photos by gluttonforlife
Spring is on its way. I saw the first chimpunk today, quite frisky after his long winter's nap. Beneath last year's detritus, the mint patch is already stirring greenly, and the first bulbs—snowdrops—have emerged under the river birch in the side yard. Soon we will be tramping into the wet woods in search of vernal pools and the salamanders and frogs that inhabit them. I am dreaming of what we will plant first and itching for morel season. At this time of year I get a serious jones to clean out drawers and closets, reorganize the attic and generally freshen up the place—and myself. Now is the moment to undertake cleanses, juice fasts and detoxes, as you prepare to shed the protective layers of winter and emerge into the sunlight.
photos by gluttonforlife
You may have noticed my total disregard of the upcoming holiday. Perhaps this is because we are going to a friend's home for Thanksgiving this year and I will not be in the kitchen. Or maybe it's just that I am weary to the bone of online discussions about the best way to cook a turkey and the incessant chatter about "sides." Upon receiving my latest issue of Lucky Peach
, I was especially delighted to see that there was no burnished bird or puffy harvest casserole on the cover. (It's actually the Chinatown issue and, yet again, it's jam-packed with some of the most engaging and entertaining long-form food writing out there.) In fact, if I never hear anything more about quinoa, delicata squash or cranberry compote it will be too soon. Yet we must eat, and most of us will be sitting down to a major chowdown on Thursday, so I felt this was the perfect opportunity to continue the conversation
about green sauces.
My baloney has a first name. It's Mortadella. I'll bet you already know that baloney is a bastardization of bologna—actually, Bologna, for the city in Italy from whence this delectable pork sausage hails. But are you aware that it's named for the mortar (mortaio) that in conjunction with a pestle was originally responsible for the finely ground meat that forms the basis of this heat-cured salume? (Salume is how Italians refer to charcuterie or, more basely, cold cuts.) I have no love for Oscar Mayer's offspring, and shudder to think what goes into those inspid, rubbery slices. They're barely fit to kiss the hem of the real deal: a rich, dense and savory concoction, flavored with garlic, coriander, nutmeg and sometimes studded with pistachios.
this is not your childhood bologna
I get my mortadella at Eataly
's fabulous salumeria where I can have it cut to order in a thick slab. For some gathering over the next month I may even make this recipe
I came across for "Mortadella Smear" in Saveur.
Trust me, it surpasses its unfortunate name in every way. Pureed mortadella enriched with a velouté sauce and a little cream, slathered on grilled bread and drizzled with balsamic. What's not to like? This diverges wildly from the mortadella of yore and is more akin to paté whipped up by a lazy Italian contessa.
Mortadella has a fair amount of fat, so it fries up beautifully crisp. You can do thin slices, which are quite nice, almost chip-like, but I prefer chubby little cubes that come out chewy with crunchy edges. The perfect vehicle for them? A fresh escarole salad tossed with tangy anchovy dressing.
Escarole, also known as "broad-leaved endive" (but not called that by anyone you know) is a member of the chicory family, along with puntarelle
, radicchio and Belgian endive. It's slightly sweeter than its bitter brethren and is a sadly under-appreciated green. (Here's
a recipe for a very simple escarole soup.) Delicious cooked—sauteed with shallots and chile, wilted in garlicky oil—escarole is secretly a salad diva. Served raw, it's gutsy without being aggressive and has gently curled edges that are made for cupping dressing.
We had this salad one night for dinner along with cups of creamy butternut squash soup sprinkled with spicy toasted squash seeds, and it reminded me that I've been meaning to talk to you about something: GARNISHES. The way you finish a dish can make the difference between good and extraordinary. G calls it "kicking it up a notch"—unabashedly ripping off Emeril's catch-phrase—and it's a call to action in the kitchen. You can always make something just that much better with an extra drizzle of spicy green olive oil, sprinkling of coarse sea salt, frizzle of herbs or dollop of crème fraîche.
This is where the notion of condiments comes into play. Homemade chutney, spiced pumpkin seeds, curry salt, fried sage, pickled onions—these have the power to bring your cooking into focus by adding flavor and textural counterpoints. Use your imagination, your creativity and your palate, and have fun gilding the lily.
Seeds. Water. Light. Life! That's all it takes. Just shy of 5 days, and hardy little shoots are springing out, so vibrant and crisp. A reminder of how eager cells are to divide, and how little they require to thrive. The pea shoots are tender and crunchy, full of vivid pea flavor. The broccoli sprouts are smaller and more tender, with a delicate but recognizable taste. They are ready to eat now: stirred into soups, tossed in salads, layered in sandwiches, simply dressed with a little lemon juice and sesame oil, blended in juice.
Pork is not in circulation at our house right now (part of an elimination diet we're trying), and although there are plenty of other things to eat, bacon is pretty hard to replace. So I was intrigued when I spotted beef bacon at Dickson's
the other week. Turns out it has a nice smoky flavor and, though not fatty enough to become truly crispy, it's got a meaty chew that is rather pleasant. Because eating meats raises the level of acidity in the body, it's good to accompany them with plenty of alkalinizing fresh and cooked vegetables. One of my favorite ways to cook greens is with a piece of smoky meat, whether it's pork, beef, poultry or even dried bonito. It's an easy way to adds a lot of flavor.
If you've come across fresh paneer at the market, or been bold and tried making your own
, a dish of saag
is a wonderful way to use those pillowy cubes of creamy cheese. Although we frequently see it made with spinach, saag
is actually any dish of spiced, stewed greens with a bit of yoghurt and cream or buttermilk stirred in. As in India, you can use any combination of greens you want, including mustard greens, chard, kale and collards. I like to leave the greens on the toothier side, so the dish is a bit less like baby food, but make it however you like. You can enrich it with cream, although I like the tangy taste you get from buttermilk and yoghurt (and they have fewer calories). I imagine you could play around with soy or hemp milk. This recipe calls for garam masala, which is a classic blend of ground spices. Almost all Indian cooks have their own version, and it can vary greatly from one region to another. True to the spirit of any curry, you can tweak the ingredients and proportions to suit yourself. If you don't have paneer, you can try using cubes of firm tofu, chunks of fried potato, or even cooked chickpeas for this dish. It won't be the same, but it will get you in the ballpark.
This little Miss Muffett definitely enjoys eating freshly made curds. And so will you, when you make your own paneer
(also spelled panir
). This is that soft white cheese used in Indian cuisine. You probably know it from saag paneer
, the Indian cousin of creamed spinach. Making paneer is quite similar to making ricotta, if you've ever done that. Even easier. It's just a simple coagulation of milk through the use of acid; lemon juice, in this case. The milk "breaks," separating into fluffy white curds and cloudy liquid whey. You gather the curds up into a clean cloth (cotton towel or cheesecloth) and hang it so that liquid drains away. If you leave it fairly soft—with a bit more liquid—it's known as chenna
; taken to a firmer stage, it becomes paneer
. It's delicious in rich curries, fritters, or simply cooked with vegetables like peas, chiles or greens.
photo by george billard
G was up and out at 4 this morning, on his way to the airport. He'll be away working for a few days and I am on my own, with just the company of Titi and no one to cook for. It's perfect timing. My horoscope
for this month says I am in a highly contemplative and creative phase, one that's ideal for instilling new, positive habits and for taking care of myself. What better time, then, to go on a juice fast? Some people are very freaked out by the idea of fasting, so let me say very clearly here that I am not a doctor, nor a trained fasting therapist. But what I do know is that fasting has been used for thousands of years as a means of cleaning out the body and refreshing the mind. Our bodies—like the sun and moon, the tides, the stars—go through cycles, with highs and lows. During a low phase we may feel sluggish, bloated, weighed down (some people experience this as depression). This is an ideal time to lighten your body's load by fasting. Fasting is not starvation! It's a way to let your organs rest a bit, to get rid of the toxins that build up from chemicals, pollutants and over-indulgence. Along with a good diet, regular exercise and supplements, fasting will help you fight off illness and disease, maintain a high level of energy and improve your mood. I try to fast at the beginning of each season, so about 4 times a year.
I get a little overheated when I start proselytizing about green juice. (Sorry about the blurry photo, I'm still trying to figure all this out/coerce G into shooting for me.) I owe my conversion to Sally Kravich
, an amazing nutritionist who practices in both L.A. and New York. Her book, "Vibrant Living" has set a lot of people on the path to radiant health. (It was my great friend and longtime hairstylist, Sarah Mills
, who turned me on to Sally but she's a whole other story.) Among other things, Sally uses iridology to help with her assessment of your health, and it freaks me out every time. How can she look at my pupil and know that my neck hurts??