Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Ceviche - As it should be

Many a thing is called ceviche out in the world of restaurants. Some add tomatoes or avocado or mango or other abominations. I’ve even seen grapes! This dish is made exactly as I remember it from my childhood time spent in northern Peru, with fresh seafood, fresh lime juice, purple onions, cilantro, salt and chili peppers. That’s it. And boiled yucca on the side. 

About a year after my parents divorced, my father moved from Venezuela where we had all been living together, to a small oilfield company town in northern Peru called Negritos. If you’ve been in the mountains and the rain forests of Peru but never ventured to the northwestern coast, you might be surprised to find sand dunes to rival those in my current home, the United Arab Emirates. Negritos is set near the most western point of mainland South America, Punta Pariñas, with a beautiful coast in front and a massive desert at its back. I spent every summer there for several years, until Daddy moved again.

I don’t know that it was much of a place for being an adult but it was heaven for a child. I’d take off for hours, exploring rocks and sand dunes and crevasses, finding shells and fossils, building forts with the neighbor kids and “tightrope” walking on the pipes between the enormous town water tank and, well, town. (Shhhh! Don’t tell my father – the pipeline was strictly off limits.) My older sister and I shared a little blue Honda 70 motorbike and sometimes I’d ride the dunes on it, but most days, exploration was on foot and I’d often carry pen and paper, in case inspiration struck and I needed to write something down. I was deep into my Harriet the Spy phase then. Returning home, I’d drive my stepmother to distraction by taking off my shoes and socks and making two little piles on my bedroom floor with the sand that had accumulated in them. It was fun to see how big the piles were some days, as if it told me how far I had walked somehow. In retrospect, I must have been a strange child.

A big treat - I’m telling you it was a small town! – was to go to the small airport in the next town over and eat in the restaurant there. I’ll let you absorb that. We went to the airport just to eat. Watching the planes take off and land was a bonus. I always, and I mean always, without fail, ordered the shrimp ceviche. It was perfect. A healthy plateful of shrimp, swimming in lime juice with lots of sliced onions and just enough chili. The resulting liquid is called leche de tigre or tiger’s milk and when all the shrimp were gone, I’d sip it with a spoon and nibble on the boiled yucca that was always served alongside.

My father’s company also had a very rustic, open plan brick house on a beautiful beach called Punta Sal, which we were able to use on weekends and holidays. It was even farther north, in fact, about halfway to the Ecuadorian border. There we’d make our own ceviche, with fresh grouper hooked from the water by a local fisherman called Polo. Burnished and wizen by too many years in the fierce sun, Polo lived in a makeshift shanty right on Punta Sal and made his living fishing off of a raft of old logs bound together by frayed rope and luck. He'd come door-to-door with his daily catch and often let the more adventurous boys (my husband among them) "help" him fish.

When I eat this ceviche and I close my eyes, I can hear the waves crashing, smell the sea breeze and feel the dried crusty salt left behind by the water, tight on my sunburned skin. Hope you do too. (Sometimes I even smell jet fuel, but that one's probably just me.)

6 -7 limes or more if yours aren’t very juicy. You need about 1 cup or 240ml juice.
13 oz or 370g fresh firm white flesh fish – I used Hammour or local grouper
1 large purple onion (about 3 1/2 oz or 100g, before peeling)
1 teaspoon flakey sea salt or to taste, plus more for boiling the shrimp
1 large bunch cilantro or coriander leaves (About 1 3/4 oz or 50g)
1-2 hot red chili peppers (I used two!)
12 1/3 oz or 350g fresh shrimp, already cleaned and deveined

To serve: The traditional accompaniment to a bowl of ceviche is yucca, boiled till tender in lightly salted water. Try to get your hands on some – it’s called different things in a variety of countries: Manioc, cassava, mogo, manioc and aipim, just to name a few. Peel it and wash it well before boiling. Once boiled, split it down the middle and pull out the fibrous threads before serving. Its flavor is somewhere between a potato and a parsnip and the mild taste and starchiness counterbalances the acidic, spicy ceviche.

Juice your limes and put them in a non-reactive bowl. Glass does nicely.

Remove all the bones and cut your fish up into bite-sized pieces. I use jewelry pliers to get the pin bones out.

Immerse the fish in the lime juice and stir well.

Wash the cilantro thoroughly with cold water. Sometimes it takes more than one rinse to get rid of all the dirt but it’s worth taking the time to make sure it’s completely grit free. Spin the cilantro dry in a salad spinner or tied up in a dish towel. You can discard the stems but as long as they aren’t really thick and hard, I like to mince them very finely and use them. Chop the leaves roughly and set aside.

Slice your onions as thinly as you can manage and mince your red chilies.

