Thursday, August 25, 2011

Apricot and Raspberry Crumble Tart

Desserts take on a new and wonderful character in the late summer when the orchards, fields and markets are full of fresh, voluptuous fruits. You’ll hear people who answer the question, “What’s your favorite dessert?” with, “Oh, I just love a really nice, fresh piece of fruit.” Those people drive me crazy!

A nice fresh piece of fruit all on its own is more like a salad to me. To take something like this lovely bunch of apricots I recently got my hands on and make them dessert, I believe they should be applied in the tart/crisp hybrid, a sort of crumble-topped tart, from Seasonal Fruit Desserts by Deborah Madison.

It was tempting to keep these plump, smooth, soft apricots around just for touching (I don’t get many visitors). This tart, however, with its almond-loaded crust, some of which is mixed a little differently and crumbled on top of the fruit mixture, proved even more tantalizing. The crust is easy to whip together with a food processor and presses easily into a tart pan. After that, apricots and raspberries, sweetened just a bit, are piled in and then topped with the crumb mixture.

As beautiful as all this sounds, I was skeptical most of the way through the process. Fresh apricots, even when ripe and flavorful, can also be quite sour, and these were no exception. Surely the ¼ cup of brown sugar in the filling wasn’t going to be enough. Surely this great pile of fruit was going to boil over or turn into a sloppy juice that leaked everywhere and turned the crust to mush. And then, as I peeked in at the baking tart, I was convinced that the apricots weren’t going to soften or release any juices at all.

Happily, I was wrong about all of that stuff. Each bite was all about the flavors of the fruit and almonds without any tooth-aching sweetness (which I wasn’t worried about) or wincing sourness (which I kind of was). There was just the right amount of thickened juices to hold the fruit together and allow the tart to be served as slices, rather than bowlfuls as a crisp or cobbler would be (although there’s still plenty of room for an accompanying scoop of vanilla ice cream). This tart/crisp hybrid, all in all, is just right.

I would love to try this with other fruits, such as peaches or plums, since fresh apricots are harder to find. I’m afraid, however, that these juicier fruits might make the too-wet tart I was afraid of. With the apricots and raspberries, this tart is as close to perfect as I’ve experienced in a long time, if ever. Really. It’s that good. Perfectly baked apricots, slumped, juicy raspberries and a crisp, almond-infused crust and topping. That sentence doesn’t need a verb, unless it’s “drool.” And if you think dessert is a nice piece of fruit, just try passing on a serving of this real dessert.

Apricot and Raspberry Tart with Crumble Topping
Adapted from Seasonal Fruit Desserts by Deborah Madison

for the crust and topping:
½ cup almonds
1/3 cup light brown sugar
¼ teaspoon fine salt, divided
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 stick (8 tablespoons) cold butter, cut into chunks
1 tablespoon water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon almond extract
1 egg yolk

for the filling:
4 cups fresh apricots, cut into quarters
1 cup raspberries
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
¼ cup light brown sugar

1. Preheat oven to 375 F. To make the crust and topping, place the almonds, 1/3 cup brown sugar and 1/8 teaspoon salt in a food processor. Process until the almonds are very finely ground. Remove ½ cup of the almond mixture and place it in a medium-size bowl. Set the bowl aside.

2. Add the 1 cup all-purpose flour and the whole wheat pastry flour to the mixture in the food processor. Pulse to combine. Add the butter and process until the mixture forms coarse crumbs.

3. In a small bowl or measuring cup, combine the water, vanilla and almond extracts and egg yolk. Whisk or stir together with a fork to combine. Turn on the food processor and gradually add this liquid mixture to the dough with the machine running. Continue processing until the dough comes together into a moist but crumbly ball.

4. Remove ½ cup of the dough and add it to the bowl of reserved almond mixture you removed earlier. Combine the mixtures with a fork or your hands to make coarse crumbs. This will be the crumb topping mixture. Set aside.

5. Press the remaining tart dough into a 9-inch tart pan (I used one with a removable bottom). Use your hands and press the dough as evenly on the bottom and up the sides of the pan as you can. If the dough is too soft to do this easily, refrigerate it for a while until it is firm.

6. In a large bowl combine the apricots, raspberries, 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour and ¼ cup brown sugar. Stir gently to coat the fruit.

7. Pour or spoon the mixture into the crust in the tart pan. Arrange the fruit if necessary to make it fit snugly in the pan. It will make a mound, but it should stay together. Sprinkle the topping mixture evenly over the fruit.

