Chrystal Baker is a private cook, recipe developer, and freelance online contributor, as well as a culinary production team member for various TV shows, commercials, photo shoots and online content. She maintains DuoDishes.com, a Los Angeles-based food blog that features dishes influenced by family tradition, regional fare and worldly flavors. You can follow her trail on Instagram and Twitter--@TheDuoDishes and @AnynEverywhere.
Just like our New Year celebration, the Persian New Year begins at a very specific time. It is based on the sun’s travels, marking the start of Spring–precisely the second the sun crosses the equator. Families gather around a ceremonial display decorated with seven items, all of which belong with the letter “s”, that represent all of the good things we want in life, such as health, wealth, longevity, renewal and more. So in light of Spring and yet another opportunity to celebrate a “new day”, it is high time you try this recipe for a classic Persian dish.
I have a feeling no one noticed we did not post an Ethnic Exploration at the end of last month. It slipped through the cracks as we both found ourselves wrapped up with individual, Duo and group related projects and events. We’ve do try to maintain a regular posting schedule, especially when it comes to the monthly Guest Test Kitchen and Ethnic Exploration features. Last week I sent an text to Amir that said “Um, did I ever write the Austrian EE?” There were at least 17 question marks and exclamation points, but I’ll spare you the overkill. I accept full responsibility for dropping the ball! You guys are always so forgiving and understanding, so we know that you’ll let it slide. When you see the Austrian sweet treat that landed on our plates, you’ll let it slide with a smile.
There’s something about canning that has an air of nostalgia to it. Perhaps your grandparents were the ones who first introduced you to this idea. Or, your parents perhaps. Neither one of us comes from a family of canners, but we do have interest. It’s the perfect way to preserve seasonal freshness of fruits or vegetables when they are at their peak. Almost anything can be canned–tomatoes, beans, peaches, rinds and seeds. It’s an easy, inexpensive way to have food at the tips of your fingers when their season for availability may be far off. Sometimes, though, you just can to can. Not because you necessarily want summer corn in the dead of winter, but just because you want something to break through the boredom of a slow Saturday afternoon. Unequipped with tongs and mason jars, you can still pull off a means of veggie preservation. You can always find a way around an obstacle.
Is it too late to wish everyone a Happy New Year? Hopefully not. You’ve probably made some resolutions, changes, promises, goals, whatever you choose to call them. The title is inconsequential, but the meaning is the same. It’s the time of year when you may be feeling antsy for what lies ahead, and that internal energy can be quite the ember to start a fire! Much success with your plans. Feel free to share them with us. We hope you enjoyed the holidays with your friends and family, and thanks for stopping in as we finally start off this New Year with a new recipe. If you’re thinking it’s about time, well, you don’t have to wait any longer.
We like to do a lot of things from scratch. That’s why kneading bread, rolling out pie dough, and beating cream into fluffy soft peaks is fun for us. We like to be hands on with foods and figure out how they work. And how they work best. That’s why you see a bowl of ground, watery nuts above. That, friends, is almond pulp. It is what you’ll find left behind if you make your own almond milk. Maybe you’re wondering to yourself, ‘Self, why are these guys making almond milk when it’s at the store?’ Well, there are lots of things that just seem easy to do by hand, so why not do them. At least once. If it’s not worth the time, effort or cost, then feel free to buy it. But at least you can say you’ve tried to do it. And that, friends, is the only answer we can give.
Editor's Note: Amir wrote this post for our blog a couple of years ago, and no doubt, there have been new and memorable occasions since then. We're each spending New Years Eve in different ways. He'll be with his husband and friends in Los Angeles, while I give a toast to 2014 in London. No matter what you do to celebrate, we hope you have a most fantastic New Year!
We’re getting into the spirit of the season just like everyone else. In addition to the gingerbread men, peppermint delights, and traditional Christmas cookies, we love to include an adult treat in our Holiday repertoire of goodies. I enjoy eggnog as part of my winter routine. Chrystal, on the other hand, is not the biggest fan of dairy, boozy drinks. Being that many of my in-laws have a Swedish heritage, I thought a glogg recipe would be the perfect alcoholic seasonal beverage to share.
Keep It Simple Stupid
There were four eggplant just sitting, waiting, to be used. But how? At least three hours of research and thought went into the process of figuring out something fun to do with them. Eggplant parmigiana would’ve been great, but the idea of fried, cheesey eggplant felt too heavy for the occasion. A salad would’ve been nice, but a few ingredients were missing. Eggplant is great as the main star of a stir fry, but for some reason, that didn’t quite measure up either. Sometimes you spend so much time trying to go overboard when simple is all you really need. We’ve found that happen to us many times, and it’s nice to pull back and just let the natural flavors of the star player do their thing. That’s how those four eggplants ended up taking a ride in a food processor for one of the easiest dips you’ll ever make.
