Melissa Clark's Roasted Fish with Sweet Peppers

Melissa Clark's Roasted Fish with Sweet Peppers

Hello, hello!

I am sitting at my dining table eating a cold blueberry pancake leftover from yesterday's celebratory breakfast. Celebratory because it marked the end of an unexpected quarantine triggered by the fact that we sat very close to someone infected with Covid-19 on one of our flights home from Italy two weeks ago and the boys, being unvaccinated, were therefore classified as close contacts. Wait. Two weeks? That makes me laugh. Italy feels like it was months ago. Something about being stuck indoors with two little boys who very much would rather be in Kita and school will make 11 days feel like 11 weeks, right?

Anyway, the best news is, of course, that we all tested negative at the end of the quarantine. Today, in the pouring rain, Hugo set off for school with his six pounds of brand-new notebooks and freshly sharpened pencils (the pleasure I got from getting his stuff ready!) and art supplies and a new supply of ink cartridges for his fountain pen. Bruno zipped happily off to Kita, snack box under his arm. We are home alone now, Max in his office, me in the aforementioned dining room and it is very quiet which is what I've longed for, but I cannot help but feel like this is just a fleeting moment of normalcy and I don't quite know what to do with this weird, unpleasant mix of relief and dread.

Parents Are Not Okay about sums it up, yes? Yes.

Anyway. I know that I very much left you hanging with my promise to share lots of delicious food from Italy and I'm sorry about that. Italy this year was...not always easy. It was uncomfortably hot a lot of the time, I was trying to squeeze in work whenever I could and there were quite a bit of parenting difficulties which cast a pall over the holidays. Cooking was an afterthought most days. Which is very easy to do in a place where everything you buy at the market tastes like the sweetest, juiciest version of itself. Upon reentry to Berlin, it felt like I had to relearn how to put food on the table all over again.

I'm not quite back to actually looking up recipes and following them, but while I get there, I wanted to tell you about this slam dunk from Melissa Clark that I made in May when I was in Boston. My parents live not far from a wonderful fish store called Captain Marden's which was such a treat for me. In Berlin, I cook almost exclusively with frozen or canned fish. Fresh fish is a wild and rare exception. With fish as fresh as it was from Captain Marden's, you can get away with barely doing anything to the fish before eating. But if you follow this recipe, you'll be so, so happy you did.

This is a sheet-pan dinner, so it's easy, but there are a few elements to it. First, you roast a tangle of sliced bell peppers until they're starting to get soft and silky. Then you scrape them out of the way and put white fish fillets in the center of the pan, topped with thyme and olives. While this roasts, you make a sort of short-cut salsa verde with parsley, garlic, oil and vinegar. The salsa verde is served with the fish and peppers. (We ate the fish and peppers with boiled potatoes if my memory serves me, but rice would be nice too.) The whole thing was very satisfying and delicious and easy to execute. And just the thing to make when you're feeling slightly incompetent, but in dire need of something special. 

Sound familiar? I'm feeling extremely incompetent these days, like I'm failing at most things in my life. Motherhood, work, being a functioning human. Everything feels difficult, impossible, really, and when I lift my head from my own stupidly privileged situation, the scope of suffering elsewhere is nearly unbearable to contemplate. I know a lot of other people are feeling this way too. If you are, consider this my sympathetic fist bump. 

Melissa Clark's Roasted Fish with Sweet Peppers
Serves 4 to 5

1 small bunch lemon thyme or regular thyme
1 ½ pounds hake fillets
Fine sea salt and black pepper
3 large bell peppers, preferably 1 red, 1 orange and 1 yellow, thinly sliced
4 ½ tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
¼ cup pitted, sliced black or green olives, or a combination
1 teaspoon sherry vinegar, plus more to taste
1 garlic clove, grated
1 cup loosely packed Italian parsley leaves, chopped

1. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Pull 1 tablespoon thyme leaves off the bunch and finely chop.

2. Season fish all over with a large pinch or two of salt and pepper and rub with chopped thyme leaves. Let rest at room temperature while you prepare peppers.

3. Spread peppers on a rimmed sheet pan, and toss with 1 1/2 tablespoons oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt and the black pepper to taste. Top peppers with the remaining thyme sprigs. Roast, tossing occasionally, until peppers are softened and golden at the edges, 15 to 20 minutes.

4. Increase oven temperature to 500 degrees. Push peppers to the edges of the pan, clearing a space in the center. Lay fish out on that empty space and drizzle with oil. Scatter olives over the top of fish and peppers. Roast until fish turns opaque and is just cooked through, 6 to 10 minutes.

