Mediterranean Diet—Indian Style

PART OF WHAT I LOVE ABOUT THE MEDITERRANEAN DIET is how varied it is—you never get bored. This many-flavored cooking isn’t surprising really—the Mediterranean Sea reaches the shores of more than 15 countries, and each culture brings its own flair and flavors—from tagines to taboulleh, ratatouille to risottos—to the basic ingredients of the traditional Mediterranean way of eating. 

The ingredients:

~An abundance of plants: vegetables, fruits, grains (mostly whole), pulses (legumes like beans and lentils), nuts and seeds

~Olive oil as your major fat (substituting for margarine or butter)

~Fish, seafood, poultry a couple of times a week (especially fish)

~Every-other-day-or-so eggs, cheese and yogurt

~Red meat less often (a few times a month)

~Wine with meals (in moderation—one or two glasses for men, one for women), unless it puts you at risk, of course

Choose Your Favorite Flavor. What’s interesting is that, traveling beyond the shores of the Mediterranean, you can find inspiration for even more meals made with these building blocks of the traditional healthy Mediterranean diet. The other day, I couldn’t resist a recipe for “Chickpea Curry and Cucumber,” from Meeru Dhalwala and Vikram Vij, chef/owners of Vij’s (“easily among the finest Indian restaurants in the world,” writes Mark Bittman) and Rangoli restaurants in Vancouver. A friend in Montreal gave me her extra copy of one of their cookbooks, Vij’s at Home—lucky me. The subtitle, “Relax, Honey: The Warmth and Ease of Indian Cooking” says everything about its approach.
A Familiar Ingredients List. It struck me right away how many characteristics this recipe for a “warm salad” shared with so many in the Mediterranean diet: It’s a one-dish meal of beans and vegetables—warm chickpeas with tomatoes, with the lovely contrast of cool cucumbers.
These are all made irresistible with the big flavors of various spices and herbs—ginger, peppers, cilantro—and citrus. Since I usually cook with extra-virgin olive oil, I just went ahead and used it in this dish, too. (The first time I made this, I couldn’t find mango powder but that problem was solved by a visit to Kalustyan’s, whose selection of fresh spices is hard to beat.)
It’s great to discover another take on chickpeas-as-a-meal: This will definitely become a regular on our table—it’s simple and quick to make on a work night. So for anyone who’s interested in the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet and loves Indian flavors, the basic ingredients above are endlessly adaptable.

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New York, NY 10016

Meatless Monday Recipe: Kale and White Bean Stew

I BECAME A KALE FAN JUST A FEW YEARS AGO when my friend Brenda made an amazing kale and roasted chicken recipe for a dinner party. But since today is Monday—Meatless Monday—that recipe will just have to wait. Instead, how about this amazing stew of kale and white beans, adapted from a recipe by Chef Dan Barber, of Blue Hill and Blue Hill at Stone Barns? Not only is it a delicious mix of tastes and textures, but it’s positively overflowing with goodness. 
Kale is one of those superfoods. “Move over Popeye and make room for the ‘queen of greens,’ kale,” advises WebMD: One cup of kale has 5 grams of fiber, we learn, 15% of the daily requirement of calcium and vitamin B6, 40% of the magnesium requirement, 180% of vitamin A, 200% of vitamin C and 1,020% of vitamin K. (Too much vitamin K isn’t good for everyone. Anyone taking anticoagulants, for instance, is advised to avoid kale.) Kale is also a good source of minerals. Check out the whole list of nutrients here. Choose organic kale, when you can, because conventionally grown has been found to have pesticide residues of particular concern.
Serve this stew with crusty bread for a wonderful light supper. Leftovers are great for lunch, too.
Kale and White Bean Stew
Serves 4
1 1/2 lbs kale leaves, center ribs and stems removed
3 tbs extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup peeled carrots, chopped
1 cup celery, chopped
4 chopped shallots
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 cup dry white wine
2 15-ounce cans cannellini or other white beans (preferably organic), drained
6 San Marzano canned tomatoes, roughly chopped
4 cups (or more) vegetable broth
3 fresh thyme sprigs
1 bay leaf
1 tbs Sherry wine vinegar
a handful of assorted chopped fresh herbs (such as tarragon, parsley, chives)
Cook kale for 1 minute in large pot of boiling salted water. Drain. Transfer to bowl of ice water to cool briefly. Drain and squeeze out excess water. Coarsely chop kale.
Heat olive oil in medium pot over medium heat. Add carrots, celery, shallots and garlic; cook until soft, stirring, about 15 minutes (do not brown).
Add white wine and simmer until liquid is slightly reduced, about 7 minutes.
Add white beans, tomatoes, 4 cups broth, thyme sprigs and bay leaf and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer 20 minutes.
Add kale and simmer 5 minutes longer.
Remove thyme sprigs and bay leaf. Add more broth by 1/2 cupfuls to thin stew, if desired.
Mix in Sherry wine vinegar and chopped fresh herbs. Season with salt and pepper.

