fenugreek leaves

fenugreek leaves

I’ve written about fun things we’ve cooked with fenugreek leaves before, but always using dried, which is all we’d been able to find at our usual haunts. On a recent foray to the Lynnwood H-Mart for kimchi supplies, while hunting through the vast produce area for scallions and ginger, Jon spied pre-packaged bunches of fresh fenugreek. We bought a pack (only 99 cents!), immediately searched through our cookbooks to find an appropriate recipe, and the following evening we made a curry of cubed lamb simmered with warm spices and the fresh fenugreek, served with rice and fried red onion slices. It was SO GOOD.

lamb fenugreek curry

The lamb, simmering in its gravy, was one of the best-smelling things we’ve ever had in our kitchen, and that’s saying something. Fenugreek is one of those things that makes curry taste like curry, and the overall effect was of wonderful savoriness. Continue reading

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more butter

dinner

So we recently caved and bought another cookbook. We’ve really been very good recently, but the cover of this one had been making us drool during our last few bookstore visits and we finally just had to. The book is Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi of the London restaurant Ottolenghi, apparently a collection of recipes from his vegetarian column in the Guardian. One of the first things we tried out of it was a dish of noodles dressed with vast quantities of Moroccan spiced butter, fresh herbs, and pine nuts. I didn’t make the noodles from scratch with saffron mixed into the dough, although I’m sure that would have been lovely, but it just wasn’t happening.

shallots in butter

Nearly every recipe in the book contains a ton of shallots. I hardly ever cook with shallots, so it seems novel to me. They got really sweet and melting after simmering in a stick’s worth of butter for ten or fifteen minutes (but who wouldn’t?)

spices

Once the shallots were soft I added the mix of paprika, cinnamon, coriander, ginger, turmeric and red pepper flakes. After smelling the mixture Jon pointed out I could have just used the Moroccan seven-spice we have in our spice drawer, which smells exactly the same.

mint and parsley

Then I mixed in a big pile of fresh mint and parsley. Our mint plant is producing particularly vast and fragrant leaves right now; when I was chopping these up Jon smelled them from two rooms away.

pasta with spiced butter, herbs and pine nuts

Then all that remained was to toast a handful of pine nuts and toss them in. We ate the noodles alongside small lamb chops and a pile of sauteed Swiss chard, and it was good. Buttery as all get out, but good. It was too rich for us to eat the whole batch, but I saved the leftovers and mixed albacore tuna into them for lunch the next day, which balanced it out nicely.

Thai chicken

chicken basil stirfry

I’ve made this Thai chicken stirfry three times so far, and I still can’t believe how easy and wonderful it is. The base recipe is from Alford and Duguid’s Hot Sour Salty Sweet: chop a pound of chicken (I like boneless thigh meat) into small pieces, and mince five cloves of garlic and a couple of serrano or bird chiles. Heat peanut oil in a wok and toss in the garlic and chile, then add the chicken. Stirfry until not quite cooked through, then add a tablespoon of fish sauce, a bit of soy, a bit of sugar, and cook it all together until the chicken is done. Add a big handful of Thai basil leaves and turn off the heat so they wilt but don’t overcook. Add a lot of freshly ground black pepper. The flavors are much bigger and more exciting than you’d think from the small amount of seasoning, but definitely don’t skimp on the garlic!

I’ve adapted the recipe by throwing in green beans or other veg, which was good but diluted the seasoning on the chicken – I think I prefer cooking a vegetable separately with its own flavors. I’ve also tried substituting a mix of cilantro and fresh mint for the Thai basil, which is a suggestion we got from Cook’s Illustrated. The original recipe actually calls for holy basil, but I can’t get that around here – someday I’ll try it. I imagine regular European basil would work, too, in a pinch. The stirfry should be served with plenty of rice to soak up the fish sauce-y juices.

cucumber salad

When I made the chicken again earlier this week I threw together this cucumber salad to go alongside. I glanced at two recipes but didn’t quite follow either; I put a spoonful of sugar in a bowl along with a splash of rice vinegar, a splash of Chinese black vinegar, and a drizzle of homemade chili oil, then stirred it all up and added diced, seeded cucumber and a handful of fresh chopped cilantro. We had to restrain ourselves from eating the whole bowlful so there would be leftovers.

