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Fruits and seeds


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…

 

It’s been a while.  It seems that pregnancy and cooking are not always a good combination. Raging hormones have temporarily replaced my taste buds with those of a hungover university freshman and I had no inclination to cook or eat anything healthy or strange or exciting let alone write about it. No offense to college first years.. . But for the last few months I have wanted only simple starchy foods (preferably with ketchup).

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Now I’m finally getting back to eating normally even coaxing the lentils out of the dark corner where they have been forced to hide with all the other remotely healthy foods in the pantry.

So as a transition, we have breakfast muffins. Amazing gooey, fruity, yummy muffins. These are sticky and so moist they keep for days. Relatively healthy with no butter they are a good breakfast treat and a great brunch addition.

Baking without using butter may seem entirely wrong to some people and let’s face it baked goods with real butter have a little bit of heaven in them so they have their place in the world. However, you can still have your cholesterol and eat it too…so to speak…

High cholesterol reared it’s ugly head recently in my family and I feel obliged to find ways of banishing le buerre from my parents household. Banish. Not substitute.There is a difference.

So, when baking there are lots of ways of not using butter. It’s just another way of baking. Vegetable and nut oils, fruit compotes, yogurts, buttermilk all can play a part. It just needs different measurements, a little experimenting and a lot of tasting. No problem really.

These muffins use nut oil and honey/maple syrup instead of regular granulated sugar and butter. Maple syrup is preferable for taste I find but both give a nice sweetness.

Muffins

Fruity breakfast muffins

Ingredients

In one bowl :

2 x 125gr tubs of vanilla yogurt (or plain)

3 tablespoons nut oil

2/3 eggs

2 tablespoons dark rich genuine maple syrup (or 3 tablespoons honey or a mix of both)

200 gr fresh or frozen berries ( a full regular coffee cup will do either)

1 teaspoon vanilla essence

In another bowl:

230 gr flour ( mix whole wheat, plain, spelt, rye…as you wish)

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons raw oats (optional)

Making

Mix the wet ingredients  first. After mixing the dry carefully fold the dry into the wet – but do not over mix the batter.

Pour into muffin tin – makes about 12 medium size muffins (fill each almost to the top for generous sized muffins)

Bake for about 20 – 25 minutes or until a knife comes out clean

Nothing too original in this recipe but Paris picnicking season is well underway and there is always call for a Tupperware container of some kind of “salad”. It’s always fun too to raise Parisian eyebrows with random combinations of sweet and savoury.  It took me a long time to figure out that the exotic wheat berry as spoken of by North American cooks and foodies was in fact the humble blé as served in the work canteen. They’re  another great grain to add to the mix if you’re sick of quinoa/millet/rice etc…

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Ingredients

- 1 generous cup wheatberries
- 5/6 small fresh apricots
- 1 tablespoon tamari

- 1/2  teaspoon brown sugar
- 2/3 tablespoons nut or olive oil
- half a large cucumber
- 1/2 clove garlic diced
- salt and pepper to taste

Making

Heat a tiny amount of butter or oil in a pan and toss the wheat berries in it until they’re coated. Add 2 cups cold water and bring to the boil. Lower the heat and remove once all water has been absorbed and the wheat berries are soft to the bite. Rinse the grains under running water in a colander to remove the starch and stop cooking. Set aside in a large bowl.

Remove the pits from the apricots chop both these and the cucumber small pieces. In a small bowl mix together the oil, garlic, tamari and sugar. Toss the apricots and cucumber in this mixture until fully coated.

Mix the apricot cucumber mixture into the wheat berries.

Leave to marinade a little, let the flavours develop or chill until it’s time to picnic!

It’s still cherry season. Inspired by Syrian food and having eaten devoured my way around the better part of the country last year it seemed the time to attempt a savory cherry sauce…

Despite most Parisian shops displaying evidence to the contrary it is possible to find them for less then 3 euro a kilo. Never having thought much about the potential of cherries, eating my way around Syria on holiday last year changed my mind.  The northern Syrian city of Aleppo boasts a specialty dish that has infiltrated every eating house in the country – lamb, either a kebab or perhaps meatballs, served with a hot, dark, thick cherry sauce that is delicious.

Dinnering in Syria

Spot the cherry sauce?

