Monday, September 29, 2014

A Continuing Love Affair with Bread Making

Dad & Me at right, at Atitlan Lake, Guatemala January 1971
I have always loved making bread. I started at age 21 while living in Guatemala, and never stopped. While pregnant with my first child, my Mom and Dad came down to visit me in Guatemala. By that time I'd had more than enough time to become homesick for a lot of the foods I grew up with. While I loved the foods in my new adopted country, still those other, older food memories called to me. I went to Guatemala at age 20, knowing nothing about cooking. Growing up, I watched my Mom cook, watched her making bread once in a while, cooking daily, baking. She let us kids help out and make cookies sometimes. I was not adventurous back then and didn't make an effort to learn. I recall loving to watch her making her bread.

Mom & Me, Guatemala, January 1971
Then there I was, in another country. Living with my in-laws meant my food was always made and presented for meals. I still had no need to cook. But the time would be coming when it would be necessary, so I asked Mom for recipes for different things she made throughout my childhood. Chicken Paprikash. Holupki. Her Beef Ribs and Sweet Cabbage.  Her bread (which morphed into My Kitchen Aid Mixer Bread. She gave me the recipes, and I copied them into the back of one of the few cookbooks I owned at that time. I attempted making bread the first time while still living with my in-laws; it was a less than stellar outcome, but nonetheless, a good experience, one that I have continued to this day 40+ years later.

A few years back I was introduced to Jim Lahey's No-Knead Bread and remained so enchanted with that bread I made it constantly for about 3 years. Then earlier this year I was given a stack of bread making books. I have been documenting my experiments with making some of these breads here in my blogs ever since. The first book I started working with was Peter Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice. I made about 10 of the recipes in that book, and there are more I would like to make, though some of them have been particular favorites, like the recipe for Pan a L'Ancienne, which I have made 3 times so far and plan to make again today. The next book I started working with is Maggie Glezer's Artisan Breads Across America. So far I have made 3 recipes from this book; Dutch Regale's Finnish Rye, Sullivan Street Potato Pizza and now Essential Bakery's Columbia Bread. 

Columbia Bread, before and after baking
This third recipe was a success in various ways. One, I took the time to make 3 iterations of the VERY firm starter over 2+ days, ensuring it was active enough to make the bread with no added commercial yeast. This did indeed make the bread grow far better than expected. Since my baker's lame is dull, and is not the type to be able to switch out blades, I sharpened a knife in order to slash the bread before baking - without draggggging through the delicately risen loaf. The slashes were perfect. The bread browned in the oven unlike any I have made yet, making the slashes stand out perfectly. It was by far, one of the prettiest breads I have made, to date. 

Beautifully baked Columbia Bread
There was only one problem. The taste was just meh. Texture was nice, crust is chewy and crispy, color is lovely. The bread grew beautifully despite no yeast but the starter. But the flavor is lacking. Because of the length of time it takes to make this bread, with very long slow rises, I had hoped for better flavor. At one point I thought to deviate from the recipe and actually refrigerate the dough overnight, once formed into loaves, and bake the following day. Now I am sorry I did not do this, as it may have given the bread better flavors. I am not totally sure I want to go through this whole process again, if the bread lacks flavor. I am now leery. Actually, I am beginning to be a little leery of the recipes in this particular book. Maybe they are not "translated" well from a huge bakery's recipe, down to an individual home recipe. Do not know. But it makes me want to set the book aside completely. The first bread I made, Dutch Regale's Finnish Rye, was delicious. And pretty. The second recipe was Sullivan Street Bakery's Potato Pizza, and I documented my trip through that recipe on September 17th, 2014. I was not a total fan of the recipe, at least as given in the book.
Perfect slashes and great color

The Columbia Bread recipe is made with mainly white flour and a little added freshly ground whole wheat and rye berries, and wheat germ. Just the fact of mainly white flour seems like it should have tasted better. I have never been particularly fond of just plain whole wheat. I like it mixed in with other things. Despite this, when i made the Poilane Style Miche, from Peter Reinhart's book, made with only whole wheat, the flavor was just incredibly good. I would repeat that recipe in a heartbeat! I love the flavor of rye, when I grind the rye berries fresh, and have made many, many varieties of rye breads, from extremely dense styles to light and fluffy. 

I am unhappy with the ultimate outcome, because flavor and texture is what bread is all about. When flavor is only so-so at the very best, it is not inspiring. Maybe it's time to try another of the books!


My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. 

