Author: Crystal Rivera

Syrian Meatball Stew with Baby Zucchini

When a friend goes out into his garden to harvest seeds just for you, the gratitude is unreal. I happily carried a small jar of fresh coriander plucked right before my eyes from their cilantro-flowers, from Corona to the Upper East Side, thinking of all the dishes I’d love to add them to. This Syrian stew, for starters. Even though the seeds are not something you have to have to make this stew happen, it’s something I did have and it made beautiful, floral sense to use them alongside orange peels and fresh tomatoes and delicately spiced meatballs. Let’s not act surprised to see orange peels in this pot. The combination of spiced tomato broth with citrus and floral undertones will always be my thing. You can omit them if you’d like, but why not give it a try? I’ve seen you over there skipping that part in 90 percent of my recipes (I’m laughing). And as for the zucchini, I usually stuff them with this meat and rice mixture (hashu), but look at how …

mexican corn chowder

Sitting at the corner table in Estia’s Little Kitchen with Connie, a spoonful of corn chowder in my mouth, I’m immediately taken back to my previous home in Queens. A burst of heat and plenty of cilantro in the broth is exactly how I enjoyed Momma Lupe’s soups. I called a gentleman over and asked in a single word, “tomatillos?” And in a single word returned,“poblanos.”Again I was back in a little kitchen of my own, in another time and place, where sounds of the blender filled the room as poblanos and cilantro became one, beautiful green. Gratitude to this garden-to-table restaurant where everyone was friendly and most likely family, for allowing me a taste of memory. Our waiting area was the best wait I’ve ever experienced in my life. They serve iced coffee in a truck out back where they are currently growing many lettuce greens and herbs, cucumbers, squash, tomatoes. Check out that dragonfly chillin’ on a garlic scape. We walked around til our names were called and we made sure we would …

grilled cabbage tabbouleh

Ever wake up one day to discover you’ve exhausted your head of red cabbage? I mean, you open the fridge and find a wedge left, yawning at you from the comfort of it’s crisp drawer, as you return it’s stare and remember how you used it to begin with: garnishes to make your every dish pop. All week long. Actually, TWO weeks long. Ex: lentil and sweet plantain chorizo soup. That’s just straight rude. It’s deep color deserves the spotlight, and if you want an eye-catcher without having to break a sweat, this is it. All my favorite food-colors in one, gorgeous salad. (Is it red? Is it purple? It’s both, says cabbage experts.) I say it’s according to mood. I’ve had plenty of tabbouleh in my life, but never this one, and never grilled. It’s got your usual bulgur and finely minced greens. Fresh lemon juice and cumin ties it all together as it always has…but then you have still-crisp charred cabbage, with moments of pomegranate seeds bursting in your mouth. And then the …

lentil and sweet plantain chorizo soup

This was on the very top of my list of older recipes I needed to revisit. And since every new viewer lately has been turning to it, it was time for a new look. Using odds and ends from the fridge, I whipped up something I had to jot down and share with you–right after putting the spoon down. It’s seriously GOOD. It’s also a reminder as to how my blog got its name. Cook with what you already have, with a sort of witchery, going with your gut and, how Frank O’Hara would put it, on your nerve. This soup is a combination of spicy, savory, and sweet. You probably already have some of these ingredients at home and if not, it’s still pretty easy and inexpensive to get. Pick yellow plantains that are heavily black-spotted if you like them more on the sweet side like I do. Not entirely black, though. That kind of ripeness turns to mush when cooked. We’re currently growing a lot of oregano, both Greek and Italian, and that’s …

grilled escarole, cabbage, and apple salad

After a week of celebrating Dan’s birthday and graduation with beautiful Syrian, Mexican, Chinese, Ramen, Italian, and Peruvian food OMG, I severely missed a home-cooked meal. A healthy-and-grilled one please. While dipping fresh tortillas in a cast iron full of 3 cheeses and chorizo is spectacular, I have to admit, I don’t feel that spectacular afterwards. Bring on the simple veggie platters! This was the first thing I made when I got home, and it took all but 20 minutes to put together. The addition of feta on the slightly bitter greens with a squeeze of that grilled lemon was beautiful. But I encourage you to take a knife to the greens and cabbage, and get yourself the perfect bite of sweet apple and onion along with the salty-and-creamy feta. You won’t regret it. -1 head of escarole, quartered lengthwise & cleaned well -1/2 a head of red cabbage, sliced into wedges -1 red onion (or half vidalia), wedges -1 big apple, cored and cut into wedges -about 1/4 cup olive oil, divided -salt and …

rose harissa chickpea and eggplant stew

It’s a Thursday, and I can be found shouting ROSE HARISSA from the rooftop of my Manhattan building, where I’m sure I’m not allowed to be. But just like Ottolenghi, I want you to know about it. Know it. And use it! often. A spoonful of it into or onto your favorite weekday dish will elevate the simple ingredients, as it does this stew. There’s heat, but the addition of rose petals to this North African chile paste calms it. I use Belazu’s rose harissa, as he recommends, but if you find something else please use less than what I’ve suggested here, before adding more to your desired taste. This is a super quick stew with very few ingredients. Yet it’s hearty and flavorful, and it’s rich color is so very pleasing to the eye. Double up to feed more mouths! I added sugar snap peas AND snow peas when I first made it, but decided sugar snaps were best. They can be found at your local farmers market today. – vegetable oil, enough to …

