Sunday, February 28, 2010

Extra-Sour English Muffins

extra-sour english muffins
I have a deep and abiding passion for sourdough english muffins. The crispy bits, the gobs of butter and the deep tang are the perfect start to any day. So it came as a huge disappointment after making the first few batches, that my home-made versions weren't delivering any of that.
Fast forward a half dozen attempts, and I now am ready to share an extra-sour, not too sweet, perfectly craggy english muffin that makes my day. I hope that it might make yours too! This recipe makes about 11 muffins.
210 g 100% hydration sourdough starter
210 g flour (all purpose is fine
225 g milk
Additional ingredients:
75g flour
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp baking soda
The evening before, mix the sponge ingredients, cover and let sit out overnight.
The next morning, add in the remaining ingredients and mix well. I mix in the kitchen-aid for about 5 min on 2nd speed, until the dough is very elastic, but you could also do this by hand.
This dough is rather wet, (OK, really wet), but if you work it, then leave it a minute or two before cutting, it becomes a bit more manageable. All that wetness is what gives you the nooks and crannies, so do try to be patient with it and avoid adding too much flour.
Roll out to about 1/2” thick, then cut into 2” rounds. Yes, this looks really skimpy, but trust me, these babies will triple in height and are much more satisfying than the store-bought type.
Place the muffins on a piece of parchment dusted with semolina or corn meal (I prefer semolina, but go with what you have on hand). Let rest 45 min. If they are not perfectly round or perfectly flat, don’t sweat it – a lot of the imperfections are resolved during cooking.
Heat a cast iron skillet or griddle with vegetable oil to a medium heat. Cook the muffins about 7 min per side, turning occasionally to brown them evenly. The muffins should show a huge amount of ‘oven spring’.
sourdough english muffinthe muffins resting before cooking
sourdough english muffin  same muffins about a minute after hitting the pan
sourdough english muffin cooking same muffins about 3 minutes later
Cool on a rack. To get the best texture, split these with a fork, rather than slicing with a knife.
sourdough english muffin
You can find this recipe and a host of other wonderful yeasted treats every Friday on YeastSpotting.

Sunday, February 14, 2010



The way to my heart can be expressed in a single word: Caramel. Honestly, I am that easy. So it should be no problem for me to love alfajores, the South American cookie filled with Dulce de Leche. And I do. Sometimes. But sometimes they just make my teeth hurt, they’re so sweet.

After scouring the four corners of the internet, I learned that, like any traditional recipe that is handed down over generations, the variations on alfajores are limitless. Recipes ranged from equal parts flour and corn starch (Corn flour in the UK), the addition of coconut (ugh), chocolate, almonds, more sugar, less sugar. So with all that information, I chucked it all and made what I thought was right. And to me, this just may be the perfect cookie.

1 stick (1/2 cup) butter
1/3 cup sugar
2 Tbsp powdered sugar plus more for dusting if desired

1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup flour
1/2 cup corn starch
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp salt
Dulce de leche (I purchased a jar of Argentinian DdL, which was really tasty from my local Greek market. Gotta love it. )

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees

Cream the butter and sugar and powdered sugar until light and fluffy. Mix in the egg and vanilla. Add the remaining ingredients and mix until the dough comes together. wrap the dough in plastic and chill for an hour.

Roll the dough out to about 1/8 inch thick and cut into whatever shape you like. Bake 12-15 minutes until the edges turn golden brown.

Cool on a rack completely, then spread with a tablespoon or so of Dulce de Leche. Dust the tops with powdered sugar if desired.


makes about 15 cookies of love.

Mezze-ing Around

The 2010 February Daring Cooks challenge was hosted by Michele of Veggie Num Nums. Michele chose to challenge everyone to make mezze based on various recipes from Claudia Roden, Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid.

