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new surroundings

I went back to Buvette last week where I ordered the carottes râpées, grated carrot salad, and croque forestière, a grilled mushroom sandwich wrapped in gruyère. As you may recall, I do have a thing for carrot salads from France.

This time, the date showed up but he asked to split the bill. So we’re on to the next one.

Then I spent the weekend downtown, cat sitting or a friend, and took advantage of the new surroundings and colorful cookware to try out a recipe. Buvette’s carrots were on the menu and even though most of my meals took place in restaurants (my parents were in town), I managed to squeeze in a salad and a few fun shots.

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Speaking of new surroundings, I’m actually traveling right now. At the last minute, I booked what I’m calling a creative retreat to Bermuda. I’ve wanted to come here since my friends and I were subjected to a emergency landing on the island, trapped for several hours in the airport with only one vending machine, and tortured with a view of pink houses. I know it may seem extravagant given that I’ve just returned from Iceland. And yet, a bunch of projects over the past month have made it nearly impossible to catch up on a pile of writing – both here and over at the Forward. With the Jewish holidays and several upcoming cookbook releases on the horizon, I wanted to dedicate a little time to my “craft.” I’ve also brought my real camera and hope to play around with photographing things that aren’t food.

You can follow my travels over on Instagram. Today, there were bus rides (including an impromptu sunbathing session sitting on a stone wall at the bus stop, my feet mere inches from the cars, trucks, and bikes – but no bus for nearly an hour – winding their way towards me), reading on a beach that slowly disappeared as the tide came in, and a massage by the pool while the sun set. When I finish posting this, I’m taking a night swim.

And now, before y’all hate me, the recipe.

Buvette’s carottes râpées with pistachios and coriander vinaigrette

Adapted from Buvette: The Pleasure of Good Food. Jody Williams calls this vinaigrette “an assertive lemon dressing” and it’s bracing in its acidity on its own, but mixed with sweet carrots and salty pistachios, it works. This makes a little more dressing than you’ll need. You can use a food processor to grate the carrots, but I prefer to use a julienne peeler for longer, thicker pieces. 

– ¼ C freshly squeezed lemon juice (my lemons were a little sad, so I needed 4; typically you can get ¼ cup juice from 2 lemons)

– ½ C extra virgin olive oil

– 1 medium garlic clove, grated on a Microplane (or finely minced)

– Large pinch sea salt

– Large pinch red chili flakes

– 1 t coriander seeds, toasted

– 4 C grated carrots (approximately 6 carrots hand grated)

– ½ C shelled pistachios (I used roasted salted nuts)

– Handful fresh cilantro leaves

Whisk. Whisk together the lemon juice, oil, garlic, salt, and chili flakes. 

Crush. With a mortar and pestle (I used the other end of a wooden spoon) or the flat side of a knife blade, gently crush the coriander seeds and add them to the dressing.

Marinate. Pour the dressing over the carrots, pistachios, and cilantro. Allow to sit for at least half an hour before serving.

Chill. The salad will keep, well covered, in the refrigerator for a few days.

“When you live in Iceland,” our taxi driver told us, “you have to know how to live. Our winters are so long and so dark that we have to appreciate every hour of sun we can get.”

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Natasha, my friend since high school, and I were en route to Vesturbæjarlaug, a sundlaug (community pool) recommended by our city tour guide the day before. It’s a twenty-minute walk from downtown Reykjavik and we might have made the trek by foot had we not gone horseback riding that morning. What we thought was going to be a one-hour stroll turned into a three-hour rambling tölta gait specific to Icelandic horses that’s supposed to be very smooth but I’m not sure that our tushes would agree.

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Before getting into the pools, we stripped down and washed off the horse farm thoroughly. Very thoroughly.

In addition to a lap pool complete with red twisty slide was a series of heated tubs. We entered the largest tentatively, securing empty spots on a bench, and quickly found a powerful jet for for an aquatic shoulder and neck massage. An older gentleman struck up a conversation and when we told him we had been horse back riding, he laughed: “You should be using the jet on your ass!”

Surrounded by murmurs and laughter among groups – families, friends, neighbors – our muscles relaxed as we each found comfortable positions, leaning on the walls, heads back, sun shining. We followed a circuit of hot pots and I eventually and gingerly made my way into the hottest – a literally steaming 111ºF.

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No, that’s not one of the pools – it’s Strokker geyser, silly!

The communal feel continued for the next hour and a half, as one silver-haired green-suited woman encouraged me to plunge from the heat into the polar (get it?) opposite pool at a frigid 8ºC. Yes, yes, it’s 46ºF, but gosh, doesn’t it sound chillier in celsius?

My first numbing dip was to my knees, second to my belly button, third past my shoulders, punctuated by visits to progressively hotter hot spots. The final time, stopping just short of my chin, I glanced up to see my cheerleader give me a thumbs up. As I rushed out, she smiled: “It takes me three tries also!”

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Afternoon turned to evening but the sky barely changed. As our fingers and toes wrinkled beyond recognition, we took one last pass at the jets and then joined a bevy of teens stretched out in a warm shallow pool. Half-immersed in the one-foot deep water, we turned our heads skyward, suntanning.

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***

Natasha and Gayle’s guide to Reykjavik, Iceland

Eat and drink

Icelandic food is on the heavier side – while there’s a lot of fish, local produce seems to be largely limited to root vegetables and some berries. It did pay to seek out a few nicer places for dinner that had interesting takes of traditional fare. The restaurants never rush you, and you have to ask for your check. We ate dinner late every night because we had pretty full days and making reservations the day before or the day of usually meant that 9 pm was the only available time. That said, it’s light until around midnight, so eating at 9 pm didn’t feel late.

Breakfast, lunch, and coffee

Sandholt. Great bakery on the “main strip” – Laugavegur. We ate our first (breakfast) and last (lunch) meals there and this was a prefect way to bookend our trip. Amazing breads and other baked goods – we should have eaten more! Ask for lemon curd with your skyr – you won’t be sorry.

Gló. When you’re jonesing for some fresh, raw vegetables, head to gló. The entrees are served with a selection of salads and you could probably get by with just the salads for a light lunch.

