Greek Salad

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I was one of those kids with a messy room – clothes strewn on the floor, books and papers piled up on the desk, stuff everywhere. Things got swallowed up in the mess and resurfaced months after they were no longer needed, often broken or with missing pieces. I existed in that state of disarray except for the uncommon times when my mom would insist that it get cleaned up, generally after too many of her things had been borrowed and lost. I’d sit on the bed and stare at the mess, eventually dissolving into tears from the massiveness of the task. No idea what to tackle first. Paralyzed. That feeling where my shoulders are up around my ears, back against the wall, not sure where to start. I’m feeling that again these days.

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Stress creeps in slowly. It starts with just a small thing and then just two small things and then at some point it’s so many that I can’t see how I got so deep in without noticing. I still haven’t quite gotten the hang out of how best to clean up my own messes. I flounder a bit, wade deeper into the mess until I can see it clearly and start to pick my way out. It gets easier every time – if not the actual simplifying than at least easing the stress. I start in the kitchen. Chopping, mixing, soothing myself with the comfortable familiar before trying to dive into the chaos.

Comfort food means different things depending on the season and when the weather is warm all I want greek salad. Thick cubes of cucumber, tomato, and pepper to make the chopping easier, crumbles of rich feta cheese, lots of lemon-and-oregano dressing. It’s quick to make, the cleanup is easy, and if you leave out the greens you can make it ahead and reach for a bowl whenever the to do list gets too long. And if the stress doesn’t magically melt away, at least it’s easier to face with a full belly.

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Greek Salad
Makes two side salads or one hearty meal

About 2 cups roughly chopped cucumber, tomato, and red or yellow bell pepper – choose your own ratios, I like a lot of tomato.
Up to ¼ cup crumbled feta – use as much as you like
2 tbs chopped fresh oregano
Juice of half a lemon
1/3 cup olive oil
1 tbs tahini
1 tsp dried oregano (it holds up against the acid better than fresh which turns a bit brown)
Salt to taste

COMBINE lemon juice, tahini, olive oil, oregano, and up to ½ teaspoon of kosher salt and whisk to combine. Set the dressing aside.

TOSS cucumber, tomoto, pepper, feta, and oregano in a large bowl. Add dressing to taste and toss again. Eat now or later or whenever you need a little comfort.

Guacamole Salad

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I had planned to share a holiday-themed post today. Something Cinco de Mayo esque. Maybe something taqueria-esque or heavy on the lime or maybe even a margarita-something. I spent a while thinking about what to make and then I spent a while worrying about it. And then I decided that it wasn’t worth it because it felt like I was writing for someone else’s blog.

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Sometimes I get really caught up in what other people are doing, particularly in the world of blogging. It starts out rather innoculously. I fall in love with a new blog about a complicated cooking project or find a blogger whose cooking is much more “cute” than mine. Then I start to wonder if I should try to do something similar, to find a way to fit those kinds of recipes into this kitchen space. And then I find myself avoiding cooking, to avoid blogging, because I feel uncomfortable. It’s like I walked out of a party with someone else’s shoes but I don’t realize until I’m hobbling down the street in too-small shoes unsure why my toes feel so cramped. So I took those shoes off and stepped back into what this space is all about. The every day cooking. The impromtu meals that fall into place based on what’s in the fridge and the weather and whatever I feel like making and eating at any given moment.

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I let the Cinco de Mayo theme go and instead decided to just invite some friends over. We planned an unfancy wine tasting accompanied by roast chicken, bread, some salad. And it was exciting, putting together this decidely ordinary meal. My shopping list started out with just chicken, bread, cheese, and “salad greens” that I figured I’d elaborate on when I got to the market. I started with a container of cherry tomatoes on my counter and some red onion in the fridge. Avocados are always around and despite their increased prices, the limes looked good when I was out grocery shopping. And then just as it was coming together I realized that I’d made a guacamole salad. And well, here’s your damn Cinco de Mayo post.

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Guacamole Salad
Serves 4-6

1 pint cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
1/2 cup thinly-sliced red onion
3-4 avocados, divided
1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro, divided
1 tsp chile powder
1 tsp salt
Juice of 3 limes
2 tbs oil
1 head of lettuce, washed and torn into bite-sized pieces

BLEND together half an avocado, two tablespoons of chopped cilantro, chile powder, salt, lime juice, and oil until smooth. You could also mash this all together into liquid with a fork or potato masher. Put the dressing aside.

