Articles in Vegetables w/recipe

Pirjati Zelje (braised cabbage). Credit: Clifford A. Wright

Cabbage is the Rodney Dangerfield of vegetables: It doesn’t get any respect. It gets a bad rap. Cabbage never gets mentioned as one of the hip vegetables like kale. It’s not a super-vegetable like broccoli rabe. It’s not an adorable vegetable like baby Brussels sprouts. It’s not a “cool” vegetable. It’s stodgy and old-fashioned. I mean, they make sauerkraut from it.

All those cooler vegetables just mentioned, though, owe their existence to cabbage. The big green head we associate with cabbage today was not always what cabbage was. Today there are hundreds of varieties of cabbage that have developed from the progenitor cabbage, called the wild cabbage, including the many forms of cabbage and further horticultural developments such as broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, broccoliflower, broccoli rabe and kohlrabi.

Botanists divide the cabbage into five groups. It is the head cabbage, green, red, crinkly-leafed or Savoy cabbage, that I’m speaking of. But there are some 400 varieties of head cabbage.

The cabbage is probably native to the Mediterranean, but in Roman times the head cabbage we think of as cabbage today did not exist. The Romans had only leafy cabbage, probably kale. There are some obscure references by Roman naturalists Pliny and Columella to what has been taken by some to be head cabbage. These descriptions refer to heads of the plant being a foot in diameter, but it is not at all clear whether this refers to a compact headed cabbage that we know today or is simply an expression referring to the above ground portion of the plant.

The wealthy citizens of Rome, in the period after Cato the Elder (mid-second century BC), thought of cabbage as poor people’s food as we know from the description in Juvenal’s satire when he described the difference between the food that the patron ate, namely olives to garnish an excellent fish, and the food of the client, who finds cabbage in his “nauseous dish.”

It seems that the head cabbage we know today was developed in Germany in the 12th century. Soon it would be the single most common plant in the medieval garden.

Cabbage rolls. Credit: Clifford A. Wright

Cabbage rolls. Credit: Clifford A. Wright

It’s not a popular vegetable today, but it is a vegetable that does draw the curious cook. The most obviously intriguing thing to do with cabbage is to separate the leaves and then stuff them by rolling them up. There are many great preparations for cabbage from sauerkraut, to kimchi, to coleslaw, and every culture has a recipe for stuffed cabbage. Here are two recipes for cabbage lovers from cabbage-loving Slovenia and Croatia, next door to Italy.

Braised Cabbage

Cabbage is a very popular vegetable in the Balkans, served raw, in the form of sauerkraut and cooked in a variety of ways. In the northern part of the former Yugoslavia, today’s Slovenia and parts of Croatia, cabbage may be cooked with sour cream or tossed with noodles and smoked bacon. In Bosnia or Montenegro, it might be cooked with tomatoes. This recipe from Slovenia is typically served as a bed for a roast duckling.

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cooking time: 55 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 bay leaves

2 tablespoons tomato paste mixed with 2 tablespoons water

1 cup dry white wine

One 2-pound green cabbage, cored and sliced as thin as vermicelli

15 peppercorns

8 juniper berries, lightly crushed

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

1. In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat, then add the bay leaves and cook until they begin to sizzle. Reduce the heat to medium and very carefully add the tomato paste and wine, which will spurt and splatter rather dramatically.

2. Continue cooking for a minute then add the cabbage, peppercorns, juniper berries and thyme. Mix so the cabbage is covered with sauce.

3. Add the lemon juice and continue to braise over medium heat until the cabbage softens, 6 to 8 minutes.

4. Reduce the heat to low, season with salt and pepper, and cook until the cabbage is completely soft, about 45 minutes. Correct the seasoning and serve hot.

Stuffed Cabbage Rolls

These cabbage rolls are a winter specialty known as arambašici in their home of Sinj, a town near the Dinaric Alps on the Dalmatian coast of Croatia. Traditionally, this casserole of stuffed cabbage leaves is made from a whole head of cabbage that has been prepared as sauerkraut. Each sauerkraut leaf, or as in this recipe cabbage leaf, is stuffed with beef, pork and bacon, and flavored with lemon zest, onion, garlic, cloves and cinnamon. Each roll-up is separated from the other with pieces of pršut (Croatian prosciutto) and smoked tongue.

Arambašici can be made with fresh cabbage leaves or grape leaves, too. My recipe uses fresh cabbage, which is the easiest to find and is what a cook from Sinj would use in the summer. Many cooks also like to make the casserole in the evening and then reheat it the next day, and you should consider doing that as it is delicious.

The casserole cooks a long time so the meats are very tender and the cabbage leaves become silky. The smoked bacon, smoked pork, smoked tongue and prosciutto can all be picked up at the deli counter of most supermarkets.

Prep time: 30 minutes

Cooking time: 4 hours

Yield: 20 to 26 rolls, or about 6 servings

Ingredients

1 large green cabbage (about 2 3/4 pounds), central core removed

1 1/4 pounds boneless beef neck meat or beef chuck, finely chopped

5 ounces smoked bacon (preferably) or lean slab bacon, finely chopped

2 ounces beef fat (suet), finely chopped

6 ounces boneless pork shoulder or neck meat, finely chopped

2 large onions, chopped

3 large garlic cloves, finely chopped

Grated zest from 1 lemon

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon unsalted butter or beef fat for greasing

One 4-inch-long beef marrow bone (optional)

1 ounce smoked pork (any cut), finely chopped

2 ounces prosciutto, thinly sliced into strips

2 ounces smoked tongue (optional), thinly sliced into strips

1 cup water and more as needed

Directions

1. Heat the oven to 300 F.

2. Remove and discard any of the outermost leaves of the cabbage that are blemished. Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil, salt and plunge the whole cabbage in and cook until the leaves can be peeled away without ripping, about 10 minutes. Drain well and, when cool enough to handle, separate the leaves carefully, setting them aside.

