Carrot Halwa (Gajar ka halwa)

Indian Cuisine

To say that I have been doing some Indian cooking lately is like saying that I picked up a granule of sand on the beach. Indian cuisine dates back over 5000 years and each region has its own traditions, religions and culture that influence its food. Hindus tend to be vegetarian and Muslims tend to have meat dishes, although pork is forbidden. Indian food has been influenced by Mongolian, Persian and Chinese cuisine, among others. It is rich and varied and I love it.

While I have done some Indian cooking before, I had only made Kheer as a dessert. I was intrigued by what I had read about Halwa – not to be confused with the Middle Eastern halva.

Like semolina cakes in the Middle East, there is no one single recipe for making Halwa. They all share the same basic ingredients of carrots, ghee, sugar, cardamom and a dairy milk, but the quantities, cooking times and additions make each one unique. And probably each Indian family believes that their version is the best. One thing that they all have in common is patience.

This is not a difficult recipe but like Indian rice pudding (Kheer), it takes time and almost constant stirring to end up with an amazingly velvety, fragrant and utterly satisfying treat. Make this when someone is around that you want to share a nice long chat with while you stir. It is so worth it.

While I think this is a perfect dessert anytime of the year, in India, it is especially relished during Diwali and the colder, wetter months. It is the perfect comfort food.

In order to come up with this version, I read at least 4 different recipes from Indian and vegetarian cookbooks and watched over 6 YouTube videos. Some versions were made with sweetened condensed milk and others were cooked down to form almost a cake-like consistency that was cut into little diamond shapes. I’m sure that they are all wonderful and I’d be happy to eat any of them. However, this version is my amalgam of what I believe to be the best halwa and one that made my husband incredibly happy. Okay, it made ME incredibly happy too! It won’t disappoint.

Recipe

Yield: About 8 servings

Ingredients

6 cups peeled and finely shredded slim carrots (DO NOT use large, thick woody carrots. They are fine for soup and feeding horses, but will not have the sweetness and tenderness needed here.)

3-4 Tablespoons ghee or unsalted butter

3/4 cup raw or granulated sugar

About 1.25 cups of whole milk (Exact amounts are not essential. Pour in enough to almost but not quite cover the carrots. You can always cook this longer if you added a bit more than you had intended.)

1/4 cup half and half (or additional whole milk) mixed with about 1/8 teaspoon of saffron threads

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground green cardamom

2 Tablespoons coarsely chopped blanched almonds

2 Tablespoons coarsely chopped pistachios

2 Tablespoons coarsely chopped cashews

3 Tablespoons raisins (preferably golden/Sultanas)

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground green cardamom

Directions

In a large, preferably non-stick skillet, melt 2 Tablespoons of the ghee. Add all of the carrots and mix through. Add up to an additional Tablespoon of ghee, if needed to coat the carrots.

Cook over a low heat, stirring FREQUENTLY for 40-45 minutes. This is tedious but necessary to prevent burning and to get the carrots to a velvety texture.

Now add the milk and half & half mixture and stir through. Add the 1/2 teaspoon of cardamom and mix through. Cover the pan and on low heat, cook the carrots for 20-25 minutes more. Stir OCCASIONALLY. You want to cook until the milk is just absorbed but the carrots are not dried out

While the carrots cook, melt the remaining ghee in a small skillet and lightly cook the nuts, raisins and remaining cardamom. You just want the raisins to swell and the nuts to release their oils. Set aside.

Uncover and add the sugar and mix through. Now add the nuts and raisin mixture and stir through. Continue cooking for about 5 minutes more. The resulting mixture is incredibly moist, velvety and unctuous. It can be eaten warm or at room temperature. This is quite rich and satisfying and 3-5 ounces per person is more than enough. While the halwa does not need any garnish, you can add a little lightly sweetened whipped cream for serving.

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Indian Side Dishes with Something to Please Everyone

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things

I’ve said it before but it’s worth repeating. My two favorite cuisines are Mediterranean (in all of its forms) and Indian. Both share a wonderfully brilliant use of spices and are vegetarian-friendly.

I have also found that the two can often complement one another and I use the bread from one or the salad from the other when I am putting together a meal. And if you just go easy on the cayenne and other hot peppers, I have also discovered that they can be very kid-friendly.

