In Praise of the Pomegranate

Pom  Pom Salad

Snooping on someone’s desk can get you into big trouble. But I know of one case where it lead to great things.

There was no way you could miss it. The bright photo on the cover of this book was like a neon sign that screamed “calling all foodies.”

Tell me that you wouldn’t have spotted this book under a pile of papers in the office and had a quick little look? Well? Am I wrong?

So, if you did lunge across your colleagues desk to thumb through Modern Flavors of Arabia, you too would have been rewarded with page after page of beautifully photographed dishes. And you likely would have run right out to the bookstore to buy it, just like I did.

I was immediately sold by the drool-inducing photos and the fact that many of my favourite local celebrity chefs (Anna and Michael Olson, Susur Lee and Lynn Crawford) have provided testimonials for the book. Of course I had to buy it.

You’d also note that pomegrante molasses and pomegrante seeds are featured prominently in the book, along with other ingredients such as cinnamon, pistachios, sumac, za’atar, orange blossom water and rosewater.

Thanks to my blogging friend Sawsan over at Chef in Disguise, I am becoming more familiar with many of these ingredients and the wonderful role that they play in Middle Eastern and Arabic cuisine.

Two recipes really jumped out at me right away, so I started with them: Arugula Salad with Roasted Eggplant and Sweet Pomegranate Dressing and Spicy Chicken Wings . . . although I adjusted the wing recipe and renamed it Sweet and Sticky Pomegranate Chicken Wings. I was extremely pleased with the results of both recipes and look forward to making my way through the rest of this book.

If you’re not up for buying this book, I hope I can convince you to at least buy a bottle of pomegrante molasses. Widely available at specialty and Middle Eastern stores, it can also be used to make refreshing drinks, dips and glazes for meat. If you do take the plunge, this terrific article from Food52 will provide you with a range of ways to use up your bottle.

If you have trouble finding pomegranate molasses, you can always make your own with this easy recipe from Simply Recipes.

So, a big thank you goes out to my colleague Maria, who casually left this book on her desk, under a few papers, when I was visiting her in Ottawa. It was kind of like laying out a piece of cheese and then waiting for the mouse to arrive . . .

Sticky Wings

Arugula Salad with Roasted Eggplant and Sweet Pomegranate Dressing

Recipe from Modern Flavors of Arabia

  • 2 medium egglplants
  • 2 – 3 tbsp olive oil
  • sea salt
  • 2 tsp whole fennel seeds
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 tbsp dijon mustard
  • 1/4 cup pomegranate molasses
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 large handfuls arugula, washed
  • 1/4 small red onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 cups cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
  • 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
  • 1/4 fresh pomegranate seeds

Preheat the oven to 400˚ F.

Peel and cut the eggplants into thick rounds of about 1 inch thick, brush both sides with oil, sprinkle with sea salt and place on a shallow baking sheet. Place in the oven to roast until golden and cooked through, about 15 minutes. Remove, cool completely and slice each round in half. Set aside.

Using a mortar and pestle, crush the fennel seeds and garlic to make a paste. Add the balsamic vinegar, honey, lemon juice, dijon mustard, pomegranate molasses and olive oil. Whisk together to emulsify the dressing. Set aside.

Place the arugula on a shallow serving platter. Sprinkle the onion, tomatoes, salt and pepper on top. Toss to combine. Scatter the egglpant slices on the salad.

Drizzle some dressing all over. Garnish with pine nuts and pomegranate seeds. Serve immediately.

NOTE: I found that the recipe made about twice the amount of dressing that I needed. Next time I’ll cut the dressing recipe in half.

Sweet and Sticky Pomegranate Chicken Wings

Recipe adapted from Modern Flavors of Arabia‘s Spicy Chicken Wings

  • 2 lbs chicken wings
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • pinch cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • juice of one lemon
  • 3 tbsp pomegrante molasses
  • salt and pepper

Make a marinade by mixing all of the ingredients together in a medium-sized bowl. Add chicken wings and toss well. Cover and leave in the fridge for an hour.

Preheat oven to 350˚ F.

Cover baking sheet with aluminum foil. Place wings spread apart on the baking sheet. Bake for 30 minutes. Increase temperature to 375 ˚ F and cook for an additional 20 to 30 minutes, until the wings are well cooked and the glaze is sticky and carmelized.

NOTE: The original recipe called for 1 tsp of cayenne pepper and 1/4 cup of fresh cilantro (chopped). It is also served with a hot tomato salsa. I modified the recipe to make it work for my two young girls. It also recommended cooking the wings for 35 minutes at 350˚, but I found they needed quite a bit more time to cook well and carmelize.

