Category Archives: Mediterranean Diet

Lebanese Plate (yum!)

Sometimes I just have to cook for myself. I really do. I cook all day for others and sometimes it just feels food to cook for me. Anyhow, this is what I had for dinner tonight (click any of the highlighted words for recipes)…moudardara with lamb (rice with lentils and vermicelli), hummus, labna (yogurt cheese), and kabis malfouf (spicy pickled cabbage). For more Lebanese-inspired recipes, click here.

Urban Simplicity.

Apple (the fruit, not the corporation)

Image found here.
“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food” 
 I love apples. Well, ok, most fruits. But this wasn’t always the case. It’s something I’ve really grown to enjoy as an adult…these days a meal without a piece of fruit is not complete. Fruit, of course, is good (really good) and good for you. But this short video fortifies how really powerful it is. 

Polpette di ceci (senza carne)

So I’ve mentioned before on this blog that while I am not a vegetarian I do not eat a great deal of meat, and there are plenty of days when I simply do not want any. Today was one of those days. These chickpea balls are definitely not a replacement for meatballs because they taste and feel nothing like a meatball that is made with meat. But, on the other hand, these are really delicious and very satisfying. They are also exceedingly easy to make. After searing they can be baked in an oven and served as an appetizer with any number of dipping sauces, or–as I did tonight–they can be poached in tomato sauce and served with pasta. Either way they are simple and delicious. The recipe is below.

Chickpea Meatless Balls
polpette di ceci (senza carne)
Makes about 2 dozen small balls
1 (15oz) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 small onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon basil
½ teaspoon crushed hot pepper
½ teaspoon whole fennel seed
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon turmeric
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 large eggs
1 cup breadcrumbs
olive oil for pan-frying
Combine all of the ingredients except the breadcrumbs and olive oil in the bowl of a food processor and process until nearly smooth. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and knead in the bread crumbs. Allow it to rest for a couple minutes, then knead it again for another minute. Shape the dough into small balls. Heat the a heavy skillet with a thin layer of oil and cook the chickpea balls until golden. Finish cooking the meatless balls on a tray in a preheated oven, or transfer them to a pot of tomato sauce and poach them for about 10 minutes.

Urban Simplicity.

Lentil Soup with Vegetables and Lebanese Spices

This is a variation of my more traditional Lebanese Lentil Soup recipe; in this version I added many more vegetables. This is super easy to make and yes it tastes as good as it looks. The vegetables I added are simply suggestions (it’s what I had on hand), use whatever you like. This is easily a meal in itself, and if you reduce the liquid and make it thick enough you can serve it over rice. And while it is a large-ish quantity, this soup freezes well. This soup is delicious and appropriate year-round but is especially fitting during the colder months.

Lentil Soup with Vegetables and Lebanese Spices 

Makes about 12 cups
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 bell pepper, diced
1 carrot, diced
2 cups diced cabbage
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons Lebanese seven spice mix
1 teaspoon turmeric
½ teaspoon sea salt
1 cup lentils
1 (15oz.) can diced tomatoes
8 cups chicken broth
1 potato, peeled and diced
2 cups (about 5oz. Fresh spinach, chopped
½ cup lemon juice

Heat the oil in a heavy soup pot over medium-high heat then add the onion pepper, carrot, and cabbage. Sweat the vegetables for a few minutes then add the garlic; cook the vegetables a couple minutes longer. Stir in the seven spice mix, turmeric, and salt; cook for a minute or so, then add the lentils, tomatoes, chicken broth, and potato. Bring the soup to a boil, then lower it to a simmer. Cook the soup for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. If it becomes too thick add additional broth or water. Stir in the spinach and cook it for about 5 minutes. Then stir in the lemon juice and simmer another five minutes, or until the lentils are very soft.

Lebanese Seven SpiceMix 

Makes about 4 tablespoons
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon ground allspice
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground ginger

Mix the spices together and store in an airtight container, or use as needed.

Urban Simplicity.

