Category: International

Moroccoan Food and My Dad

November 1, 2008

My dad is a retired doctor – an oncologist to be exact. He had a private practice for over 30 years and worked incredibly hard the whole time. The patients he had tended to be incredibly ill and he lost so very many of them to incurable cancers. He also saved a lot of them, or extended their lives beyond what they could have hoped for.

When I tell someone who knows him (a former patient, family member of a patient, or someone in the medical community) that I am his daughter, they unfailingly tell me what a wonderful man he is. I know. He is a great dad too. During my entire childhood, he worked very long hours, but it never seemed that way to me. He was very present when he was home, so it seemed that he was around a lot more than he actually was.

I worried a little about him retiring. Being a doctor, a good doctor, was so much a part of him and I wondered how he would transition to a life without that identity and with a lot more free time. I needn’t have worried. He and my mom have been incredibly active and busy basically since his retirement party. He took birding classes, joined a softball team, joined a cancer survivor support group (yes, he has also been a patient), and he and my mom have traveled all over the place. Last year they went to Austria and Germany on one trip and Italy on another.

Just last week, they left for Morocco. They are going with a tour group of sorts (an active tour group), but this was still a big step for them. Morocco is much more foreign than the other places they have traveled – except for Turkey a couple of summers ago. They were very excited to go but apprehensive. I can’t wait to hear their stories and see their pictures. A bonus of their trip is that they opted to start in Madrid – a place they had never been. My dad was an art history major (unusual for someone who is pre-med), and had never seen the Prado Museum. His favorite artist is Goya and there are some of the most incredible examples of his work in the Prado. My dad is five years post-op from his cancer and is incredibly healthy. It makes me very happy that he will see those amazing paintings and get to see Morocco.

In honor of their trip, I decided to do a Moroccan style dinner last week and at the heart of it was this amazing soup. It’s called Harira Soup and, among my many cookbooks, I have several recipes for it. The one I chose last week turned out to be my favorite yet. It comes from a marvelous cookbook called World Food Cafe, which is also an incredible restaurant in the Covent Garden area of London. Randy and I ate several meals there and I was always torn as to what to order (it is all vegetarian). World Food Cafe is owned by a husband and wife team and the husband just happens to be the Photographer-in-Residence for the Royal Geographic Society. The cookbook’s photography is stunning and the recipes reflect their travels all over the world.

Harira Soup
Adapted from
World Food Cafe
Serves 4-6

This soup is very easy to make but it does require a fair amount of chopping. Look at it as an opportunity to practice your knife skills! Like most soups, it tastes even better the next day, but will most likely be very thick. Add water as needed as you reheat it. You can also do some things ahead of time, like chop the celery and carrots (potatoes will discolor and onions will get too stinky), and measure out the spices.

Olive oil
1 large onion, diced

2 garlic cloves, minced

Handful of fresh flat-leaf parsley sprigs, chopped

1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. coarsely ground black pepper

tsp. saffron or tumeric
tsp. cayenne pepper
1 tbsp. paprika

2 tsp. ground coriander

2 large red potatoes, diced
2 large carrots, peeled and diced

2 celery stalks, diced

cup dried green lentils
2 tbsp. tomato paste

1 14 oz. can crushed tomatoes in heavy puree

2 cups vegetable stock

Water as needed

1 14 oz. can chickpeas, drained and rinsed

4 oz. vermicelli (or angel hair pasta), broken up

Juice of 1 lemon

Salt to taste

Heat the oil in a large, heavy saucepan over medium heat and toss in the onions and a healthy pinch of salt. Saute the onions until soft. Add the garlic and stir for three minutes.

Add the parsley, ginger, black pepper, saffron or tumeric, cayenne, paprika, and coriander, stirring to prevent sticking. Add the potatoes, carrots, celery, lentils, and tomato paste. Stir well and add the tomatoes, stock, and enough water to cover the ingredients. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer for 45 minutes, adding more water as necessary to make a thick soup.

Add the chickpeas and vermicelli and cover. Cook for 5 minutes, or until the pasta is al dente. Pour in the lemon juice and add salt to taste.

