A squash, onion, garlic scape, basil and Ricotta Salata frittata with hot paprika is a lovely way to feed your sister/cat sitter and use up last week’s CSA share before hopping a bus headed south. Pack this week’s veggies in a shoebox and you’ve got a lovely hostess gift for your waiting friends.
Since my first cardboard box of Lemonheads (slipped to me by my grandmother when my natural-foods-pushing parents weren’t looking), I’ve been hooked on sweet and sour. Give me a package of Fun Dip or some Haribo Gummi Grapefruit Slices over a piece of chocolate cake any day. And my dad’s deep love of peanut butter (all natural, stirring required, of course) introduced me to the notion of sweet and salty at an early age. It took me a little longer to find my way to spicy food but, once I did, it was with the zeal of a convert.
When I first discovered Thai food, it was a revelation. You mean I can have salty, sweet, sour and spicy all at once? In college, my stepdad’s brother Daniel took me to South Berkeley’s famed Thai Buddhist Temple brunch. Daniel being Daniel and me being a religious scholar, we somehow got to eat inside with the monks. This was my first introduction to Thai food cooked for Thai people–and it was HOT. I was seated somewhere in the middle of three long tables arranged in a horseshoe, flanked by serene men in saffron robes. I did my best to smile sweetly while tears and worse poured down my face. And still I loved it.
At the beginning I was satisfied with just about any Thai food but, over the years, I’ve become more discriminating. While I still love that unique flavor bomb (did I mention umami?), I find that many places dish up gloppy, sickly sweet sauce, overly starchy noodles, and way too much low-grade cooking oil for my stomach to properly process.
And so I save myself for those special Thai meals when the ingredients are fresh and each dish is like a symphony where you can pick out and appreciate the individual components but the whole is somehow greater.
In the meantime, I’ve figured out that I can make a reasonable facsimile of Thai food at home using whatever protein, vegetables and herbs I have on hand. The key is in the condiments. The shelves on my refrigerator door always contain fish sauce, soy sauce, Sriracha, rice wine vinegar and sesame oil–all of which will last pretty much forever. A few weeks back, I deployed these ingredients to whip up a Thai Beef Salad and Quick-Pickled Kohlrabi.
Yesterday was my first day off in two weeks. Sheer exhaustion and a badly sprained ankle compelled me to stay home. Luckily, I had plenty of CSA bounty with which to feed myself. For breakfast I had scrambled eggs and tomatoes lightly dressed with salt, pepper, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and a little fresh basil. Lunch was the aforementioned Plum and Ricotta Salata Salad. By dinner time, I was ready to tackle the eggplant, green beans, onions, Thai red chilies and more of that basil.
This year, my CSA struck up a partnership with Lewis Waite Farm. One can order their pork and beef à la carte along with chicken and dairy products from neighboring farms. Overwhelmed by the choices, I opted for a monthly Carnivore Share. I’ve been trying to eat more meat and have made a commitment to focus on meat that is good for me and good for the planet. My freezer is starting to fill up as, even with dinner guests, four pounds is a lot of meat for me to go through in a month. But I imagine the stash will be quite welcome come winter.
I’m having fun toying with new cuts. Earlier this week, I cooked the lamb rib chops pictured above and ate them over an arugula and tomato salad. Last night, with my friend Louis on his way over, I was ready to tackle the eye round beef from my previous month’s share. While I was unfamiliar with eye round, I could tell by eyeballing it that this was a lean cut probably best suited for stewing or braising. But there was only half a pound of it, which didn’t seem worth a slow and low cook. I decided to try to tenderize it by slicing it thinly against the grain, cooking it quickly at high heat, and using a marinade with a good bit of acid. The resulting dish was so good that, sadly, there were no leftovers to pick at this morning.
Thai Beef with Eggplant
- 4 tablespoons soy sauce or tamari
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon Sriracha
- 2 tablespoons thinly sliced basil leaves
- juice of 1 lime
- 1 Thai red chili, seeded and thinly sliced
- 3 tablespoons canola/vegetable oil
- 1 large Japanese or other long skinny eggplant, cut into discs
- 8 ounces eye round beef, sliced thinly against the grain
- 1 tablespoon minced ginger
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- Combine 3 tablespoons of the soy sauce along with the fish sauce, sugar, rice wine vinegar, Sriracha, basil, lime juice, and half of the ginger, garlic and chili in a small bowl.
- Heat 1 tablespoon of canola oil in a large pan over medium-low heat. You want it hot enough that a drop of water sizzles but not so hot that the oil is smoking. Add half of your eggplant, cook until lightly browned, flip and then cook until the other side is also browned. (They may seem a bit firm, but should soften up as they slowly steam.) Place the cooked eggplant in a shallow bowl and drizzle half of the marinade over the top.
- Repeat Step 2 with the remaining eggplant slices, taking care to shift them to the bottom of the shallow bowl so that they get a chance to soak up the marinade and soften.
- Turn the heat up to medium and add your last tablespoon of oil. Then add the remaining ginger, garlic and chili. When these are fragrant but not yet browning, add the beef and cook for three minutes or so, stirring or flipping as needed, until you don’t see any red. Add the remaining tablespoon of soy sauce. Toss the eggplant with its sauce into the pan and stir to combine.
- Empty the contents of the pan into a serving bowl and drizzle with the remaining marinade.
I served this with brown Jasmine rice and some green beans that I had sautéed with onion, garlic, ginger and the other half of the chili pepper. Off of the heat, these were dressed with a sauce made from peanut butter, sesame oil, Sriracha, and soy sauce. Fresh basil leaves went over the top.
This meal paired wonderfully with a Vinho Verde. Afterwards, we retired to the couch with a bottle of Prosecco, an ice pack, and a Barbara Stanwyck film. Louis was snoring within 30 minutes.
After a three and a half hour drive in bumper to bumper traffic followed by a rainy walk home laden with bags, I was in no mood to cook last Thursday. Apparently I was not the only one seeking the comforts of delivery. My chana masala and chicken tikka took well over an hour to arrive. On Saturday I ate the leftover chickpeas, with a liberal helping of goat milk yogurt, for breakfast. By 4:00 I was hungry again. Luckily, I still had a few hunks of chicken and some mango chutney left, along with plenty of fresh vegetables.
Leftover Chicken Tikka Salad
Combine 3 tablespoons of plain yogurt, 1 tablespoon of mango chutney, 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar, 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil, a pinch of salt, some black pepper, and 4 thinly sliced scallions. Let the dressing sit while you prep the salad. Wash and dry a small head of romaine and slice into ribbons. Peel and slice one very large cucumber. Slice your leftover chicken. Combine all of the ingredients along with any crispy onion bits left in the takeout container in a bowl, tossing to combine.
This hit the same pleasure center as a curried chicken salad sandwich. And the dressing held up well against what were arguably some rather toothsome lettuce leaves. All around a great use of leftovers.
This time of year one’s cooking skills are a bit of a fifth wheel. The produce is so varied and abundant that the real challenge is narrowing it all down to a single meal. From there, it’s mere assembly.
I’m hosting a fancy fundraiser in the Hamptons next weekend, which necessitated a midweek trip to Sagaponack. Turns out that the drive out isn’t so bad if you hit the road at 10:00pm on a Tuesday. By midnight I was in bed munching the last of my blueberries and perusing a magazine.
The next morning was a flurry of espresso and emails. I knocked off in time to hit the amazing Breadzilla for lunch before my noon meeting. In my experience, the Hamptons is rife with overpriced and lackluster food. But I happily forked over $16.50 for the best lobster roll of my life, which I ate on a bench in the adjacent garden. I also picked up a baguette, assuming it would play a roll in the evening’s dinner.
The afternoon was back-to-back meetings. I selected flatware and linens, discussed the logistics of transporting a baby grand piano, and wandered around Wölffer Estate Vineyard with a tape measure while vacationers enjoyed wine flights. I did manage to squeeze in a stop at a farm stand, picking up Italian eggplant, zucchini, young shallots with the green shoots still attached, basil, and some unimaginably sweet small yellow tomatoes. I was saved from buying even more by their cash-only policy. This is what I could get for the $16.50 in my wallet.
I got a bit lost trying to take the back roads home, but was rewarded when I passed a fish shop selling all sorts of local delights. Mercifully, they took credit cards, so I was able to pick up a pound of wild sea scallops, a couple of balls of burrata, and a lemon for good measure. I still didn’t know what I was going to make, but it would be hard to go wrong with these ingredients.
The day was a hot one and my last meeting had been on an unshaded terrace. I got back to the house where I was staying around 5:00 and rewarded myself with a dip in the pool.
Another hour of furious emailing and it was off to collect my dear friend Louis at the train station. On the way home, we picked up the two final ingredients for our evening meal: rosé and rosé. We made short work of the first bottle, a Côtes de Provence, while gabbing poolside as the sun set.
Time to uncork the next bottle and start assembling dinner. I cut the shallots in half, leaving the green ends intact, and tossed them with olive oil, salt and pepper. The scallops got the same treatment, minus the slicing. (Had I been able to locate a grater of some sort, they would have gotten some lemon zest too.) I cut the eggplant and zucchini on the diagonal and added fish sauce and tamari to my simple marinade.
While I fired up the grill, Louis got busy halving the tomatoes, chiffonading a bunch of basil, and pouring another round of wine. Once they were ready, I arranged the grilled veggies and scallops in stripes alongside the tomatoes and burrata, which I tore into hunks. The whole platter got a drizzle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar and some fresh cracked pepper.
This being a casual and intimate meal, we dined at the kitchen table, each armed with a soup spoon to ladle things onto our plate, a lemon wedge to dress our meal, and a baguette hunk to sop up the juices.
The next morning found us back at the kitchen table, where we worked until lunchtime. Then it was off to Breadzilla, where Louis enjoyed the lobster roll while I moved on to the delightful shrimp salad. In the afternoon, I downed an espresso and swam laps, which was a shockingly pleasing combination. A few more hours of work and it was time to bid the pool adieu and head back to the city. But first, one more farm stand…