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Archive for the ‘Ingredient Musings’ Category

I’ve been extra busy lately. I’m basically in Subtitles Hell– every 5 seconds of the 90 minute film needs a new set of subtitles. Ugh.

When I know I’ll be stuck at my computer all week, I like to make a big pot of something one day to eat from for at least 3 more days. Does that sound boring? If it’s something I’m really in the mood for, I like it this way.. And I switch things up at dinner.

I’m back on the health kick, and making an effort to eat more vegetable and non-meat main dishes. Those who know me are laughing right now, because I am a true carnivore. In all of it’s bloody, artery clogging glory! But as much as I love me a steak, it really does feel good to eat veggies.

I thought a lentil was a grain, but it’s actually a “pulse”- a bean from the legume family of plants. There is a huge variety of them in many different colors. Lentils are a great source of protein and good carbs. They also carry iron,  fiber, Vitamin B1 and minerals.

In French, Meditteranean and American restaurants, I often see lentils in a salad, or as a side to salmon. In India, the Middle East, and South American countries lentils are often combined with rice in a stew, as they have a similar cooking time. A very common dish in Greek households is a lentil soup/stew. Every month or so, I get really in the mood for it and find it very comforting. So here is a comfort food that isn’t 90% fat. 🙂 Can it be?

Here is my grandmother’s Lentil Soup Recipe:

1 lb lentils

3 quarts water

1 -2 diced carrots

1- 2 diced celery stalks

1-2 diced onions

(the reason I write 1-2 for the veggies is because some like veggies in a higher ratio to lentils than others, your choice. I personally up the veggies a lot).

2 minced cloves of garlic

2 bay leaves

1 cup diced tomato with juices (can be from can if necessary)

vegetable broth/cube

S&P

1 can V8 juice-optional

dash vinegar-optional

  • Rinse Lentils in a colander to clean
  • Put lentils in a big pot with the 3 quarts water and let boil.
  • Once the water is boiling, reduce heat- skim any foam that appears at the top
  • Sautee veggies and garlic with bay leaves in a pan with a few drops of olive oil
  • Add veggies and diced tomato to the lentils, along with one veggie cube.
  • Let boil for 35-45 minutes. Add S&P to taste.
  • You can add V8 juice at the end for some extra oomph! Some add a dash of vinegar as well, although I do not like this.

Enjoy! Mine is boiling now. It’ll give me the healthy carbs, proteins, and nutrients I need for excersizing later! Jillian Michaels is gonna kick my butt with her DVDs…damn her and her squats.

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I’ve made many Iranian friends in my life. They have welcomed me into their home and dinner table countless times. I cannot tell you how touched I have been by their hospitality and graciousness. Pomegranates are highlighted consistently in their dishes, and so I did not want to end a discussion of pomegranates without including this cuisine.

There are many similarities between Greek and Persian cooking. We regularly use many of the same staple ingredients, such as lamb, walnuts, almonds, parsley, cinnamon, and pomegranate.

Pomegranate is probably native to Iran, actually, and only later cultivated in Mediterranean regions. There are many varieties of pomegranates in Iran that range greatly in color and also sweetness.  There is even a black pomegranate which is much more rare and expensive…I would love to hold and taste one someday!

Iranian cuisine is known for its pomegranate soup, and pomegranate chicken dishes.

I remembered having a braised lamb dish with pomegranate years ago. The dish is called Lamb Fesenjan. Though I do not have their recipe, from memory I re-created the dish, added some whims of my own, and it is part of my regular repertoire:

BRAISED LAMB WITH POMEGRANATES

serves 4

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 chopped shallots
  • 1.5 lbs lamb-any kind of stew cut-shoulder, leg, etc.
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup beef stock
  • 1 cup fresh pomegranate juice
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1/2 cup chopped almonds
  • 1/2- 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp cardamom
  • 1 tbs lime juice
  • 1 tbs lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup pomegranate seeds
  • 2 tbs chopped fresh parsley
  1. In a medium-large pot, saute shallots in olive oil.
  2. Once the shallots start caramelizing, add lamb cubes.
  3. Simmer for 20 minutes
  4. In another smaller pot, simmer pomegranate juice until it is reduced by 1/2 or more- it should become slightly syrupy
  5. Then add this reduction in another pot with chicken and beef broth, nuts, all the spices, and S&P- let simmer for 15 minutes
  6. Drain the beef and add to the broth-pomegranate-spice mixture.
  7. Let it simmer until the lamb feels tender
  8. Sprinkle with fresh pomegranate seeds and chopped parsley.

