Simple, Spicy Baba Ganoush

The end of summer’s harvest approaches, welcoming in a new wave of bounty; this week, it means an abundance of dirt cheap, gorgeous graffiti eggplant for making baba ganoush. When I bought a handful of peppers, a bag full of scuppernongs, and a large basket of graffiti eggplant for only $5 from a local farm stand, I knew the creamy eggplant dish was in my future!

What Is Graffiti Eggplant?

graffiti eggplant

A smaller, white-and-purple-marbled version of traditional eggplant common at most grocery stores, this varietal is known to be less bitter than its solid purple cousin, which has thicker skin and is about twice the size. Some people even describe its flavor as fruitlike and suggest that steps like removing the skin or salting the eggplant before cooking are unnecessary given these sweet, tender characteristics. This sightly vegetable originates from the Mediterranean but grows well in most warm climates.

Health Benefits of Eggplant

Graffiti eggplant is rich in vitamins A and C, potassium, manganese, and folate. Additionallyy, in accordance with traditional Ayurvedic medicine, eggplant is prescribed as a means of fighting diabetes. (Eggplant contains high concentrations of polyphenols, which help the body process sugar.)

Eggplant is, on its own, a low-calorie food. Its high fiber content makes it a great addition to any diet!

Also, eggplant is high in antioxidants. This helps to prevent cancer and heart disease.

Ways To Cook Eggplant

If you, like me, find yourself with an abundance of eggplants, you may be looking for cooking inspiration! Happily, eggplant varietals are interchangeable in most recipes. When cooked, eggplant takes on a creamy texture. It absorbs neighboring flavors and seasonings very well. Here are some ways to use up your eggplant:

Clearly, there’s no shortage of ways you can use this amazing vegetable! If you want further eggplant inspiration, look up some Mediterranean, Indian, or Middle Eastern recipes. Eggplant has a rich history in the cuisines of these cultures.

What is Baba Ganoush and Where Is It From?

Simply put, baba ganoush is a creamy eggplant dish blended with garlic, olive oil, lemon, and tahini. Sometimes spelled “baba ganouj,” this Levantine appetizer pairs well with pita bread for dipping.

Primarily eaten as a spread, dip, or sauce, this delicious condiment hails from Lebanon. There are variants of baba ganoush in many other cuisines, including Ethiopian, Armenian, and Israeli.

How to Eat This Spicy Eggplant Dip

Think of baba ganoush as a cousin to hummus. Slather it into a veggie sandwich or drop it over your salad greens. Alternatively, dip rustic bread, pita wedges, crackers, cucumbers, peppers, broccoli, or other veggies into this silky smooth dip.

Additionally, baba ganoush makes a great ingredient on any charcuterie board!

Is Baba Ganoush Vegetarian?

Yes! Baba ganoush contains no animal products, so it’s even considered vegan!

Is Baba Ganoush Healthy?

Yes. Baba ganoush boasts a modest amount natural fats from olive oil. There is also a good amount of nutrient-rich sesame seeds from the tahini. These contribute anti-inflammatory properties as well as vitamins and minerals.

Of course, the real star of the show is eggplant. Since the eggplant roasts in the skin which is later removed, it absorbs a relatively low amount of oil in the cooking process. This means the eggplant is even healthier than cubed roasted eggplant. This is about as healthy as eggplant gets.

So, this fiber-rich, filling dish is incredibly satisfying and healthy! (And yes, baba ganoush is even keto-friendly!)

Simple Spicy Baba Ganoush

One great aspect of this recipe is its wonderful simplicity! Waiting for your eggplants to roast is the hardest part.

Pierce the skin of your eggplants with a fork like you would a baked potato. Drizzle with oil and roast.

unroasted graffiti eggplant

I roasted my eggplants for around an hour. They caramelized beautifully in the oven!

roasted eggplants

Allow to cool until you can handle the eggplant. Use a knife and spoon to separate the tender roasted flesh from the skin. Drain over a fine mesh sieve to remove any excess moisture.

draining roasted eggplant removes excess moisture

Simply add all your ingredients to a food processor and blitz until smooth and creamy!

baba ganoush ingredients

It’s as easy as that! I plated mine with some sumac, olive oil, and sheep’s milk feta. Yum!

finished baba ganoush

A perfect summer treat! 🙂

finished baba ganoush

Simple Spicy Baban Ganoush

Fresh serrano pepper gives this take on a traditional recipe a spicy flavor boost! Serve with pita, chips, crackers, or veggies!
Prep Time 25 mins
Cook Time 1 hr
Total Time 1 hr 25 mins
Course Appetizer, healthy, Side Dish, Snack, vegan, Vegetarian
Cuisine Healthy, lebanese, middle eastern, persian, traditional, vegan, Vegetarian
Servings 4 people

Equipment

  • fine mesh sieve

Ingredients
  

  • 3.5-4 pounds eggplants (I used 7 small graffiti eggplants, but 2 standard eggplants will do)
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/4 cup tahini
  • 1 small serrano pepper, stemmed and seeds removed
  • 2 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil, for garnish optional
  • 1 oz feta cheese, for garnish optional
  • dash of sumac, for garnish optional

Instructions
 

  • Preheat oven to 425°F and line a rimmed baking sheet with foil.
  • Wash and pat dry the eggplants. Pierce all over with a fork like you would a roasted potato. Drizzle with olive oil, and roll in oil to coat. Roast for an hour to an hour and half, or until eggplants are tender and collapsing.
  • Allow eggplant to cool to room temperature. Using a knife and spoon, cut the eggplants in half and scoop flesh out, discarding the skins. Place eggplant pulp in a fine mesh sieve over a medium-sized bowl and allow to drain for 15 minutes.
  • In the meantime, remove the seeds and stem from your serrano and set the pepper aside. Crush garlic with the flat side of a knife and discard the skin. Juice the lemon and set aside.
  • Place drained eggplant, garlic, serrano, lemon juice, and salt in a food processor or blender and blitz until smooth and creamy.
  • Plate with a drizzle of olive oil, a dash of sumac, and feta cheese crumbles. Serve immediately. Keeps up to 4 days in the fridge in an air tight container.
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Vanilla Honey Fig Jam (Small Batch)

There’s nothing like the aroma wafting from a ripened fig tree during the peak of its harvest; this delightfully floral vanilla honey fig jam is the perfect way to capture that ethereal scent. This recipe is sweetened in part by honey which contributes aromatics as well as flavor and even helps to cut down on the white sugar content.

Why You Should Love Figs

If you’re anything like me, you’re an avid fig fan. Tender, sweet insides covered with soft skin are a flavorful burst of texture with each bite–a wonderful playground for the culinarily-inclined! Rich in fiber as well as calcium, phosphorus, iron, and potassium, figs are also a good source of prebiotics, which are essential for maintaining gut health. Though I think there is nothing better than digging into a perfectly ripe fig, they fortunately are fairly forgiving with different methods of processing and preserving, such as drying, making fig newtons from scratch, fig ice cream, or turning your figs into sweet fig chutney.

Where Are Figs From?

While the common fig hails from an area extending from Northern India to Asiatic Turkey, ficus carica also grows well in Mediterranean and and warm-climate areas.

The fig was one of the first fruit trees ever to be cultivated, at once so popular in the Mediterranean, it was called the “poor man’s food” because it was abundant and cheap, fresh or dried.

Nowadays, it’s not too altogether uncommon to walk down an urban street and see a neighborhood fig tree complete with broad, lobed leaves and its characteristically droopy fruit. When you break a fig from the tree or snap free a leaf, you may notice a viscous, white liquid emenating from the site of injury–this is, in fact, liquid latex. This is why some folks suggest boiling your green, unripe figs twice with fresh water to rinse away the milky substance–but that’s a blog post for another day!

How Figs are Pollinated

If you’ve ever spent any amount of time around vegans, you may have learned some or most of them don’t eat figs. But why? You may be thinking, Aren’t figs a fruit? 

While you are correct in the assertion that figs are a fruit (and therefore should be vegan-friendly), figs have a tangled relationship with that of the wasp reproductive cycle. When figs aren’t self-pollinated (the method used in the United States to produce figs), unripe figs invite pollen-carrying female wasps into their ostiole, the small opening at the base of the fig. From there, the female wasp will lay her eggs amongst the unpollinated flowers, pollinating other flowers as she moves along. The female wasp then dies, and her exoskeleton breaks down within the fig thanks to an enzyme called ficin. Fortunately, this teeny-tiny lady wasp is only about 1 1/2 milimeters long–so if you take a bite out of a fig pollinated through mutualism, you may end up eating, in one way or another, the remains of the female wasp.

As for her eggs, these are concealed within the fig’s flowers; the males hatch first, going around and fertilizing any unhatched females, dig an escape tunnel to the outside world, and die. When the females hatch, it’s their turn to find a fig to die in. It’s one heck of a life cycle, yo.

