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Alternate apero


Man cannot live on chickpeas alone. In their naked cooked state they can be a little unappetising. But they remain a healthy, cheap food.  Roasted in olive oil with a little salt and they become delicate and nuanced. Crispy on the outside and soft on the inside.  They make a great snack and a good sidekick for an evening aperitif. Babies love to munch on them too!

 

This couscous dish stands well alone or as a hot or cold accompaniment to fish or meat.

Ingredients

  • 1 can cooked chickpeas
  • 3 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1 cup couscous (uncooked measure)
  • 2 tablespoons golden sultanas
  • a handful of fresh vine tomatoes
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • handful of chopped fresh basil

Plus 1 quantity spice mix (see below)

Spice mix (vary as desired) also see a previous post using a spice mix…

  • 1 teaspoon white pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground all spice
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon walnut oil
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • a little sea salt

Preheat the oven to 350f.  If using canned chickpeas rinse them well in cold water and drain in a colander. In the meantime, using a bowl big enough to handle the chickpeas, make the spice mix blending the ingredients together with the oils. Coat the chickpeas with the spice mix and let sit for a few minutes.  Spread the coated chickpeas evenly in a single layer on a roasting pan shaking them around a little to make sure the spice mix is well distributed. Sprinkle a little salt over them. Roast for 20-25 minutes until the skins start to become papery and dry.

While waiting for the chickpeas make the couscous – follow the instructions on your particular brand of couscous!  While you wait for the couscous to fluff up, set it aside.

For the tomatoes, plonk them a in a bowl of boiling water for a minute, then plonk them in a bowl of cold water for a minute. You will then be able to drain them and easily remove the skins. (This works well for peaches too). Cut the tomatoes into quarters or halves depending on their size and set aside.  Submerge the sultanas in a little warm water for a few minutes too. Then drain them and set them aside. This will plump them up nicely.

Once the chickpeas are roasted to your liking take them out of the oven and allow to cool a little so they don’t break apart too much when handled. Then assemble your dish. In a serving dish mix the warm couscous with a little butter, add the chickpeas, the sultanas and the tomatoes. Sprinkle with some torn up fresh basil and serve warm or cold.

 

Our new Brooklyn friends kindly gave us their share of a local CSA last weekend. The Red Hook community farm which supplies the Red Hook CSA is run by the non-profit Added Value in a community that needed a little help in the fresh produce area. Read about it here….

Our share included fresh green tomatillos nicely nestled in their papery husks. These aren’t something that appear on the typical Paris menu and I really had never handled one before .  The tomatillo is a staple of Mexican cuisine mainly used for salsa verde and is part of the nightshade family which, while related to the tomato family, is not part of it.

I decided to husk them and roast them in a little olive oil  for about 45 minutes with a few cloves of (Red Hook) garlic and an onion.
Result – a rough and ready cold ‘jam’ spiked with sweet roasted garlic to spread on a piece of cheddar…

 

Moutabal’s no good without something to scoop it up with…..

Although pita breads work for this, it’s better to seek out a more traditional middle eastern flat bread such as lavash often available in larger supermarkets. Cut into triangles and rub with olive or nut oil. Dust with a few teaspoonfuls of fragrant zaatar and roast for a max of ten minutes until golden and crispy. Otherwise soft tortilla wraps could work well as an alternative. Just lay out flat, cut into pieces and oven bake. Let cool and serve with dips and drinks.



In Paris variations of ‘caviar d’aubergine’ are becoming ubiquitous. Any kind of aubergine dip is pretty amazing so the more the merrier. Traveling around Lebanon and Jordan recently meant a lot of it was consumed so I figured it was time to start working out what all the different mezze were and how they could be made at home.  The cuisine of the Levant is a favourite of mine. Its nutty, spicy flavours along with an approach to eating that is truly Mediterranean being wonderfully family oriented lazy, lengthy grazing.

A middle eastern favourite dished up  in one way or another from Greece to Israel to Beirut, moutabal is most often served as one of many cold mezze. Commonly referred to as Baba ghanoush, in Syria and Jordan this is almost always called moutabal and baba ghanoush is an aubergine salad not the smoky creamy sesame infused dip that is moutabal. In most other middle eastern countries it’s baba ghanoush. Many menus will have both listed to add to the confusion. Baba ghanoush is actually a salad of roasted aubergine flesh with lemon juice , tomato, hot peppers, garlic and onion.

