Vegetarian

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?

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

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!

Beet me up, Scotty

Introducing Jerusalem Syndrome
My husband and I were on a road trip a little over a year ago listening to one of my favorite podcasts, America’s Test Kitchen. The episode featured an interview with Yotam Ottololenghi discussing his new cookbook, Jerusalem. I was captivated by the way he spoke so lovingly of the cuisine of his birth city.

This was clearly a man man who took Middle Eastern food seriously and was totally passionate about cooking and eating it. I wanted to get my hands on the cookbook fast and was pleased when my husband gifted it to me as an early Christmas present a few weeks later.

Jerusalem Syndrome is a condition characterized by psychotic episodes and religious delusions spurred by a visit to the city of Jerusalem. When I received the cookbook, I became completely infatuated and cooked numerous recipes from it within days. Completely enthralled by its delectable dishes, beautiful photography and prose, I began to exhibit symptoms of a different type of Jerusalem Syndrome. Apparently I’m not the only one “suffering” from this condition.

By my count, the cookbook contains roughly 127 recipes. So far, I’ve cooked/prepared about 11 of them. Join me as I work my way through more!

Props to Julie Powell of Julie & Julia fame for this blog’s concept!

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Photo from IMDB.com

Beet me up, Scotty
I love beets. Earthy, slightly sweet, and so versatile. Middle Eastern cuisine makes excellent use of them, but they’re not uncommon as both the featured and complementary ingredient in numerous international cuisines. Recently, NPR’s The Salt blog reported that Sochi Olympics organizers anticipate serving 70,000 gallons of the classic beet-centric Russian soup borscht.

According to Jerusalem-bred, London-based chefs and authors of Jerusalem, Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, “the beet is one of very few vegetables with a strong presence in the cuisine of almost every group in Jerusalem.” Beets appear repeatedly in all three of their cookbooks, and the recipes I have tried so far are delicious—better than any beet dish I’ve been served in restaurants.

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Not Your Average Beet Dish
The beet has been one of the trendiest vegetables in the last few years and I’ve yet to eat a dish featuring it that I don’t like. Beet salads recipes abound but I’ve never prepared a beet dish where the beets are puréed. That’s where the Puréed Beets with Yogurt and Za’atar recipe from Jerusalem comes into play.

Since I am not interested in infringing on the cookbook’s copyright, I will not print the recipe* but here’s a partial list of the ingredients involved that aren’t mentioned in the recipe’s name:

  • garlic
  • za’atar (a common Middle Eastern spice)
  • date syrup
  • hazelnuts
  • goat cheese

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Put ‘em together and whady’a get, bippity boppity BEET PURÉE! Delicious beet puree, at that. Not that I mind following more complicated recipes, but preparing this was simple and it came out swimmingly. After roasting the beets, I used a food processor to blend them with a few of the other ingredients and then transferred that to a bowl to mix it in with the others. The authors advise serving it with bread or as part of a meze plate. I ate it alone but it was so good it didn’t need a date for the party!

pureed beets

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(I am not affiliated with the cookbook authors or publishers in any way but I love this book and wholeheartedly recommend its purchase!)