It’s What We Do

kosher vegetarian

It must be an August thing, because I’ve been dreaming about eggplant again. A thick purple gem of an aubergine came a few weeks back in my CSA, and I had been tossing around ideas of what I wanted to do with it for days. I knew I wanted it to be a dip perfect for pita — tomatoey, soft with a bit of a shimmer, not too smoky. I also knew I wanted to use the green pepper that came in the same box. But I couldn’t quite put my finger on exactly how I was to execute my vision. I knew that Aleza was coming to town, so I assured the eggplant that its fate would be a lovely one, if it could just hang on a few more days.

In preparation for our visit, we chatted a bit online about my vision, bouncing around flavors from Israel, Persia and Armenia — places that do magical things with eggplant. On a Tuesday morning, Aleza and I hunkered down with slices of leftover blueberry pie in her parents’ kitchen. (Yes, I took a vacation day to cook this eggplant. And I think all mornings should start with slices of leftover blueberry pie.) While digging around the refrigerator, her dad came downstairs and asked us if we needed any help. “Oh no,” we assured him, “we’re all set.” We were just checking to make sure there wasn’t a vegetable we had overlooked who would want to join the eggplant. We ended up taking two smaller eggplants Aleza had picked up at the farmer’s market in Provincetown, to supplement my own.

Although it had been literally a dozen years since Aleza and I cooked and studied together in Israel, it felt just so right to have planned an entire visit around cooking a meal. “It’s what we do,” Aleza summed up to her father.

Eggplant a la Aleza Eve

Ingredients

2 lbs. of eggplant (one very large one will do)

Enough oil to cover a pan

1 1/2 teaspoons whole cumin seeds

1 half white onion, chopped

4 cloves garlic, chopped

1 green pepper, chopped

1 1/2 teaspoons Aleppo pepper

14 oz. can crushed tomato

Salt to taste

Directions

Preheat oven to 450 degrees

We began the eggplant preparation by placing them one at a time directly on top of a burner on the stove for about 10 minutes, turning them about every two minutes so that the entire eggplant would come into contact with the flame. This blistered its skin and started to soften its flesh. Then we tossed it into a very hot preheated oven and roasted it while we prepared the rest of the dish.

As we discussed relationships, politics, writing, religion, music and tattoos, I chopped the onion while Aleza chopped up the green pepper and garlic. We went with whole cumin seeds, which we added to a pan of hot oil, and watched until they jumped and popped. Then we added the onions and a pinch of salt, which we cooked for about 10 minutes, stirring with a wooden spoon every two minutes or so. Next we added the Aleppo pepper, green pepper and garlic, and cooked that altogether for about 15 more minutes.

(I had to run to the grocery store at this point to pick up black beans for a little protein for the corn salad we had decided to serve with the eggplant, so I didn’t actually witness this next part, but will recreate as best I can.)

A good 40 minutes had passed since we’d added the eggplant to the oven, and Aleza could see it was ready by the way it had completely softened and collapsed in on itself. She knew it was really ready by the way the flesh was easily scraped from its skin with a fork, which she then added to the onion-cumin-pepper mixture on the stove. Then she added about half of a 28 oz. can of crushed tomatoes. She was a little worried that she’d added too much, but it was just what I’d had in mind.

We cooked the dish for another 10 minutes or so, making sure all the flavors melded into each other. As we turned off the stove, Aleza drizzled a little red wine vinegar onto the eggplant, to perk it up. After toasting some pita (which I also purchased on my trip to the grocery store) we enjoyed my eggplant vision in its full glory, drizzling olive oil onto the servings on our plate.

Cornucopia

Well, it’s official. Today Cheap Beets is one year old. It really has just zipped by. I remember, as I turned the kitchen calendar to March, saying worriedly to Rich, “But I didn’t even get to talk about Brussels sprouts!” And all of a sudden it was June and not a word about asparagus. “Don’t worry,” he assured me, “there’s always next year, and the year after that.”

kosher vegetarian

When I started the blog, I was on a mission: To help people eat well during the recession. We’d been through a layoff and survived it with very full, happy bellies, and I wanted to assure as many people as would listen that they could do it too. I spent a good deal of last summer worrying about what to call the blog: Rich could see the writing on the wall and suggested I call it “Double Dip” and feature two scoops of my homemade ice creams in the banner. Sigh.

