Archives for the month of: March, 2012

Falafel aren’t the sort of thing you would think to make at home. First of all they are fried, and fried can be very controverisial. There are the people who love fried, wanna marry it, have it’s babies and dip them in batter and fry them. Then there are the people who eschew it either for health reasons or simply because they don’t want to stink up their houses in the process.I’m not going to go all Paula Deen on you and try and convince you that you should eat fried foods every day, but a little fried never hurt no one, especially if you don’t eat processed fried foods and the fried food in question happens to be chock full of dietary fiber, folate, magnesium and vitamin C. Chickpeas are very nutritious. And cheap. You can balance out the fried with a myriad of salads and pickles to be served in the pita along with them.

As far as the frying thing goes, I like to make flat patties instead of spheres, so you don’t actually have to deep fry, therefore using less oil. It would be like making chicken cutlets. I can’t really help the smell in the house thing but to me I happen to think it smells good! It’s not like it’s a scallop or something (which might be the worst after cooking smell EVER!)

So just to be clear, falafel are Middle Eastern patties or balls of chickpeas and herbs, fried  and served with salads and sauces, sometimes in a pita. And my answer to the inevitable question of whether you can use canned chickpeas or not is an emphatic NO! First of all, you will never be able to get the texture you want out of canned chickpeas. They are wetter, almost mushy and already cooked. Secondly, the flavor of dry chickpeas is so much better than canned.  Thirdly, you really aren’t saving yourself anything by using canned. Canned are more expensive and it’s not like you have to cook the dry ones first, you just soak them the day before and then grind them up. Easy.

My favorite recipe is Mark Bittman’s, published in the New York Times in 2008. I use that as a guideline, with a few touches of my own. I don’t like ones that have breadcrumb or flour in them. It definitely makes the batter easier to handle but I find that it makes the falafel too dense. If you make patties instead of balls, it will be easier to handle anyway.

Falafel

Adapted from Mark Bittman for the New York Times, 2008

serves 2 adults, 1 toddler and leftovers

1 and 3/4 C dried chickpeas, soaked overnight

2 cloves garlic, lightly crushed

1 small onion, quartered

1 teaspoon coriander, ground

1 tablespoon cumin, ground

cayenne to taste

1 cup chopped parsley or cilantro leaves or 1/2 cup each

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 tablespoon lemon juice

Neutral oil, for frying*

1. Cover chickpeas in a non-reactive bowl or container with 4X the amount of water to beans. Refrigerate overnight uncovered. This will hydrate the chickpeas and get them ready for cooking. This is pretty standard procedure for any dry bean. Chickpeas will double or triple in volume as they take in the water. You don’t cover them because they can ferment.

2. The next day drain beans well discarding liquid. Some people like to save the liquid and use it, but although there is a slight loss of nutrients there are also compounds in the liquid that cause flatulence and by discarding it you reduce the likelihood of it.

3. Place beans in a food processor and add all the remaining ingredients except spices and oil and Falafel "batter" after grindingpulse. You want to chop all of the ingredients finely but not make a puree. You may have to do it in batches, and you will probably have to scrape down the edges of the bowl a few times in between pulsing. If you absolutely must, add a few drops of water to get it going, but the more water you add, the harder the mixture is going to be to work with, and then you might have to add a bit of flour to get it to bind up again.

4. Once mixture has come together, transfer to a bowl and add your spices, season with a bit of salt and cayenne to taste. You can taste the batter raw, it’s not going to hurt you, it’s just going to be mealy, but you can get an idea. I also always like to fry one off as a test to really see how it’s going to taste, so you don’t end up cooking an entire batch of underseasoned falafel.

5. Heat about an inch of oil in a saute pan with sides. You want the oil to be shimmering. Test the oil by adding a pattie. It should start sizzling immediately. If your oil is too cool, your patties will soak up too much oil and fall apart. Conversely, if too hot, you will get brown too quickly before the inside is cooked and could even burn. You want the oil about 350 degrees if you have a thermometer.

