Ready for my close up

I’ve received a number of requests for recipes I’ve posted to my Instagram account with some folks even asking for video demonstrations. I took vacation time for Passover, and today I offer you Cheap Beets’ first ever video. It’s for zucchini ricotta fritters, something I make every year for Passover. Enjoy!

The Silver Lining

This past June, on the way to my cousin’s baby shower, I got lost. Really, really lost. Like, call my parents on a Sunday morning slightly hysterical lost. Like, call Rich the morning after a bachelor party while he’s eating at IHOP lost. The worst part was I had a GPS, but the road I would have normally taken was being worked on, and every time I turned on the GPS to lead me north, it directed me back to the closed-off highway. By some miracle, I made it to the shower on-time, although I now know that GPS and cellphone reception between Lowell, MA, and southern New Hampshire is a bit spotty in places.

The silver lining to the story is that while I was in the car, NPR’s Weekend Edition introduced me to Yotam Ottolenghi, an Israeli-born chef now working in London, whose new vegetarian cookbook, Plenty, has become a smash hit this year. Vegetarian and Israeli — basically, a cookbook written for me. My friend Sara tells me that when she lived in London in 2005 she went to his restaurant all the time, but was always surprised that he had so little name recognition in the States.

As soon as I made it back from the shower, I put my name on the waiting list at the library. There were about two dozen people ahead of me, and as his recipes started popping up on blogs I read, I needed to remind myself that patience is a virtue. Last week, I received the notice that the book was waiting for me at my local branch around the corner. I was so excited. It was my turn, finally. Mine, mine, mine.

Except, not unlike the GPS debacle, the book the librarian handed me wasn’t Plenty, but his first cookbook, Ottolenghi: The Cookbook, written in 2008. Well, I told myself, a top chef still has top recipes, even if they aren’t the ones I was counting on. So I decided to make lemonade out of lemons — or, in Ottolenghi’s case, preserved lemons — and dove in.

It’s always interesting reading a cookbook from another country because it’s a reminder that there’s a whole lot of world outside of my home. I knew that courgettes were zucchini and aubergines were eggplants, but I had no idea that snow peas were called mangetout, or that I actually had a swede — aka a yellow turnip, aka a rutabaga — in my crisper. I also had celeriac, (celery root) in the house as well, a cast-off from my officemate’s CSA.

The recipe I have for you today, a celery root and rutabaga slaw, is just perfect for these late autumn/almost winter months, and makes me wish these veggies were year-round produce. I’d never considered eating rutabaga raw, as I usually roast or braise them. And boy, have I been missing out! Seriously, the dish is extraordinary. Rich said it was one of the better things I’ve made lately. Not that I’ve been serving him swill; it’s just a really amazing salad.

Here’s what Ottolenghi has to say about this dish:

It is a bit like a rémoulade in its tang, but also has multilayered sweet (dried cherries) and savoury (capers) flavours to create a magnificently intense accompaniment to fish or lamb. It will also make a great addition to a vegetarian mezze.

Variations on this dish are endless. Try using kohlrabi, beetroot, turnip, carrot or cabbage, or a combination of them for this salad. Most soft herbs would suit, and don’t forget the acidity from citrus juice or vinegar to lighten it up.

I always have capers in the house, and I keep dried cherries from Ocean State Job Lot on hand in the pantry at all times, making this a great pantry recipe. I’ve made this dish twice in a five day period, and that’s without my large food processor. If you do have a food processor, this whips up in a jiff; if you don’t, I promise you it’s worth the extra effort. I didn’t have any sunflower oil on hand, so I used olive oil exclusively for the salad. I also used regular sugar in lieu of caster sugar. The slaw was still wonderful.

Don’t be scared of the ugly celery root. Give it a rinse to get some of the dirt off, and stand it up on the cutting board and cut the skin off by slicing down the sides of the bulb with a large sharp knife. You can cut the waxy skin off the rutabaga in the same manner.

The recipe is in grams, so my digital scale got quite the workout this week. I’ve converted it into ounces and cups for a more Continental-friendly audience, but the grams are the original measure and most accurate.

Sweet and sour celeriac and swede (aka Sweet and sour celery root and rutabaga) from Ottolenghi: The Cookbook

Serves 4-6

250g (9 oz., 1 1/2 cup) celeriac, peeled and thinly shredded

250g (9 oz., 1 1/2 cup) swede, peeled and thinly shredded

4 Tablespoons roughly chopped flat-leaf parsley

4 Tablespoons roughly chopped dill

50g (2 oz., 1/3 cup) capers, drained and roughly chopped

4 Tablespoons lemon juice (about 1 large lemon)

1 teaspoon cider vinegar

4 Tablespoons olive oil

4 Tablespoons sunflower oil

3 teaspoons Dijon mustard

2 garlic cloves, crushed

2 teaspoons caster sugar

100g (3.5 oz., 1/2 cup) dried sour cherries

Salt and black pepper

  1. Place the shredded celeriac and swede in a mixing bowl. Add all the rest of the ingredients and use your hands to mix everything together thoroughly. ‘Massaging’ the vegetables a little will help them absorb the flavors. Taste and add salt and pepper to your liking You might also want to add some extra sugar and vinegar.
  2. Allow the salad to sit for an hour so the flavors can evolve. It will keep for up to 2 days in the fridge. Add more herbs just before serving, for a fresher look.

Just Married

It’s not every day your friends elope. Well, ours did. On Friday.

We should have known something was up when Suzie and JoJo sent us a printed invitation for a Shabbat potluck in the park. Technically, there was no way it could have been a wedding invitation, because observant Jews can’t marry on the Sabbath. (And since Suzie is in rabbinical school, she definitely knows the rules.) Well, they surprised us all and got married at Cambridge City Hall on Friday morning. Our Facebook news feeds announced the good news, and we were all able to enjoy the photos from our desks at work.

For our contribution to the wedding feast, I made beet tzatziki, using a recipe of Ana Sortun’s (of Oleanna and Sofra Bakery). There’s something about beets that makes me think romance: the deep pink color, their sweet earthy flavor. I used an entire bunch for the recipe, and their prep couldn’t be easier. Trim the stems if it’s a whole beet, wrap each individually in foil, place them on a baking sheet (this protects your oven from beet drippings) and toss them into a preheated 450 degree oven for about an hour. I say an hour because there’s no hard and fast rule for a beet; you’ll know they’re done when a sharp knife slides easily into the root. When cool enough to handle, rub the skins off with a paper towel or clean kitchen towel if you’re not scared about staining one. (I personally am.) Grate the beets using the large holes of a box grater.

And don’t toss those stems and leaves! They are a fantastic dish unto themselves; think of them like a leafy green, like a Swiss chard. Sauté them up in some olive oil and chopped garlic for another tasty dish.

Beet Tzatziki from Spice: Flavors of the Eastern Mediterranean by Ana Sortun

Ingredients

1 cup cooked, shredded beets

1 teaspoon finely chopped garlic (about 1 clove)

2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (about ¼ lemon)

1 teaspoon salt

1 ½ cups whole-milk plain yogurt (I actually used a low-fat Greek yogurt and no one knew the difference)

1 Tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Black pepper to taste

1 Tablespoon chopped fresh dill

Directions

  1. Place the garlic into a medium mixing bowl with the lemon juice and salt. Let it stand for about 10 minutes. This takes some of the heat out of the raw garlic.
  2. Stir in the yogurt, olive oil and black pepper.
  3. Fold in the shredded beets and dill, and re-season with salt and pepper to taste if necessary. Serve the beets cold or at room temperature.

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.