October 25, 2013

Cooking the Books: Basmati & Wild Rice with Chickpeas, Currants, & Herbs from "Jerusalem"

I recently introduced "Cooking the Books", a new monthly series where I'll share three recipes from a cookbook on my shelf. This month I'm cooking from Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi's Jerusalem, a book that won my heart with last week's astounding Pistachio Soup. Today's recipe, Basmati & Wild Rice with Chickpeas, Currants, & Herbs, is featured in Jerusalem's "Grains" chapter. A fragrant pilaf of rice, legumes, and fried onions, the dish feels like the Sephardic equivalent of the Arabic Mujaddara. The flavors are subtle, but complex: cumin and curry-scented chickpeas, sweet currants, caramel-y onions, and a hint of grassy herbs. It's a dish whose textures are as important as its flavors - the toothsome rice, creamy chickpeas, crisp onions, and chewy currants play off one another, making each bite interesting. The dish is a filling, "comfort food" entree, but would also work beautifully as a side dish in smaller portions.

Here are my recipe notes:

1.  The recipe has four separately-cooked components - wild rice, basmati rice, spiced chickpeas, and fried onions - meaning you can go through a lot of pots and pans while making it. I used the same pot for making both kinds of rice and the same pan for making both the chickpeas and the onions to reduce the kitchen clean-up a bit, which worked well.

2.  The recipe calls for white basmati rice, but I chose to use brown basmati rice (it's what I had on hand, and Daniel actually prefers brown rice over white). Either will work, though the extra cooking time for the brown rice does mean a little more time in the kitchen. As expected, brown basmati rice adds a nutty flavor and chewy texture, which both Daniel and I enjoyed in this dish.

3.  The fried onions are supposed to be deep fried in 3/4 cup of oil, which I blatantly ignored. I really hate wasting so much oil for such a small amount of food (throwing all that oil away just kills me). Instead, I used 1 tablespoon of oil and pan-fried them until they developed a deeply golden sear on all sides. Plenty rich-tasting, better for you, cheaper, and easier to clean up. I also used cornstarch instead of wheat flour when dredging the onions, just to keep the dish 100% gluten-free.

Basmati & Wild Rice with Chickpeas, Currants, & Herbs
slightly adapted from Jerusalem
serves 6-8

1/3 cup wild rice
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 cup white or brown basmati rice
2/3 cup dried currants
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1 1/2 teaspoons curry powder
1 1/2 cups cooked and drained chickpeas (canned are fine)
1 medium onion, halved and thinly sliced
1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
1 tablespoon chopped dill
salt and black pepper

Put the wild rice in a medium saucepan with a tight-fitting lid and cover generously with water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer covered for 30-40 minutes, until grains beginning to split open and taste fully cooked but firm. Drain and set aside in large bowl.

Return same saucepan to medium heat and add one tablespoon of oil, followed by the basmati rice and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Cook the rice for 3-5 minutes, stirring frequently, until fragrant and toasted. Add water (1 1/2 cups for white rice; a scant 2 cups for brown rice), cover, bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until rice has absorbed all the water (15 minutes for white rice; 30-40 minutes for brown rice). Remove from heat, add currants, and fluff with a fork. Cover with lid and allow rice and currants to steam for 5-10 minutes.

While rice is cooking, make the chickpeas and onions. In a large skillet, heat one tablespoon of oil over medium-high heat. Add the cumin seeds and curry powder and cook briefly (30-60 seconds) until sizzling and fragrant. Add the chickpeas and 1/4 teaspoon salt, stir to coat in oil and spices, and cook for 2-3 minutes, until heated through. Transfer chickpeas to the bowl of wild rice (be sure to get all that spiced oil out, too… there's good flavor in there!).

In a medium bowl, toss the sliced onions with the cornstarch until evenly coated. Return the large skillet to medium-high heat and add the remaining tablespoon of oil. When oil is shimmering, add the onions and toss to coat in the oil. Cook for 7-10 minutes, tossing occasionally, until onions are well-seared and tender. You want them to be deeply golden and somewhat crisp but not burned, so keep an eye on things and adjust heat as necessary. Once done, season with a pinch of salt and transfer the onions to the bowl of wild rice and chickpeas.

