Thursday, May 31, 2007

Spicy Cilantro Gazpacho

Although it’s only May, Chicago is sweltering. Whether the heat should be attributed to global warming or not, it’s time to start the summer culinary season. Besides ice cream and watermelon, I cannot think of a more satisfying summer treat than gazpacho.

I was shocked to learn that this cold tomato soup did not originally have tomatoes. It originated in Andalusia, a southern region of Spain. While its provenance is unclear, many believe it was created during the Middle Ages in the heavily Muslim region of Al-Andalus (which is modern day Andalusia).

The soup is believed to have originally contained only stale bread, garlic, olive oil and vinegar. Tomatoes and peppers were only introduced when they arrived from the New World after 1492. Gazpacho, described by some as a liquid salad, was introduced to Northern Spain in the nineteenth century by Eugenia de Montijo, the wife of the French Emperor Napoleon III. It experienced a surge in popularity in the United States during the 1940s and 1950s as blenders became common kitchen appliances.

Unlike many modern North American gazpacho recipes, this one includes bread, which thickens the soup and gives it added substance. However, it can be without bread (or with gluten free bread) for the gluten allergic.

Serves 6

2 inches of baguette, crust removed
3 cups tomato juice
1 lime, juiced
4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
4 garlic cloves
3 roma tomatoes, seeded and sliced
1 cup roasted red peppers
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, in chunks
1/3 bunch fresh cilantro (stalks removed)

Tabasco to taste
1 avocado, for garnish
cilantro, for garnish

1. Slice off a 2-inch piece of baguette. Remove the crust. Soak the bread in water for one minute and then squeeze dry. Set aside.
2. Liquefy all the ingredients (except the Tabasco and avocado) in a blender. You will have to do this in batches.
3. Add Tabasco to taste. Add additional salt and pepper if desired.
4. Chill soup for at least 3 hours or overnight.
5. Serve with sliced avocado and cilantro leaves as garnish.

Citrus Tuna Salad

As a kid I thought "tuna salad" was tuna fish on a green salad. In service to my original concept, I created this quick and simple dish which is ideal for lunch or a light dinner. The sweet orange and red pepper is a lovely contrast to the heat of the peperoncino and salty capers.

Serves 2


juice of 1 lemon
1 orange, segments separated and cut in half
1 red pepper, chopped
1 teaspoon dried parsley
1 can tuna
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 peperoncino, finely diced (optional)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons capers

4 to 6 ounces mixed greens
toasted, sliced almonds, for garnish

1. Mix the first nine ingredients in a large bowl.
2. Distribute mixed greens onto two plates, and divide tuna mixture evenly.
3. Garnish with sliced almonds if desired.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Bittersweet Mocha Silk Pie

This is the first pie recipe I have made that is actually “easy as pie” – cleaning up takes more time than making the dessert - and it receives rave reviews for being rich, creamy and very chocolatey.

The secret is that this recipe is known to vegans worldwide, but has not made it into the omnivorous domain. It may have to do with how it has been branded – primarily as chocolate tofu pie. As a former vegetarian, I know that once you identify something as vegetarian or vegan, omnivores will look the other way (if they are polite) and run like hell (if they are not). I call this phenomenon veg-phobia.

I was introduced to this recipe by my friend Cathy who lives in Seattle. Her husband doesn’t eat dairy and she raved about this pie as quick fix. I have adapted her recipe by substituting coffee for alcohol.

The consumers of this pie gave it two thumbs up.

Serves 8 to 10

1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/3 cup unsalted butter or margarine, melted
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 prepared graham cracker crust (or vegan equivalent)

2 cups semisweet chocolate chips (or vegan equivalent)
1 pound silken tofu, drained
2 to 4 tablespoons maple syrup or honey
1 tablespoon instant coffee granules

1. If you are making a crust, mix graham cracker crumbs, sugar and melted butter. Using your hands, pat mixture along the bottom and sides of a pie dish. Bake at 350 F degrees for 5 to 7 minutes and set aside.
2. Melt chocolate chips in the microwave.
3. In a blender, liquefy tofu, sweetener, coffee and melted chocolate chips.
4. Pour into crust and refrigerate or freeze for 3 or more hours. Serve chilled.

You will likely find yourself with extra filling. Pour it into ramekins or small bowls – an ideal dessert for one or two people, especially for the gluten-allergic people in your life. You could also pour the entire pie filling into a glass bowl and serve it as rich chocolate pudding.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Cecile and the Giant Churro

In response to my Cinco de Mayo posting about churros (Mexican doughnuts), my friend Aude dug up this photo of her sister Cecile devouring a giant churro! The picture was taken in Saint Jean de Monts, on the Vendee (Atlantic) coast of France in August 1975. In this photo Cecile was three months shy of her second birthday. Thanks for sharing Aude!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Cardamom Chocolate Shortbread (Nan Khatai)

Growing up, nan khatai were one of my favorite treats. I couldn’t resist their rich, buttery sweetness, especially hot from the oven. I remember sneaking tastes of dough from the bowl behind my mother’s back (in the days before I was concerned about raw eggs and salmonella). My mom mostly made plain nan khatai, decorating each with a fingerprint of green food coloring. An aunt later introduced us to the chocolate swirl nan khatais which are a delicious alternative.

