A Dinner in Late October

On an evening in late October this fall, when the first frosts were about to descend upon Portland, I dropped everything I was doing and went out to my garden to pick the last of the season’s produce before it all froze. It was lightly raining as it often does that time of year in the Pacific Northwest. I told myself it would all be worth it as cold droplets of rain ran down the back of my neck.

I quickly plucked the half ripe cherry tomatoes off the bush, dropping them into the folds of my red apron as my feet sank into the thick mud. I moved on to the arugula, which had grown into tall plants, pulling the delicate leaves off as fast as I could until my fingers began to grow numb and it became too dark to see. I tromped back to the house, cold, wet and covered in mud, clutching the bowl of produce in my frozen hands.

The thing is, after all that effort, I didn’t end up using anything I picked that night. The tomatoes never fully ripened and the arugula was too tough and bitter to eat. I realized that using the produce was never the point of that wet and muddy venture.

It occurred to me that the first fall frosts coincide with the anniversary of my father’s passing in late October. Picking the produce that night was my way of remembering my father, of saving something from death, or at the very least, making sure that nothing went to waste. The simple act of picking those vegetables was enough for me to feel that they hadn’t been wasted. You could say that that is my philosophy in life, not to waste anything, even the bitter parts, and even those I attempt to make sweet.

I find that the bitter flavors are often the best parts of any dish. They make the sweet parts taste even sweeter. I created this Fall Menu with bitter flavors in mind, based on the recipes of one of my favorite chefs, Yotam Ottolenghi.

I love the use of arugula as well as sumac, a tart and slightly bitter middle eastern spice. I used “$1 bag” produce from a farm stand near my house. This is produce that most people would take one look at and just throw out. However, when I look at it, I see potential for something great. Isn’t that like life? The bitter, the sweet and the potential for something great, with nothing going to waste.

 

On the menu:

– Salmon with Ras el Hanout*, Israeli Couscous, Sautéed Arugula, Cherry Tomatoes & Greek Yogurt Mint Sauce

*A middle eastern spice blend made with a combination of toasted ground spices including coriander seeds, cumin seeds, turmeric, sumac & cinnamon

– Roasted Carrots with Toasted Black & White Sesame Seeds & Greek Yogurt Sauce

 

– Bulgur Salad with Green Beans, Cherry Tomatoes, Toasted Walnuts, Sumac & a lemon Tahini Dressing

 

– Skillet Bulgur with Zataar*, Sautéed Bell Peppers & Baked Eggs with labneh** & Sumac

*A middle eastern spice blend consisting of thyme, sumac, garlic & sesame seeds.      **A delicious thickened middle eastern yogurt

– Apple Spelt Cake with Mountain Rose Apples

 

Enjoy the recipes, both the bitter and the sweet!

 

Recipes:

Salmon with Ras el Hanout & Israeli Couscous

Ingredients:

Serves 4

For the Salmon:

  • 4 (6 oz.) Salmon Filets with skin on
  • 2 Tbsp Ras el Hanout
  • Sea Salt & Pepper
  • 1 lemon, sliced into thick slices

Yogurt Mint Sauce:

  • 1 cup of greek yogurt
  • 1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • Salt & Pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup fresh mint, finely minced, plus additional mint for plating

For the Israeli Couscous:

  • 2 cups dried Israeli Couscous
  • 2 cups water
  • Salt & pepper
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1 garlic clove, finely minced
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 pint of cherry tomatoes
  • 1 (8 oz.) package of arugula

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 375 F. Generously season the salmon filets with salt and pepper on both sides and rub them with the Ras el Hanout.

Mix together the ingredients for the yogurt sauce in a small bowl, adding a few tablespoons of milk if needed to thin the sauce for drizzling.

Meanwhile, prepare the couscous by heating one tablespoon of the olive oil in a medium sized saucepan over medium high heat.

Add the minced garlic, cook 1 minute, then add the dried couscous, tossing it to coat with the oil and browning it slightly for 1 minute.

Add the water, lemon zest, lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste, cover and simmer on low heat for 10 minutes.

While the couscous is cooking, heat one tablespoon of olive oil in a large cast iron skillet over high heat.

Add the salmon filets, flesh side down and cook over high heat for 2-3 minutes until a golden crust forms.

Flip onto the skin side, cooking another 2 minutes, then place the skillet into the preheated oven.

Cook for 5-6 minutes until tender and flaky, depending on the thickness. While the salmon is cooking, heat the remaining one tablespoon of olive oil in a pan over medium high heat, add the cherry tomatoes and sauté until the tomatoes are cooked through, 2-3 minutes.

Add the arugula and remove from the heat, stirring until just wilted. Stir the tomatoes and arugula into the couscous, adding additional salt and pepper and a drizzle of olive oil, squeeze of lemon if needed.

Quickly sauté the lemon slices in the pan just until browned, sprinkling with Ras el Hanout.

Serve the salmon on the couscous with the lemon slices and drizzle with the yogurt sauce. Top with additional mint.


