Wednesday, November 8, 2017

"Israeli Good" Shakshuka with Saffron and Herbs

There's few things I love more than throwing a dinner party...picking out the menu, cocktails, tablescape, music...Oh, how grand. But it can also be rather stressful, especially with my demanding work schedule. That's why I've grown fond of the more casual luncheon.

As Patti LuPone would say,
"Here's to the ladies that lunch
Lounging in their caftans and planning a brunch
On their own behalf."

The more laid back lunch setting is about connecting with friends and not about frantically getting everything ready and perfect before guests arrive. (Often the scenario before a dinner party). In fact, I love handing friends a mimosa and putting them to work in the kitchen before the meal.

This mentality allows even the most ambitious menus featuring homemade quiches, tarts, and cured fish to be thrown together at the last minute without any fuss.

But as much as I love elaborate, multi course meals, nothing seems to be a bigger crowd pleaser than the one pot wonder, Shakshuka

That means less clean up and more fun..."I'll drink to that!"

Shakshuka originated in Tunisia and is essentially eggs poached in a spicy tomato sauce. This magical dish has grown wildly popular throughout North Africa and the Middle East and is a staple in my Libyan-Israeli household.

There are endless variations to the recipe, and I've tried many. One of my favorites (not surprisingly) is adapted from Ottolenghi's book, Plenty.

Peppers, onions and garlic are sautéed together and then slowly simmered with tomatoes to create an insanely addictive sauce. The depth of flavor is brilliant with the addition of toasted cumin seeds, fresh herbs, saffron and cayenne pepper.

The dish is beautiful served right out of the pot with some crusty bread on the side to soak up every bit of sauce. It's great served as breakfast, lunch, dinner, or even a midnight snack.

This savory and wholesome dish will truly satisfy your heart and soul with each bite. Shakshuka is not only heart warming and delicious, but also heart healthy. It's loaded with fresh vegetables (garlic, onions, peppers, tomatoes) and EVOO, making it a great addition to a Mediterranean style diet. Try it today. You won't be disappointed!

More on Heart Healthy Shakshuka

Eggs? Heart healthy? "What about the cholesterol?" you may ask

Yes, good question...We know that high levels of LDL-C or "bad cholesterol" in your blood can increase the risk of heart disease, so until recently, dietary guidelines published by the American Heart Association (AHA) and other societies recommended limiting dietary cholesterol. That's why many of us grew up learning eggs were bad. But things have changed...

The reality is that dietary cholesterol seems to have a minor effect on blood cholesterol levels and there's insufficient evidence to determine whether lowering dietary cholesterol reduces LDL-C. Consuming "bad" saturated fats, on the other hand, can significantly affect blood cholesterol. For example, diets composed of 5-6% saturated fat (compared to 14-15%) were shown to lower LDL-C by 11-13 mg/dL in 2 studies.

Based on this data, the most recent AHA guidelines removed the recommendation of limiting cholesterol intake to 300 mg per day. Instead, cholesterol should be consumed in moderation within a diet that emphasizes intake of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains (including fish, poultry, low-fat dairy, legumes, nuts), and limits sweets and red meats[1].

Tips/Tricks to Make the Perfect Shakshuka

  • It feels so wrong to say, but choose canned tomatoes over fresh
    • They're picked at the height of tomato season, making them reliable and superior in taste
    • Choose whole canned tomatoes rather than diced, which can taste artificial and unpleasant
  • Canned San Marzano tomatoes are considered the best...use them
    • Plum tomatoes grown in Italy and regarded for their superior flavor and texture
    • Find "DOP" (Denominazione d' Origine Protetta) on the label to ensure it's the real deal. Also should be grown in Italy
  • If you have in season, local tomatoes, try adding 1-2 roughly chopped, ripe tomatoes in with the canned ones
    • I like adding an heirloom tomato for some color and texture
    • Fresh tomatoes have high water content and will increase the cook time
  • Crack each egg in a dish before adding to the sauce to avoid breakage
  • Get your egg whites to set quickly so that the yolks are still runny and delicious
    • After adding the eggs, carefully spoon together some sauce with the egg whites to help them set
  • Serve with crusty bread
  • For a little extra richness, garnish with crumbled feta cheese while still hot
  • The sauce can be made days ahead, which is great to do before a breakfast/brunch
    • When ready to serve, reheat the sauce, add the eggs and cook according to recipe

