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Recipe: Fried Zucchini Flowers and Sage Leaves

24 Jun

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Zucchini flowers taste as good as they look, if not better. Stuffed with fresh mozzarella, a hint of anchovy (or not),  lightly battered and fried until crisp and golden, they are summer on a plate. Fresh sage leaves–encased in the same warm, crispy shell–will turn your thoughts to autumn. But the good news is, you can have them now. Two appetizers straight from the garden.


Fried Zucchini Flowers and Sage Leaves
4-6 servings

1 c. (250 ml.) water–regular or sparkling
1 c.  flour, spooned lightly into the measuring cup (about 133 gr.)
salt and pepper
12-14 zucchini flowers*
9 0z. (250 gr.) fresh mozzarella
2-3 anchovy fillets (salt-cured, packed in olive oil)–optional
canola or sunflower oil–enough to fill a medium sauce pan to about 2.5 inches (6 cm)
handful of fresh, firm sage leaves

*Use male zucchini flowers. They appear at the end of long stems, unlike female flowers, which appear at the end of the emerging zucchini.

Preparation

1. Prepare the batter: Put the water in a medium bowl and sift the flour over it, whisking to incorporate. Add a pinch of salt and some freshly ground pepper. The batter should be thick enough to coat the flowers, but not pasty. See the right consistency for a light batter below. Set aside the batter while prepping the flowers.

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2. Lay out all the zucchini flowers, wipe them clean, and discard any that appear bruised or past their prime (they are quite perishable). Trim the stems to about 1 inch (2.5 cm), leaving enough stem to grasp and dip. Pull off the sepals (the spiky green parts at the base of the flower). Gently work your thumb and index finger into the flower and pinch off the pollen-topped stamen. You will probably tear the flower slightly; that’s ok, but try not to tear it too much, or shred it. See the prepped flowers and discarded sepals and stamens below:

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3. Mozzarella and Anchovies: Cut the mozzarella into as many 2.5-inch ( 6 cm) long rectangular pieces as you have flowers–or whatever size best fits into the flowers you have. You can omit the anchovies, you can go all in and lay a nice piece of anchovy fillet on top of each piece of mozzarella before placing both in the flower, or you can take a moderate approach. That entails placing the anchovy fillets in a bowl, drizzling them with some extra olive oil, mashing them with a fork, then placing the mozzarella pieces in the anchovy oil so they get a hint of the flavor rather than a wallop. Either way, you want to place the mozzarella pieces (with or without anchovy) into the flowers, covering them up as best as you can and twisting the ends of the flowers closed to create a mini pouch.

4. Bring the oil to high heat in a medium saucepan. Holding the stem end of a sealed zucchini flower, dip it into the batter in a twirling motion to keep it closed (sealing any open parts with your fingers and twisting the bottoms closed again if needed). When the flower is completely covered in batter, carefully lower it into the oil. Repeat for as many flowers as will fit into the saucepan in one layer without crowding; you will need to cook the flowers in batches. When one side is golden, turn the flower over (or push the flowers gently under the surface of the oil as they cook, to ensure both sides become golden).

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5. Drain the fried flowers on paper towels, sprinkle with a bit of salt, and eat as soon as possible!

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6. Now for the much-easier sage leaves: Wipe them clean, dip each one into the batter, and fry until golden. Drain on paper towels, sprinkle with a bit of salt, and…

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7. … enjoy!

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Recipe: Marinated Feta

14 Feb

A jar of marinated feta in the fridge will more than earn its place there, especially since it takes 10 minutes–at most–to prepare it. That doesn’t count marinating time, but once you’ve introduced all the ingredients to each other, you can step back and let the magic happen on its own. Marinated feta is good with bread and crackers, in sandwiches and salads (including pasta salads), and as that little something extra in many other dishes. And the leftover olive oil is fantastic in a Greek salad dressing or tossed with vegetables prior to roasting. Amazing to think that a mere 10 minutes of matchmaking leads to so many happy returns.