Eggplant Even I Can Love

NaBloPoMo has started. I will do my very best to
a) post everyday
b) not bitch about how hard it is to post everyday

Onward! I don’t know when it was that I first tasted hummus. I think it was somewhere around the time that I became a vegetarian but for the life of me, I can’t remember where it was or the circumstances. But I do know that I fell in love. I swooned over the recipe in The Greens Cookbook and begged my mom for her Cuisinart so I could make it. She surprised me by buying me my own – the one I still have 15 years later. Every party I would throw, I would make a huge batch of hummus and people would just wolf it down.

Baba Ghanouj came to me later in life. I shied away from it for a long time because I don’t really like eggplant. I have mentioned this here before here, but it feels almost like blasphemy to be a vegetarian and admit to not liking eggplant. You are supposed to like it because it has a “meaty” texture and can be substituted for meat in certain dishes. Personally, one of the reasons I don’t eat meat is because I don’t like the texture of it, so eggplant scores no points with me there. Another reason I don’t like it is because, well, it’s bitter. Or it can be.

If you are with me on either of the above two points, meet your new best friend, baba ghanouj. This incredible smoky, rich, and tangy dip is a close relative of hummus in that it stars some of the same ingredients. But, and this is hard for me to believe – the person who LOVES chickpeas – but I like baba ghanouj better. The flavor is more complex and the smokiness just can’t be beat. I like to serve it with grilled pita bread, but any kind of vegetable dipped in it tastes just great.

I have tinkered around with different recipes and have come up with one that I really love. There are a couple of keys here. Make sure the eggplant is completely soft before you take it out of the oven. You can also grill it, but I would cut it into slices to make sure that it gets cooked through. Finally, in my experience, both hummus and baba ghanoush need a lot of salt, cumin and lemon juice to wake up the flavors. Be sure to taste as you go and adjust as necessary.

Baba Ghanouj
Dana Treat Original
Makes about 2 cups

Almost all recipes you see for both hummus and baba ghanouj call for garlic. I don’t add any to mine because I really don’t like the bite of raw garlic, but feel free to add it if you like. 1-2 cloves would be right for this amount. I like my baba ghanouj very smooth but you can leave it chunkier.

3 lbs. globe eggplant
3-4 tbsp. olive oil

4 tbsp. tahini

1 tsp. ground cumin

Juice of 1-2 lemons

1 tsp. salt

Freshly ground pepper

1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cut each eggplant in half and drizzle with olive oil. Place cut side down on a baking sheet and bake until completely soft, about 1 hour. Remove from oven and allow to cool enough to handle.

Over the bowl of a food processor, scrape the eggplant flesh out of the skin and discard the skin. Add the tahini, lemon juice, salt, cumin, salt, and cayenne and start to blend. Add the olive oil through the tube of the processor until you have a paste-like consistency. Stop, scrape down the sides and taste, adjusting seasoning as necessary, and adding pepper. Process one more time.

Asian Food

October 22, 2008
Do you have someone in your life that doesn’t like something and you are convinced you can make them think otherwise? If you have read this blog, you know my dear husband Randy doesn’t like beets which kills me because I love them. Every time I make them or order them in a restaurant, I make him try one. There is some evidence that supports the fact that your tastes do change and that you should try “dislikes” periodically to see if that has indeed happened. (At least, that is what I tell Randy.) He tried one last Friday night and swallowed it with great difficulty.

My brother Alex, who eats just about everything, does not like mushrooms or artichoke hearts. But that list used to include olives and about 10 years ago, he had a Eureka! moment and discovered that he loved olives. So there is hope for mushrooms and artichoke hearts. And beets for Randy.

My client Mark told me he doesn’t like Asian food. Now, this is a little trickier than beets because it encompasses an entire continent. When asked to clarify, he said he doesn’t like stir-fries. What does that mean exactly? I will need to do some further investigation. I have been steering away from Asian food since his confession but the truth is, I really miss it. Put me on a desert island and my first choice would be french fries. My second choice would be rice noodles with lots of tofu with, perhaps, a Thai curry sauce.

So, last night I decided enough was enough and made something I thought would be perhaps pass muster with him. I made Baked Spring Rolls with a Soy Dipping Sauce, Spinach Salad with Asian Pears and a Peanut Dressing and Soba Noodles with Tofu and Bok Choy. Nothing was stir-fried. No wok was used in the cooking of this food.

