Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Dear Mayonnaise,

I was wrong.

Oh Mayo (you don't mind if I call you Mayo, do you?), I have wronged you. I spoke ill of you for years, proclaiming your nausea-inducing effects, lamenting your overall general grossness. I claimed, nay proselytized, that nothing good could be realized by ingloriously congealed fats. I just could not fathom how anything made largely of egg yolks could be contained indefinitely under a blue cap.

In my defense, however, I must offer the fact that my experiences, you had not been in your best form. I had never been with you in your freshly-made, sprightly, refreshingly-pure state. Can you see why I was singing the gospel of the Church of Mayo-Haters, worshipping at the altar of mustard? You see, in my dark days without you, I had not ever known the real you. My firm denial of your glory was rooted in my distaste for the omnipresent pallid white paste teamed far too often with dry turkey breast and tasteless white bread. You did not have much to offer that sandwich; in fact, I found that you did nothing but turn it into a mushy, gluey mess, leaving me lapping at the roof of my mouth like a dog who'd just eaten peanut butter. You must understand why I felt the way that I did; I did not find you added much to my sandwiches - certainly not enough to warrant your high caloric content. I admit, I may have taken it too far: I would not touch egg salads, tuna salads, far too many dips, or anything else you may have snuck your way into. I even threw tantrums at Mets games when my father, my incomparable sandwich-making father, dared to dress the sandwich intended for me with you.

But mayo, I now see the error of my ways. I have been introduced to you in your purest form. You're like the overly made-up girl who, unbeknownst to her, is far prettier without all of her make-up and high heels. You don't need chemicals, or stabilizers, or multisyllabic words; no, you're at your best when you're just being you, when you're nothing more than the simple sum of your most basic parts: egg, acid, spices, oil. Granted, in your full-fat, mass-produced form you don't possess these additives (save calcium disodium EDTA), but I just could never bring myself to sacrifice those calories to a condiment I just didn't beleive in. And your "healthier," so-called "lite" counterparts, well let's not get started on their blasphemous ways.

Oh mayo, I have seen the light. I have enjoyed freshly-made, bright, sunny, lemony mayonnaise; I have dipped everything from french fries to artichokes. I have seen your versatility - how quickly you go can from mayonnaise to tartar sauce, from mayo to sauce verte; your effortless pairing with sriracha can turn any sandwich into a treat.

You're a Cinderella of sorts; from your meager beginnings as simple pantry staples you become a luxurious a decadent spread capable of elevating the most basic of items. Your generosity cannot be overstated, you eagerly lend a hand to so many dishes, and they are all the better because of it. Vegetables are never stronger than when paired with you - how quickly they go from veggies to crudites thanks to you. You have shown me what mayonnaise is meant to be; and because I cannot always stand about whisking, I have even grown to tolerate the jarred stuff (if begrudgingly so).

I have patiently whisked and eagerly dipped, and I've returned to whisk some more, and damn it, I'm a believer. And yes, every once in a while you'll break on me, but I cannot say I blame you. I have given you no reason to heed to my desires after these years of poo-pooing you. I was so wrong, so blind to your undeniable deliciousness. I can do nothing now but ask for your forgiveness, and lament the years wasted, spent in a dark, mayo-less existence. But that is my cross to bear, and I hope that you'll let this slide, because, believe me, I will never turn my back on you again.

Love and kisses,



Yes, mayonnaise contains raw egg. If for some reason you can't stomach raw eggs, or are pregnant and therefore must be avoiding such things, mayonnaise is probably not for you. But trust me when I say that raw eggs have never had it so good.

I have included a couple of variations below. Alton Brown's was the first I attempted at home; it is a great, classic version, and provides an excellent jumping-off point for just about anything. You really must be patient with the whisking, adding the oil very slowly at first, and allow the emulsion to really show itself before speeding things up. If your mayo breaks, don't worry, you can probably fix that, just keep on whisking and you should be alright. The whisking can get a bit tiring, but hey, you're getting a workout, so you can feel that much less badly about eating mayonnaise. I mean, that is how it works, right? Also, believe me when I tell you that once you make your own mayonnaise, you may never be able to go back to the jarred stuff again. It's cheap, it's delicious, and you know exactly what goes into it.