Why Figs Aren’t Considered Vegan

Point being, some vegans think eating figs is unethical, or that it breaks the rules as you may be inadvertently eating animal with your fig. Weird? A little bit. Kinda gross? Definitely. Miraculous? Big yes. And it’s still not enough to keep this lunatic away from sweet, delicious figs…

For those of you that are now completely freaked out by figs, rest assured–most likely, any figs provided in the grocery store are going to be self-pollinated. That is to say, wasp-free!

So…Where Can I Buy Figs?

Figs tend to be elusive until the season is upon us, at which point they are EXPLOSIVE and you have to make use of the bounty quickly so it doesn’t all rot or go to waste. Figs enjoy two seasons: the first few weeks of June, then a second wave spanning August through October.

Check in with grocery retailers like Whole Foods or Publix to see if they carry figs during the peak weeks of summer. Otherwise, you may be lucky enough to find vendors selling sweet, sweet figs at a local farmer’s market. I hate to direct you to Amazon, but apparently you can even buy fresh figs there! Who knew?!

But the best way to get your figs and eat them too is to make friends with somebody who enjoys a fig tree on their property and has more figs than they know what to do with! I’m not saying you should scope out someone’s yard before introducing yourself, but I’m saying it wouldn’t hurt to make a new friend who happens to have a robust fig tree…edible trades are a lot of fun. 🙂

Another option is to plant your own fig tree. Yes, you will have to wait a while…maybe several summers…to have your figs, but then you have a legacy tree that just keeps giving. Once you’ve been bitten by the fresh fig bug, you will come to love this time of year–trust me!

How Many Different Kinds of Figs Are There?

Well, with over 700 known different kinds of fig trees, there’s quite a lot! To make it easier, botanists have broken figs into four groups:

  1. Caprifigs: These produce male flowers which never bear fruit; their primary function is to fertilize female fig trees.
  2. Smyrna: These are the female fig trees, which must be pollinated by caprifigs.
  3. San Pedro: These kinds of figs produce two crops: the first is on leafless mature wood and requires no pollination, and the second is on new wood requiring pollination from a male flower.
  4. Common Figs: These are the most common figs you might see while on a neighborhood walk. Common figs don’t require another tree for fertilization.

Now that we know our fig types, let’s talk about some common figs you may have seen growing lately. Here are some varietals you may be able to identify:

  • Celeste figs–these are smaller, brownish-purple figs grown on large trees; these ripen earlier in the season than other figs
  • Brown Turkey figs–medium-sized, plum-colored figs with vibrant pink flesh
  • Alma figs–these large figs are brownish-purple teardrops with green tips and light pink insides
  • Purple Genca–sometimes referred to as Black Spanish figs or Black Genoa figs, these large, dark purple beauties have vibrant red flesh
  • Mission figs–also called Black Mission figs, this extremely popular varietal is medium-sized and has a mottled purple/green combination exterior
  • Bourjassotte Gris figs–these large, purple figs with a green tip have a lush, dramatic purple flesh

For this fig jam recipe, I used Celeste figs–yum!

How To Tell When Figs Are Ripe

Some figs, like mission figs, will split when they are at their peak ripeness. Green figs, like kadota figs, can be slightly trickier to figure out, as they are green from their initial formation through their maturity.

Ripe figs should be soft to the touch and give slightly when squeezed. There should be little resistance when plucked from their tree or bush, without much white latex oozing from the tip. If you have to tug, the fig isn’t ready!

Will Figs Ripen Off the Tree?

The short answer is yes! Figs that are picked just before peak ripeness will continue to soften and grow sweeter if left in a dry place.

If you pick extremely unripe figs, however, they will not reach maturity on your countertop! This is part of the lovely, ethereal nature of this sweet natural treat.

How To Eat Your Abundance of Figs

When figs arrive, they arrive all at once! You will know a tree’s fruit is mature when all of the insects move in–figs attract a wide array of bees and wasps, which come to feed on the sweet fruit.

Here are some ideas for ways to use up your figs before they spoil:

Small Batch Vanilla Honey Fig Jam

Part of the beauty of this recipe is how simple it is. With a few high-quality ingredients, you will be amazed at how much divinely aromatic flavor this wonderful, chunky fig jam presents.

Start with an abundance of ripe figs.

ripe celeste figs

Gather your ingredients and a heavy-bottomed dutch oven. Chop the figs into quarters. I like a chunky jam, so I cut some of the figs in half for variety.

fig jam ingredients

Cook the figs down gently, stirring so they don’t scald or cook unevenly.

gently simmering fig jam

When your fig jam has thickened considerably and passes the cold plate test, it should look something like this:

cooked fig jam

Ladle your warm jam into sterile jars. For a more detailed breakdown of how to properly can your jam, check out my post on canned small-batch apricot jam.

halfway through canning

It’s a messy process, but made easier by my canning funnel which fits atop an empty jar perfectly.

canning vanilla honey fig jam

You can totally reuse old jars to can your fig jam as long as you properly sterilize them beforehand in the oven or in boiling water for 10 minutes. I used the boiling method for this round of jam.

vanilla honey fig jam

Boom, fig jam!

Ways To Eat Up Your Fig Jam

Sweet, complex, aromatic, and delightfully textured, there’s a lot to love about this fig jam. Fortunately, you can throw it into sweet and savory dishes to add high floral notes and a kiss of sweetness. Here are some easy ways to eat up your vanilla honey fig jam:

  • stirred into whole milk yogurt
  • spooned atop vanilla ice cream
  • dolloped over seared pork chops or chicken breasts
  • stirred into oats or porridge
  • spread over toast with a layer of ricotta and sea salt
  • bake it into pound cake, muffins, or cornbread

Get eating! 🙂

cooked fig jam

Small-Batch Vanilla Honey Fig Jam

Sweet figs, aromatic vanilla, and floral honey all come together in this delightfully chunky, not-too-sweet, small-batch fig jam! I used Celeste figs, but any tender, ripe figs will do!
Prep Time 15 mins
Cook Time 45 mins
Canning Time (optional) 15 mins
Total Time 1 hr 15 mins
Course Appetizer, Seasoning, Side Dish, Snack, Spice, Vegetarian
Cuisine American, Comfort Food, Intuitive, Southern Cooking, traditional

Equipment

  • heavy bottomed dutch oven
  • canning funnel

Ingredients
  

  • 2 lbs ripe figs, halved and quartered (I used Celeste figs, but any ripe figs will do)
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup local honey
  • 2 lemons, juiced (seeds removed)
  • 1 Tbs vanilla bean paste (or 1 1/2 vanilla beans, seeds scraped)

Instructions
 

  • Wash your figs and cut into quarters. I like a chunky jam, so I cut about 30% of my figs in half. Juice lemons, minding the seeds, and set juice aside. Place a small plate in the freezer.
  • Place figs, sugar, honey, and lemon juice in a heavy-bottomed dutch oven over medium-high heat and bring ingredients to a boil, stirring until combined. (If using vanilla beans, add seeds and pods, taking care to remove the pods after the jam has cooked. If using vanilla bean paste, add now. If substituting vanilla extract, wait until the jam has thickened before adding.)
  • Lower heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the mixture has thickened considerably (between 45 minutes and an hour). You will know your jam is ready to ladle into jars when a small drop of jam placed on the freezer plate wrinkles under your finger. (Dollop a small amount of jam onto the cold plate. Return to the freezer for a few minutes. Drag your finger through the jam--if it wrinkles, it's ready to can!)
  • If canning for long-term storage, ladle jam into sterilized jars, lightly screwing lids onto your jars. Place in a large pot and completely cover with water, boiling for 10 minutes. Using tongs, remove jars from hot water and allow them to cool on your countertop. You should hear the "ping" of your jam jars sealing! When jars have cooled, tighten the lids and label. If any of your jars did not fully seal, try re-boiling them or replacing with different sterilized lids and repeating the process.
  • If making quick-batch jam for short-term storage, simply ladle the hot jam into clean jars and place in the fridge. This fig jam keeps in the fridge up to 1 month once it's been opened.
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This recipe based off the one found here, from Flavor the Moments!

Sweet Pepper Braised Pork Butt Tacos

Summer harvest means an array of sweet and spicy peppers just perfect for flavoring braised pork butt. All a good hunk of meat needs is a few aromatics, quality stock, and time to turn into tender braised shreds just askin’ to be layered into a tortilla with a squeeze of lime. (Add some raw veggies for crunch and top with fresh herbs for best results.)

Let’s take a look at what makes this chunk of meat so special!

What is Pork Butt?

My boyfriend and I received a hunk of pork labeled “pork butt” in our most recent Butcher Box. I stood over the freezer with the massive chunk of meat in my hands, staring at the sticker on the plastic as somewhere in the catalogue of my cooking knowledge, dim recollections started bubbling towards my consciousness. Somewhere, somehow, at some point along my foodie journey, I remembered that pork butt is not in fact a pig’s butt.

We’ve all had ham, right? Well isn’t ham from the hindquarters of a pig? A quick Google search confirmed this.

where does ham come from?

Boom. Confirmed. Ham = rump. So why didn’t the massive slab of meat in my hands (which looked nothing like a ham, by the way) say “ham” if it was, in fact, from a pig’s butt?

