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A Summer Menu for New Parents

Chickpea-Eggplant Dip
Grilled Flatbread with Za’atar
Chicken Marbella
Couscous Salad with Mangoes
Raspberry Buttermilk Cake

Dear friends of ours had a baby boy on August 1st.  This menu was intended to provide them with their first at-home meal after they brought him home from the hospital.  I anticipated that they would have many friends dropping by to see the baby and therefore planned a menu that could be served cold or at room temperature for lunch or dinner and that would keep over a few days. 

 Chickpea-Eggplant Dip

For this occasion I followed Marcus Samuelsson’s  recipe in The Soul of a New Cuisine but I divided it in half.  I found the result to be flavourful, but the texture was pasty.  Below is my revised recipe.

1 c. dried chickpeas, soaked in cold water for 8 hours or overnight
1 carrot, peeled and cut in half
1 small onion, cut in half
2 garlic cloves, peeled
1 eggplant, cut lengthwise in half
2 T. olive oil
1 Thai red chili, cut in half, seeds and ribs removed
1 t. ground cumin
1/2 c. plain yogurt, or to taste
salt, pepper and lemon juice, to taste
1-2 t. harissa, optional (recipe below)

Makes approximately 1 1/2 cups

Combine soaked chickpeas, carrot and onion in a medium saucepan, add 2 cups water and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer until the chickpeas or very tender, about 1 1/2 hours.  Drain, reserving ½ cup of the cooking liquid.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 300ºF.  Toss the garlic and eggplant with 2 T. oil and arrange on a roasting pan, eggplant cut side down, and roast for 40 minutes.  Add the chili to the roasting pan, cut side down, and roast for another 10 minutes.  Set aside until cool enough to handle.

Scoop the flesh from the eggplant and transfer to a blender.  Add the roasted garlic and chili, chickpeas, cumin, 1 T. olive oil and about 2 T. of cooking liquid.  Purée, adding enough yogurt and more of the cooking liquid, if needed, to reach a light, creamy consistency.  Adjust seasoning with salt, pepper, lemon juice and harissa.  The dip will keep several days in the refrigerator, but is best served at room temperature.

3/4 c. olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 t. caraway seeds
1 c. mild chili powder
1 T. ground coriander
1 t. salt
2 T. chopped mint

Heat the oil in a small sauté pan over medium heat. When the oil shimmers, add the garlic and sauté until golden, about 4 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat. Add the caraway seeds, chili powder, salt and mint and stir to combine. Let cool. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. Harissa can also be used as an accompaniment to couscous or as a flavouring for soups and stews.

Grilled Flatbread with Za’atar
This flatbread recipe is from Bon Appetit, May 2007.  It can be varied by using any spice or herb mixture to finish and they freeze well.

1 1/4 c. warm water
1 t. active dry yeast
3 c. (or more) all purpose flour
2 t. coarse kosher salt
5 T. (about) olive oil, divided
2 T. za’atar*

*Recipe below or available at specialty foods stores

Place 1 1/4 c. warm water in small bowl. Sprinkle yeast over. Let stand until yeast dissolves, about 10 minutes. Whisk 3 c. flour and salt in large bowl. Add yeast mixture and 2 T. oil. Using wooden spoon, mix until sticky dough forms. Turn out onto floured surface. Knead until smooth and elastic, sprinkling with more flour if very sticky, about 6 minutes.

Oil another large bowl. Add dough; turn to coat. Cover with plastic wrap. Let dough rise until doubled in volume, about 1 1/2 hours. Punch down dough; divide into 6 pieces. Shape each piece into ball. Roll out each on lightly floured surface to 7×4-inch oval.

Prepare barbecue (medium-high heat). Grill each flatbread until cooked through and golden, about 4 minutes per side. Transfer hot flatbreads to board. Brush with olive oil; sprinkle with za’atar. Serve warm or at room temperature. Makes 6

2 tablespoons minced fresh thyme
2 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted
2 teaspoons ground sumac*
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt

Mix all ingredients in a small bowl.

