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Essays

One Piece of Misandao

by: Shelly

In primary school, I usually had lunch at my grandparents’ home during the noon break.  Knowing that I grew up with a sweet tooth, grandpa always prepared me Misandao, a traditional fried cake glazed with malt sugar, with white sesame seeds dotting the top. 

Grandpa is also a sweet tooth. After lunch, he would take out the five-year-old cookie jar, lean in to catch a glimpse of what he knew to be inside, and squeeze his calloused hand in to grab out the box of Misandao. And I just sit quietly beside him, blinking my eyes at the blurred golden shape through the plastics. He placed the box of eight Misandao on the table and took out one piece, pushing the rest toward me. 

Misandao is sweet, but its barley aroma mediates the feeling of greasiness and indulgence. He used to bite half of it and seemed to be observing and examining the other half, chewing slowly. I always asked him to have more, and he always replied by asking me to have more. Admiring my grandpa a lot as a little kid, I followed him, having only one piece at a time.

I used to look at the white sesame on the surface glazed with sugar, glistening under the sunlight like delicate china—gentle, mild, and soothing. It came into my mouth like a sailing boat driven by a young sailor, melting into my ocean with peace and embracement. The sweet softness extended as I chewed, like the water sleeves of classical Chinese dancers flying in the air. The movement played in slow motion—the silk flows in the air like the stream of honey that flows in me, and I dive into it. I’d take a sip of green tea—as the water vapor rose, the slightest remnant of greasiness was blown away, the bitterness of tea with the extreme mellowness of barley and sesame reaching a harmony that soothed every single nerve of me. 

I could not help smiling and swaying my feet under the table. And I imagined what grandpa was thinking about, peeking over at him while he stared at the Misandao. He seemed so satisfied and peaceful with the one little piece on his hand—not even bothering to grab another one.

After all these years, I still remember the times when me and grandpa sat at the same table, each holding one small piece of Misandao and chewing silently. The rest of the golden Misandao lying on the table, the laughter of children playing at the field coming through the window, and the somewhat annoying buzzing sound of the air conditioning machine. Nothing seemed to matter or exist anymore. The joy of focusing on one piece of Misandao filled me with happiness and pacified all the dissatisfactions. 

I go to my grandparents’ house for lunch less and less often since middle school, but I still had Misandao at home. A whole box to myself. And then I went abroad for college, unable to squeeze even a single box of Misandao into my suitcase.

But every time I eat alone at the dining hall in college, I go back to the little table. So my blueberry muffin is my Misandao. I carefully take off the plastic bag, peel back a small corner of the paper cup, and take a bite. I feel the crispy lid that collides with my teeth, and the refreshing blueberry that lights the cloying sweetness. 

I go back all the time. When I go to class wearing the jacket with the aroma of the detergent in the morning and see the sunlight going through the leaves, when I sit on the bus listening to my favorite music that beats along with the speed of passing the flowers planted by the street, and when I walk alone on the way to the supermarket at night, seeing people playing guitar on the street, I’d secretly smile under my mask, add a few jumps to my footsteps, close my eyes, and shake my head slightly. 

Just like back then when I swayed my feet under the table, for the one piece of Misandao. 

With my grandpa.

Cover photo courtesy of INF News

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Mucho Gusto

Sweet, Salty, and Crunchy

Ahh, the beginning of May marks the end of the school year and the start of every student’s favorite time … Finals season. Although it feels like the work never stops at Boston College the beginning of May is no doubt the busiest time of the year. We crack open the books, brew the coffee, and sit in the library for hours at a time. Finals are full of stress, sleepless nights, and burnout but eating yummy food has always been my go-to break. 

Whether it is taking a minute and walking to get White Mountian, or ordering delivery food from a local restaurant in Newton enjoying food with others is an opportunity to relax amidst the stress. Snacks are an important part of any long study season and as many of my close friends know my go-to study snack is a trail mix packed full of nuts. 

