I grew up eating my Mom’s sweet pickles and have always wanted to make my own. This summer I planted 7 cucumber plants in our garden, hoping I would get a big enough batch of cucumbers to make pickles at some point. The truth is, I’ve had a few big cucumber harvests that would have worked well for a round of pickles, but I was so excited about eating the cucumbers that I never really got the chance. However, now that it’s mid-September, I think I’ve eaten about as many cucumber salads as I can stomach and I was delighted when I finally got another big cucumber harvest from the garden that I could make pickles out of.

I called my mom up last weekend to ask for her “secret” pickle recipe, only to learn that it was the recipe printed on the back of the Mrs. Wages pickle lime package. As it turns out, they sell the very same pickling lime here in Davis, so I was in luck.

I suppose this post isn’t so much about sharing a recipe as it is about sharing the wonderful feeling I get from growing and preserving my own food. In a world and economy that seems so unpredictable, it is comforting to know that I can at least grow the vegetables I would need to sustain myself and maybe a family one day. I like to think that maybe my parents had the same thoughts when they planted their first garden as a young couple.

I still have pretty vivid memories of my dad coming home for lunch during the summer when my mom, sister, and I were all out of school. We would gather around the messy kitchen table, moving aside art supplies, dishes, and other things that had accumulated since breakfast, make sandwiches, and eat as a family. My dad always had a jar of these pickles out and after putting them on his sandwich, he would stack a few extras on his plate to eat between bites of sandwich. These memories are what really made me want to make these.

As far as I’m concerned, the pickles themselves are really delicious. They are the perfect crisp and tangy accompaniment to any sandwich and my dad would give you a big list of what else they belong on. I guess I’m just happy to be carrying on a few of the family food traditions I grew up with. It makes the distance between California and home seem just a little smaller even if the 5 hour plane ride inevitably reminds me otherwise.

“Old South Cucumber Lime Pickles”
from my mom, slightly modified from the Mrs. Wages Pickling Lime package

7 lbs slicing cucumbers, sliced to about 3/16-inch thickness (if you plant your own, Burpless cucumbers work well)
1 cup pickling lime
2 gallons water
8 cups white vinegar (5% acidity)
8 cups sugar
1 Tbsp salt
2 tsp pickling spice

Prepare and process home canning jars and lids to sterilize jars.

Wash cucumbers; drain. Mix water and pickling lime in a large non-reactive pot. Do not use aluminum (you can use enameled pots). Let cucumbers soak in mixture for 2 hours or overnight. Remove pickles and discard lime water. Rinse 3 times in fresh cold water. Soak 3 hours in fresh ice water.

Wrap pickling spice in cheese cloth and tie with cotton string or thread. Combine vinegar, sugar, salt, and pickling spice packet in a large non-reactive pot (again–no aluminum). Bring mixture to a low boil, stirring until sugar dissolves. Remove syrup from heat and add cucumbers. Soak 5-6 hours or over night. Boil in the syrup for 35 minutes.

Pack hot cucmbers into sterilized jars, leaving 1/2-inch of headspace. Remove air bubbles and cap each jar as it is filled.

Process pints 10* minutes, quarts 15* minutes, in a boiling water bath canner. Test jars for airtight seals according to manufacturer’s directions. If jars do not completely seal, refrigerate and consumer within two weeks.

Ready to eat in 24 hours. Chill before serving to enhance flavor and crispness.


Tomatoes have been the main star in our kitchen since the beginning of August. I’ve been getting pounds of tomatoes every week from the garden, so we’ve been doing everything we can to keep up with them before they go bad. Aside from breakfast, almost every meal has had a tomato squeezed into it in some way. Just in case it sounds like I’m complaining, let me assure you that I’m not. I spent my entire life, up until a couple summers ago, HATING tomatoes, so the way I see it I’m happily making up for a 26-year tomato void in my life.

I like to think I was a decent eater as a kid (definitely not the kind who refuses all colorful or healthy foods), but I would NOT BUDGE on tomatoes. Every summer my parents grew tomatoes in our garden and every year my dad would try so hard to get me to eat them. I think he was convinced that some evil friend had fed me a grocery store tomato (gasp!) at some point and that experience had formed my opinion. But every few years I would break down and agree to try a bite of his fresh, ripe, homegrown tomato and I would absolutely hate it.

