Category Archives: vegetarian

Spicy Ginger Peanut Stew and a Soup Swap: Take That, Michigan Winter!

Actually, that's sunflower butter b/c I ran out of peanut butter. Same idea, though. Incidentally vegan (which is not incidentally my favorite kind of vegan)

Soup Season is ON

I think the worst thing about January in Michigan is knowing even after we survive it, we still have to deal with February. Would you like some soup? I would like some soup.

I first discovered this recipe sometime during the year or two I ate (mostly) vegan. In many ways, it’s just a standard vegetable soup. It starts with garlic & onion, and then you add some vegetables—it doesn’t really matter what kind. Top with canned tomatoes and enough broth to cover, cook until the veggies are done, season with salt & pepper to taste, and that should be pretty tasty, even if you don’t add anything else. But it’s probably nothing to write home the internet about.

You can add more nut butter if you want something really peanutty. I like it better with just a little.It’s the three elements in the name that make this something worth sharing—a hefty scoop of cayenne pepper, a couple of tablespoons of minced fresh ginger, and a few heaping spoonfuls of peanut butter. Together, they transform this from just your average vegetable soup into a spicy, hearty, creamy stew. A hint of coconut, which you can get either by sweating the veggies in coconut oil, adding some coconut milk with the nut butter, or garnishing the soup with a sprinkle of unsweetened dried coconut curls adds another layer of flavor and richness, but it’s also great without the coconut.

To make it more filling, I sometimes add potatoes or rice. In this batch, I used sweet potatoes because I think they’re especially nice with ginger, cayenne, and coconut. Sometimes I throw in a bell pepper or some hearty greens. Carrots would be a welcome addition, too. I actually have a hard time thinking of anything that wouldn’t be good in this—cabbage, peas, corn, winter squash, white potatoes. And although I’ve never tried it, I imagine it would also be good with some beans, shredded cooked chicken, or diced ham if you wanted to add more protein or had leftovers hanging around that you wanted to use up. 

Apparently 2 big onions, a whole head of cauliflower, two heads of broccoli, 4 sweet potatoes, and 5 cans of diced tomatoes is kind of a lot of vegetable matter. Filled 3/4 of my biggest pot, and took over 10 cups of liquid, in addition to the tomato can juice, to cover.This is a 12-qt pot so as written below it makes ~8 quarts of soup?
Easily scaled down—the original recipe makes 4-6 servings.

Swapping Soup

I usually make a giant batch of this once a year and then freeze it in pint jars or 2-cup screw-top tupperware containers, which usually last me through the winter. However, thanks to the Michigan Lady Food Bloggers—especially Shayne of Fruitcake or Nuts who hosted the swap—this batch got magically transformed into six different kinds of soup: 

It's like a Michigan winter survival kit!

Clockwise from the top left, that’s Cheddar and Potato with Canadian Bacon (by Bee of Good Food Michigan), Curried Red Lentil Soup (by Mary of A Million Grandmas), a Potato & Sausage soup with lots of fresh dill (by Shayne of Fruitcake or Nuts), my Spicy Ginger Peanut soup, a Corn Chowder with Red and Green Bell Peppers (by Sarah of Una Buona Forchetta), and a Winter Stew with Pork, Beans, & Greens (by Yvonne of Wool and Water).

We tasted them all, along with drinks & bread provided by Shayne and mint chocolate chip cookies from Bee—all of which were delicious—and then filled the containers we’d brought with the leftovers. Kudos to whoever came up with this idea. It would be a great thing to do on a regular basis with a group of friends with similar food preferences/restrictions.

I’ll link to their recipes when/if they post them. Here’s mine:

Recipe: Ginger Peanut Stew (adapted from VegWeb)
makes enough for a crowd, halve or see VegWeb for a smaller amount

  • 4 T. coconut oil (or any neutral cooking oil)How many great recipes start just like this: mince some garlic and/or ginger, dice an onion...
  • 1 head garlic
  • a 2” piece of ginger (about 2 T. minced or grated)
  • 2 large onions
  • 1 head cauliflower*
  • 2 heads broccoli*
  • 4 sweet potatoes*
  • 5 14-oz cans of diced tomatoes, with liquid
  • 6-10 cups vegetable stock or water
  • 1 t. cayenne (depending on your heat tolerance, you might want to start with 1/2 t. and add more to taste)
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter**
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup coconut milk or unsweetened shredded coconut to garnish (optional)

*can substitute any diced vegetable for the cauliflower, broccoli, and sweet potatoes; add slow-cooking things like root vegetables and winter squash first; hold back on anything you want to remain tender-crisp

**I prefer crunchy, but creamy will work too; you can also substitute any other nut or seed butter you like.

1. Heat the oil in a large stock pot over medium-low heat.

2. Peel and mince or grate the garlic and ginger finely and add them to the oil.

3. Dice the onion and add it to the pot. Stir to coat and let cook while you chop the other vegetables (or, if using pre-chopped or bite sized things, just let them cook for 5-10 minutes until they’re soft). The heat was on a little to high when I started so by the time I got done dicing the onions, some of the garlic & ginger had browned. But at least it didn't burn. Starting something over becasue you burned the garlic is so depressing.Potato cubes need not be perfect, just as long as they're all roughly the same size they should all cook through in the same amount of time

4. Peel and dice the potatoes, if using, and any other root vegetables or winter squash into 1/2”  cubes and add to the onions. Repeat with the cauliflower and broccoli, or whatever else you’re putting in the soup.

Everything chopped and in the pot--it takes me about 40 minutes to throw it together and is ready to eat in just over an hour.5. Sprinkle the veggies with cayenne, stir well, and let cook 3-5 minutes. The onions should be turning golden, if not continue cooking, stirring occasionally until they are.

6. Add the canned tomatoes with their liquid and the water or stock, using more water or stock if necessary to cover the vegetables.

7. Simmer for 20-30 minutes, or until the vegetables are all cooked to your liking. 

8. Stir in the peanut butter and the coconut milk (if using), and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Coconut oil, but no coconut milk in this batch.

Fresh Green Bean Casserole: Look Ma, No Cans!

right out of the oven, the sauce is pretty loose, but it thickens as it sits or after being refrigerated

CSA 2010 Epilogue

I made this a couple of months ago when I was still getting pounds of gorgeous, fresh, gigantic green beans from Needle Lane Farms every week. However, it would be tasty even with far less gorgeous beans. Really, the entire point of green bean bean casserole is to disguise green beans that have been rendered essentially flavorless by canning by drowning them in a mushroom-infused béchamel and topping them with crispy fried onions (a combination that could make just about anything taste good). I threw this version together one night when I had some milk and mushrooms on hand, and I was sick of eating all those gorgeous, fresh green beans sautéed with garlic or steamed and dressed with oil and vinegar. I wanted something less summery, less virtuous, and frankly, a little less like green beans.

