Tuesday, November 21, 2017

A Wellington Style Appetizer for the Holidays

I have mentioned that I will be making appetizers for a wine tasting on December 20th. Kind of close to Christmas for my comfort, but I am diligently working on things that can be made ahead. A week or two ago I wrote about a recipe I made for Smoky Andouille Corn Pouches. That experiment turned out well, so I will be proceeding with that recipe for the wine tasting, as those little pouches paired excellently with a Malbec I happened to have.
Mock Wellington Bites
Mock Wellington Bites

So, in casting about for something else new to make, and pair with a red wine (since this group mostly prefers red wine), I thought about Beef Wellington. However, I didn't want to spend a bundle and I wanted them to be tiny enough for a couple of bites. In order to manage this, I felt that the meat would have to be diced very small. My reasoning on this: a single larger cube of meat would be harder to bite into. We are talking about walking around with a little appetizer in hand. We do not want someone to take a little bite and end up with the meat on the floor, or worse yet, take a bigger bite and end up with a large piece of meat in their mouth and the rest of the pastry empty. 
Sauteed Mushrooms, Fried Meats and Assembly
Sauteed Mushrooms, Fried Meats and Assembly

To balance this out, I felt that small diced meat would be best. And then, what else would go in them? Long, long ago, my husband and I frequented a restaurant in Kalamazoo. They had a most wonderful Individual Beef Wellington on the menu, and I have recreated this, using the things I knew were in there (filet mignon, bacon, mushroom), and then adding in things that would make these basic ingredients taste exceptional. They have always turned out wonderfully flavored and perfectly done, so I went with the flavors I used for those. Mushrooms? Absolutely. I pulsed them fine in the food processor and sautéed them in butter and oil until they started browning, then added in garlic and fresh thyme leaves and some dry Sherry for flavor, cooking it out completely.
Mock Wellington Bites
Mock Wellington Bites

I diced bacon and fried it crisp and set it aside while quickly sautéing the tiny cubed meat over very high heat. I did this in batches (with my extractor fan on high so the smoke alarm wouldn't deafen me!), so it wouldn't steam in the pan, then removed to a bowl. It still released a lot of liquid, which I poured off. Once the meat was done, and cooled, the bacon went in with the finished meat, along with freshly minced rosemary and some Gorgonzola crumbles. The Gorgonzola is one thing I never put in my Beef Wellingtons, but I was going for maximum flavor, something that would pair well with a strong red, like a Cabernet Sauvignon.

Of course, this excellent set of mixtures would be wrapped in puff pastry, so I tried out folding little pouches just as I'd done for the Smoky Andouille Corn Pouches. It seemed to work well. I froze the pouches, to be baked later. A day later I tried out baking just 4 of the pouches to see how they baked and how the whole little package came out. As it happens, they came out really wonderfully well. The only thing was that because they were so small, at 475 degrees the outside of the pastry got beautifully browned while the inside of the pastry was still doughy. I will lower the temperature to 400 degrees when baking the remainder. 

I felt that freezing the little pouches before baking was a good idea for a few reasons. First, it keeps the pastry in place while it begins baking, so they tend not to pop open in the oven, and they expand beautifully this way. Secondly, the insides are already cooked, so they only need reheating while the pastry gets baked. Thirdly, freezing means I can have them prepared way ahead and baked briefly just before serving. Best of all worlds.

Mock Wellington Bites

Makes 32 Little Bites
Mock Wellington Bites
Mock Wellington Bites

5 - 6 slices thick bacon, diced
2 tablespoons bacon fat, reserved from frying
1 pound sirloin steak, in ¼-inch cubes
½ teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, minced finely
½ teaspoon Beef & Pork Seasoning
6 ounces Gorgonzola Crumbles

1 tablespoon each butter and olive oil
1 pound mushrooms, finely minced
½ teaspoon salt
2 cloves garlic, minced finely
1½ - 2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves, minced
⅓ cup dry Sherry (NOT cooking Sherry!), or white wine, optional

½ medium onion, minced finely
½ teaspoon salt
1 Package Puff Pastry (2 sheets)
1 egg, for egg wash when baking

Remove the Puff Pastry Sheets from the freezer, unwrap and set on the counter to thaw completely.

