A Pre-Holiday Miscellany
Unforgettably delicious cream-braised Brussels sprouts, Greek horta, and those preserved lemons we promised you!
I LOVE GOING TO THE GROCERY STORE! Love it. And I don’t understand people who do not. Anything could happen at the grocer! There might be really good cheese samples or the persimmons may have arrived or I might spy a fancy brand of vinegar someone recommended a few weeks ago, which I was afraid I was going to have to order. I love squeezing things I’m not supposed to squeeze (does anyone obey those signs?) and I love smelling the fruit—especially during peach or cantaloupe season.
Even when I have no idea what I want to make, I’ll go.
If there’s a cheese store on one end of town, a specialty foods shop on the other, and a good farmer’s market in the next town over (there is, thank the lord), I’ll make my pokey way from one to the other, as if I were a dazzled tourist rather than someone who has been in each of these places a million times before, in my socks and sandals.
And speaking of tourists, I also can’t believe people will arrive in a foreign country, stay for 10 days, and not once go into a typical grocer or poke around in the food markets to marvel at cookies they’ve never heard of, eggs on the shelves rather than in the fridge, the range of cheeses. How else are you supposed to figure out how the people in another country live?
I have not traveled since the pandemic, so I spend too much time watching these sorts of things:
But I have to admit (sad trombone) that I recognize that grocery shopping in America can be upsetting and sterile—especially if you don’t live in a Nancy Meyers movie. People here can be very unfriendly and grouchy while shopping for food. Which, my lord, come on.
(I was at a grocery store many years ago in Chicago where a woman passed out cold at the salad bar and people just walked around her, continuing to build salads on their biodegradable platters, as if she were a performance artist they weren’t interested in. I ran to tell the manager; a rescue squad came.)
And never mind the disappearance of trained butchers and fishmongers or how small the produce sections have gotten in comparison with the box/bottle/jar aisles. Or that so much produce is portioned out in plastic clamshells and individual bags so that you don’t have to think or feel. You can just zone out and let bigwigs who probably have private chefs and eat in restaurants most of the time decide what you should eat rather than the other way around.
It takes two kinds of lettuce (🥬 + $$) to keep the Department of Salad alive. The best way to support us, if you don’t already: Press the green button.
I’m not a complete ding-a-ling about all this, though. As some of you may know, I have a thing about horrible Walmart. So I am well aware that grocery stores sell what sells regardless of how terrible what sells might be, thanks to what’s happened since midcentury to conglomerate grocery stores, a situation that seems to be getting even more dire lately, according to this recent report (which a friend on social media sent me, when I was gassing on about grocery profiteering or something).
Color me cranky.
I bring it all up now, as Thanksgiving is bearing down upon us—like a runaway truck full of leftover cornbread stuffing and undigested political-arguments from the previous year—because I noticed on a recent grocery store outing that quite a few of them have set up Thanksgiving stations. As if they don’t already have enough control over what we eat.
Any food item remotely related to Thanksgiving has been removed from its usual shelf and rearranged so you can race through the aisles without having to see, feel, or smell anything extraneous, slowing down at one depot to dump everything you need for a pumpkin pie into your car, hitting another couple of bases for the expected side dishes (green beans next to cream of mushroom soup and those crunchy French fried onions; pyramids of sweet potatoes next to sacks of brown sugar and marshmallows), and quickly zooming over to the frozen turkeys, which are surrounded by everything you might believe you absolutely must have in order to prepare a turkey (turkey bags, disposable roasting dishes, brining mix).
What they don’t have on offer are turkey explosives, but I think plenty of Americans would be down for that method of cooking their bird (don’t watch this if you object to a little cussin’).
But when I ran into Whole Foods to find peperoncini for last week’s salad and saw their green bean/sweet potato/cranberry station in the produce section, I decided that if I were planning a big Thanksgiving this year (I’m not), I’d rebel in my own small way, as a sort of scream into the ideological void. I imagined what subversive side dish I could serve that none of the grocery stores seemed to be pushing.
And I decided on delicious, refreshing, fortifying horta, an Ancient Greek staple of gathered wild greens, blanched (or boiled, to be honest; boiled just sounds so bad) and served with lemon and olive oil (among other embellishments, if you like). It’s basically a super-simple cooked salad, but it’s also the most satisfying thing in the world, which you can make with just about any kinds of greens you like, and which would be so welcome on any holiday groaning board. It would also be a terrific way to use any greens that might be left over after Thanksgiving.
But I also want to share one of my favorite recipes of all time, the world’s greatest and richest Brussels sprout dish, which was making the food-writer rounds over a decade ago and deserves a revival. I originally started making it after seeing it on the great Molly Wizenberg’s food blog, Orangette; she got it from Molly Stevens’s wonderful book All About Braising.
And, as promised: we’re making preserved lemons so that you can have them year-round and not have to buy a $12 jar that only contains two lemons, like the one pictured above, next to my fresh batch.
All of these are about as stress-free and simple as you can get for recipes that produce such a high amount of deliciousness.
*RECIPE: Greek Horta, aka Steamed/Boiled Leafy Greens (Dressed in Lemon Garlic Vinaigrette)
Since it’s winter and I have no wild greens to gather, I used a combination of some pretty rainbow chard, a few leftover heads of baby bok choy, a small bunch of dinosaur kale, a raggedy head of endive I found in my crisper, and half a bag of baby spinach left over from another salad. It was all delicious, but you should use your own favorites.
