Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Charlie Bird’s Farro Salad

Is there anything more glorious than preparing a meal on a summer evening at a beach house? I feel like I could write a Haiku about this.  Sand running through your fingers, backdrop of crashing waves as you discuss tonight’s dinner menu with companions. Noticing your salty, sun-kissed skin on the way to the farm stand for vegetables. On to the fishmonger for catch of the day—it will be grilled, of course.  Back at the house, on the deck. Glass of rose in hand. Running to the garden barefoot for fresh basil and mint.  I should shower! You say. Nobody showers. Somebody makes guacamole. Opens another bottle of wine. Dinner served long after the sun disappears in a haze of brilliant hues. The air has a chill, grab a sweatshirt. Stare up at the stars. The languid day is infinite. You feel the happiest, and most content, you ever feel. This is summer.





I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing this type of beach house living the past two weekends on the East End of Long Island— where, to my delight, I witnessed the comestible shift the local farming community has made on the region. Of course, traditional New England summer fare like lobster, mayonnaise, buttery potato buns, coleslaw, and corn remained prolific.  But seeping through the culinary seams was produce—fresh, abundant produce!—thanks to a strong agriculture community and a more health-conscious, sustainable-minded population.
 
Propelled by its maritime climate, the 400-year-old East End agricultural industry sees revenues of over 1 billion dollars a year, and the signature “Grown on Long Island” label emanates reverence and pride. The value on produce is omnipresent. Farm stands and cultivated fields dot the roads.  The source of a vegetable accoutrement mentioned proudly on a restaurant menu. Caravan, a take-out shop in Amagansett, offering a weekly list of prepared meals driven by what’s available at the surrounding farms.
 
As a self-proclaimed vegivore (who, during the latter weekend, happened to also be accompanied by a vegetarian), I was thrilled at the emphasis on local produce, fresh salads, and whole grains. But as a member of our eating society, I was simply proud. Is the farm-to-table mindset finally leaving an indelible mark on our culture? Of course, we gravitate towards fresh produce in the summer, because it is prolific and the season is short. But are we finally ready to seize the trend year round? Give picking through wintered greens the same enthusiasm we give to finding dark cherries or powering through a watermelon? I dare to hope.
 
Below is a recipe for Charlie Bird’s Farro Salad, a sensational summer dish filled with seasonal delights. From the farm, tomatoes, radishes, and arugula. From the garden, fresh parsley, basil, mint. From the pantry, a splendid and slick vinegary, lemony, olive oil dressing.  The farro is sweetly nuanced with apple cider and bay leaves; toasted pistachios and shaved Parmesan add a nutty, salty finish.  The salad energetically welcomes a topping of grilled scallops or shrimp, but is wholly satisfactory on its own, too.  In true dietician’s daughter-fashion, I halved the olive oil and doubled the greens, adding baby kale along with arugula and extra tomatoes and radishes. I imagine fresh blueberries, cherries, or diced peaches would work wonderfully in the salad too….and it goes really nicely with a side of corn on the cob. Can I say it again? This is summer. Cherish it while it’s here.  

Charlie Bird’s Farro Salad (adapted from the New York Times)
 Serves 6 dainty eaters, 4 hungry ones

Ingredients:
1 cup farro
1 cup apple cider
1 tsp kosher salt, more as needed
2 bay leaves
3-4 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice (slivered rind optional)
½ cup Parmesan cheese, shaved with a vegetable peeler
½ cup chopped toasted pistachio nuts
4 cups arugula leaves (baby kale and spinach work too)
1 cup parsley or basil leaves, torn
1 cup mint leaves
1 ½ cup halved cherry or grape tomatoes
¾ cup thinly sliced radish
Maldon or other flaky sea salt, for Finishing

Directions:
1. In a medium saucepan, bring farro, apple cider, salt, bay leaves and 2 cups water to a simmer. Simmer until farro is tender and liquid evaporates, about 30 minutes. If all the liquid evaporates before the farro is done, add a little more water. Let farro cool, then discard bay leaves.

2. In a salad bowl, whisk together olive oil, lemon juice and a pinch of salt. Add farro, cheese and pistachio nuts and mix well. This salad base will keep for up to 4 hours at room temperature or overnight in the refrigerator (bring to room temperature before serving). Just before serving, fold in arugula, herbs, tomatoes, radish and flaky salt to taste.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Indian Tofu With Lambsquarters

In the history of vegetables, never has one seen such drastic fall from grace than lambsquarters. In ancient times, this leafy green nutrient powerhouse was so highly revered for its vitamins, minerals, and plentifulness that settlements were named after it; colloquially, it was dubbed "all good." Dating back to the late-glacial period, the abundant edible plant remained a staple foodstuff of the Neolithic, Bronze Age, early Iron Age, and Roman peoples. In other words, almost every significant era of prosperity and growth in ancient civilization relied on a diet inclusive of lambsquarters.

