Saturday, August 15, 2009

Julie and Julia

We just saw Julie and Julia, the much talked about movie, based on My Life in France by Julia Child's great nephew and Julie and Julia by Julie Powell. Both are wonderful books in and of themselves. I knew that Meryl Streep would be just great as Julia and she was. I didn't know how much I would love and admire the way Nora Ephron put the two books together. She did a brilliant job of showing the parallels between the two without being ham-handed, so to speak. And I was once again filled with a huge amount of admiration for Julie Powell: cooking all the recipes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking is a stupendous accomplishment.

I acquired Mastering the Art, my first serious cookbook, on August 20, 1967, my first wedding anniversary, from my then husband Rick Kunst. Over the years I made many different recipes from this cookbook: seven soups, three sauces, pie dough (multiple times), five quiches, three gratins, two souffles, crepes, a turnover, scallops, five chicken, a duck, six beef, a lamb, five pork, seventeen vegetables, four composed salads, and three desserts. One of the desserts was Tarte au Citron et Aux Amandes (Lemon and Almond Tart) which I made in trying out for an assistant pastry chef position at Chez Panisse in 1974. I delivered my tart to the restaurant one morning and never heard from them again. I guess they didn't like it. So I've cooked 66 recipes from Mastering the Art, some multiple times--and it seems like a lot from one book. But that is 458 shy of what Julie Powell cooked. Quite amazing. Just think of it. By all means, see the film. I'd love to hear what you think if it.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Three Summer Salads

Grilled Pancetta-Wrapped Figs and Arugula with Lavender Dressing
If you're interested in a light dinner in the midst of fig season, this is just wonderful. Plenty of flavor, a delicious dressing, and the little purple flowers which are in nearly every yard during the summer.

Mustard Lavender Vinaigrette, start the day before if you have time (see recipe below)
About 6 cups arugula or other fresh greens
½ cup pine nuts, lightly toasted (Watch! They burn easily.)
8-12 large fresh black figs
8-12 thin slices pancetta, smoked pepper bacon, or regular bacon
Vegetable oil for brushing the grill
Fresh lavender or society garlic flowers for garnish

1. Wash, dry, and chill the greens.
2. Prepare your grill or broiler.
3. Wrap each fig with a piece of bacon or pancetta and secure with a toothpick or small metal skewer. Brush the grill or broiler rack with vegetable oil. Place figs on the rack and grill or broil, turning frequently, until the bacon is browned, about 5 minutes or a little longer.
4. Drizzle the arugula or other greens with the Mustard Lavender Vinaigrette. Divide the greens among 4-6 individual plates. Arrange 2 or 3 figs on each plate and drizzle with more vinaigrette if desired.
5. Sprinkle with pine nuts and garnish with the fresh flowers.

4-6 servings as a salad course, depending on the size of the figs and how many figs you serve/person
Adapted from James McNair’s Salads

Mustard Lavender Vinaigrette

½ cup fruity extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh lavender flowers
1½ teaspoons crumbled dried lavender flowers
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon-style mustard or 1 teaspoon dried mustard
1 teaspoon minced or pressed garlic
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar

1. In a bowl or jar, combine the olive oil and chopped or crumbled lavender, cover, and let stand at room temperature for at least 24 hours or for up to several weeks. Strain before using.
2. Combine everything except the lavender oil in a bowl or jar. Shake or stir until combined. Add the oil and shake or stir again. Use immediately or store in the fridge. Return to room temperature before serving.

Makes ¾ - 1 cup
Adapted from James McNair’s Salads

Chicken Salad with Walnuts and Grapes
You may think I have a "thing" for roasted fruits and veggies. I must confess that I do--primarily because of the intense flavor. But also because I sometimes buy too many grapes, strawberries, or cherry tomatoes and they may be on the verge of going squishy. Roasting comes in so handy.

