Articles in Cooking w/recipe

Fritedda with spring vegetables. Credit: Copyright 2016 Clifford A. Wright

In the springtime in Sicily a simply named dish reveals an explosion of flavor that belies its satisfying complexity. It is a dish special with spring vegetables — fava, peas, scallions and artichokes — and called frittedda (or fritedda).

In western Sicily, where frittedda was born, it is served as a grape ‘u pitittu, a Sicilian expression that means “a mouth-opener,” a culinary concept much closer to a Middle Eastern meze than an Italian antipasto. Pino Correnti, a leading Sicilian gastronome, believes that the name of this preparation comes from the Latin frigere, because it is prepared in a large frying pan.

The young artichokes needed for this dish can be hard to find. They are very tender and have not yet developed chokes. Because this dish is affected by the age and size of the vegetables, you will have to judge for yourself the right cooking time and how much salt, pepper and nutmeg you want to use, so keep tasting. This is a good time to use a very good quality estate-bottled extra virgin olive oil from Sicily.

This is most definitely a labor-intensive preparation. However, it tastes so good and can last so long to be served successively as antipasti and side dishes that a Sicilian cook never shies away from the work. It is a time to grab a glass of wine and with a friend or lover shuck the pods of fava and peas.

Frittedda. Credit: Copyright 2016 Clifford A. Wright

Frittedda. Credit: Copyright 2016 Clifford A. Wright

Spring Vegetable Frittedda

Prep time: About 1 hour

Cook time: Between 1 hour and 1 hour, 40 minutes

Total time: About 2 hours, 45 minutes

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Ingredients

1 pound fresh peas, shelled (from about 2 1/2 pounds of pods)

2 pounds fresh fava beans, shelled (from about 5 pounds of pods)

10 young artichokes, each not more than 3 inches long (if you use older artichokes, with fully developed bracts and chokes, cook them longer in Step 2)

Juice from 1 lemon

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/2 pound scallions, white part only, finely chopped

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Freshly grated nutmeg

4 large fresh mint leaves, finely chopped

1 teaspoon red wine vinegar

4 teaspoons sugar

Directions

1. Rinse the peas and the fava beans and set aside. Trim the artichokes, quarter or halve, and leave them in cold water acidulated with the lemon juice until they are all prepared. In a large sauté pan (preferably a 14-inch sauté pan), heat the olive over medium-low heat, then cook, stirring, the scallions until soft, about 3 minutes.

2. Add the artichokes and cook for 5 minutes longer (15 minutes if they are fully developed globe artichokes), then add 2/3 cup hot water. Bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the peas and fava beans. Season to taste with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes.

3. Moisten the vegetables with more hot water if they look like they are drying out. Cook another 20 to 40 minutes or until tender; keep checking. Stir the mint, vinegar and sugar together and then pour over the vegetables while still hot. Transfer to a serving platter or bowl and let it reach room temperature before serving.

Fritedda with spring vegetables. Credit: Copyright 2016 Clifford A. Wright

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Cuisines from around the world can influence our vegetarian choices, such as in this Armenian-style salad. Credit: Copyright 2016 Marie Simmons

As a kid, my world of food revolved around my family’s Italian cooking: artichokes baked with crisp olive oil crumbs and prosciutto bits, my Nana’s soft pillowy ravioli made with passata di pomodoro from her backyard tomatoes, and piles of Mom’s crisp fried squash blossoms eaten like potato chips.

During college, Atlantic Avenue was walking distance from my campus in Brooklyn, seducing me with belly dancing, creamy feta cheese and wrinkly black olives. The travel bug propelled me to New Delhi, Kulala Lumpur, St. Petersurg, Casablanca, Cairo and points far beyond. Now, living in Eugene, Oregon, food carts expand my horizons as Juanita teaches me to make pupusas. A Mexican torta cart, manned by two adorable university students whom I pedal past on my morning bike ride, brings me back for lunch when hunger pangs hit, and adds a new recipe to my repertoire. At home, I hit my cookbooks for recipes from far-flung places, exotic ingredients and exciting new tastes.

A world of vegetarian

And I then I noticed: All this great food I’ve been tasting, craving and cooking — it’s vegetarian! My whole food world is vegetarian. Exciting!

Whole World Vegetarian

"Whole World Vegetarian"

By Marie Simmons,

Rux Martin/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016 320 pages

» Click here to buy the book

The alchemy was in the ingenuity of the cooks and the agrarian-based cooking and eating of cooks around the world. Meat, even consumed in moderation, is often expensive, and so vegetarian dishes are often a more affordable daily staple — especially for those with a green thumb.

Take, for instance, leafy greens. Any leafy green. Magically, almost every patch of dirt on earth grows green leaves. Freshly harvested, they can be melted into curried coconut milk in India, wilted in oil, butter or ghee with dill and mint and topped with garlic walnuts in Armenia, or tossed with ras el hanout and preserved lemons in Casablanca.

Cooking vegetables from the backyard or garden plot adjacent to the kitchen is cheap, nutritious and lends a palate for the local flavors and seasonings readily available to home cooks worldwide. Consider a garam masala available to every cook in New Delhi, preserved lemons on the shelf from Casablanca to Marrakesh, and chile, cumin and Mexican oregano in every pantry in Mexico — all of these enhance vegetarian dishes. Yes, not all whole world kitchens are vegetarian, but creative vegetable dishes are spilling out of kitchens and onto family tables. From my traveling fork to my home kitchen, from the taste memories that poured from the souls of cooks I met on the road, was born my book “Whole World Vegetarian.” I cooked and tasted and fed my friends, who finally said, “Enough!”

