Stuffed Bell Peppers with Saffron Yogurt Sauce

Stuffed Yellow Peppers with Saffron Yogurt Sauce

I remember starting an odd little short story inspired by saffron when I was about twelve. My parents were avid listeners of NPR when I was growing up and I fancied Garrison Keillor’s fabulous stories from A Prairie Home Companion. I’d learned about saffron being The World’s Most Expensive Spice and started imagining tiny garden plots that could yield big money. I’d even considered using my backyard to start my own crop, blissfully unaware that the New England climate might not be suitable for saffron production. The story, if I remember correctly, was about an unassuming saffron farmer trying to survive in a small town riddled with landmines. I didn’t complete the story. The loose ends were too difficult to tie up.

 Roasted yellow peppers

The delicate filaments of the saffron crocus are handpicked and dried individually. To produce a pound, 200,000 stigmas must be picked from flowers that yield up to three threads per season. It costs $70 for an ounce. Precious.

Stuffed Yellow Peppers with Saffron Yogurt Sauce 2 

Saffron has been used in many traditional cuisines, including Spanish, Indian, Mexican and Mediterranean. Rich in flavour and deep yellow in colour, the delicate spice is often used to flavour rice, breads and seafood dishes. Saffron’s metallic flavour and sophistication are surprisingly adaptable and versatile. I was lulled by the bitter field grass scent and rusty aroma. It reminded me that the simplest answer is often the best. A few threads sprinkled on top of yogurt complimented my stuffed peppers perfectly.

Stuffed Yellow Peppers with Saffron Yogurt Sauce bite

Stuffed Bell Peppers with Saffron Yogurt Sauce

Ingredients (makes 2)

  • 2 bell peppers
  • 2 king oyster mushrooms
  • 8 oz of ground beef
  • 3 cups of shredded green cabbage
  • 6 minced cloves of garlic
  • 1 cup of cooked basmati rice
  • ½ tsp rosemary
  • 2 tbsp red wine
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce or tamari
  • ½ tsp salt
  • cooking oil

For the sauce:

  • 1 cup yogurt
  • pinch of salt
  • pinch of saffron

Directions

Preheat oven to 175ºC/ 350ºF / Gas mark 4.

Halve the mushrooms lengthwise and sprinkle oil and salt on them. Bake them in a lightly oiled pan for 30 minutes. Transfer the mushrooms into a blender and blend into a paste.

Cut the tops off the bell peppers and remove the seeds and pith from inside. Wash and sprinkle with oil and salt. Roast for 20 minutes.

Using medium high heat, brown garlic in a fry pan with some oil. Add ground beef and stir until evenly browned. Remove from heat and transfer ingredients into a bowl with the mushroom paste.

Using the same pan, stir-fry the cabbage until translucent. Transfer cabbage into a blender and blend into a paste. Add to the bowl with other ingredients.

Crumble the cooked rice into the bowl with other ingredients. Add soy sauce, salt, rosemary and red wine. Mix well.

Carefully stuff the mixture into peppers and replace the tops. Bake for 30 minutes.

Combine yogurt with salt and saffron.

Drizzle yogurt sauce on the peppers and serve.

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Mukeunji Kimchi Frittata with Lemongrass and Sour Cream

mukeunji kimchi frittata with lemongrass and sour cream bite

 

If you move far from the things that are familiar to you, learning to adapt is essential for your survival. When I moved to Seoul 4 years ago, I found myself drowning in a sea of unfamiliarity. The language, culture, courtesies, smells, sounds and sense of personal space all amounted to a major sensory overload. Communication was difficult and mistakes were made often with hilarious results. I remember once feeling overwhelmed by a chatty taxi driver who assumed that I was able to speak Korean because I said “hello” properly. I tried to say “I don’t know” (mo-lie-yo) in response to his words, but ended up saying “How much does it cost?” (ol-my-yo) which of course confused him and prompted him to ask more questions. Another time, I’m pretty sure I told a nice ajumma on the subway who tried to be polite and talk to me that I hate Korea, when I meant to say I don’t know Korean well. I wondered why our conversation fizzled after that.

 mukeunji kimchi frittata with lemongrass and sour cream 2

 

