vegetable broth

Polenta is a popular staple back home in Brazil. I grew up eating lots of it and never got bored. My mother cooked it on her fire wood stove in an iron pan. It had to cook forever! So she would use a wooden spoon to stir it occasionally while she prepared other delicious dishes at the same time. Wood fires are tricky and you can’t always get excellent temperature control. Occasionally the polenta would burn a bit at the bottom. That was the part I liked the most. That burned crust had a singular smoky flavor whose memory makes my mouth water. Mom didn’t like it, despite everyone praising it to the skies. She was a perfectionist in the kitchen.

shiitake mushroom polenta with truffle salt

shiitake mushroom polenta with truffle salt

my polenta and truffle salt--thanks for that Devaki!

my polenta and truffle salt--thanks for that Devaki!

My mother made her polenta in one of two ways. Both started with just corn, salt and water. For the first variation, she’d cover it with a nice tomato sauce. Alternatively, she’d let it harden then cut it into finger-sized pieces which she’d fry in hot oil. Sometimes day old polenta would appear for our breakfast too. Delish!

Yotam Ottolenghi in Plenty tells the story of his dad making polenta for him while growing up which reminded me of my own childhood. So this dish is in the spirit of Ottolenghi’s father and my mother. I’ve modified his recipe mostly because I didn’t have all the ingredients. And of course I made the polenta mom’s way (on an electric stove if you were wondering).

shiitake mushroom polenta with truffle salt

6½ cups vegetable broth*
2 cups yellow corn grits (I used organic Bob’s Red Mill)
1 tsp kosher salt
½ cup 6 month aged Manchego cheese, sliced thinly
1/3 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Kosher salt
2½ cups fresh shiitake mushrooms, halved with stems if soft enough
Truffle salt
3 tbsp butter
4 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp chopped chives
3 cloves garlic, minced

*for the broth:

1 carrot
2 shallots
1 stalk celery

Begin by making the broth. Fill a pot with 8-10 cups of water, add celery, carrot and shallot, bring to a boil and simmer for 15 minutes. Discard solids.

Add 6 and ½ cups veggie broth to a heavy bottomed pan and bring it to a boil. Add salt, gradually stir in corn grits. Reduce temperature to medium low and cook for 30 minutes. You need to stir it frequently to prevent sticking. A whisk does this job fairly well.

Ten minutes before polenta is ready turn the broiler on and prepare the mushrooms. Heat a large skillet on high. I did mine in two batches. Add ½ of the olive oil. Once it becomes aromatic, toss in half of the mushrooms and sauté them until slightly caramelized on the cut side. Stir to cook evenly. In the last minute, add ½ of the garlic. Toss together with mushrooms and just cook long enough for raw aromas to dissipate. Transfer to a bowl and keep warm. Repeat process with the second batch.

At this point polenta should be ready. Turn heat off. Add butter and Parmegiano-Reggiano. Stir. Add a bit more kosher salt if needed. Pour into a serving platter. Spread slices of Manchego cheese over the finished polenta. Broil the dish long enough for cheese to melt and become bubbly, about a minute or so. Remove from oven, top polenta with mushrooms and sprinkle with truffle salt. Return to the oven and broil for a couple of minutes more. Remove from heat. Sprinkle with chives and voilá!

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This intensely flavorful recipe comes from the wonderful blog, Pescatarian Journal. We always feel a spiritual connection with Alaiyo’s food, which is land-animal free, often vegetarian and low fat, and using both familiar and unusual ingredients in exciting ways. Her black-eyed peas and polenta with minced collards really caught my eye. This then is my “version” of her masterpiece.

black-eyed peas with purple kale and polenta

black-eyed peas with purple kale and polenta

Of course, I’ve had to modify things a little. For starters, I used the purple kale that we’ve been growing in our community garden rather than collard greens. I put the stems in the polenta and sautéed the leaves to serve separately. I didn’t have fresh turmeric or ground chipotle pepper, so I used dried for the first and pasilla pepper for the second. I was anxious about not pre-soaking the dried black-eyed peas, so went ahead and did that for about 3 hours before cooking to relieve my nerves. Finally, I cooked the stems as described below.

