All the Garlic

If garlic had a fan club, I’d be its number one fan. I go through Costco-sized supplies of garlic on the regular. My love for garlic reached new heights when I discovered a staple Lebanese condiment at one of the Detroit area’s many Middle Eastern restaurants. Say it with me: toum. The world literally means garlic, and for good reason; the recipe I made (thanks to a great YouTube video!) had three bulbs (about one cup peeled) of garlic. I never thought I’d successfully master this spread, and I’m so glad that I did. When I moved to Astoria, I flocked to the closest thing in Greek culture to toum, which is skordalia. Skordalia serves up some seriously strong garlic flavor, but through the vessel of mashed potatoes. With toum, you’re getting a dip that’s way more potent.

The entire process took roughly 30 minutes (including the peeling of each clove), and the cleanup was a cinch. Toum makes such a fantastic dip, but it’s also great to use as an oil in a pan for cooking fish, meat (so I hear), and vegetables. Be weary that there is A LOT of oil, and this recipe makes several cups. I consider a serving of toum to be about a tablespoon, and when I calculate my Weight Watchers PointsPlus, I clock it as about the same as mayonnaise.

Toum – Makes 4-5 Cups – 30 Minutes

  • Garlic – 3 bulbs, peeled
  • 1/3 cup lemon juice, freshly squeezed
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (I used freshly cracked sea salt)
  • 2 cups Canola oil

To make toum, start by adding your salt and peeled garlic to your food processor. Pulse until the mixture is really fine, scraping down the sides as necessary. Once the mixture is nearly paste-like, make sure your processor is turned on, and start adding a slow and steady stream of oil, half a cup at a time. Alternate between oil and lemon juice (two teaspoons at a time) until all of your liquids have been incorporated. What you’ll notice is that after about a cup of oil, the mixture should thicken quite a bit, and you should literally be able to hear your food processor start to churn. It’s a beautiful sound, with a garlicky smell.

toum

A few important things:

  • You must make sure that your food processor is completely dry. Water will break the emulsion. Everything you use (short of the lemon juice, ha) needs to be dry.
  • When you add the oil and lemon juice, you need to do so slowly, in a thread-like stream. If you introduce the liquid too quickly, it’ll break the emulsion.
  • To peel the garlic without making a mess that’ll make you want to wash your hands (and risk introducing water), use your thumb and index finger to press down on the ends of the garlic. It’ll loosen the skin a bit, making it significantly easier and cleaner to peel.
  • Do not use pre-crushed garlic, or pre-peeled garlic. Just trust me, it makes a difference.
  • If you’re not serving a crowd and need to store the toum, make sure to let it cool and rest first. If you put it away immediately in an air-tight container, water droplets will eventually cause it to separate.
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New Tastes

I don’t do much after work. On Tuesdays, I go to the gym for a session with my trainer. On Wednesdays, we’ve started playing trivia at The Sandwich Bar — and we won our first go at it last week! On all other days, you’ll probably find me at Whole Foods.

Since Whole Foods opened up by my office a couple years ago, I over-frequent it. I’ve started buying groceries once per week, but I still find myself stopping by Whole Foods to stock up on the things I plow through — tomatoes, spinach, and berries.

On my way home from work on Friday, I popped in to buy the essentials – my fridge was barren – and happened upon a find that I can’t seem to get enough of: valbreso feta.

This isn’t at all like greek feta – not even in its texture. Valbreso feta is french and is super tangy – almost lemony in its brine – and incredibly creamy versus crumbly. It’s more like a goat cheese in texture than anything else. I’m a big fan of using goat-like cheese with lentils, and so I decided to make just that. I think in the past three days I’ve had lentils for almost every meal.

I’ve had a pantry full of lentils for a while – I once bought a giant bag of black (or beluga) lentils at Whole Foods, and it’s been sitting there, unopened ever since.

These little guys seem to cook a bit faster than their brown and green counterparts (one quarter cup lentils to one cup of water for about 15-17 minutes over medium heat).

Once the lentils were cooked through (tender, but not mushy), I transferred them to a pan that was heating up with one tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil and finely minced garlic. I added baby spinach, chopped heirloom tomatoes, and a little lemon juice to the pan. The lemon juice adds great flavor, but also deglazes the pan.

Once the lentils were combined with the vegetables and nicely sautéed, I transferred them to a bowl and sprinkled some valbreso feta over the top.

The creaminess of the feta added a really nice rich flavor and smooth texture to the earthiness and bite of the lentils and the acidity of the tomatoes.

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Aubergine Dreams: An Ode to Eggplant

Before Mark Bittman penned his praise for eggplant via the New York Times, I became acquainted with the fantastic fruit.

Sometime after I lost interest in microwaving spaghetti squash, I picked up a beautiful Italian eggplant at Whole Foods. Like my foray into egg poaching, I was intimidated by this purple-skinned ingredient.

Nerves were lifted when I pulled my first attempt at baked eggplant out of the oven. Lightly sprayed with olive oil, sprinkled with sea salt and other fresh herbs, I had successful made juicy, tender eggplant steaks. And I ate all of them. In one sitting, without regret.

Fast-forward a year later, as I live happily with my boyfriend, a confirmed carnivore. Eggplant is our unity fruit — the one ingredient we can agree upon as the star of a meat-free meal. Whether it’s his stewed eggplant and tomatoes, or my eggplant with cherry tomatoes, lentils, and spinach, together we enjoy it, and Mark Bittman was right, it does make me happy, as I do eat it everyday.

