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We are concerned about species of animals that might be headed for extinction, but we don’t seem to be as concerned about our endangered culinary traditions. There are recipes that need to be saved. Food is who we are. It’s what binds us together culturally in this multicultural country. One such food from New England is red flannel hash.
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Red flannel hash is hardly made anymore, probably because it’s a way of using the leftovers from a New England boiled dinner, which also is rarely cooked anymore. A boiled dinner is simply corned beef brisket, beets, parsnips, carrots, onions, cabbage and potatoes with a few spices, boiled only in water for dinner and served with a horseradish sauce.
But red flannel hash is so good that it can be made from scratch without using leftovers. How it got its name will be instantly obvious once you’ve made it. If all you’ve ever had is the heartburn-producing canned corned beef hash then what awaits you is a surprise and a delight.
In the modern age of global food distribution and processed consumer food products, regional specialties like this fall out of favor and are in danger of being lost forever. Like recipes that call for local produce grown only in a small area or ethnic delicacies from small immigrant groups, these dishes are in jeopardy of becoming unknown.
Often said to be a food eaten by the colonists, red flannel hash more likely was concocted in the early 20th century as a way of using leftovers. Its characteristic red color comes from corned beef and beets. Typically cooks would start with chopped up leftover boiled dinner and add potatoes to make the dish a hash.
Because it was such a breakfast favorite, especially in New England diners, and not everyone had made a boiled dinner the night before, recipes appeared for making the hash from scratch.
Red Flannel Hash
2 ounces salt pork, sliced and cut into ½-inch pieces
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
½ small onion, finely chopped
6 ounces cooked corned beef, finely chopped, not ground
1 pound cooked Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and finely chopped
¼ pound cooked turnips, finely chopped
1 pound cooked red beets, peeled, trimmed and finely chopped
¼ cup heavy cream
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 large eggs, poached
1. Preheat the oven to 400 F.
2. In a 12-inch cast iron skillet, over medium heat, cook, stirring the salt pork until crispy. Remove and leave the fat in the skillet. Add the butter to the skillet, then over medium heat, cook, stirring the onion until translucent, about 5 minutes.
3. Combine the corned beef, potatoes, turnips, beets and cream in a bowl, and toss gently with some salt and pepper.
4. Transfer the hash to the skillet and spread it out with a spatula so it covers the skillet. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover and cook until a crust forms, about 15 minutes.
5. Place the skillet in the oven and cook until the top is crisp, about 15 minutes.
6. Meanwhile, poach the eggs. Remove the hash from the oven, cut into wedges and serve with the crispy salt pork and poached egg.
Top photo: Red flannel hash. Credit: Clifford A. Wright
Thanksgiving dinner in my family is not the time for experimentation. We have old favorites whose recipes we pull out because, after all, we make and eat this food only once a year. Turkey may be the star of the show, but side dishes, including Brussels sprouts, deserve some spotlight treatment too with preparations that go beyond everyday recipes.
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Two of my children were born in Boston and grew up in Cambridge, Mass., where we lived for 15 years, so we still lean toward traditional New England Thanksgiving food even though we’ve all moved to Southern California. On Thanksgiving Day nary a jalapeño would appear on our table but rather maple syrup, cranberries and bread stuffing. We’re very “pilgrim” in our approach. Although Thanksgiving dinner is not codified, there is general agreement as to what will be on the table.
Many families make the turkey the centerpiece of the whole experience, and it should be. But this is no time to relegate the side dishes to the sideline. If you put as much care, consideration and love into those side dishes Thanksgiving dinner truly becomes memorable.
A real winner of a green vegetable dish is our hash of Brussels sprouts with maple-glazed bacon and hazelnuts.
Making new Brussels Sprouts fans
A New England Thanksgiving menu — the only truly proper one, I believe — has some prescribed dishes besides turkey, pumpkin and cranberry, and one of them is Brussels sprouts.
I like Brussels sprouts but many people don’t care for them. For people who don’t like them, this may be the ideal preparation because the final dish is hardly recognizable as Brussels sprouts. This is a terrific recipe and everyone at our Thanksgiving dinner always takes big servings.
This dish can be made Thanksgiving morning and left in the skillet to be reheated for 2 minutes on high when it is time to serve. Be careful not to overcook the Brussels sprouts.
Brussels Sprouts Hash With Bacon and Hazelnuts
Oil for sautéing
2 pounds Brussels sprouts, trimmed and cut in half lengthwise
Coarse sea salt
8 thick-cut rashers maple-cured bacon
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
½ cup crushed or chopped blanched hazelnuts
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1. Preheat a cast iron skillet or griddle over medium heat for 10 minutes. Pour enough oil into the skillet or griddle to cover the cooking surface with slightly more than a film of oil.
