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Cookbook author Durkhanai Ayubi tells us how the Silk Road shaped the food and history of Afghanistan, from Mongolian dumplings to the life-changing braised eggplant at her family’s restaurant, Parwana. Plus, we sample Cajun seafood from the coast of Louisiana with chef Melissa Martin; Adam Gopnik waxes poetic about New York’s greenmarkets; and we make a dish inspired by Palestinian maftoul.
Questions in this Episode:
“I am deep into a project transcribing my grandmother’s handwritten recipe book which dates from the 1910s to the 1930s. Her recipe for nut bread says to let the batter rise for 45 prior to baking. Why would she tell me to let a baking powder quick bread rise?”
“I’ve been researching a lot of recipes for chicken and dumplings. I’ve noticed some recipes call for stock, and some call for just boiling a whole chicken. Is it always better to use stock over water, or are there times where using water is preferable?”
“I recently bought a jar of duck fat but I really don’t know what to do with it. Can you give any suggestions? I listen to the show and get inspired to try different things but I’m not sure about this one.”
“I never drink milk or have it in the house, but I use it for baking. What’s the best way to keep milk around so I don’t have to run out and buy it every time I want to bake something?”
Christopher Kimball: Hi, this is Christopher Kimball. Thanks for downloading this week's podcast. You can go to our website 177milkstreet.com to stream our television show, get our recipes or take our free online cooking classes. Enjoy the show.
CK: This is Milk Street Radio from PRX, I'm your host Christopher Kimball. Today we're chatting with cookbook author and restaurateur Durkhanai Ayubi about the history and food of Afghanistan. It includes fragrant spice blends, intricate rice dishes, and her restaurant’s life changing braised eggplant.
Durkhanai Ayubi [clip]: We would go through 500 kilos of eggplant in four days. So that's how much people love our eggplant and how much it's become a central piece of our lives, which is really lovely, because it's a good vegetable.
CK: Also coming up, we prepare a dish inspired by Palestinian maftoul. And Adam Gopnik explains why shopping at the green market is his favorite aspect of city living. But first it's my interview with Melissa Martin, about her cookbook, Mosquito Supper Club, which features Cajun recipes from Louisiana's coast.
CK: Melissa, welcome to Milk Street.
Melissa Martin: Thank you. Thanks for having me.
CK: So you come from a family of fishermen. What were they fishing for?
MM: Oh, a whole bunch of things. So I guess shrimp was the biggest industry there but oysters and crabs and fish and squid all we're just as important but I think that maybe because the shrimp boats are the biggest that line the bayous, you sort of see shrimp as like the anchor.
CK: How do they catch shrimp? What's the technique?
MM: So when I was growing up, most of the shrimp boats were wooden, a lot of them were single rig boats. And that rig would have a shrimp net on it, and the net would be flowing behind the boat. And then hopefully, if you're having a good day or good night, your boat starts to get sluggish and you feel like you're catching something your nets are heavy.
CK: Is the fishing industry still smaller boats with just a family run operation? Or is that like it has a New England kind of going by the by to some extent?
MM: No, there's so a lot of that here, the bayou communities or so family oriented. And there are still so many families carrying on, you know, the traditions. And I think that it's harder now. But down on the bayous where I live, you can drive into these communities and you see people with their houses on the bayou and their boat tied up.
CK: You write, as a kid, you dump a bucket of soapy water onto the garden and wait till the worms swim up. We grabbed them, head to the bayou to catch perch, then take the perch home and make her own aquariums in our rooms. I love the, love the image of that's, you know, that's what you didto fill up your time and go fishing.
MM: Yeah, and then that's like the fish you learned how to cook first was you know, a little perches, they were so tiny and you had to be so delicate. And then you could fry them whole and eat them. And we would catch catfish and fish by just tying a frozen piece of meat to a string and just put the string in the bayou. Like we wouldn't even have fishing lines at that time because our parents don't want to have hooks. But yeah, it's like so easy to feed yourself. I mean, there can be a puddle or a you know, a depression in the ground that fills up with water and basically and a couple of days there’ll be something swimming and that you can eat.
CK: So let's talk about some of the food in the book. Boiling shrimp, so you don't like a lot of stuff like seasonings in your water, I guess so. What's the best way to boil shrimp from your perspective?
MM: I mean. Everyone's favorite thing, like their favorite gumbo is going to be like your mother or your grandmother's gumbo, the one you grew up eating. And so I think for me for the boiled shrimp I like I'm boiled in just enough stuff to enhance the flavor of the shrimp but I don't want to cover the flavor of the shrimp so it's like a lot of seafood boils wind up with you know meat products in it and I think that meat will completely overwhelm seafood immediately. And so for the shrimp boil, I like it the way you know my mom did it which is just like a very basic stock and then elevating the spices and then the salt level just until the shrimp like soaks that up and is at its best.
CK: How you make a crab cake is a real early warning system I think to determine what kind of cook someone is. You don't use a binder other than shrimp, boiled leftover boiled shrimp, which I love.
