Culinary Adventures + Preserved Lemons

You know that saying “When life gives you lemons…” ?

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Months ago, I had a super amazing dinner with Jonathan (my boyfriend),  at a Moroccan restaurant here in the city.  The appetizer we ordered was something similar to a spanakopita, pretty heavily spiced and containing tiny pieces of preserved lemon. It was divine. So amazing, so tasty, just so good.

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The meal reminded me of a Moroccan themed dinner party I was a part of year(s?) ago. One of the recipes a friend of mine was creating for the meal, involved preserved lemons. She had looked up ways to make them, finding that ultimately there was just not enough time. Preserved lemons need to age, to preserve. The longer they are left, the better – with a minimum of two months before cracking the seal for the first time.  We ended up finding a deli style counter in a Mediterranean shop that sold preserved lemons like a typical North American grocer would sell sliced sandwich meat.

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Calgary is home to a plethora of different cultural areas, many many different ethnic grocery stores – resulting in a basic unlimited supply of knowledge surrounding food. The folks working behind the check out counter of the little mom ‘n’ pop shops are so helpful, so willing to give you absolutely every bit of information – whether that be on a specific dish from their country, or about their own personal journey. It’s amazing. If there are small ethnic grocers near you, I strongly urge you to go! The wealth of knowledge is incredible, the people are heart warming – and equally heart warmed by someone of a different culture wanting to learn from them. It’s a beautiful way to spend an afternoon.

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Preserved Lemons
two 500mL jars worth

5-7 Lemons
1 Cup High Quality Salt
1 Cup Warm Water
1/2 Cup Lemon Juice
2 Cinnamon Sticks
3-4 Star Anise
8 Peppercorns
Sterilized 500mL Glass Jars

Scrub the lemons, you want them nice and clean because you’ll be eating the rind. Slice the lemon into quarters, keeping the fruit in tact – not cutting the full way to the bottom.  The lemon should still be whole, just sliced open into four parts. Fill the middle of the lemon with salt, then pack it into the bottom of one of the jars. Continue with the rest of the lemons. Add four peppercorns, one cinnamon stick, and at least one star anise to each jar. You should have enough to make two jars, depending on your lemons you may have extra. Using the lemon juice first, add half to each jar, then add in the water, topping up the jar to be filled to the shoulder. Add in another few tablespoons of salt, and seal. Leave in a dark, room temperature place for a minimum of two months. Tip each jar upside down and give it a bit of a whirl every few days to ensure the salt dissolves.

*Preserved lemons are great in a pilaf, mixed into quinoa with veggies (especially good with spinach), couscous – and well, basically any grain dish. They pair well with roasted potatoes, once roasted dress with fresh pepper, oregano and thinly sliced preserved lemon.  Goat cheeses, olive spreads, oh man just use your imagination! So many uses! But keep in mind, they are salty!*

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Slow Roasted Bruschetta, Instant Teleportation!

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I teleported myself to Italy this week, as a matter of fact I think I may still be there.  I’m sure somewhere in the distance I can hear the sound of Carlo Buti playing from an old set of speakers. Surely I am seated right now, at this very moment… in some beautiful stone building, gazing out the open window into a courtyard filled with potted plants and herbs, the magical aroma of roasting tomatoes and garlic wafting up and circling me.  While my head spins with the heady scents an elderly couple walks by hand in hand, faintly I can hear two young lovers quarrel somewhere on the next tiny stone street.

Although I have been to Europe, I have never been to Italy.  This though, is how I imagine it.  Big open aches, stone streets that lead one into circle after circle, completely lost but totally at peace. Oh and of course… the smells.

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I’ll get there someday, that I am sure of.   For now however – I will turn my tiny kitchen into the Italy of my dreams. Roasting tomatoes, slowly through out the whole day – with garlic, and whatever herbs…  creating magic, pure magic.

