kohlrabi salad

Kohlrabi salad

Weird Vegetable: Kohlrabi is one of those vegetables that I had not previously used and probably wouldn’t have recognized in the produce aisle until recently when I sought it out for this recipe. The Jerusalem authors open their description of this kohlrabi salad stating, “Kohlrabi is a weird vegetable. We don’t like saying it but it is.”  Um, yes. And they are not the only ones who call out kohlrabi for being a weirdo.

(Sub)Urban Foraging: Similar to some of the other harder-to-find ingredients called for in the cookbook, I had to go to the local farmers market and a couple of grocery stores to find kohlrabi. Once I’d gathered all of the ingredients, I set about preparing the salad and was initially frustrated by the difficulty of first peeling these little jerks before I could dice them to toss with the dressing. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t always keep my knives sharp enough, and maybe that was the biggest problem, but peeling the kohlrabi was not the most enjoyable kitchen task I’ve ever completed. My pets might have heard some salty language that afternoon.

kohlrabiPretty Easy: Once I got past the initial annoyance of peeling and dicing the kohlrabi, the rest of the prep was pretty simple and straightforward, a matter of just chopping and measuring out before mixing the dressing with the kohlrabi before topping with baby watercress and sprinkles of sumac. The dressing itself is delicious and I was hopeful that it would mask the flavor of raw kohlrabi that I’m not fond of but that’s not quite how it panned out for me. You can find the full recipe here, and if you are a fan of raw kohlrabi you will probably delight in this salad. The chefs and authors of Jerusalem recommend serving it at the beginning or end of a meal or alongside other salads and cooked vegetables to serve as a light meal.

kohlrabi salad ingredients

Maybe Next Time: I wanted to love kohlrabi, I really did, but I think my distaste for it is linked to how I just do not enjoy the taste of raw cruciferous vegetables, something I mentioned previously in the basic hummus post. I suspect that, like broccoli and cabbage, I might enjoy it if I try it in a dish where it’s cooked. This salad is basically a Middle Eastern version of cole slaw. If you are like my mother-in-law and enjoy raw kohlrabi and cole slaw, you’ll probably enjoy this salad but it’s not one I’m likely to prepare again. But hey, at least it was purty!

Do you have any favorite kohlrabi recipes? Describe them or paste a link in the comments! In the meantime, I might just have to try some of these kohlrabi recipes from The New York Times Well blog because how can you go wrong roasting any vegetable with a little oil and salt?

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Preserving lemons: Part 2

At Long Last: Well, that time you’ve all  been waiting for: The report on the preserved lemons.  And when I say “you all,” I might only be referring to my mother, Jerusalem Syndrome Blog’s #1 fangirl. At any rate, the results are in and they are delightful. Months ago, I wrote Preserving lemons: Part 1, detailing the quick and simple process of preparing lemons for preservation and promised to write about the end result after the month-plus time it would take for them to preserve in a dark, cool area. I ended up letting them preserve for about 6 weeks before I finally tried them in mid-April, just in time for the height of the artichoke season.

IMG_1080

Preserved lemons after two weeks.

After Two Weeks:  Jerusalem: A Cookbook advises that after the initial preserving preparation, you store the lemons in a cool, dark place for at least a week before squeezing out any remaining juice and adding olive oil, rosemary, and a red chile. I left them for two weeks before completing the next step and at that point the coarse salt had drawn out a good deal of the juice. This second step took less than ten minutes and was super simple.

IMG_1081

Preserved lemons after two weeks with the addition of olive oil, rosemary, and red chiles.

Trying Them Out: The cookbook says they should preserve for at least a month from the start of the process but “the longer you leave them, the better.” I ended up waiting a total of six weeks and used the coincidence of my brother Owen’s visit from Texas and an overstock of artichokes to try them. We trimmed and steamed artichokes and then minced a few pieces of the preserved lemon that we then stirred into unsalted melted butter. Ever the salt lover, I also had to stir in a pinch of freshly ground sea salt.

