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Archive for the ‘vegetables’ Category

Hi there!  It’s so good to be back after a few days off.

How was your Thanksgiving?

My family and I gathered right outside of Philadelphia. We ate a lot (I’m sure you did too) and then the next morning, we ate some more. We stopped by Reading Terminal Market for a non-turkey lunch and a little bit of shopping. And then we had turkey leftovers for dinner. 

I took a camera break which was nice, though I did miss the chance to capture the trees dressed in bright red, the oak leaves nearly as large as our thirteen-pound turkey.

But now life is back to normal, and today I’ve made a salad.

Well, it’s a slaw really. It’s from the Deb Perelman’s The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. It may seem odd that the first recipe I sample from a new cookbook would be a coleslaw, but this lady knows a thing or two about slaw. The cookbook itself has three slaws – one cabbage-cucumber-dill, one broccoli-almond-cranberry*, and the one I made today. Deb actually calls this one a salad — sugar snap salad with miso dressing — I suspect because half its bulk comes from sugar snaps (“mangetout”). The other half, though, is cabbage which in my mind fits it squarely into the slaw category.

The word coleslaw comes from the Dutch koolsla (kool = cabbage, sla, short for salade = salad) which comes from the Latin caulis (cauliflower stem). Slaw has been around since ancient Rome and was brought to America by the Dutch who planted cauliflower seeds in New York along the Hudson. (As I write, I can’t help but hum a little ditty.) Coleslaw started out as a vinegar-based salad of raw cabbage; the use of mayonnaise is a more recent modification. Let your coleslaw sit for too long (especially out of the fridge), and you’ll be gradually approaching the fermented territory of sauerkraut and kimchi.

While we’re on food history and etymology, the word salad is an interesting one too. It comes from the Latin sal (salt) and refers to dressing, which early on was a salty mild pickling brine. So, salad in essence was defined by its dressing.

Which brings me to back to Deb’s salad, er slaw, and its defining dressing. This miso-sesame dressing is magical and you don’t want to tinker with it. I reproduced it verbatim, and you should too.

The miso gives the dressing depth, earthiness, and a little sweetness – that umami that everyone’s always talking about. Did you know that both umami and miso share the Japanese root mi (味), taste or flavor? (I didn’t.)

Coincidentally**, I went to a lecture tonight entitled Microbes, Miso, and Olives where David Chang and Carles Tejedor talked about fermentation and how microbes create flavor. In addition to tasting Tejedor’s spherified yogurt and olive oil gel, we tried some of the latest goodies coming out of the Momofuku fermentation lab — cashew miso and olive tamari. There was a formula involving refractive index to explain why vinaigrette emulsions are cloudy. A few diagrams of chemical reactions producing glutamate (the main amino acid responsible for the umami flavor). Photos of Aspergillus oryzae (a fungus native to various parts of Asia and used in soy fermentation) under the microscope. And even a joke about a Microbiology lab at Harvard (“we send some of our creations to the professionals to sequence any microorganisms and to make sure nothing will kill us”). But in the end, Chang said he created his lab to “learn how to make things delicious through a study of umami.”

Which gets us (finally) back to the slaw and the dressing. On top of the miso and its umami, there is a double dose of sesame here from both tahina and toasted sesame oil. Make that a triple dose when you sprinkle the whole thing with toasted sesame seeds. The dressing is creamy and light, sticking to the cabbage, but not drenching it. It has the prefect amount of saltiness that mainly comes from the miso (no salt or soy sauce added). Dress everything a few hours in advance so the cabbage can wilt a bit as the miso and vinegar give it a quick pickle. I ate it for dinner, then lunch, then dinner again, polishing off half a cabbage in a day’s time. That’s a lot of cabbage. That’s how good the slaw is.

Deb, if you can make humble slaw shine, I can’t wait to try your flat roasted chicken. And your honey and harissa farro salad. And your red wine velvet cake. Your cookbook is already floating in a sea of yellow stickies.

And you, my friends, to reward you for slogging through this long (though I think fascinating) study of etymology with a side order of science, tomorrow we’ll eat some cookies.

*You can argue with Deb about whether broccoli can technically be a slaw, but let’s give her a little wiggle room here. It is her book. And despite the etymology, I too have used the term slaw to refer to broccoli (and even to collards).

** Seriously, it was a coincidence. I thought the lecture was going to be about dessert. Boy, was I ever wrong.

Cabbage slaw with miso-sesame dressing

I adapted this recipe from the sugar snap salad with miso dressing in The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. I skipped the sugar snaps and traded carrots for radishes, but kept the dressing in pristine condition (though you could add a few drops of hot sesame oil to finish things off).  Dress the salad lightly a few hours before serving to allow the cabbage to wilt and soak up all the dressing, then add more dressing if necessary. I used regular green cabbage, which needs a bit more time to wilt; if you want to use the more tender varieties such as savoy or napa, dress the salad only thirty minutes before serving.

Serves 4

For slaw

- 1/2 large green cabbage

- 2 scallions

- 3 carrots

- 3 T sesame seeds

For dressing:

- 1 T minced fresh ginger

- 2 large garlic cloves, minced

- 2 T white miso (I use Miso Master brand)

- 2 T tahina

- 1 T honey

- 1/4 C rice vinegar

- 2 T vegetable oil

- 2 T toasted sesame oil

Slice. Slice the cabbage, scallions, and carrots as thinly as you can with a knife or mandoline (I used a knife for the cabbage and scallions, a mandoline for the cabbage).

