Thursday, December 27, 2007

Braised Ginkgo Nuts with Purple Brussels Sprouts

These sprouts are made with ginkgo nuts I harvested from the sidewalk in front of my building. I just cannot begin to tell you how long I have wanted to do this. Every year in late November, the ginkgo trees on my block shed pounds and pounds of edible and healthful nuts. The ginkgo nuts lie trodden underfoot because nobody knows what to do with them. The pulp of the outer hulls becomes very pungent as the nuts ripen and some folks just don’t care for that at all, but the nuts themselves do not have any unpleasant odor. For years now I have promised myself that I would one day prepare some home-gathered ginkgo nuts, but I had always let the season go by because I had no idea what to do with them, and I didn’t really feel like picking them up. They are pretty revolting.

Two things made this year different. The first was my encouraging success with dried chestnuts, a nut similar to ginkgos, which made me eager to try other nutty vegetable dishes. The second was my heartbreaking failure to do anything with some home-gathered black walnuts, which made me eager to vindicate myself with some local foraging, something we don’t get to do too often here in lower Manhattan. It turns out that ginkgo nuts are not at all difficult to gather and prepare, if you are willing to devote a little time to them.

To Gather and Prepare Ginkgo Nuts

Try to select newly-fallen nuts with unbruised outer husks. Serious ginkgo gatherers do this by spreading a drop-cloth on the ground and then shaking the tree. I picked my nuts from the hoods and roofs of parked cars, figuring that because of New York’s alternate side of the street parking regulations, they could not have been undisturbed for long. You may want to wear protective gloves (I did not).

As soon as you get home, submerge the nuts in cold water and rub off the husks. This is not difficult at all. Allow the nuts to dry. Ginkgo nuts in the shell will stay fresh for months. See how pretty they are? Not the least bit objectionable.

When you are ready to use the nuts, crack open and remove the shells.

Put the nuts in a saucepan with water to cover and boil for about forty-five minutes, or until they are tender. The brown skins will come off easily once the ginkgo nuts are cooked. You can now use them in any recipe that calls for cooked or canned ginkgo nuts.

Braised Ginkgo Nuts with Purple Brussels Sprouts

6 ounces (1 cup) cooked ginkgo nuts, (or 3 ounces, or ½ cup raw shelled ginkgo nuts)

1 pound tiny purple Brussels sprouts (or other B. sprouts)

olive oil

6 ounces shallots, peeled and finely diced

red wine

sugar and salt

Trim, clean, and examine the sprouts. Heat oil in a wide skillet. Add sprouts and ginkgo nuts and cook for several minutes, until a bit golden. Add the diced shallots and cook several minutes more until soft and translucent. Add about ¾ cup red wine and a bit of sugar and salt to taste and continue cooking until the liquid is almost all absorbed.

This was delicious and very satisfying. The nuts have a pleasant, almost dumpling-like richness that goes very nicely with greens. They are gluten-free, and I bet they would be a very useful ingredient to have around during peysekh, which I hardly need remind you is hurtling towards us like professor Walter Lewin on that pendulum-aparatus. I will have to remember to gather lots more next year.

Tiny purple Brussels sprouts from Yuno's FarmThe Yiddish word for ginkgo is פאָכערבלאַט (fokherblat, "fan-leaf")

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Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Restaurants Book

Everything happens in restaurants. We meet, we consume, we celebrate or commiserate, we feel utterly alive, and yet the ever-present posters instructing us on the Heimlich maneuver are a constant memento Mori. Many of our most intense experiences occur in restaurants. In a famous scene in Rob Reiner’s 1990 film "When Harry Met Sally" the Sally character played by Meg Ryan visits a Jewish restaurant and has an orgasm. Within the narrative context of the movie, Sally is faking an orgasm for reasons necessary to the plot. In fact Sally's reaction to the multisensory and polysemic environment of a Jewish restaurant could not be more real. (from "From Khachapuri to Gefilte Fish: Dining Out in Russian-Jewish New York" In The Restaurants Book Ed. David Beriss and David Sutton, 115-132. London and New York: Berg.)


