Archive for March, 2011

Red beet salad with parsley and chives

24 March 2011

A few days ago “Spring has sprung!” was on everyone’s lips. It was irresistible, I even caught myself humming it. And I should know better. As long as I have lived in New York, spring has never sprung here. It fumbles, stumbles, advances two balmy afternoons, retreats five frigid days, and, just as winter finally seems to capitulate, spring gets bullied away by summer.

It was 20 degrees (Celsius, which is about 70°F) last Friday and we had our first picnic. Now it is raining, snowing, and hailing intermittently. It’s treacherous because the warm days are just enough to conjure visions of light dresses, and coax out the daffodils in the park and the chives on my balcony.

So as winter meets spring, and no one is quite sure which one it really is, I imagined a hybrid salad. The chives, shivering in the snow, were a nice way to springify the enormous beet salad I made to finish the last vegetables in the fridge before going off on holiday. Two weeks of skiing in the Haute Savoie, plenty of cheeses to eat and Abymes to drink. I will report back.


Whole raw beets

Flat-leaved parsley

Good olive oil

Juice from 1 lemon

Maldon sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper



Peel and grate the beets with the fine setting of a hand-held grater or food processor. Wash and finely chop the parsley.

Mix the beets with a generous douse of olive oil, freshly pressed lemon juice, salt, and pepper, checking the seasoning as you go and adjusting to taste. Mix in the parsley.

Roughly cut the chives into 1/2 inch (1 cm) pieces and toss into the salad.

Eating out | Trip to the Balkans at Kafana

21 March 2011

I went to Kafana only once but I think it’s worth telling. It was my introduction to Balkan food.

Kafana is a small, brick-walled restaurant in the East Village on Avenue C, barely a block away from where we lived when we first moved to New York (it didn’t exist then). I went with a group of friends with whom I go out regularly, about once every 2 months. We are a fairly international bunch and each time one of us chooses a restaurant from her home country.

Sabina is Bosnian but the good Bosnian restaurant in the city apparently closes too early, so she took us to Kafana. Kafana serves Serbian food, which, as I understand it, is similar to Bosnian food, with pork.

The dishes were served family style. The first plates arrived laden with spinach-and-feta–filled phyllo pies, but the star on the table was the Lepinja sa Kajmakom, an incredibly fluffy yeasted flatbread served, as advertised, “warm with creamy spread.” Then came platters of cured meats and cheese: smoked pork, beef sausage, but also cured lamb, and cow-milk feta that was pleasantly silky and mild.

More meats for the main course – peasant sausage; smoked pork loin; chicken kebabs; prunes stuffed with chicken livers or walnuts and cheese, all wrapped in bacon – were nicely complemented by simple salads. The classic Sopsa (tomato, cucumber, onion, and feta cheese) and Kupus – thinly sliced red cabbage dressed with oil and vinegar.

And, at some point, we ate Prebranac, Serbian baked beans. I can’t remember exactly when they arrived but I know I could think of little else for the rest of the evening, and they’ve been on my mind ever since. Coincidentally, I remember reading about Prebranac on Cooking Books a short while ago, and Sabina sent me her recipe – the lima beans are first cooked with onions and sweet paprika before being baked in the oven. So I now happily have two recipes on hand and no excuse not to make them.

The desserts were sour cherry pie, crepes with jam or chocolate, chocolate and walnut cake, and Zito, a barely sweetened mix of cooked wheat, sugar, and nuts. Slightly unusual at first and quickly quite addictive.

I will go back. To try more dishes, and, yes, eat Prebranac.

Kafana (KAΦAHA)

116 Avenue C (betw. 7th and 8th St.)
New York, NY 10009


Open Mon-Thu 5pm-11pm, Fri 5pm-1pm, Sat 12.30pm-1am, Sun 12.30pm-11pm

Cash only

Cookbooks | The River Café Cook Books

10 March 2011

It wasn’t exactly fair that my first mention of the River Café Cook Books was about one recipe – the only recipe from these books until now – that didn’t turn out to be at least as good as I had anticipated. The truth is that these cookbooks have, more than anything else, inspired the way I cook.

The River Café in question is the London restaurant created by Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers in 1987 as the employee cafeteria for Richard Roger’s architectural practice, which became a culinary phenomenon with far-reaching repercussions as its young chefs (Jamie Oliver, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Sam and Sam Clark, April Bloomfield, etc) created ripples of their own (and yes I do own cookbooks by all of them, well, except April Bloomfield who is currently working on hers).

