In an Asian market the other day, I found a vegetable that I didn’t recognize. I knew from its appearance that it was a root vegetable, but it was one I’d never seen before. My first thought was, “This is the ugliest vegetable I’ve ever seen.”
It was dark brown, verging on black, gnarly, and hairy. Now, there are similar root vegetables out there that are similarly not of the pretty variety, such as real yams. Those are pretty dark and hairy. But that’s not what this was. Real yams (aka “true” yams or African yams) are white inside. These were purplish. I could see spots of purple in the broken or cut pieces in the bin.
Nor were these purple sweet potatoes, Japanese purple yams, or any other purple root vegetable I’d ever seen.
The problem is that produce in an Asian market is not always labeled—at least not in English. Sometimes the English name is not common, so even native English speakers have never heard of it. So, I was really at a loss.
I bought a piece.
The ugliest vegetable in the world on the outside was a gorgeous mottled purple on the inside. In fact, the color was jewel-like. The flesh had a sticky quality to it, like yuca.
But how to cook it? Since I didn’t know how it’s used in whatever land it originated, I just did the simplest things: boiled it and baked it. Boiling washed out the flavor a bit, as well as the color. (If you look at the photo below, the piece on the far right was boiled.) Roasting rendered them more flavorful but rather dry and mealy.
The verdict? The ugliest vegetable in the world tastes just like a regular white potato but is, in my opinion, less versatile.
If I see them again, I’m going to try making chips out of them. Maybe cutting them very thinly and frying them will make them more palatable.
But I still don’t know what they are. I saw one site that called them African yellow yams, but I’m not convinced that it’s that. If you know what this is, please let me know.
I created this pasta salad for the Spring Potluck for the New York Women’s Culinary Alliance. The theme was Back to the Beginning, to be interpreted any way we wished. So, in honor of spring, which is all about starting again, I made a completely green pasta salad. It was my first potluck with the NYWCA, so I wanted to impress. I don’t know if I did, but this salad got rave reviews the next day.
This pasta salad is open to many variations—you can add anything you want, as long as it’s green! It has several components to it, but if you’re willing to spend a little time on it, the result will truly be gorgeous, not mention delicious. Aside from the broccoli florets, I split the string beans in half, used only the green part of the zucchini, and garnished it with zucchini curls.
Gorgeously Green Pasta Salad
1 medium head broccoli
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, small dice
1/2 teaspoon salt plus more
2 small zucchini, diced small
2 ½ cups cut string beans
2 cups peas (if frozen, thawed)
1 lb short pasta
½ lb arugula
¼ lb watercress
1 cup sliced scallions (white part only), divided
3 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 medium green bell pepper, diced small
½ cup chopped parsley
Garnish: zucchini, scallion greens, broccoli florets
1. Cut the broccoli into florets. Set aside as many “pretty” florets (they should be similarly sized). Chop the remaining florets, stems, and pieces. Blanch and shock the florets. Cook the remaining broccoli until crisp-tender; drain well.
To blanch and shock: Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Set a bowl of ice water on the counter. Add the broccoli florets to the boiling water and cook for a minute or 2, until broccoli is slightly tender. With a slotted spoon, transfer the broccoli to the ice water to stop the cooking. When cool, transfer to a bowl and set aside.
2. Heat 2 teaspoons of the oil in a medium skillet; add the onion and salt, and sweat (cook over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until soft and translucent. Do not brown.)
3. Zucchini: Saute in 2 teaspoons just until tender. Transfer to a bowl; let cool.
4. String beans: Bring pot of salted water to a boil; add string beans and cook just until tender. Transfer to the ice water and let cool. Transfer to a bowl. Set aside ½ cup.
5. Peas: If fresh, cook in boiling water until just tender. If frozen, boil briefly. Drain well.
6. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil; add the pasta and cook until al dente. Drain well and let cool.
