BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Triangles and Tribulations

If ever a single holiday could rival the festivities of Halloween, it would have to be Purim. The comparisons are obvious: Fanciful costumes, parties and games, and of course, sweet treats. Where Purim has the leg up on the competition, however, is in those much celebrated edible offerings. Rather than merely candy, hamantaschen are the traditional pastry-based prize. They’ve become synonymous with the observance, almost more important to the observance than the historical significance itself. A Purim party without hamantaschen would be like underwear without elastic; uncomfortable at best, but in practical terms, truly impossible.

Previous years have seen the sugar-flecked and jam-splattered variations flying fast and furious out of my oven. Traditional or avant-garde, it’s hard to go too far wrong when you start with tender, buttery cookie dough, so rich that the best cookies threaten to flatten out into triangular puddles while baking. Flipping the script in a drastically new approach is a dangerous proposition, considering their fervent following, but I can never leave well enough alone. Perhaps they’re only hamantaschen in spirit, but since any food with three corners can stand in as a representation of Haman’s hat, I’m hoping my wild digression might still get a pass.

Savory, not sweet. Steamed, not baked. Wonton wrapper, not cookie. We can argue the disparities all day long, but when it comes down to it, there’s no question about their taste. Stuffed with gloriously green edamame filling, these dumplings are a quicker and easier alternative to the typically fussy sweet dough, and offer much needed substance after overdosing on the aforementioned pastries. General folding advice still stands as a good guideline to follow when wrapping things up, but once you get those papery thin skins to stick, you’re pretty much golden. If you’re less confident in your dumpling prowess, cut yourself a break and fold square dumplings wrappers in half instead. You’ll still get neat little triangles, and with much less full.

Short on time but long on appetite, I’m not ashamed to take a few shortcuts to get these delightful little dumplings on the table. You can go all out with homemade edamame hummus and even dumpling skins from scratch, but this quick-fix solution allows you to steam up a quick batch at the last minute, or any time the craving strikes.

Edamame Hamantaschen Dumplings

1 Cup Shelled Edamame
1/3 Cup Edamame Hummus
1 Scallion, Thinly Sliced
1 Clove Garlic, Finely Minced
1/2 Teaspoon Finely Minced Fresh Ginger
1 Teaspoon Soy Sauce
1 Teaspoon Toasted Sesame Oil
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cumin

Savoy Cabbage
15 (3-Inch) Round Wonton Skins or Gyoza Wrappers*
Additional Soy Sauce, to Serve

*You can typically find these either in the produce section near the tofu, or in the freezer aisle with other Asian ingredients. Double-check the labels because these sometimes include eggs.

The filling comes together in a snap so for maximum efficiency, set up your steaming apparatus first. Line a bamboo steamer or metal steam rack with leaves of savoy cabbage to prevent the dumplings from sticking to the bottom, and start the water simmering in a large pot.

Simply mix together the shelled edamame, hummus, scallion, garlic, ginger, soy sauce, sesame oil, and cumin, stirring thoroughly. Lay out your dumpling wrappers and place about 1 tablespoon of filling in the center of each one. Run a lightly moistened finger around the entire perimeter and bring the sides together, forming three bounding walls. Tightly crimp the corners together with a firm pinch.

Place on the cabbage leaves and cover the steamer or pot. Steam for 2 – 4 minutes, until the wrappers are translucent. Serve immediately, with additional soy sauce for dipping if desired.

Makes 15 Dumplings

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Play it Cool

One of life’s great ironies is that summer brings in the widest selection of the most tempting produce, but also oppressive heat that makes it a less than appealing proposition to turn on the stove or oven to cook with it. To get the most bang for your vegetative buck, chilled soups are the way to go. Little prep work yields lots of flavor and something that can be enjoyed even as the mercury pushes 100. Though easily the most recognizable cold starter on the block, there’s so much more to the category than the classic gazpacho.

That’s where my creamy cucumber concoction comes in. Featuring my favorite vegetable of all time, the saying “cool as a cucumber” has withstood the test of time, and truly makes this soup the best food for impossibly hot afternoons or evenings. Ideal for both parties or solo servings, it takes almost no effort to whip up, and will keep in the fridge for at least three days, gaining a more complex and harmoniously melded flavor in time. The balance between creamy, soothing yogurt and the sharp punch of horseradish makes each bowlful much more exciting than the pale appearance might let on. Taking inspiration form tzadziki, a generous handful of fresh dill lends a garden-fresh flavor that brightens the whole dish.