Once the artichokes were tender, we dipped the leaves in the preserved lemon butter and enjoyed them. It was absolutely delicious and we couldn’t get enough, eating so many of them that it ended up serving as our lunch that day. Owen raved about the preserved lemons and declared that he had to make some for himself when he got home. Folks, these preserved lemons pack a huge wallop flavor with minimal effort—the only challenging thing about preparing them is waiting patiently for them to be ready.

finishedproduct

More To Come: Another lovely thing about these preserved lemons is that once you stash them in the fridge, they keep for quite a while. Exactly how long, I don’t know yet, but they’ve been in my fridge since April and are holding up well. I am slightly embarrassed to admit that I have not yet used them for their intended purpose, ingredients in the various Jerusalem recipes that call for them, but now that I’ve resolved to start posting here more regularly again I plan to use them in one of those recipes soon. I’m also tempted to try them in this recipe for Preserved-Lemon Pudding with Basil Syrup from Food & Wine that I came across recently. Jerusalem also offers a recipe for quick pickled lemons that are ready after only 24 hours and I will eventually try that recipe as well, hopefully doing a side-by-side taste test of them against the slower, more demanding of patience preserved lemons.

Talk to Me: If you try this or another recipe for preserved lemons, tell me about it in the comments!

Basic hummus: Basically wonderful

A Welcome Change: Remember those veggie trays with a big tub of ranch in the middle? The ones with lots of raw broccoli, carrots, and cauliflower? While I still see those at social gatherings from time to time, I’m much happier about what seems to have replaced them: hummus served with pita, chips, and crackers. I consider this a major improvement because raw crucifereous vegetables make my face itchy. Hummus, on the other hand, makes my face smile. I’ve got a real love for legumes in pretty much any form, and hummus has been a favorite of mine since my mother introduced it to me as a kid.

Here’s the problem: the store bought stuff (sorry, Sabra Salad) just pales in comparison to what you can make at home. Even if you go the shortcut route by using canned garbanzos, the flavor will almost always be better than the stuff that’s been sitting on the cooler shelf at the grocery store. I’m a big fan of fats, particularly natural fats, and getting to put more tahini (sesame seed paste) in the hummus to make it richer and creamier is a simple luxury I can afford. The good men behind Jerusalem offer a fantastic “basic hummus” recipe whose humble name belies how outstanding it is.

Beans soaking

Garbanzo beans soaking

A Soak in the Cold Tub: Like many recipes involving uncooked legumes, you must soak the garbanzos overnight. I’d been holding on to this bag of Rancho Gordo beans for a couple of months with the intention of using them for hummus. I’d read about how great and fresh this brand of beans and products from Napa is for a while and finally bought a bag at their outpost in the Ferry Building in San Francisco. While they seemed pretty good, I couldn’t tell a major difference between them and the German brand I used when I made this recipe previously. However, I want to order some beans from Ranch Gordo because they have so many heirloom varieties that I’ve never even heard of and would love to try.

Beans cooking without water A Brief Sauté Before the Boil: After draining the soaked beans, you saute them over high heat for a few minutes with a bit of baking soda. Don’t worry, you won’t taste the baking soda in the finished product. After that, you add the water and bring it to a boil, cooking the beans for 20-40 minutes. While they cook you should periodically skim off any skins and foam that float to the surface. I am not sure why it’s important to remove these skins but perhaps it contributes to a silkier hummus.

Beans in processorNow for the Fun Part: I love watching disparate parts come together as a unified whole in a food processor. It’s oddly mesmerizing and I enjoy watching it the same way I sometimes like staring in the oven to watch things bake. After blending the beans on their own until it becomes a stiff paste, you then add the tahini, lemon juice, garlic, salt, and a bit of ice water. The recipe calls for 6.5 tbsps of water but I added two more because I thought it was a tad too thick.

Other ingredients

The supporting players

Mouth Luxury: All of the tahini that this recipe uses really pays off. It creates the best mouthfeel without the hummus being overly rich or even oily. Try the recipe yourself. You will thank yourself for going to the extra trouble. I served mine with some grocery store pita and it was lovely, but I’d like to have it with better quality pita next time. Eat it plain or top it with a bit of pine nuts, olive oil, and paprika like I did. Either way, it is outstanding and I am looking forward to trying the other variations offered in the cookbook. It might be a while until I write about that but stay tuned!

