October 2, 2013

a new one

Last week we had a day that was damp and chilly, not enough to break out a jacket, but enough that I found myself putting in a big order of loose leaf tea and plotting soup strategies. Of course it's warmer now, but oh man, the promise of cold months and building fires and big pots of stuff simmering away, I just can't help myself. 

In the last two weeks, I've made the same red lentil soup a couple of times, which I only do when I am really taken with something. This soup is similar to the recipe I wrote about here, but gussied up with Turkish dried mint and Aleppo pepper flakes. Aside from fresh mint garnishes in Vietnamese dishes, I rarely use mint, but here the dried stuff adds a subtle note that really complements the tomatoes and the lentils. I had no idea dried mint would engender Such Strong Opinions in me, but it totally makes the soup. In fact, I'd say you could replace (or omit) the Syrian pepper, but I wouldn't bother making the soup without dried mint.

Come mid-winter, I'll try this recipe using canned tomatoes, but I think this soup really benefits from the mild sweetness and tenderness of fresh tomatoes -- they melt into the broth, adding a bit of acidity without taking over. Our tomato plants are turning that coppery brown that means tomato season is trailing to an end, so hop to it. Shopping list: tomatoes, nubby red lentils, chewy bulgur, and DRIED MINT.

In other news, Mark and I sat in the same room with THE Debbie Harry last night. I was too intimidated to say anything but hello, but she is an amazing performer (and 68 years old!). Mark's elementary school friend Tommy plays guitar in Blondie, so we saw the show and then hung out backstage for a bit. I decided it'd be rude to ask Debbie Harry to take a picture with me after she had showered and taken off all her stage makeup (it would have been, right?) but I'm still a little bummed I didn't get one. If I'm ever backstage with Stevie Nicks, though...

Lentil soup with dried mint, tomato, and bulgur 
adapted from Anya von Bremzen's recipe in Melissa Clark's In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite

I followed the recipe almost exactly, though I add more garlic and reduce the bulgur so the soup stays a bit brothier. No lemon because I thought it was a perfect level of acidity, and I didn't float butter on the end as she recommends. The second time I made it, I swapped water + better than bouillon for the chicken broth, because I didn't feel like waiting to defrost chicken stock from the freezer. It was not shabby at all.

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon red pepper, like Aleppo, plus more for serving
1 medium tomato, chopped
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon dried mint, plus more for serving
1 cup red lentils
1/8 cup coarse bulgur wheat
4 cups chicken stock

1. In a large pot over medium heat, melt the butter and add the onion, salt, and pepper. Cook until the onion is soft, then add the garlic and cook until fragrant.

2. Stir in the tomato, tomato paste, and mint, and cook for an additional 1-2 minutes. Add the lentils and bulgur and cover with the chicken stock, plus 2 additional cups of water. Cover and simmer for 30-45 minutes, until lentils are tender. Serve with extra mint and red pepper.

September 27, 2013

things I have been thinking about

Friday! This has been a long week so let's talk about some fun stuff.

- I started watching Scandal on Netflix thinking it'd be ok, but it's pretty good. My pal Andrea loves it, and it's nice to have a friend with whom to air thoughts on Noel-from-Felicity vs bad-guy-from-Ghost, plus the bizarre plot twists. That show lives on the edge of "good" bonkers and "too much," which is fine until it (inevitably) hurtles over the edge.

- However, I still do not have a suitable Sherlock outlet, which is unfortunate because we've been rewatching it -- in preparation for the finale which has apparently been pushed back again -- and I have remembered all the 10 million thoughts I have about that show. To be fair, Mark is great for when I want to endlessly speculate about The Fall or quote Moriarty or reference amusing scenes in day-to-day life. We can even have brief discussions about how perfectly Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman portray the Sherlock/Watson dynamic.  (They are each other's anchors and it's so well done and often genuinely moving, and I just ... they get it right.) And yet ... he's not so into discussing Benedict Cumberbatch's intriguingly alien, beautiful features and definitely not my shipping of Watson and Sherlock (I ship them like Fedex is what I'm saying). Mostly at this point Mark is just like: MUSTACHE !!!

