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
It could easily be mistaken for a knob of ginger, or maybe even a bug. Inside, it exudes an orange hue brighter than any carrot. Its aromas are so pungent that they linger in your kitchen well after it’s gone. It stains everything it comes in contact with. And it’s quickly becoming the next golden ingredient.
Turmeric, a rhizome best known in its orange-yellow powdered form, has lately been breaking away from its secondary role as a component of curry powder and making a solo debut. It has long been valued as a coloring agent, but turmeric can do more than turn food yellow.
Yes, turmeric is one of those so-called “superfoods,” packed full of an abundance of attractive nutrients and health benefits. The superstar of spices, turmeric has been used in holistic healing to reduce symptoms of arthritis and aid digestive relief for years. Its powerful active ingredient, curcumin, has proven effective as an antioxidant, and has anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties as well.
Still, even in all of its golden dietary glory, turmeric doesn’t get much attention in the American kitchen. Rarely does it make its way onto our plates. Occasionally, the raw root is used to make a cold-pressed cleansing juice or the powdered spice is sprinkled on top of eggs. Beyond that and traditional Indian dishes, not many American home cooks have any idea what to do with it. MORE
I sometimes feel bad for tahini. It’s one of those pantry orphans, an ingredient you bought with the best intentions of using only to let it sit untouched on the shelf. Perhaps you once scooped out a spoonful to make your own hummus or drizzled a bit over roasted broccoli for dinner. But then you ran out of ideas, forgot about it, and neglected that poor jar of tahini in the back of your refrigerator. Or worse, you left it in your pantry to spoil.
While it may be essential to many signature Middle Eastern dishes, tahini still remains foreign to many home cooks. Aside from hummus, tahini isn’t commonly utilized in the American kitchen – partly because people aren’t entirely sure what tahini even is.
Though it’s never called sesame butter, that’s essentially what tahini is – much like peanut or almond butters. A paste made from ground sesame seeds, tahini is creamy and nutty, with the same mouth-coating consistency as peanut butter and its own pleasantly bitter taste. MORE
If you ask James Feustel and Jonathan Deutsch, the way we learn to cook is all wrong. Faculty and students at the Drexel University Center for Hospitality and Sport Management have embarked on a project to create a new type of culinary text. Rather than teaching classic French recipes, the book teaches proper cooking by method, and then applies the learned method to a variety of dishes from around the world. Each installment will bring a new technique to master, and new recipes to enjoy and perfect. Welcome to Cooking School.
We all have that relative or friend who, after presenting yet another flawless dish, claims to have no idea how to cook. “I just followed the recipe,” they’ll say, as we devour their jams, macarons, or pickles. When you learn cooking by recipe, you risk becoming a step-following technician. First do this, then do that and voila! We think there’s a better way. By starting with culinary techniques – digging into what’s really happening when you braise or sear – you can develop a deep understanding of how to cook. Once you understand that, you can get to what to cook (with or without a recipe) later.
We begin with what is arguably the simplest of methods. Simmering requires only a pot, heat, some liquid, and some food, but is too often done poorly by cooks watching the clock rather than the food.
The Rutabaga. It sounds like the name of a retro car, like a cross between a Studebaker and a Winnebago. It might just be me, but this inconspicuous root vegetable is puzzling, and frankly, doesn’t look any more appealing than a Studebaker-Winnebago hybrid would. A waxy turnip-like nub that’s slightly purple-brown in color, the only thing that caught my eye about the humble vegetable was its price – on sale for 99 cents per pound. I loaded up my grocery basket with rutabagas.
Soon, I found myself in a conundrum, as I often do. As a thrifty shopper, my budget decides what I pick up in the grocery store, which usually includes in-season produce that, sometimes, is unrecognizable to me. Which is why I was staring at three pounds of rutabagas in my kitchen without the slightest clue what to do with them. I had never even eaten a rutabaga before, let alone cooked one. Are you supposed to peel it? Which side is the top? Clearly, I needed help. So I began researching recipes online, trying to find something to do with this week’s sale item.
Halfway into my first real Midwestern winter, it’s taking some creativity to figure out how to do warm, comforting meals night after night without everything tasting too rich, hefty and well, boring. There are only so many soups I can blend without craving something chunky and textured, and don’t ask me to make yet another delicious but depressingly dull roast.
Enter the dried chile pepper. Most commonly known for their starring roles in salsas and sauces, dried chiles are a great way to bring heat, complexity and warmth to any dish, without the weight of roasted veggies and thick stews.
