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May 19, 2021
Cooking Over Fire: Lessons From the Levant
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This week, the husband-and-wife team behind London’s Honey & Co. tell us about chasing the smell of smoke through the alleyways of Jordan and the markets of Egypt in search of the secrets of grilled food in the Middle East. Plus, pizza consultant Anthony Falco shares tips for making great pizza at home, Grant Barrett and Martha Barnette explain why we say “soup to nuts,” and we learn to make Honey & Co.’s recipe for Almond-Coconut Cake with Cherries and Pistachios.
This episode is brought to you by Sleep Number.
Questions in this Episode:
"I made sweet potato bread from leftover baked sweet potatoes. It was delicious, but there were chunks of potato in that that had turned green! Why is that and how can I stop that from happening?"
"My wife and I like to bake yeast breads and we recently moved to a new home, which is on a private well. We've noticed with our first few bakes in the new home that our dough has been underdeveloped. The well water is hard and we have a sodium ion exchange water softener. Could the additional sodium from the softener be affecting our fermentation?"
"I have a cast iron pan that I am working on seasoning. It looks great, but my litmus test is to fry an egg on it, and the eggs keep sticking. Are there some foods that are not appropriate to cook in cast iron?"
Christopher Kimball: This is Milk Street Radio from PRX. I'm your host Christopher Kimball, Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich. The husband and wife team behind London's Honey and Co restaurant, traveled around the levant to learn about Middle Eastern grilling from charred watermelon to smoke vegetables to rows of kebobs. Today they share their stories and recipes from their travels and tell us that no matter where they went, they were always welcomed in the kitchen.
Itamar Srulovich: I can't tell you of one occasion, that we were met with anything but complete and utter hospitality, generosity, friendliness. When you were curious about someone's food, they don't hold back they want to share you know, they feel respected and they give you so much and I think it's it's a really kind of life affirming experience.
CK: Also, coming up, we make ____recipe for cherry pistachio cake. And Grant Barrett and Martha Barnette reveal some of their favorite culinary sayings. The first is my interview with pizza consultant, Anthony Falco, from Mexico to India, Anthony has taught people around the world to make great pizza, his new book, Pizza Czar brings these lessons to the home kitchen. Anthony, welcome to Milk Street.
Anthony Falco: Hi. Thanks for having me.
CK: So, for someone who's pizza consultant, in your early days, your great grandmother, who was Sicilian, made great pizza, and you used to shout at her. I want Pizza Hut. So how did that work out?
AF: Yeah, I mean, I, I feel like the Pizza Hut pan pizza you know, I think it really did used to be better. And, I mean, I think it's very enticing, you know, between like, the advertising that's connected to cartoons and movies, and just the general overload of salt and fat and sugar that comes with these kind of things. There was never any mozzarella on my great grandmother's pizza. So, it was really just kind of vegetables and sauce and onions and breadcrumbs. And so, you know, now I think back on it, and I really wish I could eat that. And I don't eat Pizza Hut pan pizza anymore.
CK: Your quote, “you can spend a lifetime to manage your fire not bright enough”. And for those of us who've never operated a woodfired pizza oven, what's to know what's hard about it?
AF: I mean, it's it's very cool. I mean, it's there's no moving parts, you know, it's just a dome. And what's happening is when you're cooking the pizza, you're able to use like all the forms of heat that you need to cook a pizza. You place the pizza directly on the floor, so you get the conduction from the hot floor. And then there's the swirling hot air that's trying to escape the oven. And that's the convection. And then there's the radiant heat that's coming off of the open flame. And I would always when I was describing how to cook the pizza to new people, I would say you want to paint color onto the crust with the flame and so you rotate it and then move it towards the flame rotate it move it towards the flame and then you pull it out of the oven. And I mean, it's it's a thing of beauty, you know?
CK: So, you've consulted in Thailand, Tokyo, Portland, etc. and local ingredients are different the flour, for example. So, in Mexico, you end up using Casio right to sort of Mexican version of mozzarella.
AF: Well actually I made mozzarella when I was in Mexico City, we were able to get 30 liters of fresh raw milk from Puebla. And I mean, it was beautiful, and we turned it into fresh mozzarella. And we used flour from Mexico. Tamaulipas has the oldest olive groves in the new world. Mexican sea salt from ___ was fantastic. I mean, Mexico is, I think, one of the most important culinary countries in the world. And it's one of the few places when you're when you're making pizza that if you want to source everything from there, you could and I did, and it was great. So, I think the best part of when I travel is is that I get to hang out with restaurant owners and chefs, and we explore the local food and I try to have a conversation with what's happening locally through pizza.
CK: Flours. I mean the choice most people are looking at or should I use all-purpose or bread flour, so bread flours is usually the best?
AF: I like blending those two actually. You kind of get a little best of both worlds. You get some chew and strength from the bread flour and then you can get some tenderness and crispiness from the all-purpose. My recommendation for home cooks who are using this book is try to get something local if you can. There's really a you know revolution right now in in local milling happening. And just play around. I mean, you can make pizza with any flour really, I think as long as they're good quality flour, like never bleached and never bromated it is the most important thing.
CK: So, let's talk about temperature of dough. I played around with pizza alot, and I found it's critical, the dough gets up to like 75 degrees. Like if it's a cool kitchen and the dose in the 60s. It just never relaxes properly you don't get a good rise in the oven. Is that really critical or not?
