Posts tagged parve
Thursday, September 9, 2010

eggplant caviar

eggplant caviar

A few things first. One, my friend Tina thinks the name “eggplant caviar” is an abomination and is misleading, but that’s about the only name I know for it. Blasphemy, she said to me, do you see any caviar here? Alas, I do not. She’s, technically, in the right. So this is partially an apology to her – I don’t mean to mislead. Two, there are two schools of eggplant caviar making that I’m aware of insofar as Russian eggplant caviar making goes. Both parties cling to their version as the version, but the weirdo that is me, likes them both equally – they are quite different from one another. And like a mother to two very different children of the same origin, I cannot pick a favorite.

like little hats!

The first is the method my friends from the Ukraine have taught me – which involves baking an eggplant, removing its skin and combining it with a seductive and potent blend of pureed tomato, onion, garlic, vinegar, salt and pepper, and stirring a bit of finely minced cilantro. It is simple and addictive, and if you’re a fan of garlic, you can’t go wrong here.

halved!

The second is a bit more labor intensive, and hails, at least according to my Uzbekistan-born grandmother, from Central Asia (think former Soviet republics that end in “stan”). It involves slow cooking the eggplant with tomatoes, onion, garlic and red peppers for many hours, until the vegetables combine, disintegrate, fall apart, and grow brown. Their transformation is magical, as things go from acidic, to sweeter, more caramelized, more seductive. While it’s uncommon for brown food to be considered sexy, this dish smolders. If you think you don’t like eggplant, try this and talk to me after. I would be surprised if you didn’t reverse your stance on eggplant.

pretty from the top
looking sadder

Normally eggplant caviar is served during the “zakuski” portion of the meal. For those of you who are not Russian speakers, “zakuski” describes a spread of snacks served at Russian banquets or parties, or in my mother’s case, whenever anyone shows up at the house. Originally, the word stems from the Russian word “kusok” or “kusochik” which means, piece, or little piece. The prefix “za” denotes that you are using these little pieces, or snacks, as a follow up to a drink, a chaser, so to speak. When Russians drink vodka (which they do at most celebratory gatherings), they invariably do it in shots and follow up shots with either a pickle, slice of salami, Russian sauerkraut, a pickled mushroom or a piece of dark, rye bread with something tasty spread over it. Like this eggplant caviar. Zakuski are intense, powerful bursts of flavor designed to quell the burning of alcohol in your mouth.

sad :(
onions tomatoes
cubed peppers

But sometimes you’re not in the mood for a drink (watch the entire Russian clan disown me after this sentence), but what you want is a taste of home, because you miss the food you grew up with. And after you spy eggplant piled high at your favorite farm-stand, you greedily load your bags with the necessary ingredients and then cook the brown mess for hours while you translate your mother’s recipe from Russian, filling in instructions she takes for granted as “given”. And laughing at her description of cooked eggplant as “sad”. If you’ve ever seen a wilted, browned eggplant, you know what she means by that. But invariably, reading that makes me smile.

eggplant caviar eggplant caviar

Looks, my dears, caviar it is not. But were I to really choose between actual caviar and this, I would go for this, hands down. Especially if my mother is making it.

eggplant caviar eggplant caviar
eggplant caviar

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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

gazpacho

gazpacho

Goodness, folks, where did you come from? You are just about the most amazing bunch of people, you know that? I give you boyfriend news, and you send me the internet equivalent of a hug and a squeal; I send an online video your way – and you’re all support and glee! How did I luck out with you as an audience? I must’ve done something right!

