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.

Continue reading “Tabbouleh a la Kiki”

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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.

Continue reading “Chickpeas in a Curried Tomato Sauce with Black Mission Figs”

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.

Continue reading “Lemon-Sage White Beans Topped with Roasted Shallots & Frizzled Figs”

Fig Fest Favorites

When I was getting ready to go to the market and to Fig Fest on Saturday, I thought to myself, “I’ll just eat a little breakfast. I don’t want to be totally not hungry when I get there.” So I made myself my regular amount of oatmeal and ate about half of it, figuring (heh!) I was leaving room for figs.

Boy, did that come back to bite me. I had worried that maybe there wouldn’t be that many things for me to eat as an herbivore, but that certainly wasn’t a problem. There were plenty of things for a vegetarian to eat – and you’ll see my favorites below – but most of my favorites were sweets. By 10 a.m., I had such a sugar rush on that my head felt like it was vibrating. I wished I’d had more oatmeal.

Here’s the scene, at 9 a.m., pre-event: an enormous tent, matched by a similarly enormous line out front. A few people are clearly chomping at the bit, calling out “Open the gate!” I walked down one side of the tent outside to get the lay of the land (read: see where the best-looking snacks were) before getting in line. Following are my favorites of the day, in no particular order. Keep in mind that admission to this event was only $5.
Five dollars! Seriously!
And look at what there was to choose from, from some of the best restaurants in the area:

Bistro Rustico’s Grilled Fig and Candied Lemon Truffles

To be fair, I took this picture by sneaking into the tent before the event opened. I hadn’t paid for my wristband yet, so I didn’t take a truffle. And after that I never could manage to fight my way back to Bistro Rustico’s table to get one of these. However, I’ve had so many things made by Varouj that I’ve enjoyed that I’m going to put this among the favorites just on the concept.

Pangea’s Crostata with Honey-Mascarpone Cream, Sliced Almonds and Fresh Figs

The cream is a cream cheese/sour cream mixture with honey; it was appropriately sweet to match with the figs, but not so much so as to be cloying. The almonds were toasted and perfectly crisp and the pastry was light and sweet-cracker like.

Cracked Pepper’s Chocolate Fig Terrine with Port Wine

This was a bad thing to eat first thing in the morning, but oh, it was wonderful. The sweet, grainy figs were perfect with the chocolate and the port. On my first bite, I said to Vachte, “Is this basically a slice of ganache I’m eating?”

“Yes,” he replied.

You can’t go wrong with chocolate and cream.

Vachte also brought along his fig baklava, which I also enjoyed, and fig-glazed chicken wings, which looked beautiful. Market manager Felix told me later she absolutely loved the latter, but of course, I had to take a pass. Wonder if I could wheedle the recipe out of him to try the glaze on fried tofu?

Trelio Restaurant’s Goat’s Milk Ice Cream with Fig Syrup, Tahitian Vanilla Bean and Chocolate Mint

When Mike Shackleford from Trelio came to do the Chefs at the Market event, he did a salad that had chocolate mint in it. I thought it was inspired. I grew chocolate mint a couple years ago, and I had the toughest time finding ways to use it. I decided not to grow it again, but Mike might have changed my mind now. This was a mixed-milk ice cream, cow and goat. The fig syrup threw me at first – looking at it, I thought it was caramel, but of course, this is the Fig Fest, and it had much more depth than a plain old caramel.

The Chef’s Table’s Marinated Chinese Long Bean and Dried Fig Salad with Toasted Almonds and Olive Vinaigrette

I was delighted to see the matchups that the different chefs had chosen for the fig. This was one of a handful of savory dishes that got me thinking about how I could make more use of figs. The nicoise olive dressing was out of this world – I’m not sure I fully appreciated it after the copious dose of sugar I’d just ingested (did I mention I ate too much sugar?) but it was wonderful.

