Munazalla (a Syrian lamb, eggplant, and tomato dish)

munazalla

This prized dish came to me in the early 1980’s, during my initial catering days in Billings, Montana; there I taught this recipe, the first in this series, in one of my cooking classes, as part of a complete Middle Eastern dinner.  It still graces my table today, especially when I am trying to impress guests, as it is par excellence.

Its origin is Syrian; thus, recently I was excited about serving it to company, with an Assyrian heritage, not understanding that these are two very different cultures. Research proved their distinct differences: Syria, officially known as the Syrian Arab Republic, is a nation in southwestern Asia, on the eastern Mediterranean coast, with the capital of Damascus.  This delicious dish is from that republic, which was birthed in 1946; it was originally part of an ancient country by that name, of western Asia, that also included Lebanon and the Palestinian region.

On the other hand, Semitic Assyria was an ancient empire, which was by far larger than the early country of Syria.  This was considered to be the greatest of the Mesopotamian empires, which had its start at the beginning of creation, as accounted for in the second chapter of Genesis.

This Syrian lamb, eggplant, and tomato recipe, calls for well-known cilantro, which is the leaf of the plant Coriandrum sativum, while the spice coriander is its seed.  Cilantro, sometimes botanically referred to as coriander, is said to be the most widely consumed fresh herb worldwide. As a native to the Middle East, its seed was found in the tomb of King Tut (I got to see the tour of these ancient Egyptian remains in Seattle in the mid 70’s).

Early on, this plant was taken to China, India, and Southeast Asia, and later to Latin America, being highly favored in all these regions.  In the New World, cilantro replaced culantro, Eryngium, its relative with a similar taste which is indigenous to Central and South America.  The latter has larger, thicker, tougher leaves, than those of the cilantro plant, with its rounded, notched, tender greenery; nevertheless, the flavor in both is almost the same.  Culantro, or saw-leaf herb, is still used in the Caribbean, but is most commonly found in Asian cuisine, especially that of Vietnam.

Coriander leaf, cilantro, is sometimes described as having a soapy aroma; for this reason, it is not very popular in traditional European cooking.  The main component of the aroma is a fatty alehyde, decenal, which is very reactive; thus, this herb quickly looses this sense-element when heated.  As a result, it is used most predominantly in uncooked preparations, or as a garnish.

This low-cholesterol herb, which is a good source of dietary fiber, has a practically non-existent caloric value, and it is high in minerals (including potassium, calcium, manganese, iron, and magnesium) and vitamins (such as A, C, K, E, and B vitamins).  Its health benefits are highly acclaimed by experts.  Among many health-promoting characteristics, it is said to: rid the body of heavy metals, lower bad-while increasing good-cholesterol, help reduce swelling caused by arthritis and rheumatic diseases, lower blood sugar levels, and provide antioxidant, antiseptic, disinfectant, and antibacterial properties.

As with the Europeans, this leaf’s pungency is offensive to me; thus, for flavoring in our munazalla, I give the option of substituting ground coriander seed, with its simultaneous flowery and lemony tastes.  Who knows?  This superb receipt may even excel more with fresh cilantro, for those who love it.

References:

The Holy Bible, KJV, Genesis 2:14.

Harold McGee, pp. 390, 407, 408.

https://draxe.com/cilantro-benefits/

https://articles.mercola.com/herbs-spices/cilantro.aspx

Munazzala (a Syrian lamb, eggplant, and tomato dish)  Yields: 5-6 servings.  Total prep time: 2 1/3 hr/  active prep time: 1 hour/  inactive cooking time: 1 1/3 hr.

10 large minced garlic cloves, or the equivalent

1 lb ground lamb  (Our local Grocer Outlet generally has a great deal on lamb.)

1/4 tsp allspice

1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper

1 1/4 tsp salt  (Himalayan, pink or Real Salt is important for optimum health; an inexpensive Himalayan salt can be found in bulk at our local Winco.)

2 tbsp oil  (Coconut or avocado oil is best, as olive oil is carcinogenic when heated to high temperatures.)

1 lg onion, chopped

2 lb eggplant

4 med tomatoes

1/3 c cilantro, chopped  (May substitute 1 1/2 tsp ground coriander, or to taste.)

  1. forming meatballs

    Spray vegetables with an inexpensive, safe, effective vegetable spray (combine 97% distilled white vinegar with 3 % hydrogen peroxide).  Leave spray on for 3 minutes; then, rinse well.

  2. Mince garlic cloves by hand, or in a food processor; set aside.
  3. Using your hand, combine: lamb, 1/4 of minced garlic, allspice, pepper, and 3/4 tsp salt in a bowl; form meatballs the size of cherry tomatoes (see above photo).
  4. Over medium heat, fry meatballs in 1 tbsp hot oil, stirring with spatula until they stiffen.  Add chopped onion and cook until golden brown; drain fat and set aside (see photo).  Deglaze pan with 2 tbsp water-scrape fond, or

    cooked meatballs and onions

    cooked-on juices, off bottom of hot pan with a spatula.  (Note: a coffee measure is 2 tbsp.)  Set aside.

  5. Chop eggplant in small cubes (see photo below).  Heat remaining tbsp of oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat.  When a small piece of eggplant sizzles in oil, mix in remaining eggplant; add 1/4 c water, cover, and cook until pieces begin to soften, stirring occasionally.  Be sure to cover pan.
  6. Cut tomatoes in small chunks, chop cilantro-dried coriander may be substituted.
  7. chopping eggplant

    Mix meat, remaining garlic, tomatoes, cilantro, and 1/2 tsp salt into partially cooked eggplant.  Cover, reduce heat to med/low, and cook for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.  (After cooking for 1 hour, if preparing for company, you may wish to set this mixture aside, before the final 15-20 minutes of cooking).

  8. Raise heat to medium, adjust seasonings, and cook uncovered for 15-20 minutes, or until liquid is absorbed, stirring frequently.  (See photo of finished product at top of recipe.)
  9. Serve with pleasure!

