23 May 2012

Sweet Potato Fries—Oven-Baked

When someone gives you a box of 16 waxed sweet potatoes, and you've only got 1 1/2 weeks to cook and eat it all, what strategy would you use? First, I pricked one and microwaved it about 5 minutes, then slit it open, mashed the flesh with a fork, and drizzled on a little bit of butter, salt, and pepper. That was good lunch for the two of us, but I didn't want to do that 15 more times in a row. So next, I peeled and cubed two sweet potatoes and steamed them until tender. Then I tossed them in a warm salad with spinach, rice noodles, hard-boiled eggs, and peanut sauce. Very satisfying. But after the salad, many steamed sweet potato cubes remained, but they tasted kind of bland and watery, not so great on their own. We couldn't bring ourselves to finish them. I hate wasting fresh produce, but I hate eating nasty produce even more.

I next attempted to make sweet potato gnocchi, served fresh with shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano. Following Mark Bittman's recipe, I mixed baked sweet potato with flour and grated Parmesan. Then I tried to get the gnocchi to be small and elongated, but the sweet potato was so gooey that it ended up in irregular lumps. This also turned out quite bland and watery, even with the cheese.

When I baked four sweet potatoes into wedge-shaped "fries," however, the fries vanished practically as soon as they hit the table. I used a recipe from Perfect Vegetables by the editors of Cooks Illustrated (I highly recommend this book for vegetable lovers). I oiled two baking sheets and heated them up in the oven until toasty. Meanwhile, I sliced each sweet potato into 8 length-wise wedges. I tossed them with a little bit of canola oil, some sea salt and fresh pepper. Then I spaced the wedges onto the preheated baking sheets and baked 15 minutes on each of the two flat sides of the wedges. Each wedge came out hot, tender, and with a little firmness on the flat sides. I served this with a dip of mayo mixed with curry powder. I would bake these fries again any day because they were quick, easy, way healthier than restaurant fries, and quite inexpensive. I wouldn't know from my own experience, but I bet these fries do the trick when you want your kids to eat their daily serving of beta-carotene.

14 May 2012

Quiche with Carmelized Onion and Gouda

I think my camera broke when it realized it was supposed to photograph this wreck of a quiche. George and I laughed when we saw it and so did Sally. Picture this in your mind: a craggy, ragged square brown crust with a flat, thin puddle of bright yellow goo leaking from a crack in the side. Two inches tall of crust empty of any filling. The egg did NOT puff up into the thick, fluffy golden cake that every quiche exhibits.

Where did it all go so wrong? I don't know. I followed the recipe pretty closely except that we didn't have cream so I used soymilk. From Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, I used the onion quiche recipe, but I substituted aged gouda for 1 Cup of carmelized onion. I used his savory pie rust recipe, with half all-purpose flour and half whole-wheat flour. I prebaked the chilled crust for 10 minutes weighted down with buttered foil and dry beans. I carmelized the onions using the recipe in Perfect Vegetables from the Editors of Cooks' Illustrated. The onions tasted divine; they weren't the problem. By the way, carmelize onions this way:

2 lbs. thinly sliced onions (cooks down to about 1 1/4 Cup)
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
1 Tablespoon canola oil
a few pinches salt
1 teaspoon brown sugar

1. Use an enormous non-stick skillet. On high heat, melt the butter with the oil.
2. Add the spices, stir, and then the onions and cook, stirring, 5 minutes until they start releasing their juices.
3. Turn the heat down to medium and continue to cook another 30-40 minutes until they are as brown, oozy, and sweet as you like them.

Anyway, then I took the prebaked crust from the pan and stuck it on a baking sheet, per Bittman's instructions. Sally thinks I probably shouldn't have done that—then the egg wouldn't have leaked out the crack in the side. I mixed together 6 eggs, 2 Cups soymilk, 1 Cup carmelized onions, 1 Cup grated gouda, and poured it into the prebaked crust. I baked the whole thing for about 40 minutes. It tasted buttery and flavorful after chilling several hours in the refrigerator but  looked absolutely ridiculous. I won't be making that again. Sally told me she despises Bittman—maybe next time I try quiche I'll go with Deborah Madison or Molly Katzen, or better yet, Gil Marks.

