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Archive for the ‘vegetables’ Category

Back in New York, returning after nearly a month in places that require quarantine, I’ve taken to my 550 square foot home with the familiarity and comfort necessary to hole up for two weeks on the top floor of a building with no access to the outdoors other than sticking my head out the window like a road-tripping dog.

Opening my front door after four weeks away was stifling: blinds closed, air stale, plants drooping. I crossed the threshold with my overstuffed suitcase, computers (plural, I traveled with 2), cross-body, and a cooler bag of frozen meat* that lost one handle as I boarded the train and the second as I disembarked, falling between the platform and train, rescued by one of the engineers.

First order of business: the meat. But my COVID doomsday prepping at the beginning of the pandemic, way back in March and April and May and June and July, meant my freezer was packed. Luckily I have a second freezer (I keep it in the hall closet) that had more than enough room for my rescued-from-the-depths-of-Penn-Station ground beef and chicken breasts.

As for my fridge, the shelves were bare as I was away much longer than expected and had asked a few friends to rescue my CSA fruits and vegetables so they didn’t go to waste and to throw out anything else that might spoil. But the door bins formed a cityscape of jars of homemade dressings (for cabbage, for roasted vegetables) and sauces (schug, Thai-style peanut) and pickles. In addition to store-bought cucumber pickles, I always have pickled red onions on hand, translucent magenta rings floating in a tangy brine. But this time, I also had a new type, ready for their first taste.

A few months ago, I found myself entangled in a glut of CSA and greenmarket garlic scapes and decided to quick pickle a fistful. Way back at the beginning of June, I wound the curlicue stems and buds along the edges of a jar, cutting off the more stubborn ends and stuffing them in the center. A bath of hot vinegar and a shower of salt, seeds, and flakes, and 6-8 weeks in the fridge, and ready for me to chop into my salad after a long long time away.

Perfect.

*To my NYC friends – kosher meat is so much cheaper in Maryland. Let me know if you want me to pick something up for you next time I go down.

Pickled Garlic Scapes
Makes 1 pint

Adapted from Le Grande Farmers’ Market in Oregon and Marisa McClellan (of Food in Jars fame). The pickled scapes are firm, similar in texture and crunch to pickled green beans. I like them chopped up on salad for a burst of vinegar and garlic with each bite. The basic recipe is a 1:1 ratio of vinegar to water, at least a tablespoon of salt for each pint, and whatever else you want to throw in. I used mustard seeds (1 teaspoon) and Aleppo pepper flakes (1/2 teaspoon). Next time I’d use a hotter pepper and maybe coriander.

Be warned, you will need to leave the scapes in the fridge for at least six weeks before opening to give the salt and vinegar time to do their thing. An emergency trip might help pass the time.

15 garlic scapes (give or take)
1 t mustard seeds
1/2 t Aleppo pepper flakes
1 C water
1 C cider vinegar
1 T kosher salt

Stuff. Trim the tough ends of garlic scapes and any tails that are starting to brown. Coil them into a pint jar, stacking one on top of another until you reach the top. Slice and stuff any remaining scapes into the center of the jar. Add the mustard seeds and pepper flakes (or whatever other flavors you want).

Boil. In a small saucepan, bring water, vinegar, and salt to a boil until salt is dissolved.

Pour. Slowly and carefully pour the brine over the scapes until completely submerged, tapping the jar a few times to allow any air bubbles to escape.

Wait. Once the jar is cool enough to handle, wipe the rim and screw on the lid. Store in the refrigerator for 6 weeks before opening up again.

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A simple warm weather soup and some photos inspired by the cover of Deborah Madison’s Vegetable Literacy. (Last photo is bolted cilantro that I got from this year’s first CSA haul, has absolutely nothing to do with the recipe, but I felt like the image belonged.)

Happy week, all!

