Chicken Shawarma

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After eyeing a beautiful, drool-worthy photo of lamb shawarma on a blog one day, shown below, I so wanted to make it, except for the fact that my husband won’t eat lamb.

So I searched the same blog, Recipe Tin Eats, for chicken shawarma and found a recipe I knew we’d both love.

It is Nagi’s recipe, who lives in Sydney, Australia, although she was born in Japan. I’ve enjoyed her blog for a few years now; her recipes are always fresh and innovative. Nagi also has the cutest dog, Dozer, who makes his appearance in every blog post.

Shawarma is Middle Eastern in origin, and refers to beef, lamb, chicken, or veal, grilled on a vertical spit that rotates.

If you’ve ever been to a döner kebob spot, you’re familiar with a close shawarma cousin. Similarly, the meat is sliced and placed on flatbread, sometimes offered with cucumber and tomato, or even hummus.

Except that shawarma is more about this lucious, spicy marinade that coats the raw meat and crusts up when the meat is grilled.

Why I never made any kind of shawarma at home before now is beyond me.

Chicken Shawarma
Slightly adapted from Recipe Tin Eats

2 pounds chicken thighs (I used breasts)
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon ground cardamom
2 teaspoons smoky paprika
1 teaspoon ground cayenne
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon finely ground pepper

Slice the chicken into uniformly-thick pieces and set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine the remaining ingredients and stir well. Yes, I’ve never used a tablespoon of ground cardamom in a dish before either, but don’t hesitate. Use it!


Add the chicken and make sure all of the pieces are coated. Place the chicken and marinade in a large zip-lock bag and refrigerate for 1 or 2 days.

Ideally the chicken should be grilled outside on a barbecue, but on this day I used my indoor stove-top grill.

Bring the chicken to close to room temperature. Grill the chicken until just done; you don’t want the meat dry, especially if you’re also using chicken breasts.


To serve, set out the platter of grilled chicken, flatbreads, hummus, sliced tomatoes, and cucumbers.


You don’t have to add all of the “goodies,” but I do!

I made a parsley-laden tabbouleh, and also served a “salad” of tomatoes and cucumbers.

Nagi included a yogurt sauce on her same blog post for chicken shawarma, and I preferred it over the hummus.


Yogurt Sauce

1 cup Greek yogurt
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
Squeeze of lemon
Salt
Pepper

Whisk together the yogurt with the garlic, cumin, and lemon. Season with salt and pepper, and serve at room temperature.


I even made a quick pickled radish condiment for the shawarma, but it wasn’t really necessary.

For this feast, I had to share with friends, so I served all of the dishes buffet-style, and friends created their own shawarma. It’s so similar to serving fajitas!

Everyone had a good time. I served a Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir which went perfectly with the chicken and other Middle Eastern flavors.

My White Bean Dip

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Hummus is wonderful. Don’t get me wrong. I love it. But when one makes hummus, one is limited to garbanzo beans, tahini, and lemon. With white bean dips, you can add anything and everything because there’s not one recipe!

You can add herbs like rosemary, or seasoning mixtures like harissa, paprika creme, pumpkin or carrots, pesto or sun-dried tomatoes. There are limitless options.

I also prefer white beans for their texture. I’ve ordered many a hummus, even at Middle Eastern restaurants, and it’s often dry and mealy. To me, a soft creamy texture is preferable, which is what you get when you use canned white beans.

Don’t buy Italian Canellini beans because they’re twice as expensive as Great Northern.

Today I’m posting on a dip I created ages ago, using cumin, coriander and cayenne. It is the most popular with my family, and was actually published in Gourmet magazine.

It was on my blog quite a few years ago, but the photos were terrible. These are somewhat improved although, not being good at styling, I can’t seem to make an attractive swirl.

Mimi’s White Bean Dip
printable recipe below

1 – 16 ounce can Great Northern beans
1 clove garlic, germ removed if necessary
Good extra-virgin olive oil, about 1/4 cup, plus more
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
Cayenne pepper, to taste
Pinch of salt
Flatbreads, pita crisps, crackers

Drain the beans in a colander and lightly rinse.

