There’s Always Money in the Banana Stand!

Remember how last week I kindly suggested you peel five ripe bananas and put them into your freezer? It’s time to remove them. There’s a frozen chocolate peanut butter banana pie in my freezer right now and my kids have no idea. Please don’t tell them. They had melon for dessert, and I’d like to keep it that way.

This pie is probably my favorite recipe from the new cookbook The Chubby Vegetarian: 100 Inspired Vegetable Recipes for the Modern Table, from the folks behind the eponymous food blog. It might have something to do with it also being the easiest recipe in the entire cookbook, but more likely my inclination towards all things chocolate-peanut butter.

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There are other recipes that I’ve bookmarked: Baked Cauliflower Wings with Black and Bleu Dressing; Crispy Baked Avocado Tacos with Purple Cabbage Slaw; and Egg Foo Young with Sriracha Gravy. But other recipes have me asking why someone would go out their way and put tricky ingredients into a cookbook, like the Huitlacoche and Sweet Potato Quesadillas with Chipotle Cream. (Huitlacoche is a mushroom-like fungus that grows on corn and is apparently a delicacy in Mexico.) Still, I have a huge bag of masa on my kitchen table with which I will be making pupusas, but I’ll be skipping the pickled loroco flower.

But yes, this pie. Oh man, this pie.

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This photo is a lie: My children don’t actually eat food. Unless it’s lox, in which case, Bea would like another slice.

But back to the pie. Those frozen bananas are going to get whirled in your food processor (yay for my blade finally coming!) along with some peanut butter, dried dates, a little cocoa powder, almond milk and a touch of Maldon salt. If you don’t have Maldon salt, just use a pinch of kosher salt. Close enough. You’ll be making the crust first, and that’s just peanuts that have been pulsed in the bowl of the processor.

Honestly, this recipe couldn’t be simpler, although I would encourage you to really chop the dates and cut the bananas into smallish pieces. Your food processor will really get a work out with this recipe, and the smaller pieces will make it easier to blend.

This pie is vegan and gluten-free and “is just about perfect for summer birthday celebrations and backyard grilling parties.” I’d make this for Bea’s second birthday party in a few weeks, but she’s made it clear she wants a Princess Leia cake. May the force be with us.

Frozen Peanut Butter Banana Pie from Frozen Peanut Butter Banana Pie from The Chubby Vegetarian by Justin Fox Burks & Amy Lawrence

Ingredients

5 ripe bananas

1 cup roasted and salted peanuts

½ cup peanut butter

5 dried dates (pitted)

1 Tablespoon cocoa powder

½ cup unsweetened almond milk

½ teaspoon Maldon sea salt flakes

Chocolate syrup (to garnish)

Directions

Peel the bananas and freeze them for at least 3 hours. Into the work bowl of your food processor, place the peanuts and pulse until finely chopped. Into the bottom of a springform pan, spread the finely chopped peanuts in an even layer.

Slice the frozen bananas into chunks. Into the work bowl of the same food processor, place the bananas, peanut butter, dates, cocoa powder, almond milk, and salt. Blend until smooth. Gently pour mixture into the springform pan so as to not disturb the layer of peanuts on the bottom. Smooth the mixture with a rubber spatula by pushing the mixture to the edges. Place the springform pan in the freezer for at least an hour. For the best consistency, remove the pie from the freezer 10 minutes before serving so it softens a bit. Slice and drizzle with chocolate syrup.

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You Don’t Have to Take My Word for It

Do you ever come across a recipe that haunts you until you make it? It doesn’t happen to me that often, but it’s happened a few times in the past couple of weeks with one cookbook in particular, Diana Henry’s latest, Simple: Effortless Food, Big Flavors.

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The cookbook is outstanding, but with blurbs from Nigella Lawson and Yottam Ottolenghi, you don’t have to take my word for it. Henry seems like a pretty big deal in England: a weekly newspaper column, a broadcast on the BBC, and numerous awards, and I’m embarrassed to admit I’ve barely heard of her on this side of the ocean. Hopefully after this book she’ll become a household name, because it’s smashing.

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I’m posting these Persian-Inspired Eggs with Dates and Chili because it’s almost Purim and Mordechai, Esther, Achashverosh and Steve Bannon all live in Sushan, in the Kingdom of Persia. Diana says she first had a similar recipe in the Iranian food shop Persepolis in south London, served to her by the owner Sally Butcher. The café had it as a breakfast, but Diana added some greens and onions to it to make it into a more substantial lunch.

