those preserved lemons

A few weeks ago, I smashed some lemons and salt into a jar and thus began my preserved lemon journey. They're ready—and the first way I used them was in a chickpea-cauliflower-bulgur situation, inspired by Sam Sifton's little no-recipe ditty in his NYT newsletter:

Just massage a few lamb shoulder chops with salt and pepper, some ground cumin and coriander, cinnamon, red-pepper flakes. (You could use curry powder instead. Or a harissa paste. Something warm in its spiciness, nothing bright or acidic.) Then fry them in a big pot slicked with oil and, when they’re crisp at the edges and still quite pink inside, fish them out and put them on a cutting board to rest.

While the lamb’s cooking, chop up a handful or two of mixed cocktail nuts, some raisins or prunes or dried currants or cranberries. Add those to the lamb fat in the big pot with a couple of cups of couscous. Stir that all around over medium heat for a few seconds, and then add two cups of chicken stock. Let it all come to the barest of simmers, then give the pot a final stir, put on the lid, turn off the heat and let it just sit, the hot broth filling out the couscous, the fat and the spices and the fruit giving it flavor.

I don't eat lamb, and cauliflower doesn't, uh, give off much fat of its own, so I lost out on that gamey, savory lamb fat. But olive oil did the trick, as it always does. I used apricots instead of the suggested raisins/prunes/etc.

The first night we ate this, I hadn't added the preserved lemon—we just ate it with little lemon squeezies alongside. But the leftovers felt flat, and that's when I cracked open my jar and added a few slivers of lemon (flesh and rind both) to the pan as the bulgur and cauliflower reheated. It was so good; it was just what I needed.

Last night, I was revisiting Canal House Cooks Every Day, which I always find moving and inspiring and hungry-making. (Something about having it all separated by month, with the day's weather noted next to the recipe. It's perfect.) They add slivers of preserved lemon to their lemon meringue tart, which—*kisses fingers.* We're about to leave for Taipei and Tokyo—10 days away!!!—but as soon as I'm back in my kitchen, that's what I'm making. And what good April food. 

 

Pilaf-y Bulgur with Chickpeas, Pine Nuts, Spiced Cauliflower, and Preserved Lemon
4ish good-sized servings

1 large cauliflower
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon ground coriander, divided
Fat pinch red chile flakes
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Handful pine nuts or other nuts (almonds or walnuts would both be A+)
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
Handful dried apricots, roughly chopped (or raisins)
1 1/2 cups bulgur
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 small preserved lemon, rind and pulp, very finely chopped
Handful cilantro and/or mint and/or parsley leaves and tender stems, roughly chopped
Plain Greek yogurt or lebne to serve

Preheat the oven to 425° F. Cut the cauliflower into florets and toss thoroughly with the cinnamon; cumin seeds; 1/2 teaspoon coriander; chile flakes, salt, and pepper to taste; and 3 tablespoons olive oil. Arrange as many pieces of cauliflower as you can cut-side down—this is fussy, yes, but helps you get a really nice "sear" on that side. Roast 20 or so minutes, until the cauliflower is browned and tender. Set aside.

Meanwhile, make the bulgur: In a medium saucepan or skillet, stir together the pine nuts, coriander, and the remaining tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. When the pine nuts begin to turn golden, add the chickpeas, apricots, bulgur, and a pinch of salt. Stir together and cook about 3 minutes, stirring regularly, until the bulgur begins to smell toasty. Add the water and increase the heat to high. When the water is at a steady simmer, give it all a stir, cover the pan, and turn the heat as low as it will go. Cook until all of the water is absorbed and the bulgur is tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from heat.

Stir the preserved lemon and the chopped cilantro into the bulgur. At this point, you can either combine the cauliflower and the bulgur or keep them separate. Whatever you do, serve with a big dollop of cool yogurt alongside. 

desperation noodles

Hi out there. This is me, writing the blog. Part of the reason I am doing this is to cook, in a way, for friends who aren't nearby. If you make one of these crazy things, tell me! Tell me how it goes! I really want to know. 

