Archive for the ‘Main Dishes’ Category

Meatless Monday ~ Feeding Our Beasts   Leave a comment

One of the great joys of my life thus far has been feeding my child. After a rocky start, I was able to nurse Mimi for the first year of her life. While there were many, many times when that process was painful, tedious, or inconvenient, it was nevertheless a miraculous experience, a period marked by a feeling of intense physical closeness to my child that I long for today. I can remember looking into her contented face as she nursed and being so often struck by a sense of real accomplishment and even power. Here was something I could do well for her — something nourishing and essential, something ancient and mysterious. (I was also often amazed by her tenacity and strength as she nursed, but that’s another story.)

When the time came for Mimi to eat solid food, I was excited to make simple pureés for her — mostly organic, usually seasonal. An early favorite was a combination of plain yogurt and fresh mango that we playfully called “mango-dango.” Throughout this next phase of eating, I spent many happy afternoons steaming and pureéing Asian pears, green peas, Pink Lady apples, even quince. I roasted and mashed eggplant and sweet potatoes. I smashed bananas, strawberries, and peaches as well as red beans, lentils, and boiled edamame. Later, when her pretty little teeth appeared, I steamed green beans, broccoli, and carrots, cut them up, and served them with hummus. I fed her salty bacon and smoked salmon, quinoa and couscous. I topped baked potatoes with pesto, a practice that eventually became mandatory. One happy memory is of my six-month old daughter, to the surprise and delight of my mother-in-law, greedily gobbling up a plateful of steamed asparagus at a favorite restaurant in Michigan. We ordered some extra and she polished that off as well. Even the waitress was impressed.

Mimi has always been a fairly adventurous eater. She will eat almost anything that she sees her parents eat. When she was tiny, the only foods that she refused outright were infant cereals, commercial baby food, and, well, avocados. We all have our culinary quirks.

But that quirkiness works both ways. She has long had a passion for kalamata olives. When she was just over a year old, she shared them for first time with our friend Laura at a dinner party, Laura biting off tiny pieces and feeding them to Mimi as if she were a baby bird. She’s loved them ever since. Even now, I have to hide the olive jar in the fridge or my child will insist upon having an “olive snack.”

Before Mimi was born, I resolved that she would not be a picky eater, as so many children are. I was keenly aware that the odds were against us. I’m not sure when this happened, but at some point in American history, someone decided that children don’t like to eat the same foods as their parents and, moreover, that “adult” food was not even really appropriate for kids. Of course, a whole new market opened up to accommodate this trend: children’s food. These foods are marked by uniformity and infantile product names — “Go-Gurt,” “Captain Crunch,” ”Snackables,” “Spaghetti-O’s.” None of it is any good.

This trend logically expanded into American restaurants. Just try to find one that does not have a separate set of dishes prepared for children. I’m not the first person to point out the fact that the phenomena known as the “Children’s Menu” reinforces the idea that kids need to eat their own special food. The problem is that this food is never particularly special. I suppose it makes some sense to offer smaller portions of food to children, who usually don’t eat very much anyway. However, most children’s menus dumb down food, providing only a handful of blandly predictable items: grilled cheese, hot dogs, pizza, macaroni & cheese, chicken fingers — sometimes a hamburger and always french fries. It’s generally impossible to determine what kind of restaurant you are in by surveying the children’s menu. In the US, I’ve been to Indian restaurants that serve hot-dogs; French restaurants that offer hamburgers; Italian restaurants that feature chicken fingers. (Isn’t it interesting that restaurants in India, France, and Italy seldom have children’s menus? Kids eat what their parents do, just less of it.)

Thus, tastes and habits are created. Presented with an array of “appropriate” foods, kids pick up their forks and they eat. But not adult food. No, thank you. Children always strive to meet our expectations — even when those expectations are impossibly low.

Interestingly, it is possible that food preferences become instilled even earlier than toddlerhood. Some researchers theorize that amniotic fluid — that watery substance that nurtures and protects the aquatic fetus during gestation — changes flavor depending upon what a mother eats. The flavor of breast milk varies similarly. Taste, then, might be developed prenatally, at least initially, and probably long before solid foods are introduced. If true, then children’s food manufacturers have already tailored the tastes of at least one generation of American eaters. It occurs to me that the menus of several major American food chains support this theory. How different are the adult and children’s menus at Applebee’s?

