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American poet Jane Kenyon once gave a lecture entitled “Everything I Know About Writing Poetry,” the notes from which I have learned were published posthumously in A Hundred White Daffodils. In her notes, she wrote:

“Be a good steward of your gifts. Protect your time. Feed your inner life. Avoid too much noise. Read good books, have good sentences in your ears. Be by yourself as often as you can. Walk. Take the phone off the hook. Work regular hours.”

Author and writing professor Dani Shapiro shared these words – she tacks them above her desk – during a workshop I attended at Kripalu two weekends ago. It was called “The Stories We Carry.” I couldn’t remember the name of the course the entire time I was at the yoga retreat center (even though once the workshop was over I realized how perfect of a title it was) and when people asked me what program I was on, I mumbled something about writing and meditation.

I started to meditate a little over a year ago, taking a course at the JCC led by Bernice Todres and have continued attending monthly refresher courses. I can’t say I’ve really perfected my practice, but I try. Or I try to try. And I guess that’s why they call it a practice, right? The fact that I’ve even considered meditation is a big deal – see how far I’ve come from this article back in 2011.

Anyway, one of the first meditations that Dani led us through our first day was what she called a metta (which I of course heard as meta, which led to some confusing roundabout logic in my mind). Metta, which I looked it up, means loving-kindness and is apparently a Buddhist practice offering heartfelt wishes for the well-being of oneself and others.

We sat on the floor, on chairs, on these things called backjacks, legs crossed or not, posture straight or not, eyes closed. Dani started: May I be safe. May I be happy. May I be strong. May I live with ease. Now think of someone in your life. May you be safe. May you be happy. May you be strong. May you live with ease. Think of someone you have difficulty with. May you be safe. May you be happy. May you be strong. May you live with ease. Think of a known stranger, someone you see every day, but do not really know. May you be safe. May you be happy. May you be strong. May you live with ease.

As the first day drew to a close, she suggested that we continue our evening in quiet and that we go to sleep with good sentences in our ears.

I went back to my room, cocooned in my blanket, and picked up the novel that I would carry around with me everywhere, a safety blanket of sorts as I decided how much to engage in the weekend. I finished a chapter entitled “Fifteen Days of Five Thousand Years” – a staccato chronology of a (fake) natural disaster in the Middle East that leads to political unrest, told through news reports, politician statements, and war declarations – and had to close the book because it was so draining.

Have good sentences in your ears.

I recited the Shema prayer that I used to sing with my Bubbie when I stayed at her house in Philadelphia. I couldn’t fall asleep.

Have good sentences in your ears.

May I be safe. May I be happy. May I be strong. May I live with ease. May you be safe. May you be happy. May you be strong. May you live with ease. Safe. Happy. Strong. Ease.

The weekend was one of fitful nights, failed naps, skipped yoga classes, yet it was punctuated by spurts of inspiration. I shared my writing, connected with strangers, and sat quietly.

I then went home and started a flurry of preparations for Rosh  Hashanah. More on that in the next post.

Last night, I stuck a card in the business book I’ve been plodding through, and picked up Molly on the Range. I wanted good sentences in my ears. And, my god, does Molly deliver! I slept better than I have in weeks, and woke up with a vision of Israeli breakfast.

I had everything in house thanks to some holiday leftovers, a trip to the green market yesterday, the #fridayfairy, and spices sent from my friend‘s restaurant.

Fueled by an iced coffee (well, maybe two), I chopped and fried and swooshed and sliced and spread and sprinkled.

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And I ate at the table, the moody sky trying to poke through the window.

I sat down to write and for the first time in a long time, the words flowed easily. I refueled with some French toast. And I hit “publish.”

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Israeli breakfast

Inspired by Molly on the Range and Molly herself. 

Make Israeli salad: Chop a tomato or two, removing the seeds that you can easily scoop out  and drain in a sieve while you take care of the rest. Here are the other diced vegetables I added: cucumber, radish, and red onion soaked in a little salt and vinegar. Mix with lemon juice, olive oil, and salt and pepper. Sprinkle with flat-leaf parsley, za’atar, cumin, and sumac.

Fry an egg.

Scoop plain Greek yogurt on one side of a plate. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with spices and salt. Slide the egg on one side and pile Israeli salad on the other. Add a slice of challah and keep a jar of tahini nearby for spreading, drizzling, and slurping. Don’t forget the coffee, if you have any left over after all that chopping.

