Meat Free Mondays – Koshari

Okay, so I’ve been reading this book, “Dark Star Safari,” by Paul Theroux.

Koshari, national dish of EgyptHe’s one of my favorite travel writers because he goes to these out of the way places and has these wild experiences — such as kayaking from island to island in Polynesia (“The Happy Isles of Oceania”) or taking a train ride across China and Mongolia (“Riding the Iron Rooster”).

Theroux is such a skilled writer that he doesn’t need to rely on photos to bring the places alive. They aren’t traditional travelogues that describe only what tourists go to see, but instead focus on the everyday lives of the people who live in these exotic locales.

Dark Star Safari by Paul TherouxThis book, which he wrote in 2002, chronicles his adventures traveling overland down the African continent, from Cairo to Cape Town. I haven’t finished it yet, but it’s terrific.

One of the things that struck me was Theroux’s description of Egyptian street life in Cairo and other cities. On every corner, he writes, a street food called Koshari (or koshary, kosheri, kushari or كشرى ) can be found.

Koshari is a mixture of lentils and rice that are cooked together, topped with a spicy tomato sauce and fried onions. Although it’s usually vegetarian, sometimes meat is added in the form of sharwarma, or fried liver.

Originally a Moorish dish, koshari evolved as an “end of the month” dish that was consumed by workers in labor camps. People would gather together all the odds and ends they had left over and create a shared dish that could be prepared and enjoyed communally.

It’s now the national dish of Egypt and is available on practically every street corner, marketplace and stall in cities and towns throughout the country, according to Theroux.

That reminded me of Red Beans and Rice, which started out as a New Orleans Monday morning stew made with whatever was leftover from the weekend’s more formal dinners.

Anyway, I knew instantly I had to make it, especially since my cupboard has been overflowing with half-packages of rice and lentils, tins of tomato sauce and other odds and ends.

In fact, I already had everything on this recipe’s long list of ingredients with the exception of cardamom. So I simply substituted curry powder for the Bahārāt, which is Arabic for “spice mix”.

I subsequently discovered that my local supermarket carries a Garam Masala seasoning powder (hooray for multi-culturalism!), which has practically the same ingredients as Bahārāt. I will be using that next time.

Koshari cooking

Koshari is one of those “use every pot and pan you have” dishes

As it turns out Koshari is quite simple to make, but is one of those “use every pot and pan you have” dishes that is something of a chore to clean up after.

Having never made it before, I toned down the spices, especially the red pepper flake, because I wasn’t sure how strongly flavored it would be. It’s taste was delicious, but next time, I plan on bringing the bold, forward flavors this dish on full force.

Koshari

2 TBS olive oil

1 cup Medium Grain Rice

1 cup Brown Lentils

2 cups Macaroni, dry

2 cups Vegetable Stock

1 Garlic Clove, quartered

1 tsp Cumin

1 Bay Leaf

½ tsp Salt

2 TBS Olive Oil

2 large Onions, thinly sliced

Sea Salt to taste

For the Spicy Tomato Sauce

2 TBS Olive Oil

1 small Onion, diced finely

2 Garlic Cloves, finely minced

15 oz can Tomato Sauce

2 tsp Bahārāt spice mix (or Garam Masala or curry powder)

¼ tsp Red Chile Flakes

1 TBS Red Wine Vinegar

Sea Salt & Fresh Cracked Black Pepper to taste

For the Crispy Onion Garnish

2 Onions, finely sliced

Oil for deep-frying

15 oz can Garbanzo Beans

  1. Heat 2 TBS of olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the rice and fry it for 2 minutes, then add the vegetable stock. Bring it to a boil, decrease the heat to low, cover and simmer for 15 minutes or until the rice is cooked.
  2. Rinse the lentils under cold water and add them to another medium saucepan with 2 cups of water. Add the garlic, cumin and bay leaf and bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 20-30 minutes or until the lentils are tender. Once cooked, add the salt and stir to combine. Strain any excess liquid if necessary.
  3. Cook the macaroni according to package instructions until al dente. (Note: Prepare the rice, macaroni and lentils while the sauce is simmering and leave them covered in the pots to keep warm.)
  4. To make sauce, heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat and add the onion. Cook until soft and translucent, about 5-7 minutes. Add the garlic and saute until golden brown. Add the tomato sauce, Bahārāt, salt and pepper to taste, chile flakes and red wine vinegar. Bring it to a simmer, reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  5. To make the crispy onions, heat the oil in a skillet. Add the onions and fry until dark brown. Using a slotted spoon, remove them from the oil and place them on paper towels to drain and cool.
  6. Add the rice, lentils and macaroni to a large bowl and toss to combine. Sprinkle a little Bahārāt over each portion and serve topped with some of the spicy tomato sauce. Top with garbanzo beans, the crispy onions and another sprinkle of Bahārāt. Serve warm.

