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Playing in the Kitchen

Last night I made something new.

Okay, it was actually very old. Very, very old.

I made this recipe I found in Biblical Archaeology Review (BAR), which is my favorite magazine. The recipe comes from Babylonian tablets originating in ancient Mesopotamia. I’m guessing that means the recipe is at least 2,500 years old.

It is pretty simple to make. I cut up the bunch of leaks and sautéed them in olive oil with some fresh chopped garlic — about four cloves. Just for grins, I put some powdered garlic in as well. I let them cook down for about ten minutes, which is longer than the recipe in the magazine suggested, but I found after four minutes my leeks were still a little firm. I put in plenty of pepper and kosher salt.

When they had cooked down a bit, I added the cilantro and let that simmer, then I added four cups of vegetable stock. Twenty minutes of simmer, and I topped it with a generous double handful of sourdough bread cut into tiny pieces.

I serve it to my family, and they all really liked it. It was far tastier than I had envisioned. When I make it in the future, I will add an onion to the leeks when I cook them down. Carrots, I think, would be good in here too. If you want meat, chicken stock would work well, but I can see in my mind beef, making it almost like pho without the noodles.

I found the name of the stew. The Babylonians called it ‘unwinding’ to refer to what the bread does when it hits the soup — expand and get soggy. It is an interesting way to describe the action. This is a good lesson in the way the ancients used words and, how I might better understand the way I apply the word ‘unwind’ to my own actions. I unwind when I release the tension holding everything tight.

Try it, you might like this old Babylonian stew. I will eat it again.

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Nina’s Potato Salad

COVID-19 is kicking into a different gear here in Texas. That means people are gonna need some comfort food. One of the greatest comfort foods is old-fashioned potato salad. Here is the recipe for my mother’s potato salad. I have only altered it a bit.


Ingredients

  • 5 lbs russet potatoes, peeled and cut in quarters
  • yellow mustard
  • Miracle Whip (my mother used Hellman’s mayonnaise – this is my one variation)
  • one large purple onion, diced
  • five kosher pickle spears, diced
  • pickle juice
  • six hard boiled eggs, diced
  • salt and pepper to taste

This is a simple dish, but the procedure matters. The hardest part is peeling the potatoes. Boil them in a large pot until they can be easily stuck with a fork. Drain them.

Put the onion in the bottom of the pot you cooked the potatoes in. Then put the potatoes on top of the onion. This little bit of heat blanches the onions a bit which makes the dish savory and keeps the onions from being too crunch.

Mash the potatoes directly into the onions with a potato masher. Don’t work at this too hard. If this is difficult, you didn’t boil your potatoes long enough. Just break them up nicely. When that is finished, add the mustard. I just squirt it all over the top without any measurement. The mustard gives zing, but the main job here is coloring. However yellow you want your potato salad will tell you how much mustard you want. I know I can add more later, so I play this conservatively.

Add one large spoonful of the Miracle Whip. Again, I don’t measure, but this comes to about a quarter of a cup. In my opinion, you really can’t use too much, so don’t fret.

The real magic is the next step — add two tablespoons (I just eyeball it) of pickle juice. You can’t get enough pickles in dish to give it enough pickle flavor. You need the juice. Throw in salt and pepper as you desire. I use kosher salt and fresh ground pepper.

Use a mixer (I have an ancient 5-speed electric hand mixer) to blend all these ingredients up. When they are well balanced, taste it. Now is the time to add more pickle juice, mustard, Miracle Whip, or salt and pepper. Make it the way you like it. After adding what was lacking, mix it a little more until it is thoroughly blended.

Throw in your sliced pickles and eggs and stir them by hand with a large wooden spoon. When finished stirring, lick the spoon!

Some people prefer to eat this hot. Mrs. Greenbean is one of those people. I usually pull out a bowl for her to eat right then. I like it cold, so I make it the day before I want it. On July 4th, I serve potato salad, so July 3rd always finds me in the kitchen. It is the perfect dish for a picnic, a large gathering, potluck, or in these COVID-19 days it makes us feel all good inside. It pairs nicely with barbecue, hot dogs, fried chicken, asparagus or fruit. When coupled with a slice of white bread, it makes for a meal all by itself.

Burger Talk

A hamburger is always a good idea, but what do you do if you are avoiding meat? Do you skip the hamburger altogether?

