A highbrow is the kind of person who looks at a sausage and thinks of Picasso.
~A.P. Herbert

Merguez, which has Bedouin and then Tunisian and Moroccan antecedents, has some assorted Arabic spellings:  (mirkas (ﻤﺮﻛﺲ), pl. marākis (ﻤﺮﺍﻛﺲ),mirkās (ﻤﺮﻛﺎﺱ), markas (ﻤﺭﻛﺲ) and mirqāz (ﻤﺮﻗﺲ).  After the French invasion, occupation and colonization of the Maghreb (“sunset” or “west”) which are the lands west of Egypt in coastal North Africa, the lamb/mutton or beef piquante sausage naturally spread to France and elsewhere.  The Maghreb was cordoned off from the rest of the continent by the immense Sahara Desert and peaks of the Atlas Mountains also their ports, often built by Phoenicians, look out on the shimmering Mediterranean Sea.  The area was conquered and settled by the Spanish, Italians, French, Arabs, Ottomans, Vandals, Carthaginians, Romans, Phoenicians, Berbers, Islamics, Turks, to name a few at differing times.  Sadly, there is nothing like conquest to make cuisine sublime.

Merquez is often served grilled, with tajines and stews, next to couscous or lentils, and in baguettes or buns with pommes frites — now, the latter is a scrumptious charcuterie and street food both.

Not that there exist constraints or restraints by any of these culinary means — with the exception of personal imagination.

A must.

MERGUEZ

1/4 C+ extra virgin olive oil
4 pounds spinach, stems removed, washed and dried well

2 medium onions peeled and cut into small cubes
6 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
2 T fresh mint leaves, chopped
2 T fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
2 T harissa
Freshly ground black pepper
2 t  quatre epices (recipe follows)

2 C water
2 C chicken stock
A splash of dry white wine
1/2 lb dried garbanzo or cannellini beans, drained

2 lbs fresh merguez sausage
1 T extra virgin olive oil

1/4 C lemon juice, freshly squeezed
Sea salt

Preheat the oven to 300 F

Heat 1/4 cup of the olive oil in a heavy Dutch oven over medium high heat. Add the spinach and cook, stirring throughout, until all the spinach has wilted and browned slightly and all the liquid has evaporated, about 20-30 minutes.

Add the onions, garlic, mint, cilantro, harissa, black pepper, and quatre epices and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes.

Pour in 4 cups water and stock and a dollop of dry white wine to the mix above, then add the garbanzos or cannellini beans. Stir, bring to a quiet simmer, and cover. Braise gently in the oven for 2 hours, or until the beans are nearly tender.

Meanwhile, heat the remaining 1 T extra virgin olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Sear the merguez on all sides, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a plate lined with a paper towel to drain well.

Stir the lemon juice into the beans and place the seared merguez on top. Cover and continue to braise until the beans are tender and the sausage is cooked through, about 30 minutes more. Season with salt to taste.

Quatre Epices
1 T allspice berries
1 T whole cloves
1 T nutmeg, freshly grated
1 T ground cinnamon

Grate the nutmeg. In a coffee mill or spice grinder, grind the allspice and cloves. Combine all of the spices in a bowl, stirring to mix. Use as needed, then store remainder in a tight, glass container in the cupboard.

Bon appetit!

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Pescatarian Purée

November 4, 2011

A humorless, but not tasteless, post.

Edamame 枝豆 which literally translates as “twig or branch beans” are large-seeded, immature soybeans in the pod. Often served boiled or steamed, straight up in the pod sprinkled with coarse sea salt. Edamame (Glycine max L.) grow in clusters on bushy branches, and the beans are plucked in the pod at the peak of ripening.

A wonder veg teeming with nutrients. Edamame is a complete protein containing all essential amino acids and is a fecund source of protein, fiber, calcium, magnesium, folate, essential fatty acids, and isoflavones.

Serve over or under sashimi, cured yellowtail, seared tuna or scallops, or maybe drizzled on a fish taco. When shucked, they also splendidly compliment salads, rice or risotto…to name a scant few.

EDAMAME & HORSERADISH PUREE

2 C edamame, shelled
1/2 t sea salt
1/2 t sugar
2 t ushukuchi (light soy sauce)
1/4 C fresh horseradish, peeled and grated
Water

Bring a large pot of water to boil. Meanwhile, prepare ice water bath in a large mixing bowl. Blanch edamame for 30 seconds, spoon out and toss them into the cold bath. Then, drain and set aside, reserving 2 tablespoons of whole beans for plating. Transfer remaining edamame to a processor fitted with a metal blade or a blender and add salt, sugar, soy sauce, horseradish and enough water to create a purée. Process in pulses until very smooth, adding water if necessary. Taste for seasoning.

