Gimme Carrots

I found a second book the day I visited The Strand in early July, but for the sake of a smooth story, I left it out. But now the second book has caused a bit of kitchen inspiration, in the strangest of ways. This is odd, seeing as how it’s the Keith Richards autobiography Life.

Let me explain: I’ve made a concerted effort this summer to stay away from the grocery store, relying instead on my CSA box for my produce. It’s a mixed bag, literally: one week might offer a pint of sweet-as-sugar strawberries, but nestled among some twisted green garlic scapes. The downside: for three weeks and counting, I have received bunches of my vegetable kryptonite: carrots. Not that I don’t like carrots, because I adore them, but they give me a tummy ache. A terrible, terrible tummy ache.

The first week I cleaned them and handed them over to Rich, who crunched away in the other room, only to return to the kitchen to ask if we could maybe keep carrots in the house as a snack. The next week brought more bunches of the vegetable, although now they were coming in all sorts of lovely red and purple hues.

So how does Keith Richards’ life fit into this post? In chapter six of Life, he and his mates, awaiting trial on drugs charges, decide on a whim to drive to Morocco in Keith’s blue Bentley. (Fun fact: Keith claims the bust was orchestrated by News of the World, who paid off his Belgian chauffeur. The more things change…) But rather than be disgusted/secretly impressed with the wanton drug use, all I could think about was Moroccan carrot salad. Garlicky, pungent, with flicks of green parsley, it’s one of my all-time favorite dishes. But like Keith’s relationship with Jack Daniels, I just cannot eat it anymore. But Rich can — two nights in a row. He hasn’t complained yet.

Moroccan Carrot Salad

I have been making this salad in single servings, but my guess is that most of you will want to double or triple it. And I promise you the math will work.

The recipe here is very bare bones, and I encourage you to mix things up if you’re so inclined. Harrisa would be a great addition, although I’ve left it out in this simple version.

3 carrots, chopped into one-inch pieces (about 1 cup)

1 clove of garlic, minced (I actually lean towards two, but I’m a bit extreme in my garlic use)

1 small handful of parsley, minced

1 Tablespoon olive oil

Two squeezes of lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

Pinch of red pepper flakes, or to taste

Pinch of salt

Directions: Fill a small saucepan with water and pinch of salt. Add the chopped carrots and set on the stove to boil. Cook until soft, about 10 minutes. To test for softness, pierce with a fork.

While the carrots are cooking, chop your garlic and parsley. Place those in a medium-sized bowl, along with the spices and salt. Once the carrots have cooked, remove from the heat and drain in a colander in the sink. Add the cooked carrots to the bowl of garlic, salt and spices. Add the oil and lemon juice. Stir. Enjoy. When Rich brings the bowl back, carrot-free, I run my finger around the bowl and lick with gusto. This last step is up to you.

Perfect Strangers

For nearly 10 years now, my friend Dan has traveled the world. First there were several years of Peace Corps in Ukraine and Uzbekistan, then a stint backpacking through Southeast Asia. After a pit stop at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, he’s now working with Burmese refugees in Thailand… I think; it’s hard to keep track.

Along the way, Dan has sampled some Fear Factor-worthy delicacies: crickets, cockroaches. He tells a story of a sheep that had the misfortune of ramming his host mother. In response, she killed it, made it into soup, and served it to Dan for lunch.

So I was a bit surprised at Dan last summer when we attended a neighborhood BBQ. He went a little gaga for the three-bean salad. It started out innocently enough: a small serving on his paper plate next to a hot dog. And then he went back for seconds, and then thirds. He spent a good chunk of the afternoon lingering by the bowl, as though he was guarding it.

At some point, I pulled him aside and said, “Dan, it’s three bean salad. What’s going on with you?” It turns out that Dan, the world-traveler, had never seen it before. After assuring him that this exotic delicacy could be found behind the deli counter in every supermarket in America, I convinced him to walk away from the bowl.

(In Dan’s defense, substitute “Molly” for “Dan”, “Rich” for “Molly” and “cheese plate” for “three-bean salad,” and you have pretty much every dinner party we go to. But I digress.)

As it turns out, I didn’t get a chance to make him his bowl of three-bean salad before he flew to Thailand. But last week, when I received a pound of wax beans and a pound of green beans in my CSA box, I knew the time had come to revisit this often-overlooked but delicious cookout favorite.

