A Summer Salad

Last week, after years of careful deliberation, I announced to Rich that my favorite of all berries was the raspberry. The best raspberries of all were the wild ones that grew on the bushes that lined the road to our house in Western Mass. Those bushes are all gone now, replaced with houses, but when I was a little girl my sisters and I would run down the small hill to collect the berries.

For Lilli, strawberries were in the berry lead in early June, but it looks like blueberries have now surged ahead. (Earlier tonight I overheard Rich telling her that she had to eat them one at a time and to stop cramming them into her mouth all at once.) Sometimes I share my raspberries with her, and it’s clear she loves those, too.

cherry herb salad

Longtime readers of this blog would have no idea about my raspberry love, or how much I absolutely adore all summer fruits, for that matter, because I tend to do the minimal amount of preparation to them. (Plums don’t count.) Why bake something, like a peach or cherry, into a pie when it’s already a perfect dessert (or snack, or meal)?

All this changed when I saw this recipe for cherry herb salad. I read the name of the dish long before I had a chance to read the recipe, and my first guess as to what herb it would be was tarragon. It turned out to be a cup of cilantro leaves, and it works. It works well enough that I’m sharing this recipe with you and plan on making it again tomorrow night. Cherries were on crazy sale at Star Market today – I was there this morning AND this evening refilling my supply.

in the kitchen

The recipe calls for a Holland chile pepper which the regular market clearly did not have. I did a bunch of googling and, honestly, use whatever hot pepper you’d prefer. I actually didn’t use the entire pepper in this dish, as I’m a bit of a wimp about spicy things. Although the original recipe claims that the broiling of the pepper takes four minutes, I found it took closer to 10 minutes in the toaster oven, where I also toasted a half cup of walnuts. I clean my cilantro by filling a large bowl of cold water and dropping the herb into it; the sand always sinks to the bottom of the bowl. Today’s bunch of cilantro was especially gritty; I needed to change the water five times tonight. As for prepping the fruit, many years ago Rich bought me a cherry/olive pitter. Money well spent, I say. I buy my pomegranate molasses at the Armenian shops in Watertown. My bet is any Middle Eastern shop in your area would have it, too. It would be right next to the rosewater.

We ate this tonight as a side to our roasted fish and brown rice. You should, too.

Cherry & Herb Salad – This recipe was featured in a May 2013 issue of Saveur within Gabriella Gershenon’s article The Promised Land. It’s credited as a Turkish recipe, but the article is about Israel and the Galilee. I’ve been thinking a lot about Israel lately. I bet many of you reading this are thinking about it, too. 

Ingredients

Up to two red Holland chiles, or chiles of your choosing

1 lb. fresh dark pitted cherries

1 cup cilantro leaves

½ cup walnuts halves, toasted and roughly chopped

3 Tablespoons olive oil

1 ½ Tablespoons pomegranate molasses

1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste

Instructions

Heat oven broiler (or toaster oven) to high. Place chiles on a baking sheet; broil, turning as needed, until charred and tender, 4 to 10 minutes, depending on the size of your pepper.

Transfer to a bowl and cover with plastic wrap; let sit five minutes. Discard stems, skin and seeds from chiles; finely chop and transfer to a bowl. (I did this step wearing rubber gloves.)

In a separate bowl whisk together the olive oil, molasses and lemon juice.

Add the cherries, cilantro and walnuts to the bowl of chopped pepper. Pour the dressing into the bowl and toss to combine. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

 

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It’s About Time

As longtime readers of this blog could probably tell, my pressure cooker is my indispensable kitchen tool. There is no way I could write this blog, work 40 hours a week, spend any real time with Lilli and write my weekly Four Questions without it. I was a fan before having a baby, and now I’m even more of an evangelist.

Lilli and the literature

I felt I had to tone down my pressure cooker propaganda after two idiot brothers filled a pair of them up with ball bearings and explosives and used them to terrorize the finish line of the Boston Marathon this past April. I wasn’t alone; Williams Sonoma stores in Boston pulled the pots from their shelves in the aftermath of the attacks. But it’s been 5 months now. We’ve had concerts and benefits, and things have mostly returned to normal. It’s time to get back on the pressure cooker band wagon.

Take this wheat berries, chard and pomegranate molasses recipe from Sami Tamimi and Yotam Ottlenghi’s Jerusalem.  In fact, that’s actually what I’m cooking in the photo from that Globe article about said cookbook. What you cannot see, including Lilli’s Exersaucer as she is my kitchen pal, is that I made the recipe in my pressure cooker. As the recipe is written in the cookbook, you need to cook the dish for 60 to 70 minutes. A Sunday afternoon recipe, as I would say. But, if you have a pressure cooker, the recipe will take you 20 minutes. And there you have it: Like magic, a quick weeknight meal.