3. In a large bowl, mix together the beef, bacon, suet and pork. Add the onions, garlic, lemon zest, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, salt and pepper and mix well with your hands.

4. Arrange a cabbage leaf in front of you with the stem end closest to you. Place 2, 3 or 4 tablespoons (depending on the size of the leaf) of filling on the end closest to you, then roll away once, fold in the sides and continue rolling away until you get a nice, neat package.

5. Continue with the remaining cabbage leaves. Arrange the cabbage rolls side by side, seam side down, in a lightly greased 13- x 9- x 2-inch casserole (you may need to use two casseroles), making sure you leave some room for the beef marrow bone. Sprinkle the chopped smoked pork over the cabbage rolls.

6. Place the prosciutto and smoked tongue slices (if using) between the cabbage rolls. Pour the water over the cabbage rolls and cover with aluminum foil. (The casserole can be refrigerated at this point to bake later.)

7. Bake until the cabbage rolls are very soft, slightly blackened on top and bubbling vigorously, about 4 hours.

8. Serve hot or let cool to room temperature and serve as an appetizer the next day.

Main photo: Pirjati Zelje (braised cabbage). Credit: Clifford A. Wright

Read More
Hoppin’ John. Credit: Brooke Jackson

The New Year’s holiday is a time of closure and new beginnings. Resolutions are a common rite of New Year’s Eve, with people making goals for the coming year and raising a glass to the old one. A dinner of foods representing good fortune then completes the tradition in many cultures.

Around the world, foods are eaten on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day that are auspicious and thought to bring prosperity for the coming year. The ingredients are often chosen for their resemblance to money: coin-shaped legumes and winter greens that look like bills, to name a couple.

In Europe and Asia, fatty, rich pork is considered a lucky food because a pig roots for food in a forward direction, charging into the future and obviously getting plenty to eat. In Italy, a traditional dish is cotechino con lenticchie — juicy pork sausages paired with lentils. The cotechino sausage is fatty and represents abundance, while the lentils’ roundness and green color bring to mind money.

In Asia, long noodles are slurped to guarantee long life, the caveat being that the noodle can’t break before being swallowed. In some cultures, people bake treasures or money into desserts and treats.

In England, a sixpence is steamed in the Christmas pudding; whoever gets the portion containing the coin will have a prosperous year. In Mexico, a traditional King Cake is baked with a small doll in the batter; the lucky diner who gets the doll in their piece of cake gets to be king for a day.

Many cultures celebrate the New Year by eating ring-shaped food such as bagels or doughnuts. The shape is thought to bring good luck by representing the year coming full circle.

In Spain and Portugal revelers eat 12 grapes at midnight, and the grapes must be consumed before the last stroke of the midnight bell. Each grape represents a month of the year, so if the fourth grape is extra-sweet, for example, this could mean April will be a terrific month.

U.S. traditions for ringing in new year are varied

In the United States, the melting pot of cultures adds many choices to New Year’s celebrations. Often decadent or expensive victuals such as caviar and Champagne are consumed, with the pricey roe of the sturgeon thought to bring prosperity.

Throughout the South, Hoppin’ John is served on New Year’s tables. Black-eyed peas with rice are thought to bring luck because the peas are round like coins and the rice grains swell — like your wallet, not your waistline — when cooked. Often served with a mess of greens meant to emulate dollar bills, this is good old-fashioned down-home fare.

The recipe for Hoppin’ John included below has some peppers and spice for heat, but you can temper that by using less jalapeño. I like the pre-soaked black-eyed peas and steamed black-eyed peas from Melissa’s produce company, which can be found this time of year in the produce section of grocery stores. If you can’t find either of these, use canned black-eyed peas and rinse them.

The menu is rounded out by a salad of spicy greens, like dollar bills, with pomegranate seeds for abundance, satsumas for luck and grapefruit for flavor. The dressing is made with fig vinegar, whose plentiful seeds must surely mean prosperity. If you can’t find a ready-made version, I’ve included an easy recipe adapted from “Fig Heaven” by cookbook author Marie Simmons.

After this dinner, good fortune will surely be smiling down on you. Wishing everyone a New Year full of health, good fortune and peace.

Hoppin’ John

Some of the ingredients for Hoppin' John. Credit: Brooke Jackson

Some of the ingredients for Hoppin’ John. Credit: Brooke Jackson

Southern-style cornbread, with buttermilk and just a little sweetness, is a natural choice to eat with Hoppin’ John.

Prep time: 20 minutes

Cook time: 1 hour

Total time: 1 hour, 20 minutes

Yield: 6 servings

Ingredients

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped

3 ribs celery, chopped

2 medium red bell peppers, diced

1 jalapeño pepper, minced (or more or less to taste)

3 cloves garlic, minced

2  (11 -ounce) packages fresh black-eyed peas or steamed black-eyed peas (Melissa’s, for example) or 2 (15-ounce) cans black-eyed peas, drained and rinsed

1 meaty ham hock or ham bone

1 bay leaf

1 can diced tomatoes with green chiles, undrained

2 teaspoons Cajun or Creole seasoning

1 teaspoon fresh thyme

1/2 teaspoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup water, or as needed

For serving:

2 cups hot, cooked long grain rice

4 green onions, green and white parts, thinly sliced

Directions

1. Heat the oil in a large pot over medium high heat. Add the onion, celery, bell peppers and jalapeño and sauté until the vegetables are soft, about 5 minutes.

2. Add the garlic and stir until fragrant.

3. Add the rest of the ingredients and enough water to make the mixture soupy.

4. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat to low; cover and simmer for 1 hour, stirring occasionally, until the flavors are combined.

