My first born starting school has opened up a world of culinary challenges: what can I make and pack for her that a) she’ll eat b) is nutritious (most of the time) and c) not too messy? The top two contenders so far as been a chicken “salad” sandwich made from leftover chicken curry, mayo and provolone cheese. First choice though, banana nutella sandwich. That’s my cop out sandwich. Something I’m sure Park Slope moms would be aghast at finding out was given to a child. You’ve heard about that, right? The parents who wanted to ban the ice cream truck coming ’round the block so they wouldn’t have to deal with their kids ice cream wanting tantrums. While I empathize with the tantrum dealing – I wonder how many parents in my generation reflect on the food they grew up versus the food they feed their kids. Sometimes I get so hung up on, “Are my kids eating enough greens?” “Are they getting enough fiber?” “Is it too late in the evening for chocolate?”. While it’s definitely good to be thinking of these things, some of us go off the deep end when it comes to this stuff. A certain parent comes to mind who flipped out when her daughter was given a rice biscuit or whatever too close to her dinner time. Do you know what my after-school snacks consisted of? Double chocolate chip muffins laden with all kinds of artificial flavorings and preservatives with a can of pepsi. Or entenmann’s chocolate cake. Or chips ahoy cookies with milk. My gourmet touch was microwaving the chips ahoy cookies to give ’em that just baked quality. Right.So, over the years, I’ve given myself a break. Not all their fruits and veggies are organic anymore. Sometimes they have nutella toast for dinner. And lollipops or ice cream in the evening? One heck of a reward for cleaning up their toys! Not to say I’ve thrown all caution to the wind. I snuck some baby kale leaves into my daughter’s wrap this morning. Usually I make her sandwiches with soft whole wheat bread. Pictured below is Malaysian style paratha which, if you were with me during my semester in Rome, you know it is crazy good. It’s a flaky flatbread that makes anything taste good (not that this chicken needs any help!!). My favorite part of this chicken is the wonderful caramelization from cooking it in the butter. Why didn’t we eat more butter growing up? It is so glorious when treated well. Buttered toast in our household usually meant Country Crock vegetable spread on lightly toasted Wonder Bread.So enjoy these chicken cutlets all throughout the week:
- Sliced across the grain and over salad
- Diced and mixed with a mayo dressing for chicken salad sandwiches
- Sliced and inside wraps with lettuce and tomato
- Diced and tossed with buttered pasta and peas
- Or as is, with a side of quinoa and leafy greens!
- 2 large chicken breasts, each sliced in half widthwise to make 4 cutlets
- 1/4 tsp cumin
- 1/4 tsp paprika
- 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
- 1/2 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp salt
- pinch of cayenne pepper
- 2 tbsp olive oil, divided
- 1 tbsp butter, divided
- Combine spices in a small bowl and sprinkle all or most of it evenly over both sides of each chicken cutlet.
- In a large fry pan over medium high heat, heat 1 tbsp oil and 1/2 tbsp butter. When the bubbling of the butter dies down, add two pieces of the chicken cutlets. Cook for 2-3 minutes on each side. You’ll know when to flip when the bottom side is golden brown and the white (cooked) part of the chicken creeps up to the middle. Flip and cook for an additional 2-3 minutes.
- When the first two are done, remove from heat and let them rest on a plate (not a cutting board as the juices will run). Clean the pan with a rubber spatula to get the overly brown bits and oil off and into a ramekin or bowl. Add the remaining tablespoon oil and half tablespoon butter. Cook the remaining two cutlets the same way. Remove to plate and let rest 5 minutes before slicing.
