Thursday, February 17, 2011

African Peanut Squash Soup

Peanut soup is a traditional dish of Senegalese cuisine, a nutritious and warming dish I thought perfect for this time of year. In my research I came across many different recipes, some using sweet potatoes, some using coconut milk, even chicken in one case, but all consistently combined the flavors of peanut butter, tomato, and the cumin and coriander spices that make a nice curry. So I took a nice butternut squash and created this recipe:

3 cups butternut squash, cubed (1 1/2") and peeled
2 tsp. peanut oil
1 chopped yellow onion
2 tbsp. minced garlic
1 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. coriander
pinch of curry powder
2 cups chicken broth / 1 cup water
3/4 cup creamy peanut butter
2 tbsp. tomato paste
1 tsp. red pepper
salt and pepper to taste
peanuts, shelled and halved
fresh chopped cilantro garnish
cooked white rice
fresh lime

1.) Slice butternut squash in half, removing seeds and pulp, and drizzle good olive oil, laying face down on baking sheet. Roast in oven at 425 degrees for 45 minutes.
2.) Cool squash for five minutes, then slice flesh into cubes and scoop out (can be done ahead and refrigerate overnight before making the soup.)
3.) Heat peanut oil in a large saucepan over medium high heat and saute onion until translucent, adding garlic and salt, pepper and red pepper to taste.
4.) Add cumin, coriander and curry powder, stirring to evenly combine, and squash cubes, tossing to cover with spices. Saute about ten minutes, until tender.
5.) Add chicken broth and water, peanut butter and tomato paste, stirring well to combine and cover the squash with the liquid mixture. Bring to a boil.
6.) Reduce heat, simmering uncovered for 20 minutes or until liquid has reduced and mixture has thickened.
7.) Pour into blender and pulse smooth. Pour back into pot and adjust seasoning, garnishing with fresh cilantro and peanuts. (Can also stir in shredded chicken, but I went for the vegetarian version.) Serve over white rice and squeeze lime juice over top. *Note: African food pairs well with a crisp Riesling.

Monday, February 14, 2011

On Chocolate

"Chocolate is nature's way of making up for Mondays."

Why do women want chocolate when they are in love? Chocolate when they are sad? Chocolate when they are happy? Because, quite simply, it is amazing. In honor of this "holiday" I thought I'd celebrate chocolate, in all its glorious perfection - whether you make sensual chocolate-dipped strawberries for your loved one tonight, a comforting hot chocolate (if you live in the tundra like me,) or really go all out and create an exquisite chocolate dessert - mousse? yes please - you really can't go wrong with chocolate as far as I'm concerned. Yes, I am a chocoholic. No, I make no apologies for my addiction. (I blame my formative experiences - whoever thought that giving chocolate to a child for breakfast on Christmas and Easter wouldn't form a deep-rooted association with chocolate and happiness/love ... well you're just mad.) I'm simply mad about chocolate. I love dark chocolate, with all its rich sensuality, not to mention glorified antioxidants; I love milk chocolate for its creamy melt-in-your-mouth goodness that embodies perfection on your tongue.

I'll never forget the first time I had Swedish chocolate, the classic Marabou mjölkchoklad, and how insanely good it tasted with every bite - having grown up in the land of American Hershey's with the chemical after taste, my first trip to Stockholm as a pre-teen was simply mind-blowing when I discovered REAL chocolate. Then of course I met my next love, British Cadbury's, when I moved to London years later, and truly fell hard for it - by chance we came upon the Cadbury's factory in the English countryside when touring on holiday, and the air literally smelled of chocolate in the surrounding fields - it was like Willy Wonka realized. Then there's the Swiss chocolate that we brought as a treat on our backpacking trip through Morocco, and the infamous day we went hiking in the mountain forests searching for monkeys near Azrou (it sounds like I'm making this up, but it actually happened, really) and after hiking for miles in the freezing rain, riding a donkey down the side of a rockey mountain and returning to the village soaked to the bone and shivering, we climbed under the covers and broke off little bits of that Swiss chocolate bar, the tiny morsels melting on our tongues, and in that moment, it was absolute heaven. Chocolate.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Transforming Leftovers

We've all been there - you open the refrigerator to find a variety of tupperware containers and half-full condiment bottles, and think to yourself, "what can I do with this?" Get creative with leftovers - with a few simple tricks you can transform old dishes into new and inspired meals.

A week's process, for example:
Day One Fresh cod was on sale so I bought a bunch of fresh dill and created a simple marinade with olive oil, stone ground mustard, garlic and salt and pepper - a great flavor combination for the firm white fish.
Day Two Of course I had a ton of leftover dill so I used some leftover Greek yogurt I had to make homemade tzatziki - stir in some diced cucumber, minced garlic, lemon juice and season with salt and pepper to taste - tip: drain cucumbers on paper towel to remove excess water before adding to yogurt - my Greek friend taught me this, and prevents watery sauce.
Day Five In an effort to use the remaining tzatziki before the Greek yogurt expired, I perused the multitude of open jars of sauces in the fridge and found some tikka paste. Aha! I thought. Greek-Indian fusion! I defrosted some chicken breasts and stirred a few heaping tablespoons of the tikka into the Greek yogurt (removing any remaining cucumber to the side) and coating the chicken in the newly-made marinade. I covered and refrigerated over night to let the flavors meld, which makes the meat moist and flavorful.
Day Six I baked the marinated chicken in an oiled baking dish at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes. I served the Greek-fusion chicken tikka masala with steamed vegetables and basmati rice, using one of the six different types of rice we have on hand in my kitchen.
Day Seven What to do with the leftover basmati rice? No one likes dried-out, day old rice. I made a simple stir-fry, sauteeing some vegetables (mushrooms, broccoli, tomato, onion, carrot) with minced garlic and ginger, adding sesame oil and some remaining Asian stir-fry sauce in an open jar in the fridge - using them up, excellent! I tossed in the leftover rice and stirred to coat evenly with the sauce and garnished with chopped scallion and lime juice. This was so delicious that it all got eaten and we had no leftovers!

Using a combination of fresh ingredients and carefully integrated leftovers, I created seafood, Greek, Indian, and east Asian dishes, each concept building upon the remainders of the last. Now that's food transformation.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

On Mushrooms

What can I say? I love mushrooms. Here's an article in the New York Times that echoes my sentiments exactly, "Mushrooms Fill in the Blanks for the Meat-Free":

As an often-times Temporary Vegetarian I think Elaine Louie's discussion of mushrooms for meaty succulence just about sums it up.