I know T.S. Eliot thought April was the cruelest month, but in New York City, it’s March. The winter seems to be over, as daylight savings time kicks in and temperatures finally creep above freezing. You might even get a day or two … Continue reading
I didn’t know I liked beets.
At least, not until this past winter. I didn’t have anything against them—I’d just never eaten them growing up and my only experience theretofore had been encountering those gelatinous maroon cubes in the dining hall salad bar. ICK. But when I joined a winter CSA, beets abounded, and I had to come up with something to do with them all because I sure hate wasting food (and money—CSA’s ain’t cheap!).
I probably would have roasted the whole winter’s share once I discovered how amazing warm, sweet beets taste, but my husband got a little tired of that format, so: onwards. My final share also included a boatload of daikon radishes which—although I pickled a solid pound—never seemed to diminish in volume.
How to use up these sturdy roots, especially at the end of a long, snowy winter when oven fatigue has set in? Optimistic and cheerful thanks to the first stirrings of spring (50 degree days, omg!), I banished the thought of cooking with heat and decided that a cool, crunchy salad was in order. Rounding out the daikon’s peppery sharpness and the beet’s earthy sweetness, I threw in mild orange carrots and concocted a tastebud-popping dressing. If you prefer more or less of one of the vegetables—or even something else altogether—go wild. Substitute mint and basil for cilantro, lime zest (or juice) for lemon, and use a fish sauce at your preferred pungency.
I used a food processor to grate all the vegetables, thank God. Doing this on a box grater would take forever and the beets would stain your hands Lady Macbeth style—not recommended. DO use a microplane for both your lemon zest and your ginger though, and don’t worry about peeling the ginger—I promise no one will notice the teeny bits of skin.
Cold Daikon, Beet, & Carrot Salad
– 2 cups beet, grated
– 2 cups daikon radish, grated
– 2 cups carrots, grated
– 1/3 cup vegetable, corn, or canola oil
– 1 Tbs sesame oil
– 1/3 cup rice wine vinegar
– 1 Tbs fish sauce
– 1 tsp soy sauce
– 1″ knob of ginger, finely grated (use a microplane!)
– zest of 1/2 lemon
– 1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
In a large bowl, whisk both oils, vinegar, fish sauce, soy sauce, ginger, and lemon zest until emulsified. Stir in grated vegetables and allow to macerate in the refrigerator for 30 minutes and up to two hours. Just before serving, stir once more and garnish with cilantro.
With the arrival of Labor Day, summer is “offically” over. Kids are heading back to school (if they’re not there already), beach house rental prices have plummeted, and the pumpkin spice flavored goodies are out in full force.
I’m as excited about the start of fall as anyone—the first pumpkin beers of the season are chilling in my fridge right now—but with 80-degree days still forecast for at least a couple more weeks, I can’t switch off summer mode yet. Especially when it comes to making the most of summer fruit, still in full, bounteous swing.
Since just eating a piece of fruit gets a little boring, I decided to make a fruit salsa to jazz up my five-a-day. Fresh pineapple, now at the end of its season, mint and lime juice rounded out some just-ripe peaches to make a flavorful, refreshing treat. I call this a salsa but really, it’s a diced fruit salad, so feel free to eat it with a spoon, tortilla chips, on top of ice cream or yogurt, or however you like it.
3 large or 4-5 small peaches, peeled, cut in 1/2″ dice (yields ~3 cups)
2 cups of fresh pineapple, cut in 1/4″ dice (if substituting canned pineapple, use the kind stored in its juices, not in syrup)
1/2 cup tightly packed fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
juice of two limes (about 1/3 cup)
2 green cayenne peppers, finely minced (can substitute other hot peppers to taste or eliminate entirely)
Mix all ingredients well, cover tightly, and let sit in the refrigerator for several hours. (This step is important as it mellows the vegetal mint and allows all the flavors to blend.) Serve over ice cream, as a topping for tacos, with tortilla chips, or plain. Keeps up to three days in the fridge.
There are a few reasons I could never become a vegan. Yogurt. Bacon. Honey. Eggs. Steak. Butter. Figs. Gelato. Buffalo wings. Sushi. You get the picture.
It doesn’t help that so many vegetarian/vegan restaurants purvey “mock meat” (e.g. heavily processed soy- or wheat-based foods shaped, dyed, and flavored to resemble meat) as their main attractions. Besides the fact that highly processed food (of any kind) isn’t very healthy and definitely not great for the environment, fake meat just tastes awful to someone accustomed to eating the real thing. And, as an omnivore, I ask myself: what’s the point? If I’m going to eat vegetarian/vegan—and I often do, with gusto—it’s because I love vegetables and grains and regular non-meat foods. (Mind you, I don’t consider tofu, seitan and tempeh to be fake meats. They are delicious in their own right, rest on centuries of established food culture, and are far less processed than the Fakin’ Bacons of the world.)
I was cautiously curious when invited to attend a wine tasting paired with vegan nibbles by chef Daphne Cheng. (The wines, supplied by Trump Winery, were utterly forgettable and, in the case of a certain apéritif, downright undrinkable.) Having been disappointed by vegan offerings in the past, I didn’t know what to expect of the food. Would it be endless faux chicken fingers and sham lamb? Never one to pass up free wine or food of any kind, I went with as open a mind as a skeptical omnivore can muster.
