Thursday, August 18, 2016

Comfort food: brown noodles

Ok, so if noodles implies egg noodles, this should be called brown pasta instead.  This is like rice-a-roni without the rice.   I find it comforting in the way that carbs and fats without much protein and no vegetables can be.  It is also very easy and lots of fun to make.  It is cooked like a risotto, in that you add the liquid a bit at a time.  However, it takes a lot less time than a risotto and the browning of the noodles beforehand helps to keep the noodles more al dente and gives them a great and distinctive flavor. It is the kind of thing that I make when there is nothing else in the house, or when there is wonderful stuff in the house, but these noodles are better.

The proportions below are a dinner for one or side for two or three.  You can double it if you want.  

Brown noodles


  • 2-4 ounces very thin macaroni pasta like capellini, spaghettini or angel hair
  • 1-2 tablespoons butter or olive oil
  • salt or salty seasoning (see below)
  • 1-2 cups boiling liquid (see below)
  • plenty of freshly ground black pepper
  • grated parmesan cheese and chopped parsley (optional)

  1. Break up pasta in a large bowl, which will keep pieces from flying all over the kitchen.  In terms of texture, the pieces should be about 2-3 inches long, but this makes it more difficult to handle in the skillet without burning, so you can break them into much smaller pieces of about 1/2 inch to an inch if you want.
  2. Melt butter on medium heat in an 8-inch nonstick skillet. Add the noodles and cook for about 5 minutes  stirring almost constantly to brown lightly.  Be careful not to burn.
  3. Sprinkle with salt or seasoning.
  4. Turn heat up to high and add liquid 1/2 cup at a time.  If the liquid is  boiling, it will go faster, 
  5. As the noodles absorb the liquid, add another half cup.  You don't have to measure, the dish is very forgiving and the liquid will evaporate quickly.  
  6. The noodles are done when the bend easily -- taste one to be sure.  It should not have a raw center.
  7. Sprinkle with plenty of black pepper and if desired, cheese and parsley. 

Liquid:  This would be great with a homemade stock, whether vegetable or meat.  But it is plenty good made with water.

Salty seasoning:  You could use just a large pinch of salt and plain water, but when I make this I most often use a pareve soup powder like Osem.  I am not proud of this, but it works.  

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Jake Cake: a pareve pear and chocolate cake

Last Sukkot our friend Kobi served us pareve (non-dairy) pear and pecan cake that was really good.
 Since we are always on the lookout for decent pareve desserts, it became part of our rotation.  It is easy to make, and very forgiving.   It began to morph into something rather different, driven by the affinity of pears and chocolate for each other.  If you are not in the mood for chocolate, you can leave out the chocolate and cocoa and will have something resembling the original pear cake.  But we generally prefer it with the chocolate. Since Kobi occasionally uses "Brother Jake" as a monniker, this not too distant descendant of the original cake is named for him as "Jake Cake."

Jake Cake


Fruit and sugar layers
  • 3-4 firm pears
  • 3-4 ounces bittersweet or semi-sweet pareve chocolate, chopped
  • 1 cup pecans (ideally raw halves, but toasted bits are acceptable too)
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar
  • 3 T cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoon cinnamon, preferably Ceylon
  • 1-3 tablespoons vegetable oil

Wet ingredients:
  • 2 beaten eggs
  • 7 ounces (volume) white sugar
  • 2/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 3 ounces apple or orange juice or almond or coconut milk
  • 2 tsp vanilla

Dry ingredients
  • 1.5 cups flour
  • pinch salt
  • 2 tsp baking powder

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 
  2. Oil or spray a 8 x 13 or similar sized baking dish. 
  3. Peel and quarter pears, remove cores, and slice thin and place in bottom of casserole.
  4. Combine brown sugar, cocoa and cinnamon in a small bowl (best done with your fingers).
  5. Mix the wet ingredients in one bowl, and the dry ingredients in another 
  6. Mix dry and wet ingredients, stirring lightly to combine to make a batter. Do no overmix.
  7. Top pears with half of the brown sugar mixture, and top with chopped chocolate and half the pecans.
  8. Pour on the batter.  This is best done by spooning on dollops of the batter on top of the other ingredients, and then smoothing them together with a plastic spatula.
  9. Top with the remaining pecans.
  10. Drizzle 1 tablespoon of the oil onto the remaining brown sugar mixture, and mix together with your hands until it is dark brown and shiny.  Add up to 2 additional tablespoons of oil if necessary. Sprinkle this over the ingredients in the pan.
  11. Bake 40-55 minutes, testing with sharp knife or skewer to see that it comes out clean. (Or at least relatively clean -- no batter should adhere, but chocolate doesn't matter.) The precise timing depends on the shape and size of the pan and the exact temperature of your oven and the ingredients. 
  12. Serves 12, and is very nice warm with vanilla ice cream or coconut sorbet. 