Elderberry House’s Linzer Cookies with Elderberry-Fig Jam

This was the lightest, most delicate melt-in-your-mouth cookie I’ve had in ages. It took ages to get to the Elderberry House table – everybody else was trying to do the same thing. I’ll admit, when I got there, I momentarily thought, “Just cookies?” but their simplicity was perfect and well-exceeded by their excellence.

The Vintage Press’s Fig Salad with Arugula & Balsamic Syrup and Goat Cheese Crostini

This little salad with a goat cheese crostini was a savory relief after all the sweets. The balsamic syrup was another excellent match to the figs. As with Pangea’s honey cream, the Vintage Press had managed to match the figs’ level of sweetness without the dressing veering into overload.

After I’d made my rounds of the tent, I was chatting with Shelby of Lone Willow Ranch (they grow tomatoes, she told me, and that’s an enormous understatement) when Tom Willey of TD Willey Farms took the stage to introduce Alice Waters.

Fresno had really made a showing for Alice. The parking lot was packed, the market was packed, the Fig Fest tent was packed. I was able to grab a seat to listen, though.

Alice began by saying that she’d known Tom for decades, and for years he’d been inviting her to come down to the Valley. The combination of how far it was and how hot it was had kept her away for a number of years, she’d said. But she’d braved the highway and the heat – and was glad she had.

She was very complimentary of the market – products to equal of those she’d seen anywhere, she said – and the market’s pavilion, with its high arch and grapevine cover. She launched into her passions: she talked about the benefit of human connection with the people who grow our food and fairly valuing that, as well as the necessity of teaching children to enjoy good food, and the ease of doing so by involving them in it directly, like her Edible Schoolyard work. By the end of her brief talk, I had tears in my eyes; I’m passionate about working to get the world eating better food too. Of course, it could have been all that sugar throwing me off the deep end. Did I mention I ate too much sugar?

After Alice, I stopped back at the Slow Food Madera table to talk to Shelby again and write a check for my membership. Then I headed back down to the market entrance to show Michele the pictures I’d taken of Alice. While I was standing there at the booth, Felix came walking toward me purposefully. She was clearly looking for me for some reason. Why, I thought?

“I’m so glad I found you. Someone just came up to me and said they have two extra tickets for the Fig Dinner and asked if I knew anyone who wanted them.”

Once I got done having Felix assure me she was serious, I squealed, hugged her, and jumped up and down for the second time that morning, then ran to my car to get my checkbook.

I was going to be able to keep the promise I made to myself last summer on my birthday, the day of the Fig Fest and the Fig Dinner, when I’d been to the market for the briefest of moments and was back home lying in bed, exhausted from that brief exertion to the degree that I was too sick to sit up. I was going to get to the Fig Dinner next year, I promised myself, and it turned out that I was going to get to the Fig Dinner after all.

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.

Continue reading “Baba Ganoush & The Eggplant Incident”

Chickpea and New Potato Salad with Shallot-Mint Dressing

I’ve always been puzzled by the heaviness of most potato salads.  It’s a summertime food, but the traditional mayonnaise-laden potato salad rarely reflects the freshness, herbaciousness and lightness I think summertime foods should have.

So though this is a potato salad, it goes for balance and bright, lively flavors rather than the starchy, heavy mayonnaisey strategy.  Shallots, fresh mint, lemon zest and garlic make up the dressing, chickpeas deliver a nutty flavor, and arugula a peppery bite.

This is quite the local salad – potatoes from T&D Willey, arugula and shallots from KMK Farms, garlic also from the market, lemon zest from my stash of Meyer lemon zest prepared during the winter from fruit from a friend’s tree. 

Chickpeas & mint are from WFM, as are the quite non-local pan-toasted slices of Cyprian Halloumi cheese served with it.  If you wanted cheese as part of this salad, a great many sheep’s milk cheeses would be a great match – from crumbled milky-salty Ricotta Salata to cubes of buttery-olivey Ossau-Iraty. Wish I knew of a local sheep’s milk cheese!

Continue reading “Chickpea and New Potato Salad with Shallot-Mint Dressing”