8. Place the tart pan on a sheet pan (this will make it easier to handle and catch any drips) and place it in the oven. Bake for about 30 minutes. Check the tart and if the topping is already well-browned, cover loosely with foil. Continue baking about 15 minutes more. The crust and topping should be nicely browned and the fruit will have released some juices. Cool before serving. Serve with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or a dollop of whipped cream if desired.

Makes 6-8 servings. The tart is best served soon after cooling when the crust and topping are crisp. You can cover and refrigerate leftovers, however, to serve later if you don’t mind a still delicious if slightly soggy crust.

Other recipes like this one: Cherry Plum Crisp, Plum Upside Down Yogurt Cake

One year ago: Plum Upside Down Yogurt Cake

Two years ago: Pasta with Cherry Tomatoes, Basil and Olives

Monday, August 22, 2011

Seasonal Pizza: Corn and Poblano Chiles

Most of the time when I make a pizza, it’s loaded with pretty traditional ingredients (for an American-style pizza, that is): pepperoni, Italian sausage, bell peppers, olives and the like. And of course melty mozzarella cheese and perhaps a sprinkling of another cheese such as Parmesan, Romano, provolone or Colby-Jack. Customized to our dining pleasure. Delicious. Season-less.

Recently, however, I took our weekend pizza on a more seasonal ride, covering it with grilled corn and poblano chiles. I swapped out my usual pizza sauce (also in this post) for prepared salsa to match the spirit and set aside the mozzarella in favor of pepper Jack cheese and smoked cheddar.

Since I used the grill to pre-cook the corn and poblanos and, of course, used a homemade pizza crust, this pizza did involve a lot of individual steps before it was ready to eat. The corn and poblanos can be grilled (or roasted if you don’t want to use a grill) well ahead of time, and the pizza crust should be made the day before for best flavor and texture. You can even have the crust partially-baked and ready to go if you really want to save time on cooking day. I think the corn, cream and scallion mixture could be made ahead and refrigerated, but I haven’t tried this myself.

Poblano chiles are milder than jalapenos, serranos or other small chiles, but I still recommend that you do not underestimate them. They’re far spicier than the green bell peppers that they somewhat resemble, and I need to use rubber gloves to deal with them if I want to avoid burning skin. (This irritation usually shows up long after I’m done cleaning up the kitchen, unless I touch my eye. Ouch!) A bite of a poblano slice on the pizza is pretty zingy, and if you prefer milder dishes, I’d recommend grilling or roasting red or green bell peppers instead. I think the pizza would still be delicious. There are some more details and photos of roasting and peeling peppers in this post.

The short version of the taste story of this pizza is that we loved it. The long version is that we loooooooved it. It was deliciously spicy and smoky and, since I cooked the corn with heavy cream, garlic and scallions after grilling it, rich and creamy as well. The combination of corn, cream, cheese and chiles, with a little tomato on top to brighten both the color and flavor is a complicated 5-way match made in pizza heaven.

Corn and Poblano Chile Pizza
Instead of using the grill, you could roast the peppers in the oven and toast the corn in the butter (step 3) before adding the rest of the ingredients.

4 large ears corn (mine were small so I used more), husks and silk removed
2 poblano chile peppers
1 tablespoon butter
½ cup chopped scallions
1 clove garlic, minced
½ teaspoon coarse (kosher) salt
¼ cup heavy cream
1 recipe whole wheat pizza crust dough prepared through step 4 (you could use all-white flour crust)
¾ cup prepared salsa
½ cup shredded Monterey Jack or pepper Jack cheese
½ cup shredded smoked cheddar cheese
about 10 cherry tomatoes, halved
2 tablespoons finely-chopped cilantro, optional
sour cream to serve, optional

1. Preheat a grill. Add the corn cobs and poblano chiles to the grill and cook until the corn is browned in several places and the skin of the chiles is charred and blistered. Remove the corn from the grill and set aside to cool. Remove the chiles and place them in a bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand 10 minutes.

2. Preheat the oven with a pizza stone to 450 F. When the corn is cool enough to handle cut the kernels from the cob and set them aside. Remove the chiles from the bowl and peel off their skins. (I recommend using rubber gloves.) Remove the stem and seeds and slice the chiles into strips. Set aside.

