Posts by Cara

Shortcut Red Pepper Salsa

Roasted Red Pepper Salsa | Big Girls Small Kitchen

I remember the day I discovered the best restaurant salsa. My sister and I begged our waitress for the method, and, to my surprise, she shared the basic recipe with us. All you do, she said, is roast tomatoes, onions, and hot peppers at a very high temperature until they’re charred. Then, you blend them. The oil the vegetables roasted in emulsifies with the juices when you blend. The char translates into earthy depth of flavor.

Even though I’m hardly an expert Mexican cook, I’ve read so many Mexican recipes that I know how essential the comal, essentially a dry heatproof surface, is to the cuisine. It’s on this platform where cooks toast peppers, aromatics, nuts, and other ingredients to give their ingredients char, which translates into fiery flavor.

But what if you could achieve that flavor without a comal, without so much as a broiler? You can, and it’s here. You just open a jar of roasted red peppers. (I’m the first to admit that this is a shortcut, not exactly the same, and yet if you create a path to homemade salsa that’s this easy, then you don’t have to buy jarred stuff, which is too salty and much too tangy for my taste. So…) With that shortcut up my sleeve, I created a jar of salsa that’s rich and sweet and very easy to make whenever.

Roasted Red Pepper Salsa | Big Girls Small KitchenRoasted Red Pepper Salsa | Big Girls Small Kitchen

With a good homemade salsa, two iconic snacks get an upgrade: chips and salsa and nachos. And since I promised you some posts about my obsession with the USA’s snacking habit, here are some thoughts on what it means when you can take a snack previously classified as junk and turn it into something so nourishing that it good enough to eat for lunch.

This is definitely the case with nachos. Subtract the fake cheese from the movie-theater version. Instead, top good-quality chips with fresh, vegetable-rich salsa, a few spoonfuls of refried beans, not a crazy amount of shredded cheddar, and scoops of yogurt. This plate of nachos is sustaining–and still completely delicious. For many snackers and snack producers, it’s those small changes in snacks that are helping to alter their status in our lives from throwaway indulgence to real food.

Liza Braude-Glidden, a co-founder of Beanfields, which makes chips made out of beans and rice, explains:

“If you’re a person who likes snacks, it’s only a tiny step to buy Beanfields instead of your regular snack. You don’t have to change your whole life. If you put that in your child’s lunch, they’ll have less fat, more protein, more fiber. You know there’s research that shows that beans create that feeling of satisfaction, ‘I’ve eaten something that will fuel me,’ you think. ‘This is something sustaining that will get me on with my day.'”

Roasted Red Pepper Salsa | Big Girls Small Kitchen

You might interpret this trend towards stacking snacks with more sustaining ingredients as a sign that your snacking obsession isn’t a bad habit you need to kick. Or, you might do as I did and turn that homemade salsa into a snack-inspired lunch. Roasted Red Pepper Salsa | Big Girls Small Kitchen

What do you think? Do you prefer your snacks to have nutritional value, or do you prefer to associate snacking with indulgence and junk?

Toasted Coconut-Pistachio Macaroons

Toasted Coconut-Pistachio Macacoons

I set out to make good macaroons from scratch, with hopes of bringing something top-notch to this year’s family seder. About 30 seconds later, I realized that I already knew a macaroon secret that would make 2016’s cookies awesome. Fast forward another 1800 seconds and these pistachio and coconut macaroons were in the oven. They’re a true competitor for the delicious canned macaroons I usually gobble on Passover.

Toasted Coconut & Pistachio Macaroons

Here’s the trick. After you combine nuts with egg whites and sugar, you sauté the batter in a heavy pan over low heat. The sugars caramelize and the mixture grows sticky. Only after this stovetop cooking session do you form the batter into spheres and bake as for regular cookies. The cooking not only changes the taste. It does something wondrous to the texture. The cookies that come out of the oven are crackly on the inside and dense on the inside. They’re rich in a way that belies the short, egg white-centric ingredient list. All that from one simple, extra step.

I learned this secret years ago from an Italian cookie called brutti ma buoni, which I tried the BEST EVER version of – on a tip from a BGSK reader – at a restaurant in Clinton Hill called Locanda Vini e Olii (if you live in NYC, please go; when you do, order the “guitar strings” con le sarde and save room for the cookies). If you ever see a recipe for brutti where you don’t first cook the batter, don’t make it: you’ll be replacing a heavenly texture with that light, brittle, forgettable crisp of whipped-up egg whites.

I remembered the steps for making the cookies as laborious. That might have been because I tested and retested the cookies in the smallest kitchen I’ve ever cooked in, the one with the teensy refrigerator and half-size oven. The one that gave this blog its name. But this time the cookies came together quickly around toasted flakes of coconut and crunchy pistachios, chopped finely. Really, no big deal!

Toasted Coconut Pistachio Macaroons

Bring them to Passover seders. Or eat them all yourself.

Fennel, Cherry Tomato & Chicken Salad with Toasted Pistachios

Fennel, Cherry Tomato & Chicken Salad with Toasted Pistachios

I never thought I’d shout about one of those look-what-I-made-from-the-random-stuff-in-the-fridge salads today, or tell you that it belongs on your festive Easter table or in the spread of a baby shower brunch you might be hosting. But this one turned out so well, especially when I recast the crunchy side dish as a main, with the addition of shredded chicken. And so I thought it might be useful to tell you more about what happens when you combine paper-thin fennel with crunchy lettuce, cherry tomatoes, a spicy garlic vinaigrette, and toasted pistachios, in case you’re looking for a healthful but substantial dish that’s easy to make ahead and totally fine to serve at room temperature.