6. Shape patties by using a tablespoon, scooping some batter up and using the palm of your other hand to smooth the edge. The batter is wet, so you can’t pick it up and roll it like a meatball. In falafel houses they will often use an icecream scooper and drop the scoops into the deep fryer. So scoop instead with your tablespoon, round it with the palm of your other hand, and then gently hold the spoon horizontally over the pan of oil and shimmy it in. If your oil is nice and hot it will start to cook it immediately setting the shape. Continue doing this so that your pan is full, but not crowded. It is important you don’t crowd the pan, or your oil will cool down, the steam emitting will get caught between instead of evaporating and the falafel will become soggy and fall apart. It’s not that hard, I’m just giving you all the information you need.

7. Flip them over when they are golden brown and cook the other side.frying falafel

8. Drain on paper towels when evenly browned and sprinkle with salt while still hot.

* For frying, you not only want a neutral oil, but you want one with a high smoke point. Olive oil does not have a high smoke point and is not suitable for frying. Canola oil, grapeseed oil and corn oil are all better choices, but you need to be careful of where you buy them from. If you would like more information on this subject you can read it here.

I serve them with whole wheat pita and salads. On the simple end you can just cube up tomatoes and cucumbers, shave some red onion and sprinkle with salt and pepper, maybe some lemon juice. Shaved savoy cabbage tossed with a little red wine vinegar is really good too. If you’re feeling adventurous you can pickle some beets, turnips or carrots, with cumin and serve those. As for the sauces they are super easy.

For the tahini sauce, you buy sesame paste (tahini) and mix it with about equal parts water. The tahini behaves weird when you add water to it. It starts out looking smooth and pourable, then you add water and it seizes up and becomes all pasty. Keep stirring it vigorously and adding water, a little at a time until it becomes a smooth loose sauce. Season with salt to taste, fresh squeezed lemon juice and I also like to grate some garlic in there with a fine grater or microplane.

I also love to make a tzakiki or raita type yoghurt sauce. If you buy full fat greek yoghurt, (like Fage total) it is the absolute perfect consistency and doesn’t need to be drained. I love the stuff but it’s not what I use on a regular basis for my normal yoghurt eating needs because in around 2008 it’s popularity forced production out of Greece and into upstate NY. I did some research trying to find out if they are using grass-fed milk, including writing to the company and they never got back to me, which basically tells me they don’t. It’s highly unlikely that a large processing facility owned by Dannon in New York is using grass-fed milk, especially if it’s not labeled as so. It does say that they don’t use the rGBH hormone, which is a good start I guess.  rGBH is a hormone that cows are given to keep them lactating year round, because just as humans, even if the demand is there, our supply will dwindle and even dry up over time, especially if it’s not a baby suckling and instead a machine. rGBH has been thought to pass into our bodies through milk and be the cause of early puberty in girls that has become a staggering epidemic in this country. The FDA issued a statement saying that they have found no difference between cows given the hormone and not, which means absolutely nothing. They need to protect their interests, being big dairy industry and Monsanto (who if I’m not mistaken are the manufacturers of the hormone) and they haven’t done any solid reseasrch on the subject, they just haven’t received any proof saying otherwise. But I digress. For this application, I have yet to find a grass-fed organic yoghurt that is thick and luscious so when I make falafel I still use the Greek stuff and for my daily needs I go with something else.

Back to the sauce: finely dice up some red onion and toss it with fresh lemon to marinate for a bit. Mix into the yoghurt. You want it to be chunky but still have room for the herbs- I like to use mint, and a lot of it. Shred the mint finely with a sharp knife and mix in. Add a pinch of ground cumin  and if you like it spicy, a bit of cayenne. Season with salt and pepper to taste. If you need a bit more lemon add it. This dip has so many uses. My husband hates yoghurt but loves this dip and can find so many creative things to rip apart and dredge in it.

Like I mentioned before, you can serve the falafel in pita with a simple cubed up salad of tomatoes, cucumbers and red onion. Or you can go a bit more fancy and pickle some turnips, beets or carrots.

