Puréed Fava Bean and Pecorino Spread

Viva la Fava!
I think that fava beans are one of those things that you need to prepare yourself in order to truly appreciate them. I’m sure that I came across them before I lived in France, perhaps randomly poking out of a spring ragoût or crushed and smeared on some olive oil-brushed toast. However, it wasn’t until that spring in Paris that I actually bought some of my own.

Fava beans appeared suddenly and seemed to overwhelm the markets overnight. They overflowed from round baskets made of thin slats of wood that were stapled together. To fill your flimsy paper bags, you had to first elbow your way through ruthless matrons who did not care if they knocked off your glasses as they pinched and squeezed each pod to see which had the biggest and juiciest beans.

They were ridiculously cheap, mere centimes for a kilo.

You needed kilos of them too. Given that one kilo equals roughly 2.2 pounds, 2.2 pounds of pods would yield slightly more than one cup of beans once shucked. That cup would be reduced again to a mere 2/3 of a cup after removing the waxy, unappetizing membranes from the beans.

Fava beans were so abundant and economical in France that I just assumed that they were as available and inexpensive everywhere else.

Wrong.

Priced somewhere between $2-3 per pound, fava beans in New York are not the budget treat they were in France. However, once I developed a taste for them, I began eagerly anticipating their springtime arrival. Given that a small 2/3 cup serving of fava beans tends to run me about $5-6, I tend to favor recipes that prepare them simply in order to let their earthy, nutty, slightly bitter flavor and buttery texture shine.

Fava beans are still available at the markets here in New York, but elsewhere the season may be ending or has already passed. If you can’t find them easily or find the price prohibitive, I imagine that shelled edamame makes a respectable substitute.

This is one of those recipes where I encourage you can feel your way through it and modify it to fit your tastes. I used Pecorino Romano, a sharp, tangy, and salty sheep’s milk cheese that traditionally partners up with fava beans in and around Rome. However, using grated Parmesan in place of the Pecorino Romano results in a very nice spread too. For a little more smoothness, you can add a soft dollop of good ricotta, or maybe even a spoonful of thick, creamy yogurt.

However you make it, this dip, spread, or whatever you want to call it, is a terrific thing to dunk vegetables in, particularly radishes. You can also slather it on crostini.

Ingredients:

About 2 pounds of fava beans in their pods

1/3 of a cup of freshly grated Pecorino Romano

1/3 of a cup olive oil

Freshly ground black pepper

How to prepare:

1. First of all, you will need to remove the beans from their pods. This is easy to do and is much like shelling peas. Once shucked, discard the empty pods, and blanch the beans in boiling water for about 2 minutes — any longer than that, and they will be mushy. Have an ice bath ready to shock the beans after draining them. By submerging the beans in ice water after cooking, you will retain their beautiful green color. When the beans are cool, remove the waxy outer-covering of each one by nicking the end of a bean with your finger nail and easily squeezing each one out of its peel. Discard the peels.

2. Combine the beans with the grated cheese in a food processor. While the machine is running, add the olive oil in a steady stream until the consistency is nice, smooth, and thick. Transfer the spread to a bowl and season it freshly ground black pepper to taste. You shouldn’t need to add any salt because the cheese should be salty enough.

The spread should keep covered in the fridge for 3-4 days.

Unrelated query to Readers: Had a problem where this recently published post reverted back to a much earlier draft and “unpublished” itself. Spooky! Has this ever happened to anyone else? 

Sichuanese Pork Wontons in Chili-Soy Sauce

Plump dumplings rule!
I have inherited a lot from my mother. In addition to her dry sense of humor, her sarcasm, and her sly potty mouth, I am also the beneficiary of her glossy hair and poreless, flawless skin — which she reminds me, while comparing the four zits that I have had in my entire life to her NONE EVER, is actually less flawless than her own.

What I did not get from my mother was my taste for fiery, hot spice, gamy meat, and my willingness to put my overly-trusting ethnically Chinese-self in the hands of white people.

“Who is Fuchsia Dunlop?” my mother asked, “Is she Chinese?”

“Um, no. She’s British.”

“Like British-Chinese?”

“No . . . um, just British.”

Silence.

Asian-child fail!