Here’s how the combination of ingredients happened.

After being out all day, we got back to our neighborhood really tired and hungry. I finally worked up the energy to cook dinner, but I used every hands-off cooking tip I could think of. I plopped a filet of Arctic char into a 300°F oven with olive oil, salt, and lemon wedges (you can cook salmon or char this way without worrying about over-cooking). I smashed garlic cloves and didn’t chop them. I grated carrots and sweet potatoes so I didn’t have to dice them. Those veggies went into my Instant Pot with rice, onions, broth, and rosemary to emerge as no-stirring-necessary pressure-cooker risotto in minutes.

The Crispiest Crunchiest Recipes on BGSK

Pita Croutons

Sometimes, you just want crunch! Smooth and silky have their place in cake, mousse, and soup. For when you want to bite into breakfast, lunch, dinner, or dessert and feel that toothsome SNAP! between your teeth, here are the dishes for you. (I wrote more about crunchies here, if you’re as addicted as I am.)

Fusilli1. Fusilli with Squash, Chard, Walnuts, and Pangritata. Pasta with vegetables is such a go-to, and I’m always looking for variations. This wintry delight, with sweet squash and fresh greens, gets perked up with pangritata–fried breadcrumbs also known as “poor man’s Parmesan.”

2. Cheesy Roasted Broccoli with BreadcrumbsRoasted broccoli already has two excellent textures: crisp, nearly burnt florets and soft sweet interiors, but melted cheese and brittle breadcrumbs give the dish an even more attractive character.

Crunchy Desserts 3. Peanut Butter Crispy Bars. Don’t restrict crispy bars to the official marshmallow version. A combination of peanut butter and corn syrup replaces the melted ‘mallows, while chocolate swirls on top complete the picture.

4. Green Tea Chocolate Bark. Chocolate bark has been a go-to since I was “cooking” in my dorm room microwave. But this version is sophisticated: matcha powder turns white chocolate green, and toasted walnuts pair with puffed brown rice cereal for ultimate crunch.

Banana Lassi

Banana Lassi

This is not meant to sound sad–if it does, I’m sorry–but sometimes when you’ve committed to cooking at home, to not spending all your money on take-out and restaurants, to eating leftovers and using up the last of that millet you bought too optimistically long ago, sometimes there’s not quite enough to fill out a plate.

What I mean to say is that if there’s a smidgeon of fried rice from yesterday, I’ll eat it for lunch, even if it’s not quite enough to be all of lunch. Otherwise, where would my beloved fried rice go? Not the trash!

So, some noontimes find me acting like a scavenger, scanning the fridge for something to make a half meal into a whole meal. A new trick for when I need to supplement skimpy portions is to pair a small portion with a big glass of banana lassi.
Banana LassiBanana Lassi

You may have made, or drunk, a mango lassi, perhaps at an Indian restaurant. Those are delicious drinks–earthy and sweet and thick (here’s a batido de mango, sort of a South American version). A banana lassi is more pedestrian, more everyday. It’s simple enough to eat with almost any cuisine but tasty enough that you won’t feel sad that your lunch is well, sad. Or it was, before you made the lassi.

What strikes me every time I blend one of these up (the whole process takes about a minute and a half) is how totally different it tastes from any other kind of banana-based smoothie or milkshake–and I’ve drunk a lot of banana shakes in my life. The yogurt contributes the most delightful tang, which sets off the caramelized notes of a ripe banana. A sprinkle of ground cardamom makes this otherworldly.

Banana Lassi

You’ll want to tweak my recipe according to the ripeness of your banana (and whether you froze it), the tanginess and thickness of your yogurt, and of course your preferences.

Herbed Tofu Club with Avocado & Chutney

Herbed Tofu with Avocado & Chutney on Multigrain

When we had half a tub of tofu left over from making this favorite for the first time in a while, my mind rambled over the possibilities. I don’t buy tofu that much anymore, but I used to cook with it and eat it a lot. One of my favorite preparations was the tofu sandwich. A million years ago, when I lived in the East Village, my roommate Jordana and I ate plenty of meals at Angelica Kitchen, the first-of-its-kind vegetarian joint nearby. There, Peter Berley cooked presciently, serving tasty grain bowls and tofu that tasted like something, not nothing. On his sandwiches, he layered slices of tofu, which had been marinated and baked under a blanket of herbs, vinegars, spices, and oil, with vegetables and good spreads. We adored those sandwiches.

Herbed Tofu Club with Avocado & Chutney on MultigrainHerbed Tofu Club with Avocado & Chutney on MultigrainHerbed Tofu Club with Avocado & Chutney on MultigrainHerbed Tofu Club with Avocado & Chutney on Multigrain

With the exception of a) hardcore Italian subs with at least four kinds of cured meat and b) the pressed mortadella pressed at Brooklyn Larder, I actually don’t love cold cuts on my sandwiches. Though not every menu reaches much beyond caprese on focaccia, I’ll order a vegetarian number if I can–avocado and hummus, grilled cheese of course, or this tofu club.

Herbed Tofu Club with Avocado & Chutney on Multigrain

Here, the tofu bakes in what’s essentially a green sauce. I spread the bottom slice of bread with a chutney I threw together at the end of the summer, to save a few rooftop tomatoes that never ripened. The seasoning comes from coriander seeds, which play nicely with the cilantro leaves (they’re the same plant), and of course plenty of sugar. You could use a purchased chutney if you like one; otherwise make some quick onion jam or reach for the apple butter you pushed to the back of the fridge after October’s farm visit. Ingredients for the rest of the sandwich–fresh multigrain bread, avocado, mustard, and lettuce leaves–shouldn’t be a problem to come by.