Reykjavik Roasters. I got my daily morning fix here as it was across from my hotel and they take their coffee very seriously. The baristas are nice (and cute) and the cafe has an eclectic living room feel, complete with wooden trunk turned table in front of lounge-y couch. It’s a little off the beaten path, but if you’re in the neighborhood, it’s worth checking out. And if the coffee doesn’t get you, the avocado toast will.

Kaffislippur. Another coffee place (with decent pastries) that’s in an industrial area near the marina. It’s inside one of the coolest hotels I’ve ever seen (see below).

Dinners (in order of preference)

Matur go Drykkur.  This was one of our favorite dinners and we had tasting menus (they even have a vegetarian one!) which included two desserts, including twisted kleina doughnuts with whey caramel (!!! – I found a recipe if you want to try your hand at making yogurt and then using the whey) and, surprise surprise, skyr with strawberries and green strawberry granita. I had one of the most gorgeous (and tasty) cocktails made with chervil (which I kept mispronouncing as chevril). The restaurante has an open kitchen and is cute inside, but it’s a storefront in the middle of a parking lot and the entrance is through a hotel. Do make a reservation – we made one the night before and only 9 pm was available, and they were turning parties away at the door.

Fiskelagid. Despite the uninspiring name (it means Fish Company), this place served another favorite dinner of ours. The restaurant is down a flight of stairs and the indoor seating is subterranean and a little cave-like, but it works. We opted to skip the tasting menus, and our skyr dessert featured a caramelized blondie, lemony sorrel crystals (ahem, granita) and merengue, and hazelnut gelato. Again, a reservation is probably a good idea – we made ours at the last minute, and like almost every other night, the only time we were able to eat was at 9 pm.

Laekjarbrekka. We had a very good dinner here on our fist night, perhaps a bit less innovative than the first two restaurants I mentioned and with an older, mostly local clientele. I had arctic char with a hollandaise sauce – a bit of an odd combination but the fish was great. This is the place that started our skyr obsession, served with a scoop of blueberry sorbet and oatmeal crumbles – the inspiration for the recipe in my next post.

Loki. Right across from Hallgrimskirkja church, this casual spot serves homey traditional food and the super dense, moist rye bread – similar to Boston brown bread – that steams overnight in a geothermally-heated dirt “oven.”

Play

CityWalk tour. This free two-ish hour walking tour of Reykjavik was a great way to get to know the city and I recommend trying to do it on your first day. Our guide was a grad student in art history, knowledgable, and, like my coffee dude, cute to boot. After the tour, he sent us a list of suggested places to visit, eat, drink, etc. We had originally booked a walking tour with Kex Hostel but after paying and arriving, we were told that the tour not offered and should have never been available on the website. The tour coordinator there told us about the CityWalk tour and, after a little bit of coaxing, cheerfully drove us to the starting point.

Eldhestar. Combination horse farm and hotel. They have a variety of horseback riding options through their rustic fields and creeks, and seem to cater to a lot of experience levels. We went with the newby crowd and were able to try the famous tölt gait. If you ride Kria, beware the shifting saddle. Included in our tour (horses and puffins) was a simple lunch at the hotel – they have soup every day and a basic sandwich bar that included some welcome vegetable, nothing fancy but enough to tide us over. Our ride was notably longer than the 1.5-2 hour advertised. They will lend you boots and rain jumpsuits which we foolishly declined and both ended up throwing out our sneakers and jeans (the horses seem to delight in wiping their grass- and snot-covered nostrils on our legs). Try to get a fly net for your face, otherwise you may end up eating a few insects. The farm  picked us up at our hotel.

Puffins! Our one hour puffin tour was led by Special Tours. The boat ride was a fun way to see the adorable little birds (they have powerful binoculars onboard for anyone to use) and catch a different view of the city.

Golden circle. This is the bare minimum of nature-based touring that anyone visiting Iceland must do. It includes the geysers of Haukadalur (Geysir is the original geyser, though it’s not as active as it once was, so we saw Strokker instead which erupts every 5-10 minutes), Gulfoss Falls, and Þingvellir National Park (where the North American and European tectonic plates meet). We booked our trip with Reykjavik Excursions which was good – we opted for the later departure (10 am) highlights-only trip, because jet lag.

Harpa. Meaning “harp,” this concert hall and performance center is a stunner from outside and in. It’s won a bunch of architecture awards and was apparently built to demonstrate that Iceland was coming out of its financial difficulties. We saw a funny, cheesy one-man show that was a good tongue-in-cheek introduction to Icelandic culture.

Reykjavik 871 +/-2: The Settlement Exhibition. This small museum is at the site of an archeological dig of what is thought to be one of the first houses in Iceland from the time when the island was settled (in 871 CE). We serendipitously caught a tour and the whole thing took about an hour including some wandering time. They have a bunch of games and interactive exhibits for kids and, well, kids like us.

Hallgrimskirkja. Tall church and national monument that apparently has great views. We didn’t make it up. Apparently they have a mediation with organ on Thursdays from 12:00 – 12:30 which I would have liked to go to, but we ran out of time.

Dip

Go to as many geothermal and community pools as you can. Enough said.

Blue Lagoon. Super touristy and you should go anyway. This is a natural geothermal pool – it sinks of sulfur, but you get used to it pretty quickly. Do the silica mud mask, pay a few dollars for the algae mask as well. Let them take your photo – they’ll make you look pretty, and email the picture to you. There’s a restaurant inside – LAVA – that’s supposed to be very good but we weren’t in the mood for a fancy sit-down lunch. You need a reservation for the lagoon (we booked the comfort package which includes a towel) and any tour company can schedule it for you along with transportation. Many people go straight there from the airport since it’s so close, but I’m not quite sure about the luggage storage situation. Even with a reservation, the line to get in took at least 15 minutes, but once inside everything runs really smoothly. If you want to get a massage or other spa service, you need to book in advance. Unlike other pools, the shower here have doors if you’re squeamish about that sort of thing.

Vesturbæjarlaug. This is a community pool recommended by our walking tour guide. He said it’s a 20 minute walk from City Hall (near the bottom of Laugavegur) where our tour ended, but we took a taxi from our hotel. This is the real deal if you want to feel like part of the neighborhood. The multiple pools are chlorinated and at various temperatures. The majority seem to be in the 36º-38ºC range while there are a few “hot pots” reaching up to 44CºC and a cold bath for quick dips (or, if you’re a native, a nice long soak). Be prepared to shower and wash in your birthday suit in a single-sex room.