2. Place the Brussels sprouts in the skillet, cut side down, and cook until blackened in spots and golden brown. Turn the vegetables with tongs and cook until the convex side is also browned, 5 to 8 minutes in all. Sprinkle with sea salt and set aside. By the time you place the last cut Brussels sprout down you will probably need to begin turning the first. Chop the cooked Brussels sprouts coarsely.
2. Lay the strips of bacon down in the skillet or griddle and cook until browned and crispy, about 10 minutes. Remove the bacon and cool, then break it into ½-inch pieces.
3. In a large sauté pan or flameproof casserole, melt the butter over medium-high heat and cook the hazelnuts, stirring, for 1 to 2 minutes.
4. Return the chopped Brussels sprouts, bacon and cooked hazelnuts to the pan and season with pepper and cook, stirring, for 3 minutes.
5. Serve or reheat when Thanksgiving dinner is ready. (If reheating, do not cook for more than 2 minutes.)
Top photo: Brussels sprouts for hash. Credit: Clifford A. Wright
Long before the turkey comes out of the oven golden and glistening, our family has gathered, preparing all the myriad dishes, drinking, laughing and nibbling on Thanksgiving appetizers since the morning.
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We start about 10 a.m. and have Thanksgiving dinner around 4 p.m., so it’s important to have appetizers that are traditional, tasty and do not require us to sit down since we want to be hungry but not starving for the main meal.
We prepare a number of Thanksgiving appetizers but one favorite that needs to be guarded for any late-arriving guests (countering the family motto, you snooze you lose) are Vermont cheddar cheese twists. This is a dish that made it up to the majors from the minor leagues in our family about 10 years ago, and it’s a perennial hit.
Cheddar Cheese Twists
You can use frozen puff pastry but make sure your cheddar cheese is the best and not aged; it should be less than a year old. We double this recipe if there are more than nine people.
Makes about 36 twists
3½ cups (about ½ pound) finely grated sharp white Vermont cheddar cheese
1½ teaspoons dried thyme
1½ teaspoons dried sage
1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
1 pound frozen puff pastry, defrosted according to package instructions
1. In a bowl, mix together the cheese, thyme, sage and pepper.
2. Lightly flour a work surface and roll out the puff pastry until it is 18 by 10 inches. Sprinkle one-third of the cheese mixture over half of the pastry. Fold the plain half over the cheese half and press with a rolling pin so it adheres. Roll out again to 18 by 10 inches and sprinkle the next third of the cheese and repeat the process a third time with the remaining cheese, rolling it out to a final shape of 18 by 10 inches. Place in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
3. Preheat the oven to 425 F.
4. Line two large 10-by-14-inch baking sheets with parchment paper. Cut the pastry in half crosswise to form two 10-by-9-inch rectangles. Trim off the uneven pieces of pastry. Cut each rectangle crosswise into ½-inch wide strips. Twist each strip a few times and place on the baking sheet about ¾-inch apart, dampening the ends with water and pressing them to adhere to the parchment.
5. Bake until golden brown, reversing the position of the sheets halfway through baking, about 10 minutes in all. Remove from the oven and let cool on the baking sheet. Serve warm or room temperature.
Top photo: Cheese twists for a Thanksgiving appetizer. Credit: Clifford A. Wright
That Thanksgiving belongs to New England goes without saying. Although there had been feasts giving thanks for the bounty of the land in the Virginia colony, in Spanish Florida and in British Canada, the federal holiday of Thanksgiving declared by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863 traces its lineage to the 1621 harvest celebration of Wampanoag Indians and English settlers in Plymouth, Mass.
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Edward Winslow, one of the governing leaders on the Mayflower, left an account of that thanksgiving feast that lasted three days with 90 Wampanoag and 53 settlers. The Wampanoag brought five deer for the feast. Although there is no surviving menu from this thanksgiving we know that most of the food was brought by the Wampanoag including various waterfowl, the deer, and corn.
It’s likely that the feast was held outdoors as there was no house large enough to hold all these people. Although migrating waterfowl and turkey were plentiful at this time of year, there’s no record that turkey was on the table. There probably were no cranberries, no sweet potatoes, and no pumpkin pie, although there was squash of some kind. One of the dishes they may have eaten was sobaheg, a Wampanoag stew of corn, roots, beans, squash and various meats, perhaps a precursor to succotash.
