Thursday, March 24, 2016

Molokhia Soup with Za'atar Spice Salmon Steak and Brown Basmati Rice

     A Healthy Soup Entrée With Classic Middle Eastern Flavors! 
     Molokhia is the leaves of the Jute Plant.  Jute fiber is used to make carpet.  Both carpet making and cooking Molokhia are old Middle Eastern traditions.  During the age of the Pharaohs, the common folk in Egypt were banned from eating Molokhia, because it was considered to be a food fit for royalty.  Many modern Egyptians still respect the past and they will not consume Molokhia out of respect for the ancient Pharaohs.  
     Molokhia is loaded with healthy nutrients and dietary fiber.  Molokhia does have an interesting mucilaginous texture.  The flavor is more complex than spinach.  When combined with broth, Molokhia tastes very rich.  
     Due to religious restrictions, many people cannot eat bottom feeding fish or shellfish.  I chose salmon for today's recipe, because it is a fast moving predator fish and it is not a bottom feeder.  However, the strictest religions allow only white flesh fish to be consumed.  A firm textured whitefish can be substituted for salmon in the recipe.  Either way, Za'atar Spice will make the fish extra tasty!  
     Za'atar Spice also has been made since the days of ancient Egypt.  Recipes for a Za'atar Spice Mixture can vary from one household to the next.  Za'atar Spice recipes vary from region to region too.  The basic Za'atar Spice Mixture has a high proportion of toasted sesame seed and Wild Thyme.  A variety of Middle Eastern spices make up the rest of the ingredients.  
     It is much cheaper to purchase a bag of pre-mixed Za'atar Spice mix than it is to blend your own.  Some of the ingredients, like Wild Thyme, are not easy to find.  Regular European thyme is not an acceptable substitute for Middle Eastern Wild Thyme.  Those two varieties of thyme have completely different flavor profiles.    
     I purchased a large bag of very fresh looking Za'atar Spice that came from Jordan a few months ago.  The Jordanian za'atar spice mixture is a nice regional version of Za'atar and the proportion of Wild Thyme is very high.  Jordanian Za'atar tastes really nice on roasted salmon! 
      Here in Las Vegas the air is very arid, so dried spices keep well for a long time.  The Wild Thyme in the Za'atar looked as fresh and green as it did a few months ago.  This is one of the benefits of living in the desert! 

     Basmati Rice:
     This recipe yields 2 portions.
     Basmati requires a special preparation technique!  Soaking and rinsing the rice produces a light fluffy basmati rice. 
     Step 1:  Soak 1/2 cup of basmati rice in cold water for 2 hours.
     Rinse the rice with cold water, till the water that drains off is clear.
     Step 2:  Place the rice in a sauce pot.
     Add 1 1/4 cups of water.
     Bring the liquid to a boil over medium high heat.
     Step 3:  Reduce the temperature to low heat.
     Place a lid on the pot.
     Simmer and steam the rice till it is tender.  (about 15 minutes)
     Step 4:  Drain off any excess water.
     Keep the basmati rice warm on a stove top.
     Molokhia Soup:
     This recipe yields 1 serving!  (2 1/4 cups)  
     Packages of frozen minced Molokhia can be found in Middle Eastern food markets.
     Step 1:  Place 1 1/3 cups of thawed prepared frozen minced Molokhia in a sauce pot.
     Add 2 cups of chicken broth.
     Step 2:  Add 3 tablespoons of chopped onion.
     Add 2 minced garlic cloves.
     Add 4 tablespoons of chopped tomato.
     Add 1/2 of a chopped green onion.
     Step 3:  Add 1 pinch of cumin.
     Add 1/4 teaspoon of coriander.
     Add 1 small pinch of mace or nutmeg.
     Add 1 pinch of sumac berry spice.
     Add 1 small pinch of cayenne pepper.
     Add 2 pinches of sea salt and black pepper.
     Step 4:  Add 1/2 tablespoon of ghee.  (clarified butter)
     Add 1 teaspoon of virgin olive oil.
     Add 1 teaspoon of lemon juice.
     Step 5:  Place the pot over medium low heat.
     Bring the liquid to a gentle simmer.
     Simmer till the vegetables are tender and the volume of the soup reduces to about 2 1/4 cups.  The Molokhia will give the soup a medium thin puree consistency.
     Keep the Molokhia Soup warm over very low heat.  Add chicken broth if the soup is too thick 

     Za'atar Spice Salmon Steak:
     This recipe yields 1 portion.
     Step 1:  Season a 6 ounce salmon steak with sea salt and black pepper.
     Use a short skewer to pin the salmon belly flaps together.
     Step 2:  Heat a sauté pan over medium heat.
     Add 1 tablespoon of blended olive oil.
     Sear the salmon on both sides till a few light brown highlights appear.
     Step 3:  Remove the pan from the heat.
     Sprinkle a generous amount of Za'atar Spice on the salmon.  (About 1/2 tablespoon.)
     Drizzle 1/2 teaspoon of virgin olive oil on the Za'atar Spice. 
     Bake in a 350ºF oven till the salmon is fully cooked and the Za'atar Spice is lightly toasted.
     Step 4:  Let the salmon rest for about 1 minute before serving.
     Remove the skewer.