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Moroccan brisket, fartaytscht und farbessert

I posted an earlier, somewhat easier version of this recipe here.  Sometimes, though, it you are going to take on a brisket, which can be a formidable challenge to both wallet and health, you should really do it the best way possible, so I urge you to try it this way.  It is slightly but not much more difficult and basically just adds a browning step, but it is much much better.  We had it for Shabbat dinner
over Pesach and everyone agreed that it was worth the effort, which was my effort in any case.  I make this with a smaller cut of meat, which serves 6.  You can increase the quantity as long as you have a large covered roaster that will hold it in one layer.  I cooked it in a very large dutch oven.

Moroccan-style brisket

  • 3-4 pounds brisket, preferably second cut, or deckel
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 4 large onions, halved and sliced
  • 4-6 cloves garlic, sliced
  • salt, about 1 teaspoon
  • pinch baking soda, optional
  • Spice mix: 1 teaspoon  fine, freshly ground black pepper, 1.5 teaspoons ground ginger (fresh is very un-Moroccan), 1. teaspoons ground cinnamon, 1 teaspoon ground cumin,  1 teaspoons of Aleppo or Kirmiz pepper (or a mixture of sweet and hot paprika, since the other peppers are probably not available kosher for Pesach)
  • 20 pitted dates
  • 2 oranges, cut into eighths
  • 12 ounces merguez sausage  (available K for P)
  • 1/4 cup orange juice or water
  • 4-6 carrots, cleaned and cut into 2-3 inch lengths
  1. Preheat oven to 275 degrees.
  2. Dry the meat, heat the oil in a large casserole, and brown the meat in the oil on both sides.  It will probably take around 15 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, slice the onions and garlic and make the spice mixture.
  4. When the meat is brown, remove and set aside, and add the onions to the fat in the pan.  Add the salt, and the pinch of baking soda (which will help them to brown more quickly).  Cook for about 10 minutes on medium until most of the liquid evaporates and the onions begin to brown.
  5. Add garlic and saute for another minute.
  6. Add spice mix, turn heat to low, and cook for about two minutes.  If the onions seem try, add about 1/4 cup water and deglaze the pan to dissolve the tasty crust forming.
  7. Put the brisket back in the pan, and distribute the onions so that they are more or less evenly distributed on beneath and on top of the meat.
  8. Surround meat with the dates and oranges (and if you like them super tender, the carrots),  cover the casserole, and let it heat for about 5 minutes.
  9. Put the casserole in the oven and cook for two hours.
  10. While the meat is cooking cut the merguez sausage and brown in a skillet.
  11. Set aside, pour out the fat, and deglaze with the orange juice or water  Cook until reduced by around half.  
  12. Taste the brisket for salt and add a bit more if needed, remembering that the merguez will add more salt. 
  13. Top the brisket with the carrots, the merguez pieces, pour in the juice, cover and bake for another 1.5 to 2 hours until the meat is tender.
  14. To serve, slice the meat across the grain on the bias. Place on a large deep platter and surround with dates, carrots, merguez and orange pieces. Taste the juices for salt and add a bit if necessary. If there are lots of juices and they are very thin, reduce them a bit, and pour over the meat. 
  15. Serve with rice, quinoa, couscous or mashed potatoes to around 6 people or 4 teens.  This is also nice with some harissa or even Sriracha for those who like it spicy. 
This can be made in advance, but my preference is not to slice the meat until after you reheat it. Otherwise, it just takes like leftovers.

The meat:  Best for this is a nice fatty cut, like 2nd cut brisket or deckel.  I have made it with first cut brisket to my regret-- it is really too dry.  Your cardiologist will not approve, but how often do you eat brisket?  You might as well enjoy it.  If you can find beef cheeks, they would also probably work well in this recipe, though I have never cooked with them.  If it does end up dry, which may happen if you use a first cut, be particularly careful in the slicing.  Use a very long, very sharp carving knife, hold the meat down firmly with a large fork, and carve of thin (I am talking 1/8 inch here) about 20 degrees off the horizontal,  You will end up with large thin slices.  Topped with the juices, you will be able to pretend that they are not dry.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Cabbage with lamb pancetta and cumin -- cooking from the fridge on a snow day

Successful cooking from the pantry and refrigerator is a function of what you have in them.  A few six packs (which we don't have) and some sour milk (which we almost always do) doesn't get you to far.  The snow storm was a bit of a snooze, but were able to console ourselves with cabbage cooked with lamb pancetta in what I imagine is something of an Uzbek style, seasoned with cumin, red pepper and garlic.  All you need is lamb pancetta, cabbage, cumin, Maras biber, scallions and soy in your fridge or pantry.  Not such a stretch, right?

