Meatless Meals: Strawberries and Balsamic

Strawberries with balsamic and pepper

Strawberries with balsamic and pepper

This is a surprisingly controversial dessert. I was skeptical myself, even though I saw it discussed favorably several times on the cooking shows that are my guilty pleasure.

Ingredients

Strawberries

Sugar

Balsamic vinegar

Coarsely ground black pepper

Preparation

Wash, hull and half the strawberries as usual.  Add the sugar (about ¼ cup of sugar per 2 pints of strawberries). Drizzle a little bit of balsamic onto the strawberries and mix. (About 2 tbsps vinegar per 2 pints of strawberries.)

Note: It is important not to overdo the balsamic or its flavor will unpleasantly  dominate the dish and make it very tart and acidic.

Allow to stand for an hour or more.

Before serving add a very small amount of freshly ground black pepper corns. Very little, no more than a tablespoon per two pints of strawberries.

That’s it. The key to the dish is the balance of flavors. The first time I tried it, I used too much balsamic and it wasn’t very nice to eat. What seems to happen when you get it right is that the balsamic vinegar balances the sugar in such a way that you don’t taste just berry-flavored sweetness; the strawberry flavor really pops. The balsamic also combines with the sugar to glaze the strawberries with a lovely sheen. The sprinkle of pepper doesn’t make it hot; it adds depth to the flavor, with just a hint of heat.

Try it and let me know if you like it!

Meatless Meals: Mujaddara

IMG_0898Mujaddara, a dish of rice, lentils and carmelized onions, is popular throughout the Middle East. This is my version, cobbled together over years of eating mujaddara prepared by Palestinians, Lebanese, Iraqis, Syrians, Egyptians and Israelis. My seasoning is probably idiosyncratic and not representative of any national cuisine by this point. This recipe will make enough for four to six bowls.

Ingredients:

1 cup lentils (sorted, rinsed and drained)
½ cup olive oil
1 ½ tsp cumin
½ tsp crushed black peppercorns
3 good-sized onions
¾ cup rice (I use whole-grain Basmati)
3 cups water
Salt to taste
½ tsp cayenne pepper or dried chili flakes
2-3cm stick of cinnamon

Preparation:

First cook the lentils until just tender by putting them in a pot and covering with water (a couple of centimeters above the level of the lentils). Bring to a boil, cover and simmer for about 20 minutes.

While the lentils are cooking, slice the onions thinly. (I like to slice each onion lengthwise and then slice the halves across the width.) Heat the olive oil, 1 tsp of cumin and the peppercorns and then add the onions and salt lightly. Cook, stirring from time to time, until caramelized. If they stick, add a little water. Be careful once they start turning golden because they will burn very quickly from that point. The finished onions should be a dark walnut color, only starting to become crisp. Use a slotted spoon to remove about half of the onions and put them on paper to drain. (This will be garnish.)

Now add the rest of the cumin, the cayenne or chili flakes and the cinnamon stick to the onions and sauté for a minute or two. Then add the uncooked rice and continue to sauté until the rice takes on an opaque appearance. Add the drained lentils and  3 cups of water, stir, bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat and simmer for about half an hour, until all the water is absorbed. When done, turn off the heat and leave covered for a few more minutes.

To serve, top with the reserved caramelized  onions.