April 15, 2015

FIZZY RHUBARB SHRUB





I don't know about you, but I take immense pleasure in a good drink. Coffee is a daily necessity for me. I try to be diligent about my water intake. But really I find nothing more refreshing than a fruity, homemade beverage.

I'm guessing most of you are hip to the shrub thang, but if shrubs are new to you, you're in for a treat. If you're solidly in the ultra sweet soda-y camp, you might find the vinegar hit of a shrub to be odd, but if you're like me and dig a drink that's sweet, tart, and bubbly all at the same time, shrubs will treat you right.

Rhubarb - always a good player in the tangy-sweet world - seems a perfect springtime star for a homemade shrub.

INGREDIENTS
  • 1 pound rhubarb, sliced into into 1/4 inch semicircles
  • 2 cups light agave nectar
  • 1/2 cup good quality apple cider vinegar 
  • sparking water
  • optional for serving: sprigs of fresh thyme, kumquat slices, or an orange twist would be nice here






In a medium mixing bowl, combine sliced rhubarb and agave. Cover and let sit at room temp for 48 hours. Strain, reserving syrup. Add good apple cider vinegar to the liquid and you’ve got your shrub. (Feel free to add more vinegar if that suits you, adjusting the tang to your liking.) Transfer syrup to a lidded container - and keep in the refrigerator.

( You can discard the rhubarb slices, or I save them in a separate lidded container and add them to my morning bowl of granola and Greek yogurt.)

I'd suggest combining 3-4 portions sparkling water to 1 portion of shrub, but feel free to make a more concentrated or diluted shrub depending on your taste. Serve over ice. Add a little citrus or fresh thyme if you please. You can also add a splash of rhubarb shrub to your cocktails.







March 18, 2015

QUINOA ORZO WITH ASPARAGUS + PRESERVED LEMON DRESSING



Purchasing my first bundle of asparagus each year marks a tectonic shift in our kitchen. I feel ready to let go of heartier soups and starchy roots as I start to dream of the vibrant greens that only early spring can bring. Peas, wild nettles, bright salads, freshness...

Today I wanted to share a super easy dish that lets asparagus bask in its natural glory. Speaking of natural glory... have you tried storing your asparagus in water? It's a great way to keep the spears firm and fresh. I like the notion of treating asparagus like any other spring bloom... maybe I'm just a produce nerd, but I'd be quite happy to get a bouquet of asparagus in lieu of flowers.

INGREDIENTS
  • 1.5 cups uncooked quinoa orzo* (any orzo will do here, or you could substitute a few cups of cooked wild rice for this recipe)
  • 1 bunch asparagus, trimmed and sliced
  • 1 large or 2 small preserved lemons (if you don't have access to preserved lemons - I think using additional fresh lemon juice and fresh lemon zest would make a nice substitution). For details on making your own preserved lemons, here's a recipe for you.
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice + more to taste
  • 2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan + shaved Parm for serving
  • freshly ground black pepper and sea salt
  • for serving: arugula or chopped parsley; another squirt of fresh lemon juice; shaved Parm or crumbled goat cheese
*A local company named Edison Grainery has been doing all sort of interesting things with grains, specifically organic quinoa. We're addicted to their quinoa crispies and I really like their quinoa orzo.




Fill and large stock pot with tap water and salt very generously. Set pot over high heat and bring water to a boil.

In a large mixing bowl, set up an ice bath for the asparagus.

When the water comes to a rolling boil, blanch asparagus slices until vibrant green and just tender, depending on the thickness of your stalks, this could take 1-3 minutes. Don't pour out the cooking water, simply scoop out tender asparagus with a slotted spoon and immediately plunge the veg into an ice bath. Keep your salty cooking water on the stove and use it for your orzo.

Cook orzo until it reaches your desired texture. (For those of you using the Edison quinoa orzo, I've found that the cooking time is much longer than that suggested on the package.)

While the orzo is cooking, go ahead and make your dressing. A note on preserved lemons: when using preserved lemons, you want to discard the flesh and use only the peel. Rinse the pieces of preserved lemon peel and place them in a blender or food processor. Add olive oil, lemon juice, grated Parm, plenty of ground black pepper and salt to taste. Blitz all ingredients. Taste for seasoning and add a little more lemon juice and/or salt as desired.

When the orzo has finished cooking, drain and transfer it to a serving dish. Pull asparagus from the ice bath, pat dry and add to the orzo. Generously dress the dish, adding additional salt or lemon juice to your liking.