Toast. Toast the sesame seeds for 5-8 minutes in a 300ºF oven.

Shake. Mix the dressing ingredients in a jar, cover, and shake well to combine. You may need to add a little water to loosen up the dressing as the tahina has a tendency to thicken, especially as it gets cold. The consistency should be similar to a thick honey.

Eat. Dress the salad a few  hours before serving and toss. If using more tender cabbages (savoy, napa), you’ll only need to do this about a half-hour in advance. Just before serving, sprinkle the slaw with the toasted sesame seeds.

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I was just scrolling through the blog today and realized that we haven’t had salad in a while. If you don’t count the that kale and barley deal from earlier this month (Is it salad? Or is it a side? I categorized it as salad on the recipes tab, but I’m rethinking that one), the last salad we ate together was on July 13. If you’re curious, that was eighteen weeks and three days ago. I was curious.

That Friday the 13th salad was unusual in that I had veered from my standard dressing of a drizzle of oil, a squeeze of lemon, salt, pepper, and I’m done. Instead, I made an orange blossom dressing that I actually call liquid gold, it’s that good. Well, my friends, I’ve found another dressing that just might just give that dressing a run for its money.

This Monday the 19th one centers around pomegranate molasses. You’ve seen pomegranate molasses (also called pomegranate syrup) all over this blog. It’s in lamb and meat sauce and a roast. It glazes carrots, decorates roasted vegetables, and caramelizes tarte tatins. It has also found itself atop a bowl or two of vanilla ice cream.

Pomegranate molasses is just very concentrated pomegranate juice. You can buy it in Middle Eastern (and sometimes Indian) grocery stores or make it yourself by reducing pure juice in a sauce pan until it thickens into a sticky syrup. It’s sweet and puckeringly sour. If you like sour candies, you might want to run out to buy a bottle of this stuff. Or two.

But it never occurred to me to turn it into a salad dressing until my friend Jess suggested it. And now I can’t get enough of it. The first time I made, I licked the last few drops off of my plate when I ran out of bread for sopping up. Luckily I was alone at the time. Though, I might very well have done it in a restaurant full of strangers.

Arugula salad with pear, goat cheese, pomegranate, and walnuts

Serves 4

- 3 C loosely packed arugula

- 10 sprigs of parsley, minced

- 1 scallion, sliced on a bias

- 1 pear (I used Bosc), cubed

- 2 T goat cheese, crumbled

- 1/2 C pomegranate seeds

- 1/3 C spicy candied walnuts (see below)

- pomegranate molasses dressing (see below)

Pile. Mix together the arugula and parsley and arrange on a large plate. Sprinkle with scallion, pear, and goat cheese.

Tap. To remove the seeds from the pomegranate, slice the fruit in half, hold a piece cut side down over a large bowl, and hit the outside skin with a wooden spoon. Most of the seeds will fall out and you can gently pry out any remaining ones. Juice will splatter, so don’t wear white.

Finish. Scatter the pomegranate seeds and walnuts over the salad. Drizzle with dressing. The dressing is intense, so drizzle sparingly.

***

Spicy candied walnuts

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen. You’ll have leftovers, which you’ll probably end up eating by the handful. 

Makes 2 1/2 cups

- 1 egg white, room temperature

- 1 T pomegranate molasses

-  1/3 cup brown sugar

- 1/3 cup white sugar

- 1.5 teaspoon kosher salt

- Generous pinch of cayenne pepper

- 1/2 t cumin

- 1/2 lb (2 1/2 C) walnut pieces

Preheat oven to 300ºF.

Whisk. With a fork, whisk the egg white and pomegranate molasses in a large  bowl.

Mix. Add the sugars, salt, cayenne, and cumin, and mix everything together. Stir in the walnuts and toss until evenly coated.

Bake. Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper, and spread the  sugared nuts in a single layer on top. Bake for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Cool. Remove from the oven, and separate nuts as they cool. When completely cool, pour the nuts into a bowl, breaking up any that stick together.

***

Pomegranate molasses dressing

Inspired by Sweet Amandine. You’ll have leftover dressing, but it keeps in the fridge for at least 2 weeks.

Makes 1/2 cup 

- 6 T olive oil

- 1 T pomegranate molasses

- 1 T lemon juice

- 2 t brown sugar

- salt and pepper

Shake. Put everything in a jar and shake to mix. The sugar may stick to the bottom, so use a fork to dislodge it and keep shaking.

Taste. Dip an arugula leaf into the dressing and adjust the seasoning.

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Soup is back, and with a vengeance, people. If you include the batch that I took out of my freezer earlier in the month, I’ve eaten four different soups (well, one is officially a stew) in fewer than four weeks. And it’s not even Thanksgiving yet.

Also, butternut squash is back, at least in my kitchen, and probably in yours.

So, it might seem that a butternut squash soup would be on the agenda. And, that would seem to be correct.

