I know we’re teetering on the edge of eggplant’s departure from the market, but I’ve been tinkering with this recipe for a while, and I wanted to get it right before it landed here.
The non-aubergine portion was lifted from a French-Tunisian family friend, who made it for the Frenchman and me when she came to stay. (She served it with herb-rubbed, falling-off-the-bone chicken thighs. You can too.) It was a luxury to be cooked for, and to be taken care of so well through food. Pine nuts browned sumptuously in butter! The lemon-tinged warmth of sumac and za’atar! Cumin, harissa, and cinnamon, too. It’s actually a perfect inauguration to fall.
I asked for the recipe, and scribbled down the offhand recounting of a cook who has fashioned a dish so often, measurements are not longer consciously considered. I searched google for corroboration of spice quantities, and rice to meat ratios, but quickly realized no consensus: this dish is made, in various forms, across the Levant. Sometimes with lamb, or beef, or chicken. Often it includes peas and carrots, and other spices; almonds too. This rice and meat mixture–helpfully called “mixed rice”–is used judiciously in recipes across the region, frequently to stuff vegetables, wine or cabbage leaves.
What this recipe is not: the quintessential version of Ouzi, which anyway goes by other names and spelling variations. What it is: very tasty. A recipe filtered through this cook’s interpretation of a French-Tunisian-living-in-Cairo’s version of her Palestinian mother-in-law’s cooking, made with ingredients she found in my kitchen, in Jersey City, NJ. That sentence was exhausting, but the point is: make this for someone you care about.
(This dish is equally good, if not better, on the second or third day after cooking.)
Last Sunday dawned bright and breezy and perfectly spring. The Frenchman and I drove an hour from our apartment to the parking lot of a strip mall. We waited. After a time, a jeep wrangler came careening into the lot, and parked beside us. Inside was my favorite market farmer and his wife. We said good morning, and he joked again that it was time to blindfold us and stuff us into the trunk before the next stage of our operation. Read more »
Along with Camembert and white beans, boeuf bourguignon ranks high among the Frenchman’s all time favorite foods. I remember making it in culinary school–a two day process–and I’ve made it once a winter since, always from Julia Child’s recipe. It’s a lovely cold weather dish, but the truth is, it’s a pain–fussy and time consuming.
My copy is now a ticker tape parade of must makes–pho, focaccia, smoked salmon–but the recipe I was drawn to first was their modernized (read: less finicky) version of boeuf bourguignon. The process has been trimmed, but the results are just as rich and wonderful. And the recipe feeds a crowd, or a family of two for many meals. (It yields 3 quarts or 6 pints, which I portion and freeze, equating roughly to 10 meals for the Frenchman and me.) This is good news in our (new!) apartment.
This recipe was published with permission from America’s Test Kitchen. They’ve generously offered a copy of the book to give away to one lucky reader. Simply leave a comment describing your favorite classic recipe by January 5th.
“Sometimes fate is like a small sandstorm that keeps changing directions. You change direction but the sandstorm chases you. You turn again, but the storm adjusts. Over and over you play this out, like some ominous dance with death just before dawn. Why? Because this storm isn’t something that blew in from far away, something that has nothing to do with you. This storm is you. Something inside of you. So all you can do is give in to it, step right inside the storm, closing your eyes and plugging up your ears so the sand doesn’t get in, and walk through it, step by step. There’s no sun there, no moon, no direction, no sense of time. Just fine white sand swirling up into the sky like pulverized bones. That’s the kind of sandstorm you need to imagine.
And you really will have to make it through that violent, metaphysical, symbolic storm. No matter how metaphysical or symbolic it might be, make no mistake about it: it will cut through flesh like a thousand razor blades. People will bleed there, and you will bleed too. Hot, red blood. You’ll catch that blood in your hands, your own blood and the blood of others.
And once the storm is over you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, in fact, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.”
The Frenchman is away for the next two weeks, which means I’m puttering around the house after work, staying up way later than I should, both thrilled by the quiet, atypical aloneness, and simultaneously dreading it. I tell myself that I’ll use the luxurious, stretching evening-time to get extra work done, but this plan usually devolves into Netflix-watching pretty quickly.
