Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Iranian Night

I find that with cooking, like most things in life, one gets out what one puts in. If I have fun while I’m cooking, my food typically tastes like it. Unfortunately, the reverse is also true: if I’m flustered and stressed out, I can easily cook that into whatever I am making, and you certainly can taste that as well. This is exactly what happened on Monday night. We delayed our international night, because of scheduling conflicts; but I had thought that we could have an Iranian night. This made sense to me because I thought...”kebabs and rice, that seems like a low-stress night of grilling that should be perfect following finals.” I thought it could be easily put together, with out having to spend hours tracking down ingredients, and kebabs and rice...always tasty. Sadly, this is not quiet how the night turned out.

About a week ago, I sent a message to my favorite Persian foodie, Ramin Rahimian, who recommended that I make koubideh kebab to go with my chelo kebab- which is a dish that includes saffron rice, grilled tomato and kebab. Koubideh kebab a ground beef kebab...he said “just keep it juicy”...always good advice. I also thought this would be great because, ground beef fits into the budget well.

The recipes I found for the koubideh kebab, had you grate onion into the ground beef. This is where everything started to fall apart. I think my grater is too fine, or maybe I should have just very finely chopped the onion because when I grated it, a lot of onion juice was released into the beef, making it really soggy...this would later prove to be quiet a problem when I tried to form the kebabs and had Scott grill them. First, the kebabs just refused to hold any shape or hold to the skewers. Then, while on the grill, the juices dripped onto the flame, putting it out. The result was that one side of the mashed, ill-shaped kebabs was nice and charred while the other was still not so much cooking...or so we thought because the fire was going out. In an attempt to save the kebabs, we brought them in, and put them under the broiler. This was about the time, that I realized I had forgotten all about the tomatoes, so I threw those in the broiler as well. Now, dear reader, you might recall Ramin’s sage advice to me regarding the kebabs: “just keep it juicy”. Well, apparently all of this moving, an falling apart, and finagling does not keep a kebab juicy.

Meanwhile, as Scott was outside ‘grilling’, I was making the rice. Again...I mistakenly thought this to be a simple process, and really I still think it could have been, if I had been in a good mood at the time. Unfortunately, it seemed like nothing was going right...which is in my kitchen always a self-fulfilling prophecy. I was at this point battling, with the food, the kitchen...and bless his heart, Scott, so my food was made in a rushed and angry manner...not the way to get good persian rice, with a good “ta-dig”. From what I read, for this you want to begin by rinsing and soaking the rice, ridding it of the extra starch (which is what makes sticky-rice sticky, or risotto creamy). Then, you boil the rice in water with a little oil or butter. As the rice then boils down, you can add a little more butter/ oil and a little saffron water. When you make this rice, you also want to let it cook longer than you normally would so that it will form, on the bottom this crispy-golden layer, called a “ta-dig” which is the mark of a good cook. As all of this is happening, it should give off a fabulous smell. I however got nervous. I must admit, I am well known for burning rice, forming a gross crispy-black layer on the bottom of the pot. I did not want to repeat this yet again, and thus, my polow never formed a ta-dig...though it was smelling very good, and I think starting to.

Finally, the rice was done, the kebabs were over done, and the tomatoes were somewhat cooked and I decided that it was time to eat because I had been very hungry for a very long time. So I plated up the rice and sprinkled on top of it sumac, which is a red spice, popular in Iran that has a great acidic-lemony taste...only wait, no...I grabbed my little bag of hot cheyenne pepper instead and sprinkled that over it a much different taste. Though, after the picture was taken, I was able to scrape off most of it, and sprinkle it with the proper spice instead.

From this, misadventure as it was clear however, that this could have been a great dish and we agreed that we would in fact have to try this again making a few adjustments. The kebabs, though dry and a little over done had a really great flavor. You could taste the acidity of the sumac and that made them really nice. Also, the rice and tomatoes went very well together, and it all looked quite pretty on the platter. Of course, the other upside to all of this is that very soon, I will be enjoying a fabulous, properly prepared Persian dinner with Ramin....