And now? The prolific perennial grows rampant in household gardens, labeled an annoying weed to the chagrin of all who maintain them. To fully grasp the magnitude of dislike for lambsquarters, just look to its nicknames: pigweed, fat-hen, goosefoot, bacon weed, dirty Dick, and Much Hill weed are all monikers for the detested plant (officially named Chenopodium album). Oh dear. Lambsquarters, the latter centuries of the past 10,000 years have not treated you well. You are a pariah in a leafy green loving society, the antithesis of your leader, kale. Is there any possibility of redemption?

Here in New York, a small beacon of hope shines for lambsquarters thanks to the efforts of Lani's Farm. Located in New Jersey with a weekly spot at the Union Square Greenmarket, the farm grows popular leafy greens like spinach, broccoli rabe, and collard greens in addition to an abundance of lesser known potherbs such as mitsuba greens, ruby streaks, dandelion, and our runt of the litter, lambsquarters. The farmstand offers a weekly cooking demo to encourage acceptance of the more obscure varieties, sautéing most greens in nothing more than a hint of oil, wild garlic, salt and pepper. The fresh greens are always unequivocally delicious, and what pushed me to abandon my usual swiss chard purchase and dabble with lambsquarters last month.



"Use it exactly like spinach," the produce purveyor told me. While the preparation may be the same, the nutrient profiles slightly differ— lambsquarters actually outclasses its superfood cousin with greater amounts of protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron, vitamin C, A, and B2. One cup of lambsquarters houses 73% of your daily suggested vitamin A intake and 96% vitamin of C, elevating the leafy green to superduper status.

Per instruction, I did a simple swap of spinach for lambsquarters in Martha Rose Shulman's Indian Tofu with Spinach recipe, a quick and easy nutrient and flavor-packed weeknight dinner. The sturdy stalks and husky leaves didn't wilt as much as spinach, giving the dish a much-appreciate texture boost. The lambsquarters were fantastic; at first bite, I had totally jumped on the Neolithic bandwagon. Pesky weed, how dare you!? Lambsquarters is going down as a superduperfood in my book, with "epic comeback" written all over it.


Indian Tofu with Lambsquarters (from New York Times)
Serves 4

Ingredients:
¾ pound firm tofu, cut into 1 inch cubes
2 tablespoons canola oil
½ cup coarsely chopped shallot or red onion
4 lengthwise slices peeled fresh ginger (2 inches long, 1 inch wide, 1/8 inch thick), coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
½ teaspoon fennel seeds
2 whole dried red chilies, like Thai, cayenne or arbol
1 tablespoon coriander seeds, ground
Salt to taste
¼ teaspoon cayenne
¼ teaspoon ground turmeric
1½ pounds fresh lambsquarters, rinsed thoroughly, stems trimmed, and roughly chopped (or any other dark leafy green)
½ cup drained yogurt
¼ teaspoon cornstarch

Directions:
1. Drain the tofu on paper towels. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over medium-high heat in a wok or a large, heavy lidded skillet and add the tofu. Stir-fry until golden brown and remove from the heat.

2. Combine the shallot or onion and the ginger in a food processor or mini-chop and blend until finely minced, almost a paste.

3. Heat the remaining oil over medium-high heat in a wok or skillet and add the cumin seeds, fennel seeds and whole chilies. Cook, stirring, for about 15 seconds, or until the spices are fragrant and reddish-brown. Add the onion and ginger and stir-fry until it is lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Add the coriander, salt, cayenne and turmeric, stir for about 10 seconds and add the lambsquarters in batches, adding the next batch after the first batch wilts and stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan to deglaze.

4. Stir in the tofu, cover, reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 2 to 3 minutes, until the lambsquarters is uniformly wilted and the tofu is warmed through.

5. Whisk the cornstarch into the yogurt. Remove the pan from the heat, remove the chilies, and stir in the yogurt. Taste, adjust salt and serve with rice or other grains.

