Poisson brésilien au lait de coco

This dish of fish in a tomato-coconut-lime sauce hails from Brazil, where it is known as moqueca. I discovered it at the home of a friend in the English countryside, and found it so wonderful that I had to share it with you. Jane, the friend in question, learned to make it while her husband was serving as a senior British diplomat in Brasília. They entertained a lot and, as she put it, this is a great party dish because it can be largely prepared in advance.

Poisson brésilien au lait de coco / Brazilian fish stew ‘moqueca’

Regular readers of this site may remember that the recipe in my last post was also from an English friend, another superlative cook. What’s the connection? We all lived in Moscow when it was still the capital of the USSR — and thus we learned to be creative cooks. There were a few state-run restaurants but there was nothing resembling normal nightlife. If we wanted to have a nice dinner, we had to prepare it ourselves.

This involved creative shopping as well. The building to which all three of us were assigned was within easy walking distance of a decent farmers market, but the quality and quantity of the food on offer there was unpredictable. Even less predictable were the state-run shops, hence the habit of every Muscovite of never going out without an avoska (string bag) in case something interesting should turn up. Which happened rarely.

One food item that was generally available somewhere was ice cream, and it was excellent. People lined up for it in the streets in winter, never mind the -30 temperatures. But there was only one flavor — vanilla. Well, dear friends, creative cooking means figuring out how to go beyond vanilla. Soon I was delighting my dinner guests with exotic flavors like chocolate or strawberry. (Hint: let the ice cream soften, add cocoa powder or mashed strawberries, stir and refreeze). Another thing I learned to make in Moscow was French-fried onion rings — as no such thing was available there (coming soon).

Getting back to moqueca (pronounced moo-KAY-ka), fillets of any firm, white-fleshed fish are marinated for a while in lime juice, garlic and ginger, then cooked in a sauce of sweet red pepper, onion, garlic, tomato and cayenne, with coconut milk, more lime juice and chopped cilantro added at the end. The dish is traditionally served over rice.

And, you may well ask, why is a Brazilian dish that came to me via Moscow appearing on a French food blog? Well, for one thing, I made it in Paris. For another, we’ve got the Olympics happening here in a matter of days, and what better way to celebrate the Olympic spirit of friendly competition among nations than a multi-culti dish?

Happy cooking.

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Salade aubergine-tomate-poivron

This summery salad of roasted eggplant with tomatoes and sweet red pepper is a versatile dish that may be served as a starter, as a side dish, as part of a mezze spread or as the star of a vegetarian meal. It is similar to its French cousin, ratatouille, but in fact hails from further east. Crushed coriander seeds lend an exotic flavor, while cayenne adds bite. Enjoy it chilled with a bottle of crisp rosé as we head into the hottest time of the year.

Salade aubergine-tomate-poivron / Roasted eggplant salad

I discovered this dish in April while visiting my friend Penny in England. A fabulous cook, she shares with me a background in the former Soviet Union and picked up many delicious recipes there. This salad, which is served across Ukraine, Moldova, Armenia and other former Soviet republics, is known in Russian as baklazhannaya ikra and in Ukrainian as baklazanu ikra, both of which translate as ‘eggplant caviar’. But it bears little resemblance to the eggplant caviar served in France and the Middle East.

This is not only because it includes other veggies in addition to the eggplant, but also because the veggies are not puréed or mashed together but remain recognizable, with their lovely colors making an attractive dish. I served it twice recently, first alongside smoked fish and dark rye bread, in honor of a Polish dinner guest, and then beside roast chicken, which was the most reasonable thing I could think of to serve to a friend who came over to watch the French election results — roast chicken being the ultimate French comfort food.

For a vegetarian or vegan summer meal, the roasted eggplant salad could be served with herbal tomato salad, Moroccan carrot salad, chickpea salad with cumin and dill, tangy fava spread, beet salad with walnuts, summer salad with fresh figs, and the list goes on. If you’d like to serve something warm alongside, I’d recommend bulghur with red onion and mint, spicy lentils with onions, provençal tomatoes or — why not? — potato pancakes.

As for drinks, this salad goes well with rosé or red wine — and also, given its origins, with chilled vodka. We may be needing a lot of that over here with the far-right National Rally poised to dominate in the French parliament after the second round of legislative elections this Sunday. Less than a month ago, it was inconceivable to me that my adopted country could find itself governed by the heirs of the Vichy leaders who oversaw the massive deportation of Jews from France during World War II. But then President Macron pounced with his insane decision to dissolve the National Assembly.