So now that we are all on the same page, how awesome does slow roasted bruschetta sound? Pretty fan-friggin-tastic if you ask me! It’s a bit too cold in my (Calgary) Italy to really be able to enjoy the typical chilled version. Plus, playing on the aromas of roasting.. well, it’s an obvious win to fill the house with such foodie love.  I needed it to be simple, there’s no sense in complicating something that is so full of flavor naturally. Tomatoes, and something a bit different – actually, two things. One, instead of simply rubbing down some (sourdough) bread with raw garlic then toasting it in the oven. I roasted the garlic, a whole head, and spread the gooey amazing delicious cloves all over my toasty slices. Then, instead of the typical basil or oregano, I wanted a bit more punch.  A herb that would withstand a slow roasting. Rosemary. Yep, perrrrfection.

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Slow Roasted Bruschetta

3 Cups of Cherry Tomatoes
3 Sprigs of Rosemary
Good Quality Olive Oil
Salt & Pepper
Roasted Garlic
Seedy Organic Sourdough
Balsamic Reduction *Optional but super impressive!

Turn the oven to 300, put about half an inch of water in the bottom of a glass ovenproof dish. Arrange the cherry tomatoes so that as few overlap as possible. Sprinkle with salt and as much fresh ground pepper as desired. Take one of the sprigs of rosemary, holding it at the end where there are less leaves – gently pull down towards the top to separate the leaves from the woody stem. Continue with the other two sprigs. Chop the rosemary and sprinkle half over the tomatoes. Roast like this for an hour and a half to two hours. Checking about half way through to see if there needs a top up slightly on the water. After about an hour and a half, turn the oven up to broil and get those now wrinkly little loves a bit hotter, a very slight browning on the top. Watch to make sure they don’t burn. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. *Very important that it cools, the tomatoes will likely be still in tact, so biting into one would spray super hot fluid all over the mouth*. Once the tomatoes have cooled, transfer them to a bowl and drizzle with olive oil. Add the remaining rosemary.

Assembly

Slice the sourdough and place under the broiler for a few minutes to toast. Rub with a bit of olive oil on the way out, then spread the roasted garlic all over like butter. Top the garlicky slices with the bruschetta and finish with a drizzle of balsamic reduction.

*The balsamic really brings the whole thing together with it’s tangy sweetness, it’s super easy to make – simply add some balsamic vinegar to a pot and bring it up to almost a boil. Get the sides bubbling, soon it will turn a bit thick. Take it away from the heat and allow the balsamic syrup to cool. 

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Carrot Pappardelle with a Middle Eastern Twist!

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Growing up, I absolutely loved pasta. I loved it! Spaghetti drenched in tomato sauce and covered with melty cheese was one of my favorite meals before school in the morning. When asked what my favorite food was as a kid, my answer would always be pasta. That love transferred over when I started working in restaurants, ordering pastas for my lunch and dinner break.

These days, I still love pasta – but I’m more likely to be found curling up with a bowl of the veggie variety. Not quite as steamy hot and pillowy soft, but it sure doesn’t leave you feeling heavy and bogged down inside!

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Nope, in fact veggie pasta leaves you feeling satisfied! Perfectly satiated, and with none of that so-full-your-back-hurts kind of finish (thank goodness). The bonus, is that you get all the vitamins and minerals from the raw vegetable and don’t need to worry about your digestive system being confused by the wheat! No sticky gluten, no preservatives or additives, just real goodness.   I have tried a number of different vegetable options for making pasta, I enjoy zucchini for thin noodles; celeriac for thicker noodles, and carrots work so incredibly well for a wide pappardelle type noodle! So easy, so fresh.

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When I was a kid, I couldn’t stand carrots.  I was good with things like broccoli, but for some reason I just could not get down with carrots. I had it in my head that I didn’t like them, so I would over-chew them. Weird, right? Yeah, it gets better.  I would over-chew them to the point they would swell, picture it.  Okay, maybe they didn’t swell for real, but that’s exactly what it felt like when I tried to swallow the then massive amount of pulp in my mouth. For years and years I would refuse eating carrots, telling whoever was trying to feed them to me that they would swell in my mouth and cause me to choke.  Now that I am an adult and able to find interesting ways to eat these tapered orange roots, I enjoy them thoroughly! No more insane pulpy mouth swelling for me!

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Two power houses that make this carrot pap so filling and energy lifting are sprouted chickpeas & lentils. Sprouts are a fun and suuuper simple way to add the life force into any dish. A true enhancement to a raw bowl, a cooked bowl, or gosh just to grab a handful!

