Sunday, March 30, 2008

Rice Pilaf, another version: for the stuffed chicken rolls

This sumptuous rice makes an elegant side dish for meats and stews, and is a perfect bed for a layer of grilled shish kebobs, or the stuffed chicken breast rolls I recently posted on the blog (3/26/08). This is one of many ways of preparing a rice pilaf, and is more in the Arab style with some pasta included with the rice. Also, while this can be made vegetatian, cooking the rice with chicken broth -- homemade strongly preferred -- gives a richness that is delightful. In the Middle East, the amount of butter or olive oil in the pilaf would be greater.

The rice I prefer is Basmati, the long-grained fluffy rice from India and Pakistan. However, Uncle Ben's rice can be used, one of the few ways I ever use that rice. (It has been exported to the Middle East for decades, and is authentically used for pilaf there.)

The recipe makes enough for six.

Rice Pilaf with Dried Fruits and Nuts Tim

1-1/2 cups basmati (or other long-grain) rice (or Uncle Ben's)
1/4 cup orzo pasta or vermicelli broken in 1-inch lengths
1 tablespoon butter or olive oil for the pasta
2-3/4 cups unsalted chicken broth or water
3/4 teaspoon salt for the rice plus 1/4 teaspoon for the vegetables
1 small onion
2 tablespoons butter or olive oil for onion
1/4 cup walnuts or shelled pistachios
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup frozen peas
1/2 cup yellow raisins
1 tablespoon lemon juice
3 tablespoons chopped dill, cilantro (coriander) leaf, or mint

Rinse and drain the rice several times. Set it aside to dry a little while doing the next steps. Fry the orzo or vermicelli in 1 tablespoon of butter or olive oil, stirring frequently until beginning to turn golden. Add the orzo to the rice in a pot with a tight-fitting lid (or use an electric rice cooker). Add the broth or water plus 3/4 teaspoon salt. If using a pot, bring it to a boil, then cover tightly, reduce heat to lowest setting and simmer 20 minutes without opening the lid. Turn off the heat and let the rice rest 10 more minutes without opening. (If using rice cooker, let the rice rest, covered, 10 minutes or more after light goes off.)

Place 2 tablespoons butter or oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Mince the onion and stir it in to fry until softened, 3-4 minutes. Add the walnuts, coarsely chopped, or the pistachios, whole, and fry gently another two minutes. Add cinnamon, black pepper, and salt. Add the frozen peas and fry just long enough to heat them. Add the raisins, stirring in for 15-20 seconds. Remove from the heat. Stir in the lemon juice and the chopped herb.

In a very large bowl, combine the hot cooked rice with the fried mixture, using large spoons to fluff everything together, handling carefully so as not to break up the rice grains. Taste and if desired add some more salt or lemon juice. Mix again. Keep hot to serve (in the rice cooker, for example). Or let cool and reheat in the microwave. Serve on a platter stacked up in a cone-shaped mound if the rice is to be served on its own. Or spread it into a bed if the rice is to be topped with kebabs or roasted meats.

Note: Yogurt is often served with pilaf in Turkey and Greece.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Chicken Breast "Rolls" stuffed with Spinach and Feta: Turkish treat

This was one of the earlier recipes I taught in my Evening at Emory classes years ago. I learned something similar to it from my Turkish restaurateur friend, Kazim, when I used to hang out at the Istanbul Café as "guest chef", doing specials on Saturdays. It's a relatively easy thing to prepare, but looks satisfyingly complex. The nice part is it can be prepared ahead and roasted shortly before dinner. And it roasts quickly.

The cuisines of Turkey and its neighboring countries offer many delightful dishes in which the principal ingredient is stuffed with something contrasting, whether the main ingredient is grape leaves, eggplants, peppers, zucchini, chicken breast, or even meatballs. In this case, the stuffing is spinach and feta cheese, with dill and currants or raisins for a little complexity.

The chicken rolls scream out for a rice pilaf to accompany them. One such recipe can be found in my blog in the archives on 1/5/07. A salad would go well with this, such as a "Greek" salad.

