Roasted Chickpeas and Sweet Potato Spinach Salad

My dear friend and business partner and I are teaching a class on vegetarian cooking, and for the class we wanted to share a recipe for roasted chickpeas. Roasted chickpeas are super easy to make and are a great snack all on their own. They are satisfying, crunchy, and they can be flavored a bunch of different ways.

Roasted chickpeas are a crowd pleaser, and great for kids, but we also wanted to find a way to incorporate them into another dish. My sister in law found this Melissa Clark recipe and made it for an outdoor BBQ the other weekend. I fell in love with this salad, and I knew that I had to put it into my salad repertoire ASAP. Yes, I'm posting two salad recipes in a row... but this salad is more of a meal than a salad. It's addictive and has one of the best dressings ever. It's one of those salads that really surprises you with how good it actually tastes.

I've adapted the recipe slightly to fit my own preferences. I'm using plain whole milk yogurt instead of Greek; I find it creamier and smoother. I also added a generous amount of za'atar to my dressing. Za'atar is a generic name for a family of Middle Eastern herbs, and it is also the name of a common spice mixture frequently used in the Middle East. The spice mix usually involves some combo of ground thyme, oregano, marjoram and sesame seeds. If you can't find za'atar you can substitute any type of herb (dried or fresh) that you like. Dill or parsley would be nice here. A mix of ground thyme and oregano would be good, too. You can also just omit the herbs entirely; the dressing is good with just the yogurt, oil, lemon juice and garlic. 

Roasted Chickpeas

2 cups cooked chickpeas (1 15 oz. can or from 1 cup dried chickpeas)
1-2 teaspoons of your favorite spice (paprika, cumin, coriander, chili powder, or a combo of any)
pinch of salt and pepper
2 tablespoons olive or grapeseed oil

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

If you are using canned chickpeas, start by rinsing and draining the the chickpeas.

If you are starting with dried chickpeas, soak them in cold water overnight or  for at least 8 hours. Drain them then add them to a pot, and fill the pot with water (at least 4 cups of water for every 1 cup of chickpeas). Let the chickpeas and water come up to a boil then simmer until the chickpeas are tender and fully cooked. Timing varies depending on the chickpea, but if they are presoaked the chickpeas should cook in about an hour and a half.

Spread the chickpeas in an even layer over clean kitchen towel or over paper towels. Pat the chickpeas dry. Transfer the dried chickpeas to a sheet pan and add the the spice, salt, pepper and oil to the chickpeas. Toss until the chickpeas are evenly coated in oil.

Roast the chickpeas for 30-40 minutes or until golden brown and crispy.  If you are making these chickpeas for the salad recipe below, you can roast them at the same time that you roast the sweet potatoes.
In a small bowl or mason jar, combine the ingredients for the dressing. Whisk the ingredients together or shake the jar until they are fully incorporated. Add the dressing to the salad and lightly toss everything together until all of the ingredients are well coated. The salad can be dressed up to 1 hour before serving.

Roasted Chickpea and Sweet Potato Spinach Salad with Yogurt Dressing
Adapted from Melissa Clark of The New York Times
Serves 4-6

for the salad-
2 cups roasted chickpeas (see recipe above)
1½ lbs.  or 3-4 medium-sized sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed into 1-inch pieces
drizzle of oil
salt and pepper, to taste
6-8 cups spinach
4-5 green onions, thinly sliced

for the dressing-
¾ cup plain whole milk yogurt (European-style)
1 garlic clove, finely minced
juice of ½ a lemon
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon za’atar (optional)

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Peel and cube the sweet potatoes into 1-inch pieces. Place the cubed sweet potato onto a baking sheet and drizzle with oil (about 2-3 tablespoons). Season with a pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper. Roast the sweet potatoes for 25-30 minutes or until browned, tender and cooked through. The sweet potatoes can be made at the same time as you roast the chickpeas. Once cooked, allow the sweet potatoes to cool slightly.

Add the spinach to a large salad bowl. To the spinach add the cooled roasted chickpeas and sweet potatoes. Top with sliced green onion.

In a small bowl or mason jar, combine the ingredients for the dressing. Whisk the ingredients together or shake the jar until they are fully incorporated. Add the dressing to the salad and lightly toss everything together until all of the ingredients are well coated. The salad can be dressed up to 1 hour before serving.

Avocado Mango Spinach Salad

It was an unusually hot spring day here in Los Angeles and we were going to have a BBQ birthday celebration outside for my lovely sister in law. I wanted to bring a light and flavorful dish to go with all the grilled heavy things, and I went off to the market with only the idea to get ingredients for some kind of salad.

At the farmers' market I picked up beautiful California avocados and a big bunch of cilantro (thank you California for all of your avocados!) I stopped at a grocery store for a few extra things and I saw some really perfectly ripe mangoes. Mangoes and avocados always go so nicely together and they are two of my favorite fruits forever and always. That's when I knew what salad I wanted to make. I decided to pick up some spinach. I wanted a green that would hold up a little to the warm day and the substantial mango and avocado. Butter lettuce or even thinly sliced Napa cabbage would go well in this salad too.

I made a gingery Asian-inspired dressing. These ingredients can hold up to a lot of flavor and the mango, avocado and cilantro go really well with ginger, lime, rice wine vinegar and sesame oil flavors. You don't need all of the ingredients listed, but I do think this type of dressing works better than a more classic French or Mediterranean vinaigrette.

Like all salads this one is infinitely interchangeable depending on your preferences. The stars of this show are creamy avocado and tangy sweet mango... the rest is up to you.

Avocado Mango Spinach Salad
Serves 4-6

for the salad-
5-6 full cups baby spinach
1 large ripe mango, cubed (or 2 if you want even more mango)
1 large ripe avocado, cubed (or 2 if you want even more avocado)
3-4 scallions, sliced thin (red onion or shallot would be good too)
1/4 cup sunflower seeds (or sub with roughly chopped cashews)
handful of cilantro, roughly chopped

for the dressing-
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons Mirin* (optional)
2 teaspoons freshly grated ginger with its juice
1 teaspoon liquid aminos or soy sauce
1 teaspoon agave or honey
juice of 1/2 a lime
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1/4 cup oil (you want something pretty neutral like grape seed or safflower oil. Avocado oil would work well too)

Add the spinach to a serving dish. Pile the other salad ingredients on top of the spinach.

To make the dressing, combine the vinegar, Mirin, freshly grated ginger (you can do this with a Microplane... or you could even chop super fine if you need to... add more or less depending on how much ginger you love), liquid aminos, agave, and lime juice. Whisk in the sesame oil and grape seed oil (or shake everything up in a jar). Taste the dressing. This step is crucial. If its too tangy add some more oil. If you like it sweeter add more agave or honey. If you don't eat sugar leave the agave and honey out. If you want it saltier add more liquid aminos/soy sauce/salt. And so on and so forth...

Gently toss the salad with the dressing, be careful not to break up the avocado too much. Add as much dressing as you need to lightly coat all of the vegetables. You may have excess salad dressing depending on how heavily or lightly you like your salad dressed.

*Mirin is a sweet rice wine with very low alcohol content that is often used in Japanese cooking. You can usually find it in grocery stores next to the rice vinegar and soy sauce. I like having it on hand because it adds a really nice bright sweetness. It's totally optional here and shouldn't require a special trip to the store.

Chicken Schnitzel

When I was 10 years old I lived in Jerusalem for a year with my family. While we lived there we ate a LOT of chicken schnitzel (schnitzel is also made from veal, and can be made from any boneless meat that is thinly pounded out). It may not be common knowledge, but schnitzel is one of the most popular dishes in Israel and it is widely served in restaurants, cooked fresh at home, or sold frozen in grocery stores. I really haven't eaten often since then.

But we had been talking about making all winter... The we in this party lived in Berlin for a significant amount of time. During part of that time he lived above a restaurant that specialized in schnitzel, and for that and other reasons has a strong affinity for the dish. Somehow schnitzel-making kept getting postponed... either we didn't feel like something fried, or we didn't feel like meat, or we just didn't feel like schnitzel.

One recent spring day schnitzel finally seemed like the perfect thing to eat for lunch. I had picked up some beautiful asparagus, a really nice fennel bulb, and some arugula. I roasted the asparagus simply: with olive oil salt and pepper at 400°F until tender and just browned. I sliced the fennel super thin on a mandolin; I did the same to the radish and I added them to a pile of wild arugula all tossed together with a lemon vinaigrette.

