Cheese encrusted “grenki”, or the Russian take on French toast

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After a hiatus that probably felt longer for me than it did for you, I bring you a post about the things that sustain me lately: bread and tomatoes and breakfast. But mainly, I bring you an ode to a kitchen.

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My spatulas were gathered in an old tin container atop of a grease-splattered stove. It sat amongst curious little spice packages and a cream dish shaped like a kitten. It was not smart, modern, or all the things today’s kitchens should aspire to. It was homely and familiar.

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My counters were warped from water damage, peeling at the edges from careless dish washing, the damage from a hot pan, or too many turmeric spills. They were old and worn out, and I didn’t care for them. But they had a lovely golden splatter patina that they just don’t make anymore, whether because it’s gone out of style, or because it was truly inefficient. Perhaps both.

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My hallway was lined with cupboards, old and painted several layers of white paint. The top ones were so high I could hardly reach them from atop a stool, in all of my 5’2 glory (5’3 on driver’s license; I choose to believe the latter). They were filled to the brim with jars, staple pantry items like black rice and bulgur, and a soymilk-making machine. I loved them dearly. When I first walked into that kitchen, I could not imagine how I would ever fill them. When I moved out, I filled boxes with all the things that were left over, sending them to friends, family, to my new home across the country.

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I could wax poetic about every little part of that kitchen, where I spent an inordinate amount of time cooking, photographing, and trying different ways to put cilantro on a plate so it would look better. It was amongst those strange spice packets, atop that stained counter, in front of those wall-to-ceiling cupboards that this blog was born. It had become a place of solace during gloomy winter days, the backdrop for grumpy morning fights over all-too-rare breakfasts together, and the site of roaring laughter and clinking glasses during parties. I won’t be exaggerating if I said that it was the room where I spent the most time.

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It was also the perfect place to make breakfasts. When your eyes were still glued shut with cobwebs, and your brain was fuzzy from too much wine the night before, you could find your way across the cupboard-lined hallway and into the large space of the kitchen. You could lean on the counters, pull some stale homemade bread from a shelf, and scramble some fresh farm eggs while your favourite pan was preheating. You could chop onions and garlic with a sharp knife on a much-loved cutting board, and you wouldn’t worry about the spills. Perhaps, you could grate the brand of vegan cheese that you can only find in the cornerstore into a side bowl. You could pour oil into the preheated pan, dip your bread in the egg mixture, and, without thought, let it caramelize and crisp on a medium-high flame. You wouldn’t really have to worry about anything burning, because things rarely got too hot on that stove. You could stumble onto the little breakfast nook in the corner, bask in the sun’s rays at your back, drink some tea, and daydream while your bread fried in egg batter, turning into grenki, or the Russian variation on savory French toast. You could then sprinkle it all with some cheese and garlic, top with a tomato, and dig in.

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And now, you couldn’t do all that anymore. Or perhaps you could, but it would look different. The flame on the stovetop would be much lower, because my new stove burns everything. You wouldn’t want to sit in that breakfast nook, because the chairs left behind by the old tenants are a little grubby and waiting to be replaced. You would have a better cutting board, the same pan and knife, but none of that incredible vegan cheese. The tomatoes would taste better. But the grenki would still be delicious.

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These photos were taken in my old, white, sunny kitchen on Wolseley Avenue, during our last days there. When my cupboards were sparse, the fridge nearly bare, and most of the dishes were packed away, most of our meals were variations on the theme of eggs. The first few days in this apartment, with even fewer supplies, were no different. At first, I avoided cooking in a kitchen that brought me to tears upon first sight, where the fridge was moldy and rusty, the dials on the stove broken, and where there was to be no shooting in the scarce natural light. But through love, care, and a lot of bleach, this place has slowly been coming to life as a place I would like to spend some time in. Quick eggs and bread were necessary provisions. And these grenki made the transition a little bit easier.