Sauteed cabbage, this time with lamb pancetta

  • 1-2 ounces lamb pancetta or bacon (or the regular kind if you eat it)
  • 1/2 teaspoon whole cumin seed
  • large pinch Aleppo or Maras pepper
  • 5-6 scallion, about 1/4-1/2 cup when trimmed and sliced
  • 1 pound green cabbage (about 1/2 a medium head), remove core and cut into 1-inch wide strips
  • 1 clove sliced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon Bragg's aminos or soy sauce

  1. Cut the lamb pancetta into fine dice.  If it is already thinly sliced into rounds, cut into thirds crosswise and then shred.
  2. Fry the pancetta over medium low heat until much of the fat is rendered out, and what remains is crisp.  Keep and eye on it so that the fat doesn't smoke and burn.  This should take between 5 and 10 minutes.
  3. Removed the cracklings with a slotted spoon, leaving the fat in the skillet.
  4. Add the cumin and saute on medium-low until they darken slightly.  Add the pepper and stir.  Add the scallions and saute for another 5 minutes or so until soft.
  5. Add the cabbage, and cook on medium heat for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally and turning the heat down to low if the fat starts to smoke or the cabbage starts to burn.
  6. About 10 minutes in, add the garlic.  You want it to cook but not burn.
  7. The cabbage is done when it is soft, green in some parts, and caramelized in others.  
  8. Add the Braggs or soy and cook a few minutes more.
  9. Garnish with reserved lamb cracklings and serve.

Variations: They are endless so I son't bother to list them.  Cook it in schmaltz and garnish with grieben, using salt instead of soy here.  Cook it in vegetable oil and add fresh herbs.  Dill and cabbage go great together.  See my post on Cabbage and Marriage for a number of vegetarian Indian variations, and use your imagination from there.  

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Olive oil cake with orange and chocolate for Chanukah, or anytime

Hanukah foods are those fried in oil or cooked with copious amounts of oil, especially olive oil, in memory of the miracle of the Temple lamp with one day's worth of oil that burned for eight days.  The story is of course a bube meiseh, an attempt by the Amoraim, the Babylonian rabbis, to kasher both a holiday glorifying the Hasmonean dynasty, for which  had little love, and the Zoroastrian practice of lighting lights at the darkest time of the year, which many local Jews were adopting.  (For an intriguing discussion of this, see Judith Hauptman's article from a few years back, Shedding New Light on Chanukah.)  But who is going to complain when you get to eat lots of fried food: ricotta fritters, latkes, bimuelos, sufganiyot, fried pickles, fried mac'n'cheese, fried shoe leather even.  The frying  medium doesn't have to be olive oil, and the fat doesn't need to be used for frying.

It is in this spirit that I offer this olive oil cake recipe.  You can make it for Hanukah in acknowledgement of the story of the miracle of the oil.  You can make it for a pareve dessert after a meat meal.  It is also one of the easiest desserts around, so you can make it any time.  I based the
recipe of one that has made the rounds on the internet, using the version on 101 Cookbooks for a cake  made with spelt flour, chocolate, olive oil and rosemary.  Amy didn't care for the rosemary, so I developed this orange-flavored version instead.  She has given up desserts (to spectacular effect), but I liked this version so much that I keep making it.  In addition to changing the flavoring, I made it pareve through the use of almond milk and orange juice and lightened it up a bit.  I prefer to make it in a springform pan, since If ind that when cooked in a loaf pan, it is hard to cook it evenly since some of the dough trapped between the copious chunks of chocolate files to cook.

Olive oil cake with orange and chocolate

  • 3/4 cup spelt flour
  • 1 1/2 cups unbleached white flour
  • 3/4 cups sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt (this will produce a cake with a slight, but noticeably salty edge; cut back to 1/2 teaspoons if you are not salinophiles)
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 1/4 cups olive oil
  • 1/4 cup fresh squeezed orange juice
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened almond milk (or other nut or coconut milk)
  • grated rind of two oranges
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 6 ounces of bittersweet chocolate (I used Scharffenberger's 70%, which is pareve)
  • 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Sift together the flours, sugar, baking powder and salt into a medium bowl.
  3. Beat the eggs in a large bowl.  Beat in the oil, juice, almond milk, grated orange rind and vanilla.  
  4. Pour the wet ingredients on top of the dry and stir with one or two good strokes, just to combine.  
  5. Cut the chocolate into irregular chunks with a knife on a cutting board.  Part of the charm of this cake is the differently sized pieces of chocolate.  
  6. Mix the chocolate into the batter.
  7. Spray a 10 inch spring form pan with Baker's Joy, or other baking spray of emulsified oil and flour.  (If you don't have any, oil and flour the pan.)
  8. Sprinkle the brown sugar on top.
  9. Bake in the middle of the oven for 35-45 minutes.  Begin testing at 35 minutes -- it is done when a toothpick or skewer comes out clear.  
  10. Broil for about 2 minutes to melt the sugar and give it a nice crunch.  Watch carefully, since it can burn very quickly, and shut it early if necessary.
  11. Cool on a rack before serving.  This cake will keep for several days at room temperature, wrapped in foil.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Cooking at Wilch Hall #3: Just Plain Rice

Now that you know how to cook vegetables, you need something to serve with them.  The logical, and one of the cheapest choices, is rice.

