A Tall Kale

Last week at Russo’s I bought the largest bunch of kale I’d ever seen. I took a photo so you could get a sense of how enormous this vegetable was.

bale of kale

Yes, yes, I know. I tend to take photos of my daughters and not of food, so you get a two-for-one with this post.

I bought it because we were having pizza night on Saturday, and I wanted a nice kale salad alongside my slice. (Yes. Kale and pizza. It’s totally a thing at shmancy pizza places, at least in Boston.) The next morning, a kale salad recipe arrived in my inbox. As my mother would say, it’s a siman, a sign, to make this kale salad.

The recipe is from a new cookbook I’m dying to get my hands on. (I’m number 34 on the wait list at the Boston Public Library.) The book is Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking by Michael Solomonov and Steven Cook. Solomonov is the genius behind the Philadelphia-based Israeli restaurant Zahav. Rich and I had a chance to eat there about five years ago, and I still think about the buttered hummus.

shabbat dinner

Zahav means gold in Hebrew, and I swear that man has the Midas touch. He also has a fried chicken and donut shop called Federal Donuts, and even better, he started Citron and Rose, a glatt kosher restaurant in a suburb of Philly. I don’t think he’s there anymore, but dishes like crispy duck spring rolls and wild citrus salmon with black lentils and asparagus have them lining up at the door.

The recipe is called Kale, Apple, Walnut and Sumac-Onion Tabbouleh, but it’s a lot simpler to put together than the name suggests. The one trick is to start the onions first so they have some time to pickle before you throw everything together. The onions make one cup and the recipe calls for 1/4 cup. That’s ok, because since this was the kale that never ended, I ended up making this recipe four times this week. I first served it for Shabbat dinner, next to roasted delicata squash tossed with thyme breadcrumbs, and tomatoes sprinkled with Maldon salt and basil chiffonade. Then I served it for the aforementioned pizza night. Then I brought the salad, along with the most delicious, time consuming and complicated noodles that ever were, to a friend’s house on Sunday.

pizza night

It was at this point that I started feeling like Homer and that sandwich that just kept on going and going. I tossed the kale with beets, sweet potatoes, more apples, golden raisins, pepperoncini — basically everything I found in my fridge.

I had never thought about apples, walnuts and kale until this recipe, but just yesterday Yotam Ottolenghi tweeted and posted to Instagram a photo of a salad of kale, apples, walnuts and radish. Is it an Israeli chef thing? Maybe, and I’m right there with a fork.

kale and noodles

A few other things: Yes, I know this is my third recipe in a row with walnuts, and no, I’m not trying to kill my sister. The next few recipes I plan to share are walnut-free. I buy my sumac at the Armenian shops on Mt. Auburn Street in Watertown. The Butcherie in Coolidge Corner also sells sumac in their Israeli spice section. Although the recipe calls for a Honeydew apple, I used a Fuji I had left over from last week’s baked apples. I never have pomegranates in the house so I skipped them, but they would be terrific.

Finally, a few of you have requested more Lilli and Beatrix photos. I do a pretty good job of posting photos of them to Instagram, I’m @cheapbeets, so for all you needing a Parr baby fix, that’s the place to go.

Kale, Apple, Walnut and Sumac-Onion Tabbouleh  — Recipe adapted from Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking by Michael Solomonov and Steven Cook

Ingredients

For the pickled sumac onions

1 cup finely diced red onion (1/2 large red onion)

2 Tablespoons red wine vinegar

2 teaspoons ground sumac

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

For the Tabbouleh

2 cups packed shredded kale

¾ cup finely chopped walnuts

½ cup diced apple (1/2 Honeycrisp)

¼ cup pickled sumac onions

½ cup pomegranate seeds, plus more for garnish (not necessary, but nice if you have them)

3 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice

2 Tablespoons olive oil

¼ teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste

Directions

Make the pickled sumac onions: In a small bowl, toss the onions with the red wine vinegar, sumac and salt. Let the onions macerate for at least 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Makes 1 cup. Make ahead: The pickled onions can be made, covered and chilled for up to 3 days.

