Weird Fruit: From Medlars and Huckleberries to Yuzu | Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street

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Episode 701
January 6, 2023

Weird Fruit: From Medlars and Huckleberries to Yuzu

Weird Fruit: From Medlars and Huckleberries to Yuzu

We tackle difficult fruits with author Kate Lebo. She introduces us to the world of rare fruits that are hard to find, harvest, prepare or just plain love. Plus, we study the staples of Gabonese cooking with chef Anto Cocagne, we get a lesson in the language of bread from Grant Barrett and Martha Barnette, and we learn about the history of Hungarian Chicken Paprikash.

Questions in this episode:

Can you help me recreate the spaghetti my mom made for me when I was a kid?

What's the best way to make an omelette?

How can I make my lentils more flavorful?

How do I make my apricot brandy bread into a cake?

017 Lebo Quince

Christopher Kimball: This is Milk Street Radio from PRX. I’m your host Christopher Kimball. Today we're tackling difficult fruit with author Kate Lebo. She introduces us to fruits that are hard to love and fussy to eat. Just like the medlar.

Kate Lebo: You're not supposed to eat it until after it has rotted a little bit. There's a little bit of fermentation and mold that I think that needs to happen to really get the full meddler experience.

CK; But first is my interview with Chef Anto Cocagne. Her book Saka Saka is a tribute to Pan African cuisine. Anto welcome to Milk Street

Anto Cocagne: Thanks for the invitation.

CK: So, you first learned to cook growing up in Gabon. But then at 20 years old, you moved to France, and you trained at the prestigious Ferrante Paris as a chef. So, my first question is, you know, how was that? Did you find your French approach to food similar to what you would learn back home? Or was it really a very different approach to both food and cooking?

AC: Oh, it was completely different. In my culture, when we cook, we use a lot of spices, a lot of onions, garlic, and it's really important to marinate everything we marinate everything. Fish, meat, seafood, and in France when they season the food is only salt and pepper. So, for me it was really different.

CK: It's funny you say that because I I remember Mastering the Art of French Cooking. And I just went through it. I was like, there no spices in here. You know, at the time, and it didn't seem strange. But now I look back and you're absolutely right. There's very few, very few spices.

AC Yeah, in the beginning, I was surprised but I understood that it was a different culture. And I need to know why in this culture. They cook like that. So, for example, before I came in France, for me, meat was always overcooked, it was just impossible for me to eat a meat with blood inside, and in France I learned why you need to have a lamb rose and not overcooked. Why you need to have a duck breast a rose and not overcooked. It's a new knowledge. And my project when I came as a student were to cook our gastronomy differently. It was to make a modern African cuisine. And I say that okay, if I can do that, in Gabon, I'm going to do that in France,

CK: You say in Gabon, or Africa I guess in general, there are almost no canned or frozen foods, that actually the diet is made up of less processed foods than in Europe. You're saying the foods are obviously more local and fresher?

AC: Yeah. Because with my mother, every week, we went to the market to buy a fresh vegetable, fresh meat, fresh fish. And for me, it's better to continue to cook with only fresh vegetables and only products of the season. Because in France, I discovered too, that you can have products it's not the season, but you can find it. And when you go in Africa, when it's not the season of the avocado and you don't find it in the market, nobody is surprised because it's not the season you need to wait a season.

CK: One of the things I really like a lot in your book is this idea of Nokoss, essentially sofrito but you have different versions for different purposes. Green, red, orange, could you talk about that because I think it's such a helpful way of thinking about cooking to divide the sofrito into different uses. I think it's it's a really good teaching moment.

AC: Yeah. In the base of nokoss you have garlic, you have onions, you have peppers sometime ginger, and I give in the book three different types of nokoss one, you can use it with fish one with with meat and the third with vegetables and is to teach to the young generations how to cook like our grandmother because my grandmother used to use this paste of different ingredients to marinate to see them. And if you go in a lot of African restaurants, you're going to see some time a little paste green paste on the fish on the meat. It's a nokoss

CK: Pina crusted chicken. So, if if someone wanted to start off with his book, chickens, obviously something everyone understands. How do you make peanut crusted chicken? Is that something that is a good place to start?

AC: Yeah, it's a good place to start. And it's really easy. It's really easy. I said on lead to people that you need to have meat with bones because in France, for example, they want to cook peanuts to with the breast of chicken, but only breasts don't, doesn't have bones. And in Africa, if you want to cook in African way you need to cook with bones. So, we need meat, bones and fish with bones.

CK: So, what about Jollof rice? You know, it's obviously a very popular dish throughout many parts of Africa. Can you talk a little bit about its origins and what it's like

AC: Jollof rice, you know, Senegal, people say that giraffe come from their country, Ghanian people say that giraffe came from their country. So, it's there's a battle. But the problem is that people when they think about African countries, they forgot that before these countries, we had kingdoms and empires. We had, for example, the Kingdom of Dahomey, we have the Mali Empire, and the Mali Empire is today, eight different countries. In Gabon, we have a kind of Jollof rice, and we call it red rice, and the best Jollof rice, it's cooked on the wood, because you have a blend of smoke. And it's really a different taste when you cook Jollof rice on the wood. And when you cook it, like a classic kitchen, and it's really appreciated in Africa.

