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Posts Tagged ‘Spices’

 

Hot cocoa with some chai spices thrown in . . .a joyful morning delight.


In my world, few things make a morning more tolerable, maybe even a tad joyful, than a steaming cup of homemade hot cocoa. I actually somewhat look forward to the cold winter mornings for this very reason. Perhaps this means I need to investigate the possibility of getting a life, but hey, there’s nothing wrong with being amused by the smaller, simpler pleasures, right?

Community garden in Harlem that I spotted on a recent walk. Sadly, this sliver of property, sandwiched in between brownstones, is for sale. I wish it could stay as it is–a wonderful seasonal space.

It’s fun to play around with the flavorings of hot chocolate. Like my Persian Hot Chocolate–dark chocolate infused with cardamom and saffron. Here are my tips on how to make the perfect cup:

  • Always use the highest quality cocoa powder (or nibs, or whatever) you can find. Droste’s is a good brand that costs a bit more, but I find worth it.
  • Go with unsweetened if possible. Just try it! Dark and unsweetened is my personal favorite. You can always add sweetness to your taste. Who knows, you may come to love, as I sometimes do, a cup of unsweetened hot cocoa.
  • Use milk for a rich and creamy taste, but definitely consider dairy alternatives. Some of my favorite hot chocolate “base” milks are coconut milk, hazelnut milk, almond milk, and rice milk.
  • Have fun and get creative flavoring your drink. Take a hint from coffeehouses. Mint mocha? Mint hot chocolate!  Hazelnut flavoring? Hazelnut hot choc. Chai Latte? How about a Chocolate Chai Latte? In fact, let’s do that now:

Hot Chocolate Chai Latte

For one serving:

  • 8 ounces milk of choice
  • 2 generous Tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 1 Chai tea teabag OR a quarter-sized chunk of fresh ginger, a few black peppercorns, and a cinnamon stick (or a teaspoon of cinnamon powder)
  • 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract (optional)
  • Sweetener of choice (stevia, sugar, etc)

Directions:
1. Warm a non-reactive sauce pan under low heat. Add in chocolate and lightly “toast” for 20-30 seconds over low heat to bring out the flavors.

2. Add in one-third of the milk and whisk until chocolate is lump-free and well-dissolved into the milk.

3. Add in the rest of the milk and whisk again. If using the teabag, add it in now. Or, add in the fresh ginger, peppercorns, and cinnamon. This allows the spicy flavors to infuse.

4. Do not boil, but cook on low heat until the edges of the milk start to bubble.

5.  Stir in vanilla (if using) and remove from heat. Pour into serving cup of choice.

6.  If using sweetener, sweeten to taste and enjoy!

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Baby eggplants stuffed with lean ground chicken, pine nuts, scallions, and walnuts. Topped with a warm sour-cherry pomegranate sauce.

Maybe I”m too easily amused, but a trip to the farmer’s market is one of the highlights of my week. I’m quite obsessed with farmer’s markets, really. To the point that I’ll always try to hit up the local markets when I travel. It’s a cool way to get a feel for a city or town. The vibe, the people, the types of food that grow there. It’s informative, fresh, and chill.

Mini eggplants at my neighborhood farmer's market. A steal at $1.50 per pound.

Right now, eggplant is in season in my corner of the world. In particular, those precious baby aubergines, with hues ranging from lavender to deep purple. They were just begging me to buy them and stuff them silly.

Full disclosure moment: Today’s recipe is a total riff on something Joumana of Taste of Beirut did recently.  Her Eggplant in Walnut and Pomegranate sauce was too tempting to pass up. The first time around, I honored her recipe and it was fabulous. Then I decided to experiment and make a meat-stuffed eggplant with a sour cherry pomegranate sauce.

Fairytale eggplant, to the left. Yes, they're really called that. These petite beauties are delicious stuffed.

The eggplants are left unpeeled, then baked, and finally stuffed with a mixture of ground chicken, ground walnuts, scallions, and pine nuts. Then they’re sauced with a simple mixture of sour cherry preserves (or juice), pomegranate paste, and chili pepper. It’s a meal that’s satisfying without being heavy, and it’s pretty darn good for you too.

So thank you, Joumana and to my local farmers market for providing the inspiration for today’s dish.

So delicious, so healthy!

Stuffed Baby Eggplant with Sour Cherry Pomegranate Sauce

If you can’t find small eggplants, you can use bigger eggplants instead. Adjust cooking time accordingly. Sour (tart) cherry or pomegranate juices/jams can be used interchangeably for the sauce. Good to know in case you don’t have easy access to one or the other.

