Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Good Day: Front Stoop Visiting and Recycled Leftovers

Yesterday was a good day. An old friend called while I was making dinner: she was walking someone else's dog and wanted to swing by. A couple of beers later, some homemade tomatillo salsa, and our front stoop was used exactly as it was meant to: for impromptu visiting. Our upstairs neighbor swung by and chatted, we all petted the dog. It felt so... endearingly neighborly. Like out of a fairytale book for urban planners.

The easygoing setting fit right in with the company: B. and I met two summers ago in Ségou, Mali, where we were both doing research for our undergraduate theses. It was a very West African meeting ("Ah, you seem to be a friend of my friend! Can I sleep in your one-room house for the next 7 days?"). B was studying the Tuareg people and how their cultural identity changes as they migrate south from the Timbuktu area; I was studying Jeffrey Sachs' Millennium Village Project (ever heard of the One Campaign?). B. had been in Ségou for a while and spoke Bambara, the local dialect, so I stuck to her like glue and we became quite close. But then the summer ended and we returned to our respective Universities to write the darn theses and finish our senior year. So imagine how cool it was when, almost exactly two years later, on my very first day in Oakland, B. and I bumped into each other at an intersection!

By the time B. and I had caught up on the past two years, we'd polished off our beers and made a serious dent in the tomatillo salsa (hey, talk about a great way to use leftover Enchilada ingredients!). B. took the dog home and I went back to the less endearing activity of turning almost-dead leftovers into dinner.

As this post and this post show, I have a history of being completely inept when it comes to recycling leftovers. It doesn't help that our new fridge was not set to a sufficiently cold setting and our food spoiled faster than normal this past week (the problem is now fixed, but our compost bin is a lot fuller). A potato, three carrots, and some sour cream had survived the initial massacre, but needed to get used pronto. Remarkably, my brain clicked... how about a kugel?

My brain doesn't usually put two and two together and come up with a delicious dinner (definitely more than the sum of its parts). It's just not how I think, even though I've been wanting to try kugel for a while now and have several recipes bookmarked. No, shamefully, kugel occurred to me only because I had just spent the afternoon at San Francisco's Contemporary Jewish Museum. Side note: they have a lovely exhibit on William Steig, the guy who wrote Shrek!, Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, Doctor De Soto, Amos & Boris, and who was a New Yorker cartoonist for 73 years. Does anyone else remember his books from their childhood? I now know that "Shrek" is Yiddish for "Fear."

So, improvised Potato Kugel it was. I've been wanting to make Kugel because, reading ingredient lists, I just couldn't imagine what the final product would taste like. And you know, it wasn't half bad. The texture was a cross between a casserole, mashed potatoes, and an omelet. "A very German texture, very creamy," Do adds. It could have used more mustard, maybe some paprika, and Do felt that it absolutely shouldn't be any sweeter (there go my aspirations for Apple Kugel or sweet kugel. Do other folks serve these as desserts?). But for a first try, with no Ashkenaz cooks or cookbooks in sight, I think we did just fine. In fact, we'd like to share the Kugel at Ben's new bi-weekly I love Baking event. In the mean time, anyone have any tips, stories, or insights on Kugel?

It was a good day.

Potato-Carrot Kugel (serves four as a side)

1 potato, cut into chunks
3 carrots, cut into chunks
1/3 cup milk
2 large eggs
1 cup Parmesan, grated
Half an onion, sliced
3 Tbs sour cream or plain yogurt
2 Tbs mustard (maybe more)

In a medium saucepan cook potatoes and carrots, covered, in boiling water about 12 minutes or until carrots are tender.

In a large mixer bowl, mash potatoes and carrots with a potato masher or an electric mixer on low speed. Gradually beat in the milk till mixture is creamy. Stir in eggs, the 1/2 cup of parmesan cheese, onion, mustard, and sour cream or yogurt. Transfer to a 1-quart casserole.

Bake, uncovered, in a 350F oven for 20 minutes. Sprinkle with leftover Parmesan cheese, and bake for 15 minutes more, or until center is set.

