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  • Written by Madelaine Bullwinkel

DECONSTRUCTED TABOULEH SALAD

Summer fruits and vegetables bring out the artist in every cook.  Nature provides these ingredients in a palette of colors, shapes and textures with which a cook can conjure a edible still life on a plate. After all, we all eat first with our eyes.

This year, the plate that Chef Suzanne Florek set before me at the lunch we share to celebrate our June birthdays was over the top.  It looked too beautiful to eat.  (Appetite won out over aesthetics in the end.)

When I asked Suzanne for the recipe to accompany my photo for his blog, she sent a list of ingredients rather than a recipe, per se.  Her combination of a beet mash, tabouleh and fruit salad was a one-off of elements she will modify to suit her mood the next time she makes it.   That ability to improvise is worth cultivating, and summer offers many opportunities for us to express ourselves as cooks.

Suzanne’s cooked bulgar wheat was unadorned in the truly deconstructed sense of the word.  She wrote that she will soak it next time.  I took her cue and soaked it, a move that preserves the rough texture of the wheat, and added chopped tomatoes, mint,  parsley and olive oil.  The beet mash adds brilliant drama to the plate and an earthy flavor with a tart, and yogurt finish.   I used what I had on hand for the salad with an eye to including several colors and a fresh, green leaf or two.

The only element of the plate I could not pull off was the grilled artichoke quarter which I attempted indoors using a Le Creuset grill pan.   If you want to try it outdoors, be sure to generously oil the cut sides of the artichoke, and scoop out the fuzzy choke portion before serving.

I would love to see your deconstructed summer salads.  Please take a photo beforehand and send them to me with your ingredients.

 

DECONSTRUCTED TABBOULEH WITH BEET AND SWEET POTATO MASH, SIDE SALAD AND FETA CHEESE

MASH
2 1/2  cups beets (1 lbs) cooked
1 cup cooked sweet potatoes
2 cloves grilled garlic
1/2 teaspoon fennel seed, toasted
1/2 teaspoon coriander seed, toasted
1 carton (5.3 oz) Skyr yogurt (Siggi’s)
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste


TABBOULEH
1 cup cracked wheat
1 cup boiling water
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon fresh mint, minced
1 teaspoon fresh cilantro or parsley, minced
1 small tomato, diced
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper


VINAIGRETTE
1 tablespoon Sherry vinegar
3 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

SALAD
4 cups fresh green
1 ripe apricot
1 tomato or 6 cherry tomatoes
2+ tablespoons feta cheese

8 slices grilled sourdough or baguette slices

MASH:  Bake beets and sweet potato in a 400 degree oven.  Trim, rinse, dry and wrap beets in foil.  Pierce sweet potato twice.  Sweet potato will cook in 30 minutes; beets will take an hour.  Let the vegetables cool, peel, cut them.  Reserve.

Toast the garlic cloves, unpeeled, in a dry skillet until they are fragrant and soft.  Remove, add fennel and coriander seeds and toast, shaking the pan occasionally until they start to color and become fragrant.  Crush the seeds in a mortar and pestle or process them for 1 minute in the food processor before adding the vegetables.  Pulse a dozen times, then run the processor until the mash is smooth.  Add the yogurt and lemon juice and continue mixing another 15 seconds.  Pulse in salt and pepper to taste.  Reserve.


TABBOULEH: Add boiling water to the tabbouleh and allow to stand as directed on the package.  Place grain in a towel or cheese cloth and twist out residual water.  Turn the bulgar into a bowl and add the herbs, tomatoes and olive oil. Toss well and season to taste with salt and pepper.

SALAD: Mix the vinaigrette in a jar with a cover or whisk in a bowl.  Toss the salad greens with 3/4 of the dressing.  Toss the tomatoes and apricot combo with the rest.

ASSEMBLY:  Spoon on the Beet and Sweet Potato Mash on one side of the place in the shape of a large comma.  Nest the greens in the center of the plate.  Mound a portion of the tabouleh facing the comma.  Top the greens with the vegetables and spread the crumbled or sliced feta over the mash.  Serve with grilled bread.

