When one thinks of Philly, you may think of a Philly cheesesteak, Bookbinder’s Restaurant or a waterfront meal on a ship docked off Old Philadelphia within walking distance to the Liberty Bell.
Having had a wonderful Jewish grandmother of Ukrainian descent, I, on the other hand, remember Horn and Hardarts, especially their very futuristic “Automat”, and the great dairy restaurants and delis we frequented near her home on Girard Avenue and enjoyed blintzes, borscht, whitefish, bagels, lox and more!
My Grandmother had a kitchen that ran like a finely tuned machine, and in the midst of her industriousness, there were always a couple of ice cold, green pony bottles of 7 up and a silver dollar apiece when we came to visit. And a home cooked meal for her Harold, my father, and the three kiddos. I remember her churning out great earthen jars of pickled green tomatoes and dill cucumber pickles, jams and preservers, duck dinners, a nod to my brother Glenn, immense pots of homemade soup and brisket like no other. Her cakes with seafoam icing were ethereal, as was her honey cake. There was a small garden outback, set into tires in this urban landscape. The kitchen was the heart of the house, possibly because the neighborhood was too dangerous for us to play outside in.
She taught me how to shop for and cook her knishes, blintzes and her famous beet borscht, which was a meal in itself topped with an immodest dollop of rich sour cream. Grandma, who stood her soap up on end to save it from melting, always said, “you can’t skimp on food”. I have taken that well to heart. As a family we’ve always eaten well…and we feed people. It’s just what we do,
Here is her borscht, as best I can recall it. If Ukrainian cuisine has a signature dish, this may be this slightly sweet and sour soup. The earthiness of the beet is counterpointed by the freshness of dill. And September is a wonderful time to find beets of all varieties in the famers markets:
RED BEET BORSCHT
A meaty beef shank, olive oil to sear
2 quarts rich beef broth
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
4 large beets, peeled, chopped
1 large potato, peeled and chopped
4 big carrots, peeled and chopped fine
2 cups finely sliced cabbage
3 tb vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste.
1 cup dill, chopped finely, save out until the end of cooking
1 cup sour cream, you may mix it in or use it as an optional garnish
Choose a large, heavy bottomed pot.
Sear the beef shank in the olive oil, turning one. Add the onions and half the stock, cover and cook.
Remove the meat and add the vegetables, seasonings and remaining stock. Cover and cook until tender, correct seasonings.
I sometimes use an immersion blender to puree half the soup, so it still has texture and add back in the shredded beef, dill and sour cream per bowl as garnishes.
I am lucky for many reasons. Adding to my bountiful homestead is a prolific ancient Seckel pear tree in my backyard. This was a windfall year. So the question of how to preserve them was easy…pickled pears.
Nothing offsets a rich roast, creamy or Blue cheeses like the sweet/acid bite of a pickled pear. Pleasing in form and so pretty for presentation, this addition to your cheese or charcuterie board with have you entertaining like a pro! Start now and offer them as a holiday gift, perfect for this moment of curated shopping.
Makes 2 pints and this recipe easily doubles, have your pint jars hot and sterile, ready to go:
2 pounds Seckel pears, peeled, halved and seeded
1 cup white vinegar
1/3 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon of Kosher salt
12 cinnamon sticks, several cloves and a few Star Anise
Combine vinegar, sugar and salt with 1 cup of water. Bring to a boil. In a stainless kettle or pan.
Pack the prepared pears into your clean jars and divide the spices equally.
Pour hot brine over the pears, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace. Tapping the jars releases any trapped air bubbles.
Cap tightly and you can choose to can them traditionally in a hot water bath, or let cool and store in the refrigerator.
Best when left to sit for a month in order to fully develop flavors.
My fava bean moment came to me within view of the Pyramids.
Our little hotel was committed to offering up a hearty breakfast, befitting the American tourist who had a day spent in the Sahara, claustrophobic tomb touring and camel riding ahead… in searing heat. The breakfast buffet featured all the typical Middle Eastern breakfast trappings I’d come to expect on my travels in the Middle East: Chewy pita bread, the best dates and citrus ever,astonishing olives, hard boiled eggs, crisp, young cucumbers and juicy chopped tomato.