Well, it’s been a year, and I’m ready to let you guys in on a very big secret; a confession, of sorts. Although I do love beets, and radishes, and green beans, and cauliflower, too, most people are shocked to find out that my favorite vegetable is corn. I mean, I know all about the corn subsidies, the evils of high fructose corn syrup and as its nasty use as a filler in animal feed. I know, my dear readers. Oh, I know.

But here’s what you don’t know: I was spoiled by the freshest corn possible when I was growing up. Literally, picked right off the field. Have you ever had it? Then you know what I’m talking about when I say it’s the sweetest, crunchiest, best taste in the world.  Growing up in Western Massachusetts, my mom bought the bulk of our vegetables at the roadside stand in nearby Enfield, Connecticut. Less than four miles from our house, the little town was still mostly farmland well into my high school years. If you wanted corn for dinner, you’d go to Johnnie’s Roadside Market and watch the corn fly down the shoot after it had been picked off the field. My six-year-old niece Becca learned this week that’s how you buy corn, too. I want THAT one, and point to yours as it flies by. And be sure to eat it as soon as you can, the longer it’s off the stalk, the tougher it becomes. When I was young, I wanted to marry a farmer so I could have an endless supply of corn every day. I don’t even need to shmear anything on it. Just plain old corn, followed by a good flossing.

For the past few weeks, we’ve received piles of corn in the CSA, and I couldn’t be happier about it.  I’ve tried to move past eating it plain, as I know not everyone is as smitten with the vegetable as I am. I’ve shmeared it with feta and squeezed lime juice on top of that. Scrumptious. And I’ve taken to making this salad, as well. It’s really just things from the CSA box. I wasn’t even going to post it, but my friend Marianne said I needed to after I brought it to veggie potluck this week.

The longest part of this recipe is the green bean prep, but if you do the Cook’s Illustrated method that I’ve talked about here before (lining a handful of tips together, giving a little cut, and then doing it to the other side), it flies by. Taking another page from the magazine – and I think Alton Brown says to do this too – dig out your Bundt pan and stick your ear of corn, upright, right in the hole. It makes kernel removal a cinch.

Fresh Corn, Green Bean and Cherry Tomato Salad

½ lb. fresh green beans, trimmed

¼ cup water

6 ears of corn, shucked, kernels removed

4 cloves of garlic, slivered

1 cup of cherry tomatoes, halved

1 heaping Tablespoon fresh basil leaves, cut in a chiffonade

1 Tablespoon olive oil

Salt

Directions

Heat olive oil in a large skillet. After 30 seconds, add the garlic, green beans, pinch of salt and the water. Cover, letting the beans steam away in the pan for about five minutes. While this is happening, shuck your corn, and remove the kernels using your Bundt pan and a large, sharp knife. Add corn to the skillet and give a stir. While the corn and green beans are cooking, rinse your tomatoes and cut those in half. Add to skillet and give another stir. Cook for about three minutes longer, then add your basil, another pinch of salt, and cook a minute or so longer. That’s all. Share with others, if you can. I’ll understand if you can’t.

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.

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.

Redemption Salad

Lately, I’ve been inflicting injurious harm to salads within my reach. Or, as Rich put it when he saw the mess on my plate at his brother’s wedding two weeks ago, “What did you do to your salad?” I looked down at my plate. The dressing was more of a lake on my little dish.  A grape tomato floated in the liquid like a buoy. A piece of lettuce, like a water-bogged piece of driftwood, was sinking nearby. “I don’t know,” I replied, stymied. The following week, at a friend’s bridal shower, a similar fate happened to my salad there as well. I’ve tried to understand what went wrong; my guess is one shouldn’t apply salad dressing with a ladle. Or, I shouldn’t use a ladle, at least.

This week was the start of Ward’s Berry Farm choose-your-own-CSA-box through my office. It couldn’t be simpler: I was given the option of ordering upfront for the entire season or going week-by-week, choosing whatever box tickles my fancy when it’s announced. And I couldn’t be happier. May and April were such a bust, produce-wise.  I am still annoyed at the bunch of asparagus I picked up with glee last month at Russo’s, only to realize it was from California. So the idea that I can get a box of produce from the farmer who picked it, two blocks from my office, makes me so happy. This week’s box included two heads of lettuce: my shot at redemption for the wrong I did to those poor, unsuspecting plates of banquet salad.

