Category: Sides

Couscous Tabbouleh

Couscous Tabbouleh

Couscous Tabbouleh

I’m not going to pretend that this is any kind of traditional tabbouleh. This is *my* tabbouleh. While tabbouleh is traditionally made with bulghur wheat, I have always preferred making it with couscous. This particular tabbouleh recipe has a nice yet subtle lemony flavor, not too strong or tart. I encourage anyone to modify it based on personal preference. I sometimes double the parsley or tomatoes, depending on my mood and what is available, and leave out something if the cat has gotten to it on the counter (he prefers people food).

Ingredients:
1 cup water
1 cup couscous
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium cucumber, seeded and diced
2 medium tomatoes, seeded and diced (or cherry tomatoes, quartered)
1 medium red bell pepper, seeded and diced
1/2 medium red onion, diced
2 cups loosely packed fresh parsley leaves, minced
1/2 cup loosely packed fresh mint leaves, minced

(1 cup of chicken stock instead of water is optional for cooking the couscous)

Directions:
1. Cook the couscous by boiling the water or broth and adding it to the dry couscous (or follow the directions on the box if the ratio is different). When the couscous has hydrated, fluff with a fork and let cool.

2. Place all ingredients in a bowl and fold gently to mix, spreading the oil and lemon juice evenly throughout the mixture.

Almost any vegetable will go well with this recipe, so feel free to add anything to your preference (e.g. grilled zucchini is great). This goes down particularly well for a summer meal.

Homemade Ricotta Cheese

Homemade ricotta cheese

Homemade ricotta cheese

Cheese is not something that people often think to make at home, but there is nothing in the world quite like fresh ricotta cheese. Surprisingly easy to make, this staple (in my house) is above and beyond store-bought ricotta. I often use this in our other staple, lasagna, and we even eat it plain in a bowl with a little salt and pepper, as we would eat cottage cheese. Ricotta is one of the easiest cheeses to make at home as it requires no rennet (special enzymes to curdle the milk) nor does it require any aging or care. It is the ‘lazy person’s’ cheese, so to speak, but there is nothing lazy about how fast I eat it.

Ingredients
1 gallon whole milk
1 pint heavy cream
1 quart buttermilk
4 teaspoons salt
4 tablespoons lemon juice

You will also need a thermometer, sieve or colander, and some cheesecloth.

Directions
1. Combine the milk, buttermilk, cream, and salt in a non-reactive pan.

Forming curds

Forming curds

2. Prepare the colander for the draining process by moistening a few sheets of cheesecloth and layering them in the colander. This is where you will be placing the curds to drain excess whey. I place the colander in the sink to drain.

3. Attach the thermometer to the pan so that you may monitor the temperature.

4. Heat the mixture on high, stirring occasionally to prevent any milk from scorching on the bottom of the pan.

5. When the milk has reached about 175 degrees F, add the lemon juice and gently stir it in. You will see curds start to form immediately. Allow a few minutes for more curds to accumulate, stirring very gently on occasion.

Spooning curds

Spooning curds

6. Using a skimmer or sieve, remove curds from the pot and place them in the cheesecloth lined colander. The moisture level of the cheese will be determined by how long you let it drain. I like a moist ricotta, so I let it drain about five to ten minutes, but for a more firm cheese, let the curds drain longer.

7. When the curds have finished draining, remove them and eat immediately for the best ricotta you have ever tasted. The cheese will also last a few days in the refrigerator in a sealed container.

Fiddleheads (Young Fern shoots)

fiddleheads

Fiddleheads with garlic

Would you ever think to eat a fern? I eat anything that won’t make me sick, so I sure have, but young fern shoots are not the first thing that comes to mind for most people when they think of spring. Oddly, they are the first thing that comes to my mind when someone says “spring.” Early spring is fiddlehead season, and these crunchy vegetables are one thing I look forward to when winter is ending. Fiddleheads are the young shoots of the ostrich fern, and I am surprised that they are not more popular than they are, the stem is crunchy, and the leafy spiral in the middle is soft and sweet. Plus, fiddleheads are cute, but not too cute to eat (like baby bunnies).

Fiddleheads

Fresh fiddleheads vs. old fiddleheads

Fiddleheads do not have a long shelf life. I generally cook them the day I buy them, or perhaps the next day. It is not that they go bad, but that they tend to oxidize quickly, which will make them look less appealing. You may want to cut off the dark, oxidized skin on the fiddleheads to prepare them for cooking, which is very easy as it is just the skin that oxidizes and turns brown. It is not required, though, as the oxidized skin will not contribute any off flavors to the fiddleheads.

One thing to keep in mind is that fiddleheads should not be eaten raw, they contain compounds that are both unpleasant, and could potentially make a person ill. But cooking them makes them entirely safe to eat, and tenderizes the shoot as well. Fiddleheads are also surprisingly high in anti-oxidants, much more so than even blueberries, as well as omega-3 fatty acids, making them both healthful and tasty. Fiddleheads are very high in fiber and vitamin A, and low in everything that you don’t want. They are an excellent spring treat, particularly for those who are watching what they eat (e.g. no fat, no cholesterol, almost no carbs, and very low in calories, only 35 per 1/2 cup serving). Many recipes call for boiling or steaming them, which works well and doesn’t add any fat or calories from oil, however I prefer to saute them with a little oil and garlic. That said, I have been known to steam my fiddleheads prior to a quick saute in order to speed the process and this can also reduce the potential for bitterness that may be found in them. They also go well in pasta and stir fry, but nothing beats a good old saute to bring out their own natural flavor. Fern shoots may not be an obvious star of a dish, but you would be surprised at their delicate and interesting flavor. Even my children find fiddleheads a fun and interesting diversion to the usual vegetable argument.

