Turkish White Bean Salad

Here’s a traditional “meze,” or Middle Eastern appetizer, that I learned from my friend “Kalo,” a Turkish chef and restaurant owner in Decatur. I used to hang out at his place when I was free on Saturday afternoons, and served as “Guest Chef.” The time working with Kalo and several other guys there influenced my cooking considerably, both at home and at our family restaurant in Athens, Donderos’ Kitchen.

The dish is completely “vegan” or (as the new term is emerging) “plant-based.” The freshly grated ginger and the cinnamon give the dish its exotic and slightly “meaty” overtones. We make a similar, though slightly different, white bean salad for catering at Donderos’ Kitchen.

The recipe serves six to eight as part of an appetizer selection, or about six as a side dish.

2 (14-ounce) cans Great Northern beans, drained and rinsed
1/4 cup minced red onion
1 medium-large clove garlic, minced or put through a garlic press
1/2 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon paprika, plus more for sprinkling on top
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
A pinch of cayenne
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 of a long cucumber or 2 Persian cucumbers, quartered lengthwise, and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/2 cup “grape” or cherry tomatoes, halved
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped parsley, flat ‘Italian type’ preferred
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped cilantro
Kalamata or other Greek black olives for garnish

Drain the beans, rinse them in running water, and drain again. Place them in a large bowl with the onion, garlic, ginger, salt, dry seasonings, lemon juice, and olive oil. Mix gently so as not to break the beans. Allow to marinate for at least 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the cucumber, tomato, parsley, and cilantro. Stir in and allow the mixture to sit several minutes.

Taste a bean and cucumber piece and a little dressing. Add salt and/or lemon juice if necessary for full flavor and light tanginess. Ideally, let the salad sit at least 20 minutes before serving. (Refrigerates well for up to 8 hours.) Taste one last time before serving and adjust seasonings if necessary.

Serve in a shallow dish, or several small low bowls for a meze table. Garnish by sprinkling with a little paprika, and arrange a few black olives on and around the salad.


Thai Massaman Curry with Beef, a Classic from Southern Thailand

Thai Massaman curry, “Gaeng Massaman,” is richly flavored but not very hot from peppers. The curry paste is made from darkly caramelized red onion and garlic and has aromatic spices like cardamom, cloves and cinnamon. These flavors reflect the dish’s origins in southern Thailand’s Muslim community, which is ancestrally Malay/Indonesian.

The classical meat for Gaeng Massaman is beef, with lamb as an occasional option. The other key ingredients are potatoes and peanuts. The meat requires long simmering in coconut milk. American Thai restaurants, though not so much Thai people themselves, make a quick stir-fried version they call “Massaman Curry,” using whatever meat you want, or even tofu, throw in a little curry paste and coconut milk and then add miscellaneous vegetables as stretchers. But that’s not a real curry.
Massaman’s a Muslim curry (that’s what its name means in Thai): do NOT make it with pork!

A common accompaniment or condiment is the Thai cucumber-shallot relish called “ajaad.” (See my blog post from XXXX for a recipe). Ajaad, including its name, has Indian and Malay ancestry.

The recipe serves six to eight. But it takes so long to make it’s worth doubling the recipe to serve to company or to keep some for later use.

Curry paste, Asian fish sauce and coconut milk are available at Asian grocery stories. (In Athens GA, it's Fooks Foods on South Milledge Avenue., near Loop 10)

2 pounds lean beef (eye of round preferred, sirloin tip, “flatiron steak,” or chuck),
1 (14-ounce) can unsweetened coconut milk -- shake well before opening
1-1/2 cans of water
1-1/2 cups dry roasted skinned peanuts (unsalted or lightly salted)
1-1/2 pounds potatoes (gold or Yukon), peeled and cut in 1-inch cubes
1 (4-ounce) can Massaman curry paste (I like “Maesri” brand)
3 tablespoons Asian fish sauce (such as “Squid” brand), plus more to taste
2 tablespoons sugar
Salt, if needed
Sprigs of cilantro plus fine shreds of a small red hot pepper for garnish

Trim fat off beef. If meat is thick, cut lengthwise with the grain into long, 2-inch wide portions. Cut meat across the grain into 1/4-inch wide strips. Set aside.

