I’m learning to love baking bread. I remember the first time I made my own bread four years ago, I was so pleased with the results that I swore I’d never buy bread ever again and would always make my own. After the revelatory first loaf, I didn’t make another for a year. The kneading and timing of the different rises was just too finicky for my slapdash cooking style. Since then, I’ve discovered no-knead bread and it’s changed my life. Gone are the days of cramped hands and not being able to eat fresh-out-of-the-oven bread at lunchtime. I just stir together some flour, water, and yeast before I go to bed, shape it again when I wake up, and bake for lunch. It’s amazing.
After I got the hang of no-knead bread, the next thing that I really wanted to conquer though was sourdough. I love the yeasty tang in sourdough bread (I love pretty much anything extra-zingy, really) and so I made a wild-yeast sourdough starter as per the instructions in The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, which is an amazing bread baking resource. I patiently fed the starter for a few weeks until it was ready, and then I substituted one cup of flour and one cup of water in the no-knead recipe with 1 cup from my puddle of sourdough starter. The bread rose- without yeast!- and the texture was good, but it wasn’t sour. I kept the sourdough starter alive for a few more months, but never got sour bread out of it, and so eventually I threw it away.
I decided that the best thing to do would be to buy someone else’s tried-and-true sourdough starter, so I got this. I’ve been feeding it for a couple weeks now, and finally it was big enough to pull a cup out for a loaf of no-knead sourdough bread.
The loaf was beautiful. There was decent crumb, the crust crisped up, and it rose enough without any yeast. But when I sliced into it and tried it, it was sour. I’m talking mouth-puckering, super-sharp sour. Obviously this new sourdough starter is the real deal, and the polar opposite of my previous bland attempt. One cup of this sourdough starter in a no-knead recipe is about twice as much as there should be. I’m worried it won’t rise enough, but I’ll be doing some experimenting soon. In the meantime, I had to find something to do with this extra-sour bread. The flavor would overwhelm any sandwich recipe, and I do like sour, so I wanted to find something that would work with the flavors instead of competing.
Yesterday I went to Whole Foods. I haven’t shopped there in months- all my veggies come from my local CSA, and I have a decent grocery store near me where I can get the basics, and Whole Foods is about half an hour away, so it’s a bit more driving than I usually like to do for groceries. However, I needed to stock up on some staples that my regular store doesn’t have- faro, different weird dried beans, amaranth, Israeli couscous. When I was there, I decided to just do a little browsing of the produce aisle. You know, just to take a look around. Of course this resulted in a handful of impulse buys- vegetables I had no idea what to do with and no plan for whatsoever, but that looked just so tempting that I had to try them. The first of these was fresh fava beans. I’ve never had them and never made them, but they were calling to me, so I bought them.
Fresh fava beans are kind of a pain. I learned this after I bought them. You have to pull the beans out of the shell, then you need to boil them for two minutes, then you need to shock them in ice water, and then you need to peel the skin off each individual bean before you can use them in a recipe. I dutifully shelled a bowl of beans, and tried one. It was delicious! Earthy, nutty, green, fresh– every flavor of summer in one al-dente bite.
The weather is turning here; it’s on the cusp of fall, teetering back and forth and unable to decide. My CSA gave me a box of heirloom cherry tomatoes this week, one of the last before summer is truly over. When I was eating my first fresh fava bean, I imagined popping a bright, sweet cherry tomato in my mouth with it; a good balance of earthy and sweet. I thought about making a salad with a bright, acidic vinaigrette and fresh greens, and then I realized I had something else I could use instead of vinegar– sourdough!
I grilled the sourdough with olive oil, so it was charred, smoky, sour and crunchy. The fava beans and tomatoes are tossed with flaked salt, fresh-ground pepper and garlic, a balance of sweet, salty, soft, crunchy, nutty and sweet. If you don’t have extra-sour sourdough, you might want to add a hint of vinegar with the beans and tomatoes. This would still be amazing in a salad, too, with hard-boiled eggs and croutons.
Fresh Fava Bean and Heirloom Cherry Tomato Bruschetta on Grilled Sourdough
1 lb fresh fava bean pods
1 cup diced heirloom cherry tomatoes
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing
1 tsp flaked sea salt
several twists of fresh-ground black pepper
4 thick slices of sourdough
Set a small pot of water on the stove to boil. Split the fava bean pods and pull out the beans and set aside. Prepare a bowl of ice water.
When the water is boiling, add the beans and boil for two minutes. Drain and blanch in ice water, let cool.
In the meantime, chop the cherry tomatoes into quarters and place in a bowl. Add the olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper.
When the fava beans have cooled, carefully pull aside the skins and pop the beans out. Add the beans to the tomato mixture, stir well, and then mash with a fork a few times to let the flavors really mix together.
Heat up a cast-iron griddle on high and generously brush both sides of the sourdough with olive oil. Grill the sourdough for a couple minutes per side, until there are charred grill lines and the bread is warmed.
Pile a few tablespoons of the bean and tomato salad on top of the sourdough, and enjoy!
Yesterday was the four year anniversary of my first date with Jeff. We’re married now, so I guess we have a new anniversary, but it seems weird to not acknowledge the years before our wedding date. I spent some extra time in the kitchen making dinner last night, with pretty great results.
First course was jicama salad with blood orange, cilantro, napa cabbage, and peanuts. Adapted from this Serious Eats recipe, my version had blood orange instead of pomelos, as that’s what I already had on hand.
