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.


Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Clams Calabria

Henry David Thoreau once wrote, "We found some large clams ... which the storm had torn up from the bottom, and cast ashore.  I selected one of the largest ....  I kindled a fire with a match and some paper, and cooked my clam on the embers for my dinner."  Once cooked, Thoreau remarked, "I found it sweet and savory, and at the whole with a relish."

That is the ideal way of finding claims ... strolling along the beach and finding them just waiting to be collected and eaten.  Henry David Thoreau lived from 1817 to 1862, when that was perhaps one of the more common ways one could find a clam.  He also had the blessing of being near a beach where clams could be washed ashore.

Alas, for me (and you), it is not the nineteenth century and my proximity to a beach (and I am guessing that yours) is way beyond walking distance.  It is much closer and much easier to simply walk the aisles of the local grocery store and give thanks for the fact that about 150 years after Henry David Thoreau, the modern distribution system enables those stores to provide large clams.

Recently, the local grocery store had cherrystone clams, which are a relatively large clam.  As an aside, clams are categorized by name.  The smallest are referred to as "countnecks," increasing in size with names as "littlenecks," and "topnecks."  Larger clams are referred to as cherrystone clams and, if you still want to go bigger, then there are the quohog clams and chowder clams.  Most stores carry littleneck clams, and, everyone once in a while, they also carry cherrystones.

When I saw those clams sitting in ice, my mind immediately began thinking of recipes.  It has been a long time since I cooked with clams.  My thoughts immediately turned to chowder.  However, it is June.  The hot weather is not exactly chowder weather.  Then I thought about taking the ingredients in a chowder - potatoes, onions, and bacon - for a topping that could be put on the clams.  At that point, I saw a display with dried sausages, including a hot Calabrian-style sausage.  Substitute that sausage for the bacon and I had a recipe ready to be made.

This recipe is relatively simple ... borrowing from my days cooking in a seafood restaurant.  The clams are steamed in a pilsner beer, although white wine and even water will work fine.  I just happened to have a bottle of beer handy for this dish.  As the clams steam, which takes a while due to their large size, I sauteed the onions, potatoes and some garlic.  I added some paprika and oregano for flavoring.  Once the topping was cooked, I added the sausage.

This was an easy dish to make, and, the topping is quite good.  However, as much as I liked this recipe, I have to admit that nothing is better than a perfectly steamed cherrystone clam by itself.

A Chef Bolek Original
Serves 2

6 cherrystone clams
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1/2 cup of potatoes, finely diced
1/2 cup of sweet onions, finely diced
1/4 cup of dry Calabrian sausage
2 cloves of garlic finely diced
1 teaspoon of paprika
1/2 teaspoon of dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 bottle of pilsner beer or 12 ounces of white wine

1.  Prepare the topping.  Heat the olive oil over medium high heat.  Add the onions and potatoes.  Saute until the onions are soft, about 3 to 5 minutes.  Add the garlic, paprika, oregano, salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Saute for 1 to 2 minutes more.  Turn down heat to low.

2.  Steam the clams.  While the onions and potatoes are sauteing, heat the beer or white wine over high heat in a pot with a cover.  Once the beer or wine begins to boil, add the clams and cover.  Steam the clams for about 5 to 7 minutes or until all clams have opened.  

3.  Finish the dish.  Remove the clams from the beer and wine, remove the top part of the shell.  Add the sausage to the onion and potato mixture.  Spoon the mixture over each clam with a slotted spoon to ensure that the least amount of oil is added to the clams.  Serve immediately. 


Monday, May 25, 2015

Catfish Milanese

If you want to trace the impact of a cuisine upon the world, then all you have to do is pick a recipe.  For example, take the dish known as Milanesa (or Milanese in English). Originating in Milan, Italy, a Milanesa is a breaded veal cutlet. The original recipe required a cutlet from a milk-fed veal, bone-in, and fried in clarified butter in the manner that one would fry Weiner Schnitzel. It is known as Cotoletta alla Milanesa

During the Italian diaspora in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century, many emigrants took this dish to their new homes, many of which were in the Western Hemisphere.  The breaded cutlet dish found a new home in restaurants, especially in South America.  The dish evolved over the years and decades, with cooks breading much more than veal.  They breaded chicken cutlets and beef cutlets.  Cooks in different countries also made their own mark on the dish.  For example, in Argentina, Bolivia and Uruguay, cooks prepared the cutlets with potatoes, calling it Milanesa con papas frites.  Milanesa has become so common, particularly in Latin American countries, that one could think that the dish originated in the New World, as opposed to restaurants and homes half a world away.

