Sunday, July 24, 2016

Spicy Tripolitan Chicken and Vegetable Tbeha

One of the biggest sacrifices I've made during residency is the time apart from family and loved ones. Though we have a rather high level of baseline dysfunction, I adore my family and cherish the time I can spend with them. What I miss the most is definitely our weekly Friday night shabbat dinners. For those who have never celebrated, shabbat is a Jewish holiday that occurs every week, from Friday evening until sundown on Saturday. Like other holidays, religious or secular, there are lots of family traditions, many related to food. (Obviously...This is a food blog).

Shabbat Challah
Salmon in Chriameh Sauce 
Matzo Ball Soup
Stuffed Artichoke with Peas & Dill 
"Traditional" Beef Tbeha
Saffron Rice w/ Barberries & Pistachios

Before we move on, I need to give a shoutout to my beautiful mother.  Whether cooking just for herself and my father or for the times when a giant table needs to be set up in the foyer to accommodate everyone, she makes a lavish feast each and every week. My over the top approach to entertaining and the need to throw elaborate dinner parties certainly comes from my mother, though I take it to extremes that we won't discuss here.

Radiant inside and out
My lovely parents and a makeshift table set in the foyer

Anyone who attends a shabbat dinner, or really any holiday meal with my family will likely overeat, drink one (probably two) glasses of wine too many...perhaps even break out into spontaneous song and dance. We *always have a great time. (*That of course omits any memories of the many family fights, yelling matches, table flipping, and meltdowns. Nope, none of that in my sugar-coated fairytale family).

For me, what truly embodies shabbat, and can instantly bring me back home...sitting with my parents and siblings at the dining room a bowl of my family's signature Libyan stew, better known as tbeha (pictured above). Tbeha is actually a broad term for many stews from Tripoli, where my family is from. But the version my family makes week after week (since before I was born) is made with flanken, sweet and white potatoes, and green beans cooked in a slightly sweet and spicy tomato sauce seasoned with baharat (Middle Eastern spice blend) as well as hot and sweet paprika. Served over couscous. It's amazing (and definitely a future blog post).

My sister doesn't eat red meat, so my mom make a second tbeha every week using chicken. She uses boneless chicken thighs that most butchers can prepare, but I just use thighs and legs still on the bone. The vegetables in the chicken version are usually the same as the beef tbeha, but during the summer I enjoy putting a seasonal twist on the dish. I made this tbeha with potato, zucchini, chickpeas, English peas, and haricot vert. Serve it over wholewheat couscous to complete this heart healthy, well balanced, and ridiculously delicious meal.

Chicken and vegetable tbeha
Shabbat feast

Tips/Tricks to Make the Perfect Chicken and Vegetable Tbeha:
  • Make sure you have a good quality, large (at least 8 quart) pot with a lid. 
    • If your pot is too small, the food won't cook evenly and the bottom may burn. 
    • The stew may also overflow and spill all over your stove and counters. (Flashback to college..It's a huge mess).
  •   You can find baharat online or at specialty markets, but if you have a spice grinder or mortar and pestle, it's really easy to blend yourself.
  • The chicken on the bone tends to fall apart easily
    •  Minimize stirring while cooking. Instead, shake the pot back and forth to mix. 
    • Also, be careful while serving. To serve, you may find it easier to transfer the top layers of vegetables to a different bowl so that you can more easily access the chicken.
    • If you prefer chicken without skin or bones, you can have your butcher cut you boneless, skinless chicken thighs. White meat will dry out. 
  • The recipe as written is mild. I prefer it hotter.
    • For a spicier dish, adjust the proportions of sweet to hot paprika.
    • Add more hot and less sweet paprika for a nice kick
  • Use fresh ingredients when possible
    • It's okay to use frozen peas
    • Don't use frozen haricot vert or green beans. Better to omit the ingredient. 
    • I use canned chickpeas, but dried are also great. 
  • To substitute canned for dried chickpeas:
    • Soak dried chickpeas in water overnight. (~1/4 cup dried chickpeas to replace one 15.5 oz can).
    • Drain and rinse.
    • Place chickpeas in a pot, cover with plenty of water, add a pinch of kosher salt (about 1/4 - 1/2 tsp), bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer.
    • Cook until softened, but not mushy. (45-60 minutes, but may take longer).
    • Drain and set aside.
  • Make plenty of couscous and pour generous amount of tbeha sauce on each plate. 