The noodle dish is the kind of thing I crave, nice and savory with lots of interesting flavors going on – lots of ginger and spice. The balance of starch (from the soba) protein, and green vegetable is very satisfying. Even so, as I was eating it last night I said to Randy, “Mark is going to hate this.”

Notes on ingredients: You should be able to find everything you don’t already have easily in the Asian section of your grocery store. Rice vinegar is sometimes kept in the aisle with the other oils and vinegars. Soba Noodles always surprise me with how much you get out of them. They usually come in 8.8 ounce packages. Buy two for this recipe and just know that you will probably have some noodles left over. Trader Joe’s has great extra-firm tofu in 1 lb. packages. And lastly, I almost always use tamari soy sauce but in this recipe, because there is so much used, I chose the low-sodium and that was the right decision.

Soba Noodles with Tofu and Bok Choy
Serves 4

I very very loosely adapted this recipe from Cooking Light.

1 lb. soba noodles
1 lb. extra firm tofu

1/4 cup mirin

1/4 cup low sodium soy sauce

1 tbsp. grated ginger

2 tbsp. unseasoned rice vinegar

1 tbsp. dark sesame oil

2 tbsp. honey

1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes

1 clove garlic, minced

4 heads baby bok choy, cut in half lengthwise

Fill a large saucepan with water and bring to a boil. Add salt and soba noodles and cook until just al dente, 4-6 minutes. Drain and rinse well with cold water. Set aside.

Mix the mirin, soy sauce, ginger, rice vinegar, sesame oil, honey, red pepper flakes, and garlic together in a bowl with a whisk.

Cut the tofu crosswise into four pieces. Heat a medium non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add tofu and just enough soy mixture to come half-wat up the sides of the tofu (dont’ use all of it). Bring to a gentle boil and cook 4 minutes. Turn the tofu over and cook another 3 minutes. Remove from heat and keep warm.

Place the bok choy halves in the same pan and pour in some more of the soy mixture. Cook for 2-3 minutes and remove from heat. (You may have to do this in batches.)

To serve: Place a tangle of soba noodles on a plate and top with tofu and bok choy. If you have leftover sauce, you can pour this over the noodles. If not, just give them a little shake of soy sauce.

(Almost End of) Summer Rolls

September 3, 2008

As a personal chef, I feel really lucky to have such great clients. I currently have three couples that I cook dinner for twice a week (one couple is just once a week), and they have been really flexible and understanding whenever I go out of town, or one of my kids get sick, or I decide to take a 6 month maternity leave. Perhaps best of all, they eat whatever I bring them. None of them is vegetarian but they are happy to eat that way and they haven’t really had any dietary or dislike restrictions. I have just been able to show up with what I felt like making that day and they have been happy to eat it.

Until about 3 months ago. My friend and longest standing client Stephanie told me that her husband really doesn’t like Asian food and neither of them really like mushrooms. This was a blow because a) I LOVE Asian food and b) mushrooms are an important part of vegetarian cuisine – for me anyway. They travel on a semi-regular basis so whenever they are gone, I make Asian food or Things with Mushrooms or Asian Mushroom Food.

Last night I made a Red Curry with Summer Vegetables and Fresh Summer Rolls. The rolls are something I have been working on for years. I used to order them all the time at the Noodle Ranch in Seattle where my taste buds were forever spoiled because they were so good and are so mediocre at most other places I have tried. I have experimented with all different recipes with all different fillings, and have attempted to perfect my rolling technique. I have to say, last night I think I nailed it. I borrowed an idea from here and there and I used an incredible dipping sauce from Everyday Greens. Some day when I am the master of my new camera (it is currently the master of me), I will document a step by step photo montage of how to make these. For now, I will just have to try and be descriptive. They are not hard to make, just a little time consuming and so so so so worth it.

A word about the tofu. I found tofu that had already been fried at PCC. This was huge for me because I hate frying tofu, or frying anything for that matter. If you are unable to find it and don’t want to fry your own, you can either just use plain or use one of the flavored varieties (stick with Asian-y flavors). You can also use my super simple and delicious method described here.

Fresh Summer Rolls with Tofu and Hoisin Peanut Dipping Sauce
Makes approximately 12

The carrots, cucumber, and tofu can all be prepared a day ahead and stored, separately, in the refrigerator. The herbs are flexible here. Use just mint and Thai basil if you hate cilantro, or all mint if you can’t find Thai basil. Rice paper rounds can be found in the Asian section of some supermarkets – Whole Foods has them. They are about frisbee diameter. For the noodles, look for those that are about the width of angel hair pasta. Any thicker and it won’t turn out right.

