Shredded Zucchini Salad

by Maja Lukic


Zucchini season has commenced. I, for one, am thrilled about this development. That, and the beginning of Summer of Riesling. Because how can you not get excited about an entire summer of delicious Riesling? (Though I must admit that this summer, like everyone else, I'm obsessed with Albariño wines). 

I've never understood why people complain about needing to dispose of large quantities of zucchini. I can never seem to keep enough zucchini in my kitchen. In any case, it's not even peak season yet and everyone is making zucchini noodles and pasta, which is an acceptable treatment. But I'm proposing that you do something a little different here.  I'm proposing that you shred or grate your zucchini and then serve it up as a fantastic raw salad.  

This is about as refreshing and delicious as it gets. For instance, it was so hot last weekend that I couldn't comprehend the thought of solid food. I walked down to Liquiteria for a smoothie lunch (though if it hadn't been so humid, I would have walked the 30+ blocks to The Butcher's Daughter for one of their juices). My liquid lunch turned out to be an ill-advised decision because I crashed by about 4 p.m.  But it was still blistering outside. I had this salad in the fridge, though, and it made for a satisfying and cooling mid-afternoon snack. I sat by an open window in my apartment, snacking on the raw zucchini and contemplating the rising stack of literary magazines on my coffee table. (They just keep arriving in the mail and I've been averaging, like, one short story every three days. It's absurd.).

I topped this off with purple micro radish, which has been a favorite ever since I discovered it at the market earlier this spring. If you can't find micro radish, substitute any other variety of micro greens or even sliced, spicy radishes. The shredded zucchini is the foundation, but the other ingredients are pretty flexible.

The one step you shouldn't neglect is salting the zucchini before you dress it. Zucchini releases more water than you might expect. In fact, as soon as you slice into it, little mercury beads of sweat begin to appear on the cut surface. And when you dress the salad and add salt, it will release even more moisture, diluting the dressing. Definitely salt the zucchini beforehand. 

Shredded Zucchini Salad (v/gf)

Lightly adapted from Cuisine Niçoise

Serves 4

4 zucchini, unpeeled

2 cups cherry tomatoes

1 cup micro radish (or other micro greens)

1/2 cup basil

1 tbsp champagne vinegar 

1 tsp Dijon mustard

1 tbsp fresh lemon juice

2 tbsp olive oil

sea salt, pepper

Wash and trim the zucchini (no need to peel). Grate the zucchini on a box grater or process in a food processor with the shredding attachment. Toss the zucchini with 1/2 tsp salt in a colander. Set aside to drain for 30 minutes. 

Whisk together the champagne vinegar, mustard, lemon juice, and olive oil. 

Wash and halve or quarter the cherry tomatoes. 

Drain the zucchini and squeeze out all of the extra liquid. You can either wrap up the zucchini in a clean kitchen towel and wring it dry or just use your hands for the task. 

Toss the zucchini, cherry tomatoes, and vinaigrette together. Adjust the seasoning, adding more lemon juice or vinegar. It should taste bright and refreshing, not dull or chalky. Add more salt, if needed. 

Chill for at least 20 minutes before serving.

Chiffonade the basil: stack the leaves like a deck of cards, roll them up into a cigar (or yoga mat) and slice into 1/4-inch thick ribbons.

To serve, portion out 1 cup of the salad on each plate. Scatter micro radish and basil over the salad and drizzle with additional olive oil.

Store in the fridge for up to two days.

Note: Substitute white balsamic, white wine, or red wine vinegar for the champagne vinegar, if necessary. The zucchini should be pretty salty after draining so you may not need to add additional salt to the salad.


Cherry Thyme Clafoutis

by Maja Lukic


I am going to France! Not like tomorrow or next week or even next month, but certainly in a few months. And since I've been contemplating this fantastic European excursion, mapping Paris, making lists, I'm feeling Francophile inspiration everywhere. 

I decided to prepare a clafoutis, which is a sweet French cake with a soft pudding-like texture. It's similar to a baked pancake. For my first clafoutis, I thought I would start with a traditional cherry version and work up to more outrageous fruit from there. But for interest--and a delicate Provençal twist--I added fresh thyme. It's beautiful and it complements the fresh sweet cherries. (Of course if you're not feeling the herbal situation, leave it out). I've had an idea for a gluten-free/grain-free clafoutis in mind for months. Almond flour was a natural choice because almonds and cherries pair so well in any context. 