RECIPE: Farro Salad with Red Peppers and Beans

I GOT A JUMPSTART ON MEATLESS MONDAY this weekend when my friend made the most delicious Mediterranean farro salad as we all lazed about taking in the spring sunshine. As some of you surely know by now, I’m a big fan of this ancient grain; farro has a wonderful nutty flavor and a satisfying bite. So I’m always happy to expand my repertoire of dishes to make with it, and I think you will be, too. 
This is a very flexible recipe: Substitute asparagus for the beans (cut the spears into 3-inch pieces and cook in boiling water for 3 to 5 minutes) or use yellow peppers instead of red. Replace chives with a thinly chopped scallion or two, or some red onion. And, of course, what could be better than doubling the recipe for a family picnic or potluck this summer? Happy Meatless Monday. And thank you Pam.
Pamela Ferrari’s Farro Salad
Serves 4–6, as side salad or light lunch
1½ cups semi-pearled or pearled farro
1 red pepper, sliced into thin strips
½ lb green beans or haricot verts
½ cup pitted black olives
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 small bunch chives, chopped, or half a small red onion, sliced thinly
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
¼ cup sherry vinegar
2 tsp Dijon mustard
½ tsp salt, or to taste
Ground black pepper, to taste
Bring a medium saucepan of salted water to the boil. Add farro and boil gently, uncovered, for about 20 minutes, until al dente. Drain and put in a large serving bowl to cool. *
Cook green beans in boiling salted water for 2 minutes, or until just tender. Drain and transfer briefly to a bowl of iced water to stop the cooking. Drain again and pat dry.
Once the farro is cool, combine the beans, olives (slice them if they’re big, or leave whole if you use tiny ones, like Niçoise), red pepper, Parmesan and chives or red onions with the farro.
In a small bowl, whisk together the sherry vinegar, olive oil, mustard, pepper and salt.
Pour the dressing over the salad, toss and serve.
* In a rush? Cool the farro more quickly by spreading it out on a cookie sheet.     