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Modified Chicken Bryan becomes Chicken Brianna

Chicken Brianna
A few weeks back I made a version of the (many) Chicken Bryan recipes out on the internet. I really loved how it came out, and so did my husband. I was going to make a repeat of the recipe, since we really loved it, and then got thinking of other things that would be good in it, and decided to follow the spirit of the recipe, but change it slightly. Since it is most certainly not Chicken Bryan or even my "Mock, Mock Chicken Bryan", I called it 

"Chicken Brianna."

Things I kept were: 

  1. The method. Cooking the chicken and setting aside till the end, cooking the onion and garlic and adding in the other condiments, wine and butter to make the sauce. 
  2. Serving the dish over fettuccine noodles.
  3. The use of sun-dried tomatoes and capers.

Things I added or changed:

  1. I added bacon and used fresh thyme instead of basil.
  2. I added marinated artichoke hearts, and pine nuts.
  3. I used no goat cheese. 
  4. I cut the chicken in cubes before cooking it.


Closeup of my Chicken Brianna
I will say the flavors were just as stupendous as the Mock, Mock Chicken Bryan. I think the goat cheese would have been good here also, but I already had added in the bacon, artichokes and pine nuts, so I left the added calories out, though Chevre or Montrachet would taste wonderful here too. While this dish does take dedicated time to make, it is only about 50 minutes to an hour in total. Easy to whip up from scratch. Coordination is the key. Doing prep work while one thing is cooking, doing a little mixing, etc. Set a large saucepan with water over medium heat to slowly come to boil for when needed. Heat a large skillet  while cutting the chicken into cubes. Fry the chicken cubes, turning in between chopping onion and garlic. Once onion and garlic are in the pan, prep the other ingredients, thyme, artichokes, sun-dried tomatoes. Measure capers and pine nuts. Having a plan makes it work easily.

Chicken Brianna

serves 2
 
2 slices thick sliced bacon, or 4 ounces bacon
2 skinless, boneless chicken breasts, in 1 1/2 to 2-inch cubes
1/2 to 1 teaspoon salt

1 large onion, chopped
2 - 4 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves, chopped
4 - 5 sun-dried tomato halves (oil packed), in chiffonade slices
1 (6 - 7 ounce) jar marinated artichoke hearts, drained, halved
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons pine nuts, optional
1 teaspoon nonpareil capers
8 ounces fettuccine (or linguine) pasta
1 tablespoon salt for pasta water

Slice the bacon across into 1/4-inch wide bits. Place the bacon in a large cold skillet and heat to medium, cooking the bacon to desired doneness. Remove bacon to a plate, leaving the bacon fat in the pan. If the bacon was very fatty, remove all but 1 tablespoon of the bacon fat and keep aside in case needed later.

Set a large saucepan of water to boil (for the pasta).

Set the chicken pieces into the hot pan and begin cooking them, turning as needed to get all sides browned and the chicken cooked through. Once cooked, remove the chicken pieces to the plate with the bacon. If there is still sufficient fat in the skillet, add the onions and begin sauteeing, lowering the heat slightly so the onions get caramelized and golden and not burnt. Add more fat if needed so the onions do not stick. Once onions are almost done, add the garlic and thyme and cook for another 3 to 5 minutes, until the garlic is slightly cooked and very fragrant.

If the pasta water is boiling, add the tablespoon of salt and then add the pasta, cooking according to directions on the box. Once the pasta is cooked al dente, scoop out 1 cup of the cooking water and set aside. Drain the pasta in a colander and briefly rinse with water so the pasta does not clump until needed.

Once onions and garlic are golden, add wine to the skillet and raise heat to medium high. Cook quickly to evaporate the liquids just slightly. Lower heat. Add in the butter in small bits, stirring until each piece is melted before adding the next. This will make a thin sauce for the noodles. If the wine has evaporated too much, add in a little of the pasta cooking water to make enough liquid for the sauce.

Now add in the artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomato strips, pine nuts and capers and stir. Add in the chicken and bacon and mix. Add the fettuccine noodles and mix well before serving. 


My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. 

Friday, September 26, 2014

Tamarind and Its Many Uses

Tamarind Pods: photo courtesy of mlvalentin, Wikipedia
I was first introduced to Tamarind as a beverage when living in Guatemala in the 1970s. The beverage is delightfully tart and refreshing, akin to a good lemonade. Tamarind, tamarindus indica, is the fruit of the tamarind tree. It grows in long, dark brown pods. Inside the pods, which are easily removed, lies a thick, sticky and fibrous fruit surrounding flat seeds. The sticky and fibrous pulp is what is used to make beverages (by soaking in water), or into sweets, or mixed into foods to flavor with its tart and sweet goodness. Incidentally, it is also an ingredient of Worcestershire sauce.