Here’s the recipe for Bahārāt if you want to try making it yourself. You also can find premade Bahārāt at stores that feature Arabic foods.

Makes about 3/4 cup

2 TBS Black Peppercorns

2 TBS Coriander Seeds

2 TBS Cumin seeds

1 TBS Allspice berries

1 tsp Cardamom seeds

1/2 tsp Whole Cloves

4 (3-inch) Cassia or Cinnamon Sticks

2 TBS ground Sweet Paprika

1/2 tsp Nutmeg, freshly grated

Grind the whole spices using a mortar and pestle, spice mill, or coffee grinder. You may need to do it in several batches. Add the paprika and nutmeg and combine.

Store in an airtight container for up to 3 months.

Meat Free Mondays – Vegan BBQ Sandwich

When I cook vegan, it  can sometimes be a drag. I tend to use the same ingredients over and over again — lentils, chickpeas, black beans, quinoa, rice and so on.

Soy CurlsThat’s why it was such a thrill to discover soy curls. These are tiny dehydrated twists made of soybean and nothing else. They will stay fresh practically forever, especially in the freezer, and require only a quick steeping in hot water in order to be rehydrated.

They can be substituted in any recipe that requires shredded meat, such as this vegan BBQ sandwich recipe.

The taste of soy curls is neutral like chicken breast, so they enthusiastically take on the flavor of  whatever other ingredients you prepare them with. Their texture is sort of like pulled pork, but without the globs of fat or stringiness (or the saturated fat).

Butler soy curlsThe only downside is that soy curls are not yet widely available. I had to mail away for them from a vegan grocery store on the West Coast after I found this recipe and wanted to give it a try. But they are quite inexpensive — I paid $4.15 for a 10 oz package, but that results in about 1.5 pounds of actual edible product once you add water — especially when compared to meat.

Plus, they are made from the whole soybean, are all natural, contain no preservatives or additives and are high in fiber.

Seriously, what’s not to love?

To make things even better, this recipe is made with a Sriracha Barbeque Sauce.

sriracha sauceSriracha — also known as “Rooster Sauce” due to the big rooster on the package — is a Thai spicy-sweet hot sauce and currently is my favorite obsession food.

I’ve been putting it on everything, but I especially love it over a couple of scrambled eggs inside a warm tortilla with a little queso fresco. (I literally had that for breakfast every day last week!)

Vegan BBQ Sandwich

1/2 package Butler Soy Curls, rehydrated according to the package instructions

1 Red Onion, slivered

1 Green Bell Pepper, ribs and seeds removed, diced

8 oz Portobello Mushrooms, diced

For the Sriracha BBQ Sauce

1/2 cup Organic Ketchup

2 TBS Molasses

2 TBS Bragg’s Liquid Aminos

1 TBS Cider Vinegar

1 tsp Agave Nectar

1 Garlic Clove, minced

1 tsp Liquid Smoke

2 tsp Sriracha Sauce

Fresh Ground Black Pepper to taste

1. In a non-stick skillet, water sauté the onion, pepper and mushrooms until onions are softened, about five minutes, stirring occasionally.

2. Add the soy curls and sauce and cook until most of the sauce is absorbed by the soy curls and they begin to brown a little, stirring occasionally, about five minutes.

3. Serve on pretzel bun with pickles on the side.

soy aminos natural soy sauce substituteSoy aminos is a liquid protein that is used as an all-purpose seasoning and tastes like soy sauce. It is made from soybeans and includes a bunch of essential and non-essential amino acids, and is much better for you than sodium-rich soy sauce.

Agave nectar is a natural sweetener extracted from the core of the blue agave plant, the same cactus that is used to make tequila. It’s tastes like honey and is 25% sweeter than sugar. I’ve been using it a lot anywhere I would use sugar or honey, such as in breads, sauces and salad dressings.

Stuffed Green Peppers

Funny story. I’m not allowed to make stuffed green peppers in my house.

And it’s not because of anything I did (for a change). It’s because when my wife, Sandi, was growing up her mother would serve stuffed green peppers at least once per week.

Stuffed Green PeppersThat’s because Sandi’s mom was, let’s just say, not terrifically skilled in the kitchen and stuffed green peppers was one of the few things she could make.

According to Sandi, her mom would make enormous batches of stuffed green peppers every few weeks then wrap them individually in recycled Wonder Bread bags and throw them in the freezer.

Whenever she was too busy to make dinner or didn’t feel like cooking — which apparently was quite often — out would come the Wonder Bread bags and Sandi and her sister would be served stuffed green peppers.

