Samin Nosrat's Olive Oil Refried Beans

Samin Nosrat's Olive Oil Refried Beans

Friends! What a week. It started off okay? Bruno returned to a few hours of Kita on Monday and things should have been looking up. But on Wednesday he had the sniffles and by yesterday morning both boys were feeling sick and we were running around town trying to get them both tested for the coronavirus. To add insult to injury, my phone bit the dust! Thankfully I had backed up most of it to the motherflipping cloud, so it's not quite as catastrophic as the loss of my laptop's files was a few weeks ago, but I definitely feel somewhat, shall we say, PERSECUTED by big tech these days.

I mentioned feeling full of constant rage on Instagram the other day, and it's true. Between the disastrous vaccine rollout in Germany, the fact that we didn't qualify for childcare for Bruno until this week, the insane schedule of driving Hugo back and forth to school for 150 minutes of school each day, everything described in that first paragraph and middle-aged PMS, which in my case has gone from me feeling blue for a few days a month to me feeling homicidal a few days a month, I was practically incandescent all week. 

Today, the mood has lifted, for which I am very grateful. The sun came out and I got to stand in it for a few minutes at the playground. My children, who do not have the coronavirus, are safe to visit my mother this afternoon again so that I can think straight. And I am the proud owner of a new phone. (I also definitely have a few more strands of gray, but that's okay because going gray is A POWER MOVE.) Last night at the kitchen sink, as I felt the mood lift, I realized that my heart was aching like it does after a break-up. I told Max how I felt and his response was a very kind well, duh.

All the more reason we need comfort food right now. Our meals this week were an absolute mess, as I'm sure you can imagine. I was nearly throwing things on the table most nights. No rhyme or reason and nothing that gave me any pleasure while I cooked. Except for these beans, these lovely, cozy, long-cooking beans, which were so delicious and worth every single minute they spent on the flame.

The recipe comes from Samin Nosrat's last column for the New York Times before she moves on to her new television show Waffles & Mochi (!!!!) and although the point of that column was to explain Samin's dislike for the Instant Pot and although I love my Instant Pot so much that I sometimes wish I could have more Instant Pots, I made her beans the old-fashioned soak-and-simmer-in-a-heavy-pot-for-hours way and they were very, very, very, very good. 

We ate them just as Samin instructs, on toasted bread, with a good drizzle of olive oil, with a little tangle of pungent veg alongside. They were rich and velvety and creamy and rib-sticking. (The leftovers I turned into pasta e fagioli, which the children mostly liked.) The bay leaf, chile and garlic were all just right in terms of flavoring and mashing the beans in the frying pan was fun. From start to finish, these beans were the most calming meal of this week from hell and sometimes that is precisely what a recipe needs to be, nothing more, nothing less. Just in case you too might be in need some calm.

Now it's the weekend ("weekend") and there were skinless, boneless chicken thighs (!) at the organic grocery store today and in a little while we're going to make popcorn in the Whirlypop and pile on the couch and watch a movie together and after that my husband is seeing his friends on Zoom so I have the rest of the evening to myself and while I probably should be meditating all that toxic energy out of my poor tired body, I will instead fritter away the evening in front of the television and I have at least progressed this far in my journey through life that I can wholeheartedly say that I deserve it.

Samin Nosrat's Olive Oil Refried Beans
Serves 4-6

For the beans:
2 cups dried beans of any variety
Fine sea salt
A generous pinch of baking soda
4 fresh or dried bay leaves
10 garlic cloves, peeled
1 small dried chile of any variety
cup extra-virgin olive oil

For serving:
4 thick slices country-style bread, grilled or toasted
1 garlic clove, peeled
Calabrian chile paste, for garnish
Small handful of fresh basil leaves, torn (optional)
Freshly grated Parmesan (optional)

1. The night before cooking, remove any debris from beans. Rinse them, then place them in a 4-quart Dutch oven or pot of similar size. Add 6 cups water, 1 teaspoon salt and the baking soda. Cover and set aside in a cool place for 8 to 12 hours.

2. To cook, add bay leaves, garlic and chile to the beans and bring the pot, uncovered, to a boil. Taste the cooking water and adjust seasoning as needed; it should taste pleasantly salty. Reduce heat to a gentle simmer, partly cover with a lid and cook until beans are completely tender and just beginning to fall apart. Depending on the variety and age of your beans, this can take anywhere from 1 to 3 hours. Throughout the cooking time, monitor the pot to ensure the beans are always submerged, adding more water as needed. When you suspect the beans might be done, taste five of them. If they are not all creamy through to the center, keep on simmering. 

