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oh là là

Let me set the scene for you.

Me. Hair blown straight, curled at the ends. Liner and mascara framing my eyes. Black and white knit jacket, zipper on a bias, edged in soft black leather. Black pencil skirt, black tights, black boots balanced on three-inch heels. Head to toe, ready to impress.

The room. One long table in front of the window, lined with wine glasses and bottles of red and bottles of white. Ten round tables, ten plates of macarons, ten seated men. The sound of French chatter. Lots of smiles. This is speed dating at the French Library.

I walk towards the empty chair, hand plunged into the depths of my purse, feeling for … for what? a pen? my phone? a beret? I don’t remember … for whatever I’m looking for. My fingers fumble over something they don’t recognize. It’s round and plastic and squishy. Eyes locked with my first “date,” I withdraw a totoche. Lilli‘s pink pacifier weighs awkwardly in my palm. I stare down at it. I stare up the man standing in front of me.

In my mind, I explain that last night I met my friends’ newborn daughter and, oh  là!, her binky must have fallen into my bag. Out loud I merely say, oh là ! and stuff the totoche back into my bag.

I tilt my head and brush back my hair and bat my lashes and shrug. He shakes my hand and says bon soir. We sit down.

That was my Valentine’s Day. How was yours?

bulgur and chickpea salad with parsley and mint

Bulgur and chickpea salad with parsley and mint

Here’s a salad that I made for lunch a few weeks back. It has nothing to do with this story, but I’ve been meaning to share it for a while. Inspired by a pile of small cucumbers and a bouquet of herbs, I found this tabouli-inspired recipe. I added the extra step of peeling the chickpeas. This takes about 5 minutes per can and, while some might find it tedious, I find it soothing to fall into a rhythm while letting my mind wander

Makes 4 lunches

- 1 C medium or coarse bulgur (I used coarse)

- 2 C water

- 2 15-ounce can chick peas

- 25-30 sprigs fresh parsley (1/2 C finely chopped)

- 15 sprigs fresh mint (1/4 C finely chopped)

- 3 small (Persian) or 3/4 large (English) cucumbers

- 3 scallions

- 1/4 C fresh lemon juice

- 1/3 C extra virgin olive oil

- 1/2 t cumin

- salt and pepper

Simmer. For coarse bulgur: Bring the water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add the bulgur and salt to taste, reduce the heat, cover and simmer 20 minutes or until the water is absorbed. Remove from the heat, and allow to sit undisturbed for 10 minutes. For medium bulgur: Place the bulgur in a bowl with 1/2 teaspoon salt and pour on 2 cups hot or boiling water. Allow to sit for 20 to 25 minutes, until most of the water is absorbed. Drain and squeeze out the water.

Peel. Rinse and drain the chick peas and then peel them. Grasp each chickpea between your thumb and forefinger, apply a little bit of pressure, and the outer transparent skin will slip right off. Each can took me about 5 minutes.

Chop. Finely chop the parsley and mint. Cut the cucumber into approximately 1/2-inch cubes. Slice the scallions into thin rounds up until the point where the green turns dark.

Shake. Shake in a jar (or whisk in a bowl) lemon juice and olive oil with cumin. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Toss.  Mix the bulgur, chickpeas, herbs, and scallions in a bowl. Toss with half the salad dressing, adding more to taste. The salad is even better the next day.

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hands down

Hi there. Just a quick hello and a recipe today. Last week, I promised you bread. Um, here’s some salad.

kale and pear salad with pomegranate gremolata

It looks a little like this salad. And, well, this salad too. I made it for a friend’s birthday and after we ate dessert as our first course (hey, it’s a birthday!) it was, hands down, everyone’s favorite dish. More on that dinner and that first course cake soon. But for now, again and from a different angle, here’s some salad.

kale and pear salad with pomegranate gremolata

Kale and pear salad with pomegranate gremolata This salad is based on an arugula and watercress salad in last month’s Food & Wine.  It’s a great combination of bitter, sweet, and sour. And a great combination of textures – the crisp juicy pears, the pop of the pomegranate arils, the chewy kale. Make sure to toss the greens with half the vinaigrette about 30 minutes before serving so that it will start to wilt and absorb the flavors. You probably will have some leftover vinaigrette.  Gremolata is an herb mix, usually lemon zest, garlic, and parsley, and traditionally sprinkled over osso bucco. The zest and parsley give any dish a really bright flavor; I like  how Food Lover’s Companion puts it: “It’s sprinkled over … dishes to add a fresh sprightly flavor.” Sprightly, yeah, that nails it. If you don’t want to dirty another bowl, feel free to sprinkle the gremolata ingredients over the salad after you’ve dressed the greens rather than mixing everything separately. Next time, I’ll peel and segment the oranges and add them to the salad too.

