May 27, 2017

Coliflor a la Huancaína: Cauliflower with Peruvian Spicy Cheese Sauce

Salsa a la Huancaína, a spicy, Peruvian, fresh cheese sauce made with yellow Ají Amarillo chiles, is normally served over cold, boiled potatoes. It is a very popular appetizer, and like many Peruvian dishes, is often served with hard boiled eggs and black olives as a garnish.

The sauce itself takes very little time to whip together if you are using jarred Ají Amarillo puree, as it requires no cooking - just a brief stint in the blender or food processor (you could, of course, go full traditional and use a mortar and pestle). I used an stick/immersion blender.

As you can see, I've served it over roasted cauliflower instead of potatoes. This is partly because I had some cauliflower that was in desperate need of use, and partly because the potatoes in my pantry had started to grow, taking them effectively out of the equation. But we know that cauliflower loves cheese, so it seemed like a pretty good alternative to the potato. And it was. You could of course use cold boiled potatoes - one medium potato per person. Because the cauliflower was warm, the sauce melted a bit, becoming a bit thinner than it would be otherwise.

Coliflor a la Huancaína: Cauliflower with Peruvian Spicy Cheese Sauce

(sauce adapted from Peru Delights)

Serves 6

Half a head of cauliflower, separated into florets, roasted and let cool to room temperature.

Salsa a la Huancaína

1/2 cup Aji Amarillo yellow hot pepper paste
1 cup evaporated milk (⬅︎ not sweetened condensed milk!)
4 soda crackers
1 cup queso fresco (or substitute 1 cup Ricotta Cheese and 30 grams Feta Cheese)


3 boiled eggs, quartered
12 mild black olives
Parsley and/or lettuce (optional)

Scoop the cheese into the bowl of your food processor/blender (I used a stick blender for this, and it was fine). Break up the crackers over the cheese. Add the chile paste, and slowly pour in about half the milk. Start to process, adding more milk as necessary (you might not need it all, depending on your crackers and your cheese) until you get a smooth, yellow sauce thick enough to generously coat the cauliflower (or potato). It should not be as thick as bean dip, but able to flow a little when poured. If not using right away, cover tightly and refrigerate for up to two days.

Plate the cauliflower (you can place it on some lettuce, if you like, for presentation purposes) and spoon the sauce over each piece. Garnish with eggs, olives, parsley (if you like), and enjoy.

While this is traditionally an appetizer, we had it alongside some pork neck in an escabeche sauce, and a baked sweet potato.

May 20, 2017

Kefta Mkaouara: Moroccan Meatball & Egg Tagine

The very first meal that we had in Marrakech was a wonderful feast prepared by the cook our our riad (traditional Moroccan boutique hotel), featuring a variety of salads, and this iconic meatball & egg tagine. Arriving late at night after a significantly delayed flight, we were extremely grateful for two things: first, that we had arranged a driver through our riad to bring us in from the airport, and second, that this meal was waiting for us when we finally staggered through the door.

There are a lot of recipes for this dish out there in the wilds of the internet, and I initially tried one I found that looked pretty good but ended up swimming in copious amounts of a sauce more reminiscent of a displaced marinara. So, I researched a little harder, and then dug into my notes from our trip to Morocco. This is the result, which feels much closer in spirit to what we had in Morocco. There is enough sauce to provide a condiment to the meatballs and also to cook the eggs, but not an excessive amount.

Tagines are traditionally served with bread, rather than rice or couscous, so I picked up a couple of khobz-like flatbreads from a local bakery, and served the tagine with lemony, Moroccan-style carrot salad and spiced olives on the side.

Kefta Mkaouara
(Moroccan Meatball & Egg Tagine)

Serves 4

550 grams mixed ground beef and lamb
1 large whole egg, beaten
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/2 cup panko-style bread crumbs
2-3 teaspoons Ras el Hanout* spice mixture, divided
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup parsley, divided
1 1/2 cups canned diced tomatoes (low sodium preferably)
1 medium yellow onions, diced somewhat finely
2 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon chili flakes
4 eggs

In a large mixing bowl, beat the egg and add the panko, a teaspoon of Ras el Hanout, and half the parsley. Stir together.

