Spicy Lemon Fregola with Artichokes and Caramelized Onions

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A February defined by performance, something a bit rare these days. A month full of those moments–when an audience member is excited with you, sad with you, surprised by you. When you feel your intentions and delivery and energy hit their mark and transform.

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This past month I’ve given a handful of performances of Amelia and Her Paper Tigers, a theatre for young audiences production I co-created about Amelia Earhart. It’s moments like when the little girl in the front row turns 180 degrees around in her chair to follow a prop going into the audience and then gasps with delight, or when a seasoned older theater-goer sheds a tear as Amelia stilts offstage for the last time and we are all left to wonder about her final moments and her legacy, that keep the acting dream alive. It’s so exciting to breathe life into a story I find so compelling. (Read more here!)

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Also this month, Cuban salsa has strengthened its grasp on my heartstrings (and schedule). That infectious audience energy when we nail an up-in-the-air move, or perform a long turn pattern in complete synchronization, or break into an intricate group move is so necessary for a good performance. We recently came back from San Francisco, where we had the opportunity to perform for what felt for the entire Cuban Salsa world. Hundreds of people from all over the country, and Mexico, Cuba, Italy, etc. The energy of this event was pure electricity and camaraderie; everyone excited to learn, observe, meet people, and, of course, dance. In the past week I’ve taken ladies rumba styling, salsa with Afro, group rueda classes, advanced casino partnering, ladies suelta, and most recently a crash course on son from the masters, Yanek and Karelia. I’m excited by how far I’ve come (two years ago I would’ve thought that previous sentence was pure gibberish) and what my body can do–adapt to new rhythms, styles, extended positions. It’s powerful.

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As such, not much cooking has occurred. This simple artichoke and fregola dish from Ottolenghi’s Plenty More was definitely the tastiest thing (and perhaps only things more complicated than scrambled eggs and one misguided cooking-while-sick soup attempt) to come out of my kitchen in February. In his liner notes, Ottolenghi calls this dish unphotogenic, and no picture appears. Well, Internet, may I present to you the not-stunning but certainly not ugly deliciousness of fregola artichoke pilaf with a bold and powerful jalapeño lemon sauce (page 82).

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These are the first pictures taken with my new camera (Olympus E-PL5). for the site! Daniel has been instrumental in taking and editing photos up to this point; I’m hoping to begin taking on some of the responsibility from here on out. Any tips would be appreciated 🙂

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Spicy Lemon Fregola with Artichokes and Caramelized Onions

barely adapted from Ottolenghi’s Plenty More

2 T olive oil
1 very large onion (or 2 small), cut into thin strips
1 T butter
about 11 ounces artichoke hearts (I used one and a half cans), liquid drained, each heart cut into sixths
9 oz fregola (about 1 ¼ cups) (you can substitute Israeli couscous or mograbiah)
2 ½ c veggie stock
1 ½ T red wine vinegar
¼ c kalamata olives, pitted and halved
¼ c toasted pine nuts (or almonds if you aren’t me)
chopped parsley to garnish
s&p

Heat olive oil over medium heat in a large saute pan. Add onions and ¾ t salt and cook for at least 10 minutes (more like 13-14), stirring occasionally, until caramelized. While onions cook, place stock in a small sauce pan and bring to a boil.

When onions are done, add butter. Stir until butter melts. Next, add the boiling veggie stock, artichoke hearts, fregola, and 3 good grinds of black pepper. Give everything a good stir, then cover and cook over low heat for 18 minutes without stirring. (Apparently stirring leads to gumminess and starch build up.) At 18 minutes, liquid should be mostly absorbed (you can give a tiny peek). Remove from heat and let stand, covered, for 10 more minutes.

After 10 minutes, add the red wine vinegar, olives, and pine nuts, and stir everything together gently. Serve with a big dollop of Lemon-Jalapeno Sauce (recipe below) and extra chopped parsley to garnish.

Lemon-Jalapeno Sauce

3 jalapenos, seeded and coarsely chopped
1 clove garlic, coarsely chopped
1 c parsley, coarsely chopped
1 T fresh lemon juice
3 T olive oil
1 preserved lemon, (or use my cheat: cut lemon (skin and all!) into thin slices and sautee with olive oil over medium low heat for 5 minutes; then add 1 t sugar and 1 t salt. Add water if sticks. Voila!)