Buy

Woolens. I picked up a blanket and hat at Nordic Store (where Laugavegur dead-ends onto Lækjargata). Prices and brands seemed pretty consistent across stores.

Salt.  There is a wide variety of locally harvested salt. Norður is a flaky sea salt – think of it as the Maldon of Iceland. Saltver also makes a fleur-de-sel like product,  but I opted their interestingly flavored more chunky salts (about the consistency of Diamond kosher salt) and picked up a pretty jar of birch-smoked in a 10-11 convenience store (think 7-Eleven) which had a much lower price than tourist or grocery (Bónus) stores. I also bought no-name black lava salt in a souvenir shop.

Blue Lagoon skin care products. We hemmed and hawed when we saw the price of the silica mud mask but on the last day of our trip, we broke down and each bought a tube. I’ve used it since the trip and I’m happy I ended up splurging – the mask just feels so good! If you don’t pick anything up at the lagoon itself, there’s a store on Laugavegur and one in the airport. Prices are the same everywhere.

ChocolateOmnom is a loved the salted almond. I even tried the licorice chocolate bar by accident and I did not hate it. Definitely buy at the grocery store and there happened to be a pretty good deal at dutyfree in the airport. Apparently they have a factory tour – next time, definitely next time. Nói Síríus is the oldest and largest chocolate manufacturer in Iceland and they make an addictive milk chocolate bar with toffee bits.

Licorice (“lakkrís”) everything. Ok, not for me but it’s everywhere and in everything.

Sleep

Hotel Klettur. We booked this in a deal with our flight and were very happy with it. The hotel is located about two blocks from the top of Laugavegur, so it was quiet and peaceful and still really convenient. We had a fairly basic room with a view of the water and the all-important blackout curtains. A breakfast buffet was included – it was decent and held  us over, though I did get my coffee across the street at Reykjavik Roasters.

Icelandair Hotel, Reykjavik Marina. We didn’t stay here, but we had coffee at Kaffislippur, and wandered around the funkiest hotel common spaces I’ve ever seen: musical instruments hanging over a stairwell, a library, screening room with loungers, gym with a climbing wall, and who knows what else. There’s also a lot of public art around the hotel.

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Thanks to LizKathyLizzie, and Natasha’s friend David for sharing your recommendations and experiences in Iceland, and helping us have an amazing adventure!

Happy 4th from Central Park!

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I write to you from an old sheet spread out on a patch of grass just a few steps outside my apartment. Surrounding me (cross-legged with a laptop) are kids flying kites, a woman in an American flag inspired tutu, calypso music soaring out of an old-school boombox, and smoke from competing barbecues. I’ve been having my own little staycation here in Manhattan this long weekend.

Yesterday, my sister and I did some bargain hunting at Century 21 on the tip of the island  followed by our first attempt at Citi Biking along the river. It took a little while to get used to being on two wheels again – I don’t even spin – and we ended up on a pedestrian-only path, which a kindly gentleman pointed out to us in a voice loud enough for lady liberty to hear. We were pedaling along the (correct) biking path when I heard a rip: my favorite summer pants had given out. I muttered a few choice works and pouted. We dismounted, found the nearest dock, and returned our bikes. Still pouting, I covering my behind with my shopping bag and quickly found a place to change into a newly purchased dress. We went straight to dinner.

Two glasses of champagne in, I received a text from Citi Bike: “You’ve had your bike out for a while and are being charged for extra miles…” There were a few more choice words followed by more pouting. We weren’t too far from the naughty bike and walked along the Highline to find and adjust it. Despite the mishaps, I’d totally Citi Bike again. But in leggings.

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But let’s back up a bit so we can talk about an actual recipe. That sheet that I’m sitting on is already spotted with grass stains and food drips (appetizing, I know) from Saturday afternoon when, after a lunch capped off by today’s crisp, some friends and I picnicked on snacks and watched a flamenco guitar and dance performance in Riverside Park.

The origin of that crisp goes back to last weekend. Well, actually, it goes all the way back to Memorial Day weekend, if I’m going to be absolutely thorough. And, as you probably know, I do like to be thorough.

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I spent Memorial Day with Meira and her family. Knowing that her husband Alan’s favorite “fruit” is rhubarb – he’s so British! – I loaded up on the first stalks of the season and schlepped them out to their house on Long Island. In discussing what to do with the rhubarb, Alan requested something sweet but on the healthier side and without anything that would get in the way of the rhubarb taste. Before I had a chance to look up any recipes though, I got sick and had to cut my visit short, leaving the bright pink beauties behind.

Last weekend, my parents came to town and we went out to Long Island for Shabbat dinner where I redeemed myself with a crisp with some end-of-season rhubarb. The filling was super tart – just rhubarb, lemon juice and zest, and a sprinkle of sugar – and the topping sweet like a crispy oatmeal cookie. Everyone, including Alan and my chocoholic father praised it (on the blue plate up top, you can see it’s a little runny), but I thought it could be slightly improved upon.

With a revised crisp in mind, I organized a potluck Shabbat lunch as an excuse to test the tweaked recipe. I skipped the lemon, upped the sugar in the filling and dropped it in the crust, and reduced the amount of coconut oil.

Only one farmer at my market had rhubarb on Friday and he told me that this is the last of the season, so I bought extra and there are now a few pounds of chopped rhubarb in my freezer. So, if you see some rhubarb, grab it while you can and throw together this crisp. Or muffins. Or rugelach. Or compote.

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Rhubarb crisp

Serves 8-10 

The filling is based on a recipe of Mark Bitman’s and the topping is adapted from a recipe I tested for a friend. My first take had a sweeter topping (a full cup of sugar) and tarter juicier rhubarb (1/4 cup sugar, one lemon for zest and juice, and no flour), so play with the proportions to get the balance that you’d like. When the fruit bakes down, you end up with a 1:1 ratio of filling to topping.

