Sunday, May 31, 2009

Menu 3: The Diversity of South Africa

There are so many cultures involved in South African cuisine. I knew nothing about the complexity and the diversity until I found two South African cookbooks and started cooking. Dutch settlers (the Afrikaners) brought a European influence with Milk Tarts and other delicious baked goods along with an amazing barbeque (braai) with beef and chicken; Malay laborers from Java and Indonesia brought their spices; indigenous Africans added in cornmeal porridge and greens, reminders for us of the soul food of the American south; Indians brought their curries. I love how the colors and flavors intermingle and dance with each other. Bobotie is a classic example.

Bobotie from South Africa

2 onions, finely chopped
2 pounds ground beef, or a mix of ground meats
1 slice bread
1 cup milk
1 tablespoon curry powder
½ teaspoon turmeric
1½ tablespoons sugar
½ cup raisins
3 tablespoons chutney, chopped
2 teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon pepper
Zest of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons lemon juice
¼ cup slivered almonds
1 egg

1. Pre-heat oven to 350ºF.
2. Sauté beef or meat mix with onions until meat is brown, breaking the meat up into small pieces. If necessary, drain fat from the pan and discard.
3. Soak the bread in half the milk; mash it with a fork. Add it to the meat.
4. Combine all the remaining ingredients except the egg and the remaining milk. Spread the mixture in a greased casserole.
5. Bake for 20-30 minutes. Beat the egg with the remaining ½ cup milk and pour it over the casserole. Return to the oven for another ½ hour.

6 servings
Adapted from The Africa News Cookbook

Braised Carrots

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound carrots, peeled and cut into 3½ x ½ x ½-inch sticks)
6 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
2 medium tomatoes, seeded and chopped
¼ cup chopped fresh mint
3 slices lemon, seeds removed, plus juice from the rest of the lemon
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon anise seeds
½ teaspoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

1. Put the oil and the carrots into a heavy 10-inch skillet. Cook on high heat, stirring and shaking the pan often and scraping the browned bits occasionally with a wooden spoon, until the carrots have lightly browned, about 10 minutes.
2. Add the garlic, tomatoes, mint, lemon slices, sugar, salt, anise and cumin; mix well.
3. Cook until bubbling vigorously; reduce heat to low. Cover and cook for 10 minutes. Stir, turning the carrots. Cover and cook until the carrots are very soft, 10 minutes or so more. Add lemon juice and season with pepper. Remove the lemon slices.
4. Before serving, sprinkle with parsley. Serve hot or at room temperature.

If you make this ahead, you can reheat for 1-2 minutes in the microwave.

4 servings
Adapted from Eating Well, February/March 2006

Oven-Roasted Zucchini

8 medium zucchini, thickly sliced (½ inch) on the bias
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, pressed
or 2 roasted garlic cloves, chopped, and 1 fresh garlic clove, pressed
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
6 fresh basil leaves, chopped or ¼ cup chopped herbs of your choice (tarragon and chervil or tarragon and thyme or oregano and thyme or dill are all good)
Zest of 1 lemon
Juice of ½ lemon
Salt and pepper

1. Place the zucchini in a roasting pan(s), add the olive oil, toss to coat, and arrange in a single layer. Sprinkle lightly with salt. Put the pan(s) in the oven and turn the temperature to 425ºF. Roast for 30-40 minutes, turning once mid-way. The zucchini should be nice and brown on both sides.
2. Mix together the garlic, parsley, lemon zest, and herbs.
3. Make a layer of some of the zucchini slices on a serving dish. Sprinkle with some of the herb mixture, season with salt and pepper and drizzle with the lemon juice. Continue making layers until all the ingredients are used, ending with some herbs on top.
4. Set aside in a cool place for about an hour for the flavors to mingle before serving. Can serve warm or at room temperature. To warm slightly, put the dish in a microwave and heat for 1-2 minutes.

Note: I have made just steps 1 and 2 of this recipe with salt added along with the olive oil. Even at its most simple, it is a delicious dish.

4-5 servings
Adapted from The Silver Spoon, a comprehensive cookbook of Italian food.