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Finally! The secret is in the sauce. Really. It’s sweet, tangy, earthy and has a distinct herby finish. Packed full of anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, anti-everything, digest stimulating, taste bud tingling…   get it? It’s packed full of awesome. Really!  Za’atar is a grouping of different herbs and sesame seeds very commonly used in Middle Eastern cuisine. The biggest flavors in a typical za’atar mix are sumac, thyme, and roasty toasty sesame seeds; other lovely additions may be oregano, basil, citrus peels and sometimes (as seen above) chunky sea salt. The combination is heavenly, both on the nose and the tongue.

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Carrot Pappardelle 

5-6 Carrots
1-1.5 Cups Cherry Tomatoes
Handful of Fresh Basil
1/3 Cup Lentil & Chickpea Sprouts
1 Tbsp Sunflower Seed Butter
2 Tbsp Apple Cider Vinegar
1 Tsp Maple Butter (or 2 Tbsp Maple Syrup)
1 Tbsp Warm Water
1 Clove of Garlic
1 Inch Knob of Ginger
1 Turmeric Finger
1 Tsp Za’atar Blend

Using a veggie peeler make thin slices of carrot, trying to keep each strip in a long ribbon. Put in a bowl and set aside. In a smaller bowl, mix together the sunflower seed butter, apple cider vinegar, maple butter and water. Stir until combined and smooth. Using a zester or a fine grater, grate the garlic, the ginger and the turmeric over the sauce bowl, stir in the za’atar and mix well. Pour the sauce mixture over the carrots, slice the cherry tomatoes in half and add them to the bowl. Allow the mixture to sit for at least an hour, the flavors will be better the longer they mingle. Shred the basil with a sharp knife or by hand and garnish the top of the dish. Add the chickpea & lentil sprouts before serving.

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Noodle Buddha Bowl

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Sometimes, for dinner…  the best things are the simplest.  For years I have been making bowls of food and calling them “Buddha Bowls” – in fact one of my very first blog posts was a Buddha Bowl.  Really simple stuff, using what’s in the fridge, or garden, or window sill, whatever is available.

Today was a Buddha Bowl Day, for sure.  I have a fairly busy weekend ahead of me.. that coupled with a lot of fresh veggies in my fridge, and no real desire to cook anything extravagant; well the Buddha Bowl fit perfectly, right into my evening.

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This is the time of year everyone seems to be craving something simple, something warm, something with next to no clean-up effort. I can totally agree with all of that, the last thing I want to do is spend the final moments of daylight doing dishes. I am so very much looking forward to longer days!  One thing that I find is often forgotten come mid winter is that our bodies need extra love! I for one crave the crisp freshness of fruits and vegetables so much more when the season offers so much less.  I try to buy smart, I try to purchase mostly what is in season – this week though, when I saw the sweet peas. I couldn’t resist.

Super delicious little crunchy loves that remind me of summer, that immediately transport me to a warm and sunny day in the grass.  I think that being shot off to a different time was just as important for my inner-self as eating the little loves was for my physical body. Just a little winter break, that’s all I needed.  Well..  that and a steaming hot bowl of buckwheat noodles, covered in veggies and doused in a cashew satay sauce.

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Soba Noodle Buddha Bowl
serves two

Handful of Buckwheat Noodles
1 Large Carrot
2 Large Portabello Mushrooms
3 Rainbow Chard Leaves
Handful of Peas
1 Large Broccoli Crown
1/4 Cup Raw Cashew Pieces
Creamy Cashew Satay Sauce

Grate the carrot, chop the chard into long strips, cut the broccoli into florets and slice the mushroom length wise into medium-thin strips. Place the portabellos into a pan with a few tablespoons of water. Cook until they are soft, adding more water as needed. Bring a medium sized pot of water to a boil and add the buckwheat noodles, cook until tender. Remove the noodles with a pair of tongs, placing them into a colander and rinsing with cold water. Quickly add the peas and the broccoli to the boiling water – leave them there for no longer than a minute, removing them with the tongs and adding them to the colander to drain.  Reserve 1 cup of the boiling water for the satay sauce.

