January 13, 2010

roast pepper, tomato & apple salad

Who knew that throwing some apples in with roasted red peppers (capsicums) and tomatoes could taste so fabulous? That touch of sweet fruit in amongst the chili and garlic makes all the difference. I made this salad as part of my Arabian Nights feast, and it all vanished quickly.

Roast Pepper, Tomato & Apple Salad
adapted from Claudia Roden's Arabesque

3 fleshy red bell peppers (capsicums)
1 large onion, sliced in wedges
3 to 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 lb (450g) tomatoes, peeled and chopped
1 or 2 chili peppers, left whole
salt and black pepper
2 sweet apples (such as Golden Delicious)

Place the peppers (capsicums) on a sheet of foil on an oven tray under a preheater broiler (grill), 2.5 to 3.5 inches from the heat. Turn them until their skins are black and blistered all over. Alternatively - and more easily - roast them in the hottest oven for about 30 minutes, or until they are soft and their skins blistered and blackened, turning them once after 15 minutes.

To loosen the skins further, put them in a strong plastic bag, twist in shut, and leave for 10 to 15 minutes. When the peppers are cool enough to handle, peel them and remove and discard the stems and seeds. Now cut the peppers lengthwise into ribbons.

In a wide pan, fry the onion in 2 tablespoons of olive oil over a medium heat, stirring often until they are lightly coloured. Add the garlic and stir until it just begins to colour, then add the tomatoes and chili peppers. Season with salt and pepper and cook gently for about 20-30 minutes.

Leaving the peel on, core the apples, quarter them, and then halve each quarter. Stir the red pepper ribbons into the onion mixture, then add the apple slices. Cook gently until the apples are tender, adding a little water if the pan becomes too dry.

Serve cold, drizzled with the remaining olive oil.

January 11, 2010

chickpea & yoghurt salad

Another dish I made for my Arabian Nights feast: a smooth, flavourful salad of chickpeas with yoghurt, cumin, coriander (cilantro) and mint. Using fresh chickpeas would make this even tastier; just make sure you soak them overnight. I sprinkled this with pomegranate seeds just before serving - pretty and delicious.

Chickpea & Yoghurt Salad

400g (14 oz) tin chickpeas, well rinsed and drained
3/4 cup plain Greek yoghurt
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp caster (superfine) sugar (or ordinary sugar)
1 small handful coriander (cilantro) leaves, roughly chopped
1 small handful mint leaves, roughly chopped
1 tsp salt
pomegranate seeds (optional)

Mix the chickpeas, yoghurt, ground cumin, sugar, coriander, mint and salt in a bowl and stir to combine thoroughly. Adjust the seasoning if necessary, cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving. Sprinkle with pomegranate seeds to serve.

January 8, 2010

turkish meatballs: lamb with mint & cinnamon, beef with parsley & cumin

These were the only non-vegetarian element of my Arabian Nights feast: two varieties of tasty meatballs with a Turkish twist, both served in a sticky, garlicky tomato sauce. The first kind match lamb with mint (I love that flavour combination) and the tiniest taste of cinnamon, while the second variety combine beef with even stronger flavours: cumin, parsley and pine nuts. I love pine nuts in meatballs; I also love them lightly toasted and scattered over dishes like this, and couscous.

There's no need to make both kinds for the one feast, of course. I did things this way because I wanted to experiment, and I couldn't tell you which flavour I prefer. They're both great. They'd be a tasty ordinary meal as well, served with rice and a salad, and although there's the bother of shaping each individual meatball, they cook very easily in the oven and then in the sauce. And the sauce itself is really simple to prepare.

If you're making this dish as part of a feast, it's a good one to get started on early, although of course you don't have to. I put together the meat mixture the day before and refrigerated it; the cold mix was easier to form into meatballs on the day of the meal. I also made the sauce the day before, which I'm sure only improved the flavour.

