Category Archives: Dinner

Falafel!

 

Whenever I think of the best food I’ve had that has come from a truck or hole-in-the-wall-with-no-seating establishment, they all have one thing in common.  They are all falafel.

My mind often wanders to the amazingness that was the falafel I had with harissa sauce in NYC, my favorite little (emphasis on little) falafelshop I used to frequent during college here in DC, and budget college spring break trips to Germany and the Czech Republic where falafel at the doner kebab joints made up just about every meal.

These days, though, we mostly just make falafel at home.  There is no reason not to.  It is super easy.  Here is our method.

The falafels

Put away that boxed falafel mix.  You don’t want any of that crap.  Falafel is, in essence, just pureed chickpeas with spices and flavorings.  It really doesn’t take any more effort to dump a can of chickpeas into a food processor than it does to open the box and hydrate it with whatever.  And the results will be with it.

We’ve tried a bunch of different recipes over the years.  This one from Cooking Light is the easiest as it already includes binders like egg and breadcrumbs.  If this is your first time, try that one.

This one and this one are a little harder, but they are more authentic, as well as vegan and gluten-free.  The puree must be as dry as possible and the oil must be 350°.  Start with just one test falafel and if it falls apart, add some flour to the remaining puree to keep it together.

It is essential that you toast and grind your whole cumin seeds to achieve that quintessential flavor.  Do not use preground cumin.

Now, most restaurants will form the falafel into little balls and deep fry them.  I can’t blame you if you’re not up for deep frying.  Just form the falafels into little patties and pan fry them in 2-3 inches of oil, flipping halfway through until they are crisp and browned on the outside.

The pita
I find most store-bought pita to be straight up disgusting.  So dry and stale and flavorless it is not even worth spending the time to make falafel unless you are willing to make the pita yourself.  Luckily, it is easy (but time-consuming).  It helps if you are working with a partner.
I can’t recall all the recipes we’ve tried but this one was the most recent.  It doesn’t exactly always puff up to form perfect little pockets on the inside, but it mostly does…and when this bread melts in your mouth I think you will forgive any slight imperfections.

With a cast iron griddle pan, it’s easy to do…just make the dough, divide into balls, roll out roughly into circles, and cook on each side for a few minutes.  No baking or ovens.

The accompaniments
Some like their falafel with tahini, or hummus (which is a little wtf to me, chickpeas on your chickpeas?).  But my very favorite thing to add is an inordinate amount of tzatziki sauce.  In fact, one might accuse me as eating falafel as merely a vessel for tzatziki, but whatever, I like it all.
I’ve tried a few recipes but the one I’ve deferred to lately is this self-declared World’s Best Tzatziki Sauce Recipe.  And I have to say it is pretty darn good.  And really easy!  I do like to add some extra garlic though because one clove is never, ever enough for me, for any recipe!

In NYC I had a falafel sandwich with harissa sauce and it was ahmaaazing.  I haven’t made it myself before but I think I will give it a shot sometime soon.  Here is a recipe from Fine Cooking.

In addition to sauces, I always like a little red cabbage, onion, fresh cilantro, sliced tomato…obviously, there are endless possibilities, the rest is up to you!

While everything all together can be a lot to cook for one night, the falafel itself is pretty quick and if you make a big batch of tzatziki, bread, etc, you can have several easy weeknight meals worth of  food.  Falafel is best served fresh, but any leftovers can be crisped up again in a toaster oven.

Don’t be intimidated by pita from scratch, deep frying, or red cabbage.  Give homemade falafel a try!  You won’t be disappointed.

Classic French crêpes

I know I often go on about my love of crepes, and I’ve written about some different takes on them…here and here…but have I ever actually shared my go-to recipe for classic crepes?  I don’t think so!

Crepes are the perfect centerpiece for any brunch, and with Easter Sunday just behind us and Mother’s day around the corner, not to mention graduations, weddings and bridal showers this time of year, it is surely high brunch season.  But you don’t really need any excuse to enjoy the deliciousness that are crepes.  We made these for a family gathering on Easter weekend and the best part of all, is that whether you like your brunches sweet or savory, there is something for everyone here.

