Burdock and Mushroom Rice

Burdock and Mushroom RiceUp until about a year and a half ago, burdock root was not something that I had used extensively in cooking.  Like at all.  These long-slender roots are about 2 to 3 feet long, up to an inch in diameter, and jam-packed with some outstandingly earthy flavors.  They pair perfectly with mushrooms to produce a rich, woodsy flavor that your really should try.  This dish, uses both, accepted by the mellow taste of leeks to great effect.  In my case, I used just cremini mushrooms, but this dish is excellent when you use a wide variety of mushrooms; shitake, oyster mushrooms, enoki.  I use a kamado-san donabe for preparation for a couple of reasons: firstly, the even heat steams the rice to perfection; secondly, it is just a super-cool pot; but most importantly, the even heat from the clay steams the rice but does not overcook the mushrooms or the leeks.  One of these days, I will get around to writing something about the relative merits of this particular pot.  Burdock root is available at most Asian grocery stores, and is identifiable as a long, brown root, usually bundled in sets of 2 or 3, wrapped in plastic wrap.  cut into convenient lengths and placed in a gallon ziploc, it keeps for a very long time in the refrigerator.… 

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Baba Ghanouj Salad

Baba Ghanouj SaladThis chunky, fresh-tasting salad comes dangerously close to being a salsa.  It boasts the bright, clean flavors of scallions, citrus, and mint.  This is backed by the smooth and somewhat smoky taste of the broiled eggplant.  The pomegranate reduction adds a unique sharpness to round out the dish and provide even more depth.  This is a really versatile salad that will be right at home with a variety of meat dishes.  In our case, this meat was smoked chicken.

Preparing this dish is going to take a bit of time on your part, because it simply takes time to broil, peel and chop the eggplant.  It is, however, well worth the time investment, as you will end up with a richly flavored side that is really quite special.  Nothing else about this dish is particularly difficult, and after you make it once, you will probably be quite comfortable adjusting the ingredients to customize the flavor.  For example, in the version that we prepare, we use less walnuts and also prefer dried cranberries instead of pomegranate seeds.  Try either the version below or the original that Suzanne Husseini published in her book, Modern Flavors of Arabia.  This is an excellent book if you are interested in exploring this type of cuisine or simply like the blend of flavors represented by this dish…. 

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Lentils with Chilies and Black Pepper

Lentils with Chilis and Black PepperSo, Sunday dinner was coming up and I had a problem on my hands.  We we going to serve a new variety of smoked chicken (Americana), an eggplant salad (Mediterranean), smoked corn on the cob (also Americana), and……something.  So what should that something be?  The amount of food was not an issue.  The eggplant salad seems to cover both the vegetable and side dish categories.  But something else was needed.  Should it be a Mediterranean or Middle Eastern style pilaf or should there be some type of bread represented at the table?  The cruel reality that confronted me was this; if we were going to have bread, I needed something for that bread to do.  In my opinion, bread without purpose is wasted  bread.  Since there was nothing for the bread to do while at the table (and, frankly I was a little tired of rice), I reached for the ever popular paste-of-legume strategy.

It is generally a good idea to have some form of carbohydrate represented at the table.  This can be a potato, a squash, or a yam, but more commonly you see one of the three workhorses at our table; pasta, bread, rice.  They are the purest representatives of family Carb, and are that family’s ambassadors.  But none of these ambassadors can stand alone; they need staff.  … 

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Chickpeas Fried with Harissa and Spinach – A Quick Psuedo-Curry

Chickpeas Fried with Harissa and SpinachI made this as part of my lunch today…in less than 5 minutes!  Granted, I had cooked chickpeas on hand and I had a jar of harissa in the refrigerator.  But that does not change the fact that in a very short amount of time, I had a lovely side dish and was eating it.  Think to your own situation.  Is it possible to keep a can of cooked chickpeas on hand, or better yet, get a pressure cooker and keep some handy?  Do you have room in your refrigerator to store a pint jar full of harissa, which will keep well for months.  Would this inconvenience you in any way?  To me, any inconvenience that could come out of these things seems easily offset by having the ability to quickly produce such a tasty thing to eat…. 

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Lemon-Simmered Kabocha Squash

DSC_0174My childhood memories of squash are not fond.  During the winters along the Lower Columbia River, we ate an abundance of squash in all its many forms.  After all, it was cheap, easy to grow, and stored well.  There was, however, this slight problem with monotony..soul crushing monotony.  I was a little surprised, when I got older, that there was more than one way to cook a squash.  And that other people were doing more than baking them with butter and brown sugar.  How was I to know?  I also remember being delighted when I found out that, once I stopped bathing all squash in butter and sugar, that different types of squash taste…different.  Weird.  I never saw that one coming.

Kabocha squash is a great example.  It is a deep green, thin skinned squash commonly used in Japanese dishes; although there it is called a pumpkin.  The flesh is mildly sweet, fine-grained and rich in in flavor.  The skin is delicate enough to eat and, because you leave it on, contributes to some pretty good looking dishes.  For this side dish, we add to these already solid traits by simmering the squash in dashi (Sea Stock) and lemon juice.  The lemon balances out the sweetness of the squash and the dashi brings some fine, smoky overtones. … 

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