paella

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I will always associate paella with the group of friends I hung out with in graduate school. We all enjoyed good food and good drinks, so whenever we got together, everyone would bring food and wine to share. One of my friends was from Spain, and he made paella at several of these get-togethers. Of course, it was fully authentic, cooked in a paella pan set on a tripod over an open flame. The smoked paprika, saffron, roasted red peppers, and rice came directly from Spain, picked up on his latest trip home to visit his parents. Sitting around the fire in my friends’ backyard, drinking good wine and eating paella is one of my most vivid food memories.

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I knew that cooking paella in a Dutch oven on the grill wouldn’t be the same, but I was hoping for just a twinge of that taste, that memory. That’s why I insisted on cooking it outside on the grill instead of using the much easier option of the stove and oven. Maybe it would pick up a hint of smokiness from the coals, but it was more than just the flavor I was after, it was that feeling.

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I got some of each. With the cast iron Dutch oven, the one Dave and I have taken camping for the last ten years, heated over coals on the grill, I got some of the fun of cooking outdoors. Dave sat outside with me with a glass of wine and let me babble on about different rice dishes in cultures around the world.

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The food was good, but I need some paella practice before it’ll be up to the standards of what I remember. The biggest mistake I made was preventing the formation of a soccarat, a layer of crusty bits on the bottom of the pan, which is one of the best parts of paella. Letting rice stick to the bottom of the pan goes against years of rice-cooking training, and I ended up adding too much liquid, making a wetter, saucier paella. I also think I’ll leave out the tomatoes next time. They were included in a number of the paella recipes I looked at, but it’s not a flavor I associate with paella.

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Overall, it was a successful meal, in that I had fun making it and it tasted good. But next time, I’ll use the lessons I learned, like not stirring the rice and leaving out the tomato, and my paella will be that much better. However, I doubt it’ll ever taste as good as one cooked over a fire in a paella pan while enjoying the company of good friends.

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One year ago: Bruschetta with Chickpea Puree
Two years ago: Grilled Potato and Vegetable Salad
Three years ago: Casatiello
Four years ago: Soba Salad with Feta and Peas

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Paella (adapted from Cooks Illustrated, Alton Brown, the New York Times, Leite’s Culinaria, and About.com)

Most of my problems came from not following this method, adding more liquid and stirring more often because I was worried about the rice cooking unevenly. However, it should be noted that the recipe given here has not been perfected.

The recipe specifically refers to charcoal grilling methods, but I think it could be easily adapted to a gas grill.

4 cups water
8 ounces shrimp, peeled, shells reserved
1 onion, half sliced, half diced
2 garlic cloves, 1 sliced, 2 minced
1 small bay leaf
1 large thyme sprig
salt and pepper
1 pounds chicken legs and/or thighs, bone-in, skin-on
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 red pepper, diced
½ teaspoon smoked paprika
¼ teaspoon crumbled saffron
1 cup short-grain rice, preferably Bomba
7 ounces canned diced tomatoes with juice
2 tablespoons white wine
½ cup peas

1. In a medium-size pot over medium-high heat, bring the water, shrimp shells, sliced onion, sliced garlic, bay leaf, thyme sprig and 1 teaspoon salt to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer for about 30 minutes. Strain, discarding the solids. Return the broth to the saucepan, cover, and keep warm over low heat.

2. Combine the shrimp with 2 teaspoons olive oil, the minced garlic, ¼ teaspoon paprika, and a pinch of teaspoon salt. Mix well to coat with seasonings and let marinate at least 15 minutes or up to 1 hour.

3. Light about 2 quarts of charcoal briquettes; once the briquettes are lightly covered with gray ash, spread them over the bottom grate of the grill, then top with another 2 quarts of unlit coals.

4. Heat a 10-inch cast-iron skillet or Dutch oven directly over the coals. Add the shrimp and cook, without moving, until browned and pink on one side, 30 seconds to a minute. Flip the shrimp to brown the second side. Transfer to a plate.

5. Season the chicken generously with salt and ground black pepper. Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the hot skillet (or Dutch oven). Add the chicken, skin-side down, and cook with moving until the bottom is deeply browned, 3-4 minutes. Turn each piece of chicken to brown the other side. Transfer the browned chicken to a plate. (Because the chicken is mostly raw and the shrimp is cooked and will only be briefly reheated, don’t put them on the same plate.)

