Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Sherry Mushroom Pizza on Overnight Whole Wheat Crust

This pizza was inspired by a favorite dish from a tapas place Mike and I used to go to in Boston when we first met. It was mushrooms served in a creamy sauce made with rich meat stock and Sherry. You would soak crispy little toasts in the sauce and then scoop up a pile of mushrooms with the softened bread...delicious.

Turning to Spain (who just beat Portugal today to move on to the next round) on our tour of nations competing for the World Cup, we decided to use those flavors as a topping for what is maybe my favorite pizza ever. Okay, top three. Yes, pizza is Italian, especially when you make it with an amazing Neopolitan-style whole wheat crust. To make matters worse, we also used Fontina, an Italian cheese. But it is so good with mushrooms. And we're always after what tastes good around here, so there you go.

As for the crust, it looks like I've found my ultimate pizza dough recipe, at least for now. When I wrote about trying an overnight rise so the dough could develop greater flavor, I said I wanted to use this method with my whole wheat dough. It worked so well that I plan to do the overnight rise whenever I can. The whole wheat flour (in combination with bread flour) didn't have any negative effects, and I prefer some whole grain in my pizza dough rather than all white flour.

After doing it this way a couple times, I think the slow rise makes the dough incredibly airy. That, along with using your hands instead of a rolling pin to shape it, results in a higher rise during baking and and a tender, soft-on-the-inside, crispy-on-the-outside finished crust. I love the texture.

I'm going to post the crust recipe on it's own tomorrow so it will be easy to find, but I'll also go back and link it to this post (update: see link to dough recipe below). If you're dying to try it right this second, however, just use your favorite pizza dough recipe and let it rise in the refrigerator for about 24 hours, then quickly knead it into a ball and bring it to room temperature before baking. See what you think!

Sherry Mushroom Pizza
This recipe yields a generous amount of topping for a 12-inch pizza. You don't need to be too precise with the quantities while cooking, and it's fine to eyeball your measurements. You want a moist, slightly saucy consistency in the end. You can buy a bottle of good-tasting dry Sherry at liquor and wine stores for around $12. In this recipe, there is no substitute.

Makes one 12-inch pizza

Special Equipment: Parchment paper and a pizza stone

1 Tbs olive oil
8 oz white mushrooms, sliced
6 oz Portobello mushrooms, sliced
Fat pinch of dried thyme
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/3 cup dry sherry
1 1/2 cups cooked, shredded chicken
1/4 cup reduced fat (or regular) sour cream
4 to 5 scallions, chopped
Coarse cornmeal (optional)
All-purpose flour, for shaping dough
1/2 recipe whole wheat pizza dough, at room temperature
4 oz Fontina cheese, grated
2 Tbs chopped fresh parsley

Place pizza stone on a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 550F for at least 30 minutes.

Heat the oil in a large skillet on medium. Add mushrooms and cook, stirring often, until they release their water. Raise heat to medium high, add thyme and season with salt and pepper. Continue cooking until water evaporates. Lower heat and cook until soft and lightly browned. Add the sherry and bring to a simmer. Cook until reduced by a bit more than half. Add chicken and stir to combine. Remove from heat and add the sour cream and scallions, and stir well. You want a very moist, slightly saucy consistency, but mixture should not be watery.

Sprinkle some cornmeal (if using) on a sheet of parchment. Flatten and stretch dough with floured hands and shape into a roughly 12-inch circle (don’t use a rolling pin; it pushes air out of the dough, resulting in a flatter, denser crust). Top with chicken mixture and Fontina. Open the oven and slide parchment paper onto the pizza stone. Bake 9-11 minutes, or until crust is browned and cooked through. Lift the pizza stone with oven mitts out of the oven and slide parchment onto a cutting board. Sprinkle with parsley, slice and serve.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Bobotie Recipe

I have been excited to try this recipe for over a week! It recently ran in a Canadian newspaper, The Globe & Mail, but the author says it is a family recipe from a cook in Queenstown, South Africa. I saved it to make on the day South Africa played in what would be their final match in the World Cup. Although they beat the French team 2-1, it was not enough to get them into the next round of play.

