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Chef and restaurateur Yotam Ottolenghi chats about cooking soup for his aging father, why he pours pancake batter with gochujang over asparagus and how his sense of food presentation was inspired by food stalls in Jerusalem. Plus, we hear from Rev. Heber Brown III about the historical relationship between Black churches and Black farmers; Bianca Bosker discusses the everlasting reign of Cheerios in the breakfast world; and we share our recipe for Slavonian-style Shepherd's Stew.
Questions in this Episode:
”The mother of my high school friend made chocolate chip cookies that were hard as a rock, large and filled with chips and walnuts, slightly thicker in the middle…the kind of cookie you could nibble on for half an hour and carve away. I'm 71 and have been working on replicating this recipe for years and can't. Can you help?”
“I recently made your pasta with zucchini, pancetta, and saffron for my family. My husband felt it tasted like chlorine. I thought it had a plastic or chemical taste. My five year old daughter said she didn't taste anything unusual. What is happening and what can I do to avoid this in the future?”
“I’ve been trying to perfect the bagel making process. What does adding baking soda do to improve the process? Why do some recipes use it and some don’t?”
Chris Kimball: This is mostly radio from PRX I'm your host Christopher Kimball. Today we're chatting with chef and cookbook author Yotam Ottolenghi about the principles of cooking, including charring browning and fusing and aging and the secrets to cooking Ottolenghi stop from asparagus and gochujang pancakes to za’atar, ketchup and pepper.
Yotam Ottolenghi: Well, look, this is my job to think of unusual combinations. If it wouldn't be unusual, it wouldn't be Ottolenghi, right, like I used to, I'll go and take someone else's book.
CK: Also coming up, we prepare a Croatian inspired beef stew with a rich paprika broth. And Bianca Bosker, asks how many types of Cheerios are too many, but first is my interview with Reverend Heber Brown, the third, he's a pastor in Baltimore, where he works to bring the black church and black farmers together.
CK: Reverend Brown, welcome to Milk Street.
Heber Brown: Thank you for having me.
CK: It's a pleasure. You founded the black church, food security network. What is that?
HB: It really is a connection of historically African American congregations who are trying to leverage what we already have in our hands as it pertains to land and buildings and people and economic resources to advance justice and security and sovereignty in the food system in our communities. So, in many of our neighborhoods, we are challenged, because we don't have access or agency with respect to our food environments. And instead of waiting for, you know, grocery stores to come into the neighborhood, or waiting for politicians to do something in the way of planning, we figure, let's use what we have and and start to make a difference for our own selves in our own families.
CK: Why do you think many neighborhoods don't have access to foods that are reasonable? Cause Why are supermarkets not in those neighborhoods?
HB: You know, and the question is, why aren't there grocery stores here you could also extend and say, well, why aren't there quality schools here? Why isn't there quality housing here, one of the things that I've been really helped by and I kind of understanding what's going on, is by studying redlining in this country, and studying how many of our cities were planned and set up in such a way that prioritize some areas, concentrated wealth in some areas, and then very literally created a red line, where in these other neighborhoods, the equity in the housing is down, the values are lower, the schools are more challenged. And while we don't talk a whole lot about redlining anymore, and especially as it relates to the food environment, it still is a reality, the ripple effect of it is still moving forward into our food system today.
CK: So I saw you in a video talking about power over your plate. What does that mean?
HB: Yeah, so many times when we talk about food, and we talk about historically marginalized communities, the starting point is, you know, y'all got to eat better, you got to eat better stop eating all that fast food. And you won't have all these disproportionate health realities in your community. But it's like, how do you eat better when fast food and corner stores are surrounding us on every side, and grocery stores can pick up and leave from our neighborhoods, leaving the neighborhood really to figure things out on their own. So, I really do think having power over our plate is crucial when it comes to getting a handle on our health. It's crucial when it comes to creating economic opportunities and entrepreneurial ventures is crucial when it comes to transforming a neighborhood.
CK: So let's talk about your program. So exactly what happens. I think you started out using some of the land owned by the church to actually grow produce, right?
HB: Yeah, yeah. So, at the church, that I pastor Pleasant Hill Baptist Church in Baltimore, I started noticing diet related challenges in our congregation a pattern of it. We have 1500 square feet in our front yard, and I was like, well, listen, let's just start growing the nutrient rich foods that we need with the little bit of land that we have. It was an amazing experience. We started growing 1000 to 1200 pounds of produce every year in our front yard. And other pastors started hearing about it and started calling and we started to pull together this network like okay, well, let's help these other churches too. And then let's help the churches to see the benefit of coming together in their growing practices and in their planning as well. So that we can in effect, create our own food system and not just have individual nice church gardens or community garden programs.
CK: So this has now been expanded. And you said something interesting. At one point, which I didn't know, you said that there's a long unrecognized history between black churches and black farmers. Could you talk about that?