The ability to make rice is a basic survival skill.  I am sure that during your time in Wilch Hall you are all trying to make your dollars go as far as they can.  And, if you don't need this skill this year, you certainly will next year when you face either the job market or graduate school.

As essential as it is to be able to make rice,  it is paradoxically both a cinch, and something that a lot of people get wrong.  I wish I had a dollar for each time I was served a bowl of poorly cooked rice, that is either overcooked and mushy, or undercooked with a hard core, or both had and mushy at the same time.  I could never figure out how people achieve that one.  There is no need to resort to Minute Rice.  You don't need a rice cooker. And ignore the directions on the bags which generally call for too much water. (So, shockingly, did the article in the New York Times on preparing rice this past July.)  Just follow these directions, which is a much easier version of Pierre Franey's method that was published back in the 1970s.  

The basic recipe is simply 1 part rice to 1.5 parts water.  That is basically it.  But if you need a little handholding, here goes:

Just plain rice:
  • Boil water in a kettle. Tea kettles are best for this.
  • Measure the  rice and put it in a pot a pot (for 2 cups rice a 3 quart pot should be sufficient) with a tight fitting lid. Ideally, use a dry scoop measure for this.
  • When the water boils, measure it (in a liquid measure, ideally pyrex) and pour it over the rice.  If you use 2 cups rice, 3 cups of water.  Give the pot a little shake so that the rice doesn't lie in a clump. Stir a bit if you have to.
  • Heat on high until the water comes to the boil again.  
  • Cover the pot and turn heat down to very low, and cook for 17 minutes.  It won't suffer if you forget about it and it goes for longer, but don't burn it.  
  • Let it sit off the heat for 5 minutes, or longer, and serve.
  • Makes enough for 4-5.
Details, details:

The rice:  a long grain like Carolina, Jasmine, or a cheap store brand is fine.  I advise against using this method for white basmati rice, which has to be handled differently. You may find yourself buying in quantity, in which case you should store it in a container with a bay leaf or two to keep the cereal bugs away.
Salt?: No need, no matter what they tell you. Rice is the stage on which the other food performs. Simple is better, especially with Asian foods. The food that you eat with the rice will provide the seasoning. If you are really hard up and don't have any food to go on top of the rice, you can always salt it after you cook it. 

The pot:  make sure that it is large enough or it will boil over, since the rice expands when you cook it.  The important thing is that it has a lid that fits.  

Cleaning up:  The rice will stick to the pot.  The easiest way to clean it are to soak the empty pot in cold water (with no soap).  For some reason, this makes it easier to clean up after coooking starchy foods cooked without fat.  

If you have almost nothing in the house and want a quick dinner:  Melt butter on the rice and add cheese to melt, tomato sauce (or salsa) if you want.  A fried sunny-side egg is good on this.  A fried egg is also good on plain rice with some soy sauce and if you have, scallions.  Yogurt on rice is a classic, and the Ayatollah Khomeini ate it every day for lunch.  (Better than Richard Nixon's cottage cheese with ketchup. Best of all not to talk about what Hubert Humphrey would eat.)  Make sure you use plain yogurt and season with salt and pepper, and if you have garlic and/or mint.  Full-fat yogurt is best in this, but lower fat versions are ok as well.  This is especially good with goat yogurt, if you can find it.  (They carry it at Trader Joe's.)

Leftovers:  Put in a microwave safe bowl, cover with paper towel, and zap a minute or so until hot.  Or make fried rice
Not so plain rice

This is ever so slightly fancier, and is more suitable with European or American style dishes rather than soupy or stewy stuff.  
  • Make just as you would make plain rice, but before you add the rice to the pot, put in 1-2 tablespoons of the fat of your choice (vegetable oil, butter, schmaltz, rendered lamb tail fat -- whatever moves you) and heat it on low.  Put in a bay leaf or two (this is optional, but bay and rice are made for each other), and warm in the fat.  
  • Add the rice and turn the heat up to medium.  Stir for about a minute, until the rice turns an opaque white.  It shouldn't brown. 
  •  Add the boiling water (or other liquid like stock or broth if you want to be really fancy).  Add salt, between 1/2 and 1 teaspoon per cup of rice. Use more with plain water, less if you are using broth or you will be serving the rice with highly seasoned food.
  • As soon as the water comes back to the boil (it will be quicker than with plain rice since the rice is already hot) cover the pot and finish as above.

Plain brown rice

The nutritional advantages  of brown rice have been overrated.  However, you may find yourselves called upon to serve it in a college setting.  follow the plain rice version, using a brown basmati rice.  Cook for 35 minutes and let rest for at least 5.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Feisty old lady

This cocktail was devised by Maya Divack and Sarah Zarrow on the Cape in August. One of the motivations is that Sarah is allergic to juniper and cannot drink gin, often the strong spirit paired with sparkling wine in this kind of cocktail.  See for example, the Sybil, a Downton Abbey cocktail.  I associate gin and champagne-based cocktails with aristocratic young ladies with too much time on their hands.  With bourbon and a less expensive sparkler, I think it becomes a Feisty Old Lady instead.

