Filed under: Pasta
So happy to announce an article I co-wrote with Zoe Mendelson is up on Food Politic. Its about food marketing to children, and its feisty.
Filed under: Pasta
I recently wrote for a new food news and culture site called Food Politic:
Filed under: Travel
I recently returned from a trip to Taiwan. Even now, a little over a week later, I can’t fully process the wash of complex yet subtle dishes I ate there. Among them: floral-never-bitter teas, intensely umami soups, and wild-looking sea creatures seemingly plucked from the ocean and cooked within minutes. Like so many activity-packed and edifying experiences, it evades an encapsulating theme- at least for now- and I’m left with tiny vignettes.
We drove up to the mountains and bamboo forest, but I have no idea where that is. All of my Chinese-speaking relatives kept referring to the place as The Mountains or The Bamboo Forest and I couldn’t seem to express the question in pantomime. But hiking among the treetops of a bamboo forest felt like the serene backdrop of a magical realism movie.
We ate so many splendid things. Every night felt like a feast. And every feast ended with slices of sweet guava, oranges, and cherry tomatoes. One of the most memorable dishes was a pillowy dumpling with a small, yellow, round ginkgo nut in the center. But that’s tied for first with our lunch on what happened to be Christmas Day. We ate in silence at a temple with a bunch of monks. The food was all vegetarian, but it looked just like meat (seitan?), and was grown by the monks. Men and women ate at separate tables from small metal bowls with metal chopsticks (and the chairs were metal too and all this metal made it very hard to be silent!). A woman monk scolded my mom for sitting cross-legged and I accidentally spilled rice all over the table, and with all this commotion a room full of monks were staring at us. It was the trip’s requisite embarrassing stupid-foreigner moment. When we finished eating we washed our bowls and sat around a large marble slab to ask the head monk what I presumed to be spiritual guidance questions (it not a very religious experience for the monoglot). Later that day we climbed up a steep mountain path to make an offering of sweets and incense to my grandparents’ grave site.
There were dried sharks fins, preserved duck eggs with translucent yokes, dried sea cucumbers, and tropical fruits delicate and sweet enough to break your heart (see above). To my delight, there were mushrooms EVERYWHERE. Shelf mushrooms, king oyster mushrooms, reishis, shiitakes, enokis, mushrooms I had never seen before, and cooked in ways I had never thought of. IT WAS A MYCOPHELIAC’S FANTASY and I loved every minute of it.
On the plane ride home I awakened from the carefully guided and somewhat dazed traveler I became after 10 days of being so well-hosted. I thought about American aversion to so many of the new ingredients, flavors, habits and textures I experienced in Taiwan. And why is that? Last year I would have written a paper exploring the politics of American exclusion at work in our nation’s flavor-lexicon. This year I’ll leave it at posing a few questions. Is there one American palate? During my trip my relatives occasionally ordered fried dishes because they thought it would please us, their American relatives. Is there a way to change our own idea of the American palate, to undo years of overly sweet, salty, and processed food conditioning? My experience in Taiwanese cuisine was by no means a nutritionist’s dream, but I do hope to continue to drink green tea often and be satisfied with fruit for dessert . So far so good.
Filed under: Pickling
Pickle-appreciation is in the air, and warning: it might offend your nostrils or the nostrils of those you live with. But it WILL be worth it. With infinite possibilities for ingredients and spices, I’ve become enchanted with the permutations of pairings: sweet and zingy pickled pumpkin, briny cucumbers, crunchy dilly beans/onion/carrots, tangy beet cumin sauerkraut. I’m getting ahead of myself. Here’s where it all began:
My whole life I’ve slurped the dregs of every pickle jar. My friend Emma and I used to suck down ice trays of frozen “pickle juice popsicles”. In more recent years I’ve become a well-known among friends as a whole-hearted advocate for pickle backs, shots of whiskey followed by shots of pickle brine, its like two of your best friends from different cities meet and start hanging out all the time, its a blast. So I’ve been on a fermentation spree.