 

Roasted Carrots with Toasted Black & White Sesame Seeds & Greek Yogurt Sauce

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb. rainbow carrots
  • 1 Tbsp each, black and white sesame seeds
  • 1 cup of greek yogurt
  • 1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • Salt & Pepper to taste
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 bunch of fresh Italian parsley, chopped

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 400 F.

Wash and peel the carrots.

Line a large baking tray with foil and put the carrots on the tray, drizzling with olive oil and sprinkling with salt and pepper.

Roast the carrots in the oven for 20-25 minutes, until tender.

While the carrots are roasting, mix together the greek yogurt and the lemon juice.

Add a pinch of sea salt and a few grinds of fresh pepper. Heat a medium sized skillet over medium high heat.

Add the sesame seeds and toss until toasted, 1-2 minutes.

Serve the roasted carrots with the yogurt sauce and top with the toasted sesame seeds and chopped parsley.

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Bulgur Salad with Green Beans, Cherry Tomatoes, Toasted Walnuts, Sumac & a lemon Tahini Dressing

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup of dried bulgur (cracked wheat, available in middle eastern markets)
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1/2 lb. fresh green beans
  • 1 pint of Cherry Tomatoes
  • 1 cup of raw walnuts
  • 1 tbsp ground Sumac (middle eastern spice available in middle eastern markets)
  • 1 bunch cilantro, chopped
  • Tahini Sauce:
  • 1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1 Tbsp lemon zest
  • 1/4 cup tahini (ground sesame seed paste available in middle eastern markets)
  • 1/4 cup water
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 375 F.

Bring the water to a boil in a medium sized saucepan.

Add the dried bulgur, 1/2 tsp sea salt, cover and simmer for 10 minutes until the water is absorbed.

Cool the bulgur completely on a sheet tray. Bring another pot of water to a boil and add the green beans.

Cook for three minutes, then drain and immediately put into a bowl of ice water to cool (this stops the cooking process to prevent the green beans from over cooking and preserves the bright green color).

Spread the walnuts out on a sheet tray and roast in the oven for 5-6 minutes until golden brown. Remove and cool.

Slice the cherry tomatoes in half. Mix together the ingredients for the Tahini sauce. Mix together the bulgur, green beans, half of the chopped cilantro and half of the walnuts in a bowl with the tahini sauce.

Serve on a platter and top with the cherry tomatoes and the other half of the cilantro and walnuts. Sprinkle with the sumac.

*Adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi

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Skillet Bulgur with Zataar*, Sautéed Bell Peppers & Baked Eggs with labneh* & Sumac

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup dried bulgur
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1 each red, yellow & orange bell peppers, seeded and cut into thin slices
  • 1/2 red or purple onion, cut into thin slices
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup Labneh
  • 1/2 bunch Italian parsley, chopped
  • 1 Tbsp Zaatar
  • 1 Tbsp Sumac

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 375 F. Bring the water to a boil in a medium sized saucepan.

Add the dried bulgur, 1/2 tsp sea salt, 1 tbsp lemon juice and cover and simmer for 10 minutes until the water is absorbed.

Cool the bulgur completely on a sheet tray.

Heat 2 tbsp of olive oil in a large cast iron skillet over medium heat.

Add the onions and bell peppers and sauté until tender and slightly golden, 8-10 minutes.

Stir in the bulgur, drizzle with the additional one tablespoon of olive oil and place uncovered in the oven for 10 minutes.

Remove from the oven and carefully crack the eggs over the bulgur.

Return to the oven for an additional 5 minutes until the eggs are just set, but still have a soft center.

Top with the labneh, chopped parsley and sprinkle with the zaatar & sumac, salt and pepper to taste and a squeeze of lemon.

*Adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi

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Apple Spelt Cake with Mountain Rose Apples

Ingredients:

  • 4 oz. (1 stick/8 Tbsp) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 cup (5 oz./120 gm) all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup (2.5 oz./60 gm) spelt flour (or whole wheat pastry flour)
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup (4 fl. oz.) milk
  • 3/4 cup pure vanilla extract
  • 3-4 pink Mountain Rose apples, peeled, cored and cut into 3/4” slices, with1 tbsp lemon juice to prevent browning
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 Tbsp powdered sugar.

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Line the bottom and sides of a 9” springform pan with a removable bottom with parchment paper.

Generously coat with flour and butter, tapping out the excess.

Beat the butter, sugar and honey in a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment at medium high speed for 3 minutes.

Add the eggs, one at a time, mixed well and scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl after each addition.

Mix together the all-purpose flour, spelt flour, salt and baking powder in a small bowl with a whisk.

Add the flour mixture in three additions alternating with the milk in two additions on medium low speed, just until combined.

Pour into the prepared pan and top with the apples.

Sprinkle with the sugar and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 35-45 minutes, depending on how hot your oven bakes.

While the cake is baking whip the cream with the powdered sugar until soft peaks form. Fold in the sour cream with a spatula.

Remove the cake from the oven and cool in the pan for 15 minutes before removing from the pan and cooling completely.

Serve with freshly whipped cream.

*Adapted from Bojon Gourmet http://bojongourmet.com/2012/09/super-moist-pink-pearl-apple-cake/

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