Basic hummus

Basic hummus

Roasted chicken with clementines* and arak

Spoiler Alert—This Dish Underwhelmed Me: I wish I could start by saying, “Keep reading, this is an amazing recipe!” but the truth is that it gets a big “Meh” and shrug of the shoulders. I should have known that a recipe calling for arak, a Lebanese liquor similar to ouzo or Pernod (both of which are substitutions the cookbook says you can make), would not necessarily go over well with me. I have come to like anise flavors a bit in small doses but the heavy-duty anise flavors provided by ouzo and the like totally repulse me. Not my thing. However, I imagine that there are people out there who would really enjoy this dish, it just so happens that my husband Andy and I both agree that it’s not a do-over recipe for us.

Arak

Arak, a Middle Eastern anise-flavored liquor. I am not into it but at least the bottle’s pretty!

First World Chicken Buying Problems: I have to start by saying that the problem I’m about to describe is a thoroughly first-world problem, but it’s a problem nonetheless. This recipe called for “1 large organic or free-range chicken, about 2.75 lb divided into 8 pieces, or the same weight in skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs.” Ok, great. (Side note: Can a 2.75 lb chicken really be called “large”?)

I ended up going to three different stores to find this. The first store had plenty of whole organic chickens, all of which were 5-6 lbs. The next store had slightly smaller organic chickens, about 4-5 lbs, and so I bought one of those in the hope that I could divide it into 8 pieces without totally butchering it (pardon the pun; is that a pun?!).

Staring hopelessly at all of those chickens that were mostly two times the weight of what I needed, I thought of the great hot dog bun scene from Father of the Bride. I didn’t want 5 lbs of chicken, I only wanted to buy 2.75 lbs pounds of chicken! Picture the absurd and disgusting sight of me ripping open the chicken packaging to divide one in half with my car keys. I wonder how long it would have taken before I was escorted out of the store.

Deciding that I didn’t want to mess up the recipe’s proportions by using too much chicken, I went to one more store in hopes that it would have the requisite amount of free-range and/or organic chicken. The recipe advised that you can also use 2.75 lbs of skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs, but there was only one package of those that weighed in at about 1.5 lbs. Not only was that not enough but it was priced at the astronomical price of $5.99/lb. Yikes!  I was afraid that using the skinless chicken thighs would result in dried out chicken so I finally opted to just use drumsticks. Three different stores in one afternoon and I finally settled on drumsticks, which I could have gone with at the first store and saved myself some trouble! I plan to roast the whole chicken I purchased at the first store in my slow cooker with this awesome-sounding recipe.

Fennel bulbs marinating

Fennel bulbs in the marinade

Possible Reasons This Didn’t Turn Out as Well as It Might Have:

  • I skipped the hours-long or overnight marinating because I failed to read the recipe through before I started. It said that “skipping the marinating stage is also fine” but I am guessing that a longer marination would have made this much tastier. The flavors didn’t really absorb into the chicken very much and the flavor was pretty boring and one-dimensional.
  • In addition to the three stores I went to not having the right amount of chicken, none had clementines. I substituted Honey mandarins, which are gorgeous and delicious (see photo below) but I stupidly didn’t remove the seeds from them. Those seeds sort of melted into the sauce as it reduced and gave a very unwelcome punch of bitterness. Whoops. Even if that bitter flavor hadn’t been present, I still don’t think I would have really like this dish very much. It’s not that it’s bad, it’s just that I prefer pretty much all of the recipes from Jerusalem I’ve tried over this one.
  • The fennel bulbs are really pretty but they didn’t cook fully. They would have been a much nicer accompaniment if they had been able to cook a little longer. It might be a good idea to take the chicken out of the pan when it’s done and set it aside while the fennel bulbs go back in and cook for 10-15 minutes more. The insides of the bulbs were barely softened and it was not fun to try to bite through them.
  • Maybe the substitution of drumsticks for thighs was a bad call. I have no clue.
Honey tangerines

Honey mandarins

Not for Me But Maybe It’s For You: Digging around online about this particular recipe, it seems to me that people are slightly less enthusiastic about this recipe than they are for other recipes from Jerusalem, but there are plenty of people who really liked it. Perhaps you might be one of them. In that case, here are a few places you can find the recipe, or slightly adapted versions of it, to try:

Chicken marinatingI Enjoyed Looking at this Dish More Than Eating It: Sometimes a dish is super homely yet super-delicious. Sometimes a dish is like a supermodel: really beautiful to look at but there’s not much going on beyond looks. That’s how this dish was for me. I am not exaggerating when I say that I enjoyed looking at and photographing it more than I enjoyed eating it. The bright yellows and oranges were beautiful. At least it sort of redeemed itself visually!