Tomatillo Salsa (makes 3 cups)
1 1/2 lb tomatillos
Half an onion, chopped
1/2 cup cilantro leaves
1 Tbsp fresh lime juice
1/2 teaspoon sugar
3 Jalapeño peppers, stemmed, chopped
4 tsp ground cumin
Salt and black pepper to taste

Remove papery husks from tomatillos and rinse well. Cut in half and place cut side down on a foil-lined baking sheet. Place under a broiler for about 5-7 minutes to lightly blacken the skin.

Place tomatillos, lime juice, onions, cilantro, Jalapeño peppers, sugar, and cumin in a food processor (or blender) and pulse until all ingredients are chopped and mixed. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cool in refrigerator and serve.


noble pig said...

I've never had a savory kugel...I always make a sweet one that is so-fattening but so good.

Good for you with recycling, I am also a dud with leftovers.

Psychgrad said...

I love the days when I actually feel like a member of my community.

It's neat that you met B at a corner. I'm jealous that you guys were able to do those types of projects for your undergraduate theses. My data were collected from students down the street in a continuing education ESL program. Not that they're not interesting...but it's not the same as going to Mali.

Like the kugel recipe. My great aunt makes a noodle kugel that is topped with strawberries. I should really get that recipe from her.

Had no idea that Shrek was Yiddish. Thanks for the tidbit.

Krysta said...

i now know that shrek stands for fear, cool! when i stop by, will you serve me tomatillo salsa. i can eat my weight in salsa.

Michael said...

You have inspired me for the tomatillos -- I was studying them today in the supermarket, fingering that outer husk. Will have to organize my thoughts and ingredients!

Cheryl said...

Holy cow, I'm so glad you found my blog because now I've found YOUR blog, and we have a lot in common. Well, a few things, but they're important. I relate to your story about Mali because I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Eritrea, and though Africa is huge and the cultures within it distinct, the strangers becoming fast friends and sleeping in each other's huts for an eternity was definitely true to my experience. And also William Steig! My kids are gaga for his books, and every time I read Sylvester and the Magic Pebble I just want to smack his parents and be like, "He's the rock! Your son is the rock!" Anyway, I'm so going to that Museum.

I'm leaving way too long a comment, I know, but I wrote an article about my step-grandmother's noodle kugel for the San Jose Mercury News several years ago. You must try it:

http://www.cherylsternmanrule.com (Click the "publications" tab, then look for the San Jose Mercury News and you'll find it)

Teresa Cordero Cordell said...

Neen, thanks for stopping by my blog. Nice to meet you (virtually, anyway). I can see that you like Mexican food. Your Tomatillo Salsa looks good. I'll keep checking back and please feel free to visit anytime.

Adam said...

Thanks for the cool comments. I just checked out your blog and it's really cool. I'm always happy to find other poor college students. We have to be creative with our time and money, right? :)

I like your Kugel. Can't say it's my automatic image for leftovers (usually more like a garbage plate for me)... but I like how the whole thing comes together. I'll be back :)

Erika said...

Thanks for the comment on my blog! Your tomatillo salsa looks great!

Laura @ Hungry and Frozen said...

Both those recipes sound fab...I love anything densely potato-y. Thanks for stopping by my blog, will definitely be back :) :)

Grace said...

what a great story! and clearly, great salsa. and the kugel? you guessed it--also great. potatoes and carrots are a wonderful combination (and the parmesan certainly doesn't hurt). more mustard for me, please! :)

Jen said...

Hi Neen- I'm sorry to hear you've left DC but you all couldn't have picked a better place for grad school than the Bay Area. I'm sure I'll be very jealous of all the great fresh ingredients you'll be getting to use this year.

Your post is the first time I've heard of a potato kugel. My family always made a sweet noodle kugle with raisins (that was served with dinner, not as a dessert).

Esi said...

That salsa looks so yummy! I love your comment on the West African meeting because it's totally true (my family is from Ghana)

Kevin said...

Tomatillo salsa is one of my favorites. So simple and so tasty!

Johanna said...

It is helpful to hear you say the kugel shouldn't be sweeter - I made a kugel once and it was amazingly sweet and has made me a little wary of them since then - like your urban fairytale afternoon - would like to see a william steig cartoon of it!

Ben said...

Hey Neen, great entry for the event. Thanks for participating. The roundup will be up in a little while. :)