Thought to be indigenous to tropical Africa, tamarind is now so common in India that it is known as the Indian Date. It grows throughout most tropical regions, most of Asia and Australia. Crusaders may have been the first to introduce tamarind to Europe. It was later brought to the West Indies and cultivated and spread all throughout the tropics. Tamarind is a leguminous tree in the family Fabaceae (beans, peas, legumes). The tree is evergreen and can grow up to 60 feet in height. The leaves are in typical Fabaceae type, where there are groups of small leaflets opposite each other down a stem.

One of many brands of tamarind concentrate
If you are fortunate to live near an market of some kind stocking international products, you might find whole tamarind pods. I have seen them sold in cellophane packages. The outer pod is thin and cracks off easily, leaving the sticky pulp surrounding seeds. Otherwise you might find tamarind paste or cake, labeled as such or as "seedless" tamarind paste. Do not put complete faith in the seedless statement. You will still have to hunt through the paste to remove seeds. Fortunately, once soaked, sifting through the pulp and finding seeds is easy to accomplish. A third way tamarind is sold is as a smooth syrup or tamarind concentrate, sometimes so thick it is literally like "molasses in January", and sometimes quite runny and thin. Depending on need, any of these products will work just fine. The whole pods or the compressed "paste" or "cake" can be kept well wrapped and frozen. The smooth syrup lasts for an extraordinarily long time in the refrigerator.

Though I do not used tamarind often, it has become a staple to keep on hand. I used tamarind in making my Mango Tamarind Barbecue Sauce some time back; delightful on pork ribs, chicken or even shrimp and scallops. My most common beverage of choice is water rather than a sweet drink, but when the urge strikes, tamarind is most definitely thirst quenching. 

Tamarind Beverage, learned in Guatemala

Tamarind Beverage

makes 1 to 2 quarts

1/2 pound whole tamarind pods
water, as needed
sugar or sweetener, to taste

Remove the outer shell from the pods and place the sticky fruit into a container and cover with water. All to soak for at least 2 hours. With scrupulously clean hands, work through the pulp, which will have softened appreciably, loosening the pulp into the liquid and freeing the seeds. Strain the liquid through a fine mesh sieve. Add water to make anywhere from 1 to 2 quarts of liquid (1 quart will be far more tart than 2 quarts). Add sugar as desired, or other sweetener of choice to make the tart drink palatable, just as with lemonade.

With its sweet and sour flavor, tamarind makes a great addition to marinades or sauces. The sweet sour flavor is wonderful added to soups. I mix tamarind pulp into my Mango Chutney recipe. Many years back, in the second year of Cuisine Magazine (now called Cuisine at Home), there was a recipe for marinated rack of lamb; the marinade used tamarind concentrate. It was the best rack of lamb, ever! On top of that, they included a date sauce to go with the meat when serving. Also excellent. But the flavor of the meat was what really stood out. I made this recipe for my husband's birthday dinner and it went over swimmingly! I am going to post that recipe with marinade here. It is from "August Home's" Cuisine, Issue 9, May/June 1998, page 6.

Grilled Rack of Lamb

serves 4+
 
Rack of lamb using marinade with tamarind

2 racks of lamb

MARINADE:
1 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup tamarind sauce (I used the concentrate)
1/4 cup fresh mint, chopped
1/4 cup peanut oil (I used olive oil)
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons whole cumin seeds, toasted and crushed
2 teaspoons black pepper

Make sure your racks of lamb have been properly trimmed, with chine and feather bones removed. If in doubt, ask your butcher. Remove all excess fat, right down to the eye of the meat, along with any silver skin. Trim out all fat from between the bones, called "frenching" (see a YouTube video on this technique here) leaving the bones perfectly clean. Clean off all excess fat from the meat. To insure the meat comes out with a perfectly rounded shape, tie butchers' twine tightly around the meat between each bone.

Make the Marinade by toasting the cumin seeds until very fragrant in a hot, dry skillet, 3 to 5 minutes. Crush the cumin in a mortar and pestle or with a mallet. Whisk all the marinade ingredients together and place it into a container large enough to hold the racks of lamb. A zip top bag will work fine. Place the meat into the container of choice and pour on the marinade. Allow the meat to marinate for 2 hours at room temperature. 

