July 2, 2006

Easy Cold Cucumber Soup

In sultry weather cold soups are just the ticket. This one has the added benefit of no cooking in its preparation, so you stay cool as a cucumber making as well as eating it.

This soup is very close to Indian raita, but with dill instead of mint. I originally made it in a fussier matter, salting and draining the cucumbers, etc., but I find this simpler method tastes just as good. The soup needs the cucumber liquid for a thinner consistency.

2 large cucumbers (Since cosmetics aren’t an issue and we’re peeling the cucumbers, I’m using the common American waxed cucumber here, not the hothouse variety. It’s cheaper, too.)
¼ tomato
2 cups plain yogurt
½ cup sour cream
½ tsp ground cumin
2T rice vinegar (or lemon juice or other souring agent)
3T fresh dill.
2 tsp salt
pepper and Tabasco to taste.

Peel and seed the cucumbers (easiest by cutting lengthwise and scraping out seeds with a teaspoon). In a food processor, rough chop ¼ of one cucumber and the tomato, remove and reserve. Take the remaining cucumber and process to a finer chop; add all other ingredients and pulse until the dill is chopped and blended. Stir in the reserved cucumber and tomato, check for seasoning. Serve chilled.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 1:13 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 3, 2006

German Winter Pasta

My own invention and fanciful name for this dish but I’ll bet there’s something out there like it. It’s a very simple dish, and fattening but delicious on a cold winter night. I’ve served it over spaghetti and frozen cavatelli; I bet it would be delicious with homemade spaetzle. Use good mustard; it’s the main flavoring.

German Winter Pasta

2 slices bacon (about 2 oz)

1 small onion, chopped roughly
2 medium cloves garlic, chopped finely

1/3 lb green beans, washed, trimmed, cut into 1 in. lengths
1 oz ham, diced

1 small tomato, coarsely chopped
10 sprigs flat leaf parsley, finely chopped

1 tsp prepared mustard (I use hot honey mustard)
¼ cup heavy cream
¼ cup broth
¼ cup white wine
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce

Salt (probably not needed), pepper, hot pepper sauce

In a heavy skillet, render the bacon until crisp. Remove the bacon, leaving fat in skillet. In a separate pan, boil the beans until just tender (about 4-5 mins) – I do this in the water that will then be used to cook the pasta. Sauté the onion and garlic in the fat over medium heat. Chop the bacon, return to pan. When the onion is translucent, add the ham and beans. Sauté about 2 minutes; add the tomato and parsley. Sauté about a minute to incorporate. Add the liquid ingredients and turn up the heat to let come to a boil and thicken. Correct seasoning and serve over buttered pasta. Makes about 1.5 cups sauce and serves between 2-4 depending on appetite and amount of pasta made.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 10:47 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 13, 2006

Malai Murgh

I made this to get rid of some coconut milk and ground almonds that were taking up space in the freezer along with chicken breasts. It's really delicious. I associate coconut milk with Thai curries; this has a different, richer taste.

I've adapted the recipe from Julie Sahni's Classic Indian Cooking. She uses more chicken (with bones) and no potatoes. I served it with a rice pilaf and greens (frozen spinach and kale) with corn.

Chicken in creamed coconut sauce

(Serves about 4)

One large (about 1 lb) boneless chicken breast
Two medium potatoes, peeled

3T oil (I used corn)

1 medium onion, finely chopped
4 tsp garlic, finely chopped
1 2"x1" piece fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped

8 green or white cardamon pods
12 whole cloves
1 3-inch cinnamon stick

2 tsp blanched almonds, pulverized

1 cup canned coconut milk
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper or more to taste (I used closer to 3/4, which gives the dish an interesting creamy burn)
2 tsp salt (she recommends kosher salt and so do I)

1/4 cup heavy cream (I used sour cream)

2 tbsps finely chopped fresh cilantro

Cut the chicken breast in half lengthwise, then into 3/4 inch thick slices. Peel and cut the potatoes in the same shape.

In a heavy-bottomed pan large enough to hold the chicken in a single layer sauté at medium heat the onions, garlic and ginger in the oil until the onions are translucent. Add the cardamom, cloves and cinnamon and cook until the spices are slightly puffed. Add the ground almonds and cook stirring rapidly for an additional 2 minutes. Add the chicken and cook until it is no longer pink, but do not let it brown. (I covered it to sweat it, turning the pieces once after about two minutes, which works.) The chicken should remain as white as possible. Add potatoes and cook for about another minute more. Add coconut milk, turmeric, cayenne pepper and salt and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer until the chicken pieces and potatoes cook through. Check and stir occasionally to prevent the sauce from burning. Add the cream off the heat. Let the dish rest, covered, for at least one hour before serving. Reheat when ready to serve, folding in cilantro.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 12:26 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

January 5, 2006


I had a craving for mushrooms the other day. Recalling my conversation with Grace on mushrooms, I made sure to fry them brutally. Mushrooms, oddly enough like cashmere, are something that one assumes need coddling but actually respond better to rough treatment. Please make your jokes in the comments section.

