By Alaina Sullivan
Bitter meets sweet in this perfectly balanced end-of-summer salad. Fresh endive and watercress lay a crisp foundation for sweet cooked pears and crumbled blue cheese. The pears are browned with shallots and perfumed with maple syrup, yielding a result sweet enough to be served a la mode. Atop a bed of greens the pears steer toward savory, but add the right amount of sweetness to mellow the bitter greens.
Blue cheese hasn’t particularly agreed with my palate in the past, though I must admit, the use of Stilton in this dish has reformed me. Both firmer and milder than some of its substitutes, English Stilton contributes a pungent flavor without being too distracting. It simultaneously acts as the salty foil to the sweet pears while cutting the bitterness of the greens.
Though a cast of strong personalities, each element in the salad is balanced beautifully by its counterpart. Recipe from Mark Bittman’s Kitchen Express
Endive and Warm Pear Salad with Stilton
Cut three or four pears into eights; toss them with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, along with some salt and pepper. Thinly slice a shallot. Cook the pears and shallot in a skillet over medium-high heat until the pears are browning and the shallot slices are wilted; add a tablespoon of maple syrup during the last 30 seconds or so of cooking. Toss the warm pan mixture, and any remaining juices, in a bowl with endive and watercress (or any other greens you like), along with more olive oil and a bit of sherry vinegar. Garnish with crumbled Stilton and serve.
By Alaina Sullivan
Mushrooms are delicate but powerful in their ability to add rich meatiness to cooked dishes. This recipe calls for about three cups of mushrooms, though in my fungi-frenzy I measured closer to four. I used shiitake, oyster and cremini — each contributed a distinct texture, creating a rhythm of chewy, porous and meaty spoonfuls. The mushrooms swim in a broth of chicken stock and soy sauce, which intensifies the earthy flavor of the dish. The addition of lemon juice gives a surprising brightness, pulling it up from its savory depths, and strips of nori add a note of the sea. Recipe from Mark Bittman’s Kitchen Express
Mushroom and Nori Soup
In a pot over high heat, cook about three cups of mushrooms (any combinations works; oyster and shiitake is especially good) in a couple of tablespoons of butter until they begin to release their liquid; add a diced onion, a minced garlic clove, and a chopped celery stalk and cook until the onion in translucent. Add about four cups of vegetable or chicken stock, a quarter cup of soy sauce, the juice of a lemon, a pinch of celery seed, salt, and pepper. Cook until the vegetables are tender. Tear or slice a sheet of nori into strips and put in soup bowls; pour soup over the nori (it will mostly dissolve) and serve.
By Alaina Sullivan
There comes a time around the end of August when I feel an urgency to take advantage of the produce that, come autumn, will cease to overflow at farmers markets. It is during these dwindling days of summer that I crave the season’s fruits, vegetables and abundant herbs in their pure, unadulterated states. Meet a simple soup that embodies the freshness of summer: pureed zucchini, delicate and light, hosts handfuls of freshly chopped dill—it’s a combination that highlights the strengths of its core ingredients without unnecessary frill.
Though mild in taste, zucchini, especially grated, has a texture well-suited to soup – its natural moistness is further softened by a quick simmer with onion and vegetable broth, and a final puree brings it to a light, pulpy consistency. Dill supplies the flavor – simple, clean and savory – it is a perfect herbal companion to the zucchini. I found the soup most delicious served cold—a cooler temperature emphasizes the freshness of the zucchini and elevates the flavor of the dill.
Though simple in its ingredients and preparation, it is the type of soup that can be infinitely tweaked according to personal taste. A few dollops of Greek yogurt provided an added creaminess in my version, and, as someone who craves a crunch in my pureed vegetable soups, I garnished the bowl with toasted pistachios before diving in. As with most simple recipes, the quality of ingredients is key. When the zucchini and dill are fresh, this soup makes the impending arrival of fall feel more distant with each spoonful. Recipe from Mark Bittman’s Kitchen Express.
Zucchini and Dill Soup
Add fresh ricotta, sour cream, or yogurt while pureeing, for richness.
Grate a couple of zucchini. Cook a chopped onion in butter until softened, then add the zucchini and stir until softened, five minutes or so. Add vegetable or chicken stock and bring to a boil; simmer for about five minutes, then puree until smooth. Season with salt and pepper and lots of fresh chopped dill.
By Alaina Sullivan
This unique salmon preparation involves a cut of fish that falls somewhere between razor-thin smoked salmon and a robust wild Alaskan filet. I rarely think to slice fresh salmon filets horizontally, but one of the beauties of preparing it this way is the speed of its execution – it can go from pan to plate to palate in a matter of minutes. (Shorter if you skip step two like me). The most time-consuming part was removing the tiny bones from my fresh Coho, but speed bump aside, a swift slice down the middle, a generous seasoning and the fish is ready to go. The cooking, as the name suggests, is over in a flash: a brief touchdown in the hot skillet and the salmon slivers are cooked to perfection with a rosy hint of rareness in the middle.
Though robed in curry powder and delicious on its own, pairing the salmon with a creamy chickpea raita rounds out its Middle Eastern flavors. I rarely pass up an opportunity to use yogurt as a condiment – I love that its subtle tang adapts to sweet or savory, and its creamy texture is an invitation for ingredients to nestle within. It is no stranger to being used as the base of sauces to adorn meat, poultry and fish – the Indian raita being no exception. This cool condiment, spiked with cumin and mustard and textured by chickpeas, minced cucumber and red onion, takes as little time to assemble as the fish. A dash of red pepper gives it the perfect dose of heat to compliment the curry-spiced salmon. I recommend having a warmed pita or naan bread nearby to mop up any sauce that lingers at the end. Recipe from How to Cook Everything: Bittman Takes On America’s Chefs.