Food for the Body

Thoughts about eating well to feed your body and spirit.

“No-Knead” Bread

In November 2006, the New York Times published a recipe adapted from Jim Lahey’s Sullivan Street Bakery for “no-knead”bread.  I immediately adapted it further (as did many of those who commented on-line).  Many thought the NYT adaptation benefited from more salt.  I also have made it much more energy efficient (the NYT recipe expects the dough to rest in a 70F room and for the oven to be pre-heated for at least a half hour).  In the winter, I keep my house at 62F, and pre-heating for only 10 minutes (or baking something else first that doesn’t need pre-heating) is much better for the environment.

As I was baking a loaf (whole wheat, flax seed variation) this week, I thought about how much this recipe teaches about skill and steadiness.  The reason the bread doesn’t need to be kneaded, but still yields a crusty peasant-style loaf, is the high liquid content of the dough relative to kneaded breads and the very slow rise time.  That one can achieve the results of active labor by mere patience and an understanding of the science of the process recalled for me  something I learned at a Rod Stryker workshop a number of years ago about having a steady practice.  Rod Stryker was asking students at a week-long intensive whether they had a steady meditation practice.  One woman raised her hand and said that she had sat and meditated every day for 30 years.  We were all thoroughly impressed.  Rod Stryker asked her how long she sat.  I think she said three minutes a day, it might have been five.  I don’t remember exactly.  I was still impressed.  Not because she would claim to have a 30 year practice when it was just a few minutes a day, but that she had the self-knowledge to set an amount of time to practice that she could keep.  The daily few minute sit was obviously not her only practice or she would not have been at a relatively advanced yoga workshop.  It is easy not to develop a home yoga practice, a good home-cooked diet, a garden, or anything else that needs steadiness, if we set the bar too high at the beginning.  We don’t want to set it too low either, but finding what we can do with steady commitment and then allowing growth to be spontaneous is the way to keep at it without feeling burdened.

Every once in a while I bake bread that takes attention every day for seven days in a row and then involvement multiple times on the day of baking. It is my having spent the time making more difficult breads that has enabled me to create variations the “no-knead bread” and know it will still come out well.  The “no-knead” bread, only modestly varied, I can make whenever I’m out of bread whether I’m busy or not.  It just takes throwing a few ingredients in a bowl on a night when I know I’ll be at home the next afternoon or early evening for a three-hour block of time (doing other things almost the entire time).

The basic recipe is as follows:

3 cups of flour.  (At least half needs to be bread flour; you should add a tablespoon of wheat gluten for each cup that is not bread flour, e.g., whole wheat or rye.)

1/4 teaspoon instant yeast

2 teaspoons salt (NYT had 1 1/4)

1 and 5/8 cups water

cornmeal or wheat bran for dusting

Day one:  mix all the ingredients in a large bowl.  If you store your flours in the freezer (which helps keep them fresh and lowers electricity usage because a full freezer is more efficient than an empty one), let them come to room temperature before making the dough. Dough texture is sticky.  Cover bowl.  Let dough rest for 15-20 hours depending on room temperature.

Day two:  dough is ready when the surface is dotted with bubbles.  When dough is ready, lightly flour a work surface, place dough on it, sprinkle dough with a little more flour, and fold dough over once or twice.  Cover loosely and let rest for 15 minutes.  Using just enough flour to keep it from sticking to work surface (I have a cutting board I use only for baking) or hands, shape dough into a ball.  Coat work surface and a kitchen towel (not terry) with flour, bran or cornmeal.  Place ball of dough, seam-side down on work surface and cover with floured towel.  Let rise for about two hours until doubled in size and dough does not readily spring back when poked with your finger.  If dough is slow rising because of cool room temperature, put near radiator or put it near stove when cooking something else and when starting to pre-heat oven.

Pre-heat oven to 450F with a 6-8 quart covered pot (cast iron, enamel, pyrex, or ceramic) in oven while pre-heating.  When pot and oven are hot and dough is ready, carefully put dough, seam-side down into pot and shake pan to distribute dough more evenly.  Don’t worry, it will straighten out as it bakes.  Bake covered for 25-30 minutes.  Then remove lid and bake for another 15 to 30 minutes until browned.  Cook on rack.

