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Archive for the ‘Summer’ Category

At my recent Yoga retreat, quinoa was on the menu, but we ended up not making it. We had so many other delicious things, so it fell out of the rotation. I didn’t miss it, because I thought I didn’t really like it. Until now. You will, too, I bet. You could even take this to any Fourth of July festivities you might be celebrating this weekend. It’s easy to make and travels well.

I used white, also known as yellow, quinoa in my recipe. Look for it in the rice/grain section part of your store. Technically, it's not a grain. It's a seed. And it's gluten-free and very high in protein as well. Photo via wikipedia.

Back to my quinoa breakthrough. Imagine, cooking quinoa according the package directions, and it turning out awesome? Who’d have known? Certainly not me, as I’m not always one for following directions. I can barely make my own recipe the same way twice, much less another person’s. Ha!

I stumbled upon this recipe the other night when “shopping in my cabinets.” I decided to do something novel for me and made the quinoa according to the package directions (fry a cup of quinoa for 20 seconds in butter or oil, add two cups of boiling water, cover, simmer for 20 minutes, covered, over a low heat).

Happy Birthday, America. You're 235, you say? Well, you're forever 21 to me.

As it cooked, I chopped up a bunch of veggies that were hanging around unused: some roasted red peppers, celery, a couple of artichoke hearts. I added a can of (drained) white beans. Then I mixed this all into the fluffy quinoa, along with a couple of drizzles of olive oil, some ground cumin, and some Trader Joe’s 21 Salute seasoning (salt-free and very versatile!) I threw in some nutritional yeast, too.

It was a hit, and a new summer staple was born. It tastes lovely hot, cold, or at room temp. It travels well, and it’s light yet filling. It’s a flexible recipe: vary the veggies and spices and come up with  your own combos. Plus, quinoa is high in protein; along with the beans and veggies, you have a balanced one-dish meal or side.

Quinoa, I’m sorry for my past indifference and for leaving you out of the retreat festivities. I promise I’ll make it up to you somehow, someday!

Fluffy Summer Quinoa Salad

Ingredients to serve 4 as a side, 2 as a main dish:

  • 1 cup quinoa
  • oil or butter of choice
  • water
  • veggies of choice (such as peas, peppers, onions, artichoke hearts, asparagus, olive chunks, scallions, whatever you desire/have on hand)
  • 1 can of bean of choice, drained (I used white beans)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • spice blend of choice (I used Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning Salute)
  • ground cumin (couple of pinches)
  • nutritional yeast or parmesean cheese, grated (optional)

1. Cook quinoa according to package directions.

2. As quinoa cooks, chops up veggies, drain beans, and gather spices.

3. Once quinoa is done (takes about 20 minutes), remove from heat.  Fluff with a fork, add spices. Lightly stir. Add oil. Fluff a bit again. Add veggies and beans and stir again. Taste and adjust seasoning, oil, and veggies amounts if   needed. That’s IT!

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Mission (black) figs make an excellent jam when cooked with warming spices such as cardamom and cinnamon.

Canning and preserving has always both scared and fascinated me. On the one hand, it seems so practical, nourishing, and creative. It conjures up images of pantries full of summer’s bounty that can be enjoyed on cold, snowy nights.

On the other hand, it strikes me as highly technical and like there’s all sorts of specialized gear involved. I am sooooo not a technical person. I’m the type of person business concepts like Geek Squad are created for!

There’s something so primordial and elemental about fig leaves.

Luckily, jam and preserve-making needn’t be complicated. Rooting around online, I recently discovered that a quick fruit jam can be made on the stovetop, and stored in the fridge for a couple of months. Taste of Beirut featured a wonderful fig jam recently. Inspired, I chose figs as my fruit of choice for my first preserve making experiment. This beautiful fruit brings back wonderful memories of a fig tree we had at one point growing up. More on that in a moment.

I added in some vanilla extract and warm fall spices to give the figs a autumnal fragrance and taste, and am happy to report that the results were quite delicious!

