Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Sauteed Tilapia Fillets with Roasted Asparagus and Peasant Potatoes



This is a quick and easy weeknight dinner we regularly eat at our home.
Tilapia is a very versatile and inexpensive fish that's like a blank canvas; and this is probably the easiest, quickest way you can prepare it.
For picky eaters who do not like asparagus or other vegetables, roasting vegetables is not only an easy and healthy way to cook them, but it is also flavor-wise a whole different experience you should definitely try. This asparagus recipe is from Barefoot Contessa Ina Garten.
And to complete the dish with a carbohydrate, add my
Peasant Potatoes .


Sauteed Tilapia Fillets:

Ingredients: (Serves 4)

4 tilapia fillets
Salt
Ground black pepper
Flour, for dredging
2 tablespoons butter (or more, if necessary)
Vegetable oil/olive oil (optional)
Lemon wedges, for serving


Directions:

Sprinkle tilapia fillets with salt and pepper on both sides.
In a large saute pan, heat the butter over medium-high heat. You can use butter only (2 tbsp), or both butter and oil (1 tbsp each)
In the meantime, put flour in a shallow plate. Dredge both sides of the fillets in flour to coat. Shake off excess flour.
Saute the fillets in the pan, 2-3 minutes on each side (or until each side develops a nice golden brown crust - add more butter or oil, if the pan gets too dry).
Serve with lemon wedges (by the way, these are also for asparagus and potatoes).


Roasted Asparagus:

Ingredients: (Serves 4)

1 pound fresh asparagus
1-2 tablespoons olive oil or no-stick cooking spray
Salt
Ground black pepper


Directions:

Preheat the oven to 400 F.
Break off the tough ends of the asparagus.
Place the asparagus on a baking sheet, preferably lined with parchment paper. Drizzle with olive oil (or spray with no-stick cooking spray) and toss to coat the asparagus completely.
Spread the asparagus in a single layer and sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper.
Roast the asparagus in the oven for 15-20 minutes until tender, but crisp.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Mastic, Wonderful Mastic ! (Sakiz)




Before adding dessert recipes that have mastic in them to my blog, I just wanted to add this post as a dedication to my love for mastic !..:)

Mastic is basically the aromatic resin from the mastic tree which is originally native to the Greek island of Chios. It is widely used in the neighboring regions' cuisines, like Greece, Turkey, Middle East and North Africa; and is also the ancestor of today's chewing gum.

You can find a lot of interesting information regarding mastic within below links.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mastic_(plant_resin)

 http://www.chios.gr/products/mastic.htm

http://www.theepicentre.com/Spices/mastic.html

http://greekgourmand.blogspot.com/2009/04/mastic.html

Mastic is sold in ethnic stores where they sell Greek and Middle Eastern foods. But if you can't find it in stores, you can order it from this website:  bestturkishfood.com/
In fact, you can also find some other ethnic foods in my recipes in this online store.

Mastic pieces (as the ones in the above picture) are called tears; and they are usually smashed before being added to desserts or pastries, which makes it easier to measure and incorporate them.

Definitely give these wonderful spice "pearls" with their distinctive, unique flavor a chance. You may find that for your custards mastic is an even better flavor than vanilla. Well, for me mastic tears are as valuable as pearls...

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Gemini's Meatballs


Like so many other homes, meatballs are a regular in our home, too.
This recipe combines all my favorite Mediterranean and Middle Eastern spices I would like to have in my meatball.
In fact, whenever I open the lid of that cumin bottle and its smell hits my nose, it takes me right back to my childhood: I see my mom at the stove, pan-frying meatballs and potatoes, and the air smells like corn oil, cumin and black pepper. I can taste the cool yogurt over the hot meatballs and fries...

I used ground chicken for the meatballs in the picture, but you can use any type of ground meat you like: Turkey, lamb, beef, pork etc. (I find that the 50/50 combination of beef and lamb is very good, too.) You can even mix and puree leftover cooked vegetables, or mix and mince raw vegetables, and use them as your base to make veggie balls/burgers.


Ingredients: (Serves 4)
  • 1 pound ground meat (chicken/turkey/beef/lamb/veal/pork or a combination)
  • 10 tablespoons breadcrumbs
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder or 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon onion powder or 1/4 cup finely diced onion
  • 1/4 teaspoon of each of the following spices: Dried oregano, ground cumin, ground black pepper, ground allspice.
  • 1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (a big pinch)
  • No-stick cooking spray (optional)
  