CK: Let's assume I know nothing about this. And you want to teach me something about how you think about food, right? It's not just the recipe. It's like, the approach to food and cooking is different than what I grew up with. What would you teach me what what recipe would you start with? What kinds of things would you say to me to get me out of my New England mindset about how to cook food

AC: First of all, I'm going to teach you that cooking is really easy. Sometimes I hear people say, oh, I don't know how to cook it’s really difficult. I'm really bad. And cooking, it's easy. And you need to be relaxed. And the easiest recipe is pepe soup in the book. So, you have fry fish, you have some seafood in different texture because when you have fried fish skin with is crispy, and seafood, you have the whole crustacean. You have also the texture of these vegetables are really different too. So, this dish is for me the answer for your question is really quick, easy, and in pepe soup you can find it in every different African country.

CK: Anto it's been a privilege. It's been fun, and I need to take some courses from you because there's so much to learn. So, I really appreciate it. Thank you so much.

AC: Thank you.

CK: That was Anto Cocagne. Her book Saka Saka: Adventures in African Cooking South of the Sahara. Now it's time to answer your cooking questions with my co-host Sara Moulton. Sara is of course the star of Sara's Weeknight Meals on public television and author of Home Cooking 101. Before we take a call, Sara, I assume occasionally you look at Tic Toc or Instagram or whatever. A lot of it's silly, but do you find any of it sort of interesting in terms of cooking and food?

Sara Moulton: Oh, no. I just love the dog videos. I have a thing about dachshunds

CK: Where are they cooking them? I said food videos.

SM: No, I know you did. But I went right to dog videos. No, actually, I haven't. Have you learned anything from a Tic Toc video about food?

CK: No. I do find though the thing I love the most, which you would do too is Jacque Pepin during COVID did a lot of Instagram stuff.

SM: He’s still doing it.

CK: Here's the thing about watching him, I finally figured out is he's not thinking about the recipe. He just does it he's in the moment. He doesn't have to think about it. So, watching him he's so fluid. And he's done it so many times before that you just go. This is a pro. I mean when he bones out of chicken, which is my favorite

SM: 29 seconds.

CK: Yeah. that is just like

SM: pops the joints and rips it

CK: He makes the lollipop thing and whatever

SM: Yeah, he's amazing. I agree with you. It's very intuitive. He just knows what he's doing because he's done it so many times. And he's really enjoying himself. I also find it very soothing, very calming. I love to watch him.

CK: When you see somebody who's a pro. Yeah, he spent his or her whole life doing something and watch them do it. It's just, it's magic.

SM: It is I agree 100 per cent,

CK: It's like a hot bath with a nice cocktail.

SM: Oh yes.

CK: My second favorite thing in the world. Anyway, okay, let's let's take a call.

SM: Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?

Caller: Hi, this is Rebecca. Hi, Rebecca.

SM: Hi, Rebecca. Where are you calling from?

Caller: I'm calling from Boulder, Colorado.

SM: How can we help you today?

Caller: Growing up, my favorite dinner that my mom used to make was a recipe that my mom's uncle said that he picked it up when he was in Australia, during World War Two. It has some, to me unusual spices in it. And I've always been curious about what the origins of this spaghetti might be. It starts out with onions and peppers and ground beef and tomato paste. The spices in it are Allspice and then chili powder, nutmeg, and sugar. And I remember when I was a kid and friends would come over and my mom would make spaghetti. There was kind of this initial like, huh, this doesn’t taste like this spaghetti that I know. But everyone has come to love it. And yeah, I've just always been intrigued by that spice combination that I haven't seen another recipe.

SM: Well, you know, except for the chili powder. Everything else in there with the ground beef is reminding me of some Greek dishes like moussaka or pasticcio. Because they have those sweet spices in there, too. In my mind, it must be a Greek recipe. Chris, what do you think?

CK: Yeah, (um) a couple years ago, we were cooking with Diane Kochilas who's written a lot of books about Greek cooking, when she makes a tomato sauce with cinnamon, which is typical. And throughout the Middle East. In a lot of other places, you see a combination of what we consider to be sweet baking spices, with cumin and other more savory spices. So, I agree. It probably is Greek in origin. But this is very common. And I think it's great.

SM: Yeah.

Caller: I love it. I hope my mom makes it every time that I go home.

SM: Well, here's the thing. Don't just let your mom make it for you get the recipe so that you have it.

Caller: I have the recipe, but you know, when your mom makes you something, it tastes even better than when you make it yourself.

SM: (A) I agree with you and (B) I also feel like if anybody else cooks for me it tastes better than what I make myself. Especially mom.

CK: No, no, I cook much better than my mother did.

SM: Well, my mother was a great cook. So, I absolutely hear you Rebecca,

Caller: When you're in Boulder, Colorado, then come over and I will make this spaghetti for you.