I want to take a minute and just say something here (all the while you look at these amazing tomatoes) about the internets, and friendship, and taking chances, and following your gut. I want to take you through a little exercise, on a journey of linking events. Last summer, I had just moved to Brooklyn and as I was settling into my apartment, I was also ordering kitchen goodies to fill out my new, shiny, spacious kitchen (I am still pinching myself that I have a kitchen like this, in a rental, in NY, but I digress). I had accidentally ordered two cherry pitters and was “complaining” on Twitter about my lack of attention to detail and whatever would I do with two pitters? Enter Jennie, who is one of my dearest friends now, who half-jokingly responded, I’d be happy to take one off your hands and refund you the cost. And I wrote to her, look since we’re in the same neighborhood let’s meet up and I’ll give you the pitter. Free of charge. Because, they are, like, $12 and charging you for that would just be silly. Right? Right.

scooping out the tomatoes

So Jennie and I, two perfect strangers, outside of being Twitter buddies, met up at One Girl Cookies for a coffee and a pitter drop-off. Jennie, and this tells you about the kind of person that she is (and that kind is amAzing!), brought me some tomato jam she had made earlier (which I promptly ate in one sitting with one of those gigantic spoons you see in pictures here) because she liked sharing as much as I did and because Jennie, at heart, is a mom. But mostly because Jennie looks to seeks out individuals such as herself that she can build communities with. Jennie, at her core, is a builder and a nurturer.

o hai, am a little piece of crustless baguette!

Something about that meeting, maybe it was our candor, maybe it was our similar sense of humor (dry, sarcastic) that sort of sealed the bond between us almost instantly. I call her my neighbor-sister-in-crime. I’m not sure what she calls me, but I’m sure it’s something nice. But we’ve become fast friends because we took a chance and we had a good gut feeling. Now, fast forward a few months to late fall and the Bon Appetit bake-off. Jennie had mentioned that her friend Alice, of Savory Sweet Life was coming to town. Jennie had roomed with Alice at another conference, and Jennie, who’s a keen judge of character, thought Alice was kind, sweet, and joyous. After Alice and I exchanged a few emails about hotels in New York and their respective costs, I quickly realized how quickly everything in New York can add up. I knew Alice had three kids, and that money could and should be spent on them, and I offered Alice and her husband my place to stay. I didn’t think much on it, nor did I contemplate the matter that long.

scooping out the tomatoes

I suppose it’s a little odd to invite people you’ve never met to stay in your home. I suppose it’s also a little odd when someone you’ve never met before offers you their place to stay. You might start doubting that person’s sanity. Home is a very personal thing. It’s your haven, your cocoon, your place of rest and protection. After a bad day, home envelops you, holds you close. Home offers things like soup and stews and blankets and warm cups of tea. And if you’re anything like me, then you’re a bit of a homebody, and like to spend your evenings curled up with a book on the couch, the television softly on in the background. But even though I treasure my home, I also understand that for a lot of people, coming to New York is a huge financial burden. Especially if you have children.

scooped!

I’ve grown up in a very “open” house so to speak – people came and went, and we always had someone over. By nature, Russian culture is very communal: people’s accomplishments and contributions are measured through their involvement with families and communities. Little premium is placed on being an individual, whereas in the American tradition we are reminded of the “rugged individualism”. In America you are encouraged that you must push your limits, that ceilings exist only to be broken, that your inner voice should be the strongest one.

mashing the garlic into a paste

Growing up with these two cultures, I am an amalgamation of both views, depending on the situation. I am very “Russian”, I suppose when it comes to sharing my space, as I love to have people over, love to host them and don’t feel annoyed when hungry friends show up unannounced. So sharing my home with Alice seemed natural. Something in my gut told me I should take a chance and had I not listened, I wouldn’t have met Alice and become friends with her the way that I have. Had I not arranged to meet Jennie for coffee, who knows if she and I would have grown to be so close? I am grateful for these opportunities, grateful that I have people at my table eating, and grateful for all of you. It’s nice to have you here, at my virtual table, even though I can’t feed you directly, I can pass these recipes on to you.

food processor, i love you

So how does this sop tie into all this? Well, I made it a few weeks back for a Sunday supper for some folks we had over for dinner: Andrew’s younger brother and an out-of-town friend. There we were, gathered around a table on a Sunday evening, ushering in a new week. And also eating this soup, among other things. And that’s what I love the most, a house full of people, eating and laughing together. I think this is the single reason I cook – to me it’s an expression of love, of family, of community. I started cooking in earnest when I felt uprooted and disconnected from home, and didn’t know where I belonged. A kitchen gave me a home.