Anyway, the other day I got home from work needing and having failed to have eaten lunch about two hours earlier. My first once-over of the fridge found nothing that could become lunch as quickly as I needed to eat it, and the hungrier, less responsible part of my direct brain-belly connection began to shout for emergency rations of Pocky.

But a second appraisal led me to peanut butter (my personal all-hours, all-purpose Old Faithful) and leftover rice noodles, and the ever-present lump of tofu we keep just for these moments. And this is what I made. 

 Raffi: in it for the peanut butter.

Raffi: in it for the peanut butter.

Not-Not Sesame Noodles
1 serving

1 tablespoon peanut butter (chunky or smooth or Skippy or natural or whatever you want)
1 1/2 teaspoons rice vinegar, divided
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil, divided
Soy sauce or tamari to taste
1 tablespoon sriracha
2 ounces cooked cold rice noodles
1/4 block firm or extra-firm tofu, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
Handful thinly sliced or shredded napa cabbage
Cilantro leaves, thinly sliced scallions, and sesame seeds to serve

Stir together peanut butter, 1 teaspoon rice vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon toasted sesame oil, soy sauce or tamari, and sriracha in the bottom of the bowl you'll eat in. Use the back of a spoon to swoosh it like a big comma along the inside edge of the bowl.

Toss the cold noodles with the remaining toasted sesame oil and rice vinegar, then pile on top of the peanut sauce. Top with tofu, cabbage, cilantro, scallions, and sesame seeds. 

things in common + sausage-less sauce

My grandmother, my mom's mom, was pretty crunchy-hippie as far as I can tell (apparently she loved flowy jumpsuits and I am dying for pictures, hand-me-downs, anything, I mean c'mon). She was a vegetarian for years and years, making an exception only when there was kielbasa offered. I love this fact about her.

It's an exception I understand: I've been a vegetarian since 2010 and the thing I miss most is sausage—the snappiness and the juiciness and that insane fatty-spice flavor (which neither tempeh nor tofu, much as I love both, will simply never be able to replicate). 

My mom has said before that Nona would make tomato sauce with fennel seeds to get at that fragrant Italian sausage flavor, and last night I tried it and then some, adding smoked and hot paprika too. L and I both loved it over polenta (which I always bake in the oven rather than do on the stovetop, because it's SO easy. The first time I ever made polenta, in college, it was with Joy the Baker's oven-baked polenta recipe, and I've basically never made it any other way). Next time I'll try this with a thinly sliced bulb of fennel in addition to the onion, and garnish it all with fennel fronds.

Hot Italian Sausage-less Tomato Sauce
4 servings

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, thinly sliced into half-moons
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon hot paprika
Good pinch chile flakes
Kosher salt to taste
1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes
4 ounces frozen chopped spinach (optional)

Stir the olive oil, onion, garlic, fennel seeds, paprikas, chile flakes, and a big pinch of salt in a good-sized pot. Turn the heat to medium and stir regularly until the onions are beginning to soften and go translucent and silky, about 7 to 10 minutes. (Starting it all in a cold pot will help keep the garlic and spices from burning.) 

Add the tomatoes, plus about half a cup of water (use the water to rinse out the inside of the tomato can). Stir together well and simmer gently, partially covered, for about 45 minutes, until the sauce has really come together. Stir in the spinach if using (no need to thaw) and taste for seasoning. 

Oven-Baked Polenta
4 servings

1 cup polenta or coarse-ground cornmeal
4 cups water
A few big pinches kosher salt
Pinch red chile flakes
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan or pecorino

Heat the oven to 350° F. Stir together the polenta, water, and salt in a 9x9-inch pan or a smallish, shallowish baking dish, and bake uncovered for 45 minutes.

Remove the polenta from the oven and stir in the chile flakes, olive oil, and grated cheese, stirring well to combine. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed. 
 

two obsessions

The first is thanks to A, who always knows what's good. Seriously. Everyone should be so lucky as to have a friend who always knows what to feed you (especially if, like A, they're somehow feeding you exactly what you need at the moment you most need it). In this case, it's chai, a chai so good we've started calling it The Chai. We can't understand just how, HOW it's as good as it is, considering how simple—but there it is. A has been making a batch of it weekly since she discovered it, and I've been making a batch weekly since she shared a jarful with me. 