The recipes I used are really should give them a try, you’ll probably have more luck than I.

Kabab Koobideh

4 Servings

500 grams ground lamb or beef

2 large onions (grated)

1 large egg (beaten)

4 medium tomatoes

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1 tablespoon sumac (optional)


Mix meat, onions, egg, salt and pepper well and leave in the refrigerator overnight (or for several hours).

Press the meat around long, thick metal skewers and shape evenly. Thread whole tomatoes on another skewer. Barbeque each side for about five minutes, turning frequently. If skewers are not available or barbequing is not possible, kabab-e koobideh can be shaped into long, thin portions on aluminum foil and grilled at high temperature in the oven. The oven should be pre-heated and kabab-e koobideh should be placed as high as possible near the source of the heat.

Serve with hot Polow (Chelow) or on middle-eastern bread. If serving with rice, some sumac may be sprinkled on top. If kabab-e koobideh was made in an ovPolow (or Chelow)

Ingredients: (4 servings)

basmati or long-grain rice, 500 grams

cooking oil



The preparation of polow (or chelow) is more elaborate than kateh and results in a delicious non-sticky rice. It is normally served with kababs or any of the main dishes in this collection, unless rice is already used as one of the ingredients.

Wash rice twice and soak in salted warm water for 3-4 hours, then drain the water. Pour water in a large non-stick pan until it is half-full and bring it to a boil. Add rice and a spoonful of salt and continue boiling until rice slightly softens. Pour rice into a drain and wash it with slightly warm water.

Pour a few spoonfuls of cooking oil into the pan and add rice. Pour a few more spoonfuls of oil over rice. Cover the pan and cook over low heat for about half an hour. If cooking time is increased, a delicious crispy layer of rice (called ta-dig) will form at the bottom of the pan.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Mac and Cheese

This weekend Scott and I had a lot of tofu...a lot! We had a great pork and tofu stir fry and then the Pad Thai I told you about on Saturday. Finally on Sunday we had Korean Tacos with Crispy Tofu. All were good, but together it was a whole lot of tofu. Having greatly appreciated this, as he alway does, and having happily eaten it all; Scott requested something different...something more Midwestern Comfort-foodish.

Monday we had macaroni and cheese. Now, I always get exc
ited about trying new things and I had found this Carrot Macaroni and Cheese recipe that I wanted to try, but I had also promised Scott comfort food and was not sure how it would turn out. So, I made both: the Carrot Macaroni and Cheese and Joy of Cooking's Baked Macaroni and Cheese. This way we could compare the two side by side!
I thought that this was a splendid take on a classic. You certainly can't eat this guilt free or anything, it is after all still mac and cheese, but I think that it is healthier than other versions. I do plan to for sure bring this to future church pot-lucks.

Here is the recipe by Jeremy Fox from Food and Wine

The Good News The silky carrot puree mixed with the cheddar here is a terrific source of vitamin A and helps reduce the amount of fat in the recipe.
3/4 pound carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
Zest and juice of 1 navel orange, zest removed in strips with a vegetable peeler
3 cups penne rigate (9 ounces)
3 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (1 1/2 cups)
1 tablespoon chopped tarragon
Freshly ground white pepper
Preheat the oven to 350°. In a medium saucepan, combine the carrots with the zest and juice and 1/4 cup of water. Season with salt and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer over moderate heat until the carrots are very soft, about 30 minutes. Discard the zest. Transfer the carrots and any liquid to a blender and puree until very smooth.

Meanwhile, in a large saucepan of boiling salted water, cook the pasta until al dente. Drain the pasta, reserving 1 cup of the cooking water.

Return the pasta to the pot. Add the reserved water and the carrot puree and cook over moderate heat, stirring frequently, until the pasta is coated with a thickened sauce, about 5 minutes. Stir in three-fourths of the cheese and cook, stirring, until very creamy, 2 to 3 minutes longer. Stir in the tarragon and season with salt and white pepper.

