December 2, 2011
The first time I tried a persimmon was a few years ago. I spotted the attractive fruit at the supermarket, and its smooth skin and deep orange color tempted me to buy one. Unfortunately, I didn’t know that the variety of persimmon I bought—hachiya—shouldn’t be eaten until it is extremely ripe. It tasted like industrial-strength cleaner. Since then, I’ve learned that fuyus, which are short and squat, are the variety to buy for eating fresh; pointy-bottomed hachiyas are better for baking.
Fuyus have a pleasantly firm, mango-like flesh. The most similar flavor I can think of is papaya—sweet, but not overly so, with a hint of floral or spicy tones. Both fuyus and hachiyas are usually available in late fall and early winter. Here are a few ways to use either variety:
1. In a salad. Despite originating thousands of miles apart, persimmons (from East Asia) and pomegranates (from the Middle East) harmonize nicely—both flavor-wise and visually—in a fall/winter fruit salad. For an even more colorful (and very nutritious) dish, toss them with sliced red cabbage, Romaine lettuce, Asian pear, hazelnuts and gorgonzola cheese, as in the Rainbow Chopped Salad from Epicurious.
2. As a condiment or accompaniment. Organic Authority suggests serving a fresh persimmon salsa with grilled fish or chicken. Or it can be cooked into a spicy chutney with apples and raisins, as Moscovore recommends. Firm fuyus can also be sliced and roasted to be served as a sweet/savory side dish, as in this recipe from About.com.
3. Dried. Hoshigaki, or dried persimmons, are a popular treat in Japan, where they are made through a labor-intensive process you’re unlikely to want to replicate at home. But even the shortcut method you can make in your oven—like this recipe from Martha Stewart—produces a yummy (albeit very different, I’m sure) snack.
4. In a drink. Just because I’m teetotaling for the next few months doesn’t mean you have to. Imbibe magazine’s recipe for a persimmon margarita rimmed with cinnamon salt is a novel twist on one of my favorite cocktails. On the nonalcoholic side, 101 Asian Recipes explains how to make a Korean persimmon tea.
5. In dessert. Nicole of Pinch My Salt shares her grandma’s recipe for sweet, moist persimmon cookies. And I would like to be in Denise’s Kitchen next time she makes this delicious-looking fuyu persimmon, pear and walnut rolled tart. Having spent only one very rainy day of my life in Indiana (on the interstate en route from Nashville to Chicago), I was unaware that persimmon pudding was a traditional regional food there. Joy the Baker explains how it’s made (including how to wheedle the fruits from your neighbor), describing the result as “sweet and super moist bread pudding meets spice cake.” Sounds good to me.
November 2, 2011
After potatoes, perhaps no vegetable has kept more bellies full in more places through winter than cabbage. It’s cheap, it’s filling, and it’s available long after a lot of other vegetables have gone into hibernation.
It’s also versatile and is found in cuisines that span the globe. Whether green, red, savoy or napa, here are a few ideas to keep you inspired through spring.
1. Stuff it. Nearly every country between Poland and Lebanon has its own version of stuffed cabbage rolls, each a little different. In Hungary, they’re called Töltött Káposzta and might be stuffed with ground pork and served with sauerkraut, paprika and sour cream. In the Arab countries of the eastern Mediterranean, they’re called Mahshi Malfuf; they’re stuffed with ground lamb and rice and flavored with allspice, cinnamon, garlic and lemon juice. The ones my mom used to make were probably of Polish-Jewish origin, stuffed with ground beef and cooked in a sweet and sour tomato sauce, similar to this version of Holishkes from Epicurious. For a vegetarian take, this Russian recipe stuffed with apples, dried apricots, raisins and spinach and served with sour cream sounds interesting.
2. Stock your soup. I can’t condone eating cabbage soup every day, as one of the crazier (and most intestinally distressing) fad diets has suggested, but the ingredient does deserve a place in your soup repertoire. I like to add shredded napa cabbage, which has thin, frilly leaves, to minestrone soup; this version, from Food52, includes zucchini and green beans, but you could easily substitute fall and winter vegetables. A simple German soup, from Teri’s Kitchen, combines shredded cabbage with onions, rice, nutmeg and a garnish of shredded Swiss cheese. And for a recipe that is defiantly not on the cabbage soup diet, try Closet Cooking’s creamy cabbage and double-smoked bacon soup, which also includes sausage and grainy mustard.
3. Fry it. My favorite way to prepare cabbage is probably to stir-fry it—it’s not mushy or limp, as it can get when boiled, and it’s not dry and starchy, as it sometimes tastes when raw. Plus, it absorbs flavors perfectly—from a simple Chinese-style soy sauce, garlic and ginger mixture to a complex, Indian-spiced dish with potatoes, Aloo Patta Gobhi Sabzi. Or go soul food–style, frying up some cabbage with bacon, garlic and crushed red pepper.
4. Shred it. Slaws are usually thought of as a summer side dish, but they also make a good stand-in for green salads in the colder months. I Really Like Food suggests adding apple, celery, red bell pepper and autumn spices like cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves for a seasonal twist on cole slaw. And, as a transplanted Southern Californian, sometimes I’ve gotta have my fish taco fix, which wouldn’t be complete without a little shredded cabbage and lime juice—like these ones from Koko Likes.
5. Pickle or ferment it. Germans and Koreans independently came up with the idea to ferment cabbage, with very different but equally delicious results. If you’re ambitious—and patient—you could try making your own sauerkraut or kimchi. Or you can do the shortcut version of either, though they will have a less pungent flavor: A quick kimchi recipe on Epicurious takes only 3 1/2 hours to pickle, rather than days, and Brian Boitano (yes—the figure skater—he now has a show on the Food Channel) improvises a quick sauerkraut to serve with Schnitzel by cooking shredded cabbage with German beer, vinegar and mustard seeds.
June 8, 2011
If watermelon were a brand, it would be a very successful one. First of all, it has a name that tells you exactly what it is—at more than 90 percent water, it’s the juiciest fruit going. It has attractive packaging. Plus, it’s got impeccable timing. It doesn’t even bother making an appearance until summer really heats up and all anyone wants is something cool, sweet and hydrating. If they could only figure out that seed problem. (Sorry, so-called seedless watermelons are neither truly seedless nor, in my experience, as good as the original.)
The best way to eat watermelon? Straight up, by the wedge, bare feet dangling into a pool, lake or other body of water. But here are five other pretty good ideas:
1. Salads. It’s Greek. It’s salad. But it’s not Greek salad. Toss together some watermelon with feta cheese and olives and you’ve got the basics of a classic Aegean summer dish. For a twist: Grill the watermelon, as Recipe Girl does, to caramelize the sugars. Jacques Pépin adds fresh mint and Tabasco sauce. The Food Section gives equal billing to another quintessential summer fruit, tomatoes. Bobby Flay takes it in a Southwestern direction by swapping in jicama instead of olives and feta and adding lime juice.
2. Drinks. Watermelon is practically a beverage already, but it’s also a natural in cocktails and nonalcoholic drinks. You can mix up a Mexican-style agua fresca with lemon juice and mint. What’s Cooking in America makes the novel suggestion of blending watermelon puree with rosewater and lime juice. Imbibe magazine offers a spicy watermelon margarita recipe for those who like that hot-cold, salty-sweet combination. Or just cut to the chase and spike the whole melon with vodka (recommended only if you have a large group of friends to help finish it off).
3. Soups. The most ubiquitous summer soup isn’t necessarily made with tomatoes; a watermelon-cucumber gazpacho from Salon comes with a Spanish cultural history lesson. I’m intrigued by the addition of buttermilk and rosewater (apparently not as novel an ingredient as I thought) in a Bulgarian chilled watermelon soup. Thai-spiced watermelon soup with crabmeat from Epicurious also sounds delicious.
4. Dessert. Watermelon only needs the slightest nudging to be taken into the dessert category—Wicked Good Dinner explains how to make a watermelon granita by simply freezing the pulp with some salt and sugar and adding fresh basil. “Watermelon” ice cream pie is adorable but it’s made with lime and raspberry sherbet; Emeril Lagasse offers a recipe for real watermelon-flavored ice cream with chocolate chips (they look like seeds).
5. Pickled. You don’t have to be a freegan to want to minimize food waste. Why throw away all that watermelon rind when it only takes a couple of days or so to turn it into pickles? Seriously, according to The Bitten Word, they’re not very complicated to make, and if you’ve never tasted sweet-sour pickled watermelon rind you are missing out on one of the triumphs of southern pickling. Pickled pig’s feet, on the other hand, I’m not so sure about.
September 13, 2010
Today’s Inviting Writing post puts a twist on the college food theme by venturing beyond campus—and beyond the typical age range for most freshman students’ choice of dining companions. Our featured writer, Leah Douglas, is a Brown University student who contributes to Serious Eats and also has her own blog, Feasting on Providence.
By Leah Douglas
I’m not one of those people who loves to hate the food provided at my university’s cafeteria. Sure, the meat seems dubious at times and the “nacho bar” appears too frequently for anyone’s gastrointestinal comfort. But as a vegetarian, I appreciate the somewhat creative non-meat dishes, and the extensive (if a tad wilted) options at the salad bar.
All that being said, I do not reflect on my first year of college eating with rosy-colored glasses. I would go for days without much in the way of protein, and late-night burrito and pizza runs happened far too frequently. For someone who thinks, reads, and dreams about delicious food, I felt slightly stalled and unsettled by my limited options—but frankly, and perhaps fortunately, there were more important things on my mind than my next meal.
Except for the nights I ate at Red Stripe.
The French bistro, my favorite restaurant in the college neighborhood, is somewhat pricey and a bit of a walk from campus—two factors that keep the majority of the student population away. However, I am the truly fortunate student whose grandparents happen to live half an hour away from my dorm.
That’s right: Lucky duck that I am, I attend college within an hour’s drive of several family members. Suffice it to say that I never really had any problems with moving furniture, getting to and from the train station, or running out of shampoo during my first year. But neither did I have the expectation that my grandparents would end up saving the most valuable part of my person—my stomach—from complete deprivation.
I can’t remember the first time we went to Red Stripe, but I know that I ordered the “Everything But the Kitchen Sink” chopped salad. How do I know this? Because I have ordered the same thing ever since. Pshh, you’re thinking, she thinks she’s an adventurous eater?! Scoff if you will, but then try this salad. Hearts of palm, house-marinated vegetables, chickpeas and olives and tomatoes; oh my. It is heaven in a very, very large bowl. Not to mention the warm, chewy, crusty, perfect sourdough bread served endlessly on the side, with whipped butter…Excuse me. I may need to go get a snack.
My grandparents branched out far more than I, ordering everything from short ribs to grilled cheese. I appreciated their sampling, of course, since it meant I got to taste extensively from the bistro’s excellent menu. The food was prepared in an open kitchen by young, attractive chefs who liked to glance my way as I grinned through their hearty meals. Before long, we had a regular waiter who knew us by name, and with whom my grandfather found a partner in friendly rambling.
As we ate, my grandmother would hold my hand and question the sanity of my far-too-busy schedule. My grandfather would dutifully remember the names of two to three friends to ask about, and I would share as many grandparent-appropriate details as I could. I looked forward to their tales from “the real world,” where work ended at 5 and social engagements featured cheese plates rather than Cheetos.
Over that large salad, in dim lighting and sipping an always-needed Diet Coke, I would feel the knots in my brain unwind and nutrition seep into my slightly neglected body. These dinners were heartwarming and soul-strengthening beyond their cost and deliciousness.
And at the end of another lovely meal, I would inevitably take home half my salad (I promise, it is huge) in a plastic container. This would be my late-night, or perhaps very early morning, connection to the world beyond exams and parties. If I couldn’t control what time my first class started, or whether my roommate had decided to host a gossip session ten feet from my head, at the very least I could satiate grumblings with a reminder of the food world I so missed. These treats were the bright spot in an otherwise nondescript freshman year of eating.
My grandparents will always insist I am doing them a favor by taking the time in my schedule for our dinners. Little do they know how much my stomach is truly indebted to their generosity.
March 2, 2010
March can be an ugly month in the northeast, all mud and slush and wind—some compare it to a lion, but I think of it more like cranky old Mr. Wilson in Dennis the Menace. Like him, it conceals a current of sweetness beneath its bluster.
It’s hard to predict exact dates for maple sugaring season because, as this farmer explains, it all depends on the weather. March usually casts the strongest spell, a combination of warm spring days and still-freezing nights that wakes up the sap in sugar maples while keeping their buds in bed.
Weather also influences the sugar content of the sap, which affects the amount and color of the final product. Syrup is classified by letter grades—A, B, and C, with several subcategories in between—from lightest to darkest. The lightest, “grade A fancy,” tends to fetch the highest prices, but they’re all good.
So good, in fact, that although I set out to write only a “five ways to eat” post, I’ve decided to give you an entire alphabet of maple recipe ideas! (Humor me. I’m from Vermont; maple madness is endemic.)
A: Asparagus with maple-tahini dressing.
B: Braised Brussels sprouts in maple-mustard glaze.
D. Maple-roasted duck, with cherry compote.
E. Even eggnog tastes better with maple.
G. Ginger-maple cocktail. (Or ginger-maple anything, really.)
H. Hot wings with maple-chipotle sauce. Sweet plus spicy = mmm.
I. If you can’t get sugar on snow (see “S”), maple ice cream is the next best thing. (Which is kind of like saying you should “settle” for a date with Hugh Jackman if George Clooney is unavailable.)
J. Jicama salad with chicory, pecans and maple dressing.
K. Kabocha squash and celery root soup with maple syrup and brown butter.
Q. Quince, poached and then baked with maple syrup, cloves and anise.
T. Turnips, roasted with maple and cardamom.
U. Upside-down cake with pears and maple syrup.
V. Maple vinaigrette tossed with baby spinach, candied pecans and blue cheese crumbles makes an easy, yet elegant salad.
X. Um…. Xanthan gum in gluten-free pancakes, maybe?
Y. Yams with maple syrup and pecans.
Z. Zucchini, sauteed with a splash of syrup, or baked into maple zucchini bread.