Communal Table's Winter Salon: Pickles Roots and Preserves

What a pleasure to chop, mash and generally make a grand mess with a great group of pickle fresers. Yes, fresers. That’s what my grandfather would have called us for our gluttonous pickle gobbling. I’ve had several good reports on the take home kimchee project. I think even my Yiddish Grandpa could have learned to love kimchee.
The pickles of my youth were the kosher dills, sauerkraut and pickled green tomatoes of Ashkenazi Jews in New York. They were the pickles my grandparents and great grandparents ate. The pickles of my adult life come from culinary traditions far from my own background, but readily available to me in my vast New York City backyard. Pickles from China, India, Japan, Lebanon, Korea, Mexico appear at my table regularly. For my own family, a Japanese umeboshi  is as comfortingly familiar as a half sour dill.
Our Pickle tasting featured a number of homemade and purchased pickled and preserved treats. Moroccan preserved lemons, Russian pickled beets, Japanese pickled garlic and lots of others. I have to say the unanimous favorite had to be the pickled prunes (prunes!) that we served before dinner with some bocherondin. The easy to make recipe came from Seattle’s Boat Street Cafe via Molly Wizenberg in a story on NPR.
(We also tried the pickled grapes from the same source, which were wonderful, but not quite as spectacular as the prunes.)
Annie Hauck-Lauson treated us to her spectacular Kapusta, which for anyone who, like me, has not had any previous exposure to this dish, is a combination of sauerkraut (also known as the kapusta) cooked with onions and fresh savoy cabbage to produce a meltingly tender, savory dish.
Roots made appearances in crudite, Polish potato vodka, sweet potato shochu, ginger beer and rum cocktails, watermelon radishes and striped beet salads and in Oden, a a thoroughly warming Japanese Farmhouse stew and one of my favorite wintertime dishes.
Spicy ginger cookies sandwiched creamy ginger ice cream for a sweet surprise ending.
These great cookies are a frequently requested speciality of Ame’s, chewy and tender, but with a delicate exterior crunch and a sharp ginger kick.
Thank you to everyone who participated in Communal Table’s Winter Salon! It was a great success thanks to you. Special thanks to Nancy Ralph (http://www.nyfoodmuseum.org/)
 and Annie Hack-Lawson( http://www.foodvoice.net/) our guest presenters. So interesting, so charming and such marvelous dinner companions. 

This vegetarian version is a comforting light dinner homey enough for family, lovely enough for company. The light gingery broth is also deeply soothing  for nursing a cold or stomach ache. Like most soups the flavor deepens with an overnight rest in the refrigerator. I like to ladle leftovers over a pile of cooked udon noodles in a deep bowl.
Oden traditionally contains a variety of fishcake items. I am vaguely suspicious of these products, their ingredients and manufacture. I don’t love them, so it’s easy for me to dismiss them entirely. If you like them, they get added toward the end of the cooking as they are pre-cooked. Another characteristic ingredient that I leave out is konnyaku a jello-like paste in block or noodle shape. It’s flavor is so unremarkable that I can only imagine that it gets added for it’s texture, which is, rubbery. It’s easy to find here in NYC, so by all means add it if you like. I never miss it.
Here is my non traditional take on the classic stew.
makes a big potful   8-10 servings
a handful of dried shiitake mushrooms
1 large strip of kombu
3-4 inch piece of un-peeled ginger cut into 6 pieces which will be distinguishable from the other vegetables
1 large or 2 medium daikon peeled or scrubbed and cut into 3/4 inch rounds or half moons
1 foot long stalk of burdock peeled and roll-cut into small chunks
3-4 carrots peeled or scrubbed and roll-cut into chunks
2-3 parsnips peeled or scrubbed and roll-cut into chunks
1 medium rutabaga peeled and cut into large bite size chunks
water to cover
3 TBS Mirin or more to taste
1/2 cup Tamari or soy or more to taste
garnish (optional)
broiled tofu slices
chopped scallions
Japanese hot mustard
grilled tofu slabs 
sesame oil 
Place the shiitake, kombu and ginger in the soup pot with about 4 cups of water. Bring to a boil and simmer 10 minutes.
Add the vegetables all at once and add enough water to just cover. Return to a boil and reduce heat to simmer.
Add the Mirin and Tamari, cover loosely and simmer until the vegetables are tender but not mushy, about 20 minutes.
Remove the mushrooms to a cutting board with a slotted spoon and either slice them into strips or halve them according to your preference.
Remove the kombu and divide it into 4 inch lengths. Slice these lengthwise into approximately 1/2 inch strips. Tie each strip into a simple knot for an edible kombu garnish. 
Return the shiitake and the kombu to the pot.
Fish out the 6 chunks of ginger and discard.
Serve in individual bowls with a slab of grilled tofu and any of the other garnishes.
In Japan the scallions and the mustard (or maybe even some bonito flakes or grated daikon) might be served alongside in a separate small dish. 
For our attendees as well as any pickle lovers who may be interested, here’s a list of a few of our favorite sources. This is by no means an exhaustive list, just some of our frequent NYC haunts.