For looks, finish with a scattering of the reserved edamame beans.

…continued from the previous post (before these mates become separated). This by no means relegates these luscious, humble beans to a side for huevos rancheros. Please don’t pity these promiscuous souls, though. They are far from chaste or monogamous—sharing the plate and forming the base for so many dishes. Frijoles refritos get around for good reason.

Refried beans should be kept warm by spooning them into a bowl seated in a pan of hot water over low heat. If they become a touch dry, stir in a little broth.

FRIJOLES REFRITOS (REFRIED BEANS)

2 1/2 C dried pinto or pink beans
1 T bacon drippings or pork lard
1 T vegetable or canola oil
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
1 bay leaf
2 1/2 qts water

1-2 t sea salt

On a baking pan, sort through the beans, removing any stones or debris. Slide the beans into a colander and rinse.

Then, pour the cleansed beans into a deep, heavy pot or Dutch oven. Add water and remove any beans that float. Add the drippings or lard, vegetable or canola oil, onion, and bay leaf then bring to a rolling boil, promptly reducing the heat to keep the liquid at a very gentle simmer. Cover with the top just slightly ajar and simmer, adding water as needed to keep the liquid level roughly the same, until the beans are thoroughly tender, about 2 hours.

Stir in the salt and simmer for about 15 minutes longer to allow for absorbtion, then taste and adjust. Remove and discard the bay leaf. The beans may then be mashed and cooked for frijoles refritos.

2 T bacon drippings
1 medium white onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
1 t cumin seeds, roasted and then ground

4 C undrained, cooked beans (see above), slightly warm

Sea salt, to taste
1/2 C queso fresco or queso anejo, crumbled

In a large nonstick skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until nicely golden, about 10 minutes.

Stir in the garlic and cumin, cook for a minute or so, then spoon in about 1/4 of the beans, leaving the bean broth behind for later. Mash the beans into a coarse purée.

Add another large spoonful of beans, mash again, and continue until all the beans have been added and coarsely mashed. They should not be smoothly puréed—rather more textured like smashed potatoes.

Add a cup or so of the bean broth and stir over heat until the beans are still a little soupy as they will thicken while resting. Taste and season with salt, if needed.

Sprinkle with the crumbled queso fresco or queso anejo.

I could have a roomful of awards and it wouldn’t mean beans.
~Bobby Darin

Sometimes called turtle beans, black beans (Phaselous vulgaris) derived from a common legume ancestor that originated in Peru. From there, these hard, shiny, ovoid beans were spread throughout South and Central America by migrating indigeneous peoples. In the 15th and 16th centuries, Spanish explorers, returning from New World voyages, introduced these beans to Europe. They were subsequently strewn throughout Africa and Asia by Spanish and Portuguese traders and are now savory staples in cuisines throughout the world.

Like other legumes, black beans abound in dietary fiber and are rich in antioxidant compounds. They are also a fine source of protein, as well as calcium, iron, folic acid and potassium.

BLACK BEAN SOUP

16 ozs black beans, washed and picked over for stones. debris and damaged beans
2 qts water

2 T canola oil
1 T bacon drippings or duck fat
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
4 plump garlic cloves, peeled and minced
2 t lightly toasted cumin seeds
2 t chipotle chili powder

Sea salt, to taste
2 canned chipotle chiles in adobo, seeded and finely chopped

Lime juice, from 1 lime

6 green onions, chopped
Plain yogurt or queso fresca
1/2 C chopped cilantro

Soak the beans in the water overnight. Then rinse well with clean water. Grind cumin seeds in a spice grinder or coffee grinder assigned that kitchen function.

Heat the oil and bacon drippings or duck fat over medium high heat in a large, heavy soup pot or Dutch oven, until hot and then add the onion. Cook, stirring, until it begins to soften, about three minutes, and add the garlic, cumin and chipotle powder. Continue cooking, until fragrant, about one minute, then add the beans and soaking water. The beans should be covered by about two inches of water. Add more water as needed, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, and skim off any foam that rises. Cover and simmer one hour.

Add the salt and chipotles. Continue to simmer another hour or so, until the beans are soft, and the broth is thick and fragrant.