Next up was gnocchi with spinach, roasted carrots, dill, and turmeric broth, adapted from this The First Mess recipe. Their version has wild rice and sprouts. I couldn’t find sprouts at the grocery store, and decided to make gnocchi instead of rice, as it’s much quicker. I added dill and spinach in place of the sprouts. This was a definite hit with Jeff. Next time, I’ll strain the broth and make more of it. I actually really loved it with the gnocchi and will probably keep making it that way.
Finally, I made Lemon Meringue pie. I’ve been vegan for 15 years but recently started eating eggs only if I’ve met the chickens and they’re 100% free range backyard chickens. Living out in the country I see a lot of happy chickens and families selling off a dozen extra eggs here and there. It’s something I decided I was okay with. I still won’t eat eggs at restaurants or buy them from the grocery store, but I will buy eggs from the chickens at the salvage/ antique shop who were happily roaming through 7 acres (see photo from previous post). Anyway, this means I am slowly expanding my cooking and baking to new recipes that are pretty impossible to make vegan. I’ve made lemon pies before, but meringue is something that can only be made with eggs (whipped coconut cream is not quite the same). I was doing really great up until the very end when I put the pie just a little too close to the broiler.
“Jeff, my pie is on fire and I don’t know what to do!” I cried. Luckily the fire went out pretty quickly, but the top of the pie was completely scorched. The recipe had called for a lot of meringue though, so I just scraped off most of the burned parts and put it back in the oven (this time much further away). We ended up with one perfect slice and several only slightly burned slices. It was delicious.
Last night I had the pleasure of going to my neighbor’s house for a wonderful cooking lesson/ dinner party. She had two cookbooks, Jersusalem and Plenty, and made recipes from both. I was especially taken with the spinach salad, and wanted to eat about three more helpings of it, but unfortunately there were 9 other people at the table and so I refrained.
When I was trying to figure out what I wanted to make for lunch today, I realized that I had pretty much all the ingredients on hand to make this salad myself, and so that’s what I did. The recipe is posted online by the New York Times, but I made a few changes, so I’m posting my version below. The original recipe calls for onions to be added with the dates, but my husband is allergic and so we are an onion-free household (unfortunately for me!). The onions are delicious with the recipe though, so I do recommend adding them if you can. I also didn’t have sumac so I replaced it with paprika, which has a similar earthy flavor.
The original recipe is surely superior, but this one is a little healthier and much easier.
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
2 dates, preferably Medjool, pitted and chopped finely
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 flour tortillas, roughly torn into 1 1/2 -inch pieces (pita works too obviously, but this is what I had on hand. Naan would also work, or any other kind of flatbread)
1/2 cup whole unsalted almonds
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 tsp paprika
1/2 teaspoon chile flakes
5 cups baby spinach leaves
1 can chickpeas, drained
4 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
Mix vinegar and dates in a small bowl and leave to marinate while you make the rest of the salad.
Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Add tortillas, almonds, salt, pepper, paprika, and chile flakes, and cook for 4 to 6 minutes, stirring all the time, until the tortillas start to crisp up and brown.
Drain the can of chickpeas and put in a large salad bowl with 2 tbsp lemon and 1 tbsp olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Mash slightly and mix well, to get the oil and lemon thoroughly combined. Add the spinach, tortilla/almond mixture, and dates and toss. Drizzle the remaining lemon and olive oil and toss again, adding more salt and pepper if desired.
Last night I just did not want to cook. I was cold and hungry and cranky and nothing sounded delicious and I just wanted to get Chinese delivery. Unfortunately, we live 20 minutes from the nearest takeout joint, and neither of us wanted to brave the 10 degree weather outside. So I sucked it up and cooked. And when I let go of my bad mood and focused on the task at hand, I actually got really inspired and made the most delicious meal. It just goes to show how fleeting thoughts can be and how important it is to stay in the moment.
These tacos contain spiced sweet potatoes, raw red peppers, grilled tofu, and green aji sauce.
They’re smoky, spicy, sweet, and salty. They’re crunchy, creamy, and tender. And they’re really easy!
This recipe makes 12 tacos. You’ll need:
- 12 tortillas (I like flour, but corn works too!)
- 1 red, yellow, or orange sweet pepper, sliced thinly
- half a block of firm or extra-firm tofu, cut into 12 equal slices
- optional: additional cilantro, lime wedges, chopped lettuce or cabbage, hot sauce
For the spiced sweet potatoes:
3 medium sweet potatoes
3 tbsp oil (I used grapeseed)
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp cumin
salt and pepper to taste
Cube the sweet potatoes in half-inch chunks and rub in spices and oil. If you’re like me, you won’t pay attention to the exact spice amounts and you’ll just dump the spices on the sweet potatoes and adjust accordingly.
Bake in a 400 degree oven for 30-40 minutes, or until tender. I’m lucky enough to have a convection oven (which I still haven’t quite gotten the hang of!) and these were done in 20 minutes flat.
To make the tacos:
Once the sweet potatoes are nearly finished, lightly grill or fry the tofu (I used a nonstick pan and a light spray of cooking oil). You can add salt and pepper to taste, but I found that leaving the tofu plain and still soft in the middle gave the best contrast to the other ingredients.
Assemble one slice of tofu, a spoonful of aji sauce, 4-5 slices of red pepper, and some cubes of sweet potato. Add garnishes as desired, and enjoy!