Ethnic Identity Crisis

Have you heard the one about the Italian guy who walks into an Indian restaurant and says “Give me an order of meatballs like Grandma used to make, in a spicy-sweet coconut milk curry sauce.”? Yeah, me neither. But if there was a joke like that floating around out there somewhere, the punchline would be about tonight’s dish. It combines that quintessential Italian staple, the meatball, with a rich Indian curry sauce that explodes with fresh Asian flavors.

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This is my adaptation of a Gordon Ramsay video recipe for “Meatballs in Fragrant Coconut Broth.” I say adaptation because the video has no measurements in it, so the viewer is left to figure out that part on his own – unless, of course, he were to purchase the cookbook written to accompany the video series (see the link below). So, without further ado, here is my best stab at recreating Ramsay’s totally delicious looking dish – which, as it turned out, tasted pretty awesome for us. To make four servings you will need:

For the meatballs:

  • ½ large onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 4 tbsp. olive oil, divided
  • Kosher salt
  • Black pepper
  • ½ tsp. chili flakes
  • 1 lb. ground beef
  • 1 cup bread crumbs
  • 1/3 cup whole milk

For the sauce:

  • 1 tsp. coriander seeds
  • 4-5 green cardamom pods, cracked
  • ½ tsp. turmeric powder
  • ¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 2 dry arbol chilis
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1 can (13.5 oz.) coconut milk
  • 1 stalk lemon grass, cut into 4” lengths
  • 2 oz. thinly sliced ginger
  • Zest of 1 lime
  • Juice of ½ lime
  • Cooked basmati rice

In a deep skillet, heat 2 tbsp. of the olive oil over medium flame and sweat the onions and garlic. When they are nearly done, toss in the chili flakes and stir through, cook one more minute, then remove the mixture from the heat and set it aside. While the onions are cooking, in a mixing bowl season the beef with salt and pepper. In a separate bowl, mix the bread crumbs and milk to form a paste, then stir it into the beef along with the cooked onion mixture. Work all of this thoroughly with your fingers until evenly mixed, then start shaping meatballs about the size of a golf ball. You should get an even dozen from this amount of mixture.

Now it’s time to cook up the meatballs. Wipe the skillet free of any excess onion mixture, then heat the other 2 tbsp. of oil, making sure to coat the entire bottom of the pan. Arrange the meatballs around the outer edge of the skillet, leaving the center free to make the sauce. Turn the meatballs as needed until browned on all sides.

When the meatballs are nearly done cooking, in the center of the skillet add the coriander seeds and cardamom pods, followed by the turmeric, cinnamon and chilis. Pour in the chicken stock, then the coconut milk. Gently rap the lemon grass stalks with the back of your chef’s knife so they release their aroma, then lay them into the sauce along with the ginger slices. Bring the sauce to a boil, then back it down to a simmer. After 8-10 minutes the meatballs should be finished. Turn off the heat. Zest the lime onto the meatballs, then squeeze the juice of half the lime into the sauce, and give it a quick stir.

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With that, you’re ready to serve. Ladle a bit of the broth into a bowl with a bit of cooked basmati rice, arrange a few of the meatballs on top, and you’re ready to enjoy an authentic Inditalian feast. To complicate matters even more, I made a side of sautéed courgettes – which is a fancy French word for zucchini. Talk about cultural confusion. Anyway, we munched it all right down with a big happy grin on our faces, and look forward to trying it again sometime soon. Until next time: Eat well, my friends!

Gordon Ramsay’s Ultimate Cookery Course

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Greek Cod and Vegetable Roast

Greek food two nights in a row? Who does that? When you taste this amazing blend of fresh cod, hearty vegetables, olive oil and herbs, you’ll understand perfectly.  If you want to make a yummy vegetarian version, simply remove the cod.  The rest of the dish will still work just fine.