- 2 larges bunch kale (approximately 1 1/2 pounds or 6 C shredded and loosely packed) – I tried this with dinosaur and curly kale, and preferred the slightly tougher curly variety

- 3 Bosc pears

- Pomegranate vinaigrette (recipe below)

- Pomegranate gremolata (recipe below)

Slice. Fold each kale leaf in half and cut away the stems. Working in batches of several leaves, stack the leaves in a pile, roll them like a cigar, and slice the leaves crosswise into thin ribbons. Cut the pear into bite-sized pieces.  Assemble. Scoop the kale into a large bowl and add half the dressing. Toss the leaves and let them sit for a half-hour. Right before serving, sprinkle with the pears and gremolata. Drizzle with more dressing to taste.

***

Pomegranate molasses vinaigrette

- 1/4 C extra-virgin olive oil

- 2 T pomegranate molasses

- 2 T apple cider vinegar

- 1 T honey

- 1 T Dijon mustard

- salt and pepper

Whisk or shake. In a bowl or jar, add all the ingredients and whisk or shake to emulsify. Add salt and pepper to taste.

***

Pomegranate gremolata

- 1 pomegranate for 3/4 C arils/seeds

- about 20 stems flat-leaf (Italian) parsley

- 1 shallot

- 1 orange for zest

Seed. Remove the arils/seeds from the pomegranate. I usually cut the pomegranate in half and tap the skin with a wooden spoon over a bowl of water (the seeds sink and any white pith floats to the top) but if you want to get every last seed, check out these detailed instructions. Chop. Finely chop the parsley leaves. Mince the shallot. Mix. In a small bowl, mix together the pomegranate seeds, parsley, and shallot. Zest the orange into the bowl and toss again.

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Today was a salad-for-breakfast kind of day. And a salad-for-lunch-kind of day. And a salad-for-dinner kind of day. Not only that, it was a kale-salad-for-breakfast-lunch-dinner kind of day.

I was pretty late to the kale game. My first ever taste was nearly four years ago when I bought a big bunch of kale to help me decide whether to join a CSA. I had heard that in bad years, even in good years, you can go weeks on end with little more than kale and a few carrots in your weekly vegetable box. So I made a kale soup. I did end up buying into CSA, but the soup was decidedly on the con list, despite what may have I told you at the time).

And then for years, kale disappeared from my blog. It disappeared from my kitchen. It even disappeared from my CSA box (every week, I found some pour soul to trade their tomatoes/chard/potatoes/tomatoes for the prized kale; yeah, you never want to share food with me).

But it’s back, my friends. Kale is back. And with a vengeance. Three times this month. Thrice!

I took baby steps at first, using delicate tender baby kale leaves in a salad and a soup. And then, I dove right in. I skipped over the mild lacinato (dinosaur) variety and went straight for the red Russian. Imagine biting into curly parsley when you’re expecting Italian flat-leaf. That’s the difference between red Russian and baby kale.

But mix some kale with a little oil, a little acid, a little salt, and we’re in business. The leaves wilt just enough to become not merely palatable, but delicious. They absorb the flavors and then hold them in while resisting the wilt that their less hardy brethren are so prone to.

Dress it today, eat it tomorrow. Or, if you’re like me, dress it today, eat it this morning, this afternoon, and this evening.

Kale salad with ricotta salata, walnuts, and bread crumbs

I started this salad with Kim Severson‘s version (also reprinted in the New York Times where Mark Bittman called it The Kale and Ricotta Salata Salad, as if it were the only one worth knowing!) and then added parsley for its fresh flavor and toasted bread crumbs and walnuts for some crunch. Ricotta salata is ricotta cheese that has been pressed, aged, and dried. It is solid, but can crumble. If you can’t find it, a sheep’s milk feta could substitute (I like Pastures of Eden brand). 

Serves 4 (or just 1 over the span of a day)

- 3-4 slices stale baguette (for 1/2 C crumbs)

- 1/2 C walnuts

- 1 t + 1/4 C olive oil, divided

- kosher salt and pepper

- 1 large shallot

- 1 lemon for juice (~2 T)

- 1 large bunch red Russian kale (approximately 6 C shredded and loosely packed)

- 8-10 parsley stems

- 1/4 lb (4 ounces) ricotta salata (1/2 C shredded)

Preheat oven to 350ºF.

