Friday, July 31, 2015

Spanish Shrimp

Last Year's Post: Chocolate Honey Almond Tartlets
Two Years Ago:  Spinach, Blueberry & Goat Cheese Salad

I came across this recipe by Mark Bittman of the New York Times and just had to try it, in part because of his description:

Excuse the superlatives; this spin on a Spanish tapa is my favorite, and everyone I serve it to loves it. The shrimp juices infuse the oil, and the sum is beyond delicious. 

The recipe makes the list of his favorites, and he calls it "Simplest and Best Shrimp Dish".  How could you not try it?  And he's right - the recipe is unbelievably simple and beyond delicious.  Buy the best shrimp you can find because it's such a simple dish.  All you do is gently brown some garlic in olive oil, then add the shrimp with salt, pepper, cumin, and paprika for flavor and saute until cooked.  The whole process takes maybe 15 minutes.

The shrimp can be served on their own, over rice or pasta, or even over greens as a salad - the garlic oil makes a great dressing.  Mark Bittman also suggests stuffing them into tacos, or I can also see using them in quesadillas or enchiladas.

The original recipe calls for hot paprika, but I used smoked paprika because it was what I had on hand.  It's your choice - a little more heat, or a little more smokiness.  It will be great either way.

print recipe
Spanish Shrimp
Serves 4

Other seafood you can use: similar-sized scallops (or larger, though they’ll take longer to cook).

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil, or more as needed
3 or 4 big cloves garlic, cut into slivers
1 ½  pounds shrimp (20 to 30 per pound) peeled, rinsed, and dried
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons hot or smoked paprika
Chopped fresh parsley leaves for garnish

Warm the olive oil in a large, broad skillet or flameproof baking pan over low heat. There should be enough olive oil to cover the bottom of the pan; don’t skimp. Add the garlic and cook until it turns golden, a few minutes.

Raise the heat to medium-high and add the shrimp, some salt and pepper, the cumin, and the paprika. Stir to blend and continue to cook, shaking the pan once or twice and turning the shrimp once or twice, until they are pink all over and the mixture is bubbly, 5 to 10 minutes. Garnish and serve immediately.

Good with bread, over rice, tossed with pasta, or over greens as a salad.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Grilled Salmon with Kale and Maple Mustard Vinaigrette

Last Year's Post:  Fresh Cherry Hand Pies
Two Years Ago:   Chicken Curry

If you're one of the people who are still less than enthused about kale even thought you're perfectly aware that it's very good for you, I think I can help.  There are three secrets to making kale taste good:  buy Tuscan kale (also called Lacinato or dinosaur kale), slice it thinly, and add some sweetness to the dish.  Tuscan kale is more tender and less bitter than curly kale (which I think tends to be tough), and slicing it into thin shreds takes care of any chewiness.

 Adding a slight element of sweetness helps to further counter-act the bitterness.  In this recipe, I added dried fruits and freeze-dried corn for texture, taste and sweetness but the real star was the maple mustard vinaigrette.  I've used maple mustard glazes or sauces in the past, but this particular recipe is by far the best I've ever tried.  I think it has something to do with the proportions of the ingredients but also this is the first time I've tried a recipe that includes soy sauce.  Whatever the reason, this will now be my standard go-to vinaigrette for any salad that includes bitter ingredients such as kale or radicchio, it's that good.

The vinaigrette complemented both the salmon and the kale, but the key is to use it sparingly with the kale because the flavors are bold.  Use just enough to moisten the salad - don't drown it in vinaigrette.  Then serve the remainder on the side to drizzle over the salmon.  I found the vinaigrette recipe in "Eating Well" magazine and it had a review from one woman who tried cutting the amount of oil in half to reduce the fat content.  She reported that the result was fantastic but she felt the key was to use walnut oil because it's more flavorful than canola.  I had some pistachio oil in the refrigerator that I wanted to use up so that's what I tried (in the original proportions) and it was fabulous.  Yes, it's a fair amount of oil but it serves four people with some left over for another day.  By the way, walnut oil is completely delicious so it's worth buying - look for it with the other oils in your store.

Freeze-dried corn can typically be found in small bags in the produce section along with other dried fruits and vegetables.  It's a recent discovery for me and I love how it adds sweetness, color and crunch to a variety of recipes.  If you don't feel like buying it, just leave it out and the dish was still be delicious.

All in all I was very pleased with the flavor, presentation and healthy benefits of this meal.  I knew it was a winner when The Lawyer asked if there was more kale to have as a salad the next day.  And by the way, it did make a great lunch salad with just the kale, vinaigrette, a little leftover flaked salmon and a few leftover sliced almonds.

print recipe
Grilled Salmon with Kale and Maple Mustard Vinaigrette

For the vinaigrette:
1/2 c walnut oil or canola oil
1/4 c maple syrup
1/4 c cider vinegar
2 T mustard
1 T soy sauce
1/2 t salt
1/2 t pepper

For the salmon and kale
4 (6 oz) pieces salmon
Olive oil, for brushing salmon
Salt and pepper
1 bunch Tuscan (Lacinato) kale, leaves stripped off steams and thinly sliced
½ cup dried cranberries
¼ cup dried currants or raisins
¼ cup toasted sliced almonds
½ cup freeze-dried corn

Whisk all vinaigrette ingredients together in a small bowl and set aside.