The Best Corned Beef

corned beef and cabbage

In Ireland, they do not celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with corned beef and cabbage, but rather lamb or bacon, on what has long been a religious holiday there. Why therefore does the rest of the world, in particular the U.S., count this dish synonymous with this day that has become so filled with frolic?  It was through numerous developments that the Irish immigrants in America adopted this tradition, with its actual Gaelic roots.

These immigrants first arrived here when fleeing the Great Famine, which was brought about by the European potato blight that desperately hit their homeland, starting in 1845.  They disembarked knowing only “about” the corn beef of their forefathers, and that differing greatly from what they began to eat in the U.S.

This dish has a complicated history.  Beef was originally not regarded as an option in the old country, but rather pork and bacon provided the rare meat at a meal (pig is still their favored animal bred only for food).  From ancient times on, the common Irishman regarded the cow as a work animal, consuming only its milk products, not its flesh; this latter was primarily reserved only for the wealthy few, and even for them, merely on celebrations and festivals.  Salting was their typical means of preserving this meat.

When the English conquered this country in the 16th century, the cow turned into a food commodity.  Since the time of Roman invasion, the English have had a voracious appetite for beef, hence their need to outsource for this.  After their conquest of the Gaelic land, tens of thousands of live cattle were exported yearly across the Irish Sea, until the mid-17th century, when a series of Cattle Acts enacted by the English Parliament put a stop to this export; thus, providing the fuel that ignited the Irish corned beef industry.  These Cattle Acts left Ireland with an inundation of cows, bringing meat prices down, and making it affordable and abundant for their salted beef production, their means of preservation; thus, now even the peasant could consume this food.

It was around this time that the term corned beef became popular, because of the large size of the salt crystals used to cure it, as they looked like a kernel of corn.  The word kernel is derived from the Old English crynel, meaning seed or kernel, a diminutive of corn.

Subsequently Ireland became known for its abundant, high quality salted beef, now called corned beef, which tasted more like salt than beef.  In addition to the overflow of cows due to the Cattle Acts, they also had access to the highest quality of imported salt, as their salt tax was one tenth that of England.  (In good corned beef, the quality of salt is almost as important as the cut of beef.)  The demand for this best-on-the-market Irish corned beef soared in Europe and the Americas, spiking the price so high that the common Irishman could no longer afford to eat it; thus, the potato, which the English had introduced in the 1580’s, became their major food source.

This high demand for Irish salted beef continued until the end of the 18th century, when the North American colonies began producing their own; the glory days of Irish corned beef came to a close over the next 50 years; hence, the economy in Ireland was affected greatly.  This coupled with the Great Famine-brought by the European potato blight starting in 1845-resulted in great destruction in this land, as this latter completely destroyed the Irish food source.  As a result, about a million people sought refuge in America; being the land of plenty, they could now afford meat, a first in their lifetimes.  That which they chose happened to be the affordable corn beef.  Here, however, it greatly differed from that of the corned or salted beef of their ancestors 200 years prior.

These immigrants settled in the urban centers of New York and Philadelphia, next to their Jewish neighbors, who had kosher butcher shops, where the Irish bought this product.  The Jewish butchers used brisket, a kosher cut of beef, for this.  Being a tougher cut, it called for the salting and cooking processes that rendered the extremely tender corn beef, with its exceptional flavors, such as we know today.  The Irish paired this with their beloved potato and the inexpensive vegetable cabbage.  This “Jewish” corned beef then became the celebratory meal for the American Irish on their religious holiday St. Patrick’s Day.  Time transformed this hallowed feast day into its present, grand celebration of Irish heritage.

Today this beef brisket cut is generally cured or pickled by injecting seasoned brine (this brisket cut comes from the area just above the front legs; it rests on top of the shank cut, which is immediately above these legs in the forefront).  Hence today most of our savory corned briskets never actually touch any salt grains, the size of corn kernels or otherwise, like that of the famous salted beef of old.

Laura Kumin in The Hamilton Cookbook, 2017, cites Richard Briggs’ 1792 recipe “To Stew a Brisket of Beef”, from The English Art of Cookery: “a pint of red wine, or strong beer, a half of pound of butter, a bunch of sweet herbs, three or four shallots, some pepper and half a nutmeg grated.”  At the end, browned, boiled turnips were added to the thickened “liquor”, or gravy.

The following is my sister’s modern recipe, which calls for braising, resulting in super tender morsels of meat.  Enjoy this effortless receipt, while wearing-the-green this year.

References:

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/is-corned-beef-really-irish-2839144/

http://www.foodandwine.com/fwx/food/complicated-irish-history-corned-beef

http://www.kitchenproject.com/history/CornedBeef.htm

Reay Tannahill, Food in History (New York: Three Rivers Press, 1988, 1973), pp. 289-291.

Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking (New York: Scribner, 2004, 1984), p. 175.

Laura Kumin, The Hamilton Cookbook (New York, Nashville: Post Hill Press, 2017), p. 81.

glazed meat

Corned Beef Brisket  Yields: 6-8 servings.  Total prep time: 7 1/4 hr for 3 1/2-lb brisket/  active prep time: 30 min/  cooking time: 7 hr (or 2 hr for each lb of meat).

3 1/2 lb corned beef brisket

1 lg yellow onion  (Organic vegetables are best.)

8 extra lg cloves garlic, or the equivalent

6-8 red or Yukon gold potatoes, cut in halves

1 1/2 lb green cabbage, cut in sixths or eighths, leaving root on

1-1 1/4 lb carrots, cut in large pieces

2 tsp salt  (Himalayan, pink, or Real Salt is important for optimum health; an inexpensive Himalayan salt is available in bulk at our local Winco.)

Yellow mustard

Brown sugar  (Organic is best; available at Trader Joe’s or Costco.)

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees; take veggies out of refrigerator to warm.
  2. preparation for initial braising

    Rub spice packet on brisket.  Place in oven-proof stock pot with onions and garlic.  Barely submerge in water (see photo), cover with lid, and braise for 1 hour in oven at 375 degrees.  Then lower temperature to 325 degrees if normal size (3 1/2 to 4 lbs); if brisket is larger, only lower heat to 350.  Cook meat for 6 hours for 3 1/2 lbs-the TOTAL cooking time should be determined by figuring 2 hrs per lb (which includes the replacement of vegetables for the meat for the last hour of cooking).

