Friday, December 18, 2009

La farce

Right around Thanksgiving, a facebook post from my friend Steve led me to a minor epiphany.  Martha Stewart, although I hadn't thought of her in years, has had a profound impact on my life.   Before I ever wanted to marry Jamie Oliver or to be Heidi Swanson --- hell, even before I started wanting to be French, I wanted to be like Martha.  I subscribed to Living from age 13 and devoured every issue from cover to cover.

Like any "lifestyle guru," she's surely not all that she aims to appear to be.  I know she's got thousands of people working for her at this point, which makes it hard to maintain the "do-it-yourself" feel, and on the most recent cover of Living her face is so airbrushed that she looks like something out of a Pixar movie.

But the lifestyle she promotes has come to shape my ideals about slow food, whole foods, tasteful decorating and an appreciation for old and beautiful objects.   Unlike the Paula Deen lifestyle, Martha's lifestyle is one I could stand behind.  Granted, she caters mainly to rich, bored people who can afford to have Meyer lemons express delivered from California for a cake.  But to me, the core of the Martha agenda is to get people to realize that home-making - cooking, gardening, decorating, fixing and building -  is an art that everyone can and should enjoy.  And you don't have to be a millionaire to take the time to do these things.

Plus, Martha was talking about organic gardening and slow food years before the Whole Foods craze set in.  She kept her own chickens for the eggs long before it came back into style among urban foodies.  And now, for Thanksgiving, she has presented a vegetarian menu on her show.  Ahead of the times once again?

I veganized the stuffing recipe from Martha's show for a Thanksgiving party in Bordeaux a few weeks ago, and I just made it again for Christmas with my family here in Atlanta.  I don't usually make things like this twice, but it was so delicious and everything in it is seasonal (for those of us in North America or Europe) right around Thanksgiving/Christmas.  In Bordeaux, I picked up everything from the market, including button mushrooms and just a few porcini mushrooms for the stock.  In Atlanta, of course, everything was available at the Dekalb Farmer's Market.

To make it vegan I just left out the butter and replaced the 5 eggs with one 200g package of silken tofu, which I whisked into the broth before pouring it on.  We had some grapes in the fridge, and I added a few of these for some interesting color and texture.

Friday, December 4, 2009


Topinambours belong to a class of what French people are calling légumes oubliés, or "forgotten vegetables" that are coming back into style as people become more interested in eating locally.  The English name for them is Jerusalem artichokes, which just sounds wrong to me because they have nothing to do with Jerusalem and are more like potatoes than artichokes.  They're a member of the sunflower family.

Apparently they grow like weeds. That's according to Ed Ward, who says that he refuses to pay for them since his garden was once overtaken by Jerusalem artichokes.  I can only be jealous!  They are quite tasty and very interesting nutritionally.  One of the best plant sources of iron, they have a similar texture to potatoes but contain half the calories.  And they have a completely unique flavor that is indeed similar to that of an artichoke.

Here's a simple salad to boost your iron intake without digging into a bloody steak.

1 lb Jerusalem artichokes
red wine vinegar
olive oil
1/2 red onion
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Scrub the Jerusalem artichokes until clean.  Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and add the Jerusalem artichokes; cook until they are tender but not totally mushy (around 8 minutes).  Drain and allow to cool slightly in a colander.

Meanwhile, slice the red onion very thinly and place in a bowl.  Add 1/2 teaspoon salt and cover with a few teaspoons of vinegar.  Allow to marinate for around 10 minutes.

Peel the Jerusalem artichokes: their skins come off fairly easily after they've been boiled (just like tomatoes), except around some of the more knobby parts, which I just pop into my mouth.

Slice the Jerusalem artichokes thinly lengthwise and arrange on a plate.  Drizzle with the vinegar mixture, scatter a few onion slices on top.  Add salt, pepper and olive oil to taste.

Sunday, November 22, 2009


People always talk about how expensive it is to eat in an environmentally conscious way, but there are so many little tricks.  I'm gonna get preachy for just a little bit.

For me, this is a huge one.  Think about all of the carbon emissions involved in the production of that one little cup of strawberry yogurt that an average American or French person might have as a daily treat.  There is the cow, first of all, and we know that cattle farming is the world's leading producer of greenhouse gases.  Then there's the transport of the milk to a factory, where they add sugar (which was either imported from some faraway sugar-cane producing place or extracted from sugarbeets or corn, which was probably farmed with pesticides).  Then there's the packaging, which is probably never recycled.