  • Written by Madelaine Bullwinkel

BOBIE'S FAMOUS WALNUT COOKIES

Family recipes are as real as any other kind of inheritance.  Perhaps even more so.  Our sense of smell is part of the most primitive area in our brain where emotion and memory reside.  A food aroma from the past can can take us back to that experience with an immediacy that is breathtaking and indelible.  In a time when our path to the future is uncertain, these memories of shared experience and family are always there to reassure us.  


One look at a recipe from previous generations reminds us how little we cook today by comparison.  Recipes used to be written in a telegraphic style as if they were in code.  Directions would often end with a phrase like, ‘cook it until it’s done’,  as if there were a common understanding of what ‘done’ was.  Brevity may have also exemplified a laissez-faire attitude.  Go ahead and cook a pork chop until it is as tough as shoe leather if that suits you. Recipes today are written in a narrative manner or presented as a highly edited one minute video on TicTok.


Julia Child gets my vote for having revolutionized recipe writing 60 years ago with her ambitious two volumes of Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  With dogged thoroughness she held the hands of Amercan cooks and took us step-by-step through the cuisine of the upper-middle-class in France in the 1950’s.  French cooking on both sides of the Atlantic has evolved past Julia’s traditional Cordon Bleu style, but her systematic treatment of French techniques, one that illuminates its inherent logic, remains her enduring legacy.


A cook can take some liberty when adapting the ingredients and preparation of a family recipe to modern circumstances as long as it smells and tastes as they remember.  Standard practices for preparing pastry, cookie dough and cake batter make baking from old or vague recipes easier than might be expected.   The exception to these generalizations is baking bread with yeast because this leavener is a living, single-cell fungus whose comfort has to be taken into consideration.  It's difficult to master a heirloom bread recipe without some knowledge of baking chemistry. Fortunately, this information came into the public domain as recently as the 1980’s with the publication of books by professional bakers and obsessed amateur bakers.


My own success preparing  family recipes has been mixed.  In an 2012 post I detailed my discovery and preparation of  a 115 year-old coffee cake recipe my husband’s great grandmother contributed to her church's cookbook. The recipe consists of a four line list of ingredients.  There are no directions.  I succeeded in preparing it by summoning my ‘inner Julia’ and following the basic procedures for baking with chemical leaveners (baking powder).

I have had less success creating recipes to secure a treasured memory.  I told cooking students over the years that I had created a lemon dessert to conjure up the thrill of my first lobster dinner at  the home of a distant cousin in Maine.  Finally, a student asked, “Why didn’t you just call her up and ask for the recipe?”  In truth, this obvious solution had never crossed my mind.  My cousin's lemon dessert was the perfect way to end the meal, but not tasty enough to capture the totality of the experience.   My own recipe is souvenir of that amazing day.  Could it become a family recipe?  That's for the next generation to decide.    

Blog reader Elise Glickman sent in a recipe for her Russian grandmother's (bobie) ‘famous’ walnut cookies..  She fondly remembers watching her preparing them.   The recipe is easy to assemble by hand or food processor.  It produces cookies that are dense, cake-like cushions, with just a little sugar, lots of chopped walnuts and a hint of cinnamon.  The only assembly note I would add is that you firmly insert the decorative piece of walnut into the cookie dough before bakIng, otherwise it may become detached after baking.

BOBIE’S FAMOUS RUSSIAN-STYLE COOKIES


Ingredients for 2 1/2 dozen cookies

2 cups walnut halves
1/2 tablespoon ground cinnamon
3 large eggs
1 cup corn oil
1 cup golden raisins (preferred)
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 cups unbleached flour


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Cut 16 large walnut halves in half, and reserve for decoration.  Finely chop the remaining nuts by hand or with pulsing action in the work bowl of a food processor.  Mix or pulse in ground cinnamon, and reserve. 