While religious Turks abstain from alcohol, the Turkish guys I know are pretty secular and would have beer or a wine with dinner. A cold dry rosé or white wine would go with this, but a medium-bodied red such as a Pinot Noir or an Italian chianti or other Sangiovese would also do very well.

The recipe serves six. Accompany with a rice dish. A simple yogurt sauce recipe is included below, as is a spinach dip to make for an appetizer with the half package of frozen spinach not needed for stuffing the chicken.

Chicken Breast Stuffed with Spinach and Feta Cheese

6 chicken breast halves, boneless and skinless
Juice of 1 lemon (about 1-1/2 tablespoons)
1/2 teaspoon salt
Olive oil
Sumac (available in Middle Eastern groceries)or paprika for topping
Chopped dill or parsley for garnish
Yogurt for accompaniment

1/2 of a (10-ounce) box frozen chopped spinach*, thawed (at room temperature or use microwave)
1/4 lb feta cheese, crumbled finely with fork
3 tablespoons currants or raisins
3 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
1/4 teaspoon salt (somewhat less if the feta is very salty)
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice

Trim any fat and tough parts from the chicken. With a sharp knife partly slice flat-wise part way through the thicker part of the chicken and open it out (butterfly style) to flatten and widen the chicken pieces. Rub both sides with lemon juice and sprinkle very lightly with salt. Refrigerate if prepared ahead of time.

Prepare the stuffing by squeezing the water out of the thawed spinach. Combine the spinach with the remaining ingredients and mix well. (This can be done ahead of time and the stuffing refrigerated, or the chicken can be stuffed ahead and refrigerated until ready to roast.)

Heat the oven to 475 degrees (very hot). Lightly oil a baking dish.

To stuff the chicken, divide the stuffing into 6 equal parts. Open the chicken pieces with cut ‘inside’ facing up. Place one portion of the stuffing, compacted into a log shape in your hand, crosswise onto the chicken breast. Fold the chicken top and bottom over the filling to make a roll and place on the baking dish, seam side down. Arrange the breast rolls in an attractive pattern. Drizzle chicken with olive oil and rub it lightly to coat the chicken. Sprinkle moderately with salt and a little sumac or paprika. Roast about 18-20 minutes, uncovered, until chicken browns slightly. Do not overcook or the chicken will be dry.

This kind of dish is typically served with rice, such as a pilaf, accompanied by a yogurt sauce. (A simple sauce is yogurt beaten with a little water, salt, and paprika.) If desired, surround the roasted chicken with lemon slices and dust the chicken with a little chopped dill or parsley.

*Note: the other half of the package of thawed spinach, juice squeezed lightly out, can be turned into a simple dip for appetizers by chopping it in a food processor or blender, along with some yogurt and a small green onion (including white and most of the green parts) or a large slice of regular onion, then seasoning it all with salt and pepper to taste plus a little lemon juice. Dip or spread it on flat bread, sliced baguette or ciabatta, or on crackers.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Chicken à la Créole, from Haiti: to accompany the Creole Rice

I first encountered this savory and pretty way of fixing chicken legs in Haiti, along with similarly prepared bone-in “steaks” sliced crosswise from frozen turkey legs. But with some research, I found that dishes called 'Creole Chicken', named after the people of French ancestry born in the overseas colonies, are relatively common in many parts of the French-speaking tropics. The term typically describes chicken braised in a savory sauce of peppers, onions, tomatoes, and spices. The dish is fairly economical.

The recipe offered here reproduces the braised chicken legs I enjoyed in Haiti. The appearance of the drumsticks is neater than usual. The tips of the leg bone and the irregular skin are chopped off with a cleaver or kitchen sissors, making roughly football-shaped pieces. And the bone, skin, and other trimmings are quickly simmered into a broth with which the chicken is moistened as it braises.

In a recent blog posting (3/18/08) I gave a recipe for creole rice. This chicken is a good match for it. The combination would go well with a moderately light-bodied dry red wine, such as a Côtes du Rhône, a Spanish Garnacha, or a chianti.

The recipe serves six generously, and should be accompanied by a rice dish. A salad of avocadoes and loose leaf or "Boston" lettuce dressed with a mild vinaigrette or oil and vinegar would enhance it nicely.

