I, as a Libra, am apparently indecisive by nature. (Whether you buy into astrology/zodiac stuff or not, I can confirm that I am extremely indecisive. I may also be a little obsessed with fairness and balance. I share a birthday with Niels Bohr and Desmond Tutu — I think that’s pretty awesome. Wait, what am I talking about?)
That, actually, is exactly what I’m trying to talk about. Every year, the winter-spring and summer-fall cusps render me completely, totally spaztastic bonkers. My indecisive, somewhat flighty nature is amplified by a thousand. I am extremely excitable. I write run-on sentences with lots of exclamation points. It feels like my brain has been replaced with a hummingbird, causing my mind to flit about without ever landing for a moment’s rest. (This is also the time of year when I need to be hyper-aware of my mood if I’m at a party or out having a drink, because half a glass of booze will turn me into the Chattiest Cathy ever. And if I happen to realize in the middle of a conversation that the person I’m talking to probably thinks I’m totally bombed, I can’t exactly stop in the middle of my sentence and say, “oh by the way, I’m not drunk, it’s just the MANIA!” Yeah……I’m not crazy at all.)
My amplified indecisiveness is also reflected in the foods I begin to crave. I’m not quite ready to give up the heartiness of winter, but I also want the bright, freshness of spring. Luckily, my impulse purchase of the Jerusalem cookbook a few weekends ago turned out to be the perfect companion for these best-of-both-worlds cravings. I spent several nights last week flipping through and flagging recipes, although I knew within the first dozen pages that I’d already found the two things that I absolutely had to eat that weekend.
As soon as I read the words “root vegetable slaw,” I knew that was exactly what I wanted to eat, ASAP. Earthy root vegetables covered with citrus and vinegar and fresh herbs sounded 100% perfect. And then I flipped through a few more pages and landed on a recipe for swiss chard fritters. For some reason, the combination of the two spoke to me (perhaps partly because I’m drawn to anything with the word “fritter” in its name). But it was settled and I was psyched.
The swiss chard fritter recipe called for crumbled feta, but I decided to take the opportunity to make the whipped feta I’ve been drooling over for the past month. And you guys, this stuff……HOLYSMOKES. I don’t even know what to say. I made it with Greek yoghurt, and it tasted like salty sour cream that’s the consistency of cream cheese. J and I smothered baked potatoes in it the other night (awesome idea). I may have finished off the rest of it yesterday by scooping it right from the container onto ranch chips (don’t judge). I can’t believe it’s gone. Until there is more whipped feta, there will just be sadness.
One of the things I was most excited about when I set out to make these two dishes (aside from eating them) was photographing the slaw, since it was going to be brilliant shades of white and orange and pink. I toyed with the idea of keeping the beets separate from everything else, but after julienning all those vegetables, I just couldn’t bear any more fussiness. So I threw it all together and said, “Whatever! It will just be pretty pink.” And it was an absolutely brilliant shade of pink. But as I began taking the photos, frustration hit. See, my trusty little 50mm lens, as much as I love it, has a very hard time with warm, bright colors like deep reds/pinks and yellows. All of the subtleties are lost, and I’m left with flat, jarring blobs of color. So, I kept getting more and more frustrated with each photo I took. About halfway through the shoot, I said to myself, “F it. I’ll have to make them black and white.”
And I did. I had black and white images, and they were fine, but they also made me a little sad. Sad because they did not reflect how bright and delicious the food tasted. And sad because I knew I was probably going to spend this post harping on how annoyed I was with the photos, instead of talking about how seriously wonderful both of these things were, especially together. But then along came Laura’s post yesterday, and it made me rethink my frustration.
I may have been projecting slightly, but her post really spoke to me. The pizza topped with bright greens and herbs fit so well with the still-winter-but-soon-spring things I’d been craving. And as I read the passage it called to mind, I had another “F it” moment, and I decided that the images had to be in color, no matter how crazy those colors were. I had, however, grown rather attached to the B&W images, despite the fact that they were born out of frustration. So, as a true demonstration of my indecisiveness, they have graced the beginning of this (image-heavy) post. With that said, I present the rest to you in color!
And now that I have explained my nuttiness ad nauseum, I would like to talk to you about the actual foods. Both the slaw and the fritters are wonderful. They are laced with enough herbs to make them taste awesomely fresh, while still keeping you grounded with earthy base flavors. This particular pairing is a very telling demonstration of my tendency to prefer piling a bunch of sides/snacks onto a plate and eating them like a meal, rather than going for some central dish with a couple secondary items. They do work very well together (especially with a healthy dollop of Greek yoghurt or labneh), but I realize the I-will-have-three-appetizers-for-dinner approach is not for everyone. The fritters would be excellent served as their own independent side dish, and the slaw would be great on its own or mixed into salad greens, or on sandwiches. There are tons of possibilities!
Swiss Chard Fritters
(from Jerusalem: A Cookbook)
yield: approximately 1.5 dozen small fritters
- 14 oz. Swiss chard leaves, stalks removed
- 1 oz. flat-leaf parsley
- 2/3 oz. cilantro
- 2/3 oz. dill
- 1 1/2 tsp fresh grated nutmeg
- 1/2 tsp sugar
- 3 tbsp all-purpose flour
- 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
- 2 large eggs
- 3 oz. feta cheese, crumbled (or substitute whipped feta)
- 1/4 heaping tsp salt
- pepper, to taste
- olive oil, for the pan
- lemon wedges
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the chard and simmer for 5 minutes. Drain and then squeeze until dry.* Place in a food processor along with the herbs, nutmeg, sugar, flour, garlic, eggs, a heaping 1/4 tsp of salt, and a bit of black pepper. Plus until smooth, the fold the feta in by hand.
*Taking a little break here to add a note of my own: As I’m typing out this recipe, I’m realizing that the one step I sort of skipped was squeezing all of the water out of the chard. I did let it drain for a bit, but the water content may have been the reason that my fritters were more pancake-like.
Add 1 tbsp of olive oil to a medium frying pan and heat over medium-high heat. Spoon a heaping tablespoon of the batter into the pan, then gently press into a circle that’s around 2 3/4 inches in diameter and 3/8 of an inch thick. (I was able to fit 4 at a time into the pan.) Cook fritters for 3–4 minutes total, turning once, until they are well-browned on both sides. Remove from heat and let drain on paper towels, and keep warm as you cook the remaining fritters. Serve immediately with lemon wedges.
Root Vegetable Slaw
(from Jerusalem: A Cookbook)
- 3 medium red beets (1 lb)
- 2 medium carrots (9 oz.)
- 1/2 celeriac (10 oz.)
- 1 medium kohlrabi (9 oz.)
- 4 tbsp fresh lemon juice
- 4 tbsp olive oil
- 3 tbsp sherry vinegar
- 2 tsp superfine sugar
- 3/4 cup of cilantro, chopped
- 3/4 cup of mint leaves, chopped
- 2/3 cup of flat-leaf parsley, chopped
- 1/2 tbsp lemon zest
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp pepper
- scant 1 cup of labneh or Greek yoghurt
Peel and julienne all of the veggies, then place them in a large bowl and cover with cold water.
Combine lemon juice, olive oil, vinegar, sugar, and 1 tsp salt in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer and stir until sugar and salt are just dissolved, then remove from heat.
Drain veggies and transfer to a paper towel to dry. Once dry, place in a bowl and add the hot dressing. Mix well, then let cool in the fridge for at least 45 minutes.
When ready to serve, add the herbs, lemon zest, and pepper and toss to combine. Taste and add a little more salt, if needed. Serve with labneh on the side.