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.
I have decided (after numerous close inspections) that this menu staple is more of a bánh mì with a soul food focus than a po’boy made with ginger in the carrot slaw: That is splitting hairs at a food truck specializing in the comforting, on-trend fusion of South Asian and Southern cuisines (with constant allusions to the French influences which suffuse both) but at this place that is obviously the point.
This sandwich is served on a beautiful crusty roll, like a bánh mì. The honey drizzle is a classic addition to fried chicken, and the addition of chipotle pepper is a nod to hot chicken which also cuts the bitter edge off the sweetness. The fried chicken itself, or rather the perfectly spiced fry mix, is always crunchy.
The fry mix was also great on the frog’s legs I sampled which came with lemon herb aioli, and the chicken skins (yes, just the skins) which came with smoked olive oil and basil aioli. Let’s not underestimate the role of aioli (also known as beautiful mayonnaise) in the overall success of both this sandwich and Dolce VT as an enterprise: The truffled shoestring fries also come with aioli – whichever one is on tap that day.
Find these delicacies at the Truck Stop at ArtsRiot on Friday nights, or out front on Pine street on seemingly random weekdays: You’ll just have to stalk Dolce VT on Facebook like the rest of us.
On the day that I found myself recommending the most amazing soup in town to the cashier at my current food truck obsession I probably should have considered blogging about my restaurant and street food obsessions – I already have a food business and online platform for it, after all. The thought didn’t occur to me until a few weeks later, while I was trying to get my favorite dumplings into some perfect afternoon sunlight for a glamor shot.
Burlington is a city often associated with live music, but this appreciation for what is beautiful and artistic has in fact bolstered a community centered almost entirely on food. During January cold snaps you will still find people at the indoor farmer’s market kicking slush off their boots at the door to buy root vegetables, cheeses, chocolates, hot sauces and hot cider. During the summer Burlington’s food obsession comes out into the open.
The BCA’s July concerts on the green at Battery Park are always sprawling picnics by six in the evening on a weekday while just minutes down the road the extravaganza of food and tiny frolicking children known as Summervale at the Intervale is likewise always at capacity, people parking in lots a quarter mile uphill both ways. It doesn’t seem to matter when events like this overlap: if there is a way to create a festival out of a meal the people will come, and yes, there will be live music.
It is in this spirit of celebration that I am adding a new aspect to Emily’s Home Cooking’s blog, by which I mean that I will now be adding posts designated ‘Emily’s Obsessions,’ where I will wax poetic about my favorite things that other local chefs are making to eat, the favorites from food trucks, carts, and long-established restaurants alike that I just cannot do without.
Obsessions: These are the dishes that I rave about to anyone who will listen.
Shelburne, Vermont, like nearby Burlington and many Vermont towns, is a very food-conscious place. We who live here have small local markets, restaurants, farmer’s markets, farm stands and food shares which give access to locally grown food and a connection to the source of some of our ingredients.
I’m not just talking seasonal vegetables, which are available year-round, but also meat and dairy products, legumes, grains, cranberries, fermented foods, condiments, and candies. Even during the long lulls between picking peaches at the orchard in August and drinking warm syrup at the sugarhouse in March, you can feel a sense of place in your food.
Some of my personal favorites are the Cherry Pit Infused Peach Jam made by The Green Jam Man (cherries are related to almonds and the pits add a nutty flavor), the new lacto-fermented Ginger Kimchi made by Sobremesa (I like to add it to vegetable ramen right before serving), and the thick-cut bacon from Jericho Settler’s Farm (this needs no explanation).
I can usually pick all those things up at the Burlington Farmer’s Market on Saturday mornings. I also love the raw milk that I drive just out of town to pick up at The Family Cow farm stand. Yes, it has that musty edge that smells like the farm (let’s call it hay), and it also has all the natural sugars and fats and health benefits that some pasteurized milk can lack. Also, sometimes I take quick portraits of the cows grazing at sunset.
We are rather spoiled by abundance, in fact, and that sometimes makes it more painful to lower our standards when we are too tired, too busy, or too ill to cook I could list the improvements to mental, physical, and family health that conscious eating and reduced stress can provide, but most people are already educated in these matters, and anyway they can feel it in their bones.
Taking something hot, inviting and delicious out of the oven is the best way to start a relaxing meal, and planning your meals for weeks to come while still choosing all the ingredients yourself lets you control both your health and your happiness – even on the busiest days.