Broadly Speaking

What’s in a name? Broad beans are a confounding classification that encompasses a whole swath of the legume population. Some use the term interchangeably, referring to butter beans and lima beans as if they were the same thing. Defying all rational definition, in a sense, they are! Why is it that lima beans tend to get the short end of the stick, the bane of many picky childrens’ existence, while butter beans come with an air of whole luxury? Words do matter, more than one might want to admit.

Different varieties for each title exist, but the whole naming convention is further complicated by location and appearance. In the south, you’re more likely to see butter beans on the menu, but if they’re younger and thus greener, they’re the spitting image of what one might otherwise refer to as lima beans. It’s the same, but different.

If we could forget about names for a minute, I truly believe that the smaller, greener subspecies would have a fighting chance at mainstream acceptance. Tender, but with the same toothsome bite as edamame, they’re textually unparalleled in the bean kingdom. That’s especially true if you treat them properly; canned or over-boiled beans are likely the root of cause of such historical disregard, but fresh or frozen, you’re talking about a whole different hill of beans.

Pan-fried with a generous glug of fresh pressed olive oil, they finally live up to the promise of buttery taste, too. Blistered over scorching hot temperatures, a literal flash in the pan, their skins become crisp, adding a whole new dimension of texture to the plate. Simply prepared, with a touch of garlic, salt, and pepper, you could easily eat them straight, as an entree over mashed potatoes, sprinkled over salads, or served up with bar nuts as a hot new beer snack.

This same treatment works for just about any bean, including but not limited to chickpeas, fava beans, and even lentils. Now, don’t even get me started about the additional complication of the terms “pole beans” and “butter peas.”

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Gooey St. Louey

At a glance, it looks like a mistake. Something must have gone wrong in the oven, or perhaps before. Maybe carelessly measured ingredients, an inaccurate thermometer, or poor technique led to such a homely appearance. Sunken in the middle, crackled and broken across the surface, it’s no wonder most versions are drowned in a flurry of powdered sugar, as if trying to cover these flaws. Then, there’s the sweetness; oh, such sweetness, as if plain sugar was a bitter pill by comparison!

St. Louis gooey butter cake has quite a reputation, along with a fervent following that wouldn’t have it any other way. It turns out that this Depression-era cake was indeed the result of a Missourian baker’s error. As the legend goes, the ratios were somehow skewed but because ingredients were precious, it was simply sold anyway, repositioned as a pudding-like treat you could eat with a fork. It’s all about marketing, right?

Most modern recipes start with boxed cake mix and use about a pound more sweetener than I would really like to ingest in a year. Purists may scoff, but it genuinely hurts my teeth to think about. If you’re still with me here, craving that same luscious gooey texture with a fuller flavor less obscured by sweetness, pull up a seat and grab a fork.

Everything is better with sprinkles, don’t you agree? If we’re going to make a simple cake, it might as well be a confetti cake. Staying true to its simple vanilla roots, a touch of fresh lemon juice brightens the batter without taking command. More nuanced, delicate, and mature, yet whimsically colorful all at once, this rendition pulls it firmly out of the Depression and back into contemporary kitchens.

A pinch of salt balances out the topping, while the amount of sugar is slashed in half, compared to conventional recipes. Yes, it’s still plenty sweet, but no longer the stuff of dental nightmares. You can indulge without bracing yourself for a sugar crash later in the day.

Gooey butter cake may just be my favorite mistake. If only all our blunders could be so delicious!

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The Duchess and the Pea

What could be more proper than a decorous English tea sandwich? Filled daintily but not overstuffed, crusts carefully removed, each mouthful is an architectural feat, rendered in an edible medium. History has spared no detail on this stately creation, giving full attribution to Anna Maria Stanhope, seventh Duchess of Bedford, who felt the sharp jab of hunger midday, while dinner was still many hours off. A well-mannered lady could not simply pilfer scraps from the kitchen- Heavens, no! Fashioning these elegant little two-bite affairs to serve with tea, no one needed suffer the embarrassment of an uncontrolled appetite in civilized company.

Why, then, has it taken so long for contemporary cooks to realize the potential of another British staple, the English pea, when crafting a perfectly proper filling? Tender, sweet green pearls that sing of spring’s bounty, they’re an even more esteemed asset than the common cucumber.

While we’re on the subject of names and origins, I must wonder why there isn’t more tea involved in a rightful tea sandwich? Of course, like coffee cake, the moniker intones what should be served with the food at hand, but I find myself unsatisfied with that explanation. In my remodeled bread building, stunning butterfly pea tea powder grants lightly tangy cream cheese an arresting blue hue.

In less formal settings, the pea spread could become a dip for any variety of fresh vegetable crudites, crackers, or chips. In fact, it could be swirled through strands of al dente spaghetti for a savory seasonal treat, too. However, something about the full combination of elements, complete with effortlessly yielding soft sandwich bread, really makes it shine. Do give it a go; it’s only proper to try.

