Thanksgiving-Is-My-Favorite-Holiday Breakfast Bowl: Yogurt with Sweet Potato, Fall Fruits, and Pecans and Walnuts

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So, since it’s the day before Thanksgiving, I obviously didn’t make this breakfast bowl with holiday scraps; I’ve been enjoying this yogurt-with-everything-I-can’t-wait-to-eat-on-Thursday combo for the past week. I’m sure that you could make it with leftovers and that it would turn out great, and in fact I think we can all agree that Thanksgiving leftovers are the best and that it’s severely disappointing when there aren’t enough of them. You may swear you don’t want to even want look at food ever again after Thanksgiving dinner, and yet, the next day, you find yourself rooting around in the fridge for that turkey and stuffing and giving the stink eye to your brother who already polished off the last of the gravy. Or maybe you come from one of those families who purposely makes a second turkey and way more mashed potatoes than necessary, just so that you can have plenty extra to enjoy for the rest of the weekend. (If so, your family and my family would get along real well.)

If the meals after Turkey Day make for such good eating, why don’t we make those foods more often? Sure, some special-occasion dishes are super rich and you don’t necessarily want to be chowing down on them on the reg, but let’s stop treating the cranberry like we only want to see it two days out of the year and starting eating it all winter, not just on Thanksgiving and Christmas. Even if we’re not making an all-out casserole, let’s keep adding toasted pecans to our sweet potatoes, because that’s a great combination. Let’s expand beyond apple pie and experiment with apple purée because “purée” sounds wayyyy more appealing than “homemade unsweetened applesauce.” (And also it’s loads better than the store-bought kind. I mean, until I made some on my own, I thought unsweetened applesauce was a bland and useless concoction that only got included in “healthy” baked goods recipes where people where trying to reduce the butter content.)

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This is how this breakfast bowl happened: Nuts and yogurt are staples in my house, and I’ve been enjoying fall produce, so I also had oranges, pomegranates, and sweet potatoes on hand. The fresh cranberries and homemade applesauce were left over from making this baked oatmeal (which, by the way, was really good—I cut back on the sugar and syrup, but it’s definitely a keeper). Then I read this sweet-potato-for-breakfast recipe from The Kitchn and got intrigued: the idea of eating a whole sweet potato in the morning didn’t sound particularly appealing, but I could definitely be convinced to add some to my yogurt. I made a lightly sweetened compote with the cranberries, toasted up the nuts, and basically used it all to top the plain yogurt. It’s like Thanksgiving for breakfast, and it would be super simple to throw together with Thanksgiving leftovers. So this year, in addition to that giant turkey and second pan of stuffing, be sure to factor in some extra sweet potatoes and cranberry sauce.

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Note: I used this recipe (and a combination of Gala and Granny Smith apples) for the apple purée. For the cranberry compote, I simmered 3 cups of fresh cranberries with 1 1/2 Tbsp. sugar and about 1/4 cup water over low heat for about 10 minutes, until the cranberries had broken down some and the sauce had thickened. It is barely sweet compared to a traditional cranberry sauce; add more sugar if you like. Lastly, you can prep everything in advance and just make one bowl at a time, which I was I did. If you do, I recommend reheating the sweet potato in the microwave for 30 seconds or so just before you assemble the bowl.


Thanksgiving-Is-My-Favorite-Holiday Breakfast Bowl: Yogurt with Sweet Potato, Fall Fruits, and Pecans and Walnuts

makes 4 servings

  • 1/4 c. raw pecans
  • 1/4 c. raw walnuts
  • 2 medium sweet potatoes
  • olive oil
  • 1 large pomegranate
  • about 1/2 c. apple purée (see note)
  • about 1/2 c. cranberry compote (see note)
  • 2 c.plain yogurt (I used 2%)
  • 1 medium orange, washed well
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Toast the nuts until just fragrant, about 5-6 minutes. After they’ve cooled, chop them finely and set aside.
  2. Increase the oven temperature to 400°. Line a small pan with aluminum foil. Scrub the sweet potatoes well, rub them with some olive oil, prick them with a fork, and roast until tender, about 45 minutes to an hour. Remove from the oven, let cool, and cut into 1/2″ cubes.
  3. Remove the seeds (ok, arils, if you must) from the pomegranate. Some people like to do this by cutting it in half and whacking it over a bowl to make the seeds fall out; some people like to do it underwater to reduce mess and help separate the pith from the seeds. I just cut it in quarters and do it by hand.
  4. For each bowl, top 1/2 cup of yogurt with a quarter of the chopped sweet potatoes, a quarter of the pomegranate seeds, and a two tablespoons each of cranberry compote, apple purée, and toasted nuts. Garnish each bowl with a little bit of finely grated orange zest.

 

 

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A Veggie Melt That’s So Tasty You Won’t Even Care That It Kind Of Falls Apart When You Eat It

 

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No substitutions are allowed for this sandwich. Switch out the Colby Jack for cheddar? You wouldn’t dare. Use a pita instead of pumpernickel bread so the filling stays intact? Blasphemy. Leave out the sprouts? We can’t be friends anymore.

Seriously, I’ve tried doing all of those swaps and it’s just not the same. The worst experiment was making over-stuffed closed-faced sandwiches instead of smaller open-faced ones. Going Dagwood-style is a guarantee that you will end up with a large glob of avocado/veggie goo plopping onto your lap. Even with the open-face, no matter how you stack the veggies or even layer in some extra sprouts for grip between the tomatoes and cucumbers, eating this sandwich is kind of like playing Jenga with your food. You’re never quite sure if the next bite is going to make it fall apart or not. I need J. Kenji López-Alt to fix my veggie melt problems.