3. Melt the butter in a medium-size skillet over medium heat. Add the corn kernels, scallions, garlic and salt. Saute about 5-8 minutes or until just beginning to brown, stirring frequently. Add the heavy cream. Cook and stir until the mixture has thickened. Remove from the heat and set aside.

4. Partially bake the pizza crust on the pizza stone at 450 F for 5-8 minutes or until the crust is puffed, no longer appears doughy and has begun to brown a little.

5. Remove the crust from the oven. Spread the salsa evenly over the crust. Combine the Monterey Jack and smoked cheddar. Sprinkle about 2/3 of the cheese mixture over the salsa.

6. Spread the corn mixture over the cheese. Arrange the poblano strips over the corn mixture. Top with remaining cheese mixture. Arrange the cherry tomato halves over the cheese.

7. Return the pizza to the oven and bake about 10-15 minutes or until the cheese is melted and the crust is brown. Remove from the oven and top with cilantro if desired. Let the pizza stand about 5 minutes before slicing and serving. Serve each slice with a dollop of sour cream if desired.

Makes 1 10-12 inch pizza, about 4 servings. Leftovers can be wrapped and refrigerated. They’re great reheated in a toaster oven.

Other recipes like this one: Pizza Any Way You Like It, Corn and Green Onion Tart with Bacon

One year ago: Pasta with Yellow Squash, Corn and Bacon

Two years ago: Summer Squash Casserole with Basil and Onion

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Whole Wheat Pizza Dough

I must admit, I’ve been holding out on you a little bit. This has to do with homemade pizza, specifically the crust. Sure, I still make it just about every week, but I’ve manipulated the recipe just a little and bumped up my crust’s Whole Food Quotient (WFQ). Really, it’s as simple as swapping out one of the cups of all-purpose flour for whole wheat flour.

This new and improved crust is just as easy to make (I recommend a heavy-duty mixer with a dough hook), just as crisp and at least as delicious. In fact, I’ve begun to find it even more delicious than the all white flour version, simply because my taste buds have come to expect the flavor of whole grains. I no longer even think about this being a partly whole-grain crust. I just know the pizza is delicious!

I’ve found that a good place to start adding more whole grains to your diet, if you’re into that kind of thing, is to replace some of the refined flour with whole grain flour in a reliable recipe, one that you already know is good. I substitute no more than half of the white flour, and often more like one-third, the first time around. This has worked pretty well for me when adding whole wheat pastry flour to muffins, quick bread loaves and some cakes and a multigrain flour mixture to baguettes as well as whole wheat flour in this pizza crust.

White flour contains more gluten and therefore will help hold your baked goods together. If you go all whole grain, the result can be a crumbly cake or a brick for a bread loaf. Also, the stronger flavors of whole grains might take some getting used to if you’re really in touch with your inner Wonder Bread child. Just take it easy. Don’t overdo it. Ease your way into making it all more whole. Start with something easy, or at least easy to enjoy. And covering your higher WFQ concoction with pepperoni, Italian sausage and lots of cheese (or grilled corn, poblano chiles and cherry tomatoes as I did recently) can only help the transition go a little more smoothly.

(For more on getting more whole grains into your baked goods without sacrificing the least bit of deliciousness, check out Good to the Grain by Kim Boyce. If my metabolism could handle the extra load, I’d be baking my way through this whole book!)

Whole Wheat Pizza Crust
I use a heavy-duty mixer with a dough hook. You could probably mix and knead this dough by hand, but it would take much longer than your average loaf of bread.

1 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
¾ cup warm water (about 100 F, it should feel warm, but not scalding to the touch)
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour, plus more if necessary
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
cornmeal for dusting the pizza peel

1. Combine the yeast, sugar and water in the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer. Let stand for 5 minutes, or until the yeast is foamy.

2. Add whole wheat flour, about ¾ cup all-purpose flour, olive oil and salt and mix with the dough hook on low speed. When a wet dough forms, add a little more flour. Increase the mixing speed (just one notch) and knead the dough until it is firm and stretchy, about 10 minutes, adding as much of the remaining flour (or more if needed) as you need to keep the dough from being wet and sticky.

3. Grease a medium-sized bowl or spray it with cooking spray. Form the finished dough into a ball and place it in the bowl. Spray or grease the top of the dough ball and place a piece of plastic wrap on top of the dough. Cover the bowl with a towel and place it in the refrigerator. Allow the dough to slowly rise in the refrigerator at least 12 hours. (If you don’t have that kind of time, you could let the dough rise at room temperature at least an hour before using. It will probably be less easy to handle, and have a less complex flavor.)

4. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and let stand for a few hours, or until it comes up to about room temperature. Punch down the dough and let it rest for about 5 minutes. Stretch or roll the dough into a 10-12-inch (approximately) circle (approximately), and place it on a wooden peel (or a pan) dusted with cornmeal. (If the dough really resists stretching, let it stand, covered for another 5 minutes or so and try again.) Cover the shaped dough with a towel and let stand for 30 minutes.

5. About 20 minutes before you are ready to bake, place a pizza stone on the middle rack of the oven and preheat the oven to 450 F. (If you do not have a pizza stone, simply preheat the oven. You will probably bake the pizza on a pan.)

6. To par-bake the crust, carefully slide the unbaked crust from the peel onto the preheated stone. Bake at 450 F for 5-8 minutes, or until the crust begins to puff up and no longer appears doughy. It may even be beginning to brown in places. Remove from the oven and top and bake as desired. You could also allow the par-baked crust to cool completely, wrap it well and freeze it until ready to make pizza.

Makes a crust for 1 10-12 inch pizza.

Other recipes like this one: Pizza Crust Dough (the all white flour version), Naan with Whole Wheat Flour, Sweet Pumpkin Focaccia 

One year ago: Spicy Potato and Tomato Gratin with Caramelized Onions

Two years ago: Cold Cucumber Soup

Monday, August 15, 2011

Sweet Melon Soup

In general, I don’t suppose fresh melons need any fiddling, tinkering or messing around. They’re sweet and juicy and slices, cubes, or balls of melon are a side dish, dessert or snack all on their own. I, of course, don’t leave well enough alone. I want something even more interesting. I want a recipe.  don't worry.  This one's easy.

I’m not the type to put melon in a savory dish like gazpacho or cucumber salad or to wrap wedges with prosciutto. It’s not that I’m not adventurous. It’s that I’ve tried some of these melon treatments, and I didn’t like them. My loss, I’m sure.

This year, I wanted to try some of the sweet recipes I’ve collected over the years based on melon purees. There was a sweet melon dessert soup that was on my mind, but I looked at that recipe, looked at what I had on hand, and decided I wasn’t going to be following that recipe all that closely.

Speaking of what I had, my CSA box last week held a Galia melon. A look and a taste will leave one with no surprise that the Galia is a honeydew-cantaloupe hybrid. It has pale green flesh that tastes perhaps a little more like cantaloupe that honeydew. The flesh is smooth and firm and lends itself rather nicely to being pureed.

I sweetened my melon soup with a touch of honey, punched it up with a handful of mint and a squeeze of lime juice and spiked the melon flavor even more with a splash of Midori, a bright green-colored melon liqueur. The flavor added by my homegrown peppermint leaves was a fabulous partner to the pure and heightened (by the Midori) melon flavor. It, along with the acidity of the lime juice kept this dessert soup refreshing rather than overly sweet and cloying.

A honeydew melon would be a great substitute for the Galia I used, as would a cantaloupe. I will say that since the mint and especially the Midori are so green, I cannot vouch for the pleasantness of the color of a soup made with the pink-orange flesh of cantaloupe. It might just turn an unappetizing shade of tan or light brown. I’d like to try this with a watermelon, too, but I’m not sure how the difference in the texture of the watermelon might change the final product. Hey, just tossing ideas around, but perhaps a watermelon puree like this could be strained, poured into little glasses, and served as a refreshing beverage. And if you spike that beverage with a little more Midori, and perhaps a splash of vodka or rum…well, I’m thinking the last weeks of summer might just be a little happier.

Sweet Melon Soup with Mint and Midori

4 cups seeded, peeled and chopped honeydew, muskmelon, or Galia melon (about half of a medium-size melon)
2 tablespoons fresh mint leaves
1 tablespoon honey (or to taste)
1 tablespoon lime juice
2 tablespoons Midori (melon liqueur)
pinch salt

1. Place all of the ingredients in a food processor or blender. Process until very smooth. Taste and adjust the flavors by adding more honey or lime juice if desired. Chill. Stir or whisk the soup before serving to redistribute the separated pulp.

Makes about 4 servings.

