Archives for posts with tag: Mint

Lamb chops are something that have always daunted me.  I save lamb for restaurants where a more experienced chef can masterfully prepare them for me without the stress and over thinking that would be occurring in my kitchen.  The pros can  handle red meat better than I can.  What I’m scared of the most is overcooking a good piece of meat.  Why spend the money and then “accidentally” cook a juicy steak or lamb chop to well-done.  (No offense to those who like their meat well-done.)

My husband has been asking me to make him rack of lamb for five years.  Five years!  I’ve tried to maneuver my way around the issue and make him roasted leg of lamb or lamb shank.  But something about the rack of lamb scared me.  Every year on his birthday, he requests rack of lamb and every year I get myself out of it.  Since this year we have celebrated five birthdays together, I just made the dive and we both went to the butcher and got the rack of lamb.  I needed the support, that’s why we both went.

Once we got home, I contemplated what I should do with the lamb, the over thinking had begun.  After all, I’ve eaten lamb many many times at restaurants, so I calmed myself down and went with my instincts.  Herbs became the main attraction followed by lemon and nuts.  I raided my pantry and came up with a herb, walnut, lemon, capers crusted lamb.  I let it marinate so the flavors would penetrate the meat.

I roasted it and it came out perfectly, medium rare bordering medium.  (I do love steaks at medium-rare, but for me, lamb needs to be cooked a tad bit more.)  While it was roasting I also prepared a shallot and dijon sauce, which was lovely with the lamb.  When we sliced through the rack, I finally got over my fear and could do it again and again.  The end result makes you want to step back in the kitchen and expand your culinary horizons.  For now I’ve tackled rack of lamb, let’s see what comes up next.

Rack of Lamb with a Walnut and Herb Crust

Serves 2 with leftovers

Ingredients

1 french rack of lamb, 8 chops in total

1 cup chopped fresh herbs (mint, parsley, thyme, chives) + extra for garnish

5 cloves of garlic

juice and zest of 2 lemons + plus extra for garnish

2 tablespoons capers, rinsed and drained

1/2 cup toasted walnuts

1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

1/4 cup olive oil

salt and black pepper, to taste

for the sauce:

olive oil

2 shallots or 1 large shallot finely chopped

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

2 cups chicken or beef stock

1 heaping tablespoon crème fraîche

fresh chopped parsley

salt and black pepper, to taste

Method

To make the crust: in a food processor, combine the herbs with the olive oil, lemon juice and zest, capers, walnuts, flour, salt and pepper.  Pulse lightly until everything is crumbly yet a little sticky.

Salt and pepper the rack of lamb and then cover both sides with the crust and marinate in the refrigerator for 4-6 hours.

Before baking preheat the oven to 425 degrees and bake the lamb in an oven-safe pan or dish for 25 minutes.  If you like your meat cooked well-done, add another 7-10 minutes.

While the lamb is roasting, prepare the sauce.  In a saute pan, add about a tablespoon of olive oil to the pan on medium heat and once it comes to temperature, add in the shallots and cook until translucent and on the verge of turning light brown.  At this point, add in the Dijon mustard, chicken or beef stock, salt, black pepper and allow it to reduce.  Once reduced to your liking, add in the crème fraîche and parsley.  Once the lamb is cooked, let it rest outside the oven covered in aluminum foil for 15 minutes. Serve the lamb with the sauce and garnish with some fresh lemon and chopped herbs.

I also added some asparagus in the pan with the lamb, towards the end of cooking.  I served the lamb with a sunchoke mash as well.

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When in doubt I turn ingredients into a dip.  I don’t know where I got this habit from, but somehow I developed it.  I think it partially might have stemmed from my childhood love for artichoke dip.  But who knows, whatever the reason is, I am now somewhat notorious for my dips.  When I visit my parents and they have people over I make a dip platter, along with a cheese platter, of course.  When I invite people over I do the same.  You can’t even imagine the attachment I have with my Cuisinart food processor and my mini food processor, which I fondly refer to as C. Junior.  These two gadgets make everything so simple, so effortless.

