Kissed with Garlic

I’m not sure if more people go to the Middle East in Cambridge’s Central Square for the food or the live music, but for me, the draw to the night club and restaurant was always the whipped garlic. They serve it in a miniscule bowl, smaller than a saucer, with triangles of pita, served in a small wicker basket, on the side for dipping.

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I think the owners are Egyptian – they also make a terrific fool – but it took me years to learn that the zippy sauce I craved was actually Lebanese. It’s called toum and if you go into, literally, any Lebanese falafel and shwarma shop it will be an option next to the tahini sauce as they build your dish. Toum was once described to me as a “very strong kiss of garlic,” by another Lebanese restauranteur.

And even though I have spent hours of my life thinking about this sauce, it wasn’t until this winter as I stockpiled garlic from my Winter CSA that it ever occurred to me that I could skip the lines and make my very own jar of toum. I should add the reason I had so much garlic on hand is because I was sent an Israeli product, Dorot, which packages frozen cubes of garlic, ginger and a few other herbs, and has simplified my life so much. Making a soup and want some garlic? Putting together a curry and you want a ton of ginger and garlic? Toss in some frozen Dorot cubes. They are a life changer. But that means my garlic pile on the counter kept on growing and I barely touched it.

 

 

20180129_081217.jpgIt wasn’t until I got the February Bon Appetit that I finally made my way to the kitchen. I ended up using an amalgam of recipes, rather than the one in the magazine. The best advice I’ve read about making this sauce is to put your bottle of oil in the fridge while you prep the garlic, which takes time because you really want to remove any green stems as that will cause your dip to be bitter. Trust me, I’ve had bitter toum and it really was awful; definitely take the time to clean your garlic thoroughly. The recipes also warn that this is an emulsion, so go s-l-o-w-l-y when adding the chilled oil. It’s best done in a food processor.

This made a canning jam jar of the sauce, and I put it on everything while it lasted in the fridge. It’s great on roasted potatoes — and roasted sweet potatoes. I spread it on Friday night challah, dolloped it in red lentil and potato stew, and even used it as a dressing on salad greens.

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Although the recipe calls for 4 cups of oil, I think mine hit the right consistency, like a thin mayonnaise, before I poured in 2 cups. They say it lasts up to 4 weeks in the fridge, but trust me when I say you’ll use it up long before then. 

Toum (Lebanese Garlic Sauce)

Put your bottle of oil into the fridge as you gather the rest of your ingredients and prep the garlic

Ingredients

Up to 4 cups grapeseed, avocado or extra virgin olive oil

½ cup of peeled garlic cloves

Juice of 1 lemon, divided

½ cup of ice water, divided

Kosher salt

Directions

Before you begin, place your oil in the freezer or refrigerator so that it is chilled, but still liquid. While the oil chills, remove the ends from your garlic cloves, split them in half and remove any green layers from inside.

In the bowl of a food processor, combine garlic cloves, a hefty pinch of salt, juice of half a lemon, and 1/4 cup of the ice cold water.

Process until smooth, then stop and scrape the sides of the food processor with a spatula.

Turn the food processor back on and drizzle the chilled oil through the top as SLOWLY as possible, one cup at a time.

Scrape down the sides of the food processor as necessary. Be sure that your processor does not get too hot, as this can cause your sauce to separate.

Juice the second half of the lemon, and add the rest of the ice water.

 

Add oil until you’ve reached the texture you desire. The final result should resemble a thin mayonnaise. Store toum in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to four weeks, although it will be long gone before then.  

 

Apply to everything.

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Twenty Years in the Making

Lilli has taken to carrying her stepstool around the house to help her reach things she isn’t supposed to reach. Of course, she rarely uses it for its intended purpose, which is to reach the sink to wash her hands after she uses the potty. She does, however, use it to reach the stickers that are supposed to be rewards  for when she does use the potty.

bea at 4.5 months

Last night Rich made the unfortunate decision to walk away from the bath he was drawing, and set down the bottle of bubble bath on a shelf. He came back to find her holding the bottle upside down and dumping it into the bath. All of it. She used up the whole bottle, and yes, it was like in cartoons with bubbles floating around the bathroom. She was in heaven, but the joke’s on her because this means no more bubble baths for a while.

