Thai Beef Salad

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Recently, I came across a Christopher Kimball recipe that caught my attention. It’s a Thai-inspired salad with skirt steak. Nothing terribly unique, except that when I make salads, they tend to be of the Southwestern ilk, with greens, beans, vegetables, and goat cheese.

Kimball’s Recipe has grilled steak, vegetables, shallots, cilantro,and a flavorful fish sauce-based dressing. Fabulous flavors.

The only thing I did differently was to sous vide the skirt steak. I know how to cook just about any steak in my sleep, but if you’ve ever enjoyed skirt steak, flank steak, flatiron or hanger steak cooked sous vide, you know why there was no hesitation on my part.

If you’re not familiar with Christopher Kimball, I’m actually surprised (especially if you live in the U.S.) He has authored many cookbooks, but was also the editor of the wonderful Cook’s Illustrated magazine. He has a show on PBS, and also talks cooking on an NPR show.

What I like about this man is his somewhat old-fashioned demeanor, his bow tie, his aw-shucks attitude but in Vermont style. He’s the opposite of loud, abrasive, show-offy, and arrogant.

My favorite book of his isn’t a cookbook, it’s called Dear Charlie, a collection of letters he wrote to his son, that appeared in the introduction of every publication of Cook’s Illustrated.


I loved these down-home letters about sunrises, apple pies, tractors, and so forth that my endorsement was printed on the book cover.

His latest cookbook is Milk Street, shown below, and a classic photo of Mr. Bowtie as well.

And now to his Thai Beef Salad.

Thai Beef Salad

1 1/2 pounds skirt steak
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons brown sugar
1 large shallot, sliced
3 tablespoons lime juice
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper flakes
1-2 tablespoons canola oil
1 1/2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup coarsely chopped cilantro, plus more for garnish
1/2 cup fresh mint, coarsely chopped
Rice or cellophane noodles, optional

Dry off the skirt steak if necessary with paper towels. Mix the salt, black pepper and brown sugar together, and rub onto the steak on both sides.


Vacuum seal the steak, and cook at 131 degrees F for 12 hours. This can be done the previous day. Refrigerate the steak immediately.

Just when you’re ready to start preparing the salad, remove the steak from the plastic and dry off; set aside.

Combine the shallots and lime juice in a large bowl. Let stand for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the fish sauce and cayenne flakes to the shallot mixture.

Heat a skillet over high heat with the canola oil, and sear the steak quickly on both sides. Transfer to a cutting board. Thinly slice the stead against the grain, and add the slices and accumulated juices to the large bowl.


Add the tomatoes, cilantro, and mint. Toss to combine.

I wanted to add some noodles for fun, but it wasn’t part of Mr. Kimball’s recipe.

Transfer everything to a platter, and garnish with more cilantro.

This salad is fabulous. Refreshing, spicy, and full of flavor.

I did add a second shallot, more fish sauce, and a little rice wine vinegar.

I can’t stop thinking about how good this salad would be with grilled octopus or shrimp….

Herby Octopus Salad with Blueberries

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You’ve all put up with me lamenting about the fact that, living in the middle of the United States, with no nearby coastline, I can’t buy fresh seafood. And it’s pretty much my favorite thing to eat, well over beef and chicken.

I make up for it when on vacation, especially when it comes to squid and octopus. I eat them until tentacles are practically coming out my ears.

Besides being delicious, they’re fascinating creatures.

Instead of whining, I decided it was time to just order some frozen baby octopus. I actually see it frozen occasionally in recipes, so I’m not the only person who can’t always buy it fresh, or wants it out of season.

The company I ordered from is La Tienda, a Spanish website that I’ve used for years. Just about any Spanish product you desire, they sell.

It was a fluke that I found frozen octopus; I didn’t expect La Tienda to have it. I also bought some frozen cuttlefish at the same time – something I’d never tried before – at least not knowingly.

When I received the pound of baby octopus, there were only two, so about 8 ounces each, shown above. I expected baby octopuses to look like ones I’ve had on salads or seen at markets.

But it gave me the opportunity to learn how to break down an octopus. It’s a very straight-forward procedure, and takes minutes.

Herby Octopus Salad with Blueberries
Cause it’s still summer here….