12 rice paper rounds
3 medium carrots, cut into very thin matchsticks about 3 inches long

1 lg. “English” cucumber

4 oz. thin rice noodles

12 oz. extra firm tofu, cut into thin matchsticks, about 3 inches long

Cilantro leaves

Thai Basil leaves (substitute mint, if desired)

Blanch the carrots in a saucepan of boiling salted water for 3 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Cut both ends off the cucumber. Stand it on one end and, avoiding the seeds, cut down the length of the cucumber. Keep turning it 45 degrees and making the same cut, then discard the seedy interior. Slice the four pieces into thin matchsticks, about 3 inches long. Set aside.

Place the noodles in a large heat-proof bowl and pour boiling water over to cover. Let stand 10 minutes, drain, and set aside.

Mix the cilantro leaves and Thai basil leaves in a small bowl.

Have all your ingredients ready in front of you. Fill a large bowl with lukewarm water and spread out a clean dishtowel on a work surface. Place one rice paper round in the water and allow it to soften for about 15 seconds. You want it slightly pliable but not mush. It will continue to soften once you get it out of the water. (If you leave it in for too long, it will become like plastic wrap and be difficult to work with.) Scatter a few cilantro leaves and a few Thai basil leaves over the surface of the paper. Starting about 2-3 inches from the bottom of the round, place a few pieces of carrot, then a few pieces of cucumber, then a few pieces of tofu, and then a small fingerful of noodles. Stack them one ahead of the other, not one on top of the other. Resist the urge to overfill until you get the hang of what is the right amount.

Fold the bottom of the circle over the filling and try to compress the filling a bit. Continue rolling, then fold the right and left side in, then roll up to the top. Roll it over on itself so the seam will stick. Continue with the rest of the papers and filling ingredients. Rolls can be made about 4 hours ahead and stored in the refrigerator, covered loosely with a damp paper towel.

Peanut-Hoisin Dipping Sauce
Adapted from
Everyday Greens
Makes about 1 cup

2 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 large shallot, thinly sliced

Salt and pepper

1/2 cup hoisin sauce

1/3 cup water

1/2 tsp. rice vinegar

1/4 cup roasted salted peanuts, chopped

Heat the oil in a small saute pan and add the shallots and a pinch of salt. Cook over medium-high heat until crisp, about 2 minutes. Drain
on a paper towel and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Finely chop and transfer to a small bowl. Add all the remaining ingredients and stir.

Dreaming of Rasa

July 29, 2008

One of the joys of cooking and eating vegetarian is exploring world cuisines. Many of the world’s cultures eat either don’t eat meat, or eat it sparingly – as more of a condiment than a focus. If you are a little adventurous, you can find incredible and satisfying vegetarian food in cultures other than our own.

I’m not sure where I first had it, but I have always loved Indian food. Unfortunately, living in Seattle, I had never had really good restaurant Indian food. In my opinion, what you find here tends to be very oily, rich, and – for lack of a better term – gloppy. Early in my cooking life, I instead turned to recipes that involved curry and devoured them. Periodically, I would try an Indian restaurant and would eat a ton of naan and then get a stomachache from the rest – just too much oil for me.

And then Randy and I went to Spain for our honeymoon. In typical Randy fashion, he was able to finagle a side trip to Paris and London so he could do some meetings and I could make it back to Paris for the first time in 12 years, and see London for the first time. (Randy is the master of making the most out of a travel schedule.) It is now hard for me to believe that in the first 32 years of my life, I had never been to London. Randy had been there many times without me for business and somewhere along the line, someone took him to Rasa and he knew at first bite that he had to take me there.

I have stated this in more round-about ways in previous posts, but Randy is not a foodie. Until he met me, he was of the food-is-fuel mentality. He didn’t really care what he was eating, just as long as it was nutritious and tasted decent and kept him from bonking. (Full disclosure: his “bachelor meal” is rice, tuna, salsa, and cheese. He still eats this if I am out.) So the fact that he loved this restaurant and knew I would love it, well, that’s the kind of thing that made me marry him.

