Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Roasted Honeyed Loquats with Feta on Toast

Loquats are a now-or-never fruit. Originally from southern China, loquat trees found their way here, and by "here" I mean Southern California from the OC to San Diego, where they fruit in April and May. That's it. They grow in bunches and bear a slight resemblance in color and shape to apricots, but are juicy with a mild sweet flavor more reminiscent of ripe pears. I actually prefer the slight tartness of underripe loquats. I'm also drawn to their beautiful seeds. Some loquats have one, others may have four or five--but all look like lovely polished brown stones.

You probably won't find loquats at the supermarket. They are extremely fragile, with thin skins that easily bruise and the fruit itself turns quickly. Right now you can find them at the farmers markets. Both Terra Bella Ranch and Rancho Mexico Lindo carried them last Saturday at the Little Italy Mercato.

Terra Bella Ranch loquats
I'm very lucky that my little community has a few fruit-bearing trees, so you'll see me walking the dogs in the morning and stopping to pick as many as I can reach and gently carry in the little bag that holds my keys and phone.

Loquats are delicious snacks and make for a great jam, salsa, and sauce. A friend of mine with several trees pits the fruit and cooks it down with honey to an applesauce-like consistency. She can freeze this and enjoy it the rest of the year.

I thought I'd try a little something different with my latest score from the neighborhood tree--roasting them with honey, and pairing them with feta cheese on croutons.

Roasting loquats is easy. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Because you can eat the skin, simply slice the fruit in half lengthwise, remove the pits and place the halves in an oiled casserole dish or on foil.

I made up a mixture that would combine sweet, smokey, and just a little astringent: honey, grated fresh ginger, kaffir lime leaf powder that I got from Specialty Produce, and Aleppo pepper.

I brushed this on the loquat halves and roasted them for 20 minutes until they were soft, but before they collapsed.

While they were cooking, I toasted baguette slices brushed with olive oil and sliced a chunk of French feta. I love its gentle tartness and moist texture. The feta went onto the the warm croutons to melt a little.

Once the loquats were out of the oven, I sliced them into three pieces, and placed them on the cheese. Then I sprinkled the layered toasts with chopped fresh chocolate mint from my garden and drizzled the finished toasts with more honey.

Voila! An easy and unusual appetizer that makes use of a delicious fragile fruit with a short season.

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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

What is Jewish Food? Find Out at 3rd Annual Jewish Food Festival

Around San Diego, we're big on Mexican food, Japanese food, Chinese, and French. We pretty much go around the world in terms of cuisine. Well, this Sunday, it's time to celebrate Jewish food at the 3rd Annual Jewish Food Festival, hosted by Temple Adat Shalom in Poway.

Running from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., the event will feature Jewish and Mediterranean foods (everything from bagels and lox, herring, and kugel to knishes, chopped liver, blintzes, and falafel), live music, kids activities, a Food Festival cookbook--bound or CD-- and, chef demos. These, you won't want to miss:

Noon: Ron Oliver of The Marine Room will prepare House-Cured Salmon with Matzoh Brei Blini.

1 p.m.: Flor Franco of Indulge Catering will prepare Moroccan Grilled Fish Brochettes.

2 p.m.: Matt Gordon of Urban Solace and Solace and the Moonlight Lounge will prepare Chicken Liver Mousse, Quick Cured Pickles, and Homemade Matzoh.

3 p.m.: Amanda Baumgarten, soon to be executive chef at Brian Malarkey's Herringbone will make, well, something to be announced later...

4 p.m.: Sara Ploczynski, professor and restaurant consultant, will prepare Tahini-Pistachio Butter Cookies.

There will also be an assortment of noshes from D.Z. Akins, Milton's, and City Deli, and many other vendors. To buy these tastes requires a purchased "nosh card." The details for getting the card are on the event website. The best value is the $54 JFF Family Pack, which includes six paid admissions, $60 in JFF Nosh Cards, and six bonus food credits.

Temple Adat Shalom is located at 15905 Poway Road, across from Sprouts. See you there!

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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Urban Chicken's Moroccan Spiced Lentils

A couple of weeks ago my sweet friend chef Flor Franco (Indulge Catering, Urban Chicken) gave my mom--and me--the greatest gift possible: her time. Earlier, when I mentioned to Flor how much my mom loved the lentils and cilantro sauce she brought to a lunch we all attended and that Mom would love the recipes--well, Flor didn't just say, "Sure, no problem." She upped the ante with, "Let's make a date for me go over to her house and cook with her so she can learn how to make them."

So we set a date and Flor showed up, like a caterer does, with all the ingredients she needed, plus roasted chicken, sauces, rice...basically a feast.

Flor Franco, left, and Evie Golden
We focused on the Moroccan Spiced Lentil Soup, an amalgam of lentils and split peas infused with fragrant cumin, coriander, turmeric, Spanish paprika, and cayenne. Add roasted tomatoes, garlic, and onions; fresh minced parsley and cilantro; and a splash of olive oil and that's about it. The result is a richly flavored but very healthy dish that can be eaten as soup or spread over a steaming mound of rice, depending on how thick or loose you want it. Just add or take out water. Ours was more like soup, and accompanied a platter of chicken, rice, salad, and fresh fruit for lunch.

Flor also gave us some handy kitchen tips--perfect for busy families who want to cook but may be pressed for time. Roast garlic and cut-up onions, then package them and keep in the fridge for about a week to use whenever you might need them in a recipe. And, for this recipe, combine the spices in larger quantities in advance and keep in an airtight container.

Cooking the lentils took less than an hour and when we sat down to eat, Flor explained how she came up with the idea for Urban Chicken, which is located in Sherman Heights. It was basically a challenge her kids issued to her. Long an advocate of healthy, fresh food for kids--basically eating the way she was raised to eat in her native Veracruz--Flor was searching for a way to unhook them from the chicken nuggets and fries they tend to gravitate to at fast food restaurants. If she was serious about it, her children said, do something. Create your own fast food restaurant. So, they sat down and came up with recipes that were basically family favorites, resulting in this splendid menu, most of which is gluten-free.

Flor is just about to launch an under $3.50 "Snack Attack" menu as well as more vegetarian choices. It's a hit in the neighborhood and now Flor is contemplating new locations around San Diego. My mom is begging her to open one in the UTC area.

But in the meantime, get over there for some great takeout. And enjoy this recipe Flor shared with us.

Flor Franco's Moroccan Spiced Lentil Soup
(printable recipe)
Yield: about 5 servings

15 cups of water
2 cups lentils
2 cups yellow split peas
2 cups green split peas
5 tomatoes (plum tomatoes are good for this)
2 large onions, diced
6 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Moroccan spice mix
2 tablespoons cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons coriander
1 1/2 teaspoons turmeric
1 1/2 teaspoons cayenne
3 dried Chinese chiles

salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup fresh minced parsley
1/2 cup fresh minced cilantro

Preheat the broiler.

Add the lentils and split peas to a large pot with the water. Bring to a boil, reduce to simmer and cook about 35 minutes until soft.

Broil the tomatoes, onions, and garlic until they start to brown and soften. Remove from the oven and peel the skin from the tomatoes.

When the legumes are ready you can remove some of the liquid if you want this mixture to be very thick (so you can mound the dish on a bed of rice) or add more water if you want it more like soup. Then add the rest of the ingredients except the salt, pepper, parsley, and cilantro. Cook for another 10 minutes, then add salt and pepper to taste. Serve and sprinkle with the parsley and cilantro.

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