Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Not cassoulet, just lamb and beans

This isn't cassoulet.  It may be better.  It isn't cholent either. It takes time but not much effort and no hard-to-find ingredients.  It is perfect for a Sunday evening meal, or even a Friday evening. You can leave it to cook while you are toodling around the house.  It can sit in the oven for hours on low either before or after you do the bread crumb topping.

The inspiration for this was twofold.  One is the pre-Pesach purge.  We had some presoaked frozen limas in the fridge, as well as some lamb neck, and I couldn't think of anything better to do with them, perhaps because there isn't.  The other is my father reminiscing about how his mother used to stew limas with meat bones.  You could also use other beans, but the lima was my grandmother's preferred bean.  She also rarely cooked lamb, and I am pretty sure that she never cooked with rosemary, but this dish still tastes like someone's grandmother made it.

What this dish is is REALLY good.  There is something about he combination of meat fat and gelatin and tender beans that is deeply satisfying, particularly on a chilly day accompanied by some red wine.  The quantities below will serve 4-6, though the recipe could be halved or doubled. You could also cook it on 325 for a total of 90 minutes to 2 hours, but slow and steady is  better.

Lamb with Beans

  • 1 pound large white lima beans or gingantes, washed and soaked overnight (see below)
  • 1-2 pounds meaty lamb bones, like neck
  • 1-2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large or 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 2 anchovy filets (optional but desirable)
  • 1/4  to 1/2 teaspoon Aleppo pepper (optional but desirable)
  • 4 sprigs rosemary
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/4 cup breadcrumbs
  1. Preheat oven to 250 degrees and bring some water to the boil.
  2. Heat olive oil, reserving about 2 teaspoons,  in  a 4-quart oven safe casserole, dry the lamb, and saute on all sides until nicely browned.  Remove lamb to a dish.
  3. Saute the onions in the oil until they begin to brown, then chop the garlic coarsely, add to the pot and saute on low about a minute.  Add the anchovy filets and the Aleppo pepper and mash the anchovy until it becomes a paste.  
  4. Add about a cup of water to the pot and deglaze until the brown bits on the pot have dissolved.
  5. Return the lamb to the pot, add the beans, and barely cover with boiling water.  Tuck the rosemary sprigs into the pot and season with salt and pepper. 
  6. Bring to the simmer, cover and put in the oven for two hours.
  7. Uncover, correct salt and pepper, and put it back for another one or two hours, depending on how tender the lamb and beans are and how much liquid you want.  If you leave it for the full two hours much of the liquid will evaporate and the beans on top will begin to become crusty.
  8. Mix together the bread crumbs, parsley, and the remaining cloves of garlic, chopped fine.  Spring on top of the meat and beans, and return to the oven for 15 minutes to a half hour or even more.  If the bread crumbs are not brown, turn on the broiler for a few minutes, but watch it carefully, since you do not want to burn the bread crumbs or the garlic.  
  9. Serves 4 - 6 with a nice red wine, some salad and maybe some bread.  
The beans: As I mention above, in my grandmother's house it was almost always limas, unless it was cholent and some red kidney beans might sneak in.  You could also make this with another white bean such as great northern or navy.  Gigantes, the giant Greek limas, would be excellent, though they are more expensive.  Beans really don't need to be soaked overnight.  As Barbara Kafka has remarked, beans are legumes, and not phantoms, and there is nothing magical about the nighttime.  (Well, maybe there is, but not as far as beans are concerned.)  Just rinse them and soak them in water for 4-8 hours.  Time does not necessarily equal effort.  Once you have soaked beans, you can drain and freeze them so that they are ready on shorter notice.  

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Zapped banana

I should probably tweet this rather than blog it, but here goes:

Take one banana and microwave for 30-45 seconds on high, depending on the power of the ovens. (Newer and larger ovens are more powerful, and use less time.)

Peel and eat.

