Saturday, October 18, 2014

Maple-Roasted Butternut Squash Salad

We’re all moved into our temporary home, and I’m slowly but surely getting acquainted with the kitchen. I’m not at all happy about the small, shallow sink that makes it difficult to wash large pots and pans. And, I’m still trying to figure out the best way to use the limited amount of countertop space. Despite these little inconveniences and my ongoing complaints, I have managed to do some cooking since we’ve been here. I’ve just been tentative about taking on baking projects that require space for working with dough. But, now I realize I was being ridiculous. I just read a review copy that I received of The Bread Exchange by Malin Elmlid who has baked all sorts of sourdough breads in different situations all over the world. She travels with her sourdough starter or creates a new one when she arrives at her destination. She asks to borrow ovens and seeks out the best flour she can find wherever she happens to be and makes it all work. And, beyond making bread in all the places she’s traveled, she’s also brought about a fascinating project involving trades of bread for gifts from other people. The trades aren’t about any kind of monetary exchange. Rather, her handmade bread that she’s watched over for hours and baked to perfection is traded for new experiences to learn from or things handmade by other people. The book is about bread and how she makes her sourdough loaves, but it’s also about her travels and experiences all over the world. Beyond the initial instructions for creating a sourdough starter and a handful of bread recipes, you’ll find stories and recipes from different occasions and locations. I do want to try the Rosemary Bread with Goji Berries. Elmlid received a goji berry tree as a trade in Germany. I didn’t know goji berries grow well in Germany, and now I wonder if I could grow a tree here. The stories meander from Egypt to Sweden to Bavaria, Poland, the US, and Afghanistan among other locales. The recipes include things like Fig Confit from an event in Berlin, Blood Orange Curd with Rosemary from a stay at a farmhouse in Bavaria, a Midsommar Cake with a Rhubarb Compote inspired by the Midsummer celebration in Sweden, Afghan Leek Dumplings, and Belgian Waffles. Since I still wasn’t ready to bake while I was reading this, I opted to start by trying the recipe for Maple-Roasted Squash Salad which was part of a menu from a roof-top party in Brooklyn. 

In the book, the recipe is made with pumpkin. I knew I’d never be able to peel a pumpkin easily, so I opted to use a butternut squash instead. The squash was peeled and diced, tossed with maple syrup and sprinkled with ground coriander, and then baked until tender. The next element of the salad was the yogurt sauce. Plain yogurt was mixed with minced garlic, and some red wine vinegar was to be added. I had just received some beautiful bottles of oils and vinegars from O Olive Oil and couldn’t wait to try the fig balsamic. I used that in the yogurt sauce instead of red wine vinegar. The salad was built by layering the roasted squash pieces with some yogurt sauce and topping it with sprouts. I garnished with chopped walnuts for some crunch. 

This salad was a light and lovely intro to fall. The roasted squash was completely of the season, but the yogurt and sprouts brightened and freshened it up a bit. The fig balsamic could quickly become my new best friend in the kitchen. It would be a perfect condiment drizzled over any roasted squash all by itself. And, now I think I’m ready to put my sourdough starter back to work. I know I can find the space to knead and shape some loaves no matter how cramped this temporary kitchen seems. 

Maple-Roasted Pumpkin Salad 
Recipe reprinted with publisher’s permission from The Bread Exchange
Contributed by Renee Baumann, SERVES 6 

I traded a loaf of sourdough bread, baked in the NoMad kitchen, for this recipe. I asked Renee to help me create a vegetable dish to pair with a burger but that would steer clear of the more typical burger accompaniments. I wanted a veggie dish that would stand on its own, complement the flavor of the burger, and showcase the agricultural bounty of New York. Browsing through the seasonal produce at the Union Square Market, the idea came to her: kadu bouranee, an Afghan dish that she had recently fallen in love with. Traditionally, the sweet roasted pumpkin is served with hot lamb or beef and a cold garlicky yogurt sauce. She borrowed the flavor combination and then took some liberties, choosing simple culinary treatments, with just enough seasoning to highlight the ingredients. 