Roasted chicken in pan

Supermodel Chicken

Roasted chicken with clementines and arak meal

Thank goodness for the salad, basmati rice, and asparagus I made to accompany this chicken. I might have been pretty bummed about the meal had I not had these other things to enjoy.

 

 

Cannellini bean & lamb* soup: Enjoying soup before it gets too hot

It’s (Almost) Too Darn Hot: Since it has already hit 80 degrees a few times recently, I want to cook a few of the soups from Jerusalem before it’s so hot that I can’t bear the thought of soup. I have never cooked a soup with lamb and was looking forward to trying it. Unfortunately, the grocery store I went out of my way to go to, so sure they’d have good lamb stew meat, didn’t have any when I was there. That’s why there is an asterisk in the title of this post, because I had to use beef stew meat (the recipe says beef’s a fine substitute). There happened to be only one package of organic beef stew meat, and even though it was only .75 lbs, and the recipe calls for a pound, I had to go with it because the non-organic stuff came from Harris Ranch, a horrifying factory farm in Central California that I recently had the misfortune of driving past.

Start One Day In Advance: I had planned on making this soup for dinner a couple of weeks back until I read through the recipe and realized it was too late for that because the cannellini beans need to be soaked overnight. At that point, I didn’t have any cannellinis on hand and added them to my grocery list, assuming I could get a bag from my local grocery store. I suppose I’ve never purchased cannellini beans before and I didn’t realize they are not as readily available as most other types of beans. They do not carry them at my nearby grocery store so I had to get them from the same store I went out of my way to go to for the meat.

soaking beans

Simple Preparation: At this point I have cooked around twenty of the recipes from Jerusalem. Most require quite a few ingredients, many are rather time-consuming, all are delicious. This soup is one of the simpler recipes, less labor intensive than others and easy to prepare. Since it doesn’t entail the amount of chopping that so many other Jerusalem recipes do, this one is a great candidate for doubling. I wish I had doubled it because it came out super tasty.

chopped celery & onions(Note to Self) Celery Root and Celery Are Different: It wasn’t until I got home from the grocery store, unpacking the ingredients and re-reading the recipe that I noticed it called for celery root rather than celery. Learning something new every day, I now know that they’re not the same thing (d’oh!) but I decided to just use the celery because I’m not sure where to purchase celery root and it seemed silly to go hunting around at various stores for it when I know that plain old celery would still work in this soup. And it did!  The base of the soup is sauteed onion, celery, 20 cloves of whole garlic, and cumin. Super aromatic!garlic & cumin

simmering soupDelicate and Delicious: I don’t necessarily expect a soup containing lamb or beef stew meat to be delicate, but this one is, particularly when you squeeze a little lemon in it as the cookbook advises. It’s a recipe inspired by the soups prepared by the Yemeni Jews of Jerusalem, famous for their ability to elicit maximum flavor from a little bit of meat and a lot of aromatic ingredients. Although I used about 25% less meat than the recipe called for, I did not wish it had more meat and thought it was lovely as is. I did use a bit more salt than it called for but that’s pretty standard for me. The chefs and authors of Jerusalem also recommend serving it with good bread and zhoug, a spicy Yemeni condiment that they compare to an Italian gremolata. I prepared zhoug to serve with this soup and will post separately about it. It was an excellent complement to the soup, particularly when eaten off of a little of the bread after soaking it in the soup. You can find the full recipe for the soup here.

