Monday, May 28, 2007

Lebanese feast - KIBBI NAYEH

My girlfriend Paula came to visit from Calgary and we cooked a feast together. Paula is of Lebanese heritage and she cooks instinctively, without recipes. The great thing is, a Lebanese feast can be prepared with foods produced in Saskatchewan. We needed very few ‘imported’ foods like lemons, olives and cheese. The most amazing dish was Kibbi Nayeh, raw ground lamb with crushed wheat.

Here’s the full menu:

Mezze (appetizers) each on individual plates: sliced tomatoes, sliced cucumber, warm fava beans, black olives, hummus, halloum cheese, plain Mediterranean yogurt and Kibbi Nayeh, with fresh homemade pita bread.

Main: grilled lamb kabobs, chicken baked with ta'ratoul (olive oil, garlic, salt and lemon juice), cooked Kibbi and a tomato salad.

Dessert: pears in honey and mint.

Start with the freshest (or fresh frozen) lamb. In Paula’s family, Kibbi Nayeh is made on the same day the lamb is slaughtered. We made it with organic Saskatchewan lamb (raised by the Richardson sisters) which was frozen shortly after slaughter.

1 shoulder of lamb, freshly ground (about 2 pounds)
4 green onions
Handful of fresh mint
Handful of fresh basil
2 tsp each salt and pepper
1 tsp cayenne
1/2 tsp mace, cinnamon and cumin
1 cup cracked wheat (called ‘burghul’ in Lebanon)

Put the onions, mint and basil through the meat grinder, and mix into the ground lamb along with the spices. Cover the cracked wheat with water and let stand 10 minutes, until softened. Drain well. Mix the cracked wheat and the meat mixture, and knead as you would bread dough, adding a drop of water from time to time, until the mixture is smooth. Taste the mixture and add more spice to suite your taste. Paula says salt and pepper are the most important spices; the others should be evident but more subdued.

To serve, place the lamb mixture into a flat serving bowl. Using a finger, run three furrows the length of the lamb. Drizzle olive oil into the furrows. Garnish the dish with thin green onions and fresh mint. To eat, spoon the Kibbi Nayeh onto pita bread and top it with a green onion and a mint leaf.

For the cooked version of Kibbi – after kneading the mixture, press it into a square cake pan. Slice it into diamond shapes. Make a hole in the centre and pour on olive oil to cover the meat. Bake at 450F for 20-30 minutes. To serve, slice along the diamond-shaped marks and arrange on a warm plate, garnished with springs of mint.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Isn't that nice - NICE SALAD

The French make a salad called Salade Nicoise (nees-waz), named for the city of Nice. It’s usually made with tuna, but since that is not a Saskatchewan ingredient, I made it with trout. It turned out very nice, and that is why I’ve called it the Nice Salad. This recipe is for two. You can double and triple it if you like.

2 small boiled potatoes, peeled and cubed
½ green pepper, sliced
10 thinly sliced rounds of onion, or more to taste
Small handful of fresh basil, thinly sliced
2 red tomatoes, cut in wedges
2 hardboiled eggs, cut in wedges
½ cup cooked trout, flaked

Juice of one-half juicy lemon
An equal amount of olive oil
½ tsp Dijon mustard
Dash of salt and pepper

In a bowl, mix together the potatoes, green pepper and onion. Make the dressing by mixing the lemon juice, mustard, salt and pepper. Drizzle in the olive oil, all the while beating with a whisk to form a creamy dressing. Toss the dressing into the potatoes. Let marinate a few minutes or longer. Before serving, mix in the basil. To serve, divide the potato mixture onto two plates. Place the wedges of tomato and hardboiled egg around the edge of the salad. Mound the fish in the centre. Eat! (A Salade Nicoise often includes green beans, but since they are not in season yet, I’ll leave them out my Nice Salad until later in the summer.)

Friday, May 25, 2007

Gourmet shoots of spring - ASPARAGUS ORZOTTO

Italians make a rice dish called rizotto (riz is Italian for rice). I make the same type of dish with pearl barley so I call it orzotto (orzo is Italian for barley). This time of year, fresh young asparagus is abundant in the farmers' market, so don't be buying imported asparagus from the grocery store. This recipe serves two people as a main dish or 4-6 people as a side dish.