6. Add the diced onion, red pepper, and a pinch of salt to the skillet; sauté, stirring frequently, until softened and lightly browned, 8-10 minutes. Add the saffron and remaining ¼ teaspoon paprika and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about a minute.

7. Add the rice, stirring well to coat with the onion mixture. Add the tomatoes, wine, half of the hot shrimp broth, ½ teaspoon salt, and the browned chicken. Bring to a brisk simmer, stirring once. Simmer, uncovered, until most of the broth has been absorbed, about 10 minutes.

8. Add the remaining broth and cook for an additional 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and arrange the peas and shrimp over the surface of the rice in one layer. Cover the pan with a clean dish cloth. Let the rice rest for 10 minutes before serving.

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barbecued spareribs

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Last year’s barbecued pulled pork went so well that I assumed slow-cooking other meats on the grill would be just as easy, but ribs has proved me wrong. I tried baby backs first, mostly because they’re more famous, but also because they’re what I remember eating as a kid. Since they’re smaller than spareribs, I assumed they’d cook faster, and that didn’t hurt either.

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A week after the baby back ribs spent 2 hours on the grill becoming jerky, I bought spareribs and, comparing Cooks Illustrated’s recipes for the two ribs, saw that they recommend nearly the same cooking time for the two very different types of ribs. Leaner, smaller baby backs supposedly need 2 hours on the grill with 4½ quarts of briquettes plus a second wave of fresh coals halfway through, while larger, fattier spareribs spend 2-3 hours on the grill with only 2½ quarts of charcoal and no refresher. That doesn’t sound right.

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It certainly didn’t work right, as the poor baby backs were desiccated at the end of their two hours. The spareribs, however, fared much better, juicy and smoky and tender, just like ribs should be. In fact, this method – less charcoal, basically – worked so well that I want to try the same thing with baby back ribs now – although I won’t cook the smaller ribs as long as I did the larger ones, which seems like it should be obvious.

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One year ago: Sour Cream Chocolate Cake Cookies
Two years ago: Rum-Drenched Vanilla Cake
Three years ago: Coconut Roasted-Pineapple Dacquoise
Four years ago: Kung Pao Shrimp

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Barbecued Spareribs (from Cooks Illustrated’s The New Best Recipe)

Serves 4 (according to CI, but this would serve at least 6 people with my appetite)

At the end of about 2 hours, the coals were completely extinguished. Fortunately, the meat seemed cooked and tender by then. I didn’t bother with barbecue sauce; the dry rub contributes plenty of flavor.

Dry rub:
3 tablespoons paprika
1½ tablespoons chili powder
1½ tablespoons ground cumin
1½ tablespoons ground cumin
1½ tablespoons dark brown sugar
1½ tablespoons salt
2¼ teaspoons dried oregano
2¼ teaspoons sugar
2¼ teaspoons ground black pepper
2¼ teaspoons ground white pepper
¾-1½ teaspoon cayenne pepper

2 full racks spareribs (about 6 pounds total)
2 (3-inch) wood chunks or 2 cups wood chips
2 cups barbecue sauce (optional)

1. Rub both sides of the rib with the dry rub and let stand at room temperature for 1 hour. (For stronger flavor, wrap the rubbed ribs in a double layer of plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 1 day.)

2. Soak the wood chunks in cold water to cover for 1 hour and drain, or place the wood chips on an 18-inch square of aluminum foil, seal to make a packet, and use a fork to create about 6 holes to allow smoke to escape.

3. Meanwhile, light a large chimney starter filled a bit less than halfway with charcoal briquettes (about 2½ quarts, or 40 coals) and allow to burn until covered with a thin layer of gray ash. Empty the coals into one side of the grill, piling them up in a mound 2 or 3 briquettes high. Keep the bottom vents completely open. Place the wood chunks or the packet with the chips on top of the charcoal. Put the cooking grate in place, open the grill lid vents completely, and cover, turning the lid so that the vents are opposite the wood chunks or chips to draw smoke through the grill. Let the grate heat for 5 minutes and clean it with a wire brush.

4. Position the ribs over the cool part of the grill. Barbecue, turning the ribs every 30 minutes, until the meat starts to pull away from the bones and has a rosy glow on the exterior, 2 to 3 hours. (The initial temperature inside the grill will be about 350 degrees; it will drop to 250 degrees after 2 hours.)

5. Remove the ribs from the grill and wrap each slab completely in aluminum foil. Put the foil-wrapped slabs in a brown paper bag and crimp the top of the bag to seal tightly. Allow to rest at room temperature for 1 hour.