Made this way, ordinary store mushrooms smell and taste closer to their wild relations. Try it. I served this over buttered orzo. Though it brings up shades of ladies lunching at old-fashioned department store cafes, it tasted even better spooned over good white toast.

Simple mushrooms with cream

8 oz. white button mushrooms

1 T olive oil (more if necessary)

½ tsp each of dried thyme, basil

½ onion, roughly chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped

1 oz. lean ham, coarsely chopped
1 tsp sun dried tomatoes, coarsely chopped

¼ cup sherry or marsala wine.
¼ cup broth (beef or chicken)
¼ cup heavy or sour cream.

Salt and pepper to taste

Slice the mushrooms thickly, about 3/8 in thick. Sauté over high heat in the oil, preferably in a heavy skillet (I use cast iron). Keep sautéing until the point beyond where the mushroom is exuding moisture and when it begins frying again. You’ll see this because the slices will turn golden and fried, rather like bacon, and there will be no more water in the pan. The mushrooms will also have much more aroma at this point. Lower the heat and add the other dry ingredients in the order listed, sautéing a few seconds in between additions. When the onion has become translucent and is beginning to fry, add the liquids, starting with the wine to deglaze the pan. Raise the heat to thicken.

Serves 2, or one ravenous mushroom fiend.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 5:41 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

October 22, 2005

Carrot soup and Broccoli soup

The basic method for making both of these soups is almost alike, but obviously the tastes are quite different. Cream of vegetable soups are easy to make and delicious served warm as the weather cools.

Broccoli soup

This soup is what I do with the bottom of a bunch of broccoli. The florets are used in another meal, except for a few to garnish.

About 3 servings

1 small onion, peeled and sliced.
3-4 stalks of broccoli (1 bunch) (save florets for another use, reserving one small group of florets for garnish)
1 T oil
1 T flour
2 c. homemade chicken stock
6 oz (1/2 a can) of evaporated milk
seasonings (salt, pepper, Tabasco)

Use a paring knife to peel the broccoli stalks; remove all the woody outer skin to leave only the softer pith. Slice (thickness is not essential, the whole thing will be pureed).

In a heavy Dutch oven, sauté the vegetables in the oil at low heat until the onion starts to become transparent. Don’t brown the vegetables. Sprinkle the flour over them and cook while stirring for a minute or so until the flour is no longer raw. Add stock and milk. Bring to boil, stirring. Let thicken, then reduce heat to a simmer and cook until the vegetables are tender. Strain the solids from the liquids. Return the liquid to the pot, pass the solids through a food mill (or use a food processor – I don’t for this soup.) Return solids to pot. Season to taste. Serve either hot or cold, using the florets (either boiled or cooked in the microwave) as garnish.

Carrot soup

About 6 servings

1 medium onion, peeled and sliced
10-12 oz. (about 5 large) carrots, peeled and sliced
1 medium potato, peeled and sliced
1 T oil
½ tsp. powdered ginger
½ tsp. dried dill weed
1 qt. homemade chicken stock
6 oz (1/2 a can) of evaporated milk
seasonings (salt, pepper, Tabasco, Worcestershire)
parsley or dill weed as garnish

In a heavy Dutch oven, sauté the spices briefly in the oil, the add the vegetables and cook at low heat until the onion starts to become transparent. Don’t brown the vegetables. Add stock and milk. Bring to boil, stirring. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook until the vegetables are tender. Strain the solids from the liquids. Return the liquid to the pot, puree solids in a food processor until desired consistency (I like it very smooth) or use a food mill. Return solids to pot. Season to taste. Serve either hot or cold, garnished with parsley or dill weed.

In both soups, if you’ve used homemade stock and you don’t have health concerns, use a brave hand with the salt. It takes a reasonable amount to flavor a stock. Don’t over-ginger the carrot soup. Ginger is a very strong spice, use too much and that is all you will taste. Use only enough so you can sense its warmth underpinning the carrots.

Obviously, go ahead and use cream instead of evaporated milk if you prefer.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 12:04 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 11, 2005

Chicken and Sausage Gumbo with a baked roux

Mmmm. This turned out well. It's also lower calorie than the normal recipe, because it uses a baked roux instead of a flour and fat mixture.

