Saturday, November 9, 2019

Easy Pork and Cabbage Goulash

With the weather now turning chilly and fully autumnal, a hearty goulash fits the season well. Here’s a relatively easy one to make for a very tasty meal. Accompany with buttered noodles, boiled or steamed potatoes, or a rice dish. A simple green salad makes a fine accompaniment.

The recipe serves six generously.

1 small onion, diced
3 tablespoons sunflower or canola oil
Dish by Maria Dondero, Marmalade Pottery, Athens, GA
1 small head cabbage, quartered, cored and thinly slices across
1 pound ground pork
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons paprika, Hungarian if possible
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon marjoram or oregano
Large pinch cayenne
1 teaspoon salt, plus more if needed
1 tablespoon tomato paste (keep the rest in a zip-lock bag in the freezer for other use)
1 cup low-salt chicken broth or water, plus more as needed
1/2 cup sour cream, plus extra for serving

Fry onion in the oil, stirring often, until softened and just beginning to turn golden. Add cabbage and fry, stirring frequently, until starting to get a little golden. Add pork and stir and fry, breaking up the lumps, until color has fully changed. Add seasonings, salt, and tomato paste. Stir and fry for one minute.

Add broth or water and mix well. Lower heat and simmer, covered but stirring from time to time, for 20 minutes. Add a little broth or water as needed to keep the mixture moist.

Stir in sour cream and bring back just to a boil. Remove from heat. Taste and add a little salt if needed. Remove bay leaves.

Serve with noodles, potatoes or a rice dish. Offer more sour cream for diners to spoon onto their goulash. Accompany with a salad.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Sautéed Brussels Sprouts with Cream (or Balsamic Vinegar)

As autumn is finally here with some moderately chilly weather and dry air, autumnal dishes seem right. Here is rich-flavored European dish for a hearty cold-weather dinner.

The recipe serves four to six as a side dish.

Brussels Sprouts with Balsamic Vinegar 
1 pound Brussels sprouts (smaller firm ones preferred)
2 tablespoons minced shallot or onion
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Small pinch grated nutmeg (optional)
Water as needed
Either 4 tablespoons light to heavy cream or 2 teaspoons Balsamic vinegar

Cut off bottom 1/4 inch of stem from sprouts. Slice sprouts lengthwise into 4-5 slices, about 1/8-inch thick, or put trimmed sprouts through 2-millimeter shredding blade of a food processor.

Mince shallot or onion and add them to pot with butter or olive oil. Heat over medium burner until just starting to sizzle. Add sliced sprouts, 1/2 teaspoon salt and spices. Stir frequently and fry, covered, just until beginning to turn golden, 5-6 minutes. Sprinkle with another 1/4 teaspoon salt.

Add 2 tablespoons water, and stir to moisten. Cover, and let sprouts simmer, stirring frequently, until they become tender but are still fairly green (total of 8-10 minutes cooking time from first frying).

Stir in cream or balsamic vinegar. If too dry, moisten with a little water. Bring just back to a simmer and remove from heat. Taste, and add salt if needed.

Roasted Acorn Squash – in the Microwave Oven!

With autumn finally here, we’re enjoying cold-weather produce. Baked acorn squash is a fall treat from my childhood in Connecticut, and just seems perfectly New England – which my mother symbolized. And my father, originally from New Hampshire, used to grow the squash. This fairly unique vegetable makes a great side dish for a roast or meatloaf.

Of course, in those days, my mother baked the halved acorn squash in the oven, which we would still do if there are many squash to bake. But if cooking for two people, or a very small group, baking squash (like baking potatoes and sweet potatoes) in the microwave oven is a time and energy saver.

Here’s baked acorn squash, as tasty as I remember from my childhood, but cooked in little more than ten minutes. The butter and brown sugar in the hollow of the squash still makes it a winner. A bit of spice, like cinnamon or nutmeg, could traditionally be added during the cooking, but as much as I love spices and herbs, I prefer this squash simple.

Be sure the squash are very ripe and hard – grown in the north (rather than California or Mexico) is a good start, and with a hardened stem and some orange showing on the dark green skin.

For each two diners:

1 medium-large very ripe, firm acorn squash
4 teaspoons butter
2 tablespoons brown sugar

Cut squash in half lengthwise with a chef’s knife on a cutting board. Scoop out the seeds and stringy pulp with a spoon. Sprinkle cavities and cut edges of the squash generously with salt. Place cut side up on a microwaveable plate.

Microwave until tender when pierced with a fork on the inside, 8-10 minutes, depending on the power of the microwave. Test after 8 minutes and if not done, microwave another two minutes, then test again.

When flesh is reasonably tender, add 2 teaspoons butter and a tablespoon of brown sugar to the cavity of each squash. The butter will melt quickly. With spoon, smear the butter-sugar mixture all around the cavity and all over the cut edges of the squash. Microwave another two minutes. Test once more with a fork to be sure the flesh is tender.

