Tag Archives: vegetarian

White Fall Salad with a green variation: Fennel, Apple, White Cheddar and Hazelnut

White Fall Salad

I really hate to write about food that requires any sort of special equipment to be successful. I haven’t written up my favorite honey-saffron ice cream recipe or about the crazy pasta shapes I love or anything that might require a tool that falls into the realm of food geekiness. (That would include, for example, my ice cream maker and the pasta attachment on the KitchenAid.) A mandoline slicer falls into a category of esoteric kitchen equipment that most people don’t have much use for. Few people feel they need to julienne or shave things wafer-thin. So initially I was a little reluctant to write about this fennel salad.

But here is fall, misty and damp. Leaves are on the brink of yellow. The air is beginning to cool and local apples are appearing in the market, crisp and sweet-tart. Rubenesque end-of-summer heirloom tomatoes are a thing of the past. (I was getting a little sick of them anyway!) Now we’ll have a heap of paper thin fennel threaded with slivers of apple, shavings of sharp cheese and studded with toasted hazelnuts, all dressed tartly in cider vinaigrette. If you are serving the salad with something beige or brown like roast chicken, you may want to add a handful or two of arugula which looks gorgeous and is also intriguingly bitter against the floral fennel and the sweet apple. This is a salad for fall. If you don’t have a mandoline, you’d better sharpen your best chef’s knife, take a deep breath and get ready to slice.

White Fall Salad: Fennel, Apple, White Cheddar and Hazelnut

serves 4

  • 1 apple – I like pink lady but honeycrisp is also very good, in matchstick julienne
  • 1 fennel bulb, cored and sliced as thinly as you can manage
  • about 1/3 cup sharp white cheddar, shaved into very thin slices with a cheese slicer (or a vegetable peeler!)
  • a handful of hazelnuts, toasted for a few minutes in a skillet over medium heat (please don’t burn them)
  • optional: a handful or 2 of arugula leaves
Toss all ingredients together with your hands on a large white platter.
  • 6 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 tbsp cider vinegar (I like Bragg’s)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • a few grindings pepper
  • 1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
Whisk all ingredients together with a fork until emulsified. Drizzle over salad and gently toss.

White Salad with Arugula

If you are interested in owning a mandoline slicer, I have heard that this Japanese version is very good and a great buy. There is something very satisfying about slicing so precisely and efficiently, but that just might be a combination of the food geek and architect in me.

Heap of shaved fennel and mandoline


Rain in August = Pappa al Pomodoro

On my mobile telephone, I have this weather app so I can look up what the weather’s like in the cities that I’ve lived in. I love to see whether the weather is worse in Stockholm or Seattle, or if it’s raining in Paris or sultry and warm in Rome. For mid-August, it was awfully wet today here in Seattle. Not only wet, but grey and dark and cold. When I checked that weather app for Rome it showed five little shiny yellow circles for the next five days. It’s not really surprising.  88, 90, 92, 89, 88 – so not only sunny but nice and warm too.

As I stand at the kitchen counter chopping away, I think of sitting at table on the edge of the piazza, taking in the heat and the bustle of Rome, where the scent of exhaust and cigarettes mingles with the perfume of fresh tomatoes, sliced and drizzled with olive oil and sea salt on a wide white plate. Or a bowl of bread and tomato soup, served tepid, slicked with olive oil and strewn with basil leaves. (It’s strange – I usually hate the smell of dirty cars and cigarettes here, but in Rome, I loved it.) Those were some premium tomatoes and I’ve haven’t had anything close since we moved up here from California. I loved mopping up the juices with crusty bread and washing it down with a glass of wine as I watched the passeggiata. Now I find myself on a grey day stuck in my kitchen cooking for small children, with less than wonderful tomatoes and I have to wonder, how did this happen?! And it’s August! It’s not supposed to be rainy all the time is it? Of course we are getting tomatoes but they’re from California, Mexico and those Canadian ones they grow hydroponically. Knowing it’s 90 degrees in Rome is killing me. I could be sitting at the edge of the piazza eating something so simple and delicious. Thinking of all those ripe tomatoes in the outdoor market could easily make me cry.

