Monday, June 29, 2009

Orzo Ruach Pasta Salad

I came up with this pasta salad recipe on the drive home from work the other day. I had to prepare something for a potluck dinner, and I needed to do something different. I just couldn't face doing the same Mediterranean-ish rotini pasta salad with feta, mint, cucumber, tomato, and red wine vinegraitte. Granted, that's a good dish too, but I had done it to death and ennui was setting in. So, I came up with a new recipe, and I'm very proud of it.

The name of the recipe is a Hebrew pun, but it's probably not worth trying to explain it on the blog. Just pat me on the head and say, "That's nice dear."

This recipe makes quite a bit as you would expect for a potluck dish. If you are making it for your family, I would recommend cutting in half. Or make the full amount and bring it for lunch the next day. Everyone will ooh and aah...right before they defrost their Lean Cuisine.

Orzo Ruach Salad

1 ½ cups dry orzo
2 cups cooked chick peas
1 medium-size cucumber
1 large tomato
¼ cup chopped fresh mint
¼ cup kalamata olives
¼ cup sesame seeds
½ cup water
2 Tbs. lemon juice
1 Tbs. olive oil
¼ tsp. salt
1 tsp. sesame oil
½ tsp. cumin
2 cloves pressed garlic

Cook the orzo according to package directions. It should be al dente. Drain the pasta.

Coursely chop the cucumber, tomato, and olives and mix into the orzo.

In a food processor, process the sesame seeds until they become powdery. Add the remaining ingredients and continue processing until the dressing is thoroughly mixed and slightly frothy. Mix the dressing into the orzo.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

My Buddy Carob

Show of hands many of you came of age in the 1970s? OK, good. Now how many of you had parents who belonged to a food co-op? Wonderful. Now, of those, how many of you remember carob? Great. One more many of you have introduced carob to your children?

Both of you? Thank you. I hope you two are proud of yourselves. You may put your hands down now.

For those of you who know nothing of this wonderful fruit, carob (a.k.a. St. John’s Bread a.k.a. locust bean a.k.a. boxer) is the edible pod of the carob tree. Carob trees are large trees (50-55 feet at maturity) that primarily grow in Mediterranean climates. Carob pods contain both pulp (90%) and seeds (10%). The seeds yield locust bean gum, a complex polysaccharide (galactomannan) which is an important commercial stabilizer and thickener in bakery goods, ice cream, salad dressings, sauces, cheese, salami, bologna, canned meats and fish, jelly, mustard, and other food products. The rest of the pod can be roasted and ground into carob powder which is made into a wide variety of foods, including drink mixes, baked goods, candy bars, candy-coated fruit and nuts, and ice cream.

Carob has a very long and proud history. Its seeds are very regular in size and are thought to be the origin of the word ‘carat,’ as jewelers would use carob seeds to weigh out diamonds. Due to its high sugar content and relatively low cost, carob pulp was among the first horticultural crops used for the production of industrial alcohol by fermentation in several Mediterranean countries.

Carob seemed to really come of age in this country back in the 1970s, primarily as a chocolate substitute. Carob powder is higher in fiber, calcium, and vitamin A than cocoa powder, and it is lower in saturated fat, theobromine, and caffeine. More recent studies have shown that carob plays a role in treating hypercholesterolemia.

Back in the day, healthfood stores and restaurants sold carob goodies in every shape and size. I fondly remember the healthfood store in South Bend, Indiana that sold carob ice cream along with its bran muffins and fruit juice-sweetened cookies.

So, what happened? Where did all the carob products go? Why is it so hard to find good, tasty, sugar-sweetened carob candies nowadays? I am sure that the food scientists and agronomists will point to the world-wide decline in carob production over the past 50 years primarily due to low prices and low consumption. However, I blame it on all the idealists and hippies and new agers and health foodies. You all got lazy. The moment those first studies came out linking dark chocolate to antioxidants, you dumped carob like a bad prom date.

Shame on you.

Granted, as a chocolate substitute, carob is a paltry surrogate. Carob truly has its own personality. It had a roasty, earthy, sweet flavor that does not have the bitter refinement of chocolate. It is the Jerry Garcia of confections.

However, carob will always have a place in my heart. When I was a young boy, I was allergic to chocolate. From the age of about five through high school, I ate no chocolate. Picture it: no Three Musketeers bars, no Klondike bars, no Oreos, no Hydrox, no Hershey bars, and no M&Ms. I grew up eating only half of black and white cookies. I could only eat two-thirds of Neapolitan ice cream. Chocolate was this ubiquitous presence, always laughing at me, taunting me, giving me the proverbial wedgie.

But carob was my loyal friend. Carob stood by me when chocolate left me out in the cold.

So, even now that I have outgrown my chocolate allergy, I still have a soft spot for carob. Every Tu B’Shevat, I make carob bars (recipe to come later). I still occasionally make carob chip cookies, carob brownies, and carob cake.

A couple of weeks ago, my youngest son begged me to make some peanut butter carob chip cookies. I happily acquiesced. When my wife, who equates dark chocolate with earthly pleasures usually only found in the Kama Sutra, heard what we were making, she had only one question. “Why?”

How could I explain to her the nostalgia, the comfort, the companionship inherent in a single carob chip? How could I explain to her the childhood memories that flood back every time I open a canister of carob powder? I didn’t even try.

“Why not?” I answered. And that seemed good enough for her.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Almond Chipotle Burgers

Almonds have an exalted place among the "superfoods," foods that go bey0nd basic nutrition to help fight disease or improve health. Almonds provide a nutrient-dense source of vitamin E, manganese, magnesium, copper, phosphorus, fiber, riboflavin, monounsaturated fatty acids, and protein, and they have been shown to reduce low-density lipoproteins (the bad, naughty, evil cholesterol often portrayed with a pencil-thin mustache and a black cloak). Almonds have a low glycemic index and do not adversely impact insulin sensitivity. Furthermore, almonds can be an effective part of a weight loss strategy even though the nut is 50% fat by weight. According to a review in the Journal of Science of Food and Agriculture, "habitual almond consumption does not lead to weight gain, and their inclusion in low-calorie diets appears to promote more weight loss than a comparable carbohydrate-based low-calorie diet."

Furthermore, nutritionist Monica Reinagel (my latest hero/obsession) reported a study in a recent Ask Monica blog that found that those people who chewed almonds for a longer period of time (40 times) felt more full than those who chewed them for a shorter period of time (10-25 time). I don't know if the take home message of the study was that almonds are an effective appetite suppressant or that masticating is good for you, but I think it's worth mentioning nonetheless...particularly because I heard it from Monica. And she is my new obsession. Or did I mention that?

Anyway, here is a good summer recipe that came to me tonight in a flash of inspiration. If you can cook these over a charcoal grill, go for it. Otherwise, the broiler works just fine.

Almond Chipotle Burgers
2 cups almonds
1/2 small onion
1/2 green bell pepper
1 carrot, peeled
1 medium stick of celery
1/2 cup rolled oats
6 oz. tomato paste (1 small can)
1 egg
1-2 tsp. dried chipotle pepper, ground in a mortar and pestle
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven on the broiler setting. Grind the almonds, onion, bell pepper, carrot, and celery in a food processor. Mix in by hand the rolled oats, tomato paste, egg, and dried chipotle pepper. Add salt and pepper. Form the mixture into 10 burger-sized patties and cook under a broiler for 2-4 minutes per side.

This burger is best served on a bun with a slice of tomato. The cool of the tomato perfectly balances the spicy burger.