MF2
Marinated Feta

12 oz. feta
4 oz. sun-dried tomato halves, in oil
1 tbsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. coriander seeds
1/2 tsp. chili flakes (can add more if you like extra heat)
freshly ground black pepper
3-4 sprigs fresh rosemary
extra-virgin olive oil

Preparation
1. If the feta is wet, pat it dry. Cut it into 3/4-inch cubes. Cut each sun-dried tomato half into four pieces.
2. Transfer half of the feta and half the sun-dried tomato pieces to a canning jar or glass bowl with a tight-fitting lid. Sprinkle the feta and tomatoes with half of the oregano, coriander seeds, chili flakes, and ample black pepper. If using a canning jar, place the rosemary sprigs upright around the edges of the jar; otherwise, scatter them about. Add the remaining feta and tomatoes and sprinkle with the remaining spices. Pour the oil from the sun-dried tomatoes over top, then add enough extra olive oil to cover the feta.
3. Tightly cover/seal the jar or bowl, and refrigerate the feta for at least a couple days (and ideally, for one week) to let the flavors marry–if you can wait that long. The olive oil will solidify, which is normal — it will return to liquid form at room temperature (allow the feta to reach room temperature before serving).

MF1

Recipe: Walnut-Pomegranate Dip (Muhammara)

31 Jan

In the world of dips, hummus reigns supreme–but there is another Middle Eastern dip that also has lots of protein and lots of tang, and is equally easy to make. Although, now that I think of it, I realize it’s been a while since I made my own hummus; my local grocery store now devotes entire refrigerator sections to it and I have gotten lazy. This is a sad state of affairs–because hummus is really incredibly easy to make…. But back to the Muhammara. It gets its protein from the walnuts and its tang from pomegranate molasses, which you can find in Middle Eastern and Indian grocery stories and at a certain national, upscale grocery-store chain that shall not be named. Roasted red peppers also add to the slightly sweet undertones of this dip, which deserves a spot on any appetizer palette. This recipe comes from Bon Appetit magazine.

Muhammara
Walnut-Pomegranate Dip (Muhammara)

1 c. walnuts
½ c. roasted red bell peppers from a jar, drained (reserve the liquid)
1/3 c. panko (Japanese bread crumbs)
2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 tbsp. pomegranate molasses
1 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. dried crushed red pepper

Preparation
1. Blend/process all ingredients until coarsely ground. (Add a bit more panko or walnuts if too thin, or roasted red pepper liquid or molasses if too thick.)

Food processor
2. Place the dip in a serving bowl. Drizzle some olive oil over the top–or for extra tang, mix together a bit of olive oil and pomegranate molasses and drizzle that instead.

Note: This is what pomegranate molasses looks like, if helpful.

PM

Recipe: Easy Lahm bi Ajin (Lebanese Lamb Pizza)

5 Oct

In Arabic, lahm means “meat,” and ajin means dough or pastry. Many cultures pair meat with pastry, and while I like just about every iteration of that theme, this Lebanese version is one of my favorites. This recipe is slightly easier and quicker to make than some traditional versions because it uses a pita-bread base instead of one requiring home-made dough. These Lahm bi Ajin are pretty hearty, and go quite nicely with Tabouli or other salads.

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Lahm bi Ajin
Serves 4

1 lb. ground lamb
3 tbsp. olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
5 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. allspice
1/8 tsp. chilli flakes
1/3 c. tomato paste
1 tbsp. pomegranate molasses, or juice of 1/2 a small lemon
1/4 c. yogurt
salt and pepper to taste

1/4 c. pine nuts (optional)
extra 2 tbsp. olive oil
4 medium-sized pitas, unopened
1 tbsp ea. fresh mint and parsley, or 1/2 tsp. dried mint and dried parsley