Before grilling (I use a gas grill), light one side of the grill to highest temperature, leaving the other side of the grill off. Remove the lamb from the marinade and wrap foil around each individual bone, to prevent burning. Lay the racks onto the hot side of the grill. After 2 minutes, flip the racks and brown the other side for 2 minutes. Now move the meat over to the unheated side of the grill, leaving the grill lit on the other side to create an oven-like atmosphere. Using a probe to ensure proper temperature in the meat, insert the probe into the center portion of the rack, between the bones, halfway into the meat. Put the lid on the grill and monitor the probe. For medium-rare (best) the temp should reach 135 degrees, and will take about 20 minutes. Set the racks aside to rest for 5 minutes before removing all the foil from the bones and the strings tied around the meat. Slice the lamb chops apart to serve. 


My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Using Panch Phoran and Other Indian Spices

Yesterday I blogged about fenugreek, or Methi, as it is often called, particularly in India. The use of the word Methi for fenugreek seems to have spilled out to many cultures and places these days. Fenugreek is not generally called for in standard US fare; neither the seed, leaf or dried leaf. It is one of those exotic spices that seemed to be inaccessible and unnecessary. I am curious to see if maybe next Spring I can plant some and see what the herb, or micro-greens are like.
Potatoes Panch Phoran, with fenugreek


These days however, most every spice is becoming available, including many that most have never heard of. I am sort of a spice-fanatic. I hear of a new (to me) spice and I just have to find it and see what it's like. So, I realize I do have more spices in my kitchen than the average person. In the upper middle of the US, where meat and potatoes still reign, salt and pepper are the most exotic spices some people use. I realize everyone has the right to their own personal taste, but I must say I feel sorry for what they miss. 

The Spice of Life

Panch Phoran Spices: cumin, nigella, mustard, fennel, fenugreek
Okay, so I take this phrase to a whole new level. I know. There are so many exciting flavors out there. Life is short. I am all about experiencing the new and different when it comes to food and flavor. Writing about Panch Phoran an Indian 5-Spice mixture, I wanted to try it with some roasted potatoes. I had toasted the spices when I mixed them, in the hopes that not only would the flavors be enhanced, but that the toasting would remove some of the bitterness of the fenugreek seeds. Toasting the seeds makes them easier to grind also, so I took 2 tablespoons of the Panch Phoran and used my mortar and pestle to lightly grind the mixture - not to a fine powder, but just so all the seeds were crushed.

Potatoes Panch Phoran
Potatoes Panch Phoran

makes about 4 servings

4 -5 pounds potatoes, peeled, cubed
2 tablespoons Panch Phoran lightly ground
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup olive oil
3 cloves fresh garlic, minced

Preheat oven to 400 degrees (375 on Convection). The potatoes may be left unpeeled if desired. The size of the potato cubes will determine roasting time. Mix all the ingredients together in a zip-top bag and shake or otherwise move the potatoes around so all are coated with the spices. Pour the mixture out onto a rimmed baking sheet so the potatoes are all in one layer. Bake the potatoes for about 20 minutes. Using a spatula, toss the potatoes  to get them in different positions and roast more evenly. Return to oven and roast for about 20 minutes more, or until they are tender all the way through and golden brown.

So Many Spices - So Little Time

When I talk of the spices I have amassed just because I love the Indian flavors, it boggles most peoples' minds. In some kitchens I have been forced to set some spices in bins and keep them in another room, as there is no place in the kitchen proper. I had one such bin just for Indian spices. In the house where I currently live, I have all my Indian spices in a drawer. Aside from the commonly know spices such as cinnamon (though many people do not realize that the standard "cinnamon" sold in the US is actually Cassia), cloves, ginger, cumin, coriander, mace, fennel, caraway, allspice, nutmeg, paprika, black, green white and pink peppercorns, cayenne, mustard seeds, sesame seeds, bay leaves and saffron, there are others less well known, and some that are rarely heard of unless, like me, you are somewhat fanatical about spices and Indian cooking.

Some spices that are becoming more available generally (even in such out of the way places as Aberdeen, SD) are things like star anise, cardamom, turmeric and fenugreek. But then there are quite a few spices that are not generally known or even heard of, unless you find a recipe calling for it. In this way I learned of spices shown at right such as asafoetida, carom seed, black cumin, black cardamom, dried fenugreek herb and nigella seed. 