Add the chopped herbs, basmati rice, and currants to the bowl of wild rice, chickpeas, and onions and toss to combine all ingredients. Taste for seasoning and adjust as necessary. Dish is best served warm or at room temperature, and can be kept in the fridge for about 5 days.

October 21, 2013

Recipe: Chinese Beef-less Broccoli Stir-fry

 Last week I was craving Chinese take-out like nobody's business. I was not, however, craving the stomach ache I am often plagued with after consuming its glorious, greasy goodness. I've made a couple "homemade take-out" dishes before (namely Vegan Pad Thai and Kung Pao Tofu) and been really happy with them, so I decided to give another classic take-out dish a go - Beef with Broccoli.

Beef with Broccoli is a stir-fry dish common in Chinese restaurants in the States. It's simple and flavorful - seared strips of beef and tender-crisp broccoli florets are stir-fried in a glossy dark sauce and served over rice. To make a vegan version, I replaced the beef with slices of portobello mushroom caps, which have a juicy, "meaty" chew when seared in a nice hot pan. The sauce is a crazy-simple concoction of soy sauce and balsamic vinegar (standing in for harder-to-find Chinese Black Vinegar) thickened with a traditional cornstarch slurry. A bit of garlic and ginger bring the dish together with their pungent, spicy kick.

The dish takes all of 15 minutes, giving you just enough time to cook up a small pot of white rice or quinoa to serve alongside it. Faster than ordering take-out, just as tasty, and WAY better for you. Weeknight dinner win, yes?

Chinese Beef-less Broccoli Stir-fry
Serves 2-3

2 large portobello mushroom caps
1/2 pound broccoli, cut into bite-size florets
1/4 cup water
2 teaspoons high-heat cooking oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger (I use a microplane)

For the Sauce:
1 teaspoon cornstarch
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
1/8 teaspoon black pepper

To prepare the mushrooms, pop off the stems and scoop out the gills with a spoon. Slice each mushroom cap in half, then slice each half into 1/2-inch wide strips (see photo above for reference). Set aside for the moment. To make the sauce, add cornstarch and water to a small bowl, stirring to dissolve cornstarch before adding soy sauce, vinegar, and pepper. Stir to combine, then set aside.

Bring a large pan with a tight-fitting lid over medium heat. Once hot, add the broccoli and water, cover immediately, and steam for 3 minutes (broccoli will be bright green but crisp). Transfer broccoli to a colander and return empty pan to heat.

Add oil to pan and swirl to coat. When oil is shimmering, add sliced mushrooms in an even layer (trying not to overlap) and cook undisturbed for 2-3 minutes, until mushrooms have nicely seared. Flip slices, then cook for an additional 3-5 minutes, tossing occassionally, until mushrooms are deeply golden on all sides and tender. Just before the mushrooms are done, add the garlic and ginger and cook until fragrant (30-60 seconds). Return the broccoli to the pan, followed by the sauce. Sauce will thicken almost immediately, so quickly toss to coat the mushrooms and broccoli and promptly remove from heat. Serve with rice or quinoa.

October 18, 2013

Cooking the Books: Pistachio Soup from "Jerusalem"

Today I'd like to introduce a new series of posts called "Cooking the Books", where I'll share three recipes from a single cookbook over the course of each month. It's inspired in part by one of the first food blogs I started reading - Heidi Swanson's 101 Cookbooks. Much like Heidi, I found myself with a bookshelf full of cookbooks that I cooked from all too rarely. Browsed for inspiration? Sure. Actually cooked from? Embarrassingly little. So I've decided to start cooking, one book at a time, and share those meals with you.

My cookbook collection includes a broad range of culinary perspectives -  meaning a fair amount of my cookbooks aren't vegan. That said, I'll only be featuring recipes that are naturally vegan or those I've "veganized" with a simple change or two. You might be surprised at how many vegan recipes sneak their way into a "traditional" cookbook!

The first book on my list is the much-acclaimed Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. The book is stunning, with beautiful photos and prose that introduce you to the complex culture, history, and people of Jerusalem via the region's ethnically diverse cuisine. It’s as much an anthropological study of the city as it is a cookbook, which only makes me love it more. Jerusalem features 120 recipes, many of which place vegetables, grains, and beans front and center. My first time through, I earmarked 42 recipes that caught my eye.

