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Archive for the ‘Spices’ Category

As the seasons shift, so do my eating and cooking habits. Some days I don’t cook at all–relying on smoothies, salads, and chilled soups for sustenance. The “Big Oven” gets the summer off, unless there’s a cake or cookie or entree I just can’t force bake in the toaster oven. With the summer equinox fast approaching, I’d begin to notice the reappearance of gorgeous yellow squashes at the farmer’s markets. Last week, I grabbed a couple, figuring I’d grill them or eat them raw (I like to dip them in hummus). But they sat there for a day or so, beautiful yet uninspiring. Until I read a post on zucchini kuku by my amiga over at My Persian Kitchen.

A closer look!

Kuku, you ask? Why yes, it’s an Iranian omelette that’s a perfect marriage of veggies, spices, and convenience. It’s sort of a cross between a frittata and a souffle. Without, of course, the souffle drama. Because you know that in the kitchen, I do not do drama. Well, at least not deliberately 😉  I figure there’s enough inherent drama and suspense in cooking and baking as it is.

As for kuku, it’s the perfect summer dish, because it travels well and tastes great hot, warm, or even cold. It’s filling but not heavy.  You can bake it in the oven, or cook it on the stovetop. This time, I used my toaster oven, which worked perfectly and kept the Big Oven out of play, and from heating the house.

So I decided to base my efforts on the recipe from My Persian Kitchen, but with my yellow squash rather than zucchini. And as I was tinkering around in the kitchen, I noticed a lone sweet potato, left over from the colder months, sitting there kind of looking sad. “I wonder if that grating that sweet potato and using it in this kuku would taste good. I bet it would.”

So that’s exactly what I did, and in the process, found a new dish to love. A dish that perfectly straddles the shift between spring and summer, and could easily straddle the shift between summer and fall, for that matter.

Kuku (Iranian Omelette) with Summer Squash and Sweet Potato

2 teaspoons cooking fat of choice (netural oil, ghee, butter, butter substitute, etc)

1 onion, medium dice

1 teaspoon turmeric

2 large garlic cloves, finely grated

2 summer squash, grated (no more than a pound of squash before grating)

1 medium sweet potato, peeled and grated

salt and pepper to taste

5 eggs

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 375 F.

2. Add cooking fat to a cold skillet (skillet I used was an 8-inch cast iron skillet by Lodge). Heat over medium low.

3. Add in the onions and saute, stirring often, until translucent (about 5 minutes).  Add turmeric and garlic to onions and saute for another minute or so.

4. Add in the grated squash and sweet potato. Add salt and pepper and mix.  Cook until softened and the moisture is absorbed.

5.  As the vegetables are cooking, whisk the eggs and baking soda together with either a hand whisk or a fork. If you desire a more yellow color for the egg mixture, add another pinch of turmeric and stir well.

6. Allow the veggie mixture to drain and cool (I used a colander and a bowl to catch the drips underneath, plus patted the mixture several times with a kitchen towel to further push out excess moisture).

7.  Clean out the skillet, regrease with cooking fat or cooking spray of choice. In a large bowl, mix together veggie mixture and eggs, then pour it all into the skillet. Bake at 375 for 20-30 minutes (my kuku was done at 25 minutes, but your mileage may vary due to variation in the moisture of the mix). You’ll know it’s done when a knife or fork inserted into the center comes out clean.

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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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One pot lentil stew with chickpeas, spinach, carrots. My retreat Yogis loved it. It's easy to fix, and it tastes better after a day.

Today’s recipe is one of the very first I got good at cooking, back in my teendom days.  It’s simple, flavorful, and packed full of fiber, protein, iron, and B-vitamins, to name just a few. We’ve had some unseasonably cool days here recently, and settling down in the evening with a big bowl of this stew is oh-so-comforting.

My sister, Mona, left, and I head out for a day of sightseeing and Yoga, with lentil and chickpea stew waiting for us at home upon our return.

Good news: this dish tastes better after sitting in the fridge for a day or two. Love that! This stew was a big hit at the recent Yoga retreat I hosted, and I promised to post the recipe. I also promised my college student sis, Mona, that I’d post this so she can make it up ahead of time and have it on hand for her busy weeks of school and work. So here goes:

One Pot Lentil Stew and Chickpea Stew

Ingredients:

Olive oil

1 medium onion

2 large carrots

3-5 large garlic cloves

3 teaspoons each of cardamom and coriander

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 scant teaspoon cumin

1 scant teaspoon allspice

1 cinnamon stick (optional)

1 ½ cups lentils (brown or yellow preferred)

4-5 cups filtered water

1 28 ounce can of peeled, whole tomatoes

Salt to taste

Black pepper to taste

14-16 ounces cooked chickpeas (either canned or pre-cooked)

2 cups fresh spinach

Directions:

1.       Heat olive oil over a low flame in a large soup pot. As the oil heats, peel and chop the onions and carrots.

2.       Raise the heat of the pan to medium. Add the onions and carrots and stir well to begin cooking them. Cook for about five minutes, stirring often, until softened.

3.       Lower the flame to low. Add the garlic and spices and stir well. When the spices’ aroma begins to bloom (in about 30-60 seconds), remove the pan from heat immediately and turn off the heat. Cook for 30 seconds to one minute more.

4.       Add the lentils, canned tomatoes, cinnamon stick, 1 teaspoon of salt, pepper and water to the pot. Break up the tomatoes and stir everything together really well.