There’s hope though, for dinner anyway. What would you think about making tomato and bread soup? I had this soup several times a week, living in Italy. I’m sure if you’ve never heard of it, it sounds weird. If you’ve ever followed any of my soup recipes though, you know I’m a big fan of the garlic and olive oil slicked toast raft in a wide bowl of soup. This is a bit different. You cook stale bread into a chunky garlicky tomato broth for half an hour, and what you end up with is a satiny-rustic adult-baby food. All of which sounds like too much contradiction to be comprehensible. You’ll just have to trust me. Pappa al Pomodoro will transport you to the edge of a piazza in Rome no matter where you are or what the weather is like. Even if the tomatoes are pallid and mealy, this soup will still be fantastic.

A bowl of pappa al pomodoro, a glass of wine, a crisp salad and the sound of rain falling heavily outside the open back door changed everything. Tonight, the weather felt like an event to celebrate as we ate our wide bowls of silky, bread-thickened, tomato perfumed soup to the sound of raindrops. Even if the tomatoes did come all the way from Mexico.

The finished soup

Pappa al Pomodoro

This soup takes no time to throw together and it uses only water no stock. Don’t be tempted to substitute chicken stock for the water – this soup manages to be deeply flavorful and rich without any stock.

  • 1 red onion, diced fine
  • 1 slender carrot, diced fine
  • 1 stalk of celery diced fine
  • 1 pinch red chili flakes
  • 1/2 c. olive oil
  • 4 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1 1/2 lbs  Roma tomatoes, skinned and roughly chopped – I use a serrated swivel peeler – this must be the fastest way to peel them. Don’t use fancy heirloom varieties – they won’t be flavorful enough here – you’ll lose everything that makes them special. what you want is a dense paste tomato – like a Roma.
  • 1/2 a bunch of basil, in chiffonade
  • 1/2 pound of quite stale Italian style bread, in 1/2 inch slices (you can dry it out in a 200 oven for 2o minutes. It should be quite hard.)
  • 1 cup hot water
  • more extra virgin olive oil for drizzling, grated parmesan for dusting

Chunky tomato broth

  1. Put the sliced stale bread in a large bowl and cover with cold water.
  2. Put the onion, carrots, celery, chili flakes and olive oil in a heavy 6 quart soup pot. Turn the heavy to medium and and stir until it sizzles gently. Turn down the heat and cover, cooking for 12 minutes, stirring a few times.
  3. Add the garlic and tomatoes, and stir, cooking for 5 more minutes.
  4. While the garlic and tomatoes cook down a little, drain the bread, discarding the water. Squeeze all the water out of the bread and crumble into the soup pot. Add the hot water and stir. Season with salt and pepper. Simmer over low heat for 25 minutes, stirring every few minutes
  5. Add the 2/3 of the basil and stir.
  6. Serve the soup garnished with the remaining basil in individual bowls.
  7. Pass the olive oil and parmesan at the table to season further.

Bread soaked in water


Mission Figs and Blue Castello

When we go on vacation, I’m always sure I’ll post at least something short at Notes on Dinner, but it never really works out that way. I took pictures on the trip though and now I have something very easy for August: figs and blue cheese for an appetizer, although it might also be dessert. Oozing creamy cheese shot with threads of sharp blue underscores the sweetness of black figs, sticky with juice. An old wooden board, a knife, a little glass of crisp mineral-y wine. It might seem off the cuff, even haphazard, but it’s not. This is laid back yet composed; some might even say elegant. (That might be me!)

I won’t call this a recipe and it seems silly to write it all out but here’s how it works:

  1. Buy a basket of Black Mission figs and a wedge of Blue Castello or a similarly rich mild blue.
  2. Rinse figs.
  3. Unwrap cheese.
  4. Get knife.
  5. Serve on a cutting board. I like to let people cut the figs and cheese themselves.