Variations:  Use just 1/4 cup rye flour along with bread flour.  It will taste like a classic french bread.  Incorporate a teaspoon or two of olive oil.  Semolina flour works well and turns the loaf a beautiful shade of yellow.  You can add constituted cracked wheat, but you have to know what dough should look and feel like, because it changes the moisture content.  Same for oat bran.  I’ve taken to adding flax seed meal into most of my baked goods for the nutritional benefits.  Because flax seed meal can be used as an egg replacer, you cannot replace it one for one with flour, but if you replace a quarter cup of flour with a third cup of flax seed meal, and keep the liquid the same, it has worked for me. Try it without a variation first.  Practice, enjoy.  The more you know about bread-baking, the more options you have.  I’ve done it with beer and molasses as part of the liquid and mostly a mix of whole wheat and rye flour to make it taste like pumpernickel.  Not my favorite, but it worked.

Play in the same kind of way with your yoga practice at home.  Start with a favorite pose you you learned in class.  Start small.  Start simple, and then let yourself get inspired by the desire to create your own variations.

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Poor Man’s Caviar

Last year, when it was dry and hot early, I had an extraordinary season of peppers, tomatoes, and cucumbers.  This year, the peppers and cucumbers were not particularly abundant.  The heat came too late and the rain has been too inconsistent for them to thrive.  The eggplants, though, were ecstatic this year.  Every week brought at least two and sometimes four.  When cooking for one, it is easy to find two eggplants a week far too many.  It was a relief to go to Santa Fe, where I could eat seasonal vegetables that did not include eggplant.

I was delighted, though, knowing I was about to host a party, to come home to five eggplants almost ready to be picked.  What better base for a potluck party dish than eggplant?  Knowing the crowd, I anticipate baba ghanoush by the bucketful; could not make that.  The tomatoes are not longer succulent enough for caponata (they must all become sauce); that was out.  I chose, then, eggplant caviar.  Not a bad pick.  What could be a better offering for a party in Washington DC at this time in history than what is often called poor man’s caviar?

I do not know the historical basis for it being named poor man’s caviar.  It does not look like caviar.  Not really.  It does not taste like caviar.  You can put it on bread or crackers the same way you would serve caviar, but that certainly does not further the explanation.  It is, though, a delicious and festive dish that pretty much requires only having eggplant growing in the backyard (or a trip to the farmer’s market) and the time to take care of it.

Eggplant caviar is a dish that reminds me that with only a little space and the willingness to provide nurture and pay attention for a season and to cook a simple dish slowly, I can experience what it is to enjoy and share little luxuries without being entirely dependent on money.  I am finding that comforting and encouraging.  (I do recognize that there are those for whom a little space and times are luxuries they cannot even imagine.  For me, choosing the simpler luxuries allows for more to share and offer.  Going entirely without comfort would not help much of anything.  As for sharing and giving, I certainly do hope those help.)

Recipe (adapted from Thomas Keller’s Eggplant Caviar in “New York Cookbook,” Molly O’Neill)

Take 3 to 5 eggplants, depending on size of eggplant and number of portions desired. Cut them in half, score the flesh and salt it.  Let the eggplants drain cut side down, weighted by a heavy plate or pan, for 45 minutes to an hour.  Rinse and squeeze out the eggplant.  Roast, cut side down, until very tender.  (In my convection oven, that’s about 25 minutes at 350F).  When cool enough to handle, scoop out flesh and chop coarsely.  Drain again in a strainer for 10-15 minutes.

Meanwhile, wisk together olive oil, pressed garlic cloves, and dijon mustard to taste (to be local, you could use walnut oil, and it would taste excellent; I expect, however, that there may be party guests who are allergic to nuts).

Squeeze out the eggplant pulp and mix it with the remaining ingredients.  Best if sits overnight or at least a few hours.  When ready to serve, adjust the salt and pepper.

Variation Make with mushroom.  Skip right to roasting (or even just mince finely and saute until juices evaporate).

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