Break apart the ground meat in little pieces (I use my fingers for this), letting it fall on top of the egg/crumb mixture, and then season with salt and white pepper. Use a fork to gently (but thoroughly!) combine the ingredients into a homogenous mixture, being sure to distribute the breadcrumbs well throughout the meat. Shape into very small meatballs with a tablespoon or very small disher. You can leave them rough or rolls them between your palms to make nice rounded meatballs, each a bit smaller than a walnut. You should get 24 meatballs.

Heat the oil in a medium skillet (the one above is 23 cm) over medium-high heat, and brown the meatballs in batches (don't bother cooking them all the way through at this stage, and don't overcrowd the pan). Remove the browned meatballs from the pan to a plate, and add the diced onion and the garlic into the emptied pan. Sauté until the onions are translucent, then add the tomato paste and stir through. Sprinkle the turmeric, a teaspoon of Ras el Hanout, and the chile flakes over the onions, and stir through. Add the can of tomatoes with their juices. stir through. Cook altogether until it starts to resemble a sauce, about four or five more minutes. Turn the heat to low, and add the meatballs (and any juices that may have collected on the plate). Cover and cook for 10 minutes.

Make a "nest" in the meatballs to create space for each egg - one per person is usual. Crack an egg directly into each nest, season with a bit of salt and pepper, and cover. Continue to cook on low heat for 5 - 10 minutes more, depending on how done you like your eggs. If you plan to have meatballs leftover for a future meal, just cook the number of eggs that you need for the moment. The eggs can be freshly cooked when you warm up the meatballs and sauce the next day (or you can skip the eggs on the second pass, and just stuff the (warmed up) meatballs and sauce into a hollowed-out flatbread for a fantastic meatball sandwich. When reheating, you may need to add a tablespoon or two of water to loosen the sauce to an optimal consistency.

* If you are unable to find a premixed Ras El Hanout blend (we brought ours back from Morocco, but it is often available in grocery stores that stocks North African and/or Middle Eastern spice mixtures), you might want to make your own: This one, and this one both look like decent options.

May 13, 2017

Chicken Salad with Feta & Mint

The combination of yoghurt, feta and mint give a bit of Persian flare to this salad, and make it so fresh tasting. You can use leftover roasted chicken if you like, but I like to make this with chicken breast that has been steeped or gently poached in chicken broth (or stock) for the juiciest, most tender chicken salad imaginable.

It's important to use a yoghurt whose flavour you like. If you choose a very sour yoghurt, that will be reflected in the finished salad. If you think your yoghurt might be a bit too sour, you can always cut it half-and-half with a mayonnaise or crème fraîche, to soften the flavour - although that will of course make for a richer salad overall.

Chicken Salad with Feta & Mint

Makes about 2 cups

225 grams cooked chicken breast
50 grams plain feta cheese (not marinated)
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint
1/4 cup julienned de-seeded cucumber
1/4 cup plain Mediterranean-style thick yoghurt
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
Salt to taste, if necessary
Ground sumac to finish (optional)

If you are freshly cooking the chicken just for this recipe, set it aside to cool while you prepare the other ingredients.

Finely dice the chicken breast and heap it into a mixing bowl. Crumble the feta over the chicken.

Cut a 5-6 cm piece of cucumber, and slice it into quarters, lengthwise (if it is a thick-skinned cucumber, peel it). Slice away the seeds from each quarter, and then finely julienne the remaining cucumber flesh (you don't want the pieces too long - very short lengths work best. I usually eat the seeds while I'm doing this, because they're tasty, but they are too wet to leave in the finished dish. Blot the sliced cucumber pieces dry with a bit of clean kitchen towel, and add them to the bowl with the chicken and feta. Sprinkle the white pepper over the chicken mixture, and use a fork to thoroughly stir everything together.