5. Check liquid level periodically and add more water if the peas are getting too dry.

6. Remove the ham hock and cut off the meat. Dice the meat and add it back to the pot.

7. Serve over white rice with a shower of green onion on top.

Citrus Salad With Fig Vinaigrette

Citrus Salad With Fig Vinaigrette. Credit: Brooke Jackson

Citrus Salad With Fig Vinaigrette. Credit: Brooke Jackson

Prep time: 20 minutes

Total time: 20 minutes

Yield: 6 servings

Ingredients

For the dressing:

1 tablespoon fig vinegar (see note and recipe below)

3 tablespoons walnut oil

Salt and pepper to taste

For the salad:

2 packed cups baby spinach leaves

2 packed cup arugula

2 satsuma tangerines, peeled and sectioned

1 large ruby red grapefruit, peeled and sectioned. Remove as much white pith as possible

1/4 cup pomegranate seeds

Black pepper

Directions

1. Make the dressing by putting the vinegar in a small bowl and gradually drizzling in the walnut oil, whisking constantly, until an emulsion forms. Taste and season with salt and pepper.

2. Place spinach and arugula in a medium salad bowl and toss with enough dressing to just coat the leaves.

3. Distribute salad among six plates.

4. Divide the satsuma and grapefruit sections among the salad plates and then evenly then sprinkle each salad with the pomegranate seeds.

5. Drizzle a bit more dressing over each plate and finish with a few grinds of fresh black pepper. Serve immediately.

Note: If you don’t want to make the fig vinegar, you can substitute fig balsamic vinegar or a good-quality aged balsamic vinegar.

Fig Vinegar

This recipe is adapted from “Fig Heaven” by Marie Simmons. It is a wonderful gift to share with friends.

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 5 minutes

Rest time: About 24 hours

Total time: About a day, but only 20 minutes active.

Yield: About 2 cups

Ingredients

3 cups red wine vinegar

6 ounces dried Calimyrna or Black Mission figs, stems trimmed and cut up (about 1 cup packed)

1/4 cup sugar

1 cinnamon stick

Directions

1. Combine the vinegar, figs, sugar and cinnamon stick in a medium saucepan and heat to a boil.

2. Reduce the heat to low and cook, covered, for 5 minutes.

3. Let stand 24 hours. Strain the vinegar, pressing down on the figs to extract their flavor.

4. Reserve half the figs; discard the remaining figs and the cinnamon stick.

5. Purée the vinegar and the reserved figs in a food processor. Line a strainer with a doubled layer of dampened cheesecloth and set it over a bowl.

6. Pour the puréed vinegar mixture into the cheesecloth-lined strainer and press down on the solids. Let drain for 30 minutes.

7. Transfer the strained vinegar to a jar and store in a cool, dark place or in the refrigerator.

Main image: Hoppin’ John. Credit: Brooke Jackson

Read More
Namasu. Credit: Sonoko Sakai

New Year’s is the most important holiday in Japan, and the centerpiece of the annual celebration is what the Japanese consider to be lucky foods.

For New Year’s, I want to cook up a storm of good-luck foods that bring forward movement, prosperity, health and longevity.

The actual preparation of these celebratory foods begins two or three days before the end of the year to allow time for everything to be ready for New Year’s Eve, because the holiday is, according to tradition, a time for rest in Japan. Along with cooking, people in Japan also tidy up their homes — a major “spring cleaning” is undertaken at the end of the year so you don’t carry forward the dust of the past year.

The good-luck foods are meant to last throughout the week of New Year’s, so they include braised vegetables and vinegary dishes that keep well and can be reheated or served at room temperature to feed a lot of people.

These good-luck foods are traditionally served in a Jubako, the special three-tier lacquer boxes brought out from storage once a year for this special occasion.

Each box contains something different. The top box has the most eye-catching and colorful good-luck food, such as a salmon wrapped in kombu seaweed, grilled Tai snapper or a bright red lobster that connotes wholeness. The second tier usually has the best edibles — caramelized sardines and egg rolls for fertility; sweetened black beans for hard work and longevity; and pickled lotus with its multiple holes to help you to see things clearly. In the third tier are root vegetables, which connote balance and stability.

So many possibilities exist for the Jubako boxes. Another favorite is Ozoni, a soup served with sticky mochi (a rice cake), which is supposed to give you endurance. Growing up, I had to eat everything — even the whole baby sardines, from head to tail — all for the sake of superstition.

The New Year’s ceremony itself is simple but somewhat austere, at least in my family. We dress up, sit around the table and have a sip or two of Otoso — a syrupy sweet sake infused with Japanese pepper, cinnamon, ginger and rhubarb among other medicinal herbs. Then we bow our heads and thank our family members, share the food in the Jubako and have a sip of sake. We do the same ritual over and over for three days, with a break to visit our ancestor’s grave.

Homemade good-luck foods such as Namasu worth the effort

The sad truth is that the tradition of cooking these dishes is slowly dying. Instead, many Japanese people opt to buy ready-made good-luck foods packed in disposable fake lacquer boxes, even though they don’t come cheap — some have price tags as high as $300 to $500.

I find these store-bought New Year’s foods horribly unsatisfying. As a home cook, I encourage people to make these traditional foods at home the way their grandparents or parents used to, even if they make just one good-luck food each year.

One of my favorite good-luck foods — and one that’s simple to prepare at home — is Namasu, a salad made with carrot and daikon radish. I enjoy this dish so much I make it year-round. You can serve it alongside grilled fish or barbecue meats and roasts. It’s very refreshing.

namasu1

namasu1
Picture 1 of 3

Start julienning by making larger slices that you can cut into matchstick-sized pieces. Credit: Sonoko Sakai

Daikon Radish and Carrot Namasu

When making Namasu, make sure to use reddish and white root vegetables. Red is the symbol of good luck and corresponds with fire and connotes forward movement and joy. In Japan, we even use the word for red to refer to newborns.

