Sunday, August 31, 2008

Jerk Chicken

What can be more Jamaican than Jerk Chicken? Or maybe reggae and Bob Marley? Actually none of them were known during the summers of 1964 and 1965 that I spent in Jamaica as a student working on my thesis research. But as it turns out, all three were just getting started then. Jerk cooking, or 'jerking', emerged from earlier methods of roasting meat over slow wood fires, methods that go back to the pre-Columbian Native American inhabitants of the island. However jerking took on its current form among roadside vendors in rural Jamaica in the late 1960s doing dry rubs on pork, goat, or chicken with allspice, chilies, and other seasonings then slow-cooking the meats over wood or charcoal in oil-drum barbecue grills.

Allspice, the dried berry of the Jamaican 'bay' tree (whose leaves are made into 'bay rum', a soothing old-fashioned after-shave lotion), is the only spice that is native to the Western Hemisphere. It is one of the seasonings that seems invariable with jerk chicken and pork. The other invariable is hot chile, the 'Scotch Bonnet', which is similar to habanero. I use cayenne for convenience. After allspice, chiles, and of course salt, the recipes vary widely.

I developed my spice combination for our restaurant and deli in Athens, but have also tested it at home. I've only used it with chicken. (If I were seasoning pork or lamb, I would leave out the salt for the marinating so it doesn't toughen the meat, and then sprinkle generously with salt just before slow grilling.) In terms of grilling the chicken, I actually do it in a moderate oven on an upper shelf rather than over a fire. It may not have a woodsmoke flavor, but it tastes rich nonetheless.

This recipe, much reduced from our restaurant's volume recipe, will serve six. It can either be made with a large whole chicken cut into halves or quarters, or six smaller leg quarters. For most moistness, the chicken should have the bones in. Keeping or removing the skin is optional. The rub should be applied 12 to 24 hours before cooking.

A spicy dish like this from Jamaica cries out for beer (Red Stripe is brewed on the island). But a hearty red wine, not too refined, would also do well, something like a zinfandel or merlot. The chicken goes well with a seasoned rice dish and spicy sautéed cabbage.

Jerk Chicken Tim

Season the chicken one day ahead:
1 whole chicken, about 5 pounds, or 6 leg quarters or drumsticks plus thighs totalling about 5 pounds

1 tablespoon regular salt
2 teaspoons ground allspice
1-1/2 teaspoons paprika
1-1/2 teaspoons garlic salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
3/4 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1/2 teaspoon celery seed powder (not celery salt)
3/8 to 3/4 teaspoon cayenne
1-1/2 tablespoons vinegar or lime juice
3 tablespoons canola oil

If using a whole chicken, cut it into halves or quarters by splitting the breast bone and the back with a sharp, heavy knife. Cut off part of the back bones to simmer with the neck and excess skin for broth. Clean the chicken pieces well, and pat dry with paper towels. Remove skin from the chicken, if desired (use it for the broth), slash the flesh in a few places so the marinade can penetrate.

Mix the rub/marinade ingredients, not including the oil. Rub well into the chicken on all surfaces, including into the slashes. Finally, rub everything with the oil. Marinate chicken in the refrigerator, moving it around from time to time and basting it well with the accumulated juices.

Set the oven for 360 (or 350 if convection roast). Arrange a 'cake' rack on a sheet pan so the chicken will be above the pan. Start the chicken pieces upside down on the rack (and discard the accumulated marinade). Roast for 15 minutes, then turn the pieces over. Roast a total of 45 to 55 minutes, depending on thickness. The chicken should be fairly well cooked, and show no pinkness or pink juice when a knife tip is inserted and twisted in the thickest part of the meat.

While the chicken can be served warm with dinner, it also makes good picnic food when chilled.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Rice with Lentils: Side dish for Jerk Chicken

It wasn't supposed to be like this. With the Jamaican jerk chicken I was cooking, I was planning a rice and pidgeon peas side dish I had at the student dining hall when I spent those six months in Jamaica. Many years ago, when I myself was a student. But I couldn't find the red pidgeon peas. I'll eventually get the Jamaican 'rice and peas', with its fragrance of coconut milk, onto the blog, but right now I like the rice with lentils even better than the dish I recall from Jamaica. (I'll also be getting the jerk chicken recipe onto the blog after I retest it.)

The secret to this rice and lentil dish is really good broth. Homemade, if possible, and intense. I used pork broth left over from simmering spare ribs before marinating them for barbecue. Chicken broth, made with lots of chicken scraps, backs, skins, and necks, then simmered down after removing the solids (and fat skimmed off) would be great too. And a good vegetable broth (preferably enhanced by using part white wine in place of some of the broth) would also do well. The recipe is geared to unsalted broth, but there is an adjustment indicated in case your broth is salted.

I used the small green French lentils, but here the regular supermarket tan-green lentils work better because they cook faster, for just the length of time the rice needs. Similarly, the small hulled red lentils (called 'Egyptian lentils' or 'masoor dal') will do well in this dish. The little French lentils still have firmness, which is actually appealing, but if the lentils have the same texture as the rice it seems more harmonious, and more fitting for a rice side dish.

The recipe serves six as a side dish.

Rice with Lentils Tim

1/2 cup dry lentils (tan, split pink, or French green -- which will be a little firm)
1 small onion
3 tablespoons olive oil
1-1/2 cups basmati or other long-grained rice
1-3/4 teaspoons salt if broth is unsalted, or 1 teaspoon salt if broth is salted
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 large bay leaf, broken in half, or two small ones
3 cups meat or vegetable broth, unsalted preferred

Rinse the lentils in hot water and drain well in a sieve. Mince the onions and fry them, stirring frequently, in the olive oil. When they are limp and just beginning to turn golden, stir in the rinsed and drained lentils, and fry, stirring frequently 5 minutes, or until sizzling and the onions are starting to brown.