5. Meanwhile, make a vinaigrette by combining vinegar, garlic and a pinch of salt in a bowl. Whisk in remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil, then whisk in parsley. Taste and add more salt or vinegar, or both, if needed. Serve fish and peppers drizzled with vinaigrette.


Joshua McFadden's Zucchini Salad with Tomatoes, Peanuts, Basil, Mint and Spicy Fish-Sauce Sauce

Joshua McFadden Zucchini Salad

Berlin public schools let out for summer last week and the city emptied out almost immediately. The streets feel empty and quiet now, parking spots abound, rush hour is muted, the air is thick with the scent of the blossoming linden trees. The smell, heavily floral and intoxicating, hangs in our apartment too, the windows yanked open day after day in the hopes of catching a faint breeze. Hugo's school closes for summer tomorrow and next week the boys and I leave for Italy, where the heat has already scorched the grass yellow and my mother awaits us. 

I am desperate to be there, itching with anticipation, actually, after having skipped our annual trip last year in an attempt to regain my sanity a little and write. These days, I feel different. I want to soak up every minute with the children, hold them close, watch them flourish in their happiest place, wild mint crunching under their feet, skin salted from the sea. I cannot wait to be where I feel most free and held, listening to the cicadas sawing away from morning til night, eating meal after meal of drippy melons and tomatoes, the rituals of summer anchoring us so firmly to that place. 

Until we leave, my calendar is filled with dinner dates and lunches and a picnic and celebrations of birthdays and anniversaries. We fling our arms around each other again in greeting and to say goodbye, promising more time together when everyone's back again in August. It feels delicious and indulgent and restorative and frightening and wonderful; totally banal and strange as hell at the same time. We weren't allowed to hug for so long. Is it safe? Meanwhile, tomorrow I will have a rising fourth grader and a little one with just one year left in Kita. It is nearly July. Wasn't it just January? Time is flying. Carpe diem.

The heat means that we mostly eat things I barely have to cook. Melon and ham, tomato and mozzarella, beans and tuna, peaches gulped down over the sink. The other day, I made a wonderful salad from Joshua McFadden's Six Seasons of wafer-thin zucchini and a whole array of cherry tomatoes, roasted peanuts and spicy fish sauce. I'm not the biggest fan of raw zucchini - I really love its velvety softness once boiled - but here, the zucchini is cut so thin and then salted and left to rest for a while. The zucchini slices are silky and nicely sweet against the fiery, lusty sauce, the crunch of the peanuts, the fruity burst of the tomatoes. This is the perfect salad to be piled high into a plate and eaten for a meal on hot summer nights when appetites are low, but the belly growls and is in need of satisfaction. 

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.

Zucchini Salad with Tomatoes, Peanuts, Basil, Mint and Spicy Fish-Sauce Sauce
Serves 4
Adapted from Six Seasons

3-4 medium firm zucchini
Salt
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup salted roasted peanuts, roughly chopped
1 bunch scallions, sliced on a sharp angle and soaked in ice water for 20 minutes
1 small handful basil leaves
1 small handful mint leaves
1/4 cup Spicy Fish-Sauce Sauce (recipe follows)

1. Using a mandoline or a very sharp knife, slice or cut the zucchini into thin slices, either lengthwise or crosswise. Toss the zucchini with a teaspoon of salt and place in a colander to draw out moisture for 30 minutes. Then blot the zucchini with a paper towel to remove moisture and excess salt. Place in serving bowl.

2. Add the tomatoes, peanuts, drained scallions, basil and mint. Pour over the spicy fish-sauce sauce. Taste and correct seasoning. Serve immediately. 

Spicy Fish-Sauce Sauce
Makes about 1 1/4 cups

1/4 cup seeded, deribbed and minced fresh hot chiles (mix of colors, if possible)
4 large garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup fish sauce
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup white wine or rice vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar

Stir everything together in a small bowl until the sugar has dissolved. The sauce will keep in a bowl in the fridge for up to 2 months.


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.


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.


The Bojon Gourmet's Gluten-Free Teff Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies with Walnuts and Cranberries

Teff Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies with Walnuts and Cranberries

Let's talk about good things today.

  1. Call My Agent. A television show (4 seasons) set in a Paris film agency called ASK (Agence Samuel Kerr) that includes real-like movie stars (think Isabelle Huppert, Monica Bellucci, Juliette Binoche) playing themselves as clients of the agency. We just finished watching last night and oh, how we enjoyed it! It felt like a little trip to Paris every night. My favorite characters were Noémie and Hervé, two quirky assistants who both undergo a transformation during their time at ASK. It was the best kind of escapist television, funny, interesting, fashionable and a little bit sexy. Also, PARIS.

  2. This Must Be the Place by Maggie O'Farrell. Like so many others, I'm having a hard time concentrating on novels these days. I have a pretty strict rule about not forcing myself to finish books that I'm not enjoying. There's too much good stuff to get through and I figure that those books' readers are somewhere out there and they don't always have to be me. But then came This Must Be the Place. It took me a long time to get into it. I thought about giving up multiple times. And I don't know why I didn't. Something made me keep going. Then about halfway through the book, one of the chapters just...resonated. Right in my heart. I reread it three times. It made me rethink my own novel (yes, it still exists! sob!) and gave me a whole new perspective on an integral relationship that was stumping me completely. Just thinking about the chapter now gives me goosebumps! This is all to say that I'm so glad I listened to the little cosmic voice that told me to keep going.

  3. Everything is Fine. A podcast that was started by Kim France and Tally Abecassis for women over 40. (Tally recently left the show and has been replaced by Jennifer Romolini.) I've enjoyed every episode that Kim and Tally hosted, but there are a few standouts you definitely shouldn't miss. The episode with Emily Flake was hilarious, the episode with Stacy London was unexpectedly enlightening, I'm still thinking about the episode with Claire Dederer, I have mentioned Ann Kreamer's episode on going gray before, but it is just so good, and an early one with Andrea Linett, about getting dressed, is also a delight. Basically, listen to them all. They're a burst of joy - wise, funny, smart, interesting, occasionally wrenching joy - and listening to them makes me feel less alone.

  4. Willow Crossley. Willow's an English florist with a lovely Instagram account. She has given me more confidence with flowers and bulbs than anyone/anything else. She's adorable and bubbly and talks about flowers as if they were people. She demystifies flower arranging and bulb planting so effortlessly. (For those of us with black thumbs especially!) Her IG Lives are a highlight of my week and I currently have no less than three pots of Willow-inspired bulbs in terrines and planters going in my house right now.

  5. Cody Rigsby's rides.

  6. These brilliant cookies from Alanna Tobin-Taylor, the blogger at The Bojon Gourmet and the author of Alternative Baker, which won an IACP award in the Health and Special Diet category a few years ago. Their base is teff flour and tapioca starch, then you pack in rolled oats, toasted walnuts (hello lovers!) and chocolate chunks. You could leave them like this, but I added dried cranberries (sour cherries would work, too) because I love those kitchen sink cookies that are just packed full of all kinds of chewy delights. Oatmeal cookies just need a little fruity burst to balance out the buttery toastiness of the oats, don't you think? Anyway, Alanna's gluten-free cookie recipes are marvelous. They taste and feel, texture-wise, just like regular cookies. No grittiness, no weird textures. Just a chewy, crunchy, toasty, malty, delicious cookie that everyone can enjoy.

What's bringing you joy and comfort this week? Please, please share in the comments!

Teff Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

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.

The Bojon Gourmet's Teff Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies with Walnuts and Cranberries
Adapted from Alternative Baker
Makes 20 cookies
Note: For extra dense, chewy cookies, give the pan a few firm raps on the counter when you pull them from the oven.
Print this recipe!

8 tbsp (113 g) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (80 g) packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup (50 g) organic granulated cane sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4
cup (100 g) teff flour
1/4 cup (27 g) tapioca flour/starch
3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 cup (90 g) old-fashioned rolled oats
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
6 ounces (170 g) coarsely chopped bittersweet chocolate (60-70%)
3/4 cup (90 g) walnuts, toasted, cooled, coarsely chopped
Handful dried cranberries

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or a baking mat.

2. Place the cooled butter in a large bowl. Whisk in the two sugars. Then whisk in the egg and vanilla.

3. Sift the teff flour, tapioca flour and sea salt over the sugar mixture. Stir vigorously to combine thoroughly. Stir in the oats, chopped chocolate, walnuts and cranberries. (If you need the time, you can let this mixture stand for 2 hours before baking.)

4. Scoop the dough (about 2 tablespoons per cookie) onto the prepared baking sheet, spacing them about 2 inches apart. Bake the cookies until the edges are golden and the tops are set, about 10-15 minutes. 

5. Remove the sheet and place on a cooling rack. Repeat with the second sheet and remaining batch of cookie dough. The cookies can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 days.


Meera Sodha's Tuscan Kale Saag

Tuscan Kale Saag

Today, I thought to myself earlier, I would very much like to run away. Just, you know, walk out the front door and keep going, ending up in Rajasthan or the English countryside or an ice cliff in Greenland. I don't care where, really, just as long as it's not here, I thought. I am done with here. I've had enough of here. Get me out of here.

***

I miss my girlfriends. I miss connecting with my ladies in real life. I miss maskless faces. I miss their company and their smiles and looking at their shiny jewelry and talking about their gorgeous hair. I miss admiring them and asking for advice and giving advice and the thrilling incredulity that sometimes comes with feeling deeply understood. Waiting for them at a restaurant, deciding on a second glass of wine, feeling them all squished into a booth beside me. Their smells, their presence, their them-ness. Our conversations, the big talks and the little ones. Their outfits and their bags and their wrinkles and their laughter and their advice and our shorthand. I miss the women in my life so much that I have an actual physical ache.

Zoom was fine for a month or two or three, but now I can't even face Zooming with my friends. It feels too painful. I want to reach out and touch them and I can't. When the pandemic started last year, my friend and neighbor Stephanie came by one day just to say hi, from a distance. I ran down the stairs to see her, ripped open the front door and, confronted with her in the flesh before me, just burst into tears. My tears surprised me perhaps even more than they surprised her. The fact that she was in front of me and I couldn't go near her and touch her, pull her in for a hug, just gutted me. Once we all adjusted to the new normal, I was able to cope with that distance. I made my peace with it, I thought. But this week, that part of me is just hanging out again, all weepy and exposed, like a raw blister.

I want to run away to a faraway land and I want my girlfriends to come with me and while we're gone our husbands will take care of our children and they'll be just fine and we'll be back in a few months when we feel better, promise. 

***

The children were home from mid-December to mid-February. When they returned to school and Kita, I breathed a sigh of relief. Normalcy for them and for us, time to work again, time to be something other than a mother 25 hours a day. But the situation in Germany, in case you haven't heard, is becoming grotesque. Vaccinations lag, there is no testing strategy, and cases are skyrocketing. My mother and mother-in-law are vaccinated now, thank goodness, because they help us a lot. But Max and I are resigned to the fact that we are months and months away from our vaccinations, while the mutations are wreaking havoc. Bruno is our weakest link, poor little guy. I keep sending him to Kita, because I have assignments and deadlines, and every day I cross my fingers and hold my breath and hope against hope that he doesn't come home and infect us.

Keep him home, I think. Protect yourself. You have work, sure, but benevolent neglect never hurt anyone. And then I remember the endless weeks of them at home, at each other's throats all the time, his regressions, his brother's obsessive tendencies and how I felt like I was drowning all the time. He's better off at Kita.

***

All the while, meals are still getting made, morning, noon and night. One funny thing: I am having a quiet love affair with walnuts. I'll tell you more about that another time. In the who-gives-a-shit department, I feed my children broth made from bouillon cubes multiple nights a week and everyone is happy. In the marriage department, sometimes I get so angry about cooking one more meal that I make lunch only for myself and my husband has to go fend for himself, which he does without complaint. I have come this far in our journey together that I can report on this without judgment for myself.

Sometimes I get angry.

Sometimes I need to disappear.

Sometimes I simply refuse to make one more meal.

Yesterday, I made the discovery of the most delicious saag recipe made with Tuscan kale and tomatoes. I got it from my bible, East by Meera Sodha. In the cookbook, the saag is cooked with browned cubes of paneer, but I just wanted a big comforting pile of vegetables, so I left the paneer out and served the saag with hot cooked rice. It was so punchy and flavorful and nourishing that it felt like...a burst of sunshine in my body. An enveloping hug from someone wiser than myself. An escape. It used up precisely one bunch of perfect Tuscan kale. I made it just for us for lunch and there were no turned up noses or whines for something else.

One small good thing for which I could be grateful.

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.

Meera Sodha's Tuscan Kale Saag
Adapted from East
Serves 2
Note: This recipe is easily doubled.
Print this recipe!

One bunch Tuscan kale (about 250 grams), ribs discarded, leaves roughly chopped
Rapeseed oil
1 onion, finely chopped
Thumb-sized knob of ginger, peeled and grated
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 green chile, optional, finely chopped
Half a can of chopped tomatoes or about 3 fresh tomatoes, chopped
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon brown rice syrup
Half a can of coconut milk

1. On a medium flame, heat 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil in a pan or pot with a lid and add the onions. Cook for 8 to 10 minutes over a medium flame,  until soft and sweet.

2. Add the ginger, garlic and chile, if using. Cook for a few minutes, then add the tomatoes. Cook, stirring occasionally, until thick, about 5 to 8 minutes. Add the coriander, cumin, turmeric, salt and brown rice syrup and stir well.