In Israel I always ate schnitzel plain or with ketchup, but in Germany it is apparently often served with cranberry sauce. This was an exciting discovery for me as I love any excuse to make and eat cranberry sauce, and I always keep a bag of frozen cranberries in my freezer for just this reason. I made a batch and served it along with everything else.

Even though the schnitzel is essentially fried chicken it isn't all that heavy. The thinness of the meat allows for a kind of light crispyness that is satisfying without being a gut bomb. It goes perfectly with a side that is fresh, green and slightly acidic.

I was in Berlin once. It was June and the weather was perfectly sunny and warm. The daylight lasted forever and everywhere Berliners were out and about enjoying the early summer days and nights. One perfect afternoon, I went out to lunch with my dear friend. We drank cool rosé, and he ordered the schnitzel with white asparagus. I ordered something less memorable and gratefully accepted his offer to share his plate of food. Maybe schnitzel is always linked with asparagus for me for that reason... maybe its more linked to that day in Berlin than that year in Israel. Regardless, this plate of food makes me think of spring or early summer when everything is vibrant and new beginnings are on the horizon.

Classic Chicken Schnitzel
Serves 4-6

4 4-5 oz. chicken breasts, pounded to 1/8-1/4-inch thickness
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup all purpose flour (or GF flour, or matzo meal, or almond flour...  any type of flour will work although regular flour is the most traditional)
salt and pepper, to taste
canola, safflower or peanut oil, as needed (to fill the pan about 1/2 of an inch continuously while cooking)
lemon wedges
cranberry sauce, optional (see recipe below)

Using a meat mallet, rolling pin, or the bottom of a cast iron skillet, pound the chicken breasts until they are about 1/8-1/4-inch in thickness. Make sure each piece of chicken is pounded out to the same thickness. Also make sure to pound out the chicken as evenly as possible (so that parts of it aren't thicker than others, otherwise one end could get dry/burnt while the other is undercooked).

Beat the eggs in a deep shallow bowl. Season with salt and pepper.

Add the flour to another deep shallow bowl. Season it with a generous pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper.

In a large cast iron skillet or heavy-bottomed pan, add a 1/2-inch layer of oil. Heat the oil over medium-high heat until it is hot (make sure that it is bubbly and really hot, not luke warm or semi-hot).

Dip the chicken breast one at a time into the eggs first. Shake off any excess egg. Next, dip the chicken into the flour. Shake off any excess flour. Place the coated chicken breast into the hot oil. Repeat with a second chicken breast. Depending on the size of the pan, cook 2 chicken breasts at a time. Be careful not to overcrowd the pan. Cook for 4-5 minutes per side, or until the chicken is golden brown and fully cooked. Make sure the oil stays hot but not super hot. You may have to raise and lower the heat on the stovetop periodically as the schnitzel cooks. Once evenly browned on both sides and cooked through, transfer the schnitzel to a rack and continue the process until all of the chicken is cooked.

Serve immediately with lemon wedges and cranberry sauce if desired.

For the cranberry sauce:
2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries
1/4 cup sugar
1 cinnamon stick
1 star anise (optional)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup water
Squeeze of orange or tangerine juice (optional)

Place all of the ingredients into a saucepan or pot. Bring to a boil. Simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from stove, allow to cool, transfer to a bowl and refrigerate. The sauce will thicken as it cools. 

Savory Pumpkin Noodle Kugel

Growing up kugel was completely absent from our Russian Jewish immigrant table. We had matzo balls, latkes, chopped liver, borscht, stuffed cabbage, herring... you name it. But kugel never showed up. (That said, somehow my mom's very un-Russian famous dish was noodles and cottage cheese... in a way that's a stripped down deconstructed savory form of kugel.)

Sometimes I ate kugel at friends' houses or at shul or wherever Jews congregated with homemade food. I am not a picky eater. I never was, but kugel always rubbed me the wrong way. Sure, I'd eat it but then immediately think,"Why is this so sweet and dense? Why does it have raisins??? Why?! Why cottage cheese??? Why not any other creamy cheese that isn't salty and dry and curdy?" I just didn't get it. I mean I got it, but I wanted it to be better. I wanted more for kugel.

The picture above isn't glamorous because kugel isn't glamorous. For me, kugel is meant to be a dish served for a crowd that is hearty, filling, and comforting. It should elicit feelings of warmth and sentimentality. It should be something that can be made ahead, eaten warm or cold, right out of the oven or as leftovers for lunch the next day. It should be something that doesn't detract from a main dish, but makes the meal feel more complete. Kugel should be able to find a place at any holiday or shabbat table. But it needs a serious makeover...

This brings me to this recipe. I'll start by saying this is one of the easiest recipes I've ever developed; if you can boil pasta and combine stuff in a bowl, you're good to go. I've actually found quite a few variations of traditional kugel out their in the world... but I wanted to try to make one that I could personally get excited about. If you're a sweet-kugel kind of person, more power to you. You could probably eliminate the savory elements in this recipe and add about a 1/2 cup of sugar and maybe some cinnamon and a little butter and you'll have yourself sweet pumpkin kugel (but maybe don't add raisins?).

This kugel is reminiscent of traditional kugel in that it is made with Manishevitz egg noodles and has a custardy quality, but it's a little unexpected. The truth is this kugel veers into mac n' cheese territory. It also has pumpkin, and I'm the first to concede that pumpkin is problematically ubiquitous... but it's good and nutritious and that's what I care about more. It uses ricotta instead of cottage cheese. It has a touch of maple syrup to balance the flavors, and it has garlic to highlight its savoriness. I added sage because I wanted an herbaceous note. I'm not skipping out on eggs or heavy cream, because I don't use a whole lot of either and also because kugel is special.

And I make it with the delicate balance of reverence to tradition, simultaneous hope for old things becoming new, and with love. Lot's of love.

Savory Pumpkin Noodle Kugel
Serves 6-8

1 lb. egg noodles
1 15 oz. can unsweetened pureed pumpkin, or 1¾ cups fresh cooked pureed pumpkin
4 eggs, beaten
1 cup whole milk ricotta
½ cup creme fraiche or sour cream
½ cup heavy cream or milk
¾ cup shredded gruyere or swiss cheese (optional)
2 garlic cloves, minced fine
1½ tablespoons maple syrup
1 tablespoon chopped sage, about 3 medium leaves
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
freshly ground pepper, to taste
cooking oil spray

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Start by bringing a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the egg noodles to the boiling water and cook until al dente (cooked but firm), about 6-7 minutes or as directed on the package. Err on the side of undercooking your noodles, they will continue to cook in the oven, and this will prevent them from getting too mushy. Cool and reserve the cooked noodles.

In a large bowl, combine the pumpkin puree, beaten eggs, whole milk ricotta, creme fraiche, heavy cream, shredded cheese (optional), minced garlic, maple syrup, chopped sage, kosher salt, freshly ground nutmeg, and freshly ground black pepper. Using a spoon, combine everything together until incorporated.

Add the cooked egg noodles to the pumpkin puree mixture. Stir until all of the noodles are coated in the mixture.

Spray an 8 X 11 baking dish with cooking spray. Transfer the egg noodle mixture into the sprayed baking dish. Cover the dish with foil, and bake for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes uncover and bake for 20-30 more minutes, or until the top of the kugel is golden brown and the kugel has set and is firm.

To make ahead:
The kugel mixture can be made a few hours ahead of time and cooked just prior to serving.

Alternatively, the kugel can be fully cooked up to a day in advance and reheated just prior to serving.

Brussels Sprouts Gratin

This gratin is the ultimate way to show those healthy cruciferous brussels sprouts who's boss. Here's the thing, I don't eat heavy cheesy dishes every day, but special occasions can warrant good cheese, heavy cream, and butter. As a special occasion dish this is heaven. The brussels sprouts are roasted before they are assembled into a gratin making them buttery and caramelized, and the mornay sauce (simply a Béchamel sauce with grated cheese added to it) are so happy to be paired with these strong-tasting cabbage-y things.

Gratins are great make-ahead dishes. You can assemble them up to a day in advance and heat them up just prior to serving. They also tend to freeze well.

One note about brussels sprouts: the smaller the better. Sometimes you're limited to whatever the store or farmers' market has to offer. I lucked out and found young, fresh, tiny little brussels sprouts for this dish. I find that the smaller brussels are milder, more tender, and more delicious than the big ones. Certainly, this recipe will work with larger guys, I would just make sure to roast them for longer.

This dish would be great with a bright fresh light salad to balance out the richness of the gratin. It could be paired with your favorite savory entrée. For vegetarians, this side works super well alongside mushroom dishes.