ASAFOETIDA: 

Known as "hing" in hindi, this spice (which comes from the dried and ground resin of a root) smells abominably - until it is heated. Once it is added to a dish, the smell is gone and the flavor is elusive but definitely adds a slightly onion/garlic flavor and aroma. It is often paired with turmeric in Indian cuisine. Its supposed aid in anti-flatulence makes it welcome in lentil and vegetable curries.

CAROM:

Known as Ajwain/Ajowain/Ajwan in Hindi, these miniscule fruit pods (often mistakenly called seeds) pack a real punch in the flavor department. They taste similar to thyme as they have thymol, but are highly pungent and more bitter. Used sparingly these little pods/"seeds" are often used to sprinkle on breads such as naan or mix into dough for samosas or Indian breads. It is often added to vegetable and lentil dishes.

BLACK CUMIN:

Called Kala Jeera in Hindi, these very fine, black seeds are longer than regular cumin. These seeds are rarely seen outside India, so finding them is sometimes tricky. They are confused with and sold as nigella, but nigella is a completely different plant. Black cumin is somewhat similar in shape to regular cumin, but that is where the resemblance ends. It is most often left whole, sometimes used to top Indian breads. Its lemon/anise flavor adds dimension to most any Indian dish from soup to meat, lentil dishes and vegetable.

BLACK CARDAMOM:

Black cardamon, know as Badi Elaichi in Hindi, is completely unlike green cardamom in flavor. The plant is related, but black cardamom pods are far larger than green cardamom and the flavor is heavy; camphorous and smoky. It would never be used in bakery sweets as is green cardamom. It is more suited to heavier meat dishes, as it could overwhelm a delicate sauce. After smelling black cardamom, a friend thought it would pair well with the earthiness of mushrooms - which it does.

FENUGREEK HERB:

Fenugreek is known as Methi, applying to the whole plant. When used as the dried leaves, it is often called Kasoori Methi. While the fenugreek seeds themselves smell rather like maple syrup, the dried leaves of the plant retain a small amount of these same flavors and are best added toward the end of cooking to give a little flavor boost. The flavors of this herb combine well with root vegetables like carrots, yams or potatoes. It is also good in small amounts added to curries and dishes with tomatoes.

NIGELLA:

Nigella, often mistakenly called onion seed, is also most often confused with black cumin, to which there is no resemblance. Known as Kalonji in Hindi, these seeds have a pungently bitter black pepper-oregano taste and smell. It is often used to top Naan breads before baking. It is one of the spices in the Indian Five-Spice mixture called Panch Phoron. They have a nut-like somewhat peppery flavor, best brought out by toasting or cooking in oil.

I hope this list may induce some to seek out these new and interesting flavors. Anyone at all interested in Indian cuisines should certainly look them up. 



My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. 

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Fenugreek as Herb, Spice and Vegetable



What is Fenugreek?
Fenugreek Seeds, or Methi

Parts of the fenugreek plant are used as an herb, a vegetable and a spice. The leaves of the fenugreek plant are used as an herb either fresh or dried, and can also be counted as a fresh vegetable, used as microgreens or sprouts. The seeds are used as a spice, either whole or ground, or may also be sprouted. Fenugreek is most often used in Indian cuisine and around the Middle East. It is often called Methi.

Part of the Fabaceae family of legumes, peas and beans, fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum) is an annual plant cultivated worldwide, though its largest producer is India. The leaves of the plant are arranged in sets of three, very much like common clover seen everywhere. Its flowers resemble flowers of the pea plant and are generally white or pale yellow. The seeds are mustard-seed yellow in color and vaguely rectangle shaped.
Herb and flower Photo courtesy of Alvita Herbal Supplements
They have a most distinctive sweet smell much like maple syrup, and in fact are used to flavor artificial maple syrup, butterscotch syrup and others. Though the seeds themselves are bitter, toasting them first removes some of the bitter quality. In cooking, the seeds may be used whole (if soaked ahead of time) or ground. When tasting Indian food, there is so often an indefinable flavor which could be fenugreek. The bitter and sweet quality works well with other strong flavors such as coriander, cumin and paprika, all commonly found in Indian cuisine.