M and I International
249 Brighton Beach Ave
Brooklyn, NY 11235

187 Atlantic Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11201-5696
(718) 624-4551
179 East Houston Street
New York, NY 10002-1024
(212) 475-4880

Han au Reum — 25 W 32nd St, New York, NY 10001

123 Lexington Avenue

New York, NY 10016

Sunrise Mart 
4 Stuyvesant St., 2nd Fl. (at 3rd Ave.)


Gâteau Basque

By the time cherry season arrived this summer, I’d developed a full blown fixation on a cherry pastry I had never even tasted. I’d read, researched and dreamt about it, but I hadn’t yet tracked down a slice for a bite. The elusive and intriguing confection is a Gâteau Basque from the Pays Basque region. It’s a cookie like tart that first caught my attention in Mark Kurlansky’s “The Basque History of the World” where Kurlansky describes a visit to the Gâteau Basque Museum to see a pastry making demonstration. A pastry that has a museum dedicated to it! 

For all the devotion paid it, the Gâteau Basque is kind of homey and simple. A sweet pastry crust encases a filling of Basque Itxassou cherries, or pastry cream. The crust varies somewhat from place to place, but tradition dictates that the filling is always Itxassou cherries or pastry cream. It is considered audacious to even use cherries and pastry cream combined in one tart. 

I might consider pastry cream an option in Winter when beautiful fruit is hard to come by, but to use it when fresh cherries were in season locally seemed perverse. Basque cherries aren’t planted here the Northeast, so I made my first experiments with local sour cherries and later when sweet cherries came into season I tried those. Both were absolutely delicious. I have to confess, that in my next experiments I did brazenly try some unsanctioned fruits. I loved it with plums with lemon zest, gingered peaches, and apples and brandy. I’m hoping to visit San Sebastian this Spring and I hope that this information will not be used against me. I think the traditionalists are missing out. 

We have two orchards in our area that grow black sour cherries. They only open up for picking one day a year. This scarcity keeps demand and interest fairly high and there is an awful lot of anticipation for these cherries among devotees. As far as I can tell these are Morello cherries and they really are pretty special. They’re not sweet enough to be good snacking cherries, but they’re not too sour either. They’re just the essential cherry flavor in a lovely, juicy package. 

I don’t know how Black Sour cherries compare to Itxassou cherries in flavor, but I loved them. They make awesome jam, are stunning in savory dishes and wouldn’t you know it, they make an amazing filling for Gâteau Basque. I’m not willing to submit completely to convention , but I am eagerly looking forward to next summer’s harvest of black sour cherries, and a whole year of nearly traditional Gâteau Basque.

