Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Gypsy peppers stuffed with roasted corn, manchego and queso fresco


I have two pounds, yes TWO pounds, of gypsy peppers and I am racking my brain trying to think of ways to use them. And more peppers are on the way! It is a bit ridiculous to think about the amount of peppers and corn we have consumed in the past month. One of my go-to favorites for gypsy peppers is this Indian spiced pepper dish. More recently we have been experimenting with stuffed gypsy peppers!

But first a moment for shameless self-promotion: check out my entry on food52 in the best chili pepper recipe category!

Unlike thicker skinned peppers, like poblano peppers, that need to be grilled and then have the skins removed, smaller, thinner skinned peppers, like gypsy peppers, are best when sliced thinly and eaten raw in a salad or sauteed lightly in olive oil. Gypsy peppers have an intense sweetness and complex flavor and change colors through the season; in early summer the peppers are light green and as summer progresses, the peppers develop into a fiery orange and then a deep red.

So far we thinly sliced the peppers and used them as a pizza topping along with green bell peppers and onions and used them in panzanella with heirloom tomatoes, cucumber, green bell pepper, yellow gypsy peppers, roasted corn, red onions, capers, and basil. If you haven't made panzanella yet this summer, you must do so immediately as I cannot think of a better summer night meal! Those who have eaten panzanella with us this summer claim to still dream about the juicy tomatoes and gorgeous summer flavors!

Since gypsy peppers have a thin wall, they are supposedly great for stuffing and roasting, but I'm just not a fan of stuffed vegetables. I suppose that, in the past, I had one too many dinners where the vegetarian main course was a tasteless, overcooked bell pepper or squash stuffed with something terribly bland and mushy.

I came across an article in SF Gate discussing gypsy peppers and was inspired by a recipe in the article from Downtown restaurant chef David Stevenson: gypsy peppers stuffed manchego cheese and corn. The stuffing seemed to be flavorful and well seasoned, so I decided to give stuffed peppers one more chance.

I shucked one ear of corn, tossed the corn with olive oil, salt and pepper and roasted it in a single layer on high heat in a large cast iron skillet. I sauteed red onion and garlic until soft and combined it with the roasted corn, aged manchego and crumbled queso fresco, seasoning well. I think monterrey jack and pecorino would also work well. I removed the tops of the peppers and removed the seeds and membrane and gently pressed the stuffing inside. I lightly rubbed the peppers with olive oil and roasted them for about 25 minutes, until soft. The stuffing stays together enough to lay the peppers on their sides; if it oozes out (it will), just gently push it back inside once the peppers are cooked.

The result was pretty phenomenal: the peppers held up well without falling apart or becoming mushy and the flavor-packed stuffing cooked nicely. The saltiness of the manchego contrasted nicely with the sweetness of the peppers and the fresh sweet corn and queso fresco added a nice texture. Overall the complex flavors melded together nicely to form a well-balanced and fabulously tasty dish.

I think stuffed peppers and I could become good friends after all. In fact I cannot wait until I get the next batch of gypsy peppers to make this dish again!

Note: I recently made a variation of these gypsy peppers where I stuffed the peppers with farro sauteed with red onion and garlic, shredded smoked mozzarella, and pepper jack cheese. It was so very delicious!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Farro Salad with Tomato, Cucumber and Parsley


I first had insalata di farro in Tuscany: it was a simple salad of farro tossed with heirloom tomatoes, parsley, lemon juice, olive oil and pecorino toscano cheese. The nutty, chewy texture of the farro was wonderfully intriguing. Back in SF, I noticed that farro has been popping up lately on restaurant menus across the city as the main ingredient in farotto, a creamy risotto made from farro instead of Arborio rice.

I was delighted to learn that Whole Foods carries farro, also known as emmer (and not to be confused with spelt or wheat berries), in the bulk bin section. If you have never had farro before, it is a nutty, whole grain packed with protein. Farro looks similar to brown rice but the texture is chewy and firmer as opposed to spongy and fluffy. And the best part is that farro is rich in fiber, magnesium and vitamins A, B, C and E and low in gluten, so it is good for you!


Given unpredictable work schedules, every week I try to come up with a meal that is easy and quick to prepare and will keep for a day or two for leftovers. Hearty salads with farro, quinoa, and other grains like bulgur have been the usual option for these quick meals.

