Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Summer Salad with Peaches, Haricot Vert and Feta

There are some combinations of flavors that just seem meant to be. Almost unavoidable, even. Tomatoes, basil and mozzarella. Peanut butter, bread and jam. Peaches, green beans and feta. And yes, I realize the latter triumvirate may not quote have the renown of the first two. It was something of a surprise to me, too. But such a delicious one.

I had the good fortune to climb over the fence earlier in the week and crash a ridiculously early dinner my neighbors were throwing in honor of some visiting friends. Tasked with bringing bread and salad, I swung by the market with some vague ideas. I considered several different ingredients (Baby zucchini? Pickling cucumbers?), trying to remember recipes I'd browsed and pinned. But finally, I just settled on grabbing handfuls of the things that look most delicious on these warm summer days. The drippy-sweet and oh-so-fragrant peaches that have just appeared, a few handfuls of baby arugula, and the teensy haricot vert green beans. I picked up some creamy French feta, and a handful of the starting-to-wilt-but-still-totally-usable basil in the back of my own refrigerator. And something great happened.

The green-green-green crunch of tender haricot vert somehow works perfectly with the sweet and juicy peaches (although I bet regular green beans would work in a pinch). Arugula and basil give a spunky herbal edge against the sweetness, and creamy, briny feta ties it all together. I added a simple vinaigrette, with an extra dollop of honey and not too much sour. Since this happy discovery, the salad has already made an encore performance (you're welcome, book club!), and I aim to recreate it at least once more before the season ends. Because really, you can't argue with a meant-to-be combination like this one.

Summer Salad with Peaches, Haricot Vert and Feta

serves ~10 (this was for a potluck — can easily be halved)

~ 2 cups haricot vert (aka small & skinny green beans), any hard stem ends snapped off
1 produce bag of baby arugula
a few handfuls basil leaves (torn if large)
3-4 ripe peaches, sliced into slim wedges
~1/3 pound creamy feta, such as French or Israeli, cut into thin slabs (they'll crumble, but that's fine)

juice of 1 lime
1/2 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon honey
2-3 teaspoons mild vinegar, such as sherry
salt to taste

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. and have a strainer in the sink, and large bowl of ice water at the ready. When boiling, add the green beans, and cook until they turn a brighter green and just begin to become tender (this will only take a minute or two). When they're done, dump them out into a strainer, then plunge into the ice water to stop the cooking. Let them sit there a few minutes until cool, and then drain.

To assemble the salad, place the arugula onto a super-large bowl or platter (or two reasonably large ones). Top with the basil, beans, peaches and feta.

Place the dressing ingredients in a jar with a tight-fitting lid (like a canning jar), and shake until emulsified. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed. Pour over the salad, and serve.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Chermoula Eggplant with Herbed Pilaf

There's a farmstand market near my house that sells great local produce. Yellow-flowered sprouting kale, purple carrots, and half-priced day-old "jam flats" of raspberries that I cannot resist buying (despite having sworn off canning after a recent sticky morning of apricots). But my biggest downfall is the dollar bag. They gather up about-to-go-bad produce, put it in a bag with a red twist-tie, and my thrifty self cannot resist. It's why I now have a dozen and a half slightly-yellowing-but-still-cocktail-worthy limes in my fruit basket. And it's why, a few days ago, I ended up with a couple of pounds of slightly wrinkled Asian eggplants.

Like many people, I don't always have the best relationship with eggplant (namely owing to its bitter, squeaky, over-use in clueless vegetarian options of the 1990s). But it's got a lovely side. A butter-soft, taking-to-a-blanket-of-North-African-spices, serving-as-a-counterpoint-to-an-herb-spiked-pilaf side. With a little inspiration from the amazing Ottolenghi, and a glance at what I already had on hand (Iron Pantry Chef rides again!), I turned out a lovely summer meal that I will happily recreate many more times. Even if it costs more than a dollar.

Chermoula Eggplant with Herbed Pilaf

inspired by Yotam Ottolenghi's Jerusalem, albeit significantly tweaked nearly beyond recognition
serves 2

2 good-sized Asian eggplants
1/4 cup olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon coriander
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 preserved lemon, finely chopped (if not available, swap zest of 1 lemon)
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1 teaspoon harissa (North African spice paste — you can substitute another chili paste of your choosing)

1 1/2 cups cooked rice (I used basmati rice, cooked up with a pinch of turmeric, which for reasons too ridiculous to go into I'd just cooked up for the dog)
3 scallions, sliced into rounds
1 bunch parsley, washed and coarsely chopped
1 handful cilantro, washed and coarsely chopped
1 small handful mint, washed and coarsely chopped
juice of 1/2 lemon
glug of olive oil
sumac (optional — available in Middle Eastern stores)

To Serve:
2 handfuls arugula
tahini sauce or yogurt beaten with a bit of salt and crushed garlic

Preheat your oven to 400°. Cut the eggplants in half the long way, then score them in a 1-inch crosshatch (cutting through the flesh, but not the skin). Place on a rimmed baking sheet.

