Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Tonight, for the first time in a long long while, I looked forward to dinner. I planned the menu the day before, made a list of what we needed, and shopped for ingredients. This may not seem like much of an accomplishment but ever since Passover — now officially my least favorite holiday — I’ve mindlessly passed food through my lips in the evenings, sometimes skipping dinner entirely and eating candy. Sometimes not even eating candy, just burrowing under the covers.

Maybe it’s through the passing of time that tonight I was able to find joy — if only just a glimmer — in the things that used to inspire me. Maybe it’s just random. But I dug out my (real) camera, greeted by a “battery empty” message when I tried to turn it on. Funny, I’d only ever seen my camera complain “battery exhausted.” I guess empty is what happens when the exhaustion is too much to bear. Battery charged and replenished, I hastily snapped a few shots of dinner prep before the sun faded.

At least part of the motivation for dinner was the cookbook that arrived at my door exactly a week ago. It’s Adeena Sussman‘s Sababa and if anything could lift me up in the kitchen, even just a bit, it would be her words and her food and a hug from her over the weekend when she popped down to DC on her book tour.

I’m not going to fan girl all over Adeena, but she deserves it. She got me back here. I might retreat tomorrow and it could be months before I again find myself in this creative space I carved out for myself years ago.

But I’m here, now.

Missing my dad who set up this site and handed-me-down cameras and read every single word and commented on the stories and photos and corrected my spelling and grammar in just the nicest way possible and reminded me of the importance of chocolate as a major food group.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

IMG_4015 br

Tonight’s dinner was sumac-roasted chicken and lemony cauliflower from Sababa and a chopped Israeli salad.

Sumac grilled/roasted/broiled chicken

Just barely adapted from the sumac grilled chicken, citrus, and avocado salad in Adeena Sussman‘s Sababa. I tried the salad over the weekend at my friend Rachel’s Sababa-centric shabbat lunch, and she baked the chicken breast instead of grilling. The last time I used my grill pan, the whole house filled with smoke, so I opted for a hands-off method, roasting at the same high temperature as the cauliflower. I added the zest, scallions, and thyme to the pan, and the scallions came out caramelized and luscious. When baked, the chicken breasts emerge tinged pink from sumac. Adeena suggested broiling as another option, one that gives the chicken a nice dark char to approximate grilling.

– 1/2 C extra-virgin olive oil
– 1/2 C fresh clementine or orange juice (from 2 clementines or 1.5 oranges), plus 3-inch-thick strips of zest
– 1 T sumac
– 1 t kosher salt, plus more for seasoning
– 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, pus more for seasoning
– 4 scallions (white and green parts), cut into 2-inch lengths and bruised lightly
– 5 sprigs thyme
– 1 1/2 lbs thin-cut chicken cutlets (about 8 pieces) – I used 4 regular chicken breasts (about 2 lbs)

Marinate the chicken: Combine the olive oil, clementine juice and zest, sumac, salt, pepper, scallions, and thyme in a gallon-sizes resealable plastic bag. Using your hands, move the ingredients around to incorporate them. Add the chicken to the bag, move it around to coat it, seal the bag, and chill to marinate for at least 1 hour and un to 8 hours. Ten to 15 minutes before before cooking, remove the chicken from the refrigerator to come up to room temperature.

Roast: Preheat the oven 450ºF. Remove the chicken from the marinade, shake off excess liquid, and season with salt and pepper. Spread chicken on a baking sheet, tucking citrus peel, scallions, and thyme under and around the chicken. Roast for 20 minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches 165ºF. Transfer chicken and scallions to a plate.

 

 

 

 

 

his way

We don’t normally celebrate Father’s Day in my family. Hallmark holiday as it is, his personality as it was, my father didn’t ascribe much value to a special day just for him. And when we did get together, he always treated. That was his way.

Was. Didn’t. Treated. Was.

Does the blow of the past tense ever soften?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Three Sundays ago was rough. We knew it would be. I filtered out and automatically filed away emails with subject line “Father’s Day” but the taunting was everywhere. I opened up Amazon to an Echo ad emblazoned with “Alexa, call dad.” Oh how I wish you could, Alexa.

The day arrived, and my mom suggested steak for dinner. It was the only thing he cooked, and he only cooked on the grill. (In all fairness, he did chop vegetables for my mom’s chicken soup, and he called himself the “stupid chef” instead of the sous chef. It was their own little joke.)

But he had brought the grill inside over the winter, and it still sits in the corner of the kitchen. And there it remains, the fireproof mat to protect the wooden deck (and house) lost to time. Or possibly the garage. But a plan is a plan, and my plan was to grill so I went with the next best thing: at the pool just a few steps through the woods from our house, the pool where I learned how to swim and to be part of a team, live several grills up for grabs.

I prepped a feast at home. While the rib-eye came to room temperature, there were roots to peel, florets to separate, leaves to clean, scapes to untangle, nightshades to halve. And then a rubdown with olive oil and a liberal shower of salt and pepper. I packed everything up in a mishmash of plastic containers and grabbed a long, sturdy pair of tongs.

The day was winding down at the pool, a few families lingered. I approached one of the grills, opened the lid, and scrubbed down the grates.

I turned a knob. Nothing. I turned a different knob. Still nothing.

Eventually, someone else’s father showed me how to turn on the flame. Research and trial and error are carrying me the rest of the way.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

Procrastifry
(prə-kra-stə-frī)
verb: to make latkes instead of working when you realize it’s your last chance to fry before the end of Hanukkah because you’re heading out of town for your birthday

I guess the question though is whether I had put off the frying or the working. Or, at this point over a month later, whether I put off the posting as well. Clearly all three.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It began when I attended a discussion at 92Y (disclosure, I received a press ticket) between Melissa Clark and the duo behind the new cookbook Israeli Soul (and Zahav and Federal Donuts and The Rooster and, and, and…), Michael Solomonov and Steve Cook. Towards the end of the evening, the subject of latkes came up, and Clark probed for any tips. Solomonov wondered out loud whether starting with frozen hash brown potato shreds could be a good strategy – not because they’re easier (though they are), but because they are often par-cooked so you avoid the burnt outside raw inside problem. He explained how at Goldie, their vegan falafel spot, their famously extra crispy fries are achieved not by double or triple frying like most places but by par-cooking the potato sticks and then freezing them overnight to dehydrate the surface. Pre-cooked potatoes need less time in oil; dehydrated potatoes get less greasy.

