Tony is all about food. His ongoing food events and special projects have been featured in the press. To learn more, you can view his gallery, read his blog, or simply contact him directly.

Archive for September, 2008


Celebrating a year of Olive Juice, with a drink

أهدي هذا إلى جميع أفراد عائلتي في حلب، وأقدم شكري للجميع، خاصة خالتي كيكي، لحسن استقبالها لي أثناء زيارتي إلى حلب. ولم تغب صورة الأهل عن فكري بكل رشفة أشربها. حيث أتخيل حلب وأهلها الأحباء في ذهني، والتي لن تغيب أبد الدهر

I would like to dedicate this post to all my family in Aleppo, Syria, and extend my thanks to everyone, especially my Aunt Christine for her kind hospitality during my visit to Aleppo. With each sip of this drink I remember them in my memories, which will last forever.

My blog turned one this past Tuesday. I didn’t even think I’d last this long, but sure enough, I love to eat and a few snaps from the camera never hurt anyone (except when someone, ahem ahem, tries to eat the food before it’s been thoroughly photographed). All is well now; I’ve gotten a lot better at quickly taking the shots I need and clearing the food for consumption.  

Today I want to share a recipe that has been sitting in my back burner for a whopping 9 months now. It’s for a traditional Middle Eastern drink called شراب اللوز (“sharab al loz” in English) that is made from just almonds, milk and sugar. I had it for the first time when I visited Aleppo last winter and there is no better way to put it other than, I was hooked. Nothing complicated, but in my opinion, it was the essence of unadulterated almond perfection.

start with good almonds
almonds

Don’t think it was easy though, I worked for this recipe, very, very hard. As soon as I showed even the slightest interest in knowing how this drink was made, it was as though the whole country simultaneously suffered varying degrees of memory loss. No one was ready to divulge their secrets, but I wasn’t about to give up just yet.

I had no shame; I employed the help of my cousins and we went store to store asking around for the recipe. After a while we lost track of whom we had already asked and ended up asking some people multiple times – they weren’t too happy about this. Eventually we found a kind old man who sold buttons and fabrics, and with my broken Arabic I initiated a conversation with him. I think he felt sorry for me more than anything else and gave me a very basic idea of how the drink is made. I, of course, thanked him for all his help and my cousins were simply relieved they weren’t on recipe duty anymore.

mise en place
mise en place

As soon as I got back to school, this was one of the stories I shared with the dean from Cornell that funded my dream research project. She thought it was odd that I had such a fascination with something that already existed in the States and was readily available at all major supermarkets. She prefaced the comment with her opinion that the almond milk found in the organic section of the grocery store doesn’t taste well, but being the curious foodie that I am, I gave it a try. Not only was she right, but “doesn’t taste well” was a complete and utter understatement. The almond milk I had from the store tasted like someone had soaked cardboard in water for months, processed it and finished it off with a couple drops of the foulest-tasting almond extract known to man. My description may also be an understatement, but I hope it gets the message across.

make sure there’s some left for snacking
almonds for snacking

You can safely put away the cardboard for this recipe; we’re using nothing but real almonds here. Besides being ridiculously good for you, almonds also have the added benefits of being delicious. These are the best sorts of foods in my opinion – guiltless and tasty. 

a quick blanch in hot water makes them easy to peel
peeled almonds

After soaking and blanching the almonds, the peels slip right off. I actually found it therapeutic, which is why I decided to add this picture. Does anyone else find other cooking processes therapeutic or is it just me? Anyway, I digress. Once you get the peels off, process everything in the blender until you get a smooth consistency (depending on the power of your blender, this may take 5-10 minutes).

sharab al-loz (شراب اللوز)
sharab el loz

Once the mixture comes out of the blender it will be slightly thick as this is technically the base for the beverage. Keep this base in the fridge and whenever you want a glass of this frothy, almond drink all you have to do is blend it with some ice, a little more milk and saha w hana (bon appétit in Arabic).