¾ cup mayonnaise (You can use some thick yogurt in place of some of the mayonnaise.)
Zest of 1 lemon
Juice from ½ lemon
½ teaspoon salt or to taste
1/8 teaspoon pepper or to taste
1 tablespoon finely chopped chives
1 tablespoon finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh tarragon
4 individual chicken breasts, poached or microwaved and roughly chopped or shredded
4 cups leftover roasted chicken, bones and skin removed, roughly chopped or shredded
1/3 cup finely chopped red onion
½ cup finely chopped celery (about 1 stalk)
1 cup halved red seedless grapes or ½ cup Roasted Grapes, see recipe below
¾ cup roughly chopped walnuts, lightly toasted
Greens, if desired

1. In a small bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, lemon zest and juice, salt, and pepper. Add the chives, parsley and tarragon; mix gently.
2. In a large bowl, combine the chicken, onion, celery, and grapes. Add the mayonnaise mixture and fold together to combine. Add more mayonnaise if the mixture is too dry. Season to taste. Chill until ready to serve.
3. Just before serving, stir in the toasted walnuts. If desired, serve over or surrounded by greens.

4-6 servings
Adapted from the New York Times Sunday Magazine

Oven-Roasted Grapes

2 pounds red grapes, without seeds
A slight sprinkling of sugar

1. Remove the grapes from their stems. Cut in half if large. Line a cookie sheets with a silicone mat or parchment paper and place the grapes on top in a single layer.
2. Turn the oven to 250ºF and place the pan in the oven. You can use the convection setting in your oven on either Bake or Roast and speed up the process a bit.
3. After about an hour, check to see how they are doing; move them around a bit and sprinkle with a small amount of sugar if they taste a little tart to you. Roast for an additional hour or until the grapes have lost some of their juice and shrunk some. Sort of like raisins but with more moisture.

You can use these as an accompaniment to cheese, in salads, on your Steel-Cut Oats for breakfast and in Italian Sausage with Red Grapes or Chicken Salad with Walnuts and Grapes.

Makes about 3 cups
Adapted from John Ash’s Cooking One on One

Quinoa Salad with Pistachios and Cranberries
Quinoa is a grain originally from Peru that has a very high protein content. It is also delicious. This red one is from the Rancho Gordo folks in Napa, California who produce so many outstanding dried beans.

1/3 cup pistachios or slivered almonds
1 cup quinoa (red from Rancho Gordo or regular)
1½ cups water, heated in the microwave
1 teaspoon salt
2 stalks celery, cut in half lengthwise and sliced
3 scallions, sliced, including some of the green part
¼ cup dried cranberries, chop coarsely if they are big, use more if you'd like
Sherry Vinaigrette, see recipe below

1. Arrange the pistachios or almonds in a single layer in a small pan and toast at 350 F. until lightly browned, about 5 minutes or less. Let them cool to room temperature and chop coarsely.
2. Toast the quinoa in a medium skillet or pottery skillet over low heat, shaking the pan occasionally until it lightly browns, about 5 minutes or longer. It will take a little longer in the pottery skillet, keeping it on low heat. Add the water and salt, cover and bring to a simmer. Cook until the quinoa is soft but still has a little bite, about 15 minutes. The water should be gone.
3. Let it cool. Add the nuts, celery, scallions, and cranberries and toss.
4. Dress with Sherry Vinaigrette. Check for salt, adding more if required.
5. Serve immediately or refrigerate. Bring to room temperature before serving.

4 servings
Adapted from Fran Gage’s The New American Olive Oil

Sherry Vinaigrette

1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
¼ teaspoon salt
Pepper to taste
3 tablespoons olive oil

Mix the vinegar, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Slowly pour in the olive oil, whisking with a fork to mix. Taste for seasoning and adjust.

If you are using this for a regular salad, you can add 2 teaspoons minced shallots or green onions. The Quinoa Salad already has green onions in it so these are shallots are not necessary.

Adapted from Fran Gage’s The New American Olive Oil

Monday, August 10, 2009

In the Slow Lane of the Organic Highway

This is my desire: I want to buy the healthiest fruits and vegetables, milk, and oils that I can afford. I want to make sure that they are not coated with pesticides and fungicides and that they come from land that was treated with respect and compost rather than chemical fertilizers and herbicides. Whether they are “certified organic” is not as important to me as whether I can talk to the farmer who grew them and ascertain for myself the story of the lettuce or the carrots. (Candy from Oak Hill Farm talking to a customer at the Sonoma Farmers Market.) I want the produce to have been grown in my area and to have traveled as little as possible to get to me. I want to eat what is in season as much as possible. And I want this kind of food to be available to everyone at prices everyone can afford.

For this piece, I’m going to focus on the organic part. I’ll get to the other parts (eating locally and seasonally, promoting sustainable systems, and the politics involved in everything) in subsequent blogs.

