Cooking with seasonal vegetables is fun and rewarding. In the summertime, we love growing tomatoes and basil in our garden. All year long, we look forward to walking outside and eating sweet juicy tomatoes right off the vine, still warm from the sun. Last summer, we made a burst tomato galette with homegrown sungold tomatoes, and it was so unbelievably sweet, tangy, and delicious that we are still dreaming about it six months later. As temperatures drop in autumn (relatively speaking, this is LA after all!), we begin finding fall fruits like crisp apples and pears at the farmers market, along with cool-weather greens like kale and peppery arugula. In the springtime, southern California is at its most colorful, with plants and trees in full bloom, and we celebrate with fresh, sweet asparagus and artichokes, and ruby-red strawberries for dessert. But here we are, snuggling up in warm blankets, sitting by the fire, in the middle of winter, at the peak of cauliflower season. These cream-colored, delicately-flavored vegetables are at their best in winter, and have always been one of our favorites. In this appetizing soup, fresh seasonal cauliflower is combined with sautéed onions, sweet carrots, and blended with aromatic herbs and spices like coriander, cumin, cilantro, and a few pinches of red pepper flakes, to make a delicious, creamy, and comforting bowl of soup that will keep you warm and cozy until spring arrives.
One of our favorite places to eat in Los Angeles is Western Doma Noodles, a quaint little Korean restaurant located in a tiny strip mall in the middle of Koreatown run by Baik, the sweetest lady in the world who makes everyone feel welcome. Although she doesn’t speak much English, she greets us every time with a warm smile and remembers that we are both vegetarian. It’s a special place for us. We had a lovely meal there for Ryan’s birthday in November before seeing the touring production of Beauty And The Beast at the Pantages. We always order the bibimbap, a signature Korean dish of seasoned vegetables served atop a sizzling-hot stone bowl of white rice topped with an egg and mixed with a generous spoonful of spicy chili paste. One of the best parts of Korean cuisine is the delicious banchan, small side dishes set in the middle of the table for everyone to share. Baik is so considerate and brings us an assorted vegetarian selection that is slightly different each time we visit. There are usually at least ten dishes to sample including Korean-style potato salad, steamed and marinated vegetables, pickled cucumbers and radishes, sautéed tofu, seasoned seaweed, and of course kimchi, an essential banchan for a traditional Korean meal. We were recently discussing fermented foods with our dear friend Christine at Yommme, and she mentioned to us that she had a delicious recipe for vegetarian kimchi that was easy to make. We fell in love with her roasted tandoori cauliflower that we wrote about in November, so we were eager to give this a try. We just made our first batch last week, and from the very first taste it was clear: this is, without question, the best kimchi we have ever had!
The holidays are here and it truly is a wonderful time of year. There is a cheerful spirit in the air that brings people together. Neighborhoods sparkle with colored lights, friends gather for festive parties filled with spiced drinks and sweet treats, and the cooler temperatures revitalize us, bringing an uplifting and refreshing energy to the new year. And on Christmas day, while many families will be roasting turkeys, baking gingerbread cookies, and sipping eggnog, it is an annual tradition in Ryan’s family to cook an authentic Cuban dinner. The centerpiece is a massive roast pork leg, marinated for a week in garlic and spices, that is usually so big it barely fits in the oven. There is always congri on the table (a savory dish with black beans and rice), two kinds of plantains (both the salty tostones and sweet plátanos maduros), and of course our favorite: yuca con mojo, in which tender cubes of yuca are tossed with an intensely-flavored sauce filled with crushed raw garlic, olive oil, and zesty vinegar. And while yuca is not typically thought of as a Christmas dish, it is perfect for the holidays and other family feasts. Anywhere that mashed potatoes are welcome, yuca is a deliciously bright and tangy alternative.
On a bookshelf next to our kitchen, you will find a large green binder containing 204 pages of recipes (we recently counted!) which we have been collecting over the past ten years. It is filled with scribbled notes, comments, and detailed descriptions of where they came from. It is meticulously alphabetized and divided into six categories: Main Courses, Sides, Cakes, Cookies, Other Desserts, and Breakfasts. On the thirtieth page of the Sides section, nestled comfortably between a no-mayo potato salad from Rachael Ray and a Puerto Rican pique sauce, lies this glorious sweet baked dish. And at the bottom of the recipe is a handwritten note from December 2010 declaring it the “best kugel we have ever had.” This traditional noodle casserole adapted from Gourmet Magazine stole the show at our Hanukkah party five years ago and we have continued to make it every year since.
We just checked the official Thanksgiving Rule Book, and in Article 1, Line 3, it clearly states, “Sweet potatoes must be included on the table in order to qualify as a true Thanksgiving feast.” This detailed book covers all the basics: Must have at least one type of stuffing. Each slice of pumpkin pie shall be topped with a dollop of whipped cream. Omitting the green bean casserole is forbidden and will incur penalties. There is also a great section on how to say the appropriate thing when giving thanks, as well as informative chapters on how to deal with drunken relatives. Everything is covered here: from how to quickly and smoothly change the conversation topic from politics to funny youtube videos, to tips on being polite if the turkey happens to be dry. This delicious recipe has been a tradition in Ryan’s family for over 40 years, and Thanksgiving truly wouldn’t be the same without it. And according to the official Rule Book, this dish qualifies as the perfect sweet potato casserole: filled with tender sweet potatoes tossed with fresh ripe cranberries, covered with a cinnamon and brown sugar oat crumble, and baked until the cranberries soften and burst, releasing their ruby-colored juice, which bubbles under the crisp, crunchy warmly-spiced topping.