Sliced, lightly battered and fried with a honey drizzle on-top, or char-grilled and topped with a dollop of skordalia, I can’t think of an eggplant dish I would want to pass up. Most recently, my boyfriend grilled up eggplant steaks that I proceeded to eat for one week straight, often topped with a slice of ovaline mozzarella and a poached egg, I’ve spent some time collecting a series of eggplant recipes I cannot wait to try on my own:

  • Fried Eggplant with Molasses Recipe – Berenjena Frita con Miel de Cana: This recipe reminds me of a dish I tried at Tapas Adela in Baltimore (their dish was called Eggplant Fritas, and was served with a lavender honey). It’s like an eggplant donut, and makes this otherwise healthy ingredient just a wee bit sinful. Remember: no regrets.
  • Grilled Eggplant with Tomato and Feta: I love eggplant, but I especially love eggplant with tomatoes. The acidic sweetness of the tomato mixed with the hearty earthiness of the eggplant work so well together, and the fresh bite of feta adds a nice touch. I might add mint to this recipe for kicks.
  • Mediterranean Eggplant Salad: I love a good eggplant salad, and the prep is so fuss-free, that there’s no excuse not to try this one at home. Another added benefit? This recipe comes from Weight Watchers, so it’s inherently PointsPlus-friendly.
  • Black Bean and Red Pepper Burgers: Where does the eggplant come in? You see, that’s the genius behind this recipe. As a fan of any opportunity to ditch the bun, I was so pleased that this recipe replaces the simple carbohydrates of a bun, with the ever-loved eggplant.
  • Roasted Eggplant Bruschetta: Like I said, I like to ditch unnecessary carbs. And with eggplant acting as the base of this bruschetta, the flavors of the other fresh vegetables will be better blended, also allowing the textures to shine without competing with the toasted baguette.

Lentils, Spinach, Goat Cheese

I love Middle Eastern flavors. I could eat lentils for every meal, and often times I do.

In Detroit, we have some of the best Middle Eastern restaurants in the country — and I’m including New York in that statement. I’ve lived in New York for almost three years, and simply have not been able to find a single restaurant that comes close to my midwest Middle East.

Lately, Anita’s Kitchen (Ferndale, MI) is my favorite place to go when home because their portion sizes are more realistic and meant for one person (I don’t like being too full, and I don’t like taking home leftovers), and the food is a bit more eclectic. Their garlic sauce is not my favorite — I prefer it from Sultan’s in East Lansing, MI — but their Spinach, Goat Cheese, and Garlic dish is one of my favorites. Don’t even get me started on their eggplant salad. Noms.

For dinner tonight, I was craving Anita’s, but with a few states between us, I decided to make my own version of my favorite dish.

Start with a non-stick pan, and spray well with Olive Oil-flavored cooking spray or EVOO (1-2 tablespoons). Add half a medium white onion (sliced) and two cloves of garlic, finely minced.

Once the onion softens, add a 1/2 cup cooked beluga lentils, 1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, and 1.5 cups spinach. I added steamed string beans to my recipe — about one cup.

Because the lentils were air-packed, and not freshly boiled, I didn’t add salt. For a peppery taste to balance the earthiness of the vegetables, I added 1/8 cup pepper-crusted goat cheese.

Delicious, filling, and healthy. Lentilicious.

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Dinner for Breakfast

Par cooked brown rice.

Par cooked brown rice. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I don’t typically do leftovers. It’s not that I’m not a fan of cold pizza or Chinese food in the morning, but it’s that since being on this weight loss kick, I’ve been more careful about what I order when I order in, and that includes not ordering the above two cuisines – or at least not often – and ordering proper portions. The other night, though, I had dinner with a cousin, and we ordered Chinese (from Go Noodle on 1st Ave.). We had a mixed vegetable dish, as well as a tofu with eggplant, mushroom, and broccoli dish. And, because it’s silly not to, we ordered brown rice – in my opinion, one of the easiest way to healthify your takeout.

One of the things I love about my cousin is that she has a bizarrely bountiful supply of takeout brown rice stashed in her fridge. That, and an impressive collection of chopsticks and fortune cookies.

She sent me home with the leftover tofu and a small container of brown rice. While I had the tofu for lunch yesterday, I saved the brown rice for breakfast today.

I wish I had taken a picture, because my breakfast was de-licious, and relatively healthy. I took one medium non-stick pan, and sprayed it with a little cooking spray just to make sure the rice didn’t burn to the pan. I emptied the remaining brown rice (about 1 cup) to the pan over medium heat. To the rice, I added grape tomatoes, chopped orange pepper, and fresh baby spinach. For seasoning, I sprinkled in some fresh black pepper, garlic powder, and dried basil. In less than ten minutes, I had a nice brown rice breakfast, loaded with fresh vegetables. I topped it with some Brad’s Organic Fat-Free Tomato Sauce and a little bit of mozzarella. Weight Watchers-friendly, and wicked easy (yeah, I just said that).

People are crazy about breakfast for dinner . . . but what about dinner for breakfast? What’s your favorite way to re-purpose leftovers?

Pauper’s Pantry: Pumpk it Up and Breakfast for Dinner

I have been beyond obsessed with pumpkin this fall. It’s one of my favorite seasonal flavors — only in competition with peppermint during the winter holiday season. Two of my favorite uses for pumpkin include pumpkin pudding and pumpkin spread. See below for pictures and recipe details, as well as a picture of my first-ever successfully flipped egg-in-a-basket (fried egg in a whole wheat bread slice).

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