When I was first married and my husband a graduate student at Florida State University, my cooking skills were, to be generous, limited. I worked with a rotating schedule of five dishes: tuna noodle casserole; spare ribs; goulash; pork chops and hamburgers. To get to seven, I relied on goulash and tuna for leftovers.
Somewhat embarrassed by that, I eventually honed my skills to become a better cook. The past few months, however, I’ve felt my culinary efforts to be unimaginative and stale. Perhaps it’s the price paid for five months on-the-road. Whatever the reason, home is where the heart is so let’s stop with the stale.
A writer sometimes jumpstarts creativity with prompts, inspirational cues. These Foodie prompts helped me: 1) Shopping is not always a sprint. On your next visit, stroll through your local market. Be surprised. Grab something new. 2) Spot a strange fruit or veggie? Buy it. Deploy Goggle. 3) Spice it up. For ideas, order a Penzey’s catalog (free) at 1-800-741-7787. 4) Cook with a friend or on-line food group. 5) Glean ideas from today’s cookbooks which are worth reading cover to cover. I suggest Melissa Clark’s Dinner: Changing the Game, Yotam Ottlenghi’s Jerusalem or Diana Henry’s Simple, Effortless Food, Big Flavors.
The following three familiar recipes can enhance your summer menus in head-spinning ways. Considered staples in many international cuisines, they have endured for centuries. It’s not for nothing they’re called classics. Use traditionally or, even better, in one of countless flavorful spin-offs.
Raita, a yogurt-based condiment from the Indian subcontinent, is often used to accompany traditional Indian fare. Raita can be sweet, savory, mixed together with raw or cooked vegetables or fruit, and sprinkled with various herbs and spices. Use it as a dip, topping or garnish for burgers and sandwiches, salad dressing, sauce for chicken or fish or a side dish.
This interesting naan wrap is a mix of cumin-spiced ground meat, shredded Iceberg lettuce and sliced red onions all doused with cucumber raita. The naanwich not only offers respect to beleaguered Iceberg lettuce but also combines its crunchy texture with sweetness, spice and a tarty raita. Yum.
HUMMUS – COOK the BOOK FRIDAYS with David Lebovitz, My Paris Kitchen
I know, you’re thinking what I originally thought. Ho. Hum. Hummus. Just buy Sabra. Fantastic varieties. Why bother?
My answer is simple, because you can. In this case, homemade always beats store-bought. Hummus is a centuries old Arab dish of chickpeas, tahini paste (sesame seed paste), lemon juice, garlic, salt and spice. Just to be clear, you may add sun dried tomatoes, artichokes, spinach, red pepper or whatever to a basic chickpea hummus and still call it hummus. BUT, if you make a mixture from lima beans, beets, butternut squash, black beans or pumpkin, for example, with no chickpeas added, it’s not hummus. It’s dip. Again, it’s dip.
Click this link for 18 Ways to Eat Hummus All Day Long. Or, check in with The Kitchen Lioness who shares Yotam Ottolenghi’s Hummus recipe from Jerusalem. David Lebovitz’s Houmous (hummus) recipe is here. (If you’d rather use canned chickpeas in David’s recipe, use 2 cups, drained with liquid reserved)
PICO de GALLO (salsa fresa)
We all have tasted this seriously important salsa that originated with our North American neighbors to the south.
Traditionally a dip, Minnesota author Meredith Deeds keeps this relish handy for other uses. “To make a quick guacamole,” she says, “I just mash up a couple of avocados, stir in a little pico de gallo and voila! Want Black Bean and Corn Salad? Open a can of black beans, add some frozen corn and toss together with the fresh salsa. You’re done. Or, combine all three in a flour tortilla and you have a Black Bean, Corn and Guacamole Wrap.”
I used the celebrated Diana Kennedy’s Pico de Gallo recipe from “The Art of Mexican Cooking.” With apologies to Ms. Kennedy, I made one adaption to her recipe by exchanging 2 TBS of ice water for 2 TBS of artisanal ketchup. This was a tip from Eat Boutiques’ Maggie Battista who says the ‘vinegar, sweetness and spice’ in the ketchup provides an added kick.
NAAN WRAP with HOMEMADE CUCUMBER RAITA adapted from Sarah E. Crowder,@ KITCHN
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced
3/4 teaspoon salt, divided
1 1/4 teaspoons ground cumin, divided
1 pound ground beef, buffalo, lamb or chicken or fish
4 pieces naan bread
1/2 cup whole-milk yogurt
1/2 cup diced, seeded cucumber (about 1/2 cucumber)
1 tablespoon coarsely chopped fresh mint or cilantro leaves
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 medium head Iceberg lettuce, thinly sliced
1/4 cup thinly sliced red onion
Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 200°F.
1. Heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the yellow onion, 1/4 teaspoon of the salt, and 1 teaspoon of the cumin. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are translucent, 2 to 3 minutes.
2. Add the meat and season with 1/4 teaspoon of the salt. Break the meat up into smaller pieces and sauté until cooked through and browned, about 10 minutes. If using leftovers, warm the cooked chicken or fish pieces. Cook chicken or fish, if necessary.
3. Stack the naan in a pile and completely wrap in aluminum foil. Heat in the oven until warm, about 5 minutes.
4. Place the yogurt, cucumber, mint or cilantro, coriander, remaining 1/4 teaspoon cumin, and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt in a medium bowl and stir to combine. Set aside.
5. When the meat is ready, remove from the heat. Place the warmed naan in a single layer on a work surface. Place a handful of iceberg lettuce on the center of each naan. Divide the meat over the lettuce, top each with a couple tablespoons of raita, and divide the red onion over the raita. Serve warm.
Storage: The leftover meat mixture can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
COOKtheBookFridays is an international on-line group cooking virtually from David Lebovitz’s My Paris Kitchen Cookbook. Visit our site here.