You’re a Star, Green Bean: Loubieh B’Zeit

loubieh2Eggplant has eggplant parmesan. Spinach has spanakopita. Even the humble cabbage has cabbage rolls. But green beans too often get cast in only a supporting  role, shuffled off into perpetual side dish territory. And that’s too bad, since beautiful green beans are pouring in these days, from both our CSA and our own garden.

Luckily, there’s a delicious Lebanese dish that gives green beans their moment in the spotlight. It’s called loubieh b’zeit, and you can find many, many versions of it (and almost as many different spellings) on the ol’ Internet.  I used some combination of them to come up with my own. Most recipes call for Lebanese Seven Spice, but if that seems way too exotic for your neighborhood grocery, you can make a pretty good simulacrum from spices that are probably already in your cupboard: equal parts black pepper, cloves, nutmeg, ginger, cinnamon, allspice and coriander, all ground up together. (I think the real thing has fenugreek, but this will get you pretty close.)

Another great thing about this dish is that it’s often served cold or room temperature as a mezze, which means it’s practically begging to be a leftover. Stuff some the next day in a pita with some tzatziki sauce and you’ve got yourself a mean sandwich. And you know how I feel about sandwiches.

Loubieh B’Zeit Continue reading

The Potable Tomato

potabletomatoTomato juice that comes in a can is nasty stuff. This opinion of mine, I think, has its roots in a childhood aversion to the sight of it coating the inside of a glass. My favorite aunt regularly drank V8 for breakfast, and though I loved that woman dearly, the memory of a red, viscous mess being poured down her throat that early in the morning is, even now, enough to make me queasy. No amount of vodka and olives can make up for what is wrong with canned tomato juice. No Bloody Marys for me.

But some time ago, Roger (a.k.a. Godfather of Cocktails) suggested that I would warm to the drink if I made my own tomato juice or, better yet, since it would eliminate the coating sediment, tomato water. This past weekend, between taxing bouts of sunning myself on a dock and sunning myself in a hammock, I finally gave it a try and was not disappointed in the results.

Here’s what you do: you core and quarter about six large tomatoes and throw them in a blender with a little salt. Puree those babies and then put them through a cheesecloth. (You can either put a wooden spoon over a pitcher and tie the cheesecloth to it, or, if your pitcher is sturdy, you can just use a couple clothespins to suspend the cheesecloth from the side of the pitcher.) After it strains, you can drink the juice straight, and it’s liquid summer sunshine. But let’s be honest. What you should really do is put some vodka in it. Continue reading

Excuse Me, Waiter, But I Found a Tomato in My Gazpacho

gazpachoI’ve been on a gazpacho kick lately, since the cold tomato soup is easy to make and excellent summer fare. The other day, I was about to add a couple handfuls of basil to the blender, thinking, “Basil always goes well with tomatoes in Italian dishes.” And then I thought, “Wait, is this Italian or Spanish or something else?” And then I thought, “Man, I really don’t know much about gazpacho.” So I went hunting for some fun gazpacho history, and let me tell you, gazpacho has some murky little secrets it’s been keeping from you.

Gazpacho is, indeed, Spanish (though arguably Portuguese as well), specifically from the southern Andalusian region of the Iberian Peninsula. And it’s old, really old, though just how old is open to some debate. Some people think it might have its roots in Roman times, based on the fact that the oldest known recipes involve vinegar, and boy, those Romans loved their vinegar. But the more likely story is that the Moors brought over a soup from Morocco when they came to Andalusia around the 8th century, and the Andalusian peasants adopted it as their own since it was the perfect thing to eat while they were working in the fields.

Here’s the crazy part: wherever it came from, that original gazpacho had nary a tomato! It was a paste of garlic, stale bread, olive oil and vinegar, thinned into a soup with water. (A similar dish still exists in Andalusian cuisine, though it’s now called ajo blanco.) They might have added some vegetables and herbs when they were available, but tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers didn’t enter the gazpacho scene until much later, after Columbus brought them back to Europe from the Americas (What up, New World!?).