Falafel hold leftover fantastically. They stay crispy and heat up well. We always have leftovers with this recipe and love eating them the next day.

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I love meatloaf.

Let me rephrase that. I love GOOD meatloaf. Growing up my mother would make a giant meatball, with lots of Pecorino Romano and breadcrumbs, covered in tomato sauce sometimes, surrounded by peas other times. If there were any leftovers to be had it made a fantastic sandwich, on crusty sesame sprinkled semolina bread smothered in melted mozzarella.

Nowadays my meatloaf has evolved, as it’s a great place to hide veggies from a finicky toddler. The addition of ground flaxseed gives it a nuttiness and adds nutritious omega 3’s, a compound found in oily fish, like sardines, that we don’t get enough of in our diet. Omega 3’s also contain DHA, which expecting moms know from taking prenatal vitamins, is essential for a child’s brain development.  Flaxseed also contains fiber, and other compounds that have been thought to fight cancer.

Using grass-fed beef as opposed to conventional beef also makes it much healthier for you. Cows are ruminants, which are animals that have a second-stomach like organ that enables them to digest grass, something humans can’t do. Conventionally raised beef isn’t fed grass, in fact, they are raised nowhere near grass, and eat corn and other manufactured meal (which we won’t speak of) instead. This results in a fattier, unhealthy cow. Because the animals aren’t eating all that chlorophyll goodness that they are supposed to, the meat is higher in cholesterol and not nearly as nutrient dense. If you would like to read more about it I recommend Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma.

Anyhow, good meat isn’t cheap, but ground beef is on the lower end of the spectrum so it’s a regular part of our meal rotation. We make many different kinds of meatloaf depending on the season and our moods. This recipe is made with just carrots, onion, and celery, which is classic mirepoix. In the summer I will sometimes make it with diced bell peppers and zucchini or even jalapeño to give it spice. I had Gruyère in the fridge, as I often do, so that is what I used. It’s not necessary though. Grated Parmigiano Reggiano is a fine substitute.  Worcestershire sauce and tomato paste give it the acidity and sweetness that people usually use ketchup for. I use a homemade Worcestershire-like sauce that my friend Jori Jayne Emde makes called #4 sauce that doesn’t have any weird ingredients in it. You can read more about it here. Balsamic Vinegar does the same sort of job if you need to substitute.

We usually make a pound of meat at a time for the three of us but it is gone in a night and we are being deprived of those coveted leftovers we spoke of earlier. I’ve upped it to two so we’ll see how that goes. We’ve made it work to feed four with an abundance of delicious sides.

Meatloaf with Veggies, Flaxseed and Gruyère

serves 3-4

3 medium carrots

1 medium onion

2 celery stalks

2 cloves garlic

1 lb. grass-fed beef, ground

2 tablespoons fresh oregano leaves, chopped

1/2 cup ground flaxseed (you buy them already ground)

1 cup Gruyère, diced

1/4 c breadcrumb

 2 tablespoons tomato paste

1/3 cup Worcestershire sauce

salt and pepper to taste

2 eggs

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

2. Rough chop carrots, onions and celery and pulse separately in food processor until fine but not pureed. I like to do them all separately because you have more control that way. However my machine is very small. If yours is very large you can add them all together and just pulse in spurts until chopped but not pureed. Garlic can be smashed with the side of the knife, skin removed and chopped with the onion.

3. Add vegetable mixture to bowl. Add all remaining ingredients and mix. Season with Salt and Pepper.  I like to mix with a gloved hand so that you are sure everything is really incorporated. Also, you want to make sure you have mixed it until it all starts to bind together. Mixture will become assimilated and sticky to the touch.

4. In a small sauté pan cook off a tablespoon of the mix in a drop of oil to check for seasoning. This is an important step. Any time I make any kind of ground meat recipe (meatloaf, meatballs, sausage etc.) I always cook some off because if you don’t have the mixture perfectly seasoned and you cook the whole thing, you are screwed.