References: 1. Blair, Katrina. "Wild Edibles: How to Use Lambsquarter From Root to Seed." Mother Earth News. Ogden Publications, Inc., Dec. 2014. Web. 15 June 2016. 2. Pollard, Jean Ann. "Lambsquarters: Prince of Wild Greens." Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association. Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, n.d. Web. 15 June 2016.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Deconstructed Baba Ghanouj

Usually, recipes of deconstructed nature have an air of superciliousness to them, as if only the most learned and sophisticated gourmands can appreciate the subtle alterations of the original dish. If the requisite perceptiveness and irony goes over your head, well, then you're just left with a bunch of isolated components on a plate that probably taste good, but aren't cohesive in theme. Kind of how I felt after I watched Season 7 of Mad Men. Apropos to television, the elusion doesn't bother me because I still find the show extremely entertaining. If I didn't realize I was eating a deconstructed lobster roll, I'd be pissed!

Luckily, we can throw all of this highbrow nonsense out the window with Deconstructed Baba Ghanouj. Here, deconstruction is characterized in the simplest of ways: your eggplant remains whole.  Ergo, it is not mashed. The very obvious integral ingredients of baba ghanouj—eggplant, tahini, garlic, and lemon juice—stay in tact for the world to see, tasting just as delicious as the traditional dip we all know and love but boasting an easier and quicker prep time.

Then there's the mastermind of the recipe: the tomato mixture that finishes the dish. A fresh, fragrant bruschetta, the acidity of the tomatoes perfectly compliment the earthiness and smoke of the eggplant. Enter the tahini, offering a complexity (easily grasped, promise!) with its innate nutty, acerbic undertone. The combination is divine. The presentation—showcasing the eggplant flesh, delicately fanned, and warm coral tones of freshly grated tomato, is beautiful—something that cannot be said of your run-of-the-mill gray-hued baba ghanouj.

I served the dish with a side of homemade pita chips, alternating between scooping out the fleshy eggplant and its accouterments with a fork to top each chip with just eating the eggplant whole via fork and knife. Though roasted vegetable dishes are usually served as sides, this one looks and feels like a main—and definitely garners a lasting impression. Who knew baba ghanouj—er, its deconstructed cousin?—could be such a beauty!

Deconstructed Baba Ghanouj (from NY Times feature Revel In The Bounty Of Spring, With A Feast From Yotam Ottolenghi) 
Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients:
4 large eggplants, approximately 3 pounds (use smaller eggplants if cooking on a stove to decrease prep time)
 Flaky sea salt or kosher salt, to taste
4 tablespoons tahini paste (re: previous post, I recommend Seed + Mill)
2 plum tomatoes, roughly grated
1 small garlic clove, crushed, peeled and minced
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon fresh oregano leaves (can substitute dried)

Directions:
  1. Char the eggplant. To cook on a stove*, place each eggplant directly over an open medium flame, and cook for 15 or 20 minutes, using tongs to turn the eggplant a number of times, until the skin is charred all over and the flesh is soft and smoky. To cook on a gas or charcoal grill, place the eggplants on the grill, and cook over medium-high heat, using tongs to turn the eggplant until the skin is charred all over and the flesh is completely soft and smoky.
  2. Remove the eggplants from the heat, and place on a rack to cool and drain, approximately 15 to 20 minutes. Once they are cool enough to handle, peel away the skin, leaving the stalks intact, and place them on a large plate. Using your fingers, coax each eggplant into a fan shape, sprinkle with a pinch of salt and drizzle with a tablespoon of tahini.
  3. Meanwhile, mix the grated tomato in a medium bowl with the garlic, oil, lemon juice and another pinch of salt. Spoon the mixture over the eggplants and tahini, leaving some of the eggplant visible, and then sprinkle with the oregano leaves and a final dusting of salt.

*Make sure to stab each eggplant with a fork in multiple places to prevent it from exploding!

Monday, May 16, 2016

From Chelsea Market: A Seed, Without a Doubt

To find the most popular condiment of a region, just look at what commonly sits atop a piece of toast.  In Serbia, ajvar, a chunky red pepper and eggplant spread, is the most popular ingredient to slather over bread and meat. In Sweden, Kalles kavier, a tubed fish paste, graces the presence of the famed quadrilateral carbohydrate.  Here in America, you’d be hard-pressed to find the usual suspects—butter, peanut butter, mayonnaise, mustard—absent from any household pantry.