Sharab Al Loz

serves approx. 6-8 people

Components

  • 1/4 kg almonds
  • 1/4 kg sugar
  • 1/2 kg water
  • milk, for service
  • ice, for service

Putting them all together

  1. Soak the almonds in water overnight.
  2. Boil the almonds for 10-15 minutes and peel immediately.
  3. While the almonds are boiling, make a simple syrup by mixing the sugar and water in a saucepan and simmering until all the sugar is melted.
  4. Blend the peeled almonds with the hot simple syrup. Warning: be sure to vent your lid and pulse so that the hot syrup does not explode when you turn on the blender.
  5. Blend the almond mixture for 7-10 minutes in a strong blender.
  6. Strain the mix with a cheese cloth or a fine sieve and refrigerate until ready to serve.
  7. Once the sharab (the base) is cooled, you can prepare the beverage by mixing 1 part sharab, to 1 part milk and a little ice. You can add more milk and ice to thin out the consistency to your liking.

notes: If you’re lactose intolerant you can try replacing the milk for some soy milk. Also, if you want to reduce the amount of sugar, honey is a great alternative.  

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I’ve caught the Spanish bug

Spanish tapas have been on my mind ever since I made those croquetas the other day. They were a hit in the house and the leftovers treated me well (at least while they lasted). Once the last croqueta was gone though, my stomach went into what I’ve come to call, “pregnant woman mode.” Pregnant women may claim to have it bad, but a foodie-craving is no joking matter. I wanted more tapas, stat.

mise en place
mise en place

Champiñones al ajillo is exactly what I needed – literally garlic mushrooms. I set aside this weekend to be my relax/be-super-lazy weekend and so anything that took more than 10 minutes to make was out of the question. These mushrooms met all my stringent criteria, and the heaping mound of garlic only added to their appeal. If you don’t have the 10 5 minutes it takes to put these together, but you happen to be walking around Spain, you’re in luck. Any reputable tapas bar will gladly serve you up a plate of these mushrooms; although, if you want to blend in more with the locals, call them champis and don’t use their full name, champiñones al ajillo.

Spanish paprika
Spanish paprika

Recipes for this classic Spanish tapas will vary. Some will call for freshly squeezed lemon juice, while others want bread crumbs, but none of them leave out the Spanish paprika – a quintessential ingredient in Spanish cuisine. You can find this paprika in three varieties: sweet, smoked or spicy, but these champis pair perfectly with the spicy variation, which also happens to be my favorite. 

mushrooms cooked in lots and lots of garlic
champis al ajillo

From raw ingredients to what you see above takes no more than five minutes. If you don’t have Spanish sherry, a feasible substitute would be some marsala wine, but obviously, it won’t produce the same flavor. On the topic of substitutions, you can also substitute the mushrooms for some shrimp and you’ll end up with another classic Spanish tapas, gambas al ajillo.

champiñones al ajillo
champis al ajillo

OK, I’ve been rambling for way too long. You could’ve probably made two batches of these already but I’ve kept you, yet again. Go make some and enjoy!

Champiñones al Ajillo

serves approx. 6-8 people

Components

  • 1 lb button mushrooms, quartered
  • 5-6 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp Spanish paprika, spicy
  • 2 tbsp parsley, chopped
  • 3-4 tbsp olive oil, extra virgin
  • 1/4 cup Spanish sherry
  • salt & pepper, to taste

Putting them all together

  1. Heat up olive oil, garlic, and paprika in a large skillet.
  2. Once it starts to sizzle, add the quartered mushrooms and sauté for 3-4 minutes.
  3. Deglaze the pan with the dry sherry and cook until most of the liquid has reduced into more of a sauce. 
  4. Season with salt and pepper.
  5. Toss with chopped parsley and serve.

notes: OK, this recipe might take all of 8 minutes, but I still claim they’re well-spent. 