Normally around this time of year, I turn to my tried-and-true spicy butternut squash soup. I’ve been making it since grad school and this is the one I pull out of my back pocket any time someone asks for an simple soup recommendation, the one that I know by heart. My sister asks for it, my mother makes it, my new friends learn it, my old friends get tired of it. When Meira asked me for a soup recommendation a few weeks back, she audibly yawned when I suggested my old standby: I know that soup. I make it all the time. I need something new. I offered her last year’s Thanksgiving soup instead.

I guess after ten years of old standby, it was time to come up with a new simple squash soup. Different enough from the first, but just as easy. Throw together in minutes, slurp in less than an hour. And spicy, it had to be spicy; I don’t do sweet squash. When a friend and her husband mumbled something about a soup made with squash and apples and curry and stuff, I went home and got to work. I peeled and chopped and stirred and sniffed. The basic formula is one squash, one onion, two apples, loads of spice. Pour an inch of stock over the vegetables, simmer for 20 minutes, whiz with a blender and you’re done.

I recommend making this soup on the thinner side so you can pour it in a mug, wrap your hands around the warm vessel, inhale the steam, and let the soup coat your mouth with no interfering spoon. The spice will catch you by surprise. It will start in the back of your throat and slowly inch forward. By the time you’re tipping the mug to get the last drops, your lips will be tingling.

Spicy butternut squash and apple soup with cumin and curry

This is a make-it-up-as-you-go kind of recipe that I based off of these three recipesUse whatever spices you like, and if you don’t have time to experiment, just use curry powder- I’d start with 2 tablespoons and then adjust as needed. If you accidentally over-spice the soup, add 1-2  halved potatoes and then remove them before blending/serving — they’ll absorb some of the excess spice.  After a day or two in the fridge, the soup will thicken slightly and the spice will intensify. If you’d like, swirl in a spoonful of Greek yogurt.

Makes about 4 quarts (16 cups)

Heat 3-4 T olive oil in a large pot (I used a 7 1/4 dutch oven) until shimmering (medium heat). Rough chop 2 onions and sauté for 8-10 minutes until the onions soften and become transparent, stirring every once in a while. Mince 4 garlic cloves into the pot and keep stirring for another 2 minutes. At this point, add whatever spices you’d like and mix with the onions and garlic. Here’s what I used: 1 1/2 teaspoon grated fresh ginger, 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper, 1 teaspoon coriander, 2 tablespoons cumin, 1 tablespoon curry powder, and 1 teaspoon cinnamon. The mix should quickly turn a mustard-y yellow (from the turmeric in the curry). Add 1 cup water and scrape the bottom to free up all the spices.

Peel and seed 2 large or 3 medium butternut squash (about 4 pounds) or 3 pounds pre-peeled/seeded squash. Rough chop the squash and add it to the pot, stirring  to distribute the spices. While the squash is starting to cook, peel and rough chop 4 medium apples, add to the pot and stir. Then add about 8 cups of vegetable (or chicken) stock. You want the liquid to reach about 1 inch above the level of the squash. Add more stock (or water) if you need it. Allow the soup to simmer for about 20 minutes until the squash and apples are soft. Using an immersion blender, puree the soup. You can also do this in a regular blender in several batches. Taste for seasoning, and make sure to add enough salt. If the soup seems too thick, add a bit of water; too thin, simmer for a few more minutes.

Serve in mugs with a sprinkle of cinnamon or other spice.

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Just a quick post (and recipe) tonight because I’m running out the door and I’m already late for a party.

This butternut squash dish is the second recipe that I made from Yotam Ottolenghi‘s and Sami Tamimi‘s newest cookbook, Jerusalem. (You may have already seen the recipe in this article).

I fashioned the photographs after the ones in the cookbook to reflect the authors’ cooking philosophy. In their first cookbook collaboration, Ottolenghi: The Cookbook, the pair explains, “Like the market vendor, we make the best of what we have and don’t interfere with it too much. We keep foods as natural as possible, deliberately avoiding complicated cooking methods.” Their cooking technique keeps ingredients close to their origins; for example, they eschew tiny brunoise dicing in favor of bite-sized chunks to allow each individual element to shine.

I suspect this approach to food, the analogy to the market vendor displaying his wares, is very much informed by their childhoods in a country where markets remain a significant part of cultural and daily life. We can talk more about this, but I’ve got a birthday to celebrate (not mine – that’s in a few weeks).

See you back here tomorrow morning. Well, actually probably more like afternoon.

Roasted butternut squash and red onion with tahina and za’atar

Adapted from Jerusalem: A Cookbook. The combination of roasting and za’atar give the dish a smoky flavor. Feel free to experiment with other types of squash and pumpkin – just adjust the roasting time accordingly. You probably won’t need all of the tahina sauce – just drizzle lightly and add more if necessary. 

Serves 4 as a side dish

- 1 large butternut squash (about 2 – 2 ½ lbs)

- 2 red onions

- 4 T olive oil, divided

- 3 heaping T tahina

- 1 lemon for juice (approximately 2-3 T, depending on your lemon)

- 1 T water

- 1 clove garlic

- 3 T pine nuts

- 1 T za’atar

- 1 T coarsely chopped parsley (optional)

- Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 475˚F.

Cut. Peel and seed squash, and cut into thin (3/4–inch) wedges approximately 2-inches long. Cut the onions into 1-inch wedges.

