Archive for June, 2010

Parsley: Sun-dried Tomato Quinoa Tabbouleh

Thursday, June 24th, 2010

Sun-dried Tomato Quinoa Tabbouleh_ForkFingersChopsticks

Parsley is one of my favorite herbs.

Growing up, however, the only time I remember parsley on my plate was as a green garnish that I pushed to the side. Then, years ago when I began eating Middle Eastern foods like tabbouleh, the herb found a regular place in my heart and garden.

I grow both curly and flat parsley and prefer the curly version for tabbouleh.

Parsley’s exact origin is uncertain but is believed to have been in the Mediterranean region, from Spain to Greece and its use has spread throughout the world for both culinary and medicinal uses.

There is also much folk lore surrounding its use – one particular belief was that the herb would only flourish in gardens where a strong woman presides over the household.  Snap!

The herb is a key ingredient in several cultures including those from the Middle East and North Africa. It’s essential in the refreshing salad tabbouleh (also spelled tabouleh, tabbouli, tabboule) that has its roots in Lebanon and Syria.

Traditionally the dish has parsley, mint, tomatoes, bulgar wheat, lemon juice, olive oil and seasonings such as allspice and cinnamon. It’s often eaten by scooping it up in lettuce leaves. In the Middle East, it is more of a green salad than a grain salad.

Over the last several decades the salad has grown in global appeal, which has led to a variety of interpretations – such as in North Africa where the cracked wheat is substituted with couscous – and, here in my Colorado kitchen, where this recipe uses quinoa. When I don’t have garden fresh tomatoes, as in now, I use sun-dried. My tomato plants are growing at a snails pace, or so it seems. I created this recipe for a local magazine spread and for those eating gluten free.

Tabbouleh makes a great snack, side dish or a complete meal with hummus or falafel.

Tidbits on Parsley:

  1. There are three common varieties of parsley: curly, flat (Italian) and Hamburg. Parsley is rich in vitamin C and iron.
  2. Parsley is related to carrots, parsnips, and celery.
  3. Parsley has an honored place in folk lore and history:  parsley was used in Greek and Roman ceremonies; it was sprinkled on corpses to abate stench, Greek athletes were crowned with parsley and during the Middle Ages it was credited with lethal powers – pulling parsley root from the earth while calling out an adversary’s name could cause death. It was also believed to promote menstruation, facilitate childbirth, and increase female libido.

Sources: “Parsley,” The Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine, Ed. Laurie J. Fundukian; Encyclopedia of Spices at; the Encyclopedia of Food and Culture


Cornmeal: 2 Tomato 2 Cheese Polenta Stack

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

Polenta Stack - 2 Tomato 2 Cheese - Eggplant -

Now that you know how to make your own polenta chubs, here’s an easy recipe for a polenta stack with two cheeses – Parmesan and goat cheese – and two tomatoes – sundried and fresh.

It’s perfect for summer gatherings or for anytime you want to highlight the fresh bounty from your garden (or the farmer’s market).

But, first a little more about polenta . . .

Although polenta has become noticeably more popular in the U.S., it’s still a mystery to many homecooks. It has yet to go mainstream like so many Italian favorites. I confess that before making my own polenta, I’d really only tried the store-bought chubs. I wasn’t impressed and couldn’t figure out the hype.

But now, I’m hooked. Cornmeal (polenta/grits) is a staple in my refrigerator. Course cornmeal’s versatility is endless – eaten as a simple bowl of mush for breakfast or transformed into decadence with wild mushrooms, rich cheeses, truffles, red sauces, sausages and bacon.

In the recipe here, firm sundried tomato polenta is topped with creamy cheese and roasted vegetables – I used grilled eggplant, but you could substitute or add grilled zucchini or other summer squash, roasted peppers, mushrooms or omit entirely. Next time, I’m making mine with a fat, juicy portobello mushroom.


Tidbits on Cornmeal:

  1. Cornmeal is rich in protein but if eaten on a regular basis, it should be combined with milk, butter, cheese or other dairy products so that it becomes a complete food (by adding lysine and tryptophan –  two missing amino acids in cor). Add poultry, meat, fish and /or some vegetables as a source of niacin.
  2. Polenta should taste like corn. Stone ground corn will gradually lose its taste. To maximize flavor and minimize waste, refrigerate cornmeal in a sealed container and use it within two months of purchase.


Cornmeal: How to Make Home-made Polenta Chub Rolls

Friday, June 11th, 2010

Home-made Polenta Chub Roll_

In this post, a “chub” is not me in my bikini (no need to see those pics). Nor is it a fish. It refers to the tube, roll or log of ready-made polenta sitting on store shelves and maybe even in your cupboard?