Heat a large skillet and fry the diced bacon until crisp. Remove the bacon to paper toweling to drain, reserving 2 tablespoons of the bacon grease aside.

Use 1 tablespoon of the bacon grease in the pan and heat to high heat. Add half the meat cubes and sear them briefly, tossing until very little pink remains. Turn out into a bowl. If more grease is needed, add the second tablespoon of grease to the pan and sear the second half of the meat, adding it to the bowl when done. Giving the meat a few minutes to settle, drain off any liquids that form. Add in the salt, pepper to taste, rosemary and Beef & Pork Seasoning and toss well. Once the meat has cooled, add the drained bacon and the Gorgonzola Crumbles and toss well. Set aside.

In a clean skillet, heat to medium or medium high heat and add in the butter and olive oil. Add the mushrooms and the first ½-teaspoon salt and sauté, stirring and tossing continually. They will release a lot of liquid, but keep stirring until it has all evaporated and the mushrooms begin to take on a bit of golden brown color. Add in the garlic and thyme leaves and toss to distribute. Add the Sherry or wine, if using, and stir, cooking until all the wine has evaporated. Remove the mushrooms to a bowl.

Add the onions and the next ½-teaspoon salt to the pan and sauté the onions gently, over medium low heat, stirring often, until they get a golden color. Add the onion to the mushrooms and mix well. Set aside and allow to cool.

Flour a surface and unroll one Puff Pastry sheet. If it is completely thawed, it will open without cracking. If it wants to crack apart at one of the folds, it is not thawed enough. Once ready, lightly dist the top surface with flour.

Roll out the pastry sheet to about a 16½ x 16½-inch square. Keep it as squared as possible. Trim off the outer edges all the way around, leaving a 16 x 16-inch square. Cut the large square into 16 smaller, 4 x 4-inch squares: first cut the square in half in one direction, then each half into halves in the same direction. Repeat this halving in the opposite direction. Have a small cup of water at hand, for moistening the edges of the squares, when folding.

Folding the Wellington Bites
Folding the Wellington Bites

Using a teaspoon measure, scoop a generously rounded, packed portion of the mushroom mixture onto the center of each 4-inch square. Neaten it into a flat circle and then using the same teaspoon, scoop up a generous portion of the meat mixture, placing it atop the mushrooms on each square. Press the meat into neat mounds. Moisten all four edges of the square. Lift two corners, bringing the points together and sealing the seam. Lift another point to the center and press to catch the point with the previous two, then seal that edge. Now, bring up the remaining point to the center, pressing it with the other points, to adhere, then press the remaining two edges to seal. Do this with each of the 16 squares.

Set the little packets onto a baking sheet once they are completed. Repeat this whole process with the remaining Puff Pastry sheet, for a total of 32 little pouches. Set the baking sheet into the freezer and allow the packets to freeze for at least an hour. If baking that day, preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

DO AHEAD: If making these ahead, once frozen, remove all the little frozen pouches to a zip-top bag and keep them frozen for up to 3 weeks. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 400 degrees. Set the frozen pouches onto a baking sheet.

Whisk the egg lightly with 1 tablespoon of water, for the egg wash. This will make the pouches bake beautifully golden, with a pretty shine. Using a pastry brush, brush the top sides of the pastries with the egg wash. Do not allow egg to drip onto the baking sheet, as this can "glue" them to the pan, making removal from the tray very difficult later. Bake the pastries for 10 or 12 minutes, as needed for the pastry to become beautifully golden and puffed. Serve hot or at room temperature, preferably with a nice glass of Cabernet at hand.

My passion is teaching people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and passing along my love and joy of food, both simple or 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 also at A Harmony of Flavors on Facebook, and Pinterest and sign up for my Newsletter.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

A Most Amazing Breakfast

Okay, first off, this is no snap to prepare.
Tweets Poblano Relleno
Photo of Tweets' Poblano Relleno

I wrote about a wonderful breakfast I ate at Tweets Cafe while I was out in Washington visiting my son and his lady. It was called "Poblano Relleno & Black Beans with Red Cabbage Slaw, Creme Fraiche & Heirloom Tomatoes . . ." Ever since eating it, I had been thinking about how to recreate it. And finally, the weekend before last, I made it. Holy heaven, it was as good as I remembered. 