Picking up a bag of hash browns on the way home – this was Wednesday night, if you’re keeping track – I fell asleep awash in the blue glow of my phone, opening page after page of how-tos on frying latkes and, by extension, hash browns, focusing on how to par-cook and dry out the spuds. Thursday, I poked around a little more. And more. And more.

I decided I was going to base my latkes off of Bonnie Benwick’s recipe for hash brown latkes in the Washington Post (which is adapted from Kosher Everyday, the only change is subbing caramelized onions for diced) and one from America’s Test Kitchen because, you know, they test things annoyingly painfully thoroughly. To be even more complete, I checked out Serious Eats for latke tips and those for hash browns. And a little bit of frying science. And, oh my god, are you exhausted yet? Because I am. No wonder I couldn’t face the oil until Friday.

To save you the time and effort of reading every. single. one. of. these. links. here are the main things I learned:

  1. hash browns are a good shortcut
  2. but most of the time, they’re not actually par-cooked
  3. par-cooking is helpful and is most easily achieved in the microwave – 2 minutes for a pound
  4. par-cooking does two things – first, the latke outsides are less likely to burn before the insides are cooked since they’re, you know, already mostly cooked
  5. second, it dehydrates the potato shreds
  6. apparently, when the starch in potatoes is heated above 137F (if we’re going to be exact, thank you Amerca’s Test Kitchen), it absorbs water molecules and the mixture becomes a gel and the surface is essentially drier
  7. too much moisture on the surface of the potatoes lowers the temperature of the oil, lengthens the time it takes for the crust to form, and allows too much oil to enter the inside of the latke, hence greasy latkes
  8. little moisture and lots of starch on the surface of the potatoes allows the oil to very quickly form a crust out of the starch which blocks too much oil from come inside the latke while also maintaining a fairly stable oil temperature
  9. or, according to a food scientist whose blog I found, “In general, the amount of oil absorbed into the food is equal to the amount of water that is removed during frying”
  10. this is also why you want to wring out as much liquid from the potatoes as you can before the whole microwaving thing begins

If you glossed over this, the only thing to remember is to wring out and microwave your hash browns, and then proceed however you normally do.

Also, don’t wait until the last minute. Unless you want to miss your train home for the weekend.

Hash brown latkes

Makes about a dozen 2-inch latkes

Defrost 1 lb hash browns overnight on a paper towel-lined baking sheet in the refrigerator. Gather the potato shreds in a thin cotton towel or several layers of cheese cloth along with 1/2 an onion, grated (about 1/4 cup), and twist until you wring out as much moisture as you can. Transfer the potatoes mixture from towel to a bowl, and microwave for 2 minutes. Mix in 1/4 t baking powder, 2 T potato starch, 1 t kosher salt, and 1 egg. 

If you’re going to eat the latkes immediately, line a plate or baking sheet with more paper towels. If you’re going to freeze the latkes, set out a cooling rack over a baking sheet.

Heat about a quarter-inch of vegetable oil in a cast iron pan – it’s ready when you drop in a potato shred and it bubbles like crazy and quickly browns but doesn’t burn. If you want, use a thermometer – the temperature should be around 350F. Make a small test latke to see if you need to add any salt, and adjust if necessary. Then gently drop large spoonfuls of batter into the oil – about 3-4 depending on the size of your pan – and spread the out a little bit. After about 2-3 minutes, a golden crust should have formed up the sides of each latke and it’s time to flip. Another 2-3 minutes and you’re done. Transfer the warm latkes to the paper towels or cooling rack, and do it all over again. You may need to adjust the flame if the latkes are cooking too fast or too slow (or, you know, pull out the thermometer again). Between batches, remove any rogue burnt bits of potato.

Eat with applesauce (homemade if you’re fancy). Sour cream, if you must.

Otherwise, put the latkes in bags in the freezer (if you’re lucky enough to have a huge freezer, first freeze the latkes in a single layer so they don’t stick together in the bag) until you’re ready to eat at which point you can pop the, straight into a 425F oven for 15-20 minutes. (Since you didn’t mop up all the oil straight out of the pan, the latkes won’t dry out when reheating.) Then, eat with applesauce.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I know, soup again.

But it was dreary last Sunday night and when my sister came over to light Hanukkah candles, I gave her the option of a fresh batch of some sort of lentil/sweet potato concoction or onion soup that I’d made the prior week and frozen. She graciously chose onion, leaving me with more time on my hands but still a pile of sweet potatoes just begging to be used before I head out of town for the weekend yet again. (The tubers ended up in a slow cooker with a bunch of vegetables, pears, and lentils a few days ago.)

With no bowls able to withstand a little oven time, I improvised with a small gratin dish and made more than enough for the two of us to share, scooping hot soup and soaked bread and melty cheese into pretty but not oven-safe bowls, and peeling bits of charred Gruyère and Comte off the sides of the dish.

As for the recipe, my parameters were that it be vegetarian and use some port I found lying around. Because I wasn’t using chicken/beef/veal stock, I nearly tripled the amount of onions typically called for (which wilted down to almost nothing anyway) and added a little soy sauce at the end to give some umami oomph. As my sister said, the soup is still a tad on the sweet side – so you can add more soy sauce, and if I’d had some in my pantry I would have drizzled the soup with sherry vinegar to balance everything out.