That’s it. The only little nicety you might add, if you get to the market in the morning, is to pull the cheese from the icebox an hour before you eat. You could also put a few almonds or walnuts out – they’d be even prettier served in the shell with a nut cracker.  We had a glass of chilly rosé with our figs, blue and almonds and that was just right.


More fun with beets

As if they weren’t already wonderful enough roasted and tossed into a salad! Those little beets you get in the summertime, red or chioggia, don’t need any cooking at all. All you have to do is peel them and grate them on a box grater. 2 small beets for 1 big salad – I use arugula or little gem for greens, cucumber, shallots, goat cheese, toasted walnuts. You can see how I made the first beet salad here. Just substitute grated raw beets for the cooked. Now that’s fast.


Harissa: Just try this, please


It was an unassuming dark little blob, nudged onto the corner of an oval platter of creamy hummus, almost hidden beneath a tangle of long cooked greens (chard maybe?!) and a scattering of currants. It’s not like I’m unfamiliar with harissa. I’ve had it on a couple of other occasions. Swirled into creme fraiche, harissa came with a heap of blisteringly hot matchstick french fries at one of my favorite restaurants in Portland. So, I was inspired to buy a jar as I tried to copy another restaurant dish for my birthday party last fall. The prepared harissa, though, was a disappointment and it kind of wrecked the whole meal for me. The little jar with the bright yellow Moroccan pattern on the label looked promising but tasted one note: hot-sweet and tomato-y. No sultry bitter complex fire, which is what I wanted. What I remembered from the Portland restaurant. That little jar has been languishing in my fridge long forgotten, and I bet I’ll toss it next time I see it.

So last week, when my friends ordered the chickpea puree at Sitka & Spruce, I was non-plussed when I saw the harissa, a wall flower hanging out on the edge of the plate, not even seeming to merit mention on the menu. I’ll pay no attention to that, I thought. I’d forgotten how enamored I’d been initially. The puree was fantastic though – I think there was a smattering of walnut or walnut oil, but toasty not bitter like the bitterness you find in tahini. So I ventured toward the harissa, which was darker, less tomato-y looking than the one I bought.

I tore off a piece of the rustic, slighty sour bread and dabbed it into the blond puree, then dipped the tip of my knife into the dark daub. Scent preceded taste: smoke! Then a bite. Oh, so that’s what it should taste like! Here was deft bitterness and deep smoldering heat. A muted lemon note. A complex counterpoint to the creamy foil of the chickpeas. So now I’m infatuated; this is a tiny bit inconvenient because harissa doesn’t seem to be the most kid-friendly condiment.

But therein lies the beauty!  Hummus=healthy, kid friendly albeit slightly bland snack food. Hummus+harissa=sophisticated, sultry fare perfect for grown-ups. Potato chips=blandly attractive and kid-friendly. Harissa+creme fraiche+potato chips=spellbindingly cool, adult nibble, perfect with cocktails. Do you see where this is heading?! I hope I am not overstating the allure of harissa. (I am often guilty of overselling.)

The first batch I made was too small. First of all, the four adults at dinner ate the whole batch in one go; second of all, it was so small my food processor couldn’t whirl it around effectively. I ended up chopping it finely with my chef’s knife and that was fine but if you’re in a hurry, definitely double the recipe. You’ll certainly eat the whole batch before the week is out. Now that I know how easy it is to make harissa, I’ll never buy it again.

And now I can revisit that so nearly wonderful birthday dish and share it with you next time. It was on the very verge of incredible and with this harissa, I know it will be perfect.

Rosemary skewered lamb with Israeli couscous, preserved lemon, hazelnuts and harissa


  • 12 dried chile de àrbol
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp ground caraway
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  1. Soak the chilies in hot water for 30 minutes.
  2. Drain and cut in half lengthwise. With the tip of a sharp knife, scrape away the seeds and discard.
  3. In the food processor, whirl the chilies, garlic, salt and oil. Purée until smooth. Add the coriander, caraway and cumin and continue to process until smooth.
  4. This will keep for a month in the refrigerator in an airtight container with a slick of olive oil over the top. But I seriously doubt it will last that long!

