In This Issue Recipe Index


In This Issue Recipe Index
Simple Cooking
In This Issue
Electronic Edition
Dill Pickle Soup . ..................................................2
A Note on de Pomiane............................. 8
Other Breakfast Cereal Breads.......15
Hummus, Hold the Pita...............................17
Homemade “Tahini”.............................. 22
Variations on a Theme...................... 23
Greek Salad (Book Note).........28
Hanging Out At The No-Name..............29
Mange~Tout (Book Review).....................34
Table Talk...............................................................38
Oilerie• Word of Mouth • Cuisinart
Spice & Nut Grinder • Acarajé
Annotated Bibliography.......................... 44
Recipe Index
Dill Pickle Soup.................................................... 4
Dill Pickle Soup (Jewish) . ........................... 9
Fog Cutter (Split Pea Soup)...................... 32
Homemade Half Sours................................. 6
Hummus bi Tahini with Vegetables......19
Irish Oatcake.......................................................13
Hummus with Cumin.........................................23
Revithia Fournou (Baked Chickpeas)..25
Revithia Me Tahini (Chickpea Soup).....24
Sesame-Seed Paste......................................... 22
Tomato Pie............................................................36
Wheatena Skillet Bread..............................15
Dill Pickle Soup
Page f this were a culinary romance, I would have sampled zupa ogórkowa in a crowded tavern in Warszawa. Reality being what it is, I came across this soup in the Polish imported
groceries section of the local Stop & Shop. This part of Massachusetts has a strong Polish
presence (there’s even a Polish National Credit Union), which makes for easy access to
freshly made pierogi and to locally produced kielbasa and even kiszka — a sausage made
of buckwheat groats, pork liver, pork snouts, beef blood, diced pork fat, and so on, that has
become one of my breakfast favorites.
Supermarkets here have also gotten into the act, carrying a selection of imported Polish
grocery items. Unfortunately, these are dominated by pickled vegetables swimming in distilled
vinegar strong enough to melt plastic. Still, I give the shelves a quick glance as I push my cart
by, and thus it was that an unfamilar glass jar flagged me down. It was labeled “Cucumber
I once made a curry with cucumbers in it. It was very good, and since then I’ve been
(mildly) interested in cooked cucumber dishes. In fact, I’ve even made a cucumber soup, following the recipe that appears in older editions of Fannie Farmer. It turned out to be more
for the bridge club than for me — bland, rich, and, well, gelded. However, all I had to do was
pick up the jar to see this soup was something else. True, its contents were shot through
with threads of cucumber (and, for that matter, carrot). But the medium for these was one
big mass of mashed potato. The label lied. This was a potato soup, and I love potato soup.
Certainly, if the jar had simply contained chunks of cucumber floating in an herbspeckled broth, I might still have bought it and taken it home, but not with bated breath.
My palate draws me to foods that are fatty and salty and becomes more diffident when the
offerings are sour and/or sweet. This is why my culinary explorations almost never take me
to Germany, let alone the European countries to its east. Borscht, sauerkraut, sauerbraten,
pickled herring ... I can eat these things, sometimes even with pleasure, but entice me they
do not.
This lack of connection is the reason why it didn’t even occur to me that the cucumber
in this soup might be pickled, or — to put the horse before the cart — that it would turn out
to be cucumber pickle soup. Except it wasn’t that, either.
I once wrote in an essay about potato soup that
there’s no shortage of seasonings to bring a welcome spritz of flavor to a good
potato soup. But a good potato soup needs only a spritz of flavor. Add more
and the potato retreats to play backup for someone else’s show.
*These would be Progresso’s Chickarina, Campbell’s Pepperpot, Goya’s Classic Black Bean Soup, and…
Seabrook Farms’ Creamed Spinach diluted with an equal amount of milk.
Page Now, two decades later, here was a lovely exampling of that dictum. The sharpsour, dill-inflected savor of the pickle invigorated the delicate taste of the potato,
without in any way elbowing it aside. (In
fact, it made me think that this might
be an answer to that dolor that afflicts
all but the most carefully crafted potato salads.) I can count on the fingers of
one hand the number of commercially
made soups that I enjoy eating.* It was
a pleasure to add another to that roster,
especially a soup with such a short and
admirably unsullied list of ingredients.
I was able to buy one more jar.
Then, on a subsequent visit to Stop &
Shop, the slot was filled with jars of
something called “vegetable salad.” Cucumber soup was gone for good. It was
never restocked, and I couldn’t find it
anywhere else, including online. Its absence was so total that I found myself
wondering if my memory of it was but a remnant of a dream. But I wasn’t going to let it
escape so easily. I would just have to make it myself.
Recipes for pickle soup aren’t hard to find if you happen to own any Polish cookbooks.
We don’t.* This was probably for the best. If what you’re trying to recapture is a memory, the
worse way to go about it is to reach for it through other people’s ideas. However “authentic,”
they rarely give you what you’re looking for. And the recipe I worked out for myself did do
that — perhaps because by the time I had the soup the way I wanted it, memory found itself
finessed and graciously gave in.
Dill Pickle Soup
The pickles can be half-sour, kosher dill, or garlic, but if possible they should be
naturally cured and vinegar free, which means you’ll find them in the refrigerated
case where cold cuts and other deli-like items are sold. Even better, they should
come from your local food co-op, where you can find such pickles made entirely
with natural ingredients. Best of all, you can make your own. (Recipes for true,
brine-cured cucumber pickles can be easily found. See page 6 for one, or turn to
my pamphlet The Dill Crock, which I’m happy to reprint on demand for any reader
who would like one. The price is $5, postage paid.)
[serves 4]
4 medium/large yellow potatoes, washed
2 cups water • 2 cups milk
1 large carrot, peeled and quartered
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 bunch scallions, trimmed of roots and ragged tops
1 clove garlic, minced
teaspoon caraway seeds, ground (optional)
or 1/2
teaspoon dried
*Oddly, we do possess Edouard de Pomiane’s The Jews of Poland: Recollections and Recipes (1929)
— more about this book on page 8. I checked and it does have an appealing recipe for pickle soup, but it was
nothing like the one I was trying to reproduce.
Page 1 teaspoon minced fresh dill leaves
4 to 6 brine-cured pickles, stem ends trimmed off
and discarded, the rest coarsely grated
cup pickling liquid from the jar of pickles
salt and black pepper to taste
serve with: your favorite rye bread and butter
• Put the unpeeled potatoes and the carrot chunks into a pot and pour over the water
and milk. Bring to a simmer, cover, and cook for 30 minutes, or until the potatoes
can be easily pierced with a serving fork or skewer. (Cooking the potatoes in their
skins keeps them from getting waterlogged and lets the nutrients in the skin leach
into the cooking liquid.)
• As the potatoes and carrots cook, cut the scallions in half at the point where they
turn green. Cut the bottom pieces in half lengthwise, then slice these into large
dice. Coarsely chop the green ends.
• Set a soup pot over medium heat and add the butter. When it has melted, put in
the prepared scallions, the minced garlic, and the ground caraway seeds (if using).
Mellow everything gently until the scallions are translucent. Keep this warm over
a low flame.
• When the potatoes are done, remove them from the pot but reserve the cooking
liquid and keep it warm. Once the potatoes are cool enough to handle, slip off their
skins (easily done with yellow potatoes). Cut the potatoes into quarters and return
these to their cooking liquid. Cut the carrots into little chunks and add them to the
soup pot.
• Sprinkle the minced dill over the potatoes. Then, using the edge of a stiff plastic
spatula, chop/mash the potatoes into a coarse slurry. There should be lots of potato
chunks, but none of them very large.
Page • Stir these mushed potatoes, the chopped pickles, and the pickling liquid into the
soup pot. Bring this up to a bubbling simmer and let it cook for 5 minutes. If the
soup is too thick for your taste, thin it with more milk. Taste for seasoning, adding
salt as necessary and plenty of black pepper.
Later, I did consult some Polish cookbooks, and loved finding a recipe for “Dill Pickles
for Soup” in Robert and Maria Strybel’s mammoth 887-page Polish Heritage Cookery. It
came with the comment, “If you like zupa ogórkowa as much as we do, you may want to put
up pickles especially for this purpose and have them on hand all year.” There was nothing
in the least unusual about the recipe except that the pickles were processed in 8-ounce jars
— just the right size for a single batch of soup!
