Saturday, 20 October 2012

Weekend Refresher with Za'atar-Spiced Beet Dip with Goat Cheese and Hazelnuts

October 2012

SmartCooks here.  It was a whirlwind week of cross-country flying on oversold/late planes (!) and meetings with close to 600 people -- in person and by teleconference and videoconference -- plus a rapid tour of the services for veterans at a military base.  

This weekend ... back on ground zero ... offers a breather to chill with Za'atar-Spiced Beet Dip with Goat Cheese and Hazelnuts.  

It's the second time I've made this dip, and results from both trials are the same -- refreshing, unique, pleasing taste and low-fat dish if you use the hazelnuts and goat cheese in moderation.  

The first time I made it with red beets and it turned out very close to the colour in pix at right (from Food and Wine).  

The second time I made it with golden and Chioggia (or candycane, pix left) heirloom beets, resulting in a lighter coloured dish.

Za'atar-spiced beet dip can be used as a spread, as an appetizer with whole wheat crackers from a Smitten Kitchen recipe or even a light dinner with wholewheat pita.    

A word about Za'atar 

I've written about my discovery of and use of za'atar before on SmartCooks and once again encourage trying it.  It's both a herb (known as the 'King of Herbs' in the Middle East) and a spice blend.  The herb is rarely exported so in North America we tend to find a variation of the spices depending on the region (as in photo right).

It's a versatile spice blend that can be used in a variety of dishes -- from meats and rice to veggies, dips and breads. It can be bought mixed or try a variety of recipes for it, which typically involve thyme, marjoram, oregano, sumac and roasted sesame seeds.  


Za'atar-Spiced Beet Dip with Goat Cheese and Hazelnuts

6 medium beets, or about 1.5 lbs 
2 small garlic cloves, minced
1 small red chile, seeded and minced
1 cup plain Greek yogurt (I used 0% fat)
3 T extra-virgin olive oil
1.5 T pure maple syrup
1 T za'atar
Kosher salt
1/4 cup roasted skinned hazelnuts, chopped
2 T goat cheese, crumbled
2  scallions, thinly sliced 
Interesting bread, wholewheat pita, or crackers, for serving 


Preheat the over to 350 degrees.  Place beets in a roasting pan and add 1/4 cup of water, cover with foil and bake, until tender, about 1 hour.  Let cool slightly, peel, and cut beets into wedges, then transfer to a food processor.

Add garlic, chile and yogurt to food processor and pulse until blended.  Add the olive oil, maple syrup, and za'atar and puree.  Season with salt.  

Scrape into a wide, shallow bowl.  Scatter roasted hazelnuts, goal cheese and scallions on top and serve with bread, crackers or wholewheat pita.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Thai Chile-Lime Cashews

October 2012 

SmartCooks here.  For Thanksgiving dinner, you don't usually need much in the way of appetizers. This year Bon Appetit was featuring light appetizers and I found and tried Thai Chile-Lime Cashews.  They worked well, especially set out in cute little bowls in the living and dining rooms.  Plus a small bowl for the cook!  

I preferred making my own mostly because you can control the sodium level.  In this version you get only about one-third of what you find in store-bought versions.  Plus, this appetizer is super simple to make and cheaper than the packaged brands!  

I found all the ingredients, i.e., the dried chiles de arbol, ground ancho chiles and kaffir leaves at my favourite local, organic Herb and Spice store.  

Despite the chiles, this is not a super-spicy dish. The lime cools it off considerably.  To borrow a phrase ... Bet you can't eat just one!  Bon Appetit-izer! 

4 cups raw cashews (definitely unsalted) 
15 dried chiles de arbol, pix below
10 kaffir lime leaves cut in 1/4 inch slices
2 T melted unsalted butter
2 T vegetable oil (I used safflower) 
1 T kosher salt (or less... up to you) 
1.5 tsp ground ancho chiles (pix right) 
2 T finely grated lime zest 


Preheat oven to 325°F. 