Blitz. Break the bread into pieces, including the crust, and then blitz in food processor or blender until you get large crumbs. If your bread isn’t stale, dry it out by placing it in the oven with the walnuts for about 5 minutes.

Toast. Spread the  walnuts and bread crumbs out separate baking sheets and toast for about 10 minutes until fragrant and slightly golden. Drizzle the tablespoon of olive oil over the bread crumbs, sprinkle with salt, and mix with your hands.

Whisk or shake. Cut the shallot into several large pieces and mince it in a garlic press (or chop it very fine) into a bottle or bowl. Add the 1/4 cup oil and the juice of the lemon with a large pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper. Shake or whisk until emulsified.

Slice. Trim the leaves of the kale above where the stems become thick. Stack the leaves in a pile, roll them like a cigar, and slice it thin crosswise. Chop the parsley.

Assemble. Scoop the kale and parsley into a large bowl and add the dressing (this recipe makes the right amount of dressing for the salad, so no worries about over-dressing). Dig your hands in and toss the leaves with the dressing, and let the salad sit for about a half hour. At this point you can also leave the dressed leaves (and only the leaves) in the fridge overnight – they’ll continue to soften, but are hardy enough not to get soggy.   Before serving, sprinkle with the toasted breadcrumbs and walnuts and shave  the ricotta salata over the salad. Give a quick toss and serve.

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

How was your Thanksgiving?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cabbage slaw with miso-sesame dressing

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

Serves 4

For slaw

- 1/2 large green cabbage

- 2 scallions

- 3 carrots

- 3 T sesame seeds

For dressing:

- 1 T minced fresh ginger

- 2 large garlic cloves, minced

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

- 2 T tahina

- 1 T honey

- 1/4 C rice vinegar

- 2 T vegetable oil

- 2 T toasted sesame oil

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Serves 4

- 3 C loosely packed arugula

- 10 sprigs of parsley, minced

- 1 scallion, sliced on a bias

- 1 pear (I used Bosc), cubed

- 2 T goat cheese, crumbled

- 1/2 C pomegranate seeds

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

- pomegranate molasses dressing (see below)

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

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

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

***

Spicy candied walnuts

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

Makes 2 1/2 cups

- 1 egg white, room temperature

- 1 T pomegranate molasses

-  1/3 cup brown sugar

- 1/3 cup white sugar

- 1.5 teaspoon kosher salt

- Generous pinch of cayenne pepper

- 1/2 t cumin

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

Preheat oven to 300ºF.

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

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

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

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

***

Pomegranate molasses dressing

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

Makes 1/2 cup 

- 6 T olive oil

- 1 T pomegranate molasses

- 1 T lemon juice

- 2 t brown sugar

- salt and pepper

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

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

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

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

Wanna join me?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kale and barley salad with beets

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

Serves 4

- 1/4 C olive oil

- 2 T unseasoned rice vinegar

- 2 t light brown sugar

- 1 orange for zest

- 1 shallot

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

- 2 medium beets, trimmed

- 3/4 C pearl barley

Preheat oven to 375ºF

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

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

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

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

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

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

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alchemy

In less time than it takes for you read through this post, you can make a salad dressing that just might change your life.

Let’s get to it so you can run to the kitchen and throw three ingredients (well, five if you count salt and pepper) into a jar. Shake, and, abracadabra, a jar of life-altering liquid gold.

I’m sure you can guess the first two ingredients — some sort of acid (in this case, lemon juice) and some sort of oil (in this case, olive oil) in a 1:2 or 1:3 mix. The third, orange blossom water, takes this dressing from classic to ecstatic. Its flavor is subtle but remarkably present.

Now, enough of my chatter. Run to the kitchen, rummage for a jar, and get shaking. (If you’re like me, you may need to spend a few quick moments cleaning up the mess of containers that have burst out of your cabinet in your rush to find  just the right jar.) Toss a handful of greens and herbs on a plate, crack open some pistachios, and just before you lift your fork, drizzle the dressing over.

p.s. Nearly three weeks after her death, I can’t stop reading Nora Ephron’s New Yorker article on her love affair with cookbooks. Don’t read it yet – savor it over your salad.

