Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Salmon Salad with Roasted Summer Vegetables


I had 7 ounces of salmon sitting in my fridge last night when I got home from work, but I just wasn't in the mood for my typical weekday treatment of this fish: spritz with olive oil and lemon, add salt and pepper, bake until done and eat with rice. It tastes good, don't get me wrong, but I have a kitchen bursting full of produce from the farmers market this week and I wanted something more exciting, something that would showcase some of the mid-summer vegetables that have just begun to appear in the stands and stalls of my favorite produce purveyors.

A quick Internet search revealed that Salmon Salad is a rather popular item and that pairing it with pasta is a classic combination. Most of the recipes I found mix the salmon and pasta with raw vegetables such as celery and onion. My salad takes a slightly different approach. The salmon and the vegetables are all roasted together and then combined with the pasta at the end. Fresh dill, lemon juice, a dash of white wine and capers liven up the rich flavours of the roasted veggies and perfectly complement the salmon. An optional touch of red pepper flakes adds a nice spark to this salad. I ate this hot for dinner last night and cold for lunch today and it was good both ways.

This recipe is a great way to use some of the summer vegetables that may be crowding your kitchen or garden. If you have zucchini, here is the place to use it. I think diced bell peppers would be an excellent addition to the roasting pan as well.


Salmon Salad with Roasted Summer Vegetables
Serves three, about 310 calories per serving or 930 calories total.

7 ounces of salmon fillet, no skin (wild caught is considered most sustainable)

4 ounces of whole wheat fusilli pasta (about 2 cups dry), cooked and drained

1 pint of cherry tomatoes

1 or 2 (or 3!) medium zucchini, about 7 inches long, cut into bite sized chunks

2 small onions, peeled and cut into wedges

6-12 cloves of garlic, peeled and cut into 2-3 pieces (I used 12 cloves, which my boyfriend thought was too much. It seemed fine to me, but let your conscience-and your palate-be your guide)

1/2 lemon

2-3 tablespoons chopped fresh dill (to taste)

2 tablespoons capers

2 tsp olive oil

large grained sea salt and fresh ground black pepper

Optional: 2 tablespoons dry white wine (I used a Savignon Blanc)

Optional: 1 tsp red pepper flakes (I think this is a good addition but if you don't like spiciness at all it can be omitted)

Optional: about 1/2 cup thinly sliced fennel (omit if you don't like its slightly licorice flavour)


Procedure:

1. Heat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Prep your garlic and dump it in a large, lightly oiled (1 tsp of the olive oil should do the trick) baking pan. Because the garlic needs a bit more roasting time then the rest of the ingredients, go ahead and put the pan in the oven now while you continue to prepare the rest of the vegetables. Once you have your zucchini, onion and tomatoes (along with optional fennel or perhaps bell pepper) ready for the pan, pull the garlic out of the oven and add the rest of the ingredients, along with half the chopped dill and a few lacy fronds from the fennel bulb, if you are using it.

2. Lay the salmon fillet in the middle of pan with the vegetables, and season the whole shebang with large grained sea salt, fresh ground black pepper and the red pepper flakes, if using. Spritz on another 1/2 to 1 tsp olive oil and stir the vegetables gently to coat them, then pop the whole thing back in the oven and let it bake for about 15 minutes, stirring the vegetables so they cook evenly.

3. Check the salmon when it is done, turn on the broiler and place the pan under it for a couple minutes to lightly brown the vegetables. If you don't have a broiler, this step is not necessary, but it is a nice touch.

4. Turn off the broiler, and place the pan on the stove-top. Add the two tablespoons of white wine, if you are using it, as well as the juice of half a lemon (and some of the zest if you like), the capers, the remaining dill and the whole wheat fusilli. Stir to combine, taste and adjust the seasonings as necessary. Serve warm or cold.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Grilled Zucchini Wraps with Pineapple and Smoked Paprika


I know what I'm eating for the rest of the summer. I thought it was going to be ice cream, but it turns out I was wrong. I have discovered the perfect summer food, and I am going to enjoy it as long as I can. I have made and devoured these grilled zucchini wraps three times now and they are the most mouthwatering, flavourful and versatile meal I've had in ages.

These wraps are serious contenders in a field normally dominated by field fresh tomatoes and corn on the cob, farm house mozzarella and home grown basil. They are fresh, bursting with the flavours of summer, and quick and easy to make even if you live in an apartment with no balcony and don't have a real grill. The paprika adds a wonderful smokiness to the vegetables even without charcoal and the cumin, chipotle and olive oil combine with the sweetness of the pineapple to wow the tongue with every bite.