The market had fowl (older hens for soup), which they rarely do. I bought several, used one for this and froze the rest. The stock from fowl is darker and more flavorful and the meat takes longer to cook, but also has more flavor than regular chicken.

Mushrooms are not in most recipes for gumbo I have seen, but they're a tasty addition.

Chicken and stock

1 3 lb. fowl
Assorted vegetable peelings or one carrot, rib of celery and onion, roughly chopped
2 bay leaves
1/2 tsp each dried thyme and basil, peppercorns and coriander.
5 cloves

Place all ingredients in a stock pot and cover with cold water. Bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer until chicken is cooked and tender. A fowl will take about 4 hours, regular chicken parts about half that time. Remove chicken from broth, when cool enough to handle take meat from bones. Return skin and bones to pot, continue cooking for a few hours more. Strain and let cool.

Dry Roux

1/2 cup flour

Place the flour in an iron skillet. Bake in a 400 degree oven until the flour is nut brown, stirring the flour every five minutes (watch closely as it begins to brown). If you have made a roux with oil before, this will be slightly lighter - it darkens when you add liquid. This process can also be done on top of the stove, but will need constant stirring to prevent burning. You can also make extra flour and store it for later use.


1 lb smoked sausage (In New Orleans they would use Andouille, I used kielbasa)

2 medium onions
1 large green bell pepper
2 ribs celery
3 Tb garlic

seasonings - salt, pepper, Tabasco and Worcestershire sauce.

1 small can mushrooms (optional)
1 10 oz. package frozen okra

6 scallions, sliced thinly or chopped
1/3 cup parsley, chopped.

Slice the sausage 1/4 inch thick and place in a pan - bake in the oven at the same time as the roux, or cook in a dutch oven, then pour off the fat and set sausage aside.

Chop onions, green pepper, celery and garlic in food processor. Place in dutch oven on medium heat, let it begin to boil in its own liquid. When it does, add 2 quarts chicken stock. Bring back to boil and add the sausage.

Gradually add 1/2 cup hot water to the browned flour while mixing to a paste. It should be darker than peanut butter (for a multi-cultural reference, mine was about the color of red miso). Add to the dutch oven and bring to a boil to allow it to thicken. Reduce heat and let simmer 15-30 minutes. Add the reserved chicken meat, cut in large dice. Simmer another 30 minutes. Season to taste with salt, pepper, Tabasco and Worcestershire sauce. Add the can of mushrooms (including liquid) and the package of frozen okra, cook ten minutes more. Add green onion and chopped parsley, cook another five minutes.

Serve in bowls with rice or french bread.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 11:42 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

October 1, 2005

What to do when your vegetables threaten to go to the great crisper in the sky

Same thing as you do with every other perishable - make soup or sauce.

Both these recipes are rather good. They're improvised, so feel to improvise further.

Red pepper-mushroom sauce

1 1/2 large red bell peppers - halved lengthwise

8 oz. fresh mushrooms
2 T olive oil

1/2 onion. sliced lengthwise
1 Tb minced garlic

1/2 medium tomato, diced about 1/2 in thick.
1T chopped parsley

1/4 c. cooking sherry
1 c. chicken broth
3 T sour cream
2 oz evaporated milk

1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp salt
tabasco, pepper

Core the peppers and place them in a greased tin in a 350 degree oven to roast until the skin can be eaily removed (about 45 minutes). (Note: This recipe would probably work with roasted red peppers from a jar. You'd probably need about 3). Remove the skin. Slice the peppers into strips about 3/8 inch x 2 inches (cut once in half crosswise, then slice)

When the peppers are roasted and cooled enough to handle, slice the mushrooms thickly (I think mushrooms taste best sliced about 3/8-1/2 in. thick - 3-4 cuts for an average mushroom. Less than that and they frizzle. ) and fry in oil. When they've started to give up liquid (Added 10/3/05 See the discussion in the comments about frying mushrooms), add the onion and minced garlic. Continue frying at medium heat and let the mixture dry out.

When the onion are translucent add the peppers. After about a minute add the chopped tomato and parsley. Add the liquids, bring to a boil and let condense down to thicken slightly. Season to taste. I served this over penne rigati.

Lettuce Soup

I never think of lettuce as a green for cooking, but it's quite delicious and similar to escarole or bok choy. Use a more substantial lettuce for this than iceberg. Again, I used what was on hand. Feel free to add what's left of a different herb or liquid. This soup is very simple to make.

