Articles in Gluten-free

Roasted ginkgo nuts. Credit: Katherine Leiner

Why let gingkos jar this glorious New York City scene? It’s late November. Central Park is at its peak in fall color. The Conservatory Garden up on Fifth Avenue and 105th Street is all decked out with its fall array of chrysanthemums.

Yet it happened on my afternoon doggie walk, as I passed under a ginkgo tree, and the pungent smell about bowled me over. I am familiar with what is often called “nature’s stink bomb” and have developed a kind of acceptance and regard for the ginkgo, knowing its benefits, but simply, it smells like vomit. The stench is supposed to keep animals from eating the fallen fruit from this ancient Asian tree.

Ginkgo’s famous healthful qualities

But as a baby boomer who is keen to stave off memory loss, I know ginkgo biloba made from this tree species is one of the best-selling herbal medications. It is used in traditional medicine to treat blood disorders and improve memory. It also is an antioxidant, so I welcome the stench.

This time of year in Central Park, one will find many older Asian people on their knees, some wearing rubber gloves, picking through the fruit that has fallen on the ground. And each year, I ask myself, why don’t I collect a bag and try them out? So this year I did just that.

Ginkgo leaves are fan-shaped and green until the fall, when they turn a bright yellow. The leaves contain two types of chemicals, flavonoids and terpenoids, which are antioxidants. Studies show that ginkgo is good for promoting blood flow and treating anxiety, glaucoma, premenstrual syndrome and Reynaud’s disease.

It is important not to use ginkgo for at least 36 hours before surgery or dental procedures because of the risk of bleeding. Pregnant and breastfeeding women should also not take ginkgo. Ginkgo may also interact with some medications and antidepressants. As with any supplement, it’s good for users to read up on ginkgo before ingesting it. Also keep in mind, the nut can be toxic to eat raw, and even picking it up can cause a rash like poison ivy.

Recipes from around the world

Asian women to whom I’ve spoken say it is no mistake that the nuts fall at this time of year because when they are cooked, they helps fight flu and colds.

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Ginkgo leaf. Credit: Katherine Leiner

The best way to use them is to remove the fleshy insides and skin from the nut. The flesh is discarded, and then the nut is boiled in salt water, fried, roasted or broiled. The nuts are used in Asian rice porridge and other desserts. Another chef used the nuts to make dried scallop and ginkgo nut congee, but instead of hassling with  fresh ginkgo he uses tinned nuts because they are easier.

In a piece called “Gathering Ginkgo Nuts in New York,” a couple wrote about collecting the ginkgo nuts and trying various ways of cooking them. They finally hit on something when they separated the smelly pulp from the nut, washed the nuts, coated them in egg, salt, pepper and flour and dropped them in hot oil. Delicious was their assessment of this cooking method for a local, sustainable nut.

I have now collected about two pints of ginkgos, and today is the day I intend to try them. A friend gave me this recipe, which seems easy enough.

Roasted Ginkgo Nuts

Serves 2

Ingredients

2 pints of ginkgo nuts

Oil for frying, such as coconut or olive oil

Salt to taste

Directions

1. Using rubber gloves, collect the yellow squishy nuts from the ground. You know they’re ripe because they have fallen from the tree and they stink to high heaven. Still using rubber gloves, separate the pulp from the nut. (I did this outside on Park Avenue.)

2. Wash the nuts thoroughly and let them dry.

3. Pour a half-inch of your favorite oil into a pan. Salt the nuts. When the oil is hot enough to sputter, place the nuts in the pan. The nuts should pop like popcorn, except much louder. When they have split open and you can see the green of the nut.

4. Drain, and let cool. Eat like popcorn.

Top photo: Roasted ginkgo nuts. Credit: Katherine Leiner

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Mandan Bride corn. Credit: Terra Brockman

Corn has gotten a bad rap over the past 50 years, especially since it was genetically modified to resist enormous applications of herbicide, and then used primarily for ethanol and animal feed. That No. 2 Yellow Dent corn is a far cry from the delicious and nutritious staple of the Native Americans, who deserve to own the intellectual property of corn genetics for the simple reason that all corn is Indian corn, painstakingly developed by Native Americans from wild teosinte grass.

Cultivation of maize began more than 8,000 years ago in the Balsas River Valley in what is present-day Mexico, and the plant was considered a sacred gift from the gods. Over the years, thousands of varieties were developed by native peoples throughout Meso-America, and then throughout North and South America, until there were varieties for every altitude and climate, and for every culinary and ceremonial purpose. The Indians categorized their corn by intended use: for flour, for hominy and porridge, for popping, and so on. Of the many edible gifts native peoples have given us, the most important is, arguably, corn.

