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Posts Tagged ‘israeli couscous’

Sorry to all of my loyal readers (all 3 of you) for not posting anything in a while. Been pretty busy with life and life itself. Yesterday was by birthday however, so Yuki and Otis took me out for dinner. Tired of overpaying for mediocre celebrity-chef meals I wanted to go somewhere more casual and Otis-friendly. Also, now that we’re in the South Loop I wanted somewhere close. So, Tapas Valencia it was.

We’ve actually been there once before a long time ago. We joined a couple of friends for their happy hour tapas specials before heading down to Hyde Park to watch the movie, “Food, Inc.”. I remember it being very good and had a taste for bacon-wrapped dates. It all made perfect sense to head there last night.

Without further ado, here’s what was on our dinner table.

First up was the Calamares A La Plancha. The squid was perfectly cooked…soft and tender, yet crispy at the same time. A little too much salt, but not so much that it killed the dish.

Next we had the Jamon con Melon. You really can’t beat quality Serrano Ham on top of ripe, sweet, juicy cantaloupe. With cantaloupe at it’s finest about now we couldn’t pass on this one. Served with a simple cucumber and tomato relish this was tapas at it’s finest.

Then we had the Pado Confitado, duck confit with apples and mushrooms. Fall-apart duck leg, apples, and mushrooms…need I say more?

I can’t remember the name of this dish in Spanish, it was a special on the menu. Short rib braised in Rioja and then served with garlic and rosemary Israeli Couscous and spinach. While this dish was missing one note, something slightly acidic like tomato or even a small squirt of orange or lemon, this could’ve been an entrée unto itself.

Finally, our last tapas (or is it tapa?), the Datiles Con Tocino. Crisp bacon around sweet dates smothered in a roasted red pepper sauce, that’s where it’s at! A true crowd-pleaser if there ever was one.

While I did say that was our last tapas, it wasn’t our last dish. We also split an order of the Paella Valenciana. Paella with mussels, clams, shrimp, and chicken. This was huge! I’m glad we only got one order. I will say that my paella is a little better, but this was a very delicious paella, it just didn’t have that crisp burnt rice on the bottom that I love. I wasn’t dissatisfied at all though.

For dessert we split the flan of the day, coconut. Not too rich or sweet, this one was just right. I don’t think coconut is typical in Spain, but coconut almost always makes a great flan. This is one of the better flan in Chicago.

To drink it all down we forgoed the Sangria and went for a couple of glasses of Clara, which apparently is Spain’s most popular drink right now. It’s Alhambra Beer (a Spanish Lager) with a little lemonade. I was a little skeptical at first, but I will say that it wasn’t bad at all. I mean, you put lime in Corona, why not a little lemonade in Spanish Lager?

The service was great too. Very friendly and attentive. They gave us more of a private table where Otis’s stroller wouldn’t get in the way, and where it’d be a little quieter for him. Food was served and cleared in a timely fashion as well. It was a little slow being a Wednesday night, but this seems to be a very well run restaurant.

All in all, there are probably better Spanish and Tapas joints somewhere, but I haven’t found them yet here in Chicago. The dishes are well prepared, the portions are big, and the quality of ingredients are high. If anything, and I hate to say this, the prices might be a little too low for what you get. But don’t tell Tapas Valencia that.

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When walking around just about any market in Israel you’ll come across all sorts of really good food. Falafel, schawarma, and various kabobs. Another staple of the Israeli street food scene is grilled chicken. With Tamiko headed back to Japan last Thursday I wanted to make her one last delicious dinner that she couldn’t get at home. Since she really enjoyed the Middle Eastern food that she had, and loves cucumbers (even though I’m not the biggest fan), I decided to make this dinner for her.

I thought, what better soup to accompany Israeli Grilled Chicken than Israeli Couscous Tomato Soup? I used about 1/2 cup of chopped parsley, 1/2 teaspoon of turmeric, 1 teaspoon of cumin, 1/2 small onion diced, 3 garlic cloves minced, 1 carrot cut into half-moons, 14oz can of diced tomatoes, 1/2 cup of Israeli Couscous, and 1 cup of chicken stock. Oh, once I cut everything up I noticed that I had 1/2 red bell pepper in my fridge, so I diced that up as well.

I heated my soup pan up and poured in about 2 tablespoons of olive oil. I added the garlic and let it go for about 30 seconds and then tossed the onion in. The onion sweat down for about 6 minutes and then I added the carrot and red bell pepper. I let them sweat down for another 6 minutes and then added the can of tomatoes. Once the tomatoes started to boil I poured in the chicken stock and added the spices, along with some salt and pepper. I let it come to a boil and then added the couscous. Once it started to boil again I covered the pan, turned the heat to med-low, and let it simmer for about 15 minutes. When the soup was done I realised that I needed a bit more liquid as the couscous absorbed a good amount, so I poured in about 1/4 cup of water and added the parsley.