The title of the entry isn’t meant to imply that the can-based version is bad. I love the recipe Dorcas Reilly came up with when she was the head of Campbell’s Test Kitchen in the 1950s. It may have been a naked ploy to get people to buy more Campbell’s products, but marketing alone couldn’t have turned it into a holiday you can deep-fry your own shallots, or if you have access to an asian market, you might be able to get them in large quantities for cheap; also great for topping bagels and encrusting basically anything savoryclassic. Reilly and the test kitchen came up with dozens of recipes, most of which would now be candidates for the Gallery of Regrettable Food. But even though green bean casserole is a quintessential 1950s mush-from-cans kind of recipe, it’s also essentially a classic gratin. I can’t think of a better way to make lifeless canned vegetables not just edible but delicious than to submerge them in a savory, roux-thickened milk sauce (which is all Campbell’s condensed cream soups really are). The basic formula—condensed cream soup + canned vegetable + crunchy topping—would probably be pretty tasty no matter what flavor of soup, kind of vegetable, or crunchy topping you used. Cream of onion with canned peas topped with bread crumbs. Cream of celery with canned succotash topped with crushed saltines. It may never be a culinary revelation, but it’s hard to think of an easier, faster, or tastier way to make a vegetable dish from a handful of ingredients that keep indefinitely in your pantry.

The one real benefit to making a dish like this from scratch—aside from trying to use up CSA produce—is having the ability to customize it. Personally, I like just enough nutmeg in my béchamel to make it a little spicy. I like my mushrooms minced so finely I will never have to bite into one. I like my green beans with a little structural integrity but soft enough to cut with a fork. And for the topping, I’ll take fried shallots over French’s onions any day.

Have It Your Way

Some other variations you might consider, especially if you’re catering to a restrictive-eater this holiday season:

Vegan/Lactose-free: Use a non-dairy milk (Chocolate & Zucchini reports having good success with oat milk in a similar casserole) and substitute vegetable oil or shortening for the butter.

Gluten-free: Substitute rice flour for the wheat flour OR instead of starting with a roux, heat the butter and milk to a simmer and then whisk in a slurry made from 2 T. arrowroot powder or cornstarch combined with 2 T. milk or water and cook for a few minutes, stirring constantly, until thickened.

Mushroom-free: Leave out the mushrooms. Instead, add an onion cooked to a deep golden brown in 4-8 tablespoons of butter over low heat (which should take 30-50 minutes to get it really deep French Onion Soup brown), or any kind of cured pork product (guanciale or pancetta if you want to be trendy), or 4-5 tablespoons of nutritional yeast, or a cup of shredded, sharp cheese to the hot milk.

Lower-carb: Substitute cream and/or nut milk for the whole milk (1/2 cream and 1/2 cashew milk might be good) and thicken the sauce with a cup of shredded cheese, 2 tempered eggs, or 1/2 t. guar gum or xantham gum sprinkled over the heated milk while whisking.

Lower-fat/lower-calorie: Omit the butter and flour and use skim milk instead of whole. Heat the milk almost to a simmer and then add a slurry made from 4 T. arrowroot powder or cornstarch combined with 4 T. milk or water, stirring constantly. Cook for a few minutes, still stirring, until thickened.

Pork It Up: Fry up about 1/2 lb bacon or salt pork until the fat is rendered and the meat is browned. Drain the meat on paper towels and use about 4 T. of the rendered fat as the basis for the roux (reserve the rest for another use). Dice or crumble the cooked meat into small pieces and mix it into the casserole before baking.

French It Up: Waste some pricey Use haricots verts and call it “haricots verts gratin” instead of “green bean casserole.” (That’s AHR-eee-ko VEHR GRAH-tin).

Quicker: If you want homemade taste without having to fuss with fresh green beans, use frozen green beans—steam them on the stovetop or microwave just until thawed while you’re making the white sauce.Happy Thanksgiving! 

Recipe: Fresh Green Bean Casserole

Ingredients:green beans seem so simple, but all the trimming is such a pain in the ass; this is the main argument for using frozen/canned: it is so much quicker

  • 4 cups fresh green beans
  • 4 T. butter
  • 4 T. all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 8 oz. shitake mushrooms (or cremini, portabella, porcini, morel—if dried, rehydrate)
  • 1/2 fresh nutmeg (or 1/2 t. ground)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4-1/2 cup fried shallots or onions
  • 1/4-1/2 cup sliced almonds (optional)

Method:

1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Heat 1-2 cups of water in a large pot with a steamer basket if you have one (if you don’t, it won’t make a big difference).

2. Wash and trim the green beans, and cut them into bite-sized pieces. Add to the prepared pot and cook: 2-3 minutes, or just until they’re a bright green (if you want them to be crisp), 5-7 minutes or just until you can pierce them with a fork (if you want them to be tender-crisp), 8-12 minutes or until you can pierce them easily (if you want them to be tender).

steamingdrainingrouxbechamel with mushrooms  

3. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a medium skillet. Add the flour and stir to make a smooth paste (or “roux”). Cook for 2-3 minutes or until beginning to brown slightly.

4. Gradually whisk in the milk, starting with a few tablespoons at a time and mixing until the liquid is fully incorporated before adding more.

5. Slice, dice, or mince the mushrooms and add to the flour-thickened milk mixture (i.e. a béchamel). Bring to a simmer and cook for 5-10 minutes. Season to taste with nutmeg, salt, and pepper.

6. Butter a casserole dish, combine the milk mixture and green beans and add them to the dish, and sprinkle the fried shallots or onions and the almonds, if using, on top.

7. Bake 30-35 minutes or until the casserole is thick and bubbling and the onions are beginning to brown.

beans & bechamel, ready to top & bake This is comfort, reborn as sophistication. But without losing the comfort part.

Curried Squash Fritters with Ranch Raita

I guess this is like South Indian-Southern American fusion?

This is basically a South Asian-inspired summer squash fritter redux. Instead of an egg and whole wheat flour batter seasoned with Old Bay, I used a chickpea (or gram) flour batter seasoned with homemade curry powder, similar to pakoras or bhaji. That incidentally makes this recipe vegan, gluten-free, and grain-free, for anyone who cares about things like that. You could prepare them just like the first version—shaped into patties and griddled until cooked through. However, this time, since I was making them for a party, it seemed like an appropriate occasion for deep-frying.