Like so many others, I have been slow to recognize the importance of making sure that the food I fix is safe. When I was first learning to cook in the 60s and 70s, it never occurred to me that the food might not be safe. The standard produce looked really good, and maybe it was. In contrast the tiny selection of organic was pretty pathetic (shrunken and discolored oranges, limp and unappetizing lettuce) and cost a lot more.

So what moved me to change my buying patterns? What forces nudged me toward buying more organic?

1. Two friends, Karyn (to the left) and Lisa, suggested ever so nicely that I might want to consider buying organic for the sake of my health and those I feed. Karyn is a big fan of the Tuesday afternoon Farmers Market in Berkeley and showed me around a couple of times. She has two kids and it is particularly important for her to feed them well. She de-mystified the process, though I continue to feel as though I need an extra set of hands to negotiate the shopping bags, plastic produce bags, money and my store list. Lisa who is chemically sensitive told me a lot about the chemicals that get into our bodies from eating food produced by agri-business farms. I trust her knowledge and judgment. Thanks to their nudging, I started buying organic milk and butter and occasionally went to the Berkeley Farmers Market.

2. I also started gathering more information. Groups like the Environmental Working Group and the Organic Consumers Association have serious e-newsletters that keep me abreast of the latest worries in terms of legislation and threats to our food system. EWG has a list of the Dirty Dozen, the fruits and vegetables with the most chemicals, and a list of those with the least. I carry these lists with me to the market. I’ve also read enough articles and books by Michael Pollan and others to convince me that we are in danger if we don’t change the way our food is produced. Recently I’ve switched to Organic Canola Oil. Don't get me started on genetically modified stuff.

3. Finally I started going to the Sonoma Farmers Market on Friday morning or to The Patch farm stand whenever I am in town, store list in hand. Going to the Farmers Market is now part of my routine and I usually know what’s available and look forward to seeing what’s newly in season. I still feel as though I need an extra set of hands. When I’ve bought all I can, I go to my local grocery store, Sonoma Market, and buy the rest.

There are costs to switching to this new system. It takes time to stay informed. It takes more time to do the shopping; it is a two- or three-stop rather than one-stop shop. Right now I have the time to spend. And these beautiful fruits and vegetables are still more expensive, but I believe they contribute to my health and to the health and well-being of the farmers and the land producing them. So it's worth it to me.

My incremental steps have brought me a long way in the space of five or six years. Nudging from friends, educating myself, and making the new shopping practice part of my routine have really worked. I still have a ways to go. I don’t always buy organic. I still sometimes choose the cheaper alternative. But I am much more aware. I am in the slow lane of the organic highway, moving myself along, and I feel really good about it.

Three Pre-dinner Dips: Beige, Green and Black

North African Hummus
This is the best hummus in the world. I swear.

1 14 or 15 ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/3 cup tahini paste, well stirred
¼ cup lemon juice (about 1 lemon)
2 teaspoon North African Spice Mix
2 garlic cloves, peeled and coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Olive oil and sumac, optional

1. Place the chickpeas, tahini, lemon juice, North African Spice Mix, garlic, and olive oil in a food processor and purée until smooth. You may need to add a bit of water to make it a good spreading consistency.
2. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Can make ahead and chill. Return to room temperature for eating.
3. Place in a low bowl. Make a shallow indentation in the middle of the hummus. Pour in a bit of olive oil and sprinkle with sumac. Serve with Za’tar Spiced Pita.

6-8 servings as a dip before dinner

North African Spice Mix
This spice mix is a pain to make. But once it is done you have the fixings for multiple hummus mixtures in almost no time flat.

1 tablespoon cumin seeds, toasted and ground*
1 tablespoon coriander seeds, toasted and ground*
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1½ teaspoons ground fenugreek, toast and grind if you’re using chunky fenugreek
Note: You can leave it out if you can’t find it.
1 teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon smoky sweet paprika or regular paprika
½ teaspoon smoky hot paprika or a pinch of cayenne

1. In a small bowl, combine all the ingredients and mix well.
2. Store in a glass jar (like an old spice jar), tightly covered. Label the jar with the contents or you’ll forget what it is. Or I should say, I would forget what it was.

*Note: You can use the previously ground kind as well.