I intentionally kept the salad simple. I carefully cleaned the red leaf lettuce, gave it a spin in a salad spinner and ripped it into bite-sized pieces. I sliced up a cucumber, and then peeled and grated a beet. If you can, do it it with a food processor; it keeps things on the clean side. Then, I gently drizzled on this sunset-hued chile-cumin vinaigrette from Didi Emmons Vegetarian Planet. I modified the recipe just a touch. I found that the two teaspoons of honey made for a very tangy dressing, so I added a third. She calls for a mild red chili power: I used the Aleppo powder I picked up at Fairway last time I was visiting friends in the city.

Chile-Cumin Dressing adapted from Vegetarian Planet

Ingredients

1 ½ teaspoons cumin seeds

1 garlic clove, chopped

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon mild red chili powder

3 teaspoons honey

1/3 cup apple cider vinegar

2/3 cup canola or corn oil

Salt and fresh-ground black pepper to taste

  1. Toast the cumin seeds in a small, dry skillet, shaking the pan often, until they release their aroma. Grind the seeds in a spice mill. In a blender or food processor, blend the garlic, mustard, cumin, chili powder and honey to a paste.
  2. Pour the vinegar and oil into a bowl. With the blender or processor running, slowly pour the vinegar-oil mixture into the paste. When all of the vinegar-oil mixture has been incorporated, add salt and pepper. Store the dressing in a covered container in the refrigerator. It will keep for up to 3 weeks.

Makes about 1 cup dressing

Iron Chef: CSA

A few summers ago, I had the privilege of judging a local Iron Chef competition. The secret ingredient was not some creature off the ocean’s floor or an exotic fruit flown in from a far off island. Instead, it was the contents of the contestants’ Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) boxes, to highlight New England’s incredible summer bounties.

The teams used different farms and were assured that they didn’t need to use their entire boxes. To make sure the competition was fair, a list of standard vegetarian ingredients was issued, to be used in moderate quantities to enhance the vegetables: eggs, butter, up to 24 oz of soy products, 1 can beans/chickpeas or up to 2 lbs dried legumes, vegetable broth, garlic, onion,  nuts, flour, rice, quinoa or couscous, cornstarch, cocoa, sugar, up to 6 oz of cheese,  salt, pepper, milk, extra-virgin olive oil, vegetable oil, mustard, vinegar, soy sauce, lemon/lime juice. Contestants were allowed to use any spices but got extra points for fresh herbs.

Some teams really stepped up for the competition and produced terrific dishes, including a refreshing tomato granita served in a hollowed-out cucumber and fresh, homemade pasta. Others, I am sad to report, did not. “A quiche?” I asked one team. “You bring me quiche? Do you want to win?”

(Side note: Before I get a dozen comments from people defending quiche, I just want to say, I get it. In fact, I keep a package of frozen Orinoco pie shells in my freezer, just in case I need to show up at a potluck at an hour’s notice: some eggs, some milk, a softened onion, a jar of roasted red peppers kept in the pantry for this specific food emergency, a fluffy pile of grated cheese. Yes, I get it. But there’s a contest going on, people!)

“Hey,” they responded, “We were at the Springsteen concert last night. It got out late. We didn’t have enough time. The crust is homemade, if that helps.” It helped, a little. Duly noted.

After the parade of dishes, we, the judges huddled upstairs comparing notes, where, a la Twelve Angry Men, I may have provoked a “spirited” conversation about which team should win. My favorite was the first team, which kicked off the competition with fresh summer rolls stuffed with ripe mango, served with a side of peanut dipping sauce. “But Molly,” my judges pointed out, “they broke the rules. There’s no such thing as a mango in a CSA box. There’s no such thing as a local mango, period. It’s New England! And rice papers? Peanut butter? Those things just aren’t allowed.” “But they were my favorite!” I argued. “I loved the mango in the summer rolls; so refreshing in this heat.”

I was outvoted ultimately, and realistically we couldn’t award the CSA Iron Chef competition to fresh mango summer rolls. I relented and begrudgingly shaved points from their score. The winner, I guess I should just mention at this point, was the tomato granita team, which was captained by my sister. Hey, I’m nothing if not impartial.

The fresh mango was such a treat for me. I never buy them, exactly for the reason why my fellow judges felt they had no place in the competition. But here’s the thing: It’s mango season, really and truly. As Melissa Clark wrote last month, springtime is mango season in India and all the hot steamy places mangoes grow. My Facebook feed is now full of photos of friends’ mango trees in Miami, brimming with the orange gems. Considering that we seem to have skipped from winter right into summer (complete with thunderstorms and tornadoes) the time is right for fresh mango summer rolls.