Deep in the recesses of my brain, memories continued to stir, leading me to ask:

Are pork butt and pork shoulder the same thing?

I googled diagrams of pork cuts. Let’s just say humans have certainly figured out how to get the very most out of the animal.

pork cuts

There it is: Boston butt, clearly distinct from ham!

But to make matters even more confusing, continued Googling revealed that Boston butt is also sometimes called Boston shoulder. Naturally, this lead to further questioning…

are pork butt and pork shoulder the same thing?

As you can see in this diagram from The Spruce, the Boston butt sits just above the picnic shoulder on the pig.

 

Why is the Boston Butt Called the Boston Butt?

So, if the Boston butt doesn’t come from anywhere near the animal’s rump, why is it called a “butt”?!

As is true of many mysteries, the answer is rooted in history. In colonial New England during America’s fledgling years, butchers used to pack inexpensive cuts of shoulder meat into barrels, called “butts.” Used for transporting their wares across New England, the contents of these barrels became known as “pork butts,” the name we still call some shoulder meat today.

So yes, pork butt and pork shoulder, Boston butt and Boston shoulder, are all referring to the same cut of meat.

Primal Cuts of Pork

As you saw in the second diagram above (which is not even a complete breakdown of every cut of pork), we parse out many pieces of meat from a single pig.

First, however, a butcher must make several initial cuts, called primal cuts. These are shoulder, loin, belly, and hind leg cuts.

From there, an experienced butcher will continue to cut out pieces we know and love, like spare ribs, tenderloin, and bacon.

What Makes Certain Cuts of Meat More Expensive Than Others?

There are several factors in play when determining the value of a price of meat. These include but are not limited to:

  • flavor
  • tenderness of cut
  • fat marbeling
  • animal diet
  • USDA certifications, like organic or grass-fed and finished

Another influential factor is supply and demand. For example, Bacon is rich in fat marbling, inherently tender because of its cut, and also happens to be extremely flavorful. It is also simple to prepare because of these positive characteristics. I don’t think I’m breaking any new ground here when I say that these are the reasons why bacon is so popular. In short, it’s truly delicious.

What this means for the market, however, is that bacon prices range from $6.99 for 16 ounces to $17.50 for the same weight. Bacon quality ranges from the cheapest money to buy to the most luxuriously-seasoned, thick-cut bacon available. Unless we collectively undergo a radical cultural shift around the cuts of meat we love, there will always be a market for bacon.

Less favorable cuts from the pig, like pig feet, can go for as little as $2.00 per pound. Typically, people purchase pig feet for traditional recipes or for dog food, but still others work to break ground on new ways to use these less sought-after cuts. (For the curious, check out Serious Eats’ recipe for crispy grilled pig feet here.)

Cultural Shifts Affect the Price of Meat

Flank steak is an example of a cut of meat that has had its reputation revamped. Years ago, flank steak was dirt cheap. Flank steak is a very lean cut on the cow that generally has little fat marbling. If handled poorly, this cut of meat can be tough and flavorless.

But when certain diet trends suggested ways of preparing the lean cut of meat, like the South Beach Diet in the mid-1990s, it gained popularity. The price of flank steak last year according to the USDA was $8.25 per pound. This month, it’s $9.16.

From this example, we can see that cuts of meat we value culturally can shift. So who knows: maybe someday we will be inviting neighbors over for grilled pig’s feet!

How to Prepare Lean Cuts of Meat

There are several things to consider when you work with a lean cut of meat. When a cut of meat has little marbling, that means it will tend towards toughness and may be low on flavor.

Fortunately, there are certain tricks you can employ in order to make the most out of your lean cut of meat. Here are some ideas to consider:

  1. Marinate your meat. Marinating your meat in acid or vinaigrette helps to tenderize it before the cooking process. Lemon juice, balsamic vinegar, and apple cider vinegar are all great bases for marinades. Don’t forget to add a little honey to balance your flavors–honey is also acidic!
  2. Use a meat mallet. Physically tenderizing your tough cuts with a meat mallet or rolling pin helps to break down thick muscle fibers.
  3. Allow your meat to come to room temperature before cooking. This will help the meat to cook more evenly, especially for bone-in cuts. More control over your meat temperature means more control over moisture and overall “done-ness”.
  4. Rest your meat after you cook it. This helps restore the natural juices in the meat by allowing them to redistribute around the whole cut, rather than spilling out under your knife once you start cutting. A general rule is, rest for five minutes per inch of thickness.
  5. Cook lean cuts low and slow. Slow-roasting lean cuts can reduce the risk of “shocking” the meat or causing unnecessary loss of moisture. This is especially true for braising, during which process the meat is completely submerged in tasty cooking liquid like broth or wine.
  6. Cook meat to the right internal temperature. It may seem obvious, but overcooking your meat highlights any negative characteristics, like toughness and dryness, which can be avoided by cooking it on the rarer side.
  7. Cut against the grain. Cutting against the grain of long muscle fibers makes for tender bites that are easy to chew. You might be amazed at what a difference this simple step can make!

Sweet Pepper Braised Pork Butt Tacos

Perhaps the best part about this recipe is how simple it is. The primary flavor comes from whatever peppers you have in abundance, onion, and aromatic herbs. The soft, flavorful peppers make an excellent addition to your tacos as well as the meat from the braised pork butt.

sweet and hot peppers, candle, olive oil

Brush olive oil on your peppers and broil on high until the skin is blistered. I used red bell peppers, sweet mini peppers, and spicy Fresno peppers.

braised pork butt ingredients

After your peppers are blistered, allow them to rest in their own flavorful juices while you brown the meat. No need to get fussy over peeling garlic or mincing onion–big chunks here are great!

browned pork butt

Sear your pork butt, fatty side first, and save the rendered oil! Set meat aside while you sear your onion and garlic.

seared onion and garlic in pork fat

Once you’ve browned your meat on all sides, sear the garlic and onion to flavor rendered pork fat. Settle your meat, herbs, peppers, vinegar, and stock into the dutch oven and bring to a boil.

braising pork butt

Ideally, your meat will be completely submerged. My pork butt was MASSIVE, however, and would barely fit in the dutch oven. I compensated by leaving the dutch oven covered for the entirety of the cooking process and by rotating the meat halfway through.

After about four hours have elapsed, shred the pork butt into bite-sized chunks, cutting any particularly long muscle fibers against the grain for maximum tenderness. Spoon braised pork butt and sweet peppers into warm tortillas with some fresh vegetables and herbs, and top with a squeeze of lime!

sweet pepper braised pork butt tacos

For more braised meat recipes, check out this recipe for miso-braised au jus sandwiches, or for garlic and wine-braised short ribs!

braised pork butt tacos

Sweet Pepper Braised Pork Butt Tacos

Using a few choice ingredients like garlic, onion, and aromatics, this dead-simple recipe is big on flavor and low on effort!
Prep Time 5 mins
Cook Time 4 hrs 30 mins
Total Time 4 hrs 35 mins
Course dinner, Main Course
Cuisine American, Intuitive, Mexican, Seasonal, traditional
Servings 8 people

Equipment

  • heavy bottomed dutch oven

Ingredients
  

  • 4 Tbs olive oil, divided
  • 5-7 lb pork butt or pork shoulder, at room temperature
  • 2 red, orange, or yellow bell peppers, whole
  • 4-6 sweet mini peppers, whole
  • 2-6 spicy peppers of your choice (I used Fresnos)
  • 1 white onion, skinned and cut into quarters
  • 1 head garlic
  • 1 sprig fresh rosemary
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 5 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 6-8 cups chicken or pork broth, or enough to completely submerge the pork
  • salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • corn tortillas, warmed
  • 2 ears raw corn, kernels cut from the cob
  • cilantro, for serving
  • 2 limes, cut into wedges

Instructions
 

  • Turn the broiler on high. Brush your peppers in olive oil on all sides and arrange on a rimmed cookie sheet. Roast under the heat until the skin begins to blister, turning peppers as necessary so they roast evenly. This should take between 4-7 minutes per side. Once your pepper skins have blistered, place in a bowl and set aside.
  • Preheat the oven to 275°F. Generously season the pork on all sides with salt. Heat a dutch oven over medium-high heat until drops of water quickly evaporate. Add pork shoulder, fattiest side down, and sear 5-8 minutes per side, or until deeply golden brown. Turn heat to medium-low and set the browned pork butt aside.
  • Cut the head of garlic in half horizontally and sear the exposed garlic cloves in the rendered pork fat until a nice caramel color, lowering heat if necessary. Remove from heat and add the onions. Sear undisturbed until the onion quarters take on some color, about 3 minutes.
  • Add stock and vinegar to the pan, scraping up any flavorful browned bits from the bottom of the dutch oven. Season the liquid with salt and pepper. Settle the pork butt into the liquid, fat side up, and add the two halves of the seared garlic head, bay leaf, rosemary, and thyme. Bring the mixture to a boil, then turn off the heat. Cover, then place in the oven for 3.5-4 hours, or until pork is falling off the shoulder bone.
  • Pull pork out of the liquid using tongs and, once it has cooled slightly, break apart using a fork or gloved hands. If necessary, cut any long muscle fibers against the grain to enhance tenderness.
  • Gently pull peppers from the cooking liquid and remove seeds and stems. If desired, roughly chop into bite sized chunks. Using tongs, place pork, peppers, corn, and cilantro into a warm tortilla and squeeze lime over the top. Serve immediately. Pork keeps up to 5 days in the fridge.
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Peach and Ricotta Spelt Scones

Summertime in the south means peaches, peaches, peaches! These ephemeral delights are best enjoyed at peak ripeness, whether raw, baked, blitzed into ice cream, or preserved. For this peach and ricotta spelt scones recipe, adding a bit of spelt flour into the all-purpose helps the mixture stand up to the juicy peach chunks, while ricotta makes for a moist, loose crumb. With just 1/4 cup of brown sugar, these scones are scarcely sweet at all, allowing the peach flavor to really shine!