The name is also cloaked in mystery. Continue reading

The TLT: Summer Between Two Slices of Bread

The TLTBoy, do people love their bacon. Rarely have I come across a food that inspires such raw passion in people. Just this week, while a co-worker, Devin, and I were discussing the Powerball jackpot having reached astronomical sums, he said that if he won, he would throw me a cool couple million if I, a longtime vegetarian, would eat an entire pig. I’m not sure if this was meant to be some kind of gladiatorial entertainment or if he merely wanted to share his love of pork with the world. Devin did not win Powerball, so I guess we will never find out.

But that does not mean that I am immune to bacon’s charms. I have very happy memories of childhood summer dinners that consisted entirely of big BLTs and fresh ears of boiled sweet corn. To me, bacon is the taste of summer, and a curious package that my mom sent me while I was living in Cambodia helped me to recreate that taste in vegetarian form. Along with other comforts of home, like American magazines, was a shaker of something called Bacon Salt, completely vegetarian but very bacon-y. Bribing the postman to get that package out of hock might have been some of the best money I ever spent. I sliced some tofu from the market very thinly, sprinkled it with bacon salt, popped it in the oven, and boom…it was like I was back in Ohio. The Tofu, Lettuce and Tomato sandwich was born.

Over the years I have perfected the recipe, and I think it’s much tastier than the substitute bacon that you can buy at the grocery store. I will share it below for any bacon-loving vegetarians or anyone who is craving something a little lighter than pork on a hot summer evening. Make one soon while the sweet corn is plentiful and the tomatoes are at their juiciest.

Tofu Bacon Continue reading

The Plant Sale Is On!


Loadin' up our wagon...

Maybe if you’re a fan of the Farmer’s Almanac, you know that it’s time to plant by waiting until leaves are the size of squirrels’ ears or something like that, but as a New Yorker, I know it’s time to break out the trowel when the Brooklyn Botanic Garden holds its annual plant sale. And that time is upon us. Come on, how often do you get to run over old ladies with a Radio Flyer red wagon and race for plants like its some kind of great pioneer land grab?

plant saleThe plant sale has just about any plant you can think of, from serious landscaping items to tiny, delicate potted orchids. Personally, I think the geraniums at the sale are second none (they bloom for months and have been known to withstand blizzards), and I scored some other pretty flowers for our windows. On the food side of things, our haul wasn’t quite as large this year, since Jason has been into saving seeds. Even so, we’re not always the best at self-restraint. Jason added to his rapidly increasing stock of tomato varieties with a Sungold and a Bush Goliath. And the little basil market packs for $2.50 are great. So if you’re in the area, get out there and grab a wagon–the sale runs through tomorrow at 1 p.m.

And if you score any unusual or particularly promising plants, whether its at the BBG or elsewhere, tell us all about it in the comments section. Take your marks…get set…garden!

Concrete Jungle: Easy-Peasy Seed Saving for Next Year

I’ve been meaning to save my own tomato seeds for years.  It always felt like one of those things that was not merely a good idea but a full-on AWESOME, supremely Jay kind of thing to do.  But, probably for curious reasons that are worth me pondering further in solitude, I never found the time to learn do it.  It was proving to be a bit like learning to bend notes on the harmonica.

Except that bending notes on the harmonica is really tough, and saving your tomato seeds is shockingly easy.

All you do is…

  1. scoop seeds out of your tomatoes and cover them in a cup with maybe an inch of water,
  2. cover the opening of the cup with a paper napkin or towel to let them breath,
  3. remind yourself over the coming days that the mold soon growing across the water and your seed goop is perfectly normal,
  4. remove the seeds after a week or all of the seeds have sunk to the bottom of the glass on their own,
  5. wash them clean in running water,
  6. dry them on the counter, turning to make sure all sides dry,
  7. and pop them in the freezer wrapped safe in an envelope, stored for planting next Spring.