Challah French toast

In a shallow bowl, use a fork to combine an egg, a splash of milk, and a dash of orange blossom water or vanilla (and if you want to be all fancy, a little orange zest). Soak two slices of challah in the mixture until saturated. Melt butter in a pan over medium-high heat. Toast both sides of the challah and serve with dark maple syrup.

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I went back to Buvette last week where I ordered the carottes râpées and croque forestière, a grilled mushroom sandwich wrapped in gruyere. 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.

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caught up

Hello, 2016. It’s going to be a good year, I’m convinced of it.

I was in DC for New Years with my friends Nachama and Ilana. It was a chill weekend – we saw Kiss Me Kate at the Shakespeare Theater (free tickets!): nothing like a little musical (blatant misogyny aside) to get the year started right. We went to synagogue (!!), something I’d like to do a teeny bit more of going forward, and walked a lot and ate a lot and caught up a lot.

salmon farro grain bowl

Based on this photo, you might think I’m starting the year off with a cliche: a healthy looking grain bowl as an antidote for holiday gluttony. But I’m posting it on behalf of Nachama who asked for help with easy lunch ideas for her microwave-free office. Even though I sent her a few articles on mix-and-match grain bowls (here, here, and here), she asked for more specific instruction.

So, here’s one of the first lunches of 2016. If you’re going to buy pre-washed greens (arugula, baby kale, etc.), find some that are in plastic clamshell boxes rather than bags – in my experience, they tend to last longer.  I make a batch of grains to last a few days, and they’re even better if you drizzle them with a little olive oil and lemon juice for . Sometimes I even cut up two days worth of veggies to make salad assembly easy. One thing I left off this bowl was crunch – mostly because I forgot, but on other days, I’ve toasted a bunch of pumpkin seeds to throw on top.

Roasted salmon for one

Adapted from the New York Times’ recipe for salmon roasted in butter. This is a versatile recipe – Mark Bittman suggests making it with butter and dill or parsley, olive oil and thyme, or peanut oil and cilantro or mint. I didn’t have any fresh herbs, so chose to use some mustard seeds to go with a mustard vinaigrette. I adapted the recipe for a single small fillet of wild salmon, but I’ve also made this recipe in a larger skillet for several pieces or one large piece – you may just need an extra minute on each side. 

Heat oven to 450ºF. Place 2 teaspoons olive oil and 1/4 teaspoon mustard seeds in a roasting pan or skillet just large enough to fit your salmon and place it in the oven. Heat about 5 minutes, until seeds start to pop. Add a 5- or 6-ounce piece of salmon to the pan, skin side up. Roast 3 minutes. Remove from the oven, then peel the skin off. (If the skin does not lift right off, cook 1 minute longer.) Sprinkle with salt and pepper and turn the fillet over. Sprinkle with salt and pepper again. Roast 2 to 3 minutes more, depending on the thickness of the fillet and the degree of doneness you prefer.

oven-roasted salmon

Salmon freekeh grain bowl

There are infinite variations on grain bowls and I typically grab whatever I have in the fridge and pantry. For the first grain bowl of 2016, I topped 2 handfuls of arugula with 1 Persian cucumber (cubed), 3 radishes (thinly sliced), 1/3 cup freekeh (cooked in a pressure cooker), and a fillet of salmon. Then I drizzled the whole thing with a few tablespoons of mustard vinaigrette (1/2 t whole grain dijon mustard, 2 T red wine vinegar, 1/4 C olive oil, salt, and pepper). I work from home these days, but you can keep a jar of the vinaigrette in the fridge at work – it should be enough for about three salads.

 

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to call dibs

I’m not sure how it is that we’ve already hit the end of October with sweater weather and coats upon us and I still have sundresses hanging in my closet. This happens every year. The Jewish holidays make a whirlwind out of the change of seasons, and I always feel like I wake up one morning shivering and wondering where the summer went. I rummaged through my winter clothes over sukkot, pulling out layers to pack for a short trip to Denver for a food conference. The conference was at Devil’s Thumb ranch a few hours from the airport and even though I left behind mostly green trees in New York, fall announced itself in the bright yellow Aspen leaves that punctuated the long winding drive through the verdant mountains.

And here we are, a month later, and this week I was nearly knocked over by wind and rain blowing dead leaves from the sidewalk. I guess it’s time to put those sundresses in storage and drag out a few sweaters.