It’s amazing what a little oil and garlic can do…

Okay. So you’re likely wondering what’s with the picture. Right? It’s not much to look at, and what is it anyhow. Simple…spaghetti squash cooked with aglio e olio, or with garlic and oil (and a few other things. As simple as this photo looks the squash is bursting with flavor. It’s amazing what a little caramelized garlic, a few hot peppers, a pinch of salt, and some olive oil can do…it makes anything taste great. Well maybe not anything, but most things. Especially vegetables and pasta. To learn how to make this particular recipe (with photos and step-by-step instructions) click here. To learn how to cook nearly anything in this fashion, click here. Try any of these recipes, you won’t be sorry; they are as good as they are simple to make.

Urban Simplicity.

Toum! (an interpretation)

So this is a variation of a variation of a variation…but geeze ‘o man is it good. What, you may wonder, am I talking about. Garlic mayonnaise and it’s many variation. The south of France (and Italy and Spain) have Aioli (the French word for garlic is ail), in the Middle East there is the potent Toum (which simply translates as garlic), and in Greece there is Skordalia (not sure of the etymology of this one). And then there’s my most recent version I’ll call beaonnaise [sic]. But I’m jumping ahead. I love to eat a sandwich at lunch, and I also love the flavor of garlic. And in my continued effort to eat healthier (minus the eggs and low grade oil in most mayonnaise) I made this and it is really easy (and super delicious). I just recently found out that beans–and especially chickpeas–contain lecithin, which of course is the same emulsifying agent that is in egg yolks. And we all know that beans in general are really good for you, and so is olive oil, so I replaced the egg yolk with chic peas. Delicious. You can cut down on or increase the amount of garlic as you like, and with the aid of a blender this will take about 2 minutes to make. And because there are no raw egg yolks this will last a while in the fridge…but it likely will not because it is so delicious.


Makes about 1½ cups

1 (15 ounce can) chick peas, drained and rinsed

2-4 cloves garlic

¼ cup lemon juice

½ teaspoon sea salt

½ cup virgin olive oil

Combine all of the ingredients except the olive oil in a blender and puree. While the blender is running add the olive oil in a thin stream. Continue to blend for 30 seconds, or until the beaonnaise is light and fluffy.


Pesto is similar to sofrito in that it is both an ingredient and a stand-alone recipe. It can be eaten as is–as a dip or spread–or added to recipes as a flavor enhancer. The word loosely translates from the Italian as “pounded,” because this was originally made with a mortar and pestle. But with the aid of a blender this is one of the easiest recipes you’ll ever make. It is classically made with basil, pine nuts, garlic, olive oil, and cheese, but ingredients can be interchanged. Tonight, for example, I made it with basil and parsley (which were still growing in the garden), almonds that I had in my pantry, garlic, olive oil, Parmesan, and a single hot pepper that was still growing in the garden. I tossed it with pasta for dinner and froze what I didn’t use. Here’s a basic recipe.


Makes about 3/4 cup

1 cup fresh herbs
2 cloves garlic
1/4 cup nuts
1/4 cup virgin olive oil
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese 

Combine all of the ingredients in a blender and puree until smooth.

Urban Simplicity.


Sofrito is both an ingredient, a seasoning, and a recipe all by itself. It is a simple method of simmering onion, peppers, garlic, and tomatoes in olive oil. But the flavor it imparts can be transformative to a dish. The key here is long slow cooking…it really brings out the flavors. But is often the case, I’m jumping ahead. I’ve often cooked this way but never gave it much thought. That is until this past year when I began a conscious diet to lower my cholesterol count. Luckily for me the Mediterranean diet is one of the healthiest there is, because it is in fact my favorite way to eat…I just need to cut out the chocolate chip cookies and french fries. So lately I have been doing a bit of research. I had known of sofrito for years but never really gave it much thought as being really good for you, but it is (click here, here, or here). Sofrito can be combined with other ingredients such as rice (it makes a rice pilaf taste great), it can be the base to a great pasta dish, topped over vegetables, or used as a base to braise fish. The simple procedure goes like this…line a pot or skillet with olive oil and heat it over medium heat. Add diced onions and peppers and simmer/saute them until they begin to caramelize. Add minced garlic and saute a minute longer, then add fresh or canned tomato. Simmer until the moisture of the tomatoes evaporates and the mixture sort of mashes together and begins to caramelize again. And that’s it. Add other herbs or spices if you like, or not. Anyhow, if you are interested in learning if you are in fact eating a Mediterranean diet, here’s a brief quiz at the New York Times.

