Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Nut case: cashew butter and banana sandwich

Is he nuts? Why bother posting this as a "recipe?" Because it is good, not to mention easy.

One of the advantages of working at home is not having to go out to lunch. One of the disadvantages of working at home is there may be nothing to eat, even in our kitchen, so sometimes I find myself scraping the bottom of the barrel. This leads to eating things like the sardine and avocado sandwich that I posted about a few days ago, and to rigorous experimentation with banana and nut butter sandwiches.

I have never been a peanut butter and jelly fan. I hate the way the bread absorbs the jelly and turns squishy and purple-ish or red-ish. So decades went by between elementary school and fatherhood when I didn't eat peanut butter sandwiches at all. Then my kids would eat them, with jelly, honey or banana, and I found that I kind of liked nut butter and banana.

Over the past week or two I decided to try a variety of nut butters : peanut, almond and cashew. We usually don't stock cashew butter, but we had a jar hanging around from Pesach, and it won hands down. There is something about it that brings out the inherent sweetness of the banana. So here is the recipe (is this a bit excessive?):

Cashew butter and banana sandwich

  • 2 slices bread, preferably whole-grain
  • 1 small, ripe banana (it should have at least a few brown spots)
  • cashew butter

  1. Toast the bread.
  2. Smear one or both pieces of bread with the cashew butter.
  3. Slice banana about 1/4 inch thick and put on the toast.
  4. Put the two pieces of bread together, and cut sandwich in half.

Serves one.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Zuppa/Sop/Soup : Zuppa di cavolo/Cabbage soup

Etymologically, soup is less about broth than about bread. I got to thinking about this when I wondered what makes Zuppa Inglese, essentially an Italian trifle, a soup. The answer is that Zuppa Inglese is not a zuppa because it is a liquid soup, but because it is based on cake (a stand in for bread) soaked in rum syrup (a stand in for broth). Thus, Zuppa di Pesce is not just fish and seafood cooked in tomato sauce. It needs toasted bread, or those hard thick peppery crackers (frisselle?) in the bowl to become a zuppa. When we were in Southern Italy, zuppa di pesce was much drier than what we get here, a dish of fish cooked in tomato sauce, with some of the scant liquid spooned over toasted bread. Indeed, our word soup is etymologically related to the Late Latin suppa, which is bread soaked in liquid. Soup is a sop more that a broth. The bread turns it into more of a main dish than a first course and it is a great way of making sure that old or stale bread does not go to waste.

It is with this in mind that I approached the soggy defrosted head of cabbage leaking all over my fridge a few weeks ago. The story will be too familiar to readers of my facebook page. I was going to try to reconstruct my grandmother's recipe for stuffed cabbage for Rosh Hashana, so I had frozen a large cabbage the week before labor day. I really understood why the unit of measurement for cabbage is a head. It was like having a houseguest in our freezer, or at least the severed head of one. Then came the call from my brother that his family did not want stuffed cabbage for dinner, but rather the more traditional holiday dish of Semur Daging, an Indonesian beef stew with spices and sweet soy sauce. So, we made a special trip to Chinatown for Bango Kecap Manis, said to be a tastier sweet soy sauce than the more readily available brand, ABC. We found it after visiting five stores, on Mulberry street in a place stocking groceries from all over Southeast asia. I made a big pot (about 6 pounds of meat) of Semur Daging, and then got another call from my brother saying that his daughter was no longer eating read meat, could we have something else.

She had leftover salmon, but we were stuck with this head in our freezer, and given the scarcity of freezer space in most NYC apartments , this was not a sustainable situation. I transferred the head to the fridge, where it took about three days to defrost. Freezing and defrosting is the alternative to blanching to soften and separate cabbage leaves, and it worked beautifully. I made a Georgian (as in Tiblisi, not Atlanta) cabbage roll stuffed with walnut paste, and it was a big hit with our guests the first night of RH. This is shaped more like a Japanese nori roll than traditional stuffed cabbage, and the stuffing tastes a bit funky and consists of walnuts, garlic, basil, cilantro, vinegar, marigold and fenugreek leaves.

But I was now stuck with the inside of a defrosted cabbage in our fridge. It did not represent the kind of space crisis that a whole head in the freezer did, but was unwelcome none the less. So, what to do? Soup! Rather than going for a Jewish or Northern European Cabbage Soup, we had some nice bread getting stale on our counter, so we went with a zuppa. Here is a method, more than a recipe. You can make it with different vegetables, or a combination, and add beans if you want. You can even make it with rice or pasta rather than bread, but then it wouldn't be soup.