3. To fry the beans, remove the bay leaves and chile from the bean pot. Discard the bay leaves, and mince the chile. Set a large cast-iron or similar frying pan over high heat, and add about half the oil. Add the minced chile. Use a slotted spoon or sieve to add beans and garlic — but not their cooking liquid — to the pan. Reduce heat to medium, and, with a potato masher or wooden spoon, stir and mash the beans into a silky paste, constantly stirring and scraping to keep them from sticking to the bottom of the pan. Add about 1/4 cup bean cooking liquid to loosen the mixture, then gradually add remaining oil. If the bean paste is too thick, continue adding cooking liquid as needed, being mindful that it is seasoned with salt. When the mixture is rich and velvety, taste, and adjust seasoning with salt.

4. To serve, lightly rub warm toasts with raw garlic, then slather with a generous amount of bean paste. Garnish with chile paste and, if desired, torn basil and a heap of grated Parmesan. Serve immediately.

Richard Olney's Chicken Gratin

Chicken gratin

I have, in my old age, become a real stickler about chicken. Neither of us wants to buy or eat factory-farmed chickens anymore, but free-range, organic ones are expensive, running about €23 for a smallish bird. I just assume that is the cost of responsibly farming animals and don't give it much further thought - we aren't passionate meat-eaters. So we keep mostly vegetarian at home and every once in a blue moon (maybe a handful of times a year?), I splurge on one of those fancy chickens.

Then, though, the pressure of what to do with that expensive chicken descends upon me. After all, I want to eke out every last bit of meat and value from the chicken, but just making chicken soup each time doesn't feel celebratory enough. And there's only so many meals of poached chicken that my family will tolerate. (Although, of course, a baggie of frozen shredded chicken to dole out over several weeks is valuable indeed.) Roasting the chicken is great, but here my competing desire for a crisp-skinned, juicy bird and a clean oven (or a home that doesn't smell like scorched chicken fat) means that I never end up doing it anymore. The slow-roasted method is brilliant for those of us with this dilemma, but its 2-3 hour cooking time means that it can only be a weekend project. You see what I mean? The last thing I want is to be the owner of an expensive chicken and then feel paralyzed about what to do with it.

But! I stumbled upon this wonderful Richard Olney recipe on Food52 last week, which has you brown chicken pieces, fit them into a baking dish and then douse them with an eggy, cheesy custard and cubes of bread crisped in chicken fat before getting baked in the oven until bronzed and let me tell you, if you want to really honor your fancy bird, this is the way to do it. Not only does the recipe result in what is by far the very best gravy/sauce I have ever tasted (AND DID I MENTION THE CHICKEN-FAT-CRISPED BREAD CUBES), but it's actually a surprisingly easy dish for weeknights and an impressive one for dinner parties. The chicken stays juicy and crisp-skinned, and the lemon juice and white wine keep things from getting too greasy. It's no wonder it was featured in Food52's brilliant Genius Recipes column. It is all that and more.

Bonus! This recipe uses a whopping three egg yolks. I don't know about you, but I'm always on the hunt for recipes to use up egg yolks. Savory recipes if possible, because after baking a batch of meringue or macaroons or whatever, the last thing I want to do is make ice cream or chocolate pudding or crème brûlée. There's mayo of course, but there's only so much mayonnaise that a family of three can consume. So on top of being delicious and easy and perfect for these dark fall evenings, this dish will also help you feel virtuous by emptying your fridge of leftover yolks (if you're the kind of person who has them lurking behind the jam jars, like me).

A warning: if you are appalled by curdled things, you may not be a fan of the way the sauce looks. But if you can get over your aversion and simply trust me, I promise that its flavor more than makes up for its looks. If you are not troubled or are even a little enchanted by rustic sauces, then carry on, friend. Good food awaits you.