Cashew Satay Sauce

1 Cup of Boiling Water
2.5 Tablespoons Cashew Butter
2 Teaspoons Apple Cider Vinegar
1/2 Teaspoon Umeboshi Paste
1 Thai Chili
1 Teaspoon Grated Ginger

Suuuuper simple…. Add all ingredients into a jar and shake until combined.

Assembly

Lay the strips of chard on the bottom of each bowl, top with noodles, mushrooms, broccoli and peas. Slowly pour the satay sauce along the side of the bowl, filling the bottom. This will help soften the chard. Top with grated carrot and raw cashew pieces.

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Balsamic Beads & Alien Veggies

Romanesco…

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Roma-whaa?  Romanesco.  Rad, eh?  I’m a sucker for treasures of the produce section.. Seriously.

A few years ago I saw a whole pile of these alien looking broccoli-cauliflower-whatever-the-heck’s, just tucked casually between the sprouts and the beans. No biggie, just a friggin’ UFO hybrid.  I didn’t buy one, I just tucked my basket in a little closer and scooted my butt on by never to see one again.  Until this week. There was one left, I went for it.

So what the bleep is it!? It’s a relative of cauliflower, broccoli and cabbage, a dense spirally flower.  Tastes more like cauliflower, than broccoli, and breaks apart like it too.  It works well sauteed, steamed, and of course – raw.

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I love and absolutely can’t get over these beautiful tasty spirals. So stunning to look at, shocking even. I sent a photo of my first romanesco experience to le boyfriend and he gave me the “…” type response.  Something along the lines of “What the……” – Perfect. It’s perfect! We had the exact same response, years apart. What better way to get creative with food, than to add in something that is so unusual?!

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Let’s add to the unusual.  Balsamic beads. Pearls. Balls.  Whatever you want to call them. It’s called molecular gastronomy. Science+Food. I had the absolute pleasure of assisting Chef Pierre Lamielle in a molecular gastronomy class a few weeks back, a class I had been suuuper pumped about.  I put my name into the bid for which classes I would get to volunteer for, choosing 18 total. The only one I really, really had to make sure I somehow got to – was the molecular class. Ding ding! What fun it was! He talked a bit about the different components used in molecular gastronomy, different ingredients to make foams and spheres.  He mentioned his favorite to work with is agar, which was thrilling for me – as I am familiar with agar agar and being that it is a seaweed product, am happy to use it in my own kitchen.

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Molecular kits can be purchased online, and sometimes in specialty kitchen stores; agar agar can be found powdered or flaked in some health food stores and in most Asian markets. So if making “caviar” out of vinegar, fruit juices or whatever liquid you fancy is the goal – simple agar powder is the way to go. Since the molecular class, I have been using Chef Pierre Lamielle’s instructions for making balsamic “caviar” but have altered the measurements a tad seeing as I do not own a molecular kit.

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Tomato & Romanesco Salad with Balsamic Beads

1 Handful of Yellow Grape Tomatoes
1 Handful of Red Grape Tomatoes
1 Small Head of Romanesco
2-3 Tbsp Chia Oil (flax oil, or good quality oil of choice)
1 Tbsp Fresh Chive – sliced thin
1/4 Cup Shredded Basil
6-7 Chunks of Chevre (omit for vegan option)
Salt & Fresh Ground Pepper
1/3 Cup Balsamic Vinegar
1-1.5 Tsp Agar Powder
3 Cups Cheap Olive Oil
Syringe

Slice the tomatoes in half, and pull apart the romanesco – leaving it chunky. Toss the tomatoes, romanesco, chia oil, sliced chives and shredded basil in a large glass bowl. Sprinkle with salt and as much fresh pepper as desired. Toss the salad, then add the chunks of chevre. Allow this to sit out while making the balsamic beads. Fill a large pint glass or jar with the olive oil and pop it in the freezer to chill for about 30-45 minutes. The key is cheap oil, which is usually heat pressed and therefore won’t solidify as quickly in cold temperatures. In a small pot combine the agar and the balsamic vinegar, bring it to a simmer – stirring to dissolve the powder. Once dissolved, transfer to a bowl or cup and set aside. Take the chilled olive oil from the freezer, pull the balsamic liquid up into a syringe and drip it one drop at a time into the oil. The beads will fall to the bottom of the jar, forming as they chill. Stir gently to unstick if necessary. Drain the oil from the glass into another container and sprinkle as many of the balsamic beads as desired over the salad.

