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Jul 1, 2009 01:22 PM

*July 2009 COTM* SPICE: Saffron, Ginger, and Vanilla

Our Chowhound July 2009 Cookbook of the Month is Spice: Flavors of the Eastern Mediterranean by Ana Sortun.

Please post your full-length recipe reviews here for dishes from Chapter Two: Saffron, Ginger, and Vanilla, page 38 to 69. Please mention the name of the recipe you are reviewing and the page number, if possible, as well as any modifications you made to the recipe. Let us know if you would like to make the recipe again, and if you would change anything in the future, too. Photos welcome!

A reminder that the verbatim copying of recipes to the boards is a violation of the copyright of the original author. Posts with copied recipes will be removed.

Thanks for participating and enjoy!

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  1. Spicy Fideo with Chickpeas, Vanilla, and Saffron, p. 47
    Lemon Aioli, p. 50

    Sortun mentions that this is a signature vegetarian dish at Oleana, and I can see why - it has such unique flavors, really wonderful.

    The simmering, pureeing, and straining of the broth is the most time-consuming step so I did that the day before, using half water and half homemade chicken stock (recipe calls for vegetable stock). I made the full amount, but halved the rest of the recipe so froze half of the broth. I also didn't use dried chickpeas as the grocery store didn't have them.

    The recipe calls for simmering onion, carrot, garlic, bay leaf, saffron (used Penzey's Kashmir Mogra), vanilla bean (Penzey's Madagascar), ground coriander and fennel, ancho chiles, canned tomatoes, cocoa powder and stock or water. I simmered for about two hours, pureed with an immersion blender, and strained through a chinois. Fantastic flavor with a heavenly aroma on the stove.

    The next day, I toasted the pasta and made the aioli earlier in the day. I used Spanish fideo but she calls for breaking up angel hair. I'm glad I checked the oven at 6 minutes, because it was already a bit over-toasted even though the recipe says 10-12 minutes. To finish, heat the broth, add thinly sliced swiss chard and chickpeas (I used canned) and then the pasta is added along with evoo. It soaks up so much flavor since it's simmered until all the broth is absorbed. Finally, swirl in spoonfuls of lemon aioli (2 egg yolks, Dijon, garlic, lemon zest and juice, salt and oil in a food processor) until it is thick and slightly creamy.

    E doesn't care for chickpeas or swiss chard, so I made his plain and then for mine added a few handfuls of chard and chickpeas. I especially loved the chard in it with the lemony aioli, so when I heated up the lefovers, I added even more swiss chard.

    6 Replies
    1. re: Rubee

      Pics of finished dish, and aioli:

      1. re: Rubee

        I made this for dinner last night and, to be honest, I wasn't blown away. It was quite good, but a lot of work for the resulting dinner. Maybe it was my fault, but I was seriously worried when I tasted the broth after it had been simmered for about half an hour. It tasted rather acrid, but that may have been because the only ancho chillies available to me were dried (I used two of them, deseeded, as that was all I had). I also omitted the vanilla (wasn't in the internet recipe) and used a very, very high quality cocoa powder given to my by a girl who works as the PR for a chocolatier, so perhaps the bitterness came from that as well. I also only simmered the broth for half an hour before blending and straining, as that was what the internet version of the recipe said to do (also I wanted my dinner!).

        I ploughed on anyway, and the final dish came together OK. I was running short of time, so used a good shop-bought mayo doctored with a little garlic and lemon juice added. I also added yet more salt.

        Anyway, it was very hearty and filling and healthy, and we quite enjoyed it, but ultimately I felt the broth was a let down. Maybe making my own aoli would have improved things, but to be honest I much prefer the fideos recipe in the Moro cookbook.

        This is the recipe I used:

        1. re: greedygirl

          Oh, that's disappointing! And the broth does take a lot of work, I was glad I had started it the night before, but then for you to have that bitterness come through, so sorry to hear about that. I didn't have that with this batch, so I agree -maybe it was the anchos? I'm fortunate enough to have great Mexican markets here, so the ones I used were soft and pliable, not too hard and crackly as some old anchos are. I do think the homemade aoili is key in the recipe, but don't think it would have changed the bitterness of the broth.

