Truly Tabouli

Tablouli

Tablouli

We are on a middle-eastern kick here at The Odd Pantry, and when I say ‘we’ of course I mean ‘me’. When last seen, your loyal correspondent was flipping falafels like a fiend; this time, let’s take a freshly-scented walk through the tabouli trails, a whiff of mint here, a whiff of parsley there, the tingling freshness of lemon all over.

Tabouli is a salad. Originally from the mountains of Lebanon and Syria, it is adopted all over the middle-east now. Unlike most salads here in the West (slaw being the exception), every ingredient is minced to fineness. For body and bite, it uses bulgur wheat that has been plumped up in hot water; I’m not aware of any Western salad that uses grain in a similar way. The dressing is not premixed, but rather, each ingredient is poured on and mixed in thereafter. And parsley — that sprig that is pushed to the side of every restaurant meal in America — that parsley plays a starring role.

I called it a salad, but it in the middle-east it is considered part of mezze, a kind of smorgasbord of appetizers. When it is part of a mezze platter it may be served on lettuce leaf boats. Or it might be considered a side or condiment to be stuffed inside pita bread along with other ingredients. I personally can eat a plateful all by myself.

Things to watch for

Tabouli is the descendant of an ancient Arab love of herbs, which they called qadb. And the very word tabouli comes from the word taabil meaning seasoning. What I am trying to say is, do not skimp on the herbs. The bulgur grain plays an essential but minor role, while the parsley and mint take center stage. Make sure to salt well, and lemon juice is your friend.

Also, make sure to dry each ingredient scrupulously. The herbs might be washed, then spun-dry, then laid flat on a towel to air-dry. The bulgur must be drained well. Tomatoes can be finely chopped, salted lightly and placed in a strainer to drain for ten minutes.

Armed with these notions, we are ready.

Bulgur and salt

Bulgur and salt

Bunch of parsley

Bunch of parsley

Mincing parsley

Mincing parsley

Mint

Mint

Minced mint

Minced mint

Scallions

Scallions

Herbs piled up

Herbs piled up

Squeezing  a lemon

Squeezing a lemon

Bulgur added

Bulgur added

Pouring EVOO

Pouring EVOO

Tabouli

Ingredients:
  • 1/4 cup bulgur wheat + 1/2 teaspoon salt + 1/2 cup very hot water
  • 4 loosely packed cups parsley
  • 1/2 cup to 1 cup mint leaves
  • 4 scallions, or 1/4 onion, or 1/2 shallot
  • 1 small roma tomato
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice (about one and a half lemons)
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt to taste
Method:

Before you begin, soak the bulgur and salt in half a cup of very hot water. Leave it covered, undisturbed, for half an hour. The grains will slowly swell up to the water line.

While the bulgur is soaking, rinse and spin-dry, then air-dry the herbs. Chop the tomatoes, lightly salt them and place them on a strainer to drain. Squeeze lemons for the juice.

Finely mince the parsley, mint and scallions and collect them in a big round bowl. Add the tomatoes and the drained bulgur wheat. Pour on the olive oil. Toss to combine. At this point, stop to taste for salt and add the required amount.

Pour on the lemon juice and mix nicely. Serve on lettuce leaf boats or as a side in a falafel meal.


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A Russian salad for America’s Independence Day

Russian Salad

Russian Salad

If by reading the title you expected intrigue and a spy-vs-spy story, you came to the right place. The story of Salad Olivier begins in Czarist Russia when wealth and luxuries were not yet verboten. A Belgian chef known as Lucien Olivier came to Moscow in the 1860’s bearing secrets of French cooking. He opened a fancy-shmancy restaurant in Moscow called The Hermitage. This was not a one-room affair, rather an entire building with multiple dining rooms. Here Chef Olivier served a salad with every manner of luxury ingredient and choice meat — caviar, capers, game hen, crayfish tails. He called this the Salad Olivier.

Hermitage restaurant, Moscow (source: http://www.sras.org/russian_olivier_salad)

Hermitage restaurant, Moscow (source: http://www.sras.org/russian_olivier_salad)

Of course, he did not invent this salad out of his sheer imagination but rather based it on a famous dish from Provençe known as Le Grand Aioli. This is essentially a feast of vegetables and meats, laid out separately to serve with aioli, which is basically a mayonnaise with garlic and mustard. He served his salad in layers, the ‘Provençal sauce’ on the side, to be poured over. His Russian customers would dispense with the niceties and simply mix it all up. So he followed their lead and Salad Olivier was served the Russian way, all mixed up with his Provençal sauce.

Salad Olivier made his restaurant famous; although the main ingredients of the salad were obvious for all to see, he never divulged the secret of what went into his mayonnaise. Now remember that mayonnaise at the time was a French import, not ubiquitous on every grocery shelf from Japan to the United States. It had to be made by hand. It is an emulsion, which means the liquids involved in it are so well mixed together that it is impossible to tell what went into it. So as you can see, mayonnaise is inherently mysterious. So is milk, another emulsion.