Ingredients
1/2 pound fiddleheads
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 -2 cloves of garlic, thickly cut

N.B. a few drops of lemon juice can bring out the flavor and help prevent darkening (oxidation) of the fern shoots.

garlicGarlic cut thickly

Directions
1. Cut off any black ends of the fiddleheads, and slice off any black/brown skin from the stems.

2. Wash the fiddleheads and pat dry.

3. Slice the garlic clove(s) into thick pieces, thick enough so that they won’t cook too quickly (they tend to become bitter if overcooked)

4. Put the garlic in the oil and turn heat to medium high.

5. When the garlic starts to sizzle, add the fiddleheads. Turn the heat down to medium and saute fiddleheads until soft, about 10 minutes, then serve. Salt to taste.

Serves 1, but this recipe easily scales to as many servings as you need.

Steak and Blue Cheese Chopped Salad

Steak and blue cheese salad

Steak and Blue Cheese Chopped Salad

Steak and Blue Cheese go together like humans and oxygen. And why not make it better by combining them with salad? This is something I like to make when I have people over because it’s really easy, flavorful, and can readily be tailored to personal tastes, unlike a lot of meals. It is also filling while still being healthful. This dish is more about the process than the ingredients, so I am not including amounts, but I will outline the items I generally use when making it. But again, it is how I make it rather than what I include that is important, so stay tuned for that. If you can grill the steak ahead of time, that will contribute the best flavor, but broiling works as well.

Ingredients
romaine lettuce (my preference for its crunchiness, but you can use any lettuce you want)
red bell pepper
red onion
celery
carrots
cherry tomatoes
avocado
blue cheese (crumbled gorgonzola works well)
steak (cooked to your preference), I love tri-tip or loin tip for its meaty flavor and low price

Ingredients for the dressing
I generally use Italian salad dressing from the packet that you add vinegar, water & oil (olive oil) to. But rather than using red wine vinegar I recommend using balsamic vinegar, which combines exceptionally well with the blue cheese in this salad.

Directions
1. Step 1 is where most of the work comes in. I dice up all the vegetables (except lettuce and avocado)  into small, bite-sized pieces and place them into bowls as preparation for the mixing. The steak should be cooked to your preference and allowed to sit for a while to reabsorb all its juices.  When cool, cut into small pieces, cutting it into strips against the grain, then cutting those strips into smaller, bite-sized pieces.

chiffonade

A chiffonade

2. I then cut the lettuce into a chiffonade. This is when you cut it into small, thin strips (see image). This not only makes the salad easier to eat, but looks really nice when combined with the other ingredients.

3. You then have a choice, you can put everything into bowls and dress, or, my preference is to add the lettuce, carrots, onion, celery, peppers, and cheese into a bowl and add a little less dressing than I think I need (this keeps the calories down and will actually taste just fine). I then mix everything up, which spreads a thin layer of dressing onto everything, then place in serving bowls.

4. Add the steak and tomatoes to the salad. Then scoop out spoonfuls of  avocado onto the salad. I top it off with a little more blue cheese for presentation purposes and serve.

By chopping all the ingredients into small pieces, and coating them well with minimal dressing, you will achieve a healthful salad with a lot of flavor, that doesn’t have to be high in calories. Yes, the blue cheese is not low calorie, but you don’t need a lot of it when you are mixing all the ingredients together, the flavor will carry throughout the salad. This dish always goes over well when I serve it. Some people leave the steak out (my vegetarian brother) and the salad will still taste great.

Caramelized Salsa Verde

Caramelized Salsa Verde

Caramelized Salsa Verde

This is a surprisingly good take on salsa verde, the caramelization of the vegetables adds a wonderful depth of flavor to the classic salsa. I like to serve this warm with tortilla chips, but it works well in place of guacamole, or even with guacamole in tacos and fajitas. I often make it with the green chilies (without the pith and seeds) for a less spicy dish, but the chilies give the salsa a more nuanced character, so I like to include them.

Ingredients
2 pounds of tomatillos (husk removed)
6 green chilies (if you like it spicy)
1/2 of a medium onion, left intact, not cut up
2 garlic cloves
6 sprigs of cilantro leaves, including stem
1 teaspoon lime juice
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
salt to taste

Directions
1. Cut the tomatillos into quarters. If you are using the green chilies, you can remove the seeds and the pith (white ribs) if you like them less spicy, or keep them if you like more heat). Heat the oil in a pan and add the tomatillos, chilies, onion, and garlic. Cook over a medium-high heat, moving the items periodically to prevent them from burning. Cook the vegetables until they have turned a nice brown color, indicating that caramelization has begun. The tomatillos will cook down and lose a lot of moisture, this is normal.

2. When the vegetables have caramelized, place them in a blender or food processor, add the cilantro, lime juice and salt, and puree until smooth. Place in a bowl and serve.

This dish can be served on its own as a dip, or used on food. It can also be served warm or chilled in the refrigerator until ready to use, it will taste great either way.