AF: Well, I'd say time and temperature are are just as important as salt and yeast that you have to think of time and temperature as ingredients. I mean, you know, that's kind of the hard thing about writing a pizza cookbook that encourages people to use sourdough starters is that there's so many variables of you know, the temperature of the water, the temperature of the room, how much you get your hands in the dough, because your hands are hot. All that stuff is wildly different. So yeah, I think the most important thing to people who are going to use this book to make pizza is follow the recipes exactly as you can when it comes to like measuring things out. But it's a living thing, it's always going to be different. So, you have to watch it, and you have to listen to it. And you know, if the dough is growing, you need to lower the temperature. If nothing is happening, you need to either raise the temperature or just let it go longer. You know, I was working with a client in Manhattan, and we didn't have heat yet in the building. And so you know, we mixed the doughs, we shaped him and it was like, Well, you know, we're not putting these in the fridge. It's basically a fridge in this basement right now. It's just like in the low 60s, maybe 50s. And the next day, I came and looked at the doughs and they were like, looking pretty sleepy, they had not grown very much. But I was like well, alright, let's make a pizza. And like I checked about halfway through. And I was like oh, I mean it was it was a terrible pizza. It looked terrible. The flavor was terrible, the structure of the crumb, nothing good about it. It just it was too cold, and I hadn't had time to ferment that very same dough. We just left out again overnight. And then the next day, we made pizza with it. And it was fantastic.
CK: What about some styles of pizza you worked with around the world that are shockingly different than what we're used to here?
AF: I was never really like a pizza. purist. You know, like, I never ate pineapple on a pizza growing up. But when I was in Canada, they they wanted a pineapple pizza really bad. And I was like okay, well, like, let me just, we think about you know, why do people dislike pineapple on a pizza, you know, and it's mostly because they're using pizzerias or using like canned diced pineapple and sugar water. And then they're just putting it together with ham. So, it's like very one note, the texture is wet, and it's not really great. But you know, everybody loves tacos al pastor. So, there's a great example of savory execution of pineapple. That's delicious. So we roasted the pineapple whole and then pureed it and then dolloped it on with like a chili rubbed bacon and some jalapeno and cilantro and diced onions and mozzarella and tomato sauce. And it was amazing. So I think if, like one thing I've learned from traveling around the world is that if someone else enjoys something, there's got to be something there. Because pizza you know, may have been born in Italy, but it took the entire world to create pizza. You know, you have to have tomatoes from countless generations of indigenous people in Mesoamerica. And the water buffalo somehow came from India to Italy to make buffalo mozzarella. Basil also originally from India, you know, wheat originating from the Middle East. The only thing Italian really about pizza is the olive oil so pizza is the world's food. You know, the world gave it to us.
CK: Anthony, what a pleasure. Thank you so much for being on Milk Street.
AF: It's great talking to you, Christopher. Thank you so much for having me.
CK: That was Anthony Falco. His book is Pizza Czar: Recipes and Know-How from a World Traveling Pizza Chef. Now it's time for my co-host Sara Moulton and I, to answer some of your cooking questions. Sara is the author of Home Cooking 101. She's also star of Sara's Weeknight Meals on public television. Sara so if we ever get out of this COVID time, what's the first food experience you're going to have outside of your home?
Sara Moulton: Well, if absolutely be a restaurant because it's as you know, in a restaurant, it's not just the food but it's the whole experience of being waited on and the ambience of the restaurant. So no, it would be a restaurant unfortunately, one of my favorite new restaurants which was a couple blocks away from us closed almost immediately and place called Italian. We really loved the show I I've been there. They're all the neighborhood restaurants and it's not even like the best restaurants on the planet. But you know, it's this nostalgic place you used to go. So there's a French bistro called Le Singe, the monkey love that one. There's a Greek restaurant called Periyali that I would go to in a heartbeat. I really miss it. I love Retsina so I'd go I have a glass of retsina and another Italian one called I Trulli that I love very much. So those would be my
CK: I think I'm with you. I think after this is done, I think neighborhood restaurants are going to really resonate with people. Right. Yeah. Much more then maybe they did before it's that's where I want to go. I want to go to a neighbor. I want to support my neighborhood. Right. I also want to be in the neighborhood.
SM: Yes. The place you just walked to on a Saturday night
SM: Yeah. Oh, boy.
CK: Okay, let's take your call.
SM: Welcome to Milk Street who is calling?
Caller: Hey, guys, this is Christie Thorp from Union, South Carolina.
SM: Hi, Christy, how can we help you today?
Caller: I have a question about baking. I'm by no means an experienced baker. But I love sweet potatoes. So, I always bake them in batches. And I have some baked and I've tried a sweet potato bread. And so, the way I've made it, I just mashed potatoes just with a board. So, they're a little bit chunky. And then I just use a quick bit bread recipe put them in. And when I baked it when the bread came out, it was beautiful. But when I cut into it, there were chunks of sweet potatoes in the bread and they had turned green. And it didn't look beautiful. But it tasted wonderful. It was very good bread. I but I doubt you guys knew why those chunks turned green. And if there was something I could do to not have that happen. Wow. Well,
SM: Wow, well I think it has to do probably with some kind of oxidation. Sweet potatoes they have color changes when they're exposed to the air. That's all I can guess that has never happened to me. But I but then again, I don't make a whole lot of sweet potato bread. Chris?