Then there was their hangover cure: Fill a glass with equal measures ice-cold pickle
brine and seltzer, then drink it all down in a single gulp. Actually, as a salt replenisher after
too much time in the sun, this doesn’t sound at all bad. But for a case of morning-after, I’ll
take my pickle brine in a nice hot bowl of potato soup. u
Homemade Half-Sours
Since I was ten years old I have been in the pickle business. My brother-in-law
painted old whiskey barrels to age the pickles in. These days they are used
as flower pots. We made three kinds of pickles — dill, sweet, and half-sour.
Half-sours are unfermented pickles made daily with garlic, mustard seeds,
peppercorns all put at the bottom of a jar in a salt brine to absorb the flavors
of the spices for about a week. A garlic pickle has been fermented and then
fresh spices added before refrigeration. It makes you pucker up. As it ages the
skin turns brown through fermentation. — Jessie Eisenberg, pickle maker, the
Bronx, New York (quoted in Joan Nathan’s Jewish Cooking in America)
Page lthough our recipe for “Dill Pickle Soup” allows for the use of any salt-cured pickle, our
own preference is to make it with homemade ‘half-sours’ — which offer the presence
of both cucumber and pickle. What do I mean? Read the quotation above. Half-sours
are not, as many assume, pickles fished from the barrel before they’ve reached the mystical
state of “full-sour” but a quickly cured salt-brine pickle meant to combine the crisp sweetness of a fresh cucumber with the salt-sour, spice-edged tang of a kosher dill. If you leave
them in their brine too long, they’ll just become dull and soggy and inert. So it’s best to
make them in small batches and eat them up.
We make ours in a quart-and-a-half-size former kimchi jar which, being squat and wide,
is ideal for packing in the cucumbers (and fishing them out later). The best pickling cukes
(often called Kirby cucumbers) for this process are taut, dark green, and stubby. Otherwise,
the only fixed rule is the proportions of the brine: one and one-half tablespoons of fine sea (or
pickling) salt for every quart of water.
The seasoning possibilities are nearly infinite, and can be as simple as the short list
used by Jessie Eisenberg in the quote above. In the recipe that follows, I give the flavorings I
usually put in — none are mandatory. You can make it easy for yourself by just using garlic
cloves, dried dill leaf, and pre-mixed pickling spice.
[makes 1
batch half-sours]
teaspoon each black peppercorns, coriander
seeds, hot red chile flakes, brown mustard seeds,
juniper berries, and allspice
1 tablespoon dried dill weed
1 large glass jar with a lid
enough pickling cucumbers to fill same, any remaining
stem carefully snipped off
2 or 3 large garlic cloves, peeled
1 large bay leaf, broken into thirds
tablespoon dried onion flakes
fine sea (or pickling) salt • filtered (if possible) water
• Put the mixed spices and seeds in a mortar or the bowl of a food processor/spice grinder and pulverize them into coarse bits.
Page • Wash the jar and rinse well — no need to dry it. Sprinkle in the ground
spices and the dried dill weed, then pack in as many cucumbers as
will fit. There must be room at the top of the jar for the brine to cover
• Crush the garlic cloves with the flat blade of a knife or some other appropriate instrument. Cut these in half and insert them in the crevices around the cucumbers,
followed by the bits of bay leaf and optional dried onion flakes.
• Mix up enough brine to generously cover the cucumbers, at a ratio of 11/2 tablespoons of fine sea (or pickling) salt to 1 quart of water. Better to throw some away
at the end than not have enough. Pour this into the pickle jar until it is nearly full.
Gently shake the jar to free any air bubbles, then fill it almost to the rim. If any of
the cukes float up to the surface, fill a small plastic bag (such as a ziplock sandwich
type) with brine, seal it, and fit this over cucumbers to keep them submerged.
• Cover the jar loosely and set it in a cool place (a basement is ideal; we use the
floor of a closet) for two days. Then screw the lid tight and refrigerate another two
days before sampling them. They will continue to mature, so if you find the first
taste insipid, give them more time. (On the other hand, if they smell spoiled or have
turned squishy, discard them and try again.) They are best when eaten within three
weeks from the time they go in the jar.
vA Note on de Pomiane and The Jews of Poland
Page douard de Pomiane was born in Paris in 1875, the son of Polish émigrés. One of the
twentieth century’s greatest food writers, he lectured at the Institut Pasteur and wrote a
number of classic books, including Cooking with Pomiane, Cooking in Ten Minutes,
and the two-volume Radio Cuisine (“Alo! Alo!”), a collection of transcripts from his popular
radio show. The Jews of Poland: Recollections and Recipes, written in 1929, deserves a
brief explanatory note. It is quite different from his other books, a cookbook that is also an
ethnographic treatise — the only extensive piece of writing on Jewish cooking in Poland before
it was destroyed by the German invasion in 1939 and the subsequent Holocaust. The clarity
and range of the recipes are such that the book would be much better known were it not for
its unfortunate and largely unintended anti-Semitic tone. De Pomiane himself was not antiJewish — quite the opposite. But he came from a fervently patriotic Polish family and naively
absorbed the strong undercurrent of anti-Semitism in the information that respectable and
well-educated Poles provided him about their Jewish neighbors. So the book is torn by the
tension between what he himself observed and what he was told to be plain fact. The result is
less unpleasant (although it can be that) than very sad. Even so, the recipes are priceless.
Pickle Soup
From Edouard de Pomiane’s The Jews of Poland (1929)
[serves 8]
4 kosher dill pickles
2 quarts beef bouillon or stock • 3 eggs
• Peel the pickles and chop them finely. Put them along with the beef bouillon or
stock in a soup pot and cook for 60 minutes. Strain the soup through a round
sieve, pressing with the back of a spoon to work the cucumbers through, while
leaving their seeds behind.
• Proceed to bind the liquid with the eggs. Break the eggs into a bowl and whisk
them with a wire whisk. Gradually pour the soup, while still hot, into the eggs,
whisking constantly.
• If the soup is not sufficiently acidic, add a tablespoon or two of the pickling liquid
from the jar of pickles.
ISSN 0749-176X
Page Simple Cooking 92 © 2009 John Thorne and Matt Lewis Thorne. All rights reserved. ❖
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site at:
*Buttermilk is made with Streptococcus lactis, while filmjölk uses Lactococcus lactis and Leuconostoc mesenteroides. In either case, the tang comes from fermenting the lactose in the milk into lactic acid. This in turn
changes the ph of the milk, which causes the casein in it to precipitate — hence the clabber.
Page 10
he first time I tasted buttermilk, I turned and spat it out on the street — to the
amused astonishment of the Southern friend who’d convinced me to try it. Yankees!
What can you do with them? Answer: Give them another forty years, because I’ve finally come around. Now I love the stuff enough to drink it right out of the carton.
Furthermore, I know exactly when I realized this. I was leafing through Saveur when
I came across a photograph of a glass of buttermilk, flecked with bits of minced chive and
black pepper. I couldn’t believe how totally delicious it looked, how foolish it was that this
wasn’t already part of my life. Before the day was over, there was a carton of buttermilk
in the fridge; before the week was over, there was a big pot of chives set in our sunniest window. I snipped away all that summer and fall, and when winter put an end
to it, I switched over to freeze-dried dill. (Freeze-dried chives have no flavor.)
Furthermore, once it became clear that this buttermilk beveraging was no
passing fancy, I decided to switch from the commercial product to a close cousin I
could make myself, a Swedish cultured milk called filmjölk.* Although it isn’t exactly
like buttermilk, I think it tastes even better — a smooth, tangy mass of delicate curds
that just melts in your mouth.
I wrote about filmjölk many years ago, when Matt and I kept a culture going to use
in baking cornbread (see page 360 in Serious Pig for the details). Unlike buttermilk cultures, those in filmjölk can be kept going by mixing a dollop in some fresh milk and letting it
sit overnight at room temperature. The bacteria will also culture anything from skim milk to
heavy cream, which means that it is useful for all sorts of projects. Happily, Gem Cultures,
the company that sold us our original starter, was still in business. I ordered some and, over
a year later, it’s still going strong.
And that would have been that, a tip of the hat to Saveur and on to other things, had
not Mo, my pal at Zingerman’s — Ann Arbor’s food phenomenon (deli, bakery, roadhouse,
mail-order source for choice foodstuffs) — sent me a canister of the organic, stoneground
Macroom Irish oatmeal that they were introducing to the USA.
For reasons that I don’t really understand, Irish oatmeal has a uniquely delicious flavor that even small gristmills here in America can’t match.* Because of this, for all my adult
life, my oatmeal of choice has been McCann’s traditional steel-cut oatmeal.