A regular favorite has been to toss the grains with roasted vegetables in a vinaigrette, but, in an effort to avoid turning on the oven in the summertime, I have been experimenting with raw or barely cooked vegetables.

This farro salad is delicious served at room temperature and makes for a simple but filling dinner on a summer night. I tossed farro with halved cherry tomatoes, minced shallot, flat-leaf parsley, and sea salt all dressed in a flavorful balsamic and soy vinaigrette brightened with lemon juice. For lunch the next day, I added diced crisp cucumbers and needless to say, my lunch was the envy of many coworkers!

For a roasted vegetable favorite, try using farro in place of less-than-healthy orzo in this dish with roasted eggplant, peppers, and red onions tossed with feta, scallions, basil, lemon juice and olive oil.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Samosas with potatoes and peas


There is something magical about the combination of samosas and chai. Especially after it rains and the air has a fresh cool scent. When it would rain at home, my mom loved making samosas and chai.

I first read a recipe about samosas from The Bombay Cafe cookbook when I was in college. I was intrigued by the generosity of the spices in the filling as the samosas at restaurants tend to be lack luster. Over the years my recipe has evolved, and if I may say, my family goes nuts over my samosas: my father always asks me to make my samosas when he visits or I visit.

Needless to say, these samosas are very dear to my heart. It's been a few years since I last did this but there was a time in my life when frying up a batch of samosas made a bad day seem a million times better. I have been known to stay up until the wee hours of the night preparing a batch of samosas for a loved one flying in from out-of-town, visiting family, or a Diwali dinner party. There's something wonderful about sharing samosas with others; in fact, a dear old friend used to jokingly refer to "samosa socials", social events often organized by South Asian student groups in college, whenever I would make a batch of samosas in grad school.

Before I share my recipe with you, I have a confession. I know I push using fresh ingredients and even encourage use of homemade doughs for galettes and pizza, but I cheat when I make samosas. I don't make the wrappers myself... I use flour tortillas, you know the fajita size ones. It is so delicious! The multigrain fajita sized tortillas work great too. For a healthier alternative, Kathy Gori's blog, the colors of Indian cooking, suggests using phyllo dough and baking  the samosas.

Given the multiple steps involved in making the samosas, I will walk you through the process with step by step photos. The entire recipe is at the very end of the post if you prefer to read it without the photos. And as a special treat, I also provided my recipes for green chutney, made with fresh coriander and garlic, and tamarind (or brown) chutney, a sweet and sour sauce essential for balancing the spicy kick from the chiles.

Microwave or boil two baking potatoes until tender. Let cool and peel. In a large mixing bowl, mash potatoes.

In a medium sauté pan, heat 2.4 tbsp canola oil until shimmery over medium heat. Add 1 tsp cumin seeds, 1/4 yellow onion diced, 1" ginger shredded, and 1 jalapeno or green chili thinly sliced. Cook for 5-6 minutes, until onions are translucent. Add a pinch of asofetida.

Add 1/4 tsp turmeric, 1/4 tsp red cayenne pepper, 1 1/2 tsp ground coriander, and 1 tsp ground cumin. Stir well. Add 1/4 cup cashews and 2 tbsp fresh coriander. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently.

Transfer mix to mixing bowl with mashed potatoes. Stir to mix well. Season well with salt and fresh lemon juice. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. I often add additional ground cumin and ground coriander, and then taste, and add more salt and lemon juice.

The stuffing can be made up to two days in advance, refrigerate covered. Bring to room temperature before using.

For the shells, I use fajita size flour tortillas, sliced in half. Microwave one half wrapped in a paper towel for 12 seconds until soft and pliable.

Step 1: Place stuffing in center of warmed tortilla in a compact mound.

Step 2: Line edges with paste. Fold over, pressing to seal the bottom edge.

Step 3: Fold left side over. Press firmly for ten seconds to seal.

Place on a cookie sheet and cover with a clean kitchen towel until ready to fry.

In a wok or small saucepan for frying, add canola oil until about 1.5 inch thick. Heat on medium heat. Once bubbles form around a small tortilla piece, the oil is hot enough for frying. The temperature of the oil should be around 350 degrees.