HB: Sure. So many of the black churches we have today in the country are aware they are because a farmer gave them land to build. And so that it's such an intertwined legacy between farming and the African American Christian community on that front. But also, because you know, we have annual days like homecoming, where, prior to the Great Migration, or even during the Great Migration, homecoming was that time period where those who had left the south and moved north or west, came back south, to the family church, the family land, and helped with the harvest. So that history is there. And I just think, as you know, more and more African Americans left the South. And then successive generations were born in cities, that type of wisdom and history has been lost, and people have disconnected from it.
CK: So starting with the land, you had 1500 square feet, how do you scale this so that you are able to feed 10s of 1000s of people over time? Is that is that your goal eventually to get this to a larger scale?
HB: So I think, you know, this work has really pushed me to think about scaling deep as opposed to scaling big as I studied the current corporate food system. And this year, like no other has shown us how fragile that is. I don't think that replicating it by creating another big system, like one big mega food system run by black churches is the answer. But I do think that scaling deep within the relational currency of these churches is very powerful. If you have stewarded your relationships well with other not just churches, but even mosques and synagogues in the city, you could essentially, through leveraging the collective land and collective commercial kitchens the collective classrooms and other spaces, you could create this ecosystem that is propped up by the relationships in your own community and neighborhood.
CK: You know, it seems to me that this is about a lot more than food, right? It's about community, it's about people working together. Could you talk about that part of it, because that seems so important to what you're doing?
HB: I think asset based community development is one of the greatest things that any community can lean into and get involved with. Because if you start with, what do we already have? Where are our sales already erected, and then put some winds of those sales, it will keep moving forward. So, for the black church community, for instance, the largest land-owning body, in black America, is the collective black church. There's nothing like land in black churches have land we have commercial kitchens all these assets sit underutilized or completely unused Monday through Saturday.
CK: In your community, in your congregation, is there some consistency in how people think about food and its cultural context?
HB: Well, I think food is so much more than nutrients, right. It's like the stories that are involved with food, the songs that are connected, the memories that are there. And the other thing here being in Baltimore, you know, this is one of the first stops for African Americans who were leaving the south or run out of the south. And so, you got a lot of folks who are from Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina. And what that means is that the food cultures of those places have deep resonance here in the city of Baltimore, and our grandmothers and great grandmothers, many of them are still around to tell those stories and build those bridges for us, who live in a more urban environment. And so, their food, food is like music, universal language that we sing in our community as well.
CK: Reverend Brown, it's been just a great personal pleasure having you here on Milk Street.
HB: Thank you. It's been my joy. Thanks so much, Chris.
CK: That was Reverend Hebrew Brown, the third. He's the pastor of Pleasant Hope Baptist Church, also founder of the Black Church food Security Network. Right now, my co-host, Sara Moulton and I will be answering your cooking questions. Sarah is the author of Home Cooking 101. She's also the star of Sara's Weeknight Meals on public television.
Sara Moulton: All right, well, so before we take a call, I've got a question for you, Chris. What is your worst culinary nightmare and I don't mean while you're awake. I mean, literally a nightmare one that you have when you're sleeping,
CK: Showing up naked to cook for a king or something like that. I've never had that one. But it's like, you know the school nightmare where you're not prepared for the test. I think it's probably having to cook some amazing meal and you just have no idea what you're doing. You can find the tools and it's just, you know, a complete disaster. Some version of that it's probably my culinary nightmare it’s not cutting myself. It's just like making a complete fool of myself because, you know, I can't really make a puff pastry in time to get it out the door.
SM: Oh dear. No, that does sound like a nightmare.
CK: Yeah, I've had some of those in real life too. So anyway, yeah, I know. That's the problem. Quickly. Let's onto a call. Yes. Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?
Caller: Oh, Hi, this is Lee Paul. I'm calling from Newton MA.
CK: How can we help you?
Caller: Well, when I was in high school, I had a friend whose mother made the most unbelievable chocolate chip cookies. And I'm almost 72 and I've been trying for at least 30 years to replicate this recipe. She made these large chocolate chip cookies that were hard as a rock and filled with chocolate chip and walnuts. So you could nibble on them all day.
CK: I've made lots of hard rock chocolate chip cookies, but not, not on purpose. The problem with chocolate chip cookies is they're done when the outside edges are just getting crispy. But the inside is extremely soft and totally underbaked. Someone said to me a long time ago, there's baking time in the oven, and there's baking time outside the oven. So, there's continued baking, most people don't take their cookies out until they're firm all the way through including the center, which means they're over baked. So, I wonder did you simply try baking them longer as a first step?
Caller: I haven't tried that.
CK: There is one other thing are you creaming butter and sugar for your recipe or using melted butter?
Caller: creaming butter and sugar
CK: Yeah, that's the other thing. So, don't do that. Simply melt the butter. If I were you, I'd brown the butter because that'll add more flavor and mix that into your sugar. creaming aerates and you want a denser harder cookie.
Caller: So you would use white sugar too not brown?
CK: Yeah, I think if you want crispiness white sugar is going to give you a crispier product than brown sugar.
Caller: Okay, I don't really want crispy. I want hard.
CK: Well, that's hard is about baking time. Just keep cooking them. Okay. Right, Sarah. I mean, they're going to get hard if you overwhelm one way or the other.