I acquired the Yellow River Café Cook Book in 1998, and the others since, and I have cooked many recipes from each of them, some of which many times.

The biggest impact has possibly come from the chapter on wood-roasted vegetables (Riv Caf Yellow pp146-179). It includes a slew of recipes for carrots, beets, cherry tomatoes, asparagus, red onions, etc., which are tossed in a dressing of olive oil, vinegar, garlic, and herbs before being roasted in the oven. Frankly, I didn’t use to like cooked vegetables that much (salad is another story). But prepared this way, they become mouth-wateringly vibrant, exciting, completely delicious, and I seem to have lost the ability to make vegetables any other way – it may be time to revisit my repertory.

The other big revelation was the Café cookbooks’ cakes, which are usually high in eggs and butter, gently sweet, and incredibly moist. I have yet to find one that I wouldn’t want to make again, and again, and again. In fact I feel bad for the dessert sections of my other cookbooks. For just a taste – and really I should include photos and descriptive notes – consider these: polenta, almond, and lemon cake (Blue p288); bitter chocolate toasted hazelnut torte (Yellow p322); pear, honey, and polenta cake (Green p356); the completely addictive pistachio and almond cake with lemon sugar syrup (Easy p240).

But there are other recipes I cannot repeat often enough. The zucchini and prosciutto bruschetta with herbs and lemon zest (Green p270); a fig, buffalo mozzarella, and basil salad (Green p332); sea bass slashed and stuffed with herbs (Yellow p232); guinea fowl pan-roasted with milk and marjoram (Yellow p258); or the insanely time-intensive but completely-worth-it ribollita (Blue p36).

And the wonderful thing is, there are plenty of recipes I still haven’t tried.


4 March 2011

In our house lentils are known as “cowboy food.” I still haven’t understood exactly why, but Thomas peddles his lentils-with-a-fried-egg dinner as such. And it works very well. The children might even call it their favorite dinner – it’s all about marketing, really.

Or it’s inherited, because we all love lentils, and I make them often as a side, especially in winter. Lentils were great with slow-roasted pork shoulder and sautéed baby bok choy, but they are also delicious with grilled salmon and braised fennel. Or with a fried egg. Seriously. Surely you can already hear the crackling embers of the campfire, the gurgle of whiskey poured into tin cups, horses neighing nearby…

I like this technique for cooking lentils, which breaks up the process into two basic steps: First cook the lentils in lots of water with aromatics and vegetables cut into large chunks until barely al dente. Remove from heat and discard the pieces of vegetables and herbs. Then brown more of the same vegetables, finely diced, return the lentils to the pan with the vegetable mirepoix (the finely diced vegetables browned in olive oil), and reheat until the lentils are cooked to desired consistency.


This recipe uses red onions and fennel, but yellow onions work just as well, and carrots and/or celery replace the fennel perfectly. I change it according to my mood, the rest of the meal, or what happens to be in the house.

2 cups green lentils (preferably Castelluccio or du Puy)

2 medium red onions

2 bulbs fennel

A good handful of sprigs of flat-leaved parsley

2 bay leaves

[Pancetta, optional]

Olive oil

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Very good olive oil

Balsamic and red wine vinegar


Pick through the lentils to look for small stone intruders that must be discarded. To wash lentils, cover with cold water and drain in a fine mesh sieve.

Peel and cut into large chunks half an onion and half a fennel, reserving the rest for later.

Place lentils into a large saucepan with 4 cups (double the volume) water. Add the vegetable chunks, a few sprigs of parsley, and the bay leaves, bring to a boil and let simmer, covered, for about 20 minutes. Remove from heat when the lentils are just starting to soften but still retain a nice bite (they will cook a bit more later). Discard the sprigs of parsley, bay leaves, and vegetable chunks, pour the lentils into a large bowl, and set aside. Quickly rinse and dry the saucepan for reuse.

Finely dice the rest of the vegetables, and wash and finely chop the rest of the parsley.

[If using, cook the pancetta until crispy, remove from pan, and cut into small strips]

Heat enough olive oil to cover the base of the saucepan. Add the onion and cook until nicely brown, stirring occasionally. Add the fennel and sweat for a few minutes until it becomes translucent. Add the lentils with some of the excess liquid. **The lentils should remain moist and shiny but not swimming in liquid. If necessary add of dash of plain water to prevent the lentils from drying out.** Season generously with salt and pepper and heat gently. The lentils will continue to cook, so test and remove from the stove when they have reached the desired consistency (I personally like lentils to retain some bite).

