Sunday, August 16, 2015

Turkish Style Turkey Kebabs

It seems somewhat of a paradox ... the cusine of the country called Turkey does not have any recipes for the animal, turkey.  This paradox has its root in history.   The country occupies a peninsula known as Anatolia, and, the people who lived there have been referred to as Turks since as early as the 1300s.  The Turks lived in a rather strategic place, situated at the cross-roads of commerce.

At one end, there were the British.  They began to import a bird known by scientists as Numida meleagris, or the helmeted guinea fowl.  While the birds originated from Madagascar, it was Turkish merchants who sold the birds to the British.  After a while, the British referred to the merchants as "Turkey merchants," and then referred to the birds themselves as "turkeys."  Mark Forsyth, The Turkey's Turkey, New York Times (11/27/13). 

A couple centuries later, Spanish explorers encountered strange birds in the New World.  These birds, known to scientists as Melagris pellolavo, were soon exported to the Old World, including the British Isles.  Although this bird differed from the helmeted guinea fowl, the distinctions were lost upon the Europeans, who thought the bird tasted as good, if not better than the turkeys from the Turkey merchants.  Thus, they gave the New World bird the same name as the Old World bird, "turkey." 

This brings be back to the paradox.  The country, Turkey, has a cuisine that is rather devoid of any turkey recipes.  I now offer up my contribution, in some respect, with a recipe for Turkish Style Turkey Kebabs.  Turkish cuisine is renowned for its kebabs, and, there is no shortage of recipes for Turkish kebabs on the internet.  For this turkey kebab, I poured over many different recipes to find ingredients that would work well together.  In the end, I settled on a recipe that featured cumin, coriander, nutmeg and red pepper.   These flavors worked very well as a rub and, more importantly, it did not require any marinating for hours or overnight.

This was a very good recipe and it could work very well with other meats, most notably chicken.  If I happen to come across any helmeted guinea fowl, a/k/a the original turkeys, then I might just try this recipe to cook that bird.

Recipe adapted from Today's Parent
Serves 4

1 1/2 pounds of boneless, skinless turkey thighs, cut into 1 inch cubes
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander seed
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Bamboo skewers
1 tablespoon of olive oil

1.  Prepare the skewers.  Mix the ground cumin, coriander, nutmeg, salt and pepper together.  Brush the cubes with some olive oil and then sprinkle the spice mixture onto the turkey.  Rub the mixture in well.  Thread the turkey onto the bamboo skewers, leaving room between each piece to ensure uniform cooking.  Cover the skewers and refrigerate for at least one hour.

2.  Grill the skewers.  Approximately fifteen minutes before grilling, remove the skewers out of the refrigerator.  Heat a gas or charcoal grill over high heat.  Brush some olive oil carefully onto the grates to prevent sticking.  Thereafter, place the skewers on the grill.  Cook the skewers for 2-3 minutes, then turn the skewers.  Cook for an additional 1-2 minutes and turn the skewers again.  Repeat this process until the turkey is cooked through.


Monday, August 10, 2015

Grilled Broccoli

I hate broccoli.  I really hate broccoli.  I hate it so much that I find myself repeating how much I hate broccoli.  If I could, I would ban broccoli from plates across the country.  That desire is the one and only position that I share in common with the 41st President, George Herbert Walker Bush.  

Over 15 years ago, President George H.W. Bush banned broccoli from the plates served at the White House.  According to the New York Times, President Bush not only declared that he did not like broccoli, but he stated, "And I haven't liked it since I was a little kid and my mother made me eat it. And I'm President of the United States, and I'm not going to eat any more broccoli!"  Many a time I have made that same declaration!

But alas, I live with my beautiful Angel, who loves the flowering cabbage that the Italians call "broccolo" and, hence, what we call "broccoli."  She has rightfully pointed out that I do not eat enough vegetables (a fact that is somewhat reflected in this rather meat-centric blog).  Broccoli has a lot of health benefits, including the ability to help lower cholesterol, as well as provide some important vitamins and phytonutrients.

I think that my opposition to broccoli comes from eating steamed broccoli.  I have never really been a fan of the taste of steamed broccoli.  Even knowing the health benefits of broccoli cooked in this fashion, I still figuratively hold my nose whenever I eat it.  

Nevertheless, I wanted to make some broccoli for my beautiful wife, so I went searching for a recipe.  That search led me back to the the New York Times.

