Roasted Leeks with Blood Oranges

MyBerkeleyBowl_Roasted Leeks Blood Oranges.jpegThis week’s recipe is one that I developed for an article I wrote for Bay Area News Group, just released this morning. Given the Roasted Leeks Blood Oranges.jpeg“mainstreamedness” of the readership, I had to keep things a bit more tame to be accessible to a wider audience, while still giving the recipes an “exotic” spin to stay true to the My Berkeley Bowl theme. This recipe must be my favorite of the four new ones I developed for the article, because I’ve made it five times in the past month.

While neither leeks nor blood oranges are blow-you-out-of-the-water exotic, I figure that since blood oranges are not readily available at most “normal” grocery stores, they fall on the exotic side of the line. And leeks — well, most people that have used leeks have only sliced them up as a muted ingredient playing a minor role in the background of soups or casseroles, like an extra in a movie. So in that sense, I think this recipe is super exotic because leeks are the star of the show for once.MyBerkeleyBowl_Roasted Leeks Blood Oranges.jpeg
 I remember the first time I took a bite of protagonistic leeks like a girl remembers her first kiss. It was a cold, rainy day of February in Northern Spain and my mom, husband and I were on a road trip. We ordered a roasted leek salad in a nondescript bar filled with old spanish men sipping beer and escaping the rain. (Spoiler alert: when you order whatever dish is carelessly scrawled across the chalkboard hanging over a dingy locals’ bar on a quiet street in a Spanish town, Spain always delivers.) This salad came out topped with caramelized leeks as thick as rolling pins, and when I bit into them, I was blown away by how velvety, delicate, and exquisitely flavorful they were when prepared that way. My mom immediately shouted “otra!” to the waiter, knowing that we’d need at least one more salad if she actually wanted to get any (she couldn’t out-fork Mike and I when it was that good).MyBerkeleyBowl_Roasted Leeks Blood Oranges.jpeg
 That salad we had in Northern Spain was the inspiration for this dish, in which I braise leeks with wine and thyme until they are just as velvety and rich as the ones I had that rainy day in February. The sections of blood oranges add the brightness and color that make this dish all the more memorable. It makes a beautiful and unique side dish for a dinner party, or if you love leeks as much as I do, you can enjoy it on its own as a light dinner like Mike and I have been doing.MyBerkeleyBowl_Roasted Leeks Blood Oranges.jpeg
 As a side note, I discovered in my research that blood oranges are actually a result of a natural mutation! How splendidly wonderful is nature?!? Apparently, the Italian dude that first peeled one of his oranges thinking it was just a regular old orange-colored orange was so shocked to see the deep red color that he shouted “tarocco!” meaning “fake” or “phoney” in Italian, and is now the name of one of the three main varieties of blood oranges (along with Moro and Sanguinella). How rare is it now in day to find that something so beautiful and unique is made that way naturally, not by some gimmick or trick? MyBerkeleyBowl_Roasted Leeks Blood Oranges.jpegFortunately, this whole dish is free of gimmicks — just 100% natural, delicious, beautiful goodness. I hope you enjoy this first recipe of 2016.

Roasted Leeks with Blood Oranges

  • Servings: 4 as starter or side dish
  • Time: 1 hour
  • Difficulty: easy
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  • 6 leeks, roots and dark green tops removed
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1/2 cup vegetable stock
  • 6 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 blood oranges

Dressing:

  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 Tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon Sherry vinegar
  • Black pepper and a pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Remove the tougher, outermost layers of the leeks and discard. Slice them in half lengthwise and run under cold water to remove all the grit, ensuring to rinse between the layers. Place the leeks in a single layer in a 9×13″ roasting pan, cut side down. Drizzle with the olive oil, wine, and vegetable stock (the liquid should come about halfway up the leeks), and snip the thyme sprigs over the top. Roast for 35-45 minutes, flipping the leeks over halfway through, until they are tender and lightly browned. Allow to cool to room temperature.

Arrange the leeks on a serving platter. Cut the rind off the blood oranges, slice into sections, and arrange over the top of the leeks. Place all the ingredients for the dressing in a small jar and shake to combine. Drizzle over the top of the leeks and oranges. Serve room temperature.

Prickly Pear Sorbet

Nothing screams summer like frozen treats. So in honor of the first week of summer, I am introducing you to my life-changing sorbet. Yeah, that’s right, LIFE-CHANGING.

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This sorbet is so lusciously and luxuriously magenta, you won’t be able to stop staring at it. And when you take your first bite, you won’t be able to stop eating it. And when it’s all gone, you won’t be able to stop talking about it. It is just that good.

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Who would have thought that the source of all this goodness could be the little prickly fruits that sit on top of the prickly pear cactus? This unsuspecting fruit is a nutritional powerhouse, as are the pads of the cactus plant itself (also called nopales). Both the fruit and the cactus pads have been shown to have many health benefits, including lowering blood sugar, cholesterol, and even preventing hangovers. And the fruit is packed with fiber (over 5 grams per cup!) and impressive amounts of copper and magnesium, two harder-to-come-by minerals that are important in immunity and enzyme function. And of course, a fruit so richly colored is super high in antioxidants like betalains and Vitamin C.

