Taking a Break from the Supermarket

January 18 – January 24, 2021

Tuesday:                             Braised White Beans with Parmesan Pita

Wednesday:                    Japanese Curry Chicken and Rice with Pickled Vegetables

Friday:                                 Salad Nicoise

Saturday:                          Macaroni with Tomato Paste Sauce, app of Cauliflower Lahmacun

Sunday:                             KC Steaks from Uncle Bill, Roasted Potatoes and Caesar Salad

It’s Saturday.  You’ve had a long week, you worked out today, you shoveled the walk.  The thought of trekking to the market, searching for groceries and fighting the crowds is not pleasant.  But, hey – you have food in the pantry and refrigerator.  In addition to that special Middle Eastern spice mix you’ve never used since your experiment in Morrocan cooking, and the jar of ghee you’re afraid to open, since you bought it before the turn of the century, you have some macaroni, but no canned tomatoes or sauce.  What to do?

Well, of course you can fast for an evening – if you’re at my fighting weight, you’ll survive.  And, of course, you can order take-out or delivery.

But you can also make a sauce for macaroni from tomato paste – did you know that?  Neither did we.  You don’t really need a recipe – just do what we did:  Cook down some onions, grated carrots and garlic in some olive oil.  (Throw in some chopped anchovies for salt – or just add some salt).  Now add a little tomato paste  – maybe 5 tablespoons for a pound of pasta – I would add some crushed dried oregano, as well as a pinch of red pepper flakes.  Cook the tomato paste, stirring, until it colors.  Add a ladle of pasta water,* give the sauce a taste and correct the seasoning – add a little sugar if it’s too acidic or balsamic vinegar if it’s too sweet.

*Meanwhile, of course, you’ve been cooking your macaroni in boiling water.  When the macaroni is cooked, put 3 or four ladlefuls of the pasta water in a bowl, drain the pasta and add the macaroni to your tomato paste mixture, toss in a ladle of the pasta water and some grated cheese (any kind) and stir until you have a sauce that coats the macaroni.  [You may need to add more pasta water or more cheese.]

That sauce was a pleasant surprise for us, two Fridays ago.  It allowed us to watch Jeopardy!, as is our habit, saved us from the dangers and the cost and the time of driving to the market, and made us feel a bit self-righteous about avoiding take-out or delivery.

But for me – I’m the adventurous one – the pasta wasn’t enough.  Oh, I don’t mean that it wasn’t enough food.  In fact, it was more than enough.  But for me, eating is as much about cooking and finding new tastes as it is about nutrition.  And there wasn’t much cooking in that pasta sauce.  Moreover, I had bought a head of cauliflower earlier in the week for the express purpose of making a Turkish spread that I had read about in the Wall Street Journal – Lahmacun.  In Turkey, Lahmacun is often spread on pita which is then toasted until the Lahmacun turns brown in spots.  The pita is then served with pickled onions and herbs, a good dollop of yogurt and some lemon wedges.

Even Beez, for whom I serve in the position of one of those royal servants who taste food, testing for poison, before passing it along to the Queen, partook of the Lahmacun.  Though she appreciated the macaroni a bit more.

Cauliflower Lahmacun

(Adapted from Loryn Nalik ‘Slow Food Fast’ WSJ, Sat-Sun, Jan 16-17, 2021)

Timing:                                              30 minutes

Ingredients:               Makes about 2 Cups of Condiment

1 small onion, thinly sliced – if you stock those whoppers from Giant Eagle, cut one in half and then cut that half in half and slice it thin.

½ head of cauliflower

½ red pepper, stemmed, seeded and roughly chopped

3 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped

5 sprigs of parsley – plus more for a garnish

Leaves from 5 sprigs of fresh mint – it’s winter, I’d just go with more parsley, but if you want to spend $4 on a plastic container of mint, ½ of which you’ll discard, be my guest.

1 teaspoon cumin

¼ teaspoon cayenne (we used a bit more)

½ teaspoon Aleppo pepper or red pepper flakes

½ teaspoon smoked paprika

¼ cup red pepper paste or tomato paste

3 tablespoons melted and browned butter

Kosher salt

Ground Black Pepper

To serve as a side with pita bread, you’ll also need:

Another quarter of that onion (see above) thinly sliced

1 tablespoon or more sumac (we used maybe 1 ½ tablespoons

Thin pita bread

Lemon Wedges

Full-fat yogurt, strained, if you prefer, to make it thicker

Make the Lahmacun:

Cut cauliflower florets from thick stems.

In a food processor, pulse the cauliflower florets until they resemble couscous.

Add the red pepper, the sliced onions, garlic, parsley, mint or more parsley, cumin, cayenne, Aleppo pepper or red pepper flakes,  paprika, a pinch of salt, a pinch of pepper, red pepper or tomato paste and the browned butter.

Pulse everything until combined, finely chopped and a little sticky.

Taste for seasoning and add salt or pepper as needed.

This is a great spread for sandwiches, can be used as a dip for crackers or chips, or you can make it a good side dish as follows:

Make a side dish of Lahmacun with toasted pita, onions, yogurt and herbs:

Heat oven to 500.

Toss onions with sumac and massage till they color, then salt and add more sumac.

Thinly spread 4 tablespoons or so of lahmacun on pieces of pita bread – try to coat the entire surface.

Bake pitas in oven until brown in spots – about 8 minutes or more.

Serve hot or at room temperature with fresh herbs scattered over pita, with sumac onions, lemon wedges and yogurt for toppings.

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