MM: Yeah, I mean, I always say that a crab cake doesn't come about because you're peeling a whole bunch of crabs to get crab meat to make a crab cake. Down the bayou crab cake comes about because you have leftovers. And so you do a seafood boil and you have shrimp and you have crabs and then you peel the leftovers. And well, this is what we'll do with it, we'll make crab cakes. But the technique that I learned from my aunts growing up on the bayou was to just take some of the shrimp and grind it up and it makes this sort of shrimp paste. And you use that and it helps bind the crab meat together.
CK: Let's have the oyster fight. So you know, in New England, everyone talks about the colder the water, the better the oyster. So the difference in your mind between a really cold water oyster and a warmer water oyster, can you summarize that in some way or they just depends on the variety?
MM: I think that the oysters that are on the Gulf Coast are definitely earthier. And then as you go up, yeah, they start to taste cleaner, and you start to taste more seaweed, because we don't have a lot of seaweed. So you know, there are those differences. And then, and then we have our traditional oysters that are dredged, and those have like a very swampy taste to them. And brackish water just like so, so delicious. They're scary to some people. But to me, they're my favorite.
CK: Many of the things in the book I've never cooked, one of them is stuffed crawfish heads. What are you stuffing with?
MM: So you stuff them with crawfish meat, you grind up crawfish meat with some like, I mean bell pepper and celery, maybe a little bit of garlic, maybe like some potatoes if you want it to hold together in a certain way. And that's like a great tradition where, you know, a whole bunch of women get together and they make all the crawfish heads at one time. And then they put them in their freezer and they have them for like, you know, a season.
CK: So how much have things changed? You talk about the house you grew up in and across the row was a big vegetable plot. And today, someone's trying to manicured and make it look like a lawn or whatever they're doing. Does that happen a lot or is Terrabone parish, you know, not that different than it was 30 or 40 years ago?
MM: Boy, that field is still there. And I just love that nature sort of mocking the manicuring of that field, you know, not just like vegetables but like crawfish coming out of the field. But you know a lot has changed because so many people have left the bayou communities and moved away and started families other places. But the way that my mom and her sisters and my uncles and my father the way they feed each other still is very much the same. People are so fishing and they are sharing this food and also gardening. You know, they're they're producing it all and catching it all and, you know, still eating like kings.
CK: That's an interesting point. And you know, the question is, why has it not changed as much there and has changed a great deal almost everywhere else? Is it because they're able to maintain their culture and their family connections and their livelihood?
MM: I mean, I think it's just sort of this whole village is concentrated around this fishing notion and family. You know, it's like I was at my mother's house the other day and my aunt came in and she got some fish out of the fridge to take to cook for my uncle. And then she came back a couple hours later with a crock pot of ducks and plugged them and said these are for Chucky which is my dad when he gets back. And you know later my aunt Christine came with some crabs and then eventually my father came back home with more fish and he fileted it and then I went in the fridge and then like it starts over.
CK: Melissa, it’s been just a great pleasure having you on Milk Street. Thank you.
MM: It's been a pleasure talking to you Chris.
CK: That was Melissa Martin. Her book is Mosquito Supper Club: Recipes from a Disappearing Bayou. Right now my co host Sara Moulton and I will be answering your cooking questions. Sara is the author of Home Cooking 101 and also star of Sara's Weeknight Meals on public television.
Sara Moulton: So Chris, before we get started, is there one ingredient that you will splurge on that's expensive or hard to find. Is there just some special ingredient?
CK: Like a full time cook?
SM: I hear you on that one!
CK: If I can find one, man, I definitely splurge on that.
CK: Yes, I would say, we eat a lot of chicken for whatever reason. And a really, really, really good chicken is night and day better than a sort of run of the mill chicken. So I don't really care what a chicken costs at some point, if you get a bird that really has flavor. They tend to have, you know, smaller breasts, bigger legs, etc. But I've noticed that it's a real game changer, but they're hard to find. But boy, that's totally transformative. It's one of those things that you know, we have a couple times a week. So if I can find a really good bird, even if it costs twice as much, I think it's worth it.
SM: I applaud that decision.
CK: Okay, now we got that sorted out. Let's get busy.
SM: Welcome to Milk Street, sho's calling? T
Caller: This is Margaret Mauer.
SM: Where are you calling from?
Caller: I'm calling from Mogadore, Ohio. It's just outside of Akron.
SM: And what can we do for you today?
Caller: I have a question for you that I'm very curious about that's been transcribing and explaining recipes for my family. I'm working with a book of my grandmother's handwritten recipes from the 1910s to the 1930s. For her nut bread recipe, she did direct the reader to let it rise for 45 minutes prior to baking. Now, this is a baking powder dough. And I'm assuming it's a double acting baking powder. And all my experience tells me not to let it rise, but to put it in the oven immediately. But then I read about what you're supposed to do for pancakes, which are also leavened with baking powder. And if you let the dough rest it supposedly makes the pancakes light and fluffy. So I baked the nut bread and it rose quite a bit in the oven, but not that much before. And I'm just wondering, the dough was a little denser and wetter than modern quick breads, but that could be the recipe. So why would she tell me to let baking powder quick bread to rise? Is there a difference when you're frying versus baking? Or should I let other quick breads rise?
