Perfect for the Fall

The first week in November is a pretty big deal when you’re married to a political pollster. I’m sure some, but not all, of you reading this were frustrated with the week’s results, but Rich’s firm came closest of any in predicting the governor’s race here in Massachusetts, which is a good thing for them professionally.

As you can imagine, he was very busy this entire fall, especially in the weeks leading up to that Tuesday. This meant hosting guests for Shabbat dinner, or even having someone over to watch a game, came to a standstill.

swinging

But after every vote was counted and recounted, we opened our home back up to guests. First up was a Shabbat dinner guest – a neighbor of my aunt and uncle’s who’s moved to town for work. We had eetch, and eggplant with capers, roasted salmon, a broccoli kugel, and this Brussels sprouts salsa. That Sunday night a friend came for a visit to watch The Simpsons and the Patriots. He’d been MIA all year long working on two campaigns. (One had a very happy ending; the other, not so much.) He’s a strict vegetarian, so no leftover salmon for him, but he went gaga over these Brussels sprouts.

climbing

Ottolenghi tweeted this recipe, so obviously it’s fantastic. The sprouts are tossed with sumac and maple syrup, so they’re perfect for the fall. He serves them as a side to charred grilled butternut squash he has you toss with cinnamon and feta. I have yet to make that part of the recipe, and have just been concentrating on the sprouts.

Because this is a British recipe, the measurements are weighted. I suggest cleaning a small pile of them and then doing some weighing as so much of the exterior is just going to end up in the trash. The recipe calls for the sprouts to be finely shredded, but I find that shredding them in a food processor shreds them too much. I sliver each sprout by hand and I think it’s worth the time to do that extra step. I used half a larger red onion last time I made this because a whole one would have been too much. Two large red chiles, even if they are deseeded and thinly sliced, is far too much spice for me, so I use about one half a chile. I’ll leave that up to you.

I’ve started serving this as a side to salmon, but maybe you’ll end up serving them next to turkey on Thursday. Ottolenghi thinks “…this makes it an excellent vegetarian choice for the Christmas meal.” Whatever you serve it with, it’s a great vegetable dish for this time of year.

Brussels Sprouts Salsa from Yotam Ottolenghi

1 medium red onion, peeled and very thinly sliced

Up to 2 large red chiles, deseeded and thinly sliced on the diagonal

1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed

2 tsp. sumac

1 Tablespoon cider vinegar

1 Tablespoon lemon juice

2 Tablespoon olive oil

2 tsp. maple syrup

230g Brussels sprouts, trimmed and finely shredded

Salt and black pepper

Directions

Put all ingredients for the salsa in a bowl with a quarter-teaspoon of salt. Mix and set aside for 30 minutes to marinate.

 

 

My Favorite Cookie

mixing together the spices

I’ve been meaning to share these cookies with you for years. They’re actually my favorite cookie, which is saying a lot. It’s a great November cookie, full of warm spices and just the right amount of chew. Sure, you can use them next month if you do the whole Christmas cookie thing, but something about these cookies say November to me. They’re from the same cookbook that gave us those wedding cookies back in May, but unlike those, these are nut-free, so they’re perfect for school bake sales. And even though the recipe calls for butter, you can easily swap it out for Earth Balance making them parve and perfect for post-turkey snacking.

mixing

Lilli and I made these last night for my mom’s birthday. I was going to bake a banana bread like I’ve been doing for the past few years, but the fruits weren’t as ripe as I prefer them to be. So we baked these cookies instead, and I’m happy we did, because as I have mentioned, I love these cookies.

Don’t roll your eyes at measuring out the dough by teaspoon; it takes less than 10 minutes when all is said and done. I’ve baked them on both parchment paper and a greased baking sheet. Both will work, but definitely let the cookies set for a minute or two before using a spatula to move them onto a cooling rack. I often get too excited and end up wrinkling half the batch in the process. More for me, I guess.

examining the dough

I hope you’ll give these cookies a shot and enjoy them as much as I do.

Old-Fashioned Gingersnaps from Favorite Cookie Recipes by Lou Seibert Pappas

Ingredients

¾ cup butter, room temperature

1 cup sugar

1 egg

¼ cup molasses

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. ground cloves

1 tsp. ground ginger

Granulated sugar for coating

Directions

Preheat oven to 325F.

Beat butter and sugar together until creamy. Beat in egg and molasses.

In a separate bowl, stir together flour, soda and spices. Add to creamed mixture and beat until smooth. Batter will be soft.

Spoon out rounded teaspoonfuls of dough and roll into balls. Roll in sugar to coat lightly. Place on greased baking sheets 3 inches apart.

Bake in 325F oven for 10 to 12 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.

 

Couldn’t Help Myself

Now that my CSA nightmare has ended, I’m back in charge of deciding what ends up in my crisper and root cellar. I hit up Russo’s on my lunch break this week and piled my basket high with butternut squash, kale and red potatoes. There were also two eggplants, which I wasn’t going to mention because I bought them sort of off-season, but these eggplants were just so gorgeous and on sale that I couldn’t help myself.

Again, I wasn’t going to say anything, but I ended up using this recipe twice in a four-day period, and then this afternoon I found myself reciting it out loud to a complete stranger at a friend’s house who agreed it sounded fantastic.

