cookbook

RECIPE: Chickpea Curry and Cucumber

 
THIS WARM SALAD—chickpeas with cucumbers as a garnish—makes such a tasty one-dish supper. The next day, when I often seem to have more cucumbers than chickpeas left over, I reverse the balance: cucumbers with a little chickpea garnish makes a fantastic lunch.
 
Serves 4, as main dish for dinner
 
Chickpea curry
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil or other cooking oil
1 large onion, halved then sliced
2 tbs finely chopped fresh ginger
1 tsp to 1 tbs chopped jalapeño pepper (optional)
1 cup canned tomatoes, drained and crushed
2 tsp mango powder
1 tbs paprika
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp salt
1 cup water
2 15 oz. cans chickpeas, drained
½ cup finely chopped cilantro (or 1 tbs dried green fenugreek leaves)
 
Cucumber
1 English cucumber, peeled and diced in ½ inch cubes (I used 3 Kirbies since I’d just bought them at the market)
¼ tsp black pepper
½ small red onion, finely chopped
2 to 3 tbs fresh lemon juice
½ to 1 tsp salt
½ cup chopped cilantro
 
Curry
1.     Heat oil in a medium pot on medium high.
2.     Add onion and sauté until lightly browned (up to 8 minutes).
3.     Stir in ginger and jalapeño and sauté for 1 minute.
4.     Add tomatoes, mango powder, paprika, turmeric and salt, stir well and cook for 4 to 5 minutes, or until oil glistens on top.
5.     Pour in water and chickpeas, stir well and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring once or twice.
6.     Stir in cilantro and let curry cool for 30 minutes.
 
Cucumber
1.     In a medium bowl, combine cucumber, black pepper, red onion and lemon juice.
2.     Mix well and refrigerate, covered, until you need it.
3.     Just before serving, add salt and cilantro and toss.
 
Adapted from Vij’s at Home: Relax, Honey: The Warmth & Ease of Indian Cookingby Meeru Dhalwala and Vikram Vij. 
 
 

Browsing the Cookbooks for Monkfish Recipes

I JUST GOT MY WEEKLY E-MAIL FROM MERMAID’S GARDEN, the CSF (Community Supported Fishery) I belong to, telling me what fish had been caught this week for me—and the other 200+ CSF members. Monkfish!   

I will never forget the first time I ate monkfish. We were on the road somewhere in southern France—on the outskirts of Orange, I think, in the Vaucluse—and we stopped at a bistro for dinner. On the menu, under Poisson, was something called lotte.  “What is this lotte?” I inquired. “Une espèce de poisson,” was the reply (“a type of fish”), which was about as helpful as when I had asked—this time in bilingual Montréal—“what is the soupe du jour?” and the answer came back: “the soup of the day.” Really? I’d been hoping for a few more details. For starters, was lotte an ocean fish, from the Mediterranean, a lake, a stream? Was it mackerel cousin or might-as-well-be-Dover-sole? Anyway, I decided to take a leap of faith, and it turned out to be delicious. I’ve eaten it more than a few times since, especially enjoying it in Mediterranean soups and stews.  

This time around, thanks to Bianca and Mark at Mermaid’s Garden, I learn quite a bit more about the fish itself. As they wrote in their e-mail:

“There are a lot of interesting things about Lophius americanus, but perhaps the most curious thing about this fish is what and how it eats. Recently we got an email telling us about a monkfish that was caught with seven ducks in its belly! We passed the news along to a fisherman friend of ours on the Cape, who said, “A monkfish tried to eat my leg once. Did some good damage to my boots.” Turns out that monkfish will eat just about anything they can fit into their gigantic mouths, which may be why another common name for the fish is devilfish. Monkfish are anglers, which means they catch their prey using a lure called an esca that is attached to the top of the fish’s head. Anything that touches the esca triggers an automatic reflex of the monkfish’s jaw. Monkfish like their dinner to come to them, so they mostly spend their time buried into the sea floor or “walking” slowly along it on their sturdy pectoral fins.”     

I also learn from them that in the late 1990s, monkfish populations had become overfished. “This fact, combined with the fact that most monkfish are caught in trawls, which can harm the ocean floor, led to monkfish being an unsustainable choice.” However, today, “monkfish populations exceed target levels, and both trawl and gill net fishermen employ quite a few mechanisms to reduce bycatch.”  

