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Greek Tabbouleh Salad

Greek Tabbouleh Salad TasteFoodWhen it’s super hot outside (like now), who wants to cook? (Not me!) In the heat of summer, dinner prep should be low maintenance with oodles of fresh ingredients. I like to make all kinds of salads brimming with crispy garden vegetables, often including a grain or legume and not-so-much heavy meat protein. These salads can stand in for a light dinner, or accompany anything fresh off the grill. Tabbouleh salad is a favorite of mine, a Middle Eastern mixture of bulgur wheat, handfuls of fresh herbs, peppers and spice. It’s light yet substantial with a kick of heat to wake up any lazy tastebuds enjoying a siesta.

Greek Tabbouleh Salad
Serves 4 to 6

1 1/2 cups bulgur
1 1/4 cups boiling water
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne, or more to taste
4 scallions, white and green parts thinly sliced
1 to 2 garlic cloves, minced
1 red bell pepper, stemmed and seeded, diced
1 poblano pepper, stemmed and seeded, finely diced
1 cup canned chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
1/2 cup chopped fresh mint
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/3 cup crumbled feta

Combine the bulgur, water, and lemon juice in a bowl. Cover the bowl and let stand until the liquid is absorbed and the bulgur is tender, about 20 minutes. Add the oil, cumin, salt, black pepper, and cayenne and stir to blend. Add the remaining ingredients and stir to combine. Taste for seasoning. If the bulgur is too dry, add additional olive oil to achieve your desired consistency. Cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour to allow the flavors to develop. Serve as is, or add to pita pockets with spoonfuls of tsatsiki and harissa.

 

Strawberry Cake

strawberry cake  tastefoodReprinted from the TasteFood archives, because it’s the end of the school year, and  we all deserve cake.

More strawberries, you say? You bet. I am greedy at this time of year when spring produce is cluttering up the market shelves. A rotation of asparagus, peas, and strawberries passes through our kitchen to the table on a daily basis. You would think we would tire of all of this goodness, but it never seems to be the case. It also helps to have a variety of recipes to choose from to change things up a bit. While nothing beats fresh strawberries with a little cream, put a few aside to make this simple cake. It’s light, gently sweetened, and generously studded with more strawberries than you know what to do with. Actually, I don’t mean that – we all know what to do with strawberries. Just be sure to save some to make this cake.

Strawberry Cake

I halved my jumbo sized strawberries in the pictured cake, but recommend quartering them if very large, so they will begin to break down while baking, making a luscious juicy mess.  Recipe adapted from Martha Stewart.

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar, plus 1 tablespoon
1 large egg
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest, divided
1 pound strawberries, halved – or quartered if very large

Preheat your oven to 350°F (180°C). Butter a 10-inch (25 cm) pie or tart pan (I used a 9-inch extra-deep pie pan).

Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. Combine the butter and 3/4 cup sugar in a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Mix in the egg, buttermilk, vanilla, and 1 teaspoon lemon zest on medium speed. Add the flour and mix to combine without over-mixing. Spread the batter in the prepared dish. Arrange the strawberries, cut-side down, on top of the batter, gently pressing to partially submerge. Squeeze in as many strawberries as possible – it’s ok to be greedy. Sprinkle the top of the cake with the 1 tablespoon sugar.

Bake in the oven until the top of the cake is light golden and a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes clean, about 1 hour. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Before serving, sprinkle 1 teaspoon lemon zest over the cake. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature with whipped cream.

Jerk Chicken

jerk chicken

Jamaican Jerk is a thick and heady Afro-Carribean marinade chock-a-block full of ingredients. Don’t let the lengthy list of spices and aromatics deter you. All you need is the fire of a grill to unify the flavors and create a spicy-sweet finger licking dinner – perfect for a summer barbecue. The heat in the marinade traditionally comes from Scotch Bonnet peppers (super hot). I’ve modified that with jalapeños – but feel free to go all out with a scotch bonnet (carefully seeded with gloved hands!) if you dare. And remember – as with most meat marinades, the longer the chicken can soak in the marinade, the better the flavor.

Jerk Chicken
Serves 6

Marinade:
6 garlic cloves
4 scallions, chopped
2 jalapeños, stemmed, seeded (optional)
1 (2-inch) knob ginger, peeled, chopped
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
3 tablespoons soy sauce or tamari
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon canola oil
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

6 chicken legs and/or breasts with skin and ribs

Place the marinade ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and process to form a paste. Arrange the chicken in a large baking dish. Rub the marinade all over the chicken and under the skin where possible. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight.