And I re-iterate: It is no snap to prepare. 

It needs some time and some planning and some organization. But I am nothing if not methodical, and I had put a month worth of thought into this, so I finally just made the decision. And the decision was that I would make this casserole in a very small loaf pan, just to serve two (albeit in very large, restaurant-sized portions).

Assembling the component parts
Assembling the component parts

My Preparations

I knew I would need the Poblano Peppers blistered and peeled. I bought two of them as I was still unsure how much I would be making and what I would need. The Poblanos were blistered, peeled and into a baggie in the fridge that day. I bought both Feta cheese and "Queso Fresco," unsure which I would want to use. I made a pot of black beans the day before. 

The morning of my grand event, I set out prepping things like the salad for the top. I love red cabbage (or any cabbage😋), so shredding some for the top was no big deal. My husband, on the other hand, really will not touch raw cabbage, and eats cooked cabbage only grudgingly. So I made a little green salad for his plate. Scallion greens were sliced for garnish. Sour cream was well stirred and into a squeeze bottle for "scribbling." Tomatoes were sliced for my plate (my husband will not eat fresh tomatoes). I set out Queso Fresco (finally made my decision) easy to crumble by hand, last minute. I had fried the potatoes, using my recipe for "Pan Potatoes" (but using one medium/smallish potato) and making sure they were well browned and well seasoned.

Now it was time to assemble. My initial reasoning was to whip the eggs up a bit, in the hope they would stay light in the casserole. At Tweets, the egg part of the casserole did not seem at all heavy or too compact. It held perfect shape, but seemed light, all the same. I layered the potatoes in the bottom of the pan. I had lined the pan with foil in the hope of easy release and easy cleanup. I have no idea why or how, but there was baked-on egg between the foil and the loaf pan and the egg was very well baked on. Oh well. So much for planning. So the potatoes in place, I poured on about half the eggs and let them set for a few seconds, hoping it would easily distribute through the potato layer. 

It did not.
My Poblano Relleno Breakfast Casserole
My Poblano Relleno Breakfast Casserole

Okay, so my advice is to tap, rap, bang, or whatever works to get the egg down in among the potatoes before proceeding. At Tweets the potatoes were nicely compact in the bottom of the casserole. The Poblano was nicely centered, just above the potatoes, yet well below the top of the baked casserole. This did not happen with my attempt, either. It in no way impaired flavor. It was just a puzzling out kind of thing. 

Back to the layering: After the first half of the egg mixture, I set the Poblano in a layer over top. Then I poured on the remaining egg mixture. This went into the oven at 350 degrees and I timed it 25 minutes. I reasoned that it was a very small casserole, right? What a gross underestimation. It ended up taking a full hour for that tiny 4 x 6-inch casserole. I removed it from the oven various times to check. Upon pressing on the top, liquid egg still kept surfacing. I timed it 10 minutes more, ten minutes more, etc, until finally, at one hour, it was done. Whew!

The Outcome?

Casserole set atop Beans
Casserole set atop Beans
Getting the casserole out of the pan was a true challenge, since the foil stuck to the pan, and the casserole stuck to the foil (despite spraying the foil with cooking spray). I finally got a knife run around the edges and turned the casserole out into my hand, then set it upright on the cutting board. Since loaf pans have a slight flare at the sides, I trimmed the edges straight, then cut the casserole in half, making two beautifully square pieces.

I put some of my reheated black beans into large bowls, then set the casserole squarely on top. I piled my red cabbage on top of my portion, and the green salad on my husband's portion. I "scribbled" the sour cream over each plate. I set pieces of heirloom tomato around my portion, then crumbled some of the Queso Fresco over each and a bit of scallion greens went over top. I also put a few cilantro leaves over each plate, since we love cilantro. 

The flavors were absolutely exceptional, and a very close match to what was served at Tweets. My potatoes ended lifting themselves up into the egg mixture, causing the Poblano to be setting on top, rather than the middle. This in no way affected flavor, only esthetics. Other than this, there was nothing I could criticize; the flavors were tremendous.

It may not be a simple "throw-together" for a weekend, but for someone really special, it is a little labor of love that is well worth attempting.

