Friday, June 22, 2018

Light, Middle Eastern Inspired Lunch

I was looking for a light lunch to make with ingredients at hand, and found the opportunity to put my recent Middle Eastern cookbook reading to use. What came to me was an open sandwich on flatbread topped with labneh, za'atar and avocado (not so Middle Eastern but a perfect match).

Labneh, za'atar, avocado and sprouts on toasted lavash
First, I toasted a slice of lavash bread over a gas burner, the same way you do with soft tacos. Then I mixed a few tablespoons of labneh with some salt, about half of small clove of garlic grated on a microplane, and a generous amount of za'atar. I topped it with avocado slices and wonderful spicy radish sprouts that I got at the Sunday farmers market on Columbus between 77th and 81st streets. Since my za'atar has no sumac in it (the Syrian style does), I sprinkled some on for looks and for a little citrus tang.

You could use any flatbread for this, although I like lavash because it's on the thin side. If you don't have labneh, Greek yogurt will work. If you don't have za'atar you could take this in another direction entirely, using Herbes de Provence or whatever fresh or dried herbs you like (dill and tarragon come to mind).

A nice, healthful lunch.

Bobby Jay

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

My New Favorite Chocolate Bar: Scharffen Berger Extra Dark 82%

Like almost everyone, I love chocolate, and always have. I used to eat Hershey milk chocolate bars as a child, and while my taste may have become more sophisticated, those early memories persist.

In the last 15 years or so, I have spent a lot of time in Paris and experienced some of the world's best chocolates, but I still love eating it in bar form. Although it is neither the fanciest nor the most expensive, I am partial to Lindt, from Switzerland, and particularly their Excellence series, which combines dark chocolate with various elements: sesame seeds, mint, caramel, fleur de sel, orange, chili peppers, etc.

Nowadays, many chocolates proclaim the percentage of cacao contained within. In general I find that bars above 72% lack the creaminess that I like. I use Ghirardelli 60% or Callebaut bittersweet for baking and various 70-72% choices for eating.
As to brands, I have not found one that is perfect across the range of strengths and flavors. Of course Valhrona, Cluizel and Bonnat, but I have to say they don't beat my go-to Lindt. I have never been overly enamored with American brands, except, as noted for Ghiradelli for baking applications. In partiular I never loved Sharffen Berger, until now.

David Lebovitz, in his The Great Book of Chocolate,

writes a lot about Scharffen Berger, the first American bean-to-bar gourmet chocolate (now there are others, such as Mast Brothers), so I thought I'd try it again. I went for the Extra Dark 82% and had a revelation: all the complexity found in a well-made bitter bar with a great mouth feel that lasts and lasts and lasts.

(Available at gourmet stores and through the Scharffen Berger web site.)

Go for it!

Bobby Jay