Sunday, March 28, 2010

Black-Eyed Pea Hummus

All I am saying is give peas a chance.
There doesn't have to be sparring among the garbanzo bean and black-eyed pea camps. They're both hummus-worthy legumes. My out-of-the-blue idea for black-eyed pea hummus (not to be confused with Hamas who's not all that peas loving) came to me faster than a grenade on the west bank. So I opened my cupboard, channeled the spirit of Gandhi, and set out on my peas-keeping mission.

Garbanzo bean hummus has been a staple in my culinary repertoire for quite a while. I've also added ingredients like roasted garlic, red pepper, or artichokes for an extra kick. But here I simply substituted black-eyed peas for the garbanzo beans. It's a bit earthier, though very similar to the garbanzo version. The legumes seem to lose a little of their autonomy once the tahini and garlic try to claim the territory, so you might want to add the tahini incrementally and taste it before a full-blown occupation occurs. Make peas, not war, and then serve with my Cheater's Lavash Crackers (as shown).


1 15 oz. can drained black-eyed peas (or garbanzos), reserving some liquid and about 1/4 of the legumes for later

2 small to medium cloves garlic, minced

3 TBSP sesame tahini

3 TBSP fresh lemon juice

1/4 to 1/2 tsp salt (to taste)

Cumin to taste

Dash of cayenne

A little water, if needed

Paprika garnish (optional)

Place first four ingredients and spices in a food processor, and then purée. Add reserved peas for a textured hummus (if you want it smooth, purée all the peas). If too thick, add a little water or some of the reserved liquid until it's the consistency you like. Adjust spices. Sprinkle with a dash of paprika for coloring before serving. Hummus will keep for about a week in the fridge.

Serves about 4

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Travel Bite: Spice Bazaar, Istanbul, Part 2

Part 1 of Travel Bite: Istanbul, Spice Bazaar showed the inside of this bustling market, but the outside was a flurry of edible activity too, minus all the groping. Oh well, you can't have everything.

Okay, so I was wrong about the groping. This shop owner had a lot of touching and feeling to do. And I liked to watch. (click to enlarge)

Fig stacking is apparently a high art in this part of the world. Of course, the perfect fig cried, "Pick me" from the bottom row.

Finding unstuffed grape leaves was the easy part. We did the heavy lifting in my Turkish cooking class, as you can see.

Cheese vendors wore latex gloves, to my germophobic delight, although exemplary hygiene wasn't enough to prompt a purchase from me. I was saving myself for the baklava bacchanal.

Non-buyer's remorse: How could I have passed this up? Oh well. Guess I'll have to go back. I wonder what the expiration date is.

Friday, March 19, 2010

What Lettuce Type are You?

If I were Catholic, I would go to confession for this. But since I’m agnostic, I’ll tell a blog. Here goes: I judge a person by their choice of lettuce. I know. Big whoop. It’s not like I hacked someone up with a chainsaw and ate their liver with a nice chianti or something. But still, it’s admitting that I am judgmental about people and their salads to the point of being deeply shallow, not to mention, a curmudgeon. I am a shallowmudgeon.

This personality flaw started with my disdain for iceberg lettuce. Sure, I grew up on it, but I also grew out of it. And once I did, my palate never looked back. So I have come up with a top 10 lettuce hierarchy that labels lettuce eaters and their salads. From worst to best:

10. Iceberg
Icebergers are the Walmart shoppers of lettuce. Without pigmentation and comprised mostly of water, iceberg offers absolutely no nutritional value. Ignorant Icebergers proudly applaud themselves for eating a salad. And the real tragedy is that a bottle of Kraft Thousand Island dressing is never far away. Can you say phy-to-nu-tri-ent? I know you can say NAS-CAR. Waldorf Walmart Salad

9. Butter
Extremely style conscious, Butter eaters are the designer shoppers of lettuce. They like its dainty appearance, but don't care that it lacks substance. Like iceberg, butter lettuce is pale and short on phytonutrients. And apparently butter eaters are not concerned about their cholesterol either. Jimmy Chew Salad

8. Romaine
Romainians are the Costco shoppers of lettuce. While supposedly high in nutrients, romaine is a little predictable. The hearts get props for their crunch, but then so do Cheetos. Romainians need to go out of their comfort zones once in a while. A trip to Sam’s Club might be in order. Club Salad

