What To Take To A Potluck: Cole Slaw Gets A Makeover

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There was a time when cole slaw was pretty much something I avoided eating at all costs. Perhaps it was that when I was a kid, the slaw I encountered was little more than chopped cabbage combined with copious quantities of mayonnaise straight from the jar. The very thought of it makes me shudder! But that was, after all, a long time ago, and cole slaw has moved on. Today’s slaw takes cabbage as a given, but can include so many other ingredients which add contrasting sweetness and crunch. Jicama, it seems to me, is made for cole slaw, as are apples and dried fruit–all of which find their way into this new classic recipe. If you decide to add dried fruit, as I do here, I suggest you hydrate it by rinsing or soaking it in warm water. The fruit will be ever so much more moist and tender. Mayonnaise here is the basis of the dressing, but it’s so lightened with other ingredients that you barely recognize the starting point. You’ll no doubt think of all kinds of  ways to improvise on this recipe, and you won’t go wrong as long as you keep it light and fresh. Recipe after the jump.

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Photos: Top–this recipe is pot luck ready– it makes 8-10 servings.  Above–Serving suggestion, cole slaw goes beautifully with barbecue tempeh sandwiches (recipe here).

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Think You Don’t Like Cabbage? This Jewel-Toned Dish Could Change Your Mind

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It’s often said that we eat with our eyes. If that’s the case, wouldn’t this colorful Swedish Red Cabbage be welcome on any holiday table?  The secret alchemy of turning raw “red” cabbage, which is really more or less purple, into this deep magenta is in slow caramelization, and the application of fresh lemon juice. Similar red cabbage dishes appear in the cuisines of most northern European countries, but it seems that the addition of cloves and allspice marks this as Swedish. As in so many dishes, the trick is to achieve that magical balance of salt, sweet and tart. In this recipe, I’ve offered you a range of sweet and tart quantities.  In order to achieve the full magenta which you see in the photo, you’ll probably need to add more lemon juice, which means you’ll need to add a bit more salt and sweetener as well.  For everyday meals, maybe go with the lesser amounts, but for a holiday, I’d go all out. You’ll create a dish which tastes as beautiful as it looks.

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Summer’s Harvest: Cook Up a Lovely Pot of “Sufferin’ Succotash”

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“Succotash” is one of those words that’s just a whole lot of fun to say. To my mind, the best way to get a chance to say it is to cook up a batch of this homey American dish. Succotash has deep roots in American culinary history, as first citing for use of the word dates to 1751. I’d imagined it was of Southern origin, but it turns out to be from New England, it’s name derived from the Narragansett Indian word for “boiled corn kernels.” Although lima beans and corn are the defining ingredients, quite honestly, you could substitute fava beans or edamame and still have a respectable succotash. Since we’re in midsummer, I give you my warm weather version, using fresh ingredients. When the weather turns cool, I’ll share my alternate recipe which makes use of dried corn and lima beans, along with winter squash. Eat this as a vegetable side dish, or do as I did for dinner tonight: stuff it into warm corn tortillas and top with salsa. It was a wonderful light meal. And if you can’t recall who popularized the phrase “sufferin’ succotash,” it was Sylvester the cat in classic Warner Brothers cartoons from the forties and fifties (which I must confess, I’m old enough to remember). See my recipe after the jump.

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Great Food Fast: Sugar Snap Peas with Shiitake Mushrooms (For A Taste of Spring)

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It must be spring! Here in the Bay Area it’s gone from cold and rainy to sunny and hot in just a few days. When I imagine spring, I think of tender green vegetables such as asparagus, water cress and peas. And no pea is as versatile and easy to use as are sugar snaps.  If you’ve guessed that they’re a cross between Chinese snow peas and shell peas, you’d be right. The new variety was developed by a pair of plant breeders in Twin Falls, Idaho. Sugar snap peas are a lazy cooks dream, they don’t need shelling, and they stand up much better to high heat than delicate (although lovely) snow peas. Quick and light cooking methods are the way to go–I suggest either a brief blanching, or as in this recipe, a stir fry. Wash, and trim off the stem ends, that’s all the prep they need.  You could have this dish on the table in ten to fifteen minutes. Eat them right away though, they lose their charm if they sit around. The full recipe is after the jump. Continue reading