Then, a year or two after moving to California and being immersed in a produce-loving, potluck-crazy grad student community where people just wouldn’t stop talking about their stupid, delicious heirloom tomatoes, I got jealous. For the first time I was no longer proud of my tomato hatred. Instead, I began to wonder if I really was missing out, and I vowed to put an honest effort into learning to like tomatoes.

I’d always liked ketchup, tomato sauce, etc, but anything resembling a raw tomato had been off limits. So I decided to start small with tomato juice. It was actually pretty easy to start liking that, which gave me hope! Then I moved on to sweet yellow and orange tomato varieties like pineapple heirloom tomatoes and sungolds. The yucky tomato texture was still there, but the relative lack of acidity made them possible to stomach. It took another summer or two to get used to raw red tomatoes, but at some point it just clicked and I became a full-fledged tomato eater!

In the last month or so I’ve made dozens of caprese salads, cucumber tomato salads, fresh tomato sauces, roasted tomato soup, and gazpacho. And when we still couldn’t keep up with the tomatoes, I started slow-roasting them to use in sandwiches and salads. This, I’ve discovered, is my favorite way to eat tomatoes. Most of the water of the tomatoes evaporates away, concentrating and perfecting the tomato flavor in a more compact little slice. A couple of weeks ago when we we were trying to use up homemade pesto in the fridge, I had the idea for this pizza. To me, it’s the quintessential summer pizza. If you have an abundance of basil and tomatoes, this is a great way to use them. Store bought tomatoes and pesto would work as well, but the better quality tomatoes you can get (from a farmers market or farm stand), the better it will be.

Vicken’s dad, who is an English professor, was visiting us last week in the middle of a tomato onslaught, and was reminded of a Pablo Neruda poem that he shared with me: Ode to tomatoes. It’s a wonderful toast to the perfect summer fruit and his imagery might even make you salivate a little! Give it a read if you have a chance. And then make this pizza or anything else involving a tomato before the summer warmth fades and the last of these “stars of the earth” is gone!

Roasted tomato and pesto pizza
Makes one large pizza

Pizza crust (slightly modified from Cook’s Illustrated’s Best Recipe)
1/2 cup warm water
pinch sugar
1/2 envelope yeast
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 cup bread flour (or all-purpose flour)
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp salt

6 medium tomatoes (about 1 1/2 pounds)
1/4 to 1/3 cup basil pesto (this recipe is pretty good)
1 cup shredded mozzarella

1. Preheat oven to 225 degrees F. Core the tomatoes and then slice into 3/8 to 1/2 inch slices. This will seem thick, but they shrink a lot, trust me. Arrange on a rimmed baking sheet and bake for 2 hours.

2. To prepare pizza dough, measure 1/2 cup warm water in a 1-cup measuring cup, stir in sugar, and sprinkle with the yeast. Let it sit until the yeast dissolves and bubbles form, about 5 minutes.

3. Combine flour and salt into a food processor and pulse until mixed well. Continue pulsing as you pour the olive oil and then yeast mixture through the feed tube of food processor. If the dough does not readily form a ball, add additional water and continue pulsing until a ball forms. Process until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 30 seconds longer.

4. Turn dough out onto a floured surface, knead by hand a few strokes to form a smooth, round ball. Put the dough into a deep oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Put in a warm place and let dough rise for 1-2 hours.

5. When tomatoes look shriveled and have turned a deeper shade of red, they are done. Remove them from the oven and set aside to cool. Turn the oven up to 450.

6. When dough has risen remove plastic wrap and punch the dough down. Turn the dough out onto a lightly-floured surface and pat all sides with flour. **I find this step to be really important, especially if the dough seems very sticky. If this is the case, then add even more flour to the surface.** Cover with a damp towel and let the dough relax for at least 10 minutes, but no longer than 30 minutes.

7. Spread dough on a pizza stone or baking sheet (I use a 15 inch round baking stone, but cookie sheets work just fine). Spread a thin layer of pesto over the pizza, followed by roasted tomatoes*, and then mozzarella. Bake at 450 for about 15 minutes, or until crust and cheese are golden.

*If you have leftover roasted tomatoes you can store them in an air-tight container in the fridge for several days. They are great on sandwiches, pasta, or for snacking.

