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Archive for the ‘spicy’ Category

Ginger, garlic, and chile are the foundations of this simple soup. I used chipotles that were pre-cooked in adobo sauce, but you could use other peppers if that's easier for your. Photo courtesy of stock.xchng.

What’s that old saying?  “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.”

That’s what this week feels like. Here I was with big plans to do the following:

  • A thorough, if late, deep housecleaning to prep for Persian New Year (Nowruz).
  • Batches and batches of cookies baked (and photographed and blogged about!)
  • To send out some of said treats as gifts.
  • A delicious Persian New Year feast over the weekend.
  • Oh, and to teach just shy of 20 classes. . .
  • . . . AND to serve as a bridesmaid in my friend’s wedding this weekend.

Yeah, right. That sound you hear? That’s the Universe laughing at my plans.  Loudly. I’m laughing now, too, at myself for thinking I could get all of that stuff done, even under the best of circumstances. You see,  I started feeling not so great late last week, and haven’t been quite able to shake the feeling since. So I scaled back on my ambitions, focusing on resting and working and, quite frankly, just getting through the week. (Don’t worry, I don’t teach with a fever and I’m not doing adjustments this week just to be on the ultra-safe side).

I have so much garlic around my place. It's slightly ridiculous, and no, I don't fear vampires 😉 Photo courtesy of stock.xchng.

I also threw everything but the kitchen sink (and the doctor) at this annoying bug. You name it: Vitamin C, immune supplements, kombucha, juices, garlic, ginger, spices, cake, sleep, TV, movies, tea, menthol, baths, books, carbs, probiotics, Swedish bitters, and probably at least a half-dozen more things.

It’s been quite stubborn. Very strange, considering I’m rarely sick.

On the positive side, I did make a soup that truly helps me feel better. I breathe deeper and feel less achey when I eat this. It’s super simple to make, otherwise I never would have made it. Ha! It’s not Persian, not even Middle Eastern. It IS good, though, and I’m so grateful for the simple healing powers of ginger, garlic, and chili. When tossed in my slow cooker, they created some kind of magic:

Spicy Soup with Ginger, Garlic, and Chili Pepper

Ingredients

  • 1 chunk of ginger, peeled (about 2 Tablespoons)
  • As many garlic cloves as you want, peeled (I did about 5)
  • 2 chipotle chiles in adobo sauce (can sub other chiles if that’s easier for you)
  • 1/2 medium onion, in chunks
  • 32 ounces chicken or veggie broth
  • 2 potatoes, cubed
  • 1 cup of baby carrots, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 can chickpeas, drained (14-16 ounces)
  • Slivered scallions for garnish (optional)
  • Avocado as a topper (optional)
  • 1 Teaspoon cumin (optional; if you don’t use chipotles in adobo, use some cumin to pick up that smoky flavor)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

1. In a blender, combine ginger, garlic, chili, onion, and broth. Blend until smooth.

2. Pour mixture in a slow cooker. Add potatoes and carrots, and cumin, if using. Stir. Cook for 4 hours.

3.  Stir in chickpeas. Taste and adjust seasoning (the broth can be salty, so make sure to taste first before adding salt)

4. Ladle into bowls and serve topped with scallions and/or avocado chunks.

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Harissa sauce, or paste, can range in color from relatively light, like my orangey spread, to a much deeper red.

My homemade harissa is a fast, simple, saucy paste of red peppers, walnuts, garlic, and any number of optional spices. It can be as fiery or as mild as you wish, but it tastes fantastic pretty much any way you put it together. It’s a super flexible recipe, so ingredient amounts don’t have to be exact.

So where exactly does this stuff come from? Well, according to Wikipedia:

Harissa is a Tunisian hot chilli sauce commonly eaten in North Africa whose main ingredients are Piri piri chili peppers, serrano pepper or other hot chillis and olive oil. It is a standard ingredient of North African cuisine,[1] most closely associated with Tunisia and Algeria[2] but recently also making inroads in Morocco according to food expert Paula Wolfert.[3]

Recipes for harissa vary according to the household and region. Variations can include the addition of cumin, red peppers, garlic, coriander, and lemon juice. In Saharan regions, harissa can have a smoky flavor. Prepared harissa is also sold in tubes, jars, and cans.

I have a feeling this versatile sauce, which can be used as a dip, condiment, pasta sauce, soup topper, meat marinade, and more, will make an appearance at my upcoming Upstate New York Yoga retreat. I’m so excited about the retreat. I’m planning all sorts of fun activities, like a meal made on the grill, a farm tour, and lots of great Yoga classes and downtime.

Looking for a more immediate use of harissa? It’s a key part of another my North African-influenced sweet potato stew.

Harissa Sauce

Ingredients

  • 1 jar roasted red bell peppers
  • 1/4 cup walnuts
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 3-5 garlic cloves, peeled and quartered
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper (you decide how big or small)
  • 1/2 teaspoon each (or more) of any or all of the following: cumin, coriander, caraway seeds, cardamom, allspice
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

1. Rinse and drain jarred bell peppers.

2. Put all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth, adding a bit of water if needed to get/keep things moving.

3. Taste and add salt and pepper to taste, if desired. Add more of the other spices if you wish. Re-blend. Taste, and serve immediately, or jar it in an airtight container and put it in the fridge.

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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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Shakshuka with eggplant. This is one variation, as there are many types of shakshuka.

Shakshuka is a dish popular in many different countries of the Middle East. Before anyone gets up in arms and says today’s recipe isn’t done “right,” 😉  please consider this: This is but one version of shakshuka.

