dillicious

So, apparently our heads were off in the Southern Hemisphere when we chose pomegranate as this week’s ingredient, proclaiming at the time that it would be “the perfect springtime food” with which to experiment. Turns out that pomegranate is in fact a fall food, and furthermore, it is nowhere to be found in our respective grocery stores in the middle of March. Hence, we unveil this week’s new ingredient: Cauliflower.

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This ingredient switch came at a fortuitous time, as I was assigned to bring a vegetable side dish to my family’s Passover seder on Monday night. Cauliflower is really a carte blanche among the vegetable kingdom, amenable to countless cooking techniques—steaming, boiling, roasting, mashing—and endless flavor combinations. I knew that amidst a smorgasbord of my aunt’s famous brisket, my grandma’s fruit compote, potato kugel, matzah ball soup, charoset (apple and walnut salad), and gefilte fish (shout out to Diphyllobothrium latum!), something fresh and light was in order for my cauliflower dish.

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In keeping with the holiday’s celebration of the springtime, I chose to showcase the most quintessential of spring herbs: dill. This feathery herb is one of my all-time favorites and is a natural fit with cauliflower. Into the food processor went a huge bunch of dill, a bit of parsley, lemon zest and juice, some garlic, and a handful of pistachios for sweetness. The result was a verdant and vibrant sauce that deliciously enveloped florets of golden roasted cauliflower.

This dish added a dilly and lemony bite of freshness to our abundant holiday meal, and the next day, it made for a great addition to a lunchtime salad. When it’s not cauliflower week, I can’t wait to try this sauce on other things—pasta salad, potatoes, sandwiches—it’s almost as versatile as our starring ingredient itself.

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If we manage to track it down, see you next week for some epazote experimentation!

Dillicious Roasted Cauliflower

2 heads cauliflower, broken into florets

2 tbsp olive oil

1 bunch dill (about 1 cup)

¼ cup flat leaf parsley

1 lemon

1 clove garlic

¼ cup pistachios

⅓-½ cup olive oil

1 tsp sugar

salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 500. Toss cauliflower florets with olive oil and a sprinkling of salt and pepper. Roast for 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes, until cauliflower is golden brown in places.

While cauliflower is roasting, combine dill, parsley, zest and juice of lemon, garlic, and pistachios in a food processor until finely ground. With processor running, slowly stream in olive oil until it reaches desired consistency. Add sugar and salt and pepper to taste and give mixture one final pulse. (Pesto can be made 1 day ahead of time).

Toss roasted cauliflower with pesto and serve (I would suggest starting off with about 1/2 cup and adding more of the sauce to taste). Cauliflower keeps well for a couple of days in the fridge and is tasty as a cold salad, as well.

unleavened and unloved

Matzah is perhaps the most innocuous yet polarizing food I have ever known. For many people, the mere mention of matzah conjures looks of complete disgust and utterances of descriptors such as “bland,” “gag-inducing,” and “cardboard-box-like.” Then you have people on the opposite side of the spectrum, like my father, who buy matzah in bulk every spring so they can eat it year-round. It’s likely not matzah itself that people hate so much. After all, it’s really just a giant plain cracker. But rather, it’s what matzah represents: eight long days of unleavened torture, where soft slices of sandwich bread, tender cakes, and oodles of noodles are uniformly wiped out and replaced by a crispy, flat, and admittedly sub-flavorful food.

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I personally am a member of the matzah loving camp and would argue that this poor little unleavened creation deserves a bit more credit for all its versatility. While my enjoyment of matzah will never near that of my father’s, I do happily eat my fair share come Passover time: scrambled with eggs as matzah brei, as a scooper for hummus, or simply spread with butter and a topped with a sprinkle of salt.

However, in our family, there is one ultimate way to eat matzah:

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That would be Chocolate Toffee Matzah, a Passover confection that my mom and I have been making for over a decade. This indulgent matzah treat is clearly a Passover dessert darling of many beyond our family, as I have seen countless similar recipes printed across the internet. However, I would be remiss to not share this delicious family tradition here on sugarcured.

A quickly boiled toffee topping of melted butter and brown sugar is placed on sheets of matzah, baked for a few minutes, and then topped with chocolate chips. The softened chocolate is spread atop the toffee and allowed to set in the fridge. In a couple of hours, chocolate toffee matzah bliss in yours.

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If you are a matzah hater, this recipe will make you a convert. If you’ve never had matzah before, I hope this recipe makes you run out and buy a box (although word on the street is that you can adapt this same technique with saltine crackers). And if you are a matzah lover, I hope this recipe will only make you show it all the more lovin’.