One thing I love about watching this soccer tournament is that I inevitably learn a little more about the world. I've brushed up on my geography (where exactly is Slovenia?) and history (both sports and political), as well as my culinary knowledge. When it comes to the nation of South Africa, I learned that its area is roughly twice the size of Texas, and that Nelson Mandela is 91! It also amazed me to think that only 16 years after the end of apartheid, South Africa is hosting a huge global event like the World Cup. Proof that things can turn around fast.

As for this recipe, it appealed to me instantly. It seemed quite similar to Sheperd's Pie (with its spiced meat filling) and Moussaka (with its custard topping), but with a sweet and savory flavor profile that reflects South African tastes. I was pleased by how easy it was to put together. The author of the recipe used ground beef in her version, but noted that it is usually made with lamb. I opted for lean ground turkey--with so much flavor from curry powder, turmeric, chutney, ginger, and more, I didn't see the need to use a fattier meat. I imagine that the most authentic way to do bobotie would be with leftover stewed or roasted lamb, just like you might use for traditional Sheperd's Pie.

The World Cup will be going on until July 11, so you have more than enough time to try a dish from the host nation! I highly recommend this Bobotie. It's fun to make and uses totally familiar ingredients, but you'll get a fantastic taste of South Africa.

Just-baked Bobotie.

Adapted from Lucy Waverman for The Globe & Mail.

This is traditionally served with yellow rice. Click through to the version in the Globe & Mail, for a recipe (if I were you, I'd omit the raisins--there are plenty in the bobotie). I served it with plain steamed basmati rice, but I also think it would pair well with a heartier whole grain, like brown rice or barley, for extra nutrients.

Serves 5

1/2 cup whole milk
2 slices white sandwich bread
2 Tbs safflower or other neutral oil
1 large white onion, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 1/2-inch long piece fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
1 Tbs brown sugar
1 Tbs plus 1 tsp curry powder
1 Tbs turmeric
1 1/4 lb. lean ground turkey
2 Tbs mango chutney
1/3 cup raisins
2 Tbs white wine vinegar
2 Tbs tomato paste

1 1/2 cups whole milk
2 large eggs
Fat pinch salt
1 tsp grated lemon zest

Chopped fresh cilantro for garnish (optional)

Preheat oven to 350F. Pour milk into a shallow bowl and soak bread for 2 minutes, turning once. Squeeze out excess liquid and transfer to a clean bowl or plate; set aside. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, season with salt and pepper and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the ginger, brown sugar, curry powder and turmeric; cook, stirring well, 1 minute. Add the turkey, season with salt and pepper and cook, breaking up the meat as you go, until no longer pink. Add the chutney, raisins, vinegar and tomato paste. Tear the soaked bread into small pieces and add to skillet. Stir to combine and cook 4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Transfer to a 9 x 9-inch (or similar size) baking dish.

In a large bowl, combine all topping ingredients. Beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until very frothy, 2 to 3 minutes. Pour over turkey mixture and transfer to oven. Bake 50 to 60 minutes or until topping is set and lightly browned (use a thin paring knife to test the consistency of the topping). Rest 10 minutes before serving. Sprinkle with cilantro if using.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Brazilian Fish Stew (Moqueca Baiana)

Doesn't this look light and pretty? I thought moqueca was just a basic fish stew, but it actually involves an interesting cooking technique I'd never used before. The result is a less liquidy dish that goes well over rice and tastes fresh and summery.

As you can see from the title of this post, we took our inspiration from Brazil, who won their World Cup match against Ivory Coast on Sunday. I found the recipe in a very roundabout way: I have a great Brazilian cookbook written in Portuguese. But since it has lots of pictures, we combed through it for something that looked appealing, then typed the Portuguese name into google to figure out what we were dealing with. I had a general idea of what mocqueca is, and reading a few English recipes clinched the decision.

All the versions I read were some variation on this general idea: marinate fish in lime juice and a lot of spice, then layer it in a big pot with bell peppers, onions, tomatoes and cilantro. A relatively small amount of coconut milk goes in so the ingredients can steam until cooked through. All the juices from the marinade, veggies and seafood marry with the coconut milk and create a flavorful broth. The finished taste is mild and comforting with just enough richness from the coconut milk.

It looks like Brazil won't be exiting the tournament anytime soon, so why not cheer them on with a Brazilian mocqueca feast? Unless of course they are the moral enemy of your favorite team!