The mandatory elements were homemade pita breads and hummus. Michele then left it to our own devices to decide what else to include, though she did provide some tasty-looking recipes for a raita and falafel as well as for preserved lemons. Our minds immediately were racing – we LOVE Mediterranean food and were just brimming with favorites, plus new things we wanted to try.  In the end, we had to make 2 separate platters, as  there were too many things we just had to have. Our first platter had a decidedly Greek theme:


…whereas the second was more firmly rooted in the Middle East:


At the same time, it was great fun watching the message boards to see what the other DC’s were conjuring up. We want to try all those recipes too!

For the pita breads, we followed Michele’s recipe for both of our platters – but with strikingly different results. First, we baked them in the oven; the following week, we grilled them on the outdoor barbecue.

The pitas were absolutely delicious and we’ll definitely make them again. For our Greek platter, we rolled the dough in sesame seeds before rolling it; then we baked the pitas as per the instructions. These we wonderfully light and puffy, though they didn’t brown as much as we’d expected.


We went a bit farther off-road for the mid-Eastern platter, topping the pitas with za’atar and cooking them on the barbecue. They were still very light and fluffy, but more like a naan bread. And delicious.

pita_web c

We also made the hummus, adding 4 oz. of artichoke hearts (frozen, then thawed, not the jarred, marinated kind)  to the recipe. Our version lacked salt, and seemed bland on the day we made it, but then was nicely garlicky the next day. We had so much that we changed up the spices a bit, adding lemon and cilantro and served it with the Middle-Eastern mezze.


We made preserved lemons using Meyer lemons that some generous soul brought in to work. We’ve made these before, but now have a new favorite recipe, shared by a fellow daring cook. They take a couple of weeks to ‘cure’, but then keep for a few months in the refrigerator. I implore you to make some soon – they really do add a lovely tang to just about anything!


Now for the additions (click on the pictures for the recipes):

Greek mezze platter:

greek_mezze_0007 salad_web salad_skewers

Dolmas stuffed with lamb**

Fresh chickpea and fennel salad

Greek Salad Skewers*

tzatziki chicken1 zukes

Tzatziki Dip

Chicken, olive and lemon skewers

zucchini boreki**

* Cherry tomatoes, feta cheese, persian cucumber and kalamata olives; simple but very tasty!

** These items link directly to and deserve a quick mention as they were both excellent. The boreki resembled spanakopita, but were much less greasy. Yum!

Middle-Eastern mezze platter:

harissa kofta tabbouleh

Preserved lemon Harissa

Lamb Kofte


Quail_done muhammara triangles_web1

Grilled Quail


Spiced potato Briouats

Baba Ghanooj


Last, but certainly not least, we made a Meyer lemon and goat cheese cheesecake from a recipe posted recently on Tartlette. Our only changes were to:

  • use store-bought graham crackers (we cooked enough, thank you very much)
  • use only about 2/3 of the sugar (no sugar in crust, less in the filling)
  • skip the blood-orange syrup 

Simply gorgeous – will make these again too.


Fresh Chick Pea, Fennel and Red Pepper Salad

Fresh chick peas (garbanzo beans or ceci beans) have a fresh, subtle flavor and almost pop in your mouth. They look like baby peapods with usually one but sometimes two peas per pod:

Top: Chick peas in their pods Bottom: Shelled chick peas

This recipe was inspired by finding fresh chick peas in our local Middle Eastern grocery, though the fennel and red bell pepper were included mainly because we had them handy in the fridge. The combination seemed to work out quite nicely, though!

1 cup diced fennel
1 cup shelled, fresh chickpeas
1 red bell pepper
1 tsp tomato puree
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
8 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Optional gremolata to serve:
1 tbsp chopped parsley
1 tsp grated lemon peel
1/4 finely chopped garlic clove

Cook the fennel and chick peas in boiling water for 5 minutes and drain. Roast the bell pepper under the broiler/on the grill, rotating it periodically until the skin is charred black all over. When cool enough to handle, remove the skin and dice to the same size as the fennel pieces.