The key to this wrap is fresh ingredients. Obviously unless you live in the tropics, your pineapple is going to be a bit ship worn, but look for one that smells ripe (stick your nose close to it. If you don't smell anything, don't buy it). If at all possible, buy your zucchini organic and local, and get small ones, the big boys tend to be tough and we don't want that. Same goes for the tomato. We want the freshest, ripest and most flavourful tomato one can find. If you can pick it from your backyard, all the better. If not, try to find a local farmer you can buy some from. Tomatoes that are shipped long distances (say, from California to Washington DC) are usually picked before they ripen fully, and they never have the flavour and texture of those plucked ripe from the vine.


Grilled Zucchini Wraps with Pineapple and Smoked Paprika

Makes two wraps. This is a very forgiving recipe, so if you don't happen to have a fresh pineapple sitting on your counter, go ahead and try it without, or substitute mango or peaches. You won't have the same distinct pineapple flavour, but it will still be good. Personally I ate this twice before thinking of adding pineapple to it, and it was delicious without any fruit at all.

While this wrap is great as is, you can also add grilled tofu or tempeh or some fish, shrimp or chicken. Just rub your protein of choice with the same spices as the veggies, grill until done, and add to your tortilla. If you are using fish you probably will want to wrap it in tin foil so it doesn't flake apart on your grill. With both the fish and chicken you may want to pull the meat apart into little pieces, carnitas-style, so that you can easily chow down on your wrap.

Finally, you can also experiment with different vegetables. Personally I plan to try this with some young eggplant, you might also want to use strips of bell pepper for a classic fajita-style combo. If it sounds good, it probably is, so let your palate be your guide and don't worry about straying from the recipe, that's how new ones are invented!

I grilled my zucchini on a small, plug-in George Foreman counter top electric grill. If you are lucky enough to have the real deal, lucky you! If you don't have any type of grill, you can simply cook the pineapple and veggies in a dry cast iron, or in a pinch, non-stick, pan. Keep an eye on them so they don't stick and cook until the onion is slightly caramelized and the zucchini and pineapple have softened. If you have a grill pan, use that to get those awesome stripey grill marks.

4 ounces zucchini (1 medium zucchini, about 7 inches long, or 2 small ones)

1 medium tomato

about 2 ounces of pineapple, or 4 or 5 thin strips, cut vertically (top to bottom) from the fruit.

1/8-1/4 tsp smoked Spanish paprika ( I used pimento de la vera)

1/8-1/4 tsp ground cumin

about 1/8 tsp ground chipotle pepper or to taste

Salt and fresh ground black pepper

1/2 tsp extra virgin olive oil

2 whole wheat tortillas or wraps (use your favorite wrap of choice)

1 lime cut into wedges

A small handful of cilantro, chopped

Procedure:

1. Fire up your grill, plug in your George Foreman or pull out your grill pan and turn on the burner. While your method of choice is heating up, wash the zucchini and slice it very thinly lengthwise into strips. Peel and thinly slice the onion. Cut the top and bottom off of the pineapple, then cut a wedge out like you would from a melon. Once you have the slice in hand, lay it skin side down on your cutting board and run a sharp knife along between the skin and the flesh to remove the skin. Cut out any eyes with the tip of your knife. Then cut the wedge into several very thin slices lengthwise. Note: By peeling the slice after cutting it from the pineapple, you can leave the rest of the pineapple unpeeled, wrap it in plastic wrap or a plastic bag and store it for up to a week in the fridge. If you peel the whole fruit at once, you will want to use it all in the next couple days. To see a tutorial of how to peel a whole pineapple, go here.

2. Toss the zucchini, onion and pineapple in a bowl. Spritz lightly with about half a teaspoon of olive oil. Using your hands, toss the fruit and vegetables until they are lightly coated with oil, then add the spices and toss again until they are evenly seasoned.

3. Lay the slices carefully on your grill and cook until you get good grill marks and the onions are soft. Turn the zucchini and pineapple to mark both sides. On my Foreman grill it only took 2-3 minutes on each side to cook the zucchini and caramelize the onions and pineapple. Be especially careful with the pineapple, since the sugars in the fruit burn easily. Meanwhile, heat up the tortillas, either on the grill or grill-pan or in a hot, un-greased frying pan (preferably cast iron).

4. Place a hot tortilla on a plate and load it up with onion, zucchini and pineapple. Top with thinly sliced tomato. If you grilled any meat, fish or tofu, add it to the wrap as well. If you like, you can add some mayo, Cajun remoulade or any other spread to the tortilla. However, the wrap is just as good with a hearty sprinkle of chopped cilantro and a big squeeze of lime juice. I like a little hot sauce on top too, but then I think everything is better with hot sauce.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Tried and Tasted Roundup: One Hot Stove, and July's Challenge!

