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Flavors of the Mediterranean — Parsley, Dill, and Bean Dip with Feta

January 29, 2013

“Salt is born of the purest of parents: the sun and the sea.”  – Pythagoras

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Pass the salt please.

We hear this often while eating meals.  I sometimes think what life in the kitchen would be without salt.  Nature’s pure offering and staple of any pantry!  It’s one ingredient that can put life in any recipe.  Just a pinch of it does wonders.  But it’s the right amount of it according to one’s taste buds that makes a recipe sing….. not too much or too little.  Hence the term, “salt to taste.”

Some overly salty feta cheese was the center to make this dip.  It was too salty for our taste buds.  Really salty.  And wasting it seemed unnecessary.  To give it a new life, I combined it with a few ingredients on hand.  A can of unsalted garbanzo beans worked well to mellow the saltiness of the feta.  Parsley added color and freshness, and dill enhanced it with its delicate flavor.  Lemon juice and garlic brought all the ingredients together.  I finished it with olive oil and a sprinkle of sumac.

And there it was ….. creamy feta and bean dip with refreshing herbs.  Lemony, garlicky, and just delicious!  A couple ounces of unappreciated feta cheese  became the inspiration of this recipe.

And the outcome was a Mediterranean feast in a bowl.

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Recipe 

2 cloves garlic

1 bunch parsley leaves (2 handfuls)

1 15-oz. can garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained

2-3 oz. feta cheese

2 teaspoons dried dill

Juice of one lemon (3 tablespoons)

Sea salt to taste (if needed)

Olive oil to taste

Pinch of sumac or cumin for garnish

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In a food processor, pulse garlic a couple times.  Add parsley and pulse until chopped coarsely.  Then add garbanzo beans, feta cheese, dill, lemon juice, and salt, if needed.  Puree to the consistency you like.  Add a little water with a spoon if it is too thick.

Transfer to a serving bowl and drizzle some olive oil, a tablespoon or two according to your taste.  Garnish with pinch of sumac or ground cumin.

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Enjoy with your favorite crackers, vegetables, pita bread, or baked pita chips.  It’s perfect for sandwiches,  pita pockets or wraps.

Store any leftover in an airtight jar in the fridge.

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Simple and Flavorful — Roasted Acorn Squash with Fennel Seeds

January 21, 2013

Food is capable of feeding far more than a rumbling stomach. —  Anthony Beal

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I have seen this acorn squash change color from deep green to light golden on my kitchen counter in two weeks.  Waiting for my much needed attention, it endured the neglect.  Just the fact that I had a new idea every time to cook it, it was set aside for another day.  Yet, I loved seeing it sitting there turning into this beautiful piece of art with a new stroke of color every day.

In fact, I enjoyed the process.

Who would have thought a simple experience like this could also bring curiosity?  Whenever I saw it, I wondered if it will survive another day.  Or another stroke of green will be lost.  I touched it, inspected it, and set it aside saying to myself, “I will make something tomorrow. Definitely.”

And it waited for me.

Looking more beautiful and absolutely fresh!

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With half a dozen ideas in my mind to cook it, I settled for a simple recipe of roasting it and flavoring with some sweet and fragrant flavors like orange zest and toasted fennel seeds.  I then combined the two with sweet paprika and sea salt to make a spice blend to toss into after roasting.  Another wonderful spice blend with citrus!  My new year started with spice blends.  

After tossing the roasted squash, I finished it with a garnish of freshly ground cumin and parsley with a squeeze of lemon (optional).  Simple and flavorful this recipe takes very little time to make.  If you have any leftover, use it in your favorite grain or salad.

Herbs and spices are good for our health.  Fennel seeds have wonderful healing qualities.  They help with digestion and have anti oxidant properties.  Fennel is also chewed as mouth freshener.  I sometimes make fennel tea that is quite relaxing.  Have it with a little honey.  It’s delicious and calming.

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Recipe

1 small acorn squash

Olive oil

Sea salt

Zest of one orange

1 teaspoon fennel seeds

1/2 teaspoon paprika

pinch of chili flakes (optional)

Garnish

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

parsley, chopped

Lemon (optional)

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Heat oven to 400 F.  Cut acorn squash in half.  Remove seeds and cut crescent shape pieces.  Toss in a one tablespoon olive oil and a pinch of salt.  Arrange on a sheet pan in a single layer.  Roast for 20-22 minutes or until done.

While the acorn squash is roasting, dry toast fennel seeds in a skillet for 1 minute taking care not to burn the seeds.  Let them cool for 5 minutes and pound coarsely in mortar and pestle.  Add orange zest and crush just a little.  Transfer to a bowl.  Add paprika and salt to it.  Mix and set aside.

