Archive for the ‘Sides, Salads and Vegetables’ Category
Sweet potato fries is a food trend I am wholeheartedly happy about (unlike some other trends…cupcakes and cake pops, I’m looking at you). Because as much as I love regular french fries, I’ll take any excuse to trade them in for anything that has a higher sugar content. If their rising popularity then means that I can make this sugar-addict substitution at almost every restaurant/bar/diner that I go to, well, then all the better.
This trend has circulated through the internet, in the most common form of baked sweet potato fries. Although they never, ever compare to their deep-fried counterparts that I so greedily order every time I see them on a menu, I make them. A lot. In these many trials of baking batches of sweet potato fries, I’ve learned certain ways that I like them, and certain ways that I don’t. This recent post by My New Roots made me reconsider how I made them even more, and has sent me on a renewed frenzy of at-home efforts of baked sweet potato fries. At the end of all this, I figured why not share my newly gained and (obviously) valuable wisdom with you all? So, I present to you, in order of importance:
My Thoughts on Making the Most Ideal Sweet Potato Fries Possible (considering their unfortunate position of not being deep-fried)
1. Space. You can’t just dump a pile of cut sweet potato fries onto a baking sheet and expect them to develop into anything other than soft, steamed piles of mush (this is a situation where I actually do not want mushy vegetables, surprising as that may be). I know it seems like a pain to individually place them onto a baking sheet, and perhaps even having to use two baking sheets in order to leave enough space between each fry, but trust me! It’s worth it, always worth it.
2. Size. This is an obvious one, but the fries should be cut into as close a size as possible. It’s not so much how big or small the fries are, but how big or small they are in relation to one another. Otherwise you’ll end up with pure-crisped-black carbon sticks alongside fat and still raw hunks of sweet potato. This can sometimes be tricky, I mean have you seen sweet potatoes? They are a big misshapen bunch. You just do the best you can, that’s all you can ever do.
3. Soak (& Dry). I got this one from My New Roots’ post, and I think it’s awesome. She recommends that you swish the cut, raw fries in a bowl of water to release some of their starches. This allows them to crisp up better. However, in doing this, it is of the utmost importance that you thoroughly dry the fries, and preferably let them air-dry for at least a good 10 or 15 minutes or so while the oven is heating up. While this is happening, I rinse and dry out the bowl (thoroughly), and use this bowl to swirl the dried fries with the olive oil, salt, and either cornmeal or cornstarch. It makes for a nice little system.
4. Cornmeal or Cornstarch. Ah, the coating. Frankly, it doesn’t really matter what you try to coat the fries with, because they’re never going to taste deep-fried and they’ll never have that crispy-crunchy-bite like they do when deep-fried. This is a sad fact of life, but if you can’t get over it I don’t know why you’re stooping to the level of baking your sweet potato fries in the first place. Anyway, the cornmeal idea came from My New Roots, and it does indeed lend the fries to have a certain crunch to them. I think I prefer the cornstarch though, as it kind of makes the surfaces of the fries puff up and get a little airy. Once again, these coatings only go so far, but they add a certain nice edge that regular, non-coated fries don’t have.
5. Good Dipping Sauce. Sauce makes everything better (especially sub-par things like baked versions of fried things). I’ve been pairing my sweet potato fries with a thick tahini-honey sauce for awhile now, and the combination is seriously awesome. Really, if you haven’t tried dipping your sweet potato fries in tahini, you’re missing out. (If you need convincing of this flavor combination, I’ve got the legitimacy of Ottolenghi on my side.) I’ve posted a really sloppy recipe that I made up below, but it’s the type of thing I go by taste with.
So, that’s about it. I think these little tips actually make for some pretty good baked sweet potato fries, so much so that every time I make them I consume a whole baked sweet potato for myself along with the entire small batch of tahini-honey dipping sauce. Then again, I always eat the entire baked sweet potato whether or not it was done well or not, so perhaps this is saying more about me and my eating habits than it is about the qualities of these fries. But you get it! These taste good.
(Oh, photos! What strange lighting you have! Sigh.)
Some more thoughts on … San Francisco & Santa Barbara: So in approximately 18 hours, more or less, I will be in a car with two of my closest friends headed for that great yet confusing state of California. It’s my last spring break of college, and my friends and I decided that this time would be best spent in the pursuit of a little sunshine and good food. We’ll be in San Francisco for 4 days or so, then down in Santa Barbara (a place you may remember that I go to every so often). I know San Francisco is a food mecca, and I’ve gotten the chance to go to some great places in a brief trip there last summer. But you all (Linda! Em! Etc!) know of probably a lot of great food bites. I’ve got Little Star and Zachary’s Pizza written down. Anything else you want to throw my way? Hopefully I’ll make a little post over next week, but if not, see you in a little bit. x
One Year Ago: Crustless Kale and Quinoa Quiche
Crispy Baked Sweet Potato Fries
Adapted & Inspired from My New Roots
1 medium-sized sweet potato, scrubbed, sliced into equally sized 1/4- to 1/2-inch sticks (no need to peel)
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons cornmeal or cornflour
1/2 teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
Fill a medium-sized bowl with water. Add the uncooked sweet potato sticks, swish them around for about a minute or so, then remove and thoroughly dry. Allow to air dry for at least 15 minutes or so (while the oven heats up or while you throw together the dipping sauce).