Sam Sifton of the New York Times provided a very simple recipe for grilled broccoli.  Just a few ingredients -- balsamic vinegar, tamari or soy sauce, olive oil, and salt -- come together for a very interesting "marinade" that goes on the broccoli just before grilling.  This recipe produces some very tasty broccoli that ultimately led to a caveat to my previous declaration: "I am not going to eat any more broccoli, unless it is grilled." 

A recipe from the New York Times
Serves 4

1 head of broccoli, about 2 pounds, cored and cut 
     into 1 inch florets
3 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons of tamari or soy sauce
1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 tablespoon of flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
Kosher salt, to taste
Flaky sea salt (optional)

1.  Prepare the grill. Heat the grill, either charcoal or gas, to high.

2.  Prepare the "marinade." In a large bowl, whisk the tamari or soy sauce and the balsamic vinegar together. Add the olive oil while whisking vigorously.  Add the broccoli and toss to coat.   Sprinkle lightly with kosher salt.

3.  Grill the broccoli.  Place a grill basket on the grill and add the broccoli to it.  Grill, tossing frequently, until the florets are crisp and tender with just a little bite to them, approximately 10 to 12 minutes.  If you don't have a grill basket, lay the florets out on the grill in a single level and use tongs to turn them frequently.  More work, same result.

4.  Finish the dish.  Transfer the cooked broccoli to a platter or bowl, drizzle with a little olive oil, sprinkle with parsley, and, if using, a pinch or two of sea salt.


Saturday, August 8, 2015

Cellar Rats Russian Imperial Stout

The use of a hammer and sickle on a label for a Russian Imperial Stout seems to be somewhat of a paradox.  A historical contradiction.  After all, the Russian Imperial Stout style emerged in the court of the Czar Peter the Great.  British brewers increased the alcohol and hops in their porters to create a beer that could be transported to St. Petersburg.  The beer continued to thrive in the courts of successor Czars, such as Catherine the Great.  According to one historian, "The Empress of all Russia is so partial to Porter that she has ordered repeatedly very large quantities for her own drinking and that of her court."  The History and Antiquities of the Parish of St. Saviour, Southwark.

Yet, the hammer and sickle is the emblem of the Soviet Union, whose founders overthrew the Czarist court, executed the Czar, and implemented a version of communism that lasted over eight hundred years.  While Soviet leader may have been preoccupied in Western imperialism, that focus was not on British beers.  One could safely assume that most Soviet leaders drank vodka, and a lot of it.    

This discussion is prompted by Cellar Rats Brewery's Black Rat Imperial Stout, whose label contains that historical contradiction.  According to the Beer Judge Certification Program, a Russian Imperial Stout should appear a very dark reddish brown to jet black, with a rich and complex aroma that should feature roasted malts, hops, and alcohol and a taste that could be reminiscent of bitter or unsweetened chocolate, cocoa or roasted coffee.  

The brewers at Cellar Rats have produced a Russian Imperial Stout that fits comfortably within the style.  The stout pours a jet black color, and a thick, puffy foam.  It has aromatic elements of roasted coffee.  Those earthy notes carry over to the taste, which is full of mellow, roasted malt notes wrapped in a thin sheet of booziness.  There is a little bitterness on the palate, most likely from the roasted malts, but also from the hops.  This bitterness is not overwhelming and does not detract from the overall smooth, mellow nature of this beer. 

I have to say that this is one of the better Russian Imperial Stouts that I have tasted.  I was given a bottle of this beer to try by my father, so I don't know the price of the beer or where to find it.  Given Cellar Rats Brewery is based on Madison, Ohio, I am sure that you can find the beer in Ohio.   If you see it on a menu or see a bottle in the store, it is worth trying.  


Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Grilled Steak with Green Sriracha

One of the things on my culinary bucket list is to make my own hot sauce.  It may not seem like much, especially to cooks and chefs who could easily make a hot sauce for various dishes.  However, I love hot sauce.  I really, really LOVE hot sauce.  I usually keep at least 3 or 4 different types of hot sauce on hand in our refrigerator, including the "staples," like Tabasco and Sriracha. 