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Cheese encrusted “grenki”, or the Russian take on French toast
 
Cheesy, fragrant from garlic and spices, this Russian take on savoury French toast will make any morning into one worth savouring.
Author:
Recipe type: Breakfast
Cuisine: Russian

Ingredients
  • 3-4 slices of thick bread
  • 2-3 eggs
  • ½ cup milk (or if you’re feeling rich, an equal mixture of milk and cream)
  • pepper
  • salt
  • spices of your choice (oregano, chili, etc)
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 Tb butter
  • ½ cup grated cheese
  • nutritional yeast (optional)
  • parsley or cilantro and ripe tomatoes, for serving (optional)

Instructions
  1. Grate ½ cup of vegan cheese. Mix with nutritional yeast for a more cheesy flavour, if desired.
  2. Mince garlic finely. Cut bread.
  3. In a bowl large enough to dunk your bread pieces into, whisk eggs very well, as if for a very fluffy omelette, until bubbles appear on the surface. Add milk, salt, pepper, and spices of your choice.
  4. To a heavy-bottomed pan with a lid, add 1 Tbs of vegan butter replacement (or butter), and 2 Tbs of oil. Bring pan to medium heat.
  5. Dip bread into eggy mixture. Leave to soak for 5-10 seconds on each side (depends on your bread: fluffy white sandwich bread needs less soaking, tough rye needs more).
  6. Place bread slices on preheated and pre-oiled pan, and fry for about two-five minutes on one side, covered (until bread is golden brown – do not let it burn! Length of time will depend on your oven and bread itself). Turn bread slices over to the other side, and lower heat to low-medium. While the bread is frying, sprinkle the already-fried side (that’s facing you) with shredded cheese and minced garlic, and cover with a lid or a bowl to allow the cheese to soften a bit. Let cook until cheese melts and bread is fried, about five minutes.
  7. Remove from hot pan onto a paper-towel lined plate. Serve immediately, sprinkled with chopped parsley (in my house, particularly gluttonous morning involved layering each grenka with tomatoes and sour cream. But that’s just greedy…. and delicious).

 

Apple olive oil cake, or the meaning of hospitality

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As you walk into the front yard of Terry and Darlene’s home, you are confronted by nature in all of its glory. Wildflowers and native Manitoba grasses dot this seemingly-ordinary plot of Winnipeg land along a quiet River Heights street, while stone gargoyles tower over enormous slabs of rock. A narrow path so interspersed with ivy and moss, it looks as though it came out of an Irish reverie leads you to the front door, an olden oak beauty with a brass knocker. The warm glow of table lamps glistens through the windows, inviting you inside.

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The hallway is strewn with mirrors and scarves, and a vintage coat hanger stands in the corner, an artful braiding of steel and untreated wood. Artwork lines the walls, covers every available surface – paintings, prints, sculptures, ceramic works of all kinds are assembled haphazardly on the mantle and the many side tables that are located wherever you look. As you come in, slippers are immediately offered, along with apologies about delays with dinner. But if this was my home, I wouldn’t be able to stop reading long enough to cook. Books are everywhere – on the seating bench, the dining room table, the charmingly old-fashioned fireplace. They run the gamut from the arcane and mysterious, to haunting Swedish thrillers, esoteric Canadian history, and glossy fashion coffee-table books. This is the home of true book lovers, and their passion looks back at you from every corner, unabashed.

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From the moment I first walked through these doors, a shy girlfriend about to leave the country for four months, I fell in love not only with the boy who brought me there, but with his parents. Kind, nervous, immensely educated and cultured, they welcomed me with open arms and the generosity one usually expects only from close relatives. Their home, in all of its resplendent glory and array of wonders, became for me an ever-evolving treasure trove of secrets and discoveries, a place you can always count on to comfort and sustain you on cold winter nights and hot summer days. It reminds me of my grandparents’ home, yet it is so much more; in many ways, it represents the life my parents have always wanted, the home full of antiques, history, and spirit that my migrant Jewish ancestors have never been able to establish.

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And now, in the days leading to our departure from Winnipeg, I get to wake up in this home every day. I curl with my cat on an antique, pre-loved couch, and drink my tea from perfectly chipped china cups. I read books for hours, gulping down every word, unable to tear myself away from the enchanting world of memories and stories into which I am plunged with each look around. I boil water in an electric kettle that seems so charmingly out of place, but I whip my cream with a whisk. I bake cakes in a turn-of-the-century oven with a permanently-placed thermometer and an always-open door, because the temperature inside fluctuates and shoots up so sporadically, it could ruin even the simplest creation. And yet everything I have made here has turned out perfectly, undoubtedly nurtured by all the love and magic around it. I am truly content.