SM: Okay I like that. Thank you,

CK: that's the deal. Yeah

SM: I like that. Thank you

CK: Rebecca. What a pleasure. Thank you

Caller: Thank you so much. It was a thrill

CK: This is Milk Street Radio. Sara and I are ready to solve your toughest kitchen mysteries. Give us a ring anytime our number 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: This is Esther Rogers calling

CK: And how can we help you?

Caller: I have never been able to get an omelet right. I love making them I love putting lots and lots of things in them. And it ends up being a scramble because it never flips for me. And you know, I'm not sure what I'm doing wrong.

CK: Just take us through what you do.

Caller: I usually always use butter in my pan, I usually use three eggs and then I will season with salt and pepper. And then I put the eggs in the pan, but I wait until it's like warmed up where I can see that the butter has melted and it's hot and I put the eggs in. I'll take and move the eggs as a cook. And then probably about halfway through that process I still got quite a bit of uncooked egg I start putting in things like you know my ham and my onions and peppers and whatever I'm going to be putting in there. And ultimately when I go to fold it, it breaks.

CK: Here's what I would do. First of all, I would heat the pan more and I would use oil you can use butter but oils easier and more foolproof. It also tends to convey heat more readily to the eggs because there's no water in it. So, the oil is going to get up to a higher temperature faster than the butter because the butter is about 90% water. Make sure you have plenty of oil. I assume it's a nonstick skillet or a well-seasoned carbon steel skillet. Get it to the point where the oils a little wavy and it's almost ready to smoke because you want to get a fair amount of heat in that pan so you're going to set the eggs fairly quickly. Put them in the pan and then use either a spatula or fork and you know just do it counterclockwise but just sort of essentially scramble the eggs, move them around in the pan for seven or eight seconds. Let it cook for a little bit but you move the edges of the omelet into the center, tilting the pan allowing the uncooked eggs in the center to get down into the pan and set. That way you end up getting that layer of eggs set before you put the filling on. Then don't add too much in the center. Fold it over like a letter, and then use the spatula and gently ease it out onto a plate without doing any flipping or fancy pan work. And now Sara will tell you everything I just said was wrong but go ahead

SM: No no I agree with a lot of what you said oil, the high temperature. The pan should be hot for an omelet. And I always add a couple of teaspoons of water about one teaspoon per egg so that helps to fluff it up makes it lighter. Also, salt is really key, pepper sure is fine. At any rate, then you add the egg when the pan is hot. And then you move very quickly, and you tip the pan around and around and around to make sure the egg gets around. And then make sure when you add your vegetables are they raw or cooked?

Caller: Usually they're raw.

SM: No, they should be cooked. Because think about it raw vegetables are sharp. You know what I mean? You said one of your problems is your omelet falls apart. So, you need to have sauteed your vegetables till they're softened, and they should be chopped up a little bit anyway season with salt pepper haven't ready to go have your cheese graded in smaller pieces if you're going to add that and then when the omelet is almost done, put all your cooked filling on one side of it. And don't overdo it and then gently fold over one side over the other. And then if there's cheese in there, what I'll sometimes do is take it off the burner put a lid on for a minute so that the cheese melts.

CK: Hopefully that's helpful

SM: Let us know how this all goes and I'm rooting for you

Caller: I surely will Thank you. Thanks guys

CK: It was a pleasure talking to you.

Caller: You as well, thank you for bye bye.

SM: Bye bye

CK: You're listening to Milk Street Radio. Up next, we learned about fruits that are fussy rare and very hard to love. That's right after the break

Hi. This is Rose Hettabaugh since I've started working at Milk Street my cooking has really gone up a notch, I'm making fast, easy, bold and really interesting food for my family. Learn more about Milk Street membership options at 177 Milk Street.com/plans.

CK: This is most your radio I'm your host Christopher Kimball right now it's my conversation with Kate Lebo author of the book Of Difficult Fruit. It features 26 essays about fruits that are hard to find harvest prepare, or just plain hard to love. Kate, welcome to Milk Street

Kate Lebo: Thanks so much for having me.

CK: First off, I absolutely loved your book. Thank you, the writing is amazing. And it was surprising because it really is a very different book than I thought. It's about fruit. But you also talk about how your mother had a history of migraines. How you suffer from some chronic illness yourself, which sounds actually like it informs your relationship to both food as well as difficulty, right?

KL: Yes. You know, I think that I feel like my relationship to food is bifurcated on on one hand, I just love making things and know where some people might want to climb a mountain to get a good view. I would like to do the same repetitive task with a raw material of food to achieve a flavor. So, there's that's one end of how I think about food. But then on the other my mother really taught me to think about food as medicine. She has had chronic illness my entire life and most of her entire life and the mysteries of chronic illness and the frustrations of it. The way that you go to the doctor, and they can't really tell you what's wrong with you. They can't really tell you exactly what to do but to try this, try this, try this. Really led her to trying to get better through diet through healthy diets through different kinds of medicinal fad diets. And it was never about losing weight. It was about trying to feel better and trying to be pain free.