While the soup was simmering I threw together an Israeli cucumber salad. I used 1/4 cup of chopped parsley, the juice of 1 lemon, 2 tomatoes diced, 1 cucumber seeded and diced, a  few leaves of lettuce chopped, and some olive oil.

I threw all of the vegetables into a glass bowl. Then I made a lemon vinaigrette. I squeezed the lemon juice into a cup and then poured twice as much olive oil in as there was lemon juice (rule of thumb, for vinaigrettes use 2 parts oil for every 1 part acid). I seasoned it with salt and pepper and then emulsified it with my whisk. I poured the vinaigrette all over the vegetables and tossed it all together.

For this chicken there was no need for a long marinade. I simply took some skin-on, bone-in thighs and squeezed some lemon juice all over them after scoring the skin. Then I sprinkled a little turmeric, cumin, and paprika all over them, along with some salt and pepper. Then it was off to the grill.

On the grill I started them off skin-side down on the lower rack with the flames at med-high. I left it there for a few minutes in order for the skin to get nice and crisp. Then I moved the chicken to the upper rack, turning it over skin-side up. I lowered the heat to medium, closed the lid, and let it cook for about 6 or 7 minutes until it was cooked through. Each grill is different, but for skin-on chicken thighs it’s best to use a direct heat first on the skin and then an indirect on the bottom. That gets the skin crisp and keeps the meat moist.

I garnished the plates with some chopped parsley. We had some white rice on the side and cold beer to wash it all down.

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For Meatless Monday last night I had an almost failed attempt at making falafel. To make falafel, you need to start way in advance and soak some dried chickpeas in water for about 8 hours. We were out at the Morton Arboretum all afternoon when I got the urge to make falafel, so I tried to make it using canned chickpeas. As you’ll see, that just doesn’t do the trick as canned chickpeas are way too soft and don’t have nearly the same texture. Lesson learned.

In my food processor I tossed in 2 cans of chickpeas (the pic shows 3, but I only used 2), half a chopped red onion, 5 garlic cloves, 1 teaspoon cumin, 1 teaspoon coriander seeds, 1/2 tablespoon baking powder, and a handful of basil leaves. Typically, besides soaked dried chickpeas, you’d use parsley. I didn’t have any parsley so I used basil. It actually worked quite well flavor-wise. At any rate, I processed everything into a paste and let it sit for about half hour. During that time I got everything prepped for the Israeli Couscous soup I made to accompany.

For the soup I used 1 14oz can of diced tomatoes, the half of red onion diced, 1 quart of vegetable stock, 1 carrot chopped, 2 cloves of garlic minced, 1 cup of Israeli couscous, some basil, 1 teaspoon of coriander seeds crushed in my pestle and mortar, 1 teaspoon of turmeric, and 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne.

I also had time to throw together my tomato and cucumber salad. I chopped up 1/2 head of iceberg lettuce, half a seedless cucumber, and halved the rest of my cherry tomatoes (about 1/2 the container). I set the lettuce aside and threw the cucumber and tomatoes in a large bowl. I zested the lemon on top. In a separate bowl I juiced half of the lemon, tossed in a pinch of salt and a pepper, and then poured some olive oil in at a ratio of 2 parts oil 1 part juice. With a wisk I emulsified it into a smooth dressing and poured that in with the cucumbers and tomatoes and then tossed to coat. I set all of the salad ingredients aside.

Then, I laid some wax paper on a baking sheet and formed walnut-sized balls of the falafel mix on top. I sprinkled the tops with some sesame seeds. I was a little worried about the texture because it was kind of soft, but I thought everything would be ok. I let the falafel balls sit for about 15 minutes while I got the deep fryer ready and made the soup.

To make the soup I poured a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a hot pot. I added the onion and carrot and let them saute for about 5 minutes. Then I added the garlic. 30 seconds later I poured in the can of tomatoes with the juice, the stock, and all of the spices along with some salt and pepper. Once it came to a light boil I added the couscous, partially covered the pot, and turned the heat down to medium-low to let it slowly simmer while I fried the falafel.

Once the oil was ready, 375 degrees, I dropped 3 balls in and let them go. A minute later when I checked on their progress I noticed that they were much smaller than they were at the start. I put them back in for a minute and then checked again…even smaller. The oil had basically disintegrated them. They were way too loose. What a waste of oil! While I was pissed, I didn’t panic. I had to switch gears and do it quickly so that the couscous wouldn’t overcook.