This Thanksgiving, you can give thanks to Native Americans and recapture some of the rich heritage and rich tastes of corn by seeking out heirloom varieties such as Mandan Bride, and serving them as a side dish or as a gluten-free stuffing for your bird.

Polenta revelation

My first experience with true polenta was not in Italy, but in my own kitchen using my brother Henry’s freshly ground Mandan Bride cornmeal, water, salt and pepper. Until that silky, creamy, revelatory moment, I thought all cornmeal came in a yellow and blue canister blessed with a smiling Quaker. And I thought it tasted pretty much like the cardboard it came in.

The steaming bowl in front of me was something else entirely — complex, nutty, mildly sweet and altogether comforting. And it got me wondering who and what Mandan Bride was, and why I had lived for 50 years before tasting the earthy essence of corn.

It turns out the Mandan Indians lived in parts of what we now know as Minnesota and North Dakota, and they developed this corn specifically for grinding into meal and making into porridge. They bred it for flavor and nutrition, and quite possibly for beauty as well.

Every ear of Mandan Bride is different, the variegated colors ranging from deep burgundy to hazy purple to smoky white, with some kernels a uniform color and others striped. The ears are so beautiful that you may find it being sold as an ornamental. But after enjoying its beauty, you should do as the Indians intended, and make yourself the most amazing polenta you’ve ever had.

Searching for Mandan Bride

Mandan Bride and other heirloom cornmeals are hard to find from anyone but a small-scale, biodiverse local farmer. The plant’s relatively weak stalks and soft cobs make it nearly impossible to harvest mechanically, so farmers must pick the ears by hand, then hand shuck them, dry them to just the right point and then stone grind them in small batches. Because the whole kernel is ground, heirloom cornmeal is much more flavorful and nutritious than commercial cornmeal for which the outer hulls and inner germ (the protein- and fat-rich center of each kernel) are removed. But freshly ground whole kernels are perishable, and should be kept in the refrigerator or freezer.

If you can’t find Mandan Bride, look for Hopi Blue or Bloody Butcher. Or resolve to grow your own next year. Seeds are available from a number of purveyors who specialize in old varieties, and Mandan Bride is listed as one of RAFT’s (Renewing America’s Food Traditions) “culinary mainstays of the last three millennia.”

Perfect Thanksgiving polenta

Many polenta recipes call for butter, cream or cheese, but if you have freshly ground heirloom cornmeal, there’s no need for anything but water, salt and pepper.

Polenta can be made and served at a loose, custardy consistency using a 5-1 ratio of water to cornmeal, or it can be made with less water (a 4-1 ratio) so that it’s firm and easily shaped into squares or triangles, and then pan-fried or broiled, giving you great crunch on the outside and creaminess on the inside. Either way, polenta pairs perfectly with bold autumn greens like Brussels sprouts or broccoli rabe.

For a less stressful Thanksgiving meal, make this polenta a day or two ahead of time, then broil it just before serving.

Broiled Polenta With Heirloom Cornmeal

Serves 6

Ingredients

4 cups water

1 cup Mandan Bride or other heirloom cornmeal (if unavailable, get the best organic cornmeal you can find)

1 teaspoon sea salt

Freshly ground pepper

Olive oil

Directions

1. Bring salted water to a boil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Turn the heat down to medium, and add the cornmeal gradually in a steady stream, whisking constantly until it’s all incorporated.

2. Turn the heat to low and continue whisking for about 5 minutes to prevent any lumps from forming.

3. Continue stirring often for the next 15 minutes or until the water is absorbed. Reduce heat to low and continue stirring until polenta turns creamy and pulls away from the sides of the pot. Taste and add sea salt and freshly  ground pepper if desired.

4. Generously coat a 13-by-9-inch baking pan with olive oil. Pour the polenta into the pan and let cool. Cover and refrigerate.

5. Take out an hour or so before you plan to serve it to let it come to room temperature. Set your broiler on high and grease a rimmed cookie sheet.

6. Slice the firm polenta into diamonds, wedges, or squares — or use your favorite cookie cutter. Place polenta slices on the baking sheet and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place on the top rack of the oven and broil for 8 to 10 minutes, or until polenta is crisp and brown on top.

Top photo: Mandan Bride corn. Credit: Terra Brockman

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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

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.

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.

Beginner’s dal sauté. Credit: Clifford A. Wright

Beginner’s dal sauté. Credit: Clifford A. Wright

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

Serves 4

Ingredients

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

Salt

Directions

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

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Top photo: Zester Daily contributor Sonoko Sakai demonstrates breadmaking at Kneading Conference West. Credit: Amy Halloran

“Bread is like dirt,” said Naomi Duguid, describing an attitude she encountered while researching flatbreads in the Soviet Union. “Yes, it’s the essence of life, but it’s so ordinary. How can you give it attention?”