SM: Yeah. I think you may be wanting to look for crispy, but dense crispy. So yeah, just white sugar. I agree with browning the butter. I think that'd be yummy thing. Maybe use more egg whites than egg yolks. Mm hmm. And also, here's another idea besides baking them longer, how about baking them at a lower temperature for longer? That way they'll dry out more.
Caller: So, you're thinking like 300 degrees rather then or 375 or ,
SM: Yeah or 325
CK: Don't cream the butter, bake it longer.
Caller: And then if you still want to stay longer, are you saying thinking like 20 minutes instead of 12 or 13?
CK: I’d give another 20% time. And when they come out, let them sit on the baking the hot baking sheet don't put them on a cooling rack. That will also help
SM: and white sugar not brown. Got it Okay,
Caller: Got it
SM: let us know how that goes Lee
Caller: I will. Okay. All right. Okay, nicely. Yep.
CK: Thanks Lee thank you. Take care. Bye bye.
SM: Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?
Caller: Hi, this is Deana from Sacramento, California.
SM: Hi, Deana. How can we help you today?
Caller: I have a question about saffron. I recently made the Milk Street recipe pasta with zucchini, pancetta and saffron for my family. Unfortunately, my husband felt the dish had a chlorine taste. I felt it had kind of a chemical or plastic taste. But my five-year-old said she didn't taste anything unusual. There were different opinions online about this. But I was hoping you might have the answer as to why the saffron gave it such a strange flavor and what I can do to avoid this in the future.
SM: Well, have you had saffron before?
Caller: I have had the saffron before and so as my husband I've never cooked with it before.
SM: And you've liked it before?
Caller: Yes. And we've never felt like it tasted like chemicals before.
SM: And did it color the dish yellow?
Caller: Yeah, it definitely had a slightly different color than like just my regular pasta and with maybe like a cream sauce.
SM: I mean, like a bit of a yellow tint, right?
SM: And where did you get your saffron?
Caller: I bought it from a fairly well-known national chain.
SM: Okay. Well, the reason I asked all those questions is some people I don't think really like saffron. Okay, it's got a sort of bitter or slightly astringent taste. I find it almost tannic, like tea. Does that sound like any of the things that you were experiencing or your husband?
Caller: I would probably describe it more that way. My husband definitely said it had this essence of chlorine and I don't think he would describe it like that at all. But my five-year-old said she again, she didn't taste anything unusual
SM: I love you bringing your five-year-old if you said my 21-year-old, but your five year old, she must, she must have a pretty sophisticated palate.
Caller: She does. And she's a fan of Milk Street as well. We watch the episodes and listen together.
SM: Well, the most important thing to me is that you said you've already had saffron and other dishes and liked it. So, I'm now beginning to wonder about the source. You know, maybe it wasn't real saffron, so maybe it had its own unique taste from wherever it came from. And right wasn’t the real deal. However, the fact that the dish did change colors somewhat is an indication you know that it turns yellow. That it right, it might have been the real deal. Chris, do you have any thoughts?
CK: I do. It's one of two things, either the one you just had is real saffron and everything else had was fake. Ah, good point, the opposite point. Good point. But here's how to tell you put it in water, cold water and let it sit for 15 minutes. And the saffron threads should retain their red color but the water should turn yellow. Yeah, if you put it in and all of a sudden the water starts to color. That's probably because it's not saffron, it was dyed, like corn silk fruit samples use sometimes it turns red. There's a ton of fake saffron out there because real saffron is obviously from the crocus and it's extremely expensive. So you were not having the same saffron all the time, whenever you had this time was not what you had last time. I would think that saffron has kind of a Swedish smell. It does have a slightly bitter taste to it. It shouldn't taste like chlorine or be chemical. Right. So that makes me think that what you had was not true. So yeah, I even went back to smell it. And it had a more chlorine smell too even Yeah, that's not that was a little surprising. You have any of the saffron left? I do. Okay, well, immediately after this call, go put some of in water cold water and let it sit for 15 minutes, see what happens. Okay, I'll do that. And also, the ends of the saffron threads. One end should be thicker than the other. They're called trumpet ends. So that's another thing to look for as well. Yeah. Okay. I will do the water test. Okay. Very scientific. All right. Yes. All right. Thanks for calling. Thank you. Take care. Bye. Bye. Bye. Bye. This is mostly radio. If you have a cooking question, give us a call anytime. That's 855-426-9843 one more time 855-426-9843 or simply email us at questions at Milk Street Radio.com. Welcome to Milk Street Who's calling?
Caller: This is Arlene from Pittsfield Massachusetts.
CK: How are you?
Caller: Good. Thank you.
CK: How can we help you?
Caller: Well, I decided to try making my own bagels. My first attempt resulted in a deflated flat bagel, which it tasted good, but it really wasn't what I was looking for. Most of the bagel dough recipes require this first rising followed by shaping and then a second rise, followed by boiling the bagels before you bake them, and you boil them in a couple of quarts of water with some malted barley syrup added. So after further researching recipes, I saw a couple that included baking soda added to the boiling water. I tried that method and found myself with a huge mess after the water boiled right over. So, I guess my question is, what would the baking soda do for the bagels? I know they have to kind of float in the water as you're boiling them for a minute or two.