But it’s really not my fault! My mother is an amazing cook, who has basically decided that she will be taking all her secrets to her grave so I will miss her more when she’s gone. In her kitchen, I am not even sous chef. I am relegated to the status of line-cook. Or bus-person.

Basically she lets me wrap things like egg rolls, dumplings, or leftovers with cling film.

These dumplings are not anything my mother would ever cook. First of all, they are spicy as heck! Secondly, the root of their spice comes from a nice, thick, orange slick of delicious grease! Finally, the recipe is from a white person.

But. They. Are. Delicious.

To the unintiated, Fuchsia Dunlop (who never seems to be known as just Fuchsia or just Dunlop) is a Chinese food phenomenon. Author of the best-selling Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper: A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China, the book outlines her deep love for Chinese cookery which began as a student at Cambridge, culminated in a move to Chengdu and enrollment in a professional chef’s training course at the Sichuan Institute of Higher Cuisine — the first Westerner to ever do so.

Friends, both Asian and not, swear by her books and her recipes, both of which translate Sichuanese and Hunanese cuisine into something effortless, accessible, and authentic-feeling.

I adapted this recipe from one that appeared on Epicurious from Every Grain of Rice: Simple Chinese Home Cooking. I didn’t change parts of it because I had any kind of personal reference — apart from eating similar dumplings in restaurants, I don’t. Instead, I altered the recipe because I am apparently lazier than your average Chinese home cook 🙂

However, the results are still divine. Heritage schmeritage! These dumplings tick every single box in terms of a deeply soul-satisfying food experience. Did I mention that they are ridiculously easy to make too? 🙂

Ingredients:

For the sauce

3-4 tablespoons of dark Chinese soy sauce

1 1/2 teaspoons of sugar

3 cloves of garlic, finely minced

3 scallions, finely chopped

3 tablespoons of sesame chili oil with sediment

For the dumplings

1 knob of fresh ginger

1 pound of ground pork

1 egg, beaten

2 teaspoons of Shaoxing wine (a useful buying guide can be found here)

1 teaspoon of toasted sesame oil

3 scallions, finely chopped

Freshly ground white pepper

1 package of wonton wrappers

For garnish

2 tablespoons of roasted peanuts, chopped (Fuchsia Dunlop’s recipe does not call for them, but I think they would be an terrific addition. I would have added if I had them on hand!)

How to prepare:

1. First, prepare the sauce. In a small bowl, whisk together the soy sauce and the sugar. Let the mixture sit for about 5 minutes until all the sugar crystals have dissolved. Once the sugar has dissolved, add the finely minced garlic, the chili oil with sediment, and the finely chopped scallions.

2. Using a rolling pin or the bottom of a heavy coffee mug, crush the knob of unpeeled ginger. Place it in a small dish and cover it with about 2 tablespoons of water.

3. In a large bowl, combine the pork with one beaten egg, 2 teaspoons of Shaoxing wine, 1 teaspoon of roasted sesame oil, and 3 teaspoons of the ginger water. Mix well with your hands. Add the scallions and season the meat with white pepper to taste.

As the sauce is relatively salty, I opted to not salt the meat, but you can do so if you prefer.

4. Fill a small dish with cold water. Take one wonton wrapper and lay it on a flat surface. Place about a teaspoon of pork filling into the center of the wrapper. Dip a finger in the cold water and run it around the edges. Fold the wrapper in half diagonally and continue until all the pork filling is gone. You should use up about half of the package of wrappers, which you can save and freeze for another time. Lay the wontons out on a large cookie sheet to avoid crowding them onto a plate like I did.

5. While you are wrapping, set a large pot of water to boil. When the water has reached a rolling boil, salt it as if you would for pasta (wontons are essentially ravioli after all). Carefully drop the wontons in one-at-a-time. I only cooked 8-10 at once to ensure that they wouldn’t stick together. When the water has come back up to a boil, add another cup of cold water to the pot. When the water has come up to a boil again, gently scoop up each wonton with a slotted spoon and drain each well. Divide the wontons among however many bowls you want and generously spoon over the chili-soy sauce.

Sprinkle with crushed peanuts, put on a bib, and dive in.

