8 – Side Dishes

Like many others, I’ve found myself with a lot of time on my hands for the past month or so. Initially, I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to catch up (and get ahead) on the many blog/social media items I’ve had on pause for the past few years, a remnant of when I was finishing up The Heritage Cookbook. That didn’t turn out to be the case.

Social distancing, or as I have grown to call it, physical distancing, has been relatively drama-free for our household, but our daily habits have evolved. We are taking the concept seriously, because I am on immunosuppressant medication, as well as the fact that we live with my in-laws, who are of a high-risk age (or kupuna, as they say here in Hawaii). My wife makes a weekly grocery trip to replenish our pantry and fridge, and we dedicate two dinners each week to ordering takeout to boost the local economy. I have adjusted to a work-from-home environment, and the military has relaxed its grooming standards; I’m getting used to long hair. I developed a homeschooling curriculum for our fifth-grade son, to supplement the schoolwork his teachers are giving him, and we’re teaching our youngest to read.

Admittedly, even with six people in the house, it’s easy to feel a sense of isolation from time to time. I never thought I’d be so happy to take a call from work, just to speak to someone new and satisfy my inherent human desire for a sense of belonging. My mother-in-law has been hardest hit from this isolation, as she has built a very strong circle of friends in our local area, whom she now cannot visit.

But as I’ve been looking through our pantry to devise our weekly meals, I’ve been making a habit of cooking with all of those back-of-the-shelf ingredients that have stacked up over the years. We had quite a collection of flours from my recipe testing during The Heritage Cookbook: multiple variations of einkorn, rye, and whole wheat. Rather than let them endure further neglect, I decided to start experimenting with these flours to perfect the beginner’s sourdough recipe I wrote for the book. So like a lot of other folks, I eventually fell into a rhythm of daily breadmaking — making way more than we could ever conceivable eat. Once the results were shareable, we started giving them out to extended family and my in-laws’ friends around our neighborhood, via mailbox delivery. Now, our neighbors have a reason to call my mother-in-law to chat, and it’s been easing her stay-at-home experience.

And yeah, this recipe isn’t “Paleo”, or gluten-free for that matter. It’s not an ideal food staple, nor is it high in nutrients. But it is fermented, so maybe it’s better for you than yeast-leavened bread. I eat a slice every few days, mostly to test its flavor but also to just enjoy my work. Rather than focus on what it isn’t, I’d rather look at what this Community Sourdough Bread has become in our household: a tool to share a little love to those around us, at a time when we’re all re-writing the rules.

I hope you and your loved ones are doing well, and staying safe and healthy. More soon.

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Nearly seven years ago, I developed my recipe for Sukuma Wiki, a Kenyan braised collard greens and ground beef recipe, and it’s been a favorite ever since. I put it in my first book, The Ancestral Table, and it’s often the dish I point to in the book when someone asks where they should start cooking. It takes about 30 minutes to prepare, and uses very affordable ingredients — and tastes great, too.

When writing The Heritage Cookbook, I knew that I wanted to include this dish to represent Eastern African cookery, but wanted to go back to the drawing board in terms of honoring the traditional preparation of this dish. What I came up with is a flavor provide very similar to my original recipe, but meat-free, and with nice meaty hunks of tomatoes to replicate those missing chunks of ground beef. Red onion also mellowed out the dish some compared to a white or yellow onion, which helped to balance everything just right.

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Does butter really make everything better? I think so. Julia Child also once said, “With enough butter, anything is good.” This week’s recipe proves her right.

Often, I will buy a small head of cabbage at the grocery store, with no concrete plans for it. They’re just so dang cheap, and they keep in the vegetable bin for a long time. Typically I will just sauté the cabbage in some butter, seasoned plainly with salt and pepper (a splash of apple cider vinegar also adds a bit of depth). But when I’m feeling very fancy, I’ll throw in some complementary flavors, like in this recipe, which includes radish and woodsy mushrooms. The trick is to pull the cabbage from the heat right as it starts to soften, or maybe a bit before — it’s always better to be undercooked than overcooked.

Other uses for cabbage:
Fårikål (Norwegian Lamb and Cabbage Stew)
Roasted Cabbage Steaks
Vietnamese Chicken and Cabbage Salad
Lazy Stuffed Cabbage Rolls
Pressure-Cooked Corned Beef and Cabbage

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Everybody loves Pupusas. These corn cakes can be found in most cities across the US today, at locations known as Pupuserías. They’re one of the best street foods around, warming the belly with its signature combination of hearty corn/beans/cheese, tangy Curtido slaw, and spicy tomato salsa.

The story of this dish is surprisingly complex. Pupusas were first developed in El Salvador or Honduras as far back as 2,000 years ago, and traditionally stuffed with squash blossoms or herbs. The introduction of Old World foods (mainly beef, chicken, and dairy) resulted in more elaborate preparations of this humble dish. By the mid 20th century, pupusas had spread throughout El Salvador and neighboring Honduras and Guatemala. When civil war in the 1980s displaced huge portions of the population, many Salvadorans relocated to the US, and pupusas followed.

