May the Odds Be Ever in your Flavor

I apologize if this post comes out a little incoherent, but if it does, you can blame it on Suzanne Collins and how I haven’t been sleeping. On the suggestion of absolutely everyone, I finally started reading the Hunger Games books a few weeks ago and several sleepless nights later I had finished the first one. And when I finished and began deeply reflecting, I realized that Suzanne’s ultimate goal must have been to make her readers hungry. I was hungry for more book, because my sister was harboring the other two in Connecticut, I was hungry for a visual, since the movie had not yet come out, and most of all, I was hungry for the Lamb Stew with Dried Plums that Katniss waves in our faces at least ten times over the course of the book. The Capitol (bad guys) may be the epitome of evil, but it would appear they really know how to eat.

 

why the ball jars you ask? i wish i could tell you, but then i'd have to kill you.

 

I would know, because I’ve had that stew, or at least my mom’s perfect rendition, a million times before. It’s my family’s resident Jewish Holiday Meal – we make it every Passover and Rosh Hashannah and then some. There’s a reason that, even when she has chance, Katniss consistently picks this – if the Capitol version is anything like mom’s, it doesn’t pay to be creative. You just can’t do better. My craving was sadly unappeased by the otherwise excellent movie, which ignored the culinary scene altogether. So when I called home last Wednesday to plan my upcoming weekend in Connecticut, I could only think of the one thing vital to my survival.* With three extremely important holidays (Easter, Passover, My Birthday) to observe in three extremely short days, I was terrified that maybe we’d had to abandon our tradition in favor of simpler options. So when mom affirmed that we were, indeed, having Lamb Stew for Friday night dinner all I wanted to do was sing it to the world. “Ah ha!” I thought. “The movie is still relatively new and buzzworthy… I’m going to capitalize on this to the max.” And so, dear readers, I would like to ask that you get very excited right about now, because I am about to change your life forever. This stew, which actually hails from somewhere in North Africa, is succulent, savory and satisfying. The sweet tartness of the plums make it perfect for autumn, the substantialness of it makes it amazing in winter, and the tenderness of the lamb makes it sing all the way through late Spring. It is great for any day, though we like to save this one for Holidays, since it’s perfect for Easter, for Passover and, of course, for any extremely important birthday. I certainly ate some of it every day this weekend. And the recipe is below, right before your very eyes!

 

Consider our gift to you, for whatever holiday (or lack thereof) you celebrated last weekend. If you’re Christian I hope the Easter Bunny brought you as much chocolate as he brought Francesca, if you’re Jewish I hope you remember that butter and honey make Matzah palatable, if you’re a half-and-half like me, I hope you’re a bit less confused than I am, and whoever you are I hope you celebrated my birthday in style. Happy Passover, Happy Easter, Happy Hunger Games, and may the odds be ever in your favor.

 

 

*I would not last long in the Hunger Games

As Seen At the Market

One of the things I assumed I would miss most when switching careers from journalist to cooking school owner was meeting interesting characters and walking into scenes you never dreamed you’d find yourself in, like walking up the steps of City Hall and interviewing Mayor Ed Koch during an election bid in 1981 at the ripe old age of 18.

 

 

Look at that hair....

 

But over the last two years, I realized my fears were completely and delightfully unfounded. If you really love to cook you can end up doing the same kind of research and probing as any journalist – you should see my library of cookbooks and magazine clippings!  Now, instead of hunting down subjects for a story, I’m hunting down ingredients and sharing recipes with people, from farmer’s markets to subway platforms. People always have a recipe to share, just like they had great leads to tell me in the past.

 

 

 

Of course you probably wonder how this relates to recipes and cooking, so I’ll step off memory lane and get to the point. Recently we started a new series of cooking classes called Spice Market, where we teach how to blend spices and herbs for exotic cuisines. Our first class took us to India, Morocco and Turkey, and we had to learn about ingredients even we rarely, if ever, used before, like asafoetida, preserved lemons and rosewater. Where do you get such ingredients? Some you can make yourself (come back soon and you’ll see a post on preserved lemons), but others, like rosewater, you may have to hunt for.

 

 

I googled preserved lemons and rosewater and was lucky enough to find a store called Sayad International specializing in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine, not far from our house. The store was filled with exotically flavored ingredients, such as pickled wild cucumbers, Moroccan sardines, and dried hibiscus flowers. The store, which smells like Persian tea, dried fruits and spices was cramped and dark but full of discoveries. It’s the kind of place you say,  “I hope I remember this place next time I’m looking for [blank].” I can’t imagine we’d ever need Moroccan sardines, but I was thrilled to know that I wouldn’t have to travel long distances (or pay high shipping charges) if I did.

 

 

We’ve all passed over recipes because we don’t want to deal with finding a weird ingredient or an odd kitchen gizmo. Take these moments as opportunities for adventure. You can always order these things online, but your life will be so much richer if you jump in the car and track them down yourselves.

 

 

In honor of these adventures, I’m going to share a recipe inspired by the research I did for our first Spice Market class. The rosewater and mint really makes the watermelon come alive, and it’s the perfect, refreshing way to end a highly flavorful meal. So bring this tiny adventure into your home, and try to find mini food adventures where you live. You are almost guaranteed to have a great story to tell and maybe even a new recipe when you return.

 Enjoy!

Recipe!

Pomegranate-Watermelon Salad with Mint and Rosewater

Ingredients:

  • 1 small watermelon, weighing about 3 1/2 pounds (or a wedge of a larger watermelon)
  • 2-3 tablespoons of rosewater, depending on how strong a flavor you would like
  • 3 tablespoons pomegranate seeds
  • 4 tablespoons pomegranate juice
  • 1-2 tablespoons fragrant honey (such as wildflower)
  • 12-15 small to medium sized mint leaves, for garnish

Directions:

  1. Cut watermelon into bite-sized pieces
  2. Add the pomegranate seeds
  3. MIx rosewater, pomegranate juice and honey in a bowl
  4. Pour over watermelon and seeds. Mix well.
  5. Cover and chill for about an hour before serving.