Spring green: Roast Asparagus Salad

I have been having an incredibly good time in my kitchen this week, inspired by the first sunny and (slightly) warm weather we have had here in Seattle since…September? Seattle is blooming and everything that has been brown and wet for so long is now green. (And wet. Sigh.) Still, the green is a huge improvement. Now I want to make green food.

First there was the riff on a dish of black rice, clams, aioli and cilantro that I had at Sitka and Spruce – except I made it with sear-roasted halibut. The cilantro made it a little bit green. I loved seeing it bright and fresh in the photo. The flavor with the lemon was pure sunshine. Here’s what it looked like:

My friend Christine thoughtfully brought over an Alsatian Riesling to drink with it and it was perfect, more so because I got to share it with a really good friend. As soon as I have a chance to make the halibut again, I’ll  take pictures and post the method. I want to show you how to make aioli.

Still, I wanted the food to be greener. So I made up this very very green salad – toying with a dressing from Deborah Madison, spring asparagus, arugula, goat cheese and toasted pine nuts. Here it is:

So, there’s the bitter asparagus and the even bitterer arugula. But the asparagus’ pungency is tempered by it’s bout with the broiler. The flavor becomes rounded, richer, a little nutty. The goat cheese was something leftover from the dinner party, the sort with colored peppercorns. Martin toasted the pinenuts – for warmth and crunch. Then there’s the dressing, borrowed from Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. I skipped a couple of things – the big one being the capers. Here’s what Nora Ephron says about capers:

Any dish that tastes good with capers in it tastes even better with capers not in it.

I agree 100% and I feel validated in my opinion because Nora Ephron said it first.

Anyway, the dressing. I made it for this cabbage and arugula slaw that I was sure would be wonderful (it wasn’t) but the dressing had potential. (without the capers!) Garlic, salt, fennel seed and black peppercorns are mashed together with a mortar and pestle and then left to macerate with olive oil, shallots and lemon rind. It’s complex. Fire from the garlic and peppercorns, high spring notes of fennel and lemon and the edge-y richness of sliced shallots and champagne vinegar. Without the capers, it’s pretty fantastic. This is an extremely green, salad tour de force. I think after this cold and gloomy winter what I needed was a giant hit of chlorophyll.

With the salad, we made the grilled shrimp with bread crumbs from Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Italian Cooking that I wrote about last summer and the white bean and basil puree that I wrote about when I first started writing Notes on Dinner.  And here is how to make the green salad:

Asparagus Salad with Arugula, Goat Cheese and Pine Nuts – serves 4

  • 1 bunch of asparagus, rinsed, ends snapped off
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • sea salt and pepper
  • 4 generous handfuls of arugula, washed and dried
  • 1 ounce goat cheese – with peppercorns, if you like that sort of thing, crumbled
  • 2 tbsp pine nuts, toasted in a small dry skillet over medium heat until glossy and golden

The Dressing (for this you will need a mortar and pestle)

  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp fennel seeds
  • 1/4 tsp peppercorns
  • 1/2 tsp dry tarragon
  • 1/4 cup parsley, minced and divided
  • 1 shallot, thinly sliced
  • 1 zest of a lemon – finely grated with a microplane
  • 1/3 cup olive oil

Preheat the broiler – set it to high.

In the mortar and pestle, mash the garlic, sea salt, fennel seeds, peppercorns, tarragon and 2 tbsp of the minced parsley until you have a smooth paste.

Stir in the lemon zest, shallots, the rest of the parsley and olive oil and leave to macerate for 1/2 an hour.

While the salad dressing is resting, arrange the arugula on a large platter.

Then toss the asparagus with 2 tbsp olive, 1/2 tsp sea salt and several grindings of black pepper on a rimmed sheet pan. It should be in one layer. Broil 4 inches from the heat until bubbling; toasted but still crisp/tender. My asparagus was just under 1/2″ in diameter and this took about 2 minutes per side – a total of 4 minutes.

