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Defy Mud Season

Mar 08, 2011 01:52AM ● Published by Erin Frisch

Sweet Almond & Honey Pastries

With a delicious spring feast inspired by summer evenings in Morocco, Turkey, and Greece

by Susan Nye

You know its mud season when you’re more than a little tired of the snow. It’s not surprising. The beautiful white, fluffy stuff is long gone. The ski hill has closed. Spring showers are ever-so-slowly melting the piles of dirty snow that linger on roadsides and at the end of the driveway.

Springtime Challenges

Northern New England’s highways and byways offer a special springtime challenge. Frost heaves and potholes make driving an Evel Knievel-like experience. Years ago I lived at the top of a very steep dirt road. When winter turned to spring, melting snow turned the unpaved surface into a bubbling brook. Every evening, as soon as the sun went down, the temperature dipped and the brook was transformed into a sheet of ice.

As spring progressed, it eventually became warmer and the road was a sea of mud both day and night. Just out of college, I drove a cute but aging second-hand sports car. During mud season I could only hope to drive it. My little roadster skittered on the ice like a drunken roller skate and had little if any traction in the mud. The car spent most of the spring marooned on a dry patch of land at the top of the hill. After a year or two, it was clear I needed to make a decision: dump the car or move. I was 24, I kept the car.

Exotic Inspiration

By mid-April, we’re not just tired of the mud, rain, and messy spring; we’ve had our fill of traditional New England comfort food. We’re tired of Nana’s award-winning chowder and Aunt Bertha’s famous pot roast. We’re ready to give the mac and cheese the heave-ho and put away the soup kettle until next October.

It is time to look to warmer climates for some exotic culinary inspiration. It’s time to defy mud season and cook up a spicy curry or a zesty Caribbean stew. Some of my favorite springtime dishes are inspired by the hot sun and dry air of the Mediterranean, North Africa, and the Middle East.

If the cold, wet spring has got you down, create your own oasis of good food and good company. Invite friends and family in for a feast inspired by summer evenings in Morocco, Turkey, and Greece. Bon appétit!

Baba Ghanoush with Fresh Vegetables and Pita Bread

Baba Ghanoush is a popular favorite throughout the Mediterranean from Turkey to Israel to Morocco.

Makes about 1 cup

  • 1 medium eggplant (approximately 1 lb)
  • Olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, cut into slivers
  • 1/2 small onion, finely chopped
  • 2 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 Tbsp tahini*
  • 1/4 cup flat leaf parsley
  • 1/4 tsp paprika
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • A variety of fresh, chopped vegetables
  • Pita bread, cut into triangles and warmed in the oven
Instructions:
  1. Preheat oven to 350º.
  2. Cut the eggplant in half and brush lightly with olive oil. Cut slits into the eggplant and insert the garlic slivers. Bake cut-side up at 350º until the eggplant is soft, about 40 minutes.
  3. While the eggplant is cooking, sauté the onion in a little olive oil over medium heat for 5 to 10 minutes or until translucent.
  4. When the eggplant is cool enough to handle, scoop the eggplant and garlic out of the skin and put in the bowl of a small food processor. Add the onion, lemon juice, tahini, parsley, paprika, salt, and pepper. Pulse to mash and combine.
  5. Chill in the refrigerator until ready to serve. Serve with fresh vegetables and warm pita bread triangles.
*Tahini is a sesame paste. You can find it in the international aisle of most large supermarkets, specialty grocery stores, and online.

Mediterranean Chopped Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette

A refreshing start to a spring feast.

Serves 8

  • 1 head romaine lettuce, finely chopped
  • 1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 medium cucumbers, peeled, seeded, and chopped
  • 16 radishes, chopped
  • 24 grape tomatoes, halved
  • 2 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 Tbsp chopped fresh mint leaves
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 6–12 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, to taste
Instructions:
  1. Combine the lettuce, onion, cucumber, radishes, tomatoes, parsley, and mint in a salad bowl and toss to combine.
  2. In a clean glass jar, combine the lemon juice, garlic, salt, and pepper; shake to combine. Add olive oil to taste and shake to combine. Drizzle over the salad and toss. Serve immediately.
Store leftover lemon vinaigrette in the refrigerator.

Chicken Tagine with Green Olives and Preserved Lemon

Serves 8
  • 1 large pinch saffron
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp sweet or hot paprika
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes or to taste
  • 1 tsp cloves
  • 1 tsp freshly ground pepper
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 Tbsp minced fresh ginger
  • Olive oil
  • 3 lb boneless breast of chicken
  • 1 preserved lemon (recipe follows)
  • 1 large onion, coarsely chopped
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1/2 cup green Sicilian olives, pitted and roughly chopped
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
Instructions:
  1. Combine the spices with the garlic and ginger in a small bowl. Whisk in enough olive oil to form a smooth paste.
  2. Put the chicken in a large bowl. Add the spice paste and rub it over all the pieces. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to overnight.
  3. Rinse the preserved lemon. Scoop out and discard the flesh. Cut the peel into strips and reserve.
  4. Add a little olive oil to a large casserole and heat over medium high heat. Add the onions, season with salt and pepper to taste, and cook until just starting to brown, about 3 minutes. Remove from the casserole and reserve.
  5. Add a little more olive oil to the casserole, add the chicken breasts, and lightly brown on both sides, about 2 minutes. Return the onions to the casserole. Add the olives, chicken stock and bay leaves. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 30 to 35 minutes. Remove the bay leaves and discard. Garnish with chopped cilantro and serve with couscous.

Preserved Lemons

You can find preserved lemons in specialty grocery stores and online but they are easy to make. You just need to plan ahead.
  • 12 lemons
  • Sea salt
  • Olive oil
Instructions:
  1. Slice each lemon in half. Place half the lemons in a bowl and toss generously with salt. Transfer to a 16 oz wide-mouth glass jar with a lid.
  2. Juice the remaining lemons and pour the juice into the jar with the salted lemons. Fill the jar to the top. If you run out of lemon juice, top off with olive oil. Secure the lid and let sit in a cool, dry place for 3 to 5 days. Refrigerate.

The lemons will keep for at least a month in the refrigerator.

Citrus-Mint Couscous with Dried Fruit and Pine Nuts

Serves 8
  • 4-1/2 cups chicken stock
  • 2 cups couscous
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt or to taste
  • Large pinch saffron
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp allspice
  • 1/2 cup dried fruit (chopped apricots, golden raisins, or currents)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted
  • Grated peel and juice of 1 orange
  • Grated peel and juice of 1 lime
  • 2–3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
For garnish:
  • 3 scallions, thinly sliced, green parts only
  • 3 Tbsp chopped fresh mint
  • 2 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley leaves
Instructions:
  1. Put the stock in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat, and add the couscous and spices; stir to combine. Cover and let sit for 10 minutes.
  2. Uncover and fluff with a fork. Add the dried fruit, garlic, pine nuts, grated peel, and juice; drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Toss gently to combine and let sit for an additional 5 minutes. Sprinkle with scallions, chopped mint, and parsley and serve.

Sweet Almond & Honey Pastries

Makes about 16 pieces
  • 2/3 cup raisins
  • 1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 2/3 cup whole almonds
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 Tbsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp allspice
  • 1/4 tsp cloves
  • Pinch nutmeg
  • Pinch kosher salt
  • 2/3 cup grated coconut
  • Grated peel of 1 orange
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • About 1 lb phyllo, defrosted and at room temperature
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, melted and slightly cooled
  • Honey-Orange Syrup (recipe follows)
Instructions:
  1. Put the raisins in the orange juice and let soak for 2 hours.
  2. Place the almonds, brown sugar, and spices in a food processor and process until the almonds are roughly ground. Add the raisins, orange juice, coconut, orange peel, and honey; pulse a few times to combine.
  3. Put the rack in the middle of the oven and preheat oven to 350º.
  4. Place the phyllo vertically in front of you on your work surface. Using a sharp knife, cut lengthwise into 2 columns. Stack and cover with a clean, damp kitchen towel.
  5. Remove the first phyllo sheet and place it vertically in front of you. Brush lightly with butter. Place a scant tablespoon of the filling at the top of the phyllo and fold like a flag to form a small triangle. Place the triangle on a baking sheet seam-side down. Cover with a kitchen towel and continue with the remaining filling and phyllo.
  6. Brush all the triangles with butter and bake for about 15 minutes or until the triangles are lightly golden and puffy. Remove the pastries from the baking sheet and put in a glass dish in a single layer. Drizzle Honey-Orange Syrup over the hot pastries. Cool to room temperature and serve.
The pastries can be made 2 days ahead and stored in an airtight container or prepared up through step 5 and frozen for up to 1 month. Defrost before baking.

Honey-Orange Syrup

  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 1/3 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
Instructions:
  1. Combine ingredients and microwave on high for 30 seconds. Stir and zap for an additional 30 seconds. Cool to room temperature and refrigerate until ready to use.
Susan Nye is a corporate dropout, writer, and cook. Before moving permanently to New Hampshire, she was a frequent business traveler to Greece, Turkey, the Middle East, and Africa. Susan writes for magazines and newspapers throughout New England and has a weekly food blog at www.susannye.wordpress.com.

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