5. Season with salt and pepper and taste again. Do this until it’s where you want it.

6. Press mixture into a loaf pan or a corningware. Most people make meatloaf on a flat cookie sheet. When you do that the fat and juices tend to run out of the meatloaf leaving it dry, and your pan burnt. If you put it in some sort of mold, you contain all of the liquid. The juices reduce and leave the flavor concentrated in the meat and the whole thing sort of cooks in the fat leaving it moist and delicious.

7. Bake at 450 for about 35 minutes. I make it in a loaf pan. But different factors affect the cooking time like the pan you use, (if you use a wider, flatter pan it could take a shorter time or pan material) or the calibration of the oven. Meatloaf should be cooked through, without pink inside. You want to cook it to about 155 degrees on an instant read thermometer. Then take it out and let it rest for about 10 minutes where it will continue to rise in temperature (called carry-over cooking) and the juices will redistribute as it cools. If you don’t have a thermometer insert a paring knife into the center and hold it there for a few seconds. Then touch the knife to your bottom lip. If the knife feels hot to you, it’s cooked. Body temp is 98.5 degrees. If the knife only feels warm, it’s probably about 120 and needs to cook more.

It’s winter, even though it doesn’t feel like it here in New York.  In the restaurant industry that means the inevitable million different iterations of butternut squash because that’s what is in season. I’m not quite sick of it yet so last night we did butternut squash risotto because, well, that was what we had in the house. My daughter will always eat rice, and because of the creamy nature of risotto, it has less of a tendency to end up flung around the house then say, rice pilaf. Or quinoa. Which I love but holy crap what a mess.

Another plus is that you don’t have to peel the butternut squash, or try to whittle a large lightbulb shaped mass into neat little cubes. You just half the squash lengthwise, scoop out the seeds and roast it, flesh side down on a cookie sheet. What you end up with is a luscious almost purée that has enough richness on its own you don’t have to add much butter and parmigiano to finish the risotto.

Risotto is made with Italian fino or superfino rice which has the characteristic of absorbing liquid and releasing starch, thus plumping the rice and forming a creamy sauce around, all while keeping the integrity of the rice intact. Don’t try to make it with another type of rice, you will be disappointed. However, you can apply the technique to other grains such as farro, wheatberries, or fregola and end up with a similar result. In the grocery store you’ll probably see the three most common types of rice for risotto, Arborio, Carnaroli and Vialone Nano. I suggest Carnaroli because it is the most forgiving, meaning that when the rice is ready it has less of a tendency to overcook, a common malady of the other types of rice.

What I also tell my students is that making risotto is a technique more than a recipe. The amount of stock to add is never cut and dry- it varies according to the rice (different batches will absorb liquid differently), the pot you are using (a higher sided pot will allow slower evaporation of liquid than a low sided one) and how high your heat is, among other things. Learn to look at and taste your rice- that is how even the professionals know that it is done. It should have bite but not stick in your teeth or be crunchy. It should always be creamy.

Leftover risotto can be spread out on a cookie sheet covered with parchment and cooled. You then make balls out of them, coat them with a breading of a sort and fry them. They are called arancini or suppli, depending on where you are (or risotto croquettes:) ) If you make them flat like little hamburgers you can use less oil and shallow fry them.

I usually figure about 4 oz of dry rice per person for a mid size portion. But if there is only a little more left in the box after that I always cook it.

Stock is a very important part of the risotto making process. Chicken stock is often used in most recipes, even vegetable ones,  because it is fairly neutral in flavor but adds a nice foundation to the rice. You don’t want the stock to be really aggressive and overpowering. If you don’t make your own, the boxed stocks or broths are better than the can. Some brands I have used are Pacific Organic and Brad’s and they are fine. Vegetable stock can work well too if you make your own. The store-bought brands tend to taste too tomato-ey or just plain gross so taste it before you use it so you don’t ruin the rice. You don’t want something too salty either, in fact, no salt in the broth works just fine, you just have to season in the pot each time you add liquid. If the stock is too seasoned add water to it. Remember, you don’t need a super intense stock. If all else fails and you have only water, you could get away with it, certainly if you are adding butternut squash to it which will impart tons of flavor. When I made this it was actually a rare occasion I had no stock in my freezer or cabinet so I make a quick one of carrot, celery and onion trimmings, bay leaves, garlic, thyme and the rind of a parmigiano. It tasted delicious.

I happened to have saffron in my freezer so I added a pinch to the rice in the first round of stock I added. The squash already adds a beautiful pumpkin color that the saffron helps to intensify. It also adds a background of flavor but is totally optional. If I didn’t have it I would still make this dish. And it would still rock.

Butternut Squash Risotto

Feeds 2 hungry adults and 1 toddler

the bottom (round part) of a butternut squash)

 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1/2 of a medium white onion, finely minced

2 cloves garlic, smashed

1 3/4 C Carnaroli rice

1 Bay Leaf

3/4 C white wine

salt

about 2 qts stock (you can definitely do I box stock and the rest water)

2 oz. unsalted butter

1/4 C  parmigiano grated, or more to taste

honey to taste

1. Cut off the round bulb part of the butternut squash and reserve the top part for later use. Cut the round part in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds with a spoon. You may reserve the seeds if you like, wash them, toss them with salt and toast them for a snack.

2. Drizzle oil on a cookie sheet and place squash halves, cut side down and roast at 300 degrees until a knife inserted meets no resistance, 35 min to an hour, depending on the size of the squash. When it is cool enough to handle, scoop flesh out into a bowl and reserve. You can do this step ahead of time and store in the refrigerator.

3.Bring your stock to a boil then reduce to a gentle, lazy simmer. The stock needs to be hot when you add it to the rice or you will slow down the cooking process too much.

4. Place onion, garlic and oil into a shallow saucepan. Ideally, you want something that is taller than a sauté pan, shorter than a regular saucepan, and has rounded sides so the rice doesn’t get stuck in the corners and is made of non reactive metal. No aluminum or non stick coatings. Cook over medium heat until onions are translucent but have no color. If the onions are cut too big they will not cook in the time the rice does and you will be crunching on onions, so it is important to cut them small.

5. When onions are ready, add dry rice to the pan and stir, with a wooden spoon and toast until rice is fragrant, about 1-2 minutes. You don’t want the rice to color, just to smell delicious and nutty.

6.  Add wine and stir to incorporate. Wine will cook off fairly quickly. When the rice is almost dry, add enough stock to cover the rice completely, stirring. A Chef that I worked for said the rice needs enough stock so that it looks like the individual kernels are dancing in it. You don’t need to stir it every single second, just consistently enough so that the rice isn’t sticking on the bottom. You also need to make sure that no rice kernels have crept up the side of the pot out of the liquid. They won’t cook at the same rate as the others.

7. Cook rice, stirring until almost dry. When you drag your wooden spoon across the bottom of the pot the rice should separate leaving a trail where you can just about see the metal of the pot. When you have reached that, add more stock. If your stock is not seasoned, add a little salt each time you add stock. The idea is to season the rice little by little along the way, building layers of flavor. If you forget to season  until the end, your risotto will taste like only the outside of the rice is seasoned. Conversely, if you over season along the way, it will be too salty to eat.

8. Keep cooking rice in this method, adding stock to cover, cooking off until evaporated, until rice is almost done. It usually takes about 20 minutes but can be as little as 12. Read the box for a guideline and be sure to TASTE!!! When rice is almost done add the pureed butternut squash and stir. Continue cooking in the usual manner until rice is tender but still with bite.

9. Pull risotto off the heat, add your butter and cheese and beat with a spoon to emulsify, or mix in the fat so that it incorporates into the sauce and becomes even more creamy. It is important to do this off the heat or your fat will separate out of the butter and cheese and become oily. If you wish to put more butter and cheese than do it up. Drizzle with honey and mix in and season with salt also to taste. You will probably need to add a little more stock, to loosen up the consistency. If you shake the pan back and forth it should rise and be wavy, “all’onda” the Italians like to call it. It should not run all over the place but also shouldn’t sit like a big ball when put on the plate.

10. Serve right away!

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