Vegetarian vs. Vegetarian-Friendly

In my house we are all omnivores. Of course, we each have our pet peeves, but basically we eat everything and think that all food is sacred. Over the years, I have hosted many people for holidays and other dinners. I have had to deal with food allergies, kashrut, vegetarians, vegans and just plain-old picky eaters. But at least one of the side dishes presented here likely will appeal to someone on that list. And while I enjoy putting together an entire Indian meal, these sides are equally good with just about any roast meat, chicken or fish or as part of a vegetarian or vegan meal.

Recipe for Chana Dal Khichadi (Rice with Yellow Split Peas) from Flavors of India by Shanta Nimbark Sacharoff

Yield: 4 Servings

Ingredients

1/4 cup yellow split peas

3/4 cup short grain brown rice

1 Tablespoon Canola oil or butter

5 whole cloves

1 large clove of garlic, peeled and finely chopped

1 fresh green chili, seeded and chopped (If you don’t want the heat but just the color, use a sweet green or red pepper)

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric

3 cups of water

Directions

Look through the chana dal (Yellow Split Pea) and remove any pebbles or grains. Mix the dal with the rice and rinse well and then drain.

In a medium pot with a cover, heat the oil or butter over a low temperature. Add the whole cloves, chopped garlic and pepper. After 2 minutes the cloves will begin to swell and release a wonderful fragrance. Immediately add the washed dal and rice and stir for 5 minutes.

Add the salt and turmeric and stir through for another 3 minutes. Now add the water and bring to a boil. Partially cover the pot and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook for about 45-50 minutes until both grains are soft and the water is almost entirely absorbed. If there is still water after 50 minutes, uncover the pot, turn the heat up a bit and continue cooking. (The time may be more than this depending on the actual dal used and the kind of brown rice.)

Cucumber Salad, North Indian Style from At Home with Madhur Jaffrey

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

3 cups Persian cucumbers, thinly sliced

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

freshly ground cracked black pepper

1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne or Aleppo pepper (Aleppo Pepper is not as hot as cayenne but lends zing.)

1-2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

10 fresh mint leaves, chopped or chiffonade

Directions

Thinly slice the cucumbers. If they are a bit thick, then cut the cucumber in half lengthwise first so that you end up with half moons.

Toss the cucumbers with the remaining ingredients. Adjust the seasonings. This salad can be made immediately before serving. The longer it sits, the more it “pickles.”

Spinach Raita (Yogurt and Spinach Dip)

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

2 Tablespoons Canola or EVOO plus more for drizzling

1/4 teaspoon whole brown or yellow mustard seeds

1 small clove garlic, peeled and thinly sliced

5-6 ounces fresh baby spinach

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, divided

1 cup plain yogurt (I used a Bulgarian yogurt but almost any plain yogurt will do)

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or Aleppo pepper)

Directions

Pour the oil into a medium to large frying pan and set over medium high heat. When the oil is hot, add the mustard seeds. As soon as they start to pop (it only takes about 30 seconds), add the garlic. Cook for a few seconds and then add all of the spinach. I like to use tongs for this next part. Stir the spinach around and cook for 5 minutes. Add about 1/4 teaspoon of the salt and mix it through. Turn off the heat and remove the spinach to a strainer set over a bowl.

When the spinach has fully drained, coarsely chop it up and set aside.

Put the yogurt in a serving bowl and whisk it with 1/4 teaspoon of salt and the cayenne or Aleppo pepper. Just before you are ready to sit down, mix through the drained and chopped spinach mixture. Drizzle with a little EVOO.

Chicken Thighs with Mushrooms, Eggplant and Tomatoes

Flexibility

I love when I come across a recipe with almost infinite possibilities – AND they are ALL EASY! A few weeks ago I posted a recipe for Chicken with Garlic that I saw on the Valerie Bertinelli show. This week, I made a few changes but kept all of the cooking instructions and it was unctuous, comforting and best of all – simple.

If you want a great company dish that requires minimum effort and maximum flavor or if you just want to treat your family, then try this dish. And then make it your own. And while the fresh herbs are removed at the end of the cooking time, you could choose to use either dried crushed herbs or chopped fresh herbs mixed through when the vegetables are added. The herbaceousness of the final product will be more subtle if the herbs remain on the stems and are removed after cooking than if chopped or dried herbs are used. Both will be delicious.