Duguid smiles when she speaks and lifts her voice with its an appealing Canadian accent, inviting people into her considerations. The cookbook author was giving plenty of attention to a very flat bread at the Kneading Conference West, three days of workshops in mid-September centered on grains and baking.

People sat on folding chairs under a tent and watched her make crackers. She and Dawn Woodward, the baker-founder of Evelyn’s Crackers stood at tables in front of a mobile wood-fired oven. Attendees asked questions, rolled dough and took notes.

The fourth year of the conference at Washington State University’s Mount Vernon Research Station was just underway. Bakers, farmers and people otherwise interested in grains came from as far as South Africa to learn everything they could about flour and its life from field to loaf. There were classes in sourdough, pastries, pizza, local flours, and soba noodles. People built an oven. Experts gave presentations on barley breeding, malting, baking science and gluten intolerance.

This is the sister event of the Kneading Conference, which began seven years ago in Skowhegan, Maine. Wheat breeder Steve Jones has spoken at that conference and is the director of the station at Mount Vernon, Wash. Bringing this bread brainstorm home made a lot of sense.

The western version is rooted in the Skagit Valley, lush farmland nestled along the Interstate 5 corridor just north of Seattle. The area was once used to grow oats for the city’s horses. Now farmers grow 80 different crops, including tulip bulbs, vegetable seeds and potatoes.

These farmers grow grains in rotation, to help build up the soil and break cycles of disease and pests. The grains generally go to the commodity market, which means the farms lose money compared with  what they earn from the land other years.

Jones and others are helping farmers earn money from grains as specialty crops. Skagit Valley Malting Co., a small-scale malthouse, is almost up and running, malting test runs of barley for breweries, distilleries and culinary use. With help from the breeding program at the WSU station, vegetable farmers are branching into grain production. Nash’s Organic Produce is now growing and milling Espresso wheat, and marketing it along with their vegetables.

The conference highlighted these local projects and others in the region, such as Camas Country Mill. Farmer and owner Tom Hunton spoke about the way his Willamette Valley mill has facilitated production and use of grains, and other field crops. Growers now ask what they can grow for the mill, and consumers are eager to buy the flours and other foods the mill provides.

Wayne Carpenter and Mike Doehnel from Skagit Valley Malting spoke about custom malting. Bakers from Seattle and the surrounding area spoke about using local flour.

Jonathan Bethony is the staff baker at the station’s The Bread Lab. This bearded fellow is a dynamo, ready to tackle wheat varieties in all their complexity, and figure out how to make the most of all the flour’s qualities, good and bad. His tours of the lab, with Ph.D. student Colin Curwen-McAdams — who endearingly linked his studies in seed breeding to baking with his mother — were both lively and thought-provoking.

Bethony gave an enthusiastic presentation on how to work with sourdough, praising the reactions that occur between its wild yeast and bacterial components.

 Breadmaking tips from the experts

“If the world would just work like a sourdough, we’d be all set,” he said. Bethony drew parallels between starters and any other relationship. Leave your starter in the fridge for a while, and like a neglected friend, it is going to need a while to warm up and be ready to use.

Scott Mangold from Breadfarm Bakery referred to Bethony as he gave a workshop called Learning to Love Your Local Wheat. “Jonathan said he started looking for signs he knew from baking with white flour, and stopped worrying whether it’s going to fall apart,” Mangold said. “That was a big breakthrough for me, to just trust that it is going to work.”

Bakers are trained to expect certain performance from flour, because most flour is milled to narrow industry standards, from grains that have very specific quality profiles. Local flours tend not to fit these strictures, and can really behave differently in leavened doughs, causing the anxiety that necessitated a workshop with such a name.

“When I’m testing new flour, I’m making observations and writing everything down,” Mangold said, passing around a chart that detailed the way he used his hands and eyes to gather information from different batches of bread.

Notes from a seminar on the chalkboard at Kneading Conference West. Credit: Amy Halloran

Notes from a seminar on the chalkboard at Kneading Conference West. Credit: Amy Halloran

This and other workshops — one on soba noodles led by Sonoko Sakai — had bakers up and at the bowl, honing the practice of work and observation. Bakers from King Arthur Flour led discussions and classes that were a little more geared to professional baking, but not too much for the experienced home baker. Richard Miscovich showed people how to use wood-fired ovens for bread and beyond, a live version of his new book, From the Wood Fired Oven.”

Lectures and discussions on baking science, barley breeding and gluten intolerance also filled the schedule, and two keynotes framed the larger conversation about grains in practical and symbolic terms.

