meatless monday

Patafla: A Tomato Salad Sandwich

Posted by on Monday Sep 8th, 2014

Take a bright, olive-y panzanella sort of salad and stuff it into a sandwich. The resulting delicacy, readers, is patafla.

Never of it? Neither had Craig Claiborne in 1985, except for one tiny reference in an already-old book.

I have seen reference to patafla in only one source book–Elizabeth David’s A Book of Mediterranean Food, which first appeared about thirty years ago. She describes patafla as a kind of salad served in a sandwich.

It consists of chopped tomatoes, onions, sweet red peppers, pitted black olives, pitted green olives, and gherkins or sour pickles all blended in a bowl. To this you add olive oil, a sprinkling of paprika and salt and pepper. Slice a crusty loaf of French bread and pull out the soft inner part. Cut the soft part into small cubes and add it to the vegetable mixture, then stir. Spoon the vegetable mixture into the two halves of bread and combine, sandwich fashion. This is chilled well and then sliced.

Sixty-odd years later, it’s September in New York. I’m just off a big research project which demanded that I take many old cookbooks out of the library (and accidentally donate many dollars in late fees), and there are tons of tomatoes ripening and begging to be eaten. In searching for my actual subject in Claiborne’s alphabetical food listings The New York Times Food Encyclopedia, I discovered an entry about patafla, and I knew I had to make it.

Patafla has been left undiscovered, in spite of our preoccupation with retro recipes and authentic cooking. There are no records of it that I could find anywhere, besides David’s. She published her book about Mediterranean cooking in post-War Great Britain, with the intent of brightening the gray atmosphere, and so honestly who knows where she found patafla. But I’m glad she did.

Basically, as you saw in the quote above, patafla consists of a fresh tomato salad punctuated by many briny ingredients: pickles, olives, and such. By scraping out some of the soft interior of a bread loaf and mixing the crumbs with the salad, you give the vegetables something to hang onto. The outsides of the bread get over-stuffed with this mixture, before being tightly sandwiched, wrapped, and refrigerated. Overnight, the sandwich “cooks,” in much the same way as a summer pudding, with the juices and the bread solidifying into a seriously charming, delicious sandwich that, because it should be made ahead, is perfect for brown bag lunches and picnicking.

Roasted Eggplant with Pine Nuts & Raisins

Posted by on Thursday Apr 17th, 2014

Like the rest of the Northeast, I can hardly wait for summer. 

A couple of weeks ago I got so impatient I bought a (gasp) off-season eggplant. I quartered and sliced it, then roasted the slices in a hot oven with generously poured olive oil–my approximation of the way I really like my eggplant: in the summer, on the grill. I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned this before, but my mom grills some incredible zucchini and eggplant each summer, and I look forward to the planks of charcoal-blistered vegetables all year long.

One of my favorite ways to serve any vegetable–beloved grilled eggplant or plain old spinach–is with the illustrious ingredient combination of plump raisins, rich toasted pine nuts, and bright parsley. The pairing has a Middle Eastern vibe, though I think of it as Italian, and from what I can learn, both are true. The raisin/nut-savory union has a Sephardic origin, and where Sephardic Jews went–Italy, Turkey, Greece–the raisins and nuts went too, flavoring meatballs, sautéed greens, and now my eggplant.

Oh man, the quiet of vacation fades really fast into the clamor of New York City. Last week, we were floating down Belize’s Rio Grande to the Caribbean, climbing the pyramids at Tikal, and reading books in hammocks, internet in the lobby so intermittent it took a day to download a draft of the eCookbook when I needed to proof it. And then you know what it’s like this week, to come back to a city with the snow still unmelted, and work, and life, and everything. So while I catch up, I wanted to share with you an old favorite recipe–a vegetarian superstar that resembles nothing so much as mashed potatoes but delivers a lot more protein and flavor than that. 

The saucer of spices above reminded me to tell you that we stayed in Belize on a working farm, and I saw turmeric–that yellow powder in the upper left–growing fresh as we walked through the garden one afternoon. Down there, they call turmeric yellow ginger. I’m holding a little slice on the left below, which is vividly orange compared to the knob of ginger Alex has. My piece stained my thumb gold for the afternoon.