Dan’s coming back to the States for his brother’s wedding in August. And although the batch I’ve made here won’t last until then, I’ve assured him that there will be three bean salad waiting for him upon his arrival stateside.

Three Bean Salad

I’ve made this bowl of salad with beans bought directly from the farmer, but it can be made with canned beans in the winter time; heaven knows that’s how they do it at the local grocery store. But right now I am loving the fresh version of this dish.

Think of this recipe as a good point of departure. You can always add a can of chickpeas and make it a four bean salad. A green pepper, diced, would be great as well. Some chopped celery would also be excellent. And sliced black olives… you get the picture.

Ingredients

1 pound fresh green beans

1 pound wax beans

1 can kidney beans, drained and rinsed

Half a red onion, chopped into 1-inch pieces

1 cup white distilled vinegar

½ cup oil

¾ cup white sugar

1 teaspoon salt

Directions

  1. Set a large pot of salted water to boil.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the vinegar, oil, sugar and salt.
  3. Chop the onion and add that to the brine. Adding the onions to the brine at this early stage helps lessen their bite, so definitely do this step now.
  4. Trim the beans. I prefer the Cook’s Illustrated method of lining up the ends of a handful of beans on a cutting board and chopping off the heads with one cut, then doing the same to the other ends.
  5. By the time you’ve cleaned your two pounds of beans, your water should be boiling. Place the beans in the pot and set a timer for five minutes. While the beans are cooking, empty a tray of ice cubes into a bowl and fill it with cold water.
  6. When the five minutes have passed, quickly transfer the beans into the icy bath to blanch them.
  7. Once the beans have cooled off, grab them by the handful and roughly chop them into 1 to 2 inch pieces.
  8. Add the chopped beans and the drained and rinsed kidney beans to the onions and brine.
  9. Toss.

Marinate the bean salad for at least an hour. Longer is better; it will taste better in a day or two.

Long Trip, Quick Pickle

I had so many plans for the Fourth of July: pickling things, making jams, eating hot dogs. Lots of hot dogs. But my case of Bell jars and package of pectin were left unopened on the dining room table when we zipped out that morning to visit Brian.

When I finally did return home that Friday, the jars were waiting for me, and most of the veggies I had purchased for my pickling party were still salvageable. And I had company. Through the magic of Facebook I connected with my second cousin, once removed. I think I saw David last at his bar mitzvah, when I was in college. I don’t remember too much about that day, except that his chanting was flawless, there was cholent at the kiddush, and even though I wasn’t quite 21, I was allowed to drink a Sam Adams.

Due to my concern about my not-so-fresh veggies, I asked David if it would be OK if I took a little time to do some cooking during our visit. “Molly,” Rich began, “it’s not very polite to drag your cousin all the way to Boston and make him hang out while you’re in the kitchen.” But much to my surprise and delight, David not only didn’t mind, but asked if he could help me cook.

And it was then that we made the most wonderful discovery: David was the best assistant I have ever had in the kitchen. It made sense: He grew up standing next to his mom in her kitchen, helping clean and chop things, just as I did the same with my mom. And his mom grew up helping her mom in her kitchen… you get the picture. Although we had not grown up with each other, we grew up doing the same things within our own families.

It was so late by the time we got back to Boston that the thought of sterilizing all the jars seemed too daunting a task that night. So we quick-pickled the sugar snap peas and cucumbers for the BBQ the next night we’d planned in cousin David’s honor. Good news: The pickles were fabulous; bad news, since I hadn’t been around that week to remind people, we had more food than people. It was OK, though. The people who could make it were terrific, and the food was pretty darn tasty. But really, these pickled sugar snap peas stole the show.

Pickled Sugar Snap Peas

I adapted this recipe from the amazing Deb, who adapted hers from The Joy of Pickling via Epicurious.

Ingredients

1 ¼ cups white distilled vinegar

1 ¼ cups cold water

1 tablespoon kosher salt

1 tablespoon sugar

1 pound sugar snap peas, stems trimmed and strings removed

4 garlic cloves, sliced

4 small dried chile peppers

4 sprigs fresh dill

Directions

In a nonreactive saucepan, heat the vinegar with the salt and sugar until they are dissolved. Remove from the heat and add the cold water. (This gives you a leg up on getting the liquid to cooling the liquid.)

When the vinegar mixture is cool, pack the sugar snaps, garlic, chile peppers and dill into a 1-quart jar or bowl, and pour the brine over it. Cover with a non-reactive cap or plastic wrap.