Preserving lemons: Part 1

Martha Knows Best: Years ago, I saw Rosie O’Donnell telling a story about her visit to see Martha Stewart in prison in an interview. She explained how she asked Martha what she missed most in prison, fully expecting her to say things like her friends or her daughter. Instead, the first thing Martha said was “Lemon.” I totally get where she is coming from. I’m not saying that if I found myself in prison that I would miss lemon more than loved ones, pets, or unfettered internet access. However, I totally understand Martha’s devotion to lemons as I use them to cook with and mix drinks regularly. Just the cheery sight of lemons makes me happy. Lemons might even be be blamed for some of my minor dental issues thanks to my habit of dipping sliced lemons in sugar and then sucking on them as a child.

lemons on plateAlright, DIY It Is: Going through Jerusalem: A Cookbook to pick out the next few recipes I want to try, I noticed that quite a few of them call for preserved lemon. The cookbook includes a recipe for preserved lemons but, never the most patient or a great long-term planner, I just didn’t want to wait a whole month (at least) for the lemons to be ready. After getting annoyed with how some of the recipes I want to try soon call for preserved lemon, I finally decided to get my act together and try my hand at preserving them myself rather than buying some.

I noticed that the recipe calls for unwaxed lemons. The local stores have plenty of lemons but I’m not sure I can purchase any that are unwaxed. Maybe I can but I’m just too lazy to go searching for them. I briefly considered a scheme that involved collecting lemons from the trees in peoples’ yards throughout my neighborhood but I’m from Texas and trespassing can result in having a shotgun pulled on you so I quickly abandoned that half-baked plan. So I thought I would turn to Twitter and ask both authors of the cookbook, Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, whether the recipe would still turn out ok if I didn’t use unwaxed lemons:

Screen shot 2014-03-06 at 1.54.10 PMTweet Dork: Aside from the fact that I am the kind of person who’s dorky enough to get super excited about one of my favorite food gods responding to my tweet, I was relieved that I could go ahead and just use the waxed lemons that are much easier to find. I am a believer in buying mostly organic produce, budget allowing, and luckily Trader Joe’s sells bags of 4-5 organic lemons (pretty big ones, too) for $1.49 each.

Preserving Process: After sterilizing some quart-size mason jars, I followed the rest of the simple recipe: cut the lemons lengthwise in a deep cross from top to bottom, stopping about 2 cm from the base, packed the insides of the lemons with 1 tablespoon of coarse sea salt, crammed them into the jars and stored them in a cool, dark place (my linen closet). I am doing a double recipe, 12 lemons total, which means if they don’t turn out well it will be double the failure! (Even though I sterilized the jars I am still mildly concerned that some bacteria managed to find its way into the jar that will ultimately result in a very sad, disappointing afternoon about a month from now).

stuffed lemon

Waiting Game: Now I just have to wait patiently for about a week, at which point I will open the jars, pull out the lemons, squeeze as much juice as possible out (but save the juice), then place them back in the jars and add some rosemary sprigs, a large red chili, the lemon juice, and some olive oil. At the earliest, they will be ready about a month from now.  I am pretty stoked about them and will write another post about them once they’re ready.

jarred lemons

Related: Preserved lemons: Part 2

Tahini cookies: Taking matters into my own hands

Tahini Tales: Hummus was my gateway dish to tahini. I really like the stuff and it’s more versatile than it might suggest when simply used as one of the ingredients in hummus. A paste of roasted sesame seeds, tahini is quite similar to nut butters in taste and also quite nutritious. One of the most compelling features of  Jerusalem: A Cookbook is the lovely stories that they tell about each recipe. For this cookie recipe, they explain how, “when it comes to food, Israelis can be very fickle” and describe how cookies were super-popular and trendy in the country a few years ago (similar to the cupcake craze, I imagine). One of the most popular types of cookies there at the time were tahini cookies. I have had tahini in the context of dessert a few times but have never made anything with it other than hummus, so these cookies sounded pretty enticing.

dry ingredients

A Crumby Situation: I followed the instructions pretty religiously but after mixing everything for even longer than I was supposed to, the dough would not form into a unified whole. The crumbs just kept moving around but wouldn’t play nice and just get along. So I decided to play around buy adding little extra spoonfuls of tahini and dashes of vanilla but it still would not form into a dough. Finally, deciding to live on the edge a bit and take matters into my own hands, I decided to add one large egg in a last-ditch attempt to get it to form. That worked perfectly! Typically, I post links to the recipe from other blogs or websites, but since I adapted this recipe so much, I’m including my adapted version of it below.

crumby dough

Well, that’s just crumby.

bonded dough

Much better. Thanks, Mr. Egg!

