27 October 2013

Meditteranean Bulgur Bowls

Not counting those elusive pasta bowls, do you find that you still have more bowls, in various shapes and sizes, than plates? Due to the way our meals are often designed, we go through our bowls much quicker and would benefit from an even higher bowl-to-plate ratio.

A typical weeknight dinner in our house is a one-bowl meal; a whole meal that  is contained in one bowl, whether it is in the form of a grain salad, a stew or soup over rice like last week's recipe, noodle bowls, or curries. One-bowl meals mean ease and streamlined-comfort to me, but don't think flavor takes the back seat.

This Middle Eastern bulgur bowl is another one-bowl meal, and the layered dimensions of flavors here are mind-boggling. It was inspired by a flatbread wrap I had this summer at Stockholm's Hotorgshallen food market where roasted red pepper and black olive spreads shared space on flatbread with halloumi and bulgur. The bowl is a deconstructed interpretation where I have tried to keep the key components while simplifying the ingredient list and preparation so it can be pulled together just as easily on a weeknight as on a weekend. I am using bulgur because it is more traditional, but for a grain or gluten-free version, this would be equally delicious with quinoa or brown rice. Overall, I think this bowl gives a pretty good wink and a nudge to the wrap I had this summer, and I hope you enjoy it as well.

And don't let the length of the recipe make you feel it is too complicated. My instructions are a bit wordy this time and each component is organized as it's own recipe, thus taking up more space. But this whole meal can come together in 30 minutes or less, given the eggplant is pre-roasted.

Mediterranean Bulgur Bowls
Serves 3-4
Notes: The roasted red pepper sauce can be made ahead.  See notes in recipe below.

Bulgur salad
Roasted red pepper sauce
1 medium head of broccoli, chopped and steamed or roasted

Spoon bulgur into individual bowls, layer over roasted red pepper sauce, and finish with toppings. Place cooked broccoli on the side.

Bulgur Salad
Notes: I am using bulgur to keep it traditional, but for a grain or gluten-free version, this would be equally delicious with quinoa or brown rice (especially the slightly sticky and nutty short-grain variety).

1 1/2 cups course bulgur, cooked according to package directions
1 1/2 tsp. za'atar (optional)
1 1/4 tsp. cumin
Juice from 1/2-1 whole juicy lemon
2 1/2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp. honey
1/8 tsp. salt
Several grinds black pepper

In the bottom of a medium mixing bowl, whisk together all ingredients except for the bulgur. If not using za'atar, add a bit more lemon. Stir bulgur into dressing to coat. Taste, and adjust for seasoning. Set aside.

Roasted Red Pepper Sauce
Notes: Jarred roasted red peppers work great here. Drain and dab on a paper towel to remove some of the liquid. Eggplant and garlic can be roasted in advance, prepped (per instructions below), and stored in the fridge for 1-2 days. Additionally, the entire sauce can be made up to 2 days ahead and stored in the fridge. Just bring to room temperature before serving.

1 medium eggplant
1 cove of garlic, with skin on
5-6 roasted red peppers (depending on size)
3/4 cup walnuts, toasted
2 1/4 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. paprika
1/4 tsp. ground chili (cayenne)
2 1/2 tsp. pomegranate molasses
Small handful cilantro (leaves + soft stems)
Squeeze of lemon
Scant 1/2 tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 425 F and place the baking rack in the middle of the oven. Prick eggplant with a fork in a few places and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet along with the clove of garlic (with skin on). Cook in the middle of the oven for 20 minutes, until the garlic is soft. Remove garlic, turn over eggplant, and continue cooking for an additional 20-25 minutes, until eggplant is very soft and slightly deflated. Set aside to cool slightly, then remove stem and peel away the charred skin and place the flesh in the bowl of a food processor.

Remove the garlic skin and add to the food processor along with the remaining ingredient. Pulse several times until the mixture is combined but there is still some texture. You do not want the mixture completely pureed.