RINSE the red onion slices by putting them in a strainer under running water. This helps take out some of the string of the raw onions.

DICE the remaining remaining avocados into 1/2 inch cubes.

COMBINE the halved tomatoes, rinsed red onion, avocado cubes, remaining 2 tbs of cilantro, and dressing in a large bowl. At this point you can put it in the fridge for a day or two if you want to make it ahead. If you are adding the lettuce toss it in right before serving.

Tomato Tarte Tatin

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Jeff and I agree on a lot of things food related but the one thing we don’t see eye to eye on is out of season tomatoes. During the nine months of the year when fresh, sun-ripened tomatoes aren’t available without an air shipment he won’t eat them. Picks around them in salads, takes them off his sandwiches on the rare occasion he forgets to say “no tomatoes”. Me on the other hand, I still pick up cherry tomatoes in December. I don’t worry about eating light pink tomatoes in March (hello March!)

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For the most part, out of season tomatoes aren’t anything to get excited about. They aren’t particularly sweet or juicy like their summer counterparts. But it’s winter tomatoes that are made for cooking. Their charm takes a bit more coaxing – it requires slow heat and caramelization – but the payoff is sweet. The tomato flavor concentrates, it becomes something else entirely from its unripe beginnings. What started out as a pile of hard pink tomatoes ended in an unusual tart tatin.

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The funny thing is, I’ve never made the traditional tart tatin, with apples and a thick caramel sauce. It’s been on my to-bake list for years but it wasn’t the apples that ended up tempting me. It was the tomatoes.They emerged from the pan with deeply browned tops and a rich flavor, caramel-like on top and soft and melty inside. I’m sure there’s a lesson here about every tomato being delicious in its own way. But whatever, I’m too busy enjoying my March tomatoes.

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Tomato Tart Tatin

2 tbs olive oil
1-2 onions, halved and finely sliced
6-8 tomatoes, halved
2 tbs fresh thyme
½ cup stock or water
1 tbs soy sauce
Salt to taste
1 sheet of puff pastry, thawed

SAUTE onions and olive oil in an 8-10 inch nonreactive skillet (i.e. not nonstick or cast iron) over medium heat until lightly caramelized, about 25 minutes. Season with up to a teaspoon of salt. Don’t increase the heat too much or the onions may burn before they caramelize.
ADD the tomatoes to the pan, face down along with the thyme, stock, soy sauce, and another 1-2 teaspoons of salt, depending on if your stock is low sodium or no salt.
PREHEAT oven to 375F.
SIMMER tomatoes without stirring for about 20 minutes or until the liquid has mostly disappeared. If the liquid all bubbles off before the 20 minutes are up, reduce the heat to low and keep cooking.
UNFOLD your fully-defrosted puff pastry and trim the corners to make an (approximately) 10-inch round.
COVER the tomatoes with the puff pastry when they’ve finished simmering. Then slip the whole pan in the oven.
BAKE for 20-25 minutes, until the pastry is puffed up and golden brown.
INVERT the tart onto a clean plate. Start this by running a spatula under the tomatoes in the pan to loosen them a little (don’t worry if the pastry cracks a little). Then put a clean plate upside down on the tart and using oven mitts or pot holders, flip the pan upside down so that the tart is tomato side up on the plate.

The best course of action is to serve the tart as soon as possible – the puff pastry will get soggier the longer the juicy tomatoes sit on it. If you want to make this ahead, invert the tart onto a plate. Put a buttered piece of parchment paper into the pan (or into a 10-inch pie dish that you plan to use to transport the tart) and replace the tart, tomato side down, into the pan now lined with parchment. Let it cool completely and then cover it. When you’re ready to eat it, reheat it in a 400 degree oven for 10-15 minutes until it’s hot and crispy and then follow the steps to invert it onto serving plate.

Shakshouka

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I don’t know when I first discovered shakshouka but I know when I first fell in love with it. It was in Israel, in Tel Aviv, in a weird ramshakle restaurant that everyone knew about. If you ask someone who has eaten shakshouka in Tel Aviv where they had it, most likely the answer will be “Dr Shakshouka.” It’s not a fancy place, more what you would call a dive with mismatched decorations and cheap dishware. And it’s not like shakshouka is a unique dish; it’s very common in Israel and in other countries in the region as well. It’s just that Dr Shakshouka is the best.