Aren’t You Over Cooking This?

Some of you may be asking how could the chicken be good after such a relatively long cooking time. I can assure you that the thighs end up being succulent and tender with a crispy skin and the vegetables are just right. And while the cooking time may be over an hour, the prep time is minimal. So go read a good book, work out, sip some wine and enjoy time with your partner, children or friends while your oven does the work!

HOT TIP

Whenever you are frying or browning something, there is an easy and inexpensive way to protect yourself and your stove from nasty oil/butter splatters. Treat yourself to a splatter screen guard. They will make clean-up easier (which I am ALL about) and they also will protect you from burns. They come in different sizes to fit your needs and there are versions even cheaper than this one, although those usually don’t last very long….

Recipe

For Chicken – 4-6 servings

Ingredients

6 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper 

1 tablespoon unsalted butter 

1 tablespoon canola or grapeseed oil 

3/4 cup dry white wine 

1 cup of halved grape tomatoes (I like the multi-colored variety but any will do)

4 ounces Cremini or other button-style mushroom, quartered

1 baby eggplant, ends trimmed and cut into large dice (about 1-inch)

4 sprigs fresh thyme 

1-2 sprigs of rosemary

1 head garlic separated into cloves and peeled (about 10 cloves)

1 medium shallot, sliced into thin rings

Garnish

2 Tablespoons chopped parsley (Optional)

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Season the chicken with 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and a few grinds of pepper. Heat the butter and oil in a large, deep cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat until hot. Add the chicken skin-side down and cook, undisturbed, until deep golden brown, about 5 minutes. Turn the chicken over and turn off the heat. Add the wine, then nestle the eggplant, mushrooms, tomatoes, rosemary, thyme, garlic and shallot around the chicken. Return the liquid to a simmer over medium-high heat, then transfer to the oven and roast uncovered until the chicken is golden and cooked through, about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Discard the thyme and rosemary.

Serve the chicken with some of the sauce, garlic cloves and veggies. The garlic has become sweet and oozy with the long cooking so don’t be afraid to eat it. I simply served this with a packed tossed salad but if you want a carbohydrate, it would go well with almost any grain – rice, farro or polenta.

Kung Pao Chicken at Home

Restaurant vs. Home

I don’t do a great deal of Asian cooking. And eating out is expensive and often disappointing. So when I get a craving for a good stir-fry, ramen, pad thai or a hearty soup, I have to make it.

Good Ingredients

Fortunately, we do live within easy distance of a well-stocked Asian market. Admittedly, I don’t know what three-quarters of the things are, especially since many of the labels are not in English. However, the ever-present “aunties” trolling the store aisles try to be helpful. I love to go shopping there whenever Frances’ mother is in town visiting. She makes all kinds of treats for us after each foray.

While I don’t like sending people to buy special ingredients for a single dish, I have learned that certain spices and condiments really define a culture. Sometimes there just are no good substitutes for the real thing. That’s another reason why I like to shop at the Asian market for these ingredients because the cost is about a fifth of what I would pay in my supermarket – assuming I could even find what I need.

Once you taste this, I have confidence that you will easily use up whatever you buy.

Cooking with Andrew

The blog is called Lisa and Frances Cook and Frances and I do share A LOT of recipes and cook together on holidays. But Frances is busy with a full-time job and a baby on the way. So her energies go into cooking not blogging. But now that my husband is retired, he has taken an interest in cooking. So in fairness, I need to give credit where it is due. Andrew chose the recipe, shopped with me for ingredients and did most of the prep and cooking. Which proves that anyone can make this with just a little effort.

The recipe comes from Christine Gallery of TheKitchn.com and appeared in the Chicago Tribune Food and Dining Section.