7. Meanwhile, make the sauce. In a food processor or blender, combine the arugula, watercress, ½ cup string beans that were set aside, ½ cup scallions, garlic, salt and pepper. With the machine processing, slowly add the extra-virgin olive oil until a sauce forms.
8. When pasta has cooled but is still slightly warm, add the sauce and mix well. Add the green pepper, the chopped broccoli, onion, cooked zucchini, peas, remaining string beans, and remaining scallions. Mix well. Blend in parsley. Taste and adjust for seasoning. Add whatever herbs or spices you like.
April 26 is National Pretzel Day and I wanted to share my recipe for traditional Italian
pretzels called taralli.
Just about anyone of Italian descent is familiar with taralli. Common all along the southern provinces of Italy, taralli are crunchy and pretzel-like and are eaten as bread or enjoyed as a snack.
These baked snacks are often referred to in English as biscotti, because technically it is cooked twice (the definition of biscotti). But the end product is nothing at all like a biscotti. In both appearance and texture, these are more like hard pretzels.
Believed by many to have originated in Puglia, where bread reigns supreme and bread-like products are abundant, taralli start off much the same way as other pretzels: they are shaped, boiled, and baked until hard and crisp. There is a subtle difference between taralli and pretzels, though. Pretzels are often made with eggs, which give them a “softer” crunch flakier texture than taralli, and the spices added to taralli make them the perfect accompaniment to meals.
I never had much of a sweet tooth, not even as a child. I got this trait from my mother, who would (and still does) pass up a slice of cake for a tasty cracker and some grapes anytime. This proclivity, plus a desire to avoid giving her family too many sweets, my mother has always made taralli for us to snack on.
The crunchy, pretzel-shaped treat and, fennel seeds give these biscuits their unique flavor and aroma, but sweeter versions can also be found.
Although taralli are eaten throughout the year, production by bakeries and home cooks alike ramps up around holidays. This Easter, I helped my mother make the taralli and here are some shots of the process, as well as her recipe, which appeared in my cookbook, What, No Meat? Traditional Italian Cooking the Vegetarian Way. Enjoy.
Biscotti di Mamma (My Mother’s Pretzels)
1 package active dry yeast
5 pounds all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon salt
4 teaspoons fennel or anise seeds
5 eggs, slightly beaten
1 1/3 cups corn oil
Sprinkle the yeast into 1 cup very warm water. Let it sit until it is murky, about 5 minutes. Stir until all the yeast is dissolved.
On a kneading board, make a well of flour. Have about 2 cups warm water nearby. Sprinkle the salt and seeds over the flour. Place the remaining ingredients in the center of the well and begin mixing by working your way around the inside of the well with your hand and pulling in the dry ingredients, a little at a time. Mix all the ingredients well. If the dough is too dry, add a little water as you mix. Knead the dough for about 5 to 7 minutes. The dough should be firm but not tough. If it is too wet, add a little more flour and work it in. If it is too dry, add more water and work it in.
Cut the dough in half. Cover one half with a bowl until you are ready to use it. Cut off several 1-inch pieces from the other half and cover the rest with a bowl. Roll a piece out into a 1/4-inch-thick rope. Fold over the ends of the rope to make a criss-cross shape. Press the ends in firmly or they will come apart. Repeat this process with the remaining dough.
As you are shaping the last few pretzels, bring a large pot of water to boil. Place several pretzels into the boiling water (this will give them a flaky texture and a shiny exterior). When they rise to the surface, remove them immediately with a slotted spoon and place them on a clean cloth towel to dry. They should only take about 30 seconds to rise. If they don’t rise after a minute, nudge them a little with the spoon—they sometimes stick to the bottom of the pot. Boil the remaining pretzels and allow them to dry out, about 10 minutes.
As the pretzels are drying, preheat the oven to 375. When the pretzels are dry, lay them directly on the oven racks, about ½ inch apart, and bake them until the undersides are a golden brown, about 10 to 15 minutes. Turn them over and bake until their undersides are deep golden brown, another 10 minutes. If they burn quickly, lower the oven to 350º. They will not all brown at the same rate so keep checking them. Remove the ones that are done and replace them with others.