1 1/4 lb/570 g pumpkin, peeled and cut into cubes 
1/4 cup/60 ml maple syrup 
1/4 tsp ground coriander 
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper 

2 medium garlic cloves 
2 cups/480 ml tangy plain sheep- or goat-milk yogurt 
Sea salt 
1 tbsp red wine vinegar, plus more as needed (optional) 
Sunflower shoots for garnishing 
Toasted hazelnut or walnut oil for tossing 
Purple carrots, thinly sliced, for garnishing 

To make the pumpkin: Preheat the oven to 425°F/220°C. Place the pumpkin cubes in a baking pan, drizzle with the maple syrup, and sprinkle with the coriander. Season with salt and pepper. Roast for 12 to 17 minutes, or until al dente. 

To make the sauce: Cut the garlic cloves in half lengthwise. Remove any green shoots in the center. Finely mince the garlic. Stir the garlic into the yogurt in a medium bowl and let the flavors meld for 10 minutes. Season with salt and the vinegar, taste, and add more as desired. If you are using a tangy yogurt, you may not need any vinegar. 

Toss the sunflower shoots with a little nut oil just before serving. Arrange a pile of shoots on top of the pumpkin and top with the yogurt sauce. Garnish with carrot slices. Serve as a warm or cold salad, depending on your mood, season, or schedule.

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Friday, October 10, 2014

Sour-and-Hot Mushroom Soup

Hot-and-sour soup is one of my favorites. Unfortunately, it’s not easy to find versions of it with no pork when ordering at restaurants. There are plenty of recipes for vegetarian versions of the soup to make at home, but I was particularly drawn to this mushroom-forward take. This is from Every Grain of Rice by Fuchsia Dunlop, and since I usually mention when I’ve received copies of books I want to point out that this is one I purchased. I was browsing the cookbook section at the bookstore which I can spend hours doing, and when I started looking through this one I lost count of how many dishes I wanted to run home and try. There’s a rainbow of sticky note flags marking pages in this book. The dishes are true to authentic Chinese cooking, but they’ve been made very accessible to home cooks in the West. Not too many ingredients are hard to find, and often those are optional. I’ve made the Tiger Salad which is a mix of cucumber, cilantro, green chiles, Chinkiang vinegar, and sesame oil. I made the Salt-and-Pepper Squid and added Shrimp lightly dusted in potato starch, fried, and topped with stir-fried garlic, green onion, and red chile. I tried the Sweet and Spicy Cold Noodles with sesame paste, sesame seeds, chile oil, and topped with shredded chicken. Everything has been outstanding. I can’t wait to take a stab at Dumplings in Chile Oil Sauce, the Stir-Fried Oyster Mushrooms with Chicken, and the wonderfully simple Silken Tofu with Avocado. This book hasn’t spent much time on the shelf and probably won’t. Now, back to this soup I started talking about. It’s described as subtler than the hot and sour soups from Chinese restaurants in the West. The sour comes from Chinkiang vinegar, and the hot was to be delivered by white pepper. I have a preference for black pepper and crushed red pepper, so I made a very unauthentic change to the dish by using those instead. However, I did seek out dried day lily flowers which were an optional item in the ingredient list. 

The recipe includes both fresh and dried mushrooms. We usually have a pretty good selection of types of fresh mushrooms at our local grocery stores, but on the day I was shopping for this dish shitakes were available but no oyster or enoki. I bought dried oyster mushrooms instead. The dried mushrooms and the dried day lily flowers were to soak in hot water for an hour before using. Meanwhile, I started cutting the ginger into tiny slivers. The fresh mushroom caps were also cut thinly, and the tofu was cut into thin shapes similar in size to the mushroom pieces. To start the cooking, oil was heated in a wok and ginger was sizzled until fragrant. The dried mushrooms which had been sliced thinly as well along with the fresh mushrooms and lily flowers were added next. The mixture was allowed to cook until the mushrooms were almost cooked through, and then, warm chicken stock was added and brought to a boil. The tofu was added and carefully stirred to prevent breaking it too much. Light and dark soy sauce were added, and after a short simmer, the vinegar and pepper were added. Off the heat, sesame oil was stirred into the soup, and it was topped with green onions. 

This was a fantastic hot-and-sour soup or sour-and-hot soup. The fresh and dried mushrooms gave it great flavor, and there was a nice mix of textures with the lily flowers and tofu. It lacked the shreds of cooked egg that often appear in a hot-and-sour soup, but there was enough going on here that I didn’t miss them. I’d like to just keep cooking page after page of this book, so a feast of a dinner party might be in order. 