One year ago: Layered Brownie Ice Cream Dessert

Two years ago: Zucchini and Mint Frittata with Tomatoes on Top

Friday, August 12, 2011

Chickpea Tostadas

Once upon a time, I realized that I didn’t need to put meat in my tacos. Or burritos or enchiladas or on my tostadas or nachos. This isn’t much of a revelation, since the part of the world in which these dishes evolved housed a culture that thrived on beans, corn (maize) and other grains. You have to understand, however, that just about all the suppers in the house in which I grew up were based on some kind of meat. If the meal didn’t have meat, it was because it was Friday and it was Lent, and it wasn’t meat because it was fish, which had been disqualified by Decree.

And so, when I discovered the bean and rice taco that at one time was a staple in my diet (it being cheap as well as quick and easy), it was kind of a big deal. Then I moved on to other legumes, being bean-curious as I am, and have had a pretty good time. Chickpea taco recipes as I read them, however, needed a bit of an adjustment. Being firmer and rounder than other beans, my chickpeas would roll out of their wrap. I might as well have been eating the whole mess with a fork or a spoon.

Well, of course, there is an easy solution to the problem of roly-poly chickpeas: mash them before they can even try to escape. I cooked them simply with onion, garlic and cumin and pressed them with the back of my spoon. I kept my mash coarse, so the mixture was still plenty chunky, and didn’t reach the refried bean stage. I achieved such a non-rolling state amongst my chickpeas, that I could confidently spoon the mixture onto crunchy tostadas to serve. No secure wrapping required.

I accomplished more with this dish than just corralling my protein source and finishing up the package of chickpeas I had purchased to make falafel. I also got to test the concept of putting cucumbers in my fresh salsa topping, or Pico de Gallo. It was kind of a no-brainer, since I had plenty of cucumbers on hand. It was more delicious than your average no-brainer, though, and I was really happy with the results. The cucumber added some wonderful crunch to the Pico de Gallo, which contrasted nicely with the softer mashed chickpeas. This topping, with its acidic tomato and lime juice, and zesty chile and scallions also perked up the flavor of the tostadas, as did the spicy buffalo-wing infused Monterey Jack cheese I melted on them. (You can get such things when you shop for cheese in Wisconsin supermarkets. You could use pepper Jack or something milder.)

While serving this tostada-style was delicious (and proved a point), you could wrap it all up in a tortilla (like these, or these if you want to go homemade). I also think this would make great nachos. Just try balancing an un-mashed chickpea on a tortilla chip.

Chickpea Tostadas with Tomato and Cucumber Pico de Gallo

1 tablespoon canola or vegetable oil
¼ cup finely chopped onion
1 garlic clove, minced
1 ½ cups cooked or canned chickpeas (about 1 16-ounce can)
1 teaspoon cumin
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ cup water
½ cup (more or less to taste) shredded Monterey Jack, pepper Jack or cheddar cheese
6 crunchy corn tostadas
1 recipe Tomato and Cucumber Pico de Gallo (see below)
sour cream (to serve), optional

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Heat the oil in a medium-size skillet (I use nonstick) over medium-high heat. Add the onion and sauté 3-5 minutes or until soft and just beginning to brown. Add the garlic. Cook and stir about 30 seconds more.

2. Add the chickpeas, cumin, salt and water. Cook a minute or two, stirring often, until the chickpeas are softened. Coarsely mash the chickpeas with the back of a spoon (or you could use a potato masher or the bottom of a mug) as they cook. Cook until the liquid is evaporated or absorbed. If the liquid is gone before you finish mashing the chickpeas, remove from the heat to continue.

3. Place the tostadas on a baking sheet. Spoon an equal portion of the chickpea mixture on each tostada. Top with cheese. Bake at 350 F for 3-5 minutes, or until the cheese is melted.

4. Remove from the oven. Top each tostada with Tomato and Cucumber Pico de Gallo and sour cream if desired.

Makes 2-3 servings.

Tomato and Cucumber Pico de Gallo

1 cup finely chopped tomato
½ cup finely chopped cucumber (peeled if desired, but I like to leave the skin on)
1 tablespoon lime juice
¼ teaspoon coarse (kosher) salt
1 teaspoon minced fresh chile (or more to taste)
2 finely chopped scallions
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro (leaves and tender stems)

1. Combine all the ingredients in a small bowl. Stir together. Taste for seasonings and adjust as desired. Serve with tortilla chips or as a garnish for tacos, nachos and tostadas, such as the Chickpea Tostadas above.

Makes about 1 ¾ cups.