Zuppa di cavolo

  • 1 slice of bread per person (see below)
  • a few cloves peeled fresh garlic
  • butter and/or olive oil (see below on cooking fat)
  • finely chopped onion, carrot and celery (about 1-2 cups total)
  • canned or fresh tomato (here I used about 1/2 of a 16 ounce can, drained and chopped; you can use as little as one tomato, or as much as the entire can; blanch and skin fresh tomatoes if you use them)
  • cabbage: about 2-4 cups, shredded (green or savoy, fresh or defrosted)
  • liquid, about 4 cups (see below)
  • 1 bay leaf (optional)
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 or 2 pieces of rind from chunks of Parmesan or Grana Padano cheese scraped to remove any unidentifiable growths (optional, but adds a lot of flavor -- see below)
  • fresh grated Parmesan or Grana Padano cheese

  1. If the bread slices are very large, cut them in half so that they will fit in your soup bowls. If it is already stale, toast it lightly to dry out more. Otherwise, toast lightly and then leave in a low oven to dry while you make the soup.
  2. When the bread is done, rub it on both sides with a peeled clove of garlic, One clove is usually good for 2 slices of bread.
  3. Heat the fat (between 1 teaspoon and 3 tablespoons, it is up to you) in a 4 quart soup pot.
  4. Add the onions, carrots and celery, salt lightly to help them sweat, and saute until soft but not brown.
  5. Add the cabbage and saute for a few minutes with the vegetable.
  6. Add the diced tomato and saute.
  7. Add liquid and the cheese rinds, and a few grinds of pepper, bring to a boil, and cook about 1/2 hour.
  8. Taste for salt and pepper -- the amount will depend on the saltiness of the liquid that you used.
  9. To serve, put a piece of bread in each soup bowl, top with the vegetables and broth, and serve with grated cheese.
  10. This is a dinner for 4 with a salad.

Cook's perk: The cheese rinds add great flavor to the broth, and should stay in the pot and not go in the soup plate. Actually, they should go in the cooks mouth while they are hot and before the soup makes it to the table. The rinds become soft, gooey and edible. Depending on the cheese, and on how long the soup is cooked, they will either have a deep cheesy flavor, or just the ghost of a flavor that was once there. Either is profound. As you use Parmesan or grana, just save the rinds in a plastic bag in the freezer, and use when you make soup.

The bread: The bread can be white or whole grain, sourdough or regular as long as it is NOT SWEET. We like it with "peasant breads," ciabatta, or a sourdough whole wheat. This time we made it with something called "wine bread" which was like a light sourdough, which my parents picked up at a farmers' market on Long Island. If you know that you will be making this, cut the bread a day or so before, and leave it in a paper bag or wrapped in paper towels were it will get slightly stale. Florentine bread is ideal but rarely found in the US. It is made without salt, so it does not attract water and gets stale rather than moldy. I believe that Dante, who was a political exile, complained that "the bread of exile is bitter and salty." He should be taken literally on this.

The fat: Originally, this was almost certainly made with lard or for those who could afford it, guanciale (salted pork jowl) or pancetta (rolled salted but not smoked bacon). Having given up pork products, I find it is still wonderful with butter and/or olive oil. If you want to add a little funkiness, you might dissolve and anchovy fillet or two in the fat before adding the onions. I haven't tried this myself yet since my wife is anchovy averse and has limited cabbage tolerance, so I didn't want to press my luck.

The liquid: We generally use water with one Telma pareve beef bullion cube. We add a few rinds of cheese, which adds a remarkable, deep umami flavor to the broth. You can use homemade or boxed (not canned!!) broths, though Italian home cooks would probably use a cube. If you make this with beans and use home-cooked beans, the bean broth can be used and is rich and tasty. Salt towards the end to make sure that you don't oversalt.

Variations: You don't need a soggy defrosted cabbage to make this dish. A fresh green or savoy cabbage would also do nicely. It can also be made with zucchini, green beans, spinach (don't cook this so long -- 5 or 10 minutes will do), lancinato kale, or escarole. If using escarole or kale, go light on the tomato, and white beans are particularly good. The beans can be cannellini, navy, or great northern. If you use canned beans, discard the vile liquid, rinse very well, and add toward the end. If you cooked the beans yourself, use the broth in the cooking liquid.