Recently, I came across a recipe for a grilled steak with a green sriracha sauce.  A sriracha sauce is a type of hot sauce typically made from chiles, distilled vinegar, garlic, sugar and salt. The sauce is Thai in origin, often called sot Siracha; the name comes from the city of Si Racha, which is located in the Chonburi province of eastern Thailand.  The sauce is typically used in Thai cuisine as a condiment; and, it even finds its way into Vietnamese cuisine, served alongside bowls of phở.

Sriracha is particularly popular in the United States.  Given that over one ton of Sriracha sauce is produced every hour, it has found its way into many grocery stores and restaurants across the United States.  The supply is readily eaten by demand, including one person who consumed three bottles of it at one time.  While I have consumed my fair share of Sriracha sauce, I have never simply guzzled the hot sauce.  It is best drizzled over food, especially fried or grilled foods.

While the red Sriracha sauce is almost ubiquitous, the green sauce seems more intriguing and it is one that I have never tried before.  The recipe incorporates green chiles -- roasted poblano peppers and serrano chiles -- with a range of fresh ingredients such as basil, chives, cilantro, lemongrass, lime leaves and coconut.  The poblano peppers add depth to the flavor of the sauce, while the serrano chiles provide quite the kick, which one would expect.  The end result is a hot sauce that is in many respects better than the red Sriracha.  Maybe it is the use of fresh ingredients, prepared using a blender.  Maybe it is the tartness of the lime juice contrasted with the heat of the serranos, along the field of chives, cilantro, basil and mint.  Maybe it is just that I love most of what I make.    

Recipe from Food & Wine
Serves 4

3 large poblano chiles 
2 serrano chiles
3 large garlic cloves, peeled & smashed
1/2 cup fresh ginger, sliced
1 half-inch piece of turmeric or
     1/2 teaspoon of ground turmeric
1 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
2 loose cups of basil leaves
2 loose cups of mint leaves
1 1/2 cups of snipped chives
1/2 cup of chopped cilantro
4 kaffir lime leaves, shredded
1 lemongrass stalk, tender inner bulb, bottom 4 inches
     peeled and thinly sliced
1 cup canola oil, plus more for grilling
1/4 cup of lime juice, plus 2 tablespoons
Kosher salt
4-5 pounds of steak, such as flank steak or skirt steak, cut into 
     4 even sized pieces

1.  Prepare the Green Sriracha.  Roast the poblano chiles directly over a gas flame, turning, until charred and tender.  Transfer to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let cool.  Peel, core and seed the poblanos.  Transfer the poblanos to a blender.  Add the serranos, garlic, ginger, turmeric, coconut, basil, mint, chives, cilantro, lime leaves and lemongrass and pulse to chop.  With the machine on, add the 1 cup of oil and puree.  Add the lime juice and season the green Sriracha with salt. Once the sauce is made, it can be refrigerated for up to three days.

2.  Grill the steak.  Light a grill.  Brush the steaks with oil and season with salt.  Oil the grill grates and grill the steaks in batches over high heat, turning once or twice, until the meat is lightly charred and medium rare, 5 to 6 minutes.  Cook a little longer, 1 to 2 minutes more, to obtain medium, if that is your desired doneness.  Transfer to a carving board and let rest for 5 minutes before slicing across the grain.  Serve the steak with the green Sriracha.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Malohta (Green Beans with Walnuts)

Green bean dishes are somewhat tricky for me. The difficulty does not come from cooking with green beans.  Instead, the trick is finding a recipe that I will want to eat ... and eat again.  A while back, I came across a rather simple dish of sauteing beans in butter, garlic, salt and a little lemon juice.  That recipe has become a standby, and I make it often.  Too often, in fact.  And, recently, I decided that I needed to find another green bean dish to make.

I turned to the trusty Internet to find me a recipe, focusing on one that I would like enough to make again and again.  After perusing recipes, one recipe caught my eye ... Malohta.  This is a Turkish green bean dish that originates from the Black Sea region.  I decided to give this dish a try and I have to say that I was not disappointed with the result.

The one ingredient that sets this dish apart is the use of walnuts.  I've seen many a green bean recipe that used almonds.  Walnuts provide a different taste and texture to the dish.  The pinch of coriander also adds some additional flavor that was lacking in other green bean recipes.  When the walnuts and coriander are added to more traditional ingredients, such as garlic, lemon juice and crushed red pepper, the end result is a very tasty green bean dish.