Shakshuka Ingredients

  • 1/2 tablespoon cumin seeds
  • 3/4 cups good olive oil
  • 2 large onions, sliced
  • 2 red bell peppers, cored and cut into 1/2 inch strips
  • 2 yellow bell peppers, cored and cut into 1/2 inch strips
  • 2 jalapeño peppers, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, plus extra for garnish
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro, plus extra for garnish
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 4 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 (28-ounce) canned San Marzano tomatoes with their juices
  • 1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
  • 1 teaspoon sweet paprika
  • Cayenne pepper to taste (1/8 teaspoon for mild, 1/4 teaspoon for medium, 1/2 teaspoon for hot)
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 8 large or extra-large eggs, preferably pasture raised
  • Feta cheese, for garnish (optional)

Shakshuka Recipe

In a large, heavy-bottomed skillet, such as a Le Creuset or seasoned cast iron, dry-roast cumin seeds for 2 minutes over high heat. Stir frequently to avoid burning.

Add the olive oil and onions and sauté for 5-7 minutes, until softened.

Add the bell and jalapeño peppers, garlic, cilantro, parsley, thyme, bay leaves, and sugar. Sauté on high heat for about 10 minutes, until peppers and onions are softened and taking on a nice color.

Add the canned tomatoes, cayenne, sweet paprika, saffron, 1/2 tablespoon kosher salt and several grinds of black pepper. Using the back of a large spoon, crush the tomatoes and stir to create a chunky, but homogenous sauce.

Simmer on medium-low heat for 15 minutes, adding small amounts of water if necessary to maintain a consistency of pasta sauce. As the sauce starts to thicken, season with more salt, pepper, and cayenne (if desired) to taste.

Using the back of a spoon, create evenly spaced divots within the sauce, placing an egg in each well. Sprinkle with kosher salt, cover pan, and cook very gently on low heat for 10-12 minutes. The egg whites should be just set and will continue to cook off the heat.

Garnish with parsley, cilantro, and feta cheese (if desired). Serve immediately with crusty bread.

1: Eckel RH et al.; American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines. 2013 AHA/ACC guideline on lifestyle management to reduce cardiovascular risk: a report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2014

Sunday, August 6, 2017

"Spa Day" Kale Salad with Fresh Figs & Seared Salmon

My obsession with figs became obvious this week when I zealously forced a Whole Foods cashier to squeeze one of my Brown Turkey figs. The innocent employee was just trying to do her job, but had to endure the uncontrollable excitement of a stranger telling her to "feel how it's squishy but not rotten...the firm ones are never sweet."

I asked her to "feel it" at least 3 times before I realized my intention of demonstrating a perfectly ripe fig may be crossing the line. Charges were dropped, but I'm not gonna talk about anything that was discussed in mediation with Whole Foods.

Disclaimer: This recipe does require a bit of food play.

With just a bit of massaging, this kale salad is guaranteed to satisfy. And trust me, it's so much more than a summer fling.

This luscious salad is the complete package. It's quick and easy to make (30 minutes or less), highlights seasonal ingredients (fresh figs), and is a quintessential part of a heart healthy, Mediterranean style diet rich in fruits, veggies, nuts, and fish.

But most importantly, the combination of flavors are brilliant and delicious...

*Fresh figs*
Summer time means there's an abundance of gorgeous, sweet and juicy figs at your market. Take advantage of it.

The fish forms a beautiful crust as it's seared on the stove top and then cooked to rare/medium-rare perfection in the oven.