Brussels Sprouts Gratin
Serves 8-10
Adapted from Saveur 

3 lbs. brussels sprouts (about 3 pints), halved
4-6 tablespoons olive oil, or to taste
salt and pepper, to taste
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
2 cups whole milk
1 cup half & half or heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 cups shredded Gruyere, Emmental, or Swiss
1/4 cup shredded Parmesan

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Start by cleaning the brussels sprouts and removing any browned or tough outer leaves. Halve your brussels sprouts. In a large bowl, toss the brussels sprouts with the olive oil; make sure the sprouts are evenly coated in the oil. Season the sprouts with salt and pepper.

Transfer the seasoned brussels sprouts onto a baking sheet. Be careful not to crowd the sheet pan, you want to the sprouts to lie in a single flat layer so that they can evenly brown. Roast the sprouts until tender and browned, about 15-20 minutes depending on their size (check after 15 minutes and gage how much longer they need; they should be fully cooked).

Next, make the mornay sauce. Start by making a roux. Add 3 tablespoons butter to a medium saucepan (4-6 quart) on medium heat. Once the butter has just melted add the flour. Stir and cook until the mixture is golden brown and smells toasty, about 30-60 seconds. Slowly add the milk and half & half, continuously whisking the mixture as you add the liquid. Bring the liquid to a simmer, continuing to whisk so as to avoid lumps. Let the mixture thicken and simmer, about 2-3 minutes. Season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Remove from the heat and add the shredded cheese to the sauce. Stir until incorporated an you have a smooth sauce. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary.

Transfer the roasted brussels sprouts to an oval gratin dish (about 10-11 inches in length), or you can also use a 9 x 11 baking dish. Pour the mornay sauce over the roasted brussels sprouts. Top with parmesan and a few more gratings of nutmeg, or some additional black pepper.

Loosely cover with foil and bake for 15 minutes. Remove the foil and let the top of the dish brown, about 5 more minutes. Let the gratin rest for 10 minutes before serving.

Stuffed Pumpkin

This is the ultimate slightly-indulgent, festive, holiday dish. It's hard to go wrong with bread, cheese, garlic and heavy cream. Frankly, you don't need much else to make something delicious (maybe butter). 

To describe this as a "crowd pleaser" puts all understatements to shame. And the recipe is so easy that it almost feels like cheating. Yes, it's delicious (see bread, cheese, and cream), but this is a dish that looks incredible uncooked as well as out of the oven. 

The pumpkin gets soft and delicate. The cheese makes everything good. The garlic and herbs cut through the richness, the cream adds a velvety texture. 

This recipe comes from the queen of all good things, Dorie Greenspan. Every recipe of hers that I've ever tried is both 1) delicious 2) works as written. I'm particularly fond of Around My French Table, but she is very well known for her desserts, and even has a new book on the topic. There's also a great interview with her in the current issue of Lucky Peach.

I only tweaked the recipe slightly. By tweaked, I mean I more or less eye-balled amounts as opposed to filling each pumpkin exactly as directed. Plus, we used smaller pumpkins than the one's Dorie uses. I like these sweet little pumpkins. We served this at Thanksgiving, amongst an abundance of other rich dishes; but if you're using the smaller pumpkins, you could even serve one per person. These were gone in minutes. Zero leftovers. 


Stuffed Pumpkins à la Dorie Greenspan
Slightly adapted from this
Serves 4-6 (The recipe can easily be doubled and tripled; I tripled the recipe)

2 1.5 lb. pumpkins 
salt and pepper, to taste
1/4 lb. GOOD quality stale bread, cut into .5-1-inch cubes (crusts can even be left on)
1/4 lb. Grueyére and/or cheddar (I used both!), cut into .5 1-inch cubes (same size as bread)
2-4 garlic cloves, roughly minced
1/4 cup chopped chives
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves (removed from stem)
1 teaspoon chopped rosemary
1/3 cup heavy cream
freshly grated nutmeg, to taste

Preheat the oven to 350°F. 
Line a baking sheet with parchment or foil. If you're using a big pumpkin, you'll want a casserole dish or something that will hold the pumpkin in place. These little guys held up perfectly on a baking sheet. 
Using a very sharp large nice, CAREFULLY, cut off the top 1/4 of the pumpkin. You want to cut far enough in that you get to the opening with all its seeds, but not too far as to halve the pumpkin. You're making a lid for the pumpkin like you would for a Halloween Jack-o-Lantern. Scoop out the seeds and strings from the cap and from inside of the pumpkin. Season the inside of the pumpkin generously with salt and pepper (this is your chance to season the meat of the pumpkin!).
In a large bowl, toss the bread cubes, cheese cubes, garlic, and herbs together. Season with more pepper. Fill each pumpkin with the bread and cheese mixture. You should have plenty, but you can always make more filling if the pumpkins aren't full. You want them full, but don't force/pack it in... just gently fill each one fully. 
In a liquid measuring cup, combine the heavy cream with freshly ground nutmeg. I love the flavor of nutmeg, but if you don't you can omit it. Pour a little cream into each pumpkin. You just want to moisten the mixture, but you don't want it to be too soupy. 
Put the cap back on top of the pumpkin and bake for 2 hours (checking on it after 90 minutes). For the last 20 minutes of cooking, remove the cap so that the inside can brown a little. You want the pumpkin flesh to be completely tender and for the cheese to be bubbling. 
When the pumpkin is ready, very carefully bring it to the table or transfer it to a platter that you'll bring to the table.
I served these whole, and people scooped out the pumpkin and cheese and bread filling. You can also cut it into big wedges (that will ooze out cheese). This is perfect for a holiday meal, or a cold winter night. 

Roasted Delicata Squash

Squash season is my favorite time of year, and in my book Delicata holds the title for "best squash."

Delicata has such a buttery soft texture when roasted, it is naturally sweet, and the skin is fairly thin and edible. Sometimes it's nice not to have to bother with peeling hard squash. 

The seeds are also edible. In fact, they're delicious. You can cut the squash into rings and leave the seeds in tact. They'll roast along with the squash, and they add a nutty crunchy element to your dish. My dear friend over at The Yellow Bungalow is also a big fan of this type of preparation.

I add rosemary and a splash of balsamic vinegar to the squash, salt and pepper to taste, and pop these guys in the oven. They cook fast. I like them slightly on the darker end of roasted, but feel free to leave them as long as you prefer.

I eat these as a side, on their own, or on top of a salad. 
Delicata is in the top righthand corner of this display

Roasted Rosemary Delicata Squash
Serves 2-4

One medium-sized Delicata squash
Olive oil (about 2 tablespoons)
Salt and pepper to taste
2 sprigs of fresh rosemary, leaves removed from stem
Drizzle of balsamic vinegar (about 1 tablespoon) 

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Cut the squash into rings about 1/4-1/2 an inch thick depending on your preference. The thicker you cut the squash the longer it will take to roast.

Lay the rings out on a foil or parchment-lined baking sheet (not 100% necessary, but makes for easier clean-up).

Drizzle the squash with olive oil. Season with rosemary, salt and pepper. Drizzle with balsamic.

Roast in the oven for 12-15 minutes or until the squash is browned and cooked through. Halfway through cooking, check the squash and carefully flip each side over so that the squash evenly browns on both sides.

Serve warm or at room temp. Drizzle with more balsamic if you prefer.

Roasted Delicata on top of a Kale, watermelon radish, cucumber salad dressed with a simple dijon and balsamic vinaigrette 

Miso Matzo Ball Soup

Let me start by saying I broke some rules making this dish (and not just the most obvious one). For one, I made a cheater's version of vegetarian dashi. For an authentic dashi recipe you can check out this or this. There are also some instant dashi mixes on the market. You can also find instant miso soup at many stores, and if that's your thing go for it. If you are still up for making miso soup from scratch I found this post helpful.

Aside from the lack of the dashi's authenticity, this soup is also a little disorienting from the matzo ball perspective. I'm highly accustomed to matzo balls floating around in chicken broth (or vegetarian chicken-tasting broth). When I took the first taste of this soup I wondered where all the familiar flavors had gone. 

Then I took a second bite. I quickly forgot about tradition and authenticity. This is the merger of two comfort foods from two different culinary cultures. The sweet umami salty miso broth is happy to host hearty matzo balls (in lieu of soft tofu or shellfish). The scallions add a refreshing bit of green and bite. I think you could even try out a little fresh dill (gasp!) in this soup. 

One note about matzo balls: I'm not a fan of leaden sinkers, but I do like some chew to my matzo balls. You can make your matzo balls however your bubbe made them. If you really don't want to make matzo balls from scratch you can buy matzo ball mixes at the store. 