This dish was really thrilling!

purple kale from our community garden plot

purple kale from our community garden plot

Oh, just remembered, I couldn’t find the quick-cooking polenta which was a real drag. Instead I used the regular stuff which I prepared over a double boiler per package instructions.

black-eyed peas with purple kale and polenta

for the black-eyed peas:

1½ cups dried black-eyed peas, rinsed, picked over and soaked in water about three hours
3 cups water
1 yellow onion, in medium dice
3 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tbsp olive oil
½ tsp dried pasilla powder
1 tsp dried turmeric
Black pepper to taste
1 cup veggie stock (I made my own with onion and celery)
Kosher salt to taste

for the polenta:

1 cup polenta
2 to 3 tbsp mascarpone
¼ tsp ground white pepper
1 large bunch of purple kale stems, sliced thin
½ onion, in medium dice
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 tbsp olive oil
¼ cup sake or cooking wine (white)
Salt to taste

for the sautéed purple kale:

1 large bunch purple kale (use stems above), sliced finely
1 tbsp olive oil
Pinch of crushed red pepper
1 tbsp soy sauce

to prepare black-eyed peas:

onions with turmeric and pasilla powder in pot with uncooked black-eyed peas

onions with turmeric and pasilla powder in pot with uncooked black-eyed peas

Drain soaking peas. Place peas in pot with 3 cups water.

In a skillet, sauté the onion in olive oil until translucent. Don’t add salt or your peas won’t cook. Add garlic, turmeric and pasilla then cook for a half minute more. Add to peas and bring the pot to a boil then reduce to simmer. Stir occasionally. Add veggie stock when liquid is reduced by about half. Cook until peas are tender (about an hour). When ready, add salt and black pepper to taste. Set aside.

to prepare polenta:

Sauté the onion and crushed garlic in olive oil with a pinch of salt. After they’ve begun to cook, add the kale stems and sauté for a few more minutes. Add sake and cover to let steam. If still not tender, add some water and let cook until tender. Discard garlic clove and set aside.

Follow package instructions for your polenta. Instead of butter or olive oil, add mascarpone at the end of cooking with the sautéed purple kale stems and white pepper. Press polenta into an oiled pie or cake dish. I used a pie-shaped serving dish. Set aside.

to prepare sautéed purple kale:

Merely sauté kale in olive oil. Add soy sauce and crushed red pepper after kale has begun to wilt.

the three components for black-eyed peas with purple kale and polenta

the three components for black-eyed peas with purple kale and polenta

to assemble dish:

Ladle some black-eyed peas onto a dinner plate. Top with a slice of polenta. Garnish with sautéed kale. Mmm-mmm-mmm! Thanks again for this amazing recipe, Alaiyo!

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The first time I ate homemade paella was at our charming friend, Cesar Rennert’s, beautiful beach house in Remsenburg, on Long Island, NY, many summers ago. He prepared it himself, which was already remarkable, as he much prefers eating out at restaurants. It was simply incredible: so many thrilling and flavorful ingredients, and the final dish, presented family style at table, was so colorful. He taught us how to make paella that very day.

seafood paella with Maine lobster

seafood paella with Maine lobster

The following year we went on vacation to Spain. Ah, Spain: what a marvelous destination. Actually we didn’t expect much before going. It was David’s idea. Then Steven and I were more fascinated by Italy than anyplace else. But wow! Spain rocks. So much history, gorgeous people, delicious food, and you’re practically swimming in olive oil wherever you go. I like that. As a souvenir, we bought a non-stick paella pan from the gourmet supermarket chain, El Corte Inglés.

We’ve been using it since, for lots of things, including some of paella’s many tasty cousins, like pilaf and polow.

Paella is great for a party because it tends to be big, beautiful and impresses a crowd. Do you make paella? What kind? In Spain, there were so many varieties that you could get entire cookbooks devoted to paella, make a new recipe every day and probably be able to cook something different for a whole year.

This lobster paella was a special treat for my niece’s recent California visit. We went to our favorite, Sun Fat, for the freshest seafood. Impulsively, Steven suggested the lobster. I wasn’t so sure, since the whole Dungeness crab slaughter in December, I didn’t think that I was ready for a repeat performance quite yet. But they’re great at Sun Fat, and did the dirty deed for me. I didn’t watch the gruesome spectacle. Instead I selected the rest of the seafood.

This was my first go cooking lobster. I sort of improvised after the Joy of Cooking let me down (they only teach you how to cook it whole), thinking of it as very large shrimp or something. The final dish was really good. This is interactive food. You need to use your hands to really get the most out of it, so perhaps this isn’t for upscale dining.

assembling the seafood paella

assembling the seafood paella

seafood paella with Maine lobster

2lb fresh lobster, split in half and cleaned
1lb cleaned squid bodies and tentacles, bodies cut into rings
1lb mahi-mahi steak, cut into 1inch cubes
1lb large sea scallops
1 cup basmati rice, rinsed
1 cup Thai Jasmine rice, rinsed
1 lb small clams (little neck)
~4 cups (homemade) vegetable broth
4 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup Spanish green olives, sliced
1 tsp Spanish sweet paprika
1 small container saffron threads (a large pinch)
½ cup dry white wine
Arbequina olive oil
Black pepper
1 cup sweet peas
1 red bell pepper, diced
Sea salt
Wedges of lemon (optional)

Make vegetable broth by boiling water for about 10 minutes with bits of vegetables from your fridge. I used stalks of collard greens and celery, couple of slices of onion, one carrot. Set aside.

