This weekend, I took a micro-vacation to visit my aunt and uncle in Indiana. Before heading out there, I received a challenge:
It is your job to plan (and assist cooking) our meal for the Saturday evening you are here. The requirements are vegetarian only, no eggplant, keep it simple.
Vegetarian food (by the by, I added a vegetarian tag for my posts…). How would I plan a menu without relying on pasta? Or veggie burgers? Wait, no eggplant?
In any case, I began scouring the blogs I most frequently turn to when in need of something easy, impressive, and adaptable. I also did some consulting (thank you, Alex), and decided I would throw together my take on Iranian food.
Nearly the minute after I got to my aunt and uncle’s house, the cooking began. I began by making Mast o Khiar, which is just yogurt, cucumbers, and mint. We didn’t have any mint, so I substituted with dill. Really, though, you could use whatever herb you have on hand if mint eludes you. It’s probably one of the easiest side dishes to make. All I did was add one English cucumber (the long, seedless variety) to one 16oz tub of plain greek yogurt. I chopped up as much dill as I thought necessary, sprinkled a little salt and pepper, and threw it in the refrigerator to chill for an hour or so. Initially, I was a little skeptical about using greek yogurt out of fear it would be too thick, but it loosens some with the liquid from the cucumber. I would only use greek yogurt for this recipe because I really dislike thin, soupy yogurt. This dish is cool, refreshing, light, and perfect for hot and humid days. With mint, it would have been even better because it’s such a bright herb. I’d even recommend adding a teaspoon of rosewater to add a wonderful aromatic component. Rosewater is wonderful on super hot days.
Up next was my take on a Shirazi salad.
Again, we had no mint, so I switched things up a bit. This is another insanely easy dish to make, and is something you can prepare about an hour or so ahead of time. It calls for cucumber, tomato, red onion, lime juice, a little bit of olive oil, and mint. I won’t bother giving you measurements, because it’ll depend on how many cucumbers, tomatoes, and onions you plan to use. Because we didn’t have mint, I just added salt, pepper, and garlic. (I had to sneak some garlic in somewhere.) Personally, I should have used more lime juice. All in all, it was quite comparable to a salsa. While I wasn’t as enthusiastic about this side dish, fresh vegetables are always an awesome addition to any meal.
And finally, for our main meal, I attempted kuku sabzi. Kuku sabzi is essentially an intensely-herbed frittata. Really, the eggs are more or less a vehicle for the herbs. For about 6 eggs, you should use a cup of fresh: parsley, cilantro, dill, and chives. You can add in about 1/3 cup of walnuts, if you want, and you must also add 1 tsp of baking powder. The baking powder makes the eggs fluffy and sponge-like.
(I promise, the other side of the kuku sabzi was much more herb-dense. The herbs floated to the top of the mix while cooking, which is to be expected.)
1. In a large mixing bowl, combine 6 eggs, salt, pepper, and baking powder. Whisk to combine.
2. Add your chopped herbs and walnuts to the mixture and whisk again.
3. To a medium nonstick skillet, add some olive oil over medium-low heat. Once the oil is hot, add the egg mix and cook for approximately 20 minutes over medium-low heat. Check the bottom of the egg every once and a while to ensure nothing is burning. It should get to be a nice brownish color.
4. Now. You have two options. You can get out two spatulas and try to flip this thing yourself, or you can cut it into quarters and carefully flip each piece. I opted for the two spatula method, with my aunt holding the skillet. After three or so flip attempts, the kuku sabzi flipped with no spillage. Cook the other side for another 20 minutes over medium low. (I got impatient, as I often do, and cranked up the heat so it would cook faster.)
Cut into pieces and serve.
The kuku sabzi was really cool, actually. It was light and airy, and really flavorful because of the herbs. The herbs are the star of this show, so I resisted the urge to add any sort of spices like turmeric or something. Salt and pepper do the job well, allowing the herbs to stand their ground. While some lemon zest would’ve been a nice accompaniment, why mess with tradition (especially on the first time making it)?
