Category Archives: Appetizers

Muhamarra (Red Pepper, Walnut and Pomegranate Dip)

dip with beerI don’t often remember my dreams, but last night’s was so vivid that I feel compelled to tell you about it. In my dream, I led a protest march at the McGregor sock factory. We all carried signs, designed by me, that read, “We demand equal rights for all toes.” I was so confused when I woke up. I avoid confrontation at all cost, so I can’t for the life of me, figure out how I came to be leading a protest. If anyone is skilled in dream analysis, please enlighten me.

Clearly I don’t have answers to all the world’s injustices, but I can suggest a great new dip for Super Bowl Sunday. Small steps folks!

I first had this dip a few weeks ago at Fairouz, a Lebanese restaurant in Ottawa. When I moved to Ottawa over 25 years ago, it was one of the only great ethnic restaurants in town. We went often, but never on a Saturday night, as that was when they featured live music and belly dancers. Watching them always made me uncomfortable. Sadly, they closed their doors in 2005, and I really missed it.

When I heard that they had reopened, I was thrilled. Fairouz 2.0, as I call it, is just as delicious, but with a fresh modern twist on Middle Eastern food. Luckily we went with a bunch of friends, because we wanted to try almost everything on the grazing section of the menu. Our favourite was the muhamarra dip. Much easier to make than it is to pronounce. I googled the pronunciation and heard it pronounced like this, this and this.

Of course I quizzed our waiter about how to make this dip. All I could get out of him was red peppers, walnuts and pomegranate molasses. I came home, did a little research and got to work creating. Almost all the recipes I found used some sort of binder, usually breadcrumbs. The go-to spices were commonly cumin and some sort of hot red peppers. Since Aleppo pepper is sadly unavailable, I went with a dried Turkish red pepper called Maras (or sometimes Marash).  I buy mine at Damas, a Middle Eastern supermarket in Ottawa. You can easily find it on Amazon as well. Pomegranate molasses (the syrup of boiled pomegranate juice), is also readily available at Middle Eastern supermarkets. Dip ingredientsMost recipes called for roasting and peeling fresh red peppers, but I was feeling a bit lazy, so I just used jarred roasted red peppers. Some brands are heavy on the vinegar, so taste the peppers first and rinse them if they taste too vinegary. Measure out all your ingredients and then start processing.

I garnished the finished dip with extra drizzles of olive oil and pomegranate molasses. A scatter of fresh pomegranate seeds and chopped toasted walnuts add a welcome crunch. Fresh mint sprigs look pretty. You can serve it with pita chips or warmed fresh pita. I used whole wheat mini pitas. on black plate

Click here to print recipe for Muhhammara.

ready to dip

 

 

Rustic Seeded Oat Crackers

butter 2I don’t really get the appeal of smoothies. Yes, I know they are jam-packed with tons of healthy foods, but honestly, they have no crunch. If I’m going to take in calories, I want to chew my food. (I make an exception for wine, because there are exceptions to every rule).with wine 3These crackers are ideal for when hunger strikes at 4:00 pm and I want to devour everything in sight. They satisfy my craving for salt and crunch. And, as a bonus, I know that they are densely packed with good- for-me ingredients.

The problem with most packaged crackers is that just a few never satisfy me. Plus, the list of ingredients almost always contains items I can’t pronounce, and probably shouldn’t be eating. The healthy packaged crackers, while packed with fibre, taste like cardboard.

These crackers are the creation of British food stylist and author Anna Jones. Her Instagram account is gorgeous. I just bought her new cookbook, A Modern Way to Cook, and I am so inspired to cook my way through it.

Oats are the main ingredient, the glue that holds all these seeds together. Feel free to play around with the seeds you add. I used pumpkin, sunflower, sesame, poppy, nigella and fennel.assortment of seedsready to mixAdd water, a few teaspoons of vegetable oil and maple syrup, and let it sit for about 10 minutes so that the oats can soak up all the moisture.mixedDivide the batter into 2 and roll each half out between 2 sheets of parchment paper. rolled outready for bakingOnce baked, let them cool and break into crackers. You can make them any size you like. I was curious to know the nutrient info for these crackers, so I did the calculations. Each large piece (recipe makes 16 large crackers) contains 85 calories, 1.5 grams of fibre and 3 grams of protein.

They are delicious plain, with butter and salt or with some olive tapenade. My friend Sandy has a great tapenade recipe.crckers in bowl on marble platterbutter 1

Click here to print recipe for Rustic Seeded Oat Crackers.

with wine 2

Margherita Socca Pizza (Socca Palooza: Chapter 4)

Margherita pizzaThe final entry in my Socca Palooza is the classic Margherita; roasted cherry tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella and fresh basil. Start with some sweet little tomatoes, assorted colours are pretty.rainbow tomatoesCut them in half, mix with olive oil, salt and a bit of minced garlic. Roast them for about 20 minutes. roasted tomatoesTop the soccas with roasted tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella. Pop it under the broiler to melt the cheese. Finish with fresh basil, a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of sea salt. Margherita pizza toppingsThis is a drippy messy socca. Serve with a knife, fork and lots of napkins and dig in. Margherita pizza have a slice

Click here to print recipe for Margherita Socca Pizzas.