Shakshouka, literally meaning “mixture”, is just eggs poached in tomato sauce. Italins call it eggs in purgatory but the idea is the same. At Dr. Shakshouka you can have your shakshouka plain or spicy and with a variety of vegetables, mushrooms, eggplant, spinach, or just on its own. A few scoops of sauce are thrown into a hot pan placed over an intense gas flame until the sauce bubbles violently and then when things are really hot, the eggs are added. When I sat at the table, watching the chef juggle the hot pans on the stove, I was sure it wouldn’t come out right. But when the hot pan was placed in front of me and I broke into an egg the yolk was still soft. It pooled into the tomato sauce, enriching it, just right to sop up with some bread.

I can’t recreate the Doctor’s shakshouka in my own kitchen – my stove just doesn’t have the BTUs to get the sauce that hot and poach the eggs that quickly. I’ve tried to recreate the heat and speed of the original but mostly I just overcook the eggs and scorch the tomato sauce on the edges of the pan. I’ve switched to a lower heat with the tomatoes barely at a simmer so the eggs cook gently. Less fire and intensity but still rich tomato sauce, poached eggs, and bread.

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Shakshouka

Makes one serving but it’s easy to scale up

1/2 – 3/4 cup tomato sauce, depending on how much you want (like this one, perhaps)
2 eggs
Up to ½ cup extra chopped vegetables (optional – I love using mushrooms or spinach)
Bread, for serving

HEAT the sauce over medium-high heat in a pan with a wide enough bottom that it forms a layer no more than an inch deep. For ¾ cup of sauce I use an 8-inch nonstick pan and it works well. Heat the sauce until it’s steaming slightly and there are a few little bubbles just around the edges.
ADD the eggs to the warmed sauce, making a little well for each one with a spatula or wooden spoon so that they stay separate. Or don’t bother if the presentation isn’t so important to you.
COVER the pan with a lid or create a makeshift lid but putting a piece of foil over the top of the pan so the eggs will cook evenly.
COOK for 3-5 minutes, depending on how runny you like your yolks and how hot your stove is. You want the whites to be almost set when you take the pan off the heat. They’ll keep cooking in the hot sauce while you plate it up.
SERVE by spooning the eggs and sauce on top of the bread or by putting it in a bowl and serving the bread on the side for dipping. It’s not a make ahead dish by any means so serve it hot and don’t leave any leftovers.

Mediterranean Seven Layer Dip

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This weekend sort of got away from me. We flew to the East Coast for Jeff’s college reunion which meant a red eye flight; perhaps the most effective way to screw up your sleep cycle. Then we spent the next few days wandering around campus in the rain, spending time with friends, dancing. We celebrated, stayed up to the wee hours of the morning laughing and chatting, felt nostalgic about college. It was lovely.

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It was also stressful. From this side, I can see how disorganized and messy my life was in college. In the moment it felt like we had everything under control but after a weekend of reminiscing it’s clear that we ate poorly, stayed up late working on projects that we’d failed to plan out, made decisions that if we didn’t regret, we at least wouldn’t make again. It was everything college should be but at the same time, I’m glad I’ve gotten myself together since then. So I escaped on Sunday morning and went home.

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My parents live an easy drive from Jeff’s college and I spent most of Sunday hanging out on the couch, reading, almost-napping, watching bad TV. I rested. It wasn’t quite enough to undo the damage done over the weekend, but it was enough to get the energy to make this dip for a Memorial Day barbecue. Although, to be fair, this dip doesn’t take much effort.

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For holidays growing up, dip meant either french onion (from the Lipton package) or Mexican 7 layer. I loved making the seven layer dip, sprinkling and spreading everything into place. I insisted on making it for years, making a whole tray when it was just four people celebrating. This year, it got taken off the menu. Refried beans became hummus and sour cream became tzatziki. There was more lemon and more fresh herbs and less iceberg lettuce (although it still has a place in my heart, and my table, just not in this dip). The sun even came out on Monday so we enjoyed this on the sunny deck, greedily scooping it up with pita chips. If it’s any indication of how this summer will be, I’m looking forward to it.

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Last year we ate: Dijon Mustard

Mediterranean Seven Layer Dip

Makes an appetizer for about 10; fills a 10 inch round pan

There are a couple of spreads that are incorporated into this dip to help hold it together – hummus, tzatziki, tabouli. This time I used storebought for the hummus and tabouli and made the tzatzki but in the future any of those could be homemade or easily found at the store. Choose your own adventure.

