From the category archives:

Fast(er)

This week, I make a fish tagine–essentially, fish cooked in a stewpot–with spices from a favorite Indian recipe. On the side: carrots with cinnamon, honey and red pepper…and some potatoes that take a damn long time to cook.

 

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Shopping list

    Fillet of white fish (tilapia, cod, etc)
    Carrots
    Grape tomatoes
    Whole lemon
    Cilantro (optional)
    Garlic
    Ginger
    Fennel seeds
    Coriander seeds
    Cumin seeds
    Whole cinnamon stick
    Aleppo or other red pepper
    Honey
    Rice, couscous, orzo, potatoes–your choice

Indian-Spiced Fish Tagine

tagine 015A tagine is a Moroccan cooking pot with a cone-shaped lid. The cone-shaped lid helps condense the steam created in cooking and keeps the food moist. But, happily, you don’t actually need a tagine to make this–any heavy cooking pot with a good lid will do. (Here’s an example–Cathy puts her pot in the oven, but you can just as easily keep it on the stovetop.) For more on tagines, see the note at the end of the recipe.

Tagine is also the word for the stew cooked in one of these cone-shaped pots. But the spice combo here is from a great Indian recipe for eggplant, so, really, if you don’t use a tagine to cook it, and it’s not a Moroccan spice mix…I guess you can’t exactly call it a tagine at all. But it’s delicious regardless, and the basic technique is a great one to know because it’s so versatile.

You can serve this fish with virtually any kind of starch. In the podcast, I boil some potatoes because I happen to have them, but couscous is of course good, as is rice or even orzo (rice-shaped) pasta. So as not to repeat my blunder in the podcast, you may want to start cooking whatever starch you prefer before you embark on the fish.

Serves 2 modest portions
1-inch chunk fresh ginger root
3 or 4 cloves garlic
2/3 pint (or so) grape tomatoes
Olive oil
About 1 tbsp whole fennel seeds
About 1/2 tbsp each whole cumin and whole coriander seeds
1 large filet tilapia or other mild white fish
1/2 tbsp butter
Salt
Zest from 1/2 lemon
Fresh cilantro, for garnish (optional)

Slice ginger into 1/4-inch-thick rounds–3 or 4 slices. Peel and roughly crush or chop garlic cloves. Slice tomatoes in half (use this technique).

Place your tagine (or heavy pot) over medium heat. Drizzle in a bit of olive oil, to coat the bottom of the pan. When oil is hot and shimmery, add the whole fennel, cumin and coriander and immediately stir to coat in oil. Continue stirring until they are fragrant, usually only a few seconds. If you’re afraid your spices might burn, feel free to yank the pan off the heat. Otherwise, quickly add the ginger and garlic–this will help lower the temperature of the oil–and turn down the heat to low. Stir the garlic to coat in oil, then add the tomatoes and stir everything to mix well, along with a big pinch of salt.

tagine 004Lay the fish fillet over the tomatoes, and scoop a bit of the oil and a few tomatoes over the fish–but make sure there’s a good cushion of tomatoes for the fish to rest on. You don’t want the fish to actually touch the bottom of the pan and cook via direct heat. Put the dab of butter on top of the fish, and grate the lemon zest over it.

Put the lid on the tagine and cook, on low heat, for about 10 minutes, or until the fish just flakes when you poke it with a fork. If the rest of your dinner isn’t quite done yet, just turn off the heat and keep the lid on.

Garnish with chopped fresh cilantro, if you like.

taginecreusetNote: I have a yuppified tagine, from Le Creuset (shown here). It’s a coated cast-iron base and a clay top. Because the base is so sturdy, I can put it directly on the flame on medium heat. But if you’re using a traditional tagine, with a clay base, you should prep all your ingredients in a separate skillet, which you can crank the heat on with no risk, and then transfer everything to the tagine, lay in the fish, and set it to cook on a low flame.

Sweet-Hot Carrots

tagine 005Carrots and cinnamon are a common Moroccan combination, and a dab of honey only enhances the sweet fragrance of the mix. But to balance out the sweetness, I always add a bit of hot pepper. These carrots cook up quickly in a covered pan on the stovetop–the tiny bit of liquid cooks away and leaves a nice glaze of spices and honey. I tend to think the butter adds a nice bit of richness, but it’s entirely optional.

Serves 2, with leftovers
3 large carrots
Olive oil
Dab butter (optional)
1 whole cinnamon stick
Squeeze of fresh lemon or (better) orange juice
Very small spoonful honey
Salt
Large pinch Aleppo pepper, or smaller pinch of cayenne or crushed red chile
Generous grind of black pepper

Peel carrots and slice into 1/4-inch rounds. Place heavy pan (it should have a lid) over medium-high heat. Drizzle oil in, just enough to coat the bottom, and add a dab of butter. When the oil is hot, add the whole cinnamon stick and stir, then add the carrots and stir to coat with oil. Squeeze in the citrus juice and add a pinch of salt.

Cover the pan and turn heat to low. Let simmer for 10-15 minutes, until carrots are tender and liquid has cooked away to leave a glaze. If the carrots are tender, but there’s still a bit of liquid, remove the lid and turn the heat up to medium to make the liquid boil away.

