Grace Young's Stir-Fried Iceberg Lettuce

Stir-Fried Iceberg Lettuce

Hello, good people! It is a beautiful June day. I am drinking a glass of Apfelschorle (which is the German term for when you mix fizzy mineral water with apple juice) and it is being cooled by the most beautiful ice cubes that I make using this mold, bringing me untold amounts of joy each time I pop out a perfectly beveled little cube. Mercury is retrograde until the end of the month and thus we have been gnashing our teeth for a week straight about all the various things that have gone haywire (to name only a few: broken brake lights on one car, a busted tire on another, a child who insisted on shoving a CD into the delicate CD player mouth of a 16-year-old audio appliance while a CD while already was playing inside of it whyyyyyy), but the fine weather and good humor and fancy ice cubes go a long way in soothing the blow.

Besides, one thing Mercury Retrograde apparently doesn't affect is cooking, thank the moon and stars! 

The most revelatory dish I made this week was this big old pan of hot lettuce. Yes! I know that some of you will look at those words, "hot" and "lettuce", and sail right on by. But wait! Don't go just yet! Cooked lettuce is amazing and just happens to a staple in both Italian and Chinese cooking, so you know it has to be good. And it is! (Besides, I'm just messing with you. Stir-fried iceberg sounds so much sexier than hot lettuce.)

I don't ever eat iceberg lettuce. I don't ever buy it. (Though the excellent comments on this post are all you ever need if you are iceberg curious and need some ideas.) In fact, I stopped eating salad greens entirely a few years ago because I have a hard time digesting them raw. But when I got this big box of vegetables delivered a few weeks ago, a big old head of iceberg lettuce was in the box too. I let in languish in the fridge until this week and the outermost layers had to be removed. The inner leaves and core were still fresh and sweet and crunchy. 

It was just the thing to use in this recipe I'd been saving for...that one day I found myself in possession of iceberg lettuce. You chop up the lettuce into biggish chunks, and fry garlic slices and scallions in oil. Then you add the lettuce chunks to the pan and stir-fry them for just a minute. Then in goes the magic concoction of equal parts soy sauce, sesame oil and rice wine (plus sugar and pepper). You cook the lettuce, stirring well so that the sauce coats every piece, and a minute later your meal is done. Pile it in a plate with some rice alongside and you've got my ideal dinner. Sweet and savory, silky and toothsome. It is so delicious and satisfying, not usually what you'd think to describe a head of iceberg lettuce, amirite? 

The recipe comes from this cookbook and Grace Young says you can use other vegetables in this exact preparation with great results. I'm going to do baby boy chop (ed: This is the funniest autocorrect of my entire life, so I'm leaving it, but obviously I meant to write bok choy!) next and then maybe romaine. Ooh. And iceberg again, too, of course!

Note: This post includes affiliate links and I may earn a commission if you purchase through them, at no cost to you. I use affiliate links only for products I love and companies I trust. Thank you.

Grace Young Stir-Fried Iceberg Lettuce
Serves 2
Note: You can, instead of iceberg, use romaine lettuce, spinach, watercress, baby bok choy, asparagus, snow peas and snap peas. 

1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon rice wine or dry sherry
3/4 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground white or black pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons peanut oil or other neutral oil
4 scallions, cut on the diagonal into 1-inch pieces
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced or smashed
Half a medium head iceberg lettuce, cored, outermost leaves discarded, inner leaves torn into 4-inch wide pieces (or substitute 12 ounces of other vegetables)
Kosher salt, to taste

1. In a small bowl, combine soy sauce, sesame oil, rice wine or sherry, sugar, and pepper; set sauce aside.

2. Heat a wok or 12-inch skillet over high heat. Add peanut oil, half of the scallions (including all of the white and light green pieces), and garlic and cook until garlic is golden, about 5 seconds. Add lettuce and stir-fry until lettuce softens slightly, about 1 minute. Drizzle in sauce and cook until lettuce is just coated with the sauce, about 1 minute. Season with salt, divide between 4 bowls while lettuce is just tender and still bright green, and garnish with remaining scallions.


Ottolenghi's Zucchini with Harissa and Lemon

Harissa Zucchini

A few days after arriving back in Berlin, I was sent a huge crate of produce by Fresh Fruit Germany. Every single piece of produce was in perfect condition and with so much flavor! It was the perfect welcome back to my kitchen after nearly four weeks away. Cooking my way through the crate was so much more fun than first picking out a recipe, then going grocery shopping, then getting started in the kitchen. Instead, I had to quickly come up with ways to use up all the eggplant, zucchini, cucumbers, lettuce, potatoes and leeks (just to name a few) that were in peak condition and wouldn't last long otherwise.