Drawing from the New-World inspiration, I decided to make a variation of a Milanesa.  This variation did away with the meat, and relied upon fish.  In particular, I used blue catfish for this dish.  The blue catfish originated in the Missouri, Mississippi and Ohio river basins; however, the fish were introduced into rivers in nearby Virginia.  The blue catfish are a very sturdy species and have made their way into the Chesapeake Bay.  The blue catfish has done so well, that it is considered an invasive species in the Chesapeake Bay, threatening the Bay's iconic residents, most notably, the blue crab. 

While the blue catfish may not have many natural predators in the water, it has a very big predator outside of the water.  Given its designation as an invasive species, and its threat to native species, it is always open season to catch blue catfish and cook them around here.  Indeed, unlike the iconic rockfish (which has a 1 to 2 fish catch limit), the State of Maryland does not place any limit on catfish.

When I came across blue catfish fillets in my local grocery store, I thought that these fillets were perfect for a Milanese recipe.  The fillets were just thick enough that they could be breaded and fried like a chicken or veal cutlet.  The fillets also appeared hardy enough to serve as an adequate substitute for meat.  My initial thoughts proved accurate, as the blue catfish worked extremely well in a Milanese recipe.  The only hitch is that, unlike veal or chicken, one cannot pound catfish to get the desired thickness.  Therefore, it is very important to purchase fillets that are even in thickness and just thick enough to stand up to about six or eight minutes of cooking.

A Chef Bolek Original
Serves 4

4 catfish fillets, about 6-8 ounces each 
2 large eggs 
1 1/2 cups of panko breadcrumbs
4 tablespoons of butter
1 lemon, juiced
6 tablespoons of olive oil
3 cups of arugula, lightly packed

1.  Bread the catfish.  Place the panko bread crumbs on one dish.  Beat the eggs in a separate dish. Dip each filet in the beaten eggs and then into the bread crumbs.  Make sure the fillets are completely coated and press gently to adhere the coating the fillets.

2.  Fry the catfish. Heat 2 tablespoons of butter and 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium high heat.  Add 2 fillets and fry until brown and crisp, about 4 minutes.  Flip the fillets and continue to cook for about 2 minutes.  Remove to a plate lined with a paper towel and place in the oven to keep warm.  Repeat the process with the remaining fillets.

3.  Prepare the arugula.  Whisk 2 tablespoons of olive oil with the lemon juice.  Toss the oil and juice with the arugula, shallots, and tomatoes.

4.  Plate the dish.   Place the catfish in the center of the dish.  Add the arugula mixture over the catfish.  Serve immediately.


Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Green Fire Ribeye

It seems that chile heat is in vogue.  Turn on your television and your eyesight is burned with commercials for Wendy's Jalapeno Ghost Fries or Popeye's Ghost Pepper Wings.   The Ghost Pepper, officially known as the Bhut Jolokia, is one very spicy pepper.  The Scoville Rating for the Ghost Pepper, which is the official rating of piquancy, ranges somewhere from 855,000 units to 1,401,427 units.  By way of comparison, Tabasco sauce is approximately 10,000 units.

There is a part of me that loves the challenge of eating fiery foods.  I used to relish eating the spiciest food on the menu and my go-to dishes that I make usually involve combinations of various chiles.   However, as I have pursued cooking as a hobby, my desire to eat the fieriest food within reach has waned.  I think that, over time, it has become more about flavor than heat.  While I still love very spicy peppers and dishes, my attention has turned to ways in which I can highlight, complement or contrast the flavors of chiles.  It is very hard to pursue this goal when the chile, such as the Bhut Jolokia, could be used to simulate nuclear reactions in one's stomach.  