To calm my nerves, I plan to spend a lot of time over the coming weeks being creative in the kitchen — as making beautiful food is not only my art form, but also my zen.

Happy cooking.

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Tagine de poulet aux petits pois

This deeply flavorful Moroccan dish of garlicky chicken infused with cumin and coriander on a bed of meltingly soft peas makes a fine family supper or a festive dish for special occasions. And as we are reaching the tail end of the season for fresh peas, this is a good time to try it out. The recipe is easy but takes time as the chicken needs to marinate before going into the oven. The peas are cooked separately, and everything is combined at the end.

Tagine de poulet aux petits pois / Spicy Moroccan chicken with fresh peas

I first encountered a version of this dish at a Moroccan restaurant down the street that is fittingly called Le Tajine (the word is transliterated from the Arabic, and is alternatively spelled with a ‘g’ or a ‘j’ in France). It was springtime, and in addition to the usual menu of various tagines and couscous there was a seasonal special — tagine de pigeon aux petits pois. This I had to try, and I was not disappointed.

The next day I called the woman who runs the place to ask for the recipe. This was a few years ago, when farmed pigeons were still available at my local farmers market (which they no longer are because apparently they’ve become too expensive).

Armed with the recipe, I headed to the market and bought two large handfuls of peas in the pod. Then I bought a couple of pigeons, had them cut in half, came home and marinated them as suggested — in a sauce of olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, cumin, crushed coriander seeds, salt and pepper. While the pigeon was marinating, I shelled the peas.

That’s the first stage. The second was to roast the birds and cook the peas until they were meltingly tender — which is kind of counterintuitive in that peas are more commonly served only just barely cooked these days. When the pigeon and roasting juices were combined with the peas at the end, the flavors married beautifully.

This tagine (Moroccan stew), which unlike many other tagines does not feature fruit, proved popular at home. So when pigeon disappeared from the market, I started making it with guinea fowl (pintade) or chicken. The results, while less exotic, were fine.

The tagine may be served on its own or over couscous. For a festive dinner, it could be preceded by by a Moroccan carrot salad, herbal tomato salad, chickpea salad and/or eggplant caviar. For dessert you could serve fresh seasonal fruit, a walnut-almond-orange cake or sliced oranges with star anise. A smooth red or crisp rosé would go well.

Happy cooking.

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Pain perdu

Forget maple syrup, bring on the powdered sugar. French toast, French style, is mainly served as a dessert or an afternoon snack. Known as pain perdu (‘lost bread’), it was a poor man’s dish until, according to lore, it was discovered by the nobility in the 16th century, becoming a favorite of King Henri IV. From the king’s table, French toast made its way abroad, and the rest is history.

Pain perdu / French toast, French style

Unlike the American variety, the French version of French toast is dipped into an egg-milk mixture that has been sweetened and flavored with vanilla, or possibly cinnamon. It can be made with any type of bread, from baguette to the currently trendier pain brioché, which is similar to egg bread or challah. (Brioche also had it’s moment in history, when Marie-Antoinette allegedly said, ‘Let them eat cake’ — Qu’ils mangent de la brioche.)

French toast had a moment in my family’s history during our first trip to Paris back in 1967. At our first café lunch, my perenially amusing 14-year-old brother got that look in his eye. We were in France? He wanted French toast. With two years of high school French, I was the only French speaker in the family. ‘Le French toast?’ I tried. The waitress stared at me blankly. I listed the ingredients – bread, milk and egg. ‘Ah, du pain perdu!’

Lost bread? That seemed illogical even then. The idea of using stale bread to create a confection surely meant that the bread was saved, not lost… For the record, my brother continued his quest to unravel the mysteries of French cuisine by ordering French fries (frites) and French dressing (an equivalent doesn’t exist). Meanwhile, I was trying French onion soup (gratinée) and loving every minute of it.

These days French toast is rarely seen on bistro menus. It is most commonly served in French homes for the afternoon goûter (snack), a national institution for French schoolchildren to tide them over until French dinnertime, around 8 p.m. But this can also be a sophisticated dish. Serve it at your next brunch, with fruit and/or bacon, and prepare for applause.

Happy cooking.