Prickly pear cactus: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/d/df/Prickly_Pear_Closeup.jpg/640px-Prickly_Pear_Closeup.jpg

But obviously, the prickly pear doesn’t make this sorbet all on its own. What’s the secret? A good ice cream maker, ripe prickly pears, tangy lime juice, and… drum-roll please… just the tiniest hint of serrano chili that will have your friends thinking, “I think it’s there… no, maybe not…but it sort of tastes like… hell, give me another scoop because this is damn good.”

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I can’t stress enough the importance of making this in a real ice cream maker. Do NOT make this “granita style” by freezing it solid and scraping it or blending it later — the ice crystals that form will be way to big and clunky and you’ll miss out on the velvety, luxurious texture of this sorbet. I can’t think of a better way to spend money this summer than on an ice cream maker…

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Prickly Pear Sorbet

  • Servings: 4
  • Time: 20 minutes plus chilling and freezing time
  • Difficulty: medium
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  • 7-8 ripe prickly pears (should make 1 2/3 – 2 cups puree)
  • 1 cup water
  • Juice from one juicy lemon
  • Juice from one juicy lime
  • 1/2 – 2/3 cup sugar (depending on desired sweetness)
  • 1 serrano chili

To make the puree, slice the prickly pears in half lengthwise and scoop out the flesh into a blender, getting as close to the skin as possible. (Caution: prickly pears can have invisible spines/fibers that are really annoying little buggers, so I recommend wearing gloves when you do this). Pulse the prickly pear pulp in the blender for a few seconds to make a puree and separate the flesh from the seeds. Strain out the seeds with a sieve and set aside the puree for later (you should have about 1 2/3 to 1 3/4 cup of puree).

In a small saucepan, heat the water and sugar until the sugar completely dissolves. Remove from heat and stir in the lemon and lime juice. Stir in the prickly pear puree. Next, use a fine grater or microplane to grate the sides of the serrano chili all the way around, avoiding the seeds in the middle. Taste the mixture when you are partway through grating the chili to see if you want to add more or stop there. Once the mixture is to your liking, put it in the fridge to chill completely.

Once the mixture is chilled, set up your ice cream maker and pour in the mixture, following your factory settings. Mine took about 20 minutes to set to a perfectly frozen yet velvety consistency. Serve immediately or put in the freezer for later. If you put it in the freezer, take it out of the freezer before serving to let it soften enough to be able to stir it with  spatula and bring back the smooth, velvety consistency.

Santiago Under The Stars

I’m a complete sucker for anything almond. Almond croissants, almond-scented lotion, marzipan, almond paste straight from the tube… yeah, I have been that desperate before.  The word “almond” on a dessert menu can magically create a vacancy in my stomach that just a second earlier seemed stuffed to the brim. If you are like me, then you would LOVE Tarta de Santiago.

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The template used to make the cross on the Tarta de Santiago

Originally from the province of Galicia but now enjoyed all over Spain, a traditional Tarta De Santiago is a beautifully simple torte made with ground almonds, eggs, sugar, and a touch of lemon zest. It’s typically dusted with powdered sugar in the shape of the cross of Santiago (Saint James).  Pilgrims who walk the famous 500-mile camino that ends in Santiago de Compostela (where the remains of the apostle St.James are entombed– or so it is said) earn themselves a huge slice of this cake. Lucky for them, this torte can be found in almost every shop window of this medieval city, enticing almond lovers like me to taste and compare as many as possible.

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The scallop shell, marking the path of the “Camino de Santiago” through a typical town of Glaicia

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Typical rainy day in Galicia

Tarta de Santiago has always been my favorite Spanish dessert, so I was a little weary to mess with a classic. But when I saw the starfruit at Berkeley Bowl, I felt inspired to incorporate this beautifully shaped delicacy into the torte. I wanted to capture an image I have of the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela under a starry night sky.

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I decided to slice the stars and lay them in the bottom of the torte pan dusted with a little sugar before pouring the batter on top, so that the fruit would caramelize during baking. The result after flipping the torte over is as beautiful as it is delicious.

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A little background on the fruit, which is also known as Carambola in Southeast Asia where it originated. Its flavor and texture are like a combination of apple, pear and grape. Starfruit is very low in sugar for a fruit (only 4% sugar content) so it has a slight sour taste that makes it great for poaching or cooking, just like green apples. You’ll get lots of antioxidants, potassium and vitamin C along the way.

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It’s important to warn that people with kidney problems should avoid starfruit completely– it’s high oxalic acid content is thought to make star fruit dangerous, or even deadly, for people with poorly functioning kidneys. Also, people on cholesterol lowering statin drugs or other prescription meds should avoid starfruit because it has the same potential to interact with medications as grapefruit (potent cytochrome P450 inhibitor).

