Quick Cuban Black Beans

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If you peruse our blog, you’ll notice that we try to minimize our usage of prepackaged or canned foods. I think that if you showed Selim a can of cream of <fill-in-the-blank> soup, he’d shrivel up like a vampire exposed to garlic and sunlight. Sometimes it’s unavoidable and sometimes the convenience outweighs all other factors, but we do try to err on the side of fresh ingredients. With that being said, I’m not going to lie. Soaking beans overnight in preparation for cooking them the next day just is not my cup of tea. I know there are many people out there who consider canned beans an anathema, but honestly I don’t think they taste much different and they’re SO convenient and time-saving. So we definitely use them.

Hence our quick version of Cuban black beans here. Certainly, they probably would be better (and certainly more authentic) if we used dried beans, soaked them overnight, and cooked them longer with the herbs and spices. But this quick version provides for a superior flavor to time ratio, in my opinion. You get to jazz up your black beans with just a few additions and barely any active time in the kitchen, allowing you to focus your energy (culinary or otherwise!) elsewhere.

Quick Cuban Black Beans

(Adapted from Bon Appetit)
Ingredients: 
  • 1 tsp neutral oil
  • 1/2 small onion, diced
  • 1/2 green bell pepper, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 15oz cans of black beans, rinsed & drained
  • 1/4 cup of stock (your preference)
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • Fresh ground black pepper
Instructions: 
  1. In a medium pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Once warm, add the onion, bell pepper, and garlic. Top with a few turns of fresh black pepper. Cook until softened and fragrant, approximately 6 minutes.
  2. Add the black beans, stock, and spices. Stir together.
  3. Lower heat to low-medium. Partially cover and cook for at least 10 minutes. With the heat turned quite low, you can cook long and allow the flavors to blend more!
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Persian Spiced Lentil Soup

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Happy first day of spring! Or if you’re of Persian descent, Happy Nowruz! Nowruz literally translates to “new day” and is the name for the Persian new year, which occurs on the vernal (spring) equinox. The holiday has been celebrated for thousands of years and is a holy day from the Zoroastrian tradition, though it is a completely secular celebration for most, especially in the modern day. It has been a long-standing national holiday in Iran and since the collapse of the Soviet Union, many Caucasian and central Asian countries have declared it a national holiday for themselves as well. The holiday welcomes spring with a variety of traditions. Spring cleaning, visiting friends and family, a Santa Claus-like figure called Amu Nowruz with gifts for children, an elaborate table setting called haft seen, other festive decorations, and of course, eating are all parts of the traditional celebration.

This soup isn’t a traditional Nowruz dish, but most of those gorgeous dinners and sweets involve a little more time than we have on this weekday evening! Actually, I’ve found several variations of my source recipe around the internet – apparently they’re attempts to copycat a beloved soup at a Persian restaurant in Chicago called Reza’s. So we’ll consider this soup a stepping stone towards a real Nowruz celebration one of these years coming up! (I really wanted to make ash-e reshteh, but didn’t have all of the ingredients. It seemed like a cop out to fudge on the ingredients of the traditional Nowruz first night soup, so we bailed on that idea. Maybe next year!) We made another lentil soup recently (Turkish Red Lentil Soup), and while there are some similarities to this one, the flavors end being totally different! This soup is hearty and filling (thanks lentils!), but seems like a perfect welcome to spring with its bright and tangy flavors. Consider it the perfect culinary bridge between winter (warm, hearty) and spring (bright flavors)!