I bought my rice papers at H-Mart in Burlington, but I’ve also picked them up at Super 88 (now Hong Kong Market) at Packard’s Corner. The Thai basil and fresh mint are what makes it taste like a summer roll. I picked up my bunches at Russo’s this time around, but I know H-Mart and Hong Kong Market sells them as well.

If you’ve never made a summer roll before, don’t fret, it’s very simple. Think burrito. Some of the rice papers will rip, but just keep going. And please don’t worry if they don’t all look gorgeous; they’ll still taste delicious. Make sure you have all your ingredients laid out on the counter assembly-line style, starting with a pan of warm water for soaking the rice paper.

To prepare the mango: I peel mine with a peeler, then I stand it up and, with a sharp knife, cut the flesh right up off its pit. For this dish, I slice everything very, very thin, the length and width of two matchsticks.

Most recipes I’ve read for summer rolls call for Napa cabbage, although I’ve never actually been served them that way in a restaurant. After ranch dressing, this is the best use of iceberg lettuce.  I thought that some crisp, sweet red pepper would be nice with the mango, and it was. I also used some fresh tofu, and I’ve seen some restaurants use grilled meat in theirs. I say go for it, if that’s your thing. Otherwise, hello, vegan yumminess!

Fresh Summer Rolls

8 rice papers, but keep more around because some will rip

One head iceberg lettuce, thinly sliced. Use a plastic knife if you’ve got one handy; steel knives will cause the lettuce to brown.

¼ cup Thai basil, julienned

¼ cup fresh mint leaves, julienned

1 tablespoon rice vinegar

Toss all ingredients together in a large bowl.

Half a red pepper, cleaned and sliced the width and length of two matchsticks

One mango, sliced the width and length of two matchsticks

One block tofu, sliced the width and length of two matchsticks

Directions:

Fill a large pan with warm water and set on counter. Next to that, place a large plate. If you have room on your counter, place the herbed lettuce directly in back of the plate. If not, place it right next to the plate. Next to that, set your plate of mango, tofu and red peppers.

Take one sheath of rice paper, gently lay it into the water, swish it between your fingers for about 15 seconds, until it softens.

Remove it from the pan and lay it on the plate.

Place about ¼ cup of lettuce near the bottom of the paper. Add a slice of mango (or two), red pepper and tofu.

Fold up the bottom, then the sides, and roll up to the top.

Repeat.

And please don’t get frustrated if the first two or three, or even the seventh, rips. It will happen.

Peanut Butter Sauce

1 cup peanut butter

1 cup coconut milk

2 tablespoons tamari or soy sauce

1 tablespoon brown sugar

2 cloves chopped garlic

1 tablespoon grated ginger

Juice of half a lime

Mix all ingredients in bowl and give it a taste. Maybe you’ll realize it needs more sugar. Maybe you’ll think it needs more ginger. Definitely fine tune it to your own tastes. Also, this makes a ton of sauce. It will keep in the fridge for a few days. My suggestion is to find yourself some steamed broccoli and some noodles. Maybe brown rice. I promise you at no time will you throw your hands up in the air and shriek that you have too much peanut sauce on hand.

To Market, To Market

Fresh eggs at La Boqueria, Barcelona

The “activities” on my Facebook profile are pretty accurate. I really do enjoy melting cheese on things, experimenting with my pressure cooker, riding my bicycle along the Charles and exploring international grocery stores. Of course, when you’re in another country, every grocery store is an international one, and on our trip I made a point of wandering through markets both famous and quotidian.

La Boqueria in Barcelona has existed in some form since the 13th century, first as a meat market.

They love them some pork in Spain.

Today, vendors still sell meat — everything from pigs’ heads, to hanging charcuterie — but alongside a kaleidoscope of fresh produce, eggs, spices, cheeses, fish, nuts, chocolate and sweets.

Fruity candy...

And fruit as sweet as candy.

I bought marcona almonds at this stand. Shhh, don't tell customs.

La Boqueria is frequented by Barcelona residents, but it’s very touristed as well. In order to see how the natives shopped everyday, we popped into the French grocery store chain Carrefour, three storefronts down Las Ramblas. The refrigerator cases were nowhere near as photogenic, but I got a kick out of the juice boxes of gazpacho and mass-produced Spanish Easter cake offerings.