- I simultaneously can't wait for and am dreading the Breaking Bad finale on Sunday. I forgot how fun it is to consume a complex show slowly, with a forced weekly hiatus, and to fully enjoy and appreciate the pacing and character development and attention to detail. (As opposed to enjoying it for a millisecond and then pushing "next!") We don't have cable, though, so we'll be watching at our friends' house on Sunday night.

- A wonderful and sad and funny and relatable piece entitled My Foreign Mom. I first read this at least 6 months ago and I still think about it.

- I meant to blog about this recipe before Labor Day (ahem) so people could get their grill on. It's delicious and juicy and THE reason to keep sriracha around. You'll also need fish sauce and chile garlic sauce and brown sugar. That ingredient list is making my mouth water.  

- A few weeks ago, my sister Lynh got married. It was a beautiful day and a beautiful party, complete with tears and crazy dancing and, inexplicably, arm wrestling. The weekend itself was a real family effort, which made it all the more special. My mom and sister and I cooked and baked for the rehearsal dinner; I arranged the flowers and did the bride's hair and makeup (notable only if you know that I'm not, how do you say, extremely skilled in those feminine arts); my dad did a whopper of a paint job to get the house ready for the rehearsal dinner; and Mark, Robert, Paola, and Sissy pulled off the rehearsal dinner logistics. And my wonderful cousin swooped in with a clutch fried chicken and pizza delivery after the wedding ended. We were starving, and it was awesome. What a weekend! Big love to them, and to all of our family and friends who came to celebrate with us. 

September 25, 2013

a shade past uncomfortably hot

My usual harissa recipe -- this one -- is rather good. Unfortunately, it calls for deseeding 4 ounces of dried chile peppers. I know that 4 ounces doesn't sound like much, but as dried arbol chiles weigh basically nothing, a deseeding operation ends up equaling the duration of an episode of Friday Night Lights. Or as a normal person might say, 45 minutes. But I like to bring up Tim Riggins when it's relevant, you know?

Recently I tried a recipe for Tunisian harissa from Jerusalem, the cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. It is significantly less work than my old standby, especially if you remember to plop a red bell pepper on the grill the next time you are grilling chicken or whatnot. With that step out of the way, you are well on your way to zizzing up some harissa a few days later. The result is velvety and fragrant, a little sweet and totally spicy. Harissa is supposed to be hot and this iteration is a shade past uncomfortably hot. I think that's about right.

So far, I've mixed this harissa with Greek yogurt to make a dipping sauce for lamb and beef kibbeh (that kibbeh recipe is also from Jerusalem and it is awesome). It jazzes up hummus, shakshuka, and couscous nicely. And I'm looking forward to giving my busy-day lunch of Triscuits, sardines, and hot sauce a kick in the pants. If you're here to know whether the harissa recipe in Jerusalem is worth making, the answer is yes. Incidentally, it has kept for a lot longer than the "up to 2 weeks" period they stipulate.

[Shakshuka with harissa. Jazzed up.]

Before we delve into the harissa recipe, though, I want to share a picture of the Turkish bath towels Mark hunted down for me when he was in Istanbul earlier this summer. The towel situation is notable because Mark is, let's say, skittish about color. As an example, I recently picked up a bunch of dress socks for him, including a fantastic pair of striped navy, periwinkle and gray socks. He balked. I think his exact words were "nope, too many colors," and when I pushed back, he uttered the ominous words "remember the cardigan," which he says only when he's serious in his distrust of my taste. But behold: WHAT IS HAPPENING. 6 towels, 6 patterns, more than 3 colors. Maybe he threw me a bone because he got to go to Istanbul and I didn't, or maybe almost 11 years has had a tiny effect on him. I prefer to believe the latter.

OK, let's get to my recipes notes.

from Jerusalem 

1 red bell pepper
1/2 teaspoons coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoons caraway seeds
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small red onion, coarsely chopped (90g)
3 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
3 hot red chiles, seeded and coarsely chopped***
1 1/2 teaspoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 teaspoons salt

***A quick note about chiles: The cookbook wasn't specific on what kind to use here. I used 1 habanero chile and I was happy with the intense heat level. If I'd had serranos, I would have used 3.

