December 7, 2010
In my half-Jewish family, latkes were a coveted once-a-year food. My health-conscious Catholic mother, who learned how to make potato pancakes from someone or other (certainly not my cooking-impaired Jewish father) made them on the first night of Hanukkah every year. We ate them just before lighting our menorah and saying the Hanukkah prayer. She always served them in the same way: layers of latkes with paper towels in between, and sour cream and apple sauce on the side. Pretty standard as latkes go.
Since I left home, I must confess I’ve been a bit lax in the menorah-lighting department. In the latke department, however… I excel. I’ve spent the past six nights making and tasting (okay, mostly tasting) latkes that are outside the traditional potato pancake box.
For those who have grown bored with the sour cream and apple sauce combo and are looking to reinvent the latke, I’ve rounded up some unorthodox (and un-reform, un-conservative and un-reconstructionist) alternatives—some I’ve tried and some I want to try—that are guaranteed to have you and whoever you’re feeding latkes to gobbling away for the last two nights of Hanukkah:
Passover Latke: Combine two Jewish holidays in one! Though there may not be any unleavened bread on the Passover seder plate, there are a host of other ingredients that just happen to make excellent latke toppings. Use a spoonful of charoset, a mixture of nuts, grated apples, cinnamon and red wine, for a new take on the apple theme. Or, for the daring, use a dab of horseradish and a slice of gefilte fish. For a less literal interpretation of the horseradish motif, the New York Times has an excellent recipe involving whipped cream, horseradish, chives, black pepper and smoked trout.
Greek Latke: The same New York Times article recommends using Greek yogurt as a latke base and sprinkling it with pomegranate seeds and drizzling it with honey. You could also take a savory approach to the Mediterranean theme by using an olive tapenade, sundried tomatoes and feta cheese. Here’s another idea: use Greek-style tzatziki yogurt and top with cucumbers, garlic, lemon and dill.
South-of-the-Border Latke: Top your latke with sour cream, and add cilantro, onion and a squeeze of lime. Throw some jalapeno peppers in with your potato mix to add a kick. Cooking Light has a great recipe along these lines.
The Breakfast Latke: If you think about it, latkes aren’t so far removed from a veritable breakfast staple: hash browns. To add a savory taste, finely chop the sausage (turkey, to keep it kosher!) of your choice, and mix in a delicious fruit. (Figs work well here, or you could just choose a chicken apple sausage to give that hint of sweetness.) Drizzle with real maple syrup to finish, or use a gourmet maple butter to act as a medium for the sausage (or to keep it not kosher). Adventurous latke eaters could try eggs Florentine using a latke instead of the traditional English muffin. Who says latkes are only dinner fare?
The “Everyone Loves Caviar” Latke: Lox would probably be more appropriate here, but I tasted this style the other day and couldn’t get enough of it. The Times recommends spreading salmon cream cheese on the latke and adding salmon caviar. This is one of the swankier options that will truly leave an impression on any Hanukkah guest.
August 31, 2010
The National Museum of Natural History’s Sant Ocean Hall last week hosted the “Real Cost Cafe,” an interactive performance about sustainable seafood. The child-friendly program originated at California’s Monterey Bay Aquarium, and was adapted by Smithsonian’s Discovery Theater. Three segments assessed the environmental issues at stake for a different kind of fish, ultimately tallying the fish’s “real cost” to marine ecosystems and to human health.
I knew little about the subject prior to seeing the performance, but Rachel Crayfish and Bubba (the show’s hosts, who were dressed in chef’s hats and fishing gear) taught me about the sustainability issues at stake for some of the United States’ favorite seafood: orange roughy, shrimp and salmon.
What is “sustainable” seafood? NMNH fish biologist Carole Baldwin—who has written a cookbook titled One Fish, Two Fish, Crawfish, Bluefish—sustainable seafood includes fish and shellfish harvested in a way that doesn’t threaten the future of the particular species. The four primary factors that pose such a threat are “bycatch” (marine life that gets caught in fishing equipment by accident), overfishing, habitat loss and pollution.
Orange Roughy: This white fish, also known as the “slimehead,” matures remarkably late in life, around age 20. These fish can live as long as 100 years, so you might be eating a fish that’s older than your grandmother! Unfortunately, many young orange roughy that are caught have not yet had a chance to reproduce, making the species particularly susceptible to overfishing. According to the handy Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch card Bubba handed out at the performance, orange roughy is on the list of fish to avoid. This is not only due to overfishing, but also the harmful contaminants such as mercury these fish can contain. Pacific halibut is a much safer choice, and has a fairly comparable taste, at least according to our pals Rachel and Bubba.
Shrimp: One shrimp looks just like the next to me, but apparently not all are created equal when it comes to sustainability. The shrimp industry is one big contributor to the bycatch problem, often throwing away two pounds of unwanted marine species for every pound of shrimp caught. Shrimp farms are less affected by bycatch than the wild-caught shrimp industry is, but building shrimp farms often requires the destruction of rich marine ecosystems like mangrove forests. What’s the lesser of the evils? Rachel and Bubba say that the United States and Canada have fairly strict regulations for shrimp farms that limit environmental destruction. U.S. or Canada-farmed shrimp make the “green” list for the best seafood choices on my Seafood Watch card.
Salmon: I was already aware that eating farmed salmon was a no-no, but I wasn’t exactly sure why. As it turns out, farmed salmon can have higher levels of contaminants in their systems due to their diets. Furthermore, to my surprise, several different species are often sold as salmon, and some are better for you than others. Alaska wild salmon seems to be the most sustainable option, with Washington wild salmon coming in second.
Sometimes, says Rachel Crayfish, the “real cost” of seafood can be hard to swallow. Who’s going to pay this “seafood bill,” she and Bubba ask? The next generation, of course, some of whom were sitting, wide-eyed, with me in the Sant Ocean Hall on Saturday.
August 19, 2010
“I’m having a relationship with my pizza.” As Julia Roberts looks over her Neapolitan pizza at her Eat Pray Love co-star, Tuva Novotny, I too feel a pang for the thin, cheesy, luscious display that nearly outshines the Oscar winner. As it turns out, this particular scene was filmed at the famous L’Antica Pizzeria Da Michele in the heart of Naples, which has been baking some of the city’s best pies since 1870, and where Elizabeth Gilbert, author of the best-selling book Eat Pray Love, actually ate during her four-month stint in Italy.
The new movie is an unabashed chick flick—my boyfriend was one of four men in an audience of about 100 people. But however girly the plot, the bounty of delicious Italian, Indian and Balinese foods can be enjoyed by all. Here’s a quick list of the film’s food highlights to get your mouth watering.
Pizza Napolitana: Forget New York. Forget Chicago. As mentioned, this pizza has become the object of my desire—days after seeing the movie, I still can’t get it out of my mind. As one might expect, the Pizzeria Da Michele does not divulge their recipe online, but here’s a pizza dough recipe you can use to try to approximate the real deal.
Egg, Asparagus, Potato and Ham Salad: One day in Rome, Roberts’ character, Liz, decides to stay home and do nothing—except eat, that is. She drizzles olive oil over a portion of asparagus, hard boiled eggs, and prosciutto, and pours herself a glass of Italian red wine for a job well done.
Figs and Ham: As she winds through the streets of Rome, Liz passes a woman delicately cutting into a platter of fresh figs and Parma ham. This was a pleasant departure from the also delicious but more ubiquitous dish, “prosciutto e melone,” or ham and melon.
Spaghetti all’Amatriciana: Nowhere is the power of simple recipes and fresh ingredients more apparent than when Liz gorges herself on a heaping plate of this spaghetti and tomato sauce dish. Spaghetti all’Amatriciana—which, at its most basic, includes onions, tomatoes, pancetta, olive oil, and chili peppers—is native to the town of Amatrice, located to the east of Rome near the border dividing the regions of Abruzzo and Umbria. Although older, more traditional recipes included lard and bacon fat, olive oil has proved a healthier substitute and is now widely used in Italian trattorias throughout the country.
Fried Artichokes: I tend to subscribe to the notion that frying vegetables defeats the purpose of eating them in the first place. But when a plate of crispy, golden, leafy artichokes was served up in the film, I had to reconsider. I’ve always eaten artichokes steamed, with a touch of mayo and lemon. But next time I might have to plunge those artichokes straight into the frying oil.
Thums Up!: While the Eat portion of Eat Pray Love takes place mostly in Rome, a few other interesting foods (and beverages, in this case) pop up throughout the rest of the film. During her stay at an ashram in India, Liz’s friend Richard takes her to a small cafe to enjoy a sweet, Indian cola called Thums Up! that serves as the Coca-Cola substitute in India. A hand making a thumbs up sign appears on the bottle.
Exotic Balinese Fruits: As Roberts’ character cruises the Balinese open-air markets with her new Brazilian squeeze, played by Javier Bardem, they scope out a couple of the native fruits of Bali, including the spiked Durian, a fruit prohibited in many hotels because of its offensive odor. “That one tastes like stinky feet,” Bardem says. Contrary to what his character would have us believe, though, I’ve heard that if you can get past the smell, the taste of the fruit’s creamy filling is pretty darn good.
Already been to see the film? What was your favorite Eat Pray Love food moment?