November 20, 2014

A Flawless Recipe for Autumn

There is no better season for cooks to play in their kitchens than Autumn.  When the weather starts cooling down and tarp covers are falling on barbecue grills like the last curtain call for an actress past her prime, it's time to head back inside!

Just as the leaves begin to turn on the neighborhood trees, the colors of farmers markets follow suit.  Summer's vibrantly green herbs and the bright red hues of tomatoes give way to the deeper, richer jewel tones of carrots, beets and eggplant.  Vine-growing fruits like butternut squash (yes, it's actually a fruit!) also make an appearance this time of year, having been planted in the previous months.

With that in mind, I've created a vegetarian recipe that combines roasted carrots and butternut squash, with the Eastern Mediterranean touches of Tahini and Zaatar.  The complex flavors from the roasting process pair beautifully with the citrus, nutty flavor of the tahini dressing.  Serve it as a starter, alongside your favorite protein or enjoy it as a vegetarian main course.

Easy to prepare and laden with healthful minerals, anti-oxidants and vitamins, this is now my must-have dish for Autumn! 

Roasted Carrots & Butternut Squash with Tahini & Zaatar
6 servings

1 lb. rainbow (or regular) carrots, peeled and cut into 3-inch chunks
1 large butternut squash
1/2 lb. brussels sprouts, halved (optional)
2 medium red onions, peeled and sliced
2 Tbs. olive oil + 1 Tsp.
2 Tsp. salt
1 Tsp. pepper
1/2 cup pine nuts
3/4 cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped
2.5 Tbsp. lemon juice
2 Tbsp. cold water
1 large clove of garlic, crushed
1/3 cup of good tahini 
2 Tbs. zaatar mix

Best enjoyed at room temperature, this dish keeps well refrigerated for up to 5 days.

Preheat your oven to 425F (220C).  Clean the outside of the squash with a washcloth under cold running water.  Dry with a towel then cut in half lengthwise.  Discard the stringy fibers and seeds and cut into 1.5-inch thick wedges.  Place in a large mixing bowl and add the carrots, onions and if you like them, the brussels sprouts, too!  Toss together with olive oil, salt and pepper and roast, squash skin side down for about 45 minutes or until completely soft.  Keep an eye on the onions as they may take less time to cook. When done, remove roasting pan from the oven and set aside to cool.

Meanwhile, heat the rest of the olive oil in a small pan and cook the pine nuts on medium-low heat until golden brown, stirring frequently.  Transfer to a small bowl with the oil and set aside to cool.  To make the tahini dressing, place the tahini, lemon juice and water in a small bowl and add a pinch of salt.  Mix well.

Arrange the roasted vegetables on a serving platter, drizzle the tahini dressing on top, followed by the olive oil pine nuts and the zaatar, and garnish with the chopped parsley.

Note: Change things up a little.  This makes a perfect side dish for your Thanksgiving meal!

I was featured in GQ UK's December issue!
I also appeared in the New York Times!

July 16, 2014

I Say Batata.

I am certain there is a word for “potato” in almost every language.  After all, it is one of the most prominent and best loved foods in the world.  The potato sits at number 3 in terms of worldwide human consumption, after wheat and rice, and the latest statistics show global crop production at a staggering 300 million metric tons annually.    

Batata is the old Spanish term from which the word potato is said to have originated.  It is also the Arabic term for the word.  In Beirut, where I grew up, we ate lots of Batata.  Fries were this fat kid’s favorite food! 

Boiled, fried, baked, roasted or even gnocchi’d, potatoes are a workhorse veg.  “The Mariah Carey of vegetables, reaching many depths and stratospheres”, as one witty food critic once wrote.  

There are over 4000 recorded potato varieties worldwide, most of which are grown in the Andes region of South America.  Traces of its cultivation have been found in Peru dating back 10,000 years.  It even grows in incredibly harsh climates like that of Greenland, where they call it naatsiiat - which literally translates to ‘something for which one waits a long time to grow’.

I love ordering "Pommes Landaises" whenever I spot it on restaurant menus.  My favorite French bistro in San Francisco, L’Ardoise is famous for them.  Slices of Yukon Gold fried in duck fat.  No need for a recipe here!  Just add salt.