Notes: Although toppings can give the impression that they are optional, in particular the feta and olives are essential ingredients that work with the other components of the bulgur bowl to complete the flavor profile.

Greek oil-cured black olives, pitted and chopped
Sheep's milk feta, crumbled
Mint & cilantro, chopped
Green onions/scallions, chopped

Sliced avocado (optional - not pictured)

18 October 2013

Lazy Lentils with Cumin and Dried Apricots

Before posting a recipe I sometimes ask myself whether it is something that will be useful for all of us to have in our repertoire. And then sometimes I think, well we may not need it but it's kind of fun and certainly can't hurt to have another variation on hand. This is how I, and I'm sure many of you, feel about lentil soup. There can never be too many versions, and I hope this version with cumin and apricots also finds a cozy place in your recipe files.  

This is a lazy lentil soup because it predominately relies on pantry items and can be made pretty quickly on a weeknight. I buy a 1-pound bag of carrots that last for several weeks because they are easy to throw into soups like this when I want to add vegetables to a meal but have not been to the market in a while. And the yellow split peas add bulk and textural interest, but in a pinch you could substitute more green lentils.

And in case you're wondering, yes cumin and dried apricots go very well together. For me cooking is all about highlighting the yin and yang of flavors in a balanced way. Here, the sharp, floral notes of dried apricots pleasantly contradict the smoky, earthiness of the cumin.  And for a full meal, serve the soup over basmati rice (recipe below).

Lazy Lentils with Cumin and Dried Apricots
Serves 4-6

Notes: Soaked lentils and split peas cook quicker and are more easily digested. Soak them in separate bowls for approximately 8 hours. I usually do this first thing in the morning and they are ready to be cooked in the evening. Recommended cooking times below  assume lentils and split peas have been soaked.

Knob of ghee (or coconut oil or butter)
1 heaping Tbsp cumin
2 tsp. mustard seeds
2 tsp. turmeric
1/4 tsp. ground chili (cayenne)
1 inch chunk ginger, peeled and minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. tomato paste
3 carrots, chopped
6 cups water
1/2 cup yellow split peas, rinsed and drained (soaked, if possible)
1 1/2 cups green lentils, rinsed and drained (soaked, if possible)
1/3 cup dried apricots, halved
2 tsp. salt (or more to taste)

To Finish
2 Tbsp tamarind paste (or lime juice, to taste) + more to pass at the table

In a large soup pot or Dutch oven, heat ghee over medium to medium high heat. Add cumin, mustard seeds, turmeric, cayenne and saute until fragrant (~ 1 minute). Add ginger and garlic and stir to coat in spices. Stir in tomato paste and cook out for a minute.

Add carrots, water, and yellow split peas, bring water up to a bowl, lower to simmer, cover and cook for 15 minutes.  And lentils and cook for another 15 minutes, adding apricots when there are 8-10 minutes left. Add salt, taste, and adjust for seasoning.

Remove from heat and add tamarind or lime, to taste. Serve over basmati rice with cashews and currants (recipe below).

Basmati Rice with Cashews & Currants: In a medium size pot, pour in 1 1/2 cups of basmati rice, just shy of 3 cups of water, a few big pinches of salt, and a handful each of raw cashews and dried currants (or golden raisins). Cover, bring water to a bowl, reduce heat to simmer, and cook for 15 minutes, or until water is absorbed (occasionally shaking the pan the last 5 minutes to make sure rice is not sticking). Fluff with a fork and serve.

12 October 2013

5-Spice Roasted Pear Bread

With the crispness in the air, the dense low-lying fog a little too eager to greet me each morning, and the aroma of roasted pear, cinnamon, and clove floating from the kitchen, there is no denying Autumn has settled into our valley. With the cooler temperatures I find myself drawn to curries, steamy lentil soups, and warm, grounding spices, like the Chinese 5 Spice used in this bread.