Mix. In a large bowl, toss the squash and onions with 3 tablespoons of oil, and  sprinkle with a few pinches of salt and a few grinds of pepper.

Roast. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or foil. Spread the vegetables on the sheet and roast in the oven for 30-40 minutes. They’re ready when they start to brown and are tender. The onions will probably cook faster than the squash, so check and remove them early if necessary so they don’t burn.

Whisk. While the vegetables are roasting, place in a bowl the tahina, 1½ tablespoon lemon juice, water, and minced garlic. Whisk until the sauce is the consistency of honey, adding water or tehina if necessary. Taste for seasoning and add salt, pepper, and more lemon juice if you’d like.

Toast. Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil in a small pan over medium-low heat. Add the pine nuts with a pinch of salt and cook for 2-3 minutes until the nuts start to brown. Remove from the heat and transfer the nuts into a small bowl to stop the cooking.

Serve. To serve, spread the vegetables on a platter, drizzle with tahina (you probably won’t need all of it), and sprinkle with za’atar, pine nuts, and parsley (if using). I like to eat this at room temperature.

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I’ve lived in Cambridge for four years and three months. That’s the longest I’ve stayed in a city since I left my childhood  home when I was 17. Which has gotten me thinking about what home is. And what it means to me to have really planted roots. Oh, not in the get married/buy a house/make babies/get a dog/build a picket fence kind of way, but roots nonetheless.

But when I say I’m going home, I always think of the city where I grew up and the house where my parents still live. Nothing new here, of course, and many of you probably share the sentiment. But nowhere have I seen this feeling of home so poignantly captured as in Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi‘s most recent cookbook collaboration.    

I’ve written about this London-based pair before and shared a small handful of their recipes. But their latest venture is much more than a cookbook. It’s a journey to their shared home of Jerusalem, where they grew up on opposite sides of the city.

In the introduction to the book, they explain: “It is more than twenty years since we both left the city…Yet we still think of Jerusalem as our home. Not home in the sense of the place you conduct your daily life or constantly return too. In fact, Jerusalem is our home almost against our wills. It is our home because it defines us, whether we like it or not.”

They continue, “the flavors and smells of this city are our mother tongue.” I love that. Our mother tongue. I get that.

I speak street food. Hummus and tahina, falafel and schwarma, all wrapped up in warm pita and laffa. Fresh carrot juice and bourekas.

I speak market food. Tomatoes and pickles, goat cheese and sheep cheese, rugelach and, well, more rugelach.

I speak home food. Spicy carrots and eggplant dips, chicken soup and harira, syrup-drenched cakes and pistachios by the handful.

I speak these foods and they inform my cooking  even though each of my visits to Jerusalem have been brief. I can only imagine what it’s like to have grown up there. And then to make the journey back, senses more keenly aware of everything after an absence.

I can imagine. And I can cook now that I have the recipes. And I can share them with you. Here is my first taste from the cookbook.

(For more discussion of the cookbook, check out my column this month in the Jerusalem Post. You’ll also get a non-so-sneak peek at another recipe before I post it here in a few days.)

Roasted cauliflower with tahina

Adapted from Jerusalem: A Cookbook. The original recipe calls for frying the cauliflower, but I simplified it with a  quick roast in the oven. I made it with multi-colored cauliflower, having found purple, green, and yellow varieties in the grocery store. This makes a lot of dressing. I had enough left over after five heads of cauliflower to drizzle over a few more brassica vegetables – a head of broccoli and a few kale salads. Feel free to make only half of the dressing.

A few notes on tahina  Make sure to refrigerate it after opening because it can go rancid quickly (the same is true of sesame and nut oils). If the tahina separates, heat it up slightly to make it easier to mix. When you first add liquid to the tahina  it will thicken but quickly loosen up as you stir. For this recipe, add enough liquid so the sauce becomes about same consistency of honey. I’ve been told the most authentic brand you can buy outside of Israel is Roland. 

Serves at least 10 as a side dish

- 3 heads of cauliflower

- 8-10 scallions

- 1 small bunch parsley

- 1 small bunch mint

- 3 cloves garlic

- 2 lemons for zest and juice

- 4 T olive oil, divided

- ¾ C tahina

- 2/3 C Greek yogurt (I used 1% fat)

- 1 t pomegranate molasses (sometimes called pomegranate syrup), plus extra for drizzling

- About ¾ C water

- Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 425˚F.

Prep. Trim the end of each cauliflower and then quarter them through their cores. Cut out the cores and then break the vegetable apart into bite-sized florets. Cut the scallions in 2- to 3-inch pieces. Roughly chop the parsley and mint – you’ll need ¼ cup of each for the dressing; reserve any extra for garnish. Mince the garlic.  Zest one lemon. Juice both lemons – this should yield a little over ¼ cup.

Toss. Toss the cauliflower in a bowl with 3 tablespoons of olive oil, a few pinches of salt, and a few grinds of pepper.

Roast. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or foil. Spread the cauliflower on the pan in a single layer and roast in the oven for 30-35 minutes until the cauliflower is crisp and parts of it have turned golden brown. Transfer to a large bowl to cool.

Saute. Heat up the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil in a small pan. When the oil is shimmering, add the scallions and sauté for about 5 minutes until they begin to color. Transfer to a bowl to cool.