Anyway, I’m one soup and a chili into the season, but don’t have much to show for it. Neither was particularly imaginative.  Instead, I have a few recipes from a recent review of the new Zahav cookbook. I’ve written about the Philadelphia restaurant Zahav here before and have made a few of Chef Mike Solomonov’s recipes as well. So, when I learned about their cookbook, I wrote to my editor at the Forward to call dibs. I received a super advanced copy – the kind that’s paperback with black and white photos and captions that all begin with lorem ipsum dolor, which was just a tease for the real thing.

I interviewed Mike (he’s a first name kind of guy) for the article and he couldn’t have been nicer. He invited me to spend some time with him at the bread station that is the hearth of the restaurant the next time I’m in Philly and encouraged me to make laffa at home right after we got off the phone. I did. Make a few loaves of laffa, that is. I’m practicing for my trip to Philly!

Zahav's laffa

Zahav laffa and pita in the home oven

Recipe adapted from Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking by Michael Solomonov and Steven Cook.

Here are a few of Solomonov’s notes from the book: “Laffa is an Iraqi-style flat bread — a little bigger than pita (and minus the pocket) and crispier too, but still with a great chew. Laffa is traditionally cooked in a taboon, a clay oven with an opening at the top and a[n 800-degree] fire in the bottom, very similar to a tandoor… I knew it would be tough to incorporate an authentic taboon into a commercial restaurant in Philadelphia, but when I discovered the hand-built brick oven in a vacant Italian restaurant, I knew I was standing in the future Zahav…Both laffa and pita are remarkably easy to make from the same dough and bake in your own oven. A pizza stone works well, but even a baking sheet turned upside down and preheated in a hot oven will produce beautiful laffa and pita that forms its own pocket.”

Makes 8 breads

– 1½ C water, divided
– 2½ t active dry yeast
– 2 t sugar
– 2 C all-purpose flour, plus more if needed
– 2 C bread flour
– 1½ t kosher salt
– 2 T olive oil

Mix together ½ cup water, the yeast and sugar in a small bowl and let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes.

Combine the all-purpose flour, bread flour and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. Mix on low speed until blended. Add the yeast mixture, another ½ cup water and the oil and mix on low until the dough forms a ball that pulls clear of the sides and bottom of the bowl. (If after a minute the mixture doesn’t form a ball, add a tablespoon of water.) At the moment the dough starts to pull clear of the bottom of the bowl, add ½ cup water and continue mixing until incorporated. The dough should feel tacky when slapped with a clean hand, but it should not stick. (If it sticks, add more flour, a tablespoon at a time.)

Cover the dough with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature until doubled in size, about an hour. Alternatively, let it rise in the refrigerator overnight.

Preheat the oven to 500° F, with a rack in the upper third. Place a baking stone or an inverted baking sheet in the oven to preheat as well.

Roll the dough into 8 balls the size of baseballs. Cover with a cloth and let rise until they are about the size of softballs.

For laffa: Roll each dough ball as thin as possible (less than 1/8 inch is ideal — the laffa should be the size of a Frisbee) with a floured rolling pin in a floured work surface. Drape one laffa over your outstretched hand and quickly invert it onto the baking stone or baking sheet, quickly pulling any wrinkles flat. Bake the laffa until puffy and cooked through, about 1 minute. Serve immediately.

For pita: Roll each dough ball to about a ¼-inch thickness (about the size of a hockey puck) with a floured rolling pin on a floured work surface. Place one or two at a time on the baking stone of baking sheet and bake until puffed and cooked through, about 3 minutes. Serve immediately, or let cool.

Zahav simple sumac onions

Recipe adapted from Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking by Michael Solomonov and Steven Cook. I like to make a big batch of these and throw them in salads or on top of soups for a piquant crunch. When we spoke over the phone, Solomonov explained the genesis of this recipe to me: “When you go to a hummusia, those little hummus places, they have little pieces of raw onion that you can dip in the hummus. But you don’t have snake breath for weeks and weeks after because the onions in Israel are so much more fresh and they’re picked pretty young. They’re not sitting on the back of a truck for days or week.” “We wanted to express that, but serving huge amounts of raw onions with sumac doesn’t necessarily translate to the America palate — we’re not used to it. So the quick-pickle treatment is really attractive. You can eat a bunch of it. It’s nice, it’s refreshing, but it’s still got crunch and a little bit of savory robustness.”

Makes about 1 cup

– 1 red onion, thinly sliced or finely diced
– 1 T red wine vinegar
– 1 t ground sumac
– ½ t kosher salt

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and toss to combine. Serve immediately.