Apparently I’ve been enjoying my summer so much I’ve forgotten to update the blog recently. Maybe saying I’m “enjoying” summer is an understatement. I have actually been LOVING everything about this summer. Since I come from the land of hot and humid summer weather, I feel odd saying that, but bearable summer weather is one of many great things California has to offer (especially if you cheat like me and go to the mountains). I spent most of July in Mammoth doing field work, and even though I’m always reluctant to want to go, once I’m there I am reminded of just how lucky I am to get to work there. The weather is perfect, there’s climbing nearby, and I get to stare at the amazing Sierras every day.

I also spent the last week of July at a lake cabin in Minnesota, celebrating my mom’s 60th birthday with my parents and all my mom’s siblings. Since my sister couldn’t make it, I was the only one there under age 58, but I had a blast. We did crosswords, swam, and ate delicious evening meals, which were always followed by hours of talking at the dinner table when we were done eating. I think the dinner table lingering would have killed me even 5 years ago, but I guess I’m a real grown up now because it was actually enjoyable to sit and chat.

Aside from the traveling to pretty places and visiting family, I’ve been especially happy while I’m at home in Davis and I think it’s due in large part to the garden. There’s just something about harvesting fruits from plants that I nurtured from seedlings that makes me giddy. I have a permanent grin on my face while I’m there and proudly display every harvest to Vicken when I come home, in the same way I imagine I showed my parents my report card as a kid. It’s pretty ridiculous how proud I am of the food I’ve grown.

Since returning from Minnesota, I’ve been harvesting a lot of cucumbers and tomatoes from the garden. I planted 6 or 7 cucumbers, hoping I would get enough to make pickles, but production has been pretty sporadic (2-3 cukes at a time) so we’ve just been eating them instead. The Armenian cucumbers that I planted haven’t done much, but I did get one really nice one that I used in this cucumber salad. I’ve also made the salad with a peeled slicing cucumber and that works just as well. If you’ve never had an Armenian cucumber though, it’s worth a try. You don’t have to peel them, which is a major plus, and they are light and crisp. Plus, if you care about looks, the ridges that run the length of the cucumber give the slices a pretty ruffled edge.

This salad has been my favorite meal this summer. It is light and satisfying, and I it eat for lunch most days when I’m at home. The key ingredient is the Aleppo pepper (the red stuff in the jar above) you add to the lemon dressing. Vicken’s mom brought a bunch from Syria with her when she visited in June so we always have a full jar on hand. You can also buy it from any specialty spice store.

I harvested close to 10 pounds of tomatoes yesterday, so I’m sure I’ll be making lots of tomato dishes in the near future. I’ll try to write about them soon. In the meantime, this roasted tomato soup is a great thing to make with fresh tomatoes. I recently found this blog and am in love with the photography and recipes. The quality of the site is a little intimidating, but it’s inspiring me to step it up here, so that’s probably a really good thing.

Cucumber quinoa salad
Makes one large salad or two smaller side salads

1/2 large armenian cucumber, cut in half length-wise and sliced (about 2 cups chopped)
large handful cherry tomatoes, cut in half
1/4 to 1/2 cup cooked quinoa (quinoa cooking instructions)
1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
2 Tbsp coarsely chopped parsley

juice of 1/2 lemon
3 Tbsp olive oil*
1/2 tsp aleppo red pepper
small pinch salt
small garlic clove, minced

Stir together cucumbers, tomatoes, and quinoa. Combine dressing ingredients together in a small jar or bowl and shake or stir to combine. Pour dressing over the salad and mix until it is evenly coated. Sprinkle with feta and parsley just before serving.

*If you don’t like the idea of so much olive oil, just use part of the dressing on the salad. I found I needed this much oil to balance out the lemon, so I wouldn’t skimp too much while mixing the dressing.

Despite having grown up in Alabama, I know relatively little about how to make quintessential southern dishes. Fried chicken? Made it twice in my life. Grits? I know they’re made of corn, but don’t really know how to make them. I’m sure it’s not hard, but I’d have to follow a recipe, same as any other average joe.

I have a pretty valid excuse though: I didn’t grow up eating these things. My mom never made them so why would I have learned to make them? Well, that reasoning seemed all well and good until I realized that I had no idea how to make cobbler–THE staple dessert at our house in the summer. I didn’t grow up eating many pies, except for lemon ice box pie, which doesn’t even call for a pastry crust, so I don’t know if it even counts for what most people consider pie. I don’t remember any tarts and very few crumbles, but peach or blackberry or blueberry cobbler? I’ve probably eaten 50 of them. Seriously, my parents could be professional fruit cobbler chefs, if such a thing existed.