Some may say I have an obsession but every bite is uniquely satisfying. Want something sweet? Dark chocolate almonds. Need something salty? Roasted lightly salted cashews. Want some spice? Cajun peanuts. Trail mix offers the perfect boost of energy and satisfies all your late-night cravings. The options are endless and concocting a trail mix to snack on always makes studying more appealing for me. This specific trail mix recipe is inspired by many late nights in O’Neil studying Spanish and days in Shiller drawing biology diagrams on whiteboards. Keep on studying and snacking! 

Ingredients:  

2 cups plain popcorn 

2 cups mini pretzels 

1 cup corn Chex 

1 cup cinnamon Chex 

½ cup lightly salted cashews

½ cup plain almonds 

½ cup plain pecans 

½ cup honey-roasted peanuts 

¾ cup peanut butter m&m’s 

Instructions: 

In a gallon-size ziplock bag combine all the ingredients. Tightly close and shake until the mixture is mixed all together. Portion the mix into smaller bags and grab them on your way to the library! 

Cover photo courtesy of Chelsea’s Messy Apron

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Mucho Gusto

Hatian Banan Peze and Pikliz

Papers, projects, and presentations are adding up, forming daunting piles and exhaustive to-do lists. Finals are looming, threatening GPAs, sleep, and sanity. Meanwhile, the days are getting longer. The weather is getting warmer, and the plants are getting greener. These next few weeks are those in which motivation matters the most, but it’s a struggle to stay productive when spring is in swing and anyone would rather be sitting in a hammock than studying. It’s easy to feel burnt out or defeated at this point in the semester, and many underclassmen (sorry seniors) are looking forward to the end of the semester, especially after a fleeting glimpse of freedom during Easter vacation. Despite how badly we may want to start our exotic vacation plans or awesome internships, the hay is in the barn, and the last few weeks of the semester have to be finished. The things getting me through until summer are those I associate with summer, my family, and the memories we’ve made together. 

Banan peze and pikliz are Haitian fried green plantains and spicy pickled vegetables. They can be eaten as side dishes alongside a meal, or banan peze can be enjoyed as a standalone dish or snack with pikliz as a condiment. Both dishes are staples in Latin American and Caribbean cuisine, and in Haiti, banan peze and pikliz are eaten regardless of the season, so there isn’t really a cultural correlation between the two dishes and the summer and spring seasons. Cultural history or not though, family memories and traditions have led me to strongly associate them with the warming of the weather. 

My mom hated the smell and cleanup of frying so she would always wait until a nice weekend day to set up and fry outside on the patio. We would take advantage of having the grill out and make kebabs, hamburgers, hotdogs, or whatever my mom was already planning on throwing in the oven for Sunday dinner. Oftentimes the pool would be open when it was still too cold for swimming so it remained serene, save for the occasional ripples of a gust of spring wind or a fallen petal. Aunts, uncles, cousins, or friends would stop by for “a quick bite” and stay until the sun was beginning to sneak behind the trees. We would all comment on how deceitful the lengthening days are and make excuses for talking longer than we had intended because “we hadn’t seen each other since the fall.” All the while, we would enjoy freshly fried banan peze with pikliz. Summer had yet to arrive, and our weekend gatherings were far from pool parties or family reunions, but those small moments were my reminder of even more fun and freedom that had yet to come. 

Even now I can imagine the taste of my mom’s banan: hot, crunchy, and salty complemented by the crisp, acidic pikliz. It conjures sights, smells, and sounds of long days at the beach, late nights around a fire, and busy family barbecues.
Food and the associated senses can serve as a bridge between experiences, memories, and emotions. Dishes like banan peze and pikliz remind me of my family and warmer weather, and keep me going at challenging points in the semester. Although this recipe may not have the same emotional oomph for you that it does for me, I hope you will still enjoy these fantastic dishes. If nothing else, let them be a reminder to you of the work you have already done and the fun that is to come as you complete finals and whatever challenges that come with the end of the semester and the start of a new chapter.