Place the beans in a food processor jar and add the garlic and seasoning.

Begin processing the beans, adding olive oil until the beans are smooth and the garlic is fully processed.

Scrape out the bean dip into a serving bowl. The mixture should be fluffy.

Add a little drizzle of good olive oil.

Serve with bread, crackers, pita chips, or whatever. I used baked Terra chips because they’re pretty.

The dip recipe can easily be doubled or tripled. One can of beans is enough to make a dip for two people.

Not only does this dip take a few minutes to make and is easy, it’s also extremely inexpensive to make, which is why during our lean years I often made it for company. But, it was always enjoyed and appreciated, especially by people who’d never heard of a bean dip.

No dips are really beautiful. If you want to make a prettier presentation, spread some dip on crostini to make canapés of sorts. Sprinkle with a little paprika for color, some chives, or a little basil leaf.

Years ago, my husband and I used to enjoy sandwiches on road trips with this dip as the sandwich spread. Our car always smelled like garlic!

 

Green Rice with Corn

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For Cinco de Mayo 2017, I made a Mexican-inspired meal, not surprisingly. Mexican and Southwestern foods are some of our favorites, and any excuse to cook a bunch of delicious food and include friends work for us!

For the main course, I served buffalo fajitas along with sautéed vegetables, plus I made refried black beans and what I called “green rice”.

The rice is green from green chiles and an abundance of cilantro. (Don’t read on if you dislike cilantro!)

Okay, so what’s the big deal? Rice with cilantro? I don’t know, but it was everybody’s favorite dish. I mean, over the queso, the guacamole, and the chipotle shrimp, the green rice was the bomb.

The next morning I heated some up and plopped a fried egg on top. It was just that delicious.

This rice is more of a pilaf, with all of the goodies I included. The green chiles, cilantro, and seasoning turn it into one that’s Mexican-inspired and delicious.

Green Rice with Corn

2 cobs of corn
Olive oil, about 2 tablespoons
1 onion, finely chopped
4-5 cloves garlic, minced
Rice of choice, about 1 1/3 cups
Chicken broth, about 3 cups
2 – 4.5 ounce cans chopped green chiles
Lots of chopped cilantro
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon white pepper, optional

Cook the corn cobs in boiling water until they’re done, about 15 minutes. Drain and let cool.

Add the olive oil to a large pot and heat over medium. Add the onion and sauté for about 5 minutes.

Stir in the garlic and rice, and stir for about 30 seconds, then add the broth.

Bring the rice to a boil, cover, then turn down the heat. Cooking time depends on the kind of rice you use.

Once the rice is about cooked, remove the lid and stir in the remaining ingredients.

Cut the corn from the cobs. Break the corn up into neat pieces and stir into the rice gently.

I like to put the lid on and without heat, let the pot sit at the end of the cooking time. This step encourages more liquid absorption.

You can sprinkle on some cilantro leaves if you wish.

Fancy? Not at all. And just the same amount of time to make any pilaf.

And don’t forget to have the green rice with an egg the next morning!

Note: When I cook at home I always use brown rice, because it’s not processed. It takes a little more cooking time and a little more liquid, typically. White rice can certainly be substituted, and would actually look prettier. It’s just a personal call.

Tomato Beef Curry

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It’s not out of disrespect for Indian cuisine that I don’t often use recipes from my Indian cookbooks. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.

Indian cuisine is our favorite cuisine, if we had to pick only one. As a result, I quite often turn a soup into a curried soup, lentils into curried lentils, or seafood crepes into a curried version. And I don’t mean simply adding curry powder.

Cooking Indian food is about being familiar with Indian ingredients. When I began cooking, I followed recipes in order to learn about Indian cuisine as well as other international cuisines, but now that I’ve been cooking for almost 40 years, I enjoy creating Indian-inspired dishes without relying on recipes.

