LaLegumiste

Nettles Redux

I am not on a crazy nettle kick, a fad food joy ride or trying to be trendy with my choice of edibles. It’s funny that I even feel like I have to justify my decision to make a recipe with an ingredient I’ve enjoyed since childhood, but there it is. Blame it on living where I currently do and too much time spent reading food blogs and magazines.

I already made one nettle soup this spring, the same nettle soup I try to make once every spring. But then this popped up on the T blog, and I had to try it, just for comparison’s sake. When I read it I promised myself that if I found all the ingredients at the market without having to go to extremes like showing up at 9:30 am on a Saturday, then I would make it. Guess what? They were all there, and here you have it - step by step photos of the recipe linked above.

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Salvage Cuisine

I bought too much at the market (again). I didn’t get to it all in time. The moment when it could be used for its intended purpose was gone. The thought of throwing it all out made me slightly sick. This situation called for salvage cuisine - improv cooking whose main goal is to salvage one, or several, ingredients, rescue them from ending up in the trash, and with any luck, turn them into something palatable, maybe even delicious.

I am a big fan of salvage cuisine, engage in it at least once a week, but only write about it when I think it may be helpful to others. 

This week’s experiment involved potatoes that had gone all wrinkly on me, ramps that were slightly wilted and were less than a day away from getting slimy, and a chunk of very sharp cheddar that I thought was pretty blah on its own.

The end result was definitely greater than the sum of its parts. I christened it Potato Ramp Galettte and enjoyed it for both dinner and lunch.

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Since salvage cuisine generally occurs in the evening, with little to no natural light, and my lighting skills are not up there yet, I have no pictures to share other than the ones you see here, taken the next morning and at my desk. The recipe is posted after the jump.

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Smooth Transitions

After seeing picture after picture on the internet of fresh and oh so intensely green dishes heavy on asparagus, and peas and fava beans, I figured they must all be available at the markets by now. And they might be - at markets somewhere other than the one I usually go to. Maybe I got there too late, or maybe I need to try a different market, but either way I struck out. Again. In part.

My plan was simple.  A light salad of fresh greens more interesting than my standard half spinach/ half mesclun deal, tossed with favas and maybe asparagus, dressed with something tangy and topped with crumbled feta.

I found my greens. Look how springy these baby greens are!

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Plus, I thought I would try something new in the land of I-have-no-idea-what-to-do-with-them greens. I give you chickweed:

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It was mild and kind of citrusy, and it added a different texture to the mix. It worked.

I was also excited to find green garlic. I used to eat it raw, with roasted lamb, but since I no longer eat meat, I’m  sometimes at a little loss for what to do with it. It has a mild flavor, to me anyway, so I prefer to eat it raw since cooking further dulls its potency. This time it was easy - green garlic dressing.

That’s where my luck ran out. No favas. No asparagus. Substitutions had to be made, and what was destined to be The Best Spring Salad Ever became a transitional salad - a blend of springtime excitement listed above and the seasonless powerhouse of dried beans. Scarlet runners, to be exact. They weren’t the fresh fava beans I was pining for, but they worked well in this combination, maybe even better from a visual interest sort of perspective.

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The recipe, as much as it can be called that, and more photos, are after the jump.

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Spring Revival

A few weeks ago, cold medications killed my smell and taste buds. Sure, I could take in air easily  and swallow food without cringing, but what was the point? I couldn’t taste anything for a full week, and when I finally started to get my senses back there were several days of just very faint sweet/ salty / sour/ hot distinctions. As in, straight up sea salt was faintly salty and straight up Sriracha was faintly hot. The boredom and frustration began to get to me and I started having nightmares of a future without taste buds. Not fun.

My frustration was compounded by the thought of missing out on lots of good stuff at the market. It was almost the end of April, when fresh things are finally pushing through the soil and only to be completely gone in a few very short weeks. I tormented myself daily thinking that I would have to wait a whole other year for ramps and peas and asparagus, radishes and tender little carrots, nettles and fiddleheads.  As soon as my smell and taste returned, I hightailed it to Union Square.

And there I found… almost nothing. Two weekends in a row, showing up pre-noon, which for me is a weekend best, and what I found were apples and potatoes and lots of overwintered root vegetables. All great in their own right, but after all these months, where was the green stuff? I had to consider myself satisfied with ramps and stinging nettles. Don’t get me wrong, I was hoping to lay hands on both of those items. There were so many others that should have been there and that I saw no signs of.