Ingredients:

  • 24 baby eggplants
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 2/3 pound of ground chicken (can use turkey, lamb, beef if you prefer)
  • 1 Tablespoon Arabic spice blend
  • 1 Tablespoon sage
  • 2 Tablespoons za’atar (optional)
  • 1/2 bunch of scallions, thinly sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped or even grated
  • 1/2 cup ground walnuts (optional)
  • 1/4 cup of pine nuts
  • 1 Tablespoon tomato paste
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Sour Cherry Pomegranate Sauce

  • 2 Tablespoons sour cherry preserves OR 1/2 cup tart cherry juice
  • 2/3 cup pomegranate juice
  • 1/2 dried chili pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon cardamom
  • pinch turmeric

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 425. As oven preheats, wash and pat dry baby eggplants. Line your baking pans or dishes with foil. Place baby eggplants on baking sheet or dish. Do not overcrowd. Bake for 30 minutes on the middle oven rack, testing for doneness at 25 minutes.

2. As eggplants roast, make filling. Warm olive oil in a skillet. Once it’s shimmery, add chicken, breaking up the ground chicken as you move it around the pan. When chicken is approximately half cooked (you’ll be able to tell parts of it are still raw), add in spices, including za’atar, if using,  plus scallions and garlic. Cook chicken until done. Next, add in scallions, pine nuts, ground walnuts, and stir. Add in tomato paste and splash of water if mixture is getting dry. Stir again, taste, and adjust seasoning to taste. Cook another minute or two more, then turn off heat.

3. Remove eggplants from the oven. With a fork or knife, test for doneness (fork or knife should slide easily through the eggplants). Place eggplants in a safe place and allow to cool.

4. As the eggplants cool, make the sour cherry pomegranate sauce. Simply mix all of the ingredients together, and cook over a LOW heat for 5-10 minutes, until desired consistency is reached. (If you want the sauce syrupy, feel free to cook for more than 10 minutes).

5. Now split each baby eggplant down the middle. Stuff each with a spoonful of the chicken mixture. If you have leftover scallions, use them for garnish. Or garnish with fresh chopped parsley. Spoon sauce over eggplants, plate, and enjoy!

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Avocados are the foundation for today's recipe, a smooth, cooling, and creamy no-cook chilled soup.

Ahhhh summer. The ice in your tea glass melts instantly.  When your inner warmth might just start to feel more like a raging fire inside. And yes, when tempers (and sometimes complexions) flare.

Can you tell summer isn’t my favorite season? ;-)

I suppose I’d like summer much more if I had a cool mountain cabin, or a beach house, or a luscious, breezy  island to escape to. But, alas, I don’t. At least not yet! What do I have instead of a quiet, soothing getaway? Two busy jobs in a sometimes hot, sometimes fetid, and always crowded city.

Enjoying a cooling and refreshing green smoothie, something I do a lot these hot days.

Don’t get me wrong–I’m grateful for my work, enjoy New York City much of the time, and am not immune to summer’s charms. Free concerts in the park, the occasional beach day, the ice cream truck’s passing jingle.  It’s just that for me, making it through the season is a bit of a project. I thrive more in fall, spring, and to a lesser degree, winter. I find winter’s chill refreshing and invigorating, but I don’t necessarily long to spend days on ski slopes or anything like that, if that makes any sense.

For all of the above, I blame/credit my dosha. I’m a Pitta, with a bit of Vata and an even tinier dash of Kapha thrown in. Dosha, you say? Is that some sort of wrap sandwich? Nope, it’s actually our individual constitutions, according to Ayurveda, the sister science of Yoga. Constitution meaning things like energy levels, temperament, skin tone, and body type. Curious to know more? Click here for a quick, easy, free dosha test.

So, with my dosha in mind, one of my strategies in the summer consists of  enjoying yet more smoothies, minty teas, cold, crisp salads, and cold soups. Today’s cooling avocado soup is the perfect antidote for those occasions when you’d like a velvety, cool soup, but prefer not to cook. I served it recently at my Bollywood themed dinner party. It’s rich and creamy without being heavy.  The version I’m sharing today has a bit of a Persian flare, because I added in fenugreek.