And that’s it, folks. No fun story* or long discussion of etymology or romps down history lane or scientific explanation. Just soup. A plain old classic soup. And sometimes, on a cold drizzly Hanukkah evening, that’s all you need.

(*Well, the story – if you can call it one – is that a friend asked on FB about making onion soup in a crockpot which got the soup lodged in my brain.)

French onion soup (Soupe à l’oignon gratinée)

Adapted from the Washington Post, in consultation with Gourmet (RIP) and The Guardian. I more than doubled the amount of onions and amped up the flavor with onion powder (thank you, Leah Koenig) and added soy sauce for umami. Other umami options that I’ve seen include worchestire sauce, nam pla/fish sauce, miso (stir in at the end, soup can’t be boiling), nutritional yeast – a little bit goes a long way and while these may seem strange to add to a soup like this, they won’t add a fishy or miso-y flavor. If  you’re curious about those pretty thyme leaves – rather than buying a sad looking container of fresh-ish thyme, I picked up a thyme plant that was less expensive and still graces my windowsill. If you don’t have any sort of bowl or dish to put in the oven, you can melt the cheese on your bread and then float the cheese toast on top of the hot soup in each bowl.

Makes 10 cups (6-8 servings)

– 1/4 C olive oil (or 2 T olive oil and 2 T butter)
– 5 lbs (8 large) assorted onions, sliced into half-moons – I used a mix of yellow, red, and Vidalia
– 1 t fresh thyme leaves, plus extra for garnish
– 4 large dried bay leaves
– 1 T kosher salt
– freshly ground black pepper
– 1/3 C port
– 1 t onion powder
– 3 T flour
– 8 C vegetable broth
– 2-3 T soy sauce
– 1/2 loaf sourdough boule or baguette, sliced, stale or toasted, and broken into medium-sized pieces
– 5 oz Gruyère cheese, grated (2 C)
– 5 oz Comte cheese, grated (2 C)

Caramelize. Heat the oil (or oil and butter mix) in large, heavy bottomed pot (I used an 7.25-quart dutch oven) over a low flame. Mix in the onions, thyme, bay leaves, salt, and pepper. Spread the mixture evenly in the pan, and let sit for 10 minutes without stirring. Keep cooking for a total of 35-40 minutes, stirring periodically (every 5 minutes or so, more frequently towards the end), until the onions have turned a dark golden brown and collapsed into a heap, reduced by about a quarter. If at any time they start to burn, turn the heat down.

Deglaze. Pour in the port and scrape up all the good bits from the bottom and sides of the pot.

Make roux. Add the onion powder and flour and mix until well incorporated, still over low heat. Cook for 3-4 minutes so the flour loses its raw taste. Pour in about a half cup of broth (just eye it), and mix well until an onion-y paste forms. Pour in another cup and mix well to make sure there are no lumps. Stir in the remaining broth.

Boil. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and then reduce the heat to medium and let the soup cook, covered, for 20 minutes, adjusting the heat to keep it at a very slow boil, adding a little water if it gets too thick and uncover it it’s too liquid-y.

Toast. While the soup is gently boiling, heat your oven to 375°F. If your bread isn’t already stale or toasted, stick it right on the racks while the oven is heating up to let it dry out – 5-7 minutes.

Serve. Divide your soup into oven-safe crocks (or any sort of deep dish), filled about 3/4 of the way up, top with a few pieces of bread, sprinkle with cheese, and slide into the oven on a parchment- or foil-lined baking sheet. Cook for 4-5 minutes until the cheese has melted and is bubbling and browning on the top. If you don’t have crocks, use a small au gratin/casserole dish instead.

With the first snow comes the first soup, which this year was the leftover matzah ball variety (from here) if you count what I ate last night, but if you look at the first soup I made as summer drew to a close, on a rainy August evening with the slightest of chills in the air and a sniffle tickling my nose, it would be this one instead:

I saw avgolemono soup on the menu of a Greek restaurant at least three months ago by now, and it caused an immediate craving for a chicken soup with the brightness of lemon. I went home to poke around online, and made a chart, as one does, comparing recipes (here, here, here, here, and here) based on cups of broth to number of eggs to tablespoons of lemon juice to amount of rice/pasta cooked or uncooked to come up with what felt like the right ratio to me. A few decisions off the bat. I wasn’t going to make my broth from scratch (no surprise there). And I wanted to use up the ground chicken in my freezer rather than poach a breast or two or pick up a rotisserie bird. Finally, since I didn’t have any already-made leftover rice or pasta, I wanted to make it in the soup rather than dirtying another pot.

In my reading, I think it was actually this recipe, I came across the fact that avgolemono – derived from the Greek words egg (avgo) and lemon (lemono) – is thought to have Sephardic Jewish roots. So, now we’re going down a little etymology and history rabbit hole, as one does. As I love to do.

Ready?

Hold on tight.

Let’s let the late Gil Marks and his Encyclopedia of Jewish Food be our guide (with a little citrus help from Dr. Dafna Lanngut).

It all started in Spain and the rest of the Mediterranean with immature unripe grapes, stomped into juice and used to flavor dishes without the sharp acidity of vinegar. Using these unripe grapes is a lesson in economy, turning the byproduct of necessary pre-harvest thinning of the wine vines into something of value. In Spanish, the juice was called agraz, but you may know it better by its French name, verjus (vert = green, jus = juice), or Anglicized verjuice.

It was particularly popular among Jews in Spain because they used it to make agristada, a thick, creamy – but non-dairy! – sauce to be used with meat. The creaminess comes from cooking egg yolks in liquid (broth and verjuice). The acidity helps prevent the eggs from curdling. Eventually lemons replaced the verjuice, but even without its namesake ingredient, the name agristada stuck.