Adapted from Andy Husbands’ and Joe Yonan’s The Fearless Chef

Za’tar Spiced Pita

1 tablespoon za’tar
Note: This is available at most Middle Eastern or Persian food stores. Go to Zand’s on Solano in Albany, CA if you are in the Bay Area.
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon sumac or lemon zest
1 tablespoon white sesame seeds
2 teaspoons cumin seeds, toasted and ground
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried marjoram or oregano
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil

4 rounds of pita bread

1. Turn oven on broil with a rack set 4 to 6 inches from the top element.
2. Combine the purchased za’tar with the olive oil.
Make the za’tar: in a small bowl, combine the sesame seeds, sumac, cumin, thyme, marjoram or oregano, and salt.
3. Measure out 1 tablespoon. Add the olive oil and blend well. Place the remaining za’tar in a glass spice jar and mark the contents for the next time.
4. Cut each round into 6-8 pieces. Arrange the pitas on a baking sheet and spread the za’tar and oil mixture evenly over each. You may not need all of your homemade za’tar mixture.
5. Broil until deep golden brown, 2 to 4 minutes, watching carefully and rotating the pan half way through to brown evenly. It can turn from toasted to burnt in an instant.
6. Serve with the hummus.

Adapted from Andy Husbands' and Joe Yonan’s The Fearless Chef

Green Olive Tapenade 

2 cups pitted green olives
½ cup slivered almonds
1 garlic clove, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons cilantro
2 tablespoons parsley
1 teaspoon lemon zest, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup olive oil, or less
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Look the olives over to see if any still has its pit. Remove and proceed. Combine olives, almonds, garlic, cilantro, parsley, and lemon zest in a food processor.
2. Pulse to combine. Add the olive oil with motor running. Process until the mixture is smooth.
3. Add lemon juice and mix. Add some pepper. Taste for salt but probably you won’t need much.
4. Serve with bread, corn chips, crackers or sliced cucumbers.

Makes about 1½ cups, 4-6 as a dip before dinner
Adapted from The Cakebread Cellers Napa Valley Cookbook

Fig and Black Olive Tapenade

1 cup stemmed and quartered (about 6 ounces) dried Black Mission figs
1½ cups water
2 cups (1/2 pound) pitted Kalamata or Nicoise olives
Juice of 1 lemon
1½ tablespoons whole grain or smooth mustard
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tablespoon drained capers
2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
2 tablespoons olive oil or more if necessary
Salt and pepper

1. In a heavy medium saucepan, combine the figs and water. Set over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Partially cover and cook, stirring once or twice, until the figs are very tender, about 30 minutes. Cool slightly, drain, reserving 2 tablespoons of the fig cooking liquid.
2. Look the olives over to see if any still has its pit. Remove and proceed. In a food processor, combine the figs, olives, lemon juice, mustard, garlic, capers, rosemary, and reserved 2 tablespoons of fig-cooking liquid. Pulse to create a thick paste. With the motor running, gradually add the oil. Season generously with pepper and add salt to taste, remembering the various salty ingredients.
Note: There is occasionally a pit in the pitted olives. Without having to check each olive before chucking it into the processor, pulse a couple of times at the beginning. You will hear the rattle of the pit. Stop immediately and retrieve it. Pulse another couple of times to make certain you have them all. Then full speed ahead.
3. Transfer to a storage container, cover, and refrigerate at least 24 hours to develop the flavors. But less time in the fridge is OK too.
4. Bring the tapenade to room temperature before serving. Serve with French bread, crackers, or pita chips.

Makes about 2½-3 cups, 8-10 as a dip before dinner
Adapted from Carrie Brown’s The Jimtown Store Cookbook

Monday, August 3, 2009

More Urban Farmers: The Patch in Sonoma

Walking down The Path in the town of Sonoma (it runs east to west from Sebastiani Winery to Highway 12), you can’t miss The Patch. It is a 5½-acre piece of land filled with thriving plants of all kinds: tomatoes, squash, onions, eggplant, corn, cucumbers, beans, and more. There’s a farm stand on the 2nd Street East edge of the plot, open every day from about 10 to 5, July to November. A rickety sign marks the spot. Where else but Sonoma would there be a huge plot of land, next to a vineyard, growing vegetables? I fell in love.

The first time I visited the farm stand, it was on the honor system with a scale to weigh your produce and a metal canister with a slot in the top for your money. I was amazed that whoever ran this enterprise considered his customers honest and trusted that they would pay for their vegetables. I found this extraordinary. Clearly something special was going on here.