Chicken Legs à la Créole Tim

12 large or 18 smaller chicken drumsticks
1 medium-large onion, chopped
1 medium red bell pepper, cored and chopped
2 medium-large cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 inch fresh ginger, sliced very thinly then minced
2 medium tomatoes, quartered, seeds pushed out with your finger, and chopped
2 tablespoons melted chicken fat or olive oil
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/8 teaspoon thyme
3/4 cup chicken broth (from the skin and bone tips from the chicken)
Minced parsley for garnish

Pull the skin off the drumsticks, and with a heavy knife, cleaver, or kitchen scissors cut the lower part of the leg bone off the drumsticks just where the flesh thins out, typically 1/2 to 1 inch from the end. Sprinkle the chicken lightly with salt and set aside. Place the skin and bone pieces with 2-1/2 cups of water, and simmer to make broth while the main dish is being prepped. Skim off the fat (part of which can be used for frying the onions). Part of the broth will be used in this dish, and the remainder can be cooked into the rice dish in place of an equal quantity of water. Prepare the onion, bell pepper, garlic, ginger, and tomatoes.

In a large, preferably non-stick, frying pan over medium high heat fry the onion in the chicken fat or olive oil, stirring frequently and scraping the pan gently, until the onions are just beginning to turn golden. Add the pepper and fry, stirring frequently, for two minutes. Add the garlic and ginger, and stir and fry for two minutes. Add the tomatoes and fry, stirring frequently, for another two minutes. Add the chicken, bay leaves, and 1 teaspoon of salt, and fry, turning the chicken frequently, until the outside fully loses its raw color. Add the remaining seasonings and the broth. Simmer, covered, stirring occasionally and turning the chicken, for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a chicken piece is tender and does not show any pink inside or pink juice when pierced with a knife in the thickest part. If the sauce gets dry, add a little broth or water. As the chicken is cooking, taste the sauce and add salt if necessary, especially toward the end of cooking. Uncover the pan for the last several minutes for the sauce to thicken.

Sprinkle with a little minced parsley to serve. Accompany with a rice dish.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Créole Rice: French Exotic

‘Créole’ in French, similar to ‘criollo’ in Spanish, refers to the culture and the people of European or mixed European ancestry who were born in the new lands during the colonial period. Gradually, hybridized cultures developed, combining the influences of Europe with those of the new lands plus of other peoples arriving as immigrants. Riz á la créole, or creole rice, is the name given to numerous rice dishes in the Caribbean, Louisiana, and in the French-speaking islands in the Indian Ocean. These dishes combine rice with locally available ingredients and seasonings.

I've been teaching this particular rice dish in my 'French Exotic' cooking classes in Atlanta and Athens. The term French Exotic is my shorthand for the types of food I've encountered in French-speaking tropical countries where I have worked and travelled. Creole rice, with its subtle fragrance and delightful color and texture, goes well with many of the French-influenced tropical chicken and seafood dishes that I've had and taught. I'll include a couple of those dishes in future blog postings.

This recipe, with both white rice and brown rice versions, is easy to make. The brown rice variety, needless to say, takes longer to cook and absorbs more liquid. If you just want to try the tropical rice cooking, start with the white one, and use 'Basmati' or another extra long-grain rice. Basmati, a superior fluffy rice from India and Pakistan, is available in most supermarkets these days, as well as in natural food stores and Indian grocery shops. Basmati requires rinsing and draining, to get rid of the excess starch left from the milling.

The recipe serves six, with possible leftovers. (Leftover rice heats easily in the microwave.) What drinks would be suggested depend on the main course dish that is served with the rice.

Créole Rice Tim

3 tablespoons olive or canola oil
1/4 cup coarsely chopped onion
1/4 cup coarsely chopped green bell pepper
1-3/4 cups white long-grain rice or brown rice
1 coarsely chopped tomato
2-3/8 cups water for white rice or 3-1/2 cups water for brown rice
1-3/8 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon thyme
1 large bay leaf, broken in half
Pinch of cayenne

If using white rice, rinse it well in a pan and drain off the wter. Let it dry (by absorbing the moisture) while doing the next stages. Brown rice usually does not need rinsing.