CK: Yeah, I want to follow up on that, because my mother-in-law had was ill for a number of years and tried everything. My wife is, you know, loves trying food as medicine and goes through different. I won't say fads but different programs, (right) And you never get to the point where you have a solution, right? You have hints or hopes of things that get better for a while and they don't get better. Is that your experience?

KL: Yeah, absolutely. I think through observing my mother and through having my own issues, trying to find a food solution for myself and failing. But also, through writing this book, I really started to understand that a solution is never what food and diet offers, or at least it wasn't going to offer me and my loved ones. But a practice around eating that evolves because of the attention that I'm paying to it. That is healing. And that can promote well-being, you know, maybe it doesn't cure me of my illness, but it gives me a bit of control, it helps me kind of stay connected to my body to what I eat. So, it's just this delicate balance that feels typified in this relationship, as I understand it between medicine and poison, and that often, it's the same source, it's the same material, it's just a different size of the dose.

CK: So, this book is about 26, difficult fruits, what's a difficult fruit?

KL: Gosh, there's so many different ways to come at difficulty. And of course, each fruit I chose was an opportunity to come at in a different way. But originally, the way I was thinking about it was fruit that does not behave in such a manner that it would you would be able to put it through a traditional food system and have it pop out at the grocery store. So not the banana, which I think about is like the Snickers bar of the grocery store where you pick it up, you unwrap it, you can stick it in your face sweet. It's easy. Stuff like quince, right, that used to be very popular, you know, hundreds of years ago, but has fallen so far out of favor because it is so astringent, and so sour, and needs such a long-time cooking, that the ways that most of us cook in today doesn't allow for that kind of taste. And because it doesn't allow for that kind of taste. Many of us don't even know that quince exists.

CK: You talk about the medlar, which is a fruit that's referred to as dog's bottom. (Yeah) it's feted odor. You write, quote, unexpected, raunchy, sweet, and rotten. That's the right virtue of the medlar. Yeah, so you want to explain what a meddler is

KL: Absolutely. So, it's a beautiful tree, first of all, really beautiful cranium blossoms. And its fruit looks like an oversized rose hip, and you're not supposed to eat it until after it has rotted a little bit. And that's a process called bletting.

CK: Where does that where does that term, I saw the term bletting? I'd never heard that before. Is that an old-fashioned horticultural term or?

KL: It must be, you know, I didn't look it up. I just started using it as if I knew what it was. (True writer) Right. It was such a great word. And you could say my obsession with medlar really came from that word, and that I could apply this new idea you would eat something that's rotten, that bletted and I've eaten them when they've been bletted outdoors on the tree, and I've eaten them when I bletted them in my basement and the one outdoors on the tree is preferable. If there's a little bit of fermentation, and mold that I think that needs to happen to really get the full medlar experience, and I wouldn't say that it's delicious. Part of me wants to say I just don't have a taste for it. But the other part of me wants to say it's just not very good.

CK: There's an ingredient used in baking in the Middle East that's made from I think cherry pits and other things. But it has sort of an almond flavor.

KL: Are you talking about mahleb?

CK: Yes, yes. Mahleb And so what is it that gives the inside of cherry pits in almond flavor?

KL: So, all cherry pits, all stone fruits have an almond flavor to them. I think its benzaldehyde is what that's called. And it's nontoxic and delicious. They also contain amygdalin, which when it combines with the moisture in your body becomes cyanide. So not so good news. So, it's good, fun, right? So, you have to be careful and it's not the pit. It's the kernel you have to worry about. But if you crack it open, get that kernel out. That's where you have to be careful. And I've tasted cherry kernels. I've tasted apricot kernels just you know, one at a time to try it. And it's really delicious almond very bitter flavor

CK: Huckleberries. Huckleberry Pie, which you see in literature and old books, there's still do people still make Huckleberry Pie and what are huckleberries? Like versus let's say blueberries?

KL: Sure. Well, you know, it changes according to what Coast you're on, and what historical era we're talking about. So, when I was doing my research, I looked at the Cyclopedia of Hardy fruits that's, like seeds. Heydrich is the last name. And it came out of the Cornell extension in like 1906 or something. And at that time, the huckleberries that Heydrich was describing, were what you would call wild blueberries now. So, people still make Huckleberry Pie. They just call it wild blueberry pie on the East Coast, on the west coast are huckleberries or vaccinium. on the East Coast ____ I'm probably not pronouncing that right, but close enough.

CK: Are they smaller than blueberries and not as sweet?

KL: It depends. So, if we're talking about my huckleberries, the huckleberries of the Pacific Northwest, the ones that are west of the Cascades are smaller than blueberries, they're not as sweet. They're very, very intense. I think they make just an absolutely divine pie. But they can be a little challenging to eat straight. The huckleberries that grow on the east side of the Cascades where it's a lot drier, those are fatter, those are closer to the size of blueberries and have a milder flavor.