If you, too, are a lover of slow-cooked traditional oatmeal, you’ll know that mills
process it in different ways. Once the whole grain is hulled, the resulting groats are softened with steam (or some other process), then flattened with steel rollers or cut into small
chunks with steel blades — producing, in the first instance, rolled oats, and, in the second,
steel-cut oats.†
Both methods lend themselves to refinement. Rolled oats can be rolled thin (and are
thus quicker to make) or not so thin (so that they cook up chewier and tastier). Steel-cut
oats can be toasted before being run through the blades; they can also be cut into larger or
smaller pieces. “Pinhead” oatmeal, a favorite in both Scotland and Ireland, takes its name
not — as I once thought — from the size of the groats but from the tiny specks that remain
once the steel blades are done pulverizing them.
The oatmeal introduced by Zingerman’s is all again different, and thus has its own
entry in Cathal Cowan and Regina Sexton’s Ireland’s Traditional Foods (1997). It gets its
Page 11
*Cook’s Illustrated begs to differ. In an oatmeal tasting in the July/August 2009 issue, McCann’s didn’t
even make it into the “recommended” category, and was described as tasting “like cardboard or paper pulp.”
I rarely agree with CI’s tasters, and this time I think they’ve taken a few too many hits from the imitation
vanilla extract bottle. To put their expertise into perspective, I’ll just quote some commendations for their
first two choices: “like tapioca pearls popping in my mouth” and “like a warm granola bar.” These people are
oatmeal lovers? This isn’t to say, however, that I refused to even try their highest rated brand, Bob’s Red
Mill Organic Steel-Cut Oats. What if — for once — the panel was right? Didn’t honor demand that I pulp the
new issue of SC and retire to a monastery? Fortunately, they were true to form and opted, as usual, for Ms.
Congeniality. I prepared the oatmeal in my usual way, substituting milk for two-thirds of the water and adding a bit more salt than called for in the package cooking directions. The resulting oatmeal was pleasingly
chewy, and the flavor, though faint, was toasty and clean. But it wasn’t even remotely interesting — either
in depth of taste or in the complex play of flavor notes.
†Groats can also be eaten, if you cook them long enough. On my lifetime list of dishes to try just once is
something called Groaty Dick, a traditional specialty from England’s Black Country (named for its outcroppings of coal), made by cooking soaked groats, beef, leeks, and onions in beef stock for up to 16 hours at
Page 12
name from the town in County Cork where it has been milled since 1832, and two important things distinguish it from any other Irish oatmeal. First, the whole oats are roasted
in a kiln before they are processed; secondly, they are ground in Ireland’s last operating
traditional mill, where the use of slow-turning millstones conserves the full flavor of the
toasty grain.
The aroma of this oatmeal hits your nostrils the moment you open the can. You
might as well be at the mill scooping it out of the bin: it’s as fresh-seeming and potent as
that. In fact, from that moment, I knew that Macroom was going to blow McCann’s away.
Where McCann’s is nutty tasting, Macroom, judging from taste alone, might be mistaken for actual crushed nuts ... at least until the vegetative aftertaste of the grain comes
through. No other oatmeal I’ve ever tasted has this depth. And, despite its fine texture,
because it hasn’t been steam-processed, it cooks up velvety smooth but not at all mushy
the way instant oatmeal does.
I had eaten my way through half the canister before the nickel dropped. “Oatmeal”
has evolved into a generic term for ground-up oats of any sort that are eaten as a breakfast
cereal. But the Macroom product was bona fide oat meal. In fact, it looked almost identical
to the stone-ground white corn meal with which we make our cornbread. And this connection prompted the obvious question: What would happen if I made that bread using Macroom instead?
Our basic cornbread recipe is simple enough. Quickly mix the batter, pour it into a
preheated, greased skillet and bake it in a hot oven. Then, after about twenty minutes, invert the skillet over a cutting board, so that the deliciously crusty bottom becomes the top.
If you like your cornbread moist, almost pudding-like, give it a slightly shorter cooking time;
if you like it drier, let it stay in a few minutes more.
This method worked perfectly utilizing Macroom, producing an oat bread that was
tender, moist, full of oat-rich flavor, with a crusty bottom-turned-top. However, I found myself not quite happy with the result — and it didn’t take me long to figure out why. Most of
the things I put in or on my cornbread — cheese, garlic, chiles, country sausage — didn’t
work that well with this bread.
What I wanted on it was pretty much what goes with it best when I eat my oatmeal in
a bowl, which is butter, honey, and (if not so applicable here) a splash of cream. And the
thickish version I was turning out wasn’t the best way to make the most of these.
To do that, I needed something much more suggestive of a traditional oakcake, which
is produced out of nothing more than oatmeal, salt, a little cooking fat, and enough water
to make a dough.* For such a mixture to be edible it has to made very thin, and it takes a
lot of skill (and brute force) to accomplish this.
My personal oatcake (as I now began to think of it) would require
neither skill nor muscle, but it would be made in a wide enough
skillet so that when I turned it out, slathered it with butter, and
drizzled it all over with honey, it would be near soaked with those
things, while still crisp and hot. After trying out various skillets for
the task, I discovered that our Vollrath 12-inch round, nonstick,
aluminum griddle produced the very giant-pancake-like oatcake I
wanted. Life is bliss.
Irish Oatcake
This oatcake can be simple to make even if you don’t care to culture your own filmjölk
or get in a supply of Macroom Irish Oatmeal. (See below for ordering information, as
well as a special offer for SC subscribers.) For the former, you can substitute buttermilk; for the latter you can pulverize McCann’s Quick Cooking Irish Oatmeal (which is
steamed and rolled) into a coarse oat flour in a food processor set with its steel blade.
The Cuisinart spice grinder reviewed on page 7 can do the same thing to McCann’s
steel-cut Irish oatmeal. Our Vollrath griddle is quite light — if you use a skillet, make
sure you can easily turn it over so that the oatcake will land upside down on the cutting board. One oatcake serves one most generously or two quite sufficiently.
[makes one 12-inch oatcake]
tablespoon peanut or other cooking oil
scant 1/2 teaspoon each baking soda,
*This, let it be said, is the most basic of oatcakes. If you want to boggle your brain, turn to F. Marian McNeill’s The Scots Kitchen, which has two pages (printed in microscopic type) of variations on that theme.
Page 13
4 ounces stone-ground oatmeal
cream of tartar, and fine sea salt
1 egg • 3/4 cup (6 ounces) filmjölk or buttermilk
to complete: butter and honey to taste
• Preheat the oven to 425°F. When it is ready, pour the cooking oil onto a 12-inch
griddle (or into a skillet, see above) and set this in the oven for 5 minutes.
• Meanwhile, put the stone- (or processor-) ground oatmeal into a mixing bowl and
sift in the baking soda, cream of tartar, and salt. Break the egg into a second bowl,
then whisk in the filmjölk or buttermilk, blending them well.
• After the 5 minutes, remove the griddle from the oven, tipping
it gently so that the oil covers its entire surface. Quickly turn
the liquid ingredients into the dry ones, whisking them just
enough to blend. Don’t overmix. Then immediately turn
this onto the griddle, using a flexible spatula to clean
out the bowl. The batter will sizzle.
• Put the griddle back in the oven and bake for 18 minutes. The surface of the oatcake should spring back
when lightly pressed with a finger. Flip it onto a cutting
board, so that the bottom, crusty side faces up. Spread
it liberally with butter and drizzle it with honey. Serve
at once.
* Cook’s Note: Sources. An active starter of filmjölk can be
The only place I know in the USA that sells Macroom Oatmeal is Zingerman’s, $16
for a 2-pound tin. However, Mo has set up a special discount for SC subscribers
(mail/internet orders only): Enter the code SIMPLE and you’ll get five dollars off
the price of a tin, limit 2. The offer expires November 30, 2009.
• 422 Detroit St., Ann Arbor MI 48104 • (888) 636-8162.
Page 14
ordered from Gem Cultures for $12 plus shipping. While you’re
visiting their website,, browse around — these
people hold the keys to a fascinating world. You can also contact them by
mail or phone: GEM Cultures, Inc., PO Box 39426, Lakewood WA 98496 • (253)
Other Breakfast Cereal Breads
y success in creating a delicious oatcake from Macroom Oatmeal naturally led to
the notion that this might revolutionize my breakfast eating — the banner headline
for which might be: No More Porridge! Cake for Breakfast Every Day! I immediately
went out and bought a bunch of hot cereals and started testing.