1 medium onion
a few scraps of leftover ham
1 small carrot
1 rib celery
1 tsp garlic
1 T parsley
1 T cilantro

2 T oil

1 head romaine lettuce, cleaned and trimmed, but no ribs removed

11 oz. evaporated milk (can you tell it was the rest of the can from the recipe above?)
3 cups chicken broth

Salt, pepper, tabasco to taste.

Take the first group of ingredients through the cilantro and chop finely in a food processor. Saute in the oil. Cut the lettuce into fine chiffonade. Add to pot, and let wilt. Add the milk and broth. Bring to a low boil, reduce heat and cook about 30 minutes. The lettuce should be tender but have some crunch from the rib.

Season to taste.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 9:16 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

September 25, 2005


This weekend was Miss Mary's 40th Birthday party. I gave her the Razor Shell shawl but alas, there are no photos; it was too dark and I forgot to put the photo card back in my camera!

At Mary's parties I am Official Purveyor of Dips. I usually make a variety - some new to me and some tried and true.

Inevitably the one that people eat most is . . . yes, Spinach Dip. Made with vegetable soup mix. They eat twice as much as any other. Foodies, swallow your pride and just make it.

The recipe is on every soup mix envelope, but here it is again:

1 10 oz pkg frozen spinach, thawed
1 envelope vegetable soup mix
16 oz sour cream
8 oz mayonnaise

Squeeze the water from the spinach (it can be used in stock), place the spinach in a bowl and separate with a fork. Add other ingredients, mix and chill for at least four hours. This goes well with chips and crudités. If you're feeling suburban, serve in a hollowed out rye bread.

The other successful dip was a black bean-lime dip. Like the spinach dip, it is best made ahead to give the flavors time to blend.

1 cup grated carrot (I used three carrots)
1/2 cup fresh lime juice (about 2 limes)
1/4 cup finely chopped green onions
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
2 (15-ounce) cans black beans, drained
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper

Chop herbs in food processor, transfer to a large bowl. Grate carrots, transfer to bowl. Puree beans in a food processor until almost smooth. Combine all ingredients in the bowl, stirring until well blended. Let stand at least 30 minutes, preferably several hours.

Next time I make this I will probably add a bit of cumin and a diced jalapeno as well. It tastes best with tortilla chips. It's also healthier than the average dip.

The next two did not come out as well. For the roasted red pepper dip I pureed a 20 oz jar of roasted peppers (drained) and then added sour cream, a little Tabasco and 1 tsp curry powder and then the fatal error - an envelope of onion soup mix. That totally overpowered everything else - it would have been quite good without it.

The smoked oyster dip uses a standard dip formula: Blend cream cheese with sour cream and mayo, add spices, (in this case horseradish, lemon juice and onion flakes) and seasonings (salt, pepper, Tabasco, Worcestershire sauce). That was dandy. Then I added the smoked oysters. Smoked oysters are nasty little critters with one powerful stink. I won't use them as an ingredient again.

I did not make Beet Relish Spread at this party because beets can stain if spilled but it's a favorite at other parties. It's pretty and tasty, even if beets give some folks the willies. This recipe is from the 1959 General Foods Cookbook.

1 (16 oz) can beets
1/3 cup raw onion
3 hard cooked eggs
1 Tb vinegar
3 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
2 tsp horseradish
1/4 c. sour cream

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and chop finely. Chill for several hours before serving.

Happy dipping!

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 11:32 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

September 12, 2005

The Vegetable Challenge

On Saturday I finally shopped at the Farmer's Market again.

Grace can laugh at me derisively now. There's a Farmer's Market right around the corner on Wednesday and Saturday but I just never have time to go. I've been trying (and succeeding!) at eating more healthily and that means fresh fruits and vegetables. I've always liked them, so having them in my diet isn't unpleasant, but it does mean more shopping and cooking, and also slightly more expense. This week I am trying to expand my vegetable repertoire. I haven't yet eaten or cooked something completely new (in four decades, one has tried a lot of vegetables) but I've made a few things I haven't made in a long while, like ratatouille.

The Farmer's Market purchases were parsley (I'm trying to use it, not just for its flavor, but nutritive values. Green leaves are good) and a gorgeous leafy bunch of beets. The attendant asked me if I wanted the tops removed and I accidentally shouted "NO!" Much to my shock, many people do. Beet greens are delicious.

And yeah, a head of lettuce. Iceberg. I've loved crunchy, tasteless Iceberg lettuce since I was a kid. So sue me.

The beets were roasted last night and the greens soaked repeatedly (real food has dirt in it. . .) The beets will be dressed with a (parsley!) vinaigrette and combined at the last moment with diced celery for a salad that I read about first in one of Elizabeth David's books. I think I'll also save one or two to combine with roasted potatoes and carrots for a different salad - I first had that at a downtown food cafe, Barocco, in the early 90s.