‘Zahav’ Kale, Apple, Walnut and Sumac-Onion Tabbouleh

Zahav kale, apple, walnut and sumac-onion tabbouleh

Recipe adapted from Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking by Michael Solomonov and Steven Cook.

Serves 4-6.

– 2 C (packed) shredded stemmed kale leaves
– ¾ C finely chopped walnuts
– ½ C diced apple (about ½ apple)
– ¼ C simple sumac onions (see above)
– ¼ C pomegranate seeds
– 3 T lemon juice
– 3 T olive oil
– ½ t kosher salt

Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl. Toss to combine and serve.

Zahav Mango, Cucumber and Sumac-Onion Israeli Salad

Zahav mango, cucumber and sumac-onion Israeli salad

Recipe adapted from Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking by Michael Solomonov and Steven Cook.

Serves 4–6

– 2 mangoes, peeled and cut around the pit into small cubes (3 C)
– 1 large English cucumber or 3 smaller Persian cucumbers, diced (3 C)
– ¼ C simple sumac onions (see above), plus more for topping
– 3 T chopped fresh mint
– 3 T olive oil
– 2 t lemon juice
– 1 t kosher salt

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl, toss to combine, and serve with additional sumac onions on top.

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As everyone posts photos of their kids’ first days of school and France celebrates la rentrée, I’m still trying to wring the most out of summer. This salad is how I’m doing it.

watermelon feta salad

There have been a lot of outdoor days, but I have to say that I’ve enjoyed my fair share of reading in the air conditioning over a plate of this composed salad. It’s a classic hot-weather country pairing of crisp sweet watermelon and creamy, briny (but not too salty sheep’s) feta that I first tried in Israel. After having an Italian variation in my restaurant – we call it anguria and serve compressed melon with ricotta salata, shishito peppers, and toasted almonds – I bought my first of many watermelons this summer.

For my version, the dressing is a blitz of lemon, oil, and a big fistful of mint. The more mint, the better in my book. Toss the dressing with some arugula, arrange a few slabs of watermelon, dot with feta, and sprinkle with oven-toasted hazelnuts. Nothing to it.

In case you want some reading suggestions, here are a few of my faves from the past few weeks:

Elissa Altman on feeding her mother.

Rachel Roddy on her two Italian kitchens.

Molly Birnbaum on the late Oliver Sacks.

Happy reading, all!

watermelon feta salad

Watermelon feta salad

Serves 6

– 6 C arugula
– 3/4 C mint dressing (see below)
– 1/2 medium seedless watermelon, sliced into wedges
– 3/4 C sheep’s milk feta
– 1/4 C toasted and roughly chopped hazelnuts
– handful mint leaves, torn

Toss. Toss the arugula with half the dressing.

Arrange. Divide the dressed arugula onto plates. Lay watermelon slices artistically, and top with crumbled feta, hazelnuts, and a few mint leaves. Drizzle with remaining dressing.

Mint dressing

Makes about 1 1/2 cups

– 1/4 loosely packed mint leaves
– 1/2 C lemon juice
– 1 C olive oil
– 1 T honey
– 3/4 t salt

Mix. Use an immersion blender to mix all the ingredients together.

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Last month, en route to Sicily, I stopped in Paris for a few days. I hung out with my good friend Laurence and we visited some of my old haunts from when I spent the summer of 2007 taking dance classes. I wrote about that summer and my brief return for The Forward, and published a recipe for the spicy Tunisian carrot salad that I discovered nearly a decade ago.

It’s funny – I had an abnormally difficult time writing this article. In general, I’m a harsh self-critic and I think that when I’m close to a topic, like writing about a time that holds special meaning to me, I have a hard time creating editorial distance. That’s how I’m feeling about my most recent trip to Sicily. I’ve committed to writing a few articles for the Forward about my travel, and I’m really excited about them (fig sorbet, anyone?) but I’m having trouble writing anything here. I’m hoping with enough distance, and perhaps in dribs and drabs, I’ll be able to really capture what was so amazing about my trip – why it came at the perfect time for me, what it meant, what it means to have given myself such a luxurious gift.

In the interim, I’ve copied below my article about Paris, the month that I spent there, and the carrots that I prepare to take me back.

spicy Tunisian carrot salad

Say Paris, and most people envision the Eiffel tower, a pyramid of colorful macarons , a bicycle ride with a baguette poking out of the front basket. But Paris for me is captured in a bowl of spicy shredded carrots. A cross between traditional French carottes râpées (a grated carrot salad mixed with little more than lemon juice, olive oil, parsley, and a pinch of sugar) and Middle Eastern harissa-spiced cooked carrots, this Tunisian raw carrot slaw screams summer in Paris to me.