Recipe: Orange Slices with Tapenade

TODAY I’M GOING TO PRETEND I’M IN NICE at La Zucca Magica, not in New York City with Snow Blizzard Nemo happening outside my window. It’s citrus season—hooray!— and a bowl of beautiful oranges makes my fantasy almost seem real. And I mean fantasy: I’ve never actually been to La Zucca Magica, but I take Mark Bittman’s word that it is a marvelous place to be—a vegetarian restaurant whose dishes are never ascetic or meager, with the produce bounty of Provence at its doorstep. What I do know is that, thanks to Bittman and La Zucca, I regularly eat an appetizer of orange slices and tapenade that he discovered there. I’m sharing it with you now so that you, too, can ignore the snowpocalypse outside your window and delight in orange season.
Top-quality ingredients are key here—as they are in many simple Mediterranean dishes that are more combinations of ingredients than complicated recipes.
I make this dish super-simple by using a ready-made tapenade from Moulins de la Brague in Opio, a village near Grasse in Provence. No, unfortunately I wasn’t able to drop in to the Moulin to pick up a jar; I purchased it at Fairway
The Moulin is a seventh generation family business, run by the Michel family, and it seems to be a little magical itself, combining a respect for tradition with modernization—so often the case with old artisanal businesses that survive and thrive. Most of the olives grown in their orchards are Cailletier, a cultivar often called Niçoise, although that, I’m told, refers strictly speaking to the curing method typical of Nice. The tapenade is made the traditional way, with just mashed olives, olive oil, salt, capers and anchovy.
I always use my best extra-virgin olive oil for this recipe. Today, I’m lucky to have some Frankies 457 Spuntino Olio Nuovo, the first pressing of the 2012 harvest—grassy green and deliciously pungent. It’s made from organically grown Nocellara del Belice olives in the DOP (protected origin) Valle del Belice in Sicily. How nice that restaurateurs Frank Falcinelli and Frank Castronovo visit Sicily each year to oversee production and bring back the olive oil to Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, just for you and me.
Now for the recipe...
Serves 4
3 or 4 juicy navel oranges (depending on their size)—enough for 12 slices
4 tbs tapenade
Extra-virgin olive oil for drizzling
Fennel seeds for garnish
Cut each end off orange. Set it on end, and with a sharp knife, remove peel and pith in a curving downward motion.
Cut the orange in thin rounds and place three slices on each plate.
Drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil.
On each plate, spoon 1 tbs tapenade in one dollop on the oranges.
Sprinkle with fennel seeds.
Bon appetit! 

Best Med Dish at…Porsena Extra Bar

OK, SO I COULDN’T CHOOSE ONE DISH. LUNCH. LUNCH IS THE BEST Mediterranean dish at Chef Sara Jenkins’s Bar Extra in the East Village. Perch yourself on a stool at the long bar, pick almost anything on the midday menu, and you’ll likely find a Mediterranean-inspired combo: a trio of eggplant purée, spicy red pepper walnut purée and cucumber and labne, with Sardinian flatbread;  a Swiss chard and ricotta tart; salad of farro, tomato, cucumber, olive oil and red wine vinegar. Ribolitta, a warming Tuscan bean and vegetable soup, was tempting, but we were early and it wasn’t quite ready yet. (Oh, kale, where are you?)
We decided to start with another special, an arugula, shaved sunchoke and red onion salad, with a yogurt dressing ($6)—It was crisp and fresh and, sipping on hibiscus tea served Brooklyn-style in a Mason jar, I was already content.
After our salad, my friend Carol ordered the spicy grilled “Kimcheese” sandwich ($8), which she pronounced delicious, and I had the surryano ham sandwich ($10) made with cantaloupe melon butter (very delicate, but, yes, there was the cantaloupe) and cornichons on stecca, a baguette-like bread. Surryano, I learned, is a dry-cured ham made from Berkshire pork in Surry, Virginia. Clever name. Tasty in my sandwich.
The Extra Bar, which is right next door to Porsena, Jenkins’s pasta dinner restaurant, just opened in September, so being closed because of losing power for days post-Sandy—and refrigerated food—wasn’t exactly what they needed, but it wasn’t too long before they were announcing, “We’re back—boot straps up, knives sharpened, stove tops afire.” Lucky us.
In the evening, this friendly lunch counter turns into a wine bar, serving small plates and wines from around the Mediterranean. I walked by one evening and it looked so convivial. I’ll definitely be back—for lunch or a rosé, depending on the time of day and/or my mood! Mondays are always a good choice—$1 oysters all day long.
Want to learn how to cook like this at home? Jenkins will be teaching a class at De Gustibus Cooking School tonight, November 29, 5:30–8 pm, sharing classic holiday dishes from Tuscany. $95. The school is located on the 8th floor of Macy’s. Get tickets here.
Porsena Extra Bar 
21 East 7th Street
New York, NY

