Asian Pear & Fennel Salad

Fall fruits are flavourful, fragrant and full of interesting textures. Such are Asian pears (Pyrus serotina) - they absorb the summer sun and turn it into a crisp, crunchy texture full of intriguing subtle flavours reminiscent of pineapple and ripe quince rosiness - yet without that very hard core or need of cooking. Its aroma is subtle yet floral and robust. This must be because of the unique esters in it - which if you get a tree-ripened fruit, will really shine through. The supermarket variety just don't cut it (though they still got the crunchy texture).

I particularly enjoy using Asian pears in savoury salads, as their texture is firm and they hold their shape through the tossing, turning or even marinating that I like to put my sturdy vegetables through. They are also not nearly as sweet as other pears, and are just a little more neutral and readily get along with other flavours.

Asian pears are particularly fantastic with crunchy, fresh fennel bulbs. I slice them as thinly as possible, add some shaved carrots (creative use for your vegetable peeler!) and toss them with pine nuts, goji berries and some pomegranate seeds if I happen to have some. And the best part is that this salad will taste amazing the next day, once the fennel seeds have soaked up some moisture and release more of their licorice-like sweetness. For this particular salad I used fresh, still green fennel seeds, so no marinating was necessary. If you are lucky to have some growing in your garden - or out in the wild - this is a marvelous way to use fresh spice.
I also was lucky to have a jar of marinated sweet & spicy butternut squash around and add it the first time around. I will post a recipe for marinated butternut squash another time!

1 bulb fresh fennel laved or quartered and then thinly sliced
1 ripe and firm Asian pear, cored, halved and thinly sliced
1 carrot, shaved with a vegetable peeler
1-2 Tbs raw pine nuts
2 Tbs dried goji berries
2 Tbs fresh pomegranate seeds (optional)
2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil (I prefer the Lebanese, Israeli or Greek oils; the majority of Italian olive oils that are imported to North America are dull and inferior)
Juice from half a lemon (about 1 Tbs)
1/2 tsp dried fennel seeds

Prepare all fruit and vegetables and toss in a salad bowl with the dressing. Garnish with pine nuts, goji berries and pomegranate seeds (if available). Serve immediately, or the next day (it will taste wonderful each time!).

Kale & Pomegranate

Kale is a relatively newly discovered vegetable for me, and although tough and fibrous to chew on sometimes, it provides nice texture when processed right.

My favourite way of preparing it is actually the easiest, and has become a staple in my fall and winter menues, often replacing fresh leaf salads: rinsing a bunch off with water, cutting them into 2-3 smaller parts, and adding to warm olive oil in a wide sauce pan. Cover immediately with the lid as it will splash hot oil around. Open occasionally to flip some of the leaves around. The bottom will become nice and crispy!
The kale in the picture is Italian kale, and it's actually not my favourite. it's a little softer to eat though, but does not turn quite as crispy as the silvery, curly kale that is more commonly found.
Once the kale is thoroughly steamed (and parts of it will become crispy and just close to burnt) - transfer to a serving bowl, drizzle with balsamic vinegar and garnish with dark red pomegranate seeds which should be in season just around now - October through November (the darker variety is sweet & sour; while the paler ones are sweet and not as flavourful). The pomegranate and balsamic vinegar give a very nice contrast to the earthy kale.
Another favourite garnish is sliced almonds - or you can add both!

What are your favourite kale recipes?

Black Cardamom & Pomegranates - Savoury Seduction

Babaghanush with Pomegranate & Black Cardamom
Nothing signifies the beginning of fall season more than that of cooked & baked spices filling the kitchen. After all the easy summer cooking (steamed vegetables, mostly), it's time again for making robust curries, soups and baking delicious aromatic cakes.

Black cardamom is a relatively new discovery of mine in the world of spices (you should see my spice rack! Its only rival is my perfumer's organ and my shoe collection). And I've been using it creatively to transform familiar recipes into something exotic and mysterious. Because this is what black cardamom smells like: smoky, spicy, pungent, warm and aromatic. It is similar to green cardamom with its eucalyptus-like camphoreous vapours that rise when pounding it in the mortar and pestle. But it has a personality all of its own - smoky, dark and earthy, not nearly as sweet as green cardamom. Therefore, it is perfect for savoury dishes that need a departure from the mundane.

And that's what I did to my babaghanoush recipe, along with some pomegranate molasses (!), both combined transported it from a familiar dip commonly eaten with flatbread or in sandwiches, into a delicious treat that I think won't shame a great chef in a fancy restaurant. Savour it!

Eggplants are a versatile vegetable that might seem intimidating to most North Americans, but in reality is quite easy to cook with, if you only know how to prepare it so its flavours really shine. The key with eggplants is not let its high water content overwhelm the recipe and take away from its flavour. This is why eggplants are best when roasted to the point of caramelization; or pre-salted to drain excess water before being sauteed, fried or baked. Eggplants are even used in Moroccan confections (I kid you not!). But now I want to share with you a recipe that is a spin on a most familiar and popular dip called babaghanush. Usually, eggplants are roasted on open fire If you have a gas stove, roast the eggplant directly on the gas flame; if not, simply prick with a fork 2 large eggplants and bake or grill in 450-500, rotating periodically, until it is blackened from all sides. Scoop the cooked flesh out with a spoon, and mash with a fork or a potato masher. Add the following:

1-2 Tbs tahini (raw white sesame paste)

Lemon juice from one whole lemon

2 cloves garlic, pressed or grated

2 Tbs pomegranate molasses (dark, almost black syrup from pomegranates - be sure it's one with no sugar additives - you can find these in most Persian or Middle Eastern grocery stores)

1/4 tsp cumin, ground

2 black cardamom pods, peeled and pounded with mortar and pestle

Salt to taste (might not be necessary - depending on the type of tahini you use; many of them already have sufficient amount of salt in them already)

Garnish with olive oil, pine nuts and pomegranate seeds, or with black olives.

Serve as a dip for vegetables, flatbread, or inside sandwiches. Personally, I just eat it with a spoon as is...

My next challenge is creating a dessert for this weekend featuring both pomegranate and black cardamom. I've used black cardamom in my Black Beauty Truffles with much success, and am curious to see how the tangy touch of pomegranate (not to mention their ruby red colours) will enhance a chocolate dessert. Wait and watch...

Tea with Miss T: Pomegranate Lychee Red Tea

Pomegranate Lychee Red Tea, originally uploaded by Ayala Moriel.

Our children learn from watching what we do more than any other way. Some habits and behaviours are just inevitably ingrained in us and we can't change much about them. Other things we pick up on the way and pass on to our kids as part of our daily routines - and what and how we eat plays a big role in family interactions.

So imagine how hard I was laughing when as a reflection of my elaborate tea parties, my daughter began throwing her own daily ritual tea every afternoon. There were a lot of treats around the house back than and they consisted of quite impressive menu for a couple of weeks. But after the holidays were over, the ritual stuck and every afternoon when little miss T comes home from school she immediately rushes into the kitchen, boils a kettle of tea and gets the pot ready, with... fruit!

First it started with blueberries and coconut, and than it became more and more elaborate. I would add the tea leaves, because otherwise it would just be half-cooked fruit juice diluted in water. Some of the inventions are quite out there - and others don't quite work.

This one turned out magnificent, and so I decided to start sharing with you daily teas that turn out here on SmellyBlog. As it turns out, in Asia, brewing fruity teas is widespread custom (bubble tea, anyone?). So miss T is certainly on to something...

In the picture above, is a lychee congou tea brewed with about 2 Tbs of pomegranate seeds. The sweetness of that particular pomegranate made it really delicious. Pomegranate could be rather sour when brewed.

Shana Tova

Shana Tova u-Metuka!
My dear SmellyBlog readers, I wish you a very sweet and good year to come!

The end of the old one is tonight, and the new year begins tomorrow night.
May we all find the little buds of pomegranate blossoms to brighten up our tree-of-life and promise fruit full of seeds and good deeds. In each seed is the potential and power for change.
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