miércoles, 31 de agosto de 2011

Cooking Lessons 1: Parsley and Cilantro are NOT interchangeable

When I was 6, I had a hard time telling cabbages and iceberg lettuces appart. This only happened a couple of times, and after being ridiculed by my parents I made it my mision in life to know as much about food as humanly possible.

I'm pushing 30 now, and it baffles the shit out of me the way grown people confuse parsley and cilantro. But I won't ridicule you, unnamed herb-ilitterate friend (even though I should). I will enlighten you. Think of me as your culinary Bill Nye. Let me show you:
Left: Flat Leaf Parsley / Right: Cilantro
While both plants belong to the Apiaceae familly, Parsley (Petroselinum crispum) and Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum) are two very different plants, with different cultivation methods and aromatic compounds.

Parsley was first domesticated in the mediterranean, and owes its grassy smell to a compound called apiol (1-allyl-2,5-dimethoxy-3,4-methylenedioxybenzene). Also known as parsley camphor, apiol is also found in celery, and has been known to cause abortions when ingested in moderate doses since the times of Hipocrates. It was even sold in tablets in the US during the late 19th century for this purpose. Large doses can potentially lead to kidney and liver failure.

Cilantro, on the other hand, has a less grassy and more citrusy overtone, mainly due to the presence of large ammounts of undecadiennal, a volatile compound constituted by at least 12 subfractions. It also shares some aldehydes with the stink bubg nymph, but its detection by humans varies widely. This was the the basis for the first genetic studies in humans, since it is linked to the presence of the TAS2R38 gene. People with this gene detect a much wider range of bitter tastes, and automatically dislike the herb, describing it as "bitter" and "soapy".

Now you know.
Source: Potter, T. L.Essential oil composition of cilantro J. Agric. Food Chem. 1996, 44, 18241826

sábado, 27 de agosto de 2011

Meze, Part 2: Hummus

Continuing with the mezédhes, what meze table is complete without HUMMUS?!
It's fucking delicious, it's super-easy to make, it's dirt-cheap and it'll score you some major lady-wooing points to actually fake some culture. Hummus is also nothing like the shit you'll find in tubs at Costco, and it's so good, I'd practically put on candy bars too:

Good hummus starts with good produce, so skip the canned shit and go straight for the dried chickpeas sold in bulk. Get yourself 2 lbs, rinse them and soak them overnight in enough water to cover them by 3 inches. Add a heaping tablespoon of baking soda to the soaking water. This will eliminate the funky smells that tend to come out during the soaking.

The next morning, the chickpeas will have almost doubled in size. Drain them, rinse them, bring them to a boil, then simmer them for 2 hours. The baking soda will harden their peels a little, so they may take longer so cook than you'd think, but the flavor is completely worth it.
Once they are fork tender, take 3 cups and put them un the food processor. Save the rest for next week's salad post, (or add them to your chicken soup or something) and add about 1/2 a cup of good olive oil to the processor. Yes, I know it's a blender. No, I don't own a food processor.

See that buttery goodness WITHOUT butter? That's what you're striving for

Now, start blending (or processing, whatever), adding a little more oil and some water until you reach the consistency of smooth peanut butter. This is your base.

At its most elemental, hummus is just chickpeas and some spices. So we're going purist here. I'm just adding a little garlic, very little cumin, salt, pepper and paprika. And THAT'S IT. No need to go overboard here, this will be the next addition to your comfort food nirvana list.

Printer-Friendly Version:
3 cups boiled chickpeas (method shown above)
1/2 cup olive oil
1 large clove of garlic
Salt, pepper, very little cumin and a lot of paprika
  1. put everything in a food processor until in resembles peanut butter
  2. Awesomeness

    lunes, 22 de agosto de 2011

    Meze, part 1: Roast leg of Lamb, Marinated in Yoghurt and Mint

    Ok, I know it seemed like I abandoned coooking lately, but work really tied me up for the past couple of weeks. I'm gonna make it up to you by publishing a long thread of posts form the SAME F***ING PARTY, coz I can't afford to cook like this every goddamn weekend...This time, we went the whole 9 yards and actually sacrificed a freaking lamb!!!
    There's so many of them, they're practically begging for it!
    And who knows lamb better than the Middle East? NO ONE, people.