Back when I was pregnant and nursing, I was especially concerned with eating as many different things as I could so that Mimi’s palate would be as varied as possible. I liked to imagine Mimi, tucked away inside of me, wondering what new flavor experience would come next. I made sure to eat a lot of broccoli, hoping to raise a lover of that unfairly maligned vegetable. It seems to have worked. Mimi likes her little trees.

Now that she’s older, Mimi will often ask me what’s for dinner and then, when she finds out what we’re having, she asks a follow-up question: “Do I love that?” Usually, I’m able to assure her that she does love whatever it is that we’re having, but I’m not a fool. I’ll know that eventually, there will be some resistance. At some point, she’s likely to wonder why she eats foods that other kids do not. Worse, she’ll wonder why we never feed her the special foods for kids that so many of her friends get to eat. From a child’s point of view, if there are special foods and menus in stores and restaurants, there must also be special foods and menus at home.

And, usually, there are.

But not at our house, at least not preprocessed “special” foods. We’ve tried to protect Mimi from the tyranny of low expectations. In restaurants, she either shares with us or we request a small plate of something from the regular menu. Decent restaurants will usually cooperate. It’s easier at home. Except when she was very small, she has always eaten what we do. Even her baby meals bore a strong resemblance whatever Jim and I were eating for dinner — softer versions of the family meal. One of the first dishes that we all enjoyed together was Megadarra, a wonderful lentil and rice dish from the Middle East. Topped with yogurt, carmelized onions, and a small salad of cucumbers, tomato, and mint, the dish is complex without being confusing. It is meatless, healthy, delicious, and visually appealing. Minus the salad, it’s a perfect first “real” meal for a small child. There’s nothing to choke on and it can be rendered appropriately mushy with the addition of extra yogurt. The lentils are earthy and the basmati rice and onions, together with the cinnamon and allspice, provide a nice bit of sweetness. I served it to Mimi first without the salad and, later, with the salad on the side so she could gobble up the small pieces with her fingers. Now, she eats the dish exactly as we do and just as happily.

It’s an old standard at our house, one that satisfies both young and old alike.

Megadarra

2 white onions, thinly sliced

1 tbs. butter

3 tbs. olive oil, divided

1 white onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, finely minced

1 tsp. ground allspice

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

1 1/2 tsp. ground cumin

3/4 cup brown lentils

4 cups water

1/2 cup basmati rice

1 English cucumber, diced

2 tomatoes, seeded and diced

1 cup 2% Greek yogurt

1/2 cup mint leave, roughly chopped

salt & pepper

First, caramelize the onions. In a large frying pan, melt butter over medium-high heat. Add olive oil and onions and saute until the onions are soft and brown, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

In a large Dutch oven, heat remaining olive oil over medium-high heat. Add onions and saute until soft. Add garlic and continue to saute until fragrant. Add allspice, cinnamon, and cumin. Stir constantly for one minute. Add water and lentils. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes until the lentil begin to get soft, stirring occasionally. Add rice and more water (if necessary) to cover). Bring back to a boil and simmer, covered, for another 20 minutes, until the rice is soft and the water has evaporated. Stir only as needed.

Remove from heat. Season with salt and pepper, stirring very gently. Serve the lentils in bowl topped with onions, cucumber, tomato, mint, and yogurt.

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Meatless Monday~Rigatoni with Pistachio Pesto & Artichokes   Leave a comment

Spring is here! Or, rather, it’s supposed to be — the time changed a few weeks ago, meaning longer days, the equinox occurred last week, and the stores are all full of flowery frocks and open-toed sandals. The only thing missing is actual warmth, which has been elusive, and sun.

Folks around here have a bit of Spring fever. I suppose they’re entitled. For the first time in recent memory, we had a real winter here in Alabama, complete with several cold weeks in a row, a bit of snowfall, and lots of rain. Having hit its stride back in January, winter seems disinclined to leave. My fellow citizens are generally grumpy about it, being used to mild winters, but I’ve been pretty happy about it. I like the cold and rain. Still, as much as I enjoy cold weather, I’ll be happy to see it leave this year. I’m tired of my winter clothes and shoes and, surprisingly, I’m even becoming weary of grapefruit and fennel, my two favorite wintertime foods. It’s time to move on, I say.