Poblano Relleno Breakfast Casserole

Serves 2
Poblano Relleno Breakfast Casserole
Poblano Relleno Breakfast Casserole

MAKE AHEAD (one day, at least):
1 Poblano Pepper, blistered, peeled
2 cups black beans (cooked ahead or use one can, divided between plates)

1 medium potato, quartered, sliced thinly
oil for frying
¼ to ½ teaspoon salt for potatoes
6 eggs, whisked to combine
½ teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
½ teaspoon salt

1 small "salad" portion, per plate (red cabbage, salad greens, arugula, etc)
2 - 4 small cherry tomatoes
sour cream, thinned if needed
scallion greens, sliced or chopped
cilantro leaves, optional
Feta Cheese or Queso Fresco (1-ounce per plate)

Fry the potatoes in enough oil so they do not stick, and sprinkle with the ¼ to ½ teaspoon salt. Toss them frequently, until they are nicely browned, crisp and cooked through.

Spray a small loaf pan (4 x 6-inch) with cooking spray. Press the potatoes into the bottom of the casserole. Whisk the fresh thyme leaves and the ½ teaspoon salt into the eggs. Pour half the egg mixture over the potatoes and rap the pan various times to get the egg to penetrate the potatoes. Allow to set for a few minutes, while this occurs. Cut the peeled Poblano in half lengthwise, then set the halves over top of the potatoes so they cover the whole surface. Pour on the remaining eggs. Bake the casserole in a preheated 350 degree oven for about one hour, checking after 50 minutes, as all ovens are different. If wet egg seeps up when the casserole is pressed on top, it needs more cooking time.

While the casserole is baking, assemble all the garnish ingredients. Heat the black beans, whether homemade or canned. When the casserole is done, give it a few minutes to set, then run a knife around the edges and remove the casserole from the pan. With a very sharp knife, trim the outer edges and cut the casserole in half. Place about 1 cup of black beans into each of two large bowls. Set a slice of the casserole on top of the beans in each plate. Place a portion of salad or slaw on top of the casserole, then "scribble" some sour cream artfully over the whole plate. Set the tomato slices around the casserole, crumble on the cheese and strew with scallion greens and cilantro, if using. Serve immediately.

My passion is teaching people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and passing along my love and joy of food, both simple or 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 also at A Harmony of Flavors on Facebook, and Pinterest and sign up for my Newsletter.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Various Things I Have Been Working On

Middle Eastern Cookbooks
Middle Eastern Cookbooks
I haven't been writing many blogs. It certainly isn't due to lack of cooking.

Ever since my husband came home with a stack of Middle Eastern cookbooks for me to try out, I have been reading through recipes, book after book . . . and trying some of them out. I've made a version of "Rose Harissa," though mine is not hot spicy, but just spiced. I made a Moroccan bread with cheese rolled and folded into it. These flat breads were amazingly delicious, but loaded with a tablespoon of butter/oil per bread; lots of fat calories, not even counting the cheese. They sure were good though! And I made a Moroccan dinner with chicken and rice, loaded with dried fruits. Last evening I made "Nan e Barbari" from the "Hot Bread Kitchen Cookbook" (third from the bottom of my "stack"), available on Amazon.

This bread recipe is found all over on the internet, usually under the name of Persian Flatbread or just Barbari. Looking through many of the recipes (at least 10 of them), they are all very similar. It is a simple enough recipe, using flour, water, salt and yeast. What sets this particular bread apart is the shaping of it, and also the fact that it uses a cooked flour/water topping called "roomal," that seems to play the part of sealing in moisture and creating a nice crust.

Persian Flatbread - Nan e Barbari - Barbari
Persian Flatbread - Nan e Barbari - Barbari
Looking through the recipes, I also watched one video, and liked how this young woman made her Persian Flatbreads. The site I watched was on YouTube, here, and shows the method well. I believe it helps to have the recipe in front of you, or like me, to have already tried it, and then see what kinds of changes might have been good. 

For me, I added more flour, in an effort to approximate what the book said the dough should be like, but might have been better off leaving the dough just as wet as it started out. A wet dough leaves nice big holes in the finished product, and would be a definite plus. Other than that, for such a simple bread, the flavors were absolutely tremendous, and I would certainly make it again in a heartbeat.

