Turmeric is one multifunctional little spice. It is used as a dye. It is used to deter ants in gardening. It is used medicinally, to fight memory loss and cancer. It is used cosmetically to deter aging. And, did I mention, it is used in foods, mostly in curries, but also as a substitute for saffron, and as a colorant in mustard. There’s pretty much nothing that turmeric can’t do, considering that we normally see it in an innocent little glass jar on the spice aisle, not looking like much of a superhero.
But my relationship with turmeric is simple: I eat it. And have, for as long as I can remember. My Mémé is from Morocco, and I can’t count the number of t-shirt I’ve sacrificed to the yellow spice while watching and helping Mémé concoct her tagines as they bubbled and blipped on the stove. I love that taste that I described last week as toasting earth, that is fragrant and almost floral, but also a touch metallic or bitter. The idea that people use it only for its color is so frustrating, because its flavor is so distinctive and dynamic.
This tagine is inspired by Mémé, although it’s not of her creation. I sear lamb shanks, and stew them with caramelized onions and green olives saturated with bright golden turmeric, a touch of cumin, and a cinnamon stick. Cilantro and fresh mint finish the resulting tagine that is mildly sweet and intensely savory, colored and flavored by the very special and prominent note of turmeric. Spooned over a bed of couscous, it doesn’t get much better than this.
It just goes to show you should never, ever judge a spice by its color.
Moroccan Lamb Tagine with Turmeric, Onions, and Olives
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 lamb shanks
Freshly cracked black pepper
3 medium yellow onions, thinly sliced in halfmoons
3 garlic cloves, whole but peeled and smashed
1 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1 cinnamon stick
1/3 cup dry white wine
1 1/2 cups vegetable broth
1/2 cup medium-sized green olives, pits in
Heat the olive oil in a high-sided sauté pan over medium-high heat. Season the lamb liberally with salt and pepper. Sear the lamb in the hot oil until the lamb is golden brown on all sides. It should take about 10 minutes in the pan.
Lower the heat to medium; place the lamb on a plate and set aside. Immediately and carefully add the onions and garlic to the hot oil, and season with salt and pepper. Sauté, stirring often, until the onions are slightly caramelized, about 10 minutes. Add the turmeric, cumin, and cinnamon to the onions, and sauté until the spices are fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the wine and deglaze the pan.
When the wine has reduced by about half, add the vegetable broth and the olives. Bring the liquid to a boil, and add the lamb back into the pot. Cover, and reduce the heat to low. Simmer, covered, for 3 hours, turning the lamb over once in the pot. Then, simmer uncovered for minutes, to allow the sauce to thicken slightly. Serve over couscous and top with the fresh cilantro and mint.
Haricots verts, stewed with wine, tomatoes, garlic, shallots, and olive oil
I have been making this recipe for years! Maybe I didn’t publish the recipe because they are my best friend Anna’s favorite. But she is always telling me to share, so here I go. These are haricots verts, fine French green beans, stewed with all the flavors of the South: olive oil, garlic, tomatoes, wine, and a few shallots for good measure.
What I love about the French is that they are genuinely not into the trendy, undercooked vegetable. French vegetables are COOKED. And these are no different, stewed well past the point of tender crisp until they are soft, and sweet, and punchy from the tomato and wine. These are good on their own, and I often have them in a big heap with a warm crust torn off a big loaf of country bread. But they would also go beautifully on the side of a grilled salmon, or a seared whole fish, or on a big vegetable plate. These are about as mighty and delicious as the little haricot vert can muster. They don’t get better than this!
3/4 pound cherry tomatoes, pureed in a blender until almost smooth
Freshly ground black pepper
Heat the oil in a wide high-sided sauté pan over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Add the shallots, and sauté for 3 1/2 minutes, stirring often. Add the garlic, and 15 second later, add the tomato paste. Cook for 15 seconds, then add the haricots verts. Toss with the tomato paste mixture, and add the wine. Cook for 1 minute, then add the cherry tomatoes, and season with salt and pepper. Reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes. Remove the lid, and simmer another 5 minutes. Serve hot or at room temperature.
French Purple Potato Salad, with pancetta, mustard, and thyme
I like doing things that don’t exactly break with tradition, but are just ever so slightly different. And therefore, special. Just a little bit of thought can change the same ol’ same ol’ to a showstopper.
Enter potato salad. I love nothing more than to head to the deli counter and buy the traditional stuff full of mayo and onion and gherkins. But French potato salad is a bit different. It’s mustard- and vinaigrette-based, rather than built on mayo, and usually involves a little bacon. How can that be bad?
