Articles in Vegetables w/recipe

Buy the freshest cauliflower you can find for Cauliflower à la Greque. Credit: Copyright 2015 Rosemary Barron

Although cauliflowers are sold in our supermarkets all year round, this beautiful member of the wild cabbage family (Brassica oleracea) is at its bright and healthy best in early spring. Cauliflowers harvested at that time have had the benefit of a longer growing season (about 80 days, instead of 50 days for their summer-grown counterparts), allowing their valuable nutrients more time to develop.

The cauliflower, whose name derives from the Latin caulis (stem) and floris (flower) is actually a cabbage bred for its flowers. The edible part of the plant, the head of tender stems and flower buds, is known as a curd. Similarly to broccoli and calabrese (close relatives), the cauliflower stores nutrients for the developing flowers at the base of the buds, so a fresh, crisp curd is packed full of vitamins and minerals. Its Latin botanical name, Brassica oleracea var. botrytis (meaning cluster, or grapelike), is an apt description of this remarkably clever vegetable, which grows with a protective layer of leaves curled around its head.

Hats off to the French, though, for giving cauliflower (chou-fleur, or cabbage-flower,) a prettier, and horticulturally more correct name, than the rather pedestrian Anglo-Saxon “flower on a stalk.”

Mysterious origins

There is disagreement over the origin of the cauliflower. Some say it was developed by 11th century Arab gardeners, or by Romans a thousand years earlier. But the wild cabbage grew throughout the ancient eastern Mediterranean and, with its tendency to produce “freaks,” prototypes of the cauliflower probably originated spontaneously in different places. Curious gardeners have since, through seed selection, improved nature’s work and we are now reaping the benefits.

Medieval Italian kitchens and, later, those of Louis XIV of France, served stylish and elegant cauliflower dishes. Catherine de Medici is said to have appreciated the lovely vegetable, and to have introduced it to France to help alleviate arthritis. But its earlier French name, chou de Chypre, suggests it arrived from Cyprus and Cypriots are, understandably, happy to claim its origin. For the past 200 years, the cauliflower has been a popular winter vegetable in northern Europe, but without its former prestige in serious kitchens. Until now.

Hardly humble

With cauliflowers piled high in our markets, this inexpensive and highly nutritious brassica is at last losing its humble status and taking its rightful place on our tables. A reputation for being bland and soggy is the fault of the cook, not of the cauliflower. Its very gentleness is the perfect foil to many fine flavors, and it takes only a few minutes to cook.

“Organic” and “local” have real meaning when selecting cauliflowers: snails, aphids and caterpillars love them, so pesticides are often used and, once harvested, their nutrients and flavor dissipate quickly. Most cauliflowers are attractively creamy-white, but we also have wonderfully colorful varieties. Buy cauliflowers that smell and look fresh, with deep-green, outer leaves and tight heads; avoid brown-spotted white ones, or dull-looking purple, yellow or green heads. Size doesn’t affect flavor, but age does: older cauliflowers taste and smell stronger.

Richer in vitamins and minerals than any other brassica, cauliflowers are an excellent source of vitamin C, folic acid and potassium; a very good source of niacin, copper, manganese and vitamins A, K, B5 and B6; and a good source for protein, phosphorous, magnesium and vitamins B2 and B3. Raw, they are even better.

Avoid nutricide

Cauliflower cooks quickly: Keep florets whole or cut large ones in half and simmer in a little water or steam for five minutes. After this time, cauliflower loses 20% to 30% of its phytochemicals; after 10 minutes, 40% disappear. Where possible, cook in ways that don’t commit nutricide – in soups and stews, grilled or baked. In its wonderful ability to host spicy flavors, some of the best preparations for cauliflower can be found in the kitchens of the Indian subcontinent and the Mediterranean. With winter soon drawing to an end, it’s time to enjoy the vegetable that has spent the past three months developing the nutrients we need to take us into a healthy spring.

The cauliflower is actually a cabbage bred for its flowers.

Cauliflower cooks quickly: keep florets whole or cut large ones in half and simmer in a little water or steam for five minutes. Credit: Copyright 2015 Rosemary Barron

 Simple Greek ways to serve

  • Serve raw or lightly-steamed small florets with a dip of mashed anchovy, capers, herbs, and olive oil or with hummus, small radishes and young wild green leaves.
  • Mix thinly sliced cauliflower florets and fine-julienned carrots with olive oil, lemon juice, sea salt, lightly chopped flat-leaf parsley, and Greek oregano (rigani ).
  • Dip small florets in a light garbanzo-flour batter and gently fry the fritters in olive oil; serve with olive oil and lemon juice mayonnaise, olives, and lemon wedges.

Cauliflower à la Greque

À la Greque (French for “in the Greek style”) describes a method of cooking, one that presumably a French cook/traveler admired and added to his/her own kitchen repertoire. There are many versions of this popular dish, but most are a pale imitation of the original Greek creation. Buy the freshest cauliflower you can find and, for a lightly spiced dish, prepare two hours ahead; for a more mellow taste and texture, leave overnight in the marinade.