SM: Wow. Well, first of all, I have to applaud you for doing what you're doing. This just sounds like an old fashioned recipe. I mean, double acting baking powder was developed in the late 1800s.
CK: Yeah, I can't imagine in this day and age, any good reason to let a quick bread sit after you mix it before you bake it. I would think that if you're careful in folding the ingredients together, you're not going to develop much gluten at all. It's not like, you know making a pie dough or something. I don't think gluten is a big issue with a quick bread. I make pancakes, you know, all the time. And I don't let it rest. You know, if I have a kid come down later or something. I don't notice a big difference between the first batch and the third batch anyway. The only thing I do know––†his is it, this is all I know––back in the mid 19th century, when there were leaveners like baking soda, but they used other things like ash, they were varying strength. And some of them were very strong. And I can imagine you might want to let it sit because they would react with liquid. And you might get rid of some of the excess leavener in the recipe, which is this is a complete stretch. But I know that sometimes they were of unequal strength. And so it's possible someone said well let it sit for a few minutes before you go bake it. But I can't imagine there's a real benefit there because you're not really developing all that much gluten.
SM: I have an idea, Margaret, if you have the patience. Why don't you bake two breads, have one of them do the resting period and then do the other one right into the oven and then just look at them and see if you see any difference.
CK: Nika Hazleton wrote a book many, many years ago, and she had a baking powder biscuit recipe. And she also said to let it sit 10 minutes before you baked it off. So I used to do that. I couldn't really tell a difference either. I think Sara’s right. I think you should try this recipe both ways.
SM: And,let us know Margaret.
CK: Yeah, let us know you know, we could be totally wrong. And you may have invented or reinvented something that's actually pretty cool. So yeah. Give it a shot.
Caller: Thank you for the information. I appreciate it. And I appreciate you guys a lot.
SM: Well, geez, we like you too. Thank you. You made our day.
CK: This is Milk Street Radio. If you have a question, give us a call anytime. 855-426-9843, one more time, the numbers 855-426-9843 or simply email us at email@example.com.
SM: Welcome to Milk Street, who’s calling?
Caller: Hey, this is Connor from Oakland.
SM: Hi, Connor, how can we help you today?
Caller: So I've been researching a bunch of different recipes to make chicken and dumplings. And one of the things that I've found myself kind of confused about is like half of them call for just throwing a whole chicken in the pot with a bunch of other stuff and boiling it and shedding the meat. And the other half talk about using stock and like preferably homemade stock. I make my own stock, it's usually pretty flavorful and like made me wonder just for soups and things in general. Is there any reason to not use stock if you have it? Like is there any advantage to using water with some of these recipes? Or should I just always be using stock one way or the other?
SM: Well, I think Chris and I are going to argue about this. But since I get to go first I'm going to tell you what I think. I would always use stock if I had it. You know if you care as much about the liquid as you do about the solids, having a double sort of bullion, you know, a double whammy of chicken flavor to me is always preferable. I think where you might get into trouble is if you used canned chicken broth, because it's so salty unless you use the low sodium and I find the low sodium to be low on flavor. So given that you have your own homemade, I'd go for that. And then throw in a whole chicken and then you've got the chicken meat. And then what you can do after you've taken the meat off the bones of the chicken is throw the bones back into or save them in the freezer and then go make another stock on another day with them. Now let's see what Chris has to say.
CK: Look out. Okay, incoming. Get down in the foxhole. I mean, I think more people have given up cooking because of stock than any other single thing, which is, oh, you got to save the parts, you got to roast the bones, you got to spend four hours making the stock blah, blah. Look, most people in the world––I'm going to write a book called the water cookbook. What do they cook with? Water. Almost nobody cooks with stock outside of Northern Europe. The reason is, if you're going to cook a whole chicken in water, simmer it, what do you get, you get stock, right? Because you got a whole bird with plenty of meat, you get an incredibly flavorful stock. So for this recipe, I would not use stock because there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. I agree with Sara, that there are times when you want stock. A stock is a great thing to have if you're doing a quick pan sauce. In other words, you're not cooking meat in the liquid for a long time. You don't have time to develop the flavor. But if you're going to cook a whole chicken for an hour plus simmer it in water, you get a nice stock. It’s also clean and simple. It's not a double stock, which I don't like. I think it's too chickeny. And so you want something a little more subtle. For example, Saturday I just cooked tafelspitz, it’s Austrian, essentially a beef shoulder cooked in water for two to three hours. And you get this great stock because I got five pounds of meat sitting and four quarts of water. So in this case, definitely use water.
SM: I say you stock.
CK: Sara and I are gonna have to go out to dinner someday and buy each other a big glass of wine and argue about this.