Richard Olney's Chicken Gratin
Serves 4-6

For the chicken:
One 2 1/2- to 3 1/2-pound/1.1-1.5 kg chicken, cut into 8 pieces
2 tablespoons/30 grams butter
1 large handful stale bread, crusts removed, crumbled or cubed
1/3 cup/80 ml white wine

For the cheese custard:
3/4 cup/180 ml heavy cream
3 egg yolks
Salt, pepper
3 ounces/85 grams freshly grated Gruyère
Juice of 1/2 lemon

1. Preheat the oven to 400° F/200° C. Salt the chicken pieces. In a large skillet over medium heat, melt the butter. Place the chicken pieces (working in batches, if necessary) in the hot pan and cook until golden-brown on both sides - about 20 minutes, adding the breasts only after the first 10 minutes. Transfer the chicken pieces to a gratin dish of a size to just hold them, arranged side by side.

2. Put the pieces of bread in the pan and sauté in the cooking fat until slightly crisp and only slightly colored. Remove them from the pan and set aside, leaving behind as much of the cooking fat as possible, and deglaze the pan with the white wine, reducing it by about half.

3. In a separate bowl, whisk together the cream, egg yolks, seasonings, and cheese, then whisk in the lemon juice and the deglazing liquid. Spoon or pour this mixture evenly over the chicken pieces, sprinkle the surface with the bread, and bake 20 to 25 minutes or until the surface is nicely colored. Serve immediately.

Bon Appetit's Slow-Roasted Chicken

(Before the photo police come a-calling, let me just put a disclaimer right up here at the front: I took this photo with my phone on Sunday evening, just before dinner, and I know it's sort of hideous, but I had absolutely no intention of blogging about it and so didn't think to pull out my real camera and anyway, even if I had, it is a proven fact of life that shooting meat is, shall we say, challenging and leave it at that.)

There! Now let's get down to brass tacks.

THIS CHICKEN. It may have the worst name in recipe-naming history (I'm renaming it Slow-Roasted Chicken), but that doesn't even matter, not one little bit, because OMG THIS CHICKEN. (Yes, I know with the all-caps, but this chicken deserves them plus several exclamation marks and a lot of underlining and four-letter words, too.)

The recipe comes from the current issue of Bon Appetit and even if you think that a new recipe for roast chicken is snoozeworthy, you need to know about this. Like, REALLY. (People, I have feelings about this chicken and they are not equivocal!)

Instead of roasting your bird at high heat or slathered with butter or barded with bacon, here you put together a little herb-spice rub (fennel, hot pepper, marjoram, thyme and salt), add some olive oil and then rub the bird all over with that mixture, sort of as if you were giving it a relaxing salt scrub. You stuff the bird with a whole head of garlic cut in half, a lemon cut into quarters and more marjoram and thyme. Then you put the bird on top of some thyme sprigs on a baking sheet, surround it with potatoes (I added carrots and parsnips) and put it in a low oven, 300° F, for two to three hours.

When the chicken is done (I put my oven just a little higher - at 160° C instead of 150° C - so it was done a little after two hours - but I had to take the vegetables out earlier, so definitely pay attention to what's going on in your oven around the 90-minute mark if you're going with the original temperature), it is meltingly tender and the joints have practically dissolved. The skin is irresistibly crisp, but you have none of the crazy chicken-fat smoking out of the oven that crispy skin usually requires. The roasted vegetables have shrunk and sweetened and are infused with herby, savory chicken fat. It's pretty much the greatest Sunday dinner ever.

But I'm not even done yet!

Because, believe it or not, this roast chicken, as delicious and perfect as it is freshly roasted, goes straight into the stratosphere as leftovers. I mean, cold roast chicken of any kind is tough to beat - it's just one of those home-run foods that everyone loves (right? RIGHT?) - but this cold roast chicken is unparalleled. A day or two of sitting in the fridge and it's pretty much the best thing ever.

Bonus proof-that-this-chicken-is-the-chicken-to-end-all-chickens story: This evening, while I was pulling the remaining meat off the carcass to repurpose as Indonesian chicken salad, Hugo literally grabbed the entire breast that I had just lifted off the bones out of my hands (I'd already put some shredded meat on his plate!) and proceeded to devour it, with his hands, like a very cute and yet slightly terrifying and hungry little caveman.

