*RETHINKING COMFORT FOOD*
Recipe: Soft Tofu Stew (Soondubu Jjigae)

October 15, 2012

Fall is the season of comfort food. Even in southern California, where the leaves remain green and the temperature doesn’t drop below 65 degrees, pumpkin lattes and hearty stews abound. Most Americans, me included, associate comfort food with dishes like macaroni and cheese, chicken pot pie, beef stew, ice cream, apple pie, or pretty much anything loaded with fat and processed carbohydrates.

Conversely, most Americans associate unappetizing health food with things like tofu, salad, and any vegetable but potatoes (unless it’s a vegetable smothered in cream and/or cheese, in which case it crosses over into the realm of comfort food). But there’s definitely no American-style dish involving tofu that’s considered comforting. The very suggestion is enough to give children nightmares.

I always thought the American notion of comfort food was the universally accepted definition. Then I moved to Egypt and realized that comfort food in the Middle East generally involves rice, which was not on my comfort food radar at that point in time. Growing up, my family would eat rice for one of two reasons: either it was an accompaniment to some kind of “ethnic” meal, like Indian or Mexican food, or it was the only starch we had in the house. Potatoes, pasta, polenta and bread were always preferable to rice. So I associated rice with either foods outside of my comfort zone or as the undesirable substitute for much-loved potato dishes.
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*MALIGNED VEGETABLES*
Recipe: Pumpkin Hummus

October 8, 2012

I’ve read numerous articles in defense of maligned vegetables, the most memorable being Frank Bruni’s praise of broccoli. I would argue that mushrooms—not broccoli—have the worst reputation and most fervent detractors. But what about that vegetable everyone loves yet only eats once a year in its singular, seasonal manifestation made from overly sweetened and spiced canned goods?

Of course, I’m referring to pumpkin and pumpkin pie. You may be thinking “Wait! We’re much more creative with pumpkin these days! I’ve seen pumpkin cheesecake, pumpkin quick bread, even a pumpkin milkshake.” But delve a little deeper and you’ll realize that all of these dishes are made with canned pumpkin, lots of sugar, and “pumpkin pie spices.”

I rarely see fresh pumpkin or savory pumpkin dishes on menus, and that’s really a shame because fresh pumpkin is a versatile, unique, and tasty addition to a number of dishes. Also, fresh pumpkin puree is incredibly easy to prepare and it makes a much better pie than the canned stuff. Continue reading

*DOUBLES*
Recipe: Double Mushroom Pasta & Double Jalapeño Hummus

September 24, 2012

The word “double” in the name of a recipe always elicits a sense of mischievous anticipation and entitlement from me. I feel like I’m 6 years old again and allowed to eat dessert before dinner. Please allow me to demonstrate this sentiment with a little experiment. First, read this list of food items:

  • Fudge Brownies
  • Brie
  • Apple Pie
  • French Fries

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*FAVORITE PANTRY ITEMS*
Recipe: Eggless Omelet

August 28, 2012

If I had to guess which pantry item I use with the most frequency and enthusiasm, it would be either tahini or chickpea flour.

Tahini is an obvious choice for someone who lived in the Middle East and loved the food. I use it in traditional ways—hummus, tahina, moutabbal, chicken fatteh—but also in some pretty unusual concoctions that arose, as all great ideas have, from desperation.

My favorite thing to use tahini for is salad dressing. I mix the tahini with lemon juice or vinegar (it thickens to a paste), and then thin it with water and more vinegar if necessary to make a very flavorful, creamy dressing that’s perfect on a number of salads. Sometimes I’ll add chopped herbs, like parsley or cilantro, or spices, like coriander and cumin. Always salt and pepper. Any type of vinegar is fine—I’ve used apple cider, red wine, and rice wine. If you ever find yourself out of olive oil and need to make a dressing, this is a great solution. But I suppose I’m the only person who runs out of olive oil before tahini. Continue reading

*AN ELEGANT MEAL FOR ONE*
Recipe: Salt Crust Snapper with Mandarin-Fennel Salad

August 21, 2012

I don’t require much to be happy. A new book by my favorite author, this awesome lamp from IKEA, and—above all—an elegant meal for one made my weekend nearly perfect. This is why I think everyone should take up cooking as a hobby. There’s nothing more satisfying than using your imagination, culinary knowledge, and artistic skill to create something that pleases all of your senses. Learning to cook is practical, healthful, and a great conversation starter—who doesn’t like to talk about food?

But I imagine I’m preaching to the choir writing about the joys of cooking on a food blog. I also can’t imagine that everyone would be able to enjoy grocery shopping—the prerequisite to cooking—as much as I do.

Last week was stressful and emotionally exhausting, so on Saturday I braved the heat and walked to a nearby Korean market to peruse the fish counter and let my imagination run wild. After an hour of exploration to the soundtrack of this song on repeat, I left the store with a whole red snapper, a bag of fresh mandarin oranges, a bunch of watercress, two pounds of sea salt, a few perilla leaves, some taro root, radish sprouts, and a significantly better a state of mind (except for a slight headache from that horrible Korean pop song). Continue reading