1 cup hummus
1/2 cup roasted red pepper, drained and roughly chopped
1/4 cup peperoncini, stems removed and roughly chopped (you could remove the seeds if you want but it wasn’t too spicy with them)
1 cup tzaziki *
1/2 cup each, tomato and cucumber, cut into a medium-sized dice
1/4 cup red onion, finely diced
2 tbs olive oil
1 tsp kosher salt
1 cup tabouli
1/2 cup feta cheese
1/2 cup chopped kalamata olives (optional, I left them out)

In a medium bowl combine the peppers and peperoncini and set aside. In another bowl combine the tomato, cucumber, red onion, olive oil, and one teaspoon of salt. Let those bowls sit for about 15 minutes to let the flavors combine.

This part is more of a method than a recipe. This is how I did it: in a 10-inch round or an 8 by 8 brownie pan, spread out the hummus. Strain any liquid from the red pepper mixture and spread it out next. Then add the layer of tzatziki and strain and spread the tomato-cucumber mixture on top of that. Next is the layer of tabouli and finally the feta cheese. Sprinkle the olives on top if you’re using them. You can eat the composed dip right away, with pita chips, crackers, or vegetable sticks, or cover it and let it sit in the fridge for a few hours before serving. Don’t assemble it more than a few hours in advance, the chopped layers are juicy and will weep if you leave them too long.

The feta and olive should likely be on top and it would be difficult to spread something on top of the tabouli but the other four layers can go in any order, keeping in mind that spreads and chopped layers should be separated to enhance the textural contrast.

* My homemade version was 1/2 cup shredded cucumber which I squeezed in a towel to get out the excess liquid, 3/4 cup greek yogurt, 1 clove garlic finely chopped, 1 tsp kosher salt, and 1/2 tsp dried dill. Everything was mixed together in a bowl and then allowed to sit in the fridge for a few hours to let the flavors meld.

Caesar Piadina

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The chain restaurant I worked at in high school had a secret menu. It wasn’t like the In-N-Out secret menu which everyone kind of knows about. We didn’t publicize it or even publish it anywhere. But if you wanted an “old” menu item, it was probably still on our point-of-sale software and we could get it for you. And by you, I mean me. I was addicted to the Caesar Piadina, something that got kicked off the menu shortly before I started working there.

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Despite the fancy name, this is essentially a salad pizza using a white pie and a mound of caesar salad. In the middle of a long shift when it’s hot and dirty and cramped in the kitchen waiting for orders to come out, I’d take my plate and hide in the dry goods area, stealing enormous bites between tables. I even loved the gloopy salad dressing that came in enormous tubs and was always sort of congealed before it got mixed into the greens. For a 17-year-old, it was heaven.

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But that chain didn’t exist near my college or out in San Francisco so it’s been a while since I’ve had my fill of pizza topped with caesar salad. I’d almost forgotten about it until a friend ordered a salad pizza from a random pizzeria during a trip to Los Angeles. It tasted nothing like the piadina except for being salad and pizza together but it still reminded me of all the meals spent lounging in the back or hiding at an empty table during a slow shift. The desperate attempt to get the salad to stay on the pizza slices which, while futile, is still worth it. Plus, I remembered all the rolls I ate dipped in Caesar dressing while waiting for takeout orders to be picked up. Then I felt a little sick.

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For years I assumed Piadina was a bastardization of an Italian word that some marketing guy had come up with. But while flipping through an issue of Food and Wine, I stumbled across a recipe for a “Piadine” that looked like a more authentic version of the dish I ate during almost every shift in my short stint as a waitress, albeit with different flavors and minus the salad on top. That was all the encouragement I needed to recreate this and upgrade the dressing to something less likely to hold its shape when spilled. Secret menu be damned.

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Last year we ate: Broccoli and Gorgonzola Pie

Caesar Piadina

Makes one large pizza

Here’s the thing about making pizza: while homemade dough can be excellent, store-bought dough that you roll out is just as good. So if you’re short on time or ingredients for dough, just pick one up at a local pizzeria/grocery store and save some time.

The original recipe actually was a chicken caesar dish but at the time I didn’t eat meat and I couldn’t bear to break with tradition when I recreated it. But that doesn’t mean you can’t. You can top this salad/pizza any way you want. This rendition isn’t even that much like the original. The really great part is hot pizza with cool salad. The rest is your choice.