what summer means to me

Now, about this soup, I can say nothing less than the following: Universe, this is my favorite summer soup hands down! It is summer in bowl in all its tomatoeness. It’s fresh, it’s cold, it has a bite of garlic and a brightness of vinegar. It is the also one of the easiest things to make and somehow manages to look really sophisticated and impressive. It got me thinking that these would be perfect served at party in tiny shot glasses. Easy to consume, delicious, and leave you wanting more. Everyone at the table wanted seconds, which made my heart sing. Needless to say, there was nothing left for the following day.

hang on, little tomatoes!

So this soup, and this is my long-winded way of telling you this, is for all of you. You who come to read for the stories. You who come just to look at the pictures. You who cook from this site and send me feedback. You who’ve stumbled here by accident and decided to stay. My favorite soup of the season – is for you. I hope you like it, and thank you for being here.

mile end delicatessen mile end delicatessen

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Wednesday, August 4, 2010

kohlrabi salad

kohlrabi salad

This recipe makes enough salad for two people. However, if you’re smart, you will make double that amount if you are planning on having a plus one for dinner. I promise you you won’t want to share it. With anyone. No matter how much you like them. Sure, you might just have to play nice and slump some of this salad on their plates, but you’ll do it begrudgingly, and in the back or your head, you’ll kind of wish that it was just you and this salad. Alone. Together. Make just the amount below, and you’ll find yourself remembering my words here, regretting that you didn’t heed my warning. And eating should never be about regret.

kohlrabi from the market

Which is why I am so glad to say (guiltily, of course!) that this salad, made for two, was mine – all mine. Each and every crunchy sliver. My solitary dinner never tasted so good. I was thinking, all the while ferociously chewing on a second helping, my goodness, what would I have done if I had to share it? And I’m actually really good at sharing. Especially food. But this, this one is tough. As I’m writing this, I sort of wish for a plateful at my side, but truthfully, I’d be too distracted to write.

hello, gorgeous!

This is my perfect kind of salad, crunchy, spicy, and cold, made this during our July-long heatwave, when temperatures exceeded 100 degrees. I wanted something that would make for a great dinner side. When I saw Luisa wax poetic about kohlrabi, a little light went off in my head. I was thinking, I’ve eaten this before – kohlrabi – in Russia. And yet I couldn’t remember what specifically it was in. Or how it was cooked. My mother was of little help. When I asked her about us eating kohlrabi in the old country, she sent me a wikipedia article on what kohlrabi was. No mom, I emailed back, what is it that you made with it? She couldn’t remember either. And so it goes, a taste and a name so familiar, but foreign too, almost as if in a dream.

kohlrabi salad

So when I was peeling and cutting my kohlrabi, I decided to try a little bit on its own. It tasted just like the center part of the cabbage, which, growing up, was one of my favorite snacks. (It’s not lost on me that my favorite childhood snacks were vegetables – which officially makes me weird.) It’s hearty, firm, crunchy, and tastes a little of moist soil. It’s great in the summer raw, and, I imagine, in the colder months – braised in stews. Cutting it into matchsticks is a little tricky, so be sure to use a sharp knife, else you might be putting your fingers in danger. Or, if your matchstick skills could be improved upon, and you’re a tad lazy, like me, use a mandolin, if you have one.

kohlrabi salad

I sort of made this salad up as I went along. I was channeling green papaya salad, which is my favorite and something I can eat every day and not grow tired of, but there isn’t a single Thai place in my neighborhood that gets it just right, so I never wind up ordering it. I thought I’d make something similar, but with the ingredients on hand. And what a delicious experiment this was! I ate each tiny morsel, each fleck of the herbs.

kohlrabi salad

While the heat wave is over, for now, it will, undoubtedly, return in full force. We’ve quite a bit of the summer still left for us. The tomato season is arriving, the stone fruit is piled high at my farmers market; both are seductively fragrant. There’s still so much produce to cook and savor. So for the days when it’s scorching out again, this will be your antidote. Turn your a/c on and make this salad, doubling the amount, as instructed. Sit on your couch with your plus one, knees touching, or at your kitchen table, and pour yourself (and them) a chilled Riesling. This is summer at its best. Come to think of it, sharing is kind of nice.