Serve warm or room temp with ample freshly ground black pepper, shaved Parm or creamy goat cheese, scattered arugula leaves or chopped herbs. Although not necessary, I like to give the dish one last squeeze of fresh lemon juice just to bring out the springy brightness.

Enjoy!

serves 4-6

BTW, did you guys read the new piece by Mark Bittman about cooking and eating in Berkeley? I'm happy to see Mark so enjoying California produce and our beloved Monterey Market, but I have to say... I'm scared that the already-insane parking lot situation is about to get much much worse!

February 17, 2015

PERSIAN "MATZOH BALL" SOUP


I bought Louisa Shafia's The New Persian Kitchen ages ago, but we hadn't put it to proper use until last week. When I first brought her beautiful book home, I bookmarked a bunch of tempting recipe, but as with so many of my cookbooks, I love to peruse the recipes and pages yet I don't always carve out the time to cook from them. I'm glad I finally took the plunge with Louisa.

Despite the crazy summer weather we're having here in the Bay Area, everyone in my little family has been battling sniffles, coughs and belly aches over the past few weeks, and we've been in serious need of comfort food. The kids always ask for Paul's classic and simple chicken soup. My Cozy Winter Stew (recipe in my book) is on heavy rotation around here and always a crowd-pleaser, but I've also been craving something new.

Louisa's Persian twist on Matzoh Ball Soup totally satisfies - the hints of turmeric and cardamom warm the belly; homemade chicken broth soothes; citrus juice, dill, and baby spinach bring out amazing freshness; and the dumplings - made with chickpea flour, onion, spices and ground chicken (vegetarian friends, you can use tofu instead) - are the worthy heroes of this dish. The "matzoh balls" are fluffy in texture, yet dense with protein and flavor. Thank goodness we finally tried this soup... I strongly suggest you do the same. Pronto.


INGREDIENTS adapted from Louisa Shafia's The New Persian Kitchen
Serves 4-6
  • 2 yellow onions
  • 1 egg
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons ground cardamom
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 2 tablespoons grapeseed oil
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cups chickpea flour
  • 1 pound ground chicken, turkey or tofu
  • 12 cups homemade chicken or veggie stock
  • 1 large carrot or 6 small carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 2 cups cooked chickpeas (one 15 ounce can, drained and rinsed)
  • 2 cups loosely packed fresh dill, parsley or cilantro
  • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • Lime wedges for serving*
  • optional: a few handfuls of fresh baby spinach leaves (Note: Louisa doesn't call for any greens, but I can't help myself. I love wilted greens in soup!)

* Louisa's recipe called for 4 dried limes to add to the broth, but I wasn't able to find them at my local market, so I squeezed in fresh lime juice at serving time.

At least 4 hours before you want to eat, or even the night before you want to serve the soup, prep the matzoh balls. Get out your food processor and puree the yellow onions. Scoop pureed onions into a large mixing bowl and whisk in egg, minced garlic, cardamom, turmeric, grapeseed oil, 2 teaspoons salt and a few generous grinds of black pepper. Finally add chickpea flour and ground chicken. Stir to combine. Cover the mixture and refrigerate for 4 -24 hours. You'll need the batter to be chilled in order to form the balls later.

After adequate chilling, go ahead and form little round dumplings with your hands. First, wet your hands with cool tap water, then pinch off walnut-sized pieces and roll to make your "matzoh" balls.

In the meantime, in a large stockpot or Dutch Oven, heat 12 cups of broth (with 2 teaspoons sea salt) until it reaches a rolling boil. One at a time, carefully lower dumplings to the hot broth. (I found that I had more dumplings than I needed or that would fit properly into pot, so I saved a batch to make more soup the next day. I think you could also freeze any extra dumplings.) Cover the pot, turn the heat to low so that the broth simmers and let the dumplings cook for 50 minutes. When the dumplings are done, they will be firm in the center.

Use a slotted spoon to remove cooked dumplings from the broth and briefly set aside. Add sliced carrots and chickpeas to the hot broth. Bring liquid to a boil, then lower heat, simmer and cover for 10-15 minutes until the carrots are tender. Add fresh lemon juice just before serving, and season with additional salt and pepper to taste.

For each serving, place 3-5 matzoh balls into a bowl. Add a handful of baby spinach, if that appeals to you. Ladle the soup over the top. Top with plenty of fresh herbs, squeeze on fresh lime and add a little salt or pepper to your liking.

Enjoy!

P.S. That beautiful bowl in the top photo was a gift from my amazingly talented friend, Sarah Kersten.


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