Culinary Collisions and a Medley of Marinades

Herbs

Our good friends Joe and Suzy came by with another new cookbook. “Your food looks just like the pictures in this book, so I got it for you,” Joe told me. . The book is Jerusalem the Cookbook by Yotam Ottalenghi and Sami Tamimi, so I am in good company. One photo displays a plate of ground lamb topped with golden yellow egg yolks, shining red cherry tomatoes, a shower of emerald green parsley, and great globs of yogurt and spices. Their food is so startlingly beautiful it could be hanging on the walls of the Museum of Modern Art.

Reading through the book, I came across a passage describing Jerusalem as a collision of culinary traditions that creates an immense tapestry of cuisines. It brought to mind our travels in Sweden last summer, where we experienced some culinary sliding, if not actual collisions. More like a patchwork quilt than a tapestry. Sweden is very generous and welcoming to refugees and immigrants, and many new food traditions are arriving with them. In Overkalix, we ate Thai food and reindeer sausage at the big outdoor market; Nina fixed Lebanese chicken and tabouleh, and Beth and Annalie made dolmathes. When we visited Hans Karlsson, he made several traditional Swedish meals for us: smoked lake fish, pickled herring with all the fixings, new potatoes with butter and dill… but he also pulled out his favorite supplies from the local Turkish store.

One evening we planned an outing to a nearby island. We’d meet Hans’ son Andreas and his family, make a fire, and have a cookout. Hans asked if I would make a marinade for the chicken kebabs. “Sure. What do you have?” I asked. The pantry yielded a jar of eggplant stuffed with red pepper and walnuts in olive oil, Sambal Olek (Indonesian chile sauce), mushroom soy sauce, garlic, fresh ginger, lemons, and several varieties of sea salt–the ingredients for a fine marinade. I mixed together the flavorful oil from the jar of eggplants, garlic, ginger, chile sauce, soy sauce, and fresh lemon juice. I rolled the strips of chicken around in the bowl of marinade, scraped it all into a zip-lock bag, and we all got in the boat.

Chicken Kabobs

On the island, we threaded the chicken onto skewers with Halloumi cheese (a soft-curd cheese from Cyprus that is particularly good for grilling and frying) and Hungarian sausage. We ate our grilled chicken kebabs with Greek tsadziki, shrimp dip, and a French sourdough baguette, followed by Swedish sausages with mustard. It was a grand culinary collision, and a blissful view of the long Swedish sunset over the water.

Swedish Sunset

Around the World in a Marinade

I love making and using marinades for traveling around the world of food. Making your own marinades from fresh ingredients is intoxicating and addictive, especially if you use a mortar and pestle to release the aromas of freshly toasted spices, fresh citrus, garlic and herbs. Marinades are great infusers of flavor, working wonders with chicken breasts, lean pork, lamb, mild fish or seafood, and tofu. Plan on roughly 3/4-cup marinade for 3 lb meat, poultry or fish. Coat the food completely with the marinade (enough to coat well, but not float), place it in a leak-proof plastic bag or covered glass container, and refrigerate. Marinating takes time: fish fillets 1 hour, boneless chicken and small portions of meat 2 to 4 hours, bone-in chicken, whole fish, and larger cuts of meat 6 to 12 hours, and tofu 2 to 12 hours. Turn the food every hour or so. After marinating, the food can be grilled, sautéed, sear-roasted, broiled, or roasted.

Marinade

*Mediterranean Herbs and Olive Oil: 1 Tbs fresh thyme leaves, 1 Tbs fresh rosemary leaves, 1 Tbs oregano or mint leaves, 2 garlic cloves, juice and zest of 1 lemon, 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, 1/2 tsp sea salt. Chop the herbs and garlic. Whisk all the ingredients together. Especially good for grilled or roasted chicken, pork or lamb chops, and whole fish.

Mediterranean Sear-Roast Chicken Breasts

Chicken Marinade

Place 4 to 6 boneless skinless chicken breast halves in a shallow glass container and coat well with marinade (set aside un-used marinade to drizzle on after cooking). Cover and refrigerate at least 2 and preferably 4 hours. Heat the oven to 425 degrees F. Take the chicken out of the marinade and season lightly with salt. Heat a large ovenproof skillet over medium high heat. Add 1 Tbs olive, canola, or grapeseed oil to the pan, swirl it around, and place the chicken in the pan. Sear 2 minutes without moving. When well browned, turn the chicken over and cook 1 minute. Transfer the pan to the heated oven and roast 5 to 8 minutes to reach a temperature of 165 degrees F.

Serve this topped with a sauté of red peppers and onion: Warm 3 Tbs olive oil with some thinly sliced garlic and red chile flakes. Stir in 1 chopped red onion and sauté 3 or 4 minutes. Add two diced red bell peppers and sauté until softened. Add 1 Tbs balsamic vinegar, 1/3 cup dry white wine, and 1 Tbs capers. Cook until the liquid is reduced. Season with salt to taste.

*Asian Marinade: 1/4 cup soy sauce, 1/4 cup mirin, 1/4 cup sake, 1 1/2 Tbs grated ginger, 1 tsp orange zest (and/or 1 Tbs orange marmalade), 1 Tbs toasted sesame oil. Add 1 or 2 tsp chile sauce and 1 or 2 cloves minced garlic, if you like.