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I am currently addicted to podcasts of Eric Ripert’s cooking show: Avec Eric. I highly recommend that you become addicted as well.

I’ve always had respect for Eric Ripert. (He is head chef of Le Bernardin-a 3 michelin, New York Times 4 star restaurant). As I see it, he is one of a handful of chefs that consistently challenges himself to explore new flavors, develop new dishes, and take risks. He does not rest on a handful of famous recipes that gave him his reputation. I don’t want to sound like a sycophantic bore, but there truly is something special about Ripert’s wide-eyed love for food.

He expresses enthusiasm, wonder and appreciation for each component of cooking.  You’d think that he discovered gold when biting into a freshly picked ripe-red tomato.  Food doesn’t have to be complicated to be great. When people are busy or when money is tight, remember that a simple assembly of a few great, fresh ingredients can be divine.

Ripert also values savoring and celebration.  He emphasizes the community that results when food and cooking brings people together. I unashamedly relate to this sentimental approach to food.

I’ve been trying the recipes available on his website: http://www.aveceric.com. A simple goat cheese appetizer inspired me to create a few simple variations to showcase pomegranate.

In Ripert’s recipe, goat cheese is rolled into balls and rolled in a bread crumb mixture seasoned with olive oil, herbes de provence, fresh sea salt and pepper. The cheese is then broiled briefly and served on thin slices of baguette. Simple and lovely.

I adapted this recipe to create a sweet-savory combination. Goat cheese goes well with many fruit flavors, such as cranberry and pears. Pomegranate seeds add a great bite in texture with the creamy cheese. I add toasted walnuts as well for an earthy, toasted dimension.

POMEGRANATE GOAT CHEESE TOASTS- 4 appetizer servings (two toasts each)

  • 8 ounces goat cheese
  • 2/3 cup pomegranate seeds
  • 1/4 cup crushed, toasted walnuts (or more if you like)
  • 4 tsp walnut oil or olive oil
  • 4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tsp fine sea salt
  • 8 thin, toasted slices of french baguette bread
  • arugula leaves-optional
  1. Set your oven to broil setting
  2. Leave goat cheese out of the fridge to come to room temperature
  3. Mix pomegranate seeds, walnuts, oil, and S&P in a bowl
  4. In your hands, slice and roll the goat cheese into 8 individual round balls
  5. Roll the cheese in the pomegranate seed mixture
  6. Broil for 2-3 minutes
  7. You can plate these on toasts, or in a bed of arugula leaves drizzled with walnut oil and extracted pomegranate juice. OR on toasts resting on a bed of arugula leaves.

In the spirit of appreciation and respect for ingredients, try to get your pomegranates and walnuts from local food markets. Try to find the french goat cheese from a reputable store instead of a packaged grocery store variety. And savor all sensations of each bite.

Christina, stop rolling your eyes and calling me corny. I see you!

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Here are two pomegranates sitting on the ledge of my kitchen window.

As you can tell from my logo, pomegranate’s have a special meaning for me. In film school, I made a short series of films about the myth of Persephone. Pomegranates play an important role in the story: Because Hades gets Persephone to bite into a pomegranate she can only leave the Underworld for half of the year. (Thus the explanation for the seasons- when she is above ground there is spring and harvest and mild weather. When she is with Hades, the crops die and winter comes).  I fell in love with the beauty of this fruit while incorporating it visually into the film.