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Worth Frying For

I hate frying; and I’m sure I’m not alone when I say that I avoid frying like the plague. Don’t get me wrong, I can always enjoy a hearty batch of chicken wings or a few fried calamari, just not in my (tidy) kitchen. Whenever I do fry, which is rare, I make sure that it’s something completely worth the extra calories and additional cleanup at the end. These croquettes, my friends, are worth it – worth every single drop of splattering oil and all the calories in the world. 

mise en place
mise en place

If you haven’t had croquettes before, you’re in for a treat. They’re basically tiny nuggets of overly thick béchamel sauce that have been breaded and fried (pause: how can this not taste good?). Given its name, it seems as though the origin of this ingenious creation is French (surprise, surprise); but today they’re most commonly associated with Spanish tapas. Yep, the Spanish rock these bite sized treats usually with jamón serrano or chicken (or both, thanks Núria). Of course, I opted to blog about the ones made with jamón serrano (i.e. the pork variation).

filling update (09/14): You can also try tuna or spinach, thanks Nikki; or even use up all your leftovers, thanks Joey! For some extra ham flavor, just boil your milk with a jam bone and strain it before you want to use it, thanks Núria.

jamón serrano
jamón serrano

Jamón serrano is essentially Spain’s version of prosciutto. It’s actually one of the many varieties of cured hams native to Spain and the one most commonly used for making croquettes. If your supermarket doesn’t carry jamón serrano, you could always use prosciutto or swap out the ham entirely for some chicken. Be careful though not to confuse jamón serrano with jamón ibérico, which is Spain’s most prized variety of cured ham that runs between $52 and $96 a pound!

panko-breaded, ready to fry
breaded croquettes

These are the croquettes (breaded and ready to go into the hot oil). I coated mine with panko bread crumbs, which are Japanese style bread crumbs that I happened to have on hand. If you’re strictly going for an authentic taste and texture you should use regular bread crumbs; but either work just fine.  

crunchy on the outside; rich and creamy in the inside
a bite

This is the moment that makes the entire process completely worth it. After frying, the creamy inside becomes incased in a crispy, golden brown layer of fried deliciousness. If there’s any pearl of wisdom I can pass on to the readers of this post, it would be: beware of the extremely hot filling. It’s too embarrassing to admit how many times I’ve burnt my tongue trying to sneak a bite of these straight from the hot oil, but let’s just say I learned my lesson the hard way (multiple times). 

croquetas de jamón
croquetas de jamón

Like most tapas, croquettes are meant to be enjoyed with a glass of wine, in good company and in small portions (that’s the key to getting away with eating such decadent foods). If you’re craving some food trivia: the word tapas comes from the Spanish verb, tapar, which means to cover. Since tapas were traditionally served with a sweet wine at Spanish bars, people needed a way to keep flies from flying into their goblets. So bar owners started serving these small dishes called tapas for people to cover their drinks while having something to munch on – genius and definitely worth frying for!

Croquetas de Jamón

makes approx. 17-19 croquettes

Components

  • 1/2 lb jamón serrano, finely diced
  • 1 onion, finely diced
  • 4 tbsp butter
  • 50 g flour (4 heaping tbsp)
  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk
  • a pinch of nutmeg
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/2 cup flour, for breading
  • 1 cup bread crumbs
  • salt & pepper, to taste
  • olive oil, for frying

Putting them all together

  1. Heat up the milk on the stove or in the microwave.
  2. In a medium saucepan, melt the butter. Add the diced onion and sweat for 3-5 minutes (i.e cook over medium low heat so that the onion remains translucent). 
  3. Add the jamón serrano and flour and cook for a couple minutes until the dough turns a golden brown color. 
  4. Gradually add the milk, making sure to stir constantly. Cook until you get a very thick dough that comes away from the pan.
  5. Cover and refrigerate for a few hours (preferably overnight).
  6. Form the croquettes.  Bread them by coating them in flour, then egg, then rolling them in the bread crumbs.
  7. Fry until golden brown.

notes: You could freeze them before frying to fry at a later time. Or you could also fry lots of them, freeze them and bring them up to temperature in a 450 degree oven for 10 minutes.

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