What’s on your nightstand? Besides the usual suspects of alarm clock, TV clicker and lamp that most people have, I also have piles of reading material. One pile is books – usually it’s whatever I am supposed to be reading for my neighborhood monthly book club and then whatever other books I happen to be “cheating ” on it with – I have a hard time committing to just one book at a time. When I go to the library to pick up my book for this month, other books often catch my eye, and most often it is cookbooks. I am the only person that I know that reads cookbooks like novels. Currently, I am enjoying Amanda Hesser’s New York Times Cookbook that I checked out of the library last time I was there to pick up Parrot and Oliviera in America, which is still sitting there unopened and we're discussing it soon. What a great cookbook! I can’t wait to buy it. The other pile is magazines – mostly cooking magazines. I am a certified magazine junkie. Oprah’s magazine - love her mag, her TV show not so much. Martha Stewart Living - so much better now that Martha’s out of the slammer - and it’s spawn, Everyday Food. Cooks Illustrated – yes, I know the recipes are a little too clinical and detail oriented, but I am an engineer and I love the idea that they try a recipe out a bunch of times different ways.
The one food magazine I totally adore is Saveur. Each month, I read it cover to cover, lingering over every article and oogling the beautiful food photography in exotic locales. I get so inspired by what they put in that periodical each month. Once, they wrote about making English toffee and peppermint patties at home and it sent me off on a candymaking odyssey that I am still on today. That being said, I’ve only most recipes I have tried out of Saveur were epic failures. Do they not try out their recipes before they publish them? For example, this past Christmas, I followed their recipe for salted caramels that said to cook it until it hits 370 F. Even though I knew better, I figured they knew what they were talking about when they said to cook it way past the normal firm ball stage of 245 F where every other caramel recipes suggests. I ended up with a ruined pot and a kitchen that smelled like an ash bucket for days. And this month, I was looking for a recipe to try that featured coriander, and they had a beautiful photo spread about kabobs from around the world. There was a recipe for kafta, which is a Middle Eastern style meatball that is cooked on a skewer. I work in Dearborn, which probably has the best Middle Eastern food to be found in the United States, so I might be a kofta snob, but Saveur’s kafta tasted like sawdust. Literally – they had the taste and texture of sawdust, with an aftertaste of mint. The final verdict came from my always hungry teenage son (who has been known to eat ANYTHING that’s not nailed down) actually dumped his IN THE TRASH and said “Sorry Mom, but it doesn’t taste good”. I think Saveur needs to contract some recipe testing work to Cooks Illustrated. A mashup of those two magazines would be cooking nirvana for me.
So, I am not sure what’s wrong in Saveur’s test kitchen, but I am thankful that they continue to be my muse. After all, this month they sent me down the rabbit hole of Middle Eastern recipes, and I probably never would have tried to create this side dish and sauce recipe that I have tasted in Dearborn’s restaurants at home to go along with those tasteless meatballs. So skip the kafta all together - the mjadara and toum are just fine as a meal by themselves. Thank you, Saveur!
Mjadara (Lentil and Rice Pilaf)
1 c green or brown lentils, sorted and rinsed
2 T olive oil
2 cups finely chopped onions
1 teaspoon minced garlic
¾ c rice
1 teaspoon salt
¾ t ground cumin
¾ t ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon pepper
Bring lentils and 2 1/2 cups water to a boil. Cover and simmer until al dente, 20 to 25 minutes. Drain. Meanwhile, add oil, onions, and garlic to a skillet over medium heat; stir often until onions are golden, 15 to 18 minutes. Add rice, salt, cumin, coriander and pepper; stir until rice looks opaque, about 3 minutes.
Stir in lentils and 2 more cups water. Bring to a boil over high heat; reduce heat, cover, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until rice is tender to bite and liquid is absorbed, 13 to 15 minutes. Serve with toum.
Toum (garlic sauce)
I head garlic, split into cloves and peeled
Juice of one lemon
½ t. kosher salt
1 large egg white
2/3 cups canola oil
Put the garlic cloves with the salt and the lemon juice in a blender. Blend on medium speed until the garlic is chopped, scraping down the sides as necessary. With the blender still on medium speed, add the egg white and continue to blend. Add half the oil in a slow thin stream. When it starts to emulsify (thicken up) switch to a slow blend, and slowly add the rest of the lemon juice. Add the rest of the oil in the same fashion. At this point you should have a sauce with the consistency of a light mayonnaise. Add more salt if needed.