These scones are not a low-fat food! While the addition of real fruit chunks and spelt flour does help to offset the added sugar, ingredients like ricotta, heavy cream, and butter bring the dough together. Fat content aside, these scones are fun to bake and a treat to eat.

What is Spelt Flour?

If you are a seasoned baker, you understand different flours tend to behave…differently. Some have higher protein content than others, like bread flour. Some have low protein content like cake flour. Then there’s the wide range of alternative flours, like rice, tapioca, chickpea, amaranth, etc. And let’s not forget about whole wheat!

While each of these flours is worthy of a lengthy discussion in and of themselves, let’s start by taking a look at spelt flour.

Spelt flour is a stone-ground ancient grain that was a precursor to modern wheat. It can be used in lieu of all-purpose flour or, commonly, whole wheat.

Once a prolific crop in the Middle Ages, spelt flour has a pleasant, sweet and nutty flavor. It adds a reddish tint to your baked goods, and is capable of light and airy baking. Whole grain spelt flour and spelt berries are available at most grocery stores or online at Bob’s Red Mill’s website.

Reasons to Use Spelt Flour

Whole grain spelt flour is an ample amount of fiber as well as:

  • Vitamins B1, B3, B6
  • Vitamin E
  • Calcium
  • Magnesium
  • Manganese
  • Iron
  • Phosphorus
  • Selenium
  • Zinc

This is a far cry from all-purpose flour, even enriched flour, which has additives not naturally occurring in the wheat flour. For a list of the nutrition facts of enriched flour, click here.

Furthermore, spelt flour helps in reducing blood sugar spikes after eating, making these scones taste even sweeter. Because of spelt’s easy digestibility, it has even been shown to reduce inflammation in the gut and promote healthy digestion!

Ways to Use Spelt Flour

Spelt flour is more versatile than it might seem! A wonderful way to begin incorporating spelt flour into your baking is to add it half and half with regular flour. (For example, if a recipe calls for 3 cups of flour, add 1.5 cups of all-purpose flour and 1.5 cups of spelt flour.)

When you’re not making peach and ricotta spelt scones, some popular ways to use spelt flour include:

  • cakes
  • muffins
  • waffles or pancakes
  • breads
  • cookies

Looking for a savory application? Check out this recipe for herbed spelt scones packed with parsley and lemon zest!

Juicy Peach and Ricotta Spelt Scones

This recipe comes together with a few choice ingredients. Gather your perfectly ripe peach, dry ingredients, ricotta, cream, and lemon.

ricotta peach scones ingredients

Then add butter to your whisked dry ingredients and chop your peaches.

chopped peaches, ricotta, butter in dry ingredients

Cut the butter into the dry ingredients using a pastry cutter, fork, or your fingers.

cut butter

Toss in your chopped peaches.

chopped peaches in butter and flour

Mix to incorporate, then mix your buttermilk with your ricotta.

wet and dry ingredients

Mix the wet into the dry ingredients until just incorporated.

Shaping Your Peach Ricotta Scones

peach ricotta spelt scone dough

Mold into a disk about 1 inch thick on a floured surface. Cut into 8 even triangles, or into squares if you prefer.

peach spelt dough disk

I chose triangles 🙂

cut peach scones

Brush with cream before baking.

peach scones brushed with cream

If you like, sprinkle some large crystal sugar over the top of these beauties!

cream brushed scones

Bake for 15-17 minutes aaaand…

finished peach and ricotta spelt scones

Best eaten warm. These scones keep wrapped up tight or in an airtight container up to 3 days.

juicy peach and ricotta spelt scones

Juicy Peach and Ricotta Spelt Scones (Low Sugar)

Based of of Smitten Kitchen's Rasperry Ricotta Scones recipe!
Prep Time 30 mins
Cook Time 15 mins
Total Time 17 mins
Course Appetizer, Breakfast, Dessert, Snack
Cuisine American, baking, Intuitive, Seasonal, traditional
Servings 8 scones

Equipment

  • pastry brush

Ingredients
  

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup spelt flour
  • 1 Tbs baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup dark brown sugar
  • 6 Tbs cold butter, cut into pieces
  • 1 heaping cup peaches, cut into cubes (about one large peach)
  • 3/4 cup whole milk ricotta
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream, plus more for brushing
  • 1/2 lemon, seeds removed, juiced
  • large crystal sugar for sprinkling (optional)

Instructions
 

  • Preheat the oven to 425°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat.
  • Add strained lemon juice to heavy cream and stir. Let mixture sit 10-15 minutes.
  • Whisk dry ingredients together in a large mixing bowl and set aside. Cut the peach into cubes and remove the pit. Cut butter into 1 Tbs pieces.
  • Using a pastry cutter, fork, or your fingers, cut the butter into the combined dry ingredients. Once the mixture resembles coarse crumbs, add the peach chunks and stir to combine.
  • Combine ricotta and heavy cream with lemon juice (buttermilk replacement). Using a spatula, mix the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until just combined.
  • Heavily flour a countertop or cutting board and shape the dough into a disc about 1" thick. Cut into 8 even scones (square or triangular work).
  • Place scones on baking sheet, brush heavy cream and sprinkle with optional sugar. Bake 15-17 minutes, or until scones are lightly golden brown. Allow to cool to room temperature before eating. Best enjoyed within 3 days after keeping in an airtight container.
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Rustic Tomato Tart (Vegetarian)

If your vines are sagging with tomatoes and your larders are looking perilously full of produce, may I present to you a simple solution: rustic tomato tart. It has been a while since I’ve made anything so thoroughly gratifying in the kitchen, from the process of crafting this elevated form of tomatoes to digging into a savory bite of this delicious tart.

While this recipe happens to be vegetarian, what it lacks in meat it more than makes up for in flavor. Layers of spicy mustard, rich gruyère cheese, earthy herbs, and juicy, roasted, umami-rich tomatoes come together beautifully in this culinary delight, which seems to be at least cousins with pizza. You won’t even miss the meat. Promise.

This show-stopping rustic tart is definitely a labor of love. It takes nearly two hours to prepare from start to finish, but is definitely a dish you’ll want to share with other tomato fans. (Or pizza fans…or savory tart fans…or fans of wholesome-feeling food…)

There is something so comforting about ingredients enveloped in pastry, and this tomato tart is no exception. This is not a dish to get fussy over, or to try to make look perfect. The point, if I may say so, is to put summer’s voluptuous tomatoes on the pedestal they deserve, all in one scrumptious buttery crust. Forkable and finger-food-able, chances are you will not be able to cut yourself a big enough wedge of this mouth-watering rustic beauty!

Why Tomatoes Are Good For You

Whether you’re munching on a cherry tomato or digging into a funky heirloom varietal, there are certain nutritional elements that are universal in the delicious world of tomatoes.

Red tomatoes are high in an antioxidant called lycopene, for example. This gives them their red color which helps to protect them from ultraviolet light damage from the sun. Eating high amounts of lycopene can likewise protect your cells from ultraviolet rays, so eating tomatoes in summertime (i.e. when they naturally are abundant) just makes sense. Isn’t it great when nature works with us?

Additionally, lycopene is associated with cancer prevention. It also reduces “bad” cholesterol, which may help to prevent heart disease.

All tomatoes contain substances called lutein and zeaxanthin. These substances have been correlated with protecting your eyes from blue light from smartphones and computer screens. These compounds may also help to prevent age-related macular degeneration, the number one cause of blindness in the United States today.

Lycopene, lutein, and zeaxanthin have also been associated with lung health. Tomatoes may be beneficial to patients with asthma as well as those at risk for emphysema.

Tomatoes are also rich in:

  • potassium
  • vitamins E, C, and K
  • folate (vitamin B9)
  • soluble and insoluble fiber

Tomatoes’ high vitamin C content gives an added boost to your immune system. Their antioxidants help to reduce inflammation, and they even prevent your blood from clotting. All of these benefits are associated with stroke prevention.

Is It Better to Eat Raw or Cooked Tomatoes?

Certain nutritional elements are more easily absorbed when tomatoes are cooked, like lycopene. However, cooking the tomatoes (even gently) removes some of the vitamin C.

So, why are you eating tomatoes? (Other than their wonderful, tangy taste?!) If you are boosting your immune system, eat raw tomatoes. If you are hoping to incorporate more lycopene into your diet, cook those fruits!