In a large pot, bring coconut milk and water to a boil. Put in a third of the beef and stir until raw color changes and the liquid returns to a boil. Do the same with the second third of the beef. When liquid comes back to a boil, add the final third. When liquid boils again, add the peanuts. Simmer, stirring from time to time, until beef is fairly tender to the bite (40-50 minutes or more depending on the cut of beef used).

Once beef is becoming tender, add the potatoes and cook with the meat, stirring occasionally, until they are becoming tender (8-12 minutes) when tested with a toothpick. Add the fish sauce and sugar. Add curry paste. Simmer 5-10 minutes, and taste for salt. Add more fish sauce or salt sufficient to make the sauce slightly salty (the beef and potatoes will continue to soak it up). Remove from the heat and let sit 10 minutes. Stir and taste again for salt.

Serve with unsalted jasmine rice (see my blog post of 8/8/2019 for cooking method). Garnish the top of the curry with a few cilantro leaves picked off the stems and a few shreds of hot red pepper.

Accompany with Ajaad condiment (see my blog post of XXXX for a recipe).


Swedish Meatballs with Sour Cream and Dill Sauce -- Elegance from Ground Meat!

Although based on ground meat, this dish is considered elegant in Sweden and elsewhere in Scandinavia. Called Köttbullar (pronounced SHAWT-bool-ar), Swedish meatballs can even serve as a wedding dish or on the Christmas smorgasbord.

Ground turkey, surprisingly, works well for making this treat, though veal, pork and beef, or a combination are traditional. (IKEA, which sells tons of frozen Swedish meatballs, makes theirs with pork plus beef.)

The recipe serves six as a main course, with boiled or steamed potatoes, noodles, or lightly salted rice. Peas are an attractive side dish. The classical condiment is Lingonberry sauce (sold at IKEA).

1/4 cup quick or old fashioned oatmeal (not traditional, but works well)
1/2 cup unseasoned dry bread crumbs (or 3/4 cup freshly made crumbs, packed)
1 small-medium onion
1 small clove garlic
2 tablespoons oil or butter
2 eggs
2 teaspoon salt
3/8 teaspoon black pepper
3/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest (or 1/4 teaspoon lemon extract)
2 pounds ground turkey (the original is veal, pork, beef, or a mixture)*
1 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons minced fresh dill (or 2 teaspoons dry dill weed) plus dill sprigs for garnish

In food processor, pulverize oatmeal (or chop it on cutting board with chef’s knife). Place it in a mixing bowl. Measure crumbs and add to oatmeal. Cut onion into pieces and place in the food processor along with the garlic. Pulse and scrape down to mince finely. (Alternatively, mince onion and garlic finely with a chef’s knife on a cutting board.)  Fry onion-garlic mixture in oil or butter, stirring frequently, until limp but not browned. Add this mixture to the bowl. Add the eggs and lightly beat them with a fork. Add salt and spices and mix everything well. Add meat and combine thoroughly, kneading it with your hands. If desired, chill the mixture for easier shaping.

Roll into 1 to 1-1/2-inch meatballs, depending on preference. (A small ice cream scoop helps make same-sized meatballs.) Wet hands occasionally so meat sticks less to them. Set meatballs on an oiled tray until needed. Heat a pot with water 2-1/2 inches deep. Add 1 teaspoon salt. When boiling, add meatballs (half at a time, if necessary, so as not to crowd them). Simmer 12 minutes, gently stirring from time to time, after the meatballs float. With slotted spoon, remove meatballs to a bowl to cool, covering top loosely with waxed paper. Boil the poaching water down, uncovered, to reduce to about 3 cups of broth. Meatballs and broth can be refrigerated (separately) or even frozen at this point.

To finish the creamed meatballs, skim any hardened fat off broth. Heat together the meatballs and enough broth to come near the top of the meatballs, carefully stirring from time to time until gently boiling. Gently stir in sour cream. Heat just until simmering. Taste sauce and add salt if desired. Add a little black pepper. Remove from heat and stir in minced dill.

Serve in casserole or chafing dish. A few sprigs of dill can be used to garnish, if desired.

*note:  If using ground veal, pork, and/or beef, add 2 tablespoons milk or water to meatball mixture at the same time as the eggs.


Golden Chili employs Latin American culinary tricks


I can now pose as a chili strategist.