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Apparently, I may not see signs of them for a bit, if at all this year. After reading this NY Times article, I felt slightly vindicated. Turns out I’m not the only one getting frustrated here, and it’s bound to be worse for those in the restaurant business.

No point in dwelling any longer though, so I’ll move on to the bright side, or in this case, the green side - the ramps and nettles. They were both amazing, young and bright to the point that I wandered if I’d been missing the boat and only catching the end tail of the ramp/ nettle bandwagon in previous years.

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Find out what happened to these bright young things in the recipes and photos after the jump.

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Dirt Candy

There’s a restaurant in New York City called Dirt Candy. I have never been there, but flipping through that well tabbed issue of Bon Appetit, I saw a salad that made me think exactly that - dirt candy, see if you can guess why. Since this was the January issue, It was a winter salad, mostly grains and root vegetables. Not surprisingly, I did not have the exact ingredients the recipe called for. Not a problem, since I often treat recipes more as guidelines. 

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Combining what I had with the butternut squash and beets specially acquired for the occasion turned out lovely, as you can see. 

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I have no recipe per se to provide, because salads are basically just an assembly of several ingredients tossed together with a dressing.  What follows after the jump are my notes and photos from preparing the individual components of what I hope will be the last winter salad I make this season. Because at this point, I am so ready for some spring and summer salads!

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The Smellies

One day this week I opened my office door and walked straight into a very potent, very office inappropriate  cloud of smell. First thought : Whoa, there! Second thought: Cabbage. Third thought: Some slow cooked shredded cabbage over polenta would be so nice and warm right now. Worry not, I plan to enjoy this particular warming ritual at home, and only offend those noses near and dear. The question that remains: was that day’s olfactory infraction mere accident or intentional passive aggressiveness? For me it proved inspirational I guess.

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Sauerkraut, that somewhat smelly pickled cabbage, may not be on everyone’s list of commonly consumed foods. According to various recent sources, maybe it should be (you can read all about it here  and  here). Apparently, the good bacteria present in fermented foods like pickles, miso, and yes, sauerkraut, can help you maintain optimum stomach environment and boost your immune system. As good as that may be, what got my attention were the more visible benefits being claimed - weight loss and clear skin.

Lucky for me, I was already on board the pickle/ kraut mobile due to plenty of winters spent east of the Iron Curtain. Back there, those were winter eating staples, along with sausages of every kind, and, I kid you not, boiled plum brandy (that last one for the adults, of course).

Some of the eating habits I was raised with were abandoned along the way, many for better, some for worse. I don’t partake of sausage anymore, even though sometimes, like with this stew, it is really, really hard. 

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I also don’t have to make my own pickles or sauerkraut, like my parents did, which, especially for the kraut, is a great convenience. If you are dedicated enough to make your own, I’m impressed. If not, my best suggestion is to buy a whole head of sauerkraut from a German or Eastern European food store, or from a farmers’ market. The pre-shredded pouches found at most supermarkets tend to be more soggy and have less flavor. They also lack the punchy oomph of opening that plastic bag containing an entire head of pickled cabbage. Be warned - if prepared or shared with company, this dish will lead to endless jokes, you know exactly of what kind. 

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Another Day

You know that song “Making Whoopee?” 

This is my version of it, working title “Making Soupy:”

Another day

Another snow 

The same commute

With winds that blow

The same old season

Another reason

For making soupy

I am trying very hard not to be cranky about it, but this winter just won’t quit. So I kind of have. I’ve kind of quit trying to think of things to cook that are not soup, stew, or somewhere between those two.

I’m still making vague attempts to make the soup-and-stew days of winter bonanza 2014 semi-interesting. On this particular day, that meant a pot of Harissa Chickpeas, an effective way to combine legumes and some of the exotic seasonings I’m  currently working my way through into a healthy, and warm, meal.

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Another benefit of this dish was that repeating the word “harissa” in my head over and over allowed me to temporarily pretend we were somewhere else, somewhere that didn’t look like this:

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I also tried to incorporate something from that Bon Appetit issue I liked so much - a barley pilaf inspired by this handy dandy grain chart:

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The recipes and pictures are after the jump.