Moroccan Greens with Preserved Lemons

Moroccan greens are made with caramelized red onions, a Moroccan spice blend and preserved lemons. Credit: Copyright 2016 Marie Simmons

Moroccan greens are made with caramelized red onions, a Moroccan spice blend and preserved lemons. Credit: Copyright 2016 Marie Simmons

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 15 minutes

Total time: 30 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

1 large bunch (about 1 pound) rainbow Swiss chard

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 cup thinly sliced red onion

1 teaspoon ras el hanout, or Moroccan spice blend

1 tablespoon finely diced rind from Moroccan Preserved Lemons (recipe follows)

Directions

1. Rinse the chard and, while still wet, pull the leafy greens from the stems. Reserve the stems for other use. Tear or coarsely chop up the greens. You should have about 8 cups loosely packed.

2. In a 10-inch skillet, heat the oil over medium heat until hot enough to gently sizzle a slice of onion. Add the onion and cook, stirring with tongs, until the onion begins to brown and caramelize, about 10 minutes. Sprinkle with the ras el hanout.

3. Add the wet greens to the onion all at once and toss with tongs to blend. Cook, covered, until the greens are wilted, 3 to 5 minutes, stirring with tongs once or twice.

4. Sprinkle with the preserved lemon and toss to blend. Serve hot.

Moroccan Preserved Lemons

Prep time: 10 minutes

Standing time: 3 to 4 weeks

Yield: 1/2 pint

Ingredients

2 to 3 small lemons, preferably organic, scrubbed clean

2 tablespoons coarse salt

1/3 cup fresh lemon juice

Directions

1. Trim the ends from the lemons and partially cut into 8 wedges, leaving the wedges attached at one end. Rub the cut surface of the wedges with the salt. Press the lemons back into their original shape. Pack into a clean half-pint canning jar. Add enough of the lemon juice to cover the lemons. Wipe off the rim of the jar. Top with the lid and fasten the screw band to secure. Store in the jar in a dark place for 3 to 4 weeks, turning the jar upside down every few days so the salt is distributed evenly.

2. Store the opened jar in the refrigerator. They will keep for at least 6 months.

3. To use the lemons, lift from the brine and separate the pulp from the rind. Finely chop the rind and sprinkle on vegetables, salad, soup or stew. Finely chop the pulp and add it to salad dressing, mayonnaise or other sauces.

New Delhi-Style Curried Spinach  

A New Delhi-style curried spinach has coconut milk, tomatoes and fried onions. Credit: Copyright 2016 Marie Simmons

A New Delhi-style curried spinach has coconut milk, tomatoes and fried onions. Credit: Copyright 2016 Marie Simmons

Sturdy, large-leaf (or winter) bunch spinach is the better choice for this recipe than the bagged leaves of baby spinach. The large leaves are more flavorful and retain their texture as they gently cook.

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 26 minutes

Total time: 41 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

Coconut or vegetable oil, as needed

2 cups slivered (1/8 inch thick lengthwise pieces) onion

1 tablespoon Madras-style curry powder

1 can (13.5 ounces) coconut milk

1 pound large-leaf spinach, rinsed, thick stems coarsely chopped

1/2 cup seeded and diced fresh or canned tomatoes

Directions

1. Heat about 1/2 inch oil in a deep 9-inch skillet until hot enough to sizzle a piece of onion. Gradually stir in the onions, adjusting between low and medium low as the onion sizzles. Cook the onions until well browned, but not black, 15 to 20 minutes. Lift onions from the oil with a slotted spoon and place in a strainer set over a bowl. Do not use paper for draining the onions as the paper will make them soggy. Let stand until ready to serve. Reserve the onion-infused oil for future onion frying or to season other dishes.

2. In a large, wide saucepan or deep skillet, heat the curry powder over medium-low heat, stirring, until it becomes fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in the coconut milk and boil. Add the spinach all at once. Toss to coat. Cook, covered, until wilted, 3 to 5 minutes.

3. Spoon into a serving dish. Serve at once garnished with the diced tomatoes and fried onions.

Main photo: Cuisines from around the world can influence our vegetarian choices, such as in this Armenian-style salad. Credit: Copyright 2016 Marie Simmons

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Salt-roasted sea bass. Credit: Copyright 2016 David Latt

Dinner-party ready and perfect for everyday meals, a whole fish roasted in salt puts “wow” on the table. A whole fish cooked inside a dome of kosher salt looks beautiful and is easy to make. Ten minutes to prep, 30 minutes in the oven, a salt-roasted fish on your table will make everyone happy.

Using whole fish costs less per pound than filleted fish. Cocooned inside its salt blanket, the protein rich-fish cooks in its own juices.

The technique is very low-tech. No fancy machines or tools are required. Some recipes call for egg whites and water to moisten the salt, but from my experience, water alone works perfectly. After the fish has cooked inside the coating of moistened salt, a fork will effortlessly peel back the skin and a chef’s knife easily separates the meat from the bones.

When creating the salt coating, it is  important to use kosher salt. Do not use table salt and definitely do not use salt that has been treated with iodine, which has an unpleasant minerality.

When you buy the fish, ask to have the guts and gills removed but there is no need to have the fish scaled because the skin will be removed before serving. If the only whole fish available in your seafood market is larger than you need, a piece without the head or tail can still be used. To protect the flesh, place a small piece of parchment paper across the cut end, then pack the moistened kosher salt on all the sides to completely seal the fish.

