I have recently returned from Paris, where I spent two weeks visiting a dear friend in Montmartre while endeavoring to learn first-hand about the Parisian food experience. The French people can be counted on to express pride in the traditions of beautiful food which they, understandably, see as the only proper way to eat. As such, it is difficult to find badly prepared food in Paris, which boasts a timeless beauty and superlative excellence in many corners both lauded and hidden.
Although my trip felt lamentably short, I did find time to learn and rediscover. Despite an abundance of pastries and rich sauces, the food I encountered in Paris reminded me that it is not necessary to rely on salt (or even butter) in savory dishes, nor to lean excessively on sweeteners in desserts, as long as the ingredients you use have the greatest integrity possible.
It is, however, necessary to wander a bit aimlessly in Montmartre, as long as you keep your eyes open. You may be approached by the same sketch-artist repeatedly on the cobblestone streets, but it is only once you’ve recognized that you’ve already approached a certain stairway and fall of flowering ivy from a different direction that you begin to understand how the alleys twist as they cling to the hillside.
I also learned that France is a country where mealtimes must not be confused. If one were to sleep through breakfast and lunch, for example, these meals are simply missed – you mourn them and move on. It is unthinkable, even blasphemous, to sever a meal from it’s corresponding notch in the continuum of time, which is to say that lunch cannot simply be pushed back a few hours and be expected to retain it’s character. Instead one begins to plan a delicious goûter (think afternoon snack) and dinner.
Speaking of time, many shops are closed on Sundays, and in the case of the best boulangerie I visited (Du Pain À Des Idées), sometimes also on Saturdays. It is generally understood that all people need and deserve time to sleep, recharge, and enjoy life, despite the dismay of foreigners who are surprised to find work and rest regarded as equally vital.
It is with all of these values in mind that I have returned to the vocation of cooking revitalized, ready to restructure some business practices in an effort to improve my service, and monumentally excited to offer a new selection of classic Parisian dishes in my menu.
This recipe was written for a client with dietary restrictions, and she said: “Your cod cakes are one of the single best dishes we have ever eaten… The children and I could scarcely believe how delicious they are.” Since it’s also very healthy and not much harder than classic meatballs with marinara, I thought I would share the recipe with everyone. Enjoy!
6 Onions, Diced
3 Cups Tomato Puree
1 Cup Roasted Red Pepper Puree
1/4 Cup Olive Oil
1 Tablespoon Minced Garlic
1 Tablespoon Fresh Thyme
1 Teaspoon Minced Ginger
1 Tablespoon Cumin
1/2 Teaspoon Cinnamon
1/2 Teaspoon Black Pepper
Make The Cakes:
Preheat oven to 375 and on a sheet pan lined with parchment sprinkle cod with onion powder, garlic powder, black pepper and drizzle a tablespoon of olive oil, then rub the oil and seasoning into the fish.
Bake for 10-12 minutes, let cool, and flake into large chunks. Add egg yolks, sweet potato, roasted red pepper puree, chives and parsley.
Scoop mixture into a very hot pan with the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil, and turn carefully after one to two minutes browning on each side.
These cakes are fork-tender and will like to fall apart, so move them carefully into the prepared sauce.
Make The Sauce:
Caramelize onions over medium-low heat in 2 tablespoons of olive oil (this will take 30-40 minutes to do at a properly low heat to caramelize, but can also be done in advance).
Add thyme, garlic, ginger and black pepper and cook a further five minutes. Add remaining olive oil, a tablespoon of cumin and a pinch of cinnamon, and turn up the heat to medium-high for five minutes.
Once the spices are toasted add three cups of tomato puree and one cup of roasted red pepper puree and cook for five to ten minutes over medium heat.
Shakshuka is a comfort food that has gained popularity at many chic brunch establishments in the United States of late, but it has long been a staple meal in North African households throughout the world.
This is one of those dishes that one’s mother is always reported to have made best – think of a homey garden tomato sauce and you will be halfway there – and that is just the kind of challenge that I love.
Shakshuka is also an ideal dish for early fall when the best deals to be had are for blemished, slightly mashed and often cracked ripe tomatoes straight from the field (the same reason I’ve added some of the season’s last zucchini) and a good dish to remember during the cold months when canned tomatoes are best enjoyed.
In short, this rustic meal consists of eggs simmered in ripe tomatoes, peppers, and spices and served with a cooling dollop of yogurt (thick, sheeps-milk labneh if you want to be a purist) and fresh bread or pita for mopping up the beautiful sauce created when the tomato mingles with egg yolk.
The dish is mainly seasoned with harissa, a Tunisian chili paste which can be bought at the grocery store for easy – but you should know that it is rather satisfying to make your own, particularly when sweet peppers and chilis are still available locally as they are now.
I have included the recipes below, both adaptations from ‘Jerusalem,’ Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s lovely collaborative cookbook.
Ripe tomatoes (4-6, extra-large dice)
Red sweet pepper (1, large dice)
Zucchini (1, large dice)
Garlic (3 cloves, minced)
Harissa (2 tablespoons)
Tomato paste (1 tablespoon)
Cumin (1 teaspoon)
Salt (1 teaspoon)
Olive oil (2 tablespoons)
Yogurt (1 cup, for serving)
Fresh pita (or other good bread)
Add oil to a hot pan over medium-high heat, then add garlic, red pepper, and zucchini.
Cook, stirring frequently, for 4-5 minutes until the vegetables have begun to brown and soften.
Add salt, cumin, tomato paste, harissa, and tomatoes, stirring well, and turn down the heat to medium.
Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, for about ten minutes until the tomatoes have cooked down and the sauce has begun to thicken.
Create small wells in the sauce with the back of the spoon for the eggs. (You may crack them into a small bowl first to avoid eggshell-bits or the occasional bad egg).
At this point you may cover your pan tightly and continue to simmer for 6-8 minutes while your eggs cook, or if your pan is oven-safe you can move it uncovered into a hot oven (about 375) for 4-6 minutes.
(These times are entirely dependent on the size of your eggs, so keep a close eye and pull them as soon as they have set until you are practiced at this).
Serve at once with yogurt and bread and enjoy!
Red onion (4 tablespoons, minced)
Garlic (4 cloves, minced)
Red sweet pepper (Roasted & diced)
Hot chili peppers (2-3, minced)
Tomato paste (2 teaspoons)
Cumin (1 teaspoon)
Coriander (1 teaspoon)
Olive oil (2 tablespoons)
Lemon juice (fresh-squeezed, 2 tablespoons)
Add oil to a pan over medium-high heat, then add red onion and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until they start to become toasted and brown.
Add cumin and coriander, stir, and allow spices to toast until you begin to smell them.
Add hot chili peppers and tomato paste and cook for one more minute, then remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly.
Add lemon juice and roasted pepper, and then blend your harissa into a thick paste.
This will make about 1/2 a cup, enough for several batches of shakshuka, and covered tightly and refrigerated will keep for up to two weeks.
When local gardens become jungles the best produce can be found (cheap) at every roadside, and sometimes even abandoned on your doorstep unannounced.
It’s easy to eat a lot of tomato toast and cucumber salads – for awhile. Suddenly you realize that a perfect Caprese salad isn’t as exciting as it should be. The gorgeousness of the long-awaited harvest has almost jaded us… almost.
This is the ideal time to de-mystify a cooking style you want to eat at home more often, and in my case I was eager to jump on the Middle-Eastern bandwagon, a trendy style of fusion representing the melting pot of cultures spanning a swathe of the world from Tunisia to Greece.
The following recipe is adapted from Jerusalem, one of several beautiful books of recipes from Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, which I highly recommend: spiced meatballs with warm tahini sauce, toasted pine nuts, and a drizzle of butter.
Served with pita or basmati rice, this dish is the perfect vehicle for beautiful chopped cucumbers and tomatoes. It will be a hit even with the uninitiated (imagine the flavors of a gyro sandwich) and it is the perfect way to rediscover your late-summer harvest.
1 pound ground lamb or beef
3 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
3 cloves garlic
1 small onion
1 large hot chili pepper
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, finely chopped (optional)
2 tablespoons parsley, finely chopped (optional)
1 teaspoon each: salt, pepper, cinnamon, & allspice
3 tablespoons vegetable oil (for browning)
3 tablespoons tahini
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons water
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
3 tablespoons melted butter or ghee
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
Finely mince garlic, then crush with the side of your blade, scraping gently against your cutting board until your garlic clove is a pulpy mess. Combine thoroughly with tahini, lemon juice, water, and salt, and chill until ready to use.
If you are fresh-toasting your pine nuts for your kofta and sprinkling at the end I recommend doing this first, in a dry skillet over medium heat until they have just a few brown edges, and always keep a close eye on toasting nuts – they tend to burn the instant they are forgotten.
Combine garlic, onion, and chili pepper in a food processor until finely minced, adding the pine nuts for just a few more seconds until roughly chopped (or you can do this by hand).
Add this mixture to your ground meat along with your salt, pepper, cinnamon, allspice, and fresh herbs, combine thoroughly by hand, and form into oblong meatballs about two inches long. Chill until ready to fry.
Add oil to a heated skillet over medium-high heat and fry kofta about one minute each, turning twice so you get three browned sides. The meat should be only slightly undercooked at this point.
Set kofta aside until almost ready to serve, then pour tahini sauce over and bake at 375 for 3-5 minutes until the meatballs are cooked through and the sauce is warmed. While they are cooking, melt or warm your ghee or butter.
Remove kofta from the oven, drizzle them with melted butter, and sprinkle them with pine nuts, paprika, and more fresh herbs if desired. Serve with cucumbers, tomatoes, and rice or fresh pita.
There are a lot of ways to order Cargo Soup at Asiana Noodle Shop – that’s the point. You get to choose your broth, the style of your noodles, your favorite protein. I admit that I have only ever tried it one way because I immediately decided that I had found the best soup in town. (Yes, I’ve tried the Chop Your Head Off soup at A Single Pebble and I know it’s sublime, so you don’t need to write me any letters).
The best way I can describe the Tom Kha is – perfect. The warmth from the galangal, a ginger relative (Tom Kha literally means galangal soup) adds more depth than spice, and mixed with the round sweetness of the fatty coconut milk it lulls you into contentment. The kaffir lime leaves and lemongrass add acidity while the chilis and cilantro add notes of a more pungent spice than the galangal, but that could be true of any Tom Kha. The difference is found in the impeccable balance in this recipe – if anyone has been living in the same town as this dish without trying it, please stop depriving yourself.
Now for the most important bit: you have an option to add siu-mai dumplings to your soup – by all means, do it. You may have already tried this dim-sum staple as an appetizer dipped in sweet-salty sauce and concluded that they are delicious but forgettable: try them again, this time soaked in the broth that I have just extolled. The subtly sweet shrimp filling, once it is saturated in that complicated warmth, is somehow even more perfect than the broth alone – very worthy of obsession: may it be my last bite of food on earth.