Although it wasn’t our intention, our visit to medieval Bruges coincided with the town’s weekly market, where local villagers shop for their produce, cheeses, meats, candies and plants.

Tourists dominate in Bruges, but the natives come out for market day.

Gummy smurfs. La la la-la-la-la...

I’ll be quite honest and say that I was not enamored by this quaint, Flemish, walled city. My advice is to rent In Bruges; at least some shots in the film that weren’t overrun with tourists. Despite the entire town being named a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the place feels Disney-fied.

Our friend Brian told us Bruges was too touristy. We should have listened.

Many of the buildings have been almost too well-restored, as if they exist solely to serve as a backdrop for pictures taken by thousands of tourists who swarm the main square daily to see the belfry and take a canal ride. Rich and I much preferred Antwerp, where medieval castles are integrated into a working city of half a million.

We preferred Antwerp's mix of medieval and modern to Disneyland Bruges. Also, Antwerp had better beer.

My musings on the authenticity of Bruges extended to the produce at the weekly market in the town square. We Americans have an idealized notion of the European market, but I couldn’t help but wonder what Michael Pollan would think of the pallets of Driscoll’s strawberries, straight from the farm… in California.

As in Spain, my market visits in The Netherlands weren’t limited to the photogenic public markets. In Rotterdam we stopped at Albert Heijn, a chain supermarket, to buy provisions for our picnic among the flowers. I enjoyed browsing the jars of pickled vegetables, the prepared salads, the mass-produced chocolate and confections (think Cardullo’s), the cheese case and the deli. (Rich, meanwhile, was agog at the baseline quality of Dutch supermarket beer.)

It turns out the Europeans also like convenience, and the produce section had an entire wall of pre-peeled boiled potatoes and beets, a la Trader Joe’s. I was surprised to see that bagged lettuce is not just an American phenomenon. The Dutch also enjoy that convenience, albeit with their own twist; there you can buy curly-cues of pre-cut, pre-washed Belgian endive.

Belgian endive in its natural habitat.

Our first night in Rotterdam, our hosts served us stampot, a mash of potatoes and endive so common that the recipe is on the back of the bag. It was delicious, especially with the garlic and shallots our friends added to spice up the typically bland Dutch fare. But I had another dish on my mind. “If I could get this at Star Market, there is a salad I would eat every day,” I said dreamily to my hosts. Well, I’ve been back just a few weeks, and although I’ve had to chop my own endive, I’ve already enjoyed this salad three times. And now I share it with you.

Endive Salad with Radish, Crumbled Egg and Anchovy Vinaigrette

Ingredients for Salad

5 heads of endive, cut into 1/4 rounds

6 radishes, thinly sliced

1 hard-boiled egg

A few notes: Sometimes a head of endive is a good four inches thick, sometimes it’s barely two. Last week I was able to produce a salad with five heads of endive that fed four comfortably, but the four heads I had on Friday night barely filled one salad plate. I’ve seen very good prices at Market Basket, but it really does vary from week to week and store to store. If you’re unhappy with what you’ve found, this recipe will also work very well with escarole.

To prepare the endive, peel off the first layer of bitter leaves. With a sharp knife, cut half-moons approximately 1/4 inch thick. Stop when you get to full moons; these rounder pieces are very very bitter.

Place half-moons on an appropriately-sized serving platter, followed by the thin discs of radish. I prefer adding the vinaigrette at this stage, then topping off the salad with a hard boiled egg that I’ve simply crumbled with my hands. Then, if I’m feeling it, I drizzle some more dressing on top of the egg.

Anchovy Vinaigrette

In a small jar, shake together:

3 anchovies, minced

About 2 cloves of garlic, minced

Scant teaspoon of mustard — I use mustard sparingly in my dressings, as I’m not a big fan of the flavor, but it does such a good job emulsifying things. If you like mustard, add more; I’m sure it will taste delicious.

3 tablespoons red wine vinegar

6-7 tablespoons olive oil

The vinegar-to-oil ratio is entirely up to you. As I’ve admitted in the past, I love tart things, so I enjoy a little pucker, but I know that’s not the case for most people. I’ve left salt off the ingredients because many people will find the anchovies salty enough, but definitely season to your taste.