To make the dressing, mix the tomato puree and red wine vinegar until they form a smooth red sauce. Gradually beat in the olive oil – it’s important to add it very gradually and incorporate each addition thoroughly so that a nice smooth emulsion is formed. Add just enough dressing to the salad to coat the vegetables – you probably won’t need all that you made.

If you want to serve with the gremolata, mix the parsley, lemon and garlic and sprinkle on top. This adds to the complexity of flavors, but to be honest I think the salad stands alone pretty well.


Tzatziki Dip

Tzatziki is a Greek dip that is cool, creamy and refreshing – perfect served with pita bread as part of a mezze platter. There are many different recipes; here’s our version:


1 Persian cucumber*
1 cup lebni**
1 tsp finely chopped fresh mint
1 tsp finely chopped fresh dill
1 crushed garlic clove
pinch salt

*Persian cucumbers are smaller than their European or North American cousins; you’ll need about 1/2 cup finely diced cucumber if you substitute another variety.
**Available in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean markets, this is a thick sort of sour cream. Can be substituted with strained Greek yoghurt, or a mixture of yoghurt and sour cream.

Peel, deseed and finely dice the cucumber, mix everything together thoroughly and serve; that’s it! Like many dips and sauces, however, the flavors will be more developed if you make it at least a few hours in advance.

Spiced Grilled Quail

OK, quail are maybe not the most appropriate finger-food out there, though, really there isn’t any other way to eat them. Nobody at our Superbowl-Mezze party seemed to mind – these little guys were delicious!


Spiced Grilled Quail

6 quail, cleaned
2 Tbsp mulberry molasses (or pomegranate molasses)
2 Tbsp lemon juice
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp salt

Note: this recipe assumes you are grinding the cumin and coriander from whole seeds. If you have only pre-ground spices, you might want to add a bit more.

Combine the molasses, lemon juice and spices in a baking dish or ziplock bag. Add the quail and coat well in the marinade. Cover and refrigerate overnight, turning the quail occasionally.

Remove from the refrigerator about an hour before you want to cook them.

You can optionally spatchcock the birds by using kitchen shears to cut out the backbone, then cut two slits in the rear skin and tuck the legs in. Doing this helps keep the quail more tidy on the grill and, honestly, a lot more appealing on the plate in my opinion.

Grill on high heat for about 4 minutes per side.


Tabbouleh with whole Wheat Berries


The use of whole wheat berries is not exactly traditional, but they added a nice texture to the salad. I have to confess that I now infinitely prefer this version to the more typical bulgur wheat type.  If you haven’t had whole wheat berries, they are somewhat like barley in texture – a little dense, but with a pleasant pop. Of course, if you can’t find them, then bulgur will be just fine.


1 cup wheat berries
2 cups parsley
1/2 cup mint
1/2 cup chopped fresh tomato
1/4 cup chopped scallions
juice of 1 large lemon
1-2 Tbsp olive oil
Salt to taste

Boil roughly 4-5 cups of water in a large saucepan. Add the wheat berries and cook until tender, about 50 minutes. Drain and set aside to cool.

Chop the parsley and mint – or whiz them together in a food processor. Don’t chop so finely that you just have a paste – you definitely want to retain some leafy texture.

Mix the herbs, scallions, wheat berries and tomatoes and toss until well mixed. Add the lemon juice, then the oil and salt. Adjust the balance of lemon, salt and oil to your taste.

Spiced Potato Briouats


This recipe came from Joyce Goldstein’s The Mediterranean Kitchen cook book. Our copy is literally falling apart from being used so much! She has some great recipes that capture the flavors of Southern Europe, North Africa and surrounding lands. Here is our (slightly adapted) version

2 russet potatoes (~6oz each)
2 tbsp butter
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 large cloves garlic, crushed
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
1 tsp freshly ground cumin seed
1 tsp salt
½ tsp pepper
1 egg

Filo dough (We used borek dough, which is a bit thicker than classic filo pastry)
Melted butter, as needed

Bake the potatoes, ~60 minutes at 400 ºF. Meanwhile, cook the onion in 2 tbsp butter over medium heat until soft (~7 minutes) then add the garlic and cook 3 minutes more. Scoop out the potato flesh and pass through a potato ricer into a large bowl. Add the garlic/onion mixture and the parsley, cumin, salt and pepper; you might want to add the spices and seasoning bit by bit until it tastes right. It should be very well seasoned. Add a beaten egg and mix thoroughly until everything is incorporated.