The silver lining to the bubble bath debacle was that it reminded me that I’d wanted to share this recipe for green beans I finally nailed down. Of course, right now you’re probably asking yourself what an out-of-control bubble bath has to do with green beans, and I’m getting there.

When I was in high school my mom used to make these wonderful stir fried green beans. They were full of fresh garlic and ginger and tossed with a mixture of soy sauce and honey. The soy’s saltiness was balanced out by the sweet honey glaze. They were great. My best friend, who was originally from Latvia, would come to our house and eat them directly from the serving dish. That was fine by me because I would go to her house and eat insane amounts of beet vinaigrette, Salad Olivier and napoleon cake.

green beans

I called my mom this summer to get the recipe. “I have no idea what you’re talking about. It was 20 years ago.” Undeterred, I set out to recreate the dish. I remember the beans being very limp, crinkly and blistered by the time they were served, so I started by steaming the beans for a few minutes. I used chunks of shallots and fresh ginger and garlic – I actually even took a photo to so you could see for yourself. But I could not figure out the glaze at the end. I consulted Aleza who suggested corn starch. It didn’t sound right, so I called my mother again. “Still with the green beans?”

But then I had a flash to when I would make these in college. It was a vision of me holding the bottle of honey directly above the pan, just like Lilli held the bottle of bubbles over her bath. And it worked! Glaze achieved. When I posted the finish photo to Facebook my best friend chimed in immediately saying she loved those beans when we were teenagers. Success!

Lilli on hayride

A few things: I worked in half pound batches to nail down this recipe. I know it will double and triple just fine. The garlic, ginger and shallot pieces should be much bigger than a mince (see photo); you want to really taste the flavors with each bite. If you’re up for it, make it a tablespoon and a half of each. A little heat would be a nice contrast to the sweet honey. I steamed my green beans in the microwave, but if you feel prefer the stove top, go right ahead. My mom always used a wok, and even though I have one, I rarely, if ever, use it. A large saute pan will do just fine. I am convinced red pepper strips often made their way into this dish, and sometimes walnuts topped it. My mother, again, swears she has no idea what I’m talking about, but feel free to experiment.

Green Beans with Soy-Honey Glaze

½ lb. green beans, cleaned

1 heaping Tablespoon chopped shallots

1 heaping Tablespoon chopped ginger

1 heaping Tablespoon chopped garlic

3 Tablespoons honey, plus about a Tablespoon-and-half more for the pan

3 Tablespoons soy sauce or tamari

1 teaspoon sesame oil

2 Tablespoons canola oil

Directions

Steam the green beans for four minutes.

In a large sauté pan or wok, heat the oils until they shimmer. Once they are shimmering, add the shallots, garlic, and ginger. Stir them for about a minute. Add in the green beans and toss them with the contents of the pan.

In a small bowl, stir together the three tablespoons of soy sauce and three tablespoons of honey. Pour the mixture into the pan and over the green beans. The whole pan should be sizzling. Cook everything down for about 7 minutes, stirring every 30 seconds or so. But please use your best judgement – if it looks like something is going to burn, cut off the heat.

The beans will begin to wrinkle. At this point, grab your bottle of honey and pour about a tablespoon and a half directly into the pan. The heat of the pan will have the honey sizzling. The glaze should form in about a minute.

Serve over rice.

Easier Than You Think

Can we talk about bread crumbs for a sec? Well, more than just a second, but it seems fitting since we just ended an eight day stint with nary a bread crumb in sight. There was a time when I would buy bread crumbs, and the truth is, it’s not the biggest deal if you do. But I’m here to convince you to make your own, and it’s much easier than you think.

Lilli in shades

First thing’s first. Don’t go to the bread section of your market. Walk over to the bakery section. On the side there should be a cart or maybe just a shelf, piled high with yesterday’s goodies. Maybe there will be a bag of muffins, marked down 75% that you should buy and store in your freezer for when you feel like a muffin and you don’t want to turn on the oven or leave the house. Perhaps there’s a German chocolate cake that’s half off. All these items are perfectly delicious, but most stores can’t sell food unless it’s the freshest. (Another time remind me to tell you the story of Rich and my first date. It involved me, a stale cannoli in Quincy Market and a very embarrassed Rich. It all worked out in the end, obviously.)