          Also, I don't know if this could be another reason, but the internet recipe varies a little from the book, though I would hope that wouldn't matter. For example, the books calls for cooking the spices with the carrot and onion, coating in oil, before adding the rest of the ingredients, and simmering about an hour until the broth is reduced by a third; adding a half cup of evoo when cooking the pasta in the broth; using four tablespoons of aioli instead of two, etc. The ingredient amounts are different, so I thought I'd post:

          1-1/2 cups dried chickpeas soaked and cooked
          1 tablespoon salt + more to taste
          1 tablespoon canola oil
          1 large white onion, chopped
          1 carrot, chopped
          6 garlic cloves (2 Tb) peeled and smashed
          1 teaspoon ground coriander
          1 teaspoon fennel seeds, freshly ground
          1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
          1 tsp of saffron threads
          1 bay leaf
          1/3 vanilla bean
          4 cups chopped canned tomatoes with juice (28-oz can)
          4 ancho chiles--stemmed and seeded (1 cup)
          8 cups water or veg stock
          1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
          1 pound dried fideos or angel hair coils, broken into 2-inch lengths
          1 large bunch green Swiss chard, stems discarded and leaves chopped

          1. re: greedygirl

            Just to clarify, all ancho chiles are dried chiles - fresh poblanos are dried and become anchos, which are definitely used differently. The quality of your chiles may have affected your dish, but I wanted to make sure you know you weren't missing out by not having a fresh pepper.

            1. re: Caitlin McGrath

              Didn't realise that, thanks. Ancho chillies aren't regularly available here but I got mine from a reputable supplier so hopefully they were OK. They were soft and pliable, like Rubee said.

              The version in the book has got a lot more tomatoes in it (4 cups as opposed to 4 tomatoes) so maybe that was where it went wrong.

          2. re: Rubee

            Grilled Mushroom Banderilla, p 45.

            First flop from this book, but I'm sure it's from the mushrooms I used. The recipe calls for delicate mushrooms like chanterelles, hen of the woods/Maitake, or oyster mushrooms which would get nice and crispy on the grill. I used fresh shiitakes and while the flavor was good, I didn't like the texture, which ended up a bit spongy. I also may not have grilled them long enough.

            I like the technique though of marinating them and then finishing them up on a grill, so might try it with the right mushrooms. The recipe calls for sauteing and marinating them with extra virgin olive oil, minced celery, onion, and garlic, saffron, tomato paste, white wine, fresh thyme, and lemon juice. Let cool, and then skewer and finish on the grill.

          3. Persian Fried Chicken, p. 56

            I like marinating my chicken in yogurt and thought the idea of flouring and frying it after was interesting. Sortun says to use boneless, skinless chicken thighs but next time I would probably keep the skin on. The reason is that I think the coating could definitely have been crisper (what can I say, I'm a skin girl!).

            Nevertheless, this dish was really delicious. I could taste the saffron in the chicken from the marinade and the addition of mint to the coating mix was wonderful. Squirting the hot fried chicken with lemon juice and topping it with toasted walnuts also added that extra oomph to the whole taste. I would make this again.

            2 Replies
            1. re: always_eating

              I made this last night and agree with always_eating that it was delicious. While I did use the boneless and skinless thighs, the coating was crisp after frying. However, I think a slight pounding would have given a more uniform result. I mean, with all the nooks and crannies the maranade and flour were uneavenly distributed on the chicken pieces though I took care to make sure everything was evenly coated. A minor thing since we loved the tenderness of the chickien after the 3 hour marinade and the fab flavor the herbs and spices impart. I used the last bit of my precious saffron so that needs replacement, but it went to a worthy cause. I didn't use the final topping with walnut pieces due to dietary constraints but the lemon wedges were the perfect accompaniment.

              Served with steamed Basmati rice and a spicy cucumber and tomato salad with a cumin-lime dressing.

              1. re: Gio

                I made this tonight. Hmm. I wasn't crazy about this one. I used chicken tenders instead of thighs and I marinated overnight, so maybe it was too long of a marinating process and the flavors turned. It was still tasty, because deep fried chicken usually is, but I didn't think it was saffron worthy. I wish I followed my instinct to spike the flour mixture with za'atar, that wouldve been tasty. Za'atar rocks. It might be my next cat's name. Or child...

            2. Monkfish with Ginger, Creme Fraiche, and Seared Greens, p. 53

              I had Swiss chard in my CSA share for what seems like the 10th week straight (which is great, I LOVE greens!), and was looking for some more creative preparations than my usual olive oil and garlic routine.

              Changes I made: my seafood place didn't have monkfish, so I used cod. I was only cooking for two so I scaled down the ingredients, though not exactly (just ballparked). I think I ended up with a higher greens-to-fish ratio than the original recipe, but there was still plenty of sauce to go around.