Bonus Recipe: I recently came across this anchovy vinaigrette from Rendezvous in Central Square, Cambridge. If you’ve got the ingredients in the house, I say go for it. I’ll freely admit to wanting to drink this straight from the bowl.

The Georgian Feast

Rich lost his kitchen privileges. The ban was imposed after I came home to a flooded kitchen last Thursday. At first, I wasn’t sure where it was coming from, but soon enough it became clear that the leak was coming from a broken garbage disposal. I can only assume the culprit was the once-lost pestle (as in mortar and), discovered by Rich when it was chewed up by the garbage disposal the previous week. Good news: I now have a new garbage disposal; thanks, Chief Parr! Bad news: I still have a mortar minus a pestle.

Fast forward to Tuesday night, when I attended a Georgian Feast. No, it was not an evening of peaches and pecans, but a dinner and lecture about the Republic of Georgia, which I learned is really a crossroads between Eastern Europe and Western Asia. It was one of several seminars in food, wine and the arts my school is offering this semester, and for which I used my student discount to its full advantage. The lecturer was Darra Goldstein, professor of Russian at Williams College and author of The Vegetarian Hearth, from which the terrific lentils and leeks recipe comes. But most importantly, Dr. Goldstein is the founder and editor-in-chief of the phenomenal scholarly food magazine Gastronomica, which was recently awarded Best Food Magazine of 2010 at the Gourmand Awards.

According to one Georgian legend, God took a supper break while creating the world. He became so involved with his meal that he inadvertently tripped over the high peaks of the Caucasus, spilling his food onto the land below. The land blessed by Heaven’s table scraps was Georgia.

This feast was the second of a two-night event. The previous night was a lecture about sustainable caviar, which, according to one of the women at my table, also involved six separate shots of vodka. Our outstanding dinner, which was prepared by the students in the culinary arts program, also involved alcohol. Keith Johnsen of Daqopa Brands flew in from Washington State to serve us six wines, three white and three red. Actually, I may have enjoyed more than my six. When the slender, young African American man wearing a dark suit and gold bow tie sat down at my table, I leaned over and asked “is it safe to assume you won’t be drinking your wine this evening?” He smiled and confirmed my guess. “I know all about food restrictions, I grew up kosher. I completely understand. I also wrote a 20 page paper last semester analyzing the show Man vs. Food and the perpetuation of food waste in American culture. Religiously speaking, it would be an affront to God to have that wine poured down the drain.” He laughed and passed me his wine.

And the feast itself? We started with khachapuri, a buttery bread full of salty cheese, which we enjoyed while Goldstein demonstrated the preparation of in the front of the room. Tabaka, flattened chicken traditionally eaten with one’s hands to get every bit of meat, was served with niortskali, a garlic sauce, drizzled on top. On the side were mtsvane lobios borani, spiced green beans with a garlicky yogurt dressing, and charkhlis, a beet puree full of coriander and walnuts. For dessert, we had purple pelamushi, grape juice and cornmeal squares, and fresh fruit. All the recipes can be found in Goldstein’s The Georgian Feast, winner of the 1994 Julia Child Book of the Year Award, which all attendees received.

We drank a 2001 Brut Vintage Reserve Bagrationi, a 2007 Mildiani Katstieli, a 2008 Pheasant’s Tears Rkatsiteli, a 2007 Saperavi Kondoli Vineyards, a 2006 Mukazani Teliani Valley and a 2009 Khvanchkara Racha. Were I more sophisticated (and had I been more sober) I would be able to tell you which we had with each course. My favorite was the Pheasant’s Tears, which was very sweet and honey-colored.

The green beans were so splendid that I actually opened the book to page 153 so I could read the recipe at the table. I happened to have both yogurt and green beans in the house this week, so I got very excited. And then I came to the line where I was supposed to use my mortar and pestle to pound my clove of garlic with salt to a paste. “Argh!,” I shrieked, possibly a little too loud for the room. (I blame it on the Pheasant’s Tears. I’m a sympathetic crier.)

I did make these green beans tonight, and tried to create the same effect by mincing my garlic with salt into a paste on a cutting board. It took quite a few minutes to do, and would have been a breeze with a mortar and pestle. This dish was so delicious, I think Rich will be replacing mine sometime this weekend.