  3. 1 1/3 hour before serving, spray vegetables with an inexpensive, safe, effective vegetable spray (a mixture of 97% distilled white vinegar and 3% hydrogen peroxide); let sit 3 minutes; rinse really well.  Scrape carrots with a sharp knife (this preserves vitamins, as opposed to peeling); cut in halves or large pieces; peel the potatoes; cut in halves, if large.  Cut cabbage in sixths or eighths, leaving the root on, and set this aside separately.
  4. 1 hour before serving, remove brisket from braising water, place in a baking dish, covered with tin foil, and set aside.  This should be extremely tender; if not, put a little liquid in bottom of dish, cover well with foil, and place back in oven while veggies are cooking (see photo below).
  5. preparing brisket for further cooking if needed

    Turn the heat up to 375 degrees.  Add potatoes, carrots, and salt to hot broth, cover with additional water, and return to oven to cook until tender, checking periodically.  As vegetables are done, remove to a baking dish, with small amount of broth in bottom, cover with foil, and place in oven to keep warm.

  6. Add cabbage to pot 30 minutes before serving if you like it soft; for a crisper version, add 20 minutes before dinner.  (Be sure to check vegetables to see if cooked, remove to baking dish as needed, and return to oven to keep hot.)
  7. About 30 minutes before serving, prep the glaze, by generously spreading yellow mustard over brisket, sprinkle with brown sugar, and place in oven at 375 degrees.  Bake for about 15-20 minutes, or until it bubbles and glaze is formed (see photo at top of recipe).
  8. Cut meat, cover with foil, and place back in oven, if not ready to serve yet.  When all cooking is done, turn oven down to 200 degrees for keeping meal hot.
  9. To serve, place on platter or plates and surround with vegetables (see top photo).  This dish is best accompanied with Irish Soda Bread, last week’s post.

Quick Pasta with Red Sauce and Ricotta

pasta with red sauce and ricotta

With our hurried society, we are always trying to conserve on time; thus, I try to respect this need for efficiency with my cooking instructions, where provision of optimum health is also a major focus.  My mind is made for details; henceforth, I spell out shortcuts that streamline cooking; this can make a particular recipe look long, but indeed it is concise, with an abundance of clock-conserving treasures.

This quick version of red sauce can be made in just 30 minutes, thus honoring our crowded schedules; it pleases with its added topping of ricotta cheese.

A dear friend always blesses me with gifts from her home, when she visits.  I never know what new gadget or food item she will introduce upon her arrival.  Several weeks ago, Wanda came bearing homemade ricotta, which she had made in a crock pot, with her suggestion to put it on top of spaghetti sauce.  As she cooks for a diabetic challenged husband, she serves just a little gluten-free pasta with lots of red sauce, topped with her ricotta; you may choose similar adjustments.  (A 5-star receipt for simple homemade ricotta cheese can be found at http://www.geniuskitchen.com/recipe/homemade-ricotta-cheese-crock-pot-345985)

Discipline is called for in any recipe, whether it be in the kitchen or life, with the constant need for balance between demands and desires.  Always we long for the best taste to be left in our mouths, but oh the challenge in allowing the time required for such quality.  Here I sacrifice some of the depth of flavor, which can be found in my moderately-more-lengthy instructions for Red Sauce for Pasta or Spaghetti Squash (2017/04/10).

Italian comes to mind when we think of red sauce; tomatoes, however, are a relatively new food in Italy.  In the 16th century, conquistadors introduced these to Europe, where they took centuries to become a leading world vegetable.  America didn’t fully accept this fruit-it is actually a fruit, not a vegetable-until the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a time that simultaneously saw an inundation of Italian immigrants on our shores.  For more on this history, see Spicy Sausage and Tomatoes (2017/09/25) and Ropa Vieja (2017/10/09).

If you are wanting a fine-textured red sauce, know that canned tomatoes, unlike fresh tomatoes, usually don’t boil down to a smooth puree, as calcium salts are added by many canners-this calcium firms the cell walls of tomatoes and keeps the pieces in tact.  Since these salts interfere with the disintegration process during cooking, be sure to check the labels on all canned whole tomatoes, only buying brands that don’t list calcium, unless a chunky sauce is desired.  I use canned tomato sauce here.

Pressured agendas bring loss of strength, while slowing down to smell the roses allows for the discovery of innate gifts, which were positioned by divine ordinance long ago.  We get to open these daily, if we but exercise patience.

References:

Reay Tannahill, Food in History (New York: Three Rivers Press, 1988, 1973), p. 206.

Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking (New York: Scribner, 2004, 1984), p. 331.

Quick Pasta with Red Sauce and Ricotta  Yields: 2-3 servings.  Total prep time: 30 minutes.  Note: may double the recipe.

15-oz can tomato sauce  (Organic is best, which is only slightly more expensive; available at most supermarkets.)

3/4 tsp dried oregano  (Trader Joe’s has an excellent organic bottle for $1.99.)

1 tsp dried basil  (Also found at Trader’s.)

3/4 tsp salt  (Himalayan, pink, or Real Salt is important for optimum health; an inexpensive Himalayan salt is available in bulk at our local Winco.)

4 med/lg cloves garlic  (For easy prep, use 2 cubes frozen garlic from Trader’s.)

1 tsp oil  (Coconut or avocado oil is best, as olive oil is carcinogenic when heated to high temperatures.)

1 med yellow onion, chopped small

2-3 servings of pasta

2 sausage links  (Natural sausage is best; I used Fence Line Hot Italian Style here.)

Spray oil  (Coconut is best for health; Pam is available in most supermarkets; our local Winco brand, however, is much cheaper.)

2 tbsp tomato paste  (Freeze remaining paste in individual 1/4 c bags, to be thawed conveniently.)