But wait, what is in this rich, bubbling cauldron? Beans of some sort…but for breakfast? I gave it a go, ladeling a big spoonful of creamy, cumin scented goodness onto my plate and scooping it up with the freshly baked pita bread.
WOW…and wow again, this was hearty and delicious with just enough heat to wake you up properly and a perfect compliment to the other offerings on my plate, cucs, olives, tomato. Then there was a sauce, super zippy and probably as simple as superior olive oil, lemon juice and lots of fresh garlic. “My way to breakfast!”, I thought, dreamily taking another bite and wondering how the heck you get on top of a camel. As it turned out, my camel’s name was Samba and she was most agreeable!
Back home, I realized that I could get and grow fava beans in Maine, most of the organic growers, including Johnny’s and Fedco have multiple varieties. Fava’s have a duel purpose. Not only are they delicious, but famers us them to improve soils as a cover crop, fixing nitrogen and also breaking up heavy soils with their deep tap root.Such as my brand of Maine marine clay soil.
Fava beans are equally popular in Italian cooking, but here’s my recipe that most closely resembles my Egyptian experience:
FOUL MADAMMAS (serves six)
2 -15 oz cans of fava beans or you may cook your own
1/2 cup water
1 tsp toasted cumin seed
2 chopped jalapeños
Juice of one large lemon and a bit of the zest
1 cup chopped, stemmed parsley
1 diced tomato
To serve traditionally:
Warm pita bread
Chopped green onion
Sliced cucumber and red tomato
Good black olive, extra virgin olive oil, and kalamata olives
Combine the first set of ingredients in a heavy skillet and warm slowly, mashing a few of the beans for a creamy texture.
Combine the lemon juice, garlic, parsley and extra virgin olive oil, seasoning with salt and pepper, and more hot peppers if you like a kick. Top the beans with this sauce.
Place in a bowl and offer the cucumbers, diced tomato, olives and olive oil to eat with the pita bread and fava beans.
Summer is just about at it’s peak. There’s way too many zucchini and tomatoes. But, I’ve got a plan for your culinary herbs. Here’s what to do with that bounty of green herbs, like cilantro, chives, scapes or parsley…make a vibrant green sauce!
Almost every culture has one! From a global perspective, think about pesto, which most everyone knows…(Italy), green curry (India), chimichurri ( Argentina), zhoug (Yemen), or Mexico’s salsa verde.
One of my all time faves is Charmoula from Morocco. If you have lots of parsley and cilantro, love the flavors of lemon garlic, chile and cumin this North African sauce is for you. Great on grilled shrimp, grilled chops, or to bump up a vegetarian dish, try it…it doesn’t disappoint. It’s one of those great recipes that you can make ahead and it just improves, keeps for days, and freezes well.
The recipe is as follows:
Charmoula (Makes a pint, easy to double and freeze half)
1 cup stemmed, packed flat parsley
1 cup packed cilantro
2 scallions, trimmed and chopped
2 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
1/4 tsp. roasted cumin seed
1 tsp. salt, fresh pepper to taste
A pinch of red pepper flakes or Aleppo pepper
1 tsp. of fresh lemon zest
3/4 to 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tsp. red wine vinegar, of use the juice of the grated lemon
Combine all in a Cuisinart and pulse to consistency, correct seasonings, and add more oil or vinegar as you see fit. It should be a stunning bright green, and loose enough to drop from a spoon.
Absolutely divine on grilled meats, fish or shrimp….even tofu!
Enjoy the flavors of summer while we can still get out and grill!
There were so many high points to traveling in Peru…Machu Picchu and it’s many wonders, the neighborhoods and museums of Lima, the gorgeous beaches and interesting customs.
Another fond memory is of sitting in a bar in Peru. A Pisco Sour in one hand, crunchy corn nuts in the other…the bar snack of choice…while awaiting the house Seviche. In Peru, scallops are the norm for Seviche, however using shrimp, calamari or any mild, white fish fits in nicely especially when expertly seasoned and “cooked” in a spicy lime juice mixture. After a couple of Pisco Sours, it was hard to recall anything! They tell me I had fun.
Seviche, Peruvian Style, with bay scallops, serves 6 to 8
1 lb bay scallops, quartered…or in Maine our sea scallops are perfect too!
