Aubergine and Lentil Pie

015aAs luck would have it, the very first vegetarian main I trialed for Thanksgiving was such a winner that I did not need to attempt others. This aubergine and lentil pie hits all the right notes: it is hearty and savory without being heavy, and it’s a touch exotic yet wholesome enough to complement a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. It is also beautiful and can be cooked the day before you intend to serve it without losing any flavor or texture upon reheating. (I even thought the flavor improved after a day.) It is exactly what I was looking for – something special, festive, and autumnal for the vegetarians at the table. This pie is adapted from a recipe in Dan Lepard’s excellent home baking book, Short and Sweet. I have changed the spicing of the pie’s filling from Lepard’s original, but he deserves credit for the inspiration, the proportions, and the marvelous crust. Continue reading

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Kale, Chicory, and Hazelnut “Caesar” Salad

026aMy friend Jess wrote me recently to tell me that puntarelle has appeared at my beloved Booth’s, at Spa Terminus near Maltby Street, in London. Puntarelle is a variety of chicory grown in Italy with an unusually brief growing season, a traditional method of preparation, and a fanatical following. It is wonderfully bitter, and very crunchy. In a classic puntarelle salad, the stiff inner spears of the vegetable are julienned into narrow strips, and simply dressed in a garlicky anchovy dressing. In Rome (or so I have read, on this wonderful blog post), during puntarelle season, it is in markets everywhere. Some Roman vendors sell a taglia puntarelle, which simplifies the process of slicing the puntarelle, or you can buy it pre-cut. In London, I would julienne the puntarelle myself, put the strips in a bowl of ice water to curl, and warm some minced garlic in olive oil just until it became fragrant. I whisked this with a generous amount of chopped salted anchovy fillets, lemon juice, and plenty of salt and freshly-ground black pepper. This simple salad is one of my favorites. Continue reading

Pan-Seared Octopus with Delicata Squash, Chickpeas, and Saffron

DSC_0278aMany people shy away from cooking octopus, believing that it is too difficult to cook. The truth is slightly different. Octopus is relatively easy to cook; it’s tenderizing the octopus that poses the challenges. Perfectly-cooked octopus definitely must not be rubbery, but one also must not commit the cardinal sin of mushy octopus. Everyone seems to have a different method for tenderizing octopus. Some people literally beat octopus with a rock, or, failing that, with a meat tenderizer. My friend Patrick sets up a pot of boiling water and a pot of ice water, and plunges the octopus in each water bath for about ten seconds, switching back and forth, about 30 times. I have heard that tenderizing the octopus sous vide works extremely well. I used to simmer octopus for about an hour in a pot of water to which some milk (the lactic acid works the trick) has been added. But I swear by my new method, which is time-consuming, but infallibly produces excellent results. Continue reading

75th Birthday Barbecued Ribs

DSC_0914aIt’s good to have people in your life who push you out of your comfort zone. My lovely friend Nicola pushes me way past my comfortable depth (in positive ways), and leads by example. Thanks to Nicola, in early May, I found myself in a car with four people driving to a smallish unpretty town about an hour south of London, where, along with three other friends, we would cook overnight in the British Barbecue Society’s Grassroots Shake and Sauce competition. Continue reading

Awadh-Style Curried Asian Eggplant

DSC_0322aThe versatile aubergine is so gloriously exotic that it should occupy some mystical plateau, like chocolate. The Mayans weren’t mixing eggplants into their sacred ceremonial brews, but they should have been. The idea is not so farfetched, either – the eggplant apparently contains more nicotine than any other plant except tobacco (although you would have to consume 20 pounds of eggplant to ingest the same amount of nicotine in a cigarette). And of course the eggplant is a member of the nightshade family (along with potatoes, tomatoes, and capsicums). For this Awadh curry I used Asian eggplants, which have thinner skin and more delicate flesh than Italian eggplants. Unlike Italian eggplants, Asian eggplants do not have to be peeled: the skin is tender and not bitter. Fully cooked, Asian eggplants have a consistency like hot custard. Hot, savory, delicious umami custard. Continue reading

Mexican Milk-Braised Brisket

DSC_0288aAlmost exactly a year ago, I ate at El Suadero, the Monday night Mexican pop-up at Sitka and Spruce in Seattle, which is where I had the unforgettable eponymous milk-braised veal brisket that inspired this dish. Sometime after I returned to London, I set about finding boneless rolled veal brisket, which is what I decided that I needed to recreate it. Starting from the premise that I would only buy free-raised veal, I bought two rolled veal briskets from the lovely people at the Wild Beef Company, which sometimes trades at the Borough Market, and excitedly told my father what I planned to make. My father, who is not a religious man but can have a cruel streak, intoned ominously, “Thou shalt not seethe the calf in its mother’s milk.” Continue reading

Beef Rendang

DSC_0118aWhen we were all a little younger than we are now (i.e., college-aged), it seemed that everyone fell into two camps on the subject of New Year’s resolutions. We were ardent believers, list-makers, inquisitive interrogators (“what are your New Year’s resolutions?”). Or we were hardened cynics. New Year’s resolution haters. I have to confess I fell more into the first category. I was extremely anxious if I hadn’t identified my New Year’s resolutions by Christmas, and I took them very seriously. The problem is: the day after one of the most dedicated partying nights of the year is not the best time for personal fortitude. Nor was it possible (for me, anyway) to rectify personality defects by sheer force of will. By mid-February, if I made it that far, like almost everyone else I invariably had broken my resolutions.

Now that we are older and the gloss of our idealistic zeal has been tarnished by years of hard living, the best that most of us can manage is a dry January. That is why I propose that we take a leaf from the book of that lofty body the United Nations, and adopt the more gentle practice of making non-binding New Year’s resolutions. The high-minded sentiment is there, without the guilt. Continue reading

Spicy Cantonese Pork and Jellyfish with Celery

DSC_0795aI had all sorts of grand plans for this to be the year that I posted wonderful holiday-themed recipes and tips in time for Christmas. Unfortunately, between work, illness, and an oven that was broken until yesterday, I just haven’t gotten around to making my holiday dishes. Instead, as usual, I will be making edible holiday gifts on Christmas eve, cursing myself for being a procrastinator, and probably blogging whatever works sometime next week. Thus today, instead of nutmeg and allspice scented fantasies, boozy dark chocolate and eggnog, I bring you … jellyfish. Continue reading

Ma Po Tofu

DSC_0775aMy friend Nayan is a talented polymath who claims that he can cook anything. A professionally-trained chef turned itinerant winemaker, Nayan professes to have perfect palate memory: that he can taste something, identify its components, and duplicate it. On Sunday, for the first time, we cooked together. We were both craving spicy food. What started as a vague idea to cook something with chillies turned into a foray into regional Chinese cooking. Continue reading

Spicy Brussels Sprouts with ‘Nduja Sausage and Mushrooms

DSC_0665The benighted Brussels sprout is finally having its day. It used to be quite fashionable to detest Brussels sprouts; now the momentum has shifted in the other direction and is gathering speed. As a descendant of cabbage-eaters on both sides of my family, I suppose it was inevitable that I would be a Brussels sprout lover. (Research shows, in fact, that our palates are most influenced by the foods our mothers consumed during pregnancy.) Previously, in order to induce friends to consume them, I had to cleverly disguise my Brussels sprouts with things like nuts and dried cranberries. The last time I did that, my friend Jess remarked, “I think you should have let the Brussels sprouts be Brussels sprouts.” Let the age of the Brussels sprouts begin. Continue reading