My primary goal when I’m deep-frying anything, batter-coated or not, is crispness. I want the outside to be crunchy, not soggy or greasy, and I want the inside to be cooked through without any chewy or mushy parts. The trick is getting the temperature of the cooking oil right for the size of the object being fried.

bonus: deep-frying really repairs the season on your wok if it's getting a little torn up

Small fritters (about 2 tablespoons of batter) cook through in about 4-5 minutes, so the goal is for the outside to be golden-brown on the outside by that point but not before. If the oil is too hot, they’ll get too dark too fast and to keep them from burning, you may have to pull them out before the inside is done. That means that even if they’re crispy when you pull them out of the oil, by the time they’re cool enough to eat they’ll be soggy and the insides will still be mushy. If the oil isn’t hot enough, they’ll either fall apart or absorb too much oil, becoming greasy and leaden by the time they’re brown.

Generally, you want the temperature of the oil to be between 345-375F, although that varies somewhat based on the type of fat, what you’re cooking, and your altitude. I usually don’t bother with a thermometer and just try to figure it out through trial and error. Typically, you want the oil to be bubbling but not smoking, and whatever you’re frying should sizzle when you put it in. If something is browning too fast for the inside to cook through, turn the heat down. If there’s no sizzle, or it takes too long to brown, turn the heat up. Just like with griddle cakes, the first one (or two) might not be perfect, but you should be able to figure it out within a few tries. I suppose with no garlic, ginger, or cilantro, and cream instead of yogurt, this really isn't a raita at all...except for the cucumber and onion

Since the batter had some heat to it already (although that ended up being less discernable after frying), I decided I should make some kind of cooling condiment, and ended up deciding on something similar to a classic raita that I hoped would evoke classic Ranch dressing. I started by thickening some cream by letting it sit in a jar overnight with about 1 T. buttermilk, which turned out the consistency of a thin yogurt, just like Alton Brown said it would. I combined that with some grated and drained cucumber and onion and seasoned it with dill, a couple of teaspoons of lemon juice, white pepper, and just a pinch of MSG. If I’d known how mild the fritters would be after deep frying, I probably would have added a diced jalapeno or chipotle in adobo as well, but it was pretty good even without any heat.

giant pattypan squash from my garden, which was so big I had to scoop out the seeds like a pumpkin, and an assortment of squash from Needle Lane Farms

Just like the first version of squash fritters I posted, this is a great way to use up summer squash. Salting and draining the squash not only prevents the batter from getting watery, it also really reduces the volume of vegetable matter. I managed to turn all the squash pictured above into about 5-6 cups of shredded squash, which I was able to use up in a single batch of fritters. Unless you’re feeding a crowd, you may want to halve the recipe, but it’s still a pretty good way to get rid of a lot of summer squash at once, and turn it into a main attraction.

Recipe: Curried Zucchini Squash Fritters (adapted from Pakora (Bhaji) Recipe: Spicy, Deep-fried Chickpea Flour Dumplings’>Indian Vegetarian Cooking)

Ingredients:

  • 6 medium-to-large summer squash (zucchini, crookneck, pattypan, yellow squash, etc.)
  • 3 t. kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • 1 small to medium onion (or half of a large one)
  • 4-5 cloves garlic
  • 1 jalapeno (optional)
  • 2 T. chopped cilantro or parsley
  • 2 1/4 cups chickpea flour
  • 1/2 cup rice flour
  • curry powder: 1 dried hot chili pepper, 1 t. cumin seeds, 1 t. coriander seeds, 1 t. whole fenugreek, 6 cloves (bud only), 6 peppercorns, 1/2” cinnamon stick (or 1/8 t. ground), 1 t. ground turmeric
  • a pinch of baking powder
  • 1 1/2 c. water
  • 2-4 T. oil for griddling OR about a quart of canola, peanut, or vegetable oil for deep frying (or lard, clarified butter, or coconut oil if preferred)

1. Grate the squash—much faster in a food processor, but especially if you’re halving the recipe, I guess it wouldn’t take that long with a mandoline or box grater.

before draining, probably ~12 cups of squash

after draining, barely 6 cups

2. Put the shredded squash in a colander (or two), sprinkle the salt over it and toss to coat evenly. Let drain for at least 10-15 minutes and then press out as much moisture as possible. (You can do this a day or two in advance and store in the refrigerator until ready to make the fritters.)

3. Toast the cumin, coriander, and fenugreek in a small skillet until fragrant and beginning to brown. Grind along with the chili pepper, cloves, peppercorns, cinnamon, and turmeric in a spice/coffee grinder or mortar and pestle until fine.

toasting the seeds blending with chili, cloves, cinnamon and turmeric; this is basically the same curry powder I make when I make dal

4. Mince the garlic, and jalapeno (if using) in a blender, food processor, or with a knife. Add the onion and puree (or grate).

in a classic pakora, onion is usually cut in larger pieces and serves the role the zucchini plays in this recipe, more like onion rings; however, in this recipe the onion becomes part of the batterall the batter ingredients

5. Add the chickpea flour, rice flour, curry powder, baking powder, and water and blend or stir until smooth. Add more water if necessary until the batter is the consistency of pancake batter, or a very thick cream.

5. Add the drained squash and chopped cilantro. Let sit for at least 30 minutes to let the chickpea flour absorb as much water as possible. (You can also refrigerate it for up to 24 hours before frying, but take it out of cold storage 30 minutes to an hour before cooking to let it return to room temperature.)

 will be grainy, especially before resting  squash shreds all incombined

6. If griddling, pre-heat the pan over medium-high heat and add about 1 T. oil and turn the pan to coat evenly. Shape the batter into small patties and fry for 4-5 minutes on each side or until golden brown and done throughout. Add more oil as necessary to keep the pan lubricated.

If deep frying, heat the oil in a large pot or wok until bubbling but not smoking. Test a small amount of batter—it should sizzle when it hits the oil, and may sink initially, but should rise to the surface of the oil and bubble vigorously. If it doesn’t sizzle or rise, the oil isn’t hot enough. If it gets too dark too fast, the oil is too hot. Adjust as necessary and then fry the fritters in batches, turning so they brown evenly. Don’t add too many to the pan at the same time or they’ll cause a rapid drop in the temperature of the oil.

7. Drain on paper towels. To keep warm before serving, place the fritters on oven racks set on baking sheets in a 200F oven.

Recipe: Ranch Raita (adapted from Alton Brown)

a jar full of slightly-cultured cream; there's a bit of a skin on the top but that mixed in easily. comparable to creme fraiche, but way cheaper.Ingredients:

  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 T. buttermilk
  • 1 small cucumber (or a half of a large one)
  • 1 small onion (or half of a large one)
  • 1 t. kosher salt
  • 2 t. lemon juice
  • 1 t. dried dill or 1 T. fresh
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • a pinch of MSG or nutritional yeast (optional)
  • jalapeno or cayenne (optional)

1. Heat the cream in a small saucepan or for about 30 seconds in a microwave on high until it’s just under 100F.

2. Stir in the buttermilk, pour into a glass jar and let sit in a dark, warm place for 24 hrs.

3. Grate the cucumber and onion, salt all over and let sit for 10-15 minutes. Press to remove as much moistures as possible. Combine with the cultured cream.