One thing I must reveal is that I really hate pancakes.  Never have liked them.  I know, how un-American of me, especially considering how much I love crepes.  But they are just so light and delicate and go well with such a variety of accompaniments.  Can’t say that about pancakes!

With such a quintessential French food, it is unwise to try and improve on the traditional recipe (unless you’re vegan, go here…and I’ve heard of but not tried some gluten free versions with buckwheat as well).  So I stick to the master:  Julia Child.  This recipe is easy enough for a beginner and has never failed me:

Julia Child:  Crêpes fines sucrées at Epicurious

You don’t necessarily need a crepe pan to make these; just a large skillet.  The first few take a little practice, and don’t be afraid to use your fingers to help flip them, but soon enough you’ll get the hang of it.

Be creative in what you choose to serve them with, but keep it simple.  We set up a bar where people could pick and choose their own creations:

Sweet
Nutella (duh)
Fresh berries
Creme fraiche
Homemade strawberry Jam
Honey

Savory
Sauteed swiss chard
Sauteed mushrooms
Caramelized onions
Shredded Gruyère
Creamy gruyère sauce

Creme fraiche and fresh jam rolled together in a crepe is my absolute favorite — the creme just cuts the sweetness of the jam so perfectly, it is simply amazing.  You can find it at more specialty grocery stores, like Whole Foods.

Some other ideas that come to mind — broccoli and cheese, asparagus spears, spinach or other greens, bechamel sauce…be creative!

Oh, SO GOOD… and so much fun to make and share.

-R

Steamed veggie dumplings with sweet and sour dipping sauce

Since daylight savings time began, I feel like I eat dinner much later.  Do you?  It was already past 6pm on Sunday when I decided I should start to think about dinner and headed out to the grocery store, which is luckily but one block away.

That meant it was nearly 9pm by the time we ate dinner, but  HOLY CRAP these dumplings were awesome and so worth the wait.  Better than any dumplings I’ve ever tasted in a restaurant!  Mr. R and I texted each other the next afternoon that we were so excited to have some leftover for lunch, and then confided to each other that we were STILL craving more.  So what did we do?  After arriving home after 7pm, taking care of some chores and the dog, we made another batch of dumplings, of course.

This would normally be a little bit too labor-intensive for a Monday night for me, but with two highly- dumpling motivated people working together, and leftover filling and sauce already prepared, it wasn’t so bad.

Of course, you could use prepackaged wanton wrappers, but I’ve tried that before and I think you will find that the results of preparing your own wrapper dough are WELL worth the effort.  It’s got just two ingredients and is easy — just takes time.

I used the same tofu filling I used to make steamed buns back in January, which to me tastes amazingly restaurant-quality.  For the omnivores out there, I am sure a quick google search would reveal a variety of nonveg filling recipes.  My Asian Dumpling cookbook has a bunch too!

Dumpling wrapper dough
Makes 16 small/medium dumplings
2 cups AP flour
3/4 cup boiled water

Bring the water to a boil and remove from heat for about 30 seconds before using.  Whisk into the flour with a fork.  Dough will be very crumbly at first; begin to knead with your hands until it comes together in a single ball.  The water should be cool enough to handle by this point but do be careful!

Turn ball of dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for about 2 minutes, until the ball of dough is smooth and elastic.

Place into a tightly sealed ziplock bag with the air removed and allow to rest for at least 15 minutes and up to 2 hours.  The dough will steam up while in the bag and become even more pliable.

To make the dumplings…

Divide in half, then in half again, until you have as many pieces as you would like (16 for regular sized dumplings).  Roll each piece into a ball and roll out thinly, particularly around the edges, into a circle with a rolling pin.

Fill each dumpling generously; the skin will stretch to accommodate.  Check out these videos for some demonstrations on various folding methods.  I like the satchel shape, though my technique could use a lot of improvement!

I actually have a nifty little bamboo steamer which is great for steaming all kinds of things as well as storage on your countertop.  However, since moving I do not seem to have or am able to find a large enough stock pot!  Oops! So I used a colander instead.

