Julie and Julia

It was inevitable that I would go see Julie and Julia. All in all, a cute and entertaining film. Meryl Streep amazing as usual. Despite the brief surge in sales of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, you really can’t go home again. Those days in the sixties  of America’s awakening to French food are long gone. It is now just one cuisine out of many that are of interest to us. Real men still don’t eat quiche; they eat pizza and tacos. Most of us prefer grilled chicken to coq au vin and we now know that pounds of butter and cream are not good for us. Plus they make us feel full, fat and guilty. Julia once questioned me as to why I embraced  the Mediterranean diet. She was not impressed with it because it had such small portions of meat and not much dairy. I told her my father died at 47 of a heart attack and I was not blessed with her metabolism and gene pool to survive all that saturated fat! 

The days of elaborate dinner parties that were inspired by her book are over too. Few people are willing to devote the time to prepare such multicourse feasts. In fact few people invite you for dinner, despite those elegantly remodled kitchens . They’d rather meet you at the latest restaurant.   

 When I started teaching cooking in 1965 all my students wanted  “Gourmet French.”  But over the years their tastes evolved. They wanted  Italian, Middle Eastern, Asian, and Holiday cooking.  Americans are omnivorous, and interested in all kinds of cooking.

The other thing that struck me as ironic is that if Julia tried out for television today they would not hire her. Weird voice, not pretty, sort of awkward and too natural. Not slick enough for the tube. Sort of sad what has happened to cooking on TV. It’s mostly game shows and competitions that get the most attention. You really can’t go home again.

Cooking in the real world

So here we are in the throes of the new economy.   Bye Bye beef, Hello beans. But do not despair. Today I made the most delicious Persian inspired yogurt soup called ashe maste which has chickpeas, lentils, basmati rice,  little tiny meatballs and green onions, parley and mint. It will feed me for a few days and it only used $3.00 of ground beef.  This is the new economy and I will eat well. So can you.  This recipe is in my book Solo Suppers and it’ s a keeper.

The Mediterranean is loaded with such creative and yummy meals in a bowl. Moroccan harira, bean soups with greens from Southern Italy. We need to think differently. Forget the giant piece of meat at the center of the plate.  Use protein for a hint of flavor and let vegetables, and grains and beans do the heavy lifting.

Persian Meatball Soup  From Solo Suppers  about 3 bowlsful  YUM!

 

When I am in the mood to cook, I enjoy preparing meatballs as a mildly meditative activity. I usually make a double batch, use some for a pan sauté, and save some for a soup supper, or maybe for pasta. Certainly the guazzetto of white beans with greens (page xx) would welcome meatballs instead of seafood. My favorite meatball soup, however, is Persian. It has a yogurt base bound with an egg and flour and must not boil, or the yogurt will curdle. Just keep stirring. The soup is a lovely pale yellow, which is set off by the green of the mint and green onions and the brown of the meatballs. When pomegranates are in season I sprinkle a few of the jewel-like red seeds on top.  

 

1/4 cup dried chickpeas

1/4 cup green or black lentils

1/3 pound ground beef

3 tablespoons grated yellow onion

1 egg, lightly beaten and then divided in two

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 cup low- fat plain yogurt

1 teaspoon flour

1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric

2 tablespoons basmati rice

3 cups chicken stock or water

2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

2 tablespoons chopped green onions, including the tender green tops

2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint

Salt and pepper to taste

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 clove garlic, very finely minced

Pomegranate seeds garnish (optional)

 

Pick over the dried chickpeas and remove any stones or debris. Rinse well, put in a saucepan and cover with 1 cup cold water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium and cook for a few minutes. Remove from the heat and let stand for 1 hour. Drain the beans and return them to the saucepan with cold water to cover by about 2 inches. Bring to a boil over medium high heat. Reduce heat to low, add salt, cover and simmer until beans are tender, about 40 to 50 minutes. Drain and reserve.

Pick over the lentils and remove any stones or debris. Rinse well, put the lentils in a small saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer until firm‑tender, about 25 minutes. Drain and reserve.

In a bowl combine the ground beef, grated onion, half of the egg, salt, pepper, and 1/4 teaspoon of the cinnamon. Mix well with your hands. Fry a tiny patty of the mixture to see if it is seasoned to your taste. Adjust seasoning if necessary, then form the beef mixture into tiny meatballs, about the size of a nickel, or smaller if you have the patience. Refrigerate.