CK: Yuzu was one of my in the last few years, my favorite fruit yuzu marmalade you want to talk about user because I think it's it's headed for if it's not already there, sort of culinary stardom.

KL: Yeah, is it hasn't not reached its culinary stardom yet?

CK: I think it may, it's close.

KL: Where is yuzu’s publicists to tell us we need to eat it. But no yuzu is so it smells so great. And it's such an interesting citrus fruit, I think because I mean, again, the way that I'm used to encountering citrus fruit comes from the grocery store. So, I think of the peel is just this case that I have to struggle to get off of the thing I actually want, which is the fruit in the middle. And with yuzu, usually the fruit is it there's just not, there's not much of it there. It's kind of desiccated, it's not delicious. That's not the point. The point is the rind, the zest, and all layers of citrus contribute something to marmalade making. And I love that. So, the zest on the outside layer that's called the epicarp. You know, peel that off, and you'll get a delicious flavor if you can dilute it enough with juice and with sugar. And the pith, of course is really important for thickening a marmalade. There's so much natural pectin in that pit.

CK: When I was in Tokyo, four or five years ago, I noticed they treat fruit in a very different way than we do. Right, they were into the $30 pint of strawberries with that tasted just unbelievably perfumed. And you could buy a melon for $150. They prize their food in a different way. When you did this book, did you come away with a similar feeling or something much more complex?

KL: You know, I certainly came away with a feeling of prizing fruit. I mean, I but I also prized fruit to begin with, to want to spend seven years of my life hanging out with it to do this book, I would have to write. And of course, this book comes out of years of failure, as did in my understanding of a lot of these these fruits, I failed a lot with them, I failed to find them, I failed to understand them, I failed to cook well with them. And each of those failures led to further attempts. And each of those failures also taught me something about those fruits.

CK: You learn to love difficult things. Does that translate into people or does that translate into the other part of your life?

KL: Yeah, I mean, I think, and you love things for their difficulty that they're difficult difficulty is inextricable from from what they are. And I guess I'm talking about plants and people here. I mean, I really, I really grew a much closer relationship to the natural world, through food and through studying all of these fruits. And I think the same can go for really trying to understand all of our individual difficulties as people and the ways that we that we fail each other and how to not just, not just forgive but try to understand the roots of those failures, because they're probably tangled with their own.

CK: Yeah, that's really interesting. I mean, you walk into a supermarket, and you want the perfect apple or the perfect grapefruit or Whatever. And I always think about heirloom apples is really a good metaphor for what's wrong with food today, right? We want the one perfect thing. But we're not willing to put up with any trouble, or difficulty or work to get there.

KL: And as a result, our tastes go extinct along with fruits. I love the rebellion within the seed of an apple. The way that if you plant just an apple core, that tree will not grow true to its parent, right?

CK: I love that. Yeah, you're going, you're going to get something else. And that's, I've always liked that.

KL: And that’s true of humans also.

CK: And it's the imperfect ones that are always worth the trouble. Right.

KL: I agree.

CK: On that extremely metaphoric note. I just like to thank you. It has been a great pleasure. I look forward to your next work.

KL: Thank you. Thank you for having me, Chris. Such a pleasure.

CK: That was Kate Lebo. Her book is The Book of Difficult Fruit arguments for the tart, tender and unruly with recipes. Kate Lebo describes the fruit medlar as crunchy, sweet, and rotten, is the epitome of a difficult fruit along with huckleberries, yuzu and durian. Now all of this may point to an inconvenient truth. The most difficult things in life are often the most rewarding. Some foods are poisonous, but in small dosages they're powerful medicine. Some kitchen ingredients, think cassava have to be fermented for days before preparing Fufu, a staple of West African cuisine. And some relationships are challenging, but in the long run most rewarding. So, for a rich life, always take the most difficult path. You're listening to Milk Street Radio. Now it's time to check in with JM Hirsch about this week's recipe. Hungarian chicken paprikash. JM how are you?

JM Hirsch: I'm doing great.

CK: You just got back from Budapest, and I was there many years ago. George Lange, who had Café des Artistes on the Upper West Side in New York, went back to Hungary where he was born. And he took over Gundel, the famous restaurant. And I was there right at the heyday of that he had just finished buying and refurbishing it and I sat down, and they had a frenzy of waiters, they had a band, the whole thing, you know, it was very 1930s. And I ordered chicken paprikash. And it came with a huge silver dome. You know, the waiters stand around the take the domes off. It was phenomenal. I mean, it just completely revelatory. So, you went much more recently. And you actually did some homework about how to make chicken paprikash.