Urban Simplicity.

Pasta d’oro con fagioli

This is an easy and delicious variation on the classic pasta dish, pasta e fagioli (pasta with beans), which is often meatless but when it does contain meat it is usually pork. In this particular recipe I used smoked turkey which offers some of the smokiness of bacon or other pork products. I also added a healthy pinch of saffron, which gives it its lovely golden hue (hence the d’oro title). As usual, this recipe is not carved in stone and is just a suggestion; use whichever flavor combinations you like. And while this recipe is scaled to serve a crowd it can be halved (or quartered) and freezes well also. But something tells me that after a taste there will be no need to freeze it…


Golden Pasta with Beans and Smoked Turkey

(pasta d’oro con fagioli)

Makes about 6 quarts

1 pound dried white beans

4 tablespoons olive oil

1 pound smoked turkey, diced

1 small onion, diced

4 ribs celery, diced

2 carrots, diced

1 green bell pepper, diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon basil leaves

1 teaspoon oregano leaves

1 teaspoon fennel seed

1 teaspoon crushed hot pepper

1 generous pinch saffron

6 plum tomatoes, diced

4 quarts chicken broth

½ teaspoon kosher salt

1 pound ditalini pasta

Parmesan cheese to serve

Rinse the beans, then place them in a pot or bowl with enough cool water to cover them by two inches. Soak the beans for a few hours, or overnight, then drain them and set aside. Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in a heavy soup pot and add the turkey, browning it slightly. Remove the turkey and set aside. To the same hot pot, add the onion, celery, carrots, and bell pepper. Saute the vegetables for a couple minutes, then add the garlic and saute another minute. Stir in the basil, oregano, fennel, hot pepper, and saffron. Cook the herbs and spices for a minute or so to bring out their flavors. Add the soaked beans to the pot, along with the browned turkey, and the tomatoes, broth, and salt. Bring the broth to a boil, then lower to a simmer. Cook the beans for about an hour, or until very soft, stirring as needed. If too much liquid evaporates, a water or broth. When the beans are soft add the pasta to the pot and simmer about ten minutes.

Urban Simplicity.


Ratatouille is the perfect summer vegetable dish. The ingredients are at peak season, and are easily grown in a home victory garden…I in fact grew these. The main ingredients–zucchini, eggplant, tomatoes, peppers, and basil–need very little tending, they almost grow like weeds.

With its tongue-twisting title it may come off as a somewhat intimidating recipe, but on the contrary; it’s a simple and versatile country dish that is based on using seasonal vegetables. Its name is said to come from the archaic French word, touiller, meaning to stir or toss.

It’s a versatile recipe that can be served hot, at room temperature, or even chilled; it will taste better the second day after its flavors are allowed to “marry.” Ratatouille is excellent as a side dish, an entrée, or tossed with pasta. With the addition of a little wine or broth, it also makes a flavorful braising base for chicken or seafood (I ate it for dinner this evening tossed with penne pasta and plenty of Parmesan). It’s really simple to make, very flavorful and healthy, and it keep well also.

Yield: about 4 cups

1/4 cup olive oil

1 small onion, peeled and diced

1 medium bell pepper, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 medium zucchini, diced

1 small eggplant, diced

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

2 medium tomatoes, diced

1 cup chicken or vegetable broth

8 fresh basil leaves, coarsely chopped

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet. Add the onion, bell peppers and garlic; sauté for 5 minutes over medium heat. Add the zucchini and eggplant; sauté 5 minutes. Stir in the salt, pepper, tomatoes, and broth. Bring to a simmer and allow to cook for about 30 minutes, stirring as needed. If it becomes too dry add more broth. Stir in the basil a few minutes before serving.