Recipe

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

Chicken and Sauce

  • 1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 1/4 cup tamari or soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon Shaoxing wine or dry sherry
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground white or black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon Chinese black or rice vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon sambal oelek or chile-garlic paste

Stir-fry

  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
  • 2 medium bell peppers, large dice
  • 2 medium celery stalks, thinly sliced on a slight diagonal (optional)
  • 1 baby bok choy, cut into 1/2-inch thick slices
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon peeled and minced fresh ginger (from a 1-inch piece)
  • 1/2 cup roasted peanuts
  • 4 medium scallions, thinly sliced (optional)
  • Steamed rice for serving

Directions

  1. Marinate the chicken. Place the chicken in a medium bowl or a one-gallon freezer bag. Place the tamari or soy sauce, wine or sherry, cornstarch, sesame oil, salt, and pepper in a small bowl and whisk until the cornstarch is dissolved. Drizzle 2 tablespoons of the mixture over the chicken and toss to combine; set the chicken aside. [You do not need to refrigerate it while preparing the remainder of the dish.]
  2. Make the sauce. Add the vinegar, sugar, and sambal to the remaining marinade and whisk until the sugar is dissolved; set this sauce aside.
  3. Stir-fry the chicken. Drizzle the remaining 2 tablespoons oil into the wok or large frying pan. Add the chicken and spread into an even layer. Let cook undisturbed until golden-brown and seared on the bottom, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir-fry until just cooked through, 2 to 3 minutes more. Remove the chicken to a bowl and set aside.
  4. Stir-fry the vegetables and aromatics. Heat the wok or large frying pan over medium-high heat until very hot (a flick of water should sizzle and evaporate right away), about 2 minutes. Drizzle in 1 tablespoon of the oil, add the bell peppers, bok choy and celery, and season with about 1/2 teaspoon salt. Stir-fry with a metal spatula until crisp-tender and browned in spots, about 2-3 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger and stir-fry until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
  5. Return the chicken to the pan and stir-fry with the sauce. Add the reserved chicken and peanuts to the pan. Re-whisk the reserved sauce to dissolve the cornstarch. Pour into the pan and stir-fry until the sauce thickens, is glossy, and evenly coats everything in the pan, about 1 minute more. Sprinkle with the scallions if using and serve immediately with rice.

Lemon Semolina Almond Cake

As anyone who follows my blog knows, I absolutely LOVE Middle Eastern food. I love it’s use of fresh, seasonal vegetables and bright spices. And I love it’s use of lemon. So for my dinner tonight I made lamb burgers with a tahini yogurt sauce, hummus with garlic naan and za’atar, freekeh, chickpea and herb salad and this luscious lemon semolina almond cake. It doesn’t get any more flavorful than this.

After successfully making Basbousa, I was looking for another Mediterranean dessert that used semolina flour. The problem wasn’t finding one, but rather deciding on which one to make. This recipe had the added advantage of using almond flour which I happened to have a lot of and wanted to use up.

As with many Middle Eastern desserts, this one has a lovely sugar syrup that gets poured over the still warm cake. The syrup permeates the cake with the result being an almost custard-like interior. Despite the syrup, the cake is not overly sweet. The original recipe called for adding rose water to the syrup. However, my husband finds that the rose water makes him feel as if he is eating fancy hotel soap. Not what I was going for. Since he is my primary audience, I left it out. And if I am honest, I didn’t want any distraction from the lemon. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cointreau

This cake is not difficult to make but don’t skimp on the lemon and use a good quality and slightly fruity olive oil. The smell was intoxicating and we dove in while the cake was still warm! It cut like a dream after cooling for about 30 minutes. I’m sure that it will be equally delicious several days from now, although I have serious doubts that it will last that long.

Tip

For an extra special treat, macerate some fresh berries in confectioner’s sugar and Framboise, Cointreau or other fruity liqueur and serve alongside.

Recipe by Edouard Massih

Yield: About 8 servings

Ingredients

Lemon-Semolina Almond Cake:

  • 1 cup almond flour or almond meal
  • 1 cup semolina flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 3/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 lemons
  • 3 large eggs

Simple Syrup:

  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 2 tbsp rosewater (Optional)

Candied Lemon:

  • 1 lemon, thinly sliced and any pits removed

Directions

Lemon-Semolina Almond Cake:

Preheat your oven to 350 F.

Grease a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan and line bottom and sides with parchment paper. Grease parchment. Sift together the almond flour, semolina flour and baking powder in a medium bowl. Add salt to the mixture and whisk everything to combine.

Using an electric mixer with a whisk attachment, whisk oil, sugar, and lemon zest from 2 lemons together, about 3 minutes on medium high. With motor running on low, gradually add eggs one at a time, beating to incorporate, about 1 minute. Add dry ingredients and juice of 1 lemon and whisk everything to combine, about 1 minute. Do not over-mix.