Add the onions and the chilies to the fish along with the sea salt. Give everything a good stir and use your spoon, preferably a wooden one, to poke the pieces of fish back into a single layer under the lime juice.

Pile your chopped cilantro on top of everything but don’t stir yet. Just let it all hang out.

Bring a pot of water to the boil. Add a little salt, just as you would do for boiling pasta.

Add the shrimp to the pot and turn the heat off. Put a lid on the pot and set a timer for about three minutes. This parboils the shrimp but they will finish "cooking" in the lime juice.

When the time rings, remove the shrimp with a slotted spoon. Let them cool slightly and then add them to the bowl with the fish.

Now you can give it a good stir. Poke the bits of fish back under the lime juice.

Cover the whole bowl with cling film and refrigerate, stirring occasionally, for several hours or until the fish is completely opaque and “cooked” by the lime juice. I left mine overnight because it was going sailing with us the next day. If you are traveling with ceviche, make sure to keep it on ice until you are ready to serve it.

Serve with boiled yucca for a traditional treat. (See note with the ingredients list above.)


Monday, April 7, 2014

Passion Fruit Muffins with Passion Fruit Glaze #MuffinMonday

Many passion fruit recipes suggest that you strain out the seeds but I happen to like the pop and crunch they add to a dish, dessert or baked good. I am delighted to share that they are also reported to be a nutritious addition, adding fiber, antioxidants and magnesium to a healthy diet.  

Although I spent some time in tropical climes when I was a child, passion fruit only reached my consciousness when I moved to Brazil as an adult. There it is called maracujá and features in many desserts, especially the local favorite, ubiquitous at every restaurant and house party, mousse de maracujá. It occurs to me that I’ve never posted that recipe here and perhaps I need to rectify that.

Meanwhile, since my local grocery stores are filled with passion fruit at reasonable prices, and since it is Muffin Monday, I put them in beautiful, flavorful muffins. I think they would be great for the upcoming Holy Week, the week before Easter, which commemorates the passion of Christ. Maybe I can start a new worldwide tradition of baking passion fruit muffins in addition to hot cross buns. Anybody else game to join me?

1 1/2 cups or 190g flour
1/2 cup or 115g sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup or 180ml milk
2 eggs
1/4 cup or 60g butter, melted then cooled
1/2 cup or 120g passion fruit pulp, including the seeds

Optional glaze – passion fruit pulp from two small passion fruit (1/8 cup or 30g) plus an equal amount of powdered sugar (1/4 cup or 30g) and small pinch of salt.

Preheat your oven to 350F° or 180°C and prepare your 12-cup muffin pan by greasing or lining with paper muffin cups.

In a large bowl mix together your flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.

In a smaller bowl, whisk your milk, eggs and melted butter, along with the passion fruit pulp.

Pour your wet ingredients into your dry ingredients and stir until just combined.

Evenly distribute the batter among the muffin cups.

Bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden.

Meanwhile, make the glaze, if using. Mix all three ingredients together in a small bowl, until all the sugar has dissolved.

Remove the muffins from the oven and allow to cool for a few minutes.

Remove the muffins from the muffin pan and finish cooling on a rack.

When the muffins are completely cooled, carefully spoon the glaze over the tops. It will soak in and make the muffins even more moist.


Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Orange Rosemary Boule #TwelveLoaves

This orange rosemary boule is a yeast bread flavored with orange and rosemary. It makes a lovely accompaniment to your soup or salad. Or just eat straight up, spread with butter or cream cheese!
In every Paris boulangerie you will find boules for sale, breads shaped like the eponymous ball. Often they are so-called country loaves or pain de campagne, but they almost always have a crusty exterior and a soft crumb inside. Despite its shape, this particular boule bakes up more like a pain de mie, with a soft crust and a soft crumb inside. 

I am loathe to speak badly of Paris, because it’s a city I love, but there were times, many times, in the three years we lived there that I would have given anything just to see some sunshine. Winter was cold and grey and rainy. And long. The girls were little and seemed to have constant colds, accompanied by the inevitable runny noses and consumptive coughs that keep a mother up at night. 

Once the baby’s congestion was so bad that the pediatrician wrote her a prescription for a therapist who came to the house to bang her on the back and suction the mucus out of her chest. Too much information for a food blog? Yeah, well. That was my life. On the other hand, I learned to appreciate whatever joy I could find, even through the cold, wet days. 

One was the daily pleasure that was watching my children blossom and grow as little, articulate people. The other was the bakery just around the corner from our home. I’d bundle the girls up and we’d go for a walk, just to get out of the house. Stepping into the headily yeasty boulangerie, with its eye-goggling display of artisan breads and fancy pastries and Viennoiseries, a subclass of baked goods that include croissants, pain au chocolat and brioche, we were transported to a place where it was warm and inviting, indeed summer all year round. 