Transfer the pasta to a medium baking dish and top with the remaining cheese. Bake until the cheese is melted and lightly browned, about 20 minutes. Let stand for 5 minutes before serving.

One Serving 370 cal, 8 gm fat, 4.5 gm sat fat, 58 gm carb, 4 gm fiber.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Thai Night

The first time I every had Pad Thai was at the Thai Country Kitchen in the St. Louis Loop. I was 16 and with my sister Katie and my friend Margaret Ware-Smith, and it was amazing! I had had Thai before; many times, but never like this...this was sweet, sour and salty all at once. This was before I had developed my love of spicy foods, and as you may know, Thai food can be spicy. Every time I had eaten Thai in the past, I had been filled with the fear of spicy. Pad Thai is not spicy though, not spicy at all (which might account for its wide popularity) it’s just flavorful. That first Pad Thai was a delectable treasure...predominately noodles (I love noodles) with bits of all sorts of things thrown in, creating little surprises of texture and flavor...things to root around in the noodles for. This was more than just a lunch, this was a food adventure.

Now, I must admit I have had Pad Thai many times since then and ordered it quiet regularly for a while, but it was never like the first never is I suppose. So when I decided to do Thai night tonight, I decided that I would try my hand at Pad Thai. I must say that I think, my Pad Thai is pretty good. It was certainly not like my first, but it was better than many that I have had; in part I think, because I was able to control just how much of what went in and so it did not become too greasy as some Pad Thai that I’ve had.

Now my dear reader, do try not to judge too much; but the recipe that I used was one by Alton Brown...I know, he is not actually Thai, but looking at it I imagined that it was rather authentic, whatever that means. I have posted the recipe below. There are a few things listed that you may not happen to have on hand, but all are things which I have used for other dishes, so they’re versatile and store well if you choose to invest.


1-ounce tamarind paste

3/4 cup boiling water

2 tablespoons fish sauce

2 tablespoons palm sugar

1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar

4 ounces rice stick noodles

6 ounces Marinated Tofu, recipe follows

1 to 2 tablespoons peanut oil

1 cup chopped scallions, divided

2 teaspoons minced garlic

2 whole eggs, beaten

2 teaspoons salted cabbage

1 tablespoon dried shrimp

3 ounces bean sprouts, divided

1/2 cup roasted salted peanuts, chopped, divided

Freshly ground dried red chile peppers, to taste

1 lime, cut into wedges

Place the tamarind paste in the boiling water and set aside while preparing the other ingredients.

Combine the fish sauce, palm sugar, and rice wine vinegar in a small bowl and set aside.

Place the rice stick noodles in a mixing bowl and cover with hot water. Set aside while you prepare the remaining ingredients. Once the other ingredients are measured out into separate bowls, drain the water from the noodles and set them aside. Cut the tofu into 1/2-inch wide strips, similar to French fries.

Press the tamarind paste through a fine mesh strainer and add to the sauce. Stir to combine.

Place a wok over high heat. Once hot, add 1 tablespoon of the peanut oil. Heat until it shimmers, then add the tofu. Cook the tofu until golden brown, moving constantly, for no longer than 1 minute. Remove the tofu from the pan to a small bowl and set aside.

If necessary, add some more peanut oil to the pan and heat until shimmering. Add 2/3 of the scallions and then the garlic, cook for 10 to 15 seconds. Add the eggs to the pan; once the eggs begin to set up, about 15 to 20 seconds, stir to scramble. Add the remaining ingredients in the following order and toss after each addition: noodles, sauce, cabbage, shrimp, and 2/3 of the bean sprouts and peanuts. Toss everything until heated through, but no longer than 1 to 2 minutes total. Transfer to a serving dish. Garnish with the remaining scallions, bean sprouts, and peanuts. Serve immediately with the ground chile peppers and lime wedges.

