The greens were sliced finely crossways, quickly steamed and added to a saute of garlicky spinach.
Delicious (why waste all that greenery?).
They'll be cooked into a Sicilian-style saffron and tomato sauce for small pasta shells.
Prolific American cookbook author Barbara Kafka’s most recent book is the rather suggestively titled Vegetable Love. It’s huge, encyclopedic and white with beautiful multi-coloured text splashed across the cover, full of technique and an enormous array of (mostly) vegetarian-friendly recipes.
A bunch of organic bok choy, crisp and juicy from the market this morning, needed a new approach. Enter Babs and her Vegetable Lovin’.
Radiant Bok Choy. Radiant. What a word. Made me want to eat this immediately.
But you know what? Babs needs a bit of hand with this recipe. Though she claims in the introduction that, ‘This is one of my proudest [sic] recipes’, and it was very, very good, it needs some extra help to develop the flavour. Firstly she uses too much turmeric, a whopping 2 tablespoons – oh, the bitterness; oh the shirt-staining, jeans-staining, couch-staining horror - and secondly she uses far too much salt.
Here goes. It’s delicious. There’s a lot of sauce, so soak it up with some plain basmati rice.
Radiant bok choy, adapted by me – for 2
2 heads of bok choy
2 teaspoons of turmeric
Generous pinch of sea salt
1 small tin of coconut milk, mixed with enough water to make 1 ½ cups in total
A few slices of ginger
A few shiitake mushrooms, de-stalked and caps sliced (dried are fine – just remember to soak for 20 mins in hot water and drain before proceeding)
Tamari or umeboshi vinegar
1 lime, cut into wedges
Quarter the bok choy lengthways and give it a really, really good wash. There's always sand embedded deep between the base of the leaves.
Place in one layer in a large saucepan or lidded frying pan. Add the turmeric, sea salt, coconut milk-water mixture and ginger. Bring to a boil, cover and turn the heat down to medium. Simmer for 6 minutes.
Take the lid off, turn the bok choy over using tongs, add the shiitakes and cover again. Simmer for further 6 minutes.
Serve splashed with a little tamari or umeboshi vinegar to taste and arrange the lime wedges on the side.
A very yellow dish. Don’t wear white when you eat this. Turmeric makes the very worst kind of stain…
Cut the leaves from the stems. Wash both stems and leaves very well.
Finely chop 1 onion, the stems and 3 cloves of garlic.
Fry the onion in a few tablespoons of olive oil until soft. Add the stems and the garlic. Cook for another 5 minutes.
Tightly roll the leaves together and finely slice.
Add them to the pan, cover and when the leaves wilt, add a little more oil.
Pour over 2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar and toss well.
Emma was the first person I met on that first, agonizingly scary day of art school. She wore stripy leggings and an over-sized bright green shirt. I wanted to be her friend immediately. Luckily, though others have wended their way in and out of our lives, Em and I have always remained close.
We’ve shared two homes together, at very different times in our lives. Firstly in our early twenties in a three storey, rambling house in the inner west, then in our late twenties we shared a small, calm flat near the eastern suburbs beaches. Then the Artist turned up at a conference and before I knew it I was living in
Nowhere is that more evident than in the kitchen.
Emma and her lovely partner Will, raised as a vegetarian, are vegetable lovers. And so, what better to cook on a frosty autumnal night than a dish of wine-glazed lentils and tender, caramelized braised fennel?
They loved it. I am very lucky indeed.
Wine-glazed lentils – for 4
This is adapted from Deborah Madison’s ‘Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone’. The lentils are also known as ‘Le Puy’. I’ve never had any trouble finding them – let me know if you do. These can be prepared a few hours ahead.
1 ½ cups of French green lentils, sorted (of little stones) and rinsed
Sea salt and pepper
1 fresh bay leaf
2 teaspoons of olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 large carrot, cut into tiny dice
1 stick of celery, cut into tiny dice
1 garlic clove, very finely chopped
1 tablespoon of tomato paste
1/3 cup of red wine
1 tablespoon of Dijon Mustard
2 tablespoons of butter or extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons of chopped parsley or tarragon
Place the lentils in a saucepan with 3 cups of water, 1 teaspoon of sea salt and the bay leaf. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a lively simmer and cook until the lentils are tender but still hold a little texture, about 25 minutes.
