Tabbouleh a la Kiki

A couple weeks ago when I ran into my friend Keith on a Saturday morning, we got talking about food – not hard to do when you’re standing in the farmers’ market with an excellent food photographer and overall foodie like him – he was headed home to make chicken with preserved lemons for some friends, with lemons he had preserved himself – and he promised me his tabouli recipe.

Now, there’s nothing earth-shattering about tabouli, right? You’ve heard of it already, right? And there are approximately 37 bajillion tabouli recipes already on the internet. So why another?

Because this is a gentle reminder that it being late summer, hot and tomato-plentiful, it’s the perfect time for tabouli right now, and because it’s even better if you can get the special Armenian cucumbers – the curly ones with the striped skins. Il Giardino Organico has these at the market. They have tons of flavor and aren’t the least bit seed-laced.

And because there is a Story.

When Chimp and I lived in Virginia, we used to throw a big annual party called the Gyroscope. It was a boozefest he’d begun before we were together, and once I came on the scene, I upgraded the food, making a whole lot of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern food, loosely interpreted. There was spanakopitakia and falafel, tabouli, and hummus, and baba ganoush, and tzaziki, mountains of pita bread and piles of olives, among other things.

We have disparate groups of friends – his were all academics and mine were all foodies – and we’d try, for one night, to meld them. A halloumi-frying station was a great unifier. One year we made everyone wear name tags on which they’d written their name and an interesting fact about themselves. That was the best mixer ever.

At any rate, getting ready for the Gyroscope necessitated a trip to Aphrodite Imports in Arlington for provisions, including a big straw-wrapped bottle of pitch-flavored Retsina wine, mostly for decoration, as it was only imbibed by the very brave (including, strangely, one very blonde, blue-eyed Long Islander friend of mine who, mysteriously, made a mean Pastitsio – Greek macaroni and cheese) or very drunk.

The last year we threw the party, I was at Aphrodite and got into a conversation with the women behind the counter on the merits of various countries’ feta cheese. With vigorous discussion, we all managed to agree that Bulgarian was our favorite, and I went on to picking out olives. One of them asked me the menu for the party, and I started rattling off the dishes I was undertaking.

When I got to tabouli, she perked up and said in an authoritative tone, "Oh, let me tell you how to make a bulghur salad. People from Syria and Lebanon call it tabouli, but we call it kisir and this is how we made it back home in Turkey." She launched into describing the recipe, then the phone rang. She went to get it.

The other woman watched her go, and when she was out of earshot, she lowered her head, leaned forward, and said to me in a conspiratorial and somewhat irritated tone, "I’m from Syria. Let me tell you the real way to make tabouli," then launched into her recipe.

I desperately hoped she’d finish her recounting before the other woman came back, or I suspected our peace accord on feta would be entirely forgotten and they would come to blows.

This cemented in my mind that the best version of anything is probably the version the person’s mother you are talking to made.

So my friend Keith (nicknamed Kiki) is Lebanese, and when he offered me his tabbouleh recipe (see, there’s not even agreement on the spelling) he didn’t badmouth anyone else’s. He just told me, "Now mine doesn’t have a whole lot of parsley in it, but that’s just the way I do it." I told him I’d be thrilled to give it a try.

He gave it to me, and it’s below, and it is awesome. But I have, along with my many fruit and vegetable Problems, an Herb Problem: too much is never enough.

As I was following along with Keith’s recipe, I chopped up the 3/8 cup of parsley, and then stood and looked at it for a moment. I hesitated. I thought about restraining myself, and following the recipe as written. Then I picked up the knife again, chopped up the rest of the mammoth bunch of parsley and tossed in in with the rest of the ingredients.

The best version is one your mom made, unless it’s the version you’ve made your own.

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Chickpeas in a Curried Tomato Sauce with Black Mission Figs

Today, I figured out exactly what I should make with the rest of the figs that came in our CSA box from TD Willey last week, something I would really enjoy: a chickpea curry with tomatoes, figs and sweet spices.

Often, tomato-based curry sauces are sweetened with jaggery to tone down acidity and round out their flavor. That was the role I imagined the figs playing in this dish – I thought about the depth of sweetness they would deliver – it would be a caramelized note, a rounding note, but not a one-dimensional one like sugar provides.

And it turned out perfectly on the first try: a sweet-hot tomato sauce scented with coriander, ginger, cinnamon and anise, with background notes of cardamom and cloves. I have made a lot of tomato-based curries in my life, but I like this so well it might turn out to be a signature midsummer dish.

Only at the height of tomato season – because they’re insanely plentiful – can I bear to cook this many fresh tomatoes. The rest of the year, I wouldn’t buy fresh ones to make this; not only would it cost an arm and a leg, it just wouldn’t taste the same as what you can get out of a perfectly ripe summertime tomato. I use canned organic tomatoes the rest of the year in tomato-based sauces like this. It’s not the same, of course, but it means I appreciate the flavor of fresh all the more when I can have it.

Who knows – maybe this winter I’ll find myself making a canned tomato curry sauce with dried figs.

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If I’d Known Y’all Were Comin I’d ‘A Baked a Pie…

Foodblogs …or at least have put out fresh towels!  My goodness, well, sit down and I’ll get out some cheese and fruit and we’ll have a snack and chat.