The Wheatena bread was something else. Since the cereal is made of toasted wholegrain wheat and wheat bran, turning it into a bread was like reinventing the bran muffin
— or at least something very coarse-grained and chewy. In truth, it was more like a bran
muffin than most versions of the real thing, which tend to be “bran-flavored” rather than
densely grainy. If you favor a breakfast loaded with complex carbohydrates, and like the
idea of a chewy breakfast bread with an intriguing sweet-sour savor, this might become a
Wheatena Skillet Bread
Because of its particulate nature, this bread works better when made in a 9-inch
skillet; baked in the griddle, pieces tended to break in half when lifted. The raw sugar
was added not to make the bread more like a muffin but to heighten the natural
sweetness of the cereal. Whole-wheat cereals can all too easily give the impression
that you’re eating sawdust; this addition keeps that well at bay. So, of course, does
the dried fruit. I had some dried golden plums in the cupboard, so used them, but
diced dried apricots would be very tasty, as well as the traditional raisins.
[makes a skillet bread breakfast for 2]
1/2 tablespoon peanut or other cooking oil
cup diced dried fruit (apricots, prunes, raisins)
scant 1 teaspoon each baking soda and cream of tartar
scant 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
Page 15
4 ounces (2/3 cup) Wheatena cereal
1 egg • 3/4 cup (6 ounces) filmjölk or buttermilk
1 tablespoon organic raw sugar (Turbinado by preference)
• Preheat the oven to 425°F. When it is ready, pour the cooking oil into a 9-inch
skillet and set this in the hot oven for 5 minutes.
• Meanwhile, put the Wheatena and chopped dried fruit into a mixing bowl and sift
in the baking soda, cream of tartar, and salt. Break the egg into a second, smaller
bowl. Whisk in the filmjölk or buttermilk, then the raw sugar, blending everything
• After the 5 minutes, remove the skillet from the oven, tipping it gently so that the
oil covers its entire surface. Quickly turn the liquid ingredients into the dry ones,
whisking them just enough to blend. Because of the cereal’s particulate nature,
this takes no time at all. Then immediately turn the batter into the skillet, using a
flexible spatula to clean out the bowl.
• Put the skillet back in the oven and bake for 18 minutes. The surface of the skillet
bread should spring back when lightly pressed with a finger. Flip it onto a cutting
board, so that the bottom, crusty side faces up. Cut it into wedges and serve with
loads of butter.
Page 16
Hummus, Hold the Pita
The most typical dish of Sifnos is … baked chickpeas, revithia fournou, a
fixture of Sunday dinners that bakes in a slow oven all night Saturday.
— Miles Lambert-Gócs, Greek Salad
* Hard water keeps chickpeas from softening, and in this case a pinch of baking soda in the soaking water can
help. I’ve also read that chickpeas taken from their pods and dried while still green (rather than letting them dry
in their pods) turn out mealy unless given a lengthy cooking.
Page 17
ecently, I received a review copy of Janna Gur’s handsome, coffee-table-size The
Book of New Israeli Food. It is in many ways the most illuminating Israeli cookbook
I’ve come across, which only intensified the shock when I happened upon her recipe
for “Basic Hummus Dip.” In it she instructs the cook to soak the chickpeas in a tablespoon of baking soda, then to cook them in an additional half teaspoon of the stuff. There
are only two reasonable explanations for this (not counting “The devil made me do it”): (1)
Israeli chickpeas are actually pebbles in disguise or (2) her American editor warned her that
in this country all chickpeas are stored in some stiflingly hot Florida warehouse for five or
six years before being released for sale.
Of course, I can’t exactly prove this, but I do know from a lifetime of dealing with them
that chickpeas take an exasperatingly unpredictable amount of time to cook. In our experience, this can range from three to six hours, not counting the instances when we were too
hungry to wait any longer and gnawed them down as they were. Using baking soda to rectify
this is what might tactfully be referred to as waterboarding for chickpeas. Use that amount
of baking soda and they’ll truly be putty in your hands … and taste that way, too. The result
will not be pretty.*
The secret to chickpea cooking is simple if inconvenient: Give them all the time in the
pot that they need. Put them in filtered water, if necessary, and cook them the day before (or
overnight!) so that the hours can slip by … one, two, three, four, five, six … until that magic
moment when the test bean simply melts in your mouth.
“To hell with all that,” you mutter. “I’ll just buy them in a can.” Sure. Usually, this isn’t a
bad option — I often do it myself. Chickpeas are one of the few beans with enough presence to
* Even the taste of the unadulterated cooking liquid from home-cooked chickpeas can be genuinely sublime.
Refrigerated overnight, it becomes delicately gelatinous, providing the final touch to a richly flavored hummus.
Page 18
elbow aside the whispery off-flavors that come of mass processing. The problem is what isn’t
there: the subtle flavor notes that get entirely cooked away. In a dish like hummus bi tahini,
where the chickpea taste and texture is pretty much everything, using the canned product
dooms it to mediocrity.*
The reason that I even noticed Janna Gur’s baking soda fixation is that the dish in
question has recently come back into our life after a long hiatus. When Matt and I lived in
Maine, we baked almost all the bread we ate, and I had gotten pretty good at making pita.
Few things are nicer on a cold winter night Downeast than taking these straight from oven to
table, each loaf still gloriously puffed (if luck is smiling on you), gingerly ripping them apart to
release a cloud of steam and that intensely appetizing yeasty, fresh-baked-bread aroma, then
stuffing them with (among other things) roasted peppers and hummus bi tahini.
When we moved to Northampton and to a small apartment kitchen, my bread-baking
days came to an end. We tried for a while to keep at it, but there was no good place to store
the fifty-pound bags of our favorite bread flour and no good counters on which to knead
and roll out the dough. No matter. We could get hold of very good bread (and pretty decent
pizza) — but nothing like good pita. And, unlike most bread, pita has to be very fresh, very
good or it is nothing at all. No pita meant no more hummus, no more baba ganoush. And we
missed those things.
What I had to do was entirely rethink the relationship, knock pita out of the equation, at
least for the time being, and focus on the hummus. Matt and I had already shoved it along from
appetizer to full-fledged sandwich, but I still thought of it as a dip. However, on reflection, I realized I had a better template — bagna caôda, that delicious meld of cream, garlic, and anchovy
served with a platter of vegetables, which makes winter bearable in Italy’s Piedmont region.
Employed in the same fashion, hummus bi tahini could become a perfect hot weather repast.
Of course, there would have to be some changes. Unlike bagna caôda, hummus isn’t
molten or all that rich. This means that the vegetables would have to be a bit more moist
and provide a certain richness of their own — in my imagination, not unlike a ratatouille.
This notion evolved into what follows: a handsome, filling meal that can be made in advance
and that is totally vegetarian without wearing that fact on its sleeve — in short, the basis for
a lovely summer supper.
Hummus bi Tahini with Pan-Roasted Vegetables
Some Preliminary Notes. Tahini, of course, is a paste made of raw sesame seeds,
pretty universally available in cans. However, I did some experimenting and came
up with a close cousin made by pulverizing the seeds myself, resulting in something
much fresher tasting — an adventure detailed on page 22. • Because the vegetable
mélange has plenty of garlic, we omit it from the hummus, adding some minced hot
red chile instead. If you’d like the traditional version, omit the chile, adding one or
two peeled and very finely minced garlic cloves in its place.
The Hummus bi Tahini
If you’re planning to eat this dish for lunch, you’ll need to have cooked the chickpeas
the day before. Otherwise, soak them overnight, start them cooking first thing in
the morning, and expect to eat the resulting hummus for supper.
[serves 4]
8 ounces dried chickpeas, picked over and rinsed well,
then soaked for 8 hours (or overnight)
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
juice of 1 plump lemon (about 3 tablespoons)
1/ 4
cup tahini or freshly made sesame seed paste (see above)
cup (loosely packed) minced fresh cilantro leaf
1 red serrano or similar hot chile, stemmed, seeded, and finely minced
Page 19
• To cook the chickpeas: Put them in a pot and cover them with at least 1 inch of
water. Bring this to a boil, watching carefully to prevent the pot from boiling over.
Keeping everything at a steady boil, cook the chickpeas for 10 minutes, skimming
away any persistent foam. Then stir in the salt, lower heat until the boiling is reduced to a gentle quivering, and cook until the chickpeas are tender but not mushy,
from 3 to as many as 6 hours. When they are ready, let them cool in their cooking
liquid, refrigerating them in it until making the hummus.
• To make the hummus: Drain the chickpeas, reserving the liquid. Pour the lemon
juice into a mortar or food processor fitted with its steel blade. Work the chickpeas
into a slightly coarse, moist purée, adding the cooking liquid, bit by bit, until the
desired consistency has been reached. Pulse in the tahini or sesame paste, then
the minced cilantro leaf and chile pepper. Add more salt if needed.
