The Shishless Kabob: Kefta Style Middle Eastern Grilled Sausages with Roasted Eggplant Puree

Monday, July 30, 2012

I'm probably going to get lambasted by the Romanians for this post, but I say bring it on...

A very popular dish in Romania and arguably the national food is a grilled casing-less sausage called Mititei (pronounced: "mee-tee-TAY"). Ground pork and veal are heavily seasoned with garlic and a special blend of spices and mixed with beaten egg and beer which adds amazing flavor and moisture, then formed into small sausage-like shapes (that unfortunately look like poop, but whatever) and then are grilled to perfection on a smoky charcoal grill. Often served as is or with a spicy mustard, they are the perfect appetizer to go with the national drink Tuica (pronounced "tzw-EEK-ah") or a good cold beer.

charcoal is a must -- it gives the proper char and smoky flavor for an authentic taste

Unfortunately, as much as the Romanians want to take credit for it, the great Mititei are probably not indiginous to Romania, but rather were a Middle Eastern import during the Ottoman occupation in late medieval Europe. Uncaningly resembling the Kefta Kabob, Romanians probably replaced the traditional ground lamb with their preferred taste for pork, and omitted most of the traditional Middle Eastern spices and instead going with their own garlic and paprika based blend. Personally I love both styles, but I have to say, the addition of the beer makes a killer grilled "keftsausagmit" as I lovingly call these hybrid sausages.

I was feeling the Middle Eastern vibe and made a traditional mici (pronounced "meech"; the cute form for referencing the "little ones") using Romanian style with Middle Eastern flavorings. Loved the result.

To go with, instead of the blander Romanian style eggplant puree, I went to the Middle East again and did a roasted eggplant dip with grilled onions, fresh mint, pine nuts, and garlic. The result was perfect, heavenly earthiness paired with the grilled keftsausagmit. If you're looking to try something new on the grill this week or weekend, give these recipes a try! Add some basmati rice and make it a meal!

Pofta Buna!

Middle Eastern Style Mititei aka "Keftsausagmit"
1 lb ground beef
1 lb ground pork
8 cloves garlic, minced into a paste
1 Tbsp fresh parsley, finely chopped
1 Tbsp fresh mint, finely chopped
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 Tbsp ground cumin
1 tsp Hungarian style paprika
1/4 tsp ground allspice
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground clove
2 tsp baking soda
1/4 cup to 1/3 cup beer (preferably a lighter beer, German style)

Place beef and pork into a large mixing bowl. Add the garlic, fresh herbs, salt and pepper to taste, spices, baking soda, and beer and mix well until combined. Add more beer if needed until mixture is wet but can still hold form; if it feels too dry add more beer. Let mixture stand 30 minutes for flavors to combine. When ready to grill, take out a small palmful of meat mixture and form into torpedo-shaped little sausages. Set aside.

meat mixture before it gets formed into sausages

Preheat a charcoal grill to high. Add the sausages to the grill and cook, turning occasionally, until well roasted on all sides. Because pork is involved, you'll need to cook them all the way through so no medium-rare this time! You wan to to keep rotating the sausages so they get evenly cooked all around. Total cook time is around 10 minutes. Remove and serve piping hot!

Roasted Eggplant Puree
1 large Italian eggplant, ends trimmed and cut in half lengthwise
olive oil to roast eggplant + 1 Tbsp for onion saute
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 small white onion, chopped small
4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
2 Tbsp pine nuts
2 Tbsp dried currants
1 Tbsp fresh mint, roughly chopped
splash of balsamic vinegar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil for easy clean up. Drizzle the tops of the halved eggplant with the olive oil -- enough to coat the top but not over saturate -- and season liberally with salt and pepper. Roast in oven until very tender, about 40 minutes or until easily pierced with a fork. Once cooked, remove from oven and let cook while you do the onions.

Warm the remaining olive oil in a saute pan and cook onions until softened, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add the garlic, pine nuts, and currants and cook another 2-3 minutes. Set aside.

all the ingredients just before it hits the food processor
deep caramelization of the onions will give the dish its irresistable sweetness

Once cool enough to handle easily, scoop out the flesh of the eggplant (seeds and all) and place into a food processor; discard the skins. Add the cooked onion mixture, mint, and balsamic vinegar, and mix to combine until a thick puree is formed. Taste and adjust with seasonings to taste.

Ribolata: Medieval Italy's Brilliant Answer To Shephard's Pie

Friday, July 27, 2012

I love dishes like this....

The history, the story behind them is so rich and recognizable that you can't help but feel and taste the love and necessity and connection to their makers. Ironically, what we consider most as "comfort food" happen to rise from the humble beginnings of peasants, "lower class" poor people who had to rely on their skills and imagination to transform simple ingredients they could forage for themselves or whatever scraps were left from their lords or masters, into sustainable and nurishing food for themselves and their families. They had to make use out of leftovers to stretch meals to feed not one day but three or even four. They had to scrounge around the forests and marshes for ingredients to bolster their diet. And as the example of ribolata's humble beginnings, use the scraps of medieval lords to prepare their own dinners.

