Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Watermelon Sorbet from Scratch

I came up with this quick and easy sorbet when we lived in Azerbaijan.  It's the perfect way to make use of the abundant watermelon this time of year and satisfy your sweet tooth without breaking the calorie bank.  All you need is a work horse food processor, watermelon and banana and some time.

So, get yourself to the market and buy yourself a melon or two.  In our case, we aren't talking about the nearest Whole Foods or Stop-n-Shop.  We talking one of the open air fruit and veg bazaars.  Heaven!

This is ridiculously easy.  Split the melon in half.

Scoop the flesh into chunks.  I used a melon baller, but a spoon or a measuring tablespoon works just fine.  I picked out the seeds if they were easy to get at but didn't worry about most of them.  

Line up the watermelon chunks on a jelly roll pan -- or something with a lip to catch the juice -- and put it into the freezer until fully frozen.  At this point you can then toss the individual frozen chunks into a ziplock bag or a tupperware and grab a handful at any point.  This is an important step if you don't want one huge mass of frozen watermelon!

Make sure you catch the juice as you go through this step.  Pure watermelon juice.  Perfection.

Pour over some ice and you've got yourself an agua fresca, a deliciously refreshing byproduct!

This sorbet is meant to be eaten right away.  So, once the melon is frozen and you are ready for your sorbet, measure out about 2 cups of frozen melon and half a banana for one serving.  

Put the frozen melon into the food processor.

And whizz it for a good two or three minutes (depending on your machine) until it's broken down into fine chunks, almost like light pink ice crystals.

Now add half of a room temperature banana, in chunks.

Process on high, scraping the sides as needed, for about another 2 or 3 minutes.  

Keep this up until the melon-banana mixture becomes like soft serve ice cream.  Don't be tempted to over process it and melt the watermelon too much.  It's a fine line!  Not really, but the goal is a frozen treat and not a liquid drink.

Once the right consistency, put it into your serving dish/bowl and consume.

And there you go, the perfect mid-summer treat to cool yourself down.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Choban Salad with Chickpeas from Scratch

The tomato and cucumber salad is ubiquitous is these parts.  Most every table - whether it be at a restaurant or a friend's house, will offer a variation of the choban salad, or shepard's salad.  And many times, it's not even required to be in salad form.  Whole cukes and tomatoes with a few sprigs of herbs often suffices.

With it being tomato and cucumber season, I had everything on hand to make my own version of choban salat, with a mediterranean twist by adding a bit of feta and chickpeas.  It makes for a super healthy lunch on days when it's way too hot to think about turning on the oven.

Here's what I had on hand:  a bunch of chinese celery (which admittedly I thought was parsley at first), chickpeas (that I cooked in large batches and froze in two cup quantities), a lemon, a green pepper, two cukes, one tomato, feta and olive oil.

First things first.  Dice the tomato.

Lop off the top of the pepper and gut it with your fine knife skills.

Cut into slices and then dice.

Peel and slice your cucumbers.  Or keep the skin on if you prefer.  I didn't bother to scrape the seeds out.   But if you aren't lazy like me, slice the cucumber in half and take a spoon and scoop out the seeds.


I decided to add the one lonely scallion that was in my fridge.

Dice that, too.

Place all that chopped goodness into a bowl.

This is what I think is known as chinese celery.  Smells and tastes like celery but it has slim stalks and tons of foliage, the opposite of it's western counterpart.  Any herb really could be used here.

For the simple dressing, slice one meyer lemon in half.

Juice it.

And following the old rule of thumb for a vinaigrette, add twice as much olive oil.  This is a 3:1 ratio of olive oil to lemon juice.  You can take this in a million directions....

....but I just added a touch of salt and freshly cracked black pepper.

Shake, shake, shake until nice and creamy. This makes a lot of dressing, much more than you'll need for this salad so use it throughout the week.

Pour it on your salad ingredients.

And toss gently.

Serve it up with a few cubes of feta and that's lunch.

And as a bonus meal, I turned this into a gazpacho like soup later in the week.  I pureed a few cups of the salad in my food processor until chunky and then added about a 1 or 2 teaspoons of cider vinegar and about two cups of spicy tomato juice.

It was a refreshing melding of gazpacho and hummus!  And another way to avoid the stove on a 100 degree day.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Asian Plum Sauce from Scratch

It's never good news when a cherished food item you've hauled back in your suitcase goes moldy.  This past week we were forced to toss our oyster sauce.  While I never found a suitable recipe to make it from scratch (as Tajikistan is nearly a double land-locked country, it's not a surprise we don't have fresh oysters!), I did discover a recipe for another must-have asian condiment.  Plum sauce.

And as luck would have it, I had everything on hand, including the almost-over-the-edge plums.  I was inspired by the Asian Plum Sauce recipe in the fabulous The Complete Book of Small-Batch Preserving  by Ellie Topp and Margaret Howard.  I stole this book from my sister the moment it arrived on her doorstep.  But I did the right thing and bought a replacement on Amazon asap for her.  Following is my slight adaptation.

From the top left going clockwise, you'll need brown sugar (mine came from Kabul -- but that's a story meant for a separate post), plums, golden raisins, cider vinegar, freshly grated ginger, garlic, cayenne, cinnamon, ground cloves, allspice, soy sauce, salt, and onion.

I chopped a pound of fresh plums. In my case, they are red plums.  You can see they were very, very ripe. 

Toss the chopped plums into a sauce pan.

Add 1 cup of packed brown sugar. 

Next, pour in 2/3 cup of cider vinegar.  If you live in this part of the woods, make sure it's NOT the locally produced 70% cider vinegar!!! Unless, of course, you want to pickle your insides.

And 1 tsp of salt.

At this point, mix well and place the sauce pan over high heat and boil gently, for about 3 minutes. 

After boiling for three minutes, add the rest of your ingredients:  1 cup of chopped onion, 2 minced cloves of garlic, a little less than 1/4 cup of golden raisins, 2 tsp soy sauce, 1/8 tsp each of cayenne, ground cloves, cinnamon, allspice, and 1/4 tsp grated fresh ginger.

Boil for about 45 minutes, uncovered, until thickened, about 40 minutes.

I preferred to have the sauce a bit smoother, so once it was slightly cooled, I placed it into my food processor.

And whizzed for about half a minute.

And, viola!  Asian Plum Sauce from Scratch.  Now Now all I need to do is find me some roasted duck and chinese pancakes...