Voila!

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Loving Tomato Jam & Lentil-no-meat Balls

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Sometimes, I seem to have a serious craving for spaghetti and meatballs.  Not that I necessarily have eaten loads of meatballs in my life, but the craving sometimes can be pretty darn strong.  Something about an Italian meal gets me…  I think it’s the sensory aspect.  The basil, garlic, oregano, slowly cooking tomatoes..  The way it makes the whole house smell so warm and lived in.

I tend to not really buy many things pre-made, I like to know what goes into my food and I find that often the simplest of ingredients can give such amazing flavor. It’s an enormous reward to know that it was created from scratch! That is entirely true for tomato sauce, whether it is slow roasted, simmered and loved or tossed together in a pinch – homemade is always the way to go.  I have a secret love for what I call “tomato jam”, I pile it on everything that resembles noodles. It’s quick, has this… super crazy punchy flavor, and makes the house smell divine. I originally drummed it up as a condiment for a savoury tart, having oodles of left overs I scooped it into half of a spaghetti squash and have never looked back.

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Now, this weekend… there couldn’t just be spaghetti without meatballs. There just couldn’t.  Cooking for folks who are a tad on the green side of this whole “veggie” thing (no pun intended, ha!), means that sometimes there needs to be real alternatives that.. well, don’t really seem like an alternative. Now I’m not claiming that these lentil-no-meat balls could fool a carnivore, but they sure would satisfy one!  Lentils are great! Super easy to cook (or sprout), great source of plant based protein, and they work well with so many different dishes.  Growing up, my mom used to make this lentil… bake.  I can honestly say that’s what we named it, I don’t remember it having any other title. Lentil bake.  It had tomatoes, cheese…. herbs, I don’t know. It was delightful. I have tried to recreate it a number of times with no success, these little balls paired with my tomato jam – well they measure up well. Le Boyfriend even enjoyed them!

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New Spaghetti & Meatballs
(makes for about 4 people)

2 Large Zucchini

Punchy Tomato Jam

5-6 Medium Red Tomatoes
1 Cup Sundried Tomatoes
3+ Cloves of Garlic
1/2 Cup Water
1/3-1/2 Cup Apple Cider Vinegar
Salt & Pepper

Lentil-no-meat Balls

1 Cup Cooked French Lentils
1/2 Cup Cooked Quinoa
2 Shallots
2 Cloves of Garlic
1-2 Tsp Olive Tapenade
3+ Tbsp Water
1/2 Tsp Smoked Paprika
2-3 Tsp Shichimi Togarashi
1-2 Tsp Nutritional Yeast
Salt & Pepper
1/3 Cup Quinoa Flakes

Tomato Jam: Wash & chop the tomatoes leaving the skin on, and a decent chunky size. Slice the sun dried tomatoes, roughly chop the garlic.  In a medium pot, heat up the water to a simmer then add in both the dried and fresh tomatoes and the garlic. Cook uncovered for about 10 minutes keeping the heat at a medium temperature. Season with salt and pepper once the tomatoes have begun to soften and release their juice, about another 5 minutes. Add the apple cider vinegar, and continue to cook until the tomatoes have deepened in color, the house smells amazing, and the mixture has thickened up a bit.

No-meat Balls: Preheat the oven to 375 and lightly coconut oil or prepare with parchment – a cookie sheet. In a food processor, pulse the lentils, quinoa, tapenade, shallots, garlic and water (add if necessary, table spoon at a time) until it begins to pull from the sides and stick together. For a more uniform texture, continue processing a touch longer with a tad more water. Add in the spices,nutritional yeast, salt and pepper, and give it another quick pulse to incorporate. Remove the blade, and mix the quinoa flakes in by hand. Form the mixture into balls and set on prepared cookie sheet. Bake in the oven for 10-12 minutes, turning them, and baking for another 5-10 or until browned and firm.

Assembly: Wash and spiralize or julienne the zucchini into noodles, divide between bowls. Spoon on the hot tomato jam and then top with the lentil balls. Voila!