We spent this past weekend in Phoenicia, NY for the wedding of good friends. Have you been? It’s lovely, quite literally nestled in the Catskill Mountains, with a few-blocks-long main street and a creek running through it. I woke up early both mornings, thanks to the jet lag I try to keep going as long as possible, and it was the need for sweaters–more than the multitudinous appearance of apples and grapes at the market–that finally made me realize that fall is on its way.
For now though, this in-between time means that I can still eat reckless quantities of peaches and tomatoes, but also that the subway platform doesn’t feel like a sauna sponsored by Hades. It means that, while I’m still hanging on to summer produce, I’m transitioning from raw preparations to heat coaxed ones: folding slumping fruit into cakes, baking zucchini with rice and cheese, simmering fresh beans until soft and soupy. And making these tomatoes.
In the summertime, when the Frenchman and I (sporadically) have access to a grill, we often grill pizza. It’s especially good for feeding a crowd: it’s pleasing to every palate, can be adjusted for special diets, involves just the right amount of group participation, and makes a great breakfast the next morning. All the ingredients (dough and toppings) are prepared ahead of time, which makes it easy to pull off outdoors, or in a kitchen not your own. I usually choose toppings based on what’s in season at the moment.
Two general rules: You can load pizza made on the grill a little more heavily than pizza made in an oven. Also, you’ll want all toppings to be pre-cooked or pre-prepared, since once on the pizza they’ll cook for just a few minutes–basically, only long enough for the cheese to melt.
We’vebeentravelingquiteabit, but whenever I’m in the kitchen lately, allIwant is summer fruits and vegetables done simply. I grate tomatoes into pan-con-tomate pulp, add a glug of good olive oil, sherry vinegar and sea salt–it’s wonderful as it is, or spooned over grilled fish. I grill olive oil-ed asparagus and lemons together–and sauce the charred spears with the deep, grilled juice. Cut corn from the cob and fold it, raw, into every pasta/grain/salad that crosses your path.
There is certain summer produce that, once it comes into season, I cook and eat compulsively until it disappears from the market. Green garlic–the immature garlic bulb that isn’t yet papery on the outside–is one example. I use a mandolin to thinly slice the bulb whole, and then saute as I would with minced garlic cloves. Zucchini is another example. This year I’ve discovered the fresh joy of raw zucchini: marinate zucchini coins/ribbons/”spaghetti” with salt, lemon juice and good olive oil until the zucchini goes wilty and soft. That’s it.
In this salad, both treatments get elevated. I love grain-and-vegetable salads for summer: they’re happy in the fridge for many days, they serve a crowd and they’re great for picnics/cook-outs/travel.
I doubt this will surprise anyone, but–I cared a lot about the food we served at the wedding. I wanted our guests to enjoy a truly delicious meal–not an easy task when catering to 150 people at once! I also wanted to showcase the season, at the expense of established “wedding food” favorites.
For months, I worked back and forth with our caterer (Hi, Matt, Maureen and Christina!) until we settled on the menu you see below. All the work was more than worth it–I loved the final product. I’ll never forget it. I wish I could eat these dishes over and over again!
This post is my effort to recreate one of our wedding dishes at home. My version deviates from the original in style, but it brings the same flavors to the table. I hope you enjoy it as much as we did!
I’m also really pleased to talk about Tieks in this post, since I wear them nearly every day. They are crazy comfortable, fold up for purse-sized storage, and come in a bunch of colors and patterns. (I actually gifted Tieks to the bridesmaids at the wedding, and spent most of my night rocking these.) I concede they’re on the pricier side, but I’ve had my current pair going on two years–I still love them, and I think they’re totally worth the investment. And something else–the people who work at there are just the absolute kindest.
As a gift to you, I’d like to give away a $100 gift certificate to one lucky reader. To enter: 1) Follow Tieks on one of their social media platforms (Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter). 2) Leave a note in the comments–what is the best or worst food you’ve ever had at a wedding? The contest will close Sunday, June 21st at 11:59pm. Thank you to everyone who participated!