Avocado slices

Ricotta cheese for topping

  1. tomato sauce simmering

    Take ricotta out of refrigerator, to warm it for serving.

  2. In a medium saucepan, place tomato sauce and 1/2 can of water, to which you have added seasonings and garlic.  Bring to a boil over medium heat; reduce heat to med/low and simmer, stirring occasionally.
  3. Heat oil in a sauté pan; sweat onion in hot oil (cook only until translucent); add to sauce.
  4. Fill a 3-quart saucepan 4/5th full of water, to which you have added a small amount of salt and oil (any kind will do).   Place over medium heat; when water boils, add pasta, and cook for 7 minutes, or until al dente.
  5. Meanwhile cut sausage diagonally and sauté until light brown, in a frying pan sprayed with oil.  When done, add to tomato sauce.
  6. Slice avocados, set aside.
  7. When pasta is finished, drain in a colander, rinsing well.
  8. prepping pasta

    Finish the sauce, by adding tomato paste, stirring until thickened.

  9. Rinse pasta under hot tap water to warm it.  Place pasta on individual plates; pour sauce over top; garnish with large dollop of ricotta and a slice of avocado.
  10. Quick, easy, delightful!

Quinoa Dishes

salad topped with cooked quinoa

Our bodies are the temples of God; only through his grace, do we have the capacity to care for these holy houses, with good diet and healthy exercise.  For years, such attendance was beyond my natural ability, but now I highly esteem the enabling gift from God, which provides me with the means to execute both these disciplines effectively.

Clearly I recall the days, when weighing 226 pounds, walking caused painful rubbing together of my fleshy thighs.  Brokenhearted, after repeated failures and fresh firm resolve, I would yet again reach toward the “easy” goal of a 20-minute walk, 3 times a week.  I could never achieve this, try as I might.

Lo and behold, my challenge has been reversed: now I have to be careful not to obsess about exercise, as I so love walking aerobically, for this invigorates me, stimulating a marvelous sense of wellbeing in my soul.

My trustworthy instruction book, the Bible, warns that there are advantages in physical exercise, but these are limited, as they pale in sight next to the gains acquired by putting spiritual development first.  Thus, we must approach workouts with great wisdom, so they neither own us, nor escape us.

My days are jam-packed, for I am gratefully fulfilling my ordained acheivements, with my food history writings and other ministry.  The result is a thrilling existence, in which I can run out of time at the end of a day, leaving me with critical choices, in which I have to prioritize.

Our gracious Father has granted me a tool to do such: there is a winter wonderland scene at the Tualatin Commons, the man-made lake near my home.  All the trees surrounding this body of water are dressed in bright, white lights (the floating Christmas tree was taken down after the New Year).  This has become my piece de resistance, which early in my day I start anticipating: will this pleasure be mine at twilight?  Only supernatural help allows me to accomplish the needed organization to allow this longed-for walk.

Discipline in ordering my day is critical; by necessity, exercise has become secondary to my fulfilling the higher purpose of my calling.  Often I recall how this valued ambulation used to be such a burden, causing sores on my overweight thighs, but now I crave walking.  I didn’t bring this miracle about; my great Healer affected it in me over time.  I am literally his walking miracle!

Not only has my exercise been refined, but healthy eating has come to me supernaturally, as well.  Slowly I have attained excellent eating disciplines.  Incorporating quinoa (KEEN-wah) in my diet is one such development.  This is a cereal grain, sometimes referred to as a seed; all grains, legumes, and nuts are seeds.

Quinoa is a power-food that is native of northern South America; it was domesticated originally as food for livestock around 5000 B.C., near the Lake Titicaca basin of Peru and Bolivia-I spent a night on this remote lake, the largest inland body of water in the southern hemisphere.

Quinoa was a staple with the Incas, second only to the potato in importance, and is still in the forefront among their indigenous descendants the Quechua and Aymara people.  It is a grain from a plant called Chenopodium quinoa, which is a member of the same family as beets and spinach.

Like many ancient grains, this seed was almost lost: in 1532, the Spanish explorer Francisco Pizarro destroyed quinoa fields, in his attempt to annihilate the Incan culture; this crop, however, survived in the high Andean mountains.  Quinoa was reintroduced to the modern world in the 1970’s and 80’s.

This high-fiber, complete-protein food, rich in numerous vitamins and minerals, produces a starch gel, similar to that of risotto, giving it a kind of silky texture, according to Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page in Culinary Artistry; they further state that its earth tones highly compliment the mineral and earthy components of lobster-try experimenting with this combination.

Here, however, I quickly prepare it in two savory dishes.  This pseudocereal, which is not a member of the grass family, therefore it is not a true cereal, can also be cooked as a breakfast food; serve it with dried fruit, honey, and an alternative milk, such as almond or hazelnut.

My discovery of quinoa has blessed me immensely; may it benefit you  likewise.

References:

Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking (New York: Scribner, 1984, 2004), pp. 451-483.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quinoa

http://www.ancientgrains.com/quinoa-history-and-origin/

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/quinoa-the-mother-of-grains-1-57670322/

Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page, Culinary Artistry (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.), pp. 142, 143.

toasted yellow quinoa

Simple Cooked Quinoa  Yields: 3-5 servings, as a main course or side dish respectively.  Total prep time: 30 min/  active prep time: 15 min/  cooking time: 15 min.  Note: double this for healthy leftovers; this is especially good added to green salads (see photo above).

1 c quinoa  (Tri-color or red organic quinoa is preferable-color is important in diet.)

1-15 oz can of chicken, vegetable, or beef broth

1/2 tsp salt  (Himalayan, pink, or Real Salt is essential for optimum health; a Himalayan salt is available very cheaply in bulk at our local Winco.)

  1. Toast the grain in a hot, dry frying pan, over medium heat, for 6-10 minutes; yellow quinoa will turn light brown in color (see above photo), while red quinoa  turns deep red; stir the above occasionally.  This enhances the flavor of the dish remarkably!  Meanwhile go to next step.
  2. While quinoa is toasting, pour broth in a 1 1/2-quart saucepan (or 3-quart pan, if doubling recipe).  Stir in salt and bring to a boil over medium heat; when liquid boils, add toasted seed and bring to a second boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes; red quinoa takes longer to cook.  When done, water will be absorbed and quinoa will be somewhat translucent.
  3. Serve immediately.  Refrigerate any leftovers to reheat for an entrée, or to add to a green salad (see first photo).

carrots and quinoa

Carrots and Quinoa  Yields: 4-6 servings, as a main course or side dish respectively.  Total prep time: 45 minutes.

1 med yellow onion, cut in even 1/8 inch slices

5 tsp oil  (Coconut or avocado oil is best, as olive oil is carcinogenic, when heated to high temperatures.)

8 med carrots, or other vegetable  (Organic multi-colored carrots are available at Trader Joe’s; color is important in diet.)

1 c quinoa  (Red or tri-color adds health benefits.)

1-15-oz can chicken, vegetable, or beef broth

1/2 tsp salt  (Himalayan, pink, or Real Salt is important for premium health; an inexpensive Himalayan salt is available in bulk at our local Winco.)

  1. toasted red quinoa

    To caramelize onions, cook slowly over medium heat in 1 tsp of oil, stirring every several minutes, until a light color starts to form; then, stir every minute, until dark brown.  Be sure to use a small amount of oil; too much oil will require a much longer cooking time, as will crowding the pan.

  2. Spray carrots with a safe inexpensive, effective vegetable spray (combine 97% distilled white vinegar with 3% hydrogen peroxide); let sit 3 minutes; rinse well.
  3. Bring broth to a boil in a covered 1 1/2–quart saucepan, over med/high heat; add salt.
  4. Toast quinoa in a hot dry frying pan, over medium heat, stirring occasionally.  This takes about 6-10 minutes-yellow quinoa will turn light brown, while red quinoa will become deep red (see photo above).
  5. To preserve vitamins just under skin, scrape carrots with a sharp knife, instead of peeling; slice thinly.  (Meanwhile keep checking the onions.)
  6. finished product

    Add toasted quinoa to boiling broth, cover, and reduce heat to med/low.  Allow to simmer until all the liquid is absorbed (this takes about 15 minutes for yellow quinoa, while red quinoa takes longer).

  7. Heat remaining 4 tsp oil in an empty frying pan.  Add sliced carrots, cover, and steam until soft, stirring occasionally.
  8. Blend onions into carrots; mix cooked quinoa into vegetables.  Serve hot (see above photo).

Pasta and Spinach, with Lemon Sauce

pasta and spinach, with lemon sauce

Sauces have been used to modify and accentuate food throughout history, transcending all cultures.  Here we will examine ancient Rome, for it offers, in the strictest sense of recipes, the earliest cook book De Re Coquinaria, which is perhaps erroneously believed to have been written by the gourmet Apicius, in the first century A.D.  This discrepancy is evident in that Athenaeus, who compiled the anthology The Deipnosophists (circa 230 A.D.), which is regarded as one of the leading sources of information about ancient times, knew all about Apicius as a gourmet, but didn’t attribute a cook book to him.  Regardless of the exact authorship of this work, it supplies the rich basis of a worthy record of early cooking techniques.

With it, glimpses come into the eating habits of the well-to-do, including sumptuous recipes, such as those for feasts.  Note that contrary to established beliefs, the everyday Roman dining was simple: breakfast (jentaculum) was bread with a few olives or raisins; lunch (prandium) mostly consisted of leftovers, cold meat, or eggs; the daily main meal (cena) also reflected less extravagance-this latter was more elaborate only in households with an excess of slaves.

Even more than the fussy dishes concocted for guests, plain foods, like grain-pastes, beans, and bread, required spices and strong sauces to transform them, with their disproportionate quantities of starch.  This same rule is illustrated by the most intense of the world’s repertoire of sauces, such as the soy mixtures of China, the chili pastes of Mexico, and the curries-derived from the South Indian name kari meaning sauce-of India.  Here the common man basically developed sauces as seasonings for bulky carbohydrates, which both absorb and dilute them; on the other hand, the solid masses of fish and meat scarcely incorporate liquid at all.  In Food in History, Reay Tannahill states that all the qualities that give a cuisine its identity change in a society that can afford to eat meat and fish daily, with their staying sauces.  (Such peoples utilize extensive creativity in sauce-making, the primary element of good cooking.)  Thus, Tannahill suggests that the whole essence of cuisine may have thus changed in this rural society that was transfigured into Imperial Rome.

Showy receipts were prepared for company by that ancient culture. The full dinner party in Roman times was considered to be nine people, reclining on three couches, around a U shape table.  These guests leaned on their left elbow, while eating with the fingers of their right hand.  This was a messy activity; they washed themselves from top to toe before a meal, probably needing to do so after as well.  By necessity the dipping sauces for their flesh foods required a sturdy substance for easy eating; such thickening was achieved by adding wheat starch or crumbled pastry.

The use of liquamen (or garum) was predominant in Roman cookery.  This clear, golden, fermented fish sauce was made commercially, by leaving out a mixture of fish and salt in the sun for two to three months (eighteen months for larger fish).  Its presence in most recipes not only added strong flavor, which the Romans loved, but in turn, masked milder rancidity, so prevalent in their foodstuffs.  Imperial Rome grew to be a quarter of the size of modern Paris, unlike the other great, small urban centers of Sumer, Egypt, and Greece, which were small by comparison; this made transport of perishable foods, which were stockpiled in warehouses, very slow.  With no refrigeration, food spoilage presented a large problem; thus, the powerful, fishy/salty flavored liquamen found its way into almost everything.

The recipes of antiquity were sketchy, with little more than a list of ingredients.  Their sauces, as mentioned above, often called for wheat starch and crumbled pastry as thickeners, for there was no roux.  Interestingly enough, roux was NOT the invention of 17th-century classical French cuisine, as is generally accepted; indeed, two printed German recipes remain employing this, which date back to late medieval times, 150 years before roux began revolutionizing cooking.

This paste-a combination of flour and butter cooked to varying degrees for different recipes-is the binder in four out of five of the leading mother sauces: brown sauce (espagnole), white sauce (veloute), milk-based béchamel, and traditional sauce tomat (the fifth is hollandaise).  These five mother sauces were formalized in a code by Auguste Escoffier in Le Guide Culinaire (1903); they act as the basis of most sauce creations, chocolate being an exception.

Our lemon recipe, a béchamel, is time-efficient-I feel a need to respect the modern sense of rush, which makes many afraid of a brown sauce that in a careful kitchen can simmer for up to ten hours.  Enjoy this delightful dish prepared in less than 30 minutes!

References:

Esther B. Aresty, The Delectable Past (New York: Simon and Schuster, Inc., 1964) pp. 14, 15, 18, 20.

Reay Tannahill, Food in History (New York: Three Rivers Press, 1988, 1973), pp. 82, 83, 89, 90.

Bee Wilson, Consider the Fork (New York: Basic Books, 2012), p. 202.

Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking (New York: Scribner, 1984, 2004), pp. 616-618.

https://www.thekitchn.com/do-you-know-your-french-mother-sauces-211794

https://www.britannica.com/biography/Auguste-Escoffier

weighing pasta

Swift Pasta and Spinach, with Lemon Sauce  Yields: 2 servings (as a main course),  or 4 (as a side dish).  Total prep time: 25 minutes.

2/3 cup  shallots, chopped small

1/3 cup or 1/3 medium onion, chopped small  (If desired, may use more onions and less shallots; a total of 1 cup, of both together, is needed.)

2 medium garlic cloves  (For easy prep, substitute 1 cube frozen garlic from Trader Joe’s.)

3 tbsp fresh lemon juice-2 small lemons  (May add optional zest of half a lemon.)

5-6 oz of pasta  (Gluten-free pasta may be used.)

5 tsp butter

2 tsp flour  (May substitute potato or rice flour for gluten-free version.)

2 tsp oil  (Coconut or avocado oil is important for health, as olive oil is carcinogenic when heated to high temperatures.)

1/2 cup heavy whipping cream  (Must be heavy cream, or it will curdle.)

Salt and white pepper, to taste  (Real Salt, Himalayan, or pink salt, is essential for optimum health; a Himalayan salt is available very cheaply in bulk at our local Winco.)

Fresh spinach

  1. hand-held wooden lemon squeezer

    Boil 2 1/2 quarts of water over medium/high heat, in a covered saucepan-add about a teaspoon each of salt and any kind of oil.

  2. Chop small the shallots and onions; measure and set aside (refrigerating any extra for future use).  Mince garlic, if using fresh.
  3. Roll lemons on counter, pressing down hard with hand to loosen juices in meat; squeeze and measure lemon juice; set aside.  (See above photo of hand-held juicer, ideal for easy juicing.)
  4. When water is boiling, turn heat down to medium, add pasta and cook for 7 minutes, or until al dente.  Drain in a colander when done.
  5. In a small saucepan, melt 2 tsp of butter over medium heat; stir in flour with a wire whisk; cook briefly for about 1 minute-traditionally, roux for a béchamel shouldn’t change in color at all.
  6. finished lemon sauce

    Heat 1 tbsp butter and oil, in a medium-size sauté pan, over medium heat.  Add shallots and onion; cook until translucent, stirring frequently.  Mix in garlic; if garlic is fresh, cook for about 30 seconds more-just until aroma arises-or saute until cube is dissolved, if using frozen.

  7. Add heavy cream, lemon juice, and roux to onions/shallots/garlic; stir constantly until sauce is thickened; see photo.
  8. Toss with prepared pasta, serve on a bed of spinach, enjoy!

Ahi Tuna, Peppered with Lemon Sauce

ahi tuna with lemon sauce

Ahi or yellowfin tuna is of the genus Thunnus and the species albacares; it is not to be confused with albacore or longfin tuna (Thunnus alalunga), even though the French use their word albacore for this yellowfin, while the Portuguese use albacora.  Note: the English albacore or longfin, of the species alalunga, is the basis for the United States tuna-canning industry.

Wikipedia sites the Hawaii Seafood Buyers Guide as stating that the enormous yellowfin tuna (with its Hawaiian name ahi) is popular in raw seafood dishes, especially sashimi, as well as being excellent for grilling, where it is often prepared seared rare.  Its buyers recognize two grades, “sashimi grade” and “other”, with variations of quality in “other”.

In sushi and sashimi, yellowfin or ahi is becoming a replacement for the near commercially extinct southern bluefin tuna (Thunnus maccoyii); presently the latter is probably the most valuable and prized fish worldwide.

On September 11, 2013, smithsonian.com referred to Japanese chefs as revering this bluefin like the Italians might a white truffle or the French oenophile might a bottle of 1945 Bordeaux.  It goes on to state that its high standing, along with that of the other tuna species such as the yellowfin and bigeye, has not always been recognized in Japan, for in the 19th century it was called neko-malagi, meaning “fish that even a cat would disdain”.  Indeed, this beef-red fish is smelly and strong-tasting.

The wide-spread acceptance, of this once essentially worthless seafood, is actually a product of a marketing scheme of the Japanese airline industry.  The story starts with the tuna sport fishing craze prevalent in the 1940’s, 50’s, and 60’s, along the Atlantic coast of the U.S. and Canada; these 400-plus-pound bluefins were being caught for fun, weighed, and photographed; then, they were either sent to landfills, sold for pet food, or thrown back into the ocean dead.

With the dawn of the 1970’s, Japanese cargo planes brought electronics to America; these same planes took advantage of the cheap New England tuna carcasses for their return flights.  Not wanting to go back empty, they ingeniously purchased these dirt-cheap bluefins, which in turn produced profits of thousands of dollars each in their homeland.

What made this country welcome this previously detested fish?  (The Smithsonian article qualifies bluefin as being not so good, with a tangy iron flavor and a texture that melts in your mouth, which amateurs love; this is opposed to the crunchier, more subtly flavored muscles tissues of animals like squid, clams, various jacks, flounder, and sea bream, which are highly favored by traditional sushi connoisseurs.)  The reasoning behind today’s widespread acceptance of bluefin can be traced back to the newly acquired taste for beef in Japan’s diet in the 70’s.  Concurrent with the electronic boom, this national appreciation for strong flavored beef brought about their subsequent open-mindedness to the dark, red flesh of tuna as well.

When I moved to Tokyo in 1980, I experienced this red meat wave; hence in 1982, after my return home, I was inspired to seek the approval of Montana governor Ted Schwiden, for my becoming an “ambassador” to this Oriental country; my proposal was to sell the then popular Montana beef, with my historical Montana dinner, entertaining our state’s clients overseas (see “About” for more on this).

This advancing beef rage in the Orient set the stage for the universal acceptance of bluefin, for it prepared Japan’s taste buds for the inundation of this tuna by their airlines; in turn, this rich, dark fish’s popularity then spread back across the ocean to America; and “by the 1990’s, the bluefin tuna was wanted almost desperately world-wide”, according to the Smithsonian.

Now it is facing commercial extinction, with yellowfin or ahi taking its place.  As the magazine states, traditional sushi sophisticates, however, do not always appreciate bluefin; some even consider it junk fish, as it was once known.  Yet the general public perhaps foolishly values this tuna, in a way which is extremely opposite to that of the mid 20th century, when it was sent to landfills along the Atlantic coast.

In America, we love to grill ahi tuna, the frequent substitute for bluefin, as well as serving it raw.  This outstanding receipt, which is prepared in minutes, affords a mouth-watering lemon sauce to compliment this firm fish.

References:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yellowfin_tuna

https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/fish/discover/species-profiles/thunnus-albacares/

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/from-cat-food-to-sushi-counter-the-strange-rise-of-the-bluefin-tuna-5980010/

medium/rare ahi

Ahi Tuna, Peppered with Lemon Sauce  Yields: 3 servings.  Total prep time: 30 min, or less.  Note: for an even quicker 10 min preparation, do step 5 only, omitting the lemon sauce, as well as all the ingredients, except the tuna, seasonings, and 2 tbsp oil.  On the other hand, you may double the sauce, allowing easy leftovers for next week’s Swift Pasta and Fresh Spinach with Lemon Sauce (1/8/18).

2 tsp butter

2 tsp flour

3 tbsp fresh lemon juice  (2 small lemons needed; may add optional zest of half a lemon.)

3 tbsp shallots, chopped small

2 medium garlic cloves, minced  (For easy prep, substitute 1 cube frozen garlic from Trader Joe’s.)

1-1.5 lb ahi tuna steaks  (Economical,  frozen, wild-caught ahi is often available in 1 lb bags at our local Grocery Outlet; may also use 3 fresh steaks, which tend to be 1.5” thick; these take longer to cook, weighing more.)

1 1/4 tsp salt  (Real Salt, Himalayan, or pink salt is so important for optimum health; a Himalayan salt is available very inexpensively, in bulk at our local Winco.)

1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

2 1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper

2 tbsp oil  (Coconut or avocado is best for health, as olive oil is carcinogenic, when heated to high temperatures.)

1/2 c heavy whipping cream  (Must be heavy cream, or it will curdle.)

  1. Heat serving plates in oven, turned on warm.
  2. cooked roux

    Next prep roux, by melting butter in a small sauce pan over medium heat; mix in flour; while stirring constantly with a wire whisk, cook until moisture is absorbed,  about 1 minute; for this sauce color of roux shouldn’t change much (see photo); set aside.

  3. Juice lemons by first rolling them on counter, pressing down hard with hand; this loosens the meat for easy juicing; set measured juice aside.
  4. Mince garlic; chop shallots in small pieces; place in separate dishes.
  5. Rub tuna with salt, cayenne, and freshly ground pepper, which have been mixed together in a small dish.
  6. Heat oil in heavy-bottom frying pan, over medium/high heat.  Gently place steaks in hot oil and cook to desired doneness; set on warm plates in oven.  (Tuna steaks will vary in thickness; sear tuna until golden brown, turning only once; 5 oz steaks will need about 1 minute per side for medium/rare; fresh tuna, which is about 1.5” thick, takes about 2 minutes on each side for rare, while 2.5 min and 3 min per side respectively for medium/rare and medium.  DO NOT OVER COOK, or it will be extremely dry.)
  7. After putting cooked tuna in warm oven, turn heat down to medium under pan and deglaze it with 2 tbsp water, wine, or chicken or fish stock.  Cook minced shallots in hot juices, just until they turn translucent, about 1 minute; stir in garlic.
  8. lemon sauce

    Finish sauce by adding heavy cream, lemon juice, and optional zest to shallots/garlic.  Blend in roux, stirring continuously with a wire whisk, until sauce is thickened (see photo).

  9. Pour sauce over fish and serve immediately.  (For a quicker version, may omit the sauce and just serve seared ahi, by following step 6 only.)
  10. Enjoy this splendor, which is the fastest gourmet meal I know!

Turkey with Shallots, Cauliflower, and Bell Pepper

turkey with shallots, cauliflower, and bell pepper

It’s that time of year again for turkey.  I have created a recipe using either leftover roasted fowl or its ground version, which comes in one pound packages, at any food market; the latter makes this dish accessible year-round.

Turkey is in the genus Meleagris, which is native to the Americas; the Mexicans domesticated it by 800 BC.  It was either introduced to Southwest U.S., or tamed here independently, by 200 BC; these indigenous people used its feathers for ceremonies, as well as in making robes and blankets; they didn’t, however, consume it as a meat until around 1100 AD.

This bird arrived in Europe in 1523-24, when the Spanish conquistador Hernando Cortes brought certain foods back from Mexico; in Spain, it was known as gallopavo (peacock).  There is some confusion concerning the exact derivation of its subsequent name turkey; most likely this was taken from our American bird’s mistaken resemblance to the African guinea fowl, which the Europeans knew as turkey fowl, as these were imported from Turkey.

