28 January 2013

Moroccan Dinner: Part I - North African Beet and Carrot Salad

This weekend was much more enjoyable than last weekend. We had friends over for a Moroccan inspired dinner and the next day made the short 30 minute drive to neighboring Appenzell canton (or state) for some skiing.

Moroccan cuisine is one of my favorites. Preserved lemons, dried fruit, mint, fresh citrus, nuts, and fragrant spices such as cinnamon, cumin, coriander,  paprika, and turmeric are commonly found in fresh salads, couscous dishes, and slow-cooked tagines. 

Harissa  is a spicy, Tunisian red chili sauce, but it is finding it's way into the Moroccan cuisine as well. The recipe varies from region to region but it may be flavored with sweet red peppers, cumin, coriander, garlic, or lemon juice. Prepared Harissa sauce can be found in regular supermarkets here in Switzerland and in the U.S. either in the international section at whole foods markets or African markets.

This salad was the first course of our dinner. It is a fresh and bright mix of Tunisiaand Moroccan flavors. A great way to make the most of winter's root vegetables.

Roasting beets brings out a wonderful sweet, nutty flavor, but if you are short on time prepared whole or sliced beets can often be found in the deli section of large supermarkets.  And if you think you don't like raw carrots, you might want to try this recipe. The carrots marinate in the lemon and orange juice for at least 15 minutes allowing the citrus acid to break down fibers, removing the raw bite, slightly softening, and concentrating the sweetness.

North African Beet and Carrot Salad
Inspired by the Tunisian and Moroccan salads in The Mediterranean Diet Cookbook
Serves 6-8 as a starter

Notes: Taste your Harissa before using it in a recipe. Some mixes are spicier and others are sweeter, so you may need to adjust the quantity accordingly. If you cannot find Harissa use red pepper flakes to taste along with a pinch of cumin and paprika.
This salad can and should be made 30 minutes to an hour in advance. It is one thing than can be prepared and waiting for you, cutting down on last minute dinner party prep.

large beets, roasted
5 medium carrots, grated (you can use a hand grater or the grater attachment on a food processor)
1 scallion, chopped
1/3 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped
Handful fresh mint, chopped and divided

Carrot dressing:
Juice of 1 orange
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/4 tsp. cumin
Squeeze of honey or agave (if the orange juice is especially sweet, you may not need additional sweetness)
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Harissa dressing:
1/2 tsp. Harissa
1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
Squeeze of lemon
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 small garlic clove, minced
Salt and pepper, to taste

Carrots: In the bottom of a large mixing bowl add all ingredients for the carrot dressing plus half of the chopped mint. Add the grated carrots and mix well so the carrots are completely coated with the dressing. Leave out on the counter to marinate while preparing the rest of the salad (15-20 minutes).

Beets: Remove the skin from the beets, and slice in thin rounds. Place the beets on a large serving platter, in one or two layers depending on the size of your platter, making sure the bottom is completely covered.

Mix all ingredients for the Harissa dressing in a small bowl and pour over the beets.

After marinating, give the carrots one last toss and pile as much as you'd like on top of the beets (leaving much of the marinade in the bowl) making a mound in the center of the serving dish. Scatter scallions, toasted walnuts, and remaining mint all around and serve whenever you are ready. 

21 January 2013

Gaining Perspective - Breakfast Mango Lassi

What does a crashed computer, a puzzle, and a mango smoothie have in common? Well, nothing really, until this weekend when I decided they all help me gain perspective.

There was a meltdown at home this weekend, but not the kind you might imagine. It was a mechanical/electronic meltdown. The vacuum cleaner stopped working, then my computer decided to follow suit. We don't wear shoes in the house so going without a vacuum for a little while is manageable (some people with dogs may justifiably argue against this). But the computer is my lifeline, and as there is not a support center less than an hour's drive, it clearly had to be fixed at home. So my amazingly competent and proactive husband worked on it all day (I won't say just how many hours that was!), updating, installing, and re-installing software. Twenty-four hours later it was better than new and I am gratefully connected to the world again. During the crisis though I lamented that this had to happen and required such a complicated fix that took up much of his weekend. He objectively said, "things like this happen and we just need to fix it." It's a simple statement but it was clear that he was focused on correcting the problem rather than dwelling on the fact that it happened.