I made frittata with peppers, potatoes and prosciutto from Six Seasons. I made Alison Roman's potato and leek soup with sour cream and vinegar (and yes, I left out the dill and the soup was still stellar). I made cucumber raita and Greek salad and bean salad and pasta alla Norma. But the dish that surprised and pleased us the most was this marvelous bowl of soft zucchini dressed with preserved lemons and rose harissa. The recipe comes from Ottolenghi's latest book Ottolenghi Flavor

I cut a few corners, as I almost always do with Ottolenghi recipes. I used far less oil, just cooked the garlic for a minute or two, then added the zucchini without removing the garlic. Also I skipped the basil because we didn't have any (though I'm sure it would be even more delicious with basil). This recipe makes a pretty sizable amount of zucchini, and I fully anticipated having leftovers. But I didn't anticipate Hugo falling in love with it and eating the largest portion! He was fully obsessed. I was pretty amazed, since it's not just rather spicy, but also rather complex, between the chile, the preserved lemon and the rose harissa. But Hugo couldn't get enough. Three helpings, if I remember correctly, and then it was all gone and I was promising to make it again soon.

Note: This post includes affiliate links and I may earn a commission if you purchase through them, at no cost to you. I use affiliate links only for products I love and companies I trust. Thank you.

Ottolenghi's Zucchini with Harissa and Lemon
Serves 4
Adapted from Ottolenghi Flavor

2 tablespoons olive oil 
4 garlic cloves, finely sliced
1 tablespoon rose harissa
1 red chile, finely chopped
½ preserved lemon, finely chopped, discarding any seeds
1½ tablespoons lemon juice
1 kilo zucchini, finely sliced (about 3 good-sized zucchini)
Generous handful basil leaves, roughly torn, optional
Salt

1. Place a large, non-stick sauté pan over medium-high heat with the oil and garlic. Gently fry for a couple minutes, stirring often, until soft, golden and aromatic. Don’t let the garlic become browned or crisp, so turn the heat down if necessary. 

2. Add the zucchini and 1¼ teaspoons of salt. Cook for 18 minutes, stirring often, until the zucchini are very soft, but are still mostly holding their shape (you don’t want them to brown, so turn the heat down if necessary).

3. While the zucchini are cooking, stir the harissa, chile, preserved lemon and lemon juice together in a serving bowl. Set aside

4. When the zucchini are done, stir through half the basil, if using, and transfer to a bowl. Toss the zucchini with the dressing and taste for seasoning. Before serving, finish with the remaining basil, if using. 


Emma Laperruque's Nutella Buckwheat Brownies

Buckwheat Nutella Brownies

I have been feeling a little...fragile as of late. For example, this obituary made me cry. This book that I finished last night left me with the most sickening case of existential dread. I went into the boys' room this morning for a morning snuggle, but one boy was happily reading in his top bunk and the other was far too busy setting up Playmobil knights for something as silly as snuggling, so I had to start my day snuggle-less. Who cares, right? Reader, the heartache, I tell you. Sometimes I don't think I'll ever be prepared for the heartbreak of them growing up.

The sun has come out in full force this week, despite freezing temperatures at night. We're having the kind of blindingly bright, blue-skied days, still bundled up in warm coats and sweaters, that I normally associate with New England in early fall. Today, driving Hugo to school, I stopped at an intersection and the haze from the sun was so bright, I momentarily thought I was in Vermont.

What to do when one feels exceedingly wobbly? Besides going out into the sunshine for a long walk, I mean. I was thinking about that today as I cooked our lunch: an onion in hot olive oil, slivered canned plum tomatoes dropped in one after the other, the salting of pasta water, the reducing of the sauce. Laying out the plates and forks, digging out the parmigiano from the depths of the fridge. Cooking pasta with tomato sauce does seem to be one of my most foolproof therapies. The mellowing onion, the starchy fug, it all ends up being self-parenting alchemy.

Nutella Buckwheat Brownies

But! I am not actually here to tell you about the healing powers of tomato sauce! I am here to tell you about these 3-ingredient brownies, which—if the world is a just place—should be the next viral recipe to sweep the planet, like that baked feta situation earlier this year. The brownies are made with Nutella, eggs and buckwheat flour. That's it if you don't count salt, but flaky salt is essential to their success, so make sure you have some when you make these.

The Nutella and eggs are whisked together until smooth, then you stir in the buckwheat flour. You scrape this rather stiff mixture into your prepared pan, then sprinkle with flaky salt. The brownies emerge from the oven with that gorgeous crinkly top and the perfectly fudgy consistency. Now I have to make one thing clear: if you know buckwheat flour, you're familiar with its assertive flavor. Hugo and I love it and the combination of the chocolate-hazelnut spread and the earthy, grassy buckwheat turns the brownies into something truly unique. Hugo couldn't stop raving. "These are the best brownies ever," he eventually said (after brownie #5 or 6). They're pretty great. The other two members of our family, who are decidedly less enamored of buckwheat, didn't quite love them as much.