This can be a delicious and filling dessert but it's even better as breakfast with a strong espresso. You can serve it chilled or at room temperature. And if you'd like to add a creamy element of some sort, no objection here. 

I shot this recipe with both frozen black cherries and fresh sweet cherries. After several rounds of taste tests, I confess mixed feelings about using frozen cherries here. The visual difference between fresh (image above) and frozen fruit (image below) is palpable in the photographs but I can also vouch that the flavor of the fresh cherry clafoutis is nicer. I should add that the fresh thyme is more noticeable and lovely in the fresh cherry version. And it only takes a little extra effort to pit the cherries (a plain drinking straw works quite well to remove the pits if you don't have a cherry pitter).

To be fair, my only real issue with frozen cherries is that the cherries bleed blue juice into the pancake batter, which isn't egregious on its own but, combined with the soft texture of the clafoutis, the effect can be unappetizing. 

Although this post has French roots, the red, white & blue nature of this dessert coincides nicely with the upcoming holidays--4th of July here and Canada Day on July 1 for my friends up North. Have a wonderful long weekend and enjoy the holidays!

Cherry Thyme Clafoutis (gf)

Adapted from Saveur

Serves 8

5 eggs

1 1/4 cup almond milk

3/4 cup almond flour

3 tbsp maple syrup (or brown/sucanat/coconut sugar)

1/2 vanilla bean, scraped (or 1/2 tsp vanilla extract)

1 lemon, zest only

1 tsp fresh thyme

3 cups pitted fresh cherries (or frozen, see note)

sea salt

avocado oil (for baking)

powdered/confectioners' sugar, for dusting

Preheat the oven to 400 F degrees. 

Blend the eggs, almond milk, maple syrup, seeds from 1/2 of a vanilla bean (or vanilla extract), and a pinch of sea salt in a blender (or whisk by hand). Blend (or whisk) the ingredients until smooth. Add the zest of 1 lemon and a teaspoon of fresh thyme. Add the almond flour and continue to blend/whisk until smooth and no lumps remain. Let the batter rest for at least 30 minutes in the fridge (or overnight).   

Slide a cast iron skillet into the oven for a few minutes to warm up. Add enough avocado oil (or other high-heat cooking oil) to the bottom of the skillet to coat the bottom and sides. Pour half of the batter into the skillet and slide back into the oven for 3 to 4 minutes. Distribute the cherries evenly over the batter and pour the remaining batter over the cherries. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until puffy and golden brown and a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean. (It will deflate as it cools).

Cool for 10 minutes before serving. Dust with confectioners' sugar, slice into wedges, and serve. Store in the fridge for a day. 

Notes: The batter can be prepared up to one day in advance. Store in the fridge overnight. If using frozen cherries, defrost, drain, and blot dry with a paper towel. When baking, add half of the batter at a time so that the cherries don't sink to the bottom. If you don't have fresh thyme, omit (dried thyme is a poor substitute).

 


Baked Apples with Apple Cider and Sea Salt Caramel

by Maja Lukic


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Happy New Year! Hope everyone had a safe, happy, and healthy New Year's Eve. It's been absurdly cold in New York the last few days and the forecast for the remainder of the week is not optimistic. 

Reading through Clotilde Dusoulier's The French Market Cookbook: Vegetarian Recipes From My Parisian Kitchen recently, I was reminded of something I used to make quite a bit on cold winter evenings in high school -- baked apples. At the time, we were living in Oak Park, Illinois, a pretty little village on the Western side of Chicago. It's a sweet little place in its own right but also, most notably, the birthplace of Ernest Hemingway and home to a few Frank Lloyd Wright buildings. Anyway, Chicago, as you know, has bitterly cold -- but beautiful -- winters. On chilly weeknights, I would bake a single apple enhanced by nothing more than a sprinkle of cinnamon and nutmeg until the heat from the oven and the smells of warm, roasted apple flesh and toasted spices filled our entire apartment. Years later, nothing is as evocative of that time as the burnished gold of a baked yellow apple. 

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This is an embellished version of the original with a rustic date, walnut, and orange filling and an ingenious apple cider and sea salt caramel sauce. The recipe for the caramel sauce is adapted from Dusoulier's book, which presents traditional French cuisine (think clafoutis, canelés, bouillabaisse, choux pastry, leeks vinaigrette, farci poitevin) through vegetarian, and often vegan, dishes. The results are, in some instances, downright innovative. Dusoulier also includes tips on seasonal market shopping for fruits and vegetables -- I mean, really, the easiest way to win me over. (By the way, you can read her blog here). 