Preheat a grill to medium high.  Brush the salmon with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Place the salmon skin-side-down on the grill and grill for 4 minutes, then flip and grill for 2 ½ minutes more until nicely grill-marked.    Remove from the grill.

Toss the kale, cranberries, and currants with just enough vinaigrette to moisten, then divide among four plates or shallow bowls. Sprinkle with the sliced almonds and dried corn.  Remove the skin from the salmon and place one piece on top of each plate.  Serve, passing the remaining vinaigrette on the side for drizzling over the salmon.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Chicken Quinoa Salad with Nectarine Vinaigrette

Last Year's Post: 33 Recipes for Hot Summer Days
Two Years Ago:  Shrimp Fried Rice

This is a very healthy and refreshing salad that's perfect for summer with cool cucumber, sweet cantaloupe and a beautiful fresh nectarine vinaigrette.  I had some leftover roasted chicken so I added it, but you could easily leave it out for a very satisfying vegetarian meal because the quinoa and beans are both excellent sources of protein.  At the risk of sounding trendy I would even call this a power salad due to all the healthy ingredients and proteins.

The ingredients are flexible:  use whatever beans you prefer, switch the cantaloupe for another honeydew or watermelon, and use a different grain other than quinoa if you have one on hand.  I used red quinoa just because I like the color, but white quinoa is more readily available and tastes just about the same.  If you want to try red quinoa, it's usually available in health food stores.

I've also been trying to incorporate more beans into our diet lately so I was inspired to cook some tepary beans for this salad, but you can certainly used canned beans as a faster alternative.  And while you're at it, pick up a rotisserie chicken from the deli and some already cut-up melon chunks in produce - then all you have to do is cook some quinoa and do a little prep work.  Quinoa holds well in the refrigerator so you can make it in advance.  I initially thought the nectarine vinaigrette would lose freshness, but it held up very well for the following three days while we had leftovers for lunch.

printable recipe
Chicken Quinoa Salad with Nectarine Vinaigrette
Serves 4

For the vinaigrette:
1 nectarine, pitted and chopped (removing the skin is optional)
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
¼ cup canola oil (or other light oil)
¼ teaspoon black pepper
Pinch of salt

For the salad:
2 teaspoons canola oil
½ cup uncooked red or white quinoa
2 cups shredded cooked chicken (optional)
2 cups cooked beans (your favorite), drained and rinsed
1 cup toasted pepitas (or other nuts of your choice)
3 cups chopped baby arugula
2 cups seeded chopped English cucumber
2 cups cantaloupe cut into small cubes (or honeydew or watermelon)

To prepare the vinaigrette, combine the nectarine pieces and apple cider vinegar in a blender and puree until smooth.  Transfer to a bowl or jar and add oil, pepper and salt.  Whisk or shake to combine.  Set aside.

Heat the canola oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat.  Add the quinoa and toast, stirring frequently, for about 6 minutes.  Add one cup of water and stir, cover the pot, and simmer over low heat for 12-14 minutes.  Remove from heat and drain any water still remaining. 

Arrange the all the salad ingredients in a pretty pattern in shallow bowls or plates.  Drizzle the nectarine vinaigrette over all or serve on the side.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Ravioli with Fresh Corn

Last Year's Post:  Tomato, Watermelon and Basil Skewers
Two Years Ago:   Grilled Salmon with Lemon Salsa

The inspiration for this dish was a recent meal at Culinary Dropout, a popular restaurant in Phoenix.  The dish was called "corn cannelloni" but was actually more like a corn ravioli, topped with grilled corn, asparagus, shallots, tomatoes and the best sauce ever - pure butter.  You could put that on cardboard and it would taste good.  I wanted to re-create the dish but with a better (healthier) butter sauce.

Although the result wasn't quite the same as pure butter, I felt much better about eating it particularly since I've been reading about the nutritional habits of the world's healthiest people in "The Blue Zones Solution" by Dan Buettner.  The remake actually fits the formula pretty well because it's vegetarian and contains lots of veggies.  But the most important thing is that it was delicious.  And easy - it takes a few minutes on the grill and a few minutes for the ravioli to cook, and you're pretty much ready.  It would make a great weekday summer meal.