Serve them as a snack or as an accompaniment to antipasto or dinner.
Store the pretzels in a tin or loosely covered in a basket up to 2 months.
Makes 70 to 80 pretzels.
Once again, I was browsing one of my favorite ethnic markets, Patel Brothers in Jackson Heights, and found myself in the puffed rice area. (They have a lot of puffed rice, and I don’t know yet what they do with it all. If anyone knows, please enlighten me.) Anyway, next to the puffed rice was a bag labeled “puffed lotus nuts.” They looked like puffed cheese doodles or pop chips, so I bought some.
It was not quite what I was expecting (nor was it what anyone in my office was expecting). It’s appearance leads you to believe that it will have a bit of a crunch, like popcorn, or at least be like a wafer—crisp and melty.
But, no. When you pop one in your mouth and bite down, instead of getting a crispy little bite, it collapses into a chewy, sticky blob. Everyone I gave some to got the same expression on their face—surprise and mild revulsion. It was actually kind of funny. The flavor of these snack balls was, oddly, like
smoky barbecue sauce. I’ve never had lotus nuts before so I didn’t know if this flavor was way off or not. It was just strange. Someone suggested that maybe they were simply stale, but I don’t think so.
Then, I did a little research and found that they’re eaten two ways: 1) In curries and stew-style dishes and 2) pan-fried.
I tried pan-frying them in a little oil and discovered that they actually crisp up. They became like popcorn! The odd barbecue flavor was greatly diminished, which, depending on whether or not you like it, could be a good or bad thing. For me, it was a good thing. I ate a small bowlful of them and I think I’ve found a new favorite snack.
In terms of health, lotus seeds are gluten-free, rich in calcium, and in traditional Chinese medicine, they are considered a cooling food. They are good for the spleen, kidneys, and heart, and have a calming effect that benefits those who get heart palpitations and suffer relentlessness.
Give them a try. Just heat a thin layer of oil in a skillet, throw in a as many puffed lotus nuts as will fit, and stir them every so often until they’re lightly browned. If you want, season them with salt, chili powder, garlic powder, or any other flavoring you like. You’ll be pleasantly surprised, and you can snack on them instead of nutrition-less chips.
I’m not calling this recipe Sauteed Valor Green Beans because it’s something you should eat as a reward for bravery. The word valor is actually the Indian name for these particular green beans.
I found these beans at Patel supermarket in Jackson Heights. It’s my favorite Indian market and I always find something in there that I’ve never tried. When I saw these beans, I thought they were odd looking. They looked like string beans but with thicker skin. I was curious how they would cook up, so I bought some.
Common sense would say to cook these beans with Indian spices and ingredients. But I decided to cook them a little more European style. So, I sautéed them with some sliced shallots, salt, pepper, and garlic powder (because I didn’t have any fresh garlic). My suspicions were right—the thicker skin meant that they needed longer cooking time and some liquid to keep them from burning. In this case, I used some water and a little bouillon.
After they beans had softened, I uncovered the pan and let the liquid dry up. Then, I veered back toward Indian because I decided to deglaze the pan with a splash of coconut balsamic vinegar. I had picked it up at F. Oliver’s oil shop in Ithaca last summer and I haven’t used it much. (It’s delicious but coconut balsamic does have limited uses. I mean, I’m not going to splash some into my marinara sauce, ya know?) Finally, I mixed in some toasted slivered almonds.
The result was kind of a sweet and sour flavor and the crunch of the almonds really made it texturally satisfying. I can’t say I enjoy them as much as regular green beans because they have a different flavor—kind of earthy, where really green beans are sweet-ish.
So, here’s my recipe for Sauteed Valor Green Beans. Unless you are somewhere near an F. Oliver’s, you probably won’t be able to get Creamy Coconut Balsamic Vinegar, so just use regular balsamic, or omit it altogether.