Near the end, add the red and black pepper and stir well. Remove the whole cinnamon stick before serving.

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This week, it’s that old-school standby, sloppy joes. On good crusty bread with an interesting side salad, it makes a very easy, very satisfying dinner.

 

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Shopping list

    Butter
    Crusty sourdough bread
    Ground beef (1 lb. for 4 people)
    1 medium onion
    Ketchup (1/2 cup)
    Red wine vinegar (about 1/2 cup)
    Brown sugar (couple tablespoons)
    Dry mustard, or regular dijon-style mustard (couple tablespoons)
    Ground cloves or whole cloves
    Celery seed
    Lettuce
    Radishes
    Avocado
    Basil
    Yogurt, ideally thick Greek-style (about 1/4 cup)
    Mayonnaise (big spoonful)
    Miso OR anchovies
    Lemon (one)
    Salt and pepper

Sloppy Joes

sloppyjoe-009Nothin’ fancy about these guys. But they are shockingly easy, they use almost no fresh ingredients (not a goal, obviously, but it’s good to have a few dishes like this in your repertoire) and, most important, they taste great.

For about 4 servings
1 medium yellow onion
1 tbsp butter
Salt
1 pound ground beef, not too lean
1/2 cup ketchup
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp dry mustard or prepared Dijon-style mustard
1/2 tsp celery seed
1/4 tsp ground clove, or 5 or 6 whole cloves
Salt and pepper

For serving:
Good crusty sourdough bread or rolls
Butter

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Set a heavy skillet on the stove on medium-high to preheat while you chop your onion into rough dice. Melt the butter in the hot pan, then add the onions and stir to coat well. Add a good pinch of salt. Turn the heat down to medium and let the onions soften up while you mix the ketchup, vinegar, sugar, mustard, celery seed and cloves together in a large measuring cup. Add another big pinch of salt and some grinds of black pepper if you like.

When the onions are translucent, or even a little brown, add the ground beef, breaking it into pieces with the edge of your spoon. You want the meat crumbled up fairly well, but a few larger pieces are OK for variety. Pour in the ketchup-etc. mix. Give your measuring cup a rinse with a couple tablespoons of water and pour that in too. Once the mix is bubbling, turn the heat down to medium-low and put a lid on the pan. Depending on your stove and what else you’re doing, you may want the heat on its very lowest setting.

sloppyjoe-001Simmer about 20 minutes, until the flavors blend and there’s a nice sauce around the meat. (If you get distracted and the sauce cooks away, you can add a couple tablespoons more water and let it simmer again for another five minutes or so.)

About 10 minutes before the sloppy joes are done, stick your bread in the oven to heat up — if it’s fresh, splash it with a bit of water to make the crust extra-crispy.

Serve on hot buttered bread or rolls.

Green Salad with Radishes, Avocados and Creamy Basil Dressing

sloppyjoe-005Smooth, nutty avocados combine nicely with crispy, peppery radishes. I didn’t have them on hand for the podcast, but thinly slice red onions or chives would also be a good addition to this salad.

For the dressing, miso and anchovies serve the same purpose: an underlying saltiness and body. Use whatever you happen to have on hand, or invest in one or both. A tub of miso lasts for months, perhaps years, in the fridge, as do anchovies. You could also use other herbs–parsley, mint, tarragon–though probably in slightly smaller quantities.

For 2 generous servings
Half a head of lettuce
4 or 5 medium radishes
1 avocado

For the dressing:
2 heaping spoons thick Greek-style yogurt (or a bit more regular yogurt)
1 heaping spoon mayonnaise
1 large handful fresh basil
1 teaspoon miso, or 1 or 2 anchovy fillets, or a big squeeze of anchovy paste
Juice from half a lemon or lime
1-2 tsp apple cider vinegar
Salt, perhaps

Rinse your lettuce and arrange in a bowl. Chop up the radishes and avocados as you see fit. (Slicing rounds of radishes is extra-pretty, but difficult to keep stable on your cutting board–that’s why I usually do half-rounds, as the flat side makes them easier to slice.)

Combine all the ingredients except the salt in a blender and whiz to combine. Taste for salt–whether you want or need it depends on your miso or anchovies. If the mix is tarter than you want, add a dollop more mayonnaise and reblend. Pour the mix over your salad and serve.

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This week, I make an easy pilaf with Middle Eastern flavors: dates and cinnamon, plus salty feta. Green beans pickled with dill and garlic are on the side, and for dessert, we have a quick trick for making strawberries taste their best. It’s all quite quick, and ideal for hot weather, when you don’t want the stove on for too long.