Darra Goldstein, founding editor of Gastronomica, spoke about bread culture, using examples of bread in Western art as a lens to discuss its symbolism. She showed how people used to hold bread close to the heart, and how 20th century paintings have bread on cutting boards.

Farmer Thor Oechsner spoke about the mill, Farmer Ground Flour and bakery, Wide Awake Bakery that developed as he transitioned from organic feed production to growing grains for us to eat.

These presentations presented ideas people considered throughout the rest of the conference, and when they went back home.

The farmer-miller-baker model Oechsner presented is something people could see happening, and help make happen, in their own back yard. Bakers mused about how to bring bread close to the heart again. If we do away with bakery bags, will we have lovely images of people carrying bread close to their chests posted on the bakery walls?

The discussions illustrated the ways that grains have glued us together, body and soul, and we can imagine that gorgeous connection again.

Top photo: Zester Daily contributor Sonoko Sakai demonstrates breadmaking at Kneading Conference West. Credit: Amy Halloran

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Pasta-meister Mauro Musso. Credit: Sue Style

Piedmont means pasta. It’s also a signifier for truffles and Barolo, but those will be for another time. And pasta is one of my own personal passions. Admittedly, I don’t pursue my passion with quite the same single-minded dedication as Bill Buford — described vividly in his book “Heat” — but it’s high on my list of go-to foods.

When in Italy I’m drawn to different, unusual types of pasta as a jackdaw to jewelry. At home I love making it, saucing it and, of course, eating it. So when, on a recent visit to Piedmont, Italy, with a group of friends, an invitation arrived from pasta-meister Mauro Musso of La Casa dei Tajarin in Alba to observe him at work, followed by a degustazione of four or five different pastas, each teamed up with its own sauce and wines to match, I accepted without a moment’s hesitation.

Musso comes from a farming family. In 1994, when the farm was flooded out in a particularly vicious spell of Piedmont weather, the family was forced to abandon the land and move to Alba. Musso, by his own admission, was down and out. He looked for employment and wound up working for a supermarket. “Not my thing,” he admits, adding, “I stuck it for a bit, then decided I’d rather be my own boss.” His experience of working with large-scale food production and retailing led him in quite the opposite direction. His plan was to make pasta on an artisan scale from specialist, organic flours and sell directly to the public.

Three years ago, he carved out a tiny workspace (he calls it his laboratorio) on the ground floor of the family home. He produces two different shapes of pasta: the classic Piedmontese tajarin, after which the business is named (called tagliolini or taglierini in other parts of Italy), slender strands of egg-based pasta that melt on cooking into a state of gently yielding deliciousness and which lend themselves to all kinds of saucery; and casarecce, a more robust, egg-less type that demands correspondingly feisty accompaniments.

Variety of grains lend themselves to dozens of types of pasta

Within these two categories — fine and egg-based, chunky and egg-less — he makes 25 distinct kinds of pasta; the difference lies in the flours used.

Wherever possible, he sources the flour locally — Piedmont ideally, Italy certainly — and is tireless in his pursuit of heirloom varieties of wheat and other grains not normally used in pasta-making. All are organic, some of them stoneground.

Why so many different kinds of flour? Musso is well aware of the rise in wheat allergies and intolerances in recent years, from the severe medical condition of celiac disease to the less serious but nonetheless genuinely felt discomforts grouped under the heading of gluten intolerance. His theory is that most of us have been raised on a diet of highly refined flour from a restricted range of wheats that have been selected over centuries, principally for their yields and resistance to disease. This limited range, he claims, could help to explain these digestive problems.

Rather than restrict himself to the classic white flour types used in industrial pastas, he experiments with flours milled from ancient varieties of wheat and rye, or from grains and cereals with little or no gluten such as millet, teff, quinoa, amaranth and carob.

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Pasta-meister Mauro Musso cutting pasta. Credit: Sue Style

The day of our visit, Musso’s mamma showed us into the laboratorio, where he was absorbed in the task of making casarecce from rye flour with the help of his trusty assistant, his dad. First the flour went into the hopper at the top of the pasta machine and water was dribbled in through a funnel. This was mixed to a loose, breadcrumb-like texture. Finally, as if by magic, this dry, unpromising-looking mixture emerged from the extruder as silken ropes of pasta, which Musso patiently snipped into short lengths wielding a huge pair of scissors, rather like Struwwelpeter. The cut pasta was laid on large, flat, sieve-like trays and transferred to walk-in drying rooms, where it would spend 15 hours. E basta!