6. Unwrap the ribs and brush with the barbecue sauce, if desired. Cut the ribs between the bones and serve immediately.

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california roll burgers

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I am not the most effusive of food bloggers. I’m not much for “OMG OMG make this ASAP” types of statements. I understand that we all have different tastes, different health requirements, different time constraints; what is a perfect recipe for me might not seem so to you. But, most importantly, those types of statements need to be saved for the really special recipes.

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This is a really special recipe. If you consider the best burger I’ve ever eaten to be really special, that is. And I think it is, because I have eaten some pretty fantastic burgers, starting with the classic green chile cheeseburger, including lamb burgers with feta and tzatziki, and not to mention the fancy schmancy fig-glazed burger with onion jam.

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All are wonderful, and I don’t plan on giving them up, but this one is my new favorite burger. Admittedly, this is coming from a sushi lover who lives over 150 miles from the nearest sushi restaurant, so I’m always excited when I can get sushi flavors without requiring raw fish or hours of rolling.

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I thought at first that mild turkey burgers would work better with the light shellfish and vegetable toppings, but it turned out that the turkey was too timid, and I could hardly taste it over the king crab, avocado, and wasabi. It was still the best burger I’d ever had though. But I tried again, this time using hearty ground beef instead of turkey and pasteurized lump crab (soaked in milk for 20 minutes to null fishy odors, as per Cook’s Illustrated’s recent crab cake recipe) instead of king crab. And then that was the best burger I’d ever had.

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And next time, I’ll get the best of both worlds by using ground beef and king crab, and then that will be the best burger I’ve ever had. This small-town desert girl has figured out how to get her sushi fix, and that’s worth getting excited about.

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One year ago: Chocolate Chip Bundt Cake
Two years ago: Stuffed Butterflied Leg of Lamb
Three years ago: Fresh Strawberry Scones
Four years ago: Hash Browns with Sautéed Vegetables and Poached Eggs

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California Roll Burgers (adapted from Use Real Butter)

6 burgers

The fish sauce replaces salt in this burger recipe, while also providing a dose of umami. I’ve tried it with regular burgers and didn’t notice any difference, but I like it here because the flavor matched the toppings I used for this burger. If it isn’t something you keep around, use ¾ teaspoon salt instead.

If you prefer, you can replace the Greek yogurt with additional mayonnaise.

1 pound ground beef (no leaner than 90%)
2 tablespoons fish sauce
¼ teaspoon sugar
¼ teaspoon black pepper
6 ounces shelled crab (from 2 king crab legs, or use pasteurized lump crab)
¼ cup mayonnaise, divided
2 sheets nori, cut into strips
¼ cup Greek yogurt
1-2 tablespoons powdered wasabi
1 tablespoon soy sauce
6 burger buns, halved horizontally
2 avocadoes, peeled, seeded, and sliced
1 cucumber, sliced thinly
sesame seeds

1. In a large bowl, combine the ground beef, fish sauce, sugar, and pepper. Form into 6 patties, about ½-inch thick and 4 inches wide. In a medium bowl, combine the crab, 2 tablespoons mayonnaise, and nori. In a small bowl, combine the remaining 2 tablespoons mayonnaise with the Greek yogurt, wasabi powder, and soy sauce.

2. Prepare a medium-hot grill. Using a paper towel, grease the grate with vegetable oil. Grill the beef patties for 5 minutes; flip, and continue grilling another 5 minutes. Meanwhile, toast the burger buns on the hottest part of the grill.

3. Spread the wasabi mayonnaise on both sides of the buns. Top with slices of avocado, a burger patty, the crab salad, cucumber slices, and a sprinkle of sesame seeds. Serve immediately.

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banh mi

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For me, taste will trump authenticity every time. Spaghetti and meatballs is more Italian-American than Italian, most of my favorite sushi rolls didn’t originate in Japan, and Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches include a whole mess of ingredients that aren’t available to me. I don’t want to miss out on any of these foods just because they don’t closely resemble the versions in their original countries.

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I’m not saying that I have no interest in more authentic versions of banh mi. I’m just saying that a sandwich made of grilled meat, pickled vegetables, fresh herbs, and spicy tangy sauce is too good to wait around for daikon radish to show up at my grocery store, because it never will. Regular radishes will have to stand in for the daikon radish. And I’m sure pâté is a particularly luscious addition, but still not one that’s worth the trouble of searching southern New Mexico for it.