There's a lot of room for controversy in this recipe. When you're making super traditional dishes everyone has a strong opinion about what is right and wrong. It's a little daring, but I was happy to throw out the rules and combine two things that aren't frequently brought together.

This recipe could happen in moments if you take all the cheats you want... or this recipe could take just a little longer and you could make every element authentically and from scratch. However you choose to make it, this merger is a happy one.

Miso Matzo Ball Soup
Serves 4 
Makes 10-12 matzo balls

for the matzo balls
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons olive oil (or schmaltz)
½ cup matzo meal
¼ teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon soy sauce
½ teaspoon kosher salt
pepper to taste

for the miso soup
1 4-5 inch piece kombu, rinsed (can substitute with an extra sheet of nori)
1 sheet nori
5 cups water
4 tablespoons white miso
2 large scallions, sliced thin

for the matzo balls
In a bowl, beat the eggs and olive oil together. To the egg mixture, add the matzo meal, baking powder, soy sauce, salt and pepper. Mix together until combined. Your mixture should be sticky and wet. Let the matzo ball dough chill in the fridge for 30 minutes before using it.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Once the matzo ball dough has chilled and the water is boiling, form the dough into tablespoon-sized balls. Lower the heat to a simmer, and then carefully drop the balls into the simmering water. They will float and begin to expand. 

Place a lid on the pot, and simmer the matzo balls for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes turn off the heat, and serve the matzo balls, or let them cool in the liquid, and store them in the fridge until ready to use. Matzo balls can be made 1-2 days ahead of when you intend to serve them. While the matzo balls are cooking, make the soup.

for the soup
In a medium pot, add the kombu, nori and water. On medium heat, slowly bring the liquid to a boil and then simmer for 10 minutes until the seaweed has imparted flavor to the liquid, and the nori is falling apart. Before the water has come up to a simmer, when it is warm and about 100°F, take a few tablespoons of the liquid and combine it in a small bowl with the miso. Stir until smooth and reserve.

After the broth has simmered for 10 minutes, remove the kombu and nori from the pot. The nori may fall apart a little and that's ok; the seaweed sediment adds flavor. On low heat, whisk the reserved miso mixture into the pot. Add the onions to the pot. Simmer the soup for another 2-3 minutes, but be careful not to boil the miso.

to assemble the dish
Ladle the miso soup into bowls. Serve 2-3 matzo balls per bowl. 

Big Colorful Summer Salad

My dad is visiting from Jerusalem, and inspired by the salads that he loves to eat on a daily basis, I whipped this up as a main component for a light summer dinner. Along with the salad, I served smoked salmon and turmeric spiced basmati rice. The cool bright vegetables were a perfect compliment to the smoky salmon and aromatic rice.

I don't want to be misleading. This isn't an Israeli salad. For one, most Israeli salads are made up of a combination of tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, and olive oil. Traditionally, these salads don't have lettuce, but in this case, I had a beautiful head of red leaf lettuce, and I wanted to include it to make the salad a more substantial dinnertime dish. Also, dressing for Israeli salads are super simple, and this salad includes a Dijon based vinaigrette. This salad is inspired-by, not in-the-tradition-of.

Those bright magenta things are thin slices of watermelon radish. Watermelon radish tastes similar to regular radish, but has a subtle sweetness to it. They are delicious and gorgeous and I love when they are in season. I found these at my local supermarket, but usually I spot them at the Hollywood Farmers' Market. 

The point is, for this salad you can throw in all kinds of chopped veggies on top of crisp lettuce. Think: big, colorful, and well-dressed.

Big Colorful Summer Salad
Serves 4-6

for the salad-
1 medium head red leaf lettuce, chopped
2 medium tomatoes, diced
2 small persian cucumbers, diced
1 small red bell pepper, diced
3-4 red radishes, sliced thin
1 watermelon radish, peeled and sliced thin
2-3 scallions, sliced thin
1 generous bunch of dill, roughly chopped

for the dressing-
2 heaping teaspoons good quality Dijon
juice of 1/2 a large lemon (or a whole lemon depending on its size)
1 small garlic clove, finely minced (or you can use a press)
1/3 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon oregano
Drop of honey
pinch of salt and pepper

Wash and dice all of your veggies and herbs. Add them to a large salad bowl.

Whisk together all of the dressing ingredients (or put them in a mason jar with a tight lid and shake it up). Taste the dressing. Add more lemon, dijon, honey, oil or salt. Dressings are all about finding the balance YOU like. Ingredients differ in terms of flavor, and proportions may have to be adjusted. Dip a piece of lettuce into the dressing if you need a better idea of how it will taste on the salad. 

Right before serving, sprinkle salt over the salad and toss. Then add the dressing to the salad. Toss until all the components are evenly coated. 

You can add crumbled feta or grilled chicken to make a meal out of the salad itself. 

Super Good Classic Fried Chicken

Homemade fried chicken can take time, patience, and a little finesse. The work pays off, and this comfort food is always a crowd-pleaser. Even a reluctant meat-eater, such as myself, has a hard time turning down something this crunchy, delicious and tender.

You can do this in a skillet, or a dutch oven, or a deep fryer. You can serve this hot or room temp. Room temp is easier to serve, and might even be better. It's a good idea to serve the chicken with a side of honey. They go crazy good together. Summer and fried chicken are synonymous, and even though hot weather doesn't exactly scream standing over a hot stove frying something, it's still a satisfying dish to serve at a late evening picnic, at a daytime BBQ, or as a special treat to take to the beach.

Because I needed to make this fried chicken kosher, I did not give the chicken a traditional buttermilk marinade before frying it. Instead, I did a flavorful spice rub. Buttermilk marinades are definitely something to consider if you are inclined, but instead of using dairy, a simple brined chicken is just as good (and may even be better?). I chose kosher chicken, which meant the poultry had already been salted, and therefor effectively brined. I love cooking with kosher chickens for this reason: they turn out a lot more tender and flavorful, but you don't have to do the work of brining yourself.

This recipe is pretty forgiving. Methodology is way more important here then the specific amounts... you can change the spices for the dredging mixture, you could use gluten free flour, and you could marinade the chicken or not. If you don't have a deep fryer, I suggest investing in a candy/deep fry thermometer. You will need to constantly adjust the temperature on your stove top to make sure the chicken fries at the right temp to ensure even browning and cooking. A thermometer becomes a fry-saver.

Get ready for some addictive, soul-warming, crisp and juicy fried chicken.

Classic Fried Chicken
Serves 8-10

1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 1/2 tablespoons ground pepper
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
2 tablespoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons chipotle chile powder
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon turmeric

2 4-5 lb. kosher chickens, cut into 10 pieces (remove backbone, or have a butcher cut it up for you)
3 eggs, beaten with a splash of water
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons corn starch
oil for frying (peanut or safflower)

- Candy/fry thermometer
- Tongs or a spider
- Dutch oven or cast-iron skillet

In a small bowl, combine the salt, pepper, smoked paprika, garlic powder, chipotle powder, ground coriander, cumin and turmeric. Mix together well.

Make sure to pat down each piece of chicken with a paper towel to ensure dryness. Add the cut dry chicken parts to a large bowl. Sprinkle the spice mixture evenly over the chicken. Using your hands, toss the chicken pieces in the spice mixture and make sure each piece is evenly coated. Refrigerate for 3-5 hours.

Take the chicken out of the fridge, and let it come to room temp for about half an hour. Once the chicken is at room temp, fill a dutch oven or skillet with oil and place it on the stove on medium high heat. You want to make sure that the chicken is at last halfway submerged in oil as it fries on each side. You can fill a dutch oven a little more heavily with oil than a skillet. Allow the oil to reach 325°F.

While your oil is coming to temp, create the dreding mixtures for your chicken. I like to use baking dishes or deep bowls. In one dish, add the flour, corn starch and salt. Mix together with a fork. In another dish, whisk together the eggs with a splash of water. Lay out a rack with paper towels underneath it for the chicken to rest on once they are cooked. The excess oil will drip onto the paper towels and will help prevent the chicken from getting soggy in extra oil.

When your oil is heated to 325°F, start to dredge the chicken. You will need to fry your chicken in batches. You do not want to overcrowd the pot/skillet or your chicken will not fry as well. I usually fry 3-5 pieces at a time depending on the size of each piece of chicken (the fact that you have to fry in batches is part of the reason you need patience for this recipe... you could also use several pots at once to fry the chicken in a shorter amount of time... or just reach a zen cooking place and enjoy the time it takes to masterfully cook the meat). Take the chicken and dip it in the egg mixture first, followed by the flour mixture. Dust off any excess flour and gently place the chicken in the hot oil.  You want to keep the temperature of your oil consistent. Once you add the chicken pieces, the temp of the oil will drop, and you will need to raise the flame/temp on your stove. Adjust the heat while the chicken cooks so that the heat never goes above 325° or below 310°F.