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This recipe makes enough for four people, and you can expect some leftovers. You should allow a total of two hours, counting the prep time. Here are your ingredients:

  • 1 ¼ lb. (2 medium) russet potatoes, skin on
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 3/4 lb. asparagus, stemmed and cut into 2” pieces
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp. fresh rosemary leaves
  • 2 tbsp. fresh parsley, chopped
  • 2 tsp. dried oregano (divided)
  • Kosher salt and black pepper to taste
  • White pepper
  • 1 ¼ lb. fresh cod loins
  • 1 can (15 oz.) diced tomatoes
  • 1 cup hot water
  • ¼ cup tomato puree
  • ½ cup pitted Kalamata olives
  • ½ cup fresh feta cheese crumbles
  • Chopped fresh parsley for garnish

Preheat your oven to 400, then break out your cutting board and chef’s knife. Wash the potatoes thoroughly, then slice them into wedges, leaving the skins on. In a large roasting pan or deep skillet, combine the potatoes, onion, asparagus, garlic, rosemary, parsley and 1 tsp. of the dried oregano. Add a generous sprinkle of salt and fresh cracked pepper, and mix these ingredients together. Pour in the olive oil and stir up the whole mess to coat the vegetables thoroughly with the oil.

Next season the cod loins generously with kosher salt and white pepper, then cut them into large chunks of about 1 ½” to 2”. Arrange the cod pieces among the mixed vegetables, then pour the diced tomatoes over the top. Stir the tomato puree into the hot water, then pour this over the top of the dish. Lastly, sprinkle on the remaining 1 tsp. of dried oregano, and into the oven it goes. Roast for 1 hour, basting the top of the mixture with the cooking liquid two or three times during the hour to keep things from drying out.

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After the hour is done, pull your roasting dish out of the oven, arrange the olives on top, then put it back in to bake for another 20-30 minutes. Now you’re done, and ready to serve it up (using a slotted spoon) with some of the feta crumbles and a little fresh parsley. We found ourselves oohing and aahing as we munched down this delicious Greek dinner with big happy grins on our faces. Give it a try – I’m sure you’ll be pleased with the results. Until next time: Eat well, my friends!

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Greek Lentil Stew

One of my readers is an esteemed professional colleague who also happens to be a vegetarian. Occasionally she will “challenge” me to prepare a particular type of dish – in this instance a Greek vegetarian recipe. I am only too happy to oblige with this delicious, and very easy to prepare, lentil stew.

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The whole dish comes together in the space of less than an hour including prep time.  Here are your ingredients to satisfy four hungry vegetarian lumberjacks:

  • 2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 ¼ cup green lentils
  • 1 large onion, sliced into thin crescents
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and sliced into thin rounds
  • 1 can (15 oz.) diced tomatoes
  • ¼ cup tomato puree
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano leaves
  • ½ tsp. red chile flakes
  • 1 qt. vegetable stock, hot
  • Kosher salt and black pepper to taste
  • Chopped fresh parsley for garnish

Start by rinsing the lentils thoroughly in a mesh strainer under cold water. Place the lentils in a large saucepan and cover with more cold water by about one inch. Bring the pot to a boil and cook the lentils for about 4 minutes, then drain and set them aside for now.

Clean out the saucepan for the main phase of the cooking. Heat the olive oil over medium flame. When it is hot, add the onions and sauté them until they are tender and translucent, but not brown, which should take about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another 30 seconds, then stir in the cooked lentils, followed by the carrots, tomatoes and puree, then the oregano and chile flakes. When all of this is mixed together, add the hot vegetable stock and bring the pot up to a boil. Back it down to a low, gentle simmer, cover the pot and let the stew cook slowly for about 20 minutes. Be careful not to let your stew cook too rapidly or too long, or your lentils will likely turn to mush. At the end of the cook time, adjust your seasonings with salt and pepper, and you’re ready to serve with a fresh parsley garnish.

We were pleased at just how richly flavors can be developed in a simple vegetarian dish like this one. We served it up with some stuffed grape leaves and naan, and enjoyed ourselves immensely as we munched down this savory Greek dinner with a big happy grin on our faces – made all the bigger by knowing we were yet again bringing yummy and healthy together in the same bowl. Give it a try – your taste buds and your healthy body with both thank you. Until next time: Eat well, my friends!

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Fettuccine with Leeks and Prosciutto

This one goes out to everyone who wants to try fettuccine with something other than Alfredo or tomato sauce.  It’s super-simple, twice as delicious, and evokes some rich and quintessentially Italian flavors, especially if you splurge a little bit for high-quality ingredients.

