The first time I made pickles was the morning after a boyfriend had broken up with me over the phone. I already had the pickling cucumbers in the fridge, a project planned for a later date, but I decided at 7:30am with a heavy heart that the pickling schedule was moving up. If I could pickle, then my grief schedule might be delayed another hour. Never having pickled much of anything save quick pickled onions, I started with internet research. I wanted to make the pickles of my childhood I snuck by the fork full straight from the jar of my grandmother’s fridge. As Google does, my search was rewarded with thousands of recipes. I compared several, an amateaur guessing at the result with the most promise and as often happens in my cooking decided on making a mix of two recipes as none had quite everything I was hoping for in a pickle. I felt excited. In short time, I’d have pickles ready to be eaten by the fork full straight from the jar. For a moment, my despair was occupied with spices and brine.
Over the weekend someone asked me how I got into cooking, a question for me that is more about the why than the how. It wasn’t something I always did and I don’t have a particularly interesting story as to how I grew so obsessed, but I do have a lot of whys. Yesterday, I thought about one reason that seems to be consistent over the course of my adult life. Yesterday, was an awful day. The cumulative days were building to it. I have been going through a lot with my health and after months and months of coping, being positive, keeping perspective, picking myself back up, trying again, surrendering, starting over, I believe you get the point, I reached a breaking point. At some point, I will tell more of this story because I believe it is an important one and is becoming a defining piece of this chapter of my life, but while I still stand in what feels like quicksand I am both an ineffective storyteller on the subject and unable to tell my story from a healthy place. Feeling so lost physically and emotionally in my own body, the only one I have for the next however many decades I get to be in this world (which I do really hope is quite a few), I went to see my doctor and I sat in her office and cried. And then I came home and made bread. And cooked chickpeas. And turned the cooked chickpeas into chana masala. There were a dozen other things lining my fridge shelves ready to be eaten and despite my emptiness, my grief, my sense of loss, my desire to sleep for a while, I still found my hands dirtied in a bowl of flour.
I was called into my kitchen yesterday, for many reasons but perhaps the biggest lies in the basic treatise to cooking: there is a beginning, middle and end. There are questions along the way, detours, last minute additions and changes, but you start with one thing and you eventually end with another. Life is not this way. Or not in a way we can see when we are in the thick of it. That fiend hindsight might suggest it is this way, however the unfortunate pitfall to hindsight is that it is by definition useless to the your seemingly dire current circumstances. One of my closest friends talk a lot about the ways in which we soothe ourselves. I cook to soothe. I cook because it makes sense to me when little else does. And if it doesn’t, I make the recipe again and again until it does. Cooking also comes with rewards: something potentially delicious to eat and magic. You start with one thing and end up with something else entirely. Would you like ice cream, custard, creme brulee? All you need is cream, sugar and eggs. An onion in the hands of a chef can be transformed into so many different things with only the addition of heat and fat. In my hands flour, salt, water and wild yeast become a sourdough bread that might make you consider if bread is the right word for all that other stuff you’ve been eating.
Originally, I had intended to write to you about how I am a champion for vegetables. It’s the reason this recipe exists. That story too is saved for another day, but not this recipe because I want you to have it in case you need an appetizer for Memorial Day Weekend. This is delicious. Easy. It happens to be vegan, though I suggest you don’t tell anyone that, I don’t and everyone thinks it’s cheese. I have made this numerous times for the diehard meat and potatoes lovers and they love it. The trick is in the crispy broccoli because everyone loves cheese sauce already.
- 2 crowns of broccoli with stems if possible
- Olive oil
- Sea salt and fresh cracked pepper
- ½ cup of cashews, soaked overnight or in boiling water for 30 minutes
- 1 heaping tablespoon of nutritional yeast
- 1-2 cloves of garlic
- 2 pickles jalapeños
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- Juice of half a lemon
- Juice of one lime
- Preheat your oven 425˙F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and set aside.
- Chop your broccoli heads into fairly uniform pieces, creating a flat side whenever possible as opposed breaking off individual florets. Chop your stems into chunks similar in size to the florets. Place on your prepared baking sheet and drizzle with a healthy glug of oil, season with salt and pepper and toss with your hands to coat. Don't skimp on the oil here, it's important to developing crisp broccoli. Spread broccoli heads and stems into an even layer on your baking sheet. If it is crowded prep a second baking sheet. Crowding leads to steaming and we want crisp broccoli.
- Bake for 25-30 minutes or until the broccoli has begun to char. Do not stir. You want to encourage browning on one side.
- Meanwhile make your spicy cashew 'cheese' sauce. Place all remaining ingredients, except for the lime juice into a high speed blender with a scant quarter cup of boiling water. Blend on high, adding more water by the tablespoon full until desired consistency is reached. I strive for a fairly thick sauce that isn't quite pourable. Taste and adjust salt, lemon and nutritional yeast to preference.
- Once your broccoli is done serve alongside 'cheese' sauce on a serving platter. Finish with the lime juice. Serve warm or at room temperature.