Gâteau Basque 
10 inch springform pan
or six 4 inch french tart pans
14 TBS  butter at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 whole egg
1 egg yolk
 2 tsp rum or tequilla
 1/4 tsp baking powder
 2 1/4 cups plain flour (sifted)
1 1/2 - 2 cups sour cherry confiture, creme patisserie or other fruit filling

Cream the room temperature butter in a deep bowl using a whisk or an electric mixer, until light and creamy.
Mix in the sugar until it dissolves. 
One at a time, add the egg and then the yolk, mixing between each. 
Stir in the rum.
Sift in the baking powder and flour, mixing in by hand with a wooden spoon or spatula to avoid over mixing.
Place the ball of dough in a plastic storage bag or wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least two hours, preferably overnight.

preheat the oven to 350°
Butter and flour your pan.
Divide the chilled dough into 2 pieces, the larger piece being roughly 2/3 of the total.
Roll the larger dough into a circle large enough to line the base and up much of the sides of your pan.

To transfer the circle, wrap the rolled dough around your rolling pin and center it over the prepared pan. Gently push the dough into the edges of the base so it fits snugly into the corners.
Spread the confiture or other filling evenly over the base.

With the remaining dough, roll out a circle that is just larger than the diameter of the pan. Use a rolling pin to center your dough over the filling.
Seal the top crust by pressing all the way around with your thumb.
Trim away excess dough so that the surface is flat.
The extra dough can be re rolled and baked alongside as cookies or used to decorate the top crust. 

Lightly egg wash the top crust.
Decorate the top of the Gâteau by drawing a pattern with the back of a spoon or arranging your scraps decoratively to the surface. Eggwash the back of the scraps to make sure they stick.
Cut a small a vent hole in the top to avoid cracks.

Bake on the center rack for 1 hour Check after about 40 minutes to make sure it’s not browning too quickly. Cover loosely with foil if it looks like the edges will be too dark. 
Remove to a cooling rack for at least 1 1/2  hours.
When cool, run a knife around the edge to make sure its not stuck anywhere and remove the pan. It should feel fairly sturdy. Run a knife gently underneath and remove the pan bottom.
Can be made one day ahead and kept at room temperature. Freezes beautifully.

The loveliest Gâteau Basque of all is here:


We're getting our winter Communal Table salon together... pickles and roots- hearty sharp flavors using what's seasonally available. We have our activity planned (making sauerkraut) and our invited experts... Nancy Ralph, director of the NY Food Museum and ring-leader of the yearly Pickle Day festival, and Annie Hauck-Lawson, co-author of Gastropolis: Food and New York City and master Kapusta maker.

Deena and I are in the fun emailing back and forth stage.. trying to narrow down the menu- there're so many roots to cook so many possible ways. Deena has her Asian vocabulary- and we share Eastern European roots- and there're all those wonderful South American and African tuber dishes... yams, yucca, ginger, turmeric, jicama, daikon... Then there's dessert... we're thinking conserves, preserves, crystalized and oven dried... start thinking winter preservation and it opens a huge can-o-worms... maybe we'll just bake gingerbread.

I've been practicing pickles at home with my son who's home for the holidays from college- cabbage and toasted sesame seed sauerkraut sitting in a jar weighted with a cup of odd metal relics collected over many years. The first taste was too salty so we rinsed it and are letting it ferment some more. Then there's a beautiful sharp pink turnip kraut, gorgeous vinegar-pickled red onions, bubbling lacto-fermented cucumbers... and sourdough starter brewing in a bowl. The kitchen's pungent, lively and alive!
Roots and pickles are a perfect metaphor for family, history, and memories, and offers perfect inspiration for the poetry part of our salon... guests bring poems (home-made or store-bought) to read as we linger 'round the table. This is one of my favorite parts of the salon evenings (or is it that with the meal served and eaten I finally relax?)
We've also started planning our Vernal Equinox Fish Tales Salon. Our fish-monger friend has offered his loft and his expertise... we'll make some kind of loxy treat, feast on who ever is running at that time and share fish tales... the bigger the better!