Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Tea Eggs

Once Easter is over, one is typically left with lots and lots of eggs. Instead of egg salad or deviled eggs, why not try these Chinese tea eggs. Boiling/soaking eggs in a mixture of tea and spices creates a lovely pattern that reminds me of celadon pottery. The eggs are so beautiful that it's almost a shame to eat them -- almost.

Note: This particular recipe calls for a dozen eggs, but you could make fewer if you wanted to. However, the eggs take quite a while to cook/soak, so you might as well make a lot of them.

Tea Eggs

1 dozen hard-boiled eggs, cooled -- do not peel
12 bags of black tea or about 1/4 cup of black tea leaves
3 to 4 Tbsp soy sauce
Approx. 2 tsp salt
Approx. 2 tsp. five-spice powder

Using the back of a spoon, gently tap the eggs until their shells are cracked all over. Do not peel the eggs.

Place the eggs into a pot of water. Add enough water to cover the eggs. Add the rest of the ingredients. (Note: If I'm using tea bags instead of leaves, I cut the tags off so that they don't burn on the stove.) Bring the pot to a boil.

Turn down the heat, cover, and simmer for about 40 minutes. Stir occassionally.

Turn off the heat and cool the eggs in the liquid for about an hour.

Peel the eggs and serve. You can also refrigerate them up to 3 days.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Bento Time!

I have a deep and irrational love for bento boxes. Not that I have any talent (or time) for actually making up really cool ones (seriously -- some people create whole tableaux), but I do enjoy them nonetheless.

Wikipedia defines a bento as "a single-portion takeout or home-packed meal common in Japanese cuisine. A traditional bento consists of rice, fish or meat, and one or more pickled or cooked vegetables, usually in a box-shaped container."

What a dull definition for something that can be so fun and exciting and whimsical!

A bento can be a simple, but pleasing, arrangement of complementary shapes and colors. Really sophisticated ones approach being works of art.

Today, I made a very, very simple bento for my in-laws to take with them on their trip (shown at right). It was just a sandwich with veggies (unfortunately, you can't see them in this photo, but I included carrots, celery sticks, grape tomatoes, and mini bell peppers) and a happy face made from a Babybel cheese. I got the idea for the faces from a blog called Cute Food For Kids. It wasn't a particularly exciting lunch, but when they opened it, I just wanted to give them a little surprise that would make them smile.

If you're interested in bentos, you could check out Just Bento, which is another blog I follow. I Love Obento! also has a wonderful bento gallery. Some of the creations you see there are truly fantastic.

In any case, bentos give me an excuse to collect more kitchen tools and gadgets (as if I really need a reason). They're also one of my little acts of love for my family. Especially when I know I've put a nice lunch together, I never get over the thrill of hearing my boys exclaim, "You're the best, Mom!"

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

I'm on a Mission to Figure out this Dessert!

My husband brought a dessert from a Turkish restaurant home today. Actually, he thought it was baba ghanouj, but as you can see from the from the photo, it is anything but eggplant.

It's some sort of rice pudding with a hint of cinnamon and coconut. It's also garnished with chopped pistachios, coconut flakes, and streaks of cinnamon. It's really, really lovely -- not too sweet and very creamy and light. The baby and I are loving every bite.

I have all kinds of recipes for various Middle Eastern rice puddings. Some are flavored with rose water, others with lemon peel or vanilla. However, I can't find anything that accounts for this unusual color. Cocoa? It doesn't taste very chocolatey, though. Some sort of bean?

It's been awhile since a food has stumped me like this. It's kind of exciting really. I'm on a mission to figure this one out! One of these days, I hope to post a recipe for this dish.

Does anyone have any ideas what this is or how to make it?


Updated 4/26/2011

I think I may have hit on the secret ingredient. This rice pudding doesn't taste so very different from other rice puddings. It's just the color that's unusual. I'm thinking that maybe they substituted black rice for part of the white rice... Just a thought.

Salt and Pepper Walnuts

A couple of weeks ago, we had some company over for dessert, and I tried out this recipe for Salt and Pepper Walnuts on them. It comes from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison.

I served it alongside a cheese platter, dried fruit, grapes, sliced apples and pears, and an apple crisp. The walnuts were a definite hit.

Although I served it with dessert, I think it would be a great appetizer or snack, too. The salt and pepper give the walnuts a bit of zip. Also, the walnuts are full of good fatty acids, so you don't have to feel guilty munching.

Salt and Pepper Walnuts


1 cup walnut halves or pieces
1 tsp walnut oil
Sea salt and freshly ground white pepper (to taste)

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Spread the nuts on a baking sheet and bake until they smell toasty (about 10 minutes.) Remove nuts from the oven and toss with the oil, salt and pepper.

