Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Pumpkin and Lentil Tajine

Ever since I had this blog, I have been trying various ideas to turn the Halloween pumpkin into something tasty. I already have some good recipes that I like, but I have recently found a few new ones and I have been anxious to try them. One intrigued me so much that I bought an extra pumpkin last week to try this dish before the pumpkin sitting on my porch will be available for cooking.

This recipe, as you can tell from the title of this post, comes from the Moroccan cuisine. And I must say that preparing pumpkin with oriental spices is my favorite way to turn this rather sweet and bland vegetable into a dish that is zesty, flavorous, and even spicy.

Moroccan cuisine, and particularly tajines, are my latest culinary fascination. They can make a wonderful and rich one-dish meal. Since my daily home cuisine is most often vegetarian, especially the vegetable tajines sounded very appealing to me. Moreover, unlike the meat tajines, they do not require very long cooking.

Tajine is traditionally made in a special, conic-shaped ceramic pot with a lid, which is designed for slow cooking. But if you do not have a tajine pot, this dish could be made in a regular non-stick heavy duty pot. It can be made entirely on the stove, or fried first and then finished in an oven at low temperature until soft.

Pumpkin and Lentil Tajine
(Serves four)

1 lb of pumpkin (already peeled off and cut into cubes),
1/2 cup green lentils,
4 cups vegetable broth,
1/2 cup olive oil,
1 medium onion, cut in half and sliced,
4 garlic cloves, chopped,
2 tsp paprika,
1 tsp turmeric,
1 tsp ground cumin,
1/4 tsp black pepper,
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper,
1/2 tsp salt,
2 tomatoes, cut into large cubes,
3 tbsp tomato paste,
1/4 cup raisins,
3 tbsp chopped flat leave parsley,
2 tbsp chopped cilantro.

1. Wash lentils and place them in a medium pot. Cover with broth and cook until lentil is tender but not soft. Set aside.
2. Heat the oil in a large heavy duty pan. Add onion, garlic and spices. Fry for about 2 minutes, until everything is mixed well and fragrant.
3. Add pumpkin cubes to the pot, mix well with spices, and cook for about 5 minutes.
4. Add tomatoes, tomato paste, and lentils together with the broth. Mix all the ingredients gently.

5. Scatter raisins on the top of the vegetables and reduce the heat to low.

6. Cook for about 20 minutes until pumpkin and lentils become soft. If you use a tajine pot, or any other oven-friendly pot, you can transfer it at this point to an oven and finish it there.
7. Sprinkle with parsley and cilantro on top and serve.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Sautéed Mushrooms--The Afghan Way

I always associate fall with mushrooms, especially the wild one that we picked in Polish forests, and later cooked, dried or preserved in vinegar. I hardly eat wild mushrooms in America, except dried porcini which I bring from Poland, or chanterelles which periodically appear at our local Costco. Maybe because fall is a mushroom season in Poland, I also like those cultivated white mushroom to serve most during this season.

When I saw my Afghan friend in September, I was happy to hear that she had for me a mushroom dish recipe, perfect for the season. She recalled these sautéed mushrooms while visiting the farmers market in Connecticut, where she bought these very fresh white mushrooms and cooked them the Afghan way. But, as she said, this recipe is good for any mushrooms. For instance, a mix of white and baby bella would be a perfect combination.

It is a very simple dish and, as almost all Afghan recipes, uses the same method and basic spices. I tried this recipe on a cold weekend in September and I was surprised that this dish tasted more like wild mushrooms that I know from Poland than the regular white mushrooms. It was well fried and aromatic thanks to dried spices and fresh coriander. Served with Afghan bread made a simple but delicious lunch.

Afghan Mushrooms
(Serves four)

2 lb white mushrooms mix (or a mix of white and baby bella),
one large onion, chopped,
3 garlic cloves, minced,
2 tsp ground coriander,
1 tsp turmeric,
1 tsp chili pepper,
1/2 cup chopped fresh coriander (cilantro) leaves,
3 tbsp olive oil,
salt and pepper to taste.

1. Wash and dry mushrooms. Cut then into thin slices.

2. In a large heavy duty frying pan heat the olive oil. Add onion and garlic and fry until they become transparent.
3. Add mushrooms and fry until the water they released evaporates and mushrooms become dry. At that moment add ground coriander and turmeric, salt and pepper mix. Fry mushrooms on the medium heat until they become slightly gold.
4. Sprinkle tops of mushrooms with chopped coriander and chili pepper. Cover and let the coriander to release the flavor to the mushrooms. It will take about 3 minutes.
Serve mushrooms with fresh, preferably Afghan bread.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Spicy Brussels Sprouts with Curry Leaves

It is hard to decide whch photo to put at the top of this post. Brussels sprouts are a very intriguing looking vegetable, but what makes this dish truly unique are the curry leaves and some other spices used in this recipe.