In a separate bowl, combine all of the tabbouleh ingredients and toss. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt. Sprinkle with more pomegranate seeds and serve.

Couldn’t Help Myself

Now that my CSA nightmare has ended, I’m back in charge of deciding what ends up in my crisper and root cellar. I hit up Russo’s on my lunch break this week and piled my basket high with butternut squash, kale and red potatoes. There were also two eggplants, which I wasn’t going to mention because I bought them sort of off-season, but these eggplants were just so gorgeous and on sale that I couldn’t help myself.

Again, I wasn’t going to say anything, but I ended up using this recipe twice in a four-day period, and then this afternoon I found myself reciting it out loud to a complete stranger at a friend’s house who agreed it sounded fantastic.

Lilli and panda at Harvard

It’s called Eggplant with Capers, although I cut down on the amount of capers the recipe called for. (Four tablespoons sounded like too many for one eggplant.) I also skipped the green olives, but that was only because I couldn’t find the enormous jar of them we bought at Costco this summer. How one loses a gallon of olives is beyond me, but I’ll just accept it and move on.

The recipe is from The Vegetarian Epicure by Anna Thomas, and according to its cover, I bought it at The Strand in August 2001. The cookbook is so 1970’s, with its browned cover with green and orange accents. It reminds me of Moosewood Cookbook in a lot of ways: cover design, illustrations, an emphasis on eggs and cheese. There’s also a crepe and pancake section, so who am I to judge?

Don’t flinch at using just a tablespoon of tomato sauce – use the rest of the can for a bowl of eetch and all of a sudden you’ll have a very nice meal. As for warming the vinegar and sugar, I heated it for about 15 seconds in a glass in the microwave, or just do it in a small saucepan on the stove. The first round of this eggplant was eaten with starches we had in the fridge – leftover brown rice one night, on top of leftover soba noodles the next day at lunch. The second time I made it, we served it at a dinner party on top of some crusty bread that had dried cranberries, dried figs and sunflower seeds baked into it, also from Russo’s.

I’m treating it like a caponata, because it really is one. It’s vegan, and great hot or cold. Seriously, go make this dish, or at least bookmark it to serve on Thanksgiving.

Eggplant with Capers from The Vegetarian Epicure by Anna Thomas

Ingredients

1 large eggplant, cut up in small cubes

3 Tablespoons olive oil

1 clove garlic, mined

1 onion, quartered and thinly sliced

½ to ¾ cup chopped celery

1 Tablespoon tomato sauce

Water, as required

2 Tablespoons capers

12 black pitted olives

3 Tablespoons red wine vinegar

1 Tablespoon sugar

Salt and pepper to taste

Lemon slices (optional)

Directions

A large, nonstick skillet with a cover is best for this.

Saute the eggplant in 2 Tablespoons of the olive oil. When it begins to get soft, remove from the pan, and put it aside. Add the third tablespoon of olive oil and saute the garlic and onion until the onion is golden. Then add the celery, the tomato sauce and a few tablespoons of water. Cover, and let this steam for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add a little water if necessary.

Now, return the eggplant to the pan, add the capers, chop and add the olives. Heat the vinegar with the sugar and add that also. Salt and pepper to taste, and let simmer gently for another 10 to 15 minutes, being careful not to let it burn.

Serve it hot or cold, with slices of lemon.

 

So Much More To It

For the past month, I’ve read piles of Passover recipes from all sorts of bloggers who have explained about chametz and unleavened things, and maybe some people have even talked about kitniyot. But what I haven’t read about is that, in order to make Pesach (that’s what I’m going to call Passover from now on) it’s much more than just not cooking with unleavened things. Every pot and pan and knife and cutting board and plate I use in my kitchen all year long is chametzdik – contaminated, basically. So everything I use to cook and eat all year long cannot be used during the eight days of the holiday. Think of them as chametz cooties.