This is why I am so embarassed that I have to call my mom or dad EVERY time I want to make cobbler. Even with their instructions I have managed to mess it up several times. Take earlier this summer for example. I was following my dad’s recipe that he orated to me over the phone, which called for a cup of flour, a cup of sugar, and enough milk until “it looks right.” I evidently had no clue what the dough was supposed to look like because I stopped adding milk when I reached a biscuit-like consistency and it didn’t work at all.

The key to real southern cobbler is that you pour the topping in the dish (over a bunch of melted butter) and then you pour the berries on TOP. The dough is then supposed to rise above the fruit and ends up on top by the time you’re done baking it. You can probably imagine that a biscuit-like dough wouldn’t magically rise and overtop fruit, and you’re right. I learned the hard way that in order to make cobbler this way you need something that’s the consistency of cake batter.

If you make the batter correctly (which of course you will because you’ll follow the magical recipe below), then as soon as you pour the fruit on top it starts to rise on the edges. Before you bake it, you use a spatula or spoon to “pull” the batter towards the middle and then as it bakes it continues to rise a little more.

When you’re done, you’ll end up with something very imperfect-looking (compared to a perfect lattice pie, for example), but absolutely delicious. You can use any juicy fruit, like peaches or nectarines, or berry–except strawberries, which just don’t have the right texture. My favorite combo is peach blackberry cobbler served warm with vanilla ice cream. It just doesn’t get much better.

By the way, I feel like my last two posts give the impression that the only way I eat fruit is by coating it in sugar and fat, which isn’t actually the case. In fact, there aren’t many things I like more than fresh, untampered-with fruit in the summer. In case anyone is interested in a fresh, healthy alternative to cobbler and ice cream that tastes almost as good and that you can eat (guilt-free!) every day, you can slice any kind of fresh fruit, top it with a 1/2 cup or so of lowfat cottage cheese, and a handful of Kashi Go Lean Crunch cereal. I literally eat this almost every day for lunch or an afternoon snack. If you’re not absolutely repulsed by cottage cheese (as I know some people tend to be), then give it a try, but also don’t feel guilty about making the cobbler just because you now know this snack exists. The trick is to eat the cobbler on the weekends and the faux-dessert-snack all week to make up for it!

Peach blackberry cobbler
Dalrymple family recipe (sugar amount slightly modified)

Makes enough for a 9″x13″ pan, but you can easily adjust all the measurements for a smaller batch.

4 peaches, peeled, pitted and sliced
2 cups blackberries
(or any other combination of fruits totaling roughly 4-5 cups)
1/3 cup sugar

6 Tablespoons butter
1 cup self-rising flour*
3/4 cup sugar
scant 1 cup milk

*If you don’t have access to self-rising flour you can combine a scant cup all-purpose flour, 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder, and 1/2 teaspoon salt.

1. Put prepared fruit and 1/3 cup sugar in a medium saucepan and cook over low heat until fruit is very juicy, 5-10 minutes.

2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Slice butter into chunks and arrange in a 9×13 baking dish. Place in the oven for 2-3 minutes to melt the butter.

3. Meanwhile, mix the flour and sugar together in a medium-sized bowl. Add 3/4 cup of milk and whisk together. Continue adding the remaining ~1/4 cup milk until the batter resembles the consistency of cake batter.

4. Take the pan out of the oven, pour the batter into the pan and use a fork to mix some of the butter into the batter. Then pour the fruit overtop. Use a spatula to pull the dough from the edges of the pan over the fruit as much as possible (see photos above).

5. Bake the cobbler for 30 minutes or until the top is golden brown and the fruit is bubbling beneath. (Five minutes into the baking time you can pull more dough up from the edges to help cover the cobbler, but this isn’t necessary.)

6. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream, then enjoy room temperature leftovers by the fork-full (if you’re lucky enough to have leftovers, that is).

My favorite part of spring for the last couple of years has been seeing the first local strawberries appear at the market after months of having only root vegetables and greens. This year we’ve been in for a real treat because we’ve been getting strawberries from our own garden! We planted them last fall and they didn’t appear to be doing much until about March, when they almost doubled in size and started flowering like crazy. Since April we’ve been getting at least a pint every other day, which is just enough to snack on for two days before they go bad. The other week I picked up some fresh blackberries at a farm-stand down the road and, as soon as I saw them beside some strawberries on the kitchen table, the only thing I could think about was making a buttermilk cake.