Did you even know that there is a curry tree that grows these very fragrant leaves? I had not been aware of that for a long time, assuming that curry is just a combination of different spices (which by the way do not include curry leaves) and altogether probably the most known Indian spice mix. But my neighbor grows a small curry tree in a pot and he introduced me to curry leaves. Whenever I need curry leaves and have no time to make a trip to my local Indian food store I borrow from him a brunch.

Curry leaves impart a spicy, peppery, and very distinguishable taste. Last week when I bought seasonal Brussels sprouts on stalks I thought about making curry with it. But not in a heavy, thick sauce but rather sautéed in curry leaves and other spices. First, I cooked Brussels sprouts until almost soft and then I fried spices and curry leaves and added them to the Brussels sprouts. Crispy and flavorous spices contrasted nicely with the soft and sweet vegetable. It is an unusual concept of serving the Brussels sprouts but, if you are one of these special people who love Brussels sprouts, it is worth exploring.

Spicy Brussels Sprouts with Curry Leaves (Serves four)

2 lb Brussels sprouts,
1 tsp turmeric,
1 tsp ground ginger,
1 onion, chopped,
5 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp whole cumin seeds,
2 tsp mustard seeds,
1 tsp ground cumin,
1 tsp ground coriander,
1 tsp dhana dhal (coriander seeds),
about 12 fresh curry leaves,
olive oil for frying,
salt and pepper.

1. Put Brussels sprouts in a large pot, add a tsp of salt, turmeric, and ginger. Pour just enough water (about 4 cups) to cover Brussels sprouts and bring it to boil.

2. Cook for about 20 minutes uncovered until water reduces and Brussels sprout becomes soft. (When Brussels sprout is soft there should still left some water on the bottom of the pot).
3. In a heavy duty frying pan heat the oil until very hot. Add mustard seeds and when they start to pop, add whole and ground cumin, dhana dhal, and curry leaves. Continue to fry until the spices start to turn brown.

4. Turned the heat to a low and add to the spices chopped onion and garlic and fry for about 3 minutes until onion softens.
5. Transfer cooked Brussels sprout and remaining water the to the pan, mix gently to cover with spices and cook for about five minutes until Brussels sprouts become infused with spices. Serve alone or with rice.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Pomegranate and Papaya Salad--Fall Vitamin Fountain

Each year with a beginning of the fall I wait impatiently for pomegranates to show up. I know that some people do not appreciate them because of their "seedy", crunchy nature, facing a dilemma whether to swallow or spit their hard parts. But, to me, pomegranate is one of the most tasty fruits and, definitely, one of the healthiest.

Some people also give up on pomegranate because of the difficulty with seeding it. But, because there has been so much buzz in recent years about pomegranate's healthy aspects, some stores (e.g., Trader Joe's) carry the ready to use juicy seeds taken out of the hard pomegranate shells.

I have a new dinner recipe, involving pomegranates, waiting to be tested, but in the meantime I will share something light and supremely healthy--pomegranate and papaya salad. Both fruits are a great source of all kind of vitamins--pomegranate most of all antioxidants and papaya carotene, lycopene, vitamin A, K, potassium, and calcium.

Between the two of them I prefer pomegranate as more acidic and defined in taste and texture. But in this combination both fruits complement each other. And just a small bowl of that light fruit salad is not only a great dessert but provides a daily requirement of most vitamins.

Thanks to ginger and crushed pepper corns that salad has also a slightly spicy and warming up taste, perfect for a cold fall day.

Pomegranate and Papaya Salad
(Serves six)

1 small papaya, about 1lb,
1 pomegranate,
2 tbsp running honey,
juice from 1 lime,
1 tsp freshly grated ginger (optional),
10 grains black pepper crushed into small pieces.
1. Cut papaya in half. Using a spoon, remove seeds. Peel off each half, then cut into half slices and into smaller cubes. Place them in a large bowl.
2. Cut the top of the pomegranate off and then cut the fruit in half. Using hands, break each half into quarters. Using fingers, scoop the seeds into a bowl, trying to leave the white membranes out. Another method is to do that part in the bowl of water--seeds will land at the bottom of the bowl and membranes will float on the surface. Place the seeds in the bowl with papaya cubes.