The first recipe I made ended up being served to a group of twenty-odd strangers at a dinner party! Just as I was beginning to plan this series, I discovered that The Pantry, a local cooking school/community kitchen, was hosting a series of cookbook club potluck dinners. What cookbook was featured in September? Why, Jerusalem, of course! I scoured the cookbook for a unique vegan (or veganizable) recipe to share with the group and landed on page 138 - Pistachio Soup.

The recipe's introduction describes the soup as a traditional Iranian Jewish dish that "reveals its true glory" with the simple addition of fresh orange juice. It's a dish easily made vegan by replacing chicken stock with a light vegetarian stock, so I pulled out my favorite vegan bouillon and got to work. Here are my thoughts:

1.  This recipe is GOLD. It is, without a doubt, one of the most delicious and interesting things I've ever eaten. Pureed pistachios give the soup a decadent, creamy texture that's accented by succulent little ribbons of leek and bits of soft shallot. The pure pistachio flavor - delicate, vaguely floral, nutty - becomes other-worldly when joined by smoky cumin, spicy ginger, and a bright citrus punch from orange and lemon juice. The resulting soup is comforting but exotic - a stand out dish, perfect for a special occasion. 

2.  This recipe is not inexpensive - but that's easily fixed. The original recipe calls for saffron and a half pound of pistachios, which can add up quickly if you don't already have them in your pantry. For the potluck, I made the recipe to spec and included the saffron. While I do think it pumps up the color of the soup, I felt the saffron flavor was lost in the magical combination of pistachio-cumin-ginger-citrus. When I made the soup again, I left out the saffron entirely to no ill effects. Let's save that insanely expensive spice for recipes where it really shines.

3.  The recipe as written is a bit time intensive - but there's a shortcut! The original calls for blanching shelled raw pistachios, removing the papery skins, and then roasting them in the oven. I did all this the first time around, and it's more than a little tedious. The next time I bought pre-shelled, roasted, unsalted pistachios, making life a million times easier. Trader Joe's sells an 8 ounce bag for $4.99, which measures out just a tad shy of the 1 2/3 cups called for (close enough). If you don't have a TJ's nearby, the widely-available Wonderful Pistachios brand sells bags of shelled, roasted pistachios that are salted, so you'll want to give those a thorough rinsing to remove some of the salt and keep a close eye on the sodium levels in your broth to avoid an over-salted soup.

4.  Pistachio soup is RICH. Really, really rich, in fact - making it better enjoyed in smaller servings. If you're serving it as a meal in and of itself, the recipe yields 4 "large" (1 cup) servings. As an appetizer or part of a light lunch, a "small" (2/3 cup) serving is plenty. My adapted recipe reduces the butter called for by half and I didn't notice a difference in richness - the pistachios do the heavy lifting.

Pistachio Soup
adapted from Jerusalem
makes 4 large (1 cup) servings or 6 small (2/3 cup) servings

1 tablespoon nondairy butter or olive oil
4 shallots, finely chopped
1 large leek, halved lengthwise, rinsed well, and finely sliced (1 1/4 cups total)
1 ounce fresh ginger, grated on a microplane or peeled and minced
2 teaspoons ground cumin
3 cups "chicken"-style vegetable stock (I used 3 cups water plus 2 teaspoons bouillon paste)
1 2/3 cups shelled roasted & unsalted pistachios (about 8 ounces)
1/3 cup freshly squeezed orange juice (1 very large or 2 small oranges should do)
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Bring a large saucepan or dutch oven over medium heat and melt butter. Add the shallots, leek, ginger, and cumin, along with a pinch of salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Saute for 5-10 minutes, keeping the heat low enough to soften the vegetables without turning them golden. Add the stock, reduce heat to low, and simmer covered for 15 minutes.

When the soup is done simmering, grab your blender and a clean dishcloth. Add the pistachios and half of the soup (a scant 2 cups) to the blender. Remove the center piece of the blender's lid, cover hole with the dishcloth, and puree for a good minute or so, until the pistachio mixture is extremely smooth. Add the mixture back to the remaining soup, followed by the orange and lemon juice. Stir to combine and reheat. Adjust seasoning as necessary - I've found that some additional grinds of pepper are a nice finishing touch. You can serve the soup immediately, but it will keep nicely in the fridge for about 5 days. The soup tends to thicken up a bit with time, but adding a teaspoon or so of water when reheating will loosen things up.