Rinse out and thoroughly dry the same medium-sized bowl you rinsed the sweet potato sticks in. Add the air-dried cut potatoes and the olive oil, and swish them around together with your hand to coat evenly. Add in the cormeal (or cornstrach) and salt, and continue to mix so the potatoes get coated evenly. Place the sticks on a greased or lined baking sheet, spaced evenly apart so they’re not overlapping. If you run out of space, use two baking sheets.
Bake in the preheated oven for 25-35 minutes, until they are golden brown, puffed, and crisp looking. I honestly don’t think it makes too big of a difference to flip them halfway through (especially considering the extra work it requires), but if you’d like, towards the end you can shake the pan gently so that some get turned over. Enjoy while hot!
Tahini-Honey Dipping Sauce
As I said before, these are really rough estimates. I usually just mix together a couple fairly big spoonfuls of tahini, a little spoonful of honey, a good squeeze of lemon, and enough water to get the right consistency. Obviously I can’t just say that though, hence why you see a little recipe below. But adjust to taste.
3 tablespoons tahini paste
1-2 tablespoons water
2 teaspoons honey
2 teaspoons lemon juice
Combine the tahini, 1 tablespoon water, honey, and lemon juice in a small bowl. Whisk until smooth, streaming in a little more water as necessary until you have a thick consistency. Adjust for taste and thickness.
So, things have been going. Some more than others, but everything’s been going. I’m in the midst of a deadline for the first draft of my thesis—which! I have promised myself not to whine on about on here because really, I can barely stand the endless amount of lamenting from my peers regarding their theses and academic pressures and figuring out which one of their many life options they should pursue following graduation blah blah blah and I’m one of them, so I can only imagine what it must seem like to any “outsiders.” (And in case you’re wondering, by outsider I mean irrelevant normal people in the real world, obviously.) But, seeing as that thesis and those other life worries have basically been swallowing my life whole in periodic cycles throughout this semester, I’m sure all of that is bound to make it’s way on this blog in some way. Like it just has in this whole paragraph.
Another way it’s going to show up: through this photo that can accurately be titled both “As a break from writing on a Saturday night I tried to clean my room” or “I have too many books/magazines”—depending on how you want to look at it.
In other news, I’m thinking I should start a new feature on this blog: Mushy Humble Peasant Dishes that Make Me Feel Frugal and Satisfied. I’m joking, but it certainly feels like I’ve already started something like that, doesn’t it? I’m still in the mode where, when I head to the store, all I feel like grabbing from the shelves are vegetables. The only thing I feel like doing with them when I get home is cooking them is either roasting them or cooking them on the stove top until they’re mushy enough to puree in a soup, or in this case, spoon over a big pile of rice.
I think I’ve mentioned it briefly once before, but my boyfriend’s going to school in Beirut, Lebanon right now. Because he knows it makes me happy, during our nightly chats he’ll often tell me what he cooked for dinner or ate at a restaurant out with friends. For example, he’s already mentioned to me four times now how delicious crushed up mint leaves are in green tea (it gets all cloudy and delicious, he says), and he loves describing the mezze plates he shares with friends. One night, he praised a dish his roommate had made to share between the two of them. He described it as green beans “with the stems ripped off” (ha ha) stewed with onions and spices and tomatoes. He called it loubieh, and apparently it’s a pretty big dish there. Coincidentally, I had had this Saveur recipe for green beans stewed with chickpeas and tomatoes for quite a while.
It’s easy, really, and the process is not much more than how Waylon described it. I liked the idea of adding in chickpeas, as as the Saveur recipe indicated, so I went along with it. But seriously, not much more is going on than some vegetables bubbling away in a pot for about an hour. Season well, use good spices, good olive oil—and don’t be stingy with it—and you’ll end up with a plate of good things going on. It’s things like this meal, or the sun that has been peeping through clear skies in the morning, that have been the ones that are “going.” But I guess when you’ve got a good plate of food for dinner and a little sunshine, the other things don’t feel so overbearingly idle, at least momentarily.