Scoop out two cups of whole cooked beans with a straining spoon, then partially purée the remaining mixture using an immersion blender, or a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Return the purée and whole cooked beans to the pot or Dutch oven and bring to a simmer. Remove from the heat and add the lime juice. Ladle into shallow soup bowls and garnish with green onion, yogurt or queso fresco, and cilantro. Serve with warm corn tortillas.

Pourboire: To shorten the prep time, skip the overnight soak and boil the beans for two minutes. Remove the pan off the heat, cover and allow to stand for two hours.

Soupe Au Pistou

June 13, 2009

So, how do you grant shrift to spellbinding Provence? Note to Will: brevity is not always the soul of wit (whit).

Simply identify it as Provençal: Provença in classical norm or Prouvènço in Mistralian norm, a region of southeastern France? In a droning museum voice name it as a host to Paleolithic sites dating to 900,000 B.C? Call it home to a permanent Greek settlement called Massalia, established at modern day Marseilles in about 600 B.C. by colonists coming from Phocaea (now Foça, on the Aegean coast in modern Turkey)? Christen it the first Roman province outside of Italy? Baptize it as the “annex” of the formerly Italian Roman Catholic papacy which moved to Avignon in the 14th Century? Title it an abode to the souls of Cézanne, van Gogh, Renoir, Matisse, Chagall, and Picasso? Or just not so blandly classify it as a region that comprises the départements of Var, Vaucluse, and Bouches-du-Rhône and parts of Alpes-de-Haute-Provence and Alpes-Maritimes?

So many missteps, so much left out. Such is the construct of a blog. But, beyond cavil or retort, Provence and Italy are viscerally intermingled. Consider something as simple as pizzas or the subtle difference between pesto vs. pistou. Sans pine nuts, they are still divinely intertwined.

Soupe au pistou is a more than memorable Provençal soup that is brimming with summer garden bounty…gifts from friends at the market. Thanks, John, et al.

Footnote:
see I am Sam, Sam I am, infra for pesto.

SOUPE AU PISTOU

1/2 C dried lima or white beans
Bouquet garni I: bay leaves, fresh sprigs of parsley, thyme, and basil twined together
3 T extra virgin olive oil
3 plump, fresh garlics, peeled and minced
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Pistou:
6 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
Pinch of sea salt
3 C fresh basil leaves, washed
1/2 C extra virgin olive oil

1/3 C extra virgin olive oil
3 medium leeks, white part only, cut lengthwise, then into thin half rings
2 medium onions, peeled and coarsely chopped
8 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and very thinly sliced (almost shaven)

2 medium carrots, trimmed, peeled and cut into half discs
1/2 fennel bulb, finely chopped
4 medium potatoes, peeled and chopped
Bouquet garni II: bay leaves, fresh sprigs of parsley, thyme, and basil twined together

2 medium zucchini, trimmed and chopped
2 tomatoes, cored, seeded and chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

1 C diminutive pasta such as ditalini, conchigliette or acini di pepe

1 C freshly grated parmiggiano reggiano
1 C freshly grated gruyère

Rinse beans and remove any imperfections. Place the beans in a large bowl and add boiling water to cover. Set aside for 1 hour. Drain the beans.

In a large, heavy saucepan, stir together the olive oil, garlic and bouquet garni. Cook over medium heat until garlic is soft, about 2 minutes. Add the beans and stir to coat with oil and garlic. Cook an additional minute, then add 1 quart of water. Stir, then cover, bring to a simmer and cook approximately 30 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Remove and discard bouquet garni I. Set beans aside.

Meanwhile, combine garlic, salt and basil in a food processor or blender or a mortar and process in bursts to a paste. Drizzle in olive oil in a thin, continuous stream while processing. Stir to blend well. Set the pistou aside.

In a large heavy stockpot or Dutch oven, combine the leeks, onions, and garlic over low heat and cook until soft and translucent, stirring occasionally. Do not brown or burn. Add the carrots, fennel, potatoes, and bouquet garni II to the pot, and cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes. Remove and discard bouquet garni II. Now, add the beans and their cooking liquid, the zucchini and tomatoes, along with 2 quarts of water to the pot. Simmer gently, uncovered, about 20 minutes.

Add the pasta and simmer, uncovered, until the pasta is cooked, about 10 minutes. Remove and discard bouquet garni II. Stir in half of the pistou and half of the cheese.

Serve soup, passing remaining pistou and cheeses at the table.

