Category: International

Muhummara Dip

July 29, 2009


There are certain dishes that just pop up for me again and again.  Things that I love and I keep trying variations until I find the one that becomes “my” version.  I’m thinking of things like baba ghanoush and gazpacho.  I tried endless variations before I settled on the Greens cookbook’s and Cook’s Illustrated’s versions respectively.

Muhummara is one of those things.  What?  Something you may have not even heard of and here I am tracking down the perfect recipe?  Here is the thing.  I love dips.  Not like chips and dip (although I love those too), I mean like warm grilled pita bread and dip.  If a restaurant has some kind of Middle Eastern platter, I will without question order it.  I love hummus, baba ghanoush, tzatziki, and I love muhummara.  Well, now I do.

I have made four or five versions of this dip and always liked it.  It just never popped for me.  Eralda at The Split Pea recently posted a recipe that looked a little different from the ones I have tried.  I decided to make for last weekend’s lunch and everyone who tried it loved it.  I served it with crackers, but it would be great with pita and Eralda says it’s terrific with cucumber.  This is my new go-to recipe.

One Year Ago:  Creamy Eggplant with Green Peas

Smokey Muhammara

Adapted from The Split Pea

I made a few changes here, mostly in method.  I also cut down on the amount of garlic because I don’t like a lot of raw garlic in my dips.  You can find pomegranate molasses at Whole Foods and at Middle Eastern markets – if you are lucky enough to have one of those where you live.  It’s flavor adds so much to this dip, so it is worth seeking out.  Along those same lines, the smoked paprika is essential here.  The flavor will just not be the same with regular paprika.

3  red bell peppers
1 cup of walnuts
¾ cup of pecans
1 ½ tsp. cumin
2 tsp. sweet smoked paprika
1 1/2 tsp. ground Chipotle Chile powder (or regular chile powder)
2 cloves garlic
1 ½ tsp.  salt
2 tsp. olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp. of honey
2 -3 tbsp. pomegranate molasses (substitute balsamic vinegar)

Preheat the oven to 500°F.  Place the peppers on a baking sheet and roast, turning occasionally, until beginning to blacken in spots, about 15 minutes total.  Remove sheet from the oven and carefully wrap it in foil.  Allow to sit for 10 minutes, then remove the foil.  When the peppers are cool enough to handle, peel away the skin and remove the membranes, stems, and seeds from each pepper.  Slice and place in food processor.

Lower the oven temperature to 350°F. Place the walnuts and pecans in a rimmed cookie sheet and toast for about 3-5 minutes until fragrant (oven temperatures vary, so make sure to keep an eye on them).  Set a timer so you don’t forget about them.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool.  Once cool, add to the food processor along with all the other ingredients.  Process until smooth, scraping the sides of the bowl as necessary.  Taste for balance of flavor, adding more salt, honey, or lemon juice as necessary.  If the dip seems too thick, add more olive oil.

Keeps refrigerated for up to 3 days.

Give Tofu a Chance

May 20, 2009


I get a lot of questions about tofu.  These days I think it’s something that people feel they are “supposed” to like.  Or at least “supposed” to use.  There is so much information out there about the impact that a meat based diet has on the planet and I think people are really starting to read and listen.  People who are wanting to do something to minimize their impact often find eating less meat approachable.  But what do you do if you don’t like tofu?

First of all, let me say that you don’t have to like tofu.  Even if you are a vegetarian.  And there is no rule that says a vegetarian meal has to include tofu.  I have many many recipes posted here on this blog and there are only four that include our little soy friend.  There are tons of options if you don’t want to eat meat and are afraid of soy.  Take a peek through the main course section over on the right hand side bar and I think you’ll find some lovely things to eat.

That said, I do think tofu gets a bad rap.  It’s not a meat substitute – it is it’s own thing.  The most common complaints I hear is that tofu doesn’t taste like anything and that it is mushy.  Tofu doesn’t taste like much on it’s own but it absorbs other flavors beautifully.  If you make some kind of delicious marinade or sauce, it will taste like your delicious marinade or sauce.  And mushy?  It doesn’t have to be so!  If you buy extra firm (sometimes called super firm), the texture thing goes out the window.

This salad is a new favorite of mine.  First you marinate some extra firm tofu and then roast it at relatively high heat which firms it up even more.  A bed of bean sprouts are laid on a plate, followed by thin slices of cucumber, the tofu, and an amazing peanut sauce is drizzled over the top.  It is a wonderful salad to serve with a light Asian inspired meal.  Of course, the salad is infinitely adaptable – cabbage, steamed broccoli, bok choy, even asparagus would be lovely here.  Next time I make it, I am going to double the tofu so I have some extra to snack on.  Yes, snacking on tofu.  Try it!