I use a 9-inch deep-dish pie plate (7 1/2 inches on bottom) for a pretty thick crisp. You could also use an 8-inch square or, for a thinner crisp, a 10-inch tart or cake pan (not with a removable bottom). If you only have whole or slivered nuts, pulse the topping dry ingredients in a small food processor until nuts are chunky, then add egg and pulse a few more times until incorporated.

This is best about 30 minutes after it comes out of the oven (or is reheated). Any leftovers? Top with a big scoop of yogurt, and you have breakfast. 

For the filling:

– 2 – 2 ½ lbs rhubarb (6-7 cups chopped)

– 6T white sugar

– 2T flour

For the topping:

– ½ C all-purpose flour

– ½ C oats

– ½ C sliced almonds

– 1/3 C white sugar

– 1/3 C brown sugar

– 1 t baking powder

– 1/2 t salt

– 1 egg, beaten

– ¼ C melted (liquid) coconut oil

Prep. Heat the oven to 350°F.

Mix filling. In the pie plate, toss the filling ingredients until evenly coated.

Mix topping. In a bowl, mix together flour, oats, almonds, sugars, baking powder, and salt. Make a well in the center of these dry ingredients and add the beaten egg. Stir mixture with a fork until it gets crumbly, the consistency of cornmeal.

Bake. Crumble the topping evenly over the rhubarb and drizzle the coconut oil evenly over it. Bake until the top turns golden brown and fruit juices start to bubble up on the sides, 40 – 45 minutes.

 

routine

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Once you’ve lived in a city for long enough, you develop a grocery shopping routine. Here’s how mine goes, a mix of highbrow and low, seasonal and, well, less so.

On Fridays, I go to the farmers market a few blocks from my place. It’s open year-round and even in the snow, I try to pick up at least a few apples. These days, my must haves are radishes and young lacinato kale from J&A Bialas farm, a boule from She Wolf (I’m partial to their sprouted spelt and polenta), and salted butter from Ronnybrook Farm.

In contrast, there’s also my corner fruit and vegetable guy. I get from him bags of lemons and clamshells of berries and the occasional mango. The quality is about the same as a middling store, and the cart’s selling point is convenience, price, and lack of a long line. I eat enough raspberries in a single sitting that even if they’ve been sitting outside, under an umbrella but still subject to the elements, they’ll last long enough to make it a day in the fridge before I gobble them up.

There’s a Whole Foods just behind my corner guy, and a mere 3 blocks from my apartment, and for sheer proximity it’s my primary source for fridge, freezer, and pantry. My wallet has seen happier days.

And then there’s the slightly sketchy Associated across from my apartment. Based on appearance alone, I avoided the place for the first year, but when I was looking for off-season plums for a project I was working on, my friend Adeena suggested I pop in to the store because she said that strangely enough, they always have plums. And she was right. No matter the season, there’s always a huge pile of plums in the center of their fruit display, if you can call it that. Sure, they’re often hard as a rock, but they’re there when you need them.

I also found another use for the store: cheap produce that is just about a minute past its prime. If I want to make a compote (which these days I mix into my morning yogurt), they usually have just the thing: slightly squashed blueberries, bruised apples, and the like. Sure, you have to heat up your pot the moment you get home, but 30 minutes later, you’re all set. Soups and sauces lends themselves to ragtag tomatoes. And, finally, today’s recipe, tomatillo salsa. You can’t choose your tomatillos at my Associated – they’re prepackaged on a small styrofoam tray for a dollar – and you’ll probably have to chuck 2 out of every 10 for being a bit squishy, but the rest are perfect.

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A little time blistering in the broiler alongside jalapeños and garlic, a quick whir with citrus and cilantro, and the tomatillos are transformed into something you will want to douse on everything. Spread it on an avocado and roast beef sandwich? Yup. Mix it with a little oil and lime juice and make a slaw? Yup. Top sunny side up eggs? Yup. Yup. Yup.

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Roasted tomatillo salsa

Adapted from Epicurious (Gourmet?). This salsa is quite spicy, so if your palate runs mild, start with  half the number of jalapeños. This would be great with some lime juice.

Makes 4 cups

– 1 1/2 lbs fresh tomatillos (about 8 medium)

– 6 fresh jalapeño

– 3 garlic cloves, unpeeled

– 1/2 C cilantro

– 1 large onion, coarsely chopped

– 1 T kosher salt

Broil. Preheat broiler and line a shallow pan or baking sheet with aluminum foil. Remove tomatillo husks and rince under warm water to remove stickiness. Broil tomatillos, jalapeños, and garlic on the pan/sheet 1-2 inches from heat, turning once, until tomatillos are softened and charred, 7-10 minutes.

Puree. Peel garlic and pull tops off of jalapeños. Puree all ingredients, including onion and salt, in a blender.

 

full on

Get out the basket, because it’s picnic weather. My windows are thrown open and all the fans I own are whipping around the grass-scented fresh air to the tune of the roaring lawnmowers outside. I’m resisting the urge to turn on the air conditioning just yet. While there’s nothing more boring than discussing the weather, this year’s been a weird one, with an unseasonably warm winter, an unseasonably cold spring, and now, full on sticky summer. Luckily, the garbage lining the streets hasn’t yet started to stink. Ahhhh, life in New York City. No wonder it clears out once the temperature rises. And I have a few escapes planned myself, thanks to a couple of friends with pools in the ‘burbs and an upcoming trip to Iceland (!!). Tomorrow, I plan to pick up a few stalks of rhubarb at the green market and bring them out to one of said friends with a pool and bake us something sweet (this? this? or perhaps a variation on this?).

Anyway, I want to pass along a quick recipe for the hibiscus drink that I made a few weeks ago (spiked with alcohol) and have not been able to stop drinking (sans alcohol) as the mercury’s inched up. It’s an agua fresca (“fresh water”), traditionally a mix of fruit, flowers, or seeds with water and a little sugar served in Central America. I had my first sips of the fruity variety a few years back in Panama – one morning papaya, another morning watermelon – and since them have tended to make floral versions, almost like a lightly sweetened herbal iced tea, which more properly would be called a tisane or infusion.