CK: Baking soda will make a more alkaline solution that is going to give you a more browned product once it's baked. It has nothing to do with the rise of the dough.
Caller: Oh, it doesn’t okay.
CK: No. How much baking soda did you add to the water?
Caller: I think it was like a tablespoon but it was only two to three quarts of water and you have to add some malt barley syrup to that I guess it kind of give it so it wasn't a huge pot, but it just boiled right over. And I didn't know if it was really an essential thing that I needed to do.
CK: Well, let's go back. I wonder if the malt barley syrup reacted with a baking soda that's very possible. The baking soda you can leave out. I think the problem is, if you do over proof you're going to end up with less of a rise. So, you may have just over proofed a little bit before you put them in the water before you bake them. So, proof them a little less before they go in the water. And my guess is that'll solve that problem, Sarah.
SM: Yeah, I would agree. I think it's a rising problem. How long did they have you proof the bagels?
Caller: The original recipe said an hour and I think that was probably much too long. But it seems like if you don't proof them enough, they won't float. So, I guess the key is like trying to get the right amount of time
CK: Can I ask what kind of flour you’re using here
Caller: I use the King Arthur,
CK: That should be fine.
Caller: I'm just glad the baking soda, it's something not essential and it's no are trying to get the right amount of proofing.
CK: One thing I note though is proofing times are just totally useless. Because it depends on your kitchen and the temperature, the ingredients, etc. etc. So, I wouldn't follow the whatever the recipe said usually they give you some visual clues. Did they tell you what they're supposed to look like when they're properly proofed?
SM: Yeah, usually they say and let it rise for X amount of minutes or until if there's a visual clue I would go for that. What you might want to do is go back to King Arthur flour, check out what their recipe says. Hopefully it has an or and til, but they also have a baker's hotline. And you could reach out to them directly ask them about this about the or and til what should it look like?
Caller: Yeah, that's a good idea. Yeah, that's great. I do I think the part about the temperature in your kitchen does have a lot to do with it.
CK: Yeah, that makes a huge difference. We've done a lot of tests with like pizza dough and other things and the ambient temperatures can change your proofing time 100%. So I would call King Arthur service right there. Very, very helpful.
Caller: That's a great idea. Well, thank you so much for your help.
SM: Thanks for calling.
CK: Thanks for calling. Bye bye.
Caller: Bye bye.
CK: You're listening to Milk Street Radio. Next, we're chatting with cookbook author, Yotam Ottolenghi that in more after the break.
This is Milk Street Radio. I'm your host Christopher Kimball. Right now, it's my interview with Yotam Ottolenghi, his latest book is Ottolenghi Flavor, a Cookbook. Yotam, welcome back to Milk Street.
YO: Oh, thank you, Chris.
CK: So, let's let's go back to your beginnings, I'd like to go through, you know, your childhood and growing up, just to understand what was going on in the kitchens at that time, how you cooked how other people cook, just to get a sense of how you got to where you are. So, you grew up in Jerusalem in the 70s. What was that like? That was a tough time in Israel with the wars and everything else. Were you aware of what was going on at the time? I mean,
YO: I I think childhood in general, if you're not suffering terribly from the effects of what's going on around you, you can and I was quite oblivious to what was happening around me. And, and I had a good childhood, Jerusalem was a place that has even more now quite a lot of tension in it. But actually, the 70s and the early 80s, which I would consider my childhood was a relatively quiet time in terms of the relationships between Jews and Palestinians, which are the kind of the heart of the conflict, and up until the first Palestinian Intifada uprising from 1967. Until the 80s. It was nice and peaceful, and people were living more or less okay together. And it only later it started to ignite and became more troublesome. So, I remember really quite seminal experiences in my childhood will include going from West Jerusalem, which is the Jewish part where I was growing up to East Jerusalem to the Old City, which was just a kind of an incredible place to wander. If you are like me hungry and eager kid, so you know, wonderful bakeries with pizza breads and bagels and the spice stores were very evocative with za’atar and the cumin piles and the sumac piles and then the fruit and vegetable markets everything was very intensely flavored and colorful. So, this was my experiences in Jerusalem, but I also have my parents who are of European descent, and my father, his family's from Italy so we had a lot of really good Italian food at home, as well and my mother cooked kind of internationally. So, in terms of the food that I had growing up, I was very lucky, I had the best of all worlds.
CK: Let's talk about your dad. In his later years, you were cooking in Jerusalem artichoke soup, and he woke up and talked to, I guess, a niece explaining how to make the soup. And you go on to say, like my father, the gratification I got out of cooking food could only be surpassed by talking about it. So, you know, he smells the soup. And all of a sudden kind of wakes up and starts explaining the recipe, right?
