In these weeks between winterish holidays, I often have a hard time coming up with new thing to cook. That’s mostly because I’m constantly falling back on favorites that make the change in seasons fun. I’ve made no bones about the fact that I love what I think of as autumn or winter foods: slow braises, rich stews, baking spices and slow cooked cellar vegetables. That means I keep making another pot of braised beef, or “sure, we had chicken and dumplings last week, but we can have it again, right?”
It’s not that I’m not feeling creative, it’s just that I’m so happily enrobed in familiar favorites that I don’t want to be creative. Or at least that’s what I’m telling myself.
There are exceptions of course. There’s another craving brought on by the changing weather. Spice. Not the baking spice I mentioned above. I want heat. The burn of good chilies, piquant white pepper, and the weird numbing of Sichuan peppercorn. I want horseradish and habanero - though maybe not together.
It’s doesn’t have to be searing heat. Just comforting warmth.
This week’s menu uses a handful of North African and Middle Eastern flavors to bring some heat. Not to worry, if you’re sensitive to that sort of thing, these aren’t “raging spicy hot” but the spices used are warm (and a little tiny but hot spicy as well.)
For me they’re a welcome warmth, and a welcome reminder of warm days. Plus, it’s fun to try new things even when the good old things are so good.
I didn’t include a dessert this week because I didn’t really get around to making one – but if you’re looking for an appropriately sweet ending to this meal try slicing some very ripe pears, crumbling some dry feta over them, and drizzling with honey. Finish it with a little fresh grated cinnamon and you’ll have something that passes for a fancy dessert with essentially zero effort. I’m aware that the essentially zero effort is more than the actual zero effort I put into dessert this week.
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Shaved Fennel and Tomato Salad
I’ve got a soft spot for fennel salads because they’re easy, fast, and just a little unusual. Plus, fennel just feels like a good winter salad to me. Usually I pair shaved fennel with citrus – but fresh tomato (particularly at this time of year) has a lot of the same acidity and texture – and it’s a good match for the other flavors I’m using in this week’s menu. Plus mint and tomato and anise … they really work well together.
1 large fennel bulb
2 medium roma tomatoes
2 tbsp loosely packed fennel fronds
10-12 mint leaves
1 clove garlic
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
½ tsp kosher salt
½ tsp ground black pepper
Using a mandoline slicer or very sharp knife, cut the fennel bulb into thin slices.
Place the slices in cold water to crisp.
Cut the mint leaves into a fine chiffonade.
Roughly chop the tomatoes.
Peel, trim, and finely mince or microplane the garlic.
Add the garlic and lemon juice to a non-reactive bowl and allow to rest for 5-10 minutes – this will help tame the harshness of the garlic.
Whisk the olive oil into the garlic/lemon juice mixture.
Add the mint leaves, salt, and pepper to the lemon and oil dressing.
Remove the fennel from the water and drain well.
Toss the fennel, fennel fronds, and tomato with the dressing.
Charred Broccoli with Whipped Yogurt, Almonds and Honey
Confession. I don’t like broccoli. I ate way to much of it as a kid - in part because at that time it was one of the only vegetables I would eat. Most of those preparations involved a blue and white Corelle glass baking dish, a microwave, and a color that only a 20th century military unit should be allowed to use. That put me off broccoli for a long time. To be honest, I’m probably still off broccoli, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t preparations that I enjoy – or at least don’t dislike.
I love char – foods that are cooked over such intense heat as to add smokiness and texture where otherwise there might not be any. It’s a component of any good steak, or a proper Neapolitan pizza, and in the case of cruciferous vegetable like broccoli it really works. Here, we’ll just throw a bit of char on to other wise simply cooked broccoli florets and then build on that with yogurt, almonds, and hot honey. The sweet hot and floral elements of chili infused honey really tie all the flavors together.
Prepare a large pot of heavily salted boiling water and an ice bath.
Blanch the broccoli florets for 30 seconds in boiling, then shock in ice water.
Remove from the ice water and allow to drain completely, using a towel to press out as much moisture as possible without smashing the broccoli.
Allow the broccoli to further dry by leaving it on a dry paper towel in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour.
Peel, trim, and crush or microplane the garlic.
Whisk together the garlic, yogurt, 1 tbsp olive oil, lemon juice, and salt.
Preheat your broiler to its highest temperature.
Toss the broccoli with olive oil, and place on a foil lined baking sheet in the broiler.
Cook until the florets begin to char.
Remove from the broiler.
Spread the yogurt mixture on a plate, top with charred broccoli, and season with finishing salt.
Drizzle hot honey over the broccoli and garnish with almond slices.
Potato Wedges with Harissa
I was about ready to hit the send button on this week’s edition when I realized I hadn’t written an introduction for this dish. In part that’s because it doesn’t really need one, I mean it is what it says. It’s potato wedges with harissa. Sure, I put a little moy on it too, but that doesn’t change it’s essential potato wedges with harissa-ness. But it should include an introduction for two reasons, one - harissa as an ingredient might need an introduction, and two, as a dish - this one is fun, simple and delicious even if it wasn’t a part of this menu. The (familiar if you’re a frequent reader) technique I use here of boiling the potatoes before frying or roasting them yields crisp but creamy potatoes. Topping them with spicy harissa and the cooling mayo makes them just perfectly snackable. You can buy prepared harissa at most groceries. If you want to lighten the dish up a little - try mixing. a little yogurt into the mayo.