Brazilian Fish Stew (Moqueca Baiana)

Thick, firmer types of fish are best here, so it cooks in about the same time as the vegetables. I often use "light" coconut milk in recipes, but in a simple, mild dish like this, the flavor of the full fat version makes a big difference. Most mocqueca recipes call for sweet paprika, which I didn't have on hand. Smoked paprika plus mild chile powder was a good substitute for my tastes, but feel free to replace them with 1 Tbs total of sweet paprika.

Serves 4

4 (4 to 6 oz) halibut fillets (or other thick, firm white fish)
4 cloves garlic, chopped
3 Tbs lime juice
2 tsp ground cumin
1 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1 1/2 tsp chile powder
1/2 tsp salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 Tbs olive oil
1 large white onion, sliced
1 red bell pepper, cut into strips
1 yellow bell pepper, cut into strips
4 plum tomatoes, thickly sliced
1 cup cilantro (leaves and thin stems)
1 (14 oz) can coconut milk
3/4 lb medium shrimp, peeled and deveined

Steamed rice, for serving
2 Tbs chopped cilantro leaves, for serving
Lime wedges, for serving

Place the fish in a wide, shallow baking dish or bowl. Add the garlic, lime juice, cumin, paprika, chile powder, salt and pepper to taste; rub all over the fish, cover with plastic wrap and chill for 1 to 2 hours. About 15 minutes before you're ready to cook, remove from refrigerator and let fish come to room temperature.

Add the oil to a Dutch oven or large stock pot. Place over low heat and arrange half the onion in a single layer inside the pot. Make more layers with half the bell peppers, half the tomatoes and half the cilantro; sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste (remember there is also salt in the marinade). Add the fish along with its marinade in a single layer. Top with layers of the remaining onion, peppers, tomatoes and cilantro. Add the coconut milk, cover the pot and raise heat to bring liquid to a simmer. Reduce heat to low and cook for 30 minutes, or until fish is opaque in the center. Add the shrimp and cook for 2 to 3 minutes more, or until opaque. Serve with rice, remaining cilantro and lime wedges.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

German Potato Salad and Carrot-Dill Salad

Just like the French World Cup team, Germany lost their match on Friday, but our food was a winner. We had big plans for our German-themed meal: warm potato salad with bacon-vinegar dressing and marinated carrot-dill salad served with grilled chicken.

To make it interesting, nature conspired against us with a big storm that blew through Chicago around 4:30 on Friday evening. Our power went out, but we still managed to do this meal AND I think it turned out even better due to the lack of electricity. At first, I was a bit put out because I couldn't use my food processor to shred carrots. I almost scrapped the dish, but then decided to try slicing the carrots as thinly as possible with a mandoline.

It worked out great, and I think it's an even prettier presentation than shredding. Mike got a nice arm workout getting 2 lbs. of carrots sliced ultra-thin, but it was worth it. Now that I think about it, Mike also made a marinade and grilled the chicken. It may not seem like I did all that much, but remember that somebody needs to be the mastermind:)

Once you deal with the carrots, using whatever method you choose, the salad is as simple as stirring a few ingredients together and letting them marinate for about half an hour. The potatoes are easy too, considering the very flavorful results. This style of salad is my favorite because I love the tangy vinegar dressing. Even with a bit of bacon in the mix, it's healthier and much tastier than the typical one-note mayo-based versions.

On Saturday night, we took Japan as our inspiration and went out for sushi. They also lost their World Cup match. It made us wonder if a pattern was developing. Fortunately, Sunday's country of food inspiration, Brazil, had success on the pitch. I'll tell you about our Brazilian dish, Mocqueca Baiana, in my next post!

German Potato Salad
Adapted from epicurious.com.

I started buying uncured/"natural" bacon to avoid nitrates and nitrites (chemical preservatives used in processed meats, which are linked to heart disease and diabetes risk), but was skeptical that I'd like it as much as regular bacon. Happily, we found it meatier and more flavorful, despite being lower in sodium. It was delicious in this dish, and I'd definitely recommend trying it.

