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.

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