Other recipes like these: Tacos with Sauteed Greens and Fresh Cheese, Black Bean and Corn Croquettes, Soup Beans, Corn and Black Bean Salad with Peppers and Cherry Tomatoes

Two years ago: Corn and Black Bean Salad with Peppers and Cherry Tomatoes

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


Since the falafel I made recently is mostly composed of dried chickpeas, one could look at it as a season-less food. I, however, always serve it with a yogurt sauce with fresh cucumber, and fresh cucumber means summer. So do the fresh herbs that go into the mix. And as long as I have a bottle of frying oil left over from all those fried squash blossoms I made earlier this summer (I don’t mind re-using it a few times), falafel officially becomes a summer food.

This falafel is from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman, and is the most successful falafel recipe I’ve tried. In fact, it’s so successful, both in method and in flavor, that I see no reason to ever try another falafel recipe. Ever.

Before, I had tried recipes for falafel that called for cooked chickpeas. They were a pretty big mess, with puddles instead of patties that were hard to turn as they were frying and didn’t hold together very well when they were done. This recipe is more traditional, I later learned, but the method was new to me. It starts with chickpeas that have been soaked in water for 24 hours. That’s it. You don’t cook them. This was a revelation! An absolute, cloud-splitting beam of sunlight, accompanied by angel chorus revelation!

The falafel patty mixture is simply a processed mush of those soaked chickpeas, onions (I used scallions), herbs and spices, and a splash of lemon juice. It forms nice, tight patties, especially if you pat it together until the outside is fairly smooth. The patties fry up crisp on the outside and firm and flavorful on the inside, but, since they have no starchy binders, they’re not heavy or gluey. The flavor is mellow, sort of nutty from the chickpeas and scented with the herbs and spices. I love this stuff, and I don’t know what the heck is keeping me from making it more often! Maybe falafel shouldn’t just be a summer food!

I like to serve these falafel patties in pocket pitas drenched in a cucumber yogurt sauce. I went pretty basic with the thrown-together sauce recipe I give at the bottom of this post. To make it even better, you could use thick Greek-style yogurt, or drain regular yogurt to make it thicker. I don’t mind my yogurt sauce (also known as tzatziki) a bit on the chunky side, but you could shred the cucumber instead of dicing it. I also think it’s great with a tablespoon or two of fresh dill, but I didn’t have any when I made it for these photos.

You can garnish your falafel “sandwich” however you like. All I seemed to have was some more cucumber, which I sliced and stuffed into the pitas with the patties. Sliced tomato would have been great, and I think some alfalfa sprouts and/or lettuce would be good, too. You could also serve the falafel as an appetizer. Just form the mixture into small balls instead of patties and fry them until they’re golden brown. The tzatziki then becomes a dipping sauce, so you probably should shred the cucumber, or make a different yogurt sauce if you prefer.

Adapted from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman

1 ¾ cups dried chickpeas
2 garlic cloves, peeled and coarsely chopped
½ cup chopped scallions
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 small fresh chile (or half of a large one), finely chopped
1 cup chopped fresh parsley
¼ cup chopped fresh mint
1 teaspoon coarse (kosher) salt
1 tablespoon lemon juice
canola or other neutral-tasting oil for frying
pocket pitas for serving
garnishes such as sliced tomatoes, sliced cucumbers, lettuce, or sprouts
Cucumber Yogurt Sauce (see recipe below) for serving

1. Rinse the chickpeas well and sort out any dirt or other debris. Place the cleaned chickpeas in a large pot or bowl. Cover them with water by 3 to 4 inches. Cover and let stand for 24 hours.

2. Drain the soaked chickpeas. Place them in the bowl of a food processor. Add the remaining ingredients and process until a coarse paste is formed. You will likely need to stop the processor and scrape down the sides and rearrange the processor contents several times. The whole procedure may take several minutes. Taste the paste and adjust seasonings as needed.

3. In a cast iron skillet, pour the canola oil to a depth of about 2 inches. Heat the oil over medium heat to about 350 F. (You could also use an electric frying pan.) A small amount of the chickpea mixture should sizzle immediately when added to the oil.

4. Scoop a portion of the chickpea mixture about the size of a golf ball. Flatten the ball into a disk about ½ inch thick. Pat the outside of the disk to make a smooth surface.