The next time, I met Leo. He always sits on a white plastic chair at the far end of the stand. Sometimes he’s listening to a baseball game (the Giants and the Red socks are his teams) on the radio. Sometimes he’s waiting patiently for the next customer. Always he asks, “What’s for dinner?” and really wants to know. He is a man who knows his way around the kitchen. He watches Jamie Oliver and Rick Bayless on television and regularly makes ratatouille and Mexican green chile stew for himself. He also really knows his vegetables and recently has been complaining loudly about our need for more heat to bring in the sweetness of the melons and the tomatoes. I always look forward to seeing him on my regular farm stand visits. So how did he get here?

Leo Salais was born in Los Angeles in 1932. His mother was a Mexican from New Mexico and his father was from Chihuahua. He moved to San Francisco in 1941 and says that he was always crazy about the city: the people, the food, and the environment. He worked for the School Department for 18 years as a maintenance foreman and then drove for Regal Delivery for Macy’s for 10 years before retiring in 1999 and moving to Sonoma where one of his daughters and grandkids live. He says, “I left San Francisco and reinvented myself.”

He started working at the farm stand for Betty Kolstad about seven years ago and stayed on when Lazaro Calderon took over in 2003; currently he works about five days a week. He is full of admiration for his boss, Lazaro, and for the team who “work their asses off” to grow the vegetables he sells. I was surprised to learn that he is also passionate about jazz, in addition to food, his family, and baseball. He studied the saxophone at the Berkeley School of Music in Boston from 1955-57. He loves the music of saxophonists Charlie Parker, Woody Herman, Art Pepper, and Stan Getz and listens to their music most every night.

So that’s Leo. He was my initial introduction to The Patch but there is a second equally important story.

There are two Farmers Markets in Sonoma: Tuesday evening and Friday morning. One market day I noticed a produce stand with a large sign reading The Patch. But Leo, the only face I associated with The Patch, was not selling. The fellow in charge was gracious, knowledgeable, and friendly. He handled the vegetables with great care. Once I had established myself as a regular customer, this fellow would occasionally add an extra tomato to my sack. He mostly worked alone, but occasionally would be joined by another man who looked remarkably like him. I learned that his name was Lazaro Calderon and the second fellow was his brother. Lazaro is on the left, his brother Fernando on the right.

Lazaro was born in 1974 north of Mexico City, the sixth of eight kids, four brothers and four sisters. He moved to Petaluma with his father when he was 14. After high school he worked with his dad in a nursery and on the side grew hydrangeas which he took to the city to sell. He also sold wreaths which his uncle taught him to make. Lazaro moved on to Skylark Nursery in Santa Rosa, working with fresh cut flowers, and then to Oak Hill Farms where he worked with Paul for a couple of years. In 1994 Paul referred him to Betty Kolstad, who was then running The Patch, and Lazaro signed on to work for her. The Patch at that point was mostly planted in corn with a few vegetables on the side. In 2003 when Betty decided it was time to do something new, Lazaro took over the operation, leasing the land from the Castellanos family, who raise Clydesdale horses down the block.

He made some changes. He started growing more tomatoes and less corn. He increased heirloom tomato production from two varieties in 2003 to 16 now, in addition to Early Girls and Beefsteaks. In a couple of weeks, Xochimilco tomatoes—his new favorite—will be ripe and in great demand. He also started growing a wider variety of squashes, onions, cucumbers, and eggplants as he saw what his customers wanted.

He started selling his produce at Farmers Markets in Sonoma, Santa Rosa, and Sebastopol. During the growing season he goes to more than five every week, in addition to organizing the work in the fields.
He brought his two brothers, Fernando and Vicente, to work with him and has a great team in the field harvesting the produce. In addition to The Patch, he grows flowers and peaches on 2½ acres that he and his family own in Santa Rosa where they live.

During the winter when The Patch doesn’t need his full attention, he finds other projects to keep him busy. Recently a large private school building across the street from his mother’s house in Mexico where he was raised came up for sale. He and his siblings as kids used to clean and sweep around the property for a little money and a Coca Cola. The owner of the school had always told them, “One day this could be yours.” When the owner was ready to retire, he offered them the school saying, “You are the right people to have it.” They bought the property and are now in the process of turning the school into a night club. He goes to Mexico at least twice a year to work out the arrangements and oversee the remodeling. He expects it to be open in a year or two.