Creamy zucchini soup with dill and chives

Makes 2 quarts

This is a light and mild soup, perfect for warmer weather, and can be served hot or very cold. Use chive blossoms is you can find them at your farmers market to push this over the top. Not merely for adornment, these purple flowers, raw, add a subtle allium kick when you catch one in your spoon.

– 1/4 C butter, divided
– 1 T extra virgin olive oil
– 1 medium onion, roughly chopped
– Kosher salt
– 3 cloves garlic, crushed or minced
– 4 oz cauliflower rice (1 C)
– 1 medium thin skinned potato, roughly chopped
– 2.5 lbs zucchini, roughly chopped (3 large)
– 2-3 C water
– 1 T chopped fresh dill, tightly packed
– 1 T chopped fresh parsley, tightly packed
– Fistful of chives or 5 chive blossom stems, snipped into roughly 1/4-inch pieces
– 1/2 lemon, juiced (2 T)
– Optional garnish: chive blossoms, chives, fresh dill, fresh parsley

Cook. In a heavy 3-4 quart pot over medium-low heat, melt 2 tablespoons butter and olive oil. Stir in the onions, a pinch of salt, and cook very gently for 5 minutes until translucent but not browned. Add garlic, cauliflower, and potato, cooking for another 5 minutes. Taste for salt. Stir in zucchini and let it cook down for a few minutes. Add 2 cups of water to just barely cover the vegetables; pour in a more water if necessary to cover. Stir in herbs and chives.

Simmer. Turn up the heat to medium-high and being to a slow boil. Lower heat to medium and simmer for 20 minutes, checking periodically to make sure the bottom isn’t burning and tasting for salt.

Puree. Using an immersion blender, puree until very smooth. Stir in lemon juice and remaining 2 tablespoons butter, and taste one more time for salt.

Serve. Either divide into bowls immediately, or allow to cool to room temperature and refrigerate for 3 hours, and then serve very cold. Garnish with some chopped dill, chopped parsley, snipped chives, or a few flowers plucked from a chive blossom ball.

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Well, today just may be the day that I turn on my air conditioner for the first time this year. I’ve cleaned the filter of my unit, so it’s ready for action, but, like all years, I try to hold out for as long as I can. I just don’t like air conditioning. Don’t get me wrong, I love having it – they sure didn’t have such a luxury in the shtetl – and I love standing in front of it every once in a while, but I like being able to keep the fresh air flowing rather than recycled. And so, two windows flung open, all three fans cranked up, I’m hoping that the heavy humidity breaks into a quick cooling downpour soon.

Eventually, I know I’ll have to bring the temperature of my apartment way down so that I can once again turn on the oven for two, almost three, hours to melt some cabbage. This is another cult classic of Adeena Sussman‘s from her Sababa cookbook that itself has developed a cult following. This dish transforms the humble crucifer into a complex yet comforting dish by braising it with other shtetl staples and then a splash of white wine (like air conditioning, not a shtetl staple). You end up with spoon tender cabbage, garlic and onion softened and sweetened and nestled in the leaves, and pools of what can best be described as potlikker.

Hot, cold, room temperature, it’s all good any which way you want to eat it. (The photo above was second day cabbage, eaten cold, straight from the pan, straight from the refrigerator.) So, even if I could resist the air conditioner through the end of the month, I doubt I’ll make it that long without this melted cabbage.

Adeena Sussman’s Melted Green Cabbage

Just barely adapted from Adeena Sussman’s Sababa (recipe published here). While I typically rewrite recipes in my own language, I’ll let Adeena’s stand on its own. I’ve noted any substitutions or tips I have in italics.

