Setback

Well, gosh. First and foremost, thank you so much for all your kind comments last week, on the blog, in person and over e-mail. You really know how to make a lady feel loved. Second, sorry for not coming back sooner to share good food. See, remember how I complained about my back? It turns out it wasn’t a pulled muscle, but a tear in the cartilage in my lower back. To answer the two questions you are now asking: Yes, it does hurt; quite a bit, and yes, they gave me some excellent pain killers. I’m also going to an acupuncturist twice a week and am being treated with Chinese herbal medicine. I’m seeing the surgeon on Thursday.

I’ve also been working on another project which I hope to share with you soon…

Anyhow, I stayed home from work for a better portion of the week with a heating pad pressed against my back. It hurts to sit for too long, so then I stand for a little bit, until that hurts… you get the picture. All this back pain has kept me out of the kitchen. This afternoon I stood by the counter and prepped some roots for roasting, and about 5 minutes in I had to call it quits and Rich kindly took over the project.

So the recipe I have for today has been vetted by me, but has been prepared by my sous chef Rich. (I know, I tell people all the time I won the husband lottery.) This morning I woke up to the scent of household cleaning supplies as he had spent the morning cleaning the kitchen, the bathrooms, and was onto his second load of laundry.

It had been very cold last week, and this recipe would have been perfect if I had made it then. Of course, we are now experiencing the “January thaw” Old-Time New England Cookbook talks about, although there’s been nary a snowflake to melt.

Now, about this recipe: It’s a mushroom barley soup from Mollie Katzen’s Moosewood Cookbook, which I feel is one of those desert-island cookbooks. The first time I used this recipe was in my early twenties, when a guy I had a crush on off-handedly mentioned he loved mushroom barley soup. I “coincidentally” showed up the next day with a gallon Ziploc bag full of it. Good stuff.

When most people think of mushroom barley soup, they think of something thick and porridge-like.  This is more of a broth with chewy bites of barley and mushrooms. I’ve altered the recipe a little bit for the reflux: removing the sherry, and changing the soy sauce to tamari to create a second layer of umami, as both the mushrooms and the tamari are chockfull of it. The result is almost meaty, even though the dish is completely vegetarian. (It could also be made vegan by substituting oil for butter.) The mushrooms used here are white button; nothing fancy. The onions are slowly sautéed in a separate pan until they are translucent and have lost their bite, as was done to the garlic. I’ve also eliminated the fresh black pepper Katzen calls for. If someone at your table finds it lacking, just make sure the grinder is nearby. But honestly, this soup doesn’t need it.

With a slice of leftover challah, this made a very nice lunch. I used a small, handmade bowl, which was about 1/3 smaller than a regular soup bowl. You have to be careful not to eat large portions with the reflux; an overstuffed stomach can cause a lot of discomfort.

Mushroom Barley Soup Adapted from Mollie Katzen’s Moosewood Cookbook

Preparation Time: 1 ¼ hours

Ingredients

½ cup uncooked barley

6 ½ cups water

1-2 Tbs. butter

1 medium onion, chopped (about 1 ½ cups)

2 medium cloves garlic, minced

1 lb. mushrooms, sliced*

½ to 1 tsp. salt

4 Tbs. tamari

Directions

Place the barley and 1 ½ cups of the water in a large saucepan, or a Dutch oven. Bring to a boil, over, and simmer until the barley is tender. (20 to 30 minutes).

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a skillet. Add the onions and sauté them until they are completely translucent but not browned. Add garlic, mushrooms, and ½ tsp. salt. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until everything is very tender. About 10 to 12 minutes. Stir in tamari.

Add the sauté with all its liquid to the cooked barley, along with the remaining 5 cups of water. Simmer, partially covered, another 20 minutes over very low heat. Taste to correct seasonings, and serve.

*I realize that the packages of button mushrooms are 10 ounces, so if you’re using one of those, reduce the water by a cup, and the tamari by 1 Tbs.