The countryside surrounding Aleppo is famous for a particular type of black cherry which is smaller and a little sour. They bloom in spring time and the fruit is plentiful. Hence the ubiquitous lamb with cherry sauce dish on every menu…
Sissi House, a relatively upmarket Aleppan restaurant in the old Christian quarter was my first taste of the cherry lamb experience. Al Khawali in Straight Street in Damascus was another. The more innovative and modern Naranj, and for me the best, (albeit upscale for Damascus) restaurant does a less traditional version of the Aleppan cherry kebab as well as an extensive menu of all kinds of Syrian traditional delights given just a touch of a modern makeover.  This restaurant has a retractable ceiling, a touch of Beruiti glamour and truly good food. Reservations essential and never dine before nine!

cherryjars

Saha – A chef’s journey through Lebanon and Syria - the cookbook previously discussed here - has a cherry sauce recipe. I made very much my own version of it the other night and impatiently devoured it cold with cheese the following day. Not exactly the most authentic of first attempts but a decent, versatile sauce nonetheless. Next time it will be duly served hot with spicy lamb. This is a great little compote to serve cold or hot.

Note: Another recipe can be found here on a great blog, recently discovered - Anissa’s – she has a great sophisticated and authentic cherry kebab and sauce recipe here.

cherry sauce.JPG

Ingredients

1 kilo fresh cherries – pitted, not too ripe

250ml chicken or vegetable stock

1 teaspoon white pepper

1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses

2 cloves garlic

1 tablespoon nut oil for frying

1 tablespoon butter

1 half teaspoon cinnamon

Optional – some Greek yogurt or crème fraiche for serving when serving hot

Making
Soak the pitted cherries for about an hour in enough water to cover them. Heat the nut oil with a little butter, add the diced garlic and fry until golden and soft. Add the cherries with their soaking water, the pomegranate molasses, and the white pepper. Simmer on a very low heat with about 250ml water or stock for about 45 minutes. Add half a teaspoon of cinnamon before bringing to the boil until most of the liquid burns off and you’re left with a thick dark sauce. It will be quite reduced. Take off the heat and either serve immediately hot with lamb cutlets or spicy lamb meatballs. Otherwise leave to cool and chill overnight to serve it with cheese.

Stumbling upon this book in a Toronto bookstore was like finding the book you always needed but didn’t know it. Cuisines of the Axis of Evil and other irritating states – A dinner party approach to international relations, by Chris Fair. The author is a political strategist and South Asian expert and so behind a seemingly tongue in cheek project there lies a serious and thought provoking editorial. Each dinner party menu is preceded with a rather scathing commentary on why an irritating state is a rather less then savoury world player before laying out a menu based on their usually much less irritating cuisine.

EvilCuisines.com
Fair believes that food and foreign policy are inextricably linked and that a possible solution to international relations lies in a gigantic dinner party.

A great mixture of bed time reading and well planned easy to follow recipes. Should Obama fail to save the world through eloquent speeches and general intelligent politicking – perhaps peace and world order can be restored through dinnering?

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I have tried making this Persian dish a couple of times with varying degrees of success. It’s an Iranian staple cooked using duck or veal or lamb as well as chicken. There is a myriad of recipes for this available on the Internet and so it’s hard to know where to look so I always ended up going my own way not quite following the recipes to the letter but still coming up with a rich, fruity sweet and sour concoction. Impatience is my kitchen virtue, what can I say. While they say a blender or food processor is essential before you embark on such a recipe, take heart. I personally tend to leave the food processor where it can’t torment me with it’s bizarre adult proof lid and revert to the good old “place-nuts-in-plastic-bag-and-bash-relentlessly-on-the-floor-until-pulverised” method. This works well, at least until your neighbours object…

Chris Fair includes a recipe for this Iranian chicken, walnut and pomegranate stew Khoresh-e-Fesanjan and it is the best I’ve come across. Detailed and informed and easy to follow.

The following recipe is reproduced here from Chris Fair’s wonderful book as mentioned above. Highly recommend it.