Combine all ingredients in food processor. Blend until smooth!

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Indian-Spiced Cabbage and Onions

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I have found the best ways to interact with neighbors all center around food.

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For example, when I was really little we lived on the bottom floor and my cousins lived right above us in a duplex. Apparently, as a robust three-year-old, I would eat dinner at home and then go upstairs for round two. Very convenient. Also good to know old habits die hard.

wpid460-IndianCabbage-2.jpgIn my last apartment, there was the surprise (shirtless) visitor from downstairs, who emphatically asked if we wanted a gallon of kombucha, since he had just made way too much, oh, and hey we also made some blackberry jam, want some? (Uh, yesplease.)

wpid462-IndianCabbage-3.jpgwpid464-IndianCabbage-4.jpgOh, and once, in a fit of panic, I went around and knocked on all 3 doors of my old building to see if anyone, legit, had a half cup of milk for a cake I was baking. The dingy downstairs boys indeed did, and, after enduring a brief jam session I was invited to witness, were rewarded with cake the next day.

wpid466-IndianCabbage-5.jpgIn my new place, the basement of a brownstone with a family living upstairs, surprise shirtless visitors will be few and far between (I hope) (unless its a toddler). BUT we do share a corridor with the family and at in impromptu hallway meetup the other morning, our new neighbor asked if we were cooking something incredible last night.

wpid474-IndianCabbage-9.jpgYes, yes we were. It was cabbage. And onions. And it smelled like you were transported to the homiest of loving homes in Delhi and sat down for a legitimate feast. Onions, cumin, ginger, and turmeric. The humblest of ingredients create the most irresistible wafting aromas.

wpid470-IndianCabbage-7.jpgOh! And! My old roommate found the cookbook this recipe came from on this side of the street and thought I’d like it. Full Circle.

Indian-Spiced Cabbage and Onions

adapted the smallest bit from Madhur Jaffrey: An Invitation to Indian Cooking

7 T canola oil, divided
½ t whole cumin seeds
½ t whole fennel seeds
½ t whole brown mustard seeds
2 onions, divided
½ a large red cabbage, sliced as thin as possible
2-3 large collard green leaves, sliced into ribbons (optional)
1 t chopped celery leaves (I used this as a sub for whole fenugreek seeds)
2 whole canned tomatoes and their juices
fresh ginger, about 1 inch by 1.5 inches, peeled and coarsely chopped
2 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
½ a jalapeno or ¼ a long hot pepper, some seeds removed, thinly sliced in rounds
½ t turmeric
1 T lemon juice
1 t salt
1 t garam masala
Greek yogurt, to serve
rice, to serve

Heat 4 T oil over high heat in a very large pan. Add cumin, fennel, and mustard seeds. Stir frequently for about 30 seconds to a minute, until mustard seeds start to pop. Turn heat to medium and add one and a half onions, sliced (save the last half onion for later.) Cook for 5 minutes.

Next, add cabbage, collards leaves, and celery leaves. It will seem like there is WAY too much cabbage but stir lovingly and be patient, and cabbage will wilt astonishingly. Don’t be afraid to sacrfice a couple cabbage strands in the process. Cover, turn to low, and cook for 15 minutes. After this, take off the cover and cook for another half an hour.

Meanwhile, blend canned tomatoes + their juices, ginger, garlic, and the reserved half onion using an immersion blender (or a legit one).

Heat 3 T oil in a small skillet on high heat. Add blendered spice paste, spicy pepper slices, and turmeric. Cook for 8-10 minutes, stirring constantly, until thickened and your neighbor texts to ask if they can come over for dinner.

Once cabbage has cooked for 30 minutes, add thickened spice paste, lemon juice, salt, and garam masala. Stir together well and cook for an additional five minutes to let flavors meld. Spoon over rice, add a dollop of yogurt, and enjoy! I added some quick pan-fried tofu just to make it more of a complete meal, but it was totally unnecessary. Leftovers were AMAZING.