Lentils with Blistered Cherry Tomatoes

cherry tomatoes from fort greene farmer's market We felt the first snap of cold yesterday in New York. The day before, a walk through the neighborhood farmer’s market under buckets of rain was proof that summer lingers. Minute cherry tomatoes on the vine, bushels of yellow squash and sticky plums. It’s still bountiful around here.

fort greene farmer's market

I use the market as a bellwether. Instinctively, I know it’s time to start cooking winter squash and potatoes and roots. But the farmers have the last word. I asked a few of them, as I planned the menu for the next Supper Club (Oct. 18), what might I find in two weeks time? Can I plan on tomatoes, still?

summer squash at the farmers market

One farmer, Hector, said global warming has changed things in upstate New York. The season runs longer, for sure. The chances of a frost in the next few weeks are very low. Cherry tomatoes will likely be around for a little longer.

blistered cherry tomatoes

Lentils find their way onto my plate about once a week: dressed up with herbs in a salad, braised in aromatics and served alongside a grilled sausage, served with vegetables and rice to make a protein-rich meal sans meat, cooked into soup. Fast-cooking. Cheap. No soaking needed. Hearty, fibrous and nutritious.

french lentils, also called lentilles de puy

A batch of lentils will last in the fridge for days. You can mix and match flavors, working them into lunch and dinner in small quantities. The following recipe isn’t necessary, really. Just make lentils and add what you like. Design the dish around what the farmers bring to market. Or just add chopped bacon and caramelized onions and call it a day.

lentils with blistered tomatoes

 

Lentils with Blistered Cherry Tomatoes

Serves 8

2 cups of lentils (lentilles de puy or French Lentils are best for this recipe)
1 medium carrot, peeled and cut in half
1 small onion, peeled and cut in half, root intact
1 bay leaf
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon salt

For the dressing:
Juice and zest (thinly sliced) of one lemon
Pinch of cayenne
1/4 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup olive oil

A splash of sherry or red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 pint cherry tomatoes
6 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs (any or all: basil, chives, mint, parsley, tarragon)

Simmer lentils for 20 minutes with carrot, onion, bay leaf, garlic, salt, and plenty of cold water (at least 3:1 water to lentils), until just tender but with a little bite (al dente). Drain and save liquid for stock.

While the lentils cook, make the vinaigrette, mixing together all the ingredients except the oil. Whisk in the oil. Err on the side of a more acidic (=more lemon), as lentils need a flavor boost.

Add dressing to drained, warm lentils. Toss gently. Taste and adjust seasoning. Mix in a splash of vinegar (sherry or red wine), 3 tablespoons of herbs, and stir to blend.

Heat a large skillet with olive oil over a medium-high heat. When hot but not smoking, add cherry tomatoes and cook, undisturbed, for a few minutes, until they begin to pop and collapse. Shake pan. Tomatoes are done when they are a little browned/blackened, after about 5 minutes.

Serve lentils warm or room temperature, with tomatoes and their juices poured on top, and garnished with remaining chopped fresh herbs.

 

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Eggplant Caviar

Early fall is when eggplants are at their best. Choose firm, dark colored orbs, plentiful and reasonably priced in this season. Cook them soon after buying.

eggplant mint puree

Adapt this simple mash to your taste, adding different seasonings to tip the scale alternately towards North Africa (using tahini, toasted, crushed cumin seeds and a pinch of cayenne), the Middle East (pomegranate molasses), or Italy (fresh basil and/or minced anchovies).

eggplants ready to bake

No recipe is needed. The easiest method for cooking eggplants is to pierce them a few times with a small knife and bake on a sheet pan in a hot oven until they collapse. Scoop out the cooked flesh and mix in flavorings to suit your mood. Use a fork, rather than a food processor, or you will end up with something more like baby food. The texture is nicer when it’s roughly mashed.

Be sure to garnish eggplant caviar with something to add color to the dish’s dull, beige appearance. Chopped mint, parsley, cilantro or basil work well. Pomegranate seeds provide a crunchy, sweet contrast. Serve room temperature with toasted pita bread. Keeps about a week in the fridge.

serve eggplant puree with toasted pita

Eggplant Caviar
Serves 4-6

2-3 eggplants (about 1½ pounds), rinsed, dried and pierced in a few places with a paring knife (to release steam)
Grated zest of one lemon (optional)
Juice of ½ lemon (or more, to taste)
½ clove of garlic, minced and using the flat part of a knife’s blade, made into a paste with ½ teaspoon sea salt
1-2 tablespoons Greek yogurt (optional)
Freshly ground black pepper
A little extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling
1 tablespoon minced fresh mint leaves, for garnish
Black sesame seeds, toasted, for garnish (optional)

Preheat the oven to 450°F. Place a sheet of aluminum foil in a baking pan and lay the eggplant on top. Bake until the flesh is cooked, about 20 minutes. Set aside until cool enough to handle.

Scoop out the cooked flesh into a medium bowl and discard the eggplant skins. Mix in the rest of the ingredients, including some minced fresh herbs, if you like. Taste and adjust seasoning (more salt? lemon?) Transfer to a small serving bowl, drizzle with olive oil, and garnish with chopped fresh herbs and/or sesame seeds. Serve as an hors d’oeuvre with toasted pita bread, or as a side dish with the meal.

Optional ingredients: tahini, pomegranate molasses, cayenne, harissa, ground cumin, paprika, fresh herbs, chopped scallions, chopped fresh chili peppers, chopped black olives, minced anchovies. Pomegranate seeds scattered on top look beautiful – and taste great.

 

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Foolproof Mayonnaise

asparagus in season

Asparagus are finally here! It’s so worth the wait. What shall we do with them? As a rule of thumb, it’s best to grill or roast the fat ones and steam or blanch the thin ones (blanch just 45 seconds in lots of salted boiling water). Ideally, you buy them so fresh they need no cooking at all; just dip in a good sauce.

herbs in mayonnaise

My preference is for a homemade mayonnaise, which is not at all complicated. The only caveat concerns the eggs: since they need to be raw for this sauce, they must be fresh and from hens that live in healthy, clean conditions. If you feel squeamish about this, here are instructions for pasteurizing eggs in the microwave: http://culinaryarts.about.com/od/eggsdairy/ht/pasteurize_eggs.htm

pasture fresh eggs

For an added kick, add a cup of chopped sorrel or two smashed garlic cloves. Or any herb you fancy. This is the mother recipe.

Foolproof Mayonnaise
1 whole egg (or just yolk if pasteurized as above)
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Juice of 1 lemon
1/3 cup olive oil
2/3 cup Canola oil
1 teaspoon salt
Fresh pepper – about 10 twists of the mill

Combine all ingredients except the oils in a blender (including herbs and/or garlic). With the motor running, begin adding oil – drop by drop at first—then in a fine stream. You will hear the sauce begin to thicken as you start running out of oil. The sauce should be spreadable and a pale yellow color. (Or pale green if you’ve added herbs.) It should last in the fridge for a week.

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Ramp Pistou

In case you were feeling that spring has been dragging its feet this year, you’re not wrong. No less an authority than The New York Times declared spring officially late, as least insofar as crops are concerned. One thing we can reliably depend on, though, is the mighty ramp.

ramps

Ramps! Do you know them? Sometimes called wild leeks, these early-spring bulbs pack a wallop of spicy-garlicky flavor. Their season is a brief three weeks, but they grow in such profusion that it pays to buy them (or gather, if you’re lucky and know where to look) in a large bunch.

ramp pesto in food processor

Treat them as you would basil in August: throw the leaves in a food processor with olive oil and salt and you have a basic pistou that will keep in the freezer for months. Good additions are parsley and sorrel. Try it over pasta, on a sandwich, on fish, over asparagus, swirled into a fresh pea soup…. As for the blubs, chop them up and throw them in a stir-fry or in a frittata: anywhere scallions are called for.

ramp pesto

Ramp Pistou

1 cup ramp leaves, chopped and packed
½ cup sorrel or parsley, packed
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
¼ teaspoon coarse sea salt

Mix all ingredients in a food processor until chopped to a fine purée. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.

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Jamaican Jerk Chicken

ingredients for jerk chicken

Real Jerk Chicken is cooked on an open fire using Pimento wood, from the tree that produces allspice. This adds to the dishes singular, complex flavor. I am not a stickler for authenticity when it comes to food. And I can’t find Pimento wood in my Brooklyn backyard. My theory is: make what you want. Yes, keep it healthy and fresh. But don’t get hung up on having the “right” salt or firewood, or whatever ingredient has stumped you.

This recipe is a perfect weeknight dish because it takes about 30 minutes to cook. Serve it with rice and beans and a veg. Full of flavor from warm spices, hot pepper (dose to your liking) and lime, I love that you just throw everything in the blender, make a paste, and rub it all over the chicken. Marinate overnight. Bake and done.

Jerk Chicken
Serves 6-8

2 tablespoons allspice berries
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
2 teaspoons kosher salt
½ teaspoon grated nutmeg
1 stick cinnamon
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves or 1 teaspoon dried thyme
6 garlic cloves
2-4 Scotch bonnet or habanero chiles, stems removed
6 scallions, roughly chopped
1 2-inch piece ginger, thickly sliced
¼ cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
¼ cup lime juice (about 2 large limes)
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
½ cup canola oil
6 large chicken legs, leg and thigh attached

Put all ingredients except for chicken in a blender, with liquid items put in first, and blend to a smooth paste. Coat chicken pieces all over and marinate in the fridge for at least 4 and ideally 24 hours.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Bring chicken to room temperature before cooking (about 1 hour on the counter). Grill chicken over hot coals for about 4 minutes on each side, or until the skin begins to char. Place single layer of charred chicken pieces in a roasting pan and bake for 30 minutes to finish cooking.

To do entirely in oven, bake for 30 minutes, then broil a few minutes to darken.

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Roasted Winter Vegetables

In the pre-Whole Foods, bad old days of smelly, dingy “natural food” stores, or “health food” stores (a name that rang with promise but in reality was more like a cross between Communist Poland circa 1984 and the corner store in a desolate city neighborhood, with rainbow stickers and dangling “dream catchers” in the window), root vegetables bore the brunt of many a joke. These gnarled, dirt-crusted tubers were bendy and battered. We bought them because they offered a pesticide-free experience. But they were unappealing. Sanctimonious winter vegetables gave health food a bad name.

humble winter root vegetables

 

I hitchhiked across America with my sister Kate in 1980. In each new city, we sought out the local health food store and the gay bar. Both of these venues, in our minds, delivered a cache of interesting people and ideas. Most health food stores sold herbal tinctures, fresh ginger, crystal deodorant, and bulk nuts. They also had bulletin boards packed with announcements for area political meetings, basement concerts, healers and other fringe activities. We loved the bulletin boards and relied on them to connect with like-minded folks.

Gay bars offered another kind of entertainment. In El Paso, on the final leg of our maiden voyage to the promised land of California, we spent a long evening playing pool with the all-male patrons. It was a dangerous time to be a homosexual in Texas. It took a lot of asking around the town to find this beer-soaked subterfuge. I remember winning a game of pool with a strapping guy, shirtless in a leather vest. He laughed, surprised by his 18-year female old opponent, sporting a crew cut. Kate and I felt we were living on the edge, exactly where we wanted to be.

Back to root vegetables. I have learned to embrace them. To love them, even. I try to eat seasonally and experimenting with root vegetables is a winter pastime. At my local food coop, carrots, parsnips, turnips, rutabagas and the like occupy a prominent position, glistening and firm, inviting and healthful. Natural food stores have come a long way.

parsnips

 

Mostly, I make soups with roots, or roast, or mash them for a side dish. Try adding a cup of cubed parsnips or celery root to your next curry or stew. They’ll add another flavor dimension and increase your vitamin intake. Always keep a few root vegetables in the fridge. They keep for weeks and add flavor to stocks (except parsnips, which really are too pungent unless that’s what you’re after).

purple-carrots

 

A few nights ago I cleaned out the fridge and roasted up what I found for a quick vegetable companion to baked bluefish. Crunchy, sweet and salty, this is a winter side dish that makes “health food” downright delicious.

roasted-root-veg

 

Roasted Winter Vegetables
Serves 6

Quantities are flexible – as are ingredients. Try any combination of the following winter vegetables: beets, carrots, cauliflower, celery root, fennel, parsnips, potatoes, rutabagas, shallots, squash, sweet potatoes, turnips. The key is #1 cut the veggies in similar sizes to ensure even cooking, and #2 not to overcrowd the baking sheet.

1 pound carrots
½ pound parsnips
½ pound sunchokes
1 pound fingerling potatoes
12 cloves garlic, peeled and trimmed, left whole
1 lemon, trimmed and thinly sliced (optional)
Olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
3 tablespoons chopped parsley

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Scrub and trim the vegetables. With organically grown produce, I leave the skins on because nutrients are lost when you discard the peels.

Slice carrots and sunchokes 1/4” thick, parsnips 1/8” thick (to compensate for longer cooking time), and fingerling potatoes in half. Cut vegetables on the diagonal — for what my cooking student Ben calls a “jaunty angle.” This will improve the look of the final dish.

In a large bowl, using your hands, mix the cut vegetables and garlic with olive oil, salt and pepper. Add lemon slices if you want to add punch. Spread in a single layer on two baking sheets. Do not overcrowd the baking sheets or the vegetables won’t get crisp.

Bake for 20 minutes. Remove from oven, toss with a spatula and cook for about 20 more minutes, or until cooked through. Sprinkle with parsley before serving.

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Common Cold Home Remedy

getting arrested at anti-nuke demonstration in Seabrook, NH

Demonstration in Seabrook, NH ; photo by Eric Roth

 

It’s spring of 1980. I’m living in the woods of New Hampshire, in a teepee with a group of anti-nuclear activists during a month-long “occupation.” We aim to stop construction at the nuclear power plant being built in Seabrook, New Hampshire. I am assigned cooking duty, producing daily meals for the forty or so people in the encampment. I love my job.

The mosquitoes are vicious in the boggy woods. We stay up late around the campfire talking strategy: how to avoid the police, best tips for non-violent resistance when arrested, etc. Slapping mosquitoes night and day. One of my comrades teaches me how to ward off the pests. Always keep a raw clove of garlic tucked in the back of the mouth. Like baseball players with chewing tobacco, we sucked on garlic all day to keep the bugs at bay. It was, I thought, a great natural remedy. The only side effect was smelling like garlic.

garlic as a common cold home remedy

Over the years, long after I left the excitement of being 18 years old with a bunch of radicals in the New Hampshire woods, I’ve collected natural remedies. I like the reliance on plants for health (in addition to modern medicine; I am not an extremist). I enjoy the stories that come with remedies, the way they get passed down through generations. It feels good to mix up a cure for what ails you.

make a ginger broth to ward off a cold

What to do when you get the first inkling of a scratchy throat? Make a hot broth of garlic, ginger, lemon and honey. Sip it all day. It works, most of the time. Also, ideally, sleep as much as possible to increase the chances of fighting off sickness. But the broth is the only thing I’ve found that comes close to curing the common cold.

ingredients for home remedy against common cold

About 1,500 of us were arrested in Seabrook on May 24, 1980. With a tidal wave of “No Nukes” protestors around the world, we ultimately succeeded in blocking construction of one of the reactors. I don’t know how many of us had a clove of garlic in our mouths when hauled off to jail. We felt victorious. And the police officers had to contend with smelly protestors like myself, garlic seeping from every pore.

hot broth as a home remedy

 

Common Cold Natural Remedy

1 tablespoon garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons ginger, peeled and chopped
1 cup cold water
Juice of ½ lemon
1 teaspoon honey
Pinch of cayenne

In a small saucepan, bring the garlic, ginger and water to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and let stand for 10 minutes. Strain, stir in honey and cayenne (adjusting quantities to taste), and sip right away. Make a half- gallon of the mixture at a time (multiply recipe by 8) and sip all day. Feel better!

 

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Plum Clafoutis

pints of plums at the farmers market in brooklyn

Every year of my conscious life I mourn the last delicious peach of the season. The chin dribbling peach, the fuzzy skinned peach, the tart-and-sweet-at-the-same-time peach, the misshapen doughnut peach. The smell of a perfect white peach! I feel dizzy with pleasure. But once I have had that fateful bite of a mealy peach, sometime in September, I know the book is closed until the following July. The good news is… there are plums.

plums at fort greene farmer's market

At the Fort Greene farmer’s market here in Brooklyn this weekend, piles of plums announced “We are faking out autumn!” Purple like a queen’s velvet cape, pert and tart and full of flavor, plums are the latecomers to the summer party of irresistible fruits. They’re called prunes in France. They are best cooked (or dried, like the prunes we can buy in a bright box all year, known to promote good digestion).

sexy purple plums

I made a few versions of Plum Clafoutis before settling on this recipe. The classic clafoutis (French, bien sur) is made with unpitted cherries. Basically a batter poured over fruit, I’ve always found it a little on the eggy side. I prefer crispy things. So to add texture, I frothed up the egg whites, folding them into the batter. Next time, I will scatter almond slivers on top before baking, to add more crunch.

plum clafoutis recipe prep

In Ottolenghi’s cookbook (an absolute must-have and just published in the US), the recipe suggests making little mini-clafoutis, in ramekins. That sounds lovely, but I wanted this to be a fast and easy dessert. Minimal fuss. Maximum Can-I-Pretend-It’s-Summer-For-A-Few-More-Weeks. Please?

baked plum clafoutis

plum clafoutis for breakfast

 

Plum Clafoutis

Serves 8

Butter to grease pan
1¾ pounds small, firm-ripe plums
3 eggs separated
6 tablespoons sugar
½ vanilla bean
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup heavy cream
½ cup flour
pinch of salt
Confectioner’s sugar for dusting

Generously grease a 9” tart pan (or pie plate, or cake tin). The pan should be at least 1½” deep. Preheat the oven to 375° F.

Cut plums lengthwise into 6 wedges each, discarding pits and stems. Reserve 1 cup of cut plums and scatter the remaining plums on the bottom of the greased pan.

In a medium bowl, using a whisk or an electric beater, beat the egg yolks and sugar until pale yellow and creamy. Slit the vanilla bean in half longwise and scrape the seeds into the egg yolk mixture. Blend in with the vanilla extract and cream. Stir in the flour.

In a medium bowl, beat the egg whites and salt until they form stiff (but not granular or dry) peaks. Fold beaten whites into the batter. Pour batter over the cut plums. Scatter reserved plums on top.

Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until golden brown. Serve warm or room temperature with a dusting of confectioner’s sugar on top.

 

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Filed under Breakfast, dessert, fall, Recipes, Uncategorized, vegetarian

Bicycles and Food

I’m an urban cyclist. Whizzing along, dodging doors and cabbies, often loaded with food supplies, there’s something thrilling about having one’s own 2 wheels. It’s a mix of freedom and speed, independence and whimsy. I’m reading David Byrne’s Bicycle Diaries right now. He captures the view from a bicycle seat very well. His enthusiasm is inspiring and comforting. A quick tour around the internet brought me to create this little gallery of images —  the intersection of bikes and food. Just for fun…

flickr-london-permaculture

flickr image by london permaculture

 

800px-Dabbawala

“dabbawala” lunch delivery guy in india from wikimedia

 

flickr-sarah-korf

flickr image by sarah korf

 

4359531718_848712242a

flickr image by sarah korf

 

image by xinhua/yuan qing in uganda

 

Bicycle #3

flickr image by ed yourdon in rome, italy

 

Justice for Whole Foods

flickr image by thomas hawk

 

flickr-michael-foley

flickr image by michael foley in bangladesh

 

recycled-bikes-537x378

monochrome bikes

 

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Slow-Roasted Tomatoes

firm ripe tomatoes for slow roasting

I haven’t put away the sandals and sundresses yet. The markets still burst with zucchini, eggplant and tomatoes. We took the subway out to Rockaway Beach a few days ago for an early evening swim. It’s imminent — the Halloween icons, the sweater weather, the short days. But I refuse to let go of summer.

halved tomatoes on a sheet pan for roasting

Making slow-roasted tomatoes extends the vibe. These plump, sweet-sour treats explode in your mouth with concentrated flavor, transporting you to a summer day in one bite. They can be tossed with a salad, served with grilled meat, scattered with pasta and herbs, or popped into a lunch box. I love them on bruschetta, garlic rubbed toast smeared with ricotta and basil leaves.

sprinkle cut tomatoes with sugar, salt and pepper

My cousins Betsy and Bobby live in the Yorkshire Dales (photo below), about a five hour drive north of London. I visited them in August and was served a most delicious salad of slow roasted tomatoes with croutons, black olives and red onions. Most of it came from their beautiful garden out back.

walking in the yorkshire dales, UK

If you can find them, roast a mix of yellow and red tomatoes to increase the visual appeal. Use cherry tomatoes if you wish; just decrease the cooking time by an hour or so. Dusting them with a mixture of sugar, salt and black pepper before they go in the oven exaggerates their natural sweetness while keeping them on the savory side.

Summer in northern England doesn’t immediately evoke images of just-picked, ripe tomatoes. I imagine Betsy roasts tomatoes regularly and stores them in jars with olive oil, treasuring them into the fall long after the leaves have turned. Thanks to her, I will do the same.

 

Slow-Roasted Tomatoes

Makes 24 halves, enough to serve 8 as a side dish

12 plum tomatoes, firm-ripe
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper*

Preheat oven to the lowest temperature it will go, 250˚ or 275˚ F. Cut tomatoes in half lengthwise. Arrange cut side up, in a single layer, on a rimmed sheet pan. Mix together sugar, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Sprinkle tomatoes liberally with sugar mix. Bake for about 4 hours – or more – until tomatoes have collapsed and shriveled, caramelized but not burnt. Eat warm or room temperature. Store for about a week in the fridge, or in a sealed jar covered in olive oil, which preserves them up to a month. You can also freeze them.

* Do you have a good pepper grinder? What does that even mean? Being the house guest of several lovely, kind, adorable friends this summer has provided me with the opportunity of bringing a pepper grinder house present. Selfishly, it’s because I cannot live without the use of my sturdy, workhorse grinder. But also, because everyone – even novice or non-cooks – should have one in their kitchen. This is one I can safely recommend. Look for the Peugeot label on the underside (the business end).

 

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