Recovering from the Easter brunch carb overload, I went looking for something interesting yet digestible to make for dinner. I ended up with an impromptu combination based on a couple of recipes in a Penelope Casas book. Two pork tenderloins cut into medallions, then marinated in a pesto of fresh parsley, garlic, salt and olive oil, and pan seared in a skillet, were easy and bright tasting. To go with I sauteed a bunch of Swiss chard in olive oil then added a little slurry of ground cumin in red wine vinegar. It was great – next time I might try the full recipe of sauteed bread mushed up with the cumin and vinegar.
A month or two ago, at dinner at a friend’s house, we tasted an apple risotto for the first time. I had never heard or thought of such a thing before, but I can’t think why not. The risotto was served as a first course, with a small piece of seared foie gras on top, and it was astonishing. I don’t generally have foie gras on hand, but I thought that there must be other flavors that would go well with the risotto. I tried it out last night, making up the risotto recipe as I went, and serving it with seared kielbasa slices and some sauteed escarole with garlic.
All I did for the risotto was chop some shallot and saute it in butter…
…then I added diced Granny Smith apple…
…then tossed in a cup or so of Arborio, sauteed it briefly, then ladled in chicken stock until everything was done. A bit of grated Parmesan finished it off. It was nice, although I couldn’t help feeling I might have preferred having the apple in large slices, simply seared in butter and served on the side. Also, the escarole (which I love) was perhaps too strong a flavor here, overwhelming the delicate apple (although it went splendidly with the smoky kielbasa). Live and learn; maybe next time I’ll try serving this with scallops. And maybe a pinch of fresh thyme in the risotto? We shall see.
This was a really successful variation on our favorite lamb pizza. I topped it with the usual mix of ground lamb and sweet onions, flavored with cinnamon and tamarind, but then added butter-soft, long-cooked broccoli rabe. A recent issue of Saveur had a feature on vegetables cooked until very soft and sweet, and it occurred to me that bitter greens done this way would be a fantastic pizza topping, especially paired with the richness of lamb. I added mozzarella as well, but it would have been equally good with feta or no cheese at all.
This pasta had a lot of things going for it. First, a pound of the newly available and awesome hot Italian sausage from the Skagit Co-op (we are very excited about their new line of housemade sausages). Next, a large bag of Blue Heron Farm’s braising mix of tender bitter greens, which I’ve been very much missing since they stopped coming to our local farmer’s market. Thirdly, a ladleful of bay- and garlic-flavored white beans left over from a previous dinner. Mixed up with gemelli and some fresh olive oil this was a really delicious dinner to eat in front of Jeeves & Wooster on a Friday evening at home. And, perhaps, even better a day or two later with a dollop of ricotta stirred into it.
The last package of pork chops from our freezer pig, brined in sugar and salt and grilled over charcoal. Broccoli rabe from Dunbar Gardens, sauteed in lots of olive oil with sliced garlic and red chile. Soft polenta with butter and parmesan. A quiet evening and a half bottle of Shooting Star Lemberger left over from the night before. The beginning of summer.
Yet another highly successful recipe from 660 Curries! Saag murgh (chicken with spinach) is a classic Indian dish, and this version kicks it up a little by substituting mustard greens for part of the spinach. Our local grocery, somewhat bafflingly, nearly always has exuberantly fresh mustard greens in its produce department, so this was an easy dish to put together.
Bone-in chicken would give the most flavor, but I used boneless skinless chicken thighs (as I often do – they’re easier to take to work as leftovers). A marinade of spices, cilantro and yogurt gave it excellent flavor.
I browned the chicken, took it out of the pan and fried some onions, then added the mixed spinach and mustard greens and used their liquid to scrape up the fond in the pan. The chicken went back in for a long simmer amid the greens. I tried pureeing the greens (minus the chicken) before serving but made the mistake of using the blender instead of the food processor, and nearly exploded the lot. I settled for “pleasantly chunky”, which was still just fine for scooping up with chunks of chicken and fresh Afghan-style naan.
It was a chain reaction. I picked up a copy of Tamasin Day-Lewis’ book Supper for a Song at the library, and while finding it attractive but irritating (does she really think that scallops and pheasant are budget ingredients?) also noticed that she included a lot of Afghan-inspired recipes from the book Noshe Djan by Helen Saberi. I adore Central Asian food, especially Afghan, but have very few recipes to work from, so I was happy to get the recommendation. I returned Day-Lewis to the library and went looking for Saberi instead.
I managed to find the book shortly afterwards while browsing at Barbara-Jo’s Books to Cooks in Vancouver (always a good place to look for obscure cookbooks), republished under the title Afghan Food & Cookery. It’s definitely no-frills, but there are some really intriguing dishes in here, including several versions of ash and a hell of a lot of kebabs. I finally tried some recipes out of it last week, and was pleased with the amount of detail in the cooking instructions. The spinach with rhubarb was very successful, the mastawa (sticky rice with lamb and yogurt) more of a mixed result. I want to make both of them again, but possibly with some adjustments.