Chinese 5 Spice is a blend of 5 spices: cinnamon, clove, star anise, black pepper, and fennel. It gives a festive sweetness with a subtle hint of spice in the background that pairs well here with the earthy oats, whole grains, and roasted pears. This is not a dense bread. It has a light and moist crumb thanks to the pears, applesauce, and olive oil. And the spice is a  warm undertone, it does not overpower.

Dry roasting the pears is an essential step for flavor and drawing out some moisture so the bread does not become soggy. Please do not skip! And if you'd rather not commit to buying a bottle of the Chinese 5 Spice (though, I'd seriously doubt you'd regret it!), buy only what you need from the bulk aisle instead. Alternatively, spice substitutions are noted below in the headnotes if you cannot find the spice. I made a mini loaf and 12 muffins because I like to freeze some of the muffins. But you could also make 1 large loaf. 

5-Spice Roasted Pear Bread
Makes 1 large loaf (or 1 mini loaf + 12 muffins)

Notes: In a pinch, any combination of the following ground spices could be used in place of Chinese 5 spice: cinnamon, allspice, clove, ginger, cardamom, fennel, a grind of black pepper. The chosen combination should still yield 1 1/2 tsp. total.

3 medium, firm pears, peeled
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup oat flour (just grind up 1/2 cup rolled oats)
1/2 cup light spelt flour (whole wheat pastry flour or all-purpose flour work too)
Heaping 1/3 cup muscovado sugar (or brown sugar)
1 1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp. Chinese 5 spice (or see headnotes for a suggested mix of spices)
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
2 Tbsp. maple syrup
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 large eggs
1/2 cup applesauce
1/2 cup plain, full-fat yogurt
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 375 F. Grease loaf pan and/or muffin tins.

Cut peeled pears into 1-inch chunks and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Roast in the oven for about 20 minutes, until they are dry to the touch. Remove from the oven and set aside while preparing the batter.

Turn oven down to 350 F. In a large bowl, whisk together the whole wheat pastry flour and next 7 ingredients (through salt).

In another bowl, whisk the remaining liquid ingredients (through vanilla extract) until well combined. Pour the liquid mixture into the flour mixture, and whisk until almost combined. Then with a spatula, gently fold pears into the batter.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan(s).  Bake in the middle of the oven until just golden brown and a skewer/toothpick comes out clean from the center.
For muffins, bake 22-25 minutes
For mini loaf, bake 25-28 minutes
For large loaf, bake 45-50 minutes

Let bread cool slightly, then remove from pan(s) to cool completely on a wire rack. 

07 October 2013

Miso Sweet Potato Soup

As promised, I am following up to the Golden Harissa Oil post last week with this soup recipe. But, I am guessing some of you may be turned off by it after seeing miso in the title. Maybe you enjoy miso soup out at Japanese restaurants but have not cooked with it at home because you don't know how to incorporate it into dishes or don't feel it is the most accessible for everyday cooking.

I only recently started using it myself, and I felt this same way beforehand. But guess what, it's not as mysterious and foreign as you might think. If you have a local store with a well-stocked Asian food section, then you have probably cleared the first hurdle of procurement. It wasn't until I kept seeing several good quality organic misos at my local natural food store that I decided to pick some up. And my first experience yielded amazing results, thanks to Heidi's walnut-miso noodles. Since then I've added it to various soups and tahini sauces.

Here's why I enjoy using it and think it is worth writing about.
  1. The paste form and flavor makes it easy to incorporate into a wide variety of dishes
  2. Its rich umami flavor is a quick way to add depth of flavor with little effort
  3. It is high in protein, vitamins and minerals (and probiotics - the good bacteria- if unpasteurized)

A thick paste made from fermented soy, rice, and/or barley or other grains, the flavor and color of miso varies depending on the ingredients used, length of fermentation time, etc. There are many varieties, the most common being white (light and sweet) and red (aged and richer) miso. I used a little of both in this soup because I had both on hand, and as I am still experimenting, I could not decide which was best. But either works well here, and I encourage you to experiment with the miso varieties you find in your store.