My particular monkfish was gill netted off Montauk on the F/V Sea Devil—pretty funny, considering the fish’s nickname—“by a fisherman who refers to himself as Billy the Kid. Known to others simply as ‘the kid.’ (We are not making this up, Mark and Bianca write, “pinky swear.”)  

Monkfish may be one of the ugliest fish in the sea, but its taste redeems it: fresh, slightly sweet, with a firm texture, it’s been called “poor man’s lobster.” And it’s full of goodness: niacin, vitamins B6 and B12, potassium, as well as being very good source of selenium. It has a gray membrane surrounding the flesh, which your fishmonger can remove, or you can do it yourself (with the help of this video—start at minute 3:10).  

How to Cook It? Knowing that Mediterranean cuisines like to use monkfish, I start browsing my cookbooks and the web, looking for recipes. I find monkfish couscous, roasted monkfish with tomatoes and olives, Andalusian monkfish ragout. Jamie Oliver has what looks like a delicious grilled or roasted monkfish with black olive sauce and lemon mash, just the kind of full-of-Mediterranean-flavors dish I like. Sara Jenkins’s Olives and Oranges, includes a monkfish dish with her wintertime take on Sicilian caponata, made from olives, potatoes and sun-dried tomatoes. I made this the last time we had monkfish, and I’d be happy to eat it again, but I’m in the mood to be adventurous. Mark Usewicz, the chef behind Mermaid’s Garden (Bianca’s a marine biologist) has posted a couple of delicious sounding recipes on Mermaid’s Garden’s Facebook page: Mark’s Monkfish with Clams and Cranberry Beans and Mark’s Fish in Mustard Curry. (I noticed this week that Dave Pasternack’s Il Pesce, Eataly’s fish restaurant, has a monkfish/clam combo on its menu right now, too: Crispy Monkfish Cheeks with Local Clams, Steamers and Meyer Lemon Aioli. The cheeks are quite small and a prized delicacy, I hear.)  

To tell you the truth, these dishes all sound good, making it hard to choose. In the end, though, to take advantage of how super, super fresh I know this fish will be, I decide on Monkfish “Carpaccio,” from Patricia Wells At Home in Provence. The recipe is beyond simple: thinly sliced monkfish, which is then grilled for less than a minute, with only olive oil, lemon juice, chives and sea salt added. I like the idea of the sweet flesh of the fish taking center stage. To accompany it, I’ll make a simple green salad, and I have the perfect bottle of Muscadet Sèvre et Maine, from Domaine de la Pinardière, chilling in the fridge. Crisp, clean tastes all around.

Cooking with Stanley Tucci

 
STANLEY TUCCI WAS AT THE NEIGHBORHOOD BARNES & NOBLE on Friday to promote The Tucci Cookbookand it was more than a little fun. He brought along his mother Joan Tropiano Tucci and his father Stanley Tucci Sr. “the real authors of the book—I’m the fake author” and his wife, literary agent Felicity Blunt (sister of Emily) and his pet dog. Well, no dog actually, or kids, for that matter, but you get the picture. It was very homey, just like I imagine his family’s kitchen has always been. “Cooking is about doing it together, seeing the creative act, that’s what’s binding,” he told us, and you can imagine the fun he and his parents and children all have cooking together. “Then you sit down at the table and see what you’ve produced,” Joan says. “It’s exciting.”
 
 
In a foreword, Mario Batali writes that “Stanley has written a love letter to his mum and dad, to his distant roots in Calabria.” Tucci tells his Barnes & Noble audience, “My mother is an incredible cook,” calling her up to join him at the microphone, “and she learned to cook from her mother.” The book goes into some family history (both sides are Calabrese), with sections written by his mother and father. His father apparently would pause at some point during dinner and always ask, “How does the rest of the world eat?”
 