On a Super Bowl Sunday some years ago I took first prize at a rowdy Atlanta sports bar’s well-attended chili competition. My winning entry was a “white” chili (no tomatoes, red chile powder or red or green bell peppers, but plenty of ground turkey, Habanero peppers, white beans and cream). For that occasion I dubbed it “Hot Blond Chili.” It easily beat the pack of red chilis of beef, tomatoes and beans, which had to compete with each other while my oddball chili with the macho name got the crowd’s and the judges’ attention.


Last year, I again tried the ploy of submitting something different in a chili competition in Athens. My “Golden Chili” again stood out from the crowd. Unfortunately, the judges this time were looking for the best traditional chili -- red with beef and pinto or, possibly, black beans. I got nowhere, as did several wonderful green chili entries.

I’ll try again in another chili cook-off and hope for different judging criteria. Meanwhile, my current version of Golden Chili scores with members of my family. So here it is.

Generally, I don’t use bouillon-type cubes or other pre-mixed commercial seasonings in cooking. But Mexican and other Latin American cooks do use them, to give that “little extra” to their rice and bean dishes. So “When in Rome – or maybe in Ciudad Reynosa….” In this chili I use “Sazón Goya” (available in the Latin American food section of supermarkets) and “Achiote Condimentado” (at Mexican groceries), along with more standard ingredients.

The recipe serves six.

1 medium-large onion, finely chopped
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 large clove of garlic, minced
1 pound ground turkey (85% lean)
1 orange bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 packet Sazón Goya (see above)
2-1/2 teaspoons Achiote Condimentado (see above)
3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon (or more) cayenne or dry pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1/2 cup water plus more as needed
2 (14-ounce) cans great northern beans, drained and rinsed
3/4 cup sour cream
Crumbled “queso blanco” or “cotija” (Mexican-style crumbling cheese) for serving, optional

Fry onion in olive oil until it softens and begins to turn golden. Reduce heat. Add garlic and fry 1 minute, stirring frequently. Add ground turkey, increase the heat, and fry, breaking up the meat, until raw color is gone. Add diced orange bell pepper, seasonings and salt. Stir and fry briefly, then add the water.

Simmer covered, stirring occasionally, for about ten minutes, adding a little water as needed, so there is always a bit of liquid with the meat. Add drained beans. Heat together for five minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste and add salt if needed. Stir in sour cream and simmer several minutes. Taste for salt at end of cooking.

The chili is best made ahead and reheated to serve. Sprinkle lightly with crumbled Mexican-type cheese, if desired.


Chicken Enchiladas, New Mexico Style

My grandson, “Matty” (officially, Timothy Amatus), had a birthday coming up recently, and by our custom he got to choose the main course for the regular weekly family dinner that preceded his big day. Chicken enchiladas was his immediate request. “Enchilada,” by the way, is Mexican Spanish for “prepared in chiles.”

Dish: Maria Dondero, Marmalade Pottery, Athens GA
When I used to make enchiladas, which was only occasionally, I did the individually rolled-up style that is typical. But it’s pretty tedious when making a large batch. At our restaurant, Donderos’ Kitchen, we make enchiladas for the freezer for customers to take home, thaw and bake. Recently we started making them in the easier style that I encountered years ago in Albuquerque, New Mexico. But that turns out to be the more general New Mexico style. Basically the tortillas (of corn, not flour) are used like lasagna sheets with stacked layers of tortilla and filling with cheese and salsa, rather than stuffing and rolling individual tortillas.

For Matty’s enchiladas, the sauce I used was a tomato-based fresh salsa (like the one used for dipping tortilla chips into) to moisten the tortillas in the enchiladas, rather than the more typical New Mexico red chile, which is basically ground dry red chilies cooked into a sauce. (The salsa fresca I used was described in my blog post of 8/26/2019).

The recipe serves 6 for a main course or 12 for starter course. For dinner, accompany with rice cooked with salt and chicken broth plus a bean dish. Accompany with sour cream, lime wedges, and cilantro on the side.

1 1/2 pounds lightly roasted chicken breast* or 1 rotisserie chicken (use bones and skin for broth)
24 (4-inch) corn tortillas
4 cups tomato-based salsa (see my blog post of 8/26/2019 and make one batch, or use commercial medium-hot salsa)
1 pound grated Mexican-style cheese mix, Monterrey Jack or white cheddar
1 cup sour cream for serving

*If using home-roasted chicken, roast trimmed boneless and skinless breast halves sprinkled lightly with salt, paprika, ground allspice, cumin and oregano.