1 cup rough chopped cherry tomato
1 red Serrano Chile, chopped finely
1 cup red onion, finely chopped
1 cup chopped cilantro
1 cup fresh orange juice
Salt to taste
2/3 cup fresh lime juice and a bit of lime zest
Combine all in a ceramic bowl, cover and plan to let it marinate for one day.
To serve, serve in small glasses, topped with more chopped cilantro, a wedge of lime and a side of tortilla chips
A little about Pisco….while the Pisco Sour is the national cocktail, or a mixed drink, real Pisco connoisseurs would never dream of mixing good Pisco with anything. Pisco comes in few variations including a floral variety or a more herbal flavor. While technically a brandy, it was developed to replace Spanish brandy in the 16th century and boasts an alcohol content of up to 100 proof. Nowadays it’s produced almost exclusively in Peru and Chile.
What I know about Beth’s Farm Market is that they employ many Jamaican farm workers. Having spent ample time in Jamaica, I know that it’s a culture that eats well and their diet is very vegetable forward.
I was delighted to learn that the good people at Beth’s have begun to grow this delicious leafy green, a member of the Amaranth family. I look for it every July. The entire plant is good to eat, although the larger stems may need to be peeled and chopped smaller than the leaves. A high fiber vegetable, Callaloo helps to prevent obesity,control blood sugar and lower the risk of heart disease. Being high in vitamin C is another bonus and the reason it should be cooked lightly, until a jewel-like green.
Below is my favorite treatment for this nourishing vegetable, taught to me by an Ital chef, Dice:
Serves four, as a side dish. Prep time 30 minutes.
One large bunch callaloo, the larger stems peeled and chopped fine, leave chopped larger
Fresh thyme springs
One peeled chopped carrot and 1 chopped white onion
Four chopped Roma tomato, half a Scotch bonnet pepper
1 TB chopped garlic. Salt and peter to taste
Begin by heating 3 TB oil in a heavy bottom pot, add the onion,carrot, garlic, thyme,tomato, S and P. Cook until the carrot is tender.
Add the Callaloo stems first, salt lightly and toss to coat, when half cooked add the leaves and toss again, cover the pot, stir once or twice as it finishes cooking.
Take the dish off the flame while the colors are still vibrant, remove hot pepper and serve immediately.
If you’re a garlic lover, it’s nice to know how to use the super pungent shoot, or scape of the garlic. Typically they’re cut off before they form a flower, so as not to allow the garlic’s energy to move upward…but to focus the plants energy down to the head or bulb that’s trying to form.
Scapes are often made into pesto or a compound butter, but my favorite use for garlic scapes is a tasty Green Goddess dressing. Her’s my favorite recipe, terrific on the garden salad greens so prevalent right now in gardens everywhere:
3/4 cup either mayo or full fat Greek yoghurt
1 cup flat, leaf parsley, leaves only
1/2 cup fresh tarragon leaves only
4 garlic scapes, tender parts only, rough chop
1/2 avocado, peeled and pitted
1 tbsp. White wine vinegar
Juice of one lemon
Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
Combine all and mix by hand until desired consistency
Toss with your favorite lineup of summer salad greens….Bibb lettuce for me!
My first trip abroad, at the tender age of 19 was to the magical island of Jamaica. The year was 1976, the times were heady.
Jamaica was a visual feast in every way. I recall my first night there, a full moon glimpse of the coast…trusting my native guide who excitedly led the way through a dense tropical forest with a narrow path breaking out onto the beach. The vision of moonlit, swaying palms and pristine seven mile beach, heaped with mounds of conch shells, water shimmering with moonbeams…this was my home for some months. I settled into the rhythm of the surf in a sleepy seaside town called Negril.
Going native meant getting my hair done up in braids with coral beads, taking too much sun, gathering herbs, reveling in tropical flowers, learning to snorkel and to use a spear gun. Also much time was spent over a camp cook stove with Dice, my Rasta buddy and Ital cooking mentor.
What exactly is Ital cuisine? I-tal, as it’s sometimes spelled is a derivitive of the word VITAL, it’s typical for the emphasis to be on the ‘I’ in much of Rasta lexicon. It’s not the traditional cooking of Jamaica, but the Rasta version who’s chief features are that it’s Vegetarian, no salt or sugar cooking, largely Vegan and juice forward. It’s aim is to conserve and elevate the energy of the ingredients. Ital food can be highly spiced, with influences drawn from many cultures, such as Spain, China, Africa, India and the Middle East. Allspice features largely in Ital cooking (think Jerk seasoning), as do Scotch Bonnet peppers and coconut….and the ubiquitous callalloo, which is a green, an amaranth, eaten almost everyday, as are rice and peas, sometimes called “coat of arms.”