Zucchini, Corn and Feta Socca Pizza

zucchini piza on parchmentSocca is essentially a large chickpea flour flatbread. Similar in texture to a crepe, it has crisp edges and the sweet and nutty flavor of chickpeas, with a trace of smokiness from a trip under the broiler. They originated in Nice where they are cooked in wood ovens on copper disks. I thought they would be an excellent base for pizza.

I am not very skilled at drawing or painting, so I like to think of these socca crusts as my canvas and the toppings as my paint. It’s easy to create masterpieces when late summer markets are overflowing with gorgeous produce.zucchini socca toppings

zucchini ribbonsMix up the socca batter; chickpea flour (I used Bob’s Redmill Garbanzo and Fava Bean Flour), water, olive oil and salt. Let the batter sit on the counter for at least 2 hours, or you can even refrigerate it overnight.socca ingredientsPour about 3/4 cup batter into a lightly oiled hot nonstick pan, and cook until golden brown on both sides.cooking soccaChannel your inner Picasso and top with whatever fills you with joy. For this version I shaved the zucchini and dressed the ribbons with fresh thyme, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. I sautéed some fresh corn kernels. Feta and olives for salt and some shredded mozzarella to create oozy cheesy goodness. Pop it under the broiler to melt the cheese and crisp up the edges.

Click here to print recipe for Zucchini, Corn and Feta Socca Pizzas.

zucchini piza on yellow plateStay tuned over the next few days for a virtual “socca-palooza” and watch me create Ricotta, Peach and Honey Socca Pizzas, Za’atar Roasted Carrot and Avocado Socca Pizzas and Margherita Socca Pizzas.

A Toast to Summer: Honey Roasted Tomatoes on Whipped Feta Toasts

3 toasts
If I’m being completely honest, I really only have myself to blame. It all started with a trip to the Amalfi Coast in Italy in 2011. It was there I first discovered the joys of Prosecco and “Aperitivo.” The literal translation is an alcoholic beverage that is consumed prior to a meal with the intention of stimulating the appetite. It almost always involves a few nibbles to have along with your drink, and I’m not talking about a “happy hour” dish of peanuts.

Depending on your location in Italy, the snacks change. In the south it is typically freshly roasted warm salted almonds, a bowl of spicy marinated olives, home made potato chips, or little squares of pizza.

Several years later we visited Umbria in Northern Italy. Aperitivo here meant little crostini topped with pecorino cheese and drizzled with local wildflower honey, suppli (deep fried breaded rice balls stuffed with cheese) and all sorts of amazing charcuterie.

I decided to adopt Aperitivo hour at our cottage. It was recieved quite well by all our visiting friends and family. (What a shock, I know!) It’s gotten to the point that around 6 pm, my husband, children, siblings and friends will ask, “What are we having for aperitivo tonight?” I have conditioned them to expect a little snack along with pre-dinner drinks. Like I said, all my own fault! Truthfully, I love aperitivo hour. Everyone comes together on the back deck, cell phones are put away into pockets and we chat.

I am always looking for interesting snacks that can be put together without too much fuss or bother. A  few months ago, my sister Bo sent me a recipe for whipped feta. I filed it away, thinking it would be perfect, spread on some crusty bread for aperitivo hour.

I decided to top the whipped feta with roasted tomatoes. Little grape or cherry tomatoes get tossed with garlic, olive oil, honey and thyme.Drizzling tomatoes with honey30 minutes in a hot oven until they are slightly shrivelled and bubbly. You can roast the tomatoes early in the day and just leave them out on the counter until you need them. roasted tomatoesThe whipped feta dip was a recipe from Ina Garten. I adapted her recipe, cut back on the feta and added some whole milk ricotta to the mix. It love the lightness it added to the spread. This can also be made in the morning. Just wrap well and chill until serving time.Making whipped Feta-RicottaStart with some really good bread. A baguette or ciabatta loaf are perfect for this. Good quality bread will have big holes in it like this. I bought a ciabatta lunga from Ace Bakery. Ciabatta LungoIn bread freak lingo, these big holes are known as “an open crumb structure.” They are achieved by a long slow cold fermentation, gentle handling so you don’t deflate all the built up gas and  a high hydration dough.

I like to split the loaf horizontally, toast it gently on a grill or in the oven, and then cut it into serving size pieces before topping them.5 toasts2 toasts with prosecco

Click here to print recipe for Honey Roasted Tomato and Whipped Feta Toasts.

1 toast with a bite taken