The way the figs just soaked up the spices so well got me thinking about how versatile they are in general. For example, figs get shout-outs from numerous world religions :

  • Figs are the fruit that’s mentioned most in the Bible – They are prolific in the Old Testament, and in the New Testament Jesus uses figs in his parables.
  • Zamakkhschari, an Arabian interpreter of the Koran, reported that Mohammed said, “If I could wish a fruit brought to paradise it would certainly be the fig.”

  • While sitting under a fig tree, Siddhartha Gautama had the revelation that formed the foundations of Buddhism, and for Buddhists, the fig tree is revered as the tree of wisdom.
  • In the Hindu tradition, Siva, the Supreme Being, tempts Brahma with a blossom of the sacred fig-tree, dropped from heaven.
  • The Roman Bacchic cult used figs in their fertility rituals. Most ancient cultures actually believed they were an aphrodisiac.
  • The above factoids are all found at:  http://www.nutrafig.com/cheetahbar/story.html

Concentrating on this blog. Notice the big hair. Like they say down South, “The higher the hair, the closer to God.”

Back to that long-ago fig tree in the yard. My mom used to preserve figs off of that tree in the traditional manner every spring and summer. Those preserves were delicious, and one day I plan to get Mom to teach me how how to make them. Then I can store them in jars for cold winter’s nights and give jars of jam away as gifts. A taste of summer will only be a jar away.  For now, I’ll settle for quick preserves. Which, judging by this recipe, isn’t actually settling at all.

Mission Fig Jam with Warm Fall Spices

I used fresh Mission figs because they were what was available. Use the fresh fig type you have ready access to.

Ingredients:

  • 2 pounds fresh figs
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar (I mixed white sugar and brown sugar, approximately equal parts of each)
  • 1 or 2 Tablespoons pumpkin or apple pie spice powder
  • 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • Enough water to cover the fresh figs (start with a cup and work up from there if needed)

Directions

1. Wash figs. Mix sugar, water, vanilla extract, and spices together. Submerge the figs into this mixture, adding more water if more is needed to just barely cover the top of the figs.  Let the figs sit overnight, up to 24 hours. (It might be okay to let them sit longer than 24 hours, but I’d be careful, because the sugar will start to soften the fruit and break it down).

2. When you’re ready to make the jam, place the contents of the bowl, including any unmelted sugar, into a non-reactive Dutch oven (like a Le Creuset). Add in the lemon juice and simmer on low until a froth forms on top.

3.Gently stir and allow to simmer 45 minutes to one hour over a very low flame.

4. Test a fig for doneness. Enjoy some right away, because they’re seriously good warm,  but then let the rest cool and store in an airtight jar in the fridge.

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A quick snap of the quick veggie curry I enjoyed for dinner recently.

So you guys know that I mainly focus on Middle Eastern cuisine here on this blog, with an emphasis on Persian food and also Arabic food of the Levant region. Or, if you’re new to this blog, now you know 😉

That being said, a little bit of curry never hurt anyone. So let’s take a detour, just for today. Today’s quick curry is fast, fresh, and useful. Useful? Yes, especially if you have an abundance of summer vegetables around and you’re wondering what the heck to do with them all.

That’s exactly what happened to me recently. A friend hooked me up with not one, but two big batches of organic farmer’s market veggies. Verdant emerald zucchini, sunny yellow squash, lavender hued eggplants, ruby red sweet peppers, and more. I was grateful, excited, and nervous, all at the same time, because I wanted to make excellent use of the goodies, and not let anything go to waste.

Eggplants were part of the haul of fresh summer produce gifted to me.

I made a few dishes–grilled veggie subs, pesto with pasta and fresh veggies, chickpeas with, you guessed it, more of the fresh veggies. I dipped the raw veggies in hummus and smeared sunflower seed butter on them, too. Then one night, I was in a big hurry to get dinner on the table (who am I kidding–that’s every night!) I remembered a fast curry my friend Erica once showed me when I visited her in Florida.