CK: We’ve got to ask you a question wait a minute. We just have to ask you a question. So, you take it out of the oven, you slice into it, and they're big green chunks in the brain. Yes. And then you said it tasted delicious. Was there a moment in between the visual and the eating where you said, maybe I shouldn't eat this?
Caller: I'm going to be honest. I sniffed it first. (Okay). It passed the sniff test, so I just went for it
CK: Good for you.
SM: You brave woman?
CK: Man, you're after our own hearts. I agree with Sara that it's the pH and it can change color, but I don't understand why you said just the chunks turned green. (Yeah) the other stuff didn't. I guess maybe the other stuff. The pH was different in the batter than the chunks but that's kind of curious, I think.
Caller: I thought maybe I should blend them next time and just not have chunks at all, do you think that might be helpful?
CK: I think so. I think so.
SM: Yeah. I think whatever else was in the batter was balancing the pH.
CK: I think that's right
SM: where's the naked chunks where just doing their thing.
Caller: Hanging out.
SM: Yeah. I'm glad it tasted good, though. Yay. You brave woman
Caller: Well it did, so if you learn nothing else, you learn that green sweet potatoes tastes delicious. And I would highly suggest it
CK: Trust your nose. Yeah.
CK: it's green, but it smells okay.
CK: Trust your nose
CK: It’s green but it tastes ok
Caller: Well, I really appreciate you guys taking my call.
SM: Okay. Thanks, Christy.
Caller: Y'all have a good rest of your day.
SM: Welcome to Milk Street who is calling?
Caller: Hi, this is Tom Egan in Lambertville, New Jersey.
SM: Hi, Tom. How can we help you today?
Caller: So, my wife and I, we enjoy baking yeast breads and pizza dough, you know, making pizzas. We just moved to a new house. A couple of months ago, we've noticed in the new house that any of our fermentations they've been kind of underdeveloped. The big difference between the house we're in now in any place we've lived before is previously we were always on municipal water supply. In our current home, we're on a private well with pretty hard water and a water softener, sodium ion exchange water software. And I'm wondering if there's something about the well water or the softener that's the sodium that's being added that could be impacting the yeast or the fermentation?
SM: Yeah, it can absolutely hard water is more alkaline than soft water and it can definitely decrease the activity of the yeast. I don't know quite what you can do because that's the water you've got there. And I don't know what the alkalinity is of bottled water, but that might be something you would consider. Chris?
CK: Well, I think the wells haunted. Yeah.
Caller: I agree.
CK: I think look, this is built over an old graveyard or something. I agree with Sara that hard water is going to decrease fermentation. It might tighten the gluten up a little bit. It's calcium, magnesium in the water, that might make it harder for the flour to absorb water. And when flour and water mix, they crave gluten. So, one way around that is to two things, I would add more yeast, and you might start with a slightly wetter dough might increase the percentage. I don't know what you're using now, you know, 65% or 70%. water, but you might increase that to 70 to 75%, you know, an extra 5% to make more water available
Caller: Well, first of all, we are three doors down from a cemetery. So, I think your first theory might be on to.
CK: See! I knew, I knew it, I knew it
SM: Chris, what do you think about using bottled water?
CK: Yeah, I would definitely use bottled water, make sure it's set. You know, it's as an exorcism before you use it, of course, but I would use bottled water
Caller: When you say bottled, do you mean bottled mineral water or distilled?
CK: Distilled. It sounds like the doughs under hydrated and it doesn't have enough yeast activity. The other thing you could try is doing a poolish which is start the night before, a cup of flour, a cup of water, half a teaspoon of yeast, let that sit out on the counter overnight. And then you go ahead with the rest of the recipe.
Caller: So I think what I might try is making the poolish with my water softened, well water, (okay) and then maybe with the softener bypassed, and then also with distilled water and try them all side by side and see what happens
CK: The next day when you do the overnight poolish. What is that mixture look like when you get up in the morning and look at it?
Caller: Weakly bubbling. Like the first time we tried it. I actually thought maybe the yeast was old or bad. But then the second time we tried it, we tried it with a brand new jar of the Fleischman’s yeast. and it was the same result.
SM: I'd say just switch the water.
CK: Yeah, I'd switch the water. But if you want to do that, that side by side, I think that's really interesting.
SM: Let us know.
Caller: I will report back, and I'll say hi to the ghosts for you.
CK: You also better move while you're at it because this is just the tip of the iceberg. You have no idea what's coming.
Caller: No way I'm moving again. I'd rather figure out how to get along with the ghosts,
SM: Tell them who's in charge.
CK: Give them some bread.
CK: Tom it's a pleasure
SM: Yes. Thank you
Caller: Thank you both
SM: Take care. Bye.
CK: If you need help with a recipe or maybe sussing out a poltergeist, give us a ring our numbers 855-426-9843 one more time 855-426-9843 or email us at questions at MilK Street radio.com. Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?
Caller: Hi, it's Elizabeth. I'm calling from Warwick, Rhode Island.
CK: How can we help you?
Caller: My husband and I have a cast iron pan and he's been working on getting it seasoned. It looks great. Shiny, it looks like a skating rink almost. His litmus test for non-stickiness is to fry an egg on it. And the egg never seems to come clean. The other day he also tried scrambled eggs on it and it was a mess. So, are there are some foods that are not appropriate for using cast iron. Do you have a nonstick pan in the house?