So, seeking out a little bit of cheery Spring, I decided to make pesto. It’s not basil season (not even close), so I went with another green wonder: pistachios. For a bit of tang, I threw in a jar of marinated artichokes;we can pretend that it’s really spring and that they are in season. Lemon juice beckons to the sun, which will hopefully join us in the coming days. It will be most welcome.

Rigatoni with Pistachio Pesto & Artichokes

1/2 cup of shelled pistachios that are unsalted and roasted**

4 cloves garlic, minced and divided

1/2 cup & 2 tbs. of olive oil, divided

1 lb. hot, cooked rigatoni with 1/2 cup of the boiling water reserved

1 8 oz. jar of marinated artichokes, drained

2 tbs. fresh basil, chopped or 1 tsp. dried basil

1 tsp. lemon zest

The juice of one lemon

1/2 tsp. Aleppo pepper

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1/4 cup chopped pistachios for garnishing

Salt and Pepper to taste

Pistachio Pesto:

Blitz pistachios and 2 cloves of garlic in a food processor. You want the nuts to resemble coarse sand. Add salt and pepper. Turn on motor and add olive oil in a steady drizzle until a smooth paste forms. Adjust seasonings. You will wind up with about 1 cup’s worth of pesto, enough for 2 recipes. Set aside 1/2 cup — you won’t need that much — and refrigerate or freeze the rest.

Pasta & Artichokes:

Sauté the remaining garlic, Aleppo pepper, and artichokes in 2tbs. oil over medium-high heat for 3 minutes, or until garlic is fragrant. Be careful not to burn it. Add the drained pasta and dried basil, if using and lemon zest. Gently toss around in the pan to coat. Remove pan from heat. Add pesto in 2 tbs. increments until the pesto sufficiently coats the pasta along with a bit of the reserved pasta water and the lemon juice. Coat pasta and artichokes thoroughly. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add a bit of olive oil if the mixture seems dry. Spoon into bowls and top with parmesan, fresh basil, if using, and chopped pistachios. Serve immediately.

**Pistachios are crazily expensive in the grocery store — about $6 per cup — but they’re much more reasonably priced on-line, even if you account for shipping costs. Even better, they’re fresher– much fresher. Nutsonline is a great source for pistachios and other nuts. If you’re feeling flush, you could purchase some Bronte pistachios online from Kalyustan’s but that will set you back $65 per pound (without shipping). Finally, Zingerman’s carries some prepared pistachio pesto made with Sicilian pistachios from Agrigento, but it’s also bit pricey at $30 per 8 oz. jar.

Posted March 27, 2010 by snpulling in Main Dishes, Meatless Monday, pistachios

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The Three Dips   2 comments

Expecting something on three of my ex-boyfriends?

Think again. As satisfying as that might be for me, it would not be of much use to you. Instead, I offer something truly valuable: recipes for my three favorite dinner party starters, muhamarra, tapenade, and hummus.

Served alone, any one of the three would be a satisfying way to welcome dinner guests. Serve the three of them together, however, and you will impress your guests with your worldly sophistication, easy generosity, and all around culinary brilliance. At the very least, they will know that you care.

I’m not sure when I started serving all three dips together, but now I feel sort of lazy whenever I make only one or two of them. I wish I could come up with a catchier phase to call them: “the three dips?” Not exactly sophisticated. Fortunately, even if the name doesn’t inspire, the combination does. The dips belong together somehow. Sweet, salty, and earthy; red, black, and beige — however you configure them, they play well together.

Besides, once you haul out the food processor to prepare one, it makes a lot of sense to prepare all three. They share a number of ingredients — garlic, lemon juice, and red pepper — so, you know, while you’re at it.

I’m never able to single out a favorite. Each one tastes wonderful slathered onto triangles of warm pita (especially pita you make yourself–another post). The three distinct flavors also work really well in tandem. Besides this important fact, there are other advantages to serving the triumvirate to guests. They look pretty together on the table and they are just exotic enough to seem special. All three are vegan (or can easily be made so). Best, the dips taste best made the day before, which frees you from some kitchen prep on the day of your event. In fact, even if the dips are all that you serve, your guests will be thrilled.

A word about muhammara, which is a traditional Persian dip. While most of its ingredients are easily found, you will need to look around for the pomegranate molasses since it is an essential component of the dish. Its flavor is both sweet and tart, a common profile in Persian food. I’ve found pomegranate molasses at Zingerman’s and the Spice House, and it keeps forever in the refrigerator. However, don’t despair if you absolutely cannot get some; either reduce 2 cups worth of pomegranate juice (you’ll wind up with about 1/2 cup of molasses) or double the specified amount of lemon juice and add 1 tsp. dark brown sugar.