Add the yoghurt and the chopped mint, and stir through. Taste, to see if it needs salt (if your feta is very salty, it probably won't, but if it's milder, it might). Cover tightly and refrigerate for an hour or so to give the flavours a chance to meld. Use as a sandwich filling, or simply scoop it onto some greens for a light meal.

If you happen to have some ground sumac, sprinkle a bit lightly over the filling before closing up the sandwich. The lemony-earthy note of the sumac complements the other flavours very nicely.

While it works very nicely in a traditional two-slices-of-bread sandwich, it is also excellent as a wrap filling (I've used both tortillas and lavash to great success), or stuffed into a pita. As you can see, I fill my sandwiches quite generously, using about a cup of salad per sandwich, but if you are doing flatbread roll-ups to accompany a soup, you might want to make them a little smaller.

This salad keeps well overnight in the fridge, but you probably don't want to leave it longer than that, or the enzymes in the cucumber will start to break down the yoghurt, making it watery.

May 05, 2017

Spicy Cauliflower & Ground Meat Skillet Dinner

This is quick, delicious, and oh-so-easy. We use habanero peppers, because we can get them more easily than we can jalapeños, but you can use any chile pepper you like, really. Kind of a cauliflower hash, as it were, but not so...hashy?

What it is, is very filling and satisfying. It's also low carb, if that interests you, or are just looking for something different from the cycle of potato-pasta-rice-bread that make the foundation of so many dinner calendars.

Spicy Cauliflower & Ground Meat Skillet Dinner
Adapted from Gluesticks & Gumdrops

Serves 2

1/2 large head of cauliflower, separated into small florets
250 grams ground beef or beef/pork mixture
1/2 tablespoon canola oil
1/2 large onion, finely diced
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 habanero chile pepper, de-seeded
1/4 teaspoon cayenne or other powdered chile
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt
60 grams cheddar cheese, grated
black pepper, to finish
cilantro, for garnish
Water, as needed

Do your mise en place first: separate the cauliflower, chop the onion, mince the garlic, grate the cheese, and de-seed the hot pepper (carefully). Wash and dry the coriander, and tear the leaves off of the thicker stems (you don't need the stem here).

Heat the canola oil in a large over medium-high temperature, and add the ground meat. If your meat is a bit fatty, you might not need the oil at all, or you might need to spoon a little off after it's fried. You want a bit of oil to thoroughly brown the meat, but not so much that it becomes greasy. If you are using lean meat, you shouldn't have to drain anything.

Break up the meat with a wooden spoon or spatula as it fries, and let it get some nice golden brown colour before you add anything else. Don't just fry it until it loses the pink - you don't get good flavour from grey meat. When it is satisfactorily browned, add the onion and garlic, and stir through. When the onion turns translucent, add the chile pepper and the salt, cayenne, cumin seasonings. Stir and continue to fry until the onions are tender and a bit browned at the edges.

Add the cauliflower and stir it through, coating it with the spicy juices already in the skillet. Add a couple of tablespoons of water, and stir through again. Continue to cook and stir, adding splashes of water where necessary to keep the mixture loose an not burning, but not enough to make a gravy. You can also put a lid on and turn it to low for a few minutes to make sure the cauliflower gets cooked through to your satisfaction.

When the cauliflower is tender, it's time to finish. Scatter the grated cheddar evenly over the pan, and put a lid on for a few minutes - just long enough to melt the cheese. Use a wide spatula to lift sections from the pan onto the plate, trying to keep the cheese top-most if possible. Garnish with black pepper and cilantro. Devour.

You can of course use more cheese to make this an even more deluxe dish, but it's lovely the way it is, and perfect for someone looking for a lighter (but still satisfying) meal.

Not hot enough? You can always top it with the fiery hot sauce of your choice.