Grilled Manchego and Jamon Sandwich

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It’s been just over a month since I came back from a vacation in Spain, and I thought I was all jamon’d out. I thought wrong.

There’s not much to this sandwich but the cornucopia of Spanish flavors here would have you thinking otherwise. Creamy manchego cheese, salty jamon, and a touch of sweet membrillo paste transform a few simple ingredients into something spectacular. Try this and see: your grilled cheese game just got one-upped.

Grilled manchego sandwich with quince paste

Ingredients:

2/3 cup grated Manchego cheese
4 thick slices of country bread
4 very thin slices of serrano ham or prosciutto (about 2 ounces)
2 ounces membrillo (quince paste), thinly sliced
1 1/2 tablespoons butter

1. Spread half of the cheese evenly over two slices of the bread. Top with the serrano, membrillo, and the remaining cheese. Top with the other two bread slices.

2. Heat one tablespoon of the butter in a skillet over medium-low heat. When hot, add the sandwiches and cook slowly until deep golden on one side, about 5 minutes. Add the remaining 1/2 tablespoon butter and flip the sandwiches over. Continue to cook until the other side is also golden and the cheese is melted, about 4 minutes longer.

3. Let the sandwiches rest for a minute before slicing and serve immediately.

Spicy Beef Chili

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Tomorrow marks the first day of fall, and while every cafe and restaurant has you convinced that pumpkin spice-flavored everything is the answer to all our problems, I’m leaning in a different direction. No disrespect to squash-flavored caffeine, but I’d rather go for a warm, comforting bowl of chili to herald the changing season.

This spicy beef chili is time consuming but oh so worth it. Bonus: the heated leftovers taste even better.

Spicy beef chili

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 pounds chuck steak, cut into 1/2-inch dice
salt and pepper
1 pound hot Italian sausages, casings removed and meat broken into small pieces
1 small white onion, chopped
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon paprika
1 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
One 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 cup water
One 15-ounce can pinto beans, drained
One 15-ounce can cannellini beans, drained
One 15-ounce can kidney beans, drained
Shredded cheddar cheese, chopped green onions, and sour cream, for serving

1. In a large pot, heat the oil. Season the chuck with salt and pepper. Add half of the chuck and cook over moderately high heat until browned, about 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the meat to a plate. Repeat with the remaining chuck. Add the sausage and cook until browned, breaking it up with a spoon, about 4 minutes. Add the sausage to the diced chuck.

2. Add the chopped onion to the casserole and cook over moderate heat until tender, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes. Stir in the chili powder, paprika, cumin and the chuck, sausage and any accumulated juices. Cook, stirring until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the tomatoes and their juices and the water. Cover and sim-mer over moderately low heat for 1 hour.

3. Stir in the beans and simmer uncovered until thickened, about 15 minutes. Season with salt. Serve the chili in deep bowls, passing the cheese, scallions, and sour cream on the side.

Adas Polo (Iranian Rice and Lentils)

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Adas polo is comfort food. Simple to cook and customizable to taste, nearly every Iranian kid grew up with this lentil and rice dish. Like your adas polo sweet? Top with a sprinkling of fried raisins. Prefer it savory? Add extra fried onions. Craving a hit of tartness? Eat with a dollop of Middle Eastern yogurt.

Adas polo

This recipe comes courtesy of my mom, who always made me extra tahdig (the crispy rice at the bottom of the pot) to go with my adas polo. Now that’s love.

Ingredients:

3 cups basmati rice
1 onion, peeled and thinly sliced
8 tablespoons oil
1 1/2 tablespoons salt
3 1/2 cups water
2 cups lentils
1/2 cup raisins
Iranian or Greek yogurt, to serve

1. Clean and wash 3 cups of rice 3 times in cold water.

2. In an electric rice cooker, combine 3 1/2 cups water, washed and drained rice, 1 tablespoon salt, and 4 tablespoons oil. Start the rice cooker. Cover and let cook for 15 minutes.

3. In the meantime, clean and wash lentils and boil in a pot of water and 1/2 teaspoon salt for 15 minutes over high heat. Drain.

