Barbara Kafka

Cooking Hints and Vegetable Tips


Asparagus (Asparagus officinalis)
Recently, I have been avoiding butter. As my asparagus have been profuse giving me frequent cuttings, I have needed a substitute for my favorite, Hollandaise. I have been using a fruity olive oil, lemon juice, coarse salt and butter. I put them on the table so that people can dowse their own. Incidentally, Hollandaise, Bearnaise and Beurre Blanc can all be kept warm in a thermos. This is important as they reheat so badly.

Visit my blog to find a recipe for a Lightened Hollandaise Sauceas sexy as the classic one but less heavy and fatteningless cholesterol as well.

Bok Choy (Brassica rapa)
This concerns those lovely urn-shaped Chinese cabbages, bok choy, shading from green at the bottom to almost white at the top of the leaves. One thing to note when cooking these delights that may be very small and up to about eight inches long is that they continue cooking after their dish is made and should be cooked as close to the eating time as possible. It is not an attempt to get them al dente which I do not like but a warning that they will almost dissolve into the liquid with prolonged waiting. For more on bok choy, see pages 557-559 of Vegetable Love.

Capers (Capparis spinosa)
I thought I had said everything I knew about capers. Turns out I was wrong. There is an addictive, crisp and tasty garnish that is easy to make. It requires salt-packed capers. Bring a half inch layer of olive oil to frying heat--about 350-375 F. in a shallow pan. Throw in a fistful of capers. Let cook one minute, stirring once. Remove to double layer of paper towel with a skimmer. Serve hot around fish and bland vegetables.

For more on capers, see page 560 of Vegetable Love.

Carrots (Daucus carota sativa)
If carrots are young and tender they don't need peeling. Just scrub them with a dark green synthetic scrubbing pad (not steel wool or other metals) to quickly remove the thin layer of peel. For more on carrots, see page 561-563 of Vegetable Love.

Celery Root (Apium graveolens rapaceum)
Celery root is not prepossessing. It is actually very ugly, with dirty brown, coarse, hairy skin. Peeling it is a bit of a problem, requiring a sharp knife and determination. The reward is the aromatic white flesh whose texture is much like that of jicama although it is less starchy and not quite as crisp. If jicama is unavailable for Tex-Mex salads, celery root is a good substitute.

To Peel: The best way to peel celery root is with a paring knife. Cut off the top leaves, if any. It is easier to peel if it is first cut into quarters lengthwise. Peel from the bottom to the top, trimming off the gnarled parts.

For more on celery root, see pages 565-566 of Vegetable Love.

Fiddlehead Ferns (Matteuccia pensylvanica)
Fiddleheads should be green and tightly furled when bought, without any black tips to the stems, although these can be cut off if necessary. Store in plastic bags in the refrigerator. Use as soon as possible; they keep badly.

Fiddleheads require
no preparation besides a quick wash and the cutting off of any discolored stem ends—unless they are the kind with cinnamon-colored fuzz on the outside. Then they need to be lightly rubbed with hands or two dish cloths to remove the fuzz. For more on fiddlehead ferns, see page 584 of Vegetable Love.

Garlic (Allium sativum)
The easiest way to chop garlic is to whack the whole clove, still in its paper, with the side of a heavy knife. Pick off the papery coating. The clove will already be half-chopped; just go from there. If perfect slices or whole cloves are needed, remove the paper with a paring knife, starting at the flat root (not pointy) end of the clove. The root end should always be removed. Also, if there is a green shoot in the middle of the garlic when it is smashed, it should be removed if the garlic is to be used raw. Later in the season this green shoot is bigger—the germ—and needs to be removed for any use as it is probably bitter. Now is the time to plant your garlic for next year.

(Visit Ask Barbara for more on garlic. Another great source of garlic information is Chester Aaron, an expert on the subject who can be reached at

Leeks (Allium ampeloprasum)
Leek greens need not be discarded. When washed, cut into 2-inch pieces and put in a stockpot, they make an excellent broth. Add liquidabout 6 cups broth or water for the greens from 4 pounds of leeks. Bring to a boil. Cover; reduce the heat and simmer for 3 hours. Strain.

Molokhiya (Corchorus olitorius)
Anyone who wants to try molokhiya (malokhei)pages 603-604 and 340-345
in Vegetable Love
fresh and is unable to find it, can grow it from

Seeds are available on the web page:
I'm looking forward to growing it myself this summer.

Most of these are not in season and have stickers saying that they come from Mexico
probably politically incorrectbut they show up in the pasta sauce on today's blog. Beware buying mushrooms in plastic enclosed containersparticularly exotic ones that may sell less frequently. Look carefully to see if any of them look soft, wet or translucent; they will be over the hill. You are better off with ordinary white mushrooms.

Parsnips (Pastinaca sativa)
Choose parnips that are firm, not wrinkled, and unblemished. Medium-size ones are safer. If they are too big, they can be fibrous or have hollow cores.

Scrub them and store in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. They will keep for months. There is no need to freeze them. For more on parsnips, see pages 619-620 of Vegetable Love.

Potatoes (Solanum tuberosum)
Purely by chance, I discovered an interesting way to deal with baked potatoes in a low calorie way. I baked potatoes for 50 minutes at 500 degrees. Rather than putting butter or oil on the potato, after I had slashed it and crushed it to make it soft and mealy, I cut up some of my salad of Boston lettuce, wedges of of tomato and thinly sliced raw onions. I had started by salting the onions and tomatoes to draw their juices. I tossed in the lettuce, a little olive oil and salt and pepper. I spooned the salad over the potato and it was delicious. I needed both a fork and spoon, but fingers would have worked well.

Purple Tomatillo (Physalis ixocarpa)
In San Miguel de Allende, Mexico I found a variety new to me of a vegetable that I thought I knew well. It was a tomatillo that was a darkalmost blackpurple under the usual brown husk. When they turn up in our stores as they surely will, they are worth trying.

Choose ones that are slightly soft, really ripe. The taste is deeper than the green ones but still rather acid. I made what was a beautiful to look at into a satisfactory tasting salsa or dressing. Having shucked the tomatillos, I cut out any green flesh at the stem and cut them in eighth-inch cubes. I seeded and also cubed a red-ripe jalapeno as well as a quantity about a quarter of that of the tomatillo. I sprinkled this mixture with salt and let it sit about a half hour and stirred in a fistful of chopped cilantro. Instead of serving it as a dip, I added about a tablespoon of good olive oil and poured it on top of hot, freshly steamed-in-the-jacket tomatoes. It was a great first course.

Shiitakes (Lentinus Edodes)
Now, seems to be the season for fresh shiitake mushrooms. They are not as strong in taste as the dried but make a lovely component in risotto once sautéed in olive or butter. The stems have to come off just as with the dried, but then they are easily sliced.

Snake Gourd
Well, my venture at going on line and finding seeds for snake gourd and planting them this spring paid off. My specimens have a light green skinedible when youngare about 15 inches-long and about an inch and a half across at the the somewhat club shaped longer end. Cut across into quarter-inch slices and tossed into boiling salted water, they take five minutes to cook. The texture and flavor are half way between a squash and and a not too sweet yam; no visible seeds. I let them cool and added their pale yellow to a composed summer salad. Good. The same size pieces cut into quarters make a good addition to a stir fryquicker than potatoesbut with some of the same substance. More to come. Let me know your results.

Tomato (Lycopersicon lycopersicum)
For all tomatoes except grape and cherry, it's necessary to remove the core on top where the stem was attached. The easiest way to do so is to take a sharp paring knife and make a conical cut around the stem area, removing it and the whitish pith underneath.