Meanwhile, rinse and drain the rice. Place it in a heavy bottomed pot or rice cooker container and add the salt, pepper, bay leaf, and broth. When the lentils are done frying, add them to the rice mixture, and stir to combine. If cooking in a pot, bring it to a boil, stir well, cover and turn to lowest heat and simmer 20 minutes without lifting the lid. Turn off heat, and without lifting the lid, let sit 10 minutes. Alternatively let cook covered in the rice cooker, letting it sit 10 minutes after the heat turns off. With either cooking method, when the holding time after cooking is over, stir with a rice paddle or large spoon, and let rest for at least 15 minutes. If using a rice cooker, after stirring, press the lever to 'on' and let stay hot until ready to serve,

Taste, and adjust salt if necessary. Serve piled up in a dish.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Sicilian Orange Cheese Tart

I admit it. I am not much of a baker. That shows up in few dessert recipes in my blog. But there are a few things I like to bake, and that includes tarts and torts.

Here's a recipe for a dessert that goes back to my childhood growing up in a heavily Sicilian community. Actually, the crust goes back to my mother-in-law, her easy version of a French 'pâte sablée'.

This luscious dessert has the Sicilian specialties of ricotta cheese, almonds, and oranges. It should be made in advance and allowed to cool thoroughly. The recipe makes a large pie.

Sicilian Orange and Ricotta Cheese Tart Tim

1-1/2 cups flour
1/8 teaspoon salt (only if butter is unsalted)
3 tablespoons sugar
3/4 cup (1-1/2 sticks) butter, unsalted preferred
1-1/2 tablespoons vinegar

Mix the flour, salt, and sugar and cut in the butter with a pastry knife or with two table knives, or by pulsing in the food processor. When moderately well blended but still with small dots of butter, mix in the vinegar by hand. Using your fingers, press the dough into a large (10- to 12-inch) tart pan, preferably with a removable bottom. Press the dough evenly across the bottom and work it up the edges to the top of the pan. Use a little of the egg white (from the filling recipe, below) to rub gently on the bottom of the crust.

2 eggs
1 quart (4 cups; 32 ounces) ricotta cheese, part skim
1/4 cup flour
2/3 cup sugar plus 2 extra tablespoons for the topping
1 teaspoon almond extract
1/4 teaspoon grated orange zest from the orange (below)
1/8 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons lemon juice
2 navel oranges, peeled after collecting the zest for the filling, and flesh cut across into 1/4-inch slices (remove seeds if any)
1-2 teaspoons canola oil for the top of the pie

Lightly beat the eggs in a bowl (the bowl used for making the crust is OK) with a fork. Mix in the ricotta, flour, sugar, seasonings, and lemon juice. When well combined, spread the cheese mixture into the prepared crust. With your fingers, press the upper edges of the crust down to the level of the filling for a neat appearance. Arrange the orange slices on top of the cheese. Brush with a little oil and sprinkle with the two tablespoons of sugar.

Bake at 370 degrees (or 350 in convection oven) on a lower shelf for 40-50 minutes, until the filling has risen in the center and the surface is golden. Test about 2 inches from the center by inserting a sharp knife to the side of an orange slice. If it comes out clean, remove the tart from the oven. Otherwise, bake a little more until it tests done. Let cool thoroughly on a rack. If using a pan with a removable bottom, carefully run a thin sharp knife around the crust to separate it from the edge of the pan. Lift the bottom of the pan up through the rim of the pan, and set on a plate or platter to serve.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Aioli: Garlic Mayonnaise for Roasted Vegetables

While I had tasted aioli, a rich freshly made garlic and olive oil mayonnaise, occasionally over the years, it was not until eating at a small Italian restaurant with my daughter Anna in Benin, where she was in the Peace Corps, that I came to appreciate it. This seemingly simple but earthy sauce so enhanced plain old fried potatoes that, in that country where food options are so limited, what we ate that night was stunningly exciting.

Aioli is reputed to have originated in Provence, on the Mediterranean coast of France. (Aioli in the Provençal language, derived from Latin, comes from 'ahl' garlic and 'oli', oil.) It is served to enhance fish, vegetables, bread, and even soup, throughout the western Mediterranean, including Spain, France, and Italy. Aioli is simple to make using a food processor or blender, unlike with the traditional marble or ceramic mortar and wooden pestle, which required incorporating the olive oil drop by drop.

I'm giving the example of roasted beets, because they make such great appetizers. But potatoes or sweet potatoes can be prepared the same way. The roasted beets, seasoned with Mediterranean spices and easily made, make an elegant excuse for eating aioli.

Aioli (Garlic Mayonnaise) with Roasted Beets

2 medium cloves of garlic
1 small egg or the equivalent of 'Egg Beater' (which is pasteurized)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
3/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup canola or peanut oil

Place the garlic, egg or 'Egg Beater', lemon juice, and salt in the container of a blender or food processor (preferably with a small sized container so that the mixture is well beaten). Puree by pulsing, and scrape down the inside of the container with a spatula. With the blade turning, add a few drops of olive oil to the mixture. Then pouring in a very thin stream, slowly add the rest of the olive oil. Scrape the sides and bottom of the container several times during this process to be sure the oil is not collecting on the bottom. Then add the other oil in a thin stream until fully incorporated. It may be necessary to transfer the mixture to a bowl and whisk in the last portion of the oil. Taste a bit of the aioli, and add salt if necessary. The flavor is improved by sitting, covered, in the refrigerator for 1/2 hour or more.

Place the aioli in a small bowl to serve. The surface may be dusted with a tiny bit of minced parsley, if desired.

1-1/2 pounds red or yellow beets, of similar size
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon oregano, crumbled between the fingers
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1 tablespoon olive oil

Heat oven to 400 degrees.