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Besides, the mixture of storebought mayo, sriracha, and fish sauce is good enough to make any sandwich tempting. One with tangy pickled vegetables and tender grilled pork, all piled on an airy baguette, has become one of my favorite sandwiches ever. It may be a far cry from its origins, but it’s too good to care.

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One year ago: Cheesecake (comparison of 3 recipes)
Two years ago: Twice-Baked Potato Cups
Three years ago: Banana and Peanut Butter Stuffed French Toast

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Vietnamese-Style Grilled Pork Sandwiches (from America’s Test Kitchen Feed)

I used a mixture of Greek yogurt and mayonnaise, heavy on the yogurt, instead of just mayonnaise in the sauce.

Sliced cucumbers are a nice addition, and as you can see, the carrots and radishes work just fine if they’re thinly sliced instead of julienned. (I haven’t figured out how to julienne things on my mandoline.)

Serves 4

½ cup rice vinegar
3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons sriracha
4 tablespoons fish sauce
1 (6-inch) piece daikon radish, peeled and julienned
1 carrot, peeled and julienned
¾ cup mayonnaise
1 pork tenderloin (about 1 pound)
2 teaspoons five-spice powder
1 (24-inch) baguette, cut into 4 pieces and split partially open lengthwise
1 cup fresh cilantro leaves

1. Combine vinegar and sugar in microwave-safe bowl. Heat until sugar has dissolved, about 90 seconds. Add 1 tablespoon sriracha, 2 tablespoons fish sauce, daikon, and carrot to bowl and toss to combine. Set aside for 15 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, whisk mayonnaise, remaining 1 tablespoon sriracha, and remaining 2 tablespoons fish sauce together in second bowl.

3. Rub pork with five-spice powder. Grill over hot fire until browned on all sides and pork registers 145 degrees, 12 to 14 minutes. Transfer to cutting board, tent with foil, and let rest 5 minutes. Grill bread until lightly toasted, about 1 minute.

4. Slice pork crosswise into thin slices. Drain vegetables. Spread mayonnaise on inner sides of bread halves. Arrange slices of pork on bread and top with vegetables and cilantro. Serve.

kofta

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A lot of people in my town hunt. I think they expect me to be against hunting, due to my hippie stance on other issues, like recycling and reducing waste. (The blue recycle bin is right next to the trash can, so what possible reason could you have for not recycling paper? And what’s with drinking your daily coffee out of Styrofoam cups?) But, assuming it’s carefully controlled, and in my area it is, I’m pro-hunting. I’d rather eat animals that lived their lives outside doing animal things than stuffing themselves in a feedlot.

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That being said, I don’t want to do it myself. There is the issue of whether I could actually bring myself to kill a beautiful creature, and I really don’t know how that would go. But moreover, I have plenty of hobbies as it is and don’t need to take up another. But if someone wanted to bring me venison, that would be okay.

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And someone has! Twice, my coworker has brought me ground venison. We made burgers with the first pound, and for the second pound, I took his suggestion to make kofta. I’d never had it before, but it was so obviously something I’d like, with the mix of meat, savory seasonings, and warm spices, not to mention tzatziki and grilled pita. (Incidentally, I brought my coworker two pounds of Tartine country bread dough to thank him for the meat – and encourage him to give me more!)

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Lean venison is perfect in kofta because the addition of bread helps the meatballs hold onto moisture. Plus, lamb is the traditional main ingredient, and both meats are often considered gamey. Dave and I love that gamey flavor, and it just gets better when it’s liberally seasoned with herbs and spices. And everything is better with grilled pita and tzatziki. I suspect I’ll be making this meal with lamb in the future, because my desire for kofta will surely outrun my uncertain supply of venison.

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One year ago: Rhubarb Crumb Coffee Cake
Two years ago: Pickled Coleslaw
Three years ago: Sausage and Red Pepper Hash

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Kofta (adapted from Gourmet via Smitten Kitchen)

The original recipe includes grilled chunks of marinated zucchini, but I didn’t think they added anything special to this.

Grilling meatballs on skewers is a hair-raising experience, but they turned out great and we only lost one on the grill. Just be careful and try not to move them around much.

I grilled some onions to add to the sandwiches, because you can’t go wrong with grilled onions.