2 tbsp butter
2 fat green onions, sliced (about ¼ cup)
1 bunch asparagus, in 1-inch pieces (about 1 cup)
½ cup cooked ham, small dice
(I like to use the smoked pork from Emco Meats in Saskatoon)
1 ¼ cup pearl barley
¼ cup Madeira wine (optional - see note below)
1 tsp salt
fresh ground pepper to taste
5 cups hot chicken stock (or vegetable stock)
¼ cup parmesan cheese

Melt the butter in a saucepan. Sauté the onions and asparagus until softened. Remove the vegetables with a spoon, leaving the remaining butter in the pot.

Turn up the heat to medium. Add the ham and pearl barley. Stir to coat with the butter. Add the Madeira wine. Cook until all the moisture is gone, stirring frequently to prevent sticking or burning. While doing this, stir in the salt and pepper.

When the barley is good and dry, add one cup of hot stock. Cook, bubbling and stirring, until the liquid is absorbed. Continue in this manner, adding one cup of stock and stirring until absorbed. With the last cup of stock, return the asparagus and onions to the pot. Bubble the mixture, stirring frequently, until the liquid has formed a creamy sauce. Take off the heat and stir in the cheese. Serve hot.

Note: Madeira is a sweet dessert wine. It’s very good served over an ice cube with a slice of lemon.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Newspaper Column - HANLEY BREAD SALAD

Published in the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, 23 May 2007.

Shopping reward programs are a complete nuisance, as far as I am concerned, unless the reward is instant and edible. Take, for example, a loaf of bread. In Hanley, 60 km south of Saskatoon, the reward for filling up at the Prairie View Gas Station is a free loaf of bread, white or whole wheat. I take this opportunity every time I visit my family just down the highway at Craik.

The bread is not always fresh, since it may have been baked the day before, but it’s big and solid like grandma used to make, and is therefore just as useful a few days later for French toast, grilled cheese sandwiches and bread pudding. But lately I have been using it to make bread salads. Bread salads are a tasty and convenient way to use up day-old bread, which was important in times past before most bread was made in a factory and treated with preservatives to keep it fresh. In Italy, bread salad is called panzanella. In Greece it’s dakos. In Lebanon and Syria, it’s called fattoush. The most common bread salad in Saskatoon is undoubtedly the Caesar Salad, but those hard little croutons that come out of a box hardly qualify as bread in my books.

A few years ago, I produced a documentary on homemade bread for the CBC radio program Ideas, for which the research involved making and eating a lot of bread. I spent time with several home bakers of different cultures discovering the traditions, folklore and spirituality of bread, and learned that in many parts of the world, for many many centuries, bread has nourished not only the body but the soul. Nowadays, we take bread for granted. It is no longer the primary food that fills our tummies, yet we still speak of the bread-winner rather than the fish-winner or the salad-winner or the apple-a-day-winner. Bread still commands that respect.

When I haven’t the time to make my own bread, I often buy it from the Good Spirit Bakery at the Saskatoon Farmers’ Market. Peyton Leavitt and Jonathon Lee bake the bread in a wood-burning brick oven on their farm near Naicam, a process that takes all night. Then they bring it to the market first thing Saturday morning. It’s very rustic and made with local ingredients such as fresh-ground flour, flax and honey. It’s worth a trip to the new farmers’ market venue at River Landing, but go early because the Good Spirit bread often sells out well before noon.

While you’re there, pick up the other ingredients for a good bread salad. Don’t even think of buying these vegetables in a grocery store when you have access to the freshest, most beautiful local produce at the farmers’ market.

This time of year, I make salads with the tiny little greens popping up in my garden. This includes tender dandelion leaves, the cilantro that reseeded itself, mint that grows like a weed and the baby radishes and lettuce that I pulled to thin the rows. If you don’t have access to these fresh micro-greens, you can substitute lettuce (also available at the farmers’ market) or you can omit that ingredient altogether.

Hanley Bread Salad
1 slice of bread per person
2 small tomatoes per person
(a mix of red and yellow tomatoes)
8 slices of English cucumber per person
1 green onion per person
1 tbsp chopped fresh mint
1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
¼ cup baby greens per person

Dressing for two:
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
2 tbsp olive oil
¼ tsp Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper to taste

Trim the bread of crusts and toast until nice and brown. Cool. Cut into chunky cubes. Chop the tomatoes. Put them into a bowl, crushing them with your hands to release their juices. Chop the cucumber, green onion, mint and parsley; toss into the bowl. Whip together the dressing ingredients and mix into the vegetables. (You can do this ahead, giving it time to mingle flavours.) Five minutes before serving, toss in the baby greens and the bread cubes.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Hanley Bread Series #2 - BLT IN A BOWL

This the second in a series of recipes that make the most of the free bread from the gast station in Hanley, Saskatchewan. It’s a BLT (bacon-lettuce-tomato sandwich) served up as a salad. Everyone of these main ingredients is locally produced.