If using home-roasted chicken, cut it in thin slices and then crosswise into smaller pieces. If using rotisserie chicken, remove meat off chicken and cut meat into small chunks (reserve skin and bones for broth for cooking Mexican rice). Lightly salt cut-up chicken whether home-roasted or rotisserie.

Lightly oil a 9 by 12-inch casserole dish. Set oven for 350 degrees.

Spread 1/2 cup of salsa on the bottom of casserole. Lay six tortillas on the salsa. Distribute 1/3 of the chicken over the tortillas, then 1/4 of the cheese over the chicken. Distribute by spoonful 3/4 cup of salsa over the cheese. Follow with another layer of tortillas, then chicken, cheese and salsa. Repeat once more. Place the final six tortillas on top and smear their tops with the remaining 1 cup of salsa. Sprinkle the remaining cheese.

Bake at 350 degrees on the bottom shelf or the oven (so the bottom heats well and the cheese on top does not overcook) until thoroughly heated, bubbling and cheese begins to turn golden on top, 40-50 minutes.

Serve with rice cooked with chicken broth (see my blog post of YYYY) and a bean dish, such as “Drunken Beans” (see my blog post of 8/26/2019) or “Refritos” (see my blog post of WWWW).

Accompany with sour cream to top the served enchiladas. Accompany with lime wedges and cilantro leaves to sprinkle on.


“Drunken” Black Beans – “Frijoles Borrachos” -- with Vegetable Sofrito

This luscious dish has come a long way. The trouble is from my reading I can’t find out where the dish started its journey. I have not uncovered direct lineage back to Mexico or elsewhere in Latin America. What seems plausible culinarily is that Frijoles Borrachos started as slow-cooked Frijoles Charros (“Cowboy Beans”), a bonafide Mexican dish that I actually ate with a family there. The addition of beer and perhaps increasing the bacon makes the beans “drunken,” and I’m guessing this cute variation on Charros probably started in the US.

Bowl: Maria Dondero, Marmalade Pottery, Athens GA
As I said, the dish as I make it has come a long way. Mexican Charros beans are typically prepared from pinto or other tan-colored beans. “Drunken Beans” in all the recipes I’ve checked stick with pintos and add specifically Mexican beer. Like Charros, Borrachos typically have bacon and sometimes ham cooked in. On our most recent visit in Mexico, when my wife and I stayed with family friends in San Luis Potosí, the Charros they served with barbecue on Sunday were made with pintos. However, the family’s daily beans, always slow simmering on the stove, were black beans because of the grandmother’s influence. She came from Vera Cruz, near the Caribbean coast, where black beans are favored.

Black beans, with their rich, complex flavor, have become my favorites as well. Thus the drunken beans I make are drunken black beans. I’ve also “upgraded” the dish by using red wine rather than beer. And I’ve found that the typical bacon and ham are not necessary for great-tasting drunken black beans. And while I was not seeking a vegetarian bean dish, I stumbled into one, and it’s even a vegan. This much-modified dish with uncertain origins has become a family favorite. A similar, larger-scale version shows up for occasional specials at our restaurant, Donderos’ Kitchen.

A “sofrito,” or fried seasoning mixture, stirred into well-simmered beans in Spanish-Caribbean and Mexican cooking adds a fresh flavor shortly before serving. The best beans are cooked from scratch, after overnight soaking, but for convenience I use canned beans.

The recipe serves 8 as a side dish or for spooning onto tacos or nachos. Leftovers keep well in the refrigerator.
3 (14-ounce) cans black beans, drained and rinsed, set aside                                        
2 tablespoons olive oil                                                                                      
1/2 of a small-medium onion, finely diced (save remaining half for the sofrito)                
1 clove garlic, minced                                                                                                  
3/4 teaspoon salt, plus to taste                                                                                     
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves                                                                                         

In pot, gently fry the onion in olive oil until well softened. Stir in the garlic and fry gently 2 minutes. Add the drained beans, water up to 1/2 inch below the surface of the beans, the salt and ground cloves. Bring to a boil and simmer 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add a little water if liquid is drying down.

