Wednesday, September 26, 2012

String Beans with Peanuts--Something Asian

In the food stores selling exotic vegetables you can spot sometimes beans resembling long pieces of string. They are popular in Asian and African culinary tradition. Intrigued by the look of these beans I bought them once and I have been buying them ever since, especially when they are fresh and green. I like these string beans because they hardly have any seeds, and rather thick, green flesh. They cook pretty fast but it also is easy to keep them al dente. They maintain their nice green color if cooked uncovered.

String beans can be prepared as traditional green beans but I like them most made the Asian way. So far I have tried only one such recipe, with soy sauce and peanuts. Thanks to peanuts the dish is so reach that it can be served alone, especially if you invite your vegetarian friends for dinner. A delicate taste of the beans and the crunchiness of the peanuts are even appealing to my very picky son.

String Beans with Peanuts

2 lb long string beans,
1/2 cup unsalted, roasted peanuts,
3 tbsp soy sauce,
3 garlic cloves, chopped,
2 shallots, chopped,
2 tbsp lime juice,
2 tbsp rice bran or peanut oil,
2 chili peppers (optional),
salt if needed.

1. Cook the string beans for about 5-8 minutes (until soft) in a large pot of boiling water with a tbsp of salt. Drain them and wash with cold water to prevent further cooking. When beans are cold, trim the ends off, and cut the beans into the length of match sticks.
2. Crush peanuts or chop them roughly with a large knife.
3. In a large wok or heavy skillet heat the oil until very hot. Add garlic with chopped shallots and fry until gold. Add chopped peanuts and stir them continuously while frying them until gold. Add beans to the skillet stir-fry for about 3 minutes, to make sure they are hot, and stir them to get them coated with peanuts.

4. Remove the skillet from the heat and pour the soy sauce and the lime juice over the beans. Add salt if needed. Serve hot alone or with meats.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Roasted Garlic Spread--Another Flavor from Italy

A spread made form roasted garlic features in many culinary books or TV programs. The idea of this spread comes from Italian tradition and there are different methods of making it. There is even a special clay dish designed to bake garlic in it.

Since I am one to those persons for whom too much garlic is never too much, I have always been very keen on trying roasted garlic recipes.

I know from cooking a lot with garlic that, although very strong and aromatic when raw, cooked or roasted garlic can be rather mild in taste. I make a veal dish that calls for 40 garlic cloves and they just add a delicate flavor without killing the taste of the meat.

This summer when I bought a bag of beautiful and large garlic heads I finally decided to make this roasted garlic spread. I served it to my guests on which I always try my experiments and that easy dish earned many compliments, particularly from my vegetarian and vegan friends. I serve it with a warm ficelle or ciabatta bread. It tastes even better with a glass of red wine. So far, no one resisted it. Since a couple of friends already asked for this recipe I share it today.

Roasted Garlic Spread

4 large garlic heads(the bigger the better),
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil,
2 sprigs of fresh rosemary,
2 sprigs of fresh thyme,
1/2 tsp sea salt,
1/4 tsp black pepper.

1. Preheat oven to 400F.
2. Cut a thin layer off the tops of the garlic heads, so that the tips of the cloves are visible, and place them in a small oven-proof dish.
3. Sprinkle the garlic heads with salt and pepper, drizzle with olive oil. Put herb sprigs on top.
4. Cover the dish with a double layer of aluminium foil and roast the garlic for about one to one and half hour.

5. When garlic cools down a bit, squeeze the cloves out of the heads to the small bowl and mash well with a fork to make a smooth spread. If the spread is too thick add the olive oil remaining from roasting.

6. Drizzle gently on top with extra sea salt and serve with white breads.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Fish Grilled with Chermoula--A Moroccan Sauce

After many fascinations with different exotic cuisines, for example Indian or Afghan, my most recent has been Moroccan. So in the upcoming months I will be sharing more recipes from that part of the world. Last week I even bought an original tajine dish to make my experiments more authentic.

But my first steps in the Moroccan cuisine were very simple. I made an easy green sauce called Chermoula that is used mainly to prepare fish and sea food but I also saw a chicken recipe with it. I fell in love with this marinade instantly.

Very fresh and aromatic, thanks to herbs and a touch of spices, chermoula tastes great on any fish. Even more, it can make an ordinary and imperfect fish taste better. I once baked mahi mahi in parchment paper to keep it moist but, eventually, it still seemed excessively dry. Yesterday, I made mahi mahi again, but I marinated it with chermoula and grilled and it came out delicate and moist.

I make my chermoula most often from a whole bunch of parsley and cilantro, keep it in a fridge, and use it when I need it. I put it in a jar and drizzle with olive oil, which preserves chermoula from discoloration. This way I can keep it in a refrigerator for a couple of weeks.

Fish Grilled with Chermoula

1 lb of mahi mahi fillets or any quality fish,
1 small bunch (about a well-packed cup) of chopped fresh coriander (cilantro) leaves,
1 small bunch (a cup) of chopped flat-leaf parsley.
3 garlic cloves,
1/4 cup olive oil,
juice from 2 lemons (about 1/4 cup).
1 tsp paprika,
1 tsp ground coriander,
1 tsp ground cumin,
1/2 tsp black pepper,
1/2 tsp salt.

1. To make chermoula, put parsley and coriander leaves in a food processor. Add garlic and pulse until it acquires the consistency of a pesto.
2. Add lemon juice, olive oil, and all spices. Blend until it creates a smooth paste.