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Without further ado, here is your ingredient list to make 3-4 servings in the space of about 45 minutes or less (i.e. a great weeknight dish):

  • 2 leeks
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 tbsp. unsalted butter
  • Kosher salt to taste
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 3 oz. imported Italian sliced prosciutto
  • Cracked pepper to taste
  • 8 oz. fettuccine
  • 1/2 cup fresh grated fontina cheese, preferably Fontina Valle d’Aosta
  • 4-6 oz. fresh asparagus
  • extra virgin olive oil

For your prep work, cut the roots and dark green tops off of the leeks — you only want to use the white or light green portions.  Freeze the tops and reserve them for making a vegetable stock later.  Slice the leeks lengthwise and rinse them well in cold water, separating the layers to make sure any hidden dirt is cleaned away, then slice them crosswise into strips.  Also cut the prosciutto crosswise into strips and set them aside.

The asparagus will be roasted in the oven separately from the main pasta dish, to be added at the end.  Preheat the oven to 450.  Snap the fibrous ends off of each asparagus stalk.  Drizzle the asparagus with olive oil, season lightly with salt and pepper, then toss to coat evenly and arrange the stalks on a baking sheet.  We will roast these toward the end of the cook time.

In a deep, straight-sided skillet, add the leeks, water, butter and a generous pinch of kosher salt, and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the leeks are tender and the water is evaporated, which should take about 30 minutes.  Take care not to let the leeks brown.

While the leeks are cooking, boil some salted water for your pasta.  As the leeks are halfway through their cook time, get the asparagus into the oven to roast, and your pasta into the water to start boiling.

When the leeks are tender, stir in the heavy cream and cook for about 2 minutes until it starts to bubble and thicken.  Next add the prosciutto strips and a few turns of black pepper from your grinder.  By this time the pasta should be at or near a nice al dente, and the asparagus should be about done.  Remove the asparagus from the oven to your cutting board, and slice into one-inch pieces.  Drain the pasta and toss it into the leek-prosciutto mixture, then remove the skillet from the heat.  Toss in the grated cheese, and then you’re ready to plate.  Finish each serving with a sprinkle of the sliced asparagus.

This was a new dish for us, with a little improv on my part, so we weren’t sure what to expect.  But boy oh boy were we pleased with the results.  And then when I added a fresh-baked loaf of my Italian herb and olive oil bread — big happy grins for miles.  We were in strong agreement that this recipe is a keeper.  I hope you’ll try it and enjoy it as thoroughly as we did.  Until our next visit to the kitchen:  Eat well, my friends!

Indian Veggie Chili

Okay, this is not actually a chili dish — it just reminds me of one.  But it is authentic Indian and it is vegetarian, so two out of three isn’t bad.  Actually today’s recipe is a classic kidney bean curry called Rajma, which is a flavorful, hearty and healthy meal unto itself.

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There is no shortage of knife work to prep this dish.  Once that’s done the cook time is only about 30 minutes.  Here are your ingredients for 4 servings:

  • 2 tbsp. peanut oil
  • 2 tsp. cumin seeds
  • 2 onions, finely chopped
  • 2 tsp. fresh grated ginger
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 serrano chiles, seeded and minced
  • 2 tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • 2 tsp. ground coriander
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1/4 tsp. ground turmeric
  • 1 tsp. garam masala
  • 2 cans (15 oz.) red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 tbsp. light brown sugar
  • 2 cups hot water
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • Cooked basmati rice
  • Fresh chopped cilantro
  • Plain yogurt

Just one ingredient note — this dish has a bit of pep to it, so if your spice tolerance is not very high you can back down the heat by just using one serrano chile, or cutting the garam masala to 1/2 teaspoon, or both if you’re a serious spice wimp.  Keep in mind, though, that the yogurt garnish goes a long way to cool the dish down, so don’t be afraid to go bold with it.

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium flame.  Stir in the cumin seeds and cook until they stop crackling.  Add the onions and sweat them until they are tender and translucent.  Next mix in the ginger and garlic and continue to cook for about 2 minutes.   Add in the chiles, tomatoes, and dry spices, and saute the mixture for about 10-15 minutes.  Lastly, in go the beans, brown sugar, water and salt.  Cook another 10 minutes, and you’re done.

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Serve up your finished product with a bit of cooked rice and garnish with fresh cilantro leaves and a dollop of yogurt.  Some warm naan also makes a great accompaniment.  We munched this delicious curry down with a big happy grin on our faces, then did it again.  Yummy and healthy in the same bowl — it doesn’t get any better than that.  Until next time:  Eat well, my friends!

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Chef Lolly?