Slow-Roasted Herbed Chicken
Serves 4

1 teaspoon ground fennel
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh marjoram; plus 4 sprigs, divided (I used dried and skipped the sprigs)
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh thyme; plus 4 sprigs, divided
1 tablespoon kosher salt, plus more
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more
6 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 3½–4 pound chicken
1 lemon, quartered
1 head of garlic, halved crosswise
2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, scrubbed, halved, or quartered if large

1. Preheat oven to 300°F (150 C°). Mix the fennel, red pepper, chopped or dried marjoram, chopped thyme, 1 tablespoon salt, ½ teaspoon pepper, and 3 tablespoons oil in a small bowl. Rub chicken inside and out with spice mixture. Stuff chicken with lemon, garlic, 2 marjoram sprigs, and 2 thyme sprigs. Tie legs together with kitchen twine.

2. Toss potatoes with remaining oil on a rimmed baking sheet; season with salt and pepper. Push potatoes to edges of baking sheet and scatter remaining 2 marjoram and 2 thyme sprigs in center; place chicken on herbs. Roast, turning potatoes and basting chicken every hour, until skin is browned, meat is extremely tender, and potatoes are golden brown and very soft, 2-3 hours. Let chicken rest at least 10 minutes before carving.

Cooking for Hugo: Debbie Koenig's Barbecued Brisket

Parents Need to Eat Too
Way back in the early days of food blogging, when there were only about six people doing it, a woman named Debbie Koenig started a blog called Words to Eat By. Long before I started this site, I read hers and loved it. Debbie lived in New York, like me, had worked in publishing, like me, plus her recipe for chocolate chip cookies really was so good. It's not a big leap to say that she certainly helped inspire my own jump into food blogging.

When Debbie and her husband had their son in 2006, she realized, as most of us then do, that cooking with a baby is a whole new universe to navigate. Where once you thought nothing of spending an afternoon in the kitchen to make an elaborate dinner, you now have a screaming baby attached to your body, in desperate need of your full attention, to the detriment of your ability to shower, pee or even just make a sandwich. Bit by bit, Debbie figured out her way back into the kitchen and was inspired to help other mothers get their sea legs cooking again.

Parents Need to Eat Too, her book and the name her blog has since taken over, is a compendium of all the wisdom she gained over the years since then. By teaching cooking classes to new mothers and keeping the conversation alive on her website, Debbie found herself with scores of recipes and tips to share with other sleep-deprived, harried and hungry new mothers. Parents Need to Eat Too holds all of them, plus a glut of information on freezing big batches of food, foods to promote milk production and soothing reassurances that one day things will feel normal again, even if right now your world is one big mess of burp clothes, peanut butter eaten out of a jar and multi-night wakeups.

I first read Parents Need to Eat Too when Hugo was a few weeks old. I hadn't though it possible before, but just like they tell you, in those days I couldn't figure out how to do anything but nurse Hugo. I barely found time to shower and dress and fixing myself a bowl of yogurt (as in, open fridge, get yogurt, find bowl, pour yogurt into bowl, get spoon and eat) seemed so remote and difficult that the one time I managed to do so I felt a level of achievement I hadn't had since learning how to tell time in the third grade. Oh, early motherhood! You are a kick in the teeth.

Debbie's book was a breath of fresh air. The few parenting books I had scattered around the apartment filled me with dread (nap schedules? infant character profiles?), but reading Parents Need to Eat Too was the soothing distraction I really needed. It didn't matter that I actually was in no position to cook again just yet. Debbie was telling me that I would be again, in time, and that it was just a matter of being patient and resourceful until then. At a time when everything I knew about my old life was gone, it was deeply comforting to know that.

I've, of course, long found my way back to the kitchen, but these days I find myself reaching for Debbie's book all the time. Because now is the time that I'm really cooking for my family. Max is living at home again (praise be!), Hugo no longer needs his little pots of puréed veg (glory be!) and getting food on the table for all of us is my job. Along with everything else I do. So what I'm looking for these days is help in preparing dishes that all of us will eat, as well as stocking the freezer for those days when I just don't have the time to cook and finding recipes I can make with one hand tied behind my back.

Parents Need to Eat Too has all of that, but is tailor-made for those of us who love to cook anyway and don't want Hamburger Helper to get dinner on the table. The recipes are relatively sophisticated despite their supreme easiness and there are lots of delicious things to get excited about. (Big-Batch Adobo Chicken is next on my to-do list.) Currently, I'm having a delightful love affair with the slow cooker chapter even though I don't own a slow cooker. (Debbie says that a cast-iron pot with a lid in a low oven mimics the heat of a slow cooker pretty well.) So the other day I decided to try my hand at brisket.

