Miso Brown Butter Krispie Treats

This one is, I have to admit, a bit of a cheat. But when it’s the day after the horror that is the spring time change, a fifteen minute “baking” project that barely adapts perfection is about all a person can be expected to churn out.

Have you had Smitten Kitchen’s salted brown butter crispy treats? Please tell me you have. It’s one of the recipes that was so successful on her blog that she put it into her first cookbook as a tried and true favorite. One of our friends calls them “the precious” and I have to say, he’s not far off. The same old gooey, crunchy squares from childhood, but bumped up with the nutty toastiness of brown butter, and a judicious sprinkle of sea salt that makes them fly. We first discovered them through a batch S. made, and she consequently became our dealer while we were in Oregon, though now that we’re so many miles separate from her I’ve had to take up the mantle myself.

I’m not sure what gave me the idea – perhaps seeing several miso caramels on Food Network, or maybe SK’s own miso caramel corn – but the idea of adding a scoop of miso paste to these already flawless squares seemed to toe the line between genius and potentially horrifying.

So I did it.

The result is, surprisingly, somehow butterscotch-esque, despite no brown sugar or vanilla in the mix, and completely addictive. There’s no flaky sea salt anymore – the miso has plenty of salinity of its own – although I think you could get away with a tiny sprinkle if you can’t do without so I’ve made it optional, and I don’t even think you’d need to brown the butter, but I still did because since it needs to be melted anyway, it’s not really that much more effort.

So here, backed by Deb’s ingenuity and a mere four ingredients (well, five if you add salt), is my offering for you today: all the goo, all the sweetness, all the crunch, but with a new twist that will, I suspect, leave you tasting, and tasting again, and suddenly wondering where the whole pan got off to, because you couldn’t possibly have just eaten the entire thing…

Miso Brown Butter Krispie Treats
Marginally adapted from Smitten Kitchen‘s salted brown butter crispy treats
15-20 minutes
Makes 8×8- or 9×9-inch square pan of treats
8 tablespoons unsalted butter (½ cup; 4 ounces)
1-1½ tablespoons miso paste
⅛ teaspoon salt, optional
10 ounce bag of marshmallows
6 cups crisped rice cereal

 

  • Butter or spray an 8×8 or 9×9 inch pan, then set aside.
  • Add the butter to a saucepan and melt over medium heat. Once it has completely melted, turn the heat down to medium-low and keep an eye on it as it foams up, then subsides, then starts to brown into toasty little bits on the bottom of the pot. It’s easiest to use a pot that does not have a dark surface, since you can see color changes in the butter more easily. If your pot has a black surface, though, and you think you’re there, you can quickly dunk in a marshmallow and see whether the butter it captures has brown flecks in it (then, if you must, you can eat it). The moment you discern these little brown flecks, turn the heat off so the butter solids won’t burn.
  • With the heat off, add the miso paste, the salt, if using, and the marshmallows. Stir firmly with a flexible rubber spatula, being sure to distribute the miso paste evenly. The residual heat should be enough to melt the marshmallows, and you’ll end up with a sticky, pale golden pool of goo. Add the 6 cups of cereal all at once and stir in. You’ll need to be quite firm, again, to ensure even distribution.
  • Dump and scrape the cereal mixture into the prepared pan and press down firmly into an even layer, being sure to push it into the corners as well. You can use the same rubber spatula for this, or a piece of waxed paper, or the bottom of the cup measure you used for the cereal – it shouldn’t stick too much.
  • Set aside until fully cooled, then cut into squares of your desired size and consume.
Advertisements

Blackberry Spring Rolls

2016 Food Blog August-0725Obvious confession: I haven’t been very good at keeping up with my 2016 blog challenge this summer. I mean, I haven’t been stellar at keeping up with blogging in general, but the challenge fell by the wayside pretty significantly. Let’s climb back onto that horse.

2016 Food Blog August-06912016 Food Blog August-0698It’s fun to try to guess why various search term combinations might have led to my site in particular. Some I can’t even begin to imagine, but some – like this one – are fairly obvious. A site eponymously dedicated to the summery multi-faceted gems that are blackberries should really have more berry-centric recipes, despite the fact that the name has nothing to do with my food predilections and everything to do with my inescapable fondness for literature. (Also, if you like spring rolls and haven’t made these, get thee to the kitchen!) Two birds with one recipe, then.