I have Deb from smittenkitchen to thank for originally making and writing about this recipe. I made it a handful of times last summer, each time with a different fruit or combination of fruits. I’ve actually written about the recipe on this site before, so I guess it’s cheating to do it again, but I like it and really, who’s going to stop me?

The original recipe calls for raspberries, but I’ve also used blueberries, nectarines, and now strawberries and blackberries. The cake base is super-simple to make and versatile–the slight tanginess of the buttermilk compliments pretty much anything sweet and juicy you decide to top it with.

The directions tell you to “scatter” berries over the top, but you can choose to press some or all of the fruit down into the batter a little (like I did) if you want it to get submerged in the cake. It doesn’t matter a great deal though. As the cake bakes, it rises and engulfs even the scattered fruit to some degree, so it all ends up incorporated in, rather than a topping on, the cake. You can see that I got a little carried away with the berries. I literally put as many as I could fit on the top–and it turned out perfectly.

In a way, I think finding this recipe last summer has been detrimental to my development as a baker. You see, I really hadn’t tried many simple, basic, frosting-less cakes before, and seeing as how I haven’t tried another since makes me wonder if it’ll ever happen. Oh well, there are worse things than finding the perfect cake early in life I suppose.

Berry Buttermilk cake
scaled up from recipe on smittenkitchen.com; her version adapted from Gourmet

In the past when I’ve made this cake it has been very thin. This time I wanted something thicker, so I increased the recipe by 50%, made it in a 10 inch spring-form pan, and adjusted the baking temperature and time. I put the adjusted measurements below, but you can refer to the link above for the original proportions, baking temps, etc. I also increased the amount of berries pretty dramatically because I wanted at least one berry in every bite.

1 1/2 cups flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
6 Tbsp butter
scant 1 cup sugar + 1 1/2 Tbsp sugar, divided
1 tsp vanilla
3/4 tsp grated lemon zest
1 large egg
3/4 c. well-shaken buttermilk
1 1/2 cups strawberries, hulled and sliced into large chunks
1 cup blackberries, sliced in half if large

1. Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle. Butter and flour a 9 or 10 inch round cake pan.

2. Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and set aside. In a larger bowl, beat butter and scant 1 cup sugar with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about two minutes, then beat in vanilla and zest, if using. Add egg and beat well.

3. At low speed, mix in flour mixture in three batches, alternating with buttermilk, beginning and ending with flour, and mixing until just combined.  Spoon batter into cake pan, smoothing top.  Then scatter berries over the top. (I started with strawberries and crowded them in, then pressed many of them into the batter a bit. Then I filled in any holes with blackberries.) Sprinkle with remaining 1 1/2 Tbsp of sugar.

4. Bake for 10 minutes and then reduce heat to 325 degrees. Bake an additional 40-50 minutes, until cake is golden and a wooden pick inserted into center comes out clean. Cool in pan for 20 minutes, then invert on a plate, or if using a spring-form pan, remove liner when ready to serve.

Every now and then I get adventurous and decide to try to replicate something I’ve eaten at a restaurant. I usually don’t get that close to the original, but it’s a fun exercise to go through. Plus, if I’m lucky it still tastes good.

This particular culinary adventure was inspired by a visit to Andy Nguyen’s Restaurant (voted best vegetarian restaurant in Sacramento in 2010). Somehow I got into a conversation about spring rolls with my advisor (we tend to talk about random things like this) and he claimed this was the place to go if you like spring rolls. To sell it even further, he described it as an exotic version of Ding How, a Chinese restaurant in Davis that makes fantastic vegetarian “meat” dishes. While I love Ding How, the ‘exotic’ claim scared me a little. You see, for whatever reason, ‘exotic’ just makes me think of weird, slimy food with random animal parts. I know, how open-minded am I? Knowing this was a little ridiculous and given that this was a vegetarian restaurant, I decided to try the place anyway.

As it turns out, Andy Nguyen’s Restaurant lived up to its hype. There was a wide variety of spring rolls to choose from (among many other interesting dishes), all with funny Buddhism-influenced names, like Enlighten Mind Rolls and Nirvana Lemon Salad. We settled on the Karma Roll as an appetizer, which came with mango, grilled tofu, rice noodles, caramelized onions, mint, cilantro, carrots, and slaw. It was probably the tastiest spring roll I’ve ever had, and within a week I set out to try my own version at home.

