Ajvar is a traditional roasted red pepper sauce/ puree favored throughout the Eastern Mediterranean, with regional variations across Lebanon, Syria, the Balkans, Turkey, and the Middle East. Ajvar is served with grilled meats, fish, kabobs, mezze plates, or just slathered onto a warmed pita bread.
Ajvar is a simplified Muhammara (see Recipe here),either of which I like to keep on hand to jazz up those meals that beg for a flavor boost.
Ajvar is available in in Greek and Middle Eastern shops and online, through rarely found on supper market shelves. So why not prepare Ajvar at home. The ingredients are all readily available and the recipe that follows will walk you through the process. Preparing the peppers and eggplant may seem a bit tedious, but it is all well worth the effort I assure you. The slightly sweet and smoky aroma wafting throughout the kitchen will be enough to spur you onward with the tasks at hand.
Putting up a jar freshly made Ajvar is one of those cook’s moments, a raison d’etre if you will and, I have to say, what makes cookery so compelling.
So, with that thought in mind let’s get cooking!
makes 1 quart
- olive oil as needed
- 4 ripe red bell peppers
- 1 ripe red jalapeno chile
- 1 medium eggplant
- 5 large garlic cloves, skin on
- 2 tablespoons unfiltered apple cider vinegar
- 2 teaspoons sea salt + more to taste
Rub the bell peppers, jalapeno, eggplant, and garlic with olive oil and place on a large baking tray.
Place the tray of vegetables under the preheated broiler and broil until the skins on the peppers, jalapeno, and eggplant blister and are are charred in spots. Turn all the vegetables and continue broiling. Remove the garlic as soon as it is lightly colored and set aside.
Continue broiling the reaming vegetables until all sides are charred and blistered.
Transfer all the broiled vegetables to a large bowl and seal tightly with cling film and set aside to cool.
When the vegetables are cool enough to handle you are going to peel away the charred skins and discard them. As tempting as it may be, do not rinse the vegetables under the tap as you work. Doing so will only wash away the flavor you have created during the broiling process.
Likewise be sure to reserve all the juices from the roasting pan as well as the juices collected as you remove the seeds from the peppers, chile, and eggplant. All these flavorsome juices will be added back into Ajvar later.
Cut the bell peppers and jalapeno in half. Remove all the seeds and membranes and discard them. Tear the bell peppers into strips lengthwise and place them in the work bowl of a food processor along with the peeled eggplant.
In a small bowl combine the jalapeno, peeled garlic, salt, and vinegar and mash together with a wooden spoon to form a paste and set aside.
Begin pulsing the peppers and eggplant in the processor until the mixture looks like a coarse puree.
Stop the machine and spoon the garlic chile mixture on top of the red pepper puree and pulse until the mixture begins to smooth out.
Place a wide nonstick fry pan over medium low heat and add 2 tablespoons of olive oil. When the oil is hot add the Ajvar puree to the pan and stir for several minutes. Then add any reserved juices and stir them into the puree continue to simmer for 30 minutes, stirring from time to time to avoid any scorching.
Taste and add salt if needed.
Transfer the Ajvar to a sterilized jar and cool to room temperature. Add a thin layer of olive oil on top of the Ajvar and seal tightly with a lid and refrigerate.
The Ajvar will keep in the refrigerator for at least a month or more.
Serve as suggested as well as with j sandwiches, pasta, tacos or anything else that comes to mind.
This may sound like an unlikely combination, but believe me this is a vinaigrette that is going to reinvigorate your seasonal salad combinations. I have been tinkering with this recipe for a couple of months and I am finally happy with the resulting recipe that follows.
Blood oranges are native to Spain and Sicily and grown here in the US in Florid and California. The flesh is of course blood red. The juice is sweet with a slight sharpness. Blood oranges are in season and generally available in supermarkets from December through May.
Miso is a Japanese fermented soy bean paste available in most supermarkets in the international section. It is the miso’s subtle umami note, found in many Japanese dishes, that brings this unique vinaigrette to life. The fermented sweet saltiness of the miso bonds seamlessly with the zesty bitter sweet blood orange juice. This unlikely combination will brighten up all sorts of seasonal salad combinations.
As we are in the depths of winter try to gather together an assortment of hearty wintry leafy greens for your salad. To those add some Belgian endive, radicchio, mustard greens, baby arugula, some thinly sliced radishes, and julienne of carrots. Toss everything together along with the vinaigrette. Serve with a final flourish of flaked sea salt and you have a crisp dazzling winter salad to serve along with your winter meals!
For warmer weather this is a vinaigrette shines when tossed together with freshly picked garden fresh greens, cucumbers, vine ripened cherry tomatoes, fresh herbs, seasonal fruits, and edible flowers.