Food was another interesting matter. Cooking and eating traditions are revered and followed with little deviation. These traditions have worked for a millennium or two, so they must be good. Too good to change. As an outsider, I was completely unaware of what these rules were and ruined many a meal in the eyes of the ladies who served me. Having been accustomed to sushi, I wanted to dip my kimbap in soy sauce. This caused a serious stir in the kitchen as no one could imagine why I would ever want to do such a thing. Did I know that the whole point to eating bibimbop was that it must be mixed thoroughly before eating? Apparently not. Once I’d turned some mushrooms over on the barbeque during a galbi meal, thus spilling all of the water they had collected. All of the Koreans at my table gasped in disappointed embarrassment. It seemed I’d rendered them useless.

 mukeunji kimchi frittata with sour cream and lemongrass

 

When I first arrived, I’d had very limited exposure to kimchi. I found it overwhelming and somewhat offensive to the senses. But, as it is one of the main sources of great pride in Korea, I plugged my nose and tossed it down. I now can’t imagine going more than a few days without eating some.

 

mukeunji kimchimukeunji kimchi 2 

Mukeungi is kimchi’s lesser-known elderly cousin. Where kimchi is usually fermented for 1 to 4 months, mukeungi has gone through an extra long fermentation process, usually about a year (!). It is ripe with flavour and smell. It is excellent for using in stews, soups and mixes gloriously with eggs. 

 

mukeunji kimchi frittata with lemongrass and sour cream ingredients

Mukeunji Kimchi Frittata with Lemongrass and Sour Cream

Ingredients

  • 12 eggs beaten
  • 2 cups mukeunji kimchi, chopped
  • 2-3 king oyster mushrooms, sliced and chopped
  • 1 large onion
  • 4 tbsp sour cream
  • 5 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tsp lemongrass (preferably fresh), finely chopped
  • ½ tsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp black sesame seeds
  • 1 tbsp butter

Directions

Heat a pan on medium high heat on your stove top, melt ½ of the butter. Add garlic, onion and lemongrass and cook for 5 minutes or until slightly brown. Stir frequently.

Add the mushrooms and cook until they begin to release their water (about 4-5 minutes). Add the mukeunji kimchi, including any juice, to the pan. Turn heat to medium and simmer for another 10 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400ºF/200ºC/gas mark 6.

Spread the remaining butter on the bottom of an 8 inch circular baking pan and transfer the kimchi mixture. Pour in the beaten eggs and add salt, and sour cream. Gently mix with a fork.

Place the pan in the oven and cook for about 20-25 minutes. To check if it is finished, insert a pick or fork into the center. If it comes out clean, it is finished. Remove from heat.

Garnish with black sesame seeds.

Vegetarian Lemon Dill Stuffed Eggplant with Couscous and Portobello Mushrooms + Tiny Kitchen

vegetarian stuffed eggplant bite 3

Cooking with eggplant is like painting on a blank canvas. It is full of possibilities. Bitter and spongy when raw (or undercooked… blech), eggplant (A.K.A aubergine, brinjal, brinjal eggplant, melongene, and guinea squash) melts in your mouth when roasted and takes almost no effort to cook to perfection. It is often used as a meat substitute for vegetarians due to its meaty texture and is known to be a good source of Vitamin K, Thiamin, Vitamin B6, Folate, Potassium and Dietary Fiber.
 

vegetarian stuffed eggplant bite 4

Eggplant has a delectable ability to transform; when cooked well, it softens, yet stays firm and loses much of its bitterness. It is also very diverse. The proof comes from all the traditional dishes from around the world that eggplant has played a key role in: ratatouille from France, baba ghanoush from the Middle East, mousakka from Greece, tagines in Morocco and curries in India. Eggplant is kind of a cuisine slut. It can’t make up its mind where it belongs. This is good for the rest of us.

 vegetarian stuffed eggplant bite 2

Since returning to Korea a month ago, my kitchen has been trying so hard to be functional and efficient. Unfortunately, it has mostly failed rather disappointingly. My small Officetell apartment has little space, lacks adequate shelving and is missing an oven and other helpful cooking instruments. This is very difficult for someone like me. Cooking is more than just survival; it is art, science and passion. It is exploration, trial and error and creative expression. It is need and desire.