It was pretty much an unstated condition of our marriage that I would never make stuffed green peppers for Sandi ever, ever again.

And yet here we are.

Although I empathize with Sandi for her mother’s limited kitchen skills, I can also sympathize with her mom because stuffed green peppers are one of the simplest, most versatile and affordable dishes you can make. Especially when you have a couple of green bell pepper plants in your garden — like we did this summer — which produced more than a bushel of peppers each.

Plus, green peppers can be stuffed with almost anything. I usually use a rice and meat stuffing, and the meat could be ground beef, ground turkey or even leftover pork or chicken. But you could just as easily make a vegetarian version by using mushrooms or additional vegetables.

For this recipe I used a couple of hot Italian sausages I had in my freezer leftover from some pasta we had some time ago. Stuffed green peppers are fast, simple and delicious.

Sadly, it’s not something I can make anymore. At least not without invoking the wrath of Sandi.

Stuffed Green Peppers

4 Green Bell Peppers

3 cups Cooked Rice

1 TBS  Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1/2 White Onion, medium dice

1 or 2 Jalapenos, ribs and seeds removed, small dice

1 Garlic Clove, crushed

1 lb Ground Beef, Turkey, Italian Sausage or almost any other protein (optional)

2-6 oz cans Tomato Sauce

1/4 cup Grated Parmesan, plus additional for garnish

Sea Salt

Fresh Cracked Black Pepper

0631. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Meanwhile, cut off tops of peppers, remove ribs, seeds and stems. Dice up the pepper tops and set aside. Drop peppers into boiling water and blanch for 2 minutes. Use a tongs to remove to a plate, pour out water, return peppers to pot and cover with cold water to stop cooking process.

2. Preheat oven to 350F. Place cast iron pan over a medium heat. When hot, add EVOO. When smoking, add onions, diced green pepper and jalapeno. Saute until onions are translucent, about 2 minutes, tossing frequently. Cut sausage from casings and add to pan, using a wooden spoon to break up into small peices and cook until browned, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook until aromatic, about a minute. Remove from heat.

0623. In a mixing bowl, combine rice, sausage mixture, tomato sauce — reserving about half of one can for garnish — and parmesan. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Use a teaspoon to stuff each pepper with the mixture generously.

4. Spray a round or square 8″ casserole dish with pan spray. Place any leftover rice and meat mixture on the bottom of the casserole dish, then place the stuffed green peppers top side up in the dish. Garnish the tops with remaining tomato sauce and a little parmesan. Cover with foil and cook for 30. Remove foil and cook for another 10 minutes to crisp up the tops a little.

Stuffed green peppers are delicious, economical and easy to make. Just not in my house.

Here are some great tips for speeding up your grocery store experience from the terrific blogger, “The 20-Something Budget”!

The 20-Something Budget

“Time is Money.”

Source: Wikipedia

It’s such a simple saying that we’ve all heard at some point in our lives. Yet how often do we actually think about the time we waste doing silly things like sleeping in, sitting on the toilet, waiting at traffic lights, doing chores, surfing the internet, etc.? Over the years, that time really adds up.

It is estimated that we spend approximately FIVE YEARS of our lives waiting in line – whether it’s at the bank, the DMV, the post office, the grocery store, or hundreds of other places. Some long waits are inevitable, and we just have to be patient. However, others can be greatly reduced.

Here are eight simple ways to reduce your wait time at the grocery store:

View original post 474 more words

Here’s a posting from the vault about polenta and it’s uses. Polenta is one of the most versatile ingredients that can be used as a side, as an entree or as the basis for an appetizer. Enjoy!

Budget Cooking Blog

People tend to be intimidated by polenta. It has a reputation of being difficult to make and takes hours of stirring over a boiling pot to make it perfect. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Polenta is super easy to make, doesn’t really take that long, and can be a transformative experience. Armed with a few simple tips on how to handle it correctly, you can use polenta to make an everyday meal something truly memorable.

At it very basic, polenta is made by quickly whisking corn grits into a boiling liquid then allowing the mixture to thicken. A paisan food, it comes from cultures without pretension. And while there is nothing fancy about polenta itself, it can be the centerpiece of any elegant dish.

There are two kinds of polenta and while each is delicious, both serve a unique purpose. There is creamy polenta and hard polenta. The difference can…

View original post 805 more words

In memory of Sylvia Woods, the soul food pioneer who was one of my culinary idols and who passed away this week, I am re-posting this blog from last year. RIP Sylvia.

Budget Cooking Blog

Back in the late 1980s, when I was working as a rewrite man in a downtown newsroom, I loved to take my lunch break at a restaurant near State and Lake called “Soul Food by the Pound.”