JM: I did. And I'm going to tell you Gundel’s if it was trapped in the 30s when you went, he was trapped in the 80s when I went. Imagine people dressed as elephants walking around to entertain you at the table. Yeah, well, yeah, that's very sad. But the paprikash was phenomenal. I will tell you, and Gundel’s actually has an amazing history with this recipe. And they were wonderful enough despite the elephant people to educate me about this. As we know, paprika really is the backbone of Hungarian cuisine. It is used in literally everything. It really shocked me. I mean, they put it in cocktails, in breads, obviously in soups and stews like paprikash and goulash. Kids put it on rice pudding in cakes. That is how important paprika is. But it wasn't always the case actually, the Turks introduced it to Hungary about 400 years ago. And before that seasoning is focused mostly on saffron and ginger. So, the origins of chicken paprikash actually go back to a dish that was just a simple chicken stew, frankly, chicken and onions. And eventually after paprika was introduced to Hungary, it was added to this stew and a little bit after that tomato was added. And it created a dish now known as pork____ which is basically a Greek chicken and onion and tomato soup. Sounds a lot like chicken paprikash, doesn't it? But it's not. It's a distinct dish that still eaten today. It wasn't until actually the 1920s that chicken paprikash came to be and we're headed back to Gundel for this. So, at the time, French cuisine had a tremendous influence over the cooking of hungry and chefs wanted to replicate that style of cooking. And one thing they particularly wanted was kind of the heavy cream based French sauces. Well heavy cream is less common in Hungary, but sour cream is quite common. And so, as the story goes, a chef at Gundel added sour cream to chicken pork halt and chicken paprikash was born.

CK: Give me some sense when you had it. Just describe the dish eating the dish is quite different than what most of us are used to.

JM: Yeah, this isn't the dish we ate in the 1960s Well, I guess I wasn't born so I didn't eat in the 60s, but it's not the dish that Americans do from the 1960s. First of all, you have a base of onions that have been cooked down until they're barely caramelized, but plenty sweet. And then you add some richness of some fat. They do love their duck fat, and tons of paprika, but not just one type of paprika. And by the way, in Hungary, paprika can mean anything that has anything to do with any type of pepper. This is very confusing. But in this dish, they add sweet paprika, hot paprika, fresh paprika, which we would call fresh peppers, and a tangy paste made from pureed chili flakes, and peppers, and some citrus. And the result is just these bright, bright, savory rich notes from all that paprika I mean, we're talking, adding it a quarter cup at a time. Okay, that's the sort of fabric we're talking about here. And what's interesting is that in Hungarian cooking paprika isn't just a flavor. It is also a thickener. And of course, it colors it but it defines the dish really. And so, chicken paprikash it's savory. It's sweet. It's a little smoky, it's bright, but it's also rich and it's very balanced. And of course, it gets a finish with that sour cream that all important sovereign which is what defines it is chicken paprikash. You add that in and it bounces out all those other rich flavors, all those other kinds of high notes from the paprika, and then you get your savory tender chicken. It was really phenomenal.

CK: You liked it. I’m just checking.

JM: I did you know the best part is it's always served with these simple egg dumplings with just water flour, egg and salt. They're called nokedli and they're really freeform dumplings. I mean it's the easiest dumpling you will ever make. You literally just ladle the batter onto a wooden cutting board, and you just scoop it off by a spoon into boiling water and it cooks and is so easy and delicious. So tender and chewy. It's like kind of the perfect neutral foil for this rich rich sauce of the paprikash and then they also pair it with a cucumber sour cream salad which is bright and cool and creamy again the perfect complement to the rich paprikash

CK: JM thank you an authentic I think it's fair to say Hungarian chicken paprikash I had it before you were born. You had it in the last year, but I think we both loved it. Thanks JM.

JM: Thank you. You can find this recipe for Hungarian chicken paprikash and Milk Street Radio.com

CK: This is Milk Street Radio coming up we get a lesson in the language of bread. That's in just a moment. I'm Christopher Kimball and you're listening to Milk Street Radio right now my co-host Sara Moulton and I will be answering a few more of your cooking questions.

SM: Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?

Caller: Hi, my name is Al Curtis,

SM: How can we help you today?

Caller: So, I've got a question actually about some lentils and quinoa. And I've been cooking in the rice cooker to pretty good effect. The difficulty that I'm having is in figuring out how to season it and when because you know if I add the season to the water, it just comes out extremely bland. But if I try to season it directly, feels like it almost overpowers a little bit.

CK: If you're dealing with red or yellow lentils, the first step would be to cook the lentils. And then you can if you want seasoning them. One way to do that that's really effective besides saltiing them is taking some oil, quarter cup of oil and you can put a teaspoon or so of a spice like Aleppo pepper is great or some other things. Cook it for two or three minutes until the oil turns the color of the spice and drizzle that over the cooked lentils. And that's a really great way to flavor something that's relatively bland.

SM: Chris tell him what that's called.

CK: It's called a tarka T A R K A. It takes 20 minutes to make a red lentil soup, and you just drizzle on that very spiced oil on top. And that will be my go to method for seasoning and now we'll hear from the headmistress. Sara?

SM: No, I think tarka is a great idea but what I was going to say is in terms of seasoning, you want to add salt at the beginning, either quinoa or lentils. And they take roughly the same amount of time they cook quickly, which is like 20 minutes or so if you're going to add any kind of acid to them, you do it at the end after they're cooked as a flavoring, because that'll get in the way of them getting tender. Salt, absolutely in the beginning and then other seasonings at the end.