Transfer batter to prepared loaf pan. Place the cake on the middle rack, and bake until golden brown, approximately for 60 minutes. Lightly press the top of the cake to test — it should feel lightly springy when done. Let cool for 20 minutes or so in pan before removing and transferring to a cooling rack.

Spoon all of the syrup (See below) over the cake. I like to put a pan covered in foil under the cooling rack to collect the inevitable dribbles and to make clean-up easier.

Simple Syrup & Candied Lemon:

  1. In one easy step, combine water, sugar, juice of 1 lemon, and rosewater, if used, in a pot. Cook it over medium-heat until the sugar is fully dissolved, for 4-5 minutes.
  2. Add thinly-sliced lemon to the simple syrup, and cook it on medium-low heat for 10-12 minutes until the lemon is tender.
  3. Carefully transfer candied lemon to a wire rack.

Almond Flour Blondies

Gluten-Free? Really?

I’m not gluten-free. However, I did have left-over a lot of wonderful almond flour that I had bought for Passover. Not sure what I was thinking when I went shopping, but let’s just say that I got carried away and we’ll leave it at that.

And I’ve been in a brownie-making mood so I went in search of a recipe. Everything sounded pretty simple and I had all of the ingredients on hand, which was a plus since Frances has me cooking down my pantry. The only problem I had is that I really do not like white chocolate. So I made a couple of minor tweaks and came up with this version.

If you want an ooey, gooey blondie with crispy edges, I recommend that you try this version or the original. You don’t have to be gluten-free to enjoy them. And because they are so gooey, I think that the brownies actually improved when they were a few days old. It didn’t stop me, my husband or our cat from eating them the second that they had cooled down!

Recipe from Meaningful Eats and tweaked by me

Yield: About 24 squares

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup butter [coconut oil will work for dairy-free]
  • 3/4 cup dark or light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 3/4 cup almond flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup of shredded, unsweetened coconut
  • 1 cup chopped pecans

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Lightly grease a 9 x 13 baking pan.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream together the butter and sugars. Add the eggs and vanilla and mix on high until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
  3. Add the almond flour, baking powder, and salt. Mix to fully incorporate. Stir in the chocolate chips and pecans.
  4. Pour the dough into the greased baking dish. Smooth into an even layer. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until until golden and the brownies appear to be set. Allow to cool completely before cutting. Slice into bars and enjoy!

Quinoa with Peas and Herbs

Satisfying Side or Vegetarian Main course

I am not a huge fan of quinoa. There, I’ve said it. However, when I came across this recipe in 2011, it changed my mind. Don’t misunderstand, quinoa still is not my favorite grain. But when I prepare it this way, I happily gobble it down. I eat it with grilled meat or fish as a side or with a salad for a main course.

What is Quinoa?

Quinoa has become pretty ubiquitous and is often seen in Buddha Bowls and in veggie-centric meals. This “Ancient” grain originated in the Andes Mountains of Bolivia, Argentina and Peru. It is high in protein, dietary fiber, Vitamin B and dietary minerals. And because it is also gluten-free, it is well-tolerated by almost everyone. Quinoa comes in different color varieties, but white quinoa is best with this recipe.

Vegetarian or Vegan

While I use plain yogurt or sour cream, you can veganize by simply using a non-dairy sour cream. The peas, Dijon mustard, herbs and tartness of the lemon juice make this grain into a zippy and bright dish. In order to maximize on the bright colors of spring, the quinoa is best eaten fresh.

Recipe by Naomi Pomeroy

Yield: 4 servings as a side or 2 as a main course

Ingredients

1/2 cup quinoa, rinsed 
1/2 teaspoon and pinch salt 
2/3 cup water 
1/4 cup and 1 tablespoon olive oil 
1/3 cup yellow onion, diced**
3/4 cup snap or snow peas, ends trimmed and halved crosswise on the bias**
3/4 cup shelled peas, fresh or frozen 
2 tablespoons sour cream 
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard 
1 tablespoon champagne vinegar 
1 tablespoon lemon juice 
1/2 teaspoon sugar 
1/3 cup fresh mint, torn**
1/4 cup parsley, chopped**

Directions

1. Place quinoa in a small saucepan with a pinch of salt. Cover with water and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce to a simmer and cook, covered, until tender, about 18 minutes. Remove from heat and fluff grains. Leave lid ajar, and let cool.