The key to the moutabal flavour is  chargrilling the aubergines until the skin is about to fall off – otherwise you miss the amazing smoky flavour characteristic of this staple mezze. Nonetheless even oven roasting the aubergines will get you a garlic spiked dip that’s a great alternative to cheese and crackers…


Ingredients

  • 2 medium/small aubergines
  • 1/2 clove garlic (crushed)
  • 2 tablespoons tahini
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 250gr (2 small tubs) plain yogurt

Making

Roast the aubergines in tinfoil (prick them all over beforehand) for at least an hour until soft and mushy. Let them cool then take off as much of the skin as you can. While they’re cooling mix the tahini, yogurt and garlic together with the oil. Take the cooled aubergines and with the skins off mash the flesh up as best you can giving it a swirl with a hand mixer if necessary but no need to make it a puree. Mix in with you yogurt mix and add salt to taste.  Serve with warm flatbreads.

To make baba ghanoush, add one finely chopped tomato, hot green pepper and onion to the roasted aubergine flesh and stir in. Crush 2 garlic cloves with a teaspoon of salt and add to 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 2 of lemon juice. Stir the liquid into the vegetables with a tablespoon of finely chopped fresh mint and garnish with parsley to serve.

(Cookbooks and references – ‘Modern Mezze’, Anissa Helou/’Classic Lebanese Cuisine’, Kamal Al-Faqih/’The Petra Kitchen’, Jordan)

Poached pears are a simple staple. Something that can be turned into a dessert, a drink, a breakfast or a tart. Easily prepared and stored in advance of a dinner party or kept for a few days worth of breakfasts, they’re something to keep in mind for those last minute panics when people are coming for dinner and you feel like doing something impressive with those pears you forgot to eat….


Store the poached pears in the fridge for a few days to be used in desserts such as pear and almond tart or with vanilla ice cream or keep them for breakfast – tossed with a little honey, natural yogurt and maybe some muesli. Otherwise use in puree form to add to a glass of champagne or prosecco for a sweet and spicy aperitif.


What you’ll need

4 pears – ripe and firm so that they’ll hold their shape.

200 grams sugar

1litre water

2 tablespoons maple syrup

1 teaspoon cinnamon

a few cloves

vanilla essence

Other spices and flavourings can be added as you see fit – star anise, tonka beans, dried fruits, orange peel, lemon…

What to do

Peel, core and quarter the pears. Heat the water until the sugar has dissolved. Add the pears and simmer on a low heat. Add the cinnamon and maple syrup and the spices you choose. Cover the surface of the water so the pears stay submerged (use some baking parchment as a layer for example). Simmer until the pears are soft but still firm enough to retain their shape. Test with a fork. Remove when done and let cool.

While spending a couple of days recently in The Hunter Valley, one of Australia’s wine regions, I couldn’t help but wonder why on earth Dukka was served everywhere.  Each restaurant seemed to offer a starter of sourdough and dukka (or dukkah)…and always at a price too. It’s not something you come across in Paris ever really and so I was intrigued as ever on the look out for an alternate apero.

Of Egyptian origin, Dukka is usually a spice and nut blend with hazelnuts, chickpeas and thyme as a base but combinations vary wildly and some dukkas boast macadamia nuts as their dominant flavour while with others it’s sesame that takes the lead.  It’s like the crumbly love child of zaatar and gomasio with a twist of roasted nuts. Fabulously fragrant, it’s very easy and another way to spice up an evening glass of wine. With a little scrutiny and some internet research, the contents of a dukka bowl are not hard to figure out. Invent a blend that suits you.

The ingredients, for the most part, are likely to be sitting around many a kitchen. Dukka could also be used to season meats or as a sprinkling for salads, soups, roasted vegetables….

Serve with olive oil and balsamic vinegar for dipping with some warm flatbreads.

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Ingredients (this is a list of options that can be played around with; leave out what you don’t like or add things like dessicated coconut)

2 tablespoons whole hazelnuts
1 1/2 tablespoons sesame seeds
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

1/4 cup Macadamia or Brazil nuts
2 tablespoons sunflower or pumpkin seeds
1/4 cup coriander seeds
2 tablespoons cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 pinch cayenne pepper

Making

Roast the hazelnuts until the skins can be rubbed off. Then toast the other seeds and nuts. Toast  them on a dry hot pan for very little time; just until they start to dance around a little. Using a pestle and mortar roughly grind them until the nuts and seeds are broken up but not too finely otherwise the nuts will become too oily. This is a dry crumbly nut mix.

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