I buy the flowers in tea bag form for ease and laziness, but you can always use dried flowers if you prefer and strain them out after steeping. No recipe is needed for these: 2-4 tea bags per quart of hot water (depending on how strong you want your tea), steep for a long time, add some sugar (or agave) to taste, and chill. Lavender works great (4 bags) and I love to drink a relaxing glass before bed. Also fresh mint, which is obviously not a flower. Next up: elder flower because I love St-Germaine.

My agua de jamaica, i.e., hibiscus drink, has a few more ingredients than flower + water + sugar. I like to add lime juice and blueberries – after a few hours, those berries are reminiscent of the fruit at the bottom of the sangria jug. You can also cold brew or add ginger and cinnamon.

Happy summering, all!

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Hibiscus agua fresca

This recipe is incredibly easy, but you do need to prepare it far enough in advance to let the drink cool. When I made this for a crowd (6 quarts!), I boiled the flowers in a large pot and then stuck the whole thing in the freezer because my guest were arriving in less than 2 hours. Then I added the blueberries and poured it over glasses full of ice.

Hibiscus is pretty potent, so you don’t need to use too many tea bags. If you want your drink more of a spritzer, seep the tea bags in just 1 cup of water, pour the concentrate into a glass and fill with seltzer. You can also spike your drink with vodka, tequila, or gin.

Makes 1 quart

– 3 1/2 C water

– 2 hibiscus herbal tea bags

– 1-2 T sugar

– 1 lime for juice (1 1/2 – 2 T)

– 1/2 C rinsed blueberries

 

Steep. Boil water and pour it over the tea bags and sugar in a pitcher that can withstand the heat (or use a pot). Let steep for 30 minutes. Remove bags.

Juice. Squeeze the lime into the infusion and taste for sweetness, adding more if necessary.

Chill. Allow the mix to come to room temperature and then put it into the fridge (or freezer) until very cold.

Serve. Once cold, add blueberries (the berries might get mushy if you put them in the infusion hot) and serve.

 

On Sunday, I watched the documentary film In Search of Israeli Cuisine as part of a celebration of Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s independence day. Afterwards, a friend and I followed our grumbling stomachs to a nearby Israeli restaurant for an early dinner. (And, of course, dessert.) If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know that I have a lot of wonderful things to say about Michael Solomonov, the film’s guide through the country and its restaurant and home kitchens.

Unable to get the food porn out of my head, I made a late lunch today inspired by sabich, an Iraqi sandwich often sold in Israel alongside falafel and schwarma. It’s a pita stuffed with fried eggplant, hard boiled eggs, chopped vegetables, hummus, and tehina, all drizzled with amba, a pickled mango sauce seasoned with turmeric and fenugreek.

Before we go any further, there’s some fun etymology to discuss – and you know how I like my etymology. First off, sabich. There are a few theories about the origins of the name of this sandwich introduced to Israel by Iraqi Jews who fled anti-Semitic violence in the 1040s and 50s. It may be a variation on sabah which means morning in Arabic and refers to the fact that Iraqi Jews eat cold eggplant and eggs and the mezze on shabbat morning. Or perhaps it’s a Hebrew acronym for the main ingredients – salat (salad), beitzim (eggs), chatzilim (eggplant). Or even the first name of an enterprising gentleman who opened a sabich stand soon after immigrating. As for the word amba, it is Sanskrit for mango and the ingredient is thought to be a version of mango chutney brought back from India by Baghdadi Jewish merchants.

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For my sandwich, I used what I had in the house. A hunk of rye. A small eggplant that I sliced and broiled. A few hard-boiled eggs that I guillotined with my newest gadget. Some tehina that I picked up at Seed + Mill. (Have you been yet? No? Well, what are you waiting for? Unless you don’t like fresh tehina, funky flavors of halva, and goat milk soft serve.) And a jar of amba. I ate it open faced and call it a tartine because I’m fancy like that.

For more history on sabich, read what Saveur published a few years back. For a more authentic recipe, see what Yotam Ottolenghi has to say on the topic. And if you live in New York and just want to eat, head over to Taim (kosher).

Sabich tartine

Not really a recipe, here are some guidelines to make a simplified sabich-style open-faced sandwich.

In my experience, sabich always makes a mess – probably because it’s usually served in over-stuffed pita – but a particularly damning one since amba stains whatever it drips on. Though a bit precious, I ate one of my tartines with knife and fork. The second one I folded in half, wrapped in several paper towels, and ate on the run as I rushed to pilates class. Classy, I know. You can also roll the ingredients into a tortilla. To make this Iraqi sandwich more traditional, chop up some tomato and cucumber salad salad, slice a  few pickles, and stuff everything into a pita with hummus. 

Makes 2 open-faced sandwiches

Turn on your broiler.

Put 2 eggs in a pot of cold water, bring to a boil, and then remove from heat, cover, and let sit for 10 minutes to cook (or just hard-cook them however you’d like). Run the eggs under cold water until cool enough to touch and remove shells. Thinly slice.

While the eggs are cooking, slice a small eggplant (mine was a petite 5-inch American/Italian variety) into ~1/4-inch rounds. Arrange the eggplant on a parchment-lined baking sheet, and brush each side with 1-2 tablespoons olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Broil for 3-8 minutes (depends how close your pan is to the broiler) until starting to brown, and then flip and broil for another 3-8 minutes.

Mix 1/4 cup tehina with about 2 tablespoons cold water. It will seize up and thicken – that’s OK for now. Squeeze in half a lemon (about 2 tablespoons juice) and keep mixing. Stir in more cold water, teaspoon by teaspoon, until you reach the consistency you want. I wanted more of a spread (as opposed to a sauce), so I used about 3 tablespoons of water total.

Spread tehina on two slices of rye bread (I like Balthazar’s rye boule). Layer the eggs and eggplant. Drizzle with amba (I found mine at Holyland Market on Saint Mark’s Place).

a worthy trial

Happy Passover!

My first seder this year had all the familiar comforts of traditional Ashkenazi fare surrounded by family. We ordered dinner from the same caterer we’ve been relying on for over 30 years since the first Passover my Bubbie hosted after her husband, my Poppie, passed away. The menu’s remained virtually identical over all those years (though this time we went crazy and got mashed potatoes instead of roasted), and we like it that way.