Carefully add samosas to the oil. Do not over crowd. Fry until deep golden brown on one side, about 2-3 minutes. Flip to other side, frying until golden brown. They should be crunchy, not soggy. Remove with a slotted spoon and set upright in a pie pan lined with paper towels to drain. Repeat with remaining samosas.

Serve hot with green (or coriander and garlic) chutney and tamarind (or brown) chutney (see recipes below).

Monday, July 18, 2011

My Mom's Chai


There is nothing quite as satisfying as a cup of delicately spiced, fragrant chai. Black tea is brewed with fresh ginger, mint leaves, and a mixture of aromatic masalas. Milk and sugar is added and brought to a boil.

Every household has their own version of chai masala, and this is my mother's very special recipe. The very thought of having chai with my mom brings back a flood of memories and emotions. Happy birthday, Mom. Thank you for teaching me to always find beauty in the world.  I miss you dearly.

A few times a year, I blend a batch of my mom's masala and store it in a jar. In the winter, I am more generous with fresh ginger to add warmth to the chai. The rest of the year, I add a little extra fresh mint, along with the ginger, to add a refreshing component.

Anjali's Mom's chai masala
1 tbsp cardamon pods
5 cinnamon sticks
2 tbsp cloves
2 tbsp black peppercorns
1.5 tsp dry ginger powder

Combine spices in blender. Blend until a fine powder. Store in a dry, airtight container in a cool, dry place.

Masala Chai
1 cup water
3/4 cup milk (if you use skim milk, use 1/2 cup milk)
2 tsp loose black tea
1/4 inch ginger, grated or finely chopped
1/4 tsp of Anjali's Mom's Chai Masala (see above)
4-5 fresh mint leaves
2 tsp sugar (or to taste)

In a small saucepan over high heat, bring water, ginger, and chai masala to a boil. Once it starts to boil, add tea leaves.

Add milk and 2 tsp sugar (or to taste). I like to first microwave the milk for a minute and then add the hot milk to the boiling tea (it speeds up the process). I don't add sugar to my coffee but I love sugar in my tea. I have a strong preference for adding sugar to the boiling chai directly as opposed to later stirring it into a cup (it changes the flavor).

Again bring to a boil over high heat. Watch carefully and once milk starts to foam and rise, remove saucepan from heat. If you like stronger tea, place saucepan back on burner and bring to a rising boil again. Remove from heat and let set for a minute.

Strain in a tea kettle through a mesh strainer, pressing on the tea leaves with the back of a spoon to drain all of the liquid.  Pour into cups and drink while hot.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Zucchini Ribbons


Isn't summer squash just wonderful? It comes in all sorts of shapes, sizes and colors -yellow, dark green, pale green and striped. I just love summer squash and thankfully the season goes well into early fall here in California. I love that the entire squash from skin to flesh to seeds is edible and tasty. Summer squash is rather tender and not as hearty as winter squash so it does not store well, but do not fret, I have a ton of exciting recipes for you to try!

As you may have noticed from previous posts, I love zucchini in the simplest of preparations. I dice it into matchsticks and toss it with lemon and almondspan roast it with onion and thyme and toss it with parmesan (try adding a drizzle of balsamic vinegar-- wonderfulness!), and roast it in the oven with lemon zest and garlic and toss it with toasted pine nuts.

In this preparation I used a vegetable peeler to slice the zucchini so thinly that it doesn't require any cooking! Also, if you shared my frustration with shaving asparagus in the spring, no worries- shaving zucchini is a piece of cake!

I tossed the ribbons with good olive oil, garlic, sea salt, ground pepper, toasted pine nuts, and shaved parmesan. It is a refreshing way to enjoy zucchini and makes for a quite lovely presentation as well.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Heirloom tomatoes with burrata, basil, and torn croutons


My first life changing tomato experience was the summer after college in Boston when a coworker brought in absolutely gorgeous tomatoes from the Haymarket. We met in the NBER kitchen and drizzled the tomatoes with good olive oil and a sprinkle of sea salt and placed the slices, overlapping a bit, onto a halved baguette rubbed with garlic. We layered the tomatoes with slices of fresh mozzarella sprinkled with sea salt and pepper, another drizzle of olive oil, and scattered basil leaves. It was so simple and yet one of the best things I'd ever tasted.