CK: We do? The quick answer would be for eggs. Yes, you could use nonstick. I will say two things though. I have an eight-inch carbon steel, which I love. I find they if you season them properly, have a smoother surface. And I scrambled eggs all the time in my carbon steel pan. And they do not stick they come right out. So, I think they're better for eggs than cast iron, which is a little dicey. The other thing is when he uses it, does he always do one seasoning after every use? (Yes) Sounds like he knows exactly what he's doing. So yeah, I would say carbon steel is going to give you better results than cast iron. So in general cast iron is you're probably better off with saute’s and steaks and other things, Sara?
SM: Yeah, I think carbon steel was the original pan the French used for both omelets and crepes. So, I would agree with Chris. But I just wanted to ask you you did add some oil or fat to the pan before you cook the eggs. Right?
Caller: We did and actually that's another question we have for you is is it better to add the oil before you heat the pan or heat the pan and then add oil?
SM: Well, I think Chris and I disagree on this one. I'm of the school you heat the pan and then add the oil.
CK: No, no don’t do that. The reason we disagree is I think by putting the oil into the cold pan, you can tell when the pans at the right temperature by looking at the oil, it will start to ripple and then have a wisp of smoke.
SM: All I was going to say is that if you heat it and keep an eye on and then add the oil, I find that it gives a better seal to the pan and makes the pan more nonstick. So
Caller: So, Oh, okay.
SM: But I still agree with Chris, I think you want to get carbon steel for your eggs.
CK: We haven't asked one question, which is how much if I'm doing let's say two scrambled eggs, two eggs, I will add two tablespoons of oil olive oil to the pan and eight-inch pan. Sometimes I think Sara was onto this, you don't add enough oil to the pin. So, if I'm cooking and cast iron or carbon steel, I will use extra oil because that'll coat the surface of the pan between the food and the metal. So, when you have insufficient oil, that can be a problem and most of that oil doesn't get absorbed by the food anyway, it just sits in the pan. So, make sure you use a little extra as well. But I think we're agreed carbon steel is probably the way to go.
SM: I agree.
CK: Elizabeth, thank you.
SM: Thank you for calling.
Caller: Thank you so much.
Caller: Thanks. Bye bye.
CK: You're listening to Milk Street Radio. Up next it's Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich on cooking with fire. That's right up after the break. This is Milk Street radio. I'm your host Christopher Kimball. Right now, it's my interview with Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich. They're the husband and wife team behind the London restaurants Honey and Co, Honey and Smoke and also Honey and Spice for their latest book Chasing Smoke. They traveled around the Levant to learn the secrets of Middle Eastern grilling. Sarit and Itamar welcome to Milk Street.
Sarit Packer: Thanks.
Itamar Srulovich: Pleasure to be here. Thank you so much for having us.
CK: Let's start at the very beginning. Sarit you grew up in northern Israel. Was that in the in the Galilee Valley? Or where exactly did you grow up?
SP: Well, just outside of Haifa, and kind of more, I suppose a provincial part of it. So exactly halfway between Haifa and the Galilee, just kind of by the sea five minutes from the sea.
CK: And was that food just describe the food a little bit, it was sort of a combination of Arab cuisine.
SP: Yeah, so I think my life was quite mixed. Because I actually grew up in an English family, my parents are both from England and they move there before I was born. So we have this weird mix where at home, we would eat very English food. But whenever we went out and went up to the Galilee, or to any of our extended family on kibbutzim, in the Galilee and stuff like that, we would eat the local, mostly Arab food in the villages, you know, all the kind of salads and the grills and all of this stuff, and then come home and eat very English fair of like, you know, chicken pies. And you know, it was quite a mix.
CK: So what was that like between the wonderful local cuisine and then going back to, you know, chicken pies? Did you notice the difference at all?
SP: I mean, there is a difference. I mean, thankfully, my mom is she is an excellent cook.
Itamar Srulovich: She’s a fantastic cook
SP: you know, really even for the kind of English fare that you would think is quite horrible. She's a queen of seasoning and stuff like that. So, we never had horrible food at home, but I definitely remember this aspect of friends coming over and sniffing a jar of Marmite and being like, what are you eating this is horrible. But but for me, like there's as much charm in Marmite as there is in hummus but definitely had the excitement of these flavors and going out and the freshness of the food.
CK: That's a good maybe your next cookbook should be Marmite and hummus.
SP: there is you know, there is one in a supermarket here, Marmite, Hummus now, it's like a new thing. But also, it was a mix of like this new Israeli cuisine sometimes because on the kibbutzim, you will have like shared dining rooms, and that would be this kind of mishmash of foods that would come from diaspora of Jews eating or all kinds of things. So, you would have like American chicken next to Ashkenazi like chicken soup. It was a real mishmash of eating.
CK: Itamar you grew up in Jerusalem.
IS: Yes. The city on the hill. Yeah, this is where I'm from, which was again, it was like Sarit said, You are exposed to so many different traditions and cuisines in that, you know, you would have in the same building a family from Morocco and a family from Iran or from wherever and just that carrying their traditions with them. You know, we had a lovely Bulgaria neighbor would cook for us and we loved her food so much. So, you do have access to a lot of these very, very traditional cuisine in their Israeli slant. But my house, kind of my background was Yemeni and Egyptian. And this is the food that we had on on my mother's table on my grandmother's table. And of course, the food of you know, Jerusalem, which is east and west and everything in between.
