Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Date-Hazelnut Balls Dipped in Chocolate

Better (way) late than never.

For a holiday that's infamous for a week without bread, Passover sure involves a heck of a lot of food that contains matzo. Everyone has an odd favorite food to eat while being afflicted--matzo brie, for instance--and there are whole cookbooks devoted to soaking, pounding, and grinding matzo into food that's meant to be more interesting than plain buttered matzo. During Passover this year, I watched a mom spend a half hour turning matzo into pancakes in hopes that her son wouldn't beg for Cherrios. The result? Kid wrinkles his nose and says "they taste like matzo." Well, yeah.

The most ironic concoction I've come across this year is matzo cake meal--flour that's been baked into matzo then ground into flour. Oh I understand why the process is necessary (you might unintentionally consume something leavened if the "flour" you use isn't made from matzo, which has only been baked for a short amount of time and is certified by a rabbi). But if you really think about it, matzo cake meal isn't ironic at all. Passover is all about recreating the Exodus story and revising it to be relevant to our lives year after year. That's why we always list modern plagues (like hunger) alongside the ancient plagues (murrain, anyone?).

While Passover should be a gluten-free smorgasbord, you still have to be really careful. Matzo shows up in just about as many things as flour does during the rest of the year, though there do tend to be more meringues around than usual. This year, I took chocolate-dipped dried pineapple, dates, and apricots to my first seder. While I was dipping the dates, I slit a few, dabbed hazelnut butter into the cavity, closed it up, and dipped them in chocolate. Wow, yum. There's a reason why Nutella sells.

So for our seder, I wanted to expand on that idea a bit. I soaked dried dates in hot water then pureed them in the blender, added ground hazelnuts, and tasted. The concoction lacked the intense hazelnut flavor that I wanted so I add a big spoonful of hazelnut butter and a little salt. That really did the trick so if you're experimenting, definitely add some nut butter. I mixed it all up, rolled the glob into balls, dipped the balls in melted chocolate, and had dessert. Eat your heart out Ferrero Rocher. These are even good for you.

Date-Hazelnut Balls Dipped in Chocolate
Makes 18-20.

1/2 lb dried dates
1 c. ground toasted hazelnuts
2-3 tbsp. hazelnut butter
1/8 tsp. salt
3/4-1 c. chopped chocolate for melting

Soak the dates in hot water (especially if, like me, you don't own a Vitamix--I've already killed one mini chopper this year) for 10-15 min. Puree them in a food processor. Scrap into a bowl. Add the ground hazelnuts, salt, and hazelnut butter. Mix it all into a paste and roll into golf ball-sized balls.

Melt the chocolate (I generally microwave the chocolate for 30 sec., stir, then microwave for 15 sec. at a time, stirring in between, until the chocolate is fully melted). Coat the balls in chocolate by dropping each ball into the melted chocolate, rolling it around until fully covered, and lifting it out with a fork, allowing the excess to drip off. You can thin the chocolate with a little milk (cow, soy, coconut, whatever's your pleasure) if it's too thick by itself. Allow the balls to cool fully on wax paper.


Sunday, April 5, 2009

Millet: Bring On the Bird Seed

I probably used millet for the first time in preschool. Remember those pinecone bird feeders smeared with peanut butter and rolled in birdseed? I've never been particularly interested in birds or the composition of their food, which means I didn't actually learn that millet is a key component of ordinary birdseed until I was an adult.

My first encounter with millet as a food source was in Russia. My host dad, Zhenya, brought some home in a little 2 lb. sack. I looked at it, and he said, "Eta prosa." Prosa, of course, what was I thinking and where was my dictionary? I deduced it must be couscous and thought it might be good for breakfast. I cooked my prosa in water, topped it with jam, and ate a deeply unsatisfying meal. So ended my relationship with millet for quite a while.

I decided to give it another shot after my celiac diagnosis. I mean, why limit myself even further by turning up my nose at a grain after one bad experience? I check millet out on wikipedia and found out that millet is a fairly common staple grain in many semi-arid and arid countries, including India and many African nations. Check out this website for more information about millet.

Millet was actually one of the first grains we fed the Little Potamus, and he loves it, especially millet-cauliflower mash, which has the surprising texture of mashed potatoes (see below for a recipe). Millet seems to pair particularly well with tahini, so lately I've been eating it for breakfast with that and a little soy milk.

Basic Millet

1 cup millet
2-3 cups water
pinch of salt

Heat a little olive oil in a pan. Add the millet and cook until the grains smell toasty. Add 2-2 1/2 cups of water and cook for about 20 minutes until all of the water is absorbed. You might need to add more water if you want very soft grains. Add salt and pepper for a very simple dish, but millet is also excellent with nut butters, cheese, scallions, toasted nuts, etc. (though perhaps not all at the same time!).

Here are some ideas for cooking with millet:
Mark Bittman's Autumn Millet Bake at 101 Cookbooks
Gluten-Free Mommy's Millet Oatmeal Bread
Millet-Quinoa-Cashew Kugel
Spicy Millet-Chickpea Pancakes
Millet-Cauliflower Mash (add cheese, tahini, or miso to the mash at the end for a great variation)
Karina's Gluten-Free Irish Soda Bread (made with millet)