We settled down in the small dining room adjoining the kitchen, a bottle of Carica l’Asino (a fragrant white from a long-lost Piedmontese variety) was uncorked and we tucked into our first taste of rye flour tajarin. The characteristic earthy flavor of rye was matched with perfect simplicity by ribbons of sage (“from the herb garden”) and lashings of lightly salted butter (“from Normandy — it’s the best!”). Casarecce came next, made from a blend of emmer wheat and rye (gorgeous, chunky texture and taste), which met their match with Musso’s homemade pesto loaded with basil, garlic, lightly toasted local hazelnuts and olive oil. The wine, similarly characterful, was a deep, golden Muntà, a blend of Cortese and little-known local variety Favorita from biodynamic grower Andrea Tirelli.

Delicate strands of tajarin from durum wheat wound themselves around tomato-infused mussels for our next dish, and the wine, an outstanding, mineral-infused Riesling “K” from Paul Kubler, took me straight back home to Alsace. By now we were beginning to flag. With the promise (or maybe the threat) of Musso’s homemade bunet (chocolate flan) hanging in the air, we negotiated a deal with our pasta-meister and skipped (with reluctance) a planned dish of whole-wheat casarecce with a meat sugo in favor of yet more silken tajarin with mushrooms, accompanied by a sprightly Dolcetto d’Alba from Rivella Serafino.

More than a demo, more than instructions on which pasta works best with which sauce, more even than a memorable meal, it turned out to be a lesson in the importance of valuing and using what grows locally to make flavorsome, healthy foods and wines of simple distinction.

The lesson is being learned and word is getting around about this pasta iconoclast — he’s one of the so-called “heretics” in a recent short film titled “Storie di eretici nell’Italia dei capannoni,” a lament for an Italy increasingly overrun by factories and warehouses. On Saturday mornings, customers stop by on their way home from the market in Alba to stock up on his pastas, and Musso is also building up a loyal following among local chefs. It’s an irresistible story of a fine artisan product from a passionate individualist rooted in his beloved Piedmont.

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Zester 2012 Reader Favorites

Zester Daily readers have shown an appreciation for a stunning variety of stories over the past year. A quick scan of the 2012 reader favorites reveals a yen for Ruth Bourdain’s dishes, cuisine from every corner of the world, food preservation, photography, films, wine insider news and a treasured recipe for flavored marshmallows — as well as a critique of American taste.

Snippets of the 12 most popular Zester Daily contributors’ stories, plus the five most popular Soapboxes, are below. Follow the story links to read the complete text. Follow the contributor links to read more by each author.

The stories are listed in reverse order.

Top contributors’ stories of 2012

12. THE ORIGINS OF CURRY by Raghavan Iyer: Before I try to define the word “curry,” let me create an image for you from my college laboratory days in India where I pursued a degree in chemistry over 20 years ago. As I busied myself measuring crystals of …

11. OLD-SCHOOL SOY SAUCE by Manuela Zoninsein: There’s no one right ritual or rule to guide your eating extravaganza on Jan. 23. The Chinese New Year involves a number of great food traditions. Dumplings are reminiscent of coins in ancient China and will thus bring …

10. TEN BEST FOODIE FLICKS by David Latt: If cold weather traps you indoors for months each winter, you might run through your queue of streaming movies pretty quick. Why not entertain yourself with a library of the best …

9. HOW KERMIT LYNCH TAUGHT AMERICANS HOW TO DRINK WINE by Patrick Comiskey: Forty years ago, Kermit Lynch abandoned the handmade purse industry and opened a wine shop in Berkeley, Calif., and in doing so, became one of the great innovators of …

8. WINE’S ACCUSED GRIFTER, RUDY KURNIAWAN by Corie Brown: By the summer of 2006, when I first noticed Rudy Kurniawan at Christie’s in Beverly Hills, he had transformed the market for old wine from a sleepy backwater into a high-stakes free-for-all. Only the richest wine collectors knew him. Or thought they did …

7. THANKSGIVING CONUNDRUM: TO BRINE OR NOT TO BRINE by Louisa Kasdon: Turkey conversation season is upon us again, with our annual quest for a crisp, moist, perfect bird. Some swear by …

6. EATING TO BEAT CANCER: DIET MAY PROVE TO BE A CURE by Harriet Sugar Miller: Last night, it was cauliflower curry on a bed of leeks while my husband grilled his own slab of meat. The night before I ate solo — and downed an enormous bag of kale chips (please don’t tell him) flavored with cashew dust and too much …

5. FOOD SHOOTING TIPS on March 23 by David Hagerman: We all know what a beautiful food photograph looks like. Unfortunately, our cameras are clueless. Here are tips for making the most of …

4. IN DEFENSE OF TRUFFLE OIL by Lynne Curry: Midwinter is high season for fresh truffles in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. With the help of an experienced truffle hunter (or a trained dog), I could spend …

