Monthly Archives: March 2010

Hi Ho Hummus

As we continue our journey through Moroccan cuisine, there is one Mediterranean staple that cannot be left off the menu: hummus and pita bread. Lucky for my blogger friends and I, the ladies from Farm & A Frying Pan whipped up a mean batch of both.

Now, if you are anything like me, you have tried to make hummus many times.  Whether you decide to eat it as dip or slather on a sandwich, hummus is the perfect quick fix for a lunch or pot luck party. And with five simple ingredients – chickpeas, lemon, tahini, garlic, and parsley – how can you go wrong?  But oh man, can you go wrong.

Whether it is the pungency of fresh garlic or the bitterness of blended herbs, I can never achieve the right balance of flavors.  I have tried roasting garlic and peppers, adding sun-dried tomatoes, dousing the dip in smoked paprika – all in the hopes of covering up my culinary mistakes – but, nothing ever did the trick.

Then, last week, I dipped my spoon into a nutty, bright, perfectly smooth container of homemade dip. Apparently, Jillian had the magic touch (and a neat trick to boot) to making perfectly harmonious hummus. And for a first go-around with low sodium cooking, she hit it out of the ballpark.  Here are her instructions:

For your hummus, I kind of winged it a bit. My boss told me the secret to good hummus is blending the tahini with water before you add in the other ingredients so that it is really liguidy.

Blend/process these together for a minute:

  • 2 tablespoons tahini
  • 1 tablespoon water

Add and blend/process:

  • half a can of no salt added garbanzo beans, rinsed (30 mg for 1/2 cup)
  • juice from one lemon
  • 1 garlic clove
  • small handful of Italian parsley
  • 1 teaspoonish of cumin

I also added a dash or two of turmeric because I knew you were a fan!

And there you have it.  Perfect hummus, ready in minutes.

As an added bonus (Happy Tuesday, Everyone!)let me show you one more unusual way you can use this recipe in your daily life.

There are two things I love about writing this blog: (1) I have complete permission to be creative in my cooking and (2) I hear from readers who are doing the same in their own kitchens.

Reader Roberta recently contacted me about her personal remix of the Beet Burgers I posted a few weeks ago. Because her family does not eat dairy, the ricotta cheese topping had to go.  So she put on her thinking cap and in place of the cheese, she topped her patties with some homemade hummus.

“An interesting taste alternative.  Very good,” according to her report.

Just another lesson in how options are endless and how cooking without a particular ingredient can lead to more impressive results.

More Morocco tomorrow.  Until then, chow on.

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Morocco Had a Little Lamb

Let’s kick off this week with a simple dish that features one of Spring’s finest cuts of meat: lamb.

As an “appetizer” for our Moroccan Feast, we decided to begin with something light.  Which in my world translates into a lamb stew cooked in orange juice, mint, and a bevy of other spices.  Served, of course, with a cool cucumber and yogurt salad.  It’s a palette cleanser fit for vikings.

The trick, to making the lamb as succulent as it sounds, lies in two key steps: (1) marination and (2) slow cooking.  So this recipe does take patience, but little technical skill.  Oh, and you probably want to use a stove-top safe crock pot or a slow cooker.  But if you don’t have either of these implements, a covered, tall pot will do (just keep an eye out for the stew burning at the bottom).

Enjoy this mild taste of Morocco today, because things are about to get a whole lot spicier  tomorrow. Chow on.

Ingredients:

  • 1 ½ pounds of lean lamb, cubed
  • 2 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • juice from 1 orange
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon curry powder
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup sodium free beef broth
  • tablespoon of black pepper

Directions:

1. In a large non-metallic dish (like your crock pot), mix the lamb with the garlic, orange juice, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, broth, herbs, and spices. Cover and let marinate for at least 3 hours. Best if allowed to marinate overnight.  The longer it soaks, the deeper the flavor.

2. When you are ready to get cooking, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a pan over medium heat.

3. Using tongs or a fork, grab the pieces of lamb from the marinade and brown them for 5 minutes each.

4. Place lamb back in crock pot and bring to a boil on stove over medium-high heat.

5. Once the stew begins boiling, lower heat and cover.

6. Allow the stew to simmer for an hour and a half. It is ready when the meat is juicy yet tender.

7. If you have the time, make a gravy from the stewing juices: place juices in a pot over high heat.  Allow to boil and then lower to a strong simmer. The juice will thicken as it reduces – probably around 5 or 10 minutes of boiling.  You can also thicken with some cornstarch or flour – just remember to mix a little bit of the juice with the cornstarch or flour before adding to the entire pot – this step will keep it from becoming clumpy.  To serve, drizzle gravy over the lamb. Hello Flavor!

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A Moroccan Good Time

Mix two cups of couscous with a pound and a half of cubed, lamb stew meat and a few food loving friends and what do you get?  The second installment of the Cook Club and a Moroccan feast fit for a king.  Or at least four ladies who love to eat.