Picture this: It’s Saturday afternoon, July 2007, and I’m sitting in Luxembourg Garden, nestled between the student-filled Latin Quarter where I’m subletting for the month and the trendy Saint-Germain-des-Près where the great intellectuals of France once congregated in cafes. I’ve made the Kiddush blessing over wine at the flat and brought the rest of my lunch for a picnic in the park.

The lawns are lush and manicured, people mostly sitting on chairs rather than sprawled out in the grass, obeying the signs saying “ interdit .” In awe of this politesse , I grab my own brightly-painted green seat and pull up a second as a table. A portable chreime, the fiery Sephardic fish stew, concentrated into boulettes de poisson (much more appealing to say than fish balls) and a thickened sauce, smushed onto a baguette. Merguez sausage. Plastic containers of cold salads: spicy shredded carrots, roasted eggplant and peppers, potatoes. A tart of concentric berries. A wedge of chocolate cake. All for me.

Just two days earlier, I had landed at Charles de Gaulle airport with a backpack stuffed with a computer, flip flops, a pair of tap shoes, and ballet slippers. My luggage stranded in London, my summer waiting in France. First thing Friday morning, I made a beeline to the grands magasins department stores on Boulevard Haussmann for a shopping spree courtesy of the airline.

A few basic outfits in hand, I set out to find some of the kosher restaurants I had marked on my map with big red Xs. Several were on Rue Richer and I found the street by following historic landmark signs directing me to the Folies-Bergère cabaret music hall. There was a line in front of the iconic building’s art deco marquee, but rather than looking for tickets, the crowd was queuing to pick up their Shabbat feasts from Les Ailes, the Tunisian-owned restaurant and traiteur take-out counter next door.

I took my place after the last person and quickly found myself face-to-face with a (luckily very patient) waiter. We were separated by my elementary vocabulary and several meters of glass-encased salads, vegetables, meats, fish and pastries. With a lot of pointing and stammering, I managed to amass two bags full of food. In an act of generous hospitality, my new friend threw in a few extra challah rolls and a big container of unassuming-looking shredded carrots.

My luggage eventually found its way to me, and for the remainder of the month I took classes in the mirrored studios of Centre de Danse du Marais with a view of the Centre Pompidou on one side and the old Jewish neighborhood on the other. Every week, I made my Friday trek to Les Ailes, eventually narrowing down my order to my favorite choices (which I could now request with confidence) and always asking for an extra serving of the spicy carottes râpées . The piquant salad would last all week in the teeny-tiny frigo in my apartment. Some mornings, I took a few nibbles before heading out. Many nights, I ate a bowl before a late-night crêpe with lemon and sugar. The carrots quenched any type of hunger I had.

Last month, I returned to Paris and visited good friends and old haunts. We had lunch in le Marais and walked past Notre Dame to lounge on chairs in the Luxembourg Gardens. One night, we went to see a cirque de soleil-like performance at the renovated and gilded Folies-Bergère. I knew that Les Ailes next door had closed, but it was still a shock to see its rainbow of salads replaced by a whole new storefront.

In the intervening years, I sought to recreate the carrot salad that carried me through that summer. I collected recipes and compared techniques. How best to prepare the vegetables: Cooked in chunks? Sliced thin on a mandolin? Shredded in a food processor? Should the salad be sinus-clearing spicy? What about using raw garlic? In the end, I believe I have perfected my own interpretation of Les Ailes’ spicy carottes râpées , so whenever I want to remember my summer in Paris, I pull out a few ingredients and I am transported.

Spicy Tunisian Carrot Salad (Carottes Râpées à la Tunisienne)

Adapted from the late Gil Marks’ Moroccan raw carrot salad (shlata chizo) published in Olive Trees and HoneyI’m not sure of the actual provenance of this salad — Moroccan? Tunisian? — but since it uses harissa and was inspired by the Tunisian restaurant Les Ailes in Paris, I’ve decided to call it Tunisian. You can use a food processor to grate the carrots, but I prefer to use a julienned peeler, which results in long, uniform carrot strands that soften just enough when absorbing the spicy liquid to become a little floppy; when I’ve used a food processor or box grater, the carrots quickly become a droopy soupy mess.

Wrapped well, the carrot salad keeps in the refrigerator for several days.