Are Tomatoes Really a Fruit?

The short answer is yes. Fruits are ripened flower ovaries with seeds. By this definition, lots of produce we think of as a vegetable is actually a fruit. Zucchini, pumpkins, avocados, cucumbers, and okra are all “vegetables” that are actually fruits. For a longer list, click here.

Over time, however, botanists distinguished fruits from vegetables by their relatively higher fructose content.

Today, most nutritionists clump tomatoes in with vegetables. Turns out the answer is complex as the flavor profile of a tomato itself!

Rustic Tomato Tart

It’s time to use up those uber-ripe tomatoes! Gather your ingredients for the filling and prepare the shortcrust pastry.

super ripe tomatoes and tart filling ingredients

Simple ingredients, big flavor…what could be better?

short crust ingredients

Familiar ingredients come together in a unique way for this shortcrust pastry. If you don’t have a food processor, feel free to make a pie crust following my recipe. The recipe in the link above utilizes both rye and regular all-purpose flour, but you can feel free to use only all-purpose flour.

Are Shortcrust Pastry and Pie Crust the Same Thing?

Yes, both shortcrust and pie crust are referring to a flaky, fatty pastry that it’s best not to overwork. Shortpastry relies on minimal gluten development for its flaky nature. This means that the more you work your dough, the more you form gluten networks. Overworking means chewy crust, not flaky crust–a shortcrust faux pas!

shortcrust pastry

Roll out the pastry to fit a pie dish or tart pan between 9 and 11 inches.

unbaked rustic tart shell

Save any residual dough, as it can be used to patch any seams in your tart shell!

blind bake

As you can see, I ran out of dried beans and improvised with some rice to weigh down the crust. This is important to prevent large bubbles from forming in the shell as well as preventing the sides from slumping down. While the crust is baking, prepare the filling.

thick tomato slices "sweat" with a layer of salt

Salt your thick tomato wedges and allow them to sit for a few minutes and “sweat.” Blot them with paper towels to remove excess moisture.

basil, parsley, olive oil, salt, and garlic

Blitz herbs, garlic, and oil until relatively smooth.

basil and parsley herb puree

Once you’ve created your herb puree and blotted your tomatoes, you are ready to assemble your rustic tomato tart!

disassembled tomato tart

Spread the dijon in a thin layer over the base of the par-baked crust.

layer 1 tomato tart

Next goes the cheese…

layer 2 of the tomato tart

Over the cheese goes the herb puree. Spread it as evenly as you can, bearing in mind it will level as the tart cooks and relaxes in the hot oven.

layer 3 tomato tart

Layer your tomato slices over the top of the herb puree. Be generous and really load the tart with tomatoes. Keep in mind they will shrink in the hot oven, so don’t be afraid to layer them.

unbaked tomato tart

Roast in the oven until the tomatoes have caramelized nicely and released some of their juices.

slice of tomato tart

If you must serve yourself two helpings of this rustic tomato tart, there will certainly be no judgment from me…ENJOY!

This recipe is based on Smitten Kitchen’s tomato tart.

rustic tomato tart

Rustic Tomato Tart (Vegetarian)

Thick wedges of tomato roasted over a bed of herbs, sharp cheese, and shortcrust pastry make this tart a show-stopper!
Prep Time 15 mins
Cook Time 1 hr 30 mins
Freezer Time 30 mins
Total Time 2 hrs 15 mins
Course Appetizer, Happy Hour, Main Course, Side Dish, Vegetarian
Cuisine American, Comfort Food, French, Intuitive, Seasonal, Vegetarian
Servings 6 people

Equipment

  • food processor

Ingredients
  

Shortcrust Pastry

  • 1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 3/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup cold butter, cut into pieces
  • 1 egg
  • 1 Tbsp cold water
  • dried beans, rice, or pie weights, for par-baking

Tomato Filling

  • 3 large, very ripe tomatoes (heirloom or beefsteak work great)
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled
  • 1 1/2 cups basil leaves, loosely packed
  • 1 1/2 cups parsley leaves, loosely packed
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp whole grain mustard (Dijon works too)
  • 2 oz grated sharp cheese (Gruyere or Pecorino Romano are great picks)
  • freshly ground black pepper, for garnish

Instructions
 

  • Add dry ingredients and butter to a food processor and pulse until the mixture has formed a coarse crumb. Add water and egg and pulse until dough just comes together. Using two sheets of wax or parchment paper, form the dough into a disc and roll it out between the two sheets using a rolling pin or wine bottle until it will fit into a tart pan or pie dish. Transfer the sheet of dough onto a plate or cookie sheet and place in the freezer for 10 minutes.
  • While the dough is chilling, slice the tomatoes into 1/2" wedges and lay out on a rimmed baking sheet. Season generously with salt and allow to sit at room temperature while you work on the tart shell.
  • Remove the sheet of shortcrust from the freezer and work the dough into the pie dish or tart pan. Trim the edges as necessary and save any remaining dough for patching any tears that may have occurred. Prick the bottom and sides of the tart shell with a fork and place back in the freezer for another 20 minutes.
  • Preheat the oven to 375°F.
  • While the tart is chilling for the second time, prepare the herb puree. Rinse out your food processor and add herbs, salt, and garlic and pulse until the herbs are finely cut. Add olive oil and pulse again until the mixture forms a paste. Set aside.
  • Pull the chilled tart shell out of the freezer. Line with parchment paper and add dried beans, rice, or pie weights until they climb up at least half the height of your tart shell walls. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until crust has begun to solidify. Remove pie weights and parchment, and bake another 5-10 minutes, or until the bottom of the tart is no longer shiny. Allow the tart shell to cool to room temperature.
  • Blot the tomatoes with paper towels to remove excess moisture. Spread mustard in the bottom of the ambient temperature tart shell. Sprinkle grated cheese over the mustard. Add an even layer of herb puree over the cheese, then arrange the tomato slices on top of that. Keep in mind they will shrink in the oven, so be generous and really load the tart with tomatoes. Crack pepper over the top layer of the tart.
  • Bake for 50 minutes to an hour, or until the tomatoes are nicely roasted. Allow the tart to cool slightly. Best served warm. Keeps in the fridge up to 4 days.
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What to Serve With Tomato Tart

I definitely ate generous slices of this as my dinner, but this tart works great as a side dish as well. Natural choices are a protein-rich salad, hearty sausages, or a balsamic-glazed flank steak. Don’t forget to eat this tart in the sunshine!

This tart keeps in the fridge up to 4 days. It doesn’t do great in the freezer due to the tomatoes’ high water content (water expands in the freezer, cell walls rupture, and you end up with tomato mush). This tart is for sharing, so eat it up quick!

Simple One-Skillet Roast Chicken and Schmaltzy Potatoes

This simple one-skillet roast chicken recipe is perfect for weeknight dinners or a cozy date night. Mouthwatering chicken roasts atop layers of thinly sliced potatoes which absorb flavorful drippings from the bird as it cooks. This chicken has it all: crispy skin, juicy meat, and precious rendered schmaltz absorbed into peppery potatoes below. Best of all, it all comes together in one pan!

The secret to moist chicken? Let the bird rest for 10 minutes before carving.

At What Temperature is Roast Chicken Done?

While some chefs pull their chicken at 155°F, the standard temperature for fully cooked chicken is 165°F.

Another way to check if your chicken is done is to slice between the thigh and the breast with a knife. If the juices run clear, the bird is done. If they appear bloody or murky, the chicken needs more time in the oven.

It is not uncommon for just-cooked chicken breast to look slightly pinkish. When in doubt, use a meat thermometer to ensure you’ve reached the point at which your chicken is safe to eat.

Where Does Roast Chicken Come From?

The history of humans consuming roast chicken reaches back about as long as we’ve kept the birds in captivity. Many different cultures from across the globe have variants of roasted chicken associated with traditional cooking. Peru, Australia, France, and Germany have long-held customs of roasting chicken, whether rotisserie style or in the oven.

So…What’s Schmaltz?

Schmaltz (also spelled “shmalz” or “schmalz”) is the name referring to rendered poultry fat, typically chicken but sometimes goose or duck. Schmaltz is known for its prevalence in Ashkenazi Jewish cuisine as a cooking fat and flavor enhancer.

The word “schmaltz” is derived from the German verb “schmelzen” which means “to melt.” This perhaps refers to the common means of rendering schmaltz, which is to cut chicken fat into small pieces and stir it over heat until the fat is eventually liquified. Another schmaltz-rendering process is achieved through the use of steam injection. In both processes, the rendered schmaltz is filtered, then clarified, before it is ready for use.

A Brief History of Schmaltz

While chicken fat has been flavoring our meals since we began cooking with it (as true in American culture as any other chicken-eating culture across the globe), rendered schmaltz is perhaps most rooted in Ashkenazi cuisine. This is perhaps because European Jews often experienced restrictions on land ownership and as such could not own cattle. Schmaltz became an important olive oil replacement for central and northwestern Europe where olive oil was not readily available at a widely affordable price. Schmaltz has historical roots reaching back to Ancient Israel prior to the forced Jewish exile from Roman Israel.