Gentleman's Relish and meyer lemon salsa

gentleman's relish

meyer lemon salsa

Looking for something new and fun to do for a dinner party, I cracked open my copy of Sunday Suppers at Lucques by Suzanne Goin. I had a really lovely piece of locally caught halibut and she has a recipe for a fresh herbal meyer lemon salsa to serve with halibut, so I thought I’d try that. Then, a few pages away, I found a recipe for Gentleman’s Relish. A Victorian-era spread once thought unsuitable for ladies’ palates, it’s really just an anchovy herb butter – and that just sounded amazing. So I made that, too, to spread on pieces of sourdough baguette before dinner. Both things went over well.

butter

Any recipe that starts with a bowl of butter is fun to make.

anchovies

This was also a good excuse to buy some new anchovies (we were out). This jar should last us a while.

fresh garden herbs

Both the relish and salsa are perfect things to make this time of year, when the chives are coming up and the mint is beginning to explode out of the ground. The salsa calls for savory, which I don’t currently grow, but Goin recommends substituting with equal parts fresh thyme, mint and rosemary, so I did that. The result, with the spicy-tart meyer lemons, was quite fabulous. I liked it with the halibut, but I liked it even more spread on pan-fried rainbow trout the next day. I wonder what else it would be good on – chicken, maybe?

The Gentleman’s Relish was amazing, too – I played a little loose with the quantities, but I think it could have taken quite a bit more anchovy. We put the little bit of leftover spread on steaks a few days later, which was absolutely all right. Also on steamed asparagus. Although it rapidly becomes all to easy to eat a vast quantity of butter this way. If you think that’s a problem.

Gentleman’s Relish

from Sunday Suppers at Lucques: Seasonal Recipes from Market to Table by Suzanne Goin

  • 6 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 tsp minced anchovy
  • 2 tsp minced shallot
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 1/4 tsp lemon zest
  • pinch of cayenne
  • 1 tsp minced parsley
  • 1 tsp minced chives
  • salt and pepper to taste

Let the butter soften, then add all the other ingredients and mash it up together. Serve at room temperature for easy spreading.

gentleman's relish

Meyer Lemon Salsa

from Sunday Suppers at Lucques: Seasonal Recipes from Market to Table by Suzanne Goin

  • 2 meyer lemons
  • 2 Tbsp minced shallot
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1 tsp minced savory (or equal parts thyme, mint and rosemary)
  • 1 Tbsp sliced mint
  • 2 Tbsp chopped parsley
  • salt and pepper

Cut the rind off the lemons and remove the membranes from each section, keeping any juice that is expressed. Set aside the lemon sections, cutting them into smaller pieces if you like. Put the reserved lemon juice in a bowl with the shallots and a pinch of salt. Whisk in the olive oil, then stir in the lemon pieces and other ingredients.

supreming meyer lemons

Tender

Tender (plus beet)

After a bit of a dry spell, we bought ourselves a new cookbook: Tender, by Nigel Slater. Nigel is one of those people that could write a shopping list and I’d buy it. When it’s a discussion of fresh vegetables and home gardening and things to cook in season, there’s definitely no question. I brought it home and immediately read it cover to cover.

