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March 2012 COTM: The Olive and the Caper: Eggs; Sustaining Grains; Vegetable Parade

Please use this thread to discuss the recipes in the chapters on Eggs; Sustaining Grains; and Vegetable Parade (pages 214 - 321)

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  1. Rice and Noodle Pilaf with artichokes, pine nuts and saffron (p. 241)

    As I mentioned in the announcement thread, this was a bomb. Not as in "wow, that pilaf is the bomb!" either. It was bland, under-salted, mushy and luke warm (she asks that it sit for 20 minutes after cooking). I followed the directions to a t. Cook 1/2 cups broken vermicelli, pine nuts and chopped onion in olive oil; add 2 cups arborio rice and stir until translucent, add artichokes (I used thawed frozen hearts), 4 cups water and saffron and bring to boil. Reduce heat, cover and cook 20 minutes. It is only at this point that you add 1/2 tsp. salt (for 2 cups of rice and some vermicelli???) and pepper and fluff, let sit covered for 20 more minutes. Again: a bland, mushy mess. It needs more salt, and added sooner, and it needs something else too - maybe some lemon? It needs brightening. A definite disappointment.

    6 Replies
    1. re: LulusMom

      Oh dear. Not an auspicious beginning, LLM. What a shame. I'm planning the pilaf with shrimp variation of spinach pilaf for Saturday night. I've already read the recipe several times but I think I'll study it very carefully today and try to correct any perceived problems before I cook...

      1. re: Gio

        I think salting when you put the rice in (and seriously - 1/2 tsp for 2 cups of rice?) and not doing the wait 20 minutes step will help. I'll be sending along hopes and prayers that yours turns out much much better than ours did.

        1. re: LulusMom

          sorry to say there are some instructions in some recipes that are better not followed. That description SOUNDS so good. Thanks for the heads up of traps to watch out for. I was also planning to make that recipe. :-O

          1. re: ChefJune

            Sorry to let you down, but honestly, I think that one is best skipped (Gio, have you tried it yet?). The moussaka, while still having some issues, was wonderful once properly salted. But now that I know to watch out for that (and honestly, I should have used my own common sense) I think I'll do ok. And some of the reviews have been fantastic.

            1. re: LulusMom

              Hi LLM... No, I haven't tried that particular recipe yet but last night we made the Rice and Lentil Pilaf on page 237 and following your advice, I followed my own methods but used all the ingredients mentioned in the recipe. It turned out pretty well and G said he Liked it very much. I didn't exactly fall in love with it either but the final dish was tasty and satisfying. I'll post my report down thread as soon as my coffee kicks in,,,

      2. re: LulusMom

        So sad to think about such delicious ingredients ending up with a mushy, undersalted demise. How can artichokes, pine nuts, arborio rice and saffron go wrong? I can see why you are disappointed!

      3. Vegetable Moussaka (p. 316)

        I've always loved vegetable moussaka, and liked this very much too - once I salted it a lot at the table. Instead of frying the vegetables, as called for, I roasted the sliced eggplant and the sliced potatoes. They were wonderful this way, and I'm sure less fattening. And even though she doesn't call for it, I salted them while roasting. Oil a casserole dish, dust with breadcrumbs (I used panko), then make layers of potatoes, thinly sliced tomatoes, and eggplant. Make a bechamel and stir 3 egg yolks into it, along with some cumin. Pour over the vegetables. Next a layer of grated cheese. She calls for kefalotyri but I couldn't find any, so went with Pecorino Romano. Again, once salted this was lovely. But the only salt she calls for in the recipe is what is in the bechamel (or besamel in Greek).

        2 Replies
        1. re: LulusMom

          Thanks for reporting back on roasting rather than frying the eggplant. Will remember to salt!

          ~TDQ

          1. re: The Dairy Queen

            Soooo much easier, and healthier too. And I really do not think there was any change in the final dish. My husband loved the crunch that some of the potatoes had.

        2. Beets and Turnips in Sweet Caper Butter, p. 270

          This is a very pretty side dish that's easy to do. I love beets and liked it quite a bit, but even the BF who wishes our CSA basket would stop giving us beets enjoyed the dish. Since I made it pre-COTM, I served with a Pernod shrimp dish from Melissa Clark's Cook This Now.