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cook time: 12 minutes

Total time: 17 minutes

Yield: 8 for a meze serving, 4 as a vegetable dish

Ingredients

4 cups small cauliflower florets

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons dried coriander seeds

1 cup dry white wine

3 bay leaves

1/2 tablespoon aromatic honey such as Hymettus

1 tablespoon cracked black peppercorns

Coarse-grain sea salt to taste

For serving:

4 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley, coarsely chopped

1 tablespoon lemon zest, in very thin strips, optional

Lemon wedges

Directions

1. Trim most of the stem from the florets and cut an “x” in the base of each with a small sharp knife. Blanch 1 minute in boiling water, drain, and set aside.

2. Heat the olive oil in a large heavy saucepan over low heat. Add the coriander seeds and florets in a single layer and stir with a wooden spoon to coat with the olive oil. Add the wine, bay leaves, honey, pepper and salt. Bring just to a boil, cover, reduce the heat, and simmer 10 minutes or until tender.

3. Transfer the contents of the pan to a nonreactive bowl and set aside until cool. Cover the bowl and shake it gently to redistribute the marinade.

4. To serve, taste the marinade. If more salt is needed, combine with the parsley. Transfer the cauliflower to a shallow serving bowl and pour over most of the marinade (strain it first, if you prefer). Sprinkle with parsley and lemon zest and serve with the lemon wedges.

Main photo: Buy the freshest cauliflower you can find for Cauliflower à la Greque. Credit: Copyright 2015 Rosemary Barron

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Potato gratin stuffed with Swiss chard. Credit: Clifford A. Wright

Winter is about the only time of year that the description “rib-sticking” actually sounds appealing. We burn more calories in the winter as we are shoveling more snow, or, here in Southern California, as we complain about how it’s freezing when the temperature drops to 60 F. Winter is when our stew or roast recipes come out and when we love to cook with bacon, cheese, and cream. Let’s not forget that there are great winter vegetables and the way to cook them is not the way we want to do in the summer.

I love winter vegetables, including all the root vegetables as well as leafy greens like Swiss chard, spinach, collard, kale, and many others. One dish I make often is inspired by the cooking of the Savoy in France. It is a potato gratin, but my twist is to form it into a kind of potato pie that is stuffed with rainbow Swiss chard. Rainbow Swiss chard is simply a bunch of multicolored Swiss chard stems bunch together for sale by the purveyor. You’re not using the stems in this recipe so you won’t actually see a lot of color other than green in the finished dish.

You’ll want to use baking potatoes, like russets, rather than boiling potatoes like Yukon gold, because you’ll want the potatoes to disintegrate slightly to form a kind of “crust.” This is a rich dish, so if you’re making it to accompany something I suggest something simple, like roast chicken or pan-seared chicken breast or even just a salad.

Potato Gratin Stuffed With Swiss Chard

This is a perfect winter vegetables dish made with thin slices of potato that form the bottom of a kind of pie filled with Swiss chard cooked with bacon and salt pork and then covered with another layer of sliced potatoes before being baked.

Potato gratin stuffed with Swiss chard. Credit: Clifford A. Wright

Potato gratin stuffed with Swiss chard. Credit: Clifford A. Wright

Yield: 6 side-dish servings

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: About 1 1/4 hours

Total time: About 1 1/2 hours

Ingredients

1 1/2 pound Swiss chard, leaves only, save stems for another purpose

1 ounce slab bacon, chopped

1/2 ounce salt pork, chopped

3 garlic cloves, finely chopped

Salt to taste

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided

One 1-pound baking potato, peeled and cut into 1/8-inch thick slices

2 ounces Gruyère, comte, or vacherin cheese, sliced

1/2 cup heavy cream

Directions

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook the Swiss chard leaves until soft, about 10 minutes. Drain well and chop. Set aside in a bowl.

2. Preheat to oven to 350 F.

3. In a large cast iron skillet, cook the bacon and salt pork over medium-low heat until beginning to get crispy, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until it is sizzling then remove all to the bowl with the Swiss chard and season with salt.

4. Add 2 tablespoons butter to the skillet and, once it melts, arrange half of the sliced potatoes, slightly overlapped in a spiral covering the entire bottom of the skillet. Salt lightly. Spoon the Swiss chard mixture on top of the potatoes, spreading it around to cover all the potatoes. Salt lightly. Arrange the remaining potatoes in an overlapped spiral covering the Swiss chard completely. Salt lightly. Arrange the cheese on top of the potatoes, dot with the remaining butter and pour the cream over everything.

5. Move the pan to the oven and bake until golden brown and bubbling, about 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool 5 minutes then cut into wedges for serving.

Main photo: Potato Gratin Stuffed With Swiss Chard. Credit: Clifford A. Wright

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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

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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

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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
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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

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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
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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

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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

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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.

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