I don’t get Bengalis’ obsession with gourds. If you have no idea what a gourd is, you are not alone. Similar to squash, they are mild tasting vegetables with high water content, fleshy interiors and seeds. They’ve got a tough exterior, depending on the type of gourd you are dealing with. These are called bottle gourds, because you can apparently hollow out the interior, dry it out, and use it as a bottle (hello, cousin jack-o-lantern?). But Bengalis swear by these veggies!! You will not find a Bangladeshi homeowner without this growing in their garden! They are ubiquitous. And I don’t get why. They are essentially flavorless. Sauteed, with mustard seeds and turmeric, is one way to prepare them. Simmered in a light broth with shrimp is another. I prefer to mix in large chunks with my daal.I don’t know why I have the knife facing me like that. Despite my ambivalence towards bottle gourd, when your mother in law hands you a fresh one from her garden, you take it. And you cook it. And you feed it to your family with love and gratitude because for once you know they’re eating something that was cultivated with care, that is not GMO, and has no toxic pesticides on it (as a result, though, my poor mother and father in law have had to suffer losses at the hands [or should I say mouths] of deer, rabbits and groundhogs). Ambivalence best describes my feelings toward bottle gourd. Bitter gourd is whole other story. I abhor it. True to it’s name, it’s bitter as heck. Highly nutritious – but that’s not even why my family eats it. They actually enjoy the taste. I guess similar to how Italians enjoy radicchio. Finally, there’s snake gourd – which is actually pretty good. Slightly sweeter than the bottle gourd, but still quite mild and fleshy.
And there you go! All you never wanted to know about these little consumed (at least in the West) veggies. Perhaps now, you will walk by your Asian grocer with a bit more clarity.
- 3 tbsp olive or vegetable oil
- 1/4 tsp whole mustard seeds
- 1/4 tsp whole cumin seeds
- 3 cloves of garlic, smashed with the side of your knife
- 4 dried red chilis
- 1 medium sized bottle gourd (I used 2/3 of a large one)
- 1/2 tsp ground turmeric
- 1 tsp salt, or to taste
- 1/2 cup of cilantro, roughly chopped
- Peel the gourd (I didn’t and I deeply regret it). Cut off both ends and halve it so it’s easier to manage. Take one half and stand it up and cut down the middle. Slice into thin (1/8 in thick) slices.
- In a large non-stick wok or sauté pan, heat oil over medium high heat. Add mustard seeds, cumin seeds, garlic and dried chilis. Cook until fragrant (about 30 seconds – you don’t want it to burn). Open up your windows, too. Toasted chilis make you cough up a storm! Add the sliced gourd, turmeric and salt. Cook over medium high heat, stirring frequently, until cooked through: about 15 minutes. If the veggies start to brown, reduce heat to medium and keep stir-frying. Check for seasoning (salt). Top with chopped cilantro. Serve alongside rice and daal.
I’ve come a long way from the days of squeezing limes into a tall pitcher of water, and stirring in sugar until it dissolves. And stirring and stirring and stirring…
Lemon/limeades were usually reserved for Ramadan in my household. That meant we whipped up batches of the stuff without being able to taste it (since we were fasting) and without sticking to any sort of recipe (my mother never owned a recipe book). The results ran the gamut from mouth puckeringly tart to gaggingly sweet.
That won’t happen with this recipe. I won’t forget the looks on my guests’ faces when they broke their fast with this drink earlier this summer. Their eyes widened as they could not believe the incredible reward their taste buds received after a long day without food or drink. This is an adaptation of a pretty straightforward Pioneer Woman recipe. I stuck to her proportions, but jazzed it up with some floral scented Meyer lemons, a simple syrup for easy dissolving, and ice for a quick cool down. I had never thought to puree strawberries in a food processor with sugar to get the strawberry part of a strawberry lemonade but it was so easy and so perfect. I think when you cook it down in a saucepan it has the tendency to thicken. This way it was perfectly smooth and pourable. If you don’t have Meyer lemons in your grocery store, please proceed with regular lemons! If you do have Meyer lemons handy, you won’t regret it. They have such an amazing bouquet – floral, sweet. I’m not sure if you’ve ever noticed, but when you squeeze citrus, the essential oils mist up and out from the rind like a natural air freshener. When the oils of the Meyer lemons gets into the air, it perfumes the whole kitchen. Almost makes you want to take a bite out of it!