2 slices firm sandwich bread, torn into small pieces
1 small onion, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
¼ cup loosely packed fresh parsley leaves
¼ cup loosely packed fresh cilantro leaves
16 ounces ground lamb
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground allspice
½ teaspoon cayenne
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon black pepper
⅓ cup pine nuts, toasted and finely chopped
tzatziki

1. Pulse the bread, onion, and herbs in a food processor until finely chopped. The juice from the onion should start to soak into the bread, and the mixture will form a paste. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and mix with all of the remaining ingredients except the tzatziki. With your hands, mix until well blended. Form one tablespoon of the mixture into a ball; repeat with the remaining mixture to make about 24 meatballs.

2. Prepare a medium-hot grill. Thread meatballs onto skewers, leaving about ¼-inch between each. Generously oil the grill rack. Grill lamb, turning over once, until golden and just cooked through, about 6 minutes. Serve warm with tzatziki and grilled pitas.

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blueberry barbecue salmon

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Dave and I sometimes go to lunch at a little coffeehouse that used to have only one sandwich option each day. There was no pattern to which sandwich would be available when, so we would just cross our fingers for reubens or the turkey pesto panini. It’s fortunate that neither of us is picky, but there was one sandwich I got there that I disliked – tuna salad with chunks of apples.

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I’m working my way around to sweet and savory combinations, and thinly sliced apple on a sandwich with cheddar and turkey sounds appealingly crisp and sweet. I like applesauce with pork. But I could not wrap my mind around chunks of apple in tuna salad, so, like a picky little brat, I picked them all out.

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And yet blueberries in barbecue sauce sounds like a perfect match. Barbecue sauce is a mix of tangy, spicy, and sweet flavors, so why not throw some fruit into the mix to add to the sweet balance. I had never eaten salmon with barbecue sauce, but salmon is so rich and meaty that it’s a perfect match.

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In the end, I could hardly taste the blueberry anyway, although the barbecue sauce was a particularly vibrant shade of purple. Maybe that means this wasn’t a true test of my sweet plus savory acceptance, but I still think it’s one step closer. Just don’t give me one of those chicken salads with grapes in it.

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Housekeeping: If you’re reading this through a feed reader like Google Reader, you’re missing out on my brand new design! Click on over to check it out. I’ve also added a couple of new pages – a long overdue list of my favorite food blogs and a few notes on how I approach recipe writing and categorizing. Finally, I’ve created a Facebook page for The Way the Cookie Crumbles, because apparently between this blog, Twitter, and at least half of my personal conversations, I wasn’t getting enough avenues to talk about food.

One year ago: Penne alla Vodka
Two years ago: Amaretto Cheesecake
Three years ago: Mashed Potatoes with Kale

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Blueberry Barbecue Salmon (adapted from How Sweet It Is via Pink Parsley)

Serves 4

4 (6-oz) salmon fillets, skin on
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 shallot, minced
1 clove garlic
pinch red pepper flakes
½ cup fresh blueberries, rinsed and patted dry
⅓ cup ketchup
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1. Prepare the grill to its highest setting. Pat the salmon dry and season it liberally with salt and pepper.

2. In a small saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook, stirring occasionally, until just starting to brown around the edges, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Reduce the heat to medium-low, add the blueberries, and cook until they begin to soften and burst, about 10 minutes. Use the back of a spoon to mash them, then add the ketchup, vinegars, brown sugar, mustard, and Worcestershire sauce. Whisk well to combine and break up the blueberries, then increase the heat to medium. Stirring often, cook until the mixture begins to bubble, then lower the heat to medium low. Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the sauce has thickened, another 10-20 minutes. The sauce will be thicker and clumpier than traditional barbecue sauce.

3. Use a paper towel and tongs to oil the grates of the grill well, then lay the salmon, flesh-side-down, on the grill. Cook 5 minutes, then carefully flip. Brush the salmon with half the barbecue sauce, then cook an additional 3-5 minutes, or until it is mostly cooked through but still pink in the center. Remove from grill, brush with the remaining sauce, and serve.

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grilled pita

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It’s news to no one that homemade pita is a hundred times better than storebought pita. But it might be news to some that grilled homemade pita is a hundred times better than baked homemade pita. True story.

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Pita dough and pizza dough are so similar that I keep batches in the freezer (actually lately I’ve been using Tartine’s country bread dough) and use them interchangeably. Both are rounds of dough that are stretched out thin, and when cooked, are expected to be spotty browned but still tender. So if grilled pizza is so popular lately, why not grilled pita?