But yes, on that shelf of day old baked goods should also be a selection of bread loaves. For me, it was a day old French baguette that cost fifty cents. As Rich quipped, with prices that low, John Valjean wouldn’t have had to steal.

If you’re not in a rush, let that cheap day old loaf sit on your counter for another day or two; we’re aiming for stale. When the time is right, get out your food processor, break the loaf into chunks, and pulse away. I’ve found that turning the food processor on and just letting it spin makes the bread crumbs too fine. You can then store your fresh, homemade bread crumbs in a Ziploc bag in the fridge. They’ll be good for months, since they were stale to begin with.

And now that you have bread crumbs, might I suggest this lovely little springtime dish. We had it last night for dinner, and I found myself fingering a bunch of asparagus tonight at the market, wondering if it would be overkill to have it two nights in a row. (I resisted, but no, it is not.) It’s a Melissa Clark recipe, and you know how much I love her stuff. The only thing I would do differently than the original recipe calls for is to make this in a non-stick skillet. I always make a mess of my fried eggs in a regular skillet, as the picture illustrates.

Clark says she got the idea for this dish from the franny’s, an Italian place in Brooklyn that’s on my list of places to check out the next time we’re in NYC. There they serve an asparagus salad of wood oven-roasted stalks covered in vinaigrette, bread crumbs, and minced hard-cooked eggs. I haven’t tried that version, but I love this one here.

A word about asparagus, because I’m realizing I don’t think I’ve talked about it on this blog. The best way to trim its ends is to hold up a stalk and give it a bend at the end. It will naturally snap off where you should cut it. I take a page from Martha Stewart and use that one stalk as the ruler and cut the rest of the stalks to match it. And yes, that is an asparagus plate in the photo. Rich bought it for me years and years ago for a springtime present.

Pan-Roasted Asparagus with Fried Eggs and Anchovy Bread Crumbs, from Melissa Clark’s In the Kitchen with A Good Appetite

Ingredients

3 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

3 Tablespoons unseasoned, preferably homemade bread crumbs

1 anchovy fillet , minced

1 small garlic clove, minced

Kosher salt to taste

¼ teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest

1 bunch asparagus, trimmed

Pinch freshly ground black pepper

2 large eggs

Directions

Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add the bread crumbs and anchovy and cook, stirring occasionally, until the bread crumbs are browned and toasted, about 2 minutes. Stir in the garlic and a large pinch of salt and sauté until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes longer. Add the lemon zest, then transfer the mixture to a small bowl.

Wipe the skillet with a paper towel and return it to the heat. Add another tablespoon of the oil and then add the asparagus and a pinch of salt and pepper. Cover and cook, stirring and shaking the pan occasionally, until the asparagus is tender, 5 to 6 minutes. Transfer the asparagus to a serving plate and sprinkle with the bread crumb mixture.

Add the remaining tablespoon of the oil to the skillet and return it to the heat. Crack in the eggs and fry until just set but still runny, 2 to 3 minutes. Slide the eggs on top of the asparagus and serve.

We May Never Know

I’m not sure why my Food & Wine ran a recipe for Escarole with Pickled Butternut Squash back in July. Of course, I only had a chance to read the magazine this past September, but I made a mental note to make the salad once the produce became available. (For the record, I am current with my Ladies Home Journal subscription; how to pose my cat for optimal cuteness? Tell me more!) So when a butternut squash, so large it towered over my cat came in the CSA last week, I thought it was time to make the salad.

Lilli at Honk!

But I still had to find the escarole. I walked to the Copley’s Farmers’ Market during my lunch break last Friday and chatted about the recipe with every farmer there. “I’m not sure why the magazine printed this recipe in July,” I would say to each as I explained my search for escarole. The last farmer scoffed, “You’re not sure why they printed the recipe in July? Well, I’m not sure why they’d write a recipe with produce that doesn’t grow at the same time!” It turns out the escarole will come once the butternut squash have all been roasted and eaten.