Sauteed Valor Green Beans
½ lb. valor green beans
2 teaspoons olive oil
3 or 4 shallots, sliced
2 large garlic cloves, sliced
½ cup vegetable broth
¼ cup almond slivers
2 tablespoons coconut or regular balsamic vinegar
Trim off the ends of the green beans, pull off any strings, and slice them open (this might be easier if you cut longer beans in half). Chop the beans into half-inch pieces.
Heat the oil in a medium pan. Add the shallots and garlic and sauté just until they start to brown. Add the string beans and sauté over medium heat about 5 minutes. Add the broth, cover the pan, and cook for about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, heat a small skillet. Add the almonds and toast, stirring often, until lightly browned.
Uncover the pan with the beans and continue cooking until liquid had evaporated. Add the balsamic vinegar and stir; when the balsamic has evaporated, toss in the almonds and mix well.
Serve as a side dish or over brown or white basmati rice.
Makes 2 servings.
Yes, I said deliciousness. No other nut makes me as happy as pecans. In fact, when I travel down South, I try to find a place to buy pecans in bulk to take home. The problem with pecans, you see, is that they’re also one of the most expensive nuts around (I think the most expensive ones are macadamias and pignolis). But they are cheaper in the South, where they are grown and harvested. When I’m in the vicinity of Montgomery, AL, I stop by Priester’s Pecans, on I-65 South, in Fort Deposit, AL, and get myself a 5-pound bag.
The word “pecan” comes from an Algonquin word meaning “nuts that require a stone to crack.” Pecan trees are native to North America and planting began as early as the 1600s. By the 1700s, pecans played an important part in American commerce, and were exported to various parts of the world. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were known to love pecans.
Pecans are rich in monounsaturated fatty acids, phytochemicals, and antioxidants. In terms of vitamins, they are an excellent source of vitamin E and B vitamins (such as riboflavin, niacin, thiamin, and pantothenic acid), vitamin B-6, and folates. They also contain manganese, potassium, calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc, and selenium.
March 25 is National Pecan Day, so in honor of this most excellent of nuts, here’s my recipe for Roasted Cauliflower with Pecan Dressing. Enjoy!
|Roasted Cauliflower with Pecan-Breadcrumb Dressing|
- 1 medium head cauliflower, cut into florets
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- Salt to taste
- Black pepper to taste
- 1/2 cup dry breadcrumbs
- 1/2 cup coarsely chopped pecans
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
- In a medium bowl, combine the cauliflower, 2 tablespoons of the oil,* and salt and pepper. Combine well. Spread out on a baking sheet and roast until tender and lightly browned.
- In a large skillet, heat the remaining oil; add the breadcrumbs and pecans and toast over medium-low heat, stirring often, until lightly browned. Be careful not to burn them. Add the cauliflower, mix well, and cook 1 minute longer.
- Serve hot or at room temperature.
*If you find that not all the cauliflower is coated in oil, add a bit more.
As you might suspect, it’s believed that oatmeal cookies got their beginning in Scotland, where oats are an integral part of life. They began as oat cakes and eventually evolved into the cookie we know today. The first written oatmea- raisin cookie recipe appeared in the Fannie Farmer Cookbook in 1896, in which Fannie Merritt Farmer referred to them as “health food.” Quaker Oats began putting a recipe for oatmeal-raisin cookies on their boxes of oat,s and by the early 1900s, it was a household dessert.
So, in honor of National Oatmeal Cookie Day, March 18, here’s a basic recipe for oatmeal-raisin cookies.
- 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
- 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1 egg
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 cup quick oats
- 1/2 cup raisins
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a couple of large baking sheets with parchment paper.
- Whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt; set aside.
- Using a mixer, cream together the butter with the 2 sugars. Add the egg and vanilla extract and beat well. Add the flour mixture and blend well. Finally, stir in the oats and raisins.
- Place the dough by the tablespoonful on the baking sheets about 1 inch apart. Bake about 10 to 12 minutes, or until lightly browned. Cool on baking sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer to cooling racks.
