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Wake up, Wake up, Wake up! Breakfast of Jordanian Champions

3 Apr

Breakfast has always been my toughest meal. Cereal is king for the classic American kid, but all that carb and no protein always left me  cranky and slightly woozy by 10 a.m. Granted, this was before I discovered the eighth wonder of the world (coffee, as anyone who has ever come into contact with me before noon can attest), but even still the sugar-laden on-the-go pastries that fill the adult void left by Cap’n Crunch have never done it for me. That leaves basically one option: eggs and taters. While anyone who knows me is also aware that if asked to choose between picking up my next paycheck and plowing into a pile of potatoes I would genuinely struggle before reaching for the salt, variety is the spice of life.

Fresh tomato, cucumber and jalapeño salad and Greek yogurt.

So, when my wonderful boyfriend delivered a traditional Jordanian breakfast that turned out to be the answer to a lifetime of pre-noon struggles to my doorstep one morning, I knew I was hooked. (On the breakfast. The boy I’d long since fallen for.)

Come on and don't CHOP ME UP. That WAS a Justin Timberlake reference, I'm so glad you asked.

Fatteh is a blend of homemade hummus and Greek yogurt served over chunks of soft bread topped with jalapeño, garlic, sauteed almond slivers or pinenuts, olive oil, lemon juice, fresh parsley and chickpeas. It is also quite possibly the ninth wonder of the world. Spicy, fresh, and full of distinct flavors that bring out one another’s piquancy, it’s filling enough to stick with you for hours but never weighs you down. It’s one of the most decadent meals I’ve ever had that’s simple and healthy enough to make regularly at home, and it’s completely vegetarian.

Moh never cooks from a recipe, but I’ve watched him make it twice now and interrupted him several times this afternoon for reminders. Just for you, friends, I’m proud to divulge his divine breakfast secret. (Or as he’ll tell you, his mom’s divine breakfast secret.)

Hummus

First, start with fresh hummus. This you can do days ahead, but wait to add the lemon until you’re ready to serve.

  • Dried chickpeas (1 big bag)
  • Tahini (he uses about a third of a jar to make one batch)
  • Cumin
  • Fresh lemon juice
  1. Soak chickpeas in water overnight.
  2. Boil chickpeas in water with a couple spoonfuls of cumin and a little salt.
  3. Drain and puree chickpeas in batches in a food processer or blender.
  4. Mix with tahini.
  5. Season with more salt and cumin to taste. If you’re serving that day, add lemon juice. If not, wait and add when you do.

If, like Moh, you have far more patience and finesse than I do, make it look lovely and top with olive oil and fresh parsley.

Fatteh

  • The hummus you just made
  • Greek yogurt
  • A few soft sandwich rolls or buns, like potato bread
  • 1/2 can chickpeas (or you can use a scoop from the dried bag you used for hummus; just separate some after you’ve soaked them overnight).
  • More olive oil than seems possibly reasonable, but is
  • Juice from a few fresh lemons
  • 2 or 3 jalapeños
  • A clove of garlic
  • Pine nuts and/or slivered almonds
  • Optional: tomatoes, only if they’re really good – could be baby or big ones
  1. Bring chickpeas to a boil in water with some cumin and salt. When they’re soft, drain and reserve the cooking water.
  2. Meanwhile, make a spicy olive oil dressing. Dice jalapeños, garlic, and parsley into very small pieces and toss with olive oil, lemon juice and crushed red pepper.
  3. Heat some olive oil in a small pan and when it’s hot, fry the pine nuts and/or almonds, shaking often so they don’t burn. Remove from heat when they smell delicious and just before they’re perfectly toastily browned because they’ll keep cooking in the oil for a few minutes on their own.
  4. Tear the bread (or slice, I suppose, but ripping things is a good job when you’re a mostly helpless sous chef whose primary role is to harass the chef by obsessively snapping camera-phone shots of his every movement – is anything more annoying than a food blogger?) into bite-sized chunks and spread along the bottom of a big dish, like a glass baking dish. Pour a bit of the chickpea cooking water with cumin over the top and mix it up – not enough to be soupy, just slightly spongy.
  5. Mix the hummus with yogurt, about 7 parts hummus to 4 parts yogurt. Pour 2/3 of it over the bread, add the spicy olive oil dressing, and mix quickly and well.
  6. Pour the remaining hummus/yogurt blend over the top. Finish with more olive oil, the fried nuts, the whole chickpeas, fresh parsley, chunks of tomato if you have good ones, and salt, cumin and lemon juice to taste.

