cabinet and get cooking. I made these merguez patties recently when I was craving the heat and heady flavors of Morocco: harissa, garlic, coriander and mint. These feisty patties hit the spot – well, an airline ticket would have really hit the spot, but, hey, this was a pretty good stand in for a school night.

What really tipped these patties for me was the use of whole spices that I toasted and ground in my mortar. If you haven’t tried doing this, then you are missing a big component in the flavor department. It’s not as complicated as it sounds, and the results are well worth it. Whole spices are readily found in the spice section of your supermarket, gourmet and spice shops – even online. When you are ready to use the spice, toast the seeds  in a dry skillet over medium heat until fragrant, about 1 minute. Then transfer to a spice grinder or a mortar, and blitz or pound the spices until fine. The flavor is lightyears better than the pre-ground stuff.

Spicy Lamb Merguez with Couscous Tabbouleh
Makes 18 to 20 patties

1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
2 pounds ground lamb
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons harissa paste
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Toast the cumin, coriander and fennel seeds in a dry skillet over medium heat until fragrant, about 1 minute. Grind to a fine powder in a mortar with pestle. Transfer the remaining merguez ingredients to a large bowl. Add the toasted spices and mix until combined without overworking the meat. Form in 2 to 3 inch patties. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or overnight. Remove from refrigerator 30 minutes before grilling. Grill over direct high heat or pan-fry in olive oil over medium-high heat, turning once, until brown and cooked through, 8 to 10 minutes.  Serve with couscous salad (recipe below), pita bread, Greek yogurt, fresh mint and extra harissa if you’re feeling really spicy.

Couscous Salad
This is a great side dish to accompany the lamb or any grilled meat. Or crumble feat cheese over the salad for a light vegetarian meal.

1 1/2 cups couscous
1 1/4 cup water
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 red bell pepper, finely diced
1/2 English cucumber, seeded, finely diced
1/2 small red onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint leaves
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Place the couscous, water, lemon juice and olive oil in a large bowl. Let stand until liquid is absorbed and couscous is tender, about 20 minutes. Fluff with a fork. Add the remaining ingredients and stir to combine.

Weeknight Dinners: Spicy Chipotle Chicken and Couscous Salad

Chipotle Chicken TasteFood~ Spicy Chipotle Chicken, Herbed Couscous Salad, Hummus ~

Are you having the weeknight dinner doldrums? Are you hungry and craving something exciting, yet stumped for time and inspiration? Look no further than this easy recipe, packed with spice and chipotle heat. It’s a cinch to make: Begin to marinate the chicken the night or morning before roasting. Then go about your daily whirlwind of work and activities. 30 minutes before dinner, pop the chicken in the oven (or on the grill), and before you know it you’ll have a zingy dish that will shake up any ho hum dinner routine. Serve with salad, rice or couscous. I had some hummus sitting in the fridge, which I served as an accompaniment. A squeeze bottle of Sriracha will stand in nicely.

chipotle chicken tastefood

Spicy Chipotle Chicken and Couscous Salad

Serves 4 to 5

Marinade:
1/4 cup chipotles in adobo sauce
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons brown sugar
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut in 1 1/2-inch chunks
Bamboo skewers, pre-soaked at least 30 minutes

Couscous Salad:
1 1/2 cups whole wheat couscous
1 1/4 cups warm water
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt, or more to taste
2 scallions, green and white parts thinly sliced
1 small red bell pepper, seeded and diced, finely diced
1 small jalapeno seeded, finely diced
1/2 small red onion, finely chopped, about 1/4 cup
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 cup mint leaves, chopped
1/4 cup cilantro leaves, chopped
1 teaspoon Tabasco, or to taste
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

For the chicken:
Process all of the marinade ingredients in a food processor until smooth. Place the chicken in a bowl. Add marinade and toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate at least one hour or up to 24 hours.
Preheat oven broiler or prepare grill. Thread chicken on skewers. Discard marinade. Broil or grill over direct medium heat until brown and thoroughly cooked through, turning once or twice, about 10 minutes.

For the couscous:
Place couscous in a large bowl. Add water, lemon juice, olive oil, cumin and salt. Stir once. Cover and let stand until all of the liquid is absorbed, about 5 minutes. Fluff with fork. Add remaining ingredients. Gently mix to thoroughly combine. Taste for salt and seasoning. Serve warm or at room temperature.