Tagine of Onions and Dates

Tagine of OnionCaramelized onions are simply wonderful.  There is a reason that French onion soup is so popular, and it isn’t the cheese melted over the top…although that probably doesn’t hurt.  This dish combines two things I really like, caramelized onions and dates, with a sweet and almost desert-like spice scheme.  The result is a side dish that would be a great match for most roast chicken dishes, probably would work well with lamb, and presents a really special flavor profile that lands just this side of being too sweet (at least to me)…. 

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Green Beans with Creamy Sesame Sauce

Green Beans with Sesame SauceThis one falls in the category of simple and tasty.  Green beans are blanched, then cooled and dressed with a lovely sauce of sweetened tahini.   The slight bitter quality of the tahini combines with the saltiness of the soy to make a really delightful combination.  In the photo above, the dish is garnished with fried tofu cubes, which I really like.  If you are pressed for time, simply substitute some type of almond.  My personal favorites are the Marcona almonds that Brinn gets from Trader Joe’s, but simple slivered ones will work just fine.

Dishes like this are a very good reason to keep a small garden.  That way yo can be a little bit discriminating about what types of beans you cook.  Although there is a wide variety of beans to select from in the grocery stores around here, I know that this is not the case in many parts of the country.  We prefer french filet-type beans for blanching and eating fresh, but you may prefer something more strongly flavored.  In a pinch, blue lake green beans will do, but they get a little tough if they get too large.  I am really looking forward to about a month from now when beans from the garden are available.  If you have even a small area that you can till up or even a large pot, I encourage you to grow some beans.  It is easy and you will get the type you like to eat.  Baker Creek Seeds is a great vendor…still not too late to give either bush or pole beans a go…. 

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Pear with Peppercorns

Pears with PeppercornThis post is more about a concept than a “dish”.  In fact, to call this a “side dish” feels wrong somehow.  It is, however, something that shows up on our lunch-time table with alarming frequency and, therefore, probably deserves some mention.  As the title indicates, it is pears (in this case sliced) dusted with peppercorns (in this case pink).  That’s all; no fancy technique, no complicated spicing scheme.  Just simple and tasty.  So why write about it at all?… 

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Soba Noodles with Peanut and Chili Sauce

Soba with Peanut and Chili SauceSoba noodles are typically eaten cold, with some kind of dipping sauce.  In this case, I just took the easy route and decided to just plate the noodle with the sauce.  After I started heading down the road of sloth, I went all in; the sauce to go with the noodles is particularly idiot-proof.  It requires no cooking and contains four ingredients, all of which come out of either a bottle or a jar.  Despite the relative simplicity, this dish does pretty well in the taste category.  There is not a lot of subtly, just a blast of vinegar and chili flavor with a bit of peanut to bring it back in line.  I think that you really need some form of garnish to compete with the sauce and I found that sliced scallion provided a hint of something natural and kept the dish from being monotonous. … 

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Chickpea, Cilantro and Cumin Salad

Chickpeas with Cilantro and CuminWe cook a lot of legume-based curries as side dishes.  While they seem complicated at first, due to the sometimes intricate spice combinations, they are really pretty simple, quick to cook and follow some familiar patterns.  This dish is no exception, although it originates in the Middle East and is referred to as a salad in the reference cook book Silk Road Cooking: A Vegetarian Journey.  The spices, in this case cumin and asafetida, are toasted in oil over reasonably high heat, the remaining ingredients are combined, and the whole thing gets simmered to combine the flavors.  Not much could be simpler, especially if you already have the cooked legumes handy or are using canned ones.  As I have probably mentioned, cooking with legumes is greatly facilitated by using a pressure cooker.  Modern pressure cookers are a really safe and efficient way to cook.  You deserve one.

One bite of this dish lets you know what makes it special.  Hell, one sniff of the air wafting out of the house would tell you; it’s all about the cumin.  It would be unusual to find a dish that is more aggressively spiced with cumin, and if you are not ready for the heat that comes along for the ride, it is surprising, especially since there is a chili in there for backup.  This dish is not about balance…. 

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