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.

 

 

Dutch Oven Roasted Chicken and vegetables

Dutch Oven Roasted Chicken and vegetables

I am a big fan of the high heat roasted chicken that’s been all the rage of late, but a Dutch oven roasted chicken is still a favorite method for a homey one pot meal! It is so easy and never fails to deliver a beautifully bronzed succulent moist  chicken along with colorful array of aromatic roasted seasonal vegetables that lays out a comforting meal time after time. 

No recipe required as the ingredients will vary with the changing of the seasons.

As it is now approaching late fall the vegetables I have used are season appropriate including onions, garlic, turnips, carrots, celery, potatoes, and bell peppers. Herbs used include locally dried rosemary, sage, and thyme, and a bay leaf. All the vegetables are tossed together with extra virgin olive oil and seasoned with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper and roasted along with the chicken.

The whole chicken I’ve used is free range. Rinse the chicken well and pat dry with a paper towels. Generously salt the interior of the cavity and tuck in a couple of garlic cloves, a sprig of rosemary, and some died sage and thyme, and a bay leaf. Loosen the skin covering the breasts and legs and slip in some butter and rosemary under the skin. Season the exterior of the chicken generously with salt and pepper. Set the chicken aside to come to room temperature.

By all means if you have a Dutch oven this is the time to use it. A cast Iron Dutch oven with a tight fitting lid retains heat beautifully and is ideal for slow roasting. Otherwise use a large casserole dish with lid or a roasting pan with the contents covered tightly with foil.

Set the oven temperature at 350 f /180 c

Lay a single layer of prepared vegetable vegetables in the bottom of the pan and center the chicken on top of them, breast side up.

Tuck the remaining vegetables  in around the chicken, leaving the top of the chicken exposed. Rub with olive oil and season the exposed top of the chicken with salt and pepper again if needed.

Add a half cup of water and cover tightly with the lid. Place in the oven, and roast for 45 minutes.

Open the oven and turn the pan from front to back and roast another 25 minutes, covered.

Then open the oven and remove the lid to expose the top of the chicken.. Increase the temperature to 375 f/ 190 c. Push the pan to the back of the oven and roast another 15 or 20 minutes or until he the top of the chicken is nicely browned.

Remove the pan from the oven and set aside with the lid just ajar to rest for 10 minutes.

Serving:

Transfer the chicken to a carving board, carve, and serve promptly with roasting liquid spooned over the chicken and vegetables.

Having some warm thick slices of crusty levain loaf is the perfect for accompaniment for sopping up some of that irresistibly flavorsome roasting liquid left in the pan!

 

Leftovers?: My go to favorite re purposing solution is enchiladas! They are easy to assemble and are always sure to please.

Roasted Chicken and Vegetable Enchilada

Roasted Chicken and Vegetable Enchilada

Reheat some of the roasted chicken that has been pulled along with vegetables that have been cut up along with roasting liquid to cover in a saucepan over medium low heat. Cover and bring to a summer. 

warm  corn tortillas on a griddle or in a cast iron skillet. Top with some grated mild cheese. When the cheese begins to melt transfer the now pliable tortilla to a serving plate. Top with hot chicken and vegetables and roll up the enchilada with the seam tucked underneath to hold it together.

Bring the pan liquid to a simmer. Stir together 1 tablespoon of corn starch with 1 tablespoon of cold water, or more depending on the amount of liquid, and add to the simmering pan liquid while stirring for two minutes until thickened. Add salt to taste. Ladle the sauce over the enchiladas garnished with sour cream or Greek yogurt.

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