Deterred but not defeated, I regrouped. I still desperately wanted to make this salad. And then it occurred to me, why not use the arugula that came in the CSA alongside the butternut squash? The peppery bite of the dark lettuce would be strong like the escarole. Although I was still a little concerned about how the creamy dressing would cling to the sharp leaves, I pressed onward.

pickled squash and arugula

Well, it turns out that arugula makes a great substitute. Apparently this recipe is from all-star chef Gabriel Rucker, featured in the magazine in 2007. Sounds like a reservation at his Portland, Oregon restaurant Le Pigeon is the toughest one in town to make, but not as hard it is to find escarole at a farmers’ market in October, since that is apparently impossible.

It’s a quick pickle for the squash, and I loved the crunch and twang against the creamy, herbal dressing. For the arugula, I soaked the quarter pound that came in the CSA in three rounds of cold water. I used a quarter pound because that’s what I had on hand. For the record, I think the dressing would spread well with a half-pound of arugula, so let’s call that two bunches. I also pickled a cup’s worth of squash, rather than the half-cup the original recipe called for.  Just to have for munching.

Arugula with Pickled Butternut Squash

Ingredients

1 ¼ cups apple cider vinegar

2 Tablespoons sugar

1 Tablespoon kosher salt, plus more for seasoning

6 ounces butternut squash, peeled and cut into ¼-inch dice (1 cup)

3 Tablespoons mayonnaise

1 Tablespoon freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

6 large sage leaves

1 garlic clove

1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice (I just used a half a lemon)

1/3 cup canola oil

Freshly ground pepper

½ pound arugula

Directions

In a medium saucepan, combine 1 cup of the apple cider vinegar with the sugar, 1 tablespoon of kosher salt and ¼ cup of water and bring to boil. Add the diced squash and let cool to room temperature. Drain the squash (I did this once my dressing and lettuce was ready and let the squash pickle a little bit longer.)

Meanwhile, in a food processor, combine the mayonnaise with the cheese, sage, garlic, lemon juice and the remaining ¼ cup of vinegar. With the machine on, drizzle in the oil until the dressing is emulsified. Season with salt and pepper. q

In a large bowl, toss the arugula with the sage dressing. Arrange the greens on plates, top with the pickled squash and serve.

Make Ahead: The pickled squash and garlicky sage dressing can be refrigerated for up to 2 days.

‘Shrooms on a Plane

I’ve been meaning to tell you about these mushrooms. I totally forgot about them until I rediscovered them on my phone. I was scrolling through Lilli photos at my desk at work and came across these. The first time I made them was when we were on lockdown. That’s probably why I forgot to talk about them.

Taste of Allston

I found the recipe in the strangest of ways: On an airplane, on our return flight from Spain and The Netherlands. I was delighted to discover that one of the channels on my personal television included some cooking shows. While I’m not a fan of The Food Network, it’s hard not to love Jamie Oliver. I actually couldn’t find my headphones, so I just watched Jamie make these mushrooms. They looked great and I put them on my to-do list, but I never had all the ingredients in the house at the same time until this past April.

It turns out these mushrooms are fantastic, and I ended up making them three more times in quick succession. They use a hot pepper, so get out your rubber gloves if you’re going to be handling babies in the near future.

mushrooms to be roasted

Since I didn’t actually hear this recipe on the plane, I’ve tried to get this as close to a recipe as possible. These mushrooms now take their place in the category of foods that I haven’t actually served because I eat them at the stove top. (This includes a humdinger of a kohlrabi recipe from summer CSAs past.)

The measurement of 10 oz. of mushrooms is based solely on the fact that that is the amount in the containers sold in grocery stores. The truth is, if you want enough to serve anyone apart from yourself over the stove, I’d recommend preparing 20 ounces of mushrooms. I will leave the amount of hot pepper up to your own personal tastes, but please don’t skip it.

