June 30, 2009
The Cumin Kick: Kohlrabi and Quinoa Salad

P6180016.jpgI have been on quite a cumin kick lately. In a post long ago, I referred to being (like a painter with his color "periods") in my "nutmeg period". I have definitely moved on to cumin now. It's spicy without being burning hot. It stands up well to gutsy vegetables like cabbage and onions. It reminds me of good Mexican food, which is no longer a cuisine to be taken for granted as it was long ago when I lived in Chicago. And now that I'm on a program to lose weight, all of those things - well, except for the Mexican cuisine, which can be quite high in calories - are to the good. So when a funky purple kohlrabi showed up in my weekly vegetable delivery, it immediately sprang to mind.

As is usual when confronted with an unusual vegetable, I hit the Internet looking for inspiration. Sadly, I found none. Nigel Slater, my favorite source of inspiration, detests the poor vegetable. Other offerings were almost universally unsuitable for a woman on a diet, involving baking the slices in cream or grating them and dousing with mayonnaise. So I turned back to my first idea: cumin and kohlrabi. I decided they needed a substantial background and so I opted for quinoa as a base and also threw in a red pepper that was lingering in the back of the vegetable drawer. And finally, I decided to add a generous helping of mushrooms. We recently got the barbecue working again for the season and so I opted to simply grill the mushrooms. The result was deeply satisfying, with the spicy flavors of cumin and cayenne pepper, meatiness of the grilled mushrooms, sweet red peppers and kohlrabi with its delicate brassica note. It stood up well to the other flavors but didn't fight them - a perfect hearty summer salad.

If you are interested in the less diet conscious classic kohlrabi recipes, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is a fan of the kohlrabi and included three recipes I'd like to try in last Saturday's Guardian.

Kohrabi, Quinoa and Cumin Salad (serves 4, at 3.5 WeightWatchers point per serving)

250 g quinoa
700 ml stock
1 onion
1 small kohrabi (around 350 g)
30 medium mushrooms
1 red pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt (or considerably less if using commercial stock)
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

In making the salad, I opted for simplicity and cooked the onion, kohlrabi and quinoa all at once in the stock. As it turned out, the timing was perfect, with the kohlrabi becoming tender just as the little quinoa seeds were popping into perfectly cooked curlicues. If you are nervous about this method, you could easily steam the kohlrabi separately and add it once the quinoa is nearly done. In this case, I would replace some of the stock with the water from steaming kohlrabi so as to preserve all the vitamins.

Bring the stock to a low boil and add the quinoa. Slice the onion in fine half-moons and add to the pot. Wash the kohlrabi and slice in thin bite-sized tiles. Most recipes call for peeling kohlrabi, but mine was young and such a pretty glossy purple that I opted to simply peel away the few rough patches and and cut it up with the skin. Add the kohlrabi and spices to the stock and quinoa, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the quinoa is swollen and open and the kohlrabi is tender. It should take about 20-25 minutes.

In the meantime, wash and trim the mushrooms. Slice the larger ones in half and leave the small ones intact. Fire up the barbecue and grill the mushrooms until slightly shriveled and browned - about five minutes. Turn them over and cook the other side until nicely browned. Remove to a plate. If you don't have a barbecue, you can simply roast them in a hot oven, shaking the pan from time to time to cook on all sides.

Wash, cut in two and deseed the pepper. Place it in the hottest part of the grill, skin side down. Grill until soft and blackened on the skin side. Place in a bag in the refrigerator to cool. Again, this can be done in a hot oven if you don't have a barbecue.

Taste the quinoa for spices. With home-made stock, it may need a little more salt or cayenne or cumin if your spices are a little old. Peel the pepper and slice in strips. Toss all the ingredients together with the quinoa and kohlrabi mixture. Eat warm or cold. It would be a perfect picnic dish with a cold beer!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 7:27 AM | Comments (4)
June 16, 2009
Green Goddess Salad Dressing

basildressing.jpgI feel sorry for anchovy-haters. I really do. Those tender little fish are so much a part of my cooking that I can't imagine life without them. God help me if some day (due entirely to my consumption no doubt) they end up on the endangered fish list. I would have to move to the coast and start breeding them. They really are the cook's best friend, enhancing an otherwise slightly dull sauce, giving a whack of flavor to a bite of pizza, adding a more complex salty note to roast meats. If you don't like them, you are missing out. And you should look away now, because I am going to present the most amazing salad dressing in the history of...well, this site anyway. It knocks the socks off my diet Caesar's salad dressing, which was my previous favorite salad dressing. And it's lower in Weight Watchers points too. When I finished making it, I licked the bowl, an action that is usually reserved for gravy making and cookies in this household. Not only is it the perfect salad dressing, but I am thinking that if you drained the yogurt for an hour first in cheesecloth to thicken it, you'd also have an ideal dipping sauce for raw vegetables. I know this because I snitched one of Big Brother's carrot sticks off his dinner plate and dipped it in the sauce. Too thin to stick to the carrot stick well, but oh-so-tasty. Anchovies, yogurt, garlic and basil: the perfect partner the lovely salads that are in season or the new vegetables that are just starting to appear. Even tired old carrots will get a lift!

* This dressing, by the way, bears only the vaguest of resemblance to the commercial dressing of the same name. Both are green. Both have garlic. And both - heaven help me - are beloved by yours truly. Actually, I haven't tasted the commercial version in a few decades so that last one may no longer be true. But when I was a young lass, I used to drown my salads in it and would have happily eaten it straight from the bottle if my mother let me!