2016 Food Blog August-0700In trying to imagine what a blackberry spring roll would consist of, I veered sweet almost immediately. Blackberries can be tart, but they also have a deep lushness that begs to be bolstered with sugar in some form. Since I can’t see fit to make a spring roll without mint (seriously, it is key), I had to find some kind of filler that paired well with the fresh coolness of mint and the dark tart-sweet of blackberries, and landed on coconut rice. Some shredded coconut in there as well for extra flavor and texture, and a sprinkling of finely chopped crystallized ginger, and these funny little rolls were sounding promising.

2016 Food Blog August--5Filled, pressed, rolled, and sliced, they were indeed promising – delicious, in fact – if a bit odd. When I sampled the first one, I found I wasn’t sure whether I liked it. Then I found myself eating the third, and decided I must. Blackberries and coconut are not a pairing I think of immediately, but henceforth I will, as should you. The tart berry is perfect to cut through the luxurious fattiness of the sweet coconut, like a dish of berries and whipped cream with an extra, tropical flavor. The mint and ginger, since they are good with both, complement equally, adding a breath of freshness and a warm, sweet spice to keep things interesting.

2016 Food Blog August-0703Further, it was an interesting exercise to decide what sort of snack this was. Inescapably sweet, yes, but not quite a dessert. Upon discussion my sister and I decided they would work well as a palate cleanser on an eclectic brunch table, or perhaps an offering at something delicate and fancy, like a certain sort of baby or bridal shower. I used sweetened shredded coconut, but you could certainly use unsweetened and end up with a slightly more savory product.

2016 Food Blog August-0713As with any spring roll, these are a project. You do have to compress the rice filling pretty assertively to get a nice, tight roll, and the blackberries and mint leaves need to be arranged just so to make them pleasingly visible in the finished product. Typically spring rolls are sliced in half on a bias to expose the lovely filling; doing so does bring these closer to bite-size, but it also gives the rice opportunity to spill out, and since the blackberries are only present in a few key spots, it doesn’t have the same aesthetic advantage. The presentation of these rolls is about the exterior – they have a stained glass window effect, as the veins of the mint leaves and the individual little drupelets of the berries press invitingly against the translucent wrapper.

2016 Food Blog August-0723After a few more left the platter, I thought about what else could be done with these. Rice, a blackberry or two, and a few mint leaves are a lovely combination, but perhaps almost too stark. Mango chunks, then, could be added if you want to up the fruit quotient, and in addition to, or perhaps instead of, the crystallized ginger, you could add some lime zest to the rice. Thai basil could replace or supplement the mint for another herbaceous note. I even considered wafer-thin slices of jalapeno, either raw or candied, for a different kind of heat.

2016 Food Blog August--2-32016 Food Blog August-07052016 Food Blog August-07062016 Food Blog August-07072016 Food Blog August-0708

Blackberry spring rolls
10-12 spring rolls (20-24 halves), depending on size and quantity of blackberries
45-60 minutes
1 cup cal rose or other short or medium grain rice
14 ounce can of coconut milk + 2 ounces water
1 cup shredded coconut, sweetened or unsweetened
3 tablespoons finely minced crystallized ginger
30-40 spearmint leaves
1 pint blackberries, rinsed, gently dried, and halved
Rice paper wrappers (I like the brand with the rose on the packaging)
Warm water

 

