Beyond Whole Wheat: Spelt Ziti

Early last year I was told that I should eat more whole grains. I thought it was a good idea, but there was a problem: I eat a ton of pasta. And I mean literally a ton of pasta; I haven’t actually weighed it, but I’m sure that if you added it all up it would be at least a ton. So I set out to find some alternatives. I cooked with grains like spelt, brown rice, and wheat berries. And they were good. Yet I still missed pasta, so I started looking for a whole grain pasta that I liked. I started, naturally, with whole wheat pasta. I tried multiple brands, and multiple cooking methods, but I couldn’t find one that I liked. Beyond Whole Wheat is my search for a pasta alternative.

Back when I first started Beyond Whole Wheat I went out and bought a bunch of different brands of alternative pastas. One of them was this ziti made with spelt, an ancient form of wheat. The ziti was made by a specific company, which I’m not going to name. I’m not going to name them because I found out that their CEO was fighting to avoid having to cover contraception in its employees health plans. So I don’t want to give them any publicity, just keep this focused on the product.

I made a simple vegan dish of ziti with artichokes and escarole, with a little tomato and lemon. The directions for the ziti said to let it cook for 12-14 minutes, which is a pretty long time for pasta, so I started that first. While the pasta boiled I heated some olive oil with some fresh hot chile peppers. When they started to sizzle I added a jar of artichoke hearts (the kind packed in water, not oil, and drained) and seasoned them with salt and pepper. When they started to brown I added some chopped escarole, which I also seasoned. Escarole is a pretty hearty, leafy green, and can stand up to some high heat and long cooking, I highly recommend using it. After the escarole was wilted I added the juice of one lemon, and then I added some canned tomatoes (and seasoned them as well), and then stirred the whole mix together.

At this point the ziti had been cooking for about 11 minutes, so I tested it and found it ready to go. I drained it and added it to the sauce, along with a little bit of the pasta cooking water. I then let it cook together for another minute and then turned off the heat. The texture of the pasta was a little crumbly, and it had a pronounced grain-like flavor. Unlike some of the other pastas I’ve tried, that extra flavor actually added something to the dish instead of conflicting with it. Brown rice pasta is still my go-to, because I prefer the texture, but (politics aside) spelt ziti wasn’t bad.

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Vegetarian At Kebeer In Brighton Beach

I think of Kebeer as one of my favorite restaurants in Brighton Beach, despite the fact that I’ve only been there once. So last week, hungover and in a bad mood, I decided to head back out there to stuff myself with calorie-laden Russian food to see if the food held up to my memories of it. I knew I wanted to soak up the remaining alcohol in my system, so I ordered something called khachapuri. Khachapuri is what happens when you use butter to cook cheese inside of a phyllo crust. At Kebeer it’s flat like a stuffed pizza, but I’ve also seen it served as a kind of bread boat filled with butter and cheese. In any case it was a salty, rich, and buttery gut bomb that was just perfect for my mood. To cut the richness I also got a plate of assorted pickles, which I had gotten the last time I was at Kebeer. The plate includes a hunk of sharp pickled cabbage, both sweet and sour cucumber pickles, mushy pickled red tomatoes, and (my favorite) crisp and acidic pickled green tomatoes. All of them go well with some of the dense black bread you can order for a few extra dollars. By the end of my meal, complete with a half-liter of dark beer, I was full and feeling better. That’s part of the magic of Eastern European food — for me, at least, it hits me right in the comfort-food-zone.

Kebeer — 1003 Brighton Beach Ave

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Easy Stovetop Frittata

When is an omelet a frittata? I’m not talking about the classic “French omelette” with its silky texture and reliance on specific technique. No, I’m talking about the Americanized “throw some shit into a pan and add some eggs and call it an omelet.” A frittata is usually finished in the oven, and served by the slice, but you can make an omelet/frittata hybrid on the stovetop by using one simple technique: do nothing.

I may have used this technique in some of my other cooking posts on this blog. It’s probably my favorite thing to recommend to people unsure about cooking. Here’s how it works in this situation. Heat some olive oil and butter in a non-stick pan. Add some sliced shiitake mushrooms and season them with salt and pepper, and cook until browned. Add some thinly sliced zucchini and add more salt and pepper. (This is a good time to point out you can use whatever veggies you want in this recipe.) Let them brown as well, and flip them over so the other side starts cooking. Using a fork, scramble three eggs in a bowl and season with salt and pepper. Pour the eggs over the eggs and zucchini, and using the fork gently stir the eggs around until they start to solidify. Now comes the part I mentioned earlier — lower the heat to medium low and walk away for a few minutes. It’s ok, the eggs won’t burn. Let them brown a bit a bit, the flavor will be worth it.

There’s an easy way to flip the frittata when the bottom is browned, and it doesn’t involve any hand-eye coordination or Benihana-like theatrics. Make sure the frittata is ready to go by moving the pan around in circles for a few seconds — if it’s ready you’ll see the frittata slide around in the pan. Slide the frittata out of the pan, directly onto a large plate. Then turn the plate over onto the pan so the uncooked side is now facedown in the pan. Once again, do nothing. Let the second side brown a bit. Meanwhile, wipe off the plate so you have something off of which to eat your frittata. When the frittta slides in the pan, turn it out onto the plate and enjoy. Garnish with a cheddar-jalapeno corn muffin (optional).