YO: Yeah, yeah. So, this is a moment I've written about recently, because my father passed away not even a year ago. And his his mental capacities were deteriorating quite quickly towards the end of his life. So, in the last few weeks, I spent most of my time in Israel, alongside him with the rest of my family. And what you refer to as this moment where my father, just like myself, loved cooking and love talking about food. And we were trying to kind of as much as possible, get him to get excited about things in general, because he was very difficult. He was really struggling. And I said, I'll make a Jerusalem artichoke soup. And my niece said to him, look, Yotam's making Jerusalem artichoke soup, and he started telling her what I should be doing. And I got, I carried on doing it a little bit of what he was saying, and a bit of what I was saying. And in the end, I let him try it. And I could tell that he was not quite sure that I follow the instructions, he made this voice of slight disapproval. And I loved that he, you know, he was really suffering from pain and inability to concentrate and all those things. But he could still cast judgment over the quality of my soup. And for me, that was just such a wonderful thing. You know, it's just that vitality that food brings with it is greater than anything else.
CK: So you went up, I didn't know this. You were the head pastry chef. I know you've done a fabulous dessert book on sweets but I didn't realize that was really your training head pastry chef at Baker and spice. So, did you gravitate towards baking? Naturally, or the that was the job that was open. So, so that's what you did
YO: So, so that's the latter. So, when I started I, I aimed very high, which was a total mistake. But anyway, I went to a Michelin star restaurant called the Capital here in, in London, the, the chefs that are you know, the pastry chef needs needs a bit of help. And, and why don't you go and work with her. And I really enjoyed it because it felt like something contained like something I could actually learn quite easily. And I think for many people in kitchens that start slightly later as I did, it's a kind of an acceptable solution or a way into the kitchen, starting with pastry where you work with recipes, and there's very clear ways of doing it. And that's how I ended up being a pastry chef. But I actually really loved it. I love doing the pastry work.
CK: Years ago, I walked into one of your takeout shops, I think in Mayfair. And the first thing that struck me, besides being very happy to be there was the colors. I mean, it's just these amazing platters of amazing looking food and all the different smells and aromas. And you know, it was clearly brilliantly considered retail environment. You know, you walk in and you eat with your eyes. To what extent do you think your cooking has been influenced by attracting foot traffic into a store? Because it's like marquee food in terms of the visual presentation?
YO: It's a really good question. Because I often use this as an example people ask me, you know, how did you develop your style of presentation cooking, and I often say I've got the instincts of a market stallholder, because everything started from putting food on display in our shops so our first shop, maybe the one you came to was in Notting Hill in West London, and Sami Tamimi, who was one of the partners and I were there to almost subconsciously recreate the Jerusalem soup. I don't think we knew that was what we were doing but it definitely affected the way we presented the food, you know, the, this these kind of big gestures that big platters and everything looking spectacular and rich and interesting. And I think that that still informs the way I present the food and the way that books look. It's very much about that kind of sense of boldness and abundancy contrasts, which is visual, but actually it also gives you a sense of what the flavors are. So, a contrast of color immediately translates into contrast of flavor and that contrasting experience is something that I'm always looking for. I hate a boring meal. Even if the level of cooking is exquisite, I like to be surprised. You know, I like something unusual happening. So, a smooth soup with nothing in it is kind of my idea of hell, because nothing happens, you know, you just eat that soup. And the flavors could be amazing but you know, you forget you're eating after a minute. It's like background music.
CK: Let's move on to your book Flavor. You talk about 20 ingredients; I think there's actually a chapter called that. And so just give us a half dozen of those ingredients you think people really should keep on hand.
YO: Ok, so Flavor is a book that I've co-written with Ixta Belfrage who is you know, who is an incredible woman and I love my books to be collaborations and this one has come out of my collaboration with her she's got in her background she's got Italy, Mexico and Brazil so she grew up in Italy and she spent time in Brazil and Mexico where her family's where she has family and and so it's way more chilies than I normally have in my food although I love chilies I've always cooked with chilies and I've had I've spent I've eaten cooked with Syrian chilies, dried chilies and Turkish dry chilies but, and we've got those here as well like Aleppo and Urfa. But there's also ancho chili and chipotle and cascabel chili all really, really incredible Mexican chilies that I think you know, I don't in America, they're more familiar than they are here in England. But even in America some people say no, I don't like heat and it's not necessarily about the heat often it’s about the undertones. So, an ancho brings the warmth and sweetness to the table. And there's even a dessert the flan here in this book, which uses that chili and, and it's just a wonderful way to enrich your experience to kind of to create layers of flavor, which is what this book is all about. And other ingredients that we I recommend here is from the chili department, the gochujang the Korean chili, chili paste, which many people have probably come across if they've been interested in that kind of cooking. super useful for umami and you know, interesting flavors. And there is a recipe here for like a pancake batter with gochujang that I pour over asparagus. So, it's an asparagus and gochujang pancake, really simply delicious, and not that difficult to make.
CK: Can I just stop you for a second. So, this is so Yotam. Oh, yeah, it's the old asparagus gochujang pancake recipe. I mean geez, you know wait, I just had to stop because that's not something I would have thought of. Right. I mean, that's something you thought of, right?