Shakshuka is many different things to many different people. There are numerous versions, all too delicious and unique to have one “correct” version. Some use meat; some use eggs; still others are vegetarian. This is the type of food, by the way, that often tastes better the next day.

The shakshuka we’re exploring today is eggplant-based, earth-toned, and mild, but others are spicy and/or pepper based and reddish. There are other differences, which I personally think it’s great, because it means there are infinite ways to enjoy this dish. So if anyone wants to chime in in the comments section with their own take on shakshuka, feel free!

Chinese eggplants, they're called. I love their mild flavor and festive purple hue, but regular eggplants work just as well.Photo: http://www.Stock.Xchng.com

My sources tell me that shakshuka (pronounced shake-shoo-kuh) is a popular dish to use up vegetables and meats, which may explain why the dish is so flexible and has so many variations. Today’s version, while Syrian in origin, somewhat reminds me of Persian eggplant koresh (Koresh e Badenjan). However, that that stew has its own special flavor, which we’ll explore another time.

Speaking of Persian, the Persian girl in me loves shakshuka served over rice with dollop of yogurt on top, but for a more traditional presentation, you could ladle some of the stew on top of warm pita bread or serve the pita on the side. Do try to sprinkle some parsley or fresh cilantro on top for a color pop and flavor boost. Use more water to make the shakshuka more stew-like. For a dip, use less liquid.


Slow Cooker Shakshuka

Serves 4-6

Ingredients:

1 bunch of fresh cilantro (about 1 cup, rinsed. Leaving stems on is okay–they have good flavor)

1  medium onion, halved

4 garlic cloves

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom

1 teaspoon salt (can use more or less, according to your  to taste)

1 teaspoon black pepper (can use more or less, according to your taste)

4 Chinese eggplants, or one large eggplant (about 1 pound of eggplant total)

2 Tablespoons tomato paste

1/2 cup ketchup (better to get the kind without cornsyrup if possible)

1 Tablespoon paprika

3-4 cups filtered water

Optional: 1 14-16 ounce can of chickpeas, drained

Optional: Freshly chopped parsley or cilantro for garnish

Directions:

1.  In a blender or food processor, blend the half of the onion plus the cumin, coriander, cardamom, cilantro, garlic, salt and pepper until this all forms a pesto-like paste. Add water as needed to keep things moving.

2. If removing peel from eggplant, remove. Then chop the eggplant into 1/2 inch disks or half moons, or chunks. Chop the remaining onion and add it, along with the tomato paste, ketchup, and paprika, to the slow cooker. Add water and stir everything thoroughly.

3. Cook on high for 4 to 6 hours, or on low for 8 hours.

4. A few minutes before serving, add in the drained chickpeas and stir. Check seasoning and make any adjustments to the amount of salt and pepper.  Garnish with fresh herbs (if using) and enjoy!

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A rich, flavorful dish North African-inspired sweet potato Crockpot stew. This vegan dish takes help from the slow cooker and store-bought or a quick homemade harissa paste.While it's vegetarian (really vegan), you could easily add in meat, though it's plenty hearty and flavorful without any meat.

Inspiration to cook can come from near, far, or simply your pantry. Not far from where I live, there is a thriving neighborhood with many African immigrants. They come from different countries like Senegal, Mauritania, and Mali, to name a few. I noticed that on some of the restaurant menus, they have a stew made with peanut butter, herbs, meats, and vegetables, root vegetables in particular.

Such a stew sounded like a great idea, and I decided to make a sweet potato-based vegan stew of my own with harissa sauce and almond butter providing the flavoring. Harissa is a hot chile sauce made from crushed chilies, tomatoes and paprika, and herbs like coriander and caraway. So you see, I took a distinctly West African dish, put a North African spin on it (harissa is a common ingredient in the cuisines of North Africa), and used my American peanut-butter alternative to come up with something unique, healthy, and fun.

I served this stew with brown rice and a side of collard greens. It was a meal that was hearty without being heavy, and quite tasty.

Spicy North African Sweet Potato Stew

1-2 teaspoons neutral cooking oil of choice (I used coconut oil)

1 medium onion, chopped

2 teaspoons freshly grated ginger

4 grated garlic cloves

2 cups low sodium vegetable broth or stock

2/3 Cup almond butter

4 medium sweet potatoes in large chunks (peeling optional; scrub thoroughly if leaving peels on)

1 medium potato, diced (peeling optional; scrub thoroughly if leaving peels on)

2 Tablespoons Harissa paste (Don’t have? See Note below this recipe to make your own)

1 Tablespoon turmeric

2 teaspoons fenugreek

Pinch each of cinnamon and allspice

Salt and pepper to taste

1 can black beans, drained

Optional: garnish with herbs of choice. Some good options: cilantro, flat-leaf parsley, watercress.

Directions

1. In a small skillet or saucepan, gently warm coconut oil over a medium flame. Once oil is shimmery, add in onions and cook for 3 minutes, stirring often. Lower heat to low, then add in ginger and garlic. Cook for 2 minutes more. Turn off heat and remove pan from heat.

2. Place all ingredients except for black beans and herb garnish into the slow cooker. Stir thoroughly, making sure to break up any lumps in almond butter and harissa paste.

3. Cook on high for 4-6 hours, or low for 8 hours. Adjust seasoning to taste. Stir in black beans, and garnish with herbs, if using.

NOTE: If you don’t have harissa paste/sauce, whip up a simple version by blending one jarred bell red bell pepper (rinsed) and/or a couple of tablespoons of tomato paste with one tablespoon of paprika, a few chili flakes, and a few herbs. Toss in a pinch of whatever you have of the following: ground cumin, coriander, caraway, allspice, nutmeg, and blend.

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