Sometimes, it’s the simple things

When cooking for my clients, I often end up picking a favorite dish of the week. It could be something complicated, with lots of steps, or something requiring a lot of time. It could be a whole meal I love, or something as simple as a sauce. Every once in a while, it’s a humble side salad. Such was the case this week.

I was making a southern-style meal, with biscuits, a black-eyed pea stew, white asparagus, and cole slaw. Cole slaw is easy, and while I used to think I needed a recipe, I’ve realized that I don’t. It’s mayonnaise, vinegar, sugar, salt, and pepper, and I generally use a cheat of pre-shredded cole slaw vegetables, because that’s all it is: just the veggies.

Today, as I was reaching into the fridge to grab the mayo, I spotted the tahini. So I grabbed both. And this simple cole slaw was born.

Tahini cole slaw

1/4 cup mayonnaise (veganaise)
1/4 cup tahini
Juice of one lemon
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp smoked paprika
Salt
Pepper
3 cups pre-shredded cole slaw vegetables

Place the mayo and tahini in a large bowl, and whisk to blend. Add the lemon juice, sugar, paprika, salt, and pepper, and whisk until smooth and well blended. Toss in the vegetables, and mix well with a big spoon. Garnish with extra smoked paprika (because it’s awesome).

The END!

Gratin of my dreams

I have an Aunt Carol who is fabulous. Truth be told, she’s my step aunt, but I’ve known her as long as I can remember, and she’s so awesome, I can’t not claim her. If my memory serves me correctly, in the early ’70s, she and her equally fabulous husband first moved to Bern, Switzerland, producer of – in my opinion – the world’s best chocolate, where they taught, sang, and accompanied opera. Then, they moved to northern Germany (#2 in chocolate, but it’s a close second), where they continue to live, teach, sing, and breathe opera today.

Now, as I said, Aunt Carol is fabulous, so being fabulous, she has to study and become fluent in Greek after the age of, like, 65. Well, she lives in Germany, which is about 5 minutes from Greece, and lucky me, she’s not vegan, but allergic to dairy, so I am the happiest beneficiary of her notes about Greek peasant food that she eats or actually participates in making. I live vicariously.

Based on Aunt Carol’s descriptions, I’ve added freshly grated turmeric to mashed or roasted potatoes, and improvised a pumpkin pie surrounded in phyllo, which always gets comments like, “Mmmm, it’s like baklava!” Tonight, based on her rough description of a casserole, I came up with this absolutely DELICIOUS gratin. I don’t know how much it tasted like the one Aunt Carol ate on her last trip to Greece, but I assure you, it made me swoon.

Greek eggplant and potato gratin

  • 1 cup olive oil, divided
  • 1 lrg eggplant, thinly sliced cross-wise, about 1/4″ thick
  • 6 red-skin potatoes, sliced about 1/4″ thick
  • 1 14-oz can tomato sauce
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 yellow onion, sliced
  • Coarse salt to taste

Preheat the oven to 425°. Spray a 9×13″ casserole pan with cooking spray. Heat a large cast iron pan over a little lower than medium-high heat. Add about 1/4 cup of oil to the pan, and fry the eggplant slices in batches, adding oil as needed, until golden or a little darker. Place the tomato sauce, lemon juice, and cinnamon in a bowl, and whisk to combine. Pour about a third of the tomato sauce into the bottom of the casserole pan, layer on half of the potato slices, half of the eggplant, one-third of the tomato sauce, the other half of the potatoes and eggplant, the onion slices, and the last third of sauce. Drizzle on whatever is left of the olive oil. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for about an hour. Test the potato for doneness by poking it with a sharp knife. If it’s soft, uncover the gratin, and bake for another ten or fifteen minutes until bubbling. Generously sprinkle on the coarse salt (Maldon is my preference), and serve.

Heaven Scent

They say your memory is strongly connected to your sense of smell. I don’t know what that means in terms of your brain, but I think for many people – especially for food lovers – it’s absolutely true that a particular smell can bring back a memory you didn’t even realize you had, until you’re there, in the moment, carried to a far away time or a far away place.

For some reason, every time I walk into the Whole Foods in Oakland, I am transported to my mother’s kitchen, where my step-father – who had cerebral palsy, and couldn’t stand for too long without getting very uncomfortable, so rarely cooked – would be standing at the stove making booze dogs. Barbecue sauce, a LOT of Black Velvet whiskey, and kosher hot dogs sliced into bite-size pieces. They were amazingly, absurdly delicious, and had such a distinct smell. And something they make in their kitchen at that particular Whole Foods smells exactly like them. And I haven’t smelled that booze dog smell in my mother’s kitchen in decades, but you better believe I know it when I smell it.

Another smell I’ve never smelled anywhere but at its source, is the fragrant potatoey scent of roasted potatoes made by my first host mother in France. I lived in the Loire Valley for about a year 25 years ago, but the smell of ma chere Gazou’s roasting potatoes is one of my top five favorites (guessing, I’ve never actually counted). Sadly, I have no idea how she made them, other than with some magic. I’ve roasted potatoes many many MANY times, and they always taste and smell great, but not like Gazou’s. Well, at least until today.

Country-style French roasted potatoes

  • 12 red-skinned potatoes, chopped
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp dried oregano
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • Salt to taste

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Spray a cookie sheet with cooking spray, then add the potato chunks. Drizzle the olive oil on, rub the oregano between your hands, and sprinkle on, add the lemon zest, and salt, and toss the potatoes with your hands until well coated. Roast for 45 minutes or so, tossing after 20 minutes. They should be crisp.

Avocado pesto potato salad

Okay. This is so good and SO easy. And SO GOOD.

  • 2 or 3 generous handfuls broccoli florets, broken or chopped into small pieces
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 10 smallish red-skinned potatoes, cubed into 1/2″ dice
  • Handful basil
  • 2 or 3 handfuls spinach and arugula
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 3/4 cup walnuts
  • Juice of 1/2 of a lemon
  • 1 tbsp kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 ripe but firm avocados
  • 1/2 – 1 cup olive oil

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place broccoli on a cookie sheet, drizzle with olive oil, and roast for about 14 minutes, stirring halfway through cooking time.

Meanwhile, place potatoes in a medium saucepan and cover with water. Cover and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Leave lid ajar, and reduce heat to medium. Simmer for about 7 minutes, and taste. The potatoes should be cooked all the way through, but still firm. Drain and pour into a large bowl. Pour broccoli into the bowl.

Place the basil, greens, walnuts, garlic, lemon juice, salt, and avocados into the bowl of a food processor, and start the machine. Stream in the olive oil until the avocados are completely pureed and the texture is pesto-like. Pour some pesto – not all of it, start with about a cup – onto the potatoes and broccoli, and toss. Add more pesto, if desired. Use left-over pesto on fettucine.