Beet And Zucchini Panzanella

Panzanella is traditionally a salad made of tomatoes and chunks of stale bread. If you broaden your mind, however, you can make it out of anything. I had half a loaf of whole-wheat sourdough sitting on my counter, and wondered what to do with it. Then I remembered I had a bunch of Chioggia beets (the ones with candy cane striping inside) and some zucchini, and an idea began to form.

I trimmed the tops off of the beets and rinsed them, then boiled them in salted water. As they were cooking I cut the bread into one inch cubes and quickly toasted them in olive oil in a saute pan with a little garlic, salt, and pepper. When they were nicely browned on all sides I put them into a bowl and then did the same with cubes of green and yellow zucchini. Well I didn’t actually brown the zucchini pieces, I just cooked them quickly to warm them up and season them. Then I put them into the bowl with the bread. When the beets were cooked through I drained them, and the skin rubbed right off. Then I cut them into pieces roughly the same size as the bread and the zucchini, and added them to the bowl as well. I made a quick dressing of sherry wine vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper, then poured it over the veggies and bread and tossed it all together. The next step is the most important: let it sit for a while. This lets the flavors all meld together — the acidity of the vinegar, the sweetness of the beets, the salt from the zucchini. And the bread soaks up all of the liquids and gets nice and chewy. It’s even better after spending the night in the fridge, and makes for a cool, refreshing meal.

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Brunch At The Commodore

My favorite kind of brunch is the one where there are no crowds, and you can choose a drink beyond a Bloody Mary or a Mimosa. Enter the Commodore in Williamsburg, which just recently started serving brunch, and which was almost empty when I stopped by the other day on the way to the Kara Walker show. The egg & cheese biscuit was very good: a tender biscuit filled with a pile fluffy eggs and salty cheese, though slightly over-priced at $7. A much better value was a side of grits, only $4, which arrived in a giant soup bowl topped with a slightly spicy salsa roja and some scallions. Also delicious were the refreshing Pimm’s Cups that accompanied my meal; the cucumber-mint combination made everything go down that much easier.

The Commodore — 366 Metropolitan Ave

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Vegetarian Ramen At Ganso

In my quest for vegetarian ramen here in Brooklyn I’ve only come across one that I can truly call great: Chuko’s Market Veggie Ramen. I’ve had it a few times now and it’s always stunning. Other vegetarian ramens have weak broths, or broths with funky flavors, or there’s some flaw that makes it off-putting. I even went so far as to make my own vegetarian ramen at home, which is pretty great (if I do say so myself). Ganso, in Downtown Brooklyn, is the only vegetarian ramen I’ve had here in Brooklyn that comes close to touching Chuko. Made with a shiitake and soy milk base, the Yasai Ramen’s broth is thick and flavorful. It’s a little too salty, which is unfortunate because the fried tofu in the broth is also too salty. On my visit there were kernels of sweet corn, which helped balance it a little bit, and the greens and scallions were able to cut through the saltiness some. If they just dialed back the salt a little bit, I think Ganso could enter the realm of great vegetarian ramen that eludes so many.

Ganso — 25 Bond St

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Beyond Whole Wheat: Brown Rice 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. The main issue is the texture, but in a few cases the flavor was off too. One day at my local bodega I saw a package of brown rice pad thai noodles, and something clicked. They looked an awful lot like fettuccine, I thought. I brought them home and cooked them and was amazed. They have great, silky texture, and they cook very quickly (occasionally the cooking time on the package directions are way too long — one said to cook for 12 minutes but was ready in a mere 7). Plus the pasta cooking water has a great starchy quality that is perfect for adding to the sauce. I began to hunt for more brown rice pasta. I found more brown rice Asian noodles, like mai fun, but I wasn’t prepared for the day I found brown rice ziti, farfalle, and shells. Since then brown rice pasta has been my go-to pasta. I have tried other kinds of pasta, which I will write about in future installments of Beyond Whole Wheat, but so far brown rice is my favorite. Does anybody else have a good pasta replacement?