Chicken and Vegetable Tbeha Ingredients:
  • 4 pounds chicken legs and thighs, fat trimmed
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 (6 oz) can tomato paste 
  • 1.5 tablespoons (plus extra) sweet paprika
  • 2 tablespoons (plus extra) hot paprika
  • 1.5 tablespoons (plus extra) baharat (recipe follows)
  • 3 Yukon Gold or all-purpose potatoes, pealed, halved lengthwise, then cut crosswise in halves or thirds
  • 2 zucchinis, peeled and cut into chunks roughly the size of the potato pieces 
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black paper
  • 1(15.5 oz) can salt free chickpeas, drained (or 1/4 cup dried chickpeas, cooked per instructions above).  
    • May add up to 2 cans chickpeas, if desired. 
  • 1 pound green peas (fresh or frozen)
  • 2/3 to 1 pound haricot vert (or green beans), ends trimmed
  • 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, finely chopped
  • Couscous (for serving)

Baharat Spice Blend:
  • 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 1 small cinnamon stick, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon whole cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 2 teaspoons cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon cardamom seeds
  • 1/2 whole nutmeg, grated

Combine the baharat ingredients in a spice grinder and grind finely. Store in an airtight container.

Chicken and Vegetable Tbeha Recipe:
Heat olive oil in a large pot (at least 8 quart capacity) over medium heat. Add onions and cook until softened, about 10 minutes.

Stir in the tomato paste followed by sweet paprika, hot paprika, and baharat. Add 2 cups of water, mixing until well combined. Layer the chicken on top of the tomato sauce. Next add the potatoes followed by the zucchini. Add enough water to just barely cover the the vegetables, about 4 cups. Add 1.5 tablespoon of kosher salt and a pinch of black pepper. Bring to a gentle boil and cook covered for 30 minutes.

Add the chickpeas, green peas, parsley, 1/4 tablespoon hot paprika, 1/4 tablespoon sweet paprika, 1/4 tablespoon baharat, and 1/4 tablespoon kosher salt. Mix gently by shaking the pot back and forth till combined. Taste sauce and add more salt as needed. Add a layer of haricot vert to the simmering stew, making sure each bean is at least partially submerged in sauce. Do not overfill the pot.

Bring the sauce back to a boil, then lower heat and simmer partially covered until the vegetables are soft, about 1 hour. Shake the pot occasionally to mix.  Carefully serve tbeha over couscous.  Avoid over mixing or digging deep into the stew to prevent breaking apart the chicken and making "chop suey" out of the vegetables.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Coconut Curry Fish with Fresh Green Peas

Thank you, thank you for all the mazal tovs, warm wishes, and gifts off my Williams Sonoma wish list. For those who haven't heard, or perhaps "forgot" to send a gift *eye roll*...I'm pregnant! Well, at least I've been telling myself that over the past month to rationalize my insatiable cravings for coconut curry. This delusional state is nothing more than a giant bowl of cognitive-coping-mechanism ice cream with denial sprinkled on top. Though a growing belly may corroborate my story, my Amex bill is incriminating. I very seldom order takeout, so spending over 300 dollars last month on this Indian addiction is unfathomable.

Given my recent ob...esity..session, I've been motivated to make this dish at home. I sort of took the shotgun approach of buying any and every Indian/Thai/Asian sounding ingredient I could find (curry leaves, tamarind, lemongrass, chiles, coconut milk, coriander, fennel, cumin, cardamom, fenugreek, star anise, fish sauce, etc) and explored numerous flavor combinations. After weeks in the test kitchen, I am very excited to share this recipe.

A few take aways from the trial and error...
1) I'm out of control sometimes.
2) Tamarind and curry leaves are great additions to certain curry recipes, but not this one.
3) Eggplant, even if it's cute and "Asian," can ruin a dish. It doesn't work well with fish.
4) Many recipes use store bought curry paste, but that's not what I, Ina Garten, am about.

The final product was a a true success. The dish is luscious, seductive and so gratifying. I created a flavorful curry using freshly ground spices and good ingredients. The sauce acquires a welcoming heat from the chiles and cayenne, but is balanced by the sweetness of fresh peas and acidity from the lime juice. I also use fish sauce, a salty extract made from fermented anchovies, that cultivates the rich, umami flavor of the curry. The fish is rubbed in turmeric and then gently poached in the curry till it's cooked to perfection.

Though I'm partial to salmon, this curry is versatile and can transform any fish into a memorable meal. I've tried it with salmon and cod and both were delightful. I had my friend Brandon over for dinner last night and we enjoyed this wonderful dish served over basmati rice steamed with Indian spices. We paired the dish with a slightly sweet, fruity white wine that worked well against the heat of the curry.

One final thought before getting to the recipe. A lot of the food I share clearly fits within the parameters of a Mediterranean "heart healthy" diet. This dish, however, does not...It uses coconut oil and coconut milk, both somewhat controversial "health" foods because of their high calorie counts and significant levels of saturated fat. In general, the American Heart Association recommends limiting consumption of saturated fats as they can elevate cholesterol levels, which may increase the risk of developing heart disease.

