Wednesday, February 27, 2013

A Couscous for the World Day of Prayer

                                               “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”

World Day of Prayer is a worldwide ecumenical celebration held the first Friday in March. Each year a different country develops the worship service spotlighting issues that they find important. This year a committee of women from France worked together to create the service and they chose to spotlight the struggles of immigration and ways to welcome “the stranger.” Men, women, and children in more than 170 countries and regions will celebrate World Day of Prayer.
Following the service, there is always a reception featuring foods of the “host” country. With France’s multiethnic population in mind, my red-haired food co-pilot (also the local co-pilot of this year’s WDP celebration), suggested making a couscous in recognition of the Moroccan immigrant community in France.
This couscous is not traditionally Moroccan, rather one inspired by Moroccan cooking. It’s good alone or as an accompaniment similar to one you might find  in a Moroccan meal.
This recipe is scaled down to two servings but it can easily feed more by expanding the quantity of ingredients.

A Couscous for the World Day of Prayer
For two servings:
1/3 cup couscous
½ cup water
¼  teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon olive oil

Zest and segments from one navel orange
1 Tablespoon harissa (optional)*
1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
8 oil-cured black olives, pitted and chopped
¼ cup diced red onion
¼ cup shelled pistachios, chopped
1 Tablespoon chopped cilantro
1 Tablespoon chopped flat leaf parsley
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper

1. Place the water, salt and olive oil into a small saucepan. Place the saucepan over high heat and bring the water to a boil. Remove the pan from the heat, add the couscous, stir and cover the pot. Let the pan sit off the heat for 5 minutes until the water has been absorbed into the couscous.  Let cool.
2. Grate the zest from the orange and place it into a medium-sized mixing bowl. To segment the orange, cut the top and bottom from the orange. Slice the peel of the orange from the top to the bottom, exposing the flesh of the orange. Carefully cut the segments away from the pith; do this over the mixing bowl to capture any juice. Place the segments into a separate small bowl. Squeeze what remains of the orange into the mixing bowl.
3. Place the harissa and the olive oil into the bowl with the zest and juice and whisk to combine. Fluff the cooled couscous with a fork until it is broken up and add it to the mixing bowl. Stir to coat the couscous with the dressing. Add the remaining ingredients-the olives, onion, pistachios, and herbs- and mix to combine. Season the couscous with salt and ground black pepper. Cover and refrigerate until needed.
4. Before serving, remove the couscous from the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature. Cut the orange segments in half, crosswise, and mix them into the couscous. Taste and adjust seasoning before serving.

                                                          Seared Salmon and Couscous

* Harissa is a Moroccan condiment made from red bell pepper, garlic, olive oil, vinegar and chili pepper. If you cannot find it, it can be omitted.

Friday, February 8, 2013

A Gumbo for Mardi Gras

                                                “I’m going to make a chicken gumbo
                                                       Toss some sausage in the pot
                                                     I’m going to flavor it with okra
                                                   Cayenne pepper to make it hot…”*

A Gumbo for Mardi Gras
(listening: Wynton Marsalis Quartet: “Live at Blues Alley”, disc two

Is it a cliché to think of New Orleans at the beginning of Lent? They are, after all, known for the largest celebration in the country to usher in the beginning of the Easter season; a symbolic last night of excess before what is traditionally seen as a time of doing with less.
Gumbo, just one of the many foods synonymous with New Orleans, is a stew born out of the necessity to eat and using what was on hand. In her excellent book, “High on the Hog,” author/food historian Jessica Harris reveals that the roots of word “gumbo” can be traced to the Bantu language where okra, often a key gumbo component, is known as ochingombo or guingombo. Gumbo as we know it today has had a long journey with many hands stirring and seasoning the pot along the way.
That said, there is no okra in this recipe, unless you want to add it. I like okra, but not when its, shall we say, “gooey” qualities come out. This is only one approach to making a gumbo. If you’ve never made one, this one will get you started; from here you can stir the pot your own way.
I use andouille sausage, which is now easier to find outside of Louisiana, as well as chicken and shrimp. This recipe will easily feed six. Easily. Expand the recipe and you could feed a small gathering, which begs the question: why isn’t a gumbo made more often than the ubiquitous pot of chili that always seems to appear at social gatherings?
Well, no matter. We’re eating well with this, my friends.
Vegetarian friends can stir the pot in their own way. (This includes any of you who might be distantly related to Cajuns).  Perhaps it could use  vegetarian-friendly “sausage” with plenty of vegetables and spices.
Should gumbo not be your Fat Tuesday choice, locally we celebrate “Fastnacht” Day ("what-what day?"). Fastnacht, or “Fast Night” is the Pennsylvania German tradition of feasting the night before Lent begins and here it is symbolically represented with special doughnuts called fastnachts.  I look at it as a win-win situation.

And always serve gumbo with rice.

This gumbo, like many others, begins with a roux; it can be made in advance and refrigerated until needed.  (Even that “Bam” guy says making roux ahead of time is fine).

6 Tablespoons vegetable oil, such as canola                                  
6 Tablespoons flour

1. Place a saucepan over medium heat. Add the oil and whisk in the flour.
 Cook the roux for 15 to 20 minutes, watching and adjusting the temperature so that the roux slowly browns to a chocolate color. Whisk throughout.
You’ll be able to notice the color changes as well as smell the differences; first there will be the smell of raw flour, replaced by
 a more toasted smell. Think popcorn.
Remove the finished roux from heat and continue whisking; the roux will continue to cook off the heat; you might be surprised how much darker it will get as it sits off of the heat. Store the cooled roux in a covered container in the refrigerator if not using it right away. The roux will keep for several weeks.


1 large onion, diced
1 red or green bell pepper, diced
2 ribs celery, diced
2 to 3 cloves garlic, chopped
6 ounces andouille sausage, sliced
One 28 ounce can whole tomatoes, crushed by hand
1 cup water
1 ½ cups chicken broth or water
About 12 fresh thyme sprigs, tied with string
2 or 3 bay leaves
¼ cup chopped flat leaf parsley
½ cup roux
about 1 pound chicken, white or dark meat, diced
½ pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
olive oil, for cooking
salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Place a large Dutch oven (4 quart size) over medium heat. Swirl in 2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil. Add the onion, pepper, and celery to the pot, stir, and season lightly with salt. Reduce the heat and cover to sweat the vegetables for about 5 minutes.
2. Uncover the pot, raise the heat, add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
3. Add the andouille sausage and stir. Cook for another 4 to 5 minutes to release the flavors of the sausage.
4. Add the crushed tomatoes to the pot; rinse out the can with 1 cup water, adding it to the pot.. Add the additional chicken broth or water; season with some salt, about a teaspoon, and ground black pepper. You can also add some red chili flakes or cayenne pepper if you want your gumbo spicy; this all depends on the spiciness of the sausage. Add the thyme, bay leaves, and chopped parsley.
5. Stir in ½ cup of the prepared roux until evenly incorporated.
6. Add the chicken. Raise the heat until the gumbo begins to simmer. Adjust the heat so that the gumbo simmers gently, for about an hour to an hour and a half. Stir occasionally during cooking.
7. Before serving, taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary. Add the shrimp to the gumbo and cook for a final five minutes. Remove the bay leaves before serving.

* from “So Beautiful or So What,”  lyrics by Paul Simon