Posted in 4. Omelets, Soufflés, Quiche | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Aïgo boulido

French garlic soup from Provence is called aïgo boulido, which translates amusingly as ‘boiled water’. Well, you can believe me — it’s a lot tastier than hot water. The garlic is boiled until soft, allowed to steep with fresh sage, thyme and a bay leaf, puréed with an egg yolk and olive oil, and served over toast topped with freshly grated cheese. Pale yellow, creamy and deeply flavorful, it’s a delight to the palate and the eye.

Aïgo boulido / French garlic soup from Provence

Although less famous than it’s illustrious cousin, French onion soup, garlic soup is served throughout France. In the north, the garlic is typically cooked in chicken broth with potatoes, carrots and cream or butter. Sometimes smoked garlic is used. In the southwest, where garlic soup is known as tourin à l’ail, it may include onion, flour and wine vinegar. The provençal version tastes like sage-infused aïoli (garlic mayonnaise), but is far lighter.

Even in Provence, there are many versions. As Andrée Maureau, author of the wonderful cookbook Recettes en Provence, explains, ‘A chaque famille sa recette‘ — each family has its own recipe. She provides several versions, the first of which consists simply of garlic boiled with sage, thyme and bay, unblended and served over toast. This may hark back to the days when hikers in the Alps of Provence made the soup using herbs they gathered and water from bubbling brooks, which they boiled for purposes of purification.

Possibly because it’s a family thing, or perhaps because the regional aspect of French cuisine persists to this day, garlic soup is rarely seen on Parisian bistro menus. In fact, I owe the inspiration for this post to my sister-in-law, Mary Foran of Oakland, California. I guess that means it’s a family thing for us, too. Mary encountered a recipe for garlic soup in a novel and ran it by me to check on its authenticity. That sparked my curiosity. I’d been wanting to try aïgo boulido, the version from Provence, for a long time, looked into it and finally made some. Very glad that I did!

Happy cooking.

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Mousse de rhubarbe aux fraises

Springtime in Paris means rhubarb and strawberries, and they combine delightfully in this light, bright dessert. The mousse can be whipped up — literally — in just a few minutes. The rhubarb is softened with sugar, the strawberries are puréed, the mix is lightened with a beaten egg white and whipped cream is folded in at the end. Topped with strawberry pieces and perhaps a sprig of basil or mint, the mousse makes a lovely end to a meal.

Mousse de rhubarbe aux fraises / Rhubarb-strawberry mousse

When I served this dessert the other night to three friends who dropped by for supper, the talk turned to rhubarb. Was it poisonous if eaten raw? Rather a moot point in my humble opinion, as raw rhubarb is so disagreeably tart that one bite would discourage anyone. But we asked Dr. Google and found that the raw stalks are not toxic, but the leaves are.

I looked into it further in the morning and learned that rhubarb has been cultivated for nearly two millennia, for both culinary and pharmaceutical purposes. Over the centuries it moved from China to the Islamic world over the Silk Road and then on to Europe and the Americas. Rhubarb was deemed so precious in the 1400s that it was included in a diplomat’s list of the best products arriving in Samarkand from China, along with silk, satin, diamonds, rubies, pearls and musk (merci Wikipedia).

It made its way to our table via a circuitous route stemming from my daughter’s request that I make a rhubarb dessert she’d had in England at the home of my friend Penny, a superlative cook. The email exchange that followed established that the dessert in question must have been ‘rhubarb fool’, in which the rhubarb is baked in the oven and then combined with the juice of a blood orange and custard, i.e. what is known in France as crème anglaise. Penny advised using forced rhubarb for its bright red color.

Well, mes amis, forced rhubarb, which is grown in sheds by candlelight, may be popular in England but I’ve never seen it here in France. Meantime the season for blood oranges is behind us, and preparing custard is a bit of a production. So I decided to go French and make a mousse instead. The moral of this story? Next spring my daughter will have to board the Eurostar and go to Penny’s for a very special April fool.

Happy cooking.

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Poêlée pois gourmands-petits pois-asperges

Snow peas, fresh peas, asparagus and chives star in this bright green medley of spring vegetables bathed in a French-Asian fusion sauce. With the sun making timid appearances and the chestnuts finally in blossom, it’s beginning to feel like spring in Paris. I’d been planning to make this dish for a long time, and at last it was the right season. So I headed to the market, where spring veggies were out in abundance — except for snow peas…

Poêlée pois gourmands-petits pois-asperges / Spring veggie medley with snow peas

… And therein hangs a tale. But first, the recipe. The veggies are cooked until just tender and then immersed in a sauce of olive oil, sesame oil, soy sauce and balsamic vinegar, with chives snipped on at the end. The dish may be served either warm as a side or at room temperature as a salad. For example, I served this medley the other night alongside lamb chops cooked by my daughter (who had the brilliant idea of coating the meat with cumin and Chinese bean sauce). The flavors complemented each other beautifully.

