3 – Vegetables

As we enter into November, I have exciting news – I’m just about done with developing and photographing recipes for my next cookbook! I’ve been at it for nearly two years straight – researching, testing, and retesting. I’m looking forward to moving to the next stage of the book-writing process, as I organize the contents, design the layout, and edit the manuscript. To be honest, editing is my favorite part of writing books; I like making small, incremental tweaks to refine my voice, and perfectly lining up every little element of the narrative.

So in celebration of moving on to the next (and arguably the most complicated) stage of the process, let’s enjoy this simple Greek stewed okra recipe. These okra fall into the lathera (λαδερά), or oil-based, dishes commonly found among Greek home chefs – simple to prepare, but packed with flavor. This dish works well as a hearty side, but really shines during Lent or other fasts, since it is remarkably filling thanks to its generous helping of olive oil.

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Every once in awhile, I get a big craving for beets. The craving doesn’t hit me often, but when it does, I typically turn to my Vinegret (винегрет) recipe from The Ancestral Table. So without further ado, here is the text from the book:

Vinegret is the name of a Russian salad that is likely not of Russian origin, but rather borrowed from German or Scandinavian cuisine. In traditional Russian cuisine, salads were pretty rare. Vinegret is often cited as the first Russian salad, first mentioned in the 19th century.

Another Russian favorite is Olivier salad, which has a much more interesting history. It was invented by Lucien Olivier, a Belgian chef working in Moscow in the 1860s. The original recipe was a closely held secret and was never truly duplicated. Documents reveal that the salad likely included caviar, crawfish tails, aspic, and veal tongue. Over the years, these rare ingredients were replaced by common ones. Instructions for making Olivier Salad are also found below, as the method is similar.

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The history of the Cucurbitaceae (gourd) family is surprisingly complex, as I recently found. They are one of the first cultivated foods; there is indication they were domesticated as far back as around 15,000 years ago. The Cucurbitaceae family is broken into five main groups, all important to humans for different reasons:

1) the Lagenaria genus, indigenous to Africa, includes bottle gourds (aka calabash), used as a container and musical instrument.
2) the Citrullus genus, also from Africa, includes watermelon and egusi (whose seeds remain an important food in Africa today).
3) the Cucumis genus, is of unknown origin (but likely the Middle East) and includes cucumbers, cantaloupe, and honeydew melon.
4) Luffa is a genus of fibrous gourds, grown in Asia and eaten when immature, or matured and dried on the vine for use as body scrubs (this is where the word “loofa” comes from).
5) and finally, the Cucurbita genus encompasses today’s subject – pumpkins and squash.

As you probably know, the winter squashes we know today – pumpkins, acorn, butternut, and the like – were first domesticated in the New World, and are relatively new additions to other cuisines. But when you look up the origins of other squashes, like zucchini, the results are not so clear. As I dug through recipes for Kousa Mahshi, many would describe this dish as an ancient favorite, as if this delicious stuffed squash was enjoyed in Constantinople a thousand years ago.

In truth, zucchini (and all summer squashes) are simply immature cultivars of the Cucurbita genus, eaten while the rind is still edible. Zucchini in particular was first developed in Northern Italy, and not introduced to the rest of the world until the 1930s – a far cry from the Byzantine Empire!

So in the face of these facts, it’s safe to say that Kousa Mahshi is a relatively new invention, likely a reinvention of the older Sarma/Dolma (stuffed grape leaves) dish common in the Mediterranean, Balkans, and Persian Gulf.

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Shakshuka is a dish of tomatoes, peppers, and poached eggs, ubiquitous in North Africa and the Middle East. Countries across the Middle East, from Yemen to Turkey, claim to have first created the dish, where it then supposedly spread across North Africa. Regardless of origin, I like to think the best Shakshuka embodies many of the countries and cultures that claim ownership of this dish, so I like to incorporate many influences, like Harissa from Morocco, or olives and artichoke hearts from across the Mediterranean.