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I dunno, maybe I just have some serious cognitive dissonance going on here and I’m only convincing myself that this sandwich is top-notch because, well, I wouldn’t keep making it and going through the hassle of tucking runaway mushroom slices and pepper strips back under the cheese if it weren’t exceptionally good, right?

But really, when you have tangy, toasty pumpernickel bread… Some tomato-on-mayo action… Summer-ripe peppers and cucumbers… Sautéed mushrooms for extra umami… Let’s not forget the avocado…. A healthy handful of sprouts for crunch… And a delicious cap of melty cheese to top it all off… How could it not be worth the messiness? The only way you could go wrong would be by wearing white while you eat it.

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Note: If you’re only planning on making 1 or 2 sandwiches at a time, still cook all of the mushrooms and peppers in advance. Everything else can be freshly prepped as needed.


A Veggie Melt That’s So Tasty You Won’t Even Care That It Kind Of Falls Apart When You Eat It

makes 8 open-faced sandwiches, serving 4

  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil (maybe more)
  • 1 container (8-10 oz.) cremini mushrooms, stems removed, caps sliced
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • 1 red bell pepper, sliced lengthwise into thin strips
  • 8 slices pumpernickel bread
  • 2 medium to large tomatoes
  • kosher salt
  • 1 medium cucumber
  • 1 avocado, mashed with a generous pinch of salt
  • a couple of thin slices of red onion
  • alfala sprouts
  • 8 slices (about 1 oz. each) Colby Jack Cheese, each cut diagonally in half
  1. In a medium skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and sauté until they’ve released their juices and the juices have mostly evaporated. Add the garlic and stir until just fragrant, about a minute. Spoon the mushrooms into a bowl and return the skillet to the burner.
  2. If the pan is dry, add a little more oil. Add the red pepper strips and sauté until tender and bendy.
  3. Turn the over to 350º and toast your bread while you prep the other veggies.
  4. Cut the tomatoes so you have 8 slices that are about 1/4″ thick. Cut each slice in half diagonally. Sprinkle with salt and let them hang out on a paper towel while you finish prepping.
  5. Slice the cucumber crosswise into 3″ logs, and then lengthwise into 1/8″ slices. Then, cut the slices in half again lengthwise to make strips. Sprinkle these with a little salt too.
  6. Crank the oven up to broil. Take the toasted bread and spread each slice with a little mayonnaise. Top each with 2 halves of sliced tomato, and then alternate the cucumber and pepper strips on top of the tomato. Carefully spread the mashed avocado on top of the cucumber and pepper, and then layer on the mushrooms, pressing lightly so that they stick to the avocado. Finish each sandwich with a little bit of sliced onion, a generous mound of sprouts, and 2 halves of Colby Jack. Use a sharp chef’s knife to cut each sandwich in half diagonally. This is important. If you leave the cheese slice in 1 piece and try to cut the sandwiches after they are toasted, putting a knife through the melted cheese will take down the sprouts and make a landslide of your carefully layered veggies.
  7. Place the sandwiches on a baking sheet and broil until the cheese melts. Serve immediately.

Tomato Toast

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Move over, avocado toast. (But don’t leave me forever! I still love you.) The Brandywines and Cherokee Purples have arrived, and they’re taking over breakfast duty for a while.

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Unlike my hot peppers and cucumbers—which I don’t think I could kill if I tried—the tomatoes have struggled this summer. They’ve suffered through miserably hot heat waves that make them wilt like tired toddlers in the middle of the day. They’ve survived weekends of neglect while I’ve been off enjoying summer travels. And the birds! If I don’t pick a tomato as soon as it thinks about maybe turning a little pink, I lose it to the vicious robins that peck it to death and leave it to bleed out on the vine. Current score: me, 9 tomatoes; birds, 6.

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Beautiful bread from Heidelberg Bakery.

So, what do you do with the opposite of a bumper crop? With my pitiful harvest, I want to make sure to fully enjoy every tomato that I’ve kept it watered in the heat, rescued from the birds, and slowly ripened on the windowsill. A few weeks ago, about to leave town for a while and not wanting to sacrifice a flawless Cherokee Purple to the compost, I sliced it up and put it on some toast with a bit of whipped cream cheese, a sprinkle of fresh herbs from the garden, and a drizzle of olive oil. It is tomato breakfast heaven, and I’ve been reluctant to use my homegrown tomatoes for anything else since. Avocado toast, we’ll always be friends, but I might not see you again until tomato season is over.

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Note: Choose the most perfectly ripe tomato you can find.


Tomato Toast

for 1 serving; can easily be doubled, tripled, etc

  • 1 medium tomato
  • 1 nice slice of good-quality whole-wheat or whole-grain bread
  • 2-3 Tbsp. whipped cream cheese (this is important; the regular kind is too stiff to spread unless you wait an hour for it to come to room temperature.)
  • 1 tsp. olive oil
  • pinch of kosher salt
  • a couple of leaves of fresh basil, thinly sliced
  • a 2-inch sprig of fresh oregano, leaves stripped and finely chopped
  1. Cut two 1/3″ slices from the tomato and let them sit on a paper towel to soak up excess liquid while you prep everything else.
  2. Toast the bread. Spread evenly with the cream cheese and top with the tomato slices. Drizzle the olive oil over the tomatoes, then sprinkle with the salt and fresh herbs.
  3. If you are vehemently opposed to refrigerating the leftover tomato—or if you just want to eat more of it because it’s delicious—I highly recommend chopping it up with a small pinch of salt and enjoying it with cottage cheese.

 

 

Strawberries-and-Cream Pops

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Ok, I take back everything I said about turning on the oven during the summer being worth it. Being outside is unbearable as soon as you step out of the door. The only thing keeping me walking the dog is Pokémon Go. I just want to stay inside and lie on the couch and watch Netflix and read books all day long. At least, I think that’s what I want to do all day long, until my type A personality kicks in after about an hour and urges me to get up and go do something that’s somewhat productive. Like make popsicles with those super-ripe strawberries in the fridge.