Arugula and pistachio salad with orange blossom dressing

This salad comes from Yotam Ottolenghi’s vegetarian cookbook Plenty. Orange blossom water is an extract used in Middle Eastern cooking. The brand I use is Cortas. Ottolenghi uses watercress and a mix of herbs — basil, cilantro, dill and tarragon. I substituted arugula for the watercress, both having a similar bitterness, and my own favorite herbs. The dressing is more than enough to serve 6-8 people (with about 3/4 of a pound of arugula).

Make dressing. In a jar, whisk (or shake) together 1/4 cup olive oil, 1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice, 1 1/2 teaspoons orange blossom water, and salt and pepper.

Make salad. Toss together in a big bowl a few handfuls of arugula, chopped fresh mint, chopped fresh basil, and a few sprigs of fresh dill. Shell a handful of lightly salted pistachios and add to the salad. Add the dressing just moments before serving.

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Happy Fourth!

Before you light up the grill and pull out the sparklers, click on over to the Jerusalem Post and check out a couple of recipes in my Come to the Table column. This month we’re talking about rose water and orange blossom water, two floral extracts that have a history longer than that of vanilla.

You might have  noticed that I bake orange blossom water into any sweet that contains almonds. In my research for the article, however, I came across several savory recipes that incorporate orange blossom water and it’s now my new secret weapon, er, ingredient. Look out, because another salad with orange blossom dressing is coming your way soon and it’s a winner.

Until then, happy sunning and eating!

Beet, orange, and feta salad

This recipe, adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi’s vegetarian cookbook Plenty, is a spin on the classic Moroccan salad of oranges and olives, meant to cool down the palate from spicy foods. The addition of beets makes a more substantial hearty and earthy side dish, and I followed Elise Bauer‘s beet roasting instructions . I’ve replaced the olives with feta as the salty counterpart to the sweet beets and acidic citrus. The orange flower water in the dressing provides a sharp, slightly bitter flavor to round out the dish – use a very mild oil to really let the orange blossom shine. Be careful when handling beets as they stain everything that gets in their way, including your hands. I’ve provided a few time- and effort-saving shortcuts for several of the steps.

Serves 6 as a side dish

- 4 large beets

- 3 T olive oil, divided

- 1 head of radicchio

- 3 oranges

- 1/3 C crumbled feta cheese

- 1/3 C grapeseed or other mild oil (canola or vegetable oil will work too)

- 2 t orange flower water

- 3 T red wine vinegar

- salt and pepper

- 3 T chopped parsley for garnish (optional)

Roast (or boil). Preheat oven to 400ºF. Line a roasting or cookie sheet with foil. Scrub the beets, remove their greens, and place in the pan. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cover tightly with another piece of foil so that the beets don’t dry out. Roast for 1 – 2 hours, depending on their size. They’re ready when tender and easily poked with a fork. Once the beets have cooled for a few minutes, but are still warm to the touch, peel off their skins. Cut them into small, bite-sized chunks. If you don’t want to turn on your oven, instead of roasting, boil the cleaned beets in salted water for 45 minutes to 1 hour until fork tender, and proceed as above.

Grill (or don’t). Heat a grill pan (or a grill if you have one) over medium-high heat. Quarter the radicchio, leaving the core intact, and drizzle with the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Grill the radicchio for several minutes on each surface until the leaves start to soften and brown. When cool, cut out the core and chop into bite-sized pieces. If you like the bitterness inherent in radicchio, skip the grill and just chop the leaves into small pieces.

Segment (or slice). Cut the tops and bottoms off of the oranges and then slice down the sides to remove all the peel, including the white pith. You’ll be left with round, naked oranges. Over a small bowl, use a paring knife to remove each orange segment by slicing between the membranes (then throw out the membranes). Or, slice the orange flesh into circles.

Compose. Spread the beets and radicchio on a large plate. Dot with orange segments and crumbled feta.

Dress. In a jar, mix together the grape seed oil, orange flower water, and vinegar. Taste for salt and pepper. Drizzle the dressing over the salad and garnish with parsley, if you’d like.

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Is it summer yet? It sure feels like it.

Not the hot sticky New England brand, but the warm sunny breezy brand. A breeze so lovely that a few open windows and a ceiling fan does the trick. A day so lovely that one might be inspired to buy some mint and thyme plants with hopes of not killing another fooderific herb garden. The herbs are growing outside on my balcony, and as they’re only 2 days old, they seem to be holding up quite well.

An impromptu dinner invitation and a quick scramble for what’s on hand, and my first zucchini salad of the season emerges.

Welcome back, summer, and a great weekend to all!