Carrot is the perfect red for this dish. Julienned, it can look like the good-luck mizuhiki cords used in Japan to tie around plants to bring good luck. The color white is the symbol of purity. Daikon radish is white and delicious. Combined with the carrot, daikon makes for a great contrast in crunch and flavor.

I like to add some heat to the salad with red pepper and then add some lemon or yuzu rind for fragrance. Dried fruits such as persimmon, apricot and pear add sweetness as a garnish, and roasted sesame seeds give the salad an additional crunch and flavor. This salad will keep well in the fridge for 3 or 4 days.

Prep time: 15 minutes

Total time: 15 minutes

Yield: 8 servings

Ingredients

For the salad:

1 medium-sized daikon radish (about 1 pound)

1 medium-sized carrot

2 teaspoons salt

For the vinegar dressing:

1/2 cup rice vinegar

2 1/2 tablespoons cane sugar

1 dried red pepper, seeded and chopped

For the garnish:

1 teaspoon roasted sesame seeds

1 teaspoon lemon peel, julienned

1/2 cup dried persimmon, pear or apricot, julienned (optional)

Directions

1. Peel the daikon radish and carrot and slice into julienne pieces about 2 1/2 inches long and 1/8-inch thick.

2. In a large bowl, rub the salt into the carrot and daikon radish slices until they become tender. Do a gentle massage until the excess water comes out of the vegetables. Discard the water.

3. Combine the rice vinegar, cane sugar and dried red pepper and combine well to make the dressing.

4. Pour the dressing on the daikon and carrot and mix well. Let the vegetables marinate in the dressing for at least one hour.

5. Just before serving, garnish the salad with the sesame seeds and lemon peel and dried fruit, if desired.

Main image: Namasu. Credit: Sonoko Sakai

Read More
Celeriac, a knobby and bulbous root vegetable, is a variety of celery. Credit: Clarissa Hyman

Celeriac looks like Hannibal Lecter’s lunch. A pale and ghostly cerebellum with tangled dreadlocks, it is never going to win any beauty prizes. Prepossessing, it is not. Little wonder many shoppers give it a wide berth as it singularly fails to bear any resemblance to its slender green cousin and has the sort of looks only a mother vegetable could love.

Yet celery and celeriac are essentially the same plant, both descendants of wild celery. Plant breeding and cultivation from the 17th century onward, however, took them in different directions. Celery was destined to be sought after for its crisp, sweet stalks; celeriac for the large swollen base half-buried in the ground like a forgotten cannonball.

Over the centuries, horticulturalists succeeded in turning a tiny root into a gnarled ball of intense but delicate celery flavor and fragrance. Despite these excellent qualities, celeriac has never really hit the big time. Still overlooked by many shoppers, it is an omission to our vegetable repertoire that is gradually being rectified.

 The French, however, have long known better. Celeriac remoulade is one of the great classic salad dishes across La Manche. The crunchy, mustardy slaw strikes the right balance between creaminess and acidity, and is a distinguished partner to cold meats and sausages. You would never know this elegant hors d’oeuvre derives from such an ungainly start in life.

The many ways to use celeriac

Never ones to shirk a kitchen challenge, however, the French became skilled at hacking their way through the knotted roots and convoluted rhino-thick exterior in order not to waste large chunks of good flesh. However, user-friendly varieties have come onto the market in recent years that are larger and smoother and much easier to peel.

If eating it part-cooked or blanched in a salad (raw celeriac is underwhelming), try adding celery salt to the vinaigrette or give the basic dressing of mayonnaise, cream and mustard a bit more zip with capers and/or gherkins.

A touch of orange zest can add some warmth to a velvety soup of celeriac and leek or fennel. Or, you could scatter with toasted hazelnuts or add a dollop of parsley-walnut pesto for interesting contrast. Think of celeriac as you would potatoes: serve deep-fried celeriac chips with mustard or garlic mayonnaise; roast chunks along with a joint of beef, pork or lamb; or boil or steam and mash them with plenty of butter for a purée.

Modern vegetarian cooks have welcomed the ability of celeriac to soak up flavors, which makes it excellent to roast in the oven; use in gratins or as a filling for pies and tarts; and mix with mushrooms (especially ceps), nuts, tomatoes or cheese. Dauphinoise made with celeriac and potato makes a wonderful combination, or try celeriac rosti for a change. It also carries well the pungency of fresh spices such as ginger, chili, coriander and black pepper.

The paler it is the fresher celeriac will be, but the thick knobbly skin will keep the interior smelling pleasingly of aniseed for quite a long time until used. At its best between September and April, celeriac should be saved from the compost heap. It may be a knob-head, but it deserves better.

Kitchen Notes:

  • If you can’t use the celeriac once cut, drop the pieces into acidulated water to stop discoloration. Browning doesn’t affect the taste, but the color can look rather unappetizing.
  • To store, refrigerate in an unsealed plastic bag. It will keep for several weeks.
  • To cut celeriac safely, slice about a half-inch (1 centimeter) off the top and bottom with a sharp knife. Roll onto a flat edge and either cut off the skin (as you would a pineapple) or use a potato peeler. Expect to discard about a quarter of the celeriac by the time you have done this.

cut celeriac

cut celeriac
Picture 1 of 6

The simple makings for celeriac and celery soup. Credit: Clarissa Hyman

Celeriac and Celery Soup

Add a little orange zest or a handful of toasted hazelnuts for extra interest, if desired.

Prep time: 20 minutes

Cook time: 40 minutes

Total time: 60 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

4 tablespoon butter

1 onion, thinly sliced

1 leek, thinly sliced (don’t include the dark green part or it will spoil the look of the marble-white soup)

About 1 pound peeled and chopped celeriac

Salt

About 1 pound sliced celery (reserve a few leaves)

4 cups chicken or vegetable stock

1 dollop of heavy cream

White pepper

Chopped parsley (optional)

Directions

1. Heat the butter in a saucepan and add the onion and leek. Cook gently for 10 minutes, then add the celeriac, celery and a little salt.

