Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Nectarine and Basil Relish

A bowl of lusciously ripe nectarines sits on my picnic table, totally irresistible to me. I bite into one, juice dribbling down my arm, and it is pure heaven. Oh summer, how I do love you.

When I’m not devouring these beauties by the pound, I’m slicing them for pies and cobblers and dreaming of new ways to enjoy them, which led to this simple, more savory dish.

Not quite salsa and not quite salad, I landed upon relish as a way to describe it. Sweetly scented nectarines are sliced and gently mixed with crisp red peppers, red onion and bright basil. A zesty, citrusy dressing rounds out the flavors nicely.

Soft and crunchy and full of juicy color! This is a quick one to prepare and enjoy when gathered with friends. Whether served alongside grilled chicken or perhaps a cheese platter, this pretty relish celebrates some splendid tastes of summer.

Nectarine and Basil Relish
Serves 4

3 ripe nectarines (about 1 pound or so), pitted and sliced into eighths
1/2 red onion, diced
1/4 cup fresh basil, sliced thinly
1/2 red pepper, diced
1 lime, zested and juiced
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Salt to taste

Place the nectarines, red onion, basil and red pepper in a medium sized serving bowl. Whisk together the lime zest and juice, garlic, olive oil and vinegar. Drizzle over the nectarine mixture and gently stir. Salt to taste and chill for about an hour before serving.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Israeli-Style Salad with Crispy Chickpeas

Salad and summer go hand in hand. When the sun is shining and temperatures soar, a crunchy, refreshing salad is wonderful, even for breakfast. This month for Tasting Jerusalem, we’ve been focusing on all the brilliant salads that are featured in Jerusalem. Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi share an abundance of creative, tempting recipes and it’s been such a treat to explore them.

A salad that caught my eye was the Spiced Chickpeas and Fresh Vegetable Salad. Diced cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, red pepper, radishes and herbs are served alongside a generous helping of well-spiced, fried chickpeas. I’ve had this recipe marked for months now and when I learned of July’s theme I couldn’t wait to make it.

The salad is similar to a traditional Israeli one, which typically includes tomatoes, cucumbers, parsley or cilantro and onions, and is a staple in our household. I decided to change the recipe up a bit and use some herbs I had on hand. In place of the customary parsley and cilantro, I chopped up fresh mint and lemon thyme for a pop of summer flavor. Inspired by another salad recipe in Jerusalem that I’ve enjoyed, I added kohlrabi in place of the radishes for more crunch. I also like to include diced pickles in my Israeli salad (something I learned from my dear friend, Iris) so I went ahead and chopped a few up. Speaking of chopping, when making a salad like this, it’s important to have a small, even dice for both the texture and look.

Rather than frying the chickpeas, I roasted them in the oven since this is one of my favorite snacks and I liked the idea of using them in a new way. Tossed with cardamom, cumin, sumac and a pinch of salt, the chickpeas emerged fragrant and toasty from the oven. If you like to nibble as I do, I’d recommend making extra chickpeas or you may not have any left for the salad!

I was very pleased! There’s a lot going on with the flavors and textures in this pretty salad. After drizzling olive oil and a squeeze of lemon over it, I sprinkled the chickpeas on like croutons. I was even able to use large tomatoes from our garden. (In July! I just have to pause here and say large, ripe tomatoes in July are a first ... we usually only get little Sungolds in late July and the bigger ones in August and September. Truly a glorious time.) And if you’re looking for some breakfast inspiration, this salad is divine served with a couple of hard boiled eggs and plain yogurt on the side.