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Over-ripe berries can be pretty gross if you were planning on eating them fresh. The strawberries get those little splotches on them; the blueberries wrinkle like fingers that have been in the pool too long; the raspberries practically liquify when you try to pick them up. However, as long as they haven’t passed over to the dark side and actually gone bad, they can still pack a lot of flavor. Just not a lot of texture. And this makes them perfect for whirring up into popsicles.

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I have tried many homemade fruit pops and never fallen in love with any of them. Here are my issues: if the recipe aims for a wholesome pop and hardly contains anything but fruit, I would rather just eat the fresh fruit than lick it in a frozen form. On the other hand, recipes that have too many other ingredients just dilute the flavor and don’t pack enough of a fruity wallop.

These pops were inspired by a Strawberry-Lime Ice Cream Pie published in Eating Well magazine; I had bookmarked it over a year ago but never made it, because I’m usually only cooking for two and need a party or a cookout to justify making a whole pie. The premise sounded pretty tasty though: strawberries puréed with whipped cream, vanilla yogurt, lime zest, and rum, piled into a graham cracker crust and topped with sliced berries. I wanted to take the same idea and make it into a single-serving popsicle.

Glancing over the recipe, it looked like it might not be strawberry-y enough, so I kept the amount of strawberries the same and cut back on everything else. I also reduced the strawberry purée into a delicious jammy goo just to be 100% certain that plenty of fruit flavor would come through. I removed the seeds with a fine sieve and used lime juice instead of lime zest because I didn’t want anything gritting up the texture. In the end, I got the creamy, tart, undeniably strawberry pop I’d be searching for. They are pretty sweet and fairly rich—it’s really more like ice cream on a stick than what I think of as a traditional popsicle—but they pair beautifully with lying on the couch and watching Netflix.

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Note: This is loosely adapted from Eating Well’s Strawberry-Lime Ice Cream Pie.



Strawberries-and-Cream Pops

make about 4 pops

  • 2 c. sliced ripe strawberries (about 3/4 of a 1 lb. clamshell pack)
  • 3 Tbsp. sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. light corn syrup
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 Tbsp. lime juice
  • 1/2 Tbsp. white rum
  • 1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/3 c. plain Greek yogurt (I used full-fat)
  • 1/4 c. whipping cream
  1. In a small food processor, purée the strawberries until liquefied. Remove the seeds by straining the purée through a fine-mesh sieve, pressing on the solids to remove as much liquid as possible.
  2. Place the strained purée, sugar, corn syrup, and salt in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a bare simmer, then turn the heat to low / medium-low and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until thickened and jammy, about 20 minutes. Let cool to room temperature.
  3. Add the lime juice, rum, vanilla extract, and yogurt to the strawberry purée. Whisk to combine well.
  4. In a medium bowl—preferably one with a spout—whip the cream until stiff peaks form. Fold in half of the purée-yogurt mixture, and then fold in the rest of it. Stir with a whisk a few times if there are any lumps remaining—we’re not making a soufflé here; a few turns of the whisk isn’t going to ruin it.
  5. Pour into molds and freeze until solid. It helps to run hot water over the mold to loosen up the pops when you want to remove them.

 

 

Baked Onion Rings

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Who wants to turn on the oven when the temperature is threatening triple digits and the humidity makes it feel like a sauna outside even after the sun goes down? I do, if it means making these onion rings. Because they are totally worth it.

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I like saving the best things on my plate for last, and the onion rings always get eaten after the sandwich. So forget meal-planning around the entrée—I have made these onion rings probably oh 5 or 6 times in the last month, and I’ve been doing the grocery shopping according to What Goes With Onion Rings Besides Regular Burgers. Shrimp rolls? Check. Turkey burgers? Check. Patty melts? Check.

IMG_8370The main reason the onion rings are baked and not fried is (confession) I’ve never deep-fried anything in my life and the thought of it kind of terrifies me. Dropping food into a vat of scalding hot oil just sounds like an awesome way for me to get annoyed at trying to maintain the proper temperature, set off the smoke detector / scare the crap out of the dog, and inevitably burn myself with spattering. Coordination isn’t my strong suit, and although I’m pretty adept at quickly jumping out the way when I accidentally drop the chef’s knife that I was holding two seconds ago (it was just in my hand! how did it fall out?!) (this seriously happens about once a week), deep-frying presents a new and uncharted territory of ways to injure myself.

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Coating the inside first and then pressing more to the outside helps avoid gloopiness.

Also, I generally try to keep home-cooked meals on the healthier side. I mean, let’s not totally fool ourselves—these onion rings are still cooked in a slick of oil that I wouldn’t call “scant,” and we’ve basically taken a plain vegetable and beefed it up with a nice layer of refined carbs. But rich food is more enjoyable to me when I don’t know the details about what all is in it. I’ll gladly take French fries, hollandaise sauce, and milkshakes when I’m eating out, but I’d rather not make them at home because then I can’t be as blissfully ignorant about exactly how much oil / butter / ice cream went into them.

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Ready for the oven.

So, I tried making these baked onion rings after deciding that getting an occasional fix with the fried kind from the dive bar up the street just wasn’t cutting it. I wanted a non-fried version I could make at home. I was lucky and they turned out pretty great on the first attempt. Now all I have to do is figure out what sandwich to accompany them next… Tuna melt anyone?

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Note: Use peanut oil like it says. It has a high smoke point and won’t burn easily. Also use a yellow onion like it says. I tried sweet onion and it turned out too mushy, and the yellow onion completely mellows out with cooking. I’ve never tried making more than 2 servings of these at once since I am usually just cooking for myself and my husband, but I imagine that you could double it pretty easily and use 2 baking sheets, rotated halfway through.