As for those lemons, the local Jews had a religious attachment to citrus because they needed to cultivate etrogs (citrons, also thought to be the mother of all citrus) for Sukkot, and so they cared for the neighboring lemon trees as well. In fact, only in enclaves of Mediterranean Jews could you find any citrus during the 500 or so years when the genus otherwise left Europe with the fall of the Roman Empire. (Why did citrus leave? I’m guessing it just died out because of general chaos that came with lack of organization and infrastructure. It could also be related to the fact that it was viewed as more status symbol than food with its tough thick skin and ambrosial scent. I’m not sure, but I’ve got to stop digging up facts somewhere, so it’s going to end. right. here.)

By the teens, when the Moors came to the Iberian peninsula bearing more citrus – reintroducing lemons along with oranges, pomelos, and limes – the Jewish community was poised to expand their growing and increasingly lucrative horticulture and trading business. In the face of greater supply and nearby access, the Jewish community incorporated lemons into their diet. Using it in agristada also solved the seasonality issue of agraz whose stores were typically depleted by Spring, resulting in long months of faux verjuice made from sorrel or gooseberries or crabapples until the late summer vines were again ready for pruning.

Then along came the Spanish Inquisition and Iberian Jews spread out all around the Mediterranean, bringing their agristada with them, which is how it is believed to have arrived in Greece. The Greeks called this sauce avgolemono, translating the ingredients. Eventually it morphed into soup, as the sauce was added to broth at the last minute to thicken it, and that soup somehow became synonymous with Greek cuisine.

Among Sephardic communities, the egg-lemon combo goes by many names, not all of which I’ve been able to capture here (but you can bet I tried, drawing on the pantheon of Jewish food writers whose books line my walls, a subset of which are now piled on my coffee table, sofa, desk). The sauce is still frequently called agristada, particularly among Sephardim who ended up in the Levant or the Balkans, and who serve it with fried fish on shabbat. It’s also used where hollandaise might be, especially over asparagus. In Arabic, it’s beida b’lemouneh (“egg in lemon”) and also served on shabbat at Syrian tables. In Ladino, it’s salsa blanco; in Italian, brodo brusca or bagna brusca (brusca = tart or sour); in Turkish terbiye (“seasoning”). The soup itself? The Greek avgolemono has stuck, but in Thessaloniki/Salonika where the Jewish population spoke Ladino, sopa de huevos y limòn prevails.

The dish is also associated with Yom Kippur in the Eastern Mediterranean and within families who moved from there. Poopa Dwek writes that the velvety sauce made with chicken broth is served next to the roasted bird at the Yom Kippur pre-fast meal due to the abundance of poultry after the traditional kapparot ceremony, in which one transfers sins to a chicken before it is slaughtered. And Greek and Turkish Jews break the fast with the creamy, tart, filling soup.

Call it what you will, but if you’ve made it this far with me, then you might as well make the damn soup. And if you see a sign that says EAT ME, then so you shall.

Avgolemono soup

Adapted largely from Bon Appetit – but without the work of making broth from scratch. The soup thickens overnight in the fridge because of the starch so you may need to add water when reheating any leftovers. 

Most recipes call for shredding the chicken from the broth or a rotisserie, but I sautéed ground chicken with onions and lemon peel at the beginning to give a lot of chicken-y flavor without hours of simmering. The peel trick to up the lemon ante came from Cook’s Illustrated via Girl and the Kitchen who clearly has an account with them.

Instead of more traditional orzo or rice, I used p’titim, also known as Israeli couscous, a misnomer as it’s actually little pasta bits (the name translates roughy to “little crumbles”) just like acini de pepe (“small parts of the pepper”) or Sardinian fregola (“little fragments”). If you have leftover rice or orzo or other small pasta, reduce the amount of stock by about 2 cups and add the cooked starch after you’ve tempered in the eggs, allowing everything to gently simmer for another 10 minutes or so to heat it all up. If you want to go all low-carb, I’ll bet there’s a way to sub in riced cauliflower – you won’t get the same creaminess that the starch gives the soup, but I’m sure it’ll be good nonetheless. If you try it out, let me know. 

The only remotely tricky part of the recipe is tempering the eggs to avoid scrambling them. This means whisking a hot liquid very gradually to a cool/room temperature liquid, and then whisking the resulting warm liquid very gradually back into hot liquid. But, seriously people, worst case scenario – you mess it up a little bit and find a few scrambled egg curds floating around in your soup. No one will care. Or, at least, I won’t. So you might as well invite me to dinner.

Makes 2 1/2 quarts

– 2 T olive oil
– 1 onion, finely chopped
– 3-4 lemons for peel and to yield 6 T fresh juice
– 1 t kosher salt (or more, to taste)
– 1 lb ground chicken (or turkey)
– 1 C Israeli couscous (or other small pasta or rice)
– 2 quarts chicken stock (I used it straight from the box)
– 3 large eggs
– for serving: freshly-ground pepper, olive oil, and lemon wedges (dill is a traditional Greek garnish, so if you have some, snip and sprinkle a few fronds for authenticity and a dash of color)

Sweat. Cover bottom of a large Dutch oven (at least 4 quarts) with oil and heat over low. Add onions, large strips of peel from one lemon (use a vegetable peeler and count how many strips as you’ll remove them later), and half a teaspoon of salt. Stirring frequently, sweat onions without letting them brown for 10 minutes until they are yellow-tinged and translucent and the lemon peels are even brighter yellow than before and are nearly translucent as well. Remove the lemon peels and throw out.

Cook. Turn heat up to medium and add remaining half-teaspoon of salt and ground chicken, breaking the meat up with a spatula or wooden spoon into chunks no larger than marbles. Keep cooking until opaque, about 3-5 minutes.

Boil. Stir in Israeli couscous and broth, and increase heat to high. When the broth comes to a boil, lower heat to medium, partially cover, and cook the couscous for 12 minutes (or follow directions on whatever pasta/rice you are using).