A New England Thanksgiving of today is somewhat codified, at least in folklore. One must have a perfectly cooked turkey, or at least an understanding of how to cook the turkey if you are a first-timer. Of course you need an excellent turkey gravy. Root vegetables are typical, as is succotash, boiled creamed onions, buttered squash, cider and cranberry juice to drink. You will have at least three pies because in colonial times hosts thought it appeared stingy to offer company fewer than three pies. Probably you would serve a pumpkin pie, a mincemeat pie and a Marlborough pie, which is a glorified apple pie.
Colonial evolution of a Native American tradition
Succotash became a traditional Thanksgiving dish thanks to the Old Colony Club, created in Plymouth, Mass., in 1769. The group favored this dish as part of their annual Forefather’s Day dinner, which was celebrated in early winter.
The original succotash is a descendant of a local Native American meal based on a corn soup made with beans, unripe corn, and various meats, especially bear or fish. Over time it has evolved into a kind of boiled dinner with corned beef, chicken, salt pork, white Cape Cod turnips, potato, hulled corn and boiled beans with some salt pork. Originally, the beans used were actually dried peas, but over time lima beans have become popular.
The word succotash derives from Narragansett, a branch of the Algonquin language, the word being msiquatash. Hominy are kernels of corn that have been treated in a special way, usually soaked in a caustic solution and then washed to remove the hulls. There are different kinds of hominy with different tastes.
½ cup dried split peas
2 cups whole grain hominy
1 Cornish game hen (about 1½ pounds), cut in half or 2 chicken thighs and leg
1 pound beef brisket in one piece
2 ounces salt pork in one piece
1 cup water
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 boiling potato (about ½ pound), such as Yukon gold, red or white potatoes, boiled and diced
1 small turnip, boiled and diced
1. Place the peas in a pot with cold water to cover by several inches. Bring to a boil and cook until very tender, about 3 hours. Drain, and pass through a food mill or mash until it looks like mashed potatoes. Set aside until needed.
2. Meanwhile, bring a saucepan filled with water to a boil and add the hominy. Cook until it is half cooked, about 3 hours. Drain and set aside, saving 2¼ cups of the liquid.
3. Place the game hen or chicken, beef, salt pork and hominy in a large flameproof casserole or Dutch oven and cover with the reserved broth and the water. Season with salt and pepper and bring to just below a boil and let simmer, uncovered, until very tender, about 4 hours, adding small amounts of water if it looks like it’s drying out. The water should never reach a boil, though.
4. Add the pea purée to the meats and stir so all the fat is absorbed. Add the potato and turnip, stir and cook until the potato is soft and the hominy fully cooked, about 1 hour. Serve hot. Do not boil at any time.
Note: A modern vegetable succotash can be made by combining 2 cups of reheated frozen lima beans, 2 cups of freshly cooked corn scraped from the cob, ½ teaspoon salt, 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, a dash of paprika, freshly ground black pepper and ½ cup of cream in a saucepan. Cook until bubbling hot, about 5 minutes, and serve.
Top photo: Hominy is one of the ingredients in the original succotash recipe. Credit: Glane23 / Wikimedia Commons
Provence in the south of France has certainly gotten all the glory with its jet-setter reputation. After all it has the Riviera with Monte Carlo, St. Tropez and Cannes while its neighbor to the southwest Languedoc seems like a distant cousin.
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Most people probably can’t name any place in Languedoc. However, Languedoc offers some delights for the non-jet-setting crowd. It’s quieter than Provence, it’s beautiful, and one can encounter food as good as — and some would say better than — in Provence. That’s impossible to judge of course, but I do find myself often leaning to certain dishes rather than the popular tapenade from Provence.
One such dish is a great salad from Languedoc called anchoïade, a tomato and anchovy salad that is a celebration of land and sea. As its name indicates, the star of this salad must be the local anchovies that are salted directly off the boats coming into the small ports of Languedoc or the Côte Vermeille in Roussillon.
For this reason your typical oil-soaked anchovies in little cans will not do. For this dish to be anything remotely notable you’ll need nice plump, silvery, salted anchovies. Anchovies like these are sold by the Sicilian firm Agostino Recca available at the grocery and gourmet food section of Amazon.
Because the tomatoes are equally important, I call for specific cultivars that I either grow or like, but you can use any kind of homegrown or farmers market-type ripe tomato, heirloom or not, as long as they’ve got full flavor. Anchoïade can refer to a kind of vinaigrette that has anchovies in it or to this salad.
