Saturday, August 31, 2013

Stewed Okra

Stewed okra is wonderful, don't you think? Well, I guess if you're one of those okra hating people you might not think so. If you're one of those okra hating people, it might be because you think okra is always slimy and gross. But that's not always the case, and the preparation style really determines if the okra will be unpleasant or not. So, if you hate okra give this a shot and see how you feel about it. Ross mentioned to me as I was typing this up that he really enjoyed the okra and was glad I'd done the stewed okra in a way that it wasn't slimy. If you love okra, you might enjoy adding this to your list of okra goodies. Hope you enjoy!

12 ounces thickly sliced okra (I used frozen which I did not bother to thaw first but you can do it with fresh)
2 15-ounce cans stewed tomatoes
20 ounces vegetable stock (you can make this a meat dish by using chicken stock)
2 teaspoons creole seasoning (or regular seasoned salt)
1 tablespoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (this will make it quite spicy so use less if you're sensitive to such things)

Combine all the ingredients into a large pot and set it over medium to medium-high heat. Put a wooden spoon in the pot and then put the lid on (spoon so you can stir, and also to vent the pot so it can reduce). Simmer for about an hour, stirring periodically (and breaking up the tomatoes with your spoon if you feel like it) or until reduced down to the amount of liquid you like (I like mine not too liquid-y). Serves 4 as a large side dish. I served this with shrimp and grits.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Falafel

This is an Israeli style green falafel. Green falafel is my favorite kind, because the flavors of the herbs are so very pronounced. I really just find it delightful, so that's the kind I wanted to do for dinner tonight. This dish is really very easy to make, and tops out at about $3 to make about 36 falafel balls. A lot of people shape their falafel with one of those scoops. I'm personally torn on the falafel scoop, because on the one hand, really cool contraption! On the other hand, it has exactly one use, and that makes it hard for me to justify giving up drawer space to something like that. I'm always looking about to see if there is one for sale at some of my favorite shops, but there never is and that's okay. Spoons and wet hands work perfectly well for shaping these little balls of happiness.

Anyway, these are really delicious. They're also shockingly easy to make. With a food processor, it takes less than 5 minutes to put the whole mixture together, and then another 4-6 minutes to fry each batch. The longest step in this process is actually just heating your oil. We had them with hummus, bread and shepherd's salad tonight, and a light tahini dip. Below, ingredients listed in parentheses will tell you how to make it Egyptian style (which is more of the original way of making falafel), if that's more your speed. Hope you enjoy!

5 cups soaked but not cooked chick peas (fava beans)
2 bunches of parsley, leaves only/mostly (cilantro)
1/2 large red onion, cut into chunks
5 cloves of garlic, peeled but left whole
2 tablespoons-ish (I "measured" this with my fingers, not a measuring spoon) all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
seeds from 1 cardamom pod
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (less if you don't want that bit of spice, though this quantity doesn't make it spicy for me)
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
2 teaspoons cumin seeds

Grind peppercorns, cardamom, coriander seeds and cumin seeds. Add all ingredients to a food processor (you can do it in a meat grinder, alternately, and add in the spices later) and process until it's a thick paste. You want it to stick together well when pressed, but not be smooth and homogeneous looking. So like you're making meatballs, basically. Put the mixture in a container and toss in the fridge until you're ready to fry your falafel (alternately, you can portion out serving or meal sized amounts and freeze until you're ready to thaw and fry). Heat a frying pan (I use a 12" cast iron pan) with 1 1/2 to 2" of any kind of oil to 350F (there can be variance here, so don't worry if it's 360 or 340 or whatever). Grab a bowl of water and a regular eating spoon and get a heaping spoonful of the paste. Wet your hands in the water (shake them off, too, over the bowl) and slide the paste into your hands, shaping it into a ball or disc (I prefer balls because they're more aesthetically pleasing to me). Fry for 2-3 minutes per side, then drain on paper towels or coffee filters on a plate, and serve immediately. Makes approximately 36 falafel balls.
Photo by Stephen Cox