1 pound frozen baby octopus, thawed
Olive oil
Greens of choice
Chopped basil, parsley, and cilantro, about 1/2 cup total
Fresh blueberries, about 1/2 cup
Lemon juice (I used 1 lemon for 1 pound of octopus)
Olive juice, to taste
Salt
Aleppo pepper, optional

Rinse the octopus well and lay on a cutting board. Admire it, because it’s a beautiful sea creature!

Slice just below the eyes, and just above the eyes and discard this middle piece.


Then get rid of the beak in the middle of the tentacles.


Turn the head, or hood, inside out. Pull out everything from inside, and discard.

Turn the hood back to outside-in. There is a thin skin covering the hood that can be removed by pulling firmly.

Cut the tentacles off at the very top.

Trim the base of the hood, then slice the remaining hood into 1/4″ thick slices.

With the remaining center “upper thighs”, if you will, cut them each into 8 pie pieces.

From the left, the legs, the hood, and the upper thighs.

The below photo shows the legs at the top, the hood rings in the middle, and the thighs at the bottom.

Rinse the octopus parts, if necessary, then dry them well.

Heat some olive oil in a skillet. Over high heat and with your vent on, and perhaps a few open doors and windows, sear some of the octopus, without crowding it in the skillet, until browned. I cooked the legs, rings, and thighs separately, just because of the various thicknesses.

Remove to a plate and continue in batches; set aside.

Meanwhile, place the greens on a platter or plate.


In a small bowl, toss together the herbs and top the salad with the herbs.


Add the octopus parts, still warm, and the blueberries to the salad.


Drizzle on some fresh lemon juice and olive oil. Sprinkle on a little salt.

If desired, add some Aleppo pepper for some zing!

And that’s it! The octopus was superb. All it takes is a little searing.

A simple combination of lemon juice and olive was wonderful. And the blueberries added fruitiness. The salad would also be good with warmed lentils.

I was very happy about the quality of the frozen octopus. It wasn’t old or water-logged.

At least I know now that I don’t need to turn up my nose at frozen octopus in the future. I will indeed be ordering it again.

I just have to find someone else to share it with…

And anyone who assumes that octopus is tough and rubbery, hasn’t tried it. (husband)

Mimi’s Chicken Salad

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Years ago, I visited a girlfriend in Texas to help with her daughter’s baby shower. She lives just outside of Austin, so it’s always fun to visit. (Think Texas Hill/Wine Country!)

One of the dishes planned for the shower luncheon was “Mimi’s Chicken Salad.” I had no idea what that was, but she told me that it was my recipe, thus the name!

Recently I was reflecting on my “namesake” chicken salad, but couldn’t remember what the heck was in it. I emailed my friend, and she sent me back a photograph of my recipe. In a cookbook.

The cookbook is “Cooking by the Bootstraps: A Taste of Oklahoma Heaven Cooked Up by the Junior Welfare League of Enid, Oklahoma, published in 2002.

So not only did I forget how to make my own chicken salad, I didn’t remember it was a recipe I created, nor did I remember that it is in this cookbook – which I own!

I’ll just chalk this up to (older) age.

Here’s the recipe, although somewhat adapted, because I can’t even leave my own recipes alone!

Mimi’s Chicken Salad, or Mango Chutney Chicken Salad

Chicken tenders, about 1.2 pounds
3/4 cup sour cream
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup chopped nuts, I used pistachios
1/2 cup chopped mangoes
1/3 cup mango chutney
3 green onions, sliced
1/2 teaspoon curry powder, I recommend Penzey’s sweet curry powder
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard

Grill the chicken tenders in a skillet, with a little oil, seasoned first with salt and pepper. Grill the chicken just till barely pink so as to keep them tender. Set them aside to cool slightly.

Cut the chicken into small pieces and place in a medium bowl. Add the sour cream and mayonnaise and stir until the chicken is well incorporated.

You can adjust the volume of sour cream and mayo mixture to suit your taste. I prefer chicken salad just creamy enough, but not drowning in the mayo.

Add the remaining ingredients together in a bowl and stir gently.

Add the mixture to the chicken and combine them well.