Monday, December 24, 2007

ייִדישע יום־טובֿים

עס איז הײַנט פֿופֿצן טעג אין טבֿת, אײן חודש פֿאַרן הײליקן יום־טובֿ טו־ב'שבֿט, צװײ חדושים פֿאַרן הײליקן יום־טובֿ פּורים, און דער אָפֿיציעלער טאָג אין יאָר װען מען הײבט אָן אױף אַן ערנסטן אױפֿן זיך צו זאָרגן װעגן דעם הײליק־הײליקן און האַרציק באַליבטן יום־טוּבֿ פּסח.

איך האָף איך זאָל מערצעשעם מאַכן זײער אַ שײן פּסח װעגװײַזער דאָס יאָר. אָט, דערװײַל איז אַ בילדל פֿון די חנוכּה ליכט בײַם חזון עסן־קאָנפֿערענץ, װעגן װאָס איך װעל ענק באַלד דערצײלן.


Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Mangosteens in the Snow

I seem to be in Canada, or somewhere of that sort, so I will have to promise to add photos as soon as I can (ETA: here they are!), but I just cannot wait to tell you about the mangosteens I have been eating every day since I found them. These exquisitely juicy little segmented globes are no relation to the mango, or to anything else I've ever seen. They look at first very like globe eggplants. The woody outer shell is about half an inch thick. Inside are about ten succulent segments of fruit. They look a bit like lychee, white and translucent, but the flavor is like lime with a little banana and a little floral. Getting them open is the tricky part, because it takes great force to cut through the shell, but ideally, you don't want to scratch or crush the lush little sections inside. Someone must have invented the ideal single-purpose gadget for this; has anyone seen it?
It is funny to be encountering all this tropical lushness under forty "centimetres" of snow, eh?
The Yiddish word for mangosteen (Garcinia mangostana) is מאנגוסטאַן (mangustan).
The word in Mandarin Chinese is Dàoniănzi (inverted wick? maybe because that is what the stem looks like?)
I'll eat my hat if Sweetnicks has seen one of these!


Thursday, December 13, 2007

Say It Ain't So

Hope they'll be back soon. See the Zen Palate site for updates.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Vodka Piecrust טײג מיט װאָדקע

צי מאַכן אַלע שױן טײג מיט װאָדקע? איך האָב דאָס געפּרוּװט צום ערשטן מאָל דעם דאַנקטאָג. איך האָב געלײענט װעגן דעם טײג אין „קעכינס“ און זינט דעמאָלט האָב איך עס געמאַכט נאָך צװײ מאָל. דער תּירוץ איז אַז װאָדקע מאַכט אַ טײג װאָס איז װײכערער װי אַ טײג געמאַכט סתּם פֿון װאַסער װײַל אַלקאָהאָל אַקטיװיזירט נישט דעם פּראָטײיִן אָדער „גלוטן“ אין מעל. אַז דער טײג אַלײן איז װײכער בין איך נישט זיכער, אָבער אַ סך גרינגער אױסצוקאַטשערן איז ער יאָ. איך האָב געמאַכט פּאַרעװער טײג, מילכיקער טײג, און אַ ראַזעװער טײג אױך.