When squash is done, transfer it to  a large bowl and sprinkle the spice mixture on it.  Coat gently.  Drizzle a little oil and adjust salt.

Transfer to a serving bowl or platter.  Garnish with ground cumin and parsley.  Serve with lemon slices (optional) on the side.

Serve hot.

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Citrus and Spice — Roasted Eggplant with Lemon-Garlic Dressing and Dukkah

January 15, 2013

“Food is discovery; finding an untried spice or cuisine is for me like uncovering a new element.” –– Anthony Beal

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Roasted eggplant in the oven and a jar of dukkah in the pantry were on my mind.

The two together on my dinner plate!   What a delicious thought!

I had to make this combination.

I looked in the fridge for some help and found lemon, garlic, tomato, and parsley.  I thought that was good enough to put together something flavorful for dinner.  One of those times when spontaneity works.  In fact, it often does.

I looked at my plate with dukkah-spiced roasted eggplant and the little companions to dress up the two with curiosity, wondering how it would taste.  It looked colorful and wholesome.  Anxiously, I took my first bite.  Smokey eggplant and pungent dukkah were a  perfect match.  A good drizzle of lemon-garlic dressing and fresh garnish of tomato and parsley completed the recipe successfully.  It was a delicious meal ready in minutes with two main ingredients and a few basic staples.

Roasted eggplant in the fridge can last for 3-4 days.  It is convenient to have some on hand for quick meals like this one. I often roast a few extra and enjoy them in different recipes with various flavors.  It is  perfect in pastas, salads, sandwiches, and grains. If you like eggplant, you are in luck anytime with so many ways to prepare it.  One for each day of the week!

Dukkah is an Egyptian spice blend that goes well with several recipes.  If you haven’t tried dukkah yet, it’s  worth the effort.  Actually, not a lot of effort.  It’s very simple to make, and the flavors are deep.  And you have a jar in your pantry waiting to spice up your meals — appetizer or main course.

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Recipe

1 medium eggplant

Olive oil

Lemon-Garlic Dressing

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 clove garlic, minced

3 tablespoon olive oil

Sea salt and pepper to taste

Garnish

Dukkah spice to taste

1 small tomato, seeded and diced small

Parsley leaves, chopped

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Heat oven to 400 F.  Cut eggplant lengthwise in half and place on an oiled sheet cut side down.  Roast for 20-25 minutes or until done.

While the eggplant is roasting, whisk lemon juice, garlic, olive oil until combined well.  You want to emulsify the mixture.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

To assemble, place eggplant on serving platter. Cut in three lengths.  Drizzle lemon-garlic dressing to taste.  Sprinkle dukkah spice to taste.  Top with diced tomatoes and parsley.

Serve warm with your favorite bread or salad.

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What are your favorite spice blends?  Would love to hear about them.

Egyptian Spice Blend — Dukkah

January 11, 2013

Once you get a spice in your home, you have it forever. Women never throw out spices. The Egyptians were buried with their spices. I know which one I’m taking with me when I go. — Erma Bombeck

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Dukkah is a blend of nuts, seeds, herbs and spices.  It is an Egyptian gift to the culinary world.

The word dukkah means “to pound.”  The ingredients are pounded to a coarse texture.  Fragrant, earthy, and flavorful, it is a  perfect accompaniment to bread and olive oil.

I am not sure why I had not made this spice blend before.  But now that I have, I can’t get enough of it.  Bread, yogurt, vegetable, salad,  somehow I find a way to use it.  Spices are always a perfect way to bring that extra flavor to a recipe and yet keep it healthy.  And dukkah is a great mix of nuts and good-for-you spices.

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There are several ways to make this blend with toasted nuts and seeds that are further enhanced with herbs and spices.  Any variety of nuts or combination of nuts (hazelnuts, pistachios, almonds) with sesame seeds, cumin seeds, and coriander seeds is the base for this mix.  And then herbs like thyme and mint can be added to it.  To spice it up a little, chili flakes or peppercorns are used.  It is all about your personal taste to make it your own blend.  Dukkah is very simple to make at home, and the result is an addictive spice blend for the pantry.

Apart from using with olive oil and bread, sprinkle some dukkah mix on roasted vegetables, bean salads, potatoes, or feta and goat cheese.  Its texture and flavors together lift any recipe to a new level.  Nutty and toasty, it is a wonderful spice blend to have on hand to jazz up any recipe in a hurry.

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Recipe

1/2 cup roasted hazelnuts

3 tablespoons sesame seeds

2 tablespoons cumin seeds

2 tablespoons coriander seeds

1 1/2 teaspoons dried mint

1  teaspoons salt or to taste

In a skillet, dry roast sesame, cumin, and coriander seeds for 1-2 minutes or until fragrant. Set aside to cool.  Place the seeds and roasted hazelnuts in a food processor and pulse until coarse (over mixing can result into paste).  Add mint and salt.