3 tablespoons olive oil                                                                                                  
1/2 small-medium onion, finely diced                                                                
1/2 red bell pepper, finely diced                                                                                   
1/2 medium Poblano pepper, finely diced (substitute is half a green bell pepper) 
1 large clove garlic minced                                                                                           
1/4 teaspoon salt                                                                                                         
1/4 teaspoon (or more) crushed red pepper or cayenne                                                
3/8 cup red wine                                                                                                                                                                                              
In a frying pan, fry the onion, bell and Poblano peppers and garlic in the oil, stirring frequently until vegetables are softened. Add salt, hot pepper and wine. Stir and fry about two minutes to dry it slightly.

Stir the sofrito into the cooked beans. Let simmer 5 minutes, stirring periodically. Add a little water, if necessary, to provide a little creaminess to the sauce around the beans. Taste and add salt, if needed.

Serve sprinkled with Mexican crumbling cheese and coarsely chopped cilantro leaves, if desired. Accompany with a salsa (green salsa preferred) plus wedges of lime to squeeze on.


“Fresh” Salsa, Mexican Restaurant Style

The salsa that is typically, and automatically, served with tortilla chips at Mexican American restaurants as soon as you sit down is loosely based on the real Mexican “Salsa Fresca.” However, in Mexico the real one is made entirely of fresh vegetables grilled over fire then peeled and ground with lime juice in a 3-legged, shallow stone mortar called a “Molcajete.” The salsa is often served directly out of the mortar. Mexican American restaurant salsa seems to use canned ground tomatoes and is made in large batches. It’s tastier at some restaurants more than at others.

Here is my version of Salsa Fresca, which can be used as a dip for tortilla chips, spooned onto tacos or fajitas, or used in various Mexican-type casseroles. At Donderos’ Kitchen we serve a fairly similar salsa as a condiment with our breakfast burritos, breakfast egg sandwiches and our various “griddles.”

The salsa will keep for several days in the refrigerator, but it’s freshest tasting the first day.

1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes (Hunts brand is pretty good)
1 small onion
1 medium-small fresh green jalapeño pepper (remove part of seeds if milder salsa is desired)
1 medium-small bunch cilantro (including the stems)
6 tablespoons fresh lime juice
3/4 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Place crushed tomatoes in a bowl.

In food processor (or on cutting board with a chef’s knife), finely mince together the onion, jalapeño and cilantro, scraping down inside of container. Add to the tomatoes. Add lime juice, salt, cumin and pepper.  Mix well.

Allow to sit 10 minutes. Stir well. Taste and add salt and/or lime juice to taste.
Chill several hours before using, for full flavor. Stir and taste before serving and add salt, if needed.


Pan-Fried Salmon with Brown Butter and Fried Capers (Saumon Grenobloise)

The traditional French method of making a sauce of “brown butter” for sautéed or pan-seared fish is remarkably easy. Brown butter, in French “Beurre Noisette” (literally hazelnut butter), is simply unsalted butter fried in a pan until the solid bits turn light brown. In its simplest form, with a little lemon juice and parsley, brown butter sauce is “Meunière,” most famous with sole. A slightly darker brown butter sauce with capers is “Grenobloise” (meaning in the style of Grenoble, a city in the Alps), which is a favorite French way of serving pan-fried trout. With the rich flavor of salmon I like a hint of rosemary.

Plate: Maria Dondero, Marmalade Pottery, Athens GA
This dish calls for chilled Chardonnay, my preference is for unoaked Chardonnay. Generally I’m not a fan of Chardonnay, especially if it has lots of buttery and vanilla oak overtones, but the rich fish plus the butter sauce call for Chardonnay. Alternately, a cold Viognier goes well.

The recipe is for four servings. For each diner, allow 4 ounces (1/4 pound) of fish.

1 pound salmon fillet, with or without skin
Salt and pepper
3 tablespoons capers, drained
12 tiny leaves stripped of a sprig of fresh rosemary (optional)
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1-tablespoon chunks
1 tablespoon vegetable oil

If fish is frozen, thaw it quickly in its plastic envelope in slowly running room-temperature water. Remove from envelope and pat fish dry with paper towel.

Sprinkle fish moderately on both sides with salt and pepper.

Prepare remaining ingredients and keep separate. Measure and drain capers. If using rosemary, pick 12 tiny leaves off a sprig. Squeeze lemon juice. Cut butter.

