Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Morrocan Harira

For me nothing is more comforting or satisfying than tough cuts of meat that are seasoned and simmered in some kind of liquid over a long period of time. Hence my love of oxtail stew, beef stew, lamb curry and a popular Moroccan dish known as harira.

Harira is a dish that is used to break the fast during the Muslim season of Ramadan. It comes in so many different forms -- some using lamb, others beef; some using celery, others not; some using rice, others not; some using green beans, others not. I love this dish because it's a one-pot meal. The rice, lentils and garbanzos absorb the stock and turn it into a stew that doesn't require cornstarch, tomato paste or flour to thicken it.

There is also variety in terms of how harira is seasoned. I've seen recipes that use ginger, saffron, cinnamon, cumin, cayenne pepper, cilantro and parsley. These ingredients vary. But all the recipes I've seen use both cumin and cinnamon, giving the stew a distinctive taste associated with Moroccan cuisine. The one I used also included saffron, one of the world's most expensive spices. You don't need much of it for it to color and gently flavor the dish.

I also like the idea of ginger with meat so I put in about 1/2 tsp. of it.

I made this dish to serve to friends who came over for dinner. I decided to go all in on the Moroccan theme. I mixed cucumber, tomatoes, red onion, parsley, cumin, salt, pepper, lemon juice and olive oil for a nice side salad. And I blended a bunch of mint with 3 limes (including the rind), a bit of sugar, and 32 ounces of water for a refreshing mint/lime juice.

The star of the meal, though, was the harira. My guests had seconds!


Harira (serves 6)

4 tbsp olive oil

300g/10½oz rump steak, finely chopped

1 onion, chopped

2 sticks celery, chopped

2 carrots, chopped

100g/3½oz red lentils

100g/3½oz green lentils

100g/3½oz rice

2 garlic cloves, crushed

1 tsp ground cinnamon

large pinch saffron strands

3 tsp ground cumin

400g/14oz can chickpeas, rinsed and drained

200g/7oz canned tomatoes, chopped

2 litres/3½ pints beef stock

100g/3½oz vermicelli noodles

150g/5¼oz green beans, cut into 1cm/½in lengths

½ lemon, juice only

bunch fresh coriander, chopped

bunch fresh flatleaf parsley, chopped

To serve

warm bread



Preparation method

In a large saucepan, heat half the olive oil over a high heat and cook the steak until browned all over. Remove from the pan and set aside.

In the same pan, sauté the onion, celery and carrots until softened. Remove from the pan and set aside.

Heat the remaining olive oil in the pan and add the lentils, rice, garlic, cinnamon, saffron and cumin to the pan.

Add the chickpeas, tomatoes and stock, along with the reserved meat and vegetables, and bring to the boil.

Cover and simmer for 25 minutes.

Add the vermicelli and the green beans and stir.

After a further five minutes, add the lemon juice, coriander and parsley.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Apple Pie

My neighbor went apple picking this week and was kind enough to put a generous bag of small, tart apples on my doorstep. While I like tart apples for snacking, the quantity that she left for me called for more creativity.

Fall is a great time to make apple pies and there are, of course, many different apple pie recipes. I learned to make apple pie from my mother, a Virginian. Mommy did not use a recipe for the filling, which varied according to her mood and the spices she had on hand. The crust, however, was and is another matter. Perfect, flaky pie crust requires a little bit of attention to careful measurements and cold ingredients.

For the pie crust, I used a recipe from Baking, a lovely cookbook that features a range of baked goods, ranging from sweet to savory. The apple pie recipe was ok, but I decided to follow my mood and the spices I had on hand, like Mom. I did, however, use the crust recipe.

To put an additional, contemporary twist on it, I added a nice streusel topping made from flour, butter and Heath toffee. It's sort of like caramel, but with a hint of chocolate. Fun!


Apple Pie

3 cups all-purpose flour
a pinch of salt
3 tablespoons of butter, cut in small pieces
3 tablespoons of vegetable shortening, cut in small pieces
6 tablespoons of iced water (you may need more)

Pie Filling
2-3 lbs. of tart apples (Granny Smith are good)
about 2/3 cups light brown sugar
a generous squeeze of fresh lemon juice (more if you like your pie on the tart side)
about 1/4 tsp of your choice of any combination of ground cinnamon, nutmeg, mace, ginger, cloves, and allspice

3 tablespoons of all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon of butter
3 oz of either peanut brittle or toffee,crushed

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.

To make the pie crust, sift together the flour and the salt in a large bowl.

Add the butter and shortening to the flour and salt.