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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

apricot blueberry thyme jam

apricot blueberry thyme jam

I’ve been a bit of a hypocrite. I’ve encouraged you to go to your kitchens unafraid and undeterred, while I have been harboring a few fears of my own. I suppose it’s only natural to be intimidated by something unfamiliar, to be so wholly overwhelmed you don’t even know where to begin. So while you want to try, you never quite get around to it. Fear wins – you lose. It’s a bit silly, if you ask me.

apricot blueberry thyme jam

But what is it we’re really afraid of? What is the worst possible thing that could happen? Your creation is a fail. An epic, larger-than-life, inedible fail. Well, for those moments, when you have burned your dinner, or under-baked a cake, or overworked you pie crust, or produced the saddest, most deflated meringues the world has ever seen – it’s always good to have the makings of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich; some heavy cream, a whisk, a chilled bowl and berries; some frozen puff pasty on hand, and a box of your favorite cookies, to remedy the situation. But failure in the kitchen also lends itself to an opportunity to laugh heartily at what went wrong. Last summer, I served the book club ladies the most vile clafoutis known to man. I, thankfully, had another dessert on hand, but it was quite funny – the clafoutis – it looked liked vomit. Another time, I tried to feed them barely edible bread pudding (again, I had another dessert on hand). That second time, I just showed them the finished product and promptly dumped the whole thing in the garbage.

apricot blueberry thyme jam

And aside from the pie crust fear (a fear I successfully conquered) nothing else has given me anxiety like canning and pickling. And now, I can tell you, this bête noire has, largely, been put to rest. I don’t know what it is about canning that used to (used to! see, past tense!) make me so nervous. Maybe it was just the steps: the hot water (painful burns!); the cans themselves (where to get canning jars?); the receptacle that allows you to easily (and safely!) place and remove the jars from the boiling water; the “do-i-boil-the-tops-of-jars” dilemma (yes!); how much space on top do I need to leave before sealing (about a quarter inch!); is pectin necessary (no, just cook to 220 degrees F); and so on and so forth. For some reason, preserving was my boogey man.

apricot blueberry thyme jam

When I mentioned my preserving anxieties to my friend Jennie, she wasted no time and put me in touch with the lovely folks at Ball jars, who promptly sent me a canning “Discovery” kit. The kit came with 3 jars, a basket in which you place your jars, for easier manipulation, and a recipe booklet. And since I now had all the necessary tools to make jam, all I needed to do was actually just make it. I picked up some blueberries at the farmer’s market and found apricots at my local grocer. I hadn’t intended to put them together, but when I laid out my produce on the counter and was putting everything away, the combination struck me as somewhat curious. What I wanted here was something slightly unusual, surprising even. Thyme seemed like a good addition that would highlight the fragrant fruit and offer an herbal note to a nose full of fruit.

cooking the fruit

Jam-making does not require crazy measuring, and it’s pretty difficult to mess up. You chop up your fruit, sampling here and there along the way. You place everything in a nice heavy bottomed pot. You want your pot to be as wide as possible because larger surface area allows your jam to become more jammy faster. The greater the surface area – the more moisture evaporation taking place. Simple physics, really.

sterilizing...