Tucci and his parents share family recipes that were the inspiration for Big Night, as well as those of Gianni Scappin, of Le Madri, with whom he collaborated on the movie. Tucci has cooked more than once on screen. Did he have any tips for Meryl Streep in Julie & Julia, in which he plays Paul Child? someone asks now. Well, just acting tips. Big laugh. “Seriously, though, Meryl is a great cook, but at one point, she was stirring manicotti and I just couldn’t take it any more. I had to demonstrate how it was done. She said, great, sure….but I have no idea whether she changed anything.”
 
Tucci first started cooking when he was around 12 years old, his mother says. “It was a lasagna bolognese with bechamel.” They all seem to like Stan Sr.’s peaches in red wine. Why not? Sounds like the perfect dessert to me. Tucci shops at Stop & Shop, Joan at Shoprite. She likes to search out Italian products, and has tried a lot of different canned San Marzano tomatoes before settling on, damn, I didn’t quite catch the name. Barilla pasta, or De Cecco are great, “not too starchy,” says Joan.  “And forget the light olive oil; it’s terrible.” When Stanley was growing up, Joan mostly used Filippo Berio extra-virgin olive oil. Tucci uses Frantoia from Sicily.  Now they’re really dishing!

I haven’t had a chance to try any of the recipes yet. I’ll report back when I have. I doubt if timpano (made famous in Big Night) will be the first one I try, although it truly sounds magnifico. Tucci and his family cook it every Christmas. “My most memorable food moment,” says Tucci. 

RECIPE: Smoked Trout with Spicy Arugula and Grapefruit

ACCOMPANIED BY CRUSTY BREAD, this salad makes a fresh light supper in summer, with a lovely contrast in flavors between the salty fish, peppery arugula and the grapefruit. Red or pink grapefruit tend to pack a bigger nutritional punch—especially vitamin A and the antioxidant lycopene—and look prettiest in this salad I think, but when I cut this one open, surprise, surprise, it was white. Better luck next time.

 
1 tbs Dijon mustard
1 tbs red wine vinegar
1 tbs lemon juice
1 large shallot, thinly sliced with a mandoline
1 garlic clove, cut into fine julienne
1 pink grapefruit
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt and coarsely ground black pepper
8 oz smoked trout, flaked into small pieces
5 oz wild arugula (or 2 bunches, washed and torn)
1/2 small red onion, sliced very thinly
 
Whisk together mustard, vinegar, lemon juice, shallot, garlic, 1/2 tsp salt and 1/8 tsp pepper; let sit for 10 minutes
 
Trim off the top and bottom of the grapefruit. With a sharp knife, starting at the top, cut peel and pith from the grapefruit, following the curve of the fruit. Trim away any pith that’s left and then slice out sections of fruit from the membrane, placing in a medium bowl.
 
Add trout, arugula and onion to grapefruit and toss gently. Add dressing and toss to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
 
Adapted from Olives & Oranges: Recipes & Flavor Secrets from Italy, Spain, Cyprus & Beyond, by Sara Jenkins and Mindy Fox.
 

Sometimes a Cookbook Is More Than Just a Cookbook

PANZANELLA DI FARRO, a Tuscan-style tomato salad with farro, from Olives & Oranges, by Sara Jenkins and Mindy Fox, is the recipe that got me started eating farro. At the time, I didn’t know much about farro, except that it was a grain, so making that dish led to all sorts of research and then expeditions all over the city to find it.
 
 
After that, since I travel regularly to Montreal and Toronto, I had to find farro sources in those cities, too, because the salad had become something of an extended family favorite as well. (Travelers: Dinah’s Cupboard in Toronto; Milano Supermarket in Montreal). 
 
 
A bag of farro even made the trip north with us to Georgian Bay (above) and 45 minutes across the water to my brother’s cottage on an island one summer (we’d found wild rice on its shores, but weren’t holding out any hope for farro).
 
All this adventure, thanks to one recipe.
 
Beyond farro, though, that dish introduced me to a whole wonderful world of cooking with chef Sara Jenkins. I’ve been down to Porchetta, her little shop on East 7th Street where she makes herbed roast pork sandwiches that get raves from anyone who’s tried them. And I’m looking forward to more visits to her pasta restaurant, Porsena, in the same neighborhood.
 