I didn't discover heirloom tomatoes until a few years later, when I lived in Chicago and became exposed to gorgeous, oddly shaped, and colorful heirlooms throughout the summer. I would order heirloom tomatoes whenever they appeared on the menu in the summer.

In San Francisco, juicy heirloom tomatoes are everywhere and often combined with my new obsession- burrata! I tasted burrata for the first time in Bologna, Italy at Drogheria della rosa, where I was greeted with complimentary glass of prosecco and a platter with a ball of cheese set in the center, sprinkled lightly with flaky sea salt and a grind of pepper. Folks, buffalo mozzarella has nothing on burrata; that soft creamy, almost milky burrata completely captivated me and left such an impression on me.

I can't think of much more that tastes as amazing so simply prepared. This preparation emphasizes the true essence of tomatoes. Muddled oregano, garlic, and sea salt are mixed with vinegars and whisked with olive oil and drizzled over the sliced tomatoes sprinkled with salt, tossed with shallots, basil and parsley, and layered with burrata and croutons. The burrata adds a deep essence and salty contrast to the sweet summer tomatoes. The fresh herbs- oregano, basil, and parsley- add an earthiness. The acidity of the vinegars and pungency of the garlic and shallot complement the sweetness of the tomatoes. Finally the croutons-- crunchy on the outside but a little soft and tender on the outside --add a delightful textural contrast to the dish.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Roasted Poblano Peppers and Mushroom Queso Fundido Tacos


We had the most amazing trip to Santa Barbara for a very dear friend's wedding. Congrats again, RR + MS! RR you made my last couple years in Chicago unforgettable, and I will never forget our crazy adventures! Lots of love and best wishes to you both!

While in Santa Barbara, we absolutely had to go to La Super-Rica Taqueria, a tiny taqueria that Julia Child frequented when she spent time in Santa Barbara. We stood in line for an hour, hungry and hungover from the incredibly awesome wedding festivities. As we waited, we watched the tiny kitchen make fresh tortillas and talked to the locals about their favorite taco. The consensus was one word, rajas.

Rajas is a style of preparing poblano peppers. The rajas tacos were fabulous: roasted poblano peppers and melted cheese on top of a fresh tortilla. I haven't come across Mexican food like this in San Francisco (I miss having these back in Chicago).  Satisfied and ridiculously happy, we spent the rest of the day soaking up sun on the beach.

The rajas at La Super-Rica reminded me of having warm tortillas with queso fundido, melted cheese with roasted poblano peppers and mushrooms. I first had queso fundido in Chicago at Rick Bayless's restaurant Frontera. It was absolutely wonderful, but seriously, what is there not to love about melty, cheesy goodness? We couldn't wait to have a night of queso fundido con rajas y hongos (queso with roasted poblano peppers and mushrooms) and roasted corn tacos.

The approach for roasting poblano peppers is pretty straightforward. Place the peppers on a baking sheet under the broiler and turn them occasionally until charred on all sides.  Remove the peppers from the oven and place them in a large bowl; cover with plastic wrap and let sit for 10 minutes.

Remove the plastic wrap, peel off the charred skin and remove the stem and seeds. Avoiding washing the peppers or you will lose some of the flavor. Slice into 1/4" wide 2" long strips.

We spooned the queso fundido deliciousness onto a warm white corn tortilla, topped it with a heaping spoon of roasted corn, a sliced avocado drizzled with lime juice, and sprinkle some queso fresco and fresh chopped cilantro on top.

Add one of these. Fabulousness.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Carrot, Cumin and Curry Spiced Soup


My fridge is brimming with bunches of carrots and I have two carrot recipes for you: the first (see post below) is a roasted carrot and turnip side with gremolata (garlic, parsley, and lemon zest) and the second is a fantastically flavored, spicy carrot soup. I never found a carrot soup that I really loved. I tried Moroccan carrot soup seasoned with ground toasted cumin cayenne, and honey, but I found it a bit too sweet for my taste (although I do love these spicy Moroccan carrots). I tried carrot soup with ginger and creme fraiche, but still felt it lacked depth and left me craving something more earthy.

I started with a simple soup: sauteed onions and garlic until soft, add carrots and simmered in a vegetable broth. I had a few turnips lying around and threw them into the soup to make it a little more hearty.