For the pizza:
Recipe adapted from Ratio

10 ounces all purpose flour
3/4 cup warm water (somewhere around 100F)
1 tsp kosher salt
2 tbs olive oil (1/2 oz)
1/4 tsp yeast
1/4 cup diced tomatoes (or slices of grape tomatoes)
2 tbs grated parmesan
2 tbs olive oil
2 tbs caesar dressing (see recipe below)

For the salad:*

1 head romaine, chopped or ripped into bite sized pieces
1 anchovy
1 clove garlic
1/2 tsp kosher salt
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp mayo**
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup grated parmesan + 1/4 cup grated parmesan to toss with the salad
1/2 tsp ground black pepper

In the bowl of a stand mixer (you can do this by hand but it takes a lot of work) mix the flour, water, yeast, and olive oil. Let it sit for 3-5 minutes while the yeast dissolves and foams a little. Then add the salt and stir the dough briefly to combine all the ingredients. Then, using the dough hook, knead the dough on medium until it’s smooth and soft, about 10 minutes. You can knead it by hand but it takes a lot of muscle. Better option is to go for store-bought dough.

If you make the dough yourself, let it rise for about an hour before using it. You can certainly let it rise for longer but it’s not necessary; if you leave it for more than a few hours, keep it in the fridge.

While the dough is rising, take care of the dressing so the flavors have some time to meld. Crush the garlic and chop it finely with the anchovy and salt. You can use the flat of the knife to really crush everything into a paste. Once the garlic and anchovy are well combined, place them in a small bowl and add the lemon juice, mayo, oil, parmesan, and pepper. Whisk everything together until combined then taste to see if needs anything (more lemon for acidity, more salt to boost flavors, more mayo to help emulsify it, etc).

When you’re ready to use the dough, flour a large surface and preheat the oven to 500 (or preheat an outdoor grill). If you’d prefer a thinner crust pizza, cut the dough in half and roll out each half. Roll the dough out until it’s less than 1/4 inch thin and about 12-14 inches in diameter. Transfer it to the oven, either directly onto the grill grates or on an upside-down baking sheet placed in the oven, and bake for 2-3 minutes – keep a close eye on this or it will burn. Then remove it from the oven/grill and top with oil, 2 tbs of caesar dressing, parmesan, and tomato (if you do this on the grill, make sure to top the grilled side first so you can cook the un-grilled side). Cook it for another 2-4 minutes, until the dough is crispy and the tomatoes are soft. Remove it from the oven/grill and let it cool slightly.

While that’s happening, toss the remaining dressing with the romaine and the parmesan. Pour the salad over the pizza and cut it into slices to eat. This is something that’s better when it’s freshly made; leftovers get a little soggy.

* You’ll get enough salad dressing for both the salad and the dough from this recipe and maybe a little bit extra

** A lot of caesar dressing recipes, like this one, use a raw egg, but I’ve realized it’s often easier to just use a little bit of mayo which, let’s be honest, is just egg and oil anyway.

Unstuffed Cabbage

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There is something wonderfully comforting about intricately handmade food. Steaming bowls of hand-formed dumplings, bowls of fat homemade tortellini, lemony-bright hand-stuffed grape leaves. The kind of food you only make on holidays or those special occasions when you can spend a whole day in the kitchen painstakingly rolling every piece. And then all the other times when you don’t have the time or energy to make them, you substitute with pre-made varieties, which, while not as good, will certainly do when you need that comforting taste. But what about cabbage rolls? There is no frozen-dinner substitute for those lovely pockets of meat and rice plumped from a long-simmering in tomato sauce. If that’s what you want, you have to make it yourself or just keep wanting.

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But that was unacceptable to a lazy cook like myself. Sure, there are times when I will patiently blanch the cabbage leaves and then roll them around a spoonful of the rich meaty filling. I’ll wait for hours while they slowly simmer in a pot of tomato sauce and then fish them out eagerly at dinner time. But most of the time I want to eat them, not make them, which is how this unstuffed cabbage casserole came to be. How, I wondered, could I take all the good things about cabbage rolls and then make them into something that takes only about 20 minutes to throw together and an hour of less to bake. And that, friends, is the stuff casseroles are made of.

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When we first tried this version, Jeff looked at me with a slightly puzzled expression on his face. “Well, it tastes like stuffed cabbage rolls. I just think it could taste like something better.” Possibly it could; possibly you could put these same ingredients together and make something more than cabbage rolls; a sort of deconstructed cabbage dish that elevates the lowly peasant food. But that isn’t really the point. The point is that this casserole tastes like that wonderful homemade stuffed cabbage you never have time to make. But instead of hours of work this all comes together in a bowl and bakes in the oven for only a little while. There’s even time for a nap while you make it.

