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Monthly Archives: May 2011

People put too many things in hummus! In the aisles of your local grocery store you’re sure to find an assortment of roasted vegetables and superfluous spices polluting the spread, let alone any preservatives or other unnecessary things like sugar. Like many other Levantine dishes, hummus (Arabic for “chickpeas”) is composed of a few basic components and the key to making it taste delicious is in the proportions of the ingredients and method of preparation.

When I make hummus, nothing goes in except chickpeas, tahini, olive oil, lemon, salt and raw garlic. I use dried chickpeas because the flavor and texture are better than what you get from canned beans (the brine that comes with canned chickpeas is awful). As for tahini, I usually use ready-made stuff. When you’re buying, look for a creamy consistency and a very pale beige color. My favorite in Chicago is the house-made tahini available at Middle East Bakery and Grocery on Foster Avenue. If you have sesame seeds and olive oil handy, you can make your own tahini.

Pickles are a delicious accompaniment to hummus. The bright pink pickled beets or mix of carrots, cucumbers, cauliflower and hot peppers known as turshi that are on sale at many Middle Eastern groceries are an excellent garnish for hummus. Just remember that less is more.

One note: the only potentially complicated thing you need is a food processor. If you don’t have one, you can use an immersion blender or even a potato masher, just substitute 1-2 tbs of water for the ice cubes.

Ingredients:

3/4 cup dried chickpeas

1/4 cup tahini (sesame paste)

2 lemons

1 clove of garlic, minced

2-3 tbs extra virgin olive oil

sea salt

2-3 ice cubes

Pickles (for garnish)

Method:

Bring the chickpeas to a boil in a pot of salty water. Cook the peas until they are very soft and the skins are beginning to come off. This will take about 2 hours, but you can boil it for longer if you have time. The softer the chickpeas get, the smoother your hummus will be. Remove any of the chickpea skins you see floating at the top of the pot. I like to get a slotted spoon and stir the peas around so that more skins come off and then fish them out. This is not absolutely necessary but it again improves the texture.

Once the chickpeas are soft enough to crush easily with your hand and you’ve removed as many husks as you can stand, whip together the tahini, juice of one of the lemons, oil, garlic and salt in the food processor until consistent and creamy. This, by the way, is basic tahini sauce (taratour), which is a classic topping for falafel or fish and is a perfect partner to sour yoghurt.

Put the two or three ice cubes in the food processor (this is a trick that a friend taught me- it makes for an amazingly fluffy and light hummus). Strain the chickpeas and while still piping hot, put them in the food processor so that the ice cracks and begins to melt. Then, blend the entire mixture for several minutes until completely smooth. Add some olive oil if necessary during the blending.

You can serve the hummus immediately, still warm (my preference), or chill it and serve it later.

To serve, spread the hummus on a plate and liberally dress it with the juice of the other lemon, salt and more olive oil. Add a few pickles, or put them in a bowl to the side. Serve with hot bread.

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Sabasalads didn’t emerge this morning until 11:00, thanks in part to a batch of Vermontucky Lemonade we had last night. So, by the time we rolled up to Green City Market, most of the produce had already disappeared. Luckily, Three Sisters Garden still had some pea greens left.

Pea greens are just the viny-parts of pea plants that have been chopped off. Their small, tender leaves have an almost savory flavor that make wonderful additions to salads, or can simply be stir-fried with lots of garlic in sesame oil. You’ll see the latter on the menu at many restaurants in Chicago’s Chinatown (skip the bok choy next time and ask for these), and you can buy the greens by the bundle in most Chinese supermarkets in Chicago.

To prepare them yourself, simply cut them up with kitchen scissors into manageable sizes and sauté them in either olive oil or sesame oil just until they wilt. Serve them immediately so that they don’t go cold and bitter.

Sabasalads incorporated these into an omelet with some fresh mozzarella cheese. Along with some Russian Blue potatoes from Nichols Farm that we’d picked up, this made an excellent and easy breakfast.

May is sorrel season, and Sabasalads loves sorrel. This wonderful herb, also called “sour-grass” due to its sharp flavor, is now available in many farmers markets, and you can spot it by looking out for its fleshy, spinach-like leaves shaped like arrow-heads.