Notes About Miso
A few things to know about miso. It is quite salty, so go easy on it if you're watching your sodium levels. With that said however, additional salt is generally not needed where miso is added, so I feel the salt level is balanced out in the end. Additionally, do your best to source organic miso to avoid the inclusion of GMO soy and grain ingredients. And finally, only gently warm miso when necessary, as cooking it will destroy the nutrients and beneficial bacteria preserved/created through fermentation.

Miso Sweet Potato Soup

Serves 4

1 Tbsp. ghee (butter or coconut oil also work)
1 tsp. turmeric
1/2 tsp. paprika
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
3 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped (little over 1 lb.)
6-7 cups water
1 15 oz. can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
4-6 Tbsp. miso paste (white, red, or a mix)

To Finish
Chives, chopped
Pumpkin seeds, toasted

In a large soup pot or Dutch oven heat ghee over medium heat. Add spices, stir to coat in ghee, and toast for 30 seconds. Add onion and garlic and saute for a minute. Then add sweet potatoes and water. Raise the heat to high, cover, and bring water to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes (or until the sweet potatoes are tender), adding the beans in the last 5 minutes. Turn heat off and blend with an immersion blender (or transfer to a blender) until completely smooth. Pour soup back into the pot.

In a small glass mixing bowl, mix miso (starting with 4 Tbsp) with a ladle full of soup with a fork until miso has dissolved. Add this mixture back in with the soup, and stir to incorporate. Taste and repeat the process, adding more miso until the soup is seasoned to your liking.

Top individual soup bowls with chives, pumpkin seeds, and golden harissa oil.

02 October 2013

Golden Harissa Oil

This is a North African-inspired warmly spiced, sweet and smoky drizzling oil. It provides a no-cook all-in-one  punch of high octane flavor for so many dishes that it has become my go-to condiment as of late. I have enjoyed it drizzled over lentil soup, hummus, this soft-boiled egg, thiscreamy walnut zucchini soup, avocado toast, and steamed broccoli. And finally, along with a  few other select toppings, it landed on a miso sweet potato soup. (Recipe coming soon!)

There are two main components to the oil: harissa sauce and turmeric. Harissa sauce is the base flavor. I've talked about it several times before on the blog (for reference check out the tagine, tomato sauce, beet and carrot salad, or tacos). Unless noted, I generally use harissa sauce (as opposed to the spicier, more concentrated harissa chili paste). The sauce is typically a mix of smoked dried peppers, spices, and sometimes vinegar and tomato paste. Here in Switzerland, Manor sells a great harissa sauce. In the US, or for anyone with access to Amazon, these are two good brands: Les Moulins and Mina.

Turmeric, with its pungent orange-ginger notes, cut through the richness of the harissa and provide a beautiful sunset hue to the oil. It is a superhero in the spice world, and the primary contribution is its anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties. Read more about it here and here. But a word of caution, turmeric stains are near impossible to remove, so don't wear your favorite white shirt when making this!

Golden Harissa Oil
Makes ~1/4 cup

Notes: Harissa sauce (a mix of dried peppers, spices, and tomato paste or vinegar) should be used instead of the spicier harissa paste. Also remember when working with so few components in a no-cook recipe, it's important to use fresh, good quality ingredients since they all show up. And finally, the spices are not water soluble, so always stir well before using.

3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp. harissa sauce
1 tsp. turmeric
1/4 tsp. paprika
1/8-1/4 tsp. maple syrup (or honey)
Squeeze of lemon (~1/2 tsp.)

In a small glass bowl, mix all ingredients with a fork until well combined. Taste and use your judgment to balance the flavors to your liking, if necessary. Maybe more lemon to elevate, more paprika or harissa for a smokier background, or more maple syrup to balance the spice...you get the picture. Store in a glass jar in the fridge.