There are few root vegetables I enjoy more than beets. In the winter, I tend to roast them in the oven, lightly seasoned with some salt and pepper. But in the summer months, I’ve decided the best way to use beets is to make borscht.
Now, I don’t recall having borscht much as a child because beets are one of those things you may not want to give your kids. Even now as an adult, any time I cook with them I wonder if I am going to be dying half of my wardrobe red.
But borscht is such a lovely and healthy soup, I shouldn’t let the fear of ruining a few articles of clothing stop me from making it.
Borscht, which has Slavic origins, can be served hot or chilled. Typically, it is made with beets, and can also include potatoes or other root vegetables. Borscht can either be pureed or left chunky. Sometimes it has sour cream blended in or dolloped on top. It is usually eaten as an appetizer or side to accompany a main course, but with the right kind of bread, it can be a meal all on its own.
Everyone has their own preference for how they like their borscht. A few weeks ago, I requested a recipe from my mom. She sent two. The first was “a traditional Jewish/Russian cold beet soup” which she serves with “chopped cucumber, a boiled hot potato and sour cream”. The base is rather simple: beets, potatoes, lemon juice, salt and pepper.
The second version was pureed and “slightly more contemporary”, and included, along with the traditional ingredients, sage, garlic, and apple cider vinegar.
What I enjoy so much about soups is that they are very adaptable. Personally, I like soups that are slightly pureed, with a few pieces left over to chew on. I worked with the first recipe, but made a few alterations to its preparation.
1/2 cup beet liquid (taken from the liquid left from the boiled beets)
salt and pepper to taste
1 tbsp cider vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
4 peeled boiled potatoes (optional)
1 cup sour cream, to pass around
1. Peel the beets (and, if you are using them, potatoes) and cut into larger chunks. Put in a big pot with three cups of water and salt and pepper. Simmer for 1 hour or until beets can easily be poked with a fork.
2. Let cool in the refrigerator.
3. Once cooled, place 3/4 beets (and potatoes) in a food processor with 1/2 cup of reserved beet liquid. Process until mostly smooth. Place this mixture in a pot or large bowl.
4. Dice the rest of the potatoes and beets and add to pureed mixture.
5. Add the cider vinegar and sugar to taste. Stir, test, and, if needed, season again with some additional salt and pepper.
Serve with sour cream.
Pesto is something that I rarely make. Either we don’t have pine nuts (which tend to be very expensive) or enough fresh basil in the house. I’ve made variations of pesto that have included arugula or mint and have replaced the pine nuts with walnuts. While wonderful, these modifications have resulted in very different versions from the traditional recipe with basil.
However, we were lucky enough to have both of these key ingredients available in the apartment. Eric has been working on an urban garden (you can see photos of its progression here
), and boy does this guy have a green thumb. What started as adorable little plants out in front of our building has now blossomed into a magnitude of produce and herbs. The tomatoes are starting to come in and, within a few more weeks, should be ready for picking. The peppers are starting to form as well.
But the herbs are another story. They have exploded! And the selection is magnificent. We have rosemary, sage, thyme, parsley, oregano, lavender… and basil. Lots and lots of basil.
Eric has been nagging me to start using some of it, which is exactly what I did the other night when I made a delicious pesto for a recipe I found on the Saveur website. It’s a simple, refreshing dinner that would be perfect to make on a night when you are having some guests over. Served with a side salad and wine, and I think you’ll be in Heaven.
Notes on recipe: I made this in a food processor and it was perfect. See notes at bottom of recipe for details. Also, we used Romano beans from our CSA, but any form of green bean would work.
Linguine with Pesto(from Saveur, Issue #7)
1 clove garlic, peeled and chopped
3 tbsp. pine nuts
2 tightly packed cups small basil leaves, washed and dried
1⁄2 cup grated pecorino sardo or parmigiano-reggiano,
or 1⁄4 cup of each
1⁄2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, preferably Ligurian (or
another mild and fruity oil)
1⁄2 lb. green beans, trimmed
1⁄2 lb. new potatoes, scrubbed and peeled
1 lb. trenette, tagliatelle, or linguine
1. Crush garlic and pine nuts in a large mortar to make a smooth paste.
2. Add basil to mortar a little at a time. Crush to a coarse paste, grinding leaves against side of mortar with pestle. Add a pinch of salt and continue crushing, then gradually stir in cheese.
3. Drizzle in olive oil and continue working until pesto is very smooth and no large pieces of basil are visible. Set aside.
4. Cook green beans for about 3 minutes in boiling water. Remove with a slotted spoon. In the same water, boil potatoes until tender, about 5–7 minutes. Drain, cool, and slice.
5. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat and cook pasta until tender, about 8–10 minutes. Drain, but reserve 2 tbsp. pasta water and add it to pesto.
6. In a large serving bowl, toss pasta, green beans, potatoes, and pesto. Season to taste with salt and serve immediately.