And that’s the beauty of this dish – there are so many possible variations, all readily available in most pantries and fridges, that this dish can be cooked up most any morning; it only takes a few extra minutes to turn your typical fried eggs into something magical. Today’s recipe hosts an all-inclusive mix of possible additions, a tapestry of what you could use – but if you’re missing an ingredient or two, it’ll still turn out spectacularly. And if you don’t have any pre-made Harissa within arm’s reach, and want to capitalize on the spontaneous nature of this dish, simple replace the Harissa with some tomato paste and cayenne (measurements in the recipe below).

On a separate note, my friends at ButcherBox are celebrating their two-year birthday (just ahead of our youngest son, Elliott!). To celebrate, they’re throwing in a package of two 10oz ribeyes (a $25 value) for new customers’ first orders – that’s in addition to $10 off that The Domestic Man readers already receive by using my affiliate link. I’m a big fan of ButcherBox, and I look forward to receiving my customizable box every month – stocked full of staples and new cuts of beef, pork, and/or chicken every time. This offer expires at midnight on Tuesday, October 3rd, so don’t wait!

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Hey folks, we’re going to enjoy a short, simple dish this week. I’m in the middle of prep for a two-week stretch of recipe development, hopefully my last big push in the kitchen before I focus on writing other parts of my next book!

I think there’s something unfairly simple about wedge salads. They’re a cinch to put together at home, but I often find myself ordering them at restaurants, despite the fact that I’m paying someone to simply chop a head of lettuce into quarters. This week’s recipe is the classic preparation of the dish, which is wonderful in its ease and approachability; for something a little more challenging, I encourage you to check out my Muffuletta Wedge Salad recipe from last year.

A little history on wedge salads, from The Ancestral Table:

Salads served wedge-style date back to the 1910s and reached peak popularity in the 1960s. Iceberg lettuce, the staple lettuce used in this dish, has slowly been replaced by leaf lettuces over the years, but I still have a soft spot in my heart for this crispy, blank-canvas lettuce; it stays fresher longer than leaf lettuces and pairs better with creamy dressings and heavier toppings, as in this recipe.

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I realize that this recipe’s title starts with the word “spaghetti”, but make no mistake about it – the meatballs are the star of this week. Since first developing this meatball recipe for Paleo Takeout, we’ve made it often, at least monthly. There are a few little touches that make the meatballs just perfect: a mix of beef and pork so that the meat flavor is prominent but not overwhelming, egg yolks for creaminess, gelatin powder for a smooth and succulent texture, and bacon for little bursts of umami.

One of my favorite ways to describe these meatballs is to say that they’ll make your Italian grandmother swoon. Matter of fact, just as I’m writing this intro, I’ve decided to add them to our dinner menu this week.

Here is the writeup from Paleo Takeout:

It seems like every country has a meatball recipe, from the very popular Swedish meatballs to the relatively unknown Finnish meatballs (Lihapullat), often made with reindeer meat. Italian meatballs are larger than most other meatballs and are prized for their tenderness. Gelatin may seem like a strange addition, but it gives the meatballs a velvety texture, not unlike what you’d expect from eating veal.

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Everyone needs a steady, foundational salsa recipe. One that is worlds better than the jarred stuff you find in the store, but also won’t take a million years to throw together. I like to think that my Simple Salsa Roja easily fits that requirement: unbelievably fresh just as you pull it off the heat, and even richer the following day.

Two elements make this salsa unique. First, I like to use one dried morita chile pepper to add a hint of smoked fruitiness. Next, I simmer the salsa with a couple tablespoon of lard, for a balanced bite and smoother mouthfeel.