So, when I saw a bag of purple potatoes for sale at the supermarket for a buck fifty, I thought, now is the time to make showstopper potato salad. It starts with crispy pancetta, and a vinaigrette made from the pancetta drippings, olive oil, white wine vinegar, and spicy Dijon mustard. Added to that is the sharp zing of fresh shallot, and the earthy, grassy flavors of fresh thyme and parsley. In the warm vinaigrette bath I plunge my hot purple potatoes. I toss them and let them sit and toss them again, until they have little drunk up all the pancetta and vinaigrette and mustard into themselves. Serve them room temperature, and you will never, for better or worse, be tempted by the deli counter again. It is the best potato salad I’ve ever had. Suddenly, the humble potato has reached its fully Versailles potential. Plus, no mayo to go off at a picnic. The French think of everything…
Excerpted from my weekly column Franglais on The Huffington Post.
French Purple Potato Salad
serves 4 to 6
2 ¾ pounds purple potatoes, halved or quartered
¼ pound cubed pancetta
10 tablespoons olive oil
4 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 shallots, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
2 tablespoons flat leaf parsley
Freshly ground black pepper
Put the potatoes in a big stockpot and cover with water by at least 2 inches. Season with salt, cover, and cook over high heat until just tender, about 20 to 25 minutes.
Meanwhile, make the vinaigrette. In a wide sauté pan, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil over high heat. When it shimmers, add the pancetta, and cook for 3 minutes. Set the pot aside, and the pancetta will continue to crisp while it cools.
Once the pancetta is cooled, add the remaining olive oil, vinegar, mustard, shallots, thyme, parsley, salt, and pepper. Whisk until emulsified.
Drain the potatoes, and put back in their big hot stockpot. Pour the vinaigrette over the hot potatoes, and gently toss to coat. Allow to sit, tossing every now and again, until completely room temperature. The potatoes will suck up the dressing. Serve at room temperature.
My mother has been making these peas my entire life. They are one of the dishes I call home ahead about. “Mom, I’m coming home next week. Will you make your peas and onions?” I’m not sure why she makes them. They’re not particularly French. Or complicated. But they are special–soft, sweet, savory. Remarkable.
Turmeric doesn’t often stand alone. It’s the cheap color substitute for saffron, or one in many ingredients in a curry. It’s rarely special and remarkable. But in these peas, it’s the main flavor, the headliner. That smell like toasting earth, intense as its color. Toasted in olive oil, mixed together with peas and sweet, soft onions. That’s the dish. Serve with baguette, and you’ll be a turmeric convert.
Heat the oil in a wide, high-sided sauté pan over high heat. Add the onions, and sauté until soft, stirring often for up to 10 minutes. Add the turmeric, and stir into the onions. Add the peas, and season with salt. Cover with a lid and cook, stirring occasionally, on medium-high to high heat, for 40 minutes. Serve with baguette.
Niçoise Panzanella Bread Salad, with black olives, green beans, cherry tomatoes, anchovies, tuna, herbs, lemons, and BREAD!
Some people say if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Don’t reinvent a classic–it’s a classic because it’s perfect as is. Which, is true. But even though this panzanella is something of a reinvented Salade Niçoise or Pan Bagnat, I’m not reinventing it to improve it, but so I can find more ways to eat it because I love it.
Salade Niçoise is iconic, as is the Pan Bagnat which is just a Salade Niçoise sandwich. This is somewhere in the middle: a bread salad full of all the flavors that make a Salade Niçoise a Salade Niçoise: cherry tomatoes, tender blanched haricots verts, anchovies, garlic, lemon, olive oil, thyme, basil, and the best part–albacore in olive oil. All tossed with toasted, crusted cubes of bread that soak up all the flavor and make it a meal. It’s salty, fresh, crisp, and bright.
So like I said, this is one more way to eat your Salade Niçoise. And who doesn’t want that?
7 ounces haricots verts, halved and blanched until tender crisp
45 cherry tomatoes, halved
30 Kalamata olives, pitted and halved
12 anchovy fillets in olive oil, drained and roughly chopped
1 cup baby arugula, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons roughly chopped fresh basil
2 tablespoons roughly chopped flat leaf parsley
1 5-ounce can of albacore in olive oil, drained
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spread the bread in a single layer on a baking sheet, and toast until just golden brown, about 10 minutes. Set aside to cool.
Prepare the vinaigrette by whisking together the lemon juice, lemon zest, olive oil, thyme, and salt and pepper.
In a large bowl, toss together the haricots verts, cherry tomatoes, olives, anchovies, arugula, basil, parsley, and the lemon-thyme vinaigrette. Then, add the tuna and bread croutons to the bowl, and gently toss until everything is combined. Let sit on the counter for at least 20 minutes before serving.