The Pan-Roasted Vegetables
We make this dish with an ever-changing cast of characters, selecting at least five
or six from what looks best at the market and what is at hand at home. Besides
those listed in the recipe below, we regularly use eggplant (treated like the zucchini),
fennel, carrots, and green beans (parboiled).
[serves 4]
2 large portabello mushroom caps
1 green and 1 red bell pepper, cored, and seeded
4 yellow potatoes, peeled
2 medium Vidalia (or other) onions, peeled
2 Belgian endives, ends trimmed
4 medium or 2 large zucchini, trimmed
1 tablespoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
4 tablespoons olive oil, plus more as needed
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 medium (14.5 ounce) can “petite diced” tomatoes
1 teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled
hot pepper flakes and black pepper to taste
Page 20
1 teaspoon cumin seeds, crushed in a mortar
• Preheat oven to 400°F. Cut all the vegetables into largish bite-size pieces, except for
the Belgian endive, which should be separated into leaves. Put the cut zucchini into
a bowl, toss with 1/2 tablespoon of the salt, and let sit.
• Put 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a large skillet (we use a 12-inch flat-bottomed
wok) and heat this over a medium flame. When you can smell the oil, add the mushroom pieces and sauté these, turning them often, until they are soft and wilted,
about 3 to 5 minutes.
• Push the wilted mushrooms to the side of the pan and pour in the remaining olive
oil, then add the minced garlic and crushed cumin seeds. Once the garlic turns
translucent, stir in the potato and bell pepper pieces and mix these with the mushrooms. Season lightly with salt and put the skillet in the oven.
• After 10 minutes, remove the skillet and add the onion pieces, stirring everything
together. Return the skillet to the oven for another 10 minutes.
• Meanwhile, pour off and discard any liquid released by the zucchini. Wrap the
pieces in a clean dish towel and wring this vigorously to squeeze out as much further
liquid as possible. Then, at the 10-minute mark, remove the skillet and stir in the
zucchini and Belgian endive leaves. Season with a pinch more salt and, if needed,
add a splash more olive oil as well. Return the skillet to the oven.
• After another 10 minutes, remove the skillet and taste one of the
potato pieces. If it needs more cooking time, stir everything well
and return the skillet to the oven, checking for tenderness every
5 minutes. Once the potatoes are ready, remove the skillet from
the oven, stir in the can of tomatoes, including the liquid, and
sprinkle over the oregano. Stir everything well and let it cool on
top of the stove for at least 5 minutes before serving. Divide the
hummus into small bowls, and put these in the center of each
plate, with the vegetables surrounding them.
Page 21
Cook’s Notes: Homemade “Tahini”
ll my cooking life, I’ve bought tahini in tins, and almost always during that time, there
has been one of these buried in the back of a pantry shelf. The can is always dusty
and slightly sticky, and I’m always apprehensive when I open the lid and peek inside.
Usually, I take in the dubious smell, the murky contents, admonish myself to use it more
often, and proceed with the recipe.
But this time I had those delicately delicious chickpeas, and I wasn’t going to inflict
that on them. I also had a fresh container of sesame seeds at hand — how hard, I asked
myself, could it be to make tahini from scratch? After all, it was made of ground sesame
seeds; surely grinding up my sesame seeds would result in tahini. There’s a certain logic to
this argument — it just happens to be completely wrong.*
In any case, by the time I learned how wrong I was, I had made a very tasty sesame
paste in my mortar and pestle. (I couldn’t get the food processer to do this; the seeds are too
light and just fly over the blade. But our new Cuisinart spice and nut grinder — reviewed
on page 39 — proved ideal.) The result might not be tahini, but it’s an excellent substitute
and frees our pantry of that half-empty can with its stale and turgid contents.
Sesame Seed Paste
[makes 1/4 cup]
cup raw sesame seeds
1 teaspoon olive oil (or unroasted sesame oil)
pinch of salt
*Sometime later, I learned from The Oxford Companion To Food that to make authentic tahini you have
to soak and then remove the tough outer coating of the seed, using a method much like preparing blackeyed peas for akara (see last issue). Except that would be — so far as my own cooking efforts are concerned
— impossibly time-consuming, given the tininess of the seeds and the hardness of the bran. No thanks.
Page 22
• Pour the sesame seeds into an ungreased skillet, place over a low flame, and,
constantly stirring, heat them gently until they begin to release their aroma. Don’t
toast them: toasted sesame paste is a flavor signature of Eastern Asian cooking;
it is too aggressive for tahini. The point here is to liven up the flavor a bit before
grinding the seeds.
• When the seeds are warm and fragrant, stir in the teaspoon of olive oil. Its purpose
is to encourage the seeds to stick together so that they don’t go flying about when
you start to pulverize them. Scrape this mixture into a mortar or other appropriate grinding device (again, see page 39) and work it into a rough-textured paste.
Because of the hulls, it won’t be as creamy as real tahini, but — taste it! — it will
have a fresher and livelier flavor than the canned stuff.
Variations on a Theme
avid Scott, in his not-that-easy-to-find Middle Eastern Vegetarian Cookery
offers a chickpea dip that replaces tahini with an intense cumin-seed presence. Make sure you dry-fry the seeds to release their flavor before pulverizing them — the difference is impressive. Here is my version of his recipe.
[serves 4]
8 ounces (1 heaping cup) chickpeas, soaked overnight and
cooked as directed in hummus bi tahini recipe (issue page 5)
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
4 tablespoons richly flavored olive oil, plus a little extra
salt and ground hot red chile to taste
to garnish: minced mint or parsley leaves to taste
to serve: fresh warm pita
Page 23
juice of 2 lemons • 2 garlic cloves, finely minced
• Drain the cooked chickpeas, reserving the cooking liquid. Put the cumin seeds
into an ungreased skillet and heat over a medium-low flame until they are lightly
browned and begin to release their scent. Watch that they don’t burn. When cool
enough to handle, grind them into a powder.
• Put this, the chickpeas, the olive oil, the lemon juice, and the minced garlic into
a large mortar, a blender, or the bowl of a food processor set with its steel blade.
Adding the chickpea cooking liquid splash by splash, turn all this into a soft purée.
Season to taste with salt and the ground chile. Then scrape it into a serving bowl,
garnish with the minced mint or parsley, and drizzle over a little more olive oil. Serve
with fresh pita as an appetizer.
ast of Orphanides is an idiosyncratic but highly informative Middle Eastern
cookbook, all the better for limiting itself to the food and cooking that George
Lassalle personally experienced while working in Greece, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria,
Turkey, and Cyprus, where he eventually settled. The recipes are often introduced with a tale: cooking for workmen on the island of Aghios Nikolaos; wangling
recipes from his mother-in-law’s cook; living and cooking in Cairo and Istanbul; and
learning the best of Lebanese fare from the Three Wise Ones of Nicosia. His recipe
for a chickpea soup from Cyprus comes with no such story. Its interest springs from
the fact that it is really hummus bi tahini turned into a soup! This is an excellent
way to take advantage of that delicious chickpea liquor. Just make sure you cook
the beans in plenty of water.
Revithia Me Tahini
[serves 4]
juice of 2 lemons • 2 garlic cloves, finely minced
salt and black pepper to taste
Page 24
8 ounces (1 heaping cup) chickpeas, soaked overnight
and cooked as directed in our hummus bi tahini recipe
(current issue, page 5)
cup tahini
5 cups of chickpea-cooking liquid
to garnish: minced parsley leaves and 2 tablespoons richly flavored
olive oil
to serve: lemon wedges
• Prepare a simple hummus bi tahini following the recipe on page 5 of the current issue, doubling the amount of lemon juice, adding 2 cloves of minced garlic as directed
in the preface to the recipe, and omitting the cilantro leaf and hot chile pepper.
• Bring the reserved chickpea-cooking liquid to a boil, adding chicken stock, if necessary, if the amount of the liquor is less than 5 cups. When it is boiling, remove it
from the heat and stir a ladleful into the hummus bi tahini. When this is incorporated, scrape it all into the pot, stirring constantly. Gently reheat the soup, taste for
seasoning, and sprinkle with the minced parsley. Divide into soup bowls and drizzle
each with a half tablespoon of the olive oil. Serve with lemon wedges on the side.
*Cook’s Note. Lassalle says that some cooks stir a tablespoon of tomato purée
into the soup as it reheats. I would think diced fresh cherry tomatoes would work
very nicely, as well.
Revithia Fournou
* Sifnos is famous for both its clay-pot cookery and its cooks (it is said that Greek sailors would kill for the
chance to sail on a ship with a cook from Sifnos). However, the island is also a popular place for outsiders
to maintain a second home, so much so that one website I visited said that the island now has to import
chickpeas from elsewhere, since so much of its farmland has been built over.