Prepare the grill for indirect cooking over medium heat. Grill the chicken over indirect heat until charred and golden brown and thoroughly cooked through, 30 to 45 minutes, depending on sizes and thickness. Serve garnished with fresh chopped parsley.

5 Salads for your Memorial Day Grill Menu

It’s Memorial Day weekend, which not only is the gate to summer, but an excuse to get outside and grill. Here are 5 fresh salads to see you through the upcoming BBQ season, perfect to accompany any grill menu.

pepper potatoes tastefood

No -Mayo Peppery Potato Salad – hard to believe there’s no mayonnaise in this creamy salad, chock-a-block full of peppers, chiles and onion.

fava green saladMixed Greens with Fava Beans and Mint – the essence of late spring on a plate.

Corn Tomato SaladCorn and Tomato Salad – this classic summer salad is sweet, juicy and fresh with the kick of poblano chiles and crisp red onion.

mustard blue potato tastefoodBlue Potato and Mustard Salad – another no-mayo potato salad, napped with olive oil and spiked with fresh mustard leaves. Use blue potatoes if you can find them for color value. Otherwise, yellow potatoes will work too.

fattoush salad tastefoodFattoush Salad – a hearty and fresh Middle Eastern salad fragrant with mint and coriander, composed of crisp greens, crumbled feta and grilled pita bread.

 

Prosciutto, Fennel, Mint Rolls – a different kind of Spring Roll

prosciutto rolls tastefood These Italian-inspired rolls are bursting with fresh spring ingredients, including baby fennel, mint, and lemon. In method, they are inspired by Vietnamese rice paper spring rolls, where fresh vegetables are wrapped in a sheet of rice paper and served raw. In this appetizer, prosciutto replaces the rice paper as the wrap, adding a salty savory component to the crisp vegetables and piquant Parmesan. Serve these rolls as a bright appetizer. You can prepare them up to 4 hours in advance – lightly brush the rolls with oil, then cover with plastic and refrigerate. Let stand at room temperature for about 15 minutes before serving.

Prosciutto Rolls with Arugula, Fennel and Mint
Makes 16

8 slices prosiutto, halved lengthwise
Extra-virgin olive oil
Finely grated lemon zest
Freshly ground black pepper
2 cups baby arugula leaves
1 medium fennel bulb, core and fronds removed, halved lengthwise, each half thinly sliced lengthwise
4 ounces Parmesan cheese, shaved
16 mint leaves

Place a slice of prosciutto on a work surface, short end closest to you. Lightly brush with olive oil. Sprinkle with a pinch of lemon zest and freshly ground black pepper. Arrange 4 to 6 arugula leaves horizontally at the base. Place a few slices of fennel and Parmesan shavings over the arugula. Top with a mint leaf. Roll up from the base, tucking the prosciutto tightly around the vegetables, and continue to roll, placing 1 or 2 additional arugula leaves in the fold as you roll up. Place seam side down on a platter. Repeat with remaining ingredients.

Cauliflower Purée

cauliflower puree tastefoodCan you ever get tired of potatoes? No, you firmly say, and I would agree. Sometimes, however, a fluffy-creamy-comforting side dish is called for, and potatoes (shocker) just don’t do the trick. Usually it’s simply a menu issue, meaning potatoes are not a perfect match to the entree. Think shellfish, for instance, such as scallops or shrimp. Or a cuisine that doesn’t traditionally include potatoes. Step in, caulflower. There’s something a little magical about this gnarly crucifer. Eaten raw, its flavor is pronounced in an earthy, grassy, unmistakably cruciferous way. When steamed, it transforms into something else, morphing into a buttery, milder version of itself – slightly sweet, a little fresh, and beautifully enhanced with, yes, butter. When roasted, it becomes something else entirely, evoking adjectives which include caramelized, nutty, crisp, and addictive. I made this puree recently to accompany a dinner of slow-cooked lamb. It goes equally well with just about anything.

Cauliflower Purée

The chicken stock adds great flavor to the purée. If you prefer a vegetarian version, substitute vegetable stock. Alternatively, you can use water, but adjust the seasoning accordingly. Makes about 2 1/2 cups.