My elder daughter almost invariable chose a palmier – a sweet treat made from puff pastry, baked to a golden crunch, and my younger daughter, when she got old enough, chose a pain aux raisins – a brioche bun baked with raisins. My favorite take-home was a baguette they called tradition, shorter than a baguette ordinaire or standard baguette, that is baked after a longer fermentation time, with a thicker, crustier outside.

Orange Rosemary Boule

For this month’s Twelve Loaves, our ingredient is oranges which easily lends itself to many sweet options. I decided to go savory and add rosemary to the mix, forming the dough into a boule or ball. As it baked, both the oven and the wonderful aroma of oranges and rosemary warmed our rented house in Providence, taking me back to the welcome we received at La Fournée d'Enfance all those years ago.

1/2 cup or 120ml water
1/2 cup or 120ml orange juice
2 tablespoons olive oil plus a little extra for oiling bowl for proofing
2 tablespoons grated orange zest plus extra for garnish
2 tablespoons honey
1/4 oz or 7g active dry yeast
Several sprigs fresh rosemary plus extra for garnish
1 teaspoon sea salt
2-3 cups or 250 – 375g unbleached wheat flour (If you are using regular all-purpose flour, you might use even more.)
2 tablespoons milk

In large bowl, measure in 1/2 cup or 60g of your flour and make a little well in the middle. Sprinkle in your yeast and then pour in 1/4 cup or 60ml of the water that has been warmed. Let this hang out for a few minutes, while the warm water activates the dried yeast.

Meanwhile zest and juice your orange. Mine was a Minneola, a special hybrid between tangerines and grapefruit, distinguished by the knob at the end and being extra sweet and juicy. One Minneola gave me a 1/2 cup of juice so I ended up not needing the second one and just peeled it and ate it. Lovely! They are only available in early spring but if you can find some, buy!

Pull leaves off your rosemary sprigs and mince most of them finely. Keep a few leaves for garnish.

To your yeast/flour mixture, add in the orange juice, oil, zest, honey, rosemary, and salt. Be sure to reserve some zest and rosemary for garnish before baking.

Mix until you have a loose batter.

Mix in enough flour, a 1/2 cup or about 60g at a time, to form a soft dough. I used unbleached wheat flour. When I finished adding two cups, it was already fairly stiff so I kneaded in the last half cup. Bleached flour doesn’t absorb as much water so it might take you more if you are using regular all-purpose flour.

Turn dough out onto floured board and knead it for about five minutes, sprinkling on extra flour if needed. Form the dough into a nice round ball. Wash out your mixing bowl then dry it and oil it. Put your dough ball in and toss it around a little to coat it with the oil. Cover the bowl with a cloth or some cling film and put it in a warm place for about an hour. Meanwhile, grease your baking pan with a little more olive oil.

After the hour is up, punch the dough down and knead again for a minute or two.

Form the dough into a nice round ball and put it in your baking pan. Cover it with the mixing bowl and put it in a warm place for the second rising of about an hour.

When your hour is almost up, preheat your oven to 350°F or 180°C.

When your hour is up, use a very sharp knife or lame, to cut a cross in the top of the dough. Gently brush on some milk with a pastry brush. (I didn’t have a brush so I used some spare sprigs of rosemary. They didn’t add any flavor, of course, but I felt resourceful and creative so that’s worth something.)

Sprinkle on your reserved zest and rosemary.

Bake the boule in your preheated oven for about 45-50 minutes or until the dough reaches 180°F or 82°C when measured by thermometer in the middle or is golden brown all over and sounds hollow when tapped.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 10-15 minutes before slicing. If you can wait that long.


One of the goals of each month’s Twelve Loaves challenge is to encourage bread baking. I hope this wonderful list of orange flavored recipes inspires you to create some warmth in your own kitchen.

If you would like to join us this month, it’s easy:

1. Bake a bread using oranges and post it on your blog before the end of April 2014. This must be a new post. Your bread of choice recipe can include oranges, orange marmalade, orange zest, in fact, anything orange related but it must be IN the dough. In addition to being in the dough, it could also be added to a glaze. Whatever you bake, (yeasted, quick bread, crackers, muffins, braids, flatbreads, etc) have fun!
2. Mention the Twelve Loaves challenge in your post. This helps us to get more members as well as share everyone's posts.
3. Add your link to the linky tool at the bottom of this post.

#TwelveLoaves is a monthly bread baking party created by Lora from Cake Duchess. #TwelveLoaves runs so smoothly thanks to the help of the Renee from Magnolia Days and Heather from girlichef.