Prepare the vegetables and stack them in separate piles on a plate. Heat oil in a heavy cooking pot to medium high. Fry the onions, stirring occasionally, until limp. Add peppers and fry for one more minute. Add the rice, and stir and fry gently for 3 minutes. Add tomatoes, water (quantity depends on which rice is used), and salt and seasonings. Stir once, and when the mixture comes to a boil, cover and reduce heat to the lowest possible.

For white rice, keep the pot covered, do not stir, and allow it to simmer over lowest heat for 20 minutes. Do not open the pot. For brown rice, simmer for 35 minutes, covered, fluffing gently with a fork once or twice during cooking. The water should have been absorbed and the rice should be reasonably tender. If still wet, simmer several minutes longer. After the cooking of either type of rice, turn off the heat, and allow the rice to sit, covered, for at least ten minutes. Fluff with a fork before serving.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

A "Sweet" Pasta, with Butternut and Brown-Butter Sauce

It's been a while since I could update the blog. This past week has been busy getting our taxes done. Then when I was finally free, last night and most of today I couldn't use the computer because of the heavy storms in Atlanta, including a tornado downtown last night and a near-tornado in the same place this afternoon. However, I formulated a new dish and tested it this evening.

The idea, but not the dish itself, came from a fairly new pasta restaurant called 'Saba', near us in Emory Village. The dish I had there was pumpkin-stuffed ravoli with a brown butter and herb dressing. The filling was faintly sweet and had a warm spice fragrance. The cheese on top was finely shaved tangy Parmesan. Since homemade ravioli is too much work (that's what restaurants are for), I figured a way to get the same taste effect using egg noodles. What resulted was a mildly sweet, fragrant pasta with butternut and with gorgonzola for a sharp contrast. An alternative cheese would be Italian pecorino Romano.

The recipe serves six as a main course. However, a sweet-tangy pasta dish might be better as a starter course at dinner (as pasta typically is in Italy), or a lunch or supper main course. We had it this evening with a nice Greek salad. If I were doing wine with this one, I'd have a fragrant not too dry red, such as a Merlot or an Italian Sangiovese (from Tuscany), or even a chilled rosé.

Sweet Butternut Pasta with Brown Butter and Gorgonzola Tim

6 tablespoons unsalted butter for the sauce + 2 tablespoons for the butternut
A medium-sized butternut squash (1-1/2 to 2 pounds)
2 tablespoons canola or olive oil
1/4 cup white wine
2 tablespoons honey
1/4 cup golden raisins
2 tablespoons candied orange rind, finely minced (or 1/2 teaspoon [packed] grated orange zest)
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1-1/4 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup crumbled gorgonzola or blue cheese, or grated Romano
1 pound curly egg noodles (or Italian egg fetuccini)

Make the brown butter with 6 tablespoons of the butter: Melt it in a small, heavy pan, and simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the bubbling stops and the solid specks become a caramel tan color. Remove from the heat.

While the butter is cooking, peel, split, and seed the butternut, and cut it in 1/2-inch cubes. Fry it gently in a large pan in the remaining 2 tablespoons butter plus the oil, keeping a lid on the pan, and stirring periodically, until beginning to become tender. Add the wine and continue to simmer, covered, until the squash is fully tender. Add the honey, raisins, orange rind, spices and salt and stir and heat a minute or two. Stir in the brown butter, and take the pan off the heat. Reheat, if necessary, to combine with the pasta. Stir in the cheese before adding to the pasta.