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Santiago Under The Stars

  • Servings: 10-12
  • Time: 1 hour
  • Difficulty: moderate
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  • 1 starfruit
  • 1 tablespoon brown or demerara sugar
  • 8 ounces blanched almonds (can be whole or slivered)
  • 6 eggs, separated
  • 1 1/3 cup sugar
  • zest from 1 lemon
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Slice off the very ends of the starfruit. If it has any browning on its five ridges, trim them carefully and then slice into 1/4″ thick slices. Grease the bottom and sides of a 10″ or 11″ springform cake pan with some butter and sprinkle the brown/demerara sugar over the bottom before laying the starfruit slices across the bottom. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Place the almonds in a food processor and grind until you have a fine meal.  Set aside.  With an electric mixer, beat the egg yolks and sugar until it they are smooth and creamy. Add the lemon zest, almond extract, salt, and ground almonds and mix well.

With clean beaters, beat the egg whites in a large bowl until stiff peaks form. Carefully fold them into the egg and almond mixture until it is well incorporated. Pour the batter over the starfruit slices in the cake pan and bake for about 45 minutes or until the middle feels firm when touched lightly.  Remove from the oven and let cool.

Run a knife around the outside of the tart to ensure it is not stuck to the sides before releasing the springform pan and inverting the cake onto a serving plate. Carefully lift off the bottom of the springform pan to reveal the starfruit-topped cake below. Serve small slices, as this is a dense, flavorful cake.

Cherimoya Panna Cotta

If you have never had a cherimoya, you are totally missing out.  In fact, Mark Twain called it “the most delicious fruit known to man” in an article he wrote for the Sacramento Daily Union in 1866. The outside looks like some sort of dragon egg, but the taste and texture are out-of-this-world. It is also known as the “custard apple” because its white flesh is so creamy and sweet you can eat it with a spoon and pretend grandma cooked you up somethin’ real nice.  If I had to compare it to another flavor, I’d say it’s sort of like a papaya mixed with a pear.

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Almost six years ago, Mike and I were in a museum in Trujillo, Peru looking at artifacts of the Moche people who lived in that area 100-800 A.D.  These talented ceramicists loved to depict all aspects of daily life in their creations– and I mean all aspects (I’ll just say that they really used the orifices and handles of vases creatively…).  These X-rated ceramics were displayed amongst other G-rated vessels of fruits and animals, but you can probably guess which ones people spent more time looking at…

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I was so distracted by the graphic pottery that I didn’t even notice that the fruit they often depicted in the family-friendly ceramics is a cherimoya!  See the photo above?  Anyways, once native to the Andes, cherimoya are now grown all over the world, including in California.  Lucky us.

wpid-img_20150405_195419.jpgI headed over to the tropical fruit section of Berkeley Bowl and asked “my guy” to help me pick
out a good one.  As per usual, he cut one open on the spot so I could sample a wedge and drip cherimoya juice all over the produce aisle (this is why I love Berkeley Bowl).  Although I didn’t know what I was going to make with cherimoya only two seconds earlier,  I immediately had my answer: the sweet, velvety flesh reminded me of one of my favorite desserts, panna cotta.

Panna cotta, meaning “cooked cream” in Italian, is usually made with some combination of cream, sugar, and gelatin, sometimes with embellishments like sour cream or mascarpone.  I fiddled around with proportions and textures and came up with the recipe below.  I used agar agar instead of gelatin to make this vegetarian-friendly, but if you want to make it vegan you can just substitute more coconut milk for the half and half (I did not because I wanted to taste the cherimoya and not the coconut).  It is a beautifully simple dessert which really allows one to taste the delicate flavor of the fruit while enjoying the velvety, custard-like texture.

I just split the big one in the photo below with my husband for dessert. It’s hard to believe something this delicious could be good for you, but in this case it is. Cherimoya is packed with nutrition, providing about a third to a half of the recommended daily intake for vitamin C, vitamin B-6, and dietary fiber, plus a whole bunch of other vitamins and minerals. So make sure you buy two: one for preparing this recipe, and one for eating straight up with a spoon.

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Cherimoya Panna Cotta

  • Servings: 6
  • Time: 25 minutes
  • Difficulty: easy
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  • 1/3 teaspoons powdered agar agar (vegan substitute for gelatin)
  • 1 1/2 cups half and half
  • 1/2 cup coconut milk
  • 1 ripe cherimoya
  • 1 star anise
  • 1/4 cup sugar

 

In a small saucepan, combine the half and half, coconut milk, star anise, and sugar and place over medium heat. Whisk in the agar agar and whisk for 2-3 minutes until all ingredients are fully dissolved and the liquid begins to simmer. Turn off heat and let sit for ten minutes.

Cut the cherimoya in half and scoop out the flesh into a bowl. Squish the flesh between your hands to remove and discard all the black seeds.  Once all the seeds have been removed, puree the cherimoya flesh in a blender or food processor.  You should have about 1 cup of puree. Add the cherimoya puree to the saucepan and discard the anise. Stir to combine and pour into 6 small ramekins. Refrigerate for at least 2-3 hours until set and chilled through.

To serve, run a spatula around the edges of the ramekins to loosen the sides, and invert onto a dessert plate.  Or, you can eat it directly out of the ramekin.