Need a flavorful #salad to share at your table? Toss one up with chickpeas and let this salad work like a meal.
Need a flavorful #salad to share at your table? Toss one up with chickpeas and let this salad work like a meal.
With your best extra virgin olive oil and a loaf of day-old crusty bread, add a few juicy tomatoes and toss up panzanella. Try this amazing and simple take on the Tuscan salad in my Cook On food column.
A savory aroma met me at my front door and led the way to our kitchen as a spicy blend of sweet and sour promised the evening’s menu included no regular fare. But before any tasting, a cross-cultural lesson was in order. My personal chef-for-a-day, working away, wanted to adjust the temperature on an oven that looked completely foreign to her. She opened the oven to reveal a stout clay pot filled with a hearty mix of ingredients smothered in paprika. Sound more like fiction than fact?
Far from illusion — a Bulgarian houseguest, Elena — surprised my family with Bulgarian home cooking. She traveled to New York, her first trip across an ocean, to see her son receive his undergraduate degree in computer science. Elena’s family called our place home for a week while they toured the region and attended graduation activities. We encourage guests to make themselves at home, and visitors who take over the cooking receive an open invitation to return.
As for the Bulgarians, a group of five, they thanked us with the evening meal prepared by Elena who hails from the southern part of the country. We learned that any self-respecting Bulgarian begins a proper dinner with the hard stuff — shots — and they procured a bottle of kicky Bulgarian plum brandy from who knows where … the airport, Manhattan, their luggage? Sometimes, it’s best not to ask. It was an “our house is your house” kind of week.
Once we polished off the shots — not quite the full bottle — eating commenced with a tossing-at-the-table of the classic Bulgarian starter, the shopska salad. Elena had gathered the freshest tomatoes, cucumbers and red peppers in the Hudson Valley, and she must have smuggled in a few pounds of Bulgarian white cheese, a briny feta-type that arguably makes the salad. Dressed with a little sunflower oil, this Eastern European mix of fresh raw vegetables and cheese may be a starter back in Bulgaria, but it could have easily headlined here as a satiable dinner on its own.
Along with the shopska salad, the large clay pot, the guvech, doing real work in the oven throughout the afternoon, made its way to the table. This slow-roasting casserole of sorts contained a dish called kapama, a traditional meal of meats, rice and sauerkraut prepared in layers. As if that weren’t enough to experience the flavors of the Balkans, we sampled a puffy serving of phyllo dough stuffed with more Bulgarian cheese. Elena’s family calls the dish banica (ba–neet-za), a typical Bulgarian pastry, cut in squares, triangles, or shaped in a spiral. Again, Bulgarian white cheese represented the cornerstone ingredient.
Beacon Pantry, a purveyor of specialty foods and fine cheese as well as a resource in helping the community learn about cheese through its classes and events, classifies Bulgarian white cheese in the fresh category. These cheeses, including chevre, mozzarella, paneer, feta, and ricotta, are fresh milk cheeses to be enjoyed soon after purchase and once opened.
“Feta is a fresh cheese,” Beacon Pantry owner Stacey Penlon said. “The milk is cooked but it’s not then aged and pressed and the cheeses have a shorter shelf life. With Greek and Bulgarian feta made with sheep’s or goat’s milk, it tends to be quite expensive. Sheep’s milk is the fattiest of the common milk types but its cheeses are rich and luscious and it goes a long way.”
The creamy texture of feta makes a lush addition to mealtime. If you’re up for an Eastern European change of pace with cheese, ask an expert to help track it down.
“We buy cheese shipped from cheesemakers all the time,” Penlon said. “As long as it’s a reputable cheese store, they should handle it properly.”
For those who want to try making their own cheese, Beacon Pantry (beaconpantry.com) will offer a class in making fresh cheese (mozzarella and ricotta) in August. Finding tangy, salty Bulgarian white cheese (also called sirene cheese), tastes worth the trouble of searching. Similar brined white cheese made with sheep’s, goat’s or cow’s milk will work in the recipes shared here as fine substitutions.
4 -5 medium tomatoes, largely diced
2 cucumbers, peeled, and diced
2 sweet red peppers, chopped
1 medium red onion, diced
1 bunch green onions, diced
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
½ cup sunflower or olive oil
2 cups Bulgarian white cheese or feta, grated
(optional: green peppers, roasted red peppers, kalamata olives)
15 sheets phyllo dough
3 cups Bulgarian white cheese or feta, grated or crumbled
3/4 cups butter
1 cup carbonated water
(optional: beaten egg, spinach, green onions to stack in cheese layer)
Fresh from Bulgaria by Mary Ann Ebner
First published by The Highlands Current
A friend refers to pickles as menu stretchers, but they’re so much more when we upgrade the pickle platter with a selection of small-batch pickled vegetables. Welcome the season of holiday cookouts and relish the pickles.
Cook On: 1 part chaos, 2 parts calm
Give me an edible gift and I’ll give you a nourishing meal in return. If we’re sustaining the age of natural gifts of food, I’m going to do my part to continue the trend.
Who doesn’t love the surprise of a beautiful bottle of wine or even a pint of maple syrup? I’m grateful for all the fine food that comes my way, from free range eggs that my neighbor offers to me from her share to vibrant green sprigs of basil that Kate Vikstrom, our graphic designer and layout editor at The Paper, showers coworkers with when her basil plants are producing at peak volume.
Beyond the simple joy of being on the receiving end of someone’s thoughtfulness and generosity, the givers of edible gifts help us discover new tastes. Food gifts (all the better if givers know the tendencies of recipients to like or dislike particular flavors or to tolerate certain foods) can spark a new appreciation, inspire a unique recipe and renew the motivation to create meals with fresh ingredients (and the unshrinking culinary connoisseur will find a way to make use of even the most obscure edible elements).
The latest wave of sweet and savory gifts that has made a way to our home includes a wide range from Greek wine to Linzer cookies to Hudson Valley honey and we’ve enjoyed everything. But the most succulent gift of all was undeniably the parcel of persimmons. A native Asian seedless fruit, dripping with sweet flavor and bold orange flesh, the Fuyu persimmons that we received turn up seasonally around the Hudson Valley. I can’t offer the reason why I’ve skipped the purchase of persimmons for the past several years, but I resolve to change the pattern. It’s just one of those produce items that I pass by, pausing briefly to notice how appetizing they look, but then I keep right on moving to avocadoes or some other staple that I probably overuse.
The Fuyu variety of persimmons given to us, round shaped with taught skin, were selected with a keen eye for quality, and a sticker on one of them revealed their Spanish origin. This particular variety, #4428, was labeled as sharon fruit, a seedless treat that can be eaten raw, cooked or juiced.
Our bright orange fruit rested on the kitchen counter for several days, and one of my sons said they looked a lot like tomatoes. And they do. But he couldn’t quite believe how their taste differed from tomatoes. Once they ripened to perfection, we pulled away the waxy peel with a paring knife and sliced one to sample the flavor. Each piece burst with a sweet and juicy sensation. They taste so ambrosial that you want to savor every bite. We polished off the slices, which needed nothing to enhance their natural goodness.
For the remaining persimmons, I chose to showcase them as the star of a salad. Not a side salad, but a superb family meal of a salad. A mature jicama sat in my refrigerator, and I decided to assemble it as a key ingredient as well to amp up the salad’s taste and texture. The crunch of the jicama added the perfect complement to the velvety smoothness of the persimmon slices. Served on a bed of greens, baby spinach and kale, and finished with a citrus-enhanced vinaigrette dressing, the persimmon and jicama salad not only created a splash of color on our dinner plates, but satiated us with a healthy and hearty menu.
It might be time to give your table the gift of an upgraded salad, embellished with ingredients that you may be overlooking at the farmers’ market or the produce aisle at Foodtown. Assemble a salad of a different sort and keep its components in mind: a nice bed of whatever’s leafy green and in season (or for the lucky ones — what your neighbor is growing next door), a key vegetable or two from peppers to carrots, your preferred protein (meat, fish or a selection of beans), something crunchy from seeds to nuts, and a subtle splash of vinaigrette dressing. I used hulled organic sunflower seeds in this salad as one among us has a nut allergy. For those who are able to indulge, consider a hazelnut, almond or pine nut addition. And a cheese (goat cheese would be spectacular) may perfectly finish this effort. We didn’t add cheese this time, but there will be a next.
Give a gift to savor and build a better supper salad.
Baby Greens and Persimmon Supper Salad
½ teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon orange zest
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange (or clementine) juice
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon light balsamic vinegar
pinch of sea salt
Combine all ingredients except oil. Add olive oil and whisk thoroughly.
6 to 8 handfuls of baby greens (rinsed and dried)
1 medium jicama, quartered, peeled and sliced
2 tablespoons hulled sunflower seeds
¼ cup pomegranate seeds
3 ripe persimmons, peeled and sliced
Place jicama, sunflower seeds and pomegranate seeds in mixing bowl and toss with half of the vinaigrette. Arrange greens on platter and layer jicama mixture on top. Add persimmon pieces. Drizzle with remaining vinaigrette. Serve immediately.
Text and photos by Mary Ann Ebner
There’s more than one way to get your maple fix, and a maple syrup tasting may help bring on spring. Spending spring break in Montreal and Vermont may prove to be a great way to savor maple from rustic sugar shacks, but locals can also soak up the taste of maple syrup in New York’s Hudson Valley. Big producers make tapping trees look easy, and it’s not complicated, but the process demands patience and attention. You can tap your own trees with the basics, and kits for tapping include spiles and covered buckets. Our primitive maple tapper used existing household items to tap and capture sap.
Cold nights and sunny mornings contributed to the success of the process, and boiling the sap down produced light golden maple syrup.
For perfectly pure maple pleasure . . . try this . . . warmed maple syrup drizzled over baby greens.
The glazed syrup turns out the perfect salad. If you can’t tap your own trees, find a way to welcome spring with pure maple syrup.
This no-recipe recipe transforms potatoes into a great hot dish. And as Mama often says, “Honey – There is no recipe!”
Hot German Potato Salad
. . . just boil some taters (6-8) with the jackets on . . . cool enough to hold and remove skins . . . and slice them into a bowl. Fry a generous amount of bacon, until crispy . . . remove bacon and drain on a paper towel. Make sure you have plenty of grease (bacon, of course, in pan . . . saute chopped medium onion in the grease . . . keep flour close at hand to add to the bacon/onion/grease mixture, as well as a 2-cup measure, filled with 1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 cup vinegar and 1 cup water (blended). The amount of flour added depends on the amount of bacon grease you have available. (Skip the lean bacon. And as for turkey bacon consumers – give it your best effort.) It’s just like making a roux or making gravy.
Chop up green onions…about 8-10, and add green part to potatoes. Boil 2-3 eggs, peel and chop, and fold into almost finished salad… add pepper to taste. Pour gravy over all, mix, and serve!