This is the rest of the garden where those two roots grew, beside squash and cilantro, culantro and massive leaves of tropical thyme.

And then, to give you one more, this is the river in the jungle we glided down by boat:

The potato pea masala is a recipe from BGSK’s first-ever post, like my peanut sauce. In addition to potatoes, there are raisins, chickpeas, and coconut, plus a cilantro chutney that makes a bowl of potatoes seem more rarified.

The masala could be served as part of a bigger indian buffet, beside korma, chicken tikka masala, or paneer bhurji, or as its own vegetarian main dish. If you’ve got leftovers, smash up the potatoes, form little cakes, and fry them in a little oil.

On Friday, I documented my obsession with crunchies. I told you that I like to fry up tortilla strips to garnish anything with a Mexican flavor and a remotely soft texture. Today, I’m back to tell you that there’s no need to stop at strips when you’re thinking about crispy tortillas. You can fry the whole round! In other words, I’ve discovered tostadas.

I’m here to tell you that tostadas have all but elbowed tacos out of our dinner rotation. My complaint about tacos has always been textural. As vibrant a flavor you give them, tacos’ texture has one dimension: soft. (Notable exception: Baha Fish Tacos.)

Vegetarian Okonomiyaki with Spicy Mayo

Posted by on Monday Jan 27th, 2014

I am obsessed with okonomiyaki. Okonomiyaki is a Japanese pancake, a knife-and-fork vegetarian meal made from ingredients I almost always have around, that Alex and I adore equally and that makes exactly the right amount for a pair of dinners and my lunch the next day.

Over the summer, I was working on a series called Best Recipes on the Internet for First We Feast. Experts in Italian, Mexican, and British cooking pointed me to the quintessential dishes in their respective cuisines–and the best recipes for them. I made splendid discoveries, like why Domenica Marchetti loves arista, how Cathy Barrow’s then-boyfriend accused her of making Stouffers when she cooked crespelles, and the British regional cooking of Edward Smith. The greatest of all came when I pitched a vegetarian article, not exactly parallel to the other national themes, but a cuisine nonetheless, one that crossed borders in its solidarity with avocado, eggs, peanut sauce, quinoa, tacos, hummus, and, apparently, cabbage.

I emailed all the great vegetarian bloggers–Naturally Ella, Cookie and Kate, and Lukas Volger–to find out what vegetarian recipes they considered important. I even got to talk on the phone with Deborah Madison! Best of all, when Rachel Mount Hofstetter, who’s got great taste in vegetable-centric eats, replied to me that day, she changed my weeknight cooking routine for good and for way better.

She wrote:

This Japanese pancake is my go-to recipe for three reasons: It’s packed with vegetables (I at least double the amount in the recipe); cabbage is one cheap vegetable year-round and is always somewhat in-season; and the mayo-soy sauce-chili sauce takes it from healthy staple to addictive, crave-worthy status. Sold.

Okonomiyaki. It’s hard to convey how right Rachel was, how easy these are to make, and how the rhythm of grating cabbage, stirring together a sauce, and frying up the pancakes fits in with my plan of action when I get home in the evenings. I wash all the dishes while the pancakes are frying. I use up the vegetables in the fridge (onions or shallots instead of scallions are fine. Any kind of cabbage fits in great).

Cheesy Butternut Squash Enchiladas

Posted by on Thursday Jan 23rd, 2014

Though it’s sometimes hard to decipher exactly what elevates a recipe from “maybe I’ll make that one day” status to “I’m sprinting to the kitchen right now” material (chipotle? squash? cheese?), I can pinpoint a few elements from the ingredient list or cooking instructions that’ll catapult the recipe over to the “no way am I ever making that” list, and the first one reads like this: “peel and cube the butternut squash.”

Have you ever peeled and cubed a butternut squash? If you’re lucky, the worst problem you’ll encounter during the process is your knife getting stuck in the stiff flesh no matter how recently its blade was sharpened. More likely you’ll also find the skin of your hands peeling off much more easily than the squash’s, thanks to butternut squash-induced contact dermatitis, which is a real thing.