Ingredients: 

Banan Peze: 

  • 1 cup vegetable or other high heat oil
  • 3 green plantains, peeled and chopped into 1 ¼ inch lengths
  • Tosternara 
  • 1 cup hot water
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar 
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder 

Pikliz:

  • 2 cups shredded green cabbage 
  • 1 large carrot, julienned 
  • 1 red bell pepper, julienned
  • 6 scotch bonnet pepper, minced
  • 1 white onion, julienned 
  • 2 scallions, sliced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 12 whole black peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups white vinegar 
  • ½ lime, juiced

Directions: 

Banan Peze:

In a large bowl combine the hot water, white vinegar, salt, and garlic powder. Stir to combine and set aside.

In a heavy bottomed skillet or saucepan preheat oil over medium low heat to about 325℉. Fry the plantain pieces in batches so as to not crowd the pan, turning often for approximately 5 minutes or until golden brown on all sides. Remove and let drain on paper towels.

Press your fried plantains to between ¼ and ½ inch thickness using a tostonera or the bottom of a smooth pan utop a cutting board. Increase your oil’s temperature to about 375℉. Quickly soak each pressed plantain in the seasoned liquid before carefully lowering into the oil. Fry for about 5 minutes or until golden brown and crisp, turning occasionally. Work in batches, be sure not to overcrowd the pan, and be extra careful since there is a lot of moisture introduced to the oil. Drain plantains on a paper towel before serving hot. 

Pikliz: 

Mix the cabbage, carrot, bell and scotch bonnet peppers, onion, scallions, garlic, and peppercorns together in a large jar or other airtight container. Combine salt, vinegar, and lime juice and pour over the cabbage mixture. Cover tightly and refrigerate for at least 5 days before serving. The pikliz should stay fresh in the refrigerator for up to 3 months.

Cover photo courtesy of The Foreign Fork

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I Eat My Favorite Soup Once a Year

Passover only happens eight days out of the year, but for a carb-loving, bread enthusiast like me, it can be quite disheartening not to eat leavened bread for the entire week-long Jewish holiday. However, there is one dish that I always look forward to eating when Passover comes around.

Every year, I look forward to seder dinners at my grandparents’ house in New York. Passover is the one time each year where my whole extended family gathers together. We read aloud the 1930s version of the Haggadah—the Jewish text that tells the story of Passover—that was passed down to my grandparents. The book is outdated and written in old English, but it’s a tradition, so reading it’s a necessity. We sit at the dining room table and take turns reading a paragraph. We practice the customs of the seder and collectively sigh when the last blessing is read, which cues the start to dinner.

When the books are cleared, the first course of dinner is served. Without delay, bowls of matzo ball soup are ladled into fine china, and just as quickly as they are passed out, the soup is gobbled down by the guests at the table.

There’s something about matzo ball soup. It’s a simple and minimal dish. A large, softball-sized matzo ball is served with a hefty ladling of chicken soup. Matzo balls have a bready, sponge-like texture and are served in a chicken broth. The balls are made up of a mix of eggs and matzo meal—ground up matzo bread—which allows the bready soup dumpling to soak up the flavor of the chicken broth. The broth is no different than regular chicken noodle soup, but it isn’t served with all of the fixings at my grandma’s. No celery, no onion, no carrots, not even pieces of chicken. Just broth and matzo balls. The chicken flavor is so potent that it tastes just like the liquid form of a chicken. The soup is served hot and warms the soul.

Matzo ball soup is hands down my favorite soup of all time. Aside from the grandiose flavor, the dish brings back memories and a wave of nostalgia. Each spoonful transports me back to when I was younger at these Passover seders. Because I was the youngest child present at the table, I had to read a passage every year called ‘The Four Questions’ in Hebrew. While it was nerve-wracking every time, as a reward for reading, I was one of the first to be served a bowl of matzo ball soup when the time came. While this might have been pure coincidence—or due to the fact that I sat next to my grandfather at the head of the table—I rationalized my good work with the prize of matzo ball soup. 