Baked Onion Rings

serves 2

  • 2 Tbsp. peanut oil
  • 1/2 medium yellow onion (cut crosswise)
  • 2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 c. plain dry unseasoned breadcrumbs
  • scant 1/4 tsp. table salt
  • 1/4 tsp. sweet paprika
  • 1/8 tsp. onion powder
  • generous pinch of garlic powder
  • a few grinds of fresh black pepper
  1. Pour the oil onto a medium baking sheet. (The more tarnished and darker, the better.) Place in the oven, turn the oven to 375°, and let the pan and oil get hot while you prep everything else.
  2. Cut the onion crosswise into 1/2″ slices and separate out the rings. I usually get 2 slices out of half an onion, and it makes plenty of rings for 2 people.
  3. Place the flour in a bag. (I use a plastic grocery store bag.) Add the onion rings and shake until evenly coated.
  4. Place the egg in a shallow bowl and whisk to blend.
  5. Place the breadcrumbs and all of the rest of the ingredients (salt through pepper) into a different shallow bowl and stir to blend.
  6. Take one flour-coated onion ring and throughly coat it with the beaten egg, then thoroughly coat it with the breadcrumb mixture. (This part is kind of a pain, but starting with the bigger rings—while there are more crumbs—seems to help. I also find it easiest to use my left hand for the egg part and my right hand for the breadcrumb part.) Place the prepared ring on a cutting board.
  7. Continue step 6 until all of the rings are coated.
  8. Using an oven mitt! remove the hot pan from the oven. Use a spatula to spread the oil around evenly. Place the onion rings on the pan, return to the oven, and bake for about 6-8 minutes. Flip, turn the heat up to 400°, and bake for another 6-8 minutes. Enjoy immediately.

A Belated Ode to Spring: Smoked Trout and Egg Salad Tartine + Green Salad with Peas, Radishes, and Homemade Ranch

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Yes, it’s kind of too late for good spring veggies now. And Yes, I made this over month ago with the intention of sharing it when peas, lettuce, and chives were in their prime, but I was lazy about getting my act together to post it. But also—Yes, it was so light and delicious and springy that I ate it for lunch for two weeks in a row. And Yes, it is seriously the best egg salad I’ve ever had. And Yes, you could totally redo the green salad with summer produce. I’m thinking thinly sliced cucumbers, blanched green beans, and good tomatoes.

So, let’s step inside my time machine and go back to the garden circa mid-May. The tarragon, sage, and chives were so robust that after being delighted to see them coming back, I starting willing them to stop growing already! because they were taking over the herb garden. Thanks to weeks of showers, the lettuce was looking worthy of being displayed at a farmer’s market, and it had actually stopped raining long enough for me to go outside and pick some. And the peas were finally fattening up enough to convince me that they were, in fact, sweet peas and not sugar snaps. (I checked the seed package more than once to make sure.)

Version 2These vegetables needed to get eaten—not only because they were ready to be picked, but also because I had plans to rip them up in order to make room for planting tomatoes and green beans. Look, I have limited space, and peas and lettuce don’t get to extend their rent for a month when there are summer vegetables that need to get in the ground.

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The lettuce I used, by the way, was Green Ice Lettuce from Burpee. I have planted many a mesclun mix that bolted too quickly and included some varieties with tough or bitter leaves, but this Green Ice lettuce was perfect if you’re looking for a crisp, sweet leaf. I will definitely stop experimenting with other types of lettuce and will be planting more of this next year.

I wanted to make a salad that would include my peas and other spring produce and herbs, but Woman Cannot Survive on Vegetables Alone. Egg salad to the rescue, made infinitely better with the addition of a can of smoked trout from Trader Joe’s. I held it together with more sour cream than mayo, because sour cream goes with fish, right? Bonus: if you have a super skinny dog like I do and are constantly trying to fatten her up (or at least convince her to eat her food), I can assure you that she will gobble up her whole bowl of kibble if you pour the leftover oil from the can of trout over it.

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Note: The ranch dressing is adapted, barely, from the recipe in The Splendid Table’s How to Eat Supper by Lynn Rossetto Kasper and Sally Swift.


Smoked Trout and Egg Salad Tartine + Green Salad with Peas, Radishes, and Homemade Ranch 

serves 4

For the egg salad:

  • 4 hard-boiled eggs
  • 1 can, about 4 oz., smoked trout (I used a 3.9 oz. can from Trader Joe’s)
  • 1 Tbsp. mayonnaise
  • 2 Tbsp. sour cream
  • 2 Tbsp. snipped chives
  • scant 1/4 tsp. table salt
  • a few grinds of freshly ground pepper
  • 4 big slices good bread; the photo shows a smallish slice of rye but in week 2 of this meal, I discovered that a generous piece of an Italian boule is better
  1. Peel and coarsely chop the eggs. In a bowl, combine everything except the bread and smash together with a fork. Adjust seasoning if needed.

For the green salad:

  • about 8 c. chopped or torn lettuce leaves
  • about 1/2 c. sweet peas, blanched for 1 minute
  • 1 c. sugar snap peas, trimmed and sliced on the diagonal into 1/2″ pieces
  • 4 large radishes, trimmed and sliced as thinly as possible
  • fresh chive blossoms
  1. Toss everything together. Or pile the lettuce on plates and arrange the veggies on top so it looks prettier.

For the dressing:

  • 3 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 Tbsp. white wine vinegar
  • splash of fish sauce
  • 1/4 c. mayonnaise
  • 1/3 c. buttermilk
  • 1 small garlic clove, minced or microplaned
  • 1 tsp. each fresh basil, fresh parsley, and fresh chives, all chopped together
  • salt and pepper
  1. Combine all of the ingredients in a glass jar with a tight lid. Shake to mix well. Adjust seasoning if necessary.

