Middle Eastern-inspired stuffed peppers with lamb, rice and dried fruit.
I suppose there is no need to mention (again) that my husband is not as adventurous an eater as I am. As a result of to his aversion to seafood and his avoidance of pork, I have a fairly limited universe of meats to cook with at home. Chicken and turkey are fine; I can even get away with the very occasional duck dish. Beef works of course, but neither one of us wants to eat beef more than once or twice a week for environmental and health reasons. No wonder I am trying to cook more vegetarian dishes!
My husband has never been wild about lamb either, finding it to be somewhat gamey. He certainly isn’t alone in that view. But recently I had a helpful discovery: ground lamb has a milder flavor than whole cuts of lamb. I had not really worked with ground lamb much before I started cooking out of the Jerusalem cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi. (See this post for my review of Jerusalem.) But several of my favorite dishes from that book call for ground lamb and in making those dishes, we learned that my husband finds ground lamb to be downright palatable. So, I have happily added it to my repertoire.
I find ground lamb easily at my local Whole Foods. I have also found it from some of the small meat purveyors at the Oak Park Farmers’ Market, which opened this past Saturday. A good butcher shop should have it as well, particularly one that specializes in Halal meats. Raising lamb for food is resource-intensive, like raising beef cattle is, so we still limit our consumption of it. One piece of good news, though, is that it is easier to find grass-fed lamb than grass-fed beef — at least in my experience. Grass-fed animals tend to have more omega-3 fatty acids than grain-fed animals do and are therefore more nutritious.
Ground lamb is a very versatile ingredient and you will find it used in Greek cuisine as well as Middle Eastern. You can make lamb burgers and lamb meatballs, using ground lamb exclusively or by combining it with ground beef. In this recipe, I managed to stretch 10 oz. of ground lamb to stuff six peppers by combining it with rice and dried fruit. That’s a great way to get the taste and nutrition of meat while stretching your grocery dollar. I top the peppers with a tangy yogurt sauce to cut the richness of the lamb and the sweetness of the dried fruit.
This recipe for peppers stuffed with a lamb and rice mixture is one that I created but I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge that it was inspired by some of the recipes in Jerusalem. The use of dried fruit and pine nuts, the spices I picked — all of these will seem familiar to anyone who has leafed through that award-winning book. That’s what a great cookbook does, in my view. It not only gives you great recipes, but it also changes the way you view familiar ingredients.
Lamb and Rice Stuffed Peppers
6 red or yellow bell peppers
2 TB olive oil
1 onion, diced
2 shallots, diced
10 oz. ground lamb
1/2 tsp. each ground cardamom, allspice and cinnamon
1 tsp. ground cumin
Pinch red pepper flakes
3/4 cup prunes or dried apricots, or a combination, diced
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1 cup rice
2 cups chicken broth or water
1/2 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
For yogurt sauce:
1 cup plain Greek yogurt
1 clove garlic, minced
Zest and juice of 1/2 lemon
Preheat the oven to 350. To prepare the peppers for stuffing, cut the tops off the peppers and clean out the inner ribs and seeds. Find a baking dish that holds the peppers snugly and grease the inside. Place the peppers in the baking dish and set aside while you make the filling.
To make the filling, heat the olive oil in a large, deep skillet over medium heat. Saute the onion and shallots until translucent. Add the ground lamb and stir to break it up. Cook the lamb until it is browned. Drain as much of the accumulated fat as possible from the skillet. Season the lamb mixture well with the spices and salt and pepper. Add the rice and dried fruit and toss to combine. Pour in the chicken broth or water and bring to a boil. Once the liquid in boiling, cover the skillet and turn the heat to low. Simmer until the rice is tender, about 20 minutes. Add the pine nuts and chopped parsley to the mixture. Stuff the peppers with the lamb and rice mixture until all six are full. Pour a small amount of water or broth in the bottom of the baking dish just until it is 1/8 inch deep. Cover the dish with foil and bake until the peppers are tender, 45 minutes to an hour.
While the peppers are baking, make the yogurt sauce by whisking together the Greek yogurt, the lemon zest the lemon juice and the minced garlic. Refrigerate until read to use. To serve, top each pepper with a dollop of the yogurt sauce and garnish with additional parsley if desired.
Have you cooked with ground lamb before? What is your favorite way to use this ingredient?
Dora had some of the hottest food swap offerings with home-cured gravlax and dill labneh cheese.