Whisk. While the pasta is cooking, in a medium bowl whisk the eggs and lemon juice until foamy and no streaks remain. Place the bowl on a kitchen towel so that it won’t move while you’re tempering.

Temper – keep whisking. Reduce heat to low once couscous is done, and remove about a cup of broth from pot (it’s OK if some couscous or chicken comes along for the ride). Whisk the eggs vigorously and start adding hot broth one tablespoon at a time until the eggs start to warm, and then slowly drizzle it in a steady stream – don’t stop whisking – until fully incorporated.

Temper again – still more whisking. Now, gradually add the warm lemon-egg-broth mixture back into the hot soup – again starting with tablespoonfuls and then a slow, steady stream – whisking the soup continuiously the entire time.

Serve. Taste for salt, adding a few pinches if necessary. Ladle into bowls with a swirl of olive oil, a grind or two of pepper, and lemon wedges for those who like to pucker.

Someone recently suggested that I write about protest food, as I spent a lot of time in Washington DC – on the lawn of the Capitol, on the steps of SCOTUS, roaming the halls of Hart and Dirkin – in the weeks leading up to most recent Supreme Court justice confirmation (*sigh*). But on the day of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony, when a group of alumnae from her high school – my high school – gathered in the Senate building to show our support, I got through most of the day on un-toasted English muffins and apples – two of each – lukewarm Dunkin Donuts coffee provided by a friend and then by Planned Parenthood, and eventually a late afternoon trip to the Senate cafe for a soup and sandwich to eat back upstairs in a conference room that Maryland senators had reserved for the 25 or so alumnae who stuck around to watch the nominee’s testimony. I’m glad we watched it together because I could not have handled that on my own.

So, I don’t really have any protest food for you, per se, and there’s a whole book on that anyway: Julia Turshen’s Feeding the Resistance which came out just a few weeks ago, filled with recipes that are quick to prepare and easily portable, serve a crowd, nourish the soul, and replenish the energy it takes to scream in the face of patriarchy again, and again, and again, and again.

What I do have, though, is a tart of sorts that I hope will serve you well when you need to leave town without much notice (as I’ve done too many times these past few months for personal reasons) and face a fridge of produce that won’t last until your return. It’s a great option for transforming vegetables and odds and ends of cheese into an easily-transportable, as-delicious-cold-as-warm-as-hot, looks-fancier-than-it-is dish to feed friends and family when you’re on the move. Also great for an elegant brunch. Or cutting into wedges and stuffing into sandwich bags and throwing into your purse or backpack.

It started as a recreation of one of my very first recipes, a zucchini and leek tart, published when this nearly double digits blog was a wee four-month old. About six weeks ago, I went overboard with late season zucchini that I knew would be a soggy mess when I got back, so I grated it and substituted whatever I had on hand. Onion for leeks. Cheddar for Raclette. A commoner’s version of what in its original form (before it got to me) was prepared as part of a French-inspired seven-course birthday brunch to make a blogger’s daughter feel like a princess.

Zucchini onion cheddar tart

A modification of this recipe, inspired by 5-Star Foodie, a blog that unfortunately no longer exists. This follows a pretty basic formula – 3 eggs, 3 cups vegetables (cooked or raw), 1.5 cups grated cheese – that can really be fudged in any direction. I’ve played around with other flavor combinations, such as sautéed riced cauliflower, schug or harissa, and feta. 

The size of your baking dish will determine how long the tart will take to cook. This was photographed in a 10-inch solid-bottom tart pan which is approximately the same volume as a 9-inch deep dish pie plate; I’ve also made this in a springform pan and served on a platter like a savory cake. 

For the neatest slices, allow the tart to cool completely (or even refrigerate). Otherwise, eat messy slices while it’s hot. Leftovers travel very well. 

Serves 8

– 3 T butter, plus more for greasing pan
– 1 lb zucchini (1 large or 2 small zucchini), grated (2 heaping cups total)
– – 1/2 t kosher salt, divided
– 2 medium onions (any type – I used one red, one white), finely chopped
– 3 eggs
– 3/4 C flour
– 1 T baking powder
– 1/2 t nutmeg
– 10 oz sharp cheddar (this is one of my favorites), grated (1½ cups)

Prep. Heat oven to 350°F.

Drain. Toss the zucchini with ¼ teaspoon salt and set it in a colander until it releases some liquid, approximately 15 minutes.

Cook. While the zucchini is training, In a skillet over medium-low heat, melt the butter and cook the onions  with ¼ teaspoon of the salt, stirring occasionally, for approximately 15 minutes until translucent but not yet browned. You don’t want these to caramelize. Allow to cool to room temperature.

Mix. Mix  the drained zucchini with the eggs, flour, baking powder, nutmeg, and cheese. Add the cooled onions (if they’re still hot, they might cook the eggs and the tart will cook up unevenly) and continue to mix until everything is evenly distributed. The batter will be very thick.

Bake. Butter a 10-inch tart pan or 9-inch deep-dish pie plate. Spread the batter into the pan and smooth out the top. Bake for 30-45 minutes, until the top is golden brown and there is just the tiniest bit of jiggle left. If you stick a toothpick in, it should come out a little bit eggy (completely dry and its overdone). Let cool 10-15 minutes before diving in.

bonus days

Settle in, friends, for a few paragraphs of sunshine and relaxation that looking back make me long for the week my sister Robyn and I spent in Turks and Caicos in July.

2018-07-17 08.17.18 cr

Our goal was to not have to think plan choose hike nothing. We found a reasonable all-inclusive resort built on the sand with good enough food and no need to even slide into flip flops, the water was so close to our room.

2018-07-15 17.30.23 cr

Hammocks are my jam, so I spent a lot of time reading* in this one, and R bought the inner tube that allowed me to read in the pool as well, drifting side to side, one hand dragging in the water, wet fingerprints on the pages with each turn. (We left the pineapple behind for a bartender’s kids who played with it one day.)