As another side dish, I attempted to make hummus without tahini. Word to the wise (or perhaps the not so wise), this doesn’t work. Don’t even.
Before I began my marathon dinner preparation, my aunt and I made this awesome bunt cake a la Betty Crocker.
It came out sooooo good. While I’m not a confident baker, this cake was rather easy to make. It used sour cream, and we put this awesome cinnamon-sugar-walnut mixture between layers of batter. And who doesn’t love gooey cinnamon sugar in their cake?
So, what did we learn today? Vegetarian food doesn’t always have to involve pasta, eggplant, or processed soy. It can be bright, inventive, flavorful, and best of all, simple.
Good evening, everyone.
As many of you probably know, waiting for rice to cook when you’re really quite hungry is well, excruciating.
I often find myself standing over the pot, staring into its glass lid scrutinizing the dark, boiling water for evidence of absorption. This is, of course, a futile process. As I pace back to my computer, feigning preoccupation, I find myself getting up to check the progress (or lack thereof) of my rice almost as quickly as I sat down at my desk. Sigh. Note to self: start buying white rice; it cooks way faster. In what feels like 45 minutes, 3 have managed to pass. It is only when I find myself beginning to consider the virtues of eating very al dente rice that I even pry myself away from the stove.
And that was the beginning of my tahdig with lavash venture. This is my second tahdig attempt; the first was with potato slices. I was not enthusiastic about how tahdig #1 came out, and so I persisted in using lavash. Lavash, on its own, is fantastic. Better than tortillas, I’d argue. Although, maybe not. It’s all contextual, really.
And there it is, people. My first successful tahdig. The lavash became so damn crunchy, I cut into it like a pie.
So, how did this happen without totally burning to a crisp? Here’s what I did after cooking the rice:
In a medium saucepan, dump in 2 to 3 tablespoons of olive oil along with 1 tablespoon of saffron water. Stir with a wooden spoon to combine the olive oil and water as best as you possibly can. Cover the bottom with the lavash. You can do either one or two layers, I did one. Put the cooked rice on top of the lavash, cover and cook.
This can happen in a few ways. You can cook it over low heat for about 45 minutes to an hour, or if you’re impatient (as I was), you can cook this over medium heat for about 20-30 minutes. My advice to you: let some of the lavash come up the sides so you can take a fork and pull it back to check its level of doneness. This is probably cheating, probably a little unorthodox, but for your first time I’d say go for it. You need to be able to gauge how done it gets over time.
When it’s done, take a plate big enough to fit over the saucepan, and put it over the pan. Flip the pan so the tahdig is on the plate, and you’ve got something awesome.
Tomorrow night, I am going to a cooking demonstration with Judith Jones. For those of you who don’t know, Judith Jones was the editor of Julia Child’s most famous cook book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The subject of the demonstration is cooking for one, something I’ve grown quite fond of. I will, of course, take tons of pictures!
Good evening everyone.
I begin the new month with an experimentation, of sorts. I tried my hand at jujeh kebab and tahdig.
For those unfamiliar with Persian cuisine, jujeh kebab is essentially marinaded chicken, skewered and grilled. Unfortunately, I don’t have an actual grill. I do have a George Foreman grill, though! Yeah, it’s not the same at all. There’s no charred, smokey flavor. There’s no real grill marks. But, it is compact and efficient and I use it to grill my sandwiches almost every day.
Tahdig is actually less a food and more a product of cooking rice in a certain way. After cooking the rice, you let it sit in the pan for about an hour so it forms a delicious crust on the bottom. Usually basmati rice is used for this. I love crusty rice, particularly with paella. There are a few different types of tahdig, and I chose to make mine with potato slices.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have any basmati or long grain, white rice around. So, I had to use brown rice. Either this negatively affected my dish, or perhaps I added too much olive oil to the bottom of the pan. Either way, the rice did not have as much of a crust as I had hoped for, and I had it on the stove for nearly an hour over low heat (to prevent burning). It was good, don’t get me wrong, I would have just preferred a thicker crust.