Serves 4

4 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
1 1/2 lb. Yukon Gold potatoes, chopped into 1-inch pieces
3 slices bacon, chopped
1/2 medium red onion, chopped
1/3 cup white wine vinegar
1/3 cup water
2 tsp. whole grain mustard
1 1/2 tsp sugar
4-5 scallions, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/4 cup fresh dill, chopped

Fill a stock pot with about 1 inch of water and add the garlic. Insert metal steamer basket in pot and add potatoes. Bring water to a boil, cover and simmer over medium-low heat until potatoes are fork tender, 12 to 17 minutes. Take care not to overcook potatoes so they don't become mushy. When done, remove lid and set aside.

Cook the bacon in a large skillet on medium heat. Transfer to a paper towel-line plate, reserving bacon fat in the skillet. Blot bacon with more paper towel. Add onion to skillet and cook until lightly browned, about 8 minutes. Add vinegar, water, mustard and sugar; whisk to combine. Bring to a simmer and cook until reduced by one third, about 5 minutes. Reduce heat to low, add potatoes and scallions and stir gently to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Let potatoes absorb liquid for about 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and stir in the bacon and dill. Serve warm.

Carrot-Dill Salad
Adapted from globalgourmet.com.

Serves 4-6

2 lb carrots, peeled
1 cup orange juice
1/3 cup white wine vinegar
3 Tbs honey
2 Tbs olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 cup fresh dill, chopped

With a mandoline, slice the carrots as thinly as possible while still keeping the pieces intact. Alternatively, shred them in a food processor or grate by hand. In a large bowl, whisk together the juice, vinegar, honey and olive oil. Stir in the carrots and season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir in the dill and rest at room temperature at least 30 minutes, stirring once or twice. May be made several hours ahead; cover and rest in refrigerator. Serve at room temperature.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Chickpea Flour Crêpes with Ratatouille and Goat Cheese Sauce

Quel dommage! The poor French team did not do well in their match with Mexico yesterday. They suffered a 0-2 loss, but I'm happy to say we fared much better with our dinner.

Taking inspiration from the cuisines of various World Cup nations has been really fun so far. I think no matter how much you enjoy cooking, it's easy to fall into a rut where you just get tired of planning and preparing meals. Next time nothing sounds good, or you just feel bored, turn dinner into a game. It's definitely working for me.

Our French-themed recipe is both traditional and not. It's a crêpe, so that's certainly French. And we all know the beloved rustic vegetable dish, ratatouille. The twist is chickpea flour, more often a staple of Indian cuisine, but also the key ingredient in socca, a fried pancake which is a popular street food in Nice. For connecting those cultural dots, and for the great recipe, I give full credit to Martha Rose Shulman, the New York Times' wonderful Recipes for Health columnist (Seriously, check out her archives for tons of nutritious Mediterranean-style recipes.).

Anyway, if you're still following my explanation of this recipe, we're in the home stretch. Though Ms. Shulman is responsible for the delicious chickpea-flavored crêpes, the ratatouille is all mine. It's a simple, very light and healthy version that requires a lot less oil and no frying or long stewing process. The best part is, you can use the ratatouille a dozen ways. I was dying to toss it with some whole wheat pasta (kind of like this), and it made a great breakfast accompaniment this morning.

We made these crêpes into a full meal with chopped chicken sausage, but feel free to get your protein any way you like. Cooked and drained lentils would make this a very nice vegetarian dish. To top it all off, I mixed up a quick sauce by mashing goat cheese into Greek yogurt and thinning it with a little milk.

Germany played today, so they will serve as our next source of inspiration. I can't wait to start cooking!

For more on socca (and more ways to use your chickpea flour) read Mark Bittman's take here and here.

Chickpea Flour Crêpes with Ratatouille and Goat Cheese Sauce
Crêpes based on this recipe by Martha Rose Shulman.

Find chickpea/garbanzo bean flour (also called besan) at Indian and Middle Eastern markets. Bob's Red Mill brand, which is carried in many natural food stores, also makes it. You could certainly do this with any type of crêpe, and I think ones made with various whole grain flours (like these buckwheat crêpes) would be delicious.