The greens (about a pound and I did not use the stems here) were cut into chiffonade along with some surplus parsley and cilantro and combined with a pack of frozen spinach and a bit of frozen corn and cooked in an Indian manner. Saute 1 tsp cumin seed, 1 clove minced garlic and one finely chopped jalapeno pepper in around 2 Tb of oil in that order. Wilt greens in oil. Sprinkle about 1/2 tsp of ginger powder over. Add in thawed and squeezed out spinach (reserve liquid). When all greens are combined, add in liquid and about 1/3 cup frozen corn. Cook until liquid is mostly gone, add 2 tsp (or to taste) butter and 1 tsp garam masala. It's really good. The basic concept is from Julie Sahni's Classic Indian Cooking, but she uses potatoes. I had the same dish with corn at Kishti, an Indian restaurant in midtown.

So take the vegetable challenge. And if you've got a good recipe, let me know.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 2:50 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

August 17, 2005

Chicken & Dumplings

Away from current events and back to recipes!

This one is not exactly dietetic nor particularly gourmet, but it's delicious and sticks to the ribs. As with any soup or stew there's leeway in amounts and proportions and room for variations. Go ahead and use cream and wine or ritzier mushrooms. This is just how I usually make it. And try not to have seconds.

Recipe follows in extended entry.

Basic Stock

2-3 lbs chicken parts (I use 3-4 chicken leg quarters – if your market carries it, by all means use a Soup Hen , Fowl or Gallina – being older it will need longer simmering)
vegetable peelings
1-2 bay leaves, about 1 tsp each coriander seeds and pepper corns, ½ tsp each dried thyme and basil and 4-5 whole cloves

Stew and Vegetables

1-2 T chicken fat
¾ t turmeric
1-2 T flour (depending on how thick you would like the broth)
1 qt. broth
1 13 oz can evaporated milk (reserve about 2 oz for the dumplings)
salt, pepper, Worcestershire and hot sauce to taste (homemade broth will need a healthy amount of salt)

1 13 oz can mushrooms

3 red potatoes, washed but not peeled, cut into eighths
1 large sweet potato, peeled, halved lengthwise and cut into ½ inch slices
3 medium carrots, peeled and sliced in ½ inch rounds
3 ribs celery in ½ inch slices
2 medium onions, peeled, halved lengthwise and cut into ½ inch slices
Handful of celery leaves, chopped.

½ cup frozen peas


1 T chicken fat
1 egg
¼ cup broth
¾ c flour
salt, pepper
chopped parsley (optional)
¼ cup condensed milk (see above)

This recipe is done in two main steps

Chicken broth and meat
made ahead of time:

For stock making, I keep and freeze most vegetable peelings especially onions, carrots, celery, tomatoes, mushrooms and ginger, but not potatoes or cabbage family vegetables, they are too strong. Just place them all together in a bag in the freezer until ready to use. Put about 2 cups of peelings (making sure to have a variety) into a large stock pot with the chicken and seasonings. Cover with water, bring to simmer. After about 2 hours (or when chicken is cooked through, leg joint moves easily and juices run clear) take the chicken pieces out, let the stock continue to simmer. When cool enough to handle, remove meat, set aside and return skin and bones to pot. Let broth simmer up to 4-5 hours longer. Strain and let stock cool. Refrigerate stock and let fat congeal at top. You should have more broth than you need for this recipe; freeze fat and broth seperately for other uses.


The stew is made much like a Béchamel or white sauce. In Dutch oven or stock pot, melt chicken fat over medium heat. Add turmeric and let fry for a few seconds to “bloom” in the fat. Stir in flour, let cook over low heat a few minutes. Raise heat, add broth in a bit at a time, using a whisk to avoid lumps and letting it come to a boil and thicken before adding more. When all the broth is added, add the milk (keeping ¼ cup in reserve for the dumplings) and add the mushrooms and liquid. Lower heat to a simmer. Add the other vegetables in the order listed except the peas and add the chicken (cut into smaller pieces if needed). Cover and let simmer until potatoes are cooked through (about an hour)


In a large bowl, beat the egg lightly and add the other ingredients except the milk. Add the milk in a bit at a time to make a batter thin enough to be dropped from a spoon (it should not be very runny.)

When the vegetables are cooked through, have the stew at a gentle boil. Drop batter by tablespoonfuls into broth. Cover stew for about three minutes to let the dumplings cook enough to hold their shape, then stir once gently to loosen the dumplings from anything to which they have stuck. You may have to repeat this to add in all the batter. Reduce heat to medium & cover. Simmer for 30 minutes. Add peas five minutes before serving.