Active Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 2 1/2 to 3 hours

1/3 cup (75 mL) extra-virgin olive oil
2 tsp (10 mL) kosher salt, plus more to taste
1/2 tsp (2 mL) coarsely cracked black pepper, plus more to taste
2 small heads of green cabbage (2 lb; 900 g), quartered (but not cored)
10 whole garlic cloves, peeled
4 shallots, peeled and halved (no shallots, so I substitute 1 medium or 2 small yellow onions)
1/2 cup (125 mL) dry, acidic white wine, such as Albariño or Grüner Veltliner
1/2 cup (125 mL) chicken or vegetable broth, plus more if necessary (I’ve even used water)
4 sprigs fresh thyme (I’ve omitted)
3 tbsp (45 mL) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/4 cup (50 mL) crème fraîche or sour cream
Lemon wedges, for serving (optional)

STEP 1

Preheat the oven to 300°F (150°C).

STEP 2

In a heavy, large, high-sided skillet or shallow Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Sprinkle 1 teaspoon (5 mL) of the salt and 1/4 teaspoon (1 mL) of the pepper directly onto the oil, then arrange the cabbage wedges in the pot, making sure that each is lying on a flat side (you can cram them in; they’ll relax into one another as they release liquid). (I had to do this in 2 batches.) Let the undersides get nice and brown, resisting the urge to move them too much but checking once to make sure they’re not burning (reduce the heat slightly if they are), 6 to 7 minutes. Using tongs, flip the cabbage wedges, then tuck the garlic cloves and shallots into the pot, and brown the undersides of the cabbage, another 6 to 7 minutes. Add the wine and broth, bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and add the remaining 1 teaspoon (5 mL) salt and 1/4 teaspoon (1 mL) pepper along with the thyme. Cover with a tight-fitting lid, transfer to the oven, and cook until soft, slumped and mahogany brown, 2 hours, or 2 1/2 hours for even softer cabbage. Uncover, cool slightly, and serve the cabbage with the liquid accumulated in the pot. Season with salt and pepper and top with butter and crème fraîche. Serve with lemon wedges, if desired.

Serves: 4

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Walking distance from my mom’s place in South Florida, we discovered earlier this year a no-frills Russian grocery store. Well, we always knew it was there, and that it drew large crowds seated on plastic chairs at plastic tables on the sidewalk, but this year I popped in. After checking out the produce (a pretty normal assortment) and the aisles of Cyrillic-labeled bottles, jars, and cans, I was drawn to the buffet that ran the length of the store. I bee lined to the cold section: an overabundance of cold salads consisting of combinations of vegetables, heavy on the dill and cabbage and pickling. I got hooked on the more vinegary of these salads, taking home more than a few pints and quarts of them and rounding out most lunches and dinners with a little of this, a little of that.

Fast forward to the “pause” and “stay-at-home” orders that keep getting extended, and I’ve returned to my Eastern European roots. I’ve been loading up on what my friend and I like to call shtetl vegetables – beets, potatoes, carrots, cabbage – ones that are hardy and last for weeks, months even, helpful during these times of limited grocery runs. As I’ve grown weary of soup and look forward to more spring vegetables, I’ve been using up these shtetl staples to make big batch salads that stay good in the fridge.

My most recent batch: salat vinegret*.

In watching a discussion of Soviet-Jewish Cuisine featuring Bonnie Morales of Kachka and author Boris Fishman, I learned the word zakuski – a spread of appetizers similar to mezze – that are always in the fridge, ready to pull out when a guest drops by, a tangible element of hospitality, usually served with vodka. Each of the participants had prepared zakuski, and my friend Gabi who was leading the talk showed a bowl salat vinegret, pink-tinged cubes of beets and potatoes, dressed with pickled cabbage, vinegar and traditional sunflower oil.

Remembering how much I loved the salads from Matryoshka’s buffet, I looked up salat vinegret and – not surprisingly, has most of the ingredients. I made do with what I had – those shtetl genes run deep, I tell you – and have been eating from this huge bowl for days. No guests allowed, so I shared with a friend who lives across the street from me.

* Of course I have a footnote. Vinegret comes from the French vinaigrette which is a diminutive of the word vinaigre (vin aigre = sour wine = vinegar). Most agree that the term came eastward due to the Russian nobility’s Francophilia and Francophonia, and the preparation – using vinegar to hide any off flavors – became popular in the early Soviet era when fresh produce was scarce, and frozen or canned goods dominated. Over time, vinegret has come to refer to any beet salad. It can also mean a mish-mash.