We had it for dinner last week when I felt pressed for time. I doubled the recipe and left out the chili, in hopes the girls would eat it. Bea had some, but Lilli was not keen on it. But the grown-ups loved it. It was easy to put together and just marvelous, even without the chili.

Persian-Inspired Eggs with Dates and Chili from Simple by Diana Henry

Ingredients

½ tablespoon olive oil

½ onion, finely sliced

½ teaspoon cumin seeds

¼ teaspoon chili flakes

Handful of baby spinach

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

Salt and pepper

2 soft dates (such as Medjool), pitted and coarsely chopped

1 tablespoon coarsely chopped cilantro leaves

Greek yogurt and flatbread (pita), to serve (optional)

Directions

Heat the olive oil in a small skillet and add the onion. Cook over medium heat until it is golden and soft. Add the cumin and chili flakes and cook for another 30 seconds or so, then add the spinach. Keep turning the leaves over in the heat so they wilt and the moisture that comes out of them evaporates, then reduce the heat and add the eggs, seasoning and dates.

Cook quite gently, just as you would if you were making creamy scrambled eggs; the mixture should be soft set. Finally scatter the cilantro. Serve immediately, with a little yogurt on the side (if you’ve made quite a spicy plateful you’ll need it) and flatbread, if you want.

 

Ants on a Log, All Grown Up

The origin of my new favorite potluck salad is very simple: I was at Star Market the morning of the neighborhood vegetarian potluck, and celery was on sale for 99 cents a bunch. All I could think was, “Wow, that would be so Cheap Beets if I could make a vegetable side dish for a dollar.”

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I knew I had seen a celery side dish somewhere, so I started flipping through the mental Rolodex as I picked up the things that were on my actual shopping list. When I got home I checked my Mario and Lidia cookbooks and then the rest of the Mediterranean shelf in my cookbook collection. Coming up short, I did what I always do when in doubt and I need a solid recipe: I looked to Melissa Clark. And there it was, a celery salad recipe. I actually checked online, and Clark has a similar recipe to which she adds dates. Obviously, there was no question about their inclusion.

So I made the salad for the potluck, and again this week for a potluck in my office I had organized. It’s pretty basic stuff: Celery, nuts, and dried fruit. It’s ants on a log, basically, but for grown-ups.

I’ve adapted Clark’s recipe ever so slightly, but it is indeed her recipe. Just as I’ve adapted hers, feel free to adapt as you need to. Clark notes that if you don’t have Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, “any aged cheese, such as Cheddar, Gouda, or manchego, can stand in very nicely.” If you are leaving out the cheese altogether, skip the dates, and “throw a handful of drained capers or chop an anchovy into the vinaigrette to give the salad a saline kick.”

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I like the crisp crunch of celery against the sweet chew of the date. This would be a great side dish for Thanksgiving. It’s a good chaser in between bites of roasted roots and heavy stuffing.

Celery Salad with Walnuts, Parmesan and Dates

Ingredients

1 cup walnuts

1 ½ Tablespoons red wine vinegar

½ teaspoon kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

8 large celery stalks with leaves, thinly sliced

2 ounces good Parmesan cheese, shaved or grated – whatever is easier for you

12 dates, chopped

Directions

Preheat oven to 350F. Spread the walnuts in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Toast, tossing halfway through, until the nuts are golden, 7 to 10 minutes. Cool and coarsely chop.

In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, salt, and pepper; whisk in the oil. Combine the walnuts, celery and leaves, cheese and dates in a large salad bowl. Add the vinaigrette and toss gently to combine.

Regifting, Sort of.

Recently, someone on our floor at work went to a far off land and brought back a box of dates. (You’ll remember that the boxes of Turkish Delight are brought directly to my desk.) After watching them go untouched for a few days, I took it upon myself to bring them home for a baking project. The result was a date nut bread, which my boss told me it was “the best one she’d ever had”. The New York Times apparently agreed; the title of the recipe is “An Incredible Date Nut Bread”.