This is quite rich, but makes about 6-8 servings.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 4:32 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

August 12, 2005


Just what the world needs. Another recipe for Gazpacho.

Mine is relatively simple and quite healthy. Just the ticket for a light lunch on a hot summer day.


1 cucumber
5 very ripe tomatoes

(Continued as an extended entry)

½ green pepper
1 small onion

3 garlic cloves (or to taste)
1 tsp paprika
Juice and pulp of 1 lemon or lime.
1 T balsamic vinegar
2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
2 T chopped parsley or cilantro

Peel and seed the cucumber. The easiest way to seed a cucumber is to cut it in half the long way and scoop out the seeds with a teaspoon. Chop the cucumber in small dice (use a food processor if you prefer, but leave some texture) and salt the chopped cucumber, leaving it to release its juices for about half an hour.

I don’t peel the tomatoes in this gazpacho. If you prefer to, drop them for about ten seconds in boiling water to loosen the skins. Seed the tomatoes by cutting them in half laterally (around their equator) and squeezing each half over a strainer to catch the seeds and juice. Remove any hard pith and chop the pulp roughly. Strain the juice from the seeds and discard the seeds, reserving the juice.

Chop the onion finely and the green pepper a bit more coarsely. Squeeze the liquid from the cucumber. Combine all the vegetables together in a non-reactive container (glass or plastic).

Pound the garlic in a mortar to a paste. The perfect utensil for this is a Japanese suribachi. If you don’t have a mortar, chop in a food processor instead. Add the paprika, oil, vinegar and lemon or lime, continuing to mash with each addition. Add to the vegetables and add the strained tomato liquid (I also use the liquid to wash down the mortar and get the last bits of garlic paste). Add the chopped herbs. Season (salt, pepper, Tabasco and possibly Worcestershire - I don't use it.) to taste. Refrigerate and serve cold.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 2:50 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

August 6, 2005


One of the joys of having your own site is you can check what search strings bring people here. More than once, someone's come here looking for the recipe for borscht from Veselka, the Ukrainian restaurant on Ninth Street. I've had their borscht; it's really good.

This is not exactly their recipe. Veselka's version, as I recall it, may have more beef and no greens, but I highly recommend adding the greens and stems for both taste and nutrition.

My recipe which has evolved from several different sources, including altering my recipe to taste more like Veselka's with cubed beef and more white vinegar. That, a good homemade beef stock and baking the beets before putting them in the soup, are what makes this recipe. Do try it. As with many soups, its open to variation. Add more or less of an ingredient, or new ones like mushrooms, turnips or parsnips. A different sort of Ukrainian borscht has white beans, pork and sausage in it. This soup could easily be made vegetarian - I don't think it would need a vegetable stock. I'd probably substitute water with soy sauce and miso dissolved into it as a fast stock substitute.

Borscht (recipe follows in an extended entry)

1 bunch of beets with leaves (where I shop a bunch of beets is usually 3 medium to large beets. If the beets are small you may want two bunches.)

1 tsp oil
1 tsp butter

1/3-1/2 lb (or more if you like a meatier soup) stewing beef in ½ inch cubes

1 large garlic clove, minced
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
3 medium carrots, coarsely chopped
3 stalks celery and some celery leaves, coarsely chopped

1 quart beef stock (I use homemade)
1 cup canned tomato and liquid, coarsely chopped
½ small head cabbage.

Seasonings to taste –

1/3 cup white vinegar
2 tsp salt
several grinds black pepper
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
½ tsp Tabasco

Remove the stalks and greens from the beetroots. Trim the taproot from the bottom of the bulb if needed and wash. Wrap each beet in foil and bake in a 350 oven as you might a potato until cooked through – about 1 hour. Let cool. It's fine to bake the beets beforehand. Just leave them in their foil in the refrigerator until needed. Slip the skins off. If they are stubborn use a vegetable peeler. Chop the beats coarsely.

Take the beet stalks and greens and clean carefully to remove grit and dirt. I soak them in a large pot of water and change the water a few times. Cut the stems and stalks into large pieces (I cut about an inch wide)

In a soup pot, melt the butter with the oil. Over moderate heat sear the beef and then add the garlic, onion, carrots, celery and beets – let the first four sauté a bit and get translucent before adding the beets.

Shred the cabbage in 3/8 inch shreds (I quarter the head, and cut out the core, slicing that thinly separately)

Add the stock, 2 cups additional water, tomato, cabbage and beet greens. Bring to boil, lower heat and simmer covered until all vegetables are tender (45 minutes to an hour)

Season to taste – my amounts are only guidelines but the soup should have a sour tang.

