Saturday, February 20, 2010

Spicy food for the Soul

Friday night dinners have become a real thing around here for the past few weeks. Last time, it was the "spoon lamb" with my rice pilaf. This time, I improved upon my rice with a fancy new spice mix I made, and served it alongside some Persian fried chicken (me!?? fried?? health more??) and salad with pomegranate vinaigrette.

I just worked all day and I'm not feeling too chatty, so I'll just dump these pictures and quick blurbs into your lap(top) for you to gander at.

Sweet (and savory!) dreamzzzz...
Take 2 of my pilaf involved the same basmati rice, this time with carrot ribbons braised in orange juice and zest, chopped toasted pistachios, and a spice blend that featured dried rose petals, black pepper, cumin, coriander, cardamom, cinnamon, and nutmeg, ground to a fine and fragrant powder in my spice grinder. I mixed the spice with some olive oil to make a paste, with which I coated the still hot rice, thus quickly cooking the spices and allowing them to melt into the soft floral scent of the basmati. Mmm, can you smell that....?

The Persian Fried Chicken recipe came from page 56 of Ana Sortun's book (still my new obsession), so I can't disclose the thing, but I'll tell ya this: I marinated chicken thighs in yogurt, garlic, and mint, and then dredged them in paprika-spiked flour, and fried them in a vat of hot oil until they looked like something deeply Southern. But they tasted Middle Eastern! Quite tricky.
The spinach salad was refreshing and dressed simply:
- 1/4 cup lemon juice (about 2 lemons)
- 1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses
- 3/4 cup olive oil

I'm considering going into business selling my own spice blends:
Whaddya think?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


I'm still totally digging this cookbook, Spice, and have finally stopped drooling long enough to produce one of its recipes: "Spoon Lamb," alongside a jeweled basmati rice pilaf of my own invention and the previously mentioned roasted chickpeas. While I would love to share with you all the exact steps I took to make this ridiculously delicious braised lamb dish, I fear copyright law infringement and will therefore keep this vague and picture-laden. Please note, the photos are courtesy of Kat Cheng Photography, and they're awesome. Check out Kat's site for other amazing photographs of non-edibles.

Some lamb highlights:

1. The butcher cut the lamb shoulder chops to order, as requested, in 2-inch thick crosswise pieces, with a really scary table saw.
2. After browning the lamb and sprinkling it with fresh ground cumin, I braised it in red wine with some vegetables for 3 hours, totally unattended. Meaning: Ultimate couch-potato time with Dan!

3. The sauce I later made from the strained braising liquid included a never-before-used ingredient: pomegranate molasses. Very tart, and good when counterbalanced with the acidity of lemon juice and the richness of butter.
4. The lamb consumption was accompanied by grateful moans. Always a good sign :)

"spoon lamb" with jeweled rice pilaf and crunchy roasted chickpeas

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


As a kid, I used to love mixing watercolor paints, inventing bold new colors, and sometimes just making a mess on the page. As an almost-adult, a palette of (and a palate for) spices has replaced my watercolor collection, and thanks to a gift from my dear friend Zahra, I now have a new source of inspiration for my taste compositions: "Spice," a cookbook by Ana Sortun, the chef/owner of my favorite restaurant in Cambridge, Oleana. (Mom, remember that meal??) Her approach to the cuisines of Turkey, Morocco, and the Arabic tradition in general, is totally exciting and accessible.

The problem with me and cookbooks, however, is that I tend to get too excited to wait and try an actual recipe. I flip through the pages, skimming the ingredients and looking at the pictures, until my impatience and food fervor takes hold of me and I am compelled to do some improv cooking with what I have at hand. It's sort of my way of welcoming a new cookbook into my life.

So, this snowy morning, drawing inspiration from Ana, I cooked a pot of chickpeas, mixed a spice blend of my own, and made a salty, addictive snack food that will knock those old wasabi peas right off your shelf!

Crunchy Chickpeas

3 cups cooked chickpeas
1 teaspoon whole cumin
1 teaspoon whole coriander seed
3 whole cardamom pods, outer green shells removed
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/4 cup olive oil
2 teaspoons kosher salt

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat.

2. Set a dry saute pan over high heat. Once hot, add the cumin, coriander, cardamom and peppercorns. Swirl the pan around until the seeds are fragrant but not toasted or burnt. Remove to a spice/coffee grinder, let cool, and grind to a fine powder.

3. Add the spice mixture to a small bowl and mix in the turmeric, olive oil, and salt.

4. In a large bowl, mix the chickpeas and spice paste until the chickpeas are evenly coated. Pour out onto the baking sheet and bake for 40-50 minutes, stirring the chickpeas every 10 minutes or so to ensure they roast evenly. Enjoy these as a garnish for a grain pilaf, or on their own as a healthy snack.

I want to know: What's your favorite spice mix?