A lovely graphic showing emulsion by blog.ioanacolor.com

A lovely graphic showing emulsion by blog.ioanacolor.com

Sorry for the bad pun, but Lucien Olivier milked it. The secrets of his mayonnaise remained hidden until his grave. They had to come to his restaurant for the salad, or else go without. But then, a disgruntled local employee called Ivan Mikhailovich Ivanov tricked him into leaving his kitchen momentarily while the famous mayo was being whipped up. He managed to note down the ingredients, left the restaurant, and began selling his facsimile of Salad Olivier at a different restaurant, under the name of Capital Salad (Stolichny Salad).

This stolen salad was never quite as good as the original, but it did mean that the rest of middle-class Russia was able to partake in it. With the revolution came the backlash against all things bourgeois, and this salad was stripped of its more expensive ingredients. A sort of consensus developed around a small set of ingredients — potatoes, hard-boiled eggs, boiled chicken, peas, pickles.

From Russia it spread to the Middle-east and Asia, and to India. Growing up, my introduction to Russian salad happened in a vegetarian restaurant in India that avoided the chicken. Somewhere en route from Russia to India a very important modification was made to it — Russian salad in India always includes chunks of some crunchy fruit — pineapple, apple, etc. In my opinion this is the best part.

In fact that makes it, to my palate, more delicious than the potato salad that is traditional for July 4th barbecues, so that is what I brought to a friend’s. Any hint of treason is purely for taste.

First the mayonnaise. Lucien Olivier’s mayonnaise was an aioli, which includes garlic and mustard. I used this recipe (which used this recipe) and whipped it up in a jar.

Garlic and mustard

Garlic and mustard

Eggs, oil, garlic-mustard, lemon juice in a jar

Eggs, oil, garlic-mustard, lemon juice in a jar

Improvised double-boiler

Improvised double-boiler

Garlic mustard mayonnaise (aioli)

Ingredients:
  • 1 cup almond oil (you can use any light-tasting oil)
  • 2 medium eggs or 1 large
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • Salt to taste
Method:

Put minced garlic and mustard into  a mortar along with a pinch of salt. Give it ten minutes to sit and then pound it to a paste together. You do not have to powder the mustard seeds completely. Put the oil, eggs, garlic-mustard, lemon juice in a Ball jar or Weck jar or empty jam jar. Using an immersion blender, whir it for just about 30 seconds or a minute. The mayonnaise should come together right away.

Now my salad was going to be sitting out in the sun so I chose to heat it up to to 135ºF in a double boiler while blending away. You do not need to do this, specially if you use pasteurized eggs.

Now for the Russian salad, based on a French salad, made the Indian vegetarian way, for America’s Independence day. These are the ingredients I used, but please be creative and add whatever makes sense to you.

Ingredients for salad

Ingredients for salad

All diced

All diced

Dish lined with lettuce

Dish lined with lettuce

Mixed

Mixed

Vegetarian Russian Salad

Ingredients:
  • About 6 small red potatoes
  • 1 large carrot
  • 1 cup of frozen peas, thawed
  • 3/4 large red apple
  • 3 tablespoons slivered almonds
  • 1 small cucumber (substitute with celery)
  • About 8 outer leaves of butter lettuce
  • Half a teaspoon paprika, more for garnish
  • Salt to taste
  • About a cup of mayonnaise from above
Method:

Boil the potatoes and carrots in their skins, in salted water. When done, drain, let them cool, then dice into small pea-sized pieces. Dice the apple and cucumber into similar sized dice as well. Leave the skin on (adds a nice colorful touch). Thaw the peas.

Line your serving dish with the lettuce. Mix the ingredients together in a mixing bowl. Add the mayonnaise, paprika, and salt to taste. Mix together nicely. Serve it out in the bed of lettuce.


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Salad porn

Porn = things that excite you to look at but you can’t touch. That’s what I have for you today, Dear Reader. Not much of a recipe, just pictures of a salad we made for dinner that came out particularly colorful. Lettuce is conspicuous in its absence. In it are bitter radicchio and frisée, cherry tomatoes, blanched green beans, carrots cut into sticks, and avcado.

san bruno 002

Dressed simply with a sprinkle of salt, toss, pours of olive oil, toss, and squirts of balsamic vinegar, toss. It went quick…

san bruno 004

 

Avocado Relish

There are some Westerners who go to India and fall in love with being Indian. They make all sorts of claims about their souls being Indian, or having been Indian in some previous life time; and, if you think about it, there couldn’t be a better proof of feeling Indian than throwing around claims about previous life times. Some start to wear rudraksha beads and saffron robes. The more extreme among them might take on a Hindu name.

We have all met at least a couple such people; if not, visit your nearest ISKCON and you will. But today I will introduce you to one such friend of mine — the avocado.

This fruit with buttery green flesh is native to Mexico. To me, the taste of the avocado has always been reminiscent of the flesh of young coconut: the kind you stick a straw in first to drink up the water and then the coconut-wallah scrapes the flesh off from the inside and hands it to you, using the shell as a bowl.