Briefly scald red pepper and peas in vegetable broth, set aside.

Add a couple tablespoons of olive oil to paella pan along with half of garlic. Sizzle for a minute or so. Add lobster, sprinkle with salt and black pepper, cover pan and cook for 3-4 minutes until lobster shell turns red. Crack claws. Transfer lobster to a platter. Pour excess juice into a bowl.

Return pan to burner. Add a bit more of olive oil to it then the fish. Sprinkle with a bit of salt, cook for a minute or so on each side. The inside will be a bit raw but that’s okay. Transfer to a warm platter. Pour any excesses juices into bowl with lobster juice. Prepare the scallops the same.

Return pan to burner, add a bit of olive oil to pan then squid. Sprinkle with some salt and pepper and cook just for a minute, remove from pan as the squid begins to curl. Transfer juices to lobster juice bowl.

Return paella pan to burner, add 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add saffron and paprika and stir to tint the oil. Add rice, seafood juice and broth to make up to approximately 3½ cups of liquid. Stir to combine. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce temp to medium and let it cook until juices are about three fourths absorbed.

Meanwhile heat up one tablespoon olive oil in a small pan, add remaining garlic, salt, black pepper and sauté until aromatic. Add clams. Shake pan so clamshells get covered with olive oil. Add wine, cover and cook on high heat until most clams have opened. Immediately remove from heat. Let rest for few minutes, covered, so the remaining clams will open. If there are any that don’t, discard them. Pour remaining wine/clam juice over rice. Remove and discard the clamshell without any meat in it. Keep meat-filled clamshells warm.

Stir pepper and peas into wet rice. Arrange lobster halves, mahi-mahi cubes, scallops, clams in half shells, squid bodies and tentacles over it. Cover and let it finish cooking for another 5 minutes. Scatter olives over, drizzle with a bit more of olive oil and serve with wedges of lemon.

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Cuscuz paulista is a very popular dish from the region in Brazil that I call home. The main ingredient for the recipe is farinha de milho, or “corn flour.” Farinha de milho is made of white or yellow corn that is finely ground, mixed with water and baked in the oven. This has nothing to do with American corn meal. The process precooks the ground corn, gives it a light toasty flavor, makes it ready to eat, and augments shelf storage. It is very versatile and can be used in sweet and savory dishes. You can find it in Brazilian and sometimes generic South American or Latino grocery stores. Early colonizers spread the taste for this corn product throughout the Brazilian Southeast, mainly in the states of São Paulo and Minas Gerais.

cuscuz paulista AKA savory Brazilian bundt cake

cuscuz paulista AKA savory Brazilian bundt cake

In São Paulo the most popular dish made with farinha de milho is cuscuz paulista. There are several versions. It can be entirely vegetarian or you can add shrimp, canned tuna, sardines, or if want to be fancy, crabmeat or even lobster. It is fairly low-fat, healthy and delicious!

I have been wanting to make this cuscuz for a while, but every time I suggested it, Steven would roll his eyes in disbelief, wondering if it would taste good. I think that he was afraid that it would be loaded with mayonnaise, like certain kinds of American deli salads. Poor thing: he detests mayo. He’s also suspicious of anything made of corn. Silly. When I finally prepared this for a dinner party, everybody loved it. I shaped it with a bundt pan. One of our friends, Juanita, called this dish a “savory Brazilian bundt cake.” So there you go.