 Tiny Korean kitchen

So, when my laundry rack is in the way of my cooking utensils and the (stupid) glass elements are just not hot enough, it’s far too easy to throw up ones hands and go get a kimbop instead.

 cut eggplantvegetarian stuffed eggplant with couscous

(Un?)Luckily for me, I am unerringly determined to get my kitchen up to scratch. I will fill my kitchen with the wonderful equipment I need and magically find space for them. I’ll let you know how that goes.

 vegetarian stuffed eggplant with couscous 2

All that said, I’ve been dreaming about roasting eggplant with butter, salt and cumin in my non-existent oven. Until then, here is a stuffed eggplant recipe I made shortly before leaving for Korea.

Vegetarian stuffed eggplant

Vegetarian Lemon Dill Stuffed Eggplant with Couscous and Portobello Mushrooms

Ingredients

  • 1 large eggplant
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • 3 stalks of celery, chopped
  • 1 chopped onion
  • ½ cup chopped Portobello mushroom
  • 3 tbsp chopped kalamata olives
  • 1 15 oz. can of diced tomatoes
  • ½ a lemon (juiced)
  • ½ cup couscous
  • 2 tbsp fresh minced dill
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • freshly grated parmesan cheese

Directions

Preheat oven at 375º F/190ºC/Gas mark 5.

Split eggplant lengthwise and scoop out the flesh. Leave 1/8 inch of flesh on the skin and leave the skin in tact. Set the skins aside. Sprinkle the flesh with oil and salt and bake for 20 minutes.

In a stove top pan, fry the garlic and onions with oil on medium high heat until golden. Add the mushrooms and sauté for 7 minutes. Add eggplant flesh, celery, carrots and olives. Saute for 10 more minutes. Remove from heat.

Separate the diced tomatoes from the juice. Save juice in a bowl.

Place the fried mixture in a bowl. Add tomatoes, dill, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Mix well.

Place uncooked couscous in a small bowl. Pour ¼ cup of boiling water and the juice from the tomatoes onto the couscous. The couscous should puff up and be ready to use within 10 minutes.

Turn oven temperature to 400ºF/200ºC/Gas mark 6.

Divide the couscous evenly between the two eggplant shells. Press lightly on the couscous to form a flat, even bed on the bottoms of each shell.

Scoop the vegetable mixture on top of the couscous and pack it in tight.

Place the eggplants in a casserole pan and cover with foil.

Bake for 45 minutes. Remove foil halfway through baking.

If you desire, grate some Parmesan on top of the eggplant halves 5 minutes before they are ready.

vegetarian stuffed eggplant bite

ps- Happy Birthday, mum! I love you!

Cumin Rosemary and Garlic Sweet Potato Fries + Mohican Ruins?

sweet potato fries

Mum and I went for a walk in the woods last week in the fresh snow. A friend had cleared a new path this past summer that borders the unfriendly edges of our property and we wanted to explore the old ruins found there. When I say unfriendly, I’m alluding to the gun toting, 4 wheeling neighbors who once threatened my mum when she approached their home to get directions. How charming.

 mohican ruins 1mohican ruins 2mohican ruins 4

I can see that my New Year’s resolution of being less sarcastic will be a challenge. (Happy 2013, by the way!)

mohican ruins 5

mohican ruins 6mohican ruins 7
 

Some expert of some relevant subject came to see these ruins and speculated that they might have been built and used by the Mohicans as a trading post long ago. The ruins consisted of a large stone marker and 3-walled structure of some sort, where people would meet and/or leave goods for each other. It’s pretty cool to find this sort of thing in ones own (extended) backyard. It can be easy to forget the possibilities of the past in just about any place (except for maybe Surtsey Island), and especially in an area as quiet (quiet for me, anyway) as the Berkshires. It is unknown whether or not these are actually Mohican ruins, but it is nice to think of that possibility. I like feeling the rich history of a place, whether it’s geological or human. Time has spread its wings over everything.

mohican ruins 3

 

One of the most satisfying winter comfort foods are sweet potatoes. Warm, earthy, orange and versatile. They add flavour and heart to any meal.

 roasted sweet potato bite

Though many cooks like to take the natural sweetness found in sweet potatoes to an even sweeter level (sweet potato pie, candied yams, sweet potato pancakes, etc) I prefer to balance the sweetness by adding salty and savory ingredients. A quick look at my brand new Flavor Bible by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg lists a few great ideas, like: garlic, duck, dill, cilantro, cumin, prosciutto, sage, Dijon, chives and more. Mmm.

 roasted sweet potato bite 2

If you’re not that comfortable working and experimenting with new sweet potato recipes, try these fries as a way to practice. You are guaranteed delicious results.