Serve with a spoonful of sour cream and snipped fresh dill if you like, or a sliced boiled potato for a heartier soup. But it tastes great as is.

This makes about 10 cups of soup.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 2:27 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

May 10, 2005


My matzo ball hypothesis has been tested, and looks to be correct.

A loose paste (3 eggs to 1 cup of matzo meal, and enough broth - it was slightly less than 1/2 cup so add a bit at a time) will make a fluffy matzo ball.

Now I get to eat them all! This is good. I love matzo ball soup.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 11:40 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 24, 2005

Why MY Matzo balls sucked

I have to make another batch to test my hypothesis but I think that when I multiplied up the recipe I didn't increase all ingredients in proportion, adding 2 less eggs and too little water. I had an easily manageable dough-like paste - which I am betting is why the balls came out so dense. I think if I had used enough liquid - eggs, water and broth - to make a loose mixture that started around the consistency of cooked oatmeal and firmed up just enough with resting and chilling to be handleable I would have had a lighter matzo ball.

I'm taking some comfort in the fact that my friend Mark in San Francisco, who is an expert matzo ball maker as well, told me today his knaidlach were also "like rocks". Maybe there was a dense vibe blanketing the planet.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 10:36 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 23, 2005

Pride goeth before a ball

Well, given that I had to boast about my matzo ball recipe before I had finished making them, you knew that the Hubris Gods would have to take notice, didn't you?

Of course you did. But you just let me go on and on . . .

I blame society.

It's the first time I've ever made them for a seder - my cousin Janet's. I had to quadruple my usual recipe, which is probably where the trouble started. Are they light and fluffy? Of course not. Let's just say they're al dente.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 12:51 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Why your matzo balls suck

You didn’t use chicken fat. Cholesterol, schmolesterol. Chicken fat is an essential flavoring here. It makes the recipe.

You made them too large. Surely the proverbial joke about cannonballs should have warned you. Large matzo balls are harder to cook all the way through.

You didn’t cook them long enough. Light, fluffy matzo balls with a cooked, not raw, center take time. About 40 minutes.

You didn’t keep the pot tightly covered. Steam helps to cook those babies through. Keep a lid on it.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 12:12 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 22, 2005

The Best Matzo Ball Soup

Yeah, I really think it is.

This recipe is based on the standard box o' matzo meal recipe with onion and ginger additions suggested by Bernard Clayton in his Complete Book of Soups and Stews. I decided to use fresh instead of dried ginger.

The best utensil for grating the nutmeg, onion and ginger is a Japanese ginger grater. If you grate the ingredients in the order listed (driest to wettest) it will be the most efficient - each cleans the previous ingredients’ residue out of the grater.

I won’t give a recipe for chicken broth here, but this soup requires two quarts of homemade chicken broth. The chicken fat used in the matzo balls is also a byproduct of broth making.

Break the eggs into a large mixing bowl; lightly beat them. No, I don't separate my eggs and beat the egg whites. I like a slightly firmer matzo ball. Slightly firmer. Not a cannonball.

Stir in melted fat and broth.

Mix all matzo ball ingredients together, adding enough water to make a stiff loose paste. [update 4/24/05: see above – I think too little water was the problem with the batch I made] Let stand or chill for at least twenty minutes to stiffen.

Bring a large pot (with a tight fitting lid) of salted water to the boil.

Form the stiff paste into balls about an inch and a half in diameter or the size of a large walnut.

Drop into the boiling water, which should be at a gentle, not a hard boil. Cover tightly and let the matzo balls cook in their own steam for about 40 minutes until cooked through.

Meanwhile, in another large pot bring the chicken broth to the boil with the other broth ingredients and cook at a gentle boil until vegetables are tender.

When matzo balls are cooked, remove with slotted spoon and transfer to broth. Simmer together at least 15 minutes before serving.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 11:55 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

March 27, 2005

There wasn’t much in the fridge tonight

A few leftovers, almost nothing fresh, no bread, onions but no carrots . . .

Here’s what I made: There’s almost no point to giving a recipe, it was what was in the fridge, the freezer and the pantry. But there is a point to this recipe.