Makes about 2 cups

– 1 pound carrots, peeled and grated
– ¼ cup fresh lemon juice (about 2 lemons)
– ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
– 2 teaspoons cumin
– 1 teaspoon sweet paprika
– ½ teaspoon hot paprika
– ½ teaspoon sumac
– 1 teaspoon salt
– 2 teaspoons silan or honey
– 1-2 teaspoons harissa, to taste
– 2 tablespoons chopped parsley and/or cilantro

Mix. In a very large bowl, mix the carrots, lemon juice, oil, spices, salt, silan/honey and 1 teaspoon of harissa. Taste and adjust heat with more harissa if you’d like.

Sprinkle. Just before serving, sprinkle with herbs.

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The jar that I’ve just filled with dressing and covered with a twist of my wrist slips from my fingers and onto the floor. The glass splinters in half, the bottom still cradling a tablespoon or so of the golden liquid, the top still wound to the lid. It has splattered on my bare feet and up my legs.

I crouch to collect shards of glass, dropping them into a paper bag filled with the week’s recycling. I wipe up the dressing with a towel, leaving oily streaks on the floor, on the fridge, on the oven, on the cabinet, under the fridge, under the oven, under the cabinet.

***

It was three weeks ago yesterday that I learned the news. The news itself isn’t important and it wasn’t really new news, but old news just in a different way.

I found myself in the kitchen with a mortar on the counter and a pestle in my hand. I pounded anchovies – they smelled of the sea, and of briny tears – into cloves of raw garlic, pungent and stinging my eyes. A spoonful of Dijon, tempered with lemon, rounded out with a whisk of olive oil. In the oven toasted a pile of crumbs, rubbed from the heel of day-old baguette against the largest holes of my box grater.

Even as I was, I managed to iron a linen and flatten it on a large cutting board by the window. The mortar in the middle, the pestle just so, surrounded by empty lemon halves and a glass canister of fish filets. I crushed fleur de sel to complete the tableau.

Snap. A photo from the side.

I drizzled dressing over a pile of arugula littered with bread crumbs and Parmesan shavings.

Snap, snap. A few photos standing on a ladder.

I jarred the rest and labeled it with green painters’ tape and a sharpie: “anchovy dressing 5/28”.

You know what happened next.

***

At first, I tread carefully in the kitchen to avoid stepping on any last few glass splinters. I need to wear shoes when cooking. Then flip-flops. And now, I’m back to socks or nothing at all. Every once in a while, I find a speck of glass. I lift my foot to see a dot of blood. With the flick of a nail, I nudge out the chip and go about my day.

anchovy dressing

Anchovy dressing

 Adapted from Melissa Clark’s New York Times recipe for red and green salad with anchovy mustard vinaigrette. I’ve increased the amount of lemon juice to balance out the saltiness; depending on how juicy your lemons are, you may need up to two. Use a decent brand of anchovies packed in oil, but don’t go overboard on the fancy stuff.

I like to use a mortar and pestle – mostly because I have a few and a pestle has a nice heft to it. That said, you can do your smashing with a fork in a bowl. If you want a really smooth dressing, you can even use a small food processor or an immersion blender. 

I serve this with peppery arugula; other bitter greens such as radicchio or endive would be nice as well. Add crunch with toasted bread crumbs (use a box grater to make crumbs out of stale baguette, drizzle with olive oil, and toast in a 350°F oven until very brown). Shave some parmesan over the top. Eat immediately.

Makes about ¾ cup

– 6 anchovy fillets

– 2 garlic cloves, minced

– 1 T Dijon mustard

– ¼ C fresh lemon juice, more to taste

– ½ C extra-virgin olive oil

– Kosher salt and black pepper, as needed

Smash. Line the bottom of a mortar or bowl with anchovies. Add the minced garlic and using a pestle or fork, smash the fish and garlic into a paste. It’s OK if there are bits of anchovy still peeking out. Stir in the mustard.

Whisk. Drizzle in the olive oil slowly while whisking until combined. Season with salt and pepper to taste, adding a bit more lemon juice as necessary to balance everything out if it’s too salty for your liking.

arugula with anchovy dressing

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Ok, so this little salad may not have much going for it in the looks department, but I had to share because it’s such a simple idea that I couldn’t not let you in on it.

cucumber avocado salad with schug

I’m in kitchen scrounging mode as I try to empty my fridge before I head out on a little trip (ok, a big trip; more on that to come), and made a list on a pink sticky of things to use up before I go: 1 zucchini, 2 stalks rhubarb, 1/2 bunch kale, 1/2 cucumber, 2 avocados, 2 cheeses (Consider Bardwell Farm’s Danby goat’s milk cheese and a sheep’s feta), yogurt, and 4 lemons.