While the butternut is cooking, bring a large pot of water to a boil, and add a tablespoon of salt. Keep the water hot until the butternut dressing is done, then bring it back to a rapid boil. Add the egg noodles to the boiling water, and stir immediately to keep the pasta from sticking. Boil, stirring frequently, until a piece of pasta is tender when you bite into it. (The time will depend on the pasta used.) Drain in a collander, shake out some, but not all, of the water, and add the pasta to the butternut mixture. Toss the pasta and dressing, including the cheese, together. Taste, and add a little salt, if needed (the cheeses vary in saltiness). Turn the mixture into a pasta dish or shallow bowl to serve.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Meatballs and Spaghetti Sauce, with 'Sausage" Meatball Variant

I've made meatballs with tomato sauce for many years, which was always popular in the family. And the leftovers are almost as good in meatball subs (called 'grinders' where I grew up) or sandwiches. We now also make a meatball sauce from time to time at our deli-restaurant in Athens. I wanted to get a reproducible recipe written down, for the sake of my kids if for no one else. The meatballs are the key thing. They are based on what I learned from my mother, who in turn learned the basis from her half-Genoese father-in-law, my grandfather. The features, regardless of the meat used, are black pepper, garlic, parsley, oregano, and grated Romano cheese in the meatballs, and NO black pepper, oregano or cheese cooked in the sauce. My approach has wandered a little, based on some tricks I've learned, but basically the meatballs are like what I grew up with, and what my kids grew up with.

Two recipes for meatballs are shown here, the more typical beef (or part beef) meat balls, and a differently seasoned pork meatball suggestive of the Italian (read Sicilian) sausage that was part of my childhood. In addition, I'm including an easy tomato sauce, because the meatballs are actually simmered in the sauce to cook them rather than fried separately and added later.

Just to note, two other red sauces for pasta showed up earlier in my web log. Meatless marinara sauce can be found at the post for 8/07/06, and Bolognese sauce (meat sauce) was on 9/15/06. Other meatball recipes are in the blog too: Spanish tapa meatballs (albóndigas), 11/05/06; Mediterrranean (Greek/Turkish) meatballs, 8/27/07; meatballs in green peppercorn-cream sauce, 10/13/07; and Swedish meatballs in dill and cream sauce, 10/30/07.

The recipe makes enough for four heavy eaters, as spaghetti and meatballs eaters usually are. It may be best to make a double batch of both meatballs and sauce, and save some for left-overs.

Wine with spaghetti and meatballs should be heavy and red. Montepulciano d'Abruzzo or a red California Zinfandel would be my choices, but other Italian reds, or an Australian Shiraz could also do. Warm crusty bread, such as ciabatta or baguette, or good old garlic bread, plus salad are traditional with spagetti and meatballs. Eat the bread plain, mop up the sauce with it, or serve a dish of olive oil for dipping (you can put a little minced garlic or parsley in it, if you want), rather than butter.

Meatballs for Spaghetti Tim

1 egg
2 tablespoons red wine or water, if using red meat (no extra liquid if using turkey)
1 small-medium clove garlic
2 tablespoons quick oatmeal
2 tablespoons unseasoned breadcrumbs
1-1/8 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg (or ground allspice)
2 tablespoons finely grated Romano or Parmesan cheese
3 tablespoons minced fresh parsley (or 1 tablespoon dried parsley)
1 pound ground beef (chuck) or half beef and half pork, lamb, or turkey

In a large mixing bowl, beat the egg and wine or water lightly with a fork. Stir in the dry ingredients, cheese, and parsley. Finally mix the meat in well, kneading the mixture with your hands. Moisten your hands and shape the meat into 16 1-1/4-inch balls, and set them on a waxed paper until ready to cook. Make the sauce, and simmer the meatballs in it as indicated in the sauce recipe. The meatballs need to simmer about 20 minutes.

'Sausage' Meatballs for Spaghetti Tim

Use the meatball recipe above, but substitute ground pork for the other meat, and eliminate the cheese and parsley. Add 1-1/2 teaspoons whole fennel seeds, 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon crushed hot red pepper, 1 teaspoon paprika, and increase the black pepper to 1/2 teaspoon.

Spaghetti Sauce for Meatballs Tim

(Serves four. Double the recipe to have enough for left-overs.)