Recipe for Tahini Cookies (Adapted from Jerusalem: A Cookbook):

  • 2⁄3 cup / 130 g superfine sugar*
  • 2⁄3 cup / 150 g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2⁄3cup / 150 g light tahini paste**
  • 1 tbsp / 14 ml vanilla extract
  • 5 tsp / 25 ml heavy cream
  • 2 cups plus 1.5 tbsp/ 270 g all-purpose flour
  • 1 large egg
  • cinnamon
  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F / 200°C. Place the sugar and butter in a stand mixer fitted with the beater attachment (or use a hand mixer) and beat on medium speed for about 1 minute, until just combined but not aerated much.
  2. With the mixer running, add the tahini, vanilla, cream, and egg, then add the flour and beat for about 1 minute or until the dough comes together.
  3. Pinch of 2⁄3 oz / 20 g of the dough and roll into a ball between your palms. Use the back of a fork to push down lightly on top of the ball so that it flattens just slightly and takes on the marks from your tines.
  4. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper (you my need to bake in 2-3 separate batches, depending on the size of your baking sheet). Sprinkle a little cinammon on each cookie and then bake for 15 to 17 minutes, until golden brown.
  5. Transfer to a wire rack to cool before serving. They will keep in a sealed container for up to 10 days.

*Only have regular granulated sugar and not superfine sugar on hand? Not a problem. Check out this video from America’s Test Kitchen to learn how to make your own.

**The better-quality tahini paste that is commercially available doesn’t contain emulsifiers so you should definitely mix the tahini well before measuring it out. I use my hand mixer for this.

ready to bake

Twist on an Old Favorite: As they mention in Jerusalem, tahini is basically the local take on peanut butter in Jerusalem and the surrounding region. Therefore, I think of these cookies as a tasty spin on the classic peanut butter cookie, only more shortbread-like and significantly less sweet. Even though I added an egg to mine (not called for in the original recipe), these are very similar to shortbread in consistency and totally melt in the mouth after all of the little crumbs break up. Personally, I like the fact that they are not super sweet because, though I do enjoy sweets, a lot of desserts are just cloying for my taste.  I have a hunch that these would go very well with tea.

P.S. I found this recipe on Scribd for some other tahini cookies that have a tasty-sounding twist: incorporating almond paste and dried cherries. I might have to also try these!

Lady Galette

Wannabe Francophile: Around the time I was in 8th grade, my older sister Lydia was working at the AMC movie theater that’s located in one of those giant strip-mall megaplex areas. It has all of the usual suspects: Bath & Body Works, Starbucks, GAP, and Borders, among many others. My group of friends and I developed a weekend routine that usually involved being dropped off at the movie theater where I begged Lydia to get us all into a movie for free (thanks, sis!). After the movie we typically headed over to Marble Slab or La Madeleine for a late-night snack.

At La Madeleine, one of my favorite things to get was the spinach galette. I had never seen or heard the word “galette” before, and it might have had something to do with my sudden and inexplicable desire to study French the next year in high school. Opting to study French in high school instead of Spanish (far more practical in South Texas) was maybe not the brightest choice but I loved it. Please don’t ask me how well three years of French in high school and one in college served me when I visited France, but if there’s one area I can generally remember vocabulary and correct pronunciation, it’s with food!

From Jerusalem, Avec Amour: This recipe for red pepper & baked egg galettes had been beckoning me ever since I got the cookbook. The only thing that kept me from making them until now was the fact that I’d have to work with puff pastry. Many years ago, somebody told me that working with puff pastry is tricky and that kept me from ever using it until now. I’m sure that is true when you actually make the dough yourself but for this recipe you can use the store-bought stuff and it was not difficult to work with at all.

prepped ing. close up

Ready to roast.

Ready to roast.

Ingredients (click here for the full recipe!)