5.       Return pot to burner, and bring to a boil. Once stew is boiling, drop the flame down to low and cook for 20-30 minutes more, or until both carrots and lentils are tender.

6.       Add the pre-cooked chickpeas. (If using canned, be sure to strain the liquid and rinse the chickpeas).

7.       To finish, turn off the flame and add the spinach. The residual heat will wilt the spinach, leaving it a bright green color without overcooking it.

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FaRAWfel anyone? A fun raw falafel ball recipe to kick of your Meatless Monday.

I’ve been really into raw foods lately. I find that as the weather warms, I like more salads, more smoothies, and lighter, cooler fare. Such choices feel better to me. Raw food fits the bill beautifully, and it energizes me quite nicely. However, there’s no reason we can’t pack our raw goodies with some good old Middle Eastern flair.

Really good falafel can taste meaty. And my raw version tastes very meaty, too!

That’s exactly what my sister Mona and I did with our FaRAWfels. Also known as Raw Falafel. It’s simply a meaty tasting nut pate with Middle Eastern spices tossed in for that special flavah. I noticed a raw taco nut “meat” recipe on Averie’s blog. I tried it and it was awesome. No surprise there. She has great recipes 🙂 .

Then I decided to take her basic template and put the falafel spices into play and see what happened. Good things, that’s what!

Mona and I enjoyed them for dinner atop a raw kale salad topped with my tahini red pepper dressing. We had this delicious meal recently after taking a nice, long walk around one of NYC’s most vibrant neighborhoods– East Harlem, which is also called el Barrio. Before we get to the recipe, take a look at some of what we saw and we strolled around on a Sunday afternoon. I love that the Barrio has tons of murals and little hidden community gardens:

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FaRAWfels (Raw Falafel)

Modified from a brilliant nut pate “taco meat” recipe of Averie’s on LoveVeggiesandYoga.com. To keep it strictly raw, use all raw nuts and seeds.

Ingredients:

1/2 cup Almonds

1/2 Cup Walnuts

1/4 Cup Pecans

1/4 Cup Sunflower Seeds

1/3 C Sun Dried Tomatoes loosely packed (I prefer those that aren’t packed with oil. If you used oil packed, you can probably use less olive oil)

2 Tablespoons Middle Eastern Spice Blend of choice (Click here for my blend)

2 Tablespoons paprika

2 Tablespoons za-tar blend of choice (Optional)

2 to 4 Tablespoons of Olive Oil

1 Tsp Salt (or to taste)

Directions:

1. Gather ingredients.

2. To a blender or food processor, toss in nuts, sundried tomatoes, and spices.

3. Add olive oil and blend until the nuts are broken up and the ingredients nicely mixed. Go slow–I like mine a bit on the chunky side, with some whole seeds left. You might need to add a tiny touch of water to get things moving. Go easy if you choose to add water.

4. Roll into balls and serve.

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Just a little tahini-red pepper-cumin dressing that I whipped up in a blender, but it's an oh-so-tasty way to dress a salad.

We’ve talked before about how I eat a lot of salads. Love them! So dressing them properly and deliciously is of the utmost importance. Dressing a salad isn’t so different from dressing one’s self, I suppose. Now I’m much more foodie that fashionista any day, but there are indeed parallels when it comes to this dressing business.

Dressing a salad with a tasty, inviting option reminds me of donning a gorgeous outfit paired with the perfect accessories. Sometimes the accessories even steal the show and garner the most compliments!

As for accessorizing my salads, I avoid the bottled stuff unless I’m in a situation where there’s no practical way to make my own dressing. Even the best bottled dressings don’t hold a candle to a good, homemade dressing, IMHO. Fighting words? Maybe!

Check out the accessories I chose to go with this outfit--gold heels and some fun bangles. Nope, wasn't going for the minimalist look that night at my friend's traditional Afghan wedding!

Yeah, dressings usually have fat, but can be good fat, especially in moderation and if the dressing motivates you to eat more salad and veggies. Here’s my latest salad dressing creation, with it’s brick-red color and the bold flavors of mellow tahini, sweet red pepper, and earthy cumin give it that Middle Eastern vibe I love so much. It has a hint of spice and a pleasant smokiness in the background.

Oh, and I even snuck in some super healthy flax seeds, which are great for, among other things, the skin and digestive system. Cuz I’m stealthy healthy like that ;-)!

You can bet we’ll be whipping up a batch of this brick red beauty this weekend at the Yoga retreat I’m hosting.

For now, mas-salama and shanti, ya’ll!

Tangy Tahini Red Pepper and Cumin Salad Dressing

In a blender, combine:

4 Tablespoons tahini paste

2 Tablespoons flax seeds

2 Tablespoons nutritional yeast (optional, but worthwhile, as it gives a subtle cheesy flavor

2 large garlic cloves

3 scallions, chopped, or 2 Tablespoons of onion, chopped

1 Tablespoon of paprika

1 teaspoon red pepper paste, or 1/4 of a fresh or roasted red bell pepper

1 teaspoon of cumin (more if you want!)

Squeeze of lemon (optional)

Water for blending

Salt and pepper to taste (optional–I found I didn’t need any!)

1. Put all ingredients except water into the blender. Add enough water so that everything can move around when the blender’s on. Add more water as needed to create the desired consistency. Taste and adjust seasoning if desired.

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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.

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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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