I have a tendency to collect cookbooks from restaurants I’ve never eaten at. I think it’s because I like to think about food as part of a story. The patron sits upright in her booth slightly tilted over the menu while her eating partner finds her own way to get comfortable reading tonight’s options. She chooses a dish that reflects her mood at a particular moment and a dish that she hopes will give her some sort of satisfaction, whether it’s the satisfaction of flavor, nutrition, sweetness, or satiation. She makes her choice and carries on with that night’s conversation topic: job, family, recent adventures, emotions, plans. In the meantime a perfect stranger works fervently in the kitchen, aiming to please a person whose entire being is a mystery. What flavors does she like? What are her expectations? How is her disposition? And then the dish travels, from one stranger to another and one story to another, saying everything in a single spoonful.
Sometimes I like to be a bit dramatic (and perhaps a bit romantic), but I find mystery in cookbooks from faraway restaurants. Tonight, I made two dishes from the Moosewood Restaurant in Ithaca, NY. A few months ago a friend lent me Moosewood’s cookbook and I made Lentil Walnut Burgers. Then, over Thanksgiving a close friend of the family gave me a copy. It’s fate. I was meant to cook these dishes. (Ok, I’m done being cheesy).
Both these dishes are fabulous. The Sesame Spinach is simple with little prep time and even less cooking time. The Stuffed Potatoes are just as simple but certainly not a dish to make if you’re hungry. And if you are hungry, don’t leave chips and salsa out while you cook … oops.
The stuffed potato recipe calls for baking potatoes but because sweet potatoes are, well, sweet and significantly more nutritious, I decided to substitute. Here is what you’ll need for the stuffed potatoes to serve 2:
2 plump sweet potatoes
2 cups corn kernels
1 cup cooked pinto beans
2 cups salsa
½ cup cilantro (if you don’t like cilantro then opt out but note that I disapprove)
salt and pepper
1/3 can sliced black olives, pitted
And here’s what you do (note: I manipulated the recipe, as usual):
Preheat oven to 400. Slice potatoes in half lengthwise.
Bake, cut side down, on a lightly greased baking sheet for about 35 minutes or until soft.
To make the corn and bean stuffing, combine corn, beans, salsa, and cilantro in bowl and mix well.
Once the potato halves are done, scoop out the centers but leave ¼ inch of pulp on the skin.
Mash the scooped-out potato and mix with your stuffing. Refill the potato skins.
Bake for 15-20 minutes. Once done, sprinkle with salt, pepper, and olives if you like.
Here’s what you’ll need for the sesame spinach:
20 ounces of fresh spinach
2 tablespoons of sesame seeds
2 teaspoons of sugar
1 tablespoon of soy sauce
And here’s what you do:
On medium heat, roast sesame seeds in a frying pan. Stir regularly and only allow them to get golden brown (about 3-4 minutes).
If you have a mortar and pestle (which I don’t), grind seeds and sugar together. If you’re light on the kitchenware like me, put seeds and sugar between two pieces of wax paper and use your rolling pin. If you don’t have a rolling pin, well, stomp on them?
Add soy sauce and make a paste.
Although Moosewood says to steam the spinach, I love sautéed spinach, so I put a little olive oil in a pan and sautéed. Mix in the paste and you’re done!
I look forward to the day when I eat these dishes at Moosewood and think about my little story of cooking them in my little kitchen and eating them with my little boyfriend (he is kinda small).