7. Green Leaf
Green Leafers are the basic cable subscribers of lettuce. With a deeper color and a leaf that allows vinaigrette to easily adhere to, it's a good all-around lettuce, yet there isn’t enough color variety or bite to put Green Leafers up there with the premium channels. CNN Salad

6. Red Leaf
Red Leafers are the premium cable subscribers of lettuce. Since the dark red offers antioxidants and visual appeal, they have more to offer. Showtime Salad

5. Packaged Salad Mix
Packaged Salad Mixers are the Trader Joe’s shoppers of lettuce. Though they show both aesthetic and nutritional initiative, these lazy sophisticates are nonetheless buying a commercial product that contains unhealthy levels of bacteria and a large carbon footprint. Couch Potato Salad with Dijon Shallot Vinaigrette

4. Farmer’s Market Salad Mix
Farmer’s Market Salad Mixers are the Michael Pollans of lettuce. More eco-conscious than Packaged Salad Mixers, they are to be applauded for their good taste and ethical eating standards. But unless they assemble the varieties themselves, they are still a notch away from being salad gods. Green Salad

3. Red Oak
Red Oakies are the Martha Stewarts of lettuce. With its ornate variegated design, rich colors and textural diversity, red oak is both nutritionally and aesthetically savvy. Red Oakies are culinary prima donnas who wouldn't be caught dead buying lettuce in a grocery store. Hamptons Salad

2. Arugula
Arugulars are the Dennis Kuciniches of lettuce. They are nutritional truthseekers who are unwilling to compromise (except when being strong-armed on health care). When their bodies tell them they need potent, peppery greens, these purists oblige with gospel-like fervor. Raw Salad

1. Tailor-Made Salad Mix
Tailor-Made Salad Mixers are the Alice Waters of lettuce. Buying their own individual heads of frisee, endive, lollo rossa, mache, mizuna, radicchio, tat soi and others on this list, they are truly accomplished saladeers. And if they grow their own in a sustainable, gastronomically correct way, they are salad gods. But who has 40 acres and a walk-in refrigerator? Chef Salad

What lettuce type are you?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Cheater's Lavash Crackers

This is the Bernie Madoff of crackers.
Why bother with yeast when you can pilfer someone else's dough? With store-bought lavash bread, you'll have "homemade" crackers before you can say, "I am a culinary criminal mastermind." Just go to the grocer's lavash vault and open sesame.

Middle Eastern lavash bread is inexpensive, comes in packages of six large rectangles, and has just four simple ingredients: wheat, water, yeast and salt. It also freezes well for crackers, so you can keep the bread around for whenever the mood strikes. To make them, I take a sheet of the bread and brush it with olive oil, sea salt, freshly ground pepper, garlic powder and sesame seeds. I’ve been greedy and seedy before by using sesame, poppy, fennel, caraway and cumin seeds all together. I may have broken the bank with that combo, so you’ll have to experiment and see what works for you. No matter what seed and spice combination you use, I guarantee you’ll strike it rich.

Simply bake this bad boy for a few minutes until he's light brown and crisp. Then let him cool, and with hygienically pious hands, break him into rustic crackers. Bernie's a real crowd-pleaser served alongside hummus, baba ganoush, or tapenade, plus he’s much cheaper than buying those fancy packaged lavash crackers. Just don’t drop the soap when you’re cleaning up. He's still an inmate, you know.


1 sheet of lavash bread

About 1 tsp olive oil



Garlic powder

A handful of sesame seeds

Pre-heat the oven to 375º. Toast the sesame seeds in a dry skillet until they’re light brown. Brush the lavash bread with olive oil, add spices and seeds. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet for 5 to 10 minutes. Let cool, then break into pieces.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Ode to a Root

Why, dear root, do you like hiding?

What is it you’re not confiding?

I, too, can't bear to bare all

That's why I call on Clairol

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

I am a Shameless Hussy

I’m cheating with a married man. Well, he’s cheating with me, rather. We share an office, writing propaganda advertising for a prestigious company, and most days, we end up eating lunch at our desks. He brings meat and potatoes. I bring salads and grains. Lately he’s been grumbling about how he wishes his wife would make more vegetables. When I asked why he doesn’t just tell her, he said he has to tread lightly on the subject. That's her turf. So I came up with different ways he could broach the subject, like “Hey, I’ve been craving kale” or “Gee, I could really go for some flavonoids or beta carotene tonight!” He just shook his head and muttered something inaudible under his breath.

