“Taste seems to have two chief uses: It invites us by pleasure to repair the continual losses brought about by life. It assists us to select, from among the diverse substances that nature presents, those that nourish us best.”
– Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, On Taste
Confronted with daunting issues such as diet-related health epidemics and environmental devastation wrought by mass agriculture, it’s natural to look to other industrialized countries whose problems seem to exist on a smaller scale for insight.Take the French. American agricultural practices, eating habits and values are often juxtaposed as diametrically opposite to those of our Gallic cousins. Yet in practice we are not necessarily so distinct, and the truths inherent in our food system ills are more complex than prevailing clichés (diet-obsessed yet still fat, fast-food craving Americans vs. food-literate and cultured French) might lead us to believe. Nevertheless, if I took one thing away from a recent trip to the French countryside with a group of fellow food culturists, it is that the concept of taste is fundamental to the French, while to Americans it remains on the periphery.
This recipe yields a tangy and slightly sweet sauerkraut, fragrant with caraway and black pepper - the added sugar cuts the acidity a bit, making it a bit more round in flavor. Savoy cabbage gives a nice texture, crunchy and mouth watering, not too toothsome.
1 head Savoy cabbage
1/3 cup salt
2 tbsp sugar
1 tsbs caraway seeds
2 tsp black peppercorns
1/4 cup water
Shred the cabbage and toss it with salt in a big bowl. Toast the caraway seeds and black peppercorns until fragrant and grind them. Add the spices to the cabbage and massage the mixture well for a minute or two. You want to really work the cabbage to release some liquid. Put the cabbage (and its liquid) in a jar and add the water - the liquid should be as high as the cabbage. Place another jar or plate on top of the cabbage to weigh it down (ensuring that it stays submerged in liquid) and store it (unless your a pickling freak like me and have a special jar for these projects that is shaped to keep the vegetables under liquid.) After 3 days, stir the mixture and store for another 3. Stir and taste. If it’s sour enough for you, close the lid and keep it in the fridge. If not, continue to store it at room temperature until it is.
This recipe one first prize at the McCarren Park farmers market against 10 other contestants. It was my first attempt at pie.
Bon Appetit’s Best Pie Crust Ever (makes 2 - keep one in your freezer for an easy galette later in the week!)
4 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons bourbon
3 tablespoons sugar
3-4 apples (Pink Lady)
3 tablespoons apricot jam
Make the crust first and set in the freezer to chill quickly. Brown 3 T butter, add bourbon and 2 T sugar to the pan. Mix and chill immediately.Roll out dough and set into a small cast iron, with edges hanging an inch or so off the sides of the pan.Peel, core, and thinly slice apples.Squeeze juice of 1 lemon onto the apple slices.
Spread butter mixture onto the dough.Layer apple slices on top in a decorative fashion.Dot with remaining butter.Fold dough over around the edges to form a galette.Sprinkle remaining sugar on top.Bake at 325 for 75 minutes.Melt the apricot jam and glaze exposed apples.Enjoy.
I brought home a bag full of pig bones and scraps this Saturday after assisting a whole pig butchering class taught by Josh, the head butcher and owner of Fleischer’s.The class was fantastic, and Josh’s story is a testament to the redemption of the meat industry.He was a vegan for 17 years before opening the shop.He and his wife had wanted to open their own restaurant that sourced the most humanely raised meat possible, and in the process found no reliable source for meat direct from farms.Finding this gap, they decided to address it themselves.
This morning I roasted the bones and tail off to make stock for cooking beans and soups and ran out to grab some tortillas from the tortilleria in my neighborhood.Once the bones were nice and brown, I took them out and picked the meat off (just enough for a few tacos) before tossing them into my pressure cooker.
Lunch Today: Pulled pork tacos with red pepper puree, radishes, crispy fat and shiso leaf salt with home made chicharrones on the side.
I heated small pieces of lardon (and other really fatty sections) to render fat. Then, removed those pieces (to top the tacos off) and added chopped skin from the tail. The skin ballooned into fluffy, popcorn shapes as it fried.
The puree is leftover from a few days ago: red peppers, tomatoes, hot peppers, garlic and shallots roasted and blended together with a little sherry vinegar and salt.
I keep shiso salt bought in Japan town in SF in my pantry: dried shiso leaf and salt. It’s a quick way to add a tangy kick to any rice dish, and here that flavor works well and adds an herbal note.
My favorite recipe right now fits the season: an earthy, sweet ragú that’s hearty but not heavy. I like to serve it with pasta or crusty bread.Look for long pods that contain fully developed and round beans.Don’t waste your time shucking small, underdeveloped ones.
Right now, the change of seasons and weather provides a niche for cooking heartier recipes.Plus, it’s bean harvesting season.This is how beans really taste.This is who they are before they are dried for storage.Colorful pods spill out of boxes at the farmers’ market containing beans that, when cooked fresh, taste a bit sweeter, stronger and creamier than their dried counterparts.
Sweet Bean Ragú
Serves 2 well with leftovers.
1 celery stick
1 red pepper
4 garlic cloves
5 medium-sized, flavorful tomatoes
1 1/2 cups shucked beans (Cranberry and Jacob’s Cattle are great)
1 bay leaf
10 sage leaves
1/4 cup olive oil (or butter or animal fat)
salt and red pepper to taste
Finely chop the onion, carrot, celery stick and red pepper and caramelize in a sauce pan over low-heat (20-25 minutes).Finely chop the garlic and add to soften. Core, seed, and roughly chop the tomatoes and add to the mixture.Add the beans, bay leaf, sage leaves, olive oil and just cover with water.Bring to a boil and then simmer, covered, until the beans are very tender, about 20 minutes.When the beans are done, remove from heat and season with salt and pepper.Allow the mixture to sit for 10 minutes to absorb the seasoning.Taste and adjust if needed. It tastes fantastic topped with small dollops of goat cheese.
Ideas for serving
If you want a thicker, more bound sauce, remove a little excess liquid and add a splash of oil when the beans are almost done.
You can make it a one pot meal with pasta by adding a little extra water once the beans are tender and cooking the pasta in the mixture.The extra starch is not a bad thing; it will bind the sauce a bit.
When I serve it with bread, I grate parmesan over thick slices and toast them in the oven, giving the bread a crunchy, savory crust.
I got to Essaouira around dinner time and made fast friends with a Morrocan couple on their honeymoon at a food stand in the main drag that was serving these: snails cooked in a spiced, smoky, peppery broth with a hint of mint and a briny flavor that lingers. They are served in two cups - snails in one and warm broth in the other. The cool breeze from the Atlantic makes this town feel cold compared to the 115° heat in Marrakesh. The snails are warming and delicious. My favorite street snack thus far.
For lunch the next day we picked out some fresh fish and brought it to a restaurant in the middle of the fish souks.
You can have your catch roasted or fried, and it arrives with traditional accoutrements of bread, tomato, cucumber and onion salad, olives and a spicy sauce.
My new friends are warm and generous companions. He won the lottery for a green card to the US ten years ago and now works in hospitality in Las Vegas. Thousands of people apply every year and a couple hundred win. Most of the Morrocans I’ve met have applied. She is a teacher in Holland and comes from a traditional Muslim, Morrocan family. Every time someone asks us for money, which is frequent (there are no social safety net programs here, and many of the people who beg are elderly) he gives them whatever change he has on hand, or buys them tea or juice. Remarkable kindness always deserves mention in my book.