Finally, I recommend Aleppo pepper in all three recipes, but regular crushed red pepper makes an adequate substitute. If you do use crushed red pepper, reduce the amounts recommended by about half and adjust from there. The muhamarra and tapenade should both be fairly spicy.

Muhamarra

1 7 or 8 oz. jar of roasted red peppers, drained
2/3 cup walnuts
3 cloves of garlic
Juice from 1 lemon
3 tsp. pomegranate molasses
1 tsp. Aleppo pepper
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 – 1/2 cup olive oil

Put the first 8 ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and process using short pulses. You want everything coarsely chopped. Once you have the texture you like, add the olive oil in a steady stream while the food processor whizzes away. Adjust seasonings. Garnish, if you’d like, with mint leaves. Serve with warm pita.

Tapenade

1 12 oz jar of pitted Kalamata olives, drained and rinsed
2 tbs. capers, drained and rinsed
3-5 garlic cloves
Zest of one lemon
Juice of one lemon
Scant 1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. Aleppo pepper
1/4 – 1/2 cup olive oil

Place the first 6 ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and process using short pulses. When all is coarsely chopped, add the olive oil in a steady stream while the food processor whizzes away. Adjust seasonings. Serve with warm pita. Sometimes, I add some crumbled feta cheese to the finished tapenade. If you plan to do this, bear in mind the fact that feta is salty so you’ll want to add less salt to the tapenade.

Hummus

1 8 oz. can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed (although you could make your own chick peas for even better results), separated
2 tbs. tahini (roasted sesame paste)
3-5 cloves of garlic
Juice of two lemons
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. Aleppo pepper
1 tsp. salt
1/4 – 1/2 cup of olive oil

Place half of the chick peas and the next 5 ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and process using short pulses. When all is coarsely chopped, add the olive oil in a steady stream while the food processor whizzes away. Add the rest of the chick peas to the processor and pulse 3 or 4 times. Adjust seasonings. Serve with warm pita.

The hummus can also be served warm. If you want to go this route, make the hummus as recommend above. Then, preheat the oven to 400 degrees; put the hummus in an oven-proof casserole; melt 1 tbs. butter in a sauce pan. Add 1 tsp. Aleppo pepper, 1/2 tsp. cumin seeds, and 2 tbs. pine nuts. Stir over medium heat until everything is coated with butter. Pour over the hummus and bake for 20 minutes. Serve immediately.

Our friends Jeff and Karen and Scott and Laura came for dinner on Saturday and I served the three dips before this lentil soup and this marmalade cake. In our Straw Poll, the hummus and the muhamarra more or less tied. We finished up the hummus on Saturday, but Mimi and I enjoyed the leftovers for lunch today. It was a fabulous way to celebrate Meatless Monday.

Cream of Roasted Tomato Soup & Crostini with Goat Cheese & Onion Marmalade   1 comment

Another Meatless Monday posted after the fact — ah well. This tomato soup is delicious and while it takes a while to roast the vegetables, it requires very little actual effort on the cook’s part. You will need either a stick blender or a food mill. I got one as a holiday gift from my in-laws.

Food mills are impressive devices.

And milling the soup is messy fun.

Strangely enough, I’ve never really cared much for tomato soup, being more familiar with the tinny Campbell’s variety than anything decent. This recipe changed all that, however.

Cream of Roasted Tomato Soup

2 28 oz. cans of whole tomatoes, drained with juices reserved or 2 lbs. of fresh Roma tomatoes
2 red onions, quartered
2 red bell peppers, quartered
4 cloves of garlic
2 jalapeño peppers, seeded and coarsely chopped
4 tbs. olive oil
2 tbs. dark brown sugar
4 cups of vegetable or chicken stock
1/4 cup half and half OR 2% milk
1 handful of roasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
Salt & Pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Divide the vegetables between 2 9×12 inch glass baking pans. In each pan, toss the vegetables with 2 tbs. olive oil and 1 tbs. brown sugar. Roast vegetables for 2 hours, stirring occasionally.
Remove the vegetables from the oven and transfer to a large Dutch oven. Add the reserved tomato juice, stock, salt & pepper. Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Purée vegetables and stock with a stick blender or food mill. Add half & half or milk and salt and pepper to taste. Transfer to warm soup bowls and top with pepitas.