Israeli-Style Salad with Crispy Chickpeas
Serves 4 generously
Adapted from Jerusalem: A Cookbook
By Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi

1 cup cooked, drained chickpeas
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1/4 teaspoon cardamom
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon sumac
A pinch of flaky sea salt
1 English cucumber, cut into a 1/2 inch dice
2 large tomatoes, cut into a 1/2 inch dice
1/2 large red bell pepper, cut into a 1/2 inch dice
4 medium sized pickles, preferably a bit spicy, cut into a 1/2 inch dice
12 ounces (6 small) kohlrabi, peeled and cut into a 1/2 inch dice
1/2 of a red onion, cut into a 1/2 inch dice
10 sprigs of lemon thyme, leaves removed
1/4 cup fresh mint, roughly chopped
1/2 lemon, juiced (or more to taste)
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Dry the cooked chickpeas well by rolling them between 2 kitchen towels. This will help them get crisper. On a small, rimmed baking sheet drizzle 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Add the chickpeas and roll them around to coat. In a small bowl, combine the cardamom, cumin, sumac and a pinch of sea salt. Sprinkle this mixture over the chickpeas and toss them gently to coat. Roast the chickpeas until they are crispy, about 20-30 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside.

In a large serving bowl, combine all the veggies and herbs. Drizzle with the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil and lemon juice. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Just before serving, scatter the chickpeas on top.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Blackberry Barbecue Sauce

Ripe and plentiful! These words swirl in my head with the abundance of mid-summer’s bounty and I am almost giddy as I stuff my basket at the markets. Last week I just couldn’t resist a flat of blackberries.

We are living outdoors every moment possible, savoring what is truly the most glorious summer Seattle has experienced in many, many years. That means a long, delicious barbecue season, and since I’m always up for making condiments (I shared my love of homemade condiments here) I decided to get creative and try my hand at a new barbecue sauce using those luscious blackberries.

Fresh blackberries are simmered with a bright splash of cider vinegar, a squeeze of ketchup, some minced garlic and ginger, and a kiss of honey to round it out. At the last minute, I threw in a few grinds of black pepper and a couple shakes of crushed red chile peppers to pump up the spice.

Yes, this is a bold sauce! Vivid violet and viscous, it does indeed have a warm kick which is tempered a bit when spread on chicken or beef before grilling. If your blackberry bushes are bursting, this is a wonderful, savory way to cook with these little gems. Speaking of blackberry bushes, we heard a marvelous bluegrass band play on July 4th called the Blackberry Bushes Stringband. If you’re in the Northwest, I recommend seeing them.

And I have another recommendation for you ... one I’m super excited about! My new favorite cooking show is Kitchen Circus, and it was just released in its entirety on July 16th. Chef Thierry Rautureau, locally nicknamed The Chef in the Hat, is a Seattle celebrity and this show features home cooks competing together in his restaurant kitchen. My lovely friend, Erina, of The Attainable Gourmet is one of the contestants, too! I had the pleasure of seeing some sneak peeks and this is one fun, exciting show. I hope you check it out!

Blackberry Barbecue Sauce
Makes 1 cup

2 cups (10 ounces) fresh blackberries
1/4 cup ketchup
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons honey
1 heaping tablespoon fresh ginger, minced
A few grinds of black pepper
A few shakes of crushed red chile peppers (optional)

Combine all the ingredients in medium-sized sauce pan, stir and bring to a boil. Stir and lower the heat to a simmer. Let the sauce simmer for about 15 minutes, gently crushing the berries with the back of a wooden spoon and stirring to make sure it doesn’t stick. When the mixture has thickened, remove from the heat and let cool. The sauce will keep in a covered jar in the fridge for 2 weeks. Brush it on chicken or beef before grilling. Reserve some additional sauce to brush on just before serving, if desired.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Raspberry Chocolate Puddles

It’s a glorious time! A neighborhood gem is open for business and happy days are here. Every summer, Spooner Farms sets up a stand nearby and we take almost daily walks to it. We gobble their beautiful berries by the flat! And sometimes I am able to set aside a few pints to make these simple treats – Raspberry Chocolate Puddles.

While in college together, Bob and I worked at Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory. It was such a fun student job and I nibbled way more chocolate than I care to remember now!

We made chocolate truffles, caramel apples rolled in nuts, tiger butter and divinity fudge, and we dipped countless pretzels, strawberries, graham crackers and Oreos in chocolate.  Racks of all the confections made in the shop were displayed for passers-by on the sidewalk to drool over. One of the most appealing creations in the window, though, were the delicate puddles of chocolate with fresh raspberries dotting them. So festive and pretty!