I want to point out that I’m very aware of the various regional cuisines, meat-based and vegetarian, that exist in India, from the south to the north, from west coast to east. So of course I’m generalizing when I refer to its cuisine when there isn’t only one.

My first experiences were from this ancient cookbook, from the Time-Life Foods of the World series.

Eventually I purchased other cookbooks over the years, and that’s when I figured out that many recipes – again, generalizing – are similar. Most begin with onion, ginger, and garlic, for example, cooked in clarified butter, or ghee.

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A meat, poultry or seafood curry can be prepared in a yogurt-based sauce, or one that is tomato based. Some are enriched with creamed nuts, like almonds or cashews, which are some of my favorites.

Regarding spices, there are many. Cumin, cardamom, coriander (seeds and leaf), turmeric, cayenne, cinnamon, pepper, garam masala (as varied as curry powder), cloves, fennel, saffron, and more. Some recipes contain many spices, some only 3-4.

Sometimes chile peppers are included for heat – both fresh and dried. But, of course, the temperature can be controlled.

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So following is an example of an easy beef dish in a curried tomato sauce. It was done in 15 minutes.

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Tomato Beef Curry

6 ounces ghee, divided
1 1/2 pounds beef tenderloin, cut into cubes
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, diced
1 – 1″ piece of fresh ginger, diced
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon black pepper
Cayenne, to taste
4 ounces drained diced tomatoes
4 ounces tomato purée
2 teaspoons garam masala
Fresh cilantro, optional

Heat 3 ounces of ghee in a heavy pot over high heat. In batches, brown the cubed beef, then place in a bowl until all the beef has browned; set aside.

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In the same pot, add the remaining ghee and lower the heat to medium-low. Sauté the onion, ginger, and garlic for a few minutes, being careful not to let them brown.

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Then add the salt, spices and, if using, cayenne pepper. Stir well and cook for about 1 minute.

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Add the diced tomatoes and purée. Stir, then let the mixture cook at a gentle simmer for about 5 minutes.

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You want the mixture fairly thick. Because I am using beef tenderloin in this recipe, the cooking time is minimal.

Add the browned beef from the bowl, including all juices, to the sauce.

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Stir to coat the beef and cook for about ten minutes, uncovered; the beef should be tender. Remove from the heat.

Just before serving, add the garam masala and stir.

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Normally I would sprinkle fresh cilantro leaves over the curry, but I decided instead to make a cilantro rice as a side dish, seasoned only with cumin and coriander.

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If this dish is too meaty for you, chickpeas can be added.

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If you want the dish creamier, you can add some heavy cream, a bit of yogurt, or even creme fraiche to the sauce.

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Many years ago I turned friends on to Indian cuisine, and my friend Claire bugged me to show her how to “cook” Indian. I told her that there is no difference in cooking techniques with Indian cooking, but she didn’t seem to believe me. So she came over once, and we cooked maybe 4-5 dishes. And we had a wonderful dinner. Her verdict? She wasn’t impressed! I don’t know what she thought I’d be doing in the kitchen, but it’s the same pots and pans, knives and spoons. She now cooks Indian food! Everyone should!

Spiced Beef Salad

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Recently I was perusing my Casa Moro cookbook, written by Sam and Samuel Clark, bookmarking recipes for future use. This one photograph just jumped out at me.


It was a photo of Spiced Beef Salad with Fenugreek and Hummus. I think it’s the first time I’ve seen a salad recipe that wasn’t based on grains, vegetables, greens, legumes or even bread.

It’s basically grilled spiced beef served over hummus.

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I knew it was something I’d make for a casual lunch, served with flatbread.

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And it was wonderful.