Fry the chicken on each side for 6-8 minutes, or until both sides are golden brown, and the thickest part of the chicken is 165°F when tested with a meat thermometer (another handy and very cheap kitchen tool).

Using tongs, or a spider, remove the chicken once it is cooked and place it on a rack so that any excess oil can drip off.

Serve hot or room temp. Serve with your favorite condiments or side salads. I like to serve mine with a side of honey to dip the chicken in. Sounds crazy, but it's delicious. I also like to serve the chicken with a bright fresh salad (with lots of lemon or vinegar in the dressing), to cut the fat of the fried chicken.

Bon appetit!

Indian Spiced Tomato Soup

I've been thinking about the tomato soup from Kerala Indian Restaurant  in Kyoto, Japan since the day I tried it. As I mentioned in my original post about the restaurant, the owner spent years developing the recipe for this soup. He is Japanese born to an Indian father and Japanese mother. He also spent a significant time in England, working at both a French and Italian high-end restaurant. He ended up returning to his home town, and took over his father's successful Indian restaurant. In a way, you can taste the story of his life in this soup.

It's a soup that has Indian, French, and Italian flavors. It's a soup that cannot be improved upon. It's a soup that was developed by someone with passion, curiosity, and an incredible palate. Like many things in Japan, it's a soup made with precision, care, pride, and love.

After tasting it, I knew I would try to recreate it back in the States. I also knew that I wouldn't come close. That didn't matter; if I could make something remotely similar to what I had, it would still be worth eating.

So I made the soup... and no, it's not the same. It's still damn good. It's curiously spiced and satisfying. There's nothing wrong with classic creamy tomato soup, but if you're looking for a soup with more depth of flavor and unusual spices, this recipe is worth a go.

If you don't have all of the spices in your pantry you can skip some of them. But don't skip the cinnamon stick... that's the secret ingredient!

And if you find yourself in Kyoto... got to Kerala Indian Restaurant and order the large portion of the soup.

Indian Spiced Roasted Tomato Soup
Serves 10

14 medium-small very ripe tomatoes, or about 2.5 lbs. worth fresh tomatoes
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, diced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground cardamom
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 quart vegetable stock (homemade if possible)
1 cinnamon stick
1 star anise
1 bay leaf
1 12-oz can tomatoes (Mutti brand)
1 tablespoon salt (or to taste)
2 teaspoons ground pepper
3-4 tablespoons brown sugar or honey (or to taste)
1/2 cup half & half

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Slice your tomatoes in half. Lay them cut side down on a lined sheet tray. Place them in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes, or until roasted and soft.

While your tomatoes are roasting, you can start on the base of your soup. In a large soup pot on medium heat, add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and one diced onion. Sauté your onion until softened, about 6-8 minutes. Once softened, to the onion add the minced garlic, ground coriander, cumin, cardamom and turmeric. Sauté until fragrant, about a minute. Then, add 2 tablespoons tomato paste until the bits of onion are well coated, about 30 seconds. Next, add 1 quart vegetable stock (I prefer homemade, but get low-sodium if it's store bought). Add the cinnamon stick, star anise, and bay leaf to the liquid. Finally, add salt, pepper, and 3 tablespoons of sugar or honey. Depending on the tomatoes, you might need more sugar to balance out the acidity of the tomato. Start in small amounts, and add more later if needed. You can always add the sweetener later, but it's hard to take it away once you've put it in the pot.

Once the tomatoes are roasted, add them, their juices, and the canned tomatoes to the pot. Bring the mixture to a boil, and then turn the heat down to low and allow the soup to simmer for 30 minutes until all the flavors meld together. Using an immersion blender, or a regular blender, puree the soup until smooth.

Finally, add the half & half to the pot. Taste the soup and add more salt, pepper, or even half & half depending on your preference.

If you want to make the soup non-dairy, I think it would taste very good with coconut milk, or a non-dairy creamer. Taste and adjust the amounts according to your liking. Alternatively, you could just add more vegetable stock.

Serve hot, ideally with some fresh garlic naan bread, or a melty grilled cheese.

Baba's House

I've been fortunate enough to have a number of great culinary influences in my life. At the top of the list, is my grandmother. I call her "Baba", short for Babushka, the Russian word for Grandma as opposed to that scarf thing that you wear on your head when you're pretending to be a poor Soviet immigrant.

I'm up in Seattle this week visiting my grandparents and gratefully being fed in copious amounts by my grandmother. While I'm here, I've been taking notes on her recipes and favorite dishes. I plan to start making and recording them with more regularity. It's an incredible gift to have recipes for dishes that someone has been making for over 60 years... maybe for over 70 years. I should ask her when she officially started cooking, but I suspect it began in her own grandmother's kitchen.

My grandmother is the type of woman who is happiest in her kitchen. She has been cooking, baking, making jams, preserving vegetables, and making incredible meals from scratch since well before my time. My grandparents rarely go out to restaurants, because as my grandfather says, "Why would we eat anywhere else when the best food is here?" My grandfather is my grandmother's number one fan, both of her cooking and otherwise. In fact, I'm currently in negotiations to take them out to lunch this week and to give my grandmother a short break from cooking. My grandma is in, but my grandfather is still resistant.

And he's right. It's hard to imagine wanting to eat other places when you have one of the world's greatest chefs cooking all of your meals.

Above is a photo of a perfectly ordinary weeknight meal for these two. Shown above:
1) Homemade marinated roasted peppers
2) Homemade eggplant salad (roasted eggplant, fresh tomatoes and green onion)
3) Perfectly roasted chicken that had been stuffed with cut up golden delicious apples, lemons and prunes
4) Homemade marinated shitake mushrooms
5) A mix of cauliflower, broccoli, and sauteed and browned enoki mushrooms
6) Sliced challah bread on the side

I've often heard that Russian food is considered bad, but I beg to differ. This Russian food is as delicious as it is soul-warming. 

UPDTAE: My mother helpfully pointed out we shouldn't even really refer to my grandmother's cooking as "Russian Food." Our family's cuisine was influenced by multiple places and ethnicities. For one, our family was living in Ukraine (not Russia) for many years, which at the time when they lived there, had a more abundant harvest of fresh produce than Russia proper, and where the cooking was influenced by neighboring Romania. Also and significantly, Jewish cooking had its own unique qualities as compared to strictly Ukrainian or Russian cooking. Lastly, my grandmother's mother actually came from Odessa, which is a port city where various ethnicities merged and influenced what people ate and cooked. So there. Thanks mom!

Recipes to follow in the coming months...

Vincent's Pizza

My good friend and a very talented French artist, Vincent, is visiting L.A. for three months. Vincent and I met 2 years ago on his first trip to Los Angeles, and since then I've visited him in Berlin, we've met up in Paris, and now he's back in Cali. It's been great to be able to visit each other in different parts of the world, and to be able to stay in touch via Skype when we're not in the same country. 

Vincent is here with his close friend and collaborator, Elise. You can check out their recent projects here.

Aside from his artistic abilities, Vincent is a great cook. He's incredibly inventive and adventurous in his cooking (he made cereal crusted turkey burgers drizzled with honey and topped with guac the other night), but he also has a handle on classic techniques. Lately, he's formed a minor obsession with pizza and bread making. The other night, while Elise and Vincent were staying at my place Vincent shared his pizza recipe with me. 

In my experience asking people for recipes, I've noticed that my French friends rely more heavily on touch, smell and taste as opposed to cups, tablespoons or other measurements. This pizza recipe is no different. If you're looking for something exact, hit up Mark Bittman or Smitten Kitchen - they are experts at exactitude. I appreciate any and all forms of cooking, but I do think it's worthwhile to experiment with relying on your senses if you're interested in developing your cooking skills. If you're a perfectionist (and I can speak to this), cooking without precise measurements is also a good opportunity to let go and trust your instincts.

This recipe will make 3 pizzas, which you can top with anything you'd like. 

Pizza is always the best.

Vincent's Romana Pizza
Dough makes 3 thin-crust pizzas, serves 4-6

for the pizza dough
300 grams of unbleached all purpose flour, plus 1/4 a cup reserved 
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 packet yeast
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup - 1 cup water (or however much you'll need)

for the sauce
canned plum tomatoes
olive oil
pinch of sugar
salt and pepper
dried oregano

for the toppings
fresh mozzarella, sliced
shredded gruyere or swiss or both
dried oregano
arugula (optional)
prosciutto (optional)

for the pizza dough
Add 300 grams of flour to a large bowl. Make a well in the flour, and into the well add 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 1 packet of yeast, and salt. 

