Thursday, December 18, 2014

Cooked Spinach Salad--Meditearanian Style

This salad, coming from a Moroccan cuisine, is not a typical spinach salad because spinach used in it is not fresh but cooked. It is also better to use large spinach leaves for it, which have more texture and a richer taste rather than baby spinach leaves, which are often is used in salads because they are more tender and delicate in taste.

The only challenge involved in preparing this salad is that it calls for many green ingredients and spices. They combine into a wonderfully rich taste. For me, preserved lemons and saffron are the ingredients that contribute most to defining this salad's flavor and saffron also adds a characteristic yellowish color to it. I did not have a preserved lemon when I first prepared this salad and I felt that something was missing. When I made it for the second time I added it and it made a big difference, making the salad more tart and more exotic.

In winter, this salad can be served in room temperature, but in summer it should be served straight from the fridge, as cold as possible.

Cooked Spinach Salad

2 lb spinach leaves(regular, not baby leaves),
4 tbsp olive oil,
1 bunch flt leave parsley, chopped,
1 bunch cilantro,
2 garlic cloves,
2 medium tomatoes (heirloom as best as they are not so juicy) blanched, peeled and chopped,
a pinch of saffron,
1 tsp ground cumin,
1 tsp paprika,
1 preserved lemon (skin only) cut into very small cubes,
1/3 cup red olives,
salt and pepper to taste.

1. Blanch spinach in a large pot of boiling, salted water for about 3 minutes. Drain well, squeeze out the extra water, let it cool and chop it.

2. In a large frying pan heat the oil. Add to the pan parsley, cilantro, saffron, cumin, paprika, garlic and preserved lemon. Let it simmer for about 5 minutes, until a green sauce forms.
3. Add to the green sauce chopped tomatoes and let it simmer again for another 5 minutes.

4. Add chopped spinach and cook briefly on a high heat, stirring constantly.
5. Finally fold in olives and turn off the heat. Cool the spinach completely.
6. Garnish with cilantro leaves and cherry tomatoes cut in halves.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Almond Cake with Persimmon Compote

This very nice Italian-style cake is one of the easiest cakes to make. It can be prepared entirely in a stand-up mixer. In principle, it is a cheesecake, but it does not taste like one. True to its Italian roots, it is made with the ricotta cheese, which gives it a nice moist texture but it does not stand out in the taste. As a result, the cake is very delicate and tastes more like a sponge almond cake than a cheesecake.

I decided to garnish this cake with persimmons, which are now in season and are easily available in most of the stores, especially Asian and Middle Eastern. They have a beautiful color and wonderful honey-like sweetness. Because they are so sweet, to tone them down a little, I made a wine and lemon syrup in which I cooked them briefly. Then I poured it over the cake. This combination could not be better. Just try.

Almond Cake with Persimmon Compote
(For a 9-inch round baking form with removable walls)


For the cake:
1/2 cup all purpose flour,
1/2 cup ground almonds,
1/2 cup ricotta cheeses,
2/3 cup sugar,
1 and 1/2 stick unsalted butter,
1 tsp baking powder,
4 eggs.

For persimmon garnish:
4 firm persimmons,
1/2 cup sugar,
1 cup dry white wine,
juice from 1 lemon,
1/2 cup whipped cream or creme fresh to garnish.

1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
2. Line a bottom of a baking form with wax paper, grease with butter, and dust with flour.
3. In a medium bowl mix flour, ground almonds, and baking powder.
4. Melt the butter and pour it in a bowl of a mixer. Add sugar and ricotta and beat on a high speed until the mixture becomes very smooth and white, for about 5 minutes.

5. Add to the mixture eggs, beating well between additions. Incorporate dry ingredients and beat again.
6. Transfer the batter to the form, smooth and bake for 30-40 minutes, until the top becomes gold. Let it cool down.
7. To make the persimmon compote peel off persimmons cut in half and slice them into a 1/2-inch thick quarters.
8. Pour wine, sugar, and lemon juice into a medium pot. Bring it to boil and cook on a medium high heat for about 30 minutes, until it thickens to a consistency of a syrup. Add persimmon quarters and let it boil in the syrup for two-three minutes. Cool down completely.

9. Remove a cake from the form on a serving plate and finish with persimmons and cream.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Lentil Chili with Fresh Garnish

Lentils usually come to my mind as a comfort food, some time in cold January. But winter weather has surprised us again this year so I decided to make a lentil dish to warm up.

This time, it is a chili style lentil dish coming from South American tradition. This basic recipe is quite similar to all lentil dishes. It is cooked rather long with vegetables and many spices, as often lentil is. But what makes it different and interesting is the garnish that it is served with. Tomatoes and fresh herbs make a nice contrast to well cooked and spicy lentils.

I used regular lentils for this recipe but if you have French, smaller and more green, the dish will be equally tasty but even nicer in presentation.

Lentil Chili

2 cups lentils, washed,
32 oz of chicken or vegetable broth,
1 onion, chopped,
3 garlic cloves, minced,
1 carrot peeled and cut into small cubes,
2 celery sticks sliced,
1 red bell pepper cut into small cubes,
2 jalapeno chili peppers, seeded and finely chopped,
4 tbsp olive oil,
1 tsp sea salt,
1/2 tsp black pepper,
1 tbsp light brown sugar,
1 tbsp paprika,
2 tsp ground cumin,
1 tsp. dried mustard,
2 tsp dried oregano,
1 tsp dried thyme,
1 bay leaf.

1 cup small tomatoes cut in quarters,
1/2 cup chopped cilantro,
1/2 cup sliced spring onions,
1 cup sour cream or Greek yogurt.

1. In a large heavy duty pot heat the oil. Add chopped onion, garlic, celery, carrot, bell pepper, jalapeno and fry, stirring often for about 6 minutes, until soft.
2. In a small bowl mix together salt, pepper, sugar, paprika, cumin, mustard, oregano, and thyme.

Add them to the vegetables and fry together for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently.

3. Add lentil, bay leaf and broth. Bring to boil, turn down the heat to low, cover and let simmer for about an hour, until lentil becomes soft. You may add extra broth or water if it evaporates too fast and lentil is still too hard.

4. When lentil is soft, turn off the heat and let it cool for 5 minutes. In the meantime cut tomatoes and fresh herbs.

Serve accompanied by tomatoes with herbs and sour cream.