And so I was intent on avoiding that instruction when I wanted to cook vegetarian enchiladas one Sunday and a butternut squash materialized in the produce aisle, the only appealing vegetable there. Of course, I wanted the squash in cubes eventually, so I could fill my all-veg enchiladas with something tasty and hearty. Instead of dealing with peeling and chopping, I solved the problem with a single cut through the middle of my squash before roasting the two halves until soft. Only then did I venture to remove the skin and chop the vegetable. I highly recommend this technique for any squash recipe that permits it. My filling got seasoned with lime juice, fresh garlic, and smoky chipotle in adobo, and I actually enjoyed cooking with squash for once.

The rest of the enchilada dish comes together as a healthful vegetarian main posing as something gooey and decadent. I love how the tomato and jalapeño sauce develops in the blender; onions, garlic, and oil conspire to emulsify the tomatoes and make them almost creamy. As for the cheese, use as much or as little as strikes you as right: you could scatter a mere 1/2 cup if you’re playing January on the light side, and these would be delicious.

Or, rev the measurement up to 1 1/2 or even 2 (!) cups, if this veggie main is meant to serve, I don’t know, carnivores watching the Super Bowl?

This giveaway is now closed. Thanks for entering! -C

For my last post in the epic Middle Eastern Flavor Journey of 2013, I’m coming back to where I started: grilled cheese. My first entry in the series was this Muhammara Grilled Cheese, in which I simultaneously introduced myself to za’atar and pomegranate molasses, made a dip called muhammara, and brought a Middle Eastern twist into my favorite food in the world: grilled cheese.

To bookend that post, today we’ve got homemade harissa, a condiment I can’t believe I haven’t talked about yet, and a technique for making open-faced grilled cheeses for people who live in kitchens too small to fit toaster ovens. Best of all, together with Sargento, I’ve put together the ultimate toolkit for making grilled cheese at home, and you’ll have a chance to enter to win the perfect nonstick frying pan, a grilled cheese press, ingredients for building your Middle Eastern pantry, and coupons for free cheese to melt between two slices of bread–or on top of one slice, which is what we’re up to today.

There are times when I just want an open-faced grilled cheese. It’s like a French bread pizza/toast/tartine craving, as opposed to the need for a sandwich. Right? That makes sense. But when you don’t have a toaster oven, you don’t have the ability to not sandwich your bread together, because otherwise when you go to flip the open-faced sandwich, the cheese will smush all over the pan. That’s why, taking inspiration from this open-faced egg sandwich recipe, I cover the frying pan, turning it into a little stovetop oven, and let the heat build inside until the cheese melts.

To complete this meal, I just mashed avocado with lemon and salt and spread it on top, then dabbled the top with homemade harissa, a garlicky spice paste used throughout the Middle East both as an ingredient and a condiment. I’ve had some really great harissa at falafel joints around town, but I had never confronted the hot peppers needed to make it myself. It’s kind of an experience to make, if you have a few extra hours to kill, and it’s absolutely awesome to eat–fiery, smokey, garlicky, and fragrant with cumin and caraway.

I hope you try the recipe, and here are the details for the giveaway, which includes: the perfect nonstick frying pan, a grilled cheese press, ingredients for building your Middle Eastern pantry, and coupons for free cheese to melt between two slices of bread.

You’ve got three chances to enter the Sargento Ultimate Grilled Cheese Set Giveaway, a $100 value:

  • {one} Leave a comment below and tell what cuisine you’d most like to see explored on Big Girls, Small Kitchen in 2014.
  • {two} Be a subscriber to the Big Girls, Small Kitchen newsletter and leave a second comment letting me know you’ve subscribed.
  • {three} Tell your facebook friends and/or twitter fans about the contest – post the link and tag @Big Girls Small Kitchen (facebook) or @BGSK (twitter). Leave a third comment letting me know you’ve done so.

The contest will run for 10 days, and I’ll announce the winner in my January 3rd newsletter. Good luck!