Page 25
he quotation from Miles Lambert-Gócs’ Greek Salad that kicks off this issue’s essay
on hummus made me curious about the bread-oven-baked chickpea dish he mentions.
I was pleased to find it in one of our Greek cookbooks, Rena Salaman’s Greek Island
Cookery. On the isle of Sifnos,* she tells us, the chickpeas are cooked in rainwater to
ensure their tenderness (and obviate the need of baking soda) and the bakers traditionally
cover the pot with leftover bread dough, which holds in the flavor and keeps the dish from
cooking dry. The slow cooking results in a delicious, almost molten mass of chickpeas. The
islanders cook the dish in a earthenware casserole called a skepastaria, but our old bean
pot does the trick just fine. The following recipe follows the original closely, but after making
it, I decided to go my own way (see cooks’ note after).
From Rena Salaman and Linda Smith’s Greek Island Cookery (1987)
[serves 4
* Prepare this dish the day before you plan to eat it.
In the afternoon:
8 ounces (1 heaping cup) chickpeas
• Pick these over, rinse them, put them in a bowl, cover generously
with water, and let soak for at least 8 hours.
Before going to bed:
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
cup olive oil
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour • 1 bay leaf, broken in thirds
1 teaspoon salt and black pepper to taste
to garnish: lemon wedges
• Preheat oven to 235°F. Fill a kettle and set it to boil. When it does, lower the heat
but keep it boiling.
• While the chickpeas boil, heat the olive oil in a skillet and sautée the garlic and onion until translucent. Don’t let them brown. Then sprinkle in the tablespoon of flour,
Page 26
• Drain the chickpeas, place them in a large saucepan, and cover well with fresh
cold water (i.e., not from the kettle). Bring this to a boil and cook at a boil for 10
stirring briskly so that it doesn’t lump. Continue cooking, stirring the while, until you
have a thin, smooth, garlicky paste.
• Turn the chickpeas with their cooking liquid, the contents of the skillet, and the
broken bay leaf into (by preference) an earthenware pot. Add water from the kettle
so that the liquid covers the chickpeas by at least 3 inches. Then stir in the salt
and plenty of black pepper. Cover with the lid (or aluminum foil if there is no lid)
and put it into the stove. Cook all night.
• In the morning, set the oven to its lowest heat and leave the chickpeas in it. Serve
them for either lunch or supper (the extra cooking time will only improve them).
Stir everything up, taste for seasoning, and ladle it into bowls. Serve with lemon
wedges (see below for other possibilities).
* Cook’s Notes: The original recipe calls for that chopped onion, but I found it
made the resulting dish too sweet and too much like baked beans (which, of course,
is just what revithia fournou are) for my taste. I decided the next time to sauté the
onions at the last moment and sprinkle them over the dish. Also, instead of the
lemon, I garnished the potage with pieces of roasted red pepper, which added a
citric note along with their own pleasing mellow flavor. The flour, naturally, serves
as a thickener, producing a result that is something more than (or at least different
from) plain oven-baked chickpeas — and you
might translate “revithia fournou” as “baked
chickpeas in their own gravy.”
Page 27
Lambert-Gócs is the author of The Wines of Greece (Faber & Faber, 1990), which is
notable for both its depth of knowledge on the subject and its persistence in tracking
down Greek winemakers whose products can only be purchased directly from their own
barrels. Greek Salad, described only partly in jest as a tour of Greece (both the Aegean
Islands and the mainland) viewed through “the prism of taverna wine
glasses,” provides a journal-entry closeup of this œnological gumshoe at
work, querying taxi drivers, seeking out the odd local bottle on the shelves
of village tavernas, and knocking on farmhouse doors. This Sam Spade
comparison is, of course, a metaphor, but reality makes it almost too easy
to apply. On the island of Seriphos, Lambert-Gócs writes of a hotel in the
ferry port of Livadi:
[Its] somewhat tatty condition added to the feeling I already had,
just from walking down Livadi’s shady main drag, of being on the
set of a 1940s movie starring Humphrey Bogart .... Even the hotel’s
operator was perfectly suited to his part, a seedy old guy with a
thin but shapeless mustache, slicked-back hair that was unruly at
the fringes and sagging pants that had to be hiked up every couple
of minutes if he happened to be moving about. And the more the
meltemi [an Aegean version of the Provençal mistral] rustled the
reeds outside, the more I thought of the old movies. I half expected
a sultry young Greek Lauren Bacall to emerge from a hallway into
the lobby. But all that ever actually appeared was a miscast pair of
frumpy Polish room maids.
Page 28
He also makes an effort to seek out local dishes — no easy thing, since
tourists demand the “real” Greek stuff wherever they gather, which means moussaka on
every plate and retsina in every glass. The journal entries of his travels are evocative, often charming, and sometimes affecting, and I recommend the book highly to anyone curious about back-lane Greek life. Note, however, that Lambert-Gócs is not a food writer.
His description of the food he eats is often cryptic, and such recipe gathering as he does
is strictly for himself.
Hanging Out at the
A Diner Story with Recipes
The Story So Far: On a run-down part of Water Street sits a tiny, brightly painted,
nameless diner. Alec, our narrator, who owns a used-book store in the row of
Victorian commercial buildings that loom beside it, has gradually become a
regular, getting to know the Professor (the burly, bearded proprietor and grill
cook), Greg (the Gen-Y waitron-busboy-dishwasher), and, more recently, the
Professor’s young daughter, Jess. In the past few episodes, the Professor has
been in hot pursuit of the quintessential pea soup recipe.
Page 29
inter, in this part of the world, doesn’t give up without a struggle. In fact, it has
to be dragged off the stage cursing and flailing about. Even so, there was a hint
of spring in this morning’s weather, warm and moist enough for a bank of fog
to come rising up off the river and blanket the town. It added a bit more thrill
to the walk downhill over the snow-crusted sidewalks, especially with a dog eagerly tugging
on her leash.
When I pulled open the No-Name’s door and went in, I found the diner empty of customers. The Professor was leaning over the counter, dourly regarding the headlines of the
morning paper.
“Quiet in here,” I said, when he looked up.
The Professor grunted. “The working class has eaten and gone,” he replied, “while the
leisure class has yet to venture out into the gloom. That leaves only you as a potential customer… well, you and,” he glanced down, “your faithful dog.”
Sasha quivered all over to express her joy at being noticed, and, even more so, in the
anticipation that, with the diner being empty, she could actually sit on a counter stool right
beside me.
Just then, Greg came out of the kitchen, bearing a tray heaped with clean cups and
dishes. His face brightened when he saw Sasha‘s head poking up just high enough to clear
the counter. “Ah ha!” he said. “At last, a customer for our special tasting menu!” He set
down the tray with a clatter and hurried back into the kitchen.
The Professor, inured to such behavior, didn’t even bother rolling his eyes, He brought
up a cup and saucer from beneath the counter with one hand, even as he snared the coffee pot with the other. As I stirred in cream and sugar, he gestured at the grill and added,
“What‘s your pleasure?”
“Two fried eggs on buttered toast,” I replied, “bacon on the side.”
The Professor got these under way. There was a long moment of silence. Then Greg
reappeared, carrying a tray with several saucers on it. He came up to Sasha and began setting each of these in front of her, reciting as he did: “Scrambled egg. Heel of toast, buttered.
Bacon scraps à la mode. Blueberry pancake, forked but not eaten. Bran muffin crumble.”
Sasha was now standing with her rear legs on the stool and her fore legs on the counter, tail wagging wildly. She managed to finish off each treat as it hit the counter, licking the
saucer clean before Greg could set out the next one.
“Jesus, Greg!” the Professor groaned, when he turned from the griddle to see what was
going on. “If the health inspector walked in right now, I’d be finished. Condemned. Forced to
take sanitary lessons at McDonald’s.”
“Boss!” Greg replied in a hurt voice. “It was you who gave me the idea.” He pointed to
the T-shirt the Professor had on, which was from his seemingly endless collection from food
joints all across the country.
Page 30
The Professor glanced down at his front, then looked over at Sasha, who was shoving
aside the well-licked saucers in search of any errant crumbs on the counter. He sighed and
shook his head. “Somehow, I don’t think Nick had this in mind, but I take the point. Now clear
it all away.”
The reason for his urgency was obvious; a regular customer at my bookstore, Dave
Spenser, beefy, mustached, and leaning on a cane, had just come through the door. Greg
whisked away the saucers and I shooed Sasha onto the floor. Dave came over and heaved
himself onto the stool on the other side of me. He caught the Professor’s eye and said, “Give
me what the dog had.”
