Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Around the World...Spain

It's hot, finally! We sure waited long enough for summer to arrive, just when it's about to end. It's in the 90's and I hate the heat - I feel like I'm melting. I find it's best to keep cooking to a minimum and eat cool, refreshing things.

Gazpacho is perfect for the heat. It's a cold, Spanish, tomato-based, raw vegetable soup originating in the southern part of Andalusia, Spain. The original recipe likely included stale bread, garlic, olive oil, salt and vinegar. Today's variations can include avocado, parsley, watermelon, grapes, meat stock and seafood. But in Andalusia it's usually bread, tomato, cucumber, bell pepper, onion, garlic, olive oil, wine vinegar and salt.

Recipes I've researched vary in terms of ingredient composition, texture and viscosity and even where the recipe hails from. But no matter where it's from or what exactly is in it, gazpacho is the perfect way to use up the bounty of summer vegetables that many of you are enjoying (and I say this jealously because my garden won't produce jack).

Experiment with either of the recipes listed and add what you like or have on hand. Add more garlic to your taste (or less), vary the garnishes, use different kinds of tomatoes or multi-colored peppers, try it with red onion or sweet onions like Maui. There's really no way to mess up this soup. It's good any which way you make it. I mean, just look at this photo!

Garnishes are important and I especially like little croutons. If they are big chunky things, it just doesn't work. Make smaller ones. Also perfect as a topping are chunkier vegetables that are found in the soup, such as diced tomatoes or cukes. Sometimes things that don't appear in the soup, like chopped ham or hard-boiled egg, make it as a topping, or where I once worked, bay shrimp on top.

To make it more authentic, use Spanish sherry vinegar and Spanish olive oil. You can find these at Cost Plus World Market. While you're there, pick up a nice Spanish red wine to go with it, like a Tempranillo.

Andalusian Gazpacho

1 (2-inch-long) piece baguette, crust discarded
2 garlic cloves
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons Sherry vinegar (preferably "reserva"), or to taste
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin (optional)
2 1/2 lb ripe tomatoes, cored and quartered
1/2 cup mild extra-virgin olive oil (preferably Andalusian hojiblanca)

Garnish: finely chopped red and green bell peppers

Soak bread in 1/2 cup water 1 minute, then squeeze dry, discarding soaking water.
Mash garlic to a paste with salt using a mortar and pestle (or mince and mash with a large knife). Blend garlic paste, bread, 2 tablespoons vinegar, sugar, cumin, and half of tomatoes in a food processor until tomatoes are very finely chopped. Add remaining tomatoes with motor running and, when very finely chopped, gradually add oil in a slow stream, blending until as smooth as possible, about 1 minute.
Force soup through a sieve into a bowl, pressing firmly on solids. Discard solids.
Transfer to a glass container and chill, covered, until cold, about 3 hours. Season with salt and vinegar before serving.

Farmstand Gazpacho

2 cups peeled and diced (1/4 inch) hothouse cucumber
2 cups diced (1/4 inch) red bell pepper
2 cups diced (1/4 inch) ripe tomato
1/2 cup diced (1/4 inch) red onion
2 cups tomato juice
1/2 cup red-wine vinegar
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 dashes Tabasco sauce

Place all of the diced vegetables in a large bowl. Add the tomato juice, vinegar, oil, and Tabasco. Season with salt and pepper and toss.
Transfer half of the mixture to a blender or food processor and pulse the machine on and off to coarsely puree the contents. Return the pureed mixture to the bowl and stir to combine. Refrigerate for 4 to 6 hours before serving. You can easily double this recipe for a large party.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Reader Entry: Dahl

The next Reader Entry is from my sister, who offered a tasty vegetarian recipe called dahl, an Indian red lentil stew traditionally served over basmati rice, loaded with great flavors and super healthy.

Lentils are so good for you. They are an inexpensive source of protein and fiber. We often ate them in the European style as kids, which included sausages or sliced hot dogs and a little vinegar to bring out their flavor. For the longest time I didn't make them much because I simply didn't know what to do with them. But over the years, as I've come to expand my cooking, I have found them to be so delicious in a variety of different cuisines, especially Indian and North African. And they can be eaten cold as a salad, or warm as in soups and stews.

I have made my sister's Dahl recipe several times, each time slightly differently, experimenting with the level of spices and coconut milk that her recipe calls for. You can reduce the amount of coconut milk if you care for it less rich (something both she and I do), or reducing the amount of broth if you want it more stew-like. I like the cilantro on top. It's also really fast and easy to make so it's great for weeknight cooking. While the lentils cook I make the rest of my dinner, like the rice and perhaps some curried chicken or vegetables.


2 Tbsp. butter or Indian ghee (clarified butter)
2 cloves of garlic, pressed
1 chopped onion
1/2 tsp. turmeric
1 tsp. garam masala
1/4 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. cumin
1 can diced tomatoes
6 oz. red lentils
2 tsp. lemon juice
2 cups vegetable broth
1 cup coconut milk
salt and pepper to taste
chopped cilantro and lemon wedges or slices for garnish

Melt butter in a large pot. Add garlic and onion and cook 2-3 minutes. Add the spices and saute for 30 seconds. Add tomatoes, lentils, lemon juice, broth, and coconut milk and bring to a boil.