3. Add to the bowl 2 tbsp of honey, juice from one lime, and grated ginger, if used. Mix gently all the ingredients. Let the whole salad stand aside for about 30 minutes. It can be stored in a refrigerator overnight. Before serving, decorate the top of the salad with crushed pepper corns and fresh mint leaves.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Spicy Red Lentil Cream Soup--To Warm Up

Sometimes when the day is busy and I have no time for a lot of cooking, this simple and rich soup makes a whole dinner. It is lovely, especially on a cold and windy day as today. I always keep all kinds of lentils in my pantry and in no time I can turn them into an easy and healthy dinner that my whole family will enjoy.

Red lentils are easy to cook since, unlike some other beans, they do not require to be soaked before cooking but cook fast straight from the box. Lentils are rich in protein and for that they are much appreciated by vegetarians. Moreover, they are one of the best vegetable sources of iron, B vitamins, zinc, magnesium, and folate. So do not feel guilty for being lazy-- this lentil soup is not only simple and easy, but also very healthy. I hope this argument will convince you to try this recipe.

I like to serve this soup with Middle eastern breads and extra crème fraîche on top, particularly if I serve it as a one-dish dinner.

Spicy Red Lentil Cream Soup

(Serves six)

2 cups red lentil (about 1 lb),
500 ml carrot juice (I buy organic from Costco),
500 ml vegetable broth,
2 shallots chopped,
2 garlic cloves, minced,
1/2 cup crème fraîche (the Latin American crema fresca would be an excellent substitute for it) or any other cream you like, plus extra to decorate,
1 tsp ground cumin,
1 tsp mild curry powder,
1/ cup chopped fresh coriander leaves,
3 tbsp olive oil, 1 tsp of salt, fresh, coarsely ground black pepper.


1. Heat the oil in a large heavy duty pot. Add chopped onion and garlic and fry until soft.
2. Wash and drain red lentils. Add them to the pot. Coat with onion and garlic and fry for about a minute.

3. Pour in the carrot juice and broth and let the lentils cook for about 25 minutes, until they become soft. Cooked lentil will turn into a purée almost by themselves but if you like a smoother texture, you can use a hand blender to purée it more.

4. In a small bowl mix together crème fraîche, salt, pepper, ground cumin, and curry. Add this spiced cream to the lentil and mix everything together. Bring to boil and let it simmer for about 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and let all the flavors infuse for about 5 minutes.
5. Pour the soup into serving bowls. Decorate with a dollop of crème fraîche and chopped, fresh coriander leaves.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Semolina Spaetzle with Caramelized Onion--October Special

Last week, when I visited the nearby World Market store, I stumbled on a huge October Fest promotion of German food products. I bought two bags of dry spaetzle. My kids like them and these little German noodles could be a great time saver when I am preparing their lunch. I usually serve them with meat sauce. But when I came home wondering what to prepare for dinner I thought that the October Fest was a good excuse to make some home-made spaetzle.

Any kind of home-made spaetzle are so good that they taste best almost on their own. Simply just some melted butter on top makes them delicious. My favorite are spaetzle served with chanterelles in cream sauce, when they are available in the fall. The most demanded in my home however are the traditional rustic spaetzle, served with caramelized onion on top. The dark gold and slightly crispy onion gives a nice contrast to the mild and somewhat firm spaetzle.

Spaetzle recipes call for quite a lot of eggs. The proportion usually is 2/3 cup of flour per egg. This time, I used the semolina flour, which gave my spaetzle not only a strong yellow color but at the same time more texture.

I brought from Poland a special colander for making spaetzle. If you fall in love with spaetzle, as much as we did, it is worth investing in such equipment. Otherwise, a regular colander with large holes would also work.

At the dinner, while gulping the spaetzle at an enormous speed, accompanied by half sour pickles, my son asked what they were made of. "Just flour, eggs and a bit of milk". "Wow! That is all? So simple and sooo delicious?!" Yes, it is.

Semolina Spaetzle with Caramelized Onion

4 large eggs (preferably organic,
1 cup fine semolina flour,
1 cup all purpose wheat flour,
1/2 cup milk, 2 tbsp melted butter,
1 large onion, butter or olive oil for frying, salt and pepper to taste.

1. In a medium bowl beat eggs with milk until they are well combined.
2. Add both kinds of flour to the eggs mixture and mix with a whisker until a smooth batter forms. If it is too thick add a few tbsp of milk. Let the batter rest for 30 minutes.

3. In the meantime peel off and chop the onion. Heat the 3 tbsp of butter or olive oil in a frying pan. Add chopped onion and fry it for 5-8 minutes, until it becomes dark gold.

4. In a large pot heat 5 quarters of water with one tbsp salt. Transfer a batter into a colander with holes and place over the pot with boiling water.