Page 31
Alittle while later, he and I walked together to the bookshop. Dave had suffered permanent damage from his work as a builder and lived mostly off disability. As he put it, he was one of life’s
walking wounded. But he had an assortment of irons in the fire to keep himself busy — ranging from volunteer work to an ongoing war with the squirrels who invaded his bird feeder. His
two passions in life were baseball and crime fiction, the first of which inspired many a heated
discussion with the professor. The second led to his regular appearances in my store.
The dim appearance of the sun above our heads meant that the fog was burning off
everywhere but here, right beside the river, where it was still so thick that you could barely
see across the street.
“Brrrck,” Dave muttered, a combination of “brrr” and a four-letter word.
“This is a regular pea souper, that’s for sure,” I agreed, tugging on Sasha’s leash. She
knew where we were going and how quickly we would be getting there — far too quickly for
Dave glanced at me. “Do you know what that phrase ‘pea souper’ means, Booksie?”
I answered his question, adopting a deep, portentous voice and speaking as if plucking words from the mist around us. “I’m seeing… night, wet streets, thick fog. A dim light
appears… a lantern! Held up by the driver of a hansom cab. Behind him, from the passenger’s seat, a voice calls out, ‘Come, Watson. The game’s afoot!’”
Dave sighed. “Yeah, yeah. A simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ would have sufficed, pal. The point is
— do you know why London fogs were called that?”
We had reached the door to my shop. I fished the key ring out of my pocket and turned
the lock, flipping the CLOSED sign to OPEN as we went in. “Probably not because of their
taste,” I ventured.
Dave snorted. “Good guess. No, it wasn’t. And there weren’t peas floating around in it,
either. It’s because the cheap coal that Londoners used to heat their homes was loaded with
sulphur, and when the weather was right, it left London enveloped in a thick yellow cloud.
A pea-soup fog was pollution.”
“Boy,” I said, “the past sure does have a habit of letting one down.” I paused. “Don’t
tell the Professor that, Dave. You know he’s researching pea soup recipes ... this news might
take the wind out of his sails.”
Dave looked at me as though I had lost what few marbles he reluctantly credited to
my account. “Are you kidding, Booksie? I already told him. And, unlike you, he got it right
away, I mean, he’s the son of Sherlock Holmes, ain’t he? Those cockney nag-nudgers ate
pea soup made with yellow split peas.”
The Fog Cutter
(London Cabbie Split Pea Soup)
The Professor says: “In Victorian days, London hackney stands often had small
canteens, primitively heated in the winter, where cabbies could get warm and
grab something quick and filling to eat, while their horses got water, rest, and a
nosebag of oats. I looked at some antique British cookbooks for feeding the poor,
then worked out what I would‘ve dished out had I been the canteen cook.”
[serves 6]
1 pound yellow split peas
1 pound meaty beef bones
2 slices bacon • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
pound stew beef, diced
2 carrots, 2 yellow potatoes, and 2 onions, peeled and chopped
Page 32
4 teaspoons kosher salt
3 stalks celery (including leaves), chopped
leaves from a half dozen sprigs flat-leaf parsley, minced
black pepper to taste
to garnish: toasted croûtons (optional)
• About an hour before the soup is to be served, rinse the split peas and put them
into a large pot filled with 21/2 quarts of water. Add the beef bones. Bring the pot to
a boil, skimming off any persistent scum. Then stir in 2 teaspoons of the salt, lower
the heat so the pot barely bubbles, and cover.
• Fry the bacon in a large skillet. When it is crisp and brown, remove it to a paper
towel and pour off and discard all but a tablespoon of the fat. Add the vegetable oil
and return the skillet to the stove, over a medium flame. When it is hot, brown the
diced beef, then add all the vegetables in the order given. Sauté everything, stirring
occasionally, until the root vegetables are tender.
• By this time, the split peas should be meltingly soft. Fish out and discard the beef
bones and mix in the contents of the skillet. Add as much of the remaining 2 teaspoons salt as you like, along with the minced
parsley and plenty of black pepper. Cook for
another 5 minutes to let flavors mingle, then
serve in warmed bowls with a pinch of crumbled
bacon and — if you wish — toasted croûtons
scattered over.u
Page 33
Vintage London cabbie shelter,
circa 1900.
Diverse Cooking from a Carolina Kitchen
Holiday Cooking from a Carolina Kitchen
by Chris Williams
(two pamphlets • 28 pages • $4.95 each)
Page 34
piral-bound fund-raising cookbooks are often what people look to when they
want to get a taste of America‘s regional home cooking. But they might do
better to search out the harder-to-find pamphlets published by chefs who
were born in just the right locale or moved there because they were attracted
by its distinctive culinary ways and wanted to make their mark with them.
Some of these chefs, of course, do their best to find a commercial publisher,
but others really have no intention of writing a cookbook at all. They end up printing the best of their recipes because their customers keep begging them to do so,
and seek no further distribution of their effort than a place beside their restaurant’s
cash register.
Chris Williams is just such a chef. A South Carolina native who graduated from the
CIA and has cooked in all sorts of restaurant kitchens, including some high-end ones, he
has settled in at a rustic, all-you--can-eat barbecue joint in Santee, South Carolina, called
Lone Star Barbecue and Mercantile.
Obviously, this is not a venue for up-to-the-minute trendiness, but it turns out to
be perfect for an open-hearted and respectful treatment of South Carolina’s rich vernacular foodways, which are all about feeding as many friends and family members as can be
crowded around the dining-room table.
Because of this fact, I should warn you at the outset that there’s little here of much
Page 35
use to hungry singles. Four is the smallest number the recipes are designed to feed, and
that’s rare. You’ll find that the catfish stew is meant to feed twenty-four; the Lone Star’s
signature meatloaf serves twelve to fifteen; the shrimp cakes, twelve; and Tipsy Squire — a
trifle comprised of slices of sherry-drizzled pound cake, layered with macerated fresh berries, custardy crème anglaise, and sweetened whipped cream — is meant for at least twenty
(although, given a fair head start, I‘d bet I could polish off the whole thing myself).
Each booklet contains about sixteen recipes, several of which run on to the next page.
This isn’t because they’re complicated; most are decidedly not. It’s a matter of respect.
You don’t need two pages on cooking collard greens, but with Williams at your side,
you might well learn why Southerners treasure them so much.
I was drawn to the pamphlets for this painstaking care, as well as for the affectionate introductions he gives to so many of the recipes, cluing us in to why he (and
his customers) are so fond of them.
Williams embraces local ingredients and Southern-made comestibles like
Duke’s mayonnaise and Adluh stone-ground corn grits. He also unhesitatingly calls
for ketchup and other bottled sauces, condensed milk, and grocery bread (see recipe)
when he decides that these are part of the essential character of the dish, and not
an easy but cheapening shortcut. In fact, these actually testify to both his respect
for tradition and his independent nature as a chef.
Regional tastes reach gale force when the holiday season arrives, and the
second pamphlet offers Williams’s take on roast turkey with thyme gravy and cranberry-apple stuffing, sweet potato casserole, candied yams, and a most appealing
bread pudding, made with pears and topped with caramel sauce.
Those looking for something different from the season’s usual fare will find a
subtly elegant stuffed boneless turkey breast and — for if you have a hunter in the
family — venison en croûte. Other recipes include a baked ham with ginger-apricot glaze,
Hoppin’ John, and a truly awesome “old-fashioned” macaroni and cheese. Only one recipe
appears in both booklets — potato purée (mashed potatoes raised to a higher level) — which
is not a problem, because you won’t want to miss it.
You can tour the restaurant complex (a set of small, old-time, wood-sided buildings
— see cut below — that could easily be mistaken for a period Carolina village center) at their
website: However, the pamphlets must be acquired the traditional way,
by making out a check to “Lone Star” ($4.95 per pamphlet, plus a dollar shipping for each)
and sending it to Chris Williams, 716 Jericho Rd., Cameron SC 29030. Be sure to state the
pamphlet you want. For more information or for advice regarding any of the recipes, you
can reach him directly at (803) 707-6310.
8Tomato Pie8
From Diverse Cooking from a Carolina Kitchen
Chris Williams writes, “The ingredients and method for this recipe are possibly the simplest
and easiest in this collection. It remains, however, the most frequently requested recipe I
have encountered anywhere. Some folks come sheepishly, some with offers of cold hard
cash! We divulge the recipe readily. It is important to use the freshest and most flavorful
tomatoes you can find.”
as a side dish]
10 medium-size vine-ripe tomatoes,
washed, cored, and sliced
11/4 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
1 cup mayonnaise (I prefer Duke’s brand “Southern style” mayonnaise)
1 onion, grated or minced fine
15 slices day-old white bread (I prefer Sunbeam brand)
• Prepare cheese spread by combining mayonnaise, cheese, and grated onion. Season
to taste with salt and pepper.