Summer’s not over as long as you’re making this drink! It HAS the power to keep summer going. Also, summer is not over until it’s my birthday. Seriously – last day of summer this year and I turn…twenty…I’ll leave the rest to your imagination.
Adapted from Pioneer Woman.
- 1 pound strawberries, hulled
- 3 cups sugar
- 8 to 10 Meyer lemons
- 9 cups water
- 2 heaping cups ice
- In a medium saucepan, dissolve 2 cups sugar with 2 cups of water and the peel of 1 Meyer lemon* over medium heat. Stir occasionally. When dissolved, remove from heat and let cool.
- Meanwhile, blend the strawberries in a food processor with 1 cup of sugar until well blended. Set aside.
- Using a citrus juicer, or by hand (over a sieve to catch seeds and pulp), juice 8 to 10 Meyer lemons until you have 2 cups of lemon juice. Set aside.
- Remove lemon peel from simple syrup. In a large pitcher or drink dispenser combine lemon scented simple syrup, strawberry puree, lemon juice, remaining 7 cups of water and 2 cups of ice. Stir to combine. Add more water/sugar to taste.
*When peeling, take care not to get too much of the white part (pith) as that will make the simple syrup bitter.
I was incredulous the first time I heard the words “Zucchini Bread” at my adopted Jewish grandmother’s apartment some 15 years ago. Her name is Sophie and she was my mother’s confidant, advisor, protector and friend for many years. She taught her the value of saving. She raised two children during the Depression. She told my mother, every week she set aside $0.50. She grew such a small sum into stake in a multi-million dollar company and a condo in a luxury apartment building in downtown Manhattan. So when she talked, we listened:
- “Eat Romaine lettuce, not iceberg. It’s all water.”
- “Ya ever tried zucchini bread? It’s delicious.”
- “Take care of ya mother. She works hard.”
Right on all counts. Take it one step further with chocolate zucchini cake. I was skeptical when a mom brought zucchini brownies to a play date. But it had such deep chocolate flavor! And it was moist! And magical! I realize that zucchini’s blandness kind of works in its favor in baked goods. Between that and the water content, it’s the perfect vessel for delivering a rich, moist, chocolate crumb. I was nervous as I folded the 3 cups into the batter, that those eating the cake would see slivers of green running throughout, but it melted right into the cake. And with that much veg content, you don’t feel like the world’s worst parent when your kid (and husband) reaches for it throughout the day.
Adapted barely from King Arthur Flour.
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick) at room temperature
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
- 1 3/4 cups sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 2 large eggs
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp salt (next time I would try increasing this to 1 tsp!)
- 1/2 cup buttermilk, sour cream, or yogurt (I used buttermilk)
- 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
- 3/4 cup Dutch process cocoa*
- 3 cups shredded zucchini
- 1 cup chocolate chips
- 1 cup heavy cream
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Grease a 9″x13″ baking pan.
- Sift flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder and salt into a large bowl. Stir gently to combine.
- In a stand mixer or in a large bowl with a handheld electric mixer, beat butter at medium high speed until light and airy – about 1 minute. Lower the speed to medium low and gradually add half the sugar, then oil, then remaining sugar. Add vanilla, then eggs, one at a time, until incorporated fully. Stop to scrape down the bowl. Turn on the mixer briefly once more to incorporate everything.
- At low speed, add half of the flour/cocoa mixture. Then slowly pour in the buttermilk (or sour cream or yogurt). Add the rest of the dry ingredients.
- Remove bowl from stand mixer and fold in the zucchini with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon. When fully incorporated, pour into greased pan and bake for 40-45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Let cool.
