Sunday, January 29, 2012

Super Bowl: Black Bean Salad and Other Fare

Something miraculous happened the other day.  My recluse husband said, "Your social tendencies are rubbing off on me.  I think we should have a pre-Super Bowl party."

This was shocking, particularly since Mark had to endure three holiday parties at our house in one week this past December.  I thought it was brilliant to have three parties of 30-50 people each over the course of 5 days.  What a challenge for a foodie like myself to pull this off -- and not take a day off of work. We could see everyone in our circles.  And I could prep for three parties all at once.

It worked. And apparently in more ways than one, since my husband is now actually suggesting a party.

So here I am, thinking through the menu.

Mexican-inspired chicken wings are a must.  Every time I make these, they fly from the plate. 

With some Frank's red hot sauce and butter, they are easily transformed to buffalo wings, another crowd favorite.

Chili, of course. I have a reputation to uphold.

I also have six pounds of Italian sausage from the famed Arthur Avenue in the Bronx for sausage and peppers.

My husband would be completely happy to not see a vegetarian dish in sight, but black bean salad would be perfect.  Marinated in a vinaigrette and paired with crunchy cucumbers and juicy tomatoes, it goes well with just about any standard Super Bowl fare you can throw at it.

Plus, it comes together in minutes, and you don't need a recipe.

Black Bean Salad

1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
Homemade vinaigrette (see below) or your favorite store-bought vinaigrette
Hothouse cucumber, diced (this is the long cucumber that comes wrapped in plastic)
Grape tomatoes, cut in 1/4s
Kosher salt and pepper to taste
Optional: diced red onion, minced garlic, diced red pepper or other vegetable, chopped cilantro or parsley

Put black beans in a bowl. Add cucumber, tomatoes, vinaigrette, salt and pepper to your liking. If you like, add onion, garlic, and chopped fresh herbs.  Let marinate for an hour and serve (no need to refrigerate).

Before serving, taste and adjust seasonings.



Homemade vinaigrette is easy to make and economical too.  And all you have to do is remember this ratio to make vinaigrette any time: 1:4.  That's 1 part acid (lemon, lime, vinegar, etc.) to 4 parts olive oil. You can stop right there, or you can then add a little mustard (for flavor and to help the vinaigrette emulsify), and salt and pepper. If you want to go further, you could add some garlic and/or shallots.  The sky's the limit, or you can be a minimalist.

I am usually a lemon, olive oil, mustard, salt and pepper vinaigrette kind of gal.

With the 1:4 ratio, you can make a little as a you want (e.g., a tsp. of acid to 4 tsp. olive oil) or a huge vat of a salad dressing. If you want to cut the oil, you could go to a 1:3 ratio, but you might have to add a little sugar to cut the acidity. If you use a cheap balsamic vinegar, which contains a lot of sugar, the 1:3 or even 1:2 ratio will work just fine.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Sarajevo Moussaka with Mushrooms and Zucchini

My house is full of die-hard carnivores. They turn up their noses at anything that is meat-free.

But this weekend, Ulrike, a German exchange student who is a vegetarian, came to stay with us. What to do?

Ask my friend Julia, that's what.  She's an awesome person and cook, and in typical Julia-fashion, she answered me without missing a beat: "Make the Sarajevo Moussaka from the Sundays at Moosewood Cookbook.  It's got mushrooms and zucchini, and it's topped with a feta-egg mixture. She will love it!"

I found an online version and went from there.  Like any layered dish, making this takes time.  But with the snow falling outside, all I wanted to do was stay inside and cook. I made the tomato sauce, starting with sauteed onions and garlic, and then using a 29 oz. can of crushed tomatoes, white wine, veggie broth, and some leftover pesto I had in the freezer. I roasted zucchini slices in a 450 degree (F) oven until they were lightly browned.  I sauteed the mushrooms and onions and finished them with some white wine and soy sauce. Finally, I parboiled the no-boil lasagna noodles until they were flexible.

With our mise en place complete, Ulrike came in and helped put the moussaka together.

Getting ready to layer the moussaka.

Ulrike put down the first layer of tomato sauce and then a layer of noodles.  Since our casserole was an oval shape, she cut pieces of noodle to fit.  Then we put down half the zucchini and one cup of the mushrooms, and added some more sauce. We laid down the next layer of noodles in a different direction than the first layer to give the moussaka structure. Two more layers and we were done.

Ulrike then whisked the eggs, feta, and some fresh parsley together and topped the moussaka:

After an hour and ten minutes in a 350 degree (F) oven, it came out looking like this:

It's a tad dark.  I should have covered it with foil when it was browned enough, probably around 45 minutes, but I got caught up in watching 30 Rock, which I had dvr-ed.  What can I say?  I am human.

Finally, we let it rest for 15 minutes, tented with foil, so that the moussaka could set.  When you let it set, it cuts very nicely.

As Julia predicted, Ulrike did indeed love the moussaka.  She kept saying, "This is so good. This is so good." My carnivore husband even tried it and liked it.

Which made this carnivore very, very happy.

My tips:

1) Parboil the noodles. Even though the noodles I used are no-boil lasagna noodles, I still like to blanche them in heavily salted and boiling water for a couple minutes until they are flexible.  The benefits are many: 1) you don't have to worry about them not fully cooking through in the oven, 2) when they are flexible, you can cut noodles to fit into the pan, and 3) cooking them in heavily salted water means the noodles are seasoned, and you don't need to worry about your dish being bland.