1 large head cauliflower, florets and core cut into 1-inch pieces
2 cups chicken stock
1/3 cup finely grated Pecorino Romano cheese, loosely packed
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1  teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus extra for garnish
Fresh thyme leaves

Place the cauliflower and chicken stock in a large pot. Bring the stock to a boil then reduce the heat and simmer until the cauliflower is very tender, about 20 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer the cauliflower to the bowl of a food processor. Add 1/4 cup of the chicken stock and process until smooth. Add the cheese, butter, garlic, salt, and pepper and process to blend. If the purée is too thick, thin with additional spoonfuls of the stock to your desired consistency. Serve garnished with fresh thyme leaves and extra black pepper.

Roasted Asparagus Salad with Crispy Prosciutto and Egg

Asparagus salad tastefood

I made this salad for an Easter brunch last weekend. It’s a lovely way to serve asparagus; and prosciutto; and egg. There is not much else you need to add to this trio except a squeeze of lemon and a good splash of olive oil. If you can get your hands on a bunch of baby greens, then use them as a bed for the asparagus to absorb the oil and lemon.

Roasted Asparagus Salad with Crispy Prosciutto and Egg
Serves 6 to 8

1 pound asparagus, woody ends trimmed
Extra-virgin olive oil
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Juice of 1/2 lemon
2 ounces prosciutto
2 hard cooked eggs
3 ounces mixed baby greens (such as kale, arugula, mizuna, spinach)

Heat the oven to 375°F. Spread the asparagus on a rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle a little olive oil over the asparagus and turn to coat. Season with salt and pepper. Roast in the oven until the asparagus are bright green and crisp tender, 10 to 12 minutes, depending on thickness of the stalks. They should be crisp tender and not too floppy (unless you like them that way; then cook a bit longer). Remove from the oven and transfer to a plate to cool. Keep the oven on.

Arrange the prosciutto on a baking sheet lined with parchment. Bake until shriveled and firm to the touch, about 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool to the touch. The prosciutto will continue to harden as it cools. When cool enough to handle, break into shards.

Spread the greens on a serving platter. Arrange the asparagus over the greens. Squeeze the juice of the lemon over the asparagus and greens. Grate the egg over the asparagus, then sprinkle the prosciutto shards over the salad. Garnish with black pepper.

Coconut Chocolate Macaroons

coconut macaron tastefood

Happy Passover: Chocolate Dipped Coconut Macaroons

The bane of my childhood candy experience was a Mounds Bar. I just didn’t get it. I would bite into the chocolate nugget, which would immediately give way to a grainy, chewy, grassy interior, that in my opinion had no rightful place in a candy bar. I was mystified by my friends who bought supersized packages of Almond Joys to scarf down when we were at the movies. Every halloween when my brothers and I would pile our loot in the middle of the kitchen table, gloating, eyeing and sizing trade-ups, my chocolate covered coconut bars were the first to go with no regrets. Unfortunately, my brothers were not so keen on coconut either, so the negotiating could get ugly.

It baffles me that my family loves coconut. As a result, I have slowly, with time, age and parental compromise, learned to like coconut. I’ve come to terms with its flaky texture and appreciate its nuttiness in a sea of sweetness. I eat it now, unforced, and prefer it paired with dark chocolate. Sometimes I make macaroons, a jumble of coconut bound together with egg white and, ahem, condensed milk. Yes, the milk is icky-sweet, but it seems to yield the best  juicy soft interior, which is what distinguishes a great macaroon – and alleviates its propensity to dryness. I’ve followed a recipe from Ina Garten from time to time, but switch out some of the sweetened coconut with unsweetened. It helps to tamp down excessive cloyiness. And I always dunk them in dark chocolate, which has a magnificent grounding effect on, well, everything.

Chocolate Dipped Coconut Macaroons
Makes about 24

14 ounces sweetened condensed milk
8 ounces sweetened shredded coconut
6 ounces unsweetened shredded coconut
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large egg whites, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

6 ounces dark (70-72%) chocolate, melted

Heat oven to 350° F (180° C). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Pour milk, coconut and vanilla in a large bowl and stir to combine. Beat egg whites and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer until soft peaks from. Fold into the coconut.

Drop tablespoon-sized mounds of coconut on baking sheet. Bake until golden brown, about 25 minutes. Cool on rack. Dip half of the macaroons in melted chocolate. Transfer to a plate lined with parchment. Refrigerate until set.

Strawberry Phyllo Stacks

Strawberry Napoleon  stack

I’ve been on a strawberry bender. They are impossible to ignore. Strawberries are in season now in California, and it’s too easy to simply gobble up a pint or two (or four) from the farmers market with each visit. Like all fruit and vegetables that reign supreme during their seasonal heyday, strawberries are the life of the party while they last. But even a good thing can become redundant, and that’s when our duty as a cook takes over. It is up to us, like gracious hosts, to showcase our seasonal gifts in fresh and flattering ways, so that we never (God forbid) grow tired of them.