Marinated mint zucchini salad

Another quick and easy salad, this one requires 5 ingredients (plus salt and pepper), 2 implements (zester and mandoline – check out the links to see the ones I use), and a bowl. Quantities are approximate, so taste and season as you go along. This salad serves 4-6.

Using a mandoline, slice 3 zucchini very thin. Also slice 1/2 red onion on the mandoline. If you don’t have a mandoline – no problem. Just slice the vegetables as thin as you can. Toss the vegetables. Zest two lemons over the salad and then pour the juice in as well. Drizzle a few tablespoons of olive oil and sprinke with salt and pepper. Pick some fresh mint from your still growing herb garden and slice or rip it into small pieces. Toss everything together and taste for seasoning. Bask in your kitchen with the oven off and a gentle breeze from the window.

***

If  you’re looking for other ways to take advantage of the summer’s zucchini windfall, check out these recipes from years past:

If  you want to cook: zucchini bread or roasted zucchinior zucchini tart with raclette (or plain swiss cheese)

If you don’t want to cook:  marinated zucchini salad with mushrooms and dill or zucchini ribbon salad with middle eastern spices

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I don’t have much time today because the sun is fading and I’m on my way out to dinner with a bag full of jars, a bowl, and a box. No mystery here, it’s food for tonight’s shabbat dinner. It might be cuatro de Mayo, but we’re celebrating cinco de Mayo tonight with margaritas, guacamole, steak with fruit salsa, spicy cinnamon brownies, and margaritas.

Before I head out, I wanted to jot down recipes for the dishes I’m bringing because there are so few Mexican recipes out there that do not revolve around corn, avocado, and black beans. I spent hours thumbing through a half-dozen cookbooks and my favorite online sites. And then I just made up two recipes. First I grilled the freshest spring vegetables I could find and made a sauce from smokey chipotle peppers to drizzle on top. Then I  toasted pepitas and roasted tomatillos and jalapenos and chopped up a salad inspired  by the produce I remember from my last visit to Mexico City.

So here you go. Two Mexican recipes, just under the wire, and ready for you to throw together for your own fiesta.

Happy weekend!

Grilled vegetables with chipotle sauce

Grill vegetables. Slice 2 zucchini and 2 yellow squash on a bias (about 1/3-inch thick). Break the woody ends off of a bunch of thick asparagus (about 20 stalks). Slice one red onion into rings. Place each vegetable in a separate bag or bowl and let marinate in olive oil, salt, and pepper for about 30 minutes. Heat a grill pan over medium-high heat – it’s ready when a drop of water sizzles the second it hits the pan. Make sure to turn on your exhaust because it will start to get smokey. Grill each vegetable for approximately 4-6 minutes per side. When they start to release from the pan, they’re ready – I found that I did need to do a little work to release the zucchini and squash as they were still sticking a bit when they were fully cooked.

Make sauce. In a food processor, mix the following: 2 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (there are usually 5-6 peppers in a can), 1 tomato, juice of 2 limes, 1/4 C olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Add a little bit of water to thin everything out if necessary.

Drizzle. Arrange vegetables on a platter, squeeze another lime over top, and drizzle with sauce.

Chopped salad with tomatillo cilantro dressing

Make salad. Pickle half a red onion: slice it very thin and marinate for at least 30 minutes in 3 T red wine or apple cider vinegar, 1/4 C warm water, 1/2 t sugar, and salt to taste. Dry toast a handful of pepitas (raw pumpkin seeds) in a small pan – keep shaking the pan to move the seeds around and when the turn slightly golden and start to pop, take them off the heat and let them cool. Chop into bite-sized pieces 2 romaine hearts, 2 C arugula, and a yellow pepper. Slice 3 radishes very thin (I use my cheap mandoline). Peel and chop a medium-sized jicama into approximately 1/2 inch cubes.

Make dressing. Remove the husks from 2-3 tomatillos and rinse off the sticky residue. Under a broiler, roast the tomatillos and 2 jalapeno peppers on aluminum foil. When the skins blacken and blister, take out of oven and wrap then up in the foil so that they will steam. Once they are cool enough to handle, peel off the skins. Remove the seeds from the peppers. Put them into the bowl of a food processor with about 1 cup cilantro, juice of 2-3 limes, and 2 T honey. Process until smooth. Slowly add 1/4 C olive oil and process until emulsified. Season with salt and pepper. Add more lime juice if the dressing needs a little more acid (or water and oil if it needs less).

Toss. Mix all the vegetables and then sprinkle with pepitas and drizzle with dressing right before serving.

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