Line with parchment paper or cabbage leaves and steam for 8 minutes, or until the dumplings are starting to look a little transparent.

Sweet and sour sauce

No need to buy this!  Super easy to make with ingredients you probably have on hand already.  We amped up the heat a little with sriracha, but if you like it more mild just leave it out.

1/4 cup granulated or light brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon ketchup
1 tablespoon sriracha
1 tablespoon soy sauce
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
1/2 cup water
2 teaspoons cornstarch dissolved in 2 tablespoons water

Combine everything but the cornstarch mixture in a saucepan and bring to a simmer, stirring to help dissolve the sugar.  Add the cornstarch and again continue to stir until dissolved.  Remove from heat and allow to cool for at least 10 minutes before serving.


These would be the perfect meal for those lazy weekends where you stay in watching movies and ordering carryout, except you make the carryout yourself exactly how you like them.  But be careful — you’ll want them again the next day.  And the next!

-R

Garlic naan and cilantro chutney

Gah, I took these photos nearly a year ago, but in the inundation of weddings and baby showers last spring I never got around to posting about it.  Until, that is, we made it again over the weekend and I remembered just how awesome fresh, homemade naan is and that I must share this news with the world!

You know the best part of going out to eat at an Indian restaurant is the bread.  So soft and fluffy and chewy and garlic-y.  Oh my god.  Well, surprisingly you do not need a tandoori oven or other such equipment to achieve the same results at home — just a baking stone and your regular old oven!

Garlic Naan
Adapted from recipe at Manjula’s Kitchen

2 cups flour
1 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
pinch baking soda
2 tablespoons canola or safflower oil
2.5 tablespoons strained (Greek), plain yogurt (DO NOT USE FAT FREE)
3/4 cup warm water

dissolve the yeast and sugar in the warm water and let sit until bubbly, about 5-10 minutes

Sift the salt and baking soda with the flour.  Combine with the oil and the yogurt.  The dough will be dry and crumbly, you may need to use your hands.

Add the water and yeast and knead; it will be come the more smooth, elastic doughyness you know and love.  Cover with a towel and allow to rise until doubled in volume, 3-4 hours.

Move the pizza stone to the bottom rack, which should be placed as low as it can go.  Heat the oven to 500°.  It will take 30-60 minutes to really get the stone as hot as it needs to be.

While you’re waiting, prepare some ghee.  Finely mince some garlic and stir into the ghee.

Divide the dough into 6 equal pieces and roll each piece out with a rolling pin into oval shapes on a lightly floured surface.

Place no more than two pieces of naan on the baking stone at once.  They should cook until they are golden brown and inflated a bit, about 2-3 minutes.  If your oven heats unevenly, you may need to reverse them front-to-back once.

Brush each piece with the garlic-infused ghee.  Heaven.

Cilantro chutney

This tastes, to me, like pure, unadulterated summer (I truly pity those who “don’t like” cilantro!) and is the perfect accompaniment to fresh naan, or onion fritters with dal (or, you know…both.  And perhaps some saag paneer…). Again from Manjula’s Kitchen.

1 bunch cilantro
3 green chilies, coarsely chopped
1/2 inch piece ginger, coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1.5 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon cumin seed
1 teaspoon safflower or canola oil
1 teaspoon sugar
pinch asafetida

Blend everything together in a food processor except the cilantro leaves until it is a paste consistency.  Add the cilantro leaves and blend that in.  Add salt or ground cayenne pepper to taste.

Tastes like going out to eat at a restaurant…but you did it yourself!

-R

Savory roasted vegetable galette

I got this idea from a pin I saw on pinterest…and was devastated to find it was one of those “broken” pins that didn’t link to anything :(.  I spent the next hour unsuccessfully trying to track down the source of these beautiful photos, only to decide that this was something I was just going to have to figure out myself!

I’ve written a lot about pies here…but never have I made a galette.  It’s the same thing, just free-form, with no pan or dish to hold it together.  You could turn any pie, save for perhaps the most liquid-y, into a galette.  The whole concept lends itself to creativity.