Because olive oil and sesame oil were not available to Jews who made their way to northwestern Europe, they turned to schmaltz, an available cooking fat approved by Kashrut.

Kashrut is a set of dietary rules prohibiting certain foods; it also dictates how certain foods should be prepared before consumption according to Jewish law. These rules expressly forbid cooking with common fats like butter, lard, and tallow–thus Jews turned to using fat rendered from chickens to cook their meals.

In contemporary Europe, overfeeding geese became common practice in schmaltz and foie gras production.

How Schmaltz is Used Today

When Jews immigrated to the United States, they brought traditions like cooking with schmaltz with them. Due to aggressive advertising by Crisco, some American Jews swapped their schmaltz for the vegetable shortening. Others swapped schmaltz for newly-available olive oil or plant-based oils.

Some doctors and nutritionists suggested the saturated fat content of schmaltz made it an unhealthy cooking oil. Coupled with a series of health movements in the United States, schmaltz lost popularity at the turn of the 20th century and could not be found in most American kitchens.

Schmaltz has since resurged in popularity as modern Jewish cooks connect to their heritage in the kitchen. Endorsements from chefs like Anthony Bourdain brought schmaltz back into the culinary limelight, causing some positive waves for the slandered cooking fat. Schmaltz remains an important “secret ingredient” and flavor booster in modern dishes like chicken pot pie and chicken and dumplings.

Feeling Schmaltz-Curious?

Want to buy schmaltz but don’t know where to look? This jar from Epic is certified organic and unbleached.

Simple One-Skillet Roast Chicken and Schmaltzy Potatoes

Whether you choose to cook with schmaltz for religious reasons or for flavor, one thing is certain: you are in for a tasty meal. Gather your ingredients and prepare for assembly in your cast iron skillet.

whole chicken, potatoes, onion, garlic, lemon, thyme, salt, pepper, chicken stock, parmesan cheese

I used two large russet potatoes (to feed two of us), but if you are cooking for four, consider using another potato or two, and 1/4 to 1/2 cup more chicken broth. Add more parmesan, salt, and pepper between potato layers, too.

potato medallions, salt, pepper, chicken broth, parmesan cheese

Season between every layer of potatoes with salt, pepper, and a sprinkling of parmesan cheese.

parmesan and pepper potatoes await chicken broth and whole chicken

Once the potatoes are seasoned, add enough chicken broth to just reach the top layer of potatoes to ensure they cook thoroughly as the chicken roasts. Place your chicken atop the potatoes, breast side up.

chicken stuffed with onions, garlic, thyme, and lemon sits atop cheesy potatoes

Give your bird a little extra flavor boost with chunks of onion, sprigs of time, and wedges of lemon. Don’t forget to salt and pepper the skin, for maximum crispiness!

stuffed chicken ready for roasting!
Mmmm, just look at all that fat waiting to be rendered…those lucky potatoes!

Once you’ve rubbed salt and pepper all over your bird, it’s ready for the oven! Bake at 425 for 20-25 minutes, or until skin begins to brown. Lower the heat to 400 and bake another 30 minutes or so more, depending on the size of your bird.

that is one good-lookin' roast chicken

Mmmmm…crispy skin, juicy meat, schmaltzy taters…let your inner hedonist out and enjoy this meal!

roasted chicken breast, schmaltzy potatoes, green beans, love

Weeknight dinner just got a lot more fun!

that is one good-lookin' roast chicken

Simple One-Skillet Roast Chicken and Schmaltzy Potatoes

saltandstonefruit
Succulent roasted chicken stuffed with aromatics gets crispy and juicy atop a bed of cheesy, schmaltzy potato medallions.
Prep Time 45 mins
Cook Time 1 hr
Resting Time 10 mins
Total Time 1 hr 55 mins
Course dinner, Main Course
Cuisine American, ashkenazi, Comfort Food, Intuitive, jewish, traditional
Servings 4 people

Equipment

  • cast iron skillet

Ingredients
  

  • 1 whole chicken with plenty of fat, preferably organic
  • 1 white or yellow onion, peeled and cut into quarters
  • 1 lemon, cut in half with seeds removed
  • 4-6 cloves garlic, crushed and peeled
  • 6-8 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2-3 large potatoes, sliced into thin rounds (russet works, but other potatoes are delicious as well)
  • 1.5 oz freshly grated parmesan cheese (pecorino works too)
  • salt, for seasoning
  • pepper for seasoning
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth (water or milk work in a pinch)

Instructions
 

  • At least 30 minutes before you plan to start roasting your chicken, pull it from the fridge and let it come to room temperature. (This ensures a true-to-recipe roast time as the cold bones of the chicken carcass don't inhibit the roasting process.) Dress the outside of the chicken with a generous sprinkling of salt and rub all over the skin. Crack some fresh pepper over the hen and let sit while you prepare the vegetables.
  • Preheat the oven to 425°F.
  • Prepare the onion, lemon, and garlic, and set aside. Cut the potatoes into thin rounds with a sharp knife or mandolin.
  • Arrange a single layer of potatoes in the bottom of a cast iron skillet. Season with a pinch of salt, a crack of black pepper (or as much as you'd like), and a bit of grated parmesan cheese. Add another layer of potatoes on top and season accordingly. Repeat with any remaining potatoes. When all of the potato rounds have been incorporated, season the top layer with salt, pepper, and the remaining cheese.
  • Pour chicken broth into the cast iron at the edge of the pan, taking care not to disturb too much of the cheese. You want the liquid to just come up to the topmost potato layer.
  • Place the chicken on the bed of potatoes, breast side up. Slide into the center rack of the oven and roast for 20-30 minutes, or until the skin begins to brown and start crisping up.
  • Turn oven down to 400°F and roast for another 30-45 minutes, or until juices from a knife stuck between the thigh and breast run clear, or the thickest part of the chicken temps at 165°F with a meat thermometer.
  • Allow chicken to rest 10 minutes before carving. Cut both breasts and thighs from the carcass, and immediately serve with the potatoes below. Keeps up to four days in the fridge.
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Creamy Coconut Cauliflower Rice (Vegan and Keto)

If you are looking for a cauliflower rice recipe with simple ingredients and a big flavor, this is it. Plus, it happens to be vegan, paleo, and keto! It’s a great side for anyone monitoring how carbs and dairy react with their body. This creamy dish is surprisingly filling, and pairs well with just about any protein.

Health Benefits of Cauliflower

You’ve been told to eat your green vegetables before, but what about your cauliflower? (…or romanesco, for that matter–I mean, nature really outdid herself with that one!)

You may have heard that brightly colored foods contain more vitamins and minerals, but don’t be fooled: cauliflower ranks with the best of ’em for nutrition. With a high fiber content and low carb count, this low-glycemic food is a great addition to any diet. Whether you are on a plant-based food plan or an omnivorous one, a full serving of cauliflower will likely make your body happy. Aside from fiber, a serving of cauliflower contains:

  • Vitamin C. One cup of cauliflower contains 77% of your vitamin C intake for the day.
  • Vitamin K. In fact, some blood-thinning medications advise not to eat too much cauliflower too quickly, as its high vitamin K content may affect the medicine!
  • Vitamin B6 and folate
  • Phosphorus, magnesium, and potassium
  • Antioxidants. One of these, indole-3-carbinole, has been shown to reduce the likelihood of breast and reproductive cancers in men and women.

In short, eating these compounds has medical associations with improved memory, digestion, blood circulation, and bone strength. Sounds pretty good, right?

Is Coconut Milk Good For You?

If you’ve ever looked at the back of a can of coconut milk, you’ve probably noticed that it is a high calorie food. Even the “lite” coconut milk has about the same caloric value as an equivalent amount of whole milk. Conversely, 1 cup of coconut cream (a common ingredient in many curry dishes and soups) contains a whopping 552 calories, as well as 57 grams of fat.

You may be thinking, “That’s a lot of fat!”

If you are, you’re correct–roughly 93% of coconut milk’s calories come from fat. But the fat present in coconut milk is primarily composed of saturated fats known as medium-chain triglycerides (or MCTs). Generally, these fats are known to decrease appetite and increase energy, and may even improve your cholesterol levels!

Coconut milk and coconut cream also contain several vital nutrients, including copper, potassium, selenium, iron, folate, manganese, and magnesium.

To boot, coconut-based product contains lauric acid, which fights viruses and bacteria. This is why some people partake in coconut oil pulling to boost their oral hygiene.

Coconut oil has also been shown to reduce swelling and inflammation in several studies.

So yes: full fat coconut milk is rich in saturated fats. Luxuriate in it! With all the associated health benefits, adding coconut cream to your cauliflower rice will take your vegetable game to the next level.

Best Way to Cook Cauliflower

According to research presented by CNN, the best way to prepare vegetables is to steam them. This provides the highest level of nutrient retention in the vegetable, as opposed to boiling, which causes cauliflower to lose up to 50% of its antioxidants.

In short, the less water you use in your vegetable preparation, the more likely your veggies are to retain their nutrients.