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Last year we ate: Pickled Carrots

Unstuffed Cabbage Casserole

Makes at least 8 servings

A note on cabbage: I experimented with both Savoy cabbage and plain green cabbage while making this – no purple cabbage since its color bleeds while cooking and I didn’t want a purple casserole. The difference in taste between the two is pretty small and I don’t know if I would have noticed it if I wasn’t looking for it. But the difference in preparation is pretty big. The green cabbage leaves are harder to peel off and they’re harder to cut nicely after the casserole is cooked which means you’re less likely to get neat slices when you serve it. I, for one, will be sticking with Savoy in the future when I make this.

1 green cabbage or 2 savoy cabbages
3 carrots, peeled and diced
2 celery stalks, diced
1/2 onion, diced*
1 lb ground beef
1/2 cup white rice, uncooked
14 oz can diced tomatoes, well drained**
1/4 tsp clove
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp paprika (I use smoked, you use whatever works for you)
1/4 cup oil***
1 tbs salt
1 tsp freshly ground pepper
2 cups tomato sauce (homemade, jarred, whichever kind of most like although a less bold sauce is probably better)

Preheat the oven to 350F. Gently peel the outer leave off the cabbage – this is very hard to do neatly with a green cabbage and somewhat easier with a Savoy. If you’re using green cabbage peel until you have about half as much cabbage left on the head; for a Savoy peel all the leaves off one cabbage until you get to the core. Cut the stem out of each leaf so you’re left with two halves that lie flat, or at lie flat better than they did with the stem still attached.

Using a 9 by 13 casserole dish, line the bottom with cabbage leaves. Here you should the small or scraggly or ugly leaves since they’ll be covered up anyway. Make sure the leaves go up the sides of the casserole dish so that the filling will be completely encased in cabbage leaves when it’s finished. You can always fold the tops over when you load it up. Also make sure there are no gaps between the leaves for the filling to leak out. Reserve 8-10 leaves for the top.

Finely chop the rest of the cabbage leaves into ribbons, slaw style, but make sure you cut out the core since it’s very tough – you’ll need about 2 loosely packed cups of chopped cabbage leaves.

In a large bowl combine the chopped cabbage, carrot, onion, celery, beef, rice, tomatoes, spices, oil, salt and pepper and mix well. Gently pat the mixture into the prepared cabbage leaves and then top with the remaining leaves – make sure all the leaves are tucked in and there is no filling showing.

Pour the tomato sauce over the casserole and cover it tightly with foil. Then bake it for 45 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for another 15 minutes. While it will keep in the fridge for a week, the rice texture suffers a bit after a few days, in the way that leftover rice does. And it’s certainly best served hot.

*When it comes to tomato sauce I make this one which is where the other half of the onion goes. If you use a different sauce simply use a whole medium onion, or put the other half in the fridge if you’ll use it.

** Really, drained them well. If they’re too wet then the casserole will end up wet too. There’s a lot of liquid from the vegetables and meat already. You don’t have to press the tomatoes but it won’t hurt to drain them in a colander for 30 seconds

*** This is a trick I learned from making dumplings. Add oil to ground meat filling helps it stay looser so it doesn’t end up feeling like a little puck of meat when you eat it. It also contributes to overall juiciness in the final product without watering things down.

Tabouli Cauliflower

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Is it too soon to talk about cauliflower? New Year’s resolutions often involve healthy eating and fresh starts but it is only January 1. It’s a day for hangovers – both food and alcohol – and resting from the holiday festivities. But if you’re interested in something with less booze and more vitamins then cauliflower tabouli will be waiting for you.

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Let’s be clear; this is not a healthy dish that makes you feel virtuous and yet a bit deprived. It’s a one-for-one substitution of cauliflower for bulger wheat which means the final dish tastes like traditional tabouli plus. It’s not a Jessica Seinfeld-style attempt to hide vegetables in a dish; you know there’s cauliflower in this dish. But unlike bulger, which is largely filler and often tasteless, it adds a little something to the dish.

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‘Eat your vegetables’ is often accompanied with the thought of tasteless and boring meals or at least unappealing side dishes. But if your goal this year – or ever – is to eat more healthily it doesn’t have to be that way. This dish is vibrant and flavorful and bright, especially alongside all those winter braises, and incidentally, it’s also an extra serving of vegetables on your plate. Not a bad way to kick off a New Year’s resolution.