Sunday May 12 was not just Mother’s Day; it was the latest meeting of the Chicago Food Swap! Our host for this Mother of all Food Swaps (ha!) was The Scrumptious Pantry, a company that produces heirloom pantry items, from pasta to pickles to catsup, using ingredients from sustainable family farms. Owner Lee Greene had observed the February swap at Katherine-Anne Confections and was so charmed by our swappers and their amazing products that she offered to host a future swap on the spot. The Scrumptious Pantry has a beautiful open office space in Logan Square that was perfect for a food swap. Lee even swapped some of her homemade relish and preserves!
Love the sign!
Although some of our veteran swappers had family commitments and could not join us, we still had a great turn-out of first-time and repeat swappers. As always, the items up for swapping were varied, delicious and unusual. If you were looking to plan out your breakfasts for the week, you would’ve wanted to score some of Sara’s whole milk yogurt (I did!) and Genevieve’s pumpkin seed granola to sprinkle in it. Maybe a swirl of one of Ava’s gorgeous jams to sweeten the deal? If you prefer eggs for breakfast, there were frittatas available from two different swappers. I was lucky to enough to get one of Katherine’s frittatas with a delicious gluten-free crust and one of Genevieve’s potato, cheddar and chive frittatas. If breakfast pastries are your thing, you would’ve headed straight for Laura’s blackberry lavender scones, Rachel’s Swedish cinnamon buns or Maureen’s adorable pink doughnuts. I was lucky enough to get the Swedish cinnamon buns and they were delicious! I’m already planning how to make my own.
Some people look to the food swap as a way to stock their pantries with unusual items to help them cook and bake better. To that end, people found crystallized ginger from Shanna, fresh herbs, two different spice mixes and vanilla extract from me, walnut thyme honey, compound butter, flavored nut butters, poached apricots, hot pepper and and green tomato relishes. If you were at the swap looking to round out your dinners for the week, you would have found focaccia and fresh pasta from Karen and Evan, chicken mole sauce from Michelle (got some!) artisan breads, and gravlax and dill labneh cheese from Dora.
Mustard, pickles and tomato plants
Of course, some people just want to satisfy their sweet tooth at the swap and those people were in luck as well. Peanut butter whoopies pies from Morgan, amazing brownies from new swapper Chelsea, caramels, French macarons, my oatmeal cookies and Serena’s divine chocolate raspberry sauce. And don’t forget the drinks! There were flavored syrups ranging from ginger to rhubarb and I even spied some infused bourbon.
In all, it was a terrific event with lots of enthusiasm and connections made. We even had a little bonus for our swappers: free copies of a book on dehydrating foods thanks to swapper Jill. (Her own cookbook on dehydrating will be out in July and I am excited to see it.) I expect we will be seeing some dehydrated goodies in swaps to come.
I also have some exciting news to share about the June swap. For the first time ever, the Chicago Food Swap will meet at a location big enough to accommodate everyone who wants to swap. The next swap will take place on June 23 at 2:30 pm at Gallery 1028, a raw gallery space at 1028 N. Hooker St. on Goose Island. Gallery 1028 is an edgy modern space with exposed brick and wooden plank floors; in short, I love it! (Is it too soon to plan for Zuzu’s bat mitzvah there?) And with over 4000 square feet, Gallery 1028 has room for as large a group as you could imagine. We are incredibly lucky to have access to this space and to finally be able to open the swap up to everyone who wants to attend. Registration for the June swap is open now on Event Brite.
Gallery 1028, the site of the June Chicago Food Swap
The only downside to Gallery 1028 is that it is a completely raw space, meaning no tables or counters to display swap items. We are asking swappers to bring tables, chairs, sawhorses — whatever they can and to share with one another. Luckily, there is plenty of street parking right out front of the gallery and I am confident that our swappers will figure it out. I hope that you will join us for what is sure to be the biggest and best Chicago Food Swap ever!
Perfectly smooth potato from the OXO Adjustable Potato Ricer.
Later this month, I am going to Philadelphia to attend a conference for food bloggers entitled Eat, Write Retreat. I am looking forward to an intense weekend of speakers, demonstrations, great meals and making connections with others in my field. I know that I will learn invaluable techniques to improve my writing, my recipes and my photography.
One of the things that I am looking forward to about Eat, Write, Retreat is networking with the incredible sponsors from kitchenware companies like OXO, Calphalon, Kitchen-Aid, to food board representatives including California raisins, olives and figs and the US Potato Board. It is a treat to work with these kind of sponsors, who are all about making cooking easier and promoting healthy, whole foods grown in the United States.