But the East Village is not exactly next door, so back to the cookbook. I usually like to cook and eat at home anyway, so I’ve branched out to try other recipes in this very approachable but sophisticated book. Roasted cauliflower with tahini sauce. Orange and mint leaf salad with roasted beets. (Both great for Meatless Monday!) Baked pork chops with peaches (time for this one again, now that peaches are appearing in the market). Spaghetti with lemon sole, almonds, capers and parsley. Monkfish with olives, potatoes, and sun-dried tomatoes. And recently for dinner, smoked trout with arugula salad, pictured here.
 
 
 
 
Along with the recipes, which are helpfully labeled quick-cook and slow-cook, Jenkins shares her knowledge of the Mediterranean pantry and offers flavor tips that make you an all-round smarter Mediterranean cook. I’m still a little obsessed with that farro salad, though. Planning to make it for another family get-together some time soon. Purslane or arugula? We’ll see. 
 
Porchetta
110 East 7th Street  
New York, NY 10009
212-777-2151
 
Porsena
21 East 7th Street  
New York, NY 10003
212-228-4923
 

Mediterraneanista's Holiday List, Part 4

KITCHEN SANITY
 
 
THIS IS THE TIME OF YEAR when I find myself drawn to “getting organized” articles, and only my friend Carol W. surpasses my enthusiasm for new calendars, which for at least a few weeks, I deeply believe must be the key to “New Year, New You!” (I save the old ones, too, but that’s another story.) So I want to be sure you don’t miss the Moleskine Wine Journal, not strictly a calendar, but a way to track what bottle was opened when and avoid those annoying conversations with one’s spouse—what was that Tempranillo we liked? No, wait a minute, wasn’t that the one we couldn’t stand? And the Moleskine Recipe Journal, which like the wine journal is slightly bigger than 5" by 8", has room for squiggles and jottings that are sure to guarantee that the recipe comes out perfectly each time. Think of it as scrapbooking for cooks.
 
CULINARY APPS
If your iPhone is what keeps your life together, it can help out in the kitchen, too. Mediterranean diet–friendly recipes, time-savers and an encyclopedia of cheese—apps for all tastes. 
 
Jamie’s Recipes, free, plus add-ons available for purchase 
Jamie Oliver wants to bring his fresh food revolution to everyone’s household. This follow-up to his hit app 20-Minute Meals covers some of the same ground, but wins fans because of its user-friendly interface, healthy recipes, basic how-to videos and shopping lists.  The free download includes a tasting pack of 10 recipes plus 4 videos, with the option to buy 10 additional packs for $1.99 each.
 
Mario Batali Cooks!  $2.99 (holiday special)
Cook along with Mario as he demos the app’s 63 recipes from different regions of Italy. It’s fun and informative: It also includes videos on technique and kitchen basics, plus advice on wine pairings.
 
All 2,000 recipes from the “less-meatarian” maestro’s big heavy book, with quick conversions of recipes into shopping lists and a built-in timer. Latest update includes holiday menus.
 
Fromage, $2.99
History, production info and wine pairings for 750 cheeses.
 
Scales recipes to more or fewer portions, converts to/from metric.
 
Suggests solutions if you’re in the middle of cooking dinner and suddenly realize you’re missing an ingredient. Latest release includes healthy substitutes, too.
 
 Mediterraneanista’s Holiday Gift Guide:
 

Mediterraneanista's Holiday List, Part 3

SIX COOKBOOKS I ESPECIALLY LIKE
These are the books I find myself turning to again and again, despite all the temptations on bookstore shelves. Chefs and scholars, cooks and storytellers, the authors are the perfect guides for anyone setting out to explore the Mediterranean diet. Perhaps someone you know?
 
by Nancy Harmon Jenkins
My navigator and my anchor in all things Mediterranean. I like her common sense, her knowledge and perspective on the Mediterranean diet and her dishes. And she tells it all so beautifully.
 

by Sara Jenkins and Mindy Fox
OK, so I try not to cook out of this book every night, but it’s hard to resist because the dishes are exciting—and doable—and Jenkins, chef-owner of Porchetta and the just-opened Porsena, writes intelligently so you’re always learning—about cooking, ingredients, culinary traditions—as you go along.
 