The concept was unique: The customer walked through a cafeteria line and piled whatever he or she wanted onto a plate,  then the whole tray would be weighed and the customer would pay a set price, about $3.99/pound as I recall. Only years later did I realize we must have been paying for the tray and plate every time.

Despite the eccentricity of the concept, this experience was the beginning of my love affair with soul food.

As press secretary for Cook County State’s Attorney Cecil Partee in the early 1990s, the campaign trail would often bring us to Army and Lou’s and other legendary Chicago soul food  restaurants.

Later, when I was in culinary school…

View original post 772 more words

Seafood Fridays – Tilapia

Is tilapia the new turkey?

It may not be featured on many tables this Thanksgiving, but Tilapia has become the go-to fish of the 21st Century. That’s because it can be farm-raised quickly and cheaply.

While the price of many other types of fish — especially fresh tuna, salmon and even halibut — are sky high, tilapia remains a true bargain, usually available for less than $2/lb.

Farm-raised tilapia is good for you, although perhaps not as good as other fish. In the US, most tilapia farms use corn as their primary fish food. This causes the tilapia to have lower amounts of Omega-3 fats, which are the healthy oils that prompt dieticians to recommend eating more fish in the first place.

On the bright side, farm-raised tilapia contain almost no mercury, which is not the case with wild caught fish.

Tilapia is a neutral flavored fish, which allows it to be paired with all kinds of other ingredients and it can prepared in a wide variety of ways. This, combined with its astonishing low price, is probably why it has become so popular in recent years. Since 2005, the US production of tilapia has almost doubled, from 1.5 million tons to 2.5 million tons.

Like turkey, tilapia is extremely low in fat and amazingly versatile, making it a good substitute for more fat-rich proteins such as beef, pork or even chicken.

In this recipe, which I adapted from this one on the wonderful How Sweet It Is blog, I used tilapia in exactly they same way I would ground turkey. Although the flavor was not completely neutral — you definitely could tell you were eating fish — it was not overpowering and served as a great conduit to highlight the other flavors in the mixture.

The texture was identical to ground turkey, however, and the cost was even lower. Once I got used to the idea of putting fish filets in the food processor, I found this to be an excellent light, summertime dinner that tastes terrific and offers a healthier alternative to burgers and dogs at your next cookout.

Tilapia Burgers with Watermelon and Avocado Salsa

1-1/2 lb Tilapia (fresh or frozen and thawed)

2/3 cup Panko breadcrumbs

1 egg + 1 egg white, lightly beaten

2 TBS Dijon Mustard

2 Garlic Cloves, crushed

1 tsp Sea Salt

1/2 tsp Fresh Cracked Black Pepper

1/2 tsp Dried Basil

1 tsp Paprika

1 tsp Onion Powder

1 TBS Sunflower Oil

1 Avocado, peeled, pit removed, diced

1 cup Watermelon, seedless or seeds removed, diced

1/4 Red Onion, small dice

1 Jalapeno, ribs and seeds removed, small dice

1/2 cup Cilantro, choppped

Juice of 1 lime

6 Whole Wheat Burger Buns

1. Add tilapia to food processor and pulse until chopped. Transfer to a mixing bowl and add egg, breadcrumbs, garlic, mustard, salt, pepper, parika, onion powder and basil. Mix with a spatula until combined, then form into 6 patties. Place on a plate covered with wax paper and cover with a second sheet of wax paper. Place plate in refrigerator or freezer so that patties can adhere together better.

2.  Preheat oven to 375F. Place a cast iron skillet over a medium heat. When hot, add oil. When smoking, add patties and cook until golden brown on both sides, about 3-4 minutes per side, then put entire skillet in the oven to finish, about 10 minutes.

3. While burgers are finishing, make the salsa  by combining watermelon, onion, jalapeno, cilantro, lime juice and avocado in a mixing bowl. Season with a pinch of coarse salt (for crunch) and more fresh cracked black pepper.

4. To serve burgers, toast bun then top with tiliapia patty. Use a tablespoon to add the salsa so that it is tumbling down from the top of the patty.

Panko is a type of Japanese breadcrumbs that are larger than ordinary breadcrumbs and are used to add additional texture. There really is no flavor difference, so feel free to substitute regular breadcrumbs if you prefer.

I’ve been reluctant to use Extra Virgin Olive Oil as a cooking oil ever since I read this blog by the fabulous Christina, from Whatever the Route, who says one of her professors told her EVOO transforms from a non-saturated fat to a saturated fat when it gets above a certain temperature. Not sure about the science on that, but until I can research it, I’ve been substituting sunflower oil.