Remove the asparagus from the pan and arrange while still hot, over the arugula.

Strew the crumbled goat cheese and pine nuts over everything.

Add the champagne vinegar to the dressing and taste. Does it need more salt?

Ladle the dressing over the salad – depending on how much asparagus and arugula you have, you may not need all of it.

So I have this photo of the dinner and I’m not crazy about it. I don’t like to make excuses when I think something is lame; as my aunt says: you have to feign nonchalance in these situations. But this is sort of funny. My boys were so desperate to get their hands on this dinner (they both love Ms. Hazan’s juicy and crisp shrimp) that when I wanted to stop for less than sixty seconds to take the picture, they both started to cry! So I stopped messing about and served dinner. Everyone was happy. Here’s the photo:
It could have been a lot prettier but seriously, it was totally delicious.





Like spring: Royal Trumpets, Asparagus and New Potatoes

I was pushing the cart around the vast islands of produce at the grocery store the other day, knowing I would incite a full scale revolt if I brought any more kale into the house. Sometimes it is overwhelming, wanting to try something new and having no idea what it should be – especially towards the end of winter. There just aren’t a lot of choices in early spring in the PNW.  Anyway, staring out over the vast expertly displayed mountains of mostly green crinkly leaves (those winter stalwarts—kale, chard, escarole), there beyond that, the mushroom display. Chanterelles!?! Love them. Nope. That’s fall. Then I saw these:

Royal Trumpet Mushrooms


Hmm. They look a little like this Swedish type called Karljohan which I have always wanted to try. Royal trumpet mushrooms are handsome. Creamy large fungi clustered with smaller, sometimes tiny, versions of themselves, they sport a broad cappuccino colored cap. Royal trumpets look like storybook mushrooms. Suddenly, I imagined them cut in rough pieces, their edges sizzling and caramelizing in butter. The fresh loamy scent transformed, intensified, browned and buttery, and scattered with crystals of seasalt and scented with black pepper. I put half a pound in a paper bag and trolled on. On the opposite bank were slim green spears of asparagus. So spring-ish! Popped them in the cart. On the other side of the large wooden crate, a heap of small purple plastic mesh bags of tiny new potatoes, the largest potato no bigger than those shooter sized marbles. Yes. Done.

The thing is, I know none of these vegetables are seasonal here in Seattle – not at this time, in March, except maybe the potatoes. Those I think were from Oregon. But I didn’t care. Not this week. I am so ready for spring!

Royal Trumpets, Asparagus and New Potatoes

  • 1/2 lb Royal Trumpet Mushrooms, wiped clean and cut into 3/4″ pieces
  • 1/2 lb Asparagus, thin as pencils, snapped into 1 1/2″ lengths
  • 1/2 lb tiny potatoes, peeled
  • 1 1/2 tbsp butter
  • 1 1/2 tbsp olive oil
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Here’s where I had trouble deciding whether or not to include this recipe at Notes on Dinner. I have this incredible gadget that my mother-in-law brought me from Sweden. Can you guess what it is?

This is a Swedish potato peeler although if you guessed a salad spinner you wouldn’t have been far wrong. It does have another basket that fits inside and it can dry lettuces too. I really hate to write about specialized equipment and it does seem especially unfair given that these potato peelers are nearly impossible to buy outside of Sweden, or in the U.S. anyway. You put the potatoes in the bowl, then fill the bowl with water and turn the handle quickly. The centrifugal force flings the potatoes against the sides and the tiny sharp ridges sand away the delicate skins of small potatoes. The water washes their grubby little skins away.