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Persian Spiced Lentil Soup

(Adapted from this recipe)
Ingredients:
  • 1 tbsp neutral oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 large carrots, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 medium tomatoes (or a 15oz can crushed tomatoes)
  • 5 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 1 tbsp (+) sumac
  • 1 tbsp dill
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 2/3 cup red lentils
  • Salt & pepper
  • Optional toppings: yogurt, feta cheese, lime wedges
Instructions:
  1. In a medium sized pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Once hot, add the onions, carrots, and garlic. Season with pinch of salt and a few turns of fresh black pepper. Cook until softened and fragrant.
  2. If using fresh tomatoes, chop quarter them and blitz them in a food processor. Then add the tomatoes, along with the stock, herbs, and spices (except for the fresh parsley).
  3. Bring the pot to a simmer. Simmer, partially covered for 20 minutes.
  4. Now add the lentils and return to a simmer for another 15-20 minutes, or until lentils are cooked.
  5. Add the chopped parsley and cook for just another few minutes. Taste and add salt as needed.
  6. Serve with additional sumac, parsley, or a squeeze of lime on top if you like. A dollop of yogurt or a few chunks of feta would also be delicious!
Serves 4 as an entree; ~6-8 as a starter or side

Chermoula Carrots

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One of the best things about writing this blog is the introduction to foods and dishes that I didn’t know about beforehand. Today, I learned about chermoula! (Or charmoula – like so many words translated from the original Arabic, this one has more than one spelling.) When we decided to make our Tangy Moroccan Meatballs yesterday, I wanted to stick with the flavors of Morocco for the entire dinner. This lead us to this recipe, from a lovely site that I think I’ll visit again – Taste of Maroc.

Chermoula itself is a condiment in the pesto family in terms of texture or consistency. It is traditional to North African countries like Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, and Libya, although the Moroccans claim original ownership. It’s one of those things where there is no one single recipe – there are regional variations, as well as changes from neighbor to neighbor. The basics include fresh herbs (parsley and cilantro), olive oil, and lemon juice. The other ingredients can range from basic spices like cumin, paprika, and coriander to harissa paste to onions or even pureed grapes (Tunisian tradition)! The paprika and cumin additions we used tonight seem to be fairly common in Morocco, at least as my internet perusing has informed me.

These carrots are basically just a vessel for the chermoula. It makes them (and anything else you might feel so inclined to cover with chermoula) into a bright and herbaceous dish. These are a perfect side dish to any meat, especially something that’s heavier or spicy. Furthermore, the flavor and lovely presentation belies the fact that it really takes you no time to prepare the dish. As I was eating (and enjoying!) this last night, I also thought that it probably would be equally as delicious and maybe a little fresher tasting if we’d cooked the carrots and just topped them with the chermoula without cooking the condiment at all. Note to self for next time.

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Chermoula Carrots

(Adapted from Taste of Maroc)
Ingredients: 
  • 6 large carrots
  • Water
  • ~1 cup chermoula
    • 6 cloves garlic, sliced
    • 1 1/2 cups fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
    • 1 cup fresh parsley, roughly chopped
    • 1/2 tsp salt
    • 1 tsp cumin
    • 1 tsp paprika
    • 3 tbsp olive oil
    • 1/4 cup lemon juice
    • 5 turns fresh ground black pepper
Instructions: 
  1. Slice the carrots on the bias, cutting pieces roughly the size of a baby carrot.
  2. Steam the carrots in a pan. Depending on the size of your pan, add just enough water create a thin layer of water coating the bottom and place over medium heat. Add the carrots and cover with a lid to steam.
  3. Cook the carrots for ~ 8-10 minutes, until they are al dente.
  4. Meanwhile (or make ahead!), make the chermoula by combining all of the remaining ingredients in a food processor (or, if you’re cooler than we are and have a mortar & pestle, crush them that way!). Pulse briefly until you have a well-combined, but not obliterated sauce.
  5. Pour the chermoula into the pan with the carrots. Cook, with the lid on, over low heat for an additional 5 minutes.
Serves 2-4

Muhammara

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We’re having an impromptu New Year’s Eve “party” tonight. I put party in quotations because we’re not exactly a wild bunch. We’re having food, alcohol, and friends on NYE, so I feel like it qualifies as a party, but we’re doing a lot more playing of board games than dancing on tables.