My dear friend and home-cook extraordinaire, Tamara sent me one of her fabulous recipes for a Lebanese baked potato pie, called Kebbet Batata in Arabic.  The word “Kebbet” sounds similar to Cabot, as in Jessica Fletcher’s Cabot Cove, from the popular 80’s TV series Murder, She Wrote.  Here’s how you make it:

delicious onion and walnut filling between the two layers of potato

Lebanese Potato Pie (Kebbet Batata)
6 servings

3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 large yellow onions, sliced into wings
3 large Desiree potatoes (new potatoes are also great), peeled and cubed
1 cup fine bulgur wheat (#1), soaked in water for 1 hour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1.5 tablespoons sumac
1 cup regular bread crumbs or panko
2 cups chopped toasted walnuts
Salt & pepper to taste

Preheat your oven to 400 F (200 C).  Heat the vegetable oil in a good-size skillet and fry the onion wings with a sprinkle of salt until pale.  Add a good pinch of pepper, sumac & walnuts and mix to combine.  Remove from heat and set aside.

Potato Dough:
In a large pot, cover the potatoes with water, add a generous pinch of salt and bring to a boil.  Cook the potatoes until fork-tender.  Drain and set aside to cool slightly.  Once cooled, mash the boiled potatoes well.  Squeeze the excess water out of the pre-soaked bulgur then fold it into the potatoes.  Add the cilantro and knead a few times until a dough-like texture is obtained.  Taste for salt and add more if needed. 

Brush your favorite baking dish (I like to use the classic oblong Pyrex dish for this recipe) with a little vegetable oil to coat the base.  Spread a thin layer of the potato mix (about 1 inch) evenly around the base, then top with the onion filling.  Repeat with another layer of potato mix on top of the filling to cover, also about 1 inch thick.  Sprinkle the bread crumbs on top and bake until the bread crumbs become golden brown, 20-30 minutes.  Serve warm or at room temperature with your favorite salad!   

Note: Dip your hands in a little vegetable oil as you build the pie layers.  This will prevent the dough from sticking to your hands and makes the assembly a breeze.  My classic Lebanese salad dressing which you can find in an older Ten Potatoes blog post is perfect for making a salad that can stand up to the bold flavors of the potato pie.

Bon Appétit, and thank you Tamara!

May 18, 2014

Moments of Culinary Contemplation

Without getting too sappy, there are moments in the life of a food enthusiast that are quite emotional, they are worth pondering over and writing about.  One such moment took place a few weeks ago in London, where I found myself sharing a lunch table with two of the world's most recognized and respected culinary figures.

In fact, the vast majority of the world's top Chefs were present at Nuno Mendez's Chiltern Tavern in Marylebone that day.  The luncheon was a celebration of the World's 50 Best Restaurants Awards for 2014.  Fortunately, my day job affords me the opportunity to participate in such eponymous events.  The feeling was that of sheer awe.

Right to Left: Tanongsak Yordwai & David Thompson of Nahm, Mason Florence, the Academy Chair of Southeast Asia, me, Fergus Henderson & Trevor Gulliver of St. John
I was honored and delighted to be having a meal with David Thompson, Asia's No. 1 Chef 2014 (Restaurant Nahm, Bangkok) and the winner of the World's Lifetime Achievement Award, Chef Fergus Henderson (St. John, London).  Two legendary men in their own right.  Nothing could be wrong with the world.

Thompson, an Australian, almost single-handedly reworked how we cook and eat Thai food. In his quest for perfecting his Thai palate and cooking skills, he uncovered and studied recipes put together by Thai families at funerals.  Books for the dead that contained the deceased's favorite recipes.  By doing so, Thompson brought back hundreds of years of tradition and experimentation to a cuisine that's already steeped in history.  A truly fabled Chef d'Oeuvre.  (Pun very much intended).

As for Henderson, he pioneered the nose-to-tail concept of cooking with offal, a trend that continues to gain popularity worldwide.  With no formal training, he never worked under any other Chef before opening St. John, a shining beacon to British cuisine.