Green Goddess Dressing Serves 4 (.5 WW points per serving, 1.5 total)

In the interest of Truth and Full Disclosure, I do have to admit that this dressing does have one teensy drawback. Neither raw garlic nor anchovies benefit from being stored once they have been put in a dish or sauce. The garlic will go from being pleasantly sharp to overpowering and the lovely anchovy flavor will just seem fishy. So I would not recommend storing it in the refrigerator more than 24 hours, and even then I would highly recommend adding another teaspoon or two of lemon juice to refresh the flavors and tone down the garlic. Taste and use at your own risk! Better still, do like I did and use it all up in one go. After all, the entire dose is 1.5 Weight Watchers point (.5 per serving if you divide it in four generous portions)!

1/2 a pot of low fat plain yogurt
1 large handful of fresh basil leaves
1 clove of garlic
4 small spring onions
1/2 a small tin of anchovies (If you are an anchovy lover and use the remainder to garnish your salad it will only add one point - or use a couple of them to garnish the sauce if you are making a crudités dip. I like to warn guests about the presence of anchovies in this way when we have people over for dinner or drinks!)
2 teaspoons lemon juice

Rinse the anchovies and add them, along with the rest of the ingredients, to a mini-blender or mini-food processor. Whizz on high until smooth. Taste for seasoning: it may need a little more lemon juice or a dash of pepper. It probably won't need salt. It will need to be consumed immediately. Enjoy!

Note: to make a dipping sauce, as mentioned, put the yogurt in cheesecloth and suspend above a bowl for an hour or two before continuing with the rest of the ingredients in the blender. This would be lovely on carrot sticks, lightly blanched cauliflower or broccoli, cucumber, peppers, just about anything!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 10:00 AM | Comments (17)
June 3, 2009
The Perfect Rhubarb Parfait

parfait.jpgA few weeks ago, as I was dropping off Big Brother at his nursery, I noticed one of the mums - who lives on a farm - handing over a big bag of freshly picked rhubarb to one of the assistants. I pricked up my ears and when I heard her say (as I expected she would) that it was over-running her garden and she couldn't get rid of it fast enough - I jumped in with an offer to take some off her hands. I love rhubarb. My grandmother grew it in her back yard and so when I was growing up, I had an endless supply. As a result, I hate paying for it. Why should I buy something that grows like a weed and should be in every garden? (No, I haven't planted any yet: that is the next step in my master plan to exploit my poor friend who has the luck to live on a farm...I'll see if she wants to free up some space in her garden by giving me a plant.)

When I next saw the farmer's wife (who is actually the wife of the head of the local agricultural college if you want to be exact) she asked what I had done with it. And I had done as I always do: stewed it with sugar until it made a glossy red compote and spread it thickly on my morning toast every day for a week. (As an aside, rhubarb stewed with sugar is only half a Weightwatchers point for 75 g, which is plenty for a piece of toast.) She thought this sounded disgusting. Which is funny to me, because my first (and last, as far as I am concerned) experience of an English rhubarb tart truly was disgusting. It managed to be simultaneously slimy and woody - and so sour that I am puckering again just remembering it. There are some aspects of English cooking I will never understand.

I thought of this when I began planning a big barbecue combining a housewarming (which we never held when we moved) and a birthday party (because my 40th was spent nursing a newborn every two hours in a post-birth hormonal haze). I would make a rhubarb dessert that would show this woman exactly how amazing rhubarb could be when stewed with sugar. And I would have shown her too, if she had shown up.

Actually, the dessert was a huge hit. Even the Critic, who, because of experiences with the aforementioned English Rhubarb Tart, has always maintained that he doesn't like rhubarb - loved it. The mousse came out a bit sweeter than I would normally make it, but this complimented the strawberries perfectly. Topped with unsweetened whipped cream, the parfait was creamy and sweet but with a bite of ever so slightly sour strawberry. It really was a perfect early summer dessert. Or pudding, as they say over here.

The Perfect Rhubarb Parfait (serves 6-8)

Making the mousse for this parfait was, I'll admit, a bit of a job. However, the result is so good that I'll be making it again - and often. It makes a very classy dessert for a dinner party and can be made up the day before and assembled in five minutes when you are ready to serve. If I were to compete on Masterchef Goes Large, this would be my dessert.

4 cups chopped rhubarb
2 1/4 c sugar (450g)
1 tsp gelatin or 1 sheet
2 cups heavy cream, divided
1 quart/500g strawberries

Cook the rhubarb with 1/4 cup of water and the sugar in a saucepan until soft. Strain, reserving the liquid. Purée the rhubarb in a food mill or food processor while you reduce the liquid to 1/2 a cup or until your patience runs out, whichever comes first. (The recipe I adapted from my Fannie Farmer cookbook called for cooking it down to half a cup but my patience ran out somewhere around the cup and a quarter mark.) Soften the gelatin in two tablespoons of cold water and then stir it into half a cup of the hot syrup. (Note to self and any other birdbrains out there: do NOT lick the spoon you have been using to stir boiling syrup without letting it cool first. It will hurt.) Stir the gelatin mixture into the rhubarb. Whip 1 cup of the whipped cream until stiff. Fold into the rhubarb gently. Spoon into wine glasses or martini glasses and refrigerate at least six hours.

Before serving, wash the strawberries and cut them in bite-sized chunks. Whip the cream. Sprinkle the berries over the mousse and top with whipped cream. Enjoy.

Note: the parfait looked very pretty in a champagne flute, but I think that next time I'll probably use martini glasses. You really want to have a bit of cream, a strawberry and mousse in every bite and this is easier to achieve with a wider brim on the glass.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 11:03 AM | Comments (5)
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