Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Butternut Squash - Lentil Ragout

Over the years, I’ve developed a fondness for butternut squash and like to try it in different ways. I decided to prepare a ragout combining butternut squash with lentils for a hearty, meatless meal.

 A ragout (pronounced – ra-goo) is a simple method of preparation which involves slow cooking. Ragouts can be prepared with or without meat. A variety of vegetables may be added, and the dish can be lightly or heavily seasoned.
It’s all according to your taste preferences.

Butternut Squash-Lentil 
  Butternut Squash - Lentil Ragout                 
 Yield: about 4 (1- cup) servings


1/2-inch cubes of butternut squash
 1 ½ lb. butternut squash, peeled, cut lengthwise, seeds removed, and squash cut into ½-inch pieces
1 onion, coarsely chopped
2 garlic cloves, sliced
About 2 Tbsp. olive oil
¾ cup brown lentils, sorted and rinsed
1 cup vegetable stock (or water)
1 tsp. cumin
½ tsp. cinnamon – or - allspice
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
Salt and pepper
Garnish: chopped parsley, optional


Step #1
1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Place squash cubes, onions and garlic on a foil-lined baking sheet. Drizzle with about 2 Tbsp. olive oil; toss to coat. Roast for 30-35 minutes or until squash is tender. (Roasting the vegetables enhances the flavor of the dish.)

Step #2
2. While the vegetables are roasting, place the lentils in a 6-quart pot covering them with cold water; bring to a boil. Partially cover the pot; reduce heat to simmer and cook until lentils are tender but not mushy, about 30 minutes. If the water evaporates, add a little more.

3. Add 1 cup of vegetable stock (or water) to the pot with the lentils; bring to a boil. Reduce heat. Add the cumin, cinnamon (or allspice), lemon juice, and roasted vegetables; simmer for about 15 minutes to combine flavors. If the ragout appears to be too dry, add a little more vegetable stock or water.

4. Just before serving, season with salt and pepper, and adjust other seasonings, if necessary. Garnish with chopped parsley. Serve with rice or couscous, if desired.

 NOTE: If you’d like to make this dish a bit more elegant, you can add 1/4 cup of coarsely chopped, dried apricots, softened in a little hot water, to step #3.

Robyn's Suggestion: If you have any leftover ragout, give it a whirl in the food processor. Add a bit of liquid (water or broth) to thin it out, heat it through, and serve it as soup!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Butternut Squash How-To's

Are you tired of using pumpkin in recipes? Why not try replacing pumpkin with butternut squash?
Butternut Squash

After all, butternut squash is probably the most common – and - popular among winter squash varieties. The squash resembles a large, pear- shaped, firm fruit, golden-yellow in color, and is appreciated for its edible fruit, flowers, and seeds. (Butternut squash seeds -just like pumpkin seeds- are used as nutritious snack food.)

Nutritionally, butternut squash has more vitamin A than a pumpkin, which is good for your skin and eyes. It is also rich in B-complex vitamins, vitamin C, and the seeds are a good source of dietary fiber and mono-unsaturated fatty acids. With only 41 calories in a ½ cup serving, it’s a lot less fattening than its name implies!
In the U.S. butternut squash is abundantly available from September through mid- December, but since they are native to Central and South America, they are available year-round.

Selecting and Storing:
A good butternut squash should have blemish-free skin and feel heavy.

Once purchased, the squash will last for several weeks if stored at room temperature, if left intact. Once cut, however, the cut pieces must be stored in the refrigerator where they’ll last for only a few days.  
How to Cut a Butternut Squash Without Causing Harm:

ALWAYS use a stabilized cutting board – meaning you place a dampened paper toweling- or a piece of non-skid shelf liner - on the work surface, then place the cutting board on top of that. This helps prevent the cutting board from moving around as you attempt to cut anything.
Dampened Paper Towel
Cutting board on dampened paper towel

ALWAYS use sharp cutting tools.
ALWAYS stay focused on the task at hand!

ALWAYS WASH the outer skin of the butternut squash under running water before cutting in order to remove any dust, soil and residual insecticides/fungicides.

Now You’re Ready to Peel and Cut:
Step 1
1. Since butternut squash has round surfaces, carefully slice about 1/2 inch from the top and bottom, forming a flat surface.

Step 2
2.Stand the squash upright on the cutting board. Using a vegetable peeler or sharp paring knife, remove the outer skin of the squash by running the peeler or knife downward until all of the skin is removed.
Step 3
3. With the squash still in the standing position, carefully slice down the middle from the stem end.

Step 4
4. Lay the squash down on the board; scoop out the seeds and membrane with a spoon. Discard membrane, but save the seeds to roast and eat!
Uses For Butternut Squash:

Butternut squash can be used in sweet or savory dishes - soups, stews, salads, bread, muffins, ravioli filling, casseroles, pies, pancakes – you get the idea.
Next post: a recipe for Butternut Squash and Lentil Ragout

Monday, October 22, 2012

Bâton Salé - French for ‘Salty Sticks’

A request - in the form of a challenge - was sent from Sona G. for Bâton Salé (French for ‘salty sticks’):
Sona’s request:
“Wondering if you can help figure out a recipe my grandmother used to make.