YO: Yes, well, look, this is my job to my job is to think of unusual combinations. And if it wouldn't be unusual it wouldn't be Ottolenghi, right, like you do. I'll go and take someone else's book, which is absolutely fine, too. But yeah, we push the boundaries here in my test kitchen. So, there's another recipe that I absolutely love, and I'd love everybody to try. And that's the za’atar cacaio e pepe recipe so cacaio e pepe is probably one of the most loved of the Italian cheese, pasta sauces. And it's not that complicated to make but it just you need to get it right the level of starch, so you want to get your, your butter your cheese emulsifying in a particular way. And we add za’atar to the process, which is the you know, the Middle Eastern spice or herb dried herb mix. And it's just when when Ixta said to me, I said to Ixta so you know Ixta we need more za’atar in this book because it's becoming too Asian and Mexican and that we need to keep ours close to the roots in a certain way. And she said, let's do that. And I thought like, oh, you know, they're going to say that it's, it's, it's the worst kind of fusion and she said, oh, let me try it and see what comes out of it. I said ok. And then when she made it, it just made so much sense. You know, how we add hard herbs like sage or marjoram, or oregano to butter. And it's one of the basic things in Italian cooking. So, it's the same concept.
CK: This is really interesting to me. I love, I love cooking methods, I think in Sichuan there are 57 different cooking methods but you talk about in Flavor you’ve honed in on four. I think is fascinating; charring, browning and fusing and aging because I think that is such an interesting combination could you just talk about that?
YO: Yeah, sure. So, so we divided the book into four sections. And one of the sections is the process section. And like you said, it has four things that happen during the cooking process. So, one of them is charring. The second is browning, the third is infusing and the fourth is aging. And those categories came through the actual recipe, so we didn't have those ideas in our heads. What we did is we looked at the recipe Ixta and I and we just said what's actually going on here, what makes it special. And we found that the smokiness that comes out of the charring could really be affected and everyone who's cooked my million or one recipes for burnt eggplant would know that charring is so essential to give a particular set of flavor, the smokiness that comes through charring a vegetable it makes it really unusual. So that was definitely going to One of the headings, the other one is browning. And then that section we've got our celery root, which is a wonderful example of browning because you take something which is quite high in water content, and fairly bland and you cook it for three hours, and you get that concentration of flavor and sweetening of the flesh. The third thing, which is really cool is what happens when you infuse and we use infusion a lot because often what Ixta and I do, we start a recipe by taking some aromatics and frying them lightly in an oil. Those give the dish its flavor profile. So it could be something like ginger, garlic, and a star anise or some dried chili, and lime skin and some curly. And what happens is that that oil will then be used throughout the cooking maybe in a couple of stages. First, to cook your basics, you know your garlic, your onion, and later as a finishing oil, or as something that is used for a little salsa. So these things are incredibly useful.
CK: Iceberg wedges with smoky eggplant cream that really stopped me in a good way. It's sort of like the classic American iceberg wedge it with blue cheese dressing, but you've turned that around. Could you just talk about that? Because that really intrigued me.
OL: Yeah, you know, it's funny that we iceberg is not something I'm naturally attracted to. It's a very bland kind of leaf. But sometimes that crunchiness is really useful when you want to layer things over it, you know, so that it really does have to have almost like zero presence and its own right, but it's super crunchy. So that is kind of like the ultimate Ottolenghi platter. So, the the fresh iceberg leaves almost like out of the fridge when they're super crunchy are the base for a runny baba ganoush kind of thing. So, it's a burnt eggplant sauce. And then I've got some radishes there, avocado and crispy nuts. But that dish is all about texture. It's so crunchy. But obviously that creaminess that comes out of the avocado and the eggplant dressing. It gives it a real interesting, creamy texture as well.
CK: On a more personal note, I didn't realize this, you came down with COVID. When I you know, I just have to ask what was that, like?
OL: I was pretty miserable for quite a long time. I was in bed for about three weeks feeling very bad. It was early in March so I didn't really know that the fact that I couldn't taste or smell anything had anything to do with COVID because it wasn't one of the more talked about symptoms at right at the start. But later I realized that that's what it was I I completely lost my taste buds, which was kind of fine, because I wasn't really bothered about food at that time. But I was very happy to get those back after I got Well, again.
CK: Yotam, as always, a pleasure. You're a scholar and a gentleman and pretty good cook. Thanks so much.
OL: Thank you, Chris. It was a pleasure to talk to you.
CK: That was chef and author Yotam Ottolenghi, his latest book is Ottolenghi Flavor, a Cookbook. So, what happens when your name actually becomes a thing? For example, I was recently told that Estonia has Ottolenghi style cafes. Well, that made me think of other famous people whose names live on Jeffersonian democracy and Darwinism. A slip can be Freudian and if you're uptight, perhaps you are Victorian. Products are often named after their inventors, the graham cracker thanks to Sylvester Graham, the saxophone by Adam Sachs. And the Ferris wheel, of course, was invented by George Ferris of Pittsburgh. And of course, one day you just might be saved by the Heimlich maneuver. So, all in all, I would say that Yotam is in very good company. It's time to chat with JM Hirsch about this week's recipe Slavonian style shepherds stew. JM how are you?