SM: But yeah, well I mean, I think it's a preference. If you like a really flavorful chicken stock, then you might want to use chicken stock to poach your chicken and if you want just a nice sort of background of chicken flavor with the chicken meat and chicken and dumplings, then maybe you use water.
CK: save your homemade stock for when it really counts because you don't have an endless supply of it. I mean if you could buy good supermarket stock that's one thing. Yeah. Anyway, once in a while we get a call and Sara's on one end of the culinary universe and I’m on the other.
SM: So Connor who wins? What are you going to do?
CK: Oh, no, no, that's not fair at all.
Caller: I think I’ll try both? It's a long winter.
CK: Oh, perfect answer.
SM: Yeah, we like you Connor.
CK: Nicely done.
Caller: Thank you so much, guys.
CK: Take care Connor, bye.
CK: You're listening to Milk Street Radio. Up next, we're chatting with cookbook author Durkhanai Ayubi. That and more after the break.
CK: This is Milk Street Radio. I'm your host Christopher Kimball. Right now with my interview with Durkhanai Ayubi. She's the author of the cookbook Parwana. Her family left Afghanistan in 1985 by obtaining papers to attend an imaginary family wedding. They relocated to Australia where they opened two restaurants serving Afghan cuisine. Durkhanai, welcome to Milk Street.
Durkhanai Ayubi: Hi, Chris. Thanks so much for having me.
CK: First of all, I could not stop reading your book Parwana. It was a history lesson. And your family's history is intertwined with the history of Afghanistan. Your grandmother was a very well respected writer. Your uncle actually helped draft the Constitution. And I love the fact that so many different cultures and the foods are recognizable from other places as well. So let's start with the Silk Road. How does that impact the history of Afghanistan?
DA: Yeah sure, well, Afghanistan geographically is located in the heart of Central Asia. And this was a place that in ancient times became the nexus for where the different cultures traded through. So that had a really major impact on Afghanistan in terms of its cultural identity. And, of course, also its food, its cuisine. And so you've had ancient empires staying there as well for centuries. So what's now known as Afghanistan had the ancient Persian Achaemenid Empire with the great Zoroastrian kings in its early history. Alexander the Great passed through. And then you also had the ancient Indians with their Buddhist kings. And then of course, the Arabs with the rise of Islam came throug, Genghis Khan. So basically, it's had this really rich millennia long history of intertwining.
CK: And that's why in your book, the recipes for dal, there’s recipes for noodles. You talk about Turkey, you talk about China, you talk about Korea, India.
DA: Yeah, it's really amazing. And I think one of the things that stood out for me was how much of everything that we even define as our modern cultural identities, is based on this really ancient long fusion. So all of the ingredients and the techniques and the traditions and rituals kind of surrounding Afghan food, you do see, yeah, the Chinese influence the Indian influence, the Mediterranean influence. And I think that's really beautiful.
CK: Let's talk about love of country, because that is a great theme in your book, you quote, a poem or words from the father of Afghanistan, Ahmad Durrani, who says, “away from you grief clings to my heart like a snake and saying, if I must choose between the world and you, I shall not hesitate to claim your barren deserts as my own.” You went back to Afghanistan and it seemed, the way you talked about it, it was magical reunion.
DA: Oh, yeah. So that kind of love for a place, I'd never really felt that because my family moved to Australia when I was a one year old. So I was really small, I didn't really understand this concept of a connection to land or to my own ancestry. And so going back to Afghanistan in 2012, I was, I guess, just shocked by that connection that I felt. I felt like there were memories of me there. I understood more about my parents, I could see and understand their mannerisms, and what made them who they are even more. I went to the house that my dad grew up in, and I kind of got to see the landscape and be on the soil for the first time.
CK: There's an interesting other theme in the book, which is sorrow and joy. And you quote from Kahlil Gibran in The Prophet who says, “when you are joyous, look deep into your heart, and you shall find that it's only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.”
DA: Yeah, absolutely. And, you know, I think this book for me was really a chance to, you know, yes, it's about Afghanistan, and my ancestry and my identity, but I needed it to be a human story. And so much of that human story for me as a displaced person was about reconciling things that seem to be at odds with each other. And so yes, suffering and joy, you know, aloneness, and interconnection, all of these things are things that make us who we are, and we're not ever completely on either end of the spectrum, I think I think we fuse all of these things together and create our own identities by putting together this whole bricolage of our experiences.
CK: So I noticed like in many cultures, families have their own masala, their own spice mixtures, right, which is all through the Middle East and Africa. So what is the masala the spice mixture that your family likes?
DA: So the masala is kind of used as a flavor base for a lot of different curries and meats, that kind of thing. And it varies from family to family or region to region. But it's really kind of warming spices, so things like cinnamon, bay leaves, cardamom pods, cumin, coriander or cloves. And Afghans use spices in very delicate amounts. So you end up with food that's quite fragrant but not overpowering. And I think that's one of the reasons why Afghan food is so palatable to so many people.