Pot of Gold

Call it kismet, call it destiny, call it Lady Luck, but there is something afoot in my kitchen. A few weeks back, as we were enjoying stuffed pumpkin at a Friday night dinner, I become just a tad wistful talking about my love of cholent, a stew prepped on Friday afternoon, put on a low-flame and cooked overnight so it’s ready the next day for Shabbat lunch. Alas, I lost my Crock-Pot sometime between moving from Harlem to Lower Allston. Such is life, I thought to myself, and helped myself to another piece of pumpkin.

The next day, I set out to take a walk down by the river to watch some of the Head of Charles (read: to eat free food samples down by the river). As I weaved my way through my neighborhood, I stumbled upon a tag sale. And there it was: a Crock-Pot! After inquiring with the Crock-Pot seller about the safety of a Crock-Pot with a $15 price tag – they had just gotten married and were selling things they had doubles of – I convinced them to set it aside.

That Monday morning my sister popped up on Gchat and randomly asked me if and when I was going to post some slow-cooker recipes. “Funny you should ask that,” I typed.

We’ve had some freakishly warm weather this fall, so I was slow to put my new find to use. This past weekend, however, I decided to get a few things in order in the kitchen. I spent an afternoon tidying my pantry by putting dried beans and grains into empty glass Bell jars. Things did look extra-spiffy at the end of my task, but my actions served a deeper purpose: to keep creepy crawling things out of my food. I also did some electronic tidying, sorting through all my emails that contained recipes — 538 to be exact, including several featuring slow cooker recipes I’d tucked away, just in case.

I’ve started digging through the myriad of Crock-Pot recipes, but I’m going to start things off with that cholent I dreamed about.

I started this project two days before. Right before I went to bed, I placed 1 and 1/2 cups of dried cranberry beans to soak overnight. (A quick word about dried beans: Given the new information about BPA levels in canned foods, I am going to now exclusively use dried beans when I cook with legumes, and you should, too. OK, enough lecturing.)

When I came home from work the next day, I assembled the rest of the cholent. I set the cooker to low and left it on overnight. When we woke up in the morning the house had the smell I’d been pining for. Or, as Rich sang, “It’s beginning to smell a lot like cholent.” I kept the pot on low and went to work. I think the cholent would have been ready by mid-morning and certainly for lunch. If I wasn’t at work, I’d most likely be eating bowls of this all day long.

You’ll notice that I’ve topped mine off with a dollop of Greek yogurt. I know some of you won’t be able to do that final step, but if you can, I promise you it’s terrific. You can also leave out the eggs and keep this dish vegan, but I love the deep flavor of the slow roasted egg. I also left salt out of the Crock-Pot and added it to taste when all was said and done.

Vegetarian Cholent with Cumin and Aleppo Pepper

Ingredients
1 and 1/2 cups of dried beans (I used cranberry, but I think chickpea would also be great in this version) soaked overnight
1/2 cup barley
1 carrot, peeled and chopped into 1-inch pieces
1 onion halved and quartered
2 cloves garlic, smashed
1 large potato or 2 small potatoes, peeled, halved and chopped into quarters
1 turnip, peeled, halved and quartered (a rutabaga would also be very nice)
Approximately 2 1/2 cups water, depending on the size of your crockpot
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper
2 eggs

Directions
On the night before you want to serve the cholent, place all ingredients in your Crock-Pot, except for the eggs. I prefer giving everything a stir so that the spices swirl and cover the vegetables, then place the eggs on top of everything else. Cover, turn Crock-Pot to low, and walk away. In the morning, check to see if everything is sufficiently moist. If things look dry, add a half cup water. Turn the eggs over.

For the yogurt: when ready to serve, mix 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin, 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander, 1/2 teaspoon aleppo pepper, juice of half of one lemon and a pinch of salt into 3/4 cup of Greek yogurt. I also tried a plain scoop of yogurt on top of today’s lunch. Both were delicious; it will really be up to you how much you want to explore the added spices.