          Beets are boiled until tender, drained, cooled, peeled, and cut into wedges. Turnips are pre-cut into wedges and then simmered until tender in another pot of water, then also drained. Butter, sugar, caper, and dill (I used fennel fronds instead as I had an over-abundance) are placed over medium-high heat. When the butter foams, the wedges of beets and turnips are added and reheated. Garnish with lemon and serve.

          1 Reply
          1. re: TxnInMtl

            Made this last night and did not have the success I expected because of driver-error, which I will describe as a warning: I overcooked the turnip-wedges. I am a novice at turnips and did not realize that the very firm but slim 1/4" wedges would truly cook in five minutes, as stated by the recipe. Allowed mine to boil for 5 minutes longer (inattention in my part) and then saw that they were probably too tender, but used them in the dish anyway, which was my second mistake. Then as I rewarmed the cooked beets and turnip wedges in the butter-caper sauce, per the directions, the turnips released their water into the sauce and turned even more mushy and it was not good. My guests were polite but definitely non-effusive.
            I suppose it is good to have a failure once in a while remind the cook that she isn't as smart as she might hope.

            Pass the Metaxa.

          2. Bell Peppers Stuffed with Eggplant, Olives, and Capers p.304

            Finally, something good to write about!
            This briny filling was packed with so much concentrated flavour that it didn't even make it over to the vegetables for stuffing. On a whim after testing the mixture, I decided to use it as a tasty companion for crusty bread instead.
            Eggplants are cut into small dice and cooked with wine and salt until the vegetable is softened and juicy. A hefty amount of olives are added in, along with capers, garlic, lemon zest, tomato paste, and oregano and the mix is cooked a bit more. This is the point of the recipes where the filling would be stuffed into bell peppers.
            I found the filling to be so substantially flavoured that it may have been overwhelming in such vast quantities as stuffed into a pepper. As it was, we were very sparing even when using it on the bread. The eggplant virtually disappeared into the mix, and my family was shocked when I confessed that the spread featured such a detestable vegetable. (Heh, heh)

            This was absolutely delicious, and this is exactly the flavour profile that comes to mind when I think about Greek cuisine. Zesty, salty, briny, lemony; full of excitement. Loved it!

            1 Reply
            1. re: Allegra_K

              This sounds great - I actually think it would be really good stuffed into peppers. Must try!

            2. Bulgur and Vegetable Pilaf with Herbs and White Wine, p. 235.

              Made this to go with the "Beef with Olives and 100 Cloves of Garlic" on p. 367. It turned out to be a nice side for sopping up the sauce. I wouldn't describe the pilaf as earthshakingly good, but my guests liked it and thought it had good flavor. I think I avoided the low-salt problem of some of these COTM recipe by using a relatively salty chicken broth to cook the bulgur in. It didn't need to be salted at the end.

              First you sauté chopped onion, garlic, medium or coarse bulgur and whatever vegetables you have chosen. I used coarsely chopped zucchini, orange bell pepper and cooked chickpeas. Once the bulgur is translucent and the veggies are wilted, stir in stock (chicken or vegetable) chopped tomatoes, white wine, oregano (fresh or dried) s & p. Bring to boil; cover, cook 20-25 minutes till bulgur is tender and liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat; stir in chopped dill; let sit for 5 minutes, fluff and serve.

              The recipe is very versatile--one is encouraged to use other vegetables (cauliflower, broad beans, chopped artichoke bottoms and/or other herbs: basil, tarragon, savory. As I said, a good side, especially with a strongly-flavored main dish

              2 Replies
              1. re: Goblin

                I cooked this up the other day, and quite enjoyed it. Used eggplant, red pepper, and zucchini and canned tomatoes. Probably should have drained the tomatoes, as there was too much fluid in my pan ( I think I forgot that I was making a pilaf and therefore was quite sloppy and generous with the liquid measurements), and consequently my bulgur mixture resembled more of a risotto than a pilaf, despite my best efforts to let the liquid cook down. Oops. It was still very tasty regardless. There was a hint of sweetness in the dish from the coloured bell peppers and the onions. I liked this enough that I will make it again the next time I need to empty the fridge of various vegetable bits.

                1. re: Goblin

                  Bulgur and Vegetable Pilaf with Herbs and White Wine, p. 235.

                  I made a half recipe of this using some peppers from last week's CSA basket (green bell and Italian sweet) and basil instead of dill as suggested. I thought the wine added a nice bit of extra flavor and it's a great recipe for using up a few extra veggies. I served it with the pork and veal sausage from this book (will report in the other thread) and some wilted kale.