  • red bell peppers
  • onion
  • thyme sprigs
  • ground coriander & ground cumin
  • olive oil
  • coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley & cilantro
  • best-quality, all-butter puff pastry*
  • sour cream (I substituted full-fat Greek yogurt)
  • large eggs

*When The Best is Hard to Find: Rather than using “best-quality, all-butter puff pastry,” I used Pepperidge Farm’s simply because that is the only kind I could find at the supermarket when I went to purchase all of the other ingredients. Sometimes I am really fussy about getting “best-quality,” and sometimes I settle for less-than-the-best when I can’t be bothered to drive around to multiple stores looking for the best ingredient. Since this is a Pepperidge Farm product, it is definitely not all-butter and includes some dubious ingredients (lookin’ at you, high fructose corn syrup). I wish I could say that the finished product wasn’t delicious because I didn’t use a higher-quality puff pastry but that is simply not the case. In the future, I think I will opt for Trader Joe’s puff pastry since it is an all-butter recipe, unlike this one.

The horror!

The horror!

roasted veggies

Roasted vegetables. Them’s purty!

Shallow Well: After brushing the puff pastry with a beaten egg, it was time to arrange the roasted vegetables on the puff pastry squares. Making sure to leave a shallow well in the middle where the egg would go made for an oddly relaxing vegetable engineering project. I tried to build barricades so that the egg whites wouldn’t run all over the place and was mostly successful.

cropped galettes without eggs

Waiting for their eggs.

Meze It Up at Brunch: Oh, these were so incredibly delicious. The cookbook explains that the lovely sweet roasted red pepper is a typical dish served as part of a meze spread. These galettes would be very much at home served at brunch. Served with a light salad of soup, they even have sort of a “Ladies who do lunch” vibe but in the best way. Though the recipe only yields four separate galettes, I have plenty of roasted veggies and eggs left and will use the second sheet from my puff pastry box to bake another batch. The cookbook also suggests substituting the eggs with feta. I think I would try a soft goat cheese instead because I love the pairing of roasted red pepper with it.

Cleansing the palate: Parsley & barley salad

Me & Tabbouleh (A Love Story): My older sister Elena is responsible for introducing me to countless awesome things (and way too many to go into here!). One of those things is tabbouleh. The year was approximately 1993 and the setting is some hippie cafe in Austin where Elena was attending the University of Texas. Elena insisted I try tabbouleh. Being a kid, I loved the word ‘tabbouleh’. It just rolls off the tongue so nicely. Since I had (and still have) a serious love of sourness, the first thing I noticed when I tried it that first time was the lemony bite. No two tabboulehs are ever the same, and some are much more lemony than others. This one is not over-the-top with its lemon but it does a nifty job of highlighting the freshness of the parsley. Ok, even though according to the authors it’s not “technically” tabbouleh [see below], it’s pretty close. Since I can never resist tabbouleh, I was pretty excited to taste the finished product.

(Not) Tabbouleh: At first glance, this parsley and tabbouleh salad looks curiously similar to what you might think is tabbouleh. But, the authors explain, people in Jerusalem and the surrounding region feel very strongly about the names of dishes and even though this is definitely tabbouleh inspired, many would not consider it such.

parsley&barley prepped ingredients

The ingredients

Ingredients (click here for the full recipe!)

  • pearl barley*
  • feta cheese
  • olive oil
  • za’atar
  • coriander seeds
  • cumin
  • flat leaf parsley
  • green onions
  • garlic
  • cashews, lightly toasted
  • green pepper
  • allspice
  • lemon juice, freshly squeezed (and don’t you DARE think of using that crap out of a yellow bottle!)
  • salt and freshly ground pepper

*Extra Credit for the Hard Core Health Nuts: I just read in the January issue of Bon Appetit magazine that pearl barley is less nutritious than the other varieties since the hull, the most nutritious part, has been removed. I don’t really care about that too much in this recipe since everything else is pretty stinkin’ healthy. However, the authors advise that you can substitute the pearl barley with spelt, farro, or wheat berries, all of which are more healthful.

What Does 3 oz of Parsley Look Like? I have no idea. Nor have I shelled out the money for a fancy digital kitchen scale (for now…) to weigh the parsley to know exactly. I pretty much just chopped up the two bunches of parsley I bought in groups and kept mixing the little piles in with the other ingredients until what I had before me resembled the photo in the cookbook.

toasted cashews

Toasted cashews

Bro, I’m So Toasted: Not that I am complaining about this recipe taking too long to prepare, because at about 1 hour of prep time, it’s actually one of the faster recipes in the book, but sometimes I get mildly annoyed for thinking something’s only going to take half an hour to prepare because I didn’t pay attention to some of the little details. With this recipe, those little overlooked details included the time it would take me to toast the coriander seeds (good luck not letting those little jerks roll all over your counter) and the raw cashews.

feta marinating

Feta marinating with dry herbs & olive oil

Cleanse Your Palate: The cookbook recommends this be served with a rich dish, such as the Chicken with Carmelized Onion and Cardamom Rice. I have already made that dish and just you wait until I make it again and write about it here! Until then, feast your eyes on this food porn video of it being made from the good people of The New York Times’ Dining section. This salad is so refreshing and a great palate cleanser so it will go well with any rich, fatty, meaty dish.

parsley & barley salad

Parsley & barley salad

A Study in Contrasting Textures: Something I have to say about the recipes from chef Yottam Ottolenghi and his crew are that they’re pretty much always a study in contrasting textures. This salad is no exception. The parsley intermingling with the al dente barley plus the salty little chunks of beautifully seasoned feta—it’s a serious party in your mouth, folks. Go ahead, go back up to the link above and cook it yourself!

Comfort from the Levant

Everyone Needs A Little Comfort Once in a While: When I lived in Germany, one of the things I missed most was the comfort food from back home. Coming from south Texas, that food was Mexican food, but more specifically, rice and beans. None of the dubiously named “Mexican” restaurants in the area where I lived served food tasting even remotely like what I was used to so I would cook my own and never be disappointed.

Warm Comfort: In Jerusalem: A Cookbook, author Yotam Ottolenghi discusses how he and his co-chef and co-author, Sami Tamimi, can easily waste many hours arguing over what makes the best comfort food and why but they can always agree that mejadra is true comfort food. Mejadra, a lentil and rice dish elevated with the addition of fried onion, is popular throughout the Arab world and after tasting it I know exactly why. Pure comfort. I have a theory that one of the most common ingredients found in the various dishes that people think of as comfort food is rice.

Simple Ingredients, Simple Process: None of the ingredients are super exotic or difficult to find. The only thing I didn’t have on hand or find at my local grocery store were the cumin seeds, but I just substituted ground cumin. 

  • Brown or green lentils
  • Basmati rice
  • Onions
  • Oil (for frying)
  • Water
  • A little flour, sugar, salt and pepper
  • Allspice, turmeric, cinnamon, cumin and coriander seedsMejadra ingredientsSimple but not Quick: When I say that it’s a simple recipe, I’m not saying it’s a quick one but nor is making it going to take up half your day. Boiling the lentils is quick and painless but I can’t say the same for slicing all of those onions and then frying them in three separate batches. But it is worth it because the onions really make the dish sing!

Lentils boiling

Sliced onions 2

I might have cried a little in the process of slicing these onions.

Onions frying

One of the three batches of onions frying.

Bringing it All Together: Once I cooked the lentils and fried the onions, I toasted the spices before stirring in the rice, lentils, and water then covering it to let simmer after bringing it to a quick boil. After that, I lifted the lid briefly to cover the whole pot with a tea towel and then quickly placed the lid back on and waited for ten more minutes before getting to stir in half of the fried onions, plate it, and top it with the remainder of the onions.

The Finish Line: The chefs advise serving it with a dollop of Greek yogurt. I ate mine with it and the creamy tanginess complemented the mejadra beautifully. I had the same problem I always have when eating legumes and grains: I couldn’t stop. The good news is that this is healthful dish so I didn’t feel any quilt about grabbing seconds (or thirds). The warm, generously spiced flavor of mejadra is addictive.

Make It Yourself! You can find the recipe to make mejadra here. Warning: Unless you are lucky enough to have a spice kitchen, your house will smell of the toasted spice for a day or two!