Asparagi aglio e olio (and a few other ingredients)

Olive oil, garlic, hot pepper, and lemon. Brilliant. Yes, I know I’ve posted this recipe before (and those similar to it), but I can’t get enough of it. It is so easy to make and so delicious I’m going to keep posting it/them until you make a variation of it 🙂

Stove-Top Braised Asparagus with Olive Oil, Lemon, Garlic, and Hot pepper
Serves four
¼ cup virgin olive oil
1 bunch asparagus, trimmed of their fibrous ends
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon crushed hot pepper
½ teaspoon sea salt
1 lemon, juiced
Heat the oil in a large skillet then add the asparagus. Sprinkle the garlic, hot pepper, and salt on and around the asparagus. Gently shake the pan, and using tongs, turn the asparagus in the pan. Add a few tablespoons water to the pan, then lower the heat and place a lid on it for a couple minutes. Remove the lid and add the lemon juice to the pan, gently turning the asparagus. Transfer the asparagus to a clean plate and pour the oil and lemon over it, along with the garlic and hot pepper. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Mediterranean Chickpea Burgers (yum!)

Crispy and super flavorful. So yes, these are as delicious as they look. They are really easy to make, and can be frozen, too. Eat them on a sandwich, place them on a salad, or nibble them straight from the pan…you won’t be sorry if you make this recipe. For a southwestern black bean-cheddar version of these burgers, click here.


Mediterranean Chickpea Burgers (with sun-dried tomatoes, feta, and rosemary)

Makes 10 (4 ounce) burgers

2 (15 ounce) cans chickpeas, rinsed and drained
2 eggs
¼ cup hot pepper sauce
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
2 teaspoons turmeric
1 teaspoon sea salt
6-8 sun dried tomatoes, minced
2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary
1 small bunch Italian parsley, chopped
½ small onion, minced
½ red bell pepper, minced
1 cup crumbled feta (3-4 ounces)
1 cup bread crumbs (plus extra for dusting)

Olive oil for cooking

Place half of the chickpeas in a food processor and pulse for just a few seconds, until coarse but slightly mashed; transfer these beans to a large bowl. Add the remaining beans to the food processor along with the eggs, hot pepper sauce, garlic, smoked paprika, turmeric, and sea salt; process until very smooth, then add this mixture to the bowl with the coarse beans. Add the sun-dried tomatoes, rosemary, parsley, onion, and bell pepper to the bowl also. Mix everything thoroughly, then add the cheese and bread crumbs and mix again. Divide the mix into ten balls and shape into burgers, transferring them to platters or a baking sheet that is lightly dusted with breadcrumbs. Heat a large heavy skillet with 1/8th  inch olive oil over medium-high heat. Cook the burgers for about 10 minutes, turning them as necessary, or until golden, crispy, and cooked throughout. Transfer to absorbent paper before serving.

Urban Simplicity.

Rice-and-beans (#1); a few thoughts on a very humble dish…

Rice-and-beans (yum!)…what is not to like about this dish. It’s simple to make, it is made using one single pot, it is really inexpensive to produce even large quantities, variations are seemingly endless, and it is really good for you…some say it carries complete nutrition (this is an interesting but brief article at NPR). For many peoples around the globe this is a mainstay in their diet. Indeed, for a brief period way back in the mid-1980’s I pretty much survived on a 99¢ red beans-and-rice lunch special while living a vagabond life in New Orleans. Rice and beans also fits nicely into the Mediterranean diet, which I love and have pretty much eaten for years without trying. Rice dishes and pasta dishes are the two main dishes that I eat at home. And over the years I’ve slowly migrated to using whole wheat pasta and brown rice in the recipes, which of course tastes just as good but are so much better for you. Anyhow, because I eat this dish so often–or variations of it–I thought I’d start recording some of the recipes and sharing them. The recipe below is the basic formula for this recipe and the one on which most of my rice pilafs are based. I used canned beans in this particular recipe–which I sometimes do–but to use dried beans simply soak, then cook and drain, a little more than 1/2 cup dried beans, which will yield about the same as a 15 ounce can. The difference between the recipe below and the one pictured is subtle. I added a half teaspoon of turmeric to the recipe (as I do with most my rice recipes because I like the yellow hue and also because turmeric is so good for you). I also added a diced jalapeno, and a handful of chopped parsley and basil that I had growing in my garden. With meat or without (or even with seafood) this recipe is delicious and really good for you. And leftovers taste really good, too…