When I tell you I am attached, I really mean it.  Practically, every time I cook, I use either the “Senior” or “Junior” version of my food processor.  If I want to make a Pakistani dish quickly, then I throw in the garlic and ginger whiz it up and then throw in some tomatoes and within no time without all the chopping and slaving over the cutting board I have a delicious dish.

Believe me, I could go on and on about my food processors, but for the sake of the readers who might abandon me and deem me as off the wall, I will stop now.  The reason I mention the food processor was this eggplant dip I made.  You see, I had a vague idea in my mind as to what I wanted to make: eggplant with pomegranate molasses, and feta.  But, in the initial stages I was not visualizing a dip.  As I went along preparing the eggplant, the idea of a dip struck me.  Call it predictable or whatever you want, but the truth is, it worked and worked quite well I might add.  The smokiness of the spices, the creaminess of the feta, and the freshness of the herbs melded together to form one harmonious dip that was gobbled up by my husband and I in no time.


Eggplant Dip with Pomegranate Molasses and Feta

*I was inspired by this recipe, but I did not stay true to the recipe, I just used it as a jumping off point.

Serves 4-6, as an appetizer

Ingredients

Olive Oil

2 medium-sized Sicilian eggplants, peeled and cut into a small dice (or any variety you prefer), about 3 cups diced

3 shallots. chopped

4 cloves of garlic, minced

1/4 cup pomegranate molasses

1 cup crumbled Middle Eastern Feta

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

1/2 cup chopped parsley

5-7 mint leaves chopped

1/4 cup pomegranate seeds

2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts

salt and black pepper, to taste

for the spices:

1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds

1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds

1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika

1 teaspoon dried pomegranate seeds, found in most Pakistani/Indian grocery stores

Method

First, dry roast the spices in a dry pan on medium heat until you start to smell their aromas, 5-7 minutes.  Cool them for a minute and then transfer to a spice mill or coffee grinder and pulse until they all combine into a uniform mixture.  Set aside.

Heat a medium-sized sauté pan with a nice coating of olive oil on medium heat.  When the oil comes to temperature, add the shallots and allow them to caramelize, about 5-7 minutes.  Add in the garlic and cook for 1-2 minutes.   Toss in the eggplant and pomegranate molasses and allow the eggplant to caramelize as well.  Season with salt and pepper.  After 5 minutes of cooking, add the spice mixture.  Let the eggplant cook down further, until it is completely cooked through, about another 15-20 minutes.

Once the eggplant is cooked, allow it to cool for 15 minutes.  Next, take out a food processor (if you don’t have one you can mash by hand) and add in the cooked eggplant, feta, lemon juice, parsley, mint, a good drizzle of olive oil and pulse until combined.  Taste to see if any additional salt and pepper is required.  Garnish with the fresh pomegranate seeds, toasted pine nuts, parsley, mint, and a drizzle of olive oil.  Serve with toasted pita wedges or any bread of your choice.  I like to serve this slightly warm or at room temperature, but it can be served chilled.

* I decided to make a similar dip with butternut squash and caramelized shallots and posted it on food52, do have a look here.

My younger sister and I are practically in constant contact.  She is half a world away from me in Dubai, but we use all forms of communication whether it is Blackberry messenger, MSN messenger, Facebook, Twitter, Gmail chat, and Skype to keep in touch.  Sometimes we have multiple conversations going on at the same time through these various messaging programs.  We are even known to chat with each other online while in the same room.  When we all come to my parents’ house we call our dining room table the “IT Center.”  My sister, my husband, my sister’s fiancé, my cousin, Henna, and myself all have our laptops open  on the table doing our own thing and also chatting with each other.  If anyone else ever walked in, I’m sure they would think we were not completely “normal.”

The reason I mention these vast forms of communication is because my sister has been asking me to make a Middle Eastern platter, so my husband and I can eat the same sorts of things she is enjoying in Dubai.  For the past few weeks, she has been messaging me about labneh (thickened yogurt cheese) and if I bought it yet.  My answer is always no, because I can’t get any in Kingston.  So, she told me to make it.  My attempt to make it failed miserably, because I went to the only kitchen supply store in Kingston to get  cheesecloth to drain the water out of yogurt and they were sold out and would not be getting any more for two weeks.  I told her this and she was quite upset.  As you can see, we are extremely passionate about food.

Shanklish Cheese- a semi soft sheep's milk cheese popular in Syria and Lebanon. The cheese balls are rolled in sumac, chili, oregano, and spices.

The first thing we ask each other everyday is what did you eat so far today.  Notice, the “so far” because we are never really done eating.  You can imagine my sister’s joy when I told her we were going to Toronto for the weekend.  The first thing she said was if I was going get the things for the Middle Eastern platter.  I got reminder after reminder, just in case I could ever forget.  My husband tells me to shut the sound off on the BB because of all the alerts I get from my sister’s chats.  When I finally was able to go to the Middle Eastern market, I was on BBM with my sister.  Mind you, I am not the type of person who is constantly on my BB, it’s not even mine, it’s my husband’s and I borrow it when I want to talk to my sister.  I actually get annoyed when people are out with you and spending more time with their phone than you.  Eating my own words, I became that person in the Middle Eastern Market.  I wasn’t paying attention to anyone around me and just in search of what my sister was telling me to get.

I love Middle Eastern food, so I enjoyed this “quest .”   I have not travelled extensively in the Middle East, only to Egypt and the UAE, though I would love to. I went to Dubai recently and the food there was just amazing.  Ever since my return from Dubai, I have been hooked on it.  My husband also grew up in Saudi Arabia, so he has the taste for Middle Eastern food as well.

As I mazed through the market, I filled my cart with all sorts of different foods.  I stocked up because some things are hard for me to find here.  My sister, half way across the world was content with my purchases and satisfied with the incognito pictures I was taking of the cheeses, olives, nuts, and sweets.

The thing I love about this food is that it is fresh and easy.  I didn’t do much cooking at all, it was all just assembly.  A platter like this is fun to serve as an appetizer when you have people over because it is like a bounty of food in the middle of the table for everyone to share.  Individually plated formal dinners can be nice too, but there’s nothing like breaking bread together and enjoying fresh delicious food.

Middle Eastern Platter

There are no set rules here.  Use whatever you suits your taste-buds  This time I used a bunch of radishes, Lebanese cucumbers, mint, tomatoes, lemons for squeezing, grilled sujuk sausages, labneh topped with za’atar olive oil and pine nuts, Lebanese black olives, shanklish rolled in thyme, sumac, and oregano, crusty grilled bread drizzled with olive oil, salt, and pepper.

Other options could include herb roasted nuts, dried fruits such as apricots and dates, phyllo pastries, hummus and other dips, salads such as fattouch, tabouleh, halloumi cheese, manakeesh, roasted vegetables, mixed greens.

Use a large platter and bunch the different items together in clusters and arrange everything in an attractive manner.  Let it be messy and organic.  I do not like a platter to look too perfect.

Lately my routine has not allowed me to update my blog as frequently as I would have liked to.  I have come up with a bout of forgetfulness.  Not to say I forgot about my blog, but I have been misplaced from my apartment and have had a very ill-regimented schedule.  I really missed cooking but now I’m ready to forge ahead with full force!  I was staying at my in-law’s house in Toronto and my sister-in-law is a great cook on her own, so I was not really needed in the kitchen.  Not that I’m complaining, this was easy for me. Not to say that my sister-in-law’s purpose is to cook for me.  She is very sweet and I am lucky to have her as a sister-in-law. But, my time off from the kitchen had something to do with my absolute absent-mindedness.  With no responsibilities, I became somewhat aloof.

My husband and I were going to drive back to Kingston to drop off some stuff I had accumulated on my US trip.  After sitting in two hours of traffic I suddenly realized I forgot the apartment keys at home.  As you can guess my husband was not amused.  That’s was when I got the lecture about, “my irresponsibility.”  I became a little paranoid, was I showing early signs of dementia?  When I mentioned this you should have seen the glare my husband gave me.  He was already angry with me forgetting the keys, and my ridiculousness put him over the edge.  Thankfully, my husband is a calm person and got over it quickly.  Mistakes happen!

I also forgot my camera at my in-law’s.  I am quite upset about this, because though I was going through a cooking drought I did manage to make one Spring version of a potato salad.  Me being myself, did not upload the pictures beforehand and cannot post the recipe until I get my camera back.  These are the two major things I have forgotten recently, but there are countless other things I will not bore you with.

Had enough of my rambling yet?  Let’s get on to the chicken, to be honest, I started writing the post for the chicken skewers in green marinade more than a month ago and forgot about it.  Then as I was looking through my posts I saw this and wondered why I never finished the post.  I guess things always come around to full circle.  I really wanted to get back into my blog and thankfully, I had some uploaded pictures on my computer.  So here I am now bringing this to you.

This chicken dish is a staple of mine.  One thing I never forget to do is to use herbs.  My dishes are naked without them.  This exemplifies my use of some of my favorite herbs: cilantro and mint.  The flavors meld into one.  I really think someone should make a hybrid of mint and cilantro.  Maybe I should get going on that idea.  🙂  The marination process really allows the chicken to moisten.  This also has something to do with the addition of cream into the marinade, indulgent, yes, but well worth it.  It also is also a variant from the traditional Pakistani food I cook most of the time.  I love using similar and familiar flavors but with a twist.  This keeps cooking and eating fun.

Chicken Skewers in a Green Marinade

Serves 4

Ingredients

2 pounds boneless chicken in chunks (breast or thigh)

4 cloves of garlic made into a paste

1/2 cup packed mint leaves, finely chopped

1/2 cup packed cilantro leaves, finely chopped

1 long green chili, finely chopped

juice of 1 lime

1 teaspoon cumin powder

1 teaspoon salt, or to taste

freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1/2 teaspoon  crushed red chilis, or to taste

1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder

1/2 teaspoon garam masala powder

1/4 cup heavy cream

Method

Combine all ingredients except the chicken in a blender or food processor.  Place the chicken in a bowl and pour the marinade over it.  Allow it to marinate for 3-4 hours.  After 3-4 hours place the chicken on skewers and bake on a  lightly oiled baking tray in a preheated 400 degree oven for about 15-20 minutes or until cooked through.  Now that the weather is getting better, this would be great on a charcoal grill.  Serve with lime wedges and garnish with mint and cilantro.  Accompany with rice or naan.

My sister and I have these lists called “life lists.”  Nine out of ten times they relate to food.  We came up with this somewhat childish classification system on a long road trip with my husband and his friend.  We were absolutely bored out of our minds and decided to ask each other what were each of our “life foods,” in other, less eccentric terms, which foods can you see yourself loving for life?  Essentially, we broke down our “life foods” by categories such as regional cuisines to something as odd as, “what are your life chips?”  I know, you must be thinking that we are a little off in the mind, but little quirks like this make us who we are.  I’m sure every group of close friends and family have their own innuendos that no one else would understand.

Back to the “life foods,”  I named Mediterranean cuisine as a regional “life cuisine.”  I love the freshness and the lightness associated with it.  It’s such a vibrant area that yields amazing cuisine in my opinion.  Though the term, Mediterranean is a little vague, I love it all, whether it is Southern European, Greek, North African, Turkish, Lebanese, and so on.  I would consider this dip truly Mediterranean, because I’m sure you can find it in one form or another all over the Mediterranean.  It’s a fresh, light, and a delicious dip.  It’s simple, yet packs a lot of intensity.

Eggplant and Pepper Dip

Makes about 2 cups of dip

Adapted from Gourmet Magazine

Ingredients

i medium sized eggplant

1 large red bell pepper

6 cloves of garlic

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 jalapeno chili, roughly chopped (remove the seeds if you like)

1 teaspoon salt, or to taste

1 /2 teaspoon black pepper, or to taste

1/2 teaspoon crushed red chilies, or to taste

1 teaspoon ground cumin

6 tablespoons olive oil

10 sprigs on chives, roughly chopped

handful of flat leaf parsley, chopped

4 mint leaves, roughly chopped

crumbled feta cheese, for garnish, optional

extra parsley and chives for garnish, optional

pita wedges for serving

Method

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.  Poke the eggplant and red pepper  with a knife so that you create some holes in the flesh.  Cover both with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, salt, and pepper to taste.  Place on a baking tray with 4 whole garlic cloves and bake for about 30-45 minutes, or until the flesh is soft and cooked through.  Allow to cool slightly and remove the skins off the eggplant and the pepper.  Place the cooked eggplant, pepper, and roasted garlic cloves in a food processor with the salt, pepper, cumin, crushed red chillies, lemon juice,  jalapeno, 2 raw garlic cloves, chives, mint, parsley, and olive oil.  Pulse until the consistency is almost smooth, let there still be some texture.  Chill in the refrigerator and garnish with feta cheese, fresh herbs, and a drizzle of olive oil.  Serve with pita wedges.

IMG_7766Hari chutney is a South Asian condiment.  I always have it made in my fridge.   Basically, it is a green chutney consisting of cilantro, mint, and green chilies.  You can eat with rice, curries, samosas, tandoori dishes, basically anything.  The flavors in it are so fresh and vibrant because of the mint and cilantro.  The herby quality of the chutney mellows out and completes whatever dish it is accompanying.  I have been trying to make the perfect chutney for quite a few years and now I think I finally have it right.  Sometimes it would be too minty, other times too spicy, I have tried it with and without lime and I think I prefer it without lime (just slightly though).  I usually add whisked yogurt to tone it down a bit and give the chutney a more delicate flavor.  However, it is perfectly suitable to refrain from adding yogurt.  In this case, a squirt of lime juice to enhance the chutney’s flavor.  Traditionally, this chutney was made with a large mortar and pestle.  But, in today’s world, usually we opt for an easier option–the blender.

This chutney is quite simple to prepare.  I also add some freshly ground cumin, and just a pinch of ajwain (carom) seeds.  The cumin adds earthiness and the ajwain complements the mint with a great pungency.

Cilantro and Mint Chutney

Makes about 2 cups of chutneyIMG_7733

Ingredients

1/2 a bunch of cilantro, washed throughly, thick stems removed

15 mint leaves, stems removed

1-2 green chilies, stems removed and coarsely chopped

1 clove garlic, chopped roughly

juice of half a lime, optional (for chutney without yogurt)

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground cumin powder

1/4 teaspoon scant ajwain

1/2 teaspoon of salt (or to taste)

1/2 teaspoon red chili powder (cayenne pepper)

1 1/2 cup whisked plain yogurt (you may add water or milk to thin it out a bit)

Method:IMG_7749

In a blender or food processor, add the cilantro, mint, green chilies, garlic, salt, cumin, ajwain, and cayenne.  Add 1-2 tablespoons of water until everything is a smooth puree.  If you are not using yogurt add the lime as well.

If adding yogurt, pour the chutney into the whisked yogurt and combine.  Taste and adjust seasonings, if necessary.

This can keep in the refrigerator for about a week.

*Some add dried pomegranate seeds to the chutney as well.  I do not particularly care for it in this chutney, but you may want to try it out.