CK: Dumplings. You had a photographs in the book that I think I need to post on my wall in my office. It has a sort of a lamb kafta sauce or something and a vegetable filling. That looks pretty good. So you want to describe that?
DA: Yeah, sure. So the dumplings, a personal favorite, and also a real favorite at our restaurants too. One of our dumpling dishes is called mantu. And the other is called a aushak. And I think people are more or less familiar with this concept of dumplings, because like we've been talking about, you know, that Chinese, Mongolian, Korean influence. So you hand roll the dough. And then for the mentor, you fill up with something like a sauteed, onion, carrot, cabbage mix. Some people add like a meat like lamb to the filling as well. And then you kind of fold it up into these intricate little almost flower like buds. We drizzle lamb mince sauce on top, which is really heavy on like a tomato, garlic, onion base. And then on top of that we add the garlic yogurt and dried herb like paprika and mint.
CK: You have a recipe for chicken with rice. Could you describe that? Because that seemed a) a lot of work. But it seemed like a pretty cool recipe.
DA: Yes. So, a note on rice dishes and Afghan cuisine. It's almost like the pride and joy of Afghan cuisine. And there are quite a few steps in making this rice. So we soak, we boil, we spice, we bake. And then once it's already we top up with different things or bury like meat pieces, that kind of thing inside. So yeah, the murg palau which is the chicken rice, topped with saffron rice and cranberries. It's something that, you know, traditionally Afghans would prepare for, like when you have guests around or for some sort of a celebration because it's quite time consuming. So we love our rice and they form really decorative centerpieces to all the other food that makes up an Afghan meal.
CK: Okay, so let's talk about how you prepare eggplants in Afghanistan. You braise it, which is a little different. Want to talk about that?
DA: Well, eggplant has kind of become the unexpected hero of our lives at Parwana. Everyone who tries the eggplant seems to be converted if they weren't already an eggplant lover, or just have some sort of life changing moment. Which is really lovely.
CK: Do people get married over your eggplant?
DA: Oh, I'm sure they do, actually. Yeah, people love the eggplant. And what we do without eggplant is slice it up and then fry it until it's quite soft and melt in your mouth. And then we layer this into a sauce. So really that same kind of tomato, onion, garlic, spice based source. And then when we serve it, we serve it again with yogurt, where a big feature of our food is layering things with yogurt, and then you put fresh herbs on top. And then everything just kind of dances together those flavors basically. And it is actually life changing just talking about it.
CK: Has it changed your life too? Or just the restaurant?
DA: Oh, yeah. No, I mean, so just to give you some idea of how much people love the eggplant, we go through hundreds of kilos of eggplant every week at Parwana. We do a festival where we would go through 500 kilos of eggplant in four days, basically. So that's how much people love our eggplant and how much it's become a central piece of our lives, which is really lovely. Because it's a good vegetable.
CK: Yeah, it's a good vegetable, but it's not the centerpiece of my life. But I mean, I haven’t had your eggplant yet.
DA: Wait till you try it.
CK: I’m hopeful. A change is gonna come like the old song. And then, you know, while I'm awash in all these wonderful savory dishes, I turn the page to falooda. So you want to just describe what that is?
DA: Yeah, sure. So the falooda is a sweet and it's basically a layered kind of drink with pieces of maghoot which is a jelly that we make. And soaked basil seeds and a rose syrup and ice cream and pistachio and also cardamom and rose water are in it. And my mum told me stories of how when her dad would come home from work he had kind of bundle her up and all kids and they’d drive to this like a little ice cream shop or dessert bar and they would each get a falooda and and they would sit under a big tree somewhere in one of the beautiful gardens in Afghanistan and just kind of all these fond memories attached to that sweet for her.
CK: If I were to ask your parents today to compare––I mean, they left Afghanistan the place, obviously loved deeply. Go to another continent, start a new life. How do you think they would feel about Australia versus Afghanistan?
DA: Yeah. You know, my parents again, you know, they had that immediate experience of what happens when everything around you crumbles and just how dangerous, unsafe and terrifying that is. And yeah, there was kind of this grief and sadness around leaving everything they've known behind, and even leaving family and that kind of things behind. But there was also this overwhelming and prevailing sense of joy and relief and hope and gratitude for having the chance to start life again, and to do it in safety and with peace.
CK: Do you find that introducing people to your food do they tak––do you think they actually take away something about the culture too? Or is it just a really good meal?
DA: Well, I think people get so surprised that Afghanistan has anything to offer, sadly. And I think that's just because of its dominant narrative around Afghanistan that consigns it just to war and violence and foreignness, right. And so when people come in to have Afghan food, if they're having it for the first time, and I've seen this time and again, in our restaurants, at first, they can be really quite apprehensive and unsure. And then by the time they leave, they've had almost this turnaround, and they will go out of their way to say things like, I never knew that Afghan food was so beautiful, so colorful, so delicious. And and then that kind of opens up this doorway into conversations about what else they might not know about the place and its people. And I hope people get a chance to experience Afghanistan one day because it is a place that holds our collective history, not just the history of Afghan people.