Here’s another version.

cuscuz paulista AKA savory Brazilian bundt cake

3 cups farinha de milho
2 cups vegetable broth
6 tbsp olive oil plus more for finishing
1 cup tomato sauce (make your own* or pre-made would work)
1 white onion, chopped fine
1 cup fresh or fresh frozen peas
1 cup fresh or frozen sweet corn
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 green bell pepper, cubed
3 tbsp nutritional yeast
4 scallions, white and green parts, chopped
½ bunch Italian parsley, chopped
1 can Brazilian palm hearts, drained, all but four cut in rounds
¼lb fresh shrimp chopped (optional)
1 cube vegetable bullion (optional)
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
crushed red pepper

*For tomato sauce:

1 can crushed tomato plus juice (28oz/800grams)
2 cups water
1 heaping tbsp tomato paste
1 white onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 tbsp olive oil
1 red Jalapeño pepper, seeds and ribs removed, minced
2 fillets of anchovies packed in oil (optional for vegetarian version)
crushed red pepper
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
pinch of fennel seeds

For decoration:

4 cherry tomatoes halved
2 parsley sprigs
4 sticks palm hearts (reserved from above) cut two in quarters along the long axis to make sticks and two into about four rounds each

Yoki Farinha de Milho aka Brazilian Yellow Corn Flakes

Yoki Farinha de Milho aka Brazilian Yellow Corn Flakes

To make tomato sauce:

Using a stockpot, sauté onion in olive oil until translucent. Add garlic, Jalapeño and anchovy fillets. Continue sautéing until aromatic. Add rest of ingredients and bring it to a boil. Reduce temperature to low and simmer for about 30-45 minutes stirring a few times to prevent sticking. Add more water if needed. The tomato sauce should be thick when finished. Reserve left over sauce for another use.

To prepare cuscuz:

Sweat onion in 3 tablespoons olive oil on high heat. Next add garlic, salt, red and black pepper followed by peas and corn. Push partially cooked veggies to side and continue by adding bell pepper, shrimp (if using), the remainder of the olive oil, scallion, parsley, palm heart and bullion until everything is cooked but not overcooked. Next add tomato sauce and hot vegetable broth. Bring to a boil and immediately turn temperature to low. Lastly mix farinha de milho and nutritional yeast together and pour them into the pan, folding delicately to incorporate without breaking the veggies. It will have a mushy consistency. Continue cooking another minute until mix begins to stick to the bottom of the pan. Remove from heat.

To mold the cuscuz, oil a bundt dish (or any medium sized bowl with an interesting shape though the bundt is traditional) with olive oil. Lay parsley springs, tomato halves and palm heart rounds at the bottom of the pan. Stack pieces of palm heart sticks on the sides. Carefully transfer cuscuz to bundt pan to avoid moving decorative vegetables. Gently press with a spatula. Drizzle with some olive oil. Let it rest for about 5 minutes. Place a serving platter over pan, and, holding it tightly, flip the finished cuscuz onto dish. Tap at the bottom to dislodge. And voilá!

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harrisa, pigeon pea and saffron studded bulgur

harrisa, pigeon pea and saffron studded bulgur

The Jan/Feb 2011 Vegetarian Times magazine just came out. They’ve an interesting recipe for bulgur to accompany a roasted broccoli with tahini sauce. I made both dishes the other day but couldn’t resist altering the bulgur recipe. The original calls for it to be cooked with raisins, vegetable broth, tomato paste and that’s all. Don’t you think it would taste too sweet?

I like the idea of the tartness of the raisins but I was not so sure about it, at least to go with the broccoli. Roasted broccoli is already very sweet. Destiny intervened: I discovered that we’d run out of raisins. Problem solved. Instead I cooked the bulgur with some spicy harissa sauce, a few strands of saffron, and, to add extra protein to the dish, I also used some pigeon peas.

It came out very flavorful with the added bonus of having a healthy hippie granola style look. Fabulous!

harrisa, pigeon pea and saffron studded bulgur

2 cups coarse bulgur
2½ cups vegetable broth*
1 can pigeon peas, drained
½ tsp harissa sauce
several saffron threads
3 tbsp tomato paste
black pepper
kosher salt
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

*I prefer to make my own vegetable broth. For this one, I had the top dark leaves of four leeks, half an onion and a carrot. Just throw everything together in a pot with some water, bring to a boil and then simmer for about 15 minutes. Leftovers can be frozen for later use. Endless permutations are possible. You can use onion peel, celery, parsley, cilantro, etc. This makes a fresher broth without as much salt and who-knows-what preservatives. Anytime a recipe calls for vegetable broth search the vegetable tray of you fridge. You’ll be surprised to see all that you need is there. Cheap and healthy!

Add hot vegetable broth, harrisa, saffron threads, tomato paste, black pepper and kosher salt to a pot. Stir to combine. Add bulgur and pigeon peas, stir again, turn temperature to low and simmer for about 15-18 minutes. To prevent sticking stir every 3-4 minutes. Remove from heat and keep covered for 5 minutes before serving.

This would make a great filling in a vegetable casserole, too.

We had bulgur leftover which we ate the following day wrapped in toasted nori leaves (dry seaweed sheets like you have at sushi bars). Mmmmm!!!!

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