Check the salt and pepper seasoning, adjust, add 2 tablespoons of the best olive oil and 1 tablespoon each of balsamic and red wine vinegars [and the pancetta], stir in the chopped parsley, and serve warm.

Related recipes

Chidren’s dinner | Cowboy food

Spicy lentil and red kuri squash soup

Lentil and fennel salad with lemon and parsley

Slow-roasted pork shoulder (or butt)

2 March 2011

The long story of the slow-roasted pork shoulder starts in 1998, when I acquired my first cookbook: the River Cafe Cookbook Two (Yellow). The word at the time was that this wonderful cookbook not only had delicious recipes, but that they all worked. Indeed, this and the other River Cafe Cookbooks have been my number one go-to cookbooks over the years. I love the recipes and they always worked out very well.

For these past twelve years, the recipe for a slow-roasted shoulder of pork has smiled up at me, enticingly, from page 248, but I never tried it. One of the reasons was that I rarely ate pork, and never cooked pork, mainly because I could not find good pork. Until I discovered it at Union Square market; Flying Pigs Farm has single-handedly transformed me into a cooker of pork.

But I still didn’t make the slow-roasted pork shoulder. After so many years, the recipe seemed frozen in the forbidding aura of “I will make this one special day” dishes.

As I recently became somewhat fixated on slow-roasted lamb shoulders, and slow-cooked things in general, I gathered the necessary momentum to try the promising, melt-in-your-mouth, delicious slow pork. And it didn’t work. The recipe calls for “dry roasting” on an open rack in the oven. The flavor was amazing and the crackling skin predictably perfect, but the meat wasn’t falling off the bone. It was tasty and not forbiddingly dry, but not what I had expected. Since I had only been able to cook it the minimum suggested amount of time (8 hours), I decided that must be the problem. So I tried again. I cooked the second pork shoulder some 18 hours. Same result.

Rather than try to cook it even longer (the recipe says 8-24 hours), I decided to look elsewhere. Surely Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall must have a failproof slow-cooked pork in his River Cottage Meat Book. Alas, the recipe basically starts: “Actually, versions of this dish have already been enthusiastically championed by both the River Cafe and Nigella Lawson” and proceeds to give the same cooking method. Not helpful.

Now I really did acknowledge that the problem must be me, but I just wasn’t convinced that cooking the pork even longer would have done the trick, and how many pork shoulders need I bungle before the winter is over?

So I perused my cookbook shelves for a different recipe, one that cooked pork in a closed dish. And, not surprisingly, found it with David Chang. His cookbook Momofuku‘s pork shoulder for ramen has a simple salt/sugar rub, but I was looking for cooking time and temperature.

The answer is 6 hours at 250°F (120°C). It was perfect.


The quantities below are for a piece of meat of approximately 6 lbs (3 kg). The seasoning should be adjusted according to size, but the cooking time remains the same.

Note from March 2012: I have revised the cooking method. I believe starting the pork on low is a better guarantee to completely and deliciously tender meat, and finishing on high assures a crisp outside.

1 bone-in pork shoulder or butt

8 garlic cloves

2 Tbsps Maldon sea salt (1 Tbsp if using regular salt)

6 Tbsps fennel seeds

Freshly ground black pepper

3 small dried red chilies

2-3 Tbsps olive oil

Juice from 3 lemons


Preheat the oven to 250°F (120°C).

In a mortar, crush the garlic together with the salt, add the fennel seeds, a generous amount of back pepper, the crumbled chilies, and mix with the olive oil to create a thick paste.

Remove the skin and trim some of the fat. Cut deep, long gashes into the pork on all sides. Fill the gashes with the herb/spice mixture and rub all over the pork and place in an ovenproof dish with a lid (such as a Le Creuset dutch oven), then pour the lemon juice over the pork.

Cover with a tight fitting lid (or seal with aluminum foil) and cook in the low oven for 5 to 6 hours, basting occasionally.

(Optional: Finish by increasing the oven to 450°F (230°C), take off the lid, and brown on high heat for 20 to 25 minutes.)

Remove from the oven and let the meat rest for about 30 minutes before serving.

Note: Like most slow-cooked dishes, this pork will taste even better reheated. So if planning ahead, cook the pork on low the day before for about 4 1/2 hours to 5 hours. Let it cool slowly and once cold place it in the refrigerator. On the day you plan to serve the dish, reheat the meat at 250-300°F (120-150°C) for about 45 minutes, then turn up the heat to crisp up the outside as shown above — 450°F (230°C) for 20 to 25 minutes, as needed.


Related post:


Slow-roasted lamb shoulder

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