  • Combine the rice, the coconut milk, and the 2 ounces of water in a medium pot, cover, and bring to a boil. Stir quickly, replace the lid, and lower the heat to a simmer. Cook 15-20 minutes, until the liquid is absorbed and the rice cooked through. It will be very creamy, which will help it stick together in the roll.
  • Stir the shredded coconut and the minced ginger into the hot rice, then set aside to cool until just warm or at room temperature.
  • While the rice cools, pluck the mint leaves and prepare the blackberries.
  • To roll, set up an assembly line – mint, then blackberries, then rice mixture. Be sure to have a plate or other vessel on which to place your finished rolls at the end of the line-up. Add warm water to a wide, shallow dish or bowl that the rice paper will fit into. You will address this step first.
  • Submerge one rice paper wrapper in the warm water and let it sit until it becomes completely pliable. I find this tends to take somewhere between 30 and 45 seconds.
  • When the rice paper is ready, remove and place on a flat surface. If you wish, you can briefly spread it on a paper towel to soak up some of the drips, but this isn’t strictly necessary.
  • Place 3-4 mint leaves around the rice paper wrapper, bottom surface facing up. This ensures the top, more attractive side of the leaf will be visible through the wrapper on the finished roll.
  • Now, place two blackberry halves, cut side up, about a half inch apart in the center of the wrapper. Top the cut berries with 2 tablespoons of the rice mixture. With damp hands, press the rice mixture gently together in a log shape down the middle of the wrapper; the idea is to get it to stick together so you end up with a tighter roll. Top the rice mixture with two more blackberry halves, this time cut side down.
  • Now we roll! As the wrapper faces you, fold in the left and right “edges” over the ends of the rice log, so what you have looks like a long oval with two squared-off sides. Next, take the side of the wrapper closest to you and fold it completely over your fillings, then pull tight toward you. Roll up the wrapper, tucking each revolution tightly so the fillings are well contained. The tighter rolled, the better they will stay together.
  • Repeat until you run out of blackberries! You will get a nice rhythm established. I find I can complete a roll in the time it takes a new rice paper wrapper to soften. Then you are all set to start the next.
  • Just before serving, halve each roll on the bias (with a diagonal cut). If you have extra mint, you can press a leaf or a small sprig into the cut end of some of the rolls, for an attractive presentation.
  • These will keep, packaged in an air-tight container in the refrigerator, for 1-3 days. Let them come to room temperature before serving, or if you are in a rush, pop them in the microwave for 20-30 seconds, as the rice paper is tough and unpleasantly dry when cold.

Save

Save

Save

Spring Green Risotto with Poached Egg and Lemon Garlic Breadcrumbs

2016 Food Blog March-0614My warmest memory of risotto – and the one that probably says the most about me as a person and as the graduate student that I was – is one wintery evening in Oregon, when I was making risotto while preparing for class. This seems counterintuitive, I know. It is. One cannot truly invest in either the stirring required for risotto or the note-jotting, powerpoint slideshow constructing, or annotating usually needed for quality lesson prep. One can, however, position one’s hand just so to hold up and keep open a paperback book in one hand, while leaving the other hand free for a wooden spoon.

2016 Food Blog March-05952016 Food Blog March-0597The house was cold that night, and I was frantically reading Beowulf in preparation for a lecture the next day in a class for which I was a teaching assistant. Stir, read. Stir, read. Slow, random swipes through the pan, as I drowned myself in Beowulf’s deeds. I probably didn’t get much out of that reading session, but the combination is stuck: warm, creamy rice, and poor Beo fighting against demons of darkness, and of his own overweening.

2016 Food Blog March-06002016 Food Blog March-0602I’ve complained about risotto before, and it’s true that I often find it underwhelming. But when you combine its warm, melting heartiness against the brightness of spring vegetables, and when you declare that decadence befits a spring break that finally arrived – so you give yourself a week off from blogging because SPRING BREAK, people! – and then you layer on a poached egg and a shower of crispy crumbs shot through with garlic and lemon zest, you have a risotto that I’ll put down my book for.

2016 Food Blog March-0611This one features leeks – my favorite, and sadly so underrated, member of the onion family – as well as slim fingers of asparagus, barely wilted spinach leaves, and a rubble of peas stirred in at the last minute. There’s a generous shower of parmesan cheese at the end, and the egg yolk, still oozy but just thickened, forms its own rich, golden sauce for the risotto when you slide your fork down through it. Risotto isn’t difficult, but it is a bit co-dependent: it requires your presence in the kitchen throughout the process. Still, though, if you are organized and get all of your vegetables prepared while the broth is heating, you can have the whole thing done in less than an hour. What’s that? Two entries in a row with reasonable time spans? Happy spring, my friends.