I grated both the cucumber and onion with a "ribbon" microplane salted and draining; I saved the juice, but then couldn't think of anything to do with it. might be good combined with tomato juice like homemade V8?

4. Add the lemon juice, dill, salt and pepper, and MSG or nutritional yeast if using. Taste and adjust seasoning as desired. If you want it spicy, add a diced jalapeno and/or cayenne pepper.

Summer Squash Fritters and Chili-yogurt Sauce

you know it's August when your dinner consists substantially of zucchini and tomato

I meant to make this recipe and post it on Monday in honor of Sneak Some Zucchini Onto Your Neighbor’s Porch Day, but we were in the process of moving to a new apartment. So a bit belatedly, here’s my take on the classic zucchini fritter, which is a great way to make any kind of summer squash into something entree-worthy. As a seasonal bonus, it pairs beautifully with the tomatoes that are just nowa tiny bit green, because it got knocked off the plant in the move well before I would have picked it, but after a couple of days in a brown paper bag it was just about perfect, if not quite tomato sandwich material getting ripe enough to harvest in Michigan. The one I sliced up for last night’s dinner was our first German Queen, which is some kind of “heirloom” variety, whatever heirloom means when you’re buying it at a big box store.

There are dozens of ways to fritter your squash. I tend to prefer a high ratio of vegetable matter : batter, so I use just enough egg and whole wheat flour to bind the shredded squash. To keep them light despite the whole wheat flour, I separate the eggs and beat the whites to stiff peaks before folding them in (hat tip: Mark Bittman). For flavor, I add a minced onion, some garlic, a handful of sharp cheese and a generous sprinkling of Old Bay, the latter inspired by a mock “crab” cake recipe. For the sake of convenience, I prefer pan-frying to deep-frying, although if you have a deep fryer, I’m sure they’re crisper and more delicious that way.

I don’t think they taste a thing like crab cakes, but they can certainly serve the same role—they work as an appetizer or small plate on their own, as a sandwich on a bun with some coleslaw, or as the centerpiece of a more substantial meal accompanied by a salad or cup of soup or some other side dish. 

if I'd been thinking, I'd have put a cup of the chili-yogurt sauce in the middle. alas.

Although they’re tasty plain, they really want to be served with something creamy and tangy, possibly with a little (or a lot) of heat. If you plan ahead at least 24 hrs, Alton Brown’s chipotle crema would be perfect. On shorter notice, some canned or re-hydrated dried peppers blended with some Greek yogurt and a little mayonnaise does the trick. Other options: some avocado slices and black bean salsa, ranch dressing (especially combined 1:1 with a good salsa), crème fraiche or sour cream, or just plain mayonnaise perked up a bit with some fresh lemon or lime juice and minced or powdered garlic.

I’ll be back to fretting about calorie counts on menus and Food, Inc. and things that won’t kill you soon. But first, I have a lot of books to unpack.

Recipe: Summer squash fritters

  • 3-4 medium-sized zucchini, yellow squash, pattypan, or crookneck (between 1 1/2 and 2 lbs)the zucchini I used are the ones cut up in the back, but any of the ones in the foreground would have worked just as well
  • 2 t. kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup shredded or crumbled sharp cheese (cheddar, feta, gouda, etc., about 2 oz )
  • a small onion, or half of a larger one
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 t. baking powder
  • 1 t. Old Bay seasoning 
  • 2-3 T. canola or peanut oil

1. Shred the squash—this would be extremely tedious without a food processor or a sous chef, although you might be able to get away with a fine dice. Place the grated or diced squash in a colander, sprinkle the salt all over and toss to distribute the salt evenly throughout. Let it sit in the sink for at least 10 minutes.

 salted, before draining after as much moisture as possible is squeezed out, about 1/2 the previous volume

2. Meanwhile, dice the onion, mince the garlic, and combine with the cheese in a large bowl.

3. Separate the eggs—you can throw the yolks directly in with the onion, garlic, and cheese. Beat the whites until stiff peaks form.

 stiff peaks. again, a pain in the ass without electric tools or a very energetic sous chefbefore combining, vegetable matter and egg yolks in the big bowl, egg whites in the medium bowl, dry ingredients in the small bowl

4. Whisk together the whole wheat flour, baking powder, and Old Bay.

5. Press the squash against the sides of the colander to wring out as much moisture as you can. Add the well-drained squash to the onion and egg yolks. Mix to coat everything lightly in egg.

6. Preheat a large skillet on medium-high.

7. Sprinkle the flour mixture over the zucchini-egg-onion mixture and stir until just combined. Don’t overwork it—you don’t want much gluten to form or the pancakes will get tough, although the bran in the whole wheat will actually help prevent that too.

8. Add the beaten egg whites to the zucchini mixture and fold in gently until just combined. You want to preserve as much of the air suspended in the egg whites as possible.

resorting to flash. new kitchen doesn't have a lot of natural light. it does, however, have a dishwasher and a garbage disposal, so it's hard to be too displeased no pictures of the shaping process, because it's messy

10. Test the pan for heat by flicking a few droplets of water at it. They should jump and sizzle. If they don’t, turn the heat up. Add 1-2 t. oil to the pan and tilt to coat the surface evenly.

11. Form the mixture into patties with your hands and drop into the pan. My fritters usually end up about the size of my palms, so I imagine bigger hands = bigger patties. You don’t want them to be too thick or they won’t cook through—about 1/2” at the most. Smaller is always an option.

12. Cook until the underside is very brown—about 4-5 minutes—and then flip very gently. Cook for another 4-5 minutes and then remove from the heat. Continue until all of the mixture has been cooked. If they seem to be getting very dark in less than 4-5 minutes, turn the heat down.

Recipe: Chili-yogurt sauce

  • 2-3 dried chilis (I used one small habanero, one small cascabel, and one small red chile) or 1 canned  chipotle pepper in adobo sauce
  • 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt (or more)
  • 2 T. mayonnaise (optional)
  • salt to taste

1. If using dried chilis, immerse them in boiling water and soak them for at least an hour or up to 24 hours.dried chiles, just after I added the water after soaking about 8 hours

2. Drain and remove the stems and seeds (you can add the seeds later if you want more heat, but it doesn’t really work the other way around). Alternately, remove the chipotle from the can.