Turkish Meatballs
adapted from Claudia Roden's Arabesque

For the tomato sauce:

1 small onion, chopped
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 chili pepper, seeded and chopped, or 1/2-1 tsp dried chili flakes
1.5 lbs (680g) tomatoes, peeled and chopped
salt and black pepper
1 to 2 tsp sugar

For lamb meatballs:

1 lb (450g) ground (minced) lamb
salt and black pepper
1/2 a small onion, very finely chopped
handful of finely chopped mint
1/2 tsp cinnamon

For beef meatballs:

1 lb (450g) ground (minced) beef
salt and black pepper
1/2 a small onion, very finely chopped
handful of finely chopped parsley
1 tsp ground cumin
handful pine nuts

olive oil

To make the meatballs, season the meat with salt and pepper and work into a soft paste with your hands. Add the onion, mint and cinnamon to the lamb, and the onion, parsley, pine nuts and cumin to the beef. Form into small walnut sized balls with your hands.

Put some olive oil in a soup plate or shallow bowl. Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F.

Roll each meatball in the oil, then place in a baking dish. Bake for 15-25 minutes, until their colour changes.

To make the tomato sauce, fry the onion in the oil until soft. Add the garlic and chili pepper (or dried chili flakes), and stir for a moment or two. Put in the tomatoes, season with salt, pepper and sugar, and cook over a medium heat for 10 minutes, until they soften and the sauce is reduced. You want a sticky sauce that isn't particularly liquid.

Add the meatballs, and cook for a further 15-20 minutes. Serve immediately, sprinkled with extra pine nuts.

January 7, 2010

moroccan sweet potato salad

This warm salad, which I served as part of my Arabian Nights feast, would also be fabulous with a roast chicken (maybe smeared with some harissa) and pilaf rice.

Moroccan Sweet Potato Salad
adapted from Claudia Roden, Arabesque

1 large onion, coarsely chopped
5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 lb (450g) sweet potatoes, peeled
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp paprika
juice of 1/2 lemon
2 tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley
6 or 7 green olives (optional)

Fry the onion in 2 tablespoons of oil until golden. Cut the sweet potatoes into pieces (about 1-inch cubes), add to the pan, and barely cover with water. Add the ginger, cumin, paprika, a little salt, and 2 more tablespoons of oil. Cook until the potato pieces are tender, about 20 minutes - keep watch so that they don't suddenly fall apart. The liquid should reduce to a sauce, but I found that I had more than I needed.

Serve at room temperature, mixed with the olives (if using - I just don't like olives!), and sprinkled with lemon juice, the remaining olive oil, and the chopped parsley.

moroccan carrot salad

A simple, delicious way of dressing carrots to go with the rest of my Arabian Nights feast.

Moroccan Carrot Salad
adapted from Barry Vera's Feast Bazaar

500g (1lb 2 oz) carrots, peeled and sliced into 5mm (1.4 in) rounds
60ml (1/4 cup) white wine vinegar
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp paprika
1 1/2 tsp caster (superfine) sugar (or ordinary sugar)
2 tbsp lemon juice
1-2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 handful coriander (cilantro) leaves, roughly chopped
sea salt, to taste

Cook the carrots in a large saucepan of boiling, salted water until just tender (5-10 minutes). Drain and refresh in cold water, then drain again.

In a bowl, mix together the vinegar, cumin, paprika and sugar. Taste, and add extra virgin olive oil until you like the mix. Stir in the carrots, making sure they're well coated with the spice mixture. Then mix in the lemon juice and coriander (cilantro), season with sea salt, and serve.

January 6, 2010

arabian nights feast

I haven't really talked about this on O Pistachio before, but one of my favourite things about cooking is putting together sumptuous menus and spending days planning, shopping for and cooking them, only to watch my friends eat everything in a couple of hours. I'm less interested in perfectly curated three/six/ten course meals, though they can be fun (and I admire people who can pull them off); I'm more excited by tables laden with food that everyone can help themselves from.

The kind of food I love to make for this kind of event is a mix of things from countries like Morocco, Spain, Lebanon, Turkey, Syria and Iran - anywhere with an Arab influence in the national cuisine. I love the way this food manages to feel extravagant and healthy all at the same time (perfect new year food), and it looks so beautiful on the table sprinkled with herbs and pomegranate seeds. It caters for all tastes, too - most of it's vegan, but you can include one or two meat dishes. And most importantly, it tastes fantastic.

