My Mom’s New Old-School Bean Salad

by Caroline

A staple cookbook of my childhood was Peg Bracken’s I Hate to Cook Book. My mom does not at all hate to cook, and I learned how to cook by sous cheffing contentedly at her elbow. But Peg Bracken’s dry wit and realistic take on domestic life — her insistence that a woman (still always a woman) didn’t have to spend her days stuck in the kitchen cooking for her husband and kids — must have been, for women coming of age in the 50s and 60s, like a swipe of vinegar across a cloudy window. Refreshing, sharp, and clarifying.

We learned Crazy Cake from Peg Bracken, we learned Elevator Lady Spice Cookies (which Cassoulet contributor — and my sister — Libby Gruner has written about), and we learned Aunt Bebe’s Bean Bowl, an open-the-cans-and-dump salad with a sweet dressing that was a staple of our church potlucks and picnics. “Don’t be afraid of that three-quarters of a cup of sugar, incidentally, as I was,” Bracken writes. “I thought, ‘This will never work out!’ and I thought, further, “Who is that fond of beans?’ But it did and I was.”

I loved that bean salad, but I cannot bring myself to buy canned green or wax beans these days, and making it without canned beans just seems to defeat the purpose. So here’s my mom to the rescue, with her updated bean salad for today’s kitchens, a whole lot fresher and greener but still just as easy. Don’t be afraid of those raisins, incidentally, as I was; I thought, this will never work out! And, I thought further, who is that fond of beans? But it did, and I am.

Black Bean & Chick Pea Salad

1 cup raisins
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons sugar
1 cup fresh cilantro or chopped Italian parsley
4 scallions, thinly sliced
1/3 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
Kosher salt and black pepper
15 ounces chick peas
15 ounces black beans

In a small saucepan, combine the raisins, vinegar, oil and sugar and bring to a simmer. Remove from the heat and let cool.

In a large bowl, toss chickpeas and black beans, cilantro (or parsley), scallions & raisin mixture with cumin, plus salt and pepper to taste.

Serves lots!

Homemade Nutella or, Because it’s there

by Caroline

I guess I feel about recipes the way some people feel about mountains. It’s there in front of you, so why not give it a shot? There is really no pressing need to make nutella (you could push it and say there’s no pressing need to eat nutella, but I won’t go so far), but when you find a recipe that looks so easy, and promises a result so delicious, why not? Besides, it’s summer. And in summer, we say yes.

1 cup hazelnuts
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/2 cup powdered sugar
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3-4 tablespoons vegetable oil

Preheat the oven to 350. Spread the nuts on a baking sheet and toast them in the oven for 10-11 minutes, or until fragrant. Wrap them in a kitchen towel and rub them to remove the skin; use your fingers as they cool and do the best you can — it won’t all come off. Let the nuts cool.

Grind the nuts in the food processor until smooth, about 3 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients and continue blending until smooth and spreadable.

This keeps at room temperature for three days, apparently, or in the fridge for two months, but we wouldn’t know.

Zucchini Blossoms, Two Ways

by Caroline

I grant that this post is a little silly. I know for most folks zucchini blossoms are more of a rare summer treat than something you’re looking for new ways to prepare. They are too fragile to find in grocery stores, so you really need either to grow them yourself or look for them at a farmer’s market, where they aren’t cheap. And once you have them at home, well, when they are so tasty dipped in batter and fried, why look any further?

But I was taken by Melissa Clark’s recent NYT column about zucchini blossoms, in which she points out what we really all know: once you batter and fry something, especially something as delicate as a zucchini blossom, the prevailing flavor disappears in the larger sensation of salty crunch. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but, maybe there’s another way?

And also, I’d bought a bag full of the flowers expecting friends for dinner; their plans changed but my sense of urgency about getting to the blossoms before they wilted did not. So I figured two preparations would be the best way to handle the bounty.

I fried half, using a simple flour and seltzer water batter like this one; for the other half, I followed Clark’s lead and simply stuffed the raw flowers with tapenade and burrata (the mozzarella filled with heavy cream).

As we sat down to eat, the fog rolled in and it started to drizzle, but the sunny platter loaded with zucchini flowers brought a little summer into our evening.

Banh Mi Summer

by Caroline

Within two blocks of my family’s San Francisco home, we have two taquerias plus a Mexican restaurant, one burger place, one salad and sandwich place, one seafood restaurant, three sushi restaurants, two Thai restaurants, two Indian restaurants, one Peruvian restaurant, one Ethiopian restaurant, one place for gyros, three pubs, three pizza places, three Asian-vegetarian restaurants, a Vietnamese restaurant, a couple greasy spoon diners, a donut shop, two ice cream parlors, and several bars and cafes.

It’s a wonder we cook at all, really.

But we do, and Tony often takes inspiration from the local restaurants to make something new at home. He’s made the shiitake mushroom dumplings from the now-sadly-closed Eos, a roasted tomato and pumpkin seed salsa from a nearby taqueria, and a lemon and chard pasta dish from the Italian place near the boys’ school. His latest homemade version of a local dish is vegetarian banh mi, from the Vietnamese place I didn’t even know we had (maybe because there’s nothing in the name to indicate it’s Vietnamese food?) Their version has some glass noodles and shiitake mushrooms and I have to say, I prefer Tony’s, which we’ve all been eating a lot this summer. It takes a few make-ahead steps, but once you’ve done them, you can be eating banh mi quickly. Here’s how he does it.

First, make a batch of roasted chili paste.

Next, shred a few carrots into matchsticks and toss them into a bowl. Cover with a simple pickling liquid of equal parts rice wine vinegar and sugar. Add a sprinkle of salt, stir, and let sit for 30 minutes. If you like cucumber or radish, go ahead and add them in matchsticks, too, and just increase the amount of pickling liquid to cover.

Then, make a batch of caramelized golden tofu, cutting the tofu into long fingers. If you like, cook some sliced shallots with the tofu.

The pickled vegetables and chili paste will keep indefinitely in the fridge; a batch of tofu will keep a couple days.

Once you have those three basic elements in place, all you need is a soft roll and some cilantro. You might also want some fresh mint, jalapenos, and a squeeze of lime juice. Spread some chili paste on the roll, stack the tofu, vegetables and cilantro on your roll in proportions to taste, and eat.

Arugula and Apricot Salad

by Caroline

Our backyard was full of this:

And our fruit CSA had brought us all these:

And so I decided to combine them into this:

Arugula and Apricot Salad

Serves one; adjust amounts according to taste (and your supplies)

Several handfulls of arugula, torn into bite-sized pieces
1 apricot, sliced thinly
6-8 toasted pecan halves
about half an ounce of sharp cheddar cheese (use a vegetable peeler to get thin shavings)
a drizzle of your favorite vinaigrette

Toss all the ingredients together until nicely dressed. Serve.