Store it in an airtight container and use as needed.

Note:  I used raw sesame seeds as you can see in the picture.  Also, add peppercorns to taste, if you wish to bring some heat to it.

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Hope you are having a wonderful New Year.  Add a little spice to it. 

Simmered in Spices — Sweet Potato and Bean Stew

December 23, 2012

“Good soup is one of the prime ingredients of good living.  For soup can do more to lift the spirits and stimulate the appetite than any other one dish.”  Louis P. De Gouy,’ The Soup Book’ (1949)

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Wet weather and warm sweet potato stew simmered in holiday spices!

It’s been raining here for the past few days.  Sound of rain drops, cozy fireplace, and a  bowl of hot stew!

What could be more appropriate?  Something we all look forward to at this time of the year when weather gets chilly, and we crave for hot food to warm our bodies.

Simmered in warm spices like cinnamon bark and  cloves with fresh ginger, this stew is perfect for holiday season.  Sweet potatoes and red kidney beans with some crushed tomatoes, it is warm goodness in a bowl.  This recipe is quick and simple.  The stew does not take very long to cook.  But if you make it a few hours in advance, the spices get to blend and enrich its flavors.

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Sweet potatoes, also known as super food and  perfect food are hearty, nutritious, and rustic.  They tingle our taste buds……sweet or savory.  I love roasting them and then flavoring them different ways whatever I am in mood for.  You can toss them in your favorite herbs, spice blends or dressings.  Add them to salads, grains, or pastas.

Sweet potatoes are one of the most talked about nutritious root vegetables.  Health experts can’t discuss enough their health benefits.

Their beautiful jewel tone and hearty texture adds color to our holiday spread.

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Recipe

3 tablespoons canola or any neutral oil

1 medium onion, diced small

1 1/2 lbs. sweet potatoes, peeled and diced medium

1 15 oz can  of red kidney beans, rinsed and drained

1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced

1 cup crushed canned tomatoes

Sea salt to taste

1 teaspoon sweet paprika

Pinch of chili flakes (optional)

1-inch stick of cinnamon bark (cassia) or cinnamon stick

4-5 cloves

1/2- 1 cup water

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin plus for garnish

Garnish

Scallions, finely sliced

Cilantro or parsley, finely chopped

Roasted pumpkin seeds

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Heat oil in a heavy- bottom pot.  Cook onions for 5-7 minutes until golden.  Add sweet potatoes, red kidney beans, ginger, tomatoes, salt , paprika, chili flakes (if using), cinnamon bark, cloves and stir for 1-2 minutes until all the ingredients are combined well.  Add 1/2 cup water and stir.  Cover and cook for 10-12 minutes until sweet potatoes are cooked through but still hold their shape.  Add a little water if too thick.  Sprinkle ground cumin.  Cover and set the stew aside for flavors to blend.

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To serve, heat the stew on low heat and stir gently just a few times.  Remove cinnamon bark and cloves.  Ladle in serving bowls and drizzle a little oil and sprinkle pinch of ground cumin.  Garnish with scallions, cilantro or parsley and pumpkin seeds.

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Serve hot with your favorite bread or grain.

Keep it Simple — Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Lemon and Mustard

December 10, 2012

All the gifts are nothing. Money gets used up. Clothes you rip up. Toys get broken up. But a good meal, that stays in your memory. From there it doesn’t get lost like other gifts. The body it leaves fast, but the memory slow.–Meir Shalev

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Brussels sprouts, the tiny cabbage-like vegetable!

We all  know what  they are. Right? The ones that show up at the holiday table among other delicious and indulgent dishes. Some of us wonder why are they here when we have so many other goodies to enjoy.

Yes, it’s our love hate relationship with brussels sprouts.

But they come to us with good intentions and mean well for our health.

Brussels sprouts are from cruciferous family of vegetables like cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, and bok choy known for several health benefits. They are big players in cancer prevention and lowering cardiovascular risks. And brussels sprouts are the proud members of this respectable family.

Give them a little love and they will treat you well.

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My favorite method is to roast burssels sprouts. The key is not to over cook them. A little crunch with roasted nutty flavor is delicious. Toss them in olive oil, salt, and pepper and roast until done. Then you can mix in herbs, nuts, and spices to jazz them up.

Believe me they won’t disappoint you.

* In this recipe I have used lemon zest, lemon juice, garlic, and Dijon mustard. You could garnish with Parmesan and parsley.