Chocolate Toffee Matzah

5-6 sheets of matzah

½ cup (1 stick) butter

1 cup brown sugar

1 cup chocolate chips.

Preheat oven to 400. Line a large cookie sheet with foil. Lay down sheets of matzah to cover the entire surface of the pan (you’ll have to break the sheets to make them fit). In a medium saucepan, melt butter and brown sugar together. Allow mixture to come to a boil over medium-high heat. Continue to boil for 3-5 minutes, stirring constantly, until the mixture coats the back of a spoon. Pour toffee mixture over matzah and spread it to evenly coat the sheets. Bake for 4 minutes. Remove from oven and sprinkle chocolate chips on top. Return to oven for 1 minute. Remove from oven and spread the melted chips out evenly across the matzah. Allow to cool for about 30 minutes at room temperature and then place pan in refrigerator for at least 3 hours before breaking into smaller pieces. Store broken pieces in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

tale of two cities and one ingredient

Hello from still-frozen Chicago, where I am dreaming of lemongrass basil sherbet while my ice cream freezer accumulates a coat of dust about as thick as the snow accumulating on the sidewalk. I wish I was kidding. But the sunny side of spending my studycation in the Land of the Windchill Factor is that warm and hearty things are still very much in season here. The result of my first foray into cooking with lemongrass was a dish with one flip-flopped foot in Miami (bright flavors of lime, cilantro, and jalapeno) and one snowbooted foot in Chicago (comforting Udon noodles and fried tofu).

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There’s a lot of room for tweaks here- it’s the kind of recipe that is great for using whatever odds and ends you have in the crisper drawer. I can imagine that red pepper, snap peas, or edamame would all make great additions. For the cilantro-averse among you, I think subbing basil for part of the cilantro in the sauce would work well. You can cook the tofu any way that suits you or even leave it raw. Frying adds an extra, but in my opinion worth-it, step. Most importantly, if you can get your hands on some lemongrass, don’t skip it- all of the praises Joanna sings for it are founded.

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Next week’s ingredient is pomegranate- stay tuned…

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Lemongrass Udon Noodles

6 oz dried udon noodles

8 oz tofu, cut into small pieces

2 T flour

1/3 c vegetable oil

1/2 red onion, thinly sliced

2 c thinly sliced red cabbage

2 carrots, grated

1 jalapeno, thinly sliced

1/4 c cashews or peanuts, roughly chopped

Salt and

For the sauce

1 T vegetable oil

2 stalks lemongrass, sliced

1 T chopped ginger

3 cloves garlic

1 large handful cilantro

2 T brown sugar

Juice of one lime

2 T soy sauce

Combine all sauce ingredients in a blender or food processor and pulse until well combined and fairly smooth (about the consistency of pesto). Taste and adjust the seasonings to taste. Set aside.

Boil the noodles according to the package instructions. Drain and rinse with cold water.

Put the tofu in a bowl, dust with flour, and toss to coat. Heat 1/3 c of oil in a wok and fry the tofu until golden (you may have to do it in multiple batches depending on the size of your skillet. Drain on a plate lined with paper towel.

Drain excess oil from the skillet you used for the tofu, leaving about 1 T. Cook the onion for 4-5 minutes until it softens. Add the noodles to the skillet and cook 1-2 min to heat. Add the sauce and the tofu, mix to combine everything, and cook just a minute more. Remove from heat and stir in all the vegetables plus the nuts.

Top with rice vinegar or lime juice and salt to taste. Serve warm, room temperature, or cold.

churning up a challenge

I think I’m going to toss out all my perfume bottles and start walking around wielding a stalk of lemongrass instead. It really smells that incredible. As I sit here trying to think of how to bring its scent to life for you, two words jump to mind: lemony and grassy—creative, huh? But true to its name, this reed-like herb has a bright, citrusy fragrance mellowed out by an earthy undertone. Not only does it smell good, it’s quite eye-catching as well. It has a sturdy, pale green exterior that slices into beautiful rings of purple and white. In the spirit of exploring this ingredient to its fullest, I bit into a raw piece, and its texture—a bit fibrous and a bit watery—was reminiscent of sugar cane. It was even a tad sweet. Suffice it to say, this humble little stalk is quite a complex ingredient, and one that Kate and I both embraced with fervor for our first ingredient challenge.