Like most vegetable (i.e. – fruit) seeds, tomato seeds are covered in a protective waxy coating.  In the wild (and this is all my personal deduction), this coat ensures they survive until they’re safely nestled in the ground.  Then the weather and soil wear the coating away so the seeds can sprout into new plants. Continue reading

What Will Oscar Eat?: The Slayer Strikes Again

crossword cat

The slayer at rest: "What tomato? I was just doing this crossword..."

I suppose we had become complacent. Long weeks had passed since we experienced any incidents of my cat Oscar snagging tomatoes from the upper shelves in our kitchen in the middle of the night and slaughtering them in what, judging from the aftermath, was similar to a scene out of Kill Bill. So when a wealth of juicy tomatoes started rolling in from our backyard and from our CSA, we were less than diligent about hiding them. And, once again displaying a curiously gourmet sensibility, the smell of all those heirlooms and beefsteaks became too much for him.

violated tomatoWe had long ago given Oscar the middle name Tomato Slayer, but even so, it was a little disturbing to find a thoroughly violated tomato in a bowl of vegetables last Sunday morning. What was strange was that this occurrence went against his usual MO of knocking the tomato to the floor and having his way with it, thus eliminating any possibility that he was really just using it as a toy and not eating it. This time he had simply sunk his teeth into it, chewed out a big hole and lapped up all the juice and seeds. If I looked closely, I could still see the fang marks, and the thought of him perched above the bowl like some fat furry succubus, red liquid dripping from his chin, made me shudder. Continue reading

DIY Tomatoes and 99¢ Boxer Support

Goddamn hallelujah it is tomato season!  The seedlings I planted in May have exploded into thickets of green and red.  When water from the sprinkler hits the leaves, the sweet, sharp smell of their insides blooms up.  When I try to arrange one branch this way or another vine that way, the delicate green-white outer skin rubs off, leaving a seeping window into a deeper, interior green.

I don’t want those tears.  You don’t either.  But tomatoes are scraggly, lurching vines.  Without some kind of support, they really would weave through and around themselves along the ground into thickets.

A case in point. Notice that I'm double-teaming with both a dippy cage and a craptastic bamboo stake. Notice that I've already tried to bundle the beast into some sort of manageable order. Notice how Nature laughs at me.

And tomato cages only do so much good.  That is, if you’re giving your tomatoes the sun and the water they need, they will outgrow any cages I’ve ever seen at the hardware store.  And stakes are a joke, which doesn’t mean I don’t have some from back in the day that I will continue to use until they’re splinters.

But you need to tie the limbs of your tomato plant up to support of some sort or another.  If you don’t, you’ll end up breaking branches when you pick the fruit.  The bounty is just too heavy for the source. Continue reading

When You Just Can’t Get That Garden Going ’til July

A reader in North Carolina posted this comment last week:

Love the articles! I’m buying a house and will finally have a yard to start a garden. I’d love to get your opinion on the best times of the year to plant certain foods and some that would be easier for a first time gardener.


So we’re going to oblige.  Because we’re cool like that.  And believe that if you have the means to buy a house, you most definitely should rock a garden in the backyard.

This is a cool photo that has nothing to do with the content of this blog post

The best way to find out what plants will succeed when planted mid-Summer is to check with a local plant nursery or find region-specific info on the internet.  Since a plant’s suitability to your garden depends significantly on the temperature and on frost, the answer to your question varies depending on where you live.

Also, a good rule of thumb for less experienced gardeners is to buy seedlings, rather than seeds, to plant.  Doing this will give you an added advantage in that you’ll save time that you don’t want to spare since we’re already well into the season.

So, some recs…

Tomatoes! Good, homegrown, heirloom tomatoes are about the best thing you’ll ever taste.  They typically take up to two months to produce fruit, but if you pick up some seedlings at a nursery and get them into the ground, you’ll probably be able to start harvesting by mid-September, only about a month beyond when the “normal” tomato crop comes in.  The plants will keep producing well into Fall; I routinely continue to harvest tomatoes in Brooklyn in mid-October. Continue reading