I had already started a dinner from another of the cookbooks, one that was supposed to use lamb stew meat, but instead I used beef stew meat. It was highly flavored with so many things I was really curious how it would taste in the end. It used allspice and cardamom, dill and garlic, sesame tahini and a LOT of sumac! I mean a LOT! The recipe was for two pounds of meat, but I was using just one pound, so I divided the recipe in half. Even so, it called for ONE CUP of ground sumac. Yikes. Well, for starters, though I had sumac, I certainly didn't have a whole cup of it, so I used what I had, which was ¼ cup. Even at that much, the dish was decidedly pink colored from the rosy sumac, and for my husband and me, had sufficient sour notes to not need more. We are not Middle Eastern, and not accustomed to some of the flavors. But regardless, the flavors were extremely delicious and we really enjoyed the meal.

Another Wine Tasting Coming Up

Meanwhile, another wine tasting has been scheduled, this time for December 20th. So close to Christmas, this will be a bit of a busy time to be making so many extra things. Still, my appetizers are part of the deal, so I have been thinking on what to make for this wine tasting. I like to pair my foods as closely as possible to a particular style of wine, so that both wine and food are at their best advantage. In this case, I do not have much control over which wines will be served, so I can only hope and suggest. For now, I am working on two new appetizers. I made one a few days ago, using two different methods. I am still deciding which I shall ultimately use. One is decidedly easier, and the other decidedly more finicky to make, though these last are cute as buttons, so I am leaning in that direction.
Smoky Andouille & Corn Tarts or Pouches
Smoky Andouille & Corn Tarts or Pouches

I opted to use some Andouille sausage, along with corn, mozzarella and smoked paprika as flavors. If Andouille sausages are not available, use any smoked and highly flavored sausage, such as a good Kielbasa. Despite the fact that I used the smoked paprika in both the tart dough and in the filling mixture, the "smoky" flavor seemed curiously absent. Still, the dough had the most lovely warm hue. And either way, the flavors were wonderful, so these are a keeper, no matter what. Best of all, they pair magnificently with a nice Malbec (I was drinking "Layer Cake" Malbec).

Making the little tarts, shown at left in the photo above, you would proceed the same way as for countless other tarts. Divide the dough into little balls, then press into mini tart tins. And, I am talking of mini, as in 24 little tiny bites in one tart tin. These are all of 1½-inches across. Lovely little appetizer bites. Easy to pick up and walk with. Easy to take a bite and then a sip of wine. 
Two little cookie scoops
Two little cookie scoops

I used one of the two mid sized "cookie scoops" to scoop the filling into both the little tart shells and into the pouches, but more about the pouches in a minute. If you don't have these little cookie scoops, firstly, you really should get some, because they are absolutely invaluable! But, the smaller sized scoop I have is about a two-teaspoon capacity. The slightly larger one is one tablespoon capacity. The two-teaspoon sized scoop is just right for both these tarts and the pouches. Just for decorative purposes, I set a slice of jalapeno pepper on top of each of the tarts. This is entirely optional.

Smoky Andouille & Corn Tarts or Pouches

Makes about 45
Smokey Andouille & Corn Tarts
Smokey Andouille & Corn Tarts

½ cup unsalted butter
6 ounces cream cheese
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon smoked paprika

2 andouille sausages (about 12 - 13 ounces, total), chopped finely or in tiny dice
1⅓ cups canned corn, drained
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 ounces mozzarella shreds
3 scallions, minced
3 large eggs, lightly whisked
1 - 2 fresh jalapeños, sliced into thin rings, optional
1 egg, mixed with 1 tablespoon water for egg wash (optional for pouches)

Make Tart Dough: Cut together all the ingredients with a pastry cutter or two forks, or rub together with fingers. Once the dough starts to come together, bring it all into a ball and allow to rest for a few minutes. Divide the dough into the wells of 48 mini tart pans (approximately 1-inch across at the base). Press into bottom and up sides of the wells, then set into refrigerator until needed.
Smoky Andouille & Corn Pouches
Smoky Andouille & Corn Pouches

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Make Filling: Combine all filling ingredients except the jalapeno and egg wash, and mix well. Using about 2 teaspoons filling per tart shell, fill the shells. Top each little tart with one jalapeño slice and bake for 22 to 25 minutes, or until golden and set.