Blood Orange Miso Sherry Vinaigrette
makes 1 ¼ cup
- ¼ cup minced shallots
- 2 teaspoons julienne of blood orange zest
- 2 tablespoons white miso
- 6 tablespoons freshly squeezed blood orange juice
- ½ cup Jerez sherry vinegar
- ¾ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- ¾ cup light olive oil
- sea salt to taste
- flaked sea salt for finishing (Maldon salt)
Combine the shallots, blood orange zest, miso, blood orange juice, Jerez sherry vinegar, and the black pepper in a medium size nonreactive bowl and whisk until well combined.
While whisking vigorously begin adding the olive oil in a slow steady stream. Continue whisking until the vinaigrette has emulsified and thickened.
Taste and add sea salt if needed to your liking and whisk to combine.
Set the vinaigrette aside until you are ready to serve the salad. Vigorously whisk the vinaigrette once again just before dressing the salad for serving.
Store the dressing in a jar with a tightly fitting lid and refrigerate. Be sure to remember to remove the vinaigrette from the refrigerator well before you are ready to serve as the oil will have coagulated once refrigerated. Shake vigorously and serve.
With winter’s weather bearing down in earnest hearty meals are de reguer and I can’t think of a better meal to make than a cassoulet. It is my very favorite winter meal bar none!
Cassoulet is a classic French white bean stew with an assortment of herbs, meats, and poultry all baked together in an earthenware pot. It is undeniably delicious and the perfect antidote for winter’s bitter chill.
That said, making a classic Langeuuedoc white bean cassoulet requires copious amounts of assorted meats, sausage, duck confite and fat along with a considerable investment of time and expense.
Deconstructing the concept however, as radical as that may seem, can produce an as hearty and flavorsome cassoulet with all the allure of the original sans excess fats and expense.
In the recipe that follows I have included a modest amounts of pancetta and sausage, but they may be omitted without sacrificing flavor. It really is all about the quality of the beans, vegetables, and seasonings that brings this cassoulet to life with or without including meats.
Be sure to source your dried beans for freshness and quality. My favorite supplier is Rancho Gordo in California at ranchogordo.com (click here). All of their dried beans are top quality. Supplies do vary so it’s a good idea to subscribe to receive harvest updates and availability.
A simplified Winter Cassoulet
For the beans:
- 1 pound dried white tabais, canellini, or great northern white beans
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 thin slices pancetta, finely diced (or substitute 1 teaspoon smoked paprika, added later)
- 3/4 cup diced onions
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
- ¾ teaspoon dried thyme leaves
- ½ teaspoon dried rosemary leaves, crumbled
- 1 teaspoon dried sage leaves, crushed
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 teaspoon sea salt plus more as needed after the beans are cooked
- ½ teaspoon ground white pepper
- 3 quarts stock or water, plus more as needed
Pick through the beans and rinse well. Place them in bowl and cover with cold water. Set aside to soak for several hours or overnight. Then drain the beans and set side.
Add the olive oil to a stock pot set over medium low heat. When the oil is hot add the pancetta and saute until fragrant and just beginning to color. If you are omitting the pancetta, add the smoked paprika along with onions and saute until wilted. Then add the garlic and saute until softened. Add the thyme, rosemary, sage, and bay leaf and saute until well combined and fragrant. Season with salt and pepper and stir to combine.
Stir in the drained soaked beans and promptly add the hot stock or water. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook the beans until they are softened but still holding their shape. Cooking times will vary depending on the age of the beans, but generally about 1 ½ or 2 hours should do it. Taste the beans and add salt to taste and set aside.
While the beans are cooking you can go ahead and prepare the sausage if using as well as the radish leaves or kale.
For the sausage:
- 1 pound Polish or Kielbasa sausage
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- ½ cup dry white wine
Heat the oil in a skillet and when hot add the whole sausage and seer on all sides until nicely browned. Then add the wine and cook until the wine has mostly evaporated. Remove the sausages and slice on the diagonal into 1 ½ inch pieces and set aside.
Add a little stock to the skillet and swirl to gather up the juices and scrape them into the pot of cooked beans and stir well.
For the Greens:
- 2 large bunches of radish leaves or kale, well rinsed and chopped
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- sea salt to taste
Note: If you are not using sausage you may want to use both radish and kale leaves seasoned with 1 teaspoon of crushed marjoram leaves and ¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg.
Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add the olive oil. when hot add the chopped greens and saute just until wilted. Season with salt and set aside.
For the topping:
- 1 cup bread crumbs, or panko
- 2 tablespoons finely sliced flat leafed parsley
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 1/2 sea salt
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
Toss the breadcrumbs, parsley, garlic, and salt together. Drizzle with olive oil, toss, and set aside.