Many cuisines use spice mixtures that include fenugreek seeds. A most common one is Panch Phoron, a mostly Bengali “Indian five-spice”. The five spices in this blend, generally left whole, are cumin seeds, nigella (often mistakenly called “onion seeds”), black or brown mustard seeds, fennel seeds and fenugreek seeds. The proportions in the blend are often equal parts of each seed, but can also be equal parts of the first four and half the amount of fenugreek because of its bitterness. For example:

Panch Phoron

Nigella, Cumin, Fenugreek (center), Fennel, Brown Mustard
1 tablespoon cumin seeds

1 tablespoon nigella seeds

1 tablespoon brown mustard seeds

1 tablespoon fennel seeds

1½ teaspoon fenugreek seeds



Heat a dry skillet for 2 to 3 minutes. Place all the seeds in the skillet, tossing and stirring constantly until they are fragrant and lightly toasted. The mustard seeds will begin to pop. Pour onto a plate to cool, then store in a tightly sealed jar in a cool dark place. Shake well to distribute seeds evenly before using.

To use Panch Phoron, either add the spices whole or smash the seeds slightly with a mortar and pestle first, then add them at the beginning of cooking. Another option is to cook the seeds in oil or ghee first, then add this fragrant oil to the dish either with the seeds or without the seeds. Try smashing 1 or 2 tablespoons of the Panch Phoron and mixing with about 4 pounds cubed potatoes, 1 teaspoon salt, 2 – 3 minced garlic cloves and ¼ cup oil. Mix well and set on a rimmed baking sheet to bake for about 45 minutes at 400 degrees, tossing once halfway through baking. Another use for Panch Phoron is mixing the spices with red lentils (or any lentils) when cooking.

Other cultures use fenugreek in spice mixtures such as Berbere, an Ethiopian Spice Blend. This Ethiopian spice blend is known for being fiery hot. If fiery hot chili blends are not your thing, don’t let this stop you from trying out the flavors, regardless. Remember, any time you mix up your own spice blend, you have complete control over how hot and spicy, or completely mild you choose to make it. The rest of the spice flavors will shine through without the chili’s heat. I used only ½ teaspoon of cayenne in my recipe below, though I have seen recipes with up to 2 tablespoons. That is a lot of heat!

Some blends of Berbere incorporate sautéed onion and garlic and mix the spices together into a paste. For me, this will limit how long the mixture will last, so I prefer to use all the spices dry and grind them to store in a jar in the cupboard as with other spice blends. Here is my version of this mix :

Ethiopian Berbere Spice Blend

Berbere Spices

2 teaspoons whole coriander seeds

1 teaspoon cardamom seeds

1 teaspoon black peppercorns

1 teaspoon whole fenugreek seeds

4 whole cloves

4 whole allspice berries

1” true cinnamon stick crumbled, or 1 teaspoon ground

½ cup dried onion flakes

¼ cup sweet paprika

(up to) 2 tablespoons cayenne, or omit if desired

1 teaspoon ground ginger

½ teaspoon ground nutmeg



In a hot, dry skillet, toast the whole seeds: coriander, cardamom, peppercorns, fenugreek, cloves, allspice and cinnamon if whole. Stirring constantly, heat spices through until very fragrant. 3 to 5 minutes, depending on how high the heat. Pour spices onto a plate to cool. Place the cooled spices into a spice grinder with the onion flakes and grind to a powder. Mix all ingredients together well with the paprika, cayenne, ginger and nutmeg and store in an airtight glass jar in a cool, dark place.

Use this spice blend to season chicken stew, mix it into meatballs, mix with olive oil and use as a rub for meats or chicken, mix it with sour cream and or yogurt as a dip, sprinkle it over top of pizza. Let your imagination go wild. 

Health Claims

There are many claims of possible health benefits from fenugreek. I am no doctor, scientist or anyone with knowledge about this kind of claim. For what it’s worth, I will pass some of this along anyway. In some places fenugreek seeds are used as a natural herbal medicine for diabetes. They are supposed to aid in the prevention of breast cancer, and also help new mothers produce more milk. They may help reduce cholesterol. They may reduce calcium oxalate in the kidneys and aid in reducing kidney stones. They may lessen the chance of producing colon cancer. Topically, the gelatinous soaked seeds may soothe skin irritated by eczema and other conditions, or applied as a poultice to relieve muscle aches or gout. Be frugal with the amount of fenugreek you consume at one time. While fenugreek tea is soothing for the stomach and relieves gas, too much may cause diarrhea.

Dried Fenugreek Leaves or Kasuri Methi
If fenugreek has not yet become a part of your life, whether in cooking, as tea, for salads, or other, try it out in some capacity. It adds interest and gives subtle flavor. If Indian or Ethiopian recipes are not to your taste, the spice itself or in a mixture such as Panch Phoran or Ethiopian Berbere Spice in a recipe of choice. Panch Phoran can easily be ground, to give these flavors use without chewing on the seeds. Try the Ethiopian Berbere Spice as a rub for meats. The versatility is endless.