Joan Obra was kind enough to mention me and Nicole Hamaker of Pinch My Salt in her article in yesterday’s Fresno Bee.  She had asked me some questions about the blog and online sources for local food info recently, but I had no idea she was putting us on the front of the Life section.

You can find the Corn, Tomato & Black Bean Salad with a Lime-Chipotle Dressing recipe she featured here.

Lemon-Sage White Beans Topped with Roasted Shallots & Frizzled Figs

I have figs on the brain, fairly, I think, following this weekend’s Fig Fest. I’ve been using the combination of figs and roasted shallots recently – I put both on a pizza recently along with blue cheese, which was great.

This idea sounded good, and it was, though I think if I did it again, I’d just enjoy the figs and shallots as a topping for the beans alone – the whole-wheat pasta was a little distracting.

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Might Not Post For A Bit

(Squeamish alert: kitchen injury described below.)

I accidentally got some fingertip in the fennel last night (bad hand positioning; I know better but was tired and was not being careful) and my left ring finger is out of service for a while, rendering me unable to touch type. I can still write longhand, but as my Tablet PC died a couple months ago and our scanner no longer has a working driver, that’s not much of a posting option.

This is, would you believe, in all the years I’ve been cooking, the first time I’ve had a mishap like this. I feel like an idiot, because, as mentioned above, I know better.

The initial adrenaline rush and subsequent stress of the situation were exhausting enough to knock down my functioning a bit – I had to send Chimp to the market today, as I just wasn’t feeling well enough to stand up for that long.

So I have been laying low, keeping my hand elevated to reduce swelling, watching cooking shows on PBS (ah, how I love the obsessive-compulsive nature of America’s Test Kitchen…makes me feel not so alone in the world…), being grateful for these and generally feeling sorry for myself. Well, mostly for my finger.

Corn, Tomato and Black Bean Salad with a Lime-Chipotle Dressing

We’ve been making salad for dinner. Given the heat, we’ve been making salad for dinner a lot. Last week, for instance, we managed to not turn on the stove for five consecutive days.

It’s fair to say that I have a bit of a taco salad problem. It’s been my favorite meal for, oh, about 20 years now. The way I satisfy that ongoing jag has shifted a bit, admittedly; this is light years away from iceberg lettuce in a deep-fried white flour tortilla.

But if you share with me a love for that spicy-cool-tart-crunchy-citrusy combination – not that I’m admitting to anything, but if, let’s say, you did something on the order of driving three exits down the Beltway to hang out at a fast-food restaurant that rhymes with Paco Hell in the middle of the night in high school, but have since turned your heart toward wholesome food – this is the salad for you.

This corn, tomato and black bean salad is one that can only be born at midsummer – it needs perfectly sweet-tart tomatoes, not to mention crunchy-sweet corn. Cilantro backs up the citrusy note of the lime-based dressing, and black beans and bulghur give it the heft that a main-dish salad should have.

Sure, the black beans make sense, but the bulghur might seem out of left field, right? It has a good reason for being there. It adds what I think is an essential chewy note, something that salads often lack. The bulghur fills that textural gap and makes the whole combination much more satisfying to eat.

Continue reading “Corn, Tomato and Black Bean Salad with a Lime-Chipotle Dressing”

Baba Ganoush & The Eggplant Incident

My lack of love for eggplant has been previously mentioned herein.  Each summer, though, the tide of eggplant rises along with the other nightshades – tomatoes, peppers – and eventually, a globe or two shows up in our CSA box from T&D Willey and I must dispense with it.  This was the week.

That "previously mentioned" link above – to a recipe for Royal Eggplant with Garlic, which is a really delicious smoky roasted eggplant puree with tomatoes, onions, spices and butter – is one of my two ways of coping with eggplant.  My other coping mechanism is baba ganoush.  Load eggplant up with olive oil, tahini & lemon juice, and really, there’s no reason not to eat it. 

It’s sad that I have two eggplant recipes and a bajillion ways of using just about every other kind of produce, but they are two really good eggplant recipes.

So, not having posted my baba ganoush recipe previously, that’s where I headed on Saturday.  The heat had broken (it was going to be 104 instead of 112; that’s what we mean in Fresno when we say it’s going to be "cooler") and so I took some time before the day got really hot to roast the eggplant in the oven.

This occasion is one of those times that I think I should buy a grill to avoid heating up the house with the oven, and then Chimp reminds me that you have to cook on a grill outside.  Well, scratch that when it’s 110.

I think I could skip buying the grill entirely; just oil the eggplant up and lay it on a well-scrubbed section of patio, then go out and kick it every 30 minutes or so.  Come to think of it, why don’t I have a solar oven?  And along with that, why isn’t every roof in this town covered with solar panels?  You’d think we could make a mint.  I must be missing something.

But I’m getting off track here.

I came home from the market, washed the eggplant, and popped it in the oven to broil while I washed some shallots (for something else) to roast along with the eggplant.  I was tossing the shallots in a dish with some grapeseed oil and salt when

POOOFFfffffsssssss.

"Aha," I thought to myself, "That must be the eggplant exploding."

I opened the door.  My oven had birthed a Japanese tentacle monster.

Exploding the eggplant was not originally part of my baba ganoush recipe, but if you, like me, are tired or forgetful and omit the step of pricking the eggplant before you place it in the oven, I want you to know that this recipe has been tested with both exploded and intact eggplant on separate occasions, and both kinds work just fine.

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