Whisk. Spoon the tahina into a bowl and mix in the  yogurt, garlic, herbs, lemon zest, ¼ cup of lemon juice, pomegranate molasses. Slowly pour in the water, whisking with each addition. Only add enough water to get  the sauce to a thick, smooth pourable consistency, similar to honey. Taste a floret dipped in the sauce, and season with salt, pepper, and lemon juice.

Serve. Mix the vegetables with a some of the sauce, enough to coat the vegetables without drowning them. (As I mentioned, there will be leftover sauce!) Drizzle with pomegranate molasses and any leftover parsley or mint.

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I promised you soup yesterday. And pictures too. I do want to warn you that there’s also a favor I need to ask, but we’ll get to that later.

First, let’s eat.

Timing’s a bit off because this is a soup for a cold night when the first wafts of fireplace fill the brisk air. Instead, today was sunny and nearly 70 degrees here in Boston. One of those open-all-the-doors-and-windows kind of days. But soup I wanted, and soup I made.

This whole thing started with a mushroom wheat berry soup at a favorite cafe. The soup was dark-colored and light-flavored, rich with mushroom-y earthiness.  The wheat berries, surpassing barley and farro along the firm and chewy spectrum, gave the soup enough heft to be filling  but not so much as to be heavy. And a sprinkle of dill brightened the whole thing up. I was determined to recreate the soup while its aroma and texture and flavor was still fresh in my memory, weather be damned. Which is how we got to where we are today.

I realize that this soup might sound like a certain other soup I made last week, what with the mushrooms and ancient grains and all. But that one was barley soup with mushroom. This one is mushroom soup with wheat berries. (Barley and farro would work well here too.)

Here’s what makes this a soup with grains rather than a grain soup: I cooked the grains and the soup separately. If you cook the grains in the soup, you get a starch soup. If you cook the grains in advance (or in parallel) and then drain them of their starchy water, you get a broth with chunks of vegetables, slices of mushrooms, and nuggets of wheat berries.

I’m sure you’re probably thinking that it’s a pain to pre-cook the wheat berries, but hear me out. Wheat berries take a bit of time to cook, generally at least an hour and often with an overnight soak first (though the brand I used was parboiled and only took about 15 minutes), so it’s great to have them on hand when you have a craving. Cook up a big batch and keep some in the fridge for a week or in the freezer for many weeks. (This works particularly well if you recently made some extra space in your freezer by using up those blueberries that you tucked away over the summer). Pull the grains out in the next few days or weeks to top a salad, throw in a soup, or bolster up some vegetables.

While we’re on the subject of cooking grains, here’s where the favor comes in. I know you were searching for it, skipping past the pictures, scrolling down the text. So I’ll repeat it: here’s where favor comes in.

Click on the picture of the wheat berries and take a close look. See how they’re split? The same thing happens whenever I make barley and farro. I can’t seem to figure out how to get those beautiful, smooth little kernels that everyone else seems to achieve with ease. Mine always end up popped open, their fluffy little insides spilling out.

Can anyone tell me the secret to cooking up perfect grains? I have a pantry full of wheat berries, farro, and barley waiting.

Mushroom soup with wheat berries

This soup is adapted from Smitten Kitchen who made it with farro and who adapted it from the New York Times‘s Marian Burros who made it with barley. Rather than cooking the grains in the soup, I cooked them in advance. As for the best way to cook the wheat berries, well, that’s where I need your help. For now, I’m just following the directions on the bag I bought, but hopefully I’ll figure this out soon (hint hint).

A few notes on ingredients that you may not have lying around. I used one tablespoon of tomato paste which gives the soup a richer flavor. If you don’t feel like opening a can, you can skip it. I keep in my freezer a bag of tablespoon-sized cubes of tomato paste that I froze in an ice cube tray way back when. If you don’t have sherry, I’ve heard that you can replace it with half the amount of cider vinegar. Try it and let me know how it works out. If you don’t have a bunch of fresh herbs sitting around, add a few pinches of dry dill. It will be almost as good. Or add your favorite herbs – thyme would work great here. 

Makes about 6 cups

- 1/2 C dried or 1 1/2 C cooked wheat berries (or farro, pearled barley, or spelt)

- 1/2 cup dried mushrooms like porcini

- 1 medium onion

- 1 medium carrot

- 2 stalks celery

- 2 cloves garlic

- 1 lb mushrooms (I used 1/2 white button and 1/2 cremini)

- 2 T olive oil

- 1 T tomato paste

- 4 C vegetable (or other) stock

- 1/4 C dry sherry

- Salt and pepper to taste

- handful of parsley (~1/4 C chopped)

- handful of dill (~1/4 C chopped)

Make grains. Follow the directions on your wheat berries package. The brand I bought is parboiled, so it only took about 15 minutes to make. Most recipes, such as this one, suggest first rinsing the grains, then simmering them in water (3:1 ratio) for about an hour. I’ll get back to you once I get a good method down.

Soak. Boil 1 1/2 cups of water. Cover dried mushrooms with the water, and set aside for 20 minutes. When the mushrooms have softened, drain them and reserve the liquid (you’ll be straining it and then  adding it to the soup later). Finely chop the mushrooms.

Chop. Finely chop the onion, carrot, and celery. Slice the fresh mushrooms.