Given the similarity to European shortbread, I decided to do some web research which revealed that since the 17th century shortbread-like cookies were made in Western India and were popular among European sailors. Later cookies were also imported from England. However, during the swadeshi movement for Indian self-reliance, such cookies were produced locally in tandoor ovens. Nan khatais are believed to have originated in Surat, a large port city and district in Gujarat. These confections are particularly popular in Bombay, which has a large Gujarati population. They are also common in Pakistan.

Online I found a reference to nuncatie, a variation of nan khatai, which was given two possible etymologies: from a Persian word meaning the “bread of Cathay or China” or from the Persian words nan (meaning bread) and khat (meaning six, referring to the six component ingredients – flour, eggs, sugar, ghee (butter), leavening and almonds).

This version of the peripatetic nan khatai comes to you from Chicago by way of Canada and Kenya.

Makes 48 cookies

2 cups unsalted butter (4 sticks), at room temperature
1 1/2 cups white sugar
1 egg (optional, see note below)
5 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2/3 cup semolina
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon cardamom
2 tablespoons cocoa (optional)
whole almonds (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 300 F. Grease or line baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. In a medium-sized bowl, mix flour, semolina, baking powder and cardamom. Set aside.
3. In a large mixing bowl, beat butter and sugar until fluffy, approximately 3 minutes. Add egg and mix well. You can omit the egg or replace it with 2-4 tablespoons of whole milk. If you do, the baked cookies will have a crackled (instead of smooth) surface.
4. Slowly add the flour mixture to the butter mixture. It may take a few minutes to incorporate all the flour. Don't feel obligated to use all the flour if your dough is becoming dry. Add milk to soften the dough again.
5. To form cookies, roll 2 tablespoons of dough between the palms of your hands to form a circular disk (thicker in the middle than at the edges). Place on a baking sheet and flatten slightly.
6. To decorate, gently press an almond into the center of each cookie.
7. If you would rather make chocolate nan khatais, place 1/4 of the dough in a small bowl and add cocoa. Incorporate cocoa by kneading. Take dough in the proportion of 1:3 (chocolate to unflavored) and roll both pieces into tubes of the same length (the chocolate tube will be much thinner). Roughly braid the tubes and roll the nan khatai in your hands until the doughs swirl. Place on baking sheet and flatten slightly.
8. Bake for 20-22 minutes at 300 F, until you see a hint of color. Do not bake until golden brown. Remove immediately to a wire rack to prevent further baking. Once cool, cookies should break easily but not be crumbly. If the cookies are crisp, then they were over-baked.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Tamarind Chickpea Curry (Channa Bateta) Recipe

Growing up, we often served channa bateta (which literally translates as chickpeas and potatoes) with chevdo, a spicy snack mix, that added a lovely crunch and saltiness to balance out the soft and sour curry (a chevdo recipe will appear on this blog soon). Channa bateta is not a traditional curry that you eat for dinner with roti and rice, but in my mind, is associated with sunny weekend afternoons and family gatherings.

The distinctive flavor comes from tamarind (the name tamar-i-hind is Arabic for “date of India”), which is used extensively in Indian, Thai and Mexican food and is widely available throughout Asia and Latin America. The tree is native to East Africa and was known to the ancient Egyptians and Greeks.

Tamarind fruit are irregular shaped brown pods, and they contain dark brown pulp which is often both sweet and sour (high in sugar, acid, vitamin B and calcium). It is used in both Worcestershire sauce (a key ingredient is Caesar salad and Bloody Marys) and HP sauce, presumably having come to British cuisine via the colonization of India. Tamarind is also traditionally used in the now wildly-popular pad thai noodle dish.

Unless you have regular access to an ethnic grocery store, you can easily order tamarind online. The various pastes have different concentrations, so proceed with caution. Too much tamarind can be a mouth puckering experience.

Serves 12 as a main dish and 24 as a side dish

4 lbs of red potatoes (about 6-8 large potatoes)
4 tablespoons canola or corn oil
1 tablespoon black mustard seeds
12-15 curry leaves (optional)
3 tablespoons chickpea flour (also known as gram or besan flour)
4-5 tablespoons of crushed tomatoes
1 tablespoon tomato puree (optional)
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon cumin
1 cup water (or more as required)
2 16-ounce cans of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 bunch of cilantro, de-stemmed and chopped
1-2 tablespoons concentrated tamarind paste or 1 cup tamarind and date chutney
1 lemon (optional)

1. Wash and peel potatoes. Cut into 1/2 inch cubes and boil until just soft. Cool to room temperature.
2. In a large pot, heat oil on medium. Add mustard seeds and curry leaves. When mustard seeds pop, add chickpea flour and cook until light pink (about 3 -5 minutes).
3. Add crushed and pureed tomatoes, salt, red pepper flakes, turmeric and cumin, and cook for 3-4 minutes.
4. Add 1/2 cup water to thin the tomato mixture. Add potatoes and chickpeas and mix well. Cook for 4 minutes and add up to another 1/2 cup water, or as much as needed.
5. Add half the cilantro and tamarind sauce and cook for a further four minutes. Tamarind sauces vary in potency and thickness. Use 1 or 2 tablespoons of pure tamarind sauce (which is thick and the color of molasses) or 1 cup of the tamarind and date sauce (which is sweeter, lighter and thinner). If you don’t know what you have, begin cautiously, and add to taste. If you add too much tamarind, you can use molasses or honey to balance out the sourness.
6. Add juice of one lemon for tartness.
7. Garnish with the remaining cilantro.