Serve with Crostini topped with Goat Cheese, preferably Belle Chevre Brand, and Onion Marmalade.

Meatless Monday~Ribollita   Leave a comment

It says a lot about my life these days that my posts for Meatless Monday are written and published on Wednesdays. I assure you, the meals described are prepared and eaten on Mondays, in accordance with my pledge. I’m just not in a position to write anything about them until later in the week.

Inefficiency is one reason; I’ve been plagued by a rash of it lately. For instance, on Monday I forget the diaper bag somewhere and had to track it down with phone calls. Once located, I hade to find time in my work day on Tuesday to retrieve it. The temporal toll of forgetting that one small item? About 45 minutes–a fairly significant amount of time, when you consider it. Add this to the hour and a half I spent at the doctor’s office having my ear drum punctured (yippee! — seriously) and we’re talking about much time lost.

That said, Monday’s meal was a delicious model of efficiency. Ribollita is one of those wonderful Italian dishes that manages to be both thrifty and sublime at the same time. Take the remnants of day old soup — typically minestrone or the old Italian classic, beans and greens — pour it over some day old bread; douse everything with olive oil; sprinkle it with good parmesan cheese; bake at 400 degrees for about half an hour. Hey, presto — Buon appetito!

I followed a recipe from Heirloom Beans by Steve Sando and Vanessa Barrington, although this is a dish that doesn’t really need a recipe. It does require a good quantity of soup though, which I made with some of Rancho Gordo’s delicious borlotti beans.

I suppose I should just accept my addiction to Rancho Gordo beans. These beans are always in my thoughts: when did we have them last? who will notice that we just had them? is it okay to eat them for both lunch and dinner? am I talking about them too much? is it too soon to order some more?

See? These are some of the same kinds of questions addicts ask. At least I don’t have to lurk around in dark alleys to get Rancho Gordo beans, although I would if it came to that.

Fortunately, there is a much more efficient way to get Rancho Gordo beans. Just click on this link and order away. And, I promise you, I’m not on the RG payroll or anything.

Back to the ribollita: it’s a great way to use up leftover soup and bread and it takes no time at all to pile the ingredients up in a casserole dish and bake them. Jim told me that it’s the best thing he’s ever eaten. He’s generous with his praise, but I liked it a lot, too. It’s warm and filling, perfect food for a cold January evening. Sando’s recipe calls for stacking the bread in layers in the casserole dish or dutch oven and then pouring the soup over each layer. I wasn’t wild about the resulting texture though. The bottom layer was a bit mushy. Next time, I’ll make ribollita with just one layer so that all the bread winds up with a nice, crunchy topping.

Here’s a very basic recipe for Ribollita. My own version happened to be vegetarian, in honor of Meatless Monday, but there’s no reason that the soup cannot contain meat if that’s what you have on hand. Also, these measurements and pan sizes are approximate. Adapt the recipe to accommodate the amounts of leftovers that you have.

Ribollita (my riff on a recipe found in Heirloom Beans)

Around 4-6 cups of brothy soup (minestrone, vegetable, etc. Anything with beans and cabbage is nice)

6-8 slices of good day old bread, sliced about 1/2 inch thick and rubbed on both sides with a garlic clove

1/4 cup olive oil

1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

Preheat over to 400 degrees. Pour 2 inches worth of soup into a 9×12 inch baking dish with 4 inch sides or other appropriately-sized baking dish. Layer the bread on top of the soup and dunk it in to moisten the slices.  Sprinkle with olive oil. Top with the cheese and bake, uncovered for 25-30 minutes (until the ribollita is bubbly and the top is nicely browned). Serves about 4.

By the way, the ribollita itself did not make great lunch leftovers. The bread became gummy and unpleasant from soaking up all of the broth. Microwaving did not help matters. It is better to make the ribollita in small batches than to make a big pan of it and reheat it.

Meatless Monday — More or Less   1 comment

I’ve been preoccupied lately with my health and with getting my daughter settled into preschool, but in the back of my mind has been a word — more — usually used as a modifier to a variety of nouns. Like this: more cooking, more reading, more work, more play, more travel, more music, more conversation, more entertaining, more laughter, more community, more exercise, more writing, more sex, more sleep, more fennel. It’s the time of year, I think, that and the fact that, somehow, another decade of my life has gone by in what seems to have been an instant.