ALTERNATE POUCHES: To form the little pouches instead of tarts, roll the dough out very thinly. Cut the dough into 3-inch squares. If any square is a little too thick, roll it a bit more and trim. Moisten all along the outer edge of the square with water. Begin by making a little pocket to fill. As shown in the first picture below, bring up two of the corners and pinch closed the seam this creates, creating a pouch at one end. Scoop some filling into this little "cup" (figure 2), then bring another corner to the center, pinching along that seam (figure 3) to seal tightly, and finally bring up the last corner, and pinch the seam to either side to seal the pouch completely.

Making Smoky Andouille Corn Pouches
Making Smoky Andouille Corn Pouches

Make the egg wash and using a pastry brush, apply the wash to all the upper surfaces of the pouches. Set the pouches onto a parchment lined baking sheet and bake at 375 degrees for 22 to 25 minutes, or until golden.

MAKE AHEAD: If needed, these can be made, baked and cooled, then frozen for up to 3 weeks. To reheat for serving, preheat oven to 375 degrees. Set the frozen pastries onto a baking sheet and bake for 7 to 8 minutes, or until heated through.

My passion is teaching people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and passing along my love and joy of food, both simple or 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 also at A Harmony of Flavors on Facebook, and Pinterest and sign up for my Newsletter.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Interesting Middle Eastern Flavors

The Night Counter by Alia Yunis
The Night Counter by Alia Yunis
In my last post, I wrote about making Baba Ghanoush for the first time. I was surprised to like it a whole lot, since eggplant is not necessarily the first vegetable I go for. Since that post, I happened to be reading a book (on my Kindle) called "The Night Counter," by Alia Yunis. The book was a fascinating journey through the life of an elderly Lebanese woman, Fatima, and told in "stories" to "Sheherezade" over 1,001 days. The book was absolutely fascinating on many levels. The characters were interesting and engaging and became very "real" over the course of the book. Another point of interest for me was Fatima's discussion of Lebanese foods.

I was telling my husband about the story as it progressed, and I made the comment that Middle Eastern cuisine is one I know very little about, but that some of the things Fatima described sounded interesting, such as Ma'amoul and Kibbe.
Cookbooks on the Middle East
Cookbooks on the Middle East

Apparently this is all it took. My husband took this upon himself as a challenge, I guess, because a couple of days ago he brought home SEVEN different cookbooks. Six of them are on Middle Eastern cuisines. One is by Maureen Abood, a Michigan based Lebanese blogger I have been following for some time. Her blog "Rose Water and Orange Blossoms," is listed at right, below, in my list of blogs. Another book is about breads (Hot Bread Kitchen) and other foods made by immigrant women in New York, because I like making bread. And he claims he has yet a few more books on the way.

I told him it gets very confusing with all these books. One or two would have been a good start. But he only knows one way to do things, and that is big and over the top! So I have been poring over all these books, reading the stories, the recipes and the spice mixtures. The latest spice mixture to catch my attention is called Bahārāt. I have no recipe just yet, as I am still in the process of reading about it, the variances in the recipe in varying Middle Eastern countries. I've looked at at least 15 different recipes for this spice, so far. I will create one that sounds good to me very soon. But meanwhile, I found some variations on recipes for Baba Ghanoush.
Baba Ghanoush II
Baba Ghanoush II

I love walnuts. They are, arguably, one of my most favorite nuts, along with almonds and pistachios. Oh! And cashews. My husband does not like walnuts. If they are very apparent in a dish, he will either pick them out, or just not eat the food. I can sometimes get away with grinding them very finely into a cake or cookie batter. But he claims they are very bitter, so if he tastes "bitter," that's the end of that food for him. I found a couple of recipes in this stack of books that mention using walnuts in Baba Ghanoush, instead of sesame tahini. Since my husband only took one tiny taste of my first attempt at Baba Ghanoush, I figured I may as well just go ahead and make this variation with walnuts, because the likelihood of him actually wanting to eat it is slim, anyway. I roasted the eggplant yesterday. While I was roasting the eggplant, I took the opportunity to roast a head of garlic, as well. I wanted to try using roasted garlic in the Baba Ghanoush, instead of fresh garlic.

I made the new version, Baba Ghanoush II, this morning, and I love it. I actually love it using either recipe. So, I am sharing this new version here.