I want to showcase all the sensory wonders of this berry, so this week it’s all about pomegranates. I’ll offer up some recipes that will display the versatility of this ingredient.

Here in Greece, pomegranates are considered good luck. Many people keep a dried pomegranate in their homes, or crystal or glass reproductions of its image.

My neighbor has a pomegranate tree that reaches towards my balcony. She lets us pick from them when we like, which is very generous. I also picked a bag up from the open air market recently.

Pomegranates have gotten a lot of attention the past few years for their high level of antioxidants. They are also a big source of Vitamin C, B, and Potassium.

I used to think the color had something to do with picking the right pomegranate. Although a deep red color make them more attractive to me, it really has little to do with the quality. Some insist that a bright red color is a good sign, but I’m not sure there is any foundation to this. If you squeeze into the top crown of the pomegranate, there should be no gray powder emitting. That’s a bad sign. Here are the trusted guidelines: Try to make sure the pomegranate is on the larger size, and that it feels heavy for its size. There will be more juice. It should be firm and not at all mushy.

Cutting into them is messy, and extracting the seeds can be frustrating. My father loves pomegranate and every time he cuts into them the kitchen looks like a crime scene!  There are a few tricks, though:

  • First of all, use gloves. The juice will stain your hands and your clothes! Fill a bowl with water.
  • Cut of 1/2 inch off the top of the pomegranate.
  • Place it on its side on a cutting board. Make a shallow cut 5 times from the top to the base.
  • With the pomegranate under water, open the fruit from the points where it was sliced. Push the seeds out with your fingers.
  • The seeds will sink to the bottom. Skim the pith of the fruit into the garbage and then strain the seeds.
  • To extract the juice, let the seeds sit in a strainer or colander over a bowl.

Today I’m showcasing a simple salad recipe. I will follow up with many more.

POMEGRANATE SALAD RECIPE

One bunch Arugula

Seeds from 1 Pomegranate

20 Walnuts, Chopped and Lightly Toasted

2 Small Pears, Sliced Lengthwise- 1/2 inch thick

Juice of One Pomegranate

2 tbs Honey

1 tbs Champagne or Sherry Vinegar (white wine vinegar will do)

Olive Oil

S&P

Mix first 5 ingredients together

Mix honey, vinegar, and pomegranate juice with a whisk. Add olive oil while whisking (or while being blended in a food processor/blender) until it has reached the desired consistency. Add S&P to taste.

Drizzle vinaigrette into salad and make sure not to add too much- otherwise the salad becomes wilted.



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I was so excited when I saw fresh pumpkin at the grocery store! I’ve been craving this sweet vegetable and waiting for it to come into its season. Lugging this huge heavy mass up the stairs to my apartment was worth it.

The name Pumpkin originated from the Greek word “large melon” which is “Pepon.” (Insert My Big Fat Greek Wedding joke here) 🙂

Native Americans used to use “isqoutm squash” (pumpkins) to make mats out of them by drying flattened strips. They also used the pumpkin for medicinal purposes.

In early colonial times, pumpkins were used as an ingredient for the crust of pies instead of the filling.

Had enough of fun facts?  Time for recipes.

I almost cut my hand off trying to break into the thing, so be careful. Once the top is off, its relatively easy to cut into thick slices. Scooping out the fleshy seeds is fun (well I think it’s fun), and then I dump into a foiled baking pan with some oil, salt and pepper.

I roasted for 35-40 minutes on 375F (180C)

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See that nice bruised golden color? That’s what you want. I put some of this aside as a very simple side dish for the week. Roast it with whatever spices you like: Garam Marsala OR you can make it a sweet roasted dish with brown sugar, molasses, cinnamon, etc. Sea salt, pepper, and cumin work fine too.

I scooped out the rest to collect 6 cups of the pumpkin flesh for a comforting soup. I love sweet pumpkin soup, with lots of brown sugar and apples…but since I am trying to keep the calories low, I thought I’d make a more savory soup which is still incredibly flavorful. Pumpkin is so thick and creamy on its own, that heavy cream is so unnecessary. Even if I wasn’t dieting I’d say this, I promise! I use thick Greek yogurt instead.