Even though the fish is cooked inside salt, the flesh never touches the salt. The result is moist, delicate meat.

After removing the salt-roasted fish from the oven, let it rest on the table on a heat-proof trivet. The sight of the pure white mound, warm to the touch and concealing a hidden treat is a delight.

What kind of fish to use?

So far I have used the technique on trout, salmon, sea bass, salmon trout and pompano with equally good results. This makes me think that the technique can be used with any fish.

Salt-roasted trout filleted. Credit: Copyright 2016 David Latt

Salt-roasted trout filleted. Credit: Copyright 2016 David Latt

Choose a fish that is as fresh as possible, with a clean smell and clear eyes. When you press the body, the flesh should spring back.

The cooking time will vary depending on the size and thickness of the fish.

In general, a whole fish weighing 3 to 5 pounds will require a three-pound box of kosher salt.  Since that is an estimate, it is a good idea to have a second box of kosher salt on hand. Personally, I prefer Diamond Crystal kosher salt because it is additive-free.

Salt-Roasted Fish

Use only enough water to moisten the kosher salt so the grains stick together. Too much water will create a slurry, which will slide off the fish. Because kosher salt is not inexpensive,  use only as much as you need. A quarter-inch coating around the fish is sufficient.

Placing herbs and aromatics inside the fish’s cavity can impart flavor and appealing aromas when the salt dome is removed. Sliced fresh lemons, rosemary sprigs, parsley, cilantro, bay leaves or basil all add to the qualities of the dish but discard before platting.

Depending on the density of the flesh, generally speaking, one pound of fish requires 10 minutes of cooking at 400 F.

The mild fish can be served with a tossed salad, pasta, rice or cooked vegetables. The fish goes well with freshly made tartar sauce, salsa verde, pesto, romesco, chermoula or pico de gallo.

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: 30 minutes if the fish weighs 3 pounds, 50 minutes if the fish weighs 5 pounds

Resting time: 5 minutes

Total time: 45 or 65 minutes depending on the size of the fish

Yield: 4 to 6 servings depending on the size of the fish

Ingredients

1 whole fish, 3 to 5 pounds, with the head and the tail, cleaned and gutted but not necessarily scaled

1 3-pound box kosher salt, preferably Diamond kosher salt

½ to 1 cup water

2 cups fresh aromatics and lemon slices (optional)

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 400 F.

2. Wash the fish inside and outside. Pat dry and set aside.

3. Pour 2 pounds of the kosher salt into a large bowl. Moisten with ½ cup water. Mix with your fingers.  If needed, add more water a tablespoon at a time until the salt sticks together.

4. Select a baking tray that is 2 inches longer and wider than the fish. Line with parchment paper or a Silpat sheet.

5. Place a third of the moistened salt on the bottom of the lined baking tray.

6. Lay the whole fish on top of the salt. Place aromatics and lemon slices inside the fish, if desired.

7. Carefully mold the rest of the moistened salt over the entire fish. If more salt is needed, moisten an additional amount of salt.

8. Place the baking tray into the pre-heated oven.

9. After 30 minutes for a 3-pound fish and 50 minutes for a 5-pound fish, remove the baking tray from the oven and allow the fish to rest for 5 minutes.

10. Using a chef’s knife, slice into the salt dome on the back side of the fish, along the fin line. Make another slice on the bottom of the fish. Lift the salt dome off the fish and discard. Using the knife, make a cut across the gills and the tail. Insert a fork under the skin and lift the skin separating it from the flesh.

11. Have a serving platter ready. Using the flat side of a chef’s knife, slide the blade between the flesh and the skeleton along the fin line. Separate the flesh from the bones. Try as best you can to keep the entire side of the fish intact, but no worries if the flesh comes off in several pieces. When you place the flesh on the serving platter, you can reassemble the fillet.

12. Turn the fish over and repeat the process on the other side.

13. Discard the head, tail, bones and skin or reserve to make stock. If making stock, rinse all the parts to eliminate excess salt.  Place into a pot, cover with water, simmer 30 minutes covered, strain and discard the bones, head, tail and skin. The stock can be frozen for later use.

14. Serve the fish at room temperature with sauces of your choice and side dishes.

Main photo: Salt-roasted sea bass. Credit: Copyright 2016 David Latt

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Black kale with vinegar. Credit: Copyright 2016 Clifford A. Wright

Although vegetables — especially dark leafy greens — are often treated as a side dish, they also can be served as an appetizer; as a bed for other foods; a dish on their own if made in quantity; or just cold as a kind of tapas.

The attribute I like most about dark leafy greens, perhaps excepting spinach, is that they are rugged vegetables that can handle a variety of cooking methods including long cooking times.

These three simple recipes each result in a surprisingly delicious dish, but also in three quite appropriate appetizers for a follow-up dish the next day should you have leftovers. The recipes for the kale and the dandelion are Italian-style, sweet-and-sour preparations, which I find work particularly well (as the Italians discovered long ago) with bitter greens.

Black kale and vinegar

Kale is a bitter cruciferous plant and the so-called black kale, also known as Russian or Tuscan kale, is a particular cultivar that has very dark green, oak-like and crinkly leaves. The following is an Italian method of cooking, and it also makes the preparation very nice served at room temperature.

Prep and cooking time: 45 minutes

Yield: 2 to 3 side dish servings

Ingredients

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

One 1/8-inch-thick slice pancetta, cut into strips

10 ounces Russian or black kale, rinsed

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

1 teaspoon sugar

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions

1. In a sauté pan, heat the olive oil with the garlic and pancetta over medium-high heat, stirring, and once the pancetta is slightly crispy in about 4 minutes, add the kale.