Mercimek köftesi (Turkish Red Lentil Balls)

Detox with me!
This is a recipe that was passed along to me as part of a French assignment created for my friend Ipek last summer. I held onto it for months and months, waiting for the perfect moment and time. Then, darling Siobhan from Garden Correspondent rolled through New York, bringing with her good cheer, high spirits, and a liter of delicious Turkish olive oil!

Which, of course, helped to push Ipek’s recipe to the top of the list of things to make.

Unfortunately, everything on that list languished while other parts of life took priority over blogging. However, following the overindulgence of the holidays, I thought something simple, healthful, and delicious was in order.

This recipe is so simple that I wondered if it would even be tasty. After forming the lentils and bulgur wheat-mixture into torpedo-shapes and balls,* I had additional doubts as to whether I would be able to finish eating them all. Then, something curious happened: each time I passed my fridge, I would dip into the quickly diminishing pile for a little fix of Turkish yumminess. Although initially dismissed as bland, I found myself craving the wholesome nuttiness of lentils gently accented with mild spice.

Ipek’s recipe states that you should serve Mercimek köftesi with lettuce. At first I was a little unsure what that meant. Was the lettuce mandatory garnish? Or were you supposed to wrap the köftesi in the lettuce?

My hunch was right: you are supposed to roll the köftesi in the lettuce and eat them like you would Vietnamese spring rolls. Without the fish sauce dipping sauce, of course.

Strangely, many recipes say to serve them on top of the lettuce with no mention of eating them together either.

So I suppose it is up to you!

Incidentally, Ipek tells me that there is an alternative version called Çiğ köfte. A peek at different recipes shows that it is fairly similar if not identical to Mercimek köftesi with the exception being that raw meat is used in place of red lentils. The meat is usually massaged by hand into the bulgur until the mixture is smooth enough to be shaped. Again, the lettuce appears to somewhat ornamental, especially in the case of this restaurant where the staff seems to have just stuck the leaves upright into a giant mound of raw meat and bulgur and called it a day.

For my money and food safety reasons, I will stick to the lentils!

* Or as Sharon put it, “Can I have some more turds and balls, please?” 🙂

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups of red lentils, rinsed and drained

2 1/4 cups of water

1 1/2 cups of bulgur wheat

1 onion, finely chopped

1 tablespoon of tomato paste

1 teaspoon of ground cumin

1 teaspoon of Aleppo pepper flakes or red chili pepper flakes

4 tablespoons of olive oil

The juice of one lemon

1/3 of a cup of fresh parsley, chopped

Lettuce leaves

How to prepare:

1. In a large casserole or sauté pan, combine the rinsed lentils with 2 1/4 cups of water. Bring the lentils to a boil before lowering the heat to a simmer. Season the lentils while they cook.

2. Once the lentils are very soft, turn off the heat and add the raw, dry bulgur wheat. Stir very quickly to incorporate it into the lentils. Cover the mixture and let it sit for about 30 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, sauté the chopped onions in about a tablespoon of olive oil until they are golden.

4. After the bulgur wheat and the lentils have finished steaming, add the onions, the tomato paste, the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil, and the spices. Stir to combine well. Add the chopped parsley and the lemon juice to the mixture.

5. At this point, the lentil mixture should be cool enough to handle. Using your hands, form either small balls, or small torpedo-shaped logs. Let these rest in the refrigerator until cold.

Serve on top of lettuce leaves with lemon wedges on the side.

Wild Spinach and Radish Green Spanakopita


It used to always kill me to buy a bunch of radishes and discard the leafy tops. I have never had the space to compost, so all of that plant matter would go straight into the trash.

It killed me every time until I found out that you can eat those radish greens and they are delicious.

Yes, you can eat them! Raw, they have a nice, spicy bite. Cooked, their flavor mellows and they taste warm and wonderful. Like the best tasting, silkiest spinach ever. To think that I was throwing them away for all those years!

They are a bit of a pain to clean since you have to fastidiously wash all the dirt and grit from the leaves and stems. It is worth it though.

When I saw wild spinach (also known as lambsquarter) at the Greenmarket, I immediately thought that spanakopita would be a great way to use both greens. When I think about Greek food, I think about the Greek landscape: scrubby in parts, dotted with wild herbs and craggy olive trees. There is something a little rustic about the combination of wild spinach and radish greens that fits my little Mediterranean fantasy (never mind the fact that there is nothing rustic about the Greeks; they are as polished and well-turned out as the Milanese).