After Ms. Anne Pao, of SF Tao of Pao, and I successfully dominated a Puerto Rican menu two weeks ago, we decided to put our aprons and thinking caps back on and attempt round two.  As a sucker for all things spicy, we picked Morocco as our next culinary destination.  Tagines, dried fruit, and slowly simmered meat – we were set to tackle these traditional dishes in typical low sodium fashion.  But this time around, we beefed up our team roster and invited the lovely (and talented) ladies from Farm and a Frying Pan to join along.  In my opinion, there are never too many cooks in the kitchen.  As long as they know what they’re doing.

Each of us came to the table with our own set of rules: for me, the food had to be low in sodium (or no salt added to be more specific); for Jillian and Christina, of Farm and a Frying pan, the food had to be organic and local; and for Pao, well, it had to be adventurous and full of flavor.  With guidelines dually noted, we set our sights on the following dishes: homemade pita bread and hummus, Moroccan Lamb stew, cucumber and yogurt salad, vegetable couscous, chicken Tagine, and homemade mint tea.

If you’re full from just reading that, imagine how we felt after consuming heaping plates of each item. Although I didn’t think we’d make a dent, let’s just say less than 36 hours later, I’ve already polished off the leftovers.  Awesome.

And because it’s just not ladylike to give the milk for free before you buy the cow (or at least that’s how the saying goes), today is purely a tease for the Moroccan, drool-worthy recipes to come next week.  Try not to be consumed by the suspense this weekend.  Have a great one.  Send questions.  Be good.  And remember to chow on.

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Old Spoon, New Trick

One of my favorite magazines is Real Simple and one of my favorite sections is where the editors show you how to use old appliances to do new things.  For example, wrap rubber bands around your easter eggs before dipping in dye to make perfect patterns.  Brilliant, right?  Or turn the back side of an old, scratched pan into a magnet board and hang in your kitchen.  A little more work, but still, pure genius.

The point is, as much as a love William Sonoma and even that airplane magazine with the useless “inventions” – like a dog bowl that fills itself – it is wonderful to find the gadget you need in something you already own.

So this brings us to the tale of the cucumber and the spoon.  Cucumbers, served at a restaurant or cafe, always taste better to me than the sloppy mess I slice up at home.  I have come to the conclusion that this is not because of my produce picking aptitude (I’m an A student), nor is it a result of my haphazard dicing.  The cucumbers I tend to drool over, in cool summer salads, are pure crescents of crunch.  No seeds.  And trust me, I do not like to waste food.  But to me, when you remove the inner mushiness of the cucumber, you elevate the taste factor by ten.

Don’t rush out to find a professional, cucumber scraper just yet.  Mostly because I’m actually not sure if anything like that exists.  But also, because you have the tool you need sitting patiently in your flatware drawer, next to your fork and knife.

That’s right.  The spoon.  It is so simple, it’s silly.  To core the cucumber, slice in half and then run the spoon over the middle.  The seeds and pulp pop out instantly and you are left with two hollow cucumber boats.  From there, you can cut crescent slices and use in a salad. Or, I have filled the cucumber boats with tuna tartare and then sliced into mini bites as an appetizers.  And if you really want to use the whole cucumber, top to bottom, save the pulp to make a refreshing vinaigrette for vegetables or even oysters.

Just a simple solution to make your food taste better.  You’ll never look at your spoon the same way again.  Chow on.

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Risotto Cakes

I am sucker for texture.  As a low sodium cook, it is essential to trick the senses with an unusual spice or unexpected crisp.  When someone is overcome by food that is exciting, they do not have the time to miss the salt.  It’s like a magician distracting the audience from noticing the cards already tucked up his or her sleeve.

When it comes to noodles and rice, I also love to have a bit of broiled crunch on the top. Whether it is mac and cheese or in this case, risotto, the oven-fried pieces make the traditional “mushiness” all the more magical.

So for this particular recipe, I applied a cooking technique which I used a few Thanksgivings ago, when making individual, crusty stuffing servings for my guests: a cupcake tin. By scooping portions of risotto into each cup, you end up with the perfect risotto cakes for each of guest and everyone gets to enjoy a good amount of crispy goodness.

Or you could be like me and devour the tin by yourself, one cake at a time.  However you enjoy it, these risottitos (little risottos) are a fun twist on the traditional version.  The flavors aren’t half bad either. Chow on.