2. Cover and cook on low until the kale is somewhat tender, about 30 minutes. Add the vinegar with the sugar dissolved in it to the pan, cover, and continue cooking 10 minutes.

3. Season with salt and pepper and serve warm or at room temperature.

Sweet and sour dandelion

Sweet and sour dandelion. Credit: Copyright 2016 Clifford A. Wright

Sweet and sour dandelion. Credit: Copyright 2016 Clifford A. Wright

In Italian they would call this kind of dish agrodolce or sweet and sour. The sweetness added to the bitter taste of dandelion is a contrast that many gourmets swoon over.

Prep and cooking time: 20 minutes

Yield: 2 side dish servings

Ingredients

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/2 ounce pancetta, diced small or cut into thin strips

2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped

Four 1/4-inch thick slices onion

1 bunch dandelion (about 3/4 pound), bottom quarter of stems removed, washed

3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

2 teaspoons sugar

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

Directions

1. In a sauté pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat with the pancetta, garlic and onion and cook until softened, stirring, about 5 minutes.

2. Add the dandelion and mint and cook until they wilt, tossing frequently. Season with salt and pepper. Meanwhile, dissolve the sugar in the vinegar then pour over the dandelion and cook until evaporated, about 3 minutes.

3. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Drowned mustard greens

Drowned mustard greens. Credit: Copyright 2016 Clifford A. Wright

Drowned mustard greens. Credit: Copyright 2016 Clifford A. Wright

This Sicilian-inspired recipe is derived from a recipe originally for broccoli, but it works spectacularly with mustard greens. The Sicilians call this kind of dish affucati, ”drowned,” because it’s smothered in wine. It’s terrific as a room-temperature appetizer the next day too. If serving the next day as a room temperature antipasto, let the Parmigiano-Reggiano melt and then drizzle some olive oil to serve.

Prep and cooking time: 30 minutes

Yield: 4 side dish servings

Ingredients

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 onion, coarsely chopped

4 garlic cloves, finely chopped

4 salted anchovy fillets, rinsed

1 pound mustard greens, heavier stems removed and discarded, leaves washed and shredded

3/4 cup dry red wine

8 imported black olives, pitted and chopped

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Directions

1. In a flameproof casserole, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat, then cook the onion and garlic until soft, stirring constantly so the garlic doesn’t burn, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the anchovies and once they have melted add the shredded mustard greens, cover, and cook until they wilt, about 5 minutes.

2. Pour the red wine into the sauce with the olives, salt and pepper. Cover again, reduce the heat to medium and cook 15 minutes. Transfer to a serving platter with a slotted spoon and sprinkle on the Parmigiano.

Main photo: Black kale with vinegar. Credit: Copyright 2016 Clifford A. Wright

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Savory Yogurt Bowl. Credit: Copyright 2016 Brooke Jackson

The recent trend of meals served in bowls continues to show its appeal for so many reasons. Bowls continue to be quite popular on restaurant menus too, with endlessly clever combinations to suit any diet or meal.

As Los Angeles Times food critic Jonathan Gold put it, “Avocado toast? That was so last year. We are now in the age of the phenomenon I have come to think of as Things in a Bowl, a culinary invention that may depend on rice, pasta, whole grains or legumes but usually includes a poached egg of one sort or another and always, always comes with kale.”

Well, not always kale. On a recent trip through Santa Barbara, California, I had a delicious quinoa breakfast bowl at Backyard Bowls. The Southern California chain offers a choice of quinoa, acai, oatmeal, yogurt and muesli as the base, then builds on that with fresh fruit, nut milks and butters, nuts, granola, dried fruit and seeds. Diners can choose spirulina, bee pollen, goji berries and other super foods to sprinkle on top for added nutrition. My quinoa bowl with cashew milk, berries and honey was just the ticket, comforting, sweet and rib-sticking.

Another Santa Barbara outpost, Buddha Bowls, makes savory concoctions then stuffs them in hollowed-out bread bowls. Some of the fillings include chili, macaroni and cheese with bacon, Hawaiian barbecue and Mediterranean flavors with hummus and veggies — recipes designed to appeal to the mostly student population in that area.

Another restaurant just up the coast from Santa Barbara — Calafia Café in Palo Alto, California — uses noodles, lentils, brown rice and roasted yams for the base of its bowls then adds vegetables and proteins for either vegan or carnivore eaters. One of my favorites is the Fiery Bottom BBQ Pork Bowl with braised pork, barbecue sauce, sautéed spinach, fried quail egg, roasted yams and brown rice.

The Plant Café, another small California chain, has a dynamite bowl featuring wild salmon with ginger lime sauce and seasonal vegetables over soba noodles.

Even some yogurt purveyors have waded in – after all, yogurt was the base for some of the first bowls ever, usually served with granola and fruit. Putting a new twist on that mixture, Pinkberry added a line of savory Greek yogurt bowls to its offerings a few years back. Cucumbers, olive oil, sunflower crackers, toasted quinoa and pumpkin seeds were among the toppings. Pinkberry has since taken these items off its menu, but I like the idea for its versatility and for how easily it translates to the home cook.

Heck, when you have your pantry and fridge to choose from, many iterations of grain, noodle, vegetable, herb, bean, spice, seed or oil could work for a nutritious bowl, making a snappy lunch, snack or even appetizer to share in a jiffy.