Coconut milk is the base. Don’t worry, the fat in coconut milk, while saturated, is GOOD for you.  You dump in the veggies and spices of your choice into the silky coco milk, and heat everything up for just a few minutes. The variations are endless. For added flavor, cook the onions, fresh ginger, and spices together for a moment. You can garnish as you wish, swap out the veggies to your heart’s content, and play around with the spicing. Here’s what I threw together the other night:

Curry in a Hurry (Quick Summer Veggie Curry)

Coconut milk is the base of this simple curry. Feel free to get creative with the veggies, the spicing, and the garnishes.

Ingredients:

  • 1 Tablespoon coconut oil, or neutral cooking oil of choice
  • 1/2 of a medium onion, sliced
  • 2 Tablespoons freshly grated ginger
  • Curry spice mix of choice (I used Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Pie spice, plus 2 teaspoons of turmeric, and a half teaspoon each of cardamom, coriander, and cumin)
  • 1 14-16 ounce can coconut milk (can use light)
  • 2 cups filtered water
  • 2 pounds veggies of choice (I used zucchini, yellow squash, eggplant, and mild red peppers)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

1. Heat oil over a low heat in a large, deep skillet or Dutch oven. As oil heats, clean and chop all veggies into chunks. Leave the peels on if you like to save time and add fiber.

2. To the oil, add the onion pieces and fresh ginger. Cook to soften over the low heat for about 2 minutes. Then add in the curry spices of your choice, mix well and cook for another 30 seconds to 1 minute (you should smell the spices).

3. Immediately add in the coconut milk, veggies, and water. Stir thoroughly. Add in a bit of salt and bring to a boil. As soon as the curry begins to boil, drop the heat to low and cook for 2-5 minutes, until veggies reach the desired texture. (You can test veggies with a fork or knife). I don’t like mushy veggies, so I cook mine around 3 minutes. Depending on your preference, you may shorten or extend the cooking time. Taste, and adjust the seasoning.

4. Serve over cooked rice or other grain of  your choice, with garnish if desired. Some garnish ideas: fresh cilantro, fried onions, raw scallions, a red hot sauce.

Serves 4.

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This fast, fresh, and delicous avocado tabouli salad is a snap to make on the go. Take the avocado with you and mix the tabouli salad and avo together.

Hey Guys! I’ve been totally MIA, I’m well aware of this. For me, so-called “Summer Hours” involve working two jobs, so it’s not like I’ve been living a life of leisure in, say, the Caribbean. I WISH.

A random snap of morning glories in Harlem. Hmm, "Morning Glories in Harlem" sounds like the name of a play or something. Pic snapped this past weekend on a long walk.

So for days when I’m on the go, this avocado tabouli salad is a quick solution. It’s so simple, I’m not gonna even write out a full recipe. I just pack the avocado with me, keep the tabouli salad in an airtight container (after I’ve bought if from my fave Middle Eastern deli/falafel shack). When it’s time to eat, I bust out a butter knife, cut and slice the avocado, scoop it out, and mix the tabouli and avocado together. Sometimes I sprinkle with all or some of the following:

  • salt and pepper
  • olive oil
  • fresh lemon juice

That’s it! A fast, fresh, and mostly raw meal. I’ll be posting my own tabouli recipe at some point down the line–full of parsley, mint, and a surprise secret ingredient or two, but first, let me get to the point where I can actually make tabouli again. Not gonna lie–it’s a bit of a process, and I don’t have time at the moment.

In the meantime, enjoy this energizing and filling recipe, and I’ll see you all around again soon. Xoxo!

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Iced tea can have a Persian twist, thanks to a cardamom and rose water infusion. Photo courtesy of Stock.xchng.

Hey guys, I wrote this post a few days ago, then didn’t publish. I was trying to get a snap of me enjoying today’s iced tea recipe. Oh well, I got a pic, then didn’t upload it, and my camera is in my checked luggage. Yes, I’m typing this in the JetBlue terminal at New York’s JFK airport as I wait to board my flight to Texas. Gotta LOVE free, public Wi-Fi.

