August 2010


Okra, I’ve done you wrong. For years, I’ve been telling okra-haters—of whom there are many—that they’d love okra if they’d only try it fried. Any other way but fried, I’d insist, and it would turn into slimy goo.

Now, thanks to Harold McGee, I know the truth: okra’s potential sliminess comes out to play as a thickener in soups and stews, but it “can be minimized by using dry cooking methods (frying, baking).”  As this recipe shows beautifully, another dry cooking method is pan-roasting in a hot cast-iron skillet until it’s charred and tender.  This amazing technique lets okra taste like okra, not just hot, crisp breading. (Not that there’s anything at all wrong with hot, crisp breading, mind you. It’s possible that I served this with fried catfish.)

Okra, okay!

I thought I liked okra before. Now I really, really like it.

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I have just one more berries-and-dairy post, I swear. And if you had to pick just one berries-and-dairy dessert, this is the one you should choose. I mean, it’s peak-of-perfection berries with a custard that’s basically unfrozen ice cream. What could possibly be bad?

I always forget that metal bowls do not photograph well.

Make this as soon as possible, while you can still get blackberries at the farmer’s market. Go. Now. If you don’t believe me, believe The Pioneer Woman.

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My mother is from Savannah, Georgia, and every now and then, if I’m very lucky, we get to go visit and stay at the beach on Tybee Island. Until recently, my main reasons for enjoying Tybee have been (1) family, and (2) the beach. But on my most recent trip, I was introduced to a third reason: an incredible shrimp salad from the dinky little local market.  The market seems like a terrible place to buy meat or produce, but they clearly know what they’re doing with seafood. I’m pretty sure I single-handedly consumed about a pound of this stuff in less than 48 hours.

It's not at the beach, but it will do.

And I paid careful attention to the ingredient list on the empty container, because I had every intention of replicating this salad as soon as humanly possible. You should do the same.

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As I’ve been trying to learn how to cook more meat and fish, I’ve found myself in an odd conundrum: for the first time, I’ve had to start making distinct side dishes if I want vegetables in my meal. It used to just be that I’d whip up a big bowl of pasta and toss lots of veggies in, but now I actually have to plan what kind of vegetable might go with my protein. It’s weird.

But when I recently decided to make salmon with a za’atar yogurt sauce (based on this recipe), there was no question in my mind what side would go alongside it—this splendid creamy spinach, which is one of my very favorites.  The original recipe claims Turkish origin for this dish; although I never tasted anything like this in Turkey, I’ll stick with that label, because this recipe highlights some of my favorite things about Turkish food—copious use of yogurt and fresh herbs.

Yogurt everywhere.

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In case you needed further proof that you cannot go wrong with the combination of fruit and full-fat dairy products, I offer you this delightful thing:

I know it's hard to believe, but this is delicious.

Strawberries, whipped cream, graham crackers, with chocolate on top. It’s perfection. What’s more, it can even be assembled IN TUPPERWARE for easy transport! And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that leftovers—if somehow you happen to have any—make a superb breakfast.

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I have a beef with chicken.

More often than not, either at home or eating out, I find that chicken ends up dry and tasteless. Often the culprit is boneless, skinless, chicken breasts—or, as I think of them, compressed sawdust slabs—but other parts of the bird are not without blame, either. As a result, I rarely order chicken (unless it’s fried, and especially if it’s fried at the Davis Cafe in Montgomery, Alabama), and I almost never cook it.

In fact, I can say with confidence that I have successfully cooked moist, lip-smacking chicken precisely six times in my entire life:
(1) curried chicken with couscous, which was delicious, except that my roommate later told me there were maggots in our raisins;
(2) some sort of faux tandoori chicken with a yogurt marinade;
(3) a roasted chicken with my friend C, after the two of us realized with shame that two good Jewish girls who love to cook really ought to know how to roast a chicken;
(4) chicken breasts stuffed with grapes and hazelnuts;
(5) harissa- and yogurt-marinated chicken, cooked on the stovetop; and
(6) harissa- and yogurt-marinated chicken, roasted in the oven with vegetables.

A game of chicken.

#6 won my heart. I had loved #5 but not the amount of smoke my cast-iron pan lets loose in my small apartment when I cook meat on the stovetop; #6 solves the problem beautifully and adds roasted chickpeas and onions, some of my very favorite things. It also solves the common chicken dryness problem by using thighs (rather than breasts) and by using a yogurt marinate, which tenderizes the meat. If this recipe can win over a chicken skeptic like me, normal people like you will be sure to love it.

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When I go to Thai restaurants, I spend a fair amount of time poring over the menu and weighing my options. Usually, my dining companions have long since decided by the time I sigh, close the menu, and announce that I’m getting what I always get: vegetable red curry.

Curry in a hurry, neither furry nor blurry.

I’ve attempted to make it before, but never before have I hit the jackpot. (Errors I won’t make again: (1) using “light” coconut milk, (2) putting frozen vegetables directly into the pot without thawing them first, and (3) failing to gradually add curry paste and taste to ensure the right level of heat.) This recipe, though, is perfectly lush, perfectly spicy, and comes together in no time at all, using whatever vegetables you have lying around your kitchen. It’s tom kha gai plus freezer tikka masala. It’s my new go-to dish for when I need delicious dinner, fast.

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