Besides being a fantastic way to get food on the table quickly, bowls present a handy opportunity for using up leftovers. Think of the rice you cooked two nights ago, the leftover roasted chicken from Sunday and the asparagus and carrots that need to get used up. Steam the asparagus until tender/crisp and layer baby salad greens, then rice and then chicken in bowls. Top with coarsely grated carrots, the asparagus and some sesame seeds then drizzle with teriyaki sauce.

Or you could take the salad greens-chicken-rice combination a different direction with the addition of cilantro, pinto beans and avocado or use leftover noodles instead of rice and change up the vegetables. Heat up the ingredients or serve at room temperature depending on personal preference. To add spark and versatility, have on hand a few sauces such as salsa, chimichurri, Thai curry, peanut or lemon vinaigrette for drizzling on top.

So whether you’re a trendsetter or not, making bowls at home is easy, fun and quick. Here are a couple recipes to chew on:

Quinoa Breakfast Bowl

Quinoa breakfast bowl. Credit: Copyright 2016 Brooke Jackson

Quinoa breakfast bowl. Credit: Copyright 2016 Brooke Jackson

Yield: 1 serving

Ingredients

1 cup water

1/2 cup quinoa

2 tablespoons golden raisins

1/4 cup almond milk

4 strawberries, stemmed and quartered

1 tablespoon unsweetened coconut flakes, toasted

2 tablespoon slivered almonds, toasted

1 teaspoon agave syrup

Directions

1. Bring water and quinoa to a boil then lower heat and cover. After 10 minutes, stir in the raisins and continue to cook until the grains open up into translucent flat disks and liquid is absorbed, about 5 to 10 minutes longer.

2. Stir in almond milk and pour into a bowl. Arrange berries on top then sprinkle with coconut and almonds and drizzle with agave syrup. Eat while still warm.

Mexican-style Pinto Bean Bowl

Mexican-style Pinto Bean Bowl. Credit: Copyright 2016 Brooke Jackson

Mexican-style Pinto Bean Bowl. Credit: Copyright 2016 Brooke Jackson

Yield: 1 serving

Ingredients

1/4 cup shredded red cabbage

Juice of 1/2 lime

Butter, enough to grease frying pan

1 egg

1/2 cup whole pinto beans, warmed

1/4 cup cherry tomatoes, halved

1 teaspoon chopped cilantro

1/4 avocado

Directions

1. Toss the cabbage with the lime juice and set aside.

2. Heat a small frying pan and add a little butter. Fry the egg to a perfect sunny side up. While the egg is cooking, layer the beans in a bowl, then top with the cooked egg then cabbage salad.

3. Scatter the tomatoes over the top and sprinkle with the cilantro, then perch the avocado on top. Serve immediately.

Savory Yogurt Bowl

Yield: 1 serving

Ingredients

1 cup nonfat Greek yogurt, whipped with a whisk to enhance silken texture

1/2 cup cucumber, peeled, seeded and cut in small dice

1/4 cup sesame sticks, broken into small pieces

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon gray Maldon sea salt

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon pure New Mexico chile powder

Directions

1. Layer yogurt in a bowl. Top with cucumber, then sesame sticks. Drizzle oil over all then sprinkle with salt and chile powder to taste.

Main photo: Savory Yogurt Bowl. Credit: Copyright 2016 Brooke Jackson

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Tater Tots, long a staple of school lunches, have been elevated to gourmet fare by some chefs. Credit: Copyright 2016 Kathy Hunt

It’s the side dish of my childhood, what school cafeterias invariably paired with burgers, sloppy Joes, hot ham-and-cheese sandwiches and sundry other entrée staples. Growing up, I must have eaten Tater Tots at least once a week, but after college I turned my back on those golden brown, crunchy-yet-soft, mild-yet-savory fried potato puffs.

While I never would have guessed that we’d be reunited, tastes and times have changed with the re-invention of my old school friend. Today these potatoes are no longer relegated to institutional fare. Tots appear everywhere from upscale, New American-style restaurants to bars, burger joints and food trucks. Nor are they merely side dishes for hot sandwiches. Chefs partner them with omelets, pulled pork and fried chicken or serve them on their own as a hearty appetizer or entrée.

Fond memories of Tater Tots

Tater tots have long been a staple of school lunches. Credit: Copyright 2016 Kathy Hunt

Tater Tots have long been a staple of school lunches. Credit: Copyright 2016 Kathy Hunt

Nostalgia drives this renewed passion for Tater Tots, said Julie Crist, owner of The Tot Cart in Philadelphia. “Parents used to make Tater Tots for their kids. Now they have souped-up versions of those elementary school lunches,” she said.

Among The Tot Cart’s offerings are “chicken tot pies,” which feature chicken potpie filling layered over potatoes, and a dessert tot consisting of tots tossed in cinnamon sugar and drizzled in dulce de leche. “The salty-sweet mixture makes tots ideal for dessert. With their crispy outsides you really can put anything on them,” said Crist, who serves more than 100 types of tots from her food truck in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware.

At Alexander’s Tavern in Baltimore, tots are the house specialty. “Tots play on Alexander’s theme of taking a childhood classic and giving it an adult twist,” said executive chef Faith Paulick.

Alexander’s Tavern diners nosh on “tot-chos,” potatoes smothered in queso and jack cheeses, salsa, sour cream and jalapenos, as well as chili- and cheese-covered tots and BBQ sweet potato tots. The best-selling item on the menu is Maryland tots, Paulick said. These are tots blanketed with lump crab meat, crab dip and Old Bay seasoning.