And, full disclosure, this is an adaptation of a recipe I got from my new favorite spa/holistic clinic, Pratima, right here in New York City. I just started going there this past week, and already am seeing improvement from my seasonal eczema and breakout flareups. Pratima herself literally wrote the book on Ayurvedic beauty, and uses a holistic, natural approach to healing the skin and entire body. Go see her if you’re in New York. Her presence is powerfully calming and reassuring. If you’re not in NY, never fear; she does phone consults. And no, they did not pay me or compensate me in any way for the enthusiastic shout-out. It comes from my heart :-) They have no idea I even have this here blog.

Ok, so now for the recipe, with my slight tweaks:

Chilled Avocado Soup

Recipe adapted from a recipe by Erica Corte, Ayurvedic therapist and jewelry designer.

Ingredients:

  • 1 tbsp coconut oil
  • 2 ripe avocados, halved, pitted, peeled, and sliced
  • 2 cups fresh carrot juice
  • 1 kirby cucumber, skin on, halved
  • Juice of one lime
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground fenugreek (optional)
  • 1 tbsp Braggs’s amino acids
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh mint leaves
  • 2 cups filtered water
  • 1 tsp maple syrup
  • Celtic or sea salt to taste

Directions:

Put all the ingredients,  in a blender or a food processor fitted with the stainless steel blade. Blend or process until contents are smooth. Season to taste with salt and cover. Chill in a refrigerator for 20 minutes before enjoying. I served mine straight from the blender (classy, I know ;-) ), but feel free to transfer your soup to a serving bowl.

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The Zatar Burger is born, and just in time for Memorial Day Weekend! The bright dipping sauce is a mix of hummus, ketchup, a splash of mustard, and a generic (but good) Arabic spice blend. Thin out the sauce with water if you need to.

Sometimes nothing’s better than a burger. While I love my salads dearly and mainly eat a plant-based diet, sometimes a good old-fashioned wallop of protein is the only way for me to go. I blame my Type O blood for the periodic protein craving. Oh, and coming from a long line of people who know their way around kebabs, burgers, and all manner of meats certainly doesn’t help either. ;-)

I'm feeling festive lately. Mainly because a holiday weekend looms. (I get the actual holiday off this time, which is great). But the festive feeling might also stem from the fact that I was a "fit model" this week for my friend Denise's bridesmaid dress shopping expedition. As one of her bridesmaids, I might get to wear this lovely number to her wedding in March.

With Memorial Day around the corner, I figured it’d be timely and tasty to offer up a creative burger option.

Burgers are fun because you’re only limited by your imagination as to how you can pump them full of flavor. Just make sure to buy the best organic, humanely raised, grass-fed meat you can afford, to ensure your burgers aren’t pumped full of hormones as well.

An easy and festive burger to make.

Recently, I was in the mood for a creative burger with a Middle Eastern flavor. Okay, I know some of you are thinking, “Why not just make kebab? Duh!” Point taken, but I wanted something that was more East Meets West. Plus, I wanted to enjoy that decadent brioche roll/burger bun that was lurking in my freezer! Dear Lord how I love a good brioche, or a challah bread for that matter. Siiiiggghhhhh. . .

So I tossed together some organic bison meat (it’s leaner than beef), some steak seasoning, some zatar (more on that later), olive bits, sundried tomato bits, fresh grated onion and grated garlic. Then I bound everything with a splash of ketchup and Worchestshire and voila! The Zatar Burger was born! A juicy, flavorful, and creative burger that almost didn’t need the brioche bun to taste perfect. Oh, and for the record, I photographed this burger on a  multi-grain bun because it (surprisingly!) looked much nicer than the brioche. Which was moot, because the brioche was long gone by the time I got around to photographing this recipe anyways, but I digress.

An example of zatar. Some mixes are greener. Some are more earth-toned. All are delicous.

Onward to zatar. What is it?  I blogged about it here, but a quickie explanation for now is that it’s an aromatic herb and sesame seed blend popular in many Middle Eastern countries. Sesame seeds and dried, milled herbs form this versatile powdery substance. Some of the traditional ways of serving it are on breads or as a dip when you soak some in olive oil.

I like to think outside of the traditional methods, and often use it in salads, sprinkled onto veggies of all sorts, and of course, in today’s burger.  Don’t have zatar on hand? No problem; an equal amount of herbs de Provence will do. Don’t have that either? Sprinkle in some oregano, dried thyme, and sesame seeds to approximate that fantastic zatar taste.

Zatar Burgers

Ingredients:

1 pound lean ground meat (beef, lamb, bison, or a blend of all three or any two)

1 medium onion

1 large clove of garlic

3 Tablespoons Zatar blend of choice OR 3 Tablespoons herbs de Provence plus 1 teaspoon sesame seeds OR 1 Tablespoon each of thyme, oregano, and sesame seeds.