Serves 4

Approximately 1/2 pound of green beans, washed and trimmed
2-3 tablespoons of lemon juice
1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup of walnuts, ground
1 garlic clove, smashed with salt
1/2 teaspoon of crushed red pepper
1 pinch coriander

1.  Cook the beans.  Cut the beans in 2 or 3 pieces depending on how long they are.  Boil in salty water until they are softened, then drain.  Pour lemon juice and olive oil and toss.

2.  Finish the dish. Mix the walnut with garlic red pepper, coriander, salt and pepper.  Toss with green beans.  Leave in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours before serving. 


Wednesday, July 8, 2015


One of my favorite styles of beers is the chile beer or a beer brewed with peppers.  Some brewers produce beers that highlight a particular pepper, such as Rogue's Chipotle Ale.  Other brewers incorporate chiles into beers inspired by the Mexican mole, such as New Holland's El Mole Ocho, Ska Brewing's Mole Stout, and New Belgium's Cocoa Mole.  (As an aside, mole beers are probably my favorites.)

Then there is Stone Brewing's Punishment.  This is a chile beer that only Stone could produce.  Brewed in its in-your-face style, Stone Brewing takes its Double Bastard Ale (an excellent beer in its own right) and then adds peppers.  A lot of peppers.  Red and green jalapenos.  Black nagas.  Caribbean red hots.  Moruga scorpions and fatalia.   All of these peppers produce a beer that practically breaks down the Scoville Scale.  They also give life and meaning to the name of the beer.  It is Punishment.

Let's begin with the fact that I am a chile head.  Hell, I came up with my own recipe known as The Inferno Steak, which uses nine different chiles in an ode to Dante's Inferno.  The phrase from Dante's writing -- "Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch'intrate", or "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here" -- is not only apt for that recipe, but for this beer.

The Punishment pours a darkish amber, brown in color.  There is a thin, light foam that quickly recedes, opening the beer for drinkers to take in its aroma.  That aroma is ground chiles.  The beer smells like any one of the many ground chiles in my spice pantry.  The aromatic elements do not burn the nose, but it nevertheless serves as a warning to those who would go ahead and take a sip.  

This is truly a sipping beer.  The reason is the sting of the peppers.  The combination of black nagas, Caribbean red hots, and moruga scorpions pack a punch, especially in the roof and back of the mouth.  Indeed, the sting is so much that I could feel it in my ears and my nose.  The burn of the peppers is a good thing, if you are a chile head.  If you are a beer connoisseur,  then it becomes a little more problematic.  The taste elements of the bourbon barrels are present in the first few sips, but they cannot stand up to the sting of the chiles.  In fact, the chiles are so overpowering, that even the Double Bastard Ale gets lost in the experience.   I had a difficult time discerning the caramel, butterscotch and, eventually, the bourbon flavors.  Eventually, I could not even tell that this beer also packs a whopping 12% ABV.

Don't get me wrong, I like this beer, because I love chile peppers.  While I understand the goal of the brewers, brewing a beer that could embody its name, the Stone Double Bastard Ale is such a good beer that I would have liked for a better balance of the heat and the base beer.  

I would recommend this beer only if you can tolerate peppers such as habanero or scotch bonnets.   If you cannot, then I would recommend that you buy a bottle of the Double Bastard Ale.


Thursday, July 2, 2015

Insalata di Calamari

When it comes to squid or calamari, there is a debate among some.  If you go to many restaurants and order calamari, you get rings.  Pale white rings (more often than not, overcooked and chewy).   The rings are sliced portions of the body or mantle of the squid.  They are also the most boring part of the animal.

For me, the best part of the squid are the tentacles.  Not only are the tentacles more interesting in a visual sense, but they also have a texture and taste that is far better than the cut rings of the body.  I think this preference is due to my love of octopus, which is only served in the form of tentacles.  Grill those tentacles, like the Barbecued Octopus with Arugula and Mint, and I am in heaven. Many people do not share my affinity for the tentacles of octopus or squid.  That is too bad for them, because they are missing out on a great food experience.  

This recipe -- Insalata di Calamari -- is a very simple and very tasty way to incorporate not just those rings, but the tentacles.  The simple part of the recipe is the boiling of the squid for a couple of minutes.  That is the beauty of squid.  It cooks fast.  That beauty is also deceptive, because a minute too long in the boiling water, and you are left with a chewy mess.  If you can cook that squid right, the rest falls into place.  Some white beans, lemon juice and red onions.  Garnish with some chopped parsley.  The end product is an amazing, healthy salad that will become a go to for a dinner any night or a nice dish to serve to guests. 