• Grease a 9×13 casserole dish with butter or pan spray. Cut 7 slices of bread into
medium-size cubes and layer the bottom of the pan evenly.
Page 36
salt and black pepper to taste
• Create a layer of tomatoes, by overlapping them in shingle fashion for the length
of the casserole dish, reserving the nicest slices for the top of the pie! Usually a
casserole will require 4 rows, using 5 of the sliced tomatoes. Season with salt and
• Trim the crust from the remaining 8 bread slices and arrange them on top so that
they cover the entire surface of the tomatoes.
• Spread the cheddar cheese mixture over the bread slices. Cover well, but don’t
be tempted to use too much or your pie may become soggy. Use a little more than
half, because you don’t need quite as much to finish the top.
• Arrange the remaining tomatoes in the same manner. Season again with salt and
• Dollop the rest of the cheese spread in rows across the top.
• Bake your casserole uncovered in an oven preheated to 375°F for approximately 25
minutes, or until the cheese spread cooks to a golden brown. It’s ready to serve!
Page 37
Table Talk
Page 38
Oilerie. Many of us have a notion of an occupation we wish we had the nerve or the financing to make real, but it’s a rare thing to come across somebody else’s dream that practically
makes you weep that you hadn’t thought of it yourself. That’s what happened
to me when Curt Campbell described Oilerie, his oil and vinegar store in Fish
Creek, Wisconsin. Curt and his wife, Amy Jo, were in Krakow in April of 2003,
when he noticed that olive oil was being sold there in small boutiques, where
customers could come in, taste the different oils, and choose the ones that
pleased them the most.
The appeal of this to the customer is obvious enough, but what affected
me was the pleasure it offers the merchant. If you sell wine, for example, you
might break open a bottle now and then for a tasting, but you can’t do it with
any regularity or with any customer. But at the Oilerie, Curt can give you a
sample of any of his oils and/or vinegars that interest you, and engage you in
a meaningful conversation about the special qualities that persuaded him to
add them to his stock. On top of that, he gets to go to Italy to meet the producers and to hand select the oils and vinegars they sell.
The oils and vinegars are dispensed from large Italian stainless-steel containers (which look not unlike giant milk cans with spigots. Called fustis or
fustinox, these drums are sold at Italian hardware stores to hold the oil that
customers have pressed from their own olives.) Because each bottle is filled to
order, Curt can offer good prices by buying in bulk and using identical (12.7
oz.) bottles sporting the same distinctive design, with brass medallions that
label the contents. He calls this the “Southwest Airlines” approach to olive oil
marketing. Consequently, he can offer a twenty-five-year-old balsamic (which possesses an
incredible intensity of flavor and a pronounced mouth-coating viscosity) for $18.50 and a
truffle-infused olive oil (the bosky flavor of which haunts the taste buds for a long time after
the oil has been swallowed) for $15.50.
The Oilerie’s selection embraces different extra-virgin Italian oils with widely varying
flavor notes (from mild to buttery to noticeably peppery), as well as some flavored ones (the
two I tried — garlic and dried tomato — were as good as anything I could concoct myself).
Also on offer are an California avocado oil and a deliciously subtle Japanese-made toasted
sesame oil. Apart from the spectacular balsamic described above, the Oilerie also sells
twelve-year-old “white” (uncooked) balsamic vinegar, and (among others) a subtle-tasting
pear balsamic and a lively fig one, all from Modena. Most of the extra-virgin olive oils are under fifteen dollars; the twenty-five-year-old balsamic is the priciest of the vinegars. You can
order all these at the Oilerie’s website (which includes many things not mentioned here).
And franchises are on offer if you find your pulse quickening at the thought of your own
neighborhood bottega dell’olio. Oilerie • PO Box 31 • Fish Creek WI 54212 • (800) 310-2878.
Word of Mouth. Elinor Rivers (Sylvan Creek Farm, Oak Harbor WA) writes, “Some years ago
you sent me a single sheet recipe for lamb kidneys in their jackets. Two days later I slaughtered a young ram and roasted fresh kidney that night. What an extraordinary experience! The fat had crisped, which added an extra richness. A full-bodied red wine made
up for the absence of sweet butter and artisanal bread. By the way, fresh frozen kidneys
are almost as good.” Phil Miano (Weston, CT) responsed to my dismissing fennel fronds
as “garbage” in a recipe at our website: “I chop them finely and use them with garlic and
some oil, forming a delightful green paste. I do this when I have a pork shoulder to roast.
I separate the musculature in the shoulder and spread my paste throughout. When the
roast is carved you get slices of pork with green ‘marbling.’ It’s delicious.”
Page 39
Cuisinart® Spice and Nut Grinder. If you’ve ever used a coffee grinder to pulverize spices, you know (a) that it works and (b) that you almost wish it didn’t. The ground
spices get clogged under the blade and leave an oily residue on the plastic
dome, and despite all your cleaning efforts, your next batch of coffee tastes
like an infusion of clove. This grinder, about half again as large as a coffee
grinder, which it otherwise resembles, was designed from the ground up to
pulverize two things — spices and nuts — and it does this to perfection. The
grinding is done in a stainless-steel cup which, in turn, is covered with a
plastic dome. You activate the grinder by pressing down on this; I grasp it by the sides while
gently pulse the contents, watching as I do. What is ground in the cup stays in the cup (almost no powdery coating on the plastic dome). Even better, the steel container can be easily
removed (blade and all) to make emptying it easier and cleaning it a snap — you can even
pop it in the dishwasher (but wash the dome by hand).
The grinder has a half-cup capacity (almonds, a quarter cup), which is plenty for the
purpose, even if you’re making your own garam masala. In our house, it has tackled whole
nutmeg, cloves, dried chile peppers, fresh and roasted peanuts, and flax, sesame, pumpkin,
and toasted cumin seeds. In my experience it doesn’t work with herbs (too light), and a call
to Cuisinart confirmed my suspicion that it’s not for coffee beans. Getting the cord to fit into
the built-in storage slot does take a little fiddling, but it can be done. It comes with a helpful
instruction pamphlet. The retail price is $75, but online retailers offer it for about half that:
at, for example, it’s $34.43.
Acarajé. In response to our essay on akara in the last issue, Brazilian subscriber Ines
Carvalho de Azevedo sent us some fascinating photographs of a Bahian sidewalk vendor of
acarajé, that country’s version of the fritter. The acarajé themselves can be seen here frying
in dendê (palm) oil; the traditional side dishes appear
in a photo on the following
Page 40
Page 41
Side dishes. Starting with the closest: vatapá (made from bread,
shrimp, cashews, chile, coconut milk, and dende oil mashed into
a creamy paste); dried shrimp (fried in dendê oil); and an undressed salad (made of chopped tomatoes [often green, as here]
and chopped onions).
Page 42
Page 43
Issue Bibliography
Page 44
Cowan, Cathal, and Regina Sexton. Ireland’s Traditional Foods. Dublin: Teagase,
Davidson, Alan. The Oxford Companion to Food. Oxford UK: Oxford University,
de Pomiane, Edouard. The Jews of Poland: Recollections and Recipes. Garden
Grove CA: Pholiota, 1985. A translation by Josephine Baker of Cuisine Juive:
Ghettos Modernes. Paris: à Albin Michel,1929.
Gur, Janna. The Book of New Israeli Food. New York: Schocken, 2007.
Kremezi, Aglaia. The Food of the Greek Islands. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2000.
Lambert-Gócs, Miles. Greek Salad: A Dionysian Travelogue. Williamsburg VA: Ambeli, 2004.
Lassalle, George. East of Orphanides. London: Kyle Cathie, 1991.
Nathan, Joan. Jewish Cooking In America. New York: Knopf, 1994.
Roden, Claudia. Arabesque: A Taste of Morocco, Turkey, & Lebanon. New York:
Knopf, 2006.
— . The New Book of Middle Eastern Food. New York: Knopf, 2000.
Salaman, Rena, and Linda Smith. Greek Island Cookery. London: Ebury, 1987.
Scott, David. Middle Eastern Vegetarian Cooking. London: Rider, 1981.
Strybel, Robert and Maria. Polish Heritage Cookery. New York: Hippocrene, 1997
(revised edition).
Thorne, John, and Matt Lewis Thorne. Serious Pig: An American Cook In Search
of His Roots. New York: North Point, 1996.

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