One of the precursors to the conference is a culinary challenge guaranteed to send all the attendees straight to the kitchen. For the Amazing Apps Culinary Challenge, each conference attendee has been assigned an ingredient — either olives, figs, raisins or potatoes — and asked to create an original appetizer featuring that ingredient. There will be four winners, one for each ingredient, and the prizes are pretty sweet, like a new iPad and $500 worth of OXO kitchen tools.
In what can only be kismet, I was assigned potatoes for my ingredient. Although I am only 1/8 Irish, I am a potato nut. My grandmother’s potato salad is literally my favorite food in the world. Mashed potatoes at Thanksgiving, latkes for Hanukkah, potato salad in the summer — I love potatoes all year long.
Potatoes have a bad reputation as a fattening starchy food without a lot of nutrition, but it is simply not so. Potatoes are not fattening on their own – they are not responsible for the butter and sour cream we like to put on them — and they provide a lot of key nutrients, including potassium, vitamin C, fiber, iron and vitamin B6. Did you know that a medium-sized potato has only 110 calories, more potassium than a banana and more vitamin C than a tomato? Neither did I until I received my Amazing Apps Culinary Challenge potato box.
One of the things I love about potatoes is how they feature in so many global cuisines. Sure, we think of potatoes as an integral part of European cuisine from pommes frites to gnocchi to German potato dumplings. But potatoes are prominent in Asian and Latin America cuisines as well. One of my favorite Indian dishes, for example, is Aloo Gobi: potatoes and cauliflower in a tomato sauce. And don’t forget about samosas! So, for my potato appetizer, I decided to draw on potatoes’ versatility and global influence. To that end, I started researching some unusual (to me) potato dishes from different cuisines.
In the course of my research, I learned about a Peruvian appetizer featuring a cold mashed potato cake seasoned with yellow chili pepper paste and lime juice and layered with different fillings. It is known as Causa Rellena. Having received an OXO Adjustable Potato Ricer as part of my Amazing Apps Culinary Challenge box, I knew that a perfectly smooth potato purée was in my reach. So I decided to create my own version of causa rellena with a filling inspired by my grandmother’s potato salad.
Peruvian appetizer causa rellena is a mashed potato cake layered with moist fillings.
Causa rellena, in case you are not familiar with it, is a staple of Peruvian cuisine. The cold mashed potato cake is thought to be refreshing in the hot summer weather. According to the definitive guide to New Andean cooking, The Art of Peruvian Cuisine, causa is traditionally stuffed with a variety of seafood fillings. The distinctive yellow color of the mashed potato cake comes from ají amarillo paste, which is made from an indigenous yellow chili pepper. It took me quite a while to track down ají amarillo paste; I actually ended up ordering it online. I wanted to make my causa as authentic as possible, but if that is not your goal, you could use a different chili pepper sauce or skip it altogether. The ají amarillo does, however, add a wonderful fruity spiciness to the mashed potato cake.
Causa is a bit labor-intensive, but it makes a stunning presentation. And because it is served cold or room temperature, you can make it in advance, which is always a plus when entertaining. Feel free to customize the filling to your family’s taste. Peruvians often use avocado, shrimp and seafood salads. Because my family are not seafood lovers, and I am allergic to shellfish, I used a vegetable filling in a mayonnaise and apple cider vinegar dressing — the dressing from my grandma’s potato salad, in fact. Whatever you pick, just make sure that the filling is moist to balance the starchy texture of the causa.
Two pieces of equipment are key here: 1) the OXO 3-in-1 Adjustable Potato Ricer and 2) a food mold. I bought an inexpensive food mold set on Amazon and I am glad to have it. You can do so many creative things with these small gadgets and it is fun to make your home cooking look like restaurant food!
Causa Rellena with Vegetable Filling
Makes 3-4 servings
2 large Yukon Gold potatoes
Juice of 1/2 lime
1 TB olive oil
1 TB ají amarillo paste (optional)
1 green pepper, finely diced
1 small red onion, finely diced
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 TB apple cider vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
Place the potatoes in a saucepan and cover with salted, cold water. Bring the water to a boil over high heat. Turn the heat down and simmer until the potatoes are cooked through, about 20 minutes. Drain. As soon as the potatoes are cool enough to handle, peel them and rice them into a large bowl using an OXO Adjustable Potato Ricer. (Do this while the potatoes are warm for best results.) To the riced potatoes, add the lime juice, the olive oil and the ají amarillo paste, if using. Stir the mixture until thoroughly blended. Refrigerate until cool.
While the causa is chilling, make the filling. In a small bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, the apple cider vinegar and the salt and pepper. Add the finely diced vegetables and toss to combine.
