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Vibrant Green Coconut-Mint Chutney

I tend to eat lamb year-round, but for many, springtime is prime time for lamb roasts and chops. And I must admit, I'm not sure why mint jelly is the traditional accompaniment. I mean, it's fine, but I just don't think it's quite as tasty or complex in flavor as my Coconut-Mint Chutney.

Coconut-mint chutney

This bright, fresh-tasting sauce is very similar to one I learned while working with Chef Cardoz. It's terrific with curries, Indian-spiced meats and fish or simple, straight-up sautéed lamb chops.

Lambchop with chickpea salad & coconut-mint chutney

If you're familiar with the Argentinian chimichurri sauce, you'll notice some similarity here. The flavors are similarly fresh and zippy, but because it's coconut-based, this chutney tends to be smoother and creamier.

A bunch of mint

A couple of notes on this recipe... I use the term "small bunch of mint" here. See the photo above for an illustration of what I mean by that. If jaggery, a traditional Indian cane sugar, was more widely available, I'd recommend you sweeten this chutney with that, but it's not, so maple syrup or brown sugar make good substitutions.
Coconut-Mint Chutney (Makes about 1.5 cups)

1 small bunch of mint
1 small bunch of cilantro
Soft flesh of 1 young coconut (or 1/2 cup shredded coconut)
1/2 small onion, cut in half
1/2 long green chili or jalapeno
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1 tsp ground cumin
1/4 cup water (or coconut water)
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp brown sugar or maple syrup (optional)

1. Pick the leaves from the stems of the mint and cilantro. Use the stems for stock or discard.
2. Place the leaves, coconut flesh, onion pieces, chili, lime juice, cumin and water in a blender or food processor and puree until smooth.
3. Sample and season to taste with salt and sugar or maple syrup, if desired. Serve immediately, or store, chilled, in an airtight container for up to a week.

Although you can store this chutney in the fridge for a few days, it's always best when fresh. If you have extra, you can also freeze it and toss it into the pot next time you make a coconut-based soup or curry.

Happy eating!
Miss Ginsu

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3.05.2009

Middle Feastern Delights

Filled with lots of tangy citrus and yogurt flavors and plenty of cool cucumbers, the foods of the Middle East seem particularly suited for warmer weather.

I first encountered spiced ground lamb as a Turkish kabob, but I discovered that the whole operation with the stick seemed like just a bit too much fuss for regular use.

Why not just make spiced lamb meatballs? They're fun to make, not too fussy and are even very nice when munched as cold leftovers for your midnight snacking needs.

Lamb Balls, Raw
Lamb Balls, Cooking
Lamb Balls, Cooling

This Cucumber-Yogurt Raita goes very well with lamb. You'll find it's similar to a Greek Tzatziki, but tzatziki typically uses garlic instead of citrus. If you'd like something more Greek-y, drop the cumin and substitute puréed garlic for the citrus juice. Voila!
Spicy Lamb Balls w/ Cool Cucumber Raita (Makes 25 meatballs)
For the Spice Blend
1 Tbsp whole coriander
1 Tbsp whole cumin
1/2 Tbsp whole black peppercorn
1/2 Tbsp whole fennel seed or anise

For the Lamb Meatballs
2 pounds lamb
1/2 cup fine breadcrumbs
1 egg
1 tsp kosher salt
1 small onion, minced (optional)
1 tsp olive or canola oil

1. Grind the spices in a spice grinder. (If you're using pre-ground spices, simply blend them together and use 3 tablespoons of the mix for this recipe.)
2. Mix together the lamb, egg, salt, onion (if using) and the ground spice blend in a large mixing bowl.
3. Form golf-ball-sized spheres with the meat mix and set them on a plate while you heat the skillet.
4. In a large (17") skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add about half the lamb balls and cook about 1 minute before gently rolling each ball over with a pair of tongs.
5. Continue cooking the lamb balls for about 5-7 minutes, rolling each ball every 60 seconds to an uncooked side. Remove the cooked balls and drain them on paper towels.
6. Cook the second batch of lamb balls the same way you cooked the first batch. Serve hot or warm with cucumber raita (below).

