18 October 2012

Thai Vegetable Stew With Paneer And Chickpeas

We just had the most enjoyable weekend with friends who came to visit. It was the perfect time of year for showing them around our little city on bikes and going for a long hike to soak up the beauty of fall in Switzerland. The hike was strenuous but rewarding with breathtaking views and welcome surprise finds of a lake tucked into the mountain valley and a house built into the side of the mountain. 

There is something extremely satisfying and reflective about enjoying the company of close friends amidst a backdrop of natural beauty.  It reminds me of how enriching it is to have good relationships in life and how important it is to show appreciation for them.

That evening we returned home and after warm showers we sat down to enjoy this Thai stew.  It was warmly-spiced, comforting, and nourishing, perfect for a cool Autumn evening after a long hike. This was my way of communicating to our friends that their visit was special. 

Thai Vegetable Stew With Paneer and Chickpeas
Serves 6 

Notes: If you want a richer flavored stew you can substitute the vegetable stock for a can of coconut milk and omit the yogurt at the end. 
I recommend drizzling pomegranate molasses over the stew at the table. Read more about the molasses here. Using it like you would a finishing oil really elevates the flavors of the dish and gives a unique sweet-tart flavor I felt the dish needed. But if you cannot find it, a drizzle of honey stirred in at the end before serving and an extra squeeze of lemon at the table should do the trick. 

2 Tbsp. extra virgin coconut oil
1 package Paneer cheese, cubed
4 small, firm zucchini, sliced 1/4" thick (thick enough to maintain shape and some bite when cooked)
3 stalks of lemongrass, halved with outer layer and green stalks removed
1 bunch of scallions (4-5 pieces), chopped reserving 1/4 for rice
1 large red chili (sometimes called Fresno Chili), sliced reserving 1/4 for rice
1" piece of ginger, grated
2 cloves of garlic, grated
2 14 oz. cans of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 cups good quality vegetable stock
1 medium butternut squash, roasted*
1 large bunch each Thai basil & cilantro, chopped reserving 1/4 of bunch for rice
1/2 cup natural plain yogurt
Juice of 1/2 large lemon
1 tsp. soy sauce
2 cups black rice (I used organic Forbidden Rice, but Black Japonica will work here too), cooked according to package directions
1/2 cup roasted cashews, chopped
Pomegranate molasses for drizzling at table

In a medium non-stick pan over medium-high heat, saute Paneer cubes in 1 tsp coconut oil until the sides are golden brown and crispy. Remove Paneer from pan and set aside.

In a large high-sided saute pan over medium heat, heat the remaining coconut oil and add zucchini, scallions, and lemongrass. Saute for several minutes, season with salt and pepper, and add chili, ginger, and garlic. Stir to combine and cook for 1 minute. Add chickpeas and stock, stir to combine, cover with lid, and simmer over medium-low heat for 5 minutes or until zucchini is cooked but still has a bite to it.

Gently stir in squash and the next 5 ingredients (through soy sauce). Taste sauce to adjust flavors to your liking.

Serve over black rice, topped with chopped cashews and a drizzle of pomegranate molasses.

Black Rice
Once rice is cooked, add salt and pepper to taste along with the reserved chili, scallions, herbs, and juice of half a lime. 

*Peel and cut the squash into large bite size pieces. Spread in an even layer on a baking sheet lined with foil or parchment paper and roast with olive oil, salt, pepper in 400° oven for 10-15 minutes, until they are just barely fork-tender

08 October 2012

Black Rice Pasta with Fresh Tri-Tomato Sauce

I was thinking of a way to enjoy the last of the seasonal tomatoes before they all but disappear from my farmer's market, and this pasta dish hits the spot. Three tomato varieties are combined to create a pleasingly fresh but complex flavor, one unexpected for a barely-cooked sauce. The tomatoes gently simmer over heat just long enough to make a sauce that delicately coats the pasta but that still retains the bright flavor we all love in a light fresh summer tomato sauce. Be generous with the basil and Parmesan shavings.

A note about the black rice pasta. Of course quinoa pasta or regular pasta would be equally delicious, to name just a few, but I was in the mood for a dramatic looking pasta dish. I also love that the black rice pasta is nutritionally dense making for a nicely rounded dish. I made this a meal with a walnut and zucchini Carpaccio salad on the side. 