Cumin Rosemary and Garlic Sweet Potato Fries

Ingredients

  • 3 medium-large sweet potatoes
  • 3 crushed and minced cloves of garlic
  • 1 ½-2 tbsp of cumin powder
  • 2 tsp of fresh or dried rosemary leaves
  • 1 tsp salt and pepper
  • 1 tsp sesame oil (optional)
  • Cooking oil

Directions

Preheat oven to 400ºF/200ºC/Gas mark 6.

Peel your sweet potatoes (or leave the skin on and just cut off the ugly bits like I do- when they are roasted the skin becomes soft and yummy. It is matter of taste. Just make sure you wash them well). Using a large knife, cut the sweet spuds into ½ inch slices. Then cut them into long fries.

Place them into a large bowl with all the other ingredients and mix until the oil and spices are evenly coating the fries.

Place the fries onto (a) baking sheet(s). Be sure to give them plenty of space. If they are too crowded, they won’t roast as well and will take much longer. Also, be sure to add any oil and spices at the bottom of the mixing bowl for extra flavour.

Place in oven and roast for about 45 minutes. Check them every 10-15 minutes to stir and turn them. This will prevent burning on one side and ensure even cooking.

Remove from heat when nicely browned and your kitchen is filled a warm, hearty smell.

Eat when hot.

Serves 4-6

Tangy Fried Green Tomatoes

Firstly, I’d like to thank everyone for their wonderful support and comments in response to my previous post. It means a lot. Every bit.

 Green tomato slice

Fall came quickly this year. We had many unripe tomatoes in our garden when the first frost arrived, and we had to find a way to make something interesting out of them. It seemed my only real option (in my opinion) was to give fried green tomatoes a go. I’d never made them and it just made sense.

Fried green tomatoes with hot sauce splash 

Southern dishes are always such a curious undertaking. Rich, fatty, flavourful and full of character, dishes such as red-velvet cake, deep fried chicken, fatback collard greens and pecan pie are typical staples of southern cuisine.

green tomatoes

Yellow lemon, green tomato

As a Yank, I live vicariously through my Southern friends and the feeling they get about their comfort foods. Wikipedia told me that the most notable influences of Southern cuisine come from the English, Scottish, Irish, German, French, Native American and African American traditions. I enjoy taking moments to step back and savor the history of this melting pot cuisine before diving into my own version. Here are my fried green tomatoes.

Fried Green tomatoes

Tangy Fried Green Tomatoes

Ingredients

  • 6-7 medium sized firm, green tomatoes
  • 1 cup of cornmeal
  • ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • ½ tsp cayenne pepper
  • ½ tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 2 eggs
  • ¼ cup milk or buttermilk
  • 1 lemon
  • Cooking oil

Directions

Slice tomatoes into ½ inch slices. I do not recommend using end pieces as they don’t hold the cornmeal mixture very well, so be sure to make each slice flat on both sides.

Green tomatoes spread out

In a small bowl, mix the eggs, milk and lemon juice as well as some of the zest.

Combine all the dry seasoning, flour and cornmeal into a container with a top (or one that is deep enough so you can shake the contents without making a mess).

corn meal shake

Heat a skillet or frying pan in medium high heat. Add enough oil to grease the pan with a (not too) generous layer. Begin dipping slices of tomato one at a time into the egg mixture. Then drop them into the cornmeal mixture. Cover the container and shake for a few seconds. Your tomato should be thoroughly coated in cornmeal.

Place coated slices in the hot pan and fry until golden brown on each side. This could about 5 minutes per side depending on the heat your stove produces.

When cooked to your satisfaction, place the slices on paper towels in order to soak up some of the grease.

degreasing?

Dip in hot sauce and devour while hot.

fried green tomatoes with hot sauce splash 2

Serves 4-6.

Phew! I made it this far without mentioning the movie!

…D’oh!