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.
One of the things I love most about going to the farmers market is discovering new things to eat. My latest discovery comes courtesy of Lani’s Farms, which sells edible stonecrop, commonly known to the average gardener as “sedum.”
Slightly lemony and a bit astringent, these beautiful little plants are a surprisingly pleasant addition to any salad, and make a striking garnish on any fresh fish filet. While not inexpensive, it takes only a few tiny plants to make your dinner guests wonder aloud, “Can you eat these?” And, when they try them and proclaim them delicious, you can enjoy hearing their praise as much as you enjoy eating the stonecrop.
Once upon a time, I would spend days preparing a dinner for friends. A typical meal at my home included six courses served on my great-great grandmother’s bone china, and could take three hours to eat. I spent more time working in the kitchen during dinner than I spent with my guests at the table.
When I moved from a single-family home in Chicago to a small New York City apartment, I left my heirloom china behind in my brother’s custodial care for my niece. As a result, my friends now enjoy eating simpler dinners in my home, and I enjoy having more time to spend with them during the meals.
The focus of a meal is no longer on the culinary skills I worked so hard to acquire and perfect. Instead, our attention is on the incomparable produce and heirloom grains grown by local farmers, and the fresh fish or succulent piece of meat sold to me that morning by a local fisherman or rancher. After all, a good cook without talented and dedicated farmers is like a writer without an alphabet.
It took me years of study and decades of practice, but I now understand that — more often than not — less can be more.
Recently, a woman selling me eggs at my farmers market apologized for the price. At $6.00 a dozen, she felt they may be too expensive. I assured her they were not. What else can you buy for fifty cents that is high in protein, low in salt, sugar, and fat, and contains only about 80 calories? Add to that the versatility of eggs, and they seem like a genuine bargain to me. When I got home, I hard boiled a few and added them to some fresh salad greens, homemade croutons, and sliced red onion, and tossed it all together with some mustard vinaigrette. It was delicious. In fact, it was a lot tastier and healthier than a large coffee beverage that costs nearly as much. So, the next time you hear someone complaining about the price of eggs, you may want to politely suggest that they think again.
With the weather still cold, and snowflakes falling as recently as yesterday, posting a photo of beautiful, fresh pea shoots could very well seem like a cruel April Fool’s joke. But, thanks to Bodhitree Farm in New Jersey, the bowl of pea shoots I ate for lunch yesterday was no joke; rather, it was a delicious oracle of the bounty of fresh, spring produce that will soon grace our farmers markets and tables. Happy April!
A couple of years ago, raw kale — once much-maligned — became all the rage in almost every restaurant of note. It was hard to find a menu that didn’t feature kale salad in one form or another. In my opinion, its fame was long overdue, and my own version of kale salad has become a winter staple at Chez Ks. A simple dressing of olive oil, shallots, anchovies, capers, preserved lemon, black pepper, and chopped dates, makes the chiffonade of kale appear almost translucent. But it’s the irresistible taste that keeps me coming back for more as I patiently await the arrival of spring’s baby lettuces.
It wasn’t long ago that the new year in New York meant that dedicated locavores still faced several more months without fresh, green salads. Today, however, the farmers markets offer a variety of fresh greens throughout the winter months. I’m told by many of my farmer friends that the warming climate and the improved “technology” of simple warming hoops enable them to produce salad greens once relegated to summer fare. Among my favorite winter salad greens is wintercress, little more than a cultivated weed that I would best describe as the love child of sassy arugula and a shy fennel bulb. If you’re fortunate enough to come across some wintercress in your own farmers market — or perhaps, even, to find some in your local park — bring it home, dress it in a bit of salt, lemon juice, and olive oil, and try to keep a smile from forming on your lips.
Hating Brussels sprouts seems to be one of those fashions that never go out of style. Perhaps it’s a testament to my general lack of fashion sense that I’ve always loved Brussels sprouts, even when I was a child. One of my favorite ways to eat them, though, didn’t reveal itself until just a few years ago, when I decided to pair them with sweet potatoes, apples, walnuts, and bacon in a Brussels sprout hash. Whether you sauté the ingredients together in a large cast iron pan, or roast each component separately before tossing them all together, the results are always delicious. And, if enough people agree, maybe it’ll become fashionable.
I haven’t quite come to terms with fact that watermelons will be absent from my diet until the height of next summer. Fortunately, beautiful watermelon radishes are still bringing a smile to my face . . . and a bite to my salads.
While peaches are still in season, and salad greens are still in abundance, I love to combine the two as often as possible. Some sweet onion, sliced cucumber, and lime vinaigrette almost make this salad a meal in itself. But if you crave a little something more, a few seared sea scallops will make you wish peach season lasted all year long.
One of my favorite meals during my youth was a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich . . . or two. As I became aware of the unhealthy consequences of eating all that bacon and mayonnaise, however, I decided to create something that provided the same flavor without all that saturated fat. The result is a BLT salad, with an onion mustard vinaigrette, toasted whole grain croutons, mesclun greens, blistered cherry tomatoes, and just enough crumbled bacon to provide the flavor I can’t seem to get through the summer without. Will it win the Healthiest Meal of the Year Award any time soon? Not likely. But it’s a big improvement over the sandwich version, and the delicious organic vegetables, whole grain bread, and nitrate-free bacon — all from local farmers — give me lots of reasons to eat it with both a smile and a guilt-free conscience.
The fact that we almost never eat out makes us unusual among New Yorkers. Last week, however, we were on a “staycation,” which meant that I didn’t cook every day. On Friday, we took the East River Ferry over to the Greenpoint, Williamsburg, and Dumbo neighborhoods of Brooklyn — practically a foreign country to a committed Manhattanite like me. While in Williamsburg, we stopped for lunch at a Mediterranean restaurant called Zizi Limona, which we’d read about in the “Cheap Eats” issue of New York Magazine. $11 bought us this beautiful and delicious platter of charred beet and lentil salad with tahini and date honey sauce. It was so sublime that it may actually get me to go to Brooklyn more than once a year.
My brother-in-law, Drew, sent me a link to The Daily Prompt, which asked the question, “If you could get all the nutrition you needed in a day with a pill — no worrying about what to eat, no food preparation — would you do it?” For me, the answer is simple: food is not about nutrition, it’s about nourishment. The only validation I need of my point of view is this meal of seared lamb shoulder chop, baby beets, and mixed greens — all from local farms — on a table modestly set with flowers cut from a tree branch and placed in a mason jar. The minds and machines of pharmaceutical engineers will never be able to nourish my soul in the ways that the hearts and hands of my local farmers do.