July 2009 archive

Muhammara – A Treat for a Birthday Girl!


A couples of years ago on the Fourth of July, I made tons of Middle Eastern food for our celebration – hummus, tandoori chicken, pita bread, baba ghanoush and muhammara.  July 4th always consists of some kind of grilling, some kind of boozy beverage and watching the fireworks in downtown Knox Vegas from our upper porch, usually with a group of friends.  Whenever I know that my best friend, Dani is going to be eating with us, I make a conscious effort to tone down the hotness.  I love the girl but when it comes to spicy foods, she's a wimp.  Everything we ate that night had been toned down, except for the Muhammara.  And wouldn't you know – that was her favorite thing! 

She's asked me several times for the recipe but not only did I not copy the recipe down, I forgot what cookbook it came from.  I did a search for the recipe online but all of the muhammara recipes I could find icluded roasted red peppers as an ingredient.  I love them but when they're out of season, they're expensive.  I looked and looked and could never find the right recipe so I gave it up for lost.

I need to explain how important Dani is to me.  This is my fellow crazy cat lady.  This is the wonderful lady that kept me sane last year in the months counting down to our wedding.  She went wedding dress shopping with me.  She planned a bridal shower.  She planned a crazy night out at a drag queen show for my bachelorette party.  She kept me from killing my mom.  And seriously, how could you not love a girl that gives you a bottle of Big Black Dick rum and doesn't make you wear penises out in public to celebrate your upcoming nuptials?

Dani had a birthday last week.  So…needless to say, I wanted to make muhammara for her.  And I wanted to make the recipe that I made that July Fourth that she loved.  So I headed down to the library, praying that they'd have the book in stock and that I'd still recognize the cover.  I knew it was blue and written by a woman. That's it. I headed back into the stacks, found the section where most of the books on Middle Eastern food were shelved and started looking.  About twenty minutes into my search, I hit the jackpot.  It's in a wonderful book called The New Book of Middle Eastern Food by Claudia Roden.  I'm really excited to have found it again.

Muhammara is wonderful with pita chips – especially if you're serving hummus.  It contrasts nicely with the smooth, sedate creaminess of the hummus.  It's quick to make and leftovers are great on sandwiches.


Love this girl!


Adapted from The New Book of Middle Eastern Food by Claudia Roden

Here are the ingredients you'll need to make this dish
1 1/4 cups shelled walnuts
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 slices whole wheat bread, lightly toasted (the recipe calls for one slice but my bread is smaller than usual)
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
1 teaspoon red-pepper flakes (I like to use Aleppo pepper from Penzeys)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons sugar (I like to use brown sugar, lightly packed)
Salt to taste

Toast the walnuts in a pan over medium heat for around five minutes.  Make sure to stir them.  Taste them and take them off the stove and place in a bowl to cool when they taste good to you.  I usually put extra in the pan for "tasting purposes".  Watch them carefully so they don't burn. 


While the walnuts are toasting, cut the crusts off your bread, cut into large pieces and add to food processor.  You can use a blender but just make sure not to get it blended too well.  You want a rough paste.


Add two tablespoons of tomato paste to your food processor/blender:


Add a half cup of olive oil to the food processor:


Add 2 tablespoons of pomegranate molasses to the food processor:


Keep your cat who thinks she's being sneaky away from the bread crusts.  Because that's their natural food in the wild or something like that.


Add the red pepper flakes (if you're less wimpy than Dani!), the cumin and brown sugar.  Then add your walnuts (I usually let them cool down for a minute or two).


Blend to a rough paste:


If the mixture seems a little oily, add in another piece of bread and re-blend. Now eat!  This goes especially well with copious amounts of Rhubarbaritas (recipe coming soon).  Just be sure to drink lots of water and take some advil before going to bed!


Click here to see a printable copy of the recipe

One Local Summer – Week 8

I don't think we've had a meal this week that hasn't included some kind of local produce.  When the bulk of your grocery bill is spent at the farmer's market, it's difficult to get too esoteric with your cooking.  Sure, I made muhammara that included pomegranate molasses.  But that same dish contained leftover bread from a local baker, roasted peppers from my garden and tomato paste canned last year.  However, I think my favorite meals this week have been the two or three where the majority of the ingredients traveled less than 50 feet.


Salt boiled new potatoes dressed with a little butter made from Cruze farm milk.  Nothing tastes better than the sweet mealiness of new potatoes that 20 minutes earlier were lurking in the dirt of your garden bed.  Sliced Burgundy Traveler tomatoes dressed with a little red wine vinegar and olive oil glisten on the plate.  And I've recently discovered a new passion – roasted green beans.  I type that with some trepidation because I don't want anyone to think that I'm a freaky health nut that would turn down peach cobbler to nibble on some kale.  However, I think I could eat my weight in roasted green beans.  The olive oil caramelizes them and turns them into a crispy snack food with the slightest hint of vegetable flavor.  I would eat these as a snack, at 2am in the morning when I was drunk and have lost whatever compunction I might have about gorging on high calorie snack chips.  That's how much I like them.  Peach Brown Butter Bars have become a favorite new discovery and I've made them several times.  But my favorite meals are simple meals like we had last night.  Eating local is a wonderful thing. Eating out of your back yard?  Even better.

