Discover more from thoughtsicles
on culture and the evolution of a recipe
It's been a few weeks. And by that I don't mean the passing of time, though who even cares anymore? Is time meaningless? An absurd concept for these uncertain times? Does anyone else feel like they're living in Groundhog Day?
cooking & eating: A lot has happened in those weeks. My grandmother passed away two days before I turned 42. I wrote a lot about her on Instagram, so I'll just leave it there. She was a cool lady and an inspiration to me. Channeling her kitchen energy, I made myself a lemon tart, despite the fact that my food processor died on me in the middle of the tart dough being made. My grandmother made tart dough her entire life without a food processor, so I figured I could just suck it up. I feel quite burned on Cuisinart products (this food processor didn't even last 8 years), so when I ordered a replacement, I went with a different and highly recommended brand.
Thanks to Avi, we've been on a smoothie kick. 3 o'clock in the afternoon is smoothie o'clock in the Massov-Freedman household. Avi is so dedicated to smoothie-making, he's even written a recipe for it—his first! It calls for apples, frozen bananas (we peel, slice, and freeze old bananas to add to smoothies), frozen spinach, frozen berries, some peanut butter and water. Then we blend, blend, blend, and divide among 3 glasses and have a smoothie break. It's been a delight amidst this weird and draining time.
writing (& cooking): And if, like me, you're on a sourdough bread-baking kick, you've got sourdough starter to feed and maybe looking for ways to use up your discard (either you need more recipes or you're feeling badly about pouring it down the drain). I wrote a piece for the Post on how to think of your discard-as-flavoring agent and included 2 super-easy, pantry-friendly recipes—crumpets and Gruyere popovers—that will delight you in both their simplicity and taste.
what else? A prominent food writer did an interview that prompted a backlash and a discussion of what is "culture" and who gets to represent and promote it. A lot was, and continues to be, written on the topic—a good deal of it worth your time—but if you read one, and only one, piece, this should be it. It's long, but is nuanced and thoughtful and will make you reflect as it did for me.
It also made me think on the time while in boarding school, an Indian friend would bring in food to share her Mumbai-born mom cooked. I was a vegetarian then, and was deeply grateful to eat something so flavorful and filling and fragrant. Many of the herbs and spices were new, but many tasted familiar, similar to the Uzbek food my grandmother, who was born and grew up in Samarkand, would cook. (The same taste memory haunted me when I tasted my first Persian food, the saffron-scented jeweled rice, the ruby-red barberries I would seek out while eating her plov.) My high-school roommate was an LA-born-and-raised child of Mexican immigrants, and taught me to make guacamole and introduced me to tamarind and tamales. In turn, I shared some of the Russian treats, such as pelmeni, my parents would bring to me on their visits. I could write this entire newsletter about the food influences I've had throughout my life, and how grateful—and lucky—I am to have learned from so many people.
recipe: But in efforts to keep this more brief, I'd like to get to today's recipe for a simple and nourishing chicken stew with soy sauce, ginger, and shiitake. It came from one of my dearest friends, Sanaë Lemoine, an incredibly talented food editor and novelist (whose debut novel, The Margot Affair, is out on June 16!). I'll share with you her headnote and then a brief one from me, for the way I adapted the recipe to suit my kitchen needs. I hope you make it—it's one of the best things I've cooked in ages. Recipes evolve and I made her version work with what I had. And as I share it with you, with Sanaë's permission, I know that you'll make it uniquely yours while also, hopefully, tracing its journey to you via me, Sanaë, and her mom and stepfather.
Soy-Shiitake Chicken Stew with Lemon
From Sanae: This recipe is inspired by a stew my mother has been making for years. The original recipe is a bit different: She uses a whole chicken (broken down into pieces) and white button mushrooms, and a simple combination of lemon juice, soy sauce, and water for the broth. She learned the recipe in the 60s in England while studying English. A friend from Hong Kong described the dish in conversation, saying “You toss everything in a pot and boil it.” It’s a dish my mother made over and over again as a student because of how simple and nourishing it was.
Her first husband (now ex-husband) still makes this chicken recipe several times a week! He’s simplified the recipe to just chicken thighs or breasts, soy sauce, lemon, and water. My version has a few more ingredients: sugar and star anise. (The sugar was in the original, but my health-conscious macrobiotic mother took it out.) I also use fresh shiitake mushrooms, but you could use any kind of mushroom: dried shiitake, baby bell, white button… This recipe is very forgiving, and you can play around with the flavors to your liking. For instance, add fresh ginger to the broth (either finely chopped or grated, or sliced and then fish out the pieces before serving.) I always serve the stew with white rice to soak up the fragrant broth, and on the side, a green vegetable, like a crunchy salad or some steamed or roasted broccoli. It makes excellent leftovers, so feel free to double or triple the recipe.
From Olga: I never have fresh shiitakes on hand, but I’m rich in dried ones. I decided to make an infused broth from them and use that broth (the soaking water) in place of water. I added ginger before I even got the green light from Sanaë, because I love ginger and it felt like a good fit here. I double the recipe and like having leftovers for lunch the next day or another dinner sometime during the week. This is simple, homey, comforting—and one of the best and simplest things I’ve cooked in awhile. I don’t want to steal from Kristen Miglore, but this is very much a genius recipe.
2 cups water
A handful dried shiitake mushroom caps (about 10)
2 tablespoons neutral oil, such as canola
1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
¼ cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon sugar (any will do), or more to taste
2 whole star anise
1/2 medium lemon, or more to taste
Steamed white rice, for serving
Steamed or roasted broccoli, for serving
In a small saucepan or tea kettle, bring the water to a boil. Place the shiitakes in a medium bowl and cover with the boiling water. Let stand for 30 minutes at room temperature, or cover and refrigerate for up to 24 hours.
In a heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven over medium heat, heat the oil until shimmering. Add the onion and cook, stirring often, until softened, about 8 minutes. Season with a generous pinch (or two) of salt, then increase the heat to medium-high and add the chicken. Cook, stirring, until the chicken is combined with the onions, about 2 minutes.
Add the mushrooms with their soaking water, soy sauce, sugar, star anise, and juice from one of the lemon halves. Bring to a simmer and cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the chicken is cooked through and the sauce has reduced somewhat, about 30 minutes. Taste, and add more lemon juice, if desired. Discard the star anise before serving.
Serve with steamed white rice and steamed or roasted broccoli.
And that's it from me. I hope you are all having a relaxing long weekend, are safe and healthy, and holding up ok in this maddening and surreal time.
Until next time—which I hope is soon...
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