CK: Could you give us a really short course, especially in Yemeni cuisine, I know their Yemeni bakeries in Tel Aviv. It's part of that, but could you just describe briefly what you know, to somebody who knows nothing about it? What it's like?
IS: Well, Yemeni cuisine is very, very economical cuisine. The flavor would come from spice mixes a lot as opposed to you know, meat or cheese or something like that. So we eat a lot of soups and stews that are beautifully seasons and spiced. We have a lot of pastry, a lot of bread. In our baking, we use a lot of Sumner a lot of clarified butter, and that kind of, you know, the richness, the flavor would come from that. And we would eat everything with hilbe which is fenugreek paste, and zhug which is a coriander paste. So, the flavoring is very high. But, you know, that is not it's not a rich cuisine, if you know what I mean.
CK: So, you both pass through the Ottolenghi Empire. And now you have three restaurants in London, Honey and Co etc. Do you want to just give me a thumbnail sketch of what Connie and CO is all about?
SP: Yeah, I think, well, we opened almost 10 years ago, Honey and Co and this was after we had managed quite a few kitchens. And like you say we went through Ottolenghi and we managed I managed the pastry, Itamar managed a couple of the different shops. And we wanted to go back a bit and do something a bit more personal and kind of the two of us in homey food. So, we found this little shop and it was so cute. And we just said we're just going to try and cook the food we eat at home and keep it quite casual. Like the plating isn't fancy. It's not fine dining, the portions are decent sizes, and we just wanted it to be a fun picture of this cuisine. And, and that's where it started. We didn't really have more of a plan in our heads if that makes sense.
IS: No, we just wanted to work. You know, without bosses really
SP: Yeah, we thought it would be so fun to just the two of us in the kitchen. And it kind of grew into slightly a monster Honey and Co and we a year in ended up with a book deal. And we were kind of bursting at the seams in this tiny little place. And we were turning away more people than we were actually seating and that felt really bad. The whole point was to feed people.
CK: Let's talk about your book Chasing Smoke. (yeah) Most people in the states think about barbecue or grilling in very American terms, which is big pieces of meat right? (Yeah) Your book is so different. In fact, the whole notion of grilling, it's just an entirely different concept than how we would imagine it here. So could you just talk about fundamentally how grilling works in the levant I mean around the Mediterranean? What's the basic concept because it's very different than here?
SP: It is very different. And I think first of all, you have to come from this place of understanding that it's about an every day, every meal, every occurrence and and kind of really casual. It's not about this big process of getting a whole animal and spitting it up and kind of turning it really slowly or you know, putting it in a massive smoker. This is about day to day like making kebabs making kofta’s just putting your corn on you know, you want to eat some corn, you put it on a barbecue, and you grill it and you you grill mushrooms and aubergine’s and everything. You know, it's just a way of cooking rather than
IS: a special occasion. Yeah, yeah. You know, so Sarit from her background on me. For mine. We love those grilling traditions of the Middle East, you know, the roasting lamb and aubergines and tomatoes. This is the food that we really, really love. And so, it was a real indulgence for us to do this book, just like it was an indulgence for us to do the restaurant. Honey & Smoke because this is the food that we want to cook. This is what we want to eat and just going to the source of that impulse, let's say, and going to see it on the ground in Turkey in Egypt and Jordan, and see what people of the region are doing on their barbecues was just incredible for us. And you know if we can bring a smidgen of this back to the west, and Wow, what a thing to do.
CK: Let's talk about equipment. You in some of the pictures in the book use that classic rectangular grill on legs. It's used in Mexico, it's used all over the Mediterranean, could you just describe basic equipment? Are you using wood or using charcoal? What kind of grill Do you use, etc.
SP: We use a very basic set of equipment. Actually, we don't even equipment is not even that necessary. Basically, you need a place where you can put either wood or charcoal, we do tend to actually grill food on charcoal, smoke it on wood. Rather than do the full cooking on wood, then usually you need like a good grid, I think or what would you call it in America?
CK: grill grate
SP: yeah, to sit on top of it. But that could be like in a fire pit in the ground or in just a regular square rectangle metal thing, a couple of air holes because you've got to get some air circulation going. But other than that, I mean on this trip we cooked in a wheelbarrow
IS: We cooked in an abandoned sink, we cooked in a barrel, we cooked in a ___ in the desert
SP: by the beach and the sand you know, just anywhere really, the idea is that if you can start a fire somewhere and you've got like a bag of charcoal or wood, then then you're good. You know,
IS: all you need is the simplest kind of metal square and a little bit of charcoal and you can do magnificent things with it. Really, really delicious food.
CK: Do you think it's important to be able to vary the distance between the grill grate and the fire? Or did you just adjust the fire?
SP: You just adjust the fire I mean, if you can, if you have one of these that adjusts amazing like use it definitely but we've kind of detached ourselves for more cooking used to be which is adjusting and moving and learning and smelling. And you know, the sight of things as they cook they change and it's just getting into the rhythm of it. And actually, when you eat a meal that you've cooked this way you have this sense of pride that's happening with it as well and excitement because it's not about pressing one button that's done all the calculation for you and how you get that chicken out of the oven perfectly roasted. Oh, you know, we cook whole cabbages on the grill and they had delicious You know, they're there. (I saw that) you know the flavor that comes out of this thing and you think oh my god, it's just the cabbage what's and then you eat it and you're like, Oh my god, I never realized something could have so much flavor with so little intervention.