CK: I think you're going to experiment, and I would try to get some books that have a lot of recipes for this

SM: and particularly Indian cookbooks, you're going to get a lot of great ideas and great spices to put on top. Yeah.

Caller: Cool. I will look into that. Thank you very much.

CK: Thanks for calling.

SM: Thanks, Josh.

Caller: Absolutely

SM: Bye

Caller: Goodbye

CK: This is Milk Street Radio if you need help in the kitchen, call us a 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, this is Chris from Madison, Wisconsin.

CK: How can we help you?

Caller: I have a very popular recipe for Apricot brandy bread, people who have had it always requested and in fact, a couple of weeks ago, someone who loves it asked for it to be their birthday cake. So, I baked this bread recipe in a eight by eight inch pan and decorated it like a cake but it remained a bread. And I'm hoping you might have some advice for converting a quick bread recipe into a cake recipe.

CK: What's in the recipe just generally the ingredients?

Caller: It's basically butter, sugar, a eggs, applesauce, apple brandy, flour, baking powder and soda, dried apricots and pecans

CK: How much applesauce?

Caller: it's 16 ounces of applesauce.

CK: So, you're looking for a lighter cake version of this.

Caller: Yeah, I'm wondering if there's some formula for converting a quick bread recipe into something more like a cake,

CK: I would just start with the cake recipe. I wouldn't try to convert this because this is applesauce cake, which is always going to be on the heavy moist side. Right, what I would do is take a basic yellow cake or white cake, I would add apricots, and then I would make a sugar syrup with apricot brandy. You could do a layer like an upside-down cake. Sara?

Caller: I like that.

SM: You started this whole saga by saying that everybody really likes this cake and they actually asked for this cake for their birthday. So why would you want to mess with success? If they all loved it, and if you wanted to dress it up. Something we used to do when I worked at Gourmet magazine is you know something that was rustic to make it seem fancy. We would take a doily and then sprinkled confectioners’ sugar on top. And if you wanted it to be more lasting you could use this this thing called non-melting topping sugar that doesn't melt. You put the doily on you put this non melting topping sugar you lift off the doily – fancy!

CK: Does anyone under 50 know what a doily is?

SM: Now be nice.

CK: No. Well, I know but I just think that

SM: They still use them in diners under cakes, you know

CK: I suppose yeah. But I think she wanted a lighter texture though right?

SM: Well, no, she did but nobody else did. What I'm saying is you know the thing is if you make it seem like oh my god this is the best cake ever and I'm just going to dress it up a tiny bit for your birthday. And this person loved this cake anyway you win. There you go.

Caller: Alright, I like both. Those are great.

CK: I’m not saying anything. I refuse to comment

SM: Chris's behaving over there in that corner. Okay

CK: No, I just think you could do both.

SM: Yeah, do both

CK: Listen to Sara get a doily and the non- melt in sugar or get a real cake recipe and adapt it.

Caller: I have to confess that I have paper doilies on hand for this specific purpose.

SM: There you go. Okay, Chris,

CK: oh lord

Caller: but I'm going to do both.

SM: All right.

CK: Thanks for calling.

SM: Yes, thank you. Bye Chris.

Caller: Thank you both.

CK: Now it's time for some culinary wisdom from one of our listeners.

Caller: Hi, this is Matt from Roseville, California. And here's my tip. Next time you make a chicken dish, like a soup, casserole or especially tacos or enchiladas instead of discarding the skin before breaking down the chicken, put that skin back into the oven and cook until very crisp. Then with your chef's knife. Break it down into lice little chicken crumbly little crunchy pieces, and then use that to top your casseroles, tacos or enchiladas or add to soup right before serving. It is also great on salads; you can also spice the chicken skin with additional spices and flavors to up the flavor profile of any dish. Try this next time you make anything chicken base, and you'll find that it's a great addition and really ups the game. Thank you.

CK: By the way, if you'd like to share your own cooking tip right here on Milk Street Radio, go to 177 Milk Atreet.com/radio tips. Right now, it's time to chat with Grant Barrett and Martha Burnette hosts of A Way with Words, Grant and Martha, what's going on?

Grant Barrett: Hi, Chris. We're thinking about bread

Martha Burnette: Yes, we're thinking about the fact that bread is so fundamental in so many different cultures. And in fact, there are some very old words for bread that show up in some surprising places in our language. For example, Chris, if you invite company over for dinner, you're inviting them to break bread with you. Right?

CK: Right. That's true.

MB: But you're doing that in more than one way because the word company itself goes all the way back to the Latin word for bread panis, P A N I S. And so, a companion for example, is somebody you share meals with in a pantry was originally the place where you kept the bread.

CK: That's, that's a good one. I like that one.

MB: And of course, you know, a related word to all of those words is the Italian plural panini.

