Thursday, August 30, 2007

Lemongrass Egg Curry

I first tasted this dish in Boston, lovingly made by my friend Gillian. I always thought it came from her husband's mother, but in a recent email I was told that the recipe is from Bollywood actress turned chef Madhur Jaffrey. Her version involves straining out the onions and spices which makes for a lighter, more subtle curry. Mine is more intense since I puree all ingredients and dilute with coconut milk.
The primary flavor in this curry is lemongrass, also known as cymbopogon or cochin grass. The soft inner part of the stalk is used for cooking in the Caribbean, West Africa, Southeast Asia and South Asia. As the name implies, lemongrass has a citrus flavor and scent which comes from citral oil, its main constituent. It is widely used in curries, tea, soups and fish dishes. Lemongrass is closely related to citronella grass which produces the citronella oil used in soaps, insect repellants, disinfectants and candles.
In this curry, aromatic lemongrass is complemented by ginger, garlic and a touch of tamarind.
Serves 6

1 stick lemongrass, minced or 2 teaspoons lemongrass paste
2 inches cubed fresh ginger, minced or pureed
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoon coriander
1 teaspoon turmeric
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium sized onion, chopped
1/4 cup friend onions
6 cloves of garlic, minced
2 cans coconut milk (about 800 ml)
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon tamarind concentrate, or to taste
12 – 14 hard boiled eggs, shelled at room temperature
mint leaves for garnish

1. In a small bowl mix lemongrass, ginger, cayenne, pepper, coriander and turmeric until it forms a thick paste.
2. In a large pot, sauté both types of onion and garlic in oil until golden.
3. Add paste and sauté for a further ten minutes.
4. Transfer the onions and paste to a blender, add some coconut milk, and liquefy.
5. Transfer back to the pot. Add remaining coconut milk, salt and sugar.
6. Add tamarind paste in small amounts to make sure the curry does not become too bitter. Mix well.
7. Add the eggs and bring to a simmer.
8. Garnish with chopped mint leaves and serve over rice.

If you make this recipe (up to 3 days) in advance, do not add eggs to the curry until the final heating before you serve. Otherwise they may overcook and become hard.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Peach and Berry Crisp

One of my favorite summer treats is baked fresh fruit covered with a flour and oats topping. In the United States this is called a crisp, but in the United Kingdom it is known as a crumble. These desserts are often conflated with cobblers. In the U.S. a cobbler is baked fruit covered with a layer of pastry and in the U.K. it is usually a meat dish (often lamb casserole), covered with individual scones (the name derives from the word cobble, which is a round stone, as in cobblestone street).

These were invented as easy and inexpensive alternatives to fruit pies, which require a pie dish and carefully made pastry. Cobblers were created by pioneers in the American West and crumbles became popular in the U.K. during World War II because they required fewer rationed resources.

They are generally made with apples, peaches, plums, rhubarb and all types of berries. In the U.S. peach cobbler is a common and beloved dessert in the South and Apple Brown Betty (baked, spiced apples layered between buttered breadcrumbs) is popular in New England.

I made this crisp at my last bookclub session, and unfortunately, no one had a working camera to document it. Please forgive these stock photos from the web.

Serves 8 to 10


1 1/2 to 2 pounds fresh peaches (about 6 peaches), pitted and sliced
1 pound raspberries and/or blueberries (fresh or frozen)
1/4 cup tapioca
1 cup light brown sugar, packed

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup instant rolled oats
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks), cut into small cubes


1. Preheat the oven to 425 F.
2. In a three quart bowl toss fruit with tapioca and sugar. Bake for 15 minutes.
3. In a separate bowl combine flour, oats and salt.
4. Toss in butter and use a pastry cutter or your hands to blend until it resembles coarse meal.
5. Once fruit is cooked, scatter flour mixture on top. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes.
6. Serve warm with whipped cream or ice cream.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Ginger Cookie Sandwiches

I can’t believe that I haven’t written about ginger before. It is truly one of my favorite flavors. As a child I remember my mom buying great quantities of gnarled gingeroot, and making a jar of ginger paste to be generously doled into lentils and vegetable curries. From a young age I had a predilection for ginger snaps and ginger preserve (the British do this best), and regularly delight in ginger cookies and gingerbread, especially around Christmas.

Ginger is not actually a root but a rhizome, which is the subterranean stem of a plant. It originated in China and is now widely used in East Asia, South Asia, Middle East and the West. While the literature is inconclusive on its medical benefits, some studies have shown ginger to thin blood, lower cholesterol; it may also have sedative, analgesic and antibacterial properties. Check out the Wikipedia page for ginger, especially note the “References in popular culture” section which contains some very odd facts.

