moroccan roasted vegetables

The markets and orchards of Central New York are swollen with colors more vibrant than a box of Lucky Charms. From procuring ingredients for my first salsa to picking apples with visiting family, all this bounty has kept me busy.

And then there was Saturday night’s excursion to the bedimmed Manlius Theater to see Food, Inc., a new documentary on the evils of the modern food industry. There were the expected appearances by Michael Pollan and his crony EricSchlosser of Fast Food Nation. There were undercover slaughterhouse cameras and dejected farmers. There was an appearance by the grieving mother of a 2-year-old poisoned by contaminated ground beef.

There were as many “corporation X refused to comment for this film” as there were new reasons to eat real food.

Check out this quote by Pollan on the backwardness of the modern food industry:

It’s a whole lot easier to slap a health claim on a box of sugary cereal than on a raw potato or a carrot … the most healthful foods in the supermarket sit there quietly in the produce section, silent as stroke victims, while a few aisles over the Cocoa Puffs and Lucky Charms are screaming their newfound ‘whole-grain goodness’ to the rafters. Watch out for those health claims.

We have a warped system where Coke and Doritos are more affordable than the ingredients for a salad. We sit blindly by while a handful of corporations mess with our kitchens. I watch documentaries like King Corn and Food, Inc., and still it’s hard to say no sometimes to chicken wings. Ignorance may truly be bliss, but for me a daily commitment to  real, raw, unprocessed food brings a more continuous joy.

Take these delicious Moroccan roasted vegetables, an idea lifted from my old standby, the Moosewood New Classics. Plain old yam wrested from the earth, shiny purple eggplant and zucchini from a local farmer, red pepper and onion all tossed with lemon juice and the fire-colored spices of northern Africa. Easy as chopping, seasoning and baking, this saucy mix yields enough to last for a few days.

Better than the lack of additives and sweeteners was the simplicity of flavors. The original Happy Meal was never patented and is not sold along suburban byways. It’s right here, in our fields and on our plates.

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under african skies

With my folks heading into the ‘Cuse tomorrow, I’m going to have to take the weekend off from food blogging. I’ve already spent a good deal of time stocking the apartment with “aren’t you proud of me?” treats, like this and these — special requests from mama.) Despite a little bit of stress sneaking in as I contemplate cooking for the greatest cook I know, I can’t wait to feed the old birds.

There are millions of other delicious food sites out there to sustain you in my absence. In case you do notice my three day hiatus however, I’ve decided to leave you with two yummy dishes: Baked Chicken in Peanut sauce, and Libyan Lentil Salad.

I had the pleasure of cooking an African-themed meal for friends last weekend. It was a special request, in the form of a plaintive “I’ve never tried African food” spoken weeks earlier. Though I’ve only been to the continent once, I was happy to take on the responsibility of educating her on its vast culinary landscape.

Actually, I just zeroed in on dishes from Sierra Leone and Libya from World Hearth, an International cooking site I’d recently discovered. So next time someone says to you “I’ve never tried Uzbekian food,” you can raise your well-traveled eyebrow and proclaim, “well I’ll just have to make you my famous Kiimali Mashkichiri sometime soon.” Thanks to World Hearth, panic won’t be your side dish.

Sierra Leonean Baked Chicken in Peanut Sauce

serves 4

3 Tbsp cooking oil

3 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs (tofu could be substituted here)

1 medium onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

4 fresh medium-sized red tomatoes, chopped

1 medium red or green pepper, chopped

6 3” okra fruits, sliced into 1/2” pieces

2 small-medium jalepeno peppers, finely minced

1 tsp thyme

1 medium bay leaf

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp cayenne

1/2 tsp cumin seeds or powder

1/2 tsp black pepper

3/4 cup peanut butter, warmed slightly for mixing

3/4 cup chicken or vegetable stock

16 ounces green beans

  1. Saute chicken in oil until browned, but still pink inside. Remove and arrange in a single layer in a glass (or other oven-proof) baking dish.* Add onions and garlic to pan and saute for 5 minutes. Add thyme, bay leaf, salt, cumin, cayenne and black pepper. Add tomatoes, bell pepper, okra and jalepeno. Saute for 8 minutes.
  2. Mix peanut butter with chicken stock until smooth. Pour tomato mixture over the chicken, followed by the stock mixture and lastly the green beans. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour. Serve over rice or couscous.

*I did mine in a deep, round ceramic stew pot. Next time I’d try it in a shallower Pyrex glass 9×13 for added crispness and caramelization on top.

adapted from A West African Cook Book by Ellen Gibson Wilson

Libyan Lentil Salad

2 cups green (or French black) lentils

2 small-medium yams, chopped into 1 inch cubes

5 whole cloves

1 medium onion, cut in half and peeled

2 medium bay leaves

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

2 tsp lemon peel

1 medium onion, finely chopped

2 Tbsp olive oil

2 Tbsp lemon juice

1/2 tsp cumin

2 tsp coriander, ground

salt and pepper to taste

  1. Put the lentils in a big pot and cover with water. Add cloves and both halves of the onion to the pot. Add bay leaves, garlic and lemon peel, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer until the lentils are tender.
  2. Toss the yam pieces with olive oil and roast for 40 minutes in a 375 degree oven, until tender.
  3. Drain the lentils, discard the onion, cloves and bay leaves. Combine the lentils with the roasted yams, chopped onion, olive oil, lemon juice, cumin, coriander, salt and pepper. Set the salad aside to chill and marinate for 2 hours. Serve with plain yogurt and flatbread.

adapted from Recipes for an Arabian Night by David Scott