2 Tablespoons grill seasoning of choice (more if needed)

1 scant teaspoon cumin powder

2 Tablespoons ketchup

1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce (optional)

1-2 Tablespoons sundried tomato bits

1-2 Tablespoons olives pieces (no pits, of course!)

4 burger buns or rolls of choice

Salad mix of choice

Hummus ketchup (see note at bottom of recipe)
Directions:

1. To prep burgers, grate half of onion and garlic into a bowl. (Cut the rest of the onion into slices to grill alongside burgers) Add in all spices, including zatar and stir. Then add in wet ingredients (ketchup and optional Worcestershire sauce) and stir again. Finally, add in olive and sundried tomato bits, and mix well.

2. Add in ground meat, and mix gently with hands to incorporate spice paste mix into meat. Don’t overwork. Form into four equal size patties, and grill on indoor or outdoor grill of choice until desire doneness is reached. When you flip the burgers, add the onion chunks to the grill to cook.

3. Arrange burgers in desired manner–on buns, atop a salad, or even wrapped in pita or lavash bread. If desired, serve with burger fixing of your choice. My preference is to serve them with slabs of grilled onion and hummus ketchup (recipe in note below).

NOTE: Optional Flexible Hummus Ketchup: Use a fork to mix together equal amounts premade hummus and ketchup in a small bowl. Add in a splash (teaspoon) of mustard, and a tablespoon of any Arabic spice blend. If you want a redder dip, add in some paprika or increase the amount of ketchup. If dip tastes too sweet, balance the flavor with some lemon or lime juice. Mix well and serve with burgers as a dipping sauce. For a garlicky kick, grate in some garlic. If a spicier flavor is desired, add a pinch or two of cayenne pepper.

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My portable spinach pies are easy to make, healthy, and travel quite well.Yep, not the best picture. Took it with my BBerry on an overcast day. I'll try to swap it out with a beauty shot of the pies very soon.

Sometimes recipes come together in the oddest ways. And so it goes with my Portable Spinach Pies. I’ve made spinach pies before, but never really committed to making them a staple of my cooking repertoire. I have no idea why, now that I’ve made them again. They’re delicious, nutritious, and highly portable. Bonus: They taste great at any temperature: hot, warm, and even cold.

Maybe it was the Phyllo Factor that kept me away so long? Or the simple fear of the unknown? Before we get into the recipe itself, here’s a quick slide show of a recent day trip I took to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. What does this have to do with spinach pies? Well, spinach pies were my lunch that day. In fact, the very spinach pie recipe I’m sharing with you. Please forgive the fact that some of the pics have captions and others don’t. I’m still learning how to work this cool new WordPress slideshow feature.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Those scenes were lovely, weren’t they? Ok, now back to cooking:

So I made and odd and wonderful time-saving discovery when making this pie. The first time I made the filling, I was going out of my way to saute plenty of onions and the perfect amount of garlic, to spice it “just” so, adding fresh lemon zest, and so on. I kept having to taste and adjust the seasoning. Was it good? Yes, it actually was, but it wasn’t quite perfect.

The second time I made the pies, I was super short on time–needed to leave within the hour. By this point, I had a pretty good idea of what the pie needed to have inside to taste good. But I didn’t have time to zest a lemon, to snip sun-dried tomatoes into bits, or to play around with getting the spices just right. In other words, this is what everyday life is like for a lot of us.

All of a sudden, I remembered that I had some fresh homemade salsa in the fridge that I’d made earlier in the week.  I thought, “I wonder if it would work? After all, it has onions, garlic, cumin, lemon, and even tomato. Yeah, there’s some cilantro in there, but not that much. Uhhhh, what time is it? Uh ok, wow, I gotta get outta here. Let’s just do this and pray.” So that’s exactly what happened.

I threw in a few spoonfuls of the salsa, along with some Arabic Spice Mixture, a few bits of chopped black olives, and sauteed it all together, adjusting the salt and pepper as it cooked. Bingo! It was perfect and took less than five minutes. The tomatoes added a richness to the pie, but you’d never know they’re in there unless you made them yourselves. The cilantro didn’t overpower. And the beautiful flavors of the onion and garlic were liberated the second they hit the hot olive oil. Luckily I’d made the salsa mild, so the jalapeno pepper taste didn’t even register. Amazing stuff!

Sometimes stumbled-upon shortcuts are just okay. I can honestly say this shortcut improved the recipe significantly.

