Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Roots and Tubers and Squash, Oh My!

Root vegetables. Ahh, yes.
Let's include squash too, because as much as it's not a root vegetable, it is almost 100 percent root vegetable.

As delicious as stews full of starchy love are, and as much as you like roasted sweet potato and carrot soup, it's time to re-imagine these lovely tubers and roots.

It's time to branch out to new tubers and unfamiliar things that you don't even know taste good!

First up, sunchokes. Yeah these knobbly little roots are excellent. They may not be on your radar, but chefs are snatching them up and using them for all sorts of things. Smoking them over hay, making them into sauerkraut, crisping them in cubes to make 'croutons.'

Sunchokes are decidedly better mid-January after cold weather has officially set in.

Check out this post by Leda Meredith to learn all you need to know about sunchokes and get a great pickled sunchoke and mushroom recipe. Pickle! Mushroom! Yeah, you know I had to share that one.

Creamy Sunchoke soup with Chevril Oil and Sunchoke Crisps - this one is worth it just for the sunchoke crisps! Seriously. You might need to make those all the time.

Carmalized Sunchokes with Beet Confit - Much simpler than the name may imply. Added bonus of using the oven which with make your place warm and toasty, smelling of sweet beets and sunchokes.

Sunchoke, Apple and Fennel Salad - this is for those that like something crisp, refreshing, sweet and winter-y!

Alright, so you went to the farmer's market and got sunchokes and ate them to your hearts content. You discovered something delicious with minimal prodding from me. Excellent. Now it's time to move on to the roots in the supermarket that you only see old Hispanic ladies buying.

Yuca AKA cassava AKA manioc AKA tapioca is a starchy tuber you should be more familiar with. Maybe you've had it deep fried like fries at your favorite Spanish restaurant, or maybe you've had some awesome bubble tea with tapioca balls in it. A versatile tuber that a lot of people reading this post have never made themselves. (Or maybe not! Tell me if you've cooked it before!)

There is so much to say about this widely eaten root, I think it would be more appropriate to give you recipes and some general direction.

How to prepare! Seems pretty self explanatory, but this slide show will help you out if you're having some troubles.

Puchero - This pork, beef, and chicken soup is the kind of hearty love child you want to have with your kitchen.

Fried Yuca! - Straight up delicious. Follow the recipe for the spicy mayo as well.

Cassava with Garlic and Citrus - This preparation is fantastic and easy. Citrus is in season right now, so go out an try a few different kinds. Excellent side dish for roast meats!

So pretty much, you've got nothing to lose - except those bourgeois potatoes you keep in some dark corner of your pantry or fridge.

Here are two easy recipes for roots and tubers you may see during your starch investigation.

Roasted Batata with lime-cumin butter - check this one out if you find batata!

Yautia - Boiled with ancho chilies.

Now granted, your neighborhood market may not look like the ones in these pictures. But chances are that they have quite a few starchy things you may normally pass over.

Reach out and try one. Most of them are super cheap anyway. Take one home. Boil it until tender and give it a taste. You'll have a better understanding of the flavor profile.

These pictures are from local Caribbean markets near my house. These particular markets on Flatbush avenue, especially near Church Ave.

You won't know you like them until you try them.
Worst comes to worst, everything tastes good with butter and garlic on top.

Friday, January 11, 2013

The Will Special

I work at a smoked fish and specialty shop called Shelsky's Smoked Fish in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn.

I have a great time slicing salmon and sable by hand, making whitefish salad and mixing scallions into cream cheese. I help make bagels and suggest spreads for people that are in need of appetizing advice. I generally have a good time and things are swell.

It's an old-school style Jewish Appetizing store. There are not many left in the city, and Peter Shelsky (my boss!) is making a comeback and quite a splash (pun intended) in the city as a whole, let alone Brooklyn.

With the option of everything in the store for my breakfast/lunch it can be daunting to choose fatty Nova over earthy sturgeon, egg salad over whitefish. bagels or rye bread; the list goes on.

But about three out of every four days, I eat the Will Special.


A toasted sesame bagel with butter, Gravlax, red onions and capers.  (just before a giant bite is taken out of it)

The bagel must be toasted so that most of the butter melts into the bread. It is acceptable to get this on a different bagel, although I do not suggest it (unless you like plain bagels). There should also be plenty of onion and plenty of capers. Double what you may normally get on a sandwich. These are not optional.

I love this sandwich. It is incredible.

We cure the gravlax in house and get the bagels from Mill Basin Bagel Cafe. These I feel, are important measures in this being a fantastic sandwich. The bagels are chewy and dense, with an excellent crunch from the crust. They are slightly sweeter than other bagels. No soft, pillowy bagels for me. I do not want a roll. If I wanted a roll, I would get a roll. I want a bagel.

The salmon is very smooth from the curing process. It tastes of dill and magic; not in an overwhelming way, but in an I'm-going-to-eat-an-entire-pound-of-this way. The cure (mostly salt and sugar) lends itself nicely to the salmon without making it too salty or too sweet. It has an almost raw mouth feel, and if we've learned anything from sushi, raw salmon can be sexy.

This all being said. Maybe Shelsky's is out of the question for you. Maybe you don't live in New York.

You can still have this sandwich.

Following the next picture there will be some links to curing your own gravlax. It is much easier than you can imagine, and you can play around with the flavors just as well. Or you can come to Shelsky's and buy some of ours which we make really well and is really amazing.

