BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Ravishing Radishes

Pungent, peppery little orbs hidden beneath crowns of unruly leafy greens, the humble radish is all too often overlooked both in the garden and on the plate. Offering so much more than just fodder for antiquated garnishing techniques, these root vegetables were once so prized by the ancient Greeks that gold replicas would be crafted in their form. Though considerably less valuable but far more delicious, the plain old red radish deserves just as much reverence today.

Best when picked small and eaten moments after brushing away the soil that they grew in, nothing is needed to dress up the bright, spicy flavor concealed within each tiny tuber. The average supermarket radish is sadly so far removed from it’s original glory that it’s no surprise few people share any amount of enthusiasm for this once prized vegetable. Decapitated in the field, denuded of their glorious greens, and shrink wrapped to preserve shelf life, I wouldn’t want to do much more than carve these tasteless marbles into silly sculptures either.

Even if you’ve turned up your nose at radishes in the past, I implore you to give them another chance- Fresh, full of flavor, and treated with respect.

Tossed simply with a bold dressing highlighting its not-so-distant relative, the horseradish, the complimentary flavors sparkle across this crisp salad. Utilizing the whole vegetable, greens and all, this raw preparation comes together very quickly, ready to start off any springtime meal on a high note.

Totally Rad Salad

1 Bunch (About 3/4 Pound) Red Radishes
2 – 3 Persian Cucumbers
1 – 2 Tablespoons Fresh Grated Horseradish
1 Tablespoons Red Wine Vinegar
1 1/2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1 Tablespoon Fresh Dill Leaves, Fronds, and/or Blossoms
1 Scallion, Thinly Sliced
Salt and Pepper, to Taste

Trim off the spindly tips of the radishes and remove the greens. Rinse and reserve the leaves. Thinly slice both the radishes and cucumbers and place them in a large bowl. Combine all of the remaining ingredients in a separate dish, making sure to break up all of the horseradish so that it’s not ultimately clumped into one bite. Adjust seasonings to taste.

Pour the dressing over the sliced cucumbers and radishes, tossing thoroughly to evenly coat the vegetables. Arrange the reserved leafy greens on salad plates and top with the dressed veggies. Serve immediately.

Makes 2 – 4 Servings

Printable Recipe


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Weather or Not

Don’t talk about the weather. No one wants to read another dissertation on the current atmospheric conditions in their own immediate locale, let alone those in some irrelevant corner of the world. Not a single person out there could care less about the recent rainfall, temperature swings, or the balance of sun and clouds, and yet you’d be hard pressed to find two consecutive posts here that don’t bear at least a passing mention of one. Keep this up and you’ll have to convert BitterSweet to a weather blog. Of all the topics to open a conversation with, discussing the weather is absolutely the most boring approach, guaranteed to stop any casual interaction in its tracks. Please, I’m begging you, do not start another article based around the weather.

It’s a conversational dead end, a social death sentence, a trap that I’m well aware of and yet fall into every time. Weather affects countless facets of my daily life, making it impossible to merely push aside as though it wasn’t such a dominating force. That’s especially true when it comes to culinary inspiration. No other single element affects the food I crave and create more than Mother Nature, each dish an edible manifestation of her mischievous climate deviance or meteorological phenomenon. Shopping more often at farmers markets and less at traditional supermarkets only intensifies this connection. Given this overwhelming influence, how am I to introduce a recipe inspired entirely by seasonal availability?

Let’s just talk about the food, shall we? The latest gems sparking my interest have come straight from the aforementioned farmers markets, thanks to the brilliant program CUESA has assembled, featuring local chefs and produce every weekend.

Presented by Chef Ben Paula of Sauce, this colorful composition has been a delicious reminder of the brilliance in simplicity for many ensuing meals. A Pickled Beet and Braised Beet Top Salad may not sound like much on paper, but the lightly briny taproot adds a new dimension of flavor to the leafy greens. Utilizing the whole vegetable, each plate presents a complete and thoughtful study of the much-maligned beet. I would wager that even naysayers would find something to love in such a fresh approach.

