Sunday, September 29, 2013

Carrot Soup with Greens

The leaves are beginning to blush, there’s a chill in the air and we’re closing our windows at night.  Summer has waved good-bye. Normally, I wish for summer to linger on a bit, but after the glorious sunny months we just enjoyed I am happy to welcome fall. The changing seasons have brought changes for our family, too.

This past week was filled with emotion and excitement. We took our son, Sam, to University of Oregon where he is starting his freshman year.  Let me just say, the process of letting go is not easy, yet I know Sam is ready for this new chapter. I’m missing him like crazy and at the same time know he’s in for so much fun and learning. I’ve loved every phase of parenting and this new stage holds many yet-to-be-discovered joys.

Still, comfort food was in order and a warm, simple bowl of soup felt right. I’m starting to stock our freezer with jars of soup for the cold nights ahead here in the valley. At the market, carrots are still available and when I grabbed a couple of bunches recently I had soup ideas dancing around in my mind. Some baby greens also snuck into my bag, so with these ingredients in tow I headed home to make soup.

Soon I had a pot of carrots simmering away in chicken broth with onions and red chiles. After a quick puree, I added a splash of lime juice, some fresh basil and a mix of baby kale, chard and bok choy. The greens wilted quickly and I ladled the finished soup into bowls. I swirled a dollop of coconut cream into each bowl, its creaminess balancing the spicy kick of chiles nicely.

Snuggled up by the fire with autumn unfolding all around, I sip my soup and hear about Sam’s new life in Oregon. It’s all good.

Carrot Soup with Greens
Makes just over 2 quarts

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, diced
2 1/2 pounds carrots, washed and cut into 1/2 inch slices (I don’t bother to peel them)
3 small red chiles, minced
6 cups chicken or vegetable stock
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 limes, juiced
2 tablespoons fresh basil, minced
8 ounces greens, such as a mix of baby kale, chard and bok choy, chopped if leaves are large
Coconut cream to dollop (optional)

In a large soup pot, warm the olive oil over medium high heat. Add the onions and cook until they are soft and beginning to brown, stirring a few times. Add the carrots, chiles, stock and salt and bring to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat and simmer for about 8-10 minutes, until the carrots are soft. Remove from the heat. Using an immersion blender, puree the soup in the pot until smooth.  Return the pot to the heat and add the lime juice, basil and greens. Cook over medium high heat for about 2 minutes, just until the greens are wilted. Serve hot with a dollop of coconut cream.

The soup can be made ahead of time through the blending step. At that point, cool and then chill the soup. When close to serving, reheat the soup and proceed with adding the lime juice, basil and greens.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Herb and Tomato Salad with Pomegranate Dressing

Sometimes an ingredient slips into your kitchen and lingers, hanging around in the cabinet waiting for you to discover it, play with it, and you end up say, “Wow!” This is what happened to me with pomegranate molasses.

Pomegranate molasses is pomegranate juice that is cooked down until it concentrates into a thick, luscious, tart syrup. Over the years, I’ve used a teaspoon here and a drizzle there, but the full magic of pomegranate molasses didn’t hit me until I started using it in a starring role – I hadn’t been using enough to really take note of that fruity, tangy, richness.

This month in our Tasting Jerusalem cooking group we’re focusing on pomegranate molasses, which features prominently in some Middle Eastern dishes. I was eager to grab my bottle and start cooking!

The first recipe I made from Jerusalem was the Fried Cauliflower with Tahini. Rather than frying, though, I roasted the cauliflower which is always my favorite way to prepare it. I then tossed it with green onions (the recipe calls for a variety of fresh herbs but I only had green onions on hand) and then dressed it with a mix of tahini paste, Greek yogurt, lemon juice and pomegranate molasses. This dressing is unbelievably good – tart and creamy – and I’ll be making it again soon.

Sparked by this delicious dish, I began thinking of other ways to use pomegranate molasses in a more abundant way. As I was starting to take a photo of the bottle, there were some very ripe tomatoes on the table and seeing them in the background inspired me to pair these ingredients together.

I chopped up the tomatoes and, having just replenished my fresh herbs, I added a shower of woodsy thyme, bright mint, earthy parsley and green onions.  To dress these lush tomatoes and fragrant herbs, I mixed pomegranate molasses (a lot) with olive oil and gently tossed it all together. Some toasted walnuts added crunch and reminded me of the traditional Persian dish, fesenjen, which has a sauce of ground walnuts and pomegranate molasses. A spicy bite from red chile rounded it out. I spooned the tomatoes and herbs over a bed of arugula and we dove into this pretty salad. And my bottle of pomegranate molasses sits in the front of the cabinet now.

I’m excited to be heading back to Seattle for the International Food Bloggers Conference this weekend and hope to see many of you there!