Many believe that English navigator William Strickland introduced this food to England; indeed a tribute was made to him in 1550, in that he was granted a family coat of arms, including a “turkey-crop in his pride proper”; this coat of arms, with its turkey crest, is still in use today.

Until recent times, this bird was considered an extravagance in Europe, where native grouse and pheasant were cheaper alternatives.  In the 19th century, the English working class aspired to partake of goose for their holiday celebrations; Christmas “goose clubs” were established in England in the 1800’s, so these impoverished people could insure the necessary savings for their festive meal.

One of the first mentions in literature, of turkey becoming this celebratory roast, is Charles Dickens’ vivid portrayal in A Chistmas Carol: a resultant, decadent Christmas dinner occurred, when the reformed Ebenezer Scrooge replaced Bob Crachit’s meager goose with a massive turkey.  Nevertheless, only since World War II, as growing conditions for turkey became less expensive, has this developed into the holiday fowl of choice in England.

In U.S. history, Benjamin Franklin was disappointed when turkey was not selected for our national bird; he argued that it is a true original native, whereas the eagle can be found in all countries.

With our present heightened fascination in high cuisine, “heritage” birds are gaining in popularity.  These are traditional breeds, much like Strickland and Dickens encountered, which can trace their ancestry to the earliest domesticated animals.  They have a ratio of dark to white meat of about 50/50.

Broad Breasted Whites have been sold predominantly in grocery stores for decades; these were bred to have a ratio of 65% white meat to 35% dark, while weighing up to 50 pounds; the maximum weight of a wild turkey is 25 pounds, which is also the upper weight of the traditional heritage birds.  These latter come with such colorful names as Bourbon Red, Royal Palm, and Midget White; even with their gamy taste, people are willing to pay $9, or more, per pound to partake of this delicacy, while Broad Breasted Whites are often given away free, as promotional deals, at local supermarkets nowadays.

You may call me penurious, but I made this dish with all-natural Foster Farms ground turkey, which is close to $3 a pound; my recipe, however, is great for Thanksgiving leftovers, whether they be of a Broad Breasted White or a heritage breed.

References:

  1. James Trager, The Food Chronology (New York: Henry Holt and Company, Inc., 1995), pp. 86, 87, 180.
  2. http://www.history.com/news/hungry-history/turkey-talk-the-story-behind-your-thanksgiving-bird
  3. http://www.historyextra.com/article/premium/turkeys
  4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turkey_(bird)

flavorful onions caramelized with vinegar

Turkey with Shallots, Cauliflower and Green Pepper  Yields: 5-6 servings.  Total prep time: 50-60 min.

5 tsp oil  (Coconut or avocado oil is best for health; olive oil is carcinogenic, when heated to high temperatures.)

1 med yellow onion, cut in even 1/8” slices

4 oz shallots, chopped in 1” pieces

1 tbsp butter

1 lb natural ground turkey  (May use leftover roasted turkey, broken in bite-size pieces.)

Salt to taste  (Real Salt is critical for good health; available in nutrition center at local supermarket.)

Fresh ground pepper to taste

2 lb cauliflower  (Yellow or orange cauliflower is sometimes available, in the organic section, at our local Fred Meyer-Kroger-stores.)

1 lg bell pepper  (In particular, it is important that peppers be organic, as they readily absorb pesticides.)

3-4 tbsp flavored vinegar  (I used elderberry vinegar, which I purchased in Montana.)

  1. For caramelizing, peel and cut onion in even 1/8” slices.  Heat 1 tsp oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat; when a small piece sizzles in oil, reduce heat to medium/low; add rest of onions and slowly cook, stirring every 2 minutes, until color begins to form.  (It is important to not crowd pan, or add too much oil, as

    cutting shallots in 1″ pieces

    this will slow down the cooking process.)  When a light golden color is beginning to form, start stirring every minute, until dark brown.  Deglaze pan of onions-scrape fond, browned, cooked-on-juices, off bottom of pan with a spatula-by adding 1-2 tbsp of the vinegar (see above photo of caramelized onions with vinegar).  Go to the next steps, while onions are cooking.

  2. Spray cauliflower and pepper with a safe, inexpensive, effective produce spray (combine 97% distilled white vinegar with 3% hydrogen peroxide in a spray bottle); let sit for 3 minutes; rinse well.
  3. Peel shallots, cut large ones in 1” pieces, and set aside (see photo above).
  4. In another frying pan, melt butter; add shallots; and cook over medium heat, until they are translucent.  Add raw turkey, salt and pepper generously, cook until pink is gone-see photo below.  (If your turkey was previously frozen, there will be lots of juices, but if cooking fresh-ground, you may need to deglaze hot pan with 1-2 tbsp of vinegar; if using roasted turkey pieces, just stir these into shallots-do not cook.)  Set turkey/shallots aside in a large bowl.
  5. cooked turkey and shallots

    Cut peppers into 1” x 3” strips, set aside.

  6. For ease in dividing the cauliflower into bite-size florettes, first break chunks of cauliflower off the head; next, cut off all excess stalk from these bigger sections; then, make small knife-cuts in the stems of these pieces, gently pulling apart small florettes with fingers; set aside separately in a bowl.
  7. Heat 1 tsp of oil over medium heat in the above, empty meat pan; when a  piece sizzles in hot oil, add the remaining peppers; cook until somewhat soft, but still crisp.  Deglaze hot pan, with a tbsp of vinegar-may have to deglaze with water instead, for only a total of 3-4 tbsp of vinegar should be used for all deglazing, in entire recipe; vinegar adds delightful flavor, but too much is overpowering.  Put peppers in with bowl of meat.
  8. When onions are done, mix together thoroughly with meat/shallots/peppers.  Heat last tbsp of oil in this pan, over medium heat; after a small piece sizzles in hot oil, add rest of cauliflower; salt and pepper florettes, distributing oil evenly among them.  Add 1/4 c water, cover pan, and cook until soft, stirring occasionally.
  9. finished product

    Blend turkey and vegetables into soft cauliflower, adjust seasonings, and heat thoroughly (see photo).  Serve with anticipation!