Baba Ghanoush may have several spellings, but it’s preparation is pretty much always the same. It’s a blend of softened eggplant, tahini, olive oil, lemon juice and salt. Anything else you add is your special touch. There are usually two points of contention with baba ghanoush. The first revolves around the eggplant. Many people will tell you, even the nice folks at a local Middle Eastern restaurant, will probably tell you that the roasty toasty flavor of the dip comes from the eggplants. You can cook them over a grill for the best flavor, or you can try this broil then bake method. Second, there’s the tahini. Tahini–roasted sesame seed paste–is surely optional, but it does add that seedy, rich umami note that really sings in this dip. Instead of using tahini though, this recipe utilizes sesame oil, in conjunction with olive oil, to bring out those flavors.
You can dress it up as you like, and for this version, smoked paprika adds an aromatic, oakey earthiness to each scoop. Cayenne would be nice too. Baba Ghanoush is great with crackers, bread or vegetables. It also can serve as a perfect spread for sandwiches. The key is to keep it simple. You can’t go wrong.
Baba Ghanoush (Middle Eastern Eggplant Dip) – Serves 4
4 medium Italian eggplants
3 cloves garlic, unpeeled
Zest of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1/8 – 1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh chopped parsley
1. Place the eggplants on a baking sheet and slide under a preheated oven broiler set to high for 5-7 minutes, turning the eggplants over every minute or so to ensure all four sides are blackened. Remove from the oven and turn off the boiler. Set the oven to 400 degrees.
2. Wrap the garlic cloves in a small piece of aluminum foil and place them on the baking sheet with the eggplants. Put the baking sheet back into the oven and roast the eggplant and garlic for 30-35 minutes or until soft. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
3. Once the eggplant and garlic are cool enough to touch, peel the skin off the eggplants and place the meat in the bowl of a food processor. Squeeze the roasted garlic cloves out of their skins and put them in the food processor as well. Add the lemon zest, lemon juice, salt and sesame oil. Secure the lid on the food processor, turn on the machine and drizzle in the first 1/8 cup of olive oil until just combined. Add up to another 1/4 cup of olive oil based on your preference.
4. Scrape the mixture into a serving bowl and top with the parsley and a sprinkling of smoked paprika. Pair the dip with your favorite crackers, bread or vegetables. If desired, cover and chill for a couple of hours to allow the flavors to build.
Ready to Spice It Up - Spiced Butternut Squash Soup
It is perfectly chilly here in Los Angeles. At least it is during the evening. But we are wimps about it. We are wimps about weather in general as Angelenos. During the summer, we’ll tell you it’s blazing hot, the air is dry, and we can barely go outside.
Some people adore pumpkin. Some of us do not. It is one of Amir’s favorites, but the other half of this Duo has never been that impressed. Until recently. Pumpkin is everywhere right now, which is exciting for many people. Wasn’t it just last year that the canned pumpkin purée shortage wreaked havoc upon the nation’s bakers? It was also last year that we went all out and cooked up an all-pumpkin dinner party. When Trader Joe’s touted the first newsletter announcing the arrival of canned pumpkin this season, we stocked up on a few cans to work with for the months of October and November. We discussed different ways to use the pumpkin and argued about the types of families that serve pumpkin pie and/or sweet potato pie for Thanksgiving. There was no clear winner for the latter. As for the former, how would we use up all this canned pumpkin? And would the uses be enough to change an ambivalent pumpkin eater or a fan? The findings would be a welcome surprise.
And The Award Goes To - Rosemary Asiago Popcorn
Nothing enhances a film or television viewing experience quite like a warm bowl of popcorn. In honor of this weekend’s Emmy Awards, here is an easy flavored popcorn recipe that will surely steal the show.
The Duo's Ethnic Exploration: Greek
Garides Saganaki (Greek Shrimp Saganaki)
Greek food has long been high on my list as a ‘favorite’, even though the Libra in me has a hard time signifying anything as a favorite. The Greeks won me over with their passion for life and food with everyone around them, related or not.
People who have been reading our blog for a while know that Amir and I both like to try various eating challenges. Going vegan for a few months is probably the trickiest, followed by cleanses featuring juices and smoothies.