* A drizzle of balsamic reduction and toasted hazelnuts is another choice to enliven them.

* Basic recipe with grated Pecorino Romano cheese and nuts tastes great as well.

* Toss in some paprika and ground cumin for Indian twist.

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Recipe

2 lbs brussels sprouts, cleaned and halved

2 tablespoons olive oil

Sea salt and pepper to taste

Zest of one lemon

3 cloves of garlic, minced

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard or to taste

Squeeze of lemon

2 tablespoons olive oil

Grated Parmesan for garnish (optional)

Parsley for garnish

Heat oven at 400 F. Toss brussels sprouts in olive oil and salt and pepper. Spread them in a single layer, cut side down on a cookie sheet. Roast for 20-25 minutes or until cut side is browned. Remove from the oven.

Mix in lemon zest and minced garlic while hot.

Combine Dijon mustard, just a tiny squeeze of lemon, olive oil and mix in brussels sprouts. Adjust salt and pepper.

Transfer to a bowl. Garnish with Parmesan and parsley.

Serve immediately while hot.

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Love of Goat’s Milk — Mushroom, Cashew, and Goat Cheese Spread

December 4, 2012

“Enchant, stay beautiful and graceful, but do this, eat well. Bring the same consideration to the preparation of your food as you devote to your appearance. Let your dinner be a poem, like your dress.”
– Charles Pierre Monselet,French journalist

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Have you had raw goat’s milk, fresh at its source….. on a farm?

I had the chance to enjoy it.

My first glass of raw goat’s milk!

I was pleasantly surprised! It tasted sweet, quite sweet. I was expecting a little tang. And freshness couldn’t be questioned when its source was just outside the kitchen.

Recently, I visited a family farm nestled in the beautiful hills of Southern California.

A small but happy farm!  Its  modest animal life  gives this family treasure some character. A few chickens, a dog, a couple turtles, and of course several goats are the life of this farm.


A team of mother and daughter are raising goats on this farm. Mom, Donna and daughter, Lauren are very passionate about their family of goats. They make all natural soaps with their milk . Their soaps are equally amazing as fresh goat’s milk!

My search for benefits of goat’s milk led me to these two beautiful people who are making quality products. They use simple, clean, and all natural ingredients. You can see their Chivas goat milk skin care line here.

Donna started making soaps from goat’s milk  as a hobby from the two goats she had a few years ago. Her hobby flourished into a thriving business. A few bars per batch to a few hundreds and two goats to several more was just a start. Moreover, recognition in Whole Living and Country Living magazines is icing on the cake. Humble beginnings from farmers markets to Whole Foods and Fred Segal is quite an accomplishment. They have a lot be proud of their hard work and success. They both enjoy living quiet farm life and creating good quality products.

All for the love of goat’s milk!

And yes, they drink fresh raw goat’s milk from their goats.

Having raw goat’s milk on Donna and Lauren’s farm was my first experience.

But goat’s cheese is not new to me. Anything with goat’s cheese is perfect for me — salads, crackers, sandwiches, or pastas. You can mix in some herbs, nuts, or seeds for flavor and texture. Marinate in olive oil with some herbs and spread on your favorite breads. Also, figs and dates taste wonderful with goat’s cheese. Drizzle some honey and sprinkle your favorite nuts. Just a few simple ways to enjoy this creamy cheese.

This recipe has some of my favorite ingredients. Earthy mushrooms, roasted cashews, and fragrant mint together with creamy goat’s cheese are absolutely delicious. Cranberries add festive touch to it. All together it is sweet, salty, nutty, creamy, earthy and minty experience.

A rainbow of tastes and textures!

Recipe

3 tablespoons olive oil

8 oz. Crimini mushrooms, coarsely chopped

3 large cloves of garlic, minced

Salt and pepper to taste

1 small bunch parsley leaves

1 small bunch mint leaves

7 oz. goat’s cheese

Salt and pepper to taste

1/2 cup unsalted roasted cashew nuts, coarsely chopped

Dried sweetened cranberries for garnish (optional)

Heat oil in large saute pan. Cook mushroom in a single layer on medium-high heat for 8-10 minutes until golden brown. Add minced garlic, salt and pepper and mix gently. Remove from heat immediately. Don’t cook garlic. Set aside and let it cool.

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In a food processor, add parsley and mint and pulse a couple times until chopped. Add goat’s cheese, salt, and pepper. Process until herbs and cheese are combined well. Add cashews and pulse just 2-3 times to mix only. Finally stir in mushrooms and combine gently with a spoon. Don’t puree mushrooms. Add a few cranberries, if using.

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Serve with your favorite crackers or bread. Stuff in ravioli, phyllo cups, or spread on flat breads.