Start mixing the dough with your hands until the mixture looks like a coarse meal, or very grainy sand. Next, enlist your friend or family member to help you out. 

(Vincent and Elise!)

Have said friend slowly add water to the flour mixture as you continue to mix it all up with your hands. Add water a little at a time. Once the dough starts making a ploppy sound (this is an instruction directly from Vince) and is starting to get very sticky, hold off on adding any more water. Have the same friend slowly add extra flour to the mixture. Vincent says the key is that you want to add flour until the dough no longer sticks to your hands. So you continue to mix the dough while someone sprinkles flour into the bowl, like so:

This is what the dough looks like when it no longer needs any more flour or water:

Cover the bowl with a towel, and leave it in a warm place (near your oven, or out on your porch), and let the dough rise for 3-4 hours. 

While the dough is rising, you can prep your toppings. Make a tomato sauce by sauteing some onions and garlic until they're soft, add canned tomatoes, seasonings, and herbs to the onions and garlic. Simmer everything for 45 minutes, and then puree the mixture with an immersion blender or in a blender. The homemade sauce should be pretty thick; a thicker sauce holds up better on a pizza. Alternatively, you can buy pre-made pizza sauce or marinara.  

Cut up your mozzarella, shred your cheese, and get any other toppings ready.

Once the dough has risen, take it out of the bowl, kneed it for a couple minutes, and then divide the bowl of dough into thirds.

Preheat the oven to 500°F/260°C. Line 2-3 baking sheets with parchment paper and lightly dust the paper with flour.  

On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to whatever thickness you would like. Vincent likes thin pizzas, and so do I. He rolled the dough out to approximately a quarter or an eighth of an inch thick.

Once rolled out, the dough basically fits a standard baking sheet. If you are fancy, you could also roll this out into a circle instead of an oval and place it on a pizza stone.

Add sauce to the dough, then top with the mozz, shredded cheese, and dried oregano. You could drizzle this with olive oil if you'd like. 

Bake in the oven at 500°F for 5-6 minutes or until the dough is browned, and the cheese is melted and bubbly. 


At this point, you can eat the beautiful pizza as is. If you would like you can top the pizza with arugula and/or prosciutto once it's fresh out of the oven.

Enjoy with good friends, a glass of French wine, and good conversation. Bon appetit!

Spiced Peas with Fresh Mint

Shelling fresh English peas is a therapeutic act. Opening up each pod, and removing the delicately attached bright green peas is incredibly satisfying. Shelling the peas is almost as nice as eating them once they've been shelled. While most frozen things pale in comparison to their fresh counterparts, peas are actually an exception, and they are quite good even when obtained in frozen form. I still prefer fresh peas (for their previous mentioned gift of therapy), but frozen peas are a perfectly good substitute.

Peas are great with butter and salt, in a pasta sauce or risotto, or added to a salad. They don't need much to be wonderful, but if you want to make them the star of your dish, they lend themselves extraordinarily well to traditional Indian spices. 

This is a riff on an Indian recipe I tried at some point but can't remember where/when. I am no Indian cooking expert, so forgive my spice shortcuts, and my inauthentic approach. These peas are lovely served simply on a bed of Basmati rice, and I'm sure they'd be great as a side to a more elaborate meal. I added lots of fresh mint because I love it,  had some, and mint is a friend of peas; but I believe the dish might be even better with fresh cilantro. 

The other thing that should be noted is that you need A LOT of pea pods to get a meager amount of shelled peas. About a pound of fresh peas equaled a cup of shelled peas. That can get pricey, so again, frozen peas are a very good choice if fresh aren't available or are too expensive. 

Spiced Peas with Mint
Serves 4

1.5 tablespoons ghee (clarified butter), or you can use a mixture of butter and olive oil, or coconut oil
2 medium shallots, diced fine
salt and pepper
1 teaspoon Garam Masala
1 teaspoon cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1.5 pounds fresh English peas, shelled (about 1.5 cups)
1/4 cup freshly chopped mint or cilantro or both

In a pan on medium high heat, warm the ghee. Add the shallots to the pan, and season with salt and pepper. Cook the shallots until they start to soften and become translucent, about 2 minutes Add the Garam Masala, cardamom, cumin, and coriander. Continue to cook the shallots with the spices until they begin to caramelize just slightly, but you don't want them to burn or crisp. Add the fresh peas to the pan, and add about a 1/4 cup of water or stock. Once the water is evaporated, and the peas look bright bright green, and are plump and tender, turn off the heat. Add the fresh mint or cilantro.

Serve fresh as a side dish, or on a bed of freshly made Basmati rice!

Simple Roasted Artichokes

I can never say no to an artichoke. They are easily my favorite food when they are in season. They are also extremely versatile. They can be cooked in a myriad of ways, and they are the perfect vehicle for condiments (the raison d'etre).

I grew up with boiled artichokes. They're not that bad, because they're still artichokes. Because I grew up eating artichokes that had been cooked in water, I too continued to cook my artichokes in water. Sometimes I steamed them, but mostly I just simmered them. The major downside of artichokes cooked in water is that they turn out waterlogged, and waterlogged foods can be improved upon.

I've made and had grilled artichokes, fried artichokes, and pan seared artichokes, and all are lovely. Those preparations involve a grill, or lots of oil, or lots of care. I wanted to make a crispy, super easy to cook artichoke in my own kitchen. I remember hearing about roasted artichokes, and I have no idea why it took me so long to try out this method.

Roasted artichokes are genius. I will never steam or simmer an artichoke again. Seriously. These are sooo good. The leaves become soft and tender, and crispy on the edges. As an added bonus, they look golden and beautiful. They're good on their own, and even better served along with your favorite artichoke dipping sauce. This is a perfect elegant spring and summer dish.

Roasted Artichokes
Serves 4, 1 artichoke per person

4 medium globe artichokes (or 2 large) cleaned, trimmed, choke removed, split in half
1 large lemon, cut in half
olive oil
salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 425°F.  Line a baking dish (9 x 11) with foil or parchment paper.

First things first, you'll need to clean and prepare your artichoke for roasting. Here's a great tutorial from Mark Bittman. Get a bowl of cold water ready. Squeeze half a lemon into the bowl of water, and then toss that lemon into the bowl. Reserve the other half of your lemon to serve with the artichoke once its cooked. To prepare the artichokes you'll need to trim and peel the ends of the artichoke, remove the tough outer leaves, trim the prickly tops, slice each in half, and remove the choke. Once you've cleaned and halved an artichoke, immediately place it in the lemon water so that it doesn't brown. Move on to the next artichoke and repeat the process.

Once you've prepared and halved all of your artichokes, remove them from the water (it's fine if they are a little wet), and lay them cut side down in a lined baking dish. Any baking dish will do, as long as they all fit in a single layer.

Take the lemon that was sitting in the bowl of water, and squeeze its juice over the artichokes. The lemon should be extra watery. Add a few tablespoons of the lemon water from the bowl into the pan as well. I add a little (not too much) liquid to the pan so that the artichokes slightly steam as they roast. By the end of the cooking process, the water will evaporate, and the artichokes will start to brown. Next, drizzle the artichokes with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.

Cover your baking dish tightly with foil. Roast the artichokes in the oven for 30-40 minutes or until the artichokes are tender and browned. You can check their doneness by removing them from the oven, unwrapping the foil, and testing a few leaves or piercing the stem. If they seem too al dente or not browned, just rewrap them and place them back in the oven. Cooking time will depend on the size and moisture content of the artichoke.

Once they are cooked, season with more salt and pepper. Serve warm with sliced lemon, or with a dipping sauce.

Some dipping sauces include: melted butter, melted butter with garlic, mayo mixed with lemon juice, or mayo mixed with lemon juice herbs/spices.

Omelets and Toast

I'm on an egg kick. It's springtime and the eggs from the farmer's market are better than ever. Yes, farmer's market eggs are pricier than the ones found in the supermarket, but the difference in flavor is noticeably in favor of the more expensive option.

I'm willing to spend a little more on things that are going to taste amazingly better. The yolks are darker, the eggs turn out creamier, and they just taste better in a way that words don't adequately explain. 