To keep tabs on the food’s popularity, Alexander’s Tavern maintains a “tots sold” counter on its website. To date, the restaurant has sold more than 3 million.

Tater Tots a boon to profits

Tater tots were created in an attempt to make use of the potato scraps leftover from cutting French fries. Credit: Copyright 2016 Kathy Hunt

Tater Tots were created in an attempt to make use of the potato scraps leftover from cutting french fries. Credit: Copyright 2016 Kathy Hunt

Although Tater Tots now feature in an array of clever dishes, they had far humbler beginnings. They simply were a way to use the scraps from freshly cut french fries.

In 1952 F. Nephi Grigg of Nampa, Idaho, began considering how he and his brother Golden could turn the leftover slivers at their potato-processing plant into something more profitable. At that time the cuttings were being sold as livestock feed. Grigg decided to try grinding up the pieces, mixing in some spices, pushing the concoction through a form and then deep-frying the bite-sized chunks. With that, Grigg created the first batch of Tater Tots.

He premiered his invention at the 1953 National Potato Convention in Miami, and the tots were an instant hit.

Thanks to Tater Tots, by the late 1950s the Grigg brothers possessed a quarter of America’s frozen potato market. In 1960 the brothers changed their company name from Oregon Frozen Foods to Ore-Ida, a nod to their facility’s proximity to the Oregon-Idaho border.

Five years and multiple new facilities later, the Griggs sold Ore-Ida and its Tater Tots to the H.J. Heinz Co. for $31 million. Heinz, in turn, made these frozen potatoes a staple of American kitchens, cafeterias and childhoods.

While I may have been raised on those mass-produced, frozen tots, I now prefer to make my own. It’s not a complicated or labor-intensive process. In fact, I only need a few ingredients — potatoes, flour, salt, pepper and oil — and a grater, a slotted spoon and a deep pot.

As I’ve learned through trial and error, the key to good tots is to fry rather than bake them. The difference between those two techniques is night and day,  Paulick said.

“Frying gives you nice, even cooking. The potatoes are crispy on the outside and cooked completely on the inside. Unfortunately, you don’t get the same result when you bake tots,” she said.

Crunchy tots allow you to pile on a host of ingredients, including cheeses, meats and sauces. They also enable you to serve them school-cafeteria-style, unadorned except for a dusting of salt and pepper.

Scallion Potato Tots

Scallion Tater Tots ready for frying. Credit: Copyright 2016 Kathy Hunt

Scallion Potato Tots ready for frying. Credit: Copyright 2016 Kathy Hunt

Prep time: 40 minutes

Cook time: 5 minutes

Total time: 45 minutes

Yield: Makes 6 servings

Ingredients

2 pounds Russet potatoes, washed

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons onion powder

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon white ground pepper

3 tablespoons minced scallion, whites only

Grapeseed or canola oil, for frying

Salt (optional)

Directions

Preheat the oven to 425 F. Prick the potatoes with a fork and place them in the oven. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove them from the oven and allow them to cool for 10 to 15 minutes, until they are no longer too hot to touch.

Using a pairing knife, peel off and discard the potato skins. With a box grater, grate the potatoes into a bowl.

Add the flour, onion powder, salt, white pepper and minced scallion and, using a fork, toss together until evenly combined.

Fill a deep pot with 2 1/2 to 3 inches of oil. Heat the oil on medium-high until it reaches 350 F on a thermometer.

Drop the tots into the oil one at a time. Cook until golden, 3 to 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, scoop out the cooked tots and place them on a clean, dry cloth to drain. Repeat until all the tots have been fried.

Sprinkle a smidgen of salt over them, if desired. Serve warm.

Main image: Tater Tots, long a staple of school lunches, have been elevated to gourmet fare by some chefs. Credit: Copyright 2016 Kathy Hunt

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Main caption: Gino Sorbillo, Italy's famed pizzaiuolo, holds a finished pizza fritta. Credit: Copyright 2016 Francine Seganv

Fried street foods are popular in every region of Italy, where you’ll often hear: “Fried, even chair legs are delicious.” Neapolitans in particular have a cult-like devotion to fried fare, especially pizza fritta.

After World War II, the city found itself in crisis, and the materials needed for pizza — the mozzarella and even wood for the ovens — became a luxury. Fried pizza, a less-expensive alternative nicknamed “pizza of the people,” was filled with “poor” ingredients — pork crackling, pepper and ricotta. Housewives sold it on the streets to supplement the family’s income. Times were so hard, customers could even buy pizza fritta on credit: Called pizza-at-eight, pizza a otto, it was eaten on the spot but paid for eight days later.

Simple, homemade food

Gino Sorbillo fries pizza fritta at his Naples restaurant. Credit: Copyright 2016 Francine Segan

Gino Sorbillo fries pizza fritta at his Naples restaurant. Credit: Copyright 2016 Francine Segan

Naples-born Gino Sorbillo, Italy’s famed pizzaiuolo, made one for me recently explaining, “Pizza fritta comes in different shapes. Round, called montanare, or half moon calzone.” For the dough, which is the same as for classic oven pizza, Sorbillo uses only a minuscule pinch of leavening to create chewy, never spongy, dough. He stretches a round, fills it and pulls the ends into a whimsical mimicry of the clown Pulcinella’s hat. Sorbillo flash-fries at just the right temperature for a crisp, non-greasy outside and warm, gooey center.