I bought a big slab of brisket meat after a hilarious back-and-forth with the German butcher who, despite my having researched this exhaustively online beforehand, had no idea what I was talking about and a bottle of apple juice (I already had barbecue sauce in my fridge leftover from this).The prep was almost comically simple: First, I preheated the oven to 200 degrees F (about 90 degrees C) and put the slab of meat in my biggest cast-iron pot. Then I poured in a cup of apple juice and a cup of barbecue sauce. Then I put the lid on the pan and put it in the oven for about 6 hours. And That Was It.

Sliced brisket

When I removed the pot from the oven and took off the lid, the brisket - shrunken from its impressive girth in its raw state - was dark brown and fragrant, swimming in a pool of mahogany cooking liquid. I sliced it thinly and spooned the liquid over each portion. The meat was wonderfully lean and flavorful, pleasing both Hugo and his daddy. (Hugo loves chomping away on the meat for a while, then spitting it out once he's leached all the good stuff out, so while I can't guarantee that your child will have quite the same delightful table manners as mine does, the recipe is definitely kid-friendly.) We had a big dinner, the three of us, and I packed the freezer full of leftovers, my biggest thrill these days.

Along with Dinner: A Love Story for people with children over 3 and which I wrote about here, Parents Need to Eat Too is the best parenting resource for cooks.

Barbecued Brisket
Serves 6 to 8
From Parents Need to Eat Too

1 3-4-pound brisket, trimmed of as much fat as possible
1 cup barbecue sauce (if store-bought, then as natural as possible)
1 cup apple juice

1. Put the brisket in the slow cooker or a large cast-iron pot (if using the pot, preheat the oven to 200 degrees F). Pour the sauce and juice on top, making sure some of the liquid ends up underneath the meat. The meat should not be fully submerged.

2. Cook on LOW for 6 to 8 hours or, if using the pot, for 6, checking once at the 5-hour-mark. The brisket is done when a fork pierces the meat easily. Slice the meat against the grain thinly, then serve with the cooking liquid. Debbie suggests rounding out the meal with these beans and cornbread.

Fuchsia Dunlop's Braised Chicken with Dried Shiitake Mushrooms

Fuchsia dunlop's braised chicken

I have been on a cookbook-buying bender lately, even though we really don't have room for any more books and I already don't cook enough out of the books that I do own. There is just so much good stuff out right now. (I promise to do a post or two on new cookbooks and my cookbook collection in general soon. Don't you love knowing what other people's cookbook shelves are like? More fascinating than the bathroom cabinet!)

Fuchsia Dunlop's Every Grain of Rice is my latest baby, one I'd had on my wishlist since it was first announced. I own every one of her books and adore them all (even though I have yet to cook from any of them...until now). In fact, Fuchsia could take to writing cereal box copy and I'd probably buy every last thing her words adorned. I was thinking about it the other night and realized that, in my opinion, Fuchsia's the best living food writer out there these days. She makes everything she writes about - stinky tofu! cooking school in Sichuan province! chewy chicken cartilage! - utterly captivating.

Every Grain of Rice is Fuchsia's most recent book and it focuses on simple Chinese home cooking, with recipes sourced mostly from the south of the country. It's vegetable-heavy and beautifully photographed and, in short, will have you keeping your local Asian grocer in business as you keep trotting back for more ingredients, like black vinegar and dark soy sauce and dried shiitake mushrooms and chili-bean paste. (Actually, none of these things should cost very much at all. Which is sort of the point.)

Fuchsia's evangelical about the resourcefulness of Chinese home cooking, how light on the wallet and the waistline it is and what a shame it is that China's newfound wealth is corrupting a centuries' old reliance on simple things like vegetables and rice and a little bit of protein (far, far less than our Western diet could fathom). A bottle of black Chinkiang vinegar bought at my local Korean grocery the other day cost me less than 3 euros and it'll last me quite some time. So while you'll have to stock your pantry somewhat to get started with Chinese cooking, it's actually a very economical way to eat.

Reconstituted shiitake musrooms

The recipe that jumped out at me on my last perusal through the book was a braised dish of chicken and dried shiitake mushrooms. Most of the recipes in the book require a wok, but while I actually own an authentic hammered-steel wok given to us for our wedding by a friend in Hong Kong, I don't have a gas stove. So the wok sits patiently in the basement awaiting the day that we move to an apartment that still has a gas line (not an easy feat in Berlin). And I try to find recipes in Every Grain of Rice that could conceivably be made in a different pan. (And yes, a flat-bottomed wok for an electric stove is at the top of my shopping list now.)