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An Ethiopian Feast At Bunna Cafe

On a barren stretch of Flushing Avenue in Bushwick you’ll find Bunna Cafe. Bunna started as a pop-up restaurant, serving vegan Ethiopian food at events like the Vegan Shop-Up. In February they opened an actual, brick-and-mortar restaurant. I stopped by for lunch, and since I was pretty hungry I went for what they call a feast: seven of their Ethiopian specialties served with injera. Injera is one of the staples of Ethiopian cuisine; it’s a slightly sour, spongy flatbread perfect for scooping and soaking up food. The dishes are split into those served warm and those served cool. Two of the cool dishes were highlights for me. Kedija selata is a mix of kale, tomato, avocado, and lime, and was like an African spin on guacamole. Yesuf fitfit is a wet mix of injera soaked in roasted sunflower milk. The warm dishes were good but all followed the same pattern: legumes cooked until soft with garlic, ginger, and herbs. All of it was delicious sopped up with the injera, and I was licking my fingers afterwards (they don’t bring you utensils unless you specifically ask). Thankfully they brought a moist towelette with the check.

Bunna Cafe — 1084 Flushing Ave

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Weekday Lunch At Roberta’s

Although the popularity of Roberta’s means that if you go for dinner, especially on a weekend, you’re in for a wait. Sometimes a long wait — once I had to wait an hour for a table. There’s the nice back yard, sure, where you can get a few drinks while you wait, but sometimes I just want pizza and I want it NOW. If you have the opportunity, I’d suggest going for lunch on a weekday; they open at 11am for lunch. I’ve done this a few times, and I’ve never had to wait at all. On a recent visit I had a pie called the Lil’ Stinker, a flavor bomb piled up with garlic, red onions, and chopped up pepperoncini. Although the lunch menu doesn’t have everything the dinner menu has, they do serve some pastas, salads, and sandwiches if you’d rather have those. But I’m not sure why you’d go to Roberta’s and not order pizza.

Roberta’s — 261 Moore Street

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Beyond Whole Wheat: Quinoa Pasta

Early last year I was told that I should eat more whole grains. I thought it was a good idea, but there was a problem: I eat a ton of pasta. And I mean literally a ton of pasta; I haven’t actually weighed it, but I’m sure that if you added it all up it would be at least a ton. So I set out to find some alternatives. I cooked with grains like spelt, brown rice, and wheat berries. And they were good. Yet I still missed pasta, so I started looking for a whole grain pasta that I liked. I started, naturally, with whole wheat pasta. I tried multiple brands, and multiple cooking methods, but I couldn’t find one that I liked. Beyond Whole Wheat is my search for a pasta alternative.

It’s my own fault, I should have read the ingredients on the box before buying the quinoa pasta. It turns out that the first ingredients isn’t quinoa — it’s corn. That would explain the bright yellow color. It’s as if the corn lobby was trying to figure out how to sell corn pasta, and wondered what they could add to market it to hipsters. “They’re all eating quinoa, right? Let’s add a little quinoa, and then call it quinoa pasta.” When boiling the pasta, the top of the boiling water got a little bit of the yellow cornmeal scum that you might expect. This is a problem because I like to use pasta water in making sauce. I wasn’t crazy about the texture of the cooked pasta; it was tough to get it cooked to a uniform doneness. The flavor was fine, with the corn making it slightly sweet. That being said, brown rice pasta is still my favorite. So what did I do with the quinoa pasta? I made a little Brussels sprouts carbonara, of course.

Most carbonara is made with bacon or pancetta, but obviously that’s out for me. So instead I browned some Brussels sprouts in olive oil, seasoned with salt and pepper. I stirred in the whites of an egg, then I added a little tomato (not traditional in carbonara, I know, but keep in mind I STARTED with Brussels sprouts). I added the cooked pasta, stirred it all together, and topped it with the egg yolk.

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Vegetarian At Red Star Sandwich Shop

I stopped by the newly opened Red Star Sandwich Shop a couple of weeks ago to try out their lone vegetarian sandwich — the Beer-Battered Eggplant. Although it was a busy lunch service, my sandwich came out extremely fast. Way too fast to have been fried to order, which I took as a bad sign. Sure enough, the eggplant was room temperature. I was disappointed, but kept eating. Once I got past the temperature, however, I started to appreciate how good it was. There was a great balance of ingredients, and the sandwich was constructed in an interesting way: bottom bun, shiitake mushrooms, eggplant, pickled vegetables, tofu mayo, top bun. Separating the shiitakes from the pickled veggies kept the flavors distinct, and the tofu mayo helped lubricate the whole thing. Even better were the P’tater Tots (silly name notwithstanding). Crispy on the outside but creamy on the inside, these were appropriately hot and delicious. Now that I’ve eaten the sandwich I don’t feel any pressing need to return, but they are open until 10pm Monday through Saturday, so some late-night tots may be in order one of these days.

Red Star Sandwich Shop — 176 Smith St

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