Lilli and panda at Harvard

It’s called Eggplant with Capers, although I cut down on the amount of capers the recipe called for. (Four tablespoons sounded like too many for one eggplant.) I also skipped the green olives, but that was only because I couldn’t find the enormous jar of them we bought at Costco this summer. How one loses a gallon of olives is beyond me, but I’ll just accept it and move on.

The recipe is from The Vegetarian Epicure by Anna Thomas, and according to its cover, I bought it at The Strand in August 2001. The cookbook is so 1970’s, with its browned cover with green and orange accents. It reminds me of Moosewood Cookbook in a lot of ways: cover design, illustrations, an emphasis on eggs and cheese. There’s also a crepe and pancake section, so who am I to judge?

Don’t flinch at using just a tablespoon of tomato sauce – use the rest of the can for a bowl of eetch and all of a sudden you’ll have a very nice meal. As for warming the vinegar and sugar, I heated it for about 15 seconds in a glass in the microwave, or just do it in a small saucepan on the stove. The first round of this eggplant was eaten with starches we had in the fridge – leftover brown rice one night, on top of leftover soba noodles the next day at lunch. The second time I made it, we served it at a dinner party on top of some crusty bread that had dried cranberries, dried figs and sunflower seeds baked into it, also from Russo’s.

I’m treating it like a caponata, because it really is one. It’s vegan, and great hot or cold. Seriously, go make this dish, or at least bookmark it to serve on Thanksgiving.

Eggplant with Capers from The Vegetarian Epicure by Anna Thomas

Ingredients

1 large eggplant, cut up in small cubes

3 Tablespoons olive oil

1 clove garlic, mined

1 onion, quartered and thinly sliced

½ to ¾ cup chopped celery

1 Tablespoon tomato sauce

Water, as required

2 Tablespoons capers

12 black pitted olives

3 Tablespoons red wine vinegar

1 Tablespoon sugar

Salt and pepper to taste

Lemon slices (optional)

Directions

A large, nonstick skillet with a cover is best for this.

Saute the eggplant in 2 Tablespoons of the olive oil. When it begins to get soft, remove from the pan, and put it aside. Add the third tablespoon of olive oil and saute the garlic and onion until the onion is golden. Then add the celery, the tomato sauce and a few tablespoons of water. Cover, and let this steam for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add a little water if necessary.

Now, return the eggplant to the pan, add the capers, chop and add the olives. Heat the vinegar with the sugar and add that also. Salt and pepper to taste, and let simmer gently for another 10 to 15 minutes, being careful not to let it burn.

Serve it hot or cold, with slices of lemon.

 

SA PA: Building a Better Banh Mi

As I have written about here previously, I love Vietnamese food, so much so that I request it coming out from anesthesia. Anything with fish sauce will do, but I also love a good banh mi sandwich, that post-colonial combination of Asian flavors on a crunchy French baguette. When I was working at BU, I would take the 57 bus to get my fix at the Super 88 food court.

I do have one pet peeve about the standard recipe, and that is that almost every banh mi comes with pork pate standard. That’s a no go for me, so I always have to order it without. Don’t get me wrong, I like it without just fine, but sometimes I do feel like I’m missing out on the full banh mi experience.

That’s why I was excited to try out a new Vietnamese place that opened in Cleveland Circle in Brighton, not far from our house. It’s called SA PA, and it’s been open since May. (There’s also a Chinatown location that’s been open longer). The SA PA banh mi is made with a walnut-mushroom pate instead of the standard pork. The owner, Ky, told me he uses the veggie spread because it’s tastier and healthier, to boot.

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The decor is sleek and modern, wood floors and counters with red and sky blue accents. On the walls are photos of the owner’s family from their time in Saigon. The menu is similarly streamlined, with a few entrees available with a choice of protein, a couple sides, and the classic Vietnamese iced beverages. (The Cleveland Circle location also serves beer and liqueur cocktails.) In a nod to the college clientele, you can get your banh mi in a burrito instead of a baguette.

I brought Rich and Lilli along to sample the menu. I got the tofu banh mi with the walnut mushroom “pate”, with a side order of avocado summer rolls, fresh kimchi, and a chili mint limeade to drink. The sandwich came with the standard pickled daikon and carrots and fresh sprigs of cilantro, but also had sliced grapes, a fun and offbeat touch that really worked. It was a great vegetarian sandwich, full of fresh flavors and just the right amount of spice. Another common frustration of mine is shellfish lurking in kimchi, but I chatted with the chef about their version, which turned out to be crustacean-free. Rich got a big bowl of pho soup with slow-braised beef (brisket, we think) and thinly sliced rare beef that cooked in the broth, with crispy eggrolls and a Vietnamese Iced Coffee. We ordered Lilli a big bowl of vermicelli noodles, but she quickly took to Rich’s soup!

We very much enjoyed our meal at SA PA, and perhaps more importantly, I now know where to find a delicious pork-free banh mi without sacrificing an important ingredient.

SA PA has two locations in Boston: 93 Bedford Street in Downtown/Chinatown, and 1952 Beacon Street in Cleveland Circle. Visit http://www.sa-pa.com for menus and directions.