Directions:
  • Preheat oven to 400 F.
  • Put all the ingredients in a large and shallow bowl, and mix with your hands until combined thoroughly.
  • Heat a non-stick skillet/grill pan over high heat. While the pan is getting hot, form the meatballs: You can form 4 big burger patties (one per person) and enjoy them between regular burger buns, or you can make up to 12-16 small meatballs. If you are making small meatballs, first roll them between the palms of your hands to form balls, press them gently to flatten them a little bit, so they can have more surface to brown for flavor.
  • Put the meatballs on hot pan (you need to hear a nice sizzle) and brown both sides for a few minutes (be careful not burn them, but do also not move or flip them until one side develops a nice brown crust, otherwise they may stick to the pan and fall apart) If you have a good non-stick pan, you won't need to oil the pan before sauteing the meatballs; but if you just want to be cautious, you can spray the skillet with no-stick cooking spray.
  • Transfer the meatballs to a baking sheet/pan (or if your skillet is oven-proof, you can take your skillet directly from stove top into oven) and finish cooking them in the oven for 20 minutes.

Additional points:

  • The skillet part of this recipe is just to start the cooking and developing flavor by building those nice grill marks on the surface, and the oven part is to finish cooking the inside of the meat without over-drying it. Very often, people try to cook meatballs, steaks, burgers or chicken pieces completely in a skillet on the stove, but when the outside is already browned, the inside is still not cooked through; or by the time the inside is cooked, the meat has become very dry or burned. Therefore, I would highly recommend that you invest in a few different size oven-proof skillets; you will get tons of use out of these and see that they pay themselves off by providing you juicy, flavorful dishes using this technique.
  • It may be a bit off-putting to mix the meatballs with your hands, but unfortunately this is the only right way for this task. I wear thin latex gloves when mixing and just throw them away when I'm done, it keeps my hands (and everything else) clean and germ-free.

Chicken and Corn Chowder



I started cooking this soup at home, since my husband liked a similar one at California Pizza Kitchen which is one of our favorite restaurants: Adobe Chicken Chowder (I don't believe they have it on the menu anymore, since they update their menu frequently).
It is also a great way to make use of some leftover cooked chicken (or turkey) and of those bits of different foods, scattered in your fridge or pantry, you do not know what to do with at the end of the week.


Ingredients: (Serves 4-6)

  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 green sweet pepper, diced
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 15-oz-can or 2 cups frozen sweet whole kernel corn
  • 1 medium potato, diced
  • 1 medium tomato, peeled and diced, or 3/4 cup canned diced tomatoes
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground coriander seed
  • 1 cup cooked chicken or turkey, cubed or shredded
  • 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • Salt
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • 1/2 cup shredded cheese (optional)
  • Crushed corn/tortilla chips, for serving (Recommended brand: Mission)
  • Tabasco sauce, for serving

Directions:

  • In a pot, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onion and pepper and cook until tender.
  • Stir in chicken stock, potato, tomato and 1/2 of canned/frozen corn (if using canned corn, drain it first). Bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer, partially covered, until corn and potato pieces are tender, about 10-15 minutes.
  • In the meantime, in a small bowl mix milk, flour, black pepper, ground coriander seed and ground cumin; make sure there are no lumps of flour in the mixture.
  • Puree the soup in the pot with a hand blender until smooth. Stir milk mixture into soup. Cook soup, partially covered, until thickened and bubbly, stirring frequently (about another 10-15 min).
  • Add chicken, rest of the corn and red pepper flakes. Stir and cook until heated through. Taste and add salt to your liking, if necessary.
  • Remove from heat. Stir in parsley and cheese. Serve with corn chips and Tabasco sauce.


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Collard Greens Soup (Karalahana Corbasi)



This unique soup is native to Black Sea region of Turkey where my husband's family is from. But it happens to combine flavors that are not strange at all to America. I found for myself some short cuts to prepare this soup which still end up delicious and traditional enough to satisfy my husband's taste buds. Give this soup a try; it is full of healthy ingredients which will satisfy your taste buds, too.
 

Ingredients: (Serves 6-8)

  • 6 cups chicken/beef/vegetable stock
  • 1/2 of a 15-oz. can pumpkin puree
  • 1/2 of a 16-oz. package of frozen chopped collard greens, or 1 bunch fresh collard greens, stems discarded and finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 1/2 of a 15-oz. can cannellini beans (Northern beans), drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 cup sweet whole kernel corn (canned or frozen)
  • Salt
  • Ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  
Directions:

  • Put the stock in a pot over medium-high heat. Add the pumpkin puree and mix until smooth.
  • Add the sugar and the collard greens and stir. Bring to a boil.
  • Lower the heat, add the corn (if using canned corn, drain it first) and the beans. Simmer for 15-20 minutes or until the collard greens are cooked (they will turn from really dark green to yellowish dark green and soft). Taste the soup and add salt and pepper to your liking, if necessary.
  • Melt the butter in a small saucepan. When it starts foaming and sizzling, add the red pepper flakes and saute them for 1 minute, until they infuse the butter with their flavor and color (do not burn them!). Pour into the soup and mix.