For a sweet accompaniment that won’t weigh you down, I would highly recommend the Blood Orange-Carrot-Almond Dreamsicle from Neka Pasquale of Urban Remedy fame. Truth be told, the name itself is far more complicated than the actual recipe. Simply mixing together prepared juices and almond milk provides a smart alternative to juicing from scratch, and creates an unexpectedly luscious drink. All you need is equal parts carrot juice, orange juice (blood or orange or standard work equally well, I’ve found), and almond milk. Add the almond milk last to prevent it from curdling, and enjoy chilled. I’ve taken to mixing up the formula with beet juice as well, since I just can’t get enough of the ruby red orbs.

Even if your immediate outlook isn’t nearly so sunny, go ahead and leave the forecast off the menu. I’d argue that these spring-time treats needn’t require optimal weather for your enjoyment.


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The Scarcity Fallacy

Well beyond the distraction of holiday merriment, winter stretches out as far as the eye can see, like an interminable ocean that surpasses the horizon. We’re in it for the long haul, no safe havens to moor our ships for the night, completely at the mercy of a historically mercurial season. No longer are we reliant on stockpiles of homemade preserves and canned goods, but fresh produce is considerably less diverse, or at least, anything grown nearby and worth eating offers fewer inspiring options. Even in balmy California, farmers market tables once straining under the weight of plump tomatoes and juicy peaches look comparatively sparse, bearing dusty tubers and hearty greens instead.

It’s a rough transition, no doubt about that, but great abundance can still be found even in the depths of winter. A far cry from the scarcity faced by the average cook only a few decades back, the danger isn’t that one might go hungry, but that one might go with a boring dinner. Oh, such terrible sacrifices we must make!

Instead of seeing what the local markets lack, it’s just as easy to see what they have to offer. With an open mind and a pinch of creativity, cravings that once seemed impossible to fulfill now appear ripe with potential for innovation.

Tabbouleh is a staple dish when the weather turns warm, the simplest combination of fresh ingredients that absolutely screams “summer!” in every refreshing bite. Tomatoes and parsley make up the foundation, with a handful of cracked wheat acting as the mortar holding everything together. It’s the kind of combination that needs no formal recipe, depending entirely on the strength of those bare components to shine. I’d never dream of making tabbouleh in winter, when only mealy pink tomatoes shipped halfway across the globe can be found rotting on grocery store shelves. No, not traditional tabbouleh…

…But I would make tabbouleh built with some crafty seasonal substitutions in mind. Bear with me, because I know that it’s not a natural leap to replace tomatoes with persimmons, but it makes perfect sense the moment you taste them in this light, leafy salad. Their juicy, meaty texture and natural sweetness add volumes of complexity to the basic composition, elevating the final product to a truly noteworthy side. Pomegranate arils follow to lend tart, crunchy bursts of flavor, echoing the bright lemon juice and balancing the bitter greens. Parsley could be the sole herbaceous element if you so desire, but in an homage to the abundance of root vegetables and in protest of food waste, I felt compelled to toss in those unloved green carrot tops that are all too often discarded, rather than savored as they should be.

Even the longest winter can feel far more manageable with a good supply of fresh, simple recipes on hand. There’s definitely a time and a place for the heavy soups and stews typically associated with the season, but a bit of lightness and brightness goes a long way when there’s no sun, and little local produce, to make up the difference.

Winter Tabbouleh

1/4 Cup Bulgur
1/4 Teaspoon Turmeric
1/2 Cup Vegetable Broth
1 Fuyu Persimmon, Peeled, Stemmed, and Chopped
1/3 Cup Pomegranate Arils (Optional)
1 1/2 Cups Carrot Tops, Minced
1 Cup Fresh Parsley, Minced
2 Tablespoons Red Onion, Finely Chopped
2 – 3 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
2 – 3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
Salt and Ground Black Pepper, to Taste

In a small saucepan, combine the bulgur wheat, turmeric, and vegetable broth, and place over low heat. Stir well and bring to a boil. Cover, turn off the heat, and let stand for 15 – 20 minutes, until all of the liquid has been absorbed.