Jujeh kebab adapted from here
1 chicken thigh
1 cup greek yogurt (i recommend either fage or chobani. if you don’t have greek yogurt, take plain yogurt and place it in some cheesecloth. either hang this over a bowl or place it in a strainer that fits over a bowl. strain for 3 hours in the refrigerator, and you’ve got greek yogurt)
3 or so TBSP turmeric
salt and pepper to taste
juice of 1/2 a lime
1. in a bowl, combine the yogurt, turmeric, salt, pepper, and lime juice. combine well. it should be a nice yellow color. put the chicken in the bowl, toss to coat. either cover this with plastic wrap and put that in the refrigerator, or place this mix into a ziploc bag, squish it around, and then place it in the refrigerator. your call. let this marinade over night.
2. you can do any of the following: grill the chicken on an outdoor grill, grill it on your george foreman, bake it, or broil the chicken. i leave that to you. i did mine on the george foreman grill set to medium heat for about 10 minutes.
The chicken was very flavorful. I will never understand why people snub their noses at turmeric by calling it the poor man’s saffron. Saffron = yellow, but tasteless. It comes from a pretty flower, though. Anyway, the squeeze of lime really brightens the chicken quite a lot. It blends well with the tang of the yogurt. It’d be EVEN better on a real grill, but I digress.
Tahdig with Potato adapted from here
1 cup cooked basmati rice
1 gold potato, chopped into 1/4 inch rounds
1 TBSP saffron water (steep the saffron in hot water until the water is golden)
1. in a medium saucepan, add 2 TBSP olive oil. add the saffron water and some salt, stir to combine.
2. place the potato rounds on the bottom of the saucepan. lay the rice over this, and cook for about an hour on low heat. if you get impatient, crank it up to medium for the last 15-30 minutes or so.
The other bummer about brown rice is that you can’t really see the little bit of crust that did manage to take form. The rice was good, and the potatoes were nice and crunchy. Next time, I will definitely be using basmati rice and I am going to try and make the tahdig with bread instead of potatoes. I must conquer this.
Tomorrow? Braised oxtails!
I hope this week went well for everyone. I am having a bit of a hard time adjusting to this semester’s new schedule, but otherwise things are moving along.
I have an interesting menu planned for the next few days. Since my schedule doesn’t permit me to cook every day of the week, I have to compensate for it on the weekends (which actually allows me to enjoy making the food). It’s going to be a bit of a fusion week, beginning with tomorrow’s big dinner. I am finally going to be breaking in my copy of Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles Cookbook by making his poulet roti. This, as you know, is just a roasted chicken. He employs a French-style of cooking, which is going to be fun trying out. Admittedly, I have never tried a French recipe before (can’t wait to start cooking from my Julia Child cookbook!). I think I am going to make a potato dish to go along with the chicken (perhaps some purple potatoes). As I will have a chicken carcass on hand, I am going to try making my own dark chicken stock on Saturday. It should be great for a lazy day.
Saturday and Sunday, I will be experimenting with Persian food. Saturday, I’ll try making Khoresh Karafs (the source of the recipe can be found by clicking on the picture), which is a celery stew.
Sunday, I will attempt to make khoresht-e ghormeh sabzi (another stew), whose recipes can be found all over the internet. It’s a popular dish, and I’m excited to try it out!
Monday, I’ll be returning to the Les Halles Cookbook for a mushroom soup. I personally love mushrooms. They are so meaty and earthy. Perhaps I will make a spinach salad with some tomatoes and carrots to go along with this dish.
Finally on Tuesday, I will try making salade d’onglet. This recipe, yet another from Bourdain, requires an onglet (hanger)
cut of steak. It’s hard to find this cut in a general grocery store, so if you’re really into meat, hit up a butcher. I’m not so keen on red meat (this is the first time since living here I have bought it), so I just bought stew meat. The recipe involves marinading the meat, so it should work out well. Accompanying the beef will be a spinach salad with a red wine vinaigrette.
Whew! Hopefully this all gets accomplished! I’ll have recipes and pictures for you of my attempts within the coming week!