I have made my own matzo ball soup based on my grandma’s recipe numerous times, and while the renditions taste great each time, they simply are not the same. I’ve mastered the art of making matzo balls, perfecting both the size and texture, but my chicken broth has never compared to my grandma’s. Without the potent flavor of poultry in my broth, my matzo balls are less flavorful, too. Alas, this does not discourage me from making the wonderful dish at all. Rather, it encourages me to keep trying. 


While I can make matzo ball soup all I want, my all-time favorite soup is the one at my grandparents’ house that I can only get once a year. Plus, my grandma’s matzo ball soup gives me a reason to look forward to Passover every year.

Cover photo courtesy of Melanie Cooks

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Mucho Gusto

Pillsbury Dough Reimagined

It’s 4 AM. Birds chirp as I walk home from O’Neill Library. My head spins after countless hours spent on an International Relations paper, studying for a Microeconomic Theory exam, Econometrics projects, and Philosophy terms and definitions. An impending sense of doom filled my mind as I collapsed into my twin XL bed. Before I could process anything, my 8:25 AM alarm jolted me awake for my 9 AM class. Head and heart pounding, the only thing that ran through my mind was a question: Why? Why do I do this to myself? What does all this studying do for me, since I seem to still be doing poorly no matter how much time and effort I give? I returned to my feeble mantra: one day, all this work will pay off. However, as I often do, I proceeded to sacrifice mental, physical, and emotional health to complete my academic work.

As I reflect on my sophomore year, I have learned multiple things about myself and my choices. I will share two here: the first, I seem to be afraid of free time; the second, I restrict myself to the confines of my all-powerful schedule. Without my watch, I don’t know what to do with myself. In the rare case that I forget to wear it, I’ll be looking for any display of the passage of time: checking clocks all around me, asking a friend, or repeatedly checking my phone. If I don’t schedule my appointments, fitness activities, or meals with friends, I’ll become immensely stressed. As I cram and pour my energy into these assignments, I respond to school pressure by shutting myself into an isolated box in order to complete my work. Going through the motions of life is not a new process for me, I seem to have perfected my own game. Although I am familiar with academic challenges and high stress levels, the past months have become a new record for the most academically challenging and nerve-wracking. Despite encouragement from family, friends, and professors as to how to manage this work, among other stress-coping mechanisms, I inevitably return to old unhealthy habits without my own realization. However, I am blessed with wonderful friends and peers who know me well, and immediately know when something is off. I am eternally grateful for their kindness and support, and I will never take them for granted.

One Sunday night, before a hellish week filled with exams, someone close to me saw that I was struggling. He woke up the next morning, went across the street to buy Pillsbury cookie dough from Richdale’s, and made me cookies all before he went to his classes. The moment I received the tupperware, with his handwritten note on top, I felt an immense sense of relief, mixed with gratefulness and humility. In my sleep deprived state, I went outside and cried. On the outside, it appeared as though my lack of control demonstrated weakness, maybe my inability to control things. However, I think that this display of emotion shows internal strength. Accepting help from others requires you to let go of what you think you can control (in my case, stubbornness). The realization that you cannot control everything, no matter how much you try, is a core part of the human experience. Regardless of how we respond to this fact—whether we run, hide, or refuse to accept—does not matter. In the end, the truth remains that we must be open to receiving help from others. That day, I learned that his simple thoughtfulness and kindness in the act of preparing me those cookies was everything I needed to get through my work. He laughed when I said that these were the best cookies I’ve ever had, but I meant it. I hope you’ll experience this same release when you try this classic childhood recipe.

Pillsbury Chocolate Chip Cookies:

Ingredients

¾ cup granulated sugar

¾ cup packed brown sugar

1 cup butter or margarine, softened

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 large egg

2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

1 cup coarsely chopped nuts

1 bag (12 oz) semisweet chocolate chips (2 cups)

Instructions:

  1. Heat oven to 375°F.
  2. In a large bowl, beat granulated sugar, brown sugar, butter, vanilla and egg with an electric mixer on medium speed, or mix with a spoon. Stir in flour, baking soda and salt (dough will be stiff). Stir in nuts and chocolate chips.
  3. On an ungreased cookie sheet, drop dough by rounded tablespoonfuls about 2 inches apart.
  4. Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until light brown (centers will be soft). Cool 1 to 2 minutes; transfer from cookie sheet to wire rack.