Cut in the butter and shortening, using either two knives or your fingers. If using your fingers, work quickly to avoid making the dough tough. The texture should resemble course meal.

Add the cold water to the mixture.

Mix it together.

Eventually it will form a ball.

Wrap in plastic or parchment paper and chill in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes.

In the meantime, make the apple pie filling.

Peel the apples.

Slice them into a large bowl and squeeze lemon juice over the slices.

Add about 2/3 cups of light brown sugar to the apple slices.

The hardest part of this recipe is deciding which spices you want to use. I tend to be a bit heavy-handing when it comes to seasonings and spices. So I use a combination of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger and mace. I use about 1/4 tsp. each.

After you've added the spices, mix gently being careful to avoid breaking the apple slices.

Take the pie dough out of the refrigerator and divide into two portions.

Roll one-half of the dough onto a floured surface.

Line the bottom of a 9-inch pie pan with the rolled dough.

Prick the bottom a few times with the tines of a fork in order to allow steam to escape.

Pour the pie filling on top of the dough. Put about 2 tablespoons of sliced butter on top.

Now for the streusel:

Combine 3 tablespoons of flour with 1 tablespoon of butter.

Use a fork to combine.

Now for the fun part -- using Heath toffee!

Crush about 3-oz. of it.

Sprinkle the flour/butter mixture and the toffee on top of the pie filling.

Roll out the other half of the pie dough, put it on top of the pie filling. Trim the edges and squeeze the top and bottom edges together. Make two slits on the top crust with a knife.

Brush either milk or egg on the top of the crust.

Bake for 20 minutes at 450 degrees F. Then turn the oven to 350 degrees F and bake for another 30 minutes. The top crust should be a pretty golden brown. Remove from oven, cool and enjoy either hot or cold.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Italian Wedding Soup

If you've read my blog you know that I love soups, especially during the fall and winter. Generally, I have tended to make the same ones over and over: sausage-lentil soup, split pea, and beef barley.

But whenever I go out to a restaurant and see Italian Wedding Soup on the menu, I order it! It's a great soup that features tasty, tiny meatballs that float in a flavorful chicken stock full of veggies and either small pasta or barley.

I decided it was time to make this glorious soup. I found several recipes online. After reading through various reviews, I decided to adapt Ina Garten's recipe (http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/italian-wedding-soup-recipe/index.html), which uses chicken. I had ground beef and ground pork on hand, which are traditionally used in this soup. So I just used those. Also, I didn't have any pasta on hand but I did have barley. Given the relatively short cooking time for this soup, I suggest that you boil the barley in water (don't use salt, though, as you will season the stock) until it's tender and then add the cooked barley along with the meatballs. Finally, I have been using lots of spinach recently and decided to use escarole instead. I used a whole head, which was the perfect amount for about 10-12 cups of stock.

The final result was absolutely delicious. It's hearty and flavorful.


Italian Wedding Soup

For the meatballs (I used ground pork and ground beef):

3/4 pound ground chicken
1/2 pound chicken sausage, casings removed
2/3 cup fresh white bread crumbs
2 teaspoons minced garlic (2 cloves)
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves
1/4 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan, plus extra for serving
3 tablespoons milk
1 extra-large egg, lightly beaten
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the soup:

2 tablespoons good olive oil
1 cup minced yellow onion
1 cup diced carrots (3 carrots), cut into 1/4 inch pieces
3/4 cup diced celery (2 stalks), cut into 1/4 inch pieces
10 cups homemade chicken stock
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 cup small pasta such as tubetini or stars
1/4 cup minced fresh dill
12 ounces baby spinach, washed and trimmed


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

For the meatballs, place the ground chicken, sausage, bread crumbs, garlic, parsley, Pecorino, Parmesan, milk, egg, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper in a bowl and combine gently with a fork.

With a teaspoon, drop 1 to 1 1/4-inch meatballs onto a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. (You should have about 40 meatballs. They don't have to be perfectly round.) Bake for 30 minutes, until cooked through and lightly browned.

Set aside.

In the meantime, for the soup, heat the olive oil over medium-low heat in a large heavy-bottomed soup pot. Add the onion, carrots, and celery and saute until softened, 5 to 6 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the chicken stock and wine and bring to a boil. Add the pasta to the simmering broth and cook for 6 to 8 minutes, until the pasta is tender. Add the fresh dill and then the meatballs to the soup and simmer for 1 minute. Taste for salt and pepper. Stir in the fresh spinach and cook for 1 minute, until the spinach is just wilted.

Ladle into soup bowls and sprinkle each serving with extra grated Parmesan.