2. Cover and cook for another 10 minutes but don’t let the mixture brown. Add the stock, bring to a boil and simmer until the vegetables are tender (about 15 minutes).

3. Purée the soup, then reheat gently. Add the cream and season with salt and white pepper to taste. Adorn with a few reserved celery leaves and/or parsley.

Celeriac Remoulade (French Slaw)

Adjust the proportions of the dressing to your own taste; some like a piquant taste, others prefer just a hint of mustard.

Prep time: 20 minutes

Cook time: 10 minutes

Total time: 30 minutes

Yield: 6 servings

Ingredients

1 medium celeriac

Juice of 1 lemon

3 to 4 tablespoons Dijon mustard

2/3 cup mayonnaise

1 tablespoon heavy cream or crème frâiche

Chopped parsley

1 to 2 tablespoons capers (optional)

Salt and black pepper

Directions

1. Peel the celeriac; either grate to a medium size or cut into matchsticks. Plunge into a pan of boiling water, then drain and cool.

2. Mix the rest of the ingredients in a serving bowls. Season to taste and mix in the celeriac.

Celeriac and Potato Gratin

Prep time: 30 minutes

Cook time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Total time: 2 hours

Yield: 6 servings

Ingredients

1 cup heavy cream

1/3 cup whole milk

2 garlic cloves, crushed

Salt and black pepper

About 15 ounces peeled potatoes, cut into thin slices

About 15 ounces peeled celeriac, cut into thin slices about the same size as the potatoes

2 to 3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

 

Directions

1. Put the cream, milk and garlic in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.

2. Arrange the potatoes and celeriac in overlapping layers in a gratin dish. Cover it with the cream mixture, tipping the dish to get an even distribution.

3. Cover with foil and bake for about an hour or until the vegetables are tender. Tip: While the dish is baking, use a spatula to press the vegetables into the cream once or twice so they don’t dry out.

4. Remove the foil, sprinkle with the Parmesan and bake for another 10 minutes until the top is nicely browned.

Main photo: Celeriac is a knobby, bulbous root vegetable. Credit: Clarissa Hyman

Read More
Main photo: Beet Chocolate Cake. Credit: Lynne Curry

I never thought of myself as a beet fanatic. Sure, I like this versatile root vegetable well enough, but only recently realized that beets are pivotal to the menu at my restaurant, the Lostine Tavern — roasted, raw, pickled and puréed. Along with two types of pickled beets, we feature beetroot on a hugely popular open-faced sandwich, grated beet in our tossed salad and a riveting beet panzanella salad. But the best-selling item of all is the chocolate beet cake.

That’s right: This cake contains beets. A curious item for a tavern in the heart of Oregon’s cattle country, but that’s how good this is.

It’s become so popular, some customers ask for it before they order their meal while others request it for birthday cakes. So tasty and moist, it has caused more than one avowed beet hater to eat his words.

An irresistible tower of three-tiered chocolate layer cake with fluffy dark chocolate frosting, this cake is a scene-stealer and a crowd-pleaser that belongs on any holiday table. The fact that it’s a veggie cake is both a nutritional plus and a conversation piece.

Why beets?

True enough, beets are a root vegetable, but using them in desserts is not as crazy as it sounds.

Beets have the highest concentration of sucrose among all vegetables. They are, after all, the source for granulated sugar.

Just like using carrot cake or pumpkin quick bread, beets are moisture insurance in cake baking. Fully cooked in simmering water and then pureed, the beets stealthily mingle with the cocoa powder, sugar and oil in the batter. Dark red beets tinge the color of the batter a shade toward red velvet cake. For anyone to know there are beets in this cake, you’ll have to tell them. Then, delight in their surprise.

Good desserts

Some may be happy to know that beets are a unique source of phytonutrients with strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits. I just love knowing I’m getting another dose of veggies into my kids’ dessert.

The earthy sweetness of the beets heightens the flavors of the chocolate, rendering a cake that is none too sweet. I use this recipe for everything from birthday cupcakes to everyday snack cakes. It mixes in a single bowl and makes either three 8-inch round layers, two 9-by-13-inch sheet cakes or a lot of cupcakes.

The cake layers form a great base for embellishment with layers of cherry preserves and whipped cream, a light snow of powdered sugar or a scoop of vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce.

For the holidays, however, I take this cake to the hilt, slathering chocolate cream cheese frosting between three cake layers for a table centerpiece that is sure to capture everyone’s attention.

Beet Chocolate Cake

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 20 to 25 minutes

Total time: 35 to 40 minutes

Yield: 8 to 10 servings

Ingredients

2 1/2 cups puréed cooked beets
6 eggs, beaten
3/4 cup good-quality cocoa powder
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/2 cups vegetable oil
3 3/4 cups granulated sugar
3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 350 F.

2. Oil three 8-inch-round cake pans and line them with parchment paper.

3. In a small mixing bowl, beat the beets and eggs. Combine the cocoa powder, vanilla and oil in a large measuring cup.

4. In a large mixing bowl, whisk the sugar, flour, baking soda and salt until combined. Add the cocoa powder mixture to the flour and stir with a rubber spatula until well combined. Add the beet mixture and stir just until combined.

5. Pour the batter into the prepared pans. Bake until the sides of the cake pull away from the pan and a wooden skewer slid into the cake’s center comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes.

6. Cool the cakes for 10 minutes and tip them out of the pans onto wire racks to cool completely.

Dark Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting

Prep time: 10 minutes

Ingredients
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate
3 sticks unsalted butter (12 ounces), room temperature
12 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla
3 cups sifted confectioner’s sugar

1. Melt the chocolate in a bowl over a pan of simmering water. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool to room temperature.