CK: Durkhanai, it's been it's just been a great pleasure having you here on Milk Street. Thank you.
DA: It's been a joy. Thanks, Chris.
CK: That was her Durkhanai Ayubi. Her book is Parwana: Recipes and Stories from an Afghan Kitchen. You know, a nation's food tells us a lot about its history. Beef noodle soup came to Taiwan from China during the Great Immigration of 1949. Creole cooking is a testament to at least four different cultures: French, Spanish, West African, as well as Native American. And Italian cooking has found its way both into Ethiopia and Peruvian cuisines. So here's my suggestion. Teach history and cooking at the same time. It gives students a real taste of the past.
CK: It's time to chat with Rayna Jhaveri about this week's recipe: Toasted Pearl Couscous with Chicken and Chickpeas. Rayna, how are you?
Rayna Jhaveri: Hi, Chris. I'm great. Thanks.
CK: I was in Israel a year ago I guess now in the Galilee Valley up north and I went to the Ezba restaurant run by Habib and Minerva, husband and wife happily married after many decades, very romantic. But besides the romance, maftoul, I made maftoul with Minerva. It's a little like couscous, but they start with bulgur, a little water. And they actually use some pomegranate molasses in it too. But they rolled it in two different kinds of flour to come up with something. As I said, it looks like couscous, but then they cooked it with chicken and onions. And it was just one of my favorite dishes. So I thought we should make it here.
RJ: So Chris, we made it here. And we found that bulgur is difficult to source in the United States. So what we're using instead is pearl couscous as a substitute. It still retains that same rich full flavor, and the couscous cooks in a chicken broth with earthy and spicy notes and some fruity tang. So to get started, we're going to be simmering bone in chicken parts in water with onions to get that flavorful broth base that we'll be using later to cook the couscous.
CK: So you're making your own chicken stock essentially.
RJ: Yes, definitely. I mean, onions are the key to this flavor as well. And once that flavor permeates the chicken meat, we can slide it right off the bone and chop it into bite sized pieces.
CK: I remember they must have had a dozen onions in their big pot, a ton of onions. They steamed the maftoul before they used it. But obviously we don't have to do that because we're using commercial couscous, right?
RJ: That's right, and we're also using bone in chicken parts. That's super important. We want to avoid boneless and skinless chicken parts so that we get much more flavor.
CK: So how do we finish it up? I mean, it seems pretty straightforward.
RJ: So first, we cook onion and garlic separately with the rest of the spices: cumin, cinnamon, nutmeg. And then we add that chicken cooking liquid and stir in the couscous, which cooks for about five to eight minutes. Once it's off the heat we can store in a can of chickpeas, those pomegranate molasses you mentioned and some fresh parsley.
CK: I'm glad you left them pomegranate molasses and you can skip it but it is one of my favorite pantry ingredients. So maftoul, which you know is a Palestinian dish. We're using couscous instead but the secret is making your chicken broth, bone and skin on pieces, lots of spices and pomegranate molasses. I mean it is so good and not hard to make. Thanks, Rayna.
RJ:Thank you, Chris. You can get this recipe for toasted pearl couscous with chicken and chickpeas at milkstreetradio.com
CK: This is Milk Street Radio. Coming up, Adam Gopnik visits his local green market. We'll be right back.
CK: I'm Christopher Kimball, you're listening to Milk Street Radio. Right now, Sara Moulton and I will be answering a few more of your cooking questions.
SM: Welcome to milk street who's calling?
Caller: Hi, this is Julie from York, Pennsylvania.
SM: How can we help you today?
Caller: I was in a store that we have here. And they have a sale rack. And on it had duck fat. I was thinking like my brain said Oh, look, Milk Street said something about duck fat. So I thought I would get it. Then I didn't know what you said about it. And I don't know what to do with it. I tried making eggs with it. But it turned out tasting like a lot of fat. Not much egg.
SM: Well, that's interesting, then I mean, it definitely does have a duck flavor. I love duck. So I don't find it overwhelming. But one of the places I would have said to use it would be with eggs, maybe like to fry an egg in it. It's wonderful with roasted potatoes, or with roasted vegetables. Anywhere in baking that you use vegetable oil, you could use duck fat, I put it in popovers even though popovers don't normally have added fat. Sauteed mushrooms are terrific. Croutons, if you make croutons with it, but anyway, let me pause and see what Chris has to say about all of this.