*Raw almonds*
This simple pantry staple adds an essential crunch and nuttiness to the salad. I actually forgot to add the almonds the first time I tested the recipe, so I really appreciate how greatly they enhance the dish.

*Goat cheese*
I watch enough Top Chef and Chopped to know that fish and cheese together are taboo. However, I think a mild flavored goat cheese adds a subtle element of fat and richness that doesn't compete with the fish. A bit of cheese turns the salad into a satisfying meal rather than the well known, I'm-on-a-diet-but-will-binge-eat-an-entire-pizza-tomorrow salad. Oh kale to da no!

"Sooo 2014," you say? Think again. The secret...pampering your kale. Yes, massaging your kale is a MUST. Treat this fiber rich superfood to the spa day it deserves and you'll be rewarded with silky, tender greens that are essential to any worthwhile summer salad in 2017.

With a few minutes of loving, you'll see your kale relax (wilt and soften) and develop a vibrant green hue. Supposedly, this is due to the cellulose in the leaves breaking down, but there may also be some magical unicorns involved.

"Spa Day" kale is more than just a massaged kale recipe, though. The dish was created as part of my own larger self care goals. With demanding 80 hour work weeks, physical and mental health issues are far too common during residency.

So, as I enter my third and final year of Internal Medicine residency, I have made more of an effort to make self care and work-life balance a priority. This means cooking meals at home and eating well, regularly going to the gym or a yoga class, and even indulging in personal "Spa Days" with mani/pedis, massages, and facials.

Tips/Tricks to Make the Perfect Kale Salad

  • The sweetest figs should be a little mushy, but the skin should be dry and intact. I personally hand select each fig one by one using that criteria.
  • Be sure to use high quality ingredients. It makes all the difference in simple recipes such as this one.
  • I use green, curly kale, but you can experiment with other kale varieties. (And let me know what you think)!
  • I prefer to massage my kale before adding any dressing. I try to massage enough for several meals and it stores better pre-dressed.
  • Have fun and add other seasonal ingredients like beets, berries, onion, avocado, etc!
  • Ask your fishmonger for center cut pieces of salmon, which are thicker and more uniform in size.
  • Fish spatulas work really well and have helped me keep my salmon skin intact when flipping.
  • For the vinaigrette, I enjoy the slightly fruity and tangy flavor from the raspberry vinegar. However, you can substitute for any type of vinegar. I also love to use a good aged balsamic vinegar.

Kale Salad with Fresh Figs & Seared Salmon Ingredients

(Makes 2 large salads)
For the salad
  • 1 large bunch of curly kale
  • 1/2 cup whole raw almonds, roughly chopped
  • 6 fresh figs, halved
  • 4 ounces plain goat cheese (mild and softer varieties)
For the salmon
  • 2 salmon filets with skin on, 8 ounces each
  • Olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Heavy bottomed stainless steel or cast iron fry pan, such as a Le Creuset
For the raspberry vinaigrette
  • 1 (generous) teaspoon dijon mustard
  • 1 (generous) teaspoon finely chopped fresh garlic (2-3 cloves)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon finely ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons good raspberry vinegar
  • 1/2 cup good olive oil

Kale Salad with Fresh Figs & Seared Salmon Recipe

Making the raspberry vinaigrette
In a medium bowl, combine the mustard, garlic, vinegar, salt and pepper. While whisking constantly, slowly add the olive oil until the vinaigrette is emulsified.

Preparing the kale
Wash kale thoroughly and dry well. De-stem the kale by placing your index and middle finger at the bottom of the stem and run your gripped hand up the center of the leaf while simultaneously pulling away with your other hand. Discard the stems. In a few batches, roughly chop up the kale leaves and place into a large bowl. Massage the kale for 2-3 minutes by taking handfuls of the leaves and applying moderate pressure repeatedly, similar to kneading dough. The kale should become a deeper green and shrink down.

Pre-massage Post-massage

Pan searing the salmon
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. With paper towels, thoroughly pat dry the salmon. Coat salmon liberally with olive oil and sprinkle both sides with kosher salt and pepper.