Roasted Mushrooms adapted from Jamie Oliver

Ingredients

10 ounces of mushrooms, rubbed clean and quartered

2 cloves or 1 Tablespoon of fresh chopped garlic

Up to one small red hot chili pepper, minced

1 Tablespoon fresh chopped parsley

1 very large pinch of kosher salt

2 Tablespoons olive oil (This is a guess. I honestly just pour until its moist enough to toss)

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees

Place all the ingredients in a large bowl. Using your hands, toss to combine. Don’t be scared to get your hands dirty.

Pour all ingredients into a small roasting dish, making sure to scrape in all the good stuff that is sticking to the sides of the bowl.

Roast the mushrooms for approximately 25 minutes. You’ll know to remove them when the mushrooms are  deep brown and the garlic will have begun to caramelize.

Try and get them into a serving bowl, but I won’t blame you if they don’t make it onto the table.

The Fourth Quarter

My father, who is originally from London and who now lives in Jerusalem, was once given advice on how to act more American: start drinking coffee instead of tea and watch the Celtics. Granted, this was 30 years ago, when I was little and the Big Three were Bird, McHale and Parish. Even though the coffee suggestion was a bit ludicrous, watching the Celtics seemed like sound advice, and I’ve been a Celtics fan my whole life.

Sure, I’m sad the season is over, but if you told me in January that it would have lasted until the fourth quarter of Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, well, I wouldn’t have believed it. I don’t think anyone believed in the Celtics more than Doc Rivers, and I’m so happy he knew we were all wrong.

We hosted nearly every game in this post-season, and I always had something out for our guests to enjoy. Man cannot live on nachos alone, and truthfully, I’m much more likely to slap together a Mediterranean mezzes platter than to order a pizza. And so this eggplant dip found its way onto a platter last week.

I wonder what Ottolenghi, an Israeli now living in London, would have to say about his eggplant dip being eaten with gusto in front of such a uniquely American sporting event, but I won’t wonder too long. There’s dip to eat, people!

This might have been the easiest thing I’ve ever done to an eggplant. The day before, I placed it, whole, on a foil-coated pan, coated it with oil and roasted it for 3 hours, or until it turned mushy and caved in on itself. Once the foil had cooled off enough to handle, I folded it around the eggplant, dropped it in a bowl, and put that in the fridge overnight. The next day, I scraped the meat from the blackened, blistered skin, and made this dip in less than seven minutes.

Sure, our basketball season is over for now, but with about 17 hours of Euro 2012 on the DVR and the Olympics coming next month, I have no doubt this dip will be made again and again.

Burnt Eggplant with Tahini from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty

Ingredients

1 large eggplant

1/3 cup tahini paste

¼ cup water

2 teaspoons pomegranate molasses

1 Tablespoon lemon juice

1 garlic clove, crushed

3 Tablespoons chopped parsley

Salt and pepper

A little olive oil to finish

Directions

First, burn the eggplant. (I was very lazy with mine and simply roasted the eggplant in a 400 degree oven for about 3 hours, keeping a close eye on it after the second hour.) Ottolenghi suggests (and I fully support) lining the area around the stove burners with foil to protect them, and starting the eggplants on the stovetop by putting the eggplant directly on two moderate flames and roasting for 12 to 15 minutes, turning frequently with metal tongs, until the flesh is soft and smoky and the skin is burnt all over. Keep an eye on them the whole time so they don’t catch fire. For an electric stove, pierce the eggplant with a sharp knife in a few places. Put them foil-lined tray and place directly under a hot broiler for 1 hour, turning them a few times. The eggplants need to deflate completely and their skin should burn and break.

When cool enough to handle, scoop out the flesh into a colander, avoiding blackened skin. Leave to drain for at least 30 minutes.

Chop the eggplant flesh roughly and transfer to a medium mixing bowl. Add the tahini, water, pomegranate molasses, lemon juice, garlic, parsley and some salt and pepper; mix well with a whisk. Taste and adjust the season, adding more garlic, lemon juice or molasses if needed. You want the salad to have a robust sour/slightly sweet flavor.

