Mushroom Risotto with Salsa Verde

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There are stacks of books on my nightstand. Books for reference, books I’m halfway through, and books that I want to read next. Our dining room table is used less for, you know, dining, and more as a makeshift desk. It’s piled at this moment with fifteen books (actual truth. Not an exaggeration). That’s not counting the heaps of books in the living room, some in front of bookshelves where there’s no space left, some set apart so I remember they belong to a friend.

The internet is marvelous but books are magical. I know I’ve met a kindred soul when we both enthuse over the scent of books. Ink and paper and age make an enchanting perfume, one that I would bottle and spray on myself if I could. The best thing about books is what’s contained inside of them. There are lives not my own that I can dip into. There are daring stories. There are Opinions and Facts and Personalities that I get to linger with. And there’s knowledge.

Because of this marvel I can never stick to only one book at a time. There are too many things to read and learn. Some days I want to read novels, others memoirs, others poetry. And always cookbooks. One fascinating thing about choosing what to read is that when you’re reading multiple things they bleed into each other. There are connections to be found that would otherwise be undiscovered.

I recently found a deeply discounted copy of Alice Waters’ The Art of Simple Food at my local bookshop, and found I could not ignore its call to take it home. If you ever have the opportunity to read Waters’ work I would recommend that you take it. She speaks with efficiency about the dignity and grace of simple cooking. And I love anyone, especially as esteemed a chef and restauranteur as she is, who confesses that she’s a luddite in the kitchen, preferring a sharp knife and a mortar and pestle to anything with a plug.

At the same time I’ve been steadily working through Near and Far by Heidi Swanson, a book I’ve cooked from here before. Swanson is just as gracious as Waters, and with the same emphasis on good ingredients and good eating, but where Waters is classic Swanson is contemporary. She tops a dish of soba noodles and radishes with paprika, suggests substituting yuba skins

in for pasta, and adds nori to her granola. When I came across her recipe for grilled porcinis I remembered the chapter on rice I had just read in Waters’ book, and the quart of mushroom stock languishing in the freezer. Thus this risotto was born.

Risotto has a recipe for being finicky. It’s considered date night food, not something you’d make on a weeknight. Risotto does require attention, and it will make a killer date night. But risotto can also come together in half an hour without difficultly. While making this risotto I also purged my refrigerator of old food. That’s not something you can say about a fearsome beast of a dish.

Risotto is, at its core, comfort food. It’s creamy and tender and a perfect vehicle for toppings. Risotto will happily take leftovers and turn them into something divine. However, I will argue that these mushrooms in salsa verde are a perfect pairing for risotto. They’re concentrated in flavor from grilling and topped with a tangy, herbaceous dressing. The portobellos I used in lie of porcinis echo the taste of the mushroom stock, rich and savory without becoming heavy. It tastes of early spring- both the fresh bite and the richness not yet faded from winter, and the plate looks like spring- the brown of the earth with the greens and the purples that are always the first to arrive.

Happy Friday. Happy Spring. And to those who celebrate, Happy Easter and Happy Passover.

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Mushroom Risotto with Salsa Verde

If you don’t have mushroom stock then you can easily substitute whatever sort of broth you have on hand. Risotto is adaptable in this way. If you have a little less than 5 cups of stock, feel free to lengthen it with hot water. I have not tried this trick myself, but Waters swears that if you have no white wine (and no red wine or beer to stand in for it) then adding a tablespoon or two of white wine vinegar in with the first addition of stock gives the risotto the acidity it needs.

serves 4

adapted from The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters and Near and Far by Heidi Swanson

For the risotto

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1 small yellow onion, diced
1 1/2 cup Arborio rice
5 cups mushroom stock
1/2 cup dry white wine
salt and pepper
1/3 cup grated Pecorino cheese

For the mushrooms

2 shallots, minced
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 portobello mushrooms, cleaned and cut into 1/2 inch slices
2 tablespoons thyme
1/4 cup chopped parsley
3 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for brushing mushrooms
salt and pepper

To make the risotto, melt two tablespoons of butter in a medium sized, heavy bottomed pot over medium heat. Add the onion and stir. Let the onion cook until it’s become soft and translucent but hasn’t taken on any color. Add the rice and stir well. Cook until the rice is becoming clear and is coated with the butter, but is not taking on any color.

While softening the onion and toasting the rice bring the stock to a boil in another pot. Once the stock is boiling turn off the heat. It will stay warm enough without any heat underneath it.

Once the rice is turning translucent add the wine. Stir well and let the wine simmer away. It should not take long for the wine to be absorbed. Once the wine has all cooked off add one cup of the stock, reduce the heat to low, and stir well.

Watch the risotto and stir often but not constantly. When almost all the stock has been absorbed add another 1/2 cup of stock and stir. Continue this way, watching the risotto and adding the stock as necessary. Your additions of stock should slow as the risotto cooks. Start tasting the risotto about 12 minutes into cooking the rice. The rice should be perfectly tender but not mushy. In my kitchen this took about 25 minutes. Once the rice is fully cooked add just enough broth to make it creamy but not soupy. You may not need all the stock. If for whatever reason you find you need more, feel free to stretch your stock with hot water. Stir in the final tablespoon of butter and the Pecorino cheese and season as necessary with salt and pepper.

While the risotto is cooking, make the salsa verde and mushrooms. Place the shallots in a small bowl and cover with the white wine vinegar. Let the shallots hang out in the vinegar while preparing the mushrooms.

Heat a grill pan over medium-high heat, and brush the mushrooms on both sides with olive oil. Once the grill pan is hot place the mushrooms on the pan to sear and cook on each side for about 3 minutes, or until the mushrooms start to shrink just a bit and have definite grill marks. Place to the side.

In a small bowl, combine the shallots, vinegar, thyme, parsley, and olive oil. Taste, and season with salt and pepper as necessary. Toss the mushrooms in the salsa verde.

To serve, create a bed of the risotto on a plate and top with the mushrooms and salsa verde. Serve hot.

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Mujadara

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I first made mujadara in college. I spent senior year living with friends in a run down house half a mile from campus. When my dad came to help me move into the house he just looked at me and shook his head. It was dirty, but more than that it was rickety. It felt vaguely illegal to live there, even with paying rent and electricity. The landlord had no interest in maintaining something that he felt that college students would just ruin. Our roof was damaged by hail the year before. When my friend Hannah signed the lease he promised, on his word, that he would fix it. Conveniently written into the lease was that he was under no obligation make any repairs that were not written into the lease. It was a disappointingly adult lesson in the perils of promises.

But I loved that house. I loved the small yard where we strung a laundry line between two trees and our neighbors who allowed us to use their compost pile. I loved the front porch where we’d sit on summer nights and eat dinner, drinking wine out of mason jars. I loved my room, the first and only space I’ve ever had to myself with its mint green walls, sloping ceilings, and countertop where I kept my very own electric kettle. I didn’t love the creepy cellar underneath the house, but I loved the night when we invited all our friends over, got drunk, and painted the walls of the cellar.

We had one small kitchen between six girls. There were always fights about dishes and who used up the milk and didn’t replace it. But it was also a place where we’d study and catch up and share meals. Meals like mujarada were always on the stove- easy and cheap and delicious, and ideal to prepared while studying.

Mujadara. It’s a musical name for such a simple dish. Mujadara is made up essentially of four ingredients- olive oil, onions, lentils, and rice. It’s cheap and easy and mad delicious. I first heard of mujadara during that magical year of college from Orangette by Molly Wizenburg, whose elegant and clever writing paved the way for the abundance of food blogs we have today.

When I was in college I made mujadara much the way Molly describes. Now that I’m an adult and share my space with one person, not five and have a slightly larger grocery budget I add spices to the mix. Cumin, cardamamom, and cinnamon all accentuate the rich sweetness of caramelized onions. Bay leaves layer the earthy taste of lentils. Kept the same are the deeply caramelized onions, soft lentils, and tender rice. It’s comfort food in a deep way- you keep watch over a pot on the stove and just let it work its magic. I still use the same two and a half quart dutch oven and the same burnt wooden spoon. Across the years mujadara still is a celebration of things good and simple.

Mujadara

The base of this dish is the deeply caramelized onions. Don’t be afraid here- just keep an eye on the onions and stir occasionally. The color is where all the flavor lies. Ideally you’ll take these just to the teetering edge of burnt.

adapted from Orangette

serves 4

1/4 cup olive oil
2 yellow onions, thinly sliced
1 cup green lentils, picked through for rocks
2 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup long grain brown rice
salt

In a large, heavy bottomed pot with a lid warm the olive oil over medium low. Add the onions and stir to coat. Cook, stirring as often as necessary, until the onions are deeply caramelized. If they start to brown on the bottom of the pot make sure to scrape the brown bits up- that’s where all the flavor is. Depending on a whole gauntlet of features from your onions to your pot to your medium low heat, this could be anywhere from thirty minutes to an hour.

While the onions are cooking add the lentils and the bay leaves to a pot and cover generously with water. Bring the lentils to a boil, then cook for twenty minutes. They should be tender by this point. Drain, remove the bay leaves, and set aside.

Once the onions are dark amber and soft stir in the cumin, cardamom, and cinnamon. Add the lentils and rice and a half teaspoon of rice. Stir well, then add in 2 cups of water. Bring the pot to a boil, then cover with the lid and reduce the heat to a simmer.

At twenty minutes, check the mujadara- you’re looking for the water to be absorbed without the pot being dry and the rice to be tender. If it isn’t there yet, return the cover and and continue cooking. If the water is absorbed and the rice isn’t tender yet, add more water and continue cooking and checking periodically.

Once the rice is tender and the water absorbed, taste your mujadara and add salt as necessary. Serve warm.

 

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Shakshuka

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This week I’ve been hanging with my dear friend Sara. We met in junior high when we attended different schools but the same youth group. She wasn’t yet my friend when our youth director showed us The Sixth Sense as a treat and I called my parents to take me home (still haven’t seen it). But we became friends in spite of my scaredy-cat tendencies. And we’ve stayed friends for over half our lives. She’s spent the week staying on a nest of sleeping bags in my living room, where we’ve occupied our time taking Buzzfeed quizzes, arguing about movies, and taking long walks around the lakes. And cooking.

Sara, my oldest friend, my penpal for almost 10 years, and owner of a key to my parent’s house, has Celiac’s disease. And so we’ve spent a lot of time in the kitchen together cooking and eating together. We went out for arepas one night and Italian another. There have been occasional impromptu dances to Earth, Wind, and Fire. She organized all the magnetic poetry on the fridge by type of speech. We made these beans and tomato sauce, threw together a lentil soup, and tried out some earl grey macaroons (verdict- delicious, but not very earl grey-y…). And there was shakshuka. Because what better way to celebrate a close friend’s visit than with tomatoes and peppers and onions and eggs?

Shakshuka is a North African dish that’s essentially eggs poached in a sauce of tomato and peppers. As with all straightforward sounding dishes, there’s a world of variations available. I found my recipe in Yotam Ottolenghi’s brilliant (and classic) book Plenty, which may be the first cookbook I ever obsessed over. I know I’m not alone in this. I used to carry Plenty around with me in my purse JUST IN CASE someone hadn’t seen it yet. I was insufferable. I still am.

I’ve heard the mark of friendship isn’t liking each other but understanding each other. I think there’s some truth to that. But when you’re lucky you have people who like and understand you. I’m lucky. I have friends like Sara, who doesn’t laugh or roll her eyes when I decide that the perfect writing outfit is leather leggings and Aaron’s sweater. She drags me bra shopping and makes sure to bring backup sizes. We debate what makes Pride and Prejudice a great novel, the love story or the social commentary, and still swoon together when Elizabeth and Darcy touch hands. We annoy each other with our music choices, and then both belt out Backstreet Boys in the car. There are many gifts of friendship, but one of the best is that it can make you more open to your shared joys and sorrows.

