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.

Self-Isolating with The Paring Wines

There’s no better time than now to check out these wines.

The Paring Wine Review

The Paring wines have an extraordinary pedigree at an affordable price. This claim is difficult to challenge considering that The Paring wines are produced from the vineyard blocks that are either too young or don’t fit into the vintage style of the highly acclaimed Jonata and The Hilt wines. And while The Paring wines can be rightly referred to as a “chip off the old block,” they also reflect the untethered philosophy and mindset that comes with the freedom of their own label.

At the core of these wines, you will find a wide-ranging exploration of style, vineyards and blending, all thanks to winemaker Matt Dees, who, when he’s not working with The Paring, can be found making wines for its big sister wineries- Jonata and The Hilt.

The grapes are sourced primarily from three Santa Barbara regions: Ballard Canyon, Sta. Rita Hills, and Santa Maria Valley. If you are not familiar with Santa Barbara wines, it’s time to get to know them. The region is renowned for its diverse topography, unique soil types, and mild Mediterranean climate which produce complex, high acid, spicy, powerful wines.

My Favorite: 2016 The Pairing Red Blend ($25)

This Cabernet-inspired blend displays classic notes of cassis, tobacco and chocolate. It fills the palate with bright red fruit and black plum, and is a constant play between sweet and savory. Gentle and dusty tannins lead the way into an incredibly long and precise finish, this wine is a wonderful tension between tannic structure and bright acidity. Varietal Composition: 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, 10% Petit Verdot.

2017 The Pairing Pinot Noir, Sta. Rita Hills ($25)

This Pinot Noir offers immediate drinking pleasure without sacrificing the complexity and nuance that makes this grape so compelling. It brims with seductive fruit, alluring aromas and supple tannins. Savory notes and mouth-coating tannins round out this harmonious and complete pinot noir.

2017 The Pairing Chardonnay, Santa Barbara County ($25)

The Chardonnay is an invigorating combination of ripe and silky fruit alongside a refreshing backbone of vibrant acidity. It’s inviting and delectable and offers something for everyone. Low yields and cool days created a blend that is both bold and rich as well as chiseled and steely. It finishes off with citrus and green melon and hints of baking spice.

Disclaimer: These wines were provided to me for review. I was not paid for this post.

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. I used Bob’s Red Mill Polenta, which is coarser and gives a slight crunch to the cake. If you prefer a softer texture, use a fine-grained polenta 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.

Irish Beef Stew

Add a splash of Guinness to your beef stew and call it Irish. Just save some to drink.

Beef Stew with Stout Beer

This no-nonsense, comforting beef stew is guaranteed to warm you, whether you’re Irish or not. As most stews go, it’s a humble and forgiving recipe. Cubes of beef slow-cook and braise to melting tenderness in a meaty broth, brightened by tomato and fortified with a generous glug of stout beer. The stout makes its mark in the stew with its sweet and malty notes of chocolate and coffee, adding depth and richness to the simple beef stock. Stout has a hoppy bitterness, so you need only add 8 ounces to the recipe for effect – which conveniently provides leftovers for drinking while you cook. This stew is also swimming with chunky root vegetables, which add earthy sweetness and round out the beefy component, permitting you to call this a one-dish meal, vegetables and all.

You can make this stew in one day, but if you have time and can plan ahead, I encourage you to make it the day before and chill it overnight. Not only does this allow the flavors to meld and develop, the fat will also have time to rise and solidify on the stew. The next day you can simply lift off and discard the collected fat. Feel free to add your favorite root vegetables to the stew. I always include carrots, and then add a combination of celery root, parsnip, and/or rutabaga.

Irish Beef and Guinness Stew

Active Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 3 1/2 to 4 hours
Serves 6

2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
3 pounds beef chuck, excess fat trimmed, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 medium onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup stout beer, such as Guinness
1/3 cup tomato paste
3 cups beef (or chicken) stock
2 teaspoons dried thyme
2 bay leaves
2 carrots, sliced 1/4-inch thick
1 1/2 pounds root vegetables, such as rutabaga, parsnip, celery root, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch chunks

1. Preheat the oven to 300°F.

2. Heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium-high heat in a Dutch oven or ovenproof pot with a lid. Season the beef all over with salt and pepper. In batches, brown the beef on all sides, 6 to 8 minutes. Transfer the meat to a plate and repeat with the remaining beef.