I had bookmarked Deb’s obsessively good avocado cucumber salad a while back and was excited that I had the two key ingredients in the title. I started chopping things into cubes before I bothered to read the rest of the list. Here’s how that went (I’m sure you’ve been here too):

Mayo. Nope.

Lime. Nope.

Hot sauce. Yup, several.

Cilantro or parsley. Nope, nope.

I craved the combination of creamy – spicy – fresh and I needed to do some major substitutions fast. Yogurt for mayo. Lemon for lime. I had Sriracha, which is what Deb recommends,  but I was getting caught up in wanting herbs. I almost, almost, ran out to buy some parsley. And then, I remembered I had schug.

Earlier this year, my friend Adeena had given me a jar of this Yemenite hot sauce, green with cilantro and little peppers, piquant with garlic, cumin, and a dash of cardamom.  The recipe is Gil Hovav’s – he’s an Israeli chef and writer and all-around fun character – and he made a huge batch in Adeena’s kitchen a few months ago when they had a series of Yemenite pop-up dinners. (The recipe says you can store schug refrigerated up to 3 weeks, but I’ve had mine for months with no sign of spoilage.  Use that information as you will.)

I’d eaten schug before, typically in Israel where it and Moroccan harissa are served alongside falafel. Both are referred to by the generic Hebrew word harif – spicy – and I like to dribble a little of each into a hummus- and salad-filled pita. Halfway through my sandwich, I would go back for more. It never occurred to me to use it in other ways until Adeena served it alongside an ooze-y round of brie and a scattering of super thin crackers. I repeated this cheese plate combo at my own birthday celebration.

Thinking about how well the schug went with dairy, it seemed a good option to mix with yogurt in my salad, with the added benefit of well preserved, once fresh herbs. So, I scooped out some Greek yogurt, stirred in a timid dash of schug and a pinch of salt, thinned it out with lemon juice and olive oil, and then, after tasting, added another good dollop of schug – just enough to set my tongue tingling but not so much that it would overtake the cooling cucumber and velvety avocado.

cucumber avocado salad with schug

PS – Schug is great smeared on bread and topped with a fried egg. Mmmm….

PPS – I’ve used up the rhubarb too with these little rhubarb almond cakes. I followed the recipe more or less as is, using almond flour instead of grinding my own and reducing the baking time to 45 minutes or so for a dozen 4-inch little tart pans.

rhubarb almond cakes

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so too

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Well. Now that I’ve gone all “screw seasonal cooking” on you, I finally found spring nirvana in the farmers market this week. On Wednesday, I picked up a fistful of wild leek-y ramps whose scent lingered in my office well after I left for home and whose floppy leaves and hairy bulbs taunted me from the fridge this morning. So too did the bundle of asparagus – so fresh that there were no tough ends to snap off and whose raw taste can be only be described as green.

Inspired by Rivka‘s asparagus toast and a warm asparagus salad with ramps, I whipped up my own quick salad, just barely wilting the ramps and asparagus and tossing with mint and a mild feta. Best warm, great on toast, and sure to pop up in my own kitchen at last once more this Spring.

I’ll keep this post and recipe short – approximately the length of ramp season.

Asparagus and ramps with mint and feta

Because of the salted butter and feta, I didn’t add any salt. The dish tastes best warm or at room temperature.

Makes 2 – 4 servings

– 1 lb young asparagus

– 1/3 lb ramps (approximately 20)

– about 20 leaves mint

– 3 T salted butter

– 1/4 C feta, preferably sheep’s milk (I like Pastures of Eden brand – you can find it at Trader Joe’s)

Cut. Trim the asparagus and and slice into approximately 2-inch . Clean the ramps well and remove the hairy root ends. Roughly chop the bulbs and white/purple stems. Chop the leaves into 2-inch strips and set aside. Chifonnade (or tear) the mint leaves.

Heat. Melt over medium heat the butter in a skillet large enough to hold all the vegetables. Add the ramp bulbs and stems, sautéing for 3 minutes until softened, but not browned. Add the asparagus and stir everything around to coat the asparagus with the butter. Cover for 3-5 minutes to allow the asparagus to steam a bit – it’s ready when the stalks are bright green but still firm. Add the ramp leaves and stir gently to wilt.

Serve. Toss with mint and crumbled feta.