VARIATION: To use a food processor, place pine nuts, garlic, and salt in the processor bowl and blend to a paste. Add basil, drizzle in oil, and process until smooth. Transfer to a bowl and stir in grated cheese by hand.
While I’d be shocked if someone told me that they’d never eaten broccoli or peas, I wouldn’t be surprised if I met someone who hadn’t tried okra. Even though it’s fairly easy to find in the grocery store, it just isn’t something us northerners are used to. It’s a vegetable you typically find in southern cuisine, deep fried or in gumbo.
But why don’t we eat more okra? It’s delicious, pretty… plus, you can bring it to a BBQ and impress attendees with your knowledge of exotic veggies.
Okra, which is also referred to as “lady finger” outside the U.S., originates from West Africa, though it can frequently be found in Indian and Brazilian cuisine. It is included in stews with meat and other vegetables, mashed with cashews, or stuffed with various seasoning and fried up.
It’s this versatility that has made me fall in love with okra. A lot of people I know who’ve tried okra don’t share this love, though it’s not the taste that they are reacting to, but the mucus-like substance that will form around it when cooked. This doesn’t bother me too much, because there really is so much to like about okra that I can overlook this one aspect.
I hope I haven’t turned you off from trying it. As a first stab at using it, I suggest making this fantastic recipe for pickled okra. It has a huge amount of flavor (beware of garlic breath) and still maintains its crunch after a few days.
Note: I followed this recipe exactly, but cut the quantity down significantly. You can certainly do the same.
(from Martha Stewart Living, October 1994)
Makes 8 pints
2 pounds okra
1 quart white vinegar
6 tablespoons salt
16 small cloves garlic
8 small fresh hot red peppers
1 bunch of fresh dill (about 24 sprigs)
1/2 cup yellow mustard seeds
Rinse okra, and cut away any bruises or bad spots. Trim stem ends of okra, but do not remove caps entirely.
Wash eight 1-pint canning jars, lids, and screw bands with hot soapy water, and rinse well. Place a wire rack on the bottom of a large pot. Place jars upright on a wire rack in a large pot, fill pot with hot water until jars are submerged, and bring to a boil. Boil for 15 minutes. Turn off heat, but leave jars in water. Sterilize lids and screw bands according to manufacturer’s instructions.
Meanwhile, bring vinegar, 3 cups water, and salt to a boil in a large pot.
Using stainless-steel tongs, remove jars from water, and set on a layer of clean towels. Evenly divide garlic, peppers, dill sprigs, and mustard seeds among sterilized jars. Pack jars tightly with okra, alternating direction of caps. Leave 3/4 inch of space beneath the rim of the jar. Pour hot liquid over okra, covering okra by 1/4 inch, leaving 1/2 inch of space beneath the rim. Slide a clean plastic chopstick or wooden skewer along the inside of each jar to release any air bubbles. Wipe mouth of jar with a clean, damp cloth. Place hot lid on jar; screw on band firmly without forcing.
Place a wire rack in the bottom of a large pot, and fill pot with hot water. Using a jar lifter, place the jars on the rack. Add enough hot water to cover by 2 inches, and bring to a boil. Boil for 10 minutes. Remove jars from water bath with jar lifter; let stand on clean dish towels for 24 hours. Check cool jars for the slight indentation in the lids that indicates a vacuum seal. Jars that do not seal properly or that leak during processing should be stored in the refrigerator and pickles consumed within a week. Allow sealed pickles to mellow in a cool, dry place for 6 to 8 weeks before serving. Store opened jars in the refrigerator.
Sometimes you just feel like baking. However, when you get this urge on an 85+ degree day, you may question your sanity. And this is what happened on Saturday, which was a scorcher. Am I crazy? Maybe. Was it worth it? Definitely.
You see, last week I was presented with a wonderful treat from Kay, who had just gotten back from seeing Andy and Leigh, my brother-in-law and sister-in-law, and their adorable 6 month old daughter
in Davis, California. On all of her trips, Kay brings back something food related. From France, I got a lovely bag of Herbes de Provence. From the Dominican Republic, cocoa powder (there’s a picture in this posting
But what would she bring back from Davis? A highlight of our visits with Andy and Leigh is a trip to the farmer’s market
. I’m envious of people who live there just because they have this fantastic market, which not only has wonderful produce, but a number of vendors selling baked goods, honey, olive oil, and the most amazing breakfast sandwiches I have ever had.
So, on this trip she brought back a bag of gorgeous dried cherries that she had purchased at the market. As soon as I saw them, I knew what I was going to make: cookies.
A quick Google search and I found the perfect recipe. Now, I enjoy most cookies, but what I LOVE are oatmeal cookies. Preferably, oatmeal raisin cookies with chocolate chips.
Dark Chocolate Chunk and Dried Cherry Oatmeal Cookies
1 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1 & 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 & 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 cups oats
1 cup dried cherries
8 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chunks
Preheat oven to 350°.