 This article is dedicated to Nik Simonsen.

Cover photo courtesy of King Arthur Baking

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Selective, Not Picky

What do grilled chicken, rice, filet mignon, cucumbers, and goat cheese have in common? Well, nothing really, other than the fact that these were the five staple foods in my diet up until age fourteen. For most of my childhood, I was referred to as a “selective” eater, not a “picky” eater (and I would become very angry in response to that title). The title of “picky eater” didn’t really apply to me, at least with its usual connotations. My diet did not consist of typical children’s foods, such as hot dogs, pizza, chocolate milk (and I actually hated all three). Rather it consisted of a selective set of foods, some of which were very mature for my young palate. I thrived on this cuisine for years with no problems, with the occasional supplementation of other basic foods (think pasta, chicken nuggets, various forms of potato, etc…). Though I was met with much debate from my parents and my pediatrician, I felt I was doing just fine.

Once I entered high school and noticed my peers had far more expansive diets than mine, I started to become self-conscious about my limited palate. High school came with new experiences—traveling, going out to dinner with friends, the options were endless—however, my “selective” diet was not as endless. Unlike the comfortable granite countertops of my own kitchen, my diet could not always be accommodated when I was out and about. Italian restaurants were easy, I could always get plain pasta (though my still-ongoing fear of tomato sauce is continually met with much dismay). American restaurants were rather uncomplicated too: a burger (just bun, meat, and cheddar cheese, of course) or chicken fingers were always available (though my fear of the other common tomato product, ketchup, was, and still is, met with much chagrin). Japanese, Mexican, Indian, or any other non-Western cuisine was entirely off limits, though. No spices, no sauces, and most importantly, no vegetables. 

These challenges went on for the first few months of high school until eventually I was motivated to put in the work to open my eyes to new and exciting culinary adventures. But, I had no idea where to start. Anything green or well-seasoned evoked an immense fear only a fellow “selective” eater could understand. It was a catch-22, I wanted to try new things, but I was scared I wouldn’t like them. But, I wouldn’t know for sure if I didn’t like them unless I tried them. Maybe I was a “picky” eater after all…

Finally, I sought help from a dietitian who helped me devise a plan to open the flood gates to all sorts of new cuisine. One piece of advice that she provided is the one that I believe had the most profound impact on my willingness to expand my horizons: she told me to cook for myself. Immediately after our first appointment, I went straight to Whole Foods and bought an expansive assortment of vegetables, proteins, seasonings, and sauces. I looked up recipes and got cooking. In just that one day, I learned I loved cauliflower, broccoli, dark meat chicken, and teriyaki sauce. A few cooking sessions later, I adopted spinach, carrots, and all sorts of herbs. Though some more complex acquired tastes, like hummus, brussels sprouts, and salmon took years to grow into, I now consider myself a relatively adventurous eater. All it took for me was to take matters into my own hands; the constant nagging from everyone around me could not get me past the mental roadblock that I had created—it had to come from within.

Cover Photo Courtesy of Ministry of Curry

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A Triumphant Taco Tuesday

“Nine dollars? For one taco?! That is just insane!!” I remarked, perusing menus of the seemingly endless options in South Beach’s eclectic restaurant scene. Planning the culinary adventures for my friends and our spring break trip to Miami felt like an impossible feat. In true foodie fashion, we had a long list of criteria: aesthetically pleasing decor, Instagrammable food (phone eats first, of course), good ambiance, and reasonable price. As five college-aged girls with budgets far lower than the lavish cuisine our palettes craved, keeping dining expenses down was not an easy task––until we discovered the wonders of Taco Tuesday.