We’re deep in the workweek now, but I started the post out asking. . .

How was your Fourth of July (if you celebrate it?) What were you all up to for the holiday?

Mine was great, even if it was HOT out. I enjoyed some blissful time off.  Saw some friends, did Yoga both days, plus rollerbladed around Central Park early in the morning on Monday the 5th before the heat hit. Hit up the farmer’s market and the local store as well and enjoyed walking around a quiet, somewhat empty Manhattan.

I ate more than my share of watermelon this weekend. Yum! Photo courtesy of Stock.xchng.

Throughout the weekend, I ate a ridiculous amount of fresh watermelon, cherries, and crispy local Kirby cucumbers. Cooling, filling, and most of all, tasty. Heavy food on hot days generally doesn’t do it for me. The heat kinda puts a damper on my normally slightly voracious appetite. Admittedly, not a complete damper. I gotta say, if there were legal limits on watermelon and cherries in particular, I’d have been waaaaay over. 😉

Fireworks! Can you believe the people in my neighborhood put on their own display? Some of the fireworks actually looked like this. Photo source: Stock.xchng.

On the night of the Fourth, as is an annual tradition up here in Harlem, the neighbors were blowing up fireworks in the local park across the street from me that rivaled the “real” fireworks display further downtown. Seriously, from my window, I had a front-row seat to the neighborhood’s (illegal) display. Further in the distance, the official fireworks display was going off. Double trouble, baby! Some of those local fireworks were no joke–my guesstimate is that the local fireworks shot up and exploded at around 15-20 stories high. They were loud, too. The cat was like “What the. .  .?”

It was kinda fun to see and hear all of the commotion and brightness, in an illicit and underground sort of way. Ha!

Today's Persian Iced Tea recipe is influenced by the hot black tea I sometimes brew and infuse with cardamom pods and a splash of rose water. Note the dark amber hue of the tea. This is the color we are going for when brewing our tea. You could go lighter if you prefer, of course. Photo courtesy of Stock.xchng.

Another thing I did this weekend was tinker around with some recipes. I’d been meaning to make a Persian influenced iced tea for the longest time, but never got around to it, until this weekend. It’s really quite easy and has an exotic taste, thanks to cardamom, rose water, and classic black tea. It’s a subtle flavor, but a refreshing one. Yes, the rose water and cardamom might be exotic ingredients for some readers. Check out your local Middle Eastern, Indian, Mediterranean, or  market to find these ingredients at competitive prices. For example, gourmet markets sell rose water for like $7 a jar, but I can get the exact same jar at Patel Brothers out in Jackson Heights for $1.99. It pays to shop around. Amazon carries this stuff, too. Cardamom and rose water are used in lots of other recipes, so they’re worth having.

This drink recipe comes at a perfect time, as I’ll be shoving off to my home state of Texas in a few days, and am sooooo looking forward to the plentiful and perfect iced tea there.  The iced tea in New York City doesn’t hold a candle to Texas tea. Dunno why, but it just doesn’t. Some of my favorite memories are of my mom and older sister brewing a big ‘ol jar of “sun tea” out in the backyard. I’ll have to ask them to teach me how, because I forgot. If I ever know (not sure if I did).  So with this Persian Iced Tea recipe, I pay homage to both sides of my heritage: Proud (part) Persian and proud native Texan.

PG Tipps tea is my black tea of choice, but any decent quality black tea will do for this recipe. Lipton, for example. works well.

By the way, the other day I went on a bit of a shopping spree. For me, that means spending like, $30 outside of the grocery store. Yeah, I was a frugalista or recessionista or whatever-ISTA waaaaaaay before the terms were trendy. And I still mostly am, even though, at the moment, I have more work than I can shake a stick at. I know the ebbs and flows of life, and that this feast of work shall likely pass, so I always try to strike a balance with my spending so that things don’t get too out of control in either direction–too frugal, deprived, and miserable, or too bloated and spendy and equally miserable.