In the Middle East, that staple condiment is tahini: known exclusively to American grocery-shoppers as a bitter jar of sesame seed paste that within weeks of refrigeration, separates into a thick layer of gluey oil followed by a hard, crusty base. We may find its raw form simply unappetizing, but for Israeli cum New Yorker Lisa Mendelson, this gross misconstruing of the tahini namesake sitting on our supermarket shelves was downright appalling.  Vexed by both the quality and compromised integrity of her beloved native food stateside, Lisa set out to perennially change the American standard and perception of tahini. Her contrivance? A New York City production mill dedicated to making superior tahini; its name, Seed + Mill, a reflection of the humble process. The local shop is less than a year old, yet already making an indelible mark on our epicurean city.
“Tahini is this super trendy food right now,” co-founder Rachel Simons told me brightly one morning at the Seed + Mill kiosk, a sun-drenched white marble counter basking in the middle of foodie-haven Chelsea Market. “But people need to understand that this is an ingredient that can stand on its own.”
 Since the entity is literally just crushed sesame seeds, both “sesame seed paste” and “sesame butter” are appropriate monikers for tahini.  But try Seed + Mill’s product—their seeds are milled on site— and the latter definitely becomes the more fitting name. The thick liquid is impossibly creamy and wonderfully sweet, with a uniform consistency apropos to the inside of a perfectly-cooked molten lava cake. One doesn’t need to be convinced of its toast-topping potential—the whole jar begs to be consumed by the spoonful.

In fact, the Seed + Mill tahini is so unexpectedly saccharine that I wondered if sugar was utilized as an additive. This nuance, Rachel assured me, is simply the result of the superior quality of their seeds. “The reason we were having such a difficult time finding good tahini in New York was because of a lack of good seeds,” she explained.  Theirs are sourced from a small town in Ethiopia called Humera, where particular climatic conditions beget natural sweetness.
 
With a quality tahini product under their belt, Lisa, Rachel, and third partner Monica turned to their next goal: educating customers on the versatility of the product.  “It’s such a great, multi-purpose ingredient that no one is using the way that they can,” Rachel exclaimed. “We  want it to become a pantry item. What gets us really excited,” she added, gesturing to a stack of recipe cards for tahini truffles near the register, “is all of the sweet things you can make with it.” Indeed, the nutty, buttery undertone lends itself perfectly to claiming the primary fat base for any cookie, brownie or blondie—and thanks to its inherent sweetness, sugar quantity can be drastically reduced (or eliminated altogether, as seen in their two-ingredient truffles).  

This is not to say that Seed + Mill ignores the savory capabilities of their sesame butter, however. In an effort to counter the widespread belief that tahini’s foremost use is in the overly garlicky dip that complements any falafel, Seed + Mill created a “green herb” version, simply mixing parsley, dehydrated garlic, and salt with their house-milled seeds. Verdantly sublime, the concoction is like a viscous, nutty Green Goddess dressing. Add a squeeze of lemon, and it’s Rachel’s go-to accoutrement for everything from rainbow carrots to roasted potatoes.

On-site, Seed + Mill serves goat milk tahini ice-cream and over a dozen rotating flavors of halva, a popular Middle Eastern dessert with a crystalline, mousse-like texture. Through different mediums, both showcase tahini’s signature nuttiness, subtle sweetness, and innate versatility. They are remarkably excellent.
 
But if the hallmark of an enduring foodstuff is its ability to couple with a piece of toast, let’s bring tahini back to the bread. Do you prefer a multigrain loaf, or are you a classic Wonder white bread type? Is the mood calling for sweet or savory? If the former, try mixing Seed + Mill classic tahini with date syrup, pomegranate molasses, or honey. Slather generously atop said piece of toast. Top with sliced banana, coconut flakes, and a smattering of black and white sesame seeds.
If salt and spice are on the mind, start with green herb tahini (you can easily make your own by adding minced parsley, garlic, and salt to the plain version) plus a quick squeeze of fresh lemon juice.  Spread amply atop said piece of toast. Top with sliced avocado, crushed red pepper flakes, and a sprinkling of sea salt and assorted sesame seeds.
Mealtime and occasion are inconsequential; everyone knows that toast is a sensible option at any hour of the day. What is of note, however, is the restored integrity that is brought to tahini by simply consuming on a piece of toast. Rendering what was obsolete to the every day—a sesame seed mindshift, if you will—this is Seed + Mill’s ultimate aspiration. When its home becomes the comfort of your own kitchen, one thing’s for sure: this seed, without a doubt, is here to stay.

Seed + Mill is located in Chelsea Market at 409 West 15th Street, New York, NY 10011. To view products and flavors, visit their website. To place an order, email shipping@seedandmill.com.