Recipe adapted from Oscar Farinetti, How to Eataly at pg. 232
Serves 4

1 pound calamari, bodies and tentacles
16 ounces of cooked white beans
2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons of lemon juice
1/2 red onion, sliced thinly

1.  Bring a pot of water to boiling over high heat.  Add the calamari and cook until opaque, for 1 to 2 minutes.  Drain  and, while still warm, toss some cooked white beans and sliced onion.

2. Whisk together the lemon juice and extra virgin oil oil and dress the salad.  Refrigerate until chilled.

3.  Serve with an additional spritz of lemon juice and some minced flat leaf parsley.


Friday, June 26, 2015

Uighur Lamb Kebabs

Cooking can open doors, even to places where you may never physically take a step.  Cooking can also open eyes, allowing one to learn about the cuisine and traditions of other cultures and peoples.  The educational aspect of cooking is what I love and what often propels my cooking.

A few weeks back, I came across a recipe for Uighur Lamb Kebabs.  I am generally aware of the Uighur (or Uyghur) people.  They are a Turkic nationality spread across central Asia, but principally concentrated in Xinjiang, one of the westernmost provinces of China.  The Uighur share little in common with the (Han) Chinese.  The Uighur use a modified Arabic alphabet and they are predominantly Sunni Muslim. These facts more closely align the Uighur people with the Turkic peoples of the neighboring 'Stans, like Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.

Long before it became Xinjiang or part of China, the area inhabited by the Uighur people was a Khanganate and, later, a series of other kingdoms and khanates.  (That story is better left for a history blog.)  Although they lived in the desert, that desert sat in the middle of the Silk road.  The Uighur peoples, perhaps with the help of the Persians, were able to able to transform parts of the harsh land into oases with a series of irrigation systems.  These oases allowed for the cultivation of wheat, vegetables and fruit.  It also allowed for the raising of livestock, such as chicken, lamb and mutton.

Those meats, and even camel (bactrian only), are featured in Uighur dishes. Cooks often use spices such as cumin and red peppers, as well as other flavorings like raisins and animal fats.  Other interesting aspects to the cuisine include the use of certain spices, such as cumin, and local ingredients like pomegranates.  

Uighur Lamb Kebabs is a street dish that features some of the intriguing aspects of this cuisine.  The lamb is marinated in a mixture of onion, garlic and pomegranate juice.  The latter ingredient adds a little tartness to the flavor of the lamb.  While the ideal way to cook these kebabs would be over a charcoal grill, that lack of such a grill should not stop you.  The kebabs are still very delicious when prepared using a gas grill or even a broiler.   The final touch is a cumin salt, which, according to the source for this recipe, is the way these kebabs are finished in Xinjiang.  

In the end, this is a delicious recipe ... and I am not saying that because I am a big fan of kebabs.  The use of pomegranate juice presents an interesting twist to the preparation of the dish.  The slight dusting of cumin salt helps to add complexity to the flavor of this dish.  This is one that I will definitely keep on list of recurring recipes, even though the price of pomegranate juice can be expensive.  

Serves 4

1 pound of boneless leg of lamb or shoulder, cut into 
     approximately 1 inch squares, with some fat kept on
1/2 yellow onion
2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
1/4 cup pomegranate juice
1 teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
3/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper
Cumin salt (1 tablespoon kosher or sea salt and 1 teaspoon of ground cumin)

1.  Prepare the lamb. Process the onion into a paste in a food processor.  Add the pomegranate juice, garlic, oil salt and pepper to the onion paste and mix together.  Add the chunks of lamb in a bowl and cover with the marinade.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set in the refrigerator at least 2 hours to marinate.

2.  Grill the lamb.  Soak wooden skewers for about 30 minutes.  Thread the pieces of lamb onto wooden skewers, leaving enough space between them so the meat browns..  Heat the grill on medium high.  Grill for about 2 minutes on the first side then turn, cooking for 7-8 minutes more, turning the skewers so that they get an even color.

3. Finish the dish.  Combine the salt and cumin together.  Once the kebabs are cooked, sprinkle the cumin salt immediately on the kebabs as they come off the grill.  Serve with rice and flatbread.

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