CK: You did something else here in the book, wok cook tomatoes, and onions. In fact, you grilled tomatoes quite a lot for salads and things. That's not something that we think about doing here. Could you just talk about that?
IS: So, I think pretty much everywhere in the Middle East if you go to any kebab shop, you will either get a skewer of tomatoes and onions or if you order a meat skewer there would be tomatoes and onion laced through it. And this is kind of like almost like a vegetable side but also a salad. I can't quite explain it but very often it is the best bait you know it is because you would you know maybe you take your meat off the skewer you have your pita bread, you take the charred tomato smash it on the bread get your meat inside. If you have some tahini, you eat it with that, you know vegetables on the grill are just something really really special happen. On really really high heat
CK: Well, you're also grilling peaches, you're grilling watermelon. I mean let's talk about fruits,
SP: Fruits yeah, there's, you know pears everything like there's all these things I think what we really wanted to showcase is that it's not just about taking a piece of meat and putting it on fire so it's not you know, manmade fire thing. It's more about intensifying flavors. So figs figs on the fire are divine you know, it just brings out the kind of honey sweetness of it. But also, it's adding that extra element that the smoky the char, it just lifts everything and I think we do use a lot of fruit in our salads and especially try to really take pride in something that's coming into season. So, you know, we get excited by peach season by fig season and by watermelons and grilling watermelons. Oh my god, it's a revelation
IS: One of the best things you can do. It’s amazing
CK: Southern Turkey. I mean, people here don't think much about Turkey being such a varied place in terms of the food and the landscape. You said southern Turkey was just amazing.
SP: Oh my god. I mean, it should, should be the biggest tourist destination of the world like it's beautiful. So yeah, we were southern Turkey kind of, I suppose not that far from the border with northern Syria. Beautiful, mountainous, super, super fertile land. You know, there's just massive growth everywhere. So these rolling hills
IS: You feel like that the earth is just like exploding with produce, like even on traffic islands and by the side of the road you see these citrus trees like grapefruit trees with massive ridges, almost dripping down with goodness. I mean, Turkey is it's a huge country and so varied and it's a country with you know, very proud food tradition like on a par with the great food traditions of the world, you know, with French food and Japanese food. (sure) And where we've been in in southern Turkey in Gaziantep and Adana. You cannot describe the fruit, the vegetables, everything is just
SP: The pistachios, you know, they have like 200 grades of pistachios and the stuff that we eat in the UK and think ooh, these are nice pistachios they wouldn't even consider yeah, they wouldn't consider cooking with them because they are too they're like a grade that is just for export they would not bother eating them. We were lucky also to be there during Ramadan, which is just an explosion of excitement because come nightfall these restaurants come to life in you've never seen anything like it. I mean, these grills First of all, they're like, a mile long, or they're a whole side of a restaurant is a grill like a massive grill. It's blazing with this glorious fire, and everyone wants to eat at once because they've been fasting all day. And there's like, hundreds of skewers going on. It's really amazing.
IS: magical, magical.
CK: You mentioned this three-legged cast-iron pot from Africa.
CK: Pointer And you said it's now getting very popular in Israel. Could you explain it? Because that's something that we don't ever do here.
SP: Have you not got pointers, like is if they're not coming? I think it might be that the next big craze in America because basically it's it's like a, I suppose like a Dutch oven on legs. If you
IS: It looks like a witch's cauldron.
SP: Yeah, it does. doesn't it, I never thought about that, like a witch's cauldron.
CK: A Very small witch
SP: A small witch and a small cauldron/ Yeah, but three very thin, spiky legs, big bulbous pot on top from cast iron really heavy. And you put that on a fire pit. And it's a really great way to slow cook things in their own juices. So, you're adding very little water really. But it just traps everything in there and the flavors are just so intense.
CK: You did a lot of traveling for this book, Chasing Smoke was this a pilgrimage of sorts?
SP: It was a pilgrimage and sorts you know, we have these memories of of childhood where you've done a day trip and you're, you know, you're hungry. And it's the end and you look for this whiff of smoke, because you know that behind that whiff of smoke is something delicious. So that was kind of in our minds. It's like, let's look for that whiff of smoke. Because there's always something good at the end of that.
IS: For me, it's going to sound super cheesy, but you know, you need to end with a little bit of cheese don’t you, but we we were traipsing around the region. And we were very brazen in how we went into people's kitchens and how we tried everything and how we kind of, you know, we would go to a restaurant and go straight in the kitchen. I mean, we don't do it in our normal, everyday life. And we wouldn't be very sympathetic if someone did it in our restaurant but I can't tell you of one occasion that we were met with anything but complete and utter hospitality, generosity, friendliness. When you were curious about someone's food, they don't hold back. They want to share, you know, they feel respected, and they give you so much and I think it's it's a really kind of life affirming experience for me.
CK: Sarit, Itamar, thank you so much for being on Milk Street. I really, really enjoyed it. Thank you.
IS: The pleasure was all a pleasure for us
SP: Thank you so much for having us.