For the crust

I searched high and low for the perfect galette crust and finally found one I loved right in one of my old cookbooks that I hadn’t cracked open in a while:  Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison.  This was not a flakey, pie-like crust, it was yeasted and therefore a little more like pizza dough.  It was VERY easy to put together and work with — I am SO NOT talented with doughs and pastries like my husband is, and I loved working with this.

Yeasted tart dough with olive oil
Yields one 9-11 inch galette, or 6 to 8 individual shells — I made 4, one for each person dining, and they were generously sized.

2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 cup warm water
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 egg, beaten
1/2 teaspoon salt
1.75 cups AP flour

Dissolve the yeast and sugar in the warm water in a large bowl and let stand until bubbles begin to form.

Add the oil, egg and salt and then mix in the flour.  As the dough stiffens, turn onto the counter, dusted lightly with flour, and knead with your hands until smooth and elastic, about 3-5 minutes.

Coat another bowl with olive oil and turn the ball of dough inside the bowl to completely coat.  cover with a towel and let sit until the dough has doubled, about 45 minutes to an hour.

In the meantime, make the filling…

Roasted vegetable filling

I used my favorite vegetables:  brussels sprouts, tomatoes, mushrooms, leeks, pecans…but you can use whatever are your favorites.

About a half stalk of brussels sprouts (about 20-25 sprouts), ends trimmed, sliced into thirds
2 large leeks, sliced and thoroughly rinsed
handful cherry tomatoes, ends scored
Mushrooms of choice, sliced
1/4 cup chopped pecans
1/4 cup white wine
2-3 cloves garlic
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for garnish
Salt, pepper, seasoning to taste

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Chop and prepare all veggies.

Toss brussels sprouts, mushrooms and tomatoes in olive oil.  Season with salt and pepper.  Roast on a baking sheet in the oven for about 10-15 minutes, until sprouts are just browning.

In the meantime, create a little sauce on the stove top.  In a large skillet, saute the leeks and garlic, plus a little freshly ground pepper.  Add about a quarter to a half cup of white wine and turn down heat, simmering until wine is reduced and syrupy. Turn off the heat and stir in the cheese.  If you like, you can also try adding cream or milk to make a cream-based sauce.  Yum.

Toast the pecans on a dry skillet until browned and fragrant, and add to the sauce.

Combine everything for the filling and allow to cool to room temperature before making the pies.

To assemble…

Divide the dough into however many pies you would like.  Roll each piece into a ball in your hands and then, on a well-floured surface, roll out with a rolling pin until the crust is quite thin, about 1/8 to 1/16 of an inch.

Place filling in center of the pie and gather the edges of the crust around it, pinching tightly as you go. The idea here is to be rustic, not perfect, so don’t worry about how it looks!

Brush the crust with an egg wash or melted butter.  Place in the oven at 350° for 20-25 minutes, until golden brown.

Mmmmmmmmm.

-R

 

Sichuan-inspired baozi: steamed filled dumplings

Happy Lunar New Year!  If you are already disappointed in 2012, here is your chance for a second false sense of renewal :).

In 2008, I had the opportunity to herald in the Year of the Rat — which happens to be my sign — in Sichuan province and Beijing in China.  Ever since then, I try to commemorate the lunar new year in some way — usually just by eating :).

A trip to Sichuan means that you better ready your palate for spicy food — and not just the heat of capsacin we are used to here.  Sichuan peppercorns, the key ingredient in so many dishes, impart an almost numbing sensation.  Sichuan province is also known for its traditional “hot pot” style of meals where a pot of bubbling, spicy oil is placed in the center of a communal table for you to cook your food right there. It was all pretty awesome, as an avid lover of spicy food, and I actually found southwestern China to be fairly vegetarian-friendly, what with the Buddhist influences nearby.

But one thing I missed out on was the dumplings. At the little shop we went to, they were all filled with pork.  I gazed longingly at the others enjoying their little dumplings sprinkled with crushed red pepper.  But I had noodles instead.