Salat Vinegret

Recipe developed in reviewing this and this, and rummaging through my fridge and pantry.

Makes a lot, 2 quarts perhaps (I didn’t measure)

– 1 lb new potatoes potatoes (4 medium)
– 2 lbs beets (2 large)
– 4-5 medium pickles (and 1/4 C pickle juice, optional)
– 1 small yellow onion
– 1 T chopped dill
– 1 T chopped parsley
– 2-3 T vegetable oil (ideal is sunflower from Ukraine, but it’s not something that I had in my pantry)
– 1-2 T mild vinegar (I used cider vinegar)
– Salt
– Other traditional ingredients: cooked carrots, peas, sauerkraut

Roast. Roast (or boil) beets and peel. I roasted by wrapping them individually in foil with a little salt and vegetable oil and cooking in a hot oven (400F – 425F) for a little over an hour (depending on size) until a paring knife pierced easily through to the center. When cool enough to handle but still warm, the skin will slide off pretty easily with your hands (the hotter, the easier). If you’re having a hard time peeling, they may need a little time in the oven.

Boil. While the beets are roasting, boil the potatoes in salted water over high heat, 10-15 minutes until that same knife pierces easily through the center. Don’t overcook, or they potatoes can get water logged.

Cut. Cut the beets into 1/2- to 3/4-inch cubes/pieces. Transfer to a large bowl, and clean off the cutting board and knife. Cut the potatoes and pickles into pieces roughly the same size. Finely dice the onion. Add the vegetables and chopped herbs to the bowl.

Mix. Drizzle in oil, vinegar, and pickle juice, and mix. Start tasting. Add some salt. Keep tasting until it suits you.

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You’ve heard the story of stone soup, right? A stranger comes to town, hungry, but no one will help him. So he makes a big production of scrubbing a stone and placing it in a big pot of water set over a fire. The locals watch. As the “soup” comes to a boil, the stranger dips a spoon for a taste. “It’s great, but would be even better with some potatoes.” Someone runs inside to their cellar for a few potatoes and dumps them in.

“This is delicious, but a few carrots would make it even tastier.” And a kid sneaks into his garden and yanks out a handful of carrots by their tops.

And on and on until the whole town contributes to the soup and everyone eats dinner together.

Stone soup was one of the first things I cooked. As a kid, I actually did drop a (cleaned) stone into the pot. We used V8 as a base and threw in whatever vegetables we had around.

It remains part of my winter repertoire but I’ve replaced the stone with a large chunk (or two) of Parmesan rind, taking a cue from classic minestrone. During these stay-at-home days with limited grocery runs and a need for comfort, stone soup season is still running strong. Each batch larger than the next, and I’ve finally graduated to my largest stock pot and a wooden paddle so long (18 inches!) that I feel like a witch toiling over my bubbling brew.

The majority of the soup goes straight into the freezer in quart containers and zip-top bags. And while I can’t invite people over and share in person, I’ve dropped off frozen quarts for a few friends and my sister.

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Kitchen soup (aka stone soup, vegetable soup)

I started calling this kitchen sink soup, and then I shortened it to kitchen soup. This is more guideline than recipe. The basic formula that I’ve found to work, to give me the right consistency and balance, is as follows 2:1:2:1 – vegetables : crushed tomatoes : liquid : beans

So, here are the quantities that I consider a single batch (about 4-5 quarts):

– 8 C vegetables: bite-sized pieces of onion, celery, carrot, cabbage, kale, new potatoes, cauliflower, broccoli, green beans, broccoli, zucchini, spinach (in approximate order of when you should add them, with zucchini and spinach last as you can just add them in the last 30 minutes)

– 4 C crushed tomatoes (1 28-ounce can is ~3.5 C, but this is close enough)