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Lemongrass is perhaps best known for its incorporation into many Asian dishes. Although I’m no expert in Asian cooking, I’d venture to guess that its lemongrass rearing its citrusy fresh bite behind many rich curries and spicy soups. But for this challenge, and to celebrate the warm weather and equipment-laden kitchen I’m frolicking in at home, I decided to take a more unconventional route.

I bring you Lemongrass Basil Sherbet.

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Sherbet is a lighter version of ice cream, made with a greater milk to cream ratio. To play up the Thai-inspired flavors of lemongrass and basil, I used two cups of coconut milk in place of whole milk. While the tang of the lemongrass and punch of the basil could have potentially been overpowering, the flavors of this ice cream turned out to be quite subtle and wholly refreshing. I feel a bit guilty for saying this, as I know many of you are reading this wrapped in blankets and parkas, but I enjoyed this as a poolside snack on a warm and breezy Saturday afternoon.

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Whether you go sweet, savory, or somewhere in between, I hope that our premiere ingredient challenge has inspired you try your hand at cooking with lemongrass.

Lemongrass and Basil Coconut Milk Sherbet

Adapted from Bon Appetit

2 cups coconut milk

1 cup milk

1 cup chopped lemongrass (from about 2 stalks)

1 cup heavy cream

3/4 cup (packed) fresh basil leaves

2/3 cup sugar

2 tablespoons light corn syrup

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Heat coconut milk, milk, lemongrass, and cream in a large saucepan over medium heat until mixture almost comes to a boil. Remove from heat and let steep for 20 minutes.

Fill a medium bowl with ice water. Blanch basil leaves in a small pot of boiling water until just wilted, about 10 seconds; immediately transfer to ice water; let cool. Squeeze basil to release excess water.

Place milk/cream/lemongrass mixture into a blenderr. Add basil, sugar, corn syrup, and salt to blender. Purée on high speed until well blended, about 1 minute. Transfer to a medium bowl. Cover and chill until cold, about 4 hours. (Base for sherbet can be made 1 day ahead. Keep chilled.)

Strain chilled cream mixture through a fine mesh sieve into the bowl of an ice cream maker. Process sherbet in ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions. Transfer to an airtight container, cover, and freeze. (Sherbet can be made 1 week ahead. Keep frozen.)

Scoop into bowls or glasses and serve.

a belated (pizza) pi day post

Pi Day passed last week (3/14) and reminded me of a post that’s been sitting in the drafts folder for a few weeks- potato pizza pie. Before we launch into ingredient of the week challenge, I wanted to make sure this delicious creation made it to your kitchens.
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Admittedly, the whole concept of potatoes on pizza kind of weirded me out until quite recently. But it turns out that in mid-March when the wind is still howling off the lake with a vengeance, it has totally come to this. We are after all just past the nadir for fresh produce in the Midwest. Both of us sugar cured cooks have pretty much exhausted our tolerance for kale and root vegetables with quinoa. I have been literally dreaming of spring farmers’ markets. Desperate times call for desperate culinary measures and for throwing carbohydrate caution to the wind and for putting potatoes on your pizza.

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I’ve re-copied my crust recipe here that I published in the very first SugarCured post way back when. This late winter pizza is almost good enough to make you forget about tomatoey pizza glory of August. Or at least enough to tide us over until the first farmers’ market.

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For 1 pizza (easily doubled):

Crust:
3/4 t active dry yeast
1/2 c warm water
1 1/2 c all-purpose flour
1 t salt
Place 1/4c of the water in a large bowl and mix in the yeast. Let sit for 10 minutes until the yeast is mostly dissolved. Add 1c flour and mix thoroughly with a wooden spoon As you continue to stir, add salt, olive oil, 1/2 c more flour, and a few tablespoons more water. Mix well, then add the balance of the flour and water, adjusting the quantities to make the dough manageable- soft but not too sticky.

Take the dough out of the bowl and place it on a well-floured counter. Knead until the dough becomes elastic and well-combined, about 10 minutes. Add sprinkles of flour as needed, but don’t overdo it- you want the dough to be fairly soft. Drizzle a few teaspoons of olive oil in a large bowl and add the kneaded dough, turning it to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise. Rising time is flexible. It can be as short as 1.5 hours or as long as all day.

Topping:

3 T olive oil

2 cloves garlic, grated or finely minced

1 medium onion

1 small bulb fennel

3-4 small yellow potatoes

2 c grated cheese (we used Iberco. Manchego would also be good. Anything melty and fairly mild works)

2-3 T fresh rosemary, roughly chopped

1 lime, cut into wedges

Sea salt and black pepper

At least half an hour before you want to cook your pizza, heat the oven to 450.