FERMENTING FERMENTATION FERVOR:
- Portlandia, we can pickle that
- kombucha craze: whatever, it might not cure cancer but its delicious if you’re half the vinegar-fiend I am
- The Art of Fermentation: new book by Slandor Katz, foreward by Michael Pollan. I haven’t read it yet but his older book, Wild Fermentation, is super informative and might make you want to join a commune in the foothills of Tennessee
- Lucky Peach journal article by Benjamin Wolfe on microbial terroir. LOVE this idea. Samples salamis from across the US and identifies a diversity in microbial salami-makers that are different across regions. And these different populations of microbes are maybe what create unique regional salami flavors. Thanks lil dudes!
- recent Lucky Peach article about fermenting rice wine
But not enough people are talking about the real magic of pickles, the literally transformative microscopic heroes that are doin all the work. Sorry, its not an army of tiny Fred Armisens. Its bacteria.
In lacto-fermentation, lactobacilli (and other bacteria) turn sugars (glucose, fructose, sucrose) into cellular energy. Bacteria of the genera Leuconostoc and Lactobacillus are the main movers and shakers in sauerkraut fermentation. They create a highly acidic environment that squelches harmful bacteria, like Clostridium butulinum, which produce the toxins that cause botulism (fun fact- this bacteria causes the muscle paralysis used in botox!). Lacto-fermented foods are full of probiotics, which help aid digestion, nutrient absorption, fight gut pathogens, and help boost immune response.
THE BAD NEWS:
Many studies from across the world have shown an association between consumption of pickled vegetables and increased risk of stomach cancer. Some of the proposed mechanisms of this relationship are:
- nitrates and nitrites in pickled vegetables react to form carcinogenic N-nitroso compounds
- high salt content of many pickled products (though salt-free fermentation is possible!)
-people that eat more pickled vegetables eat fewer fresh vegetables (I’m suspicious of this one)
MODERATION. As with so many delicious things, I think moderation is the answer here. The studies I mentioned above compared people that ate pickles more than once daily with people that ate them sparingly. While there is no official recommended guideline for pickle consumption, I think their probiotic benefit can be gained and stomach cancer risks hedged if eaten sparingly. Ugh, guess I’ll have to ration my delicious pickles.
Tangy Beet Cumin Sauerkraut
Basic saurkraut directions from Slandor Katz’s Wild Fermentation
1 celery root
1 head small red cabbage
2 medium sized beets
3 tbsp salt
2 cloves fresh garlic
1.5 tsp caraway seeds
1.5 tsp cumin
1 tbsp mustard seeds
1 tsp fresh grated ginger
Chop all vegetables to desired size, I like to keep em big. Combine ingredients in a fermentation crock (I use a glass 1 gallon jar) and toss with 3 tbsp salt. Add the garlic and other spices, mix. Punch down the vegetables, encouraging them to release their water. Cover the kraut with a plate that fits inside the crock. Place a clean weight (I use a half gal mason jar filled with water) on top of the plate. Cover the crock with a clean cloth. Every few hours or so, press down the kraut to help force the water out until the brine covers the vegetables. If after 24 hours there is still not enough water, dissolve 1tsp salt in 1 cup water and add to the crock as necessary. Now let the fermentation magic happen! Store the crock in a dark place, check every day or two. Sometimes scum appears on the surface of the brine, THIS IS OK, just remove it with a spoon. When the kraut reaches your desired tangyness, store the crock with a lid in a cool cellar or refrigerator.
I’ve also recently enjoyed:
Filed under: Mayonnaise
Sorry for the lapse in postings, I’ve been doing crazy things! I graduated from college! I got a job! I moved to Boston! I am becoming a grown-up…NOT but I might be getting better at pretending to be one. Anyway, its super hot here and I can’t stand to turn on the stove for five seconds. I’ve resigned to eating lots of raw meals with sauces (like this peanut sauce) and spreads for sandwiches.
You can’t really make a case for the health benefits of even homemade mayonnaise, but its tangy and rich and I love it. Plus, its merit over the packaged stuff is undeniable. For one, EDTA (Ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid or calcium disodium EDTA) is a preservative that is often found in store-bought mayonnaise. I had a feeling this was an ingredient that doesn’t belong in my mouth because I used it as an anti-coagulant in the neuroscience lab I used to work in. EDTA is used in foods as a stabilizer, though at much lower concentrations than would produce a toxic effect (it also might be mutagenic). Others have proposed EDTA is a persistent organic pollutant (a chemical hazardous to humans and the environment that accumulates along the food chain).