Mayonnaise is made up of 5 basic ingredients, to which you can add spices, herbs or other items your liking, it's really infinitely adaptable. The proportions of the main ingredients are generally as follows: For one egg yolk, you'll need 2-3 teaspoons of acid (be it vinegar or lemon juice, though you can add more to taste, if you like your mayo quite lemony feel free to add more), 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon mustard (prepared mustard, if using dry, you'll use less) and 1/2 to 3/4 of a cup of oil. I don't recommend olive oil for mayonnaise because the flavor is quite strong and will overwhelm everything else. Neutral tasting oils, such as canola, are a good bet. Apparently you can also make mayonnaise in the blender; I have personally not given it a go yet, but if and when I do I will report back.

Making your mayo will be easiest if all of your ingredients have been allowed to come to room temperature. To make the mayo, whisk all of your ingredients except the oil in a bowl. Slowly, and in a thin stream (very thin at first), whisk in the oil. It's best to start slowly with the oil; you'll be able to pick up speed once your emulsion has come to be. Ta-da! Mayonnaise!

Once this base is formed, you can add whatever you'd like - you can make dijon mayonnaise by simply adding some dijon mustard to your prepared mayonnaise; you can make tartar sauce by adding some capers, parsley, chives and cornichons.

Alton Brown's Mayonnaise
adapted from Alton Brown

1 egg yolk
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1 pinches sugar*
2 teaspoons fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 cup canola oil
In a glass bowl, whisk together egg yolk and dry ingredients. Combine lemon juice and vinegar in a separate bowl then thoroughly whisk half into the yolk mixture. Start whisking briskly, then start adding the oil a few drops at a time until the liquid seems to thicken and lighten a bit, (which means you've got an emulsion on your hands). Once you reach that point you can relax your arm a little (but just a little) and increase the oil flow to a constant (albeit thin) stream. Once half of the oil is in add the rest of the lemon juice mixture.

Continue whisking until all of the oil is incorporated. Let stand at room temperature for a couple of hours, and then refrigerate in an air-tight container for up to a week.

*NOTE: the original recipe calls for 2 pinches of sugar, I generally leave out the sugar, but if I do use it, it's hardly ever more than a pinch.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Actually Delicious Charoset

Every passover, there are, without exception, at least seven items that must be served as part of the Seder meal formalities. Aside from the matzoh, the other six appear on the seder plate, each representing a different aspect of the Jews' escape from persecution and slavery in Egypt. For the most part, these items are not particularly delicious - some are downright inedible (and not meant to be eaten, obviously), and that's alright. But charoset has the potential to be something delicious, and something that you'll find yourself craving throughout the year.

Charoset is a sweet, sticky mess of nuts and apple - at least the charoset of my past was. The charoset of all of my future seders, however, will be no such thing, because this recipe has changed everything I knew about charoset. Typically charoset is eaten as part of the seder, spread on matzoh to symbolize the mortar on the bricks that our ancestors were forced to use before their exodus; then it usually sits there, neglected. Not this charoset though, huge piles of the jewel-colored mixture adorned the plate of each of my seder guests last year, and I found it impossible to reach into the fridge without sticking a spoon into the leftovers for as long as they lasted (not long).

This charoset recipe features flavors and spices often associated with Sephardic Jews. Since the ancestral beginnings of the subset were largely in the Middle East, dates, figs and cinnamon often find their way into Sephardic Jewish dishes, with flavors oftne reminiscent of Moroccan cuisine. It is leaps and bounds better than any apple-spiked charoset I've tasted before. The fruit and toasted nuts provide wonderful contrast in texture, the sweetness of the dates and apricots mellowed and contrasted so perfectly by the toasted nuttiness of the walnuts. The spices provide warmth and depth, and the lingering smell of ginger soothes you as it makes its way into your mouth. The sweet passover wine, nearly unbearable in its unadulterated state, is used sparingly, providing just enough liquid to bond it all together and disperse the flavors, while mellowing out what the potential brashness of the ginger and cayenne.

from Gourmet, April 1993; recipe also here

This mixture may seem a bit spicy at first, but it mellows out with time. I would plan on making this at least a few hours ahead, to give the charoset a chance to come together and allow the flavors to marry.

2/3 cup dried Mission figs (6 oz)
2/3 cup dried apricots (6 oz)
1/3 cup pitted dates (4 oz)
1 1/3 cups walnuts (4 oz), finely chopped
1/4 cup sweet red wine such as Manischewitz Extra Heavy Malaga, kosher for passover
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the walnuts on a baking sheet and toast for about 8 minutes, checking often and stirring around pan as necessary to ensure that they don't burn. Allow nuts to cool.

Finely chop the figs, apricots and dates, then transfer to a bowl and stir in walnuts and wine. Sprinkle spices evenly over mixture and stir until combined well.

Can be prepared 3 days ahead.