“Only three dollars per taco? What a steal!” I announced, telling all the details of the latest special I found. “Wait! This place’s tacos are only two dollars! They also haveunlimited chips and guac!”

I continued to fall down the rabbit hole of every Taco Tuesday special along Miami’s South Beach, each looking better and better.How were we supposed to choose? Whether it was the allure of the “holiday” itself or just the fact that our near obsession provided premium content for (what we considered) hilarious jokes, I’m not sure. We became fully invested in making this Taco Tuesday the most idyllic ever; morning to night, we planned the most elaborate meals, activities, and themed outfits. In the days leading up to the event, everything we did or said related somehow to Taco Tuesday. 

Tuesday, March 8th, 8 am. I opened my eyes, sat up, and shrieked: “It’s Taco Tuesday!!!!,” in my loudest, most exclamatory tone. While I am sure my friends were not exactly hoping for an 8 am wake-up call, we had a long day ahead of us, and I knew that was the only way to get them riled up for the day. We made our daily trip to the lobby Starbucks to caffeinate ourselves to an optimal level. The day was spent at three different restaurants eating tacos, of course, for every meal. My personal favorite was the Birria Taco made with braised beef and melted cheese in a handmade corn tortilla. Birria tacos are unique, as they are served alongside a deliciously spicy broth to dip in. Each bite dripped with immense flavor. A close second was a delightfully crisp Baja fish taco with fresh pineapple salsa, the perfect taste of Miami. Though fish is not usually part of my diet, this fish was so fresh I knew I had to try it. Whether it was a sit-down restaurant where each taco was creatively plated or the dingiest shack at the end of an alleyway, every taco we found was delectable perfection (and much more economical than any of our other meals). 

While the food was so delicious it was quite literally life-altering, the experiences filled with laughter were what really tied the day together. Taco Tuesday lived way beyond our expectations, with food providing an outlet for my newfound college friends and I to create everlasting memories. We were brought closer together than before––a true success. Even as we return to “real life,” we try to honor Taco Tuesday as much as we can, seeking out Boston’s best Mexican cuisine (though, admittedly, it’s hard to top Miami).

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Mucho Gusto

A Crispy Crowd-Pleaser: Maple Balsamic Brussels Sprouts

 “The brussels sprouts never fall from the favorite,” is a thought that I would never expect to stir in my mind as I deliberate what to bring for the perfect potluck performance. 

For most of my life, brussel sprouts only entertained the twiddling of my fork on the margins of my plate. They were never to be eaten or looked at, only self-served as a politeness before exclaiming that “I’m too stuffed for more.” Needless to say, I would have never considered them as more than the most distasteful green vegetable—a competitive title to receive by my judgment. 

My mother tried everything to make them more palatable to my pickiness, even going as far as to wrap them in a circumference of crispy bacon but to no avail. I planned to abstain from their bland, unappetizing character. 

And so, I successfully avoided them for several years, all until my freshman year in college, when an upperclassmen teammate cooked them for dinner and insisted that their caramelization in balsamic vinegar and maple syrup would guarantee I change my mind. 

Now, they consistently perform as a personal favorite and my most confident crowd-pleaser. This recipe adapts and honors the first bite of brussels I enjoyed, with my additional lessons from trying to recreate the perfectly crisp, salty-sweet mouthful which assures to adjust any anti-brussels attitude. 

Ingredients:

1 pint brussels sprouts

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon balsamic glaze

2 tablespoons maple syrup

Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions:

Heat the oven to 425℉. Trim the bottom of the brussels sprouts. Slice each brussels sprout lengthwise (from top to bottom) once or twice depending on its size. I have found that only slicing the larger brussel sprouts in half makes it more difficult for them to crisp and cook evenly. Since you will typically grab a mixed bag of brussels sprouts, it is important to survey your sprouts and decide which ones will need an extra slice. Once cut, move the brussels sprouts to a large mixing bowl.

In a small mixing bowl, combine the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, balsamic glaze, and maple syrup. Stir well so that the ingredients can mix evenly. Pour the dressing over the brussels sprouts. With a large spoon, toss the sprouts until they are evenly coated in the dressing.