Meanwhile, prepare the fruits and vegetables accordingly and toss together in a large bowl. Add the cooked bulgur when finished and slightly cooled, followed by the lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper, adding more or less according to personal preference.

Cover and chill for at least 2 hours before serving to allow the flavors to marry.

Makes 4 – 6 Servings

Printable Recipe


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Posole for the Soul

Just like the changing of the seasons themselves, the life cycle of a garden is predictable, yet invariably astonishing. It seems so improbable that such tiny seeds could ever be filled with life and produce edible fruit that it truly takes me by surprise, every single year, when I can reach out and pop that first tiny cherry tomato into my mouth. It’s the most natural process on earth and still it tastes like magic.

The first few harvests repeat this very same process; the wonder, the amazement, and the adoration of such impeccably fresh produce growing right in my backyard. Doing anything more than just eating the little red gems raw, still warm from the sunshine, seems like a crime against vegetables. Then, like clockwork, the tomatoes start to take over. There’s never more than a half-dozen working vines out there, and yet they’re suddenly producing more tomatoes than I know what to do with. Now it doesn’t sound like such a bad idea to get them into the kitchen anymore.

Adding a short but intense blast of heat contributes a beautiful char to the tiny tomatoes, introducing a slightly smoky note and concentrating their inherently umami flavors at the same time. The midsummer heat makes it a bit challenging to enjoy hot tomatoes though, so after chilling them down, they became the star ingredient in a salad inspired by one of my favorite stews: Posole.

Admittedly, I had never eaten hominy cold before, or outside of the classic soup for that matter, but it proved a delightful addition to this Tex-Mex mixture. Flavorful like fresh corn but more toothsome like miniature gnocchi, those chewy kernels lent the blend a heartiness akin to pasta salad, without all the gluten.

Speaking of those predictably unpredictable seasons, almost as soon as I had my picnic set up and ready to enjoy in the great outdoors, the sky decided that was the perfect moment to open up and begin to pour. Thus, I can now speak from experience to say that this salad does indeed keep well, for up 3 – 4 days in the fridge, and it’s even tasty when eaten warm.

While tomatoes are still plentiful and at their peak, celebrate the season with a unique preparation. It may be tough to sacrifice such perfect specimens, but I promise that the leap of faith will pay off in even bigger flavors.

Posole Salad

4 Cups Cherry or Grape Tomatoes
1/2 Cup Red Onion, Diced
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1 Teaspoon Dried Oregano
1/2 (1 1/4 Pound) Savoy Cabbage, Shredded
1 (29-Ounce) Can Cooked White Hominy, Drained and Rinsed
2 Ripe Avocados, Diced
1 Jalapeno, Seeded and Finely minced

Cilantro Dressing:

1/2 Cup Fresh Cilantro
1/4 Cup Sun-Dried Tomatoes
1 Clove Garlic
1/4 Cup Lime Juice
1 1/2 Tablespoons Chili Powder
2 Teaspoons Ground Cumin
1 Teaspoon Light Agave Nectar
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Cup Olive Oil

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Toss the cherry tomatoes and diced red onion with the olive oil and oregano, and spread them out in one even layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast for 15 – 25 minutes, until the tomatoes are blistered and beginning to burst. Let cool before proceeding to assemble to salad.

While you’re waiting for the tomatoes to cool, go ahead and prepare the dressing. Simply toss the cilantro, sun-dried tomatoes, and garlic in your food processor or blender, and slowly pour the lime juice in while running the machine on low. Thoroughly puree, pausing to scrape down the sides of the canister if needed. Once mostly smooth, introduce the chili powder, cumin, agave, and salt next. Run the motor again while drizzling in the olive oil to emulsify.

Finish the salad, by tossing together the blistered tomatoes and onions, shredded cabbage, hominy, avocados, and jalapenos in a large bowl. Pour the dressing on top, tossing to coat. Chill for at least an hour before serving to allow the flavors to fully meld.