Brown Rice-and-Beans
Serves four
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup brown rice
2 ½ cups broth
½ teaspoon salt
1 (15 oz.) can beans, rinsed
Heat the oil in a small sauce pot. Add the onion and sauté for a few minutes, then add the garlic and cook it for another minute or two. Stir in the rice, then the broth and salt. Bring to a boil then lower to a slow simmer. Cover the pot and simmer simmer the rice for about 30 minutes. Add the beans (just lay them on top of the rice; do not stir at this point). If it looks as if too much liquid has evaporated add more. Cover the pot and simmer for another 10 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat—leaving it covered—and allow it to rest for another 5 minutes or so. Remove the lid and gently fold in the beans.

Urban Simplicity.

Onion, Pepper, and Garlic Confit

This is really a play on the classic confit d’ail, or preserved garlic (find that recipe here). It’s a simple recipe that–especially in the case of these peppers–really packs a punch. What it boils down to (yes, the pun was intended) is that you slowly poach the vegetables in olive oil until soft as butter and lightly browned. You can store them in the oil (as was originally intended) as a for of preservation, or you can eat them straight away (as is often the case). You can also incorporate them and the oil into another recipe for a flavor boost. Anyhow, this is really easy to make. For a full description read this post.

Urban Simplicity.

Chicken and Vegetable Ragout with Lebanese Seven (or Eight) Spice Seasoning

Okay, so this is good. Really good. Delicious (if I do say so my self). It’s easy to make (about 30 minutes once the vegetables are cut) and it’s likely pretty healthy, too. It’s a basic braised chicken and vegetable dish with Middle Eastern seasoning. This, like most of the recipes on this blog, is just a suggestion and not carved in stone. I used the ingredients I happened to have at hand; if you have or like other vegetables or meats use them. As far as the seasonings go I love this combination…sweet spices mingling with seared vegetables and meat and then simmered together. Your house will smell amazing while it cooks (if you live in an apartment building neighbors may stop by). I didn’t have any lemon on hand, if I did I may have finished it with that and a bit of parsley. And if for some odd reason it doesn’t all get eaten…leftovers will taste even better.

Chicken and Vegetable Ragout with Lebanese Seven (or Eight) Spice Seasoning

Serves four

4 tablespoons olive oil

1 ½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs

1 medium potato, washed and diced

1 small onion, diced

1 small carrot, diced

1 green bell pepper, diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

1-2 tablespoons seven spice mix

1 teaspoon turmeric

½ teaspoon salt

1 medium eggplant, diced

2 large tomatoes, seeded and diced

1 ½ cups chicken broth

Heat the olive oil in a very large skillet or a medium kettle over high heat. Add the chicken and brown it on both sides, the remove it to a plate. Add the potato and brown it slightly, then remove it to a plate or bowl. Add the onion, carrot, and green pepper. Cook these vegetables for a few minutes—until they begin to brown—stirring and scraping up any bits of crispy chicken that may have stuck to the bottom of the pan. Add the garlic first, then the seven spice mix, the turmeric, and finally the salt; cook for just a minute or two. Then stir in the eggplant, tomatoes, and broth. Add the seared chicken and potatoes back to the pan, bring it to a boil then lower it to a low simmer. Cover the pan and simmer the ragout for 20-30 minutes.


Lebanese Seven Spice Mix

Makes about ¼ cup

1 tablespoon ground black pepper

1 tablespoon ground allspice

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon ground cloves

1 teaspoon ground ginger

Mix the spices together and store in an airtight container, or use as needed.

This is way more fun than cutting a lawn…

It has been more than ten years since I tore up my teeny front lawn and planted a teeny vegetable garden which yields big results. And over the years it–the garden–has spread to other areas around the house; the side and rear, mainly. But this year–because of various reasons–I have only planted the front yard garden…sort of getting back to basics. It’s doing well and tonight was the first significant haul of the season…broccoli. It is so satisfying picking the broccoli and cooking it just feet from where it grew and remembering when you planted it (I could go on). At any rate, I’ve posted this recipe numerous times prior but it is one f my favorite. It is simple, nutritious, and really easy to make. If you haven’t made this yet I hope you give it a try.