Some recipes suggest sautéing garlic in olive oil then tossing the greens and a cup of water on top, letting the leaves steam until tender. But I really love the way full-on simmering the leaves in a big pot of water keeps them bright and makes them so tender and welcoming to the vinaigrette.
Choose from chard, chicories (endive, radicchio, escarole), dandelion greens, kale, collards, arugula, etc., as well as a handful of flat-leaf parsley if you wish. Remember that some stems are delicious and edible; others you may want to remove before or after cooking. Chard stems get quite delicious when cooked to death; big kale and collard stems not so much.
2 pounds of leafy greens, washed, trimmed, tough thick stems removed
Chopped olives, for garnish
Emily’s Lemon Garlic Dressing (below)
Bring a large pot of well-salted water to boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook your greens in separate batches, according to their type, until tender; remove them to a colander to cool. For example, I cooked my chard until tender (about 20 minutes), then removed it to a colander to cool. Then I added my dinosaur/Tuscan kale to the same pot of boiling water and cooked it until tender (for about 10 minutes), removing it to the same colander to cool, and so on until all my greens were perfectly cooked and cooling together in the colander. (Endive and bok choy take a little over five minutes; spinach takes less than one minute.)
After draining the greens you may wish to gently squeeze or press any remaining water from the leaves before chopping them into large pieces and removing any stems that have remained tough.
If you’re serving the horta the next day, gently toss the greens together with a squeeze of lemon and a splash of olive oil and refrigerate. If you’re serving right away, toss them with some of the dressing, taste for salt and pepper and more dressing, and serve at room temperature. Garnish with chopped olives if desired. I also recommend a slice of feta on the side
EMILY’S LEMON GARLIC DRESSING
Combine all ingredients in a jar with a tight-fitting lid and shake until well-emulsified. Taste for seasonings and lemon; adjust.
1 clove garlic, grated (use your microplane)
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice, more to taste
Zest of ½ lemon
Pinch of cayenne (optional but highly recommended)
Salt and pepper
*RECIPE: Molly Stevens’s Cream-Braised Brussels Sprouts
The only ridiculous thing about this recipe, aside from how delicious it is, is the idea that it serves 4 people. If you’ve got a lot of people at your table, double it.
1 pound Brussels sprouts
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
¼ teaspoon flakey sea salt, plus more to taste
1 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, or more to taste
Pinch of white pepper
Trim the stem end of each sprout and remove any ratty outer leaves. Quarter the sprouts lengthwise to produce little wedges; if they’re really tiny, just cut them in half lengthwise.
In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium-high heat. When it stops foaming, add the sprouts and salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the sprouts have begun to brown in spots.
Pour in the cream, stir, cover the skillet, then reduce the heat to low. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sprouts are tender enough to be pierced easily with the tip of a knife, about 20 minutes. The cream will have reduced and taken on a creamy tan color.
Remove the lid and stir in the lemon juice (DO NOT OMIT THIS) and a pinch of white pepper. Taste and adjust for seasoning. Let the pan simmer, uncovered, for a minute or two to thicken and to glaze the sprouts. Serve warm or hot.
*RECIPE: Preserved Lemons
Preserved lemons are an ancient staple in North African, Middle Eastern, and South Asian cuisines. In the modern United States, it’s probably safe to say that their relatively recent popularity is thanks to the great food writer Paula Wolfert, whose recipe is the standard. You won’t find much diversion, aside from the addition of bay leaves, peppercorns, the occasional dried hot pepper. When I make them, I keep it simple. To add them to salad dressings and sauces, you rinse them off, scrape out the pulp, and chop or cut the pickled peel into strips.
I use Ball wide-mouthed quart jars.
You don’t have to sterilize your jars, since these are going to end up in the fridge, but I went ahead and did the next best thing for this sort of project, which is boiling the lids on the stove and running the jars through the sanitize cycle of my dishwasher.
Lemons, 6 to10 per quart jar, depending on the size of your lemons (I got 7 1/2 large lemons into my latest batch), gently scrubbed
Kosher salt (this is a must; I use Morton’s Coarse Kosher Salt)
Place a tablespoon or two of salt in the bottom of each jar you plan to use.
Carefully slice each lemon lengthwise into quarters, leaving the bottom quarter-inch intact, to hold the lemon together.
Open the lemon gently, like a flower, and cover all the exposed pulp with some of the salt; reshape each lemon.
Place the lemons in the jar one by one, pressing them down firmly each time to release juice and make room for the other lemons, and adding one or two more teaspoons of salt between each, until the jar is full; you may have to tear a lemon in half. (I used the large wooden pestle from my old chinois to press my lemons, and it worked beautifully; a cocktail muddler or French rolling pin would also work.)
If smashing the lemons has not created enough juice to fill the jar (mine did easily; I highly recommend the pestle method), add the juice of one or two more lemons to supplement.
Once full, seal the jars and let them sit outside the fridge for 30 days, turning the jar over every few days to distribute the salt. Then store in the refrigerator.
🥬 ONE MORE THING We’ve got PRINTABLE RECIPES! You’ll find downloadable PDF files at the end of each recipe here and in the archive. CONFUSED? Check the archive if you lose track of your e-mailed newsletter.
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