2. While quinoa cooks, set a medium sauté pan over medium heat. Swirl in 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add onions and cook until soft, about 5 minutes.

3. Stir in snap peas and shelled peas. Sauté for 2 minutes, or until peas turn bright green. Remove from heat.

4. Mix sour cream, mustard, vinegar, lemon juice, sugar and ½ teaspoon salt together. Whisk in ¼ cup olive oil.

5. Stir quinoa into the pea mixture and set pan back over medium heat. Cook until just warmed through and add dressing. Remove from heat.

6. Stir in mint and parsley. Adjust seasoning with lemon juice and salt, if needed.

NOTES: ** I have given the suggested amounts of onions, herbs and peas, but I generally am much more generous when I make this. I love fresh seasonings and lots of additional veggies. Remember balance when you are putting together a dish. You can always add more of something but once it is in there, it is difficult to impossible to remove.





Chicken Thighs with Garlic and Olives and Kale Salad with Lemon Anchovy Dressing

My Addiction

I love to watch cooking shows. Not the contests – I hate those. Just good old-fashioned cooking shows with a pleasant host and accessible recipes. Sometimes I watch things on YouTube, especially if they are for Middle Eastern or Indian cooking. The two dishes that I made for dinner tonight came from Valerie Bertinelli. They are perfect for a summer evening and the prep time is minimal with no crazy techniques. If you are really not a fan of olives, you could substitute mushrooms. While you could serve this chicken dish with an accompanying grain, I served it with some crusty bread. Dessert was fresh cantaloupe melon and ripe strawberries. Okay, there were also some dark chocolate caramels.

The Perfect Pan

A few months ago, Frances and Matthew gave me a gift certificate and I used it to buy this Staub multi-use braising pan that I had my eye on. It’s just the right size for so many dishes when you are cooking for 4-6 people. Staub makes very high quality cookware that will last forever if you take care of it and I definitely recommend making the investment. However, a heavy-duty, deep cast-iron pan will also work for this recipe and the Lodge cookware is very budget friendly.

Fads

I mentioned in a previous post that I am not into food fads. So while kale is no longer the “IT” vegetable, I still love it. This kale salad is easy to make especially because it actually is better if made a couple of hours ahead. It’s a great foil for the chicken but would be good with any grilled or roasted meat or fish. While I pretty much stuck to the recipe, my version is ever so slightly less fussy to make. And because I didn’t make any grain with the chicken, my husband and I polished off what easily could have been a salad for 4 to six people! And if you think that you are not an anchovy fan, you MUST give this a try. You won’t see the anchovy as it melts into the garlic but it gives a wonderful briny flavor that you don’t get from anything else.

Recipe

For Chicken – 4-6 servings

Ingredients

6 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper 

1 tablespoon unsalted butter 

1 tablespoon canola or grapeseed oil 

3/4 cup dry white wine 

1/4 cup pitted kalamata olives, halved 

4 sprigs fresh thyme 

1 head garlic separated into cloves and peeled (about 10 cloves)

1 medium shallot, sliced into thin rings

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Season the chicken with 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and a few grinds of pepper. Heat the butter and oil in a large, deep cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat until hot. Add the chicken skin-side down and cook, undisturbed, until deep golden brown, about 5 minutes. Turn the chicken over and turn off the heat. Add the wine, then nestle the olives, thyme, garlic and shallot around the chicken. Return the liquid to a simmer over medium-high heat, then transfer to the oven and roast uncovered until the chicken is golden and cooked through, about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Discard the thyme.

Serve the chicken with some of the sauce, garlic cloves and olives. The garlic has become sweet and oozy with the long cooking so don’t be afraid to eat it.