Preheat the oven to 300 F /150 c with the oven rack set in the middle position. Place a baking sheet on the bottom rack to catch any overflow while the cassoulet is baking.
Assembling the cassoulet:
Select a large earthenware casserole dish. Using a ladle add a layer of drained cooked beans in the bottom of the casserole dish. Layer some sausage pieces ( If using) over the beans, and add a layer of the sauteed greens. Continue to layer the ingredients in the same order, ending with a layer beans with a few pieces of sausage (if using) for the top layer.
Spread the crumb topping evenly over the casassoulet. This will form a nice crusty topping to the finished cassoulet.
Run a spatula round the casserole to create a crevasse. Then spoon some bean cooking liquid into the crevasse all the way around the casserole dish. Giggle the dish several times while continuing to add more liquid until the liquid has nearly reached the rim of the dish. This will ensure an evenly moist cassoulet when fully baked.
Bake for 2 hours, turning the casserole dish from front to back after the first hour to ensure even baking.
Should the crumb topping brown to quickly during baking cover the casserole loosely with foil.
Remove the cassoulet from the oven and set aside for 15 minutes before serving,
Placing the hot cassoulet in the center of the table is sight to behold as the aroma beckons! Let everyone serve themselves family style.
Serving a simple wintery greens salad including some mustard greens, Belgian endive, and a baby arugula leaves completes this meal beautifully.
You might also like to try A Summer Casssoulet (click here for recipe)
Guacamole, ahu ctl in the Aztec language, is unequivocally Mexico’s most loved contribution to an ever evolving international cuisine that embraces diversity as a commonality of taste.
Guacamole making has been practiced for thousands of years in central Mexico where avocados originate from. The simple traditional guacamole recipe is essentially unchanged. Avocados, onions, chiles, lime juice, cilantro and salt are tossed into a molcajete, a volcanic stone mortar, and pounded with a stone pestle into a rich and flavorful guacamole much like the guacamole we are making today.
I use a mixing bowl and a wooden Mexican bean masher instead of a molcajete for this process which works perfectly. The bean mashers are sometimes available online or in markets in Mexico. Otherwise use a wooden mallet or pestle. Doing the mashing by hand is an essential part of the process that melds the flavors together while preserving their charter. Please, do not even think of using a food processor!
I have probably made guacamole over a thousand times in my lifetime, yet every time I make it, it feels fresh and new. Repeating time tested rituals is what I love about being a cook. There is always a shared history in everything that one does in the kitchen.
I highly recommend using Hass avocados for guacamole or any other application for that matter. They are plentiful here in the US. Most are imported from Mexico and consistently top quality. Hass avocados are smaller than the smooth skinned Fuerte avocados. They have a darker textured skin and a higher oil content that imparts a richer flavor and creamier texture for your guacamole.
The recipe I have provided is only an approximation. Every time you make a guacamole involves orchestrating a delicate balance of flavors so quantities of ingredients will vary somewhat! The key here is to taste and trust tour instincts as you go until the balance of flavors tastes just right. Keep in mind the assertive flavors of a margarita. Balancing the creamy fresh green taste and texture of the oil rich avocados with the tang of onions, the heat of chiles, the tartness of fresh lime juice, and the zest of the cilantro requires an assertive saltiness to bring all those flavors harmoniously together. Practice will have you making a truly authentic guacamole in no time!
Keep in mind that guacamole is best when served fresh so prepare batches accordingly.
- 2 or 3 Hass avocados
- ½ onion, finely diced
- 1 or2 serrano chiles, seeds removed and finely diced
- 2 tablespoon finely sliced cilantro leaves
- 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice + more to taste
- 1 teaspoon sea salt + more to taste
- 1 tablespoon olive oil f using Fuerte avocados.
Slice the avocados in half lengthwise and remove the pits, reserving one to use when serving if you like.
Spoon out the flesh of the avocados and place in a non reactive mixing bowl.
Add the diced onions, diced chiles, sliced cilantro leaves, lime juice, and salt to the bowl.
Using a wooden bean masher, wooden mallet or wooden pestle, mash the contents of the bowl together until the mixture has a relatively uniform textured consistency and a thick overall creaminess without overworking it if that makes sense.
Taste the guacamole and add additional lime juice and salt as needed. Keep in mind that the lime juice and salt is what is going to bring the guacamole to life!
Serve the guacamole in a non reactive bowl. Tradition has it that placing an avocado pit in the center of the guacamole will retard any discoloration due to exposure to the air. Whether this is true or not is questionable, but it does make an alluring presentation so why not if you like.
Serve guacamole with crisp corn tostada chips, as an accompaniment for tacos, or my favorite, with huevos rancheros for breakfast.
If you refrigerate the guacamole for any lengthen of time before serving press cling film directly onto the surface of the guacamole, seal tightly and refrigerate.