4 tablespoons olive oil
4 large cloves garlic, crushed with the side of a knife and skins removed
1/2 small green bell pepper (the Mexican style Poblano pepper is even better)
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
1/2 pound mushrooms (optional but good)
1/2 (6-ounce) can tomato paste
3/4 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon paprika
Pinch of crushed hot red pepper
Small pinch of thyme

Heat the olive oil in a cooking pot (not cast iron) with a heavy bottom. Gently fry the crushed garlics until golden brown, pressing them to break a little with a wooden spoon. When fully golden in color, remove and discard the garlic (they have given their essence to the oil). Add the green pepper, cut in strips, and fry until softened, about two minutes. Add the crushed tomato plus several tablespoons of water to rinse out the can. Add the mushrooms, if used, rinsed, and cut in half. Bring to a boil, and let boil quickly (referred to as "frying" in Italian) for 1 minute. Reduce the heat, and stir in the tomato paste and the seasonings. Simmer 3 to 4 minutes.

Add the pre-formed meatballs. Shake and swirl the pan gently to move the meat balls around (no spoon yet), and simmer, covered, for a total of 20 minutes. After half the cooking time, the meatballs will be firm enough to be stirred gently without breaking them. Taste the sauce, and add salt as needed, to taste. Serve tossed with freshly cooked pasta, and dusted heavily with grated cheese. Or cool the meatballs and sauce, refrigerate, and reheat for serving.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Lentil Masala Curry, with Black-Eye Pea Variant

Despite the underwhelming reaction of the group this was first served to, it is (to me, at least) a delicious and exciting legume curry. The lentils I used are very European (sometimes called French or Puy or green), rather than Indian, but the curry itself is fully Indian. Punjabi to be specific. It is patterned after 'Rajma', the rich, full-bodied curry of red kidney beans. Those beans, by the way, originated in the New World then travelled to Europe and Asia (along with tomatoes, chili peppers, bell peppers, potatoes, green beans, and pumpkins, all of which are now standard Indian curry ingredients, as did chocolate, vanilla, peanuts, and [gasp] tobacco). Lentils, by contrast, are Old World legumes, and many different ones are eaten in India. Just not the one I used. The small dark-colored French or Puy lentils are generally available at health food stores, particularly in the bulk section. The regular, larger tan lentils can be used for this recipe, but I don't find them quite as interesting.

As a bonus this time, I've added a variant on the lentil curry recipe. It's based on black-eye peas, which are of Old World origin, and which are used, though not frequently, in Indian vegetarian cooking. An extra bonus, two paragraphs down is the method for a delicious and easy fresh chutney to accompany the curry.

Neither wine nor beer is traditional with Indian food, as alcohol is discouraged by one and prohibited by the other of the two principal religions on the Indian sub-Continent, Hinduism and Islam. But if you must indulge, consider beer rather than wine. Indian beers (e.g., 'Kingfisher', 'Golden Eagle") are strongly British influenced and tend to have a lot of hops, which were heavily used in the British-made 'India Pale Ale' to preserve it during the long, tropical sea voyages to India. A hoppy American microbrew, such as an I.P.A. by many makers or a Charles Adams ale, will be closest to what the British, at least, used to drink in India with their curries.

The recipe will make enough to serve six when accompanied by rice or an Indian flat bread like naan or chapati. Accompany also by yogurt, or a yogurt-based raita, and a fresh chutney made of coarsely chopped tomato (2 parts), onion (1 part), cucumber (1 part), and cilantro (1/2 part), seasoned with lime juice and salt to taste.

Lentil Masala Curry Tim

1 pound (about 2 cups) dry lentils, French green type, or Puy, preferred
2 large onions
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons canola oil
3 large cloves garlic
1 inch fresh ginger
4 whole cardamoms
4 whole cloves
2 sticks cinnamon
3 tablespoons tomato paste
3 tablespoons water
4 tablespoons ground cumin
2 tablespoons ground coriander
1 tablespoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon paprika
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cayenne, or to taste
2 to 3 teaspoons salt plus more to taste
1/2 cup yogurt (or half-and-half cream plus 1 tablespoon lime juice)
1/2 cup coarsely chopped cilantro (save part for garnish)

Pick over then rinse the lentils. Cover them with two inches of water in a pan and bring them to a boil. The lentils will expand quickly. Stir them frequently and add water as needed so there is liquid just at the surface of the lentils. When tender to the bite, remove the pan from the heat.