5. When the water boils vigorously, rub the batter through the colander using a plastic spatula or a wooden spoon.
6. When the whole batter is in the water bring it again to the boiling point. Turn down the heat and cook spaetzle for about 3-5 minutes.
7. Drain the spaetzle on a colander.
8. Transfer to a serving plate. Drizzle with caramelized onion and pepper on top.

Serve with green lettuce or sour cucumbers.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Polish Apple Pie--the Easy Version

It has been a third fall since I started writing this blog and the same third season for apples. And I do not know how it happened that so far I have not posted a recipe for a traditional Polish apple pie (or cake), which is probably the most popular Polish cake. It used to be served as soon as the first ripe apples appeared late in the summer and until the last winter apples were pulled out of the cellar in early spring.
If you ask me, the best apple pie I had was that made by my grandmother. Her shortcrust pastry could win a Nobel Prize in that category (if there were such a category, of course). I still use it to make many different cakes and mostly to make these wonderful small pastries that are on the title photo of my blog. But I believe that her apple cake was exceptional also because there was an endless variety of apples in Poland suitable for all kinds of apple cakes.
Apple cakes were the type of cakes most often baked in my home. It was easy, as in our yard there were growing at least three different kinds of apple trees and all of their fruits were suitable for cooking and preserving. They were juicy or mushy, sweet or sour, hard or soft, but always aromatic and perfect for the fall and winter desserts.
The recipe that I share today is an easy variation of the one my grandma made because it does not require rolling the dough. Instead you grate it on a grater.
We have never used cinnamon in my home for that recipe but since it goes with apples very well, you may add some according to your taste. Apple pie, as always, is great fresh and warm, just slightly cooled down, but this is also great the next day because it tastes very nice when it gets softer.

Polish Apple Pie
(For a 9-inch tin with high walls)
3 cooking apples, preferably sour, but McIntosh or Golden Delicious can be also used,
1 cup sugar, plus 1 extra tbsp,
2 cups all purpose unbleached flour,
2 sticks of unsalted butter, room temperature,
2 tsp baking powder,
4 medium eggs, separated, a pinch of salt,
1 tsp cinnamon (optional).
1. To make a dough place flour and baking powder in a large bowl. Mix it well with a spatula.
2. Add to the bowl butter cut into small cubes and working with hands make large crumbles.
3. In a small bowl mix egg yolks and one tbsp of sugar until it becomes pale. Add yolk mixture to the butter-flour bowl and working with hands, as fast as possible, make a smooth dough.
4. Wrap the dough in a plastic foil and freeze for at least one hour, until it becomes hard.
5. Just before baking preheat oven to 375F.
6. Peel off all the apples and grate them on a grater with large holes.

7. Use 1 tbsp of butter to grease the bottom of the 9-inch large baking tin with high removable walls. 8. Take the dough from the freezer and using the large hole grater, grate half of it directly on the bottom of the tin.
9. Beat whites until almost stiff. Add one third of the sugar and beat until it dissolves and whites become shiny. Do that the same with the second and the third part of the sugar.
10. Mix grated apples with whipped whites, add cinnamon if you like it, and spread evenly on the grated pastry.
11. Grate the second part of the dough on top.

12. Place the pie in the oven. Bake for about 60 minutes until the top of the pie becomes gold. Cool down, cut in triangles, and serve.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Endive and Pear Salad

This salad might seem trivial to those who tasted any version of it. But, last time I served it to my friends, it turned out that it was completely unknown to them. It also earned many compliments. It is one of my favorite fall salads so I decided to post this recipe today, as fall is definitely here.

It is easy to make if you only have the right ingredients. The neutral taste of the endive is enhanced by the sweetness of the pear, the strong taste of the blue cheese and aromatic walnuts. Once drizzled with lemon juice and olive oil, the salad should be gently tossed. All the flavors infuse and with each bite you taste them blending in your mouth.

This salad can be served as a dinner entrée or, as it is often in France and Switzerland, as a lunch dish, accompanied by a fresh baguette.

Endive and Pear Salad
(Serves four)

Ingredients: 3-4 endives,
1 ripe but not too soft pear,
1/2 cup toasted walnuts quarters,
1 thick slice of Roquefort or any hard, good quality blue cheese,
juice from 1/2 lemon,
2-3 tbsp olive oil,
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.

1. Cut endive diagonally into thick slices and place in a large shallow bowl.
2. Peel off the pear and remove seeds. Cut in four and slice. Scatter on top of the endives.
3. Cut the piece of blue cheese into small cubes and toss on the salad.
4. Finish with walnuts.
5. Make a dressing; in a small bowl mix lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. Drizzle the salad on top. You can toss the salad gently or serve in layers for a better presentation.