That’s when my hussydom began. The next day, I shared some of my raw sugar snap peas with him. There's nothing like a little afternoon delight. The following day I brought some of my red cabbage slaw. He couldn't resist. Then I doubled my recipe for roasted broccolini and garlic with sundried tomatoes, feta and pine nuts. Hell, I was making it anyway. But why stop there? Could a little ratatouille hurt? An herb spring salad mix with homemade Dijon shallot vinaigrette? What’s a little bok choy among friends? He was so into it and felt so guilty, that after we did the deed, we never spoke of it. We just went about our work as if nothing ever happened. And then I thought about her. How would she feel about all this? Would she think I was denigrating her cooking? Was I implying that she couldn’t satisfy her man?

Then, the epiphany. Not only was my service needed, I could turn it into big business, providing nourishment to other plant-starved men. I would be the Heidi Fleiss of vegetables. There must be plenty of Charlie Sheens out there with an uncontrollable hankering for squash, rutabaga and broccoflower. I could have a whole ring of on-call chefs, ready to deliver the goods in back alleys across the city. Then I would expand to other states and create a whole empire of vegetable lovers. We wouldn’t be breaking any laws. It wouldn't be hurting anyone. You can't blame a veggie john for his behavior. I mean, what red-blooded male could resist gettin' a little arugula on the side?

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Travel Bite: Spice Bazaar, Istanbul

When I visited the Spice Bazaar (a.k.a. Spice Market) in Istanbul last October, I quickly succumbed to its many sensory overload-inducing attractions. Located at the southern end of the Galata Bridge on the Golden Horn, it was built in the 1660s and commissioned by the mother of Sultan Mehmed the Fourth to promote Istanbul's spice trade.

Everywhere I turned there were dried fruits, nuts, teas, herbs, sweets, spices, Turks, tourists and tchotchkes. And that was just the first shop. Only 85 more to go!

Since the majority of spices were once imported from Egypt, the Turks refer to the market as the Egyptian Bazaar. Back then, it was known mostly for its natural remedies.

Turkish Delight or lokum is Istanbul's ubiquitous candy. You can buy boxes of it cut in small cubes and dusted with powdered sugar or by the pound as shown here. Made from a sugar and corn starch base, it comes in many flavors, but my favorites had pistachios or hazelnuts. I brought back a box with walnuts and fig rolled in coconut, and no, I didn't share.

These figs stuffed with walnuts are just one variety of what they call Turkish Viagra. Must be why the men at the Spice Market can shop for six straight hours.

Henna is not only used for hair color, supposedly in the countryside, young women stain the palms of their hands the night before they get married. Don't ask.

The Glutton/Germophobe's Dilemma: to eat free samples that have been sitting out and fondled or not to eat free samples of the sitting and fondled variety. The glutton won and no harm done. See, germophobe? Don't be so uptight. It all worked out in the end.

Addendum: Spice Bazaar, Istanbul, Part 2 can be found here.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Orange-Infused Beets with Walnuts

Thanks to the word "infused," I can charge $13 for two beets.
Granted, not everyone would want to pay that to sit in my living room (I sure wouldn't), but the point is, for such a trendy-sounding dish, this is laughably simple. It all comes down to my one secret ingredient. Are you sitting down? A splash of Trader Joe's orange muscat champagne vinegar.

I think beets are the perfect food, and I usually eat them au naturel. Why cover them up with unnecessary oils and vinaigrettes? But if you do want to jazz them up a bit, just a drizzle of this vinegar transforms them into the most sublime, dessert-like offering. The sweetness of the orange and the acidity from the vinegar balance each other beautifully, while enhancing the beets’ inherent brightness. And when you team up red and yellow beets, the yellow ones turn into beetniks, decked out in tie-dyed designs.

If you can’t find orange muscat champagne vinegar, I’m sure you could mix a little orange juice with regular champagne vinegar.


1 bunch red beets

1 bunch yellow beets (they’re orange before you cook them)

2 oranges, peeled and sliced into disks

A large handful of walnut pieces

Orange muscat champagne vinegar

Cut the stems off the beets except for about 1 inch. Scrub beets, place in steamer and cook until fork-tender, 40-50 minutes. Let them cool down enough so you can easily slip them out of their jackets (once they’ve cooled completely, it's too late.) After they’re completely cool, cut them into quarters. To serve, place 4-6 beet quarters on each plate with two orange slices. Sprinkle with walnuts. Drizzle a splash of vinegar on them and garnish with a sprig of mint.

Makes 4-6 servings, depending on beet size