Reduce heat and simmer 25-30 minutes until the lentils are cooked. Add salt and pepper to taste, garnish with the chopped cilantro and lemon wedges or slices.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Camp Food: eating in the wild

Eating outdoors is as primal as it gets. After all, our ancestors did it for thousands of years. It's a great way to commune with Nature, while feeling the sun on your face, watching a sunset, or just hearing the rustling of the wind through the trees. For those as well as a myriad of  other reasons eating outside can be fun. Plus, if you’re doing it while camping, you can get a little dirty while doing it. I mean, what does it matter if food falls to the ground or you splatter it all over the place or you get a bunch on your t-shirt? Who will care?

I just made reservations for camping this fall. Naturally thoughts turn next to "do I still have all my camping gear" but also to "what will we eat"? In the past, the food issue would send me into a state of panic: my kitchen and all its gadgetry won't be available to me. If I forget something, too bad.  What if I leave out something important and my meal is ruined? When out in the middle of the forest, running to the market is simply out of the question.

In order to avoid any future panic, I decided there are really just two things to do here: 1) keep it simple, and 2) prep as much as I can at home. If meals could consist of things made in advance and then assembled on site, life would be easier.

When I think of camp food, the first thing that comes to mind is grilling. Typical fare is hot dogs and baked beans, and while those can be tasty, let's face it, they're pretty boring (and likely not that healthy). Dinner can be so much more than that. You can marinate cubed meat, peppers and onions at home in a zip-lock bag and then assemble skewers on site when your grill is hot. By the way, I recommend bringing your own grate to place on top of the crusty barbeque at your campsite. God only knows what's been there before you!

If grilling on any foreign surface worries you, wrap your stuff in foil and place it on the "Q" for not only sealing in juices and speeding the cooking process, but for ease in clean up, too. Other meals that make life easier are one-pot dishes such as Indian curries, Asian stir-fries, arroz con pollo, and risottos. Great ideas as they require little in the way of pots and pans and therefore less clean-up. I mean, who likes doing dishes outdoors in the dark? I've been there and it's no fun.
S'mores: melted chocolate,
gooey marshmallows,
and crunchy
graham crackers
Make desserts ahead of time, such as individual "hand" pies, cookies, or simple cakes, or bring stuff to make s'mores, the quintessential camp dessert.

“Everything-under-the-sun” raw vegetable salads (without lettuce) are a good way to eat your veggies, provided you eat these early in your stay while they're still fresh. Serve them alongside wraps and sandwiches for lunch, eat them alone or with some crusty bread.

Frittatas are great for breakfast. Sauté your veggies in a skillet first and then add the eggs, covering the lot with foil to get the top to set. I know it's cheating, but packets of oatmeal are super easy (all you do is boil water) and have that along with some cut up fruit for a hearty breakfast before a day hike.

And don’t forget snacks for along the way: fruit that doesn’t easily bruise (apples, oranges), trail mix, and granola bars.

Most people pack processed food because it's easier, but it most definitely isn't healthier. I am convinced that eating well and camping are not mutually exclusive. All is takes is a little advance planning and you're ready to enjoy outdoor cooking in the world's most beautiful setting: Nature.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

First Reader Entry: Sun-dried Tomato Pesto

My first Reader Entry is from my mother, who wanted to share her Tomato Pesto recipe. I have been a fan of pesto ever since I first tasted it. It was basil pesto, the one people usually think of, but pesto can be made with sun-dried tomatoes instead. Like fresh basil, sun-dried tomatoes are highly fragrant and make for an intense flavor experience. Nuts and oil are added to bind it together. Usually you'll see pine nuts used, but sometimes cashews or almonds instead. The fun is in experimenting to find out what combination you like best.

Sun-dried tomatoes can be found two ways: dried, or packed in olive oil. If you use them dried, you'll need to take some and immerse them in very hot water for several hours to rehydrate them. The dried variety are more economical but the oil packed variety are usually more flavorful. That's because herbs are also often added to the oil for extra zing. You can make your own oil-packed tomatoes: just rehydrate them in olive oil (use regular "pure olive oil" here and not the "extra virgin") and the herbs of your choosing. Let them sit for a few days or weeks and then enjoy. Either way, if you hydrate them in oil or water, reserve some of the soaking liquid for when you whirl everything together. You may need to add a little of it later to thin it out.

Sun-dried Tomato Pesto a la Mama

1 cup sun-dried tomatoes
1/4 cup pine nuts or slivered almonds
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
a few basil leaves
3/4 to 1 cup extra virgin olive oil

Place tomatoes in a bowl and pour enough hot water over them to just cover. Meanwhile, roast nuts in a dry saute pan until slightly browned. Remove from heat to cool.

Place tomatoes, nuts, garlic, cheese and basil in food processor and process till just smooth. With processor on, add olive oil a little bit at a time until it reaches the consistency of a paste. If it's still too thick but you'd rather not add more oil use a little water instead (a Tbsp. at a time) and only enough until you get the consistency right. You don't want it too thick but you definitely don't want it too thin and you don't want it too oily.

Ideas for using tomato pesto:

Add to cooked linguine and toss, then add a small handful of chopped fresh tomatoes on top and garnish with basil leaves. Or, spread pesto onto crackers for an appetizer, or onto sliced bread for a real flavor boost to a boring old sandwich.

Sun-dried tomato pesto adds a powerful flavor punch to many dishes.

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