Moroccan Carrot Spread

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I lied when I said my only food rule growing up was “no Japanese desserts.” I had one other, not insignificant, food aversion: carrots. There were other foods I did not much like–chocolate, grapefruit, beets, any recipe where a fish-head was used to make broth–but my dislike of carrots became a strange part of my identity. So, while I regularly crossed other food dislikes off my list and now eat chocolate, grapefruit and beets with sometimes-unfortunate-abandon, carrots remained a non-starter.

In the last few years, however, that dislike has broken down bit-by-bit. This hasn’t been easy. “If I don’t like carrots, who am I?” I often wonder. I blame Noah’s father for this identity crises. The Moroccan Carrots he serves annually at Passover are where it all began.

At first, I thought I only liked those carrots on that night, yet another reason it was different from all other nights. But after a year or two of that, I went home and made myself a big bowl of Moroccan carrots to keep eating even after Passover ended. From there it was a slippery slope. I made these carrots at least six times this fall. I have added carrots to roast vegetable mixes by choice, and fished them out of the bowl and on to my plate deliberately. Perhaps most incriminatingly, I  have since driven not insignificant distances to purchase Sofra’s Moroccan Carrot spread.

But, my semester in Cambridge is over, and driving 2 1/2 hours to restock on carrot spread is, I suppose, insane. So, last night I decided to figure out how to make it. We brought the results to a poker game where it was declared a success.

Moroccan Carrot Spread: 

– 1 pound carrots

– 3 cloves garlic

– Juice of 1/2 a lemon and its zest

– 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

– 1/2 teaspoon cumin

– 1/ 4 teaspoon hungarian paprika

– 3 tablespoons olive oil + more olive oil for roasting carrots

– 1/2 teaspoon honey

– Salt to taste

* Heat oven to 450 degrees.

* Peel and slice carrots in to small slices.

* Toss carrots with olive oil and roast until soft and slightly browned, about 15 minutes. I would check and toss them after 7 minutes.

* Combine roasted carrots with other ingredients in food processor and or blender until smooth. Add the olive oil a tablespoon at a time as you blend.

* Serve with pita, chips, celery, or other tools for scooping up delicious things.

Chickpea Soup with Broccoli (or an extremely smooth hummus)

If it seems like this blog is fast becoming a list of things you can do with broccoli intermingled with the occasional cake, all I can say is, I’m sorry. I’m pretty sure, when I look back on this year that is one of the ways I will remember it. I will think of stalks of broccoli chopped into a salad or dunked in hummus eaten in hotel rooms or on a bench outside an archive somewhere in America. And, I will remember the cakes I cooked in New Haven as I tried to reestablish my presence in the kitchen.

Today though, I have a recipe that unites those two instincts. It’s both an easy lunch and a recipe that let’s you make your kitchen smell good. It turns out that when you winterize hummus and broccoli you get something much steamier, pun intended. This soup is a little boozy, velvety in texture, and seems like it deserves to be eaten with enough care to require utensils. I found it in the February issue of Bon Appetite on my flight to California and I ripped it out immediately. Since I got home last Sunday, I have eaten it every day for lunch.

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One more thing about this recipe: I know that when people write lists of 10 ways to be a successful food blogger, picking a fight with Smitten Kitchen is not at the top of any of them. But, if, like me, you recently learned that you have to peel your chickpeas to make ethereally smooth hummus and thought, “Well, I guess I’ll never have that,” I have your answer. I have been slyly dunking crackers into my refrigerated pot of  this soup all week. Seriously, it turns out that cooking your chickpeas in wine and broth makes for a dreamy, creamy hummus.  It may not be “ethereal” but is extremely smooth. You will notice that when you puree the soup at the end of this recipe you add water to get it to the consistency you want. I see no reason why, if you wanted to skip the soup phase of this recipe, you couldn’t just skip adding water to the puree and go straight for the hummus. That said, it’s gross out. Make soup.

Chickpea Soup (Adapted from Bon Appetite, February 2013) 

– 1 1/2 cups dried chickpeas

– 3 tablespoons olive oil

– 2 yellow onions

– 4 garlic cloves

– 1 sprig thyme 

– 1 cup dry white wine (The Bon Appetite recipe calls for only 1/2 a cup; I thought that looked off when I added it to the pot and was happy I doubled it.) 

– 4 cups chicken broth. (Bon Appetite also called for vegetable broth, which I’m sure would be fine.)

– 1 bunch of broccoli

– Red pepper flakes

– Salt to taste

* Soak the chickpeas. (I always quick soak my beans because, you know, I don’t plan ahead. Also, I don’t see any argument for doing the longer soak.  To quick soak your chickpeas add your dry chickpeas to a pot, cover them in water, bring to a boil, let the beans boil for three minutes, and then turn off the heat and cover for an hour. After an hour, drain the beans. Then you’re ready to go.)

* Roughly chop the onions and smash the garlic.

* Heat oil in pan over medium heat and add onions, garlic, and thyme sprig. Cook until onions are soft and starting to brown, stirring often. This took me about ten minutes.

* Add chickpeas to pot and toss with onion-garlic mixture thoroughly.