4. Hollow out the middle of the rice mound and add the lentils. Cover and continue cooking for 60 minutes longer, then unplug cooker and let stand for 10 minutes without uncovering it.

5. Meanwhile, in a skillet, brown the onion in remaining 4 tablespoons oil. Using a slotted spoon, remove onions and place on a serving plate. Reserve oil in skillet.

6. Reheat skillet with oil and brown raisins until slightly plump, about 4 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove raisins and place on another serving plate.

7. Remove rice cooker lid and place a large serving dish on top of the rice cooker mold. Grasp them together firmly and turn pot upside down to unmold tahdig and rice onto the dish. Cut into wedges and serve with onions, raisins, and yogurt.

Hunan Lamb With Green Onions

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I’ve been trying to cook with lamb more often lately. I’ve always loved lamb Iranian-style, but there’s so much more out there. To paraphrase Aladdin, a whole new world (of lamb), if you will.

This spicy lamb stir-fry is adapted from the Shun Lee Cookbook and is just what I’ve been looking for. A word of caution, however: make sure your wok is super hot, otherwise you’ll end up with a mushy mess instead of nicely-seared meat.

Hunan-style lamb

Ingredients:

1 pound boneless leg of lamb, trimmed
1 egg
3 tablespoons cornstarch
vegetable oil
1/2 cup canned bamboo shoots, sliced
3 tablespoons rice wine
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons white vinegar
1 tablespoon hot bean paste
pinch of ground pepper
1 leek, white part only, trimmed and cut into thin 1 1/2-inch-long strips
5 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
4 green onions, trimmed and sliced diagonally into 1/2-inch pieces

1. Cut the lamb across the grain into 1/4-inch thick slices. Cut the slices into pieces about 2 inches long. Mix the lamb with the egg, 1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch, and 1 tablespoon water in a medium bowl. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

2. Heat a large wok over high heat. Add enough oil to come about 1 inch up the sides of the wok. Once hot, add the lamb carefully so the pieces don’t splash or stick to each other and gently stir-fry until they turn light brown, about 1 minute. Add the bamboo shoots and stir-fry for 30 seconds. Using a spatula, transfer the lamb and bamboo shoots to a plate. Discard all but 2 tablespoons of the oil from the wok.

3. To make the sauce, mix the rice wine, soy sauce, sugar, vinegar, hot bean paste, and white pepper in a small bowl and set it aside. Dissolve the remaining cornstarch in 2 tablespoons cold water in another small bowl and set it aside.

4. Return the wok with the oil to high heat. Add the leek and garlic and stir-fry until the garlic is fragrant, about 20 seconds. Return the lamb and bamboo shoots to the wok; then add the green onions and the rice wine mixture and stir-fry for 20 seconds. Add the cornstarch mixture and stir-fry until the lamb turns a dark brown and the sauce has evenly coated the meat and vegetables, about 30 seconds. Serve hot.

Sichuan-Style Cold Sesame Noodles

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This is one of the earliest recipes I learned to cook and more than fifteen years later, it still remains one of my favorites. This spicy, peanuty noodle salad is easy to make and is perfect for picnics or lunches on the go. It’s worth seeking out Sichuan peppercorns for this dish, as they add a unique, tingly spice that can’t be replicated.

Sichuan-style cold sesame noodles

Ingredients:

1 package (about 12 ounces) fresh Chinese egg noodles
4 teaspoons sesame oil
1 Persian cucumber, julienned
1/4 pound fresh mung bean sprouts
2 cups cooked shredded chicken breast
1/3 cup chicken broth
1/3 cup peanut butter
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons chili garlic sauce
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground, toasted Sichuan peppercorns

1. Cook noodles in a pot of boiling water according to package directions. Drain, rinse with cold water, and drain again. Place noodles in a bowl and add two teaspoons of sesame oil and toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate until chilled.

2. In the meantime, prepare the dressing: in another bowl, combine broth, peanut butter, soy sauce, rice vinegar, remaining sesame oil, chili garlic sauce, sugar, and whisk until blended.

3. Add cucumber, mung bean sprouts, chicken, and dressing over noodles and mix well. Serve cold.