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Yet I almost didn’t share this apple and olive oil cake with you. First of all, it seems like all I’ve posted lately has been baking. Second, I felt like another post centered around the calming abilities of baking would be too much, a sure-fire abuse of your patience. Third, I also felt like posting a non-vegan, non-gluten free cake that, albeit seemingly Russian, probably harkens back to traditional American cooking, would be a betrayal to the purpose of this blog. But then I realized that if I listened to all those hesitations, I’d be keeping this beauty of a cake away from you. And judging by how quickly it was eaten around these parts, that would be almost criminal.

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With a perfect crumb and a moist exterior, the faint whisper of ginger and the aroma of fruity olives, this apple olive oil cake is worthy of a quiet afternoon in a library, or on your favourite antique couch. Adapted slightly from a fantastic recipe by the lovely Beth Kirby over at Local Milk, It’s a cake worthy of houseguests, tweed jackets, warm slippers and a breathing, purring, happily napping cat curled up by your side. And I hope that it’s a cake worthy of some of the best people I’ve ever met, who welcomed me into their home as though I truly was family. To them go my thanks, and this cake.

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Apple olive oil cake
 
With a perfect crumb and a moist exterior, the faint whisper of ginger and the aroma of fruity olives, this apple olive oil cake calls for a quiet afternoon with a good book.
Author:
Recipe type: Dessert
Cuisine: Russian

Ingredients
  • 2-3 apples
  • 2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
  • 1 cup spelt flour
  • 1.5 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 1.5 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ½ cup apple cider
  • ½ cup apple sauce
  • ½ cup good olive oil
  • 2 Tbs freshly grated ginger (or more – 2 Tbs did not give the cake a pronounced ginger flavour)
  • 1 Tb cinnamon
  • 1 cup buttermilk (or almond milk with the juice of half a lemon squeezed into it)
  • 3 eggs
  • for glaze:
  • 1 cup powdered sugar + more to thicken if needed
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider
  • a dash of cinnamon

Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350°f. Very thoroughly grease your cake tin – you may lose apple chunks if you don’t!
  2. Dice apples into chunks (not too fine, but not too large either).
  3. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, salt and sugar.
  4. In a separate bowl, adding each ingredient one at a time and slowly, whisk together the apple cider, apple sauce, olive oil, buttermilk, freshly grated ginger and eggs. Whisk thoroughly until large bubbles appear.
  5. Very slowly and gently, pour the wet ingredients into the dry and gently stir with a spoon to just combine, making sure to scrape the bottom (don’t overmix – this cake should stay light, and a vigorous mixing will get in the way of that).
  6. Pour the apples into the bottom of your greased pan. Pour the batter on top (do not fill the pan, as this cake will rise), and bake at 350°f for 30 minutes to an hour (depending on size of cakes). Cake should be a deep golden brown and a cake tester should come out clean when inserted. a few crumbs are fine; it just shouldn’t be wet or goopy.
  7. Make the glaze: in a separate bowl, whisk the apple cider and cinnamon into the powdered sugar. Add more sugar if you want to thicken the glaze.
  8. Allow cake to cool in the tin for about 10 minutes. Turn out onto a cooking rack to cool completely before icing. Spoon the glaze over the cake, and enjoy! This cake stays moist when covered in room temperature for a couple of days.

 

Gluten-free walnut and chocolate cookies, or finding “The One”

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I am a firm believer in the assertion that every cook needs a sturdy and reliable array of signature dishes: foolproof custards, 5-minute pasta dishes, and everything-but-the-kitchen-sink pots of stew. My go-tos are fairly simple. In winter, I soak a pot of beans and make chilis with ever-changing ingredients. On hurried days, I put together a simple vegan eggplant lasagna with store-bought sauce. In summer, I assemble a Greek salad faster than you can say “Opa”. And my ideal pasta includes a lot of garlic, caramelized onions, and sturdy greens cooked to a languid submission in under 30 minutes. But I’m ashamed to say that I haven’t shared any of these recipes on the blog yet (lack of time? Too much inspiration? Or perhaps I just consider them too mundane?). I’m sorry, I truly am. But today, I intend to remedy that by revealing one of my most-prized discoveries, the flourless chocolate-walnut cookie.

