Sheet Pan Chermoula Chicken and Cauliflower with Smoky Red Pepper Sauce

Winner Winner Chicken (Sheet Pan) Dinner:

Chermoula Roasted Chicken and Romanesco

You’ve probably heard of sheet pan dinners. The term may be trendy, but the concept is not. It simply means arranging all of your dinner components on a rimmed baking sheet, coating them with oil and seasoning, then roasting in the oven – and, voilà, you have a complete dinner on a tray. While the emphasis is certainly on ease of preparation, with the right ingredients this cooking method ensures maximum flavor. Oven roasting coaxes out the flavors of vegetables and meats and is a sure-fire (no pun intended) way to cook to crispy, golden perfection. The key to building great flavor is the ingredients you use to coat and bind the dish. They can be as basic as olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper, or more elaborate with aromatic marinades, spices, herbs, and citrus.

This recipe combines two ingredients that are well suited for roasting: bone-in chicken thighs and romanesco, a green brassica, which looks like a cone-headed cauliflower. Importantly, they both require a similar amount of cooking time, so they can happily team up on a baking sheet without one ingredient over-cooking while the other keeps on roasting. (You can also use white cauliflower in this recipe.) A potent, herbaceous chermoula sauce, robust with garlic, lemon, and spices, coats the whole lot and drives in flavor.

The finishing touch to this recipe – not required, but recommended – is a smoky red pepper sauce for swiping and drizzling. It’s inspired by Spanish romesco sauce (not to be confused with the romanesco vegetable!) and traditionally consists of roasted tomatoes and ground almonds or hazelnuts. This smoother rendition uses roasted red peppers to create a sweet and smoky condiment.

Chermoula Chicken and Cauliflower Sheet Pan Dinner

Active time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour, plus marinating time
Serves 4

Chermoula Sauce:
1 1/2 cups Italian parsley leaves and tender sprigs
1 1/2 cups cilantro leaves and tender sprigs
1 cup fresh mint leaves
Juice and finely grated zest of 1/2 lemon
4 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes
1/2 cup olive oil

8 bone-in chicken thighs with skin

Red Pepper Sauce:
2 jarred roasted red peppers, drained and rinsed, coarsely chopped
1 red jalapeno pepper, seeds and membranes removed (optional), coarsely chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 medium head romanesco (or white cauliflower)
Cilantro sprigs for garnish
Lemon wedges for serving

1. Combine all of the chermoula ingredients, except the oil, in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse to chop. Add the oil and pulse to blend. The chermoula should have a runny salsa consistency. If too thick, add more oil to loosen.
2. Place the chicken in a large bowl. Pour in the chermoula and stir to thoroughly coat, rubbing the marinade between the skin and meat. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour or overnight. Remove from the refrigerator 30 minutes before roasting.
3. Combine all of the red pepper sauce ingredients in the cleaned bowl of a food processor and process to blend. Taste for seasoning. (The sauce may be prepared in advance and stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.)
4. Heat the oven to 375°F.
5. Cut the cauliflower from crown to stem in 3/4-inch slices. Cut out the cores and cut the cores into bite-size chunks. (The cores are sweet and edible, so don’t discard them.)
6. Remove the chicken from the marinade and arrange, skin-side up, on a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment. Brush the cauliflower steaks and pieces on all sides with the residual marinade and arrange around the chicken. Season everything with salt and black pepper.
7. Transfer the tray to the oven and roast until the romanesco is tender and the chicken is golden brown and cooked through (it should register 165°F when a meat thermometer is inserted into the thickest part closest to the bone), about 30 minutes.
8. Garnish with fresh cilantro and serve with lemon wedges.

Mad for Mezze

Traveling abroad may be on hold right now, but there’s no reason why we can’t bring the taste and ambiance of travel home to our kitchens and gardens with mezze.

Mezzo Spread TasteFood

Mezze is an appetizer tradition essential to the cuisines of the Middle East, Turkey, and Greece. The word “mezze” derives from the Arabic term t’mazza, which translates as “savor in little bites.” The tradition consists of just that – a sampling of simple and fresh bites enjoyed with a refreshing drink, meant to whet the appetite before a meal. It’s a daily ritual and social tradition enjoyed with family and friends, centered around the table, often al fresco in the warm weather season.