אַ פּאַרעװער טײג מיט געלקלעך

3 טעפּלעך (12 אָנצן) מעל

1 לעפֿעלע זאַלץ

8 אָנצן (1 טעפּל) קאָקאָנוס שמאַלץ

3 געלקלעך

2 לעפֿל װאָדקע

מישט'ץ אױס מעל מיט זאַלץ. צעשנײַדט'ץ פּוטער אױף שטיקער און מישט'ץ מיט מעל אָדער מיט איד פֿינגער אָדער אין אַ פּראָצעסירער, עס זאָל בלײַבן אַ ביסל גראָב. גיסט'ץ די געלקלעך אָן אין אַ מאָסגלעזל און גיט'ץ צו די װאָדקע, און װאַסער ביז ½ טעפּל (אַן ערך 2 לעפֿל װאַסער). מישט'ץ אױס דעם טײג מיט אַ גאָפּל. מאַכט'ץ צװײ טײגלעך, װיקל זײ אײַן אין, און קיל זײ אָפּ אין לאָדאָװע אַ 20 מינוט. קאַטשערט'ץ אױס דעם טײג אױף 1/8 צאָל צו מאַכן פּײַ, פּײַעלעך און אַנדערע געבעקס, אַזױ װי דער הײמישער סקאָװראָדע־פּײַ אונטן.

אַ הײמישער פּײַ אין אַ סקאָװראָדע

דעם פּײַ קענט עץ מאַכן אָדער מיט אַ העלפֿט פֿונעם אױבנדיקן רעצעפּט, אָדער מיט די שטיקלעך װאָס בלײַבן פֿון אַנדערע פּײַ.

7-10 עפּל אָדער באַרענעס

2 לעפֿל קאָקאָנוס שמאַלץ אָדער פּוטער

½ טעפּל ברױנער צוקער, אָדער אַנדערער צוקער

שײלט'ץ אָפּ די עפּל אָדער באַרענעס, און צעשנײַדט'ץ זײ אױף שטיקער. װעראַמט'ץ אָן פּוטער אין אַן אײַזערנע סקאָװראָדע װאָס איז גענוג גרױס (9 אָדער 10 צאָל), און גיט'ץ צו צוקער און די עפּל אָדער באַרענע שטיקער. קאָכט'ץ און מישט'ץ זײ זאָלן זיך גוט קאַראַמעליזירן. לאָז זײ זיך אָפּקילן און װאַרעמט אָן דעם אױװן אױף 425 גראַד. דעקט'ץ צו די עפּל אָדער באַרענעס מיט אַן אױסגעקאַטשעטרט טײגל אָדער מיט איבערגעבליבענע שטיקלעך טײג, און נאָך אַ ביסל צוקער. באַקט אָפּ דעם פּײַ 20 אָדער 25 מינוט.

So, has everyone been making piecrust with vodka? I tried to for the first time this Thanksgiving, and twice since then. The idea, introduced in Cook’s Illustrated, is that the vodka does not activate the gluten in flour and therefore produces a more tender crust. I am not sure the crust is discernibly tenderer than my usual piecrust, but it is worth trying only because it is so much fun to handle. It really does roll out like play-doh. I have not yet tried the recipe in Cooks, but I have tried vodka in my usual piecrust, a whole wheat crust, and this:

Coconut Oil Piecrust

Here’s the best dairy-free piecrust I’ve made so far. I added extra yolks to the dough to provide a bit of butteryness.

12 ounces (3 cups) flour

8 ounces (1 cup) coconut oil

1 teaspoon salt

3 yolks

2 tablespoons vodka

Blend the coconut oil and salt into the flour. You can use your fingers, a pastry blender, or a processor. Place the yolks in a measuring glass. Add the vodka, and enough water to come up to the half-cup line (about two tablespoons water). Mix the yolk-water into the flour with a fork so that it just holds together. Form two dough balls and chill them for twenty minutes. Roll the piecrust into circles 1/8 inch thick for pies, tarts, or this thing:

Skillet Pie (Buckle or Slump)

7-10 apples or pears

2 tablespoons coconut oil (or butter for a milkhik pie)

½ cup brown sugar, or other sugar

Peel the apples or pears and cut them into pieces. Melt the butter in a 9 or 10-inch iron skillet. Add the fruit and sugar and cook until the juices thicken a bit. Allow the filling to cool, and heat the oven to 425. Cover the skillet with a circle of rolled dough, or with pieces of leftover dough scraps from dome other pie. If you like, sprinkle on a bit more sugar. Bake 20 or 25 minutes.

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