There was some dispute about the name.  Maya wanted the Weasel, for reasons which need not be enumerated here.  The crowd consensus, however, was Feisty Old Lady.  In addition to the associations mentioned above,  Amy's cousin Cynthia recently published a mystery novel called Feisty Old Ladies.  So, this cocktail is a tribute to Cynthia as well.

Regarding the ingredients, use a bourbon that you like to drink, though it need not be a super expensive one.  St. Germain is a French elderflower liqueur. It requires a bit of an investment, but is worth it if you have any taste for aromatic cocktails.  Lavender syrup is simple to make, and lavender can be found in many spice and health food stores.  For sparkling wine, we usually use a dry cava or Prosecco;  you could use a French or Californian as well.  Unless your resources are infinite, drink Champagne straight.

I will give three variations:  one for a single drink, to be served in a Champagne flute that can easily be multiplied to serve two.  The other two will be for crowds of about 10 --  one to be served in individual flutes, the other as a pitcher drink, less elegant but far easier, and what is pictured here. 

Feisty Old Lady
For a single serving:

Stir with ice in a cocktail shaker for about 30 seconds (stirring rather than shaking has nothing to do with not bruising the spirits;  it results in less dilution, which is important when the cocktail will be cut with relatively low-alcohol sparkling wine):
  • 1.5 ounces bourbon
  • 1 ounce St Germain
  • 1.5  tablespoon  (=.75 ounce) lavender syrup
  • 2 dashes aromatic bitters (like Angostura or something better.
Strain into a champagne flute and top off with well-chilled sparkling wine, about 3-4 ounces depending on the size of your flute. A nice, but not essential touch, is to chill the flute in the freezer first.

For about 10 servings:

To serve in flutes:

Stir with ice in a large cocktail shaker or 1/2 gallon pitcher for about 1 minute:
  • 15 ounces bourbon
  • 10 ounces St Germain
  • 1 cup lavender syrup
  • 20 dashes bitters
Strain into another pitcher, and then distribute roughly equally between 10 champagne flutes.  Top off with well-chilled dry sparkling wine.  You will use about 1.5 bottles.

To serve as a pitcher drink:

In a large pitcher, about 1 gallon, stir the first 4 ingredients with plenty of ice for about 30 seconds.  Add 1.5 bottles of sparkling wine. Serve in rocks glasses over more ice.

To make lavender syrup:  Boil 1 cup of water in a small saucepan.  Add 3 tablespoons dried lavender.  Turn heat down and simmer, covered, for about 5 minutes.  Add 1 cup sugar and still until completely dissolved.  Turn off the heat and let cool.  Strain into a jar or bottle before using.  This will keep a few weeks, but will eventually get moldy.

A question of proportion:  This will make a floral, slightly sweet drink.  If it is too intense, add a little more wine.  If you want something stiffer, more bourbon.  If you want more sweetness and flowers, St Germain and/or lavender syrup.  If you are a laid back host, you will have the ingredients available and let the guests make any adjustments they want. 

Monday, September 1, 2014

Cooking at Wilch Hall #2: Indian Green Beans with Harry

You can only imagine how happy I was when Harry said that he wanted some spices to bring back to school, and some quick cooking lessons so that he would know what to do when he settled in at Wilch Hall. In some families, male bonding consists in going out to the wilds together and firing guns at birds and mammals.  In others, it is going to ball games.  For us, it is eating lunch at an Indian restaurant and shopping for spices together at Foods of India and Kalustyan's my two favorite stores in Curry Hill in Manhattan.  Then, that evening, under my guidance, Harry made chicken shawarma (no recipe necessary:  just dredge chicken cutlets in shawarma spice mix and saute in a little oil until done), cabbage salad with zaatar , a simple tahini sauce, and these not so simple green beans.  The green beans were an instantiation of the general method for cooking vegetables, Indian-style, which was my first installment on cooking in Wilch Hall.  This recipe is a concrete illustration of how it can be done.  No excess verbiage here (at least not too much),  no choices and options, just the facts:

Harry's Indian Green Beans


  • 1.5 pounds fresh green beans, washed
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • salt
  • 1 inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • dash of cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 cup water
  • juice 1/2 lemon
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh coriander (wash it well please, it can be sandy)
  • sprinkling (about 1/4 teaspoon) of garam masala, if available;  if not use a little black pepper
  1. Trim the green beans: you can either snap off the stem ends individually, which involves less waste, or stack them in piles of 10 or so beans and cut off each end of the stack.  This goes more quickly, but involves more waste.  Cut the beans in half.
  2. Heat the oil on high in a large skillet for about 30 seconds, and add the whole cumin seeds.  
  3. Cook the cumin seeds on high  until they start to change color, but be careful not to  burn.  Add the turmeric and stir in.
  4. Immediately add the onions, salt lightly, and cook for about 5 minutes on high until soft. Add the garlic and ginger and cook another few minutes until the aroma changes.
  5. Turn the heat down to medium low and add the ground coriander and cumin.  Cook for about 3 minutes stirring occasionally until the spices lose their raw aroma.  
  6. Add the green beans, turn heat back up to high, sprinkle with a little more salt, and stir and fry for 3-5 minutes until the beans look glossy.
  7. Cover the skillet and cook for 5-10 more minutes until done to taste.  (Indian spiced veggies are often overcooked by contemporary American Northeastern and California standards.  They are practically raw by Southern standards.)
  8. Uncover, boil off most of the remaining liquid, and then add the final seasonings:  lemon, coriander and garam masala.
  9. Enjoy!  Serves about 5 with other dishes, and is good hot, cold or room temperature.