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Friday, October 3, 2014

Sweet Potato Scones with Brown Sugar Icing

Since 2008, West Oakland has had the good fortune to have a soul food restaurant feeding the community in more ways than one. Tanya Holland opened Brown Sugar Kitchen to serve breakfast and lunch, to purchase most of what the restaurant uses from local producers, to hire local cooks, and to become a venue that supports local organizations. The food is traditional in concept and contemporary in execution. It’s real soul food made fresh with just a few updates. The recipes are in the new book Brown Sugar Kitchen, and I received a review copy. There’s a forward by Michael Chabon, who happens to be a regular customer, and photos are by Jody Horton of Austin. I was struck by Chabon’s thoughtful definition of soul food: “Soul food is the little joint at the broken heart of America where all the kitchen inheritances ingather, and get tangled like travelers’ yarns, like the paths of exile and homecoming, like strands of DNA.” If I were visiting Oakland, I would happily wait in line to try the Cornmeal Waffles with Apple Cider Syrup, the Creole Shrimp and Grits, or one of those lovely-looking Sticky Buns. And, with the book, I can try them at home without planning a trip. That more contemporary angle on soul food I mentioned shows through in the Roasted Green Beans with Sesame-Seed Dressing which I tried and which disappeared from our plates faster than any other green bean dish to date. Also, the Simply Sauteed Collard Greens, Okra Peperonata, and Green Chile-Harissa Potato Gratin are updated versions of classic dishes. There’s a Caribbean Lobster Roll with Spicy Lime Aioli, a Bourbon and Chili-Glazed Salmon, and Buttermilk Fried Chicken. There are also soups and sandwiches, desserts, and drinks. But, I got distracted in the breakfast chapter when I saw the Sweet Potato Scones with Brown Sugar Icing. 

I expected these scones to be similar to the pumpkin scones I’ve been making for years. For those, I add pumpkin puree to the flour and butter mixture. Here, the sweet potato was diced and sauteed in a little butter and left diced when mixed into the scone dough. The cooked sweet potato does need to be completely cooled in the refrigerator before being added to the dough. The rest of the process was the same as most scone recipes. I tend to always work the butter into the flour by hand rather than using a food processor. And, I used Muscovado sugar for the brown sugar, but those were the only changes I made. Once the butter was worked into the dry ingredients including flour, baking powder, brown sugar, salt, cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg, currants and the cooled sweet potato were added. Then, cream was added, the dough was kneaded briefly, it was formed into a disk, and it was cut into triangles and baked. The icing was a mix of melted butter, brown sugar, and cream thickened with confectioners’ sugar. 

So, about those pieces of diced sweet potato in the scones? They were delightful. The cooked sweet potato was as tender as the rest of the scone, and the sweet, chewy bits of currants were a lovely added touch. And, the icing on top was a rich, layer of the most delicious butterscotch. I’m sad those scones are gone now, but I can’t wait to try more things from the book. 

Sweet Potato Scones with Brown Sugar Icing 
Recipe reprinted with publisher's permission from Brown Sugar Kitchen.


A scone has a sweeter profile and a slightly cakier texture than a biscuit. I had an idea to infuse my sweet potato obsession into a breakfast treat, so I asked our baker to come up with a recipe for sweet potato scones and she nailed it. And who wouldn't love anything topped with brown sugar icing? 

3/4 CUP/170 G unsalted butter, cut into cubes and chilled, plus 1 TBSP 
1 sweet potato, peeled and diced 
3 TBSP firmly packed brown sugar 
 Kosher salt 
2 CUPS/255 G all-purpose flour 
1 TBSP baking powder 
1/4 TSP ground cinnamon 
1/4 TSP ground allspice 
 PINCH of grated nutmeg 
1/2 CUP/70 G dried currants 
3/4 CUP/180 M L heavy cream, chilled 

1/4 CUP/20 G powdered sugar 
 1 TBSP unsalted butter 
1/4 CUP/50 G firmly packed brown sugar 
3 TBSP heavy cream 

To make the scones: In a wide sauté pan, melt the 1 tbsp but¬ter over medium heat. Add the sweet potato and cook, stirring often, until it begins to soften, about 10 minutes. Add 1 tbsp of the brown sugar and cook, stirring often, until the sweet potato caramelizes, 12 to 15 minutes. Just before the sweet potato is done, stir in a pinch of salt. Refrigerate to cool completely, about 1 hour. 