Living and cooking in Texas for the past eight years, I generally took the nuances of many varieties of chile pepper for granted. Since moving up north, I’ve noticed that many menus in the Midwest tend to lump all kinds of dried peppers into one generic “chile pepper” category. Yet each kind of pepper has a unique personality, and once you become adept at incorporating them into your meals at home, it’s easy to appreciate the subtle nuances between the guajillo, pasilla, chipotle or ancho.
Chicken soup is more than just another meal. It’s the thing that parents feed their children when they’re sick. It is one of the best things ever to take to families with brand new babies. And on a cold day, there is nothing more warming than a bowl of steaming chicken soup.
It’s a cultural touchstone and I firmly believe that every home cook should know how to make a batch from scratch. And so, for this final installment of the Whole Chicken Project, that’s what we’re going to explore. All you need is a chicken, a few veggies, and a handful of herbs and seasonings.
Over the last six or seven years, I’ve become someone who tries to hue fairly closely to the season when determining what’s on the menu. I eat asparagus for a brief period in April and May, go crazy for tomatoes in July and August, and fill my kitchen with acorn and butternut squash once the weather turns cooler.
This way of eating is easier on the budget, always tastes better, and makes the asparagus, tomatoes, and squash feel like a treat. The one problem with eating in this fashion is that cookbooks don’t match up perfectly (particularly if they’re written by authors based in California. They seem to have everything available, all the time).
Happily, finding good, reliable, accessible seasonal cookbooks has gotten increasingly easy over the last few years. One recent addition to my shelf is Clotilde Dusoulier’s The French Market Cookbook.
Since it opened in the fall of 2011, Vedge has been one of the most celebrated restaurants in Philadelphia. Chef-owners Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby pride themselves on producing inspired cocktails, dishes, and desserts using only local, seasonal produce. And when I say only produce, I do mean only. No animal products of any kind are used or served at Vedge.
Vedge calls itself a vegetable restaurant, and it has transformed the way this city thinks about carrots, cucumbers, and cauliflower (to name a few). So far, the only drawback to Vedge has been that in order to taste their transformational food, you had to finagle a reservation or lay in wait for one of the few coveted seats at the bar. Happily, now there’s another option.
With the recent publication of Vedge: 100 Plates Large and Small That Redefine Vegetable Cooking, you can now make many of the restaurant’s most beloved dishes at home.
During my early life, my exposure to sauerkraut was limited to the rare occasions when my dad took me to a baseball game. We’d get Dodger dogs with yellow mustard, relish, chopped onions and a dab of sauerkraut.
The next time I had sauerkraut with any regularity was in college. Every couple of weeks, the cafeteria would do a German theme night, complete with sausage, pierogi, dark brown bread, and lots of sauerkraut. I’d load my plate up with a pile of that krauty goodness.
However, it wasn’t until my twenties that I found a groove with sauerkraut. MORE
Each spring, when the first local asparagus arrives in the farmers markets, I go a little bit overboard. Those fat, green-verging-on-purple stalks mean that the season of abundance has finally arrived. I binge on asparagus, buying several pounds at a time without any kind of a plan, a little bit fearful that it will disappear before I have my fill. MORE
I don’t spend a great deal of time thinking about peas. For most of the year, they are an ever-present vegetable that lives in the freezer. I regularly add a handful to soups and salads (rinse them under warm water to quickly defrost them) and appreciate them for how little they demand of me. However, when spring arrives and peas are in season, I feel it necessary to celebrate the joy that is the green pea. MORE
Red lentils are one of my staple legumes. They are wonderfully cheap, cook quickly, and look so darn pretty in a jar on the shelf. When I know I have a busy week ahead of me, I will often cook a few cups to keep in the fridge. I puree them into dips, use them to add bulk to lunchtime salads, or slip them to blended soups that I know could use some extra substance and thickening.
Pre-cooking lentils takes absolutely no time at all. I typically do it while I’m cleaning up from dinner, knowing that they’ll be done long before I do my final counter-wipe. Here’s how I do it.
Wasted food is one of the unfortunate facts of our modern lives (a recent study says that we toss between 30% and 50% of all food produced). We overbuy, we eat out on nights when we had planned to cook, and we let leftovers wither away into slimy puddles in the back of the fridge. For our planet to survive and thrive, we need to curb this waste.
While there are grand, systemic changes that need to occur to truly rectify this issue, there’s also a lot that we can do at home to reduce the amount of food that ends up in landfills. To my mind, the most important thing to do is to start seeing our aging and leftover food from a transformational perspective.
Leftovers from dinner can be scrambled into eggs for breakfast. The last bits of cheese can be blended into a pleasing spread the French call fromage fort. And then there’s stale bread. From use as a soup thickener, to bread puddings and panades to breadcrumbs, it can do almost anything. MORE