Heat fry pan over high heat. Once pan is very hot, add the salmon filets, skin side down. Reduce heat to medium-high and sear undisturbed for precisely 3 minutes. Flip salmon, taking care to keep skin intact. Sear for exactly 2 minutes.

Transfer pan into the preheated oven. Cook for 2 minute and 30 seconds for a perfect rare/medium-rare (recommended), 3 minutes for medium-rare, and about 4 minutes for medium. Immediately, transfer filets from the hot pan onto a plate to avoid any further cooking.

Assembling the salad
Toss the kale with dressing to desired taste. Add dressing gradually to avoid overdressing the salad. To serve, fill each salad plate or bowl with a generous amount of kale. Next, add the chopped almonds, 4-6 fig halves, and a a few chunks of goat cheese. Last, add the salmon and serve immediately.

...Then do something good for yourself. Go to the gym, get a mani/pedi, or indulge in your own personal "Spa Day."

Friday, June 2, 2017

Saffron & Mushroom Cauliflower "Couscous"

Happy belated Mother's Day to all of the amazing moms out there! I had a wonderful time with mama Ina in the Hamptons cooking up our favorite treats for Jeffrey...

Well, I wish...

I did, however, enjoy reading through Ina's latest book, Cooking for Jeffrey, which is a tribute to her 50 year partnership to Jeffrey.

It offers a glimpse into their marriage and shares recipes she's cooked for him over the years. Every page illustrates Ina's unconditional and eternal love for Jeffrey, unaffected by her fame, fortunate, or army of hot gay men at her side. It's one of my favorites!

Though I didn't get my dream date with Ina and Jeffrey, I did spend the week in NYC celebrating with my beautiful birth mother, family and friends.

Somehow I was given free reign over choosing the restaurants this year. That's like letting a misbehaved toddler run loose in a candy store. I had no restraint as I added high end restaurant after restaurant onto our "itinerary." (See below). At least it's organized, but also dangerously bordering pathologic.

Sure, I was teased and taunted a bit for my itinerary, but the food. Sigh. Let's just say it was beyond least any words a measly Biology major who struggled through a single college writing course could muster. There were so many sensational experiences but my favorites (in ascending order) were Nix, Gotham Bar and Grill, Dovetail, Annisa, Le Bernardin, Jungsik, and of course, Eleven Madison Park.

I even got to meet Eric Ripert and Anita Lo at their restaurants! Yes, feel free to be jealous...that is until the debt collectors come slamming on my door

But in all seriousness, while I certainly enjoy Michelin-starred establishments, I'd choose delivery from a Piźa Haute chain any day if it meant dining with my friends and family.

Though I love dining out with friends, my favorite option is always to cook for them myself. Like Ina, nothing brings me more pleasure than preparing a simple, intimate meal for my loved ones, my "Jeffries."

However, not every relationship is as fairy tale as Ina and Jeffrey's, and not all good things last. I have always wanted to be honest on here, so I'm sharing that recently, I've had to learn to be my own Jeffrey.

As my own Jeffrey, I've re-discovered joy and excitement in being kind and loving to myself. In addition to getting back to the gym, taking spa days, and snapping a few shameless selfies, I created a dish to represent me - my quirks, borderline manic passions, and love for lavish ingredients.

I ventured to Whole Foods without a plan, but almost instinctively envisioned a cauliflower couscous elevated with morels, wild mushrooms, saffron, and fresh herbs. Basically all my favorite ingredients.

After weeks of tweaking and force feeding cauliflower to my friends, I'm excited to share my masterpiece. It's great as both a meal or a side dish. Just be sure to make extra because you'll be hooked...I've literally eaten it nonstop for 3 weeks.

The couscous is not only comforting and delicious, it's also healthy. It's entirely made of veggies, herbs, nuts, and EVOO...basically making it the poster child for the Mediterranean diet. That means, it's good for your heart AND can help prevent heart disease. (Click to read more).