3. Blend the chilis with the yogurt and mayonnaise, if using, in a food processor or blender. Add enough reserved seeds to make it as hot as you want it and salt to taste.

in the blender I accidentally bought fat-free Greek yogurt (curses to the people who create a demand for that nonsense) so the mayonnaise was my way of coping

The CSA 2010 Files: Kohlrabi and Summer Squash with Almonds

I can't get over how pretty the kohrabi we've been getting is, even though they'e been a little woodier than would be totally ideal

Needle Lane gave us our first summer squash of the season last week, and I decided to try the simple sauté with sliced almonds that the Amateur Gourmet had raved about, originally from Smitten Kitchen, who adapted it from a restaurant called Red Cat. More of an idea than a recipe: toast some sliced almonds in a pan and then add some summer squash cut into very thin pieces and cook for no more than a minute. I like toasted almonds and tender-crisp zucchini well enough, but it probably wouldn’t have gotten my attention if Deb from SK hadn’t called it “My Favorite Side Dish.” Anytime someone lays a superlative down like that, especially for something that doesn’t involve garlic, cheese, or bacon, I’m intrigued.

I used about 2 oz. almonds for the amount of vegetable shown above

I fussed with it a bit—I added garlic because I reflexively chopped some while I was heating the fat in the pan, and I added a kohlrabi bulb diced into matchsticks and steamed for a few minutes in the microwave because I felt like I needed to use that up at the same time. I didn’t cut the squash into matchsticks because I don’t have a mandoline and didn’t want to take the time. But I could still kind of see where Deb was coming from. It was simultaneously exactly what I should have expected from sautéed almonds and summer squash, and somehow better than I could have expected. I won’t go as far as “favorite side dish” but it is a delicious and dead simple way to use the squash that’s just about to become so excessive that some people have  designated August 8 official Sneak Some Zucchini Onto Your Neighbor’s Porch Night.

The kohlrabi is definitely optional—it added a little cabbagey bite, but I don’t melted butter--foam still subsiding, milk solids beginning to brownthink I would have missed it. I used butter instead of olive oil and let it brown a little, by accident not by design. It may have enhanced the nuttiness. Or maybe what puts Deb’s version over the top is the whatever olive flavor survives the cooking process intact. My suspicion is that any kind of fat will work and that it would be a waste of really expensive olive oil, but expectations probably come into play here: if you want to use a pricey oil and you think you can taste the difference, then you will.

Conversely, the browned butter and almonds might have been a lovely way to finish steamed kohlrabi matchsticks on their own. The kohlrabi greens are edible, too. I threw some in cupboard-clearing bean soup, and they worked just like spinach but a little chewier. The ones from this bulb are still sitting in the fridge, waiting to be cooked in some bacon fat or baked until crisp like kale chips.

Recipe: Kohlrabi and Summer Squash with Almonds

  • 2 small-medium summer squash
  • 1-3 oz. sliced almonds
  • 1 T. butter or olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 medium-large kohlrabi bulb (optional)
  • 2-3 cloves garlic (optional)

1. Remove the leaves from the kohlrabi (if using), and peel away the tough outer layer. Dice into matchsticks, place in a bowl with 2-3 T. water and cook on high for 3-4 minutes or until tender. Alternatively, boil/steam the matchsticks in a small saucepan.

I halve the bulb, cut it into thin slices, and then cut the slices into thin strips. not a perfect matchstick, but close enough ready to steam in the microwave

2. Heat the butter or oil in a large pan. Mince the garlic, if using, and add the almonds and garlic to the fat.

3. While the almonds are toasting—or before, if you’re a stickler about having your mise en place—slice the squash into thin pieces. Matchsticks if you want to, or little half-moons like I did. You want them to be thin enough to just cook through in about a minute in the pan.

4. When the almonds are turning brown, add the squash. Toss gently to coat in the fat. After about a minute, remove from the heat.

served alongside brined and broiled shrimp with drawn garlic-butter; a perfect summer meal

Buttermilk Biscuits and Vegetarian Gravy

a vegetarian dish even an omnivore could loveWhen I first became a vegetarian, one of the few things I missed was my mother’s fried chicken dinner. And it wasn’t so much the star of the meal I longed for—although her chicken was great. What I craved was the milk gravy she’d make from the pan drippings to ladle over the mashed potatoes and biscuits she always made to accompany the chicken. I could have called it "onion and nutritional yeast pudding" but somehow I wasn't sure that'd have the same appeal

This vegetarian version of her gravy is one of the first recipes I figured out mostly on my own. Instead of relying on the pan drippings and scrapings from some kind of cooked meat, I start by frying some cracker crumbs and spices, roughly based on what my mom used to bread chicken. That provides a flavorful base for the gravy and a little bit of texture, just like pan scrapings. I add milk and simmer for a few minutes, and then thicken it with a corn starch slurry. It’s essentially just a savory milk pudding, and you can flavor it however you like. The only constants in mine are nutritional yeast, black pepper, and onion powder (or crushed fried shallots), but I often add a pinch of sage and rosemary, a little bit of bouillon, and just a shake or two of paprika and cayenne.

When I was vegan, I found that it adapted to vegan fats and milks quite well. Since returning to an omnivorous diet, I’ve made a number of gravies and pan sauces with actual pan drippings or sausage—Mexican chorizo in particular seems designed to be a gravy base—but honestly, I still like this version better. The combination of onion and nutritional yeast is so savory and umami and the gravy itself is creamy and satisfying, but just not as overwhelming as meat-based gravies. As far as I’m concerned, chorizo gravy, as delicious as it is, can only ever be a side dish. This gravy, I can eat as a meal. Also, it’s simple and quick enough to be thrown together in the 10-12 minutes it takes to bake a batch of biscuits, which makes it perfect for an easy weekend brunch. No fried chicken required.

the sharper the cutter, the better the biscuits will rise notice that the one in the bottom right didn't rise as much because it was hand formed from the scraps rather than cut

Recipe: Buttermilk Biscuits (adapted from The Joy of Cooking)

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour (or 2 1/4 cups cake flour)
  • 2 1/2 t. baking powder
  • 1/2 t. baking soda
  • 1 t. salt
  • 6 T. butter (or lard or shortening)
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk (or milk soured with 2 t. lemon juice)*

*If you want to substitute a non-sour milk, leave out the baking soda and increase the baking powder to 3 t. Baking soda is alkaline so you need an acid to counter it. The baking powder-only version may be a tiny bit less fluffy because baking soda has more rising power than baking powder, but it shouldn’t be noticeably so.

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 450F.

2. Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt together.

3. Cut the butter or other solid fat into the dry ingredients with a pastry cutter, two crisscrossing knives, or a few pulses in a food processor, just until the largest pieces of fat are the size of peas.

pure butter, no lard this time. lard/shortening will make a flakier biscuit because it doesn't have the water content of butter/margarine butter like peas

4. Add the buttermilk and stir just until most of the flour is moistened and it begins to come together and form a dough.

5. Press the floury scraps together with your hands a few times—like a cursory kneading, just to make it coherent, you don’t want a lot of gluten to form—and then scrape it onto a lightly-floured surface. Press into a disc between 3/4” and 1” thick, and cut into squares or triangles with a knife or into rounds with a cookie-cutter or the mouth of an empty jar or drinking glass about 2” in diameter.