* Add wine to pot and turn up heat so it boils quickly. Boil for about 2 minutes until the wine is reduced by half. (I always have trouble telling if a liquid is reduced by half. Here, I don’t think it matters that you get this exactly right.)

* Add broth and bring to boil.

* Reduce heat, cover, and simmer until chickpeas are very soft, about 1 1/2-2 hours.

* Puree soup with immersion blender or in batches in a blender until smooth. Add water as you go to get it to the thickness you want. (Or don’t add water and go straight for hummus.)

* When you’re ready to eat, cut your broccoli into florets and steam quickly, until tender (about 4 minutes). Serve garnished with broccoli, olive oil, salt, and red pepper flakes.

With a Microwave and a Knife

America, I am impressed. I’m doing research in Simi Valley, California this week, which is a good place to be impressed by America it turns out, and not just because of landscapes like this:

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Also because of Target. There is not a lot to do or eat in Simi Valley. This isn’t the worst thing since I spent last week gorging myself on Mexican food, ice blendeds, and over-priced salads (OK Los Angeles, you do have your charms).

My hotel room here came fully equipped with a refrigerator and a microwave. So, my first night here, envisioning a week of getting things done while holed up in my hotel room with some vegetables, I headed out to try and get some food and maybe a knife. First, stop Target, where I thought I would get the knife, and then move on to a grocery store to pick up food. Then, I got lost in Target’s grocery aisle and never made it to another store.

Here’s the thing. I left the store with: two bowls of microwavable brown rice, a bag of microwavable beluga lentils, self-steaming microwavable bags of sugar snap peas and broccoli, 4 avocados, 2 tiny packets of nut butter (one peanut, one almond), and a $1 bottle of rice vinegar. I also grabbed some salt and pepper packets from the hotel cafe. Now, I know the amount of packaging involved in all of these purchases is outrageous. And, I’m sure that microwaving everything in plastic on a regular basis is a good way to get some horrible disease. I’m usually a bulk bin shopper; I usually cook my own food because I enjoy the process and have time to do it. All of those disclaimers aside, it is crazy how well you can eat with a microwave and a knife these days.

For dinner last night I had a bowl of brown rice and lentils topped with barely steamed broccoli, fresh avocado (again, fine California, you win), and an “almond dressing” I made by pouring some rice vinegar into a packet of almond butter and shaking. All of it was from Target. P1020479

I don’t know what this says about food politics and the best ways to improve our diets and our waist lines. It still takes time and energy to figure out how to put this stuff together. Microwavable broccoli might be easy to make well, but that doesn’t mean it’s easier to convince a kid to eat. So, fine, food politics not solved. But, people, microwavable beluga lentils! I am impressed.

Peas and Feta Toast

Today, I want to introduce my friend and college roommate, Robin. In our apartment, Robin is known for, among other things, being the first person I think of whenever I do something truly stupid. When, say, I leave an immersion blender plugged in to the wall and standing in a glass full of a milkshake I’ve been looking forward to drinking for weeks only to have it crash to the ground destroying the glass, the smoothie, and my night, the first thing I do is moan, “Robin would never do this.” Inexplicably set my sweater on fire while leaning over the stove? “Robin would never do this.” Plunge a glass bowl used as part of a jerry-rigged “double-boiler” directly in to an ice water bath? Robin would definitely never do that.

You see, Robin moves with precision. She actually thinks before she does. Watching her in the kitchen, provides an example to aspire to. Food does not fly everywhere. Red wine stays in its cup. She can own white furniture (as long as I don’t visit too often).

This level of thought extends to the ingredients she chooses to pair, which is why when Robin introduced me to peas and feta I knew she was on to something even before I tried it. And, she was on to something. Peas, quickly sautéed in a little olive oil with chopped feta tossed in right at the end, and a side of crusty bread are a perfect dinner for one. Sautéing peas, another thing Robin taught me to do, keeps them from being mushy. Instead they pop gently against your teeth. Their sweetness balances the salty tang of feta. And, it all comes together in under five minutes. Perfect for college seniors and everyone else. I haven’t been without a bag of frozen peas in my freezer since Robin first mentioned this dish.

Maybe it’s the lack of crusty bread in my life (gluten-free bread is just never crusty is it?), or a seven-year recipe itch, but the other night I decided peas and feta needed an update. What if, I thought, I made peas and feta toast? After they came out of the pan, I would mash the peas and feta together to make it more of a spread and then pile it on toast. I added some garlic to the peas and some red pepper flakes at the end. Then I told Noah that I didn’t plan to eat anything else for the rest of the week.

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Peas and Feta Toast: 

– Four slices of bread

– 1 cup frozen peas

– 1/4 cup feta, roughly chopped

–  3 cloves of garlic

– Olive oil for sautéing

– Red pepper flakes to taste

– Salt to taste

* Heat just enough oil to coat the bottom of your pan on high heat.

* Add garlic and cook until it just begins to turn brown.

* Add peas and sauté for 4-5 minutes until they are warmed through.