A Cupboard Not Bare

January 19, 2009

Even the most resourceful housewife cannot create miracles from a riceless pantry.
~Chinese proverb

Before traipsing into the kitchen or addressing the grill, some thought needs to be given to the provisions on hand. Not only would it be unrealistic to expect all ingredients to be locally fresh throughout the year, but the time constraints of daily life often demand an impromptu table. Having a well supplied (and periodically restocked) pantry is simply essential for home cooks to produce remarkable meals without a last minute forage at the neighborhood market. Some cupboard items can even prove superior to the fresh versions in certain seasons or preparations while others only come in pantry form.

The list below is not exhaustive, but is intended to be fairly comprehensive for the lay cook. Of course, you will tailor your pantry to suit your palate and home cuisine. However, before you reject this list due to storage size restrictions alone, please keep in mind that almost all of these items are carefully housed in the cabinets of our minimalist urban kitchen with a small frig.

Oils –- extra virgin olive, canola, peanut, grapeseed, vegetable, white truffle, avocado, walnut, sesame

Vinegars — red wine, balsamic, champagne, apple cider, sherry, port, rice wine

Spices & Herbs — black peppercorns, white pepper, green peppercorns, pink peppercorns, mixed peppercorns, cayenne pepper, salt (sea, gray, kosher), herbes de provence, fine herbes, ras el hanout, za’atar, sage, thyme, rosemary, oregano, bay leaves, tarragon, fennel seeds, fennel pollen, savory, celery seed, mustard, turmeric, cardamom, paprika, pimentón, cumin seeds, coriander seeds, caraway seeds, curry powder (homemade) & curry paste, fenugreek leaves, garam masala, caraway seeds, nutmeg, cinnamon (sticks/ground), chipotle chile powder, ancho chile powder, star anise, sesame seeds (black, white), allspice, anise seeds, saffron threads, wasabi powder, rubs (i.e., asian, ancho chili, dried mushroom, rosemary & pepper, tandoori, basic barbeque), local hot sauce(s), barbeque (preferably near home) sauces

Grains & Pastas — rice (white long grained, wild, brown, jasmine, basmati), polenta, risotto, pastas (potentials: taglilatelle, linguini, spaghetti, penne, lasagne, orzo, tortellini, orcchietta, capellini, farfalle, capaletti, cavatappi, cavatelli, fusilli, gnocchi, macaroni, papparadelle, ravioli, vermicelli), couscous, Israeli couscous, rice (cellophane) noodles (vermicelli–bun & sticks–banh pho)

Asian –- soy sauce, shoyu, white shoyu, hoisin sauce, chili garlic sauce/paste, sriracha, nuoc mam nhi(fish sauce), nuoc mam chay pha san, hoisin sauce, red, yellow & green curry pastes, mirin, sake, coconut milk, miso pastes (white, red), oyster sauce, wasabi paste/powder, five spice, tamarind paste, mirin, rice flour, panko bread crumbs, kochujang, gochu garu, konbu

Garlic, shallots, ginger, potatoes, yellow & red onions, dried chiles

Mustards, chutneys, capers, sun dried tomatoes, anchovies, tomato paste, harissa, tahini, creme fraiche, pickles

Canned tomatoes (san marzano + homemade), stock (homemade/canned)

Legumes –- lentils (several colors + lentils du puy), garbanzos, cannellinis, white beans, black beans, navy beans

Booze — red & white wine, cognac (brandy), port wine, Madeira, sherry, eau de vie

Baking — flour, sugars (white granulated, raw cane, light brown, confectioner’s), baking powder, cornstarch, cornmeal, yeast, cocoa, dark chocolate (70-85% cocoa)

Flavorings –- almond extract, vanilla beans, vanilla extract, Tabasco, Worcestershire

Dried fruits — currants, apricots, figs, prunes, currants

Nuts –- pine nuts, walnuts, almonds, pistachios, hazelnuts, pecans, unsalted peanuts

Honeys (local, raw, unprocessed), mi-figue mi-raisin, raspberry and strawberry preserves, apricot jam, pure maple syrup, peanut butter

Dairy –- whole milk, unsalted butter, eggs, buttermilk, heavy whipping cream

Fruits –- lemons, oranges, grapefruit, blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, heirloom tomatoes

Cheeses –- parmigiano reggiano, pecorino romano, gruyère, marscarpone, roquefort or gorgonzola, feta, fontina, manchego

Meats proscuitto, serrano

Spreads tapenades, caponata, hummus