Moritas sound exotic, but they are just smoked red jalapeños (also known as fresno chiles), much like chipotle peppers. The difference between morita and chipotle chiles is that moritas are smoked for less time, retaining a bit of fruitiness. To make things even more complicated, this pepper goes by several other names, like blackberry chile, chipotle colorado, mora chile, or black dash red chile. My advice: check out the dried pepper section of your local grocery store (or latin food market), and if you can’t find a morita or chipotle, pick them up online for relatively cheap. They are worth the extra bit of effort, and since only one pepper is needed for the recipe, one bag will last you a while.

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Potato pancakes are kind of a big deal in many homes, and everyone has their own method. There’s a lot of speculation as to what goes into making a good pancake, and my guess is that’s because it’s easy to mess up such a seemingly simple dish. Too many eggs and your pancakes are rubbery; too much flour or starch, and they’re too dense. Some insist on using cooked potatoes, while others insist you can’t.

Today’s recipe is my take on a middle-of-the-road potato pancake. It’s not tied to one specific culture, but takes cues from several approaches; mostly, I like the heft of Belorussian dranikis, but the crispiness of Jewish latkes.

Many recipes use wheat flour to ensure that the potatoes stick together, but I’ve found that my favorite approach is to re-employ the starch from peeled potatoes: dump them in a water bath and allow the starch to settle at the bottom, then pour off the water to use as a binder. This step takes an extra 10 minutes, but is well worth it in terms of reducing food waste (and saving money buying tons of potato starch).

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Every time I make a pot of these greens, it feels like cheating. I make them pretty often for potlucks and gatherings, and everyone always wants to know “my secret”, as if there is some special, sneaky method to make this dish work. The truth is I simply make the dish as it had been made throughout history – with smoked, lesser cuts like ham hocks or neck bones, some liquid, and a bit of cider vinegar – and let the flavors develop on their own time. But I think that in today’s age of canned greens, crock-pot greens, or greens made with bacon (the worst!), people’s expectations of how greens taste have changed. Instead of knowing how greens should taste, we’ve become content with how they typically taste. I think of it like how a quality, handmade cheeseburger runs laps around a Big Mac.

So this week’s recipe will definitely be making it into my upcoming cookbook, and only slightly tweaked from when I first published it in The Ancestral Table, because not much has changed when it comes to these classic flavors. Many recipes you find will insist you add sugar to the greens, to take away some of the bitterness of the greens, or the tanginess of the vinegar, and I disagree; since greens are typically part of a whole meal, I let the other dishes complement the sharp flavor of the greens – that way you’re encouraged to have a little greens with every bite. Our favorite accompaniments to these greens are something with a crunch texture, like Seasoned Southern Fried Chicken, and something with a mild flavor, like Mashed Potatoes.

Here’s my writeup from The Ancestral Table: Greens were popular in the early American South when slaves were forced to survive on kitchen scraps like the tops of vegetables and undesirable pork parts, like ham hocks, necks, and feet. Today, the dish has been refined and remains a favorite in many Southern kitchens. In fact, collard greens are the state vegetable of South Carolina.

This recipe is unlike many typical greens recipes, which often add pork or bacon pieces in small portions or as an afterthought; this dish celebrates the savory nature of pork by using both broth and a significant amount of pork. If you aren’t able to find smoked ham hocks or neck bones, unsmoked varieties will do—just be sure to add 2 tsp. liquid smoke when adding the greens to the pot. Alternatively, you can buy smoked turkey necks or smoked turkey wings.

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One of my favorite popular dishes in Indian cuisine is Saag, a leaf-based side commonly served with bread or rice. Years ago, I found myself ordering it in local restaurants, often for a steep price, and wondering how to recreate this dish at home. It’s been a staple in the house ever since, and I even included a popular variation, Saag Paneer (served with homemade, pan-fried cheese), in The Ancestral Table.

While I love Saag Paneer, and the sense of accomplishment that comes with making your own cheese, it is pretty time consuming. Lately, I often stick with a simple version of Saag, which is basically just the greens with some basic spices. Additionally, my friends at Primal Palate recently added Garam Masala to their collection of spices, so it felt like to perfect time to post my Simple Saag recipe.

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