Cool Cucumber Raita
1 small cucumber, peeled (or half of an unpeeled hothouse cucumber)
1 cup plain yogurt
1 Tbsp fresh-squeezed lemon or lime juice
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1-2 Tbsp chopped mint, cilantro or parsley (optional)

1. Shred the cucumber on a grater and squeeze out all the excess juice you can.
2. Blend squeezed cucumber shreds with yogurt, citrus juice, salt, cumin and herbs (if using).
3. Taste, and if the mixture seems too tart, add a dash of sugar. Serve immediately with the lamb balls. This raita is also terrific with a variety of Indian curries.

This recipe also makes great sandwiches, so if you're in the mood for hand-held food, stuff two to three warm lamb balls into toasted pita halves. Add a bit of shredded lettuce and tomato slices and drizzle with the cucumber sauce.

J loves this meal quite a lot, so we eat it with some frequency. Favorite accompaniments include tabbouleh, hummus, fresh cucumber-tomato salads, pickled beets (locally, the good fellas at Rick's Picks and Wheelhouse Pickles both make some terrific pickled beets) or pickled ramps and tahini sauce.

Cheers!

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6.24.2008

Recession-Proof Recipes: Lamejun

As long as there's been flour, there's been flatbread. And about as long as there's been flatbread, there's been folks tossing sauces and tidbits atop their flatbreads. Much later of course, such things were called "pizzas," (there's really no point in denying the lengthy, pre-Italian pizza history...) and now, pretty much any old cracker, bagel or tortilla with sauce on it is freely referred to as pizza.

Lamejun

But let's not forget those tasty flatbread precursors in our current age of pizza mania. Pizza, or pide or paratha or any of the other tasty members of the flatbread family are, at heart, basic peasant foods.

Lamejun

Anya Von Bremzen's book Please to the Table features a pizza/pide cousin she spells as lachmanjun and refers to as an Armenian pizza. I believe the more popular spelling is lahmacun or lamejun, but however you spell it or say it, this dish makes for a tasty, economical meal.

Lamejun

My version of lamejun is based around Von Bremzen's. I reckon you could probably use a food processor to chop the veggies if you felt like it and you could make it with beef (or no meat at all) if you feel some sort of aversion to lamb. I'd serve it alongside a rich red and a crisp bowl of dressed greens or a tomato-cucumber salad, myself.
Lamb Lamejun (Turkish Pizza) (Serves 8)

For the Crusts:
1 package active dry yeast
1/4 tsp sugar
1 1/4 cups water
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 tsp salt
3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
+ Extra flour for kneading

For the Toppings
1 lb ground lamb
2 medium onions, minced
1 red or green bell pepper, minced
3 Tbsp tomato paste
1/2 cup diced tomatoes (canned or fresh)
1 tsp minced garlic
1 tsp Aleppo pepper (or substitute 1/2 tsp sweet paprika and 1/2 tsp hot paprika)
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
2 Tbsp parsley or mint, chopped (for garnish)
2 Tbsp crumbled feta or mild goat cheese (for garnish)