These cookies were inspired by 6-inch ginger cookie sandwiches which were famous at the Lazy Loaf and Kettle Café and Bakery that I frequented in Calgary. The café was a short drive from my first job, and once a week someone from the office would make a cookie run. Those sandwiches were certainly big enough to share… but I never did! My version is less cruel to the waistline.

Makes 30 sandwiches (60 cookies)

3/4 cup unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks)
1 cup dark brown sugar, packed
2 eggs
1/4 cup unsulphured molasses
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon allspice (optional)
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, minced
1/2 cup crystallized ginger, minced
1/2 cup granulated sugar (optional)

1 pound cream cheese (low fat is fine)
2 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1. In a medium size bowl combine flour, ground ginger, cinnamon, allspice, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
2. In another large bowl cream together butter and sugar. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Add molasses and beat well.
3. Slowly beat in flour mixture. Using a wooden spoon mix in fresh and crystallized gingers.
4. The batter will be very soft, so cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours or overnight.
5. Preheat oven to 350 F.
6. Roll batter into 3/4-inch balls and roll in granulated sugar (optional). Set 2 inches apart on parchment-lined baking sheets.
7. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until slightly brown. Cool on a wire rack.
8. Mix cream cheese and powdered sugar until well blended. Add vanilla extract and beat until smooth. Place a generous teaspoon of icing on the bottom of a cookie and sandwich with another cookie. Squeeze slightly to adhere.
9. Store cookie sandwiches in the fridge and serve within 5 days. Leave some single cookies for a less indulgent snack.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Feta, Tomato and Broccoli Frittata

Frittatas are my most dependable brunch entrée. They are easy to make, forgiving in ingredient amounts and types, and can be made the night before and served at room temperature.

I describe frittatas as a baked omelet or a crust-less quiche. The word comes from the Italian word fritto, meaning to fry. Most recipes call for first sautéing ingredients in a skillet followed by broiling, but since none of my skillets are ovenproof, I bake them in pie dishes instead. This is much easier, uses less fat and dirties one less pan.

Serves 2-4 as a light entree, 4-8 as a side dish

8 eggs
1/2 cups milk or whipping cream
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
4 green onions, sliced (optional)
1 small head of broccoli, cut into florets
6 ounces cubed feta cheese
1 pint plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise
4 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Grease the bottom and sides of a 9-inch round metal baking pan and line with parchment. Grease the parchment.
2. Beat eggs and add milk/cream, garlic, pepper and nutmeg. Beat well.
3. Add green onions, broccoli and feta cheese and mix gently.
4. Pour into a 9-inch metal or glass pie dish. Evenly distribute tomato halves (cut sides facing up).
5. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and bake for 30 to 40 minutes or until set.
6. Once cooled, gently remove by cutting around edge to dislodge. Invert onto a plate and then transfer to another plate so frittata is facing up. Slice into wedges and serve with a green salad.
7. Will stay fresh for 3 days - just cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Skinny Cherry Sesame Cookies

I was in the grocery store the other day and saw tahini on sale. I had always wanted to make hummus from scratch, so I bought a tub of tahini to motivate me. I haven’t yet made the hummus (I still plan to, so check this space in the coming months) but experimented with the tahini and came up with this unusual creation.

Tahini is a paste made from hulled, lightly roasted sesame seeds and is commonly used in Mediterranean cuisine. Sesame is also popular in East Asia where it is prized for its oil and used as garnish. While it is believed to have originated in Africa, the earliest use has been documented in India, Pakistan, Egypt and China. Some claim it is the oldest domesticated crop.

While sesame paste mixed with honey is a popular combination in Greece, Iran, Israel and India, tahini is not a common ingredient in North American and Western European sweets. Given the American penchant for super-sweet confections, I used two kinds of sugar and added cherries for good measure. While my “taste testers” could not identify the secret ingredient, they appreciated the unusual flavor of these cookies.

Makes 36 cookies

1 1/2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
1 cup quick oats
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks)
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup white granulated sugar
3/4 cup tahini
2 tablespoons unsulphured molasses
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups dried sweet cherries, cranberries or dates (or a combination), roughly chopped

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
2. In a small bowl mix flour, oats, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
3. Cream butter and sugars until light and fluffy.
4. Beat in tahini, molasses and vanilla.
5. Beat in eggs, one at a time.
6. Add flour in two batches, incorporating with a wooden spoon.
7. Fold in dried fruit.
8. Drop by teaspoons onto lined baking sheet. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until the edges are golden. The cookies will spread significantly so space evenly and limit to 6 to 8 per baking sheet.