The type of corn flour used to make this dish is masa harina — ground nixtamalized corn. This is the same process that creates hominy, and masa harina can be used to make tamales, tortillas, and gorditas. Bear in mind that this is not the same as cornmeal, which is ground dried maize (i.e. hasn’t undergone the nixtamalization process) — cornmeal is what you would use to make cornbread or fried fish. Finally, masa harina is often confused with masarepa, which is the pre-cooked cornmeal that is used in making Arepas.

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These garlic pickles are a great introduction to fermentation. They’re a familiar flavor, and you can use the brine to marinate chicken breasts for my fan-favorite Gluten, Grain, and Garbage-Free Chick-fil-A Nuggets recipe (which is nearly seven years old – yowza!).

But really, this recipe is just the start of a beautiful relationship with fermented foods. In addition to those you can find in my books, I have a few on the blog. Here are some other fermented or pickled recipes if you’re ready to try out something new:

Kabees el Lift (Pickled Turnips)
Guineitos en Escabeche (Pickled Green Bananas)
Fermented Ketchup
Takuan (Pickled Daikon Radish)
Pickled Watermelon Rinds)

One last note – it’s important to seek out organic (or fresh from the farmer’s market) cucumbers for this recipe, because you want that natural Lactobacillus bacteria that forms on its skin to kickstart the fermentation process. Don’t have access to organic cucumbers? Just add a spoonful of that liquid that forms at the top of yogurt (aka whey) to your brine during step #1.

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Listen, I get it. Thanksgiving is in a couple days, and you already have your mashed potatoes recipe figured out. Or maybe you’re going nuts and trying out some smashed potatoes this year. But hear me out — if you’re preparing your turkey outside of the oven (say, in my Perfect Smoked Turkey recipe, or frying it), maybe think about making these Crispy Roast Potatoes with all of that free oven space.

This British-inspired version is very simple: just potatoes, salt, and a good animal fat like tallow, duck fat, or lard. There’s a bit of work involved, because you par-boil the potatoes, and “chuff” them by jostling them in a colander when draining. But it really shines by leaving them alone after that — you don’t want to turn them often, so that a nice crust forms. And these crispy chunks of deliciousness pair really well with gravy, if you’re interested.

I won’t hold it against you if you choose to cook your turkey the traditional way, which you can find here. And really, today’s recipe isn’t a holiday-specific endeavor (although now is a great time to share it, since potatoes are likely on your mind right now). Have a happy holiday, and see you next week.

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This week is a big cooking week for most Americans, so you’ll be getting two recipes from me — this one for gluten-free stuffing, and another surprise tomorrow.

We’re headed to our friends Matt and Stacy’s house for Thanksgiving this week and so I used this past weekend as an opportunity to test and photograph this stuffing recipe ahead of the big day. (Also, I wanted to try out my new blue carbon steel roaster from Made In Cookware.)

This stuffing (technically a “bread dressing” since it’s not going inside a turkey) is pure classic style; think of it like a supersized version of that boxed stuffing you may or may not have grown up eating. One trick to this recipe is to chop up celery leaves to go with your traditional herbs of sage and parsley; they add a bit of zing. Looking for something a little more unconventional? Try this New Brunswick-style potato stuffing.

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During the four years I spent writing and revising The Heritage Cookbook, I took it as an opportunity to redefine how I write recipes. I went back to the basics, and rediscovered the fundamental joy of writing a simple recipe. Now don’t get me wrong, I like a good challenge from time to time, but sometimes basic recipes really accent the beauty of simple flavors.

This Berry Preserves recipe highlights how sometimes, less is more. I have a more involved preparation of Cranberry Sauce here on the blog, which we often prepare for Thanksgiving. But lately, I’ve been falling back on today’s simpler version — not just because of its ease on a holiday when all that kitchen bustle can be a bit overwhelming, but because it really lets the berries be the star of the show. Moreover, this simple preparation allows you to plug-and-play various berries, to fit many different occasions.

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Super simple recipe this week, for Preserved Lemons. The process highlighted in my recipe below is modeled after the North African tradition of preserving lemons in salt — salt helps prevent microbial growth, and the citric acid found in the lemon (and as a byproduct of fermentation) helps to further preserve the lemons. But what we’re most interested in — that is, the deep, lemony flavor that comes from cooking with preserved lemons — will be in next week’s recipe.

Don’t have three to four weeks to spare preserving your own lemons? Check your local Middle Eastern grocery, they often have these shelf-stable favorites. Or, they can also be found online at a surprisingly affordable price.

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Here we are, folks: less than two weeks left to order the limited edition physical version of The Heritage Cookbook! I’ve been busy putting the final touches on this print edition, which I’ve redesigned from the ground up. I’m very proud of how it’s progressing, and I think you’re going to love it. Mark your calendars: the hardcover book will only be available for purchase until June 30th, and won’t be available in stores or on Amazon (after that, the digital edition will be the only version available).

Speaking of loving things, here’s a recipe from the book – one of my favorites. This curry noodle soup has a hefty ingredients list, but most of these can be tucked away in your pantry for other creations, like Thai Red Curry, Thai Green Curry, or Chicken Panang. So it’s really like an investment in deliciousness.

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