Rastafarians are also fond of medicinal herb and root concoctions as tonics, use curtain weeds as a smokeable sacrament and never touch their hair with scissors. My impression was that many locals viewed the Rastas the way folks at home viewed the hippies in the early 60’s and 70’s.
But I loved their affinity for nature, the wholesome cooking, their commitment to their religious beliefs and their “live and let live” lifestyle. While on the island, I learned a lot about keeping the essential energy in foods by conscious cooking methods.That’s still a valuable tool, maybe now more than ever!
Here is my favorite Ital soup recipe, courtesy of Chef Dice:
Pumpkin Soup (Serves six)
2 tb coconut oil
1 cup, minced white onion
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 cup celery and leaves, chopped
1/4 cup Chopped parsley, I hot pepper (scotch bonnet if you like it hot)
1 large sprig fresh thyme, a grating of nutmeg, and dash allspice, salt and pepper to taste
4 cups chunked Calabaza squash or Buttercup squash
2 cups each, diced white potato and carrot
1 qt vegetable stock and full fat coconut milk to consistency
Choose a large heavy bottomed pot and heat oil, sauté onion and garlic.
Add carrot, pumpkin potato and celery and seasonings, stock and some coconut milk.
Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until veggies are cooked through. Remove hot pepper and thyme.
Puree half of the soup, correct seasonings and add more coconut milk to consistency.
Garnish with slivers of green onion and put on some Reggae!
Thoughts on Cooking During COVID Times / The Power of the Pantry
Hello and a big “hug from home” during this pandemic of 2020. Staying home saves lives. Cooking from home follows…
It’s been a remarkable, confrontational, sad and often difficult time for individuals and families, students and those of us in the hospitality industry. Everyone, really. It’s been like one continuous therapy session….and since when has that been comfortable? That said, it seems far from over.
What do we do to sustain and comfort ourselves and our families? We bake. We cook. We share our food and ideas. Now that going out for groceries has become something we need to “gird our loins” for, more often than not, I turn to my own well stocked pantry for guidance.
Just some of the meals I’ve been cooking!
This entire need to pivot, as they say, was and is a process of bumping up against some pretty established habits, like running to the store for every little thing I thought I needed. The art of using what’s available and the feeling of gratitude for having what we need: like it’s all enough, though maybe not perfect. Put into perspective, it’s back to gratitude and simpler times.
Perhaps happiness during this new normal has something to do with our own internal changes, the willingness to choose contentment and satisfaction, happiness, multiple times a day,. The impulse to feel gratitude and extend helpfulness to those less fortunate.
Yes, some of this internal change is a daily challenge, intertwined with schedules, meals, commitments and our own habits. The question is will you rise to the challenges or be one of the ticked off, defensive ones that may well be missing an opportunity to be a better person…and maybe even a more inventive cook.
Here’s what’s in my pantry:
Several high quality oils
An array of vinegars
Soy sauce, sake, wasabi, toasted sesame, Mirin, miso, lemongrass and ginger/tumeric roots
Several types of olives
Anchovies and sardines
Artichoke hearts, dried fancy mushrooms
Many types of pasta
Good tomato sauce, whole and chopped tomato
Tuna fish, canned clams and juice
Mushroom soup (I’ll admit it)
Red and green salsa ,pesto
All kinds of dried beans, canned beans
Every herb and spice known to man
Peppercorn melange, several sorts of salt
Rices:black, red, brown, risotto (arborio) Jasmine
Farro, kasha, bulgur, rolled oats, quinoa
Sugars: brown, white, dots, stevia
Nuts; walnuts, hazelnut, pecans
Quality vanilla, chocolate chips, flours, wheat and corn, semolina
All you need to supplement a well stocked pantry is a CSA from one of your local farms, or better yet grow a garden….and several trips to get curb side pick up from your fave restaurant! Your farmers and restauranteurs deserve our support at this most difficult time.