For a satisfying, no-cook summer soup, think beyond gazpacho- Save the tomatoes for garnish this time around.

Cucumber-Yogurt Soup

3 Pounds Cucumbers (About 4 Medium Cucumbers)
1/4 Cup Shelled Hemp Seeds
1 Clove Garlic
2 Cups Plain, Unsweetened Vegan Yogurt
1 Tablespoon Red Wine Vinegar
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1/2 – 1 Teaspoon Salt
1 Teaspoon Prepared Horseradish
1/4 Teaspoon Ground White Pepper
1/2 Cup Chopped Fresh Chives
1/2 Cup Chopped Fresh Dill
1 Cup Vegetable Stock
2 Medium Tomatoes, Seeded and Diced

Peel and slice the cucumbers in half, removing watery seeds if necessary. Finely dice 1 cucumber, and set aside. Chop the remaining cukes into medium-sized chunks, and toss them into your blender, along with hemp, garlic, “yogurt,” vinegar, olive oil, salt (starting with the lesser amount), horseradish, and pepper. Thoroughly puree until completely smooth. If using a low-powered blender, be patient and give it plenty of time to break down the seeds, straining if necessary. Add in the chopped herbs, and slowly begin to blend again. Incorporate the stock slowly while the motor runs, until it reaches your desired consistency.* Give it a taste, adding more salt if needed.

Stir in the reserved diced cucumber by hand, in addition to the seeded and diced tomatoes. Serve immediately or chill for up to three days. For best flavor, chill for at least three hours before enjoying. Stir in additional stock after chilling if needed, as it does tend to thicken as it sits.

*You could also keep it very thick, omitting the stock, to serve it as a dip.

Makes 6 – 7 Cups Soup

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Sweet Heat

Successful appetizers manage to pack serious taste sensation into a small, bite-sized package. When the food is eaten in one gulp, there’s no room for meek spices or filler of any sort. That’s where these easy, intensely flavorful little snacks come in. After an over-enthusiastic purchase that resulted in many leftover shishito peppers, I soon was forced to scheme up new ways to use up my bounty, beyond the traditional grilling method. Contrasting flavors were the name of the game, and so I turned to the humble sweet potato. The gentle sweetness of those orange-fleshed tubers seems to both accentuate and mellow the heat of those green chiles, effortlessly adding another dimension. Despite how deceptively easily they come together, they’re quite complex in flavor, and had me reaching for a second, and a third, before I knew it.

Shishito Pepper Poppers

1 Pound Sweet Potatoes, Peeled and Cubed
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper
1/2 Pound Shishito Peppers
1 Canned Chipotle in Adobo, Finely Minced
1/4 Cup Coconut Milk
1 Tablespoon Non-Dairy Margarine or Coconut Oil, Melted
1 Tablespoon Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
Pinch Cayenne Pepper (Optional)
Chopped Walnuts or Pecans (Optional)
Chopped Fresh Parsley or Cilantro, for Garnish

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees, and line a baking sheet with a silpat, aluminum foil, or parchment paper.

Toss the peeled cubes of sweet potato and with the oil and a pinch each of salt and pepper so that the pieces are all evenly coated. Spread them out on your prepared baking sheet in one even layer, and roast until fork-tender and lightly browned around the edges; about 20 – 30 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl and let cool for at least 5 – 10 minutes before proceeding, so that they’re easier to handle.

Meanwhile, you can go ahead and prep your shishito peppers. Slice each on in half, and carefully remove the seeds and white inner membrane. Set aside.

To complete the filling, take your roasted potatoes and add the minced chipolte, coconut milk, margarine or coconut oil, sugar, and cinnamon. Mash thoroughly, until mostly smooth but with a few small chunks remaining for texture. If you really like it hot, go ahead and add in cayenne pepper, to taste, but bear in mind that the shishitos will add a good deal of spice to the party, too. For a crunchy contrast, toss in a handful of finely chopped nuts, in desired. Fold in so that the pieces are well distributed.

Spoon or pipe the mashed sweet potatoes into your halved peppers. You may have leftover filling, but it makes for a fantastic side dish all on its own, too. Line up the stuffed peppers on the same baking sheet you just used. No need to clean it; the leftover oil will help to prevent the peppers from sticking. Bake for about 15 minutes, until the peppers have wilted slightly and are tender. Let cool before serving, top with parsley or cilantro if desired, and serve warm or at room temperature.

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