Sauté. Heat the oil in heavy-bottomed deep pot. Sauté onion, celery, and carrot over medium heat until onions begin to color, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, and sauté for 30 seconds. Then add the fresh mushrooms and sauté for 5-10 minutes, until they begin to release liquid. Keep sautéing until the mushrooms reabsorb their liquid. Add the re-hydrated chopped mushrooms and  the tomato paste.  Strain the reserved mushroom liquid to remove any grit and add it to the pot. I used a coffee filter in a manual drip coffee cone for this. Scrape the bottom of the pan to get up any browned bits that are stuck.

Simmer. Add the vegetable stock and sherry and adjust the heat so the soup comes to a simmer. Simmer for 10 minutes and then add the cooked wheat berries, simmering for just a few more minutes until the grains warm up.

Sprinkle. Chop up the parsley and dill and stir into the soup, reserving a few pinches to garnish each bowl.  

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Lunch today was not pretty, folks. Oh, it was good, but it wasn’t much of a looker. That’s why I don’t have any pictures for you.

It was one of those clear-out-the-fridge-to-make-room-for-new-groceries lunches. You might also call it an eat-before-going-shopping-to-buy-said-groceries-so-you-don’t-buy-out-the-store lunch. The two clearly go together. And you can probably guess how I spent the afternoon.

Lunch started with a bowl of wheat berries. Wheat berries are one of those ancient grains that seem to be the newest thing these days. Or maybe it was the newest thing a few years ago. Which would make ancient grains old news. Which, I suppose they are. Anyway, wheat berries surpass barley and farro along the firm and chewy spectrum. They’re a little nutty, but not crazy nutty.

Getting back to lunch, I cooked up some wheat berries and piled them into a bowl. Then I sautéed some onion and lots of garlic, added some vegetables (whatever is lurking in your fridge), sprinkled  some spices, and heaped everything on top of the wheat berries.

Finally, empty fridge and full belly, I was ready to go shopping.

A few hours later, full fridge, still-full belly, I started making soup for the week. More on that, pictures and all, tomorrow. See you then.

Wheat berries with greens and tomatoes

Serves 1

Make 1/4 cup hard wheat berries,  Follow the directions on your wheat berries package. The brand I bought is parboiled, so it only took about 15 minutes to make). Most recipes, such as this one, suggest first rinsing the grains, then simmering them in water (3:1 ratio) for about an hour.

While the wheat berries are simmering, prep your vegetables. Dice 1/2 an onion. Mince 3 cloves of garlic. Roughly chop 2 medium tomatoes and 3 handfuls of hearty greens. I used baby kale and arugula; plain leaved or lacinato kale, chard or spinach should work really well too; if you’re using any of these larger greens, remove the leaves from the ribs first.

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large pan over medium. When the oil starts to shimmer, add the onion  and sauté for 3-4 minutes until soft and translucent, stirring so it doesn’t brown. Add the rest of the ingredients in the following order and keep sautéeing and stirring: garlic for 1 minute, then the tomatoes, a pinch of cayenne, and a few pinches of baharat*. Keep stirring over heat for 5 more minutes until the tomatoes to break down. Taste for salt. Add the greens and stir until they wilt.

Drain the wheat  berries (1/4 cup should yield about 1/2 cup) and scoop into a bowl. Surround with the vegetables. Eat and go grocery shopping.

* If you don’t have baharat, you can substitute a mixture of cumin and cinnamon.

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Enough chit-chat. Let’s cook, shall we?

See that up there? The New York Times calls it barley soup with mushrooms and kale. Barley soup with mushrooms.

If you’re thinking what I’m thinking, you’re thinking: why isn’t it called mushroom barley soup with kale?

Is it barley-er than the classic soup? Is it less mushroom-y? No and no. The mushroom and barley get equal billing here (and share very nicely with supporting actor kale). Which really should make it mushroom barley soup with kale.

If I had to compare it to what I know of mushroom barley soup, I’d say it’s, well, soupier.

Maybe we should call it soup with barley, mushrooms, and kale.

But that just sounds odd, don’t you think?

Barley soup with mushrooms and kale

I adapted this recipe from the New York Times, skipping the dried mushrooms and upping the garlic. I’m still working up the guts to use regular kale, but for now I’m dipping my toe in with the more tender baby kale. Be patient with me, people, be patient. I’m getting there. 

So here’s the thing: I’ve never been a fan of mushroom  barley soup – it always seemed thick and slimy. But this one is, as I said before, soupier. And it’s good. Good enough that I ate it for lunch four days in a row. As it sits in the fridge, the barley will absorb more of the liquid, so you’ll have to add some liquid (I just used water) to thin the soup a bit. To keep it bright, I squeezed some lemon and chopped some parsley after re-heating. Admittedly, by day four, I was happy to see the bottom of the pot.