Although the recipe calls for walnut oil, I accidentally used almond or hazelnut oil on them. They were still yummy, though. If you don't have walnut oil, I imagine that a very light oil like grapeseed oil would work, too -- I just would want to choose an oil that's not too viscous and that complements the flavor of the nuts.

After tossing my nuts (now that just doesn't sound right, does it?), I spread them out on a piece of waxed paper until they cooled. I thought they might get moist if I just put them in a bowl.

Asparagus with Sesame Oil

One of the many reasons I love spring is asparagus! I'll eat it up pretty much any way you want to serve it -- steamed, broiled, stir-fried, raw... just bring it on!

This recipe is one of my favorite ways of preparing asparagus for two reasons. 1) It's really fast and easy to make. (We're talking less than 15 minutes from start to finish!) 2) It introduces another of my favorite flavors -- sesame oil.

Although you don't have to, if you have time, you may want to soak your cut asparagus in cold water for 20-30 minutes before cooking it. This will crisp it up. Just be sure to drain it well (and maybe even pat dry with a clean dish towel) so that you don't get spattered when you toss your veg into the frying pan.

Asparagus with Sesame Oil


1 bunch of asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-2 inch long pieces.
approx 1 1/2 - 2 Tbsp olive oil
approx 1/2 tsp salt
a few Tbsp of water (about 1/4 cup)
approx 1 1/2 Tbs sesame oil

Heat the oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. When it's nice and hot, add the asparagus and stir fry until all the pieces are coated in oil. Add the salt and stir. Add the water.

Cover the pan and turn the heat to medium-low. Cook the asparagus until it is bright green and cooked through, but still crisp. The length of time depends on how thick your asparagus is. If it's pencil-thin, it may be only a minute or two.

Remove the cover, and turn the heat up to high. Quickly boil away any extra water while continuously stirring the asparagus.

Mix in the sesame oil. Transfer to a platter and serve.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Moroccan Carrot Salad (Khissoo)

Clockwise from top right:
Spinach salad, Moroccan carrot salad,
rice, okra & chickpea stew
Given that my blog title promises to go beyond salad, the irony of posting a salad recipe is not lost on me. However, this one is really worthy of sharing. My dad and I love it so much, we could eat the whole salad ourselves, so I always make double if he's around.

This recipe is based on one found in Classic Vegetarian Cooking from the Middle East & North Africa by Habeeb Salloum. However, to suit my own tastes, I've decreased the sugar slightly and increased the amount of cinnamon.

A couple of notes:
  • Once, I made this salad without orange-flower water. It was still good, but it just wasn't the same. It's worth finding a Middle Eastern or Indian grocery store for this ingredient because the orange-flower water totally transforms this dish into something unusually special.
  • Grating so many carrots might seem like a daunting task, but if you have a food processor (or some older children), it doesn't take too long at all.

Moroccan Carrot Salad (Khissoo)

6 large carrots, grated
A little less than 1/4 cup sugar
4 Tbsp fresh lemon or lime juice
4 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp orange-flower water
3/4 tsp cinnamon

Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Chill. Stir before serving.

Okra and Chickpea Stew (Bamya wa Hummus)

I'm ambivalent toward okra. At the risk of offending many Southerners, my first experiences encountering this vegetable were with battered, deep-fried okra. At best, I found it edible. At worst, it was a greasy, oily mess.  Later in life, I had some okra dishes that weren't so bad, but I think the psychological damage was already done.

On the other hand, my husband loves okra. Since there was a sale on frozen okra last week, I figured I'd make some for him. Usually, I stew it with tomatoes, but this time, I thought I'd try something new. (By the way, if you have any favorite okra recipes, I'd love to hear them!)

The following recipe is based on a Syrian/Lebanese one from Classic Vegetarian Cooking from the Middle East & North Africa by Habeeb Salloum. However, to suit my own tastes and to avoid ending up with a bunch of rag-tag ends, I've changed the proportions for just about every ingredient in the recipe.

This dish was a great success with my husband, and I have to say that I was quite pleased as well. It had a light spicy, savory, lemony flavor. Plus, it was even better the next day after the flavors had time to meld.