– 8 C liquid: even mix of vegetable broth and water (1 box of broth = 4 C; 1 tomato can of water = almost 4 C)

– 4 C red kidney beans (2 15.5-oz cans = 4 C)

– Plus a stone, aka Parmesan rind (approximately 2×3 piece)

– other stuff to gather: olive oil, salt

– other stuff that’s optional: 1/2 t red pepper flakes (if you like spice), 2 T tomato paste (to deepen tomato/umami flavor)

Sauté. In a very large pot over a medium flame, heat up enough olive oil to generously coat the bottom (2-3 tablespoons, depending on the size of your pot). Stir in onion, carrot, and celery and sauté until soft but not browned, 7-10 minutes. Add tomato paste and red pepper flakes, and cook, stirring, until the tomato paste changes from a bright red to a deep maroon, about 5 minutes, turning the heat down if it starts to burn.

Deglaze. Pour in a cup of broth or water and scrape up all the bits of tomato paste.

Keep stirring. Add the Parmesan rind and a good pinch of two of salt. Stir in crushed tomatoes, the remaining vegetables (except zucchini or spinach), and drained beans.

Simmer. Add rest of liquid and bring to a slow boil, then turn the heat down to low or medium low to simmer for at least an hour, covered. Keep tasting and adjusting for salt and spicy-ness. Like tomato sauce, the longer you cook, the deeper and richer the flavor. I typically let the soup simmer for about 2 hours. If the soup comes out too thick, call it stew or add more broth. If soup is too thin, keep simmering uncovered until some of the liquid evaporates. If you’re using zucchini or spinach, add it about a half-hour before you plan to serve it.

Serve. Remove from heat and fish out the rind(s). Sprinkle with shredded Parmesan and serve with a nice hunk of bread (or matzah).

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his way

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

Was. Didn’t. Treated. Was.

Does the blow of the past tense ever soften?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hash brown latkes

Makes about a dozen 2-inch latkes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zucchini onion cheddar tart

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

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

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

Serves 8

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

Prep. Heat oven to 350°F.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Spa-tail (cucumber-lime-mint) mixer

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

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

Makes 6 cups of mixer

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

– 1/2 C packed mint leaves (about 80)

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

– 1 C fresh lime juice (about 2 lbs)

– kosher salt

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

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

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

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

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the soupiest

Winter is soup time chez moi. Probably chez toi as well. When the temperature drops – and whew, how it’s dropped! – all I want is hot lunch or dinner in a bowl that I can warm my hands around and lift to my lips when too tired or lazy to bother with a spoon until I get to the bottom. Since Thanksgiving, I’ve pulled down a rainbow of cocottes (Dutch ovens, if you must) from the narrow space between my kitchen cabinets and the ceiling. There was a riff on Marcella’s tomato sauce, Joanne Chang’s hot and sour soup thickened with not cornstarch but egg swirled in like the egg-drop soup of my childhood, a return to my long-ago Ukrainian roots with an unstuffed cabbage soup, and a clean-out-the-fridge minestrone.

Today’s soup is tortilla — piquant with jalapeño, loaded with shredded chicken (that you sear in the pot so as not to dirty an extra pan) and black beans, scented with cilantro, doused in lime, and topped with baked stale tortillas (or crispy chips if you have them around) and avocado. It’s kept me going the past few days and I froze a quart to save me the next time I’m resigned to Rice Krispies for dinner.

On another note, since I know you check this blog every few days (ha!) and have been wondering where I’ve been (ha!), I wish I had a fun story to tell. There’s been lots of family time and a bit of travel over a bunch of holidays, an intense project that required a recovery longer than the work itself, and a good number of library books. There are a bunch of recipes that I’ve written up and just need to get out there, so stay tuned.

In the interim, here are some things that are worth checking out, while warming up with a steaming bowl in the soupiest time of year.

This article and music video.

Photos from a pencil factory.

I love flour tortillas and use them in this soup even though most recipes call for corn – this made me feel less bad about it.