Good veggie dumplings can be hard enough to find here in the U.S.  But I’ve since discovered you can make them easily yourself, especially with the help of this little book I was SO EXCITED to find!

That’s right.  A WHOLE BOOK devoted just to dumplings!  Who could ask for anything more?  I drove all the way to Virginia to find it.

So what better way to welcome in the new year than with dumplings?

Steamed filled buns (baozi)
Adapted from Asian Dumplings by Andrea Nguyen

Keep in mind that I do not profess any sort of special knoweldge or expertise of Sichuan cooking.  I am just going off of the flavors that stand out in my memory.  The spicyness, of course, but also the combination of garlic and ginger together — the smell of which will forever remind me of China. I am also sure my bun sealing technique is all kinds of wrong — they are clearly not as pretty as you see in photos!

Basic yeast dough

1.5 tsp instant dry yeast
3/4 cup lukewarm water
2 T canola oil
2 T sugar
2 t baking powder
12.5 ounces AP flour

Dissolve the yeast in the water for one minute.  Add the oil.

In a food processor, combine the dry ingredients and pulse a few times to sift.  Gradually add the liquid ingredients through the holes.  Continue to spin the food processor for another minute or so, until the dough comes together in a ball  that pulls away from the sides.  If still too dry, add more water by the teaspoon.  The dough should be soft, pliable but not overly sticky.

Drop ball of dough into a bowl lightly brushed with oil and cover with plastic wrap.  Allow to sit for about 45 minutes, until the dough has doubled.

While the dough is rising, make the filling…

Tofu Dumpling Filling

2-3 cloves garlic
about 1/2 inch piece ginger, finely minced or grated
2-3 scallions
1 cup finely sliced napa cabbage
3 ounces tofu, pressed to remove water, and finely diced
1 large carrot, finely diced
1/2 cup shitake mushrooms (use a few reconstituted dried mushrooms too, reserving the water)
2 teaspoons cornstarch dissolved in a tablespoon of water

For the simmer sauce –
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper (use Sichuan peppercorns if possible)
2 T water from reconstituted mushrooms
2 T plus 1 t soy sauce
1.5 t sesame oil
Crushed red pepper flakes, to your desired heat

Heat canola oil with a bit of sesame oil in a large skillet.  Add the garlic, ginger and pepper and hot pepper flakes, heating for about a minute.  Toss in the mushrooms, carrots and tofu and cook for another few minutes.  Add the cabbage and cook until wilted.

Whisk together the ingredients for the simmer sauce and add to the skillet, ensuring that all the veggies are coated.  Mix in the cornstarch mixture to thicken and allow to cool to room temperature before using.

To assemble the dumplings:

The dough should make 8 large, 16 medium, or 32 small dumplings.  Keep in mind the dumplings expand greatly when heated.

Divide dough in half.  Wrap half you’re not using yet to prevent drying.  Cut in half again, and again, until you have the desired number of pieces.  Roll each piece into a ball.  I used a tortilla press to help flatten the ball initially, but you can roll the whole thing out by hand.  With a wooden rolling pin, roll into a thin disc, about 2.5 inches in diameter for small or 3.5 inches for medium sized dumplings.  The edges should be significantly thinner than the centers.  You may need to roll around the edges or in toward the center.

Plop a small amount of filling into the center of the dough and gather the edges in pleats to seal.  Here is a video demonstrating the technique:  it’s trickier than it looks! http://www.asiandumplingtips.com/2010/04/how-to-fold-a-closed-satchel-video.html

Sprinkle with crushed red pepper and steam medium-sized dumplings for about 15 minutes, small for 12. Place on cabbage leaves or a piece of parchment paper to prevent sticking inside the steamer.

Serve with your favorite dipping sauce — here and here are some basic recipes.

Unfortunately I didn’t have my camera with me when I made these, so here is one crappy photograph of my leftover, microwaved dumplings.  To be honest, they still taste just as good and are an easy, portable meal!  They’ve got your starch, protein and veggies all in a neat little package.