“Pizza fritta is a simple food, easy to make at home because unlike classic pizza you don’t need a wood-burning stove, just a frying pan,” Sorbillo says.  It’s very versatile and can be filled with virtually anything: a traditional ricotta, provolone and Neapolitan salami combo; mozzarella and ham; or sautéed broccoli rabe or other greens. And it is great plain or served with a side dipping of tomato sauce.

When you’re in Naples, be sure to have a classic wood oven-baked pizza at Gino’s famed restaurant on Via dei Tribunali. But if the lines are too long to get in, which they always are, enjoy a piping hot pizza fritta at his small fried pizza spot just a few doors down.  If you can’t get to Naples, make Sorbillo’s fried pizza at home with the recipe below. Use his excellent dough recipe or use store-bought pizza dough.

Gino Sorbillo’s Pizza Fritta

If you can't make it to Naples, you can make your own fried pizza at home. Note the tips folded in like a hat. Credit: Copyright 2016 Francine Segan

If you can’t make it to Naples, you can make your own fried pizza at home. Note the tips folded in like a hat. Credit: Copyright 2016 Francine Segan

Prep time: 20 minutes, plus 8 hours passive

Cooking time: 5 minutes

Total time: 25 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

A tiny pinch, 0.07 ounces, brewers yeast

2 cups, about 1 pound, organic “0” or pizza flour

3 teaspoons salt

Sunflower or other vegetable oil for frying

Sorbillo’s suggested fillings: sheep’s milk ricotta, thinly sliced ciccioli  (Neapolitan pork salami), diced smoked provolone cheese, diced fresh peeled tomatoes, black pepper

Directions

1. Dissolve the yeast in 1 1/3 cups of warm water in a bowl, and then sift in the flour and salt. Knead on a floured work surface until smooth, 10 to 12 minutes.  Divide the dough into 4 balls and let rise at room temperature, covered in a clean cloth, for about 8 hours.

2. Heat enough oil in a deep-sided skillet to cover one pizza at a time. Heat to 400 F.

3. Stretch each section into a flat circle, pressing down with your palm to flatten it. Put the ricotta, salami, provolone and a tablespoon of diced tomatoes in the center. Season with black pepper, fold over and pinch the edges closed, taking care to leave an air pocket in the center.   Pull on the two ends a bit and slowly lower into the hot oil. Fry in the hot oil, about 1/2 minute per side, until golden. Drain on absorbent paper and repeat with the other three pizzas. Eat while warm.

Main photo: Gino Sorbillo, Italy’s famed pizzaiuolo, holds a finished pizza fritta. Credit: Copyright 2016 Francine Segan

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This Japanese meal has miso sauce, daikon radish, salmon, omelet, purple radish, cauliflower, broccoli, carrot, burdock, chestnut, grapes, dried baby fish -- some of these rather small amounts. I give it a score 10 item including the accompanying bowl of rice and miso soup. Credit: Copyright 2016 Hiroko Shimbu

An official slogan for improving the nutrition of the Japanese population was issued by the Japanese government in 1985: “Consume Thirty Different Food Items Each Day.”

The food items were divided into six categories, and we were advised to choose evenly from each category. Each ingredient, it was said — meat, poultry and fish, soybeans, grains, vegetables and fruits, milk products, and sea vegetables — contains its own nutritional properties, so following this slogan will help to create balanced meals.

Even before this public announcement, there was a growing awareness that the Japanese diet since the turn of the 20th century had succumbed to influence from the West. It was thought that we must return to our own traditional diet to achieve optimum nutrition.

Just for fun, from time to time I still count how many different food items I have consumed in a single day.

A realistic goal?

A high-scoring lunch at home of kinpira ( flavored carrot, parsnip and burdock) and soba buckwheat noodles, fried tofu, cabbage, onion, fennel bulb and egg). Credit: Copyright 2016 Hiroko Shimbu

A high-scoring lunch of kinpira (flavored carrot, parsnip and burdock) and soba (buckwheat noodles) with fried tofu, cabbage, onion, fennel bulb and egg. Credit: Copyright 2016 Hiroko Shimbo

This practice was instilled in me by my mother. Recently I made the count for all three meals, and found I’d consumed 21 separate foods on that day; far short of the government’s recommendation. This caused me to think. How and why did this government recommendation come about? Is it still a realistic guiding principle?

Here is what I found.

Until 1868, Japan lagged far behind Western countries in technology, science and engineering because of the closure of the country to foreign trade for 260 years. Even the small physical stature of the Japanese population was blamed on a poor, very limited Japanese diet that was based on small quantities of rice, fish, soybean products, with some vegetables and seaweeds.

The Meiji Emperor encouraged the population to begin consuming beef, a food item previously banned for ordinary citizens. Newly imported Western ingredients included meat, meat products, milk and butter, and new preparation techniques led to the creation of new “Japanese” dishes that were called “yo-shoku” (Japanized Western dishes).

Yo-shoku dishes with their rich flavors and large servings instantly became national favorites: beef steak, pork cutlet, curry and rice, “omu-rice” (stir-fried morsels of chicken and rice, seasoned with tomato ketchup and wrapped in an omelet), to name a few.

Dietary changes brought risks

Chikuzen-ni: This dish features broccoli, carrot, onion, purple baby potato, white baby potato, parsnip, shiitake mushroom, chicken and olive oil -- a 9-item dish.

This dish (Chikuzen-ni) features broccoli, carrot, onion, purple baby potato, white baby potato, parsnip, shiitake mushroom, chicken and olive oil — a nine-item dish. Credit: Copyright 2016 Hiroko Shimbo

During the heyday of Japanese boom-times in 1970-1990, even more varieties of Western foods became available and popular (provided by the major Western fast-food companies). And Japanese began consuming increasing quantities of rare cheeses, foie gras and expensive wines.