- Heat heavy cream in a saucepan until scalding hot (bubbles appear around the perimeter). Pour over the chocolate chips and stir until it becomes a spreadable ganache. Pour and spread evenly over cooled cake.
*Dutch process cocoa, though harder to find, is essential for that deep chocolate flavor. When you use a quality cocoa powder, it makes all the difference between a standard chocolate cake and a gourmet one. Can be purchased online.
I’ve been baking chocolate chip cookies since I was 10 years old. It was my first culinary endeavor. What does that mean for you? That means I’ve messed them up every which way so here I am to share with you some of my learnings.1. Make sure your leaveners are still potent. For years I thought baking powder was just a more potent form of baking soda, just because the first batch of chocolate chip cookies I made came out flat as disks (and I blamed it on the baking soda! Rightfully so, just for the wrong reasons). If your baking soda and/or baking powder has been in your pantry for more than 6 months, toss them. If you’re baking cookies just for yourself or your family, you could take the risk if you fill guilty about tossing them. But if you’re planning to serve them to company or take as a hostess gift, do not take the chance! Use fresh leavener! 2. Use a cookie scoop! Gone are the days of using two teaspoons to artfully mold the perfect cookie mound. Using a cookie scoop is the only way to ensure each cookie is uniformly sized and shaped. I know it sucks to buy additional kitchen gadgets, but if you love cookies as much as I do, or when you realize how great it is to have frozen cookie dough stocked in your freezer to bake off when the occasion arises, you’ll be glad you have one in your arsenal!3. Use parchment paper or silicon baking mat. This might be old news for many of you, but I just cringe thinking of the days I greased cookie sheets and had to deal with the aftermath of scrubbing encrusted cookie dough off of them. They slide off parchment so easily that I’ve never looked back. I always keep my pantry stocked with parchment paper, chocolate chips, and butter so I can make these if I need a last minute hostess gift (or for a sudden attack of PMS). 4. Refrigerate your cookie dough. There’s an unmistakeable difference in texture when you bake off cookies that have had time to chill. The flavors blend, the dough rests, and the center attains a heavenly chewiness that’s consistent among the best cookie recipes. Bake times will vary depending on the temperature the recipe dictates and the size of the cookie scoop you use. I like to bake mine until the tops have the slightest blush. It may look underdone, but it will continue cooking once out of the oven and resting on the baking sheet. Be mindful not to remove it from the baking sheet right away, as it will mostly likely bend and break while in the process of transferring. 5. There is no single greatest chocolate chip cookie recipe. Your palette changes as you get older. Different recipes highlight different characteristics of a marvelous chocolate chip cookie: the nuttiness, the chewiness, the contrasting flavors. Lately I’ve been using Leit’s Consummate Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe. I like the combination of cake flour and bread flour to give it the ultimate texture – chewy while delicate. For years before switching over, I’ve used Alton Brown’s The Chewy recipe with great results. However, chocolate chip cookie recipes, like shampoo, should be switched periodically.