The spoils. That's the fatteh at the front.

Moh serves with toasted pita to scoop it up (if you want to go truly traditional, no forks allowed) and his favorite tea – Lipton’s steeped with heaps of sugar and fresh mint – in glasses. Sweet and delicious.

I’ve been planning to write this up for months but kept putting it off because I wanted to do it justice. An article in this weekend’s New York Times Magazine (“Does the Mediterranean Diet Even Exist?“), which I found an entitled, pot-boiling (har, har) brush-off of every culture (including ours) it examines through a superficial lens disguised as culinary, gave me the push I needed. So, Style Section, thank you for the excuse to answer your question – it sure does exist, and I’m just sorry (though not surprised) you never bothered to make any “local” friends who doubtless would have invited you into their homes to taste it. A “Mediterranean diet” is alive and well in the kitchens of those who prepare the food they’ve grown up eating with patience, love and, yes, an entire bottle of olive oil.

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Battle of the Butternut

31 Jan

Nothing quite matches the affection we home cooks feel for a food once we’ve conquered it. Conquering is very different than mastering, which I would imagine comes with its own satisfaction but isn’t something I’ll feign to know much about at this point in my culinary career (because I don’t think adding pumpkin spice to the Mr. Coffee counts, though it does make for a damn tasty travel mug on your morning commute).  Conquering a food involves taking whatever steps necessary, be they imaginative, embarrassing or downright ugly,  to transform a once-mystifying ingredient into something not only delicious, but decidedly different than your typical mealtime routine.

I feel this surge of fondness everytime I see butternut squash, its chalky yellow coat tucking in the rich orange flesh with its sweet, cara-mellow flavor. My first battle with the butternut occurred on a Tuesday night at Project Open Hand, an amazing SF-based organization that makes, serves and delivers meals to seniors and the chronically ill.  Founded in the early 80’s out of one woman’s kitchen to serve AIDS patients receiving no support (or even recognition of their disease) from the government or their families, and whose chosen families more often than not tragically found themselves in the same position, the group operates largely on the strength of its kitchen volunteer base. While I learned a ton about the community in which I live and my neighbors of all ages and walks of life during the year in which I spent every Tuesday night slicing, dicing and packing whatever slid my way across the Polk Street kitchen’s steel industrial counters, one of the most tangible lessons I is how to wrestle a squash into submission. Believe me, once you’ve determinedly hacked your way through 75 of these bulbous little buggers, you know it’s really love.

I still don’t understand how those with Jedi knife skills manage to slice them neatly lengthwise. The best I can do is  cut off the top and bottom nubs, slice across the base of its neck, and whack into whatever pieces I can from there. I find peelers do little on the tough skin except increase the chances of peeling your own, so I just slice off chunks of the skin piece by piece. This leaves you with beautiful building blocks of rich gold shaped more like what you typically find in a first-grade classroom than you do in a kitchen.

Scoop out the seeds and you now you have the pieces to make hundreds of varying dishes using this agreeable $1 starch as a centerpiece. Most of mine seem to start by cutting it into small chunks, tossing with olive oil, thyme, salt and pepper and roasting on baking sheets in a 400 degree oven until soft and just sweet, usually anywhere from 15 – 35 minutes depending  on size of your cubes.

It's kind of like seasonal baby food for adults on a budget.

