Whenever I have someone new over for a meal, I make a point of asking them for aversions, allergies and preferences. In this day of Paleo, vegan, nut-free, dairy-free, gluten-free, and Olly Olly Oxen-Free (which, to this moment I thought was “all come free” until I looked up how to spell Olly – thank you Urban Dictionary; how useful you would have been in my pre-internet childhood), you pretty much have to ask, unless you just don’t care. Frankly, not caring would be so much easier, and I would be lying if I didn’t fantasize occasionally about just making whatever I want, regardless of anyone’s special needs. When you find yourselves in a similar mind-set, I suggest taking the apron off and going out to dinner.
All that said, a couple weekends ago my son the Man-Child came over with his new girlfriend, whom we’d never met. This is a milestone. We went through a period where he kept his girlfriends at arm’s-length, I suspect because we had a nasty human habit of getting attached to them, and when they broke-up it was like someone took our puppy away. So, when he called me up and asked when we could meet this new puppy, I invited them to dinner, asking him the requisite questions right away. Gluten-free, no red meat, light on the dairy. I was tempted to get more details from him, my preferred method of sneak being texting, but alas, my son is a long-haired neo-Luddite techno-phobe, so I was on my own. I didn't know if the gluten-free is by choice or necessity, but I did a little research regardless. Beautifully Blended gives a fun-yet-thorough explanation, with handy charts and a huge list of ingredients and foods to avoid, which I have already pinned to one of my Pinterest boards for future reference. Some of the less obvious, hidden glutens were a big surprise to me, like bouillon and curry powder (I’m assuming because they are processed). As when shopping for a vegan meal, I now have a better idea of what to look for when reading labels on pre-made and/or processed food.
For this meal I played it safe and went with one of my favorite chicken recipes for the entree, and made kebabs with the bold flavors of lemon, garlic and mint often found in Moroccan food. I’ve also made this with lamb, and pork with great results, as well, but like I said, for this meal I was playing it safe.
¼ cup olive oil
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
4 large garlic cloves, minced
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh mint
2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. grated lemon peel or zest (remember to grate before you juice the lemon!)
1 tsp. ground black pepper (pepper through cumin, freshly ground, if possible)
1 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. ground cumin
2 lbs. well-trimmed boneless chicken, lamb or pork, cut into 2-inch cubes
12-inch long metal skewers (or bamboo skewers soaked for at least 30 minutes)
Whisk first 9 ingredients in a medium bowl to blend. Transfer 1/4 cup marinade to small bowl; cover, chill and reserve as basting sauce. Add meat to remaining marinade in medium bowl; toss to coat. Marinate 2 hours at room temperature or cover and refrigerate overnight.
Prepare barbecue (medium-high heat). Remove meat from marinade. Thread cubes onto your skewers, dividing equally. Brush all skewers with some of reserved 1/4 cup marinade. Grill meat to desired doneness, turning occasionally.
Makes 4 servings.
For the side dish I thought a combination grain and salad would go nicely with the chicken, and add some vibrant color. The following recipe for Black Rice Salad with Mango and Peanuts from Bon Appetit has a chewiness and freshness that really appeals to me, with a lingering taste of summer about it. I was actually surprised not to see fish sauce on the list of gluten foods, but double-checked the label, and anchovy extract, salt and sugar is all there is in the Thai Kitchen brand I have. I ended up skipping it anyway, but still. Black rice, also more exotically called Forbidden Rice, is available in the bulk section at my favorite local fancy-schmancy grocery store, but I’m hoping it’s offered elsewhere, as I wouldn’t substitute it in this recipe – the bite of nutty flavor really makes this salad. As a plus, it’s a little powerhouse of nutrition, as well!
Black Rice Salad with Mango and Peanuts
¼ cup (or more) fresh lime juice
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 Tbsp. fish sauce (such as nam pla or nuoc nam; optional)
2 cups black rice
2 just-ripe mangoes, peeled, pitted, cut into ½-inch dice
1 cup fresh cilantro leaves
1 cup finely chopped red onion (about ½ large onion)
½ cup unsalted, dry-roasted peanuts
6 scallions, thinly sliced
2 jalapeños, seeded, minced
Remove peel from oranges. Working over a medium bowl to catch juices and using a small sharp knife, cut the orange pith of each orange. Slice orange, separating into little triangular chunks, and set aside.
Add 1/4 cup lime juice, oil, and fish sauce (if using) to bowl with orange juice; whisk to blend. Set dressing aside.
Bring rice and 2 3/4 cups water to a boil in a large saucepan. Season lightly with salt. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer until all liquid is absorbed and rice is tender, about 25 minutes. Remove pan from heat and let stand, covered, for 15 minutes. Spread out rice on a rimmed baking sheet, drizzle with dressing, and season lightly with salt; let cool.
Place mangoes and remaining ingredients in a large bowl. Add rice and toss gently to combine. Season lightly with salt and more lime juice, if desired.
Makes 6-8 servings.
Once the Man-Child and his lady (it occurs to me I don’t know her age!) were fed and we were at the lounging about stage, tummies content and discussing climate-change and possible solutions, I offered up a modest, and not-too-show-offy dessert. For this I went to my extensive – or so it seems to my husband – cookbook collection, and perused Flying Apron’s Gluten-Free & Vegan Baking Book. The restaurant is local, and I know firsthand how at least a couple of the final products taste (yum!), so I was feeling confident, though I’d never made this particular recipe. Dark, rich and full of autumnal spiciness, it lived up to its promise to be “warming and satisfying without being too sweet,” and has the wonderful lofty name of Pumpkin Glory Loaf.
Pumpkin Glory Loaf
1 cup buckwheat flour
2 cups brown rice flour
1 3/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground cloves
1 cup safflower oil
1 cup molasses
1 cup maple syrup
1 can (15 ounces) pumpkin purée or 1 3/4 cups cooked squash, sweet potato, or pumpkin
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup chopped toasted walnuts
1/2 cup raisins (I might leave these out as they’re not my favorite)
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Combine the buckwheat flour, brown rice flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and cloves in a large bowl. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the safflower oil, molasses, maple syrup, pumpkin, and vanilla until well mixed. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture until well mixed, about 3 minutes. Fold in the walnuts and raisins.
Line the bottom of two 8 1/2- by 4 1/2-inch loaf pans or one 10-inch square cake pan with parchment paper, or grease and dust with brown rice flour. Pour in the batter.
Bake until the cake springs back when you press the center with your finger, about 50 minutes. Cool for an hour before slicing.
Makes two 8 1/2- by 4 1/2-inch loaves, or one 10-inch square cake.
As with the spices for the kebab marinade, I ground the cinnamon and cloves for the dessert loaf. The whir of spices in the grinder is always a briefly-noisy indication of something good to come, and the aroma of those two spices in particular is like Fall Incarnate.