2. In a stand mixer, use the whisk attachment to beat the butter and cream cheese until perfectly smooth. Add the vanilla and scrape down the sides of the bowl.

3. Add the confectioner’s sugar and blend on medium speed until it is fully incorporated. Add the cooled chocolate mixture and blend on medium-high speed until it is very smooth and light.

4. Spread one-third of the frosting on top of each of the cooled cake layers and stack them to create three tiers. Leave the sides unfrosted.

Main photo: Beet Chocolate Cake. Credit: Lynne Curry

Read More
Christmas Eve salad

Do you have menu monotony? Are you cooking the same recipes over and over again for the holidays?

There is relief from this stubborn winter malady. I’m not suggesting that you toss all your family favorites, but I am proposing that you add variety to the menu and, in the processes, treat yourself and your guests to some new flavors.

To add changes to the menu without adding stress don’t take on the whole job alone — have friends and family bring side dishes or desserts. “A good old-fashioned potluck is great for the holidays, too. It is a simple way to add variety to your usual menu, share some of work and try out new recipes,” recommends Rick Bayless, winner of the James Beard outstanding restaurant award for his Chicago-based Mexican restaurant Frontera Grill. Assigning dishes, and even providing the recipe, assures that the meal will be balanced with a cohesive mix of foods, and you won’t end up with three platters of the same string bean recipe.

For a wonderfully unusual side dish with a south-of-the-border flare that goes with any menu, add Bayless’ colorful and crunchy, Mexico-inspired Christmas Eve Salad. This salad of jicama, beets, oranges and peanuts “provides the perfect visual accent for the holiday table, echoing the colors of holiday poinsettias,” Bayless says. The salad is topped with chopped peanuts and sprinkled with Mexican colored candies for a festive and whimsical finish. You can serve slivers of sugarcane, available in Spanish and Mexican grocery stores, along with the salad. “You and your guests will really enjoy chewing on fresh sugarcane, it has a delightfully fresh sweetness,” Bayless says.

Rick Bayless’ Christmas Eve Salad (Ensalada de Noche Buena)

Prep time: 20 minutes

Yield: 8 servings

Ingredients

4 large beets, boiled and cut into small sticks

3 seedless oranges

5 tablespoons fresh lime juice

2 1/2 tablespoons fresh orange juice

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon sugar

1/4 cup olive oil

1 medium (about 1 pound) jicama, peeled and cut into small sticks

10 romaine lettuce leaves, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch slices

2/3 cup roasted, salted peanuts

1 3- to 4-inch section of sugar cane, peeled and cut lengthwise into slivers, for garnish, optional

1 tablespoon colored candy cake decorations (grajeas in Mexico), for garnish

Directions

1. Place the beet sticks into a large bowl.

2. Using a zester or vegetable peeler, cut the zest (colored rind) from 1 of the oranges and finely mince it. Mix the minced zest with the lime juice, orange juice, salt, sugar and olive oil in with the beets and let stand 1 hour.

3. Cut away the rind and all white pith on the oranges. Cut between each white membrane and remove the segments. Reserve.

4. To serve, add the jicama and most of the orange segments (reserving a few for garnish) to the beet mixture. Lay the lettuce on a serving platter. Scoop the beet mixture into the center, then sprinkle with the peanuts and reserved orange segments. Garnish with the sugar cane, if using, and candies. Serve.

‘Instant’ Rum Baba Panettone

Another great shortcut is to buy something ready made, but unusual. For an Italian finish to the meal, consider ready-made panettone, imported from Italy. Tall and dome-shaped, panettone is a soft, sweet yeast cake with a fruity aroma of raisins and candied oranges. It’s the quintessential Italian Christmas dessert, usually served plain, accompanied by a glass of Asti Spumante.

panettone

Panettone can quickly be dressed up with a drenching of rum syrup. Credit: Italian Confectioners Association

Or you can dress it up a little by drenching it in rum syrup, making a virtually instant baba cake. Available in standard 1- and 2-pound sizes, panettone also comes in adorable, single-sized portions, which work especially well with this recipe:

From “Dolci: Italy’s Sweets” by Francine Segan (Stewart, Tabori & Chang)

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: 15 minutes

Total time: 25 minutes

 Yield: 8 to 12 servings

Ingredients

3 cups granulated sugar

1/4 to 1/2 cup dark rum

8 slices of panettone, or 8 small individual-sized panettone

Confectioners’ sugar

Fresh or frozen berries, optional

Directions

1. Add the sugar to 1 1/2 cups water in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until thickened, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in the rum to taste. Allow to cool to room temperature.

2. Arrange the panettone on a serving platter. An hour before serving, slowly pour the rum syrup over the panettone until all the liquid is absorbed.

3. Serve topped with confectioners’ sugar and accompanied by berries, if you like.

pandoro

In Italy, pandoro is often served cut in horizontal slices that are restacked to look like a Christmas tree. Credit: “Dolci: Italy’s Sweets” by Francine Segan.

Pandoro Christmas Tree Cake

Another unusual ready-made dessert is pandoro, the tall Christmas tree shaped Italian cake that’s available in most supermarkets and Italian gourmet shops starting in late fall. Pandoro has a delicious eggy, brioche-like soft center, with a lovely vanilla-butter aroma. In Italy, pandoro is often served cut in horizontal slices that are restacked to look like a Christmas tree. It even comes boxed with a packet of confectioners sugar to sprinkle on top.

You can spread the pandoro with anything creamy like ice cream, whipped cream, icing, pastry cream or even zabaglione. And just like a gingerbread house, you can decorate it with anything festive including tiny candies, sprinkles or crushed candy canes.

In this recipe, pandoro cake is taken to yet another level: each layer is spread with mascarpone custard and decorated with mint leaves and candied cherries.