Peel the beets. Cut into pieces about 1-1/2 inches large. (Be careful, they stain.) Rinse the beets and drain, but do not dry. Place in a large bowl. Mix the salt and dry seasonings. Sprinkle the mixture over the cut beets, and then toss to coat them evenly. Pour in the olive oil and toss again to coat evenly.

Roast the beets on a cookie sheet or shallow baking pan with a little space between the pieces. Bake, turning several times with a spatula, until tender inside when pierced with a cake tester or fork (30 to 35 minutes).

Serve hot or warm accompanied by a small dish of aioli.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Green Beans Sautéed with Garlic and Tomato

Green beans are still coming in, and the usual ways of fixing them are getting a little stale. While beans are still plentiful, here's a refreshing way of fixing them that I particularly like. It's adapted from what I learned from a Turkish chef who is a friend of mine. This colorful dish can serve either as an appetizer (meze) or as a vegetable side dish for a Middle Eastern meal. While the particular recipe is Turkish, similar dishes are part of Greek, Lebanese, and other eastern Mediterranean cuisines.

The beans are traditionally well cooked, more so than in the current trend toward crisp vegetables, in order to soak up the flavors. I recommend thorough cooking for this particular preparation. But they are excellent cooked a little crisper. That's the cook's choice.

The recipe is sufficient for six, and can be served at room temperature or warm.

Green Beans Sautéed with Garlic and Tomato Tim

1 pound fresh green (“snap”) beans
2 cloves garlic
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander or 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
Large pinch cayenne or crushed hot red pepper flakes
2 medium-large tomatoes, chopped, or 3/4 cup drained diced canned tomato
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped parsley, flat “Italian” style preferred

Remove the tips from the green beans and cut or break into 1-1/2-inch lengths. Rinse and drain them. Mince the garlic. Heat the oil to medium high in a deep pot. Add the garlic, and briefly stir and, just until fragrant, about 15-20 seconds. Add the beans and stir immediately. Add about 3 tablespoons water, the salt, coriander or nutmeg, pepper, and cayenne or crushed pepper. Simmer, covered, for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add a tiny amount water if becoming too dry. Add the tomatoes, stir and simmer another 10 minutes. The beans should be very tender, but still intact. Taste a bean to check for tenderness and saltiness. Simmer a little more or salt lightly, if needed. Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon juice and most of the chopped parsley (reserving a little for garnish). Let sit, covered, for at least 15 minutes. Taste to check salt once more before serving, and adjust it if necessary.

For appetizer or meze, serve at room temperature in small dishes, along with other appetizers. As a side dish for a dinner, serve warm in a shallow bowl. For either way of serving, dust with the reserved chopped parsley.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Shrimp Newberg: Revived elegance

Lobster Newberg, along with Lobster Thermador, was the height of remembered elegance in my mother's family, nouveau riche 'Lace Curtain' Irish in New England. Of course by the time I entered the family, the Great Depression had wiped out all that except for the memories and the aura. But we still occasionally got some sort of seafood Newberg, for special. And I loved it. That was long ago.

I had forgotten about Newberg in the grown-up sensory overflow of Thai curries and tropical French and creating my own dishes. But it came back to mind seven or eight years ago as I was visualizing elegant snacks and appetizers for an Evening at Emory class. It was a success, but totally new to the generations represented in my class. I felt like somewhere between a cultural link to the past and a culinary fossil. But, truly, this is a classic that deserves revival, even if in toned-down form.

The elegant French-style dish was created as 'Seafood Wenberg' in the late 1870s or early 1880s at Delmonico's, the restaurant aristocrat of upperclass New York. It was apparently the sort of place where if you had to ask the price, you shouldn't have been there. The dish was named for a regular customer, a rich merchant, who allegedly developed it and got the restaurant to make it for him. But the name was changed to seafood 'a la Newberg' (not Newburg, by the way) or terrapin (turtle) a la Newberg after a falling out with the gentleman. I have modernized the recipe for Lobster Newberg, originally a luscious concoction of lobster, butter, cream, egg yolks, and sherry, by using lighter cream, replacing the three egg yolks (gasp!) with a little flour, and substituting shrimp for the lobster. But it’s still luscious.

The recipe will serve six people for the appetizer course, spooned onto small toasts, or four people for an elegant lunch when served with salted white rice or steamed potatoes. The richness of the dish would be balanced well by a good Chardonnay or perhaps a Sauvignon Blanc.

Shrimp 'Newberg' on French Baguette Toasts Delmonico/Vigorously modified by Tim

12 diagonal slices (1/4-inch thick) of baguette (French) bread
1 tablespoon finely minced parsley for garnish
1/4 teaspoon paprika
Pinch of nutmeg
Pinch of white or black pepper
Small pinch of cayenne or 2 squirts of hot pepper sauce
3/4 teaspoon salt, divided
1 pound raw shrimp, medium sized, as fresh as possible, or bought frozen and defrosted just before using
4 tablespoons dry or Amontillado sherry
3 tablespoons butter, unsalted preferred
5 teaspoons flour
1-1/4 cups half-and-half or light cream

Toast the bread to golden brown and set aside. Mince the parsley and set aside. Measure out the spices into a small cup, and add 1/4 teaspoon salt.

Peel the shrimp, being careful as you take off the tail shell to leave the flesh of the tail attached to the shrimp (pinch the pointed end of the shrimp tail, then grasp the outer end of a flat tail to gently pull the shell off). Cut the backs of the shrimps and remove the veins. Rinse the shrimp in cold water, and pat dry with paper towels. Marinate with the sherry and 1/2 teaspoon salt, and set aside.

In a frying pan (traditionally the pan or chafing dish it will be served in) melt the butter with the flour over medium heat, whisking until it bubbles. Simmer, stirring with the whisk, about a minute and a half. Whisk in the half-and-half or light cream, and bring just to a simmer, whisking as the mixture thickens. Add the spice and salt mixture, and whisk it in.