Black Rice Pasta with Fresh Tri-Tomato Sauce
Serves 4

1 lb large tomatoes (approximately 4-6, depending on the size)
2 tsp. extra virgin olive oil
4 cloves of garlic, minced
several pinches of red pepper flakes, or to taste
1/3 cup sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil, dabbed with paper towel to remove most of oil and sliced
2 Tbsp. capers
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
Big handful basil, torn
1 lb black rice pasta* 
Parmesan cheese, for shaving at the table

Score large tomatoes and drop in boiling water for 30 seconds. Remove with a slotted spoon to a colander and rinse under cold water. Skin the tomatoes and chop. Add the pasta to the same boiling water and cook according to package directions.* 

In a large saute pan over medium heat, saute garlic and red pepper flakes in olive oil for one minute, then add chopped, skinned tomatoes, and gently stir to combine. Add sun dried tomatoes and capers and cover to simmer for 3 minutes. Remove lid, add salt, ground black pepper, and cherry tomatoes. Cover again to simmer until cherry tomatoes are warmed through and barely starting to soften (2-3 minutes). Taste sauce and adjust seasoning, if needed. Throw in the basil and gently toss with pasta. 

Serve immediately topped with Parmesan shavings and more freshly ground black pepper. 

*Box sizes of black rice pasta can vary, but try to get at least 400 grams. Otherwise extra sauce is great tossed into a quinoa salad or spooned over grilled fish or vegetables.
Black rice pasta can go from al dente to gummy in a flash. So err on the side of under-cooking the pasta by a minute or so, and immediately drain and rinse under cold water to stop the cooking process. Toss with a little olive oil if you're not quite ready to combine it with the sauce.

03 October 2012

Fall Harvest Soup With Two Grains

This is my first Autumn "transition" soup. It lies somewhere in between a light summer soup and a rich winter stew. But accented with the fall flavors of squash and apple it is gently luring me towards the season's bounty.

Apples are now overflowing at my market, which also means there is plenty of freshly pressed apple cider. The juice is sold in 1.5 liter bottles for 2.50 CHF. This cost-to-quantity ratio for something of this quality is unheard of here in Switzerland, except for apparently in Autumn when local apple orchards have a surplus of apples. This clearly made my day, and I started to think of ways to use the cider. My husband enjoys drinking it as is (yes, I did share some with him!), but when I have special seasonal ingredients I like to work them into a recipe as a way of celebrating their uniqueness even more.

So I decided to use the apple cider along with apple cider vinegar to deglaze the pan for a sweet-tart component in the background of the soup. The sweet acidity contrasts nicely against the starchiness provided by cooking the grains directly in the soup. I used half of a very large acorn squash, but you could swap it out for your favorite squash variety. Butternut squash would be lovely here, but please avoid overcooking it so that it doesn't become mushy!

Enjoy your transition into fall!

Fall Harvest Soup With Two Grains
Serves 4-6
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 red chili (sometimes called Fresno)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp. chipotle chili powder
1 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 Tbsp. tomato paste
2-3 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup apple cider
1 medium Acorn squash (or another squash variety of your choosing such as butternut or buttercup), chopped into bite-size pieces
6 cups of liquid (a mix of good quality vegetable stock + water, or all water + a few organic no-salt added vegetable bouillon cubes)
3/4 cup pearled barley
1/2 cup millet
1 15 oz. can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
Juice of 1 lemon
Plain yogurt or ricotta, dressed with lemon, salt & pepper
Pumpkin seeds, if desired

In a large soup pot or Dutch oven over medium heat, saute onion, chili, and garlic in oil, stirring occasionally, until they begin to soften. Stir in salt and pepper to taste and spices (through cinnamon). Cook another minute until spices are fragrant and beginning to toast. Stir in tomato paste and warm through, then deglaze the pan with apple cider vinegar and apple cider.

Add chopped squash, season with salt and pepper, then add the liquid. Cover and simmer for 5 minutes, then add the barley, cover again and simmer for 10 minutes. Finally, add the millet and cannellini beans and simmer another 10 minutes or until the grains are cooked al dente.

Taste broth, adjust for seasoning, add lemon juice, and serve. Pass yogurt or ricotta at table to dollop on top as well as pumpkin seeds, if desired.