Spanakopita is wonderful mix of greens and feta wrapped up in flaky phyllo dough. You can make these little triangles, or alternately layer the phyllo dough sheets and the filling in a ceramic dish to bake as a giant pie.

Some might be disappointed to see that I didn’t make my own phyllo. Does anyone really make their own phyllo anymore? I think the oft-repeated saying goes that a woman is good Greek marriage material when she can roll phyllo thin enough for her prospective husband to be able to read a newspaper through it. I don’t plan on being anyone’s Hellenic housewife any time soon, so store-bought phyllo dough it is!

Ingredients:

6 cups of radish greens, washed

6 cups of wild spinach, washed

Olive oil

1/2 pound of feta, crumbled

The zest of one lemon

Salt and pepper

A pinch of nutmeg

1 egg, beaten

6 sheets of frozen phyllo dough, completely thawed

1 stick of butter, melted

How to prepare:

1. In a large pot, heat some olive oil over medium heat. When the oil becomes fragrant, add the wild spinach to the pot along with a few tablespoons of water. Sauté the spinach until it is just wilted. Remove the wilted spinach with tongs to a colander to drain. Repeat this process with the radish greens.

2. When the greens are cool enough to handle, use your hands to gently squeeze and press as much liquid as possible out of the leaves. You will be amazed how much liquid there is. Try to be thorough; the less moisture there is in the leaves, the better your filling will be.

3. Finely chop the greens and put them in a large bowl. To the bowl, add the feta and the nutmeg. Stir everything together until the cheese is evenly distributed throughout the greens. Adjust the seasoning before adding the beaten egg.

3. Preheat the oven to 375°.

4. Fold the phyllo sheets in half lengthwise and cut them in half. Fold each half lengthwise and cut them in half again. Each phyllo dough sheet will give you 4 long strips of dough. Cover the strips snugly in plastic wrap. Working one strip at a time, make the spanakopita. Gently brush each strip with melted butter. Starting at one end, put a dollop (about a scant tablespoon) of filling in the upper corner. Fold the phyllo dough down over the filling to make a triangle. Now fold the filled triangle up. Continue to fold the strip into triangles, like folding an flag (or at least how we Americans fold a flag). Don’t worry if the folds aren’t perfect. Working with phyllo can be very forgiving because you can always make the uneven edges stick to main triangle with more butter.

If you want crunchier spanakopita, you can layer two strips of phyllo dough together with brushed butter and then fold the triangles up as you would with one strip. Just remember that you will need double the number of phyllo dough sheets in this case.

Continue folding with the remaining strips of phyllo dough. Arrange the completed triangles in a single layer on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. You should end up with 24 filled triangles total.

5. Brush the triangles with the remaining melted butter. Bake them for 20-25 minutes until they are golden and crisp. Serve hot.

Variation:

I had planned on adding about 1/4 cup of fresh dill, a 1/4 of a cup of fresh parsley and a 1/4 of a cup of freshly chopped green onions, but I got distracted by a terrible werewolf movie on television called Blood and Chocolate. I think lost brain cells! It wasn’t even corny, or cheesy or cool in a bad cult-movie kind of way. It was just bad.

Finnish Ruis Bread Topped with Sliced Radishes and Soft Butter


I ate my first radish after watching Shelley Duvall’s Faerie Tale Theater. Do you remember that series? Maybe it was a little dark for children, but I loved it and thought Shelley Duvall was the bomb as Rapunzel.

If you remember the story, it all starts when Rapunzel’s mother develops a serious pregnancy craving for radishes, specifically the radishes topped with blue leaves growing in her neighbor’s garden. Unfortunately, instead of just going next door and asking the neighbor for some radishes, or even offering to pay for the radishes, her husband decides that he is going to scale the garden wall in the middle of the night and steal them.

If it had been Texas or Florida, he would have just been shot on sight, but since it’s Faerie Tale-land, the neighbor just takes their first-born.

Did I mention that she’s a witch?

That really got my 7 year-old brain working. What food would be so good that it would cause you to ignore common sense (don’t break, enter and steal from witches)? I had to get one of these radish-things. They must, I thought, be amazing!