The way I envision using this book is the all-too-frequent case where I have a vegetable languishing in the fridge and I can’t think what to do with it. I might not follow one of Nigel’s recipes – much of what he does is very similar to what I do when I’m winging it – but having all the possibilities laid out at once is tremendously helpful, and his tone is deeply encouraging. In this case, I had some beets.

beet

We ate the greens off the beets a couple of weeks ago, and it was about time to use up the roots. Nigel’s recipe for beet tzatziki actually only used one beet, but it reminded me of their existence and I made borsch with the remainder a few days later.

beet tzatziki

Beet tzatziki is pretty darn simple: just yogurt seasoned with garlic, fresh mint, and grated raw beet, in pretty much any proportion. The trick seems to be finding any middle ground between the moment you start stirring it together and the moment (very soon afterwards) when it suddenly looks like thickened Pepto Bismol. Or raspberry ice cream. Something very, very pink. In any case, it tastes good. It makes your dinner plate look kind of awful, though.

beet tzatziki

about to process

The chickpea fritters that Nigel suggests to go with the tzatziki were a lot of fun. I’ve made falafel many times from a mix, and read recipes for making it with soaked, ground chickpeas, but it never really occurred to me that I could just puree cooked chickpeas with herbs and an egg and fry it. It might not be a true falafel but they were extremely good. They’re very soft-textured, though, so I think they’re best eaten with a fork rather than stuffed into a pita, which would just mush them into hummus. Not that that wouldn’t be tasty, too.

falafel ingredients

falafel

falafel

Chickpea Fritters

adapted from Tender: A Cook and His Vegetable Patch by Nigel Slater

  • one can chickpeas, drained
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1 egg
  • bunch of parsley
  • handful of mint
  • salt and pepper

Roughly chop the parsley and mint leaves and the garlic. Put everything into a food processor and whirl it around until it’s mixed but still just a touch chunky. Let it sit for ten minutes (apparently this is important, although I didn’t notice much difference).

Heat a film of olive oil in a nonstick pan (or two, if you don’t have a pan big enough for all of the fritters at once). Add the chickpea mixture in dollops – it will be very soft. Smooth out the dollops with the back of the spoon, then leave them the heck alone until they begin to brown on the underside. Don’t poke at them, they’ll fall apart! When they seem to be getting a good crust, flip them over quickly with a thin spatula and cook the other side.

Serve with tzatziki (beet or otherwise) and a green salad.

fenugreek chapati

poof!

Speaking of 660 Curries (I never seem to shut up about it, do I), I recently tried a recipe from the back of the book, where he puts the curry accompaniments. It was a basic chapati, or roti, recipe, but with the addition of fenugreek leaves. These are one of those specialty items that we bought some time ago but then seldom used, so I was thrilled to find something new to do with them. And I was startled at how good it was – the leaves perfume the chapatis with a fresh green scent, and also seem to make the dough softer and better to eat. Amazing. I make chapatis all the time, but this variation is going to become part of the regular rotation.

chapati dough

I don’t measure too carefully when I make chapati. To make breads for the two of us (about 6 small chapati) I generally use about a half cup of whole wheat flour, a half cup of all-purpose, a pinch of salt, and maybe half a cup of warm water, then adjust with more flour or water as necessary to make a smooth dough. For the fenugreek breads, I added 1/4 cup of dried fenugreek leaves, soaked in cold water for 15 minutes then drained before mixing into the dough. If I had fresh or frozen leaves (which I’ve never seen anywhere), then it would have been half a cup of chopped leaves. I kneaded the dough for a bit, rolled it into a ball and let it rest about half an hour under its mixing bowl.

rolled out

When the rest of the dinner was ready, I cut the dough into six pieces, rolled them out into thin circles, plopped them onto a hot griddle, turning once, then put them directly onto a gas flame to poof them up. We usually just cook them entirely on the griddle, but since I had a spare burner available I thought I’d try the direct-on-flame approach, and it worked really well. So often when we cook Indian food, though, every burner is in use, so this may not happen again soon.

The breads rested in a basket lined with a clean dishtowel while we set the table, and were perfectly soft and chewy. It was difficult not to overeat. Plus the house smelled wonderfully of fenugreek all evening.

braising a bunny

dinner

I really don’t know why Americans don’t eat rabbit. There’s definitely a factor of “oh, it’s too CUTE to eat” which is part of why we don’t eat much lamb as a nation, either. But it’s really hard to find rabbit in grocery stores – we asked once at our usual market and I think they could special order it frozen for us if we gave them enough notice, and it cost an arm and a leg. Weird.