One Year Ago:  Fear of Filo

Indonesian Tofu, Bean Sprout, and Cucumber Salad with Spicy Peanut Sauce
Adapted from Vegetarian Classics
Serves 4

1 recipe roasted tofu (recipe follows)

Peanut Sauce:
1/4 cup natural-style peanut butter
2 tbsp. tamari soy sauce
1 tbsp. lemon or lime juice
2 tbsp. firmly packed light brown sugar
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
3 tbsp. water

The Salad:
2 cups mung bean sprouts
1 small English cucumber, sliced 1/4 inch thick
1 scallion, very thinly sliced

1.  Chill the tofu thoroughly.

2.  To make the sauce: combine all the sauce ingredients in a small bowl and beat vigourously with a fork or small whisk until very smooth.

3.  To assemble the salad: spread 1/4 of the bean sprouts on each of 4 salald plates.  Layer on 1/4 of the cucumber, followed by 1/4 of the tofu.  Drizzle the sauce over each portion and garnish with the scallion.  (DT: I added another tablespoon or so of water to the dressing to thin it out a bit.)

Roasted Tofu

1 pound extra-firm tofu
1 1/2 tbsp. tamari soy sauce
1 tbsp. Asian sesame oil
1 tbsp. dry sherry

1.  Slice the tofu into 1/2-inch-thick slices.  Place them on a clean cotton towel or on paper towels.  use another towel or more paper towels to pat the tofu very dry.  Cut into 3/4 inch cubes.

2.  Combine the soy sauce, sesame oil, and sherry in a large bowl.  Add the tofu and use a rubber spatula to gently toss it with the marinade.  Let marinate at least 30 minutes, or cover and chill up to 24 hours.

3.  Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

4.  Place the tofu and its marinade in a single layer in a large shallow baking dish.  Bake 30-35 minutes, or until golden all over and the marinade is absorbed.  Shake the dish after 15 minutes to prevent the tofu from sticking.  Can be served warm, room temperature, or cold.

Asian Noodles

May 5, 2009


I joke sometimes that if I could only eat one food for the rest of my life, that it would be french fries.  I do so love french fries but I think a lifetime of them, even the very best ones with lots of ketchup, would get old.  But some kind of Asian noodles in some kind of Asian curry sauce with tofu with some kind of green vegetable?  That could sustain (and not bore) me.

I make a lot of dishes like this.  I have never met a Southeast Asian noodle dish I haven’t liked.  I love rice noodles, bean thread noodles, soba, somen, and Chinese egg noodles.  I love green, red, and yellow curry.  I love the combo of coconut milk, soy sauce, and curry.  I love mixing shallots, garlic, and ginger into a kind of holy trinity.  I love any excuse to eat tofu and to have it taste like something other than a sponge.

For tonight’s dinner, I had planned to make Burmese Noodles from Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.  As I was preparing to make the curry paste, I remembered I still had some homemade red curry paste in my refrigerator, and suddenly Burmese Noodles didn’t appeal to me.  On the facing page, was a recipe for Noodles in Thai Curry Sauce which sounded good but plain.  I decided to mix the two recipes and throw in some changes of my own.  Almost every time I make an Asian curry, whether I am using noodles or rice, I throw in some tofu.  I don’t obsess about my protein intake but when given the chance to eat tofu, in a dish where it plays so nicely with others, I take it.

One of the beautiful things about this recipe is that you can change it your heart’s delight.  Use a different kind of noodle, use a different green vegetable, omit the tofu, substitute Thai basil for the cilantro if you are a cilantro hater.  By all means, use a commercial curry paste – there are some good ones out there.  Below you will find how I adapted it.  Although I make dishes like this often, these noodles were one of my better creations.


Here are 2 low fat notes.  This kind of dish can actually be kind of unhealthy.  Two ways that I try to combat that are by using low-fat coconut milk, and by not deep frying the tofu.  Last night I sprayed a hot non-stick skillet with non-stick spray and fried the tofu that way.  You want a bit of a crust on it.  You can also get that by shallow-frying it in bit of flavorless oil (like canola).

Noodles in Thai Curry Sauce with Tofu
Inspired by Deborah Madison
Serves 3-4

Since I was using my own curry paste (which is less spicy than store-bought), I added the full 3 tablespoons.  If you are worried about spice, add just 1 to begin and more to taste if necessary.

