A Leite Dinner

20 Jan

I’ve been thinking a lot about my colleague‘s recent conversion to what he calls “mostly veganism.”

Now, before we go quibbling about his choice of terminology I should tell you that this gentleman is an older, highly conservative Republican, red meat-eating, god-fearing capitalist and that he came to this state not out of any sense of environmental obligation but rather through sports physiology.

But, no matter the route, the destination is the same: A diet that is better for him and for the world.

I’ve been thinking a lot about vegetables too and how much I miss them and can’t wait to start pulling them out of our garden again.  This is the season that tries my soul.  I want to eat lots of unhealthy things like beef and pork and cheese and Christina’s Mama’s lemon sour cream pie, while I know I should be eating vegetables and grains and fish.  I want to be planting plants and digging around in the dirt but rather I’m stomping through slush and standing by the sink and staring at the fluffy, puffed-up birds while clutching a cup of tea, absorbing every last hint of warmth from it.

It’s a hard season to eat, and despite the insistence by the journalist and author Tom Standage at the AMNH’s recent lecture on curry economics that at some point getting your food from half-way around the world costs less in terms of carbon than raising it locally in a greenhouse, I still find eating at this time of year difficult.

It was all these complex thoughts that were rattling around inside my head as I was thumbing through David Leite‘s excellent cookbook The New Portuguese Table.  It was a Christmas gift from Isaac’s  mom and had sat sadly neglected on the ottoman since its unwrapping.  But on Saturday morning I was finally able to give it a good look.  And boy is it a beauty. So many wonderful recipes for interesting meats and creative ways to cook fish, but I was looking for simple, vegetable-centric ones.

I settled on a dish of greens with breadcrumbs and garlic (I used chard instead of spinach) and some sweet, sweet, sweet glazed carrots with fennel seed that I served warm instead of chilled.  Each recipe was quick, very, very tasty and a wonderful way to highlight some of winter’s more oft overlooked vegetables.

But what I really want to draw your attention to is a sauce and a bread.  At the very back of the book Leite has a recipe for Amped-Up Pepper Paste (conveniently put into pixels right here).  Naturally, I barely followed his recipe. I didn’t have any of the herbs on hand and I was really going for something closer to harissa than a pesto, so I just whipped together the paprikas, a little cayenne, a bit of tomato paste, lemon juice, olive oil and yes, the red wine, and I am here to tell you this sauce was delicious.  I cooked some little white shrimp from Louisiana in it and served them over whipped fava beans. They were delectable.

And then there’s the bread.  Leite calls it corn bread and this isn’t a misnomer, it is bread with corn meal in it.  But it is the farthest thing from the corn bread that any, say, Texan, would recognize.  It is light and fluffy and keeps well and for all the world reminds me of the beautiful breads that we fell in love with in Croatia (and that I tried once to recreate but couldn’t quite nail).

Not only is this a strange bread to eat it’s also a strange bread to make.  It takes two (yes two) packets of instant dry yeast and two (yes two) tablespoons of salt.  I was actually sure that that was a typo and asked David about it on twitter.  He confirmed that it is not a typo and that in fact the original recipe called for even more salt and assured me that you can cut it back with no adverse effects.

So, if you’re a bread geek or someone who similarly fell in love with bread in Croatia or maybe have been to Portugal and fell in love with the bread there, buy David’s book and try this bread. It’s really satisfying to make and goes splendidly with this black bean soup that Isaac made us on Sunday night while it rained and sleeted and snowed and continued to stubbornly insist on remaining winter.

4 Responses to “A Leite Dinner”

  1. Lisa January 20, 2010 at 9:21 pm #

    I’ve been meaning to pick up Leite’s book as I’ve heard nothing but wonderful things about it. Sadly, when I lived in Spain I didn’t make it to Portugal but I am very intrigued by its cuisine, not to mention that you’ve made me especially curious about his Portuguese cornbread recipe. And your upstate photos are as inspiring as always! Land!

  2. Andrea January 21, 2010 at 10:41 am #

    Thank you for introducing me to Leite’s Book/Web Page. Always looking for good and hearty meal ideas. Love your shadow pictures and the “prints”. A~

  3. Julia January 21, 2010 at 10:57 am #

    I am pining away for planting season so much that I have been telling everyone that spring will come early this year. But not as early as February, I’m afraid. It’s such a hard time. Catalogs don’t even scratch the surface of the itch. Sigh. It’s important to appreciate tracks in the snow. Well done.

  4. ann February 2, 2010 at 6:43 am #

    Wow, I can’t believe how long it’s been since I checked in here! I must have fallen off a cliff. Sorry!!

    Lisa — Grab it. The recipes are beautiful.

    Andrea — You’re welcome! Leite’s recipes are really great.

    Julia — Wait til you see my next post. Hopefully it’ll give you some inspiration!

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