I left the computer in good hands and went about my computer-less day. Knowing we would have to reschedule our ski trip for the following weekend I decided it would be as good a time as any to start a puzzle of St. Gallen we were recently given. I haven't worked on a puzzle in years, but as I methodically sorted the pieces and started to form the border,  I remembered how this simple activity brings to light many of life's most effective coping strategies: focus on one section at a time so the whole project isn't overwhelming; don't dwell on one single piece for too long as you'll miss opportunities to make progress in other areas; and have patience and trust that the picture will start to come together.

While working on the puzzle I sipped this mango lassi. Mangos are still front and center at my market, so if there is ever a time to buy them here, this is it. The simplicity and brightness of the creamy, fruity smoothie reminded me why I love food in it's pure, whole state. In season, it is packed full of nutrition and flavor which means prep does not have to be complicated nor time-consuming to enjoy something delicious and good for me. The universe offers us this food for a good reason, and we can give back by enjoying it in it's unprocessed, unadulterated state whenever possible.

Traditional lassi is a savory yogurt drink from India flavored with salt and spices. There are also sweet varieties made with fruit pulp and/or sugar, and either yogurt, ice cream, or cream. I have made the sweet variety a little more palatable for breakfast with mango, avocado, and natural sweeteners blended together and subtly flavored with lime and cardamom.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!

And if you're wondering what else you can do with cardamom, check out the puffed quinoa granola and apple glogg here on the blog, or a few of my favorites from other sites.

Breakfast Mango Lassi
Serves 1

Notes: You may use frozen mango instead of fresh but omit the ice cubes.

1 cup diced mango (~1/2 large mango or 1 small mango)
1/2 ripe avocado
1/8 tsp. cardamom
Heaping 1/4 cup plain, natural yogurt
Juice from 1/4 lime
4 Ice cubes
Squeeze of agave nectar or honey

Add all ingredients to a blender and blend on high for 1 minute, or until smooth. Taste and adjust sweetness and spice to your liking.

Additional add-ins: banana, chia seeds, raw cashews (soaked for at least 6 hours)

17 January 2013

Sweet & Tangy Red Cabbage Sauté

I think red cabbage is often overlooked and underappreciated. It doesn't need to be cooked to death like it often is. It's characteristic crunch is a positive quality in my book, and doing a quick sauté maintains the crunch but removes the rawness and concentrates the sweetness while also addressing the seasonal need for warm salads.  And who doesn't like that vibrant purple color on their plate (don't ask me why it's called red cabbage)! The creamy cannellini beans balance the crunch, and the vinegar, honey, and mustard create a nice little sauce at the bottom of the pan. If you're feeling in the mood add an apple cut into matchsticks for another texture and complimentary flavor.

This is a quick weeknight side and if you have leftovers the dish is even better the next day. You could also chop the cabbage in advance to get dinner on the table even faster. I paired the sauté with Heidi's harissa ravioli from Super Natural Every Day to make for a very satisfying, but relatively simple, weeknight meal. 

Sweet & Tangy Red Cabbage Sauté
Serves 4-6 as a side

2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 shallot (or 1/2 small red onion), chopped
1 small red cabbage ( 1 - 1 1/4 pounds)
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper
2 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar (red wine vinegar or balsamic would also work)
1 tsp. honey (or pure maple syrup)
1 1/2 tsp. grainy mustard
Dash Worcestershire sauce
1 15 oz can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained

Quarter the cabbage and cut into each quarter at an angle to remove the tough core. Then slice the quarters into thin ribbons.

Heat olive oil in a large cast iron skillet or other heavy-bottomed pan over medium-high heat . Add the shallot and cabbage and saute, stirring frequently, for 10 - 15 minutes or until the cabbage has reduced in volume and is cooked but still with a bite. During that time you may need to turn the heat down to between medium and medium-high, depending on the weight of your pan.

Turn heat down to medium, add garlic, salt, and pepper, and cook for a minute. Add cider vinegar to deglaze the pan, using a wooden spatula or spoon to scrape up any brown bits at the bottom, then add remaining ingredients over low heat and stir to warm through.

Serve immediately straight from the pan!

13 January 2013

Converted (!) - Chermoula Eggplant with Bulgur & Yogurt

I cannot take credit for this recipe, but I really wish I could because it is that good. The dish comes from my favorite cookbook, Jerusalem, by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. Yotam and Sami grew up on opposite ends of Jerusalem, one in the Muslim east, the other in the Jewish west, only meeting years later when they both moved to London. In this book they reflect on their childhood memories of Jerusalem's diverse mosaic of cuisines and offer a collection of recipes inspired at once by the foods their family fed them and their own interpretations of the overlapping culinary traditions from the city's Muslim, Jewish, and Christian communities.

Courtesy of Jonathan Lovekin
They put it best when they describe Jerusalem food: "We want to eat, cook, and be inspired by the richness of a city with four thousand years of history, that has changed hands endlessly and that now stands as the center of three massive faiths and is occupied by residents of such utter diversity it puts the old tower of Babylon to shame. Is there even such a thing as Jerusalem food, though? Consider this: there are Greek Orthodox monks in this city; Russian Orthodox priests; Hasidic Jews originating from Poland; non-Orthodox Jews from Tunisia, from Libya, from France, or from Britain; there are Sephardic Jews that have been here for generations; there are Palestinian Muslims from the West Bank and many others from the city and well beyond; there are secular Ashkenazic Jews from Romania, Germany, and Lithuania and more recently arrived Sephardim from Morocco, Iraq, Iran, or Turkey; there are Christian Arabs and Armenian Orthodox; there are Yemeni Jews and Ethiopian Jews but there are also Ethiopian Copts; there are Jews from Argentina and others from southern India; there are Russian nuns looking after monasteries and a whole neighborhood of Jews from Bukhara (Uzbekistan)."

The eggplant is roasted with a boldly-spiced but not overpowering North African paste, then topped with a zesty bulgur salad studded with olives, almonds, and raisins, and rounded out with cool and refreshing yogurt. Another highlight of the dish is it's likely to convert eggplant loathers to eggplant lovers! I am fortunate to have a partner who embraces and enjoys most dishes I serve. But eggplant is not one of them. Until now! The wise combination of flavors and textures bring out the best of the eggplant to please everyone. This also makes for a great dinner party menu. I served the eggplants with grilled halloumi cheese and an arugula salad.

Chermoula Eggplant with Bulgur and Yogurt
Serves 2-4

Notes: If using course rather than fine bulgur, cook according to package directions or increase the quantity of boiling water as suggested below.
To make this gluten-free exchange bulgur for quinoa or brown rice.
Zest of 1 lemon can be substituted for preserved lemon in a pinch.

2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon chili flakes
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
2 tablespoons finely chopped preserved lemon peel (available in whole food stores)
2/3 cup olive oil, plus extra to finish
2 medium eggplants
1 cup fine bulgur
2/3 cup boiling water (or 2 cups if using course bulgur)
1/3 cup golden raisins
3 1/2 tablespoons warm water
1/3 ounce (2 teaspoons) cilantro, chopped, plus extra to finish
1/3 ounce (2 teaspoons) mint, chopped
1/3 cup pitted green olives, halved
1/3 cup sliced almonds, toasted
3 green onions, chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 cup Greek yogurt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

To make the chermoula, mix together in a small bowl the garlic, cumin, coriander, chili, paprika, preserved lemon, two-thirds of the olive oil, and 1/2 teaspoon salt.

Cut the eggplants in half lengthwise. Score the flesh of each half with deep, diagonal crisscross cuts, making sure not to pierce the skin. Spoon the chermoula over each half, spreading it evenly, and place the eggplant halves on a baking sheet, cut side up. Put in the oven and roast for 40 minutes, or until the eggplants are completely soft.

Meanwhile, place the bulgur in a large bowl with a pinch of salt and the boiling water and cover with plastic wrap to steam for 20-25 minutes, depending on how course your bulgur is.

Soak the raisins in leftover boiling water. After 10 minutes, drain the raisins and add them to the bulgur, along with the remaining oil. Add the herbs, olives, almonds, green onions, lemon juice and a pinch of salt and stir to combine. Taste and add more salt if necessary.

Serve the eggplants warm or at room temperature. Place 1/2 eggplant, cut side up, on each individual plate. Spoon the bulgur on top, allowing some to fall from both sides. Spoon over some yogurt, sprinkle with cilantro and finish with a drizzle of oil.

05 January 2013

Airing out for 2013 - Citrus Black Rice Bowls

 Happy New Year! I'm always curious to know what people really think when they enter a new year. Perhaps excited for a fresh start, motivated by new goals or a recent change in their life, relieved to have escaped the previous year, or maybe just straight up ambivalent! These are all valid feelings, none of which I am a stranger to. But I most strongly consider the new year as an opportunity to hit the refresh and cleanse button for my mind and body. I try to make small tweaks that are sustainable and balanced because that's what life is about;  nothing more elaborate than carving out time to reflect on personal challenges and achievements in the last year and uncluttering my mind to refocus and define what is most important to me and where I should channel my energy in the coming year. One of the best gifts we can give ourselves is a little time and energy directed to our personal health and happiness, which will in turn allow us to be more present with each other and more effective and productive citizens of the world.

Hitting the refresh button means something different to each of us. Since we arrived in Switzerland I have been fascinated watching our Swiss neighbors hang their bed linens out their windows in the morning. Whether it's warm or cold out, in the city or countryside, the morning hours promise a show of, at the least wide open windows (no window screens needed here), and oftentimes also comforters, pillows, and even stuffed animals :-[  hanging from the ledge. It's a sensory cleanse, Swiss-style!    

 Sometimes I feel the need to hit the refresh button on my dinner plate too, especially once winter sets in and simmering soups and stews take over the stove. Winter root vegetables are plentiful now and perfect for roasting, braising, and stewing. But I crave winter citrus as a balanced counterpart, and this pure, cleansing, and fresh citrus black rice salad was the answer recently.  The sweet and tangy citrus combined with substantial, chewy grains and a scattering of crumbly cheese makes for a very happy day.

Black Rice
Black rice can be found at health food stores and on Amazon. However, if you cannot find black rice, pearled barley, quinoa, or farro are equally delicious substitutes. But here are a few interesting facts about black rice that may just entice you to set out in search for some.

Black rice is an heirloom variety from Asia and is also known as forbidden rice, japonica rice, and purple rice. It has been claimed as a superfood and the new brown rice. I love it because it's an all-in-one whole food. It turns a deep purple color once cooked adding a vibrancy to your plate, and it has a pleasingly chewy, slightly sticky texture and nutty flavor. And it is a nutritional powerhouse to boot. It has a superior combination of antioxidants because it is  usually sold in its whole grain, unprocessed form which keeps in tact the outer layer of bran. Like brown rice it has comparable fiber, complex carbohydrates, and protein content.

Citrus Black Rice Bowls
Serves 4

Notes: I intended to use ricotta salata (a mildly nutty Italian cheese made by pressing, salting, and drying ricotta) in this recipe. But sadly I could not find it. I went with a sheep's milk feta which worked perfectly, but if you have a chance to pick up some ricotta salata please do.
For variations to the salad add toasted, chopped walnuts, almonds, or pine nuts at the end.

1 1/2 cups black rice
1 grapefruit or pomelo
1 large blood orange or regular orange
2-3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 tsp. apple cider vinegar
1 tsp. honey
1 fennel bulb
1 small bunch of tarragon (or other herb of choice such as basil, parsley, or dill), chopped
Handful of feta, crumbled (or ricotta salata)
Salt and pepper to taste

Cook black rice according to package directions, but go just shy on the amount of liquid called for so that the grains cook up separately and are slightly drier.

While the rice is cooking, segment the citrus. Working over a large bowl to catch the juices, cut the citrus segments away placing them in a separate smaller bowl. Once all segments are cut away squeeze any remaining juice into the large bowl. To the juice add olive oil, vinegar, honey and season with salt and pepper to taste. Taste and adjust the level of acidity and sweetness to your liking.

Next, prepare the fennel. Remove outer fibrous layer of fennel bulb, halve it, and slice as thinly as possible using a mandolin or a knife. Add fennel shavings to the citrus vinaigrette and set aside.

Once the rice is cooked, immediately toss it with the fennel and vinaigrette. Gently stir in the citrus, herbs, and cheese. Taste, adjust for seasoning, and serve immediately.

What are your motivations for the new year? The word goal does not conjure a meaningful emotion for me, so instead I think in terms of inspirations and aspirations.

Two quotes from the Dalai Lama will continue to inspire me this year.

We can never obtain peace in the outer world until we make peace with ourselves.
- Dalai Lama
Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions.
- Dalai Lama
And of course I have a few inspirations and aspirations in the kitchen. If you have interest in any of these, I will gladly share the results.

  • Homemade ricotta
  • Homemade nut and rice milk
  • Homemade paneer cheese