Isn't this what it's all about!?

Here are some basic Gravlax recipes that can be easily looked over and written down.

Gravlax How-To from Food52 This an excellent tutorial of curing your own fish. I would use about thirty times more dill than they show in the pictures (actually use an entire bunch or two). Also, if you don't have Aquavit, use a nice gin. At least you'll drink the gin afterwards! Try this gin called DH Krahn which is very citrus forward and slightly sweet.

Gravlax How-To from This tutorial has some other ideas in it like using dill seeds and cutting the fillets down a little. It's okay to use just a little bit of salmon if you don't want to buy a whole fillet. Also, don't worry about all this freezing business; just buy fresh fish.

Step two of the Will Special? Buy a red onion and a small jar of capers in brine.
Put it all on a bagel, and send me some fan mail!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Winter Stews

It's no secret that stews are freaking awesome.

Stews can be incredibly complex or wonderfully simple: stretching ingredients or reducing them down; layering flavors or creating single notes.

In addition, stews are generally one-pot meals and crowd-pleasers.  Approachable to all walks of life, and a member of low-brow, high-brow and everything in-between, they make your house smell good, and can bring everyone back to Earth.

So, here is a collection of some recipes that I think are wonderful for the cold winter months. December is behind us, and with it, recollections of candy-canes and pine trees, latkes and menorahs. The wreaths and trees of most peoples' festive holiday are in the street, waiting for the chipper to turn them to mulch.

But we don't have to forget that it's still freaking cold, and we can sit around watching Netflix, drinking hot chocolate and making stew to warm our souls and fill our stomachs.

I'm going to skip more traditional stews and offer only the really cool, or mind-blowingly amazing ones.

First up, a stew that most people have never had: Mafe.
A stew of African origin, it can be as simple or complex as your cupboard. A strong base of tomatoes, chilies, meat and peanuts, it makes for a wonderful meal and a great introduction to more ethnic stews.

These three recipes are essentially the same. I will point out their differences so you can more easily choose the one you like. Or read them all and decide for yourself.

Mafe - food network: This recipe is a great introduction to Mafe. It is super easy, without a ton of ingredients. It will give you a feel for the stew and has plenty of room to improvise. For instance, if you don't have carrots, use another root vegetable or squash. Often times farmers markets will have a discount section or grab-bag of roots and such that you can get cheap and are perfect for this application.

Mafe - senegalI like this recipe because it uses a lot of winter vegetables like squash and 'roots and tubers' and cabbage. However, it is lacking in the tomato department. If you don't have lamb, lean beef will work too. if you don't have beef you can use chicken etc. etc.

Peanut stew - nytimes: Now that you're familiar with Mafe, step it up a notch and make this version which includes whole chopped tomatoes and okra (I love okra). Perfect food for a cold winter night with rice or fat, thick egg noodles. (this page also has a bonus fish stew recipe)

So you've got the African stew down, or maybe you're allergic to peanuts. Either way, here is another stew with loads of flavor that is pretty wonderful with nice Italian bread, a nice Southern Cornbread (corn and mushrooms go really well together), or simply on its own with a bowl and spoon.

Pork and Mushroom Ragout - Food and Wine: This recipe brings out some really amazing earthy flavors. Mushrooms are one of my favorite ingredients for anything, and the meaty, umami-rich flavor they impart really pairs well with slow cooked stews.

Also, really simply stewed mushrooms are one of my favorite things to make. Pretty much just butter, mushrooms, fresh herbs and a little stock go a long way in terms of flavor.

Maybe your house doesn't see enough curry. Or maybe you don't make enough fish at home.
Here is a recipe with fantastic results and minimal heavy-fish odors. Anytime you mix curry and coconut milk, you're hard-pressed not to produce a winner.

Groan Curried Fish Stew: Make this stew. It's awesome. I know you don't make a lot of fish curry. I know it. Like they say, make a lot of rice to serve this with. Or, make lots of rice noodles or glass noodles and serve piping hot.

Here are some other fantastic stews to try when you're ready for some "adventurous" eating (ie. bored of the regular stuff and want to try these other cool stews)

Kimchi Stew: This bad-boy right here includes 3lbs of skinless pork belly. If spicy amazing kimchi isn't reason enough to try it, the pork belly should put you over the edge. If you really need a starch to eat this with, do I even need to mention what? Yeah, rice. Not a fan of rice? Try it with boiled Yucca (cassava) or big red potatoes; or just eat it as is, because it's awesome.

Red Chile and Pork Stew: This Carne Adobada is crazy good. Use Guajillo chilies if you can't find the New Mexico ones, or use a mix and follow the general recipe. It will be good. I promise. This stew doesn't need rice, but serve it with corn tortillas (not flour). It makes a difference, trust me.

Like something more involved? How about making Meatballs! Yeahhh meatballs!

T'fina Pkaila - Tunisian beef rib and meatball stew: This stew right here! Yes it is more involved. Yes it has more steps. Yes it is delicious. A little bit of spinach, some white beans, meat. It's got all the stew parts you want in your life. All of them. Cilantro. Beef ribs!

So there you have it folks. Various stews from around the world to keep you busy and full in the winter months.

When your house smells this delicious, you can be sure that your neighbors will "pop-in" to borrow something, only to fawn over the wonderful smells (and would you share!)