Clockwise from top:
Carrot salad, rice,
okra & chickpea stew, spinach salad

Okra and Chickpea Stew (Bamya wa Hummus)

4 Tbsp oil (I used 2 Tbsp olive oil and 2 Tbsp coconut oil)
2 big onions, chopped
5 cloves garlic, crushed
1/4 to 1/2 tsp crushed hot pepper (or to taste)
1 16 oz package frozen, cut okra, thawed
3 cups cooked chickpeas (if you use canned, about 2 15-oz cans, drained)
5 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
3/4 tsp of each of the following: ground cumin, ground coriander, ground mustard
Sea salt & pepper to tast
1 cup water

Heat oil in a pot.  Saute the onions, garlic, and hot pepper over medium heat for 10 minutes. Add okra and stir fry for 3-5 minutes. Add the rest of the ingredients and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer for 25 minutes over medium-low heat. If you need to add more water, do so.

 According to Salloum, okra should never be cooked in aluminum, iron, or tin because it will discolor.

Also, the recipe calls for whole frozen okra pods, but the cut okra worked just fine.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Why I Started Using Raw Virgin Coconut Oil

Last year, my daughter had a terrible case of eczema. I followed the doctor's instructions to a T. I rarely bathed her and never used soap. I lotioned her religiously, but no matter what I did, it wouldn't go away. In fact, it spread from her back to her chest, arms, and legs.

Finally, out of desperation, I tried adding coconut oil to her bath water and smearing coconut oil all over her body. Within a few days, the eczema was gone.

Since then, I've learned that raw virgin coconut oil is super healthful. It's chockful of lauric acid (a key component of breast milk). It has antimicrobial, antioxidant, antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral properties. It also stimulates the thyroid gland, and it's easy to digest.

A few months ago, I saw that Dr. Oz featured coconut oil on one of his shows. I don't really watch his show, but he apparently recommends coconut oil topically as a moisturizer as well as internally for ulcers. He also says it can help with weight loss. (You can view video clips from his show if you like -- Coconut Oil Super Powers Part 1 and Coconut Oil Super Powers Part 2.)

Of course, all these benefits are true ONLY for raw virgin coconut oil -- NOT the processed (refined) kind.

I use quite a lot of coconut oil these days. Wherever I can, I try to substitute coconut oil for all or part of the fat in a recipe. I also use it as a moisturizer, in the bath, on my hair -- I even give myself facials with coconut oil.

I guess coconut oil is becoming mainstream because I can find it at my local supermarkets. That's where I got my first (rather pricey) jar. However, because coconut oil doesn't really go rancid like olive oil, I now purchase it by the gallon from Nutiva. (I also get a better deal that way.)

I know this all sounds interesting, but you're probably wondering how it tastes, right? Raw virgin coconut oil has a really lovely light coconut aroma and flavor.

If you've never tried it before, I highly recommend it. It can really give recipes a new flavorful dimension. And if you don't like it, you can always bathe in it. Your skin will thank you for it! :-)

 If you have used coconut oil, I'd love to hear what you think about it. How do you use it?

Monday, April 4, 2011

Potatoes and Tomatoes with Fresh Coconut

Last week, I tried a new Indian recipe out of Madhur Jaffrey's World-of-the-East Vegetarian Cooking. I made a couple of changes to the recipe because I didn't want to use quite as much oil, and I was out of red wine vinegar. (Weird, because I always have at least five different kinds of vinegar in the cupboard.) My changes are in the recipe given below, but I've made note of what the original recipe called for in the notes.

Verdict: The baby and I liked it. It had a rich, tangy flavor. My husband thought the flavor was great, but he didn't like the texture of the coconut and picked around it. I guess I won't make it again for him, but I might make it if he goes on a business trip.

Potatoes and Tomatoes Cooked with Fresh Coconut

3 medium-sized potatoes, cut into 3/4" dice
2 Tbsp coconut oil
6 cloves of garlic, minced
1 dried hot red pepper
1 tsp whole cumin seeds
1 1/2 cps freshly grated coconut
1/2 tsp turmeric
2 tsp ground cumin
Approximately 16-20 oz can diced tomatoes (including juices)
2 tsp salt
2 tsp sugar
1 tsp lemon juice

Heat the oil in a 3-quart pot over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and stir for about 5 seconds. Add the hot pepper and the whole cumin seeds. Stir until the garlic begins to brown, the pepper darkens, and the seeds begin to pop.

Lower the heat to medium and add the grated coconut. Stir for about 10-15 seconds.

Add the potatoes, ground cumin, tomatoes, salt and 1 1/2 cups of water. Bring to a boil. Turn heat to low, cover, and simmer for about 45 minutes (until potatoes are tender). Stir occasionally (about every 7-8 minutes).

Add the sugar and lemon. Stir again and cook uncovered for about a minute.

Notes: The original recipe called for 1/4 cup veg oil instead of coconut oil. It also called for 1 tsp red wine vinegar instead of lemon juice.
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