So when a friend of ours, a local farmer, asked if we wanted to take one of the rabbits she’s been shooting to keep them out of her vegetables, we said Definitely. Even before we received the rabbit, I started looking through my British and Mediterranean cookbooks for possible recipes. We haven’t had much experience cooking wild game of any sort, so I wanted to get a feel for the most common treatments. Rabbit isn’t a strongly gamey meat, but it’s still liable to be stronger-tasting than, say, a farm-raised chicken, and the meat is very dense and low in fat, so it requires some care in preparation.

rabbit

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another great combo

chimichurri

I’m not feeling very verbose today, but I want to get this post up while I’m thinking about it. What am I thinking about? Pot beans with chimichurri. I’m not sure why I stumbled across this combination, but it was wonderful and we’ve eaten all the leftovers and now I’m going to have to make it again very soon.

vaquero beans

I used speckled Vaquero beans from Rancho Gordo, soaked in salt water, then rinsed and cooked with onions and garlic fried in bacon fat. The beans had a soft texture and nice flavor, and kept their pretty spots much better than I expected. They were good by themselves, but with a drizzle of chimichurri on top – woof! It was incredible. I ate a whole bowl of just beans and sauce for lunch yesterday, with a piece of good sourdough bread.

The chimichurri I made this time was a bit different than the one I described back in February. I used a recipe from Francis Mallmann’s amazing book Seven Fires: Grilling the Argentine Way, which goes like this:

Chimichurri Sauce

  • 1 cup water
  • 1 Tbsp kosher salt
  • 1 cup fresh parsley
  • 1 cup fresh oregano
  • 2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 head garlic, broken apart and peeled
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil Continue reading

growing herbs

rosemary and friends

I will always make room in my garden for herbs.

Also garlic, and spring bulbs, and maple trees, and iris (my garden is pretty full of stuff)…but if I could only grow a few plants, they would almost certainly be herbs. Pretty, hardy, easy to grow, and edible – what more could you ask from a plant? Not to mention how much a pack of fresh herbs costs at the grocery store. It’s cheaper to grow them yourself, and you know they’re fresh when you picked out of the back garden just a few minutes before dinner.

Here’s what’s currently growing in my garden:

sage

sage

I’ve always grown sage. My main sage bush came from a clump in my mother’s garden in Eastern Washington, unceremoniously dug out with a shovel and plopped into my first real garden over ten years ago. It gets straggly, but I simply cut it back hard and back it comes. I have several more sage plants, including a culinary sage in a pot on the deck, a large leaf sage mostly for ornament in the front yard, and a few purple sages for color. I hardly ever have dried sage on hand in the kitchen, because I can always go outside and pick some fresh, even in the snow.

new bay leaves

I was so thrilled when I realized the Western Washington climate allowed me to grow bay laurel. I’m not sure I’d ever had sweet bay before, just the slightly toxic and harsh California bay sold in grocery stores. I adore fresh bay leaves, and use them in soups, braises, curries and roasts. A leaf in a simmering bechamel sauce gives it a great earthy scent. Going out to the patio in my bathrobe to pick a few leaves is a wonderful thing. My tree was enormous a few years ago, pushing up through the decking, but then a hard winter took it down and it’s currently reinventing itself with a forest of suckers. Sometimes when it needs pruning I’ll take a branch inside, so I’ll have dry leaves for blending into curry powders and sausage.

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beef-lebni stroganoff

stroganoff

This stroganoff was one of those dinners that naturally arises by examining a number of random leftovers: in our case, a container of lebni, a bag of mushrooms, some partial leeks and a bunch of fresh dill left from our post-Easter brunch. Combine all that with some sliced seared steak and some egg noodles and you have a really good quick beef stroganoff.

I don’t think it would have occurred to me to use lebni in a stroganoff, but I liked the effect. It’s similar to sour cream but has a denser texture and is slightly less tart. It worked great with the mushrooms and dill. Come to think of it, that would be a really nice dip or spread right there – maybe I’ll try that next time I have these particular leftovers in the house.