The dish was all the more special because I rarely use snow peas, for a simple reason. They’re available in supermarkets, imported from Kenya or Guatemala, but they are rarely seen at farmers markets. I asked the man at my veggie stand about this. He was presiding behind tables laden with every spring vegetable you could imagine — artichokes, asparagus, peas in the pod, beautiful bunches of young turnips and carrots, fresh garlic, etc., but no snow peas. Why? ‘They’ve become too expensive for our clients,’ he said.

A few stalls down, I spotted some snow peas at a stand selling organic vegetables. They were homegrown. Good. But the price! At 14 euros a kilo, or about $7.50 a pound, that was too much for me. So I headed to the supermarket, hoping that a farmer in Guatemala would benefit somehow from my purchase.

Snow peas — known in French both as pois gourmands (‘delectable peas’) and as mange-tout (‘you can eat all of it’) — have been problematic for me before. I got into trouble a couple decades ago when I bet a friend that snow peas were actually just young peas. ‘Mais non’, she replied, ‘it’s a separate vegetable.’ We looked it up. I lost.

More recently, during lockdown, I began doing a lot of Chinese home cooking (mainly Sichuan) as restaurants were closed and we were feeling deprived. Snow peas sometimes featured in these meals, the recipes for which I often found on China Sichuan Food, one of my favorite cooking sites. But snow peas are still a relative rarity at our table. So I was all the more pleased when the snow pea medley turned out well.

If you prefer, you can make a Franco-French version of this dish simply by omitting the sauce and instead sautéing the veggies briefly in butter or olive oil once they are tender. Whichever method you choose, I have a belated message for you. Happy spring!

And happy cooking.

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Boulettes épicées en bouillon

Succulent spicy meatballs served in broth with cream and topped with fresh dill — now that’s what I call comfort food with a capital C, except that this dish is light, not heavy. I first made it on a winter’s evening and have since repeated it many times as it proved very popular here at home. What inspired this creation? I may have had Swedish meatballs on my mind, but I added cumin, ground coriander, cayenne and cilantro to spice things up a bit…

Boulettes épicées au bouillon / Spicy meatballs in broth

… and then –inspiration! — heated up some chicken broth, swirled in a couple spoonfuls of crème fraîche, added the meatballs and, just before serving, snipped fresh dill on top. This could probably be called a fusion dish as it combines flavors from various parts of the world. The cream and dill evoke Russian cuisine, the meatballs evoke the Middle East and Italy as well as Sweden. And, as I made it in my Paris kitchen, it’s also French (imho)…

So, to get down to specifics. The meatballs are made of a mixture of ground beef and pork (sausage meat), with onion and garlic in addition to the spices. I roasted the meatballs in the oven, which is lighter than frying and has the advantage of ensuring that they keep their shape. I then heated up some homemade chicken broth, which I make regularly and keep in small quantities in my freezer — for occasions just such as this.

When the meatballs came out of the oven, I swirled the cream into the broth (more = better), then added the meatballs with their juices. The final touch was the fresh dill. My daughter prefers these meatballs over rice, while I prefer them on their own. A chacun son goût, as they say (rough translation: ‘Whatever turns you on’).

This is the sort of meal that’s very easy to prepare, providing you have the broth on hand. I made it last weekend when I got back from England and needed a quick suppertime dish. And what about England? People keep asking me about the weather. Well, rainy, blustery, biting cold with the occasional sunny spell, but you don’t go to England for the weather. You didn’t used to go to England for the food either, but that has now changed.

I had some fabulous meals over there, and will mention just a few. An incredible Brazilian-style stew of monkfish in a tomato-onion-pepper and coconut milk sauce (recipe coming soon), Trinidad and Tobago-style spicy fish fritters, a vegetable dish of wild garlic, kale and other greens gathered in my friend’s London allotment (garden patch), a creamy soup of nettles picked by another friend during a woodland walk. Now that’s creative cuisine…

Happy cooking!