by Martha Rose Shulman
This Martha’s recipes were my early inspiration for a new (for me) Mediterranean way of eating. Thank god they’re now in a book so I can throw out my stained computer printouts from her online column—and keep wowing my guests with the cooking.
 
by Clifford A. Wright
An 800-page intellectual and culinary feast, indeed. If you like the stories of history—and good recipes to boot, this is the book for you. Wright was inspired to do his culinary study, in part, by Fernand Braudel’s landmark history of the Mediterranean. Now Wright inspires us.
 
by Mario Batali and Mark Ladner
Despite the famous photo of Batali with a string of sausages around his neck, in this book he shares lots of easy-to-make dishes starring vegetables and grains. I’ve especially enjoyed the salads and vegetable antipasti. Not a vegetarian cookbook, by any means, but we hear that’s coming next.
 
by Claudia Roden
Born and raised in Cairo, Roden shares recipes for tagines, eggplant dishes, mezze—all informed by her deep background in Middle Eastern cooking (her 1972 A Book of Middle Eastern Food was a groundbreaker) and the stories she has to tell.
 
 
So many cookbooks, so little time—I know I have so much more to explore. Do you have a favorite cookbook full of recipes for a Mediterranean diet? (With inspired ideas for vegetables and fruits, grains and legumes, and, of course, a great love of olive oil.) Let us know in the comments box below. Here’s what I plan to dig into next. Maybe you already have?
 
Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table
Paula Wolfert’s Mediterranean Clay Pot Cooking 

 
In case you need other gift ideas with a Mediterranean flavor:
Mediterraneanista’s Holiday List, Part 1
Mediterraneanista’s Holiday List, Part 2
 
 
 

Cookbooks I Like: The Very Best of Recipes for Health

A couple of years ago when I first got interested in the traditional Mediterranean diet, I began experimenting with dinners composed of several smaller vegetable or grain dishes, rather than the meat+sides approach that I was used to. I liked a lot of vegetables just straight up, but was looking for ideas to give these meals some pizzazz.
 
My earliest inspiration for these Mediterranean menu adventures came from Martha Rose Shulman, whose “Recipes for Health” column at NYTimes.com always seemed to have a good answer to “What’s for dinner?”—flavor-packed suggestions for dishes using that week’s farm produce. In fact, I remember the exact menu that made my husband and I look at each other at the end of the meal and say, ‘wow, this really is a delicious way to eat, let’s do more of this.’ And we have.
 
That night, in what now reads like an Ode to Yogurt, I’d made Mediterranean Beets and Yogurt SaladMiddle Eastern Spinach With Spices and Yogurt, and, because I had leeks, and because it’s delicious, Julia Child’s braised leeks, which, I confess, involves a very un-Mediterranean quantity of butter. We ate the dishes one by one (with the leeks in between the two yogurt dishes as I recall), savoring the sweet of the beets paired with the garlicky yogurt, the velvety leeks, the spinach and its Middle Eastern spices. It was a culinary trip to faraway places, all at our own dinner table.
 
Since then, I’ve cooked dozens of Shulman’s recipes, for family dinners or to impress guests. They’re low-fuss and high-impact. Along the way I’ve built up quite a collection of spattered printouts from the column, which I stuff in a binder and have never gotten around to organizing. Now I’m delighted that the organizing has been done for me: Shulman has collected 250 of her favorites in a book, The Very Best of Recipes for Health, just out from Rodale Books, with beautiful photos by Andrew Scrivani, who also photographs the Times column.
 
I like the way the book is organized around themes such as breakfast, vegetarian main courses, salads, and pasta and risotto. A dietary index conveniently cross-references recipes under topics like gluten-free, low-calorie, or high in omega-3s, while a general index makes it easy to find recipes by ingredient. Shulman includes a useful section on the well-stocked pantry—I’ve found that putting together a Mediterranean pantry of my own (more on that later) is part of what makes it easy and pleasurable for me to keep exploring this new way of eating. 
 
