A couple of years ago, we were living in Massachusetts and squirreling every dime in the hopes of moving to New York. The pizza delivery guy was a distant, dim memory from the days of frivolous purchases like take-out, cable TV, or new underwear. Desperate for pizza, I labored over a batch of dough, then wrestled it into a pizza-like shape and attempted to be generous (but not foolhardy) with the cheese.
Before setting it in the oven, I did not think to check the broiler for, say, a piece of foil I’d left in there the night before. Which, naturally, caught on fire. Smoke billowed out of the oven. The pizza dough I sweated over, now gray and speckled with ash, slid unceremoniously into the trash.
Since then, the notion of making pizza has consistently been met with one thought: fuck that noise.
I don’t know why I decided to make pizza dough again, but wow, I am so glad I did. This recipe from The Mediterranean Vegan Kitchen is so unbelievably simple — the dough came together in less than 10 minutes in the food processor. I topped it with Swiss chard, red onions, tomatoes and goat cheese, which was… okay. A little bland, honestly, but the crust was terrific. In the oven for about 15 minutes at 450 degrees, then a little olive oil brushed on the crust once it was done. Super easy! And good!
I have never been keen on the humble bean.
I cook them because they’re cheap, they’re a good source of protein, they’re better for the environment, et cetera — but I’ve never cooked them because I like them. They’re either mealy or mushy and always completely bland.
Oh, how wrong I have been.
Until recently, I was firmly under the impression that adding salt to beans as they cooked made them soften slower and therefore need to be cooked longer. As it turns out, cooking the beans in salted water makes them cook faster, and more importantly, it makes them taste better. I also found this batch was the first time I’d cooked beans that kept their skins on and didn’t disintegrate before they were cooked all the way through. Each bean remained its own discrete jewel of cumin-scented goodness.
1 pound of (picked over, washed and soaked) dried black beans
8 cups water
1 tablespoon salt
5 bay leaves
5-8 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced in half
3/4 teaspoon cayenne powder
2 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
I never remember to soak beans the night before so I boil them for about 2 minutes, then let them sit for 1-2 hours before cooking. After soaking, drain the beans and add all remaining ingredients, bring to a boil, then simmer until done (usually about 2 hours, but depending on how long you soaked them and the age of the beans, it could vary).
After eating them over rice and tossed in a salad, I took what was left and made it into black bean soup.
This was just one of those “throw stuff in from the fridge and hope it works out” soups, which could have been okay at best, but the beans… MY GOD, THE BEANS. I had added some garlic and some tomato paste into the soup pot and I wasn’t that impressed with the result, but as soon as I got the stick blender in there, all the flavor inside the beans came out — the cumin, the garlic — everything came out into the taste of the soup. I already wish I had more.
Beans, can you ever forgive me for treating you so bad?
That’s the third batch of drained yogurt I’ve made this week. I can’t stop myself. It’s so easy and it’s so crazy good. I take three or four coffee filters, wet them (it makes them more pliable), squeeze out the extra water and line the bottom and sides of a small colander with it. Pour the yogurt in, layer one last filter on top so it doesn’t dry out, then stick a bowl under the colander to catch the drips. A couple hours (or overnight) in the fridge and it’s turned into something fantastic.
…because I actually want to cook interesting things again and not just live off frozen food and take out.
A week or so ago, while I was out enjoying a shockingly 60-plus degree day, I picked up a loaf of Eli’s sourdough. The first half of the loaf was spectacular; the second half, sadly, went rock-hard overnight. What to do with half a loaf of stale bread? As I thought about what to do, something kept tickling the back of my brain. Some kind of soup… recipe posted by someone I like… has bread in it…? After several fruitless searches, I finally found it:
Titled, obviously enough, have stale bread? make bread soup! over at the perennially rad Everyone Likes Sandwiches, I quickly adapted the recipe to what I had on hand — most notably, I replaced the stock with water and a crusty old rind of Parmesan I had hanging around, which gave the broth a meatiness I think it would have lacked otherwise. It was fantastic.