Cut the filo dough into 12x3 inch strips. Place one strip on the work surface, brush with melted butter, add another strip on top and brush with butter again. Put about a tablespoon of filling near one end of the strip (like the white blob in the drawing below), and fold the corner of the dough over so that it encloses the filling in a triangle. Now fold the triangle over along the strip, then fold the corner of the triangle over again – continuing until it’s all folded into a triangle. (Try to squeeze out any trapped air bubbles as you go).


Brush with a little more butter and bake in the oven at 375 ºF until golden in color, about 10 minutes. If you turn them after 7 minutes or so, they should get nicely golden on all sides.



This was our first time making muhammara, but I’m sure it won’t be the last! Muhammara is a rich, sweet dip/paste/sauce made from red peppers, walnuts and pomegranate molasses. We mostly followed a recipe from Cooking with Amy, but with a few modifications.

One of the things we really noticed during this challenge is the importance of tasting as you go: both the hummus and this muhammara needed pretty significant tweaks to get the flavors into balance. Not that there was anything wrong with the original recipes, but there’s natural variation in the ingredients and quantities being used.  So many ingredients can vary widely in size and potency of flavor.

Anyway, here is the finished dish, decorated with a little sumac:


And the recipe:


3 large roasted red peppers
1 cup walnuts
2 cloves garlic
1 cup bread crumbs
1/3 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon cumin (freshly ground, use more if you’re using pre-ground)
1 Tablespoon mulberry molasses
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 tsp Aleppo pepper

Roast the peppers, then peel off the skins. While the peppers are roasting, toast the walnuts in a dry pan on top of the stove. Let cool.

Place the garlic and bread crumbs in the food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Add the red peppers and their juice along with the walnuts, cumin, mulberry molasses, pepper and salt. Drizzle in the olive oil while the machine is running.

If possible, make this a day in advance, as the flavor really comes together overnight.

Chicken, Preserved Lemon and Olive Skewers


These skewers were the absolute hit of the Greek mezze platter. they honestly tasted better than they had any right to and were so simple to make that I suspect they’ll appear regularly in the Monkeyshines dinner rotation from now on.

I do think that it was key to have preserved lemons, so the only unfortunate thing is that you have to plan in advance, or just make it a habit to always keep preserved lemons on hand. The olives were also key, these were not bitter or overly marinated as some green olives can be.

The recipe made five small skewers, which was ample for the two of us along with all the other food, but can be very easily multiplied as needed.

1 chicken breast half, boned
3 oz. plain yoghurt
1 tsp fresh oregano
1/2 tsp lemon zest (I used fresh, but you could also use some preserved lemon)
1 clove garlic
10 green Greek olives (please don’t use martini olives), pitted
1/2 preserved lemon
5 skewers

If you’re using wooden skewers, put them on to soak before you do anything else, so that they don’t burn when you grill/broil them.

Cut the chicken into chunks about 3/4 inch square.

Mince the oregano and garlic, and add to the yoghurt along with the lemon zest. Add the chicken and mix gently to coat. Set aside and marinate for at least an hour.

Slice the preserved lemon into strips or wedges that are roughly 1/4 inch wide (wide enough to skewer without breaking) and 1/2 – 3/4 inch long.

When you’re ready, skewer one chunk of chicken, then a strip of lemon, followed by an olive, then repeat with chicken, olive and lemon. Repeat for the remainder of your skewers.

Grill or broil until cooked – about 12 to 15 minutes.

Lamb Kofte


These lamb patties were delicious. For the mezze platter, we made small ones using coffee stirrers(!) as skewers. For a larger plate, we strongly suggest proper skewers – the stirrers were very prone to burning even though they’d been soaking for hours.