5. Carefully add the patty to the heated oil. Repeat with a few more portions of the mixture, but do not crowd the pan. Cook until golden brown, about 1-2 minutes. Flip the browned patty over with a spatula. Cook until the other side is also golden brown, about 1-2 minutes more. Remove from the oil and drain on a paper towel lined plate. Repeat with the remaining mixture. (The mixture can also be covered and refrigerated for a few days to be fried on demand.)

6. Serve in pita bread pockets with desired garnishes and Cucumber Yogurt Sauce.

Makes about 6 servings.

Cucumber Yogurt Sauce
You could drain the yogurt for a thicker sauce if you have the time.

1 small garlic clove
¼ teaspoon coarse (kosher) salt
1 cup yogurt
½ cup finely diced or shredded peeled and seeded cucumber
2 tablespoons minced onion
1 tablespoon minced fresh dill (optional, but tasty)
a few grinds of black pepper

1. Finely chop the garlic and make it into a paste with the salt.

2. In a small bowl, combine the garlic-salt paste, yogurt, cucumber, onion, dill if using and pepper. Stir together. Cover and chill until needed, or for a day or two. Serve with Falafel.

Other recipes like these: Black Bean and Corn Croquettes, Lentil Barley BurgersCilantro Cream Dipping Sauce, Lime-Herb Dipping Sauce

One year ago: Spicy Sesame Cabbage and Zucchini

Two years ago: Zucchini Buttermilk Bread with Pecans

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Barley and Corn Casserole

I love perfect sweet corn eaten right off the cob, skipping the middle-man (silverware) and using only my teeth, as much as the next person. But there are so many tasty dishes that call for individual corn kernels that are even better when made with fresh corn. So, when the corn comes in I try to claim a few ears to use in a slightly more sophisticated and less primal application.

I’ve been waiting for the return of sweet corn season to use my golden nuggets in a simple but delicious casserole with barley and provolone cheese that I had tried and enjoyed sometime last year. I know that frozen corn would be good in this recipe, making it virtually season-less, but fresh corn can’t really be beat. With that in mind, I increased the corn to barley ratio and made it even tastier. I could also take advantage of locally-grown peppers and my own patio-grown herbs.

The hardest part of this entire dish is actually cutting the corn from the cobs, which has never been my favorite kitchen task. I find that I can control the corny chaos a bit more if I place the base of the corn cob on top of a small, upturned bowl that I put in the bottom of a large bowl (the largest bowl I have). This allows me to cut to the bottom of the ear and also keeps corn from flying all over the kitchen. (I think I got this idea from watching Rachel Ray. I didn’t come up with it on my own, anyway.)

Once the corn is cut from the cob, it’s sautéed with some onion and bell peppers, then mixed with cooked pearled barley and cubes of provolone cheese before it is baked in the oven. I happened to have green peppers on hand, but they were slightly bitter in the end product. I think that sweeter red, orange or yellow bell peppers would make a more flavorful (and more colorful) dish. I usually have a zip-top bag or two full of cooked grains in the freezer, and that’s what I used here. You could, of course, cook barley just for this dish, but I highly recommend getting ahead and cooking up a bunch of barley at one time, so it’s awaiting your pleasure.

I love the combination of textures from the corn and barley. The barley is chewy and nutty-tasting while the corn is sweet and juicy and pops just a bit between the teeth. The provolone melts into salty, cheesy pockets throughout the casserole. Some of it even got all toasty on the bottom and in the corners. You could use a different kind of cheese if you like. In fact, while you’re at it, you could change up the flavors of this simple hot dish pretty easily. For example, Montery Jack cheese, chile peppers, and some cumin and coriander or oregano could turn it into a little something with a Southwest flair. Whatever direction you decide to take this easy concoction, it’s well worth fighting all the corn-on-the-cob purists in your household for a couple of ears to strip.

Barley and Corn Casserole with Provolone
Adapted from a recipe in Cooking Light magazine

You could use frozen corn in this recipe, and it could probably be easily doubled.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup finely chopped onion
1 cup fresh corn kernels (from about 2 ears)
½ cup finely chopped bell pepper (green is okay, but other colors are sweeter)
1 cup cooked pearl barley
¼ cup finely chopped parsley
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
½ cup provolone cheese, cut into ¼ -inch cubes

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Coat a small baking dish (I used a 1-quart dish) with cooking spray or brush it lightly with oil.

2. In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion, corn and bell pepper. Cook about 8-10 minutes or until the vegetables are just beginning to brown. Stir in the barley, parsley and thyme. Cook about 1 minute more.