2016 Food Blog March-0615

Spring Green Risotto with Poached Egg and Lemon Garlic Crumbs
Serves 6-8
30-45 minutes
6 cups low-sodium vegetable or chicken broth
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
4 tablespoons butter, divided
2 large leeks, sliced into thin ribbons as described below
4 finely minced garlic cloves, divided
2 cups short or medium grain rice
½ cup dry white wine
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper, black or white
2 1-2 inch sprigs fresh thyme
1 pound slender asparagus spears, woody ends snapped off, spears cut into two inch pieces
1 cup frozen peas
4 ounces baby spinach
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
6-8 eggs (as many as people you are serving)
1 teaspoon white vinegar, for poaching
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
zest from one lemon
salt to taste

 

  • In a medium pot, heat the broth while you prep the vegetables – by the time you are ready to add it to the risotto, it should be just below a simmer.
  • Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and 2 tablespoons of the butter in a large, high-sided skillet over medium-low heat.
  • Cut off the root end and the dark green leaves of the leek. Slice the remaining log lengthwise, leaving two long rounded planks. Run these planks under running water, flipping through the layers with your thumbs, to release dirt. Then cut each plank in half lengthwise again, and slice horizontally across into thin ribbons.
  • Add the leeks and half of the finely minced garlic (so, the equivalent of 2 cloves) to the butter and olive oil in the skillet, and turn the heat up to medium. Cook, stirring occasionally, until leeks are very tender but have not browned much, 5-10 minutes. To keep them from caramelizing, you may need to turn the heat down a bit.
  • When the leeks are translucent and quite tender, turn the heat up to medium-high and add the rice. Stir constantly for 2-3 minutes until the rice grains have become opaque and smell toasty. Pour in the white wine and continue to stir constantly until it is almost all absorbed.
  • Once the wine is almost completely absorbed by the rice, add about a cup of the heated broth, the salt, the pepper, and the thyme sprigs, and stir to combine. Continue to cook over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until the broth has been absorbed. The more you stir at this stage, the creamier the risotto will be, as what you’re doing is releasing starch from the rice grains into the liquid, which thickens and enriches the mixture.
  • As each cup of hot broth is absorbed into the rice mixture, add another, stirring frequently while it absorbs. Each addition will take a little longer to integrate.
  • In between stirring and adding, poach the eggs and make the breadcrumbs. For the eggs, heat water in a small pot until barely simmering. Add the 1 teaspoon white vinegar, then use a spoon to stir the water in the pot in a circle to create a tiny vortex. Quickly and carefully crack the egg into the vortex (or you can crack the egg into a small dish first, and pour/dump it into the pot), and use your spoon to encourage the swirling whites to cling to the central yolk as it spins in the water. After about two minutes in the barely simmering water, use a spoon or a rubber spatula to gently detach the egg from the bottom of the pot, if it is stuck. After about three minutes, use a slotted spoon to remove the egg carefully to a bowl of warm (not hot!) water, and let it sit until you are ready to serve. Repeat for all eggs.
  • To make the breadcrumbs, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in a small pan over medium heat. When it is shimmering, add the panko and stir to coat evenly with the oil. Toast over medium heat for 3-5 minutes, or until the panko is crisp and golden brown. Quickly add the remaining minced garlic and the lemon zest, and stir assertively to combine – these new wet ingredients may clump up together. Cook for about 30 seconds with the garlic and lemon zest incorporated, then remove from the heat, salt to taste, and set aside until you are ready to serve.
  • As soon as you add the final dose of broth, add the asparagus pieces and stir well. When the broth is almost completely absorbed, add the peas, the spinach leaves, the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter, and the 1 cup of parmesan cheese. Stir to incorporate, and cook just until the peas are warmed through and the spinach has wilted but is still bright green.
  • To serve, spoon a mound of risotto into the center of a shallow bowl. Carefully set the poached egg on top, then sprinkle with a tablespoon or two of the breadcrumbs and serve immediately.

Spiced Fried Coconut Rice and Plantains

2015 Blog September-0542As I’m sure will come as no surprise to you, I’ve always been very interested in food in books. But not food books, so to speak, just food that appears in stories. The kind I like is not food that is instrumental to or driving the story; not food that makes the plot twist and turn. I’m more fond of food that is incidental. Food that brings characters together and lets them pause for a moment. Food that, perhaps, the author got too carried away with describing (I’m looking at you, Brian Jacques).