There is one thing I would change within this phenomenal dish: Soak the wheat berries overnight. I’m not sure why the authors don’t instruct you to, but you really need to soak wheat berries. I clean my chard by soaking the leaves (and stems) in a large bowl of cold water on the counter as I assemble the rest of my ingredients. If your chard is very dirty, remove the leaves from the bowl of water, then tip the gritty water into the sink, give the bowl a good rinse, and repeat the cold water soak. You can do this second soak while you prep your leeks.

wheatberries and chard

Lilli gets very upset when I release the pressure cooker’s valve, so I have to wait until she’s out of the room to do that step. And, unfortunately, I’ve been having some trouble lately with the sealing ring – turns out they break after constant use over a six-year period. So of course, the pot depressurized too soon when the Globe photographer was here and I ended up sending him home with, um, extremely chewy wheat berries. The dish was still delicious; just too chewy.

On Sunday we brought some friends who just had a baby some lasagnas, a Caesar salad and a plum torte. We sat and visited while she nursed and were entertained by her older children. We talked about getting food on the table at a reasonable hour, after school and playdate pick-ups. ”Pressure cooker, pressure cooker, pressure cooker,” I told her. “It will change your life.” Risotto in seven minutes. Soup in six. Dried beans cooked in under 15. You wouldn’t be reading this blog if I didn’t own a pressure cooker. I wouldn’t have the time to write it if I didn’t.

But just in case you don’t own a pressure cooker and want to make this dish, I’m including the original instructions as well as my own variation on the recipe.

Wheat berries & Swiss chard with pomegranate molasses from Jerusalem

1 1/3 lb/600 g Swiss chard or rainbow chard

2 Tablespoons olive oil

1 Tablespoon unsalted butter

2 large leeks, white and pale green parts, thinly sliced (3 cups/350 g in total)

2 Tablespoons light brown sugar

About 3 Tablespoons pomegranate molasses

Scant 1 ¼ cups/200 g hulled or unhulled wheat berries

2 cups/500 ml stock

Salt and freshly ground pepper

Greek yogurt, to serve

Directions

The night before you make this recipe, soak your wheat berries in a bowl of water on the counter.

Separate the chard’s stalks from the green leaves using a small, sharp knife. Slice the stalks into 3/8-inch/1cm slices and the leaves into ¾-inch/2 cm slices.

Heat the oil and butter in the bottom of your pressure cooker, or, a large heavy-bottomed pan. Add the leeks and cook, stirring, for about 3 to 4 minutes. Add the chard stalks and cook for 3 minutes, then add the leaves and cook for a further 3 minutes. Add the sugar, 3 tablespoons pomegranate molasses, and the wheat berries and mix well. Add the stock, ¾ teaspoon salt, and some black pepper. Close the lid on the pressure cooker. When it pressurizes, cook for 20 minutes, then release the valve. Alternately, bring to a gentle simmer, and cook over low heat, covered, for 60 to 70 minutes.

The wheat should be al dente at this point.

Remove the lid and, if needed, increase the heat and allow any remaining liquid to evaporate. The base of the pan should be dry and have a bit of burnt caramel on it. Remove from the heat.

Before serving, taste and add more molasses, salt and pepper if needed; you want it sharp and sweet, so don’t be shy with your molasses. Serve warm, with a  dollop of Greek yogurt.

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.

Slosh Hashana

Wednesday night marks the beginning of the Jewish new year, Rosh Hashana. Many of the traditional foods for the holiday, like apples dipped in honey, are sweet, symbolizing our wishes for a sweet new year. But my favorite food moment actually comes on the second night of Rosh Hashana. Not all Jews celebrate a second night, but those who do usually make a point of eating a “new” fruit – one that’s just come into season and we haven’t gotten to eat yet — so we can make the blessing shehechiyanu, giving thanks for the new and unusual experience.

Now my mom takes this as an opportunity to serve fruits that are well out of ordinary, like the golden star fruit or the dimpled passion fruit. But no matter what exotic produce she finds, there is always a pomegranate which my sister will have expertly deseeded in a bowl of water. Pomegranates, or rimonim as they are called in Hebrew, are in season right now in Israel, and have popped up in Jewish thought since Biblical times. They are ripe with symbolism; tradition holds that each fruit contains 613 seeds, which is the number of mitzvot, or commandments, in the Torah.

Most blog posts I’ve seen for Rosh Hashana offer a good apple dish or honey cake, but in honor of our second night tradition, I’m sharing a tasty cocktail featuring pomegranate molasses, honey and rum. You can find the molasses at most Middle Eastern shops for just a couple of dollars; I’ve heard that Whole Foods sells it as well. And while the rum isn’t exactly a symbol of the Jewish new year, it is sweet. Besides, if you’re hosting guests for both nights of Rosh Hashana, you might be ready to say shehechiyanu over a stiff drink.

Pomegranate Cooler for Rosh Hashana (with help from Martha Stewart)

Ingredients

1 ounce dark rum

1 tablespoon honey

2 teaspoons pomegranate molasses

5 mint leaves

Ice cubes

4 ounces seltzer

Directions

Stir together dark rum, honey, pomegranate molasses, and mint leaves in a small glass, crushing mint with the back of a spoon. Add ice cubes and top with seltzer.