For the second seder, I returned to New York and went to the James Beard House where Chef Raffi Cohen of Raphael in Tel Aviv prepared a Sephardic feast. While I don’t typically eat kitniyot – legumes, grains, and seeds – on the holiday, I was happy to partake and experience another way of celebrating. The room was filled with flowers – not in vases, but adorning hair and lapels with headbands and boutonnieres that the organizers had woven together in the weeks leading up to dinner.

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The flowers and the menu – fresh fava beans, artichokes, young lamb, corn “couscous” – reminded me that Passover is also known as “chag ha’aviv,” the holiday of spring.

I’ll be spending the last days of Passover with my Atlanta family and baked a few sweet snacks to bring along. While I never got around to trying Claudia Roden’s almond orange cake like I said I would, I have developed a mandel bread recipe.

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One of the fun things about Passover cooking is the challenge that ingredient limitations bring. Granted, I’m lucky enough not to have to pull off entire meals, so I can find joy in making just a few special dishes. I love biscotti and thought that mandel bread would be a worthy trial of my own self-inflicted Passover baking restrictions: no matzah meal, no cake meal, no potato starch.

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Mandelbrodt in Yiddish means almond bread, and I was determined to come up with a recipe that only uses 100% almond flour. Extensive searching yielded few results (thanks Molly and Jessica for helping me on my quest) and both of those recipes used little to no egg. Eggs are important for biscotti and their double-baked brethren. Which brings us to a little science and how I worked out this recipe. I’ve done enough experimenting with biscotti to have figured out a few tricks to yield cookies that are crispy and crunchy but not tooth-shatteringly hard. (Remind me to tell you about the job I clinched with a  presentation about biscotti).

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Mandel bread typically contains oil which results in a moister, crumblier cookie compared to biscotti, but since I was using almond flour which has a lot of its own oil, I figured I could hold off on the oil and see how things turned out. (Plus, I didn’t feel like going out to buy Passover vegetable oil.)

To prevent the cookies from becoming leaden, I whipped the eggs with sugar for a good five minutes. This aerates the dough and helps the mandel bread stay light and airy. I learned this trick from Joanne Chang of Flour Bakery.

Most mandel bread recipes call for baking powder, but I substituted baking soda (doesn’t require special Passover certification, plus, I didn’t feel like going to to buy Passover baking powder – are you sensing a theme here?) and then added a little bit of lemon juice as an acid to activate the chemical leavener.

Bored yet?

No worries. I’ll just leave you with the recipe.

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Chocolate chunk mandelbrodt/mandel bread

Makes 4 dozen

– 3 eggs
– 1 C sugar
– 1/2 t almond extract (optional)
– 1/2 t baking soda
– 1 t lemon juice
– 4 C almond flour
– 1 C raw almonds, chopped
– 5 oz dark chocolate, chopped or 1 C semi-sweet chocolate chips

Prep. Heat the oven to 350ºF. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

Whip. Using a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (or a hand-held mixer), beat together the eggs, sugar, and extract on medium-high for 5-6 minutes, or until the mixture is light and thick and lemon colored.

Mix. Switch to the paddle attachment on your mixer or grab a large spoon or spatula. Mix in the baking soda and lemon juice. Gently fold in the almond flour just until it’s incorporated – the mixture will be thick and sticky. Mix in the nuts and chocolate.

Bake. Form the dough into two long, skinny logs on the baking sheet, about 16 inches long and 2 inches wide, making sure to leave space between them because they will spread a bit. There will be a lot of patting and nudging, but eventually you’ll wrangle it into the right shape. Wet your hands to keep the dough from sticking to them too much. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until the logs are golden brown, cracked, and firm to the touch in the middle.

Lower heat. Reduce oven to 300ºF.

Cool. Allow the loaves to cool on the baking sheet for about 20 minutes until they’re cool enough to handle.

Slice. Transfer the loaves to a cutting board and, with a sharp serrated knife, slice on a diagonal into 1/2-inch cookies, approximately 2 dozen per loaf.

Bake again. Return the slices, cut side down, to the baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes. Remove the sheet, flip the slices, and return to the oven for another 15 minutes.

Cool. Let cool completely.

Store. The cookies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 weeks.

the bialys

At the end of last year, I baked from and wrote about The Hot Bread Kitchen Cookbook and never posted the link or photo here. So, this afternoon, just a mere few days before Passover, I’m remedying that with author Jessamyn Waldman Rodriguez’s bialys. Sorry folks, I know it’s cruel, but if you keep scrolling down, I’ll link to a few of the Passover sweets that I’ll be bringing to the seders.

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But first, let’s talk about this cookbook and the bialys. The Hot Bread Kitchen Cookbook combines so much of what I love about the food industry in one place and is a reflection of the great work that Hot Bread Kitchen does. HBK is a commercial bakery that turns out a variety of breads reflecting the ethnic diversity of the largely immigrant staff who participate in and graduate from the Bakers in Training program, the social enterprise side of the business. HBK also houses an incubator that helps build out new food companies. HBK is all about great food driven by a mission and supportive of entrepreneurship.

As further proof of its special-ness, the cookbook won Food52‘s The Piglet tournament of cookbooks this year, edging out some of my other faves including those that have showed up on these very pages: Modern Jewish Cooking (Leah Koenig‘s hamantashen dough is the best I’ve ever worked with) and Zahav: A world of Israeli cooking (salads! laffa!).

As for the bialys, before I even attempted to bake a batch, I read Mimi Sheraton‘s The Bialy Eaters, the story of the author’s journey across the world to find a truly authentic version of these onion- and poppy seed-flecked rolls. Rodriguez and her team used Sheraton’s parameters to develop their signature bialy and, shortly after launching this product, the bialy aficionado called with praise.

Like many recipes in the book, the one for bialys had several sub-recipes, which can be (and was to me) daunting. Nonetheless, I overcame my intimidation, set aside a day when I could work on other things at home while the dough was undergoing multiple risings, and followed the detailed instructions. The result: a dozen airy bialys with a crisp crust and a deep well of golden onions and poppy seeds. I burnt my fingertips on the first couple, brought a few to a friend’s shabbat dinner (I was unabashedly stingy and greedy when it came to my bialys), and stashed away the rest in the freezer. My frozen supply has dwindled, and Friday morning I plan to pop the last one into a warm oven, slather it with salted butter, and enjoy my last bite of leavened bread for a week.

