Bookshelf

Saving the Salad

Hearty (and vegan) salads go way beyond rabbit food

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TM_BK_SALADS_AP_001_1We’re living in a golden age of salad. But for too many people, the thought of salad for dinner still conjures up ideas of rabbit food – and doubly so when it’s vegan. Terry Hope Romero’s new book, Salad Samurai: 100 Cutting-Edge, Ultra-Hearty, Easy-to-Make Salads You Don’t Have to Be Vegan to Love is here to help. The book is available now on Amazon and at your local bookstore.

“But there’s always the salad!”

If you don’t eat meat (or any animal-derived food), ordering a meal in a nice, if not necessarily accommodating to a vegan palate, restaurant usually drifts to the inevitable rendezvous with a salad. Everyone tucks into steak and potato-flavored mounds of butter. You, however, poke your fork into a morose pile of limp leaves. As a teen vegetarian (and later, adult vegan), countless experiences like this one soured me on ever loving salad. Or actively seeking it out as a meal. Salads just sucked. MORE

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I’ve willfully never jumped on the kale bandwagon. I haven’t added the leafy green to my morning smoothies. I’ve yet to bake my own kale chips and I don’t find it an attractive green for salads. Yes, I know, it’s one of the most fashionable vegetables of the last 50 years and touts even trendier health benefits. But the closest kale has ever gotten to my heart was after I sautéed it in enough bacon fat to strip it of all its superfood qualities.

So I was happy when a study revealed last month that kale was actually nowhere near being the most nutrient-dense food. Not even close. In fact, it ranked number 15, far behind its nemesis, spinach, and less-popular greens like beet, collard, chard, and chicory. To everyone’s surprise, another vegetable came out on top: watercress.

A close relative to mustard greens and arugula, watercress is a delicate but feisty green. As its name implies, it grows partially submerged in water. According to researchers, watercress is the ultimate superfood — full of essential vitamins and minerals, with a higher percentage of nutrients than any other vegetable. It’s long been known for its copious amounts of calcium and iron, and it’s just as good for you in its raw state as it is cooked. MORE

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Growing up in a household that grilled most summer nights, there’s nothing that says “it’s summer” to me like perfectly charred food coming off the grill. But you won’t find me manning the barbecue. I have an accident-filled past with grills, so I happily stick to making the side dishes. However, the sides I’ve been making — like mayonnaise-y macaroni salads or brown-sugary baked beans — haven’t changed much in the years that I have kept my distance from the grill.

That’s not to say that these classic side dishes aren’t delicious. In fact, they might be a little too delicious — and addictive – for me. I tend to find myself gorging on sides as I’m waiting for the main course to be brought off the grill.

My problem with the usual assortment of macaroni salads, potato salads, cornbreads, potato chips, coleslaws, or baked beans is that they are all just too heavy. Coated in mayo, laced with sugar, or just plain greasy, these side dishes tend to fill me up before I can make a decent dent in my steak or chicken. Loading up on these rich and filling sides along with whatever was actually made on the grill always leads to the post-barbecue bloat. And dealing with a stomach full of grease and sugar while baking in the summer sun is really unpleasant, to say the least.
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Brys Stephens’  The New Southern Table explores classic Southern ingredients such as okra, lima beans, peaches, and pecans through recipes inspired by cuisines from around the world. In this excerpt, he tackles collard greens with recipes that go well beyond the “mess o’ greens”. The book is available now on QBookshopAmazon and at your local bookstore.

As a child, I mostly knew collards as that wet mess of overcooked greens in a small bowl alongside chicken or pork chops in a countrystyle meat-and-three (a casual, country-style restaurant common in the South, usually serving a choice of one meat dish and a choice of three vegetable dishes). At home, we always seemed to prefer spinach and cabbage. Traveling in France, Italy, and the Middle East years later and seeing how folks cooked with chard and kale, I realized collards could be incorporated into all kinds of dishes in the same quick-cook way as those greens.