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Grilling pita is particularly convenient for me because all of my favorite pita fillings are grilled. So once the chicken comes off the grill and is resting, I plop a round of dough on the hot coals, wait a minute until it bubbles and browns, then flip it. Your pita breads likely won’t be perfectly round, because transferring sticky stretchy dough to hot hot coals isn’t a trivial process. But what they might lack in symmetry, they make up for in grill lines – not to mention crisp edges, soft middles, and that touch of smoke that only the grill can provide.

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One year ago: Baked French Toast
Two years ago: Pasta with No-Cook Tomato Sauce and Fresh Mozzarella
Three years ago: Blackberry Swirl Ice Cream

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Grilled Pocketless Pitas

12 pitas

2½ pounds pizza dough, fully risen
nonstick spray or olive oil

1. Working on a damp towel, cut the dough into 12 pieces. Shape each into a ball by gently pulling the edges toward one side and pinching the seam to seal it. Roll the ball of dough on the towel to smooth and even the shape. Let the dough rest for 15-30 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the grill to medium-high heat.

2. Pick up one ball of dough by an edge; stretch and pull it into a 5- to 6-inch round. If it becomes too elastic to shape, set it aside, loosely covered, for 5 minutes before trying again. Spray the tops of the shaped rounds with nonstick spray or brush with olive oil.

3. Carefully lay the pita rounds, oiled side down, directly on the grill. When the pita bubbles and the bottom is spottily browned, after 1-2 minutes, use tongs to flip the pita. Continue cooking until the second side begins to brown, about 1 minutes. Serve immediately or wrap in a kitchen towel for up to 30 minutes.

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bruschetta with chickpea puree

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I wouldn’t say I have a black thumb, but I certainly don’t have a green thumb. Every spring I get really excited about gardening. Besides the quality and convenience of produce from the backyard, I love to watch things grow. I especially enjoy watching seeds sprout, as the green shoot springs up and then slowly uncurls, stands tall, and spreads its first two leaves. I like creating something so impressive from almost nothing at all.

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Gardening in southern New Mexico is relatively easy. Our growing season, from last frost to first frost, extends from March all the way to November. Overwatering and mold certainly aren’t problems, since it almost never rains here. Our soil is hardpacked clay, but it wasn’t difficult or expensive to build a small raised bed. A layer of mulch and the lack of rain keep most weeds at bay. With a timed sprinkler system, there’s little effort involved with keeping a garden beyond the initial planting.

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Except for the bugs. Squash bugs always get my zucchini plants eventually. And last year I think grasshoppers ate more tomatoes than I did. This year, even worse, I bought a diseased tomato plant and it spread its fungus to the rest of the bunch. They’ll have to be pulled, I’m afraid.

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So my hopes for panzanella, slow-roasted tomatoes, BLTs, pasta with tomatoes and fresh mozzarella, big pots of sauce to freeze, and a whole long list of other tomato recipes I love – this isn’t the year for that. Instead of topping grilled garlic-rubbed slices of Tartine’s country bread with fragrant tomatoes from my garden, I’ll have to find other ideas.

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While nothing is going to live up to perfectly ripe summer tomatoes, I won’t complain about this chickpea spread. Something that could so easily be bland – a bowl of mashed beans – is kicked up with all sorts of good things, like tangy bits of red onion, spicy red pepper flakes, sweet balsamic vinegar, and tart lemon juice. Then it’s topped with crunchy toasted nuts and fresh herbs. It’s not garden-fresh tomatoes, but it’ll do in a pinch.

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One year ago: Stuffed Squash Flowers
Two years ago: Dried Fruit Compote
Three years ago: Sautéed Shredded Zucchini

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Bruschetta with Spicy Chickpea Purée (adapted from Rick Tramonto’s Fantastico via epicurious)

8 slices rustic bread
4 garlic cloves, peeled and halved lengthwise
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 (16-ounce can) chickpeas, drained and rinsed
½ small red onion, minced
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (use more or less to taste)
½ teaspoons honey
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon (optional)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
8 lemon wedges

1. In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade, pulse the chickpeas, onion, 2 tablespoons of oil, lemon juice, vinegar, red pepper, and honey. Scrape down the sides of the bowl several times and pulse until the mixture is smooth. Season to taste with salt and black pepper. The texture of the paste should be that of spreadable peanut butter; if necessary, thin it with water and pulse again.