Herb and Tomato Salad with Pomegranate Dressing
Serves 4-5

1 1/2 pounds tomatoes, diced
1/2 cup walnuts, toasted and roughly chopped
1/3 cup thyme leaves
1 cup mint leaves
1 bunch Italian parsley, roughly chopped
1 bunch green onions, thinly sliced
1 small red chile, minced
1/4 cup pomegranate molasses
1/8 cup olive oil
Salt to taste
2 cups arugula

In a large mixing bowl, gently mix the tomatoes, walnuts, herbs and chile together. In a small bowl, stir together the pomegranate molasses and olive oil and drizzle over the salad. Stir a little bit and add some salt to taste. Place the arugula on a serving platter and spoon the salad on top before serving.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Grilled Peaches with Chevre and Honey

We’re still outside grilling and holding onto the warm evenings for as long as possible.  I’m savoring every last bite of summer and, with all the orchards just down the road, I’m eating the best peaches of my life. Sweet and juicy, I can’t even begin to count how many pounds of luscious peaches have entered our kitchen. A happy time indeed!

In addition to eating peach dumplings, peach pie, peach jam and just plain peaches, I made this simple dessert of Grilled Peaches with Chevre and Honey.  I grilled peach halves until warm and soft, then topped each with a little scoop of soft goat cheese and a drizzle of honey.

We have a marvelous local source for goat cheese here in the valley, Sunny Pine Farm, and their chevre is really lovely - creamy and indulgent, with just the right amount of tanginess to complement the sweetness of peaches and honey. A pinch of flaky sea salt and a sprig of fresh mint finished them off nicely.

This is a flexible recipe and allows you to use whatever late summer stone fruit, herb or soft cheese you may have on hand. Grill some nectarines and top with feta, or use maple syrup and thyme in place of honey and mint.  You can also bake the peach halves in your oven until soft and go from there. Just be sure to serve these little treats warm, so the cheese is meltingly soft and decadent, a glorious way to celebrate these last heavenly days.

Grilled Peaches with Chevre and Honey
Serves 4

2 ripe peaches, sliced in half and stones removed
Soft goat cheese
Flaky sea salt
4 sprigs of fresh mint

Heat your barbecue on high until very hot. Place the peach halves cut side down on the grill and close the top. Grill for about 6 minutes, or until the peaches are soft but not mushy. Carefully remove each peach half to a small plate. Scoop a tablespoon of goat cheese on top, drizzle with honey and sprinkle on a generous pinch of flaky sea salt. Garnish with mint and serve right away.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Chicken with Date Syrup for Rosh Hashanah

There’s a whole lot of new going on! Yesterday, Isaac began his junior year at a new high school, in a new town. Tonight begins Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. Later this month, Sam begins college in a new state. It’s an exciting time!

The timing this year of Rosh Hashanah and the start of school in the same week is a bit hectic, but also rather ideal to me. The vision of a lovely, fresh year stretching ahead, full of possibility, learning, fun and growth, is quite appealing. My arms are wide open!

And at the moment, my arms are hugging a new bottle of date syrup, a gift from dear friends who just returned from a family visit to Israel. When Julie gave it to me, I really did hug it – she remembers how much I love this sweet stuff. Five years ago, our families were together in Israel to celebrate Sam’s bar mitzvah and we discovered date syrup.

Date syrup is thicker than maple syrup, with the distinct flavor of dates and a rich brown color. It’s delicious over ice cream or yogurt, and when stirred into tahini it makes a marvelous dip. I’m thinking it will be a terrific vinaigrette ingredient, too. I’m also happy eating it with a spoon.

Sweet foods, such as honey, carrots, dates and apples, are traditional to eat during Rosh Hashanah. With this in mind, I brushed some chicken drumsticks with date syrup and roasted it for a simple, delicious dish. When the chicken emerged from the oven, the kitchen filled with the warm, delicious scent of dates. The drumsticks were beautifully glazed, with a sprinkling of sesame seeds for added texture and flavor. The chicken was meltingly soft, sticky and tender, with a deep caramelized taste. Perfect for a sweet holiday!

I’m looking forward to gathering our family around the table with friends to dip apples in honey (and date syrup!) and celebrate this new year.  Shana tovah u’metukah! Wishing you all a good and sweet year. Happy 5774!

Chicken with Date Syrup
Serves  4

2 1/2 pounds chicken drumsticks
1/4 cup date syrup (date syrup, sometimes called date honey, can be found in Middle Eastern markets)
1/8 cup raw sesame seeds

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and pull out a rimmed baking sheet large enough to hold the chicken in a single layer. In a large bowl, combine the chicken, date syrup and sesame seeds. Toss with your hands to coat evenly. Place the drumsticks in a single layer on the baking sheet and pop in the oven. Bake for about 45 minutes, or until the chicken is done to your liking. Serve warm with additional date syrup for drizzling.