SERVES 12 INDIVIDUAL PORTIONS

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup low sodium chicken broth (0mg of sodium)
  • 3 cups oyster mushrooms, roughly chopped
  • 1 small white onion
  • 1 large fennel bulb with fronds
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 2/3 cups Arborio rice
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1 orange, juice and grated peel
  • 2 teaspoons black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon red chili pepper flakes
  • 1/4 cup ricotta cheese (25 mg of sodium, depending on brand)
  • 4 cloves of garlic

Directions:

1. Finely chop onion and garlic.

2. Wash fennel and cut off the stalk and fronds (save these and keep whole). Halve bulb and chop into 1/4 inch cubes.

3. In a small pot, bring chicken stock and water to a boil.

4. In a tall, heavy pot melt the butter and allow it to brown, 4 minutes.

5. Add onion and garlic to butter. Saute for 5 minutes or until onion is translucent.

6. Add fennel and saute for another 5 minutes.

7. Add rice and saute for 5 minutes, stirring constantly.

8. Increase heat to medium and add the wine and fennel fronds. Continue to stir.

9. Once the wine has been fully absorbed, add a 1/2 cup of broth and stir. Cook until the broth has been absorbed and add another 1/2 cup. Continue this routine (pour/stir/absorb/pour some more) until all the broth has been used. Rice should be creamy, but not too mushy. So when it looks and taste right, hold off on the remainder of the broth

10. Heat oven to 380 degrees and grease your cupcake tin.

11. Stir in mushrooms, ricotta, and orange juice. The ricotta may look a little clumpy, but it will completely melt in the oven.

12. Take out full fennel fronds and scoop risotto into the cupcake tin and fill to the top. Cook for 25 minutes or until the top of each risotto cake is crisp.

13. Broil on low for 5 minutes before serving.

14. To plate, scoop out and place, crisp side on top, on a plate and add a spoonful of ricotta and some orange peel on top.

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Be A Boar

Today’s post is brought to you by Boar’s Head.  Well, not in the traditional sense – no advertising money here – but this deli meat powerhouse is launching an “assault on salt” and they want you to know about it.

Boar’s Head understands that keeping a low sodium diet is difficult.  With over 2,300 mg of sodium in one teaspoon of salt, it is easy to reach your upper daily limits, especially when noshing on prepared goodies.  But these foods – like a delicious sub sandwich – are quick to purchase, making lunch and life easier.

So instead of sayingy goodbye to roast beef and swiss cheese, Boar’s Head says hello to low sodium versions of your favorite deli items.  Check out their online brochure for the list of  delicious low sodium bites that are safe for you to eat.

My personal favorites are the No Salt Added Roast Beef (40mg of sodium per serving) and the No Salt Added Swiss (10mg of sodium). Depending on your daily limit, there is a meat to fit every diet.  And don’t be worried about label misinformation – Boar’s Head assures me that nutritional content is substantiated by USDA-tested sodium levels and FDA standards.

So ask your local grocer to order some Boar and stock up your fridge with the low sodium meats that will keep you healthy and full.

Chow on.

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The Grand Finale

Today, our Hawaiian journey comes to an end.  Time to pack up your bags and head back home to oven cooked risotto cupcakes and Moroccan lamb. What?  That’s not what you’re planning to make next week?  Cause I am.

But before we close out this chapter of our low sodium Hawaiian adventure, I have one last recipe that will really set your tongues wagging and heart racing.  Low sodium, Char Sui Spare Ribs.  This is that illustrious, unnaturally colored Chinese pork meat that always sends a pang of jealousy my way.  Whenever Boy and I take a shopping excursion to Ranch 99, he buys a container full of the stuff.  Some is nibbled on while driving back home and the rest is frozen for nights that require a quick, ad hoc entree with noodles or rice. The pork always looks juicy, often still steaming from hours in a hot pot or oven.  But alas.  That hot pink color, from fermented tofu, is a strong sign of way too much sodium for this little body.

As with all recipes, however, changes can be made.  And while you should stay away from this meat at your local Hawaiian BBQ spot, do not be afraid to recreate it at home.  First, who said it had to be pink?  Lop off a good chunk of sodium content and leave out the fermented tofu.  If you really want to make an “identical” version, go ahead and use a few drops of red food dye.  But you do not need it.

Second, forget the dark soy sauce and Hoisin sauce and replace with molasses.  After that, the original recipe can be followed ingredient by ingredient.  I did take some extra liberties though, and added orange juice and cayenne.  If you are worried that we are diverging too far from the original, I”ll tell you this.  Those fusion foods you love so much have all been built around twisting the mold of a traditional recipe.  When you add a few ingredients and leave a few out, suddenly that Char Sui dish is yours.  You have total ownership.  Insert name here.

So in our final day on the Islands, make this spare rib with creativity and care.  Take a few hours to really let them cook and then try to savor every bite of sweetness and spice.  Good eating and safe travels.  Chow on.

Ingredients:

  • 1 ½  pounds pork spare ribs
  • ¼  cup brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons molasses
  • ¼  cup honey
  • ½ teaspoon five spice powder
  • 2 tablespoons sherry or whiskey
  • 1 cup orange juice or apple juice
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Directions:

1. In an oven dish, cover spare ribs with all of the ingredients.  Do not be afraid to get your hands dirty and make sure to mix and rub the marinade all over the meat.  Let this refrigerate for 12-24 hours.

2. An hour before you plan to serve the meal, heat the oven to 325 degrees.

3. Cover oven dish with foil and cook spare ribs for 30 minutes.

4. Baste the ribs in the marinade and cooking juices and then continue to cook for another 30 minutes without the foil.

5. The dish is ready when the meat is falling off the bone.

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