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For years, I searched for a no-fail cookie recipe. I wanted something so simple and with so few ingredients, I could memorize it by heart and throw it together in one bowl. I wanted a cookie that would be chewy and airy, chocolatey but healthy(ish). And I wanted it to be gluten-free, so I could make it for Passover, for Friday get-together with Celiac-affected friends, or simply for myself when I need a special treat. And I’m happy to say I found it all in François Payard’s gluten-free chocolate-walnut cookie.

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Before Mr. Payard came into my life by way of the New York Times one gray Saturday morning, my cookie-baking experiments usually resembled a high school cafeteria’s kitchen, gone bad. I would spend hours perusing cookbooks and the internet, looking for that one winning recipe to spark my excitement and make me want to put on an apron, albeit figuratively. Once something resembling an idea germinated in my brain, I would immediately begin baking, not bothering to properly measure ingredients, or even read the recipe through to ensure I had every tool or required chocolate chip in my arsenal (bad idea, reader!). I would substitute all-purpose flour for whole-wheat, whole-wheat for spelt, omit half the sugar, and replace the coconut flakes with oatmeal (even worse idea, reader). Within minutes, my kitchen counter would become covered in flour, my dish towels wet from mopping up spilled egg yolks, and my only measuring spoon permanently stained from beet juice. My oven would fail to calibrate to the desired temperature, and the resulting cookies would usually turn out blackened, lumpy messes that still managed to puddle together into something more resembling of a galette. Once, I accidentally switched baking soda for baking powder, ruining an otherwise perfect batch of vegan rosemary chocolate-chip cookies. And I wish my troubles ended there, but that’s as far as I’m willing to share this time.

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And then, I discovered these cookies. With six ingredients, only five of them really required, precise baking times, and a complex chocolate flavour, these flourless wonders gave me everything I wanted, and more. Making them was a breeze, and though the baking was a tad finicky, it wasn’t anything bad. But, as with most things I baked, I still managed to burn them the first time. They were still delicious.

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I take no credit for these cookies, and I’m only sharing them here because I think you, too, need a go-to cookie recipe.

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Now, the only thing I’m still missing is a go-to vegan cookie. Any ideas?Blog59_Img10

 

Gluten-free walnut and chocolate cookies
 
These gluten-free walnut and chocolate cookies are simple, chewy, airy, and full of an intensely unique chocolate flavour – my go-to cookie recipe.
Author:
Recipe type: dessert
Cuisine: French

Ingredients
  • 2¾ cups walnut halves
  • 3 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • ½ cup plus 3 tablespoons unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 4 large egg whites, at room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract (optional)
  • Parchment paper
  • two large-rimmed baking sheets

Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Separate 4 egg whites from egg yolks, and set yolks aside (you can use them in homemade aioli).
  2. Toast walnut halves in the oven for about 9 minutes, until they are golden and fragrant. Let cool slightly, then coarsely chop them (I place mine in a bag and gently beat them with a rolling pin).
  3. Position two racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and lower temperature to 320 F. Line two large-rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper.
  4. In a large bowl, whisk (or combine in an electric mixer on low speed) the confectioners’ sugar with the cocoa powder and salt. Add chopped walnuts. While whisking (or once you change the speed to medium), add the egg whites and vanilla extract and beat just until the batter is moistened (do not overbeat or it will stiffen).
  5. Spoon the batter onto the baking sheets in evenly spaced mounds (leave space between them as the cookies expand), and bake for 14 to 16 minutes, until the tops are glossy and lightly cracked; shift the pans from front to back and top to bottom halfway through to ensure even baking (this step is important – do not skip! And do not overbake the cookies).
  6. Once cookies are baked, slide the parchment paper (with the cookies) onto 2 wire racks. Let cookies cool completely, and store in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

 

Quick pickled green beans, or watching your life disappear

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Last weekend, I watched my life get picked apart by strangers. And that’s not a euphemism.

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In the weeks leading up to our departure, as we were packing our possessions into boxes, Greg and I realized we have way too much stuff to ship. To be frank, we realized that a long time ago – we live in a beautiful two-bedroom heritage apartment with a dining room and four closets, how were we NOT going to have lots of stuff? – but that vague notion was finally driven home when I looked at my 20th jar and realized there are simply not enough preserves in my cupboard to justify so many jars. And so, we decided to throw a garage sale.

