The Homemade Kitchen

The Homemade Kitchen - Vegetal MattersThere are different ways to fall in love with a cookbook. Sometimes it happens slowly, as one recipe after another is tasted and proves itself. Sometimes it happens from a distance, as the book is hard to find, or always wrapped in plastic on the shelf at the bookstore (Thailand: The Cookbook, I pine for you). Sometimes the love happens in your arms but before a single recipe has been cooked. The Homemade Kitchen is Alana Chernila’s (of Eating From the Ground Up) second book, and though we’ve only been together a week the feelings are strong.

Alana’s first book, The Homemade Pantry, is about making many common items you would buy packaged from scratch. The book is arranged by aisle in the grocery store, and includes basics like yogurt and ricotta, condiments and spice mixes, and introductions to basic processes like fermenting and canning. Besides the empowerment you achieve by making things you previously bought, the outcomes are truly above and beyond anything from the store. The ricotta cheese recipe is truly life-changing. The end product is creamier and more velvety than I knew was possible, and a completely different food from the stiff and vaguely grainy options  I’ve bought before. Car snack 3 (the nutty granola bar) is a chocolate=y bar full of oats and nuts with a salty top that is everything I’ve ever wanted in a granola bar and never been able to buy. Each recipe has two names: ‘potato chips or the strangest thing in the garden,’ ‘macaroni and cheese or what holds us together,’ ‘chicken nuggets or at least it’s protein.’ These titles lead into honest stories about becoming a young parent, moving home to Western MA to start a family, and defining herself as a cook and writer. This cookbook is just about as good as having a great friend in the kitchen to tell you stories and praise your food.

The Homemade Kitchen is much in the same vein. Alana works with each recipe to instill confidence in the kitchen, but also as one shops and makes choices about food. What we eat is increasingly a political statement, and her push is to know what you’re eating but also have the freedom to choose what is right for you to eat. What we eat is a choice, and one that we make multiple times a day, every day. In the introduction Alana reflects on home cooking and says ‘Not only do I get to eat what I’ve made, I also get to delight in my ability to create it.’ This is exactly what keeps me returning to the kitchen to try new recipes or put together a dinner puzzle from forgotten fridge items. I have to eat every day, and yes I could easily rely on someone else for my subsistence, but I get so much more joy from doing it myself.

The book is grouped into chapters under positive phrases. ‘Be a beginner’ is about never being afraid to learn new things and the very basics of the kitchen like cooking an egg and roasting vegetables. ‘Be active’ is about fermentation, ‘use your scraps’ is recipes that make something out of food scraps, ‘be helpful’ are dishes to pass along to someone in their time of need. Each of these chapters starts with a short essay, and my favorite is the beginning of the chapter ‘do your best, and then let go.’ Alana writes about the challenges of the organic label. There is a lot of good that comes from it of course, but also expense and elitism. Wanting to ensure your food is as pure as possible is a goal for many, the reality is for most of us we can’t know the life of every item we eat: ‘In the end, my priorities are as complicated and in flux as the food system that feeds me. I do the best I can, and then I let go.’ As Alana also says, labels are important, but they can be hard to live by for everyone. The reminder that we shouldn’t judge others’ eating habits is an important one, and our system and the choices we can make within it are increasingly complicated. As the rest of the book echoes, eat what feels right to you.

The Homemade Kitchen - Vegetal MattersI haven’t made any recipes from The Homemade Kitchen yet.  I’m most excited to try out some of the bigger projects, like making tofu and feta cheese. The preserved lemon hummus, braised lamb shanks, a muffin formula with many adaptations, and fettuccine with preserved lemon and roasted garlic are also jumping off the page to me. (Can you tell I have a jar of preserved lemons in the fridge I bought for one recipe and need helping using the rest of?) The photos in the book are lovely, but my favorite is this one for fettuccine with preserved lemon and roasted garlic. Just a bite left on the plate, but you still get a feel for exactly what the dish is (and how delightful it was to eat). This is the kind of cookbook you turn to when you need to figure out a dinner out of things you already have on hand, or want to host a crowd without lots of stress or money.  The recipes and stories will be a mainstay in my kitchen, and I’m sure of that before the cooking even happens (sometimes you just know).

Persiana and Turkish White Bean Salad

Turkish White Bean Salad - Vegetal Matters
You know what is better than a giant cookbook collection? A free giant cookbook collection. I usually end up with at least one cookbook borrowed during my weekly library trips. I hadn’t requested any new ones last week (the week before it was Paletas), but I took a quick look at the new non-fiction and Persiana by Sabrina Ghayour practically jumped into my arms. I looked through it during navigation breaks on this weekend’s road trip to upstate New York and planned out a summer’s worth of meals from its pages. Middle Eastern food is the theme, and the book is full of fresh vegetable and herb salads, hearty grains and legumes, warmly spiced meats, and varied mezze. A small sampling of recipes on my list are the Hummus, which incorporates chickpea cooking liquid, Smoked Eggplant Salad (ok, every eggplant recipe), and Tomato Salad with Pomegranate Molasses. The salads entice me most, as they are all simple but with lovely herb and spice combinations that excite me way more than my usual repertoire.

Turkish White Bean Salad - Vegetal Matters

Our last stop before home was the grocery store to grab some cans of white beans, an onion, and a lemon to make this salad. Cooking upon returning from a road trip is not usually an activity I jump to, but this was just a quick assembly and made me feel so much better then relying on someone else for a meal again after a weekend of eating out. I also took the basic concept of Ghayour’s fattoush dressing which is just lemon juice, olive oil, and sumac to make a salad with lettuce from the garden that grew like wild while I was gone. I’ve made many a lemon vinaigrette, but the sumac added a more nuanced sourness and lovely red flecks all over the lettuce (and (I’ve already made it again since). I also made the Eastern-Style Focaccia which took 2 hours start to finish and was full of cumin, coriander, sumac, and thyme, and Pistachio and Feta Dip to go along with it, which was as easy as throwing everything in a food processor (and an excellent use of the disappointingly unsalted pistachios I accidentally bought for road snacks). Persiana hasn’t been in my possession for long, but I already feel this book should be added to the my house library.

Turkish White Bean Salad (Piyaz)

Slightly adapted from Persiana

This salad is delicious leftover, but the Aleppo pepper does tint the dressing red after it sits for a while. If you are serving this to entertain, toss just before serving. Serves 4 as a light dinner or lunch, 6 as sides.

  • 3 cups cooked white beans, rinsed (2 14-oz cans)
  • 1 cup thinly sliced red onion (mine was from half a large onion weighing ½ a lb)
  • 2 teaspoons Aleppo pepper flakes (or 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes)
  • ½ cup flat leaf parsley, chopped (about a large handful)
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice (or juice of 1 lemon)
  • 3 tablespoons tahini
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • fresh ground black pepper

Mix the beans, onion, Aleppo and parlsey in a large bowl. Put the rest of the ingredients in a smaller bowl and whisk until smooth. If it seems stiff, add a teaspoon of water at a time until the dressing is pour-able but still on the thick side. Pour the dressing onto the bean mixture and toss carefully to coat.