Marinated Feta

This is a tradition we can all get behind. What could be a more convivial and pleasurable way to begin a meal with than with a sampling of mezze accompanied by a glass of something cool and sparkling on a warm summer evening? Mezze can vary from a simple bite or two to a substantial spread. It almost always includes a sampling of dips, such as hummus, tsatsiki, or baba ganoush, along with fresh crudités, pickles, and olives. For a more substantial selection the samplings are endless, including brochettes of meat and keftas (ground meat patties and meatballs), grilled calamari or octopus, simple salads, and dolmas (stuffed vegetables and filled grape leaves.) The portions should be small and be served in stages, encouraging mingling and lingering at the table.

Here are two basic mezze recipes you can can make in advance and stash in the refrigerator, ready for serving or last minute guests. Get started with these, then pour yourself a glass and enjoy a moment in the sunshine.

Smoky Eggplant and Chickpea Dip

This recipe is inspired by baba ganoush, which is a traditional Middle Eastern dip made with roasted eggplant, tahini, and lemon. In this version, extra flavor-boosting spices are added, as well as chickpeas for more structure. Select an eggplant that is firm, shiny, and smooth and has a nice heft to its weight.

Active time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 50 minutes, plus draining and cooling time
Makes about 2 cups

1 medium globe eggplant, 1 to 1 1/4 pounds
1 cup cooked chickpeas or canned chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/4 cup tahini
3 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
2 large garlic cloves
1 teaspoon ground cumin
3/4 teaspoon salt, or more to taste
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Chopped Italian parsley leaves for garnish
Pita bread for serving

1. If grilling, prepare the grill for direct and indirect cooking over medium-high heat. Pierce the eggplant all over with a fork. Grill the eggplant over direct medium-high heat first, until charred on all sides. Move to indirect heat and continue to grill until the eggplant is slightly collapsed and very soft when pierced with a knife, about 40 minutes, depending on the size of the eggplant. Remove and cool to the touch, then slice in half.

2. If using an oven, preheat the oven to 450°F. Slice the eggplant in half, lengthwise. Brush with olive oil and arrange cut-side-down on a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment. Roast in the oven until collapsed and very tender, 35 to 40 minutes, depending on the size of the eggplant. Remove and cool to the touch.

3. Scoop the eggplant flesh into a strainer over a bowl and let drain for 30 minutes. Discard the skins.

4. Combine the eggplant and all of the remaining ingredients to the bowl of a food processor and pulse to blend to your desired consistency. Transfer to a bowl and refrigerate for at least 1 hour to let the flavors develop. Serve at room temperature with pita bread and crudités for dipping. The dip may be prepared up to 3 days in advance and refrigerated. The flavors will diminish slightly with time.

Marinated Feta with Lemon

This appetizer is impossibly easy to make and best made ahead of serving. The longer the feta can marinate, the better the flavor.

Active time: 10 minutes
Total time: 10 minutes, plus marinating time
Makes about 2 cups

8 ounces feta cheese, rinsed and patted dry, cut in 3/4-inch cubes
Zest of one lemon, peeled with a vegetable peeler
2 to 3 thyme sprigs
2 to 3 oregano sprigs
1 teaspoon cracked black peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, or more to taste
Extra-virgin olive oil, about 1 cup

Thoroughly clean a 16-ounce glass jar with a lid. Layer all of the ingredients, except the olive oil in the jar. Pour in the olive oil to cover. Let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes for immediate serving, or cover and refrigerate for up to 1 week. Bring to room temperature before serving. Serve with crostini, fresh bread or pita bread.

Note: If you desire to add garlic to the oil for flavor, add 2 thinly sliced garlic cloves to the oil and refrigerate the marinated cheese. Do not store at room temperature or allow to stand at room temperature for more than 2 hours to prevent the potential growth of bacterium. Optionally, stir 1 to 2 minced garlic cloves into the oil mixture when serving.