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A Saturday Afternoon Backyard Picnic

Saturday morning the first thing my youngest ponytail said to me was: “when will you make my favourite chick pea salad ever again?”

How could I refuse a request like that?

So what started out as this…

Turned into this:

Which resulted in one happy ponytail:

Okay, make that two happy ponytails–even if one of them isn’t a big fan of my salad.

Since I didn’t have a chance to go grocery shopping before the picnic, I had to use the staples that I had on hand.   That is the great thing about this chick pea salad. It’s made primarily with ingredients that you quite likelyalready have in your pantry. Add in some celery and parsley from the garden and you’re off the races. This is one of the reasons that this salad has quickly become one of my favourites — and my youngest ponytail’s too!

I was also lucky enough to have some smoked salmon from New Brunswick that my longtime friend Carol brought me a few weeks back when she came to visit. (Thanks Carol!!!) I kept waiting to find just the right recipe to use it, but in the end I decided to prepare it simply with some cream cheese so that we could fully enjoy the flavour. 

It wasn’t a fancy picnic — just a few key things prepared simply. Isn’t that what a picnic is all about?

By the way, you need to grab yourself some bread right away, or else you’ll end up with none.

Italian Chickpea, Tuna and Parsley Salad

Slightly adapted from Two Dishes, by Linda Haynes & Devin Connell

  • 19 oz can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • 6 oz can flaked water-packed white tuna, drained
  • 3 stalks celery, finely diced
  • 2 tbsp red onion, finely diced
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
  • 3 tbsp  freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 1 medium)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • pinch hot red pepper flakes
  • a few grinds of freshly ground black pepper

Mix the chickpeas, tuna, celery, onion, parsley, lemon juice, oil, salt, red pepper flakes and pepper together in a large bowl and allow to marinate for up to 30 minutes before serving.


A Simple Salad Two Ways

If there ever was a reason to grow a little patch of lemon thyme, this salad is it. The flavour of the lemon thyme really stands out — in fact I’d call it the star of the show.

This salad comes together really quickly–it just takes a couple of minutes to cut the niblets from the cob and make your zucchini ribbons. The combination of flavours is really fresh and flavourful. But I discovered that if you don’t have all the ingredients on hand, it is also good with a few minor adjustments. (Don’t you hate it when you discover that you missed an ingredient on your shopping list?) I swapped out the corn for some sliced grape tomatoes, edamame and voila, another tasty salad.

Okay, so I also forgot the yellow zucchini. But you get the idea, sometimes you have to go with what you have. It’s all part of what makes cooking so fun. Sometimes you land on a real winner when you make a substitution out of necessity.

Now, even though I’ve described the lemon thyme as the star of the show, this salad would still be good with regular thyme. 

Have you discovered any winning combinations out of necessity recently?

Zucchini Ribbon Salad

Adapted from Style at Home Magazine, August 2011

  • 2 green zucchini
  • 1 yellow zucchini
  • 1/4 cup red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 cob corn
  • Zest and juice of 1/2 lemon
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • Pinch of sea salt
  • 1/4 cup feta cheese, crumbled
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts, preferably toasted
  • 1 tbsp lemon thyme

Using a vegetable peeler, shave long ribbons from your zucchinis–but discard the centre core of each. Lay the strips on a large serving plate. Holding the corn cob upright, slice along the cob with a sharp knife to remove the niblets a few rows at a time. Sprinkle the fresh niblets over the zucchini ribbons. Spinkle the salad with the lemon zest and juice, red pepper flakes, olive oil, sea salt, feta, pine nuts and lemon thyme. Serve immediately.

NOTES:

  • I highly recommend these swiss peelers for making the zucchini ribbons and for peeling potatoes or veggies.

Perfect Summer Meals

“This is the perfect summer meal!”

That is the way several friends have described the casual fare at our recent summer get-togethers. I’ve been serving a couple different salads along side some type of grilled meat or burgers at each of our summer barbeques. Salads are a great way to take in all the wonderful fresh flavours of summer and they help to ensure that you still have room for dessert!

I’m going to share some of my favourite summer salads over the next couple of weeks. As it’s the time of year when we are on the go–exploring cottage country and catching up with friends as much as possible–I’m going to be short and sweet in my posts.

So, getting straight to the point, here’s the salad that I made almost every weekend last year. It’s as flavourful as it is colourful–and if the truth be told, I could eat the entire bowl. I highly recommend this salad. I must warn you though, if you tell people that this is succotash, your guests may start to quote Sylvester the Cat (“Sufferin’ Succotash!”).