When I went to Capri in April of 2008, I trekked up the steep hills to a trattoria for lunch after a morning of taking in the vistas. I was so excited to have a Caprese Salad in the birthplace of Caprese Salads. Imagine my disappointment when the waiter brought us green, far from ripe tomatoes, mozzarella and basil. Then it hit me. The seasons. Seasonal eating was such a novel concept to me as an American – everything’s available all year round, and the whole conscious foodie thing hadn’t really come into full swing at that time. So, what I had imagined was a plate of luscious, bursting at the seams red tomatoes with buttery mozzarella and verdant basil. What I got was lackluster citrus with less than memorable accompaniments. If I had only come in the summer!Fast forward a few years and now I know that even the most lame tomatoes can be made dynamite by a long, sweet roast in the oven. It’s precisely what’s required of the tomatoes I’ve seen so far this season. Mild summer temperatures means mediocre sweetness and acidity (I think). So I topped regular grocery store tomatoes with sugar, salt, black pepper, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. They reach a flavor complexity that rivals the most pungent pickles. Sweet, tangy and savory, it balances the mild, creamy addition of burrata. Burrata, if you’ve never had it, is cream filled mozzarella. On top of pizza, it makes for the creamiest cheese topping. I wanted to try it on this salad, but freaked out once I tried picking it up from its solution and found it to be so soft, it immediately started running all over the board. And then when you cut into it, it’s even more of a mess! I grabbed a bunch of paper towels and started wiping up the mess and I thought this dish was doomed for sure. But when I started picking up the squares (or blobs) I had cut from the ball of burrata, I appreciated the rustic appearance. It certainly wouldn’t work with raw slices of tomatoes. The whole aesthetic of the traditional Caprese Salad relies on the symmetry of the tomatoes and mozzarella. But with the warped form of the tomatoes from the heat of the oven, it worked well. I didn’t drizzle additional olive oil atop since I felt the burrata had plenty fat content. A sprinkling of cracked pepper and hand torn basil was the perfect adornment. Hopefully your basil is fresh and not the last scraps you could salvage from your (read: my) week-old bunch.
- 3-4 beefsteak tomatoes, depending on the size (I used 3 in the pictures above)
- 1-2 tsps sugar
- 3-4 tbsps olive oil
- 2 tbsps balsamic vinegar
- salt and pepper
- 1 8 oz ball of burrata
- 4 to 6 basil leaves, torn
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Slice 2 tomatoes between 1/4 and 1/2 inch in thickness (see pictures). Arrange slices on baking sheet lined with parchment and season liberally with salt and pepper (about 3/4 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp pepper). Lightly sprinkle tops with 1 tsp sugar, 2 tbsps olive oil and 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar*. Use a pastry brush or your hands to smooth out all the seasonings. Bake in preheated oven for 40-45 minutes.
- Remove from oven and let cool for 5 minutes before removing to serving platter. Repeat Step 2 with fresh parchment paper and second batch of tomato(es).
- Arrange tomatoes on platter, overlapping them slightly. Remove burrata from solution and place on cutting board. With a SHARP knife, slice the burrata into 1/2 cubes (as shown above). Top the roasted tomato slices with the burrata pieces. Sprinkle the tops with black pepper and torn basil.
*Cook’s note: I ran out of balsamic vinegar and instead used a balsamic reduction that you can see me brushing onto the tomatoes in one of the pictures. If you find yourself in the same conundrum, simply leave out the balsamic in the initial seasoning. Forty minutes in to the cooking process, brush your balsamic reduction onto the tomatoes and stick back in the oven for 5 minutes.
Ramadan, the Islamic month during which Muslims around the world fast from sun up to sun down, is winding down. The last ten days is a time of great spiritual importance. Extra prayers, remembrance and mindfulness of acts of worship are highly stressed. My interpretation is that it’s a way to encourage keeping up the momentum, since Ramadan is 30 days long, and many start off the month with a lot of vigor, but find themselves struggling to keep up with the extra prayers and fasts as the days go by. Another important part of Ramadan for me is the communal iftar (evening, break-fast meal). One of the things that drew me to Islam as a child and again as a college student, is the community. When I attended my first ICNA convention as an almost 10 year old, I wore the headscarf for the weekend, per etiquette. And I recall descending on the escalator to the main convention hall and being amazed at seeing so many Muslims in the same room. For the first time I felt like I was part of something larger. Growing up in Queens, my childhood was characterized by my otherness. I was always one of two Bengali Muslim kids (no black, white, arab, SE asian or any other muslim kids in my neighborhood). We were all a rag tag team of immigrant kids – the only cohesive element being our physical classroom or schoolyard. So when I first felt that sense of community, it was exhilarating. I kept the headscarf on (with its ups and downs) since then. This was reinforced as a student at Barnard. The iftars hosted by Columbia Muslim Students Association was another reinforcement. A group to whom I didn’t have to explain my evening ritual of breaking the fast. A group that actually shared the values I was brought up with. I know we live in a society that in name celebrates individuality and uniqueness. But growing up in a society that is so different from your native one, is exhausting. How many times have I had to answer the question
- Can your husband or father see your hair?
