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Volume 40 Issue 14 • August 5-11, 2010
now in our 40th season

Nantucket Nights & Exotic Flavors

by Jenn Farmer
Chef, Bartlett’s Ocean View Farm 

Summer is a great time to get together and enjoy spending time with friends.  Recently, I had a little get together, and the food was good—there was freshly caught and fileted striped bass; we had garden vegetables, and fresh herbs.  We grilled the striped bass to perfection, crispy on the outside, and light and juicy on the inside.  We had a colorful chopped salad with a variety of vegetables, corn, broccoli, scallions, tomatoes, cucumbers, beets, and mixed fresh lettuces.  It was dressed with very simple vinaigrette filled with fresh herbs and just a little sherry vinegar.  This is definitely the way to spend a summer evening, eating light and fresh and enjoying the warm night air.

Though the food was enjoyable, the conversation was even better.  Luckily I have a very diverse group of friends, but oddly enough no matter where our conversation starts, we always end up talking food.  I guess that is our most common and one of our most avid interests.  We got on the subject of Mediterranean food, which I adore.  I think the shellfish and seafood here in Nantucket lends itself to the flavors of the Mediterranean quite well.  Sadly we don’t have the fresh olives, nuts, or citrus growing here, but many of the herbs and vegetables that shape the flavors that region are abundant in Nantucket.  Luckily for us the missing ingredients can be purchased at most of the local markets.  Fresh tomatoes, onions, basil, mint, chives, cucumbers, and chilies are all plentiful here, and can take a simple meal to spectacular.  One of my favorite salads from that region is tabbouleh or bulgur wheat salad.  When made properly, it is full of summer flavors, light and yet is substantial.  It is lovely served with a nice piece of grilled fish or chicken. 

Bulgur Wheat Salad

  • 1 cup bulgur wheat
  • One and two thirds cup boiling water
  • One third cup olive oil
  • One third cup lemon juice
  • One cup scallions, sliced thinly
  • 1 cup parsley, chopped
  • One eighth cup mint, chopped
  • 1 cucumber, peeled seeded, and chopped
  • 2-3 tomatoes, chopped
  • One teaspoon salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • One half teaspoon cumin
  • One quarter cup crumbled feta cheese (optional) 

Combine the wheat with boiling water and lemon juice in a large bowl, cover and set aside to soak for about one hour.  Fluff up the bulgur then add the olive oil, onions, parsley, mint, tomatoes, cucumber, and toss together.  Season and mix well.  Cover and refrigerate for one hour.  Toss in feta, taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.  Serve and enjoy.

I love Moroccan food in particular; the spices and flavors are exactly what fill my heart with joy.  Cumin and chilies are two of my favorite flavors, especially when combined.  Harissa is a spicy sauce that typically contains both of those flavors.  Some regions of North Africa substitute a spice mix called tabil, for cumin.  Tabil usually consists of coriander, caraway, garlic powder, and chili powder. Regardless of your preference for tabil or cumin, this recipe for harissa is delicious. A nice piece of grilled fish with a little harissa and some tabbouleh is one of my favorite meals in the world.  

Harissa

  • 8 dried New Mexico Chilies (hot or mild—I prefer to use both!)
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • One half to one teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt
  • One teaspoon cumin or tabil
  • One half cup extra virgin olive oil

Seed and tear or cut up the chilies.  Some people use sharp scissors to do this, I usually just tear the chilies into small pieces.  Soak with warm water for at least on half an hour, if they don’t seem very soft continue soaking for up to one hour.  Drain and press out excess liquid.  Puree all ingredients together in a blender.  This may take some time, but the resulting paste is wonderful.  To store place in a small jar, and pour a thin layer of olive oil on top to help prevent air from oxidizing the paste, then seal the jar tightly.  Refrigerate for up to 3 weeks. 

One Pot Moroccan Fish

  • One tablespoon vegetable oil
  • One medium onion, small diced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 red bell peppers, seeded and sliced
  • 1 large carrot, thinly sliced
  • 3 medium tomatoes, chopped
  • 6 Greek style olives chopped
  • 1 can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
  • One quarter cup fresh parsley, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons paprika or smoked paprika, ground
  • 4 tablespoons cumin, roasted and ground
  • One teaspoon, cayenne pepper, ground
  • One cup chicken stock
  • Salt and pepper
  • 4 pounds tilapia or other white fish filets

Heat a large skillet on medium high heat.  Heat the oil, and then add the onions and garlic and sauté until tender.  Add the red pepper, carrots, tomatoes, olives, and garbanzo beans.  Cook till the peppers are slightly tender.  Add all the seasonings, and chicken stock stir to incorporate.  Lay the fish filets on top, and reduce the heat to low.  Cover and cook until the fish is done (30-40 mins).  
Not only is this fish dish simple and healthy, but it is very flavorful.  The vegetables and spices all steam together with the fish giving it a lovely taste and texture.   I actually got the recipe from a friend who is known for not really liking fish.  This is something he enthusiastically eats and enjoys.  He suggested adding more fresh herbs, a squeeze of lemon, and a drizzle of olive oil just before serving for an even more flavorful dish.  It is good served with cous cous or rice, but my tabbouleh salad was pretty good with it too.   

In Morocco it is customary to offer mint tea to guests.   In fact it is the national drink and a pastime for many.  Surprisingly, Morocco is one of the world’s largest importers of tea.  When visiting a house, the mint tea is usually served by the male head of the household, with great panache.  It is considered impolite or rude to refuse it.  They also serve their guest three glasses, which have been steeped for different times.  They have a profound proverb describing this process.  The proverb speaks volumes to me, and the tea is good too!

The first glass is as bitter as life,
The second glass is as strong as love,
The third glass is as gentle as death.

Moroccan Style Mint Tea

  • 2 teaspoons Chinese Green Gunpowder Tea
  • 5 cups boiling water
  • 15 fresh mint sprigs
  • Sugar, to taste

Place the tea in the teapot of boiling water.  Let steep 2 minutes.  Rinse the fresh mint, and pack the teapot full of it.  Add sugar and serve hot.  
Enjoy a nice evening in Nantucket, but if you are feeling exotic, enjoy a little flavor from the Mediterranean.

 

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