2015 Blog September-0524The inspiration for this dish is something I’ve thought about and forgotten about on and off since I was in my early teens. Roald Dahl, easily my first author crush, has been on my bookshelf since I was five or six years old. But it wasn’t until I was in middle school that I discovered his two autobiographical books Boy and Going Solo. In the latter, as he relates his time as an RAF pilot, he describes a dish cooked for him by a local Sergeant outside of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania:

There was a 44-gallon drum of drinking water in one of the trucks and everyone helped himself. Then the Sergeant made a fire out of sticks and began cooking supper for his men. He was making rice in an enormous pot, and while the rice was boiling he took from the truck a great stem of bananas and started snapping them off the stem one by one and peeling them and slicing them up and dropping the slices into the pot of rice . . . It was absolutely delicious. The rice was unhusked and brown and the grains did not stick together. The slices of banana were hot and sweet and in some way they oiled the rice, as butter would. It was the best rice dish I had ever tasted and I ate it all and felt good and forgot about the Germans. (Dahl 60-61)

I had never been particularly drawn to brown rice or to bananas, but the description of the way the bananas made the rice buttery and slick appealed deeply to me.

2015 Blog September-0532Here, I’ve taken the Sergeant’s basic ingredients and added a bit of my own flair. Impatient, I used white rice rather than brown, but chose basmati to echo the idea that the grains remained separate. A recent return of plantains to my grocery store determined the “banana” component, and since I can’t bring myself to cook plantains any other way besides frying them in thick slices, then smashing them down and frying again in an homage to tostones, I decided the bananas in my version would end up layered atop the rice, not cooked with it.

2015 Blog September-0522Since simple rice and bananas, though it sounded comforting and fulfilling in theory, might end up a bit boring in execution, I decided to cook the rice in coconut milk and then stir-fry it with some spices. This would take care of the “oiled” component from Dahl’s dinner that might otherwise go missing. A sprinkle of cilantro and a squeeze of lime juice would finish the dish.

2015 Blog September-0529Though my final dish was quite different from Dahl’s, my reaction was similar. I ate it all, I felt good, and I could see why Dahl told the Sergeant “You should open a restaurant and become rich” when he finished his plate (61). The plantains, though sweet by nature, teeter in the savory realm with a generous pinch of salt and a spare dusting of cayenne pepper. The rice recalls sweetness with the coconut milk and cinnamon, but a dose of coriander and a bay leaf hold it back from the edge of becoming a dessert rice dish.

2015 Blog September-0537A note about my plantains: though I’ve called this an “homage to tostones,” my results are only loosely similar. Real tostones use green plantains, cut thin slices, and after frying, smashing, and frying again, the resulting golden-brown coins are crisp and flat and something like the love child of bananas and potato chips. My fried plantains use a yellow plantain – not yet tremendously soft, but certainly not the hard, starchy green variety most commonly used for the dish. I shallow fry rather than deep-frying the slices, but the process of frying lightly to cook through, then smashing, then frying again to achieve a bronzed exterior remains the same. Be sure to salt them when they are hot to keep them savory.

2015 Blog September-0538

Spiced Fried Coconut Rice and Plantains
Serves 2
About 1½ hours (1 hour of resting time)
1 cup long-grain rice, such as jasmine or basmati
2 cups coconut milk (not coconut cream) (you could also use water, or vegetable or chicken broth)
¼ teaspoon salt
⅛ teaspoon black pepper
1 dried bay leaf
3 tablespoons coconut oil (you could also use vegetable oil)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon cardamom
1 teaspoon coriander
1 large yellow plantain (it should have minimal black streaks and feel medium firm)
3 tablespoons coconut oil (you could also use vegetable oil)
salt for sprinkling
cayenne pepper for sprinkling
2-3 tablespoons chopped cilantro
squeeze of lime juice

 

