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Beet Slaw

I thought the weather and I had come to a tacit understanding: I toughen up, make it through the gunk of winter; it gives me a few months of summer during which I can live relatively unmolested by it. But after a freak hailstorm that caused EIGHT THOUSAND DOLLARS worth of damage to my car last week, all bets are off. You hear me, weather? I don’t think you’re so cool anymore! I’m gonna complain my eyes out if I feel like it.

It happens to be a nice day today, so I’ll spare you any further grumbling. The humidity is low, the sun is high. I’m in an office, but dreaming of sponging up some sunshine soon. Here’s a recipe that’s perfect for a picnic, and’ll get you out of the kitchen quickly. Tristan showed me this a few months ago. You can eat the slaw on its own, in a salad, over brown rice, or stuffed in sandwiches. It’s tangy, sweet, fantastic. Beets are in the same family as spinach, chard, and quinoa, and are jam-packed with phytonutrients–their health benefits are matched only by their deliciousness.

Beet Slaw

3 small beets (or equivalent), peeled and shredded
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
1 tbsp. dijon mustard
2 tbsp. orange-champagne vinegar (or white wine vinegar with a little orange juice)
salt and pepper
olive oil

In a bowl, whisk the garlic, mustard, vinegar, salt, and pepper together. Drizzle in the olive oil until all the liquids emulsify. Pour over the shredded beets. Will keep for about a week in the fridge.

Two Tamarind Dips

Sometimes I just don’t know how we aren’t all crawling around bruised and vulnerable, changed by every face we take in, every body we bump into, every passing breeze. Or maybe it’s just me–a peeled banana, a soft-shelled crab, mostly exposed belly. This has nothing to do with food. I’m just amazed that our amorphous collection of cells congeals into something like a discrete identity, and we forget how fluid and vulnerable we actually are as beings.

Maybe it does have to do with food, in that food is ultimately a social thing. The means of exchange, the way we bump into each other. Meet for drinks, a burger. Make a connection.

I flew to Seattle over the weekend, and, at the airport, spent my time fascinated by faces–completely distanced, taking them in as if they were an alien species. Then, spent time with dear friends and felt the opposite–so connected. They fed me and the sun was shining. It looked like this:

Chicago hasn’t gotten there yet. It’s still gray and cold and the wind likes to blow rain in my face and turn my umbrella inside out. Chicago keeps toying with my emotions: a sunny day, then crushing brutality. This waiting for spring has been awful.

Lest I ramble any longer and not get to the recipe, I present you with these tamarind dips: tangy, bright, springlike. Bring them to a party with crudites or bread or crackers. Socialize, get out of the rain.

Tamarind-Chickpea Dip

5 cloves of garlic, peeled
1 c. dried chickpeas
2–3 curry leaves (ok to omit if not available)
2–3 bay leaves
1 preserved lemon, rinsed (or zest of one lemon)
1/2 c. cilantro
2 tbsp. Greek yogurt
2 tbsp. silken tofu
2 tsp. curry powder
1 tsp. tamarind
salt and pepper
olive oil (about 1 c.)

Rinse the chickpeas and pick out any that seem discolored. Cover with water in a large pot. Soak for 8 hours or overnight.

Rinse the chickpeas, and then return to pot. Cover amply with water, at least by several inches. Add 3 cloves of garlic, bay leaves, and curry leaves, and bring to a boil. Boil for an hour or two, until they are cooked through. Drain and let cool. Of course, you can just use canned chickpeas if you prefer.

In a food processor, combine chickpeas with all the other ingredients. Drizzle in olive oil as you pulse until it becomes smooth. Adjust salt and pepper to taste.

Tamarind-Peanut Dip

1 clove of garlic, peeled
1 small cube of fresh ginger, peeled (about the same size as the garlic)
1/2 c. cilantro
3/4 c. peanut butter
1 1/2 tbsp. tamarind
1 red chili pepper
4 tbsp. silken tofu
2 scallions, white part only

Combine all in a food processor until smooth. Adjust salt to taste.

Orange Marmalade

Sunshine, my best friend, you’re back! Peggy Lee says it best:

Thanks to Kelly & our conversation at dinner the other night, I’m completely in a Peggy Lee mood today. She is so fantastic. Sassy, sultry, sardonic. Funny. Billie Holiday (whom I also adore), can sing the same song (like “My Man,” for instance), and it wrenches your guts with sadness. When Peggy Lee sings it, you feel like she’s the one getting the last laugh. And today, I’m in the mood for Peggy’s version of the story. Peggy Lee reminds me of LA a little bit, perhaps they share the same sensibility–that sort of midcentury ebullience. She could fit easily in a Raymond Chandler novel, sauntering in the detective’s office with a wild tale about a missing lover. How can I not miss LA on a sunny day like this with this soundtrack? Especially when thinking about orange marmalade, when so much of the city was once covered in orange groves?

I’m going out to enjoy the sunshine. And you should too. So maybe make the Orange Marmalade manana.