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There is something that is both grotesque and humbling in the process of saying goodbye to most of your life’s possessions in a garage sale. Grotesque, because you find yourself enjoying the thrill of the sale, but at the same time, you realize that you are rejoicing at the little bits of your life which will now be going to other people. Furthermore, you’re also likely selling some of those things to your friends and family, so you also end up feeling guilty for your own gluttony (even though, for the record, we sold everything for very affordable prices and at no point did I feel like I was ripping anyone off. Honest). But it’s also humbling, because as you see your favourite crock leaving your front door for a pittance (My crock! My baby!), along with that pizza cutter you’re probably still going to need before your flight, you realize that at the end of the day, they really are just stuff. And then comes the feeling of relief.Blog58_Img7

So there we were, saying goodbye to our… stuff, when we realized we’re going to need something to take the edge off. As you can imagine, a whole day of barter and trade will take its toll on your vocal cords, your stamina, your resolve to move, and your optimistic outlook on life. And in an effort to find something to address all those aches and pains, as well as keep us well fortified AND be acceptable for consumption in a mid-afternoon garage sale, Greg and I landed on the ubiquitous Canadian Caesar.

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But in my opinion, the key to a good Caesar (as to most things in life) is the pickle that goes into it. And in my book, green beans and asparagus make the best pickles. So the purpose of today’s post is now to lament about the meagre things that have remained in our possession; it is not to complain about the pain I felt when selling some of my favourite things for a pittance; nor is it to give you a Caesar recipe, though that is also included. The purpose of today’s post is to share these easy, quick pickled green beans, because they are a true revelation.

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Zesty and packed with dill, these pickled green beans swim in a simple brine alongside garlic, mustard seeds and whole chillies. Yet the final product is sharp without being overpowering, preserved while tasting fresh, and sweet as well as salty. Though these pickles will get better the longer they sit, they are perfectly ready in 48 hours – and safe to consume in 24. Dunk these into a Caesar, call it a drunken green bean, and you’re all set for a good afternoon.

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And if you’re anything like me, it may even make you forget you’re saying goodbye to life as you know it.

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To make a Caesar with these pickled green beans, or any pickle you prefer: in a cocktail shaker, combine 2 ounces of gin or vodka (here, I used tomato flavoured potato vodka, because I had so, but usually I’m a fan of gin Caesars), 2-4 dashes of Worcestershire sauce (omit if vegan), 2-4 dashes of Frank’s red hot (we’re not fans of Tabasco, that will do as well. We’ve even done it with Sriracha, but I find that lacks a vinegar note), a splash of pickle juice (I do an ounce, but if I’m serving for newbies I go with a half ounche), and 4 ounces or more of Clamato juice (or tomato juice, if you’re vegan). Shake, and pour into a tumbler with ice. Top with more juice if there’s room. If desired, the cocktail can be made directly in the tumbler and stirred, or it can be made in a large pitcher ahead of time, and mixed with alcohol at time of serving (or just had straight). And of course, don’t forget to garnish with a pickle!

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Quick pickled green beans
 
Zesty and packed with dill, these pickled green beans swim in a simple brine alongside garlic, mustard seeds and whole chillies. Yet the final product is sharp without being overpowering, preserved while tasting fresh, and sweet as well as salty. Though these pickles will get better the longer they sit, they are perfectly ready in 48 hours – and safe to consume in 24.
Author:
Recipe type: preserves
Cuisine: Russian

Ingredients
  • For one litre jar:
  • 1.5 lbs green beans
  • 3 small, dried hot red peppers
  • two large bunches of fresh dill
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 2 tsp (18 mL) mustard seeds
  • 1 cups water
  • 2 cups white vinegar
  • 1 tbsp pickling salt

Instructions
  1. Cut green beans equal lengths that will fit into your jars, discarding stem ends.
  2. Into your jars, pack 1 head dill, cloves of garlic, mustard seeds and hot red peppers. Tightly pack in beans, cut side up. Top with another bunch of dill.
  3. In a medium-sized saucepan, bring water, vinegar and salt to boil. As soon as they’re boiling, reduce heat and simmer for 3 minutes.
  4. Pour brine into each jar, leaving ½-inch (1 cm) of headspace. Cover with lids, and let cool on the counter. Once cooled, place in fridge and let sit for 2-3 days, though beans can be eaten after 24 hours (but I prefer mine a bit brinier). Keep in fridge and continue eating, serving them with Caesars, in salads, or as part of a pickle and cheese platter with some bread.