I have an recipe file in my inbox where I store all the wonderful, mouthwatering, fabulous foods that I run across while surfing through my fellow bloggers posts. I have literally hundreds of recipes stashed away, some of which I have tried, the majority of which I have only drooled over. In there right now are a bunch of recipes from One Hot Stove, which was selected by Zlamushka of Zlamushka's Spicy Kitchen for the month of June's Tried and Tasted event.

You may recall that I participated in the inaugural session of this great new food blogger event by making Peanut Punch from Cynthia's blog Tastes like Home. Unfortunately, all my great plans for making something delicious (Puris? Halwa?Maybe a snack food from the streets of Mumbai to take me back to days as a teenager travelling with aunt in India?), fell by the wayside as my June got busier and busier. It was after the 4th of July when I realized I had missed the thing entirely.

Luckily other people managed to find the time. The number of participants is growing by leaps and bounds-51 people cooked something from One Hot Stove, testing a total of 53 different recipes. You can see the full spectrum of the delicious appetizers, snacks, drinks, main courses, sides and desserts right here on Zlamushka's blog.

And if, like me, you didn't manage to participate in the June event, July is here and so is the next blog to be Tried and Tasted. This time it is Meeta's blog, What's for Lunch Honey? that will face the T&T challenge. Head over to One Spicy Kitchen to learn how to participate and then to Meeta's blog to pick something to try from her delicious recipe index. Personally I'm eying the lemon and coconut cake...

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Breakfast Series #10: A Belizean Breakfast

Today I enjoyed a classic Belizean breakfast...for lunch. At 2 in the afternoon even calling it brunch was pushing it a little. But I needed to hit the gym before chowing down on this spread. This meal comprises some of the classics of generic Belizean cooking. Fry jacks, a fried dough triangle similar to Indian puris, are made out of flour tortilla dough and deep fried until they puff up and turn a golden brown. They are usually served for breakfast with refried beans and hot sauce enhanced scrambled eggs, and sometimes with callaloo, which is what we in Belize call amaranth greens. While the callaloo is only an occasional accompaniment to this meal, I think it helps to round out an otherwise protein and carbohydrate heavy breakfast. Normally it would be scrambled with the eggs, but in deference to my significant other, who has a fear of green things, I served it separately.

You will find this breakfast in most restaurants across Belize. As a child growing up fry jacks with refried beans and eggs were a treat to be had on town day, at a local restaurant, or on the odd weekend when my father would make them, stuffing the fry jack dough with banana mashed with cinnamon and nutmeg before deep frying them in a smoking hot cast iron dutch oven over our wood stove (you won't find his non-traditional version on most Belizean tables).

Fry jacks are normally served with savory accompaniments, but they are also great spread with jam and topped with a slice of cheese. Imported foods play an important role in Belizean national cuisine, a fact which the fry jack, which is made with imported wheat flour, clearly illustrates. A truly indigenous breakfast would be based on a pile of freshly made corn tortillas and home grown beans, but despite the cost of flour, fry jacks are exceedingly popular across the country. Try out the recipe yourself and you will see why.

The callaloo was stir fried with some garlic while the eggs were scrambled with a habanero pepper jack cheese from our farmer's market that is sold under the apt name "dragon's breath". Of course, that didn't keep me from adding more Marie Sharp's hot sauce while I was eating. The refried beans were from a can ( I know this makes me a bad Belizean!) but I gussied them up by sauteing recado, oregano, cumin seed and onion before adding the beans.

Fry Jacks

Fry jacks are made out of flour tortilla dough that is deep fried instead of baked. Traditionally flour tortilla dough is made with lard, but in Belize many people have replaced it with cheap vegetable shortening imported from abroad. Most recently I have seen Belizean recipes for fry jacks calling for the use of vegetable oil. This recipe uses oil because I wanted to avoid the saturated fats found in most vegetable shortening. I couldn't tell a difference in the flavour or texture between vegetable shortening and vegetable oil based recipes. I also substituted 1/4 of the flour with whole wheat flour to add a little whole grain.

This recipe makes 32 fry jacks, but you can keep some of the dough balls in a ziplock bag in the fridge for several days, so you don't have to cook them all at once. Each triangle of dough is 46 calories, which does not include the oil that it will pick up when fried.

1/2 cup whole wheat flour

1-1/2 cup white flour

1-1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 cup vegetable oil

about 3/4 cup of water or as needed

Procedure:

1. Belizean cooks will "knead some flour" as flour tortilla making is called, on a big round board specially designed for tortilla making. You can use a clean counter top. If you want to make it even easier (though less traditional) you can also use a mixing bowl. Measure out your flour, salt and baking powder into a pile on your counter top. Make a well in the center and pour in the vegetable oil. Using your hands, work the oil into the flour until you have little pebbles of oil saturated dough evenly distributed throughout the flour.

2. Make a new well in the center of the mixture and pour in the water a little at a time, using your other hand to stir the flour into the water in the center of your pile. Keep adding the water and mixing it in a little at a time until you have formed the entire pile of flour into a rough ball of slightly sticky dough. If you are using a bowl, do the same thing. Depending on the moisture content of your flour you may need more or less water to obtain a slightly sticky consistency.

3. Once you have your dough, liberally sprinkle your counter with flour and begin to knead. Knead the dough for about 5 minutes until it is smooth and stretchy. Then roll it out into a snake shape and cut it into 8 equal sized pieces. Take each piece and roll it into a ball between your two palms (or on the counter top). Cover the dough and leave the balls to rest on a lightly floured surface for at least 30 minutes.

4. Once the dough has rested, take a deep sauce pan and fill it with at least 2 inches of high temperature cooking oil. I used grape seed oil, but canola or sunflower would work as well. Set over high heat. To test if the oil is hot enough drop a tiny scrap of dough into the pot. If it bobs merrily to the surface upon contact, the oil is ready. If your oil starts smoking, its probably a bit too hot, so turn down the burner a little. And don't forget to retrieve your test scrap or else it will start smoking too as it turns into a little piece of wizened carbon.

Now grab one of the dough balls and pat it out into a circle, about 6 inches across. Take a knife or pizza cutter and cut the circle into four pieces. Once your oil is hot, drop one piece into the saucepan. It should cook very quickly, so don't leave it alone. After 10-20 seconds, check to see if the side in the oil has browned. If so, flip the fry jack over with a fork and let the other side cook, then lift it out with a slotted spoon. As a child making fry jacks on the farm, I used old dry banana leaves to soak up the excess oil, but you can let them drain on a plate lined with paper towels.

If you are serving these with refried beans and eggs (and you really should), I strongly suggest you make the refried beans before cooking the fry jacks. The eggs can then be quickly scrambled afterwards, while the fry jacks stay warm in the oven. Cold fry jacks are certainly edible (try one with some jam), but nothing beats a freshly made one with some refried beans, so please don't try cooking them ahead of time.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Breakfast Series # 9 : 5 Spice Muffins

Behold! The Golden Muffin! Glowing in the morning sun! Ever-ready to bring fiber, flavour and sustenance to the masses. Standard-bearer for the forces of breakfast, fighting against the apathy of sickeningly sweet pop tarts, diet colas in the car on the way to work, and the greasy, cold, post-meeting doughnut. I hail thee as my snack saviour, picking me up at ten in the morning or three in the afternoon, perfect plain or toasted, warm or cold. Thanks to thee, Golden Muffin, I can blithely turn my back on those tarted up monster cupcakes in the break-room, and enjoy a tastier treat by far: a sweet, but flavorful muffin packed full of banana and spices, candied ginger and dates. Who needs Au Bon Pain with you around? Today I take a stand and say "not I!".


5 Spice Muffins (with dates, crystallized ginger and bananas)
This recipe makes 11 muffins-not quite the round number I was looking for but that is how many it makes. Each one is about 167 calories, or 1839 calories for the whole recipe. There is no added sugar in the ingredients list because the dates and the candied ginger, which is cooked in a sugar syrup, add more than enough sweetness to the muffins.

1-3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour (may substitute all purpose flour)
1-1/2 tsp five spice powder
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1-1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup canola, sunflower or grape seed oil
1/4 cup egg white (about one large egg white)
1/2 cup 1% or other low fat/fat free milk
2 very ripe bananas, mashed
2-1/2 ounces or about 1/3 cup of finely chopped dates (I like medjool dates best because they are more moist)
1 ounce of candied ginger, finely chopped (a heaping 1/4 cup)


Procedure:

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit and prepare a muffin tin. Mash the bananas and add the egg white, oil, milk and chopped dates.

2. Stir together the flour, soda, baking powder and spices and salt in a bowl. Add the finely chopped candied (also called crystallized) ginger and stir so the flour coats and separates each piece. You will notice that there is NO SUGAR in this recipe. This is not a typo. The crystallized ginger, the bananas and the dates add more than enough sweetness to these muffins, making extra sugar unnecessary.

3. Stir the wet mixture into the dry and mix swiftly to combine. Don't over mix, just make sure that everything is just blended together and then fill each tin 2/3 full of batter. Bake for about 25 minutes. Keep an eye on the muffins during the last 10 minutes, as they may be ready sooner in your oven.

4. Let the muffins cool completely before storing in a Ziploc bag with a sheet of paper towel. Make sure to squeeze all the air out before sealing it and the muffins will keep fine this way for several days. After that, move the Ziploc to the freezer where they can be stored for several months.