The spinach dish is a wonderful thing to make at this season, when greens and rhubarb are both at their best. I sliced some leeks, sauteed them in olive oil, then added spinach to the pan and cooked it down. A stalk of rhubarb, cut into pieces, was fried in a little oil and tossed in along with some dried dill. The whole thing cooks down to a rather unappetizing-looking mess, but it’s delicious, the rhubarb adding a quiet tart note that balances the sweetness of the leeks. It reminded me of the Kurdish Rhubarb Braise that we often make in early summer, but it’s much simpler.
Mastawa was much more complicated and time-consuming. I simmered whole lamb shoulder chops with water and onions until the meat fell off the bones, then shredded it by hand. I added washed short-grain rice to the lamb and broth and let it cook, then added soaked orange peel, a can of chickpeas, two whole cups of yogurt and dried dill. It smelled wonderful, but the result was strangely like orange rice pudding – the lamb and onions nearly vanished, and the orange flavor was overwhelming against the blandness of the rice and yogurt. It was very soothing, like congee, and we found a good splash of Sriracha helped a lot to perk it up. I would make this again if I wanted something soft and comforting to eat from a deep bowl in an armchair during the winter, otherwise I would maybe add less rice and a lot more herbs.
I do think it was a successful venture into Afghan cookery. Looking forward to grilling some kebabs and naan!
My mother has, in the last year, gotten sort of obsessed with arugula pizza, and it’s gradually infected us as well. Tutta Bella makes a particularly good one, which we had recently on a day when my parents and I converged on Seattle. A very simple pizza, it was topped only with prosciutto, a bit of tomato and cheese, with fresh arugula leaves added after cooking so they stayed fresh. When Jon and I stopped by the Dunbar Gardens farmstand last week, that pizza being fresh in my mind, a huge bunch of fresh arugula called out to me and demanded to be made into dinner.
I had been thinking in terms of putting the prosciutto on the pizza before baking it, then adding the greens partway through. But I noticed over on Epicurious that another option is to bake the pizza with nothing but cheese, then add the prosciutto and greens after it comes out of the oven. We tried it, and it was very successful – instead of crisping up, the prosciutto melts softly into the hot cheese, and the arugula perches on top, wilting only slightly where it touches. A little awkward to eat, perhaps, but you can always use a fork to snatch extra leaves off the plate. We ate the leftovers for breakfast the next morning with…yup…a fried egg. Fantastic.
Directions: in August (approximately six months before serving), barbecue some pork ribs. Make sure they’re good and charred and salty. Eat them, then make stock out of the bones and freeze it. In April, take the stock out and thaw it. Cook some beans. Blanch collard greens and chop them. Sear chunks of country-style boneless pork ribs in oil and remove them from the pan. Saute a lot of garlic in the remaining oil, then add back the pork and pour in the smoky, salty stock. Simmer, covered, until the meat is tender, maybe an hour. Add the beans and greens. Eat voraciously, and wish you had thought to make cornbread.
Most yogurt soups I’ve seen have been summer concoctions, raw and chilled. But I really liked this yogurt-spinach soup, spiced with green chile and ginger, thickened with chickpea flour and served hot. It was bright, tart, fresh, and very warming. We found it in Meena Pathak’s book Flavors of India, where she explains that this is what her mother made for her to eat every day after school in the winter, and it really is comfort food, especially if you have fried potatoes or warm flatbreads (or even better, samosas) to dip in it. When we made it, we served it as a side dish with an aromatic chicken-tomato curry and a side of spiced okra, and it made a beautifully balanced meal. It’s a great way of getting some extra greens on the table, and very quick to make.
This was a pretty spicy soup, mostly because I like to microplane hot chiles to get a smooth texture – but that means all the seeds and membranes go in. If you want it milder, you could deseed the chile and mince it finely, but I don’t think I would leave it out altogether.
Yogurt Spinach Soup
Adapted from Flavors of India: Authentic Indian Recipes by Meena Pathak. Serves two as a starter or side dish.
- 1 heaping Tablespoon chickpea flour
- 2 Tbsp water
- 3 oz fresh spinach, washed and shredded
- 1/2 cup plain yogurt
- 1/2 piece fresh ginger, minced or microplaned
- 1 hot green chile, minced or microplaned
- pinch of sugar
- pinch of salt
- 1 cup water
- 1 Tbsp cilantro, chopped
Combine the chickpea flour and the 2 Tbsp water in a small bowl and set aside.
In a saucepan, combine the yogurt, ginger, chiles, sugar, salt, and 1 cup water. Stir in the chickpea flour mixture and place the pan over medium heat. Bring to a boil, whisking frequently, until the liquid thickens slightly. Add the spinach, stir until wilted, then serve. Garnish each bowl with fresh cilantro.