While working in the shop, I loved putting on music and losing myself in making Raspberry Chocolate Puddles. Stirring the melted chocolate and pouring out little pools, picking out raspberries and carefully arranging them on top ... this was all a wonderful break from classes and studying. Of course, there were some puddles that were not quite display-worthy, so I also had the (awesome) responsibility of taking them home to eat and share with friends.

These days, I still love to melt chocolate and celebrate raspberry season with these quick, delightful treats!

Raspberry Chocolate Puddles
Makes 19-20

12 ounces good quality dark (I use 70 or 85%)
12 ounces fresh raspberries

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a small sauce pan, gently melt the chocolate over low heat, stirring often and removing it from the heat as soon as it’s mostly melted. Continue stirring off-heat until smooth.

Pour small puddles of chocolate onto the prepared baking sheet. Place 3 or 4 berries on each chocolate puddle. You may have a few berries leftover to nibble on. Let the chocolates harden at room temperature in a cool area or in the fridge for about an hour, or until they easily lift from the parchment paper. Store the treats in a single layer in the fridge.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Chicken Salad with Preserved Lemons and Basil

Summer is sizzling in Seattle and I couldn’t be happier! The warm mornings find me slipping out back with my iced coffee to enjoy the sounds of the day as it comes to life. The squeals of neighbor kids squirting water guns, baby chickadees chirping in our bird house, float planes flying overhead and sprinklers whooshing are comforting sounds to signal that summer is truly here.

With these hot days come balmy evenings and a desire for lighter dinners. A perfect time to start chopping up some of the sunny preserved lemons we are cooking with this month for Tasting Jerusalem! Preserved lemons can be found at gourmet shops and specialty kitchen stores, but with some time, they can easily be made at home.

Fresh lemons are slit open and stuffed with salt.

After sitting in a jar for a week, the lemons are covered with lemon juice and olive oil (and, if you prefer, a hot chile or fresh herb). They are then tucked away for a month to do their magic. The lemons transform into a salty, citrusy punch of flavor to which you will quickly become addicted. You will start adding them to salads and grains and stews and ... well, you get the picture. Usually only the skin is sliced or diced to eat, but I like to use the whole lemon. These yellow orbs keep for months, as long as they are covered with olive oil. The longer they sit, the better they become.

As I slipped a lemon out of the jar, I caught a whiff of basil. My basil plant has been going wild in the sunshine and if there is a scent that captures summer for me, it’s fresh basil. We’ve been eating lots of leafy salads and I wanted to make something a bit more substantial, yet with minimal cooking. Chicken salad!

Chicken salad is terrific to make ahead or in stages. I poached some chicken breasts on the stove top in the morning, before the heat of the day took over. Later, I shredded them and added homemade mayo, fresh lemon juice, basil and half a preserved lemon.  The salad can be eaten right away or chilled for a few hours, making it ideal to stash in a cooler. The preserved lemon and chicken are beautiful together, with the lemon adding bright bursts of briny flavor to every bite. The basil rounds out the salad with its floral, anise-like taste. It made a simple, satisfying dinner for us, eaten to the sounds of a summer day settling into the evening.

Chicken Salad with Preserved Lemon and Basil
Serves 2-3 as a light supper

3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (roughly 1 1/2 pounds)
1 fresh lemon, sliced in half to juice
2 tablespoons mayo (preferable homemade)
1/3 cup basil, roughly chopped
1/2 preserved lemon, rinsed and roughly chopped (for a less salty flavor, you can start with 1/4 preserved lemon)
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Place the chicken breasts in a single layer in a sauce pan. Add enough water to almost cover and squeeze in the juice from half a lemon. Bring to a boil, lower the heat to a gentle simmer and cover. Poach the chicken for about 20 minutes, until it is cooked and can be easily cut. Let cool in the broth. Shred the chicken and set aside or chill until ready to use.

In a medium sized bowl, combine the chicken with the mayo, basil, preserved lemon, pepper and the juice of the other half of the fresh lemon. Gently stir and taste for pepper. The preserved lemon will add plenty of salty flavor. Serve right away or chill for up to a few hours. You can serve on a bed of lettuce or make sandwiches.