Anyway, I prefer homemade mayonnaise for the taste. Its so fast and easy, you’ll never want to go back to the jarred white goo. The only tricky thing is that you must drizzle in the olive oil slowly for the emulsion to work. For more info about emulsions check this out. And get crazy with the mayo spices! I love mayo with curry spices (below) or add herbs like basil, tarragon, or chives, more ideas.
Homemade Curry-Spiced Mayonnaise
1 egg yolk
½ tbsp lemon juice
½ tsp Dijon mustard
salt and pepper
3/8c canola/grape seed/olive oil
1 clove garlic minced (optional)
1tsp garam marsala and/or turmeric
1tsp chili powder
Blend the egg, lemon juice, mustard, salt and pepper, garlic and spices in a food processor. Drizzle in the oil and blend till the mayonnaise looks thick (a couple minutes).
Rob’s Famous Coleslaw
By Susanne Goin and Teri Gelber
½ cup red wine vinegar (or apple cider vinegar)
2 tsp honey
½ small head cabbage, about 1lb, cored thinly sliced
½ small head green cabbage about 1lb, cored and thinly sliced
½ red onion, thinly sliced
1 carrot, peeled and grated
½ cup homemade mayonnaise
cayenne pepper (optional- depends on mayo seasoning)
2 tbsp minced chives
¼ cup flat-leaf parsley
kosher salt and black pepper
pinch of caraway seeds (optional)
In a saucepan, reduce the vinegar by half. Cool for five minutes then stir in the honey till it dissolves. Mix everything together in a large bowl and eat immediately!
Filed under: Grain
For those of you that don’t spend countless hours scouring food and nutrition blogs, there’s a lot of hype out there about freekeh, an ancient technique for preparing grain that has recently re-emerged in popularity. Its been called “the next quinoa” for its high protein, vitamin, and mineral content. Northern Spy Food Co., a restaurant in the East Village, has a super creamy freekeh risotto, its a velvety daydream with more of a chewy bite than Arborio rice. Sorry for two posts in a row about grains, but I couldn’t help myself, too excited about gut microbiota- but more about that later.
Its charred- that’s pretty badass. Freekeh is harvested early, when the grains, usually durum, are still young and green. Next, the grains, still covered by their chaff (kinda like a husk), are laid out to sunbathe. They are then roasted- either over an open fire or in an oven, to burn off the chaff and straw. After being laid out once again to dry, the grains are rubbed together to remove any remaining chaff.
Among all of the freekeh buzz I have seen numerous claims that freekeh is prebiotic, and that really grabbed my attention. The nutrient and harvesting stuff is cool, but microbiota-gut-food interactions, oooh yeah!
In your gut is an entire ecosystem of diverse bacteria busy at work breaking down different foods through fermentation, interacting with each other and your body. Gut bacteria can inhibit harmful bacterial growth, support immune functions, reduce of gas distention problems, improve digestion and absorption of essential nutrients and synthesize vitamins. Go ahead, thank your gut bacteria.
Prebiotics are nondigestible ingredients in food that selectively promote beneficial bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract. Oligofructose and inulin are common prebiotics found in garlic, artichoke, asparagus, and other foods. When ingested, they are fermented (broken down) by bifidobacteria, one of a few beneficial bacteria that thrive on these prebiotics and consequently multiply. An increased population of this beneficial bacteria is associated with decreased risk of colon cancer, diabetes, fat development and obesity inflammation. The beneficial bacteria produce short chain fatty acids and other metabolites. These short chain fatty acids interact many types of cells to control energy metabolism and immunity.
Before I knew all these awesome facts about freekeh I saw it at the farmer’s market. I discovered that its satisfying bite and earthy toastyness pairs really well with a creamy roasted squash and other root vegetables. I also added maitake mushrooms and a few spices to heighten freekeh’s foresty flavors. I could also imagine the dish topped with a grassy flavor like cilantro.