Since moving to the Lowcountry, where collards grow year-round in the moderate climate and sandy soils of the sea islands (including in my garden on Sullivan’s Island), I’ve made collards one of my staple greens. They do well in both the heat and the cold, unlike other greens with more delicate leaves. They tend to be sweeter in the colder months after they’ve gone through a frost, and they are usually less bitter than mustard greens, turnip greens, and broccoli rabe, though more so than chard and kale. They usually take a little longer to cook than those greens because their leaves are sturdier, and younger collards with smaller leaves cook pretty quickly.
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Bookshelf

In the Mezze

A Middle Eastern bounty of shared small plates, mezze is more mood than menu

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TM_BK_OLIVLEM_AP_001In Olives, Lemons & Za’atar, Rawia Bishara takes you on a culinary journey from Nazareth to New York, with dishes that honor and expand on her mother’s unique approach to Middle Eastern home cooking. In this excerpt, Rawia discusses mezze, the assortment of nibbles and drinks that lead off a large Middle Eastern meal. The book is available now on Amazon and at your local bookstore from Kyle Books.

The Italians have antipasto, the Spanish tapas, the Americans appetizers, the Chinese dim sum. In the Middle East, there is mezze, small plates of food served all at once, before the main course, to provide a bounty of tastes and textures. That said, one or two plates can comprise a snack, while a few more can add up to a whole meal. Mezze is invariably served with arak, an anise-flavored spirit, to sip in between swipes of creamy dip on Arabic bread, forkfuls of fried or raw kibbeh and bites of spicy meat pies.

The simplest mezzes are made up of whatever is on hand in the garden and the pantry. When I was growing up, this meant makdous, labneh, olives, hummus, Arabic bread, cucumbers and tomatoes.

At its core, though, mezze is a mood. In Arabic, the verb for mezze is, mezmiz, which loosely translated means “eat, talk and drink” — all at once. Imagine friends and family sitting around a table, passing heaping plates of hummus, baba ganouj, falafel and za’atar bread, and laughing, talking — and of course debating heatedly — amid the clang of glasses and plates. Mezze is a ritual about sharing — not just bites of delicious food, but stories, experiences, laughter and opinions.
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Bookshelf

Nom Nom Paleo

A book to take Paleo from blah to yum

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TM_BK_PALEO_AP_001Nearly everyone I know is taking the arrival of January as an opportunity to reset their eating habits. My mom is cutting out sugar. My husband has returned to his favorite low-carb diet. And it takes both hands to count all the Facebook friends who are doing the Paleo thing these days.

For those folks who are trying out the Paleo diet these days, there’s a new book on the scene that does a really good job of illuminating that particular way of eating while also offering up a goodly number of accessible and downright delicious recipes.

Called Nom Nom Paleo, it was written, photographed and designed by Michelle Tam and Henry Fong. This Bay Area couple writes a blog of the same name and they have developed a reputation over the years for reliable recipes presented in a playful manner that appeals to both kids and adults. Happily, the book maintains that spirit and is both useful and super entertaining. MORE

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Choosing Sides

Make your side dishes the best part of your Thanksgiving meal

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TM_BK_CHSIDES_AP_001 We all know that Thanksgiving is a turkey-centric holiday, but I don’t think I’m speaking an untruth when I say that for most of us, it’s a meal that’s really more about the side dishes than the main event. Truly, it’s stuffing, potatoes, green beans, and casseroles that make this annual meal feel both special and festive.

Cookbook author Tara Matazara Desmond knows that it’s really the side dish that makes the meal, and has recently published a book celebrating the things we serve along with our mains. Called Choosing Sides: From Holidays to Every Day, 130 Delicious Recipes to Make the Meal, this book features side dishes for every occasion.

Whether you’re searching for something special to join a brunch menu or you’re simply on the hunt for some new flavors to enhance a weeknight regular, this book is here to serve as useful guide for home cooks who are stuck in a rut and need a few new ideas.
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When I was a child, no breakfast was better than a scrapple breakfast. I preferred a plateful of the crispy, savory mystery meat to any bowl of Lucky Charms or stack of chocolate chip pancakes. But then, when I was 10 years old, I learned what scrapple really was.

Honestly, I could have lived happily without ever figuring out what constituted one of my favorite breakfast foods. Surely, most of us could. In case you’ve lived into adulthood in blissful ignorance, this is how scrapple is made: Pork scraps — everything from skins and hearts to livers and tongues — are combined with flour, cornmeal, and spices, then molded into a one-pound brick. It’s not the best food for people who insist on knowing exactly what is in what they’re eating, and certainly isn’t for those that are particularly health-conscious.

