supper club: Persian

supper club

We’ve recently gotten involved with a new supper club based up in Bellingham, and the group had our first real dinner on Saturday (not counting the initial planning event). Our theme was Persian food, and it was so successful we might have to do a Persian II sometime.

supper club

supper club

There were two versions of kuku (a Persian frittata), one herb-walnut and one pistachio, yogurt salad, and little bites of cucumber with cheese and walnuts. There was a beef-artichoke stew, three kinds of rice pilaf (one with lima beans and two with lamb), grilled chicken kebabs, and almond tart with pomegranate whipped cream. My husband made kebab b’il karaz (spicy lamb meatballs in sour cherry sauce – perhaps more Turkish than Persian, but very much appropriate flavors), and I made badenjan borani, my favorite fried eggplant dish covered in garlic-mint yogurt sauce. There was plenty of wine, and everything was wonderful. And beautiful! I wished that I had brought my good DSLR instead of trying to capture the dishes with my phone camera.

supper club

We’re very excited about the future of this supper club. Can’t wait for the next one! What should the theme be?

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lamb with prunes

dinner

Another dinner inspired by my culinary hero David Tanis and his book Heart of the Artichoke. In the past I haven’t much gone for prunes in savory dishes (I was traumatized by a pork-prune empanada at an impressionable age), but since David was pushing it I finally decided it was time to give it another try. This lamb shank tagine converted us, completely.

lamb shanks

We still had all four shanks from the lamb we bought from Martiny Suffolks last summer, and I wanted to be sure we ate them while the weather was still good for braising. My biggest error in the past with lamb shank has been not cooking it long enough, so I started early in the day to make sure it reached the fall-off-the-bone stage. The dish starts (as most tagines do) with onion cooked in butter, then adds garlic, fresh ginger, powdered ginger, coriander seed, cumin seed, saffron, and rather a lot of cayenne. Lamb shanks, prunes and sultanas nestle into the flavorings with a topping of chicken broth and tomato puree, then braise gently in the oven for over two hours. A final handful of prunes go in near the end, before taking the lid off the pot and simmering it at higher heat for a few minutes.

tagine

The house smelled incredible. The tagine was both savory and sweet, with a cayenne kick that was never quite too much. The lamb collapsed with a mere touch of a knife. The prunes melted into the gravy, giving it an incredible silken mouthfeel. To go with it, I cooked couscous with chicken broth, sauteed chard and spinach, and made a platter of borani: pan-fried eggplant slices topped with yogurt-garlic sauce. We licked our plates.

when all the pieces fit together

soup

Taking every leftover container out of the fridge and dumping it into a soup pot isn’t always a safe technique (or a good idea), but in this case it turned out to be the right thing. We had a few braised short ribs left, and I wanted to stretch them out into a full meal. I had a few other things to use up, and I decided that soup would be perfect, with a slight middle-eastern slant to it.

I started the soup with a bit of onion and garlic sizzled in olive oil, then added a sprinkle of ground cumin and hot paprika. Half a preserved lemon went in, roughly chopped. I thawed a container of broth made from 7-spice roast chicken, so it had a bit of sweet cinnamon flavor to it, and added it to the pot, then stirred in short grain rice and let it simmer.

When the rice was almost done, I added the cut-up short ribs and their juices (including braised leeks), some roasted bell peppers left over from tacos, and some cooked asparagus and roasted fingerling potatoes. A random assortment of stuff, maybe, but it pulled together beautifully in the spiced broth, with the rice as the unifying theme. Delicious, warming, and cheap.

nary a duck

dinner

It was hard to know what to eat after getting home from Duckfest. We’d eaten so much good food, I found myself wanting meals relatively light on carbs but not too depressingly healthy. I didn’t want to give us whiplash, after all.

This was a dinner that really hit the spot. Jon made up his favorite recipe for kofte kebabs with a mix of beef and lamb, but turned it into meatloaf instead of individual burgers or kebabs. I roasted a panful of cauliflower florets tossed with olive oil, cumin seed and mustard seed, and stirred up some yogurt with fresh garlic, dried mint, salt and pepper.