It always saddens me when I see an iconic restaurant close down for one reason or another. It saddens me even more when it happens before I’ve had the opportunity to eat there.
Case in point: Chez Panisse. The landmark restaurant, opened by pioneer chef Alice Waters in 1971, suffered a fire in the early morning of Friday, March 8 2013.
The good news is that most of the restaurant was spared and they’re closing for a couple of weeks. However, the beautiful porch, which has made Chez Panisse a physically beautiful space, is destroyed. David Tanis, who worked at Chez Panisse for a time, blogged about it on the Diner’s Journal blog on NYT.com. According to Tanis, the porch was a mixture of “Arts and Crafts, Art Deco and Swiss Chalet.”
And it’s this that saddens me because that front porch was part of Chez Panisse’s charm. A dining experience isn’t just about the food; it’s also about the atmosphere. Even when the eatery you choose is just a plain, get your lunch at the counter and sit at a table kind of place, the atmosphere still plays a part in your dining experience. Because that’s the kind of place you go to ONLY for the food and it plays into your decision about future meals. That is not the place you would take a group for a birthday party or a bachelorette party. Apart from the food, the surroundings, the physical appearance, of a place determines the place it will occupy in your mind.
And so I’ve lost the opportunity to climb up the brick steps , pass under the ranch-like sign stating the name Chez Panisse, and enjoy the shade underneath the trellis on a hot summer day.
A little more information and a statement from Alice Waters can be found HERE.
Chez Panisse is one of many places I regret never having seen. At least I’ll still have the chance to eat there.
Now, if only I can get to Berkeley before it’s too late.
As you may have guessed, the main components of the sandwich are French inspired: brie and tapenade. All you need after that is a little tomato, onion, and lettuce and you’re good to go. Oh, and don’t forget the good quality bread.
(In case you’re wondering about the fancy schmancy name, I created it for a grilled cheese contest, so I had to name it something appropriates.)
Let me know what you think. Enjoy!
- 3 oz. brie
- 2 slices ciabatta or other rustic bread
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 leaf green or red leaf lettuce
- 2-3 tablespoons tapenade
- 3 thin slices plum tomato
- Few thin rings of red onion
- Remove the top rind of the brie and cut the brie into pieces.
- Brush both sides of the bread with olive oil. Heat a skillet and toast one side of each slice.
- Flip over the bread; lower the heat. Place the brie on one slice of bread, then the lettuce, tapenade, tomato, and red onion.
- Flip over the other slice of bread onto the filling and lightly press. Keep on the heat until the brie melts. Flip the sandwich over, if necessary.
This panini is Italian style, with broccoli rabe, sun-dried tomatoes, provolone, and Asiago cheese. Slice the bread thinly so that’s easy to eat. Enjoy!
|Broccoli Rabe-Provolone Panini|
- 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 2 large garlic cloves, 1 sliced, 1 cut in half
- 3 cups chopped broccoli rabe
- 1 ½ teaspoons grated lemon zest
- Salt to taste
- Freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 4 oz. cremini mushrooms
- 4 slices rustic Italian bread
- 4 slices provolone cheese (deli sliced)
- 2 oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes
- 2 oz. Asiago cheese, thinly shaved
- Heat 2 teaspoons olive oil in a skillet. Add garlic and cook 2 minutes. Add broccoli rabe; lower the heat and cook until tender, about 5 minutes (add a little water if the pan dries out). Remove from the pan. Mix in the lemon zest. Season with salt and pepper if desired.
- In the same pan, heat 2 teaspoons oil; add the mushrooms and sauté until lightly browned. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from pan.
- Brush both sides of the bread with olive oil; rub with garlic and sprinkle with salt. Toast in a skillet (preferably cast iron). Turn them over. On one piece, place a slice of provolone, half the broccoli rabe, half the mushrooms, half the tomatoes, another slice of provolone, and half the asiago. Turn the other piece over onto the filling. Press down and cook until cheese melts.