Saturday, August 11, 2012

Favorite Mediterranean Flavors

Take a look at this mezze plate:

From top left (clockwise):  eggplant, chick pea purée, tabouli, white cheese with mint, another scoop of tabouli
I love, love, love these flavors!  Especially when you can mop it up with Lebanese style flat bread.  And yes, that's extra olive oil poured on top...a must!

What's interesting about the eggplant "mash" (that's what I'll call it) is it's texture.  Here in France, a variety of it is made and called "caviar d'aubergine".  The texture is all about smoothness (or so I was taught).  I like this rustic, highly textured variety - made especially interesting with the addition of red peppers, herbs and onions.  It was tangy, smokey, slightly spicey and full of eggplant goodness.  I just love how the color stays so light & refreshing.

Now, look at the tabouli.  Notice how different the tabouli pictured here is from the other tabouli we have come to know and love.  Here, it is all about the parsley, then tomatoes, a bit of mint, and finally, you see there is a small bit of bulgur.  Perhaps this looks unappealing (it doesn't grab me visually, I will admit), however, whatever it lacks in looks, it more than makes up for in taste!  It is a must try.  I will start to do some recipe testing because I am now an addict and the habit is too expensive to support on the market! 

For the chickpea purée:  it is much creamier compared to "normal" hummus.  This one had a more pronounced taste of tahini (sesame seed paste) than I am accustomed to.  Very miam (that's french for yum")!

The last item here is "fromage blanc" (white cheese).  Fromage blanc, I admit, still puzzles me a little.  From where I come from, there is no such thing as fromage blanc.  Perhaps the closest we get in the US is cottage cheese, but it's completely smooth here!  It reminds me of a thicker greek yoghurt.  Anyway, no matter how I try to describe the texture, I can say that the taste is pure delight!  The added mint brings a refreshing aspect to the dip.

A take-away portion for 2 people:  30€ (including the bread which only cost 0.70 centimes!).  

I will report back with any success on the parsley tabouli and eggplant "mash"!  And I hope you have a chance to try these things.  You can find them at most open-air food markets in Paris, and at specialty middle east "traiteurs" (caterers).  And baguettes work just fine in case you don't have that flatbread...


Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Today in the Kitchen - Summer's Market Menu

Today was a day to reconnect with someone who took one of my market tours/cooking lessons/lunches last September.  We had an absolutely great time last year visiting Marché Président Wilson, stuffing chicken, making a Hollandaise sauce (ha! inside joke...) & such, her first visit to Paris.  Having fallen in love with this city as many of us do, she is now here on her 2nd adventure.

And so we teamed up again today in the kitchen.  This time we didn't concentrate solely on French cuisine as we had last year.  Anything was fair game.  The only criterion was that it had to be interesting to us and to our potential clients (she also caters).  We decided to do something very French (leeks & vinaigrette), something downright out of the blue (Halloumi, anyone?), and then Pad Thai...because of the love of it and to knock it off the "never cooked before" list.     

Here are today's creations in the kitchen:
Jeaunes poireaux, vinaigrette de noix et citron, oeuf dur râpé
Baby leeks, walnut & lemon vinaigrette, grated egg
Halloumi frit, tomates dété (Joël Thiebault), vinaigrette aux herbes
Fried Halloumi (cheese sticks), summer tomatoes, herb vinaigrette
Pad Thai aux crevettes - Shrimp Pad Thai
My thoughts on these recipes:
  1. The leeks are really nice because tasting a baby leek is interesting in and of itself.  It is something to enjoy while in season, and now is the time.  They are soft and gentle and you can eat most, if not all, of the green part.  (With older leeks, you use only the white parts).   This first course is completely subtle (unlike the other two "in your face" dishes on today's menu)...but sometimes subtle is great.  For a multi-course tasting menu, this would be a stellar beginning...
  2. That Halloumi has become my favorite new thing.  Bye-bye preserved lemon.  You've just been replaced (only momentarily though!).  I can't describe how satisfying this dish is.  It has texture.  It has flavor.  It has color.  Ace in the bucket.  Man oh man.  Can't wait to share this with other willing takers -- you must simply trust what I say!  For any Chicagoans out there, however, if you like'll understand immediately what I'm talking about and I know you will love this.  That's all I have to say.
  3. Authentic Pad Thai - the secret is in the sauce & the organization.  It is comforting and full of contrasting flavors and textures (sweet, salty, tangy, spicy, crunchy, soft...).   I don't expect many customers will request this on their menus since you can go to just about any restaurant and get a great Pad Thai, but I will for sure be repeating this for my husband and friends...très, très souvent!  (But I secretly hope people will order is amazing!)
:/ dma