I served the eggplant with lots of cut up crunchy vegetables and triangles of whole wheat pita. Ottolenghi suggests sprinkling fresh pomegranate seeds on it and tossing it with sliced mini cucumbers and cherry tomatoes and making it more of a salad. It’s up to you, really.

Sister Act

My older sister Sylvie is a middle-and high-school librarian in inner city DC. It’s a tough area to grow up in, and she has made her library into a safe space for her students. In her first year alone, circulation was up 40%, and her students know they can always go to her for guidance on how to research a paper, use reference materials, and, most importantly, she provides just the right book. She’s made reading fun. “God’s work,” my friend Elissa once quipped in trying to explain to someone what Syl does.

It really was Syl’s destiny to be a librarian for teenagers, but this wasn’t her first career. She used to cook. I mean, she still does, but cooking was much more a profession for her than it is for me. People would pay her money for her food back when she lived in Boston nearly 20 years ago — in Allston, as a matter of fact. And she, too, rode her bike everywhere.

I think she would have continued working in professional kitchens as long as she could, but just as I’ve done a number on my back with a herniated disc that has slowed down my cooking, she did a number on her front: double hernias. Those professional-sized pots are very heavy, and that’s without them being filled with gallons of soup.

The dish I have for today is a Sylvie dish. I asked her earlier this week how she came up with it, but like I said, 20 years is a long time ago. This is actually not the first time I’ve written up this dish: I was a food writer for my college newspaper (surprise, surprise) and our editor once did a spread on the food writer’s favorite dishes. This was mine.

This is a pantry dish, and it uses a box of Near East rice pilaf. Before you get all huffy and start accusing me of pulling a Sandra Lee, if you’ve ever had the stuff, I think it’s safe to say it’s a really fantastic side dish. All supermarkets seem to have sales on Near East products every few months. When the Star Market around the corner marks it down to $0.88 a box, I usually buy five or six and store them in the pantry. And even though portobello mushrooms can be expensive, Market Basket always has a good price on them, and I’ve walked away with 3 pounds worth from Haymarket with spending just a dollar.

Although there is technically a lot of vinegar and garlic in the dish, the added sugar cuts it all down into something sweet that matches perfectly with the pilaf. This is one of Rich’s favorite dishes, and last week he learned how to make it. Like I’ve mentioned, the herniated disc has really slowed me down, but Rich has been an absolute godsend in making sure there is food on the table and clean clothes on our backs. Last week, when he was prepping and slicing the mushrooms, he came to me with a panicked look on his face because one of the mushrooms he cut had a magenta streak down its side. I asked if he possibly used the same knife he used to dice a beet the night before. He walked away a little sheepishly, but I have to admit I thought that was absolutely adorable.

I had forgotten that there had been a typo in the recipe. Well, not the actual recipe, but the byline. The paper has me down as my middle name, Miranda, which seems so much more exotic and exciting than my first name.

This dish can work as a main dish for three people with a small salad, or be a side dish for five or six, depending on how hungry your crowd is.

And one last thing: If you could ask the governor’s executive director of his PAC four questions, what would they be? How about four questions for the founder of the Boston’s first Jewish rugby team? Turns out it’s the same fellow. Here are mine.

Mushrooms and Rice Pilaf a la Sylvie

Ingredients

3 Portobello mushrooms

4 cloves garlic

1/3 cup balsamic vinegar

3 Tbs. sugar

Dash salt and pepper

Enough oil to cover a pan

Box of Near East Rice Pilaf

Directions

Prepare rice pilaf according to directions on the box.

While the rice is cooking, peel and chop the garlic and toss into heated oil in medium-sized pan (at this point it should have a very low flame because you don’t want the garlic to brown.)

While the garlic is cooking, clean and cut the mushroom caps into bigger than bite-sized pieces. Toss mushrooms into pan and watch carefully. When they begin to sweat – the meat will become pink – add balsamic vinegar. When the mushrooms, garlic and vinegar begin to sizzle, add sugar and reduce heat. Cook on reduced flame until mixture turns syrup-like (about seven minutes). Add a dash of salt and pepper to taste. Remove dish from heat and mix in the rice pilaf.

Serve and enjoy.