I’ve wanted to make muhammara for awhile now and tonight seemed like a good night! It’s really pretty easy to make, especially if you have a decent food processor. I mostly followed the recipe of my old faithful, Yotam Ottolenghi, for this one. If it’s any type of food from the greater Middle East, I feel like he makes it and makes it well! Muhammara originates from Aleppo, Syria, so the use of Aleppo pepper in the dish just feels important and necessary to me. Unfortunately, the civil war in Syria has greatly decreased world-wide supply of Aleppo pepper.* (*Obviously, this is not the most important negative impact of the Syrian civil war.) But with that in mind, if you don’t have any/can’t find any, you can substitute a smaller quantity of crushed red pepper flakes. (Aleppo pepper isn’t quite as spicy and has a deeper depth of flavor + a slight sweetness as compared to crushed red pepper. Some suggest a mixture of sweet paprika & cayenne/crushed red pepper is a okay approximation.) This spread is popular from Syria through Turkey and the Caucasus, with some regional variations. The main ingredients always include red pepper and walnuts (the basis of the dip), Aleppo pepper, and olive oil.

Also, for your party hosting pleasure, this recipe would be very easy to scale up. This yielded ~ 2 cups.

Hope you enjoy!

Happy New Year!! 🎉🎇🥂🖤

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Muhammara

(Adapted slightly from Ottolenghi)
Ingredients: 
  • 3 red bell peppers
  • Olive oil
  • 1 tbsp pomegranate molasses
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs [I actually used cracker crumbs – crushed matzoh from our Potato Latkes the other night]
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tbsp Aleppo pepper
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2/3 cup walnut pieces
  • Salt to taste
Instructions: 
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Slice bell peppers in half, removing the stems & seeds, and place on a foil-lined cookie sheet. Drizzle with a bit of olive oil and roast until blackened and blistering, ~30-35 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, grind up the walnuts in a food processor. You want them to be fairly finely ground, but still have some texture. Set to the side.
  3. Peel the skin off of the red peppers once they are cool enough to handle.
  4. Place peppers, pomegranate molasses, lemon juice, bread crumbs, cumin, Aleppo pepper, and garlic in the food processor. Pulse until well-combined. Again, don’t over-process and destroy all of the texture.
  5. By hand, stir in the walnuts into the rest of the ingredients.
  6. Add salt to taste.
  7. When serving, top with a drizzle of olive oil. Serve at room temperature.

Zoodles in Mediterranean Tomato Sauce

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Gosh, it’s been awhile since we’ve made zoodles. For awhile there we were making, eating, and sharing zoodle recipes every week it seems like. We took a little bit of a hiatus it seems, but don’t worry – the zoodles are back! This time, they’re topped with a deliciously spicy sauce that makes you think you’re on the Mediterranean coast.

Even better news? This meal is simple to make – it only takes a few minutes of active preparation. Even more better news? This vegetarian dish is healthy and pretty darn low calorie. A great meal to sneak in to your weekly meal rotation.

Zoodles in Mediterranean Tomato Sauce

Ingredients: 
  • 2 large zucchini
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 tbsp tomato paste
  • 2 tsp red wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp brine from kalamata olives
  • 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • Fresh ground black pepper
  • ~10 kalamata olives, sliced
  • 2 oz feta cheese
Instructions: 
  1. Prepare the zoodles – see our instructions if needed!
  2. Heat olive oil in a small pan over medium heat.
  3. Once heated, add the garlic and cook for just a ~2 minutes until beginning to be fragrant.
  4. Now lower heat to low-medium and stir in the tomato paste, vinegar, olive brine, red pepper flakes, and several turns of fresh ground black pepper. Stir to combine into a thick, saucy paste.
  5. After a couple minutes of letting the sauce ingredient meld, toss in the zoodles and olives. Stir to coat the zoodle in the sauce, then cover for 5 minutes.
  6. Once the zoodles are heated through, you’re ready to serve, topped with the feta cheese!
Light meal for 2

 

Zucchini Fritters

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Zucchini season may be over, but we can usually find decent looking ones in the fall around here. Sorry for not eating exactly seasonally, but you know what is perfectly fall-appropriate? A big bowl of soup! And what perfectly accompanies a nice big bowl of soup? Zucchini fritters. So in a roundabout way, zucchini fritters = fall food? Ok, maybe not, but we enjoyed them tonight anyway.