For the Kale salad – best made 1 to 2 hours ahead

Ingredients

2 to 4 tablespoons pine nuts that have been lightly toasted in a dry frying pan

1 bunch purple or red kale, stems removed and torn into bite-sized pieces

1 bunch lacinato kale, stems removed and torn into bite-sized pieces

2 oil-packed anchovy fillets, minced

1 large clove garlic, minced

Juice of 1 lemon (about 2 tablespoons) 

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper 

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil 

1/3 cup grated Parmesan 

Torn fresh basil leaves, for garnish

Directions

  1. Fill a large bowl or pot with very hot tap water. Add the kale and stir for a few seconds just to slightly soften the leaves. Drain and squeeze well to dry. [If you have a salad spinner, this will make this part a snap.] If you want to get fancy, gather and stack the kale leaves on top of each other on a cutting board, roll them up and thinly slice. [This is what is known as chiffonade.]
  2. Mash the anchovy and garlic to a paste on a cutting board with the flat side of a knife. Transfer to a small bowl and add the lemon juice, 1/4 teaspoon salt and about 25 grinds of pepper. Whisk in the olive oil.
  3. Toss the kale with the Parmesan and pine nuts in a salad bowl. Add the vinaigrette to coat, tossing well to combine. Top with the basil. Taste and add more Parmesan if desired.

Fudgy Brownies with Beets and Walnuts

Food Fads

I’m not into food fads. When I like something, I like it whether it is in fashion or not. I still used olive oil and ate salmon when we were told they weren’t good for us. (Can you believe that nutritionists ever thought that?) And I still eat kale even though its fad has passed. But I am sometimes intrigued by seeing ingredients where I didn’t expect to find them.

You Added What?

Over the years I have watched The Pioneer Woman with Ree Drummond. And while I rarely would make the foods she prepares, on occasion I have tried some of her recipes. They are generally easy to follow and work out as she says they will. This recipe was called the “Hidden Secret Brownies” because of the addition of beets to the batter. When I thought about it the recipe just made sense. After all, sugar can be made from beets and they have a lovely texture and color.

I happened to have some cooked beets on hand and this seemed the perfect place to use them up. Of course, I made a couple of minor tweaks. To me, if you cook with chocolate you have to add some espresso powder to it. The espresso just brings out the depth of the chocolate without actually adding any coffee flavor. Not that I mind a good mocha when I can get it!

Ready in No Time

These brownies took no time to prepare, especially, if like me, you use prepared beets. Almost all decent grocery stores carry vacuum-sealed, roasted, peeled beets in the produce section these days. I imagine that you could also use a good canned beet that had been drained and rinsed. If you can’t find ready-to-eat beets, there will be instructions on roasting that follow the main recipe.

Recipe

Yield: 9 large brownies

Ingredients

4 ounces unsweetened baking chocolate (I use Baker’s brand for brownies rather than a more expensive brand. Let’s face it, brownies are unsnooty comfort food so don’t waste your Valrhona on this. It just doesn’t taste the same. I’ve tried it.)

2 sticks (16 Tablespoons) of unsalted butter, softened

1.5 cups of granulated sugar

3 large eggs

1 Tablespoon pure vanilla extract

8 ounces finely chopped, cooked beets

1/2 cup walnuts, chopped and lightly toasted in a dry skillet

1.25 cups all-purpose, unbleached flour

1/4 cup unsweetened, Dutch-process cocoa powder (Here I DO use Valrhona!)

1/4 teaspoon kosher or fine sea salt

1/2 teaspoon finely ground instant espresso powder

Confectioners’ sugar to serve

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray an 8-inch square pan with a nonstick baking spray. Line the pan with parchment that hangs over two of the sides by a couple of inches. Spray the parchment

Melt the chocolate over a double boiler or in the microwave. If using a microwave, first heat the chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl for 45 seconds on high. Then give it a stir and return it to the microwave for 30 seconds on high. Any bits that haven’t completely melted will melt with a brief stir. Allow the chocolate to cool slightly.

In the bowl of a standing mixer, using the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time.

Add the vanilla, beets, walnuts and slightly warm chocolate to the mixture and mix on low speed until combined, scraping down the bowl.

Whisk the flour, cocoa powder, espresso powder and salt in a small bowl to combine. Add half of the flour mixture to the batter and mix on low speed just until combined. Scrape down the bowl and repeat with the remaining flour. DO NOT OVER MIX!

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and spread it evenly across the surface. Bake until a toothpick or cake tester inserted in the middle comes out clean. Mine took 50 minutes. Allow the brownies to cool completely in the pan. (I know, the smell will drive you crazy but you have to wait – REALLY.)

Just Add Milk

Using the ends of the parchment paper, lift the brownies from the pan. Place the brownies on a cutting board and peel back the paper. Cut into nine squares and dust with confectioners’ sugar that you put through a sieve when ready to serve.