Consequently, I have looked to a wide range of other chiles, many of which have substantial, but not overpowering heat.  I have used Sanaam chiles, Piri Piri chiles, Scotch Bonnets, and others.   One of my most favorite chiles to experiment with is the Hatch chile.  It is definitely on the low end, with only about 1,000 to 2,500 units on the Scoville Scale. 

Sometimes less can be more.  When one uses a chile with a lower piquancy, it allows for other the flavors of other spices to shine in a rub or marinade.  This is what I tried to achieve with a recent rub that I made for a grilled steak.  I call it the "Green Fire" rub, because the backbone of the mix is ground green Hatch chiles.   I took advantage of the lower piquancy of the chiles to allow for other ingredients, such as coriander, garlic and cumin, to come through in the flavor of the rub.  The rub still packed a kick, because I made sure that a sizable amount of the ground chile was used.  About 1 teaspoon per per pound of meat.  This ensured a good amount of heat, without numbing taste buds or otherwise taking away from the dish.

A Chef Bolek Original
Serves 1

1 ribeye, about 1 pound
1 teaspoon ground green hatch chile
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon coriander
1/4 teaspoon cumin

1. Apply the rub.   Combine all of the spices and herbs in a small bowl.  Apply the rub to all sides of the ribeye.  Let the ribeye stand at room temperature for about ten to fifteen minutes.

2. Grill the ribeye.  Heat the grill on high heat.  Grill the ribeye for about three minutes, shift by 90 degrees, and grill for about 3 minutes more.  Flip and repeat for a total of six minutes.  Remove and let rest for 10 minutes.


Friday, May 1, 2015


Under a threatening sky, BESIEGED by rain clouds, lightening glinting in the hills, the winemaker worked alone to collect grapes destined for one of his debut wines. As he worked, the ravens cackled from above but instead of being harbingers of doom, they brought him good good fortune, becoming the totem for his winery.  The winery is Ravenswood.  And the wine.  It is Besieged.

I have to admit that the label caught my eye.  However, I do not buy wines solely on the label.  Many a bottle has stood on a shelf because I will not allow myself to be swayed by what is little more than marketing.  The one thing that led me to purchase a bottle of this wine was the blend ... Petite Sirah, Carignan, Zinfandel, Alicante Boushet, and Mourvedre.  I am a big fan of Petite Sirah, and have a great interest in both Carignan and Mourvedre.  But Alicante Boushet?  I had never heard of that varietal.  It was the prospect of having a wine made with a grape that I had never tasted.

The grape, Alicante Bouschet, is a hybrid, produced by crossing Petit Boushet and Grenache.  It was first cultivated by ... Henri Bouschet ... in 1866.  The result was a high quality grape that enticed French vineyards and winemakers throughout much of France, including Bordeaux, Burgundy and the Loire Valley, as well as by Portuguese vineyards in the Alentejo.  It is also a popular grape among winemakers and vineyards in California, including Joel Peterson of Ravenswood.

The Besieged pours a dark red to almost black. Something that echoes the colors of a raven's wings.  The aroma is full of fresh, ripe dark fruit, such as blackberries, black cherries and plums.  There is a slight spice or pepper in the background, but it struggles to make itself known amongst the fruit.

As for the taste, I have to say that I was truly impressed with this wine.  The elements include the fruit -- blackberry, black cherry, and plum.  The winemakers also suggest a rather peculiar spice ... cardamom.  And, I have to say, I actually picked up the cardamom in the wine.  It revealed itself for just a few moments before being wrapped in the dryness of the tannins in the wine. The finish is a little dry, but that is to be expected given the use of Zinfandel and Mourvedre.

When it comes to pairing, this wine is perfect for a grilled steak or other grilled meat, such as chicken or pork.  The fruit flavors, and the cardamom, contribute to the flavors of the grilled meat.  I paired this wine with my Green Fire Ribeye, which is a grilled steak with a rub made of green Hatch chile, coriander, cumin, onion powder and garlic powder.  Notwithstanding the use of chile powder, the wine still worked very well because the tannins are relatively tame.

I found this wine in a local grocery store.  A bottle runs from $14.99 to $16.99.

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