Preheat the oven to 425°F/220°C. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. 

In a food processor, pulse together the flour, baking powder, the remaining 2 tbsp brown sugar, 1/2 tsp salt, cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg. Scatter the chilled butter cubes over the flour mix¬ture and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Do not overprocess. 

Transfer the flour-butter mixture to a large mixing bowl, add the currants and the chilled sweet potato, and toss to coat with the flour-butter mixture. Add the cream, gently stirring with a fork to incorporate. The dough should just barely come together. Do not overmix. 

Dump the dough onto a lightly floured surface, and gently knead into a ball, taking care not to mash the sweet potato cubes. The dough will feel slightly dry. Form into an 8-in/20-cm disk and cut into eight triangles. Transfer the scones to the prepared baking sheet. 

Bake until the scones are barely golden brown, 18 to 22 min¬utes. Let cool on the baking sheet for about 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. 

To make the icing: Sift the powdered sugar into a medium bowl. In a small saucepan, combine the butter, brown sugar, and cream over medium-low heat, stirring often, until the but¬ter is melted and the mixture is well combined. Pour the butter mixture over the powdered sugar, and whisk until smooth. Let cool completely. 

When the scones are cool, set the wire rack with the scones over the baking sheet. With a small offset spatula or a table knife, spread about 1 tbsp icing on each scone. Let set for at least 15 minutes before serving. 

(To make ahead, store in an airtight container for up to 2 days.) 

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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Cambodian Red Curry Chicken Wings

Some changes are coming to Lisa is Cooking. Big changes, to me anyway. I’m moving out of the kitchen where I’ve been cooking for fourteen years. I’ll be leaving behind the spot on our back porch where I’ve shot most of the photos that have appeared on this blog. The gas range with the oven I’m completely used to will be a thing of the past. We’re packing up and moving over, not too far away, to a temporary residence while our house gets rebuilt. It should take less than a year but probably not much less. In the meantime, I’ll be cooking in a completely unfamiliar kitchen with even less countertop space than I have now. I haven’t even figured out yet where I’ll take food photos or where I'll knead bread or where to put the food processor. It’ll be an adventure, or that’s what I’m telling myself. I won’t be able to resist sharing updates about the house project along the way. When it’s done, I’ll be moving back into another different kitchen. This future kitchen will be a little less unfamiliar since I designed it and know where everything will go. I just haven’t stood in it yet. And, the appliances will be new and different, but they’ll be ones of my choosing. I can’t wait to get acquainted. So, I apologize in advance if it takes me a bit to get situated in my temporary kitchen and if my photos look weirder than ever for a year. What won’t be changing here at Lisa is Cooking is the cooking itself. I’ll still be trying all sorts of dishes from every different source I encounter. I’ll still be whipping up things like these Cambodian Red Curry Chicken Wings that I saw in the July issue of Food and Wine magazine. The recipe is from Edward Lee, and it was inspired by the food from the restaurant Senmonorom in Lowell, Massachusetts. I made a minor change to the cooking process, but that’s the kind of change that’s expected. 

You begin by cooking the wings in a saute pan on the stovetop. When they are browned on all sides, they should be transferred to a paper towel-lined plate and set aside. Then, the sauce was started with shallots, garlic, lemongrass, and ginger being added to the hot pan. After a few minutes, dried chiles like chiles de arbol, soy sauce, fish sauce, cumin, coriander, paprika, nutmeg, and turmeric were added and cooked until fragrant. Last, coconut milk was added, and the sauce mixture was poured into the blender to be pureed. The pureed sauce was returned to the saute pan. This is where I made a little change. Rather than adding the browned chicken wings to the sauce to simmer for a few minutes, I placed the wings on a baking sheet, basted them with the sauce, and placed them under the broiler. I had a vision of these wings being sticky and coated with the sauce while still having bits of crisp, browned skin. I opted for the high heat of the broiler instead of leaving the wings sitting in the sauce. After basting on both sides and allowing the sauce to achieve a lovely state of stickiness, I served the extra sauce drizzled over the top and as a dipping sauce on the side. 

As described in the magazine, the flavors are less spicy than Thai but deliciously layered. Served with limes for squeezing and some simple rice and vegetables, this was a fun meal. You have to accept that your fingers will be gooey with sauce, but some of the best meals start with that acceptance. Now, I’m off to pack up more of my kitchen things and get this adventure underway. 