3. Spread a couple of spoons on top of the fish until it is well-covered with chermoula and let it marinate for 4-6 hours, preferably overnight.
4. The rest of the marinate transfer to a tight closed small container, cover with a tbsp of olive oil and keep in refrigerator until next use.
5. Preheat the grill to about 350F.
6. Place fish in a metal rack and grill on both sides. It will take about 10-20 minutes depending on its thickness. Serve with couscous or salads.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Crunchy Potato Salad with Nuts

Just before I went on vacation, I hosted a few deck parties, at which I served mostly grilled meats and fish accompanied by salads and followed by chilled desserts--the only reasonable option on those hot July days.

I usually prepare at least a couple of cold salads to serve with the meats so everybody can find something to his taste. This season the biggest hit was my corn salad in mango dressing. The runner up was this potato salad and several friends have already asked me to the share a recipe for it.

Unlike in German tradition for example, in Polish cuisine there is no potato salad in the strict sense of the term. Potatoes are usually not the main but one of many ingredients. Nevertheless, my Polish guests particularly appreciated this simple salad, which is soft, thanks to the potatoes, and crunchy at the same time. The crunchiness comes from the celery sticks and nuts.

I made this salad with hazel nuts, which are very common in Poland. But I also make it sometimes with pecans. Either version is always very popular. This salad will taste great with grilled meats or served for lunch with bread and cold cuts.

Potato Salad with Nuts

1 lb potatoes,
2 celery sticks,
2 small shallots,
1/4 cup roasted and chopped hazelnuts or pecans,
2 tbsp mayonnaise,
salt and pepper to taste.

1. Peel off potatoes and cut them in halves. Cook until soft and let them cool down completely, then cut into smaller cubes. Place them in a large bowl.
2. Peel of shallots and chop finely. Add to the potatoes.
3. Slice celery sticks into thin slices, add to the bowl.

4. Add chopped nuts, salt, pepper, mayonnaise. Mix gently all the ingredients and serve.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Tomatoes Roasted with Herbs

If I had to name one thing that Polish and Italian cuisines have in common it would be our shared love for tomatoes. I have just come back from Poland where for a month I lived mostly on a raw tomato diet, thanks to which I probably got my yearly supply of lycopene. Polish tomatoes are amazing. They come in an endless variety of texture and taste. They are available everywhere in great abundance and at a very low price. On the local farmers' market, which I visited twice a week, I was buying many kilograms of tomatoes, which turned out to be barely enough to last until my next trip to the market. You could see mountains of them at dozens of stands in all shapes and colors. And each time I was dreaming to bring them here and introduce my American friends to the real tomatoes they have never tasted.

But these are just memories.

In America, I enjoy the sweet yellow or red cherry tomatoes and those medium dark brown, which are hard but very sweet. My recent addiction is a dish of roasted tomatoes with herbs that can accompany any meat, fish or goes well alone with freshly baked white bread. For this recipe, I use Roma tomatoes, but any other kind, which has a lot of flesh but not much juice, will work as well. On top of cut tomatoes I sprinkle Zatar--a mix of spices available in Middle Eastern groceries--a combination of thyme, sesame seeds, coriander, and sumac. I drizzle everything with olive oil and bake. This dish works well also with Herbes de Provance or any other herb mix you may like.

Tomatoes Roasted with Herbs

1 lb ripe tomatoes,
1 tbsp Zatar (dried thyme, sesame seeds, coriander, and sumac) or any dried herbs you like, plus one tbsp of sesame seeds,
2 garlic cloves cut in half,
2 tbsp olive oil,
salt and pepper to taste.

1. Preheat oven to 400F.
1. Cut tomatoes in quarters and arrange on a 9-inch oven-proof dish.
2. Sprinkle with herbs, sesame seeds, salt, and pepper.

3. Drizzle with oil on top and bake for about 30 minutes until tomatoes become dark red and spices slightly brown.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Sponge Fig Cake with Olive Oil

My fig tree still has very small fruits but Californian figs, large and sweet as honey, have already arrived to all the stores around me. And again this year I cannot resist them. I love figs. I eat them daily through the whole season when they are available. Most often just for lunch with a piece of baguette and prosciutto or pecorino cheese. Sweet figs, soft bread, and salty smoked ham taste amazing together.

This Sunday, having another box of black and ripe figs, I decided to make a cake with them. I have not been cooking and particularly baking for a long time, as the summertime in DC does not encourage baking at all. But cooler days and almost cold nights make me crave again for a piece of a home-made cake.

Although baking fresh figs may seem a bit of a waste, I am sure they can enhance any simple cake. The recipe I have also calls also ground almonds and olive oil. You cannot go wrong with delicious sweet figs and other simple but good quality ingredients.

Sponge Fig Cake
(For a 9-inch baking pan)

1 lb fresh ripe black figs,
3 large eggs, room temperature,
2/3 cup icing sugar,
2/3 cup all purpose flour,
1/2 cup ground almonds (almond flour),
3 tbsp olive oil,
1 tsp baking powder,
a pinch of salt,
extra icing sugar for dusting,
1 tbsp soft butter for greasing the pan,
1 tbsp flour for coating the pan.

1. Wash figs, dry them and cut in quarters,

2. Grease the baking pan with butter and dust with flour.
3. Preheat oven to 325F.
4. Using an electric mixer beat eggs with sugar until pale and mousse like.
5. Add to the egg mixture flour, baking powder, ground almonds, and salt. Mix all the ingredients using mixer.
6. Add to the batter 3 tbsp olive oil and mix again.
7. Transfer the batter to the baking pan and arrange quarters of figs on top, pushing them gently inside.
8. Bake for about 40 minutes.
9. Let the cake cool and remove it from the pan. Figs most likely will be at the bottom so turn the cake upside down. Place on a serving plate and dust with icing sugar.