2 large russet potatoes
¼ cup olive oil
2 tablespoons prepared harissa
2 tbsp mayonnaise
1 tsp kosher salt
Prepare a large pot of heavily salted water.
Wash and slice each potato into 8 wedges.
Add the potatoes to the water, and bring to a low simmer, cooking util just tender all the way through.
Remove the potatoes from the water and allow them to cool completely.
Preheat your oven to 400° F.
Toss the potatoes with ¼ cup of olive oil.
Arrange skin side down on a baking sheet.
Roast at 400°F until crisp and browned – about 20-30 minutes.
Drizzle with harissa and mayonnaise.
Slow Roasted Short Ribs with Garlic, Ras el Hanout, and Preserved Lemon
If I’m honest, and after that last little tirade about broccoli I need to at least pretend to be such, I put this week’s entire menu together after snagging a plate of short ribs on a market trip last week. I know that’s sort of a sad way to approach things, but a lot of times that’s what directs my cooking. Sure, fo holiday editions and whatnot I might have a few weeks of planning and a pretty strong idea of where I’m going – but as often as not it’s what I find in the market that inspires what I’m going to, want to, or have to cook in any particular week.
Plate short ribs are … well, they’re really just short ribs that haven’t been cut out into those individual Lego blocks you tend to see vacuum wrapped at the grocery. Often, meat cutters or butchers will portion the more even parts of the rib and sell the more triangular end set of ribs as plate. that’s what I used for this week’s recipes. They’re fun because they have that huge piece of meat dinosaur on a stick quality to them, but they’re not always an easy piece of meat to work with because … well, they’re short ribs. They still need long slow cooking to be anything other than an exercise in Olympic level chewing.
Before I found those short ribs, I was considering a menu focused on a tagine – a north African stew. So … I ran with those flavors. The ribs are first rubbed with spices and then … well, essentially they’re steamed in their own juices before finishing at a higher temp to give them some color and roast flavors. It’s a great way to treat short ribs.
Pomegranate molasses is another slightly unusual ingredient – it’s a great sweet/sour syrup made from highly reduced pomegranate juice. It’s available at some groceries or online.
Preheat your oven to 300°F.
Peel, trim, and mince the garlic.
Add the garlic, ras el hanout, and preserved lemon to the bowl of a mortar and pestle, and crush into a rough paste. If you don’t have a mortar and pestle you can use the flat of a knife against a cutting board to make a paste.
Using a very sharp knife, score the surface of the short rib plate in a series of shallow cross hatch marks. This will help the rub’s flavor penetrate the meat.
Spread the paste onto the meat, rubbing it into the cuts where possible.
Tightly wrap the meat in foil, taking care to make sure the seams are “up” so that the package will retain any liquid.
Place the wrapped meat in the oven and cook undisturbed for 3-4 hours (longer for larger pieces.)
Remove the ribs from the oven and unwrap.
Raise the oven temperature to 400°F.
Return the ribs to the oven and cook for 20 minutes, or just until the top surfaces are beginning to brown.
Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 20 minutes in a warm place before cutting.
Cut between the ribs.
Serve over white bean and garlic puree, drizzle with pomegranate molasses, and spicy green zhug style hot sauce.
White bean and garlic puree
1 cup great northern beans
4 cloves garlic
2 tbsp good olive oil
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
½ tsp cumin
pinch of coriander
pinch of cayenne pepper
pinch of baking soda
salt to taste
Soak 1 cup of dry great northern beans in 5 cups of water overnight.
Season the beans with salt and a small pinch of baking soda, and cook over medium heat until tender – 30-60 minutes. Reserve the beans and cooking liquid.
Peel, trim, and roughly chop the garlic.
Add the oil, garlic, lemon juice, cumin, coriander, cayenne, and beans to the container of a high speed blender and process until smooth, adding cooking liquid as necessary.
Taste and season with salt as needed.
(a sort of) Zhug
Zhug is a spic chili sauce that originated in Yemeni cuisine - though similar condiments exist elsewhere around the mediterranean basin. This version isn’t authentic in that it’s more herb than chili, and uses mint and parsley as well as cilantro. Make extra. When we’ve got this stuff in the house it tends to make it’s way on to everything: falafel, fries, steak, a burrito, or just a bowl of rice.
¼ cup loosely packed mint leaves
¼ cup loosely packed cilantro leaves
¼ cup loosely packed parsley leaves
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp. lemon juice
2 cloves garlic
2 green chilis
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp ground cumin
½ tsp coriander
¼ tsp cardamom
Peel, trim, and mince the garlic.
Coarsely chop the herbs.
Add all ingredients to the bowl of a mortar and pestle or a small food processor, and process until a coarse paste is formed.
To store before using, cover with a thin layer of olive oil.