Starch variations: You can leave out the bread and use short soup pasta like ditalini or orzo, or add a few spoons of arborio rice. Cook these for about 10 minutes after you add them. However, as said above, it will no longer be soup, rather some kind of minestra. However, it will still be good.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Avocado with fish

Avocado with fish, especially smoked fish or canned sardines, is a great food combo, and one which you don't encounter all that frequently. You may be served a ceviche with avocado, and Mary Feinberg often bring a wonderful sandwich of baguette with avocado and smoked salmon to shul potlucks. But there are a wide variety of easy dishes that you can make for yourself or company. You can cut avocado into wedges and wrap it in smoked salmon and fasten it with a toothpick. Try Mary's sandwich with or without butter. Or spread mashed avocado on whole grain toast and top with smoked trout and eat it as an open faced sandwich. Try avocado instead of cream cheese on your bagel and lox, or top pumpernickel with whitefish salad, avocado and tomato. Here are two easy recipes worth trying.

Smoked salmon with Scandinavian guacamole

I am sure they could do something with this on Prairie Home Companion along the lines of Ajua hot sauce. In any case, it is a very easy and delicious appetizer.

  • 1 ripe avocado
  • 3 finely chopped scallions
  • small handful of finely chopped dill
  • juice of 1/4 lemon
  • Salt
  • 4 ounces smoked salmon
  • large whole grain crackers like Ryvita or Wasa, or sliced whole grain bread or toast, cut into smallish pieces
  1. Mash the avocado with the next four ingredients. Do this shortly before serving. Put in a bowl.
  2. Arrange salmon on a plate. Top with a little more fresh dill if you would like.
  3. Put the crackers or bread in a serving basket.
  4. To serve, everyone spreads some guacamole on the crackers or bread, tops with salmon, and that's it.

Sardine and Avocado Sandwich

This is based on a recipe from Paula Wolfert's The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen. I am not sure what makes it slow or Mediterranean. It is based on a Canary Islands recipe, with sounds more African and Atlantic. It was adapted from a far more complicated recipe by Ferran Adria of El Bulli fame, so I guess that is the Mediterranean connection. It reminds me of a comment I heard once that most of her books, particularly the later ones, are a pastiche of recipes that Wolfert picked up doing research for travel articles. That having been said, most of her recipes are really good. I have simplified it still further so that it is a lunch sandwich rather than an appetizer. One of the joys of working at home is that you can have things like this for lunch. Just don't eat it before a business meeting, unless your meeting is with a cat food company.

Ingredients (for one largish slice of bread -- multiply as you will; I have 2 slices for lunch, some may only eat one)
  • 1 slice whole grain bread
  • 1 clove garlic (optional)
  • butter (optional)
  • 1/2 can sardines packed in olive oil (2 sardines)
  • 1/8 - 1/4 ripe avocado
  • a few shreds of red onion or scallion
  • drizzle of sherry (preferred) or red wine vinegar

  1. Toast the bread. Rub it with the clove of garlic and spread lightly with butter if desired.
  2. Spread with the sliced avocado.
  3. Top with the sardines, filleted if you wish.
  4. Top with onion or scallion and drizzle very lightly with vinegar.
  5. Eat as an open faced sandwich.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Fakejitas #1

Please forgive the awful pun, but since I use fake meat strips I thought it was appropriate. Though Mexicans would probably refer to this as ropa vieja (old rags) and make it with boiled shredded beef, it is not far from what Americans call fajitas. I make it with fake meat, either Lightlife Smartstrips Steak-style strips, or Morningstar farms frozen steak strips. They are far lower in calories, and you can still have sour cream and do no damage in terms of either cholesterol or kashrut. God forgive me, I never thought I would say this, but I have become rather fond of fake meat.

This dish really requires poblano chilies. Their flavor is deep, rich and unique, it doesn't take long to roast and peel them, and the dish would not be the same without them. When I get around to it, I will post another version of fakejitas which is more generic and tomato-y and acceptable to use regular sweet peppers. If you must, you can use canned green chilies here, but the poblanos are worth the minimal extra effort.