Then I pureed everything on the lowest setting of the blender. I left the soup unseasoned and then just before serving, I stirred in sea salt, ground cumin, cayenne pepper, and curry powder and a drizzle of lemon juice. It is important to generously add salt (unless the broth you are using is salty); add a little sea salt, taste, and add more salt until the carrot flavor crosses over from sweet to, well, carrot-y.

The soup was light, spicy and wonderfully satisfying. The cayenne pepper added a nice kick, the ground cumin added earthiness and depth, the curry powder added a punch of flavor with a lovely lingering finish and the touch of fresh lemon juice brightened the flavors.

I think I finally found a carrot soup that I can love!

Roasted Carrots and Turnips with Gremolata


I'm sure by now you all know how much I love my roasted vegetables-- from roasted Brussels sprouts, roasted carrots, roasted asparagus, roasted potatoes with rosemary and fleur de sel, roasted spiced sweet potatoes, roasted eggplants and red peppers, and so on.

I was surprised to see turnips in my CSA box as late as early June but was pleased to see it with several bunches of carrots. And so I roasted turnips and carrots, tossed with olive oil, fresh thyme, sea salt and ground pepper. I topped the roasted root vegetables with gremolata, a mixture of minced parsley, lemon zest, and garlic.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Watercress soup and mushroom crostini

After a trip to the Ferry Building farmer's market, I splurged and picked up a beautiful bunch of watercress from Marin Roots Farms and a small box of mixed mushrooms from Far West Funghi (oh how I love that place). I thought the earthiness of the mushrooms would go well with the refreshing, peppery watercress.

mixed mushrooms Far West Funghi
I really wanted to make a watercress soup from my go-to cookbook for veggies, Alice Waters' Chez Panisse Vegetables. Watercress is wilted in hot vegetable stock and pureed with tarragon (I used mint) and parsley and finished with a touch of creme fraiche or cream.

The tangy and peppery flavor of watercress shines through beautifully in this refreshing soup. It was a bit time consuming to make the soup (there was a lot of time spent straining the puree through a medium-fine sieve) but the silky, smooth texture was absolutely worth it.

The photo doesn't do the soup justice given the lack of natural lighting- it is actually a gorgeous green!

Now about those mushrooms! I simply sauteed the mushrooms in butter with shallot and garlic and seasoned well with sea salt and a pinch of ground pepper. I served the sauteed mushrooms on Acme olive bread toast. Heavenly.

Spicy Ceci (Chickpea) Bruschetta


Before I tell you more about our absolute favorite appetizer, I want to share something personal. As you may know, things around here have been challenging lately. With heavy hearts after a particularly difficult morning, we thought that, just maybe, a walk in Golden Gate Park would change the course of the day. The park was brimming with joggers, sun-bathers, picnickers, and even musicians taking full advantage of the rare, sun-soaked day in early May (yes, I am that behind in posting). 

We came across a kind elderly woman walking her dog who guided us to a quiet trail where we could be alone with our thoughts. We slowly walked following the patches of sunlight through the leaves and pausing to revel in the natural beauty surrounding us.

Just past the de Young, we escaped into a beautiful Japanese tea garden where we sat in a zen-induced state listening to the bubbling creek. Suddenly the heavy fog associated with unsettling news dissipated, and we returned to our usual, ridiculously happy, can't-stop-smiling selves. I realized with a full heart and a clenched throat that I am the luckiest girl in the world to have had such rich experiences, to know this incredible love, and to experience such goodness in this world. We are truly blessed to live with such purpose. I pray that this spirit in me never stills, even in the most trying circumstances.

Now back to the recipe at hand: this spicy chickpea bruschetta is one of our favorite appetizers. I love making this dish when we have company- it is easy share, fast, and utterly delicious! I have gotten several requests from friends to post the simple yet fantastic recipe. In fact the first time I made it, I was told, "We eat out a lot at really good restaurants around the city and, without a doubt, this is the best bruschetta ever." You can easily make variations of this dish with leeks, rosemary, and black olive paste, but honestly the simple version is so wonderful and takes less than 15 minutes to make.

Saute red onions in olive oil until soft with a heaping 1/4 tsp red chili flakes. Add a can of chick peas (drained and rinsed) and sprinkle generously with sea salt, cooking about 3-4 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and lightly crush most of the chick peas with the back of a fork. Spoon onto thick toasted slices of sourdough and drizzle with really good olive oil.

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