From “Dolci: Italy’s Sweets” by Francine Segan (Stewart, Tabori & Chang)

Prep time: 15 minutes

Yield: 10 servings

Ingredients

1/4 cup plus 1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sweet liqueur, such as Cointreau or rum

2 large egg yolks

14 ounces mascarpone cheese

1 cup heavy cream

1 pandoro cake, about 1 pound

Decorations, such as candied cherries, fresh mint leaves, silver confetti

Confectioners’ sugar

Directions

1. In a saucepan, combine 1/4 cup water with 1/4 cup of the sugar and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and stir in 1/4 cup of the Cointreu or rum. Reserve.

2. In a standing mixer combine the yolks and the remaining 1/2 cup of sugar and beat for 5 minutes until light yellow and fluffy. Beat in the remaining 2 tablespoons Cointreau or rum, and fold in the mascarpone.

3. In a separate bowl, beat the heavy cream until peaks form. Fold the mascarpone cream into the whipped cream.

4. Carefully, so as not to break the points, slice the pandoro horizontally into 6 slices. Brush the outsides of the slices, the golden colored baked section, with the reserved Cointreau syrup.

5. Place the largest pandoro slice onto a serving platter and spread with some of the mascarpone mixture.

6. Cover with the next largest slice, angling it so that the points of the star tips don’t line up. Spread with some of the mascarpone mixture and repeat with the remaining layers, finishing with a dollop of mascarpone on top.

7. Decorate the points with candied cherries and mint leaves or candies. Sprinkle the entire cake with confectioners’ sugar.

Main photo: Rick Bayless’ colorful and crunchy, Mexico-inspired Christmas Eve Salad features jicama, beets, orange and peanuts. Credit: FronteraFiesta.com.

Read More
Garlic pickles. Credit: Ilikesoup-Dreamstime

Autumn on the Silk Road means pickles, and one unique kind gives garlic a chance to stand out on its own.

One of my favorite Silk Road pickles is Pomegranate Pickled Garlic enjoyed in the Black Sea countries of Georgia and Armenia, and down into Azerbaijan and Iran. This pickle recipe features garlic, which is often used to enhance the flavor of other foods but is generally underappreciated by itself. The other lovely thing about these pickles is that they use unsweetened pomegranate juice as a souring agent instead of the more common wine or apple cider vinegar.

These pickles come with a warning — they are extremely spicy, with the spice and heat coming from the garlic itself and from the dried chili peppers added to the pickling juice. But with some fresh, warm pita or naan, or any type of bread at all, they make a wonderful and unusual appetizer or snack. You might wish to serve them with a selection of cooler Silk Road dips — such as an Armenian Baba Ghanoush or an Iranian Cucumber and Yogurt dip — to provide some gentle contrast.

If you have browsed through a Persian market, you may have seen garlic pickles on the shelf, packaged as whole heads of garlic. This is indeed how they are made and enjoyed. However, I don’t like the mess of releasing the cloves from the membranes while serving, and have written the recipe to do that at the beginning.

Unless you have some serious sins to repent for, I suggest that you NOT peel the heads of garlic by hand but use the “pot trick” to loosen them instead. If you are unfamiliar with this bit of culinary magic, you place a whole head of garlic under a cutting board and press and roll it for half a minute to loosen the skin and membranes. Then you place the garlic head in a large saucepan, cover it and shake it for about a minute or two until the cloves are freed from the skins. You will need to do a little bit of cleaning by hand, but most of the work is taken care of by the pressing and shaking. Alternatively, you can go to a well-stocked Asian market and buy the naked cloves en masse. However you go about peeling the garlic, I guarantee that it’s worth it. These are pickles you’ll want to try.

Time to develop

Another warning: It takes a lot of time for these pickles to develop. I don’t recommend even trying them for at least two weeks, and suggest that you wait at least a month before cracking open the jars for the first time. Pickles made today will be best served at Christmas or New Year’s celebrations. The longer they develop, the more mellow the flavor will be, but it takes at least a month to begin to get a balance of sweet, sour and spicy going.

On a Georgian or other western Asian table, these pickles are served with many other small bites, like Korean banchan, to complement the main dishes. A bite of roast meat or a nibble of a kebab is accented by a clove of pickled garlic and a splash of strong red wine — perhaps a Muzukani  — to wash it all down. Other small dishes could include some sour-cherry jam or a thick sauce called tkemali made from sour plums to add the taste of fruit to some bites. The rhythm of the meal flows from spicy to sweet, depending on the diner’s desire.

Humans have been eating garlic for thousands of years. It originated in Central Asia, and there is well-documented use of garlic in ancient Mesopotamian dishes from the Babylonian culinary tablets housed at Yale University. I’ve reinterpreted some of these recipes and they are available on “The Silk Road Gourmet.”  Although I’m identifying new recipes from ancient Mesopotamia all the time, I haven’t yet come across one for pickled garlic. Instead, the Mesopotamians used garlic in meat pies, and mashed the garlic together with yogurt, leeks and onions (shallots) to flavor a wide variety of dishes such as Lamb With Carob, or Mutton With Wild Licorice and Juniper.

Beyond keeping vampires and other ghouls away there are a lot of health benefits to garlic, particularly in raw or pickled form. Research shows it is a powerful cell-protecting antioxidant. Raw garlic is good for you, because it has more of the compounds that provide the health benefits than cooked garlic. Also, pickled garlic increases the amount of beneficial compounds in the garlic, so the longer you pickle it, the better it is for you. Because of its antioxidant activities, garlic has been shown to demonstrate anti-aging properties, it assists in regulating blood-sugar levels and vascular health and it has neuroprotective effects as well. All this and flavor too!