Indian spices bring out the pumpkin flavor in a great way, so here is my version of Indian Spiced Pumpkin Soup:

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp olive oil and 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 tsp garlic
  • 3 small onions, diced
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 3 tbs garam marsala
  • a few dashes of cinnamon and clove
  • I add many pinches of cayenne, but you add however much you like
  • 6 cups of roasted pumpkin flesh (please don’t use canned- it takes only 30 minutes to roast fresh pumpkin and tastes so much better)
  • 5 cups of chicken broth (or vegetable broth)
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 2 cups of  2% milk
  • 1/4-1/2 cup 2%  greek yogurt (however much you like)

1 Melt butter in a 4-quart saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onions and garlic and cook, stirring often, until softened, about 4 minutes. Add spices and stir for a minute more.

2 Add pumpkin and 5 cups of chicken broth; blend well. Bring to a boil and reduce heat, simmer for 10 to 15 minutes.

3 Transfer soup, in batches, to a blender or food processor. Cover tightly and blend until smooth. Return soup to saucepan.

4 With the soup on low heat, add brown sugar and mix. Slowly add milk while stirring to incorporate. Add cream. Adjust seasonings to taste. If a little too spicy, add more cream to cool it down. You might want to add a teaspoon of salt.

Pumpkin is jam-packed with Beta Carotenoids, Fiber, Potassium and Zinc. It is a powerful antioxidant, lowers risks of hypertension, boosts the immune system, and improves bone density. Knowing this helps to not feel guilty when you want a third serving of soup. : )

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Remember that gloriously fragrant mint I found in the market days ago? Well I’m still smelling it everyday. I have not managed to keep an herb garden alive for more than 3 weeks, although there isn’t anything I treasure more in a kitchen than fresh herbs.

I love salads made up entirely of herbs. I don’t roast any hunk of meat unless it is covered in fresh rosemary or sage or thyme. Have you heard of creamed parsley? It’s the latest dish in a new french bistro that I’ll be trying out soon.

My grandmother taught me to extend the life span of leafy treasures by washing them, and wrapping in paper towels before placing back into the fridge. Thank goodness this works, because in my enthusiasm at the store, I bought a whole big bunch!

My stomach was a bit unsettled tonight and so I thought why not make some fresh mint tea?

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Here I am swirling my spoon while the mint infuses in boiling water. I know this picture is totally unnecessary, but isn’t it pretty? I added the tiniest drip of honey and it was lovely. The flavor was mild and the honey enhanced the mint rather than adding too much sweetness, which is distracting I think.

What else I could do with this mint that I haven’t done before? I usually cut it up with strawberries, use it to flavor lamb, or add it to salads, as I mentioned above. But I wanted to think of something special for you all to try…

As you can see from today’s blog title, I am on a new health kick. Don’t worry, I will still be addressing rich recipes! But I am now including a section of healthier choices. I won’t add anything unless it tastes amazing, I promise. I’m going to try to employ the “French Women Don’t Get Fat” policy for myself, and eat little portions of everything. I’d rather eat a teeny piece of Brie than a reduced fat plastic chunk of cheese. Gross.

SO- how can I use mint for a low-cal dessert?  Giving up dessert is NOT an option.

My first idea is reduced mint syrup. It’s nothing complicated, or especially unique. But syrup always feels decadent and doesn’t have to be especially calorific.

MINT SYRUP RECIPE- 2 servings

Steep 1/4 cup packed mint leaves and stems in 1/2 cup boiling water for 10 minutes.

Remove the leaves (but leave a few stems) from the water

Add 1/3 or 1/2  cup sugar and stir until dissolved.

Reduce on medium to low heat until the liquid is thick and syrupy.

Add as a beautiful liquid garnish to a dessert of your choice. Drizzle over chocolate cake, over ice cream (non fat ice cream or sorbet!), over berry tarts or plain berries…the choices are endless.