It is only 1/2 a pound of potatoes. So…

  1. Put the potatoes in a saucepan and cover them with water. Heat until boiling then add 1 tsp sea salt. Simmer until just done. If the potatoes are really quite small this could take no more than 10 minutes. Start checking at 8 though, just to be safe. When the potatoes are done drain them, and set aside.
  2. In a large non-stick skillet over medium high heat, melt the butter with the olive oil.
  3. Add the mushroom pieces and the potatoes, stirring every minute or two until they are light golden brown all over.
  4. Add the asparagus and continue to stir until it is crisp-tender and also, if you look carefully, lightly browned.
  5. Add sea salt and black pepper until it tastes delicious. (I would start with 1/2 tsp of salt and add 1/8 tsp increments until it is just right for you.)

I served this with that Tom Douglas fish recipe I wrote about months ago. This time I used cod, though, which was really so much better than the halibut I used last time. The finished recipe has this mild heat and lemony edge which I loved alongside those nutty forest-y mushrooms and potatoes. The parsley salad was the icing on the cake, so to speak. If you are curious, my kids loved this dinner. One of the very best. (They did, however, skip the parsley salad.)



winter/salad: arugula, oranges and shallots

Winter. Salad. It’s hard to put those words next to each other. Winter salad brings to mind tough-skinned, mealy tomatoes, pale, watery lettuce, limp, wet cucumbers and sad little rings of scallion; bleak as the grey sky. Bitter greens are better. Spinach, arugula, frisee, escarole. Add some finely sliced shallot, pinked up in champagne vinegar? Slices of citrus: grapefruit, oranges? It’s the crescents of deep pink and orange, their sweetness, the bite of bitter arugula and the sharp pink bloom of shallots in vinegar that make this salad so welcome after weeks of dark braised greens. Fresh, crisp intensity – that’s what I want right now. So I’ve been making this salad. (almost every night!)

Winter Salad of Arugula, Orange and Shallot

  • 1 large trimmed bunch or 5 good handfuls of washed arugula
  • 2 navel oranges or 2 ruby grapefruits
  • 1 shallot, thinly sliced
  • 2 tbsp champagne vinegar, or white wine vinegar
  • 3-5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  1. Slice the shallot with a sharp knife, into thin circles. Toss them in a small bowl with the vinegar. Leave for 5 minutes or so.
  2. With the same sharp knife, carefully cut away the peel of the oranges, leaving almost no pith. Slice the fruit of the orange out, cutting on either side of each segment. You will be left with only the tender fruit.
  3. Pour the vinegar from the shallots into a jar with a lid or another small bowl and add the olive oil to taste.  I add more oil if I use grapefruit, less with oranges. Add the salt and pepper to taste. I would start with 1/4 tsp of salt, whisk it all up and see if you like it by dipping an arugula leaf into it and tasting.
  4. Toss the arugula with the orange or grapefruit sections and the shallots. Add some of the dressing, you may not need all of it. Don’t make a limp overdressed salad. That is not the point! Use a light hand. If you have leftover dressing it will keep in the fridge for when you make the salad tomorrow night!

Since I have eaten this salad so many times in the last few weeks, I am looking to shake things up. Tomorrow I will try 2 tbsp of toasted walnuts and an ounce of crumbled soft goat cheese or mild blue cheese. I know it will be very good.


Fear of Frying: Kabocha Squash Tempura

A few weeks ago, I consumed a completely embarrassing amount of the most crisp, succulent kabocha squash tempura at the home of some really lovely people who I don’t happen to know very well and who are excellent cooks. (I felt SO lucky to be included!) We were standing around in their kitchen sipping one of those apricot-floral half dry German wines and smacking on the crisp golden edges of this squash which had been finished with the light crunch of sea salt. I was utterly gluttonous – we all were. Afterwards we watched as they cleaned and cut geoduck into satiny sashimi. If you have never seen a geoduck at all, seeing one being cleaned will be quite a surprise for you – I’m not kidding! I was delighted to eat geoduck sashimi but I will gladly leave the prep to someone else. The tempura, however, inspired me to address my deep rooted fear of frying things at home.

It’s not that I’m afraid I’ll set the kitchen on fire and I’m fine with the clean-up. I do own the kind of thermometer that can go in searingly hot fat. And I’m not afraid of cooking with fat for health reasons – once or twice a year making french fries, who cares?