So, over the next few days, I'm going to post the menu of an Arabian Nights dinner party I held recently, including recipes for Moroccan carrots with cumin and coriander, Turkish lamb meatballs with mint and cinnamon, and chickpeas with yoghurt and pomegranate seeds. And I'm starting with my go-to couscous recipe from the queen of this kind of cooking, Claudia Roden.

from Claudia Roden, Arabesque

This is Claudia Roden's method for preparing the precooked couscous that's available in most supermarkets. It's nice to make in the dish you'll serve it in, complete with its broth, but I also like to pile couscous up on a platter and sprinkle it with coriander (cilantro) and toasted pine nuts or almonds. This amount should serve about 6 people.

You always need the same amount of salted water as couscous.

Put 2.5 cups couscous in an oven dish. Gradually add 2.5 cups warm salted water, made with 1/2 to 1 tsp salt, stirring vigorously so that the water is absorbed evenly. Leave it to swell for about 10 minutes. Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F.

After the couscous has swelled, mix in 2 tablespoons oil and rub the couscous between your hands above the bowl to air it and break up any lumps. That's the important part.

Bake the couscous for 20 minutes, or until it is steaming hot. Before serving, work in 3 tablespoons of butter cut into small pieces, or 2 to 3 tablespoons of oil, and fluff it up again, breaking up any lumps.

January 3, 2010

pear & ginger crumble cake

On January 3 2009 - one year ago today - I lived in a small town in New Hampshire. There had been snow on the ground since October, and all the revelry of Christmas and New Year was over. I was left with a great deal of washing up, all kinds of vows to de-tox, and my new year's resolutions, one of which was to start the food blog I'd been thinking about for years. On January 3, I stopped thinking, joined blogger, and made my very first post. I remember thinking at the time how incredibly awkward the first post of a blog is. I'm so glad I persisted through that awkwardness!

This recipe for pear and ginger crumble cake is sort of cheating, because it's a leftover from my time in New Hampshire, but that seemed appropriate for this anniversary. I cooked it in the spring, which is why the photos are full of frothy blossoms. It's one of the last things I made in that apartment, actually, and the photos and recipe were sort of lost during a summer in England and the busy transition to Texan life. This is a New England sort of cake, too. It's not too sweet - just comforting and crumbly and perfect with a cup of tea.

Thank you so much for reading O Pistachio throughout the past year - it's been encouraging, scary and lovely all at once. I'm looking forward to all the tastiness of the year ahead. Happy 2010 to you all!

Pear & Ginger Crumble Cake
adapted from Tamasin Day-Lewis' rhubarb & ginger crumble cake in Tamasin's Kitchen Classics

serves 8

For the crumble:
110g / 4oz plain flour
4 tbsp light muscovado sugar
85g/3oz unsalted butter

For the fruit:
750g / 1lb pears
1 tsp ground dried ginger root

For the cake:
170g / 6oz unsoftened, unsalted butter
170g / 6oz white sugar
1/2 tsp of vanilla
3 eggs, beaten
170g / 6oz plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp milk

Preheat the oven to 190°C/375°F/gas 5. Butter a 25cm / 10in springform cake tin and line the base with baking parchment. Pulse all the crumble ingredients together briefly until they cohere in a crumbly way. Toss the chopped pear with the ginger in a bowl.

Beat the butter and sugar for the cake together with an electric beater until they are pale and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, a little at a time, sprinkling in a tablespoon of sifted flour when you have added about half the beaten egg to stop it curdling. Sift in the rest of the flour and baking powder and fold in gently but thoroughly. Fold in the milk.

Peel the pears and chop into 1cm / 1/2 inch chunks. Mix with the ginger.

Scrape the cake mixture into the cake tin. Follow with the pears, and sprinkle the crumble on top. Bake for about an hour. The crumble should be golden and crunchy and the pear cooked through by then. Place on a rack and cool for 15 minutes, then either release the spring and unmould the cake to serve warm with cream, or leave until cold to turn out and eat for tea.