The original recipe suggests to wait two weeks before enjoying, but they were pickled ever so slightly by the next evening. I’m not sure how long they’ll be good; these were devoured in less than a week.

Fire and Ice

Rocket pops awaiting lift-off. Houston, we have a problem...

I had a plan for this blog post, but life got in the way. It was, and still is, going to be about paletas, Mexican ice pops which, according to a trendologist (yes, that’s an actual job) I profiled last fall, are going to be the next big thing. I hadn’t thought much about them until my neighbor told me about a paletas cookbook she’d come across. I borrowed the book, found a recipe that I wanted to make and began composing my post. I’d even made the ice pops, photographed and served them, to good reviews, as dessert last Sunday night.

But after we bid adieu to our dinner guests and as Rich was in the kitchen cleaning up, I came across this story via Facebook. Our friend Brian Levinson, one of the most important people in the world to me, had been in a horrible fire at his apartment in Queens. He and his childhood friend Eric were (and still are) in the burn unit at New York-Presbyterian hospital.

So instead of writing this blog post, we went to sleep as well as we could, and then in the morning we set out for New York City. Rich had to go back to Boston that night, but I ended up staying the week. I’d been meaning to visit Brian and other friends in New York for vacation this summer, but this was obviously not what I’d had in mind.

Now, I don’t want to be a total downer about this. Brian was in excellent spirits when we got to him and throughout the week. He basically held court in the burn unit, to the mild annoyance of his nurses, who would have preferred if he’d kept his oxygen mask on instead of cracking wise. In his honor, I subbed on his trivia team at the weekly game at Pete’s Candy Store in Williamsburg. Our team name: Fryin’ Levinson. (We won.)

Eventually Friday came around and it was time to start back to Boston. I thought about what I’d written so far for this blog post, but, in all due respect to trendology, it seemed a little trite. Everything seemed a little trite after seeing what my friend was going through. Feeling down, I ended up wandering into the Strand Book Store before catching my bus to Boston. I hadn’t been to the Strand in years, even though it was one of my regular haunts when I lived there. Old habits die hard, and without even thinking about it, I found myself in the cookbook section. And there, tucked into the dessert section, I came across the very same paletas cookbook I’d borrowed from my neighbor. I think it was the universe’s way of calling me back to work.

So get well, soon, Brian and Eric. If you want to help Eric, who is a circus performer and doesn’t have health insurance, check out this benefit event page.

Paletas de Aguacate: Avocado Ice Pops, from Paletas: Authentic Recipes for Mexican Ice Pops, Shaved Ice & Aguas Frescas by Fany Gerson

Gerson, one of the country’s most authoritative voices on Mexican sweets, is the owner of La Newyorkina, a Mexican frozen treats and sweets business. When I first borrowed her book from my neighbor, I made note of a few pops that tickled my fancy: spicy pineapple; sour cream, cherry and tequila. But when I saw the recipe for the paletas de aguacate, or avocado ice pops, I knew they had to be made that afternoon.

The recipe is very easy: a mix of simple syrup, fresh lime juice and avocado, all whirled up in a blender. The result is more sweet than savory, which might surprise a lot of avocado lovers out there. While most of us in the United States associate avocado with tortilla chips, avocados also have a sweet side and appear in desserts such as avocado milkshakes in places like the Philippines.

This paleta is sweet, creamy and 100% vegan.

Ingredients

1 cup water

1/2 cup sugar

2 small ripe avocados

Pinch of salt

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice

Directions

Combine the water and sugar in a small saucepan and cook over medium-high heat, stirring, until the mixture comes to a boil and the sugar has dissolved. Let cool to room temperature.

Cut the avocados in half lengthwise. Remove the pit and scoop the flesh into a blender, along with the cooled syrup and salt. Blend until smooth, scraping the sides as needed. Add the lime juice and blend until combined.

If using conventional molds, divide the mixture among the molds, snap on the lid, and freeze until solid, about 5 hours. If using glasses or other unconventional molds, freeze until the pops are beginning to set (1 1/2 to 2 hours), then insert the sticks and freeze until solid, 4 to 5 hours. If using an instant pop maker, follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

Gerson claims this makes 8 to 10 pops. It made 6 in my wacky rocket ship molds.

Blast off! Get well soon, Brian and Eric.