One Year Ago: Juicy Blood Orange Cake
Lebanese-Style Stewed Green Beans with Chickpeas (Loubieh Wa Hommus)
Adapted from Saveur
Serves 4 to 6
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspons cumin seeds
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon paprika
1 1/2 pounds green beans, cleaned and trimmed
1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 (28-ounce) can whole, peeled tomatoes with juice
In a Dutch oven or large saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. Add in cumin seeds and cook, stirring often, for about 1 minute. Add the garlic and onion, season liberally with salt and pepper (talking about at least a teaspoon of kosher salt), and cook, stirring freqently, until the onions are soft and lightly browned, about 8 to 10 minutes.
Add the tomato paste and paprkia and cook, stirring often, until the tomato paste is slightly caramelized and fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the green beans, chickpeas, 2 cups of water, and the tomatoes, making sure to crush the whole tomatoes with your hands as you add them. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low and cover the pot mostly with a lid (leave room for steam to escape). Simmer, stirring about every 10 or 15 minutes, until the beans are very tender, about 50 minutes to 1 hour. Turn off the heat and let sit for at least 15 minutes to let the flavors “meld.” Serve over rice or bulgar, with a drizzle of olive oil on top.
I know there’s been a lot of chatter about Jerusalem. (And yes, I know I’m late to the game on it (typical)). But as Tim commented in his earlier post today, all the chatter is for good reason: it’s an incredible cookbook. I wouldn’t be exaggerating when I say it’s the most beautiful cookbook I’ve ever owned—or seen, for that matter—and I don’t think it’d be too early for me to say that it’s also already become my favorite. It’s the type of cookbook that you keep very close with you in the kitchen because of the type of flavors and cooking it inspires, but it also is the type that you read every night before you go to sleep, glazing over the beautiful photography and all the little snippets and stories. I think those little stories are my favorite—I love how before each recipe there are notes not only about the technicalities of the flavors and ingredients, but also some really eloquent anecdotes and observations on food and life in Jerusalem and its surrounding areas. Under the heading of a humble recipe of fried cauliflower with tahini, for example, is this little note:
“For Jerusalemites, Arabs and Jews alike, the idea of dining alone is abhorrent. Eating is a celebration, a feast, it is about breaking bread and about conviviality, it is about abundance and sharing. As no one is particularly fussy about decorum and good table manners, the meal is always destined to turn into a lively gorge, with everybody sharing everything, happy to dig into one another’s plates, to grab and move plates around until truly satisfied. It is not a particularly orderly or calm way to eat, but it is certainly a very happy one.”
Oh! Doesn’t that comment just make you feel so good and happy with the world? It’s these little comments, I think, that make this book so special to me. Seriously, my twin sister Lindsey is considering buying it as a coffee table book for its commentary and photographs. I hate to over-do the shower of praise on this book, but I guess my main intention here is to make you feel guilty if you haven’t bought or looked it at yet. So get it.
Anyway, of all the recipes to choose from, I picked the one that is cheap to make, simple, and of which I had most of the ingredients on hand. In this case, I had a bunch of sweet potatoes to use up, so I substituted them for the butternut squash that was originally called for. Besides, a few days earlier I had made baked sweet potato fries for dinner and a tahini-honey dipping sauce to go with them and that combination was good, so I knew the substitution wouldn’t be too out of line here. But if I were to be honest with you, I’m guessing the butternut squash would be better in this (and really, who was I to question Ottolenghi and Tamimi in the first place?). I still really, really liked all of these flavors together. Imagine sweet-savory caramely-roasted sweet potatoes and red onions, with the creamy but bitter tahini and za’atar, and just a sprinkling of oily pine nuts and parsley. It’s quite the dish.
A word about the ingredients: as I’m sure most of you are aware, za’atar is a Middle Eastern spice blend that combines dried thyme, sumac, and roasted sesame seeds. There are some different (really delicious) variations of this, but the classic one looks like a strikingly deep-green powder. I bought mine at a Lebanese grocery store in my city that imports it in from Jordan, but Heidi just did a post on making homemade za’atar. It’s an awesome spice mix to have around though; I personally just like it by itself with some olive oil and warmed pita.
One Year Ago: Quiona, Arugula and Roasted Broccoli Salad with Feta
Roasted Sweet Potatoes & Red Onions with Tahini & Za’atar
Adapted slightly from Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s Jerusalem
Serves 4, more or less (I made two main-course meals out of it)
The original recipe calls for butternut squash, which I think would be ideal in this, but sweet potatoes are what I had on hand so that’s what I used. I peeled my potatoes, but I think next time I’d leave the skins on–that goes for the butternut squash, too. Also, as you’ll notice in the photos, I used two different pans to roast the potatoes and onions in. My baking pan wasn’t big enough to include them both and I thought it’d be easier to have them separated in case the onions cooked faster (in my case, they didn’t). Something to keep in mind, though, if you don’t have a pan large enough to accommodate all the vegetables.