Barbecued Raspberry-Hoisin Chicken – Finger licking good!

Raspberries are my favorite fruit in the whole world.  As a girl growing up in Wisconsin, we had a patch of wild ones in the back yard and come raspberry season, I stuffed myself with abandon.  My love affair with the fruit has not abated.  I was almost reduced to tears this year when my fall bearing raspberry order got cancelled.  There are no places close by where you can pick them and raspberries have such a short shelf life that it's best to buy them locally and use them up in the next day or two.  I was able to pick up some raspberries from a farmer's market but I can't wait until we have our own to pick.  I'll be able to go out to the backyard and graze for breakfast.  If you have a lot of berries, they do freeze well.  In fact, if you want to get the most juice out of them, freezing them helps you out.

There are thousands of delectable sounding recipes out there for raspberries, but the majority of them seem to be focused on baking.  Baking is an admirable end for a raspberry but there's only so many miles I can face on my rowing machine in an effort to fit into my clothes so I wanted to find another way to use them. 

It's been gorgeous here – in the low 80s which is unheard of in July.  It should be at least 90 with the humidity high enough to make my hair resemble a bad junior high perm.  We're taking advantage of the cool temps while we can and grilling seems so right when the evening are as lovely as they are.  I've always loved Eating Well magazine.  It seems to really place an emphasis on using seasonal produce and the recipes usually don't contain too many processed ingredients.  I glanced through some old issues and found a recipe for an asian-style marinade.

The recipe suggests that you use boneless chicken thighs and after making it, I'd have to agree.  The level of sugar in the sauce (from the raspberries and hoisin sauce) is too high to allow for long periods of grilling.  We're trying to eat down the contents of our freezer so I used a whole chicken instead and cut up one of the breasts to make chicken tenders.  It was still very tasty but very finicky on the grill because of the length of time it took.  It was prone to getting too brown.  The chicken tenders were done quickly but I think using the thighs would be a better option because the chicken would cook quickly enough not to burn but stay juicy.

If berry seeds drive you to distraction, make sure to use frozen berries and put them through a sieve to strain the seeds out.  I'd probably use a little more than a cup as well.  

Make sure to check the ingredients in your hoisin sauce.  I'm trying to cut out all artificial colors and what do you know, there it was lurking in our hoisin sauce.  Next time I buy it, I'll be on the lookout for a different brand.

Barbecued Raspberry-Hoisin Chicken
Adapted from Eating Well

1 cup fresh or frozen raspberries
3/4 cup hoisin sauce3 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 cloves garlic
1/2 teaspoon orange zest
1 tablespoon chopped fresh ginger
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Pinch of crushed red pepper
1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed, each cut into 3 crosswise strips

Place the raspberries in the blender.


If they're frozen, let them defrost a bit in there.  Add your hoisin sauce.  If you like, you can call it hoser sauce like we do.  Because we're twelve.


Get your choppables ready.


Chop your garlic, orange zest and ginger.  Try to ignore your husband offering you tips on how to improve your chopping techniques.  It's all going to end up in the blender anyway.


Add the rice vinegar, garlic, orange zest, ginger, pepper and red pepper to the raspberries and hoisin sauce in a blender or food processor. 


Blend until smooth.  Set 1/4 cup aside to use as a dipping sauce. Transfer the rest of the sauce to a ziploc bag and add chicken.  Make sure the chicken is coated.  Lick the spatula.


Let that marinate in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours and up to 24 hours.  We marinated ours for six hours.

Heat your grill up to a medium heat.  Remove the chicken from marinade and thread onto four skewers(if you're using boneless thighs), distributing as evenly as possible.  Put the skewers on the grill.  You need to keep a close eye on these on the grill to make sure they don't burn.  


If you notice them getting too brown, pull them over to a cooler part of the grill.  They should take about 4-5 minutes a side.  You can always cut into one to see if it's done.  We use a thermometer, especially when we grill chicken that isn't boneless but you can also grill until you notice the chicken is firm to the touch.  This is something that takes a little practice.


Serve chicken with dipping sauce on the side.  Try not to gross out your loved ones by licking your fingers too enthusiastically.

We really enjoyed this chicken.  The ginger gives it a nice kick and the fruitiness is perfect for a summer evening.  I served it with some leftover rice I tried to jazz up (and I failed miserably at this) and sauteed some grated summer squash and onion with tamari.  The leftovers re-heated beautifully for lunch today. 

I think this is a great way to use raspberries, although there was also a delectable raspberry tart in the same issue that's calling my name.  I think my rowing machine is going to get a work out this summer.

For a printable recipe, click here

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