The first five days of vacation were remarkable in their utterly perfect unremarkable-ness. Wake food beach food pool nap drink ocean hammock food drink lounge. One day we went to the gym. To stretch. Or at least that’s all I did there.

But from the moment we landed, I knew I wanted to extend the vacation. When the customs officer asked me how I was, I told him I was great and wanted to stay forever. The day before we were supposed to head home, I pulled the trigger and swapped out our tickets for one last day in the turquoise water.

2018-07-16 12.42.21 cr

After booking an extra night in our room, we arranged for the next day our first foray off the resort properties (well, my sister had ridden a bike into town a time or two) – a day on a boat, snorkeling in the reefs for our bonus day.

My attempt to capture anything below the surface with my waterproof case clad phone resulted not in schools of yellow-tailed robin’s egg blue fish or fluorescent white-tipped black fish or waving branches of chartreuse seaweed. Rather, I’m left with nearly fifty fuzzy photos of water or one of my fingers blocking the lens. Instead, I give you an iguana hiding in the shadows on our last stop of the day.

2018-07-16 11.46.15

Back on dry land and in service range, I got a text from the airline: due to a storm in New York, we could change our flights without penalty. Out of concern for our safety – and truly only out of concern for our safety – we decided to stay one more night.

Bonus day number two!

Already scraping the bottom of our budget, we switched to a less expensive hotel (decision!), fended for food ourselves (more decisions!), and had to cross the street if we wanted to go to the beach (effort!).

Turns out exploring was good for us, and we were ready for it. R found an adorable flower slash coffee shop that we visited once, twice, (and she thrice). Across the street is vegetarian cafe Retreat Kitchen where we got lunch and found out about their adjacent yoga studio. More on that in a moment.

That last night, we stayed in the water – salty and buoyant enough for easy floating without the pineapple left behind – until the sun met the sea.

2018-07-17 19.09.48 cr

2018-07-17 19.31.16 cr

Now, plastered on the window of that studio was an announcement about morning yoga overlooking the water at the Beach Enclave.

Which is how at 8 am on our (really, truly, no joke this time) last day, we ended up here…

2018-07-18 09.27.22 cr

… doing downward dog, overlooking the water …

2018-07-18 09.20.03 br

… sweating our sports bras off. Suppressing giggles when I tipped over backwards during some sort of squat thing, rolled a few times like in Pilates to save face, and took a moment of repose in what I learned was shavasana (dead man’s pose) under the most barely detectable of fan-driven breezes.

From yoga to breakfast, we returned to Retreat Kitchen and took our food to go. I went straight to the beach with a bottle fresh watermelon juice and an unseasonable but delightful toast, sipping an affogato as my morning coffee because that’s what vacation is for, right?

2018-07-18 10.40.56 br

I parked myself on a low chair at the edge of the water, face towards the sun, waves slowly burying the frame and lapping at my tush as the chair sunk deeper and deeper into the soft sand.

***

Though I intended to publish this story over a month ago, it seems that this will be my pre-Rosh Hashanah post which always lends itself to some sort of reflection and wish. So, for 5779, I hope for the world a year of unremarkable times of normalcy and calm punctuated by bonus days of warmth (physical and emotional), sunshine (in the sky and in our hearts), beauty (inside and out), delectable food, friends and family and strangers to share it with, mistakes we can gracefully solve that we can giggle about later.

L’shana tova u’metukah to all those celebrating and Happy September to everyone else. With that, let’s eek out the last days of summer with one-ingredient watermelon juice, spiked if you’d like.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Watermelon Juice

This recipe — if you can call it one — is inspired by our trip trip to Turks & Caicos and our meals at Retreat Kitchen.

Cut up a seedless watermelon and whizz it in a blender until completely liquified. Pour it through a fine-mesh strainer and discard the solids.

That’s it.

A squeeze of lime brightens the flavor.

If your watermelon isn’t sweet enough, add sugar until it tastes right.

If you want to get fancy, fill a dish with a 1:1 mix of sugar:sea salt. Wet the rim of your glass with a lime wedge, swirl it in the dish, and fill with juice.

If you want to get tipsy, stir in some tequila, vodka, or rum.

***

* ps – The book I read isn’t your typical beach read – it’s poet Nina RiggsThe Bright Hour, a delicate memoir of the author’s last years with terminal breast cancer. It’s hard to describe, but here’s an excerpt first published in the NY Times Modern Love column. The book has been compared to Paul Kalanithi‘s When Breath Becomes Air, a memoir of a neurosurgeon’s last years with terminal lung cancer. In a twist that can only be called poetic, Nina suggested that her husband connect with Paul’s widow and the two eventually coupled up. The Bright Hour is beautiful and good for a cleansing – but not sad – cry.

I just got back from vacation (more on that soon, pinky swear) and while I miss having a made-to-order omelette (tomato-mushroom-cheese, thank you very much) every morning draped over a pre-split English muffin (all I had to do was lower the halves into the toaster) and sidling up to a rainbow of orange, green, and pink melon slices, it’s still good to be back in the kitchen.

Most of my meals since coming home have been no-cook affairs, essentially lots of salads. But Sunday morning felt like pancake time and I begrudgingly fired up the stove. (My apartment layout is such that even with the a/c on full blast, the kitchen is warm and stuffy, even before I start cooking.)

In an attempt to detox after snacking on fries everyday for a week, I created a higher-ish protein breakfast, replacing buttermilk with yogurt and using a bit of garbanzo flour. I dotted the pancakes with a pint of blueberries threatening to shrivel if they sat one more day on the counter.