2. Prepare gas or charcoal grill or preheat the broiler or a panini press. The heating elements or coals should be medium-hot. Cut the slices in half and brush both sides with a generous amount of olive oil. Season both sides with salt and pepper. Grill or broil the bread, turning once, until lightly browned on both sides. Rub 1 side of the toasts with garlic.

3. Spread the bean paste on the bruschetta. Sprinkle with pine nuts, tarragon (if using), and parsley. Drizzle with olive oil, and serve garnished with lemon wedges for squeezing over the bruschetta.

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thai grilled-beef salad

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My habit is that on weekdays, I eat vegetarian and am healthy, and on weekends, I eat meat and am not healthy. I save alcohol and lately even dessert for weekends. It all evens out in the end so that I’m relatively fit and trim, but I’m starting to wonder – would it be so bad to eat meat and be healthy, all at the same time?

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Steak doesn’t have to mean huge T-bones and potatoes. It can mean slivers of beef mixed with herbs and served with cucumbers. This flank steak is seasoned with salt and (white) pepper, grilled and sliced, then dressed with a mixture of lime juice and fish sauce. Toasted white rice powder deepens the flavors while fresh herbs lighten them.

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I wonder how many other great meat-topped salads are out there that I’ve been overlooking. Although even if there aren’t any others worth trying, I’d be perfectly happy making this one over and over again. Eating healthy on weekends doesn’t feel like a sacrifice when it tastes so good – and besides, I still get to have a glass of wine on the side.

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One year ago: Garlic Mustard Glazed Skewers
Two years ago: Seafood Lasagna
Three years ago: Vanilla Ice Cream

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Thai Grilled-Beef Salad (from Cooks Illustrated)

Serves 4 to 6

1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon white rice
3 tablespoons lime juice (from 2 limes)
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons water
½ teaspoon sugar
1½ pound flank steak, trimmed
Salt and white pepper, coarsely ground
4 shallots, sliced thin
1½ cups fresh mint leaves, torn
1½ cups fresh cilantro leaves
1 Thai chile, stemmed and sliced thin into rounds
1 seedless English cucumber, sliced ¼ inch thick on bias

1. Heat the paprika and cayenne in an 8-inch skillet over medium heat; cook, shaking the pan, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Transfer to a small bowl. Return the now-empty skillet to medium-high heat, add the rice, and toast, stirring frequently, until deep golden brown, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a second small bowl and cool for 5 minutes. Grind the rice with a spice grinder, mini food processor, or mortar and pestle until it resembles fine meal, 10 to 30 seconds (you should have about 1 tablespoon rice powder).

2. Whisk the lime juice, fish sauce, water, sugar, and ¼ teaspoon toasted paprika mixture in a large bowl and set aside.

3. For a Charcoal Grill: Open the bottom vent completely. Light a large chimney starter filled with charcoal briquettes (6 quarts). When the top coals are partially covered with ash, pour the coals evenly over half of the grill. Set the cooking grate in place, cover, and open the lid vent completely. Heat the grill until hot, about 5 minutes.

For a Gas Grill: Turn all burners to high, cover, and heat the grill until hot, about 15 minutes. Leave the primary burner on high and turn off the other burner(s).

4. Clean and oil the cooking grate. Season the steak with salt and white pepper. Place the steak over the hot part of the grill and cook until it’s beginning to char and beads of moisture appear on the outer edges of the meat, 5 to 6 minutes. Flip the steak and continue to cook on the second side until charred and the center registers 125 degrees, about 5 minutes longer. Transfer to a plate, tent loosely with aluminum foil, and let rest for 5 to 10 minutes (or allow to cool to room temperature, about 1 hour).

5. Slice the meat, against the grain and on the bias, into ¼-inch-thick slices. Transfer the sliced steak to the bowl with the fish sauce mixture. Add the shallots, mint, cilantro, chile, and half of the rice powder; toss to combine. Transfer to a platter lined with cucumber slices. Serve, passing the remaining rice powder and toasted paprika mixture separately.

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chicken gyros

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Elly’s chicken gyros are so very popular for good reason – it’s a simple recipe with exceptional results. I, of course, can’t keep anything simple. After I made Elly’s recipe a few times, I noticed how similar it is to chicken fajitas – marinated chicken wrapped in flat bread with vegetables. My favorite chicken fajita recipe has a few tricks up its sleeve that I love, so I started incorporating those into Elly’s chicken gyro recipe.