So while it might seem tedious to make a fresh salsa just to use a few spoons of it in a spinach pie, please flip that script and think of it in a more positive light. The salsa is so excellent in many other contexts: as a snack, as topped for veggies and/or meats, mixed into beans as they simmer. Basically it’s magic, because it boosts and rounds out the flavor of pretty much anything it touches.  So we’ll start with that salsa recipe, then move on to the pie.


Magical Mild Homemade Salsa

1 28 ounce can of whole tomatoes and juice

1 medium onion, cut into large chunks

4-6 large garlic cloves, peeled and cut in half

1 jalapeno pepper, seeds and ribs removed

1/2 cup cilantro leaves (or parsley leaves if you have the “I hate cilantro” gene)

Juice of one lime or lemon

Dash of cumin (optional)

Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

1. Add all ingredients to a blender or food processor and pulse once. (Resist the urge to just let it rip and whip all of the ingredients together at once). Pulse one or two more times (or more if preferred) to get desired consistency. I like my salsas to have quite a bit of chunkiness to them, but you may prefer a smoother blend. Either way works.

Highly Portable Spinach Pies

Ingredients:

Olive oil

1 pound bag of frozen spinach, thawed and drained of excess water

1 tablespoon of Arabic Spice Blend ( or a few dashes of whatever spices you like, such as cumin, coriander, etc)

1/2 tablespoon fenugreek powder

1/4 cup fresh homemade salsa (recipe above)

3-4 Tablespoons of black olives cut into chunks (optional)

2-3 sundried tomatoes, snipped into bits (optional)

Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 275 F. Then start with a couple of teaspoons of olive oil. Heat it over medium heat in a large skillet or saute pan. Once the oil is shimmery and a drop of water skitters across its surface easily, add the spinach. (If you feel you need more oil, add it as needed).

2. As spinach sautes, keep it moving with your cooking tongs or a wooden spoon. Add the spices to the spinach. Stir and cook for 30 seconds to one minute, until spices’ aroma begins to bloom. Then add in the salsa, sundried tomato piece, and the olive chunks. Cook for one minute more.

3. Remove the filling from the heat and let it cool as you prep the phyllo dough.

4. Wrap 2-3 tablespoons of spinach mixture  in 2-3 sheets of phyllo dough. I like to wrap mine like burritos–I place the filling in the middle, fold the short edges upwards on each side, then wrap the rest of the dough around the pie. Click here for some visuals.

5. Place pies, seam side down,  in a well-oiled baking sheet. Slather the top of pies with olive oil. Bake for 45 minutes to an hour, flipping once. Pies should be light golden brown when removed from the pan. The low heat is a key element of this recipe, so please don’t blast that oven to save time. It doesn’t work. I know; I’ve tried.

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Beautiful ground and whole spices. For today's easy Persian and Arabic spice blends, I used pre-ground spices. Photo courtesy of http://www.sxc.hu/profile/nkzs

Like organizing my shoe collection or that abyss underneath the kitchen sink, putting together some handy spice blends was something I’ve been putting off. Once I did it though, I felt very liberated. Funny how that works, isn’t it?

To be quite honest, I don’t even really know why I kept avoiding this simple, time-saving task. Much like getting a closet or pantry organized, having spice blends handy will save you so darn much time. But I guess the process of putting them together can appear tedious.

But guess what’s a hundred times more tedious? Scooping out bits of spices from multiple jars almost every time you cook!

To save time when making these spice mixes, I bought my spices pre-ground. Sure, you can grind your own, if that’s your thing. Hey, I’ll admit that I have a spice grinder and I do get a real kick out of grinding my own sometimes. But in the interest of saving time, I just used powdered spices, as fresh as I could find them. Since I cook a lot, using these blends up should be no problem.

So here are a couple of handy spice blends of the Persian and Arabic persuasion that I finally rigged up. Feel free to adjust amounts of any (or all) of the spices up or down to suit your personal tastes:

Bria’s Quick Persian Spice Blend (Advieh)

In a clean, airtight jar, combine:

1-2 teaspoons each of ground:

cardamom, cinnamom, nutmeg, rose petals (optional)

1 teaspoon of:

orange peel (dried and finely minced or zested)

Bria’s Easy Arabic Spice Blend

In a clean, airtight jar, combine:

2-3 teaspoons each of ground:

Allspice, cardamom, cloves, coriander, cumin, nutmeg, paprika

1 teaspoon each of:

cinnamon, ginger, sumac

1/2 teaspoon of:

cumin

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