I went to my first cooking class the other day. Not the first in a series. My first cooking class ever. Hard to believe. I’ve been in love with food for as long as I can remember and cooking since I was old enough to knead dough to make cheddar cheese pretzels from my “The Kid’s Cookbook.” And I’ve been enraptured with TV cooking shows since the days of The French Chef (I still remember sitting next to mom as she frantically wrote down notes to try to capture one of Julia’s recipes. This was back in the day before remote controls and the Internet and DVRs … how far we’ve come). But I digress.
Last week I attended a “Gourmet Vegetarian Celebration Feast” at the Blue Ribbon Culinary Center. Situated on Lake Union with a stunning view of the water near downtown Seattle, this is a school that has been around for a while. I’ve been meaning to take a class for years and have to say that I wish I hadn’t waited so long. I consider myself somewhataccomplished in the kitchen and suppose I figured I could learn whatever I needed to learn from my TV friends Giada, Bobby and Ina. And there’s always Google to help me hunt down explanations of gastronomic terms and exotic ingredients, right? These technological solutions have served a purpose and allowed me to grow my culinary skills. But I must say there is nothing like first-hand experience.
The chefs at Blue Ribbon taught me a lot. For instance, I didn’t know that potatoes as we know them are imposters… the whites and yellows that are plentiful in the grocery aisles have been stripped of their original color – which aparently was purple. Purple! Who knew? They make a gorgeous mashed potato, in case you’re interested.
I also didn’t realize that olive oil is a perfectly good substitute for melted butter when working with Phyllo dough. And apparently our local organic grocer PCC has a whole wheat variety of Phyllo that works wonders. Genius. Another favorite tip? When cutting up vegetables, reserve the “unwanted parts” (i.e. the dark green ends of leeks and the tips of carrots and celery, etc.) – toss in a Ziploc and keep them in the freezer. These flavorful bits can then be used in the future to make sumptuous vegetable stocks.
I also learned that I have been misusing preserved lemons. I’ve preserving lemons at home for years but had no clue that one is only supposed to use the rind – not the flesh. Good to know. (For those of you unfamiliar with this delicacy – I highly recommend you try them. Jars of this vibrantly piquant delight frequently used in Moroccan and Middle Eastern cuisines can be found at most gourmet markets. I’ve included a recipe below that features them – but they can also be chopped up and added to a myriad of dishes – whether scattered over salads or added to savory soups they add a new dimension of tartness and brightness that will get you hooked.)
I’m digressing again… What I’m trying to say is that I learned far more than expected from this enlightening 3-hour class and I would highly recommend that people hunt down cooking classes in their own communities. Chefs from all walks of life are out there – eager to share their knowledge. And it’s such a simple and entertaining way to expand your culinary knowledge, aptitude and enjoyment.
The recipe that follows was one of my favorites from class. There were several other contenders including Phyllo Filled with Leeks, Lentils & Blue Cheese and Corn Soufflé-Stuffed Tomatoes. Stay tuned for these recipes to be featured in future posts.
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Warm Chickpea Salad with Preserved Lemon Vinaigrette
Recipe courtesy of the Blue Ribbon Culinary Center
This can be served as a side salad alongside your main course – or can make one in and of itself. Cut up some crusty whole grain bread or cook up some brown rice or other grains to make it a complete meal. If you’re not serving it all immediately, you can reserve the chickpea mixture apart from the arugula and then mix separately when you’re ready to serve. Also – the leftovers make a great lunch – try filling a whole wheat tortilla with the mixture for a delicious wrap.
- 1 cup dry or 2 ½ cups cooked chickpeas (reserve liquid)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 yellow onion, chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, sliced
- ½ preserved lemon, flesh removed and rind chopped
- 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
- ¼ cup sherry vinegar
- 3 tablespoons yogurt
- 1 tablespoon agave or honey
- 2 Bosc or Bartlett pears, chopped
- 2 cups toasted walnuts
- 1 pound arugula
- Salt and pepper to taste
In a large, heavy sauté pan, heat oil on medium high. Add onions and cook until they start to turn brown and release some juices (about 5-7 minutes), stirring occasionally. Add garlic and preserved lemon and cook for an additional 2-3 minutes, then turn heat down to low and cook until all onions are caramelized (about 5 minutes).
Add the vinegar to the pan and deglaze – ensuring all the bits of onion and other ingredients are gently pried from the bottom of the pan. Add the pears and sauté for about 3-10 minutes, depending on how ripe your pears are – mine were somewhat firm and took closer to 10 minutes. Check them before moving to the next step – you don’t want them to retain any crunch. With a spoon, smash a few of the pears and add the Dijon, yogurt and agave or honey and stir well. Add the chickpeas and liquid. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat and cool for 5 minutes.
Toss with the arugula and walnuts and season to taste with salt and pepper.
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End note – this is for those of you who doubt their cooking abilities and have hence resisted taking a class. I see this concern as similar to those of us who don’t go to the gym because we’re not in shape. Or others who clean the house before a housekeeper visits. I am admittedly guilty as charged on both counts. But here’s the thing….even those of us who have spent some significant time in the kitchen are there to learn and many of us need instruction as much as the more novice chefs in the room.
Case in point – I was a total disaster when it came to trying my hands the Pavlova (a fancy term for a baked meringue dessert). Pristine egg whites are the most critical element to a successful Pavlova and it fell upon me to separate a few eggs. Simple enough, I thought. I gently selected an egg, cracked it on the counter and proceeded with my first attempt to make sure that the bright orb of yolk remained distinctly separate from the runny whites. I had done this countless times before – a walk in the park I thought.
With everyone’s eyes upon me, I started the separation process and, as you may have guessed by now, the yolk fractured, leaving spots of bright yellow throughout the transparent white. The friendly chef chortled good-naturedly but made it abundantly clear that the mess that lay in my bowl would need to be discarded. Then she encouraged me to try again. So back to the container of eggs I went. Egg elected, gently cracked, divided into two halves, separation process resumed. The white landed in my bowl and I smugly tossed what appeared to be an unharmed yolk into a separate bowl. The chef was lurking at this point. With good reason. A thorough investigation of my egg whites resulted in the discovery of a hint of yellow. Not good enough. Not my proudest moment. Happily I got it right on the third try. Yet another lesson learned.
Photo note: as mentioned in previous posts, I try to take all the pictures featured on this blog. However I was unable to hunt down a purple potato this week so the picture featured above is not my own.