Members of online food forums console each other while sharing tips and tales of heartache and sacrifice. “I could probably save a lot of money just by eating half as much food,” one writes. No broccoli stem or bread crust will go uneaten, the masses promise. And if, like so many others, you happen to like those bits best, then you may not notice the crunch as much.
For some, a return to simplicity and functionality seems imperative, and they wave bye-bye to boutique ingredients. For others who may not necessarily need to make any lifestyle adjustments to accommodate the economic downturn, this brings an opportunity for awareness and appreciation.
The bad news is that it may not be the best time to embark on any new, expensive hobbies. The good news is that this is a great time to rediscover polenta, semolina, organ meats and the humble tuber.
When life gives you stones, make stone soup. When life gives you potatoes, make stamppot.
Stamppot (literally “mash pot”) is a traditional and reliable Dutch winter dish made of a mixture of mashed potatoes and a similar amount of cooked or raw vegetables. The classics are raw endive, cooked kale and sauerkraut. Dutch food writer Klary Koopmans writes SFR, “The nice thing about stamppot is that basically anything goes. One of my favorites is stamppot of Brussels sprouts, and I made a really great one with sweet potatoes and cabbage a little while ago. Yesterday it was raw, thinly sliced Belgian endive that went into the mash, together with a couple of chopped-up hardboiled eggs, and a tablespoon of mustard. The stamppot was served with shallots fried in butter, and a smoked sausage that I had in the freezer.”
1 pound of Brussels sprouts, boiled in salt water until very tender
1.5 pound peeled floury potatoes, boiled in salt water until cooked
You can cook the sprouts and potatoes together or separately. We prefer to keep them separate.
Drain your sprouts and potatoes. Mash potatoes with a splash of milk, a large knob of butter, a dash of nutmeg, a spoonful of mustard, salt and pepper. Mash the sprouts into this mash. Make a simple gravy by frying up some bacon and onions in butter. Deglaze the pan with some wine or water.
In the Netherlands, stamppot is often served with gherkins, pickled onions or applesauce.
Having recently rediscovered pomegranate molasses, that tangy, syrupy Mediterranean elixir reminiscent of tamarind paste and a fine aged balsamic, I’m obsessed with incorporating it into dishes and cocktails. You can make it yourself from bottled pomegranate juice or buy it in bottles (Ziggy’s International Market, $4.55 for 10 ounces). When used to deglaze the pan, it’s also the raison d’etre of fried chicken livers (I like the organic California-raised ones from La Montañita Co-op, $3.99/pound) and beef short ribs ($6.49/pound, also at La Montañita Co-op). If the idea of chicken livers makes your skin creep, it’s only because you haven’t yet had them with pomegranate molasses.
Coincidentally, chicken livers and beef short ribs are among the least expensive meat products in the Co-op’s meat department.
3 cups pomegranate juice
6 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons lemon juice
Heat pomegranate juice, sugar and lemon juice on medium-high heat in a large, uncovered saucepan to dissolve sugar. Reduce heat and keep mixture at a light simmer for about an hour or until the juice has a syrupy consistency, and has reduced to around ¾ cup. Store in a jar and chill.
Whatever you have left can be brushed onto chicken or duck skin before roasting, or mixed into salad dressings with lots of olive oil, lemon, herbs and garlic. Drizzle onto anything you would eat with a balsamic glaze, such as braised red cabbage, lamb, vegetable fritters, roasted dates or young goat cheese.