CK: Yeah, I actually have goose fat and duck fat in jars sitting in my fridge. I would cut it with oil, especially if you find it overpowering. So you might try two parts, you know grapeseed oil, sunflower oil, one part duck fat, and that'll probably solve that problem. Pommes Ana, which is a potato cake, which is very thinly sliced potatoes, you do it on a mandolin and then you do them in layers in a skillet. And every layer, you put some melted butter and salt and pepper on it. That would be an excellent choice for duck fat. Fries, you know, again, for some of the oil, replace it one out of three parts with the duck fat. Dartagan, you know, they they sell a lot of wild game, etc. and duck fat, they have a recipe for popcorn with duck fat. Oh, which, which, again, if you dilute the fat with some just cooking oil. My answer is use a little bit of duck fat, use more oil. And anytime you're sauteing something or using cooking oil, hust flavor it with duck fat. Don't use 100% duck fat and that should do it.
Caller: I didn't even think of that. diluting it. Well, thank you so much for the ideas. You both have inspired me to be more adventurous.
CK: Well, thank you very much. We appreciate it.
Caller: Yeah, I do appreciate both of you. Because I'm telling you, I get home. And I'm like, Okay, I'm gonna try this. And then I stopped at the store on my way home and try different things. I'm having a great time with it. So thank you.
CK: Well, the good news is you're excited about cooking.
SM: Yeah, no, that's contagious.
CK: Thank you, Julie. Take care.
SM: Thanks for calling.
Caller: Thank you very much.
CK: This is Milk Street Radio. Give us a call any time, we'll try to answer your questions at 855-426-9843, one more time. 855-426-9843 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SM: Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?
Caller: Hi, this is Grace.
SM: Hi, Grace. Where are you calling from?
Caller: I'm from Belchertown, Mass.
SM: How can we help you today?
Caller: Okay, so I bake a lot and I bake a lot of bread. And I never have milk. I don't buy milk ever. So I'm wondering like what's the best shelf stable, preferably not something that needs to be refrigerated milk alternatives for baking?
SM: Yeah, I think there's quite a few shelf stable brands including some of the organic regular milks, you know that you find in the supermarket douche the shelf stable version. I think Horizon has one. I think quite a few of them do. I think that would be the best choice. I mean, you can certainly do, there's evaporated milk but it's been cooked down so it's slightly sweet. You can add water back to it. I think it's fine sometimes in recipes. But to me, it also tastes cooked, you know, tastes fresh, even if you add water to it. There's also powdered milk, but that's non fat. Yeah, I'm just not a fan of nonfat. Yeah, you know, it's just not my favorite. So I think I would just go for the shelf stable and go for good brands like and Horizon or another organic brand. Chris?
CK: Yeah, I mean, the ultra high temperature milk does keep for months, right in those aseptic boxes. I keep powdered buttermilk around. Yeah, for every cup of milk or buttermilk in a recipe, a cup of water and a quarter cup of the powder. Of course, if a recipe calls for milk and you put in buttermilk, you have to adjust things, adjust the leavening a little bit because butter milk is more acidic, but that's sort of my go to sub is the powdered buttermilk. I keep that in the fridge all the time. Seems to work pretty well.
Caller: Okay, cool. I know people that use powdered buttermilk.
SM: It's rare it's simple, but there you go. Okay, Grace.
CK Thanks, Grace.
Caller: Thank you.
CK: This is Milk Street Radio. Now it's time for this week's cooking tip from one of our listeners.
Listener: Hi, my name is Josh. And here's my tip. Because pre-cooked bacon is gross and expensive, and so that I don't have to deal with raw bacon every morning for the single breakfast sandwich I make for my husband, here's what I do to prep. I bake two pounds of bacon on a sheet pan until it is almost starting to brown. After removing the bacon, I blot it very well. When it's cool. I lay the pieces on a long section of paper towel. I roll up the paper towel, place the roll in a large zip top freezer bag and put it in the freezer. Then every morning I simply go to the freezer, unroll one piece of bacon and get it to the proper crispiness by cooking it in the microwave wrapped in a paper towel for between 12 and 16 seconds.
CK: If you'd like to share your own culinary hack or secret ingredient or Milk Street Radio, please go to 177milkstreet.com/radiotips. Next up it’s regular contributor Adam Gopnik. Adam, how are you?
Adam Gopnik: I am pretty well, Christopher, how are you?
CK: I'm good. I'm better off for listening to whatever you're gonna tell me.