I just wanted to take a brief opportunity to brag on my Lolly a bit.  Actually I do that every chance I get, but this time is different.  Regular readers of my blog know her as my lovely bride and greatest supporter as I explore the endless world of culinaria.

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What you probably don’t know, however, because I never mentioned it before, is that Lolly will tell you she hates to cook.  Over the years, as we were raising our children, of necessity she cooked fairly regularly and developed a modest repertoire of family dinners, including several of which I remain very fond to this day.  However, she never enjoyed cooking and would happily let me handle it whenever I had the time.

More recently, though, since we became empty-nesters and I started taking culinary classes, I do almost all the cooking in our home.  Lolly is only too happy to let me do the honors, and to be honest, I frequently cringe when I watch her wield my razor-sharp Shun chef’s knife.  Luckily for her, she has an avid live-in home chef to do that for her … usually.  Some nights she simply can’t avoid it.

So imagine my surprise and delight when I walked in last night after one of my thrice-weekly kung fu classes to the smell of something wonderful wafting from our kitchen.  I detected the unmistakable savor of roasting meat, vegetables and herbs, and quickly made my way to the kitchen to investigate the source of this tantalizing aroma.  I found the place clean and tidy — nothing but a single roasting pan in the oven.  A few minutes later, here is what Lolly — yes, that very same Lolly — pulled out.

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Oh my!  Roasted chicken thighs in a marinade of red wine vinegar and fresh herbs, with a mélange of Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes and apples, topped with — dare I say it? — lovely chunks of thick-cut bacon.  And as beautiful as it looks, the taste was even better.  To say I was impressed is a woeful understatement.  “Gob smacked” would be a better choice.

We munched this amazing dinner down with big happy grins on our faces, as I heaped effusive and well-deserved praise on my pretty little chef.  I like to think my enthusiasm for the kitchen has rubbed off on her at least a bit over the years.   Just between you and me, I think Lolly is secretly starting to enjoy cooking.  But we’ll just let that be our little secret, shall we?  Until next time:  Eat well, my friends!

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Greek Roasted Chicken with Okra

So what’s the Greek word for “spatchcock”?  I don’t suppose it really matters — this dish is just as yummy without the translation.  Today we’re doing a Greek-inspired recipe that combines a whole roasted chicken with okra in a delicious tomato-garlic sauce.

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This will serve four people, and takes a total of maybe two hours beginning to end.  Here are your ingredients to make the magic happen:

  • 1 whole roasting chicken, about 5-6 pounds
  • 3 oz. extra virgin olive oil
  • Kosher Salt and Black Pepper
  • 2 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1 can (14 oz.) peeled whole plum tomatoes
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 1/4 cups hot water
  • 1 lb. fresh okra
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped

Preheat the oven to 400.  Spatchcock the chicken by using poultry shears to cut out the spine, then bend the chicken open until the breastbone cracks and the bird is able to lay flat.  In a large roasting pan, lay the chicken breast side down and drizzle half the olive oil to coat it.  Season with salt and pepper to taste, and sprinkle on 1 tsp. of the oregano.  Roughly chop the tomatoes and add them to the bottom of the roasting pan with the minced garlic and hot water.  Into the oven it goes, to bake for 30 minutes.

During this initial baking period, it’s time to prep the okra.  Using a paring knife, trim the stem end of each pod to remove the hard cone, taking care not to cut into the pods as this can release the natural okra slime.  When you’re done trimming, give it a thorough wash in cold water and let it drain.

When the 30 minute bake time has finished, remove the pan from the oven and reduce the heat to 375.  Turn the chicken over so the breast faces up.  Drizzle it with the remaining oil, season with more salt and pepper, and sprinkle the rest of the oregano.  Arrange the okra around the bird and stir the pods to coat with some of the tomato sauce.  Sprinkle the parsley over the whole mess, then back into the oven it goes for about an hour, maybe a bit more, until the chicken reaches an internal temperature of 165.  Baste the chicken and okra with the tomato sauce a few times while baking.  And with that, you’re done and ready to plate.

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We munched that bird with wild abandon — okra pods and drumsticks flying everywhere.  Okay, maybe that’s a teensy exaggeration, but we really enjoyed the finished product — big happy grins all around.  This dish combines healthy and delicious on the same plate, but sadly it won’t do a thing for your Greek language skills.  Until next time:  Eat well, my friends!

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