1. Combine the yeast, sugar and water in a large bowl and let stand about 5 minutes. 2. Stir in 2 tablespoons of the oil and the salt.
3. Add the flour, about a cup at a time, blending well after each addition. Transfer the dough to a work surface. Coat your hands with some of the remaining oil and knead the dough until it is smooth and elastic, adding just enough of the remaining flour to prevent sticking.
4. Shape the dough into a ball and place it in a large bowl. Drizzle with the remaining vegetable oil and coat the dough. Drape with a vaguely moist linen kitchen towel and let the dough rise in a warm place about an hour or until it doubles in bulk.
5. Meanwhile, make the topping in another large bowl. Simply combine the lamb, onions, diced peppers, tomatoes, tomato paste, garlic, spice and salt and mix well.
6. After the dough has risen, divide into eight equal balls. Place on a floured surface and let rest, covered with a towel for 10 minutes.
7. Preheat the oven to 450°F and lightly oil two large baking sheets.
8. Using a floured rolling pin, flatten out each ball of dough into a circle about 4 inches across.
9. Divide the topping into eight portions, and spread one portion across each circle.
10. Arrange the dough circles on the prepared sheets and bake until the crust is crisp and the topping is browned, about 15 minutes.
11. Serve immediately as is, or sprinkle with chopped parsley/mint and cheese before serving.

Feel free to halve it or to freeze some of the dough balls for later use if you're only serving two.

Cheers!

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6.05.2008

The Million Method March

My first Moroccan Stew recipe, out of Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant, was essentially a tomato-rich vegetable stew with a handful of black olives and a squeeze of lemon. It was full of potato cubes, artichoke hearts and green beans, with no real spice to speak of.

Later on, I discovered that lamb was a fairly traditional component of Moroccan Stew, though lots of cooks used chicken. Cinnamon, apricots and cured olives seemed to be common ingredients. Some ingredient lists included orange sections or apricot pieces, while some suggested only strips of orange zest or squeeze of fresh lemon at the end. Some cooks insisted on a couscous accompaniment. Some only mentioned couscous in passing.

The majority of Moroccan Stew recipes seemed to bear about as much resemblance to each other as individual members in a fleet of Elvis impersonators. I mean, you know they're all striving for basically the same thing, but...

I'm convinced there must be hundreds of variations, and I used to be intimidated by that breadth of options. Which one was the right one? Which was most authentic?

Lately I've come to see all those variants as empowering rather than confounding. Why? A million methods means you can't really mess it up. Your ideal Moroccan Stew is for you to determine. Don't eat meat? Don't use it. Fresh out of olives or apricots? Skip 'em. Love chickpeas? Go crazy.

Moroccan Stew with Chicken

As for me, I use Moroccan Stew recipes as more like suggestions than prescriptions. Just use some good ingredients and cook 'em gentle and slow. It'll come out nice-like.

When everything's tender, taste it and season to taste with salt, pepper and some lemon and fresh herbs. Dish it up with couscous or some toasted pita or maybe just a day-old hunk of baguette.

It'll be fine. I'm betting it'll even be tasty. Maybe it'll be a work of art your guests will remember with fondness for the rest of their lives.

That's why there's a million recipes for Moroccan Stew. No matter how you do it, you're almost guaranteed to get it right.

Moroccan Stew for a Cold Winter's Night

2 Tbsp olive oil
4 skin-on chicken thighs OR 1 1/2 lb lamb cubes (optional)
1-2 medium onions, chopped
3 cloves garlic, sliced
1 tsp dried thyme
1-2 cinnamon sticks
2 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp ground cumin
1-2 tsp Aleppo pepper (optional)
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 15oz can chickpeas, drained
2 cups cubed tomatoes, chopped (or 1 14oz can diced tomatoes)
3-4 cups stock, (vegetable or chicken)
1/2 cup flavorful olives, pitted
1/2 cup dried apricots, chopped
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley or cilantro and/or chopped mint
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste

In a heavy-bottomed stockpot or a dutch oven, heat olive oil until it shimmers. Add the meat of your choice (if using) and sear until it acquires some color. Remove the meat and sauté the onions, bell pepper and garlic in the same pan until the onions are translucent.

Add thyme, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, Aleppo pepper, tomatoes, chickpeas, olives, apricot pieces and stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat. Simmer, covered, for 60 to 90 minutes, or until meat and vegetables are fork-tender.

Stir in lemon juice and fresh herbs. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve immediately with couscous or toasted pita, or store overnight and reheat the next day, when the flavor will be all the better.

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2.12.2008