My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Ratatouille and the Nightshade Family Vegetables

It is hard for me to imaging a life where I could not have nightshade family vegetables. The most commonly known vegetables and/or fruits in the Solanaceae or nightshade family are eggplants, potatoes, capsicum peppers of all types (such as bell peppers, chili peppers), tomatoes of all kinds, tomatillos and ground cherries. Interestingly, one of the "super fruits," goji berries, also called wolfberries, also belong to the Solanaceae


 

Other fruits less well known are garden huckleberries (not to be confused with regular huckleberries of the Ericaceae family), cape gooseberries (not to be confused with regular gooseberries), pepinos, naranjillas and tamarillos. There are many other nightshade plants that are inedible or would never be thought of as food, including of course the "deadly nightshade" (belladonna) and tobacco. Others are mainly showy flowering plants such as Angel's Trumpet or Jimsonweed. 

So why this interest in Nightshades?

It seems that right now, they are all over the Farmers' Market here. Eggplants are finally in season, and each year I have been making a grilled or broiled version of a ratatouille. Most of the ingredients in ratatouille are nightshades: eggplant, tomatoes, peppers. Onion and zucchini are the two ingredients in ratatouille not of the nightshade family. The French dish called ratatouille (rat-tat-TOO-ee) can be made in various ways. The vegetables can all be cooked separately, then layered in a casserole and baked. The ingredients can be sauteed separately and then mixed all together in a pot to simmer. The dish can be made anywhere from soupy to thick.

Broiled Ratatouille with Potato Pizza for dinner
And then a couple of years back I saw Michael Symon on The Chew making a grilled version. Obviously the grilled version has no real resemblance to the original layered and baked versions. He didn't even use tomatoes. But the concept, slicing the vegetables and grilling them separately, then combining with a splash of balsamic and olive oil with torn fresh basil - that got my attention.

I am not a huge fan of eggplant. Never have really loved it. Still, I try to be open minded and eat it occasionally. I have found ratatouille to be one way I do not mind it (Eggplant Parmesan is another). Mixed in with all the rest of the vegetables, whether in a casserole or in this grilled (or broiled) version, it becomes a part of the scenery, so to speak, and I can tolerate it. Long, long ago, while in Guatemala, I tried ratatouille for the very first time, using a recipe from Gloria Ivens book, Glorious Stew. Long out of print, my 1969 copy is extremely well used. She gives two options for making ratatouille; a wet and a dry version. The "wet" version has more sauce and is made in a lidded skillet on the stove, where the "dry" version uses tomato paste and almost no sauce and is baked in the oven. I made the dry version at least once a year for so many years. It is good with a nice crusty French bread alongside, and for me is enough to make a meal in and of itself. This is the version I had made in the past, though I had never photographed this dish back then:

Gloria Ivens "Dry" Ratatouille

Serves 8 - 10

Eggplant
2 - 3 small eggplants
3 - 4 small zucchini
2 cups chopped onion
2 medium green peppers, sliced
3 cloves garlic, sliced
4 cups (one 2-pound can) Italian plum tomatoes, drained
2 tablespoons tomato paste
4 tablespoons olive oil, more as needed

SEASONINGS:
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dried oregano, or 1 tablespoon fresh
1 teaspoon dried basil, or 2 tablespoons fresh
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
  Wash eggplants, remove ends, cut in 1/2-inch slices. If slices are very unequal in size, cut larger ones in half.  Wash zucchinis, remove ends, cut in ½-inch slices. 

Note: If eggplant and zucchinis are large they will have more moisture; to extract it, place sliced vegetables in a bowl, sprinkle with salt and put a weight on top. Allow to stand 30 - 60 minutes. Drain, wash and dry each piece. Cut eggplant so slices are about equal in size to the zucchini slices.

In a heavy skillet, heat oil and quickly saute eggplant and zucchini slices, a minute on each side, removing them as they are done to a bowl or plate. More oil will be needed; the eggplant soaks it up. In the same skillet, heat more oil. Slowly cook onions, peppers and garlic until tender but not brown. Add drained tomatoes mixed with the tomato paste.


Heat oven to 325 degrees. In bottom of a heavy, lidded 4 - 5 quart casserole, put 1/3 of the tomato mixture. Add a layer of half the eggplant and zucchini. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Put half the remaining tomatoes on top, then the rest of the eggplant and zucchini, and salt and pepper; finish with the remaining tomatoes.