In my basement — and I promise you, in Jews’ basements all over the world — lives an entire separate kitchen of pots and pans, cutting boards, tablecloths, dishes and a teapot. In my case, this includes a Pesadik pressure cooker. And remember, Jews don’t mix milk and meat, so it’s really double of everything – the meat pots, pans, knives, cutting boards and dishes, and the dairy pots, pans, knives, cutting boards and dishes. To simplify things, I keep vegetarian during Pesach, so I only have to deal with half as much stuff as other people.

So the kitchen is brought up, box by box. And then you have to “turn the kitchen over” for Pesach: scrubbing down the oven and stove, cleaning out the whole refrigerator and locking up the the cupboards. Those countertops you prepare your food on all year long are also chametzdik, so you have to cover those counters. Thankfully, I have granite countertops so I just have to pour boiling water over them to kasher them. But if you walked into my kitchen tonight you would see a stove covered in tin foil and each burner wrapped in foil as well. Like I said, chametz cooties.

And then there is the shopping. Just as the dishes and pots and pans have to be specially set aside for Pesach, everything you cook that has been processed has to also be kosher l’Pesach. Your favorite olive oil, your favorite vinegar, your favorite Aleppo powder and your favorite vanilla extract might be fine the rest of the year, but you need to make sure all those things are kosher for Pesach. For some unexplained reason Ocean State Job Lot has been selling kosher l’Pesach olive oil all year long for the past few years, so that’s one less thing to worry about.

I always grumble about having to take off vacation days to prepare for Pesach, as I spent Thursday’s “vacation” morning pushing through the crowds at Russo’s to pick up my produce for this week. My cart was piled high with zucchini, mangoes, avocadoes, mushrooms, and a jicama, to which I decided I’d make a nice citrusy salad with a little kick of hot pepper to it.

And then I had to get everything into the house. I’m much stronger than I have been in months, but I’m not allowed to wear a purse – thankfully I’ve been able to find a cute backpack – so the 17 bags of groceries I picked up at the market had to be carried in one-at-time from the car, which itself took about 20 minutes to do before I could even unpack everything into my empty refrigerator.

Friday morning Rich and I flew down to DC because Sylvie hosted seder this year. I poked around in her kitchen and discovered that she had picked up zucchini, mangoes, avocadoes, mushrooms and a jicama – pretty much everything I had, and probably with the same dishes in mind.

Jicama – which is pronounced Hee-Kah-Mah – is a Mexican yam or turnip. Its flesh is white and its taste is crisp and fresh and just screams for a contrast of heat and tart. I’ve noticed people tend to serve it sliced in matchsticks although Sylvie pointed out it’s much easier to spear a cube of it with a fork then maneuver smaller pieces of them.

She made her salad with a supremed grapefruit, but if that’s too bitter for you, try it with orange. Even still, if your reflux is acting up, skip the massive amounts of citrus and replace it with just a squeeze or two of lime juice.

Jicama Salad with Grapefruit

Ingredients

1 jicama, peeled and cubed

1 grapefruit, supremed – make sure to supreme the fruit directly over the bowl so all the juices are caught

1 small chili pepper, minced

1/4 of a small red onion, chopped

1 large handful of cilantro — about 2 Tablespoons — chopped

3 teaspoons red wine vinegar

1 scant teaspoon salt

Several healthy grinds of fresh black pepper

Directions

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and stir to combine. Refrigerate the salad for at least an hour before serving, allowing the ingredients to get to know each other and marinate.