Baked Gnocchi

Two 13-16 oz. packages potato gnocchi

2 tsp olive oil
½ tsp chopped garlic (mine was from the emergency chopped garlic jar)
2 T coarsely chopped purple onion (what was left)
3 oz smoked pork chop, diced (what was left)
1 13 oz can mushrooms and liquid
2 Tbs. frozen peas.
½ chopped tomato (from the freezer. I throw fresh vegetables that threaten to go bad in there for occasions like this)
2 oz spaghetti sauce (what was left)
4 oz. chicken broth (stored in cubes in the freezer)
2 oz heavy cream (half of what was left)
¾ tsp black truffle paste (thank you, Cynthia)
2 oz pepper jack cheese, diced (half of what was left)
1 slice bread, crumbled into crumbs (from the freezer. See the tomato, above)
½ oz grated Romano cheese (what I could shave off from the recalcitrant nub left at the back of the fridge.)
Salt, pepper, tabasco

Boil gnocchi according to package directions. Set aside. In same pot, heat oil on medium heat. Sauté garlic and onion until translucent. Add cubed pork, continue to sauté. Add mushrooms – reserving liquid. Add peas and tomato, then add liquids (pasta sauce, broth, mushroom liquid, cream) Bring to a boil, add truffle paste, incorporate, add jack cheese. Correct seasoning.

Spray a 9x13x2 inch deep oblong pan (I use a ceramic casserole) with cooking spray. Turn mixture into it. Mix crumbs with Romano cheese, sprinkle over all. Quickly spray with cooking spray (to help the crumbs brown).

Bake at 350 degrees until browned.

You’ll probably never want to make this recipe; it isn’t even a recipe. It’s a basic technique for making a baked dish that can be altered to suit the ingredients at hand. Different starch, different liquids, different meats or vegetables, whatever.

The point of this recipe is that this is how I function most creatively. There are people who have an idea and then need to control it from conception through all parts of the process to fruition. I rarely have ideas like that; I’m at my most creative when responding to parameters. I can take 13 girls who are weak on pointe and one boy who cannot dance and make, somehow, a dance.

There is a lot to be said for a grand, compelling vision. Certainly our contemporary vision of the artist has moved away from the craftsman and towards the auteur. And craft without vision is, well, baked gnocchi made from leftovers. It's a fine dish for dinner tonight, and there are leftovers, but would I serve it to company? Also, the person who can make a dance with thirteen girls who are weak on pointe is the one who tends to get stuck with them. Still, there is a lot to be said as well for the ability to open up the fridge and make something from what’s inside.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 11:21 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

February 16, 2005

Pasta Sauce - It's what's for dinner.

Recipes with many ingredients may seem daunting, but this one is really about as simple as it gets. Chop. Sauté. Simmer. There is a lot of chopping involved here; you’ll want to use a food processor.

Soups and stews tolerate wide shifts in proportions. Add more of one meat and less of another as you prefer. I picked up the addition of a large amount of chopped carrots from Chris Rankin, my roommate when I danced with American Festival Ballet in Boise in the Mesozoic era. Also, the recipe is keyed toward being made with nonperishables from my pantry – by all means use fresh ingredients when you have them, but for instance, don’t let the absence of chicken broth stop you from making this. Use a bouillon cube.

Pasta sauce.

2 slices bacon (about 2 ounces)

1 lb hot Italian sausage
¾ lb. ground chuck
6 oz. beef shoulder (London broil)

1 tsp dried basil
½ tsp dried oregano
½ tsp dried thyme
1 bay leaf

4 cloves garlic
1 very large onion
3 large carrots
3 large ribs celery and a small handful of celery leaves

1 16 oz. can mushrooms (by all means use fresh, they tend to spoil before I get around to cooking, so I keep canned on hand)
1 28 oz. can crushed or whole tomatoes
1 8 oz. can tomato sauce
2 cups strong homemade chicken broth or two beef or chicken bouillon cubes.
½ cup cream, sour cream, milk or condensed milk – depending on how you feel about fat and calories. All work.

1 T salt
Several grinds black pepper (about ½ tsp)
1 tsp hot chili sauce (or to taste)
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce

1/3 cup wine (either red wine, sherry or marsala)


In a deep saucepot, render the bacon. Reserve bacon, leave fat in pan. Chop the sausage coarsely. Render the sausage and ground beef on medium heat. Cut the London broil into small dice (less than ½ inch cubes) and brown along with the other meats. Add spices to meats (rub dried spices in your palms before adding to release oils and flavor). Continue sautéing. Chop all vegetables with the bacon (finely chop the garlic, coarsely chop the others). Add to meats, continue to sauté. If you’re using fresh sliced mushrooms, add them here as you fry. When all vegetables are no no longer raw, add the next group of ingredients (tomatoes, broth et al.), then add seasonings except wine. Simmer uncovered for about 2 hours. Add wine about 10 minutes before removing from heat. Serve over pasta.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 1:49 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack