Shakshuka

DSC_1359

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.

DSC_1354

 

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.

 

DSC_1363

Standard

Miso Popcorn with Aleppo Pepper

dsc_1334

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.

dsc_1297

dsc_1310

 

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.

Standard

Turmeric Latte with Cinnamon and Honey

dsc_1015

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.

dsc_1052

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.

dsc_1098

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.

Standard

Chana Masala

dsc_0939

It’s Inauguration day as I write this. A man who lost the popular vote and embodies so much contention and cruelty is taking the sacred oath of office. It almost seems trite to post food here. Almost. There are so many other things that demand our attention. But no matter what, we have to keep feeding ourselves. We may as well do ourselves the kindness of doing it well.

I was telling Aaron the other day that there is a silver lining in all of this muck. We’ve seen people come and fight together in these two months more than any time in my memory. It may seem like faint consolation. But the ACLU‘s website crashed after the election due to the influx of donations. The Woman’s March on Washington, in all its messiness, is expected to be the largest protest in history. Services are popping up to help keep you in contact with your congressperson (I use this one). To keep fighting, you have to hold on tight to the good you find.

There’s no easy transition from resistance to chickpeas. But this chana masala is quite good. It’s saucy and tender and bright and complex tasting, the spices turning and twisting as you eat. And it’s simple. You sweat an onion, add in a mixture of garlic, ginger, chilis, and cilantro, then stir in spices. The whole thing then gets cooked with tomatoes and chickpeas, then finished with lemon juice and garam masala. It’s an easy meal, satisfying and inexpensive. And once you’ve made it yourself you can customize as you like. It’s an excellent back pocket meal- you probably already have the produce you need (because I assume that you, like me, keep cilantro on hand at all time) and the spices are easy to find. It’s both comforting and fortifying- the sort of food we need right now.

Stay safe. Stay strong. We’re in this together.

Chana Masala

adapted from Felicity Cloake’s recipe for The Guardian

Garam masala is a popular spice blend from India. Like most spice blends, there’s no definitive recipe. It’s become fairly easy to find, but if you can’t find it, you could make it yourself. I like the look of this recipe, but imagine that a quick, equal parts mixture of cinnamon, cardamom, black pepper, and a pinch of cloves would stand in admirably. You can easily adjust this to your preferred spice level- use more chilis and chili powder for spicier, fewer for less.

serves 4

1 fifteen ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 medium onion, finely diced
6 garlic cloves, peeled
1 one-inch piece of ginger, peeled
1-4 chilis (I used serrano), stems removed
small bunch of cilantro, stems included
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1-2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 fourteen ounce can diced tomatoes
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
juice of 1/2 a lemon
1 teaspoon garam masala

cilantro leaves, to serve
yogurt, to serve

In a small pot combine the chickpeas with 2 cups of water. Bring to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let it chill out.

Meanwhile, in a large soup pot over medium heat melt the coconut oil. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is taking on a golden color, about 8-12 minutes.

While the onion cooks and the chickpeas boil combine the garlic, ginger, chili, and cilantro to make a paste. You could do this one of three ways. You could use a food processor to quickly blitz them up, you could smash and pound using a mortar and pestle, or you could manually chop everything together, over and over, until everything is well combined and very small. Whatever method you choose, you want all the pieces to be a cohesive whole- no enormous garlic chunks and ground cilantro leaves.

Once the onion is golden add the garlic-ginger mixture to the onion. Stir well and cook for a few minutes, until it’s starting to take on some color and is fragrant. Add the coriander, chili powder, cumin, and turmeric. If everything is a bit stiff, you could add a splash more coconut oil. Cook, stirring often, for just a minute or two- until the spices are fragrant.

Add in the chickpeas with their water, the diced tomatoes, and the salt. Bring to a simmer, then cook, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes, until the juices are saucy but not thin. Add the lemon juice and garam masala, then taste. Adjust for seasonings as necessary.

Serve hot, topped with cilantro and yogurt.