Silk Road Smash

A smash is a julep-like drink, and this is very much like a mint julep, only tastier.  There is no better libation to use to console yourself at the end of summer than a Silk Road Smash.

I got this recipe from Robin Gross, a San-Francisco based intellectual property lawyer and ED of IP Justice, an NGO which works for a more balanced international IP regime.  We met at the Internet Governance Forum in Rio in 2008, and are Facebook friends.  It is funny how many of my contacts come from a brief period of work on IP reform a number of years ago.

Robin posted a picture of this cocktail with ingredients, and when I saw it I had to make it. I was glad that I did.   It is tart, juicy refreshing, beautiful to look at, and quite potent.  Below is Robin's recipe for a single serving, which I have adapted, and following that a pitcher drink version that I served on the Cape to 10 people.

Silk Road Smash

For a few drinks (this quantity serves one;  you can multiply to serve up to four(:
  • 8-12 blackberries
  • 12 leaves mint, torn with a few more for garnish
  • 2-3  teaspoons cardamom syrup (see below)
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 2 ounces bourbon
  • 2 dashes aromatic bitters, like Angostura (or cardamom bitters if you have)
  • ice
  • soda water (optional)


  • Muddle the blackberries and mint in a cocktail shaker. Add lemon juice and syrup and muddle a bit more.
  • Add bourbon and bitters and stir. 
  • Fill the shaker with ice, and shake for about 30 second.
  • Fill an old-fashioned glass with more ice, and strain the smash into the glass.  garnish each with two blackberries and a few mint leaves. 
  • Serve and enjoy.  If anyone finds the drink too strong you can serve it in a high ball glass and top it off with some soda.

Pitcher drink version for a crowd:

  • 1  pint blackberries
  • 1 bunch mint, most of the leaves torn and about 20 reserved for garnish 
  • 1/2 cup cardamom syrup (see below)
  • 3 tablespoons  lemon juice
  • 20 ounces bourbon
  • 20 dashes aromatic bitters, like Angostura (or cardamom bitters if you have)
  • ice
  • soda water (optional)


  1. In a two quart pitcher, mash blackberries and mint together.  
  2. Add syrup and lemon juice and mash a bit more.
  3. Add bourbon and bitters, stir, and leave aside for about 1/2 hour.  (It is more difficult to muddle a large quantity of berries and this will allow the flavors to permeate the whiskey.)
  4. Prepare the glasses:  fill 10 old-fashioned (8 ounce short) glasses, ideally pre-chilled in the freezer, with ice.  Garnish each with 2-3 blackberries and a few mint leaves. 
  5. Add ice to the pitcher with the smash ingredients and stir for 30 seconds.
  6. Strain the smash into another large pitcher filled with ice.
  7. To serve, pour the smash into the cocktail glasses, trying not to disturb the garnish.  Don't worry too much because after a sip no one will care. Serve with soda water for those who find it too stiff.

Cardamom syrup:  In a small pot, boil 1 cup of water and add 25 cardamom pods, smashed. Simmer for about 15 minutes on low heat, covered to prevent evaporation.  Add 1 cup sugar, raise heat to medium and cook until the sugar is dissolved.  Let stand until cool, and then strain into a clean jar and store in the refrigerator. If you don't have time to make it in advance, you can chill it by setting the pot in a pan of ice and stirring until the syrup is cold.  This syrup can be used in lots of cocktails and is worth having on hand.  It is even good over vanilla ice cream or drizzles on a dish of orange segments or sliced peaches or nectarines.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Cooking at Wilch Hall, #1: Indian vegetables

"Dad, where did you get the 'Hall' from, it's just Wilch."

So says Harry, who is living this year in Wilch, a residence at Cornell College (Iowa, not Ithaca).  I prefer to call it Wilch Hall, which reminds me of Wolf Hall and has a nice Tudor or Renaissance ring to it.  So, I will refer to it as Wilch Hall in this and future postings.

He will be sharing the apartment with his friends Brennen, Margo, Tommy and Trevor.  Each floor is a separate apartment, including a living room and a kitchen.  The kitchen is a tremendous perk for students who have been eating dorm food for three years, and Harry is very keen at the prospect of not having to eat dinner in Commons. I am concerned that he and his apartment-mates not waste this golden opportunity to eat well and to acquire cooking skills that will last them a lifetime  and help them to survive, even in the most poorly paying professions.

The recipes that will be included in this and other posts are about method, so ingredients and quantities vary widely.  They are also all derivative.  They are digested and synthesized from cookbooks, friends, cooking shows and long years experience.  They are the kinds of things that we make at home, and are intended to give the Wilch Hall-ites some guidance if they get tired of treyfe hot dogs or pasta with jarred tomato sauce.

We will start at the beginning with a sabzi, or Indian vegetable dish.  This first post is a generic method that has infinite variations and can be used with a wide variety of vegetables and spices.  Like in college, the purpose is not to give your the answers, but to help you make intelligent choices and come to defensible results based upon available resources (be they data or ingredients).   In separate posts, I will give a recipe for green beans that Harry made under my loose guidance, a generic dal (legume) recipe, and an overview of other Indian vegetable dishes on this blog along with some links.  I have also given some links to other recipes in the vegetable prep section below.

Basic method for Indian vegetables (Sabzi)

This can be used for most any vegetable. The quantities given are for about 1.5-2 pounds of vegetable. Tips for prepping a few different vegetables will come at the end, as well as suggestions for some classic combos. The process is divided between three phases:  cooking the masala, or spicing, at the beginning, cooking the vegetable itself, and then the final seasoning.  Although you have to perform all three phases to get a good outcome (or at least the first two), you can pick and choose between the steps and ingredients in each phase.    Read through the entire recipe and have all your ingredients handy since things can move quickly and burn, especially when making the masala.

Make the masala

You have to heat the oil and cook some type of seasoning in it.  You can follow all of the steps below, or just choose one or two.  It is usually best to do at least one spice and one batch of seasoning vegetables.  This all  may look scary but it really isn't:

  • Heat oil in a large skillet, preferably nonstick.  Between 1 and 3 tablespoons of fat should be sufficient.  The more the tastier,  because of the way the salivary glands respond to fat and because the flavors of many spices are fat-soluble.  The choice of oil can result in subtle differences in the result.  Make sure that the oil is suitable for cooking at high temperatures, which olive oil, butter, and roasted sesame oil are not. You can use a generic vegetable oil (canola, corn, safflower, soy or "vegetable") or a different oil for a special regional flavor.  Sesame oil  (Indian sesame oil is lightly roasted, richer than the health food oil but much lighter than East Asian dark brown sesame oil which should not be used) is used in the South, as is coconut oil.  Mustard seed oil gives a special Bengali flavor, but I don't expect you to be able to find this so easily.  If you can find it, heat it until almost smoking and then let it cook a bit before cooking.  Ghee (Indian-style clarified butter) is common in Northern India.  Though I don't expect you to make it yourself, you can sometimes find it in supermarkets and even at Trader Joe's.
  • When the oil is hot, add approximately 1/2 - 1 teaspoon whole spice seeds.  Most popular are cumin, mustard seeds, and fennel.  A classic seasoning combo is cumin and mustard seeds, adding ginger and green chili later. You can also use fenugreek (use very sparingly, 5 or so seeds should be enough),  kalonji (black onion seed) or ajwain (a small seed that looks like celery seed but tastes like thyme), though these are more esoteric.  Cook until they turn a few shades darker, but be careful not to burn them.  The mustard seeds will pop.  When they sit on the stove they look a bit like cockroach eggs, which may amuse guests.  You probably want to clean your stove before any parents visit.
  • Add a whole dried red chili if you want.  Let it darken slightly.
  • If you have them, you can add 5-20 fresh curry leaves, but you probably won't have them.
  • You can add a pinch of sugar if you want your dish a little sweet (Bengali's like it that way.).  Let sizzle a few seconds.
  • Add 1/4 teaspoon turmeric now.  You can also add it later , but adding it early helps to take the raw edge off its flavor.  Let sizzle a few seconds.
  • Add some chopped onion.  It can be  few tablespoons to about a cup.  You can use red, white or yellow (i.e. plain old) onions, shallots, or scallions (white part only).  Sprinkle with salt, about 1/2 teaspoon, and cook.  You can cook these from any stage until merely soft (a few minutes) to brown at the edges and starting to crisp (a lot of seconds). 
  • Add ginger (1 inch, peeled and hand chopped or grated), garlic (between 1 and 7 cloves, sliced or chopped) and green chili  (1 or 2, seed if you want it milder, and chop).  Cook for a minute or two,  You should notice a change in the aroma from raw to cooked. 
  • If Ingrid and Elijah loan you their mini-processor, or if you happen to acquire one by other means, make a paste of 1 chopped onion, 1 inch chopped ginger, and as much smashed garlic as you would like.  Pour this into the pan and cook down on high heat for 5 to 8 minutes, stirring frequently. The aroma will change.  Although you would generally use this paste without the other onion, garlic and ginger steps (you can add a green chili before the paste), adding this paste to some browned onions will result in a very special dish.)
  • Turn the heat down and add ground spices, especially turmeric (1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon if you haven't used it yet), cumin (1 teaspoon, a little goes a long way especially if you have used whole seeds) and coriander (1 to 3 teaspoons).  A teaspoon of ground mustard can also be nice, especially with green beans. Use some sugar if you do this. Cook slowly for 3 to 5 minutes, stirring constantly so the spices don't burn),  until the spices lose their raw aroma.
  • Add tomato if you want.  This can be 1 tablespoon of tomato paste, a chopped fresh tomato or two (a nice Mexican trick it to cut a slice off the top of a large tomato and grate it straight into the pan -- the skin will stay behind) or between 1/4 cup and a cup of chopped canned tomatoes.  Cook these about 5 minutes more.  Unless you use the paste, turn the heat up again.