To make the causa rellena, place a few tablespoons of the mashed potato mixture in the bottom of a tall, cylindrical food mold. Smooth the top. Carefully spoon several teaspoons of the vegetable filling on top of the bottom layer and smooth. Repeat until you have three layers of each, with a layer of the filling on top. Carefully remove the food mold. If making ahead, cover and refrigerate until serving. To serve, place the causa rellena on a small plate. Garnish with a sauce made from ají amarillo paste thinned with a few drops of olive oil.
Even if you don’t try causa rellena at home, I hope that you will explore the versatility of the potato by trying some new varieties, like fingerlings or petites, and featuring them in some of your most exotic global dishes.
Full disclosure time: As a registrant for the Eat, Write, Retreat conference, I received several different varieties of potato and several OXO tools, including a potato ricer and three hand-held graters, free of charge in order to facilitate my participation in the Amazing Apps Culinary Challenge. This post constitutes my entry in the contest and I am eligible to receive the prizes mentioned in the post. All opinions expressed herein are entirely my own.
A savory bread pudding makes a fabulous brunch dish or vegetarian dinner.
When everyone else is going out to eat is my favorite time to stay home. Who needs the crowds, the stressed-out waitstaff or the “special” menu, where special is just a euphemism for “overpriced?” That’s why you won’t see me eating out for Valentine’s Day dinner or for Mother’s Day Brunch. I’d rather try that nice restaurant just about any other day of the year.
Going out for brunch is always a tricky business if you ask me. Should I order sweet or savory? Chilaquiles or chocolate chip pancakes? Eggs Benedict or French toast? Asking Mom to chose between these delectable options is like asking her to chose a favorite child. Making brunch at home gives you the freedom to put both sweet and savory options on the table and let everyone just go nuts.
If I were making brunch at home for a special mom, my savory dish would definitely be this Smoked Mozzarella Bread Pudding. This dish has a lot of virtues. Besides being delicious, it’s easy enough for a beginner cook to master and it can be prepared in advance. Nothing stresses out a beginner cook more than trying to work on three dishes at a time. In this case, you can use the bread pudding’s 45-minute baking time to clean up the dishes, set a nice table, and even whip up a fruit salad. Whew! The other virtue of this dish is that it is substantial enough — and even nutritious with the veggies — to fill everyone up and keep them going until dinner.
And did I mention this bread pudding is delicious? By virtue of their soak in the eggy custard, the bread cubes take on a silky texture that melts in your mouth. And the smoked mozzarella and paprika add a hint of spicy smokiness that is hard to resist.
If the sound of this dish intrigues you but you have no plans to host Mother’s Day Brunch, fear not. This savory bread pudding makes a terrific vegetarian dinner. Feel free to play around with the vegetables in the recipe. If my family were not so mushroom-adverse, for example, I would definitely consider adding some sauteed mushrooms to the onion and pepper mixture.
For the bread cubes, I head straight to my freezer, where I stash odd heels of bread for just this kind of dish. Thus, my bread cubes usually end up being a mix of French bread and challah. But any good, not-too-sweet, relatively basic French or Italian bread will do. Feel free to buy a loaf of bread earlier in the week and let it get a bit stale – it won’t hurt the bread pudding any. Aim for 1-inch cubes when cutting the bread. If the cubes are too big, they won’t absorb the custard as well.
Smoked Mozzarella Bread Pudding
7 cups cubed French or Italian bread
2 TB butter plus some for the dish
1 large yellow onion, diced
1 bell pepper, diced
2 Roma tomatoes, diced
1 tsp. each dried oregano and basil
1 1/2 cups milk
1 cup grated smoked mozzerella
1/2 cup chopped scallions
1 tsp. paprika
Butter a 2 quart glass baking dish. Arrange bread cubes in a single layer in the baking dish. In a large saute pan, melt butter over medium heat. Saute onion and pepper until translucent but not browned, lowering the heat as necessary. Season well with oregano, basil and salt and pepper. Set aside.
In a large bowl, beat together the eggs, milk and cream until frothy. Add sauteed onions and peppers and diced tomato to the egg mixture. Pour the egg mixture over the bread cubes in the baking dish. Press down on the bread cubes to make sure they are submerged. Allow mixture to stand so the bread can absorb the custard for 30-40 minutes. (If serving the bread pudding early in the morning, the dish can be prepared up to this point the night before.)
Preheat oven to 350. Sprinkle grated cheese over the bread cube mixture. Top with chopped scallions and sprinkle the paprika evenly over the top of the dish. Bake for 45 minutes until puffed and golden and the top is crunchy.
A very happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers out there – especially my own mother and mother-in-law!