For the assembly:

  1. Toast the bread slices and top them with the egg salad.
  2. Dress the salad.
  3. Eat, and marvel at how satisfying vegetables and toast are. Yum yum yum.

 

Pasta with Shrimp and Asian Pesto

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Do you remember in elementary school when you were learning about Brazil and the Amazon Basin, and the most somber articles about them included a warning like “By the time you finish reading this paragraph, 100 acres of rainforest will have disappeared” ? Yeah, that was how I felt about spring this year. “By the time you finish reading this sentence, spring will have disappeared.” May was like an extra month of late winter, and June decided to make up for things by going Directly to Summer. Do not pass Go, Do not collect $200.

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On the not-so-great side, it looks I’m just going to have to get over the fact that we hardly got any perfect patio days this year. Also, my peas matured at warp speed, and in between mutating from completely undeveloped pods to starchy balls of blandness, they had a ridiculously short window of being edible. On the plus side, the chilly rain at least made it more tolerable to sit inside and grade lots of final exams. Also, I didn’t have to water any of the spring vegetables, and the bok choi was beautiful for a good week or so before it bolted.

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If you’re an amateur home gardener and want to avoid the same mistakes I made (until this year, when I finally got it right), here’s the best lesson I’ve taken away about spring vegetables: plant about a quarter of the lettuce you think you want, and fill up that space with greens that you can cook. Why? There’s not much you can do with a sh*t ton of lettuce besides eat a sh*t ton of salad. But an entire basket of (kale / spinach / Swiss chard / bok choi / insert heat-friendly greens here) will wilt down to nothing, and you’ll wish you had more. That $1, 1-lb. package of frozen spinach that I so casually toss into my shopping cart at the grocery store? That’s my whole row of spinach, at least.

So, what do you do with a wealth of greens? For bok choi, my hands-down favorite way to eat it is in this pasta. The Asian pesto recipe comes from Ming Tsai, who calls for serving it with grilled shrimp as an appetizer. I wanted to turn it into a main dish, so after many experiments with different types of vegetables, I found that sautéed bok choi, red onion, and bell pepper go best with it. Toss it with some pasta, and you don’t need any sides except a chilled glass of white wine.

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Note: The Asian pesto is adapted, barely, from Ming Tsai’s recipe at Food Network.


Linguine with Shrimp and Asian Pesto

serves 4

  • 8 oz. dried linguine noodles
  • 1 Tbsp. canola oil
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 lb. bok choy, leaves and stems separated
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 medium red onion
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 1 lb. medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • kosher salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup Asian pesto (recipe below)
  1. Get things going: Set a pot of generously salted water to boil. Heat the canola oil in a medium (10″) skillet over medium heat. Heat the olive oil in a large (12″) skillet over medium heat.
  2. Prep the veg: Coarsely chop the bok choy stems and leaves, still keeping them separated. Mince the garlic. Coarsely chop the onion and bell pepper.
  3. When the large skillet is warm, add the bok choy stems (not the leaves) and a generous pinch of kosher salt. Sauté until somewhat softened, about 5 minutes. While the bok choy stems are cooking, sauté the shrimp with some salt and pepper in the medium skillet until just barely cooked through; transfer to a bowl and set aside. Also, when the water starts boiling, add your linguine and set a timer.
  4. After the boy choy has softened a little, add the garlic and sauté until just fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the red onion and sauté for about 3 more minutes. Add the bell pepper and stir for another 2 minutes, until barely soft and still mostly crunchy. Add the boy choy leaves and cook until wilted. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  5. When the linguine is done, drain it and add it to the large skillet of vegetables. Also add the shrimp and pesto. Stir thoroughly, divide among 4 bowls, and serve.

Asian Pesto

  • 3/4 c. roasted, lightly salted peanuts
  • 2-4 serrano chiles
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1 Tbsp. minced ginger
  • juice of 3 limes
  • 2 Tbsp. fish sauce
  • 1/2 c. peanut oil
  • 1 Tbsp. sugar
  • 2 c. moderately packed Thai basil
  • 1 c. moderately packed coarsely chopped cilantro leaves and stems
  • 1 c. moderately packed mint leaves
  1. Start with 2 serranos and see how you feel. Combine the first 8 ingredients (peanuts through sugar) in a food processor. Add the herbs and process until smooth. Taste, and add salt or more chiles if desired.
  2. This stuff freezes great. I put it in old-school plastic ice cube trays, pop out the cubes after they’re solid, store them in a Ziploc, and enjoy it year-round.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A (Peanut Butter and Banana) Smoothie for Non-Smoothie Lovers

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There is something about smoothies that makes me think of the Three-Course Dinner Chewing Gum from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It’s the notion of having a meal without consuming anything solid. In Roald Dahl’s book, if you chew Willy Wonka’s incredible gum, you feel like you’re eating whole a dinner, complete with roast beef and a baked potato. With the smoothie trend, there’s a similar illusion that you’re consuming a balanced meal, thanks to the handful of greens and scoop of chia seeds that you’re sucking through your straw. At least you don’t turn into a blueberry after you have a smoothie.

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When you have too many over-ripe bananas but don’t want to make banana bread.

I enjoy a smoothie every once in a while, but I have a hard time appreciating their popularity. First, the whole idea of drinking something substantial is not particularly appealing. Besides smoothies, when else do people drink their food? When they go on trendy diets, or sometimes after medical procedures. Neither of those situations is enjoyable. It’s undeniable that the act of chewing and eating makes food more pleasurable. Moreover, it lets us experience texture. Wouldn’t you choose a bowlful of thick, creamy yogurt topped with fresh, ripe berries over a homogenous yogurt/fruit/juice beverage? Or, let’s imagine that you get to choose between a gorgeous, fresh navel orange and….a glass of orange juice. Or between a cool, crisp apple and…a bowl of applesauce. Which do you choose? Almost 100% of the time, I’d choose the whole fruit over its liquified or puréed form. In a smoothie, juicy strawberries, firm pineapples, and buttery mangoes all get sadly blended away into plain old strawberry, pineapple, and mango.