***Replace mint with basil and use it for strawberry sorbet or ice cream, the combination is amaaazing. Trust me.

So as not to abandon my Greek roots (I haven’t included a Greek recipe in a while)- how can I highlight mint in a traditional dish?

There are so many possibilities. Mint aioli for lamb and mint garlic yogurt sauce for Dolmades come to mind.

In my next Friday Friandises, I promis I will offer up a Greek dessert!

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sophias fig picture

Christina, one of my dear friends in New York is seeing figs everywhere and told me I should offer up a recipe. She’s always full of good ideas.

Our mutual friend Sophia visited me in Greece last year at the end of August, and we took advantage of all the fresh figs in season. We spent the night inside talking, drinking wine, and making a simple recipe: Figs stuffed with mozzarella, wrapped in prosciutto, drizzled with olive oil and baked! Once baked, a little drizzle of honey doesn’t hurt.  We had a lovely girls night. Our happy time in the kitchen was marked with red wine stains and fig flesh.

Every time I eat figs it feels like an indulgence. There is an inherent lusciousness and exotic quality to this fruit.

The Bengali saying: (tumi jeno dumurer phool hoe gele) “You have become invisible like the dumur flower” alludes to the invisible fig flower! Invisible? Yes, because the flower of the fig is actually inside the fruit. Verrrrrry mysterious.

Figs are one of the highest plant sources of calcium and fiber. They also have lots of antioxidants. So ignore the high content of sugar and carbs! 😉

When visiting my village of Menetes every summer, most homes have an overflowing bowl of figs for guests to enjoy. They are usually freshly picked from their own family’s fig tree. Everyone likes to feel that their own tree produces the best figs!

Even back in Athens, we have a fig tree that I pick at from my balcony when in season. Simple pleasures!

Many fig recipes pair the fruit with blue cheese, honey and walnuts. I enjoy all this options, but prefer the combination of fig with orange as well as caramel in fall or winter months. So this is a recipe I pieced together…

ORANGE POACHED FIGS OVER CARAMEL PUDDING

serves 4

For Poached Figs:

  • 1lb. figs (1/2 kilo)
  • 1 cup orange juice (preferably fresh)
  • 1/8 cup sugar or 2 tbs honey

Boil the orange juice with sugar or honey until it is reduced to 1/3 cup. Place quartered figs into a baking dish with the reduced liquid poured over it. Bake in a 375 degree oven for 15-20 minutes. Reserve the orange liquid.

For the Pudding:

  • 2 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 1/4 cups whole milk, divided
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Add cornstarch and salt in a bowl. Slowly pour in 1/4 cup of the milk, and whisk until the cornstarch is dissolved. Then whisk in egg yolks.

Stir sugar and 1/3 cup water in large saucepan over medium-high heat until sugar dissolves. Boil, and brush down pan sides with wet pastry brush. Continue boiling without stirring until syrup is deep amber around 10 minutes. You can swirl the pan occasionally. Add 2 cups milk (mixture will bubble, don’t worry)! Whisk until caramel bits dissolve. Slowly whisk hot milk mixture into yolk mixture; return to same pan. Whisk until pudding thickens and boils, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Whisk in butter and vanilla. Chill uncovered until the pudding is cold and slightly firm, around 3 hours.

This can be a nice meal in both cold and warm weather, as it can be served either cold or warm. Personally, when I make pudding, I eat it warm out of the pot! 🙂

*To plate- in ring molds, pipe or spread pudding within whatever shape you like in the middle of the plate. Once you lift off the molds, drape the figs however you like over and on the side of the pudding.

Drizzle some of the orange poaching liquid attractively on the plate. and garnish with candied oranges and toasted sliced almonds for extra texture and flavor.

Let me know how you liked it if you try the recipe!

*note- I’ve replaced Friday Desserts with Friday Friandises- In the spirit of  alliteration. 🙂

Friandises means sweets or petit fours.

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