A rise in the number of vegetarians, vegans, and people (like me) who are cutting back on meat has prompted the marketplace to develop meatless burgers. Recently I mentioned the outstanding offering at the Hard Rock Cafe in an unrelated blog post. About two weeks ago I tried a local burger joint’s vegetarian burger and it was awful. Just awful. It had the texture of Playdough and the flavor of boiled turnips. It fell apart into crumbling bits I scooped up with fried pickles. In short, I hated it.

My youngest sprout, who is a vegetarian (I am not–instead I follow a diet where I avoid meat on Monday and consciously skip it when there are other viable options) wanted me to try the Impossible Whopper from Burger King.

Well, today is Monday, so that means I’m meatless. After reading to kindergartner children I dropped by BK on my way back to my study. The verdict: from the first bite onward it seemed like just another hamburger to me. In other words, it was good. I don’t think I could have identified it as being plant based at all, and if I were alternating bites with a regular Whopper they would seem indistinguishable. Well done Burger King, well done.

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If you’re wanting to make burgers at home (which is always better) I highly recommend MorningStar Farms Grillers Veggie burger. However, be careful, as there is another veggie burger they make in almost identical packaging that is gag inducing vomit worthy.

I leave you with these five tips for the perfect hamburger experience — whether your burger is vegan or beef.

  1. Thick sliced sharp cheddar, placed on the patty when it is either on the grill/pan is best.
  2. Put the bottom of the bun on the meat patty when it has about a minute left. Flip it over with your spatula on the plate to build the burger.
  3. Serve the burger with a thin layer of mustard on the bun and a drizzle of ketchup over the meat. Remember, mustard is for the bread, the ketchup is for the meat. The picture above almost gets it right, but it has mayonnaise on the top rather than mustard.
  4. More mustard and ketchup instructions: serve a generous amount of both on the side for dipping the hamburger that you have cut into quarters.
  5. Drink a cherry Coke with your burger. It will make the burger perfect.

The Number One Burger in Austin?

Taste is subjective, but that doesn’t keep us from talking about what food is best. We do it with desserts, bread, pizza, and here in Texas we are always comparing barbecue.

What about burgers?

I read not too long ago (okay, it was three years ago in Texas Monthly) that the second best burger in the state, and the best burger in Austin was at  Second Bar + Kitchen downtown. It is called the Congress Burger. Mrs. Greenbean and I met some friends from our college days and enjoyed a warm June day and tasted for ourselves.

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The meat was very juicy and tender in the extreme. The flavor was dazzling–combing the subtlety of hamburger with the complex sharpness of brisket. The tenderness caused the hamburger to break apart easily, which is fine by me because I like to dip the burger bits into kitchen and mustard, alternately. The ketchup wasn’t as spicy as I’d have liked. I found myself wishing I had some of that nice Whataburger spicy ketchup to dip the burger in. The mustard was fantastic. I think they make it homemade and I wish I could have bought a bottle to take home.

I added pork belly–because fancy bacon is always a good idea.

The bread was disappointing. First, it was insufficient to hold the juiciness of the burger, which toward the end made the experience soggy. Second, the bread was too small and didn’t really cover the bottom or the top well. I know it is nice to have some stuff hanging out and falling all over the place, but halfway through the burger was left with mostly meat, lettuce, and tomato. Third, the bread was bland, bringing no noticeable flavor to the party.

The other disappointment were the potato chips. These were homemade on site, but way too salty to enjoy. How salty were they? Lot’s wife is probably missing an arm.

A delightful treat were the fried pickles we ordered as an appetizer. These were not chips, but spears served with a nice gorgonzola dip. Delish.

I paired my burger with a cherry Coke because cherry Coke is the best beverage to have with a burger of any kind. It was served in a fancy glass with tiny crushed ice.

The service was excellent. The ambiance was okay but the music was too loud for me. The playlist was fine, but the loudness made pleasant conversation just a little difficult. The bathroom was clean, or as clean as I could tell because it was very dark.

The location was nice, but we paid to park in a lot right behind the building so factor that into the cost of eating there. After the meal we walked across the Congress Avenue bridge and did a little shopping, all the while trying not to get run over by people on Segways and scooters.

It made for a pleasant day, but I’m not certain our favorite little burger joint here in town isn’t comparable, and a lot more accessible.