June 27, 2013

Orange Flower Glazed Beets

Beets have a bit of that love 'em or hate 'em thing going on. Judging by the lingering trend of beet salads in restaurants along the west coast, I'm guessing a lot more people love them than not - although I'm betting certain vegetarians I know are a little tired of beet-salad-as-token-veggie-item on the menu.

Happily, there are other things you can do with beets other than salad-izing them (although this recipe would be awesome as part of a salad. I'm just saying). Borscht is a perennial favourite, of course, and pickled beets are still a very good plate-finisher, for those times when you just want a little extra splash of colour and another vegetable on the plate. While technically still a salad, Ethiopian Beet & Potato Salad is a very different creature from the leaf-based beet salad offerings in these parts, which may or may not sport feta, gorgonzola, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, or all of the above.

Orange flower water gives this a slightly exotic, yet hard to define quality that feels quite elegant. Orange flower water can be found at most Middle Eastern groceries, and some regular supermarkets, too. It is usually stored right next to the more commonly known (around here) rose water, so if you ask for it and get a blank, ask for the rose water, and then look to see what else they have. Come to think of it, these might be pretty good with rose water, too. Hmm.

These are pretty easy to make, and best of all, they are delicious hot or cold, so go ahead and make a full batch.

Orange Flower Glazed Beets
Adapted from Simply Recipes

2 pounds red beets, small or medium in size
Olive oil
Kosher salt
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons sugar
1 tablespoon orange flower water
pinch of white pepper

Wash your beets and peel them. I recommend using a good vegetable peeler or small sharp knife, and peel them under running cold water, collecting the peels in a sieve or colander. Then, simply shake the excess water off of the peelings, dump them into your compost bucket (or a bag to go into your garbage, or however you dispose of such things).

Slice your beets into wedges, and lay them out on a big sheet of heavy duty foil that has been lightly oiled with olive oil. Sprinkle sparingly with salt, and fold the foil sheet into a pouch, sealing the edges well. put the pouch on a big baking sheet (if you're clever, you might start with the baking sheet already under the foil), and pop it into the oven for 45 minutes at 400 F, or until the beets are tender. Test them at that point by sliding a knife into one (right through the foil) to see if they're done. If not (unlikely) let them cook another fifteen minutes, and try again.

When the beets are done, take them out of the oven and peel back the foil so that they start to cool down. Be careful about the steam when you open the foil - it can burn you quite badly. I use a long handled fork to tear my foil open.

While the beets are resting, put the vinegar, sugar, orange flower water, a pinch of salt, and white pepper in a skillet, and cook over high until it becomes thick and glaze-like. Turn off the heat, and add the beets to the skillet, stirring them gently around until they are completely coated with the glaze. Taste, carefully, because liquid sugar is really darn hot, and adjust for salt if necessary. Transfer to a serving bowl and serve warm, or allow to cool, and chill until needed.

June 18, 2013

Khoresht e Gharch: Persian Chicken & Mushroom Stew

I've been wanting to make this for ages, but somehow just haven't found the time, until now. The egg yolks make for a luxurious tasting sauce, sharpened slightly by the lemon juice and deepened by the brewed saffron. Do take the time to brew the saffron as indicated rather than simply throwing in a big pinch of the threads. It diffuses the flavour more thoroughly through the rest of the dish, and makes for a more even golden tone throughout.

Khoresht e Gharch
Persian Chicken Stew with Mushrooms
Adapted from My Persian Kitchen

Total Prep & Cooking Time: 65 minutes
Serves 8

8 chicken thighs, bone in, skin on
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
2 medium yellow onions, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced or crushed
½ cup water
600 grams mushrooms, chopped
1 tablespoon unbleached flour
Large pinch of saffron, brewed
¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon olive oil, divided
2 large egg yolks

Dice the onion fairly finely, and mince or crush the garlic. In a large pot, such as a dutch oven, sauté the onion and garlic in a half-tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat, until golden and translucent.

Season the chicken pieces with kosher salt. Scrape onion to the sides of the pot, and add the chicken pieces, skin side down. Cook for about 3 minutes on each side, then add ½ cup of water, stir well, cover, and cook on medium-low heat for 30 minutes.

While the chicken and onions cook, brew the saffron and prepare the mushrooms. To brew saffron, grind it (along with a pinch of salt) with a mortar and pestle until powdered. Put the powder in a small bowl or measuring cup, and add a couple of tablespoons of hot (recently boiled) water. Let it stand until you are ready to use it.

To prepare the mushrooms, clean and coarsely chop the mushrooms of your choice (removing any woody bits). Sauté the mushrooms in a half-tablespoon of oil over high heat, until their juices come out, and continue to cook until the liquid evaporates. Sprinkle the flour over the mushrooms and season with a little salt and pepper. Stir well, continuing to cook, and continue to stir and cook until it is well combined.