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I like it… Hot! Hot! Hot!

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Needing a spicy butt kicking?  This is your condiment. Right here.

I may have been experiencing some mild congestion as I washed and stemmed these steaming hot little loves.  Let me tell you…  it didn’t last long. Moments, maybe.  The second that those precious, spicy, tear inducing oils burst out of their shell – holy smokes!

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I remember as a kid, one of the scariest condiments that lived in the fridge was sambal oelek.  Fiery and hot, not exactly my favorite. As I got older, I began to love spice, even extreme spice.  You know, the kind that sears your mouth and makes every cell in your body awake, attentive, and uncomfortable. My first real experience with that kind of heat was in Thailand; a glass noodle salad that became my staple lunch was so incredibly hot that I would literally need to get up and walk around in between bites.  I loved it!  I can’t say I go out of my way to experience that kind of tongue sizzle on a regular basis here at home, but boy did I enjoy it at the time.

A typical sambal is made of chilies, garlic, ginger, fish sauce or shrimp paste, and some type of vinegar.  Generally all warming herbs.  Ginger to make you sweat and get your fires burning inside, chilies to ignite your mouth, vinegar to light up all the flavors and spike your taste buds. A sauce to truly warm you on all levels.  I had an abundance of Birds Eye chilies, along with some of this years fresh garlic – seeing as my spice cupboard is already essentially overflowing, and I have a jar full of dried Birds Eye’s already… a sambal was the next logical use.

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My version….  A spicy, pungent, multi-use condiment free of fish sauce or shrimp paste, made by hand using a pestle and mortar. Five simple ingredients, ultra warming, naturally preserving, and seriously butt kicking.  Versatility wise, you can pretty much use whatever type of chilies you have access to, even use a couple of different types!  Sauces, especially simple ones like this are so easy to switch up depending on what you have on hand.

 

Super Spicy Sambal

1 Cup Whole Birds Eye Chilies
1 Head of Garlic
1 Stalk of Lemongrass
3 Tbsp Quality Sea Salt
1/2 Cup Raw Ume Plum Vinegar (Rice vinegar works super well too!)

Peel the garlic, keeping the cloves whole. Bruise and coarsely chop the lemongrass. Using a pestle and mortar to pulverize, begin with the chilies, about half a cup. Twist, mash, and crush the chilies; burst them open. Once they begin to develop a pulp, add in the other half cup, continuing to grind. Once all chilies have been pressed open, add in the garlic and lemongrass, pressing and popping open each clove. Sprinkle with salt, and allow the mixture to sit for about 15-20 minutes. The salt will help release the juices from the herbs.  Begin once again twisting and mashing the mixture, squeezing out more and more liquid. Once the sauce is as uniform, or as chunky as you wish it to be – I wanted mine to be a bit chunky because I love biting into spicy, vinegary garlic – pour the vinegar in and give it a couple more good squeezes. Transfer to a sterilized glass jar, leaving room at the top. Refrigerate, and enjoy on basically anything!

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Makin’ Muhammara!

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A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of being taken to a Middle Eastern restaurant down the street from my house.  After a bit of a back and forth between whether or not to go with a “red pepper, pomegranate juice & walnut dip”.. .  I convinced my darling date we should try it out.  I tell you, it was lovely. Eating with him is always a wonderful experience, it’s so obvious when he is truly enjoying something.  He is expressive with pointing, mumbling, and a whole lot of “Oh my.. this is so good! (enter pointing).. so good.. (add in a head shake).. Man!”.  After his first few finger-points at the plate, I knew it was a good choice!

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Not only is it super simple to make, it tastes amazing right away, or the allowance of melding flavors provides an amazing taste experience if you leave it over night..  similarly in most ways to hummus.  The star of the show however, is not a garbanzo bean – it’s a walnut!   I have a very healthy relationship with hummus… that relationship will be changing drastically with the introduction of Muhammara.

Whether you want to roast the peppers on a flame or grill, or buy them roasted in a jar – it doesn’t matter.  As long as the charred skin has been removed, they work beautifully either way!  Pomegranate molasses is commonly sold in Middle Eastern supermarkets and specialty shops, if you can’t find it regular pomegranate juice is fine.. just add a touch more lemon juice.

