Chilly Lime

26 07 2010

My recent forays into Indian cooking have left me with a large collection of hitherto unknown (to me) spices.  One such spice now lurking on my shelf is amchoor.

Amchoor - dried mango powder

The dried mango powder has a fruity, yet slightly savory tang that I wanted to try adding to all sorts of foods.  Starting with frozen yogurt.  Some extremely juicy limes I had in the fridge were begging to play along, so I let them.  Turning to David for an idea of proportions, I found a recipe for extra-tangy lemon frozen yogurt in his new book, Ready for Dessert.  Using that as a jumping-off point, I started mixing and tasting until I had the flavor I was looking for.  And then.

Then I saw the green finger chilis.  They made the limes’ begging look like a polite, reserved request.  So I took one out and began mincing.  I put half the pepper in the yogurt and tasted.  It didn’t seem that hot – I figured the cooling effect of the yogurt was negating some of the heat.  I tasted a piece of the pepper by itself, to gauge the level of spice.  I figured adding the other half-chili couldn’t hurt, the only problem being that the straight-pepper experience had temporarily numbed my tastebuds to any other flavors.  But no matter, my yogurt was ready to be frozen.

We’ve had a series of heatwaves in Paris this summer, broken up by periods of thunderstorms.  During the hot weeks, though, there is nothing like coming home from work on a steamy afternoon, putting something delightful into the ice cream maker to churn, cooling off with a shower, and being rewarded with a refreshing frozen treat.  This is why I have had four different kinds of homemade ice cream in the freezer at all times for the last month or so. 

Unfortunately, the chili-lime yogurt, upon churning, was not quite ready for primetime.  It was intensely lime-y and spicier than I intended (that’ll teach me to go eating raw chili peppers when I’m cooking).  The amchoor’s (you remember that – it was, at one time, the point of the yogurt) presence was subliminal.  But I wasn’t about to give up.  All it needed was the right garnish.  Something crunchy, sweet, and ever-so-slightly exotic.  That’s when the bag of macadamia nuts – which I bought for no reason other than I wanted to have them around – piped up.  “Make us into brittle.  We’ll be delicious, and buttery, and caramelized, and oh-so-good.”  I needed no further convincing.

Macadamia nut brittle

There was a near-tragedy when I realized that I had not sufficiently oiled the foil with which I had lined my sheet pan and counter, and the brittle was sticking like crazy.  (Another lesson learned: don’t be lazy and think that lining your sheet pan with foil is an appropriate substitute for washing it.)  I summoned all my patience and managed to let the candy cool completely before painstakingly picking off the shards of foil that didn’t want to let go of my sweet delight.

At the end of the day, though, the brittle was exactly what the yogurt needed.  The perfect rich, honeyed, tropical foil to the puckery, spicy frozen yogurt.

Lime & Chili Frozen Yogurt with Macadamia Brittle

Lime & Chili Frozen Yogurt

This recipe began life as a way to use up an exotic spice I had recently acquired: amchoor.  I thought the dried mango powder, with its fruity tang, would lend an exotic touch to lime frozen yogurt.  Then I saw a leftover green finger chili in the vegetable drawer and had a brainstorm.  If you don’t like spicy food, I’d recommend using only a half or even a quarter of a chili pepper.

1 lb.10 oz./750g plain yogurt
Zest of 2 limes
2½ oz./75ml lime juice (from about 4 limes)
4½ oz./125g raw sugar, such as cassonade or turbinado
1 Tbsp. honey
½ tsp. amchoor (dried mango powder) (optional)
1 green finger chili, deseeded and finely chopped
Pinch of salt

  1. Blend or whisk all the ingredients together.  Taste and adjust sweetness as desired.  Chill thoroughly.
  2. Freeze in an ice cream maker per the machine’s instructions.
  3. Serve with Macadamia Nut Brittle (see below).

Makes about 1 quart/1 liter.

Macadamia Nut Brittle

Crunchy, buttery little bites of luxury. 

7oz./200g sugar
3oz./85 ml water
5oz./140g honey
8oz./230g macadamia nuts, roughly chopped
Big pinch of salt
½oz./15g/1 Tbsp. unsalted butter (or use salted, but leave out the other salt)
½ tsp. baking soda
¾ tsp. vanilla extract

  1. In a medium saucepan, combine sugar, water, and honey.  Cook over medium-high heat until it reaches 129 C/264 F.
  2. Add the macadamia nuts and salt and cook, stirring frequently, to 159 C/318 F.
  3. Remove from heat and stir in the butter, then the vanilla, and finally the baking soda.  The candy will foam up, so be careful.
  4. Pour onto a well-oiled sheet pan (or a Silpat, if you’re lucky enough to have one, but not foil unless you want to cry), and spread into an even layer, as thin as possible.  Leave it to cool and harden completely.
  5. Break into pieces.  A heavy instrument such as a rolling pin comes in handy for this step.  Serve as a garnish for frozen desserts, crush even more finely and stir it into just-churned ice cream (vanilla, banana, and coconut are a few suggestions), or just nibble on it straight.

Makes probably more than you need, but who’s going to complain?

Originally published on Croque-Camille.


Potatoes or Green Beans?

23 07 2009

Does this ever happen to you?  You’re going through your workday, thinking about dinner, picturing the oven fried fish and homemade tartar sauce you have planned, but when it comes to the side dish, you’re stumped.  On one hand, you have some lovely little haricots verts rapidly going south in the fridge, and on the other, you have some freshly dug new potatoes doing the same in the cupboard.  A quick green bean sauté sounds easy and virtuous, but maybe steamed potatoes in an herby vinaigrette would be better.  You remember that there are no fresh herbs in your kitchen, but now you really want those potatoes.  It would really be a shame to see those green beans go to waste.  Potatoes or green beans?  Green beans or potatoes?

What if...?

So there I was, with the great potatoes-or-green beans debate waging on in my head, when lunchtime rolls around.  After the 10 minutes it takes me to eat my sandwich, I have the better part of an hour to kill.  I decide to check my email on my phone (ah, the wonders of technology!) and lo and behold, a friend has sent me a link for a peach pie recipe from Smitten Kitchen.  I’m sure it was mouthwatering, but what immediately caught my attention was the link at the top of the page to the previous recipe, entitled, “arugula, potato and green bean salad.”  Wait!  Of course!  I can use both!  Why didn’t I think of that before?  I loved the idea of a yogurt-based dressing – it sounded so fresh and healthy (which is good, seeing as I’m still struggling a bit with that vacation weight), as well as creamy, tangy, and malleable to my palate’s desires.  And what my palate desired was tarragon.  I remembered it working so well with the yogurt in my French coleslaw recipe, and fortunately, I almost always have tarragon vinegarin the cupboard.  Yay!  With some shallots, Dijon mustard, and hazelnut oil, maybe some toasted almonds… can you tell I was getting excited?  After work I hurried home to get cooking. 

It looks like mayo, but brother, it ain't mayo.

The resulting salad was just what I was looking for.  I am absolutely making this one again.  Repeatedly.

French Potato and Green Bean Salad 

Never again succumb to the starch-or-vegetable dilemma!  This salad marries them beautifully.  The yogurty dressing looks rich, but tastes light – an excellent summer side dish.  As for the title, something about the combination of tarragon and nuts strikes me as so French.

For the dressing:

125 g / 4½ oz. plain yogurt
1 medium shallot, minced
2 Tbsp. tarragon vinegar
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbsp. + 1 tsp. hazelnut oil

  1. Combine the yogurt, shallot, vinegar, and mustard in a small bowl.  Whisk in the oil and season to taste.

For the salad:

200 g / 7 oz. haricots verts (or thin green beans), washed and broken in half if long
360 g / 13 oz. small, waxy potatoes, scrubbed and sliced into rounds 65 mm / ¼” thick
50 g / ½ cup sliced almonds, toasted (optional)

  1. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil over high heat.  Place the green beans in a strainer or pasta insert and cook 2-3 minutes, until bright green and crisp tender.  Remove them from the pot and give them a quick rinse in cold water to stop the cooking.  Drain.  (You may need to do this in two batches if your strainer is small like mine.)
  2. Add the potatoes to the pot, return to a boil, and reduce heat to medium.  Simmer potatoes until tender, about 10 minutes.  Drain.  (No need to save the water this time.)
  3. Transfer the hot potatoes to a salad bowl and toss with the green beans and the dressing.  Allow the flavors to meld for at least 20 minutes.  Just before serving, sprinkle in the almonds and stir to distribute.  Serve at room temperature.

Serves 3 as a side dish.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.

Getting Some Culture

12 01 2009

It’s time for another round of Awesome Things You Can Find in a French Supermarket.  I love how so many products that are considered “gourmet” or even “health food” in the U.S. are everyday grocery items here.  Here are a couple of yogurts that I picked up on a recent trip to Casino.

Sheep's milk yogurt

Goat's milk yogurt

That’s right, sheep and goat yogurts.  I’m fairly certain you have to go to some kind of specialty shop to find anything like this in the States, but not in France.  Of course, given the sheer size of the yogurt section in most supermarkets here, I guess it’s not terribly surprising.  I prefer plain yogurt (which is what makes the sheep and goat yogurts such a fun change of pace – the goat’s has a mildly “goaty” flavor, and the sheep’s has a pleasant tang and rich texture) and I still have a myriad of choices.  Full fat or low fat?  (Um, full fat, please.)  Hand-churned or mass-produced?  Glass containers or plastic?  Active bacteria?  Sweetened?  Drinkable?  Organic?  Brand-name?  When you add in the fruit options, (strawberry? mango? blackcurrant? apple-apricot? coconut?) the combinations become mind-boggling.

Truly, France is a yogurt-lover’s paradise.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.

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