Anywho, I finally got a big, beautiful glass pitcher, something I’ve been wanting for a long time. For some reason, a glass pitcher and cake display plates have always seemed so luxurious to me, like items to get only on a gift registry or somesuch. I’ve recently begun to realize that this mentality is kinda silly, especially for people like me who do cook, prep drinks and smoothies, and even have people over for food relatively often. It’s not like my kitchen tools are museum display pieces. They’re real workhorses. They kinda have to be, because in my tiny NYC kitchen, I have room for very little.

So when I spotted a lovely glass pitcher For $3.99 at a discount store up here in NYC known as Conway (a chain better known for its clubwear and underwear that’s so trashy, I deem it disposable lingerie-ha!), I was all over it (the pitcher, not the lingerie!) I snapped it right up.

Rose petals, rose water. It's all good in this tea.

Right away, I was up to brewing teas, smoothies, and other chilly concoctions as my excuse reason to use the pitcher. (Well, after I paid for the pitcher, took it home, de-boxed and washed it, that is 😉 ) So the Persian Iced Tea is the first recipe that I’m sharing with you, debuting the new pitcher. I think if this story had a moral, it’d be that simple things can make us happy, and why deprive ourselves of this happiness for some unknown tomorrow. Live in the moment, and enjoy amazing tea while you’re at it!

Which reminds me: I’m not sure how much (or if), I’ll be posting while I’m away in Texas. Lately I’m all about not putting too much pressure on myself, so if that means a few days in between posts, that’s okay, right? Well, I sure hope so 😉 See you all around online soon. Xoxo!


Persian Iced Tea

Made with rose water ice cubes, cardamom-spiked simple syrup or agave nectar, and quick brew black tea, this Persian inspired iced tea has an exotic flare and refreshing taste:

Ingredients:

  • 6 ounces rose water
  • Black tea (I used 2 PG Tipps bags, a strong brew that’s brewed hot. You can use a cold brew tea as well)
  • 6 cups of filtered water, plus more for ice cubes
  • 2 Tablespoons agave nectar (or simple syrup–linkage to directions below)
  • 2 teaspoons powdered cardamom (or 4-6 pods of green cardamom)
  • Fresh mint leaves for garnish (optional)

Directions:

1. Make the rose water ice cubes. Pour 6 ounces of rosewater into an ice tray and top off with more filtered water to make perfect cubes. Pop into freezer overnight, or until frozen solid.

2.  Brew the tea according to package instructions. For example, with my PG Tipps brand tea, all I needed was 2 teabags to 6 cups of boiling water. (PG Tipps is a strong brew!)  I immersed the teabags for no more than 30 seconds, and the tea was the perfect dark amber hue. Your mileage will vary, depending on the brand of tea you use, and if you use a cold or a hot brew tea. (With a cold brew tea, you don’t have to boil water. You just dump the bags into the cold water and allow them to infuse. Love that!)  So in short, carefully follow the package instructions that will yield 6 cups of tea total.

3.  Make the agave-cardamom syrup by warming agave over low heat. Or, if you don’t have agave, follow these directions for a classic simple syrup that we can then infuse with cardamom.

4. Add the cardamom powder or pods to the syrup, and stir well to allow its flavor to infuse. Remember, LOW heat here is your friend. It only takes a few seconds for the infusion to happen, so taste test the syrup, make sure you can taste the cardamom, and then remove it from the heat immediately.

5. Add the syrup, a little at a time,  to the brewed tea, and stir generously.  (Taste as you go here–everyone likes their tea sweetened a little differently, or not at all. For that matter, you could put the syrup on the side and let everyone use the amount they want in their individual tea glasses).

6. To serve, pour tea over rosewater ice cubes that you’ve placed into a tall glass. As the rose water cubes melt, their flavor will infuse into the tea. Garnish with fresh mint, if desired.

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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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