Two Mediterranean Salads for the Thanksgiving Table

DAVID TANIS, WHO FOR MANY YEARS WAS CHEF AT CHEZ PANISSE, was writing in the Times last week about how chutneys, relishes and pickles can brighten up the traditional Thanksgiving turkey, gravy and stuffing. He wasn’t dissing the Thanksgiving meal, but he pointed out that the usual add-ons to this trio, delicious as they may be, “simply seem to add more richness.”
That got me thinking: Wouldn’t the much-loved citrus notes in Mediterranean cooking also help “brighten up an otherwise one-note meal,” as Tanis put it? When I first got interested in Med cuisine, I was amazed and thrilled by all the different uses of oranges and lemons and grapefruits. Grapefruit and fennel salsa with roasted halibut, sliced oranges with black olive spread or in a salad with beets, lemon zest on a roasted chicken dish. Lemons, especially, have become a pantry staple now for me.
But back to Thanksgiving. Carrots and fennel were plentiful at the farmers’ market this week. I thought they might work well for my citrus-y mission and complement the traditional Thanksgiving menu as well.
The dishes I came up with are both inspired by the countries on the southern shores of the Mediterranean—Morocco and Tunisia in particular. The cooked carrot salad is lemony and redolent of the spices of the Maghreb. The fennel, orange and radish salad incorporates the zest and juice of an orange, as well as orange segments, with fresh mint adding the final flavor boost. Both certainly add a bright note and lightness to the meal. I can even see leaving the fennel salad til the end of the meal, as a little palate cleanser before those fabulous desserts.


Browsing the Cookbooks for Monkfish Recipes

I JUST GOT MY WEEKLY E-MAIL FROM MERMAID’S GARDEN, the CSF (Community Supported Fishery) I belong to, telling me what fish had been caught this week for me—and the other 200+ CSF members. Monkfish!   

I will never forget the first time I ate monkfish. We were on the road somewhere in southern France—on the outskirts of Orange, I think, in the Vaucluse—and we stopped at a bistro for dinner. On the menu, under Poisson, was something called lotte.  “What is this lotte?” I inquired. “Une espèce de poisson,” was the reply (“a type of fish”), which was about as helpful as when I had asked—this time in bilingual Montréal—“what is the soupe du jour?” and the answer came back: “the soup of the day.” Really? I’d been hoping for a few more details. For starters, was lotte an ocean fish, from the Mediterranean, a lake, a stream? Was it mackerel cousin or might-as-well-be-Dover-sole? Anyway, I decided to take a leap of faith, and it turned out to be delicious. I’ve eaten it more than a few times since, especially enjoying it in Mediterranean soups and stews.  

This time around, thanks to Bianca and Mark at Mermaid’s Garden, I learn quite a bit more about the fish itself. As they wrote in their e-mail:

“There are a lot of interesting things about Lophius americanus, but perhaps the most curious thing about this fish is what and how it eats. Recently we got an email telling us about a monkfish that was caught with seven ducks in its belly! We passed the news along to a fisherman friend of ours on the Cape, who said, “A monkfish tried to eat my leg once. Did some good damage to my boots.” Turns out that monkfish will eat just about anything they can fit into their gigantic mouths, which may be why another common name for the fish is devilfish. Monkfish are anglers, which means they catch their prey using a lure called an esca that is attached to the top of the fish’s head. Anything that touches the esca triggers an automatic reflex of the monkfish’s jaw. Monkfish like their dinner to come to them, so they mostly spend their time buried into the sea floor or “walking” slowly along it on their sturdy pectoral fins.”     

I also learn from them that in the late 1990s, monkfish populations had become overfished. “This fact, combined with the fact that most monkfish are caught in trawls, which can harm the ocean floor, led to monkfish being an unsustainable choice.” However, today, “monkfish populations exceed target levels, and both trawl and gill net fishermen employ quite a few mechanisms to reduce bycatch.”  