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Three-Cheese Rye Biscuits

The new book Huckleberry, from the Bakery and Cafe in Santa Monica of the same name, by Zoe Nathan is easy for me to like. As I read my review copy, page after page held something I wanted to try baking, flavors I wanted to taste, and breakfasts I knew would be delicious. I’m easily entertained by the thought of baking lots of different types of breakfast treats, but seriously, I wanted to grab the mixing bowls and bake every single muffin recipe in the first chapter. It starts with Cooca Nib Muffins with Dark Chocolate Glaze and goes on to include Lemon Cornmeal Muffins with Lemon Glaze, Gluten-Free Vegan Banana Chocolate Muffins, Fig-Brown Sugar Muffins, and more. It’s not just the baked goods and breakfast dishes in the book that appealed to me either. There’s also a nice mix of various flours and whole grains that appear in several recipes. But, those wholesome, whole grains aren’t there just to be healthy ingredients. They’re added for flavor and texture, and there’s no lack of decadence in these recipes. There are Brown Rice Quinoa Pancakes, Multigrain Pancakes, and Ricotta Griddlecakes. Then, there are chapters for Sandwiches, Hearty plates with an Egg on Top, and Coffee and Other Beverages. In deciding where to start, I put my sweet tooth on hold for just a moment while I mixed up the Three-Cheese Rye Biscuits. Despite the rye flour and whole wheat flour, these are anything but a health-food kind of biscuit. They’re buttery and tender with cream cheese and grated cheddar and parmesan. 

Step one was to combine the dry ingredients which include rye flour, all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, baking powder, salt, black pepper, and cayenne. Next, cold pieces of butter were worked into the flours followed by cream cheese that was worked in in the same way. Then, the grated cheddar and parmesan were added with buttermilk. The dough was transferred to a work surface and briefly kneaded to bring it together. To form the biscuits, an ice cream scoop was used. After scooping each biscuit onto a baking sheet, I flattened them a little to prevent domed tops. The sheets pans with biscuits were placed in the freezer for a couple of hours before baking. I only baked half of them at first since, once frozen, the raw biscuits can remain in the freezer for up to a month. They went straight from the freezer to the oven with a quick stop for an application of an egg wash and a sprinkling of fleur de sel. 

If someone offered me a whole grain rye biscuit, this is not what I would expect to receive. These biscuits were as indulgent as any I’ve tasted previously. The cheeses and crunchy salt sprinkled on top add savory flavor. They were perfect with a vegetable scramble for brunch. Some breakfast or brunch dishes in our not-too-distant future will probably include Roasted Spaghetti Squash with Parmesan and Eggs, Vegetarian Croque, Lentils with Roasted Cherry Tomatoes and Sunny-Side-Up Eggs, and lots of muffins. I think I need to get back to the kitchen now. 

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Friday, September 5, 2014

Vietnamese-Style Portobello Mushrooms

This was our conversation: Me- “I cooked from a new book for dinner tonight. The book is The Essential New York Times Grilling Cookbook (review copy), and it includes recipes and writing related to grilling from the entire history of The Times.” Kurt- “A grilling book! What did you grill?” Me- “Vietnamese-Style Portobello Mushrooms.” Kurt- “You have a new grilling book…and, you made mushrooms?” Me- “Of course!” His hopes for a steak off the grill were dashed, but he did enjoy the portobellos. The book does include plenty of recipes for meats with an entire chapter for Burgers, one for Beef and Veal, one for Pork, another just for Lamb, a Poultry chapter, and one for Fish and Shellfish. But, there are also Starters, Vegetables and Sides, Desserts and Breads, and Marinades Rubs and Sauces. I also have Amanda Hesser’s The Essential New York Times Cookbook, and I haven’t done a page by page search to find out how many recipes are included in both books. One difference between the two books, though, is that this grilling book includes writing in addition to recipes. The first story is about Mr. Gunning’s Barbecue in Mount Vernon which appeared on March 30 in 1887. There are stories and accompanying recipes from over the years from writers and contributors like Craig Claiborne, Pierre Franey, Jane Nickerson, Steven Raichlen, Florence Fabricant, Mark Bittman, Julia Moskin, Sam Sifton, and many more. I particularly enjoyed the story by Sam Sifton about hog roasting in a La Caja China which is a Cuban roasting box. He attempted to track down the reason for the name (the explanation is that “Cubans like to call anything that is unusual or clever Chinese”), and in the process found out about other cultures that roast pigs in boxes. All of this interest resulted in a mojo-brined, roasted pig served with black beans and rice and plenty of rum, and I ended up craving Cuban flavors after reading about it. My Cuban feast had to wait because a few pages later, I was taken with Mark Bittman’s description of various grilled vegetables including Portobello mushrooms. 