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Califlower Tabouli

Serves 4-6

1 head cauliflower
1 medium bunch parsley, finely chopped
1/2 cup mint leaves, finely chopped
1 tsp chile flake
2 scallions, chopped, about 1/4 cup
2 tsp kosher salt
1 clove garlic
1 tomato, finely chopped*
1/4 olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon, about 2 tbs

Cut the cauliflower into florets and remove the stem piece. If you have a large food processor you can grate the cauliflower using the grating blade and it takes only a few minutes. But if you don’t have one you can just finely chop the cauliflower florets into small pieces – grating it by hand will make a big mess as the florets tend to fly everywhere on a grater.

Once you’re grated or chopped the cauliflower, combine it in a large bowl with the chopped parsley, mint, and scallion. Add the chile flake and 1 tsp of salt. Turn the garlic clove into paste by chopping it roughly and then sprinkle the pieces with the other 1 tsp of salt. Press the flat part of the knife into the pile of garlic and salt and drag the flat past across so that you crush it into the board. Scrape the garlic and salt into a pile and then press/drag the knife across it again. Repeat this until the garlic and salt make a paste.

Add the garlic paste and the chopped tomato to the bowl along with the lemon juice and olive oil. Taste and adjust the seasoning as needed. Let it sit for at least 30 minutes before serving so the flavors can meld. Serve the salad cold or at room temperature.

*Winter tomatoes are generally not great so if you make this in the winter you can either leave it out or roast the tomato at 475F for 15 minutes and then chop it up finely. The roasting will caramelize the sugars and get rid of the mealy feeling unripe tomatoes have.

Tomato and Corn Salad

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Sometimes I need to shake things up. I need to make things differently. I need to fix things that don’t actually need fixing.

That’s how I got to this corn and tomato salad. It was inspired by one of my favorite recipes, one I’ve been making since Gourmet published the recipe in August of 2009.

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The original recipe is for a tomato and corn pie that is pretty amazing. I didn’t expect it to be so good but between the baked, pizza-like tomatoes, the herbs, the biscuit crust; it’s a thing of beauty. Only I didn’t want to make pie. I just wanted the filling. So I needed to figure out how to get the filling without having to bake a pie.

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The real star of the pie is the baked tomatoes but when it comes to salad, you need a good base to work with. So for this recipe, corn makes up the foundation with tomatoes as the flavor. It’s a shift from the pie, but it’s a positive one.

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To keep the original flavor of the baked tomatoes, I roasted little halved cherries. The roasting makes them sweeter and less acidic, more pizza-tomatoey.

The flavors of the pie are all there –the thyme, the corn and tomatoes – plus a vinegar-and-mayo dressing to bind everything together.

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I’m not saying this salad will replace the pie; it’s a different (although reminiscent) beast that fills a different need. But I will say that I have yet to make that pie this summer. No one’s complaining.

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Tomato and Corn Salad
Inspired by Tomato and Corn Pie by Gourmet

3-4 ears corn, peeled and de-silked*
2 pints cherry tomatoes, halved
2 tbs chopped fresh thyme
¼ cup grated parmesan
3 tbs red wine vinegar
¼ cup mayo
3 tbs kosher salt + more to taste
Freshly ground black pepper

Turn on your oven’s broiler or preheat to 475F.

Bring a few quarts of salted water (1 tbs per quart) to boil in a large pot. Once the water is boiling, add the corn and boil for 3-4 minutes. Remove the ears and let them cool. Then cut the kernels off the ears as neatly as you can and put them in a serving bowl large enough to toss in.**

Line a baking sheet with foil*** and lay out the halved tomatoes, cut sides up. Sprinkle with up to 1 tbs of kosher salt and broil for 10-15 minutes. The tomatoes should be slightly shriveled at the edges and juicy.

Carefully scrape the tomatoes and their juice (don’t lose the juice!) into the bowl with the corn kernels. Let the tomatoes and corn cool completely.

Add the thyme and parmesan to the bowl with the corn/tomato mixture. Stir the mayo and red wine together with a fork until evenly incorporated. It may look a bit strange while you’re mixing but it will turn out ok after a few more stirs. Add the mixture to the salad and toss well.

Season with salt and pepper (keep in mind that the tomato juice has salt in it already). Let the salad sit for a few hours before serving so that the flavors can really ‘get to know one another.’ Serve it room temperature or cold. It will last for about a week in the fridge.

* Looking at the pictures, it appears that the there is more corn and fewer tomatoes than the recipe calls for. That is true but having eaten the first batch I thought the only way to improve the recipe is with a more even tomato-corn ratio. This is that recipe.