First, caramelize the onions. Slice the onion thinly. Heat 1 T olive oil in a heavy skillet. Add the onions and cook over medium-low heat until very soft and golden brown, at least 20 minutes. Taste the onions and if they seem to lack flavor, add a pinch of sugar and a pinch of salt.

While the onions cook, prep the other veggies. Slice the potatoes as thinly as you can (with a mandolin slicer if possible) and place in a bowl of very cold water. About ten minutes before you want to assemble the pizza, drain the potatoes, rinse them, salt liberally, and let rest in a colander to get all the liquid out.

Slice the fennel very thinly. When the onions are almost done cooking, add the fennel and cook just a few minutes until it softens.

Mix the remaining 2T olive oil and the garlic and brush over the pizza crust. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and about 2/3 of the rosemary. Spread the potatoes over the crust in a thin layer. Add onions and fennel. Cover with cheese. Cook 10-15 minutes until the crust is crisp and the cheese is beginning to brown. Sprinkle remaining rosemary over the top when it comes out of the oven. Serve each piece with a wedge of time to squeeze over.

studycation

Kate and I are embarking on a month-and-a-half-long marathon in our medical school careers, otherwise known as studying for Step 1. The details of what exactly Step 1 is matter little for the sake of the blog, but in short, for the next six weeks we’ll be soaking in thousands of relevant and random facts about biochemistry, disease processes, drugs, and more in preparation for the first part of our medical licensing board exam in late April/early May. Our school has graciously freed us of all classes and other obligations during this time, which means that studying for Step 1 is our full-time job. Although this is an inevitably intense time of work, I prefer to view it as a “studycation”: a time where we’ll put in a full day’s worth of work, but take the evenings to relax, exercise, and perhaps even be more balanced than we are usually able to be when more obligations are on the table. In the spirit of studycationing, I’ve taken off to Miami for the next month and a half to spend time with family, friends, and sunshine amidst my studies. The only downside to this plan is that it means leaving my Chicago friends behind.

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Kate and I had a bittersweet farewell brunch on Sunday before she took me to the airport, complete with fancy cocktails and conversation about the ways we’re going to make sure we stay connected during this time apart. Naturally, a large part of this conversation centered on the things we’ll be cooking and how we’re going to be keeping up the blog. We have decided to initiate an “Ingredient of the Week” installment on sugar cured over the next seven weeks. Every week we’ll tackle an ingredient or dish that we have little to no familiarity with cooking and then each of us will blog about it. It’s a fun way for us to stay on our toes in the kitchen and on the blog during this time, and furthermore, it will keep us culinarily connected while thousands of miles away. Before parting ways, we conjured up the master list at a nearby coffee shop. We’re looking forward to having these ingredients spice and sweeten up our lives, kitchens, and this blog in the coming weeks. We hope you enjoy following along!

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Week One: Lemongrass

Week Two: Pomegranate

Week Three: Epazote

Week Four: Passion fruit

Week Five: Rye

Week Six: A new grain

Week Seven: Creative smoothies

cranking up the heat

In the realm of baking, 350 is a comfortable number. It’s the tried and true temp for producing moist quickbreads, gooey brownies, and tender cookies. As a kid, I was schooled in the world of baking long before I ventured into the arena of savory cooking, and for most of my childhood, I thought that temperatures above the 300s were reserved for the oven cleaning mode or some horribly hazardous activities.

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I distinctly remember the first time I cooked something at 400 degrees. I was in middle school. The recipe was for Rachael Ray’s oven fries. My mom was at work. My dad was busy with his tools in the garage. With no one around, I cranked the oven dial past the 350 mark and set it squarely on 400. I felt a rush of rebellion. The potato wedges quickly crisped to a golden brown before anyone could see the dangerously high temperatures with which I was playing. I had discovered the joy of roasting, and there was no turning back.
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These days, roasting is one of my techniques for cooking all manner of things. Carrots are a natural fit for high-heat cooking and have become my favorite vegetable to roast. For this recipe, I first thought about cooking them at 425, but on a whim, let the dial creep up to 475. I figured it would save me some time, and potentially add a bit more color to the carrots. I tossed the half-moon slices in a generous glug of olive oil and threw them into the fiery oven as I prepared the rest of the salad components: a lemon harissa dressing (inspired by this great book), quinoa with golden raisins, and wilted rainbow chard. Within 30 minutes, everything was ready for assembly, and I opened the oven to find 475-degree-kissed perfection: the carrots were caramelized, tender but not too soft, and had a beautiful amber hue. I mixed everything together and topped the salad with fresh mint and a handful of chopped walnuts for a weeks worth of filling lunches. Even when eaten cold, the sweet smokiness from the roasted carrots really shone through.