So why does Whole Foods, Trader Joes, and most health food store promote coconut oil? Well, it's not entirely clear to me. The saturated fats from coconut oil are made of medium chain triglycerides, which are supposedly metabolized differently than other "bad" fats. I'm skeptical, but perhaps....A quick PubMed search led me to some small studies showing that coconut oil does raise cholesterol, including LDL (bad cholesterol). On the other hand, epidemiological studies did not find a clear association between coconut oil consumption and cardiovascular disease. Is there some magical properties in coconuts that transform the "bad" fats into "okay" or even "good" fat? Err...Don't think the evidence supports that, but better studies are needed. What is clear, though, is that coconut milk is ridiculously delicious. It warms my <3 with love and joy. Just be sure to enjoy it in moderation.

Tips/Tricks to Make the Perfect Coconut Curry Fish with Fresh Peas:
  • **Fresh lemongrass is preferable for this recipe. Unfortunately, it was out of stock, so I substituted dry for fresh lemongrass.
    • For fresh lemongrass, use 1 or 2 stalks, tough outer layer removed. Combine the bottom 1/3 of each stalk with the other wet ingredients.
    • For dry lemongrass, use 1 tablespoon with the other dry ingredients.
  • For best results serve the curry over basmati rice, preferably steamed with Indian spices
    • Consider adding 1 cinnamon stick, 1 star anise, and a couple of cardamom pods to the rice as it cooks. The rice will be aromatic and develop a subtle, but magnificent depth of flavor to compliment the curry. 
  • If your fish filet has thick and thin parts, considering cutting the fish into thicker cubes/slices and thinner ones. You can add the thinner pieces into the cooking liquid a few minutes after the thicker portions.  
  • The curry tastes even better the next day! Be sure not to dry out your fish.
    • Consider making the sauce a day ahead, but cook the fish when ready to eat!
    • Alternatively, keep the fish partly undercooked as it will continue to cook in the sauce well after being removed from the heat. 
  • Taste as you go. There is definitely variability depending on your ingredients, so trust yourself and adjust the flavors till it's perfect 

Coconut Curry Fish with Fresh Peas Ingredients:
Fish Ingredients:
  • 1.25 to 1.5 pounds salmon (or firm white fish), skin removed, cubed or sliced into 3 oz portions
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • Kosher salt, about 1 teaspoon for salmon or a scant teaspoon for white fish
Wild cod filet with turmeric and kosher salt. *Note, most the other photos are using salmon 

Wet Curry Paste Ingredients:
  • 5 medium  shallots, roughly chopped
  • 1 inch ginger, peeled
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 3 Thai green chiles, stems removed and partially seeded (add more seeds for spicier curry)
  • 1 New Mexico dried chile, soaked in warm water for 15 minutes then stem removed
  • 1-2 stalks fresh lemongrass, tough outer layer removed, then use bottom 1/3 of each stalk**

Dry Curry Paste Ingredients:
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3 kaffir lime leaves
  • 2 teaspoons whole cloves
  • 2 teaspoons black peppercorns
  • 4 black cardamom pods
  • 1/2 cinnamon stick
  • 1/2 tablespoon cumin seeds
  • 3 tablespoons coriander seeds
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 1 tablespoon dry lemongrass** (Only if fresh is unavailable)

Coconut Curry Fish with Fresh Peas Other Ingredients: 
  • 3 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
  • 2 (13.5 oz) cans coconut milk, preferably a Thai/Asian brand
  • Kosher salt, 1 teaspoon + more to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • 1 cup fresh shelled green peas (or frozen if unavailable) 
  • Cilantro, rinsed and chopped for garnish

Coconut Curry Fish with Fresh Peas Recipe: 
In a large mixing bowl, rub the fish with turmeric and salt. Set aside in the fridge for at least 15 minutes or until ready to use.

Using a spice grinder, blend the dry ingredients together into powder. (Alternatively, crush the dry ingredients bar the kaffir lime and bay leaves with a mortar and pestle. Combine with the leaves, finely chopped). Set spice blend aside. 

Using a food processor, blend the wet ingredients together, adding 3 to 4 tablespoons of water as needed to form a paste. 

Heat 1.5 tablespoon of coconut oil in a heavy bottomed sauté pan or braiser. Add the wet mix and cook on medium high heat until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the tomato paste and fish sauce. Cook until all the moisture evaporates and the paste takes on a golden/red color, about 2-3 minutes.

Add 1.5 tablespoons of coconut oil, 2 tablespoons of the dry spice blend, cayenne pepper, and turmeric. Cook over low heat until well mixed and aromatic, about 1 minute. Add the coconut milk, stirring till well combined, then add kosher salt and lime juice. Simmer till the sauce thickens slightly, about 15 minutes. Taste along the way, seasoning with more salt, black pepper (and cayenne if too mild) to taste.

