Former Bad Company rocker (and California wine maven) Paul Cullen has again teamed up with food writer and restaurant columnist Bob Yesbek to see just how much of a mess they can make in Yesbek’s Rehoboth Beach kitchen. Middle Eastern cuisine is never far from Bob’s mind, and this spring it’s all about his mother’s fabled recipe for mujaharrah, served alongside cool and citrusy tabbouleh and lightly fried fillets of perch.
The name might suggest graceful minarets soaring above palaces crawling with bejeweled sultans, but mujaharrah is probably one of the easiest Middle Eastern dishes to make. Lentils, a little rice, some slightly browned onion and a little salt will deliver this tribal favorite right to your dinner table. Cullen took one bite of the lemony tabbouleh and proclaimed that the fruit and toasty oak of Bogle’s crisp Chardonnay was the perfect coupling for Yesbek’s dish. The wine’s gentle whisper of apples, pears and lemon meringue sealed the deal.
Paul never met an Italian recipe he didn’t like, and he’s particularly proud of his signature hash of asparagus and Tasso ham, topped with fried eggs. Potatoes, onions, spices and parsley play a supporting role, and though Mardi Gras 2013 has come and gone, the Cajun aromas demanded the firm snap of Paul Cullen’s own Bianco. This crisp and bright Sauvignon Blanc is softened only slightly with a splash of Chardonnay, proudly standing nose-to-nose with the peppery Tasso.
Always the high-achiever, Paul hauled out another favorite, lamb bolognese and peas with pappardelle pasta.
The hint of fresh mint in the sauce makes this the perfect bite for a cool, spring evening. The choice of wine was a tossup, with opinions divided equally between Cullen’s own Rosso (a bold mix of Syrah, Zinfandel and Cabernet Franc) and Bogle Essential Red (Old Vine Zin, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Syrah).
After much experimentation, Paul and Bob reached their conclusion: It’s springtime — open a bottle of both!
MUJAHARRAH WITH TABBOULEH AND FRIED FILLETS OF PERCH
1. Make the mujaharrah:
1. Make the mujaharrah:
2 cups lentils (dry)
2 cups rice
2 qt. (32 oz.) water
3 medium sweet onions, finely diced
1.5 tbs. butter
Boil the lentils in the water for approximately 20 minutes, or until about three-quarters done (soft to the tooth). Add the rice on top of the lentils (add water if necessary) and allow to cook until dry. If it is obviously done and still wet, drain through a colander. It must be as dry as possible before adding the onions.
Gently brown the diced onions in the butter, but do not allow to burn. Pour the browned onion over top of the dry rice/lentil mixture. Stir.
2. Make the tabbouleh:
2. Make the tabbouleh:
1 bunch parsley, cut into small pieces with NO stems
2 medium tomatoes, cut into small pieces
6 spring onions (scallions), sliced into small rounds
12 oz. medium-grind bulgur wheat
Juice of 4 lemons
Light olive oil
Mix together the parsley, tomato and onions. Soak the bulgur in hot water until soft. Drain the hot water and add cold. Pour off the water, picking up handfuls of the bulgur and squeezing out the remaining water. Add to the parsley-tomato-onion mixture until the wheat is about 40% of the mix.
Make vinaigrette with the lemon juice and a small amount of the oil, adding the mint and salt after the dressing is emulsified. Add lemon and salt to taste (add salt slowly so that you don’t add too much).
3. Make the fried fillets:
3. Make the fried fillets:
6 fillets fresh ocean perch
1 egg, beaten with a small amount of buttermilk
2 cups all-purpose flour, seasoned with salt and pepper and a pinch of J.O. #1 seafood seasoning
Vegetable oil for deep frying, heated to 350 degrees
Thoroughly dry the fillets and dip them into the egg mixture. Dredge them in the flour, and gently lay into the hot oil. Allow to cook for approximately 8 minutes, turning if necessary, until golden brown. The perch is thin; it will cook quickly.
Arrange the fish, mujaharrah and tabbouleh on a plate with lemon slices.
LAMB BOLOGNESE WITH PEAS OVER PAPPARDELLE
2 tbs. olive oil
1 lb. ground lamb
2 medium carrots, roughly chopped
1 stalk celery, roughly chopped
1 small red onion, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups dry red wine
12 ounces canned San Marzano tomatoes, chopped
3 sprigs fresh oregano
2 cups fresh peas
1 lb. pappardelle pasta
1/3 cups grated Romano
2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup picked and torn fresh mint leaves
1. Make the sauce:
Heat a Dutch oven with the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the lamb with a liberal pinch of salt and cook until brown, about 4 minutes. Meanwhile, combine the carrots, celery, garlic and onions in a food processor and pulse to chop finely.
With a slotted spoon, remove the browned lamb from the pan and set aside. Add the vegetables to the pan with a large pinch of salt, and sweat until translucent and aromatic, 3–4 minutes. Deglaze the pan with the red wine, scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to get all the goodies into the sauce.
Bring to a simmer and cook until reduced by about half. Add the tomatoes and oregano, then simmer for 10 minutes. Add the lamb back into the pan and let simmer 20–30 minutes longer. While the sauce is simmering, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
2. Make the pasta:
When you have 10 minutes left for the sauce, drop the pasta into the boiling water and give a stir so that it doesn't stick.
When the pasta is cooked al dente, remove and add pasta into the sauce to coat the noodles. If needed, ladle in a small amount of pasta water. Mix in the Romano, olive oil and mint. Remove from the heat and serve immediately, sprinkled liberally with grated Romano.
ASPARAGUS AND TASSO HAM HASH WITH FRIED EGGS
1/4 lb. Tasso ham (cured, spiced and smoked Cajun ham), diced into 1/4-inch cubes
1 lb. fingerling potatoes (white, purple, red), diced into a 1/2-inch cubes
1 small yellow onion, chopped small
1/2 lb. asparagus, tough ends trimmed and cut into 1-inch segments
Salt and pepper
2 eggs, fried sunny-side up in olive oil
Sprinkle of Romano cheese
Crusty Italian bread, lightly toasted
Heat a 12-inch sauté pan over medium heat. Fry the ham in a small amount of olive oil, turning it frequently so that it browns on all sides; this takes about 10 minutes. Remove it with a slotted spoon, leaving the heat on and the renderings in the pan.
Add the potatoes, and don’t move them for a couple of minutes. Use this time to season them well with salt and pepper. Once they’re a little brown underneath, begin flipping and turning them as they continue to cook, for a few minutes.
When the potatoes are about three-fourths as crispy and brown as you’d like them (this takes about 15 minutes), add the onion. Cook for an additional 5 minutes. Add the asparagus, cover the pan and cook for 5–8 minutes or until crisply cooked.
Remove the lid, return the ham to the pan and reheat for another minute. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed. Fry the eggs and place them on top of the hash mixture. Sprinkle liberally with parsley and cheese. Serve immediately with the lightly toasted Italian bread.
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