  • In a medium pot, stir together the rice, coconut milk, salt, and pepper. Add the bay leaf and bring to a boil. Stir once, reduce heat, and simmer for about 15 minutes, or until coconut milk is absorbed and rice is tender. Let sit with the lid on for 5 minutes, then fluff with a fork and let cool for about 1 hour. This helps the grains stay separate and not get gummy when fried.
  • While rice is cooling, prepare and cook the plantain. Peel the plantain and cut it into ½ inch slices. Heat 3 tablespoons coconut oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the plantain slices in a single layer and fry until soft: 1-2 minutes per side. Remove to a paper towel lined plate or cutting board.
  • Place another layer of paper towels on top of the lightly fried plantain slices. Using a potato masher or a wide spatula, gently flatten the plantain slices to around ¼ inch thick. Turn up the heat under the skillet to medium-high and return the flattened slices to the oil. They may stick a bit to the paper towel: be gentle but firm as you peel them away!
  • Fry the plantain slices again in the hot coconut oil until a crisp golden crust forms – about 2 minutes. Flip and fry again for another 2 minutes, or until golden on both sides. Remove to a fresh layer of paper towels and immediately sprinkle with salt and cayenne pepper.
  • Turn the heat down to medium and spoon in the remaining 3 tablespoons coconut oil. Add the cinnamon, cardamom, and coriander and let them sizzle for 30-45 seconds, just until their aromas start to mingle. Then, remove the bay leaf from the cooled rice and dump the rice in all at once.
  • Mix frantically to incorporate the spices, then let the rice sit undisturbed for 3-4 minutes to pick up a bit of a crust. Flip around with a spatula and fry another 2-3 minutes for even toasting.
  • To serve, mound about a cup of rice in the center of a shallow bowl. Layer half the slices of plantain on top, then sprinkle with chopped cilantro and squeeze on a few drops of lime juice. Repeat for the second diner, and serve immediately.

Lamb meatballs with basmati pilaf and pomegranate drizzle

2015 Blog September-0440I don’t remember the first time I had lamb. I suspect it was a special occasion – probably Easter – and I suspect I had it in the company of a generous scoop of that emerald green mint jelly that still, in my memory, is the perfect accompaniment for the slight gaminess of a well-seared chop or slim carved slice.

2015 Blog September-0423To bring lamb into the meatball fold (too much? I couldn’t resist), I went back to the mint pairing with a few fresh sprigs, but decided to dress up the seasonings a bit more, pushing these meatballs in a Mediterranean direction. Oregano joined the mint, along with green onions, pine nuts, a small handful of coarsely chopped golden raisins, a tiny touch of cayenne pepper to keep things interesting. Fresh breadcrumbs soaked in cream keep the meat mixture springy and moist, and after a sear and a simmer in beef broth, they are fragrant and herbaceous, tugging toward both the savory and the sweet.

2015 Blog September-0426In dreaming these up, I knew I wanted to play with the sweetness of the traditional mint jelly, but push it in a more grown-up direction. Lamb and chutneys are also a common pairing, since lamb goes so nicely with fruit, and in searching for that agradolce flavor – the Italian sweet/tart/sour answer to a gastrique, I hit upon a thick, puckering drizzle of pomegranate juice and balsamic vinegar, reduced down into a glossy syrup, that would be as delectable over vanilla ice cream as it is here over meat. To finish, according to my notes, all is needed is lemon zest and a “sparing crumble of feta.”

2015 Blog September-04332015 Blog September-0435Just like this – a meatball drizzled in syrup, sprinkled with briny cheese and a touch of bitter citrus rind, these make perfect appetizers. They require only a toothpick, and since they are even better at room temperature than they are steaming from the pan (time to cool gives the herbs a chance to assert their flavors), they are ideal for a party. If you’re looking for an entrée application, though, I also opted for a basmati pilaf, all nutty and fluffy and toasted, spiked with currants and nuts and a little fresh parsley to finish, that these meatballs can be happily snuggled into.

2015 Blog September-04312015 Blog September-0437These are, without question, my favorites of the meatball project thus far. When it’s done right, the play of savory and sweet is one of my favorite taste combinations. And I must, for the sake of your stomachs, eschew modesty and admit: here, it is done right.

2015 Blog September-0444

Lamb meatballs with basmati pilaf and pomegranate balsamic drizzle
Serves 4-5 (with 18-20 1-½ tablespoon meatballs)
45 minutes if you’re quite efficient, 60-90 minutes if you’re not
For drizzle:
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
1 cup unsweetened pomegranate juice
For meatballs:
1 cup fresh breadcrumbs
½ cup milk or cream
1 lb. ground lamb
¼ cup finely sliced green onions, dark and light green parts only (save the bulbs for another night)
1 tablespoon minced fresh oregano
2 tablespoons minced fresh mint
¼ cup roughly chopped golden raisins
¼ cup pine nuts
½ teaspoon salt
⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
1-2 cups beef broth
For pilaf:
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons roughly chopped pistachios
3 tablespoons sliced almonds
¼ cup minced red onion
¾ cup basmati or other long-grain rice
¼ cup orzo (small rice-shaped pasta)
1 bay leaf
3 tablespoons currants
¾ teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon salt (but taste your chicken broth first – you may need more or less salt)
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
¼ cup roughly chopped parsley, to finish
To serve:
½ cup finely crumbled feta cheese
zest from one lemon

