SobaWithWalnutsAre there enough compound descriptions of this dish for you?

I love soba–the buckwheat-based, spaghetti-like noodles served both hot and cold in Japan. There are many, many ways to dress them for a salad but the flavors usually skew Asian. I wanted to try a different direction, so I looked to where buckwheat is popular–Russia. Flavors in Russia itself can be a bit austere, but its neighbor, Georgia, is known for incredible food. Georgians love lots of garlic, onion, cilantro and chiles along with lots of Middle Eastern type spices as well as walnuts (yep, everything in Georgia seems to come back to walnuts). Buckwheat noodles love a good peanut sauce, so why not a spiced walnut one?

The first time I made this dish, it really proved how recipe development is so different from actual cooking. If I were just left to cook–adding a little of this and a little of that, I would have had something delicious on the first try. But with the formal process of development, I started with a plan that, at first, yielded a bland, bland sauce. So then, I added a bunch of ingredients to make it edible, but by that point, there was too much sauce and too few noodles and I lost track of all that I did. -Sigh.-

No matter. I tweaked the recipe, retested it and nailed it. The results are over on Food & Wine. 

 

Nancy Singleton Hachisu and Japanese Farm FoodI met Nancy Singleton Hachisu, author of the wonderful cookbook, Japanese Farm Food, for the first time a few years ago at the IACP conference. Her book was a few months from being published, and she introduced herself to tell me about it. I was immediately struck by the photographs–lots of beautiful vegetables being served in antique Japanese pottery. When I delved deeper into the book, I saw how simple the recipes were. It was food Alice Waters would cook if she lived in Japan. For example, as I mentioned in my last post, Nancy dresses her tomatoes with soy sauce, rice vinegar and oil–nothing else. It’s an absolute revelation and a nice break from the typical basil, salt and olive oil.

I was able to include her book as an editor’s pick in Food & Wine but I always hoped to do a larger story with her. Finally, finally, we cooked something up. Food & Wine‘s photo director and incredible photographer herself, Fredrika Stjarne, went to Japan last year to shoot Nancy on the farm. The results are in F&W‘s September issue which I just got in the mail. (You can find the recipes online).

I love that I got the chance to help Nancy tell her story in such a big, beautiful way to a larger audience. I only hope it gets more people curious about Japanese ingredients and proves how simple the dishes can be.

A Mexican Take on Ratatouille

 

Every Wednesday, I create a healthy recipe for Food & Wine that’s made to pair with a glass of wine, all for 600 calories or less (wine included!)

Ancho chiles have an appealing bitter, fruity, earthy flavor, and I just can’t get enough. For this late summer vegetarian stew, I saute onions, garlic, eggplant and zucchini, then add tomato and ancho puree. With a hit of sour cream and zingy salsa verde, it’s a satisfying dish for cool nights and great over brown rice or black beans  if you want to bulk it out. You can find the recipe here. Enjoy!

Tomato with Soy Sauce, Rice Vinegar, Browned Butter and Steak Juices

“Burgundy is a fickle and unreliable lover. It’s the source of more heartbreak than country music radio. Burgundy is like the girl with the curl in the nursery rhyme. When she’s good she’s very very good and when she’s bad she’s horrid.”–Jay McInerney

If you drink a lot of wine, you know the quote above to be true. I feel the same way about tomatoes. Yes, even the foodie-worshipped in-season heirloom type. Especially the heirloom type.

I live in New York City, where cooks wait through months and months of root vegetables for ramps, those musky wild leeks. Then it begins–the onslaught of asparagus, strawberries, snap peas, English peas, blueberries, raspberries, peaches, zucchini, eggplant and finally, finally, tomatoes that weren’t grown in a greenhouse.

We load up our canvas bags (who cares that they’re $6+ per pound!), walk home with them as delicately as possible and slice one greedily as soon as we get into the kitchen. Sometimes, it’s perfect. The color is saturated all the way through. The flesh can barely hold all of the liquid–it’s like a juicy piece of stained glass. The flavor is that perfect blend of sweet, tangy and savory with a slightly ferny quality that reminds you why you treat tomatoes like a vegetable, not the fruit that it is.

But sometimes, I find myself at home with imperfect tomatoes even though they looked great at the farm stand. They’re a little bit cottony or the slightest bit underripe. Even sadder, they bruise from the walk home and almost immediately start to ferment.

I’ve learned a few tips for choosing better tomatoes (for example, you really don’t want the heirlooms to be soft because it usually means their overripe) but I still feel like I have to hold my breath as a slice them. Will they be salad worthy or will I have to relegate them to sauce?

Luckily, we’ve already had one transcendent tomato experience this summer. The tomatoes were from the always reliable Eckerton Farms and part of a box I buy from a company called Quinciple. Inspired by my friend Nancy Singleton Hachinsu’s excellent book, Japanese Farm Food, I dressed them with a little soy sauce and rice vinegar. Then I cooked a steak (grassfed, from Quinciple, and one of about five we eat each year), which I basted with some butter, and poured those buttery steak juices over the tomatoes. It was ridiculous.

Since then, I’ve had some tomato heartbreak, and it’s leaving me wondering whether I want to invest my precious grocery dollars in such a “cruel lover” when there are so many other great vegetables to eat right now. I guess I could always stick with cherry tomatoes, which are less delicate and more reliably delicious if not capable of producing a religious. tomato. experience.

But driven by the goose-bump-inducing flavor memories of those tomatoes with steak juices, I’ll undoubtably shell out for more $6+/lb pound heirlooms at least once more this summer. Because soon enough, the root vegetables are coming and it’ll be a long wait once again for ramp season.