Equally good with roast  or grilled pork tenderloin, or sear-roast tofu.

Roast Pork Tenderloin with Asian Marinade

(Thanks to John Ash)

Combine 1 1/4 to 2 lbs pork tenderloin with the Asian marinade (about 1/2 cup per lb meat), rubbing the marinade into the meat. Place in a zip-lock bag or covered container and refrigerate 4 to 6 hours, turning two or three times during that time.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Remove the tenderloin from the marinade and place on a rack in a roasting pan. Add 1 cup water to the pan and roast 25 to 30 minutes, until the center of the meat reaches 155 degrees F. Baste with marinade two or three times while cooking. Allow the meat to rest 5 to 10 minutes before slicing.

I like to serve this thinly sliced on a bed of quickly stir-fried cabbage and ginger.

Baked Tofu

Cut a 14 oz block firm or extra-firm tofu into 4 slices. Place in a shallow container and cover with Asian marinade. Refrigerate 2 to 8 hours, turning the slices once or twice. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Heat an ovenproof skillet over medium high heat. When hot, add 1 Tbs oil and swirl to coat the pan. Place the tofu in the pan and cook 1 or 2 minutes until lightly browned. Turn the tofu over and transfer the pan to the oven. Roast 3 or 4 minutes.

Cut the slices into bite-size cubes and serve on top of a salad of thinly sliced Chinese cabbage, red peppers, and carrots dressed with a little sesame oil and rice vinegar…or a stir-fry of cabbage, bok choi, and mushrooms.

*Chermoula Moroccan Marinade: 1 1/2 tsp cumin seed, 1 1/2 tsp coriander seed, 1 tsp red chile flakes, 1 tsp sweet paprika, 2 garlic cloves, 1/4 tsp sea salt, juice and zest of 1 medium lemon (or 2 or 3 Tbs chopped preserved lemon**), 2 Tbs chopped fresh mint, 2 Tbs chopped fresh parsley or coriander leaves, 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil.

Herbs

Heat a small skillet over medium heat. Toast the coriander seed 1 or 2 minutes, then add the cumin seed and toast another 30 seconds, shaking or stirring so they roast evenly. Add the red chile and paprika, stir, and immediately transfer to a mortar or spice grinder. Cool and grind to a coarse powder. Put the peeled garlic and the salt in the mortar and grind to a paste. Add the lemon zest and herbs and crush them into the spices to make a rough pesto. Whisk in the lemon juice and olive oil.

**Joe and Suzy got me hooked on making preserved lemons, they are so delicious and easy to make. I followed the ingredients in Ottolenghi’s cookbook: Wash 6 organic lemons and cut a deep cross from the top to the base so that each can be stuffed with 1 Tbs coarse sea salt. Push the lemons tightly into a sterilized wide mouth glass jar to fill all the space. Seal the jar and store in a cool place for a week. After a week, press the lemons down into the jar to squeeze out the juice. Add fresh lemon juice to cover. You can add a sprig of fresh rosemary and a red chile, if you like. Top off with a thin layer of olive oil. Seal and leave in a cool place for a month before using.

Use Chermoula to marinate lamb, goat, or chicken. Smear it on thickly sliced eggplant, sweet potatoes, or winter squash before baking. Or, toss it with steamed, roasted, or pan-braised vegetables. Carrots, parsnips, potatoes, and cauliflower are particularly good with these flavors.

Carrots in Chermoula

Steam or pan-braise 2 lbs thinly sliced carrots until just tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Combine the warm carrots with Chermoula, tossing to coat well. Season with salt to taste and sprinkle with more chopped fresh herbs. You can add a few Tbs plain yogurt to the dish, or serve a yogurt sauce to dollop on top.

Serve with a bulgur wheat, or farro and herb salad, or with lentil salad and pita breads.

*Chipotle-Citrus Marinade: 2/3 cup fresh orange juice, juice and zest of 1 lime (3 or 4 Tbs), 1 Tbs cider vinegar, 1 or 2 chipotle chiles en adobo, 2 tsp adobo sauce, 2 garlic cloves, 1/4 cup chopped white onion, 1 tsp toasted cumin seed, 2 tsp Tbs chopped fresh oregano, 2 Tbs chopped fresh mint or cilantro, 1 tsp salt, 1/4 cup olive oil

Use a blender to puree all the ingredients. This marinade is also delicious made with fresh jalapenos instead of chipotle en adobo. I often use lots more cilantro and just eat it on everything.

Mexican Pork (or Chicken) Kebabs 

Cut 2 to 2 1/2 lbs pork loin or tenderloin, or boneless skinless chicken thighs into 1 1/2-inch chunks. Combine the meat with 2/3 of the marinade in a shallow container or plastic bag to marinate in the refrigerator for 2 to 4 hours. Heat a charcoal or gas grill (or stovetop grill pan or broiler). Thread the cubes of meat onto skewers, leaving a little space in between so they will cook all around. Grill the kebabs 7 or 8 minutes, turning to brown all sides.

Serve with grilled or roasted wedges of sweet potato, red onion, and poblano or Anaheim chiles…with the reserved marinade for a splash of flavor.

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