I was impressed by her creativity in crafting a vegan, gluten-free caramel sauce -- not an easy feat -- with apple cider, as well as her use of almond butter at the very end to replace the real butter called for in traditional recipes. The final product is a creamy, sweet-and-sour caramel meant to be used without restraint. 

The original recipe insists on the use of granulated white sugar -- unrefined sugar has impurities that prevent proper caramelization, according to Dusoulier. Far be it from me to argue with a more experienced/talented cookbook author but I found that for my limited purposes here, alternative sugars are fine. Also, I’ve strayed from the original recipe in terms of technique -- mainly because I’m lazy. Rather than caramelize the sugar on its own and heat up the cider separately, I short-circuit all that by increasing the amount of sugar and heating the two ingredients together to create an apple cider simple syrup of sorts. If the prospect of making caramel without a candy thermometer seems insane to you, it probably is, but basically, if you’ve made simple syrup in the past, this is only a slightly more complex version. One important note, though: the recipe moves fairly quickly so have your mise en place laid out before you begin.

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And, by the way, the French name for unpeeled baked apples like this? According to Dusoulier: pommes en chemise or apples with their shirts on. I did not know that. Here's to starting 2014 on a personal development note. 

Baked Apples w/Date-Orange-Walnut Filling (v/gf)

Inspired by The French Market Cookbook

Serves 4

4 medium organic apples, any variety (I like Golden Delicious or Crispin)

4-5 organic Medjool dates, pitted and chopped

1/2 cup raw walnuts, chopped

2 tbsp almond flour/meal

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/4 tsp nutmeg

zest of 1/2 orange

sea salt

1/2 cup apple cider (or water)

Apple Cider & Sea Salt Caramel, to serve (recipe below)

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Wash and core each apple. You can use an apple corer, if you have one, or, for a more rustic look, you can literally cut the core out with a thin paring knife. If you choose the latter method, keep the opening fairly narrow. 

Toss the dates, walnuts, almond flour, spices, zest, and a pinch of sea salt in a small bowl. Make sure the almond flour is evenly distributed. 

Place the apples in a baking dish and stuff the cores with the filling, packing it in tightly. Pour apple cider or water into the bottom of the dish and cover with foil. Bake covered for about 25 to 30 minutes. Uncover the apples and bake for an additional 15 to 20 minutes until the apples are fully cooked through and the skin looks wrinkled. You can baste the apples with the juices every 20 minutes or so. (The skin may burst or split but that's OK). Test for doneness by inserting a paring knife into the side of an apple. 

Allow the apples to cool for about 10 minutes. Serve plain or drizzled with Apple Cider & Sea Salt Caramel Sauce (recipe below).

Note: The cider/water is necessary so that the apples do not stick to the pan and/or burn -- don't leave it out. I prefer a dry filling because the apples will release juices as they bake. I don't add any sweetener or sugar to the filling because the apples caramelize in the oven and are ultimately topped with a sweet sauce. Also, weirdly, the almond flour has a subtle sweetness. 

Apple Cider & Sea Salt Caramel Sauce (v/gf)

Adapted from the The French Market Cookbook

Makes 1 cup

1 cup apple cider

1/2 cup unrefined brown sugar (or coconut sugar)

1 tbsp & 1 tsp corn starch

2 tbsp raw almond butter (or real butter)

1/2 tsp sea salt

In a small saucepan, heat the cider and sugar together over medium-low heat. You can gently swirl the mixture from time to time but do not stir. It will take about 5 minutes or so for the sugar to fully melt. Once the sugar melts, it will start to simmer and thicken slightly. Allow the cider syrup to simmer away for a minute or two.

In a small bowl, whisk together a few spoonfuls of the hot cider with the corn starch until fully dissolved and no clumps remain. Add the corn starch slurry to the saucepan and continue whisking the mixture until it starts to thicken and bubble. This should take no more than a minute. As soon as it reaches a sort of jelly consistency, move the pan off the heat and whisk in the sea salt and almond butter (or real butter). Use immediately or store in the fridge for a few days. 

Note: The corn starch amount is not just me being ridiculously fastidious -- that is the exact amount you need for the proper consistency. You can replace the apple cider with other juices. Almond milk makes a great substitute for the apple cider but it will yield a creamier, sweeter caramel.