Refrigerate the chicken salad if not serving immediately. Serve chilled or at room temperature on a platter of lettuce leaves; I prefer this salad at room temperature.

Alternatively, make chicken salad sandwiches with sliced croissants or your favorite soft bread.

I actually prefer making roll-ups with tender butter lettuce instead of sandwiches.


What’s fun about this recipe is that you can mix up the nuts and add fruits – even dried fruits. Think about chopped macadamias and dried cherries!

I’m really appreciative of the local Junior Welfare League of Enid, Oklahoma for including some of my recipes in this cookbook. It was an honor.

Golden Cauliflower and Carrot Rice

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I’m pretty sure you all know that I’m not fond of food trends. I’ve probably mentioned this numerous times. So if something becomes popular and trendy, I completely ignore it.

Sure, I’m old(er) and old-fashioned, but it’s just my personality. I never wore white metallic lipstick in the 60’s, either.

The dumb thing is, sometimes when you’re too stubborn, you can really miss out. Like the bowl trend. Is there one on my blog? No! But they do look lovely.

And in the 80’s, when I really started cooking, I looked down my nose at both sun-dried tomatoes and basil pesto because they were everywhere. I have no idea how many years I lost not indulging in those two fabulous foods. I’ll never forgive myself for that.

Which leads me to… cauliflower rice. Nope.

Then, thanks to the lovely Serena from her blog, Domesticate Me, I saw a recipe that I couldn’t ignore. It was a cauliflower and carrot rice with almonds and golden raisins.

If you don’t know Serena, you must check her blog out and her just-published cookbook, The Dude Diet.

She’s a doll, she’s funny, and she swears. Oh, and she’s a professionally-trained chef. What’s not to love?!! But also, and this is important to me, if I comment, she responds to my comment.

Now this may seem a bit silly, but I will stop following blogs if the authors have no time for me. It’s not that I’m so great, it’s because the best thing about blogging in my four-plus years of doing so, is the interaction. It’s like this virtual, giant group of foodie friends that you get to know around the world.

Plus, on some of those fancy blogs, you can tell that the author responds to nobody’s comment. They’re just too important and busy. I just don’t get that.

Serena has been on her book tour around the U.S., but she is still responding to comments. And I know how much time it takes, because I follow many blogs. It’s just part of the dedication one should have to one’s blog. And Serena’s blog is also one of those fancy ones!

I promised Serena that I would make her “rice” dish because it really sounded lovely. She assured me it would not disappoint.

Golden Cauliflower and Carrot Rice
Adapted slightly from Domesticate Me!

1 medium head cauliflower, florets only, about 1 lb. 6 ounces
Baby carrots, 8 ounces
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons ground turmeric
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
Salt
Juice of 1 lemon
¾ cup chopped parsley leaves
½ cup golden raisins (I used figs)
½ cup chopped raw almonds (I used hazelnuts)
Lemon wedges for serving (optional)

Add about half of the cauliflower florets to a food processor and pulse until a “rice” forms. Place in a large bowl, then process the remaining cauliflower.

Process the carrots the same way, and add the riced carrots to the cauliflower.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat. When hot, add the cauliflower and carrot rice, turmeric, cayenne, cumin, and a good pinch of salt.

Cook for 2-3 minutes until the rice is just tender.

Turn off the heat and stir in the lemon juice.


Fold in the parsley, dried fruits, and toasted nuts. Taste, and add salt if necessary.


I served this “rice” with some grilled chicken that was marinated in a garlic-parsley marinade.

What’s really fun is changing up the dried fruits and nuts according to your taste and the season. Imagine this dish with dried cranberries and pistachios in December!

Dried figs and hazelnuts are really more autumnal, but I had them on hand and I love them.

Okay, so am I glad I finally tried cauliflower rice? Of course! But I really liked what Serena did with the dish, adding carrots, seasoning, and the fruits and nuts. I can also see this as a salad with a vinaigrette, maybe with some orzo, or barley, or just like it is.

Serena’s actual name for this dish is Cauliflower and Carrot Golden “Rice,” and she serves it in a bowl, but it’s okay, cause I like her. I put mine on a plate. Maybe I can start a plate trend?!!

The Spice Companion

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The Spice Companion, by Lior Lev Sercarz, is a book I recently discovered and ordered from Amazon. It was published in 2016.