Serves 8 as a Starter or Side Dish

Printable Recipe


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Winning Friends with Salad

Salad? Who gets genuinely excited about a salad?

Fear not, my friends, for this is no sad iceberg affair I’m here to talk about today. Much more like a savory trail mix with lettuce than a typical leafy green side dish, Burmese tea leaf salad is truly in a class of its own. As with any good mixed vegetable composition, the mix-ins and goodies are the keys to success, and this particular mixture packs a whole world of flavors and textures into every last bite. Toppings can vary wildly by region and availability, but a few favorite common inclusions are crunchy dried lentils or split peas, fried garlic chips, salted peanuts, sunflower seeds, and/or toasted sesame seeds, which is to say nothing of the more vegetative base of cabbage, tomatoes, and thinly sliced jalapenos. Traditional offerings include dried shrimps or shrimp paste, but any restaurant worth patronizing will graciously omit the sea critters for a fully vegan experience. Arranged in pristine piles and garnished just so, each salad looks almost too pretty to eat. Wise servers must realize this, as their next move will be to deftly swipe the lemon wedges from the perimeter of the plate, squeeze them mercilessly until not an ounce of juice remains, and speedily mix and mash everything together until it’s one ugly, sloppy, and highly delicious mess.

That would be all well and good by itself, but let’s back up for a minute here because I’m purposely overlooking one critical ingredient. Fermented or pickled tea leaves are of course the star of the show. Treasured in Burma and as rare as unicorns anywhere else in the world, they give this salad its characteristic tangy, funky, an indescribably savory taste. Unfortunately, this essential component is a beast to find here in the US. Moreover, dozens of commercial brands have been banned for sale, as there’s the danger of picking up package that includes a chemical dye linked with liver and kidney damage. Although it’s a pretty amazing salad, I wouldn’t hazard the risk of a hospital stay for a few decadent bites!

Craving this incomparable salad outside of a restaurant setting, I must admit that I took a few liberties and considerable shortcuts, but my riff on the classic has a harmony all its own.

Inspired by the tea itself, I was lucky enough to have a particularly flavorful pomegranate green tea at my disposal thanks to a thoughtful sampler package from The Tea Company. Painting with my own unique palate of flavors from that unconventional foundation, it only made sense to include the crunchy, tart arils themselves as one of many flavorful mix-ins. One sample pack wasn’t quite enough to bulk up my leafy base, so a light, refreshing mint green tea joined that blend as well. I only marinated them lightly, rather than fermented them properly for the mandated 6 months (!) required for traditional lahpet. Call it a quick and dirty fix, but the results don’t lie. A quicker, easier, and fresher take on this rarefied delicacy is perhaps just what the doctor ordered. Now I have no fear of accidental food poisoning, nor do I need to suffer the lack of Burmese eateries in my hometown.

Pomegranate Tea Leaf Salad

Tea Leaves:

1/4 Cup Water
2 Tablespoons White Vinegar
1 Packet (1/4 Cup) Moroccan Mint Gunpowder Green Tea
1 Packet (1/4 Cup) Pomegranate Green Tea
2 Tablespoons Soy Sauce
2 Tablespoons Toasted Sesame Oil

Salad:

2 Cups Shredded Cabbage and/or Romaine Lettuce
1/2 Cup Cherry or Grape Tomatoes, Halved
1/3 Cup Roasted, Unsalted Peanuts
1/3 Cup Roughly Chopped Fried Garlic
1/3 Cup Dried Green Peas or Moong Dal
1/3 Cup Pomegranate Arils
1/4 Cup Toasted Black Sesame Seeds
1 Small Jalapeno, Halved, Seeded, and Thinly Sliced
1/2 Lemon, Sliced into Wedges

The tea leaves can be prepared well in advance, so it’s best to tackle that component first and have it ready to go when you are. Simply combine the water, vinegar, both teas, and soy sauce in a microwave-safe dish, and heat for about a minute. Let the tea stand, loosely covered, for 15 – 20 minutes, until the leaves have more or less absorbed all of the liquid. Mix in the sesame oil and let stand at room temperature for an additional 5 – 10 minutes to soak in. You can use the tea right away or chill it in the fridge, sealed in an air-tight container, for up to a week. I find that it tends to taste better once the flavors have had time to meld for at least a day or two.