My particular monkfish was gill netted off Montauk on the F/V Sea Devil—pretty funny, considering the fish’s nickname—“by a fisherman who refers to himself as Billy the Kid. Known to others simply as ‘the kid.’ (We are not making this up, Mark and Bianca write, “pinky swear.”)  

Monkfish may be one of the ugliest fish in the sea, but its taste redeems it: fresh, slightly sweet, with a firm texture, it’s been called “poor man’s lobster.” And it’s full of goodness: niacin, vitamins B6 and B12, potassium, as well as being very good source of selenium. It has a gray membrane surrounding the flesh, which your fishmonger can remove, or you can do it yourself (with the help of this video—start at minute 3:10).  

How to Cook It? Knowing that Mediterranean cuisines like to use monkfish, I start browsing my cookbooks and the web, looking for recipes. I find monkfish couscous, roasted monkfish with tomatoes and olives, Andalusian monkfish ragout. Jamie Oliver has what looks like a delicious grilled or roasted monkfish with black olive sauce and lemon mash, just the kind of full-of-Mediterranean-flavors dish I like. Sara Jenkins’s Olives and Oranges, includes a monkfish dish with her wintertime take on Sicilian caponata, made from olives, potatoes and sun-dried tomatoes. I made this the last time we had monkfish, and I’d be happy to eat it again, but I’m in the mood to be adventurous. Mark Usewicz, the chef behind Mermaid’s Garden (Bianca’s a marine biologist) has posted a couple of delicious sounding recipes on Mermaid’s Garden’s Facebook page: Mark’s Monkfish with Clams and Cranberry Beans and Mark’s Fish in Mustard Curry. (I noticed this week that Dave Pasternack’s Il Pesce, Eataly’s fish restaurant, has a monkfish/clam combo on its menu right now, too: Crispy Monkfish Cheeks with Local Clams, Steamers and Meyer Lemon Aioli. The cheeks are quite small and a prized delicacy, I hear.)  

To tell you the truth, these dishes all sound good, making it hard to choose. In the end, though, to take advantage of how super, super fresh I know this fish will be, I decide on Monkfish “Carpaccio,” from Patricia Wells At Home in Provence. The recipe is beyond simple: thinly sliced monkfish, which is then grilled for less than a minute, with only olive oil, lemon juice, chives and sea salt added. I like the idea of the sweet flesh of the fish taking center stage. To accompany it, I’ll make a simple green salad, and I have the perfect bottle of Muscadet Sèvre et Maine, from Domaine de la Pinardière, chilling in the fridge. Crisp, clean tastes all around.

Recipe Love

LISTENING TO STANLEY TUCCI and his mother talk about recipes the other night made me think about all the little culinary treasures my mother has passed on to me. Not just basic cooking techniques that I learned at her elbow, but recipes from her mother, her mother’s mother, her father, her mother-in-law, a childhood schoolmate of my father’s, their friends in London in the late 1940s. She has been the keeper of these recipes and now is making sure her children have them, too.
There’s Friar’s Omelette, from Susanna Moss, my mother’s grandmother, written out in her own hand, my Polish Babcia Władysława’s pickled herring and babka (two separate dishes!), my dad’s traditional Christmas beetroot brine and soup, shortbread from Grandma Lily, brown bread from Grandad Percy (he was a miller and expert baker). Not to forget Marysia’s almond torte and Zosia’s pickled dill cucumbers. I’ve collected some on my own visits to family, too: Uncle Abdul Beidas’s hummus, Aunt Ela Makowiecka’s gazpacho (despite the Slavic name, she lived a good part of her life in Spain).
Recently this loving passing around of recipes took a different turn when my 20-something son Christopher flipped the tables and taught me how to make an elegantly plated beet, arugula, frisée and goat cheese salad that he’d learned somewhere along the line living in an Italian (Canadian) household for the last two years and working at an Italian café. Lucky me, and now lucky you because it’s the perfect Meatless Monday dish to share. Slicing the beets very thin is not only beautiful but somehow highlights their delicate sweet flavor. From my family to yours. 