Additional points:

  • For me personally, the salt amount of the stock is enough (since I prepare my stocks with bouillons), so I do not put additional salt. But you can, if you think it's necessary.
  • Originally this soup is made with hominy corn (white or yellow), instead of sweet whole kernel corn. You can find dried or canned hominy corn at ethnic grocery stores. If you make this soup with dried hominy corn, you need to soak the corn grains overnight and cook (boil) them until they are soft, but firm to the bite (just like you would cook beans), and then add them to the soup. That's why if you can find canned hominy it'll make your life much easier, you can add canned hominy to this soup at the same point when you would add the sweet kernel corn. Once you start using hominy in soups, you will be hooked; they have a wonderful bite to them.

Creamy Tomato Soup

 

Ingredients: (Serves 4)

  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 4 1/2 tbsp flour
  • 3 heaping tbsp tomato paste
  • 4 1/2 tbsp milk
  • 4 cups chicken/beef/vegetable stock
  • Salt
  • Ground black pepper
  • Shredded Kasseri cheese, for garnish (optional)

Directions:

  • In a pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the flour and mix until smooth. Cook for 1 minute. Add the tomato paste and mix until smooth.
  • Gradually add the milk and mix, making sure there are no lumps left. Cook for 1 minute or until you see the mixture start thickening.
  • Gradually add the stock, mixing well after each addition and making sure the mixture is smooth. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Lower the heat, taste and add salt and pepper to your liking. Simmer for 10 minutes.
  • Serve with shredded cheese.

Additional points:

  • I would personally use Kasseri cheese for garnish. But you can use any cheese you like, just make sure it is a type of cheese that melts nicely, since you want to see the cheese oozing out of the soup when you spoon it. (Yum!)
  • For me personally, the salt amount of the stock is enough (since I prepare my stocks with bouillons), so I do not put additional salt. But you can, if you think it's necessary.
  • This is supposed to be a creamy soup, so make sure you smooth out the lumps after each addition. You can also strain the soup before serving. And do not use skim milk, since you need some fat to achieve creaminess; you can use whole milk, half-and-half, 2% or even 1% milk.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Tahini Dip



There is something genius about Middle Eastern dips and appetizers which combine ingredients that seem unexpected and unrelated, but the resulting flavors are unique and addictive; this dip is one of those combinations.
This is an easy appetizer to serve at your parties. By the way, it goes best with pita chips and dry white wine.


Ingredients: (Makes about 1 cup)
  • 1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon tahini (sesame seed paste)
  • 1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon water
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 4 tablespoons of plain bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
  • Parsley leaves, for garnish (optional)
  • Crackers or pita chips, for serving

Directions:
  • In a bowl, mix the first 5 ingredients until smooth. (Tahini tends to separate and clump up, just like peanut butter; make sure there are no lumps before you add the rest of the ingredients.) Add salt, spices and breadcrumbs, mix until smooth. Lastly add the walnuts and mix.
  • Put in a nice little serving bowl and serve with crackers.

Additional points:
  • Nowadays, you do not always need to go to an ethnic store for tahini, you can usually find it at your regular grocery store.
  • Depending on the quality of the tahini, sometimes the mix can get too thick or too thin. If it gets too thin, add a bit more breadcrumbs; if it gets too thick, add a bit more water/lemon juice or olive oil, and adjust the salt amount to your liking, if necessary. It should have easily spreadable consistency.
  • The consistency is best when it is freshly made. But you can definitely make this dip one day ahead and keep it in the fridge (it actually holds for several days in the fridge). Take it out a few hours before your guests arrive so it can come back to room-temp consistency.

Basic Vinaigrette





This is a quick and simple dressing for your everyday salads. It is probably very similar to what everybody else is doing, but it is kind of special to me: I got this ratio from a friend's friend at whose house I once ate lunch. Ayse (Aisha) was a very nice lady and a great cook, and the salad she served at that lunch was sooo refreshing... Unfortunately a few months later she passed away unexpectedly... Now every time I prepare this dressing, I send her a little prayer...


Ingredients:

  • 6 to 8 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons vinegar
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • Salt
  • 1 teaspoon mustard (optional)

 Directions:

  • Put all the ingredients into a jar or plastic container (with a lid). Close the lid very tightly, and shake vigorously. Pour onto salad and toss.
  
Additional points:

  • You can use any type of vinegar you like; from white wine vinegar to balsamic vinegar; you can even use pomegranate molasses. All these give a nice kick.
  • For this ratio I personally add a good 1/4 teaspoon salt. But it is really a matter of taste (and health), so adjust the salt amount to your liking.
  • Add the mustard if you want a more creamy dressing.
  • It is different from person to person how much dressing they like on a certain amount of salad. Just to give you an example: For me personally, above given amount easily covers one head of coarsely chopped lettuce (4-5 cups).