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The recipe calls for pouring boiling water over baking soda, and then pouring the mixture onto the pile of chopped dates and raisins. When The Essential New York Times Cookbook editor Amanda Hesser found this recipe, she wrote food scientist Harold McGee to get his take. He replied: “My guess is that the baking soda step is a quick way of hydrating and softening the fruit, and probably turns the date bits into mush, which would help moisten the cake more than discrete pieces.” McGee also thought the baking soda would help make the cake brown, and indeed, as Hesser puts it, “the cake emerges from the oven dark and tawny.” And I can report that it smelled even better than it looked; at one point the scent of the loaf baking in the oven literally stopped me in my tracks.

steeping the dried fruit

Over Thanksgiving we had a visit with Sylvie and her wife Miriam at Mir’s parents place up in Maine. I had wanted to bring a loaf up as a thank you to our hosts but Syl is deathly allergic to walnuts. As it turns out, so are half of her in-laws, so I think I made the right move. But Mir’s mom said she loved date nut bread, so, using the rest of the purloined dates, I baked her a loaf and sent it to her for Chanukah. It was only after I took it out of the oven that I noticed the title of the December 1977 article from which the recipe came: “Food Gifts You Can Make at Home.”

Baking Notes: I’ve been experimenting with flours lately, and the loaf I sent to Mir’s parents was made with white whole wheat flour. I was a little nervous it would be too dry, but the feedback I’ve received has been very positive. The flour choice is entirely up to you.

An Incredible Date-Nut Bread

Ingredients

1 cup diced pitted dates

¾ cup raisins

¼ cup golden raisins

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 cup boiling water

8 Tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 large egg

1 1/3 cup sifted all-purpose flour

¾ cup walnuts, broken into small pieces

  1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9x5x3-inch loaf pan. Line the bottom with a rectangle of wax paper. Butter the rectangle and sprinkle with flour; shake out the excess flour.
  2. Put the dates and raisins in a medium bowl. Dissolve the baking soda in the boiling water and pour it over the date mixture.
  3. Cream together the butter and sugar in a large bowl. Beat in the vanilla and egg. Add the flour and mix well. Add the date mixture, including the liquid. Add the walnuts.
  4. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Place in the oven and bake for 50 to 70 minutes, or until the top of the cake is dark brown and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool for about 3 to 5 minutes, then unmold onto a rack, remove the paper, and let cool.

An Eight-Dollar Salad

“Let me tell you about this $8 salad I made,” has been sister-speak with Sylvie and me for years. I asked her this week how long we’d been using that term, and we realized that those were long-distance calls we were making to talk about our salads. (I know, I can almost taste the irony.) This was before everyone could take photos with their phones, or post it to Facebook. Heck there was no Facebook, and people rarely had cellphones. These were landline phone calls. And even the price of the salad is an indication of how long ago it was. The idea of a salad costing $8 gave us pause and sounded as absurd as a year of private college costing $55,000 a year, or paying a babysitter $20 for an hour of work.

And last week, when I made this $8 salad, I almost took a photo on my new Android phone and sent it to her, Facebook, and the Twitter universe. But I stopped myself and decided to share this salad with you for Tu B’Shvat which is on Wednesday, February 8th this year.

It is quite common for people to hold a Tu B’Shvat seder, which is kind of like the seder we have on Passover, but not exactly. Sure, there four cups of wine drunk at both, but a Tu B’Shvat seder is kabbalistic in nature, meaning it’s mystical in its origins and philosophy. (Although I honestly don’t know if Madonna goes to a Tu B’Shvat seder. She probably does, come to think of it.) At Passover we discuss God liberating us from being slaves in Egypt and the Exodus. We have a seder plate full of symbolic foods that help us tell the story of our Exodus, and eat reclining as free people would.  At Tu B’Shvat we talk about God’s metaphoric relationship to the spiritual and physical worlds. And we try to eat the seven species of foods from Israel that the Bible praises: wheat, barley, figs, dates, pomegranates, olives, and grapes. Almonds are also commonly eaten as almond tree blossoms are a harbinger of spring, and since Tu B’Shvat is the new year for the tree, it makes perfect sense. (Also, who doesn’t love marzipan or a nice piece of mandelbroit?)

Tu B’Shvat is also the new year for the trees, and the seder usually touches on the ecological aspects of Judaism. The concept of ecology, Jewish thought and food will be explored much more deeply in the first ever Boston Jewish Food Conference which is being held on  April 22 — Earth Day — at Hebrew College. I’m running the workshop on the Healthy Jewish Diet. (End of shameless plug. Let’s continue, shall we?)