CK: That was Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich. Their book is Chasing Smoke: Cooking Over Fire Around the Levant. Most of us fire up the grill in the backyard to cook meat. But other people in the world think of grilling as an opportunity to cook virtually everything from eggs to eggplant and sweet potatoes to peaches from watermelon to lettuce. And instead of using $500 grills, cooks around the world turn to holes in the ground or maybe even wheelbarrows. So, it's a pretty good reminder that you don't need stuff to cook you just need fire. This is Milk Street Radio. We just chatted with Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich from London's Honey & Co and now we're going into the kitchen with Lynn Clark to make one of my favorite recipes from their restaurant, almond coconut cake with cherries and pistachios. Lynn, how are you?
Lynn Clark: I'm great, Chris.
CK: You know, I'd like fruitcakes. I'm not ashamed to admit this on public radio. But a lot of people are not fans. But they're fruitcakes and their fruitcakes. So maybe we could talk about a very different take on fruitcakes that I think people would actually love.
LC: Well, this take on fruitcake is from Honey & Co. It's an almond coconut cake with cherries and pistachios. It uses fresh fruit, which is a little bit different than a typical fruit cake to make a really pretty cake, but also kind of rustic with a lot of complex flavor.
CK: So, this isn't something that you let sit you know, you make it in October and eat it at Christmas. This is a one-layer cake you can eat right away, right?
LC: Absolutely, it comes together so quickly. It's a really simple mixing method you're just mixing wet and dry ingredients together. There's coconut in with the dry ingredients. In with the wet ingredients are two types of sugar. almond extract, they use something called mahlab, which comes from the seed of a cherry has that sort of bitter almond flavor. So, we're using almond extract in our version. And in the cake, there's also almond flour, not just all-purpose flour, so it makes a really moist and tender cake. And then it gets topped with that fruit. So really nice balance between the sweetness from the cake and the nuttiness from the almond flour and the almond extract.
CK: You see almond flour popping up quite a lot in baking and rye flour too because I think it adds all-purpose flour does doesn't have a lot of taste.
LC: It doesn't have a lot of taste and it also adds a lot more moisture, especially a not flour. So makes the cake stay really nice and moist, even for a couple of days after you make it.
CK: So, it's a one or two bowl cake. You don't have to use a standing mixer, right?
LC: No, definitely not just whisk everything together. Once you put it in the cake pan, you just tear the cherries right on top of the cake and put them on top all the juice from the cherries as you kind of tear them apart, soaks into the top of the cake to then top it with some roasted unsalted pistachios bakes for about 50 minutes at 350. And then you can actually turn the cake out. You wouldn't think you could do that with all that delicious stuff on top, but it gets so nicely embedded into the cake to turn it out. Let it cool. slice it up. It's so nice and moist
CK: I like the tearing the cherries apart
LC: It’s fun
CK: It sounds like something I would really enjoy. So, almond pistachio coconut cake with cherries and pistachios from honeycomb in London. Even if you don't love fruitcake, you're going to love this cake. Thanks, Lynn.
LC: You're welcome Chris. You can get this recipe for almond coconut cake with cherries and pistachios at Milk Street radio.com
CK: This is Milk Street radio coming up Grant Barrett and Martha Burnette tell us why we can have our cake and eat it too. We'll be right back. I'm Christopher Kimball, you're listening to Milk Street Radio. Now it's time for some culinary wisdom from one of our listeners.
Caller: Hi my name is Lauren Thomas. Here's my tip. Last weekend I happened to be listening to Milk Street and I heard someone ask what to do about banana peels and then of course of conversation they to get the drying banana bacon. Having decided not to eat bacon. I tried it. It was really amazing is good. It's light and it tastes like bacon. scraped a banana peel of all the white stuff. Marin added in soy sauce and smoky paprika. I let it sit for overnight actually, and then fry it. And it was really a delicious way of using my organic banana peels. Thank you.
CK: If you'd like to share your own cooking tip or suggestion on Milk Street Radio, please go to 177 Milk Street .com slash radio tips. Next up is Grant Barrett and Martha Burnette hosts of A Way with Words. Grant, Martha how are you?
Martha Barnette: We’re great
Grant Barrett: Fantastic. How are you?
CK: I'm good. I'm always in a quandary about words. And that's why you guys are here.
MB: That's what we’re here for
GB: Food words. We’re here for lunch. And to tell you a little bit about words and language like go hand in hand. The first thing on our mind is the proof is in the pudding. And this is the idea that you can't know a good thing until you try it.
MB: It's kind of a confusing phrase. But it's not so confusing. If you know the history of the phrase, the longer form of this phrase is the proof of the pudding is in the tasting, or later, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. And when we talk about pudding here, we're not talking about the custard like dessert that we enjoy on this side of the pond. We're talking about a kind of sausage and proof here in this expression means test, not evidence. And so, the idea is you can't know how good or bad a thing is until you try it.
CK: I mean, everything was a pudding at one point, right? They used to boil things in intestine and stomachs
GB: Yeah, that's the kind of pudding we're talking about intestines stuffed with ground meat and spices and leftovers of other meals and things like that. And this goes back to the idea goes back to about the 1300s. But this form of the expression dates from about the 1600s. And there are parallels in other languages too. Don Quixote, for example.
MB: Yeah, in Don Quixote, there's the phrase Alfredo de los huevos se frien, which means you'll see when the eggs are fried.