Makes 8 crêpes

For crêpes:

1/2 cup chickpea flour/besan (about 64 grams)
2 Tbs all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
2 large eggs
2/3 cup reduced fat milk
2 Tbs extra-virgin olive oil
Cooking spray

For ratatouille and filling:

Cooking spray
1 medium Italian eggplant, chopped into 1-inch pieces
1 yellow or red bell pepper, cut into thin strips
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 1/2 Tbs olive oil
1/2 red onion, chopped
pinch of dried thyme
1 large or 2 small zucchini, chopped into 1-inch pieces
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 (14-oz) can diced tomatoes (preferably no salt added)
1 sprig fresh rosemary, leaves finely chopped
Fresh thyme leaves (a few sprigs), roughly chopped
2 ounces goat cheese
1/2 cup Greek yogurt
2-3 Tbs milk
2 fully cooked chicken sausages, heated according to package directions and chopped

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flours and salt. Add the eggs, milk and olive oil to blender and turn it on medium speed. With blender running, add flour mixture and blend 1 minute, scraping down sides as needed. Rest batter at least 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat broiler to high and place oven rack 6 to 8 inches from heat. Coat a rimmed baking sheet with cooking spray and place eggplant and bell pepper and baking sheet. Coat with additional cooking spray, and season with salt and pepper. Spread vegetables out in a single layer and broil until browned and very tender, 15 to 20 minutes, turning once.

While vegetables broil, heat the oil in a Dutch oven or large skillet on medium-low. Add onion and dried thyme, season with salt and pepper and cook until onion begins to soften, about 7 minutes. Add zucchini, season to taste and continue cooking until onions are very soft and zucchini is tender, 10 to 12 minutes. Add garlic and cook 1 minute. Add tomatoes and bring to a simmer; cook until slightly thickened, 3 to 5 minutes (you want a very moist, but not watery consistency). Add the eggplant and bell peppers and stir to combine; stir in herbs and remove from heat.

In a small bowl, combine the goat cheese and yogurt, mashing cheese with the back of a spoon as you stir. Thin with milk to reach desired consistency.

When you're ready to eat, coat a medium nonstick skillet with cooking spray and heat on medium-high. Pour a thin film of batter over skillet (about 3 Tbs) and tilt pan to spread evenly. Cook until bottom side is golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Flip and continue cooking until browned on opposite side, 30 seconds to 1 minute more. Repeat with remaining crepes. You can eat as you go or stack a few crêpes on a plate and cover with a towel to keep warm. You can also cook them all and reheat in a 350F oven, wrapped in foil, for 15 minutes.

To serve, fill crêpes with ratatouille, chicken sausage and goat cheese sauce.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Sambar with Eggplant and Green Beans

Sambar with idli & loads of veggies

Simple sambar with eggplant & green beans, with curry leaf garnish

I think I've mentioned how much I'm into Indian cooking these days. But now it's time to mix things up. I'm going super-international. The World Cup is finally in full swing, and it makes me think about how big the world is outside my own little pocket of American culture. Naturally, when I start dreaming about what it might be like to live across the world (or travel there, at the very least), I think about the food.

Four years ago during the last World Cup, and soon after I started this blog, I cooked several meals inspired by nations competing in the tournament. It was really fun! This time around, we're slightly more loosely organized. Yet, it's still a great opportunity to shake up our routine and eat dishes we don't have often enough, or that we've always meant to try.

Even though India is not in the World Cup, I'm posting my version of sambar, the medium-thick soup made with dal, vegetables and spices. It's often eaten for breakfast and served with dosas (crepe-like flatbreads) or idli, steamed savory cakes made with husked ground lentils. That will be the last Indian dish for at least a little while, so we can try out other international options.

To watch America's first game of the World Cup, where they TIED(!) England, we made the very simple, but very American, BLAT--bacon, lettuce, avocado and tomato on white bread with mayo. Lordy, I love a bacon sandwich, but I don't know the last time I had one. With a nice cold Sam Adams (Brewer. Patriot.), it was the perfect meal.

Homemade baba ganoush

Our next international destination was Greece. I attempted an on-the-fly taramosalata made with potatoes. Unfortunately, the texture was glue-like (anyone have a great recipe they can pass on??). Oh well. We also made baba ganoush and spanakopita, two favorites that I love to cook and eat. This spanakopita is healthy, EASY and it rocks. I'm not sure where we'll go next (although there's a taco place down the street that's been begging for a visit--Viva Mexico!). Meanwhile, enjoy this ultra-comforting sambar.