- Do you sleep with the scarf of your head?
- Do you shower with it? (admittedly this was a much rarer question, asked by the not-so-high scorers in my junior high class)
- You can’t even have water while fasting?
So while I celebrate multiculturalism and pluralism as much as the next person, and in fact I think I’m the better for my experiences, it is really fortifying to be with members of one’s own group. That’s why I love hosting iftar. Why I love ending a long day of fasting with people I love. With food I love. In remembrance of our common purpose of pleasing our Creator. On to the food! This was actually the first time I’ve made rack of lamb. I took a risk by making something for the first time for a group and not even sticking to a recipe, but using a spice rub recipe by Deb Perelman and a cooking technique by Ina Garten. The spice rub recipe is from the Smitten Kitchen cookbook. She uses it to encrust individual lamb chops and after an initial sear on the stove top, then finishes it in the oven (I’ve made it before here). As for Ina’s rack of lamb recipe, she does a traditional rosemary/garlic combo, then roasts the whole thing in the oven at 450 degrees F for 20-25 min. I smeared the spice rub on and let it sit at room temperature for about an hour before sticking it in the hot oven to allow the flavors of the spices to get into the lamb. I then roasted it covered for 15 minutes. After 15 min, I removed the foil, drizzled some olive oil and allowed to cook for 15 minutes longer. This got it to medium rare. If you’d like it done further, insert a meat thermometer into a good meaty portion of the meat and cook until internal temperature reaches 160 degrees F for medium or 170 for well done. The lamb was from Honest Chops over in East Village. Perfect flavor every single time. I made Kabuli palau for the first time – and Afghani chicken and rice pilaf with carrots, raisins and nuts. Homemade naan. Roasted tomato and burrata Caprese salad (why aren’t there good tomatoes in the farmers markets yet?? Perhaps because it hasn’t been hot enough). Mashed potatoes. Watermelon/mint salad because Ramadan and watermelon go together like two peas in a pod. Pioneer Woman’s Kale Citrus Salad and Strawberry Lemonade. My only edit to the lemonade was that I made a Meyer lemon infused simple syrup with two cups of the sugar, 2 cups water, and the peel of 1 large Meyer lemon. Divine. My mom made cumber raita (yogurt, grated cucumber, smoked salt) and savory pancakes. My good friend Nargis made delicious boulani, a potato stuffed turnover. And because iftar is an evening meal, this was the best lighting I could capture for my photos. Wishing a blessed last few days of Ramadan to those observing!
Recipe adapted from Smitten Kitchen and Ina Garten.
- 1/2 cup shelled pistachios
- 3 tsps chaat masala
- 2 tsp cumin
- 2 tsp paprika
- 4-5 dashes of cayenne pepper (stick to 2 dashes if you can’t handle heat!)
- 5-6 pounds rack of lamb
- salt and pepper
- olive oil
- Add first 5 ingredients to the food processor and process until pistachios are ground and spices are well blended.
- Line a baking sheet with aluminum. Take lamb out of fridge and remove any impurities from the surface, rinsing under running water if necessary. Place on baking sheet, fat side up, and pat dry. Liberally sprinkle salt and pepper all over the meat. Rub spice mixture onto the fat side and let sit for 1 hour.
- After 45 minutes, preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.
- Once the oven is hot, drizzle lamb with olive oil and cover meat with foil and bake for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, remove the foil and bake for an additional 15 minutes. Cook longer, if desired, with a meat thermometer inserted into the meat reads 160 for medium or 170 for well done.
- Take out of oven and let rest for 15 minutes. Slice and serve with yogurt dipping sauce.