Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Hummus bi Tahini

Hummus is one of those grocery store items that is egregiously overpriced, enjoying a markup of 500 to 1000%. But it is ridiculously easy to make with a food processor or decent blender. And like many things, homemade always tastes better. It freezes well too, so even if this recipe makes too much for you (but really, who doesn’t want to eat three cups of hummus in one sitting?), it’s still worth making at home.

Serve hummus as a dip with pita bread (Arab style, not Greek), raw veg, or pretzels. Or use it as a spread in sandwiches and wraps.

1 can (540 mL/19 ounces) chickpeas*
4 tbsp tahini**
4 tbsp fresh-squeezed lemon juice (about 1 large lemon)
2 to 4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 to 2 tbsp olive oil (do not use “light-tasting” olive oil)
couple pinches salt
pinch ground cayenne

Drain and reserve a bit of the liquid off the chickpeas, leaving enough to just cover the peas. Place the chickpeas, their liquid, and remaining ingredients in a food processor or blender. Process to a smooth purée.

Taste and adjust the salt. Adjust the consistency as necessary with the reserved chickpea liquid (note: the hummus will firm up a bit after chilling). If you want the hummus to have a light “whipped” consistency, omit the extra liquid and process for a couple extra minutes.

Chill hummus for at least an hour. To serve as a dip, spread in a shallow dish, drizzle with olive oil and top with finely chopped parsley, plus any of the following:

Sprinkling of ground paprika, cumin, or cayenne
A few whole chickpeas, reserved from the can
Oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, julienned
Artichoke hearts, julienned
Roasted red peppers, julienned
Black olives, sliced
Cucumber, diced
Green onions/scallions, sliced
Roasted garlic
Toasted pine nuts

*I swear by Unico chickpeas. So does everyone I know. The end.
**A description of tahini and where you can buy it can be found here.

Friday, February 10, 2012

A Fish By Any Other Name

In our house, we loves us some catfish. It’s a great fish all around: it has a nice meaty texture, is sweet-tasting (forget what you’ve heard about “muddy” catfish: today’s farmed catfish doesn’t carry this flavor at all), and best of all, it resists overcooking like a champ. But, but, BUT…it’s expensive. And—unless you live near an actual fishmonger—you can’t buy it without a sauce already appended, leaving those of us with kids who have, ahem, discerning tastes out of luck.

Enter basa, AKA Vietnamese catfish. This stuff is awesome: all the goodness of fresh catfish, at half the price! In fact, I like it a bit more than catfish at the counter, as it’s a bit milder and sweeter tasting, making it an easy sell to the kid. The catch? It’s frozen. I tend to think of this as an advantage, though, for two reasons. One: I don’t have to cook it the same day I bought it. Two: since nearly all fish at the counter is “previously frozen” anyway, I am no longer paying for the privilege of someone else defrosting it for me. It’s pretty easy to defrost, too; just submerge in cold tap water for an hour or two, then drain and pat dry with paper towel. Voilà! Fresh fish exactly the way I want it!

To season basa just like the store’s catfish, rub on a tablespoon of olive oil and about two teaspoons Cajun seasoning, lemon pepper, or other seasoning of your choice (I love Rachael Ray’s Israeli Spice Rub) per fillet. Cook immediately, or wrap and refrigerate for up to 24 hours after defrosting.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Cajun Seasoning

I really can’t leave anything alone, even something as convenient as a spice blend. I find commercially prepared Cajun spice too salty, so I make my own. This version is mildly spicy; increase the cayenne and add black pepper for more heat. Connoisseurs will note that this blend is not classic Cajun, due to the absence of thyme and oregano…but you may have noticed I am not actually Cajun. So there.

This recipe yields approximately 3 tablespoons of seasoning. It works well with fish, chicken, and pork.

1 tbsp paprika
2 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp chili powder
1 tsp onion powder
¼ tsp dry mustard
¼ tsp ground cayenne (or red pepper flakes)
¼ tsp celery seed
¼ tsp salt

Mix together all ingredients and store in an airtight container away from direct light and heat.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Stovetop Popcorn

Microwave popcorn has been getting a bad rap lately. With good reason, too: it’s expensive, uses an excess of packaging, contains mystery chemicals, and invariably tastes like cardboard. One solution is to microwave plain kernels in a paper lunch sack. This eliminates the chemicals, but still creates garbage and tasteless food (i.e., more garbage). Another option is a hot air popper, which is great if you a) plan on eating 15 cups of popcorn in one sitting, b) have room to store a single-purpose appliance, and c) enjoy watching popcorn fly across your kitchen at random.

I don’t like any of these options. So I go the old-fashioned route: stovetop popping. Popping on the stovetop is easier than many people expect and—in my humble opinion—tastes a lot better.

This recipe is for a single serving, about 3½ to 4 cups. It can be scaled up as much as you want…just make sure your pot is big enough.

You will need:
a pot with a tight-fitting lid (heavy stainless steel is ideal, or cast iron in a pinch; DO NOT use non-stick, anodized aluminum, or Teflon)
2 tbsp plain popcorn kernels (any type will do)
1 to 4 tsp peanut oil*
pinch salt

Place ingredients in the pot and set over high heat. Shake the pot occasionally to coat the kernels in oil.

Once the first kernel pops (don’t worry, the first one or two won’t fly out of the pot), put the lid on and start shaking the pot frequently, every few seconds. Continue shaking until the popping stops, about 30 seconds. Immediately remove from heat.

Lift the lid slightly to allow steam to escape. Don’t pull the lid completely off right away because there is always that one kernel who is late to the party. Be careful! The pot is over 350°F (175°C)—a lot hotter than boiling water.

After waiting a few seconds for any stray pops, dump the popcorn into your serving bowl, dress with extra salt, butter, or whatever seasoning you want, and enjoy!

*Peanut oil gives the popcorn a rich flavor similar to theatre popcorn; we don’t even bother to add butter any more. Other cooking oils can be substituted: olive, corn, or untoasted sesame oil, for example. Coconut oil, butter, and flavoring oils (such as most other nut oils and toasted sesame oil) cannot be used because their smoke points are too low; popcorn pops at a little over 350°F and generally the oil will scorch before popping is finished.