I made several alterations in my version, including omitting rice noodles. I guess I was going for a low-carb spring roll? I’m not sure, but including rice noodles would probably make it taste more authentic. The other suggestion I have would be to saute the cabbage to soften it a bit before putting it in the spring rolls. The raw cabbage has a nicer color, but it ended up being a little on the hard-to-digest side, and that comes from a girl who goes out of her way to eat large quantities of fiber. So trust me on that one.

The recipe I included below is a place to start, but you could tweak it in an infinite number of ways, depending on what you like and what’s in season. The dipping sauce we made came from a Thai grilled chicken recipe in the Best Recipes Grilling and Barbecue cookbook. It is simultaneously sweet, tangy and spicy and worked great with these spring rolls, but you could also make a peanut sauce or something soy sauce based if that sounds better to you. With the exception of the dipping sauce, this whole project was an experimental adventure. I’m learning that cooking without a recipe, while sometimes daunting, can be really fun and satisfying! (That said, I still included my recipe below!)

Mango Tofu Spring Rolls
inspired by the Karma Roll at Andy Nguyen’s Restaurant; dipping sauce from Cook’s Illustrated Guide to Grilling and Barbecue

Dipping sacue
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup distilled white vinegar
1/4 cup lime juice
2 tablespoons fish sauce
3 small garlic cloves, minced or pressed through a garlic press
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Tofu marinade
1/3 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup dry sherry
1/6 cup rice vinegar
2 tablespoons brown sugar

1 pound tofu
2 tablespoons peanut oil or vegetable oil

2 ripe mangos, peeled and diced
4 green onions, white and green parts, thinly sliced
2 cups shredded red cabbage (*we used raw, but I would suggest sauteeing it in a bit of oil until it softens; then let it cool to room temperature*)
1/2 cup mint, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup basil, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup cilantro, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup peanuts, coarsely chopped
1 package rice paper wraps
large bowl warm water
sushi rolling mat

1. Make the dipping sauce.
Whisk the ingrdients in a small bowl until the sugar dissolves. Let stand 1 hour at room temperature to allow the flavors to meld.

2. Bake the tofu.
In a small saucepan, bring the tofu marinade ingredients to a boil. Simmer for 1 minute and remove from the heat. Press tofu between layers of paper towels to remove moisture. Then cut the blocks of tofu into 3 slabs. Place the slabs in a single layer in a nonreactive heatproof pan. Pour the marinade over the tofu, sprinkle on 2 tablespoons of oil, and set aside for about 5 minutes. Preheat the broiler. Broil the tofu for 7 to 8 minutes, until lightly browned; then turn it over with a spatula and brown the other side (another 4-5 minutes). Remove from pan and set aside. When cool, slice the tofu into long “matchsticks,” about 1/4 inch wide.

3. Prepare rice wraps.
Before assembling the spring rolls, you should have all your ingredients handy, including a bowl or warm water and a sushi rolling mat if you have one. Take a rice wrapper and submerge it in the water for about 10-15 seconds to let it soften. Then remove it from the water and center it on the rolling mat, rough side down.

4. Assemble spring rolls.
Layer ingredients in a line along the right-center side of the wrap, leaving 1 1/2 inches of wrap on the top and bottom open. See the pictures above for a guide of how much filling to put in. If anything, put less than you think you need. Next fold in the two ends and start rolling from the right side until the wrap is closed. This is sort of like rolling a really, really delicate burrito. The first few will probably break, but you’ll eventually get the hang of it.

Vicken and I are looking for a place to move this fall for what will probably be our last year in Davis (fingers crossed!). As this reality of only having one more year here sets in, I’m making an effort to really take advantage of and enjoy all the perks there are here. Among the perks, of course, are the many lovely people I’ve been lucky enough to get to know over the last 5 years.

Part of the luxury of living in a small college town is that there is a constant influx of new and interesting people. The downfall that unfortunately accompanies that is that as I’ve met more and more new people I’ve lost track of some old friends that live only a few miles away. With our departure in sight now, I’ve been trying to catch up with these people and it has been so rewarding.