Yellow Rice

1½ cups basmati rice
2 tablespoons oil or butter
2 2/3 cups water
½ teaspoon turmeric
¼ cup raisins or currants, optional
1 stick of cinnamon
1½ teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, peeled and finely chopped or sliced, optional
4 tablespoon desiccated coconut, optional
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Heat oil or butter in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add the rice and sauté until the individual grains are shiny, about 1 minute.
2. Add the turmeric, raisins or currants, cinnamon, water and salt and bring to a boil. Cover the pan and turn the heat to low. Cook for about 20 minutes.
3. While the rice is cooking, heat the 2 tablespoons oil over moderate heat in a frying pan and sauté the onions until they are golden.
4. Once the rice is cooked, fluff it with a fork, and stir in the onions and coconut or spread them over the top, if desired. Add salt and pepper if needed.

Serves 5-6
Adapted from Lehla Eldridge’s The South African Illustrated Cookbook

Traveling, Cooking, and Eating

Four years into my marriage, we moved to Taipei, Taiwan for my husband to study Chinese at the Stanford Program at Taida University. Because we were so very Berkeley, we decided that we would shop and cook for ourselves rather than hire an amah. This was a pretty radical decision in 1970. So I learned to count in Chinese. I learned the names of vegetables. I shopped nearly every day at our neighborhood market. I bought a couple of pirated Chinese cookbooks. I took some cooking classes. In the course of the year I learned a huge amount about Chinese food but the shopping also brought me into the community. Neighborhood grannies would peek in my shopping basket to see what I had bought, ask how much I had paid for my cabbage and offer suggestions on how to prepare it.

When we moved to Kyoto, Japan with our month-old baby, Franz, I did pretty much the same thing. Counting. A couple of cookbooks. Daily shopping. Asking questions of neighbors. And cooking a lot of Japanese food. I also taught Western cooking to some women in my neighborhood, as shown in the photo. They reciprocated by teaching me Japanese cooking. Just great for me.

So I’m going to jump ahead to the near present.

In 2003 I caught the travel bug. It started with the Middle East and went on to Spain and Morroco, southern France, South Africa, Brazil, Mexico, Turkey and Greece, Malawi, back to South Africa, Spain, Sweden on and on. And most recently Italy, Iran, Israel, Jordan, and Palestine. An amazing opportunity to see the world and to delve into cultures so different from my own.

Before going on trips, I educate myself about the new place by doing three things: I buy cookbooks (from my favorite used bookstore), read them, and cook some of the special dishes of the region. Good cookbooks tell me so much about the agriculture, immigration patterns and influences, the climate, and the traditions of the country. And then I get to eat their food. Smell it. Taste it. I literally ingest the culture of the new place before I take a step outside this country. When I finally get there, I can look for the dishes I want to try and delight in seeing how closely my dishes approximate the “real” thing.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Menu 2: Great Summer Dinner

I made this as a lunch menu in April 2006 for a reunion of my Theta sisters from the University of Michigan. We gathered in Sonoma, California at a lovely retreat center and went on a wine tour, pictured here, one afternoon. It was great.


Barbeque Pulled Chicken

The black beans pictured on this plate aren't included in this menu. Perhaps later.

1 8-ounce can tomato sauce or home-made if you have it
1 7-ounce can chopped green chiles, including the juice
3 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon regular or smoky sweet paprika
Note: El Rey de Vera Pimenton de la Vera (Spanish Smoked Paprika) It comes in Sweet, Bittersweet, and Hot. I use Sweet in this recipe. Fancy supermarkets often have it. I get mine at The Spanish Table in Berkeley.
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons dry mustard
1 teaspoon ground chipotle chile
Note: Chipotle ground chile is in my supermarket in the Mexican section, usually in a clear cellophane bag.
½ teaspoon salt or to taste
2½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, extra fat removed
Note: Scissors work great to cut off the extra fat.
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced or pressed

1. Stir tomato sauce, chiles, vinegar, honey, paprika, tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, ground chipotle and salt in a 6-quart slow cooker until smooth. Add chicken, onion, and garlic; stir to combine.
2. Put the lid on and cook on low until the chicken can be pulled apart, 2-3 hours depending on the size of your slow cooker. A smaller pot will take more time. You can also use a large sauté pan on the top of the stove or on low heat in the oven. Start checking thighs after two hours.
3. Transfer the chicken thighs to a bowl, and let cool until you can pull the meat apart with your fingers or a fork.
4. Pour the liquid into a sauté pan and boil it down until it is thick. Return the chicken to the sauce, stir well, and check for salt. Reheat if necessary, and serve on toasted buns. I usually serve open-faced with the toasted bun forming a platform for the chicken.
5. You can make it the day before and reheat to serve.