Most people like chubs for their convenience – slice it and reheat. But, the taste of that pre-packaged polenta is closer to a log than what you get when you make it from scratch.

If you’re a chub buyer, you may also be purchasing the ready-made version because you’ve heard that polenta is difficult to prepare. It’s not.

Polenta is simply cornmeal simmered in liquid and stirred. (Read my post about grits v. polenta.) And, to bust a big myth, it does NOT require constant stirring; just a watchful eye and some stirring. It can be prepared simply, mixed with butter and cheese, or made a delicacy with fancy ingredients.

It is commonly eaten in two forms:  soft and creamy or hardened and shaped for baking, grilling or frying. In this post, we’re doing the latter. The ingredients are identical in both except that the polenta cooks longer so it thickens when it sets.

Making home-made chubs is easy – simmer polenta, add flavors, let it cool and set it in cyclinder container. That’s it.

Also note that you can freeze polenta – slice in individual portions, wrap and freeze. Take out what you need, when you need and reheat.

Chubs run about $4 for an 18 oz. roll. You can buy a whole bag of polenta for that much and it’ll make at least six (tastier) chubs. By making your chub, you can create entirely new flavors: green chile and cheese, sundried tomato and Parmesan (recipe below), or asiago and basil. Make sure to finely chop ingredients that don’t melt. I’ve included detailed instructions only as a guide as to the process but experimentation is always welcome.

Buon appetito!

Tidbits on Polenta:

  1. Before corn made its way to the Old World, Europeans ate porridges similar to polenta that were made of millet, chesnut flour, barley and buckwheat. They were eaten much like polenta, seasoned with milk, cheese and meat.
  2. When corn first arrived in Europe, it was grown for animal feed. But, between the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries corn became a staple to peasants and mountain northern Italians. Southern Italians disparagingly refer to their northern countrymen as “polenta eaters.”
  3. Around the world, many cultures that had adopted corn as a primary staple in their diet became afflicted with “pellagra” a niacin vitamin deficiency. They did not follow Indigenous culinary tradition by preparing corn with alkaline water (nixtamal), which increases niacin and lysine. In northern Italy, where many subsided solely on polenta, pellagra became wide-spread. Thought to be associated with corn, Italians at one point forbid eating polenta.

Primary Sources: “The Natural History of Maize” by Ruben G. Mendoza; Polenta by Michele Anna Jordan


Cornmeal: Shrimp and Bacon Grits

Thursday, June 3rd, 2010

Shrimp and

A few of you have said “grits” (the name) is off-putting.

True, it’s a little rough and abrupt. It doesn’t roll fluidly off the tongue. But, I like it. Just like I dig accents and colloquialisms – Southern included. When I lived in Texas, I couldn’t resist picking up a little twang and using “y’all” and “fixin’s” in my vernacular. It was signature to the South, just like grits.

To no surprise, shrimp and grits is also rooted there – South Carolina in particular. It was referred to as “breakfast shrimp” and was a simple fisherman’s breakfast during shrimping season–usually consisting only of shrimp, grits and salt.

Then along came Bill Neal, a young North Carolina chef whose interpretation of the dish has been described as “one of the signature dishes of the Southern culinary renaissance.”

Neal gussied up the low-country version adding sautéed mushrooms, bacon, garlic and cheese grits. It was a hit. Not really a surprise to me since it has bacon and cheese.

His version has become popularized with a little help from a New York Times review and his Southern cookbooks: Bill Neal’s Southern Cooking; Biscuits, Spoonbread, and Sweet Potato Pie; and Good Old Grits Cookbook. Neal died in 1991, but his shrimp and grits are still a favorite at his former restaurant Crook’s Corner in Chapel Hill, N.C. For any of you into Southern food, you may also want to check out Remembering Bill Neal: Favorite Recipes from a Life in Cooking, another collection of his recipes used at Crook’s, which was published in 2004.

The recipe below is adapted from Neal’s version. I reduced the amount of bacon, increased mushrooms, tweaked the seasonings and used green chile cheese grits for some extra earthiness and depth. It’s relatively easy to make and is fantastic for brunch served with some home-made biscuits. It’s good. So good, my husband puts it in his top 5 recipes on this site.

Also, I wanted to share this quirky, little black and white film about grits that I found while perusing the internet.

Tidbits on Grits:

  1. Southerners generally prefer stone-ground grits to the instant version. I found at least one reference to instant grits as “hog slop.”
  2. St. George, South Carolina hosts the World Grits Festival.
  3. At the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Ga., Quaker (the grits producer) introduced the international audience to grits via its grits campaign.

Sources: Good Old Grits Cookbook by Bill Neal & David Perry; “Some South for Your Mouth,” Duke Magazine.