Cat Approved

Cooking Beets

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Wrap the unpeeled beets in foil and roast until soft. This takes about 40 minutes, When cool enough to handle, peel the skins off and cut them into chunks. You can chop these by hand or in a food processor. The recipe said to very finely mince them. Mine still had some texture, but that is personal taste.

Basbousa (Semolina, Coconut and Pistachio Cake

Semolina cakes soaked in a flavored sugar syrup are ubiquitous in the Middle East. Depending on the country and even the family, the proportions and flavorings will vary. Some were made with almond meal and flavored with a combination of rose water and orange blossom water. Several cakes were made without any eggs. There is no one single proper semolina cake.

The version below is a particularly rich and moist cake, with the addition of coconut and pistachio nuts. One thing that all of the Basbousa cakes have in common is that they are quite sweet – the perfect ending to a well-spiced meal.

The other night my husband and I watched about five different YouTube videos of people making their version of this delicious cake. Each one looked wonderful. I also checked out Jerusalem: A Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. However, my recipe comes from The Jewish Soul Food Cookbook From Minsk to Marrakesh by Janna Gur with a few tweaks from me.

Measuring

Normally I do not weigh my ingredients when I bake even though I know that it is a more accurate measure than using cups and teaspoons. I figure that as long as I always “mismeasure” the same way, I’ll be fine. However, since this recipe was almost certainly made by weighing things in grams and I had never made it before, I decided to weigh things out. It’s a good thing that I did, because the weight in grams seemed very off from the measurements given in cups.

If you don’t own a kitchen scale, you should. They are not terribly expensive (the one I use costs less than $10) and these days you can purchase one that takes up almost no space at all. I increasingly find having one to be useful.

When it came to liquid measure, I was less concerned about using cups so I give both measures below.

Pan Size and Serving

Pan sizes vary and what is standard in the United States may not be standard in Europe or the Middle East. The recipe called for a 40 x 25 cm. pan which is about 15 x 10-inches. A standard pan in the U.S. is 13 x 9-inches which is a bit smaller. As long as your pan is at least 3-inches deep it shouldn’t be a problem although you may have to adjust your baking time slightly.

Because the cake is soaked in a sugar syrup, you may want to serve it with a bit of unsweetened whipped cream, creme fraiche or thick yogurt. You could also serve it with a slightly tart fruit preserve to act as a counter balance to the sweetness. However, if you decide to just eat it straight, I certainly won’t tell you no!

Recipe

Yield: About 12 servings

Ingredients

For the cake

3/4 cup bland vegetable oil (180 ml.)

1.5 cups half & half (single) cream (350 ml.) [You can substitute coconut milk for a non-dairy version.]

100 grams shredded, unsweetened coconut

160 gr. unbleached, all-purpose flour

250 gr. semolina flour (or cream of wheat)

55 gr. ground pistachio nuts [I like to grind my nuts with a little of the sugar. It keeps the nuts from turning to paste.]

4 teaspoons baking powder

6 large eggs

300 gr. granulated sugar

A generous pinch of Kosher salt

For the sugar syrup

1.5 cups of water

300 gr. granulated sugar

1 scant teaspoon ground cinnamon

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. (180 degrees C)

Combine the vegetable oil and half & half in a large bowl. Stir in the coconut, flour, semolina, ground pistachios, salt and baking powder until well combined.

Beat the eggs and sugar in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat on high speed for 8 minutes or until the mixture is pale and fluffy.

Gently fold the egg and sugar mixture into the semolina batter. Pour the batter into a greased rectangular pan.

Bake for about 35 minutes or until the cake turns golden and a toothpick inserted un the center comes out clean. If a few crumbs adhere to the toothpick that’s perfect. [Mine took close to 50 minutes. Ovens vary and my pan was smaller and deeper.]

While the cake is baking, make the sugar syrup. Bring the water, sugar and cinnamon to a boil in a small saucepan. Lower the heat and simmer, uncovered for 15 minutes. Cool slightly.

As soon as the cake is finished baking, remove it from the oven and pour all of the syrup evenly over the warm cake.

Allow the cake to cool completely before serving. This is even better if made a day ahead. It will last in an airtight container for up to a week. Who are we kidding? It will be eaten long before.