3. Add the onion to the pot and sauté until soft, scraping up any brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the beer and bring to a simmer, and then add the tomato paste, sand stir to blend.

4. Return the beef and any accumulated juices to the pot, and then add the stock, thyme, bay leaves, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. The meat should be just covered with liquid. If not, add additional stock to cover.

5. Bring the liquid to a boil and then turn off the heat. Cover the pot, transfer to the oven, and cook until the meat is tender but not falling apart, 2 to 2 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally. (The meat will continue to cook once the vegetables have been added.) Remove from the oven.

(At this point, the stock may be refrigerated. Let the stew cool slightly, then cover and refrigerate overnight. The next day, remove from the stew from the refrigerator at least 1 1/2 hours before serving and heat the oven to 300°F. Remove and discard any accumulated fat from the surface and gently reheat the stew in the oven before proceeding with the next step.)

6. While the stew is cooking (or reheating) heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the carrots and root vegetables and lightly season with salt. Sauté the vegetables until they brighten in color and are crisp-tender, 3 to 4 minutes.

7. Add the vegetables to the stew. Return the pot to the oven and cook, partially covered, until the meat is fork-tender and the sauce is slightly reduced, about 1 more hour, stirring occasionally. Remove the stew from the oven and taste for seasoning. Serve hot with mashed potatoes.

Improvised Ma Po Tofu

Feed the craving for homemade Ma Po Tofu with this fast and easy recipe:

Homemade Ma Po Tofu Soup

I call this soup Improvised Ma Po Tofu, because, when the craving strikes, and you have no intention to shop for specialty ingredients on a frigid Sunday night in your PJs, you improvise. For this soup, I used a David Tanis recipe in the New York Times as a template and dabbled with the ingredients I had, while adding extra smidges of this and that to ramp up the flavor and spice to my taste.

With that said – and in the spirit of planning ahead – I recommend preparing yourself for any future nocturnal cravings with two Asian condiments I relied on for this recipe. These ingredients add lip-smacking flavor to a smattering of dishes, Asian or otherwise. They also have a long shelf life and can easily be tucked away in your refrigerator, so they are worth the effort to purchase.

The first condiment I recommend is gojuchang. It’s a Korean fermented hot chili paste, which adds a smoky kick of heat, mild glutinous-rice sweetness, and that elusive umami flavor to sauces, marinades, and soups that makes them positively addicting.

Another useful ingredient is fermented black bean and garlic sauce, which has a murky, almost meaty quality that adds depth and savory flavor to stir-frys and marinades. Both of these staples can be found in most well-stocked supermarkets or in specialty shops, and they can be stored in your refrigerator for up to a year.

And while we’re talking about cravings, I’ll add that once the ingredients for this soup are assembled, you can whip it up in a matter of minutes. This is a close to instant gratification you can find on a PJ-clad wintry Sunday night.  

Ma Po Tofu

Active Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 25 minutes
Serves 2 to 4

1 ounce dried Porcini mushrooms
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 large red jalapeño chile, seeded, chopped
2 tablespoons fermented hot chili paste, such as gojuchang
1 tablespoon fermented black bean and garlic sauce
2 tablespoons grated fresh peeled ginger
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 cup plus 3 tablespoons chicken or mushroom stock
2 tablespoons soy sauce or tamari
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
15 ounces semi-firm tofu, patted dry, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 to 2 teaspoons sugar, optional
4 scallions, white and green parts thinly sliced

1. Bring 1 1/2 cups water to a simmer in a small saucepan. Turn off the heat, add the mushrooms, and let steep for 15 minutes.
2. Heat the oil in a skillet or wok over medium-high heat. Add the chile, fermented chili paste, and black bean sauce and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the ginger and garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the mushrooms and water to the wok. Stir in the 1 cup stock, soy sauce, and sesame oil. Slide the tofu into the soup, reduce the heat to medium.
3. Whisk the 1 tablespoon cornstarch with the remaining 3 tablespoons stock. Stir into the soup and simmer until the soup is hot. Taste for seasoning and add sugar, if desired. Stir in the scallions and serve.