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Tortilla soup

Inspired by Simply Recipes and The Pioneer Woman

This is the type of soup that’s an entire meal. I’d say a serving is about 2 cups, and then you’re good for the afternoon or evening. Kale is clearly not traditional, but I wanted to slip in some extra vegetables. Leave it in, leave it out, or add in other vegetables – corn (frozen works just fine here), bell peppers, and maybe some small diced butternut squash or other pumpkin. 

This has a nice heat, but you could definitely add another half jalapeño if you like things on the spicier side or a tablespoon or so of chipotle in adobo sauce (I always have leftovers when I make this vegetarian chili, a smooth black bean soup with a kick, or salpicon and then freeze it in ice cube trays in one-tablespoon scoops). Make sure to add a squeeze of lime before you serve, and don’t skimp on toppings either – especially fresh cilantro and, of course, the tortilla strips.

Makes just under 3 quarts (12 cups)

– 3-4 T extra-virgin olive oil, divided
– 3 boneless skinless chicken breasts or thighs, any large pieces cut in half
– Kosher salt and pepper
– 1 – 1.5 onion, roughly chopped (1 – 1.5 C)
– 1 jalapeno, seeds and ribs removed, minced
– 3-4 cloves garlic, crushed
– 1½ t cumin
– 1 t coriander
– 1 t chili powder
– 1/2 t garlic powder
– 1/2 t onion powder
– 10-12 stems kale, sliced into small pieces (2 cups)
– 28 oz can black beans, rinsed and drained
– 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
– 4 C chicken or vegetable broth
– 1/2 bunch cilantro (10-12 stems), stems wrapped in twine so you can easily remove
– 1-2 limes, cut into quarters or sixths, depending on the size of the citrus

Toppings: tortilla strips (recipe below, or store-bought), extra shredded chicken, avocado, finely diced red onion, chopped tomatoes,

Cook. Pour enough extra-virgin olive oil, about 3 tablespoons, to cover the bottom of a medium to large heavy-bottomed pot (I used a 4-quart Staub cocotte – thanks Mom! – which was just big enough), and turn heat to medium. Once oil is hot (a drop of water should make it splatter), add 3 chicken breasts or thighs and a large pinch of salt and a grind or two of pepper. Sear on one side until the chicken forms a crust and releases itself from the pot, about 10 minutes. Turn over and repeat, cooking until the chicken is just done on the inside. Remove and set aside to cool. When cool to the touch, shred the chicken with your fingers.

Saute. Add 1 more tablespoon olive oil to pot if too dry. Add onion and jalapeño pepper, and saute for 3-5 minutes until the vegetables start to soften but don’t brown. Stir in garlic, cumin, coriander, chili, garlic poster, and onion powder. Turn the heat down a tad if the garlic starts to burn. After a few minutes, add the kale and stir until it begins to wilt, another 3 minutes or so.

Boil and simmer. Add the black beans, tomatoes, broth, and cilantro. Bring to a boil and then lower the heat to a simmer. Simmer for 20 minutes, then taste for salt and spice, adding salt and chili powder as necessary. Add most of the shredded chicken (set aside about a half-cup to use as a topping) and simmer for another 10 minutes. Remove the cilantro.

Serve. Ladle into large bowls. Top with a squirt of lime, extra chicken, slices of avocado, tortilla strips, cilantro leaves, fresh tomatoes, minced red onions, or some combination thereof. But do not skip the lime and fresh cilantro.

***

Baked tortilla strips

– 2 flour tortillas (I used whole wheat) or 3 corn tortillas
– 1-2 T extra-virgin olive oil
– 1/2 t kosher salt

Preheat. Heat the oven to 350ºF.

Cut. Using a large knife or pizza wheel, cut the tortillas into strips about 1/4-inch wide and 2-inches long.

Toss. Toss the strips with the olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet.

Bake. Bake for 7-10 minutes until toasted but not burnt. Allow to cool.

 

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