Veggies for the "kitchen sink" sambar depicted at the start of the post--check out the FRESH garbanzo beans in the front right!

Idli from the freezer section of the Indian market

Are you into the World Cup? Got any suggestions for international dishes I can try next?

Sambar with Eggplant and Green Beans
Many sambars use less dal because they are meant to be one course in a larger meal. To make a more substantial main dish, I increased the amount. Adjust the liquid to make this the consistency you want. Feel free to use any produce that you would put in a vegetable soup—squash, carrots, bell peppers, potatoes, leafy greens. There are endless variations on sambar, so you can have fun with it. You can double this recipe if you want extra to freeze or eat throughout the week.

Serves 4

5 cups water, divided
1 cup toor dal
1 1/2 Tbs tamarind concentrate
4 tsp sambar spice mix (I like MTR brand)
1 tsp turmeric
4 Indian eggplants, chopped (or 1 small Italian eggplant)
1/2 lb green beans, trimmed and halved crosswise
1 1/2 Tbs ghee
1 Tbs black mustard seeds
1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds
1/2 onion, finely chopped
8 curry leaves
2 dried red chiles, split
2 small hot green chilles, finely chopped
2 tomatoes, chopped (or 3/4 to 1 cup canned diced tomatoes)
Chopped fresh cilantro, for garnish

In a large pot, combine 4 cups water and dal and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, partially cover and simmer until very soft, 25-30 minutes. Add remaining 1 cup water, tamarind, sambar spice mix, turmeric, eggplant and green beans. Simmer until vegetables are tender. Add additional water if necessary to cook vegetables or thin the soup.

Meanwhile, heat ghee in a large skillet on medium. Add mustard and fenugreek seeds. When seeds start to sizzle, add onion, curry leaves and both types of chiles. Cook, stirring frequently, until onion is soft. Add tomatoes, season with salt and cook until tomatoes begin to soften, 2 to 3 minutes. Add to dal and simmer for 5 minutes. Season with salt to taste. Serve with cilantro.

Update, October 8, 2010

Easy Pantry Sambar
4 main dish servings

6 to 7 cups water
1 1/4 cups toor dal
1 1/2 Tablespoons tamarind concentrate
4 tsp sambar spice mix
1 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp Indian chile powder
Salt to taste
1 1/2 Tbs ghee
1/2 red onion, chopped
1 Tbs black mustard seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 Tbs chopped ginger
1 cup chopped carrots (optional)
14 oz. can no salt added diced tomatoes
1 lb bag frozen mixed broccoli and cauliflower
Parsley or cilantro and lime wedges for serving

In a large pot, combine dal and 5 cups water. Bring to a boil, partially cover and simmer over moderate heat until lentils are soft, about 25 minutes. Add tamarind, sambar spice, turmeric, chile powder and about 1/2 tsp salt. Add additional 1 to 2 cups water and carrots. Return to simmer and cook 10 minutes. Add tomatoes and frozen vegetables. Return to simmer and cook until vegetables are heated through and carrots are tender.

Meanwhile, heat ghee in a skillet on  medium. Add onion, season with salt and cook until lightly soft. Add mustard, cumin and fennel seeds; continue cooking, stirring occasionally until onion is lightly browned. Add ginger and cook 1 to 2 minutes more. Add to dal and serve with herbs and lime.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Carrot & Red Lentil Soup with Indian Spices

I believe it's always soup weather. The beautiful Chicago summer days don't make me want it any less. This is a variation on one of my favorite soups, a creamy carrot-ginger number that I've made many, many times. This update came about after the long Memorial Day weekend (was that already 2 weeks ago!?) when we needed to replenish some nutrients lost due to the festivities.

My old carrot soup uses potatoes as a thickener, as well as coconut milk for flavor and body. With a cupboard full of dals (legumes from the Indian grocery store), I wanted to make this soup even healthier and more satisfying. I replaced the potatoes with red lentils (masoor dal), a variety that cooks down to a pleasant mush in very little time. I skipped the coconut milk and added toasted spices and aromatics at the end, as you often do with Indian dishes.