CK: Oh, that's so poetic.
MB: Isn’t it? I think it's lovely. You know, don't judge an egg before it's fried.
GB: And in Italian, you might test the cake, you might try the cake or the torta. And that leads us to the other expression we've been thinking about today, which is to have your cake and eat it too.
MB: Yes. Which is also one of those confusing phrases that's kind of fossilized in the language. But again, makes more sense if you know its history. I mean, a lot of people wonder why it's not you can't eat your cake and have it too. And it's, you know, I mean, if you think about it, you can have your cake and eat it. You can have it for a while, and then you can eat it
CK: Now, wait a minute, this expression makes no sense. Like, who is going to have a birthday cake and have it sit around for three weeks and not eat it
MB: Miss Havisham, maybe oh, no that was a wedding cake. Wrong cake
CK: I’m not going to sit around with a wedding dress in the dark. You know, if you have a cake, you eat the cake. So, I don't, I don't get it but
GB: Well, there's two different things to take away from this expression. One is that you can't have something both ways. But also, things that we appreciate should sometimes be used and enjoyed. So, and this goes not just for cake, but for money or nice clothes, or have you ever bought a new car and then didn't want to drive it because you were afraid to have that first ding that it would get. It's kind of applies to all of those things.
CK: Well, it's I guess its fish cut bait to have a bad analogy, but I mean, you got to do one or the other. So, like, let's just eat the cake and not worry about having it. There we go
MB: Just eat dessert first. Right
CK: Just eat the cake
GB: Yeah, (simplify) And there's a British expression that's similar. It's an old one. They want their cake and their hay Penny too, meaning they want the treat, but they also want to keep their money. And you might say that of a miser. Somebody who's a penny pincher.
MB: Yeah. And we could be talking about all kinds of expressions like this all day long. We could go from soup to nuts, couldn't we Grant?
GB: Yeah, absolutely. And Chris, what do you think of when we say soup to nuts? Do you think of a hardware store?
CK: Since I was born in the Victorian age, at least, emotionally, it's about it's about those 12 course meals when you start with soup and you end up after with fruit and nuts a meal. Okay?
GB: That's right. But a lot of people think of hardware stores. I think various hardware chains have used slogans like that over the years that they think of those kind of places that sell everything, dry goods and car parts and tools and wedding dresses and snow tires and everything.
CK: Well, wait, wait, are there hardware stores in your neighborhood Grant that sell car parts and wedding dresses?
GB: I was being hyperbolic.
CK: I'd like to go to that store.
MB: And you know, there was a similar idea in ancient Rome, there was the expression of Ab ova usque ad mala, which means from the egg to the apple and that reflects the kind of fancy Roman meal you'd have with eggs at the beginning and an apple at the end to finish it off.
GB: And sometimes if people are speaking fancy English, they might just say Ab ova alone meaning from the egg or from the start. So, you'll find it sprinkled in text where somebody is trying to impress you with their learned ness
CK: that doesn't have to come from the Roman feast wouldn't the egg, right is the beginning of Life?
GB: no, of course not
MB: I think it is the chicken
CK: the chicken or the egg or whatever. Soup to Nuts Of
GB: Soup to Nuts of course shouldn't be confused with the slang term soup and fish. Do you put on your soup and fish when you go to a fancy dinner Chris?
CK: You know, I, I think of myself as fairly well read. But I've never heard that. What does that mean?
MB: It refers to men's formal evening where you don't hear that that much. But that expression is still floating around.
GB: Yeah, you'll find it in historical novels or period movies, that sort of thing. Interestingly, soup to nuts dates to about the mid 1800s in British newspapers talking about how fast Americans eat. They talk about an American who could run through a multicourse meal in 10 minutes. They killed soup to nuts in 10 minutes. We were known to be uncultured eaters, even then, we would not sit down and have the three-hour meal like the Europeans and the British would
CK: Well, this reminds me of Bernie Wooster right in Jeeves and Wooster
CK: He always used to say he was like, go out to dinner put on the old feed bag, which I thought was was just a great expression. Right.
GB: I would not be surprised if soup and fishes is in the Bernie Wooster novels
CK: Graham and Martha thank you from soup to nuts. It's been great.
GB: Thanks Chris
MB: Thanks for having us.
CK: That was Grant Barrett and Martha Barnette hosts of A Way with Words. If you're tuned into later, just want to listen again. You can download and subscribe to Milk Street Radio on Apple podcast Spotify wherever you find your podcast. To learn more about Milk Street please go to 177 Milk Street.com. There you can download each week's recipe. Watch the latest season of our TV show or order our latest cookbook, which is Tuesday Nights Mediterranean. You can also find us on Facebook at Christopher Kimball's Milk Street on Instagram and Twitter at 177 Milk Street. We'll be back next week and thanks as always for listening.
Christopher Kimball's Milk Street Radio is produced by Milk Street in association with GBH Executive Producer Melissa Baldino. Senior audio editor Melissa Allison. Producer Sarah Clapp and Jason Turetsky. Production assistant, Amelia Maguire, intern Emily Kunkel and production help from Debby Paddock.
Additional Editing by Sidney Lewis audio mixing by Jay Allison at Atlantic public media in Woods Hole Massachusetts. The music by to Toubab Krewe additional music by George Brandl Egloff. Christopher Kimball's Milk Street Radio is distributed by PRX