2 pounds sweet potatoes (about 2-3), cut into 3/4 by 2 1/2 inch wedges
2 red onions, halved through the root and cut into 1 1/4 inch wedges
3 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, separated
3 1/2 tablespoons light tahini paste
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice (about 1/2 a juicy lemon)
2-4 tablespoons water
1 small clove garlic, crushed and minced
3-4 tablespoons pine nuts
1 tablespoon za’atar
small handful coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley
Preheat oven to 475 degrees F. Place the squash and onion on a large baking sheet, or two–you should have enough space to be able to spread out all the vegetables evenly. Drizzle 3 tablespoons of the olive oil evenly over the vegetables, and season liberally with about 1 teaspoon kosher slat and some black pepper. Toss everything together to coat. Roast in the oven for 30 to 40 minutes, until the vegetables are cooked through and edges begin to darkly brown. Take care to check the onions and potatoes separately, as they might be done at different times. Remove from oven and let cool slightly.
Meanwhile, prepare the tahini sauce. Whisk together the tahini, lemon juice, 2 tablespoons of the water, and 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt in a small bowl. The consistency should be that of honey–you may have to add a tablespoon or two of water more to dilute it, or even a tablespoon or so of tahini to thicken it. Set aside until ready to use.
To prepare the garnish, heat the remaining 1-2 teaspoons of olive oil in a small skillet over medium-low heat. Add the pine nuts and a good few pinches of kosher salt and cook, stirring often, for about 2 minutes or until the nuts are golden brown. Remove from heat immediately.
To assemble everything, spread the roasted vegetables onto a serving platter. Drizzle the tahini over it, followed by the pine nuts (and any oil left over), the za’atar, and the parsley.
I’ve haven’t stopped in here with something to share in far too long for my liking. I have nothing to say for myself except that maybe, possibly, I have a severe case of laziness. Laziness both in terms of making something to eat that isn’t some form of cheese or vegetable or egg (or some combination of the three) on toasted bread, and then more laziness towards actually putting in the slight additional effort to photograph anything decently. However, that’s not to say I still haven’t been eating well. Toast is pretty tasty, it turns out.
But, I decided that as an excuse for me to post something and say hi, I’d share a simple bean salad that I’ve eaten a couple times over the past two weeks. I guess it’s so simple that it barely constitutes a recipe, but no matter! I’ve been picking up a combination of yellow and purple-tinted wax beans as well as regular green beans at the farmers market the past few weekends. Going to the farmers market these past saturdays has been one of the few perks in returning to a college city that I normally otherwise lovingly refer to as a cultural wasteland. In the slow transition from summer into fall here, I don’t have a firm grasp of what’s in season or not. I really am terrible at that. But I’ve just been grabbing things, like these beans, and they end up tasting good, very good. So thank you, farmers market, and sorry, city that I live in, for putting up with my complaints about your inferiority.
Anyway, in almost every instance, this is how I’ve been eating the share of beans I bring home every weekend. The recipe comes from Mireille Johnston, in her cookbook Cuisine of the Sun. I’ve been reading that book a lot lately when I try to figure out how to deal with any summer (especially late summer) produce. It’s almost always simple, and always delicious. The first time I made this bean salad, I brought it picnic-style for Lindsey and me to share on a day-trip to Portland when she was recently here visiting. We ate it at room-tempurature, in the sunshine, with a couple rolls of bread. It was awesome. I’ve since made it, sprinkling it with either basil or parsley depending on what I have, and eaten it warm. It’s a little bit of a lazy salad, I’d say, and it has been fitting in just right with me lately.
A simple provencal bean salad
Adapted from Mireille Johnston’s Cuisine of the Sun
Serves 4 (although a half serving of this has served solely as my meal on a couple occasions)
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 garlic clove, minced
1/3 cup olive oil
2 pounds green beans, rinsed
1/2 cup parsley or basil, chopped
For the vinaigrette, mix the vinegar, salt, a good pinch of black pepper, and the garlic in a small bowl. Drizzle in the oil, whisking the whole time, in order to emulsify the vinaigrette. Likewise, you could just stick all of the contents in a small glass jar with a lid and then shake it until it’s all combined. Set aside.
Bring a big pot of salted water to a boil. Meanwhile, snap off the tips of the beans. Cook the beans in the boiling water, uncovered, for about 4 to 5 minutes, until tender with a little bit of a bite still to them. Drain, and put the beans into a medium bowl. Add the vinaigrette to the still warm beans and toss immediately. Sprinkle the parsley or basil, and serve warm or at room temperature.