 

  • Combine the balsamic vinegar and pomegranate juice in a small pot and set it over medium heat. Bring to a boil, then reduce to just simmering and let it go for 30-40 minutes, stirring occasionally, until it has become a thick, glossy syrup the consistency of molasses. When that happens, remove from heat immediately and set aside.
  • In a glass measuring cup or small bowl, combine the fresh breadcrumbs and the milk or cream and let sit for about 10 minutes to soak. While they suck up the moisture, chop and prep your remaining meatball ingredients (and the pilaf ingredients, if you have time).
  • Add the ground lamb, the green onions, the oregano, the mint, the golden raisins, the pine nuts, the ½ teaspoon of salt, and ⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper to a medium mixing bowl. Using a fork or your fingers, lift the bread crumbs out of the milk or cream, let any excess liquid drip off briefly, and add them to the other meatball ingredients. Use your fingertips to combine the meatball ingredients, mixing lightly but thoroughly to distribute the wet bread and the sticky meat evenly.
  • In a large skillet, heat the 3 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add about a teaspoon of the meat mixture and fry for about a minute on each side until cooked through. Taste for seasoning and adjust salt and cayenne pepper quantities as desired. It’s okay to leave them slightly undersalted, though, as the feta you’ll crumble over at the end is so salty.
  • With moistened hands, scoop up 1-½ tablespoon quantities of the meat mixture and roll them into spheres. This should net you 18-20 meatballs. Place as many meatballs as will fit in a single layer without touching one another in the preheated skillet, and brown on all sides over medium heat – about 2 minutes per side. Remove to a clean plate. Repeat until all meatballs are browned on the outsides.
  • Wipe out the meatball skillet with a paper towel to remove the excess fat, then add the 1-2 cups beef broth and bring to a simmer. When it is bubbling, carefully add the meatballs back into the skillet – you want enough liquid that it comes approximately halfway up the sides of the meatballs. Cover with a tight-fitting lid and let simmer 15-20 minutes, turning all meatballs once.
  • The moment the meatballs hit their simmer, make the rice. Heat the 3 tablespoons butter in a medium pot over medium heat. Add the pistachios and almonds and toast, stirring frequently, until lightly browned. Add the ¼ cup minced red onion and sauté until onion is translucent and tender – 3-5 minutes. Stir frequently to ensure the nuts do not burn.
  • Add the rice and the orzo to the onion and nuts and stir to coat evenly with the melted butter. Toast over medium heat for 1-2 minutes, just until the rice gains some opacity. Add the black pepper, the salt, the bay leaf, the currents, and the chicken broth. Stir well and cover with a tight-fitting lid.
  • Bring the rice mixture to a boil, stir once more, and reduce heat to a simmer. Simmer 15 minutes, or until rice is tender and has absorbed all the broth. Stir in the parsley and fluff with a fork before serving.
  • To serve, nestle 4-5 meatballs per diner on a bed of the fluffy pilaf. Drizzle a few teaspoons of the thick, glossy pomegranate syrup over the meatballs, crumble on some feta and lemon zest, and serve warm or at room temperature.
  • Alternatively, for appetizers, make a decorative drizzle of the pomegranate glaze on an attractive platter (I prefer white, for the contrast), spear the meatballs and place them atop the glaze layer, and then dust the whole thing lightly with feta and lemon zest. Serve the rice alongside, or not at all.

Ahi Nori Wraps

Food blog May 2015-0757Months and months ago, I showed you photos of a tiny shack in Kauai and promised you my own rendition of their signature ahi nori wraps: thick, squared-off cylinders of seared ahi and spears of cucumber, surrounded by brown rice, doused with a mysterious wasabi sauce and wrapped up in a spinach flour tortilla lined with a sheet of nori. A delightful cross between a burrito and sushi, they were one of our favorite meals while on the island. But then, you know, life, with all those pesky obligations, insisted on happening, and now we are a full school year later and I’m finally getting around to it. It’s a cringe-worthy cliche to declare that these are worth the wait, but since we are now on our second version of them in two weeks, I’m going to take the chance.