Tip of the day - here's a great way to cut corn off the cob without making a giant mess:

print recipe
Ravioli with Fresh Corn
Serves 2-3

One ear fresh corn, shucked
10-12 ounces fresh asparagus
2 medium shallots, peeled and left whole
2-3 sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
One 9-oz package cheese ravioli
½ cup of white wine
¼ cup of fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons butter
1-2 tablespoons minced fresh herbs (thyme, rosemary, chives, or a mix)
 Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
Shaved or shredded parmesan as garnish
Fresh sprouts or micro-greens as a garnish, optional

Over medium heat on a grill or grill pan, grill the corn, asparagus and shallot until nicely grill-marked, turning occasionally.  Let cool.  Remove corn kernels from the cob, coarsely chop the shallots, and cut the asparagus into bite-sized pieces.  Set aside.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook the ravioli according to package directions. 

Meanwhile, make the sauce:  in a small saucepan, add the white wine, lemon juice and shallots on medium heat and cook until reduced by about half. Add the butter, one piece at a time, stirring constantly. Add herbs at the end and salt and pepper to taste.

Drain the ravioli and place in shallow bowls.  Divide the sauce between bowls, then add the corn, asparagus, shallots and sun-dried tomatoes.  Garnish with pine nuts, Parmesan and sprouts and serve immediately.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Baked Falafel

Last Year's Post: Spinach Strawberry Salad with Raspberry Vinaigrette
Two Years Ago:  Chile Rellenos (Baked Not Fried)

Since falafel is not only vegetarian but made with chickpeas (also known as garbanzo beans), and according to The Blue Zones Solution by Dan Buettner beans are one of the superfoods we should eat every day, you would think falafel is pretty much perfect except for the fact that it's fried.  Frying makes it deliciously crunchy on the outside, but it's frying none the less.  So when I found this recipe for baked falafel on the New York Times cooking site, I definitely wanted to try it although I'm always skeptical that baking can duplicate the crunchiness of frying.

I only became more skeptical as I processed the raw-but-soaked beans in the food processor with seasonings, onion, and a bit of lemon juice.  Where's the binder?  I figured there was just no way the mixture would hold together to make patties.  Well, the patties were a bit fragile but they did hold together on the baking sheet.  Flipping them was the test, but was accomplished successfully by being careful and using two small spatulas (one for each side) when flipping.  But the patties were still soft and not crunchy the way they should be.

After baking for the specified time on the second side, the patties were firm but still weren't all that golden so I turned on the broiler for a minute or two.  That was the magic - not only did they brown nicely, the top also became crunchy.  So, I modified the recipe to include a minute or so of broiling time on each side.  During the broiling process, watch them like a hawk - they brown very quickly and can go from perfect to burned in a matter of seconds.

So now I have my perfect falafel.  It's often served as a sandwich in pita bread with the traditional accompaniments of cucumber, feta, tomato, lettuce, red onion and sauce, but I chose to make it more of a salad so I could bump up the veggies and served some grilled pita wedges on the side. Brushing the pita with a little olive oil and grilling them until nicely grill-marked results in a very crispy pita, much like pita chips.  It's delicious with the falafel, salad and sauce.  And very healthy.  And by the way, the falafel freeze and re-heat just great.

print recipe
Baked Falafel
Makes 20 patties, approximately 10 servings

Note that the chickpeas need to soak for 12-24 hours so plan ahead.

1 ¾ cup dried chickpeas
½ cup tahini
1 ½ teaspoons salt, divided
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 small onion, quartered
1 tablespoon cumin
¼ teaspoon cayenne
1 cup chopped fresh parsley or cilantro
½ teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided

For serving:
Lettuce leaves
Crumbled feta cheese
Thinly sliced red onion
Sliced tomatoes and cucumbers
Black or green olives
Pita bread – grilled if serving on the side, or soft if using for sandwiches

Put the chickpeas in a large bowl and cover with water by 3 or 4 inches – the beans will triple in volume as they soak.  Soak for 12 to 24 hours, checking occasionally to see if you need to add more water to keep the beans submerged.

Whisk the tahini and ½ teaspoon salt with ½ cup water in a small bowl until smooth.  Set aside.

Heat the oven to 375 degrees.  Drain the chickpeas and transfer them to a food processor with the garlic, onion, cumin, cayenne, parsley or cilantro, 1 teaspoon of salt, pepper, baking soda, and lemon juice.  Pulse until everything is minced but not pureed, stopping the machine and scraping down the sides if necessary.  Add water 1 tablespoon at a time if needed to allow the machine to do its work, but keep the mixture as dry as possible.  Taste and adjust salt, pepper or cayenne as desired.

Grease a large rimmed baking sheet with 2 tablespoons of oil.  Roll the bean mixture into 20 balls (about 1 ½ inches in diameter) and place on the baking sheet, then flatten very gently into thick patties.  Bake on the first side for 15 minutes, then turn the oven to broil for one minute, watching closely so the patties brown but don’t burn.

Remove the baking sheet from the oven and turn the temperature back to 375d.  Carefully flip the patties over (this works best using two small spatulas) and place the baking sheet back in the oven.  Bake for an additional 15 minutes, then turn the oven to broil and broil for an additional minute or so until the patties are nicely browned.  Watch closely!

Serve immediately with accompaniments and tahini sauce.

Note:  the baked falafel may be frozen and reheated in the microwave or oven.