After pestering my parents, they finally came home from the market with a nice bunch of radishes. They were so pretty: bright red on the outside and snowy white on the inside. No blue leaves, but I could deal with the thought of that particular variety being unavailable at our local supermarket.

I put one in my mouth, chewed . . . and spat it right back out. Blech! Stupid fairy tale!

I pretty much avoided radishes after that until I was 14 and was served them in France. Not wanting to be impolite, I followed my host family’s lead and slathered the offensive root with butter before popping it in my mouth.

Imagine my shock: the radish wasn’t offensive at all. It was . . . delicious!

And I have loved them ever since.

These little toasts can hardly be considered a recipe; they are just something that I love to have for lunch when radishes are in season. I really like using Finnish Ruis bread made by NYC-based Nordic Breads (the best Ruis bread ever). Nordic Breads ships their rounds anywhere, but in a pinch, any good rye bread will do as long as it is sliced thinly.

I’m not paid to say this about Nordic Breads at all, I just think their bread is wonderful 🙂

Ingredients:

Finnish Ruis bread, or any thinly sliced good rye bread

Radishes, thinly sliced

Good soft butter

Good sea salt

How to prepare:

1. If using Finnish Ruis bread, cut each round into halves or quarters before splitting them through the middle. Toast the bread and let it cool completely.

2. When the bread is cool, spread the soft butter evenly over the top of each piece. Arrange the sliced radishes on top and sprinkle them with good, flaky sea salt. Eat immediately.

Andouille Pigs-In-A-Blanket


What’s cuter? Pigs-in-a-blanket, the name “pigs-in-a-blanket,” or real pigs in blankets?

Regardless, whoever came up with pigs-in-a-blanket is a complete genius!

Pigs-in-a-blanket can go upscale. You could use nice puff pastry, and nestle your “pigs” in flaky baskets of buttery goodness. But is that going too fancy?

When I think of pigs-in-a-blanket, what I want good ol’ uncomplicated nostalgia . . . okay, nostalgia with a twist.

So use that commercial tube of pop-out crescent rolls! Preheat your oven to 375°. Take about half a pound of excellent CSA andouille, and cut it into 1 1/2 to 2-inch sections. Cut each section into quarters. Separate the crescent roll dough into its pre-cut triangles. You will need to split each triangle kind of “in half.”

Wrap a triangle of crescent roll dough around each andouille sausage quarter. Spread them out evenly on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake your andouille pigs-in-blankets for about 12-15 minutes, or until golden and flaky. 

Spicy Miso Dip


I recently made dinner for Laura at her apartment. Saddled with overwhelming piles of work, she seemed on the verge of exhaustion and in much need of some TLC. As I like playing personal chef, I was more than happy to oblige.

I didn’t have much for lunch that day and was scrounging around in her fridge for something to nibble on while cooking. She directed me to some miso dip that she had made earlier, and a nice little mound of snow peas. Maybe she hadn’t thought that I would eat all of her snow peas and inhale the dip like air . . . but I did.

Sorry, Laura.

This recipe is a riff on her riff on a recipe posted by blogger extraordinaire, Heidi Swanson. Heidi’s website (she has a cookbook too), 101 Cookbooks, is a treasure trove of delicious, healthy recipes that taste great and make you feel good. As the weather gets oh-so-slowly warmer, eating more fruits and vegetables sounds like a welcome and wholesome idea.

Ingredients:

3 ounces of white miso paste

3 ounces of red miso paste

1/4 cup of sake

1/2 cup of mirin

4 tablespoons of agave syrup

Red chili pepper flakes to taste

How to prepare:

1. Combine the miso pastes, the sake, the mirin, and the agave in a small saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil over. Once the mixture has started to boil, reduce the heat and simmer it for about 20 minutes, whisking occasionally. You want the dip to thicken a bit.

2. Once it has thickened, add the chili pepper flakes. Remove the dip from the heat and let cool. The dip will keep in the refrigerator for between 1-2 weeks. Serve with fresh vegetables, blanched asparagus, anything really!

