Monthly Archives: April 2011

Vegetarian Ceviche

I watched – with envy – my travelling companions in Peru, as they devoured ceviche in a local Lima restaurant. I don’t eat seafood – and I’ll admit that the thought of fish or seafood eaten raw (in Lima) makes me more than a little bit nervous. But I love lime and cilantro – just the mention of it conjures up thoughts of warm Latin beach-side bistros – so why should vegetarians miss out on all the fun?

I also love avocado. When I was younger, I never ate it. My dad used to make fun of his mother’s waspy, jiggly little green mould of something containing avocado and shudder (I, too, shudder at the thought). I think that’s how I came to believe that I disliked avocado.  As with other good things – like olives, goat cheese and red wine – I learned as a young adult how deluded I had been. How do waspy people manage to destroy good things in the kitchen?  Anyway, I’ve maintained the belief that everything tastes good with avocado – except for maybe that jiggly avocado mould thing from Happy Homemakers 1955.

It’s warm and sunny today, and the hope of summer is on the breeze. What better way to celebrate than to post a recipe for vegetarian ceviche. It’s one of those things that purists might argue is impossible: vegetarian…ceviche? Is that an oxymoron? (Just like vegetarian…burger? What?) So call it what you want – a “salad” if you must. But don’t rule it out just because it contains no fish. It’s easy, delicious and oh-so-summery.

I stole the hearts of palm idea from another recipe for vegetarian ceviche – it makes it look real (like octopus)  – but the rest just comes from a good, straight forward ceviche recipe in my authentic Mexican cookbook. Serving it in big martini or margarita glasses makes it even more authentic looking.

Ingredients: (serves 4 as a side)

1 large avocado, diced

1/2 hearts of palm, sliced into rings

1 cup grape tomatoes, slices lengthwise

2 tbsp finely chopped red onion OR 3 minced scallions

1 garlic clove, minced

2-4 tbsp fresh cilantro, minced

1/2 jalapeno, finely minced (optional)

sea salt to taste

juice of two limes

1 tbsp olive oil

generous pinch of cumin (optional)

Instructions:

Mix together tomatoes, hearts of palm, onion, garlic and jalapeno (if using). Squeeze limes liberally over top, and drizzle the olive oil. Add the cilantro and cumin (if using) and toss gently. Right before serving, chop the avocado into small cubes and toss them gently with the salad. Add salt to taste. Serve salad portions in margarita cups and garnish with a sprig of cilantro or a green onion slice – and you could even add a wedge of lime on the lip of the glass.

Enjoy!

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Friday Night Pizza

First of all, I dropped the ball – big time. It’s been almost two months since I last posted – and what happened to Black History Month dinners, anyway? I have no (legitimate) excuses at all, and while I actually really did make those Black History Month meals – faithfully each Sunday – I never got to posting them, and it’s embarrassingly late to even try to rewind. But I will try to redeem myself.

It’s Friday night, and time for my ultimate comfort food: pizza. I’m not talking about the mass produced, greasy pizza from the chain pizzeria down the road. I am talking about a homey, wholesome and ridiculously delicious farmhouse pizza made in the sanctity of my own home, where I have complete control over what goes in/on the pizza – and (more importantly) what does not. A friend at work has made a special request for me to post it, and it seems like a good way to get back at it.

A few years ago we were in Spain and walking through the Ronda in search of some renowned tapas restaurant that was so “renowned” it had shut down since the Lonely Planet publication. It was hot. We were starving. I rarely pick a restaurant “cold” – especially one with touts urging us to enter. But I was tiring a bit of spanish “salads” and gazpacho, and this one had a wood-burning oven with an extensive pizza menu. I don’t know if it was just my desperation at the moment, but I maintain that the simple bocconcini and olive pizza I ate that day is the best pizza I have ever had. I’ve come as close to replicating it as I can; considering I don’t have a wood-burning oven, I’ve done well, if I do say so myself.