3. SICILY’S EGGPLANT CEVICHE FOR SUMMER by Clifford A. Wright: The end of summer offers the cook a wealth of sparkling fruits and vegetables for culinary transformation. One of my favorite …

2. CANNING JARS FROM FAUX TO BEST PRESERVING CHOICES by Susan Lutz: About six months ago, I salvaged a beautiful marinara sauce jar that I intended to refill with home-canned sweet pickles made using my mother’s recipe.  And if I hadn’t taken a 12-week course to become a certified Master Food Preserver, I might have …

1. FLAVORED MARSHMALLOWS MADE FROM SCRATCH by Charles Perry: When you hand people homemade marshmallows, they’re always dazzled. These are actual marshmallows, but with a lush, moist texture you never find in store-bought versions. If you want your friends to keep thinking you’re a wizard, don’t tell them how simple it is …

Top Soapboxes of 2012

5. DÍA DE LOS MUERTOS IS FOR AMERICANOS, TOO by Veronica Gonzalez-Smith:  In the small town of El Paso, Texas, my siblings and I grew up at a unique intersection of Mexican and American culture. As kids, we traveled in and out of …

4. THE INFANTALIZATION OF AMERICAN TASTE by Michael Krondl: Though the plague of cupcake shops has not spared any city in this great union, it would be hard to find one that illustrates my point better than …

3. CALIFORNIA’S EXCITING NEW WINES BUCK THE MAINSTREAM by Eric Asimov: We live in the most wonderful era in history to love wine. Right now, Americans have access to a greater diversity of wines than ever before, wines made in more styles from more …

2. THE FORGOTTEN QUINCE by Jane McMorland Hunter: Nowadays most people hardly know what a quince looks like. Until the 19th century, it was a commonplace orchard fruit throughout North America and Europe; now it has become …

1. RUTH BOURDAIN DISSES AND DISHES WITH ZESTER by Ruth Bourdain: It’s been more than two years since the debut of Ruth Bourdain, the sensational and often raunchy Twitter persona whose name and sensibilities are a mashup/spoof of former Gourmet editor Ruth Reichl and outspoken celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain. The true identity of Ms. Bourdain is still under wraps, but her tweets show her to be ….

* * *

And that’s our list for 2012 … Here’s to discovering Ms. Bourdain’s identity in 2013!

Photo illustration, clockwise from top left: 

Ruth Bourdain. Credit: Ruth Bourdain

Indian spices (originally published in 660 Curries). Credit: Ben Fink

 Homemade marshmallows dusted with confectioners’ sugar. Credit: StockFood

Photo illustration credit: Karen Chaderjian

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Shauna Ahern, Gluten-Free Girl

I met Shauna James Ahern last September at one of Molly O’Neill‘s Longhouse Writers Revivals. These one-day, single-subject conversations draw an inspired group of food and drink writers, editors and activists. Shauna was there to talk about “Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef,” her website and books sharing her approach to living with celiac disease.

No surprise, Shauna was funny and charming. She was generous with her writing advice, just as she is with her recipes on her site. But she is a serious woman on a mission. A writer by temperament, training and talent, Shauna launched her blog to help others with celiac disease. Her wit and wisdom have made her an online muse not only for her gluten-free tribe but also for legions of food lovers of all stripes.

Gluten-free insight

Shauna doesn’t suffer celiac disease. Diagnosis was liberation; gluten is a toxin that can be easily banished. Her delicious solutions are welcome at any table.

I asked Shauna to share some tips on how to manage the balancing act of cooking for family gatherings when some folks are following a gluten-free diet. This is a high-stress time of year for people with celiac disease, she said. No one wants to be the “special” person who can’t eat what is being served.

What is the best way to ease the kitchen tension when holidays bring together the gluten-free with the gluten-addicted members of a family?

Well, the first tip is to remember the reason we’re doing all this! It’s about gathering, family, friends and lots of lights. And food. But it doesn’t have to be a specific food, the one cookie your grandmother made and your mother made and you want to make gluten-free now. Make great food. Fill the table with it. And ask everyone to gather around.

The second tip is to ask the gluten eaters how they would feel if their entire holiday was spent in the bathroom. That’s what happens if I get 1/2 a teaspoon of gluten by mistake. Explaining what actually happens if gluten becomes part of the holiday celebrations may help others find a little more compassion.

Also, board games. Lots of really dopey board games help break the tension.

What are the easy substitutes — the gluten-free dishes that no one even notices are gluten-free?

Well, think of most of your favorite foods. Prime rib. Mashed potatoes. Pomegranates. Chocolate pudding. Potato latkes. Roast chicken. Omelets. Kale salad. Peanut butter fudge.

Those are all naturally gluten-free.