Common sorrel or Garden sorrel (the kind most widely available in the U.S.) has been in use for a long time, and its name appears in English herbals and dictionaries as early as the 16th century (the Oxford English Dictionary points to several citations, including William Turner’s Names of Herbes, originally printed in 1548). Common sorrel is not to be confused with wood sorrel, a shamrock-shaped plant with a similar flavor that is actually a member of the Oxalis family. This species grows in both Europe and the Americas. Sabasalads hasn’t encountered wood sorrel yet, but will be on the lookout!

Historically, Common sorrel it has several medicinal uses, including prevention of scurvy and ringworm. But Sabaasalads loves sorrel because of its taste, which is sour, sour, sour. It isn’t exactly citrusy, but it has a tartness reminiscent of rhubarb and wild strawberries. The bottom line is that sorrel makes an excellent addition to any green salad, especially one of milder greens like baby lettuces or cabbage, and also to soups and broths. It’s best to mince the leaves finely so that the flavor isn’t all concentrated in one place, but gets distributed throughout the dish. Do this by rolling the leaves up like a cigar and then chopping them across with a knife.

Sabaladas was craving grilled meat last week, so we used the sorrel to make a version of cole-slaw that we think is going to be a frequent addition to BBQs in the future. Instead of mayonnaise or yoghurt, we used labneh, a strained yoghurt that is richer and more sour than either. Don’t overdo it with the labneh and lemon, however, lest you mask the flavor of the sorrel. You can buy labneh at most middle eastern grocery stores, or make it at home by hanging plain yoghurt over the sink in cheesecloth over night.

If you’re looking for more suggestions of things to do with sorrel, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has lots of interesting ideas in this article.

COLE-SLAW with SORREL, RED CABBAGE and SWEET ONIONS

Ingredients:

1/2 head of red cabbage, finely chopped

20 sorrel leaves, minced

1/2 a small, sweet onion (e.g. Spanish or Vidalia onions)

1/2 a cucumber, skin removed and julienned

1 large broccoli stalk, floretts removed and julienned

Several stems of curly parsley, minced

4 large mint leaves, minced

2 tablespoons of labneh

Juice of 1/4 lemon

Salt

Black pepper

Directions:

The method couldn’t be simpler. After chopping all of the vegetables, combine them in a large bowl and add salt and pepper to taste. Mix the olive oil, labneh and lemon juice together in a smaller bowl. The labneh might get clumpy, but that’s OK. Next, toss the vegetables in the labneh-oil-lemon dressing until the dressing is evenly distributed. You can serve this immediately, or let it sit for a couple of hours in the fridge. Don’t let it sit too long, however, or the vegetables will get soggy.

Serve this with grilled keftah kebabs, soujouk-style sausages, or felafel, either as a side or a garnish on sandwiches in a flat pocket bread like pita.


Another cold, foggy morning meant that Sabasalads needed plenty of coffee and a hot breakfast sandwich to scour Green City Market today. Despite the weather, the trip was well worth it. In addition to more lettuces and young herbs, there were three new and notable appearances this week: rhubarb, french breakfast radishes and today’s winner, lovage (the leafy bundle in the bottom picture).

    

Lovage is like cardamom-infused celery, combining pepperiness and sweetness. You can use both the leaves and the stems (as in the recipe below), and a little bit goes a long way. Lovage is a perfect partner to onions, leeks, potatoes, and other root vegetables. Add it to your next mash or use the leaves to a stock and give it unexpected depth. Since the weather was cold, we made soup with leeks, potatoes, chicken stock and cream. The result was fantastic.

CREAM of LOVAGE SOUP

Ingredients:

8 small stalks of lovage, leaves separated from stalks and set aside

½ pound small yellow potatoes

½ pound leeks (about 3-4 small leeks), greens removed

8 cups chicken broth

1 cup heavy cream

6 tbs Butter

3 tbs Flour

3 cloves garlic

Salt

Pepper

Directions:

Wash the potatoes but do not remove the skins. Then boil the potatoes in a medium-sized pot with the chicken stock until soft.

Meanwhile, chop up the leeks and lovage stalks. Take only the most tender of the lovage leaves and chop them coarsely. You should have just under a cup of chopped leaves.

Sauté the leeks and lovage stalks in 2 tbs of the butter over medium heat in a pan. When the leeks and stalks have wilted and broken down a bit, stir in the chopped lovage leaves. At this point, add plenty of freshly ground black pepper to taste. Continue cooking this mixture for a couple of minutes and then add it by the spoon-full to the chicken stock and potatoes. Bring all of this to a rolling boil, turn the heat down and simmer for 15-20 minutes. Taste the broth and add salt or pepper as necessary, and skim the top for excess fat (there shouldn’t be very much).