Penne alla aglio e olio con broccoli in brodo

(Penne with Garlic, Oil, Broccoli, and Chicken Broth)

Yield: 4 servings
3/4 pound whole wheat penne
1/2 cup virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon crushed hot pepper
1/2 cup chicken broth
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 cups chopped broccoli florets
3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
Cook the pasta and drain it. Heat the olive oil in a heavy skillet with the garlic and hot pepper flakes. When the garlic just starts to change color add the chicken broth and salt. Cook the broth for one minute, until it reduces by half, and then add the broccoli. Toss the broccoli for a few minutes. Add the cooked pasta, and stir it until thoroughly coated with the other ingredients. Stir in the cheese just before serving.

Kibbet Batata with Broccoli Cheddar Hashwa and Lentil Salsah

This is a contemporary version (fusion?) of traditional Lebanese kibbeh (pie or patties made with meat or vegetables and bulgar wheat). Most often this is made with meat (and sometimes eaten raw), but there are plenty of vegetarian versions out there as well, and this is just one of them. The vegetable recipes are usually eaten during Lent, but in my opinion are just as good any time. Potato is one of the traditional recipes, but what makes this nontraditional is the hashwa (stuffing)…it is made of broccoli and cheddar. Anyhow, this may look complicated at first, but it’s really not. Each recipe is really simple to make. And as always, these are just suggestions, use whatever seasonings or ingredients that suits your needs or tastes.

Kibbet Batata with Broccoli Cheddar Hashwa and Lentil Salsah
(Potato and Bulgar Wheat Patties with Broccoli Cheddar Stuffing and Lentil Sauce)
For the Kibbeh:
Makes about a dozen patties
1/3 cup bulgar wheat
1 rather large potato, peeled and diced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ bunch flat leaf parsley, chopped
1 large egg
½ teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon Lebanese seven spice blend
½ teaspoon turmeric
½ cup whole wheat flour (or more if needed)
Place the bulgar in a small bowl and cover it with room temperature water. Let the bulgar soak for about 20 minutes. Boil the potato until soft, then drain it thoroughly. Drain the bulgar, squeezing any excess water, then combine it with the cooked potato in a bowl and bash it gently, then set aside. Heat the olive oil in a small skillet over medium heat, add the onion and cook until it begins to brown. Add the garlic and cook it for another minute or two. Transfer the onion and garlic to the bowl with the potato and bulgar along with the remaining ingredients (parsley, egg, salt, 7-spice, turmeric, and flour). Mix together thoroughly, then let rest for a few minutes. At this point the kibbeh can be baked in a pan, shaped into balls or patties (stuffed or plain) and fried, or shaped into balls or patties and braised in a sauce.
For the Broccoli and Cheddar Hashwa (Stuffing)
1 head cooked broccoli
3-4 ounces cheddar cheese
½ teaspoon sea salt
Using a food processor fitted with a grating attachment, grate the cheddar and broccoli (lacking a food processor, hand grate the cheese and mince the broccoli by hand). Add the salt and mix together in a bowl.
To Assemble the Kibbeh
Divide the dough into about twelve balls. Flatten them to about ½ inch. Place a portion of the stuffing onto each piece of dough. Gently lift the dough with the stuffing (you’ll likely need a spatula for this), and with wet hands wrap the dough around the stuffing, sealing it in. Shape the dough into discs, patties, balls, or football shapes. Cook to your preference (fried, baked, braised, etc).
Spicy and Lemony Lentil-Tomato Sauce
Makes about 3 cups
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, minced
1 small bell pepper, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ teaspoon crushed hot pepper
½ teaspoon sea salt
¼ teaspoon turmeric
1 (14 ounce can) small diced tomatoes
1/3 cup dried lentils
2 cups chicken broth
¼ cup lemon juice
Heat the olive oil in a small sauce pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion and pepper, then the garlic, cooking them until they just begin to brown. Stir in the crushed hot pepper, salt, and turmeric; cook for a minute or two while stirring. Then add the tomatoes, broth, and lemon juice. Bring to a boil then lower to a very low simmer. Cook the sauce for about 45 minutes, stirring frequently, until the lentils are soft and the sauce has reduced and thickened. If it becomes too thick, add additional broth.