The recipe that follows is a long labour of love, and so before I turn anyone off of making their own wholesome farmhouse pizza, I will admit up front that on most Fridays I cheat and use Unico ready-made pizza sauce (which is actually quite good). But nothing tops a homemade sauce, and if you make a big batch in advance, you can freeze the sauce in half-cup portions so they’re ready to go on a Friday night, after a long week of work. Remember that any recipe is only as good as the ingredients you use. If you want a gourmet pizza, use gourmet ingredients. I use a high quality tomato in my sauce, organic stone ground whole grain flour in my crust, imported Greek dried oregano (purchased still on the stem, in a bouquet), fresh kalamata olives (don’t even think of using canned olives) and bocconcini purchased fresh from the counter at the deli.

Sauce recipe: (or use Unico authentic pizza sauce if you’re short on time)

3 cloves garlic, minced

olive oil

1 box Pomi brand pureed (strained) tomatoes (or another high quality brand of tomatoes – San Marzano if possible)

3 Tbsp tomato paste

1 tsp dried basil

1 tsp fennel seed, bruised

1 tsp oregano

1/2 tsp red pepper flakes

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 tsp cayenne

1/4 tsp sugar

1/4 tsp allspice

Instructions: Heat olive oil and garlic in a pot and cook gently for 3-5 minutes. Add remaining ingredients and allow to cook for half an hour. Use immediately on pizza, or divide into portions and freeze.

Dough: there is now a great product on the market that definitely expedites the whole pizza dough making process: Fleischmann’s Pizza yeast. You can find it beside the traditional yeast in the supermarket aisle. If you follow the directions on the jar, you will get a very thin pizza crust. This recipe doubles the instructions, and makes a few changes for going easy on the fat. Alternatively, many grocery chains carry fresh dough – all you have to do is roll it out and make your pizza. Highland Farms has it’s in-house whole wheat pizza dough for sale. A good alternative when you are really tight on time.

4 1/2 tsp  Fleischmann’s Pizza yeast

2 tsp sugar

1 tsp salt

1 1/3 cup very warm (not hot) water

3 tbsp olive oil

1 cup all-purpose flour

2 1/2 – 3 cups whole wheat flour

Mix yeast, sugar, salt, water, oil, all-purpose flour  and 1 cup of whole wheat flour to form a moist, almost sticky ball of dough. Slowly add enough of the remaining whole wheat flour to make a moist but smooth dough – adding it in small portions will ensure you don’t make your dough to heavy. You will need to get your hands in there as the dough gets heavier, and knead. The final consistency should be warm, smooth and somewhat elastic; not at all sticky and not too heavy or thick. If it still seems sticky, add more white or whole wheat flour. Remember not to pull the dough apart at any point, and to knead by folding and turning gently.

Cover the dough with a cloth and allow to rise for half an hour. The instructions from Fleishmann’s do not include rising, but I find it essential unless you want a thin-crust pizza. You can then punch it down and roll it out on either a pizza stone, pan or barbecue pizza pan. If using a stone, remember to spread cornmeal liberally over the surface before rolling out the dough. My favourite way to cook the pizza is on the barbecue over indirect heat, using a BBQ pizza pan.

After rolling the dough, you may now spread sauce on top and then add the following toppings, in the order stated:

3 regular sized balls of bocconcini cheese, sliced thinly

20 grape tomatoes, sliced in half

20 kalamata olives, pitted

1 tsp very high quality dried oregano (I use Greek high mountain oregano)

a few spritzes of fresh lemon juice

1 tsp olive oil, drizzled over the pizza

Bake your pizza at 375 degrees for 15-20 minutes, and allow to cool for 5 minutes. Then enjoy and forget ever going back to Pizza Hut again. For an alternative “Spanish inspired” pizza, use roasted red peppers, spanish marinated artichokes and green olives with the bocconcini cheese!

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