Tag Archives: walnuts

Oowie, Goowie

Cooking is my passion.  If you enjoy eating you’re my kind of person.  We have just returned from a two week vacation in California, visit family.  My brother-in-law, my two sisters-in-law live in southern California; in La Quinta and Palm Springs respectively.  Southern California is a different universe.  Wealth is on display everywhere, along with manicured lawns, gated communities, golf courses, cars we’ve never seen before, Latino labor, and a incredible wealth discrepancy.

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The weather was beautiful.  Most days were in the 80’s; and dry heat is a thing.  We went up the tram in Palm Springs; although Val was terrified.  We ate sushi, gourmet Mexican, Italian sandwiches, gourmet pizza and burgers.  We went to cocktail bars, and Joshua Tree National Park.  It was a lesson in contrasts.  In spite of the culture shock, the farmers markets and Mexican grocery stores were inspiring and abundant.

Even though it was a much needed vacation for us, my joy was cooking for family and new acquaintances with some of the best produce I’ve ever encountered.  I’ve never taken so many photographs.  We were surrounded by mountains, and there wasn’t a bad view to be had.  One of the things I enjoyed making was my first Baklava.  I have gotten used to working with phyllo dough and it was rich an satisfying.  My family loved it, and it was a special time together.

INGREDIENTS:

FOR THE BAKLAVA:

  • 16 ounces walnuts
  • 1.5 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoons ground cardamom
  • 16 ounces phyllo dough, thawed
  • 1 cup unsweetened butter melted

FOR SYRUP:

  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup cane sugar
  • 1 cup good quality honey
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 strip orange peel
  • 1 strip lemon peel

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INSTRUCTIONS:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Pulse the walnuts in a food processor with the cinnamon, cardamom, and salt until finely chopped.
  3. To assemble the baklava, place 8 layers of phyllo dough on-by-one on the bottom of a 9 x 13 baking pan, brushing each lightly with butter.
  4. Spread 2/3 cup of walnuts mixture evenly on top.
  5. Add another 5 layers of phyllo one-by-one, brushing each one with butter, then add another layer of walnuts.  The total sequence should be phyllo layers of 8,5,5,5,5,8, with nuts in between each layer.
  6. Using a sharp knife, cut teh baklava into whatever shape you desire (diamonds, square, triangles).
  7. Bake the baklava for 50 minutes, until golden on the edges and tops.  Then let cool for at least 15 minutes.
  8. In the meantime, bring all the syrup ingredients to a boil in a saucepan, then reduce to a simmer for 5 minutes.
  9. Remove the cinnamon stick, and citrus peels, and pour the hot syrup evenly over the baklava.  Let the baklava cool completely at room temperature for 8 hours (uncovered to prevent sogginess).  Then it’s ready to enjoy.

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“A good cook works by the fire of the imagination not merely by the fire in the stove.”

Robert Tristram Coffin

 

 

Spread The Wealth

One of the outstanding things about summer is the abundance of fresh produce.  When looking for inspiration, I’m frequently inspired by America’s rich immigrant cultures.  I keep returning to the Mediterranean.  Their foods are creative, savory and delicious.

I am crazy about tomatoes, eggplant and garlic.  Alone or in combination they continue to be flavors with endless possibility.  I love a good baba ganoush or baba ghnouj, an eggplant dip typically made with roasted eggplant, tahini, olive oil and lemon juice. When I came across recipes from the Lebanese heritage using slightly different ingredients to make a thicker spread called Borani-E Badenjan I couldn’t wait to try it.  It had all the ingredients I love, including caramelized onion, garlic and yogurt.  I frequently freeze large batches of caramelized onions, since they are one of our main crops.  I have them at the ready to be used in anything from dips, to pizza.  I’ve written the recipe to include cooking the onion specifically as you make the spread.  I like to eat it with pita, cucumbers and/or carrots.

EGGPLANT AND YOGURT SPREAD (BORANI-E BADENJAN)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 large eggplants (a little over a pound)
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, halved lengthwise and cut into thin slices
  • 1 cloves garlic, grated on a microplane
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 teaspoon sumac
  • 1/3 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
  • Fresh pita for serving

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DIRECTIONS:

  1.  Preheat the broiler to high (alternately, you can do this on a gas grill).  Prick the eggplants in several places with the tip of a knife and place under the hot broiler or on a gas grill.  Broil or grill for 30-40 minutes, turning them halfway through, until the skin is charred and the flesh is very soft.  Halve the frilled eggplant lengthwise.  Scoop out the flesh and place in a colander for about 30 minutes to drain off the excess liquid.
  2. Heat the olive oil in skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the onion and cook until soft and lightly golden, about 5-8 minutes.  Add the garlic and saute for another minute or so.  In a food processor, add the eggplant, onions, and season with salt and pepper to taste.  Process until smooth.
  3. Stir the yogurt, and sumac into the cooled mixture.  Transfer to a serving dish.  Drizzle with  olive oil and sprinkle with a few saffron threads or 1/4 teaspoon sumac.  Top with chopped walnuts.  Serve with pita.

Yields: 1-2 cups

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 “The only thing I like better than talking about food is eating” – John Walters