Quinoa and Kale Tabbouleh Salad

Invite this salad to your next BBQ:
Kale Quinoa Tabbouleh Salad

I call this salad tabbouleh, although many of the ingredients are not what you will typically find in a traditional Middle Eastern tabbouleh salad. Middle Eastern tabbouleh is a puckery bulgur salad, tumbled with fresh herbs, chopped vegetables, lemon, and olive oil. This version takes inspiration from the tabbouleh method but detours south of the U.S. border with ingredients and spices of the Americas. Quinoa replaces the bulgur, while sweet corn, chiles, cilantro, and cumin ripple throughout the salad. Shredded kale partakes in the shower of fresh greens, providing earthy flavor and healthy heft, while lime steps in for the citrus.

This is a perfect summer salad to include in your barbecue spread as an accompaniment to grilled meats and fish, or as a vegetarian dish for non-meat eaters. Protein-rich quinoa is a South American plant, which produces small seeds that are rich in calcium, phosphorous, magnesium, and iron. The seeds may be prepared like rice, and their nutty flavor adds heartiness to salads, pilafs, and stews. Quinoa is also gluten-free, providing a nutritious substitute for bulgur, couscous, and farro.

The key to making this salad is to taste as you build it. There should be a balance of citrus, spice, and heat and a generous amount of greens for flavor and freshness. Quinoa requires a good deal of seasoning, so season the quinoa before adding the remaining salad ingredients. I prefer to use red quinoa for color and flavor, but white quinoa can also be used. This recipe can be prepared in advance of serving and refrigerated for up to 6 hours. Its flavors will meld the longer it sits, so taste again before serving.

Quinoa and Kale Tabbouleh

Active time: 30 minutes
Total time: 30 minutes, plus cooling and refrigerating time
Serves 6

1 1/2 cups quinoa
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
1 corn cob, husked, silk removed
2 scallions, white and green parts thinly sliced
1 medium red bell pepper, stemmed and seeded, finely diced
1 medium poblano pepper, stemmed and seeded, finely diced
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
4 to 6 Tuscan kale leaves, tough ribs removed, leaves shredded
1/2 chopped Italian parsley leaves
1/2 cup chopped cilantro leaves and tender stems

  1. Put the quinoa in a fine-mesh sieve and rinse under cold water. Drain and place in a medium saucepan. Add cold water to cover by 2 inches. Bring to a boil and simmer over medium heat until the quinoa releases its tail (germ). Drain again.
  2. Transfer the quinoa to a large bowl. Stir in the garlic, cumin, salt, coriander, black pepper, and cayenne and cool to room temperature.
  3. Cut the corn kernels off of the cob. Add the corn, scallions, peppers, lime juice, and olive oil and stir to combine. Add the kale, parsley, and cilantro and stir well to thoroughly coat the greens and slightly wilt the kale. Taste for seasoning. If too dry, add additional olive oil to moisten.
  4. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 6 hours. Serve cool or at room temperature.

Cranberry Bourbon Refresher

This bright cranberry cocktail is a perfect refresher:

Cranberry Bourbon Lime Cocktail

Cranberries may be associated with the holiday season – as well they should – but these plump tart berries are delightful year-round when added to salads, salsas, relishes, and, in this case, cocktails. It’s almost summer, and I think a cocktail is most appropriate these days. The cranberries perfectly balance the honeyed spice of bourbon, acting as a natural bitter, if you will. In this drink, the berries are added in three ways – in a simple syrup, as the base for a muddle, and also as an edible garnish – yep, that’s right, you can eat these berries straight up. They’re that good.

Cranberry Bourbon Refresher
Makes one cocktail

Cranberry Simple Syrup:
2 cups frozen cranberries
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
1 2-inch cinnamon stick

Cocktail:
3 to 4  frozen cranberries
3 to 4 mint leaves
2 lime quarters
1 1/2 ounces bourbon
1/2 ounce Cointreau
1 ounce Cranberry Simple Syrup
1 ounce fresh lime juice
Ice cubes

Make the simple syrup:
Combine the syrup ingredients in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until the cranberries break down, about 15 minutes. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve, pushing down on the cranberry pulp. Discard the solids. Cool the syrup to room temperature. (The simple syrup may be stored in a glass container in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.)

Make the cocktail:
Combine the cranberries, mint, and lime quarters in a cocktail shaker and muddle. Add the bourbon and Cointreau, and then add the remaining ingredients. Shake vigorously and pour into a tall glass or strain into a rocks glass. Serve with whole cranberries, lime wedges, and mint sprigs.

