|Looks like dessert, but isn't.|
Two delicious dishes I cooked this week from Michael Solomonov's Zahav:
*The sugar/fat/salt/crunch combo in Solomonov's chicken pastilla cigars makes them even more lethally irresistible for some of us than actual cigars. Have you had b’stilla, that lovely, unusual Moroccan squab pie? This is that, deconstructed. You fry together some ground chicken, onions, fennel, cinnamon, and orange flower water. Roll this into filo dough cylinders (filo can be fussy and if it breaks, just patch and fake it), sprinkle with sliced almonds, bake, and sift some powdered sugar on top. You will enjoy.
*The risotto-like Israeli couscous with mushrooms and kale is another winner. Fairly easy, too. I added Parmesan cheese, which was a good move. I would also next time use the whole bunch of kale and more maitake mushrooms. The vegetables are where the flavors and nutrition is, so I say: maximize. My adaptation of the recipe is at the bottom of the post.
On another subject, I've been keeping a list of the books I've been reading and the other day I pulled it out. I have only finished two books in 2016! Very slow by my frenetic standards, but there’s a reason.
This is the reason:
Don’t be impressed. Anyone can do it if they are patient. Tolstoy isn't hard, just long. Starting War and Peace is like boarding an ocean liner and you need to settle in for a leisurely journey. I’ve been reading for weeks and weeks and there’s still no land in sight, but I'm not bored at all. Tolstoy's insights into the counts and countesses and scheming blackguards and high-strung maidens of the early 19th-century apply with deadly accuracy to men and women of 2016. Every page or so comes a moment when I stop and think: yes, this is exactly how people are! I’ve had that same subtly awful interaction before and never seen it described. I’ve disliked someone for precisely those reasons -- how did he capture it? And so on.
Here are the books I’ve finished. What a puny list:
So You’ve been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson. It could be you. It could be me. Ronson’s book reads like a long and chilling magazine article about the power of an internet mob to destroy the lives and livelihoods of unlucky individuals, many of whom have done nothing more egregious than post an ill-advised joke on Twitter. The book dampened my enthusiasm for blogging and if you read it you will understand why.
An Experiment in Criticism by C.S. Lewis. If you like to ponder the underpinnings of literary taste and often argue with a teenaged boy about the artistic value of comics, which he stubbornly insists are on a par with Tolstoy, this excellent book-length essay will help you frame your arguments. Or maybe just lay down your arms. Who knows? Instead of tackling the issue of whether a book is good or bad, Lewis says we should instead look at the way people who love the book read it. Over the years, I’ve read Experiment three times and I’ll probably read it again -- a sign that it is of high literary quality, per Lewis. I never got into Narnia, but this is an all-time favorite, a short, invigorating gem of a book that will make you feel instantly sharper. The title makes it sound daunting and dry, but it's not at all.
Finally, let me say a few more words about Role Models by John Waters. I’m almost done listening to the audio version, which I touted in the last post. I still recommend these funny, weird, warm-hearted essays, but I had forgotten just how sordid the chapter on outsider gay pornographers is. How sordid? Very sordid indeed, and maybe even nauseating unless you're on the same psychosexual plane as John Waters. I still think Role Models is a great book. I just don’t want anyone to get to the part about Bobby Garcia and shriek, "WTF, Jennifer?"
You’ve been warned.
Israeli couscous, adapted from Zahav
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. On a baking sheet, toss 2 cups Israeli couscous with 2 tablespoons olive oil and toast for 15 minutes or so, until golden. Meanwhile, warm 2 tablespoons olive oil in a skillet and add 1 grated carrot, 4 minced garlic cloves, and 1/2 cup chopped onion. Cook until softened but not browned. Add the couscous and stir well to coat in oil. Add 1/2 cup dry white wine (or vermouth) and 1 cup tomato sauce. Cook until the wine has evaporated and tomato sauce reduced. Add salt and pepper to taste. Heat 6 cups water (or chicken stock, but water is perfectly fine so why waste the stock?) in another pan and now start cooking the couscous a la risotto. In other words, add a 1/2 cup of the simmering water to the couscous and stir. When that is absorbed, add another half cup. Keep doing this until the couscous is tender, up to 40 minutes. (It went faster than this for me.) Meanwhile, in another skillet, heat another 2 tablespoons olive oil and add 2 cups coarsely chopped maitake mushrooms (or more) and 1/2 cup chopped onion. Cook until onions are soft and mushrooms have released all their liquid and begun to brown at the edges. Add a bunch of shredded kale and cook just until leaves are tender. Fold this into the hot couscous along with 3 tablespoons butter and some grated Parmesan -- as much or little as you want. Serve with additional Parmesan. Serves 6.