It may seem time-consuming but it’s well worth the effort, especially if you’ve got friends to help you out.  It’s a great excuse for a lunar new year dumpling party!

-R

Rustic chestnut pasta with Brussels sprouts, mushrooms, and a sage brown butter sauce

I made this recipe a long time ago and am FINALLY getting around to writing it up!  Of course, it may have been a little more apt during the holiday season, what with references to chestnuts roasting on an open fire…but what the heck.  Better late than never.

As recently as 100 years ago, native chestnut trees dominated eastern American forests.  Not only did their mast provide a major source of calories for wildlife and people, the trees were an important hardwood for the timber industry.  But the introduction of chestnut blight, a fungal parasite, has driven American chestnuts all but to extinction.

The chestnuts you find in stores today are from Chinese chestnuts, which are resistant to the blight.  There is some interesting cross-breeding work being conducted today to attempt a resurrection of American chestnuts, so all hope is not lost.  But the mass die-offs of chestnuts throughout Appalachia were certainly a cataclysmic ecological event.

At my farmer’s market each year, there is a stand that sells chestnuts, and I have always been intrigued.  To be honest, I don’t know that I’d ever enjoyed one before!  So I impulsively purchased a carton, knowing that I had a few chestnut recipes buried in some of my cookbooks.  And so of course I settled on the most labor-intensive one for this already labor-intensive nut!

I used entirely whole wheat flour for this, which made the pasta very grainy and, well, “rustic” as I like to say.  For a more refined taste, use AP or “00” flour as the original recipe recommends.

I also roll the homemade pasta out by hand as my pasta machine is broken and also pretty useless anyway.  But if you have one, by all means use it to get the sheets nice and thin.

Rustic chestnut pasta with brussels sprouts and mushrooms in a brown butter sauce
Adapted from The Modern Vegetarian by Maria Elia

2 cups flour, plus more for dusting
3/4 cups cooked chestnuts
6 egg yolks
1 whole egg
Bit of olive oil

For the vegetables:
9 ounces assorted mushrooms, such as chanterelle, oyster, shitake…
9 ounces Brussels sprouts
3 T unsalted butter
1 cup cooked chestnuts
1-2 large/medium shallots
dozen or so sage leaves, coarsely chopped into more manageable pieces
Parmesan cheese, for garnish

To prepare the chestnuts, preheat oven to 400° while they soak in water for about 25 minutes.  Score the outer shell with a knife and roast in the oven for about 30 minutes, until the edges of the score marks curl back.  Peel the chestnuts while they are still warm.

For the pasta, finely grind 3/4 cup of the chestnuts in a food processor to a powder.  Combine with the flour on a work surface, making a small mound with an indentation in the top.  Crack the eggs into this indentation and gradually incorporate into the flour with a fork.  Knead for about ten minutes.  You can also do this step with the dough hook attachment of a stand mixer.

Chill the dough in the fridge for an hour.  Roll into sheets using a pasta maker, and then cut into rustic strips by hand.  Alternatively, if you do not have a pasta maker, roll the dough out as thin as possible by hand with a rolling pin.  You will probably want to work in small batches for this.   Again, cut by hand into rustic strips. Cook in well-salted boiling water for just a minute or two, until tender.

Roast the Brussels sprouts:  raise oven temperature to 500°.  Slice the sprouts, toss with a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper and roast for about 10-15 minutes, until they are browning on the edges.  Set aside.

In a large skillet, heat a generous amount of butter, about one whole stick, over medium heat until it starts to brown.  Toss in the sage as well as a few fresh grinds of black pepper, and let this sizzle for a minute or two.  Set aside in a separate bowl and return the same skillet to the burner.  Add a bit more butter or olive oil as necessary and saute the shallots for a minute or two over medium heat.  Add the mushrooms and continue to cook until they are nice and wilted.

Add the Brussles sprouts, the remaining chestnuts, and the sauce, and toss together with pasta until heated through.  Add salt and pepper to taste and garnish with a few fresh shaves of parmesan.

Perfect meal for a snowed-in day!

-R