So, at least a few of these problems would go away if people chose plain soy yogurt instead.  At the store, indeed, soy yogurt tends to cost about twice as much as traditional dairy yogurt.  But if you make it at home - aha! - you save money and get rid of the packaging waste problem.  If you eat any yogurt at all, a yogurt maker is most certainly a wise investment.  Judging by the selection on ebay, everyone bought one in the seventies and then just got too lazy to use them.  I bought mine for about 10€ plus shipping, I think.

The name yogurt maker sounds pretty fancy, because the device is actually just a dish that remains at a constant, warm temperature when you plug into the wall.  It comes with a cover and 7 to 8 jars with lids.  I use mine not only for making soy yogurt but also for making yeast doughs.  It's the perfect warm place to allow dough to rise.

So, sojaourt [soja (soy) + yaourt (yogurt)]; you're not gonna believe how easy this is.  One important point, however: don't use soy milk with added ingredients like sugar, constarch, carageenan and the like.  The ingredients list should say: water and soy beans (or "tonyu"). Any other element can make things go awry, askew and astray -- sometimes all three.  So Silk brand is out of the question. 

1.5 litres soy milk
1 tablespoon soy yogurt

Whisk the yogurt into the soymilk.  Plug in the yogurt maker and pour the soymilk into the cups on top of it.  Place the lids on the jars.  Ten hours later, the yogurt should be firm.  Place it in the refrigerator. 


I use this yogurt in recipes all the time, and it also makes a very nourishing snack with whatever fruit's in season.

A farewell to eggplants

You can tell something's up with the climate these days.  The basil plant in my window box really shouldn't be thriving in late November, and tomatoes and eggplants shouldn't still be showing up in the market stalls, should they? But they are.  And while we've had a few chilly days, today was downright balmy.  I'm not complaining, although I do hope we can avoid a global catastrophe.

At any rate, here's one last summer vegetable recipe.  It's adapted from an eggplant and quinoa grain recipe I found in a wonderful vegetarian cookbook by Garance Leureux (Ma cuisine végétarienne pour tous les jours).  I was put off by the idea of boiling eggplants at first (didn't boiling go out of style with polyester slacks?), but it turns out that the water from the eggplants gets soaked up by the quinoa (or in this case bulgur), so the end product is not watery but firm and delicious.

Eggplant and bulgur gratin

2 large eggplants
2 medium onions
2-3 small tomatoes
fresh basil, parsley
200g coarse bulgur wheat

1) Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil.  Slice the eggplants into half-inch rounds and plunge them into the boiling water, placing a heat-proof bowl or heavy baking dish on top to keep them submerged.  Boil for 5 to 8 minutes, or until the eggplant is tender.  Drain the eggplants and then place them in a bowl to keep them from drying out too much.

2) During this time, cut a small X in the skin of each tomato and dip them into the boiling water for about 30 seconds.  Peel the skin from the tomatoes and chop them coarsely.

3) Coarsely chop the onions.  Heat a little olive oil over medium-high in a saucepan and add the onions; cook for 2 minutes or until translucent.  Add the bulgur wheat, the chopped tomatoes, and 3/4 cup of water. Bring to a boil and then turn the heat down.  Add the crumbled tofu and allow to cook over low heat for about 5 minutes.

4) Place a layer of eggplant slices across the bottom of a lightly oiled baking dish, and cover this with a layer of the bulgur mixture.  Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and torn fresh basil leaves (or other herbs).  End with a thin layer of bulgur wheat or with slices of tofu, if desired.  Bake the casserole for about 20 minutes at 400°F (200°C).  The wheat under the eggplant should be tender (but still al dente), and the top should be browned.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Apple walnut braid

Here's another Beth Hensperger bread recipe.  The original recipe contained real milk, all white flour and eggs, and while I made substitutions for the first two, I was afraid not to use eggs.  I should point out that I generally don't have a problem with free-range and organic eggs as long as I really know where they came from; I just don't eat them often because they cost an arm and a leg!  I had been craving this type of bread for a while before I made it, and since this recipe produces two huge braided loaves, I've still got some in the freezer for the occasional craving.
Fresh apple-walnut braid