Combine cashews, dried chiles de arbol, kaffir lime leaves, unsalted butter, vegetable oil, kosher salt and ancho chiles in a large bowl and toss to coat.  Spread nut mixture in an even layer on a large rimmed baking sheet.

Roast, stirring occasionally, until cashews are evenly toasted, about 20 minutes. Let nut mixture cool completely on sheet on a wire rack. Transfer nuts to a large bowl and toss with the grated lime zest. 

This appetizer can be made up to 2 days ahead of the event and leftovers stored in a tight container at room temperature for awhile (I don't know for how long... they didn't last).

Monday, 8 October 2012

South Indian Beef Curry with Rice or Quinoa

SmartCooks here.

The Canadian three-day holidays are just fine.  Almost over though.  Darn.  I'm leaving on a jet plane again tomorrow... this time to Halifax and then C'Town, then next week across the country to various locations talking to the regional folks. Wish I had good news to impart ... tough six months ahead.  

As I expected with this new position ... month 3 ... blogging is difficult.  Cooking is difficult.  Eating healthy is difficult. Carving out 45 minutes 2x a week for Greco's personal training is difficult as is timing a rockin' Goodlife cardio class.  

To take back life, I found a delicious recipe in my Food and Wine app for South Indian Beef Curry with Rice.  I skipped the fragrant basmati rice in favour of a medley of quinoa (black, red, and white) mixed with a bit of leftover Israeli couscous.  The dish was a completely divine Saturday dinner-with-movie affair, definitely worth searching out boneless beef short ribs at the butcher and asking him or her to cut it into 3/4 inch slices or, better yet, cubes.  Saslove's Meat Market even found me local hormone ones, much to my delight.  No worries about any XL meat in my life.   

South Indian Beef Curry is super simple to prepare, a one-pot meal, that simmers for 90 minutes to end up a tender, well-blended, not too hot, meal.  It's a keeper.  All the spices can be found at whatever local version of a Herb and Spice you have in your area, including the dried Chili Peppers (left) that are a staple of mine for Thai and Indian curries.  

South Indian Cuisine

I did a bit of research to understand the style and characteristics of South Indian cuisine.  I couldn't possibly do it justice here but most sites seem to agree that most South Indian food is based on some type of rice, often eaten with a curry.  Food tends to have a generous, but balanced, amount of spices in both the vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes of the region.  Tempering of dishes tends to include a mixture of oil, curry leaves, red chiles etc.  So... 


South Indian Beef Curry with Rice  


2 T canola oil
1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
12 fresh curry leaves (hard to find so I used dry) or 2 bay leaves
2 garlic cloves, grated
4 tsp finely grated and peeled fresh ginger 
1 T tomato paste (the tubes of tomato paste are fabulo), dissolved in 1/2 cup of water
2 tsp ground coriander 
1 tsp garam masala
1 tsp cayenne
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
4 small dried hot chiles
4 star anise pods (pictured, right) 
2 3-inch cinnamon sticks
1 3/4 lbs boneless beef short ribs, 
cut into 3/4 inch pieces 
Salt (I used kosher salt)


In a heavy-bottomed or cast-iron casserole, heat the canola oil until shimmering.

Add the onion and curry leaves and cook over moderate heat until lightly browned, about 5-7 minutes. 

Add the garlic and ginger and cook until aromas develop, about 1 minute.

Stir in the tomato paste dissolved in water, along with the coriander, garam masala, cayenne, turmeric, dried chiles, star anise and cinnamon sticks.  

Add the ribs, season with salt and stir until coated with the spices.  Cover partially and cook over very low heat until the meat is tender, about 1 hour and 30 minutes.  

Spoon off any fat and discard the star anise, cinnamon sticks and any bay leaves, if using.  I also took out some of the dried chiles.

Serve over rice e.g., basmati or whole wheat.  Quinoa, Israeli couscous or any type of whole grain are always options.