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Second, let’s talk about that kale and spinach that found their way into your smoothie. I don’t know about you, but I’m an adult who likes leafy greens, and it’s been quite a few years since anyone has had to use any gimmicks to get me to eat my vegetables. Unlike my coworker’s son, whose peas and zucchini have to be diced into infinitesimal pieces and elaborately disguised in pasta sauces and meatloaves, I actually choose to eat vegetables because I like them. There’s not really a need to drink green veggies that taste like pineapple and strawberry when you’re getting enough in the salad you’re having for lunch or vegetable frittata you made for breakfast.

Lastly, I’d like to give the muffin (aka “cake for breakfast”) some company by embracing the smoothie for what it really is: a milkshake for breakfast.  Okay, okay—smoothies are not completely devoid of nutrition, and they can help people who don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables increase their consumption of produce. But they can also have quite a bit of sugar, and they don’t usually stick with you for a long time. So, when I make a smoothie, it’s not with the goal of adding extra fruits or veggies into my diet, or because I’m convinced that they’re nutritionally superior to other breakfast options. It’s because it’s hot out and I want a milkshake for breakfast. Or at least something cold, sweet, and creamy like a milkshake, but not quite as bad for you as a milkshake.

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The combination that I keep coming back to has banana, peanut butter powder, and dates. (Powdered peanut butter is kind of gross as a reconstituted substitute for the real thing, but it’s great for smoothies, or peanut butter pudding pops.) If I were in advertising, I would also tell you this smoothie has “no added sugar” and “more protein than an egg”! But honestly, the dates are really high in natural sugar, plus there’s extra sugar in almond milk if you go that route, and even though it has some protein, I’ll freely admit that it doesn’t keep me as full as things like oatmeal. However, none of that matters if you’re embracing the smoothie as a milkshake. Instead, you can just enjoy the classic peanut butter-and-banana combination in a cold, creamy, not-overly-sweet breakfast form.

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Note: You can use regular dairy milk or light vanilla almond milk. If you choose regular milk, it will make the smoothie creamier and increase its protein content, but it will be less sweet. If you go for light vanilla almond milk, the smoothie will be sweeter and nuttier but have less protein. I’ve never tried it with plain almond milk or fully-sweetened vanilla almond milk.


serves 1

  • 1 very ripe medium banana
  • 2 dates, chopped
  • 2 Tbsp. powdered peanut butter
  • 1 cup milk, regular dairy or light vanilla almond (see note)
  • 1/4 tsp. vanilla extract, optional, only if using dairy milk
  • 5-10 ice cubes
  1. One night to several weeks in advance: Peel the banana and cut or break it into chunks. Place the banana pieces in a plastic bag and freeze until solid.
  2. The night before: Pit the dates, chop them, and place in a container with a tight-fitting lid. Add the peanut butter powder, milk, and vanilla extract (if using). Put the lid on and shake to mix. Refrigerate overnight. (This will help the dates plump up and blend more easily, and it will make the smoothie a little thicker. If you skip this step, you could end up with unblended date chunks (if your dates are especially dry and/or your blended is especially crappy, like mine) or a slightly watery smoothie.)
  3. The morning of: Place the frozen banana chunks in a blender, then add the milk, date, and peanut butter mixture. Blend well. Add ice cubes and blend until you get the desired texture.

 

 

Spring Vegetable Soup with Sour Cream and Dill

 

Quick poll: if you could travel anywhere in the early spring, where would you want to go? Ok, results are coming in… Looks like the most popular response is “any place warm,” followed closely by “the beach” and “the Caribbean.” In a shocker, no one said: “Someplace overcast and cold, where there is still snow on the the ground and the high temperatures are just barely breaking freezing. Like Russia. Yeah, Russia would be awesome in March.” And yet, I recently came back from a week and a half in Moscow and St. Petersburg, and let me tell you: it was amazing.

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Vareniks (dumplings), pickled vegetables, and garlic toast at Varenichnaya No 1.

So, why Russia? I have to admit, it wasn’t really on my radar until one of my best friends from college and her family moved to Moscow last April, with the plan to stay for just a few years. I wanted to visit while they were still there, so another good friend and I made the trip out in mid-March. We thought we had packed enough winter clothes—long underwear, knee-length down coats, wool socks…—but it still took us about three days to figure out how to dress so that we were not miserably cold. A short week later, though, as temperatures soared into the low 40’s and the sun came out, we were already shedding our hats and gloves and exclaiming about how great the weather was.

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Splurged on a 1st-class train ticket from St. Petersburg to Moscow and am not (too) embarrassed to admit how giddy I got about it: the half-bottle of wine served at 9am (hey, I waited until 11:00 to open it), the real glasses, the white placemat for the tray table!…

I went in knowing little about Russian food, having low but uninformed expectations, and joking around about how I was going to survive on potatoes, caviar, and vodka. I did get to have caviar once (thank you, fancy brunch at the Hotel Metropole), and my friends and I of course enjoyed some obligatory vodka before falling back on our usual beer or wine.

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The spread that accompanied the post-tour vodka tasting at the Cristall Vodka Distillery. Our guide said that you’re supposed to have salty foods with vodka, and that it’s acceptable to drink more if you eat while you drink. Done and done!