1 tablespoon (1 package) active dry yeast (or 2 tablespoons fresh yeast)
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 cup warm water (105° to 115°)
1 cup warm soy milk (105° to 115°)
3 cups all-purpose or bread flour
3 to 3.5 cups whole wheat flour
2 large tart apples, cored and coarsely chopped (2 or 3 cups)
1/2 cup raisins or dried currants
1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnut pieces
2 tablespoons walnut oil (or olive oil)
2 eggs
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1 tablespoon salt

1) In a large bowl with a whisk or in the bowl of a heavy-duty electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the yeast, brown sugar, warm water, warm soy milk, and 2 cups of all-purpose flour.  Beat until smooth, about 1 minute.  Cover the bowl loosely with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature until bubbly, about 1 hour.

2) Add the apples, raisins, walnuts, oil, eggs, spices, salt and 1 cup more of the flour.  Beat until creamy, about 2 minutes.  Add the remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time, until a soft dough is formed that just clears the sides of the bowl, switching to a wooden spoon if necessary.

3) Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and knead until smooth and springy yet firm, about 3 minutes, adding only enough flour to prevent from sticking.  Place into a lightly oiled container, turn once to coat the top, and cover with plastic wrap.  Let rise at room temperature until doubled in bulk, 1.5 to 2 hours.

4) Turn out the dough onto the floured work surface and divide into 6 equal portions.  Roll each portion into a long, fat strip with tapered ends.  Lay three strips side by side and braid (this takes a few tries to get it right).  Pinch the ends of the braid together and tuck them under.  Repeat to make the second loaf.  Place the loaves in 2 greased loaf pans.  (I used a large sort of roasting pan and an oval casserole dish; whatever the bread fits into works).  Cover loosely and allow to rise at room temperature for about 45 minutes.  Twenty minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C).

5) Bake in the center of the preheated oven until the loaves are browned and sound hollow when tapped, 45 to 50 minutes.  Remove from the pans immediately and allow to cool completely before slicing.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Three-day bread with sprouted rye

"This bread takes three days to make from start to finish..."

Yes!  This was a very satisfying weekend project.  The recipe came from a book called Bread For All Seasons by Beth Hensperger, something I picked up on a Barnes & Noble clearance table years ago.  It's an interesting book that includes a lot of food history and cultural detail on breads from around the world, and reading it will give you a serious urge to knead fragrant, yeasty-smelling dough.

The pain de campagnard recipe that caught my attention says this: "Here is a superb bread similar to the earthy wheat-rye loaves once made with sharecroppers' grains at harvest time in the French, Italian and Hungarian countrysides."  See what I mean?

While the bread involves a three-day process, the amount of actual work involved is around 30 minutes.  I tweaked the recipe ever-so slightly, using partially sprouted rye grains (yep, from the sprouting jar) instead of soaked wheat berries and using a higher proportion of whole wheat flour.  I also used fresh yeast instead of dry active yeast just because I find fresh yeast to be one of the most intriguing and alluring ingredients of all time.

 I usually make quicker breads like focaccia or normal whole wheat bread, which only have to rise for about an hour total.  The longer fermentation process with this bread gave it a seriously alluring crust that I haven't been able to achieve otherwise.  So here's the recipe with my modifications:

Pain de campagnard

2 Tablespoons crumbled fresh yeast (2 teaspoons active dry yeast)
1 cup whole-wheat flour
1 cup tepid water (around 90°F)

11/2 cups tepid water
1 cup all-purpose (white, unbleached) flour
1 cup whole-wheat flour

1/4 cup sprouted rye seeds (or 1/4 cup wheat berries, covered with boiling water and then left to soak for 4 hours)
1 Tablespoon crumbled fresh yeast (1 teaspoon active dry yeast)
1/3 cup rye flour
3 to 4 cups whole-wheat flour
1 Tablespoon salt

Day one (starter):
Place the yeast and tepid water in a large container with a lid (I used a large cast-iron stockpot).  Add the whole-wheat flour, whisking hard until a smooth batter is formed.  Cover and leave at room temperature for 24 hours.

Day two (sponge):
Blend the whole wheat and white flours.  Alternately add the tepid water and the flour in three additions.  Whisk to combine until a smooth batter is formed.  Scrape down the sides of the container, cover and allow to sit for 12 to 24 hours at room temperature.  The sponge will begin to bubble and has a sweet and pleasant aroma, as suggested in this shot by my sticking my nose in it.

Day three: Dough
Sprinkle the yeast and the sprouted rye (or wheat berries) over the sponge.

Beat the sponge down with a wooden spoon to combine.  Add the rye flour and the salt, beating hard to combine.  Add the remaining flour 1/2 cup at a time.  When the dough starts to pull away from the sides of the container, use your hands to knead in the remaining flour.

This dough remains very sticky throughout, so I just kept kneading it in the container rather than trying to turn it out onto a work surface.  Rather than flouring your hands, try wetting them to keep the dough from sticking too much to your fingers (it will still stick a little though).  Knead for about 3 to 5 minutes.

(Note: the picture to the left shows just half of the dough, as I had already put half of it into a container for it to rise... no matter).

Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl (or two lightly oiled bowls, as I did), and allow to rise at room temperature for 2 hours, until it has doubled in bulk.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and divide into two equal portions.

My oven is small and does best with small bread shapes, so I opted to bake the first portion of this dough in a silicone muffin pan.  So I just divided one of the halves of dough into six and filled the little muffin cups about 3/4 full.

With the other half, I tried to do a miniature version of what the original recipe suggests.  Divide the portion in two and flatten each half into a fat rectangle.  Roll up the rectangle from a short end to form a tight cylinder.  Twist the ends of each cylinder and tuck them underneath, so the shape is slightly less thick at the ends (a batard form).  Place the loaves onto a lightly oiled baking sheet.

Loosely cover the dough with plastic wrap or with a slightly damp dishtowel.  (I had some sticking problems here, so I ended up concocting a sort of tent with damp dishtowels and various props).  Allow to rise for around 1 hour.  Twenty minutes before the hour is up, preheat the oven to 425°F (around 220°C).

Bake until the crust is browned and hard and sounds hollow when tapped.  This could vary between 20 to 35 minutes, so keep an eye on your bread.

Wait until completely cooled before slicing!

The batard shapes didn't turn out so well, honestly.  They were undercooked underneath, they stuck to the pan, and they didn't rise very well.  The muffin-tin ones were a great success, though!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Basic tomato sauce

I can't believe so many people are still buying tomato sauce in jars from the store.  Take a look at that ingredient list next time and you'll find sugar, cornstarch, preservatives, bleck!

There are still tomatoes being sold at the market here, but at the tail-end of the season they lack the juicy sweetness of the July-August crop.   Putting tomatoes in the fridge is the worst thing you can do, as cold temperatures destroy a compound that accounts for a lot of their flavor; the same thing happens to October tomatoes on the vine.  The chilled fruits aren't spectacular in a sandwich or salad, but cooking them helps to bring back some of their character.

If you don't have access to fresh, locally-grown tomatoes, opt for canned tomatoes that have no additives (the ingredient list should just say "tomatoes").

Tomato sauce

1 lb fresh tomatoes (or one 16oz can of peeled tomatoes in their juice)
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 branch of celery
1 large onion
2 small shallots
1 clove garlic
1 bay leaf
1 sprig of fresh basil

Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Using a serrated knife, cut an X across the base of each tomato.

Plunge the tomatoes and the garlic clove into the pot and boil for about 45 seconds. Drain and allow to cool.

Peel the garlic clove; the skin should slip off easily thanks to the bath in boiling water.  Slice the shallots in half lengthwise and remove their papery skins.  Slice the base and top off of the onion and peel.  Coarsely chop the onion, shallots and celery.  Finely chop the garlic separately.

Peel the skins off of the tomatoes, starting at the little X.  They should just slip right off.  Doing this over a bowl allows you to save the juice.

Place the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat.  When hot, add the onion, shallot and celery.  Stir for one minute and then turn the heat down to medium low.  Cook until translucent but not browned (about 5 minutes).

Add the tomatoes and garlic to the pan and stir.  If your tomatoes are not very juicy, you might want to add a few spoonfuls of water to avoid burning.  Add the bay leaf and basil.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Allow to simmer over medium low heat for about 15 minutes, or until the bits of celery and onion are completely mushy.

Allow to cool slightly before removing the bay leaf and blending well with a stick blender.

Serve over pasta and/or vegetables.

To use this sauce for pizza, cook a little longer, uncovered, so that it thickens up, or just add a tablespoon of tomato paste (again: choose the kind with no added ingredients!)

I don't need to tell you that this recipe is far from an exact science.  Play around with the quantities, add red pepper flakes, thyme, olives...  Another variation: add a leek and an additional onion to the vegetables and cover the entire pan with water when you add the tomatoes...tada!  tomato soup.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Pizza is easy

This pizza crust recipe comes from my favorite Italian cookbook ever, The Cook's Encyclopedia of Italian Cooking by Carla Capalbo.  A blend of about 1/3 white and 2/3 whole wheat flour makes this a good compromise.

Whole wheat pizza dough

21/2 tablespoons fresh cake yeast or 11/2 tablespoons active dried yeast
1 cup lukewarm water
pinch of sugar
2 tablespoons olive oil
11/2 teaspoons salt
11/4 cups plain white flour
2 cups stoneground wholewheat flour

Warm a medium bowl by swirling some hot water in it.  Drain.  Place the yeast in the bowl and pour on the tepid water.  Sprinkle on the sugar and stir to mix.  Allow to stand for 5-10 minutes, or until the yeast has dissolved and starts to foam.

Use a wooden spoon to mix in the olive oil and the salt, then add the white flour.  Add about half of the whole wheat flour, stirring with the spoon until the dough forms a mass and begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl.

Sprinkle some of the remaining flour onto a smooth work surface.  Turn the dough out from the bowl onto your work surface and begin to knead it, working in the flour a little at a time.  Knead for about 8-10 minutes.  The dough should be elastic and smooth.  Form it into a ball.

Rinse any excess flour from your medium bowl and dry it well.  Place a few drops of olive oil in the bowl and spread it around to coat the bottom and sides.  Place the dough in the bowl.  Stretch a moistened dishcloth across the top of the bowl and place it in a warm place (next to the radiator, for example) for 40-50 minutes or more.  The dough should have doubled in bulk.  To test if the dough has risen enough, press two fingers into the dough; if the indentations remain, you're good to go.

Punch the dough down with your fist to release the air.  Knead on your lightly floured work surface for 1-2 minutes.  Divide the dough into 2 or 4 balls, depending on the size of the pizzas you want to make.  Pat each ball of dough into a flat circle.  With a rolling pin (or empty wine bottle), roll the dough out into a circle.  Tip: turn the circle of dough at a 45° or 90° angle each time you roll over it to ensure that you are flattening all sides equally.

Each time I make this I get a little closer to the throwing-it-in-the-air trick.  Practice makes perfect.

You want the thickness of the dough to be around 3/8 to 1/4 inch.  I like to toss it around my fists a little bit to try to stretch it out, but rolling it on the table is probably the best way to avoid getting holes in your crust.  Place the dough on a lightly oiled cookie sheet or pizza pan.

(The crusts may be frozen at this stage, which is what I did this time.  When you're ready to use, remove from the freezer and allow to thaw for an hour or two before filling.)

Top your crust with whatever you like.  Preheat the oven to 250°C (475°F) and bake your pizza for about 15-20 minutes.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Sprouting things

Okay Steve; I've got one for you.

Steve is a strict vegan, so you would think he'd have to prepare most of his own food.  Alas!  The man has neither a kitchen sink nor a dishwasher, meaning that all dishes must be washed in the bathtub.  Obviously this diminishes one's motivation to cook, so Steve buys most of his food ready-made and wrapped up.  I would criticize Steve for contributing to landfills with all of those wrappers, but he could come right back at me and say that I waste a ton of water on dishes and other things.

Here's something you can add to your menu that won't really contribute to your dishload.

I bought this sprouting jar for about €7, but you could actually transform any old jar into a sprouter by placing a piece of mesh (or panty hose - surely you must have some panty hose lying around?) across the top.

You can buy sprouting seeds at any health food store.  Careful, though: not all seeds can be sprouted in a jar.  Here are some that can:

-Mung bean (soak for 12 hours, harvest after 4 or 5 days)
-Lentils (12 hours, 6-8 days)
-Alfalfa (4 hours, 6-8 days)
-Broccoli (8 hours, 3-5 days)
-Fenugreek (5 hours, 6-8 days)
-Radish (12 hours, 4-5 days)
-Wheat (12 hours, 3-5 days)
-Red clover (8 hours, 3-5 days)

Place the seeds in the jar and cover with water and allow to soak for the recommended time (usually overnight).  Pour the water out, shaking to remove as much moisture as possible.  Place the jar away from direct sunlight in a tilted position, with the mouth over a saucer so that all excess water can drain out.  This is where the screw-on sieve top with the little stand comes in handy.  Otherwise, you could prop the jar into this position with a towel.

Throughout the germination time, rinse the sprouts twice daily, pouring the water over your houseplants, if you have any.

After a few days, you will start to see roots and leaves.  These sprouts are excellent on a salad or sandwich, and they might just add a nice crunch to your microwavable vegan burrito.

Some people have over-hyped the benefits of sprouted grains, claiming that they contain live-giving magical powers and such.  I'm not sure about all of that.  But they do taste good, and they contain just as much protein and fiber as un-sprouted beans, but with an extra crunch.

Really, it's not a lot of work.  Try it out!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Spiced red cabbage

All of the French recipes I've seen for red cabbage include sauteeing it with lardons (bits of pig) and then cooking with white wine.  I went out on a limb this weekend and tried to come up with something more fanciful.  You don't have to have a bad-ass knife like mine, but it can't hurt.

1 small head of red cabbage
1/2 cup white vinegar (the cheap stuff, like cider vinegar for example)
1 medium onion
1 large shallot
2 Tbs walnut oil
A few cups of Shaoxing wine
several grains of allspice
several grains of black pepper
1/2 tsp salt
2 cloves
1/2 bunch mint leaves
1 large black radish

Remove the dark outer leaves from the cabbage, saving them for another use.  Slice the cabbage into half-centimeter layers, and cut off the thick white parts around the base of these.  (Save the leaves and the white parts of the cabbage: they'll both be right at home in your next minestrone).

Quarter the thin circles of cabbage as you slice them off, taking time to appreciate the trippy patterns that may appear on your cutting board.  Duuuude.

Once all the cabbage has been chopped into little ribbons in this way, place it in a large, non-reactive bowl with the vinegar.  Toss thoroughly and allow to stand for about 10 minutes.  This is to 'fix' the color of the cabbage, which would otherwise turn bluish grey when cooked.  You can skip this step if you don't mind that, of course.

While the cabbage is getting fixed, peel and finely chop the onion and the shallots.

Rinse the cabbage in cold water to remove excess vinegar.  Heat the walnut oil in a large, heavy bottomed pot over medium high.  Add the onions and shallots, stirring to coat with oil.  Add the cabbage and cook for a few minutes, tossing frequently to try and distribute the heat evenly in your (probably crowded at this point) pot.

Once the cabbage is starting to go soft, add the salt, 3 grains of black pepper, 3 grains of allspice and 2 cloves to the pan, in addition to just enough Shaoxing wine to cover half of the cabbage.   Bring to a boil and then turn the heat down to medium low.  Cover and allow to simmer for around 30 minutes, stirring once every 10 minutes or so.  Finally, remove the lid from the pan and turn the heat up to high, and cook until almost all of the liquid has evaporated.  Turn off the heat.

Peel and slice the black radish into half circles.  Wash the mint leaves if necessary and chop coarsely.  Add the mint and the radish to the cabbage just before serving.  Of course, unless you plan on having eight cabbage-loving friends for dinner tonight, there will be leftovers, and the radish and mint will eventually just turn purple and blend in with the cabbage... not really a problem.
Taste and add salt, pepper, and ground allspice accordingly.  I ate this with wheatberries and chickpeas, which I had soaked the night before and cooked earlier, and with a dollop of silken tofu.  Not bad!  And it must have given me some serious energy, because I went to a party afterwards and stayed out until 4 am, which I hadn't done in years.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Saint-Michel on Saturday

I love my neighborhood every day, but especially on Saturdays, when the Capucins covered market draws the liveliest crowd of vendors and gastronomes of all kinds.  I like to go early, when it's just me, these tiny but feisty blue-hairs, and an occasional group of boisterous young men who never went to bed on Friday night, who come here to fill their bellies before going home and sleeping it off.

A little banter with the drunk boys distracted me from taking the pictures I wanted to this morning.  But I did get a shot of the fromager:

And of these maraichers, who grow all sorts of interesting Asian vegetables just outside of Bordeaux:

After filling up my little shopping caddy here I usually head straight for the other Saturday market, sometimes called "le marché des arabes", which takes place on the square in front of the church.  In the 500 meters between the Capucins and the place Saint Michel I counted no less than SEVEN halal butcher shops.  Seven.  All clustered around my address.  If I'm out and about in the morning, I often walk past the open delivery trucks and catch a glimpse of very identifiable cow carcasses, before they get chopped into something anyone might call appetizing.  So why do I still love my neighborhood?

These little shops offer so much more than meat: it's where I stock up on dried chickpeas and lentils in bulk, olives of all kinds, pickled peppers, preserved lemons, harissa, tahini, olive oil, argan oil, all kinds of spices .... you get the picture!

Plus, I'd rather have friendly, independently owned butcher shops than impersonal, corporation-owned supermarkets anyday.  Am I right?  You should have seen how proud this guy was when I asked him if I could photograph his olives.

On to the marché des arabes:

Let's cut to the chase: what did I bring home?

Do you think this will last me for the week?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Soupe à l'oseille (Oscar the Grouch soup)

In an ideal world, I would still be harvesting more tomatoes than I knew what to do with from a magnificent potager at this time of year.  In reality, I have to make do with window boxes.  I already lost one cherry tomato plant, which grew so tall that one day it just fell off the railing down into the street with a thud.  Terence went down into the street to clean it up while I watched him from the window and cried.

One plant that really thrives in this terra cotta box is sorrel.

To be honest, I have ambivalent feelings about this plant.  It's just not the kind of thing you would want to eat every day, but it's more prolific than any of the other herbs I try to grow (as evidenced by the pitiful coriander seedling, left), so I end up cooking with it anyway.

Sorrel has a sort of citrus-y flavor, and it's loaded with Vitamin C, apparently.  The slight sweetness of red onions and leeks complement it nicely.  Purple + bright green = Oscar the Grouch green in this soup, which I can't wait to serve to my kids under that name.

I know it looks weird, but believe me when I say that it really is good.  Once, in my mother-in-law's kitchen,  when I thought no one was looking, I kept sneaking tastes of a sorrel sauce she had made.  Later in the day she said to me in a low voice: "I saw you were dipping into my sauce."  Oh no!  Caught in the act.  "You know, for me that sauce is like a drug," she said.  I realized that she was right: why else would I be sneaking around like that?

1 large bunch of sorrel leaves
3 small leeks
3 small red onions
3 Tablespoons olive oil
a few celery leaves (optional)
sea salt
3 black peppercorns
3 coriander seeds

Rinse the sorrel leaves and pat them dry, or just wipe off the dirt if they're straight from the garden.

Slice the roots and the toughest dark green leaves off of the leeks and slice them lengthwise.  Rinse them thoroughly and pat them dry.  Peel the onions.

Chop the leeks and the onions coarsely.  Place the olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat.  Add the leeks and onions and stir for one minute. Turn the heat down to medium and cook for a few minutes, until the vegetables look shiny (see picture below).  Be careful not to let them get brown.

Add the sorrel leaves and (a few celery leaves, if you have some around) all at once.  Turn up the heat if necessary, stirring to incorporate them in with the rest.  Cook until the leaves have shrunk entirely.

Sprinkle on a generous amount of sea salt and add just enough water to cover the vegetables.  Add the peppercorns and coriander seeds.  Turn up the heat all the way and bring to a boil, then cover the pan and turn the heat down to low.  Allow the pot to simmer for about 15 minutes.

Turn off the heat and blend the soup with a stick blender (Be careful not to splash hot soup on yourself!  Just make sure the mixing end of the blender is entirely immersed by tilting the pan so all the liquid is at one end.)

I like to add 1/2 cup of soy yogurt per bowl when serving.  Taste and add salt & pepper if necessary.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Baba Ganoush

There are so many different recipes for this out there, and mine's a composite of a lot of these.  It's a lighter version than many, but you can make this as fattening as you wish by loading up on the tahini.