 

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Shopping list

    Butter or olive oil (at least 2 tbsp)
    Feta cheese (about 1/4 pound, or less, depending on your taste)
    1 medium onion
    2-4 cloves garlic
    Bunch parsley
    Bunch dill (or dried dill, if you happen to have that)
    Green beans (several big handfuls, about 3/4 lb.)
    Strawberries (6 or so big ones)
    Large dates (about 6)
    Ground cinnamon and/or cinnamon sticks
    Ground allspice and/or whole berries
    Pinch red pepper flake
    Pine nuts or almonds (at least 1/4 cup)
    Bulgur (no. 2 grind, ideally, about 1 1/2 cups)
    Cider vinegar (at least 1/3 cup)
    Balsamic vinegar (just 1 tsp)
    Sugar (a pinch)
    Honey (1/2 tsp)

Date-and-Cinnamon Bulgur Pilaf

bulgur-004I got the basic idea for this pilaf from the excellent Moosewood Cookbook Cooks at Home, which I recommend as a good beginner cookbook even if you don’t happen to be vegetarian. (See my blog, Roving Gastronome, for more about what’s great about the book.) In that cookbook, the base is precooked rice, and that works very well. I just like the chewy texture of bulgur, and it cooks very quickly. You can use whatever combination of ground or whole spices you happen to have.

For about 4 servings
1-2 tbsp butter or olive oil
1 medium onion
Pinch salt
6 large dates
Large pinch ground cinnamon, plus 1 or 2 cinnamon sticks (optional)
Pinch ground allspice, plus 5 or 6 whole allspice berries (all optional)
1 1/2 cups bulgur (no. 2 grind, ideally)
2 1/4 cups water
Large handful pine nuts or almonds
Large handful parsley
Feta cheese, however much you like (goat cheese also works)

In a heavy saucepan with a tight-fitting lid, melt your butter or heat your olive oil over medium heat. Slice up your onion and toss it in, along with a generous pinch of salt. While the onions are softening up, slice up your dates into smallish bite-size pieces, then toss them in with the onions. Add the cinnamon and allspice and stir. Once the onions are soft and translucent, pour in the bulgur and stir to coat with oil (add a tiny bit more if you need to). Then pour in the water, give a good stir and put the lid on. Let the mix come to a boil, then turn down to the lowest simmer.

While the bulgur is simmering, chop your parsley coarsely. In heavy skillet over high heat, toast the pine nuts until just golden brown; immediately remove from the hot pan when they’re done. Set out your feta (or goat) cheese.

Check your bulgur after about 10 minutes. You want it to be chewy, and all of the water should be absorbed–if it’s still crunchy, put the lid back on for another minute or two. A lot depends on the weight of your pot and the flame on your stove. It’s OK if the bottom layer gets a bit dried and stuck to the bottom of the pot, but be careful not to let it scorch. If the bulgur is sticking and the texture is good, but the whole mix is still a bit moist, turn off the heat, fluff the bulgur up with a fork and leave the lid off for a few minutes, to let some of the steam dissipate.

Serve with parsley (you can mix it in with the bulgur, or sprinkle it on each serving) and toasted pine nuts–sprinkle these over the top, so they don’t get soggy. Set a slab of feta cheese on the side, or crumble it over the top.

Leftovers are good at room temperature; be sure to store any extra pine nuts separately, so they keep their texture.

Quick-Pickled Green Beans

bulgur-008This is a great, simple treatment for green beans, and works for other crispy or relatively firm vegetables as well. You can vary the herbs and spices that go in as well–though if you had many more spices, you should probably remove the green herbs altogether, or the flavors will get too muddled. Dried herbs can work nearly as well as fresh–if you’re using them, add them to the vinegar mix just at the end of the boiling, so they get a bit rehydrated.

For about 3 side servings
2-3 large handfuls green beans (about 1 lb.)
Large handful fresh dill (or 1 heaping tbsp dried dill)
3 or 4 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly crushed (or 2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced fine or pressed)
Large pinch red pepper flake (optional)
About 1/3 cup cider vinegar (or other fruity variety)
Small dab honey or sugar, less than 1/2 teaspoon

Set large pot of generously salted water on to boil. Rinse beans and snap stem ends off; remove tips if soft. Rinse dill and chop coarsely; set in a large stainless-steel bowl. Boil beans for about 1 minute, until bright green and just barely soft, then set in bowl with dill.

While beans are boiling, combine garlic, red pepper, vinegar and honey in a small nonreactive (stainless steel) saucepan and boil for 1-2 minutes. Pour hot liquid over beans and dill, stir to combine and set aside for at least 10 minutes. Taste for salt right before serving–it may need a little extra. The flavor will develop the longer they sit, and they keep for several days in the fridge.

Macerated Strawberries

bulgur-011This is an excellent treatment for good strawberries, and it also helps save ones that aren’t quite as good as they should be. For two people, simply wash, trim and roughly slice about six big strawberries. Place in a bowl and dust with a small amount of sugar–only about 1/2 tsp. Then sprinkle over about 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar, just enough to coat the berries. (If in doubt, add less, not more–there should just be a slight slick of vinegar in the bowl, not a pool in the bottom.)

Let sit for at least 20 minutes, but not more than a couple of hours. The strawberries will give off some of their juices–combined with the sugar and vinegar, it makes a very light syrup. The strawberries are great on ice cream, or with Greek yogurt.

Note: In the podcast, I use a bit of oxymeli, rather than balsamic vinegar. It’s extremely delicious, and more complex, but I’m not sure the stuff is easily available. Still, if you happen to see it, it’s an intriguing treat…

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