This braise sounded perfect - I was supposed to stir-fry the chicken and aromatics to start, but the bulk of the cooking was going to be braising. I figured this was one dish where I could circumvent the missing wok without too much trouble.

Chicken and shiitake mushrooms

I've always been intimidated by Chinese cooking, just as I have been with Indian, for fear that I'd never be able to approximate the flavors and techniques of authentic Chinese food at home. But once again - ding ding! - it's nowhere near as complicated as it seems. What's crucial, besides assembling the correct pantry, is doing all the chopping and preparing before you start cooking. Because the cooking itself goes at lightning speed. The work is mostly beforehand.

In this case, you soak and chop dried shiitake mushrooms, chop chicken thighs into pieces roughly the same size as the mushrooms, peel and slice ginger and chop and bruise scallions. And that's it. After that's done, you put the pot on the stove and fairly fly through the rest of the recipe.

The chicken is briefly stir-fried before the ginger and scallions are added to the pan to let their aromas unfold. You pour in a bit of Shaoxing wine, the soaked mushrooms and their liquor, a bit more water, soy sauce, sugar and salt. This is cooked together for half an hour, during which time the broth goes a deep, rich brown. It's very exciting. At the end, you take off the lid from the pot and let the braising liquid reduce slightly.

Braised chicken with dried shiitake mushrooms

What you're left with are chunks of tender chicken, thoroughly infused with the aromatic flavors of ginger, scallions and soy. The mushrooms are silky-soft. And the broth - the broth! - is so good that I wished I'd made an entire potful of it. It was like chicken soup that had died and gone to heaven?


Fuchsia Dunlop's Braised Chicken with Dried Shiitake Mushrooms
Serves 4 as part of a larger Chinese meal or 2 as a main with rice and a vegetable dish

8 dried shiitake mushrooms
4 boneless chicken thighs
2 scallions
2 tablespoons cooking oil
1-inch piece of ginger, peeled and sliced
2 tablespoons Shaoxing wine
About 200 ml chicken stock or water
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons dark soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil

1. Soak the dried mushrooms in hot water to cover for at least 30 minutes. Then cut them into quarters, reserving their soaking water. Cut the chicken into similarly-sized pieces. Cut the scallions into 2-inch sections and separate the white and green parts. Crush the whites slightly with the side of your knife handle. Slice the green parts thinly and set aside.

2. Add the cooking oil to a seasoned wok or braising pan over high heat. Then add the chicken and stir-fry for a few minutes until lightly browned. When the chicken is nearly done, add the ginger and scallion whites and allow the hot oil to release their fragrance.

3. Add the Shaoxing wine, stir a few times, then add the mushrooms, their soaking water and enough stock or water to make up 300 ml. Add the sugar, soy sauce and salt to taste.

4. Bring to a boil, then cover the wok or pot, reduce the heat and simmer gently for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove the lid, increase the heat and reduce the liquid to thicken the sauce. Adjust the seasoning, add the sliced scallion greens and sesame oil and serve.

André Heimann's Hungarian Cabbage Strudel

Cabbage strudel
This post's alternate title should be A Cautionary Tale About Avoiding Butter.

What happened was I read about cabbage strudel (did ever those two words have better partners?) almost four years ago and dutifully clipped the recipe (actually, by then I think I bookmarked it) and then schlepped that bookmark around with me from New York to Berlin, from one computer to another, until finally - finally! - last week, I found myself with a small head of cabbage and a package of phyllo dough and time - PRECIOUS, PRECIOUS TIME - to make it.

But when I got into the kitchen and reread the recipe for the last time before getting started, I got a little skeered about the amount of butter called for. I mean, did the strudel really need two whole sticks of butter? As much as I like to follow recipes faithfully, I just couldn't bring myself to use that much butter. It surely wouldn't make that much of a difference if I reduced a bit here and there, I told myself. Back me up, dear readers - wouldn't you have done the same thing? Gulp.

Raw cabbage

The recipe comes from a little shop in Forest Hills, Queens that sells only strudel. (I am chagrined to admit that in all the years I lived in Forest Hills, I never made it to André's.) Their cabbage strudel recipe is a study in simplicity - baked, shredded cabbage flavored with salt and pepper, then wrapped in buttered strudel leaves and baked. That's it. No extraneous herbs or spices, no special sauces. As the owner says, in this recipe "butter rules."

Ahem. Right. So let me admit right here and now that, yes, in this recipe, butter indeed does rule. I halved the amount that went into the cabbage and probably quartered the amount that went onto the phyllo leaves and while my strudel looked lovely and crisp and burnished and also smelled very good indeed, it needed a serious puddle of Sriracha to liven things up.

Baked cabbage

But every now and then, especially when I bit into the delectably crisp bottom layer of phyllo, where all the butter had pooled before baking, I got a fleeting taste of what this strudel would have tasted like had I been a dutiful cook and followed the recipe. It would have tasted pretty darn great.

So. Be ye not so frugal! You only live once! Don't let the amount of butter make you blanch. (But if it does, Sriracha helps. A lot.)

Update! The incomparable Nora Ephron on this very cabbage strudel. Perfection. The end.

André Heimann's Hungarian Cabbage Strudel
Serves 4

8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, more for greasing pan
1 very small head cabbage or half a medium cabbage (about 1 pound), cored and shredded
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
10 sheets phyllo dough, defrosted 

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter a large baking pan and spread cabbage evenly in pan. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cut up 4 ounces (1 stick) butter into small pieces, and sprinkle over cabbage. Cover with foil, sealing edges. Bake until tender and golden, 45 minutes to 60 minutes, occasionally lifting foil and mixing cabbage, then resealing.

2. Remove from heat, uncover and allow to cool to room temperature. (May be stored, covered and refrigerated, for up to 24 hours; use chilled.)

3. Set oven temperature to 400 degrees. In a small saucepan, melt remaining 4 ounces butter. Place a sheet of parchment paper on a work surface with the narrow end closest to you, and top with a sheet of phyllo dough. Brush lengthwise (up and down) with a little butter. Top with another sheet of phyllo, and brush again with butter. Repeat until all 10 sheets are buttered and stacked.

4. Arrange cabbage on top sheet, at end closest to you, in a thick layer 2 inches deep. Spread evenly to side edges. With the help of the parchment paper (and rolling as if for sushi in a bamboo roller), roll phyllo starting at the end with the cabbage. As you work, adjust parchment paper so that phyllo is rolled, enclosing cabbage, without the paper. Brush top of roll with butter, place on baking sheet and bake until golden, about 40 minutes. Serve hot or warm.

John Willoughby's Tagine-Style Lamb Stew


We came back from Greece, where the heat nearly felled us as we attempted to see the Acropolis, to a Berlin that had a chill in the air, not unlike the one that usually hits New York in early October. You know, when the sky is blue, but you find yourself needing not only a wool jacket, but a scarf, too, while brittle leaves crunch and scatter on the sidewalks. Okay, I thought, time to haul out the winter suitcase from the basement, time to put the warmer comforter on the bed, time to pick apples for apple butter and pull out the heavy pots for stew.

I couldn't stop thinking about my grandmother's pot roast, you see. Or about shredded pork. Lamb stew. Pot au feu served with hot mustard and grated horseradish. In other words, meat, meat and more meat. From one day to the next, salads and light dinners made up of flatbread and meze were out the window, gone the way of the mosquito and the drippy peach. Now was the time of thickened gravies and spoon-tender meats.

Well, at least until the next heatwave hit. Today, sitting in my office with hot sun streaming through the window, it feels a little silly to tell you about this lamb stew that requires cold temperatures and at least one article of wool clothing to be worn by the cook at the time of preparation. But I swear that last weekend it was just the thing to spoon over deep plates of couscous and eat, gathered at the table with friends who tried to guess every single ingredient in the pot.


Since that's a rather dull exercise anyway, I'm going to come straight out with it for you guys. It's a crazy mix. There's lamb shoulder and butter and onion. There is a trio of warm spices (cumin, coriander, cinnamon) and apricot jam and red wine vinegar and garlic. There are chickpeas and red pepper flakes, prunes and parsley. In short, this stew holds everything but the kitchen sink.