Believe me, I very strongly dislike "diet foods." I'm a proponent for moderation, so if I occasionally want a slice of pizza, you better give me a goddamn slice of pizza. Don't even think about serving some imitation crust to this NYC Jew. Not gonna happen. Not on my watch!

With that being said, this cauliflower recipe is special. Whether it tastes like couscous to you or not is irrelevant. It's addictive. I've made the recipe over a dozen times and it's always a hit.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I do. Please let me know on social media or in the comments below!

Tips/Tricks to Make the Perfect Cauliflower "Couscous"
  • After reconstituting dried mushrooms, save the wonderful broth
    • It's great for stocks and recipes. 
    • Just be sure to pass it through a coffee filter to remove dirt and debris
  • Morels add a pretentious factor to the dish, but if you can't find them or are a reasonable person that doesn't want to spend 20 dollars on a tiny bag, just replace them with more wild mushrooms
  •  A food processor is preferred for a finer, couscous consistency
    • Box graters will work just fine, though. Just expect a slightly larger "grain"
  • Flavors vary considerably depending on the size of your cauliflower and your ingredients
    • Be sure to season to taste with more or less salt, pepper, and lemon
  • Have fun and create your own versions. There's endless options. Share your favorites! 
  • Try the couscous with my salmon chriameh. The sauce and cauliflower are perfect together

Cauliflower "Couscous" Ingredients
  • 1 head cauliflower (medium to large), cored, broken into small florets
  • 1 1/2 ounces dried mushrooms (morels + any assortment of other wild species)
    • Roughly half from dried morels (~3/4 to 1 ounces)
    • Remaining portion from other wild species (porcini, chanterelle, lobster, morels, etc)
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 (generous) teaspoon saffron threads 
  • 2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
  • 8 tablespoons good olive oil
  • 1/3 cup fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1/3 cup thinly sliced scallions, white and green parts
  • 1/3 cup toasted almonds, roughly chopped
  • Zest of 1 lemon (about 1 tablespoon)
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Cauliflower "Couscous" Recipe
Reconstitute the mushrooms:
Place the dried mushrooms in a medium sized bowl and pour 2 cups boiling water over them. Soak for at least 30 minutes.

With a slotted spoon, scoop the mushrooms out of the water. (Don't pour the liquid and mushrooms directly through a strainer to avoid re-soiling the mushrooms with dirt and debris that settled at the bottom of the bowl).

Rinse the mushrooms under cold water to remove any remaining grit and drain. (Nobody wants to eat sand for dinner). The mushrooms may vary in size. Cut any large mushrooms into 2 or 3 pieces. Set aside.

Steep the saffron:
Place saffron threads in a small bowl and soak with 8 tablespoons boiling water. Allow saffron to steep for 30 minutes. Set aside.

Prepare the cauliflower:
Place cauliflower florets into a food processor fitted with the standard S-shaped blade. Carefully pulse until all the florets are broken down and resemble couscous. Do not pulse beyond that point.

To make the "couscous"
In a large, heavy bottomed sauté pan or dutch oven (I use a 5 quart dutch oven from Le Creuset), heat 6 tablespoons of olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the mushrooms and thyme and cook for 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for an additional 2 to 3 minutes, till the mushrooms are at desired doneness. Remove the mushrooms and garlic with a slotted spoon and set aside, but leave the excess olive oil in the heated pan.

Immediately add the grated cauliflower to the pan, stirring to combine with the oil. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 2 teaspoons kosher salt, and a few grinds of black pepper to the cauliflower and cook over medium heat for 2 minutes. Using a large spoon, occasionally fluff rather than stir as you would couscous.

Stir in the saffron liquid and threads and cook for approximately 5 minutes, until cooked through. There should be no residual raw cauliflower flavor. As far as the texture, it should be softened, but not mushy. I like it to maintain a slight bite.

Remove from the heat and gently fold in the parsley, scallions, lemon zest, lemon juice, almonds, and mushrooms. Allow the flavors to blend together for about 5 minutes before serving.