This week's recipe comes from the most amazing cookbook writer you might not know, Najmieh Batmanglij. Her classic Food of Life is my bible when it comes to Persian food, her recipe for ghormeh sabzi having once caused an Iranian dinner guest to start weeping in remembrance of his departed grandmother and her kitchen back home. True story; it doesn't only happen to the French.
This recipe for chickpea battered vegetable fritters comes from a different book, Silk Road Cooking, a vegetarian cookbook that traces the communication and exchange of culinary tropes along the centuries old byway from Asia to Europe. Like so many of Batmanglij's recipes, the whole here is more than the sum of its parts. Chickpea flour, a light-handed mix of a few spices, and zap, you're in Kansas no more. Earthiness, pungency, a hint of spice, all in harmonic balance. It's impossible, yet Batmanglij makes it easy.
For the vegetables themselves, let the produce aisle be your guide. That's what we've done below, adapting Batmanglij's list to what looked good at our local co-op. Whichever veggies you choose, get ready for a party size yield. Is it finally time to have a dozen friends over? Here's the appetizer to help toast old memories and inaugurate new ones.
Once you're in the groove, cooking delicious food isn't that hard. Fry up some onions or garlic or both, sear some decent meat, and you're well on your way, with or without a recipe. The difficulty is that, without an occasional infusion of new recipes or key ingredients, the flavors emerging from your kitchen tend to converge. Everything tastes great, but also kinda the same. Our taste buds, like the rest of us, need an occasional vacation, not so much to rest as to experience the world anew and hit the reset button.
That's where this week's recipe comes in. While easy to make, this classic Moroccan braise features a transporting combination of two key ingredients, olives and preserved lemons. The latter are typically purchased jarred and swimming in a bright, zesty brine spiked with black caraway seeds. Finding them might take some leg work, but they're worth it. Their flavor is recognizably lemony, but also transformed, almost like a candied orange peel, only in reverse, with salt instead of sugar.
Tagines are typically cooked in cone-topped terra cotta dishes that can withstand direct heat as well as oven baking. If you have one, great. If not, browning the chicken in a good skillet and finishing the dish in grandma's casserole will work almost as well.
So no excuses – go find those lemons!
The earliest English-language documentation of the word towfu appeared in a 1770 letter from an English merchant to Benjamin Franklin. Franklin was apparently too pre-occupied with his own inventions – bifocals, the Franklin stove, America – to pay the soybean curd proper attention, or we might not have had to wait two more centuries for tofu to enter our national diet.
Yet, a dearth of celebrity endorsements might not be tofu's sole setback. The whitish block, usually a pound in weight and marked ready to eat, is inscrutable at first approach. Bland and sometimes jiggly, it can present as a medium striving to become matter, or matter yearning, Buddha-like, to find perfection in freedom from flavor. But that's not fair. Tofu, like life, is what you make of it. Marinated, it absorbs; fried, it crisps; enrobed it in a righteous sauce, it high steps like a chorus dancer.
In today's recipe we arranged a playdate of tofu, green beans, garlic, and sesame seeds, with an à la minute teriyaki sauce playing the dance music. I hope you'll give it a try and let it serve as inspiration for further experiments with an underused ingredient that's also a powerhouse of cheap, sustainable protein.
The reputation of the turkey burger is not the finest. To most, it's an also-ran, a compromise, a substitute for the true love of the genuine article. Today's recipe is a plea to let a turkey burger be a turkey burger, not a simulacrum of the beefy ideal, but a thing in itself, touting its charms without reference to the gifts of others. Properly topped and wrapped, preferable in lettuce as we've done here, it offers up a perfect balance of meaty umami, unctuous Thousand Island tang, and light, herbaceous crunch. Consumed midday, it delivers the immediate, gut soothing satisfaction of fast food, but without the enduring ballast or the yawning, post-prandial descent into lethargy, biliousness, and self-hate.
As recipes go, it doesn't get much easier. Ground turkey, minced onion, bread crumps, salt, pepper, a squirt of ketchup and heat. The trick, if there is one, is temperature regulation. It's important to start with a smoking hot pan, so the burger sears shut from the start. If the pan isn't hot enough, the meat will turn out grey in color and taste, and never develop that beloved layer of crisp caramelization. Once the initial sear is done, the heat needs to be dialed back a touch, so the turkey has time to cook thoroughly without burning. The trick is keeping the pan hot enough to prevent the burger from sweating out, but not so hot that the oil in the pan and the burger smoke and burn. But it's not brain surgery. Eight to ten minutes of semi-focussed attention is all it takes. Give it a try, and let us know what you think.
Today's theme: what a difference a new ingredient makes. Our home dinner menu is pretty diverse, but it still hits the occasional rut, especially now, when it's less often leavened by a visit to the kitchen of friends and restaurants. Cracking open a cookbook is one antidote. Another: introducing a fresh key ingredient to your tried and true arsenal of flavor. That's our approach today, with this super-easy, super-quick lemongrass chicken.