I always wondered if there were many scrapple lovers who appreciated it as much as I did. MORE

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One of my fondest fall memories from childhood is that of driving out to an agricultural island near our house in Portland. There was an antique apple orchard on the grounds of an old farm turned park, and visitors were allowed to pick any windfall apples from the grounds.

We’d fill paper grocery bags until they were nearly ready to split open and then head home to make applesauce. I’d help my mom with the peeling and chopping, until we had enough to fill our very largest pot.
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There is no better late summer treat than a ripe, juicy, misshapen heirloom tomato. When they’re in season, I eat them at every meal. In the morning, I scramble eggs and top them with cubes of tomato. For lunch, I cut tomatoes into thick wedges and stack them on top of sturdy slices of mayonnaise-spread toast. Come dinnertime, I make tomato salads, pasta sauces, spicy salsa frescas, and even cocktails.

This week, I’ve pulled together some of my very favorite tomato-centric dishes for a full-on tomato supper. MORE

Bookshelf

Out to Lunch

Conquering the packed lunch with Beating the Lunchbox Blues

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Whether you’re sending kids off to school or toting your own midday meal, packing lunches is one of more relentless kitchen tasks. It’s a constant struggle to find items that travel well, stay fresh, and also manage to be appealing.

My own mother was an incredible lunch packer during the years that my sister and I were in school. She made sandwiches, filled thermoses, and invented all manner of room-temperature friendly dishes that would inspire us to eat to the bottom of the container.

Years later, when I asked her about it, she confessed that it had been one of her least favorite parenting activities (right up there with helping with math homework) and that while she missed having young kids, she does not ever miss the daily lunch packing chore.

While I don’t have kids yet, I still find myself frequently packing lunches for my husband to take to work and I’m always on the lookout for ways to make those meals a little bit more interesting. MORE

Viva La Vegan

Rabbit Food Redux

Salad can be a substantial, healthy meal

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As a vegan, I try not to get preachy about my diet. But a certain common exchange makes it hard to hold my tongue.

“A vegan?” someone will ask, scrunching up his nose. “So what do you eat, then? Salad,” the S word uttered with distain.

The truth is that salad gets a pretty bum wrap. And sadly in many instances, its poor reputation is somewhat deserved. Look at any mid-range chain restaurant menu, and you’ll see that most of the dishes in the “Salad” category are just strips of chicken, beef, or fish sitting on an underwhelming pile of lettuce, shaved carrots, and flavorless cherry tomatoes.

In salad’s role as a health food, it receives even less respect. The typical mound of iceberg lettuce topped fat-free Italian dressing may be low in calories, but it fails to satisfy most people, including myself.

If only more people knew how to make a great salad, it wouldn’t have this bad reputation. These are my basic rules for pulling together a hearty, healthy, delicious salad: MORE

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Grape tomatoes. Most of year they are readily available and entirely average. But as soon as the hotter days arrive, truly exceptional tiny tomatoes start trickling into local markets. By high summer, it’s a welcome deluge.

I buy a pint or two every time I shop, to have on hand for quick meals. I toss them into salads, scramble them into eggs, and dip them into hummus. I also have a few favorite recipes in which I make repeatedly over the summer months, in order to get my fill before the season ends. MORE

Bookshelf

East Meets South

Korea meets Kentucky in Edward Lee's Smoke and Pickles

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One of the things I’ve learned over my long career as a cookbook appreciator (I started buying cookbooks with my allowance when I was eleven) is that some cookbooks feature terrific stories and lousy recipes. Others offer the reverse. They are bursting with highly usable, carefully written recipes, but offer very little in the way of personality and humanity.

It’s a rare cookbook that manages to walk the line between good storytelling and an accessible recipe collection that truly works. Smoke & Pickles, a recently released volume by former Top Chef “cheftestant” Edward Lee, straddles that line with ease. MORE

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The title of this column is Forgotten Foods; the idea is that I am showing you recipes that, though wonderful and worthwhile, have become less popular over time — maybe new cooking technology made them obsolete or the ingredients became prohibitively expensive. Maybe tastes just changed. And now, isn’t it wonderful that we can rediscover these foods together?

But there are also the foods from the past that aren’t forgotten as much as willfully shunned. Fermented meats. Tuna-and-potato-chip casseroles. And at the top of that tasteless heap — the gelatin salad.
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