The results are actually rather comforting.  Sort of like a warm banana pudding.  Perfect for a rainy day.



Pasta with preserved lemons, garlic and chili

This is not a healthy dish.  I never thought that the pasta would be a concern and the quantity of butter no big deal, but this is apparently where we stand in terms of today's health wisdom.  But it is real good.  So enjoy it from time to time.

The recipe is based on a combination mentioned by Mario Batali in an interview once, and I took it for a few test drives and came up with that lies beneath.  The quantities of salty ingredients are variable.  The larger quantity makes for a more hard-hitting, assertive dish.  It is considerably milder but still quite tasty.  Serve this with an acidic wine.  I think it is better with red, so my first choice would be a Pinot Noir or  an Austrian Blaufrankisch.  It would  also go well with an dry Riesling or Sauvignon Blanc.  If the wine lacks acidity, it will come off as sweet, heavy and syrupy in combination with the preserved lemons, while the high acid wines are mellowed and compliment the dish perfectly.

This recipe serves four, and could easily be called Pasta with Forty Cloves of Garlic.  I find that it is easier to cook the garlic in a larger quanitity, but you can adjust the proportions for one or two servings.

Pasta with Preserved Lemons, Garlic and Chili


  • 1 pound tubular pasta such as penne
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 40 cloves of garlic, peeled (pre-peeled garlic is fine)
  • 2-4 large preserved lemons (preferably homemade, store-bought acceptable)
  • 2-4 anchovies 
  • 2-8 pickled chilis (these vary widely, I use Roland, which are about 2 inches long and  1/4 inch wide)
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 cup freshly grated parmesan or grana Padano


  1. Bring a large (4-6 quart) pot of water to boil  (This is the first thing you should do when you get home if you are even contemplating making past, not that people do this much anymore.)  Salt the water more lightly than you might for pasta ordinarily since it will be dressed with salty ingredients, about 2 tablespoons for this quantity of water.
  2. Put the garlic and seven tablespoons of butter in a small pot on medium heat.  When the butter melts, turn heat down to medium low and allow to simmer for about 20 minutes.  You want the garlic to brown very lightly, but be careful that it does not burn.
  3. Pour the garlic  and butter through a coarse strainer into a medium skillet.  Transfer the garlic to a cutting board. It will crisp up a bit as it cools.  
  4. Remove the pulp from the preserved lemons, and sliver the peel.
  5. Put the pasta into the boiling water.  Depending on more variables than I can list here, it will probably take between 8 and 10 minutes.  
  6.  Put the slivered preserved lemon into the skillet with the butter and saute on medium heat until lightly brown.  Be careful that the butter, which will contain some brown residue, does not burn.
  7. Add the chopped chili to the pan and saute a minute.
  8. Add the anchovy filets and mash into a paste.
  9. Slice the garlic. and add to the pan with the other ingredients.  Add the parsley and cook for about 30 seconds.  You don't want to cook it but you don't want it to be quite raw either.
  10. Scoop out a coffee cup of pasta water and set aside. 
  11. Drain the pasta and put it into a warmed serving bowl.  Add the remaining  tablespoon of butter and half of the grated cheese.  Dump on the ingredients from the skillet and mix into the pasta.
  12. Serve quickly in warmed pasta bowls with the remaining grated cheese. 

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Roast chicken with pomegranate and za'atar

This is so easy that it almost does not qualify as a recipe.  I must have eaten or seen this somewhere before, but I am not sure where.  It takes about 10 minutes to prepare, 45 to roast.  The pomegranate seeds at the end are optional, but add a nice texture and a burst of flavor.  You can leave it to sit before you cook it but don't have to.  It is good enough for company or a Shabbat dinner and easy enough for a weeknight.  All you need is a well-stocked pantry:

Roast chicken with pomegranate and za'atar


  • 1 chicken, 3.5-4 pounds, cut into 4-8 serving pieces
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
  • 2 tablespoons za'atar (I used Galil brand)
  • 1 teaspoon sumac
  • 1-2 teaspoons Turkish red pepper (Aleppo, Maras or Kirmiz)
  • 1-3 tablespoons olive oil (more will taste better, but I used a scant tablespoon)
  • 1 large onion, quartered and sliced
  • 1/4 cup fresh pomegranate seeds


  1. Crush the garlic with the salt to form a paste.
  2. Mix in the next 4 ingredients.
  3. Drizzle in the oil to form a more or less uniform paste.
  4. Spread lightly all over the chicken pieces.
  5. Put the onion in a baking pan large enough to hold the chicken with a little room around it.  (It the  chicken is packed to close it will take longer to cook, may not brown well, and will produce too much juice.
  6. You may bake the chicken immediately, or leave it up to two hours outside of the fridge or overnight inside.  
  7. Roast in a preheated 425 degree oven for 45 minutes to an hour until done to your taste.  (The precise time will depend on many variables, including the temperature of the chicken, the size of the pieces, the real as opposed to the presumed temperature of your oven, and the size of the pan.)
  8. After removing from the oven, scatter pomegranate seeds over the top.
  9. Serves 4 along with rice or bulgur (see below) for the onions and juice from the pan.

Bulgur:  Since bulgur is precooked and dried wheat, it cooks incredibly quickly.  There are many more elaborate recipes for bulgur pilaf, and many are good, but you don't need to bother since it really doesn't need cooking, just soaking and heating.  It is very healthy and easy and I am really surprised that people don't make it more often.  To serve 4, put one cup coarse bulgur in a heat proof bowl.  Sprinkle the top with 1/2 teaspoon of salt.  Pour one cup boiling water over it, cover the dish, and leave it sit for about 20 minutes.  Heat it by covering the dish with foil and putting it in the oven for the last 20 minutes of cooking, or covering it with paper towel and zapping in the microwave for 2-3 minutes.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Uighur-style lamb stew, fartaytsht und farbessert

Regular readers of this blog (there must be at least 5 of you) will have seen the expression "fartaytsht und farbessert "  before.  I means translated into Yiddish (a Taytsh or German tongue) and improved, as in "Shakespeare, vartaytsht und farbessert."  (Readers of Kaaterskill Falls may recall the wonderful scene when an ambulance driver quotes Shakespeare to the Breuer-esque rabbi while driving him to the hospital, to have the rabbi respond, "Ach it is so much better in German.)

I have been blogging recipes for over four years and I feel like I am still getting the hang of it.  The real problem for me is what to do when I change how I cook a dish?  This happens often.  Many of the recipes of this blog are my personal favorites, and I modify them often until I get them right.   I have never really figured out if it is more appropriate to tinker with the original posting, which is what I usually seem to do, or writing a new post, which is what I am doing now.

I first posted on Uighur-style lamb stew in December 2009.  This recipe was adapted from the cookbook Beyond the Great Wall largely to make it a stew rather than a saute.  Over the years I have tinkered with it further   -- reducing the tomato, eliminating some vegetables, and modifying the technique to get this version.  It is truly farbessert.  It is also, for such an exotic sounding dish,  very straightforward and accessible.  It is not fast, but very easy -- you don't even have to brown the meat.  It requires no special techniques, ingredients or equipment, and will appeal to anyone who enjoys lamb, onions and garlic and who can appreciate the joys of meat cooked slowly on the bone.  I am minimizing the variations, notes choices and digressions that I usually include, and just giving to you how I think you should make:

Uighur-style Lamb Stew


  • 2 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil
  • 1 large onion, quartered and cut into thin slices
  • 8-10 cloves garlic (more if you want), peeled and sliced thin
  • 3-4 pounds lamb stew on the bone (I use neck)
  • 15 ounce can crushed or diced tomatoes (I use Muir's Glen fire-roasted, which are not particularly smokey but have a wonderful rich flavor)
  • 2 tablespoons dark soy sauce (or 1 tablespoon of soy, 1 of Bragg's aminos)
  • 2 sweet red peppers, cored and shredded lengthwise
  • 1 sweet green pepper, cored and shredded lengthwise
  • 8 ounces - 1 pound daikon, peeled and cut into 1/2 -3/4 inch cubes
  • 1 large or 2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2-3/4 inch cubes
  • 1 medium yellow or russet potato, washed and cut into eighths
  • 1/2 pound green beans, trimmed and halved
  • salt
  • chopped cilantro, Chinese black vinegar and Sriracha to serve (optional)
  1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.  
  2. Saute the onion with the  oil in a large 5-6 quart pot that you can use on the stovetop and in the oven. Salt it lightly to draw out the moisture. Cook on medium stirring occasionally until the onions are soft and translucent, about 5 minutes.  (It will go faster on higher heat, but you have to be careful not to scorch the onions.
  3. Add the garlic and saute gently for a few more minutes but do not let the onions or garlic brown.
  4. Add the lamb, and saute until it looses its red color, between 5-10 minutes.
  5. Add the tomatoes and the soy sauce, bring to a simmer, cover and put in the oven and cook for about 2 hours, testing after 90 minutes to see if the lamb is tender.
  6. Remove lamb from the oven, turn the temperature down to 200 degrees and bring the pot to a simmer on the stove, add the peppers and the daikon and cook for 15 minutes uncovered.
  7. Add the potatoes and carrots and cook for another 10 minutes.
  8. Pick the lamb out of the stew, put in a dish, cover  and keep warm in the oven.  Add the green beans to the stew and bring it to a boil.
  9. The green beans should be tender in about 5 minutes.  Once they are tender, remove all of the vegetables from the pot put them in a large serving dish, arrange the lamb pieces on top, cover and keep warm in the oven.
  10. Bring the heat up to very high and boil until the sauce is very thick.  Pour over the lamb and vegetables in the serving dish.  
  11. Taste for salt and add salt or soy sauce to correct seasonings. I find, esp. with kosher meat, it is plenty salty.
  12. Although best served at once, it can be kept warm, covered in the oven for up to two hours.
  13. Serve at the table with a dish of fresh chopped cilantro for people to add, and bottles of Chinese Jingiang black vinegar (you can substitute Worcestershire sauce if you must) and hot sauce.  I used to add them all, but now only use a little cilantro.
  14. Serve with or on top of some rice or some kind of noodle. We have found artisanal pasta like orrechiette (Pugliese ear-shaped pasta) or capunte to be the perfect accompaniment!  It is also good with Turkish pide or Bukharan lepeshka breads.
  15. Serves about 6, depending on the rest of the menu.
Slightly easier : You can just leave the lamb in the pot as you add all the vegetables, and not bother to boil down the sauce.  This will be soupier and should be served on top of a pasta in a Chinese soup bowl.

Degreasing:  Don't bother.  I am not even going to give this variation.  You don't eat like this so often so you won't be doing much damage.  Also, because of the bone, your actual meat consumptions in this dish won't be that large.  The lamb fat has lots of flavor.  

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Tuna salad with tahini

Slate, the online magazine, recently published an article called Mayo-phobia: Why Do Some People Hate Mayonnaise So Much?  Even more compelling was the tagline on their home page:  "Why do Jews have a problem with mayonnaise?  It begins with Milton Berle."  As this article makes clear, aversion to mayonnaise is not confined to Jews.  About 10 years ago, an article in The New Yorker discussing Pret-a-Manger  (subscriber access only) thought it was an American phenomenon, and noted that sandwiches sold in the chains British stores were far more mayo-heavy than what would sell in the US.

Be that as it may, my son, Harry, hates mayonnaise and avoids most foods that contain it.  This meant that he would not eat tuna salad or sandwiches.  While this is not necessarily a great tragedy, given the state of the fisheries and levels of mercury in tuna it is still a convenient quick lunch on occasion.  Fortunately, he discovered an acceptable way to eat tuna while spending much of the winter of 2010-2011 hiking in the Negev -- tahini.  Tahini is relatively indestructible, so it is better and safer to hike with container of tahini than an open jar of mayonnaise.  With canned tuna, some water and lemon, you have a pretty good sandwich filling.  I have adapted it a bit more, and we have it all the time now:

Tuna salad with tahini


  • 1 generous tablespoon tahini paste
  • 1/2 small lemon
  • water, about 1/4 cup
  • 2 cans tuna, preferably packed in olive oil and drained well (or even vegetable oil;  oil packed tuna is less fishy and dry than water packed)
  • optional additions: 1-2 hard boiled eggs, chopped; 1 rib celery,  chopped fine; 1/4 green pepper, chopped fine; chopped scallion or 1 tablespoon finely chopped red onion; tablespoon capers well rinsed; 1/2 preserved lemon peel, rinsed well and chopped
  • salt and pepper (white, red or black) to taste 


  1. To make the tahini dressing, put the tahini in a one quart or larger bowl; squeeze the lemon through a sieve or your fingers into the tahini.  Stir together with a fork, and you will notice that the tahini will stiffen.
  2. Begin to dribble in the water very slowly, stirring all the while.  The tahini will continue to stiffen, and will then loosen and turn into a creamy texture.  You will use about 1/4 cup of water, though the quantity varies with the tahini and the solid/oil ratio in what you scooped out.  The texture should be like a thick sauce.  (If you have ever had prepared tahini, you will know what to expect.)  The process will probably take less than a minute.
  3. Mix in the tuna, add whatever optional ingredients you want, bearing in mind that you will need less salt if you use things like capers. We generally make it with eggs, celery, red onion and green pepper.  I also like it with parsley.  The capers and preserved lemon make for a more special salad.
  4. Serves about 4 -- use as you would any standard tuna salad, but you will probably enjoy this a lot more.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Microwave ollebrod

A while ago I posted a longer, more authentic version of Danish beer and bread porridge. However, there may be times when you want to throw together some ollebrod on short notice, like when some people are dropping by and you are about to pull the leftover ollebrod out of your fridge and you can't find it because your son is home from college and he finished it at 2 a.m.  (The real reason for college vacations is to help parents keep their refrigerators clean.)   You may also feel like ollebrod for breakfast.

In desperation, I tried to make it in the microwave, and it was not bad at all.  You can cut a lot of corners and pull it off in around 15 minutes.  The results are a bit drier but still good.  The important thing is to taste it to make sure that the alcohol has cooked off.  In Denmark, they serve this to toddlers for breakfast.  You don't have to, but the raw alcohol flavor is definitely our of place.

Quick Ollebrod/Beer Bread


  • 3 slices of  brown bread  (see below)
  • 1 cup dark beer 
  • 1 inch piece orange rind, with no pith
  • spices ( your choice of a combination of small piece of  cinnamon stick, a cardamom pod, and some allspice berries or cloves -- I just used 1/2 in piece of  cinnamon and cardamom)
  • 1-2 tablespoons dried fruit (cherries, raisins or dates )
  • 1/4 cup dark brown sugar  
  • pinch salt


  1. Tear up the bread, put it in a deep one quart microwave-save dish and in soak it in hot water while you assemble the other ingredients. Drain it.
  2. Add the other ingredients and stir.
  3. Cover with a paper towel and microwave for 3 minutes.  Stir to break up the bread, cover and microwave for another 3 minutes.  
  4. Taste the porridge.  Make sure the alcohol is cooked off and that it is sweet enough. If not add a bit more sugar.  Cook 2 minutes more if necessary, covered with paper towel. (The texture should be between a porridge and a pudding.)
  5. Serve with ice cream (vanilla or salted caramel), coconut sorbet, cream or milk, depending on occasion and inclination.
  6. Serves 2-4 depending on age and appetite.
The bread:  Almost any brown, dark or whole grain  bread can be used in this, and it is a great way to use up stale bread and leftover toast (and leftover beer for that matter).  Remember that caraway rye will make the results taste like caraway, so only use a spiced bread if you want the results to have that flavor.  A coriander-flavored Russian black bread would be worth trying. I generally use a combination of black pumpernickel and whole grain seedless rye, but in the pictured dish I used only whole grain rye.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Comfort food: a quick, inauthentic asopao de pollo

Asopao is a Puerto Rican dish of soupy rice that is, eaten all over the  Spanish Caribbean.  It is sometimes translated as gumbo, but this is misleading, since okra and roux are the defining features of gumbo and this has neither.  Whatever it is, it is straightforward and comforting on a chilly night and it reminds me of Maurice Sendak's early book, Chicken Soup with Rice, which was one of our kids' favorites.

It is also a super-quick dinner.  While I generally go for hyper-authenticity rather than speed, sometimes one has to rise to the occasion and use what is on hand.  So, rather than achiote oil, which I don't have and don't care for, I used a pinch of turmeric which may or may not have a myriad of health benefits, but which we have in the house for Indian and Middle Eastern cooking.  Also,  though traditionally made with a whole chicken, skinless, boneless chicken thighs are easier and less fatty than whole chicken and juicier and tastier than breasts.   Finally, I made it with pareve soup powder, which is probably not an authentic Puerto Rican ingredient.

This takes about 45 minutes from beginning to end -- how I define quick and easy, if not everyone does.

Asopao de pollo -- Soupy chicken rice 


  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 carrot, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 rib celery, trimmed and finely chopped
  • 6 cloves garlic, finely sliced
  • large pinch turmeric
  • 1/4 cup cilantro or parsley, chopped
  • 1 pound raw skinless, boneless chicken thighs, diced into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 1 14 ounce can of chopped or diced tomatoes, preferably fire roasted (with green chile or garlic is even better)
  • 1 green pepper, cored, seeded and cut into half inch dice
  • 1 red pepper, cored, seeded and cut into half inch dice
  • Salt and pepper to taste.  If using canned broth or soup powder, hold off on the salt until the end.
  • 6 cups chicken broth (ideally homemade, but in the real world, boxed, canned or even soup powder is acceptable, and tonight I used a large spoon of Osem's pareve chicken soup powder with boiling water)
  • 1/2 cup short grain rice, like Spanish rice, Arborio or Canaroli
  • 1/2 cup green peas (presumably frozen -- if you have wonderful fresh peas, use them in something else)
  • 1-2 tablespoons capers, rinsed
  • 10-20 pimento stuffed green olives, rinsed and sliced
  • 4 scallions, while and some of the green, sliced


  1. Heat olive oil in a 4-quart pot on medium heat.
  2. Add onions, carrot and celery to the pot and stir until soft but not browned, about 5 minutes.
  3. Add garlic, cook about a minute, until soft but not borwned.
  4. Add turmeric, stir a few times, add half of the chopped herb, and then the chicken.  
  5. Cook on medium-high until the chicken looses its raw color.
  6. Add the tomato, bring to the simmer, add the chopped peppers, turn heat down, and cook on low for 10 minutes.
  7. Add the broth, bring to the boil, and turn heat down to low and simmer for 5 minutes.  
  8. Add the rice and simmer for 10 minutes.
  9. Add the peas, capers, and olives and simmer 5 minute more.  Taste the rice to make sure that it is cooked through, and if not, simmer for a few minutes more.
  10. Turn off the heat, cover the pot, and set aside to settle and cool for 5 minutes before serving.
  11. Garnish with scallions and remaining herb.
  12. Serves 4 for dinner with a salad.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Tony Blair: a pink drink

How do you reckon the accomplishments in your life? It is really difficult. Some people will do this as part of an annual heshbon nefesh, the accounting of the soul, that is done as during the Yamim Noraim (Jewish High Holidays). But for most people who do it, the accounting is more of an individual version of collective self criticism.

Sometimes I try and think of what my accomplishments are and usually come up with two. The first was having Columbia's Contemporary Civilization Course switch the assigned edition of Augustine's City of God. Until the mid 1980s they had been using the translation by Doubleday, which was Catholic and very abridged. I argued for the Penguin, which was complete and included all the naughty bits which the Catholic printing eliminated and which I maintained were essential to understand the connection between sin, lust and political power. (They also make for a more fun read. Undergraduates don't mind being assigned more reading if it is sufficiently salacious.) My other great accomplishment was a Moroccan meal I prepared at Susan Paris' house in Brookline on New Year's Eve 1989-90. We had 6 salads, bisteeya, a  fish with charmoula, chicken with preserved lemons and olives, and a sweet lamb tagine. 

I think that I now have another accomplishment to be proud of: spreading the appreciation of Campari among the students of Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa. If the increased demand for Campari leads a local store to carry it, I will be prouder still. 

To explain: I originally posted this in June when I was experimenting with cocktails for our summer vacation and called it Gin-or-gin, because it was made with gin, a bitter orange aperitif, and ginger beer.  Gin-orange-ginger -> Gin-or-gin.  Lame, I admit but the drink itself proved particularly popular with my son Harry's friends who came to visit, especially Steve Smith, who has turned out to be this particular cocktail's biggest fan. Harry made it at a party to mark block break (don't ask) at Cornell. Although it is impossible to obtain Campari in Mount Vernon IA, an enthusiastic mixologist in the student body apparently had a bottle of his own. The drink was a hit, which has helped to elevate the level of sophistication of the Cornell student body. The increase in demand may even entice local stores to stock it.  But, if you go to visit, I would bring along a bottle just in case.

Though they all loved the drink, they thought the name was "meh," and suggested calling it the Tony Blair. Why? Because he was a world leader who didn't have a cocktail named for him.(I am not that familiar with the world of world leader cocktails, and can't imagine what a Bibi Netanyahu or Angela Merkel might be, though one could think of some interesting combinations.) However, I thought that this name sort of fit: slightly pink, but leaves a bitter taste in your mouth. So try it.

ORIGINAL POST: Even though I have mostly been posting about cocktails recently, please don't get the wrong idea. However, the vacation at the Cape is rapidly approaching and I need to come up with things to serve on the dock. My alcohol consumption has actually declined (except while in Austin.)

This is a rough adaptation and mashup of some cocktails which were written about in the NY Times cocktail issue a few weeks ago. I don't love the name (something like Pink Lady might work better and describes the color if not the taste) but this is a terrific and refreshing combination of the flavors of ginger, gin, bitter orange (from the Campari), and mint, if you so wish it. Given the current Spanish obsession with gin and tonics and related cocktails, this would go nicely with a tapas spread. A tortilla, some fish salad, some cheeses, maybe some mushrooms sauteed in garlic. Who needs dinner?

The Tony Blair

  • Lots of ice
  • 1 ounce Campari
  • 2 ounces gin (less if you like a less strong drink)
  • 1 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon simple syrup (optional, but I like it)
  • Ginger beer to fill glass, about 4 ounces
  • Fresh mint (spearmint, not peppermint please) or lime wedges to garnish
  1. Fill an 8 to 12 ounce glass with ice. The larger glass has more room for ginger beer and means a weaker drink. 
  2. Add the Campari, gin, lime juice and simple syrup and stir for about 20 seconds.
  3. Top off with ginger beer and garnish with lime or mint. (If you want a stronger mint flavor, muddle a few leaves in the glass, but I prefer it just as a garnish.)
  4. Increase the ingredients proportionately to make for a crowd. Mix the Campari, gin, juice and syrup in a shaker or pitcher. Pour over ice in individual glasses and top with the ginger beer.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Red beans with sour plum chutney -- Lobio Tkemali

Many (okay, three) devoted readers of this blog have noted that I have not posted in the past several months.  This is because our kitchen is being renovated.  I won't go into this here because it has been much of my life for the past three months and blogging is an escape from it all.  Needless to say, our home cooking has been limited and rather uninteresting.  However, I have made a few things which can be done without an stove, oven or much prep work, so I thought I would share them here.  One of my favorite is a Georgian red bean salad with a dressing of sour plum sauce called Lobio tkemali.  Although better with home-cooked beans, it can be made with canned beans as well.  The sauce can be made in a microwave. If you have the sauce on hand, it takes a few minutes to pull it all together.

Lobio tkemali


  • 1 large can small red beans (red kidney beans are an acceptable substitute, home-cooked beans a significant improvement
  • 1 cup tkemali sauce (about 1/2 of the recipe below)
  • 1 small red onion
  • 1/2 cup fresh chopped coriander
  • salt to taste


  1. Rinse the beans well to remove all of the gross liquid in the can. Drain well and put into a serving bowl.
  2. Mix in the tkemali sauce.
  3. Peel the onion and cut a few thin slices from the center for garnish.  Chop the rest fine.
  4. Mix the chopped onion and 1/4 cup of the coriander.
  5. Spread the remaining coriander on top of the beans, and garnish with onion rings.
  6. Serves 6 as a side dish or appetizer.

I give a double recipe for the plum sauce because it is almost as easy to make in a double as it is in a single recipe and it is very versatile.  It goes well with the George Foreman grilled boneless chicken breast or thigh with spice rubs that have been a mainstay of our kitchen-less diet as well as with shashlik and other kebabs properly cooked over charcoal.   It is the classic accompaniment to kachapuri, the Georgian cheese-stuffed bread.

Tkemali is the name of a Georgian sour plum and a sauce from which it is made.  The great Darra Goldstein recommends using slightly underripe Santa Rosa plums.  I don't know if I have ever even seen this variety, so I make the sauce with Italian prune plums, which are nice and tart and in season in September and October.  If you can 't find these plums, you can make it with empress or any other black plum,  underripe preferred.  Taste the sauce toward the end of cooking, and if it is sweet rather than sour, add some balsamic vinegar or tamarind paste,  bit at a time, until it is nice and sour.  The seasoning is really to taste, but I find that the proportions below make a delicious, sour, garlic, slightly spicy sauce.  The time is also approximate, and will depend on such variables at the power of your microwave, shape of the container, etc.

Microwave Tkemali

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil (sunflower is more widely used in the former Soviet Union, I use canola
  • 15-20 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
  • 2 hot fresh chili peppers, red or green  (a variety like serrano, cayenne or bird chili is fine, keep the seeds in if you want the heat), slice 
  • 2 pounds fresh prune plums, quartered lengthwise and pitted
  • 1/4 teaspoon of salt, or more to taste
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh coriander
  1. Heat oil is a 2 quart or larger microwave-safe casserole on high for two minutes.
  2. Add garlic and chili, stir, and zap two minutes more.
  3. Add plums and salt, stir, cover with a piece of paper towel, and zap for 5 minutes.
  4. Stir in half the coriander, and cook for 5 minutes more.
  5. Remove from oven, and taste for texture and sourness.  If too thin, return to the microwave for a few minutes until the texture of a thick compote.  The plums will lose more than 2/3 of their volume.  If it is not sour enough, add a bit of tamarind or balsamic vinegar until it is.  Return to the overn for a few minutes to blend flavors.
  6. When cool, and just before serving, stir in the rest of the coriander. (The sauce will keep longer if you hold back on mixing in raw ingredients until just before serving.)
  7. Makes about 2 cups of sauce.