6. Place the biscuits on an ungreased pan. If you want the tops to brown more, brush with milk or beaten egg.

ready to bake just out of the oven, and out of focus

7. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until browning on the top and bottom.

Recipe: Vegetarian Milk Gravy (adapted from my mom)

  • 2 T. butter
  • 6-8 saltine crackers
  • 1 (heaping) T. fried shallot, crumbled slightly or 2 t. onion powder
  • 1/2 t. black pepper, ground
  • 2-3 T. nutritional yeast (optional, but delicious)
  • 1/2 t. paprika—sweet, hot, or smoked, or chili powder or cayenne (optional)
  • a pinch or two of ground sage, dried rosemary, thyme, and/or parsley (optional)
  • 2 cups + 2 T. milk
  • 1/2 cube or 1 t. vegetable bouillon (optional)
  • 2-3 T. cornstarch
  • salt to taste

Method:

1. Melt the butter in a large skillet. 

2. Crumble the saltines (or other crackers) into the pan and stir to coat in the fat.cracker crumbsbrowning with the spices

3. Add the shallot or onion powder, pepper, and any other spices you’re using. Stir until golden and fragrant.

4. Add the milk (except for the 2 T.) and the bouillon if using and stir well, scraping up the cracker crumbs and spices into the liquid. Simmer for a few minutes, stirring constantly to prevent it from burning to the bottom of the pan.

I found the hippiest jar possible to store my nootch in. You can get this at any "natural foods" store, often in the bulk section. It's also great as a popcorn topping. Do not substitute brewer's yeast, which is also nutrient-rich, but is horribly bitter-tasting.  just after adding the milk, alraedy close to a simmer--bubbling at the edges

5. Make a slurry of the cornstarch and the remaining 2 T. milk. Make sure the mixture is smooth and then add to the gravy, stirring constantly. It will immediately begin to thicken. Cook for another 1-2 minutes and then remove from heat.

 cornstarch, amount eyeballeddissolved in milk--if you don't do this, it will form lumps when you add it to the gravy thickened

6. Salt and taste for seasoning.

spoon the gravy over hot, split biscuits and serve

The CSA 2010 Files: Swiss Chard Gratin

This is kind of "greens for people who hate greens."

Greens Fatigue

Since greens are one of the first crops you can harvest, the first weeks of most CSAs involve lots of them. In addition to the nettles, we’ve had lambsquarter (another “weed”), collards, chard, a variety of chois, and 1-2 bunches of kale every week.

I usually just sauté them with some garlic (and sometimes ginger or onion or a hot pepper) until they’re wilted and then I dress them with something acidic (lemon, white wine vinegar, rice vinegar) and something umami (tamari, crumbled bacon, grated parmesan). Salt and pepper to taste. That varies from great to mediocre. Sometimes the mild bitterness of the greens marries perfectly with the salty, rich, bright, savory accompaniments and it seems like exactly the kind of fresh, simple, delicious, nutrient-rich food that I joined a CSA to enjoy. Other times, it doesn’t matter if the greens are cooked in rendered bacon fat and topped with msg, it just tastes virtuous, and I mean that in the pejorative sense. I think chard definitely wins for "prettiest" of the cooking greens.

So this week, faced with two bunches of chard—one we didn’t manage to eat last week and another from the new box, I decided to try a classic preparation I’d heard of but never tasted.

Nothing Garlic, Butter and Cheese can’t fix

A gratin is just a casserole. It usually involves vegetables, pasta or meat tossed in a classic béchamel or flour-thickened milk sauce and topped with breadcrumbs and grated cheese. According to Wikipedia, the name comes from the French verb “gratter” meaning “to scrape,” which refers to the scrapings or gratings of bread or cheese that form the upper crust. Fun food idiom trivia: le gratin has the same metaphorical significance as “upper crust” in English. 

Baked mac & cheese is a gratin. So is the classic green bean casserole people make for Thanksgiving, even though most people let Campbell’s make the white sauce (which is basically what any flour-thickened cream soup is). But ironically, potatoes au gratin isn’t—or at least not the ones I’ve had, which are basically just potato slices in white sauce, or like a gratin without le gratin.

Chard gratin is about what you’d expect if you substituted the pasta in baked macaroni and cheese or the green beans in green bean casserole with cooked leafy greens—it’s creamy and savory and rich. It seems like a winter dish, especially because it requires that you turn on the oven, which I admit is sort of a drag in July, but it turned out to be exactly the sort of thing I was looking for to mix up my summer greens routine.leftovers for breakfast the next morning. daytime lighting is just so much nicer, even though it's less gooey and oozing because it's cold here

You could use any cooking green you like (epicurious has a nice visual guide to some of the more common ones). I can’t tell much of a difference between them after they’ve been wilted. Sure, some of them are a little more or less bitter and some stay chewier after cooking, but I wouldn’t want to have to identify them in a blind taste test. I assume the reason chard gratin is so much more common than spinach gratin (798000 google results compared to 164000) even though the latter is the more popular green by far is because casseroles are a handy way to use the stems as well as the leaves, and that’s just not an issue for spinach. Sadly, the stems don’t retain much of their spectacular color after cooking, but they are tender and mildly-flavored so it’s a shame to throw them away. They melt right into the casserole along with the softened onion and leaves.

I scanned a few recipes and then basically improvised based on what I had on hand. Precise instructions available below the jump, but here’s the short version you should feel free to adapt/improvise on at will: Blanche 2-3 bunches of chopped greens in boiling water, stems first for 2 minutes if using and leaves for another 1-3 depending on how hearty they are (spinach only needs a minute, kale or chard will take 3 to soften fully). Drain well. Then, sauté a fistful of chopped onions and/or garlic in some kind of fat, stir in a couple of tablespoons of flour and then gradually whisk in about a cup of milk. Season with salt and pepper and a little grated nutmeg, stir in some grated cheese if you want it, and add the well-drained greens. Spoon the mixture into a buttered baking dish, top with buttered breadcrumbs mixed with some herbs and grated parmesan, and bake (350-400F) until golden and bubbling (about 20 minutes).

To make it more like a main than a side, add some cooked pasta or a protein like leftover cooked meat, diced seitan, reconstituted tvp, or canned crab or tuna along with the cooked greens. You could also throw in some other vegetables, steamed or blanched unless they’re tender enough to eat raw. Following from the Thanksgiving classic, you could make a semi-homemade version by using a can or two of cream soup (probably onion and/or mushroom) instead of making a white sauce. Actually, with the green bean casserole in mind, I might try adding some crispy fried shallots to the topping the next time I make this. Which, if the CSA keeps up the current pace of the greens, will probably be very soon. 