Serves 4-6

- 1-2 T olive oil

- 1 large onion

- 1/2 lb cremini mushrooms (sometimes called baby portabellas)

- 4 cloves garlic

- 2 qt (8 C) water

- 3/4 C pearl barley

- a handful of fresh parsley, divided

- a few sprigs thyme

- parmesan rind

- 5 oz baby kale

- lemon for juice

- kosher salt and black pepper

Chop, cook, and stir. Cover the bottom of a heavy soup pot or Dutch oven with the olive oil and heat over medium until shimmering. While the oil is heating, chop the onion and thickly slice the mushrooms. Add the onion to the pot and cook, stirring frequently until just tender (don’t let it brown), about 5 minutes. Then add the mushrooms, continuing to stir for another 3 minutes or so until they start to soften and release their moisture. Mince the garlic and add it to the pot with a good pinch of salt. Cook and stir for another 5 minutes until the mushrooms start to reabsorb their moisture and the whole mix dries out.

Simmer. Add the water, barley, a few sprigs each of parsley and thyme, and parmesan rind. Bring to a boil, and then reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for about 45 minutes. The barley won’t yet be cooked through.

Slice. Stack the kale leaves in bunches and slice crosswise into slivers.

Keep simmering. Add the kale to the simmering soup and continue to simmer, covered,  for another 15-20 minutes.

Serve. Remove the parsley and thyme sprigs, taste for salt and pepper, and stir in a few squeezes of lemon. Chop the remaining parsley and sprinkle a pinch over each bowl.

Store. The soup should keep in the fridge for a few days, but the barley will absorb liquid. Just add a bit more water before you reheat to get the right consistency. Don’t forget the lemon and parsley. I suspect that the soup also freezes well.

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I’ve been seeing all these signs for NaBloPoMo and thought I was in New York looking for a newly-named-by-a-realtor neighborhood somewhere between TriBeCa and DUMBO. But no, I’m safely back in Boston. The portmanteau (oooh, getting fancy!) stands for National Blog Posting Month and is a challenge to bloggers to write one post per day in November. People have been doing it for years. When Jess brought it to my attention, I figured, why not do it this year? This is just the type of challenge that I need to push my writing in new directions and to experiment.

What if I write a post without a picture? What if I have pictures without words? How many different voices can I adopt (I already have the he-said-she-said down pat)? The opportunity to play during a condensed timeline, especially in a month so filled with cooking and preparation and family and craziness, will be an adventure. There’s definitely value in keeping up with the Joneses on this one.

Wanna join me?

If don’t have a blog, but do have a Y chromosome, why not take up the Movember challenge instead? Grow a mustache, raise awareness about men’s health issues such as prostate and testicular cancers, and encourage donations to fund education, outreach, and research.

And with that public service announcement, I’ll begin my catch-up NaBloPoMo

Let’s talk a little bit about yesterday, November 2. A friend recently challenged me to make dinner for four in under an hour (in desperation, I can have 90 minutes). I invited three friends over, and made just two simple, well-balanced dishes that seemed like they could be made in an hour. I decided to make a chicken and a kale barley beet salad. And for dessert, some biscotti I had made the day before.

I skimmed the recipes and figured I’d be able to make the chicken and the salad in parallel. Not quite. The chicken needed time in the oven at 425ºF. The beets at 375ºF. The beets took longer than expected. The barley took longer than expected. And then I read that the kale had to sit in dressing for 3 hours to wilt.

New challenge: read recipes from start to finish. And then let’s see how this 60-minute dinner for four thing unfolds.

Nonetheless, the chicken was great, the salad was great, the biscotti were great.

As for those  biscotti, that brings me to the day before yesterday, November 1, when I baked them.

They were my third attempt at some sort of cornmeal biscotti. The first attempt was tart cherry lime – hard as a rock, gritty, and too sweet. The second, blueberry lime – too dry and brittle. Then lucky number three, cranberry almond lime – crispy, crunchy, sweet, nutty, with a hint of lime. Exactly what I’ve been looking for. Another time, we can discuss the science behind my adjustments and how I carefully calculated the exact chemistry for (stumbled upon?) the right recipe. We’ll have loads of time for that this month.

For now though, let’s just stick with the kale salad.

Kale and barley salad with beets

The original recipe was a barley salad with kale, but I wanted more of a kale salad with barley. I cut the barley nearly in half and reduced the amount of beets as well. This salad would be great with feta, as the original indicates. Make sure to give yourself enough prep time. There’s only a little bit of chopping and prepping you need to do, but you do need to spend a fair amount of time watching – checking the beets, checking the barley, giving the kale a few hours to wilt. If you’re really organized, make the barley, beets, and dressing in advance. Chop and dress the kale in the morning – it won’t get soggy. Then toss everything together while your chicken is roasting. One hour after you’ve draped your coat over a chair, dinner can be on the table. In theory. This month, I’m going to try to make that happen. 

Serves 4

- 1/4 C olive oil

- 2 T unseasoned rice vinegar

- 2 t light brown sugar

- 1 orange for zest

- 1 shallot

- 1 big bunch of Tuscan kale (also called lacinato or dinosaur kale) or 5 oz (3 big handfuls) baby kale

- 2 medium beets, trimmed

- 3/4 C pearl barley

Preheat oven to 375ºF

Make dressing. In a glass jar, shake together the  olive oil, vinegar, sugar, and orange zest (set aside a pinch or two of zest to sprinkle on the assembled salad). Adjust for salt and pepper. Very thinly slice shallots into rings. Add them to the jar and keep shaking.

Wilt.  If you’re using large kale, separate leaves from ribs and cut the leaves into bite sized pieces. If you’re using the baby kale, rough chop the leaves, also into bite-sized-pieces. Add half the dressing (including some of the shallots), and massage it into the kale. Let sit for three hours until the leaves start to wilt and  become tender.

