Caramelized Belgian Endives with Lemon and Wine

Raw endives

Don’t choose green-tipped endives like these;
go for those with pale yellow tips which have been shielded from light exposure.

Who doesn’t love the film Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain (English title, Amélie)? I think it typifies “feel good movie” for me—plus it’s full of gorgeous shots of French food. (The crème brulée cracking scene, oh!) One of my favorite bits (and I’m not the only one, apparently) is when Lucien, the grocer’s assistant, holds up an endive to his ear. “He handles each endive like a precious object, to be treated with care.” His boss might scorn such foolish behavior, but I’m with Lucien. Endives are beautiful, poetic vegetables whose shape and form make them an absolute dream to handle and prepare. I too cannot resist treating them with reverence and a bit of awe.

While I’ve found Belgian endives a bit bitter on their own (though a suitable vinaigrette usually solves that), I most enjoy cooking them with just two main ingredients: wine and lemon. The wine helps soften their crunchy texture and, together with the lemon, adds sugars which enable caramelization. As an accompaniment to a main dish like roast chicken or beef, this preparation adds a marriage of sweet and tart flavors with a toothy tenderness and the added bonus of being good for you (they are a green, after all). Feel free to adjust the amount of lemon juice to taste: I like very lemony endives so I use a whole lemon.

Note that this recipe is for Belgian endives, which are bullet-shaped and mostly white (look for ones whose tips are pale yellow rather than green, like those in the photo, which indicates light exposure and deterioration of flavor). Chicory or frisée is another type of endive for which this preparation is less suited.

Braised Endives

Braised and Caramelized Belgian Endives 

Ingredients: 
4-6 Belgian endives, ends trimmed, sliced lengthwise in half
1/4 c. white wine
juice of 1 lemon
olive oil, salt, pepper

Directions: 
1. In a braising pan or skillet with lid, heat 1 Tbs. olive oil on medium-high. Place endives cut-side down and cook for three minutes.

2. Add wine, salt and pepper to taste and reduce heat to low. (Optional: Add half the lemon juice here for extra-lemony endives.) Cover and cook 3 minutes.

3. Returning heat to medium, turn endives over. (The cut side should be caramelized.) Cook 3 minutes, then add half the lemon juice.

4. Continue to cook on medium 6-8 minutes until all moisture has evaporated and endives are well caramelized on both sides. (If the cut side did not caramelize by step 3, turn once more to ensure caramelization.) Adjust seasoning and serve immediately.

The Jewel of the Village: East Ville des Folies

Photo 42

The last time I attended a spirits-fueled theme event, the focus was murder, mayhem, and a roving cast of characters straight out of Dickens. This past weekend, mayhem and characters (sans murder) abounded in a Prohibition-esque party held at Webster Hall, infamously publicized as a former speakeasy run by Al Capone (well, there’s the murder, I suppose). East Ville des Folies seeks to become an annual event celebrating “rare Whiskeys and Beers from around the world” while immersing its guests in “the culture of the original burlesque hall as it was at the turn of the century”.

The jazz was swinging as scantily-clad ladies sporting feathered headpieces beckoned on the dance floors. I headed for the whiskey first, finding a wide selection from Highland Park, The Famous Grouse, Four Roses, Woodford Reserve, and others. As always at these sorts of the things, the ambience didn’t lend itself to properly tasting each separate dram, but I was at least able to weed out the dreadful from the exceptional. (On the former category, I’ll keep silent; on the latter, I’ll point out Whistlepig Rye as a new favorite and the ever-reliable Balblair—represented here with the 1989, 1991, and 2001 editions—as consistently pleasing.)

Three Roses

Three roses at Four Roses

Having exhausted my companion with spirituous refreshment, I moved on to the beer floors, which were far more crowded. Was it just that more people had arrived by that point, or that the demographics of ticket-buyers skewed towards beer lovers? No idea, but it was pretty rough. I managed to taste a few new-to-me brews such as Leinenkugel’s Vanilla Porter (no joke on the vanilla), Curious Traveler Shandy (I’m not a shandy drinker, and I liked it), the range of Full Sails (excellent, each one) and Moa Breakfast, a New Zealand “blend of premium wheat malt, floral Nelson hops and cherries” that, I’m sorry to say, tasted of Dimetapp. Sadly, the Crabbie’s table was all out by the time I got there; but luckily, Williams Brothers was still pouring Fraoch Heather Ale, one of the tastes I miss most from Scotland.

Photo 25

Swingin’ jazz set the tone of the affair.

With four floors of tasting tables, music, and more, this event certainly gave bang for the buck. I loved all the bands (and the phonograph DJs), and the entertainment, which included stilt-walkers, a photo booth I never managed to get to, and an aerialist, definitely wowed me. I had great fun exploring the nooks and dark corners of Webster Hall, too, especially with new drinks to try at every turn. Touting the some of the beers and whiskies served as “rare” might have misled some folks, though at $40 a ticket I’m sure no one expected Pappy Van Winkle. The selection, especially some of the beers, was unique, if not so difficult to find that I’d call it “rare”.