Pan-Roasted Shitake Mushroom-Topped Bruschetta


When guests come over for dinner, I usually like to give them something to nibble on while I am finishing up in the kitchen. Bruschetta is my preferred MO. First of all, bruschetta is always more impressive than a big bowl of olives — even very, very nice olives. Second of all, you can set up basically everything ahead of time, and assemble the toasts right before your guests breeze through the door.

Bruschetta is technically defined as any kind of grilled bread — brushed with olive oil and rubbed with garlic — with some kind of topping. In the flip-floppy way that we do things here, bruschetta has come to refer to the topping rather than the bread.

Ingredients:

One demi-baguette or small ciabatta loaf, cut into 1/2-inch slices

About one pound of shitake mushrooms, sliced

About 2 tablespoons of olive oil, plus one tablespoon

2 cloves of garlic, finely minced, plus one clove of garlic, smashed

2 tablespoons of fresh Italian parsley, finely chopped

The juice of one small lemon

Salt and pepper to taste

How to prepare:

1. In a large cast-iron pan, heat two tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat until the oil just begins to smoke. Add the mushrooms. Toss the mushrooms in the hot oil and spread them out evenly over the bottom of the pan. Cook them, stirring occasionally, for about 8 minutes. As the mushrooms cook, they will release a fair amount of water. Don’t worry, the water will evaporate as the mushrooms start to become golden.

2. When the mushrooms begin to brown, add the finely minced garlic to the pan. You want to make sure the garlic is evenly distributed throughout the mushrooms, but you don’t want it to burn. Cook the garlic and mushrooms together for about a minute.

3. Transfer the cooked mushrooms to a separate mixing bowl. Add the parsley and the lemon juice. Stir everything together to combine. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper to taste.

4. Brush the bread slices with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and toast them until they are golden brown. Rub the slices with the smashed garlic clove before topping each one with a heaping spoonful of the mushroom mixture. Arrange the bruschetta on a plate and serve.

Tomato and Parsley Bruschetta


I love this. I usually only ever make it when we have guests, but today I decided to spoil myself. It is so easy and so tasty. It will be even better once it’s summer and tomatoes are in season.

Ingredients:

1 pint of grape tomatoes

2 tablespoons of fresh Italian parsley, finely chopped

1 small clove of garlic, finely minced

Olive oil

Maldon salt

1 baguette or ciabatta loaf

How to prepare:

1. Preheat the oven to 450°.

2. Cut each grape tomato into eights. You can also dice up about a pound of any tomato that you want — just be sure to seed the tomatoes before dicing them.

3. Combine the tomatoes, parsley, and garlic in a bowl. Drizzle with very good extra- virgin olive oil. Shower with a generous sprinkle of Maldon salt. Toss everything together and let the mixture sit for about 5 minutes.

4. In the meanwhile, cut the bread into 1/2 inch-thick slices. Brush one side with olive oil. Toast the bread in the oven until the slices are golden brown. Remove the bread from the oven and let the slices cool.

5. Once the bread has cooled off, mound the tomato mixture on top of each slice. Serve.

White Bean Dip with Sizzled Sage


Friends are coming over in 15. Need a snappy dip quick! A hurried perusal of the cupboard reveals a can of cannellini beans. Hooray! With an effortless prep, a whiz of the hand-held blender, and a finishing touch of sizzled sage, the party is saved.

Ingredients:

1 can of cannellini beans (or any other kind of white bean), rinsed

Chicken stock

Some fresh or dried herbs (rosemary, sage, and/or thyme) to taste

1-2 cloves of garlic, sliced

Salt and pepper to taste

1 tablespoon of fresh sage, chopped

2 tablespoons olive oil

Special equipment:

A hand-held stick immersion blender

How to prepare:

1. In a small saucepan, combine the beans, the herbs, and the garlic. Add enough chicken stick until the beans are just barely covered. Simmer the beans over medium heat until they are tender and no longer gritty to taste. Remove the pan from the heat. Purée everything in the pan with a hand-held stick immersion blender until the dip is nice and smooth.

2. In a small skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. When the oil is not quite smoking, add the sage. Sizzle the leaves quickly in the oil, being careful not to burn them. Add the sizzled sage to the bean dip. Stir to combine. Adjust the seasoning and serve. You can also make this ahead of time and chill it in the refrigerator until you are ready to eat.