The result was a little less fluffy than my go-to pancakes, but otherwise a great addition to my weekend breakfast repertoire. I was feeling pretty proud of myself until I realized I had eaten half the batch. I put the remainder in a bag and in the freezer. Detox schmetox, I say.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Blueberry yogurt (higher-ish protein) pancakes

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen. In trying to up the protein content of these, I substituted chickpea flour for rye. The batter is very thick – thicker than my normal pancake recipe – and it doesn’t bubble very much after a couple of minutes on the pan, so you’ll need to peek underneath to see when it’s time to flip. The pancakes aren’t very sweet, and I lightly sprinkle with white sugar rather than maple syrup which would hide the blueberry flavor.

Makes 12-14 4-inch pancakes

– 2 large eggs
– 1 C plain yogurt (I used 2%, a mix of regular and Greek because that’s what I had)
– 3-6 T milk
– 3T canola oil (plus extra for pan – I used a spray)
– 1/2 t vanilla extract
– 1/2 t lemon zest or 1/4 t lemon extract
– 1/2 C all-purpose flour
– 1/2 C whole wheat flour
– 1/4 C garbanzo (chickpea) flour
– 3 T sugar
– 1 T plus 1 t (i.e., 4 t) baking powder
– 1/2 t sea salt
– 1 C blueberries, rinsed and dried

Whisk. Whisk eggs and yogurt together in a medium/large bowl. If you use regular yogurt, you don’t need to add any milk; a thick Greek – add enough to thin it out to the consistency of cake batter, dripping from the whisk in a thin (not skinny) stream. Whisk in oil, vanilla, and lemon zest or extract.

Layer. Add the flours, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a layer over the wet ingredients. Gently stir them to mix just the dry ingredients. (Or you could dirty another bowl for the dry ingredients).

Stir. With a spatula, stir the dry into the wet only until the dry ingredients are moistened. A few lumps are ok. If you over-mix, the pancakes will be dense. The batter will be thick and when you drag your spatula through it, it will leave behind a trail of bubbles, the action of the baking powder.

Cook, flip, repeat. Heat a pan (I used a cast-iron one) over medium heat and spray sparingly with canola oil (or use whatever fat you’d like). The pan is hot enough when you flick a few drops of water on the surface and they jump around and dance. Drop a scant 1/4 cup (about 3 tablespoons) of batter at a time, leaving space between each pancake. Press a small handful of berries into the top of each pancake. When the pancakes are dry around the edges and golden brown on the bottom, about 3 to 4 minutes, flip them and cook for another 3 minutes until golden underneath as well. (Start by making one small pancake at a time so you can adjust the flame to the right temperature before making the rest of the batch. Despite what they say about the pancake, I just think of it as the cook’s treat.) Continue to adjust the heat as necessary.

Serve. Pile the pancakes high and serve with plain white sugar.

 

 

SaveSave

SaveSave

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Last weekend, a good friend threw a birthday party, complete with a candy bar (as in a bar stocked with candies like green apple licorice and jelly beans stacked by color in sand art layers) and a piñata. Let me just state here and now that whacking a papier mâché unicorn blind-folded until it poops a rainbow of sweets is something we as a society must do more of. It was the best of childhood, with alcohol.

As for that alcohol, my friend charged me with mixers. Despite a stash of just-in-case just-add-spirits lemon drop and appletini, I of course couldn’t leave easy enough alone. With a hope, a need, for Spring to stick around for more than a day or two at a time, I conjured a vision of something fresh and verdant, something that smelled (visions have scents, right?) of morning-mowed grass flooded by an afternoon shower.

My first (and only) thought: spa water. Yes, that cucumber-infused concoction that’s supposed to pamper and relax you. Add lime for brightness, mint to cool things off, and just enough sugar to remind you that you’re not eating a salad. But, if you want, you can think of it as salad.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Spa-tail (cucumber-lime-mint) mixer

This makes a big match of mixer that you can spike with gin or vodka for as strong or as weak a drink as you’d like. My favorite combination for one cocktail is 1/2 cup mixer, 2 tablespoons (1 oz) gin, and a splash of Cointreau (or other orange liqueur). If you want to make up a big batch in advance, add to the 6 cups of mixer 1 1/2 cups of gin or vodka, and 1/2 cup of Cointreau.

The mixer does separate, so make sure to shake or stir well before pouring. 

Makes 6 cups of mixer

– 3 large English cucumbers, unpeeled and roughly chopped, plus 1/2 cucumber, unpeeled and thinly sliced for garnish

– 1/2 C packed mint leaves (about 80)

– 1 C simple syrup (boil 3/4 C water with 3/4 C sugar until dissolved; allow to cool)

– 1 C fresh lime juice (about 2 lbs)

– kosher salt

Puree. In a blender, puree the cucumbers and mint until as smooth as possible. You should have about 5 cups of mush.

Strain. Strain through a fine sieve, using a spoon to press down on any solids. This should yield 4 cups of juice.

Mix. Add the simple syrup, lime juice, and a big three-finger pinch of salt, and mix (or put in a large jar and shake).

Serve. Stir in vodka or gin, and a splash of Cointreau as above, or to your own liking. Float a few slices of cucumber on top.

SaveSave

Big surprise: another soup.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

‘Tis the season, clearly.

You could call this one a lazy cook’s version of stuffed cabbage, essentially unstuffed cabbage in broth. It’s a throwback to my Eastern European roots, though it took me until my late twenties before even trying the traditional stuffed version. My reaction was mixed. The meat was dense, as if the leaves were rolled too tight, and studded with raisins. (Raisins! I plucked them out as best I could.) The sauce was on the too-sweet side but it did had a tart kick and a glossy silkiness that had me sprinkling it with salt and sopping it up with pieces of challah torn off the end of the loaf. I’ve only eaten stuffed cabbage a few more times since, and making it myself seemed a bit of a potscke.

Enter this winter when I’ve found myself eating soup for lunch or dinner at least five days a week. And ground beef in the freezer and a cabbage head rolling around the bin at the bottom of my fridge. I made the soup once. And then I made it again, tweaking and taking notes until I came up with my perfect savory-sweet-sour-spicy balance.