Because of the title, I expected some information on spices, being that the author also owns a store in New York City called La Boîte, which specializes in spices and spice mixtures. But it’s seriously an encyclopedia of spices, starting with ajowan, aleppo, allspice, and amchoor, and ending with za’atar, zedoary, and zuta.

A spice, according to Mr. Sercarz, is “any dried ingredient that elevates food or drink,” so that includes coriander seeds, basil leaves, and turmeric root.

Mr. Sercarz was born and raised on a kibbutz in Israel. The history of his exposure to spice markets, and how he eventually traveled the world seeking out spices, all while his interest in cooking grew, is a story worthy of a movie. After adventuring in Columbia to “see firsthand how cardamom was grown,” he ended up at the Institut Paul Bocuse in Lyon, France, then moved to New York City to work at Daniel Boulud’s restaurant, Daniel.

La Boite opened in 2007 in Hell’s Kitchen, and the store has a beautiful website. It was at the website that I discovered that Mr. Sercarz has a 2012-published book called The Art of Blending.

Spice mixtures are what originally intrigued the young author with spices; chefs such as Eric Ripert utilize his custom-designed spice blends at their restaurants.

But first I must tell you about the encyclopedia part, which spans 154 pages – two per spice.

Under the name and latin name of the spice is a drawing of the plant and the part(s) used for the spice.

There is a brief description of what the spice is, its flavor and aroma, its origin, harvest season, parts of the spice/plant used, plus some more details.

On the next page is a photograph of the spice as it’s used – seeds and leaves, for example – its traditional uses, recipe ideas using the spice, and recommended pairings.

Then the author offers a blend utilizing the spice, and what to use it in or on.

This is a lot of information but helpful if you’re a cook, gardener, or just want to start making spice mixtures in your kitchen!

When I was reading through the book, I stopped at Tomato Powder as a spice. Dried tomatoes ground into a spice. Why not? I use ground paprika, which is made from peppers, so why not tomato powder made from its fruit?!!

The author describes tomato powder as “a dry, richly flavored powder made from ripe, sweet tomatoes.”

When I have a glut of ripe tomatoes during the hot summer months, I slice them and dry them in my dehydrator, and save them in the refrigerator. That way, they stay fresh, and I reconstitute them in soups and stews as needed throughout the cold months.

I happened to have a bag of dried tomatoes from last summer.

So for fun, I got out my bag and blended the tomatoes in a dry blender.

One recipe suggestion from the author is to stir tomato powder into orange juice and use it as a base for a vinaigrette with honey and olive oil. And that’s just what I did!


I used 8 ounces of orange juice, 1 heaping tablespoon of tomato powder, 1 tablespoon of honey, and 8 ounces of olive oil.

I drizzled the lettuce leaves with the dressing, and added goat cheese and walnuts.

To say it was magnificent is an understatement. Barely four hours later, I had the same salad for dinner, including a ripe avocado. I added a little white balsamic vinegar to the dressing.

There are certainly other, more exotic spices I could have experimented with from Mr. Sercarz’s book, assuming I could have even gotten my hands on some of them, but I’m really excited about tomato powder.

And the book will be a great reference for the spices I can purchase. I especially love how he makes recommendations on unique ways in which to use the spices, even common ones.

My only complaint with the book is that the photo pages are not labeled.

Pheasant, Sous Vide

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In January of 2015, I wrote a post entitled pheasant, in which I wrote about my shock in discovering that the man I married was a hunter. Since we only knew each other 3 months before getting married, there just wasn’t time to discuss such an important thing.

Read the post if you want a laugh. Because of my limited but scarring experience with drunk holiday hunters, my overall impression wasn’t positive. But I learned, slowly, that not all hunters are crazy fools, and that it is a sport to be respected.

I re-read the post myself, because I remember the emotional phase well – me trying to reconcile the fact that my husband owned a shotgun and shot living birds – him trying to get over me being nuts. Let’s just say that over the years I’ve relaxed a bit.

So it was just a couple years ago that I actually gave pheasant a shot, no pun intended. I made a recipe called Pheasant with Green Chiles that I’d made before with chicken breasts.

When I made the pheasant with green chiles, I wrote that the next time I’d sous vide the pheasant breasts. If the sous vide process would do the same for pheasant as it does for chicken breasts, then the pheasant would be moist and tender. So that’s what I decided to do, although I dragged my feet for a while, reluctantly accepting 4 whole pheasant breasts after a recent hunting expedition.

I cleaned the pheasants, because there are always remnant feathers, and dried them on paper towels. I seasoned the breasts with salt, pepper, and a little thyme.

I put the whole breasts in a vacuum sealable bag. I added 4 tablespoons of butter, a sprig of fresh sage, and vacuum sealed the bag carefully.

I set my sous vide at 135 degrees Farenheit, and the pheasants were in for 3 hours.

After cooking I put the bag immediately in the refrigerator. You can also use an ice bath to cool off the meat quickly.

When you are close to serving the pheasant breasts, remove the bag from the refrigerator. Drain the pheasants if you want to save the jus.

Cut the breasts from the rib bones and lay them out. Dab with paper towels to remove any excess liquid. Season with salt and pepper.

In a skillet over high heat, brown the breasts in a little oil, just for about 30 seconds per side.

For something different, I decided to use the pheasant in a composed salad.

Along with lettuce, I added red cabbage, tomatoes, barley, and feta cheese.

The dressing was lemon pesto, which went really well with the pheasant.

The pheasant cooked this way is superb. As expected, the meat was tender, moist, and flavorful.

I cooked the pheasant on the day our time sprung forward, and so because I used two different clocks, only one of which had the proper time on it, the breasts were actually in the sous vide 30 minutes longer than planned. Fortunately that had no difference on the outcome!

Sous vide is the only way I’ll cook pheasant in the future. And I won’t be so hesitant to have my husband bring them home!

Socca

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When I travel, I like to try local specialties. It’s just part of the fun of eating and drinking in other countries. But learning about different foods and experiencing them is also a huge part of becoming a better cook.

I’ve had haggis in Scotland (a bit bland), banana beer in Rwanda (terrible), conch in the Cayman Islands (incredible.) Two foods I’ve refused to try were Casu Marzu in Corsica, a cheese covered in live maggots, and red-sauced, still-moving snails in Spain.

I’ll probably never eat fried spiders, grilled grasshoppers, and definitely not barbecued guinea pigs. So I guess I’m not the most adventurous when in comes to experiencing local food, but I do my best.

In the fall of 2015, my husband and I traveled to France, to begin a magical two-week road trip. Our guide was the incomparable Stéphane Gabart, from the blog My French Heaven. This was my third time visiting him. He knows and loves France, and he has great passion for French food and wine. He’s a professional chef, photographer, he’s really funny, and best of all, he’s my friend.

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On this trip we traveled throughout Provence, stopping in quaint villages. Stéphane planned lunch in Castelnaudary, just so we could experience authentic cassoulet. And when we reached le Côte d’Azur, we enjoyed traditional bouillabaise in Cassis. In Avignon, I ordered pieds paquets, or veal toes, after treating myself to snails (the kind that are not alive).

Before leaving Nice to return home, I wanted to try a local specialty socca. I must have seen it in a cookbook, but had no idea what to expect. I expected socca to look more like cornbread, but it was more crêpe-like.

What makes socca different is that it’s made with garbanzo bean flour and not wheat flour.

The restaurant where we lunched in vieux Nice is at the left of the plaza.

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At our final lunch together, I ordered socca with a Salade Niçoise and this is what it looked like.

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Just for fun, I thought I should recreate socca at home. I am using a recipe from the blog Foodie Underground, written by Anna Brones.

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Mine don’t look quite the same as what I had in Nice, but they were good!

Here’s what I did.

Socca
Makes 8 – 6″ in diameter

1 1/4 cups water
1/4 cup olive oil
1 cup garbanzo bean/chick pea flour
1 teaspoon Herbes de Provence
1/2 teaspoon salt

This is the garbanzo bean flour I used for the socca.

Combine all of the ingredients in a medium bowl and whisk well.

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At this point, the batter is watery. Cover with a dish towel and put the bowl in the refrigerator for one hour minimum. The batter will thicken, but still be a “thin” batter.