 Whenever she clarified butter for Baklava she kept the bottom milk solids and used it to make a delicious bâton salé - a type of bread stick. I've tried searching for recipes under baton sale but nothing is as good as my Nene’s...I'm sure you hear that a lot!
 I asked my sweet momma but she can't really remember and the recipe she gave me seemed like something was missing.  Anyway, got any suggestions?

 I just made 4 trays of Baklava for an event at my church so I have a lot of the milk solids ready for use :)”
 I googled BâtonSalé and the first recipe that popped-up came from 'cookbook.armenians.com', sent in by a woman named Maral. I sent this recipe to Sona, and asked if she’d look it over to see if this was a possibility.

Sona wrote: “Thanks for your reply. I did check out the recipes online and finally revised one of my own using the buttermilk (milk solids) that is left after butter is clarified. It came out delicious, and with a few alterations for next time, I think I've nailed my grandma’s recipe :)”
Sona's Bâton Salé
Here is Sona’s recipe for Bâton Salé:
4 cups of flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black caraway or nigella seeds
1/2 tsp. ground fennel
About 2 cups of **fresh buttermilk** made when I clarified butter.

(** Robyn’s note: Sona’s reference to fresh buttermilk is actually the milk solids which separate from the golden buttery liquid that sink to the bottom of the pot as the butter melts. The buttery liquid rises to the top.)

Clarify butter (see below) as you would for baklava.

I rolled mine into short little sticks, didn't have time to do the little twist sticks my grandmother used to make.
Baked at 375°F for about 12 min.

You know me, I wanted to know how much butter was used, and needed more specific details for the preparation for posting purposes.
Here is what Sona added:

“Well I had just made 4 trays of baklava for a church event so I melted 6 pounds of butter....but don't worry, once clarified, I used less than a pound per tray.
I put all the ingredients into my kitchen aid mixer and used the paddle (attachment) to form the dough.

I started to pinch off a little and roll it in 4 to 5 inch sticks but then I really needed to be done with it so I rolled the dough out and cut circles with an Armenian coffee cup.
I lined the tray with parchment paper, no oil or cooking spray. (Baked as mentioned above.)

I have to say I'm not a baker, too technical for me but being in the kitchen relaxes me!”
** To Clarify Butter: Melt 1 pound butter in a heavy saucepan over low heat. Don’t let butter turn brown. Remove any foam which rises to the surface. Remove from heat. After a few minutes remove any foam that remains on the surface. Transfer the clear butter to a storage container. Save any residue from the bottom of the saucepan for another use, or discard.
Cover the clarified butter and refrigerate. Use for frying or baking.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Armenian food looks just as delicious Down Under

We got a very nice email the other day by way of our YouTube.com channel from a follower in Australia.

"I've been inspired by you to start my own video documentation of my close and extended Armenian family's food culture in Melbourne. I've started with Midia Dolma."

The writer, Arman, has started a channel called, quite appropriately, Armenian Food Project. If you click on his channel name, you'll go straight to his video.

As Arman explains, "My Auntie in Melbourne makes the best Midia Dolma I've ever had."

It sure looks great. Arman did a fine job of showing each step, and then went the extra mile by translating Auntie's Armenian-language directions into English-language captions.

We're humbled but excited to think that we've helped encourage a project like this halfway around the world -- and we're happy to spread the word to readers everywhere.

The note with Arman's video explains, "This is being shared to preserve our fading culture."

Thanks to Arman and all of you who are so generous with your time and family recipes, the Armenian food culture won't fade away any time soon.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Another Sweet Potato Hummus Recipe

When I posted the recent recipe for Sweet Potato Hummus, I didn’t have the recipe that our hostess, Bonnie, prepared - so I created and shared my own.
 Sweet Potato Hummus prepared by Bonnie
After reading my post, Bonnie quickly sent me the recipe she served. The recipe, which she found in the Sun-Sentinel newspaper, is credited to Mitchell Davis, author of the cookbook ‘Kitchen Sense’. Bonnie added a few of her own touches to the original recipe; her notations are in red.

Sweet Potato Hummus   (from Mitchell Davis)   

2 large sweet potatoes
1 cleaned, chopped leak, white portion
a few sprigs of fresh thyme (Bonnie used dried thyme and added it later)
broth – chicken or vegetable (Bonnie used chicken broth)
1 tsp. tahini paste (more if you like it -- Bonnie added 2-3 teaspoons.)
1 tsp. chopped garlic
Salt, if needed
Juice of 1 lime or lemon

Barely cover potatoes and leaks with broth; bring to boil and simmer until potatoes are fork tender.