Stir in the marinated shrimp plus their liquid. Stir gently as the shrimp cook. As soon as they are pink and firm (3 to 4 minutes), remove pan from the heat. Be careful not to overcook the shrimp. Taste the sauce and add a little salt, if needed.

Serve in the pan, dusted with minced parsley. Place two slices of toast on each diner’s plate, and spoon shrimp and sauce over the toast. Alternately, away from the dining table prepare the appetizer plates with two slices of toast each. Spoon shrimp and sauce onto them and dust the individual portions with parsley.

If presented as a luncheon, shrimp newberg was traditionally served inside a ring of lightly salted steamed rice or with steamed potatoes.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Chicken sautéed with Red Wine and Sun-Dried Tomatos Over Grits Polenta

Sometimes the bell rings, the winning bell. It happened last evening with a North Italian-style chicken dish I made for guests to accompany the wine-jalapeño-cheese grits I've gotten into recently (see blog posting of 8/23/08), which are like polenta, only tastier to my Georgia-influenced palate. The guests were a couple we've known for years, the husband of Italian ancestry and the wife from Southern Thailand. She is an excellent cook and Thai food teacher and caterer. There was no way I was going to serve them something Southeast Asian.

The dish evolved out of what I developed at our restaurant in Athens for a Croatian dinner at the university to serve with roasted polenta cakes. It was influenced by some cooking methods I read about for hunter-style rabbit and venison. But I used the much less exotic chicken thighs, my favorite part of the chicken. The combination of caramelized onion and garlic, red wine, mushrooms, and sun-dried tomatoes is made even richer with whole herbs and spices. Served over a bed of soft polenta, or my preference of stone-ground grits prepared like polenta, it makes a hearty and (if I'm allowed to say so) exciting main dish.

We served red-stemmed Swiss chard lightly stir-fried in butter as the side dish. A fragrant dry red wine, particularly a good California Cabernet Sauvignon, accompanies this well. The recipe serves six people.

Chicken Sauteed with Red Wine and Sun-Dried Tomatoes Tim

1/2 cup diced sun-dried tomatoes
1 cup red wine
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thigh
1 medium-large onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 pound mushrooms, rinsed and cut in half
1/4 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
2 to 3-inch sprig of fresh rosemary (length depends on leafiness)
12 whole juniper berries
3 whole cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
2/3 cup chicken, beef, or vegeable broth, or water

Cut the dried tomatoes into 1/4-inch dice if they are not already cut. Soak them in the wine. Trim away tough parts and excess fat from the chicken. Cut chicken into 1-1/2-inch pieces and set them aside. Prepare the onions, garlic, and mushrooms and keep them separate.

In a stewing pan over medium heat, fry the onions gently in the olive oil, stirring frequently, until becoming pale golden in spots. Add the garlc and simmer until onions are medium golden in color. Add the wine and tomatoes, and bring to a simmer. Add the mushrooms, salt, rosemary, juniper berries, cloves, and pepper. Simmer until the mushrooms begin to shrink. Add the chicken, and while stirring frequently, cook until the surfaces change color. Reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, stirring frequently, until the chicken is tender and the sauce has been reduced, 10 to 15 minutes. Taste the sauce and add salt, if needed. Remove from the heat.

It is best to make this at least half an hour in advance (if longer, refrigerate it) and rewarm it to serve. Serve it spooned over a bed of polenta or grits prepared like polenta (see my blog of 8/23/08 for a recipe). Alternatively, this can be served with buttered noodles.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Jalapeño-Wine-Cheese Grits: better than Polenta?

Question: What is more locavore than polenta, easier to make, and (in my opinion) has better flavor? Answer: Stone-ground grits prepared like soft polenta. It also turns out that these are reasonably close to (and can be used as) the elegant grits that are the base for the wonderful 'shrimp and grits' of the Carolina lowcounty.

I've been experimenting recently with dinner grits because I'll be demonstrating cooking in a couple of weeks at the Athens Farmers Market. There they want you to use primarily local produce in the recipes you teach. I'm using locally ground grits rather than pasta or rice for the entree I developed of sautéed butternut with late summer vegetables. In addition, this Fall we will need a similar base dish for a major banquet of 'local food' our restaurant will be catering for the UGA School of Ecology. Tonight for guests I will be serving these polenta-like grits with a Northern Italian dish of sautéed chicken with red wine and sun-dried tomatoes (in my blog posting of 8/24/08).

I've been using one of my favorite stone-ground grits, the 'speckled' yellow grits from Nora Mills in Helen, Georgia. 'Red Mule' grits, ground in Athens-Clarke County, also work well. And for other types of grits dishes I've successfully used stone-ground grits from Tennessee. And while some subtleties of flavor will be lost, even the commercial Aunt Jemima and similar 'old-fashioned' (not 'quick') grits can be successfully used if stone-ground grits are not available.

For this dish, cook the grits first, and keep them warm while preparing the topping. The recipes serve six people.

Jalapeño-Wine-Cheese Grits Tim

1 cup milk
3 cups water
1 cup stone-ground grits (Georgia, and yellow, preferred)
1/2 cup white wine
1 small jalapeño pepper, seeded and minced
3/4 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1/8 teaspoon grated black pepper
2 tablespoons grated Romano or Parmesan cheese

In a heavy pan, bring milk and water to a boil, being careful the mixture does not boil over. Stirring constantly with a wooden spoon or spatula, add the grits in a small stream. Reduce heat to medium, and continue to stir frequently as the grits begin to thicken, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the wine, minced jalapeño, salt, and pepper. Reduce the heat to the lowest, cover the pot and simmer, stirring from time to time, until grits are becoming tender, 20 minutes or more depending on the grits used. Stir in the cheese. Taste, and add a little salt if necessary. Continue to simmer (or place the pot in a larger pan with an inch of boiling water to serve as a hot water bath as they simmer) until ready to serve, stirring from time to time. The longer the grits simmer the better. If the grits thicken too much (so they won't flow), add a little water. Do a final taste and adjust the salt, if necessary, before serving.