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My favorite trick is saving a portion of the marinade (before mixing it with raw meat, of course) to stir into the cooked and shredded chicken, reviving any flavors that might be lost during cooking. Another portion of the marinade is stirred into the vegetables, brightening their flavor while the vinegar tames the onion’s bite. I also insist on taking advantage of everyone’s favorite cooking method – fire. I love grilling the chicken and then toasting the pita over the remaining coals.

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I’m fairly certain that traditionally, gyros aren’t topped with red peppers and feta, and the first few times I made this recipe, I served those on the side as part of Mediterranean Pepper Salad. But each time, more and more of the salad made its way onto the gyro, and eventually I stopped keeping them separate at all. With the vegetables right on top of the marinated grilled chicken and toasted flatbread, topped with tart white sauce, these were even more similar to chicken fajitas, except – dare I say – even better.

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One year ago: Croissants (Martha Stewart’s recipe)
Two years ago: Rhubarb Scones
Three years ago: Pita (cook these right on the grill instead of baking!)

Printer Friendly Recipe
Chicken Gyros (adapted from Elly Says Opa and from Cooks Illustrated’s Chicken Fajita recipe)

Greek yogurt is often sold in 7-ounce containers. If you don’t have extra plain yogurt around to use in the marinade, using 2 tablespoons of the Greek yogurt meant for the tzatziki recipe in your marinade won’t hurt your tzatziki at all.

Chicken:
¼ cup juice from 1 to 2 lemons
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 medium garlic cloves, crushed
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
table salt and ground black pepper
2 tablespoons plain yogurt
3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 1½ pounds), trimmed of fat, tenderloins removed, pounded to ½-inch thickness

Tzatziki:
½ cucumber, unpeeled, shredded
½ teaspoon kosher salt
7 ounces Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
½ tablespoon white wine vinegar
½ tablespoon minced fresh dill (optional)
1 clove garlic, minced
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

For serving:
½ red onion, quartered lengthwise and sliced thinly
1 large red bell pepper, quartered lengthwise and sliced thinly
½ cucumber, quartered lengthwise and sliced thinly
1 tomato, chopped medium, or 1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
½ cup feta, crumbled
4-6 (6-inch) pocketless pitas

1. In a medium bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, oil, garlic, vinegar, sugar, 1 teaspoon salt, and ¾ teaspoon pepper. Reserve 3 tablespoons of the marinade in a small bowl; set aside. Add the yogurt and another teaspoon salt to the remaining marinade. Place the chicken in the marinade; cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate 15 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, using a large chimney starter, ignite 6 quarts of charcoal briquettes and burn until the coals are fully ignited, about 20 minutes. Empty the coals into the grill, spreading them in a single layer; place an additional 20 unlit coals over the lit coals on one side of grill to create a two-level fire. Position the grill grate over the coals and heat the grate for 5 minutes; scrape clean with a grill brush. (For a gas grill, light all burners and turn to high, cover, and heat the grill until hot, about 15 minutes; scrape the grill grate clean with a grill brush. Leave one burner on high heat while turning the remaining burner(s) down to medium.)

3. For the tzatziki: Place the cucumber in a strainer set over a medium bowl and add the salt. Set aside for at least 15 minutes to drain. Transfer the cucumber to a clean kitchen towel and squeeze dry. Combine the drained cucumber with the yogurt, lemon juice, vinegar, dill, garlic, and pepper.

4. Add 2 tablespoons of the reserved marinade to a bowl; add the sliced onion to the marinade. Set aside to lightly pickle while you prepare the remaining toppings. Mix all of the vegetables and feta into the bowl with the onion.

5. Remove the chicken from the marinade and place it smooth side down on the hotter side of the grill; discard the remaining marinade. Cook the chicken until it’s well browned, 4 to 5 minutes; using tongs, flip the chicken and continue grilling until it’s no longer pink when cut into with a paring knife or an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part registers about 160 degrees, 4 to 5 minutes longer. Transfer to a plate; cover to keep warm.

6. Working in 2 or 3 batches, place the pitas in a single layer on the cooler side of the now-empty grill and cook until warm and lightly browned, about 20 seconds per side (do not grill too long or the pitas will become brittle). As the pitas are done, wrap them in a kitchen towel or a large sheet of foil.

7. Slice the chicken into ¼-inch strips and toss with the remaining tablespoon of reserved marinade in another bowl; arrange the chicken and vegetables on a large platter and serve with the warmed pitas.

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