Thursday, November 26, 2009


It sort of seems like kale is everywhere, doesn't it? Maybe not as everywhere as the term "cougar" or Twitter, but it's popping up a lot recently. We have had kale several times in our CSA box. Then, we had it from JB's CSA box in New York over the weekend when we were visiting, and now we're going to have it today as one of the Thanksgiving side dishes. Kale was even the answer to a clue in the NYT crossword puzzle from 11/22 (we're finishing it up today).

I've learned to appreciate kale's fall-winter taste, but I never thought of it as particularly pretty, and certainly not as a species for a planned and terraced garden. Until, that is, we went to the Sarah Duke gardens at Duke University a few days ago (B and I have been traveling around the entire country this past week). And there, we saw a whole garden full of autumn vegetables planted in ornamental rows.

That's right! You spy cabbage roses and Swiss chard, and in the back left, purple kale. Strangely beautiful, right?

I only have one real way to cook kale. I cook it with olive oil, slivered garlic, and salt. The secret is to saute the garlic in olive oil first, until brown and nutty, and then to add the sliced kale and stir for five minutes or so, until it wilts. (You can squeeze some lemon juice at the end and add red pepper flakes if you so desire.) Quite simple to prepare, but also quite delicious and complex in flavor for such a minimal number of ingredients.

The best part is that you can adapt this recipe (really, more of a technique) to all sorts of vegetables, particularly those of the fall-winter variety. The produce has changed, in the store and in the CSA box, confirming once again that fall is here. Sometimes it's nice to see that change in the grocery store, though, because it can seem like there are so very many out-of-season vegetables available from South America. It's nice to have strawberries in winter, but they often don't taste very good.

But back to the technique: one of my favorite vegetables (other than kale, of course) to use it with is broccoli. I love broccoli. A little less, maybe, than I love cauliflower, but I end up cooking it a fair amount because B does not share my devotion to cauliflower. The same basic technique applies to broccoli, but you have to add a little bit of water so that the broccoli steams and then sautes in the same pan.

Last week, when we had J&C over for dinner, I cooked four broccoli crowns for the four of us (we also had flank steak, my go-to as it was a weeknight dinner party). It was pretty popular, and this was all that was left of the broccoli (thankfully, a convenient amount for lunch the next day).

As I've made this recipe/technique a number of times, I've learned that it can be the basis for a lot of variations. One of my favorites is to add a splash of sesame oil during the cooking, and then toss the cooked broccoli with a tablespoon of sesame seeds and a tablespoon of soy sauce for an Asian-inspired side. I'm sure you can come up with variations of your own, from vegetable choice to seasonings. Random bag of braising greens from your CSA box? This is the perfect recipe, my default if you will. Use the technique with whatever vegetable you desire, but most of all, enjoy!

Sauteed Broccoli with Garlic

Serves: 4 as side dish, with leftovers
Time: 15 minutes active and total

2 T. olive oil
3 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced thinly
4 broccoli crowns, divided into florets
1/2 c. water
1/2 t. salt, or more to taste

In a 12-inch frying pan (I use my Scanpan), heat the olive oil until shimmering over medium-high heat. Add garlic and saute until lightly browned, stirring and flipping with a wooden spoon. Turn heat off, and allow to cool for 3-5 minutes. Then add broccoli and water, and turn back to medium-high heat. Cook for 5-7 minutes, stirring frequently, or until water has evaporated and broccoli has turned bright green and is starting to brown. Sprinkle salt and serve immediately. Broccoli can be cooked several hours ahead of time, covered, and then reheated on the stove or in the microwave before serving.

P.S. With all this talk about kale and broccoli, you might think I've forgotten that I'm typing this post on Thanksgiving. It would be hard for me to forget, however, because I'm writing at my parents' house in San Diego while my mom is running around like a whirling dervish (and has been since 3am). We will be 14 for Thanksgiving dinner, and there are approximately 52 pounds of turkey waiting to be cooked. We like leftovers, thank goodness. (B&K, who are cooking a 12-pound turkey for just the two of them, still have us beat in ppp—pounds per person, that is.)

You see, this is the first time we have done a turkey cook-off. (The other theme of dinner is "Homage to the Final Issue of Gourmet"; the kale I mentioned earlier, along with almost every other side dish, will be directly from the magazine.) First, a traditional stuffed turkey will be oven-roasted. Another will be spit-roasted on the outdoor barbecue (not dissimilar in spirit to the delicious vinegar-spiced pulled pork we ate in North Carolina a few days ago), and the final one will be deep-fried.

My parents bought a special turkey-fryer for the occasion. The imprinted text, which is difficult to read in the picture, says, among other advisories: "Caution: hot." In case you hadn't figured it out, the large amount of oil will get very hot, and subsequently will cook the turkey very rapidly (only 3 1/2 minutes per pound!). The directions that come with the fryer say in big scary red letters:


We're going to have a fire extinguisher nearby, and my dad's going to wear safety goggles. I think it's going to be very exciting. I'll keep you posted about the results, both of the fried turkey and the turkey taste-off. We may take a poll at dinner, to keep it as objective as possible.

For now, though, Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Peter, Peter

San Francisco is finally experiencing summer. Which is strange, of course, because it's now officially November. Seventy degrees in November? J and other B need to stop delaying the inevitable and move back here already!