I want to mention what I think is an important ingredient in all grilling recipes, and that’s the smoke from the hardwood coals. The convenience of gas grills is great, and I sometimes just grill in a grill-pan inside for nice char marks. But, natural hardwood coals impart added flavor to grilled food like nothing else. With these grilled portobellos, it was an integral part of the resulting dish. To start, a marinade was made with peanut oil, lime juice, chopped mint, minced Thai chile, and fish sauce. I spooned half the marinade over the cleaned mushroom caps and left them to sit while the grill was prepped. Once on the grill, the mushrooms were brushed with more of the marinade as they cooked. They need almost 20 minutes of grilling over medium heat to cook all the way through and become tender. After taking them off the grill, I let the mushrooms sit for a few minutes before slicing them and serving them garnished with sliced chiles and chopped green onion and mint. I served the sliced Portobellos with a Vietnamese rice noodle salad inspired by one found on David Lebovitz’s site. I simplified the salad by only adding cucumber, carrot, chiles, and baked tofu and topped it with chopped peanuts and fried shallots. 

The mushrooms were loaded with flavor from the marinade combined with smoky flavor from the grill. Some of the other recipes from the story about grilled vegetables were Chili-Rubbed Jicama Steaks with Queso Fresco, Teriyaki Cabbage Steaks, Curry-Rubbed Sweet Potato Planks, and Miso-Glazed Eggplant Slices. I want to try those on the grill too. And, yes, I will eventually turn to the meat chapters to grill something just for Kurt.  

Vietnamese-Style Portobello Mushrooms 
Recipe reprinted with publisher's permission from The Essential New York Times Grilling Cookbook.
Time: 20 minutes Yield: 4 servings 

1⁄4 cup peanut oil 
1⁄4 cup fresh lime juice 
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint, plus more for garnish 
1 fresh hot red chili (like Thai), seeded and minced 
1 tablespoon fish sauce 
1⁄2 teaspoon sugar 
Salt and lots of black pepper 
4 large portobello mushrooms, stems removed 

1. Heat a charcoal or gas grill until quite hot and put rack about 4 inches from flame. Mix together oil, lime juice, mint, chili, fish sauce and sugar and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Brush mushrooms all over with about half of this mixture. 

2. Grill mushrooms with tops of their caps away from heat until they begin to brown, 5 to 8 minutes. Brush with remaining marinade and turn. Grill until tender and nicely browned all over, 5 to 10 minutes more. Garnish with more mint and serve hot, warm or at room temperature.

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Saturday, August 30, 2014

Saffron Roasted Tomatoes with Labneh

A book focused on eating less meat, more vegetables, and a variety of whole grains and legumes was of course right up my alley. Diana Henry set out to learn more about what is truly healthy eating, and that’s how her new book, A Change of Appetite, came about of which I received a review copy. Not to worry though; this book isn’t about following strict rules or depriving yourself in any way. It’s about eating more fresh food and saving sweet treats for the weekend or special occasions. And the food here isn’t chosen for health benefits alone. Yes, the dishes in this book are healthy, but they were picked because of flavor first. The chapters are divided into seasons, and there are recipes for every meal of the day and even a special menu for each season. Although I mentioned a focus on less meat, there are still meat dishes included like Japanese Ginger and Garlic Chicken with Smashed Cucumber and Whole Roasted Fish with Tahini Dressing and Barley Tabbouleh. The influences on the food range from Middle Eastern to Asian to Scandinavian and Peruvian to name a few. And, I forgot to mention Indian. I can’t wait to try the Home-style Punjabi Lentils with a spicy tomato topping, Lentil and Roasted Tomato Soup with Saffron, and Roopa’s Indian Scrambled Eggs. The photos show off how beautiful these dishes are as well. The Burmese Chile Fish with Hot and Sour Salad; the Pilaf of Mixed Grains, Sweet Potato, and Fennel with Avocado Cream; and the Roasted Tomatoes and Lentils with Dukka-Crumbed Eggs all look irresistible. It’s no secret that I’m always drawn to dishes with saffron. I had to try the Saffron Roasted Tomatoes with Labneh. 