Standard

Grapefruit and Bay Leaf Marmalade

dsc_0762

Marmalade is such a delightfully old-fashioned word. It reminds me of reading Matilda as a child, being whisked away to Miss Honey’s tiny cottage where she drank tea with milk and ate bread and butter and reveled in her freedom. I don’t remember if Miss Honey ate marmalade. Perhaps she couldn’t afford it, being in such debt to Miss Trunchbull. I do remember looking at Miss Honey’s life and thinking that even as sad as her situation was, it sounded impossibly cozy.

Cozy sounds good any time of year, but most of all this time, when we have snowy days and cold evenings. I love winter- I often say that I moved to Minnesota for the winters- and one thing I love most about winter is that it’s a season to be kind to yourself. In winter I find myself going on leisurely walks, drinking more tea, cuddling with Aaron and a book under blankets, and lighting candles. The Danish call it all hygge, a phenomenon that’s been welldocumented. It reminds me a bit of our American buzzword of self-care, but with less juicing.

I like that cozy is accessible and personal. There’s no insistence on designer workout gear that costs me a day’s work. I don’t have to forgo meals in favor of juices. I can make a bright, sweet-tart marmalade and eat it on toast in the morning. I can practice yoga sequences (I’m about to start this series) before work in my pajama pants. I get to choose what makes me happy, and that’s no small thing.

If this appeals to you, I would recommend making this marmalade for a cozy morning. It’s both hygge and self-care to me- I have a comforting spread for my toast, jewel bright and bittersweet. And I get to control the ingredients, which here means tart grapefruit, earthy bay leaves, sweet oranges, and enough sugar to set it.

A word of warning- there’s quite a bit of sugar here, and if you’re avoiding the stuff this isn’t the recipe for you. But this makes quite a bit of marmalade, and unless you eat a large amount of marmalade every day it will last you a long time. The finished product ends up with about 12 grams of sugar per tablespoon, which is well below the current recommendations for your daily recommended amount of sugar. I will gladly forgo desserts for a morning hit of marmalade, and perhaps you’re the same. Perhaps not. Either way I firmly believe that you know yourself best, and when you have all the information you can make an informed decision.

Whatever your marmalade decisions, I wish you cozy mornings and good breakfasts.

dsc_0818

dsc_0866

Grapefruit and Bay Leaf Marmalade 

Making this marmalade is a bit like making caramel- you need to watch it carefully and use a large pot. Long sleeves and shoes are both advised, as is keeping others out of the kitchen- whether it’s pets, children, or curious partners. I would highly recommend using a thermometer to make this- in fact, I used two (a candy thermometer and an instant read to verify the candy thermometer). But if you don’t have a thermometer, watch the bubbles carefully as I describe below. You’re trying to reach the thread stage, as described here. In the past when I’ve cooked a marmalade a bit further than is ideal, I’ve been able to warm it back up with a good hit of water and bring it back to a spreadable consistency.

Makes 8 cups

2 and a half (1 pound 6 ounces) thinly sliced medium grapefruits
8 1/2 cups (3 pounds, 6 ounces) cane sugar
5 cups water
zest and juice of 1 orange
3 bay leaves

Combine everything into a very large pot. If it feels silly to cook that much marmalade into such a large pot, you’re on the right track. The marmalade will bubble quite aggressively towards the end and you’ll be grateful for the extra space. Warm the pot over medium heat, and stir together well. Bring to a simmer, and allow it to simmer, stirring often so the bottom doesn’t burn, for 40 minutes. Skim all the bright orange foam that you can as it rises to the edges of the pot. The more foam you skim, the more brilliant your marmalade will be.

After the marmalade has cooked for 40 minutes crank the heat up to high. Attach a thermometer to the side, and let the marmalade cook to 223 degrees Fahrenheit (106 degrees Celsius). Watch it very carefully. It will take a while for it to get close, then will go quite quickly. The marmalade will first froth with small, quick bubbles, then larger bubbles will start to appear. Once the whole thing is bubbling aggressively, with medium sized bubbles that are thick and sputter just a bit when they pop, you are at 223 degrees. Remove immediately from the heat. Allow it to cool, remove the bay leaves, and transfer into clean jars.

The marmalade will stay good (without being canned!) in the refrigerator for weeks.

Standard