Grill the pepper over hot coals, or broil in the oven, turning occasionally for about 25 minutes, until blackened on the outside and completely soft. Allow to cool, then peel the pepper and discard the skin and seeds.

In a dry frying pan over low heat, lightly toast the spices for 2 minutes. Remove and grind to a powder, either in a grinder or in a mortar and pestle.

Add olive oil to the pan and fry the onion, garlic, and chiles for 10-12 minutes, until a dark smoky color and almost caramelized.

Now use a blender or food processor to blitz together all of the cooked and remaining ingredients until smooth, adding a little more oil if needed. Store in a clean, sterilized jar for up to 2 weeks or more.

July 29, 2013

Aaaaand we're back! With roasted tomatoes.

Wow, okay, that break was a lot longer than expected. But it has been quite a year! In one sentence: we moved, we started exciting new jobs, unto my best friend an adorable baby was born, we went to Chiapas, Mexico to see our friends get married, we bought a house, my little sister is getting married in a few weeks, and we have had a steady stream of friends and family and babies come to visit. Anyway, I took a pause to focus on all that good stuff and now I'm back.

There is so much I can talk about, but for now I'm going to ease back in with a post on our garden. Because, guys, we have a serious garden now, with raised beds and cages to keep the birds and squirrels away. Our house plants are in varying states of distress -- so much for filling our house with plants to create a lush terrarium feel -- but this garden of ours has been regularly producing 10-15 lbs of fat, juicy, excellent tomatoes per week. If you have any gardeners in your life, you know that we can be super boring this time of year. We have so many amazing tomatoes we can't possibly use them all, she sighed. I know, shut up. We've given some away, we make every kind of salad, we make tomato sauce, we eat them with eggs Turkish and Israeli style, we grill them, we've eaten approximately 112 tomato sandwiches, and once we even fried the green ones. They keep coming.

Lately I've come back to roasting again and again. I used to feel badly about roasting in the middle of summer, because it heats up the house and when tomatoes are this good, you should really eat them raw. But you know what? Roasting is such an easy way to use up a lot of tomatoes in one go. And roasted tomatoes are so good. They lack the freshness of raw tomatoes, but they are zingier and sweeter and more acidic and just more. Tomatoes, turned up to 11. Besides, when tomatoes are piling up on our counter at such a rate, I can't afford to be so high-minded.

This technique is easy and forgiving, and you barely need a recipe. Slice a variety of tomatoes into bite sized chunks. A mix -- heirlooms, cherry, slicers, yellow, orange, purple -- is great, both for beauty and the varying levels of sweetness, juiciness, and acidity. Carve zucchini into batons. I like maybe 1-2 small zucchini for every pound of tomatoes. Scrape everything into a large roasting dish and coat in a good amount of olive oil and salt. Roast at 425 until the zucchini is tender and translucent and the tomatoes are meltingly soft and browned and juicy, 30 minutes or so. This is made for tossing with pasta. Right in the pan. The tomato juices and olive oil meld to form a sweet-savory sauce that only gets better when you add a flurry of grated cheese.

Otherwise, summer has been treating us well. We got a new ceramic charcoal grill -- shaped like an adorable droid from Star Wars, by the way -- and Mark has been regularly turning out some excellent grilled and barbecued foodstuff. Maybe we'll talk about that next time.

July 2, 2012

4000+ miles, 13 states, 14 days

Mark is currently in Taiwan and I am at my parents' house on the Savannah River, but for the last two weeks or so, we've been a moving dot on this map:

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This was a fantastic road trip! Maybe my favorite of the 3 big cross-country trips we've done together. This is Mark rubbing off on me, because until a few years ago I wouldn't have thought a combination hiking-camping-road trip could be so great. 

Last year this time, we were in Paris for the summer. Maybe I've just reached my Paris quota, but hiking in Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons and the San Juans was just as beautiful and enjoyable as being in Paris. (Unless we're talking food. Eating well/healthfully while on the road in this country is pretty hard, even if you are trying, which is sad.)

More/better pictures to come when I take the time to upload all the pictures from our SLR.