Disclosure: I was supplied with cranberries from Cape Cod Select for this challenge.
For more recipes and Cape Cod Select information follow their links:
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Pomegranate Glazed Baby Back Ribs

The secret is in the sauce with these sticky, finger-licking baby back ribs.
Pomegranate Lacquered Baby Back Ribs

It’s Memorial Day weekend, and if you haven’t had a chance to escape to the great outdoors to do some grilling, then now is the time to dust off the grill, breathe in the fresh air, and cook up a platter of crispy, sticky ribs. When it comes to these baby back ribs, the secret is in the sauce. Infused with pomegranate molasses, the basting and dipping sauce yields a sweet and puckery glaze, ensuring the ribs will crisp to finger-licking goodness over the fire. No grill? No worries! You can also make these ribs in your oven.

Pomegranate molasses is a staple in Middle Eastern cuisine. It’s a slick reduction of pomegranate juice, sugar, and lemon, and a great addition to marinades, sauces, dressings, even drinks. It’s available in the international section of your supermarket and specialty stores. You can also make your own by combining one quart (4 cups) of unsweetened pomegranate juice with 1/2 cup sugar, and 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice in a medium saucepan. Simmer uncovered over medium-low heat, until the juice is reduced to about 1 1/4 cups and has a syrupy consistency, about 1 hour. Cool the syrup slightly (it will continue to thicken as it cools) and then store in a glass jar in the refrigerator for up to 3 months.

Sweet and Sour Pomegranate Lacquered Ribs

Active Time: 25 minutes
Total Time: about 3 1/2 hours, plus marinating time
Serves 4 to 6

Rub:
2 tablespoons salt
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne

2 racks baby back pork ribs

Sauce:
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup pomegranate molasses
1/4 cup ketchup
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon Sriracha
1 teaspoon finely grated fresh peeled ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

  1. Combine the rub ingredients in a small bowl. Evenly coat the ribs with the rub. Let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes, or cover and refrigerate for up to 24 hours. Remove from the refrigerator 30 minutes before grilling.
  2. Combine the sauce ingredients in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and simmer over low heat to meld the flavors, 12 to 15 minutes.
  3. Prepare the grill for indirect cooking over low heat, about 275° on a gas grill. (Or heat your oven to 275°F.)
  4. Grill the ribs over indirect low heat until the meat is tender, 2 1/2 to 3 hours, turning and once or twice. During the last 30 minutes or so of cooking, lightly baste with some of the sauce. (If using an oven, arrange the ribs on a rimmed baking sheet and roast on the middle rack of your oven.)
  5. Increase the grill heat to medium-high. Baste the ribs with the sauce and grill over direct heat until slightly charred and crisp, turning as needed, 8 to 10 minutes. (Or increase the oven heat to 450°F and cook until beginning to crisp, turning as needed.)
  6. Serve with the remaining sauce for dipping.

 

Falafel Fritters

Pan Fried Falafel

I love falafel, but they can be messy and oily to deep-fry. The solution? Pan-frying. Not only does pan-frying require much less oil, the flattened patties have more surface area to brown. The edges become crumbly and crisp, and the little bits that break off are good enough to eat on their own – just saying.

Pan Fried Falafel

When making your own falafel, you must begin with dried chickpeas, which yield the right crumbly and mealy texture. Falafel should not be mushy, which is what will happen when you use canned chickpeas. So, begin your falafel-making process the night before cooking by soaking the chickpeas overnight in water. That’s all you need to do. The next day, the chickpeas will have tripled in size and will be firm yet tender to the bite. Drain, rinse them well, and pat dry. Then simply blitz them with the remaining ingredients until you have a crumbly, mealy texture.

Now, I understand that the overnight soaking defeats any cravings demanding instant gratification – as most cravings do. With this in mind, I recommend soaking more chickpeas than you need. This way, you can refrigerate or freeze any unused chickpeas for later use (no overnight soaking required!) Or make a double batch of the falafel mixture and freeze some of that, instead. Then you will be set the next time the craving for falafel strikes – because you know it will.