Freekeh with Roasted Root Vegetables
1 small butternut squash, peeled and chopped into 1-inch cubes
3 medium carrots, cubed
2 medium parsnips, cubed
2 turnips, peeled and cubed (rutabaga might also be good)
4 tbsp olive oil
1 pinch salt
1 onion, peeled and chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1/2 tsp oregano seeds
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp corriander
1 cup vegetable/chicken broth
1 cup water
1 cup freekeh
1/4 lb maitake or other wild mushroom, torn into 2 inch pieces
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Peel and chop the squash, carrots, parsnips, and turnips, and combine and toss with 2 tbsp olive oil and a pinch of salt. Spread these veggies out on a baking sheet and roast for about 40 minutes, stirring halfway through.
Meanwhile, add 2 tbsp olive oil to a large saucepan on medium heat. Add in the chopped onion, sautee till the onion begins to become translucent, add the garlic, oregano seeds, cumin, corriander, freekeh, broth, and water. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally, then turn the heat down to low and cover, 35 mins. Uncover, stir in the mushrooms and taste the freekeh. Cook, uncovered 5 minutes more or until freekeh is no longer crunchy and mushrooms are done.
Combine the roasted vegetables and freekeh mixture in a large bowl. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve warm.
Filed under: Pasta
Wild einkorn grain was harvested by early humans in the late Paleolithic and early Mesolithic Ages, 16,000-15,000 BC. Last week, I bought it as pasta at the grocery store. In search of a whole-wheat noodle that doesn’t taste like mush I stumbled across a selection of pastas made from different varieties of wheat. My inner hunter-gatherer instantly took over and I walked out with a box.
After doing a little research I found out that emmer, spelt, einkorn, and other non-traditional wheat pastas are higher in fiber, protein and nutrients than the classic blonde semolina. Emmer, for instance, is a great source of protein, 7g in a ¼ cup dry, which is more than brown rice or quinoa. I also learned that some pasta labeled whole wheat is actually just semolina enriched with flaxseed or legume powder, which maybe explains why they’re soggy and taste bad. The older varieties that I’ve tried have a rustic, toasted, nuttiness unique to each strain. I can’t wait to try more!
Aside from my nerdly excitement over the chance to taste test all the types of wheat that I can get my hands on, I think aligning consumer interest with wheat biodiversity is pretty cool. Its following the trend towards greater variety set by apples and heirloom tomatoes. Local wheat farmers growing ancient and unusual varieties of wheat have popped up across the country. Growing just one strain of wheat can be dangerous for farmers and consumers because the crop is vulnerable to attack by pests and diseases that feast on that strain (unless harsh pesticides are involved). If different varieties are planted then some are likely to be resistant when others aren’t, like insurance. Genetic diversity, especially of crop wild relatives, is also useful for breeding in desirable traits.
The recipe below is a modified version of a winter dinner my mom used to make me. It brings comfort and warmth for the winter months ahead. The original recipe from Cooks Illustrated encrusts the noodles with garlic breadcrumbs, but with the heartier einkorn pasta I thought that was a little over the top. I also substituted spicy chicken sausage for pancetta because it happened to be in the fridge at the time and it worked well. Enjoy!
Whole Wheat Pasta with Greens and Beans
1tb olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 oz pancetta, cut into ½ inch pieces (I used spicy chicken sausage)
1 medium onion, diced
¼ tsp hot red pepper flakes
1 tsp oregano
12 cups kale, loosely packed (1 to 1 ½ lbs), trim thick stems, cut leaves into 1-inch pieces
1½ cups low-sodium chicken/vegetable broth
1 can (15oz) cannelloni beans, rinsed and drained
13 ¼ oz whole wheat pasta
4 oz fontina or pecorino cheese, grated
ground black pepper and salt
Heat oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat, add pancetta, and cook until crispy. Remove the pancetta from the pan, but leave 1 tablespoon oil.
Add the onion, oregano and red pepper flakes to the pan, cook until translucent then add the garlic. Cook for a minute more then add the greens in two batches. Pour in the broth and turn down the heat to medium. Cover the pan and cook until the greens are tender, about 15 minutes. Add the pancetta and beans to the pan, which should still have liquid on the bottom.
Meanwhile, boil 4 quarts of water. Add pasta and 1 tablespoon salt. Here’s the best step: drain pasta just before it is done and add it to the pan to cook in the sauce for about 2 minutes until it is ready. Season with salt and pepper to taste and add cheese. Eat immediately!