In the interim, I’ll be baking up a slew of Passover desserts: these macaroons with lime zest instead of orange, chocolate hazelnut cake-lets, and some version of Claudia Roden’s almond orange cake (more on that later once I get the recipe right). And don’t forget matzah brei.

And for a little bit of Passover reading, check out Dan Barber‘s piece in last weekend’s NY Times: “Why Is This Matzo Different From All Other Matzos?“.

Bialys

Adapted from The Hot Bread Kitchen Cookbook by Jessamyn Waldman Rodriguez.

This recipe requires some advance planning since the first step is to make a pâte fermentée – a pre-ferment dough and allow it a slow rise in the fridge overnight. The bialys really are best straight from the oven, but after a day or two, I just pop them in the oven for a few minutes to crisp up the outsides. They freeze nicely too. 

When I spoke with HBK’s Jessamyn Waldman Rodriguez, she recommended dipping the flattened dough disks (step six) into a bowl of cornmeal before placing them on the baking sheets. This will result in extra crunch along the bottom and sides of the bialys, achieving an ideal texture.

Makes 12 (5-inch) bialys

Bialy dough 
1⅓ cups/320 g lukewarm water
3½ cups plus 2 tablespoons/465 g bread flour, plus more for shaping
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons/150 g (risen and deflated)
Pâte fermentée (see below), cut into walnut-size pieces
¾ teaspoon active dry yeast
1 tablespoon kosher salt

Filling
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 medium yellow onions, finely diced (6 cups/900 g)
½ cup/60 g fine dried bread crumbs
1½ tablespoons poppy seeds
½ teaspoon kosher salt

1) To make the bialy dough: Put the water and flour in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, and mix for 2 minutes. Let rest for 20 minutes.

2) Add the pâte fermentée, yeast, and salt and mix on low speed until the dry ingredients are completely combined. Add a little more water if this hasn’t happened in 3 minutes. Increase the speed to medium to medium-high and mix until the dough is smooth, pulls away from the sides of the bowl (and leaves the sides clean), has a bit of shine, and makes a slapping noise against the sides of the bowl, 5 to 7 minutes. Do the windowpane test* to check to see if the gluten is fully developed.

3) Dust a clean bowl lightly with flour and transfer the dough to it. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap (or put the whole bowl in a large plastic bag) and let stand at room temperature until doubled in volume, about 1 hour and 30 minutes.

4) Meanwhile, to prepare the filling: Heat the oil in a large skillet set over medium-low heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring now and then, until they just begin to brown and have reduced to about a third of their original volume, about 20 minutes. Transfer the onions to a bowl and stir in the bread crumbs, poppy seeds and salt. Set aside to cool.

5) Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface. Divide the dough into 12 equal pieces (each weighing about 2¾ ounces/80 g). Form each piece into a small bun, cover with plastic wrap, and let rest for 5 minutes. Proceeding in the same order in which you shaped the pieces into balls, flatten each ball with the heel of your hand into a disk about 4 inches/10 cm in diameter.

6) Line the backs of 2 rimmed baking sheets with parchment. Put the disks on the baking sheets, evenly spaced and at least an inch apart. Loosely cover with plastic wrap. Let stand until the rolls are very soft and hold an indentation when you touch them lightly, 1 hour to 1 hour and 30 minutes.

7) Put a pizza stone on the middle rack of the oven and preheat to 500°F. Let the stone heat up for at least 30 minutes.

8) Uncover the bialys and, using the pads of both your index and middle fingertips, make a depression in the center of each disk of dough. Put about 2 tablespoons filling in the center of each bialy, spreading it out so it fills the center.

9) In one swift motion, slide the bialys and the parchment onto the pizza stone. Bake until golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool for a few minutes (discard the parchment).

10) Serve immediately. Leftovers can be kept in an airtight plastic bag at room temperature for 2 days.

* Windowpane test: Whether you mix your dough in a mixer or by hand, the final check to make sure the gluten in your dough is properly developed is called the windowpane test. Tear off a small piece of dough about the size of a golf ball. If it is sticky, dredge it through a little extra flour to make it easy to handle. Use your hands to gently stretch the dough from all sides until it forms a thin, nearly transparent layer that you can see the light through if you old it up to an actual window or light. If you can stretch the dough to that state, it means the gluten is developed and your bread is ready to rise. Simply press the small dough ball back into the large one and proceed. If, on the other hand, your dough tears before you can stretch it thin enough to see the light through it, keep kneading it until it passes the test.

Pâte Fermentée

Makes about 1¼ cups (risen and deflated)

Pâte fermentée is an ingredient in many recipes in the lean and enriched doughs chapters. You need to make it eight to twenty-four hours before you bake your bread. This extra step extends fermentation time and allows you to achieve a light, flavorful loaf with less yeast. Pâte fermentée contains the ingredients of simple French bread dough—flour, water, yeast, and salt—so, in a pinch, you could bake and eat it. Unlike other types of pre-ferments, such as levain, pâte fermentée does not impart a sour flavor to the bread. Instead it adds depth of flavor and extends the shelf life of your bread. If you make bread often, you can save the trimmings from lean doughs to use in your pâte fermentée. More likely, if you are making a rustic batard, traditional challah or any number of the breads in “The Hotbread Kitchen Cookbook,” you will mix a batch of the pâte fermentée the day before, then refrigerate it until you are ready to bake.

½ cup plus 1 teaspoon/120 g
Lukewarm water
⅔ teaspoon active dry yeast
1⅓ cups plus 1 tablespoon/180 g bread flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt

1) Put the water and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, then add the flour and salt. Mix on low speed for 2 minutes until combined into a shaggy dough. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.

2) Refrigerate the mixture for a minimum of 8 hours and a maximum of 24. (There is no need to return it to room temperature before using.)

3) If you’re measuring the pâte fermentée rather than weighing it, be sure to deflate it with a wooden spoon or with floured fingertips before measuring.

 

snippet

One afternoon last week, I walked uptown to a doctor’s appointment. (No worries, nothing’s wrong – it was just an overdue checkup.) The air was supersaturated, the sky overcast, and the humidity forced me to remove first my scarf, then my jacket until all I was wearing was jeans and a T, the scarf stuffed in my purse, the jacket tied around my waist like a college ex-boyfriend’s flannel button-down. It wasn’t my best look.