But stick it in a saffron robe and you would think this fruit was born and raised in India. It takes well to a number of Indian preparations. Mix it with yogurt to make a raita. Stick in a paratha. Spice it up to make chutneys. As I experiment I will be blogging about various Indian treatments for the avocado. But today, I will make that quintessential fresh accompaniment to rich and heavily spiced food — the kachumber.

Kachumbers are little salads or relishes that emphasize freshness and coolness. A bite of this is supposed to freshen your mouth during the meal. It usually consists some combination of onion, tomato, cucumber with lime juice. Try it with avocado, as below; it brings the taste of kachumber up to lusciousness.

This makes enough as a dinner side for two.

Avocado Kachumber

Ingredients:

  • Half an avocado, large, diced
  • Quarter cup finely diced red onion
  • Quarter cup finely diced tomato
  • One third cup finely diced cucumber
  • 1 green chili, serrano or jalapeno, finely diced
  • 1-2 teaspoon minced cilantro
  • Juice of one lime or lemon
  • Half a teaspoon salt

Method:

Couldn’t be simpler. Mix it all up! We had this as a side to fish and rice.

IMG_0693IMG_0695

Post script: Although I first tasted the avocado only after I came to California, where it grows easily even in home gardens, it turns out that avocado grows in India as well, under the guise of butter fruit. It seems to be known mostly in the south, and is only available during August and September. It also has trouble hitting that right moment of ripening — sometimes the fruit rots before getting there. But if you see it, do purchase it!

King Julienne

King Julien

King Julien

King Julien is a strange character in the Madagascar series of movies. The talented Sacha Baron Cohen does his voice, and gives him an Indian accent, even though he is a native of the Madagascar island. He is a fun-loving narcissist, a ring-tailed lemur who counts bush babies among his subjects.

Odd? Yes, he is very funny, and very odd, which makes him a good mascot for the odd pantry.

This recipe, which basically consists of a number of julienned vegetables (particularly cabbage) is in honor of King Julien. I guess since it features cabbage you could call it a coleslaw which derives from Dutch koolsla and basically means cabbage salad. The dressing here is not mayonnaise-based, which gives it a lot more sharpness than the usual coleslaw.

Oddly sharp coleslaw

Ingredients

  • A scant 4 cups of shredded purple cabbage
  • A scant 4 cups of shredded arugula, loosely packed
  • Half a cup of green beans, microwaved or blanched, and julliened
  • Half a cup of firm apple, julliened
  • 1 tablespoon pinenuts
  • 1 tablespoon julliened ginger (Optional. This makes it really sharp, and if you are into that, you will love it)
  • Salt to taste
  • Half a teaspoon crumbled oregano
  • 3 – 4 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar or balsamic vinegar

Method:

IMG_0692 IMG_0695 IMG_0700 IMG_0698 IMG_0697 IMG_0693

Collect all the vegetable ingredients, nicely julliened. Toss them around in a large salad bowl. Add pinenuts, salt and oregano and toss some more. Now add olive oil and the vinegar and toss yet again.

You can eat it right away but the flavor does develop a little more if you wait fifteen minutes or so.

And you know here is a new idea…try eating it with chopsticks. Failing that, use your fingers.

Oddly sharp coleslaw

Oddly sharp coleslaw

The welcome home salad

synthesis pancakes and welcome home salad 014

What better way to end a trip — come home to a garden with lettuce spilling out of its borders, waiting to be picked. I picked some of the arugula and some frisee and made a giant salad, which was definitely a relief after airport food. The standard dressing I use is the epitome of simple, but there is a technique to it, so file this under ‘basic methods’.

synthesis pancakes and welcome home salad 012

Step 1: Salt

Salt the greens lightly, and toss it around with your fingers. You could use tongs but there is no implement quite as blunt, rubbery, strong, and with as fine control as your fingers.

Step 2: Oil.

Pour some good, green-tinged xtra virgin olive oil around on the greens. How much? Well, just like distance can be measured in light-years, I can tell you the amount of oil in seconds — for a big bowl of greens, squirt oil for around ten seconds. Once again, toss with your fingers. What this step does is coat the greens with the oil, and thereby, the grains of salt are trapped under the sheen of oil, and the seasoning has been captured; and will not easily slip off the greens into a super-seasoned pool in the bottom of the bowl.

Step 3: Vinegar.

I used balsamic. Sprinkle about five seconds (half of the oil) of balsamic vinegar on the greens and toss with your fingers. Considering that the oil is already coating the leaves, the vinegar will bead up on them (oil and vinegar don’t mix), and create little bursts of flavor.

Step 4: Accessorize.

synthesis pancakes and welcome home salad 015

Scoop the greens into bowls and add your choice of toppings. We used one avocado, cubed; and cherry tomatoes, halved. Please do halve them; the juicy insides absorb flavors better than the plastic peel on the outside; and when you’ve got good olive oil and good balsamic, that is a good thing. Place them on the bed of greens.

Hat tip: Nick Stellino, the TV chef.