Farfalline with Asparagus, Tomatoes, Chicken Broth, Saffron, Garlic Confit, and Fontinella

This is a continuation of a previous post regarding garlic confit…here’s an example of a recipe in which I used it. I made this for staff lunch at work yesterday. At first glance this may look complicated but it is really very simple…and really delicious. Other than the chicken broth this recipe is meatless but it would go really well with seafood or poultry. This is also a restaurant-quality recipe that can be made in your home kitchen for a fraction of the cost. If I were only allowed one word to describe this dish it would be: Flavor (and the accompanying sound would be: Mmmm…)

Farfallinewith Asparagus, Tomatoes, Chicken Broth, Saffron, Garlic Confit, and Fontinella
Makes about 4 servings.
½ pound farfalline
1 cup chicken broth
1 pinch saffron
4 tablespoons olive oil
½ onion, diced
4 cloves garlic confit
2 plum tomatoes, seeded and diced
1 bunch asparagus, cut into 1-inch pieces
½ teaspoon sea salt
1 cup shredded Fontinella cheese
Cook the pasta al dente in plenty of salted boiling water, then drain it and set aside. Bring the chicken broth to a boil, add the saffron, remove it from the heat and set aside. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook it for a couple minutes, then add the garlic confit, mashing the garlic with the back of a spoon. Add the tomatoes and then the saffron- chicken broth. Bring to a boil then lower to a simmer. Simmer the broth for a couple minutes, then add the asparagus and salt. Stir and cook the asparagus for a couple minutes, until just cooked, then stir in the pasta. Gently stir the pasta to coat and reheat it (if too much broth has evaporated add more). Remove the skillet from the heat and stir in the cheese, gently folding and tossing it to coat evenly.

Confit d’ail

The French name for this two-ingredient but flavor-packed recipe translates simply as preserved garlic, but what it is in the literal sense is garlic that has been slowly simmered in olive oil. And this has many great outcomes. The most obvious is that it removes the garlic’s sharpness (but I like that, too). It also makes the cloves as soft as butter (literally). Once cooked in this fashion the garlic can simply be spread on toast points (if you’re not planning any close tête-à-têtes). But where this really shines is an ingredient in other recipes. Mash it into the pan when making pasta recipes, puree it with sauces or dips, and use it in soups or stews (I use this garlic method when making Lebanese lentil and lamb soup/stew). And while I keep mentioning on what to do with the garlic, a bi-product of this recipe is the oil. Initially this recipe was likely meant as a confit (a way of preserving the garlic) by packing it in oil. Today, of course–with modern refrigeration–this is no longer necessary. But the oil itself is delicious. Use this garlic-infused oil to saute vegetables, chicken, or fish for added flavor, or simply dip bread in it. I could go on about this simple recipe but I’ll stop here with just one more simple comment…this is good stuff; try this, you won’t be sorry.

Confit d’ail
peeled garlic cloves
olive oil
Lay fresh peeled garlic cloves in a single layer in a small skillet. Add enough olive oil to the pan that the garlic cloves are sufficiently covered. Set the skillet over medium-high heat and cook it until the garlic begins to simmer in the oil. Lower the heat so the garlic is very slowly simmering. Cook the garlic for about 10 minutes, or until it is golden brown and very soft. Allow the garlic to cool in the oil. It is ready to use as is or it can be stored in the oil in refrigeration. 

Urban Simplicity.

Put some stuff on it! (or, Pizza: history in every bite)

Pizzas Pictured (from front to back): Za’atar and shanklish; Margherita; boursin cheese with smoked trout and smoked salmon; pesto and portobello mushroom (click the image for a larger view).

One of the aspects of food that I have always found interesting—besides cooking and eating it—is its history. And to study food history is in a certain way studying civilization itself. Even common everyday foods have a history…someone had to be the first to make it. Case in point: Pizza, which of course is nothing more than bread with stuff on it.