Pour off some broth. Remove fresh thyme sprigs.
Using a food processor, puree until smooth, adding back in as much broth as needed for correct consistency. (Bonnie ended up with a little broth left over that she added to a sauce.)
Taste and add salt, if needed.
Process again.

Before serving: Squeeze juice of 1 lime or lemon over the top.
Bonnie noted: I thought it needed to be peppier, so I added 1 tsp. cumin and about a quarter teaspoon red pepper flakes at the end after tasting it.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Green Bean (Fassoulia) and Lamb Stew

Whenever I find lamb bones or boneless stewing lamb at the meat counter, I can’t resist buying as many packages as I can (without hoarding, of course!). This was the case the other day when our grocer was featuring lamb bones with meat.

Green Bean and Lamb Stew
I usually make Green Bean and Lamb Stew when it’s cool outside, but I was really in the mood for it even though the outdoor thermometer was registering 92°F. After preparing it step-by-step over two days, and serving it on the third, it was a dish to behold. With its rich broth, tender meat, and (almost) melt-in-your-mouth green beans, this really hit the spot!
Pilaf, salad, and crusty bread rounded out the menu.  
Green Bean and Lamb Stew                                                        
Serves 4
Ingredients for Day 1:
3 to 4 packages meaty lamb bones  (or 1 lb.  boneless stewing lamb)

Ingredients for Day 2:
1 - 1 lb. pkg. frozen Italian green (pole) beans or regular green beans
1 medium onion, sliced
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 Tbsp. olive oil
3 Tbsp. mild red pepper paste – OR – tomato paste
Salt and pepper to taste
½ tsp. Aleppo red pepper
1½ tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. dried basil
1 tsp. freshly ground coriander
Dash cayenne pepper, optional

Day 1 day:

1.  In a large pot, cover the lamb bones with water; add 1 to 2 tsp. salt. Bring to a boil, skimming any foam or scum that comes to the surface. Reduce heat, slightly cover the pot, and cook lamb on medium-low heat for 1 to  1 ½ hours or until meat is falling off the bone.
2. Remove bones with meat from the broth and allow to cool. Strain the broth into a bowl; cover and store in the refrigerator until ready to use.

3. When cool enough to handle, remove meat from bones. Store meat pieces in a covered bowl and refrigerate. Discard bones.
Day 2:

1. Remove bowl of lamb broth from refrigerator. Remove and discard any fat that has solidified on the surface.
2. In a large pot, heat the olive oil. Add the onion and garlic and cook until onion softens a bit. Add about 3 cups of the broth to the pot along with the red pepper (or tomato) paste, green beans, meat pieces, and seasonings.

3. Cook on medium heat, partially covered for about 1 hour or until green beans are very soft. Stir from time to time. Add more broth or water, if necessary. Adjust seasonings according to your taste. (NOTE: Freeze any extra broth for later use.)
4. Serve with bulgur or rice pilaf, salad, and crusty bread.

NOTE: It’s really best to eat this on the 3rd day so flavors have a chance to thoroughly blend.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Another Kind of Hummus

In mid-September, friends (and fellow bloggers) Bonnie and David invited Doug and me to dinner to catch up on our summer travels. Bonnie, who loves to cook everything from scratch, presented an appetizer dip in a large bowl which resembled hummus, but the color was a soft orange. I’ve made pumpkin hummus before, but this was paler in color and didn’t quite have that pumpkin-y taste. Her recipe had a smooth texture, a slightly zingy flavor, but we still couldn’t quite pinpoint the main ingredient. Peanuts? No Butternut squash? No
It was ………………..  sweet potato!

This is the perfect time of year to utilize sweet potatoes in recipes; they're abundant and economical.

Bonnie's Sweet Potato Hummus

The recipe which follows isn’t Bonnie’s, but one I conjured up based on years of hummus-making. You can adapt this recipe to suit your taste, making it sweeter or spicier – or any way you like. That’s the beauty of hummus; it can be whatever you want it to be!

Sweet Potato Hummus

1 large sweet potato (about 12  oz.)
1 can (15 oz.) chick peas, drained, rinsed
1/4 cup tahini
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small clove garlic, halved
1 teaspoon salt
1 to 2 teaspoons Hungarian paprika
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
¼ tsp. cayenne pepper, optional
Optional Garnish: 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh Italian (flat-leaf) parsley, 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1.  Scrub the skin of the potato under cool running water; pat dry.
2.  Prick skin of sweet potato on all sides with fork. Place on a microwave-safe plate. Microwave on High 6 to 8 minutes or until tender. Allow to cool 15 minutes or until cool enough to handle. Remove skin  and cut sweet potato into chunks.
3. Place cooked potato chunks and remaining ingredients (except Garnish ingredients, if using) in large food processor. Cover; process until smooth. If necessary, add water 1 tablespoon at a time to desired consistency. Cover and chill at least 2 hours before serving so flavors can blend.
4. Place in a serving bowl, then top hummus with chopped parsley and a drizzle of olive oil, if desired. Serve with crackers and/or fresh vegetables.