2 lbs eggplant
2 or 3 cloves of garlic
1 teaspoon salt
juice of two lemons
1 small bouquet of coriander leaves
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1/3 cup tahini

Set the oven to broil.  Pierce each of the eggplants a few times with a fork and place them alongside the garlic cloves in a large baking dish under the broiler.  Roast until they go soft and the skin is wrinkled and leathery (about 15 minutes).  Remove the garlic cloves if they are soft; otherwise continue roasting.  Turn the eggplants over to roast the other side in the same way.  Your eggplants are ready when they look something like this "after" picture:

Remove the dish from the oven and allow to cool.  In the meantime, wash the coriander if necessary and separate the leaves from the stems.

Squeeze the garlic from their skins into the bowl of the food processor, taking care to remove any burned, hard bits that might have formed around the edges.  Add the lemon juice, olive oil, salt and coriander and blend well.  You should end up with a nice creamy liquid.

Once the eggplants are cool enough to handle, peel off their skins and stems.  Drop them into the food processor and blend thoroughly.  Let the food processor run on high speed for a minute or two to incorporate some air.

Pour the contents of the food processor into a large bowl.  Add the tahini with a spoon, stirring well.

Taste and add more salt if necessary, plus a few grinds of black pepper.  You can also add some ground cumin and coriander, if you like.  The final product is so delicious that I like to just eat it with a spoon.  It's also excellent as a dip for raw vegetables (sticks of celery, carrots, fennel...) or for crackers/pita chips.

A few words about my "robot"

French people call food processors "robots", which I find quite adorable.  My mom had a food processor, but I think she used it about twice a year, and then only to chop cabbage for cole slaw (yuck).  It was presented to me as a very dangerous, impractical tool that was a pain to clean and might chop my fingers off. 

Since acquiring my own robot, I've come to regard it as the most indespensable tool in my kitchen.  This one cost me 20€, so it's not like it's a huge investment, and the returns are so great!  Check out the selection on ebay.

Most robots allow you to blend, chop, grate and slice: all at the push of a button.  Sure, it takes a little bit of effort to hand wash all the separate parts after use, but that's nothing compared to the work of finely chopping six onions, for example.

(Update: I should note, before giving my mom the link to this blog, that she has seen the error of her ways and now uses her food processor regularly to make all kinds of tasty things.  And she's a great cook!  I'm just not a fan of cole slaw is all...)

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Wonky Carrot Salad

Of course, this salad can be made with any carrots - wonky or not. But I get a little thrill out of these vegetables that don't fit the mold.

So many American children grow up eating those finger-like "baby carrots" that are not baby carrots at all but tasteless, peeled and uniformly cut full-grown carrots. Who could actually enjoy eating that? No wonder parents have to add puddles of Ranch dressing just to get kids to eat them!

A simple, raw salad seems like the best way to highlight the character of these nobly wonky carrots, giving back a little dignity to a vegetable I fear may be going out of style.

2lbs carrots
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
coarse sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
juice of 1 lemon
1 heaping tablespoon whole coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon whole cumin seeds

Wash the carrots well and dry them. Use a vegetable peeler to cut away the dark brown and green part at the top and to peel off any parts of the skin that are "hairy" or that just won't wash clean.  It's really not necessary to peel all of the carrots entirely though, I promise.  The skin actually adds a nice earthy taste, I think.

Fit your food processor with the grating attachment.  Using the little pusher thing, feed the carrots into the spout to grate them all.  (This is the part where straight carrots may have been preferable to these wonky beasts).   Place the shredded carrots in a very large bowl.

Pour the olive oil and lemon juice over the carrots.  (I use a tea strainer to keep any of those dreadfully slimy lemon seeds from slipping in).  Generously sprinkle with sea salt and add a few turns of the pepper mill.  Place the spices into the pepper mill and grind them over the carrots.  It might take a little while to grind through all of that coriander and cumin, but it's worth it!  Trust me, you don't want to go with the pre-ground stuff.

I like to use my (clean) hands to really mix all the ingredients together thoroughly.  Now's the time to taste: add more salt, oil, lemon juice, and/or spices if you think it needs it.  My mother-in-law likes to add minced raw garlic to her carrot salad; it's delicious but not quite worth having bad breath for two days afterwards, in my opinion.  I'll let you be the judge of that!

This salad gets really good after marinating for a few hours/days in the fridge in a covered dish, although it needs to be eaten in the space of a week.  Terence and I rarely have trouble going through about 2 lbs per week, but of course, you can always halve the quantities.