I quickly got out my big pan and heated it to high. I poured in some oil and ended up shallow frying the falafel. They turned out to be more like falafel latkes and did start to fall apart in the pan as well. I was able to salvage most of it though and turn out a decent dinner. It did take a little longer than I wanted and the couscous overcooked a little, they were a bit soft. Oh well, what can you do? Disasters are half of the fun of cooking.

To serve I added the basil and juice from the other half of the lemon to the soup just before ladling it into the bowls. On the plates I laid down some of the lettuce, then the cucumber and tomato salad, and then topped that with the falafel…we’ll call them patties. All in all it didn’t taste bad at all. Complete failure averted.

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Last night I used up ingredients that were already in my fridge. Fresh vegetables don’t last forever, so I use them up within a couple of days after purchasing them. I decided to make a nice soup and get some salmon to grill alongside it.

For the soup, I started by sweating down half an onion, a carrot, and a rib of celery (all chopped) in some olive oil. After about 7 minutes I tossed in 2 crushed garlic cloves. A couple of minutes later I added a half of a yellow bell pepper chopped. I let that all sweat out for a few more minutes.

Then I dumped in one 14oz can of diced tomatoes (no salt added), one cup of chicken stock, and 1.5 cups of water. I stirred that all around and seasoned with some salt. There was a Parmigiano Reggiano rind in my cheese drawer, I try not to through them away once the grateable part of the cheese is used for reasons like this, so I dropped that in as well. By doing so a subtle sharpness is added to both the taste and aroma, you can tell there’s Parmigiano in there. Once that started to boil I covered the pot and simmered over a med-low heat for about 20 minutes.

I had a zucchini in my fridge from the day before, so I chopped that up and added it along with a half cup of Israeli couscous that was sitting in my cabinet. Then I let the soup simmer for another 10 minutes.

All I did to the salmon was rub some olive oil over the flesh, then salt and pepper. I grilled it to get the skin crisp.

To serve, I drizzled a little balsamic vinegar on the salmon and garnished with some fresh basil. I also sliced up a handful of basil and added it to the soup along with some black pepper just before serving. White rice was also on the menu.

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Last night I made some delicious Lamb Kofta with the leftover berbere spice from the Doro Wat. I thought I’d stick with a Middle Eastern theme by serving it with some homemade Baba Ghanoush, roasted red pepper and yellow string beans, and an Israeli Couscous and Tomato soup. Of course, it wouldn’t be complete without some pita.

Before I made the kofta, I roasted two eggplants on the burner for the baba ghanoush. Once the skin was nice and charred I set them in a bowl, covered them with plastic, and let them sit for an hour.

So, to make the kofta I mixed in the berbere spice (there was about 1.5 tablespoons left), 1 teaspoon of turmeric, salt, pepper, 6 grated garlic cloves, half an onion grated, 1 jalapeno seeded and diced, 1 slice of bread crumbed, 1 beaten egg, 1 tablespoon of tomato paste, some chopped cilantro, and the juice from a half lemon into 1 pound of ground lamb. Once mixed I let it rest for a half hour covered in the fridge.

After the meat was rested, I wet my hands and formed 8 patties. They were set aside until time to cook.

Then I started on the couscous. I sautéed half an onion in some olive oil for about 10 minutes, then I added three grated garlic cloves. A few minutes later I threw in a diced carrot. That cooked for about 6-7 minutes, then I added a 14oz can of diced tomatoes and two cups of chicken stock. Once that was all mixed together I grated three more garlic cloves and tossed them in along with some salt, pepper, and about a tablespoon of cumin and a teaspoon of cayenne. I let that simmer for about 10 minutes covered over med-low heat.

After that I turned on the broiler and drizzled olive oil on the red pepper slices and yellow string beans. I seasoned them and threw them under the broiler. I left them there for about 10-15 minutes, during which time I finished the baba ghanoush.

I peeled the skin off the eggplants and mashed them up real good with a fork. I added 2 cloves of grated garlic, about 8 tablespoons of tahini, the juice from 1 lemon, and about a half teaspoon of cumin.

Then I heated some oil in a pan and cooked the kofta. I left them on for about 6 minutes each side, that gave them a nice crust, but kept them juicy. I also added about a cup of Israeli couscous to the tomato soup at this point to let it cook while the kofta was going.

Once everything was done I added a handful of chopped cilantro to the soup and plated it all up. The leftovers made a fantastic pita sandwich for lunch today!

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