To compose the rest of the salad, get out a large platter and put your artist’s hat on. Spread the cabbage and/or lettuce out in an even layer on the bottom, and begin heaping neat piles of all the goodies around in a circle. Mound the prepared tea leaves in the very center, and place the lemon wedges around the sides at regular intervals. Deliver the plate to the table like this with great fanfare- Presentation is a big part of this dish! To serve, squeeze the lemon wedges all over the salad and use a large serving spoon and fork to thoroughly mix the whole thing together. Divide the beautiful mess amongst your guests and eat immediately.

Makes 3 – 4 Side Servings

Printable Recipe


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Thai It, You’ll Like It

Despite growing up so close to the hustle and bustle of New York City, I spent the majority of my formative years in the safety of small towns. These modest, insular neighborhoods are the perfect place to foster a care-free childhood, complete with tight-knit communities, safe neighborhoods, and sleepy streets that go quiet at 9 PM, even on a Saturday. Many cherished memories were made around the babbling brook a short walk from my home, collecting the Queen Anne’s lace that grew in abundance on either side of the stream. Although I’d consider myself more of a city slicker these days, I wouldn’t change those early years for the world. There’s no better place to develop a sense of identity, since there are fewer distractions or outside forces telling you what to be. What small towns are not so great for is cultivating a finely tuned palate. For the first dozen years of my life, I can easily count the number of world cuisines that had passed my lips on just one hand. Oh, but wait, do hot dogs count as a particular national specialty of any sort? Shamefully, my final count could end up being far less.

Thai food was entirely foreign to me, in every sense, pretty much right up until the prior year. It’s not the most rare or exotic culinary find, as globalism has brought so many worldly edibles closer to home than ever, but solid examples of these flavors had eluded me in sleepy coastal Connecticut. Only when I went to Hawaii did I find the immersive experience that I was craving. The landscape is ripe with stellar, dare I say, authentic offerings from just about every part of the world, with particularly strong offerings from Asian countries. It was there that I found Opal Thai, and my hunger for the cuisine has never been greater.

Nothing that I could fabricate at home would reach anywhere near those gustatory heights, but hunger drives one to gamble a bit in the kitchen. Som Tum, otherwise known as green papaya salad, is easily my favorite way to begin a meal. Served chilled, the tender yet crisp strands of unripe papaya are cooling, yet still popping with bursts of heat from abundant flecks of chili peppers. Brightly acidic, tangy, and slightly salty, with just a touch of sweetness to take the edge off, every component must be in perfect balance to achieve a successful, harmonious dish. The most challenging part of the composition is preparing vegan fish sauce, but once you make up a single batch of the funky stuff, it will last in your fridge for ages, facilitating almost instant salad satisfaction.

Of course, the key ingredient, green papaya, eluded me in my limited hometown grocery stores, which is why I took a page from the ever-popular zucchini noodles that proliferate as summer brings an abundance of the green squashes. They don’t stay crisp as long as papaya, so just make sure you leave them undressed until the minute you’re ready to serve. It may not be the genuine article, but it transports me to a delicious new world of flavor with every single bite.

Thai-Style Zucchini Ribbon Salad (Based on Som Tum)

1/4 Cup Lime Juice
2 Tablespoons Coconut Sugar, or Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
2 Tablespoons Vegan Fish Sauce
1 Teaspoon Soy Sauce
1 Clove Garlic, Minced
3 – 4 Ounces (A Big Handful) Skinny Green Beans, Lightly Blanched
2 Medium Zucchini, Spiralized or Julienned
1/2 Cup Halved Grape or Cherry Tomatoes
1/2 – 1 Red Thai Chile, Thinly Sliced
Handful Skinny Chives or Scallions, Thinly Sliced
2 Tablespoons Roasted and Salted Peanuts, Coarsely Chopped

This dish comes together very quickly, so prep all of your vegetables first and you’ll zip right through the rest of the preparation. For the dressing, whisk together the lime juice, coconut sugar, vegan fish sauce, soy sauce, and garlic. It will seem like a lot of liquid, but don’t worry, that’s exactly what you want! This isn’t like a traditional salad dressing; it should soak into the noodles a bit, and you will have a bit of a pool at the bottom when it’s in proper proportion.

In a medium bowl, place the green beans, zucchini ribbons, and tomatoes. Pour the dressing on top and toss to coat. Add in the chili, just a little bit at a time, until it’s spicy enough for your personal tastes. Give it one more good toss to mix everything around and evenly distribute the ingredients before transferring everything to a serving dish. Top with a generous handful of sliced chives and chopped peanuts.

Don’t waste time chit-chatting; Eat immediately!

Makes 2 – 4 Servings

Printable Recipe


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The New Sea Food

Take the salmon out of lomi salmon and what do you have? No, this isn’t a riddle, but a valid culinary question. Such a simple dish, hardly one that even requires a recipe, is tough to mess around with too much without accidentally chopping out its soul. Many an intrepid explorer, set on a mission of kitchen conquest, has pushed a simple, fool-proof concept far beyond its reasonable constraints- Myself included. How do you change something so radically and still be able to connect it back to the original dish? Sure, it will be tasty and satisfying, but you can hardly call a sandwich without peanut butter or jelly a PB & J, can you?

No matter how solidly set in stone some recipes may seem, there is always room for fresh interpretation. While wintering in Hawaii, there were plenty of opportunities to experiment with local ingredients and draw inspiration from the native cuisine. Lomi lomi salmon is about as classic Hawaiian as it gets, a staple found at any Luau worth its coconuts. Little more than salted salmon massaged with chopped tomatoes and onions, it compliments the starchier sides with its bright, salty flavors. Though it would seem impossible to veganize at first blush, the islands provide a natural alternative to any fishy components: Sea Asparagus.

Also known as samphire or glasswort, this sea vegetable is a tender green stalk very similar in appearance to tiny land-grown asparagus- Thus the obvious name. Absorbing the sea salt like a sponge, they can be quite salty if not thoroughly rinsed, and should never be salted no matter what you add to them. Slightly crunchy when raw or par-cooked, they’re an exotic delight to someone accustomed to flat, gelatinous, or stringy sea vegetables like myself. They grow all over the world and can usually be found in gourmet markets, but naturally, they’re cultivated right in the heart of Hawaii, making them more accessible to the city dwellers of Honolulu than most.

This recipe isn’t my entirely own creation, but inspired by the serving suggestion printed on the very label for Olakai sea asparagus. The only farm on Oahu growing these spindly green stalks, they know better than anyone else on the island how to best honor this unique ingredient. I’ve only put a few small twists on their basic formula, making use of more local produce such as the adorable tiny currant tomatoes from Ho Farms and sweet Maui onions. The precise combination is one that I may not be able to repeat for quite some time, but as long as I can find sea asparagus, you can be sure that this salad will find its way to my table.

Lomi Sea Asparagus

4 Ounces Fresh Sea Asparagus
1 Ounce Sweet Onion, Diced
1 Tablespoon Avocado or Olive Oil
1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice
4 Ounces Currant Tomatoes (or Halved Cherry Tomatoes)

Snip off any brown ends on the sea asparagus before rinsing them thoroughly under hot water. Toss them in a bowl along with the diced onion, oil, and lemon juice. Massage the vegetables with your fingers for a minute or two, just to tenderize the stalks slightly. Add in the tomatoes, mix to distribute throughout the salad, and either chill for up to two days, or serve right away. Don’t be tempted to add any salt, since the sea asparagus are already packed full of sodium.

Makes 2 – 3 Side Dish Servings

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