Click for a quick recipe…

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Krupa Grocery Brings Fine Dining To Windsor Terrace

Krupa Grocery opened a few weeks ago in a former bodega space — the bodega was called Krupa Grocery, hence the name of the restaurant. It’s still figuring a few things out; on a recent visit I saw a customer frantically waving their arm to get a server’s attention (it didn’t work); our host asked us if we wanted to sit outside, but when she led us out there it turned out there were no available tables; and there was an awfully long wait between when we ordered our drinks and when we received them. The good news is, however, that the food is often very good. A salad of roasted beets was perfectly seasoned, and garnished with candied kumquats for sweetness and tartness. Burrata (a mix of cream and mozzarella) with couscous was likewise perfectly seasoned, with briny olives punctuating the creamy milkiness of the cheese. Not everything is perfect: green beans are tossed with a tasty black truffle vinaigrette but baffled me by being paired with strawberries. Gnudi (ricotta dumplings) were perfectly made, but lacked seasoning and acidity in their pepper sauce. Krupa Grocery is charging serious prices for their food, and it’s often packed with customers. The neighborhood is clearly ready for this type of restaurant, and once Krupa Grocery works out the kinks it’s going to be something really special.

Krupa Grocery — 231 Prospect Park West

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Woezo Brings West Africa To Smorgasburg

In a world where it seems everyone is making barbecue, [random-Asian-country]-ese street food, and trying to come up with the NEXT BIG THING (cough-Bruffin-cough) comes Woezo. Woezo is a stand at Smorgasburg that’s actually bringing something new and exciting to an over-saturated marketplace: West African food. It’s true that in certain neighborhoods around the five boroughs there are authentic African restaurants, and it may seem a bit presumptuous for a white kid who was in the Peace Corps to bring these flavors to a hipster paradise in Williamsburg, but why argue when the food is so good? They have plenty of vegan and gluten-free options on the menu — you can mix and match what you want in your bowl to suit your appetite. I got a base of rich polenta, topped with mushrooms and fried tofu with a peanut sauce and some spicy chili sauce as well. Mixed all together it managed to be both comforting and unfamiliar, and somehow was evocative of a place to which I’ve never been. I hope more potential Smorgasburg vendors follow this example, and search for something truly new to bring to the event — the world only needs so many Korean-barbecue burritos on a stick.

Woezo at Smorgasburg — Kent Avenue and North 7 St

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Vegetarian Offal: Scallion Roots

In Vegetarian Offal I examine the scraps and cut-offs that might otherwise be thrown away. Offal isn’t just for meat-eaters anymore! Today’s offal: scallion roots.

Back when my friends at We Heart New York ate at Aska, they mentioned a dish that contained leek root. I remember reading that and thinking to myself, “Well that’s interesting.” The next time I was cooking with scallions, after chopping off the root end I regarded the squiggly threads with suspicion. I rinsed them thoroughly; this is the end deepest in the dirt, after all. I cautiously took a bite. I was amazed — it had the same full onion flavor as the rest of the scallion. I set about trying to figure out a way to harness the flavor in a palatable way. It didn’t take me long to think of tempura. I made a quick batter with brown rice flour and cold seltzer (a technique I learned from Ming Tsai), then dipped the cleaned scallion ends in the batter. I made sure each of the little roots was coated, shook off the excess batter, and then fried them in vegetable oil. When they were lightly browned I drained them on a paper towel and sprinkled them with a little kosher salt. The roots get nice a crunchy and curl out like tentacles. The brown rice powder gets nice and crispy and lends a sweet nutty flavor, complimenting the sweet flavor of the cooked scallion roots. These would be the perfect addition to any tempura basket or fritto misto. So the enxt time you trim the ends off of your scallions (or leeks, it works for leeks too), keep them around for a little fried treat.

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