              I thought this recipe was terrific - I liked cooking the fish in a combination of olive oil and butter so you get the richness of the butter flavor but still get to feel semi-healthy since the whole recipe calls for so little. The sauce came out very nice. It was creamy and flavorful (the ginger came through nicely) and added a lot of richness to the dish, making it more filling than fish and greens alone.

              The meal came together very quickly - I cooked the greens and the fish simultaneously in separate pans. I made it on a Saturday, but it was quick and easy enough to make on a weeknight. The recipe is simple and straightforward enough that I think I'll try variations on it as I get more greens each week!

              1. Toasted orange aioli -- variation on lemon aioli, p. 50

                I was making the beet and greens salad (p. 78) and amidst the instructions -- roasting the beets, etc. was the instruction to make aioli with toasted orange zest. Right. Aioli. I never made it before and frankly had a moment of unease and trepidation but I plowed ahead.

                To "toast" the orange zest, Sortun says to place in 200 degree oven for 15-20 mins until lightly toasted, and then grind in spice grinder. Her more detailed instructions for toasting zest, p. 72, calls for drying out overnight in a Iow oven, or 2 days outside the oven. I didn't do this, and missed that I was supposed to slice off the zest rather than grate it as I did.

                While the oven was at 400 for beet roasting, I spread the (grated) zest out on plate on top of oven (stove) and stirred occasionally until it dried out. The heat from the oven below did dry out the zest some, and I called it done and omitted grinding.

                Process 2 egg yolks, 1 t. mustard, 2 t. chopped garlic, 1 T lemon juice, toasted (ahem) ground zest of 2 oranges and salt until frothy or about 30 seconds, and then slowly pour in 3/4 c. canola oil until it becomes thick "like face cream." Indeed that is what it did. I recalled reading elsewhere that you're supposed to first add the oil drop by drop so it emulsifies and then you can speed up the oil adding, which is what I did.

                It turned out great and yummy, even if it wasn't toasted zest powder as Sortun would have us do. It tasted fabulous under roasted beets and salad greens. Citrus-y with a not too powerful garlic bite. I would also serve with a simple roasted fish. I'm so proud to have aioli "under by belt" thanks to Sortun, and will return to her recipe again.

                1 Reply
                1. re: NYchowcook

                  Toasted Orange Aioli, p. 50

                  I made this to go along with Spicy Fideos (p. 47) I made this weekend. Last time, I made the lemon aioli, but liked this orange variation even better. I toasted the orange peel in the oven with the door ajar on the "proof" setting for a couple of hours, and then shut the oven off and dried overnight with the door closed. Going to have to buy some beets so I can try the Roasted Beets with Toasted Orange Aioli and Pine Nuts (p. 78) next!

                2. Braised Beef Short Ribs with Vanilla Glazed Carrots, pg. 66

                  Mmm...short ribs. A strange choice for a warm, sunny day, but hubby requested short ribs for dinner so I pulled out this recipe.

                  The prep was very simple - combine seasoned short ribs in a roasting pan with a chopped onion, chopped carrot, and a bay leaf. Mix together a cup of white wine, a cup of balsamic vinegar, half cup of brown sugar, and a tablespoon of chopped garlic. Pour over the ribs. Back in your bowl, mix 2 tsp of tamarind paste with a cup of hot water, and pour that in the roasting pan. Cover with foil and roast for 3-3.5 hours. To create the glaze, Sortun has you pull the ribs out of the pan, then strain and refrigerate the sauce for at least an hour so the fat hardens and can be removed. Bring the sauce to a boil in a large sauté pan, add the ribs, and heat while reducing the sauce for 20-25 minutes.

                  The glazed carrots are also very straightforward: melt butter in a sauté pan, scrape a vanilla bean into the melting butter, add sliced carrots and half a cup of water, and cook until the carrots are soft and glazed.

                  I loved how easy these were, because many of the recipes in this book are more labor intensive. It was so hands off that I threw together the roasting pan ingredients in about five minutes, then took a two hour nap! I would definitely make these again. Served the ribs and carrots with crusty bread and a green salad.

                  The only challenge I had was that the fat in the sauce didn't harden after an hour in the fridge, so I tried to skim the oil off the top with a spoon, got impatient, and just threw all the sauce into the pan with the fat. I think this kept my sauce more sauce-y and less glaze-y. I found an online version of the recipe that suggested letting the sauce chill overnight, so next time I will roast the ribs a day ahead.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Abby0105

                    when I'm in a hurry, I often put the sauce/stock in a glass measuring cup in the freezer to get the fat to rise faster.