Falafel Fritters
Makes about 24 (2-inch) patties

1 pound dried chickpeas
1 small onion, chopped about 1/2 cup
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 small jalapeño pepper, seeded, chopped
1/2 cup (packed) Italian parsley, leaves and tender stems
1/2 cup (packed) fresh cilantro, leaves and tender stems
1/4 cup (packed) fresh mint leaves
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Grapeseed oil for pan-frying

Yogurt Tahini Sauce:
1 cup whole-milk yogurt
1 tablespoon tahini
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 teaspoons Sriracha
Pinch of salt

1. The night before making, place the chickpeas in a large bowl. Cover with three inches of cold water and let stand overnight. The next day, drain the chickpeas and rinse well, then spread on a kitchen towel and pat dry.
2. Place the chickpeas in the bowl of a food processor. Process until finely chopped with a consistency of coarse sand. Transfer half of the chickpeas to a bowl. Add the remaining ingredients to the food processor bowl and process to form a coarse paste. Add the reserved chickpeas and pulse to finely blend. The overall consistency should be slightly sticky but not mushy, with small pieces of the chickpeas evident. Transfer to a bowl and taste for seasoning. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
3. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Gather the falafel mixture, about 2 tablespoons at a time, and gently form into 1 1/2 to 2-inch patties. Add to the skillet and gently press in the center and around the edges to compact with a spatula. Pan-fry until the fritters are deep golden in color on both sides, 6 to 8 minutes, using the spatula to carefully flip. Transfer to a plate lined with a paper towel and repeat with the remaining mixture.
4. Whisk the Yogurt Tahini Sauce ingredients in a small bowl. Serve the falafel with the sauce, lemon wedges, and additional Sriracha if desired.

Chermoula Marinated Lamb with Wilted Spring Greens

Culinary travel from the comfort of your kitchen: Moroccan Chermoula Lamb.

Chermoula Marinated Lamb with Wilted Spring Greens
In honor of Easter and Spring – I share this roasted lamb recipe. Mind you, this is not your traditional springtime lamb roast studded with garlic and served with mint (which is always a good option, of course). Instead, this roast veers to North Africa with a generous smear of chermoula, a heady concoction of aromatic spices, fresh herbs, chiles, and garlic. Consider it Easter break on holiday from the comfort of your kitchen – a spring fling for culinary travelers.

What is Chermoula?
Chermoula is a flavorful and versatile condiment in Moroccan, Libyan, and Tunisian cuisines. It’s used as a marinade and garnish for fish, meats, and vegetables, and it can also be swirled into rice and couscous dishes. Recipes for chermoula vary from region to region and cook to cook, but the gist is to use fistfuls of fresh green herbs, such as parsley, cilantro, and mint, and plenty of spice, such as cumin and coriander. While it’s a long list of ingredients, it’s easily blitzed in a food processor in just a few minutes. The end result should be bright, sharp, and aromatic with a kick of heat. Ideally, toast and grind whole spices for best flavor, but pre-ground spices will do just fine.

Moroccan Chermoula Lamb

In this recipe, the meat is served over a platter of spring greens, lightly dressed with lemon and olive oil. Choose a selection of sturdy greens that are a mix of bitter, peppery, and sweet. The cooking juices from the lamb will slightly wilt the leaves, for a refreshing contrast that mirrors the season. And, for best flavor results, begin marinating the lamb the night before roasting. Goodness knows, we have the time for that right now. Stay well, friends!

Lamb Chermoula with Wilted Spring Greens

Active Time: 20 minutes
Cooking Time: 1 1/2 to 2 1/4 hours
Marinating Time: 24 hours, plus 1 hour standing time
Serves 6 to 8

Chermoula:
5 cloves garlic
1 cup Italian flat-leaf parsley sprigs
1 cup cilantro sprigs
1/2 cup fresh mint leaves
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, or more as needed

1 (5 to 6 pound) semi-boneless leg of lamb, fat trimmed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

6 cups mixed spring greens such as frisée, mustard greens, mizuna, arugula
1 small handful mint leaves, coarsely torn
1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley and/or cilantro leaves
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts

  1. Begin marinating the lamb one day before serving. Place all of the chermoula ingredients, except the olive oil, in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse to coarsely chop. Add the oil and process to blend. The chermoula should have a runny paste consistency. If needed, add a little more oil to achieve this consistency.
  2. Place the lamb in a large bowl and season on all sides with salt and black pepper. Rub the chermoula all over the lamb. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. One hour before grilling, remove the lamb from the refrigerator and let stand at room temperature.
  3. Heat the oven to 425°F.
  4.  Roast the lamb for 20 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350°F. Cook until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the meat (not touching the bone) reaches 135°F for medium-rare, 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours, depending on the size of the lamb. Transfer to a cutting board and let rest for at least 15 minutes to allow the juices to collect.
  5. While the lamb is resting, place the greens, mint, and parsley in a large bowl. Drizzle with the oil and lemon juice. Sprinkle the lemon zest over, lightly season with salt and pepper, and toss to coat.
  6. Carve the lamb into 1/2-inch thick slices. Spread the greens on a serving platter. Arrange the lamb in the center. Drizzle any collected lamb juices over the meat and greens and scatter the pine nuts over. Serve warm.

Smoky Red Pepper Hummus with Dukkah

Pantry Cooking: Fire up your hummus with smoke and heat.

Smoky Red Pepper Hummus Dip

Hummus is my go-to appetizer. And while traditional chickpea hummus is always a favorite, it’s fun to riff on this popular Middle Eastern dip with additional ingredients.

This red pepper hummus is my latest favorite, which is smoky, sweet, and fragrant with spice. Using the faithful chickpea as a base, roasted red peppers and fiery harissa paste are added to the mix. It’s garnished with sprinkle of dukkah, which is an essential Middle Eastern condiment made from groundnuts, sesame seeds, and whole spices. It may sound underwhelming, but I assure you it’s not. Dukkah is crunchy and aromatic, and adds extra texture and flavor to an assortment of dishes. It can simply be sprinkled over bread dipped in olive oil, swirled into dips and spreads, scattered over salads, or used as a coating for meat and fish. And the good news is that it stores exceptionally well. You can make a batch of this versatile mix and keep it in the refrigerator for up to 6 months for handy flavoring.

Smoky Red Pepper Hummus with Dukkah

Active Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 15 minutes
Makes about 1 1/2 cups hummus and 3/4 cup dukkah (both recipes may easily be doubled)

Dukkah:
1/2 cup hazelnuts
1/4 cup raw almonds
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
2 teaspoons black peppercorns
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon sea salt

Hummus:
1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, drained
1 large roasted red bell pepper, drained well if using a jarred pepper
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves
2 tablespoons tahini
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 to 2 teaspoons harissa paste (or Sriracha)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon salt, or more to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Make the dukkah:
1. Toast the hazelnuts in a skillet over medium heat until fragrant and colored. Remove and pour onto a kitchen towel. Cover with the towel and rub to remove the skins. Cool the hazelnuts.
2. Separately, toast the almonds until golden brown, and toast the sesame seeds until light golden.
3. Add the cumin, coriander, peppercorns, and fennel seeds to a clean skillet and toast until fragrant, about 1 minute.
4. Combine the nuts and seeds in the bowl of a food processor and process until finely ground. Add the salt and taste for seasoning. Use immediately or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 6 months.

Make the hummus:
Combine all of the hummus ingredients in the bowl of a food processor, and process until smooth. If too thick, add additional olive oil or warm water to your desired consistency. Serve the hummus garnished with dukkah and chopped fresh mint and/or cilantro.

Olive Oil Polenta Cake with Almonds and Lemon

An all-day cake, because we need this:

Gluten free Lemon, Polenta, Olive Oil Cake

Let’s be honest, we can all do with a little pick-me-up. This lemony olive oil and polenta cake will help. Whether you call it breakfast, snack, or dessert, it’s a guaranteed sweet break that you deserve to take any time of the day. This cake is also gluten-free, thanks to the almond meal and polenta, which give it a nutty and slightly crunchy texture. Drenched in lemon syrup, each bite is a burst of citrusy sunshine.

The only tricky issue with this cake is that it tastes even better the day after baking, once it’s had time to sit and soak with the syrup and develop in flavor. So, the only challenge you may face is waiting, or at least saving some of it for later. To store, wrap it tightly in plastic and let stand at room temperature overnight (perhaps out of sight). Of course, if you can’t wait, that’s entirely understandable. No judging, friends.