Heat frying pan, preferably non-stick, large enough to hold the fish, to medium high. Add oil and 2 tablespoons of the butter. When butter fully melts, fry fish on both sides, starting with the skinless side, if the skin is still attached. Scrape under it with a sharp spatula so fish doesn’t stick to pan. When fish is nearly cooked in middle (twist point of sharp knife in thickest part and look for changed color in middle), lift out onto a warm platter. (Before you do this, you can often scrape off the skin, if present.)

Remove any bits of skin or fish from the pan, and add the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter. Stir it over gentle heat until bits of solids turn golden brown. Add capers and rosemary and stir and fry for 15 seconds. Stir in lemon juice. Remove from heat. Taste for salt, and add a little if needed.

Spoon sauce and capers over the fish.


Rice Pilaf with Dried Fruits and Peas

This is a straightforward rice pilaf typical of Turkish and Persian cuisines (but made more simply than in Persian cooking). It is, however, very colorful with bits of vegetable and fruits. It goes well with grilled or stewed meat or chicken dishes. Persian “barberries,” the classic fruit for pilafs, are hard to find because of trade restrictions with Iran. Dried cranberries are now a typical American substitute, or chopped dried apricots can be used. The recipe serves six generously.

2 cups basmati or long grain rice
1-1/2 teaspoons salt        
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
3 cups water
Dish: Marmalade Pottery, Athens GA
1 medium small onion, finely chopped
3 tablespoons sweet red pepper, diced
1 clove garlic, crushed and minced
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup frozen peas, still frozen
1/3 cup yellow raisins
1/3 cup dried apricots (‘Turkish’ work well), coarsely chopped (or use dried cranberries)
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill or mint
Additional dill or mint for garnish

Rinse the rice well and drain. Put rinsed rice, water, salt, and 1 tablespoon olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pot and bring to a boil. Cover tightly, lower the heat to very low, and cook (without opening the lid) for 20 minutes. Do not open the pan, but let the rice sit 10 minutes more with heat off. (Alternatively, the rice can be cooked with the same ingredients in an electric rice cooker, not opening the lid until at least 10 minutes after the light goes off.)

Meanwhile, heat the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil and fry the onion until translucent and just beginning to turn golden. Add the minced red pepper and garlic and stir and fry for about 1 minute. Then add frozen peas and continue to heat, stirring frequently. As soon as the mixture is hot, add the raisins and the apricots or cranberries and let heat briefly. Remove from heat and stir in the black pepper, cinnamon, and dill or mint.
Fluff the rice with a two-pronged fork. Taste the rice and if not salted enough, add a little salt to the rice in the next step. In a large bowl toss the rice and the fruit-vegetable mixture together gently, being careful not to break the rice grains. Return the rice to the cooking pot (or rice cooker) for storage.

The rice can be served soon, or stored and later re-warmed in a microwave oven. Serve stacked up on a platter or dish rather than in a bowl. Garnish with a little fresh dill or mint, whichever was used in the rice.


Ratatouille, the Provençal medley of summer vegetables is traditionally vegan

Lately this summer I seem to be cooking a lot of Provençal dishes, maybe because of the ready availability of Mediterranean vegetables – zucchini, tomatoes, sweet peppers, eggplants, fresh herbs -- here now. But I also love food from Provence and the south of France generally.

Plate: Marmalade Pottery, Athens GA
A classically Mediterranean dish, ratatouille (ra-ta-tóo-ee) is as delicious and complex in flavor as it is colorful with the bright hues of summer. It also has one of the coolest names in the culinary world. The name derives from old Occitan through French and meant “tossed together.” It started as a peasant stew. The vegetable flavors stand out so richly, the absence of meat and dairy goes unnoticed.

The “trick” in making tasty ratatouille is soaking the cut eggplant in salted water before cooking to remove its bitterness. Ratatouille lends itself to either the vegetable course of a meal or to the buffet. The recipe serves six generously.

