Healthy

Ajvar

 

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!

 

Ajvar

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.

 

Serving

Serve as suggested as well as with j sandwiches, pasta, tacos or anything else that comes to mind.

Guacamole Basics

Guacamole Basics

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.

IGuacamole ingredients

IGuacamole ingredients

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.

Guacamole (basics)

  • 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!

Serving

Guacamole

Guacamole

 

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.

Buen provecho!

 

My first encounter with gomasio was in the mid 60’s when a macrobiotic diet, popularized by Micho Kushi in the mid 1950’s, was embraced by those seeking an alternative lifestyle in the “ Age of Aquarius” and the Woodstock generation that followed. I again dabbled with macrobiotic cooking with my neighbors while living in the Netherlands and have included some aspects of  macrobiotic ideas into my cookery ever since those colorfully spirited halcyon days of youth, discovery, and change.  

Gomashiro / gomasio dates back centuries in Japan. The recipe is quite simple. All that is required is toasted sesame seeds, sea salt, a traditional ceramic suribachi, a wooden pestle, and some elbow grease.

Gomashiro / Gomasio

Gomashiro / Gomasio

There are times when only a hand tool will do to achieve the desired results you strive for. Guacamole comes to mind using a traditional wooden Mexican bean masher or making making Gomasio using a traditional Japanese suribachi.

The ridged ceramic suribachi dates back to the 6th century in Japan and, sure enough, a mostly unchanged traditional design is available on Amazon at a very reasonable price. I urge you to purchase one. The ritual of hand grinding various seeds and spices preserves the flavor and texture that an electric spice grinder would quickly over process and scorch the flavor in the process. You also have the satisfaction of being an integral part of the process as well as having one of those Zen moments that makes cooking ever so fulfilling!

Gomasio is used to season almost anything you would normally season with salt. The nutty saltiness brightens up a salad, vegetables, omelets, soups, meats, fish, rice, grains, stir-fry, sushi, and on and on.

 

 

 

 

 

    No exact recipe required and let your creativity reign free!

 

 

Pictured is a gomasio made with toasted sesame seeds ( click here for recipe), flaked sea salt, and toasted nori seaweed which is optional.

Grind the sesame seeds to break them down and then add the salt and grind until combined.

If using toasted seaweed, crumble before adding to the gomasio and then grind to incorporate.

 

Black Eye Peas

Black Eye Peas

Black eye Peas, also called field peas or cowpeas, are probably the most important African dietary contribution to American southern cooking. Black eye peas are actually not peas at all, but legumes that arrived in the Americas with slave ships from from West Africa. Black Eye Peas are traditionally eaten along with collard greens ( recipe click here) which has provided a nourishing food staple throughout the American south, the Caribbean, and  Central and South America since the 1690’s. Earlier varieties have thrived across  he Middle East and Asia.

Black eye pea plants are hearty and drought resistant. The peas are nutritive rich with vitamins, minerals, and protein. Prepared much like most other legumes and eaten with various local condiments, herbs, chilies, or pickled relishes. There are more collard greens and black eye peas consumed in” Hoppin John” every January first than any other day of the year here in the South. The green collards insure plenty of green backs and the black eye peas plenty of pocket change for the coming year.

Black eye peas are usually cooked with some variety of smoked pork, but are equally delicious omitting the pork and instead using smoked paprika and finely ground chipotle chile that adds a spicy smokiness to the finished dish. With a splash of cold pressed peanut oil and a spritz of lemon or lime juice just before serving, these black eye peas are sure to become a favorite choice to serve with almost any meal.

Black Eye Peas with Cod in Papapillote

Black Eye Peas with Cod in Papapillote

What I love about cooked black eye peas is their surprisingly fresh flavor not unlike young garden peas. There is nothing better than sitting down to a plate of black eye peas and a mess of collard greens to grasp the “soul” and goodness of real authentic Southern cooking.

Dried black eye peas are available in most supper markets. Spanish Smoked paprika and ground chipotle chile are available online.

Black Eye Peas      makes 2 quarts

  • 1 pound dried Black eye peas, rinsed
  • 3 tablespoons cold pressed peanut oil + more for finishing
  • 1 yellow onion, peeled and diced
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
  • 3 oz smoked pork or 4 strips bacon, diced (optional)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon dried marjoram leaves
  • 1 teaspoon ground chipotle chile 
  • 3 quarts boiled water + more as needed
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 3  teaspoons flaked (Kosher) salt + more to taste
  • lemon or lime wedges for serving

Rinse the black eye peas and set them aside to drain in a colander.

Place a stock pot on the stove top on medium heat. When hot add the 3 tablespoons of the oil and swirl the pan. Add the onions and saute for 5 minutes or until the onions are wilted. Then stir in the garlic and saute another minute. If using, add the pork or bacon and continue to saute until the meat is incorporated and the fat is beginning to render. Otherwise do as I do and omit the pork.

Add the bay leaf, marjoram, and the ground chipotle chile and saute until well combined and fragrant.

Add enough boiled water to cover the contents of the pot generously and stir to combine. Then add the dried black eye peas and stir. Add more boiled water if needed to generously cover the peas. Bring the pot back to a very low boil and cook until the black eye peas are tender, but still holding their shape. I have found that generally dried black eye peas will require a shorter cooking time than most other dried beans, so test for d oneness more frequently to avoid over cooking the peas and be sure to add more boiled water only if needed.

Once the peas are done to your liking add the smoked paprika and several teaspoons of salt. Stir to combine and simmer another 10 minutes. Then taste the broth and add more salt as needed.

Serve the black eyed peas with a drizzle of peanut oil and a spritz of lemon or lime juice.

For Poisson en Papillote (click here)

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