Orange Marmalade

6 oranges
2 1/2 c. water
1/8 tsp. baking soda
5 1/2 c. sugar
1 package of pectin

Wash your jars and their lids.

Bring a tea kettle of water to a boil.

Bring a large pot, half-full with water, to a simmer. Add the clean jars, and pour the water from the tea kettle over them and turn off the heat. Let them sit in the hot water until you’re ready to use them (drain before using them).

Remove the colored part of the oranges with a vegetable peeler and chop finely. I used a food processor to get them pretty fine. Cut off the white part (this is bitter), and then chop the fruit itself into fine chunks, and reserve the fruit.

Place peels, water, and baking soda in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add fruit and juice, simmer 10 minutes.

Add the pectin to the saucepan. Bring mixture to a full rolling boil on high heat. The pectin box describes this as a boil that doesn’t stop bubbling when you stir it.

Add the sugar and return to a full rolling boil. Boil for exactly one minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat, and skim off any foam.

Ladle quickly into the prepared jars, leaving about 1/8-inch space at the top. Wipe jar rims and cover with lids. Screw bands tightly and place bars back in the large pot full of water. Make sure the water covers jars by an inch or two. Cover and bring back to a boil for 10 minutes. Remove and place upright on a towel to cool. Once they’ve cooled, check seals by pressing middle of lid with finger. If lid springs back, lid is not sealed and refrigeration is necessary.

Let stand at room temperature for at least 24 hours.

You can store the jam for about a year in the cupboard, or, once opened, about 3 weeks in the fridge.

Preserved Lemons

Good morning Saturday, good morning coffee, good morning sunshine. We’ve had our first thaw and the dunes of snow have melted away, leaving little islands of dirty ice here and there in seas of dead grass. The snow was prettier, but I’m happy for the sunshine, the vitamin D, the seratonin. I have a bit of a dull  head today from yesterday’s poker night, in which I lost my shirt (not literally–not that kind of poker), but did so with some aplomb for a beginner, according to Dustin.

Chalcy made me dinner last night, and I met her friends Dominique and Sandrine, who were traveling from Normandy to do various WWOOFing projects throughout the Midwest. It’s a program I’ve been hearing more about lately (though it’s been around since the seventies)–a worldwide network in which labor is exchanged on small, organic farms for food, lodging, and education about sustainable farming. It sounds wonderful: cultural exchange around food and growing practices; meeting people with the only common denominator being work and food. It seems to reflect a greater cultural romanticism in America–the idea of earthiness and labor as the exotic in a foreign exchange (unlike the yearning for ancient cosmopolitan cities when I was an exchange student). Anyways, they seemed to be having a great time. They were lovely people, and gracious about the six ill-pronounced words I know in French.

I was going to post my mushroom-pea risotto today (as Dominique and Sandrine seemed especially excited when I told them I liked to make it), which is  another recipe that benefits greatly from the preserved lemons Rachel bestowed upon me in December. But I realized I should first go ahead and give you the recipe to these delicious puppies outright. Perhaps you might want to make them yourselves instead of substituting regular lemon all the time.

Don’t get me wrong, a regular lemon is a fine thing in and of itself. Sometimes, it just takes a squeeze to bring out flavors you never thought possible in a dish. But these are lemons on steroids. The Ahhnold of lemons. The northern African practice of preserving them in brine and spices brings out the citrusy oils until they buzz. They are salty, so, depending on the recipe, you may want to rinse them off or adjust your use of salt considerably.

Preserved Lemons
from Mark Bittman‘s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian
Makes about 1 quart

1 cup Kosher salt
3 pounds lemons, washed, dried, then halved
1 cinnamon stick
2 or 3 cloves
1 pinch of saffron
4 or 5 black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
2 to 3 cardamon pods

Sterilize a 1-quart canning jar and sprinkle a ¼-inch-deep layer of Kosher salt on the bottom. Place ¼ of the lemons in the bottom, sprinkling with more salt. Repeat this process, adding the spices along the way. When the jar is about ¾ full, squeeze the remaining lemons into the jar, seeds and all, so the fruit is completely submerged in the lemon and salt brine. If the juice doesn’t cover the lemons, add more lemon juice. Cover the jar with the sterilized cap.

Leave the jar out on a counter for 7-10 days, shaking it once a day during the curing time (you’ll notice interesting chemical things going on during that time, as the mixture bubbles and the spices swell up).

Move the jar into the refrigerator for the next week to continue curing the lemons before you use them. When they have finished curing, remove the lid and smell. They should smell sweet with a citrusy aroma – if you smell ammonia, the lemons are no good and should not be used (this means that air got in during the process or your jar wasn’t sterile).

If you are using the lemons in a stew or a tagine, you can blanch them in boiling water for 10 seconds to remove a little of the heavy saltiness. For salads or other quickly cooked dishes, remove the flesh and blanch the peel in boiling water, then add to dishes.