Ribolata is a hodgepodge of vegetables and sometimes meats, cooked together into a hearty stewlike consistency and often served either with pasta cooked inside or bread inside or out. The original ribolatas used the leftover main courses of the Tuscan lords the night before -- scraps of meat and primarily vegetables that were not consumed at the table and the next day thrown into a pot with perhaps inexpensive cuts of proscuitto ends or beef tips if they were lucky enough, and cooked with the stale bread left not eaten or whatever was left of the unused pasta dough.

What begins as a "what the hell is in here" type of meal ends up being a rich, hearty stew of absolute goodness. And the best part is, it's a great way to use those leftovers or do as a make-in-advance meal for it does taste better the next day! And using stale bread really, really makes the dish, I swear it!

"Purists" will argue that a ribotala should consist of only vegetables, beans, and maybe the occasional sprinkling of parmesan. I disagree completely and confidently. Ribolata is not so much about a specific dish, but rather a concept; sitting and keeping down to each and every ingredient goes againt the very definition of how ribolata came into being! It's about using what you have, what you have left over, what you need to get rid of, and making it all go together as harmoniously as you can. And a little sprinkling of parmesan cheese didn't hurt nobody!

This recipe below is a nice, balance example for the modern ribolata I think. In the spirit of using on hand and just mixing in all the craziness, I begin with some sausage. Add pancetta if you have it instead, or even Amererican style bacon. Or leave out the meat completely! Onion, carrot and celery along with onion are a must -- back then and for today -- for a base of any stew or meal really that will be authentic and have any sort of base of flavor. Go heavy on the garlic, for it's how they kept healthy and away from infection back then and today. Tomatoes offer sweet acidity while broccoli rabe adds a nice balance of savory-bitterness. Use kale, mustard greens, or collard greens instead if you've got 'em. Bay leaf adds depth of flavor while oregano gives a gently brightness. I add grains of paradise because it would have been a spice they used back then. Chicken and beef broths offer richness and flavor to the soup, and are totally within the spirit of "throw it all in." Beans and pasta are optional but tasty, and I splurged on the fresh crusty bread this time, but feel free to use stale! I love chiabatta the best!

Enjoy this soup. It's nourishing, healthy, fun and meant to be low-maintenance. Get the kids involved and talk about the history of the soup. Let them (and yourself!) remember the humble beginnings we all came from. And make a toast with that wine we're so fortunate to enjoy in today's times.

Bon appetito!

1/4 lb mild italian sausage
1 Tbp olive oil + 1 Tbsp for vegetables
1 large white onion, chopped small
2 celery sticks, ends trimmed and chopped small
2 carrots, peeled and chopped small
4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1 cup chopped broccoli rabe (about 1/4 of a bunch; the amount chopped should be around 1 cup total)
2 cups chopped tomatoes with juices (fresh or 1 (12 oz) can of chopped tomatoes)
1 bay leaf
1 tsp dried oregano (or 1 Tbsp fresh)
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 tsp ground grains of paradise (optional)
4 cups beef broth
4 cups chicken broth
1 cup canned beans -- kidney, canneloni, etc. -- drained and rinsed under cold water
1 cup ditalini pasta or other small shaped pasta
fresh parmesan cheese for garnish
fresh crusty bread for serving

Heat the one tablespoon of oil in a large pot. Add the sausage and brown, rendering the fat. Using a slotted spoon, remove the meat from the pot and reserve to the side. In the same oil add the onion, celery, and carrots all at once. Add the other tablespoon of oil if the sausage didn't leave enough fat to cook the vegetables. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and cook on medium-low heat until softened, 10 minutes. Add the garlic and broccoli rabe and cook another two minutes. Add the tomatoes, bay leaf, oregano, and both broths, scraping up the brown bits on the bottom with the juices as you go. Mix well to combine and bring soup up to a boil. Once boiling, reduce heat down to low and cover with lid. Let cook for 30 minutes for flavors to develop.

Now add the beans and pasta. Cook uncovered until pasta is cooked through -- about 10 minutes -- and the beans are tender.

To serve, simply ladle out generous portions of hearty soup into bowls and add a generous sprinkling of freshly grated parmesan cheese on top. Garnish with the fresh bread, or conversely for real authenticity, cube the bread and mix it right into the soup before serving.

Can serve hot, warm at room temperature, or even slightly cool.

Week Night Yum Yum: Salmon Nicoise Salad Platter

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Nicoise Salad is a classic out of France. Named after the use of the small and delicately brined nicoise olives, it's a simple but flavorful salad of flaked tuna, crisp haricot verts (French green beans), shallots, and other vegetables all tossed in a simple lemon vinaigrette. Originally the dish was served with all raw vegetables and using canned tuna. Its humble beginnings being transformed through today's interpretations adding ripe tomatoes, eggs, and tender potatoes to the mix and serving the salad platter-style rather than mixed all together, the Nicoise Salad can be adapted from a healthy week night meal to a main course to feed a crowd.