** One thing that makes it easier to keep the kernels from flying everywhere is not trying to cut too close to the cob. The place where the kernels meet the cob is kind of tough. It you cut too deep you will inevitably catch your knife on this part and send kernels pinging around your kitchen. I prefer to make two passes on the cob – cutting down the length twice – to get as much kernel as possible without making a mess.

*** Yes, foil is reactive with tomatoes but it’s such a short period of time that it doesn’t bother me. If it concerns you, substitute parchment paper for the foil.

Kale Soup

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Most of the tastes and foods I associate strongly with growing up are those of Jewish and/or British and South African dishes which reflect my background pretty accurately. There are also a smattering of regional New England dishes that snuck into my parents’ repertoire through neighborhood parties or dinners with friends. And then there are a few dishes that, while representative of the place I grew up, are ones which I’m not sure how my parents discovered.

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The town I grew up in, along with the surrounding area, is heavily Portuguese. So much so that as a kid I could not understand why people said that Spanish was the most popular language in the US and was convinced that someone was failing to understand the distinction between Spanish and Portuguese. It was not until I moved to California that I really understood how uncommon Portuguese is in most other parts of the country.

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We were not big soup eaters in my family, tending to favor stew dishes more, so the two soups I can remember my parents making on a regular basis (besides the requisite Chicken and Matzah Ball, which while delicious only surfaced on Jewish holidays) are ones that have approximately equal amounts of broth to chewable additions. One of these soups is Portuguese kale soup, although we only ever called it Kale soup, and it was only a few years ago that I realized it was a variation of the traditional soup for which most Portuguese families have a recipe.

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This recipe makes a fairly large batch which is fine with me – all it needs is a loaf of bread and I am set for almost a week of lunches. It lasts in the fridge for about a week but the potatoes don’t freeze well so if you can’t see yourself eating it for several days straight, just divide the recipe into a smaller portion.

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This is the soup I make when it’s cold and rainy and I miss home. It’s the soup that reminds me of sitting around my parents’ kitchen table at a time when my feet did not quite touch the ground. Even as a vegetarian, I made this soup: using vegetable broth and substituting a few teaspoons of paprika and a pinch of cayenne for the linguica that traditionally supplies those flavors. Since moving out to the West Coast I’ve discovered that I prefer Dinosaur Kale to the Curly variety but other than that, this soup has not changed much over the years. It doesn’t take very long or require many ingredients. It reheats beautifully although it does get more stew-like as the beans and potatoes breakdown after repeated cooling and heating. Kale is my favorite green vegetable for soups since it doesn’t break down completely like most leafy greens do and it retains some texture even after a long simmering.

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I am pretty sure this is the only Portuguese dish that made it in my family’s repertoire, and now into mine. Still, I can’t imagine not making it every winter. Just goes to show that a little variety really makes all the difference.

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Portuguese Kale Soup

1 large bunch of Kale – preferably Dinosaur Kale – veins removed, sliced into ½ inch * 3 inch ribbons
1 lb linguica sausage, cut into ¼ inch thick slices*
1 large onion, diced into ½ inch pieces
1 tsp plus 1 tbs kosher salt
1/2 lb potatoes, cut into ½ inch cubes
1 14 oz can of diced tomatoes
1 14 oz can white beans or ½ cup dried beans, soaked for 6 hours or overnight
1 quart chicken stock (or vegetable broth)

Add 1 tsp olive oil to a large heavy bottomed pot and put it over medium heat to warm. Add the onion Linguica, and salt and cook for 5-10 minutes, until the meat is slightly browned and the onions are soft and just starting to caramelize on the edges.

Increase the heat to high and add the potato, canned tomatoes, beans**, and stock to the pot with the remaining 1 tbs of salt. Bring to a boil and then reduce to low and a simmer for about 20 minutes or until the potatoes are soft and yield easily when pressed with a fork.

Add the kale to the pot and stir it in so that most of the kale is submerged in the soup. Cover and simmer for about 10-15 minutes or until the kale is softened. Serve immediately or refrigerate for up to a week and reheat before serving.

*Linguica is what gives this dish its Portuguese flavor but you can substitute pretty much any smoked/precooked sausage here. If you want to imitate the flavor of Linguica but can’t find it, add 2 tsps of paprika and ¼ tsp of cayenne powder when you add the broth.

**If using dried and soaked beans, add them to the pot first with enough water to cover them by about 3 inches and ¼ tsp of baking soda. Cook them for about 45 minutes or until soft. Then continue with the recipe.