Here’s what it is: I don’t want to own a deep fat fryer (too big and messy and they only do that one thing) and I hate the idea of having to fiddle around with the stove the whole time to get the heat right. I imagine I would be irritated if the oil starts to smoke too much or if the batter is too heavy or if the oil is not hot enough. And if the food comes out leaden and greasy? – I would hate that. Or if we’re talking fried chicken, what if the outside is golden and crisp while the inside remains scarily raw? Yuck.

Fried food must be crisp, golden, light – nothing short of perfect – the first time out or I don’t want to have anything to do with it. There’s no rescuing a failure in frying. Yet, despite all my nervous notions, I decided to try to make tempura anyway. The memory of that delicious tempura drove me to it.

Kabocha has a very tough exterior

The most difficult thing was slicing the kabocha squash which has an extremely beautiful but leathery skin. In the interest of keeping it very simple and because our hosts at the dinner party used it, I decided to buy a box of tempura mix – just add water and stir – so the batter was a no-brainer. (hey, what kind of cooking blog is this anyway?) Our hosts shallow fried the tempura, so I did too. Not a big deal. Very simple. The clean-up was a breeze.

Guess what? Making tempura was easy! Nothing to quail over at all.

Kabocha Tempura

  • 1 Kabocha squash
  • 1 box tempura mix
  • sea salt
  • canola oil for frying

With the squash set on a stable cutting board, slice down through the center firmly and carefully. I cut right down through the stem. Once you manage to slice through the exterior, you can wedge the blade back and forth a bit and gently force the halves apart.

With a soup spoon, scrape out the seeds and guts of the squash which are very similar to a pumpkin.

Sliced and peeled kabocha

Cut the halves into slices 3/8″ thick, then peel off the skin. Chill the squash in the refrigerator

Prepare the tempura mix, following the instructions on the box. I found I had to thin mine quite a bit with water. It should be thinner than pancake batter, just barely clinging to the squash.

Film a 10″ heavy bottomed saute pan with a 1/4″ of canola oil and heat until shimmering over medium high heat. If the oil starts to smoke, remove from heat until smoking subsides.

Crisp and almost done

Dip 3-4 slices of squash into the tempura batter. CAREFULLY lay them in the hot oil with tongs. The squash should take 3 minutes per side. You can check as soon as the batter seems to set – it should be barely golden when finished. Flip when the underside is golden and continue to fry for another 3 minutes.

When both sides are golden, remove the tempura to a platter lined with paper towels and sprinkle with sea salt.

These are very fine with cocktails.

I think of this shallow fried tempura as the gateway project to a whole world of deep fried foods that until now have seemed unattainable to me because of my fear and impatience. Look out – fried chicken and samosas are just around the corner!

If you are interested, here is a link showing how to clean a geoduck:

How To Clean a Geoduck


Not Falafel…

For the record this was a crazy menu to attempt on crazy Thursday. Again. But it didn’t have to be…

Why did I decide to make pita bread from scratch on a Thursday? You have to stand there in front of a 500F oven whipping willfully floppy pieces of dough into the oven on a peel. When I read the recipe, it seemed that I thought that 3 minutes per pita “was all the time it would take”. Three minutes does sound really fast but you have to take into account all the dancing around in front of a hot oven x 10! And all the baking occurred at the last possible minute. Oops. It was my first time really working a peel and I probably shouldn’t have tried pita my first time out. The dough was all over the place. I was all over the place.

But pita was not even the real goal for dinner tonight. I have been craving falafel. Good ones, not the tooth breaking rocks that masquerade as falafel at most places in Seattle (beware the Whole Foods take-out counter). Also, even though I know that real falafel are made with ground soaked dried chickpeas that haven’t been cooked (at least not until they meet their maker in the deep fat fryer) I wanted to make some kind of falafel with cooked canned chickpeas because that would be so fast, so perfect for crazy Thursday. Something you could make even if you forgot to soak the beans. Something that didn’t have to be deep fried. Without the homemade pita bread and the sauce (I didn’t tell you about the sauce yet) this would have been an easy night actually. Those chickpea patties, even though they were nothing at all like real falafel (what were they thinking, calling them “falafel” over there at Fine Cooking?), were still really good.