Celebrate the foods that are gluten-free without much work. No one will know these are special diet foods. Especially if they involve chocolate.

What is the best reason for someone with an iron gut to lighten their gluten intake?  

Oh, I don’t think anyone has to lighten their gluten intake. There’s nothing inherently wrong. It’s just that for millions of us, it’s a toxin.

I will say this. We eat far too much wheat in this culture out of inertia. It’s very, very easy to eat pancakes, toast or muffins for breakfast. Pizza, sandwiches or calzones for lunch. Meatloaf with breadcrumbs or garlic bread with pasta for dinner. Pie for dessert.

Without realizing it, people are eating wheat — and mostly bleached wheat flour, which has no nutritional value — at nearly every meal. Dan Barber, the chef from Blue Hill at Stone Barns, said recently that “We eat more wheat than meat in this culture.” We’re having an important conversation about how much meat we eat in this culture, and where it comes from, and what we could do, but we are not talking about cheap wheat.

So it would be interesting if everyone had to be gluten-free for a week to see how unconsciously they are eating.

When your cousin rolls his eyes about the faddish rush to eat gluten-free, how do you make him smile?

Oh gosh, I probably wouldn’t try to make him laugh. I’d educate him.

Maybe I’m not so much fun at those parties. Then again, most of my cousins have celiac, since it runs in families, so I’ve never actually had to have that conversation.

How do you explain the gluten-free fad?

Well, the first thing to understand is that it isn’t a fad.

So here’s the deal. For decades, wannabe doctors were taught in medical school that celiac disease was really rare, only attacked those who were super-skinny and couldn’t put on weight, and was a childhood disease that people outgrew. They were also taught that 1 in 5,000 people had celiac. Well, it was only about 10 years ago that several doctors in the U.S. petitioned the National Institutes of Health to test the nation’s blood supply. See, those doctors who were celiac experts were all from other countries, where celiac happens anywhere from 1 in 100 to 1 in 500 all over the world, and yet America is 1 in 5,000? So they tested the nation’s blood supply. Guess what? The rate of celiac in the U.S. is actually 1 in 133. (And since those who have anemia cannot give blood, and anemia is one of the most common symptoms of celiac, it’s informally understood that 1 in 100 people have celiac in this culture.)

The University of Chicago Celiac Center tweeted an interesting fact. If you packed Yankee Stadium with everyone in America who has celiac, it would be filled 57 times. But 55 of those times Yankee Stadium would be filled with people who don’t know they have celiac. Still, I think 10 years ago it would have been 56 of those times.

We’re slowly, slowly diagnosing the people who are suffering for no reason.

And then there are folks who have non-celiac gluten-sensitivity, gluten-intolerance, wheat allergies, and people suffering from diseases like rheumatoid arthritis or multiple sclerosis who report they feel much, much better without gluten in their lives. That’s a LOT of Americans.

This isn’t a fad.

What is a favorite gluten-free joke that makes everyone laugh, gluten-free or not?

Well, I like to tell people that nobody expects gluten-free baking to be any good. (Psst. Here’s a secret. It’s often better than baking with gluten.) So I like to tell people in cooking classes: “The expectations are so low that you’re bound to look like a genius when people eat your cookies!”

Top photo composite: Shauna James Ahern and a screen capture of a video on her website of how to cook gluten-free pasta, with Daniel Ahern. Credit: Courtesy of glutenfreegirl.com

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Gopala, Shyam, Mohan, Govinda … the charmer with several names, is best known as Krishna, the blue-blooded reincarnation of Vishnu, the Preserver.  Krishna was born into royalty; his parents, Devaki and Vasudeva, were imprisoned by the evil Kamsa, a demon who usurped their thrones in Mathura, a town along the banks of  India’s river Yamuna.

Kamsa was warned that the eighth son born to Vasudeva would be the cause of his demise. So the first six times Devaki, who was his sister, gave birth to a son, Kamsa made a visit and quickly destroyed the child. The seventh son was transferred magically into the womb of another of Vasudeva’s wives, Rohini.

Escape from death

When Vasudeva’s  eighth son was born, it was during the still of midnight as the shimmering light of a full moon filtered through the bars of the humble prison. Vasudeva placed the baby, who was destined to bring order back to Mathura, in a wicker basket and perched it on his head. As he had been promised by Lord Vishnu, who was aware of Kamsa’s vengeful campaign, Vasudeva found the door to his cell miraculously unlocked, the guards drugged. When he and the child reached the banks of the Yamuna, Vasudeva’s qualms about crossing the river dissipated: it magically parted, making his task of delivering the boy to safety an easy one. A cowherd in the town of Gokhul found the beautiful baby and he and his wife, thrilled to have a son, raised him as their own. They named him Krishna.