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Inspired Thinking

I used to love Gourmet magazine. Every time I received a new issue in the mail, I’d read it cover to cover and flag all the recipes I wanted to make. I’ll confess, I was mostly inspired by the pictures and stories, not the recipes themselves. Reading a fashion magazine leads some to aspirational shopping. Reading Gourmet led me to aspirational cooking. And admittedly some aspirational shopping - for ingredients.

Take this May 2005 issue. I wanted to be there at that table. I wanted to be that woman, and on some level must have thought that if I made as many of the accompanying recipes as possible, I would become her, spending my days in a summer dress, laughing easily with family and friends, the very picture of laid back composure.

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Then Gourmet was shut down, and I tried to transfer my affections to Bon Appetit. I really tried, but I just never felt the same way. Then BA changed its format and I gave up any attempts altogether. I had to dream on cooking blogs alone. Until the January 2014 issue of Bon Appetit arrived. I won’t lie, it didn’t lead to the same level of aspirational cooking as Gourmet used to. But it did do something almost as amazing - it gave me a shot of epicurean inspiration I hadn’t had since trolling the farmers’ markets last summer. The proof is in my tabs:

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To take a break from cooked wintry food, I made the watercress and beet salad from the magazine, a fresh and bright reminder that spring is on the way, even if it seems to have gotten a bit lost. The recipe and pictures are, as always, after the jump.

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The Real Thing

Today, a shallot made me cry. All the talk about fake risotto got me thinking about real risotto. And thinking about it, and thinking about it, so I had to make some. I opted for the easiest one - risotto alla Milanese. It was the easiest for me because I happened to have all the ingredients on hand and since the recipe is fairly basic, it also meant I didn’t have to do a whole lot of chopping. That’s right, being lazy can sometimes be very inspiring.

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I said I had all the ingredients, but I only kind of did. I only had a half cup of arborio rice and a shallot, when most recipes call for a small onion and a lot more rice. There was an extremely brief period of consideration given to running across the street to procure additional rice and a proper onion, but the snow coming down made the decision for me.

The shallot must not have been terribly happy about being forced into a risotto recipe, because for the first time ever, I was brought to tears while chopping it. Like pretty much everyone I know who cooks, I have shed many a tear while chopping onions, which is why they are always the last ingredient I chop - it’s the best way to ensure I can see clearly through most of the preparation process. Shallots, sweet little shallots, have never given me trouble. Until today, when I learned that shallots are not a related to onions for nothing.

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Following a short break and a quick rinse with cold water, the show went on, and I was very pleased with the golden, gooey results. The recipe and more pictures are after the jump.

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It’s A Cold One

And not just any cold, polar vortex cold! I had to say that, because I am hoping to never have to use the expression “polar vortex” again. It’s the second half of January and I’m in New York, so cold is to be expected, just not this level of it. I don’t think I have felt the tips of my toes in over a week, and that’s with double, sometimes triple sock layers.

As a direct result of the weather, there is a lot of soup in my life these days. I’ve been trying to delude myself into thinking that this is all very cozy, but who are we kidding? I’m starting to get bored and a little stir crazy. On day #47 of this weather induced soup diet, no soup sounded exciting anymore. So I decided to go back to one of my earliest favorites, cream of mushroom. 

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The truth is, my first ever and, for a long time, favorite cream of mushroom soup came from a package. A large, yellow  plastic pouch that my dad had picked up on one of his trips abroad. Nowadays, I try not to eat too much from a package, especially not things that have been reduced to magic powders that the mere addition of water brings back to life in a very worrisome way (i.e. cream of mushroom soup and mashed potatoes). Back then and there, things were different, and the magic mushroom powder soup was a special treat, to me anyway. Maybe I found it exotic because it came from abroad and I had no idea what the package said. Or maybe I really thought there was something magic in making soup by mixing powder and water.

Whatever the case, my fascination with reconstituted powder soup ended a long time ago, but not so my fascination with cream of mushroom soup or mushrooms in general.

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I wanted a mushroom soup that was thick, rich and creamy, which seemed easy enough. I vaguely remember how thrilled I used to be when I found a chewy bit of mushroom in my soup as a kid, so I wanted to incorporate that too. I read a few recipes, and in the end combined them into something that suited me at this particular moment in time. The results are after the jump.

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