It was the perfect combination of comforting, spicy and virtuous.

cooking class: festive Lebanese food

cooking class 12/3/09

More dumplings! This was a class on Lebanese home cooking, with a focus on festive dishes for the holidays. Nahla Gholam, one of the owners of the fabulous store Mediterranean Specialties in Bellingham, demonstrated three recipes: sheesh barak, beet salad and roasted seven-spice chicken.

cooking class 12/3/09cooking class 12/3/09

Sheesh barak, lamb dumplings in yogurt soup, is a very old and traditional dish. It incorporates some of my favorite flavors in the whole world, so there was basically no chance I wouldn’t like it. Making the dumplings was a little tricky, but Nahla insisted it was almost impossible to mess them up (ha!). The dough was just flour and water and very stretchy, which helped us recover from our mistakes.

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best. falafel. ever.

Falafel on Rue des Rosiers

We’ve been in Paris for a week now and are almost due to come home. We’ve eaten many good things (macarons, croissants, terrines, fromage blanc, braised rabbit, et cetera et cetera) but interestingly enough it’s been the falafel sandwiches that have really made an impact.

Just a few blocks from our apartment, on the Rue des Rosiers in the Jewish quarter, is a collection of competing falafel shops. They also serve schawarma, merguez sausages and other sandwiches to go, but falafel is really the star attraction here.

Falafel on Rue des Rosiers

L’As du Fallafel is the granddaddy of the falafel shops, and the one that gets all the attention in guidebooks. As promised, there was a fairly long line, plus a falafel hawker out front doing everything but actually grabbing people off the street and shoving them into line. I had heard, though, that another place was actually better, so we resisted the hawker and eased our way through the crowds to the other side of the street.

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Joule Urban BBQ

menu

At long last, we finally made it down to one of Joule’s Urban Barbecue days. Given how much we love Joule, it was just a matter of time.

Joule

Joule’s owner-chefs, Seif and Rachel, began this series last summer, where every Sunday they’re open from noon until 8 pm, with live music and a different food theme. Normally the food here is a fun riff on Korean cuisine with French influences, but the Urban BBQ gives them a chance to play with all sorts of different menus. Last week the theme was “New England Crab Boil,” which didn’t really appeal to us, but last night the theme was Tunisia. We made a special effort to be in town for this one.

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muhammara

bell pepper

For the last six months or so there has been a recipe (a clipping from Bon Appetit or some such publication) stuck to the refrigerator with a magnet. I guess I somehow thought that if it was out in plain sight I would actually make it – sort of a triumph of optimism over experience. Turns out that staring at something every day doesn’t necessarily inspire you to do something about it…

muhammara

I did make it, finally, for a middle-eastern themed dinner party we gave recently. Sort of a miracle, really. The recipe was for muhammara, a Syrian puree of roasted red peppers, walnuts and pomegranate molasses, and it seemed so completely up my alley that I can’t believe how long I waited to try it. I’m usually such a sucker for anything with pomegranate molasses.  Continue reading

ouzo shrimp and bread salad

salad

When I decided to make two new recipes for dinner out of a brand new Malouf & Malouf  cookbook, I figured there was a chance it might be a complete flop, but at least it would look pretty. Fortunately for me, it was pretty and tasty: shrimp with ouzo and garlic, and a salad of watercress, red onion, radish and fried strips of pita bread. It was good enough to make again; a little tweaking is in order for next time, of course.

fried pita strips

The most exciting part was cutting a pita bread into thin strips and frying it in olive oil and butter until golden and crispy. That was really, really fun. The resulting croutons were almost like buttery potato chips. Continue reading

a new bulgur pilaf

dinner

This has been a great season for cabbage. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever eaten as much cabbage as I have this winter. This is partly due to an influx of wonderful new recipes, but also just an increased appreciation for the flavor of properly cooked cabbage. Plus, it’s way cheap.

tonight's cabbage
ground allspice

The latest installment of “cabbage — it’s what’s for dinner” takes the form of a bulgur pilaf. I love bulgur, for its chewiness, nuttiness, and most importantly, easy-to-cookness. This pilaf accents the sweet earthy flavors of bulgur and cabbage with sumac, allspice, green onion and pine nuts. The sumac provides a cool sour note that makes this a little different than your (meaning my) usual workaday bulgur pilaf. And freshly ground allspice just makes your kitchen smell wonderful. Continue reading