GB: Yeah, the strange thing about panini and maybe you know this already, but we borrowed it kind of incorrectly. It's singular, in English Panini, but we borrowed the plural form. And it means more than one panino, a little bread roll. The French did the same thing. So, we're not alone. They also borrowed the plural to mean a singular, and the longer form in Italian is panino in batido, which literally means stuffed bread, but a better translation would be sandwiches.

CK: Well, the French don't care about trashing the Italian language.

GB: So, we all benefit when they argue over food because we eat it both tables, right, the French and the Italian tables, and they're both delightful.

MB: Well, surprisingly enough, here's another familiar English word that actually contains an image of bread in it. And that word is lady

CK: What?

GB: Yeah, this is a strange one.

MB: Yeah, it comes from the Old English word hlafweard, which means bread kneader. It's the person who works the dough with her hands and the hlaf in there is actually cognate with the English word loaf. You know, it's the person who kneads the loaf of bread. And get this the word Lord, not just lady but lord also contains that same root, because the lord used to be the half word or the half word, which is the person who guards the loaves. So, the lady kneads the loaves and then the guy guards the loaves. How cool is that?

CK: That's pretty cool. I you know, in a post-feminist world, I'm not sure how well that goes down. But okay, that's good I like it

GB: It's the old model.

MB: And from Hebrew, we also get a really cool bread word. The Hebrew word beit means house and the word Lechem in Hebrew means bread. And so that combination Beit Lechem, turns into in Hebrew Bethlehem, it’s the house bread literally

CK: Is that right next to the House of Pancakes? Next door?

GB: I love that you are rising to the occasion Chris

CK: Good I like that

MB: But wait, there's more. Because in medieval London, the Hospital of St. Mary of Bethlehem was converted into an institution that housed people who were severely mentally ill. And of course, as you can imagine, in that time, this was an incredibly grim place. And over time, this word Bethlehem the name of this institution, became Bethlam. And then eventually, the word

CK: oh, bedlam.

MB: You see where I'm going. Yes, yes, so there's a little tiny crumb of bread in that word bedlam.

CK: I'd heard the origin of the word bedlam, but I didn't know it was bread. That was bedlam that's interesting.

GB: You can always take it back a little further.

MB: Yeah. Yeah

CK: Oh, good. Yeah. Great cocktail party detail.

GB: Do you have any people with a last name of Baxter in your life? Chris?

CK: No.

GB: Maybe you have some bakers in your life. Mr. And Mrs. Baker, perhaps?

CK: I think I do yes

GB: Well, Baker is obviously from a family that perhaps had bakers in their history. But Baxter also comes from people who used to bake, the bakester BA K E S, T E. R was the older spelling, and you could find it among the English and the Welsh. seven centuries back, you would find people being called a bakester and it meant a baker.

CK: All I know is Welsh is the most mysterious impossible to understand language.

GB: Oh, but it's a lovely one to hear. It is.

MB: Yeah. It's kind of the greatest thing since sliced bread, right?

GB: Oh, there's a segway Martha. Okay. Here's one last thing for you. There are a couple of word historians that we've got tip our hats to here and they are Barry Topic and Peter Jensen Brown. They've done some fantastic work looking into the history of the saying the greatest thing since sliced bread. The short version of this is it came out of bread marketing. When sliced bread was a new thing that you could buy in the store. Marketers hyped it. So, from the late 1920s Forward, they were constantly promoting the glories of pre-sliced bread. They had slogans like greatest forward step and the baking industry since a wrapped bread apparently wrapped bread was a big deal. And the greatest timesaver since ground coffee and sliced bacon. But for a long time, the saying only existed in the bread baking world. And then by the 1950s It entered everyday American English outside of bread land. One weird thing is that prior to the sliced bread saying catching on, you would find other comparisons. For example, in 1895 a folding bicycle was said to be quote, the best thing since the jointed fishing rod.

CK: That's catchy. Yeah, that really worked out well.

GB: That one did not catch on.

CK: Grant and Martha, thank you so much. You're clearly the best thing since sliced bread. Thank

you.

MB: And your great company, Chris

GB: And we were all on a roll.

CK: That was Grant Barrett and Martha Burnette hosts of A Way with Words. That's it for today. You can find all of our episodes at Milk Street Radio.com or wherever you get your podcasts. To explore Milk Street and everything we have to offer please go to 177 Milk Street.com. There you can download our recipes, check out our membership options, watch our TV shows, or learn about our latest cookbook, which is Cook What You Have Make a Meal Out of Almost Anything. You can find us on Facebook at Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street, Instagram and Twitter 177 Milk Street. We'll be back next week with more food stories and kitchen questions and thanks as always for listening.

Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street Radio is produced by Milk Street in association with GBH co-founder Melissa Baldino, executive producer Annie Sensabaugh. Senior Editor Melissa Allison, producer Sarah Clapp, Assistant Producer Caroline Davis with production help from Debby Paddock. Additional editing by Sidney Lewis, audio mixing by Jay Allison and Atlantic Public Media and Woods Hole Massachusetts. The music by Toubab Krewe, additional music by George Brandl Egloff. Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street Radio is distributed by PRX