Lemongrass, a tropical herb used extensively in southeast Asian cuisine, has a powerful aroma of citrus fruit, but with little of its acidity, and unlike lemon, it keeps much more of its brightness after cooking. In this recipe, the lemongrass infuses the chicken via a long marinade, while adding crunch in the final cooking. You'll be hard pressed to find a recipe that delivers more flavor and easy novelty in the 20 minutes it takes to whip this up.
Latkes are fried potato pancakes and a quintessential Hanukkah food for Eastern European Jews. I've rarely met a latke I didn't like. As long as it's fresh and not too laden with oil (the result, typically, of under-heated oil), it's almost always delicious. Some prefer their latke eggy, thick and substantial, with the specific gravity of seat cushions. Others esteem latkes that are light, billowy, and full of crunch. We're neutral on this issue, but this week's recipe for leek latkes is decidedly in the camp of crisp. The leeks, holding less water than traditional onions, help in this regard, while also lending a more refined flavor and a bit of visual variety. Bring them to your next holiday party, and let this year's latke debate begin!
Building complex, interesting flavors usually requires a bit of time and patience. But not always. This elegant pan-seared squid is done in way under 30 minutes, including the preparation of our bright, slightly spicy chimichurri sauce, the herbaceous condiment that Argentinians use on grilled meet but that also marries beautifully with seafood.
If you typically eat squid as fried calamari, you may be surprised by how much flavor these critters attain when cooked quickly over high heat and coated in a vinegar reduction. We love deep fried calamari rings but squid have a whole other side to their flavor personality, and it's worth exploring. One other bonus with this recipe: you'll have plenty of left over chimichurri sauce for any grilled or roasted meats you might be having later in the week.
Filipino food has yet to hit it big in the U.S. the way, say, Chinese, Thai, or Japanese food has. When it does, chicken adobo may be the breakout dish. It's bold, intense, easy to love, and like nothing else you've ever tasted. The recipe's secret weapon is a simple one: conviction. The key flavoring agents – soy sauce, white vinegar, garlic – can't get more common. The trick is to use them like you mean it: a whole head of garlic and almost a cup each of soy sauce and white vinegar. That's more than most cooks use in a week's worth of dinners.
The result is magical, a concentrated flavor potion in which individual ingredients announce themselves clearly yet combine into a whole that's both more and distinct from the sum of the parts. We love, love, love this dish.
One word of caution. The sauce is on the salty side. So don't add any salt to the accompanying rice. The sodium level will be just right when you ladle the adobo sauce on top.
This one is more a method than a recipe. We made flautas, the crisp and tightly-rolled tortillas that are as versatile as they are delicious.
Sometimes known as taquitos here in the States, flautas – literally "flutes" – are a staple Mexican snack food that can be filled with just about anything. Traditionally, flautas are made with corn tortillas and filled with cooked chopped meats like beef, pork, or chicken. You can also use flour tortillas and stuff them with refried beans, cheese, or avocado.
Flautas are perfect for entertaining a crowd while watching the big game on TV, but they're also a fantastic way to make use of leftovers. We stuffed ours with last night's chopped carnitas, some refried beans, and a filling of ricotta with chopped cilantro.
A big game deserves big flavor, and boy, do these wings have it. Smoky, spicy, vinegary, and slightly sweet, they pack more excitement and intensity than many a Super Bowl. The key ingredient, as the title suggests, is chipotle chile, specifically the canned kind that comes enrobed in adobo sauce. It's intensely flavorful and quite spicy, but also nicely rounded once combined with other ingredients. If you've never cooked with it, let this be the opportunity.
Chipotle in adobo is available in most groceries (usually under the La Morena brand), and you probably already have the other ingredients you need, apart from the wings. I can almost guarantee these little suckers will be the best chicken wings you've ever tasted, at home or anywhere else.
It's getting to the end of the week. A cold wind blows through a mostly empty refrigerator. The pantry looks Soviet, the prospects for a home cooked dinner, dim. But you don't give up. You seek. And then you find them, a package or two of chicken in your freezer, a can of tomatoes back of the cupboard, a few tablespoons of wine at bottle's bottom. And for this night's meal, that's almost all you will need. But don't let the simplicity of the ingredient list or the preparation fool you. Chicken cacciatore is a beloved classic for its flavor more than its simplicity, and while it can benefit from additional vegetables such as carrots and peppers, they're not necessary and can be omitted without embarrassment. Now sound the horn and let the hunt for the side dish begin!
When it come to tomato sauce, Marcella Hazan's will always be my first, true love. But I've lately started seeing another tomato sauce on the side. My new one comes from José Andrés's quirky new vegetarian cookbook, Vegetables Unleashed. Andrés's sauce is not as buttery or suave or simple to make as Hazan's, but I love its intensity and the umami notes it develops from the patient frying of the skinned tomatoes. When preparing summer vegetables like green beans and eggplants, this is the dance partner you want. But don't wait for summer. Make it this weekend and serve it over pasta, and summer will seem like it's already here.
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