8 ounces dried Chinese egg noodles (linguine can do in a pinch)
8 ounces extra-firm tofu, pressed dry and cut into 1 inch pieces
Canola oil
2 large shallots, thinly sliced into rings
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp. minced fresh ginger
1 15-oz. can unsweetened lowfat coconut milk
1-3 tbsp. Thai red curry paste
2 tbsp. soy sauce
1 handful snow peas, strings removed
1/2 cup frozen peas, thawed
2 scallions, thinly sliced into rounds
3 tbsp. chopped cilantro

Cook noodles in pletny of boiling water until tender, about 4 minutes for the Chinese egg noodles and slightly longer for linguine.  Drain and rinse well to stop the cooking and to keep them from sticking together.  Set aside.

Heat a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat.  Spray with non-stick cooking spray and add the tofu.  Cook on each side, flipping as the tofu turns slightly brown.  Pour out onto a paper lined plate and set aside.

Heat a wok or a skillet over medium-high heat.  Pour in just enough canola oil to coat the bottom and add the shallots.  Cook until starting to brown, about 4 minutes.  Add the ginger and garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until very fragrant, about 2 minutes.  Add the coconut milk, curry paste, and soy sauce and stir to break up the paste.  Add the snow peas and green peas.  Lower heat to medium-low and cook until the snow peas start to become tender, 3-4 minutes.  Add the noodles and tofu and stir well.  Add the scallions and cilantro and give it another good stir.  Allow to cook for 2 minutes to blend flavors.

Geographical Vegetarian

April 29, 2009


I recently heard the term “geographical vegetarian”.  It was introduced to me by a man who eats meat but whose wife does not.  He eats vegetarian in their home but eats meat outside of it.  I was thrilled to hear this term because now I can attach a name to what my husband is.  As in, Q: “Is your husband a vegetarian?”  A: “My husband is a geographical vegetarian.”  Aside from a little fish that he grills now and then (and mussels I make for him once in a great while), no meat eating goes on in our house.  People are confused by this.  How could a red-blooded carnivore be forced to eschew his meat-eating ways in his own home?

It’s simple really.  I’m a good cook.  He likes my food.  He eats meat for lunch at work and when we go out.  Food is not his be all end all as it is for me.  And I make Mexican food, which is his favorite, often.

Truthfully, I could make the same Mexican meal three nights a week and he would be happy.  As long as there is guacamole and some kind of beans – I would never hear a complaint.  But I would complain.  I need variety so I am always trying to mix it up.

I read about a salad on For the Love of Cooking that I was dying to try.  The dressing featured lots of cilantro and lime juice and the salad had corn, beans, Cotija cheese, avocado, and all kinds of other yummy things in addition to romaine lettuce.  I’m a sucker for a salad with lots of “stuff” in it.  To go with it, I made these tostadas.  They are relatively simple but with a powerful flavor punch from this sofrito.  You will get more sofrito than you need for these tostadas, but you can use it to flavor rice, soup, beans, or anything else in your next Mexican meal.

Bean Tostadas with Sofrito
Adapted from Simple Vegetarian Pleasures
Serves 4

Personally, I don’t really like the taste of raw onion and using a whole onion in the sofrito was too strong for me.  Next time I will use half. You could streamline this recipe by using canned re-fried beans thinned with a little water.

3-4 cups lightly packed cilantro, stems included
1 small jalapeño pepper, seeded and chopped
1 small green pepper, cored and chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 small onion, chopped
1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1/2 tsp. salt

1 (15 oz) can pinto or kidney beans, rinsed well and drained
1 tsp. chili powder
1/4 cup water
1/4 tsp. salt

8 small (6-inch) soft corn tortillas
2-3 tbsp. canola oil
1 cup grated Monterey Jack cheese

1.  To make the sofrito, combine all the sofrito ingredients in a food processor or blender and puree until smooth.  Pour into a container with a cover and set aside.

2.  To prepare the beans, combine them with the chili powder, water, and salt in the container of a food processor and purée.  Scrape into a bowl.

3.  Preheat the broiler.  Brush both sides of each tortilla with some of the oil, and place the tortillass on a baking sheet.  (You may have to do this in batches.)  Broil on both sides until golden and crisp.  (The tortillas can be prepared up to this point 24 hours in advance.)

4.  Divide the bean mixture and spread some on each tortilla.  Top each with some of the grated cheese.  Broil the tostadas until the cheese has melted and they are hot throughout.  Serve with little spoonfuls of sofrito dotted on top of each tostada.  (DTI also topped them with guacamole.)

An Ina Kinda Day

March 18, 2009


I have four of the Barefoot Contessa cookbooks in my collection and I use them with surprising regularity. If you are new here, I am a vegetarian – something Ina definitely is not. Like not even close. But I love her books and love her recipes. I use many of the dessert ones and also get a lot of mileage out of the soup, salad, and vegetable chapters.The dinner I made last night contained two recipes from her latest book, Back to Basics.


