Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Romesco Sauce

It's official. I am obsessed with Romesco sauce. It's just so delicious - a toasty blend of almonds and savory ingredients - perfect as a dip for crudite, a sauce for roasted veggies, or a topping for a veggie burger. Make some and enjoy!

1 slice crusty country bread (such as panella)

olive oil for frying

1/2 cup blanched almonds, toasted

1 clove garlic

1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

4 ripe plum tomatoes

1 tablespoon parlsey

1 teaspoon sweet paprika

1 red bell pepper, roasted and peeled

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and freshly ground pepper

Toast almonds in a hot oven, and set aside. Fry bread in a little olive oil, and set aside to cool. When almonds and bread have cooled, place them in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Add garlic and red pepper flakes. Pulse 5 or six times to combine. Add tomatoes, parsley, paprika, roasted bell pepper and apple cider vinegar. Turn the machine on and process to combine well. With the machine running, add olive oil. Taste and season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Sauce can be made in advance and refrigerated for up to 48 hours.

Vegetable Stock

Did you know that those little boxes of vegetable stock at the supermarket are, like, $3 each? Or more? So that every time you want to make a pot of soup, someone is getting $6 of your hard-earned cash! And those stocks in a box or can DON'T EVEN TASTE GOOD! I suggest that you declare your freedom from nasty stock in a box. All you need is a freezer, a plastic bag or large container, a pot, water, and some herbs that you probably already have lying around anyway.

Here's what you need to do: Whenever you are chopping vegetables, save the scraps. I particularly try to save the scraps from onions, carrots and celery, as that will form the base of your stock. Save the skins from the onions, too, as they lend a nice golden color, like Grandma's chicken soup. You also want to save your parsley stems, as well as the scraps from any of the following "stock-friendly" veggies: tomatoes, mushroom stems, zucchini, red or yellow bell peppers (no green! yuck!), leeks, potato peels. Avoid the cruciferous vegetables - cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and the like - as well as asparagus, as they will lend a dominant and somewhat unpleasant flavor.

When your scrap bag is full, and you are doing other stuff around the house for a few hours, it's time to make stock. Aim for a ratio of one part onions, one part carrots and celery, and one part "other stuff". I usually throw in a fresh onion, as well as some fresh carrot and celery. I also like to add a splash of tamari, a bay leaf, a few branches of thyme, and a few peppercorns. If I have dried mushrooms in the house, either porcini or shiitake, I will include a small handful of those as well.

Now add your veggies to your biggest soup pot, fill it with water, bring to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer. At this point you can go do other stuff. Unlike animal-based stocks, you don't need to worry about standing around skimming it all day, as there won't be any impurities to remove. Your stock is done when you say it's done, usually after about three or four hours of simmering at a very low flame.

I like to cool the entire pot in a sink full of ice water, and then let the whole thing sit in the fridge overnight before straining. This is partly because I am lazy, and partly because I think it develops nice flavor that way. Once you've strained your cooled stock, pack it into freezer-safe quart-sized containers (such as glass jars -don't forget to leave an inch of head space at the top of the jar to prevent cracked glass and ruined stock!), and freeze what you won't be using within the next four days.

Voila - instant stock, nearly free, and you get to stick it to The Man when you stop buying all those $3 boxes of the nasty stuff.

Red Lentil Soup

A few weeks ago, my friend Janet took me on a tour of the Middle Eastern markets of Paterson, NJ. After wandering around grocery stores, spice markets, bakeries that are also jewelry stores (!), and shops with gorgeous samovars, textiles and aisle after aisle of extremely impressive hookas, we stopped for lunch at a lovely Turkish restaurant. The waiter found my questions regarding ingredients somewhat amusing, and served me a big, beatiful salad and a bowl of utterly delicious lentil soup. The soup service was absolutely charming, with lemon slices, tiny bowls of crunchy croutons, dried crushed mint, and crushed red pepper, all ready for me to garnish it as I liked. Here is my version of the soup, spiced my way and open to your own interpretation.

To serve 6-8:

1/4 cup olive oil
2 medium yellow onions, finely diced
2 teaspoons coriander, toasted and ground
1 teaspoon cumin, toasted and ground
1 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon ras el hanout
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
8 cups light vegetable stock
2 cups red lentils, rinsed and picked over
1 cup short-grain rice (such as Arborio)
1/2 cup crushed, peeled tomatoes
juice of 1/2 lemon
white wine, to taste
salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
water, as needed

Heat oil in a your favorite soup pot. Add onions, coriander, cumin, turmeric, ras el hanout, and crushed red pepper. Saute, stirring often, until onions are very soft. Add vegetable stock, lentils, rice and tomatoes. Cook over medium-low heat for about 25 minutes, or until rice and lentils are very soft. Add lemon juice and a splash of white wine. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper. If the soup is too thick for your liking, thin it with a bit of water. If you want to be fancy, you can puree the soup in the blender or with an immersion blender, or you can just serve it the way it is.

Serve hot with little bowls of lemon slices, crushed dried mint, crushed red pepper, and toasted croutons or fried pita.

Falafel Burgers

Yum - try this easy falafel burger for a quick weeknight dinner. Serve it on a whole wheat bun with lettuce, tomato and tahini, or on a warm pita with a salad of cucumbers, tomatoes and red onion sprinkled with lemon juice and ground sumac. And, yes, you do need all that olive oil. Trust me.

The following recipe will make 4-6 burgers.

1/4 cup olive oil
2 medium yellow onions, minced
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
salt and freshly ground pepper
2 14.5 oz cans chick peas, drained and rinsed
juice from 1/2 lemon
1 cup fine dry bread crumbs
safflower or canola oil for frying

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Heat oil over medium-high heat in a medium saute pan. Add onion and cumin. Saute, stirring often, until softened and golden. Add cinnamon, and season with salt and pepper. Remove from heat.

In a food processor fitted with the blade attachment, puree chick peas with onion mixture and lemon juice. Stir bread crumbs in by hand. Taste and adjust seasonings. You might want a little more cinnamon.

Use an ice-cream scoop or your hands to form 4-6 equal patties, flattening with your hand to about 4 inches.

Heat 2-3 tablespoons canola or safflower oil in a non-stick skillet. Saute burgers in hot oil, turning once, about three minutes per side. Place in oven for 5-10 minutes, or until very hot.