This recipe brings a little phyllo dough to the mix, literally elevating the strawberry in a dramatically stacked presentation between layers of sugary phyllo and mascarpone cream. While they take some prep time, the phyllo sheets can be made in advance. The outcome is a light and luscious dessert, elegant yet simple, showcasing the lovely and ever-appealing strawberry.

Strawberry Phyllo Stacks (Napoleons)
Makes about 12

Phyllo:
1 package frozen phyllo sheets, defrosted overnight in refrigerator
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup granulated sugar

Cream filling:
8 ounces mascarpone cheese, room temperature
1 cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons confectioners sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 pound strawberries, hulled, sliced 1/4-inch thick, plus 6 large strawberries, stems intact, halved lengthwise.
Sifted confectioners sugar for dusting

Prepare the phyllo squares:
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
2. Unroll the phyllo dough and place one sheet on a work surface. Cover the remaining dough with plastic wrap and a damp kitchen towel to prevent drying.
3. Lightly brush the phyllo sheet with the melted butter. Sprinkle a light layer of sugar over the butter. Place a second phyllo sheet over the dough. Brush with butter and sprinkle with sugar. Repeat with 2 more sheets.
4. With a sharp chef’s knife cut the stacked phyllo sheets into 12 squares (4 across the sheets’ long side x 3 across the short side). With a spatula, transfer the squares to the prepared baking sheets. Bake in the oven until golden, 6 to 8 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool completely on racks.
5. Repeat this process until you have used all of the phyllo dough – you will have about 36 squares. (The phyllo squares may be prepared up to one day in advance. Place in an airtight container and separate each layer with parchment paper. Store at room temperature.)

Prepare the napoleons:
1. Beat the filling ingredients in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a wire attachment until stiff peaks form.
2. Arrange one phyllo square on a work surface. Spread one tablespoon of the filling over the square. Arrange 2 to 3 strawberry slices on the cream. Smear a little cream over the strawberries, then place another phyllo square on top and gently press to adhere Repeat the layering process one more time and finish with a phyllo square. Place a small dollop of cream in the center of the phyllo and top with a strawberry half, cut-side down. Transfer to a plate.  Repeat with the remaining ingredients.
3. Dust with the napoleons with confectioners sugar and serve immediately.

Braised Lamb and Feta Meatballs

Lamb Meatballs tastefood

Moroccan lamb kefta meets smothered Italian meatball: Two of my favorite recipes are rolled into one fragrant, warming and satisfying dish. I took my go-to  lamb keftas and fluffed them up with breadcrumbs, egg and a nugget of feta nestled in the centers before browning them in a skillet. I then popped them into the oven to braise and finish cooking in a blanket of my roasted tomato-pepper sauce. Just like Italian meatballs marinara, these lamb meatballs are very comforting, and I dare say even more tasty with the addition of North African spices and heat.

Braised Lamb Meatballs with Feta
Serves 4 to 6

2 pounds ground lamb
1/4 cup finely chopped yellow onion
1/4 cup panko
2 tablespoons finely chopped Italian parsley
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint
2 garlic cloves, minced or pushed through a press
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 ounces feta, cut into (1 cm.) cubes

2 cups Roasted Tomato Pepper Sauce
1/4 cup crumbled feta
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro or mint leaves

1. Combine all of the meatball ingredients, except the feta, in a bowl. Using your hands, gently mix until the ingredients are evenly distributed.
2. Shape the meat into 1 1/2 inch balls. Make a small indentation in the centers with your thumb and insert a feta cube, then close the meat around it. Place the meatballs on a plate, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 1 hour.
3. Heat the oven to 350°F. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Add the meatballs in batches, without overcrowding, and brown on all sides, turning as needed, about 5 minutes. (The meatballs will not be cooked through at this point. They will continue to cook in the sauce.) Transfer to a plate and repeat with the remaining meatballs.
4. Add the sauce to the skillet and cook briefly over medium heat, scraping up any brown bits in the pan. Return the meatballs to the skillet and nestle them in the sauce, turning to coat. Transfer the skillet to the oven and cook until the meatballs are thoroughly cooked through, about 30 minutes. During the last 5 minutes of cooking time, sprinkle the crumbled feta over the lamb.
5. Serve with couscous or rice and garnish with chopped mint or cilantro.