Roast. By now the oven should be hot. Wash and dry the beets, put them in a small baking dish, drizzle them with oil, and then roll them around so they’re coated with oil. Cover the dish tightly with aluminum foil. Roast for 45 minutes to 1 hour 15 minutes. Start checking around 45 minutes – the beets are done when a sharp knife can easily pierce through to the center without hitting much resistance. If the beets are large, or aren’t roasting fast enough for you, cut them in half and roast another 10 minutes and check again. Keep checking until they’re ready. Take them out of the oven, making sure that they foil is still tightly covering the beets. Let them cool covered before handling them. When you can touch them, use a peeler, a paring knife, or your fingers to peel off the skin. Cut the beets into 1/2-inch cubes.

Simmer. Bring a large pot of water to a boil (at least 4 cups). Salt the boiling water and then add the barley. Stir once and then reduce the heat to a medium simmer (there should be a few bubbles every second, but you don’t want a full on violently roll). Cook for 45 minutes to an hour. The barley is ready when it is al dente – just barely tender. If the barley feels like it has a little hard grain inside, it’s not quite ready yet.

Dry. Drain the barley and spread it onto a cookie sheet to dry out and cool.

Assemble. Gently toss the wilted kale with the barley and another tablespoon of dressing, or to taste. Top with beets and the reserved orange zest.

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turn to a can

My farmers market has a few last heirloom tomatoes, but their supply is dwindling and the market itself will soon close shop for the winter. (Winter? Yeah, winter tends to come early and stay late in my neighborhood.)

So, while you hunt from market to market, farmer to farmer, for the last of the season, eaten like an apple with a sprinkle of salt, I have some ideas for tomatoes during the winter.

Skip the tomatoes that look like they might be good – the uniform red tomatoes on the vine – and go for the ugly and the small, things that will cook up well. Anything that makes you think of basil when you take a sniff. Earlier in the summer, I used baby/cherry/pear/whatever-you-call-them tomatoes to make tarte tatins. Like the classic French dessert, traditionally made with apples, you caramelize the fruit, cover it in puff pastry, bake, and flip. The small tomatoes, the most reliably sweet winter orbs, concentrate their flavors in the oven, especially when bathed in tangy flavors – balsamic vinegar or pomegranate syrup. (And, Edible Boston just featured one of my caramelized tarte tatin (Creative Director Michael Piazza’s professional photo here) in The Tomato story (PDF here) of their fall 2012 issue. Woohoo!!!)

What else can you cook with tomatoes in the winter? Well, there’s always tomato sauce. Grab a bunch of plum tomatoes, also a decent option when the weather turns chilly, and get peeling. I’ve always found tomato peeling a  bit fussy – boiling water, slicing an X in the tomato’s bottom, dropping it in the water, waiting a few seconds, fishing it out, plunging it into ice water, waiting for it to cool, and then peeling the slippery fella.

Lucky for you, I found a tomato trick: freeze the tomatoes until hard (a few hours), take them out and let them defrost until  you can handle them (about 10 minutes) and the skins just slip off. When frozen, the liquid in the tomatoes expands (like an ice cube) — you can actually see the tomato skin stretch until it splits — and then contracts as it warms, leaving behind wrinkly skin too big for the shrinking tomato. Cool, no?

Of course, when your grocery store fails you, just turn to a can. In this realm, San Marzano tomatoes are the best for whatever you want to make.

And if it’s tomato sauce you’re after, Marcella Hazan’s recipe is the way to to. It has been circulating for years; I only discovered it last week — I’ve missed a few other bandwagons in my time — but I’ve been making up for lost time here, with three batches already under my belt.

Here’s the deal. Crack open a can of tomatoes. Empty it into a saucepan with an onion and a few pats of butter. Simmer for nearly an hour. When fat droplets form at the surface, it’s ready.

Fish out the onion and eat it if you’d like. Sprinkle the sauce with salt to taste, but don’t taste your way to the bottom of the pan. A little pepper, maybe a dust of parmesan, a scatter of basil, and you’re ready to top (drown?) some pasta.

If you have any sauce left, store it in the fridge. It’ll be gone in a few days.

PS – for some grilling ideas, head over to my latest Come to the Table article in JPost, “Grilling Time, Come Rain or Shine.”

Marcella Hazan’s tomato sauce

This recipe is all over the internet – the version I used is on Food52. The butter in the sauce provides just the right amount of indulgent cream and sweetness. 

Serves 4-6 (enough for about 1 pound of pasta)

- 1 28-ounce can San Marzano tomatoes (whole); or 2 lb fresh tomatoes, peeled

- 1 onion

- 5 T butter (unsalted)

- salt and pepper to taste

- basil, parmesan, etc.

Crush. With your hands, crush the tomatoes into small chunks.

Simmer. Peel the onion and cut it in half. Mix in a saucepan the crushed tomatoes, onion, and butter, and bring to a simmer. Continue to simmer over low heat, stirring every once in a while and breaking up any remaining large tomato chunks into bite-sized bits with the back of a wooden spoon. The sauce is ready when bright red fat droplets rise to the surface.

Taste. Add salt and pepper to taste.

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