Friday, April 25, 2014

Grilled Pineapple and Lettuce Salad

In the past few weeks, beautiful pineapples have been on display at most food stores I visit. They are wonderful, juicy and honey sweet. I serve them most often just on their own or in fruit salads, or sometimes make them into desserts.

But today, I will share a recipe for a light salad I made the other day for lunch. I used a leftover pineapple and whatever I had in my refrigerator and I believe the result was interesting enough to share this recipe here.

Grilled pineapple is scattered on a Boston lettuce and finished with ricotta salata cheese. I was thinking about using feta cheese but ricotta, similarly salted, is more delicate in taste therefore does not overshadow the lettuce and sweet pineapple. On top, I added just a bit of chives for spiciness and black sesame seeds which deliver several important minerals and vitamins. There are different textures in this salad and a sweet and sour taste of all ingredients which combined make a simple and healthy vegetarian lunch, perfect for springtime.

Grilled Pineapple and Lettuce Salad
(Serves four)

4 slices of fresh pineapple, peeled off and core removed,
a small head of Boston lettuce,
4 oz ricotta salata, cut in small cubes,
2-3 leaves spring onion, chopped,
2 tsp black sesame seeds,
2-3 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice,
3 tbsp grape seeds or rice bran oil,
salt and pepper to taste.

1. Cut pineapple slices into small pieces. Heat the grill or a regular frying pan and grill the pieces of pineapple until they become brown. Let them cool down.

2. Remove and discard outer leaves from the lettuce, and using fingers, break it into smaller pieces. Place lettuce on a large serving plate.
3. First, scatter grilled pineapple on lettuce, then follow with ricotta salata and spring onion on top.
4. In a small bowl mix oil, lemon juice, sesame seeds, salt and pepper.
5. Drizzle the salad with dressing and serve.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Roman Artchichokes--Best in the World

When I ask myself what the culinary hallmarks of Rome would be, two vegetables always come to my mind: agretti and artichokes. Agretti, a unique sour vegetable similar in its look to seaweed and in taste to sorrel, is not much known even outside Rome and not available in my part of the US. Artichokes fortunately are available almost all year round so, today, I would like to talk about a Roman artichokes dish.

I have been experimenting with artichokes for quite some time and have been more or less successful with different recipes. But only once I ate Roman artichokes I fully understood their wonderful taste and fell in love with them forever. They became my favorite artichokes dish.

First, I tried famous Jewish artichokes in the Roman Ghetto's highly recommended restaurant Da Giggetto. Fried artichokes were delicious and a lot of fun, as I had to find my way of eating them , sucking on partially fried, partially soft leaves.

Second time I had Roman artichokes, my host, my friend's Mom, prepared them for me, showing me each step of the process. She bought these artichokes at her local market where a vendor had already prepared them for her. Cooking the peeled artichokes was much easier and faster and the result delicious.

Since I buy my artichokes locally such a service is not available so I end up always with dark stained fingers and a mountain of debris. I already tried probably all the artichokes from each local store that sells them and found that those from Trade Joe's are the best. I am waiting now to try them from my local farmers market.

The idea of Roman artichokes dish is very simple. Artichokes are stuffed with garlic and parsley, which often is paired with this vegetable, and steamed in water and oil. They come out delicate, almost buttery, and if prepared properly, edible and delicious from the stem to the leaves. Ever since my recent visit in Rome I have made artichoke quite often and I believe that by now I have mastered this dish. All I need to make this dish as perfect as it was in Rome, is a glass of white wine from Lazio.

Roman Artichokes
(Serves four)

4 fresh globe artichokes,
one lemon,
4 garlic cloves,
2 tbsp chopped flat leaves parsley,
1/4 cup olive oil,
1/4 cup water,
salt to taste.

1. Remove outer leaves from artichokes until you get to the very green, fresh, and soft layer. Cut from the top of the artichoke about one third-half of the leaves.

2. Using a vegetable peeler peel off the stem and artichoke base. While preparing the next artichokes, put the ready one in a bowl of cold water with lemon juice from half of lemon to prevent discoloration.

3. When all the artichokes are prepared, drain them from water. Gently open leaves of artichokes and first put first a clove of garlic in each of them, then push about half a tbsp of chopped parsley.

4. In a heavy duty pot, tall enough to accommodate artichokes, put 1/4 cup of olive oil and water. Place artichokes head down and cover with a lid.

5. Heat the pot until oil and water start to sizzle. Turn down the heat to low medium and let the artichokes cook for about 30 minutes. Do not open the lid. After 30 minutes try with the fork if water evaporated and artichokes are soft. If not add a bit of water and let simmer for another couple of minutes. If they are ready, cover and let fry slightly for about 3 minutes.

6. Salt the artichokes before serving. Serve with lemon wedges.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Kale and Cilantro Pancakes--Breakfast Afghan Way

Last time I shared a recipe for my son's favorite American breakfast. Today, I offer you a breakfast meal from a different culinary tradition. This is another recipe I learned thanks to my Afghan friend.

These pancakes may seem a little bit spicy or fulfilling for a first meal of the day but if you look at the ingredients it turns out that they add up to a very healthy meal. And if you think that kale has been proclaimed by some the most healthy vegetable, it may sound even more interesting to those who look for another kale recipe. Kale is also often used to make a green juice--one of the latest dieting fads.

Kale pancakes are based on eggs but they cover a long list of vitamins. Cilantro delivers mostly a significant amount of vitamins C, K, A, and beta carotene, while kale, in addition, is also rich in calcium, magnesium, vitamin B-6, and iron. There is also turmeric added which has been another healthy and fashionable spice, widely recognized for its anti-inflammatory properties.

I tried kale pancakes for brunch at my friend's house a few weeks ago. They made a great meal, especially when followed by date cookies and green tea flavored with cardamon. Ever since I got this recipe I have been making these pancakes pretty often. It is a breakfast or brunch meal, but I like them also for lunch while my kids enjoy them even for dinner or as an evening snack. If I have leftovers I freeze them and use later.

Afghan Kale and Cilantro Pancakes
(Makes about 20 pancakes)

6 organic eggs,
3 tbsp all purpose flour,
one medium onion,
1/2 bunch fresh coriander leaves,
2 medium kale leaves,
2 jalapeno peppers (optional),
1 tsp ground turmeric,
1/2 tsp ground coriander seeds,
salt and black pepper for frying,
vegetable oil for frying.

1. In a large bowl beat eggs with flour until it is smooth. Add turmeric and coriander seeds.
2. Chop onion and jalapeno and add to the batter.
3. Chop the coriander leaves. Cut out only the leaf parts of the kale, discard the stems, and chop the leaves. Add both greens to the batter.
4. Season everything with salt and pepper.
5. Heat 2 tbsp of oil on a heavy duty frying pan. Put 1/4 cup of a eggs mixture on the hot oil. Fry on a medium heat until gold. Turn and fry on the other side. Repeat with the rest of the batter.

6. Dry pancakes on a paper towel from the extra oil. Serve warm.