    So hate me all you want, gringos, but middle eastern food does not equal anti-americanism and terrorists. If you feel like running away at the sight of the slightest arabic-sounding word, then you're missing out on some of the best food you can throw on a grill.

    Meze is a mediterranean and middle eastern concept for lunch (in Turkish: to taste), akin to chinese dim sum and spanish tapas, where lots of different plates are served in small portions, accompanied by some sort of digestive drink. Greeks drink ouzo, Turks drink raki, Syrians drink arak... but ingredient availability forced us to drink Tequila. Not that it's a bad thing, though.

    Start with two legs of freshly slaughtered lamb. Rinse them down with cold water and trim some excess fat from it. No too much, though.
    Set them aside for a while and chop a whole bunch of mint (just the leaves).
    In this case, peppermint.

    To that, add 3 large garlic cloves, finely chopped, and about a fistful of finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

    Put that in a bowl with about 1/3 of a cup of olive oil, essentially making mint chimichurri
    Now break out your best greek yoghurt and add about 4 cups to the mix, along with some sea salt.
    This is your yoghurt sauce. You'll never tolerate shitty store-bought ranch dressing again, I swear. Save 2 cups to serve with the meat and place both lamb legs inside a large plastic bag along with the rest of the yoghurt. Let it marinate overnight and dream of awesomeness.

    Greek yoghurt is thick, tangy, unctuous and delicious... pure Nirvana right there

    Never forget to fondle your meat. Lamb loves to be fondled
    Now set your lamb legs over white-hot coals sprinkled with your last BBQ's ashes (WHAT?! you throw your ashes away?! I pity you). The ashes will even the heat distribution and minimize smoke as fat drips from the meat. Or in this case, indirect heat over a gas grill set at medium.

    Cover your grill and get a drink. Meze is supposed to be served with booze after all. Don't mess with the lamb for 30 minutes so it develops a crust.
    Gentlemen.... start your engines
    Now, after 2 or 3 scotches (30mins, by our standards), uncover and flip

    At this point, the smell is so wonderful, it attracts stray neighbors. Gloat in your grilling prowess. You deserve it
    Now, while the meat cooks and right before the booze kicks in and you're too hammered to operate a mortar and pestle, grind 2 large sprigs of fresh (I mean it, FRESH) rosemary with 1/2 lb of kosher salt. This will be your seasoning once you serve.

    Watch those thumbs, dumbass
    Once you've pounded the shit out of that rosemary, the salt will turn a lovely light shade of green and the whole room will smell like vacations.
    Also, rim your margaritas with this and you'll be getting laid like Frank Sinatra
    Now, 30 minutes have passed, it's time to check your meat for doneness. This being a large piece of bone-in lamb, you have to sneak a peek and see for yourself.

    We like our lamb a little on the rare side,but feel free to shave some meat off and return the pieces to the fire. Serve with pita bread, the yoghurt sauce, seasoned salt and assorted salads (recipes in future posts).

    You know you're doing it right when parents tweet your cooking, son

    Printer-Friendly Version, for those of you with teflon coating on your brains:
    2 legs of lamb (approx 12 lbs)
    1 lt (4 cups) of thick, full fat greek yoghurt
    1 large bunch of mint, finely chopped
    1 bunch of flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
    3 large cloves of garlic, finely chopped
    2 sprigs of fresh rosemary
    Sea salt
    Olive oil, at least 1/3 of a cup
    Booze, lots of it
    1. Rinse and dry your lamb, place in a plastic bag.
    2. combine mint, parsley, garlic, yoghurt, olive oil and salt in a bowl. Add 2 cups to lamb and marinate at least overnight. save the rest for the grilled meat.
    3. light up your grill, start drinking.
    4. grill over white-hot coals lightly covered in ashes, covered, for 30 mins, then flip and cook for another 30 minutes.
    5. pound the shit out of that rosemary and salt in a mortar and pestle.
    6. Slice, serve, and feel awesome