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it’s all good in here

As far as seasons go, spring is typically just a means to an end. It’s the March that comes in like a lion and out like a lamb. It’s the April showers that bring May flowers. It’s just a few quick subway stops until we reach our favorite destination: summer. But in the food world, we celebrate each stop along the way. We are just as excited by early spring ramps (they’re finally here, at least in restaurant kitchens and on foragers’ Instagram feeds) as we are by mid-summer tomatoes and late summer plums and early autumn apples. We look forward to each and every new item that hits the market, eat too much until it disappears, and then move on to the next new thing. Seasonal, local farm-to-table eating and restaurants are becoming the norm. And this is a really good thing.

But sometimes seasonality is over-rated. Or, more accurately, at least for this blog post, cooking out of seasonal is under-rated. With the winter we had and the spring we’re having in this neck of the woods, and despite ramps and asparagus and pea shoots popping up on restaurant menus, I haven’t seen anything in the market other than stray root vegetables, collard greens, and scallions. But ever since the Passover seder, I’ve been making what I can only describe as a spring salad. Regardless of the weather.

Spring salad

The salad was inspired by a dish at Santina, a restaurant that laughs in the face of strict adherence to seasonality. (Have you been? If not, you should. If you don’t believe me, ask Pete Wells.) What’s remarkable about Santina is that it creates a transformative experience: in a glass box along the Highline with indoor palm trees, servers in white pants and Easter egg-colored polos, and tropical drinks, it evokes a sunny afternoon in a Mediterranean seaside town.

My first visit to Santina was on a grey February evening when my father was in town. It was so cold that he made a pitstop en route to buy an extra hat and a pair of gloves. I could talk about the whole meal, but what I want to discuss now is the salmon and heirloom radish salad that, to me, screamed sunshine on a plate. It matched the vibe of the restaurant, which I’d characterize as: “it doesn’t matter what’s going on out there, it’s all good in here.”

Fast forward a few weeks to Passover in Miami where it was gorgeously sunny and 80 degrees outside. It was also 80 degrees inside our apartment due to a broken air conditioner and construction preventing us from opening all but two windows.

Now here’s where things get a bit wonky. I couldn’t stop thinking about that salad, but my mind swapped oranges in for the salmon. I mean, same color, right? Sort of. Also, we had a huge bowl of Florida citrus sitting on the counter. Anyway, I popped over to the grocery store for radishes, but the only ones I could find were shrink-wrapped in plastic and buried in the far corner of the produce section. Undeterred, I grabbed a bag of fluorescent pink orbs, a similarly wrapped tray of Persian cucumbers, and a big head of Boston lettuce in a clamshell container. Seasonal or not, local or not, I was fixated on my memory of that sunshine salad.

As for the salad itself, it’s a combination of winter citrus and early spring vegetables. I first layered a wide bowl with large floppy lettuce leaves. Then I used a mandoline to slice thin discs of sharp radish and crisp cucumber. I noticed that the cut surfaces of the cucumber beaded up with water. I removed the peel from an orange and then cut it into full or half moons. A little lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper and we were ready to eat.

When I brought the salad out to our seder table, I thought I felt an ocean breeze in our overheating apartment. (Perhaps it was Elijah the prophet sneaking by for a sip of wine.) And back in New York, I’ve made the salad a half dozen more times.

Having eaten batch after batch, I’ve come up with the perfect way to apprecaite it. The salad itself is a delicate, dainty start to a meal – in sharp contrast with the shredded kale and hardy greens, laden with soaked-up dressing that we’ve just left behind. Don’t cut up the leaves when they hit your plate. Keep them whole and use your knife to pleat each one onto your fork, folding in a radish here, a cucumber there, topping it off with an orange segment.You’ll find that a few big juicy bites encourage you to appreciate the flavors and colors of the season you want it to be, wherever you are.

Spring salad

Spring salad

Serves 3-4

Rinse one large head of Boston or butter lettuce a few times until the water runs clear to remove any dirt. Gently pry each leaf off the core and lay on paper towels to dry. Line a wide, shallow bowl with the leaves. Use a mandoline to thinly slice two or three radishes and one small Persian cucumber – I prefer my radishes a tad thinner than my cucumber – and sprinkle over the lettuce. Use a small sharp knife to remove the peel from one orange, leaving behind no white pith. Slice the orange into circles or half-circles and scatter over the salad. In a cup, whisk together the juice of half a lemon (about 2 tablespoons), a quarter cup of olive oil, a generous pinch of kosher salt, and a few grinds of pepper. Pour half the dressing over the salad and then add more to taste.

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