1 small-medium sized eggplant
4 very small zucchini or 2 medium-small ones
1 medium sweet red pepper
1 medium onion
1 large stick celery
2 medium-large tomatoes, or 1 (14-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 medium-large clove of garlic
4 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon oregano
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/8 teaspoon thyme
1 large pinch rosemary leaves (fresh preferred)
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus to taste
3 tablespoons capers, drained
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon fresh chopped parsley

Wash eggplant and cut off stem. Peel off four lengthwise strips of skin, leaving part of the skin in between. Cut eggplant lengthwise into quarters, through the peeled part. Cut the quarters into chunks 1-inch long. Soak eggplant 20-30 minutes in well-salted water to remove the bitter juices. Cut zucchini crosswise into 3/4-inch slices. Core red pepper and cut flesh into 1-inch squares. Chop onions coarsely. Cut celery into 1/2-inch lengths on a slight diagonal. If using fresh tomatoes, quarter them and push out the seeds with your fingers, and cut the tomato into 1/2-inch pieces. Mince garlic. Mix herbs and spices with salt in small bowl.

 In a large frying pan or shallow pot, heat olive oil and gently fry onion, stirring frequently, until translucent. Add garlic and celery and fry gently, stirring frequently, for 2 minutes. Drain eggplant pieces and add them plus zucchini to the pan. Stir and fry 2-3 minutes, adding a little water to keep from sticking. Add red pepper plus herb mixture, and several tablespoons of water. Cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are becoming tender (10-15 min). Add tomatoes and a little salt. When vegetables are tender, stir in capers. Taste and if necessary add a little more salt. Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice, sugar and parsley.

This can be served hot now, or cooled and served warm later. When serving, drizzle with a little olive oil and chopped parsley.


Provençal Cauliflower Gratin: A Dazzling Vegetarian Dish

The wonderful vegetable casseroles of southeastern France, particularly of Provence and Savoie, known as “Gratin” range from Au Gratin Potatoes made with either milk (“scalloped” in American terminology) or chicken broth (“Pommes Savoyarde”) to Cauliflower Gratin (“Gratin de Choux Fleur”) to eggplant gratin (Gratin d’Aubergine) to Provençal Tomatoes (Tomates Provençal). All share cheese and breadcrumbs and are baked in shallow dishes. All are delicious and satisfying.

Here’s a colorful summer Provençal version based on cauliflower baked in milk with cheese, but topped with thick slices of tomato, breadcrumbs and olive oil that melt into the casserole. It’s sort of a hybrid of cauliflower au gratin and Tomates Provençal. In a way it’s the best of both worlds, with both Mediterranean and more inland French elements.

The recipe serves six to eight as a side dish for dinner or as a lunch accompanied by a salad. Red wine goes with this dish, Côtes du Rhône being the most regionally appropriate.

1 medium-large cauliflower
2 cups (loose) grated Gruyère and/or other Swiss cheese (1/4-1/3 pound), part saved for topping
1/2 teaspoon salt for the cauliflower plus 3/4 teaspoon for the sauce
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons flour
2 cups whole milk
1/8 teaspoon white or black pepper
1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg
4 large or 6 Roma-type tomatoes, as ripe as possible
1/2 cup plain breadcrumbs moistened with 2 tablespoons olive oil plus 1/4 teaspoon of salt
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped parsley for topping

Set the oven for 375 degrees.

Cut the cauliflower into 1-1/2-inch flowerets, and steam it 3 minutes or until just tender. Test for doneness with a fork or tooth pick. Place the steamed vegetable in an attractive casserole dish large enough to make a tightly packed single layer. Sprinkle it with about 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Distribute about three-quarters of the grated cheeses evenly over the vegetable.

Prepare the béchamel sauce:  In a heavy pan over a medium setting heat the olive oil with the flour, and cook the mixture for 2 minutes, stirring. With a whisk, mix in the milk, raise the heat a little and continue to whisk until the sauce comes to a boil. Let it simmer until thickened, 2-3 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in 3/4 teaspoon salt, plus the pepper and nutmeg. (If the vegetable is still being steamed, let the sauce cool, whisking it from to time to time so that a skin does not form.) 

When the vegetable is prepared and the cheese is on it, spoon the sauce evenly over top. Remove tough core from the tomatoes and slice tomatoes crosswise a little over 1/4-inch thick. Lay slices close to each other on top of the cauliflower. Sprinkle lightly with salt.

In a bowl, mix the breadcrumbs with the olive oil, salt and reserved cheese. Distribute the mixture evenly over the tomatoes. Finish by drizzling a little olive oil over the topping. Sprinkle with chopped parsley.