Thousand Flowers Tart

When Jennifer from The Burley Hen purchased a tiny vial of millefiori, putting a single drop into her pancake batter, she somehow knew, at first taste, that I should have it instead. And so it made a short trip from Queens to Manhattan, a single drop less, and waiting. Most likely waiting for me to turn on my poet-brain. This entire recipe, from thinking it, being frustrated with it, to tasting it multiple times, brought me back to those days I’d fuss over a single poem. While I was super excited to have this flower concentrate in the house, I also had no idea what I wanted to do with it, as there are not too many recipes online. Mostly a lot of Pastiera; an Italian Easter cake. (That’s another thing I miss about writing a poem. The researching that comes with it.) It wasn’t until receiving sunflower flour from Tory that this idea for a tart came to, well, you know, blossom. As she handed the bag of flour to me, along with a …

A Month with Simple

There have only been two cookbooks my hands have ever taken turns being attached to: Aromas of Aleppo, and Tasting India. With Ottolenghi’s Simple now being added to the list, (thank you Danny) my hands don’t even know what to do with themselves. I’ve made about 8 of his dishes within 3 weeks, and have picked up certain things from them that I can’t wait to try out in some of my own recipes. For instance, FRIED CAPERS. Shut the front door. On the day I came back with the first of the asparagus, purple and green, I knew I wanted to smother them with buttered, toasted almonds, fried capers, and dill. Because that’s what page 82 told me to do. Everyone at the table loved that extra touch of salt on fresh tender stalks. The next day, I wanted to try the capers out in a cantaloupe salad, because while I crave sweetness, I tend to crave the saltier side of things a tad bit more. I’m still developing the recipe for this one …

Roasted Cheese-Stuffed Spiced Tomatoes

There’s a roasted caprese I love to make for the family: campari tomatoes stuffed with ciliegine, basil, and topped with seasoned bread crumbs. While I was craving them last weekend, I was also craving sambousak, a buttery, sesame pastry filled with muenster cheese. Lori serves them whenever she cooks a Syrian feast. In fact, it’s how we begin one. While she works the stuffing, I am usually put on sesame seed duty. Dipping and pressing each pastry into a bowl of seeds, then lining them up on a baking sheet and popping them into the oven. The aroma of that moment is what I’m after. In a perfect world, I would’ve made both. But it’s finally truly warm out and I wanted to fully embrace “less is more” on a Sunday afternoon. The only solution was this: stuffing tomatoes with muenster cheese, leaning more towards Syrian cuisine by using familiar spices, swapping out the basil for parsley, and then topping each tomato with sesame and nigella seeds before they get popped into the oven and, …

Citrus Braised Beans, Ramps, Tomatoes, and Olives

You wouldn’t believe me if I told you someone else ate the whole pot of beans before I could even fully enjoy a bowl of them. Well, they did. The day that I was recipe developing, I took photographs of the wildly Spring contents, then ran out to Brooklyn to spend some time with Danny, thinking there’d be enough for me to try when I return. (It serves 4 people, people!) How wrong was I. I received a text: “they were delicious! I finished them off with a baguette.” Ha! There’s a serving suggestion for you, am I right? And so I made it again the next day, each spoonful creating a sigh, hiding in my room with the pot til I was ready to share. The heirloom beans are called Jacob’s Cattle Beans. And I love them. I eyed their small and spotted bodies at a farmstand at Union Square, where I also bought everything else that wound up in this recipe. Ramps. Tomatoes. Olives. Garlic. Dill. As usual, I had no idea they’d …

Market Haul Lo Mein

True story. The evening before I went away for a week, my beautiful (but food-picky) mom requested I make a big batch of lo mein just for her. None for her hubby. None for you. She wanted to make sure there was enough in the house to last at least 4 days. Mind you, I had just made some less than a week before then but who am I to argue (she’s taking care of my fur-baby, and her love for this one-pot meal is adorable.) That is to say, I totally get it. Gently spiced noodles with a bunch of seasonally fresh veggies and greens just handpicked from the farmers market is quite appealing, and if I can feed my mother  (who would prefer cakes and candies over a solid meal) something more substantial, I’ll make it twice a week if I have to. And I probably could! It comes together quite quickly and each serving is unique. Unique enough to not get real bored real quick. Let this be a loose guideline for …

Spring Greens Kibbeh

Guess what? I have never had an all-veggie-and-herb kibbeh before. Nor a very flat one. It is the hefty oval-shaped classic stuffed with meat that I’m used to; with it’s outer, crispy shell made of bulgur wheat and even more (but very delicious) meat. In Lori’s kitchen, all that’s needed is a fresh squeeze of lemon over them and each bite is heaven. But it’s spring and I want to do the following: see green, eat green, maybe not spend too much time in the kitchen if there’s a shortcut I can live with. I also really want to eat less meat. So bring on this quicker version of kibbeh packed with fresh herbs, chickpeas, spring peas, and beautiful spices. Kibbeh-meets-falafel, almost! Use whatever greens you fancy. While you can use fresh English peas that are already pre-packaged for you, I’ve come across spring’s sugar snap peas plump enough to shell and use for this recipe. No steaming necessary! They are currently in season. They are sweet all over and you can make a simple …