2) Criss-cross the noodles when layering. Layering the noodles in different directions adds structural integrity to the moussaka structure.  When you cut it, it stays in nice pieces.

3) Let the moussaka rest for 15 minutes, so that it will set.  When it comes time to cut slices, the slices will stay together. Tent it with foil, so it stays warm.

Sarajevo Moussaka with Mushrooms and Zucchini

I loosely followed this online recipe from Food and Wine, which is a variation of the original recipe in the Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant Cookbook. I cut the ingredients in half to make a moussaka for 4 people, except for the tomato sauce as I wanted to make sure I had enough to layer the casserole, and I wanted some to serve at table-side. I made my own version of the tomato sauce as well.  I'm sure you could use your favorite jarred sauce if you don't want to make your own sauce.  Just make sure you have around 3 cups of sauce.

Please note that if you want to do this from start to finish, it will take about two hours of prep and cooking time.

To use throughout the recipe:
Olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped
Fresh parsley, chopped (optional)
Kosher salt and pepper

Tomato Sauce
1/4 of the chopped onions
1 clove garlic, minced
1 29 oz. can crushed tomatoes
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 cup vegetable broth
2 tbs. finely chopped basil or 2 tbs. pesto

Mushroom Mixture
1 lb. sliced mushrooms
3/4 of the chopped onions
1 tbs. soy sauce
1/4 cup white wine
1 tbs. finely chopped dill (I used 1 tsp. dried oregano as a substitute)

1 lb. zucchini, sliced cross-wise in 1/2 inch slices
Olive oil
Kosher salt and pepper

12 no-boil lasagna noodles (I used Barilla brand)

Egg-feta Topping
3 eggs, whisked
1/2 pound crumbled feta cheese

Turn the oven to 450 degrees (F).

Put sliced zucchini in a large bowl and toss in enough olive oil so that each piece is lightly coated with oil.  Place on a non-stick baking sheet (I line mine with a Silpat) and lightly sprinkle each piece with kosher salt and pepper. Set aside until oven is preheated.

Heat a large saucepan over medium-high heat.  When hot (hover your hand above the skillet and when you can only do it a few seconds, it's hot enough), add a couple tablespoons of olive oil. Swirl the oil around and add 1/4 of the chopped onions.  Turn down the heat to medium-low.  Add salt and pepper to season. Cook for five minutes until softened, stirring occasionally. Add the white wine, tomatoes, and veggie broth. Simmer uncovered about 15-20 minutes. Stir in the basil or pesto, and some chopped parsley (optional).  Taste, adding salt and pepper as necessary.  It should not be a thick sauce but a loose sauce, as some of the liquid will be absorbed by the noodles when cooking.  If it seems really thick, add a little more water or veggie broth.

If the oven is preheated now, put the zucchini in the oven.  Cook for 15-20 minutes until lightly browned.  When done, remove from the oven and set aside. Turn oven off if you're not going to cook the moussaka right away or turn it down to 350 degrees (F) if you are.

Fill a large pot with water and heat to boil. Mostly cover, so that it comes to a boil more quickly.

While the water is heating, heat a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add 1/4 cup of olive oil and swirl around. Add mushrooms and onions.  Turn down the heat to medium. Cook for about 10 minutes or until the onions are translucent and the mushrooms are browned. Add wine and soy sauce and cook a few minutes until the liquid has reduced.  Add the dill or oregano, and salt and pepper. Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary. Turn off heat and set aside.

When the water is boiling, add a generous amount of kosher salt.  I usually taste the water to make sure it's salty enough, as you want the water to season the noodles. Add the noodles, but don't walk away! Move the noodles around in the water, so they don't stick together, and when they are flexible, pull them out.  This takes just a couple minutes.  Lay them out individually on a Silpat or non-stick foil.

Now it's time to layer the moussaka.  It's easier if you divide your zucchini in 1/2 and put them in separate bowls, and divide your mushrooms in thirds and put them in separate bowls.

Here are the layers (listed as if you were looking at the casserole from the side, so start from the bottom of the list and work your way up)

Feta-egg mixture
Tomato sauce (1/2 cup)
Last noodle layer (2 Barilla no boil noodles)
Rest of the mushrooms (1 cup)
Tomato sauce (1/4 cup)
1 layer of noodles going in the other direction from the first ones (2 Barilla no boil noodles, plus 1/2 of one to fit the edges)
Tomato sauce (1/4 cup)
1 layer of mushrooms (use 1/3 of the mushrooms (1 cup))
1 layer of zucchini (use 1/2 the zucchini)
1 layer of noodles going in the other direction from the first ones (2 Barilla no boil noodles, plus 1/2 of one to fit the edges)
Tomato sauce (1/4 cup)
1 layer of noodles going in the other direction from the first ones (2 Barilla no boil noodles, plus 1/2 of one to fit the edges)
Tomato sauce (1/4 cup)
1 layer of mushrooms (use 1/3 of the mushrooms (1 cup))
1 layer of zucchini (use 1/2 the zucchini)
1 layer of noodles (don't overlap if possible;  2 Barilla no boil noodles, plus 1/2 of one to fit the edges)
Tomato sauce (1/2 cup)
Bottom of casserole pan

Whisk eggs, feta, and some chopped parsley (optional; for color) together and lay on top of the casserole.  Put the casserole in the 350 degree (F) oven and cook for 45 minutes until lightly browned.  Cover and cook another 15 minutes.

Take the moussaka out of the oven and tent with foil.  Let it rest for 15 minutes before cutting.

Serve with a simple green salad.  Delicious!