To make the soup base, spoon the yogurt into a medium saucepan. Whisk in the remaining half egg, the flour, the turmeric and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon. Add the rice, the reserved lentils and two cups of the stock.  Place over low heat and cook gently, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes. Add the reserved chickpeas, the parsley, green onions, and most of the chopped mint. Simmer for 10 minutes more, then add the meatballs and simmer 10 minutes longer. Add the remaining stock if needed.

In a small sauté pan, melt the butter. Add the garlic and sauté until soft but not colored, about 2 minutes. Add to the soup and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. Pour into a warmed soup bowl and sprinkle with remaining mint and pomegranate seeds, if using. .

 

Note:  You can double the meat mixture and cook the remaining half of the seasoned meat mixture as a pan-fried burger, top it with yogurt seasoned with garlic, and serve it in a pita bread. Or, you can form the rest of the meat mixture into meatballs, sauté them in butter or oil until browned, simmer them in tomato sauce, and then serve over rice with a drizzle of garlicky yogurt.

 

Slow Food Nation

This weekend over fifty thousand foodies are descending on San Francisco to attend the food event of the year, Slow Food Nation. There will be panels, tastings, cooking demos, book signings andof course dinners all over town.

As an long time member of Slow Food and one of the older generation of passionate Slow Food adherents, I am not fond of huge crowds and so I am not going to attend the music events in the great Meadow at Fort Mason.

I will however give a book talk at the Library store in Building C at 4 PM on Saturday and after thant will mosy on over to the Taste Pavilion where  I will be doing a cooking demo at 7:15 PM. The demos run every 20 minutes and are supposed to represent food that is good, clean and fair… but also very simple. I am going  to demo that old Square One Restaurant standard Fattoush, a Lebanese Bread salad made with toasted pita bread, tomatoes, cucumbers, red and green onions, mint, parsley and a romaine lettuce with a simple citrus dressing.

Here is the recipe from my new book – Mediterranean Fresh: A Compendium of Salad Meals and Mix and Match Dressings

Fattoush

Wait until the tomatoes are perfect, ripe and perfumed to make this salad. Fattoush is a Lebanese variation of tabbouleh, the classic Middle Eastern wheat salad, but instead of using bulgur, it uses toasted pita bread. Fatta means torn into pieces which is what we do with the bread.  I love the textures in this salad and would suggest, for full crunch effect, that you dress it just before serving time so the bread does not become soggy. Like tabbouleh  it typically takes a lemon and olive oil dressing, usually enhanced with lots of fresh mint and parsley.

Serves 6
4 large or 8 small whole wheat pita breads
2 1/2 to 3 cups diced tomato (½ -inch dice)
2 cups diced cucumber (peeled and seeded if necessary, ½ -inch dice)
½ cup very finely diced red onion
6 tablespoons finely chopped green onions, including tender green tops
½ cup chopped fresh mint
½ cup chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
4 cups loosely packed romaine lettuce strips (1 inch wide)
About 1 to 1 ½ cups classic citrus dressing
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Place the pita breads on a baking sheet and bake until dry, about 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and, when cool enough to handle, break into large bite size pieces.

In a small bowl whisk together the dressing and add salt and pepper to taste.

In a large salad bowl combine the tomatoes, cucumber, red onion, green onion, mint and parsley. With some of the dressing.  Then add the pita pieces, the romaine,and toss with the  remaining  dressing.

 

Basic Citronette or Lemon and Olive Oil Citrus Dressing
Citrus dressings are used all over the Mediterranean but especially in the Middle East and North Africa. They are used to dress leafy and chopped salads, cooked vegetables such as beets, fennel, favas, artichokes and bean and grain salads. Citrus dressings are particularly good on fruit salads, salads with strong cheese components, and salads that are served with wine. They are ideal for seafood salads and raw fish dishes and may be spooned liberally over cooked fish and seafood as a finishing sauce. In Greece the simple mixture of olive oil and lemon juice is called ladolemono.

Yield- ¾ cup
8 tablespoons mild and fruity extra virgin olive oil
4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Salt and pepper
Whisk all together in a bowl.