Saturday, August 28, 2010

Jim Lahey's No-Knead Bread Recipe

This post is not about bread, really.

I was in Switzerland last month, teaching. My ex-husband is from Switzerland. I did not want to return to his home country for fear of dredging up both wonderful and miserable memories of our time together there. I dreaded this trip. And I dreaded writing this post, obviously, or it wouldn’t have taken me more than six weeks to get to it. My one-week Swiss challenge was to take Switzerland back for myself, to separate the place from the person, and to enjoy, alone, the aspects of Switzerland that I once loved.

I only taught one morning class on Monday, and so in the afternoon, with Bern as my starting point, I took off for Montreux, and the Montreux Jazz Festival. Montreux, yeah, to hear a little free jazz, and have a beer, with the Lac Léman and the rising Alps and the setting sun as the music’s backdrop. My Swiss demi-tarif train pass is still valid, a pass which allows me to purchase half price train tickets anywhere in the country, and so off I went. Dig it.

In the middle of the week, I spent the afternoons sunbathing by the Aare river in Bern’s crowded public park, and partook of the Bernese summertime ritual of walking far upstream, near naked and barefoot, to jump in the river and float quickly down. I tried swimming upstream to hold my spot, and, unsuccessful, wondered how Olympic swimmers would fare as I edged slowly further and further toward the red final exit signs, and the poles that I wanted to neglect to grab onto, in part rebellion, and partly in the interest of continuing this relaxing float in the Aare, around Bern, through some Swiss lakes, to the Rhine, and a little tour of Germany, and out to the North Sea. I was thinking, then, in that split second, that that’d be true freedom, really, missing that pole.

On Friday, I took the train, again, this time to medieval Murten, and not establishing an instant connection with this small town, spontaneously, and with one minute to spare, I boarded the last boat of the day to Neuchâtel. This two hour picturesque voyage took me from Lake Murten, through the Broye Canal, to larger Lake Neuchâtel, and during the voyage I alternated sides on the deck of the boat to catch the farms on the port side, and then the hundreds of birds alighting on the tip tops of trees on the starboard side, their wings in silhouette as the sun set behind them. I ate my bread with gruyère and tomato and sipped the Fendent that I had brought on board, and from time to time the captain would warn me before he sounded the horn to signal a stop, and then sometimes when it was quiet, he’d turn around and ask me, “Ça va? C’est bien?” Oui, c’est bien.

Saturday, I pulled on my hiking gear and set out for the Swiss Alps and Grindelwald. From Grindelwald, I hiked for four and a half hours and 900 vertical meters to the foot of a glacier, which I just glimpsed, before it clouded over and began to rain. On the way up, I asked a local Swiss man if my planned route was a difficult one. Not at all, he said; it’s like this, and indicating the topography of the trail, fish-tailed his hand when he should have been roller coastering it. But, as I learned from my ex-husband, I saved my calves while hiking straight up by turning the path into veers to the right, and veers to the left, and then right again, and so on, and veering slowly about like this, I passed grazing cows, and alpine huts selling cheese made from those cows’ milk, and, sometimes, I’d stop to drink from pure, Alpine streams to slake my thirst. And I talked to myself on this trek. I talked out loud about appreciating the moment. About forgiveness. About trying to be easy on myself and others. And I sang (badly), and I even yoddled a little (worse).

And later in the day, I took the train to Lauterbrunnen where I walked under one of Europe’s largest waterfalls (and met the international jumpers who fly off the top of it), had a respectable Swiss fondue (though not as good as the fondue I ate in Gruyères), and at dusk, I peacefully rode the train back to Bern through the two lakes of lovely Interlaken. It was raining lightly, then, and there was just enough light to illuminate the mountains behind the train. I stood up, pulled the window down, and stuck my head out to catch the last glimpse of those gorgeous and imposing mountains, Alpine mist on my face.

I don’t like everything about Switzerland. But hiking this verdant landscape, and swimming in its pure lakes, and eating its fresh, mostly organic, sustainable foods, and riding its comfortable, reliable trains, are all delights that I now know I will continue to enjoy. Yes, it took a love affair to expose me to Switzerland’s charms, but this week showed me that I can make them mine now, and mine alone, and that, it turns out, may have more to do with bread than I thought.

Jim Lahey's No-Knead Bread Recipe

Note from Banu: My father makes this bread regularly, and now I know why. For my birthday, he generously sent me Jim Lahey’s book containing this simple no-knead bread recipe and a cast-iron pot in which to cook it, and ever since I’ve been experimenting with different permutations of the original recipe.

This is Mark Bittman’s New York Times adaptation of Jim Lahey’s bread recipe, but it is not that far from the original. I usually make a whole wheat loaf, and have determined that 2 cups whole wheat bread flour to 1 cup white bread flour is a pretty good ratio. I also like to add one to two handfuls each of sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds, for a heartier, healthier loaf. My loaves haven’t risen so much as the pictures in Lahey’s book, but the crust is incredible, and though, when sliced, is the shape of a biscotti, and not so great for sandwiches, in the morning with a little flax oil or slice of cheese? Heaven.

Adapted from Jim Lahey, Sullivan Street Bakery

Time: About 1½ hours plus 14 to 20 hours’ rising

3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting

¼ teaspoon instant yeast

1¼ teaspoons salt

Cornmeal or wheat bran as needed.

1. In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Add 1 and 5/8 cups water, and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest at least 12 hours, preferably about 18, at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees.

2. Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest about 15 minutes.

3. Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal; put dough seam side down on towel and dust with more flour, bran or cornmeal. Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours. When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.

4. At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in oven as it heats. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it may look like a mess, but that is O.K. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.
Yield: One 1½-pound loaf.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Garlic Scape Pesto with Lamb’s Quarters, Sun Dried Tomatoes, and Black Olives over Whole Wheat Fusilli Recipe

You know you’ve seen a lot of soccer when you’re watching a live game in the park, and, for a brief moment, after a man goes down grabbing his ankle, you think you’ll see the instant replay. The World Cup is both the highlight of my life every four years, and also absolutely disorienting. I’ve been sipping beer at ten in the morning, making friends with fans at local soccer spots, and contemplating traveling far into Queens to a steakhouse for the most authentic Argentina match watching experience. At eight in the morning on a Saturday. There may be something wrong with me.

But, in addition to the soccer watching mania, I have also been cooking and eating a lot. I made bread, twice, even in ninety degree heat; I mixed up some garlic scape pesto which I tossed with whole wheat pasta, fresh lamb’s quarters, sun dried tomatoes and black olives, and I offered a lima bean salad succotash with fresh corn and tarragon to guests at a potluck birthday party cookout in my building. And now that the day’s beautiful games are finished, I’ll begin the blogging catch up. Here goes...

Garlic Scape Pesto with Lamb’s Quarters, Sun Dried Tomatoes, and Black Olives over Whole Wheat Fusilli Recipe

one bunch garlic scapes, about ten stalks
3/4 cup pine nuts
3/4 cup olive oil
1 cup parmigiano reggiano, grated
salt, to taste

one bunch lamb’s quarters, or spinach, or arugula, or another green of your choosing
1 to 1 1/2 cup sun dried tomatoes, soaked in warm water, and chopped
1 to 1 1/2 cup oil-cured olives, pits removed

1 pound whole wheat pasta, cooked according to package directions (I used fusilli)

Pulse the garlic scapes in a food processor until smooth. Add the pine nuts and the olive oil, and process until a smooth paste forms. If the pesto is too thick, add more olive oil. Add the grated parmigiano reggiano, and mix until combined. Add additional salt, to taste, if necessary.

I spooned some of this pesto over cooked whole wheat pasta, added a little of the pasta’s cooking water, stirred in the leaves from several stalks of lamb’s quarters (you could use spinach, or another green of your choosing), and tossed the pasta with some chopped sun dried tomatoes and black, oil-cured, olives.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Foraged Mulberries and Fresh Strawberries with Tarragon or Mint Recipe

“No, no. We don’t spray pesticides on the mulberry trees. We don’t want to kill anything; there’s enough dead stuff around here,” said the cemetery guard in a singy Jamaican accent, smiling at his joke, and flashing a few gold teeth. Speaking with the background soundtrack of the squawking green parrots that nest in the neo-Gothic spires of the entrance to the historic Greenwood cemetery, the guard used the back of his hand to wave me toward the weeping branches, “eat them; go on; they’re sweet. I used to eat them. Now they stain my dentures.”

Mulberries do stain. In fact, if my head’s down, I recognize these trees by their fallen fruit, and what looks like spilled ink from tiny inkwells decorating the sidewalk. Remembering that it was in Turkey, and with my father, that I first learned about mulberries, I collected a couple of handfuls and ate most of them on the spot. They stained my fingers and hands, sure, but it’s surprising that these sweet berries, less seeded than raspberries or blackberries, and less acidic, too, aren’t more popular here than they are. A folk remedy in Turkey, and used to treat colds and flu and even constipation, mulberries possess all the powerful anti-oxidants found as anthocyanins of other berries, and are also high in resveratrol, the phytonutrient found in the skin of red grapes, and purported to prevent and fight cancer, and extend the life span in mice.

Delicious and healthy, I’m devouring the season’s prevalent berries, and in addition to my foraged mulberries, I’ve been enjoying locally grown, organic strawberries in bulk. With berries like this, all you need is a bowl and a spoon, but sometimes I like to enhance their natural flavor with fresh herbs. This week, I alternated adding some mint or tarragon to the strawberries, but eating them plain has been the preferred method. For breakfast, I finished off the last of my harvested mulberries, so I think a trip later today to the cemetery may be in order. But this time, I'll bring a bowl for the harvest that will, most likely, exceed what I can carry in my two hands. Free berries, can't beat it.

Fresh Strawberries with Tarragon or Mint Recipe

one carton fresh, organic strawberries (organic is important, as most non-organic berries contain pesticide residue)

2-3 tablespoons tarragon or mint leaves (or more or less, to taste)

Combine ingredients.

What could be simpler, healthier, or more delicious? Ah, summertime.

Monday, June 14, 2010

New Holland Herring (Hollandse Nieuwe Haring)

Even before leaving New York for Amsterdam I craved herring. I spent a month in this city of canals three years ago, where herring, smoked mackerel, and nearly overflowing delicate glasses full of jenever, the ancient precursor to gin, were regular staples in my diet, and I missed them. Upon arrival, and all hazy jet-laggy, I made my way along peaceful canals to a herring cart for lunch, where I was thrilled to discover that the Hollandse nieuwe haring, the first catch of the season, were set to arrive on June 8th, two days before our departure. Oh, happy herring day, this June 8th.

The new herring arrives in late spring with fanfare. Many decorated ships come into port to deliver their catch; the most beautifully adorned ships win prizes; and later, the first batch of herring is auctioned off for charity, this year to a charity educating children about healthy eating and cooking. Before arriving at the fish stalls, the herring are cleaned of everything but their pancreatic glands, which are left intact to help the fish ripen and develop flavor, and then the fish are preserved in a little salt and flash frozen. At the fish stalls, the pancreatic glands are removed, the fish are thawed, and they are served raw, either whole and plain, or, cut up into bite sized pieces, and served with a little onion and pickle. To eat the herring, traditional Dutch tip their heads back, dangle the fish by their tails, lower them into their mouths, and enjoy the smooth silkiness in a few sumptuous bites. Nothing extra. No onion, no pickle.

I tasted the new herring three ways: plain, with small amounts of onion and pickle, and in a sandwich. To maximize the sensual texture and subtle flavor of this oily fish, I preferred the herring plain, but in a sandwich they made a filling lunch. These young herring have a fat content between 16 and 25 percent, and so are a valuable source of Omega-3 fatty acids. They are largely mercury free, sustainable, and with a small glass of corenwyn, a form a jenever, they make a heavenly meal. Free of the cloying sweetness of most herring, these fish taste purely and clearly like silky sensual herring fish silveriness.

I’m back in New York now, and so you may run into me at the Grand Central Oyster Bar where these North Sea herring are available until June 25th, or at Russ and Daughters, where you may see me at the counter, head tipped back, fish poised for consumption, where these lovelies are available until I eat them all. Nah, I’ll share. Come on over.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Mizuna Salad with Cherries, Goat Cheese, and Toasted Hazelnuts Recipe

I made salad this week. Why? Well, to counteract the Voodoo Doughnuts that I ate from the revolving tray in the video below. And not to belabor the point, but I have to squeeze myself into a flesh colored unitard in a mere eight days. Yes, that means a nude colored unitard. Nude, as in, naked. For an audience. Me, naked looking, with a gimpy foot, in front of an audience. For an hour. Dancing around. Gimpily. So I did not want Froot Loop (TM) encrusted doughuts or Kool-Aid (TM) flavored doughnuts, or those doughnuts with chemically blue sparkly sprinkly toppings showing up on the outsides (or insides) of my thighs, really, and making matters worse, even if they were vegan, the ones I ate whole. And yes, I confess; I ate half (ok, maybe three-quarters) of a bacon maple doughnut log thing, too, not vegan at all that maple bacon log thing, so, yeah, after all that sugar, those vegan doughnuts, the bacon on the doughnuts (bacon on the doughnuts) well, I needed a salad, craved a salad.

Inspired by the strawberry and spinach combination I ate at Portland's Paley’s, I traveled to my food coop in search of heirloom strawberries with concentrated, vibrant flavor, and instead, because local ones aren’t yet available, I found giant, mealy strawberries that I predicted would have holes in the middle. And they did. But these weren’t magical holes like those Voodoo doughnuts with the real magic, so I substituted tasty cherries instead. Cherries, goat cheese, mizuna, and hazelnuts -- a perfect Portland tribute. And very flesh-colored unitard friendly.

Mizuna Salad with Cherries, Goat Cheese, and Toasted Hazelnuts Recipe

5 cherries per plate, halved, pits removed
balsamic vinegar
olive oil
salt and pepper
hazelnuts, toasted, about 7 nuts per plate
1 bunch mizuna (or similar tasting green, such as arugula), ripped into bite-sized pieces
goat cheese, crumbled, about 1 ounce per plate

Note from Banu: the above ingredient quantities are estimates, please use your own discretion about the amount of each ingredient you use.

Soak the cherries in balsamic vinegar for a few hours, or overnight in the refrigerator.

Remove the cherries, and add some olive oil (to taste; I like my salad dressing with more vinegar than the classical proportions of 3 to 1 oil to vinegar), salt and pepper.

Toast the hazelnuts in a dry pan over medium high heat, being careful not to burn them.

Toss the mizuna with the vinaigrette, and add the crumbled goat cheese for the final mix.

Serve the greens on salad plates garnished with the cherries and toasted hazelnuts.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Grilled Black Forest Ham and Cheddar Cheese Sandwich with Aioli and Baby Watercress

Yes, I realize that’s a photograph of a grilled ham a cheese sandwich, but sometimes a girl just wants to be taken care of. It’s my 41st birthday today, and I’ve spent much of the last few days nostalgic over a sweet childhood made immediate by home movies my father recently converted from reel-to-reel to DVDs. I’ve been tearfully watching my innocent tiny self and my loving young parents and grandparents on screen, and assessing my life and the choices I’ve made since my 4th birthday. And yesterday, I injured my foot while taking class, and, while waiting for an x-ray, enjoyed the theater of New York's emergency room, the drunk claiming she was a doctor, the prisoner leg-cuffed to her wheelchair. My foot's not broken, but in ten short days I have to run around on stage in Amsterdam, when I perform in Boris Charmatz's 50 Years of Dance, so it needs to heal up quickly. Yeah, I wanted a grilled cheese. And tomato soup. And I wished I was four again so my mother could make it for me.

I might be having a mid-life crisis. Or more like a mid-life what the hell? Turning 40 was no big deal; I was much too involved in party planning and party food cooking and Las Vegas escaping with my then husband to think about what this milestone meant. This year, I’m alone, with few friends in New York, and a swollen foot. And I just finished Oscar Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Gray, not the book to choose when one is watching one's own childhood innocence on screen, feeling ambivalent about aging, and then observing all of life’s challenges on one’s face in the mirror. But I look much younger than my years, so perhaps there’s a portrait of me hidden away somewhere expressing all of my life’s regret, worry, questions. Hmm...

On the positive side, I spent a lovely four days visiting my sister with my parents in Portland, Oregon, eating lots of terrific food, walking along the beach at the coast, and even reconnecting with an ex-boyfriend from college. Portland is a food town, and for every meal I ate locally grown, organic, and sustainably raised food accompanied by locally produced wines. Remarkable culinary moments included the crispy sweetbreads with local morels, and a spinach and mâche salad with goat cheese, hazelnuts, and balsamic vinegar-marinated strawberries from Paley’s, nearly all of the brightly flavored tapas at Toro Bravo, discovering the earthy and surprisingly unjunipery Aviation gin, and savoring a delicious variation of a croque monsieur, served as a breakfast sandwich, that was the inspiration for this post. Made with aioli, not béchamel, I added baby watercress for a touch of green, and with a little tomato soup, I think this sandwich might even have foot healing powers. And if not, there's always the gin.

Grilled Black Forest Ham and Cheddar Cheese Sandwich with Aioli and Baby Watercress Recipe

Gather all the ingredients, changing them around to your liking (baby spinach instead of watercress, aged Gouda for cheddar, tempeh instead of ham, etc.). Make the aioli by adding one small, minced clove of garlic, 1/4 teaspoon dijon mustard, and perhaps a touch more lemon juice to the homemade mayonnaise recipe at the bottom of this post. Slather the bread with the aioli, slice the cheese thinly and place on both slices of bread, add one slice of ham, and the greens. Grill in a buttered pan over medium heat until you've got a golden crust, and the cheese is melted through.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Market Brunch in Lyon and Parisian Memories

The most memorable meal I ate in the last week was not one I made. The specialty salad at an all night restaurant in Paris, La Poule au Pot, is a simple, yet ravishing bowl of spinach leaves and chicken livers in a savory vinaigrette, and my even more ravishing dining partner, a Frenchman, originally from the south, was the one to introduce it to me. “Ça me plait”, he said, when explaining that this meal is the one he orders regularly when dining here, and now I know why. Elegant and hearty, the acid of the dressing balances the rich livers, and writing about it now makes me want to hop a flight back to Paris to experience the evening again from the start.

Little did I know that this salad had a history among my friends. Returning to New York, I recounted my French adventures to my dancer friend Daniel, who knows the restaurant. “Did you have the spinach salad with the livers?” was his first question when I told him about dining at La Poule au Pot. “Tom claims that salad is responsible for a performance of a lifetime,” said my friend. “Tom said he felt invincible after eating that salad.”

La Poule au Pot is a restaurant frequented by performers from the nearby theaters. When in Paris, and during my time dancing with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, we generally stayed near Les Halles, the neighborhood of the restaurant, and within walking distance to Théâtre de la Ville, where we had two week seasons. By the time the evenings’ shows were finished, the more conventional nearby restaurants had long closed, and La Poule au Pot came to the rescue for many of us, Tom and Daniel included, but I don’t think I’d ever actually eaten there before now.

I don’t know about feeling invincible, but that salad certainly contributed to my not wanting to leave Paris. The lovely evening at La Poule au Pot, visiting my best friend Cheryl, spending time over rich meals in Lyon exchanging ideas with my good friend Cédric, working with the incredible dancers of the Ballet de l'Opéra de Lyon, enjoying champagne-filled evenings with said friends, and unexpected and spontaneous moments creating new ones. Only one week in France and I’m already nostalgic. I’ll be back, Paris, and La Poule au Pot, and with some pretty great memories.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Vietnamese Rice Noodle Salad Recipe

I’m hazily waking from a jet lagged afternoon nap and sipping tea while under the weight of a cozy down comforter. The red tiled rooftops of Lyon are visible through the wrought iron swirls of my hotel's wraparound balcony, and an over-sized porcelain bathtub is waiting for me in the crook of the next room, a triangular room, designed so guests here may soak privately, and still open the French doors to spy on the swifts curving around those rooftop chimneys.

I’m in France again, fine-tuning Beach Birds for the Lyon Opera Ballet’s Paris shows, but I’m also hanging around the city’s restaurants with my friend Cédric, eating. I’ve made good use of my time, and, in two days, I've tried grass-green zucchini soup with mackerel fritters, parmentier de veau topped with pureed sweet potatoes, tête de cochon (yes, that’s pig’s head, perhaps mixed with cartilagey pig’s feet and other strangely delicious and anonymous ingredients, cut up, disguised, and then breaded, fried, and served with vinegared potatoes), and tonight I think I’ll revisit one of my favorites from the region, quenelles de brochet with sauce Nantua, fish quenelles with crayfish sauce.

Decadence, yes, but I’m taking ballet class every morning with an English woman who, instead of counting while demonstrating the exercises, sings the rhythms like this: ticky ticky, hee hee, tock, and she makes me giggle while doing the hundred millionth or maybe billionth tendu of my life. Not a bad way to celebrate your billionth tendu, this, ticky tocky hee hee, tendu front, tendu back. Good morning body, wake up, and happily work off those rich meals. Hee hee fondue, hee hee rond de jambe, flicky flacky.

So, what I’m saying is, France is good. And I’m full. Here’s me, getting started.

Vietnamese Rice Noodle Salad Recipe

Note from Banu: I was influenced by the following recipe while making this salad, but created my own version, and now, in my trans-Atlantic travels, I have misplaced the piece of paper with the scrawlings of my own ingredients, so, for lack of the original, here’s the one that inspired it; it’s not that far off, and I’ve included some of my variations in parentheses.

5 cloves garlic (I used two cloves)
1 cup loosely packed chopped cilantro
1/2 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced (I used two serranos)
3 tablespoons white sugar (I used maple syrup)
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
3 tablespoons vegetarian fish sauce (I used regular fish sauce)
1 (12 ounce) package dried rice noodles (I used 8 ounces)
2 carrots, julienned
1 cucumber, halved lengthwise and chopped (I substituted bean sprouts)
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint (I used basil)
4 leaves napa cabbage (I used more, a quarter of a head)
1/4 cup unsalted peanuts
4 sprigs fresh mint

Mince the garlic with the cilantro and the hot pepper. Transfer the mixture to a bowl, add the lime juice, fish sauce or salt and sugar; stir well. Let the sauce sit for 5 minutes.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the rice noodles; boil them for 2 minutes. Drain well. Rinse the noodles with cold water until they have cooled. Let them drain again.

Combine the sauce, noodles, carrots, cucumber, mint and Napa cabbage in a large serving bowl. Toss well and serve the salad garnished with the peanuts and mint sprigs.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Ginger-Lemongrass Shrimp Cakes Recipe

In Paris one summer, I was told by my then husband that when speaking French, instead of sounding correctly guttural, my "r"s sounded aspirated, which is kind of a nice way of saying your accent sucks, and you’re talking like an American. Blessed with a fairly good ear for language, this did not sit well with me. I wanted to blend in. I wanted everyone to speak to me as if I was a native, to be dumbfounded when I revealed my nationality. I would not accept my aspirated American "r"s as a linguistic handicap. No way. I would no longer say, “Mehci beaucoup. Au revoih, à tout à l’euh!” Oh no. That would call me out instantly. Nor would I stand to utter anything so derogatory as “J’adoh les escahgots avec du beuh et du pehsil,” about those elegant French snails. I had a plan, and for my plan, I needed a new name, a disguise. On the walk back from the heart of Paris to my husband’s father’s house, I became Véronique.

“Exaggerate the sound; it’s aggressive, that "r",” encouraged my Swiss-French husband, and not feeling like American Banu while pronouncing these very foreign sounds, Véronique provided my cover. Véronique could read every word and sentence in sight, aggressively pronounce the "r"s, and add an extra feminine French flair to the rest: crème caramels, crème fraiche, rapide, rapide, les Citroëns, les livraisons, arrêt de bus, marché aux Puces, gésiers d'oie, etc. By the time we reached our destination, and with some helpful tips from my then husband, I was sounding more like a French person. Or more like Véronique, anyway.

I mention all of this because I need another name. I have a new video camera, and I’m learning a new language. The video posted here is my first attempt at filming or editing anything and it is a beginning. I’d like to introduce a regular video element to my blog, and I’ve decided that it will be an experiment in content and in style, and that I’ll allow it to evolve. So, in honor of René Clair, and his fantastic Dadaist film, Entr'acte, which I have only recently seen, I have dubbed myself René. My humble first video is like a full spoken minute of aspirated "r"s, but I’ll practice, and in doing so, I might just one day be able to flawlessly pronounce my self-given alter egos' names. And in the meantime, I’m going to go enjoy some of these tasty shrimp cakes. À tout à l'heurrre.

Ginger-Lemongrass Shrimp Cakes Recipe

1 medium shallot, minced
1 tablespoon ginger, minced
2 small cloves of garlic, minced
1 tablespoon lemongrass, minced
2 tablespoons cilantro, minced
1 pound of shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 teaspoon salt

Put the first five ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and whiz them around. Add the shrimp and the salt, and process until everything is combined. Form the shrimp mixture into a log using plastic wrap. Unwrap, and cut into inch-thick pieces. Steam for about five minutes in a bamboo steamer, or pan-fry over medium-high heat until crispy on one side, then flip, and cook briefly on the other. For textural contrast, I steamed half of the shrimp cakes, and pan-fried the other. Serve immediately with the following sauce.

Spicy Thai-Style Dipping Sauce Recipe

Note from Banu: this made enough sauce for the amount of shrimp cakes in the above recipe, but you could double it if you wanted more. I added maple syrup because I was out of regular sugar, and I liked it, and will probably use it in other Thai dressings I make, as it didn’t overwhelm with maple flavor, as I suspected it would.

3 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoon fish sauce
2 teaspoons maple syrup
juice of 1 lime
1 serrano chile, sliced (or sliced red Thai bird chiles, for more heat)
red pepper flakes, to taste

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Swedish Whole Wheat Banana Bread Recipe

Nearly ten years ago, I spent a few dark winter weeks in Sweden while co-staging CRWDSPCR, a work of Merce Cunningham’s, for the Royal Swedish Ballet. It was detailed, exhausting work, the first time I’d attempted a staging, and mostly, my friend Tom and I worked in a basement dance studio, with only a few tiny portholes near the ceiling to let in a brief amount of the already scarce light. The sun worked fewer hours than we did, and concurrently, so we missed each other daily. I’d wake and eat breakfast in the dark, walk to the theater by the light of the streetlamps, and by the time our work day was finished, the sun had passed cocktail hour, eaten dinner, and was already off to bed.

But even in the winter black, there is plenty in Sweden to be happy about. While there, I ate reindeer with lingonberries, västerbotten cheese tarts, avocado halves filled with löjrom, the mild orange vendace fish caviar, rye flatbreads with pickled herring of every sort (curry, mustard, spiced, creamed, in wine sauce, with juniper berries), gorgeous and tall sandwiches on seeded bread with sprouts, and salmon with potatoes covered in lemony dill sauce. As an aperitif, I drank caraway and cumin aquavit from delicate glasses, and for dessert I tried barely sweetened and cardamon scented cakes and breads, some braided, some with cream fillings.

I’m remembering Sweden because of a recipe. Claudia, who found this recipe in an online Swedish newspaper, was a foreign exchange student to my cousin Sarah long ago, and sent it to me via the only email chain letter I didn’t break, a recipe chain. Claudia has a German father and a Swedish mother, and in the many years since her time in Ohio, has become part of the family. When I was still in high school, I visited Claudia in Hamburg, Germany, where we ate plentiful breakfasts of whole grain breads and cheeses and jams and butter to spread with those quaint Swedish butter and jam paddles I would purchase years later for myself, on that dark trip to Stockholm.

I like the addition of coffee in this recipe, and in the interest of healthy eating, I substituted agave nectar (see note in recipe below) for the sugar, and swapped out one cup of regular flour for whole wheat pastry flour. Even healthier, now, this recipe is easy and delicious. Make it next time you have some extra ripe bananas lying around, or if you’re craving a little sunshine in your kitchen. Thanks, Claudia. Thanks, Sweden.

Swedish Whole Wheat Banana Bread Recipe

5.3 ounces butter
1 1/4 cup sugar (I used 1/2 cup of agave nectar, but you could use up to a cup for a sweeter cake) note: Whoops. I just heard about the myth of healthy agave and will write about it soon.
2 eggs
2 cups flour (I used one cup all-purpose unbleached white with germ, and one cup whole wheat pastry flour)
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
4 medium sized ripe bananas
1/4 cup cold coffee

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (175 Centigrade), and grease a round baking form, round with a hole in the middle, diameter about 11 to 12 inches, or use a non-stick one. (I used a rectangular loaf pan)

Mix butter and sugar with an electric mixer and then add the two eggs and mix again until fluffy.

Mash the bananas with a fork.

Add the flour, baking soda and baking powder, bananas, and coffee to the dough and mix again.

Pour the dough into the cake pan.

Bake for about 45 minutes in the lower part of the oven. After cooling down you may cover the cake with icing or powdered sugar.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Stinging Nettle Gnocchi Recipe

stinging nettle gnocchi

Stinging nettle is more common in Europe than it is in the United States, so it’s no wonder I first encountered it while hiking between Pringy and Pâquier, Switzerland. My then husband pointed out the nettle while describing a wild herb soup his mother used to make, and, eager to experiment, I pulled up a spiny stalk with my bare hands, too quick to heed his fervent admonitions as he watched me harvesting. Needless to say, we didn’t eat soup that evening, and I soothed the burning red welts on my hands for more than a day with healing clay.

But there is something seductive about an herb that can be so dangerous and so healthy at the same time. With some protection, and proper cooking technique, this defensive plant turns into a nurturer: long known as a medicinal herb for treating myriad conditions from arthritis to moodiness, it is high in vitamins A, B, C, D and K, and contains lots of protein, too. I wait eagerly every spring for the nettle to arrive at my food coop, and this week, after reading about Italian nettle gnocchi online, purchased several bunches, some for the gnocchi, and some to freeze for later, for that soup.

After a few minutes in simmering water the nettle loses its sting, and the cooking water becomes nettle tea. While it’s simmering, nettle smells and tastes vaguely of the sea, but mixed into these gnocchi, it adds a welcome touch of sweetness and a gorgeous deep green color. Inspired by this blog entry, I made two sauces for accompaniment: a cream sauce made by heating a little heavy cream with some garlic, sage, and melted Verde Capra, an Italian blue goats’ milk cheese (unspecific proportions; I suggest improvising), and, the following day, I added some crushed tomatoes to the leftover cream mixture to make a savory tomato-cream sauce.

My father, who was on his way to Milan, Italy on Friday when he was grounded by Eyjafjallajökull’s ash, ate both versions, and proclaimed the tomato-cream sauce superior. I agreed, thanked him for testing my humble first gnocchi, and now I'll thank you, too, Icelandic volcano, for allowing us to have to have some pretty great father-daughter time, with or without these gnocchi. Thank you, volcano. And now you can stop, ok? I've got a flight to Paris in a couple of weeks...

Stinging Nettle Gnocchi Recipe

8 ounces nettle, rinsed, trimmed and blanched for 3-4 minutes, until tender (please wear gloves for the rinsing and trimming part)
5 medium russet potatoes, peeled, cubed, and cooked in simmering water until fork tender
1 egg
about 2 cups of all-purpose flour with the germ
pinch of salt

After squeezing all the water out of the cooked nettle, whiz the nettle around in a food processor for a while, or chop it finely.

In a large bowl, mash the cooked potatoes and stir in the chopped nettle.

Turn the potato mixture out onto a floured surface, and make a well in the center. Add the egg and the flour, and working from the center out, gather all the potato and the flour until a soft ball forms. Do not overwork.

Form the dough into a large log (covering with flour if necessary), cut medium sized pieces from this log and form them into smaller, skinnier logs. Cut inch-long pieces from these skinny logs, and roll in flour.

Flour the back of a fork, and with your thumb, roll the individual gnocchi off the back of the fork, creating ridges on one side, and a concave area on the backside. These ridges will help hold the sauce.

For a first time gnocchi maker, I found it helpful to look at these gnocchi-making videos. That Claudio sure looks trustworthy, doesn't he?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Spinach Egg and Lemon Soup with Carrot and Celery Root Recipe

Spinach egg lemon soup

My parents’ house in Turkey is on the Western side of the Bodrum peninsula, and, when first traveling here as a teenager, and for the entire fifteen hour drive along the coast, I listened to Sezen Aksu’s Sen Ağlama album on my new walkman. I flipped this tape over and over, and imagined a fictional adult life with the Turkish boy crush I left in Istanbul, a sullen teen attempting to remove myself from the sweaty reality of the cramped backseat of my parents’ car. A side, B side, A side, B side, sen ağlama, dayanamam, benimle ol, bu gece, geri dön: overly sentimental Turkish song lyrics about the moon, the sea, the luminous phosphorescence of the moon’s reflection in the sea, and love, sunset, more love, tonight, you and me and the sea and the luminescence, and then I would look out the window of the car at the real sea, and the real cliffs, and the real dramatic landscape that was this distant and unfamiliar other part of my culture, and well, so, as a half-Turkish American, I have been romanticizing being in this house since I was seventeen years old.

The garden here is a paradise of hibiscus, tangly blue and fragrant white jasmine, bougainvillea, pomegranate and bay trees, and a grape vine that my father has trained to climb the side of the house. Two years ago, I harvested a few bunches of green grapes at the end of the summer, and this year, the vines will be old enough to provide shade on the rooftop, where I may sit with a chilly Efes beer and some Turkish pistachios while I watch the sunset over the island that's close enough to swim to. This little bit of land on the Aegean sea is my perfect place on earth.

It takes no cooking skills to make a delectable meal here, as the produce is the Mediterranean sun. Combine a tomato, some garlic, an eggplant and a green pepper, add some buttery rice and a free-range chicken, and you’ve ingested that sun, and it will warm your insides. I have several individual weeks of work in Europe this summer, and I’m trying to figure out how to combine a teaching trip to Bern, Switzerland with a little beach time vacation, and, with Turkey on my mind, I made this spinach, egg and lemon soup. Not as perfumed as it would have been made with those Turkish ingredients, it still managed to conjure sentimental memories of Sezen Aksu, mandarin orange blossoms, and the cool, refreshing Aegean sea. (And some luminescence, too.)

Spinach Soup (Ispanak çorbası)

From Ayla Algar’s The Complete Book of Turkish Cooking

Put 6 cups of the beef stock (I used chicken stock) in a large pan with the carrots and the celery root; simmer until the vegetables are tender. Wash the spinach several times; shred finely, and add to the pan of soup. Bring to a boil and simmer 10 to 15 minutes until the spinach is cooked.

Melt the butter in a large saucepan. Blend in the flour and stir over medium heat until smooth and bubbly. Heat and stir in 2 cups remaining stock, mixing with a wire whisk. Gradually pour this mixture into the soup and simmer 10 minutes. Beat the egg yolks with the lemon juice, gradually stir 1 cup of the hot soup into the mixture and blend well. Return this into the soup stirring constantly. Add the dill and parsley. Bring just to the boiling point and remove from heat. Correct the salt.

8 servings

2 quarts beef stock (or chicken, or vegetable stock)
3 medium carrots, cut into shoestring pieces
1/2 cup celery root (optional), cut into shoestring pieces
3/4 lb. spinach
4 tablespoons butter
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 egg yolks
juice of 1 lemon
1/2 cup chopped fresh dill
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Steamed Asparagus and Broccolini with Parsley-Parmigiano Reggiano “Gremolata” Recipe

asparagus broccolini

Yes, those asparagus stalks and tender broccolini branches are gorgeous, but the parsley topping I made for them is addictive. I can spoon it up straight, finish the entire bowl in one sitting. In fact, I’ll call it salad. Years ago, I made it as a garnish for a white bean soup, and, not so enamored by the soup, I have since made it several times, on its own, for spreading on crusty French baguettes, and today, it became a nice dressing for some steamed spring vegetables. If I hadn’t hidden the remainder in the back of the refrigerator, I’d have eaten it all, one garlicky spoonful at a time, making excuses to get near the kitchen table for another bite.

Not only delicious, this spring greenery is pretty good for us, too. High in vitamins K, C, A and folic acid, parsley is also known to contain volatile oils that can neutralize certain carcinogens. Asparagus, possessing additional A and C, is rich in B vitamins and several minerals, too. Broccolini, a cross between conventional broccoli and Kai Lan, and known as Chinese broccoli or Chinese kale, triples the antioxidant power of the vitamin C and A in the parsley and asparagus, and tastes pretty sweet, too.

I’ve been craving fruits and vegetables lately, and returned from the food coop with mangoes, blood oranges, apples, blueberries, bananas, and lots of vegetables. It’s warm in New York and, after taking an intensely physical dance class and sweating a lot in this eighty degree weather, there’s nothing like a plate of healthy green things and a juicy mango for dessert to replenish.

Steamed Asparagus and Broccolini with Parsley-Parmigiano Reggiano “Gremolata” Recipe

1 bunch asparagus, trimmed
1 bunch broccolini, trimmed

For the “gremolata”:

1 large bunch parsley, washed and minced, stems included
2 cloves garlic, minced
about a half a cup of grated parmigiano reggiano cheese
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar (or less, depending on your taste, I like it vinegary)
3 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste

Set up a steamer, and steam the vegetables until al dente.

Meanwhile, combine all the ingredients for the gremolata, and set aside.

Toss the cooked vegetables with a bit of the gremolata, and serve immediately.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Cauliflower and Dandelion Green Gratin with Gingery Coconut Milk and Panko Crumb Crust Recipe

From the bench where I sit in the Greenwood Cemetery I can see the Brooklyn Bank building, the working industrial piers of New York harbor, the high rises in midtown Manhattan (and a corner of its namesake's bridge), the obelisk tombstones of Culbert and Lowe and Mac Donald, and engravings on them with sentimental phrases like, “Our Only Treasure”, and, above the graves, thousands of cherry blossoms slowly pushing their way out of winter’s hibernation. It is warm enough to pick up grass blades with my bare toes as I write, and to want to gather my hair up off my neck. Spring is really here, and I am surprised.

I did not expect to feel this warm breeze so soon, and yet, as sure as the sweet, pervasive scent of these magnolia blossoms, the confident yellow wall of burgeoning forsythia marking the edge of a wobbly stone path here, even as sure as the hesitant crocuses that gingerly test the air before unfurling their delicate purple leaves, spring has definitely arrived.

Expectations / impermanence. It’s simple: I did not expect spring, and the impermanence of winter suddenly became evident. And as this perfect day passes, I’ll not hold onto it with slippery fingers. This treasure is today's treasure. Tomorrow holds its own unique beauty.

I read some of Rumi's poems while I was in the cemetery, coincidentally flipped directly to the spring section of the anthology, and connected with the romance of all of this renewal surrounding me. Romantic spring, I'm happy you're here.

"Flutes for Dancing", by Jelaluddin Rumi, with translation by Coleman Barks

It’s lucky to hear the flutes for dancing
coming down the road. The ground is glowing.
The table is set in the yard.

We will drink all this wine tonight
because it’s Spring. It is.
It’s a growing sea. We’re clouds
over the sea,
or flecks of matter
in the ocean when the ocean seems lit from within.
I know I’m drunk when I start this ocean talk.

Would you like to see the moon split
in half with one throw?

and, from "A Great Wagon":

Come to the orchard in Spring.
There is light and wine, and sweethearts
in the pomegranate flowers.

If you do not come, these do not matter.
If you do come, these do not matter.

Cauliflower and Dandelion Green Gratin with Gingery Coconut Milk and Panko Crumb Crust Recipe

Note from Banu: Full disclosure: I actually didn’t really like this week’s concoction so much, but I’m posting it nonetheless because it’s a healthy dish, and who knows? Perhaps this will become someone’s favorite recipe. The bitter dandelion greens are a nice foil for the subtle sweetness of the coconut milk, and the cauliflower and turmeric are a classic combination, and together, provide more protection against cancer than they do alone. This is a fine recipe, it’s just no perfect spring day.

1 head of cauliflower, cut into florets, and blanched in salted boiling water
1 bunch of dandelion greens, chopped, and added to the simmering cauliflower water for the last minute or so of cooking, to just wilt the greens.
1 1/2 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 medium onion, minced
1 tablespoon turmeric root, minced (or you could use powdered turmeric, but use less of it)
1 tablespoon ginger root, minced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tablespoons of soy flour (or brown rice flour)
1 14 oz can of coconut milk
Salt and pepper, to taste
Panko crumbs, about 1/4 cup

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

Heat the vegetable oil in a medium saucepan. Add the onion, and cook until soft. Add the garlic, turmeric, and ginger and cook for a few minutes longer. Stir in the soy flour and cook briefly, stirring constantly. Slowly add the coconut milk and stir to combine. Bring the mixture to a boil, and then let simmer for a few minutes until the sauce thickens slightly. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Combine the blanched cauliflower and the wilted dandelion greens with the sauce. Pour everything into an 8 x 8 x 2 inch (or similarly sized) baking dish, and top with the panko crumbs. Bake in the oven until bubbly and golden brown. (I put mine under the broiler for a few minutes to get a good crust.)

Serve immediately.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Lasagna Bolognese Recipe

lasagna bolognese

I made lasagna last week to help me tackle the physical and mental challenge of the daily classes and rehearsals involved in the staging I’m doing of Merce Cunningham’s Summerspace for the phenomenal dancers of The Juilliard School for their spring concert. My diet is mostly vegetarian, but it was a long, cold, and snowy winter, and lately, I’ve been craving lots of meaty fortification against the brutality of it all. It is the last I will make of winter’s hearty meals, however, for spring is here, and I am shedding. I even wore sandals today. And shorts. It was a Summerspace kind of day.

Thinking a lot lately of Merce and John Cage (Merce’s long-time partner and collaborator), I’ve been revisiting some of John's books and came across one of my favorite passages from Silence. A student of Zen Buddhism, and an avid wild mushroom hunter, John curiously searched for a Japanese haiku involving the fungus, and came across this one, by Bashō:

matsutake ya
shiranu ko no ha no

This haiku is translated literally into English as:

pine mushroom
ignorance leaf of tree

John Cage found this haiku in R.H. Blyth's compilation of haiku poems, the autumn section, where Blyth translates the literal Japanese words into the following English haiku:

The leaf of some unknown tree
Sticking on a mushroom

The story goes that John read this translation to a Japanese composer friend (Ichiyanagi or Takahashi, he can’t remember who), and the composer replied that he found Blyth’s translation uninteresting, and, at Cage’s urging, came back two days later with this version:

Mushroom does not know
That leaf is
Sticking on it

After three years of thought on the matter, John created his own version:

That that’s unkown
Brings mushroom and leaf together

And then, later, this one:

What Leaf?
What Mushroom?

So, in honor of Merce and John and Summerspace at Juilliard next week, here’s my version:

The lost leaf of tree
and mushroom stick together

And this:

Wayward tree leaf,
Earthy mushroom togetherness

And taking some liberties:

Adhere to me, leaf
On your mushroomy free fall

Next time, Japanese mushroom lasagna it is. With shiso leaves, perhaps.

Lasagna Bolognese from Mario Batali

Serves six to eight.



1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 medium onions, finely chopped

1 carrot, finely chopped

4 stalks celery, finely chopped

5 cloves garlic, sliced

1 pound veal, ground

1 pound pork, ground

4 ounces pancetta, ground

1 8-ounce can tomato paste

1 cup milk

/2 cup white wine

1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

Salt and freshly ground black pepper


5 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/4 cup flour

3 cups milk

2 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg


3/4 to 1 pound fresh pasta sheets, about 7 by 4 inches, or dried lasagne noodles blanched for 6 minutes and refreshed

1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Oil for brushing

Cooking Instructions


In a large heavy-bottom saucepan, heat olive oil. Add onion, carrot, celery, and garlic, and sweat over medium heat for about 5 minutes, until vegetables are translucent. Add veal, pork, and pancetta to the vegetables, and brown over high heat, stirring to keep the meat from sticking together. Add the tomato paste, milk, wine, thyme, and 1 cup water, and simmer over medium-low heat for 1 to 1 1/2 hours (if the ragù becomes too thick, add a little more water). Season to taste with salt and pepper, and remove from heat.


Melt the butter in a medium saucepan, add the flour, and whisk until smooth. Cook over medium heat, stirring regularly, until the mixture turns golden brown, about 6 to 7 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the milk in a separate pan until it is just about to boil. Add the milk to the butter mixture, 1 cup at a time, whisking continuously until the sauce is very smooth. Bring to a boil and cook for 30 seconds longer. Remove from the heat and season with salt and nutmeg.


Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Brush a 9-by-13-inch glass baking dish with melted butter or oil, and layer in the following order from the bottom: ragù, pasta, béchamel, and grated cheese (saving about 1 cup béchamel for last topping), making 3 to 4 layers of pasta, finishing with ragù, béchamel, and 1/4 cup of the Parmigiano-Reggiano sprinkled over the top. Bake in the oven for 45 minutes, until the top is golden brown and the casserole is bubbling. Remove from the oven, allow to cool for 20 minutes, slice, and serve.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Gülümay’s Walnut-Garlic Spread with Hot and Sweet Peppers and Pomegranate Syrup (Muhammara)

The busier I am, the more I take my clothes off, and no, it’s not as much fun as it sounds. I have been a busy little bee lately. A busy, clothes changing, dance video studying, rehearsal directing, Cunningham technique teaching bee. I’m a little too vain to traipse around the city in sweats and sneakers between my classes and rehearsals which are located at all corners of the city, so I choose an outfit in the morning, change into dance clothes to teach, and repeat this action three or more tedius times (snow boots on, snow boots off, all those bulky winter layers), depending on the number of classes I’m teaching and where. Now, I’m on spring break from the work I've been doing on Merce Cunningham’s Summerspace at Juilliard, and I have a much needed four day weekend, and a little time for blogging about delicious muhammara. In one outfit -- pajamas.

Muhammara is a roasted red pepper based Syrian spread which is now made in many surrounding areas, including Turkey. It is a healthy, and vibrant tasting dish, with a touch of sweetness that mitigates the spice of added chiles. I like this for breakfast, on my toast, but most of you will probably serve this as a spread for pita bread as an appetizer before a middle eastern meal.

In addition to being addictively savory, muhammara is also nutrient dense, and contains Vitamin C from the red peppers, Omega-3 fatty acids from the walnuts, some anti-oxidant properties in the pomegranate syrup, and anti-inflammatory activity in the garlic. In a food processor, it takes no time at all to make, but unfortunately, it also takes no time at all to eat; make a double recipe.

Gülümay’s Walnut-Garlic Spread with Hot and Sweet Peppers and Pomegranate Syrup (Muhammara)
from Ayla Algar’s Classical Turkish Cooking

Makes about 1 3/4 cups

2 large sweet red peppers (12 oz)
1 tablespoon water
2/3 cup walnuts
1 tablespoon crushed garlic
2/3 cup toasted sourdough bread crumbs
1 or 2 red jalapeños, seeded and minced (I used green ones)
1/4 cup fine olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons coarsely ground cumin seeds
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons pomegranate syrup (available in middle eastern markets)
2 tablespoons lemon juice

Although there is no real substitute for the sweet and sour flavor of pomegranate syrup, lemon juice will be adequate.

Roast peppers over a grill or gas flame, turning frequently until charred all over. Seal 10 minutes in a plastic bag, peel, seed, and chop. In a food processor, mix chopped peppers with 1 tablespoon water. Process to a moist paste. Set aside.

Pound walnuts with a garlic in a mortar. Stir in bread crumbs and jalapeños. Continue pounding until all ingredients are blended. Mix in the pureed peppers. Gradually mix in the olive oil and season with cumin, red pepper flakes, pomegranate syrup, and lemon juice (use additional lemon juice if pomegranate syrup is unavailable). Taste and adjust with salt and lemon juice. (Alternatively, you can make the whole dish in a food processor.) Let stand several hours or overnight for the flavors to blend and mature. Serve with croutons or on flatbread wedges or crackers.

Note from Banu: I sprinkled the top of mine with a few leaves of chopped parsley and a drizzle of olive oil.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Cabbage, Collard Greens, Red Onion, and Blood Orange Coleslaw

Four loads of laundry, two batches of chicken broth (one for egg-lemon celeriac and carrot soup, and one for the freezer), one soba noodle, French lentil, and swiss chard main dish, and one glass of Maker’s Mark later, I’m now comfortably writing on my couch, cat elongated next to me, the Olympics playing in the background, writing about cabbage, collard greens, and blood orange coleslaw from last week’s pulled pork feast.

Everyone around me is sick lately. Norwalk virus is skulking invisibly through Marymount and Juilliard, leaving dehydrated, weak, and nauseous students in its wake, and students and teachers alike are sneezing and sniffling through classes, having succumbed to the common cold. I’ve managed to stay healthy, and eating cabbage may be the secret.

Eat more cabbage!

Along with other cruciferous vegetables, it is purported to reduce cancer risks (especially lung, stomach and colon) by as much as 69 percent, and according to new studies, signals genes to create more enzymes that are responsible for detoxification of the body. It is rich in vitamin C, a known antioxidant, and a powerful immune system booster. With just three servings a week, you’ll lower your risk of heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and breast cancer. If cabbage isn’t your thing, other cruciferous vegetables provide similar protection, so it’s wise to add more collard greens, brussels sprouts, kale, Swiss chard, broccoli or cauliflower to your diet.

You should listen to me, you snifflers; I haven’t been sick in over a year. (She says, touching wood, cabbage slaw in belly...)

Cabbage, Collard Greens, Red Onion, and Blood Orange Coleslaw

1/2 head cabbage, chopped
4 or 5 collard green leaves, chopped
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
2 blood oranges, supremed
1 teaspoon celery seed
*homemade mayonnaise (optional -- if not using, add some olive oil, instead)
a bit of apple cider vinegar and maple syrup or sugar, if desired

Combine the first five ingredients. If using, add a little mayonnaise to combine. Splash in a bit of apple cider vinegar, and, if you like, add some maple syrup, or agave syrup, or sugar, to balance the acidity. (I didn’t add any additional sweetener, as the oranges were enough for me, and instead of plain apple cider vinegar, I used a bit of the barbecue sauce that I made for the pork.)

*Homemade Mayonnaise Recipe

1 egg yolk, room temperature
unflavored oil, such as grapeseed, or canola, about a cup, also at room temperature
lemon juice, to taste

Whisk the egg yolk alone, and then, a few drops at a time, and very slowly, add the oil, whisking constantly, until the color of the yolk changes, and the oil incorporates with the egg, forming an emulsion. Continue adding the oil, slowly, and in a steady stream, until all is incorporated. Whisk in the lemon juice and the salt.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Indoor Pulled Pork Barbecue Recipe

indoor pulled pork barbecue

Pulled pork barbecue with vinegar sauce is one of my favorite foods, and evokes images of sultry, humid, North Carolina days, kudzu coiling around tree branches, and bottomless glasses of sweet iced tea. But pulled pork barbecue in the middle of winter? Indoors? Yes, you can.

All you need is this Cook’s Illustrated recipe, a nice five pound boneless pork shoulder (mine came from Aberdeen Hill Farms via my food coop), some spices, and a little bit of time. After the success of the trial run, this is a recipe I’ll now make in larger quantities to relive Southern memories with college friends, and to introduce barbecue neophytes to the porky umami deliciousness that is this easy, smoky barbecue, and not that far from the barbecue I used to devour at Allen and Son Barbecue in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

In three short months I have to pull on a very attractive flesh colored unitard, and dance around onstage again in Boris Charmatz’s 50 Years of Dance when the piece tours to Amsterdam and Berlin. Eating fatty bbq and looking good in a flesh colored unitard is an oxymoron, but the aroma of smoky paprika mingling with this slow-roasted pork shoulder banished all skinny thoughts of salads, dance class, and the stationary bike. Winter’s for indulging, and we are in the thick of it.

I made an improvised version of coleslaw to go with the pork, and in addition to cabbage, I added a few chopped raw collard greens, blood oranges, and mixed them together with some homemade mayonnaise (next week's blog entry, this slaw). I don’t like coleslaw as a condiment to my sandwich, as some Southerners do, but on the side it provided a nice crunchy counter to the richness of the pork, and the blood oranges, while adding some bright color, also sweetly balanced out the vinegar present both in the sauce for the pork, and in the slaw. Sunday Southern brunch in my Brooklyn apartment. Who knew? Next time I'm making hush puppies, too; flesh colored unitard be damned.

Indoor Pulled Pork Barbecue Recipe

from Cook's Illustrated Magazine Jan/Feb 2010

Note from Banu: I made a version of the Lexington, NC vinegar sauce (listed among others, below) with only two tablespoons of ketchup and a splash of Tabasco, some minced garlic, and a little onion juice for more flavor. I also made a sauce with no tomato product at all, Eastern Carolina style, containing, simply, apple cider vinegar, salt and pepper, and some of the defatted juices leftover from cooking the pork. I actually preferred the first sauce I made (sorry Eastern North Carolinians!), as the vinegar was tamed by a bit of sugar and a little water, and I didn’t mind a little ketchup in the sauce for color. In any case, a vinegar based sauce is the way to go with pork; they are a perfect match.

Note: Sweet paprika may be substituted for smoked paprika. Covering the pork with parchment and then foil prevents the acidic mustard from eating holes in the foil. Serve the pork on hamburger rolls with pickle chips and thinly sliced onion. Alternatively, use 2 cups of your favorite barbecue sauce thinned with 1/2 cup of the defatted pork cooking liquid. The shredded and sauced pork can be cooled, tightly covered, and refrigerated for up to 2 days. Reheat it gently before serving.

serves 6-8

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons table salt
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons liquid smoke
1 boneless pork butt (aka pork shoulder, about 5 lbs), cut in half horizontally
1/4 cup yellow mustard
2 tablespoons ground black pepper
2 tablespoons smoked paprika (you can substitute sweet)
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Dissolve 1 cup salt, 1/2 cup sugar, and 3 tablespoons liquid smoke in 4 quarts cold water in large container. Submerge pork in brine, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 2 hours.

While pork brines, combine mustard and remaining 2 teaspoons liquid smoke in small bowl; set aside. Combine black pepper, paprika, remaining 2 tablespoons sugar, remaining 2 teaspoons salt, and cayenne pepper in second small bowl; set aside. Adjust oven rack to lower middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees.

Remove pork from brine and dry thoroughly with paper towels. Rub mustard mixture over entire surface of each piece of pork. Sprinkle entire surface of each piece with spice mixture. Place pork on wire rack set inside foil lined rimmed baking sheet. Place sheet of parchment paper over pork, then cover with aluminum foil, sealing edges to prevent moisture from escaping. Roast pork for 3 hours.

Remove pork from oven; remove and discard foil and parchment. Carefully pour off liquid in bottom of baking sheet into a fat separator (or spoon off the fat with a ladle until a light film remains, and then gently use a paper towel to soak up the remaining fat from the surface of the pan juices) and reserve the pan juices for the sauce. Return pork to oven and cook, uncovered, until well browned, tender, and internal temperature registers 200 degrees on instant read thermometer, about 1 1/2 hours. Transfer pork to serving dish; tent loosely with foil, and rest for 20 minutes.

To serve: Using 2 forks, shred pork into bite-sized pieces. Toss with one cup sauce and season with salt and pepper. Serve, passing remaining sauce separately.

Lexington Vinegar Barbecue Sauce

1 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup ketcup

1/2 cup water

1 tablespoon sugar
3/4 teaspoon table salt
3/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl with 1/2 cup defatted cooking liquid and whisk to combine.

South Carolina Mustard Barbecue Sauce

1 cup yellow mustard

1/2 cup white vinegar
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons hot sauce
1 teaspoon table salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper

Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl with 1/2 cup defatted cooking liquid and whisk to combine.

Sweet and Tangy Barbecue Sauce

1 1/2 cups ketchup
1/4 cup light or mild molasses

2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

1 tablespoon hot sauce

1/2 teaspoon table salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

While pork rests, pour 1/2 cup of defatted cooking liquid from fat separator into medium bowl; whisk in sauce ingredients.

Pulled Pork Bbq on FoodistaPulled Pork Bbq

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Whole Wheat Cinnamon Rolls Recipe

whole wheat cinnamon rolls

“I love your color scheme! Happy Valentine’s Day!” This stranger may be as close as I get to a Valentine this year, a man who cupped his hands around his mouth to yell from across 5th Avenue in Brooklyn, and comment on my everyday brown coat, deep red leather gloves, and maroon patterned purse I was carrying while accomplishing Saturday’s errands. I was doing the usual grocery shopping, taking the requisite weekend trip to my neighborhood antique store, and to the Brooklyn Flea, on the perennial search for the elusive metal (or mirrored Deco) desk, and visiting the hardware store for paint swatches to confirm my suspicions that vivid teal behind my grass green couch is a perfectly acceptable choice, my apartment’s reds and oranges and myriad patterns notwithstanding. If my Valentine’s right, I’ve got a way with color.

Last week New York City was silenced by snow. Juilliard and Marymount canceled classes, so, on my snow day, I made cinnamon rolls. I have been craving the real deal cinnamon roll for a while now, and when I saw these dreamy pictures on a blog I read, out came the mixing bowls, the yeast and the flour. I am a problem baker. This time it was expired yeast, the culprit. Yeast expires? Well, yes, it does. And you used it still? Well, yes, I did. I have conducted an experiment, and now I know: science will not be fooled. If you use expired yeast, your cinnamon rolls will not rise. They will not rise, and the resulting dense, mini-buns may taste all right, but the texture’s nothing to do with the fluffy dreaminess in the pictures.

But I don’t care about those failed buns anymore; I’ve already moved on. There’s a pork shoulder roast in my refrigerator, waiting to be brined, that holds my heart’s affection. Tomorrow I am making indoor pulled pork barbeque, North Carolina style, and I know the day of brining, slow pork cooking, cabbage slaw making, and barbeque sauce marinating will put to rest the bad memories of those difficult cinnamon rolls. Who needs a Valentine when you’ve got a slow-cooked, spicy, pulled-pork sandwich to grip between your fingers and savor between your lips? Aw, yeah...

Whole Wheat Cinnamon Roll Recipe

Note from Banu: I am reluctant to provide my recipe here, since mine didn’t turn out so well, and since I improvised more than simply using old yeast (in the interest of a healthier roll, maple syrup for sugar, walnut oil for butter), it’s possible that there were many factors that led to the rock hard buns. So, that in mind, I am providing the links here and here that I used in my adapted recipe, and from those, perhaps you will be able to make a fluffy cinnamon roll, like the one from my dreams. And, if anyone has a fool-proof recipe (healthyish recipe preferred) for cinnamon rolls, I’d love to hear about it; I'm a staunch believer in giving second chances.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Bill Neal’s Shrimp and Grits Recipe

Bill Neal's shrimp grits

I’ve been in a Carolina frame of mind lately. Never mind that Chapel Hill was hit with eight inches of snow over the past couple of days, generally, at this time of year, the weather is easing up, and in the next month, spring arrives, with its colorful azaleas, heather, and rhododendrons dotting the campus and the lawns of the recessed houses that line Franklin Street. I spent four years in North Carolina while I was in college, and making this recipe sent me right back to that time, to Chapel Hill, and to Crook’s Corner, the restaurant that popularized Bill Neal’s now famous shrimp and grits.

As I was cooking, I remembered things in non-sequiturs: I remembered hearing the story from my roommate, Ericka, who, while working at Crook’s Corner, dumped a pitcher of ice water on the head of her ex-boyfriend as she served him and the girlfriend he left her for, and I remember my later boyfriend, Timothy, telling me about the Mexican cooks there who would eat whole jalapeños with their morning coffee, something I think of every time I toast red chiles to put on my cheese toast for breakfast. Coffee and jalapeños may be another perfect combination, the morning version of red wine and chocolate.

I remembered taking off in the middle of the night to visit the primate research center at Duke forest in my roommate’s Alfa Romeo convertible because she left us the keys, and because our friend Mike thought we should, and driving to Durham to eat at Wimpy’s Grill for lunch with my then boyfriend George, which may have been the trip that began my interest in traveling distances for the tastiest whatever-it-is I’m craving.

I remember seeing bands at the Cat’s Cradle, crashing frat parties, working at Pizza Hut and the Carolina Coffee Shop, eating black bean chili nearly everyday at Rosemary Street Cafe (and Pepper’s Pizza on the off days), having crushes on boys in bands, and boys in class, and boys playing hacky sack in The Pit, and studying about biology (but not too intently), and hoping I wouldn’t fail genetics. I remember house parties where the Pixies and fIREHOSE were playing on the stereo, and The Veldt and Dillon Fence were playing live, and I remember feeling trepidatious going into Schoolkids Records to buy a cassette tape (tape!) because the people working there were intimidating in the New York Kim’s Video kind of way.

I remember my purple plastic dinosaur key chain, and the red plaid mini-skirt I used to wear with fishnet stockings and pointy buckled shoes, and only top-lid black liquid eye-liner for makeup -- real deal 80s wear. I remember borrowing a silky antique robe, and, while wearing it, making nutritional yeast crusted tofu sandwiches for lunch with Michael, my boyfriend, the long-haired boy who worked at the vintage clothing store Time After Time. And I remember sweet iced tea, and Time Out’s disgustingly appealing Bucket O’ Bones that we used to eat after nights at Molly’s, and boys nodding to me with respect when we passed on the street, and everyone’s sugary hellos, and, coming from the North, being surprised when people answered “yes ma’am”, and “no sir”, to the professors in class, and sounded smart even with their Southern accents.

I thought I was so grown up then. And now, I make Bill Neal’s shrimp and grits for the first time in years, and at 40, I’m cooking in my supposed grown-up kitchen. Now, a non-grown-up grown-up, I am aware that I haven’t figured anything out, and I’m simply relaxing into the absurd and unpredictable voyage, with a warm bowl of shrimp and grits and these wonderful memories.

Bill Neal’s Shrimp and Grits Recipe

Yield: 4 servings

2 cups water 
One 14 1/2 ounce can chicken broth 
3/4 cup half and half 
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup stone ground grits
3/4 cup sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1/4 cup parmesan cheese, grated
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon tabasco sauce

1/4 teaspoon white pepper

3 slices bacon
1 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup flour
1 cup sliced mushrooms
1/2 cup scallions, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 cup chicken broth

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

1/4 teaspoon tabasco sauce

lemon wedges

Bring first 4 ingredients to a boil, in a medium saucepan. Gradually whisk in grits; reduce to simmer, stirring occasionally, until thickened, according to time on package. When the grits are done, stir in the cheddar cheese and next 4 ingredients, stirring until cheeses are melted. Cover and set aside, but keep warm.

While the grits are cooking, fry in bacon in a large skillet, until crisp. Set aside on paper towel and reserve 1 tablespoon of drippings in skillet. Sprinkle the shrimp with salt and pepper, dredge in flour, and set aside.
In the bacon drippings, saute the mushrooms about 5 minutes, or until tender. Add the scallions and cook for 2 more minutes. Add the shrimp and cook for 2 minutes, until the shrimp begin to brown. Stir in the chicken broth, lemon juice, garlic, and hot sauce, and continue to cook 2 more minutes, stirring to loosen brown bits from skillet.
 Divide the grits into 4 large, shallow bowls, ladle the shrimp mixture over the grits, and top each with crumbled bacon. Serve with lemon wedges.

Note from Banu: I wanted to keep the shrimp looking beautiful, so I cooked them separately in a little butter and olive oil, and then added them to the top of the grits and mushroom sauce mixture. Also, I found that 2 tablespoons of lemon juice was a little much, so I'd decrease this amount, or add it slowly, to taste.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Cinnamon Scented Chicken Soup with Spelt and Chanterelle Mushrooms Recipe

It was frigid in New York this past weekend, and minus the snow, reminded me of weekends in Chicago, where, after hearing whatever hideous number below freezing the temperature would reach, and whatever unbelievable number of inches above twelve the snow would hit, I’d hibernate in my apartment with guilty pleasure DVDs and food to cook up into comforting meals. I wasn’t prepared enough for this past weekend’s freeze, and was caught with nothing fresh in the fridge, and only a few pantry items, but still managed to make a filling and savory, warming soup with what I had lying around.

Leftover from the chicken pie I made a couple weeks ago, I had two chicken breasts and some chicken broth in the freezer, and, in the pantry, after a little rummaging, I found dried chanterelle mushrooms, and a half-empty bag of spelt. I love spelt for its soft inside and crunchy outside texture; it has a squeaky clean kind of feeling to the tooth, probably because of its low gluten content. It feels substantial and filling, but without the gooeyness present in rice. When I opened the bag of earthy mushrooms I detected a faint cinnamon fragrance, which gave me an idea. I’d make chicken soup with cinnamon, spelt, and chanterelle mushrooms, and spicy chiles added to ramp up the temperature on this day, a day where even indoors, and wearing my wooliest woolen socks and my cashmereiest cashmere sweater, I was still shivering.

I am frequently surprised when I throw odd things together and my creation tastes good, and this is one of those cases. I’ve never really heard of cinnamon chicken soup before, but it works well, and my apartment smelled like a seductive North African or Persian kitchen while the soup was cooking. Cinnamon has all kinds of nutritional properties, too; it’s a known anti-microbial, helps control blood sugar, and in Chinese medicine is used as a warming herb. Come here, cinnamon, and cozy up with me, please; I think we've got some long, cold nights ahead.

Cinnamon Scented Chicken Soup with Spelt and Chanterelle Mushrooms Recipe

2 tablespoons butter, plus 1/2 to 1 tablespoon for sautéing the chicken breasts
1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, sliced
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon tomato paste
crushed red pepper flakes, to taste
1 oz chanterelle mushrooms, dried
1/2 cup spelt
7 cups chicken broth, plus one cup of broth or water for soaking the mushrooms
1 bay leaf
salt and pepper, to taste
2 chicken breasts

Soak the chanterelles in one cup of heated broth, or one cup of warm water, until soft. Remove the mushrooms, reserving the soaking liquid for adding to the soup later. Roughly chop the mushrooms, and set them aside.

In a large, heavy bottomed pan, heat the butter. Add the onion, and sauté until translucent. Add the garlic, and stir a few times. Add the cinnamon and stir until fragrant. Stir in the tomato paste, and cook for a minute or so. Stir in the red pepper and the chanterelle mushrooms. Combine well.

Add the spelt to the pot, and combine the ingredients, until all the grains of spelt are coated. Pour the broth and the reserved mushroom soaking liquid into the pot; add the bay leaf; bring the liquid to a boil; and reduce the heat so that the liquid is at a low simmer. Cover, and cook gently until the spelt is cooked, about 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, cut the chicken breasts into bite-sized pieces, and season with salt and pepper. Heat a sauté pan over medium-high heat, add the butter, and sear the chicken breast pieces on one side, until golden brown. Turn to the other side, cook briefly (be sure not to over cook), and set the chicken pieces aside. I added a little of the simmering soup at this point to the empty pan and stirred it around, in order to get all of the nice browned bits of chicken, and then added this goodness back to the soup.

When the spelt has cooked, add the chicken pieces to the soup, test for seasoning, and add more salt and pepper, if needed.

Serve immediately.


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