Recipe: Swiss Chard Gratin

Ingredients:

  • 2 bunches Swiss Chard, leaves and stems (or another hearty green)
  • 2 cups water
  • 4 T. fat, divided plus more for greasing pan (butter, lard, or your preferred oil will all work fine)
  • 1 large onion
  • 3 garlic scapes (seasonally-available green curly garlic tops) or 1-2 cloves garlic
  • 1 cup milk (may sub oat milk or another vegan milk if desired—per Chocolate & Zucchini)
  • 1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup (2 oz) shredded cheddar (or gruyere or fontina or emmenthaler)
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan, divided
  • 3/4 cup breadcrumbs
  • 2 T. chopped flat-leaf parsley (or another herb or combination of herbs)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Method:

1. Preheat the oven to 400 F. Put the water in a large pot with a pinch of salt, set over high heat, and cover.

2. Remove the leaves from the stems of the chard by holding the stem in one hand and stripping the leaves upwards with the other. The stem should naturally break off where it’s small enough to include with the leaves.

check out how much vegetable matter you have to toss if you don't cook the stems 

3. Chop and rinse the stems well and add to the water, which should be boiling (if not, either you’re speedy or your stove is slow and either way, wait ‘til it is boiling before putting the leaves in). Cook the stems for about 2 minutes before adding the leaves. Then, boil/steam the leaves for about 3 minutes more (less if using a softer green like spinach—you just want it to just wilt, not dissolve). Drain the greens well.

4. Heat 2 Tablespoons of fat over medium heat in a large skillet or pot while you dice the onion and mince the garlic. Sweat the alliums until translucent and beginning to brown (5-10 minutes).

scapes! browned onion and garlic

5. Meanwhile, melt the remaining 2 T. fat if solid and combine with the breadcrumbs, 2 T. parmesan, the parsley, and salt and pepper to taste.

flat-leaf (Italian) parsley breadcrumbs, butter, parsley, parmesan, salt and pepper

6. Sprinkle 2 T. flour over the onions and stir. Cook for 1-2 minutes or until golden brown.

onions sprinkled with flour after the first addition of milk--stir well after each addition to make sure the flour blends in smoothly so the sauce isn't lumpy

7. Add the milk a few tablespoons at a time, stirring well after each addition. This should form a very thick, creamy sauce.

8. Grate some nutmeg over the mixture (or add pre-grated nutmeg), and add the cheddar, 2 T. parmesan, and salt and pepper to taste.

basically a condensed version of onion soup; with cheeses and greens

9. Add the drained greens to the white sauce and stir well to combine.

10. Grease a medium-sized baking dish. Spread the greens evenly in the dish and top with the breadcrumb mixture.

11. Bake 20-25 minutes or until the dish is bubbling and the breadcrumbs are beginning to brown.

I started with 1 cup breadcrumbs and that was too much--I put 3/4 cup above, but 1/2 cup would probably be plenty hot out of the oven, still bubbling at the edges

Morel “Risotto” with Israeli Couscous: On cost, value, and pleasure

my parmeggiano curls are not as pretty as they could be

The entry about identifying morels is here.

The Moody Sclerotium

This “risotto” was the fate of the morels that appeared in our yard late last month, which is unfortunately probably going to be the only harvest this year because the landlord decided that our little patch of moss and dandelions needed to be mowed and in the process, chewed up the ones I had left to see if they’d get bigger. Curse you, lawn maintenance norms.

I find it difficult to separate the gustatory pleasure of morels from their market value, even when I get them for free. Obviously I’m not the only person who thinks they’re great—they’re widely admired for their nutty, richly umami flavor and chewy, meaty texture, which is one of the reasons they’re as expensive as they are. But there are reasons for the price that aren’t related to how they taste, too. Fresh morels are extremely fragile, so they have to be handled carefully and transported and sold quickly. They can be dried, which makes them considerably easier to transport and store, and dried morels are nearly as good as fresh when they’re soaked in some hot water. But they’re expensive too, even when you take into account that about 3 oz of dried morels are equivalent to about 1 lb fresh.

click for source, along with way more info about morel cultivation from Volk's websiteThe main reason that morels aren’t as readily available or as cheap as button/cremini/portabella (which are all the same species: Agaricus bisporus) or even the more exotic and flavorful shiitake or oyster mushrooms is because there’s an intermediary step in their life cycle that makes them exceedingly difficult to cultivate—the lump labeled “Sclerotium” in the diagram. According to Thomas Volk, a biology professor at UW-Lacrosse, the sclerotium is made up of big, thick cells that can survive all kinds of bad weather—including, say, Michigan winters. In the spring, the sclerotium has two choices: form a new mycelium, which is a network of cells arranged in tiny threads underground, or form a fruiting body—i.e. a mushroom.

All kinds of factors have to be exactly right for it to pick the “fruiting body” option—soil nutrients and moisture levels, CO2 levels, humidity, temperature. To complicate matters further, different species probably fruit in response to different factors, and the same species might even respond to two different sets of factors. That would make sense given that the same morel fungi seem to work like symbiotic partners with living trees (the mycelia can extend even farther than the root base, bringing useful nutrients closer to the roots) and saprobes that feed on the tree as it dies, possibly speeding its demise and then thriving on the remains for years.

The symbiotic/semi-parasitic relationship with trees adds yet another complicating factor. Morels seem to prefer ash trees, tulip trees, old apple trees, and dead elm trees, although they can grow under any tree and also seem to like areas cleared by wildfire. But you can’t just grow them in a basement or a parking lot somewhere; you kind of need a forest.

There have been scattered reports of effective cultivation strategies—a few patents have been filed and I read somewhere (can’t find the link now) about at least one company that figured out a way to cultivate them, but ultimately failed because it couldn’t come up with a cost-effective way to remove the grit from all the little brainy ridges without damaging the texture or rendering them too unstable for transport. There are also anecdotal reports of huge crops appearing where people have poured the water used to soak or rinse morels over a compost heap or on the roots of a tree. And earlier this month, The Traverse City Record-Eagle quoted a chef from a hospitality company saying they were sourcing them from a “a gentleman, a scientist, who has figured out how to raise them, like farm-raising fish…year-round and at a fraction of the cost of the dried ones.” But whatever the gentleman-scientist’s secret is, he must be guarding it pretty well. I still only see them in markets around Ann Arbor between May and June, and this year they seem to be priced around ~$40/lb.

which makes this about $14 worth; in New York, where I remember seeing them priced at $80/lb this would be nearly $30 of mushrooms

So I almost never buy them (or much of anything else that’s $40/lb+, even taking spices into account, which obviously get used in much smaller quantities; the only exceptions I can think of are saffron, vanilla, and cardamom; even cinnamon and Szechuan peppercorns are only half as much per lb) and I find myself wanting to “stretch” the ones I get. The most common preparation seems to be breading and frying them, usually using flour or cracker crumbs and butter. I’m sure that’s delicious, but with only 5.5 oz, it would yield two or three appetizer/small plate portions at most. Cream sauces are also common, usually paired with pasta or meat, and they show up in recipes for egg dishes, like omelets and quiche, especially with ramps—the wild leeks that appear around the same time in the early Spring. I decided on something risotto-like because the defining characteristic of risotto is that the starch is cooked in the dish rather than separately, so it seemed like a good way to really get the morel flavor infused into multiple dinner-sized portions of food.