Cover and place in the oven for 45 - 60 minutes, or until vegetables are tender. Check occasionally. If it appears too moist, leave the lid off for a while. May be served hot or cold.


Notes from "Glorious Stew": “This version is especially delicious served cold.  It is a refreshing first course when eaten by itself, or spread on bread, or served with slices of Hungarian or Polish sausage.  Hot, it is a good accompaniment for pork roast or chops, for a simply cooked chicken dish, or veal.  It is excellent for a buffet - as relish, vegetable or salad - hot or cold.”

Grilling or Broiling?

Grilled Ratatouille, served in a stack
So now, coming back to the grilled or broiled version, I have found that often when it comes to grilling all these vegetables, it takes time, it is generally hot outside and standing next to a hot grill is tedious, and sometimes the weather does not cooperate. I have made this on the grill. I have now made this dish 3 separate times under the broiler. The broiler goes more quickly and there is not enough difference in flavors to make grilling imperative. Another thing I have to keep in mind up here where I live; it is so often extremely windy outside and it is very difficult to keep the grill lit under those circumstances! 

So for me, broiling is the way to go. One of the very best things about making ratatouille grilled or broiled is that all the vegetables are cooked separately and then tossed together at the end. Each individual flavor is distinct, and concentrated on its own. The flavors are far fresher, and the addition at the end of some capers and fresh basil just makes this dish all the more splendid. No real "recipe" is needed. Just use the vegetables you want, in the amounts you want. This latest version, made just a few days ago, is possibly the best yet. Not that there is great difference in what I have done, but i believe I broiled the vegetables for a little less time, leaving them with more texture. I also added in 5 mildly hot peppers, like banana peppers, and they gave a most wonderful spice to the dish.

Broiled Ratatouille
My Colorful Broiled Ratatouille

serves about 8

2 - 4 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 medium eggplant, sliced 1/2 inch thick
1 or 2 small zucchini, sliced 1/4 inch thick
1 - 2 green or red bell peppers
1 - 3 jalapeno peppers, to taste
1 large onion, in wedges
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
3 - 5 Roma tomatoes, sliced in 1/4 inch slices
3/4 cup fresh basil leaves, torn
2 tablespoons nonpareil capers, drained

If you own large rimmed baking sheets (half-sheet size) already well worn, just spray two of these with cooking spray. If your baking sheets are new, you may want to line them with foil. Having two sheets handy is helpful if one of them becomes too blackened.

Heat the broiler. If your eggplant is large in circumference, cut the slices into quarters. In a large bowl, set the sliced eggplant with the olive oil and balsamic and toss to combine. Remove all the eggplant slices and set them onto one of the baking sheets, reserving the oil and vinegar in the bowl. Sprinkle the eggplant slices with salt. Set the eggplant under the broiler on the highest rack. It will take 5 to 10 minutes or so to brown the eggplant. Turn the slices over and brown the other side. Once browned, remove the eggplant to a large bowl or casserole.

Add the zucchini slices to the bowl with the oil and vinegar and toss to coat. If there is room on the same sheet with the eggplant, you may add some or all of the zucchini slices at the same time, keeping an eye on the vegetables as some may brown earlier. Otherwise, once the eggplant is done, set the zucchini slices on the same sheet, sprinkle with salt and broil. Once browned, remove the zucchini to the bowl with the eggplant. 

Set the whole peppers on the baking sheet and broil them until the skin blackens and blisters. Remove them to a zip-top bag and seal to steam for at least 10 minutes. Once well steamed, peel the skins and remove seeds and membranes. Slice the bell pepper(s) and mince the jalapenos. Add to the bowl with the cooked eggplant and zucchini. 

Set the wedges of onion into the oil and vinegar and toss to coat. Remove them to the baking sheet and sprinkle with salt. Broil for a few minutes, toss them and continue broiling and tossing until well cooked and blackened in a few places. Remove the onions to the bowl with the cooked vegetables. Set the tomato slices in the oil and vinegar very gently. Remove them and set the slices onto the baking sheet and move the rack down at least one level. Broil the tomatoes gently, turn and broil on the other side. Add these to the bowl of cooked vegetables. If there is any remaining oil and vinegar in the first bowl, add this to the cooked vegetables with the capers and basil. Gently toss together the vegetables and taste for salt. Add a splash more of olive oil and balsamic vinegar and serve with crusty bread.



My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

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