You don't have to use buckwheat flour. You could use teff flour, if you wanted to stay gluten-free, or regular flour, though I suspect they could end up a bit too cloying. The buckwheat adds a hearty, almost savory note. And the consistency! I didn't believe it could be possible with just those three ingredients, but it was perfect.

Gluten-Free Nutella Buckwheat Brownies

What do you do when you're feeling wobbly, dear readers? In case it's making brownies, well, here you go and hugs to you.

Note: This post includes affiliate links and I may earn a commission if you purchase through them, at no cost to you. I use affiliate links only for products I love and companies I trust. Thank you.

Emma Perruque's Nutella Buckwheat Brownies
Makes 12-16 brownies

1 1/4 cups (370 grams) Nutella
2 large eggs
1/2 cup
(60 grams) buckwheat flour
Flaky salt (optional)

1. Heat the oven to 350°F/180°C. Line an 8-inch/20-cm square baking pan with parchment, with overhang on two sides.

2. Combine the Nutella and eggs in a bowl and stir until smooth. Add the flour and stir again until smooth. Spread into the prepared pan. Sprinkle with salt if you’re using it.

3. Bake for about 20 minutes until puffy, crackly, and a cake tester inserted near the corner comes out clean.


Andy Baraghani's Ground Meat Stir-Fry with Korean Rice Cakes

Ground Beef Stir-Fry with Korean Rice Cakes

Bruno and I went to our favorite Asian grocery store the other day and I was able to kill at least 30 minutes (amateur, I know) by letting him pull the wheeled shopping basket and peer into every single (!) freezer case and stare at all the bottles of chili sauce and all the bags of rice flour and ask me a million questions about frozen dumplings and frozen anchovies and frozen edamame in his funny little mix of German and English. I lost him a few times and always ended up finding him transfixed in front of a display of rice crackers or wasabi peas or a silvery array of Capri Suns right at his eye level. ("What's daaaat," he whispered in awe.)

Reader, I bought him a Capri Sun because I am not a monster.

I also bought kimchi and two kinds of rice and mirin and Shaoxing wine and a sushi rolling mat and green curry paste. And refrigerated Korean rice cakes, which I love so much. In the annals of memorable meals I've had in this life is a lunchtime feast eaten at a Korean restaurant in suburban Los Angeles in the long-gone spring of 2009. I was in L.A. for work and the friend I was staying with took me to this place that he'd heard was one of the best Korean restaurants in the city. I've never seen so much food on one table for lunch and all of it was, indeed, sublime, especially this one dish, a bubbling, rust-colored stew that had fresh rice cakes snipped into it by a briskly efficient waitress.

Sigh. Sunshine. Los Angeles. Restaurants. Friends. Airplanes. Newness. Noodling down the freeway in a rental car with a sunroof all by myself.

As much as I love Korean rice cakes, I'm still trying to figure out how I should best use them up at home. (I beg you for inspiration, please, dear readers!) The other night, I made this easy little ground meat stir-fry from Bon Appétit, which was tasty and quick (the kids refused to touch it because they are maniacs, but it's actually very child-friendly). You soak the rice cakes in some water while you fry ground meat (I only had beef, though I think pork would be better here and it's what was called for in the original) until it's browned and crispy (big chunks preferable). Then you add the soaked rice cakes, ginger, garlic and scallions and cook, stirring vigorously and frequently, lest the rice cakes glue to the pan (I used a cast-iron pan, nonstick would have probably been better). At the end you stir in some butter, soy and sesame oil for flavor. The whole thing goes very quickly and is a satisfying little meal.

(The eagle-eyed among you will note the tiny cubes of zucchini in the pan - I had one perfect zucchini in the fridge and I thought I'd make this a one-pot meal by adding it to the mix. Also, I made the dish with more meat than in the original recipe and I liked the ratio, so that's what's in the recipe below. I think a handful of bean sprouts might be nice here too.)

But today I can't stop thinking that what I really want to make next with my remaining rice cakes is, cough, real Korean food, not the Bon Appétit-ized version. Readers, what are your favorite Korean cookbooks?

Ground Meat Stir-Fry with Korean Rice Cakes
Serves 4
Print this recipe!

8 ounces/225 grams Korean rice cakes
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 lb/455 grams ground pork, chicken or beef
1 thumb-sized piece ginger, peeled, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
5 scallions, white and pale green parts only, thinly sliced
Salt, freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

1. Place rice cakes in a medium bowl and pour in cold water to cover. Let soak 10 minutes. Drain, rinse, and pat dry.

2. Heat vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-high. Add ground meat and cook, undisturbed, until browned underneath, about 2 minutes. Break up with a wooden spoon or a spatula and continue to cook, stirring and breaking into large pieces, until browned all over but still pink in places, about 2 minutes more. Add rice cakes, ginger, garlic, and half of scallions; season with salt and plenty of pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until meat is cooked through and rice cakes are browned in spots, about 4 minutes. If pan looks a bit dry at any point, pour in a little more oil. Remove pan from heat; add butter, soy sauce, and sesame oil and toss to coat.

3. Transfer mixture to a platter and top with remaining scallions.


Easiest Instant Pot Risotto

Easiest Instant Pot Risotto

This is an unapologetic ode to my Instant Pot, which I love and adore. I bought it used several years ago and yes, it did take some time to get over my initial fears of figuring it out, but once I started understanding how to best put it to use, I fell hard and fast. Yes, people, you can be a hardcore home cook and also love the Instant Pot! Loving to cook does not exclude loving the Instant Pot!

What I think is essential is figuring out how you personally will get the most use out of it. What might be important to me will not necessarily be as important to you. For example, I love the Instant Pot for making chicken broth. It's easier than cooking it on the stove and it results in a more flavorful broth, plus it's quicker. I also love it for cooking rice, as I've mentioned before. And braised meat and palak paneer, among other Indian recipes. (This book by Sarah Copeland is an absolutely wonderful must-have if you have an Instant Pot.) But the most important thing for me is Instant Pot risotto. I'll literally never make risotto on the stove top again.

Not only does risotto in the Instant Pot take a fraction of the time to make, but you barely even have to stir it. PLUS,  you're guaranteed the most perfect texture every time. It's magic and absolutely worth the price of the pot. (We eat risotto at least once a week and it is one of those rare meals that everyone loves and I don't even bother serving anything else with it, so it's easy as pie for me.) The first time I made IP risotto, we'd spent the afternoon at the playground and came home just at dinnertime. The children were hangry, as, frankly, was I, and I had prepared nothing for dinner. There was a moment of panic and then I pivoted to making this risotto and when I had a hot, perfect dinner on the table less than 15 minutes later, I felt like I could have bench-pressed a car.

I used a recipe from The Kitchn to get my head around quantities and time, but my risotto is more vegetable-forward and less cheese-centric. I usually make risotto with a box of frozen peas, but sometimes I'll use a medium zucchini, finely diced (as I did here). You can, of course, go nuts and use both! Or you could skip both and just add saffron to make risotto Milanese! (Add the saffron with the broth.) You can use fancy homemade broth, or store-bought boxed broth, or even just water with some bouillon cubes, which is what I usually do. (I use Italian Star cubes that I buy in bulk in Italy or at the Italian wholesaler here in Berlin.) If you have white wine, use it. If you don't (I rarely do), just substitute more water/broth. It's a very riffable base recipe and I love it so much I've committed it to memory.

Instant Pot Risotto

This is what the risotto looks like immediately after removing the lid. You have to then quickly give it a good stir, add the grated cheese and stir again. And then you have to serve it right away - risotto must be eaten hot hot hot, just like pasta, or the texture changes and it goes all wrong.

IP Risotto

Okay, now I'm very curious: What are your reasons for loving your Instant Pot?

Note: This post includes affiliate links and I may earn a commission if you purchase through them, at no cost to you. I use affiliate links only for products I love and companies I trust. Thank you.

Easiest Instant Pot Risotto
Serves 4
Print this recipe!

4 cups (950 ml) low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth or water with two bouillon cubes
2 tablespoons olive oil or butter
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 cups (400 grams) risotto rice
1/2 cup (120 ml) white wine, optional (if not using, add an additional 1/2 cup broth)
1 box frozen peas or 1 medium zucchini, finely diced
1/2 cup (45 grams) finely grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper, to taste

1. Warm the broth or water. Set aside.

2. Set the Instant Pot to SAUTÉ and pour the oil (or the butter, if using) into the pot. Add the finely chopped onion and sauté until fragrant and translucent, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the rice and stir to coat every grain with fat. Cook, stirring, for another minute or two.

3. If using the wine, add and stir well. Cook until most of the wine has evaporated. If not, proceed directly to Step 4.

4. Turn off the SAUTÉ function. Add the warmed broth and stir in the frozen peas or diced zucchini. Cover the Instant Pot and set it to MANUAL, HIGH, and dial the time to 5 minutes. The Instant Pot will take about 3 minutes to come to pressure.

5. When the 5 minutes are over, immediately release the pressure using a QUICK release. Remove the lid. Add the grated cheese, stir well, season to taste, and serve immediately.