Sunday, January 1, 2017

Fassoulia: White Bean & Tomato Stew

Happy New Year...

Or more appropriately, Mutlu yıllar! (It's Turkish).

"My hairdresser says that everything this year is going to be Turkish..."

Hmm...I think someone may need a new hairdresser. As much as I love flamboyant feather hats and all things Turkish, my first recipe of 2017 is actually Arabic. So, kul 'am wa antum bikhair (happy new year to all). Let's travel (first class, obviously) to the Middle East for a gastronomic exploration of Fassoulia. A childhood favorite.

"Fassou-what?" you ask...


TheMDChef Culinary Dictionary
Pronunciation: [FA-SOOL-YA], /ɸαśʉḷʎα/

Etymology: Latin phaseolus borrowed from ancient Greek φάσηλος (fasilos)

1.    فاصوليا  (Arabic): A bean, green bean, haricot bean, string bean
Like other members of the legume family, Fassoulia is a staple of a heart healthy Mediterranean style diet.
2.     Magnificent stew made from beans, tomato and spices
"Fassoulia is popular throughout the Mediterranean, especially countries like Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Greece, and Libya."

Fassoulia literally means "bean" in Arabic, which by no coincidence is the main ingredient in the stew bearing the same name. Variations of this bean and tomato dish are enjoyed by numerous countries along the Mediterranean. Lima beans, for example, are commonly used in Lebanon, whereas green beans and white beans are used in Armenia and Syria, respectively. Spices also vary by region and may include garlic, cumin, turmeric, and cinnamon. Chicken or beef is often added for a more substantial dish.

As Libyan Jews, we use Great Northern beans and boeuf. It's the quintessential cold weather comfort. It's how my family survived the bleak Jersey winters. Waking up every Saturday morning to the savory aroma of tomatoes and spices simmering for hours was hypnotizing. I'd spend those mornings camped out in the kitchen like a desperate puppy awaiting the opportune moment to sneak a taste when my mother was distracted.

Fassoulia remains my favorite winter staple despite living in the south. After six years, I've learned that "Hotlanta" is a cruel misnomer. "What-da-haale-lanta" if you ask me. It can be high 60's and sunny one day and then abruptly turn bitter cold and rainy the next.

While I never know whether to wear short sleeves or an oversized, fur-lined parka, my pantry is always stocked with the simple ingredients needed for Fassoulia...

Yes, my meticulous spice collection is excessive and meshugana, but don't fret. Even if you can't live up to Ina Garten and my ridiculous "basic" pantry standards, you can easily get all the ingredients at your local market.

It reheats well and tastes better and better as it sits, so it's a perfect stew to make ahead for the week. It's also straightforward to make and forgiving. Sure, the beans require soaking overnight, but it's worth it.

I love this dish and I want you to love it too. Fassoulia is a brilliant example of a dish that is both heart-healthy AND heart-warming. Legumes, such as white beans, are a staple of a Mediterranean style diet which has been shown to help reduce the risk of heart attacks and cardiovascular disease.

My family traditionally makes this dish with flanken, a glorious cut of short ribs butchered across the bone. It's a luxurious cut of meat for stews and worth trying for a special occasion. I usually substitute the flanken for beef chuck, which tends to be leaner and a bit healthier, but will still melt in your mouth!

Tips/Tricks to Make Perfect Fassoulia:
  • The meat simmers for about an hour prior to adding the beans. Think of this as a spa treatment for your special cut of beef. Check that the meat is already fairly tender prior to adding your beans.
  • This dish is best made a day ahead. The longer it sits, the richer the flavor will be.
  • It tastes wonderful as a standalone stew, but also great over rice or couscous.
  • Use a cast iron enamel dutch oven, such as Le Creuset, or another heavy bottomed stew pot to avoid your stew from burning 
  • Experiment with your flavors. My family traditionally uses cumin, cayenne and garlic. I like to add turmeric and cinnamon as well and finish each bowl with freshly squeezed lemon juice for some acidity.  

Fassoulia Ingredients:
  • 1 small onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons good olive oil
  • 1.5 pounds chuck beef, cut into 1.5 to 2-inch chunks
  • 8 cups water
  • 1 cup dried Great Northern beans, soaked overnight and drained (should be around 2.5 cups)
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne papper (optional)
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Cilantro, roughly chopped (for serving)
  • Freshly squeezed lemon juice (for serving)

Fassoulia Recipe:
In a medium sized dutch oven or stockpot, sauté the onions over medium heat for 4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook 1-2 more minutes till onions are translucent.

Dry the beef cubes with a paper towel and sprinkle all sides with kosher salt. Add the meat and cook for 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally until lightly browned. Add the 8 cups of water. Over medium-high heat bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer uncovered until meat has softened (~1 hour). Skim off any surface foam while cooking.

Add the white beans, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, tomato paste, cinnamon, cumin, turmeric, and cayenne (if using). Bring to a boil over over medium-high heat, reduce heat and simmer covered for 2 hours.

Remove lid and adjust seasoning with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Continue simmering uncovered until beans and meat are soft and tender, respectively, and the stew reaches desired thickness.

When ready to serve, add a splash of freshly squeezed lemon juice to each bowl and finish with a generous amount of cilantro.

Enjoy as a soup or serve with rice, couscous, ptitim (Israeli couscous), or crusty bread.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Potage Parmentier - Potato Leek Soup

Just take a moment to appreciate Julia Child in all her glory as she introduces "The Chicken Sisters": Ms. Fryer, Ms. Broiler, Ms. Roaster, Ms. Caponette, Ms. Stewer and old Madam Hen.

She'll forever be a culinary icon through her captivating TV presence on The French Chef and brilliant cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking. But I have a confession...

I had never even heard of Julia Child while growing up. It's embarrassing, but unfortunately not my worst offense linked to a sheltered upbringing. I began noticing these lapses in my awareness of pop culture while an undergrad at Hopkins trying to relate to my peers. Yes it was painful at times, but I didn't let my crippling phobia of pop culture get me down...

I simply avoided "trivia nights" and perfected the art of strategic nodding and calculated laughter to hide these deficits.

Fortunately, I learn quickly. I discovered the world of Julia Child and was lovestruck by her quirky charisma and talent. I'm paying homage to the beloved French Chef with my take on her classic recipe, Potage Parmentier, aka potato and leek soup.

You may remember that my last blog post shared some strong opinions about homemade chicken stock. It's an essential part of making a great soup. I stand by that. We must demand the best ingredients for our soup recipes. Store bought stock is not the best. Believe me.

I Never Said That

On the contrary, certain soups taste better using just plain water. Like many of Julia's recipes, she transforms very simple ingredients, leeks and potatoes in this case, into elegant French cuisine. Using chicken stock or other pungent ingredients can easily overpower the delicate flavors of the vegetables, which is why I sometimes prefer water.  Of course, Julia said it best..."The beauty of French soups, and I think a lot of people misunderstand them, is that when you use fresh ingredients, you don't want to disguise their taste."

With that being said, no consensus was reached in a side by side comparison. I found this to be largely personal preference. Regardless of which you prefer, both variations are flavorful and develop into a thick, creamy soup due to the starchiness of the potatoes. No dairy or added fats required! This plant based soup is a great addition to a Mediterranean style diet, helping to lower the risk of heart attacks and strokes. BONUS - add a dollop of Greek yogurt for protein, extra creaminess and a nice tang.

How to Prepare Leeks:
Leeks require thorough cleaning as dirt tends to get trapped within the layers.
Below is a step by step guide for slicing and washing leeks.

Step 1: Remove dark green tops and hairy, tough bottoms. (May save these for future stocks)

Step 2 Cut each leek in half, lengthwise.

Step 3: Cut each leek-half into thirds lengthwise, keeping the very end intact

Step 4: Thinly slice each leek-half, crosswise

Step 5: Submerge in cold water and wash thoroughly. Repeat as needed. Set aside.

Potage Parmentier - Potato Leek Soup
Tips/Tricks to Make Perfect Potato Leek Soup:
  • Get creative. I chose this recipe because it's the base of several other classic French soups and would be a great foundation for your own creations.
    • Try adding in other vegetables: Carrots, broccoli, etc
    • I made a version with 3 cups of blanched arugula that I added to the potato and leeks just before pureeing. 
  • If you're pregnant, have the man flu, don't need no man, or just weak souled and crave a little bit more fat, just go for it.
    • Remember, moderation is part of a healthy lifestyle. Aim to make smart choices most the time
    • Take the soup off the heat (to prevent curdling) and add a few tablespoons of milk, butter or cream just prior to serving.
  • Experiment with different textures
    • Use a food processor for a homogenous, finely pureed soup
    • Try a food mill (my preference) which also creates a homogenous soup, with slightly more texture. Plus, it's fun to operate. 
    • For a chunky soup, just mash the potatoes a bit with a fork

Potato and Leek Soup Ingredients:
  • 4 cups chopped leeks, white and light green parts (about 2 large or 4 regular sized leeks)
  • 2 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and roughly diced (abut 4-5 cups)
  • 7 cups water (or chicken stock)
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Greek yogurt (optional for serving)
  • Chives or Parsley, chopped (optional for garnish)

Potato and Leek Soup Recipe:
Heat olive oil in medium dutch oven or pot. Sauté the leeks over medium heat for 6-8 minutes till soft, but not browned. Mix in the potatoes and water or chicken stock.

Bring to a boil. Simmer partially uncovered for 40-50 minutes, till the vegetables are soft. In batches, run soup through a food mill or food processor. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Garnish with fresh herbs and yogurt, if desired. Enjoy

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Investing in Stocks: Insider Secrets to Perfect Holiday Soup

Walking through Whole Foods this week was a jarring reminder that summer has ended. Gone were the beautiful heirloom tomatoes, juicy stone fruits, and stacks of sweet corn that flourished during the warm summer months. The only thing growing now is the incidence of seasonal affective disorder... (Which I guess is good for my day job...and I'm accepting new patients).