The other splurge for this meal was the bread. Again, I'm willing to shell out more dough (no pun intended) for something that is exceptional. I had been curious about these rustic loaves of bread at the Sunday Hollywood Farmer's Market, but the high price tag kept me away. Also, they don't offer samples (I sort of understand the principal of this, but on the other hand samples really work, and I probably would have been hooked on this bread months sooner if I had tried it). 
Ok, at the risk of sounding super bougie, here's what makes this bread special: Kenter Canyon Farm's makes these loaves from from locally grown heritage wheat berries, they mill the flour themselves, they bake the bread from a sourdough starter, and then they sell it at the local market and at Urban Radish. This bread is worth every penny. I'd argue that it's the best loaf of bread I've tried in Los Angeles. 

Back to the eggs... omelets can be filled with whatever you want (from fried chicken, to leftovers from dinner, to squash). It's best to prepare the filling separate from the eggs. The eggs only take a few minutes to cook, and you don't want to try and cram a bunch of raw cold things into a pocket of hot eggs at the last minute. You can use the same pan for both the omelet and the filling, just transfer the filling to the plate you're going to use for the final dish before you make the eggs.  

I had some spring onions, kale, and feta on hand.  I like the combination of something green and something cheesy. Greens love lemon, and I gave the cooked kale and onion mixture a squeeze of lemon juice before I put them in the omelet. Actually, eggs are also big fans of lemon. I'm pretty sure everything is better with lemon. 

I ate this plate of lovely eggs, hearty greens, creamy feta, perfect avocado and buttered-garlic-rubbed rustic bread and my day just got better from there.

This omelet recipe is as flexible as anything, but it's hard for me to think about serving any omelet without a great piece of toast. Find a good rustic bread with a thick crust and soft center and you're set.

Kale and Feta Omelet, with Garlic Rubbed Toast
Serves 1 
(Multiply for however many you want to serve. Omelets are best made one at a time with 2-3 eggs per omelet)

2 large eggs (or 3 if you want a super hearty omelet)
dash of cream or milk (optional)
1 cup chopped kale
1 spring onion, or 2 green onions, sliced
as much crumbled feta as you like, or goat, cheddar, swiss, brie, etc.
salt and pepper
good olive oil
good butter
good bread for toast
1 raw garlic clove
1 lemon wedge, for squeezing
1/2 avocado, sliced

Prep your ingredients: in a bowl, crack open your eggs and add a dash of cream or milk. Whisk them up and season with salt and pepper. Chop up your onions and kale. Crumble the cheese. Peel a clove of garlic. Slice up some bread. Slice up some avocado. 

In an omelet pan (an 8-inch non-stick or whatever you like to use to make eggs), on medium high heat, sauté the kale and onion in a drizzle of olive oil with a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Once the greens and onions are wilted and cooked to your liking, transfer them to a plate. Squeeze a little lemon over the greens. Make sure your crumbled cheese is nearby; it's easier if all of your filling ingredients are in the same place. 
Before you cook the eggs, get your toast going. Toast will take longer than the omelet, and you don't want cold eggs or limp toast. Toast the bread. Rub the toasted slices with a raw clove of garlic, and then butter them.

In the same omelet pan, add a little butter and olive oil.  I would have used ghee (clarified butter), but I ran out. On medium high heat, add the egg mixture. With a spatula, lift up one side, tilt the pan, and let the raw egg seep into the empty space.  Do this in different spots around the pan until your eggs solidify into a single layer.
Once the omelet is still a little wet on top, add the filling, fold it over and slide it onto a plate. The eggs will continue to cook a bit even when you turn off the heat.  

Add the sliced avocado and buttered garlic toast to the plate. Serve and relish each bite.

Baked Eggs with Spring Onion and Spinach

Spring is here and with it comes all the new and tasty, green, yellow, orange and pink things popping up at the market and in my CSA (Farm Fresh To You). I'm still trying to figure out if the CSA system works for me as a single person that loves going to the farmer's market to pick out her own produce. The truth is, some weekends I'm too busy to go the farmer's market. The nice thing about the CSA is that I don't have to think about how I'm going to get quality organic produce into my kitchen. Also, I love getting surprised by seasonal items that I might not have thought to pick out on my own.

For example: spring onions. As much as I like onions, it's never really never occurred to me to seek out spring onions. Usually, I reach for the leeks instead. This bundle was delivered yesterday and I immediately felt inspired by these sweet and delicate onions. 

Baked eggs are such a foodie trick. They couldn't be easier, and they look so pretty baked in their own little white dishes (doesn't anything seem fancier when baked in its own dish?). Most importantly, baked eggs are delicious.

I ate this for lunch with a small salad, and I left the table full and satisfied. This recipe works for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. You can add some cheese or sausage to the baking dish if you want something heartier. A splash of cream could add a nice richness to the dish, if you're so inclined. Tarragon or basil would be nice additions, too.  However you choose to compose your little egg dishes, you'll have a meal on your table in 20 minutes or less.

Baked Eggs with Spring Onion and Spinach
Serves 2 (Can easily be halved, doubled, tripled, or quadrupled)

2 small spring onions, tops and bottoms trimmed, thinly sliced 
1/2 cup spinach, roughly chopped
3 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped
1 teaspoon butter
1 teaspoon olive oil
4 eggs
cooking spray
salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Spray two 6-oz. baking dishes with cooking spray. You can use a ramekin or whatever small baking dish you have (oval, round, square); smaller dishes will simply hold less of the filling, but they'll work perfectly well. Frankly, you can use large muffin tins if you don't have any baking dishes (use one egg instead of 2 per each cup). For the spray, I used coconut oil cooking spray, which adds a mild coconut flavor to the dish.  

Thinly slice your spring onions and roughly chop the spinach and flat leaf parsley.  Set aside and reserve. 

In a pan on medium high heat, melt a teaspoon of butter with a teaspoon of olive oil. You could use just butter or just olive oil; I like the flavor of butter mixed with the lighter quality of oil. Add the spring onions to the pan, and sauté them until they soften and a lovely onion aroma wafts out of the pan, about 2-3 minutes. Add the spinach to the softened onions, and cook it until it just wilts, about 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper. Turn off the heat.  

Divide the onion and spinach mixture evenly between the baking dishes.

Add two eggs to each dish. Top the eggs with chopped flat-leaf parsley.

Sprinkle a little more salt over the eggs.

Place the baking dishes on a baking sheet, and put the baking sheet in the oven for 15-18 minutes, or until the eggs have fully set, and the yolks are just slightly soft. Check your eggs after 10 minutes to gage their level of doneness.

Serve with crusty bread, a side salad, and hot sauce. 
Enjoy each flavorful, fresh, buttery, onion-flavored bite!

Sushi in Tokyo

It's hard to quantify how Japan changed my relationship to food, but like any great culinary experience, it most certainly did. I experienced tastes I had never even imagined before. I ate foods I had never heard of, and I ate foods I had heard of many times but had never tasted in their most perfect form.

No food was more surprisingly exquisite than the sushi.

Sushi was the first meal I ate in Japan.  We were up early due to jet lag (16 hour time difference), and soon after 5 AM we set off for Tokyo's famous Tsukiji fish market. 

Among other things, Tsukiji is the place where tuna auctions take place, and every imaginable type of fish is sold. Certainly, tourists visit this place in droves. However, just like Pike Place in Seattle, this is a real functioning market. Just outside the market are countless restaurants and food stalls.  They're all up and running, bustling and steaming, before the sun has even considered rising.

After walking around for a bit, we spotted a place full of locals and were lucky enough to walk in just before a long line formed behind us. The place seated no more than a dozen folks at a sushi counter manned by three chefs. 

These guys weren't messing around. With the first bite of fatty tuna (toro), I realized (despite having lived in Hawaii, despite eating sushi all over the West Coast), I had never had fish this fresh, and therefor had never tasted fish as good as I did in that moment.


toro (not meat, although it looks it)

The taste of uni was completely redefined at that sushi counter. Uni had never been as buttery, unctuous, or perfect. I instantly fell in love with Japan over breakfast, and the love affair didn't end for the duration of the trip.

For our last dinner in Tokyo, we went to Sushi Yuu. The recommendation for the restaurant came from a friend living in Tokyo with great taste in food. I knew it would be good, but I had no idea just HOW good it would be.  

The restaurant is inviting and warm, and Chef Shimazaki-San makes you feel welcome and taken care of from the moment you arrive. As an interesting side note, the Chef is married to a Russian woman. His English is quite good, but we were able to speak in Russian as well. I never expected I would be speaking Russian to a Japanese sushi chef, and it was a great joy to do so.