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

This Week in Food: Sotheby’s, CSAs and Stephen Colbert

The highlight of this past week (aside from, you know, working crazy hours and getting back into the swing of grad school) was discovering that I could participate in a CSA on campus, provided by the kind folks at Ward’s Berry Farm. For $20 I picked up a box teeming with poblano peppers, butternut squash, yellow carrots, apples, kale and some basil.
And wouldn’t you know it, auction goers at Sotheby’s “The Art of Farming” also participated in community-supported agriculture. The auction raised more than $100,000 to support local farming and to preserve heirloom vegetables. On the way out, attendees were able to pick up $20 boxes of farm-fresh veggies.
All lovely ideas, although, am I the only one who sees this auction as elitist? The fact that vegetables need to be a cause celebre for rich people says something troubling about the way we eat in America. Vegetables should be seen as something that EVERYONE can eat every day. Is the only way this kind of heirloom agriculture can exist is through high class events like this?
At the other end of the spectrum, we have Stephen Colbert testifying about Americans not wanting to do the work of migrant farmers. So we have small farmers selling their produce to wealthy people, while the rest of the country is only able to afford produce which has been picked by exploited workers without a voice?
As I think further about this, in the next few weeks I plan on seeing how much the produce I get from the CSA would cost in the stores I normally shop at: Whole Foods, Russo’s, etc. I’m curious to see whether I’m saving money or paying a premium to support local agriculture.
Either way, it’s clear CSAs aren’t an ideal solution for everyone. One of the reasons I am doing a CSA box is it’s right there on campus. But many people don’t have that luxury, and certainly can’t spend hours in the car driving to the farm or pick-up spot. Then there’s the issue of choice. I’ve been cooking veggies for years and will hopefully be able to find a use for everything I get in my box. But it’s hard enough get folks who don’t eat enough vegetables to eat them even when they’re chosen to suit their tastes.
Look for CSA updates in the weeks to come — if I can fit them in with school and work!

Killer Radishes

Killer radishes no more.

When I was a little girl, I hated radishes. Their peppery bite was too much for my young palate, and the “killer radishes,” as I had nicknamed them, would be piled into a white and red tinged mountain on the side of my plate. This process proved successful for my first 21 years. Then one warm Friday night during my semester in Jerusalem, I came face to face with a cottage cheese dip dappled with chopped radishes. I was apprehensive at first — cottage cheese, um, kind of yuck — but I was starving and that dip was the focal point of an otherwise rather mundane meal. I plopped a small teaspoonful on the side of my plate (where radishes belonged) and apprehensively scooped some on a celery stalk. And the killer radishes did not kill me. In fact, they were pretty darn tasty. I basically polished off that dip and walked away thinking, radishes, hmm, not bad at all.

It’s been over a decade since I saw the red radish light. One way to make me swoon: thin discs of radish melted in a pan over butter, sprinkled with a little salt and some chopped green onion. That was my favorite way to eat radishes until I found this recipe. I should first admit that I love just about anything pickled, but there’s something about this dish in particular — the sweetness coupled with a mellowed ginger — that I really really love.

Radishes, I have learned, are pretty darn cheap. We’re talking a bunch for less than a dollar. Russo’s had them this week at two bunches for $1.50. I’ve gotten nearly a pound’s worth at Market Basket for $1. One dollar, people. A dollar. Even better, they are ridiculously simple to grow. If you do have a plot of land, no more than a square foot, or even a pot,  just plop some radish seeds in the soil in late spring. Make sure there’s sun and they are watered regularly, and by July, you’ll be plucking radishes from the land.

(My only caveat is if you live in an older house, please get your soil checked. Most houses around here were covered in lead paint at some point, and lead paint usually means lead in the soil.)

Pickled Radishes with Ginger

Adapted from Gourmet, November 2007

1 bunch of radishes, trimmed and quartered

1/2 tablespoon kosher salt

1/4 cup rice vinegar (not seasoned)

3 tablespoons sugar

1 heaping tablespoon very thin matchsticks of peeled ginger

Really, it's frozen!

Note: I keep my ginger root in the freezer. I’ve found that it really extends its life. For this recipe, all I do is set the root on the counter for about 10 minutes. It slices and dices just like a fresh piece does. The frozen root also grates easily with a microplane.

Place the quartered radishes in a bowl and toss with salt. Let stand at room temperature, stirring occasionally, 1 hour.

Drain in colander (do not rinse) and return to bowl.

Add vinegar, sugar and ginger, stirring until sugar has dissolved.

Transfer to an airtight container and chill, covered, shaking once or twice, at least 12 hours more (to allow flavors to develop).