To serve these grits, spread them in a thick puddle on a platter or individual plates. Spoon the topping over them.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Spanish Fish with Peppers, Olives, and Pine Nuts: a Tapa

I recognize that I have relatively few seafood recipes in my blog. In part, that's because while I enjoy seafood, I am not passionate about it. I also live some distance from the ocean, and have less access to really fresh fish. I was spoiled living in Southeast Asia, where seafood was plentiful and the populations were so fussy about fish and shellfish that they demanded truly fresh stuff. In Chinese restaurants in Kuala Lumpur they would not even allow you to order a steamed fish unless it was fresh caught; fried with garlic or salted black bean or chilies they would do, if it was not bad, but not steamed.

Thus most of my seafood dishes are for things that transport well, like farmed salmon, smoked salmon, and frozen shrimp. Trust me, if I'm at the coast, I will cook fresh seafood. Tilapia, bought frozen and thawed shortly before cooking actually works fairly well for some of my dishes. The following recipe shows one.

This gorgeous and deceptively easy-to-prepare dish is based on cooking from Valencia, on Spain’s Mediterranean coast. The fish can either be served directly in small dishes as a tapa (appetizer) to accompany cold white wine, or (with a chopped hard-boiled egg and a little extra salt added) as the filling for a fried or baked turnover, or “empanadilla”. The recipe serves six as a tapa.

White wines go with this, dry crisp whites from Spain, Sauvignon Blancs from New Zealand or Australia, or French Muscadet or Sauvignon Blancs.

Spanish Fish with Peppers, Olives, and Pine Nuts Tim

1 pound white fish fillet, such as tilapia, cod, or haddock
1 teaspoon salt, divided
1 tablespoon lemon juice for the fish plus 1 tablespoon for finishing the dish
1/4 cup pine nuts
1 small to medium onion, diced
1 small green bell pepper, diced
1 small red bell pepper, diced
1 tomato, quartered, seeds pushed out with your finger, and flesh chopped
1 large garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped parsley, flat “Italian” style preferred
3 tablespoons drained, coarsely chopped pimento-stuffed (“Spanish”) olives
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons white wine (or water)

Cut the fish into 1-inch squares, mix gently with 1/2 teaspoon of the salt plus the lemon juice, and set aside. Toast the pine nuts in a dry medium-hot frying pan, stirring or shaking constantly. When toasted, pour them into a dish to cool. Prepare the onion, peppers, tomato, garlic, parsley, and olives.

Heat the olive oil to medium high in a heavy non-stick frying pan. Sauté the onions and red and green peppers until softened, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic, and stir and fry half a minute. Add the tomato and stir and fry another half minute. Add the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt, the paprika, and black pepper. Stir to combine, then add the fish, wine, and most of the parsley (reserve a little for garnish). Stir gently and fry just until the fish has turned opaque, so as not to overcook it. Gently stir in the chopped olives and the reserved tablespoon of lemon juice. Remove from the heat and stir in the pine nuts. Taste for salt, and add a little, if needed.

Serve warm in small shallow bowls (as a tapa) or on a small platter. Dust the top with the reserved chopped parsley.

Monday, August 11, 2008

South Indian Chicken Curry: Recalled from Malaysia

Saturday, it was time to make a meal again for Christina's staff meeting on Monday. That same day, I cooked Thai noodles for a visitor, leaving me 3/4 can of Thai coconut milk. Putting the two things together made me think of the South Indian curries we used to get in Malaysia. In particular, I recalled the richly delicious meat curries made by the Malabari Muslim cooks at the many small (and very inexpensive) restaurants and under-the-tarpaulin outdoor places in Kuala Lumpur, our home for nearly eight years. To get ahead of my story, the curry turned out well, was a hit with the rector and staff at St. Barts, and led me to put down in the blog what I made.

The curries from the various South Indian ethnic groups were based on coconut milk, very different from the northern Indian curries that are more familiar to Americans. The Malabar Muslims were free to cook with meat, even beef, though not with pork. The Tamil Hindus were largely vegetarian, and for those who did eat meat it was limited to lamb or chicken. And the Kerala and Goanese Christians, yet another South Indian community in Malaysia, could make their curries of any meat, even pork and wild boar. My favorite overall of the three cuisines was the Muslim one, because of the richness, yet the simplicity, of their curries and their biriani rice. And even more because of their multi-layered flat bread, roti canai. (We still get that [pronounced 'ro-tee 'chan-eye] in Atlanta, by the way, accompanied by an authentically flavored curry gravy for dipping, at the Penang, an excellent Malaysian restaurant on Buford Highway.)

The original curry would have been made with cut-up chicken, including the bones, though not the skin. This makes it more intense in flavor than with the boneless chicken that I now use because of convenience to the cook and the diner (but I use more chicken than they would, making it about even). The spice, ground fennel, may be a little hard to find (though our Dekalb Farmer's Market carries it), but whole fennel seeds are fairly readily available and if necessary you can grind them in a mortar and pestle or in a small coffee grinder used for spices. The curry leaves (kariopillay, or kari patta) that would typically have been used are hard to find here, so I have substituted cilantro leaves, which are more typical in North Indian curries.

Here, based on my recall, is a Malabari-style chicken and potato curry. The recipe should serve about six, but it is worth doubling, since then a full can of coconut milk will be used and the leftovers are great on later days. Serve with Basmati rice or other long-grained rice, unsalted (see my blog posting of 1/26/08 about cooking great rice).

