One of the most exciting things about food writing is stumbling upon something you've never seen before. Even more thrilling is the food you have actually written about but never tasted. These lovely nuts just happened to be featured among the several thousand vendors at the Fancy Food Show (still on in San Francisco). They are somewhat soft and buttery. A little sweet. I didn't set out to find them. In fact I wrote precisely about how they were introduced to the US about a century ago and then mysteriously disappeared. There were political reasons for this, I think. If you can identify them and tell me where they come from I'll send you a copy of the book NUTS: A HISTORY when it comes out. When that will be I can't promise since the publisher (this is in the Edible Series) has been inexplicably sitting on it for the past 6 weeks. But it's in the line up. And there you'll find the full story. But for the moment, who can tell me what these are? First correct answer, including origin, I promise a copy when it's printed.
I'm not sure how traditional this might be, but there are so many different versions of sarma (i.e. stuffed cabbage) that someone must do it this way. Trust me, it is amazing and worth the extra tedious steps I've added, just to make it more difficult. Start with a big head of cabbage. I had an oddly flat one with huge leaves. Cut out the core and boil it in salty water for about 10-15 minutes. Let cool and drain. Then take two should lamb chops and chop them up finely by hand. You don't want meat grinder texture, but a fine cut, with fat and all. Add salt, pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, zaatar, a little sugar and mix up. Lay a large thigh shaped piece of lamb filling in each cabbage leaf, tuck in the sides and roll up. Put them in a clay casserole. Now the fun part. Add a little olive oil and wine, sprinkle with more zaatar, cover with tin foil and bake at 350 degrees for two hours or longer. Then remove tin foil and continue to cook on the stove top so all the liquid is reduced. Keep spooning it over. I also added about a tablespoon of harissa to the liquid and kept spooning. Notice no rice or tomato. The filling becomes wonderfully tender. Serve with polenta. I'll bet they're even better today.
Look at my new toy! I know there are those among you who have dreamed about owning one of those beautiful big red Berkels, used for slicing prosciutto paper thin. They cost thousands of dollars. Well, this isn't one of those. Actually quite inexpensive. Built by Graef and bought through Manufactum, a company in Germany that sells unbelievably lovely things. I know, it is a fetish of mine to own hand powered tools, but this works nicely. Sticks to the counter well too with little suction cups. See the even slices of salami? It snagged a bit here and there, but I think that's because the salami is uneven and coarse-textured. I don't know how it's cleaned, but I guess I'll figure it out. In the meantime, check out Manufactum; I dare you not to buy something. (This is an unsolicited endorsement. My friends in Germany Richard and Theo told me about it, and they were absolutely right.)
If you happen to find yourself if Hong Kong, as I did recently, you will be struck by the proliferation of a particular bright shop selling packages of what seem to be candy, everywhere. Literally hundreds of shops: in the airport, in the malls, on the streets. If you look for information about the shop (Aji Ichiban) you will find that there were once several shops in the US, and perhaps a few still survive. Seek one out at any cost. Now look closely at what they actually sell. Little dried nubbins of various species of guts. Here is Tripe, chicken feet, duck kidney, neck, tendon. On a menu once might expect to find these, and I did everywhere. They were delicious. The cuisine was magnificently laden with offal, heads, feet, skin, bird intestines, stinky fish... But in little kid-sized snack packs? For nibbling at school, work, or while on the road? You HAVE to love this. I do.
Food Historian at the University of the Pacific. Director of Food Studies in San Francisco.
Author of Eating Right in the Renaissance, Food in Early Modern Europe, Cooking in Europe 1250-1650, The Banquet, Beans (2008 IACP Jane Grigson Award) and Pancake. A cookbook with Rosanna Nafziger THE LOST ART OF REAL COOKING.
Coeditor of The Lord's Supper with Trudy Eden and Editor of A Cultural History of Food: The Renaissance.
Food Cultures of the World Encyclopedia (4 vols.) Three World Cuisines: Italian, Mexican and Chinese recently won the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards Best Foreign Cuisine book in the World. The Routledge International Handbook to Food Studies is in print.
A sequel to the cookbook - entitled THE LOST ARTS OF HEARTH AND HOME.
Latest Books: Grow Food, Cook Food, Share Food from Oregon State U Press, a little book on Nuts from Reaktion and The Food History Reader from Bloomsbury. The Most Excellent Book of Cookery (translation of a 16th c. French Cookbook with Tim Tomasik) from Prospect Books. Not to mention THE BEAST: The Food Issues Encyclopedia for Sage. Latest: At the Table. Noodle Soups coming up next!