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Lightly oil a large round flat skillet. I used my Le Creuset crêpe pan that came with a little wooden tool. I’ve never used it for crêpes, just flatbreads!

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Turn the heat to high. When the oil is smoking, gently pour a scant 1/3 cup of the batter onto the skillet, much as you would a crêpe.
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The high heat really grabs the batter. You can see little holes forming around the edges.
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Wait just until the middle of the socca has firmed up, then flip it over. To best assist with flipping the socca, I used a giant spatula that I usually only use for moving pastry. It’s really thin.

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Flip over and cook for just about 30 seconds. This one got a little too browned on the first side.

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While still warm, I folded the socca into quarters. My French socca were definitely more pliable than these.

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To serve with the socca, I put together a green salad with some fun goodies.

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The vinaigrette is a creamy lemon and parsley.

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The socca were fantastic. I really loved the flavor of the Herbes de Provence.

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Other recipes for socca list cumin or rosemary.

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I’ve also seen recipes for socca that are thicker and cooked in the oven, served in wedges. I’m definitely going to experiment more because there is obviously more than one way to make socca. Plus, there are Ligurian recipes for the Italian version, called farinata, which makes sense since Liguria is so close to Nice.

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Notice the lacy look of my socca.
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The taste is really lovely, and there was no bitterness from the garbanzo bean flour. Their look is so-so, but I’d definitely make these unique pancakes again!

If you’re interested, check out highlights of our trip here Je Ne Regrette Rien.

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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An Ottolenghi Rice Salad

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It goes without saying that I’m a stubborn gal, especially when it comes to trends. Fashion, food, music, you name it.

Sometimes I wonder, though, what I might have missed out on. I don’t think it was kale chips, overnight oats, grilled lemons, or salads in jars. I might have missed out of zoodles if I hadn’t received a spiralizer as a gift.

In the 80’s basil pesto and sun-dried tomatoes were sooo trendy that I refused to try them. I lost quite a few tasty years as a result of my stubbornness. I’ve since made up for lost time!

In any case, I remember when everybody was making food from Ottolenghi’s cookbook, entitled “Plenty.” I gave the cookbook as gifts, but refused to purchase one for myself.

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Then “Jerusalem” came along.

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Then, “Ottolenghi.”

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Then, as if Plenty wasn’t enough, there came “Plenty More.”

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There might be more cookbooks written by Yotam Ottolonghi and Sami Tamimi, his business partner and chef, but Plenty was the first one of which I became aware. The recipes in Plenty and Plenty More are vegetarian, but not the other two. Mr. Ottolenghi himself is not a vegetarian; I love that he embraces lovely, vibrant food in general, meaty or meatless.

Also because of my stubborness, it was a while before I went to an Ottolenghi restaurant in London during the years my daughter lived there. In July of 2014, our last visit to London before she moved back to the states, we went to Nopi for lunch, located in Soho. And what a fabulous experience it was.

I wrote a post about it entitled, “How I Met Yotam Ottolenghi,” because the manager looked so much like him I thought I really had. In reality, they look nothing alike except that they both both wear glasses.

So I now own three books by Ottolenghi, although not Plenty, and one night I read through them marking recipes and choosing one to make that exemplifies his food, which was not easy. I stayed away from his classic “this and that with tahini and pomegranates.” (Stubbornness, again!)

This is what I chose.

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Rice Salad with Nuts and Sour Cherries
from Plenty More

Scant 1 cup wild rice
Scant 1 1/4 cups basmati rice (I used brown)
5 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
2/3 cup quinoa (I used millet)
6 1/2 tablespoons almonds, skins on, coarsely chopped
7 tablespoons pine nuts
1/4 cup sunflower oil
2 medium onions, thinly sliced
1 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves, coarsely chopped
2/3 cup basil leaves, coarsely chopped
1/3 cup tarragon leaves, coarsely chopped
2 cups arugula
2/3 cup dried sour cherries
1/4 cup lemon juice
Zest of one lemon
2 cloves garlic, crushed
Salt, pepper

Place the wild rice in a saucepan, cover with plenty of water, bring to a boil, and then turn down to a gentle simmer and cook for 35 minutes, until the rice is cooked but still firm.
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Drain, rinse under cold water, and set aside to dry.