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Pita aux crevettes

This open-face pita sandwich with shrimp in curried mayo set on a bed of bacon and arugula and topped with fresh dill is an example of why I have often thought this site should be renamed ‘Meg Has Lunch’. Like many dishes proposed by The Everyday French Chef, it was invented one day when I went into the kitchen at lunchtime wondering what to make, checked the fridge to see what we had on hand and came up with a felicitous combination.

Pita aux crevettes / Open-face pita sandwich with shrimp and bacon

Preparation is easy and quick. You can use either fresh or frozen shrimp, and store-bought or homemade mayo (tip: homemade is better!). The shelled shrimp are steamed until pink, then immersed in a sauce of mayo with a pinch of curry powder — or hot curry powder if you have it — and a dash of lemon juice and salt. Bacon strips are cut in half and fried until crispy. A halved pita is toasted. And then you assemble the sandwich: toasted pita half, mayo, bacon, arugula, the shrimp and some fresh dill fronds on top.

I’ve been experimenting with open-face pita sandwiches all winter long and have found several other winners. One favorite is chopped egg with olive oil, onion and dill or cilantro — perfect for vegetarians. Another is smoked mackeral with olive oil, lemon juice, chopped onion and fresh herbs. All of these sandwiches can be made in a matter of minutes. For light eaters, a single sandwich with some tender leaves and cherry tomatoes alongside makes a fine lunch. For larger appetites, make two sandwiches per person.

It’s still raining here in Paris as I write, but we’ve had a couple of days when it felt like spring. I actually saw an iris in a public garden bed last week — quite early, in fact (usually the crocuses and daffodils come first). And the willows along the Seine have turned the shade of green you might see in a painting by Renoir. So things are looking up.

With Easter just around the corner, here are some seasonal recipes you may wish to try for a holiday meal: eggs with homemade mayo or eggs ‘mimosa’, rack of lamb or roast leg of lamb Moroccan style, roast chicken with spices, risotto with fresh peas and mint and, for dessert, strawberry schaum torte. If you’d like to kick off the festivities with an apéritif, I’d recommend a mimosa cocktail of champagne and orange juice, a kir royal of champagne and black currant liqueur or … just champagne!

The Everyday French Chef is taking a spring break this year. I’ll be back with a new post in three weeks, on Friday, April 12. Happy cooking!

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Risotto aux petits pois et à la menthe

Longing for a hint of spring as the Paris winter drags on and on, I made a cheery pot of risotto with peas and fresh mint the other day. The inspiration for this dish was not my own. I first had it last summer at a beautiful English country pub, The Duke of Cumberland Arms, in West Sussex, southwest of London. It was a rainy day, so my friend and I lunched indoors — and our eyes lit up when the supremely green risotto was brought to our table.

Risotto aux petits pois et à la menthe / Risotto with peas and mint

It was dotted with peas but also surprisingly creamy. How had the chef achieved this delightful effect, I wondered. When we were out in the garden for coffee after lunch — at a table with a big umbrella — I saw him wander by and had to ask. Chef Simon Goodman was happy to oblige. The trick, he said, was to purée some of the peas. Sort of like the famous (infamous?) ‘mushy peas’ that Britons enjoy with their fish and chips…

So you make a typical risotto — sauté onion in olive oil, add rice and stir-fry briefly, add white wine, then broth. Separately, cook the peas and purée about two-thirds of them with fresh mint while leaving the other third whole. When the rice is al dente, stir in the puréed peas, simmer briefly, then add the whole peas, butter and freshly grated parmesan. Let it sit a couple of minutes, covered, and bring to the table. Prepare for applause…

As readers of this site will know, I’m very fond of risotto and over the years have posted recipes with spinach, pumpkin, lobster, wild mushrooms, morel mushrooms, saffron, radicchio (one of my favorites) and asparagus … with peas! I serve the risotto either as a main course — it makes a great lunch dish, followed by a salad — or as the starter for a more elaborate meal, usually Italian themed. I might pair it, for example, with veal saltimbocca, parmesan chicken or oven-roasted eggplant, Mediterranean style.

Locally grown fresh peas have not appeared at Paris farmers markets yet, but that was not a problem — as this dish may be made with frozen peas any time of the year. That’s lucky, given the endless Paris winter. We have has been treated to months of cold, wet, gray, blustery weather and it just won’t seem to let up — the Seine actually burst its banks this week. But, according to the calendar, it will officially be spring in just two more weeks…

Happy cooking!

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