It’s not like nothing happened during that decade. It was an extraordinarily busy time. I lost my father; earned a Master’s Degree and a PhD.; got married; bought a house; and had a baby. I started teaching, wrote a dissertation, and went to conferences. I spent summers in England, France, and Michigan. I made shorter trips to Spain and Italy (with an 18-month old child in tow). I have become a better cook and writer. I started running. Hell, I even read the unabridged version of Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa. Still, I keep thinking of all of those things that I didn’t do or didn’t do enough of, mostly the latter –things like reading, exercising, and sleeping. Unfortunately, most of the things I’d like to do are contingent upon having more time, which is, of course, notoriously hard to find more of.

Even when a bit of time opens up — as it has this week, now that Mimi has started preschool — I can’t easily decide what to do with it. I fear that my new little pocket of time will be frittered away with minutiae, those petty little tasks that are so much a part of life — with maintenance, not meaning.

My friend Amy, who is working to finish her dissertation while living in Rome this year with her husband and young son, recently wrote about the need to balance work with play. It is a hard balance to strike. I struggle with this, being more inclined to focus on things that are pressing instead of things that are important. I fritter away the hours as pathetically as the Democrats frittered away their time in control of the Senate (damn them!).

I’m not sure how to change my tendencies, but over the past few days, I have been struck by the fact that although the words “more” and “less” are typically juxtaposed, in some ways, the words “more” and “better” may be more productively opposed. Perhaps I would be well-served by doing things better as opposed to doing more of them. Better friendships, as opposed to more of them. Better cooking as opposed to more of it.

Of course, becoming better at something often means doing more of it. As the Great Houdini once claimed, magic involves practice. What to do about that?

And, what does any of this have to do with cooking?

I guess it will function as an awkward transition to a good meatless recipe. Speaking of better, the recipe comes from the Steve Sando’s cookbook, Heirloom Beans. Sando is the genius behind Rancho Gordo, an online company that sells the most incredible heirloom beans grown by Sando himself. I’m completely obsessed with these things. It’s tremendously satisfying to eat something that is not only carefully grown and romantically named but that is also food that we should all eat more of. The following recipe calls for a variety of bean called Yellow Indian Woman, which are, as these photos attest, truly lovely. They are also delicious. Jim thought they tasted a bit like pinto beans, which Sando recommends as a substitute.

Making the fritters involves several steps, none of them difficult, and the use of a food processor, but the results are magical. A bit of honest labor for a delicious and healthy vegetarian meal: what could be better than that?

Yellow Indian Woman Fritters (barely adapted from Heirloom Beans by Steve Sando & Vanessa Barrington)

2 cups drained, cooked Yellow Indian Woman Beans (or Pinto beans)

1/4 cup whole milk

1/4 cup small red onion

1 cup yellow cornmeal, more if needed

1/3 cup all-purpose flour

1 tbs. sugar

1/2 cup buttermilk, more if needed

1 egg, beaten

2 tbs. fresh cilantro, chopped

Grated zest of one lime

1 1/2 tsp. coarse salt

1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper

safflower oil or grapeseed oil for frying

In a food processor, purée 1 1/2 cups beans, milk, and the onion until a smooth paste forms, stopping once or twice to scrape down the sides.

In a large bowl, mash the remaining beans with a potato masher or fork. Add the beans from the processor, cornmeal, flour, sugar, buttermilk, lime zest, cilantro, egg, salt & pepper. Mix well. The mixture should look like oatmeal. Add more cornmeal or buttermilk, as necessary.

Heat 1/2 inch of oil over medium–high heat in a large frying pan. Preheat oven to 225 degrees. Line a baking sheet with paper towels. When oil is shimmering, but not smoking, add one tablespoon’s worth of batter to the pan. If the fritter smokes, turn down the heat. Fry the fritters in batches of 4-6. Do not crowd the pan. Turn the fritters over carefully when they are a nice, golden-brown color. You’ll want to cook both sides.

Drain the fritters on the baking sheet and keep them warm in the oven. You should wind up with around 12 fritters. I served these with tapenade and yogurt — Sando recommends salsa and sour cream — and my favorite fennel salad.