Food blog May 2015-0742Since it has been so long, I’ve had plenty of time to reflect on what make these funny little sushi / burrito mash-ups so good. Well-spiced, lightly seared tuna, still rare or even raw in the middle, is of course the main reason. But only slightly secondary are the issues of texture and temperature. As you’ll know if you like sushi, there’s something amazing about a perfect piece of ahi – it’s meltingly soft but, when seared around the edges, it becomes softness with a bouncy chew. It is hot on the outsides, but still cool in the interior. Flanked by cucumbers, you get a fresh, bright, cold crispness, and the chewy strangeness of the nori seaweed layer is somehow perfect.

Food blog May 2015-0743Food blog May 2015-0744Food blog May 2015-0749These also offer perfectly contrasting tastes. Of course there’s the glorious fresh fish flavor, but there’s also nostril-piercing heat from the wasabi, and saltiness from the seaweed, and the welcome nutty blandness of the rice. Because I can’t leave well enough alone, I thought the addition of rich, creamy avocado blitzed into a velvet puree with a touch of mayonnaise would be the right vehicle for the wasabi, and insisted on crusting the tuna itself with sesame seeds, lime zest, and some red pepper flakes as well as the customary salt and pepper sprinkle before searing it off.

Food blog May 2015-0751Food blog May 2015-0752We ate these in big gulps, then went back for more. One wrap is plenty for a dinner, especially if you wisely offer yourself a side of mango-spiked salad or lightly sautéed vegetables, but we are not always wise, and opted instead to make a third wrap and split it. Still, even the resulting food coma couldn’t deter our enthusiasm about the meal.

Food blog May 2015-0753If you aren’t comfortable with raw fish, you can of course cook yours all the way through, though if you’re going to do that I wouldn’t bother with the pricey ahi. Cut a nice filet of salmon into long strips and crust and sauté or broil until just cooked through. Or, if you want to go an even easier route, sprinkle some lime juice over a few layers of smoked salmon and wrap that up inside instead. Food blog May 2015-0756

Ahi Nori Wraps
Makes 4
For rice and sauce:
1 avocado, pitted and peeled
juice from ½ a lime
¼ cup mayonnaise
1-2 tablespoons wasabi paste or sauce
(alternatively, you could use about ¼ cup of wasabi mayonnaise)
2 cups cooked brown rice, warm or at room temperature
For the tuna:
½ tablespoon coarse salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
pinch of red pepper flakes
zest of 1 lime
2 tablespoons untoasted sesame seeds
½ pound ahi or other sushi grade tuna, cut into long rectangles that are about 1×1 inch at the ends
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon sesame oil
To assemble:
1 seedless cucumber, halved lengthwise and cut into long, thin planks (thinner is better – too thick and they won’t roll up well. Go for translucent, but be careful!)
4 spinach tortillas
4 sheets nori

 

  • In a small bowl or blender, combine the avocado, the lime juice, the mayonnaise, and the wasabi paste. If you have wasabi mayonnaise you like the flavor and heat level of, you could use that instead. I wanted my mixture a little spicier than my wasabi mayo, so I opted to make my own mix. Whiz together with a standard or immersion blender until a completely smooth, pale green puree forms; it will be too thick to pour.
  • Combine the puree with the cooked brown rice and taste for seasoning. Adjust as needed, then set aside.
  • For the tuna, combine the salt, black and red pepper, lime zest, and sesame seeds on a small plate. Carefully dredge each log of tuna in the mixture by rolling it through the seasoning. When all are well coated, heat the vegetable oil and sesame oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the crusted tuna carefully, watching out for oil spatters, and sear about 1 minute on each side (for raw in the center), or until done to your liking. I overcooked mine, as you can see from my photos; I would have preferred red, not pink, in the center.
  • When tuna is done to your liking, remove from pan immediately and set aside.
  • To assemble, lay out your tortillas and place a sheet of nori in the center of each one. Lay 4-5 planks of cucumber atop the nori, all facing in the same direction. Add about ½ cup of the rice and sauce mixture per wrap, and spread this out to the edges of the cucumber planks. Lay one log of ahi in the center of each one in the same direction as the cucumber planks, then wrap up like a burrito, carefully folding in the edges.
  • To serve, cut on a bias and, if you’re feeling fancy, stand one half up like I’ve done above to show off the interior.
  • Eat immediately, and lick your fingers with no shame.