 

Springtime lemon broth with sorrel, peas and rice, or eating by the side of the road

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I know, I know – what self-respecting, claiming-to-be-seasonal blog writer writes about spring produce on July 1st? That would be this one. The one currently mired in Winnipeg “The North Pole,” Manitoba, where fresh, local asparagus just started appearing in farmers’ markets two weeks ago; where the blessed first days of real sunshine were quickly replaced by torrential rain downpours; where, in the last week of June and following the summer solstice, that season still remained more of an idea than a suggestion. And not another word about this horror.

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But it’s not those first, spritely spears of asparagus that sent me rushing to the kitchen, my head filled with visions and my mouth salivating at the flavour combinations my brain has been cooking all day. Nor were it local strawberries that I couldn’t stop thinking about for hours at work, in French class, on the bus. It wasn’t even the first supply of fresh peas, expertly steamed and mixed with creamy, lactose-free homemade ricotta and drizzled with fruity olive oil that I am so proud to present to you today. Instead, the source of my obsession, the star of the show, and one of the best things I’ve cooked all year is the lowly sorrel.

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My first visit to this year’s farmers’ market has yielded a fragrant bouquet of these under-appreciated greens, and I couldn’t be happier. I hoarded them for days while my brain ran through a mental checklist of all the best ways to present this lowly weed, which to me is akin to the nectar of the gods. And as with everything, my love for sorrel stems back to my childhood.

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After I stopped talking to myself in gibberish, or relying on leftovers from food cooked by strangers, my parents decided that I could be trusted to walk home from school by myself (but only on days when my grandmother couldn’t pick me up. Russian vigilance knows no bounds). Thus began lonely, half-hour walks under the searing glare of the hot Israeli sun, when I made up stories in my head about castles, princes, the boy who was object of my affection that week, and my future career as an adventure explorer/ private detective/ teacher/ all of the above. I measured my path in steps and tiles, hop-scotched on random playgrounds, and jumped on every swing I could find. But above all else, I ate sorrel that I picked up by the side of the road.

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Now, this would be the part where my horrified parents may be retroactively regretting their trust in me. The daughter of two doctors, I was actively discouraged from eating unidentified objects, fervently reminded to wash everything several times, and strongly barred from drinking tap water (this rule still stands at my parents’ house, despite my objections). I kept to most of these decrees, a shy child too afraid to disobey her parents for fear of being sent to a boarding school (a concept that seemed all the more real given our move to a strange country where nothing seemed to come easily). But apparently, I drew the line at abstaining from wild sorrel.

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The thing was, though my contact with neighbourhood kids was still somewhat limited at that point, I would often see them grabbing handfuls of sorrel growing at the foot of fences, shoving the concoction in their mouths, and wincing at the explosion of sourness that followed. Eating sorrel was somewhere between a dare and a treat, a prized find for some and a punishment for others. And when I finally tasted it, I had no doubt which camp I fell into.

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It’s been years since I’ve tasted, or even seen, wild-growing sorrel. I no longer live in Rehovot, where frequent rains resulted in fresh grass, flowering almond trees, and gigantic puddles that turned into uncrossable seas in my 6-year-old mind. The citrus orchards of my youth were replaced by industrial complexes, freeways and parking lots. And increased awareness of pesticides and pollution has probably deterred many children from tasting the few sprigs of sorrel still remaining by the side of the road. But my love for the tart, explosive taste of this green has not diminished, and discovering that I can now buy sorrel from local farmers has actually made me feel a bit better about eating it, nostalgia aside.

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And so, finding sorrel at the market was the best harbinger of local bounty I could have asked for. And after a fair bit of rumination, I decided to encapsulate its fresh, lively taste in a citrusy broth that would highlight the freshness of this green and the season. I also thought it would pair beautifully with wholegrain rice, with which my cupboards are exploding, for a complete meal.