South Indian Chicken Curry Tim

1 fairly large or two medium onions
3 tablespoons canola oil (the original would have been coconut oil)
2 pounds Yukon gold potatoes
1/2 inch fresh thick ginger or more if thinner
2 large cloves garlic
3 teaspoons turmeric
1 teaspoon ground fennel
4 teaspoons ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon (or more to taste) cayenne
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1/2 (16-ounce) can Thai unsweetened coconut milk (freeze the remainder for another use)
Water as needed
1-1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thigh meat
1/4 cup lightly packed cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped

Chop the onion(s) and fry with the oil in a heavy pot, stirring frequently until softened. Meanwhile, wash, but it's not necessary to peel, the potatoes and cut them in 1-inch cubes. Add them to the onions, and fry the two together, stirring frequently and scraping the bottom of the pot, until the onions are starting to turn golden. Lightly peel the ginger and slice it thinly. Pound it in a mortar and pestle with the garlic, or mince the two together extremely finely. Lower the heat under the onions and potatoes and stir in the ginger-garlic mixture for 2 minutes. Stir in the dry spices and salt, and stir while frying them in for 1 minute or until fragrant.

Add the coconut milk plus enough water to reach the top of the potatoes. Simmer about two minutes. Cut the chicken into 2-inch squares, after trimming away tough parts and excess fat. Stir the chicken into the curry mixture, and add enough water just to come up to the level of the chicken. (This curry should have a sauce with the consistency of medium cream.) Simmer, stirring frequently until the chicken and the potatoes are tender, about ten minutes. Taste the sauce as it's cooking and add enough salt to make it slightly salty (the chicken and potatoes will soak a little more up). Remove the curry from the heat and stir in the chopped cilantro.

Let sit at least 10 minutes, covered, before serving. But the curry is tastier if refrigerated then later reheated to serve. Check the salt and adjust, if needed. Serve over unsalted white rice.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Mediterranean Herbed Chicken for Sandwiches

This reminds me of something a Syrian restaurateur cooked at a small place near where I was a student. He called his sandwiches, with delicious strips of meat tucked into a pocket in a small round pita-like flat bread, 'flying saucers'. Alas, his idea did not catch on, nor to my knowledge did he earn his fortune. But he produced one hell of a sandwich, which he served with a small salad dressed with a lemon-juice vinaigrette. I've since had something similar to his stir-fried chicken strips and lamb strips at Lebanese restaurants in West Africa.

Recreating these some years ago for a student friend who suddenly needed to cook for himself, I drew on some tricks I had learned for lamb kebabs. The resulting recipe, which I recently stumbled on in my notes from 1986 and updated slightly, still works for making fast, exciting sandwiches. The pita pocket gimmick still works, but a good Kaiser or other sandwich roll serves too.

This one is for boneless and skinless chicken breast, which now is frequently on sale. The ones not needed can frozen in meal-sized portions in zip-lock plastic bags, and quickly thawed in the microwave when needed for a fast meal. Lamb will work also, but is expensive to buy. You would need meat from the leg.

This will make six good-sized sandwiches. The recipe can be halved if fewer servings are needed.

Mediterranean Stir-Fried Chicken for Sandwiches Tim

4 medium-sized boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
1 small onion, sliced lengthwise into thin strips
1/4 red or green bell pepper cut lengthwise into thin strips
1-1/4 teaspoons oregano
3 tablespoons white wine
1-1/2 teaspoons soy sauce (not traditional, but works well)
1/2 teaspoon salt
Large pinch of ground black pepper
Small pinch of cayenne
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 lemon
6 small pitas or 3 or more large ones, cut in half; or 6 Kaiser rolls

Trim away any tough parts and excess fat from the chicken. Slice chicken into strips 1/8-inch wide. Mix well with the sliced onion, bell pepper, oregano, wine, soy sauce, salt, black pepper, and cayenne, and let marinate for 10 minutes or more.

Heat the olive oil in a large heavy frying pan. Stir-fry the chicken mixture until the color of the chicken fully changes color and the onion and bell pepper are becoming tender. Taste and add salt as needed. Remove from the heat, and squeeze the lemon over the mixture, and stir to season evenly.

With your finger, carefully open a pocket in each of the pitas. Spread a light layer of mayonnaise inside the bread before stuffing with the chicken. Or use 6 pitas and roll the chicken in them after spreading them with a little mayonnaise. Alternatively the chicken can be served in split Kaiser or other rolls, lightly spread with mayonnaise.

Grilled Spiced Ground Meat Kebabs: On or off the Skewer

With summer still here, it seems time for a different meat dish for grilling over charcoal or the gas grill. (The blog posting on spiced chicken shish kebabs [5/31/08] is by far the most read of my recipes.) Here is a 'köfte kebab', a ground meat kebab, something popular from as far West as Turkey and the Balkans to as far East as Pakistan and India, where it's called 'sheekh kebab'. The classical meat for this is lamb. But except among Hindus, beef is probably more common due to its cheaper price. My friends at the Istanbul Café in Decatur sell many of these.

There is a bit of technique required to make the meat sticky enough (unlike meatballs, this uses no egg) to cling to a skewer or to itself. Part of the trick is using fairly, but not totally, lean ground meat -- from 85% to 90% lean is about right. Leaner than that doesn't hold together plus it makes a dry kebab. The meat, once seasoned, must be kneaded well. If pressing the meat onto a skewer, a flat skewer is best. The meat should be squeezed around the skewer with your hand and flattened somewhat leaving indentations in the surface from your fingers. Chill the skewered or unskewered kebabs and paint the surface with a little olive oil before grilling.

There is coriander in two forms in these kebabs, the ground seeds and the leaves, the latter known more commonly in this country as cilantro. Coriander is an ancient seasoning, and both the seeds and the leaves were used in cooking in the Middle East when the Pyramids were being built. As were garlic and onions, by the way.