There's no menu, there's no ordering, you sit down and go along for the ride of incredible food. You will be served the highest quality fish, rice, wine, miso, freshly grated wasabi, etc. etc. etc. The sushi is a work of art in its own right, but I was equally blown away by the Chef's pickled baby ginger. I love anything pickled and anything ginger, and I had no idea that pickled ginger could taste as good and delicate as the chef made it taste. The ginger is pickled the same day it is served, and because it is baby ginger, it is tender, soft, not too sweet, and perfectly balanced in flavor and spice. I could eat buckets of the stuff. I would go back to this restaurant just for the ginger, and that's saying a lot, because the Chef served us the best sushi of my life. 

Here are some highlights:

tuna, with the incredible ginger and freshly grated wasabi

fatty tuna

mackerel (special sun-dried preparation)

another part of tuna, seared


type of herring


toro with onion

homemade plum wine, made by the chef's mother

end of a great meal

Sushi for our first breakfast and our last dinner were the perfect bookends to an incredible trip.  

If you find yourself in Tokyo, let me know. I will send you straight to Sushi Yuu.

Seared Mushrooms and Polenta

oyster, maitake, and shitake mushrooms
photo by Mark Hanauer

I have looked through the pages of Plenty more times than I can count. I often flip through the pages when I'm looking for inspiration for a dinner party, client, or for what to do with a farmer's market bounty.  I've always been interested in the mushroom and herb polenta recipe, but it felt like a special occasion dish and I never found the right special occasion to make it.

Last night, I was in the mood to make something special for no occasion.  I suggested a few options to my dinner companions, and they voted for mushrooms and polenta.  I didn't feel like following a recipe, and I also felt like making seared polenta as opposed to the baked polenta in the recipe.  I also didn't have time to make polenta from scratch, bake it in the oven for at least an hour, then cool it, then cut it into rounds or squares, then sear it.  Instead, I bought pre-made polenta (in the tube, found at Whole Foods or most other grocery stores). I cut the polenta into rounds before searing it.  

The recipe recommends Taleggio cheese, but the store had was out.  The guy at the Venice Whole Foods cheese counter was super helpful, and found me a mild sheep's milk cheese that worked really well. A goat's milk Gouda might be nice. You could probably use Mozzarella if you only had that on hand.

If you love mushrooms, this dish is perfect.  The creamy crusted polenta pairs perfectly with the earthy browned mushrooms, fresh herbs, and creamy melted cheese.  This meal feels special, but it is perfect as a mid-week dinner after work.  I served it with a simple salad with a balsamic Dijon vinaigrette, and we all ate coconut ice cream for dessert.  It was a great and happy meal.

Here's the dish, inspired by Ottolenghi...

Seared Mushrooms and Polenta Rounds with Herbs and Melted Cheese
Serves 4-5

About the mushrooms:  I used maitake, shiitake, cremini, and oyster. You could use any mushrooms you like, but I would try to use shiitake and oyster if you can, as they have a more delicate texture than cremini, white button or portobello mushrooms. 

olive oil
5-6 cups mixed mushrooms 
4 garlic cloves, finely minced
1 tablespoon, fresh thyme
1 tablespoon, chopped fresh rosemary
salt and pepper
2 18-oz sleeves/tubes plain polenta, cut into 1/2 inch rounds
4-5 oz Taleggio cheese, cut into thin slices (or use a mild semi-hard Sheep's or Goat's cheese)
1/3 cup shredded parmigiano-reggiano cheese
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley

Line a sheet pan or large platter with paper towels. Line a second sheet pan with parchment paper, or tin foil.

Start by cleaning your mushrooms. Remove dirt and grit with a damp towel so as not to saturate the mushrooms with water. Cut up the oyster and maitake mushrooms into 1-inch pieces.  Slice the cremini and the shiitake mushrooms.  Prepare the rest of your ingredients: mince the garlic, remove the thyme from the stem, and chop up the rosemary.  

Add a glug of olive oil to a large pan over medium high heat. In batches, add some of the garlic, mushrooms, rosemary, thyme, salt and pepper to the pan.  Be careful not to overcrowd the pan otherwise your mushrooms won't brown.  Leave the mushrooms in the pan to brown, then flip them and brown the other side.  I used two pans at the same time to speed up this process. I cooked the mushrooms in about 5 or 6 batches.  Transfer the browned mushrooms to a sheet pan lined with paper towels. Set aside all of the browned mushrooms.

Pat dry the polenta rounds before you cook them.  In the same pan you used for the mushrooms, add a tablespoon of olive oil and a pat of butter.  Add 5 or 6 rounds of polenta at a time.  Brown the polenta in batches (don't overcrowd the pan), cook them for 3-5 minutes on each side, or until they are nicely browned and crusty.  Transfer the browned polenta to the parchment-lined sheet pan.

Set your oven to broil.

Top the browned rounds of polenta with the seared mushrooms.  Add a thin slice of cheese on top of each polenta round.  Sprinkle everything with the grated parm.  Place the tray under the broiler for about a minute until the cheese melts and starts to bubble (keep an eye on it, the cheese melts quickly!) Serve and garnish with freshly chopped flat-leaf parsley.

Butternut Squash Pasta Sauce

I admit to having a slight obsession with butternut squash. I love the flavor. I love its versatility. I love the color orange.

On the cooking show I work on we have used butternut squash in a couple healthy mac n' cheese recipes. The first season, one of our chefs made baked butternut squash mac n' cheese.  This season, Chef Vikki made a stove top butternut squash mac n' cheese.  I've seen a number of butternut squash lasagna recipes, and I even read about a squash carbonara.  Having tested, tasted, and loved the recipes for the show, it felt like it was time to take a stab at my own version of some kind of butternut squash pasta sauce.

For almost every squash recipe I make, especially soup, I prefer to roast my squash as opposed to cooking it in a liquid on the stove.  The squash gets caramelized, which adds to the depth of flavor. I find simmered or steamed squash slightly bland.

This recipe shouldn't be followed exactly. You'll need to taste the ingredients and add more of whatever you think it needs or doesn't need.  The basic idea is: roast squash, sweat onions and garlic, add roasted squash to the pan, add fresh thyme salt and pepper, add some water (or stock), add some milk, let it simmer and cook through, boil some pasta while that's happening, puree the sauce, add some cheese, top with fresh herbs, and serve.

Rigatoni with Butternut Squash Pasta Sauce
Serves 4

olive oil
1 medium butternut squash (about 3 lbs.)
1 box rigatoni, or any other kind of pasta you like (i.e. brown rice pasta or quinoa pasta)
1/2 a large white or yellow onion, diced
1 large clove of garlic, minced
3 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves removed
1/2 cup water, or more as needed
1/2 cup milk (any kind), or more as needed
1/2 cup shredded Gruyere (or Swiss, or cheddar,  or mozzarella)
salt and pepper to taste
chopped flat leaf parsley

Preheat your oven to 400°F.

Line a sheet pan with parchment or foil (easier clean-up).  Cut your squash in half, lengthwise.  Scoop out the seeds.  Drizzle olive oil over the squash.  Place flesh side down, and roast in the oven for 35-45 minutes, or until the squashed is cooked through (it should be soft when you pierce it with a fork or knife.  Once the squash is cooked, let it cool slightly.

Bring a large pot of boiling water to a boil.

In a deep sauce pan or pot, over medium high heat, heat a few tablespoons of olive oil.  Add the diced onion to the olive oil and let the onion sweat until soft and translucent, about 7-8 minutes.  Add the minced garlic and thyme leaves to the onion and let it cook for another minute or two.  Scoop the cooked squash out of its skin, and add it to the pan.  Add the water and milk to the squash mixture. Bring the mixture up to a simmer, and then turn down the heat to low.  Let the butternut squash sauce simmer while you prepare your pasta.

Add your pasta to the boiling water, and cook until just al dente the box will indicate the correct amount of time for an al dente noodle, but keep your eye on those guys and make sure they don't get mushy because that's the worst.  Once the pasta is cooked and drained, add it back to the warm pot. This will allow any excess water to evaporate.

Using an immersion blender or a regular blender, food processor, or potato masher, puree your squash mixture until it is smooth and sauce-like.  It doesn't have to be perfect, in fact, just roasting the squash will make it break apart easily when added to the liquid. Turn the heat off.  Add the shredded cheese and stir until it is melted into the sauce. I like to go light on the cheese.  If you want to mimic mac n' cheese, add more of the cheese.  You can also adjust the thickness of the sauce by adding more milk or half and half if you're feeling decadent. This sauce is all about what you like. Season with salt and pepper.  Add the finished sauce to your pasta leftover sauce can be frozen.

Garnish with freshly chopped parsley.  Serve with grated parmesan and red pepper flake.