Since the weather isn't convincing me, one harbinger of autumn is that Daylight Savings is officially over, and it gets dark so very early. It reminds me of ninth grade when the end of Daylight Savings basically spelled the end of the JV field hockey season. I loved field hockey; I was a midfielder who ran down the field in my plaid skirt and shin-guards and smacked the ball with the stick my dad had hand-crafted in his workshop. The JV squad always played games after the varsity team, which was fine for the first half of the season; unfortunately, by the second half of the season, post-Daylight Savings, the ref would call our games at half-time or even earlier because of impending darkness. Which was so totally unfair.

But enough memories of far away high school past for now. Also reminding me of fall is the pumpkin patch set up in the vacant lot across the street, complete with scarecrows and hay rides for the kiddies (though it will soon morph into a Christmas tree lot since Halloween is over). We bought our pumpkins there before we went to a pumpkin-carving party at V's last week. B went a little crazy with the detail work by using a special little pumpkin-carving hacksaw.

B's eyes are not as bloodshot as the pumpkin's, but the mouth expression is quite similar, no? Everyone else's pumpkins were pretty good too, though there was an awful lot of Texas pride exhibited for a California party. My rather traditional, angry-eyebrowed pumpkin is to the right of B's on the bottom level.

We haven't gotten pumpkin in the CSA box, but we have been getting squash regularly, last week of the butternut variety. Though he likes squash, B starts to clamor for pumpkin every fall. Pumpkin ice cream is pretty good (though there are better options in my opinion), but his favorite is Afghan pumpkin, which I have to agree is pretty delicious.

So, last week, when we bought our two pumpkins for carving at the local pumpkin patch, we also bought a Sugar Pie pumpkin for cooking. I've made pumpkin ravioli in the Afghan style before, but this year I decided to experiment with kaddo bourani, a slab of melt-in-your-mouth pumpkin served with meat sauce and drizzled with yogurt.

It's typically served as an appetizer or a side dish, but it is definitely substantial enough for dinner. I found a recipe published in the San Francisco Chronicle a few years ago from our favorite Afghan restaurant, Helmand. (Rumor has it that the owner is related to Hamid Karzai, but that may not be such a selling point these days.) I was disturbed to find out that it's not all natural pumpkin sweetness that you taste: there's quite a lot of sugar in the dish! The slightly spicy meat sauce and the cooling mint yogurt cut the sweetness; the perfect bite consists of all three components in nearly equal proportions.

When you're cleaning the pumpkin (whether for carving—next October, I guess—or for cooking), save the seeds. Spread them evenly on a cookie sheet lined with parchment, sprinkle generously with kosher salt and lightly with ground cumin, and bake for 8 to 10 minutes at 350 degrees, or until toasted. They're a delicious, healthy snack, best eaten the day you make them.

This pumpkin dish is one of the only ways I've ever seen pumpkin cooked as a main course, and not as a dessert. It's still sweet, like I mentioned, but the sweetness suits the natural flavor of the pumpkin (and I did cut down on the sugar in my adaptation below). The Chronicle describes this as a "weekend recipe" since it takes a good bit of time from start to finish. If you're not willing to invest four hours upfront (though a lot of it is unattended time), go to Helmand or your local Afghan restaurant first to try kaddo bourani. After you do, I'm sure you'll return to this post so that you can try making your own savory pumpkin dish at home. Enjoy!

Afghan-style Pumpkin with Meat and Yogurt Sauce (Kaddo Bourani)
Adapted from a recipe from Helmand

Serves: 4 for dinner, or 8 for appetizer
Time: 4 hours total, 30 minutes active

1 Sugar Pie pumpkin
3 T. canola oil
1 c. sugar

For the meat sauce:
2 T. olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3/4 pound ground beef
1 tomato, chopped
1 clove garlic, smashed
1 t. ground coriander
1/2 t. cayenne pepper
1/2 t. turmeric
1/2 t. salt
1 T. tomato paste
1 c. water

For the yogurt sauce:
1 1/2 c. yogurt
1 clove garlic, smashed
1/2 t. dried mint, or more to taste
1/2 t. salt, or more to taste

First, prepare the pumpkin. Preheat oven to 300 degrees, and line a rimmed cookie sheet with foil. Using a large knife, cut pumpkin in half through the stem end, and clean out the seeds and stringy fibers. Cut pumpkin into quarters, and then cut each quarter in half crosswise. Place pumpkin pieces hollow-side-up on the foil, and coat evenly with oil using your fingers. Cover loosely with another piece of foil. Bake for 1 hour, until fork tender. Remove cookie sheet from oven, and allow pumpkin to cool for 10 minutes or so. When cool enough to touch, use a small paring knife to remove the rind from each pumpkin piece, then place each piece back on cookie sheet. Sprinkle evenly with sugar, and return to oven, loosely covered with foil, for another 2 1/4 hours until very soft. Baste with pan juices once during cooking.

Meanwhile, make the meat sauce. Heat olive oil in a heavy saucepan until hot but not smoking. Saute onions for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until softened and lightly browned. Add meat, breaking up pieces, and cook for 5 minutes or until no longer pink, stirring frequently. Add tomato, garlic, coriander, cayenne, turmeric, and salt, and cook for another 5 minutes. Stir in tomato paste, and add water. Once water boils, turn heat to medium-low and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes until a sauce forms. Meat sauce may be made ahead of time, and heated up as needed.

Make the yogurt sauce by stirring all ingredients together in a small bowl. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

To serve, place a small dollop of yogurt sauce on a plate. Top with a piece of pumpkin. Spoon 1/4 c. or so of meat sauce over the pumpkin, and drizzle with more yogurt sauce.