Several things are clear from my conversations with him: in spite of the hard work and long hours, he loves what he does. He is in love with tomatoes. He loves to work this land which is so filled with history. He loves maintaning the tradition noted on his card which says The Patch: No Chemicals since 1870. He will continue to farm the land as long as the owners are willing to lease it to him.

We are the beneficiaries of Leo’s dedication, patience, and good humor, of Lazaro’s entrepreneurial spirit and huge capacity to learn and grow, and the team’s immense effort to nurture and tend this special plot of land. I, for one, am immensely grateful to all of them.

Cold Soups for Summer

1991: Moroccan Tomato Soup
I am inclined to try any recipe that has Morocco in the title. This was no exception. The result was well worth the effort. But faulty instructions in the original made the task more arduous than necessary. (A food mill with a large disk is no help whatsoever in removing tomato seeds; they go right through. Plus my tomatoes were reluctant to join the seeds in the bowl. So I found another approach—the Cuisinart.) I have worked out the instructions, at least to my own satisfaction, and now I’m ready to pass this delicious soup along to you. It is best made with good tomatoes, if it can ever stop raining or get warmer or get cooler. Take your pick depending on where you are in the country.

5 medium clove garlic, smashed, peeled and minced
2½ teaspoons sweet paprika or sweet smoky paprika
1½ teaspoons ground cumin
Large pinch of cayenne
4 teaspoons olive oil
2¼ pounds tomatoes, skinned* and cored
¼ cup packed chopped cilantro leaves, plus more for garnish
1 tablespoons white wine vinegar
Zest of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons salt and more to taste
4 stalks celery, finely diced
2 tablespoons water, if needed

1. In a small saucepan, stir together the garlic, paprika, cumin, cayenne and olive oil. Place over medium-low heat and cook, stirring constantly, for 5 minutes or until the garlic is soft. Remove from the heat and set aside.
2. Place the skinned tomatoes, pulling them apart a bit with your hands, in a food processor and whirl until smooth. Drain through a large sieve into a good-sized bowl to remove as many of the seeds as possible. Stir the liquid in the sieve with a rubber spatula until it is as dry as possible and you’ve extracted as much of the tomato goodness as you can, leaving the seeds behind. Occasionally wipe the back of the sieve with your spatula to release more of the tomato goodness.
3. Stir in the cooked spice mixture, cilantro, vinegar, lemon zest and juice, salt, celery and water, if necessary. Add more salt as desired.
4. Refrigerate until cold. Serve garnished with cilantro leaves.

*Skinning your tomatoes: I bring a medium pot of water to boil and one by one drop the tomatoes into the boiling water for about 10-12 seconds depending on their ripeness. I scoop the tomato out of the water, turn it stem side down, make a slit in the skin and peel the skin away. When I’ve finished the peeling, I cut out the cores.

4-6 servings depending on the size of the bowls
Adapted from Amanda Hesser’s article in The Sunday New York Times Magazine, July 2009; Barbara Kafka wrote the original article for The Times in 1991.

Yogurt and Cucumber Soup

I wish my photos for these soups were a little more appetizing. The photos don't do the soups justice. Sorry about that.

1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, and diced (can also use the seedless kind)
4 cups plain whole or low-fat yogurt
¼ cup chopped scallions
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
2 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon
2 cloves garlic, pressed
1 cup water, more if your yogurt is very thick
salt and pepper to taste

¼ cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
½ cup golden raisins, chopped if necessary
3 tablespoons dried rose petals, optional but so nice
Note: You can get these from a Middle Eastern store in your area. Zand’s on Solano in Albany is good for Bay Area folks.
1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint
1 pita bread, cut into ½ inch squares and toasted

1. Combine the cucumber, yogurt, scallions, mint, dill, oregano, thyme, tarragon, garlic, salt and pepper in a large mixing bowl. Mix thoroughly with 1 cup water and adjust the seasonings to taste.
2. Refrigerate several hours or overnight.
3. Just before serving, add the walnuts and golden raisins. Pour into individual serving bowls and sprinkle with rose petals, fresh mint, and toasted pita squares.

6 servings as a first course
Adapted from Najmieh Batmanglij in The New York Times Food Section