Cheng hosted us in her Tribeca event and teaching space, Suite Three Oh Six, an elegant loft hung with contemporary art and showcasing an efficient, glass-walled kitchen. Most of the food was passed in hors-d’oeuvre-style bites–beautifully presented, although occasionally difficult to eat while juggling a wine glass.
But even the fussiest dishes were rewarding. A pastry filled with lentilles de puy and topped with zippy bell pepper sauce was too big to eat in one bite, but so good that I gave up on my fork and just used my fingers. Zucchini bisque, a dish that could easily fall flat, got just the right amount of pep from cilantro and a drizzling of chili oil. Best of all, a crispy yuba (tofu skin) topped with something called “truffled ricotta” (made from almonds, I believe) had me actually waiting by the kitchen door for more.
The absolute standouts, though, were the sweet offerings. A simple half-hulled rambutan, the muppet of fruit, served as a bright palate cleanser. Rosewater “yogurt ice cream,” paired with apricot, slid down as easily as the “real” thing, with a refreshing lightness I’ve only found in certain gelati. And I couldn’t stop gobbling chocolate truffles, made with mezcal and topped with a thumbnail of crunchy coconut.
I kept forgetting that everything was vegan, and I think that was the idea. Cheng’s philosophy is that food should look and taste good, and just because her cuisine happens to feature vegetables in starring roles doesn’t make it any less appealing. The entire evening featured only one item I would consider faux—a cashew “cheese”—and even that wasn’t tricked out to resemble real cheese so much as it simply stood in the place cheese would normally occupy in a meal. (For the record, it was really tasty—not cheesy at all, more like a smooth, mildly nutty paste. I’d like to eat it on toasted cinnamon raisin bread.)
As an enthusiast of eating real vegetables, I enjoyed Cheng’s food very much. And as I’m constantly advocating for people to eat what tastes good, I applaud not only her culinary skill but her efforts to bring tasty veganism to the fore. Besides hosting regular supper clubs, Cheng also offers vegan cooking classes. If her educational repertoire is anything like the menu I tried, students will come away with some impressive dishes under their belts. Cheng is also seeking to open a restaurant in the near future. When she does, I look forward to returning for more tasty veggie-centric fare, confident that there will not be a pretend pork chop in sight.
It’s been a long winter here in New York, made longer by an incredibly snowy March. This month is always a question mark, and often a tease: a day or two of glorious sunshine puts everyone in a cheerful mood, only to be crushed by lingering, chilly, wet gloom for the next week. Sigh. At the beginning of winter, and even through January and February, I enjoy the thick, meaty stews and slow, warm braises that populate the seasonal menu. But after awhile, no matter how much iron I pack in with beans and lentils, I crave a big batch of greens. Their color acts as a visual cue that I’m doing right by my body, their taste reminds me of the bounty of warmer times, and, since they’re packed full of nutrients, I feel better—fresher, lighter—for hours after eating.
But in March—fickle, callous March—it’s still too early for young spring lettuces and even the most dedicated foragers will have trouble rustling up enough ramps or ferns to make more than a meal or two. So I turn to what’s available in my Washington Heights grocery: mustard greens, kale, or collards.
Collards are my go-to green. I was forced, as a child, to eat them on New Year’s Day for good luck. In the South, usually the collards are simmered with vinegar, salt, sugar, crushed red pepper, and something porky like a ham hock or ham bone. I didn’t care for the tart flavor and toothsome texture growing up, but now I can’t get enough. Besides this traditional preparation, I like collards in other forms, too.
Mature collards are massive things, with leaves six or more inches across and thick, tough stems. Before cooking them, always take the time to remove the stem. You can save it for other purposes, like chopping and adding to a stew or braise, but if you leave them on for these recipes, they’ll be inedible. Make two cuts down either side of the stem and pull away the leaves to remove (pictured).
Collards with Chipotle
2 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, plus 1 Tbs. adobo sauce
1/2 lb collard greens, stems removed, roughly chopped (about 7 cups)
1/4 cup of water
salt and pepper to taste
1. In a large heavy pot over medium heat, combine all ingredients.
2. Heat until water is just boiling, and then simmer on low heat for 30-35 minutes, stirring occasionally. As they soften, crush the peppers with the side of the spoon.
Sautéed Collard Greens with Garlic
1/2 lb collards, stems removed, sliced into ribbons or roughly chopped (about 7 cups)
1/2 head of garlic, finely minced (about 2 Tbs or 30 grams)
2 Tbs olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
1-2 Tbs fresh lemon juice (optional)
1. In a large sauté or frying pan, heat olive oil and garlic over medium-low, just until garlic is fragrant.
2. Add collards and sauté over medium low, stirring vigorously so garlic doesn’t rest on the bottom of the pan and burn.
3. Sauté just until collards are bright green and slightly wilted, about 10 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste and a squeeze or two of lemon just before serving, if desired.
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 and Caramelized Belgian Endives
4-6 Belgian endives, ends trimmed, sliced lengthwise in half
1/4 c. white wine
juice of 1 lemon
olive oil, salt, pepper
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.