Lamb Kofte

makes ~11 small kebabs

1/2 cup bulgur wheat
1 1/2 cups minced onion
1 Tbsp minced garlic
1 Tbsp oil + more for cooking if needed
1 1/2 tsp sumac *
1 1/2 tsp Aleppo pepper *
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
1/2 ground beef
1/2 pound ground lamb
1/2 cup chopped cilantro (or you could use dill)
1/2 cup chopped parsley

* available in Greek and middle-Eastern markets.

Rinse the bulgur, then soak it in water for an hour. It should roughly double in quantity. Pour off as much of the soaking liquid as you can and fluff the bulgur with a fork.

Sauté the onions and garlic in the 1 Tbsp oil until just wilted, but not browned. Let cool.

Mix the bulgur, onions, garlic and all the remaining ingredients, then let then sit for an hour or so to incorporate the flavors.

Form into flat patties to skewer them, or into “torpedoes” or meatballs. To cook, we grilled ours on the barbecue, but you could also broil in the oven or lightly fry on the stovetop as desired.


Baba Ghanooj

The classic middle eastern eggplant dip! Since we had the charcoal grill going, we decided to make a smoky version of this, and we hope it’s not too immodest to say it was awesome.

1 large eggplant
4 large cloves garlic
1 scallion, white and green parts finely chopped
1½  tbsp tahini
2 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper

Before cooking, it’s a good idea to prick a few holes all over the eggplant with a fork in order to avoid an explosion… Grill the eggplant over blazing hot coals for about 5 minutes, turning frequently until the outsides are nicely charred. Then, wrap the eggplant in 2 layers of aluminum foil and return to the grill for about 10 more minutes, continuing to turn it occasionally. At the same time, wrap the unpeeled garlic cloves in foil and add them to the grill too. (If you wrap them all in on packet, it’ll be big enough so that they don’t fall through the grill). When the eggplant feels soft, it’s done. It should look a bit like this:


Mmm, smoky! Scoop out the delicious pulp into a food processor – don’t miss the juices which should have been trapped by the foil wrapper. Add the garlic (it should be soft enough to squeeze out of the papery skin) and the other ingredients. Process until a thick puree forms; season to taste.


Jalapeno and Preserved Lemon Harissa


This is a fresh twist on harissa, and a good lesson in tasting your food as you’re assembling it to make sure the balance is right! First of all – credit where credit’s due – the basic recipe we used came from Steven Raichlen’s The Barbecue Bible. The instructions call for the ingredients (listed below) to be chopped/mashed up in a food processor or mortar and pestle. Easy right?

Yes and no. Initially we just put everything in the food processor and whizzed it together, but this first version had WAY too much shallot in it, the lemon flavor was barely there, and – worst of all, given that this was supposed to be harissa – there was virtually no (spicy) heat to it, even though we used 4 jalapeno peppers.

To remedy the situation, we pulled out the mortar and pestle and bashed up a few more chile peppers, together with some more preserved lemon. Fortunately we hadn’t added much salt initially, so the extra preserved lemon didn’t make it too salty. In the end, the combination of pureed ingredients plus mortar-and-pestled chiles/lemon did the trick – the final dish had a spicy kick and a really nice fresh, sweet and sour note from the preserved lemons.

So, the lessons learned are:  (1) be aware of your ingredients (are the chile peppers hot or mild? Is the shallot or clove of garlic particularly big or small?) and (2) Taste, Taste, Taste!

Here are the ingredients that we used. We’ve tried to adjust the quantities based on our experience, but as noted above, the only way to be sure is to taste it as you’re going along.

2-5 hot chiles 
2 Tbsp minced shallots
1 clove garlic, chopped 
½ – 1 Tbsp preserved lemon, chopped 
1 (small) tomato
½ Tbsp ground Aleppo pepper (can substitute hot paprika)
¼ tsp ground cumin
1½ tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp lemon juice
salt and pepper