Word of Krishna’s antics spread quickly through the tightly-knit community. A series of signs and miraculous events foretold  of the boy’s pre-destined celestial purpose: to kill Kamsa and bring happiness, beauty and order, which were nonexistent under the demon’s regime, back to the people. Krishna’s handsome good looks, lightheartedness and mischievous demeanor gave every mother in town a joyous heartbreak.

Krishna, Dairy Thief

His penchant for milk, cream and butter became well known. No dairy products could be left within reach for fear of their being devoured within seconds. Whenever cream was collected to make butter, it was amassed in clay pots and strung up high, between the loftiest treetops. Krishna coaxed his fellow cowherds to form a human pyramid and he would soon be found at its apex, gulping his prize with great satisfaction.

It could be said that his love of dairy was instrumental in compelling Krishna to develop the ingenuity and physical strength that eventually led to his defeat of Kamsa in a wrestling match years later. Krishna fulfilled his purpose and restored all that was just and human to Mathura, his native land.

RAGHVAN IYER'S GHEE TIPS


DON'T use margarine or any butter substitutes that want you to think they’re just like the real deal.

DO use a heavy-bottomed pan to prevent the butter from scorching. Cast iron, stainless steel, carbon steel, and ceramic-coated cast iron are all fair game.  I use a cast-iron or carbon steel wok if I happen to be making a large batch, as the fat seasons the pan.

DON'T turn up the heat beyond the low setting, as much as you may be tempted to do so; if you do, the milk solids will start to burn.

DO make sure the glass jar is clean and dry before pouring in the ghee. Let the ghee cool completely before screwing on the lid. Moisture will promote the growth of mold.

Cream to butter to ghee

The process of churning fresh cream into butter is still widely practiced in homes all across India. But this is just an intermediary step. Classic Indian cooking always calls for ghee, or clarified butter. Once the milk solids have been removed from butter, its shelf life is extended exponentially and there is no need for refrigeration. Ghee also has a much higher smoke point than non-clarified butter, making it ideal for deep frying.

In my home when I was growing up, each morning Amma skimmed cream from a saucepan filled with hot milk. Once enough was at hand, she squatted on the floor with her deep pot and long-handled wooden beater. Within minutes white, silky-smooth butter separated and floated to the top, weaning itself from the thin whey or buttermilk below. Amma scooped handfuls of the butter and placed it in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. I always happened to be there just in the nick of time to steal a few scoops, Krishna-like, its sweetness coated my tongue, the name maakhan chor (butter thief) rang in my ears. 

Stainless steel tumblers collected the buttermilk, to be drunk in thirst-quenching gulps while the freshly churned butter melted on low heat and milk solids were skimmed and discarded. The clear fat, now turned into ghee, rested in a chipped orange porcelain jar, nutty and pure, waiting to bless every dish it would touch with its heavenly aroma and flavor. The taste is truly sublime.

Ghee is widely available in stores. It is not easy on the pocketbook, so be prepared to plunk down your hard-earned money for the convenience, should you not have 15 to 20 minutes of free time to spend in the kitchen. I often splurge and buy ghee imported from India, only because the cows (or water buffaloes, depending on where the milk came from) graze on a different diet and the ghee has a unique flavor not found in America’s dairy land. But making your own is well worth the time and patience.

Ghee

Makes about 12 ounces (1½ cups)

Ingredient

1 pound unsalted butter

Directions

1. Line a fine-mesh tea strainer with a piece of cheesecloth, set it over a clean, dry glass measuring cup or pint-size canning jar, and set aside.

2. Melt the butter in a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan over low heat, stirring occasionally to ensure an even melt (otherwise, the bottom of the block melts and starts to bubble while the top half remains firm). Once the butter melts, you will notice that a lot of foam is gathering on the surface. Scoop the foam out with a spoon or just let it be; the melted butter will eventually stop foaming and start to subside. Now you can start to carefully skim off the foam. Some of the milk solids will settle at the bottom and start to brown lightly. This light browning is what gives Indian ghee its characteristic nutty flavor. This process will take 15 to 20 minutes.

3. Once the liquid appears quite clear (like oil) with a light amber hue, pour it through the cheesecloth-lined strainer, leaving the browned milk solids behind, and set it aside to cool.

4. When the ghee is cool, pour it into a storage jar and seal it. Keep it at room temperature, right next to your other bottled oils; it will solidify, even at room temperature. (I don’t find it necessary to refrigerate ghee, but if you wish, by all means do so. I have kept mine at room temperature for many months, without any concern for rancidity or spoilage. Because ghee has no milk solids in it, and that’s what can turn butter rancid, I do as millions in India do, and leave it out.

Photo: Ghee. Credit: Raghavan Iyer
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