Green Beans with Yogurt (Mtsvane Lobios Borani)

From The Georgian Feast by Darra Goldstein

Goldstein writes, “Borani refers to a dish of boiled vegetables to which yogurt is added; an elaborate version calls for the addition of fried chicken as well. Georgian borani is similar to the Persian borani-e or Indian boorani, all legacies of Mongol influence.”

Serves 4 to 6.

Ingredients

1 pound green beans, trimmed

1 onion, peeled and minced

6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) butter

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

Pinch of ground cloves

Freshly ground black pepper

1 small garlic clove, peeled and roughly chopped

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup plain yogurt

1/4 cup ice water

1/2 cup chopped mixed fresh herbs (basil, tarragon, cilantro, parsley, dill, summer savory) — I actually only used tarragon tonight, and it was fantastic. Georgian food is full of cilantro, so if you want to be the most authentic, that’s the way to go.

1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint (optional)

In a large pot of boiling water, parboil the beans for 4 to 5 minutes, until crisp-tender. Meanwhile, in a large frying pan, saute the onion in 4 tablespoons of butter until soft.

Drain the beans and chop coarsely (each bean should be in 2 to 3 pieces). Add the beans to the onion along with the remaining 2 tablespoons butter. Stir in the cinnamon, cloves and pepper. Cook, covered, for 10 to 15 minutes, until the beans are very soft.

In a mortar and pestle, pound the garlic with salt to a paste. Whip the yogurt with the ice water and add it to the pounded garlic.

Stir the fresh herbs into the beans and cook for 1 minute more, then turn out onto a plate. Pour the yogurt over the beans and garnish with fresh mint, if desired.

I ended up drizzling the yogurt sauce on everything on my dinner plate tonight, the cabbage and cous cous. I think you’ll be wanting to do the same.

Urban Adventure

I’m not sure if it was the aroma of Rich’s challah French toast or the furry little paw poking at my nose that woke me up last Saturday morning, but when Rich overheard the one-sided conversation I was having with the owner of said paw, he strolled in to see what was happening.  He was still holding his beloved cast-iron skillet, wiping down the remains of the morning’s meal.  “Would you like to have an urban adventure, Ms. Sleepy, Sleepy?” he asked. “There’s an exhibit at the ICA I’m interested in seeing that ends today. We can go to the exhibit, then go to Flour bakery for a bite.” I had my coat on before he had put down his skillet.

The exhibit Rich was interested in viewing was a retrospective of the expressionist artist Mark Bradford. A 2009 MacArthur Fellow, Bradford is an artist without a paint brush, utilizing found art — most often billboards he’s scavenged around his native Los Angeles — to create collages that explore race, class and gender in urban American society. Like an archaeologist digging through a site’s remains, Bradford scrapes away at the layers on billboards.

Mark Bradford -- Kryptonite (2006)

I had never been to the ICA, and there were a few things about the museum I really appreciated. The first was them waiving me through when I flashed my university ID. (Why had I never been here before?!?) I loved that they provided free audio tours on iPods for all their visitors; another option was to call the number printed on the descriptive card next to each painting. Since it was the weekend, we opted for using free minutes and left the iPods for other visitors. I also really enjoyed that throughout the exhibit were docents who would gather perplexed visitors, myself included, and walk us through some ideas that the artist was perhaps trying to convey.

After the museum, we walked a few blocks over to Flour bakery. I haven’t had a ton of stuff from Flour, but I’ve loved every bite I have had there; I still think fondly of a grilled tofu sandwich I had at their Washington Street location last October.  But it was the daily special, the salmon cakes, that caught my eye.  Full confession: Even though I’ve considered myself a vegetarian for good chunks of my life, I absolutely adore fish. As long it has fins and scales, I will eat it with relish — or make that tarter sauce. Steamed, fried, poached, pickled or baked, I love it. I remember once, when I was in high school and had been a vegetarian — er, pescatarian — for years, that I announced to my parents I was going vegan. “But Molly,” my mom pointed out, “you love fish.”

So clearly I had to have the salmon cakes. I actually got them to see how they compared to mine. During the layoff, salmon cakes had become a house favorite. It’s a total pantry recipe; I’d always have the canned salmon, the panko bread crumbs, mayo and eggs in the house. The toughest and ickiest part of the preparation was removing the bones from the canned fish. I am thrilled to report I have discovered Bumblebee now makes a package of salmon already skinned and deboned, costing less than $2. And so inspired by Flour, I revisited an old favorite, this time with sweet potato and chipotle.