8 servings
Adapted from February/March issue of Eating Well magazine

Erasto’s Coleslaw

½ cup sour cream, crème fraiche or thick yogurt
½ cup mayonnaise
2½ tablespoons Dijon mustard (I like the whole seed kind)
2 teaspoons honey
2 teaspoons champagne vinegar or other white wine vinegar
6 tablespoons dried currants
½ head green cabbage, shredded or chopped
1 medium carrot, thinly shredded or grated
1 apple, chopped, optional
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Combine the sour cream, mayonnaise, mustard, honey, vinegar, and currants in a large bowl. Mix well.
2. Add the cabbage, carrot, and apple, if you wish, and toss to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

4-6 servings
Adapted from Cindy Pawlcyn’s Mustards Grill Napa Valley Cookbook

Silky Sautéed Red Peppers

3 red bell peppers
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar or balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1. Wash the peppers, halve them lengthwise, and remove and discard the seeds and membranes. Cut each pepper half in half, cross-wise. Cut into ½-inch lengthwise strips.
2. Place in a very large skillet and toss with the 1/3 cup vinegar and salt. Cover and cook over low heat until soft and tender, about 25 minutes. Toss occasionally, adjusting the heat so the peppers cook slowly. The liquid will have nearly evaporated by the end of the cooking. Watch that the peppers don’t scorch.
3. When done, transfer them to a platter. Return the skillet to the heat, and deglaze with the final 2 tablespoons of vinegar, scraping up any of the flavorful bits that may have remained in the pan. Add the oil, and heat until just warmed through.
4. Pour the liquid over the peppers, toss, and taste for seasoning. Serve right away or cool for at least 30 minutes before serving at room temperature.

4-6 servings as a side dish
Adapted from Patricia Wells’ Trattoria

In the beginning

Some folks ask me if I have always loved to cook. The answer is a resounding no. As a young girl, I once made a disastrous chocolate cake with my cousins, but other than the occasional banana salad, I was neither interested nor particularly welcome in my mother’s kitchen. I did set the table.

My mother cooked serviceable dinners, pretty much the same conventional fare every week. Well-cooked pork chops, hamburger patties, french fries and green beans from the freezer, a salad, and ice cream. She had some specialties, like Beef Stroganoff, which were reserved for company. And on Sundays after church we would occasionally have a wonderful pot roast with carrots and potatoes or chicken and dumplings, both of which I adored. But mostly it was plain and simple mid-western food. And I took no part in preparing it.

So what happened?

• A move to Berkeley, California in 1966. Newly married to a graduate student at the University of California at Berkeley, I moved from northwestern Ohio to the Bay area just in time for the action. Which for me included food as well as anti-war and anti-establishment.

• The Shattuck Avenue Coop at the corner of Shattuck and Cedar, where Andronico’s currently resides, was a place of wonder for this mid-western lass. Full of exotic fruits and vegetables and people, the store offered a dazzling assortment of food products and wines from around the world. I studiously picked up all the free printed recipes and bought the Coop Lowcost Cookbook, to supplement the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook I had received as a wedding present.

• Our friends Nick and Sarah were passionate and adventurous cooks and eaters. He was a Scot and cooked up “scurlly,” an oatmeal and onion combination, which we washed down with wine or Green Death, so called because of its green can and lethal effect.

• Cookbooks started showing up under the Christmas tree and in birthday boxes. Mastering the Art of French Cooking was first and was quickly followed by Craig Claiborne’s New York Times Cookbook and New York Times Menus Cookbook.

• Gardening and food columns in the Good Times, an alternative East Bay newspaper in the 60s. Jeanie Darlington wrote about gardening in Grow Your Own. Marrakesh Lil, among others, wrote a great food column whose recipes I held onto for years. I lost them about 19 years ago but just recently my former husband found them and sent them to me.

• Occasional dinners out at places in San Francisco and Berkeley, such as The Pot Luck on San Pablo Avenue, opened my eyes to the amazing combinations of flavors and exotic ingredients you could put in your mouth. “Blew my mind” as we would say.

• A chance to grow and eat really fresh produce came about as an indirect result of the People’s Park controversy in 1969. The university turned a field at the corner of Buchanan and Jackson into garden plots and offered them to residents of Albany Village where we were living. We signed up. Oh my god, fresh green beans, basil for pesto, and tomatoes.

• I was cooking all the time. Nearly every day. Hard to imagine now, isn’t it? Learning so much. Gazpacho from Craig. Salmon cheeks and Finnan Haddie from Spengers Fish Store, chuck roasts from the Coop, and fresh crab for special occasions.

I was really lucky to have such a perfect coming together of supportive elements: cookbooks, friends and a husband who liked to cook and eat, a good grocery store, and time. I made a whole bunch of mistakes. The above photo from 1967 is an example: too much time butterflying shrimp for a dish that was bland and dull. Oh well, I said to myself, I never claimed to be perfect. And there are lots more dinners ahead of me. It's still the case.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Menu 1: Fabulous Moroccan Dinner

I'm going to start posting a breakfast, lunch, or dinner menu to my blog about once a week. I would love for you to try the whole menus or any of the dishes that you find appealing. More than anything else, I want your feedback on how the recipe worked for you, how you changed it to suit your tastes, and how you make the dish your own. I look forward to your comments and thoughts. This first one is from one of my favorite cuisines in the whole world: Morocco. I visited there in 2004.


Moroccan Chicken

Spice mixture:
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1½ teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoons ground ginger
½ teaspoon paprika
¼ teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground turmeric

8-9 thighs, skin and extra fat removed (kitchen scissors are great)
2 lemons
1 cup pitted Kalamata olives, cut in half
10 dried dates, pitted and halved or quartered lengthwise

1. Combine all the ingredients for the spice mixture in a large bowl. Add the thighs and coat them well with the mixture. Let the chicken stand, loosely covered, for 1 hour. Can refrigerate for longer, even over night.
2. Place a sauté pan over medium heat and add the chicken, skin side down (I know there is no actual skin). Cover and cook for 20 minutes over low heat; the chicken will cook in its own juices. If the pan gets too dry, add a tablespoon or 2 of water or chicken stock.
3. Zest the 2 lemons, avoiding the bitter white pith as much as possible.
4. Turn the thighs over and sprinkle them with the lemon zest, olives, and dates. Cover and cook another 10 minutes, adding a small amount of water if the mixture is at risk of burning. Serve immediately.

4-6 servings
Adapted from Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins’ The New Basics Cookbook

Couscous Salad with Apricots, Pine Nuts, and Ginger

1 cup instant couscous
½ cup water and 1 cup orange juice
1½ cups orange juice
3 tablespoons light olive oil
2 tablespoons champagne vinegar, plus a splash for the red onions
8 dried apricots, thinly sliced, about 1/3 cup
2 tablespoons dried currants
2 tablespoons golden raisins
2 teaspoon grated ginger
Salt to taste
¼ medium-size red onion, finely diced, about ½ cup
2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted (watch carefully)

1. Combine the water, orange juice, olive oil, and 2 tablespoons of vinegar in a medium-size saucepan. Bring the liquid just to a boil. Stir in the dried fruit, ginger and ½ teaspoon salt.
2. Pour the couscous grains into a small mixing bowl. Pour the hot liquid over the couscous. Stir together and cover the bowl and let sit for 20 minutes.
3. Bring a small pot of water to a boil and drop in the red onion for 15 seconds. Drain well. Toss the onion with a splash of vinegar to make it pink.
4. When the couscous is ready, gently fluff it with a fork and toss with the pine nuts and onion. Add salt to season and an additional splash of vinegar to brighten the flavor.

4 servings
Adapted from Annie Somerville’s Field of Greens

Cucumbers with Yogurt and Mint

1 medium cucumber
1 cup plain yogurt*
¼ cup chopped fresh mint
Salt to taste
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 garlic clove, pressed, optional

1. Peel the cucumber, cut in half lengthwise, and scoop out the seeds with a spoon. Dice into ¼-inch cubes.
2. Toss the ingredients together, adding the pressed garlic if you desire, and serve. You can also make the dish an hour or two in advance and refrigerate until ready to serve.

* If your yogurt is too soupy, strain 2 cups of the soupy stuff through a double thickness of paper towels lining a sieve, set over a good-sized bowl or pitcher. Allow the yogurt liquid to drain until the yogurt is the thickness you desire. Empty the liquid if it threatens to reach the sieve.

Makes about 3 cups
Adapted from Annie Somerville’s Fields of Greens