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Watch the World Burn

It’s the contrarian in me, but I must admit, I love a recipe that’s meant to go wrong. Flawed by design, it tells you right in the title that it won’t turn out according to standard procedure. Burnt Basque Cheesecake has been high on my list for just that reason. Baking to golden brown perfection is not the goal here: You want to push it further, right over the edge of the cliff into dark, smoldering, ashes.

Okay, the results aren’t that dire, but the top is definitely edging into “blackened” territory, which I usually take as a euphemism for being exceedingly overcooked. It’s a good thing, in this case, to stand back and watch the world burn- Or at least, the contents of your springform pan. That darkly lacquered surface contains volumes of flavor, intense and arresting, like the slightly bitter edge to properly caramelized sugar. It takes the bite out of strong sweetness, creating harmonious balance throughout the dessert.

Inside lies soft, tender custard, gently tangy like any proper cheesecake filling. If anything, the extreme external heat keeps the center even more pillow-like, cooking it to the bare minimum necessary to set and slice. It’s not a classic beauty, but quite possibly the best kind of cheesecake, for those who care more about flavor than shallow aesthetics.

Don’t be afraid to turn up the heat and immolate your hard work in that fiery oven. This particular baptism by fire isn’t a painful lesson to learn.

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More Matzo? Say It’s Not So!

Why is this night different from all other nights?
On this night, we must ask ourselves why on Earth we bought so much darned matzo meal.

Don’t tell me I’m alone here. Year after year, as Passover draws nearer, I have an inexplicable fear of running out of matzo meal. Surely, THAT will be the one thing that the stores run out of right in the moment of need. Not toilet paper, not water, but matzo meal. It’s even more incomprehensible because I don’t even like the stuff. Truth be told, I hate matzo! Made into balls or drowned in toffee is the only way I’ll accept it. Otherwise… What the heck do you do with all this dry, flavorless sawdust?

You turn it into a fruit crumble topping, that’s what! Thanks to the magic of nature’s candy, there’s plenty of rich, sweet flavor in the filling to make up for any of matzo’s shortcomings. Bolstered by the warmth of ground cinnamon and dark brown sugar, it turns into a crisp, downright buttery struesel to cap off the tender berry jumble. Served warm with perhaps a scoop of ice cream melting luxuriously into all the crevasses, or a soft dollop of whipped coconut cream melding into each layer, there are few desserts more comforting.

You’d never even know that this formula included the plague of my pantry, that ever-present matzo meal, perpetually purchased in bulk for no good reason. At least, now it has a good purpose, even beyond the Passover Seder. For both its crowd-pleasing taste and effortless assembly, this dessert is a definite keeper.

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Gefilte? Go Fish!

“Passover is right around the corner, so I was thinking about making a vegan gefilte fish this year.

Silence. The line went dead. After a few beats, I wondered if the call had dropped altogether, until my mom hesitantly, quietly responded, “…Why?”

My mother herself is a fair weather gefilte fish supporter, serving it dutifully every time tradition mandates. I get the impression that it’s more about ritual, symbolism, and classic Jewish guilt than genuine enjoyment, but for all that, her tolerance for the processed white fish dumpling is far greater than most. Even she couldn’t fathom why I’d want to revisit the reviled appetizer, and at such great effort.

To be honest, I’m not entirely sure. Maybe it’s the challenge of creating something that is otherwise unattainable, of trying something new and novel, or my general propensity towards all things bizarre.

Let’s be honest, gefilte fish is an outlandish dish. They’re like poached pescaterian meatballs, spiked with the sharp bite of horseradish and bitter herbs. You can generally find them packed in shelf-stable glass bottles, which seem to live indefinitely in the back of your bubbe‘s pantry, like a long-forgotten science experiment gone awry. To make matters worse, because cooking is verboten on the Sabbath for strictly kosher households, it’s typically served cold.

Starting from scratch with plants, we can resuscitate this Franken-fish with just a bit of patience and perseverance. Potato and cauliflower provide the substance and texture with a fairly neutral taste, bolstered by caper brine for a subtly oceanic, saline essence. Olive brine or simply very salty water could do in a pinch, but something about the faintly lemony, pleasingly metallic taste of capers really suits the original inspiration.

There are plenty of similar interpretations on the internet, but what sets my fish-free gefilte apart is the genuine coating in aspic, reminiscent of the gelatinous goop that comes within the jar. Slicked with the sheen of agar, this extra layer locks in moisture, freshness, and an added veneer of savory flavor.

No one would be fooled by my finless imposters, even amidst the cacophony of colors on the average Seder plate; these gefilte are far and away the superior option. Banish those fetid, mummified monstrosities in the closet, and try something better than merely edible this year.

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