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So indulge me as I bring to you this springtime broth in July, as I gather a bouquet of sorrel into my arms, as I inhale the greens and remember the smell of the dusty roads of my childhood while prairie storms continue to rage outside my window. And if your home region is also the victim of extreme weather changes, make this with me. I promise you won’t regret it.

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Springtime lemon brodetto with rice
 
A springtime bowl of lemony broth with peas and lively sorrel, spiked with citrus zest and crowned with rice and fresh herbs. Based on the recipes of Giada De Laurentiis (http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/giada-de-laurentiis/salmon-in-lemon-brodetto-with-pea-puree-recipe.html?oc=linkback) and Veggies and Gin (http://veggiesandgin.com/home/2014/4/28/chilled-pea-and-sorrel-soup-with-lemon-coconut-cream)
Ingredients
  • 2 cups of wholegrain rice
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 shallot, diced
  • The juice of 2 lemons
  • The zest of 1 lemon
  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • 2 cups peas (fresh or frozen)
  • a bunch of sorrel (about 2 cups)
  • Chopped dill weed (optional, for serving)
  • Chopped cilantro (optional, for serving)
  • Chopped mint (optional, for serving)
  • A drizzle of fruity olive oil (optional, for serving)
  • Vegan cream cheese, regular crème fraiche or sour cream (optional, for serving)

Instructions
  1. Prepare rice according to your usual method. Set aside.
  2. To make the lemon brodetto, warm the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Finely chop shallots and add to pan. Chop garlic finely. Sauté shallots until tender, about 7 minutes, adding the chopped garlic in the last minute. Add the lemon juice, zest, and broth. Bring brodetto to a simmer.
  3. Chop sorrel and defrost frozen peas, if using frozen. Once simmering, add 1.5 cup peas and sorrel to pot. Bring to a boil and cook until the sorrel wilts and the peas are just cooked through, about two to five minutes (fresh peas will take a bit longer). Do not overcook. Chop dill, cilantro, and mint finely. If keeping the soup for a later time, add herbs to pot.
  4. To serve, plop ½ cup of rice in each bowl. Ladle soup around rice. Taste, and if soup is too sour, or you want some creaminess, add vegan sour cream or regular creme fraiche, if using (I like the sour notes in mine, so I don’t bother with the cream). Sprinkle with fresh herbs, and serve.

 

Dill zucchini fritters, or more broken dishes

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It seems like a lot of my stories revolve around broken dishes. This one is no exception.

It was early Sunday morning a couple of years back, the sun already beating down mercilessly on our big windows. The birds were conversing outside our window in a language known only to madmen and themselves, waking me from my sleep, pulling me away from another sweet dream about beaches, salty hair, the wind blowing all around. Greg was sleeping by my side, his face smushed into the pillow, his long body tangled in the sole cover he allowed me to keep on the bed during these hot summer months. Five minutes awake, I was already restless, thinking about all the things I need to do, all the things I would rather be doing.

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I held myself at bay. For the next thirty minutes, I counted sheep, made plans, stroked, hummed, and even tried to go back to sleep. None of it worked. Then, growing even more frustrated by the mere fact of my restlessness, I got up to grab a book. It kept me occupied for another hour, allowing me to lose myself in other worlds, other countries, all away from my impatience, my sense of being caged, the nagging responsibilities, the to-do lists.

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But after the magic wore off and the words, which were a comfort only 40 minutes ago, became unbearable yokes of tension, I knew I had to get out of bed. So with much tugging and prodding, begging and pleading, I managed to wake him up. But I knew that would only be the first step.

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Truth is, I don’t like waking people up. It makes me feel guilty. And the guilt, intermingled with my anxiety, quickly turns into more anger. But rather than directing it at myself, I find another victim – usually, the very person who won’t get up, my best friend, my partner. So there, now you have it – my admission of guilt.

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I jumped out of bed, making my way across the small studio apartment to the little, perfectly-arranged kitchen enclosure in which I spent most of my hours at home. With the bounty of our Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) basket still lying on the counter and clogging the fridge, I knew I wanted to make something with the season’s most abundant vegetable, the zucchini.