Although Seattle is no culinary capital, I have always been a good and curious eater. My parents are both from New York and I grew up going there at least once a year and in typical fashion for my family, food was the focus. Early on, I learned to love the many different types of Asian food that are represented so well here in the Northwest. But I had never had South Indian cooking and what I tasted at Rasa blew my mind. This is a gross generalization, but the cooking in the South tends to be lighter, spicier, cleaner, and has far less meat. Much of it is vegetarian or uses fish as a protein. The Rasa that we ate in (there are several) was, at that time, vegetarian. So imagine me, so used to getting the short end of the stick in restaurants, sitting in front of a menu with the most incredibly interesting and incredible sounding food – all of which I could eat. I almost cried.

We ended up getting a tasting menu and I can honestly say, I have never been so full in my life. I literally could not stop eating everything they put in front of me. Everything was spiced perfectly, seasoned perfectly, balanced perfectly, and looked beautiful. Randy bought me the cookbook and I couldn’t wait to get home and start cooking.

Not quite a year later, we had the opportunity to move to London for Randy’s job. We went on a househunting trip and guess where we ate. Guess where we ate for my birthday dinner. Guess where we ate on a pretty regular basis. I couldn’t get enough of it. We brought our friends Michelle and Dale there thinking that if we stuck to the less spicy dishes they would like it. They didn’t – too spicy. But it remained my favorite place in London.

Whenever I want to make Indian food now, I pull out my two Rasa cookbooks. Many of the recipes use fresh curry leaves which are difficult to find. The one place I did find them in Seattle was at Uwajimaya – an incredible Asian superstore in the International district of Seattle. It is far from our house, but totally worth the trek because the flavor of the curry leaves is unparalleled (they have nothing to do with curry powder). They look like small fresh bay leaves and have a pungent taste – almost rubbery. This may sound unpleasant, but truly they impart the most round flavor to every dish they inhabit. The last time I went to Uwajimaya, I was told that they could no longer carry them because there was a U.S. ban importing them. I’m not sure if this is true because peeking around the internet just now, I saw plenty of them, but suffice it to say, that while I made Indian food last night for my clients, I didn’t use my beloved Rasa cookbooks.

Instead I used three trusted recipes from food magazines that I cut out long ago. One of them is Creamy Eggplant with Green Peas. In the Vegetarian Rule Book, one of the top requirements is that you like eggplant. I have never been a big fan, but it falls under the “Don’t Like it Much, But Will Eat It” category instead of the “Don’t Like It and Won’t Eat It”. (I think the only thing on that list is okra.) This eggplant dish I not only eat but I enjoy it. The eggplants are first roasted at high heat and then mixed together with lots of spices, tomatoes, onions, peas, and yogurt so it becomes creamy and takes on the complex flavors that are in the dish. It is relatively easy, nutritious and very tasty.

A friend mentioned that she has seen curry leaves at R & M Grocery in the University District, so next time, it’s back to my Rasa Cookbooks!

Creamy Eggplant with Green Peas
Serves 6

Adapted from
Food and Wine Magazine

3 lbs eggplant
Vegetable oil

1 tsp. cumin seeds

1 small yellow onion

1 jalapeno pepper, minced with some seeds

1 large garlic clove, minced

1 1/2 tbsp. peeled, minced fresh ginger

1 dried red chile, broken

3 medium tomatoes, seeded and finely chopped

1 tsp. paprika

1/2 tsp. tumeric

1 1/4 cup frozen peas, thawed

1 cup chopped cilantro

1/2 plain yogurt


1. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees. Put the eggplant on a rimmed baking sheet and pierce them all over with a knife. Bake for about an hour, or until the skin is blackened and the flesh is very soft. Let cool slightly. Peel off the skin and scrape the flesh into a large bowl. Mash the eggplant coarsely.

2. Meanwhile, heat the a couple of tablespoons of oil in a large, deep skillet. Add the cumin seeds and cook over high heat until they sizzle, about 10 seconds. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and starting to brown, about 10 minutes. Add the jalapenos, garlic, ginger and red chiles and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes and boil until all the liquid has evaporated, about 8 minutes. Add the paprika and tumeric and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Stir in the eggplant and cook over low heat for 10 minutes to blend the flavors. Add the peas and cook 5 minutes longer. Stir in the chopped cilantro and the yogurt and season with salt.

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