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Ingredients
(Depending on how many people – this is for about 8
4 small yellow onion also finely chopped
1 pound walnuts shelled – roasted and cooled
half pound carrots
3 tablespoons pomegranate molasses or syrup
5 cups warm water
almost a teaspoon of saffron threads (if you have to, use powder)
2 teaspoons rock salt
4 tablespoons ghee (vegetable oil)
2 pounds skinless boneless chicken breasts
3 tablespoons demerera sugar (use white if necessary but a strong brown sugar is nicer)
1 and a half teaspoons cinnamo
n

Garnish

Fresh pomegranate seeds and rose petals

Making

Roast the walnuts being careful not to burn them -set aside and let cool. Slice the carrots and the onions finely. Then mix the pomegranate syrup with the warm water mixing well. Deal with the saffron – grind the saffron in a mortar and pestle with a little of the rock salt. Apparently some people use a sugar cube, up to you…

Then in a large skillet or pot heat the ghee or oil and fry the onions until translucent. Do this slowly so they don’t burn or become brown. Then fry the chopped chicken breasts until brown. I add a couple of tablespoons of water here to prevent sticking. Then add the carrots for another few minutes of frying stirring constantly on a low heat.

Pulverising the walnuts - ideally you have a food processor. I have one but the heartache involved every time in opening and closing the thing means I revert always to my trusty method of placing said walnuts in a plastic bag and pounding them for all I’m worth with a large rolling pin. Usually while crouching on the floor. So – whether by violent means or using a food processor you have learned to handle grind the walnuts into a fine powder. At this point either using a blender or a food processor – blend the rest of the salt, cinnamon, sugar and saffron into the pomegranate mixture . Add the fried carrots and blend again until smooth. Add the creamy mixture to the chicken. Then add the ground walnuts.

Cover the pot and simmer for about 40 minutes over a low heat. Walnuts burn easily so keep an eye on it.

At this point add a little sugar or syrup to taste, the colour will start to turn to a reddish brown and you can add water if necessary to prevent it from being too thick.

Serve with white rice and garnish with fresh pomegranate seeds.

The season starts around now and culminates with a jeweled flourish in January. A great source of vitamin C, the pomegranate is worthy of being designated a Pomegranitessuper food, a symbol of fertility and a pretty sweet contribution to cooking. From the city of Granada in Spain, renamed by the Moors to Botticelli’s ‘Our lady of the Pomegranate’ painting, the pomegranate has a rich and varied history around the world and plays a part in the symbolism and liturgy of the worlds main religions. The legends and myths surrounding the seeds are endless and too detailed to go into here. The seeds are perfect for salads and soups and the juice is perfect for cocktails and sauces for poultry and game. Pomegranate molasses are used in many sauces including muhammara. To make the juice, cut the pomegranate in half and sink the fruit into a bowl of water. Remove the seeds while the fruit is submerged so the peel and membrane float to the top to be discarded. Then press the seeds either in a food processor or an old fashioned juice press. To make molasses, just bring the juice to the boil on your stove with lemon juice and sugar simmering until you get the required consistency.

On a recent trip to the south west of China, our hosts in the Shaxi valley offered us pomegranates after dinner each night which we consumed while engrossed in incomprehensible soap operas. They were fresh, crunchy and reminded me that I wanted to experiment with them in the kitchen once I got back to Paris.

Pomegranate sauce

This simple sauce with yogurt and garlic and a touch of mint goes well with grilled lamb, green beans or perhaps as a dip. Otherwise, add the seeds to couscous, to rice, quinoa and to salads.DSC_0526

Ingredients

the seeds of 2 pomegranates
1 half of a clove of garlic
some roughly chopped fresh mint leaves
150 gr Greek or plain yogurt

Making

De-seed the pomegranates by cutting in half and freeing the seeds from the membrane
chop the garlic into a paste with a little salt and add to the yogurt, add the seeds and the mint, roughly mashing the seeds a little to release the juices.

Serve chilled.

Afterthought of the day.

Pomegranate “Pilav” : chop a little garlic and add to a hot pan, then add the seeds of one pomegranate with a little water (a tablespoon), stir quickly at a high heat for a few minutes, add a little turmeric and brown sugar (1 tablespoon), then add one cup of quinoa.

Bring to the boil, then simmer until the quinoa is cooked. Serve with a little crème fraiche stirred in while piping hot and 1 tablepoon of shoyu or tamari sauce.

Delicious all in a bowl supper, use rice, millet, couscous or any other grain you prefer and adjust cooking times accordingly.