Baba Ghanoush II
Baba Ghanoush II
Baba Ghanoush II

Makes about 2 cups

1 medium eggplant (about 12 ounces)
3 cloves garlic, roasted or raw
1 cup shelled walnuts
½ cup coarsely chopped parsley
3 - 4 tablespoons lemon or lime juice
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon good quality olive oil

Set oven to 400 degrees. Line a smaller baking sheet with foil. Set the eggplant on the foil and bake it for about 45 to 55 minutes, or until completely soft and skin is slightly charred. 

If you are roasting the garlic, cut off the top ¼ of the whole head of garlic. Set the head of garlic on a square of foil. If there are any larger garlic bits left in the parts cut off, take them out of their husks and set them on top of the head. Sprinkle a bit of olive oil over top of the garlic, then fold the foil up over the garlic, making a tight little packet. Set it into a small ramekin and place in the oven alongside the eggplant, for about 45 minutes.

Once roasted, remove the eggplant and let it cool. At this point, removing the skin is very easy. Discard skin. Remove excess sections of seeds inside, if preferred. Separately, squeeze out all the garlic cloves from the roasted head of garlic and store them in a small glass jar with tight fitting lid, refrigerated. If being kept for more than a few days, pour olive oil over the garlic to cover and maintain freshness.

Heat a skillet over medium heat until very hot and pour in the walnuts. Use a wooden spoon and toss and stir the nuts constantly. Do not turn away for even a second, as they can, and will, burn. It will take about 4 to 5 minutes for the nuts to toast gently, evidenced by both the color and the toasty nut aroma. Pour them immediately out onto a plate to cool.

To make the Baba Ghanoush II: Once cooled, place the walnuts into a food processor and process to a very fine texture, almost a paste. Add in the parsley and pulse until well broken down in the nut paste. Add the peeled eggplant, the garlic and about 3 tablespoons of the lemon or lime juice. Add in the salt and pepper and process briefly to blend. Taste and adjust salt or add more lemon or lime juice as needed. Pour out the Baba Ghanoush to a container and stir in the olive oil. To serve, swirl the top of the dip and drizzle on more olive oil and garnish with pine nuts, if desired.

I also made a couple of other dishes two nights ago, and one was a side dish. I wanted a vegetable to go with a lamb entree. I used asparagus, which I have not seen suggested in any of these books yet. But I did use other flavors to make the asparagus taste of the Middle East. Olive oil, garlic, saffron, pistachios, Feta cheese and Zah'tar. Zah'tar is a spice mixture (sumac, sesame, oregano, thyme & salt) I made a few years back, and while I have used it, I certainly haven't given it a really good go. In this particular application, the Zah'tar really perked up the flavors of the asparagus. Understand that this method can be used on many kinds of vegetables. I believe carrots, or squash or zucchini or various other veggies would benefit by using these flavors. Simply cook the vegetables, then drain and proceed with the recipe.

Asparagus with Feta, Pistachios & Zah'tar

Serves 2 or 3
Asparagus with Feta Pistachios & Zahtar
Asparagus with Feta Pistachios & Zahtar

1 bunch asparagus
½ teaspoon salt
1 - 2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large clove garlic, minced finely
small pinch saffron 
1 ounce Feta cheese, crumbled
¼ cup shelled pistachios
½ to 1 teaspoon Zah'tar

Set the olive oil in a small pan over the lowest heat possible. Add in the garlic and the saffron, rubbed between the palms to break up. Stir, then allow this mixture to "steep", without ever boiling, for about 15 to 20 minutes, minimum.

Snap off the ends of the asparagus, then cut the spears on the bias, about 4 or 5 slices per spear. Set them into a saucepan with a small amount of water, about 1 inch deep in the bottom. Sprinkle with the salt and bring to boil. Reduce heat and cover. Cook for about 5 minutes, or until just tender but still bright green.  Drain the asparagus and return the pan to the heat to dry slightly. Pour in the garlic oil and stir. Add in the pistachios and stir. Pour into a serving bowl and add the Feta over top, then sprinkle with the Zah'tar, to taste. 

My passion is teaching people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and passing along my love and joy of food, both simple or 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 also at A Harmony of Flavors on Facebook, and Pinterest and sign up for my Newsletter.