Before...

Pickled radishes can be chilled up to 3 weeks.

...After. The pickling makes my red radishes quite pink.

I Dream of Eggplant.

I think I was frying eggplant in my dream, but curry will do nicely.

Last night I dreamed about eggplant. When I do remember my dreams, I like to check the online dream dictionaries so I don’t spend my morning thinking things like, “What on earth does a bicycle (or an eggplant) appearing in my dream mean?” For some inexplicable reason, none of my go-to dream interpretation websites offered an answer. Eggs, yes. Plants, yes. But no eggplant. (OK, I’m not really shocked there isn’t an interpretation for dreaming about eggplant, but I can’t be the only one! Can I?) My own interpretation of my night of nightshade leans towards me falling asleep while trying to figure out what to do with the eggplant sitting in my fridge right now. Eggplants are .79/lb. at Russo’s this week. Cook that up with some rice or quinoa on the side, we’re all set for dinner and some lunches, too.

I’m on the fence about salting, which is said to prevent a prickly bitterness on the tongue. I used to be fanatical about it, but I didn’t the last two times I cooked eggplant, and I thought it was fine. Nonetheless, this is how I prepare my eggplant for salting: First I peel it, then slice the eggplant into fourths. I put it on a baking pan and sprinkle it with kosher salt. I wait about 20 minutes, and in the meanwhile, do things like chop up onion and get out my spices. After 20 minutes, I return to my eggplant, which now looks like it has spent the last 20 minutes on the elliptical at the gym as the salt has sweated out a lot of the bitterness to the top of its flesh. This has also made my vegetable less watery and less able to soak up oil. Some people suggest running the eggplant under the faucet to get the salt off. I lean towards wiping it down with a wet paper towel. Now your eggplant is good to go.

Schvitzing Eggplant

I’m a little embarrassed that my first recipe for my blog is a curry. I feel like I am being lazy somehow. Copping out: Oh, a vegetarian blog featuring a curry? What’s next, chickpeas and sprouts? But the truth of the matter is, this is my go-to recipe when I have an eggplant and just can’t think straight anymore.

Eggplant Curry
Adapted from The New Moosewood Cookbook (Mollie Katzen’s Classic Cooking)

If you’re new to this whole veggie thing, and would like a good starting off point, I cannot say enough good things about Moosewood. Seriously, if you were to own just one vegetarian cookbook, this is the one. Every few years the publishers do some sort of update, making the rich-in-dairy dishes a little more heart friendly, but any edition of the book would be an excellent addition to your cookbook shelf.

Preparation Time: 45 minutes
(Put up rice when you begin)

2 to 3 Tbs butter and/or peanut oil

1 Tbs mustard seed

2 Tbs. sesame seeds

2 tsp. cumin seeds

1 1/2 cups chopped onion

1 1/2 to 2 tsp. salt

2 tsp. turmeric

1/4 tsp. cayenne (possibly more depending on your tolerance/preference)

2 medium eggplants (7 to 8 inches long; 4-inch diameter at roundest point), cut into 1-inch cubes

water, as needed

1 cup frozen peas

optional: 1 small bunch of fresh cilantro, minced

1) Heat butter or oil over medium heat in a very large, deep skillet.  Add seeds, and saute until they begin to pop (About 5 minutes)

2) Add onion, salt, turmeric and cayenne. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is translucent (12-15 minutes)

I’ve noticed that the pan gets very dry at this point, so I often find myself adding a little more oil so my seeds and onion don’t burn.

3) Add eggplant and salt. Cook, stirring from the bottom regularly, for 15 to 20 minutes — until the eggplant is soft. You might need to add a little water if the mixture is too dry. Cover the pan between stirrings.

4) About 25 minutes in, the eggplant should have lost all will to behave like eggplant. It should be really mushy. At this point, stir in the frozen peas. Give it another 7 minutes or so, so that the peas cook up with the curry.

5) Serve the curry over rice, and top with fresh cilantro.