Wednesday, February 23, 2011

What Is This Thing? A Question I Maybe Should Have Asked Before Swallowing.

While in Florida this past weekend, I ate the vegetable pictured above. Or rather I should say that I choked down two bites of it, grimacing, and then guilty threw the rest away. I have no idea what it is or why anyone would want to eat it.

It seemed to be some variety of bitter melon, though the ones I've had before were more smooth and less warty. Also I've only had bitter melon cooked, though the vendor my mom bought this vegetable from said that it could be eaten raw, like a cucumber. Right.

Its similarities to a cucumber ended after being an oblong green thing that technically you could bite into. Unlike a cucumber, I didn't want to chew or swallow this, let alone turn it into a cool, creamy soup or de-crusted sandwich filling. A broccoli rabe and garlic mustard-loving nontaster, I was surprised at my lack of tolerance, but my gag reflex spoke for me.

Maybe I'm not giving it a fair shake, though if you did shake it, the little green warts fell off, which did not make it any more alluring.

Maybe if, like the bitter melon I've eaten, this was cooked with complimentary seasonings and salty bits of animal flesh, it would have been more palatable. As is, it was part vegetable, part emetic.

So what on earth was it? A snozzcumber?

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Kosher Game

See here for my recent post on kosher game meats for The Jew and the Carrot:

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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Salt, pepper, smoke

One day last fall I walked past a neighbor's house whose wood stove was filling the air with its toasty potpourri. The aroma always stops me in my tracks, prompting primal urges.

If I had to put words to the feeling it would be something along the lines of wanting to run down a woolly mammoth and sink my teeth into its flesh. Since I can't do that -- yet -- my brain goes to the next best thing: pimenton. When the smell of smoke hits my nostrils, the only cure for my primal longings is to indulge them by eating or drinking something that tastes like a fire.

That got me thinking about just how universal smoke is as an agent of flavor, appearing in everything from Scotch and tequila to nova and bacon. After speaking to some Boston area chefs, I wrote a story on smoky foods for the Globe, which ran yesterday and which you can see here:

There's also a recipe for a roasted pepper and eggplant dip from the chef at Sabur, which is here.

If you've got something to say about smoky foods, do share.

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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Picking Olives

Over the weekend, just as I was about to head out for some cross-country skiing, I was shocked to get a call from halfway around the world. My good friend Ian is teaching English at a Quaker school in Ramallah, and he called to say hi. We quickly got down to the essentials: what he's eating.

Ian seems to be eating quite well, and he offered to send me something he wrote about participating in a recent olive harvest. He writes:

Today I went out to a village about forty five minutes or so away to help out with the olive harvest. It felt so good to get out of both the office and the city, and to be working with trees. We picked the olives by hand and let them drop down to tarps that were laid out below the trees.

Each tree usually has enough olives to fill a large burlap sack. I traveled from Ramallah with two friends, one American and one Palestinian, who have been instrumental in organizing the farmers market that just started three weeks ago in the big garden that surrounds my apartment house.

We joined six men in the orchard: two brothers (I think), the other four being one of their sons. The day was full of laughter and sunlight and good conversation (in a swirl of Arabic and English) and tea and Arab coffee and falafel and tahini and hummus and climbing trees to get to the higher boughs and the furthest olives. At the end of the day, we went back to the family's house and had a delicious meal of rice and chicken and string beans in a tomato soup-like dish, and bell peppers and some greens that were cooked up kind of like collards.

After dinner, we went with the family to a wedding party for a relative of theirs. The party was separated by gender, and so the party where I was ranged from shabab (young men) my age in jeans to jiddos (grandfathers) in khaffiyehs. The man who had driven the two women and I from Ramallah was one of the three men who make up the family council of elders for the largest extended family in the village, as well as being in charge of the Palestinian National Paralympic team. He told me all about the history of the village and the family.

The village is the seventh oldest in Palestine, and we saw a mosque that was seven hundred and fifty years old. Also the village is built upon the remains of an (even more) ancient village. I learned about one section of ruins now grown-over by olive trees. Nearby there were Roman and even pre-Roman ruins. On the way back to Ramallah I had a great conversation about politics and philosophy and writing and work and permaculture with my American friend, who lived and worked in Afghanistan from 2003 to 2005.

Now I have a week long vacation starting after tomorrow for Eid Al-Adha (Festival of Sacrifice - which happens after the Hajj - usually about seventy days after the end of Ramadan), and after I finish a couple more letters of recommendation for my students, I will get to have some good rest and relaxation, and I might go olive picking again next Friday.

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Friday, February 11, 2011

Quote of the Day

I miss The Minimalist -- a lot -- but I also like the more systemic focus of Bittman's new opinion pieces. For instance:

"The alternative to sausage is not vegan sausage; it’s less sausage."

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Wednesday, February 9, 2011

My God, This Pomegranate

What more is there to say?

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Monday, February 7, 2011

Miso Plus Many

For a while I was posting about my theory of miso + 1, which states that you can make a satisfying soup by taking miso and adding only one additional ingredient, be it mussels, daikon, or nothing.

Well, sometimes you have to travel far to find your way back home. I've added dozens of ingredients (though one at a time) to various mugs and bowls of miso throughout the past few years, and I've come back to where I started. And that's a town called Miso Plus Many, population most people who like miso.

Don't get me wrong. I still dream of a world where hot water and miso paste is the default snack for millions of people. It's quick, it's cheap, it's healthy, it's almost stupid it's so doable. And yet I've come to believe that, when it comes to the ultimate miso, of course more is better.

This most recent miso was born from a dead chicken. I was bubbling a pot of stock from all my leftover bones and veggies scraps (note the sad carrots bottom right) and was about to make something else for dinner, when I realized I might was well base the meal around my vat of delicious, hot, fresh stock. I added miso paste to the stock as well as (tons of) chopped turnip greens, black rice noodles, a smidgen of cayenne, a drizzle of sesame oil.

It was thick, it was hot, it was rich, it was salty, it was addictive.

When the turnip greens ran out we made it again with spinach and celery (going with the use whatever you have theory). Also great. The nuttiness from the noodles and sesame gave the impression of peanuts, the starch from the noodles added body, and as chefs around the world have come to appreciate, fat and miso become fast friends. We hadn't skimmed the stock and so the particles of chicken fat and fermented soy beans linked up like a double helix of deliciousness, even though I hate how common the word "deliciousness" has become and would never use it if it weren't true.

So I'm back to miso plus many. If I miss miso plus one, I can always subtract.

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