Here in Austin, our tomato season starts early. We actually have two seasons, and by late August we’re in between them. Fall tomatoes will arrive a little later. Luckily, we have farmers who sell at our markets that are from areas just far enough north of the city to still have tomatoes when the heat has ended the early season for other farms. I brought home plum tomatoes from Hairston Creek Farm for this dish. To start, the labneh needs to be made the day before serving. Greek yogurt was mixed with minced garlic, finely chopped parsley, and salt and pepper. It was left in a cheesecloth-lined strainer over a bowl in the refrigerator overnight. The cheesecloth should be twisted up and around the yogurt so it can be squeezed from time to time to release more liquid. The next day, the tomatoes were halved and topped with a mixture of olive oil, harissa, and usually I make my own but I was lazy and bought a jar this time, and saffron. The tomatoes were tossed in the mixture in a roasting pan, and they were placed in the oven for about 45 minutes. The roasted tomatoes were transferred to a serving platter, the labneh was broken into pieces and dotted around the tomatoes, and chopped toasted almonds were sprinkled on top. More saffron was heated with lemon juice and olive oil, and that mixture was drizzled over the top. I served the tomatoes and labneh with warmed pita. 

This was my first time making labneh, and I’ll definitely be doing that again. The tangy yogurt, garlic, and parsley mixture could be used in so many ways. Roasting tomatoes intensifies the flavor, and the saffron gives them a lovely added dimension. The pretty, lemon-saffron oil drizzled on top brought even more color to this bright dish. With so many styles of cooking and such variety of flavors, this book offers new fresh food adventures on every page. 

Sweet Saffron Roasted Tomatoes with Labneh 
Recipe reprinted with publisher’s permission from A Change of Appetite.

Saffron and hot spices, sweet tomato flesh, clean acidic yogurt, there is an irresistible interplay of flavors here. Try to make sure you get some of the saffron juices to smear the labneh; the golden streaks on creamy white yogurt look beautiful. Make this a complete main course by serving couscous on the side, or try kamut flavored with preserved lemons. You can sprinkle either pistachios or almonds on top. 

Serves 8 

For the labneh 
1 3⁄4 cups Greek yogurt 
2 garlic cloves, crushed 
3 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro, mint, or parsley leaves 
pinch of salt 
black pepper 

For the tomatoes 
18 plum tomatoes 
1⁄4 cup olive oil 
2 teaspoons harissa 
good pinch of saffron stamens, plus extra to serve 
1⁄2 tablespoon sugar (unless you have great sweet tomatoes) 

To serve 
Arab flatbread 
1 1⁄2 cups slivered almonds, lightly toasted
juice of 1⁄2 lemon 
1⁄4 cup extra virgin olive oil 
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro leaves 

Make the labneh the day before you want to serve the dish. Line a strainer with a piece of cheesecloth and set it over a bowl. Mix the yogurt with the garlic, herbs, salt, and black pepper. Transfer to the cloth, tie it up, and refrigerate. The yogurt will lose moisture over the next 24 hours, producing a firmer, "cheeselike" substance. Help it along by giving it a squeeze every so often. 

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Halve the tomatoes and lay them in a single layer in a large roasting pan (or two small pans). Mix the regular olive oil, harissa, and saffron and pour the dressing over the tomatoes. Turn the tomatoes over in the oil to make sure they are well coated, ending with them cut side up. Sprinkle with the sugar and season. Roast in the oven for about 45 minutes, or until caramelized and slightly shrunken. Let cool a little. 

Take the labneh out of its cloth. Carefully move the tomatoes (they will be fragile and can fall apart easily) to a serving plate, dotting nuggets of the labneh among them as you work. You can also toast the flatbread, break it up, and arrange it among the tomatoes as well (or serve it on the side). Pour on any cooking juices that have collected in the tomato roasting pan, being sure to douse the flatbread if you have included it within the dish. 

Sprinkle the almonds over the top, then heat another good pinch of saffron stamens with the lemon juice in a small saucepan. Add the extra virgin oil and mix with a spoon. Spoon the mixture over the dish; the golden dressing looks beautiful against the white labneh. Sprinkle with the cilantro and serve warm, or at room temperature. 

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