On dinner plate, scoop up the flesh with a teaspoon and eat it directly.

Friday, November 1, 2019

Sesame-Marinated Broccoli, Korean inspired

There are dozens of small savory dishes served before a Korean meal. This sesame-dressed broccoli is patterned after some of those. Broccoli is relatively new in Asia, so this specific dish would not have been traditional in Korea, but the style is. In any case, this bright, tasty dish our restaurant, Donderos’ Kitchen, is sometimes asked to make for catering. 

Makes enough for 6 servings as side dish
1-1/2 pounds broccoli crowns, about 2 medium-large crowns

Cut off all except 1 inch of stem. Cut through the stem parts then pull apart to make even-sized flowerets, each including some stem.

To a large pot of boiling water, add 2 teaspoons salt. Blanch broccoli, stirring almost constantly, until bright green and just starting to become tender, 60 seconds. Drain and cool thoroughly with running water.

In bowl, mix the marinade:
2 tablespoons white sesame seeds (toast in frying pan, shaking constantly, until golden)
1 tablespoon soy sauce, Japanese or Korean style preferred
1 tablespoon water
2 teaspoons white vinegar
1 teaspoon canola or sunflower oil
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon Asian sesame oil

Toss drained broccoli with marinade, using two large spoons, being careful not to break the pieces. Toss several times over 10 minutes, then again before serving or plattering.

Green Vegetables stir-fried with Chicken and Garlic

This Chinese manner of quickly cooking leafy green vegetables until just crisp-tender, and seasoning with chicken, shredded pork or peeled shrimp, is widely popular in Southeast Asia, including in Thailand, Vietnam, and Malaysia. Virtually any of the leafy Asian greens or broccoli are delicious and easily prepared this way. Oyster sauce makes the dish richer. These are typically small dishes to accompany more complicated ones. They would be served with unsalted white rice.

The recipe serves six.
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thigh or breast
1 pound green leafy vegetable (baby Shanghai bok choy, nappa, or Chinese mustard -- yu choy sum)
3 large cloves of garlic
3 tablespoons canola, sunflower or other oil (not olive)
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus to taste
2 tablespoons oyster sauce (from Asian food store)
1/4 cup water

Trim excess fat off chicken. Cut it into angular chunks about an inch long and half an inch thick. Set aside.

Trim off roots and the very base of the stems from the vegetable. Rinse leaves well in water to cover to remove any sand. Let drain, and cut into 2-inch pieces.

Mince garlic.

Heat a wok or large frying pan to medium hot. Add oil and while stirring fry garlic a few seconds, until fragrant but not beginning to turn golden. Immediately add the chicken plus 1/4 teaspoon salt and stir and fry until raw color changes.

Add vegetable plus an additional 1/4 teaspoon salt. Stir-fry briefly, then add 1/4 cup of water. Stir and fry until vegetable is just becoming crisp-tender and the color brightens. The cooking time will depend on the tenderness of the vegetable, some cooking very quickly. Add oyster sauce. Add a little more water if mixture is dry. Stir and fry very briefly to just heat. Remove pan from heat.

Taste a bit of the sauce and a piece of vegetable. It should taste very slightly salty (because more salt will be absorbed by the vegetable, and it will be served with unsalted rice). Sprinkle with a little salt if needed, and stir it in.

Serve on a platter, mounding it up slightly in the middle. Accompany with white unsalted rice.

Chicken Breast Medallions Dijon

Dishes labeled “Dijon,” like “devilled,” usually mean “seasoned with mustard,” since the south-eastern French city of Dijon, in the heart of Burgundy, is famous for its mustard seed and its prepared mustard. The region is also famous for its rich foods and its fine wines, notably reds made from the Pinot Noir grape and whites from Chardonnay and Aligoté grapes. This dish combines all three features of Burgundian cuisine. The recipe serves six to eight, accompanied by noodles, potatoes or rice.
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
1-1/2 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
4 tablespoons butter for frying
1 tablespoons olive or sunflower oil for frying
2/3 cup white wine, such as Chardonnay
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/3 cup sour cream or heavy cream
4 teaspoons Dijon mustard
Finely minced parsley for garnish

Trim away excess fat and any tough parts of chicken breasts. Cut them on a bias into medallions 1/2-inch thick by 1-1/2-inch square. Pat dry with paper towels. Mix flour with 1/2 teaspoon of the salt plus the pepper on a plate. Lightly dust chicken pieces on both sides with the mixture. If not ready to cook the chicken, refrigerate it at this point.

In a large non-stick frying pan, heat the butter and oil together over medium heat. Fry chicken pieces, part at a time, turning occasionally, until golden on both sides, about 4-5 minutes. Test chicken for doneness by sticking the end of a knife into a thick part and twisting the knife gently. No pinkness should remain in the meat or in the juices. When done, remove chicken to a bowl.

To make the sauce, add wine to deglaze the frying pan over medium heat, stirring well to get the crusty bits mixed into the wine. Add 1/4 teaspoon of salt plus the sugar. Simmer until the wine is reduced by half. Remove pan from the heat. With a whisk or fork, stir in sour cream or heavy cream plus mustard until smooth. Taste and add salt, if necessary.

Add chicken pieces back to the pan containing the sauce. Heat very briefly. Dust with a little finely minced parsley to garnish.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Red Cabbage Coleslaw

Coleslaw, seemingly an American staple salad-condiment, is actually from Holland. “Koolsla,” pronounced in Dutch exactly like coleslaw (double “o” in Dutch sounds like the long O in “rose”), is the shortened form of “koolsalade” -- cabbage salad.

Red cabbage produces a spectacular, if unorthodox, coleslaw. The dark, purplish color of the raw cabbage will brighten to deep red due to the acidity of the vinegar (the red-violet anthocyanins that give the cabbage its color are like pH indicators, changing color with acidity or alkalinity).

This dish serves well on a holiday buffet table. The recipe serves six to eight as a side dish, with easily stored left-overs.

1 medium head of red cabbage or 3/4 of a medium-large head
1 medium-large carrot
2 tablespoons mayonnaise (“real” preferred)
1 tablespoon Dijon-style mustard
6 tablespoons white vinegar
4 tablespoons sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons salt, plus more to taste
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Discard any tough outer cabbage leaves. Cut off cabbage’s bottom inch. Cut the head in half through the stem and cut it again into quarters. Set a quarter on a board and cut away the core and any big ribs on the exterior.

Shred cabbage finely crosswise, either with a sharp knife on a cutting board, or with a food slicer (or in a food processor fitted with a 2-millimeter slicer blade). As you shred it, place the cabbage in a very large bowl for mixing.

Peel carrot and shred it, using the coarse side of a grater or the food processor fitted with a grater blade. Add it to the cabbage.

Add mayonnaise, mustard, vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper. Mix well. It will be dry at first. Let it sit 15 or 20 minutes, mixing from time to time, until the cabbage softens and the juices increase. Taste and adjust salt, vinegar or sugar as desired.

Coleslaw is best if allowed to chill for an hour or more, or even up to several days, covered. Mix well and taste before serving and adjust salt, vinegar or sugar if needed.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Fig (or Apricot) and Feta Appetizer

Here’s a holiday appetizer combining two of my favorite foods, dried Turkish figs and feta cheese. Adding bacon makes the result even more joyous. The appetizer is great spread on non-salty breads, like water crackers or baguette slices. An alternate fruit is dried apricots.

The recipe makes enough appetizer for 8 or more people. Serve unsalted crackers or baguette slices to spread it on.

1 cup dried figs (Turkish preferred) or dried apricots
1 cup feta cheese, drained and crumbled
3 strips fried bacon (optional)
1/4 cup orange juice (or 1 tablespoon frozen orange concentrate plus 3 tablespoons water)
1/4 teaspoon salt (less if using bacon), plus more to taste – feta varies on saltiness
A pinch of cayenne

Bacon version on right
Platter by Maria Dondero, Marmalade Pottery, Athens, GA
Cut the tough stems off the figs. Slice then chop fruit finely with a chef’s knife on a board, or chop by pulsing in a food processor. (If using dried apricots, chop by either method). Crumble the feta into tiny pieces, using the back of a fork. If using bacon, crumble then chop it finely.

Combine all ingredients and mix well. If too dry and firm, add a little more orange juice or water. Let sit for a few minutes, then taste the mixture. Add a little salt, if it tastes bland.

Let sit at least half an hour before serving, or better yet, refrigerate for hours to several days.

Shape into a mound on a decorative plate or small platter. Serve with water crackers or baguette slices to spread it on.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Green Beans and Rice: It started as Red Beans and Rice

I had intended to make Red Beans and Rice, a major comfort food from Louisiana, for my wife’s staff meeting. I had already purchased the ham and seasoning vegetables plus cans of small red beans. Then my son in law, Clyde, turned up with about four quarts of delicious homegrown green beans.

There is, in fact, a Cajun green beans and rice dish, called smothered green beans, though I didn’t know it when I started making my dish. I simply made my style of red beans and rice but used cut-up green beans instead of cooked red beans. Same roux, same “holy trinity” of flavoring vegetables, same ham, same Cajun seasoning.

And here it is. It’s pretty tasty. I’ll wait a bit until the weather’s colder and make what I originally intended.

The recipe serves six to eight. Cook the rice separately (see rice cooking in my blog post of 8/8/2019).

1/3 cup flour
1/4 cup olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
2 sticks celery, diced
1 Poblano pepper or green bell pepper, cored and diced
1-1/4 pound big slice of ham (such as Smithfield), fat removed, meat cut into 1/4-inch cubes
1 tablespoon tomato paste or 3 tablespoons ketchup
Low-salt chicken broth or water as needed
2 quarts green beans, tips cut off, beans cut 1-inch long
1 tablespoon Cajun seasoning (such as Louisiana brand or Chacheré’s) plus to taste
3 cups cooked short or medium grained rice (1 cup dry rice) for serving

In a heavy pot, cook the flour and oil together over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the roux starts darkening. Stir very frequently until roux darkens to the color of peanut butter. Add the diced vegetables, and stir and fry together for a few minutes until the vegetables start softening. Add the ham, and stir and fry several more minutes.

Add the tomato paste or ketchup, plus enough chicken broth or water to come up just below the surface of the ingredients. Simmer about ten minutes, or until the celery bits are tender. Add the green beans, and a little water, if needed, to keep it quite moist. Simmer, covered, a few minutes, then add Cajun seasoning. Continue to simmer, stirring occasionally, until beans are tender, adding a little water if becoming dry. Taste for salt, and add more Cajun seasoning as need to get the salt to the desired level.

It’s best to let the stew cool and store, refrigerated, then reheat to eat. Spoon the mixture over hot cooked rice. Offer Louisiana style hot sauce as a condiment on the side.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Sautéed Winter Squash over Jalapeño-Cheese Grits: Demonstrated at Athens Farmers Market

Here’s the dish my grandson August and I demonstrated at the Athens Farmers Market this morning, October 5th. All the vegetables we used we purchased from the local farmers’ stands at the Market.

Prepare the grits first, and keep them warm while sautéing the squash. The recipes serve six-eight people.

Jalapeño-Cheese Grits:
1 cup milk
3-1/2 cups water (or 3 cups water plus 1/2 cup white wine)
1 cup stone-ground grits (Georgia, and yellow, preferred)
1 small jalapeño pepper, seeded and minced
3/4 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1/4 teaspoon grated black pepper
2 tablespoons grated Romano or Parmesan cheese

In a heavy pan, bring milk and water (or water plus wine, if used) to a boil, being careful they don’t boil over. Stirring constantly with a whisk or wooden spoon, add the grits in a thin stream. Reduce heat to medium, and continue to stir frequently, scraping the bottom of the pot, as the grits begin to thicken, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the minced jalapeño, salt, and pepper. Reduce the heat to the lowest, cover the pot and simmer, stirring from time to time, until grits are becoming tender, 20 minutes or more depending on the grits used. Stir in the cheese. Taste, and add a little salt if necessary. Continue to simmer (or place the pot in a larger pan with an inch of boiling water to serve as a hot water bath as they simmer) until ready to serve, stirring from time to time and adding a little water if becoming thick. The longer the grits simmer the better. Before serving, do a final taste and adjust the salt, if necessary.

Sautéed Winter Squash or Pumpkin:
1 medium-large butternut squash or 2-pound piece of heirloom pumpkin (e.g., “Long Island Cheese” or French)
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 small-medium green bell pepper, seeded and coarsely chopped
1 very large clove garlic, minced
1 small jalapeño, seeded and minced
2 large tomatoes, cored and coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 cup water (or white wine), plus more water as needed
6 medium-large fresh basil leaves, cut in half
2 tablespoons grated Romano or Parmesan cheese
A little more grated cheese, or minced parsley, for garnish

Peel the butternut or other pumpkin/squash, cut it across into 3/4-inch slices, scooping out the seed cavity when you get to that part. Cut the flesh into 3/4-inch chunks. Fry (sauté) these gently in a large pan with the olive oil, stirring frequently. Meanwhile prepare the other vegetables as indicated, keeping the tomato separate.

A sample at the Athens Farmers' Market
When the squash is just starting to become tender (test with a toothpick), add the onion, bell pepper, garlic, and jalapeño. Add the salt and pepper, and sauté the mixture, stirring frequently and scraping the bottom of the pan, until the bell pepper and onion become tender. Stir in the chopped tomatoes and sauté about 2 minutes, stirring carefully several times. Add half a cup of water and sauté briefly until the vegetables are tender. The mixture should be slightly wet. If not, add a little water to moisten. Taste several bits of vegetable and stir in a little salt, if needed. Remove from the heat, and stir in the basil and grated cheese.

To Serve
Spread a portion of grits on a plate. Spoon some of the squash mixture over it. Sprinkle with either a little grated cheese or minced parsley.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Hungarian Cottage Cheese (“Pot Cheese”) Appetizer Spread

I’ve been cooking a lot of Eastern European food recently, Russian “Tefteli” meatballs (see my blog posting of 10/2/2019), cheese-potato Pirozhki, radish salad with sour cream (see my blog posting of 10/2/2019), Transylvanian goulash. Maybe it’s fantasizing for cooler weather as this dry heat wave continues in Georgia.

Bowl by Maria Dondero, Marmalade Pottery, Athens GA
Here’s a common appetizer from Hungarian cooking, which I encountered repeatedly at an authentic Hungarian restaurant I frequented when I was in school. It’s easy and satisfying.

Pot cheese, the homemade fresh cheese in Central Europe, is relatively close to the old fashioned dry-curd cottage cheese that used to be sold in the US. What seems available now is wetter “creamed” cottage cheese. It can be turned back into the drier version by letting sit in a sieve for an hour or so to drain.

The recipe will serve 8 to 12 as an appetizer with bread or crackers.

1 pint of fine curd cottage cheese
1 tablespoon minced chives or green onion tops
1/2 teaspoon paprika, Hungarian “sweet” (not hot) preferred
1/2 teaspoon sea salt (herb-seasoned can be good), plus more to taste
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
Pinch of cayenne

Place cottage cheese in a strainer or cheese cloth over a bowl and let it drain for an hour.

Mix cheese well with remaining ingredients. Let rest a few minutes, then stir again.

Taste for salt, and add a little if needed. More paprika can be added if slightly pinker color is desired.

Let mixture sit for a while, refrigerated, to let flavors mellow.

Serve with bread or crackers to spread the mixture on.

Russian Meat-and-Rice Meatballs (Tefteli) are Comforting Home Cooking – and Gluten Free

At the Buford Highway Farmers Market, just outside I-285 in Doraville, north Atlanta, where I used to teach international cooking, I occasionally ate at their international food court. Among other cuisines there, the food court offered several genuine Russian dishes. There’s also a Russian bakery, an extensive Russian deli, and many Russian imports at the Market. The story is that several of the Russian women who baked there introduced their own family-style recipes for meatballs and stuffed cabbage rolls at the food court. I loved both the dishes. Where else in a public place can you get authentic Russian comfort food?

Some research informed that there are various types of meatballs in Russia, including “kotleti” (a variant on the name “cutlet”) and “frikadeller” (the Danish/Scandinavian name for meatballs). The meatballs at the Farmers Market food court are “tefteli” (тефтель), the “porcupine” meatballs containing rice grains rather than breadcrumbs. Those are what I eat at Buford Highway when I get the chance. As it turns out, the tefteli meatball is amazingly similar to the filling of the cabbage rolls (coincidence?), though the sauces for the two dishes are somewhat different.

People familiar with my cooking know how fond I am of meatballs, all kinds of meatballs. There are several other meatball recipes featured in this blog already (Swedish meatballs, 8/30/2019), Greek/Turkish meatballs, 8/20/2019), and Italian-American meatballs with spaghetti (7/30/2019); more will be coming.

A novel feature of tefteli meatballs is they are gluten-free, since their carbohydrate filler is rice rather than bread crumbs. In my own family, but especially among some of the customers at our restaurant, are individuals who cannot eat gluten, the principal protein in wheat, rye and barley. So these Russian meatballs are fine for gluten-intolerant people. That’s a bonus. I love tefteli for their flavors and texture.

The recipe makes enough for four people, Serve with a rice dish or noodles.

1 pound ground beef, pork or lamb
1 1/2 cups cooked unsalted rice
1/2 cup finely minced onion (use remainder of onion in sauce)
2 tablespoons minced flat (“Italian”) parsley, plus more for garnish
1 teaspoon prepared horseradish
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Large pinch cayenne
2 eggs

Knead everything together well. Shape into 2-inch balls. Set aside while preparing the cooking sauce.

1/2 small-medium onion
2 medium tomatoes
1 small carrot
1/4 red bell pepper
3 tablespoons sunflower or canola oil
1 1/2 cup water
1/2 teaspoon vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Minced parsley or dill for serving

Place mince onion, tomatoes, carrot and bell pepper, all cut in chunks, in food processor. Pulse the vegetables and scrape down inside of container, until mixture is very fine, but not quite puréed.

Fry the mixture in the oil in a very wide frying pan or casserole, stirring frequently, until mixture dries off and the oil emerges a little.

Add water, vinegar, salt and spices. Simmer several minutes.

Add meatballs in a single layer. Cover pan and simmer 10 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally, but not stirring the meatballs (or they will break). Once meatballs have become more firm, move them carefully and turn them over. Simmer another 20 minutes, stirring occasionally and basting them with the sauce. Add a little water if becoming too dry.

To serve, sprinkle with reserved minced parsley or dill.

Russian Radish Salad with Sour Cream and Dill

Generally, radishes are not one of my favorite vegetables because they can have a sharp bite. But they are beautiful, especially when thinly sliced or carved into roses. Happily, when prepared in vinegar and salt, as in a rémoulade or this Russian salad-like specialty, the sharpness is somehow neutralized and I then find radishes very enjoyable.

This radish in sour cream dish is served as an appetizer or a side condiment. The pink to red color, contrasted by the thin green strands of the dill, makes the dish delightful to the eye.

The recipe makes enough for 4 to 6 people as an appetizer or condiment.

Photo: Maria Dondero. Bowl: Marmalade Pottery, Athens GA
1 large bunch, or about 1 1/2 cups red radishes, smaller ones preferred
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons sour cream
1 teaspoon white or white-wine vinegar
Sprinkle of black pepper
1 tablespoon snipped fresh dill

Rinse and dry radishes. Cut off stems and root. Slice 1/8 inch thick.

Toss sliced radishes with salt. Stirring occasionally, let sit 1/2 hour to shed some liquid. Drain well.

Mix drained radishes with sour cream, vinegar, pepper and dill. Allow to rest 10 or more minutes. Taste and add salt, if desired.

The pink color emerges more if the salad is allowed to sit. Stir and taste for salt before serving.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Stovetop Macaroni and Cheese: Can be made by new, as well as experienced, cooks

Here’s a very easy mac and cheese that does not require baking. I worked out the recipe for my teenagers’ cooking class. Mac and cheese, of course, is the comfort food of that generation, and it recalls that comfort for older folks. The stovetop version takes less time and fewer steps than the baked version, and is one my young cooking friends are more likely to make themselves for their families and friends.

It draws on several unique techniques in a recipe in the America’s Test Kitchen Cookbook and the almost identical recipe online by Alton Brown on the Food Network. Neither source mentions the other, and I cannot find a reference to Alton Brown having worked with America’s Test Kitchen. But virtually identical recipes by two different experts is hard to consider a coincidence.

At any rate, the following recipe is (nearly) what we made in the class, with several added tweaks based on how the class dishes turned out.

The recipe will serve six to eight people. Leftovers heat well in the microwave. This is good accompanied by a simple green salad, and/or buttered broccoli.

1 pound elbow Macaroni
1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter for the macaroni
4 eggs
2 (12-ounce) cans evaporated milk (regular milk doesn’t work as well)
2 tablespoons ketchup
1 tablespoon Dijon or brown mustard
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne or 1 teaspoon hot sauce
1 pound (16 ounces) grated sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 cup rolled cracker crumbs or dry bread crumbs for topping (optional)
3 tablespoons butter or olive oil for topping (optional)

Boil macaroni in plenty of salted water, stirring very frequently at first so the macaroni pieces do not stick together. When tender but still a little firm (“al dente”), drain in a colander. Return the pasta to the cooking pot and stir in the butter until it melts. Cover the pot so the macaroni stays hot.

In a bowl, lightly beat the eggs, then mix in the evaporated milk, ketchup, mustard, salt, pepper and cayenne or hot sauce. Stir into the pasta and add the cheese. Cook over medium heat, stirring very frequently and scraping the bottom of the pot, for 5-8 minutes, or until creamy and starting to bubble along the edges. Taste and add salt, if needed.

If a topping is wanted, gently fry the breadcrumbs or cracker crumbs with the butter or olive oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve the mac and cheese and sprinkle with the topping, if used.

Moussaka with Eggplant, a Greek and Turkish Delight

What can be more Greek than “Moussaka”? Actually the word came from Turkish, and Turks make the dish too. But actually the name is originally Arab and centuries old, rather than either Greek or Turkish; though the Arab dish is a little different from what we know as Moussaka in the West.

Layers of sliced eggplant covered by a chopped meat sauce, then by a potato-containing béchamel, topped with cheese is the most familiar moussaka. But there is a version with sliced zucchini rather than eggplant, and a winter version with sliced potato. The Greek style of Moussaka typically has red wine cooked into the meat layer, while the Turkish one, due to Islamic restrictions on alcohol, contains no wine.

Here is a Greek style of Moussaka, with a simple cinnamon-scented tomato sauce for the condiment. The recipe serves six to eight, though leftovers are delightful.

2 medium-large purple eggplants
Salt for soaking
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 pounds ground beef or lamb, 85% lean
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup red wine
2 teaspoons salt
1 bay leaf
1-1/2 teaspoons oregano
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/3 cup crushed tomatoes (Hunt’s brand) from a 14-ounce can (save the rest for a sauce, below)
3/4 cup olive oil
3/4 cup flour
4 cups milk
1/4 cup heavy cream
Salt to taste
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/2 cup instant (dry) mashed potatoes
1/4 cup grated Romano or Parmesan cheese

Cut ends off eggplants. With vegetable peeler peel narrow strips of skin off the eggplants from top to bottom on 4 sides of the vegetable. Slice eggplants across 1/2-inch thick and soak in salted water (3 tablespoons salt to 3 quarts of water) for half an hour, mixing occasionally.

In a heavy pot, fry the onion with the ground meat and garlic until color has fully changed. Stir in the salt, seasonings, wine and tomatoes. Simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. Let cool.

In a separate pot, cook olive oil and flour stirring with a whisk, to make a roux. Cook about 2 minutes. Add milk and cream and whisk as the mixture heats and thickens. Whisk in salt to taste, the pepper and nutmeg. Remove from heat, and mix in the instant mashed potatoes.

Oil a large casserole dish. Drain eggplant well and layer it over the bottom of the dish. Spoon meat mixture over the eggplant and smooth out this layer. Spoon béchamel-potato mixture over this and smooth the top, bring it to the edge of the casserole. Sprinkle with the grated cheese.

Bake in 350-degree oven, using a lower shelf, 30-45 minutes, or until bubbling on the sides and the top browns to a medium-dark golden color. Remove from the oven and let rest for at least ten minutes.

Cut into squares to serve, lifting the pieces out with a metal spatula. Top with tomato sauce when serving (recipe below).

Tomato sauce for Moussaka

2 tablespoons minced onion
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 (14-ounce) can crushed tomatoes (minus the 1/3 cup used with the meat, above)
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus to taste
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

Cook onion in oil until softened. Add crushed tomato and seasonings. Simmer 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste and add salt, if needed.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Easy Black Bean Dip

Needing a bean dip for my teenager cooking class recently, in which a dessert was the main dish, I developed this recipe that would be simple and quick for the kids to make. This is served with tortilla chips.

Makes sufficient for six or more as an appetizer, accompanied by tortilla chips.

1 (14-ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 small onion, finely minced
1 large clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro leaves, plus extra for garnish, if desired
1 teaspoon lime juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper or 1 teaspoon hot sauce
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup sour cream

Drain and rinse beans. Mince onion and garlic, keeping them separate. Chop cilantro. Squeeze lime juice.

In a frying pan, gently fry the onion in the olive oil, stirring frequently, until softened. Stir in garlic for one minute. Add drained beans and heat, mashing them smooth with the back of a spoon. When hot, remove them from the heat.

Stir in the lime juice, seasonings and sour cream. If the mixture is too thick, add a little water. Stir in the cilantro. Taste and add salt if needed.

Serve sprinkled with a little finely chopped cilantro, if desired.

Dip with tortilla chips.

Eggplant Parmesan -- a richly flavored Southern Italian vegetarian treat

Eggplant Parmesan, or Melanzane alla Parmigiana, may have originated in Sicily, though it is now more associated with the Naples region. The province of Parma, and the wonderful cow’s milk cheese Parmigiano Reggiano, named for that province plus the neighboring province of Reggio Emilia, are northern Italian. But the baked eggplant dish, despite the northern name and typically being seasoned with that northern cheese, is classically southern Italian in style with vibrant tomato sauce playing off against cheese and breaded “meaty” vegetable and olive oil. Several later variants of the originally eggplant dish, which substitute thinly sliced breaded meat for the sliced eggplant, include Veal Parmesan and Chicken Parmesan.
As wonderful as eggplant can be, it has several unpleasant characteristics to overcome. The bitterness from traces of nicotine-like alkaloids (eggplant is related to tobacco, after all) needs to be salted out or roasted out. Eggplant also requires proper cooking to not be rubbery or spongy or have tough skin.

For a large casserole dish of Eggplant Parmesan you will first need to make a tomato sauce (sometimes confusingly called “Marinara” – sailor’s sauce) and grate mozzarella cheese plus a little Parmigiano cheese or Romano cheese -- which I prefer, but I grew up around Sicilians.

The Sauce:
3 extra large cloves garlic
1/4 cup olive oil
1 large can (28 ounces) crushed tomatoes (Hunts brand or Progresso are good)
3/4 cup water (rinse the tomato can with it before adding to the cooking)
2 1/2 teaspoons sugar (amount will depend on the acidity of the tomatoes)
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
Salt to taste (1/2 - 1 teaspoon or more)
2 large fresh basil leaves

Crush the garlic (press under a drinking glass or with the side of a knife) and remove the skin. Fry the garlic slowly in the olive oil in a large non-corrosive pot (enamel, stainless steel, etc.) until just starting to turn golden. Remove and discard the garlic pieces.

Add the tomatoes, water, sugar, paprika, cloves, and a little salt. Bring to a rapid boil, stirring frequently, and let simmer 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.  (Partially cover the pot, since the tomato splatters; move pot from the heat before stirring to reduce splatter.) Taste and add salt if necessary, and a little more sugar if too acidic. Stir in the basil and remove from the heat.  Let cool. (Stores in refrigerator up to 5 days or freezes up to several months.)

The eggplant:
2 medium-large eggplants
3 tablespoons salt for the soaking water
4 eggs
1 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt for seasoning the flour
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 cups unseasoned breadcrumbs, plus more as needed
4 tablespoons (approx.) olive oil for drizzling

Cut off stem end and the very bottom of eggplants. With a vegetable peeler, peel a narrow strip off from top to bottom on four sides of the eggplant. Slice eggplants crosswise 3/8-inch thick. In a large bowl dissolve the 3 tablespoons salt and about three quarts of water. Immerse the eggplant slices, and mix them around occasionally, and soak them for 30 minutes or more to get out the bitter juices.

In a bowl, beat the eggs with a fork. In a separate bowl, mix the flour, 1-1/2 teaspoons salt, pepper and nutmeg. In a third bowl place the breadcrumbs.

Drain the soaked eggplant slices. Dredge them a few at a time in the seasoned flour. Tap them to shake off excess flour and dip them in the egg, shake off the excess then put them in the breadcrumb bowl to lightly coat them, Tap the slices to shake off excess crumbs. Place them on one of several baking sheets (lined with parchment paper if available), close but not touching.

When all slices are breaded, drizzle them each with a little olive oil. Bake them in a 350-degree oven 15-20 minutes, or until starting to turn golden and become tender to the touch. Let cool.

Assembling the casserole:
4 cups grated mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese

Heat the oven to 360 degrees.

Smear some of the tomato sauce to wet the bottom of a large, attractive 10-by-13-inch baking dish (or several smaller ones), from which the eggplant will be served. Place almost half the roasted eggplant slices tightly together or slightly overlapping to cover the bottom of the casserole. Cut some eggplant slices into quarters to fit into the spaces around the edge. Sprinkle half of the mozzarella and half the other cheese over the eggplant. Spoon about half the remaining sauce evenly onto the cheese layer. Place the second layer of eggplant (it will be the top layer) onto the first layer, using up the eggplant slices except for a few to cut to fill in spaces. Spread the remaining sauce over this layer, then sprinkle the remaining cheeses on top. 

Bake on the lower shelf of the oven until bubbling on the edges and the cheese on the top browns somewhat, 35-45 minutes. Turn the dish once or twice during the baking.

Serve hot with a salad and crusty bread.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Lentil and Tomato Dip, and a bit of history

I often fix appetizers for my daughter Maria’s pottery shows, at which it’s customary to offer light food for visitors to the gallery. A while back I started using lentils in some of these dishes, for a reason that is not at first obvious.

Lentils are one of the earliest crops in human cultivation, at least in the Fertile Crescent. They were so important a part of human cultivation and nutrition that they even play an important role in Genesis, which metaphorically recapitulates human history.

Esau, the elder son of Isaac, and heir to the patrimony of Isaac and Issac’s father Abraham, was the hunter. The younger son, actually Esau’s fraternal twin, Jacob, was the farmer. Thus the twin brothers symbolize the hunter-gatherer vs farmer dichotomy of the Neolithic period of human development. Esau had been unsuccessful in hunting at one point and, starving, implored Jacob to give him some lentils to eat (they were apparently red lentils). Jacob forced a hard bargain on his twin brother and traded Esau a pot of lentils for the family birthright. Thus for a pot of lentils, Israel became the House of Jacob rather than the rightful House of Esau. The ethics of this bargain I’ll leave to rabbinical scholars. I’m primarily interested in the scriptural references to pottery and lentils.

Pots in which to actually boil lentils only became available with the advent of terra cotta pottery in the late Neolithic period. Prior to that technological advance lentils were more marginal, needing to be ground and fried as a bread or cake on a hot stone griddle. Thus pottery enhanced lentils’ usefulness to human nutrition and survival, and lentils in need of cooking enhanced pottery’s practical value. Lentils and terra cotta pottery thus co-evolved and helped spur the Neolithic agricultural explosion.
Of course, the other reasons I do lentil-based appetizers for Maria’s shows is that they are suitable for vegetarian eating, which is common in the circles that frequent pottery and art gatherings, they are quick to cook, and they are as economical as they are nutritious. And I love the taste, if not the dull appearance, of lentils.

Here’s a lentil dip I made recently for one of Maria’s events, though this was a birthday gathering rather than a pottery exhibit. Garnishes improve the visuals of a lentil dish.

The recipe serves 10 or more as part of an appetizer selection, with somewhat over a quart of dip. Offer lightly salted crackers or chips for serving.

2 cups split red lentils (available at many supermarkets and natural food stores)
6 tablespoons sun-dried tomatoes, chopped finely
1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) red wine
1 tablespoon tomato paste (store the rest frozen in a zip-lock plastic bag for other use)
1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 cup sour cream
Finely chopped parsley for garnish

Rinse the lentils several time in cool water and drain. Soak them in a cooking pot with water to cover them by half an inch and let them sit for half an hour or more. In a small bowl, mix finely chopped sun-dried tomatoes with wine, and allow to marinate, stirring from time to time.

Place pot with lentils and their soaking water over medium heat and bring to a boil. Simmer the lentils, stirring frequently and scraping the bottom of the pot (they tend to stick), adding small quantities of water to keep lentils moist, with the water level just below the surface of the lentils. 

When lentils become tender (15-20 minutes) add the marinated dried tomatoes plus any juices, the tomato paste, salt, and dry spices. Stir frequently, scraping the bottom of the pot, and simmer until lentils are fully tender but still intact.

Remove from heat and stir in sour cream. Taste and add a little salt if needed. Let cool.

Serve in a shallow bowl. Dust with finely chopped parsley. Accompany with low-salt crackers or chips.