Evenly distribute the brussel sprouts onto a baking sheet, and sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Roast the brussel sprouts in the oven for approximately 35 minutes or until the sprouts are beginning to crisp on the edges. Be sure to shake the pan to toss the sprouts every 5-10 minutes so they cook uniformly. Once cooked and crisped to your liking, remove from the oven, serve, and enjoy!

Cover photo courtesy of feedfeed

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Essays

Stella’s Stuffed Grape Leaves

Out of all of my mother’s wonderful dishes, the one I long for most in this present moment is stuffed grape leaves. While living in Europe, I have had more time to reflect on my family history. My great-grandmother Stella was a caring Romanian woman with Northern Greek ancestry who taught my mother how to make stuffed grape leaves, or dolmades, and for that I am very thankful. Every time my mother cooked this dish for my family growing up, she would recall her grandmother’s detailed instructions and serve it to us with love. Having learned this recipe from my mother, I hope to pass this culinary treasure on to my own family in the future. Stuffed grape leaves cannot be forgotten; they must be enjoyed by future generations.

Dolmades embody a pop of multiple flavors that fuse together to make a wonderfully hearty dish. Lying within the grape leaves is a ground beef, onion, and rice mixture that is seasoned with dill and parsley, sporting an herbaceous kick and soft texture. The meat flavor does not stand alone, though, as the tender grape leaves provide a sharp note of acidity. Sold in a vinegar brine, the tangy grape leaves are complemented well by the citrusy and grassy dill in the filling. Tying the dish together is a smooth lemon yogurt sauce that enhances the acidity of the grape leaves, making every bite fresh and captivating. Wrapped individually with much patience, stuffed grape leaves are a savory and zesty delicacy that I never fail to enjoy.

Gazing into a pot of steaming, dark green stuffed grape leaves makes me feel connected to my great-grandmother Stella. Although I met her when I was a baby, she unfortunately passed away when I was very young, so I do not hold vivid memories of spending time with her. This saddens me, but the phenomena of legacy brings me comfort. My mother deeply resembles Stella in both appearance and generosity. My great-grandmother expressed love and affection through cooking for her family, just like my mother does. From what I have been told, it was always a priority of hers to ensure that her husband, children, and grandchildren were well fed and genuinely enjoying whatever they were eating. Holidays and celebrations were opportunities for her to prepare a variety of dishes and express her talents in the kitchen. I often see my mother reflect this behavior, since she herself views food as a creative outlet.

As I think about my Greek roots, I look forward to spending my Easter Break in Athens. I have never traveled to Greece before, and I cannot wait to immerse myself into its historical beauty. Walking through ruins of Ancient Greece will be surreal, but it will not be the first time I connect with part of my heritage. Eating stuffed grape leaves with my family reminds me of Stella’s ethnic background, and how she channeled it into her home cooking that touched the lives of so many. I wish my great grandmother were in my life right now, and I still get upset by the impossibility of this wish. But family traditions are more alive than one might think. They travel from one family to another, from one time period to the next, from one’s heart to another’s stomach in this case. Through my mother, I see Stella’s wisdom and generosity. The combination of tender rice, savory meat, acidic grape leaves, and vibrant lemon sauce transports me to a place I cannot easily define—or even see—but can certainly feel. Here, I am engulfed by the aromatic scent of stuffed grape leaves alongside my mother and my great-grandmother Stella, feeling safe and appreciated. This is a timeless memory.

Cover Photo Courtesy of deposit photos

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Mucho Gusto

Chickpea Pancakes

This recipe was born out of an almost-empty fridge and a can of chickpeas found in the storage ottoman / makeshift pantry in my dorm room.  I wasn’t working with much: a questionable bunch of parsley, a few eggs from the week-old carton in my mini fridge, a lemon, and some seasoning essentials.  

