A mad scientist’s power comes from making something wonderful and brand new—like a singular dish that was just a grocery list of disparate ingredients, moments or hours before. The golden, shimmering alchemy of cooking is one of the ways I fill my life with warmth and light. I cook home food; no molecular gastronomics, no loopy swirls on the plate. It is a remarkable thing to be confident in providing for yourself—not just surviving, but creating, often out of very little, a feast, nourishing and magnificent in its rustic simplicity.
IMA LITTLE TAVERNA SALAD
Also known as “marouli salata” this fresh Greek salad is as meaty, herb-flecked, and satisfying as any old morsel of beef or fish. Tender, lush and salty feta is kicked swiftly in the ass with bright lemon and grassy dill, all balanced with crisp, toothsome romaine. Anyway, it’s very simple and traditional but I also add a little of my own oomph, which is irresistible of course. So, let’s goooo!
1 head romaine, washed, dried, shredded
4-5 scallions, sliced thinly
4 oz feta, crumbled
1 fat bunch dill, washed, dried, chopped fine
Juice of half a lemon
2 tbsps olive oil
Combine romaine, feta, scallions, and about half of the dill in a large bowl. In another little bowl, whisk together the oil and lemon juice with salt and pepper, and the rest of the dill. Truthfully, you might have to pour a teeny more oil, then add a little lemon, then adjust, etc. Since the salad is so dead simple, the flavors really do have to be balanced to blow everyone away. But no worries! You can do it—I just have this feeling.
Pour that lovely herby dressing all over everything, and fold and fold, breaking up some of the feta in the process. Serve immediately, with an extra crack of pep, in pretty bowls.
HOT POT SHORT RIBS WITH BOK CHOY AND EGG DUMPLINGS
I wanted to replicate an exact Asian flavor profile, from a range of dishes I’ve tried here and there and wherever, but just couldn’t quite put my finger on it. I had no recipe, simply a taste and a dream. You couldn’t have known what I wanted, but I also couldn’t have gotten any closer. And now I’m sharing it! With you! The rare win-win-win situation. Plus, I recently learned how to make spaetzle, and I’ll find an excuse to put them in anything. And in a gingery, peppery, star anise-scented broth? Those eggy noodles never found a warmer welcome.
For the beef:
1 lb beef short ribs
11/2 half heads of bok choy, washed dried chopped
8 whole carrots, washed and sliced into 2-inch pieces, diagonally
2 medium onions, cut into eighths
4 c beef stock, heated over medium low
1 stalk lemongrass, crushed and bruised
11/2 tsp sesame oil
2 tbsps rice vinegar or more to taste
1-2 tbsps brown sugar
1/4 c soy sauce
5-6 whole cloves
4 star anise pods
2 cloves garlic
1 clove fresh garlic, peeled and minced
1 tsp chili flakes, or more to taste
Dash olive oil
For the dumplings
1 c flour
1/4 c milk
Salt and pepper
6 c boiling salted water
I made a note with a few ingredients, but this whole thing is to taste really. How much you like certain flavors, how sweet or savory, how deep into the jungle you go: It’s your call.
So, since I decided I wanted to eat this around 5 in the afternoon I didn’t have a lot of time, but no matter.
Perfect quick marinade for the ribs: Loosen it up with some olive oil, sesame oil, cloves, star anise, sugar, half of the vinegar, half the soy, chili flakes, black pepper, ginger, and garlic, altogether into a bag. Plus, the meat—right. Let that hang for about an hour. Prep all your veg and set aside.
Stare out the window for a while at the clouds and the birds. Put on some world music.
OK! Back to it.
Heat a dutch oven over medium high. With a pair of tongs, pick off the biggest pods and cloves and set them aside. When the pan is hot, sear those ribs briefly on each side. Remove them to a cutting board to rest a sec. Brown the carrots and onions in the same way, in batches if necessary. Remove the veg and deglaze the pan with a little of the warmed beef stock. Whisk it all around, bits up, and then put all the ribs and carrot and onion back in the pot, and slosh in the rest of the stock. Bring to the edge of a boil, then turn down the heat to low. Add the bok choy, and simmer for at least an hour, more if you can, but who has the time? Anyway, let it alone for a while, and take a load off because the dumplings are literally so simple and quick!
To prepare the dumplings, put a pot of hot water on to boil, then whisk together flour, salt, pepper, and milk with lightly beaten eggs until you have something like a thick pancake batter, but can still drip off the end of a spoon. You’re going to drop this batter into the steadily boiling salted water, so you have to decide: pastry bag or pushing through a sieve?
For this meal, I thought, OK, yeah, egg noodles, and made long thin dumplings, pastry-bag style. No bag? Just pour batter into a Ziploc and snip the tip! Snip smaller than you think you need to, trust me.
Squeeze the bag over the pot of water to make the noodles. Like I said, I made long thin ones, but it’s your dish! Be ready with a slotted spoon or spider to scoop the cooked noodles. It takes about 10 or 15 seconds! You’ll get the rhythm, no doubt, though. I really can’t believe it is so intuitive. Spoon them from the pot to a waiting colander, squeezing out the batter in batches until all the noodles are cooked. Spray with some cold water and shake off excess.
Your hot pot should be just about ready any time now! Take that baby off the heat and let it cool for a bit before heaping noodles into your bowl, ladling over that gorgeous meat in its broth, dim and earthy with carrot and bok choy. This stew is so deeply wonderful, clove and ginger-scented, silky. The meat falling off the bone. It’s as dark and thrilling as a novel set in Hong Kong, during the war, rain-swept streets, a murder, a chrysanthemum. An honor.
MARION’S ICED CREAM SANDWICHES
This recipe is inspired by a real firecracker of a woman, a family matriarch with careful, loving hands and sharp wit. Her iced-cream sandwiches were legendary!
1 c heavy cream
3/4 c evaporated milk
1/4 c icing sugar
10-12 chocolate graham crackers
Special equipment: hand mixer ~ or ~ immersion blender
Make sure everything is chilled before you get to work. Ideally, you’d keep your can of evaporated milk in the fridge, and then pop a thin bowl in the freezer to cool while you assemble the mise en place for the miraculous event that is about to transpire in your very own kitchen.
Pour everything into a bowl and whip on high until stiff-or-just-about-stiff peaks form. Freeze for about an hour in the bowl. Remove, whip again for about a minute, then freeze for another 30 minutes. Meanwhile, break up your grahams into an even number of squares.
When it’s frozen enough to hold its shape, lay out grahams on a baking sheet, sugar side down. Make sure the baking sheet can fit in the freezer, otherwise you can just transfer your sandwiches to a plate after they’re assembled.
Spoon some ice cream onto a cracker, cover with its top, and squash it down slightly to make a sammie. I let the ice cream fluff out of the sides a little bit for festiveness.
Freeze for an hour, then serve! They are totally amazing. Wrap each sandwich in a small square of tinfoil and keep in the freezer! Will be good for about a week, if they last that long.