Here is what I experienced: You can indeed get cured herring and potatoes in many restaurants, and it’s darn good. Dark bread (rye or wheat) with plenty of butter is a staple. Dumplings (especially pelmeni) are ubiquitous, and veal seems to always be offered as a possible filling. They are big on blini and crêpe-style pancakes. I tried borscht and it was delicious (this is coming from someone who thinks that beets taste the way that dirt smells), and there is also a beef soup called solyanka/solianka that is equally outstanding. And lastly, it’s practically impossible to get a meal that doesn’t include either a sprinkle of dill or a side of sour cream. The only disappointment was that fromagicide is real, and most of the cheese I had was pretty bland.

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I came home with matryoshka dolls, adorably wrapped Alenka chocolate, and onion-dome Christmas ornaments, plus a raging sore throat from my friend’s kids and a serious craving for some restorative soup like the brothy ones I’d had in Russia. In the freezer, luckily, were four Ziploc bags of homemade chicken stock from this winter, just waiting to be turned into something good. What better way to use them than to make a soup with spring vegetables? I didn’t want to waste the homemade stock on something that it would just get so lost in that you couldn’t appreciate it, and I wanted to use it up before the weather got too warm.

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I went with red-skinned potatoes, carrots, asparagus, and (not pictured) frozen peas for the vegetables in this soup. I am sure that fresh peas would be great; if you’ve got them, use them, but frozen peas worked just fine for me. I cut the potatoes the way I’d had them in my borscht and solyanka: sliced into short, thick matchsticks instead of chunks.

This result is a brothy, light soup that is nevertheless full of flavor, thanks to the homemade stock and also the fresh dill and sour cream that top it off. Obviously, to get the full experience, you have to enjoy it with with a slice of dark bread, spread generously with salted butter.



Note: This soup is pretty simple, and I am convinced that the homemade chicken stock played a big role in making it flavorful. My usual stock method is: in a stockpot, place a chicken carcass and 2 large carrots (cut into 3″-4″ sticks), 2 large celery stalks (cut into 3″-4″ sticks), one small yellow or white onion (peeled but root intact, quartered lengthwise), 3 large garlic cloves (peeled and smashed with the flat edge of a knife), plenty of salt (don’t be shy), a handful of whole black peppercorns (easier to strain later), and 2 dried bay leaves, plus a few springs of fresh herbs (I aim for parsley and sage but rosemary and/or thyme work too). Cover with water, bring to a boil, then simmer for as long as you can stand it—3 to 4 hours, preferably. If too much liquid evaporates, throw some more water in the pot. Taste it and adjust your seasoning—if you could drink a cupful plain, it’s good. Strain, then cool overnight in the fridge. Skim most of the fat off the top. Use in the next few days or freeze.


Spring Vegetable Soup with Sour Cream and Dill

makes about six 2-cup servings

  • 1 Tbsp. butter
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/2 c. diced white or yellow onion
  • 1/3 c. diced celery
  • 1/3 c. diced peeled carrot (about 1 large)
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 6 c. homemade stock
  • 3/4 lb. red-skinned potatoes (about 3 medium)
  • about 4 medium carrots (1 c. sliced)
  • 2 c. frozen petit peas, unthawed
  • about 1 medium bunch of asparagus (2 c. chopped)
  • sour cream, for serving
  • 3 Tbsp. fresh chopped dill, for serving
  1. Heat the butter and olive oil in a soup pot over medium heat.
  2. Add the minced onion, celery and carrot (the minced carrot, not the carrot slices!) and the kosher salt. Sauté for about 15 minutes, or until really soft and starting to caramelize.
  3. Add the garlic and sauté just until fragrant, 30 seconds to 1 minute.
  4. Add the chicken broth and bring to a boil.
  5. Prep the potatoes and carrots while the broth is coming to a boil: cut cut the potatoes (no need to peel) into 1″ lengths that are about 1/3″ thick. (Basically, you want the potato sticks to be the same size and shape as your chopped asparagus.) Set them aside in a bowl. Peel the carrots and slice them diagonally into 1/3″ coins. Put them in a second bowl. Measure out your peas in a third bowl. Trim your asparagus, cut it into 1″ lengths, and place it in a yet another bowl. Why? These veggies cook at different rates, and you don’t want your peas to turn into mush while your potatoes are still raw.
  6. Once your broth is boiling, set your timer for 10 minutes. Add the potatoes and reduce the heat to a simmer. Add the carrots when your timer says 8 minutes. Add the peas when it’s down to 5 minutes. Add the asparagus at the 3-minute mark. When your timer goes off, kill the heat and remove the pan from the burner.
  7. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Before serving, top each bowl of soup with a dollop of sour cream and 1/2 Tbsp. chopped fresh dill. Serve with warm bread (if you want to go homemade, I highly recommend Heidi Swanson’s black bread) and butter.

 

 

 

 

 

What To Do With Your Extra Cabbage From St. Patty’s Day: Crunchy Baked Falafel Salad (or Sandwiches)

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When I discovered that certain grocery stores sell celery by the stalk, it was a revelation. No longer would I have to purchase an entire bunch of celery just to make a recipe that called for one measly stalk. Someone was kind enough to apply the same idea to extra-large items like pumpkins and watermelons, which you can often find in plastic-wrapped halves or quarters, just in case, you know, you weren’t planning a blow-out party any time soon and were doubting your abilities to polish off 20 pounds of fruit before it went bad. Unfortunately, I’ve never seen cabbage treated the same way (maybe because it turns brown after you cut it, but still…). The only option is to get a whole head, and you’re left wondering what sort of crazy fertilizer everyone must be using because you swear the smallest head you can find is about the size and weight of a bowling ball.

So, when St. Patrick’s Day rolls around, after you’ve enjoyed a dinner of corned beef, cabbage, Guinness, soda bread, and pudding, what do you do with the rest of this forlorn cruciferous that’s taking up space in the produce bin like an unfinished beer left abandoned on the counter? Embrace spring and turn it into an essential part of your baked falafel salad, that’s what!

