On the Radio — WHYY’s The Pulse

Update: Here is a link to the complete story, including audio of the broadcast, at WHYY’s Newsworks.org.

Do you remember last month when I gave that talk about fermentation at Philadelphia’s Science on Tap? What I didn’t tell you then was that Lari Robling, reporter from WHYY — our local NPR station — was in attendance. She interviewed me for a piece she was working on about the current popularity of fermented foods, and she taped a little bit of my lecture.

Well this Friday — May 16 — Lari tells me that the piece will finally air.

On the Radio -- WHYY's The Pulse

If you are in Philadelphia, tune into WHYY’s science and technology program, The Pulse, at 9:00AM on Friday or 10:00AM on Saturday to hear what we had talked about.

Or, if you’re not local, check out this page to see the story online. It should be available at the same time as — or perhaps directly after — the story goes live.

Buff-Crested Bustard, and Friends

No food here, alas.  But I cannot resist posting these photos from yesterday’s trip to the McNeil Avian Center at the Philadelphia Zoo.

This guy’s a buff-crested bustard, and the strangeness of his appearance is outstripped only by the strangeness of the noise he makes.

Buff-Crested Bustard

And this guy — I don’t even know. But he was awfully friendly and liked having his picture taken.

McNeil Avian Center, Philadelphia Zoo

There’s something singularly magical about a zoo experience where there are no barriers between you and the animals. Even if it is limited to just a few birds.

Fermented Radish and Cucumber Salad

Folks often ask me — Adam, they ask, it’s great that you make all of these lacto-pickles, or fermented vegetables, or whatever. But what do you do with them once you have them? And then they’re disappointed, and they make a face, and their curiosity kind of turns off when I tell them the truth — that mostly what I do is eat them for breakfast. Straight-up. Without any additional preparation at all.

So I’ve been thinking about other things I can do with lacto-pickles — or at least other things that I can tell people that they should do that won’t disappoint them, or weird them out, or abruptly end the conversation. And that’s how I came up with this salad.

Fermented Radish and Cucumber Salad

A little while ago, as you might recall, I posted this recipe for pickled watermelon radishes. They were the ones that smelled so — well, they stank as they fermented.

They’re delicious — sweet and savory and a little bit piquant — now that they’re done. And diced, and tossed with slices of seedless cucumber, they make a perfect salad. It’s invigorating, and cooling, and — once it finally warms up — it will be a great early-summer treat.

Here are the ingredients:

3 Seedless Cucumbers, sliced into discs
10-12 Slices of Pickled Radish (or other fermented root veg), diced fine
A Pinch of Nutritional Yeast
Olive Oil
Pepper
Salt
A Thin-Sliced disc of Lemon, for garnish

No instructions necessary. Just toss, then plate, then eat.

In Which Falstaff Muses on Sherry

This April, of course, marks the 450th birthday of William Shakespeare.  And what better, more Twice Cooked appropriate way to celebrate than to dredge up a few of the venerable Bard’s thoughts on the subject of sherry.  Sherry is a beverage for which I have a particular love.  And so too, it turns out, does Falstaff.  Here is what he has to say on the subject in Henry IV, Part II:

A good sherris sack hath a two-fold
operation in it. It ascends me into the brain;
dries me there all the foolish and dull and curdy
vapours which environ it; makes it apprehensive,
quick, forgetive, full of nimble fiery and
delectable shapes, which, delivered o’er to the
voice, the tongue, which is the birth, becomes
excellent wit. The second property of your
excellent sherris is, the warming of the blood;
which, before cold and settled, left the liver
white and pale, which is the badge of pusillanimity
and cowardice; but the sherris warms it and makes
it course from the inwards to the parts extreme:
it illumineth the face, which as a beacon gives
warning to all the rest of this little kingdom,
man, to arm; and then the vital commoners and
inland petty spirits muster me all to their captain,
the heart, who, great and puffed up with this
retinue, doth any deed of courage; and this valour
comes of sherris. So that skill in the weapon is
nothing without sack, for that sets it a-work; and
learning a mere hoard of gold kept by a devil, till
sack commences it and sets it in act and use.

My Favorite Mayonnaise

Here’s the deal with mayonnaise: it should not be shelf stable at room temperature. I stare out at a landscape painted gloppy white with Hellman’s, with Best Foods, with — *shudder* — Miracle Whip, and I wonder not at all why I’ve passed on the mayo for most of my life.

Mayonnaise is a raw egg emulsion. Raw. Egg. Emulsion. Nothing about those three words implies that processing it such that it can live next to the tinned beans is in any way okay. And whatever process gets used to make it okay, I imagine, must be the same one that drains it of all its joy and savor.

Mayonnaise is one of the classic French sauces, people. It should taste better than this.

And it can. Making it at home takes about ten minutes in total. You can flavor it how you want. And once you eat the real thing, you’ll never, ever want to go back.

My Favorite Mayonnaise

This is my favorite variation:

1/2 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/2 cup Vegetable Oil
1 Egg (fresh as you can manage — this is a raw-egg kind of deal)
1 Clove of Garlic, crushed and minced
1/2 tsp Dried Tarragon
Juice of Half a Lemon
Dash of Hot Sauce (it brightens the flavor)
Pepper
Salt

To a four-cup Pyrex, add the egg, garlic, tarragon, pepper, and a little salt, and whip on high with an electric beater. While you’re whipping, very slowly drizzle in the oil, allowing time between each drizzle for it to fully incorporate. By the time you’ve incorporated about half the oil, you should notice the mayonnaise thickening. By the time it’s all in, you’ll find it has a slightly thicker consistency than what you find in a jar.

When all the oil has been incorporated, add the lemon juice and hot sauce, mix thoroughly, and then add more salt to taste. Cover, and refrigerate for at least two hours before serving to give the flavors time to gel.

Like I said, this is a raw egg emulsion. So while it will taste — like — a bazillion times better than the mass produced stuff, you may still want to skip it if you’re immunocompromised.

(I’ve offered a similar recipe before here.  But this one is better!)

Science on Tap – Culturing Food: History, Health, and Fermentation

Science on Tap - Culturing Food: History, Health, and Fermentation

Don’t forget, folks — this is happening on Monday, April 14, at 6PM. My talk at Science on Tap.  If you’re in Philly, and if you’re around, come on out to the National Mechanics bar on South 3rd St. to hear me talk about fermentation as a science and a technology.  There will be pickles!  There will be bread!  There’s going to be a healthy dose of The Epic of Gilgamesh, and even a little bit of the Bible thrown in for good measure!

(I can talk about the Bible in a science lecture, right?  That won’t get me thrown off the stage?)

Anyway: the talk is free.  The bar is great.  You’ll need to pay for your food and drinks, but National Mechanics does all that stuff super well.

If you come by, say hello.  I’d love to meet you.

Today’s Special, on YouTube

Back when I lived in Bloomington, one of my favorite lunch spots was an Israeli restaurant, not too far from the edge of the Indiana University campus, called Falafels of Jerusalem.  They were a hidden treasure amid the bars of Kirkwood Avenue, featuring killer sandwiches, lamb scented with cumin, and shakshouka so good that it was always a struggle to order anything else.

The owner was the husband of a fellow graduate student in the Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology — which, I admit, suggests a certain kind of bias in me.  But what I can say that I think will convince you is this:  after six years in Philadelphia, there are only two restaurants that I really miss from my time as a Hoosier; one is the Runcible Spoon — which is certainly the platonic ideal of breakfast places; and the other is Falafels.

At any rate, Shai — the owner — and his wife — the folklorist — headed back to Israel at about the same time that I left for Philadelphia.  And as these things go, I lost track of them for a while.  But today — oh, today — a voice from out of the blue (by which I mean Facebook blue) pointed me toward this:

This is vegan shawarma, the first installment of Shai’s new series of cooking videos on YouTube.  So far, he’s also got hummus, schnitzel, vegan spicy sauce (which seems very close to my very favorite thing at Falafels), and a few more.

Without reservation, I would recommend that you subscribe to his YouTube Channel, which he calls Today’s Special.  If you like Mediterranean cuisine — which, don’t we all? — it will make you very happy, and very hungry.

Watermelon Radishes: In All the Colors of the Rainbow

For all their stunning beauty, watermelon radishes emit a pungent, offensive odor as they ferment. It’s the sort of smell that might make you turn around and ask yourself: is it possible that I’ve stepped in something?

But mature, they are pink, and pleasant, and piquant. And flavored with garlic, hot peppers, and star anise, I have no doubt that they will be an excellent addition to the edible menagerie of living foods that are slowly taking over the fridge.

Pickled Radishes: In All the Colors of the Rainbow

Pickled Radishes: In All the Colors of the Rainbow

The recipe is as follows:

About 8 Watermelon Radishes (sliced thinly into semicircles)
1 1/2 quarts Brine (filtered water, plus 3 tbsp of Sea Salt)
2 Cloves of Garlic
1 Star Anise Pod
Dried Hot Peppers and Black Peppercorns to taste

To put it all together, have a look over at this post about Lactofermented radishes from a couple of years ago.

And enjoy!

Spring is here!

Philadelphia’s weather report may call for one last coughing gasp of snow on Tuesday, but in my house, it’s feeling particularly vernal.  The first seedlings — cucumbers, I think — have pushed their little heads up out of the soil.  And the tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants are following hard on their heels.  I would never tempt fate by making a bold prediction.  But if things continue on course, the state of Sarah’s garden may signal tasty times ahead.

Spring is here! Our first seedlings of 2014

Here’s hoping. (Knock on wood.)

Randall Munroe’s New “What If” Book

New book!

For the second time in a fairly short span, I’m going to push a book at you that is mostly unrelated to cooking, or eating, or politics. I don’t know if you are all aware of Randall Munroe, author of the geeky-chic, totally amazing, thoughtful, incisive, and hilarious XKCD web comic. But if you’re not, you should be. And you should know that he’s writing a book!

Grown-ups, by Randall Munroe
From XKCD, not What If? But the joy of this particular strip expresses some how how I feel about Randall Munroe writing a book.

It’s not an XKCD book, exactly. It is based on his equally thoughtful blog, “What If?” in which he provides serious scientific answers — mostly based in physics — to all kinds of crazy questions that readers send him. My favorite from way back in the blog’s early days is called “Everybody Jump,” and it answers the pressing question: What would happen if everyone on earth stood as close to each other as they could and jumped, everyone landing on the ground at the same instant?

At any rate, the book is called What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions. And you can click on the title to pre-order. Or, if you prefer, Mr. Munroe has some links to where else you can get it over on his website.