* Add feta and cook for another minute or two until it begins to melt. You’ll want to stir and scrape the bottom of the pan with a spatula pretty consistently once you add the feta or it will stick to the bottom  of the pan and you will never, ever be able to get it off. Then, as you stare at the pan soaking for weeks at the bottom of the sink you will think yourself, “Robin would never do this.”

* Remove mixture from heat and pour in to a bowl.

* Using the back of a fork, mash the peas and feta. As I said, peas cooked this way are surprisingly springy so this takes some effort. I left it so some of the peas got mashed, but others were only broken in half and a few remained whole.

* Toast four slices of bread.

* Pile pea mixture on to toast and sprinkle with red pepper flakes and salt to taste.

Note: When I told Robin about this she thought it sounded delicious, but suggested adding a little bit of mint. I bet that would be amazing as well. 

Japan (and a Buckwheat Cake)

When I was growing up, my one food rule was no Japanese deserts. I consider myself a pretty adventurous eater, and I was definitely an adventurous eater for a kid, but my mother once brought home a log of some sort of bean or grass jelly–which she herself loved–and that was it for me.  As time went on, and others tried to tempt me with red bean, an admittedly less frightening prospect than a log of jellied vegetables, I still felt that the Japanese had largely confused dinner and dessert.

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When I lived in D.C after college., however, there was this tiny Japanese grocery store near my house. They sold, among other treasures, the most delicious mochi in the entirely non-threatening flavors of coffee and green tea. I made an exception to my rule.

I mention all this because I just returned from a two-and-a-half week family vacation in Japan, where once again my status as an adventurous eater was put to the test. Not, this time, by dessert, (I spent most of the trip on a quest for the best mochi and matcha ice cream I could find), but by things that looked like this:

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I should have guess that seafood would be the problem when, on our first morning in Japan, I eagerly dug in to a small roast fish from the hotel breakfast buffet only to grimace and pass the rest to my mother. It was just too fishy for me, which is saying something given the tins of anchovies and sardines we go through in a normal week.

I don’t mean to suggest that I didn’t spend the rest of the vacation eating sushi with relish. But, I will say, I found myself seriously questioning my status as an adventurous eater as I decided I just didn’t like sea urchin and octopus pancakes.

Putting aside, the challenges Japan posed to my self-image, we did eat a lot of delicious and beautiful food. My mochi quest led us to strawberry stuffed mochi, purple yam mochi with such brilliant colors that it exactly matched my Marimekko bracelet, green tea mochi that finally surpassed those of my D.C. days, and, fortuitously, a mochi making festivals in Kyoto where we had mochi in red bean soup that I actually liked.

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In Kyoto, I also fell in love with yuba, soft and creamy bean curd skin. I ordered it everywhere we went until we finally found our way to a many 100 year old restaurant that specialized in yuba. There we had my favorite meal of the trip: a set-menu lunch of yuba sashimi, yuba salad, black soy bean tofu, fried yuba, pickled yuba, and yuba with wasabi and soy sauce over rice.

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It was all accompanied by the most delicious tea I had ever had, one that tasted deeply of caramel. I tried to convey to our waitress that I wanted to buy it from them, but the language barrier was too high. I then spent the next three days trying to explain what I was looking for in every tea shop in Kyoto only to find it being sold by the bag at Kyoto’s monthly flea market. It’s made from black soy beans.

Over the course of the trip we ate sake candies (possibly the Sake’s highest form), amazing matcha tea, and more onigiri than I can count. Japan is quite an easy place to be gluten-free. I overdosed on miso soup and oyako donburi, chicken and eggs over rice, two of my long-time, ultimate comfort foods. This has posed a bit of a problem for what to eat now that I am home. I’ve put a moratorium on all rice-based, dashi-based, and egg-based meals for at least the next few weeks and am also doing my best to avoid chicken.

All that said, there are flavors from the trip and that I want to keep eating and that will actually broaden my pallet. Those are shiso leaves, dried persimmons, and buckwheat–all flavors and foods that were somewhat unexpectedly everywhere.

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If anyone can tell me where to get shiso leaves or dried persimmons in New Haven, I would be forever grateful. Buckwheat, I know where to find. After, I spent a month experimenting with this chocolate-buckwheat cake recipe in preparation for my mother’s 60th birthday, I have a bags and bags of leftover buckwheat in my freezer.

So, yesterday afternoon I took a break from work to bake a buckwheat cake. I followed this recipe so exactly that I don’t think I can, in good conscience, post it here as my own. The only change I made was to replace the lemon zest with orange zest.

The end result is a cake that has I think, the flavor of Japan, but is notably not a Japanese dessert (in you still identify with the rule of my childhood.) It also, unlike so many gluten-free cakes, gets real height, which is a pleasure if you are used to the crosses between cake and tart or cake and mousse, that define so much gluten-free baking. It’s quite smooth and finely grained. I think it’s perfect with a cup of tea, which my mother insists, is the point of all Japanese desserts as well. Noah wants me to note that it is so dark it looks like a chocolate cake, which is true. As someone who does not much like chocolate cake I think this is nice. Noah thinks it leads to disappointment. Whether or not you love chocolate cake, now that you know what you are in for, may I suggest you go on over to the Traveller’s Lunchbox and give it a try.

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