Making Sauerkraut at Home, Nine Days Later

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On January 14th I wrote a post and put up a photograph of my sauerkraut-making project on day one. Today, nine days later, my sauerkraut-to-be looks like this. The color is great, the taste is mild and not all that salty, and the texture, still a bit crunchy. It’s very edible now, but I think another week or so of fermentation will yield something more closely resembling classic sauerkraut. Today, I added a quarter cup of lemon juice, because the cabbage is amazingly sweet considering that there has been no sweetener added and because lemon perks up the flavor of almost everything.  Once I’ve replaced the weight, all the cabbage will again be submerged in the brine. I’ll keep checking every other day, and later I will probably add garlic and more lemon juice. So far, knock on wood, everything is going perfectly, no mold or unpleasant smells at all.  In fact, it’s going so well, I’ll soon start another batch to serve on a Monday night in Palo Alto. A step-by-step description of sauerkraut making is here. We should have the final word on how this batch turns out in a week to ten days.

Great Grains: Turning Buckwheat Groats into Kasha Varnishkes (a Warming Dish for Cold Winter Days)

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Making Kasha Varnishkes from buckwheat groats is as easy as 1, 2, 3. (Toasted buckwheat groats are widely known as kasha in North America.)

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Maybe you need to have grown up in some wind-swept northern clime to fully appreciate the hearty, warming quality of buckwheat (if it isn’t a necessity, I’m pretty sure it helps). You won’t be surprised to learn that Russia grows more buckwheat than anyone else, with China second, and Ukraine third. While in East Asia, buckwheat is most often consumed as a noodle (think Japanese soba noodles), in Western Europe and North America we know buckwheat best as an ingredient in pancakes and crepes. But it’s the whole grain buckwheat groats of Russia and Eastern Europe that I want to celebrate today. Buckwheat’s ability to thrive in poor soil and a short growing season endeared it to our Eastern European ancestors, many of whom likely would have starved without it. It’s peasant food, pure and simple, but nutritiously rich in iron and a balanced concentration of all essential amino acids.

Toasted whole grain buckwheat groats

Immigrants from Russia, Poland and other Slavic countries, many of them Jewish, brought buckwheat to the U.S. From the 1880’s to the 1920’s, tens of thousands of these folk settled in New York’s Lower East Side, where I lived in the late 60’s. It was in one of that neighborhood’s thriving Jewish dairy restaurants where I first encountered kasha varnishkes, the Yiddish name for a much-loved dish which consists of little more than buckwheat groats, bow tie noodles and onions. The dish’s simplicity invites variations–some versions calling for eggs or chicken stock, or a rich gravy on top. These days, kasha varnishkes is mostly served as a side dish, but doubtless during times of scarcity, it was the entire meal. My vegan version sticks close to the pared down original, with only the addition of mushrooms.  So, some chilly day, eat like our ancestors ate, bring the past into the present and cook up a warming batch of kasha varnishkes (recipe after the jump).

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Sweet Potato-Potato Latkes: Would a Potato Pancake By Any Other Name Taste As Sweet?

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Yes, it is the seventh night of Hanukkah already, so I’m a bit tardy with this recipe for latkes, the potato pancakes which are traditional to this holiday.  But, you know, there’s never a time of year when potato pancakes are not welcome.  So, here’s my recipe which I made for nearly 100 people last night in Palo Alto. Don’t stint on the oil, with latkes it is all about the oil–you definitely want a crisp, golden crust.  Served traditionally, of course, with sour cream or apple sauce, I’ve included a recipe for tofu sour cream which is pretty darn good (full recipe after the jump).

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