I arrived at the office and plopped down in the waiting room, piling my superfluous winter gear onto the chair next to me. The receptionist fanned herself with one hand while she entered my insurance information with the other. Eventually I made it into the examination room, where the air conditioning was blasting and where, of course, I had to remove the rest of my clothing and slip into a paper gown.

An hour later, reclothed, I walked outside to find the pavement darkened with the rain that had fallen while I had been inside, oblivious. The air was cool, the sun bright, the sky blue. It felt like another day.

While this might be an overshare, this snippet of my day made me think of two dressings that I’ve been alternating between. They’re united in their use of turmeric, but otherwise couldn’t be more different. One feels like a winter dressing: its base is tahina and it has so much turmeric in it that it looks like a cheap mustard. I’ve been drizzling it over baby kale, sumac-pickled onions, and chicken breast (pound thin a few room temperature boneless skinless breasts, douse with olive oil, add salt and pepper, and roast at 450°F for about 15 minutes).

The second is more spring-like and a close relative of the carrot-ginger dressing that is probably the only reason that iceberg lettuce is still sold. While the turmeric deepens the dressing’s golden hue, its really the miso that makes this a star. I love it over arugula or a salmon filet (broiled for about 12 minutes). Or, if I’m being completely honest here, slurped from a spoon.

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Turmeric-tehina dressing

Adapted from Bon Appetit. I doubled the recipe and added some honey to round out the bitterness of the large amount of turmeric in the dressing.

Makes about 1 1/2 cups

– 1/2 C tehina
– 6 T fresh lemon juice
– 1/4 C olive oil
– 1 T honey
– 1 1/2 teaspoons ground turmeric
– 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
– 1-2 t kosher salt
– 1/4 t freshly ground black pepper

Mix. Whisk together tahini, lemon juice, olive oil, honey, turmeric, cayenne, and ¼ cup water until smooth. Add 1 teaspoon salt and pepper. Add more salt to taste.

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Miso-turmeric dressing

Adapted from Bon Appetit. I didn’t have mirin, so I increased the amount of rice vinegar and added a spoonful of sugar to balance the acidity and bring a sweetness that miring would have supplied. I used a small cheese grater for both the carrot and ginger. 

Makes about 1 cup

– 1/2 C unseasoned rice vinegar
– 1 t sugar
– ¼ C vegetable oil
– 2 T finely grated carrot
– 2 T white miso
– 1 T finely grated peeled ginger
– ½ t ground turmeric
– 1 T toasted sesame oil
– A few drops hot sesame oil

Mix. Whisk all ingredients in a small bowl.

I thought I’d go Russian with the head of cabbage that had been rolling around in my fridge. Tall stems of dill lounged on the door, ends wrapped in a dampened towel, spiky fronds snuggled in a plastic bag. My initial thoughts veered towards a sharp vinegary slaw, with perhaps a pile of thinly shaved cucumbers à la The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. Basic, simple, easy. But also a little predictable.

Then I contemplated cabbage soup – maybe shchi, which might possibly be as fun to say (think of ski, but with an sh) as to eat. But it was snowing out and I was in kitchen-clean-out mode and didn’t want to have to buy additional basics, though next time I have a spare carrot or two and a handful of potatoes, I’m coming after you, shchi.

Friends suggested other, more ambitious projects: sauerkraut, kimchi, stuffed, poached and roasted. Or slaw, sans dill, to top fish tacos. These days, simple seems to be the name of the game, though I owe you a bialy recipe that makes for a fun Sunday activity, if your idea of a fun Sunday morning is waking up 5 hours before everyone else wants brunch (sneak peek over here and here).

I carefully considered all of my options, thanked my friends for their contributions and inspiration, and as is typical for me, went in a completely different direction. I turned to Ottolenghi and found a miso-braised cabbage with only a handful of ingredients that I had (or had close-enough options) within easy reach. Like most braises, this is a pretty set-it-and-forget it recipe; you may recall that the trick with braising is low and slow. So with my current work-from-home schedule, these types of dishes do the trick with a gently warming oven and snow outside.

Ottolenghi introduces the recipe talking about the magic of this type of cooking as one “of simple transformation – of an ingredient changing from one thing to another as a result of little more than the application of time and heat.” Cabbage is sliced into wedges and bathed in a miso-broth mixture.  After several hours, the cabbage is a study in contrasts – spoon-tender core with thin crispy leaves that Ottolenghi likens to delicate, flaky, paper-thin phyllo dough.

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Miso-braised cabbage

Adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi in the Guardian. Bear in mind that the recipe is mainly hands-off, but does take about four hours start to finish.  

The recipe calls for two tablespoons of brown miso which has a very intense umami flavor. I used the milder white miso that I had in my fridge, and increased the amount to 3 tablespoons. I also drizzled the end product with soy sauce to up the umami factor. One morning, I topped a few wedges with an egg and called it breakfast. 

Makes 4 servings as a side. 

– 1 small white cabbage, trimmed and cut into 2-inch wide wedges (approximately 8 pieces)
– 1 1/4 C unsalted vegetable broth
– 3 T white miso paste
– Salt
– 1 lemon, quartered
– optional: 3/4 C sour cream (I used Greek yogurt)
– optional: soy sauce

Heat. Heat the oven to 390F. Put the cabbage wedges in a small high-sided roasting tray or baking dish, so that they are packed closely together.

Boil. Pour the stock into a small saucepan with the miso paste and a quarter-teaspoon of salt. Bring up to a boil, stirring constantly so the miso dissolves, then pour over the cabbage: it should come halfway up the sides of the pan.

Roast. Cover the pan tightly with foil and roast for 20 minutes.

Lower heat. Turn down the heat to 300F, and cook for two hours more, turning the cabbage over halfway through. Remove the foil, baste the cabbage and cook for an hour and a half longer, until almost all of the liquid has been absorbed and the cabbage is crisp and a deep golden-brown.

Eat. Serve the braised cabbage warm, with a dollop of sour cream alongside and a wedge of lemon, to squeeze over. Drizzle with soy sauce to taste.

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