And that makes sharing a meal, breaking the (metaphorical) bread together, that much more sweet.

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Shakshuka

The spice and herbs here are flexible- you could up the cayenne pepper, add hot peppers, and change out the herbs. Cilantro, thyme, and chives would all be excellent. The saffron here is optional- the shakshuka will still be fantastic even if saffron runs a bit too dear.

adapted from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi

serves 4

1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/4 cup olive oil
2 onions, sliced
2 red bell peppers, sliced
2 yellow bell peppers, sliced
2 tablespoons chopped oregano
1/4 cup chopped parsley
2 bay leaves
1 28 ounce can crushed tomatoes
pinch saffron (optional)
scant 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
salt and black pepper
juice of 1/2 a lemon
8 eggs

In a large pan over medium high heat add the cumin seeds. Toast them, stirring often, until they start to smell fragrant and get dark, about 2 minutes. Add the olive oil and the onions and sauté for 5 minutes, until the onions are soft.  Add both the peppers, the oregano, and the parsley and stir well. Continue to sauté for 10 minutes, until the peppers are soft.

Add the canned tomatoes, saffron, cayenne, and a good pinch of both salt and pepper. Reduce the heat to low and bring the sauce to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes or until the sauce has reached the same consistency as pasta sauce. If you need to cook it a bit further to get it there, or add water to get that result, do what you need to do. Add the lemon juice and taste, then adjust seasonings as necessary. It should taste bold.

This can all be done ahead of time. To serve the shakshuka, place a portion into a skillet and warm it. Make as many nests in the tangle of peppers as you want eggs, then crack an egg into each nest. I find it easiest to crack an egg into a small bowl, then slip it into the nest. Season each egg with salt and pepper. Reduce the heat to low, and cover the skillet. Cook the eggs until they are set to your liking, starting to check at about the 6 minute mark and then for every 2 minutes after. Serve with a generous sprinkle of parsley.

 

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Miso Popcorn with Aleppo Pepper

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A few weeks ago Aaron and I went to get a cocktail before dinner at a new restaurant near our apartment. Because we had worked with about half of the front of house staff, that cocktail turned to two, turned to dinner, turned to taking a drunken tour of the kitchen and pinky swearing with the chef. When we got home, I realized I was very intoxicated and needed something to soak up all the booze. And so I drunkenly made miso popcorn- salty, buttery, and addictive- as a midnight snack.

Of course, the story continues with my darling husband taking a video of drunk me and then SENDING IT TO MY BOSS. Highlights of the video include me hitting the phone out of his hands, responding “f*** you” and laughing when he asks me what I’m eating, and telling him I made the popcorn with booze. I’m still getting flack at work for that one. Aaron’s lucky he’s cute.

I’ve been holding onto this recipe for at least a year. I make it often- sometimes once a week- but it’s always been a bit too weird, a bit too approximate to share here. When I make it for other people there’s an even 50/50 split of people who devour it and people who politely take one taste and then not another.

So, you may love this. Or you may not. I think it all depends on how you like your popcorn. If you’re someone who prefers your popcorn dry, sprinkled with only with salt, this isn’t your recipe. (But you should still try this proportion of oil to popcorn while cooking, because it makes the most even and fluffy popcorn that I’ve found.) But if you’re like me and grew up popcorn drenched in butter, this might just be your jam. If you’re into strongly flavored popcorn that’s not airy and crispy, but has soaked up all the buttery flavor, you should make this. While it makes an excellent drunk snack, it’s even better when you’re sober and can taste the nuance- earthy and savory and salty and spicy and just slightly sweet.

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Miso Popcorn

You could play with the toppings here. Sesame seeds would be fantastic, as would any other number of spices. If you can’t find Aleppo pepper (Penzeys has it, as does the spice shop I wish Minneapolis had), I would substitute in chili powder or omit it entirely. My beloved crushed red pepper flakes would do more harm than good here.If you use a dark miso, it will still be delicious, but I would start with less salt and adjust as you desire.