Pomegranate Pickled Garlic

Prep time: 3 hours

Cooking time: 10 minutes plus 1 month to pickle

Total time: 1 month

Ingredients

2 large heads of garlic (about 60 cloves), peeled

3 tablespoons salt

2 teaspoons sugar

1 cup of unsweetened pomegranate juice

1/4 cup of white wine vinegar

1 tablespoon black peppercorns, cracked or lightly crushed

2 to 3 hot, dried red chili peppers (I use Japone)

1 tablespoon fresh dill, chopped

Directions

1. Place the peeled garlic into a sterile glass jar and add the salt and sugar. Cover and shake to mix. Let stand on the counter for 1 to 2 hours, shaking every now and then to get the garlic to start to break down and give off its liquid.

2. Heat the pomegranate juice and the vinegar in a small saucepan to bring to a boil. Add the peppercorns, the sliced or torn chili peppers and the dill, and remove from heat to cool. If you like the garlic to be crunchy, let the pickling juice cool to room temperature. If you want the garlic to be softer, add the pickling juice to the garlic when it is still hot. Make sure that the pomegranate juice mixture covers the garlic, then cap the jar and shake well.

3. Store refrigerated, or in a cool or cold place for 2 to 4 weeks before eating.

I give the jars a light shake at least once a week to ensure that the pickling process is happening evenly.

Main photo: Garlic pickles. Credit: Ilikesoup-Dreamstime

Read More
Pumpkins for Thanksgiving. Credit: Scott Hirko/iStock

There are basically three approaches to devising a Thanksgiving menu.

In the first, the foods are typical of New England where the first thanksgiving was celebrated some 250 years before it became a national holiday with a capital “T” in the mid-19th century.

In the second, families follow local and regional traditions. Or, if they are first- and second- generation immigrant families without a familiarity of traditional American Thanksgiving foods, they add avocado salad, curry or lasagna to the menu.

In the third, which no one I know uses other than the historically re-created village denizens of Plimouth Plantation in Massachusetts, cooks attempt the authentic 1621 menu.

The hardest part of the last approach is that no actual menu exists. We are left with just some cursory description from two sources supplemented with comparative studies of what we know American Indians and Englishmen ate in the 17th century.

At the center of the 1621 table was probably roast venison and a variety of water fowl. There were no mashed potatoes, no cranberry sauce and no pumpkin pies, although there were probably dried cranberries and pumpkins in some form. There was probably maize in the form of bread, griddle cakes or porridge.

Pilgrims’ harvest celebration

We know this from the two and only surviving documents from the harvest celebration shared by the Pilgrims and Wampanoag at Plymouth Colony in 1621. The sources are the English leader Edward Winslow’s “A Letter Sent From New England,” “A Journal of the Pilgrims at Plymouth” and Gov. William Bradford’s Of Plymouth Plantation.”

Winslow wrote to a friend that the governor (Bradford) had sent “four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our labors.” The hunters brought back enough food to feed the colony for a week along with “their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain and others.” Bradford adds that “besides waterfowl there was great store of wild turkeys” venison and Indian corn.

As far as all the other food the colonists and Wampoanoag ate, culinary historians only have educated guesses based on a number of secondary sources including archeological remains such as pollen samples. The Wampanoag ate wildfowl, deer, eels, lobster, clams, mussels, smoked fish, and forest foods such as chestnuts, walnuts, and beechnuts, and they grew flint corn, the multicolored Indian corn suitable only for being ground into flour and never eaten off the cob. They also had pumpkin and squashes, sunchokes and water lily. We can surmise that those foods were on the table. The Indians had taught the colonists how to plant native crops, which they did in March of 1620, but the things grown are only known from a later time, namely turnips, carrots, onions, and garlic.

In 1621, the sweet potato and the white potato had not yet arrived in New England, so they were not found on the Pilgrims’ harvest table that autumn. Later Plymouth writings mention eagle and crane begin eaten.

Winslow, in his letter to a friend, describes the foods available in Plymouth in 1621. “Our bay is full of lobsters all the summer and affordeth variety of other fish; in September we can take a hogshead of eels in a night with small labor, and can dig them out of their beds all the winter. We have mussels … at our doors.”

Stewed Pompion (Stewed Pumpkin). Credit: Clifford A. Wright

Stewed Pompion (Stewed Pumpkin). Credit: Clifford A. Wright

He went on to describe plentiful strawberries, gooseberries and many varieties of plums. “These things I thought good to let you understand, being the truth of things as near as I could experimentally take knowledge of, and that you might on our behalf give God thanks who hath dealt so favorably with us,” Winslow wrote

“Our Indian corn,” wrote Winslow, “even the coarsest, maketh as pleasant a meal as rice.” In other words, traditional English dishes of porridge, pancakes and bread were adapted for native corn.

In September and October, a variety of dried and fresh vegetables were available. The produce from Pilgrim gardens is likely to have included what were then called herbs: parsnips, collards, carrots, parsley, turnips, spinach, cabbages, sage, thyme, marjoram and onions. Dried beans and dried wild blueberries may have been available as well as local cranberries, pumpkins, grapes and nuts.

One dish that very well might have been on that harvest table of the fall of 1621 is “stewed pompion,” as it was called by the 17th-century English. One of the earliest written recipes from New England is found in a book by the English traveler John Josselyn who first went to New England in 1638 and whose book “Two Voyages to New England” was published in 1674. He called it a “standing dish,” suggesting that it was an everyday dish. The adapted recipe you can make is based on his original description where he says “it will look like bak’d Apples.”

Stewed Pompions (Stewed Pumpkins)

Ingredients
4 cups cooked (boiled, steamed or baked) pumpkin flesh, roughly mashed
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 to 3 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
1 or 2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt

Directions

In a saucepan over medium heat, stir and heat all the ingredients together. Adjust seasonings to taste, and serve hot.

Main photo: Pumpkins for Thanksgiving. Credit: Scott Hirko/iStock

Read More