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Muhammara

1.5-2 Cups of Raw Walnuts
5-6 Roasted Red Peppers (skin removed)
Juice of half a Lemon
1/4 Cup Water
4 Cloves of Garlic
3-4 Tbsp Pomegranate Molasses
Marash Chili or Dried Spicy Chili Flakes

Make sure the red peppers are at room temperature if you’ve roasted them yourself, then in a high powered blender or food processor combine all ingredients except the marash and/or chili flakes.  Taste the muhammara, if it is a bit sweet add some more lemon or pomegranate molasses.  Either scoop it out and eat it right away, or pop it in the fridge and it’ll keep for a few days. Sprinkle with marash or chili flakes before serving.   This beautiful dip goes very well with flat breads, pitas and nigella naan!

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Tantalizing Roasted Garlic

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Anyone who knows me really well… knows that garlic is one of my favorite things to cook with. It’s not uncommon for me to use a whole head in a dish…. I eat it all the time. Seriously. It’s rare to find me eating a salad without a head of roasted garlic in it, soups, sauteed veggies, sauces… raw when I’m getting sick – you name it. I am a total garlic freak.

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Roasting garlic is an experience I truly feel everyone should have.  Everything about it… the warmth of the stove, the sharp scent while it’s still raw, the stick of the papery outer layers, the heady aroma while it cooks and caramelizes, and of course..  the best part, eating it.  Roasted garlic, my total food romance.

Garlic has been used for ages as a home remedy as it is anticarcinogenic, antifungal and antibacterial.  Whether it’s warding off a vampire or a cold/flu virus, garlic is definitely king in the kitchen.  Adding it not only enhances flavor, but safety as well. People living in a hot climate know… similarly to using lemongrass, putting a few pieces of raw garlic into a pot of rice prohibits bacterial formations that would be harmful to us if ingested. It eliminates toxins from the body, which you’ll be familiar with if you’ve ever had too much at one time…  not only do you have a garlicky aroma yourself, but you can feel your body detoxing big time! Garlic stimulates the metabolism, as well as promotes happy bacteria in the intestine. It’s amazing really, it’s used all over the world! So many different cultures, tastes and remedies.  I love it. It is a strong taste, of course.. so my general feeling is – you like garlic? Add lots. Not a big fan? Then don’t.   For garlic lovers, and garlic haters … this stinky bulb can make or break a dish. In my world… it makes everything better.

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Roasted Garlic

Whole Head of Garlic
Coconut or Grapeseed Oil

Roasting garlic is so simple…  preheat the oven to 350 or 375. Slice off the top part of the garlic, removing just the tips. You want to keep the head intact, papery skin on. This exposes the cloves to the heat and allows them to roast deeper, quicker. If you choose to use oil, add a small amount to the freshly exposed cloves. Some people like to wrap the garlic heads in foil, some don’t… I have tried both methods and typically just leave them uncovered. Why use the foil if it’s not necessary? Whether it’s wrapped in foil or not, place it top side up in an oven-safe baking dish and bake for about 30-45 minutes. The tops will be nice and golden, beautifully caramelized and the inner portion will be deliciously soft. Allow the bulb to cool a bit, then careful not to burn your fingers.. squeeze each clove out of the paper gently. It should just pop right out!  From here…  you could spread it on toast, add it to a salad, sauce, pasta, absolutely anything! Enjoy each sweet clove!

The simple diversity of tomatoes…

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This was the first year I actually planted my own garden, it was a lovely experience! I spent a long time thinking about what my favorite plants are and drew out countless maps of the back yard. Collecting seeds each time I saw some that fit my plans, and even some that didn’t. I bought bags and bags of bulbs, and the day I actually decided to plant them was wonderful!  With help, the garden that was already in place had been dug up and reworked in no time!  Among the black tulips, multicolored hyacinths, gladiolus, hollyhock, lilies and sunflowers I hid some sage, chocolate mint, and an almost bush like french lavender. The excitement I felt running out each morning to see what new shoots had broke through was beyond anything I had expected.  I felt like I had truly accomplished something beautiful and something that could potentially return for many years of enjoyment.  I purchased a number of varieties of tomato, hot pepper, and even a vertical basil plant – all of which did tremendous – except the tomatoes.  This was very unfortunate for me, because I have a strong love for fresh beautiful tomatoes. I don’t know what I did wrong, they had plenty of sun… plenty of water… I don’t know, some rookie mistake I’m sure.