The recipe is this one, from Bon Appétit. Two notes about it: I grate the ginger using a cheese grater, not a Microplane (the recipe calls for "coarsely grated" ginger, which confused me at first but now I think it's genius). I also tried, once, making it with hemp milk instead of whole milk just to try something a little lighter, but it's really note quite the same flavorwise (the hemp milk is kind of thin and doesn't carry the spices as well) and also, as alt-milks tend to do when heated, it separated. this looked gross but tasted fine (and was texturally non-noticeable). 

 I mean, look at this.

I mean, look at this.

Okay. The second thing is something called MILLET-NOLA, which—as Lottie + Doof, who posted the recipe back in July after seeing it on Jessica Koslow of Sqirl's Instagram, writes—"groan." But it gets the point across: It is granola-ish, but made from puffed millet. All my lucky stars aligned today because 1. I had a giant bag of puffed millet I impulse-bought the last time I was at Kalustyan's, 2. I was out of oats, and 3. the job I was supposed to work today was cancelled due to truly disgusting winter weather. Which meant I could finally try this thing.

...and it is GENIUS. Genius, I say. Because instead of just stirring together sweetener + oil and dumping over the dry mix, you make a caramel, then add a bit of baking soda, which makes this not-granola very crunchy and very clumpy, which is exactly what granola should be. Also genius: The recipe never says "make a caramel," which would stop me or any right-minded person in their tracks. Instead, you just heat and whisk and that's it. You're off to the oven, and 12 minutes later, you're done—it's like making caramel corn.

I want to experiment more with this, but so far the formula seems really flexible. I don't love sweet turmeric applications, so I tapped in cinnamon to take its place. I don't have glucose, ever, in my pantry, so I used honey. I traded butter for coconut oil. It all worked. Shout-out to great, flexible, adaptable recipes.

any-way-you-want-it muffins

A couple weeks ago I wrote a not-recipe-style piece for Food52 about how to freestyle my all-time favorite muffin, the morning glory, and today I'm sticking a recipe-ish version of it here for safekeeping. 

I have two big bags of these in my freezer now: a classic morning glory (apple-carrot-raisin-walnut) and a crazy, crazy-good parsnip-sweet potato-prune one, which I made using applesauce for half the oil since I had it left in the fridge (from Hanukkah, oops) anyway. They suffer no dryness—I might even prefer them to the glories. A different kind of glory, I guess. 

Endlessly Adaptable Root Muffins
24 muffins

3 ½ to 4 cups grated roots and fruits, liquid squeezed out
3 cups mixed flours (at least 2 cups of this should be AP flour, whole wheat flour, a mix of the two, or a gluten-free all-purpose flour; the remaining cup can include cocoa powder, wheat germ, ground flaxseed, almond meal, bran, rolled oats…)
Warm spices to taste (try 2 teaspoons cinnamon and 1 teaspoon ginger)
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
¾ to 1 1/4 cups white or brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 cup yogurt or buttermilk
1 cup oil (coconut, olive, safflower, grapeseed are all great; or substitute ½ cup applesauce and ½ cup oil)
2 eggs
1 to 2 cups toasted nuts or seeds, flax seeds, fresh or frozen berries, raisins, dried fruit (cut into small pieces if large); maybe don't add 2 cups of something tiny like flax or poppy seeds or whatever—stick to 1/2 cup max of those

Combine the grated and squeezed muffins with all the dry ingredients, stirring well to combine thoroughly. Stir together the yogurt, oil, and eggs in a separate bowl (I like a quart-sized Pyrex measuring cup for this), then stir into the dry mixture until there are no streaks of flour left. Fold in any seeds or other add-ins, then let the batter rest for 20 minutes. (That's what gives you nice muffin domes!) Scoop with a 1/4-cup measure into a greased muffin tin, then bake at 350°F for 20 to 25 minutes, until very fragrant and the domes of the muffins spring back if you prod at them.