Once the fruit is in, you add your sugar. Personally, I don’t like to overdo it with sugar. You are, after all, making jam – not candy. At the same time – skimp on the sugar and your jam might not set properly. Add your herbs, or vanilla, or whatever that extra element you want. If you just want fruit and sugar, no problem! If you want to add a little lemon juice, that tends to make the fruit sing – go for it! And then, and this is important here, you want to add a pinch or two of salt (depending on how much fruit you’re working with). Once you’ve done all that, turn on the burner, bring the whole mess to a simmer, skim the foamy parts, and let the fruit cook slowly, stirring on occasion. I prefer to bring my fruit to 220 degrees F and not add the pectin.

kitchen set up while jamming

Some fruit, such as the cranberry, has a lot of natural pectin – which explains why your cranberries becomes jelly-like so quickly when you cook them down. Other fruit, like stone fruit, does not have a lot of pectin, so you either cook it to a proper temperature without pectin, or you add pectin, which comes in powder and liquid form. Either way, you are looking for that point in time when you drip a little jam onto a plate and instead of it spreading out in a messy puddle, the drip holds together a bit, bound by that viscosity that forms when you cook fruit and liquid for some time.

my jars!! aren't they pretty?

When that done, you sterilize your jars, making sure they are dry. You sterilize the tops of the jars and the rings too, in case you’re wondering. Then you fill up your jars with the jam, leaving a quarter inch of room on top, place the lids on the jars, and screw on the rings, but not too tight, just enough. After awhile, you should hear a click or a pop, that’s your jars sealing themselves. No sound? Top of the lid still pointing upwards? Press the lid downward gently. If it collapses and doesn’t come up – voila! You have sealed with success. If it pops right back up, you might want to re-sterilize and start the process anew.

someone needs a wide-mouth funnel

So this is what happens when you get so fed up with your fear, you mutter to yourself, to hell with it and just go for it. You wind up with two jars of delicious jam, sitting in your fridge, awaiting their fate. And quite frankly, what would I have done had my jars not sealed themselves properly? I would have gone into my kitchen, taken out the biggest spoon I own, and ate my jam in one sitting just like that – au naturel. If only every kitchen failure tasted as good.

testing for donness

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Friday, June 25, 2010

carrot and chickpea salad

spicy carrot and chickpea salad

My mother recently said to me that she isn’t the least bit surprised that cooking is such a big part of my life. She said she could see it when I was a wee little thing getting overly excited to go to the market, or picking berries, or foraging for mushrooms. She recalled that she didn’t know any kids my age who would have rather been digging in the garden for vegetables than playing with other kids. I have a hazy recollection of accompanying my grandmother to the market where I could walk among farmers and booths and be seduced by all the smells and sights. My favorite find was a stand with the red currants in hand-made newspaper cones. So much for playing with dolls and a game of tag. My heart belong to fruit and vegetables, and summer reigned as king of all seasons in my six-year-old brain.

stacked
golden brown

When I was even younger, I once ate so many carrots that I turned slightly orange. I remember looking at my palms thinking I should do the same with blueberries (unfortunately it didn’t work!). Mom likes to remember how the first thing I’d eat in chicken soup were pieces of cooked carrot, and how excited I would get to eat a fresh carrot from the farmers market, freshly dug up and cleaned. Growing up, a carrot was my favorite go-to snack, and my grandmother would hand-press for me carrot juice – a very special treat. It’s no wonder that my father used to affectionately refer to me as “rabbit”. I am, unabashedly, a fan of this humble root vegetable, and it is amazing to me that something that grows underground, sees no sunlight, and turns into something so lovely and festive-looking. You know well by now that I have quite a soft-spot for root vegetables in general. They’re totally under-appreciated and I’m on a mission to give them some love. When you pull a turnip or a carrot out of the ground, you get a rather dirty and downright unattractive vegetable, it is what’s hiding underneath, however, that is truly glorious and delicious. If you’ve never pulled out a carrot from the ground, washed it and eaten it right away, you really should – it’s quite an experience. And it’ll be the best-tasting carrot you’ve ever eaten!

the magical mix that made this salad so good

There’s been some carrot salad love shown lately when Deb of Smitten Kitchen posted a salad that made me want to get up from my office chair and immediately go home to make it. Luisa also waxed poetic about it, and I was all, “What’s taking me so long!” And then, right as I was about to make it, finally, I came upon this recipe and decided that since Deb’s salad deserved an honorable mention all its own, I wanted to give a bit of a spotlight to this one. There’s cumin, paprika and cayenne pepper in it. There’s cilantro, which I cannot resist (but those who loathe it can always sub in mint!). And because there are chickpeas and almonds in here, you have a meal in and of itself if you so desire. Or a side-dish, as I served it (though I managed to have the leftovers for breakfast (I know, right?) the very next morning.) Which brings me to a question, is it some kind of a grammar violation to have parenthesis inside a parenthesis?