None of it really ended up mattering, seeing as I no longer reside anywhere near my beautiful garden.  I did manage to bring with me the vertical basil, along with a big bushy nasturtium and a large pot full of rosemary and thyme. Oh but the tomatoes….. A friend of mine, who happened to have walked me through my gardening adventure, has just recently left for Europe – the day before he left he offered me some of his tomatoes. Now let me make it clear…  he is married to a real green thumb. They have the most beautiful garden, it wraps right around their house and man! It is amazing. I spent the morning there one day in the early spring digging up what had become over grown and transplanting it into my own yard. They were looking to unload as many tomatoes as possible before departing on their month long trip. This was music to my ears! I left with about 8lbs of ripe and totally unripe tomatoes.

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He was a slightly hesitant as he loaded me up, asking a few times if I would truly use so many. Would I? As I looked down into the very heavy bag before me I almost wondered that myself…  and then in an instant that thought was banished. Of course I would! I have since been using fresh, organic, local tomatoes in absolutely everything. All sorrows of my own poor tomato plants have been cast aside!  The one thing I hadn’t thought of, about having so many tomatoes… was where I would put them. Not in the fridge, besides the fact that there is no room in my shelfless fridge, I wouldn’t want them in there anyway. So, they have been taking up my entire kitchen counter for the last week.  Finally, with most of them nearing ripeness and some of them starting to wrinkle, I decided it was time to get to work.

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I decided, beyond a giant batch of roasted garlic tomato soup, the next logical option would be salsa!  I split the ripest of the reds, tossing in a number of the wrinkly cherries; and the wonderfully cheerful yellows for two batches of perfectly simple salsa. Simple being that I wanted to have a strong tomato flavor, while still having a regular punch of a spicy salsa. A lot of people like to add cumin, or paprika, corn or beans… I just wanted something that would showcase the freshness of my ingredients without over complicating.

Mellow Yellow

About 2 cups of yellow cherry tomatoes (whole)
1.5 Hungarian hot peppers (any spicy variety would work!)
4 cloves of garlic
1 small yellow onion
1/3 cup of chopped fresh cilantro
juice from 2 limes
pinch of salt

 Literally toss the tomatoes into a pot with a couple table spoons of water and got it simmering. As that gets going, dice the hot pepper, onion and garlic. Add some salt to the pot, and then toss in the garlic mixture.  Make sure to stir, you don’t want your baby tomatoes burning to the bottom! Once all of the tomatoes have popped open add in the lime, juicing half at a time and tasting after each one. Last but not lease, stir in the cilantro! Some people like more tang, some less, so make sure you taste as you go!   I finished mine off in a hot water bath to properly can and seal, but it would be perfect to enjoy immediately as well!

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I wanted the red batch to be a bit bolder, so I decided to use some chipotle powder to amp up the heat. I figured since I was changing the color, and adding some spicy smoky flavor, I may as well make it chunky too!

Chunky Chipotle 

About 2.5 cups of diced firm red tomatoes
1 cup of red cherry tomatoes
5 cloves of garlic
half of a Hungarian Hot Pepper
1 small yellow onion
Chipotle powder – to taste
1/3 cup of chopped fresh cilantro
Juice from 2 limes

Similar to the Mellow Yellow salsa, add a few table spoons of water to a pot and toss in the chopped tomatoes. Once they begin to break down, add the cherry tomatoes and the hot pepper. Allow that to simmer and the cherry tomatoes to start to soften. Add the garlic and onion, and stir well. As some of the cherries begin to pop, stir in the chipotle about a teaspoon at a time depending on how much you like. Personally I like the smoky heat a lot so I added quite a bit. Squeeze in the lime, again tasting as you go, to bring everything together. Add salt if you wish, this will help to bring out the boldness of the chipotle. Finally stir in the cilantro and voila!

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