(One caveat to this soup: don’t make more than you can eat in one go. This soup defies the First Law of Soup Alchemy [soup is always better the next day] and made for a really bland, squashy lunch the following day.)
After making something actually really good, I was so delighted, I promptly went online and ordered a slew of cookbooks from the library. Some of them have been disappointments (too complex and/or too many unusual ingredients I will use once and then let quietly expire at the back of a cupboard), but two of them have had me reading long after I should have gone to bed: Mediterranean Harvest and Olive Trees and Honey.
As I was reading Mediterranean Harvest last night, I leapt up from the couch, grabbed some yogurt, some coffee filters and a colander and made some strained yogurt.
I have not leapt up to do anything since Daylight Savings Time ended.
I think this is a sure sign of spring.
(Photo credit: Everyone Likes Sandwiches)
Last week, all I wanted was a bowl of soup. The idea would flitter across my mind throughout the day: Want. Soup. I even started eyeing the cans of Campbell’s at the far back of the cabinets that we keep on hand in case one of us gets sick and needs a salty childhood comfort food, which I’d pretty much never eat if well.
Tuesday, it rained all day. It was overcast and cold, and my husband had gone out to meet up with some former workmates. I was cleaning out the fridge, trying to assess what I still had and what I was going to need from the greenmarket that week. I found three bunches of carrots I’d bought the week earlier, brought home, and then completely abandoned in the fridge. Some had gone a little squelchy, but about a pound of decent ones remained, so I decided, at 8pm on a Tuesday, to make carrot soup.
I sat down at my laptop and googled +”carrot soup” +recipes and got several thousand different recipes. Creamy carrot soup, curried carrot soup, Thai-style carrot soup… this was going to take a while. I peeled the carrots, covered them with water, threw in a bouillon cube and a cube of ginger I’d frozen, set them to simmer and sat down to read recipes.
After the 27th recipe, I realized… carrot soup is a blank canvas on which you can put anything. I could probably put almost anything in it and it would be good…
By 11:30pm that night, this is all that was left of the pot of carrot soup:
Here’s the base recipe:
Confession time: I let the polling remain open a few more days in the hopes one of the other recipes would pull out ahead of this one, because this recipe is the epitome of “stick a fancy name on something and people will be impressed.”
But this recipe won and, as I promised, I will post the details:
Librarian: “Oh, looks like you’ve got a book overdue.”
Me, acting casual: “Do I?”
Librarian: “Yes… Memories of Philippine Kitchens?”
Me: “Oh, right. Can I renew it?”
Librarian: “No, it’s on hold for someone else.”
Me: “Oh, um, okay. I’ll bring it right in.”
Reader, I can assure you, that was a bald-faced lie.
I apologize to the other New York Public Library patron who is patiently waiting for this book, but I am not returning this cookbook anytime soon.
Memories of Philippine Kitchens is not only a.) totally gorgeous and b.) incredibly fascinating, but that salad (slaw? slawlad?) is dressed with one of the greatest salad dressings I have ever eaten.
Salad dressing adapted from the Kangkong Salad recipe in Memories of Philippine Kitchens:
1/3 cup vinegar (I’ve used rice and red wine vinegars)
4.5 tsp sugar
1 tsp olive oil
2 tsp mustard (optional; I prefer it without)
up to 1 tsp chili sauce (sriracha or sambal olek)
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
If using as a salad dressing, add 1/4 cup water. Otherwise, whisk to combine all ingredients.
For the slaw pictured above, pour dressing over half a red cabbage and two or three cucumbers, all sliced very thinly. (I used this slicer to shred the cucumbers into the long strips you see.)
Refrigerate for a couple hours, during which time, the cucumbers will leech out some water and dilute the dressing a bit.
Just don’t blame me if this dressing turns you into a library scofflaw as well.