Bake on a middle shelf of the oven until the sauce is bubbling, the tomatoes soften, and the surface begins to brown, about 30-40 minutes. Serve hot. Or the dish can be cooled, refrigerated, and re-baked long enough to heat through.


Provençal Pistou and Pâte au Pistou (French-Provençal noodles dressed with Pistou)

Pistou, the (French) Provençal version of Pesto alla Genovese, omits the pine nuts or walnuts in the Italian original. It can be used on pasta (pâte), or spread on toast crusts (croûte) for the traditional Provençal fish soups, or simply spread thinly on crusty bread for an appetizer treat.

Bowl: Marmalade Pottery, Athens GA
Pistou-dressed pasta can serve as its own course or as a side dish with a strongly flavored meat course.

I like some cilantro in it, even if it isn’t traditional.

Pistou sauce
1 1⁄2 cups fresh basil leaves, lightly packed
1⁄2 cup parsley leaves, flat “Italian” type preferred, lightly packed
1⁄2 cup cilantro leaves, lightly packed (optional)
1 medium-large cloves garlic, peeled
1⁄4 cup extra virgin olive oil
3⁄4 teaspoon salt, plus more for boiling pasta
1⁄2 cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese

Put basil, parsley, cilantro, garlic, oil and salt in a food processor or blender. Pulse it a number of times, scraping down the container with a spatula. Do not purée the herbs, but chop them until they are tiny specks.

Remove the mixture to a bowl. Stir in the cheese. Taste a little (it’s strongly flavored), and add salt if necessary.

(Use as is for a spread.) If making the pasta dish:

12 ounces narrow flat noodles (fettuccini, narrow egg noodles, etc.)

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add 1-1⁄2 tablespoons salt. Add pasta and stir well immediately so it doesn’t stick together. Let boil, stirring frequently. When pasta is tender to the bite, remove 1⁄4 cup of the pasta-boiling water and stir it into the pistou.

Drain pasta in a colander, shaking once or twice, and transfer it to a large serving bowl. Toss pasta with the diluted pistou. Taste, and add a little salt if needed.


Oven-Roasted Chicken Medallions with Fresh Herbs: A light treat

This recipe is based on a style we use at the restaurant, Donderos’ Kitchen, for roasting medallions of chicken breast with various seasonings. After they marinate, we roast them on an upper shelf in a hot oven on big pans because frying chicken in the quantities we do, ten, twenty or more pounds, is not practical.  The texture of the chicken and the seasonings that penetrate the chicken make this method of cooking desirable, even for smaller than restaurant quantities.

Platter: Marmalade Pottery, Athens GA
Fresh herbs, finely chopped and marinated with the chicken, along with lemon juice and olive oil give an Italian quality to the dish. The cornstarch, which is a Chinese cooking trick, helps seal the outside of the chicken and keep the juiciness inside.

The recipe serves six to eight people when accompanied by side dishes. Rice or a lightly dressed pasta dish are a good accompaniment.

A hearty, chilled white wine, like a Viognier or unoaked Chardonnay, goes with this, as does a light-bodied red like a Pinot Noir, Beaujolais or Chianti.

2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 medium-large clove of garlic, through garlic press or finely minced
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 1/2 tablespoons freshly chopped mixed herbs (such as parsley, rosemary, oregano, thyme, mint, dill, basil)
1/4 teaspoon crushed hot pepper
3/8 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
Parsley sprigs, for garnish

(Prepare and marinate chicken well ahead of cooking time, even up to 8 hours, refrigerated.) 

Trim away any tough parts and excess fat from chicken breasts. Cut meat on an angle into medallion (pillow-shaped) pieces about 2-inches square and 3/4-inch thick. Place in a bowl.

Mix with all other ingredients, except garnish. Cover bowl with plastic wrap or transfer chicken and marinade to a zip-lock plastic food bag. Store cold. Mix chicken from time to time for even seasoning, or squeeze the contents of the bag to mix.

Heat oven to 450 (and temporarily turn off smoke detector). Place chicken on a large pizza pan or cookie sheet, with the pieces separated. They may need to be done in two batches. Roast one pan at a time on the highest rack in the oven for 6 minutes. Turn pieces with spatula. Roast for 5 minutes more, or until chicken is done when a piece is cut in half.

Serve hot on a platter. Garnish with parsley sprigs.

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