While pizza is so common in America it may as well be an American product, but of course it is not (and of course I am writing this from purely an American view). Nor—some may be dismayed to learn—are its origins Italian, at least not exclusively. Pizza, or simple versions of it, most likely began east of Italy; Greece maybe, or possibly Egypt or the Levant. Some speculate that the ancient Phoenicians first developed a seasoned flatbread that was pizza’s precursor and brought it on their nautical travels. The etymological origins of pizza are said to come from the Greek word pita (or pitta), which means pie or a sort of flat cake. The Eastern Mediterranean is the area where bread, and specifically flatbread, first came into existence. In many Middle Eastern countries today, where bread is still baked flat, it is not only a foodstuff, it is also a utensil. It was surely only a matter of time before food was baked onto the bread.

What I find truly interesting is that while more toppings were added as pizza evolved, there were originally no tomatoes to be had; they didn’t arrive in Italy (from the “New World”) until the 16th century and weren’t considered edible until the early 1700’s. One of the first recorded pizzas to resemble those that we know today is the still-famous Pizza Margherita. It was first baked (or at least first served) on June 11, 1889 by a cook named Raffaele Esposito. He was catering an event for Queen Margherita di Savoia and paid homage to the colors of Italy’s flag: red (tomato), white (mozzarella) and green (basil). I can’t help but wonder what the cook’s outcome would have been should the Queen not have liked the new fangled food.

Pizza as a recipe is exceedingly easy to prepare. Most people are afraid of homemade dough but it is really very simple and will get easier the more you make it. There are plenty of pre-made and often frozen doughs available, but with the aid of an electric mixer you can make good quality dough in the time it takes to thaw one out. A couple key things to remember are to preheat your oven and don’t overload the pizza with too many or soggy ingredients otherwise the pizza itself will be soggy. And remember, also, that the next time you bite into a slice of steaming hot pizza, whether you made it or purchased it, what you have in your hand is not only food…it’s a veritable (and edible) slice of history.

Basic Pizza Dough
Yield: 4 (12 inch) pizza crusts
2 1/3 cups water
2 packages yeast
6 cups bread flour, divided
3 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoon salt

Combine the water, yeast, and 2 cups of flour in the bowl of an upright mixer; stir, cover, and allow to ferment 30 minutes. Add the remaining 4 cups flour along with the olive oil and yeast. Fit the mixer with a dough hook and begin mixing on low speed. Once it forms a ball turn the speed to medium and knead about 8 minutes. Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap; allow the dough to ferment and rise for 1 hour, or until it doubles in size. At this point it may be rolled out for pizza, used to make bread, or refrigerated for a few days; it can also frozen for up to 6 months.

Pizza Margherita
Yield: 2 (12 inch) pizzas
1/2 recipe pizza dough
2 tablespoon cornmeal
2 teaspoon minced garlic
2 large ripe tomatoes, diced (about 2 cups)
8 large leaves fresh basil, very coarsely chopped
8 ounces grated mozzarella cheese
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoon olive oil

Preheat an oven to 475 F. Lightly oil 2 (12 inch) pizza pans (or square baking pans). Divide the dough and roll out and transfer it to the pans. Distribute the ingredients across the dough with the cheese being last. Bake the pizzas for 15 – 20 minutes, or until the bottoms are crisp and the cheese is golden. Allow to cool for 5 minutes before slicing.

Spinach-Feta Pizza with Honey-Brown Rice Crust
Makes 2 Pizzas
1/4 cup olive oil
1 small onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 cups fresh spinach, washed
2 teaspoons kosher salt
4 ounces feta, crumbled
4 ounces mozzarella, shredded

Preheat an oven to 450F. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet and add the onion and sauté for a minute or two. Then add the garlic and sauté another minute. Add the spinach and salt to the pan, turning and stirring it to coat it in oil. Cook the spinach just a minute or two, or until it wilts; transfer it to a plate to cool slightly while you roll out the dough. Lightly oil (2) 12 inch pizza pans (or square baking pans). Divide the dough and roll out and transfer it to the pans. Distribute the ingredients across the dough with the cheese being last. Bake the pizzas for 15 – 20 minutes, or until the bottoms are crisp and the cheese is golden. Allow to cool for 5 minutes before slicing.