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Whether you’re reading this from chilly Iowa or steamy Miami, I urge you to crank up the heat higher than usual and bask in the pleasures of roasting.

Roasted Carrot Salad with Harissa Lemon Dressing

Roasted carrots:
4 large carrots
3 tbsp olive oil
salt

Preheat oven to 475. Peel and cut carrots into half moons. Toss carrots with olive oil and a couple shakes of salt and spread on a foil lined baking sheet. Roast for 30-40 minutes, tossing halfway through and then every 10 minutes after that until tender and caramelized in some spots.

Quinoa:
1 cup quinoa
2 cups water
¼ cup golden raisins

Combine ingredients in a medium saucepan on high heat, covered with a lid. When contents come to a boil, reduce heat to medium high and cook for 10-15 minutes, until water is completely absorbed and quinoa is al dente.

Chard:
1 large head rainbow chard (or any other dark green)
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp minced garlic
Zest of a lemon

In a large pot over medium heat, saute chard and garlic in olive oil for about 5-7 minutes, stirring frequently, until wilted and slightly cooked down, but still retaining some bite. Add lemon zest and remove from heat.

Dressing:
1 lemon
2 tbsp harissa
1 tbsp honey
⅛ tsp cumin
3 tbsp olive oil

Combine lemon zest and juice, harissa, honey, and cumin in a small bowl. Add olive oil and whisk vigorously to emulsify the dressing.

To assemble:
½ cup chopped fresh mint
Handful of chopped walnuts
salt and pepper to taste

Combine cooked quinoa, roasted carrots, cooked chard, dressing, mint, and walnuts in a large bowl (or save a dish and use the chard pot) and stir until combined. Add salt and pepper to taste. Enjoy warm or cold. Keeps well in the fridge.

Other tasty add-in ideas: feta cheese, 1 can of drained garbanzos, chopped or shredded cooked chicken

deconstructed dolmades

Almost every week this winter, I’ve make some sort of dinner dish that includes a combination of beans, greens, and grains. It’s a hearty, healthy, and student budget-friendly meal. But after making one too many iterations of stewed beans in tomato or curry-based sauces, I was feeling in a rut. Thus, a new dish was born. Inspired by a technique of pan-frying beans that I had recently read about and a steadfast love for Middle Eastern flavors, I paired together garbanzos, caramelized onions, spinach, lemon, za’atar, and brown rice.
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It was love at first bite. I gobbled up a bowl for dinner, reveling in the zing of the lemon, the earthiness of the za’atar, and way that the garbanzos had a crispy bite, yet a soft and creamy interior. The caramelized onions added a rich sweetness, the rice a bit of heft, and the spinach a healthy dose of vitamins.
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I was going to clumsily dub this “Lemony Greens & Beans Rice with Za’atar” until Kate had an aha moment while eating some of this dish tonight. “In the best of ways,” she said, “this tastes just like deconstructed dolmades.” She was precisely on point. The spinach had wilted down in such a way that it resembled the texture of a grape leaf, and the ingredients were pretty much identical to what one might stuff inside of grape leaves, or dolmades. For a non-vegetarian version, you could add in some sauteed ground beef, lamb, or turkey. And for an extra special touch, a drizzle of tahini made this delicious dish even better. I think it’s safe to say I’ve broken free from my greens and beans rut. I’m looking forward to seeking out more de- and re-constructions of dishes in the future.
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Deconstructed Dolmades

1 medium onion
4 tbsp olive oil
1 15 oz can garbanzos, drained
10 oz spinach leaves, torn or chopped into smaller pieces
2 generous tbsp za’atar
2 lemons
1-1 ½ cups cooked brown rice
salt and pepper to taste

Heat 3 tbsp olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Slice onion thinly and add to olive oil. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, for 25-30 minutes, until golden and caramelized. Remove onions from pan. Add 1 tbsp olive oil to pan over high heat. Add drained garbanzo beans to pan and arrange in a single layer. Allow beans to cook undisturbed for 4-5 minutes, until golden brown on bottom. Toss the pan or give them a good stir to rearrange them and allow them to cook on the other side for another 3-4 minutes. Add spinach, onions, za’atar, and zest and juice of two lemons and allow to cook until spinach wilts down, about 5 minutes. Toss in cooked rice and allow to cook for another 1-2 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.