Patty cake, patty cake, baker's man

Salmon Cakes with Chipotle Mayo

Ingredients

1 can or package salmon — approximately 5 oz.

1 sweet potato, peeled and cubed

3/4 cup panko bread crumbs

2 eggs

2 tablespoons mayonnaise

2 green onions, chopped

Juice of 1/2 lemon

Directions

In a 2-quart saucepan, boil the sweet potato in 2 cups water until tender.

Drain potato. After it cools, place the cubes in a medium-size bowl and mash well. To this, add the rest of the ingredients and mix until well-combined. I find that using my hands is the best way to get this done.

Heat oil in 10-inch nonstick skillet. Using 1/4 cup of fish mixture per patty, form patties and fry in skillet over medium flame, approximately 5 minutes per side, until golden on both sides. Add more oil to skillet if necessary.

While the patties are frying, make the chipotle mayo.

Chipotle Mayo

Combine in a bowl:

4 tablespoons mayo

1 chipotle pepper and its adobo sauce, minced

2 cloves garlic, minced

Squeeze of lemon juice

Flour served their salmon cakes with a mesclun salad on the side. Tonight we had ours resting atop a pile of garlicky chard studded with currants. It was delicious.

Almond Joy

This past December, my friend Rachel and her roommate hosted a small Chanukah dinner party at their apartment. They roasted a chicken, fried latkes, tossed together a salad of mesclun and goat cheese. And then there were the green beans.

I must admit that until this point in my life, most of the green beans almondine I’d had were by way of Bird’s Eye: out of the freezer, into microwave. The foil-wrapped almonds don’t usually make it into the toaster oven and are treated as an optional addition at the table.

But the green beans almondine at this Chanukah party, wow! I may have had two servings of them, then I may have loitered in the kitchen until it was decided that there weren’t quite enough left over to dig around for a small Tupperware. And then maybe, just maybe, I greedily ate the rest of the beans and golden almonds directly from the serving dish. I can’t quite remember if I used a fork for that final mini-serving, or just gobbled them up with my fingers.

There are a few things working together for this dish. One, I think, is to toast the almonds in the saute pan at the beginning and all the way through the making of the dish, rather than separately in a toaster oven or small pan. The second is the mix of butter and olive oil. I’ve actually tried this dish with a bit more butter, making it two tablespoons or so, and it was too buttery. (No, really, there can be such a thing.) Definitely stick with just a tablespoon of each fat.  And there’s the fresh sage, a small but impactful last-minute addition that really ties the beans, nuts and garlic altogether. Finally, and please don’t cringe when I say this, remember to salt liberally every step of the way. The nuts get a little salty because of it, but the beans are just right, and let’s face it: salty nuts are delicious.

I happened to have both green beans and sage in the house this week. The slivered almonds I always have on hand; I store them in the freezer to keep them from spoiling.

Green Beans Almondine

Ingredients

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 lb. of green beans, cleaned, ends trimmed

About five cloves of garlic (yes, really) chopped

1/4 to 1/3 cup slivered almonds

Two leaves sage, julienned very thin

Salt

Water

Directions

Melt butter in a saute pan that has a lid on a medium heat. When melted, add the olive oil; it should take no more than 20 seconds for them to make friends. Add the garlic, almonds and a pinch of salt to the melted butter and oil. Stir everything together for about a minute and a half, but make sure your garlic doesn’t brown. You might want to turn the flame down a little bit to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Add the green beans and a pinch of salt. Stir everything together for another minute. Add about 3/4 cup of water, lower heat to medium low and cover pan with lid.

It should take about 20 minutes for the green beans to soften. They will no longer be the bright green they turned when you added the water, but shouldn’t look too dulled, either. About 10 minutes in, do a quality-control bite. Most likely you’ll add another pinch of salt to continue to draw out the beans’ flavor. The nuts will have turned a bit more golden. There should be enough water to steam them the rest of the way, but if you’re scared they’re going to burn, add a few more tablespoons of water. Recover pan. About 10 minutes later, do another check. Chances are the beans will be cooked all the way through. Taste them again. Do they need more salt? If the beans are now soft, stir in the fresh sage and let everything cook together for about two minutes more. If the beans aren’t yet soft enough, cover the lid and cook them for about five minutes or until soft, taste, then add the sage.

Try not to eat too many with your fingers as you cook them.