Mediterranean Diet Suggested in Stroke Prevention Therapy

ANOTHER SHOUT-OUT FOR THE MEDITERRANEAN DIET from the medical world. In a Jane Brody column today in the New York Times, Dr. David Spence, a stroke prevention specialist at the University of Western Ontario who advocates intensive medical therapy (as opposed to surgery) for stroke prevention in asymptomatic patients, comments:

“Americans tend to name their meals by the meat. ‘Tonight we’re having steak, or chicken or fish,’ ” he said. “I recommend that my patients go vegetarian every other day, and when they eat meat, chicken or fish on the days in between, the portion should be the size of the palm of their hand.” Along with appropriate medications and control of blood sugars in diabetics, Spence “is a strong advocate of a traditional Mediterranean diet, high in whole grains, fruits and vegetables, lentils and beans, olive oil and canola oil and low in cholesterol and animal fats,” Brody writes.  


Cooking with Stanley Tucci

STANLEY TUCCI WAS AT THE NEIGHBORHOOD BARNES & NOBLE on Friday to promote The Tucci Cookbookand it was more than a little fun. He brought along his mother Joan Tropiano Tucci and his father Stanley Tucci Sr. “the real authors of the book—I’m the fake author” and his wife, literary agent Felicity Blunt (sister of Emily) and his pet dog. Well, no dog actually, or kids, for that matter, but you get the picture. It was very homey, just like I imagine his family’s kitchen has always been. “Cooking is about doing it together, seeing the creative act, that’s what’s binding,” he told us, and you can imagine the fun he and his parents and children all have cooking together. “Then you sit down at the table and see what you’ve produced,” Joan says. “It’s exciting.”
In a foreword, Mario Batali writes that “Stanley has written a love letter to his mum and dad, to his distant roots in Calabria.” Tucci tells his Barnes & Noble audience, “My mother is an incredible cook,” calling her up to join him at the microphone, “and she learned to cook from her mother.” The book goes into some family history (both sides are Calabrese), with sections written by his mother and father. His father apparently would pause at some point during dinner and always ask, “How does the rest of the world eat?”
Tucci and his parents share family recipes that were the inspiration for Big Night, as well as those of Gianni Scappin, of Le Madri, with whom he collaborated on the movie. Tucci has cooked more than once on screen. Did he have any tips for Meryl Streep in Julie & Julia, in which he plays Paul Child? someone asks now. Well, just acting tips. Big laugh. “Seriously, though, Meryl is a great cook, but at one point, she was stirring manicotti and I just couldn’t take it any more. I had to demonstrate how it was done. She said, great, sure….but I have no idea whether she changed anything.”
Tucci first started cooking when he was around 12 years old, his mother says. “It was a lasagna bolognese with bechamel.” They all seem to like Stan Sr.’s peaches in red wine. Why not? Sounds like the perfect dessert to me. Tucci shops at Stop & Shop, Joan at Shoprite. She likes to search out Italian products, and has tried a lot of different canned San Marzano tomatoes before settling on, damn, I didn’t quite catch the name. Barilla pasta, or De Cecco are great, “not too starchy,” says Joan.  “And forget the light olive oil; it’s terrible.” When Stanley was growing up, Joan mostly used Filippo Berio extra-virgin olive oil. Tucci uses Frantoia from Sicily.  Now they’re really dishing!

I haven’t had a chance to try any of the recipes yet. I’ll report back when I have. I doubt if timpano (made famous in Big Night) will be the first one I try, although it truly sounds magnifico. Tucci and his family cook it every Christmas. “My most memorable food moment,” says Tucci. 

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