Once ready to serve, bring the sauce to a gentle boil and add the green peas and salmon pieces. Cook uncovered, frequently basting the fish (if not already completely submerged in sauce), until the peas soften and the fish is at the desired doneness, about 5 to 7 minutes. Sprinkle with cilantro and serve immediately over rice.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Spicy Rosemary Roasted Nuts with Nigella Seeds

It's no secret that I love nuts. *Tree* nuts, that is. Rude.

It was notably in my third year of medical school when nuts became a staple in my diet. I was getting more and more into weight lifting and needed healthy, unprocessed sources of protein to snack on during my clinical rotations. It was actually my peppy hairdresser at the time who recommended I make homemade trail mix from my favorite nuts and seeds. She was in her forties, but appeared younger than stated age with a tall, thin build, chic fashion, and very long blonde extensions...clearly an authority on healthy snacking. She was actually onto something...

Nuts are rich in fiber and protein, which helps satisfy cravings, suppress appetite, and aid in digestion. They're also <3 heart healthy <3 and an essential component of the Mediterranean diet. Nuts contain the same "good" omega-3 fatty acids found in certain fish. In studies such as PREDIMED, including nuts as part of a healthy diet may combat obesity and lower total cholesterol, LDL (bad cholesterol), and triglycerides. In the Adventist Health Study, consuming 5 servings of nuts per week was associated with a 48 percent risk reduction of having a heart attack!  Even the American Heart Association recommends to "go nuts!" But moderation is key. Nuts and other sources of good fats are definitely your friend (but a friend you can only tolerate in small doses). That's because all fats, including omega-3's, are high in calories. Remember that a serving size of nuts is 1.5 ounces (about a small handful).

I still follow my hairdressers advice and often carry nuts in my white coat pocket. I usually mix raw, unsalted pistachios, cashews, almonds, and pumpkins seeds, but sometimes indulge and roast the nuts to add new flavors. Variety is the spice of life, eh? I'm a sucker for honey and rosemary on anything, so I dream about this Ottolenghi recipe that roasts nuts in a mixture of cayenne pepper, nigella seeds, honey, and rosemary. It's simple to make, but the flavors are complex, exciting, and absolutely brilliant.

You may ask, "what da haale is a nigella seed?" At least I did. I assumed it was something exotic, so I (impulsively) overnighted it from amazon (a convenience I indulge far too often). Nigella seeds come from Nigella sativa, widely grown in India and used to make naan, Indian flatbread. These seeds are available in many grocery stores, but are often labeled by the misnomer, black caraway or black cumin. This is especially confusing because those also describe another seed from the plant, Bunium bulbocastanum. Regardless of its label, be sure you're buying seeds that are small, black, and sort of teardrop shaped.

Before I move on to the recipe, I wanted to share that my salmon chriameh recipe was featured on Food Porn Daily! Also, my career profile was published on Love and The Sky, a great life+career blog targeting young adults learning and practicing medicine.

Tips/Tricks to Make the Perfect Roasted Nuts:
  • Buy raw, unsalted nuts, if possible. This gives you full control over the salt level and flavors.
  • Double (or triple) the recipe. It will go quick. 
  • The recipe uses precise, weighed measurements, but will taste great if approximated. I encourage you to use other nuts/flavors to add your own twist.
  • If you combine the nuts and honey by hand (like I did), do the mixing before adding the smaller seeds. Then add the seeds and mix together with a spoon and not your hands. This will cut out the 15 minute step of picking hundreds of tiny nigella seeds off your hands, adding them one by one back into the nut mix. 
  • I used Manuka honey...soo reasonably priced. Use any high quality honey.

Spicy Rosemary Roasted Nuts Ingredients:
  • 100 grams cashews
  • 100 grams macadamia nuts
  • 120 grams pecans
  • 60 grams whole almonds
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 80 grams pumpkin seeds
  • 1 tablespoon sunflower seeds
  • 2 tablespoons of nigella seeds (also called black caraway, black cumin, or kalonji seeds)
  • 1 teaspoon of fine salt
  • 2 large sprigs rosemary, leaves picked
  • 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
Serves about six people as a snack

Spicy Rosemary Roasted Nuts Recipe:
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Combine the nuts on a baking sheet and coat evenly with honey and oil (mix with your hands or a kitchen utensil). Add the seeds, rosemary, and salt. Toss together till combined (don't use your hands) and spread evenly over baking sheet. Roast in the oven for 15 to 17 minutes, mixing occasionally, until nuts turn golden to dark brown in color.

Remove from the heat. Add the cayenne and black pepper. Season to taste. Let cool, stirring occasionally to prevent the nuts from sticking to the pan. Enjoy!