It’s easy to think of zucchini as a boring vegetable, zoodles excluded. (All the cool kids eat zoodles now ok? Including us – see “Chicken Lo Mein” Zoodles, Zoodles with Roasted ChickpeasCaliente Chicken & ZoodlesFrench Onion Chicken Zoodles, & Mediterranean Cucumber-Zoodle Salad) They get mushy when you bake or sautee them too long, and no one likes mushy vegetables. Fritters are a lot easier to make than you think. Start to finish, less than 30 minutes, and you end up with a delicious side dish to any main course – we chose soup, but these would go great with roasted chicken or turkey. Try changing up the spices and herbs and see what you like best. This combo – onion, garlic, paprika, chili powder – isn’t spicy or overwhelming, but makes for a great dish with nice flavor.

Note: They way we made these, they’re browned and slightly crispy on the outside, but remain soft on the inside and a bit fragile. That’s because we wanted these to stay vegetable-heavy and to save a few calories. If you’d like a less fragile fritter, use more flour and/or bread crumbs and an additional egg to bind the mixture together more tightly.

Zucchini Fritters

Ingredients: 
  • 2 medium zucchini
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 1 tsp granulated garlic
  • 1 tsp granulated onion
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1/4 tsp chili powder
  • 1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar
  • Salt & pepper
  • 3 tbsp neutral oil
Instructions: 
  1. Grate the zucchinis into a large bowl.
  2. Sprinkle with salt and allow to sit for 10+ minutes.
  3. Squeeze water out from the zucchini (you’ll be amazed at how much water you can get rid of!)
  4. Whisk up the egg and stir that in with the zucchini, along with all of the rest of the ingredients (using just a pinch of additional salt and a few grinds of black pepper), except for the oil.
  5. Heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat.
  6. Once oil is hot, form balls of the zucchini mixture in your hands, slightly smaller than the palm of your hand. Smush them into patties and drop into the hot oil.
  7. Fry on each side for 2-3 minutes until browned on both sides.
  8. Remove from pan to a paper-towel lined dish before serving to soak up a bit of the excess oil.
Makes 6 fritters

 

Turkish Red Lentil Soup

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We haven’t shared that many soup recipes on here, but soup probably makes up a good third of my diet. I love soup! This is just another reason why I was born to marry into a Turkish family. If you ever make it to Turkey (which I can’t suggest more highly), you’ll see that delicious soups are frequently served as a starter to evening meals and eaten for breakfast and lunch as well. Soup with every meal?! Basically my idea of heaven.

We’ve made and shared High Plateau Soup, another Turkish soup recipe before – it’s rich, creamy, and incredibly unique – at least for my American palate! This soup has entirely different flavors, very reminiscent of soups Selim’s aunts and grandmother made for us in Turkey. Red lentil soup (kirmizi mercimek çorbasi) is hearty and filling, easy to make, and delicious. Make for a week of lunches like I did, or maybe next Monday, if you subscribe to #MeatlessMondays!

Red Lentil Soup

(Adapted from Ozlem’s Turkish Table)
Ingredients: 
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, sliced
  • 1 cup red lentils
  • 2 large carrots, chopped
  • 3 red potatoes, cubed
  • 5 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tbsp paprika
  • Crushed red pepper flakes
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • Salt & pepper
  • Lemon wedges, extra red pepper flakes, and/or  for serving if desired
Instructions: 
  1. Heat olive oil over medium heat in a large stock pot.
  2. Once the oil is heated, add the onions. Season with salt and pepper. Cook until softened and fragrant, 6-8 minutes.
  3. Add the lentils, potatoes, carrots, and stock to the pot. Simmer for ~30 minutes, until the lentils and vegetables are cooked.
  4. Stir in the cumin, paprika, and a sprinkle of crushed red pepper flakes. Lower heat and cook for a 10+ additional minutes.
  5. Taste and add salt & pepper as desired.
  6. Stir in lemon juice just prior to serving.
  7. Serve with lemon wedges, mint, and/or extra crushed red pepper flakes.
Makes 4-6 servings.