We recently had dinner with some old friends that I originally met through Vicken and who used to organize a weekly Four Square game every summer–clearly all-around awesome people, right? Anyway, we had a great time laughing, catching up, and concocting tequila-based drinks (not necessarily in that order) and we ate this Mexican fava bean soup that Vicken made. We used another of Rick Bayless’s recipes for this and were really pleased. The earthy plainness of the fava beans are first enhanced by the addition of roasted garlic, onions, and tomatoes, and then punched up a bit by the cilantro and mint that you add at the end.

The soup itself is Mediterranean in origin, but what finally adds the Mexican flavor is the vinegary chile condiment and cheese that you add to individual bowls. The chiles add a complex, rustic flavor to the recipe and the cheese balances out the vinegar and other strong flavors in the soup.


It’s hard to know whether the soup itself was actually as good as I thought it was or if I just had such a fun time that I let those emotions bias my judgement. Just to be sure, I made a second batch a few days later and the verdict stands. I think I’ll even suggest my mom make it. Translation: I feel confident enough about the likability of this soup that I think my dad, to whom everything I make and eat sounds “weird”, would like it. There’s not much more to say than that.

Slow-simmered fava bean soup
from Rick Bayless’s Mexican Kitchen

Makes about 10 cups. Serves 4-5 as a main course, or 8-10 small servings.

We have made this with the dried, hulled favas it calls for and with dried favas that we soaked for a few hours and then hulled. Both work fine, and the latter cooks more quickly due to the pre-soaking. You can probably add the chopped roasted vegetables as soon as 45 minutes into the cooking. The down-side to soaking and hulling the favas yourself is that it takes a long time. Plan to spend at least an hour on this step unless you have some nifty bean hulling technique up your sleeve.

1 pound (about 2 2/3 cups) hulled dry (yellow) fava beans, cleaned
8 cups good chicken broth or water
6 garlic cloves, skins on
1 large white onion, thickly sliced
1 1/2 pounds (3 medium-large round or 9-12 plum) ripe tomatoes
6 medium (about 2 ounces total) dried pasilla chiles, stemmed and seeded
2 Tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for garnish
2 Tablespoons cider vinegar
3/4 teaspoon dried oregano, preferably Mexican
Salt, about 2 1/2 teaspoons
1/2 cups loosely packed chopped cilantro
1 to 2 Tablespoons chopped fresh mint, preferably spearmint
About 1/2 cup finely crumbled Mexican queso anejo, dry feta or parmesan (*I used queso anejo, and it worked really well)

1. The soup base.
Rinse the fava beans, place in a large (6-quart) pot, cover with 8 cups of broth or water, and simmer over medium-low heat, partially covered, until very tender (they will begin falling apart), about 1 hour.
While the beans are simmering, roast the garlic on an ungreased griddle or heavy skillet over medium heat, turning occasionally, until blackened in spots and soft, about 15 minutes. Cool, then slip off the papery skins and finely chop. On a piece of foil in the same skillet, roast the onion slices in a single later, turning once, until richly browned and soft, 6 or 7 minutes per side. (Note: I stirred the onions every minute or so rather than “flipping” them.) Meanwhile, roast the tomatoes 4 inches below a very hot broiler until blackened on one side, about 6 minutes, then flip and roast the other side. Cool, then peel and chop, saving all the juices.
Add the garlic, onion and tomatoes to the tender fava beans and simmer about 30 minutes more, until the beans are the consistency of a coarse, rough-looking puree.

2. The chiles.
While the soup is simmering (or before you start), cut the chiles into 1/8-inch slivers using kitchen shears. Heat the olive oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the chiles and stir for a minute. Remove from the heat and add the vinegar, 3 tablespoons of water, oregano, and a scant 1/2 teaspoon of the salt. Let stand at least 1/2 hour, stirring occasionally.

3. Finishing the soup.
Just before serving, add a little water (or broth), if necessary, to bring the soup to the consistency of medium-thick bean soup. Stir in the cilantro and mint, taste and season with salt, usually about 2 teaspoons. Ladle the soup into warm bowls, spoon about a tablespoon of chiles into the center, drizzle with a little olive oil, and sprinkle with the finely crumbled cheese.

Advance preparation: The recipe can be made several days ahead of time through step 2; refrigerate the soup and chile mixture separately.

Shortcuts: A simple version can be prepared without the chile “condiment”; serve bottled hot sauce on the side.