Feta and mint Persian sandwiches

February 14, 2009 at 6:59 am (My brain, Persian, Quick weeknight recipe, restaurant inspired, unrated)

There’s a tiny little tea and coffee shop in Saarbruecken that’s owned by a Persian family.  Everyday they offer a traditional Persian lunch, but the hot special is rarely vegetarian.  I do like their sandwiches, however.  The first one I tried was the feta and mint sandwich: half of a baguette spread with creamy feta, lots of fresh mint, and cucumber slices.  It was delicious–much better than the typical German cheese sandwiches.  I liked the sandwich so much I decided to make it at home.  However, I used up all my cucumbers making sesame noodles.  To replace the cucumbers, I added diced kalamata olives and thin slices of a fresh red chili from the Turkish market.  I don’t know what kind of chili it is, but it’s bright tasting and hot but not too hot.  My version of the feta and mint sandwich was delicious, even without the cucumber.  Derek was skeptical at first, but after eating his sandwich he asked for another!  I was out of the red chili, so I spread the bread with a little harissa, which was also tasty, but slightly bitter.

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Light Tom Kha Gai

February 14, 2009 at 6:47 am (B_minus (2 stars, okay), Dark leafy greens, East and SE Asia, My brain, Other, Quick weeknight recipe, soup, Tofu)

This version of Tom Kha Gai is vegetarian, and very light on the coconut milk.  Derek objected to calling it Tom Kha Gai (because it doesn’t have enough coconut milk), but I think it’s close enough.  If you want a more authentic version of this traditional Thai soup, simply reduce the water and increase the amount of coconut milk.

In a 3- to 4-quart saucepan combine and bring to a gentle boil over medium-high heat.  Boil for 15 minutes:

  • 1/4 cup unsweetened coconut milk
  • 5 cups water
  • 1/2 bouillon cube
  • 15 quarter-sized slices fresh unpeeled ginger (about 30 grams)
  • 10 peppercorns
  • 10 wild lime leaves or wide strips of lime zest from one lime
  • 1 ounce of fresh lemongrass stalks, smashed with a heavy pestle, and cut into pieces that fit in your pan

Strain the soup, or use tongs to remove the flotsam.  Return the broth to the pan.  Add and cook for another 5 minutes longer:

  • 1/2 cup unsweetened coconut milk
  • 8 oz firm tofu, cut into bite-sized squares
  • 6 oz fresh, small button mushrooms, quartered (about 1 1/4 cups)
  • instead of mushrooms, I sometimes add ribbons of a fresh green, often bok choy.
  • 2 tsp. soy sauce
  • 1/4? tsp. salt (it despends on how salty your bouillon cube and soy sauce are)
  • 1/2? tsp. brown sugar (maybe 1 tsp.)

Remove the pan from the heat and add:

  • juice of 1 lime (about 2? Tbs. freshly squeezed lime juice, to taste)
  • 1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro (optional)
  • 3 scallions, thinly sliced crosswise (optional)
  • slices of hot red chilis (optional)
  • bean sprouts (optional)

Serve hot.  Makes 4 large bowls or 6 small bowls.

Rating: B

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Oven Fries

February 14, 2009 at 6:32 am (B plus (3 stars, like a lot), Cook's Illustrated, Derek's faves, Root vegetables, Starches)

Derek has been sick this week, and Katrina suggested I make him “comfort food.”  So for dinner last night I made miso soup and oven fries.  I know the combination is a bit weird, but Derek seemed to enjoy the dinner nonetheless.

This recipe for oven fries is based on a recipe in the Cook’s Illustrated Best Light Recipe cookbook.  It’s actually not particularly light, but it makes very tasty, crispy potato wedges.  For optimal browning CI recommends intense heat and a heavy, dark baking sheet.  To get the insides creamy and smooth they recommend covering the baking sheet with tin foil and steaming them for the first 5 minutes of cooking.  They say that russet potatoes make the best oven fries, but russets don’t seem to exist in Germany.  Instead I used the standard German potato, which isn’t very starchy and has a very yellow flesh–maybe it’s akin to a Yukon Gold?  CI says the russets need to be soaked to remove some of the starch, but I skipped this step since my potatoes didn’t seem very starchy.  I also used olive oil rather than the peanut or vegetable oil they recommend, because that is what I have, and I don’t think it tastes “bitter and out of place”, as CI claims.  I oiled the cookie sheet with only 3 Tbs. oil rather than the 4 Tbs. the recipe called for.

  • 24 ounces of potatoes (1.5 pounds), scrubbed, each potato cut lengthwise and cut into even-sized wedges about 1/2 inch thick
  • 3 to 4 Tablespoons of olive oil + 1 tsp.
  • 1 tsp. fine sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp. black pepper
  1. Adjust the oven rack to the lowest position and heat the oven to 475 degrees.  Coat a large heavy-duty rimmed baking sheet (dark or nonstick is best) with 3 Tbs. of olive oil, then sprinkle evenly with the salt and pepper.
  2. Wash the potatoes and dry them thoroughly.  Cut them into wedges.   Toss the wedges in a bowl with 1 tsp. oil
  3. Arrange the potatoes in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet and cover the pan tightly with tin foil.  Bake for five minutes, then remove the foil.  Bake for ten minutes, then rotate the pan. Bake for another 5 to 10 minutes, until the bottoms of the wedges are spotty, golden brown. Scrape the potatoes lose with a spatula, then flip each wedge over, trying to keep the potatoes in a single layer.  Bake until the potatoes are golden and crisp, 7 to 10 minutes, rotating the pan if the wedges are browning unevenly.  If the potatoes seem greasy, drain them briefly on paper towels, blotting away excess oil.

Serves 3 to 5.

Rating: B+
Derek: A- (when they’re right out of the oven)

I’ve made this several times now, and I’m not all that careful about the technique, but the fries always turn out well.  Depending on how fat I slice the potatoes, my largest cookie sheet (a rimmed medium-grey non-stick commercial half-sheet pan) holds about 1.5 – 2 pounds of sliced, small yellow potatoes.  I’ve found that you can really pack the potatoes in, as long as they’re in a single layer there doesn’t need to be much space between the potato slices. Although 2 pounds of potatoes will fit, you have to cut the potatoes a bit too thick, and the wedges don’t crisp up as well, although they do have a nice, creamy interior.   I’ve reduced the oil to a total of 2 Tbs. of olive oil, and although Derek says they’re not quite as good as the original, if the potatoes are cut thin they still crisp up very nicely and taste very good–and they still seem greasy to me.  I think a tsp. of fine sea salt is too much if you’re only using 1.5 pounds of potatoes.  I use about 1 tsp. of coarse salt for 2 pounds of potatoes.  Sometimes I briefly rinse the potatoes and dry them in kitchen towels, other times I’ve skipped this step.  Without a side by side comparison, however, I’m can’t say how much of a difference the rinsing step makes for the German potatoes.

Next time I make these I think I want to add some spices along with the pepper, maybe paprika and cumin?

Derek likes these potatoes as leftovers, heated up in the microwave, but the skins get kind of tough and the insides not as creamy.  I haven’t tried reheating them in the oven, but I imagine that would work much better.

I’ve also tried this recipe with parsnips and they also work well.

Fine cooking recipe:  http://www.taunton.com/finecooking/pages/c00225_rec01.asp

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