Marinated Tofu:

6 ounces extra-firm tofu, not silken

1 1/2 cups soy sauce

1 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder

Wrap the tofu firmly in a tea towel. Place the wrapped tofu into an 8-inch cake pan. Top with another cake pan and weigh down with a 5-pound weight. (Bags of dried beans or grains work well.) Place in refrigerator and press for 12 to 15 hours.

Place pressed tofu in a 2-cup container. Combine soy sauce and five-spice powder and pour over tofu. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes, turning once. Remove the tofu from the marinade and use immediately or store in the refrigerator for up to 2 to 3 days.

Yield: 6 ounces tofu

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Greek Night

Scott doesn’t think that I know how to make a casserole like a normal Midwesterner, but its not so much that I don’t know how to make a casserole, or like casseroles...its just that it seems silly to make a casserole for just one or two people. To prove Scott wrong, I made moussaka last night. I think I need to make casseroles more often, because even though this recipe took a long time I think I will be enjoying it for lunch/ breakfast all week.

I’ve always thought of moussaka like a greek lasagna, with no pasta...of course until last night I had never made either. You usually layer potatoes with eggplant and ground lamb and top it with a béchamel sauce. The recipe I used came from one of my favorite cookbooks, Simply Slow Cooking by Joanne Glynn. I substituted the lamb with ground beef...because I’m a student and so I don’t really have funding for lamb. The recipe took 5 hours to make but was not labor intensive, it mostly just simmered away and cooked itself. The bell peppers and currents were an exciting addition, and I think I prefer this with the yogurt topping instead of the bé wasn’t quiet so rich and so I felt a little healthier eating it. Scott and I both enjoyed it very much and it looked pretty and golden on top.

We had the moussaka with a greek tomato and cucumber salad which was light and fresh. For the salad I simply chunked two tomatoes, a cucumber and half a yellow onion. I then drizzled the salad with olive oil, and sprinkled the salad with olives and feta. The salad is fresh and bright, it worked well with the moussaka.


yields 6

1 c olive oil

1 lg yellow bell peppers, finely chopped

2 lbs ground lamb

2 lg onions, finely chopped

3 garlic cloves, crushed

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1/4 tsp allspice

1 1/2 lbs can chopped tomatoes

2 1/2 oz currants

2 lbs eggplant cut into thin slices

1 1/2 lbs potatoes, peeled

4 Tbsp grated kefolotyri or parmesan cheese

4 Tbsp chopped parsley

1 lbs Greek-style yogurt

2 eg yolks

5 1/2 oz fresh mozzarella cheese, grated

Heat 2 Tbsp oil in a large frying pan. Add the bell pepper and cook until soft, remove from the pan and reserve. Add the lamb to the pan, brown.

Add the onions and garlic and cook for another 10 min. Stir in the nutmeg and allspice and cook for 1 min. Add the wine, tomatoes and currants. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 2 hours. Stir occasionally, adding a little water as needed. Season to taste.

Meanwhile, heat a griddle with a little olive oil and grill the eggplant slices until golden. Reserve. Bring a pot of water to boil with potatoes. Continue simmering for 5 minutes. Drain, rinse and thinly slice the potatoes.

Preheat the oven to 325*F and grease a 12x8x2 in casserole. Cover the bottom of the dish with an overlapping layer of the potato slices. Season with salt and pepper and sprinkle 2T of the kefolotyri over the top. Arrange a layer of half the eggplant slices over this. Stir the parsley into the lamb and spread half over the eggplant followed by a layer of the bell pepper. Spread the remaining lamb over this, cover with foil and bake for 2 hours.

Beat the yogurt and egg yolks together until smooth. Gently spread over the moussaka, completely covering the surface. Layer the remaining eggplant slices over this and sprinkle with the remaining kefalotyri. Sprinkle the mozzarella over the surface. Return to the oven and bake uncovered for 30 min or until the top is beginning to brown. Remove from the oven and rest for 10 min.