Olive Oil Polenta Cake with Almonds and Lemon

Active Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour and 5 minutes, plus cooling time
Makes 1 (8-inch) cake

Cake:
1 1/2 cups almond meal (or almond flour)
1 cup fine or medium-grain polenta or cornmeal – see note below
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs, room temperature
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon almond extract

Syrup:
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease an 8-inch spring-form pan and line with parchment.
2. Combine the almond meal, polenta, baking powder, and salt in a bowl and whisk to blend.
3. Whisk the eggs and sugar in a large bowl until light in color, about 2 minutes. Mix in the olive oil, lemon juice, zest, and almond extract. Add the dry ingredients and mix to combine without over-mixing.
4. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Transfer to the oven and bake until the cake is golden brown and a knife inserted into the center comes clean, 45 to 50 minutes. If the cake begins to brown on top before finished baking, loosely cover with foil.
5. While the cake is baking, prepare the syrup. Combine the sugar and lemon juice in a small saucepan over medium heat. Heat over medium heat, whisking until the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat.
6. Transfer the cake from the oven to a wire rack. Brush the top with some of the syrup and cool 10 minutes. Remove the sides of the pan and brush the cake on the sides with the syrup. Cool completely. (You may not use all of the syrup.)
7. Serve as-is or with a dusting of powder sugar and/or candied lemon peel. To store, wrap in plastic and store at room temperature for up to 4 days or freeze for up to one month.

Note: This recipe specifies polenta, which varies in texture, from fine to coarse. A coarser polenta, will give a slight crunch to the cake. If you prefer a softer texture, use a fine-grained polenta (not instant) or cornmeal.

Spring Comfort Food: Lemon Mint Risotto

Hunker down with this comforting bowl of creamy risotto:

Lemon Risotto with Mint

Here is what I think about risotto: A good risotto should be creamy, but not gummy or soupy. The rice should be tender with a little give to each bite (al dente). Any accompanying ingredients should be minimal without muddying, and, ideally, they should reflect the season.

This risotto checks all of the boxes. It’s firmly planted in spring with a lemony brightness and pucker that cuts through risotto’s inherent richness. Flecks of fresh mint and lemon zest add color and the whiff of garden-fresh flavor. The finished risotto is creamy and elegant, without being heavy. You can easily dig into a steaming bowl of this risotto and call it a meal, but it also makes a simple starter or side dish to meat and fish.

When making risotto, there are a few rules to follow for success. For a traditional risotto, you will need to purchase arborio, an Italian rice grain that’s known for its high starch content which is key to a creamy risotto. Be sure to lightly toast the rice grains in the pan before adding any liquid. This step creates a protective shell around each grain, which prevents the rice from bursting or becoming soggy while cooking. And, yes, you must continually stir the rice while it cooks. This prevents the rice from sticking to the pan, and it will help to release the starch from the rice grains, which develops the risotto’s creaminess.

This may sound labor-intensive, but the process should only take 20 to 25 minutes, and it will allow you to take pride of accomplishment in the finished result. It’s also a window of time when the only task at hand is to concentrate on the rhythm of stirring – which in itself might be considered a simple pleasure – yielding delicious results.

Lemon Risotto with Mint

Active Time: about 30 minutes
Total Time: about 30 minutes
Serves 4 to 6

6 cups chicken stock (or vegetable for a vegetarian option)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped, about 1/2 cup
2 cups arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup (packed) finely grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon finely chopped mint leaves, plus more for garnish
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest, plus extra for garnish
1/2 teaspoon salt, or more to taste
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1. Bring the stock to a simmer in a medium saucepan. Reduce the heat to low and keep warm.

2. Heat 1 tablespoon butter and the oil in a deep skillet or pot over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until soft and translucent, about 4 minutes. Stir in the rice and cook until the rice is well coated and slightly toasted, stirring constantly, 1 to 2 minutes.

3. Add the wine and stir until the wine is absorbed, about 1 minute.

4. Add 1 cup stock and stir until the liquid is absorbed. Continue adding the stock, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring until the liquid is absorbed before adding the next 1/2 cup, until the rice is al dente, and the risotto is creamy. (Depending on the age of the rice, you may not use all of the stock. Older rice requires more liquid to cook.)

5. Stir in the cheese, lemon juice, mint, lemon zest, salt, and pepper and taste for seasoning.

6. Serve immediately, garnished with additional mint and lemon zest.