*Sumac comes from the berries of a bush that grows wild in all Mediterranean areas, especially in Sicily and southern Italy, and parts of the Middle East. It is an essential ingredient in Arabic cooking, preferred to lemon for sourness and astringency. It is used widely in Arabic,Turkish and Lebanese cuisine. In these areas it is a souring agent, where other regions would use lemon, tamarind or vinegar. (reference: Wikipedia)

Chicken Marbella

This recipe for Chicken Marbella has been kicking around since The Silver Palate cookbook first came out in 1979.  I have countless friends who come back to this chicken dish time and time again because of its flavour, the convenience of making it ahead of time and the fact that it can be easily adjusted to serve a small or large gathering.  It is particularly good in the summer, as it tastes good at room temperature and can be accompanied by a huge variety of salads.

Changes I make to the recipe:   I use chicken thighs and breasts instead of whole chickens and I cook the thighs for a while before adding breasts to the pan.  For this menu, I omitted the prunes since there was already some fruit in Couscous with Mangoes.

4 chickens, 2½ lbs. each, quartered (I use chicken thighs and breasts)
1 head of garlic, peeled and finely puréed
1/4 c. dried oregano
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 c. red wine vinegar
1/2 c. olive oil
1 c. pitted prunes
1/2 pitted green olives
1/2 c. capers, with some of the juice
6 bay leaves
1 c. brown sugar
1 c. white wine
1/4 c. parsley, chopped

In a large bowl combine chicken pieces, garlic, oregano, salt and pepper to taste, vinegar, olive oil, prunes, olives, capers and juice, and bay leaves.  Cover and let marinate, refrigerated, overnight.

Preheat oven to 350ºF.  Arrange chicken in a single layer in one or two large, shallow pans and spoon marinade over it evenly.  Sprinkle with brown sugar and pour white wine around them.  Bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour, basting frequently with pan juices.  With a slotted spoon transfer chicken, prunes if using, olives and capers to a serving platter.  Moisten with a few spoonfuls of pan juices and sprinkle with chopped parsley.

Makes 10 or more portions.

Couscous Salad with Mangoes (adapted from Marcus Samuelsson’s recipe in The Soul of a New Cuisine)

1 c. couscous, cooked
1 clove garlic, minced
1 T. grapeseed oil
1 jalepeno pepper, minced
1 mango, peeled and cubed
1/2 c. chopped basil and more leaves for garnish
1/2 c. chopped parsley
1/4 c. lime juice, or to taste, plus wedges for garnish
salt and pepper, to taste
1/2 c. toasted pine nuts, more for garnish

In a bowl, pour 1 cup boiling water over couscous, cover and let rest 10 minutes.  Fluff with a fork.

Sauté garlic and jalepeno in oil, just enough to bring out the flavours, but not to brown them.  Add mango cubes and just barely heat through.  Add to cooked couscous and toss with basil, lime juice and pine nuts.  Season to taste with salt, pepper and more lime juice.  Garnish with wedges of lime, pine nuts and basil leaves.  Serve cold or at room temperature. Makes 6 servings.

Raspberry Buttermilk Cake

This light and summery cake has been appearing on many food blogs lately and at http:/

1 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. baking soda
1/4 t. salt
1/2 stick (4 T.) unsalted butter, softened
2/3 c. plus 1 1/2 T. sugar, divided
1/2 t. pure vanilla extract
1 large egg
1/2 c. well-shaken buttermilk
1 c. fresh raspberries (about 5 oz.)

Preheat oven to 400°F with rack in middle. Butter and flour a 9-inch round cake pan (I used a 9-inch spring-form pan). Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Beat butter and ⅔ c. sugar with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 2 minutes, then beat in vanilla. Add egg and beat well. At low speed, mix in flour mixture in 3 batches, alternating with buttermilk, beginning and ending with flour, and mixing until just combined. Spoon batter into cake pan, smoothing top. Scatter raspberries evenly over top and sprinkle with remaining 1½ T. sugar. Bake until cake is golden and a wooden pick inserted into centre comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes (it took more like 45 minutes in my oven). Cool in pan 10 minutes, then turn out onto a rack and cool to warm, 10 to 15 minutes more. Invert onto a plate. Serves 6

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