JM HIRSCH: I'm doing great.
CK: So you go all the way to Croatia to eat beef stew. But can we start with Croatia? Doesn't it have a really, really interesting and varied cultural history?
JM: Well, it is a history of conflict is what it is, you know, it has been invaded so many times. I mean, you find yourself wondering, is this Austrian? Is it Hungarian? Is it Turkish? Is it Arab? In fact, the stew that we're talking about today is from a culturally distinct region in the eastern wedge of the country Slavonia. But you see all these other influences that suffuse the cuisine across the country and one of them that again, plays out in today's stew is the use of paprika. I mean, copious amounts of paprika.
CK: Now, paprika do you mean like pimento like a smoked paprika or is this just a sweet or hot paprika.
JM: This is just the sweet paprika and but it's used In quantities that I found delicious, yet breathtaking, I mean quarter cup or more at a time, it was really quite surprising. And of course, you're getting a ton of color and flavor from that ingredient and it really, really transforms the food. The the other thing that really impressed me about this stew is the way they use root vegetables, you know, we think of, you know, the carrots, for example, in a beef stew, you chop them up into chunks, you throw them in, you assemble them until they're tender, they actually grate both carrots and parsnips. And they mix those grated root vegetables in early in the cooking process. And over the course of a couple of hours of simmering a lot of those gradings break down and melt into the stew giving it this kind of sweet, naturally rich body that balances so well with the peppery gut, and the savoriness of the beef. And if the result is really it's a lovely balance of that sweet and savory and rich. I was quite, quite pleased with this.
CK: Now, this dish is sometimes served with dumplings cooked in the stew is that right?
JM: Yes, you know and I had it both ways many times they didn't seem to be consensus on that. And there was nothing you know truly remarkable about the dumplings although I've never wanted to turn down a delicious dumpling in a in a brothy beef stew like this.
CK: and this also like traditional students has red wine, etc. the usual suspects?
JM: Yes, yep. And you know you cook some onions in some oil. You add your carrots and parsnips you brown them a little bit brown some tomato paste get that kind of richness and then incomes the paprika and then they throw in some red wine and some water for the broth and eventually the meat now you know traditional versions can be made with lamb or beef or pork or even wild game. We found that beef chuck roast here in the US did the best job it had the most marbling to produce a nice rich broth, but then you just walk away for two hours and and it is phenomenal.
CK: JM thank you so Slavonian style shepherds stew uses grated carrots and parsnips, which I really like. Almost half a cup of paprika, which which you know in your travels and mine we see that all the time, right? We see Yes, a quarter cup, a half cup not a tablespoon. Exactly. And then we'll hear nothing subtle and then finish it off with some dumplings. What's not to like? Thank you, JM.
JM: Thank you. You can get this recipe for Slavonian style Shepard’s stew at Milk Street Radio.com
CK: this is Milk Street Radio coming up. Bianca Bosker gives us a history lesson on Cheerios. We'll be right back.
I'm Christopher Kimball and you're listening to Milk Street Radio. Now it's time for this week's cooking tip from one of our listeners.
Caller: Hi, my name is Mary ____ calling from Mannheim, Ontario, Canada. And here's my tip. I make my own tomato sauce in Canada enough to use throughout the winter. For over 40 years. I have added one ingredient when preparing the sauce for a recipe that mellows the acidity or the sharpness that tomatoes can have. And it adds to the overall savoriness. That ingredient is honey. I usually add a couple of tablespoons near the end of the preparation, and I adjust for taste just like I would for any seasoning. I'm often asked what makes the tomato sauce so palatable and I believe it is the added honey. Try it and enjoy.
If you'd like to share your own tip or secret ingredient on milk street radio, please go to 177 milk street comm slash radio tips.
CK: If you'd like to share your own tip or secret ingredient on Milk Street Radio, please go to 177 Milk Street com slash radio tips.
Next up its regular contributor Bianca Bosker. Bianca, how are you? Great. How are you Chris?
Bianca Bosker: Great. How are you Chris?
CK: What crazy things have you been up to lately?
BB: Well, I've been fixated on Cheerios. I don't want to be dramatic, but I had a bit of an existential crisis at the supermarket the other day, I had this vertigo inducing sense of just being surrounded by Cheerios, I mean, fruity Cheerios, frosted Cheerios, chocolate Cheerios, chocolate peanut butter Cheerios, peach, blueberry. And it not only kind of paralyzed me with indecision, but made me wonder, how did we get to have so many Cheerios?
CK: Yeah, it's true Cheerios have more iterations than any other cereal, even like cornflakes. Cornflakes, you barely find cornflakes these days.
BB: Yeah, one thing I find interesting is, you know that cereal has, I think become so ubiquitous that it sort of feels like it was around forever. But modern-day cereal seems to have evolved around the mid to late 1800s. But even breakfast as a meal is a relatively recent invention, one that seems to have emerged around the time of the Industrial Revolution when people started moving to cities and keeping to a stricter schedule and routine. But cereal in some ways was the original clean eating wellness fad. I mean,
CK: it was the Kellogg brothers right, who came up with it?