This salad uses dates that have been sautéed in butter that I first read about here, although we discovered it makes much more sense to remove the pits before you sauté the dates. If you swap out the butter with a mild olive oil, you not only make this dish vegan, but you also end up using another one of the seven Tu B’Shvat foods. The grapes are roasted with rosemary and balsamic vinegar, turning their acidic bite warm and mellow. I use walnuts, but if you’re deathly allergic to them like Sylvie is, it might be better to use almonds. Although I use a brown sugar balsamic dressing for this salad, my friend Sara whipped up a tangy pomegranate molasses dressing last week which would incorporate yet another species into the salad,

A composed salad for Tu B’Shvat

Ingredients

1 head of wintry lettuce, cleaned and ripped into bite-sized pieces

1 roasted beet, the pieces should be cubed to about the size of a grape

1 cup red seedless grapes, washed and dried

1 teaspoon rosemary, chopped

1 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar

¼ cup walnuts

6 dates

1 Tablespoon butter

Directions

Preheat toaster oven 350. Prep the toaster oven tray with foil and toast the walnuts for 7 to 8 minutes.

While the walnuts are toasting, in a small bowl toss together the grapes, rosemary, balsamic vinegar and a glug of olive oil. Once the walnuts have finished toasting, raise the toaster oven to 400 degrees and bake the grape and rosemary concoction for approximately 20 minutes.

While the grapes are roasting, melt about a tablespoon of butter in a small pan over medium heat, slit open the dates and remove their pits. Add the dates to the pan. Cook for about 1 minute, then flip and cook the other side. They should get nicely caramelized.  Remove from pan. Quarter the fruit on a cutting board. (I actually have a separate fruit cutting board so the taste of garlic or onions will never interfere with a sweet piece of fruit.)

Place the lettuce on a large platter, and assemble the beets, grapes, walnuts and dates on top.

Dressing

In a small jar, place:

1/8 or so teaspoon mustard

2 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Teensy pinch of salt

1 teaspoon brown sugar

1 very very very small garlic clove, minced.

Then add 4 Tablespoons olive oil

Give a shake and taste. Is it very puckery? Then add another half teaspoon of brown sugar. You want it to be a soft balsamic dressing with the acid cut by the sweet.

A Taste of Date-Honey

Rich and I have been together for a few years now, so when I say things like, “Wow, this would be perfect for Tu BiShvat,” as I did last month, he just smiles and takes another serving.

Tu BiShvat, or the 15th day of the Jewish month of Shvat, is the new year for the trees. It falls on January 20th this year. It’s a holiday with a practical origin. Ancient Israelites were required to tithe from fruit trees three years of age or older, and Tu BiShvat was used as the official cut-off date.

Today, Tu BiShvat marks the beginning of springtime in Israel, and Jews celebrate it by hosting kabbalah-inspired seders and eating the seven fruits and grains named in Deuteronomy as the main produce of Israel: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates. (I also remember gnawing on pieces of dried carob, or buksur, when I was a little girl. I had no idea why, but if you’re interested, I found this very helpful.)

I hadn’t set out to make a dish for the holiday. What happened was this: I became totally enamored with the rutabaga, aka golden turnip, last month. I would steam one and eat it for breakfast. Underneath its sharpness I could taste a sweetness that’s almost floral. Wanting to draw out that flavor, I headed to the dried fruit section of my pantry. (Yes, dried fruit: an unsung hero of the pantry. A handful of raisins or cranberries can really brighten any dish.)

After a  little digging, I decided on the date. Looking back, I realize I must have been inspired by a grilled turnip and dates dish I had at the Israeli restaurant Zahav in Philadelphia this past summer. The tasting menu was an incredibly reasonable $36, an unbelievably low price considering the amount and quality of the food. If you have seen a tasting menu at a lower price, please please please let me know. I must emphasize that this restaurant is Israeli but not kosher. They do serve meat, but dairy eaters and vegetarians will still walk away with a very full belly.

Anyhow, my guess was right, as the date really enhances the fruitiness of rutabagas, while the bit of thyme here plays up its floral quality. The soft medjool dates are used here as they are in biblical texts, cooked down to make a kind of date-honey.

Rutabaga with Dates and Thyme

One rutabaga, peeled and diced

One small onion, peeled, halved and sliced thin

Four dates, pitted and chopped

Five sprigs of thyme

1/2 cup of stock

2 tablespoons butter

Salt to taste

Directions

Melt butter in a medium-sized saucepan on a medium-low heat. Sweat the onions with a few pinches of salt until they’re soft and near translucent, about nine minutes. Add the chopped dates and stir until they have melted down and coated the onions. Stir in the rutabaga. Add the half cup of stock, give a stir, and cover for about 50 minutes, until the rutabaga’s flesh is easily pierced with a fork. Stir in the leaves of thyme, cook for a minute or two longer and serve.