To celebrate this Meatless Monday, here’s one of my favorite recipes from Shulman’s new book:
 
 
Corn and Vegetable Gratin with Cumin
By Martha Rose Shulman
 
Serves 6
 
1 tbs extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 medium red bell pepper, diced
Salt
1 large garlic clove, minced
1/2 lb zucchini, thinly sliced or diced
Freshly ground pepper
Kernels from 2 ears sweet corn (about 2 cups)
3 large eggs
1/2 cup 1% milk
1 tsp cumin seeds, lightly toasted and coarsely ground in a spice mill, or slightly crushed in a mortar and pestle
1/2 cup (2 oz) grated Gruyère cheese
 
1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Oil a 2-quart gratin or baking dish. Set aside the kernels from one of the ears of corn. Heat the olive oil in a large, nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the onion. Cook, stirring often, until it begins to soften, about 3 minutes. Add the bell pepper and a generous pinch of salt. Cook, stirring often, until the onions and peppers are tender, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and zucchini, stir together, and add another generous pinch of salt and some pepper. Cook, stirring often, until the zucchini is just beginning to look bright green and some of the slices are translucent. Stir in half of the corn kernels. Stir together for 1 or 2 minutes, and remove from the heat. Scrape into a large bowl.
 
2. Place the eggs, milk, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and remaining corn kernels in a blender. Blend until smooth. Pour into the bowl with the vegetables. Add the cumin and the cheese, and stir everything together. Scrape into the gratin dish.
 
3. Bake 35 to 40 minutes, or until the top is browned and the gratin is firm to the touch. Serve hot or warm.

Advance preparation: The vegetable filling can be prepared a day ahead and kept in the refrigerator.
 
From The Very Best of Recipes for Health: 250 Recipes and More from the Popular Feature on NYTimes.com © 2010 by Martha Rose Shulman, published by Rodale Books.

What Is the Mediterranean Diet?

It’s not a diet as in “regimen to lose weight.”

It’s a diet in the sense of a customary pattern of eating—in this case, the traditional eating patterns of people living around the Mediterranean Sea.

Documented in the famous Seven Countries Study led by Ancel Keys, MD, in the 1960s, these eating habits (particularly in Crete) were found to have all sorts of health benefits that have been confirmed and expanded on in many subsequent scientific studies. (More about that later).

The word diet, in fact, comes from Greek diaita—literally, manner of living. That sums up the Mediterranean diet perfectly. The food pyramid devised by Oldways, a culinary think-tank that has played a central role in bringing the Med diet mainstream in this country, tells the story. 

Moving up from the base of the pyramid, here are the basics:  

Sit down to meals with others. Linger over them with friends and family. Dance a little (or a lot). Or walk, run, cycle…
 
Bring fresh vegetables to the center of your plate. Eat an abundance of plants—vegetables, fruits, grains (mostly whole), pulses (legumes like beans and lentils), nuts, seeds, fruit as daily dessert.
 
Substitute olive oil for other fats (margarine, butter) as your major fat.
 
Eat fish, seafood, poultry a couple of times a week (especially fish).
 
Add some every-other-day-or-so eggs, cheese and yogurt.
 
Eat red meat less often (a few times a month).
 
Drink wine with meals (in moderation—one or two glasses for men, one for women), unless it puts you at risk, of course.

You’ll find more details about the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid here.

 
Choose your flavor. If you take a look at a map of the Mediterranean—and the 15-plus countries along its shores—it’s not surprising that the Med diet expresses itself in all sorts of flavors and cuisines. 
 
 
 
The common patterns are there, yes, but they take on the character of many different lands and cultures—North African tagines and couscous, taboulleh and falafel from Lebanon, Egypt, Israel, Greek mezes, Italian risotto, Provençal ratatouille and bouillabaisse, Catalan chickpea and chorizo stew. Clearly, the Mediterranean diet is no one set of dishes, but rather an approach to eating, adaptable to many different tastes and local produce—especially your own. That’s why your local farmers’ market is a good place to start!
 
One of the best introductions you could get to the Med diet is The New Mediterranean Diet Cookbook, by Nancy Harmon Jenkins, first published in 1994. I have the revised and updated 2009 edition, which has a foreword by nutrition professor Marion Nestle and an appendix by two longtime researchers on the link between diet and health. Jenkins is a great storyteller and cook. She’s lived and worked in Mediterranean countries for years, and so she brings to life the culture—and shares the recipes—of this world. But her common-sense approach makes it work for this North American cook, too. 

 

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