Creamy Coconut Cauliflower Rice

First, chop the shallot, peel and chop the ginger, and zest and juice the lime.

ingredients for coconut cauliflower rice

Blitz the cauliflower in a food processor until it resembles rice.

uncooked cauliflower rice

Heat the coconut oil in a large skillet and sautee shallot and ginger for several minutes. Add riced cauliflower and sautee several more minutes. Add lime juice, zest, red pepper flakes, salt, and coconut milk. Cook until the coconut milk has reduced and the mixture is homogenous. Add cilantro as a garnish. Keeps up to 3 days in the fridge.

cauliflower rice garnished with cilantro

Creamy Coconut Cauliflower Rice (Vegan, Keto)

This cauliflower rice recipe calls for full fat coconut milk and lots of lime!
Prep Time 20 mins
Cook Time 20 mins
Total Time 40 mins
Course Side Dish
Cuisine Diet, keto, Special Diet, vegan
Servings 4 people

Equipment

  • food processor

Ingredients
  

  • 2 Tbs coconut oil
  • 1 large shallot, minced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and minced
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 head cauliflower, "riced" in food processor
  • 1 can full-fat coconut milk
  • 1 large lime, zested and juiced
  • 1 tsp fish sauce, optional
  • salt, to taste
  • cilantro, for garnish

Instructions
 

  • Cut and core the cauliflower into individual florets. Run the florets through the shredding blade of a food processor until the cauliflower resembles rice. Work in batches to avoid overloading the food processor.
  • Heat the coconut oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the minced shallot, ginger, garlic, and red pepper flakes and sautee until fragrant, about 2 minutes.
  • Add the cauliflower and saute until the cauliflower releases steam, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes.
  • Add coconut milk and cook, stirring frequently, until the coconut milk has reduced and the mixture is homogenous.
  • Remove from heat and stir in lime zest and juice. Season with salt.
  • Garnish with cilantro and serve immediately. Keeps up to 3 days in the fridge.
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From Hummus Origins…to Aquafaba!

Have you ever wondered who first loved chickpeas enough to blitz them into a creamy, spoonable purée? Because it has been beloved by so many, the origins of hummus are somewhat disputed. Greek and Arab cultures both lay claim to the delightful spread–so, where did hummus come from? And what on earth is aquafaba!?

Is Hummus Greek or Arabic?

If you’ve ever shopped for hummus at the grocery store, you’ve probably noticed packaging with Greek names or inspiration. Yet the word “hummus” actually means “chickpea” in Arabic. Are you confused yet?

Regardless of where hummus comes from, Greeks and Arabs historically traded many goods, sharing ideas, music, and food for a very long time. Both cultures also happen to enjoy stuffed grape leaves and baklava, no doubt reaching back to their intermingling during the Ottoman Empire. It’s no wonder they both claim to be the inventors of hummus! We may never know its true origins.

What we know for sure is that the earliest mention of hummus dates back to 13th century Egypt. Since the 1200s, however, hummus has come in many different forms. A quick Google search yields recipes for “Egyptian hummus,” “Greek hummus,” “Israeli hummus,” “Lebanese hummus“…the list goes on. The basics of these recipes are all fundamentally the same, however; blend cooked chickpeas with lemon juice, tahini, and seasonings together and enjoy!

The happy additions of tahini, lemon, and raw garlic make this simple dish enjoyable as an appetizer or first course–or as part of an epic charcuterie platter! So, what makes my recipe different? For this version of hummus, I include a no-cost secret ingredient: aquafaba!

What is Aquafaba?

Aquafaba is the water reserved from the process of cooking chickpeas. This water is rich in starches and, when whipped, makes a colloidal foam not dissimilar to egg whites. This is why aquafaba is popular among vegans and egg-intolerant individuals. The liquid from a can of chickpeas is so reliably fluffy when whipped, it can even be used to make vegan meringue cookies!

Other Ways to Use Aquafaba

Because of its fluffy characteristics when whipped, aquafaba affords bakers and home cooks many options in the kitchen. Here are some of the primary ways chefs use aquafaba:

With aquafaba, the only limit in the kitchen is your imagination! Use it in lieu of egg whites in sweet or savory recipes.

Not Everyone Loves Aquafaba…

While vegans and egg-intolerant people shared a lot of excitement since aquafaba hit the food scene in recent years, some nutritionists remain skeptical. Despite its fluffy characteristics, there’s more to “bean water” (“faba” and “aqua” in Latin) than meets the eye.

Some think consuming the liquid from canned beans can have a deleterious effect due to the BPAs in canned food. (However, the FDA maintains that trace amounts of BPAs do not have harmful effects.) However, you can make your own aquafaba using dried chickpeas if you are concerned about the BPAs in canned food.

Others think the starchy water from the beans causes undue gastrointestinal distress because of its oligosaccharide content. This can cause gas and bloating in folks with a sensitive digestive system, and some claim it can even lead to leaky gut syndrome.

However, due to aquafaba’s recent arrival in the culinary world, there’s not much research to dispute or confirm any potential health benefits (from avoiding eggs) or harmful effects (from BPAs and starches). Cultures have long consumed stews containing the cooking liquid from pre-soaked dried chickpeas, so as is usually the case with intuitive eating, listen to your gut here (literally)! Everything in moderation, right?

Why I Use Aquafaba in This Recipe

The addition of some of the starchy water whips together with the chickpeas to create a truly fluffy, creamy texture without adding excess oil. I personally don’t eat a lot of canned food, am not pregnant, and am not overly concerned about–erm–passing wind. I’m pretty sure my dog doesn’t love me any less if I fart…so I’ll take the cut in unnecessary fat and the boost in texture, please! 🙂

Basic Hummus Recipe

Here is the basic skeleton of the recipe for hummus, which you can “dress up” any way you like. I doctored mine with extra raw garlic for a little punch.

ingredients for aquafaba hummus

I crushed the two heads of garlic and left them to soak in the lemon juice for around 15 minutes. The lemon juice takes some of the pungent bite and tempers garlic’s “rougher” edges. For maximum “garlic taming,” mince or press the garlic into the lemon juice.

Blitz everything in a food processor, gradually adding aquafaba until the hummus is of the desired thickness. Garnish with chopped toasted nuts, pomegranite seeds, sesame seeds, fresh herbs…I topped mine with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of sumac.

finished aquafaba hummus
What a good day to treat yourself!

Serve with your desired dip-able foods! Keeps well covered in the fridge up to 1 week.

Basic Oil-Free Hummus (With Aquafaba!)

The addition of aquafaba eliminates the need to use olive oil as a binder and makes for a fluffy, addicting dip!
Prep Time 15 mins
Cook Time 0 mins
Total Time 15 mins
Course Appetizer
Cuisine greek, middle eastern, traditional, vegan
Servings 4 people

Equipment

  • food processor or blender

Ingredients
  

  • 1 can chickpeas, drained, with liquid reserved
  • 1/3 cup tahini
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
  • aquafaba from chickpeas, about 3/4 cup
  • juice from 1 large lemon, about 1/4 cup
  • salt, to taste

Instructions
 

  • Juice the lemon. Peel and chop garlic, then add to the lemon juice to macerate, about 15 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, drain chickpeas using a fine strainer over a bowl or large measuring cup. You should have about 3/4 cup of aquafaba. Add chickpeas to a food processor or blender along with tahini, a pinch of salt, and the lemon juice with garlic. Pulverize in pulses, gradually adding aquafaba until the hummus is of a desirable consistency.
  • Taste, and season for salt. Garnish with chopped toasted nuts, pomegranate seeds, sumac, olive oil, sesame seeds, pine nuts, and/or fresh herbs and serve. Keeps well in the fridge about 1 week.
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For other ideas on how to use chickpeas, check out this my recipe for simple chickpea ricotta pasta, or this recipe for butternut squash and chickpea tahini salad!

Nik Sharma’s Spicy Collard Greens and Legume Soup

A few days ago I woke up with a splitting headache and an achy kind of nausea. I say “woke up” loosely, because I laid in bed for several hours just trying to figure out what’s what. Even though it is July in the South, and plenty hot, and plenty humid, I knew what I needed. The answer? Hot, nourishing soup with plenty of collard greens, which happen to be the state vegetable of South Carolina.

You may be thinking, “You crazy woman. It’s 1000 degrees outside where you live and 900% humidity. A walk halfway ’round the block is enough to get you sweating. Why are you making hot soup?”

And reader, I must say: valid point…

However, the body needs what the body needs, and sometimes silver-green bunches of bitter collards and turmeric-coated chickpeas can work some of the profoundest miracles.

I leafed my way through the picture-rich Flavor Equation gluttonously, lingering over pages that contained ingredients I’d never heard of. If you need some magic injected into your culinary life, consider this beautiful book by Nik Sharma. He breaks down some of the science of what makes ingredients big players in the kitchen and throws in some really interesting recipes for adventurous eaters intent on culinary play.

I saw the picture of this chili-spiced soup and just knew it would cure me.

What’s not to love about stewed greens in bright tomato and tamarind, with spiced chili, turmeric, cinnamon, and black pepper seasoning two kinds of legumes?