The recipe comes from John Willoughby's article in the New York Times on how to make savory stews without that tedious first step of browning meat (which, beyond the tedium, also spreads oily filth around my kitchen, irritating me to no end). (In fact, I'd say the step of browning meat is probably at the top of the list of reasons why I hardly ever, ever, ever buy meat to cook at home.) (Do you guys now think I'm insane for calling the gentle spatter of browning meat "oily filth"?) (Oh, parentheses, I like it in here.)

His lamb tagine has you basically simply dump all the ingredients into a pot at once before stewing everything together until the meat falls apart with a gentle nudge. Now here's the funny thing: I wanted to cook the stew for a dinner party on Saturday night, but because I didn't want to waste any time on Saturday cooking (my Saturday hours are preshus), I decided to make the stew the day before, figuring that all stews benefit from a little ripening. Wouldn't you say? But on Friday, as my stew-cooking drew to a close, I was rather taken back as I stared into a pot of lamb soup that looked absolutely nothing like the lush, moody photograph of the stew in the paper.

My stew was wan and gray, even a little thin. Vaguely gruel-like. Instead of looking like the kind of lusty fare you'd imagine gorgeous women in a harem feeding each other, my stew looked like boarding-school stew. (I've never attended boarding school, but I'm pretty sure I read every English book ever published on the subject before I turned 16 years old and have also been blessed with an active imagination. Therefore I am an authority. Also on Moroccan harems. Thank you, good night.)


Huh, I thought. That is peculiar.

Was my German lamb shoulder to blame? Or the low lighting in the photographer's studio? I stared at my tagine-style stew for quite a while on Friday afternoon, completely stumped. Food coloring? I thought. Molasses? Did I miss the red wine? Finally, at a loss, I resigned myself to serving our guests a grayish dinner. This hardly qualified as a kitchen disaster, but all the same, I told myself that worse things had happened. I'd survive the humiliation. It might even taste good. I put the stew in the fridge and went on my way.

The next evening, I pulled the pot out of the fridge and carefully scooped off the top layer of bright orange fat that had risen and solidified overnight. I don't think you have to do this step, but lamb fat can sometimes taste a little...barnyardy and I didn't want that adding to the already unfortunate visual. Then I started to warm the stew, adding chopped prunes instead of the apricots that the original recipe called for. They swelled and plumped in the fragrant gravy, adding sweetness to the air. Just before serving, I added lemon juice and some chopped parsley. Somewhere in a Moroccan harem, someone's stomach growled.

And wouldn't you know. In that last half hour, the stew changed color entirely, going all mahogany-colored with little shimmering dots of oil, bobbing chickpeas and nuggets of prunes and lamb in varying shades of rich, warm brown. Just like the photo. Just in time.

A few minutes later, doled out to a table of hungry guests who seemed especially charmed by the prunes, that whole pot of stew was gone. The chickpeas and prunes all velvety-soft, the lamb swollen with flavor. I even had to bring out spoons for some of our eaters who had been staring rather forlornly at the sweet-savory gravy, brightened by the lemon and parsley, pooled at the bottom of their plates after the couscous and bulk of the stew was eaten.

Just like a bunch of English boarding-school students, really, heading for warmer climes.

John Willoughby's Tagine-Style Lamb Stew
For the original recipe, click here.
Serves 6 to 8

2 pounds lamb shoulder
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 small onion, grated (about 1/3 cup)
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 cup apricot preserves
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1 20-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 cups chicken stock
1/4 cup chopped prunes
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Cooked couscous, for serving

1. Trim excess fat from the lamb and cut into 1-inch cubes. If your shoulder was sold to you with the bone and joint still in it, add it to the pot while you stew the meat for additional flavor (discard before serving).

2. In a Dutch oven, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Add the lamb, onion, garlic, pepper, salt, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, red pepper flakes, apricot preserves and vinegar and cook, stirring frequently, until the aroma of the spices is strong, about 5 to 7 minutes. (Do not allow the meat to brown.)

3. Add chickpeas and stock, bring just to a simmer, then reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer gently until the lamb is very tender, about 1 hour 15 minutes. Let cool to room temperature, then refrigerate overnight.

4. Twenty to thirty minutes before you're ready to serve, pull the pot from the fridge and gently scoop off the orange layer of fat that will have risen to the top. Put the pot over medium-low heat, adding the chopped prunes, and bring the stew to a very low simmer. Continue to cook, uncovered, until the pieces are nicely plumped, about 10 minutes more. Remove from heat, stir in the parsley and lemon juice, and serve with couscous.