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Spiced Beef Salad with Fenugreek and Hummus

1 400 g sirloin steak, approximately 2.5 cm thick
Olive oil
Sea salt and black pepper
3/4 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
1 1/2 teaspoon nigella seeds
2 teaspoons coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/4 teaspoon Turkish chili flakes
1 quantity hummus
1 large handful fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
Drizzle of extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon nigella seeds
8-12 pickled chilies, optional
Flatbread

Season the piece of beef with salt and pepper. I used flank steak and put it in the sous vide for 48 hours at 135 degrees Fahrenheit


Mix all of the marinade ingredients together and grind.

Add 1 teaspoon salt and a little black pepper to the marinade, which I would refer to as a dry rub.
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After removing the beef from the bag and patting it dry with paper towels, cover the beef with the dry rub.
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Leave to marinate for a good hour or two.

Set a griddle pan over high heat, with a little oil, until it begins to smoke. Grill the beef to medium-rare. Because I had sous vided’d the flank steak, I only needed to brown the meat on both sides; this was accomplished within one minute.
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Set on a cutting board to rest.

To assemble, spread the hummus on a plate or pasta bowl. Slice the steak, and place the slices over the hummus.


Then scatter the parsley leaves all over. (I had to use curly parsley – my local store didn’t have Italian.)

Finish with a drizzle of olive oil, and a sprinkling of nigella seeds.
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I used a spicy hot olive oil instead, just for some heat, and omitted the pickled chile peppers.
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Serve with warmed flatbread.
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I decided to also add some goat cheese and fresh cherry tomatoes.
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This salad was a feast! And one I will definitely make again.
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Enchilada Sauce

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My enchilada sauce is a simple red sauce that is enriched with ancho chile paste and Mexican seasonings.

It is a rich and hearty sauce that I make to top black bean enchiladas, or just about any kind of enchiladas or burritos. It’s also good on meat, from chicken to ribs.

There are many authentic Mexican sauces in older cookbooks by Diana Kennedy, the queen of Mexican cuisine, as well as more recent cookbooks by Rick Bayless, who I consider the king of Mexican cuisine.

The problem with following those recipes is that they contain multiple chile peppers and other ingredients that I cannot get my hands on, so it does no good to use the recipes.

Because of this, I fall back on my “default” enchilada sauce, using home-made ancho chile paste. And it will taste different depending on the chile peppers used in the chile paste.

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Enchilada Sauce

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
6 – 8 cloves garlic, minced
1 26.46 ounce carton Pomi tomato sauce
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon salt
Grindings of black pepper
2-4 tablespoons home-made Ancho chile paste

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onions and sauté for about five minutes. Turn down the heat if they brown too much. Add the garlic and stir for 30 seconds or so.

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Add the tomato sauce and stir to combine. Mix in the cumin, oregano, coriander, salt, and pepper.

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Bring the sauce to a boil gently, then lower the heat and simmer the sauce gently, uncovered, for about 20 minutes, or until isn’t no longer “watery.”

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Prepare your black bean enchiladas by placing refried black beans and Queso blanco, or your choice of cheese on a tortilla. Roll up, place in a greased baking dish, and continue with the remaining tortillas.

Add the desired amount of ancho chile paste to the red sauce and stir to combine. Taste for seasoning.

When you are ready to bake the enchiladas, ladle the enchilada sauce over the enchiladas. Some people like them smothered in sauce, others, like me, like the enchiladas only partially smothered.

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Bake for approximately 30 minutes.

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Let the enchiladas set for about 10 minutes, then serve.

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I love a dollop of sour cream on my enchiladas.

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The sauce goes well with any burritos or enchiladas, with or without meat. And it’s fun to use different kinds of cheese in the tortillas.

The good thing about this enchilada sauce is that you can control the amount of ancho chile paste and other seasonings. If you want it smokier you can always add some ground chipotle pepper and paprika. But always use cumin and oregano if you want a truly Mexican-flavored sauce.

Curried Salmon

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Typically, when I prepare fish, I pretty much leave it alone. A little salt and pepper, and that’s it. Because my theory is that if it’s good fish, then why cover up its delicate flavor with seasonings and sauces?

But salmon is different in my mind, with its stronger flavor. It can really hold its own. So I decided to make a meal of salmon accompanied by a dish of curried spinach and mushrooms.

When I follow Indian recipes, I use the individual spices listed in the recipes. But it’s nice to have a good curry powder on hand. After testing this one, sweet curry powder from Penzey’s, I now always have it on hand. I think it’s excellent.

However, I don’t want my curry dishes to all taste the same, so sometimes if I use this curry powder, I might add some extra cumin or cinnamon. If you have a favorite curry powder, feel free to use it for this dish!

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Here is my recipe for salmon and curried vegetables.

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Curried Salmon
Serves 2

3 tablespoons olive or tasteless oil
1 small onion, halved thinly sliced
1/2 pound sliced mushrooms
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons heavy cream
8 ounces fresh spinach leaves
1 teaspoon curry powder, or to taste
White pepper to taste
Pinch of nutmeg
Pinch of salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 salmon filets, rinsed and dried on paper towels
Salt
White pepper
3 tablespoons white wine
3-4 tablespoons heavy cream
Ground turmeric

In a large wok, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and sauté them until soft. Add the mushrooms, turn up the heat a little, and sauté them until golden.


Add the garlic, give it a stir, then add the cream.

Stir to combine, then add the spinach. Stir gently to incorporate it, then turn down the heat to the lowest setting, put on a lid, and let the vegetables steam-cook for about five minutes.
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Remove the lid and stir the vegetables. You want to reduce the liquid a bit, so let them cook over low heat for a few minutes. Then add the curry powder, white pepper, nutmeg and salt. Stir well, then set aside.
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Heat the butter in a skillet over high heat. When the butter is browned, add the salmon, skin-side up and turn the heat to medium.
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After five minutes, turn the filets over and lower the heat to its lowest setting. The salmon should be nicely browned.
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Season the salmon with salt and white pepper. After another five minutes, the salmon should be cooked through, yet still tender in the middle; do not overcook them or they will be dry. The timing, of course, depends on the thickness of your salmon filets.

Remove the filets to a plate and heat the butter remaining in the skillet over medium heat. Once hot, add the wine and a little turmeric, about 1/4 teaspoon. I added turmeric mostly for a little color.


Reduce the wine to just about one tablespoon, then add the cream. Reduce the cream sauce until there’s about three tablespoons left in the skillet and remove the skillet from the heat.

To serve, place the warm vegetables on the place and top with a salmon filet.
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Then divide the cream sauce between the two servings.
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The curried salmon was perfect with a pinot gris.
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Sag

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My husband and I have a lot in common, in spite of being opposites, if that makes sense. We’re both homebodies, yet we also love to travel. And we both love Indian food. Actually these might be the only things we have in common. But they’re important things!

For a small celebration at my house recently, I decided to make an Indian spread. I planned it like a buffet you’d experience at a good Indian restaurant. You’ve never heard these words come out of my mouth before, but at Indian restaurants, I’m not at all opposed to eating from the buffet.

I think it must be difficult for Indian restaurants to make bad food, even for their lunch buffets, because I’ve never had any. (Unlike the case with Chinese buffets, for example.) There’s never been a curried protein, vegetable, or bean dish that I haven’t enjoyed. And if their naan is good, then I’m in heaven.

One of my husband’s favorite dishes on a typical Indian buffet is sag paneer or mattar paneer – curried spinach or peas with paneer. Traditional aneer, which is easy to make from scratch, is similar tofarmers’ cheese. It add something texturally but not really flavor-wise to me, so I can take it or leave it.

Many years ago I came across a dish simply called sag – fried spinach and broccoli – no paneer. The recipe is in one of my favorite cookbook series – Foods of the World by Time Life.
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It’s a lovely vegetable dish, and a wonderful accompaniment to chicken curry, lamb korma, or any vegetarian curry dish.
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Following is the recipe exactly from the cookbook.

Sag, also spelled Saag
To serve 4 to 6

1 cup water
1/2 pound fresh spinach, washed, trimmed and coarsely chopped
1/2 pound fresh broccoli including the stalks, washed, trimmed and coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons ghee*
1 tablespoon scraped, finely chopped fresh ginger root
1/2 cup finely chopped onions
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon garam masala

Combine 1/2 cup of the water and a handful of the spinach in the jar of an electric blender, and blend at high speed for 30 seconds, or until the mixture is reduced to a smooth purée.
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Turn the machine off and scrape down the sides of the jar with a rubber spatula. Then add another handful of spinach, purée for 30 seconds and stop the machine again. Repeat until all the spinach has been puréed. Transfer the spinach to a bowl, and pour the remaining 1/2 cup of water into the blender jar.
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Purée the broccoli a handful at a time as you did the spinach, then stir the puréed broccoli into the spinach.
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In a 10″ karhai or heavy skillet or a 12″ wok heat the ghee over moderate heat until a drop of cold water flicked into it sputters instantly.

This is a photo of an Indian karhai, also spelled karahi. I used my large wok.
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Add the ginger and fry for 1 minute. Add the onions and salt and continue to fry, lifting and turning the mixture constantly, for 7 to 8 minutes, or until the onions are soft and golden brown.


Stirring after each addition, add the cumin, turmeric, coriander and garam masala.

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Fry for 1 to 2 minutes, until the ingredients are well combined, then stir in the spinach and broccoli a cup or so at a time and fry for 5 minutes more.
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Reduce the heat to the lowest possible point and, stirring occasionally, simmer uncovered for 15 minutes, until almost all of the liquid has evaporated and the mixture leaves the sides of the pan in a solid mass.

Serve at once from a heated bowl or platter. I added a little flaked salt to my sag.
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In the Punjab, where it originates, sag is usually made with fresh mustard greens; you may substitute these for the spinach and broccoli if you like.
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As much as I love Indian meat and seafood dishes, I also really love dal – the various legumes of India. So today I served myself sag along with curried chick peas. A delicious and satisfying meal!
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*Ghee is simply clarified butter. Sometimes I use it, sometimes I don’t. The clarifying of the butter removes the solids which can brown and also burn, but it’s the solids to me that provides such lovely flavor. If you’re not using extremely high heat and can’t get your hands of ghee, regular butter will work fine.

Note: If you want to add paneer to this dish but don’t want to make it from scratch, use firm or extra-firm tofu – the kind in water, not the silken variety.

Harissa

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If any of you has noticed, I’ve been into a bit of name-calling lately. Namely, sauces, or condiments, from chimichurri, to tapenade, to romesco to charmoula. To me, condiments make the world go ’round, and my life of eating revolves around them. I love them all.

Today I’m making harissa. It’s flavorful and versatile, and just like other global sauces and condiments, it’s easy to make. Furthermore, when made from scratch, it’s far superior in flavor.

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I actually think harissa might be my all-time favorite sauce. The base is roasted red bell peppers, so like its “cousin” romesco, it’s fabulous slathered on meats and breads with cheeses. But harissa is also spicy, which puts it over the top for me.

The sauce originates from North Africa, which is probably why there are so many similarities between it and romesco. I’m not a food historian, but I know that the southern tip of Spain almost touches the northern tip of Africa. So I’m sure there’s been all kinds of sharing of ingredients and spices over the centuries of food trading. Tunisia is actually the country with which harissa is most commonly associated.

When I decided to make harissa from scratch, I found so many variations, not surprisingly, that I just came up with my own recipe, and this is what I’m posting today. I can’t possibly test out and taste all of the versions, but I can tell you that my adaptation is near perfection.

What is exciting is all of the potential uses for this sauce. Today I made up a little cumin-spiced lamb burger and used the harissa with mayonnaise for a lovely spicy condiment. But of course it can be used as is as well, on meats of any kind.

Harissa can also be added to vegetables, stews and soups, risottos, and so many more dishes. As long as the harissa shines. You want to taste this stuff because it’s that good.

So here’s what I did:

Harissa
This recipe makes about 1 1/2 cups

3 roasted red bell peppers from a jar*
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds
1 small purple onion, coarsely chopped
4 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 teaspoons tomato paste
1/4 cup scant olive oil

First drain the red bell peppers well in a small colander.
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Next, place the seeds in a small seed toaster.

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Toast them on the stove; this will only take about 30 seconds so watch the toaster carefully. (Alternatively use a small skillet topped with a screen so that you can keep an eye on things.)
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Let them cool for a second, then place them in a small mortar. Grind them and set aside.

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Heat some of the 1/4 cup of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Have your onions and garlic ready to cook.
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Saute them for about 6-7 minutes; you want some caramelization on them.
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Set the skillet aside and let the onions and garlic cool slightly.

Meanwhile, place the well-drained roasted red bell peppers in a jar of a food processor. Add the ground seasoning mix, the tomato paste, the crushed red pepper, and about 1/2 teaspoon of salt.
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Then add the cooled onion and garlic.
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Add the remaining olive oil and begin processing. After a little bit, you will need to scrape down the sides of the jar and process further.
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Process for about another minute. The mixture will be smooth, but still have a little texture to it.
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As I mentioned above, I wanted to make a mayonnaise with the harissa today, to complement a lamb burger I was craving. So I simply mixed 1/2 harissa and 1/2 mayo together in a little bowl.
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Simply whisk the mayo and harissa together.
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And that’s it!
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I served it at room temperature with my lamb burger.
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When I mixed together the harissa and mayonnaise, the beautiful red color disappeared. But what doesn’t go away is the fabulous harissa flavor profile – roasted red bell peppers, the lovely seasonings, onion, garlic, and crushed red pepper.

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* You could also roast your own red bell peppers and peel off the skin, but I truly love the soft texture of jarred roasted red bell peppers. It’s your choice.

Sausage Making

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To be honest, I’ve only made real sausages from scratch one time before. They came out so fabulously that I’ve been wanting to recreate them for years. I don’t know what stopped me, or at least, made me procrastinate. Somehow in the back of my mind I must have thought it was so taxing, that I dreaded the thought of doing it again. Sort of like childbirth.

But alas, I did it again, and I don’t know what all my fuss was about. It’s truly easy to make sausages. It does take a little time. But with proper footwear and favorite music on the IPOD, it makes for a fun afternoon. And what you get for all of your hard work? Sausages! Delicious, flavorful sausages with no preservatives or any of that other terrible stuff that’s probably in store-bought sausages.

The first thing you need is an electric meat grinder. Mine looks very much like this although it is an ancient model.
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A meat grinder is a very useful tool in the kitchen, especially if you like making terrines. I’ve also ground up brisket meat for fresh hamburgers, which has a perfect fat-to-meat ratio. Really, if you have any desire to cook with ground meat, like make meatballs, for example, it’s just so straight forward to use the meat grinder and grind up your own meat. That way, you can mix it up – chicken, and pork, for example. And this way, you’re not paying someone else to do the grinding for you.

The machine is quite noisy, which is my only complaint.

The meat grinder comes with two different sized attachments for making sausages.
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It had been so long since I’d made sausages that I almost didn’t find them in my kitchen… but I did. Phew!

For the sausage today I’m using a popular book as a reference for an Italian sausage recipe – Charcuterie, by Michael Ruhlman.

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For my first sausage-making experience I used a book called Home Sausage Making, but I think the book is trapped in the bookshelf behind our live Christmas tree. It’s been too cold to plant the thing outside, but hopefully it will be gone soon and I can reclaim some of my cookbooks!

note: The Christmas tree is gone. This post was written in the early part of January!

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The book is a very good primer on how to make sausages, including all of the necessary ingredients, the casings, storing, cooking, and so forth. I highly recommend it if you want to make sausage for the very first time.

Home-Made Italian Sausage
adapted from Charcuterie

1 – 7 pound pork shoulder, cut up, bone removed
3 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons fennel seeds, toasted
1 tablespoons coriander seeds, toasted
3 tablespoons Hungarian paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
3 tablespoons dried oregano
3 tablespoons dried sweet basil
2 tablespoons crushed red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon ground black pepper

3/4 cup chilled water
1/4 cup chilled red wine vinegar

To begin, grind all of the meat, about 5 pounds, plus any fat attached, using the largest holed grinder plate.
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Place all of the seasoning ingredients in a large bowl, then give them a stir.
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Then add them to the ground pork.
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Using gloved hands, if desired, stir the pork together well, mixing in the spices and herbs until they’re evenly distributed. Then add the chilled water and vinegar and mix well. Set aside the ground sausage mixture.
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The next step is to prepare the casings.
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I’ve owned this container of casings since the last time I made sausages, which is maybe 8 or 9 years back. They keep well refrigerated, but before you use them they need to be rinsed well because of the brine in which they’re stored.
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Place a good handful of the casings in a large bowl. You probably have pulled out too many lengths, like I did, but they’re just no way to judge. Better to have too many than not enough and have to do over this step.

Once the casings are in the bowl, give them many rinses of cold water.

One note: they stink. I think it’s mostly because we’re dealing with intestinal linings here. The smell is expectedly not pleasant. It does, however, get more pleasant after they’re rinsed. So don’t be discouraged.

Then, it’s important to open up the casings and rinse out the insides as well. I couldn’t get a photo, with only two hands, but you can see the casing that I’ve filled with water in the bowl. Repeat as many times as you find casing lengths to make sure they’re all rinsed out.

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So now you have your sausage meat ready to go, as well as the casings. Clean up the meat grinder and the work area. All you need to do is install the medium-holed grinder blade and the sausage attachment to the meat grinder. For the Italian sausages, I’m using the sausage filler with a 3/4″ opening.

Then grab a length of casing (you can shorten them as you like) and place it on the sausage filler attachment. Yes, we all know what this looks like.

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Tie an end at the casing, just like you would a balloon.
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Then turn on the loud machine and begin adding the sausage. Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to control the speed of the sausage coming through the machine, so one person can do this job easily. Allow the casing to fill with the sausage, but not overfill, for fear of the casing splitting open. This has actually never happened to me; they seem pretty sturdy.

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Allow the sausage to fill the casing, and when they’re about the right length, give the sausage a twist, and repeat. Today my sausages were turning out a bit on the squatty side, but it really doesn’t matter. It does help that they’re even-sized for cooking purposes, but that takes a bit more practice I’m afraid. I shouldn’t wait another 8 years to make sausage again!

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When you’re done with a length of casing, add a new casing, and make more sausages.
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Continue with the remaining sausage meat.
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I placed my lengths of sausage in a pan with a little oil drizzled on the bottom. I plan on saving half of the batch to use immediately, and freezing the second half.
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For any of you interested, we enjoyed the Italian sausages as is, once served with lentils, another time served alongside pasta with pesto.

For lunch one day I cooked up some black barley, added some cabbage, peas, chickpeas, and celery, tossed everything with olive oil and lemon juice, added sliced Italian sausage that was left over, and enjoyed a fabulous meal, shown in the photos.

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note: Fat is typically added to sausages when you make them from scratch. I can’t bring myself to do this. The original Michael Ruhlman recipe included fat, but I ignored it. However, what it does mean is that you absolutely cannot overcook the sausages or they will be dry. The fattiness keeps them nice and moist. And honesty, the fattier, the better. But for me, making them at home, I just can’t bring myself to add fat. To cook the sausages, I used a decent amount of oil in a skillet, browned them, lowered the heat, put on a lid, and cooked them through for about 5 minutes. And they were done. And moist. Alternatively, add fat to the pork, and no matter what you do to the little buggers, they will remain moist.