Beat the eggs thoroughly in a mixing bowl.  Stir in the oil, raisins, sugar and 3/4 cup of the chopped nuts and cinnamon mixture.  Sift the flour and baking powder over the wet ingredients and stir into a dough that is cohesive but not sticky.


Form pieces of  dough into 1” rounds.  Roll the balls in the remaining ground nuts and cinnamon.  Firmly insert a halved walnut piece into the center of each ball, gently flattening it into a cushion, and place on a cookie sheet.  Bake for 20 minutes.  Cool on a rack.  Store in tightly covered container or freeze.

 

  • Written by Madelaine Bullwinkel

BREAKOUT PASTA WITH CAULIFLOWER

The first sign of reopening in my town was the emergence of white pole tents in unexpected places.  They popped up like mushrooms in parking lots and green spaces next to local restaurants to protect patrons who feel safe dining six feet apart.  If you feel the need to break out but aren’t ready to dine out, try doing it virtually.  Come into the kitchen with me and make your escape by creating a new taste experience.


Just this week, I took a virtual cooking trip by turning a pasta recipe from Chez Panisse in Berkeley, CA  into one a home cook near New Delhi might prepare.  I left the basic moves unchanged: the pasta and cauliflower were cooked al dente, tossed together and sprinkled with a soft cheese.  The cultural divide showed up as soon as the pan hit the cooktop.


Instead of sautéing the cauliflower florets to a slightly caramelized finish à la française, I soaked them in cold water and steamed them which preserved their mustard aroma.   Rather than adding a pinch of red pepper flakes called for in the Chez Panisse recipe, I added as many chopped green chilis as my palate could comfortably tolerate.  The finish was decidedly different too.

The French recipe aimed at balance with the addition of lemon juice and crunchy walnuts to complement the cauliflower.  I added ginger, garlic and turmeric which are staples in a north Indian kitchen to mollify the heat of the chilis.  This combination had the effect of sweetening the taste of cauliflower.  The flavor in each bite was different and inviting.


My fanciful culinary flight was inspired by the cooks I observed in private homes on a recent “real food” trip through Rajasthan and in Goa, India.  You need not have travelled that distance to experience a break out this summer.  Come travel with me to Morocco via Zoom on Saturday, June 20 when I’ll prepare a fish tagine with charmoula and a skillet bread.


BREAKOUT PASTA WITH CAULIFLOWER


Ingredients for 4 servings:
1 head cauliflower, cored, separated into florets
1/2 pound whole wheat spaghetti
2 tablespoons Canola oil
1 red onion, halved, peeled, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons fresh ginger root, peeled and finely chopped
2 tablespoons garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 + long green chilis, finely chopped
3/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 teaspoons fresh thyme, minced or 1 teaspoon dried thyme
2 - 3 ounces feta cheese
3 tablespoons cilantro leaves, chopped
Soak the cauliflower florets in cold water while preparing the other ingredients.
Heat 3 quarts of water to simmer with 2 tablespoons salt and cook pasta al dente, about 10 minutes.  Drain all but the last 1/2 cup water and reserve with the pasta, tossing occasionally to keep the pasta moist.
Heat the oil in a large, deep skillet.  Cook the onion slices over medium heat until they begin to wilt, about 3 minutes.  Stir in the ginger and garlic pieces for a minute.  Add dried thyme.  Mix in the turmeric for 1 minute. Drain the cauliflower and add curds to the pan along with the green chilis.  Stir for 1 minute, add the salt, cover the pan and cook over medium low heat until the curds are just tender, 5 - 7 minutes.  Add fresh thyme.  Fold in the reserved pasta, water and briefly reheat in the skillet.  Add more salt if needed.  Crumble the feta over the pasta and sprinkle on the cilantro. 

Note #1:  In India a cook would add 1 teaspoon ajwain seeds rather than thyme.
Note #2:  The French version of this recipe is in Chez Panisse Vegetables by Alice Waters, page 84.