Beat butter and brown sugar together until smooth. Add eggs one at a time, mixing after each addition. Add vanilla.
In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. Gradually add to the butter mixture just until combined. Do not overmix. Stir in oats, cherries, and chocolate.
Drop by tablespoonfuls onto lined or lightly greased baking sheets. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until bottom edges are lightly browned. Cool on pans for a few minutes, then remove to wire racks to cool completely.
Makes about 4 dozen cookies.
Note: These may also be made into bar cookies. Press the dough into a lightly greased 13″x 9″ baking pan. Bake for about 30 minutes.
There are still a few remaining items in our fridge and freezer that remind us of our reliable produce delivery service, Boston Organics. We recently switched over from them to a CSA, but their presence still lingers in our apartment. Mostly, it is in the form of bananas. Unlike my grandfather, who eats a banana almost every day, I have never been fond of the fruit.
On occasion, following a trip to the gym, I’ve needed something to scarf down and bananas were within reach. But, typically, they went right in the freezer. And we’ve acquired quite a few of them.
For me, bananas mean one thing: banana bread. Everyone says that their banana bread recipe is the best, but I truly believe that the one my mom makes is spectacular. The inclusion of ginger, nutmeg, and cinnamon make for a flavorful loaf. An added bonus, especially when you have an absurd amount of ripe bananas to use up, is that the recipe calls for as few as three and as many as five. Unfortunately, even after making four loaves, there still remains a half a bag of them.
Seeing that I’ve already included the bread recipe, I wanted to mix it up a bit. I’m not a fan of most breakfast foods, but I do have great affection for pancakes and French toast. This is what my father would make for us as children (usually with the inclusion of chocolate chips) and they’re the few breakfast items I will eat. Well, I thought I’d try my hand at this childhood favorite, but with a little bit of a twist.
Banana Bread French Toast
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp milk
1 tbsp vanilla extract
Slice the banana bread into 5-6 thick slices.
In a bowl, whisk together eggs, milk and vanilla. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat.
Dip each piece of bread into the egg mixture, making sure to completely coat each slice, and place it in hot pan. Cook until each side has turned golden brown.
Serve with sliced strawberries, confectioner’s sugar, maple syrup… whipped cream. All are optional, as this is already a pretty rich (and sweet) breakfast.
As much fun as it is to make complicated dishes that require lots of kitchen gadgets, there is no denying that there’s something incredibly satisfying about simple cooking. Once in a while I encounter a person who tells me that they never cook. When I ask why, I’m usually told that it’s because they are scared of the process.
And when I try to explain to these individuals that cooking doesn’t have to be complicated, I get a quick, “Well, you do a lot of it.” It’s hard for me to convince them otherwise, so we tend to drop the subject.
When I cook at home, my favorite foods to make require few ingredients. I enjoy making slaws and roasting veggies. A couple days a week, I will either bake or grill some fish. We’ll have a pasta dish one day, tofu and quinoa another. For dessert, Eric and I either have a bowl of ice cream or we will share a piece of fresh fruit, cut up in a bowl.
My mother-in-law, Kay, enjoys simple cooking even more than I do. Her dishes always contain the freshest ingredients and she lets the vegetables, meat, and fish that she uses speak for themselves. She’s the kind of cook who believes that people can add more salt to a dish if they’d like, so she never over seasons her food. Her desserts are equally as delicious, but are also shockingly easy to prepare.
The first time I saw Kay make a strawberry rhubarb kuchen (which is the German word for “cake”, but it can also be a tart), I was blown away. I’m still working on my pie crust-making skills, so when I witnessed that, instead of using a rolling pin, she just spread it out in the pan with her bare hands, I was thrilled.
The “filling” requires even less energy than the crust. Cut fruit, lemon juice, a sprinkle of cinnamon and sugar. And while rhubarb and strawberries are delightful seasonal ingredients to use, it can also be made with plums or peaches or apples. Of course, this goes wonderfully with ice cream, which is how we served it this past weekend.
Additional Note: A special thanks to Eric’s Aunt Lexa, who rescued my camera from the Cape and shipped it back to Boston. Without her, we’d have no post… and we’d all be very sad.
Strawberry Rhubarb Kuchen
1 1/2 cups flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
2 tbsp milk
1 cup strawberries, quartered
3 stalks of rhubarb, cut into thick chunks
Juice of 1 lemon
In a bowl, sift together flour and sugar. Cut in butter and mix until it looks like coarse meal. Slightly beat egg and milk; blend into flour mixture.
Flatten and press with hands to bottom and sides of an 8″ square pan or pie plate.
Toss four cups (or so) of cut fruit and press into dough. Soak with fresh lemon juice. Sprinkle on top with a mixture of cinnamon and sugar, and put some small dabs of butter on top. Bake for 40-50 minutes at 375 degrees.
« Older posts