Friday, June 29, 2012

Pretty on the Inside.

I have a soft spot in heart for ugly food. Those brown, squishy dishes that are just so damn hard to make pretty. Some of the most tasty things are just ugly as hell and there's nothing you can do about it.  Even if you try to spruce it up by shoving it into ring molds or garnishing with a little sprig of fresh herbs it still ends up looking like lipstick on a pork chop.

There's a saying the we eat first with our eyes (taken literally that sounds quite terrifying). Actually, I like to eat first with my mouth. You see, I'm kinda half blind most of the time depending on the position of the sun and the pollen count. Also I have a deviated septum and a slight crooked nose that has been broken two times (it gives me character). Anyways, on the best of days my shoddy sense of smell can't be trusted. "Hmmm, I think I smell lavender. Nope that's ham." I do trust my taste buds. I'm not a supertaster by any means but I have a trained palate and I know my flavors. Also, I have eaten a lot of food over my lifetime so my mouth knows the difference between a chicken leg and a prawn.

Do I like my food to be pretty? Sure I do. I'm just saying that once in a while you have to embrace the brown squishiness and focus on the taste. Some of my favorite dishes are ugly as hell. Chicken and dumplings, moco loco, chili dogs, picadillo, saag paneer, etc. Don't judge a book by it's cover. I actually have love in my heart for the monotone, brown and yellow haze of 1970s food photography. Sure it's drab but I find it very appetizing. Glistening dreary meat slabs with double starches. Tasty! Here's the thing. If you love food, you love to eat food. Not just look at it. 

So I made a deliciously ugly plate of Lebanese food. Lebanese Kofta with Zahtar Roasted Cauliflower, Persian Rice, and Kousa Bi Laban (courgette and yogurt sauce). Yes the kofta look like a cross between a football and bear droppings. Don't let them fool you. They are packed with delicious Middle Eastern spiced meaty flavor. For the Persian rice just saute basmati rice in some butter until the rice becomes fragrant and translucent. Then add 1 tsp of turmeric, 1 tsp of coriander, 1 fresh cinnamon stick, and a pinch of kosher salt. Add the water (1 part rice to 1.25 water) and bring to a boil. Turn the heat as low as it goes and cover. Leave it alone for 18 minutes. Take off the heat and leave the cover on for 5 more minutes. Fluff with a fork. For the Kousa Bi Laban simply saute some diced zucchini in a little olive oil with some minced garlic and shallots (don't forget to season). Let it cool. Toss it with some plain yogurt and fresh chopped dill. Season with salt and pepper. Try it, you'll like it.

Lebanese Kofta with Zahtar Roasted Cauliflower

(for the kofta)
3/4 lb ground lamb
3/4 lb ground beef
3 cloves garlic, minced1 white onion, minced
2 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley
1 Tbsp fresh chopped mint
1 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper
1 egg
1/2 cup breadcrumbs

(for the cauliflower)
1 head of cauliflower, chopped into florets
2 tsp zahtar (Middle Eastern spice mix containing sumac, sesame seeds, cumin, coriander, anise)
kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste
olive oil

Preheat over to 375F degrees. Mix all of the kofta ingredients in a large bowl without over-mixing. Season well with salt and pepper. Shape 2 Tbsp of the kofta mixture into a long oval. Place on a sheet pan lined with foil. Repeat the process until all of the kofta are shaped. Do do let them touch each other on the sheet pan. Drizzle with olive oil and cook in the oven for 30 minutes. Remove from the heat and let the kofta rest 5 minutes.

Place the cauliflower florets in a baking dish. Drizzle with olive oil and season with the zahtar. Make sure they are well coated. Season with salt and pepper. Place dish in the same oven as the kofta and cook for 30 minutes.

Serve with Persian rice and Kousa Bi Laban. Enjoy your tasty but slightly homely food. xoxo

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