Anchoïade (Tomato and Anchovy Salad)
Serves 4 to 6
16 salted anchovy filets, rinsed
1½ pounds ripe Principe Borghese or Early Girl tomatoes, quartered
3 to 4 ounces imported green olives (28 to 32)
2 large eggs, hard-boiled, shelled and quartered
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
¼ cup very finely chopped red onion
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1. Soak the anchovies for 2 hours in water. Remove and pat dry with paper towels.
2. Arrange the tomatoes, olives and eggs on a platter. Drape the anchovy fillets over the tomatoes artfully.
3. Make the vinaigrette by whisking together the olive oil, vinegar, mustard, red onion, salt and pepper.
4. Dress the tomatoes, without tossing, and serve.
Top photo: Anchoïade salad with anchovies and tomatoes. Credit: Clifford A. Wright
The variety of dried legumes used in Indian cooking can become quite mind-boggling. When you are in an Indian market, you may find yourself walking back and forth in the aisle trying to figure out what’s what.
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When I was writing my book “Some Like It Hot: Spicy Favorites from the World’s Hot Zones,” I came up with some explanations I hope are helpful.
The best known Indian dish using dried legumes is called dal and although that word simply means legume, the prepared form is a kind of mushy side dish made with the legumes, spices and chilies. Many Indian dishes also use dried legumes as a kind of seasoning, sometimes calling for as little as half a teaspoon in other, more complex, concoctions.
Some dal favorites include red gram, black gram and green gram. Sometimes the word dal specifically refers to split dried legumes. Adding to the confusion, Indian authors writing in English sometimes use the same word for two different legumes. Here’s a little guide to help (or confuse) you more. Arhal dal or tur dal (toor dal) are either split red gram or pigeon pea (Cajanus cajan L.). But tur dal, and also thuvar dal, is used by some authors to mean yellow split peas (Pisum sativum L. var. hortense). The English word gram derives from the Portuguese word for grain, which is what the early Portuguese voyagers to India called these little dried legumes in India.
More on sorting out Indian dal
Gram generally means chickpea (Cicer arietinum L .), specifically Bengal gram (also channa dal), but can also mean any dried legume.
Channa dal is the whole or split chickpea although some writers use it to refer to yellow split pea.
Black gram (Vigna mungo L. syn. Phaseolus mungo) is urad dal known also as urd, and sometimes called horse bean, horse gram, Madras gram, sword bean and jackbean (bada-sem). This is complicated by the fact that those last five identified as urad dal are a different species, Canavalia ensiformis L. and also called kulthi dal. Urad dhuli dal is the white version or split white gram.
Sometimes chowli or chowla dal or lobia is the cowpea, also known as black-eyed pea (Vigna unguiculata L. subsp. unguiculata syn. V. sinensis), although chowla dal also refers to the related Vigna catjang.
Green gram (Vigna radiata L. syn. Phaseolus aureus and P. radiatus) is more familiarly known as mung bean and in India is known as moong dal. Kesari dal (Lathyrus sativus L.), or grass pea. If you eat too much of it, grass pea causes a crippling disease called lathyrism.
Masoor dal is split red or yellow lentils (Lens culinaris Medikus syn. L. esculenta; Ervum lens; or Vicia lens).
To round out the dals, matki is moth or mat bean (Vigna acontifolia), sem (also valpapdi, avarai) is hyacinth bean (Lablab purpurus [purpureus] (L.) Sweet. syn. L. niger Medik. and Dolichos lablab L.) and sutari is rice bean (Vigna umbellate).
OK, got that? Personally, no matter what a recipe you’re following says, I find that the cooking of all this is quite easy. It’s only if you were to write a recipe for someone else that it gets confusing.
Beginner’s Dal Sauté
3 tablespoons black gram (urad dal)
3 tablespoons green gram (moong dal)
3 tablespoons dried chickpeas
3 tablespoons red lentils (masoor dal)
3 tablespoons pigeon pea (red gram or toor dal)
2 tablespoons olive oil or vegetable oil
1. Place all the legumes in a saucepan and cover with cold water by several inches. Turn the heat to high and once it comes to a boil, cook, salting lightly, until tender, 45 to 60 minutes.
2. Drain and place in a sauté pan with the olive oil and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Salt to taste. Serve hot.
Top photo: Legumes, clockwise from top: chickpeas, brown lentils, red lentils (masoor dal), green gram (moong dal), black gram (urd dal), pigeon pea (red gram or toor dal). Credit: Clifford A. Wright