Comments and suggestions welcome!

05 May 2012

Leek and Greens Sephardic Jewish Pie

The Mediterranean: bright, sea-lit crescent of romance and fresh simplicity. After leafing through Vegetarian Times' Mediterranean issue this month, I decided it was time to improve my repertoire of recipes from the region.

I turned to Gil Marks' Olive Trees and Honey, a history lesson cum cookbook of vegetarian Jewish recipes and food traditions around the world. Marks omits regions lacking a centuries-old Jewish culinary tradition, so South America, the Far East, sub-Saharan Africa, North America, and Antarctica receive short shrift.

For Shabbat this week I made a Sephardic Pie. The Sephardic Jews include the diaspora of Jews who fled the Spanish inquisition, settling in North Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia, and even as far as India. Some of these Sephardic Jews mixed with those Jews who already lived in the Middle East, having never traveled as far as Europe during the first wave of the Diaspora in the first millenium of the Common Era. While the United States Jewish population is mostly Ashkenazi, Sephardic Jewish cultures have dominated Israel from its founding. In short, Sephardic cooking has maintained a Mediterranean character for the last 500 years.

But I would have to admit that this pie I made was not simple, nor romantic, nor shingled with the dancing light of the sea. On the cusp of summer, I made the pie in a sweltering North Carolina kitchen over the course of 3 days. Each slice was a dense, thick cube of leafy greens, onions, eggs, cheese, and dill, encased in a solid pastry crust. I served it fresh from the oven with two sides: crisp slices of Asian pear and a cup of red lentil soup tart with tamarind. Everyone requested seconds. The next day the pie tasted delicious cold.

George and I agree that though the pie took quite a bit of effort, we would make it again because it satisfied us so deeply.

Leek and Greens Sephardic Jewish Pie

For the crust:
1 Cup lukewarm water
1 Cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 teaspoons table salt
About 5 Cups all-purpose flour

For the filling:
12 ounces of the white and light green parts of leeks (about 6 leeks worth)
1/4 Cup unsalted butter
1/4 Cup olive oil
2 large onions, chopped
2 pounds spinach
2 small heads chopped Romaine lettuce
2 Cups (8 ounces) grated Gruyère
10 eggs, lightly beaten
6 chopped scallions
4 Tablespoons fresh chopped dill

To finish:
oil for greasing the pan
1 egg, beaten with 1 Tablespoon water
2 Tablespoons sesame seeds

Equipment: 1 9x13 baking pan and an oven

1. The day before, cover the leeks with cold water. Bring to a boil, turn low, and simmer 20 minutes or until tender. Drain. In a large skillet, heat the butter and olive oil over medium heat. Sauté the leeks and the onion until soft, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool.
2. Wash the spinach and while it's still wet, wilt it in a large dry pan.  Chop the spinach finely and wring it dry with several clean towels. Set aside.
3. Wash the lettuce and wilt it as well. Drain.
4. Make the crust: in a medium bowl, combine the water, oil, and salt. Stir in the flour 1 cup at a time. It should make a soft, cohesive dough. Cover with a damp towel and allow to rest 30 minutes.
5. Meanwhile, mix together all the filling ingredients in a bowl.
6. Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Grease a 9x13 pan.
7. Form a large ball of dough out of two-thirds of the pasty and a smaller ball out of one-third of the pastry. Lightly flour a large work surface. Roll out the larger dough into a rectangle about 1/4 inch thick. Fit it into the 9x13 pan, so that it closely adheres to all the corners and comes up over the rim. Prick it all over with a fork. Trim off the excess dough.
8. Spoon in the filling.
9. Roll out the smaller ball of dough and place it over the filling, crimping the edges with a fork to seal. Trim the edges. Cut several slits in the top to vent the steam. Brush the top with the egg mixture and sprinkle with the sesame seeds.
10. Bake until the crust is golden brown and the filling set, about 45 minutes. Let stand at least 10 minutes before serving either warm, at room temperature, or cold.

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