Meanwhile, peel and thinly slice the onions lengthwise, then cut across them several times. In a heavy pot, gently fry the onions in the butter and oil, stirring frequently, until golden brown (20 to 30 minutes). Finely mince the garlic and ginger, or pound them together in a mortar and pestle. Add them plus the whole spices to the fried onions, stir and gently fry several minutes more. Add the tomato paste and water, and fry a minute or so, stirring. Fry in the dry spices and salt, stirring, for several minutes. Lift the lentils out of their liquid (saving it) with a slotted spoon and add them to the onion and spice mixture.

Beat the yogurt lightly with a fork until smooth, and stir it into the curry. Add some of the liquid from the lentils or water, if needed, to give a medium thick, soupy gravy. Simmer, stirring frequently, several minutes. Taste, and add salt, if necessary. Remove from the heat and stir in about 3/4 of the cilantro. After ten minutes, stir again, taste, and adjust salt if needed. Make the taste just slightly salty, since the lentils will soak up more salt, and the curry will be served with unseasoned rice or bread.

Serve with unsalted rice, Basmati preferred (see blog posting of 1/26/08), or an Indian flat bread such as naan or chapati. Sprinkle the curry with the remaining chopped cilantro.

Black-eye pea curry variant

Use 1 pound of dried black-eye peas in place of the lentils. But after picking them over and rinsing them, soak them in water to cover by 3 inches for at least 8 hours, or until there is no hardness when you bite into several. Put them in fresh water and boil them gently, stirring occasionally, until tender to the bite. Otherwise proceed as for the lentil curry, except increase the turmeric to 2 tablespoons and the paprika to 1-1/2 teaspoons.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Smoked Salmon Dip for Isabella: 'Pink Stuff'

Isabella's second birthday party was this afternoon in Athens, with grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousin, and neighbors there. One of the dishes on the appetizer table was a salmon dip that at the time she did not want, prefering cheese, fruit, and eventually cake. Later Lisa, her mother, called to say Isabella was now into the salmon, once the whirl of her party was over. She liked the 'pink stuff'.

I had made the dip, really more a spread, the day before and brought it to the party. It was well received by the adults, Isabella's reaction notwithstanding. Several people were interested in a recipe. So voila! The smoked salmon I get is the kind used for layering on bagels or tossing into a cream and peas pasta. But it is cheaper at our Dekalb Farmers Market, where the 'trimmings' -- small pieces of otherwise fine smoked Atlantic salmon -- are about half the price of the beautiful thin-sliced sheets. The sheets work fine for the recipe, but do cost more.

The dip should be made at least several hours, or up to a day, ahead for the flavors to blend. The recipe will make enough for snacks for twelve, as long as other appetizers are available. Serve with thinly sliced bread, such as baguette or pumpernickel, or 'water crackers', so you can taste the dip.

Smoked Salmon Dip with Capers Tim

1/2 pound smoked salmon
1 thin scallion (green onion)
1 teaspoon prepared horseradish
1 cup (1/2 pint) sour cream (I presume you could use low- or non-fat 'sour cream')
4 ounces (half of an 8-ounce block) cream cheese
Juice of 1 medium-small lemon
1/2 teaspoon salt (less if salmon is very salty) plus to taste
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 tablespoons minced fresh dill
1-1/2 tablespoons capers, drained (get small capers, or coarsely chop larger ones)
Dill sprigs for garnish

Use a food processor with a steel blade and pulse to finely chop the salmon, scallion (roots and 1/2 inch of the green tops discarded), cut in pieces, and horseradish. Add the sour cream and partially puree the mixture. Add the cream cheese, cut in chunks, the lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Pulse, scraping down the bowl several times, to make a smooth puree. Remove the mixture to a mixing bowl and stir in the dill and capers. Allow to sit 10 minutes, mix again. Taste, and add a little salt or lemon juice if desired. The dip should not be too tangy with lemon juice.

Refrigerate at least several hours, or make the dip the day ahead of serving it. When ready to serve, mix the dip again, and taste for salt and lemon juice. Serve the dip in a fancy bowl, or mounded up on a small platter. Garnish with small sprigs of fresh dill. Accompany with thinly sliced bread or non-salty crackers.