I ate not one, but two bowls of this for early dinner and was back on track by 8.

Health Benefits of Collard Greens

These broad, leafy greens have more to offer than meets the eye. Here are some of the top nutritional benefits to eating collard greens regularly:

  1. Liver Detox: Collard greens are rich in glucosinolates, which cleanse cells of toxins and gradually purify the body over time.
  2. Vitamins and Minerals: Rich in vitamins A, C, K, and B-6 as well as iron, magnesium, and calcium, collard greens offer your body the building blocks to do everything from producing hemoglobin in your red blood cells, to boosting the immune system, to improving skin health.
  3. Fiber: High in both water content and fiber, collard greens are very beneficial to your gut in “keeping regular.” Fiber not only cleans out your lower intestine but also slows down your liver’s processing of sugars, lowering the chance that sugar will be converted to fat. Fiber also lowers cholesterol levels and may even have associations with bolstering mental health.

In South Carolina, it’s standard to purchase collard greens in giant bunches, too large to fit in the average grocery bag. Most folks cut the tough rib out of the center of the leaf, chop the greens into forkable chunks and stew them in a deliciously seasoned liquid. Here is a recipe for classic Southern Collard Greens from Grandbaby Cakes.

The Recipe

Collards aren’t all this dish has to offer. From the healing punch of warming spices to the healthy protein contributed by the chickpeas and lentils, this soup will have you going back for another bowl.

First, I prepped all of the ingredients. I thawed my homemade stock…diced the onion…soaked the red lentils…peeled and chopped the ginger and garlic…washed and cut the collards….etc. It was my day off and I had all day to make magical soup, as far as I was concerned. A mini “vacation,” if you will.

(If you are looking for other ways to use up your gorgeous red lentils, check out this recipe for dal from one of my previous posts!)

Once the ingredients were prepped, it became a matter of bringing out the best in all of them. Sauteeing the onions until translucent, just cooking through the ginger and garlic, caramelizing the tomato paste and blooming the spices, stewing the tomato and collards…then adding the beans and stock to simmer until everything married together.

Serve yourself a bowl, add a healthy amount of fresh herbs on top, and you’ve got yourself a wellness boost:

Bet you can’t eat just one bowl.

Nik Sharma's Spicy Collard Greens and Legume Soup

Nik Sharma
This collard-packed soup is doubled down on legume-y goodness with both red lentils and chickpeas. With warming spices and brightness from fresh tomato and tamarind, this vegetable stew will leave you both refreshed and comforted!
Prep Time 30 mins
Cook Time 45 mins
Total Time 1 hr 15 mins
Course dinner, Main Course, vegan, Vegetarian
Cuisine Comfort Food, Intuitive
Servings 4 people

Equipment

  • heavy bottomed dutch oven

Ingredients
  

  • 1/2 cup red lentils
  • 2 Tbs olive oil
  • 1 medium onion
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
  • 1 inch fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 tsp black pepper, freshly ground
  • 1 tsp red chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp ground turmeric powder
  • 2 Tbs tomato paste
  • 1 large tomato, diced
  • 7 oz collard greens, rinsed, midribs removed, and coarsely chopped
  • 1 can chickpeas, rinsed
  • 1 quart low-sodium vegetable stock, or chicken stock
  • 1 Tbs tamarind paste
  • salt, to taste
  • chopped parsley, to taste
  • chopped cilantro, to taste

Instructions
 

  • First, rinse your lentils in a fine mesh colander and pick out any impurities. Cover lentils in a bowl with 1 cup of water and let soak for 30 minutes.
  • While the lentils are cooking, peel and dice the onion, garlic, ginger, and tomato and set aside. Remove the midribs from the rinsed collards and roughly chop.
  • Heat oil in the bottom of a large dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the onion and sautee for about 5 minutes, or until translucent. Add ginger and garlic and cook 1-2 minutes, or until fragrant. Add cinnamon stick, pepper, chili, and turmeric followed by the tomato paste and cook 2-3 minutes.
  • Drop in the diced tomato and collard greens and stir until the leaves are bright green and begin to wilt, about 1 minute. Drain the soaked lentils and add to the pot along with chickpeas and stock.
  • Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cook uncovered about 30 minutes, or until the lentils are tender but still retain their shape. Season to taste with salt.
  • Garnish with freshly chopped herbs and serve immediately.
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Gooey Lemon Meringue Pie Bars

With the passing of Memorial Day came a swift–if not entirely unpredictable–craving for sugar. Coupled with the knowledge that I had four or five lemons which were on the precipice of going bad, I knew there could only be one delightful conclusion: lemon dessert.

While most of us are familiar with lemon bars and lemon meringue pie, perhaps not all of us have had the great pleasure of sinking our teeth into these beauties. Gooey, sticky, lemony, and slightly tart, these bars make an excellent BBQ dessert. While they are fun to share, I ate nearly an entire pan to myself over the course of five days before finally demanding that my boyfriend take them away to share.

Y’know, for science. So for the record, they keep surprisingly well in the fridge.

While one could hypothetically eat these pie bars with ones’ hands (and I’ve definitely stuffed a bite-sized morsel into my mouth while running out the door on my way to work) they are an INCREDIBLY sticky mess and are best eaten with a plate and a fork. This way, you know how to prepare for that potluck dessert you were puzzling over. (Gatherings are beginning to happen again, thank everything good.)

Another bonus of finding this winner of a recipe? Trying my hand at another kind of meringue. This recipe calls for Swiss meringue in order to add a silky smooth finish to your lemon pie bars.

Different Kinds of Meringue

There are three basic kinds of meringue. Chances are, you’ve been exposed to them at some point in your life–maybe even eaten and enjoyed them–without knowing just what they are. From meringue cookies to pie toppings to Baked Alaska, mastering meringue is a pivotal step for any baker or home cook.

French Meringue

French meringue is created by whipping egg whites until soft peaks form, then gradually adding sugar while beating until firm peaks appear. For this process, it is best to use fine sugar or confectioner’s sugar for easier absorption and maximum dissolvability. This particular kind of meringue is often folded into desserts like Julia Child’s chocolate mousse in order to create a fluffy, airy quality.

Italian Meringue

While this touted as the most stable of the three meringues, it can also be the trickiest to get right. It is undoubtedly the least forgiving of the meringues, but the results are versatile and have been used in everything from macarons to buttercream. First, egg whites are beaten until soft peaks form. Then, sugar syrup (simple syrup) is heated to 236°F-240°F. Gradually, the syrup is added to beaten egg whites as you continue to whisk. When all the sugar is incorporated, you will have glossy, firm peaks that will set quickly unless incorporated into another ingredient.

Swiss Meringue

For this meringue, sugar and egg whites are whisked together over a simmering pot of water until they are very warm to the touch. The heated mixture is then beaten until smooth, firm, glossy peaks form. Adding the sugar to the egg whites in this way makes for a less voluminous result, but improves the overall texture, especially when compared to French meringue. (Hint: THIS is the meringue used for lemon meringue pie!)

Ways to Use Meringue

One of the great qualities of meringue is that it is essentially sticky, edible play-dough; once it’s met with time and/or heat, it holds its shape forever. Torch your meringue when you want it to set, and you’ve made an edible creation. Because of this aspect of meringues, they make a fun addition to nearly any dessert. Improvise, and have fun!

Okay, Now You’re Ready To Play With Meringue

Roll up your sleeves, gather your ingredients, and get to work!

We start with the graham cracker crust. Who doesn’t love a graham cracker crust?

You’ll need two sleeves, butter, sugar, and salt for this sweet step. A food processor makes the procedure more enjoyable, unless you love smashing things in zip top bags until they are a fine powder. Sometimes this can be cathartic?

Once par baked, it’s time to make the lemon filling. I love this lemon filling because juice, flesh, and rind are all blended together, creating a complex and robust lemon flavor. Yum!

Once blitzed together, it gets baked. It WILL look bizarre and even unevenly browned. But trust me (and the recipe!), once you slather some of that sweet, sweet Swiss meringue on top, nobody will bat an eye.

 

That’s the beauty of Swiss meringue: everything goes in one bowl (ideally the bowl of a stand mixer)!

Chill that sucker! While it’s cooling, whip up your Swiss meringue.

That’s the beauty of Swiss meringue: everything goes in one bowl (ideally the bowl of a stand mixer)! Put it over heat until it is very warm, whisking throughout.

It won’t look very “meringue-y” at first (I confess I had a brief moment where I wondered if I was doing it right) but once you put the warm mixture under a whisk, magical things happen. Spread the finished meringue over your cooled lemon bars and torch.

Before!

After! Serve immediately. If you can’t eat them all in one sitting, don’t worry. They are still just as delicious five days later, and I have to say they were even better on day two.

Gooey Lemon Meringue Pie Bars

With a buttery graham cracker crust, blitzed sugar and whole lemon filling and a sweet Swiss meringue topping, this crowd-pleasing dessert makes an excellent addition to any gathering. Keeps up to five days in the fridge. This recipe adapted from Smitten Kitchen.