Category Archives: Seeds & Grains

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Everything Old is New Again

There seems to be a renewed interest in “ancient” grains.  Spelt, emmer (a/k/a farro), and barley are all experiencing a resurgence of popularity.  And for good reason.  Ancient grains are high in fiber and protein and, perhaps more important, they have a delicious and intense flavor that just can’t be replicated by your mother’s box of rice.

One of my favorite ancient grains is freekah, a green wheat that originated in the Middle East, and which is sun-dried and roasted during the production process.  It has a nutty flavor and a slightly chewy texture, and it’s delicious whether served hot or turned into a cold salad.  Moreover, it’s as easy to cook as that box of rice I mentioned earlier.  So give it a try and take delight in both the taste and the fact that everything old is new again.

Everything Old is New Again

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Smile!

The fact that I can get locally grown peanuts in New York City never ceases to amaze me.  I had to go without them last year because of an exceptionally wet spring.  But this year, fresh local peanuts are back in my farmers market, thanks to organic farmers Zaid and Haifa Kurdieh of Norwich Meadows Farm.  And that makes me SMILE!

SMILE!

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A Genius in the Kitchen

When guests eat at Chez Ks, they invariably praise the pasta, polenta, and desserts.  As the chef, I would love to be able to accept their compliments.  However, I’ve been cooking long enough to know that the real genius in the kitchen is farmer Thor Oechsner, of Farmer Ground Flour in Trumansburg, New York.  He and his partners grow the most delicious organic, heirloom grains from which they mill the flours that I use to create everything from simple dinner entrées to complex desserts. 

As a farmer, Thor plays the roles of scientist, mechanic, engineer, construction contractor, and teacher, when he isn’t doing the actual plowing, planting, and harvesting.  The fruits of his labor become all-purpose flour, high extraction bread flour, whole wheat flour, rye flour, corn meal, polenta, white pastry flour, whole wheat pastry flour, whole spelt flour and — my personal favorite — whole buckwheat flour, have all played a starring role in my cooking and my diet for the past several years. 

So, the next time you see a bag of Farmer Ground Flour at your farmers market, grocery store, or specialty store, take a bag home and have a genius help you make dinner.

Farmer Ground Flour

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Christmas Tamales

Last year at about this time, my friend Raquel spent the day with me, teaching me to make Christmas tamales using her abuela’s recipe.   A few days earlier, in anticipation of Raquel’s arrival, I bought a pork shoulder, lard, chilis, and cheese at the farmers market, and braised the pork shoulder until it fell apart.  Then, together, Raquel and I visited nearly every grocery store in Greenwich Village searching for just the right corn husks and masa, which took longer than expected because store clerks thought we were asking for “matzah.”  We couldn’t stop laughing. 

When we finally had all of our ingredients, we spent hours making tamales and sharing stories about Christmases past.  When we finished, we divided the tamales in half so that she could take some home, but not until at a few ourselves to make sure they were perfect.  They were.

This week, Raquel and her fiancé will be moving back to California . . . probably forever, though she promises me they’ll be back.  I suspect her promises to return are intended to keep me from being quite so heartbroken about their departure.  If that’s the case, it’s not working.  My one consolation, though, is that I will always have her tamale recipe and the memories of the day when she taught me to make them.  I like to think that means a part of her will always be with me.

Christmas Tamales

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Whole Spices

While I’m able to purchase nearly every ingredient I ever need at my local farmers market, there are a few exceptions, including citrus fruit, chocolate, and coffee.  Another notable exception is whole dried spices, for which I make regular pilgrimages to Kalustyan’s on Lex, where I find all the essentials that routinely make their way into my favorite dishes. Among them are cardamom pods (buckwheat pancakes), cinnamon sticks (rice pudding), coriander (apple sauce and strawberry rhubarb pie), fenugreek (dal), mustard seed (salad dressings and baked beans), fennel seeds (braised lamb shanks), star anise (various Asian dishes), cloves (tea), nutmeg (potatoes), and chili flakes (pizza and pasta dishes).  Most people who have seen me cook know that I like to buy my spices whole, toast them, and grind them in a small coffee grinder dedicated to that very purpose.  As soon as the spices hit the hot pan, I can immediately tell that dinner will be aromatic, delicious, and something to look forward to.

Whole Spices

 

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Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

The first pumpkin holiday has already come and gone, but we still have Thanksgiving and Chrismukkah ahead of us, and that means many more pumpkins will be crossing our threshold before year’s end.  Not only will those pumpkins bring us soup, pies, and pancakes, but they’ll produce countless seeds, all of which will be tossed in olive and salt, and slowly roasted in a low-temperature oven.  Some of the roasted pumpkin seeds will then find themselves tossed into dinner salads, but most will simply end up briefly in the palms of our hands on their way to our impatient mouths.

Toasted Pumpkin Seeds