Summer Succotash — You’ll note that the photo was taken before I added the avocado

Summer Succotash

Adapted from In My Mother’s Kitchen by Trish Magwood

  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 4 ears of corn, cooked
  • 1 sweet red pepper, diced
  • ¼ red onion, diced
  • 1 ½ green onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 ½ cups halved grape tomatoes
  • 1 cup shelled edamame, blanched and cooled
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 avocado, cubed

Directions:

Cut the corn off the cob. Add red pepper, red onion, green onions, tomatoes, edamame, olive oil, salt and lime juice. Stir well. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Add avocado just before serving.

Notes:

  • To prepare the corn, I put the husked corn in a large pot, bring the water to a boil, reduce the heat and boil for five minutes. The original recipe included instructions to mix together the zest of one lime, with a bit of melted butter and cayenne — then brush this on the corn before grilling on the barbeque. I’ve simplified this and I don’t think the salad loses any flavour in the process. You could certainly try this if you have the time.
  • I’ve made this the same day in a pinch. It still tastes great.
  • Buying frozen shelled edamame is a huge time saver. I always use the frozen and I don’t blanch it.

My New Best Friend Barley

I tried it. I liked it. And I made it again, and again. That’s the way it went with this Sausage and Barley Jambalaya recipe. It wasn’t the first time I’d had barley, as my blogging pal Eva at KitchenInspirations has been making barley risotto for a long time because of its health benefits.

Barley deserves all the credit for giving this dish a lovely nutty and creamy texture that is quite unique. It also makes the dish hearty, filling and good for you!

A cereal grain, barley is heralded for its ability to help reduce cholesterol and reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases, among other benefits. Go figure! It is also what I would call a “low profile” grain—it goes along its way quietly, while quinoa continues to make a splash in culinary circles, even landing a couple of book deals. I find it all a bit surprising, given that barley is a key ingredient in one of the world’s most popular drinks.

I decided that since I liked the Barley Jambalaya so much, that I needed to try it in something else, something other than a soup or a stew. So, I came up with a new barley salad that I think you may like…

It’s a Mediterranean Salad that combines all of my favourite summer flavours—olives, basil, feta, grape tomatoes, lemon and roasted red pepper. 

There you have it. There are lots of reasons to give barley at try—it’s inexpensive, versatile and a healthy alternative to orzo or rice.

If you decide that barley isn’t for you, then you might like Betsy’s Couscous Salad, over at Bits and Breadcrumbs, which also features kalamata olives, basil and feta with a lovely lemon dressing.

Sausage and Barley Jambalaya

Slightly adapted from Judith Finlayson’s, Delicious & Dependable Slow Cooker Recipes

  • 1 lb mild Italian sausage, removed from casings
  • 2 onions finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp dried oregano leaves
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp cracked black peppercorns
  • 1 cup pearl barley, rinsed well
  • 1 can  (28 oz/796 mL) diced tomatoes, including juice
  • 3 cups chicken stock
  • 8 oz medium shrimp, cooked, peeled and deveined
  • 1 roasted red pepper, chopped (I use jarred)

 Directions:

  1. Cook sausage over medium-high heat, breaking up with a spoon, until no longer pink. Transfer to slow cooker.
  2. Drain excess fat from pan. At medium heat, sauté onions until softened. Add garlic, thyme, paprika, oregano, salt, pepper and cook for one minute. Add barley and stir well. Add tomatoes and chicken stock and bring to a boi.
  3. Pour mixture over sausage and stir. Cover and cook on low for 6 to 8 hours or on high for 3 to 4 hours. Add shrimp and roasted pepper. Cover and cook on high for 20 minutes, until shrimp is heated through.

 Mediterranean Barley Salad

  • 1 cup pearl barley, rinsed well under running water
  • ¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2.5 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp pepper
  • 6 to 7 fresh basil leaves finely chopped
  • ¾ cup feta, diced (I used low fat feta)
  • 2.5 tbsp toasted pine nuts
  • ¼ cup roasted red pepper, finely chopped (I use jarred)
  • ¼ cup kalamata olives (pits removed and ripped in half)
  • ½ cup grape tomatoes, cut in half
  • 2 scallions, sliced finely

 Directions:

  1. Add rinsed barley, along with 3 cups of water to medium saucepan. Bring to boil, then reduce heat to low and cook for 20 to 25 minutes. Drain excess water and allow barley to cool to room temperature in a large bowl.
  2. Mix lemon juice, olive oil, salt, pepper and basil in small bowl. Add mixture to barley and stir well. Add feta, pine nuts, red pepper, olives, tomatoes and scallions. Mix well. Serve at room temperature.