Makes about 6 cups

2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup yellow popcorn kernels
1 1/2 tablespoons light miso
1 tablespoon butter
2 teaspoons nutritional yeast
1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt

In a medium, heavy bottomed pan with a tightly fitting lid warm the olive oil. Drop a few kernels of popcorn into the oil. Once they’ve popped, add the rest of the popcorn and place the lid on the pot. Cook, shaking the pot often, as the popcorn pops quite aggressively. Once the popcorn has expanded to the volume of the pot and the popping slows, turn out into a large bowl. If there are more kernels on the bottom of the pot, return the pot to heat and cover again and let the final kernels pop.

In a small pot add the miso with 1 tablespoon of water. Use a spoon to mix together, making sure that the miso and the water are very well combined. You don’t want any chunks of miso in this- just a smooth paste. Place the pot over low heat and add the butter. Use your spoon to stir constantly as the butter melts- you want this to be well emulsified and smooth. You’re essentially making miso beurre. It will not take long.

Pour the miso beurre over the popcorn. Sprinkle the nutritional yeast, Aleppo, and salt over the beurre. Toss the popcorn well, making sure everything is evenly coated. Eat immediately.

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Turmeric Latte with Cinnamon and Honey

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Aaron bought me a massage for Christmas. This week I finally got to use it. It was a luxury, truly delicious, but intense. When the masseuse was working my shoulders I gasped. They were not mobile. They were tight, aching, in a different way than the rest of my tightly wound body. “Sorry, my shoulders are not as flexible as they should be-” I tried to apologize. The masseuse, a kind and efficient woman, stopped me.

“There’s no should. We’ll go from where you are.”

My mom says that I inherited her dad’s shoulders. As soon as winter comes, they start to ache. Mobility is limited. When it’s very cold out, it feels as though where my shoulders join my back are coming apart at the seams. I’m in my 20s-late 20s, but still 20s. I feel too young for this pain.

There are two things that help relieve the pain- yoga, and a regular intake of turmeric. Going without both means I’m in pain. Using only one means the pain is dulled but still there, like a headache behind your eyes after taking Advil.

My mom takes turmeric pills for her shoulders, but I like to drink my turmeric. I’m not the only one- I used to work with a cook who would mix ground turmeric and black pepper into a water bottle in the middle of his shift. Another cook I work with makes ginger and turmeric tea every day. I prefer something a bit more gentle- turmeric and cinnamon and cardamom warmed together with honey and milk.

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Turmeric is sharp and bright, which makes it an excellent addition to savory foods. Although I prefer savory over sweet like 8 out of 10 times I’ve never gotten into savory drinks. Whole milk rounds out turmeric’s sharp edges, and honey brings out the sweet notes. Ground cardamom adds an earthy floral note, and cinnamon adds warmth and just a hint of heat. I whizz everything up in the blender then warm through on the stove, making for a luxuriously frothed drink. Aaron compared it to a chai latte, and although the taste is different it hits many of the same notes. I started drinking these turmeric lattes for pain relief, but I continue because they’re delicious. It’s always easier to consume good foods when you enjoy them.

If you’re looking for the savory end of turmeric, last week’s chana masala or my carrot and coconut dal are both excellent starts. And if you have any all-star turmeric recommendations I’d love to hear them- winter is just hitting its midpoint, which means I have a few more months of daily turmeric consumption.

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Turmeric Latte with Cinnamon and Honey

Serves 1

I prefer this drink made with fresh turmeric- I think it’s brighter and less sharp than ground turmeric. If you can only find ground turmeric, you could easily substitute it for fresh. I would start with half a teaspoon, then adjust the level of turmeric to your taste. This drink could of course be made dairy-free (almond milk works best), but I prefer it with dairy milk.

1 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon honey
1/2 teaspoon fresh turmeric, peeled and finely grated
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom

Place all ingredients into an upright blender. Blend on high for 1 minute, until everything is well-mixed and frothy. Transfer into a small saucepan, and warm over low heat.

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