In short, East Ville des Folies provided three solid hours of booze-tastic entertainment and—in a truly “rare” turn for New York—was incredibly affordable. The event sold out, which means with any luck it’ll return next year. I’m already looking forward to donning some beads and feathers, springing for the early-access VIP ticket, and finally getting my shot at the photo booth.

Kapusta: Spicy Turkish Cabbage

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In my day job writing grants for a maritime non-profit, I sometimes get the chance to visit cargo ships calling on the Port of New York & New Jersey. Besides giving me first-hand experience of the services for which I’m raising money, these ship visits also provide a glimpse into the fascinating but rarely seen world of merchant mariners. Most of these men (and occasionally women) hail from the so-called global South, and when working on board vessels for six to nine months at a time, they maintain tenuous connections with their homelands.

I’ve noticed, however, that they tend to eat  as they would at home. This can be challenging when one cook and an assistant or two is serving meals to a 22 person crew representing India, the Philippines, Tanzania, Turkey, Indonesia, and Singapore. Usually the largest segment’s cuisine dominates, with separate meals for officers if they hail from Japan, the US, or Scandinavian countries (as they often do). Other times, the crew might all come from the same country, if not the same region; when that happens, the meals will feature the native cuisine almost exclusively.

If I’m ship-visiting around midday, as often happens, the crew will usually invite me to share their lunch. It’s an honor to receive such hospitality, and a privilege to share what is usually a delicious, well-prepared meal. The recipe below represents my efforts to recreate one such meal that I ate on board a ship with an all-Turkish crew — a dish I now know is called kapuska or kapusta. The version I had did not include meat, and was served with hot barley and thick plain yogurt as well as chili flakes on the side for those who wanted a spicier version. I remember exactly how it tasted — comforting yet simple, rich with flavor but light on the stomach. I regret not asking the cook for the recipe, but some googling has revealed different versions made with the identifiable ingredients of cabbage, tomato products, and pepper-based spices). I’ve tried and tasted and retried and continued testing various combinations of these ingredients over the years. Although this recipe surely isn’t exactly what I had on board that ship, it is delicious. And on a cold winter’s night, it’s comforting, nourishing, and extremely warming. (For those with delicate taste buds, go easy on the spices, especially the hot paprika!)

By the way, if you’re nervous about the cabbage giving off a nasty sulfur smell during cooking, don’t be. I couldn’t tell you why, but I’ve never experienced that phenomenon when making this dish. Maybe the rich spices and onions mask any malodorous emissions, or perhaps the acid content in the tomatoes balances them out. In any case, your kitchen will smell of delicious paprika and tomatoes while this dish is simmering away.

image

Spicy Turkish Cabbage (Kapusta)

Ingredients:
1-2 lbs. stewing beef, cubed (optional)
2 large yellow onions, very thinly sliced
1 3-lb green or white cabbage, cored and thinly shredded (yields about 12-14 cups) Note that green cabbage is tougher than white, and will require a longer cooking time.
2-3 cups tomato purée
2-3 Tbs. tomato paste
1 Tbs. crushed red pepper
1 Tbs. or more sweet Hungarian paprika
1/4-1/2 tsp. hot Hungarian paprika
olive oil, salt, 1-2 cups water

Note: The spices in this dish can be adjusted to taste–there’s no need to make it as hot as I have it here. I will emphasize, however, that good quality spices are key. Many versions of kapusta use pepper paste which I haven’t been able to find. For this recipe, good sweet paprika (preferably Hungarian) is crucial. If you can’t find hot paprika,which is harder to track down, substitute cayenne pepper (you may need to increase the amount) or a high quality Indian chili powder made of pure chilies (not the melange of spices labeled “chili powder” in many American grocery stores).

Directions:
(If not using beef, skip step 1 and proceed to step 2, substituting olive oil for beef fat.)

1. In a large, heavy pot or braising pan with lid, heat olive oil over high and brown beef in batches, setting aside. Drain all but 2 Tbs. fat.

2. Sauté onions in beef fat, adding olive oil if necessary, until soft, about five minutes.

3. Add crushed red pepper and stir constantly, one minute. Add both types of paprika and stir constantly, 30 seconds.

4. Add tomato paste and stir to combine; then add 1 cup tomato purée and stir to combine, 30 seconds.

5. Add half the cabbage and another cup of tomato purée, stirring to combine. Add 1 cup water and return beef (if using). Cover the pot and lower heat to medium for ten minutes.

6. After 10 minutes, add the remaining cabbage and tomato purée and a bit of salt. (Your tomato products may already contain a fair amount of salt, so add sparingly and taste often.) Turn heat to low and simmer at least 45 minutes and up to two hours–the longer the better. Check every 20-30 minutes, stirring and adding more water when necessary.

The dish is ready when the cabbage and onions are soft and indistinguishable from each other. Serve with cooked barley, Ebly, orzo, or rice and Greek yogurt or sour cream, which helps dampen the heat from the spices while retaining the rich flavor.