This is one of my favorite dishes of all time. I got a ton of friends and readers telling me that they loved the Cheapskate Spaghetti. This is like Cheapskate Spaghetti–goes to Japan.
I was at the restaurant Basta Pasta in New York with three of my best friends. I seem to have been the last person on earth to go there, but I’d been hearing about the place for years because they do one of those hot pasta dishes tossed in a hollow Parmesan wheel. And those are always a show stopper. But I didn’t realize that the point of the whole place is this Japanese Italian fusion. And before you judge pasta with sea urchin in a pink sauce, let me just tell you it is heart stopping–so special and different and wonderful and complex.
This pasta, Spaghetti with Tobiko and Herbs, is based on the pasta I had a Basta Pasta that night: spaghetti tossed with tobiko (flying fish eggs, like on the outside of your California Roll) and shiso, a Japanese herb that falls somewhere between mint and basil. I know, it sounds coo coo for Coco Puffs crazy. But it is kind of like a much more delicate, sweeter, fresher version of spaghetti with clam sauce. The fish row bursts ever so slightly in your mouth, and has that unmitigated flavor of the sea. The shiso (or in our case, the mint and basil) counters it with a tremendous garden freshness. And the easy butter sauce is so simple and elegant and good. Good thing I asked the waiter what was in it! Honestly, I can’t stop making this dish. It’s weird, but that’s what makes it special. And the fact that it’s even cheaper and easier than everyone’s favorite Cheapskate Pasta–well, that just speaks volumes. You have to try this. You won’t be able to stop eating it, and no one will be able to believe that you made it!
Spaghetti with Tobiko and Herbs
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pound spaghetti rigati (recommended: Barilla)*
½ cup clam juice
⅓ cup tobiko (flying fish roe) or masago**
⅓ cup chiffonade of shiso (or mint and basil)***
Dice the butter, and put it back in the fridge.
Cook the spaghetti in very well salted boiling water until al dente. Reserve ½ cup of the pasta cooking water before draining.
Add the clam juice and reserved pasta water to the empty pasta pot over high heat. Once the mixture comes to a boil, whisk in the butter, 1 cube at a time, until they are all dissolved into the sauce. Take the pot off the heat, and toss the pasta with the sauce. Taste for seasoning, and add salt if you want it.
You can either divvy the pasta up between 4 bowls, and divide the tobiko and herbs on top of the bowls of pasta; or you can toss the tobiko and herbs with the pasta in the pot. Either way, serve right away!
*I like the spaghetti rigati because each strand holds the sauce and tobiko to it. But if you can’t find it, just use regular spaghetti, like Basta Pasta does.
**This is those tiny orange fish eggs on the outside of sushi. I buy it for $1.89 for ⅓ cup at a local Asian market, in the freezer section. You can also try your local sushi restaurant, or the sushi counter at your supermarket.
***Shiso is an Asian herb that I can’t find. So I use a mixture of 10 basil leaves and 20 mint leaves.
The first thing that hits me about celeriac is the smell. It’s like the forest floor and a cabbage patch and a grassy field all at once. It is so intensely vegetal. And let’s face it: few vegetables can tread the line between root vegetable and garden vegetable with such success. It has the bulk and heartiness of the likes of a potato, but the lightness and brightness of a very mild celery. It’s gorgeous. And because so few people really eat or make it in the States, it’s that smell that immediately takes me to France, and makes me feel like I’m having something ever so special.
This soup was inspired by a Vichyssoise, if you consider a Vichyssoise to be a thick soup of root vegetable and onion, rather than exclusively potato and leek. The soup is simply celeriac, caramelized shallots, thyme, and vegetable broth, simmered and blended together until it’s thick and creamy, even though there’s not a drop of cream. In the age old French tradition of stirring grated cheese into hot soups, I serve it with a mound of grated Gruyère to be melted and stirred into the thick and steaming soup. The result is a hearty soup with the lightness and smell of a garden, punctuated by the slight sweetness of the caramelized shallots and the earthiness of thyme. The Gruyère does magical things, adding that salty nuttiness that I love, and oozing into the soup. If you make one soup this fall, it has to be this one!
In a large stockpot, melt the butter over medium heat until frothy. Add the shallots, and cook on medium-low to medium heat until caramelized, about 10 minutes. Keep a cup of water on the side, and add a splash every few minutes to keep the shallots from burning before they are caramelized.
Add the potatoes, celery root, thyme, salt, pepper, and vegetable broth, and bring to a boil over high heat. Cover, and reduce the heat to medium-low, simmering for 30 minutes. Add the contents of the pot to a blender, and carefully purée until smooth. Serve very hot, with a big pile of coarsely grated Gruyère to pile on top and melt into the soup.