Preparation
1. Heat a heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat, drizzle with a bit of olive oil, and cook the lamb until it is no longer pink, breaking it up as finely as possible. Remove the lamb from the pan, drain in a colander, and set aside.
2. Wipe the skillet, add the 3 tbsp. of olive oil, and when hot, add the onion and cook until translucent and slightly golden.
3. Add the garlic and spices, and cook for a few more minutes. Return the lamb to the pan along with the tomato paste and the pomegranate molasses/lemon juice; mix well to combine. Cook the lamb mixture for 5 minutes over low heat, mashing periodically with the back of a wooden spoon.
4. Turn off the heat, and add the yogurt to the lamb mixture in two batches, incorporating well after each batch. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Set the lamb mixture aside.
5. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Take out one large (or two medium) rimmed baking sheets–to accommodate the four pitas.
6. Toast the pine nuts in a small skillet until they start to turn golden; remove from skillet.
7. To assemble: pour the extra 2 tbsp. olive oil into a very small bowl; brush the top of each unopened pita with the olive oil. Place the pitas on the baking sheet(s).
8. Divide the lamb mixture among the four pitas, patting it down and spreading it to the edge of each pita. Sprinkle each pita with the mint, parsley, and pine nuts, pressing the pine nuts into the lamb mixture. Drizzle the pitas with any remaining olive oil from the small bowl.
9. Bake in the oven until the edges of the pitas start to get crisp and the lamb topping begins to brown, about 15 minutes.
10. Eat immediately.

Recipe: Crackers with Cheddar and Fig

24 Sep

The pairing of sharp cheddar and sweet fig is another match made in gastronomic heaven. This recipe–though it hardly deserves to be called that–is an embarrassingly simple way to bring the two together. Take out a few crackers or crispy flatbreads (or cut a few slices off a baguette), top with a small wedge of cheddar, and add a dollop of fig spread or jam* for a delicious snack. Or, put some of the fig spread in a tiny bowl and place it on a larger cheese board, along with the cheddar.

For a Spanish variation on the theme, pair Manchego cheese with membrillo, a lovely fruit paste made with quince.

*  I can get fig spread at my local store, and now always keep a jar in the fridge; if you make your own spread or jam, even better!

Recipe: Turkish Feta Dip with Paprika

27 Apr

Fantastic on its own, this dip is even better as the basis for many delectable creations, from mini appetizer stacks to a range of sandwiches (try it on some crusty bread or a cracker, topped with Eggplant with Garlic Vinaigrette and some Roasted and Marinated Bell Peppers). The cheese, yogurt, and walnuts provide a protein boost, but that’s not why you’ll want to eat this. You’ll want it for the nice tang and the endless possibilities. You can adapt it any way you like: more or less garlic or chili flakes, mint instead of parsley, walnuts or no walnuts, etc. Now that I think of it, this dip would probably be nice with some chopped Kalamata olives mixed in, too.

Turkish Feta Dip with Paprika

8 oz. feta cheese, crumbled
1 tsp. paprika
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 c. chopped walnuts
1 tbsp. olive oil
4 tbsp. plain yogurt
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
sprinkle red chilli flakes (crushed red pepper)
1 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley (or 1 tsp. dried mint)

Preparation

1. Place the feta in a medium bowl and mask with a fork. Sprinkle with paprika and mix in garlic.
2. Toast the walnuts in a 350-degree oven for about 5 minutes. Remove and crush finely with a mortar and pestle (or in a bag using a rolling pin), then add to feta mixture in bowl.
3. Add remaining ingredients and mix well to combine. If dip appears too thick, add a bit more yogurt.
4. Optional: drizzle with olive oil before serving.
5. Serve with crusty bread, pita bread, pita chips, toasted pita with zaatar, or any other cracker.

Recipe: Eggplant with Garlic Vinaigrette

23 Apr

I love eggplant–any which way, shape, or form–and this recipe is one of my favorite ways of making it. Caveat: in addition to liking eggplant, you must really like garlic, too, and you must eat this with other garlic lovers, because this is not a subtle dish–it is very ‘aromatic.’  Nonetheless, it is a beloved dish at our house–my daughter ate almost half of this platter of eggplant by herself!

I have always pan-fried it, pouring liberal amounts of olive oil into the pan as needed–but you could also try grilling whole eggplant slices then drizzling with the vinaigrette. The eggplant is great on its own, but is lovely when combined with other things. For our Mediterranean antipasti/tapas/mezze meal this past weekend, we created mini open-faced sandwiches by slathering pieces of crusty baguette with Turkish Feta Dip with Paprika, then topping with the eggplant and some Roasted and Marinated Bell Peppers. The eggplant is great with pita and hummus, too.

Eggplant with Garlic Vinaigrette

2 eggplants
salt and pepper
olive oil

Vinaigrette:
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 tsp. red wine vinegar
2 tbsp. olive oil
sprinkle chili flakes/crushed red pepper

Preparation

1. Slice eggplant into 1/4-inch slices, sprinkle with salt, and set in colander in sink to drain for about 30 minutes.
2. In a small bowl, combine the vinaigrette ingredients.
3. Rinse eggplant with cold water and pat dry between two dish towels, then cut the slices into quarters. Sprinkle with pepper.
4. Heat a cast-iron frying pan on medium-to-high heat, add a liberal amount of olive oil, then add eggplant quarters in batches (a single layer at a time). Cook until eggplant is dark golden brown on all sides, turning eggplant over with tongs to ensure even cooking, and adding more olive oil as necessary.
5. When each batch is done, arrange on serving plate and use a small spoon to drizzle a tiny bit of the vinaigrette onto each piece of eggplant while the eggplant is still hot (try to get a bit of garlic on each piece). Continue cooking all eggplant in batches, drizzling each batch with the garlic vinaigrette. The eggplant will soak up the vinaigrette.
6. Serve at room temperature.

Adapted from Joanne Weir’s From Tapas to Meze.

Recipe: Roasted and Marinated Bell Peppers

21 Apr

Fresh from my trip to Italy and with lots to do to get ready for the work week, I decided to prepare a Mediterranean antipasti-tapas-mezze meal made up of little dishes, simple ingredients, and nice bread. These Roasted and Marinated Bell Peppers are part of that meal, and they can be made ahead — they get better the longer they marinate. You can use all red peppers, or any combination of red, yellow, or orange that suits your fancy. In this case, I used one of each color.  I forgot the parsley before taking the photo, but will try to remember to sprinkle some on top before serving! With or without parsley, this is a nice addition to any Mediterranean multi-dish meal.

Roasted and Marinated Bell Peppers

3 large red, yellow, or orange (or combination) bell peppers
1/4 c. olive oil
2 tbsp. red wine vinegar
1 clove garlic, finely sliced
1 bay leaf
1 tsp. paprika
1 spring onion, sliced
5-6 leaves fresh basil
2 tsp. coarsely chopped parsley

Preparation

1. Turn on broiler.
2. Cut peppers into quarters; remove all seeds and membrane. Place peppers on baking sheet, skin-side up.

2. Broil until skin blackens, then put peppers into container with lid, cover tightly, and let cool.

3. When cool, carefully peel the skin off the peppers, and cut peppers diagonally into thin slices.

4. Add the remaining ingredients to the peppers, stir to combine, and marinate for at least 3 hours (or overnight) before serving.

Adapted from the Australian Family Circle Tapas booklet.

Recipe: Sausage, Fennel, and Mushroom Pastry Puffs

6 Mar

Puff pastry is a magical ingredient. If you have some in the freezer, you will be able to pull together a savory meal or a sweet dessert in barely more time than it takes to cook the pastry once it has thawed. If you are someone who makes puff pastry from scratch, my hat is off to you. I may get there one day, but for now I am happy to rely on the prepared kind. In this recipe, the onion and fennel almost melt together, adding a subtle layer of flavor to the sausage and mushroom. And crisp, flaky pastry makes everything better.

Sausage, Fennel, and Mushroom Pastry Puffs
Yield: 12 puffs

1 pkg. puff pastry (about 17.5 oz. = 2 sheets), almost thawed
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 lg. onion, finely chopped
1 bulb fennel, trimmed, cored, and finely chopped
8 oz. mushrooms, trimmed and chopped
sprinkle red chili flakes
salt & pepper
6 links sweet Italian turkey sausage (1.5 lb.), casings removed
6 tbsp. grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese
chopped parsley (optional)

Preparation

1. Let puff pastry thaw while you make the filling — but before the pastry comes to room temperature, unfold it and slice each sheet vertically into three sections along the fold lines (each sheet is folded like a letter), then cut each section in half. After cutting up both sheets, you will have 12 small rectangles of pastry. It is easier to cut the pastry, and to maintain the rectangular shapes, when the dough is still a tiny bit frozen. Set the pastry rectangles to one side in a single layer (if they are touching each other, they may stick together).

2. Heat olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet and add onions and fennel. Cook until onion is soft; add chili flakes (if using) and season with salt and pepper. Add mushrooms to the onion/fennel mixture and cook until liquid is released and mixture is relatively dry. Add the sausage, and cook until all liquid has evaporated, breaking up sausage as much as possible. Check seasonings, then let mixture cool for a few minutes.

3. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray a 12-cup muffin tin with cooking spray. Place one pastry rectangle into each muffin cup; the edges will drape over, which is fine–the end result will be somewhat free form. Distribute the filling among the muffin cups, sprinkle parsley (if using) and about 1/2 tbsp. Parmesan/Romano on top of each puff, and bring the pastry edges over the filling to loosely cover.

4. Bake until golden, about 30 minutes. Let cool for 5-10 minutes before serving.

Recipe: Stuffed Grape Leaves

13 Feb

I would be hard pressed to come up with a last meal. I like so many foods, that I’d want something more along the lines of a smorgasbord. But one dish that would certainly be part of that smorgasbord would be stuffed grape leaves — the warm, simple, and oh so heavenly Lebanese version made with a lemony lamb and rice filling. In my very biased view, the versions of stuffed grape leaves that are meant to be eaten cold (usually meatless) cannot compare with their fragrant, hot-out-of the pot counterparts.

For a sublime gastronomic experience, dip these grape leaves in plain yogurt. The cool, smooth tanginess complements them perfectly. See photos below for step-by-step instructions on how to fill and roll grape leaves.

Stuffed Grape Leaves

1 (15-oz. ) jar grape leaves in vinegar brine
1 lb. ground lamb
1 c. white rice, such as jasmine
1/8 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. allspice
1 tbsp. salt
1/4 c. fresh lemon juice

Preparation

1. Open the jar of grape leaves, pour out the brine, and carefully ease the grape leaves out of the jar. (They will be tightly packed, in rolls.)
2. Put the grape leaves in warm water and let soak while making the filling.
3. For filling, combine lamb, rice, cinnamon, and allspice in a medium bowl, and mix well. Set aside.
4. Gently swish grape leaves around in the warm water, and slowly begin to separate as many as possible, taking care to not tear them. When most have come out of their rolls, drain the water.
5. Line the bottom of a medium saucepan with a layer of grape leaves (this is a good way to use any that are torn or too small).
6. Select a grape leaf and shake to remove any excess water that may be clinging to it. Place it on a cutting board glossy side down (veiny side up).  If there is a bit of stem still attached, cut it off (see photo below).

7. Take a bit of filling and shape into a small roll; lay horizontally across grape leaf, just above where the stem was.

8. Fold the bottom part of the grape leaf over the filling.

8. Tuck in each side, as if making a burrito.

9. Continue to roll the grape leaf, folding in the sides as you go.

10. Place the rolled grape leaf seam side down in the sauce pan, tucking tightly against the side of pan.

11. Repeat the process until you have run out of filling. Depending on the size of the saucepan, you should have about two layers of rolled grape leaves. Be sure to tuck them in tightly; you do not want them to unroll while cooking.
12. Sprinkle the 1 tbsp. salt on top of the grape leaves. Add enough water to the pan to just cover the grape leaves. Place an inverted heat-proof ceramic plate on top of the grape leaves (you can also use the lid of a smaller saucepan–you will need something that fits inside the main saucepan and can lay on top of the grape leaves to keep them from shifting while cooking). Cover the saucepan with a tight-fitting lid.
13.  Cook, covered, over medium heat for 15 minutes. Lift the lid, and pour in the lemon juice (you can pour it around the sides of the plate; it will seep underneath). Replace the lid, reduce heat to low/simmer, and cook for 15 more minutes, checking periodically to make sure the water has not completely dried up. Ideally, the water will be absorbed by the end of the cooking period, but you don’t want to run the risk of burning the grape leaves.
14. After 15 minutes, gently pour out any water that might remain, holding the grape leaves in place with the plate (or small lid).
15. Invert the sauce pan onto a serving platter, discard the grape leaves that lined the pan, and serve the stuffed grape leaves immediately, with plain yogurt as an accompaniment.

Adapted from Lebanese Cuisine, by Madelain Farah.