Do you remember the garlic bread from your childhood? The one I remember is from some “Italian” restaurant in the suburb of Seattle where I grew up. My parents are transplanted New Yorkers and I think the hardest part about moving West was the loss of good Italian food and good bagels. (It has gotten better, but we are by no means close to what NY has to offer.) We would go to this restaurant and my brothers and I would chow on garlic bread which consisted of styrofoam-like bread, slathered with butter, and liberally sprinkled with garlic salt. There may have even been some green can Parmesan cheese on there for good measure. Needless to say we loved it, but there is no way I would eat that now.

This is real garlic bread. Ciabatta bread, a heady concoction of lots of garlic, parsley, and fresh oregano sauteed with salt and pepper in a good amount of olive oil, and a very restrained amount of butter – especially for Ina. This is baked in the oven for only 10 minutes – just enough for the all the flavors to mingle and for the bread to get nice and warm – not enough to toughen the bread. In true Ina form, this recipe is found in the Vegetables section of the book!


The other recipe I made yesterday was for this Roasted Tomato Caprese Salad. For me it was one of those – why didn’t I think of that?! – moments. Here in Seattle, we are fortunate to have amazing produce. We get incredible spring asparagus and peas, summer berries that people all over the country would pay a fortune for, and wild mushrooms all fall. We do not, however, get good tomatoes. If you grow them yourself, you can get a decent tomato now and then, but I have never experienced the New Jersey tomato. If I did, I think I would cry.

I love tomatoes so I eat them anyway. But Caprese salad never did much for me. Mozzarella doesn’t have that much flavor, so if your tomatoes are tasteless, why exactly would you eat it? Enter Ina and her good idea to roast the tomatoes. That way, you can concentrate the flavor and give it a little boost with olive oil, salt, pepper, a little sugar, and a little balsamic vinegar. Eating this last night really was a revelation and a recipe I will make again and again.


Garlic Ciabatta Bread
Adapted from
Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics
Serves 8

To make my cooking healthier, I always add a minimal amount of oil when I am sauteing. For this recipe, you will want to add more – perhaps not the full 1/2 cup called for in the recipe, but at least 1/4 cup. You want the garlic and herbs nice and moist so they can be easily spread on the bread.

6 large garlic cloves, roughly chopped
cup fresh parsley
2 tbsp. fresh oregano leaves

1 tsp. kosher salt

tsp. freshly ground black pepper
cup olive oil
1 large ciabatta bread

2 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Place the garlic, parsley, oregano, salt, and pepper in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade and process until finely minced. (DN: A mini food processor is perfect for this if you have one.) Heat the olive oil in a medium saute pan over low heat. Add the garlic and herb mixture and cook for 3 minutes, until the garlic is tender but not browned. Remove from the heat and set aside. (DN: You can leave this for several hours if need be.)

Cut the ciabatta in half horizontally, running a serrated knife parallel to the board. Spoon the garlic mixture onto the bottom half and spread the btuter on the top half and place together.

Bake the bread for 5 minutes, then unwrap and discard the foil. Bake for another 5 minutes. Slice crosswise and serve warm.


Roasted Tomato Caprese Salad
Adapted from
Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics
Serves 6

This is essentially a simple salad so the components are very important. If you have access to very fresh mozzarella, now is the time to splurge. If you live in Seattle, DeLaurenti makes their own and it is amazing. Also, use your best olive oil and Balsamic vinegar, even your best sea salt. You will taste the difference.

12 plum tomatoes
1/4 cup quality olive oil, plus more for drizzling

1 1/2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 tsp. sugar

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

16 oz fresh mozzarella

12 basil leaves, julienned or chopped

Sea salt

Preheat oven to 275 degrees.

Arrange the tomatoes on a sheet pan, cut sides up, in a single layer. Drizzle with the olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Sprinkle with the garlic, sugar, 1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt, and 1/2 tsp. pepper. Roast for 2 hours until the tomatoes are concentrated and begin to caramelize. Allow the tomatoes to cool to room temperature. (DN: These can be made up to 1 day in advance. Allow to cool and then store in the refrigerator. Allow to come to room temperature before serving.)

Cut the mozzarella into slightly less than 1/2 inch thick. If the slices of mozzarella are larger than the tomatoes, cut the mozzarella slices in half. Layer the tomatoes alternately with the mozzarella on a platter and scatter the basil on top. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt and pepper and drizzle lightly with olive oil. Serve at room temperature.

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