     Molokhia Soup with Za'atar Spice Salmon Steak and Brown Basmati Rice:
     Place a 3" wide ring mold in a shallow soup bowl.
     Place about 1 cup of the basmati rice in the ring mold and use a spoon to pack it firm.
     Place the Za'atar Spice Salmon on top of the rice.
     Ladle the Molokhia Soup into the bowl.
     Garnish the salmon with thin roasted red bell pepper strips.
     Garnish the red pepper strips with Italian Parsley leaves.
     *Be sure to warn guests that salmon steaks have bones!  

     This is a nice variation of Molokhia Soup!

Friday, March 18, 2016

Seared Steak Salad with Dijon Fennel Vinaigrette

     A Steak Salad Entrée Is A Nice Choice For Spring!
     All it takes is a sense of design to make a salad look classy.  A Composed Salad has all the ingredients arranged on the plate with planned design that has a sense of order.
     When creating a Composed Salad presentation, it is best to picture where the featured ingredients will be placed before assembling the salad.  Some chefs prefer to draw a plate diagram when planning a Compose Salad presentation, especially when the same salad will be served to several guests.  Other chefs like to make a Composed Salad example, then photograph the salad for future reference.  Either way, planning the Composed Salad is the first step, then the plan is followed so every one of the Composed Salads look exactly the same.  
     When creating a Composed Salad, key design elements to keep in mind are focal point, flow, design pattern and marrying complimentary flavors.
     • The focal point should be the center of the plate and the design of the salad should look good from the vantage point of the guest or any vantage point at the table.
     • The design pattern should be appealing to the eye and the pattern should lead the eyes of a guest to the focal point.  The design should take color into account when selecting ingredients, but flavor always should take precedence.
     • The ingredients should be arranged with flow in mind.  For example, overlapping sliced ingredients creates a cascade effect.
     • When deciding which ingredients should be placed next to each other, always favor marrying complimentary or contrasting flavor combinations.  For example, place sweet onions next to tomato, because the marriage of these two flavors tastes good together.
     • A good mind set for designing a composed salad is to not think of the task as being a project.  It is better to think of designing a composed salad as being like composing music or art.  Then the hands will follow the artistic mindset.
     • Avoid garnishes that are not integral to the recipe or presentation.  Avoid using gimmick garnishes or animated garnishes.  Animated garnishes are carved vegetables that resemble something that they are not.  All garnishes should fit in with the theme of the recipe and all garnishes have to be edible.  Leafy herbs are the most common integral garnish.  If the composed salad design looks great, then no additional garnishes are needed.  
     There are many vinaigrette recipe variations.  Some chefs say that a vinaigrette always has a precise proportion of 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar.  The 3 to 1 vinaigrette proportion is not always correct!  The oil to vinegar proportion should be tailored to best suit the food items that the vinaigrette is served with.
     Acidic ingredients, like lemon, can take the place of a portion of the vinegar when making a vinaigrette.  For example, when designing a vinaigrette for something like shrimp and romaine lettuce, add 1 teaspoon of lemon, but add 1 teaspoon less of vinegar when making the vinaigrette.
     Vinaegrette texture is another important choice.  For some items, a fully emulsified smooth vinaigrette is the best choice.  A partially emulsified vinaigrette is another style.  A stirred "loose" vinaigrette that is not emulsified at all is yet another vinaigrette texture.  Each of these 3 vinaigrette styles creates a unique visual effect.
     Dijon Fennel Vinaigrette:  
     This recipe yields about 1/4 cup.  (1 generous serving)
     Step 1:  Place 2 teaspoons of Dijon Mustard in a small mixing bowl.
     Add 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar.
     Add 1 pinch of ground fennel seed.
     Add 2 pinches of sea salt and black pepper.
     Add 1/2 tablespoon of coarsely chopped green leaves from a bulb of florence fennel.
     Step 2:  Stir the ingredients.
     Set the mixing bowl aside for 5 minutes, so the flavors meld.
     Step 3:  Add a very thin stream of 2 1/2 tablespoons of pomace olive oil, while gently whisking.
     Add a thin stream of 1/2 tablespoon of virgin olive oil, while gently whisking.
     Step 4:  Place the vinaigrette in a ceramic cup.
     Let the vinaigrette stand for 5 minutes, so the flavors meld.
     Stir before serving.
     Salad Set-Up Plate:
     This recipe yields 1 entrée size salad.
     Step 1:  Mound 2 1/4 cups of mixed baby lettuce on the center of a plate.
     Step 2:  Arrange these items around three quarters of the lettuce mound.  (Leave 1/4 of the lettuce mound open for the sliced steak):
     - 1 thin sliced button cave mushroom
     - 2 to 3 slices of sliced plum tomato
     - 1 to 2 thin slices of Bermuda Onion
     - 1/4 cup of thin sliced florence fennel
     Step 3:  Top the lettuce mound with:
     - A few thin strips of sweet pickled red bell pepper
     - A few mung bean sprouts
     Step 4:  Garnish the salad with a few small green fennel top sprigs.
     Set the salad set-up plate aside.