The kitchen looked like hell (and felt like it too because of the very hot oven) afterwards and I was a little worse for wear but this was a great meal. If falafel made with canned chickpeas are nothing like a real falafel and are more like the ladies-who-lunch item from the fifties – the croquette – who cares? Since we’ve been trying to eat fewer meat dishes and the kids liked them even though they’ve never had them before – that’s success in my book. So what if only one of the pita breads (the one I photographed) puffed up. Dinner was delicious.

Here’s what I would do, in retrospect:

  1. Even though fresh pita is impressive and fun (did I mention that also it is completely delicious?!) – just buy some and warm them up in a low oven, well-wrapped in foil.
  2. Buy tahini sauce. I will tell you how I made it in case it isn’t available in a store nearby, but I am still looking for the perfect recipe and this one was NOT it. I would have it creamier – the flavor was still very very good though.
  3. If you haven’t replaced your spices in the last six months, do buy fresh ground coriander and cumin. Compared to the grubby old coriander I had been using for years (confession!) the new bottle of ground coriander was a revelation! – all lemon-y and herbaceous. Yum.

Here is a photograph of the finished “falafel” which, as I have mentioned, look and taste nothing like real falafel but are still pretty good anyway:

Falafel Sandwich

  • 2 cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 4 tbsp olive oil + more for saute
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/4 c. cilantro leaves
  • 1/4 c. flat leaf parsley leaves
  • 2 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper, freshly ground
  • 1/2 red onion cut into small pieces
  • 1 cup dry breadcrumbs
  • Sesame seeds (optional)
  • 4 (6″) pita breads, warmed

The Salad

  • 1-2 romaine hearts, washed and torn into bite sized pieces
  • 1 1/2 cups small cherry tomatoes
  • 1/4 of a large red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 English cucumber, peeled and sliced
  • a handful of flat leaf parsley leaves
  • 4 oz feta, crumbled (optional)
  • 10 pitted kalamata olives, quartered (optional)

The Dressing

  • 6 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 1/2 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper, freshly ground
  1. Preheat oven to 425 F.
  2. Pulse chickpeas, olive oil, cumin, coriander, cilantro, flat leaf parsley, salt and pepper, onion and breadcrumbs until it becomes a chunky mass. Try forming a 2 inch ball into a small patty. If the mixture is still too crumbly, add a tablespoon or two more of the breadcrumbs. Form about a dozen 2 1/2″ patties. If you like, spray lightly with olive oil and lightly sprinkle the top and bottom with sesame seeds. Set aside.
  3. Make the salad dressing by combining the olive oil, vinegar, garlic, salt and pepper. Whisk.
  4. Place all other salad ingredients in a large salad bowl or on a large platter.
  5. In a large non-stick pan, heat 2-3 tbsp olive oil over medium high heat.
  6. Place medium sized heat proof platter or plate in the oven.
  7. Without crowding, place as many patties into the oil as you can. Brown 2-3 minutes per side to get a nice brown crust.
  8. As you complete the browning, place the patties on the platter in the oven.
  9. When all the patties are done, toss the salad.
  10. Take the patties, the pitas and the salad to the table.
  11. Everyone can assemble their own food as it pleases them.

Here is the recipe for the imperfect but still acceptable sauce:

Tahini Sauce

1/3 c. tahini (I like the Joyva brand and I hate the Maranatha brand – although to be fair their peanut butter butter is my favorite!)

  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • (full fat Greek yogurt)
  1. Blend all ingredients in a liquid measuring cup with a fork.

This makes a very runny dressing which I thickened only moderately successfully with a large dollop of full fat Greek yogurt. I will work on this and get back to you.

Here is the photo of the one successful pita. I believe the trick to getting them to puff is to roll them out very thinly before the second rise – a scant 1/4 ” and no more.