AG: Well, you know, one of the things that gives my life some warp and woof, some structure in the troubled times we live in is the perpetual task of going down to the green market here in New York City on Union Square, every Saturday morning, sometimes Friday and Saturday, sometimes Wednesday and Saturday. But I've always loved the green market. I've always loved going to the green market. As you know, Christopher, I even wrote a musical about the Union Square green market using it as the background. But it's never played a more essential role in my life than it does now. And yet I recognize simultaneously that it is, is endangered in different ways. There's a kind of paradox of city and country that's evident now in green markets. Now it's particularly true in New York City. But I've noticed it as well when I visit the green market in Berkeley or San Francisco. And here's what that is. It's that though we seem to go to the green market for the experience of the country. The more time I spend in the green market, the more it seems to me that its particular virtues are exactly the city virtues that were in danger of losing. I made a list the other day of things that I profoundly miss that were once vital to city life for me. Bookstores, we have only a few left. Record stores, none at all. Piano bars, fewer and fewer. Jazz cabarets, all closed or endangered. Department stores, closing. Lord and Taylor's and Barney's here in New York. Even art galleries. And what all those little city institutions have in common, if you think about it, Chris, is that they gave you the pleasure of what you might call the three B's. The pleasure of browsing, of not knowing what you're going to stumble on next. And then the pleasure of bumping into not knowing who you're going to see next. And finally, the pleasure of what I can only call bounty as beauty, things that were wonderful to look at, but that you could properly crave, totally unlike the experience of a museum wonderful though that is where the whole point is that the bounty of the museum is something that will never be yours. And the beautiful thing is that the green market, though a bit of the country, in principle, has all of those specific city joys. There's the pleasure of browsing, you never know what hot pepper, what new breed of strawberry, what new kind of peach you're going to find at the next stand. There's always a perpetual sense of anticipation. You are always bumping into people exactly because the green market acts as a magnet, not just for us, normal ordinary amateur foodies, but also for the best chefs in the city. You have an amazingly varied kaleidoscopic intersection of people. And there is no place in the world where bounty as beauty and beauty as bounty is as apparent as it is, in a farmer's market, where the most beautiful things you see, are not only available for purchase, they demand to be purchased or they will rot or they will disappear. And so I realized that what draws us I think more and more to the green market is not only that it offers us the joy and the abundance of the country in the middle of the city. But then it offers us the city again, in the middle of the city, that it's become in a sense, the last readout or repository of urban virtues and urban pleasures that are otherwise vanishing.
CK: Yeah, that's really true. I think of a green market, like the one on Union Square in New York, like the old Orchard Street in New York, you know, 100 years ago. It was sort of the the confrontation between buyer and seller, it's that tension, the haggling, the back and forth, that is the essence of being in New York or any big city. Right, it’s that to strangers going at it over a transaction, which is so unlike the country.
AG: Exactly, you know, and I think that's such a vital part of its of its appeal, is exactly the way that it creates those kinds of urban virtues. The paradox, though of the green market, I think, takes one more turn. The one of the paradoxes is that it's a country place with city virtues. But another is exactly the degradation of the country that is putting it at risk. I'm sure you've been following, Chris because it's something that I even in my utterly city boy nature can't escape, the crisis of so many particular American varieties and varietals of fruit. We've been living through the Blenheim apricot crisis, which I'm sure all my family on the West Coast talk about all the time, the way that the greatest American California variety of apricots is lessening and lessening and is beginning to disappear exactly because it travels so poorly because it's so poorly adapted to the demands of mass market and supermarket features. Here in New York at the Union Square Greenmarket one of the things that we love most love most to haggle over, line up for, get up early in order to get is the the TriStar strawberry. I don't know if you've enjoyed TriStars, but they are the only strawberry grown in America that can compete with the wonderful strawberries of France. And not like the the bland and waxy and flavorless supermarket strawberries, but strawberries that are intense little beads and points of sweetness and flavor. And those too, because they don't travel and they can't move around, are being eliminated more and more from the large nurseries that used to preserve them. So the second paradox of the green market is exactly that the destruction of variety in the country is endangering of what has become a central city ritual.
CK: Well except that for every action, there's an equal but opposite reaction. And my guess is that those wonderful apricots and strawberries, someone will grow them because they can get the price for them, especially in New York. And maybe the green market is the place that will save the day.
AG: Well, so far, it's played that role. You're exactly right. But that dialogue between country and city becomes evermore important and precious. Exactly as the country places in the city become the last citadels of what we mean by citizenship.
CK: Well, put another way the country markets in the city, or the last citadels of the city, right?
AG: Yes, they have become ironically and paradoxically, the last citadels of the city, the last place where you can go for that fundamental urban experience of bumping into of browsing and of seeing something beautiful and making it your own.
CK: Adam as usual food for thought if you don't mind the expression. Thank you so much.
AG: Well, I make my living selling thoughts for food.
CK: That was Adam Gopnik, staff writer for The New Yorker. The dock market in Boston was established in 1634. Cod and mackerel were transported down the Charles River, while farmers brought wagons of vegetables from Roxbury and Dorchester. Today Faneuil Hall, another famous Boston farmers market, is a tourist destination. It offers sunglasses, cookies and baseball caps. You know, Americans love to shop but not necessarily for food. A pristine fillet of cod or a basket of heirloom sheep nose apples doesn't really compare to yoga pants or Christmas ornaments. So Gopnik is right. The farmer’s market is a remarkable island of sanity amid a sea of gewgaws, gimcracks, knickknacks and souvenirs.
CK: If you tune in later or just want to listen again, you can download and subscribe to Milk Street Radio on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you find your podcast. To learn more about Milk Street, please go to 177milkstreet.com. There, you can download each week's recipe, watch the latest season of our television show, or order our latest cookbook Cookish. You can also find us on Facebook at Christopher Kimball's Milk Street and on Instagram and Twitter at 177milkstreet. 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
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