Instead of using one of the varieties of starch-exuding short-grained rice that give risotto (“little rice”) its name, I decided to use Israeli couscous (or ptitim). Israeli couscous is basically just a bigger version of normal couscous—the grains are probably closest in size and shape to barley. They have a little more chew to them than normal couscous and they’re often toasted lightly before being boiled in liquid, which gives them a nutty flavor that I thought that would play well with the morels. Some people recommend against soaking fresh morels because they claim it changes the flavor and texture, but I wanted to be sure to get all the dirt and any critters out. If I had known about the home cultivation technique, I might have dumped the water under the tree, but instead I strained it with a paper cloth and used it for part of the cooking liquid. Aside from that, the recipe is classic risotto: some shallots and butter, a little white wine and homemade chicken stock, and lots of parmeggiano regiano grated into a heap of delicate curls with a microplane (that way it melts into the dish easily and doesn’t clump up).

before toastingthere's probably no reason you couldn't do this to normal couscous...and perhaps from now on, I will

It was one of the most delicious things I think I’ve ever made.

When Food is Worth Its Weight in Gold

I’m not even the biggest fan of mushrooms. I hated them as a kid, and probably only acquired a taste for the flavor due to years of vegetarianism, since they’re so often used as a substitute for meat, especially in Euro-American cooking. But the texture, especially of all of the different sizes and colors of agaricus bisporus, still squicks me out. They’re one of the few foods I actively avoid and, occasionally, especially if they’re big, try to surreptitiously remove from my plate. I have less of an aversion to other varieties—I’m actually rather fond of porcini, shiitake, maitake, and enoki mushrooms, but I still tend to prefer them minced, cooked, and combined with other ingredients—part of the flavor profile, but not the dominant note.

So I’m a little surprised how much I liked this “risotto” given how intensely mushroomy it was. I probably never would have ordered anything like it from a restaurant menu because I would have assumed I’d only enjoy it moderation. But there was nothing moderate about how much I liked it. I could have eaten it for multiple consecutive meals. I would prefer it to just about anything else I can imagine eating for dinner tonight. I want it again. I want it now. And I suspect that at least part of that is due to the fact that I know how much morels are valued—both the fact that they’re supposed to be “gourmet” and how much they cost, which probably aren’t unrelated. For instance, it seems more than coincidental that the word we use to describe fatty, savory foods is “rich.”

slicing them into rings is another way to ensure that there aren't any critters hiding anywhere in either the hollow middle or any of the ridgesIt certainly seemed like my faux-sotto was different—and better—than it would have been if I had made it with cremini or portabella mushrooms. I find the thin, chewy pieces of morel way less objectionable than big chunks of anything agaricus bisporus. And the flavor was richer and nuttier and more umami than any cultivated mushrooms I’ve ever had. But, as I’ve mentioned before (both in the discussion about robots and the discussion about umami) the physiological experience of taste can’t be separated from the contextual cues and expectations that shape the perception of taste. Whatever real, scientific differences there are between a morel and any other mushroom, they don’t explain how I evaluate those differences as better or worse.

Does lobster taste objectively better than shrimp, or do I just think it does because I know it’s supposed to be better and it’s more expensive? “Objectively” is the wrong word—there’s probably no such thing as “objectively better” when it comes to taste, but it also isn’t as arbitrary and individual as “subjective” makes it sound. Chemical components and measurable physical attributes like texture and temperature elicit relatively predictable responses, and the combinations that generally register as tastier have greater social, cultural, and economic value.

My suspicion is that morels really do taste “better” (to most people, most of the time) than other mushrooms, and would even if there were no difference in their price or availability. However, I think that gets enhanced by, and is ultimately inseparable from, their crazy, mushroom-optional, sclerotium-based life cycle, not because the cycle actually changes anything about how they taste but because it makes them more expensive and exaggerates their perceived value. Or in other words, they are delicious because they are delicious, but they are even more delicious because they are rare, delicate, and expensive. Which doesn’t make the enhanced deliciousness false or invalid. The added pleasure is a bit like a placebo effect—real, measurable, and usually good, despite the fact that the medicine is fake.   

On the other hand, it also means that this recipe might be just as good—or nearly so—with any other mushroom, especially if you believed it would be. 

Recipe: Israeli Couscous Risotto with Morels

  • 2 large shallots (about 1/2 cup diced)
  • 5 T. butter
  • 5.5 oz fresh morel mushrooms or 1 oz. dried, soaked in hot water for a couple of hours
  • 1 cup Israeli couscous (ptitim)
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 3 cups water or stock (and/or mushroom soaking water if you have it)
  • 2 t. bouillon (if using water)
  • ~2 oz. parmeggiano reggiano, or about 3/4 cup finely grated (microplane highly recommended)
  • salt and pepper to taste

1. Melt 4 T. of the butter in a large pot or saucepan. Dice the shallots and cook in the butter until golden-brown (7-10 min).

my favorite allium...not like there are any i don't like  I assume butter foam is caused by its moisture content? I don't think ghee foams.

2. While the shallots cook, brush or rinse any dirt from the morels and slice them into rings, looking out for critters that may be hiding inside. Add to the shallots and cook until the mushrooms begin to release some of their liquid.

just after the wine is added...after about half the wine has evaporated

3. Add the wine to the mushrooms and cook until about half of the liquid has boiled off—what remains will thicken a bit.

4. Meanwhile, in a separate skillet, melt the remaining tablespoon of butter and toast the couscous until golden (about 5 minutes).

5. Add the couscous and stock (and mushroom soaking water and/or bouillon if using) to the shallots and mushrooms. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the liquid is absorbed and the couscous is done, but still has a little chew to it (15-20 minutes). Add more water or stock at any point if it begins to dry out or stick to the bottom.

just after adding the toated couscous just after stirring in the finely grated cheese

6. In the last minute of cooking, stir in the grated cheese and season with salt and ground pepper to taste. Remove from heat.

7. Garnish with curls of hard cheese (I use a vegetable peeler) and, if desired, a few chopped herbs like parsley or chives.

golden, creamy, nutty, chewy, shallot-wine-and-mushroomy. so. freaking. good.