Add brewed Saffron and lemon juice to chicken and stir thoroughly. Add the mushrooms, and continue simmering (uncovered, now) for about 10 minutes. Beat the egg yolks in a bowl and carefully temper them with a bit of the hot liquid from the stew. Add the tempered egg yolks to the pot and continue cooking for another 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste, and adjust salt and pepper if necessary.

Serve over rice.

June 13, 2013

Persian Carrot & Apple Salad

I found this recipe online whilst looking for a side dish to serve with a Persian chicken and mushroom stew. It is very quick to make, and falls somewhere into coleslaw territory. It is a little sweet, from both the natural sweetness of the main ingredients plus a little added sugar, but it balances a savoury meal beautifully. Using a vegetable peeler to shred the carrots is surprisingly time consuming and fiddly to do, as you get down to the last bit, but it makes such pretty strips of carrot that it is hard to resist doing it that way. Do not be tempted to add salt to the dressing or salad, as it will pull all of the moisture out of the carrot and apple, pooling into a soggy mess.

Persian Carrot & Apple Salad
adapted from Persian Style Carrot Salad recipe on Food.com

Serves 3

2 carrots, peeled and shredded with a vegetable peeler
1 Granny Smith apple, peeled and shredded
30 grams slivered almonds, toasted
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon sugar

Peel the carrots with a vegetable peeler, then continue to use the peeler to take long thin shavings of carrot until the carrot is completely shredded. Peel the Granny Smith (or other tart, green apple) with a knife or peeler, and shred on the coarse side of a box grater.

Combine the olive oil, lemon juice, cumin, cinnamon and sugar. and pour over the carrot and apple mixture. Toss well with a fork (or two) to ensure that all of the strands are coated with the seasoning mixture.

Toast the almonds in a small skillet over medium heat until golden brown and fragrant. Sprinkle over the salad, and serve.

If you are making the salad a few hours ahead, reserve the almonds until you are ready to serve, so they maintain their crisp texture.

June 05, 2013

Rolled Oat Bread

I love the smell, taste, and texture of fresh bread. I also love the satisfaction that comes with the dramatic transformation of water, grain, salt, and oil into a glorious new form that somehow connects us back through generations untold. Sure, we have some fancy equipment to make the process easier, now, but if you want, you can still easily do the whole process old-school; the satisfaction is there either way.

This loaf of bread uses wheat flour, but also relies heavily on rolled oats for its mass. This makes for a bread that is a bit lower on the glycemic index than a straight wheat flour bread, if that interests you. It also makes for a heartier, more filling bread, which is excellent either for toasting in the morning (or whenever you toast your bread), or for sandwich making. It's sturdy enough to provide a mighty raft for baked beans or fried eggs, or whatever else you might like to pile on it. It's delicious enough that it can be eaten purely on its own (or, for those inclined, with a skim of butter). The crumb is airy and tender, but with a little chew from the oats. It also has a slightly dark note from the use of walnut oil. You can make it even healthier by using stoneground whole wheat flour in place of the unbleached white.

There is a lot of rising time for this bread, which is part of the reason for the wonderful flavour. So plan to make it on a day when you don't need to be out and about (although you can dash out briefly, if needed, in some of the rising phases). You will note the fairly small amount of yeast required to make two big loaves - this is because "the longer the rise, the less yeast you need". Economical!

Rolled Oat Bread
Adapted from Breadtime Stories by Susan Jane Cheney

Makes 2 Loaves
Time commitment: 6 - 7 hours

3 cups water
1 cup old fashioned rolled oats
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons walnut oil (or toasted sesame oil)
1 teaspoon active dry yeast
5 1/4 cups unbleached wheat flour

Boil 2 cups of water and pour over the oats. Stir in the salt and oil, and let cool to room temperature while you make the sponge.

Heat 1 cup water until lukewarm, and place in a big preheated mixing bowl. Sprinkle with a tablespoon of flour, and mix well. Sprinkle the yeast over the water and wait 15 minutes for the yeast to prove.

If/when the yeast proves, add a cup of the flour and beat the mixture at least a hundred strokes. Set in a draft-free area, covered, and let a sponge develop - about 50 - 60 minutes. I put it inside the oven (with the oven light on, if it's a chilly day).

Combine the oat mixture and the sponge. Add the rest of the flour (or as much of it as needed to make a dough), and knead the dough until it is smooth and elastic. Shape the dough into a large ball, and place in a large oiled bowl to rise for about 2 hours. (this is your one opportunity to run out of the house, should you need to). Press the air out of the dough, and let it rise again, this time for just 1 hour. Press the air out again, shape into loaves, place in oiled bread pans, and let rise until the dough has not-quite doubled (about 45 minutes). Let the bread rise on the countertop, during which time you can pre-heat the oven to 350 F with the rack in the middle. If you like, brush the tops of the loaves with an egg wash, or rub them with a little of olive oil.

Bake the loaves for about 60 minutes, until the loaves are brown, with firm sides, and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. De-pan the bread onto racks and let them cool completely before bagging up to store. Leave the loaves for at least 15 minutes after they come out of the oven before slicing (I'm assuming that you won't be able to resist having some warm, fresh bread, because I never can).