I toted my ingredients across the street to 2k and shot a quick text to warn my friends that I’d be taking over their kitchen for the next 30 minutes.  I knew what I wanted to make, I just hadn’t the slightest idea how to execute it.  A few weeks prior, I saw a recipe in The New York Times for crepe-like chickpea pancakes.  I wanted something sturdier.  I knew how to make a decent meatball, but what I had in mind wasn’t meant to serve the same purpose as a meatball.

By the time I reached the apartment, I still had no idea how I was going to throw together a chickpea pancake with no guidance.  I was quickly distracted by warm “hellos” and hilarious conversation, forgetting why I had come to see my two friends in the first place.  My growling stomach reminded me of the task at hand: chickpea…Pancakes?? Patties?? Whatever it was that I was making, I had to get cooking.

I decided to trust what I knew, and I loosely followed part of my recipe for meatballs.  Sautéed onions would add some sweetness, parsley would brighten things up, and lemon (not generally a player on the meatball roster) would bring in a bit of zing.  I needed binders to hold everything together: egg and cornstarch would have to suffice.  

Once my batter was made, I turned on the heat.  I spooned a few globs of my chickpea mixture into the pan and hoped for the best.  The edges sizzled in the oil: the first green flag.  Within a few minutes, I could smell the onion and crispy crust as the pancakes browned: another good sign.  Next up was the dreaded flip.  The test of all tests.  The pancakes falling apart would guarantee the failure of my freestyle recipe.  I held my breath as I shimmied a spatula under the first pancake and plopped it over.  A slight splatter of oil on the stove, but an otherwise perfect flip AND a perfect golden crust on the bottom of the pancake.  Sweet success.

In just a few minutes, I took the five pancakes off the pan and sautéed some heirloom cherry tomatoes and garlic and oil until they burst and became slightly saucy.  I quickly fried two eggs over easy and assembled my meal.  Two pancakes went down first.  A hefty spread of tomatoes on each pancake, and eggs placed ever-so-carefully on top so as not to break the yolks.  A few dribbles of chili crisp and some leftover parsley to seal the deal.  

A few bites in, and I knew this one was a winner.  Soft and steamy on the inside and crispy-crunchy on the outside, these pancakes were exactly what I had in mind when I first set out to make them.  The chickpeas provide a blank enough canvas to get creative with the herbs and spices; so feel free to improvise with what you have on hand.  Reheat your leftovers in a toaster or air fryer to keep that crunch.  

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Ingredients:

4 tablespoons olive oil

½ sweet onion, diced

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed

1 egg, lightly beaten

¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped

Zest and juice of 1 lemon

1-2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes

Salt and pepper, to taste

1 tablespoon cornstarch or flour

Directions:

In a medium skillet over medium heat, drizzle about 2 tablespoons of olive oil and add in the chopped onion.  Sauté the onions for about 5 minutes until soft.  Add in the garlic and cook until fragrant, 2-3 minutes.  Remove the onions and garlic from the skillet and set aside.  Turn off the heat, but leave the onion-y oil in the pan.

In a medium bowl, crush chickpeas with the tines of a fork, leaving only some intact.  The chickpeas should be broken down, but not smooth and hummus-like.  Add in the egg, and stir well to combine.  Sprinkle in the chopped parsley, lemon juice and zest, crushed red pepper, salt, and a few generous twists of cracked black pepper.  Stir once again until everything is incorporated evenly throughout.  Add in the cornstarch or flour to bind the mixture.  The batter should be slightly thicker than a muffin batter, but it shouldn’t hold its shape easily.

Reheat your pan to medium high and add in the rest of the olive oil.  The skillet should be more than generously coated; this will allow for a crispy fry on each pancake.  Spoon the batter into medium rounds (about the size of the palm of your hand) in the hot oil.  Work in batches so as not to crowd the pan.  Fry for 3-4 minutes, or until the bottom of each pancake is golden brown.  Flip and fry for 3 more minutes.  Remove from the skillet and place onto a plate lined with paper towels.  Serve with a squeeze of lemon and extra parsley.  Enjoy as a stand-alone bite or with toppings.