In a small bowl, mix together the olive oil, garlic, spices, lemon, salt and harissa. Spread this mixture evenly on the eggplant halves — eggplant wants to sop up oil like a sponge, so spread the mixture quickly so it doesn't all get sucked into one area. Place in the oven and roast until butter-soft (~45 minutes).

While the eggplant is cooking, prepare your rice (if you don't have some pre-cooked). Place the scallions, fresh herbs, lemon juice, and olive oil. If your rice is warm, allow to cool slightly (if it's cool, rewarm it back to a bit warmer than room temperature). Tip the rice into the bowl, and toss with the herbs. Sprinkle with sumac and salt to taste.

When the eggplant is done, remove from the oven, and allow to cool slightly. Place a handful of arugula and half the pilaf on each of two plates. Add two eggplant halves, and serve with tahini or yogurt sauce.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Strawberry Hand Pies

I spent this past weekend at a family wedding in New York, meeting new cousins and slathering on sunblock an eating far, far more lox than one would think possible (or advisable). And as I watched nieces and nephews squabble over dessert portions, and seating arrangements, and, really, just about anything there was to fight about, it dawned on me just how hard it can be to share. While there are truly heartwarming bursts of altruism, often young kids can be sociopathic little resource hoarders. I suppose it's how they survive.

And while growing up does bring a sort of higher-needs appreciation of the joys of interconnectedness, there's still a certain greedy childlike pleasure that comes when we have something all to ourselves. Especially when it's something delicious that's usually shared. Like pie.

These hand pies are your own little summer bundle, with smart square packaging (requiring none of the re-rolling of scraps of their round brethren), and a little vent that lets some of the goodness within peek out. I made mine with the very last of our strawberries (well, until the fall crop rolls around), but you can easily make them with whatever seasonal fruit strikes your fancy. Some recipes recommend cooking down the fruit, but I find that a bit of binder (tapioca is my favorite) easily does the job while maintaining that fresh fruit feel — and there's really only a spoonful or so of filling anyways, which is thankfully not enough to get you into much trouble either way.

Of course, these individual pies take a bit of fussing and shaping. And hand pies have a much higher crust-to-filling ratio than their standard-sized sharing-required versions, so you've got to make sure you use a light touch to fold in flaky layers. But in the end? An adorable, perfect hand-held bite of summer. All to yourself.

Strawberry Hand Pies

yields ~18 small square pies

3 1/2 cups (375 grams) flour (you can swap out a a quarter of the amount for whole wheat if you like)
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
3 sticks (1 1/2 cups) unsalted butter, cold, cut into pats
~1/3 cup ice cold water, as needed

1 1/2 pints strawberries (I started with two, but snacked heavily, and the amount worked well)
1/4 cup sugar (mine were crazy sweet, so I used less)
1 generous tablespoon tapioca starch

1 egg, beaten lightly with a splash of water (aka the egg wash)
coarse sugar and a few pinches salt for sanding

To make the crust (this can be done the day or so before): Stir together the flour and salt in a large bowl. Add the butter, and the press with the heel of your hand to flatten the pats of butter into flour-coated flakes. Stir the mixture, turning it from the bottom, then press again. Repeat the process until the pats gradually all turn into fat flakes (and some crumbs, as the flakes break apart). You'll be rolling this out a few times, so better to under-mix than over-mix now. Form a well in the middle and sprinkle in the water, using your fingertips to mix it into the flour and butter, until it all comes together into a cohesive ball. Again, you'll be rolling this out a few times, so it needn't be smooth, but it should come together. Add more water is needed. Once you can form a ball, place it in plastic wrap or a plastic bag, and refrigerate for at least half an hour.

When the dough has chilled and relaxed, lightly flour a counter top. Roll out the dough into a long rectangle, then fold up in thirds, like a letter. Rotate the dough 90°, so the seam is on the other side, and repeat the process three more times. This builds in nice flaky layers, almost like a rough puff pastry. When you've finished the final roll and fold, divide the dough in half, and again cover and chill for half an hour.

When you're ready to make your handpies: Preheat your oven to 400° Fahrenheit. Wash and chop your berries (somewhat small — your hand pies are only a few inches), and toss with the sugar and tapioca starch in a large bowl. Set aside. Have some baking sheets at the ready (lining with parchment makes things easier), and take half the dough out of the fridge for a few minutes to take the chill off.

Lightly flour a countertop, and roll out one of the dough halves into a 9-inch x 18-inch rectangle. Trim off the edges to square the dough, and then cut the dough into three-inch squares. Brush half of the squares lightly with the egg wash (for the bottoms), and cut small little vents in the other half (I favored a simple plus sign, but if you have little cutters or are feeling fancy, go nuts). Stir the filling and place about a tablespoon of it (leaving any excess juices behind) on one of the bottoms. Place one of the tops over it, and crimp with a fork to seal the edges. Place on cookie sheet. Got a sense of how it works and how much filling you can accommodate? Good. Repeat with the remaining dough and filling. Brush the finished hand pies with egg wash again, then give a generous paving of coarse sugar (and just a wee sprinkling of salt) over the top. Bake until the pastry begins to brown and thick juices bubble up, ~20 minutes. Let cool slightly, then enjoy. Without sharing.