spicy carrot and chickpea salad

This salad here packs some serious heat, so if you’re sensitive to it, dial down the cayenne, m’kay? Because I don’t want some of you to burn the roof of your mouth and then tell me I didn’t warn you! This is spicy, but I love my spice, so I kept the proportions the same. Also, this salad is very considerate of your time, which means this is a rather well-brought-up salad, if you ask me. If you have a picnic to attend, you can make this (even the day before) ahead of time and chill it, needing only to remember to bring this along. Translation: you should have as many picnics as this season allows, as you will miss them in the winter when you’re wearing fleece head to toe and eating tomato soup. This salad with its lemon and cilantro got this fantastic summer vibe to it, and is bound to please everyone, including your gluten-free, vegan, or low-carb friends. With a salad like this, I know that your next trip to the farmers market might be packed with as much excitement as mine are to this day. Who knew that something that has the word “salad” in it could be so exciting?

spicy carrot and chickpea salad

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Friday, June 11, 2010

mango sorbet

mango sorbet

You would think that it being summertime and all, I’d have an easy time tell you about mango sorbet. That’s clearly not happening. Instead of writing about mango sorbet, what I really want to do is just extend spoonfuls of it to all of you and say, “Just try this and then tell me it’s not the most amazing thing on a hot summer day!” But being that the interwebs haven’t quite figured out how to teleport frozen dessert to each of your homes (or any kind of food, really), I am left with mere words. And words, my friends, is what isn’t enough here.

mango sorbet mise

What’s probably fair to say, however, is that there are summer days, such as what we had in New York last weekend, when sorbet is the way to go, when it trumps ice cream. Stay with me here. I can hear the gasps of horror across the information superhighway – to suggest ice cream to play second fiddle! Well, I’ll be!

I promise you, I’m not one to ever dismiss ice cream. Ice cream is very sacred in my book – I’m the kind of girl who’ll be getting ready for bed, get a massive ice cream craving and change back to go outside and meet a friend for a scoop. But there are days when all I want is something cold and refreshing that happens to be not creamy. Sometimes, dairy is just a bit too much and I reach for sorbet.

mango sorbet

When I first picked up a copy of The Perfect Scoop, this mango sorbet was the first thing I book-marked. But I quickly got distracted by watermelon sorbet and frozen yogurt (Pinkberry who???) and then of course marrying vanilla with black pepper. A couple of weeks ago when I was devising a menu for one of my Sunday suppers, I saw a clear mango theme emerge and that’s when I remembered the recipe that started it all. I don’t need to tell you that David’s recipes are tried and true and are absolutely amazing – if you don’t have this book of his and you’ve been curious about making ice cream, this is a must-have.

mango sorbet

Look, this time I don’t have a fancy story for you – no ancient memory from my childhood. In Russia, we didn’t have mangos. In fact, we didn’t even have sorbet. Sherbert – yes, but sorbet is a beast unto itself. And so, because I spent the first eleven years of my life deprived of mangos and sorbet, I would think that I have to make up for a lot of lost time. Ice cream maker – get ready, we’re going to make beautiful music sorbet together!

mango sorbet

In fact, as I was writing this last night, I kept running over to the kitchen and sneaking little spoons of sorbet as a snack, hoping, in vain, that having a few spoonfuls will inspire me to write something poetic, something that will galvanize you at once to run over to your local grocer, get two ripe mangoes, and charge forth into your kitchens intent on making sorbet. Or else. I am, however, left with just mere words. Words that aren’t nearly as delicious as this frozen goodness here. You could, of course, try to lick the screen. Let me know how that works out for ya.

Continue reading mango sorbet.