You can make any number of simple soups without much planning, or with just a little, one my favorite recipes, Risotto with Butternut Squash, Jack Cheese & Pancetta from Cooking Light (check it out as much for the Dutch oven baked risotto trick, immeasurably simple than the notoriously laborious traditional stove-top method, as for the fact that the gooey cheese, crispy pancetta and creamy squash combo is beyond delicious).

But you know what? I have mastered something, damnit. The delicious weekday pasta, complete in the time it takes the water to boil and the easiest way to use whatever’s on its way out in your fridge,  that’s always ten times more satisfying (and no doubt healthier) than anything a Ragu can will produce. Here’s one recent Meatless Monday edition.

And please, because I love an indulgence – what foods have you conquered? Mastered? Dreamed about? Let us culinarily crowd-source our wisdom…

WHY LEAVE THE HOUSE BUTTERNUT SQUASH & MUSHROOM LINGUINI

Ingredients

  • Whole wheat linguini
  • Butternut squash, obv. For enough pasta for 2 plus lunch leftovers, I used about half of 1 squash, saving the rest of the roasted cubes to add to salads for lunch for the week.
  • A shallot (a little more delicate than onions)
  • A clove or two of garlic
  • Couple handfuls of mushrooms (because they were about to go bad in the fridge, but they always add heft  to a meatless meal, plus their robust earthiness is a nice complement to the smooth squash)
  • Thyme & nutmeg
  • Splash of white wine (since pretty much everyone I have over is a red drinker, I love not having to feel guilty about opening a bottle of white if you’re craving just a glass or two – save the rest in the fridge for months for cooking)
  • Yogurt (or milk, or buttermilk, again, whatever dairy you have to use up will work)
  • Fresh grated parm or good topping cheese
  1. Boil salted water. Add pasta when that’s happened.
  2. Quash that squash. Prep squash as above – cube, toss with olive soil, thyme, s/p and bake on a parchment or tin-foil lined tray at 400 until just soft, 15 – 25 minutes.
  3. Sautee away. Heat olive oil, add shallots, stir a bit for a couple minutes. Add garlic, let just brown. Add mushrooms, sprinkle on nutmeg, and let them sweat out their water. Toss in a splash of wine and reduce.
  4. Make liquid gold. Just before pasta is done, add a scoop of pasta water, plus a scoop or two of yogurt to the mushroom sautee pan on low heat, stirring until seamlessly combined. Add squash at last minute (I added earlier and it became a bit mushy)
  5. Mix it. Drain the pasta when it’s done, reserving a splash of the cooking water. Add pasta back to pot with the splash of cooking water, stirring over low heat until combined.
  6. Season. Top with salt ( if necessary),  plenty of fresh ground black pepper (always necessary) and grated cheese, if you have it.
  7. Check SurfTheChannel.com to see if there’s a new Gossip Girl. What else are Mondays good for?

Meals with Friends: Cause your job’s a joke, you’re broke…?

29 Jun

Monday evening. Far, far south of here, at 16th and Guerrero to be exact, I have to imagine that the Chinese man with whom I share a weekly struggle  to communicate through a fairly significant language barrier and the far more maddening craptastic hunk of plastic that calls itself my Blackberry, is bewildered.

No sweet and sour meatless chicken? No basil meatless chicken? Not even cold sesame NOODLE?!

Yes, ladies and gentlemen (all three of you), it’s true. I’ve put my foot down. If on the hands-down worst day of the week I’m going to go so far as to brave poring myself into a sports bra and spandex only to spot the only two people on the planet who make me want to rip out my own hair and feed it to them (another story for another day), then I can absolutely find the strength to dig deep within the depths of my willpower, my freezer and Jenn’s pantry to make a nutritious, delicious meal on which I spend not one additional dollar. Certainly not the customary $27, including two Diet Cokes, plus tip, my roommate and I fork over weekly to Big Lantern.