When the soup has simmered for at least 15 minutes, remove the solids, either with a slotted spoon or by straining the broth. Return the broth to a lazy boil and puree the solids with a wand blender or mash them with a potato-masher until smooth. Set the pureed vegetables aside for the moment.

Next, prepare a light roux with the butter and flour. To make your roux, first melt the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter in a skillet or wide frying pan over medium heat so it doesn’t burn. When the butter is sizzling, add the flour, stirring constantly until the mixture turns a light golden brown- about 5-7 minutes. When the roux reaches this color remove it immediately from the heat.

Then slowly whisk spoons of the roux into the broth. Make sure to stir well for a few minutes so that it doesn’t get clumpy. The broth should thicken a bit as a result of the roux being incorporated.

Finally, stir the pureed vegetables into the thickened broth. Add half a cup of water if necessary to thin the soup. A few minutes before serving, stir in the cup of heavy cream.

This rich, creamy soup goes beautifully with a salad of chopped radishes dressed in olive oil and lemon.

Yesterday Sabasalads went to the park for Green City Market’s first day outdoors. Since it was overcast, chilly and before 9 AM, the market wasn’t too crowded and there was plenty of interesting produce to be had.

  

Lots of lettuces, shoots, sprouts and herbs were for sale this weekend. We took home young butter lettuce, arugula and two types of potatoes (rose finn apple and Russian blue) from Nichols Farm in Marengo, Illinois, sunflower sprouts from the urban gardens of Growing Power in Chicago and Milwaukee, a sheep’s milk camembert-style cheese from Prairie Fruits Farm in Champaign, Illinois, and a bunch of garlic mustard greens and sorrel from Green Acres Farm in North Judson, Indiana (stay tuned for more on garlic mustard and sorrel in upcoming posts!)

We bought the lettuces live, transplanted them in our window-sill planter and trimmed the young leaves straight into a salad with the sunflower sprouts, a few shredded sorrel leaves and walnuts. The sunflower sprouts were a favorite: a bit crunchy and just a hint of nutty flavor not unlike sunflower seeds. For the dressing, we used red wine vinegar, oil, salt and a load of black pepper. As an alternative, apple cider vinegar, oil and some mustard would work well with these delicate spring greens. We fried the potatoes in olive oil. They were buttery and delicious on their own and didn’t need anything else in the way of garnishes.

Green City Market is outdoors in Lincoln Park (between Stockton and Clark Street just south of Armitage) on Wednesday and Saturday mornings between May and October.

  

  

Yesterday on my evening shopping trip I happened upon ramps for sale in the produce aisle- an unexpected but welcomed find. If you haven’t tried ramps, their flavor lies somewhere between spring onions and garlic. They grow wild in North America and are traditionally served with eggs, potatoes, pinto beans, corn-bread and other savory, breakfasty fare. Since I had intended to cook potatoes and broccolini anyway, I threw these in and the result was delicious. The ramps have a strong scent but mellowed out nicely in the pan and didn’t overpower the other vegetables. May is the best time to find these delights, so be sure to be on the lookout over the next two weeks.

Ramps, potatoes and broccolini: 


Ingredients:

1 bunch ramps

1 bunch broccolini

3 large golden potatoes

salt and pepper to taste

olive oil or butter

Directions:

Wash but do not peel the potatoes. Put these in a pan and cover with cold water. Bring the water to a rolling boil and let the potatoes cook in the boiling water for 10-15 minutes until they’re almost soft. When a fork goes through a couple of inches they are done: remove and set them aside in a strainer to cool. When the potatoes have cooled, chop them into thin medallions.

Meanwhile, prepare the ramps and broccolini. First separate the green leaves from the white bulbs on the ramps. Dice the leaves and chop the bulbs and set these aside in separate bowls. Then finely chop the broccolini and set this aside.

   

Heat oil or butter in a large frying pan. Add the potato medallions and fry until the bottoms begin to become golden brown. Flip these over and add the white bulbs of the ramps as well as salt and pepper to taste. After a few minutes add the broccolini and the leaves of the ramps. Give these a good stir and then cover the pan with a top or foil and let this steam for a few minutes.

      

Serve immediately, perhaps with a splash of vinegar or tabasco.