3. Add the kale to the pan and stir to wilt. Add the coconut milk, stir, then cover. Cook over low heat for 15 to 20 minutes. If the saag seems dry, add a tablespoon or two of water. 

4. When the kale is tender, use an immersion blender to roughly blend the mixture. Serve as a side dish or with rice as a main course.


Elizabeth Andoh's Soboro Donburi

Soboro Donburi

After 16 years of food blogging (!), I have yet to figure out how to make ground meat look appealing at dinnertime, when it's dark out and there's no natural light and everyone is hangry and the overhead lamp is casting a shadow. It practically pains me to post this photo above, which looks so...2005, doesn't it? Ack. But you need to know about it. I practically screamed in delight at dinner last night. Besides, you're not here for my photos, are you? You're here for the important stuff! The bossy opinions! The recipes! The mad ramblings of a middle-aged mother who mostly feels like she's at her wit's end! So I'm throwing vanity to the wind. (Besides, a much more photogenic picture of this slam dunk is right here.)

The recipe, by Elizabeth Andoh, is considered one of F&W's 40 best recipes in 2018. Does this mean 40 best ever or 40 best in 2018? I don't know. What I do know: It is currently at the top of my best in 2021.

Cooking it took 9 minutes last night. NINE MINUTES. Nove. Nueve. Neun. (Plus rice in the Instant Pot*, which took 13 minutes.) And it involves literally zero skill. You simply dump ground beef in a pot with sake (or Shaoxing wine, which is all I had), soy sauce, dashi (or water, which is all I had) and sugar (I reduced the sugar to 1 tablespoon down from 1.5 tablespoons). Then you cook it all together, mashing the beef around so it cooks evenly. You add a big mound of grated ginger and frozen peas. The original recipe says 1/2 cup peas to a pound of beef, but I like peas a lot and I wanted to bulk up the meal a little more, so I put in two cups and it was perfect and I'd do it again. You keep cooking until the peas are tender and the liquid evaporates and then it's done and you can sit down and have the most delicious, easy meal and don't forget the pickled ginger on top, because it really makes the whole thing sing.

It's sweet-salty and chewy and fragrant and the grated ginger sort of melts into the background, but gives the whole thing some backbone and it was just such a lovely little meal. I already know we'll be making it all the time. I may even put this baby up on the side of the fridge, it's that good. Plus, NINE MINUTES, PEOPLE. I'm still not over it.

Updated to add that Elizabeth herself chimed in on Twitter, alerting me to the fact that she updated the recipe on her website last year! More here.

*My beloved Cuckoo rice cooker gave up the ghost a few weeks ago. I have yet to rebuy one because the Korean grocery store where I bought it has closed and Cuckoo rice cookers are a lot more expensive than they used to be when I bought mine and the IP did such a beautiful job with the rice last night that now I find myself contemplating buying a second IP rather than a rice cooker. Is this a good idea? What should I do? Help!

Mel D. Cole
Photo by Mel D. Cole.

I'd like to close out this post by acknowledging the pain of the AAPI community, as well as Asians living in other countries who mourn yesterday's shocking murders in Atlanta and the past year's uptick in assaults and injuries, fearing for their own safety. This past year has unleashed a wave of racialized hatred towards Asians throughout Europe and the United States and it is outrageous and completely unacceptable. The deaths of the women in Atlanta are a tragedy. I am also devastated by the thought of Asian men and women everywhere fearing a random attack just because of what they look like. Lisa Lin has listed a few community organizers and advocacy groups in need of support. And Joanna also has a list of organizations to support. While the United States continues to have an unconscionable gun situation, which certainly makes everyone less safe, all Western societies need to do a better job of seeing and treating Asians as full and whole human beings who are every bit as deserving of their humanity as anyone else.

Elizabeth Andoh's Soboro Donburi
Serves 4
Print this recipe!

1 pound/450 grams lean ground beef
1/3 cup/80ml sake or Shaoxing wine
1/4 cup/60ml soy sauce
1/4 cup/ 60ml dashi or water
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
2 cups/240 grams frozen peas
1 tablespoon peeled grated fresh ginger
Hot cooked white rice
Pickled ginger

1. Stir together ground beef, sake, soy sauce, dashi, and sugar in a small Dutch oven or medium-size, heavy saucepan. Cook over medium-high, stirring often to break up large lumps of beef, 5 minutes. Stir in peas and ginger; cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid is mostly evaporated and beef is no longer pink but is still moist, about 4 minutes. Remove from heat.

2. Divide rice evenly among 4 large bowls. Spoon 1/2 cup beef mixture over each. Garnish with pickled ginger.