Fakejitas (vegetarian Mexican ropa vieja)

  • Oil spray
  • 2 poblano peppers
  • Peanut oil (between 1 and 2 tablespoons, depending on your preference)
  • 6-10 ounces vegetarian steak strips
  • 1 medium white onion, cut in half and sliced about 1/4 inch thick (the size of a peach; red or yellow is acceptable if you cant find white)
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 cloves garlic peeled and sliced
  • 1 teaspoon Bragg's aminos (optional but adds a lot of umami flavor)
  • 2 eggs, beaten lightly with a pinch of salt

To serve
  • Corn tortillas (this amount makes 6-8 soft tacos and serves 2-3, see below on reheating)
  • Sour cream
  • Salsa (see recipe below; don't even think of using jarred salsa)
  • Sliced avocado

  1. To prepare the poblanos, spray them with the oil spray or rub them lightly with oil. Stick them over a high gas flame on your stove (if you have an electric stove, get a gas one) and turn them around with tongs until they are blackened all over, for between 5 and 10 minutes. Watch carefully so that they don't burn. When well blackened, remove them and either wrap them in paper towel or put them in a paper bag and set them aside until they cool. They will steam a bit while they cool and the skin will loosen.
  2. Remove the blackened skin with your fingers. (You may want to wear gloves or use paper towels if your skin is very sensitive or you are in the habit or rubbing sensitive body parts like your eyes. Poblanos are only mildly hot, but they can tingle.) Run under water if necessary and remove as much skin as you can. Cut open the pepper, remove the stem, ribs and seeds, and cut into 1/4 inch vertical strips. These are called rajas.
  3. Spray a medium nonstick skillet with oil spray, heat on high, add a bit of oil and add the fake steak. Stir fry a few minutes until browned and remove to a serving bowl.
  4. Add a bit more oil to the skillet and add the onions, salt lightly, and saute on high without browning until they being to soften.
  5. Add rajas and cook about 3 minutes more.
  6. Add the garlic and cook for another minute.
  7. Add the fake steak, the Bragg's and heat through. Taste for salt -- it probably won't need any more.
  8. If you are using the eggs, push the mixture over to one side of the skillet, add the beaten eggs, and cook until almost done. Break it up with a spatula and mix into the other stuff.
  9. Put in a bowl and serve.
  10. To eat, smear a little sour cream on a warm tortilla, add some of the fakejitas, a slice of avocado, salsa, and wrap it up and eat it.

Reheating corn tortillas: Turn on a gas burner and turn to medium low. Add a tortilla, heat for about 30 seconds, adjusting the heat so that it does not burn, and put another tortilla directly on top of it. Flip it over (using tongs, not your fingers!) so that the cold tortilla is over the flame, and heat for another 30 seconds. Add another cold tortilla on top, flip over, and repeat for up to a dozen tortillas. Wrap the tortillas in a clean dishtowel and serve as soon as possible. I have tried many methods and like this one the best. There is a satisfying, elemental quality to this technique, and the slight char on the tortillas adds much more flavor than a sojourn in the microwave.

Salsa: I never understood why people buy jarred salsa when all you need to make salsa mexicana is a few ingredients and a sharp knife. Mix about 1/4 of a medium white or red onion, finely chopped, with a smallish chopped tomato, a chopped serrano or jalapeno chili (remove the seeds if you want it less hot), and a handful of chopped fresh cilantro and some salt. Let it sit for a few minutes, and add a tablespoon of water if you want it more liquid. That's it.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Yellow tomato gazpacho

Our CSA (community supported agriculture coop) requires members to volunteer one shift each season, to either set up or clean up after everything is finished. The volunteers who work the clean up shift get to take what they want from the produce that is left. I try to time my shift to coincide with peak tomato season. The problem is that by the end of the evening, what is left can be more than a bit bruised. We had some great heirloom tomatoes, but all the red varieties were gone or in sad shape by the end of the night. However, I did get to take home a good quantity of slightly bruised yellow heirloom tomatoes. I think that the variety was "yellow queen" which is a light yellow, almost cream color and sometimes has a slight blush. They are low in acid but still had a rich tomato flavor. They were so delicate that they had practically turned to gazpacho by the time that I got them home, so here is what I did with them:

Yellow tomato gazpacho

  • 1 clove garlic, peeled (1 more if you want, but the croutons will add more garlic flavor)
  • 1.5 to 2 pounds yellow tomatoes ( trim off the mushy bits if you want)
  • 3-4 ounces day old bread, crusts removed
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1-2 tablespoons vinegar (I used sherry vinegar)
  • Salt
  • 1 cup chopped English or Persian cucumbers, peeled if desired
  • 1 cup halved cherry tomatoes
  • 1 recipe croutons (see the recipe for white almond gazpacho I posted last month)

  1. With the motor running, drop the garlic through the opening of a blender (or feeder tube of a food processor) which will pulverize it. This is actually fun, and you may be tempted to use too much garlic. Don't.
  2. Add the tomatoes and blend to a puree.
  3. Run the bread briefly under water, squeeze dry, add the bread to the blender and puree some more.
  4. With the motor running, drizzle in the olive oil, one tablespoon of the vinegar and about 1 teaspoon or regular or 2 teaspoons of coarse salt.
  5. Shut the motor, taste for seasoning, and add more salt and vinegar if you want, and run the blender briefly to incorporate.
  6. Push the soup through a sieve, pressing so that it all passes through. This will vastly improve the texture of the final soup.
  7. Chill well, for a few hours or overnight.
  8. Serve in small soup bowls and pass cherry tomatoes, cucumber, and croutons for garnish.

Additions: This soup has a wonderful, pure tomato flavor. You can add parsley, cilantro or some jalapeno pepper if you want, but why?

The bread: People think gazpacho is about the tomatoes, but it is really about the bread. I once read that it comes from the Arabic for "bread and vinegar" and the first syllable sounds like khubz, Arabic for bread. I haven't been able to verify this but it has the ring of truth. Spaniards still serve white gazpacho, often with almonds, where the bread is even more central. I find that bread mellows out the flavors, particularly of the garlic and vinegar and lets the tomato shine through. Without the bread, it is far to acid and the garlic rapidly takes on an off flavor. If you have never made gazpacho with bread before, try it. It will be a revelation. It is important to use a non-sweet loaf that is not sourdough. A peasant-style white loaf, french bread, or ciabatta works best.

The vinegar: The flavor and color will change subtly with the kind of vinegar you use. I love the flavor of sherry vinegar in this dish, but you could easily use white wine, champagne, or red wine vinegar. Rice vinegar is probably too mild for yellow tomatoes. Don't even think of using balsamic.

Grilled summer squash with mint and cheese

This dish is a cinch. It is also a bit of a misnomer, since we don't have a grill, even an indoor one, and we cooked the squash in a nonstick skillet, and it was still good. I made this with avocado squash, which looks sort of like a large, light green avocado, is firmer than zucchini, grills well, and has a nutty flavor. Three things to remember to make this dish a success: use young squash and not the overgrown baseball bats that you sometimes get late in the summer; don't sprinkle on the mint and cheese until the squash has cooled to room temperature (you don't want the cheese to melt or the mint to turn dark), and don't dress the dish until shortly before serving. It serves 6 as a one of a few antipasti or side dishes, but could also make a light lunch for 2:

Grilled summer squash with mint and cheese

  1. 2 avocado squash or 1 pound or more other summer squash
  2. olive oil (and olive oil spray for cooking if you want)
  3. salt and pepper
  4. ricotta salata cheese (a pressed firm ricotta), about 2-3 ounces, coarsely grated
  5. fresh mint, about a handful, washed, stemmed and shreeded
  6. red wine vinegar

  1. Wash the squash well: soak it in cold water for 10-15 minutes, and rinse to remove all grit. Scrape any gritty section that remain or peel lightly if necessary. Cut into 1/2 inch slices. (If using thin small zucchini, you could halve them or cut them on a diagonal.)
  2. Brush the grill lightly with oil, or spray a nonstick skillet with olive oil spray, and heat on high. If using the spray, you should spray it on a cold grill or skillet and then heat it. For oil, you can just brush it on once the grill or skillet is hot.
  3. Cook the squash for 5-7 minutes on each side, until browned and tender. (The time varies widely with the head of your skillet or grill. Don't overcook ,since it will continue to soften after you remove it.
  4. Arrange the squash nicely on a serving plate and season with salt and pepper.
  5. When it has cooled to room temperature, sprinkle with the cheese and then the mint. Set aside up to an hour or two until ready to serve, but ideally, don't refrigerate it.
  6. Drizzle with olive oil and vinegar shortly before serving.
Variation: This could also be made with grilled eggplant, or eggplant cut into cubes, sprayed or tossed with oil, and roasted on 450 degrees for about 20 minutes and then broiled until tender. I find that eggplant does better than squash if cooked the day before, but don't garnish or dress until serving.