The inimitable Trevor Gulliver, Fergus Henderson's business partner at Restaurant St. John

Here's another photo to mark this fabulous occasion, as well as the video of the awards themselves.  You may notice I had a broken arm on stage (yes, again!),  Don't believe a word Mark the presenter said about how I got injured.  Send me an message if you want to know the REAL story!

With Switzerland's Top Chef and 50 Best winner, Andreas Caminada of Schloss Schauenstein

January 25, 2014

Food Rules 2014.

This year, it’s all about un-boring your kitchen pantry and keeping your dining experiences interesting.  Below are my new food rules for 2014, followed by random food (and other) pics from the past year.  Enjoy!

One of my favorite dishes of 2013: Braised Beef Cheeks at Viajante Restaurant, London
My Food Rules 2014

• Ethnic enclaves are your new food source.  Head to a Chinatown or a Little Russia near you and teach your grocery list a new language.  Cook a Borscht this winter.  Or challenge yourself with a simple, Chinese-inspired duck recipe. 

• Discover novel ingredients at ethnic food stores.  Talk to the staff for inspiration, and spice up old favorite recipes.  

• Tinker with your repertoire of classic dishes: add sumac to your fried eggs (see my previous post).  Transform bland rice by cooking it with cardamom and other spices.

• Expand your palate’s comfort zone: find an ethnic eatery in your town and discover amazing, well-balanced flavors in cuisines like Eritrean, Burmese, Indonesian, West African.  

• Dive into country-regional cuisines:  Southern India, Baja California Mexican, Ligurian. Experiment with a few recipes then host a themed dinner around these regions.

• Mix and match: make it interesting and international: At a recent dinner party, I served French Smoked Salmon Rillettes for starters, followed by American Chicken Pot Pie, Italian Arugula Salad with Bartlett pears, dressed with a beautifully simple cider vinaigrette, and I finished off the meal with Almond Macarons with hazelnut spread and homemade jams.

• Spread the love: Create a potluck dinner around a theme with a few of your favorite home-cook friends.

• Get to know your favorite wine vendor.  Try buying different wines. A silky-smooth, white Tokai from Slovenia, or an almost effervescent Lebanese Chateau Ksara Rosé?  Both are inexpensive but fabulously satisfying wines, available for purchase online. 

• Rock out to an international music playlist for your dinner party.

• Decorate with flowers and candles everywhere, but don’t overdo it with scents.  The aromas should be coming from the food you’re serving.  Flowers and candles are there for a complementary visual effect.

A fabulous time with a colleague at Galerie Joy at the Fouquet's Barriere, Paris

Europe's youngest 3-Michelin star Chef, Andreas Caminada, of the magical Schloss Schauenstein, Switzerland

Chef Narisawa, Asia's No.1 Chef for 2013 
My dish of roasted Lebanese meatballs, always a hit!
Lebanese Lentil Soup, perfect for Winter!

Chef Nadia Santini (Italy), World's Best Female Chef 2013

Chef Peter Gilmore, Restaurant Quay, Australia

The incredible Eric Ripert, from Le Bernardin, New York

One of my new recipes from 2013: Lentil Chicken
Chef Heston Blumenthal of the Fat Duck in Bray, UK
Shopping for olive oil at Borough Market, London

Breakfast in Lebanon: hummus, savory minty yogurt, pickles, eggs in mutton lard and more!
Perfume with dinner at Malabar, Lima, Peru
A (casual) dinner at Mom's in Beirut!

I love Tuesdays! "Bone Lick BBQ" in Atlanta

The great Chef Justin Wangler from Partake in Healdsburg with Tucker Taylor, Culinary Gardener at Kendall-Jackson

Pot Pie, undressed
Pot Pie, after hair & make-up
Cooking on a heated salt slab at the Winter Fancy Food Show 2014

With the inspirational Jim Stott, co-founder of Stonewall Kitchen at the Winter Fancy Food Show 2014

With Rodolphe Le Meunier, Meilleur Ouvrier de France 2007 at the Winter Fancy Food Show 2014

“A gourmet who thinks of calories is like a tart who looks at her watch.” ~ James Beard