I loved the results and was really glad to add more fiber and nutrients with the lentils. While the potato version often left me feeling hungry in a couple hours, this soup is a hearty main course. You can easily adapt the spices here based on what you have on hand, so don't let any unfamiliar ingredients deter you. Do use plenty of fresh ginger though--the bright, vegetal spice is key.

Carrot & Red Lentil Soup with Indian Spices

Serves 4

3 cups chicken broth
2 cups water
1 cup red lentils (masoor dal)
2 lb carrots, peeled and chopped
2-3 tsp curry powder (to taste)
1/2 tsp red chile powder (preferably the Indian type)
1 Tbs ghee or oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp black mustard seeds
1 white onion, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped (about 2 tablespoons)
1 to 2 hot chiles, finely chopped (Thai, serrano or jalapeno)
Pinch asafoetida (optional)

For serving:
Greek yogurt or sour cream
Lime wedges
Chopped cilantro

In a large pot, combine the water and lentils. Bring to a boil and simmer, partially covered, 20 minutes. Add the carrots, curry powder and chile powder; return to simmering (add 1 additional cup of water if needed to submerge carrots) and cook until tender, about 20 minutes more. If too much liquid boils off to effectively cook ingredients, add water in 1/2 cup increments as necessary; soup should be thick, but not difficult to stir.

Meanwhile, heat the ghee or oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the cumin and mustard seeds. Cover skillet and cook until seeds start to pop. Add the onion, season with salt and pepper and cook, uncovered, until tender, 8-10 minutes. Add ginger, chiles and asafetida; continue cooking, stirring frequently, 3 minutes more.

When carrots are tender, add the spiced onion mixture and simmer 5 minutes. Remove pot from heat and puree with an immersion blender or a regular blender (in batches). Return soup to low heat. If soup is too thick, thin with water or broth. Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed. You can add additional chile or curry powder too if you like. Serve with yogurt, limes and cilantro.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Overnight Pizza Dough

It's become an established truth in foodie circles that chilling chocolate chip cookie dough for at least 24 hours makes for a tastier, better-looking cookie. Can the same be said for pizza dough?

It's not that cookies and pizza have much in common. Pizza dough requires yeast, just to name one major difference. But both involve a combination of dry ingredients, the vast majority of which is flour, and wet ingredients. When you allow for a nice long rest, these two elements get the chance to come together more fully, to put it very simply. The result is more, and more complex, flavor.

Cooking Light magazine did a big feature in their May issue on pizza, and it really impressed me. The editors clearly did tons of testing and research in order to determine what ingredients and techniques matter when it comes to making the best possible homemade pies. After all, when a recipe consists of little more than flour, yeast and water, it is truly the details that matter.

I used their recipe for Neapolitan-style crust to make the pizza above. Didn't change a thing for the dough, but opted for my own topping choices (inspired by a pizza on the cover of Food & Wine last year, actually). It was very good. I do think the overnight slow rise created a pleasing tang that you find in artisan pies from great restaurants. Unfortunately, I undercooked the crust slightly, which I absolutely hate. Mike, on the other hand, didn't really notice or care.

The following week, we wanted pizza again, but did not plan a day in advance. So, I made a version of the recipe in The Art & Soul of Baking that I've liked before, but let it rise twice over 4 to 5 hours and used half whole wheat flour. I can't say the Cooking Light version was miles better. I did, however, get one huge takeaway from CL that I'll always use when I make pizza: DO NOT use a rolling pin to roll out your dough. It breaks down the dough's structure, squeezes out the air, and results in a dense, rather than light and airy, crust. To get big, blistery bubbles in your dough, just press it out with your hands on a floured surface and/or stretch it over your knuckles in the air like the pros do.

Just after I'd made CL's dough, there was a piece in the New York Times food section on the best technique for homemade pizza dough. Guess what the writer concluded? Letting it rise overnight (and, ideally, if you're really obsessed, using a starter) makes all the difference. Interesting stuff. Since I LOVE making pizza, I'm always willing to try new recipes in the hopes of hitting upon my holy grail of pizza dough. I would like to try the overnight rise with my whole wheat flour recipe next time.

Now, I'm dying to know if you've tried this. Have you done the overnight rise? Were inspired by CL, the NYT or some other recipe? Do you think it matters or makes no difference? Do tell in the comments!