Cook the vegetable

  • Add  prepared vegetable.
  • Sprinkle with more salt if you like things salty.
  • Cook in the masala for a few minutes, stirring, on medium to high.
  • If you want, add water or a little coconut milk, about 1/2 cup. Bring to a simmer.
  • Cook until done to taste.  Times vary.  You can cover it and lower the heat, which requires less attention, or leave it uncovered.  Uncovered requires attention and more frequent stirring, but can result in a nice pan-roasted flavor.

Final seasoning

  • Although you should always taste and correct for salt, the final seasoning process is like making the masala. You can do one, some or all of the following:
  • Taste for salt and add more if needed.
  • Add a teaspoon or so of lemon or lime juice.  (Tamarind is another souring agent but probably not readily available.)
  • Stir in some chopped fresh cilantro or another suitable herb (which may on rare occasion be dill or mint).
  • Sprinkle with a finishing spice: garam masala or ground, roasted cumin seed.
  • Sprinkle a bit more fresh herb on the top.


Vegetable prep and some classic combos:

This list is not exhaustive, and is just to get you started.

Beets:  Peel beets and dice. Clean your hands with lemon juice or someone may mistake you for an axe murderer.   Great with whole cumin seed, chopped onion, garlic and ginger, ground coriander, tomatoes, and fresh mint.    Also nice simply cooked with mustard seed, ginger, garlic and chili.  Raw beets can take a while to cook.  You can also get a large beet, peel and grate it, and stir fry it with mustard seeds and other seasoning, which will go very quickly. If you want, you can use precooked beets, especially those sold vacuum packed in the supermarkets.

Cabbage:  simple is better.  Clean the cabbage by removing the outer leaves.  Shred. Try it with whole cumin, a bit of turmeric and onion or with mustard seed, ginger, chili and turmeric.  Cook until just done or until well brown.

Carrots:  Peel and cut into 1/2 inch pieces.  Use whole cumin or a combo of cumin and mustard seed with ginger and chili, and a bit of turmeric.  Lemon juice and dill at the end.  Or you can do carrots and peas, using whole cumin seed and adding frozen peas at the end (cook until they defrost).  Substitute coriander for the dill.

Cauliflower:  this is a real classic.  I particularly like it with roasted cauliflower. Two of my favorites are cauliflower with mushrooms and tomatoes and cauliflower with eggs.  Clean the cauliflower by washing it, cutting off any brown spots, removing the leaves and core and separating into florets.  Dont' throw out the core or leaves, which are good in the pot.  The ribs of the leaves are particularly succulent. Just trim off the hard parts of the core and cut it up into 1/2 inch pieces.

Eggplant:  Cut in cubes, and if you want roast it first.  Toss in oil and roast in a 425 oven for about 20 minutes.  Then make with either mustard or cumin seeds, onion/garlic/ginger, and tomato.  Fresh coriander at the end.  This is also very good with fennel seed.

Green beans:  recipe to follow soon, but these are great from the simplest (just mustard seed, ginger/green chili, lemon juice and fresh coriander at the end to a very elaborate dish.  Excellent with a sprinkling of garam masala or roasted cumin.

Peas:  Frozen is generally ok.  You can defrost by running in a colander under cold water, or just adding them frozen to a dish with other vegetables.  Peas love cumin and onion.  They also cook quickly.

Potatoes:  You can wash and boil or bake potatoes until just tender and then peel and finish using seasoning above cook, or use whole very small potatoes, scrubbed, and cook them raw, whole or halved with whole spice seeds.   Combo of fennel, mustard and cumin is great, with a bit of ginger and chili if you want.  Cook covered until potatoes are tender.  Fresh coriander almost a must.

Winter squash:  Peel and dice about 1/2 inch cubes.  Cook covered with mustard seed, turmeric, green chili and add fresh coriander at the end.  Also good with some grated coconut (reconstitute dried coconut by soaking in boiling water about 15 minutes, and then just add it toward the end).  If you are going to use kalonji, now is the time.

Zucchini or other summer squash:  It can be a good idea to soak these since the can be sandy.  They will go with almost any combination that you want to try, simple or elaborate.  Try to brown in the skillet if you can.