Reek and Heal   Leave a comment

Garlicky falafel from Aya Sofia in St. Louis

Everyone around here is sick with some kind of upper respiratory virus, what the Victorians used to call a “violent cold.” Indeed. I’m on day four; I think Jim is lagging behind me by a day or two. Misery. All parts of a cold are awful, but the worst part for me might be the olfactory deprivation. It’s worth bearing in mind that much of what we think of as taste is actually smell. Colds knock out the nose and, so it seems, the ability to taste anything that lacks a truly assertive smell. These days, I can barely tell the difference between chicken and pork. Texture is the only sure thing right now.

Bad timing too, since Jim’s parents offered to babysit for us last night so that we could go out to dinner. We still went, mind you. A little illness isn’t much of a deterrent, and after all, who would reject such a kind offer? However, instead of going to Niche, the acclaimed restaurant that we’d that planned to visit, we went to Aya Sofia, a Turkish restaurant that is one of our favorite places in the city. I was afraid that the food at Niche will be too subtle and refined for our deadened senses. Besides, we both really needed to eat some garlic.

Humans have been eating garlic for something like 6,000 years. It’s often been regarded as a powerful medicine. Recent students have validated its medicinal properties, citing its ability to reduce various forms of inflammation, including inflammation of the nasal passages. Some studies indicate that it might lessen the severity and duration of common colds. It could help reduce blood pressure and improve memory. Even Nyquil can’t make that claim.

Aya Sofia is an excellent Turkish restaurant and a perfect place to get a powerful wallop of allium. I could do without the belly dancer, who shows up on weekend nights at around 9:00, but other than that, it’s a fabulous place to eat. It’s boisterious without being noisy. The waitstaff is professional and the prices are well within the stratosphere. They also have a good wine list, featuring a number of excellent Spanish wines, my current favorites.

And, of course, the food is good. Other than the tapenade, which they used to serve as a sort of amuse bouche, my favorite thing to eat there is the Imam Bayildi. It’s one of those things that is easy enough to make at home — containing only olive oil, eggplant, onion, tomato sauce, and garlic, lots and lots of garlic.

Imam Bayildi was a good choice for my condition, riffing nicely, on my general sense of wooziness. The phrase translates to “the Imam fainted,” and the story behind that unusual title goes something like this. An Imam’s new bride wanted to impress her husband with her cooking skills so she invented a recipe for eggplant that contained quite a bit of garlic. It was so delicious that the Imam apparently fainted after eating it. A rather less generous version of the story has it that the bride used an excessive amount of olive oil, which, of course, made it a rather expensive meal, and the Imam was so overwhelmed by her poor judgement that he fainted. I prefer the garlic version.

Jim and I came home last night fairly reeking of garlic, but no one seemed to mind. I was happy that the delicious food penetrated my deadend olfactory system. Perhaps the garlic is beginning to work its magic and will start to heal our dreaded colds.

Imam Biyildi is really pretty easy to make at home. It’s also a good cure for anything that might be ailing you.

Imam Bayildi, Pearl Cous Cous, and Crunchy Green Beans, Aya Sofia

Imam Bayildi

6 Asian eggplants, sliced in half lengthwise
1/2 cup olive oil
10 cloves of garlic (yes, ten, trust me), very thinly sliced
1 Spanish onion, cut in half lengthwise and thinly sliced
Spicy tomato sauce (recipe follows)

Place the eggplants on a rimmed cookie sheet and salt generously. Leave alone for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, make the tomato sauce. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Rinse the eggplants well and place them in a 9×12 baking dish. Drizzle with olive oil. Scatter the garlic and onion over top and bake for 10 minutes, covered with aluminium foil. Remove from oven, top with the tomato sauce. Cover the pan again and cook for 35 minutes. Remove the foil and cook for about 10-15 minutes more. Serve with pita bread to soak up the juices.

Spicy Tomato Sauce

2 tbs. olive oil
5 garlic cloves, very thinly sliced
1 28 ounce can of whole organic tomatoes with juices
2 tbs. cider vinegar
1 tsp. Aleppo pepper (or more, if you’d like)
1 tsp. dried mint, crumbled
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp black pepper, freshly ground
1 tsp. ground cumin

In a large sauce pan, saute the garlic in the olive oil over medium high heat until fragrant. Add remaining ingredients and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes, breaking up tomatoes. Keep at room temperature until needed.