Tuna's great, and I've done this using canned tuna to seared expensive ahi. We still have a shitload of salmon left over from The Husby's fishing trip to Alaska, so I used salmon to help get rid of it. The result was a resounding success. I confess I stole the idea from Ina who made it in her Baby Shower episode, and to be honest I think the salmon yields itself even a little better than the tuna.

I kept the components of the salad simple and kid-friendly -- ripe tomatoes sliced thickly into wedges, shallots add the perfect spice, salmon grilled until flaky and tender, perfectly boiled eggs and crispy par-boiled green beans and tender yukon gold potatoes all tossed with a simple lemon-herb vinaigrette lightly flavored with garlic. Conspiculously missing are the nicoise olives which were so good, they didn't even make it to the plate -- they were consumed by two (let's not name names, but they can fit the description of a 33 year old male and 3 1/2 year old male) along with the rest of my marcona almonds. Apparently I need to hide the almonds. Another post...

My kids adored this salad and it served the 4 of us quite well. Expand the recipe to suit how many people you need to feed. And it's perfect for a party because it's best served at room temperature.

Salmon Nicoise Salad Platter with Lemon Herb Vinaigrette
2 large heirloom tomatoes, cut into wedges
1-2 large shallots, thinly sliced
3-4 fillets salmon, grilled*
4 boiled eggs**
1 bunch green beans, ends trimmed
1/2 lb baby yukon gold potatoes
1/2 cup good olive oil
zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp total combination of: fresh thyme, oregano, rosemary, parsley
1 garlic clove, finely minced into a paste
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

Place the potatoes in a pot and fill with cold water. Add a handful of salt and bring to a boil. Boil for 15 minutes, or until potatoes can be pierced with a fork --- just at fork-tender. Careful not to overcook however so the potatoes keep their shape! Drain and let potatoes cool. Once cool, take the potatoes and slice them into rounds.

In a separate pot, bring water to a boil. Lightly salt the water and add the green beans. Cook until bright green in color, about 5 minutes. Remove promptly to an ice bath and let stand. If serving for younger children, you may want to cook the beans a bit longer to make them easier to eat. Drain when ready to use.

To make the vinaigrette, combine the oil, lemon zest and juice, herbs, garlic, and salt and pepper to taste in a bowl and whisk vigorously to combine. Set aside.

To arrange the platter, place the items in blocks of ingredients as pictured above. The order doesn't matter. Pour the vinaigrette all over the fish and vegetables and serve. No need to toss anything.

*To grill the salmon, simply take the fillets and season both sides with salt and pepper (use skinless salmon). Preheat grill to high and brush with oil. Grill salmon on both sides until firm to the touch, about 5-9 minutes total cooking time, depending on the thickness of the salmon pieces. Remove and let cool a few minutes. Then using a spatula or fork, gently flake the salmon into large chunks.

**To make hard-boiled eggs, place eggs in a small saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to a gentle boil, and turn heat off completely once water comes to a boil. Let eggs steep in that hot water for 10 minutes; if you boil them at a rapid boil you increase the chances of them moving around and breaking. Drain and run under cold water. Crack shells and remove, then slice each egg into quarters.

Oysters with Pickled Ginger Mignonette Sauce

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

I love oysters. I love raw oysters. Get over your fixation and start eating raw oysters. Not only are they delicious, they are incredibly good for you too: an excellent sorce of natural iodine for ye fellow thyroid sufferers!

I love me a spicy cocktail sauce for an oyster, but occasionally I'll go for a brinier vinegar-based one as well. But it needs to be special. Like this sauce...

A riff on the classic mignonette (vinegar, black pepper, shallot), this sauce uses pickled ginger as the star of the show! Yes, the bizarrely pink ginger of sushi fame is chopped up finely and mixed with finely chopped shallot, apple wine vinegar (haha!) and fresh mint. The result is a refreshing coolness that is so sleek yet has enough presence to deligh, without overpowering the delicate oysters.

Make this. Now.

Raw Oysters with Pickled Ginger "Mignonette" Sauce
a dozen of your favorite Japanese style oysters (recommend: kushi, miyagi, kumamoto)
2 Tbsp pickled ginger for sushi
1 shallot
1 Tbsp apple wine vinegar (or apple cider vinegar)
1 tsp fresh mint
freshly ground black pepper

Pop open the oysters and place halfshells on ice.

To make the sauce, finely chop the ginger, shallot and mint and add into a bowl. Add the vinegar and pepper and mix to combine. Let stand at least 15 minutes in the fridge for flavors to combine. Serve very well chilled with the oysters.

Makes a great appetizer or cocktail food for summer party!