Most sorts of Middle Eastern kebabs are served with rice, unless they are rolled in a flat bread (such as pita) with tomato and lettuce. Rice pilaf recipes can be found in my blog in the postings of 1/5/07 and 3/30/07. The cucumber-yogurt sauce tsadziki (in Greek) or cacik (in Turkish) that makes a nice cool accompaniment is on the blog on 4/25/08. The kebab recipe will serve six or more depending how hungry they are. But it might feed as few as four for some of my student friends. The couple of Turkish red wines I've tried make me think of Merlot. Which is what I would serve with these. Or maybe beer.

Ground Meat Kebabs Tim

1 very small clove of garlic
1 teaspoon salt
2 pounds 85-90% lean ground beef (or lamb if you can find, and afford, it)
2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro leaves
2 teaspoons ground coriander
3 tablespoons finely crushed ice or ice water
Juice of 1/2 lemon
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon, or to taste, ground cayenne (or 1 teaspoon 'Rooster' Siracha chili-garlic sauce)
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Lemon wedges, red onion thinly sliced lengthwise, and coarsely chopped cilantro or parsley leaves for garnish

Using the back of a spoon, thoroughly crush the garlic in the salt until a smooth paste is obtained. In a large bowl, mix together the garlic-salt, meat, and all the other ingredients except the garnishes. Knead this well to evenly season the meat and make a pasty mixture.

Divide the meat into 12 equal portions. If using skewers (only flat metal ones work well), press one portion onto each skewer into a long sausage shape, then flatten the meat slightly by squeezing it gently with your fist repeatedly up the length of the meat and leaving finger imprints in the meat to give a rippled effect. If making unskewered kebabs, make into long sausages, working the meat well so it is evenly thick up the length of the kebab. Chill the kebabs in the refrigerator at least half an hour, or all day.

When the grill is hot (or use the broiler at the top of the oven) paint the kebabs lightly with olive oil. Grill or broil them, turning carefully but frequently until seared on the outside, and the inside (test by poking the tip of a knife in and twisting it) is to the desired degree of doneness.

Serve with a rice pilaf or flat bread. Garnish the kebabs with thinly sliced red onion and cilantro or parsley leaves. Accompany with lemon wedges and, if desired, with a cucumber-yogurt sauce (see reference above).

Friday, August 08, 2008

Vegetarian Chili: Red and Black

This vegetarian chili, made with three types of legumes, is amazingly tasty. It is also nutritious. If topped with grated cheese, Mexican-style crumbling cheese, or a dollop of sour cream, although no longer 'vegan' it is even more tasty. Served in a bowl over a large spoonful of rice, the chili makes a satisfying lunch or supper. Especially if accompanied by a salad or a few slices of avocado.

Chipotles are dried, smoked jalapeno peppers. They give both the heat the chili needs plus a smoky hint that would have come from bacon if this were a meat chili. The 'TVP', or textured vegetable protein, is made from soy flour, and is available in dry crumbly form at health food and natural foods stores. The lentils are the usual supermarket type of tan-green lentils, usually also available at health and natural foods stores. In terms of the black beans, they are simply what I prefer. (Pintos or white beans would work equally well.) In Athens, where our deli sells a chili something like this one, we like the idea of red and black, the colors of the University of Georgia, where many of our customers, and even some Donderos, went.

Chili doesn't really warrant a wine. It's for supper or lunch, and if any alcoholic drink goes with it it should probably be beer. The recipe serves six with leftovers for later snacks. It's worth making a double batch, requiring little more work or time than a single batch and giving another couple of meals and servings. The chili can also be frozen.

Red and Black Vegetarian Chili

1/2 pound dry black beans (1 cup), or 2 (16 to 18-ounce) cans black beans
1/2 cup dry lentils, rinsed and soaked in boiling water 30 minutes or more
1 cup TVP (small sized), rinsed and soaked in boiling water 20 minutes
1 medium onion, diced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 small dry chipotle pepper, stem and seeds removed
1 large bay leaf
2 tablespoons chili powder
1-1/2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon ground cumin
3/4 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomato (unseasoned), including the juice
1 medium-large red bell pepper, large dice

Prepare the beans and set aside: If using dry beans, pick over, rinse, and either soak overnight in 5 cups water or bring to a boil with 5 cups water, boil one minute, cover, remove from the heat and soak for 1 hour. After soaking, drain the beans. Cover with an inch of water, and simmer (skimming off any foam that accumulates) until tender, 40 to 60 minutes. When tender, drain, saving the liquid. Or, if using canned beans, drain, rinse, and drain again. Set beans aside until needed.

Prepare the TVP and lentils, draining the TVP after 20 minutes but letting the lentils soak as long as you have. Prepare the onions, garlic, and chipotle. Measure out and mix the bay leaf and dry seasonings other than salt.

Fry the onions with the olive oil over medium heat, stirring frequently, until onions start to turn golden. Add the garlic and fry it in for a minute. Lower the heat, and gently fry in the chipotle and dry seasonings for a minute, or until fragrant. Drain the lentils, and add them plus a little fresh water, and simmer until they are tender, adding water as needed to keep them moist. Add the drained TVP plus the tomatoes with their juice. Stir in 1 teaspoon salt. Simmer about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Test lentils and TVP for tenderness. Stir in more salt, as needed. Add the beans. If needed, add a little of their liquid if home-cooked (or a little water if using canned beans), just enough to make a medium-thick gravy. Simmer several minutes, then add the bell peppers and simmer 5 minutes, adjusting salt as needed (make it slightly salty, since the beans will soak up a little more). Remove bay leaves and chipotle toward the end of cooking.

Let sit 10 minutes. Stir, then taste for salt again. The chili can be served now or refrigerated and rewarmed for serving later. The flavor is richer if held for a day or more. After reheating, taste and adjust salt, if needed.