Meanwhile heat the oil in a medium-sized saucepan. Add the onion, carrot, celery and ½ a teaspoon of sea salt and cook over a medium heat, stirring frequently until the vegetables are browned, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and tomato paste and cook for 1 more minute, then add the wine. Bring to the boil, lower the heat and cover with a lid. Simmer gently for 10 minutes until the vegetables are tender and the liquid is syrupy.
Stir in the lentils with their cooking water and the mustard. Simmer the whole lot until the sauce is mostly reduced, then stir in the butter and season with pepper. Serve sprinkled with the parsley.
Braised fennel – for 4
Fennel is my favourite vegetable; here it is cooked in a way that will convince anyone of its culinary virtue. It’s very easy – don’t let the long method fool you.
6 bulbs of fennel
2 tablespoons of olive oil
2 onions, peeled and finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 fresh bay leaf
A few sprigs of thyme, leaves only
Sea salt and pepper
¼ cup of mirin (sweet Japanese cooking wine)
1 tablespoon of unsalted butter or 1 tablespoon of good olive oil
Choose the biggest sauté pan you have. It must have a lid for this to work, though you can fashion a make-shift one out of kitchen foil.
Trim the tops from the fennel, reserving the feathery fronds and then discard any badly bruised outer leaves. Finely chop the feathery bits. Carefully trim the root end, leaving it in tact. Cut in half from top to bottom and set aside.
Warm the oil in the pan over a medium-high heat and toss in the onions. Cook, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes before adding the garlic and herbs. Cook, still stirring, until the onion just starts to brown.
Push the onions to one side of the pan. Add the fennel, cut side down, in a single layer. Spoon the onions around the fennel, sprinkle in a little salt and pepper then add one cup of water. Cover tightly with a lid (or some foil if you’re sans lid), lower the heat to medium and cook until the liquid has mostly off (about 10-12 minutes).
Give some of the onions a stir, taking care not to move the fennel. Add ½ cup of water, pop your lid back on and bubble away for 15-20 minutes. It should be tender but still a little firm when pierced with a sharp knife.
Remove the fennel from the pan to a plate. Pour in the mirin and ¼ cup of water. Add the butter and scraping the caramelized bits from the pan as you go, stir well. When it’s reduced by roughly half, add the chopped feathery fennel tops.
Place a mound of lentils on four plates, distribute the fennel, cut-side-up and spoon the sauce over the top of the fennel.There was also a salad, dressed with red wine vinegar and an orange-scented olive oil.
There was a dense, Passover-friendly cake too.
As promised, here is my version of matzoh balls. The recipe makes enough to float in four bowls of broth. Most recipes seem to require a very long poaching and a huge dose of schmaltz (chicken fat) but these are lightened considerably by the ricotta. Of course, if you were making real chicken soup you couldn’t use the ricotta – kosher laws forbid the mixture of milk and meat.
100g of fresh ricotta
¼ cup of light olive oil, plus more for rolling
2 tablespoons of water
2 tablespoons of finely chopped parsley
1 tablespoon of sea salt (I know, I know, but they need to taste of something)
Pinch of saffron threads, crumbled
A few grinds of black pepper
Just less than 1 cup of matzoh meal
½ teaspoon of baking powder
Whisk the egg with the ricotta, oil, water, parsley, salt, saffron and pepper in a bowl until smooth.
Mix the matzoh meal and baking soda together in another bowl, and then gently fold into the ricotta mixture. Leave to rest for 15 minutes.
Lightly oil your hands and, using very heaped teaspoonfuls, roll the mixture into small, rounded spheres. You’ll need to press the mixture together pretty forcefully as you do this lest they disintegrate as they poach (this is heart-breaking and very irritating). Leave to dry out a little and form a ‘crust’ on a plate for an hour or two. Keep away from the cat. Naughty cat.
Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. Turn the heat down to its lowest possible setting and wait until there is only the odd bubble rising to the surface. Now gently lower the dumplings into the water. There will be a little bit of disintegration, but mostly, they’ll stay together well. When they rise to the surface let them poach in their warm bath for 2-3 minutes and then remove with a slotted spoon to a plate.
These will keep, covered in the fridge, for at least 6 hours, until you are ready to sit them at the bottom of a bowl and ladle the golden broth over them.
Thank goodness I only have to do this once a year.