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So I began grating. And grating. And grating. Four gigantic zucchinis sat there on the counter, eyeing me accusingly, egging me on to hurry up. Meanwhile, Greg begrudgingly woke up, and, disturbed by the racket in the kitchen, made his way to the shower, eyeing me accusingly. And I continued to grate. The piles of zucchini shreds were endless, filing bowls, spilling on the counter, taking over the whole kitchen. My hands ached and my knuckles stung from where I scraped them on the grater. And still, the remaining courgettes stared at me accusingly.

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By the time Greg came out of the shower, visibly less angry, I had finally finished grating everything. Then came the stage of draining the zucchini, which was no less frustrating, albeit slightly briefer. Into the bowl with the drained zucchini went dill, salt, dried onions, flour, eggs, oil, and other accoutrements. I had preheated the skillet while Greg was making coffee. The dill zucchini fritters mixture stood on the edge on the counter, waiting for its time in the sun. Peace was momentarily bestowed.

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And then, I turned abruptly to grab more oil for the frying pan. My hip (or was it my hand?) caught the bowl, sending it tumbling to the floor. We froze, watching it in slow motion, and yet it all felt so quick. The glass bowl shattered, sending shards flying everywhere across the kitchen floor. The mass of dill, eggs, and oil spread, pooling in unappealing piles around the broken glass. The floor became greasy in mere seconds, and the only sound that broke the shocked silence that ensued was the sizzling of more oil on the hot pan. We were too shocked to speak.

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The silence didn’t last long. The space that was mere moments ago barely big enough for two people became filled with broken glass, dirty batter, accusations, protests, and muffled admissions of guilt. We worked together to scrape the pools of grease and vegetables into garbage bags, finding that the oil was spreading everywhere as we did so. We washed and dried the floor repeatedly, barely avoiding getting glass lodged in our soles. We were angry and upset, but at least we worked together. Eventually, we even grew to laugh at my clumsiness. We ate toast for breakfast.

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Since then, I have made dill zucchini fritters many times over. I have grown fond of omitting the eggs and flour, replacing them with nutritional yeast and starch, finding the almost-bare taste of the zucchini and dill to hold up well to the heat of the pan. These fritters have become quick dinners, relaxing breakfasts, and, on this last weekend, eaten cold as an impromptu lunch while packing boxes. They have become comfort and home. And not a word has been spoken since about the Incident of the Spilled Batter.

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Dill zucchini fritters
 
Bursting with dill and silky zucchini, these gluten-free and vegan fritters make a lovely breakfast, lunch or dinner. Good warm, cold, or in room temperature, served with vegan sour cream or without.
Author:
Recipe type: Breakfast
Cuisine: Russian
Serves: 2

Ingredients
  • 1-2 large zucchinis (about 1.5 cups grated)
  • ½ cup dry onion flakes (using dry onions is key here. I find zucchini is wet enough as is, even with all the squeezing-out)
  • 1 tsp garlic powder or 2 fresh garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
  • 1 tablespoon Tamari-style soy sauce
  • a few chopped sprigs of dill, to taste
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons arrowroot powder/ potato starch (or regular flour, or a different gluten-free flour. Whatever binder you have on hand should work)
  • For garlic-dill sour cream:
  • vegan sour cream (optional)
  • 1 garlic clove (optional)
  • a sprig of dill (optional)

Instructions
  1. Line a colander with paper towels, enough to cover and leave enough of an overhang to produce a small bag. Grate zucchini and place it in a colander. Wrap paper towels around the zucchini and make a bag, squeeze thoroughly to ensure you get out all of the water you possibly can. Transfer dry zucchini shreds to a bowl.
  2. Chop dill. Mince garlic, if using fresh.
  3. Add all other ingredients except the last three optional ingredients to the bowl with the zucchini. Mix well to combine. Test to see if you can form patties that hold their shape with your hands; if needed, add more arrowroot powder/ potato starch. Let the mixture rest for 15 minutes.
  4. When ready to fry patties, add 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil to a large, heavy bottom pan. Heat pan to medium heat. When oil is hot, shape mixture into patties with your hands and add to pan. Let fry on medium heat for about 3-5 minutes, depending on your oven. Turn patties over with a spatula, lower heat to medium-low, and cook for 3 an additional minutes. Transfer patties to a paper-towel lined plate when done. Let stand for two minutes.
  5. Chop a sprig of dill and one garlic clove finely and mix with to vegan (or regular) sour cream. Serve with fritters, and sprinkle with more chopped dill.

 

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