Mix the basmati rice with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Place in a saucepan with 1 1/3 cups of boiling water, cover, and cook over the lowest possible heat for 15 minutes.

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Remove from the heat, place a tea towel over the pan, replace the lid, and set aside for 10 minutes. Uncover and allow to cool down completely.

Bring a small saucepan of water to a boil and add the quinoa. Cook for 9 minutes, then drain into a fine sieve, refresh under cold water, and set aside.

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Place the almonds and pine nuts in a small pan with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and a pinch of salt. Cook over medium-low heat for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Transfer to a small plate as soon as the pine nuts begin to color and set aside.

Heat the sunflower oil in a large saute pan and add the onions, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and some black pepper. Cook over high heat for 5 to 8 minutes, stirring often, so that parts of the onion get crisp and others just soft. Transfer to paper towels to drain.

Place all of the grains in a large bowl along with the chopped herbs, arugula, fried onion, nuts, and sour cherries. Add the lemon juice and zest, the remaining 3 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, the garlic, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and some pepper.

Mix well and set aside for at least 10 minutes before serving.

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note: As with most all of Ottolenghi’s recipes, they are specific, and require many steps. In the write-up about this recipe, he actually apologizes for the need for so many pots! I read about how he came to the point when he realized that to test recipes, one must be exact; no handfuls of this and that. So exact they are! I seriously doubt that this salad would taste any differently with 7 tablespoons of almonds instead of 6 1/2! In fact, in my mind, it should really read “6 1/2 tablespoons of coarsely chopped almonds.” Oh well. His food is fabulous and this is a great recipe.

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verdict: This is, not surprisingly, a delicious salad. Everything in it sings, from the lemon and garlic flavors to the pungent arugula and herbs. I love the sour cherries, but just about any dried fruit would work.

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A Summer Salad with Grilled Halloumi

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Halloumi is an interesting cheese that hails from Greece, or Cypress, more specifically. It has a unique, almost rubbery-dense texture, and a salty flavor. I sometimes wonder why I enjoy it!

My favorite cheeses are by far softer cheeses, especially Époisses, Reblochon, Raclette, Saint Felicien, and Brie, which all are French and cow’s milk-based.

But being an equal opportunity cheese lover, I embrace all cheeses, no matter the hardness and the milk source. My only exception is Casu Marzu, a cheese I refused to eat when in Corsica. Funny story if you’re not squeamish.

Haloumi was originally made from goat and sheep milk, but the only one I can find locally is made with cows’ milk. The cheese is unique in that it has a high melting point, so it can be grilled or even fried, without the cheese melting.

Halloumi has many different names, including grilling cheese, bread cheese, Leipäjuusto, and Finish Squeaky cheese. No matter the name, they are all a semi-hard, unripened brined cheeses.

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When making salads during the summer months, my go-to cheese is feta. It’s flavorful and goes so well with vegetables and vinaigrettes.

But adding Halloumi to a salad goes beyond crumbling some cheese on top of a salad. It’s so meaty in texture that it’s almost like a meat substitute.

For today’s salad, I used simple salad ingredients, grilled Halloumi, and a parsley vinaigrette.

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I began by adding some mixed greens, grated carrots, quartered tomatoes and toasted pine nuts to two plates. There were some sliced sweet chile peppers saved for serving time.

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The parsley vinaigrette was made with olive oil, apple cider vinegar, garlic, salt, and as much flat-leafed parsley that I could shove into the little blender!

To prepare the cheese, I heated a grill over high heat, brushed with a small amount of olive oil. I sliced the 10 ounce slab of cheese horizontally, then in to 12 pieces. I placed the slices of cheese in the hot grill, and as soon as they warmed and had grill stripes, I placed the slices on the salads.

I topped the salads with the chile pepper slices and served the salads while the cheese was still warm.

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The parsley vinaigrette added freshness to the salad, without overpowering the mild-flavored cheese.

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It’s interesting how firm the cheese remains, even when warm. You definitely need a knife if you serve the Halloumi cheese in strips or slices.

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If you’ve never experienced Halloumi, or bread cheese, I highly suggest giving it a try. It will never replace a good Brie, but it’s not supposed to!