Whenever I go out to Lebanese or Middle Eastern restaurants, I can’t resist ordering some falafel, but I hardly ever make it at home because deep-frying isn’t something that makes the regular rotation in my house. I have tried some baked falafel recipes in the past, but they just weren’t as savory or crunchy as I wanted.

Chickpea flour and asafoetida.

So, I added a couple of inauthentic ingredients to mine: first, a spoonful of nutritional yeast, or “nooch”—even though it’s often used as a vegan cheese substitute and falafel never calls for cheese, I like the flavor it adds. I got mine from the bulk bins at Whole Foods; you can also find it online. Second: a pinch of asafoetida—also called Devil’s Dung, apparently, for how stinky it is. I had bought some from an Indian grocer a while ago, and it was indeed so smelly that I had to double-wrap the container in sealed bags to keep my husband from complaining about it every time we opened the pantry. It’s one of those odors that is 60% bad and 40% good—I honestly can’t do justice describing it. It’s like the smell of a sweaty workout after a meal that contained large quantities of garlic. I know, I know, that sounds so gross!  who would want to eat that? but just a pinch of it is delicious in falafel. Trust me.

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Mmmm, a big bowl of beaten bean water!

To make the baked falafel nice and crunchy, I generously oiled the pan and pre-heated it in the oven. I also borrowed a technique from the crunchiest crab cakes I’ve ever made and double-coated the falafel with flour (chickpea flour, natch) and then a layer of fine breadcrumbs. Instead of egg whites in between the flour and breadcrumb layers, I used the drained liquid from the can of chickpeas, beaten until it was foamy. Yeah, did you know you can whip chickpea liquid like egg whites?? I recently discovered this, and it’s pretty amazing. Some sources I’ve read call it aquafaba, which is the fanciest name for ‘bean water’ that I’ve ever heard. Anyway, let’s not let nomenclature get in the way—asafoetida or Devil’s Dung, drained chickpea liquid or aquafaba, I’ll take it if it makes my food taste better.

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To serve the baked falafel, I (try to) stuff it into a pita with loads of thinly sliced cabbage, matchsticked radishes, fresh cilantro, and tahini sauce, but I usually I go overboard on the filling and the thing falls apart. However, I recently discovered by a happy accident that it comes together great in salad form—in fact, the salad might even be better than the sandwich because you can mix everything together more evenly. Whatever you choose, don’t skimp on the toppings.



Note(s): Many falafel recipes call for using cilantro, but I prefer putting parsley in the cooked patties and adding a little handful of fresh cilantro to the salad (or sandwich). You can find chickpea flour and asafoetida at Indian grocers or online. The patties can be made ahead of time and they freeze well; they just won’t be as crunchy when you reheat them. The falafel recipe is adapted from Mark Bittman, and the crunchy coating technique was borrowed from a crab cake recipe from Epicurious.


Crunchy Baked Falafel Salad (or Sandwich)

serves 4

For the falafel

  • 1. Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 1 15.5-oz. can chickpeas, drained, liquid reserved in a medium bowl
  • 1/4 c. chickpea flour, divided
  • 1 Tbsp. nutritional yeast
  • 2 garlic cloves, microplaned or finely minced
  • 1/2 c. finely chopped parsley
  • 1/3 c. finely chopped yellow or white onion
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp. ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp. (generous) kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp. asafoetida
  • 1/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 c.plain dry breadcrumbs
  1. Spread the olive oil and vegetable oil evenly into a baking sheet. Preheat the oven to 375º.
  2. Pulse the drained chickpeas in a food processor until finely ground.
  3. Put the ground chickpeas in a medium bowl. Add 1 tbsp. of the chickpea flour and then all of the other ingredients except the plain dry breadcrumbs (so, nutritional yeast through baking soda). Mix well.
  4. Put your oiled pan in the oven to get nice and hot while you shape the falafel.
  5. Place the remaining 3 Tbsp. chickpea flour on a small plate or shallow dish. Divide the falafel mixture into 16 evenly-sized patties, and coat each patty in the chickpea flour, gently brushing off the excess. Set the patties aside on a cutting board as you coat them.
  6. Place the plain dry breadcrumbs on a small plate or shallow dish. Beat the reserved chickpea liquid until thick and foamy, like egg whites. Use a pastry brush to brush each patty all over with a little bit of whipped chickpea liquid, and then coat both sides lightly in the dry breadcrumbs. Set the patties aside on a cutting board as you coat them.
  7. Once all of the patties are coated in flour and crumbs, use a oven mitt! to take your hot pan out of the preheated oven. Place the patties in the pan (the oil will sizzle) and bake for about 10 minutes on each side, flipping once.

Putting it all together—do not skip or skimp on these toppings!!

  • 1/4 c. well-stirred tahini
  • 1/4 c. water
  • 1 medium garlic clove, microplaned or finely minced
  • 6 c. finely shredded green cabbage (slice it as thinly as you can) (use closer to 4 c. if you’re making a sandwich instead of a salad)
  • 8 or so good-sized radishes, trimmed and cut into matchsticks
  • 1/2 c. coarsely  chopped fresh cilantro
  • 4 pitas
  1. Make the tahini sauce by stirring together the tahini, water, and garlic. Season to taste with salt.
  2. If you’re going the salad route, first toast the pita. Then toss the fresh veggies together, place the warm falafel on top, drizzle with the dressing, and finish with pieces of your toasted pita. Make sure to get a little bit of everything in each bite.
  3. If you’re going to make sandwiches, I like to layer them: two falafels-veggies-sauce-two falafels-veggies-sauce. That way, you’re not stuck with all the cabbage at the top and all the falafel at the bottom.