Friday, June 29, 2012

Ladies' Lunch

I've lived in Hudson, NY for about 7 months and have been lucky to have made a few nice friends.  It's all about those 6 degrees of separation that's really more like 2 degrees that allows one person to lead to another.  Among these friends - lady friends - are a group who work freelance.  I, who've always worked more or less in a freelance way, have noticed that lunchtime seems to be the most convenient time to pull off a meal.  After lunch  (which for me is the real start of the day) you can go back to your work and thoughts without worrying about stopping for a rendez-vous.   Bearing in mind those particular habits I invited a few friends for lunch.  Lucky for us it was a cool, dry summer day here in the Hudson Valley and not only was I able cook in comfort but our group sat at the table for hours without once complaining about how hot we were. 
I had, of course, provisioned aplenty at my favorite Hudson Farmers' Market.   For awhile I've had a hankering for an Armenian yogurt-barley soup called Tanabour.  When I opened my take-out/catering business - decades ago in the East Village- my first employee was a young woman of Armenian descent.  She generously shared many of her family's favorite recipes.  Tanabour, among several other recipes, has proved to be a real winner.  We would make it by the gallons then sell it by the quart to very gratful customers.   I made it for the first time in several years for our lunch with Maple Hill Creamery's plain yogurt and let me tell you - maybe because I hadn't tasted the soup in awhile - but this batch was sensational.  I credit the super-creamy yogurt.  You can find this yogurt many places - and most obviously from Cheese! at The Red Barn's Friday evening market, and Hudson's Saturday morning market.

TANABOUR  (for Margot & Garth - they know why)

The soup is wonderful summer fare chilled or at room temperature.  But it's good hot on a cool day.

Serves 6 - 8
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
3/4 cup barley, soaked over night in 1 quart water
5 cups chicken stock (or vegetable broth)
3 cups plain whole milk yogurt (or low-fat NOT non-fat)
1 large egg
3/4 cup finely-chopped fresh, flat-leaf parsley
1/2 cup finely-chopped fresh mint

1.   In a large, heavy, nonreactive  saucepan, melt 3 tablespoons of the butter in the olive oil over moderate heat.  Add the onion and cook until very soft, about 7 minutes.
2.   Drain the barley, then rinse and drain again.   Add to the saucepan with 4 cups of the stock.   Bring to a simmer and cook over low heat until the barley is tender, about 50 minutes.
3.   In a medium bowl, whisk the yogurt with the egg until smooth.  Stir it into the soup.  Cook over low heat for 10 minutes.  Do not boil.  Add more stock if the soup is too thick (I added more stock - that yogurt!).
4.   Meanwhile, in a small skillet, melt the remaining tablespoon butter over moderate heat.  Add the parsley and mint and cook until wilted, about 1 minute.  Stir the herbs into the soup and simmer for 2 minutes to blend the flavor.  Season with salt as desired.
5.   Serve with a fresh mint leaf garnish in each bowl.

We ate the soup as a first course.   I served a few salads as our main.   I made the sugar snap, radish and feta cheese salad to which I added a sliced cucumber (first one this season).  I also made a plate of labane with  goat milk yogurt (also from Cheese!), extra virgin olive oil and za'atar

There was a beet salad made with candy-sweet red, and golden beets from Blue Star Farms.   I roasted the beets.  Peeled, sliced and piled them on a serving plate.  I drizzled a tiny bit of pomegranate molasses over them.  I toasted some chopped pistachios in a bit of grapeseed oil (for its neutral, non-invasive flavor), then just as the nuts were smelling toasted I added some chopped scallions and sauteed for another 30 seconds or so just until they wilted. Then immediately poured them over the the beets.  I sprinkled some pink Hawaiian salt over it all and served the salad just like that.

 I made some flatbread which was baked topped with extra virgin olive oil and some za'atar.  Cut it into little triangles to make it perfect for scooping up all the offerings.

Dessert was a combination of some favorite things: blueberries, lemon curd and creme fraiche.  Cooled, slightly cooked fruit is my go-to summertime dessert.  Bluberries, peaches, nectarines, plums separately or together.  I cook them with a bit of rapadura sugar and some creme de cassis liqueuer or vincotto.  The fruit becomes an intense version of itself.  Luscious and deeply flavored.  Serve with anything creamy and some cookies, biscuits or plain cake.  I served the blueberries with lemon curd - another hankering - and creme fraiche - and the always on hand, amaretti cookies, which I showed my guests how to crush and and add as a topping to the fruit.  They did not follow my lead.  They were right.  It was a gratuitous addition.
I love to make this in the vintage Pyrex double boiler that I recently inherited from my aunt.
Good as a fruit compote topping, as a pie filling or spread on toast.
Makes about 2 1/2 cups

3 whole eggs
3 egg yolks
1 1/4 cups sugar
grated zest and juice of 2 lemons
1/2 cup unsalted butter cut into bits

In the top of a double boiler over low heat, beat the whole eggs.  Beat in the egg yolks.  Add the sugar, lemon zest and juice, whisking continuously until the mixture coats the back of a spoon.  Remove from the heat and beat in the butter.  Strain and bring to room temperature.  Chill until ready for use.  Will last for weeks refrigerated.


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