3. Remove from the heat and let stand a few minutes to cool slightly. Stir in the provolone cubes.

4. Transfer to the prepared baking dish. Cover and bake at 350 F for 30 minutes. Remove the cover and bake 5 minutes more.

Makes 2-4 servings.

Other recipes like this one: Quinoa and Spinach Casserole, Three Grain Salad with White Beans and Artichokes, Corn and Green Onion Tart with Bacon

One year ago: Mediterranean Vegetable and White Bean Salad

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Squash Flowers, Volume 2: Garlic and Squash Flower Soup

While the blossoming of my overcrowded bucket of zucchini plants seems to have tapered off (actually, the plants don’t look too healthy at all), there were times last month when I could gather about ten flowers a day. There came a point when I had to admit that I could only eat so many fried zucchini blossoms and I had to find another recipe. After some study of a recipe in Mexico One Plate at a Time by Rick Bayless, I decided to try adding my flowers to a soup.

While I got the idea from Bayless, I actually used a recipe for garlic soup from Cooking Light Annual Recipes 2000. I used to make this soup quite a bit, and knew that it was flavorful and satisfying. It calls for drizzling beaten eggs into a garlicky chicken broth that is further seasoned with chipotle chile, paprika and cumin. I kept most of the method and seasonings for my squash flower soup, but I did omit the chipotle chile to accommodate the mild flavor of the squash flowers, which I substituted for the eggs. I also took back some of the smoky flavor lost with the omitted chipotle by using smoked paprika and adding more ground cumin.

The squash flowers are very subtle in flavor and are very delicate in texture. They sort of melt into the soup forming gauzy wisps even lighter than the eggs in the original recipe (or in a Chinese-style egg drop soup). They’re also lighter in calories than eggs, if that happens to be a priority. The broth is smoky and infused with mellow garlic flavor. The light spiciness of the paprika and cumin adds a good punch of flavor to the broth without the kind of tongue-burning heat that could overpower a soup.

The garnishes for this soup are essential, since it’s not much more than a bowl of broth without them. I particularly like crumbled tortilla chips, chopped tomatoes and scallions, and a sprinkling of Monterey Jack cheese. You could simplify your soup experience by using a ready-made pico de gallo or chunky salsa.

Since the zucchini fruits I attempted to nurture to maturity didn’t do so well, I’m going to have to be content with harvesting blossoms. They’re fun and easy to grow and harvest, so I’d highly recommend it, especially since, at least in my experience, fresh squash flowers can be hard to find in a market (farmers’ markets are probably your best bet). You could probably use nasturtiums in this soup as well. They might add a more peppery flavor, and they are also pretty easy to grow. I guess once you get as attached to your apron as I am, it gets hard to think of flowers solely as decorative objects….Just make sure the flowers you’re cooking are actually edible. We don’t want any unpleasant surprises in our soup.

Garlic and Squash Flower Soup
Based on recipes in Mexico One Plate at a Time by Rick Bayless and Cooking Light Annual Recipes 2000

You can use any squash flowers or even nasturtium flowers for this recipe.

1 tablespoon olive oil
4 large or 6 medium garlic cloves, peeled
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon coarse (kosher) salt
6 cups chicken broth or stock (preferably reduced sodium)
about 20 squash flowers

garnishes such as crushed tortilla chips, chopped tomatoes, chopped scallions, chopped cilantro and Monterey Jack or pepper Jack cheese.

1. Clean the squash flowers very well. Remove the stamens and stem end of each blossom. Slice into thin ribbons. Set aside.

2. Heat the oil in a Dutch oven or large pot over medium-low heat. Add the whole garlic cloves and cook until very lightly browned. Turn the garlic often to brown on all sides.

3. Remove the garlic from the pan and place it in a small bowl. Add the smoked paprika, cumin and salt. Using a fork, mash the garlic with the spices to form a coarse paste.

4. Add the paste to the cooking pot. Cook over medium-low heat about 30 seconds.

5. Add the chicken broth. Increase the heat and bring to a boil. Reduce to a low boil and cook 10 minutes. Stir in the squash flowers and cook about 1 minute. Add the desired garnishes to each serving.

Makes 4-6 servings.

Other recipes like this one: Fried Squash Flowers with Fresh Sage, Chard Soup with Cilantro and Lime

One year ago: Spicy Eggplant Dip with Basil and Mint