Serve in a bowl over a little rice. Garnish, if desired, with grated cheddar or jack cheese, crumbled Mexican-style cheese, or sour cream.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

'Chopped' Beef Stroganoff: Dining for Cash-strapped Aristocrats

The original Beef Stroganoff, with thin strips of fine beef such as sirloin or fillet sautéed with wine and mushrooms, then finished with sour cream, is elegant. It was created, apparently, by a chef in the employ of one Count Stroganoff, a 19th Century aristocrat and diplomat in Imperial Russia. Modern recipes variously add tomato paste or mustard, but I think the simpler form, enhanced only by a little dill, is wonderful.

But how often do I sauté sirloin or fillet of beef? Pretty rarely. Especially these days. What I've discovered is that the dish can be excellent even using good ground beef. By that I mean ground sirloin. 'Lean' ground beef I don't care for the taste and dryness of. Ground round is too dry and tough. Ground chuck, while tasty, is usually too greasy. Ground beef, 80% lean, forget it. The mushrooms in this are the usual 'champignon' mushrooms that are typical in American groceries. You just need many of them, in weight equal to the beef. Any dry white wine will do for the cooking. Dairy sour cream, 'natural' without all the guar gum, flavorings, and stabilizers, is what the cream should be. Fresh dill only, if you are using dill. The dry dill weed is pretty dull. Bacon, smoked if used, is optional (but for my Jewish friends, the beef with cream already violated Mosaic Law).

The recipe serves six generously. This accompanies buttered noodles or buttered steamed potatoes well. But it also goes well with lightly salted brown rice. Imperial Russian food, even if it's the poor man's version, needs a wine. Given the richness of the beef-mushroom-cream dish, a refined dry red, such as a good Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot would be right.

'Chopped' Beef Stroganoff Tim

2 pounds ground sirloin (not round)
1 strip smoked bacon, optional
1 medium onion
2 pounds mushrooms
1 medium-large clove garlic
2 bay leaves
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon marjoram
1/2 teaspoon oregano
Large pinch of cayenne
1 cup white wine
1/2 cup water
1 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon minced or snipped fresh dill or parsley

Place the ground sirloin in a heavy pan over medium heat and start to fry it, breaking it up with a wooden spoon. Mince the bacon, if used, and add it to the beef. Chop the onion and add it to the meat. Rinse the mushrooms and slice them lengthwise 1/2-inch thick and add them to the meat. Mince the garlic, and add it plus the bay leaves. Fry this mixture gently, breaking up the meat, until the onions are translucent and the mushrooms have shrunken.

Stir in the salt, seasonings, wine, and water. Simmer 5 minutes.

Add the sour cream and bring the mixture just to a boil. Remove from the heat. Taste, and add salt, if needed. Stir in the dill or parsley

Let rest, covered, a few minutes before serving (or it can be refrigerated and reheated later to serve). Taste one final time, and add salt if needed,

Serve, sprinkled with a little more minced dill or parsley, accompanied with hot buttered noodles, potatoes, or salted brown rice.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

French Lentil Salad: Salade de Lentilles

Although it's mid-summer, I'm offering a salad based on a dry legume, lentils. I've been in a lentil mood recently -- as can be seen in several recent recipes on the blog -- and I'm attracted to them because of their economy, in this economic downturn, but also because of their subtly delightful taste and their nutritiousness.

This French salad (sah-'lahd d' lawn-'tee), which was traditionally made in winter when fresh vegetables were scarce, tastes fresh and tangy enough for eating at any time. However, the more modern recipe presented here actually has several fresh summer vegetables to give both color and summer taste. The color of the garnishes makes this dish suitable for buffets, especially at Christmas, but bright enough for any occasion. Lentil salad can serve as a side dish, or it can be offered as an appetizer course on its own if spooned onto lettuce leaves. It even can be spooned onto sliced baguette for hors d'oevres. The recipe serves six or more.

French Lentil Salad Tim

1/2 pound (1 cup) dry tan or green lentils
1 small bay leaf
1 medium clove of garlic, bruised
1 teaspoon salt, divided
1/4 teaspoon black pepper, divided
3 tablespoons wine vinegar or lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large scallion (green onion), or 2 tablespoons minced onion
2 tablespoons chopped roasted red pepper or pimento (optional)
2 small-medium tomatoes or 1 cup grape tomatoes
1-1/2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1 extra tomato or grape tomatoes plus sprigs of parsley for garnish

Pick over the lentils and discard any foreign matter. Soak the lentils in plenty of boiling water for 20 minutes. Drain them well. Place lentils in a pot, add fresh water to just cover the lentils, and return to a boil. Reduce to a simmer. Skim off any foam that rises. Stir in the bay leaf, garlic, 1/2 teaspoon of the salt, and 1/8 teaspoon of black pepper. Simmer, uncovered, just at the edge of a boil, stirring gently from time to time and adding a little water, if needed, to keep the water level at the surface of the lentils. Cook just until just tender (15-20 minutes, depending on the lentil type used), testing a few lentils by biting them. Drain the lentils in a colander (the juice can be used in soups or stews, if you wish), shaking them gently. Transfer them to a large bowl to cool, and stir them gently from time to time. Remove the bay leaf and garlic.

Gently stir in the vinegar or lemon juice, olive oil, about 1/4 teaspoon salt, plus 1/8 teaspoon black pepper. If using scallion, cut it in thirds, line up the pieces and slice them very thinly, including the green parts; or use finely minced onion. Stir the scallion or onion plus the roasted pepper or pimento, if used, into the lentils. Allow the mixture to sit at least ten minutes. The salad is best if refrigerated 8 hours or more. Stir again, and taste. Add vinegar or lemon juice if not tangy enough, and add salt if necessary.

Shortly before serving, cut the tomatoes into small pieces and chop the parsley and stir both ingredients in, along with a little salt for the tomato. Serve in a low bowl or heaped up on a platter. Garnish with slices of the additional tomato, or halves of the grape tomatoes, and sprigs of parsley.