For two:
2 medium red tomatoes
5 slices bacon
3 slices day-old bread
2 cups salad greens
(I used baby greens from the garden – radish, lettuce, arugula, cilantro, sage, mint, chives, dandelion and something with purple leaves that I can’t quite identify.)

2 tbsp mayonnaise
½ tsp Dijon mustard
2 ½ tsp milk
Salt and pepper

Chop the tomatoes. Put them into a bowl, squeezing with your hands to release some juices.
Fry the bacon until crisp. Drain on paper towel. Crumble when cool. Add to tomatoes.
Trim the bread of crusts. Toast until brown. Cut into bite-sized cubes.
Mix the dressing ingredients. Pour onto tomatoes and blend.
Arrange the salad greens on two plates or pasta bowls.
Five minutes before serving, add the bread to the tomatoes and toss. Spoon the tomato-bread mixture onto the salad greens. Enjoy your BLT with a fork!

Saturday, May 05, 2007

A hare in the kitchen - HASENPFEFFER

Sue and I met in a parking lot to exchange the goods. She gave me a wild hare and homemade Thai sausage. I gave her some frozen wild blueberries, homemade pasta sauce and fresh koubassa. Then I went home and cooked. Sue's husband Vance makes an old German recipe called Hasenpfeffer - peppered hare. It compares closely to a similar recipe in Time-Life Foods of the World: The Cooking of Germany. Here's my version, a combination of both recipes.

½ pound bacon, finely chopped
1 rabbit (3-5 pounds)
salt and pepper
¼ cup flour
½ cup onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 cup wine
1 cup chicken stock
1 tsp homemade jelly
1 tsp fresh rosemary, chopped (or ¼ tsp dried)
1 tsp fresh thyme, chopped (or ¼ tsp dried)
2 tsp lemon juice

In a stovetop casserole, cook the bacon until crisp. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towel.

Cut the rabbit into serving pieces. Sprinkle with salt and a generous amount of fresh ground pepper. Coat the meat lightly in flour. Add the meat to the hot bacon fat and brown on both sides. (You may have to do this in batches.) As the rabbit is done, transfer it to a plate.

Remove all but 2 tbsp of bacon fat from the pot. (If there is less than 2 tbsp of fat, add butter.) Sauté onion and garlic until soft. Pour in the wine and chicken stock. Bring to a boil on high heat, scraping up the bits on the bottom of the pan. Add the jelly, bay leaf, rosemary and thyme. Return the bacon, rabbit and its juices to the casserole. (I also added the blood which had pooled in the bowl while the rabbit was thawing.) Cover the casserole tightly and simmer 1 hour. Check the meat for doneness, and cook another ½ hour if necessary.

When the rabbit is done, remove to a serving plate and keep warm. Taste the sauce. It should be good and peppery; add more pepper if needed. Remove the bay leaf. Simmer until the sauce is reduced and thickened. Add the lemon juice. Serve the rabbit and sauce over egg noodles or boiled potatoes.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Hanley Bread Series #3 - FATTOUSH

This is the third installment in a series of receipes using the free bread "reward" for filling up at the gas station in Hanley, Saskatchewan.

Fattoush is a bread and vegetable salad. In the Middle East, it would be made with pita bread, but this is Saskatchewan, so I made it with the free loaf I got for filling up at the gas station in Hanley. The cucumber, lettuce, bell pepper and tomatoes came from the Saskatoon Farmers’ Market, and the mint was from my garden.

Cut four slices of hearty day-old bread. Remove crusts. Toast and cut into cubes. Chop the vegetables: cucumber, bell pepper (red, green or both), lettuce, parsley, green onions and mint. Include as much as you like of each one. Make a dressing of ¼ cup olive oil, ¼ cup lemon juice, salt and pepper. Toss all the vegetables with the dressing. A few minutes before serving, toss in the bread. I served this salad with a ground lamb 'pizza' called Sfeeha (see 30 April 2007).