BB: Well, there's some debate. I mean, there was also granola that came out of sanatoriums. I think they called it granola and the early days, and like some health foods, it was not delicious. One critic referred to it as wheat rocks. But Cheerios, you know, they came well, they are younger than cornflakes. They're older than Raisin Bran. But they actually debuted in 1941 as cheery oats and were sort of revolutionary for their time. I mean, they marketed themselves is this ready to eat no cook oatmeal.
CK: I didn't know they were sold as no cook oatmeal. That's brilliant
BB: Right? Yeah, that's smart. Yeah, but for a long time, there was just that one Cheerios, which General Mills refers to as the yellow box Cheerios. And in 1979, the cereal inventors at General Mills came up with an idea so bold, that it's basically changed breakfast ever since
CK: they just put more sugar on it, or they put it with a cartoon character
BB: Well on both fronts, actually. So three words, honey, nut cheerios. So the original recipe has changed a bit. But Honey Nut Cheerios have obviously stuck around so much so that in 2009, they actually overtook the yellow box Cheerios to be the most popular breakfast cereal in the country but it didn't stop there. We have now gotten to this place where there are around 20 different Cheerios flavors currently available. And that started really in the early 2000s. And they've basically released a new Cheerios spin off ever since.
CK: Well, my answer would be the General Mills wants as much shelf space as possible in the supermarket. And that's a way of getting more linear feet shelves.
BB: I think that's part of the answer, but I don't know if you have realized this Chris, but we are living in the age of the serial mega brand. And you know, as you might imagine, it is much riskier and more expensive to launch a new cereal in 2016 General Mills came out with what was the first new cereal line and 15 years called Tiny Toasts and buy a lot of counts. About half of all cereals apparently fail before their fifth birthday. And if you look at the history, I mean, the cereal graveyard is full of doomed breakfasts, you've got Wackies, Freakies, Sprinkles Spangles, Crunchy Stars, and I'm sad to report Tiny Toasts. Tiny Toasts less than a year after its launch got folded into the cinnamon toast crunch line.
CK: Well, you know, I talked to someone in the supermarket business last year, they said that 83% of all supermarket products don't make it to the first anniversary. So, it's a brutal, brutal landscape.
BB: Oh, absolutely. And I mean, instead of trying to gamble on a new product, they basically release what are called flankers, like Honey Nut Cheerios is apparently called not a cereal, but a flanker, which is a product that is designed to appeal to new mouth's without cannibalizing the existing product. And it just gives this impression, at least to me that we're living in this world of endless serial remakes.
CK: So, I just wonder if it's a little bit like kids, right? My son has watched Monsters inc. 20 times and is still going strong. They all want the same book. They want the same movie Marvel Comics, you know, remakes and remakes. I wonder whether that's true in the serial business too people have an almost limitless appetite for the same thing with slight variations.
BB: What's unfortunate is sort of what we've been calling food Innovation is really just food iteration. And so, Chris, I ask you, where is the revolution in breakfast?
CK: Bianca is your definition of adventure in the morning a new breakfast cereal?
BB: Well, I am ashamed to say it, but I did eventually get over my indecision and my gosh, the pumpkin spice Cheerios are embarrassingly delicious.
CK: Bianca oh, what is this True Confessions? Well, I will say that we buy Cheerios except the natural version in our household. You know, Cheerios was a good idea. But unless you have the pumpkin spice
BB: Thank you
CK: My pleasure. That was journalist Bianca Bosker. You know, American industry knows how to milk and good thing. Cheerios were hit and so endless flavor variations ensued. And this approach, of course, also works with cars. The iconic 1965 Mustang was followed by the GT fastback, the Shelby GT 350, the boss 302, and of course the Cobra. And that's the essence of consumerism. You buy something you like, and then we'll sell you more with a twist. Yet the original Mustang is still the most sought after model. We don't stick with our choices because we simply have too many choices. But don't you wish you still had that 65 Mustang in your garage? Well, I do. That's it for this week's show. If you tune into later one of binge listen every single episode, you can download Milk Street Radio on Apple podcast Spotify wherever you find your podcast. To learn more about milk street Just go to 177 Milk Street com there you can find our recipes. Take a free online cooking class or order our latest cookbook Cookish. You can also find us on Facebook at Christopher Kimball's Milk Street on Instagram and Twitter and 177 Milk Street. We'll be back next week with more food stories and thanks as always for listening.
Christopher Kimball's Milk Street Radio is produced by Milk Street in association with GBH executive producer Melissa Baldino senior audio editor Melissa Allison, executive producer Tanya Ott, Associate Producer Jackie Novak. production assistant Sarah Clapp, production help Debby Paddock. Additional editing by Sidney Lewis audio mixing by Jay Allison at Atlantic Public Media in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. Theme Music byToubab Krewe. Additional music by George Brandl Egloff. Christopher Kimball's Milk Street Radio is distributed by the public radio exchange.