Fortunately, autumn is not all bad news, especially for those of you that love pumpkin spice lattes, apple picking, cozy sweaters, yoga pants, and Uggs.

We know who you are -->

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Sure, I can appreciate a nice cashmere sweater and some pumpkin spice, but is that really all that these colder months have to offer? I could even do without the sweaters...

*admires closet overflowing with delightfully soft and plush sweaters* ...On second thought, perhaps not. (But my debilitating cashmere addiction is not the point).

Above all, autumn is synonymous with the holiday season. This means great food, lavish dinner parties, and new blog posts! As we approach Thanksgiving, I'll share tips and recipes to wow your friends and family, starting with...

Pistachio and Saffron Soup
Matzo Ball Soup
Butternut Squash and Apple Soup

Soup is the quintessential cold weather food and the only proper start to a Thanksgiving feast. It's a great healthy meal to make in bulk for work and pack nutrition into your busy life. Bonus, your coworkers will think you have your act together. (Needless to say, but I will anyway, soups loaded with cream and butter are not healthy).

Image result for arrested development gif
Our little secret
My secret to a soup full of body and soul is starting with homemade stock. It's a game changer. Seriously, the depth and richness of homemade chicken stock is irreplaceable. On the other hand, store bought stock tends to be salty and lacks nuance of flavor. I make a large batch of stock every few months and then freeze it in 2 and 4 cup containers for convenience. So make your stock ahead of time and have it ready for your holiday needs.

As you know, I'm an avid Ina Garten fan and I love her chicken stock recipe made from 3 whole chickens and wonderful vegetables and herbs. This stock recipe is liquid goldJust throw the ingredients in a large 16-20 quart stockpot and simmer away...You don't even have to peel the vegetables. How easy is that?!

After brewing your first batch, you'll want to find recipes worthy of its use. God forbid you waste any stock on a mediocre soup. Try making Parsley and Arugula Vichyssoise or see below for my favorite Split Pea Soup recipe. I made the pea soup for Thanksgiving 2014 and it was sensational.

Liquid Gold Chicken Stock

Tips/Tricks to Make Perfect Chicken Stock:
  • Use the best quality ingredients in your budget. It makes a difference.
  • Size matters. I use a 16 quart stock pot and it's honestly almost too small. A size up would be even better.
  • It you're not using all the stock within a few days, freeze it! It will stay good for at least 3 months in the freezer.
  • The recipe calls for whole black peppercorns. The first time I made this I accidentally used 2 tablespoons of ground pepper. It was devastating. 
  • Yes, it uses a lot of chicken. It can be expensive. If you're using the stock for cooking, it's really best to have that strong chicken taste. If it's made as a chicken soup, it might be reasonable to cut back a little. 

Liquid Gold Chicken Stock Ingredients:
  • 3 whole chickens (12-15 pounds total)
  • 3 large onions, unpeeled and quartered
  • 6 carrots, unpeeled, cut in thirds
  • 4 celery stalks with leaves, cut in thirds
  • 4 parsnips, unpeeled, cut in thirds
  • 1 garlic head, unpeeled, cut in half crosswise
  • 20 sprigs fresh dill
  • 20 sprigs fresh parsley
  • 15 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons whole black peppercorns

Liquid Gold Chicken Stop Recipe:
Add the chicken, vegetables, fresh herbs, salt and pepper to a large 16+ quart stock pot. Add 7 quarts of water and bring to a boil. Simmer the stock, uncovered, for 4 hours, skimming off any excessive foam from the top.

Strain the broth through a sieve and discard the solids. Refrigerate stock overnight. The next day, remove any surface fat. Enjoy.

Split Pea Soup

Tips/Tricks to Make Perfect Split Pea Soup:
  • Split peas are similar to lentils, cook times vary considerably depending on brand and freshness. 
    • Continue cooking until split peas are at desired consistency. This may take from 80 minutes to several hours. 
    • Have 2-4 cups reserved stocks available. If soup gets too thick as peas soften, add more stock as needed. If out of stock you can use water instead.  
    • If you prefer a chunkier soup, cut the potatoes and carrots into medium or large pieces 
Split Pea Soup Ingredients:
  • 1 cup chopped yellow onion
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 cup diced red potatoes (about 3 small potatoes)
  • 2 cups diced carrots (about 4 carrots)
  • 1 pound dried split peas
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 8 cups chicken stock, plus extra as needed

Split Pea Soup Recipe:
Over medium heat, sauté the onions and carrots with the olive oil, salt, pepper and oregano until softened, about 10 to 15 minutes. Add the carrots, potatoes, chicken stock and split peas.

Bring to a boil, then simmer uncovered until soft, about 80 minutes. Stir frequently to prevent contents from burning and add extra stock as needed if soup becomes too thick. Skim off surface foam while cooking. Soup is ready when split peas are at desired doneness. Add salt and pepper to taste.