These dietary changes came with hefty penalties: Diabetes became more widespread. Heart disease became the number No. 2 killer in Japan. And — this was formerly unthinkable — morbid obesity is now present in the country.

Meals dominated by fat, meat, meat products, egg, sugar and milk products push up calorie consumption but not the number of daily food items. The broad categories of foods of the traditional complete Japanese diet such as seafood, seaweed, vegetables and more fruits are lacking. So the 1985 rule was an attempt to bring variety back to the everyday diet.

Want to try eating 30 different foods in a day? Choose at least two items from each of the six food categories. Since consuming vegetables and fruits is good for our health, add two additional items from categories 3 and 4. If you do this, you will easily approach 20 separate food items — a good start for reaching the goal of 30 items that the Japanese government recommended.

By following this practice, you can change the way you plan and prepare meals to the benefit of your health.

Six categories of food items

This Japanese style fish stew includes porgy, squid and hard-shell clam from fishmonger, Blue Moon, which sets up their store at Union Square Market, New York City, from spring through early winter. Also onion, corn, tomato and green and yellow zucchini are mingling with seafood in dashi (Japanese stock) broth -- an 8 score dish. Credit: Copyright 2016 Hiroko Shimbu

This Japanese-style fish stew includes porgy, squid and hard-shell clam from fishmonger Blue Moon, which sets up at Union Square Market in New York City from spring through early winter. Also, onion, corn, tomato and green and yellow zucchini are mingling with seafood in dashi (Japanese stock) broth — an 8 score dish. Credit: Copyright 2016 Hiroko Shimbo

The six categories of food items and what they provide:

1. Meat, fish, poultry, egg, tofu products (protein).

2. Small fish that can be eaten whole with bones, milk and milk products (calcium).

3. Green and yellow vegetables (carotene, plus other vitamins and minerals).

4. Other vegetables and fruits (vitamin C, plus other vitamins and minerals).

5. Grains, potato, bread/cakes/cookies (carbohydrates).

6. Cooking oil, nut and seed oils, nuts and seeds (fat).

Rules to follow

I taught 3-5 years old kids at Children's Museum of Manhattan in New York City to eat vegetables of all colors of the rainbow. The little audience was very curious about the colors of beautiful vegetables. Credit 2016 Hiroko Shimbu

I taught 3- to 5-year-old kids at the Children’s Museum of Manhattan in New York City about the value of eating vegetables of all colors of the rainbow. The young audience was curious about the beautiful colors of vegetables. Credit: Copyright 2016 Hiroko Shimbo

As you begin your “Thirty Different Food Items Each Day” project, please observe the following rules. Do not count the same ingredient twice. Do not count ingredients used for garnishes in soups, salads and the like; they have minimal nutritional and caloric value. You can, however, count ketchup, mayonnaise and sauces, which have substantial caloric content.

When you reach 21 food items in a day, please send me photos and a description of the meals. I will share them with my audience.

Before then, please enjoy this stir-fried rice recipe, which gives you a 7 score for the dish.

Seven Score Vegetable Stir-Fried Rice

I make this rice dish very often for lunch and dinner. The ingredients used here - carrot, onion, fennel bulb, kale, brown rice, pine nuts and olive oil - can be replaced with other ingredients that you may have in your kitchen. A flavorful and satisfying vegetable rice dish anytime. Credit: Copyright 2016 Hiroko Shimbu

I make this rice dish very often for lunch and dinner. The ingredients used here — carrot, onion, fennel bulb, kale, brown rice, pine nuts and olive oil — can be replaced with other ingredients that you may have in your kitchen. A flavorful and satisfying vegetable rice dish any time. Credit: Copyright 2016 Hiroko Shimbo

Prep time: 45 minutes

Cook time: 4 minutes

Total time: 49 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup chopped onion

Sea salt

1 cup chopped carrot

1/4 cup chopped fennel bulb or celery

3 1/2 ounces kale; leaves, cut into thin slices crosswise; stems, cut into thin slices slanted

4 cups cooked and cooled brown rice (preferably made a day in advance)

1/2 cup pine nuts

2 tablespoons butter

1 to 2 teaspoons shoyu

Freshly ground black pepper corn

Directions

Heat a wok or deep skillet over medium heat and add 1 1/2 tablespoons of the oil. When the oil is hot, add the onion along with pinch of salt and cook, stirring, 1 minute.

Add the carrot, fennel bulb and kale stem along with pinch of sea salt and cook, stirring, 2 minutes. Add the kale leaves, and cook, stirring, 30 seconds. Move the vegetables to one end of the wok (or transfer to a temporary bowl). Add the remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons oil in the empty space of the wok.

When the oil is hot, add the rice and cook, over medium heat, stirring, until the rice is fully heated up, or about 2 minutes. Then combine and toss the rice with the cooked vegetables. Add the pine nuts and give several large stirs. Add the butter, soy sauce and freshly ground black pepper and toss the mixture thoroughly. Divide the rice among 4 plates and serve hot.

Main photo: This Japanese meal has miso sauce, daikon radish, salmon, omelet, purple radish, cauliflower, broccoli, carrot, burdock, chestnut, grapes and dried baby fish. Since some are rather small amounts, I give it a score of 10, including the accompanying bowl of rice and miso soup. Credit: Copyright 2016 Hiroko Shimbo

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