<Mini-Review Tangent: Big Lantern is by far my favorite Chinese take-out in the city. The sesame cold noodles, though deceptively simple enough to trick you into thinking you can take a trip to Richmond for supplies and make them yourself (oops), are delicious. Just enough tang, with sweet shreds of carrot and crunchy wisps of bitter lettuce nestled into the thick, floury noodles. Spinach dumplings are crunchy without being greasy. The basil meatless chicken is the best entree I’ve had, with spicy red pepper dotting a dense but never syrupy garlic sauce, big green broccoli chunks and crisp green pepper slices. Of course, it comes with enough to stuff your face with half while watching Friends reruns in your bathrobe, then finish the rest for breakfast. I mean, eww, who eats cold Chinese food for breakfast?! Lunch, I meant lunch. I’m lying. It’s absolutely breakfast. Deal with it.>

Anyhoo, the new and improved healthy, affordable options comes about with a little help from my real-live friends, of course. The contents of the fridge she has to clear out by Wednesday in tow, The Lovely Ms. Rosen, Future Esq., arrives, and after a glass of wine – details to follow Wednesday – we set to cooking the most simple, cheapest feast of nutritional value to happily feed six I’ve yet found.

Thanks to the one, the only, Telanor Kousman for your unwavering inspiration. Keep it raw, my friend. Keep it raw.

schexy schweat in schports bra

The Monday Medley

  • 2 avocados (or however many you have)
  • 1 tomato
  • 1 lemon (or lime)
  • a few garlic cloves
  • about 1 cup (cooked; about 5 oz. uncooked) of brown rice per person – we used 1 whole package of Trader Joe’s organic brown frozen rice ($3.49), but you could use any kind
  • lotsa spinach (however much you got), chopped
  • some red onion (we used probably 1/6 of a giant weird one. so giant you have to wonder. but no matter. i already ate it.)
  • can of beans (we used giant white beans in tomato sauce from TJ’s. In the past, the Kousman used drained black beans. I’m sure whatever you paid 89 cents for currently collecting dust in your cabinet will do just fine.)
  • optional: cheese, whatever type you’ve got (we used cheddar and gouda. feta would be great.)
  • Salt and pepper, obv. Do I really have to specify this? I think from now on we’ll dispense this step. Thanks.
  1. Make gaucamole. Cut each avocado in half, slice it still in the shell across both ways, and use a spoon to scoop the good stuff into a bowl. Dice a quarter of the tomato and throw that in. Chop up a garlic clove very finely and toss that in too. Cut the lemon in half and squeeze it on top, salt and pepper that ish (avocado loves salt) then mash everything together with a fork and your spoon. Very fun. Eat some with your fingers (I won’t tell) and then stick it in the fridge.
  2. Cook ya rice. Ya know, follow the package. Although I’ll admit – I find brown rice very tough to make well. I’m going to invest in a rice cooker one of those days. In the meantime, I’d highly recommend dumping your frozen TJ’s brown rice into a saucepan (a term I find confusing – it’s the spaghetti pot, yes?) with a sliver or butter or two or some olive oil if you want, putting your burner on medium-low, covering, and stirring every so often. It will probably take about 15 minutes.
  3. Chop yer fixins. Dice up the remaining tomato. Chop up your spinach. Dice a bit of onion and a couple cloves of garlic.
  4. Milk a cow. Just kidding. But if you want to, grate some cheese.
  5. Shake it like a polaroid picture. Top off your wine glass. Dance it out a li’l. When the rice is ready, toss in your tomato, spinach, garlic and onion. Empty out that can of beans. Squeeze the remaining lemon half over the top. Salt and pepper to taste (a tricky topic: more on this to come).
  6. Serve yourself. Make those bastards line up in your kitchen and let them add their own gauc and cheese. Offer them red wine and Bud Light. They’ll love you forever.

NOTES: This could easily be served with a simple salad or tomato soup for an indisputably complete meal. Because we were also playing kitchen clean-out, we served with TJ’s frozen chicken dumplings for those partaking in animal. On the other hand, this meal can easily, and with complete satisfaction, be completely vegan – a rarity for yours truly.