     Seared Steak Salad with Dijon Fennel Vinaigrette:
     Eye Of Round Steak is very lean, so this steak can only be cooked rare to medium rare, when it is used for a salad.  I chose a small Eye of Round Steak for the salad in the pictures above.
     If you prefer a temperature of medium to well done, then a small Top Sirloin Steak is a better choice.  
     Step 1:  Season a petit 5 to 6 ounce steak with sea salt and cracked black pepper.
     Heat a sauté pan over medium/medium high heat.
     Add 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil.
     Sear the steak on both sides till it is cooked to the desired finish temperature.
     Step 2:  Let the steak rest on a wire screen roasting rack over a drip pan for about 1 minute.
     Step 3:  Cut the steak into long thin slices.
     Fan the steak slices outward from center on the ungarnished section of the lettuce mound.
     Spoon some of the Dijon Fennel Vinaigrette over the vegetables and lettuce.
     Spoon some of the vinaigrette on the plate around the edge of the sliced steak.

     Viola!  A very nice light steak salad for lunch or dinner!

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Filetti Di Pollo Sophia

     Chicken Filets and Eggplant en Tomato Crème
     I learned the veal version of today's recipe while working in a Northern Italian restaurant several years ago.  I asked a few chefs at the restaurant about why the name "Sophia" was given to this entrée.  All of the chefs drew a blank.  In fact, none of the chefs recalled whether this was a regional Italian entrée or if it was a chef's creation that honored the famous movie star, Sophia Loren.  More than likely, the chef's creation guess was the safe bet. 
     Very few traditional formal fine dining restaurants offer chicken on the menu, because wild game bird entrées are much classier.  For the most part, chicken historically is considered to be peasant food, so it is rarely featured on the top spot of a classic fine dining menu, if it is offered at all.
     Veal tends to be a food item that is used to showcase refined sauces in a fine dining restaurant.  Some of the greatest classic French and Italian sauces ever made were designed for veal entrées.  Back in the 1980's, many chefs adapted classic veal sauces for seafood and poultry recipes.  Cotolette di Vitello Sophia is a good example of a veal recipe that can readily be adapted to chicken.  The only difference is the choice of meat.    
     Filetti Di Pollo Sophia:
     This recipe yields 1 entrée.
     Just like with many classic Italian sauté entrées, this entire recipe is prepared in one pan.   
     Step 1:  Trim the fat off of a large 8 ounce chicken breast filet.
     Butterfly cut the chicken breast open.
     Cut the butterflied chicken breast into 2 thin filets that are the same size.
     Step 2:  Cut the skin off of an eggplant.
     Cut 2 large eggplant medallions that are 1" thick.  (Save any extra eggplant for another recipe.)  
     Step 3:  Whisk 3 large eggs in a mixing bowl till they blended.
     Set the egg wash aside.
     Step 4:  Lightly season the eggplant and chicken filets with sea salt and white pepper.
     Dredge the chicken breast filets and eggplant medallions in flour.
     Dip the chicken and eggplant in the egg wash.
     Dredge the chicken filets and eggplant medallions in flour a second time.
     Step 5:  Heat a wide sauté pan over medium heat.
     Add 3 tablespoons of pomace olive oil.
     Add 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter.
     Place the coated chicken breast filets and eggplant medallions side by side in the pan.
     Sauté till the coating is a light golden color before flipping the chicken and eggplant.
     Sauté till the chicken and eggplant is almost fully cooked and the coating is a light golden brown color.  Be sure to flip the chicken and eggplant a few times, so they cook evenly.
     Step 6:  Remove the pan from the heat.
     Remove the chicken and eggplant from the pan and set them aside on a platter.
     Pour the spent oil out of the pan.
     Step 7:  Return the sauté pan to medium/medium low heat.
     Add 1/2 tablespoon of pomace olive oil.
     Add 1/2 teaspoon of minced garlic.
     Sauté till the garlic turns a golden color.
     Step 8:  Return the chicken and eggplant to the sauté pan.
     Add 1 cup of dry white wine.
     Add 1 tablespoon of tomato paste.
     Lightly season with sea salt and white pepper.
     Step 9:  Simmer and reduce till the volume of the sauce is about 1/3 cup.
     *Be sure to flip the eggplant and chicken occasionally, so they do not brown.
     Step 10:  Reduce the temperature to medium low heat.
     Add 1/4 cup of milk.
     Add 1 cup of cream.
     Swirl the pan so the sauce ingredients blend.
     Step 11:  Gently simmer and reduce till the sauce is a medium thin consistency that easily clings to the chicken and eggplant.
     Remove the pan from the heat.
     Place the 2 chicken filets on the front half of a plate.
     Place the 2 eggplant medallions on top of the chicken filets.
     Pour a generous amount of the sauce over the eggplant and chicken.
     Serve with vegetables of your choice.
     *Buttered sliced carrots and oven roasted red bliss potatoes accompany the entrée in the photos.
     Filetti Di Pollo Sophia has a delicate flavor that appeals to the ladies!