I played around with traditional (vinegar, paprika) and not-so-traditional (sumac, chili flakes) ingredients to get the tangy results I wanted. I also texted my Ukrainian-born sestra (Russian for sister, though we’re not officially related) Marina with questions. Do you put garlic in? NO! What do you put in your sauce? She sent a photo of a can with Cyrillic writing and a Chef Boyardee lookalike. It’s sweet, she said. Eh, I said.

Curious about the “true” taste profile of stuffed cabbage (I should have known there’s no single answer), I turned to the Encyclopedia of Jewish Food by Jewish food historian extraordinaire, the late Gil Marks. In his multi-page entry on the subject, he traces this peasant food’s eastward path from Turkey and/or Persia and talks about differences in palates across different geographies. Seems that, like the “gefilte line” (talk to Jeff Yoskowitz and Liz Alpern about that), there is a distinct preference for sweet in Galicia (today’s southern Poland and northern Ukraine) where sugar beet factories were common – or, actually a sweet-sour combination. North of Galicia is savory stuffed cabbage, and in gefilte fish this translates to being all about the pepper.

Then I went down a rabbit hole, poking around the family tree that my sister started a few years ago to remind myself where my greats and great-greats and great-great-greats and even great-great-great-greats were born. Essentially, my father’s side of the family is from Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus (our last name used to be Skversky) and came to the US in the 1880s; my mother’s side is from Poland, Germany, and Hungary, coming over after WWII. So, both in and north of Galicia and that savory-sweet-sour-spicy preference makes sense.

Marina calls stuffed cabbage golubtzi. In my reading (Gil, again), I learned that the name comes from the diminutive form of the word dove – golub in Russian, holub in Ukrainian, golab in Polish – because all those cabbage rolls packed into the pot looked like cute little birds huddling together in a nest. Marina was floored when I mentioned this to her, I never thought of that, she said. Made all the funnier because she calls my sister (Robyn) ptichka – little bird.

I poked around in some of my other cookbooks to see what twists on stuffed cabbage I could find. First up, Jeff and Liz in their Gefilte Manifesto mix kimchi into their meat filling and sauce. Leah Koenig makes a soup in Modern Jewish Cooking that’s a mix of chorizo, cabbage, tomato, and potato. And my friend Meira told me about a soup she used to make that had ground beef and sauerkraut in it. Seems like there are a lot more variations to explore before Spring finally arrives.

(Thanks Inna for the great blue and white plates!)

***

This past week, I happened to go to two interesting dance performances, both of which explored identity, specifically Jewish identity. First was Ka’et Ensemble – a contemporary Israeli dance company comprised of only religious men. Their performance “Heroes” – described here – looks at different male roles and dichotomies such as secular/religious, spiritual/physical, strong/weak, and how they can influence each other, how there can be an ebb and flow. The other performance was Hadar Ahuvia‘s “Everything you have is yours?” – also discussed in the New York Times –  in which the choreographer and two other dancers show and tell and question the origins of Israeli folk dance, raising issues of cultural appropriation and looking internally into her own biases and assumptions.

I’d really love to get back to dance one of these days.

Unstuffed cabbage soup

Make sure to taste taste taste as you go. I’ve put total amounts of salt and spices as a guide, but this may not work for you, so see where I suggest you taste and adjust along the way. Use a big Dutch oven – mine was 7 quarts – because there is a lot of cabbage to add. It eventually cooks down, but it’s easier if you can put it in all at one time.

If you don’t want to add the grains, use only half a can of water or the soup will be too thin.

Makes a generous 3 quarts

– 1-2 t olive oil
– 1 lb ground beef
– 2 large onions, roughly chopped into medium-sized pieces
– 1 T kosher salt (I’m using Diamond Crystal these days, which is less salty than others)
– freshly ground pepper
– 2 t sumac
– 3-4 t hot paprika
– 1 t hot chili flakes
– 1/2 head celery (about 6 stalks), sliced into 1/2-inch chunks (about 1 1/2 C)
– 1/2 head cabbage, roughly chopped into bite-sized pieces (about 8 C)
– 1/4 C brown sugar
– 1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes – don’t throw out the can because you’ll use it to measure water to add
– 3 T red wine or sherry vinegar
– 1 1/2 C cooked wheat berries or other grain (freekeh, barley, rice, etc.)
– Fresh parsley, chopped

Saute. Just barely cover the bottom of a big Dutch oven with olive oil – you don’t need much at all – and place over medium-high heat. Crumble ground beef into the pot and stir around, breaking up any clumps until it turns from pink to brown (but no need to really brown it until it develops a crust) and releases liquid and fat, about 7 minutes. Drain the beef and set aside, leaving the fat/liquid in the pot.

Stir. Drop the flame to medium and then cook the onion in the meat juice. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt, a few grinds of pepper, the sumac, 2 teaspoons hot paprika, and the chili flakes. Cover. Cook until softened but not browned, about 10 minutes. The onion will, however, turn brown as it absorbs all of the meat juice. Add a little water if the pot gets too dry. Stir in the celery and cabbage. Keep stirring until the cabbage wilts. Taste a piece of cabbage to see if it needs more spice or salt and adjust accordingly. I found it needed more salt so I added another teaspoon. Stir in the brown sugar. It will taste too sweet, but the rest of the ingredients will dilute the sugar.

Simmer. Add the meat back to the pot and pour in the tomatoes followed by 2 cans of water. Bring to a boil and then a slow simmer. Add the vinegar. Taste again – at this point I added another teaspoon of salt and 2 teaspoons hot paprika.

Submit. Add in the cooked wheat berries and continue to simmer until the cabbage completely submits, about 30 more minutes. Taste along the way, adding salt or spice or vinegar or sugar.

Serve. Serve with parsley.

SaveSaveSaveSave

SaveSaveSaveSave

%d bloggers like this: