Pickled Carrots


There is a Greek Orthodox holiday called clean Monday (kathara deftera). It’s the end of carnival (the Sunday right before it, when everyone dresses up in costumes, much like Halloween) and the beginning of the great lent before Easter. Carnival is the last day of being able to eat meat and clean Monday is the first day of fasting. Since it always takes place in the spring, the tradition has always been to go out into the countryside and have a picnic that is all vegetarian.

Even as a kid, I wasn’t that excited by the idea of eating on the hard ground outdoors. But there was one reason for which I really looked forward to clean Monday: the pickles. These weren’t the American variety pickles, in salted brines or heavy on spices. These were pure vinegar, sugar, and water pickles. There were all kinds of vegetables (cauliflower, beets, carrots), all tantalizingly tart and crisp. And there was pickla, a mixture of veggies pickled in a vinegar and mustard sauce that I ate by the spoonful.

I absolutely loved everything pickled, and I still do. This recipe for pickled carrots couldn’t be simpler. It’s a little different than how carrots would have been pickled when I was a kid, but it still has everything I love: bracing sourness, a satisfying amount of sweetness, and an audible crunch.


Pickled Carrots

Note: If you don’t have the right spices, don’t worry. You can use whatever whole spices you have. Experiment with different flavors.


1 lb carrots peeled, and cut into 1/2″ thick sticks
1 cup white wine vinegar
1 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
2 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly smashed
2 mason jars or any other glass containers that can withstand boiling water


Place carrot sticks in mason jars (don’t pack them too tight; leave room for the brine). Divide peppercorns, mustard seeds, fennel seeds, and garlic between the jars.

In a small saucepan, bring vinegar, water, sugar and salt to a boil, stirring to make sure the sugar and salt dissolve. Carefully pour boiling brine over carrots in mason jars, leaving only about 1/2 inch from top. Let them cool for about 30 minutes, close jars with their lids, and refrigerate.

Pickles are ready to eat after just a few hours but they are best after a day or two. They last in the fridge for at least a couple of weeks.

Black Sesame Carrot Cake


It’s a rainy July 4th today in New York city. I’m not even sure that the fireworks will take place. But it doesn’t matter. In many other places in the U.S., from big cities to small towns, people are grilling hot dogs, drinking beer, and watching fireworks displays. There are some in this country that find this type of celebration for the country’s independence as crass and vulgar. They make fun of it in blog posts and op-eds. But I don’t think you can truly appreciate the beauty of the American tradition of July 4th celebrations unless you grew up somewhere else, in one of the many countries that celebrate their independence days with military parades and brutal war commemorations.


I grew up in such a country. Independence day was never a day for celebrations, picnics, and fireworks, even though it was always in the spring, when the green fields are resplendent with red poppies and the weather is mild. Instead, there was always a military parade, the most important topic of conversation being what types of missiles were displayed and whether the new tanks that had been rumored to have been purchased would be shown. The point was always the celebration of vanquishing one’s enemy, as it is for pretty much all military parades.


Contrast that with July 4th fireworks displays and gatherings with friends and family where people eat and drink and celebrate what they have, what their free country allows them to enjoy, not who they killed in bloody battles centuries ago. Call me naive but I think that this is how independence days should be celebrated everywhere. After all, isn’t that what independence wars are fought for? Not so that those wars are commemorated in perpetuity by reminding the world that they can be refought with better, newer weapons. But so that future generations can be free to gather together and enjoy a juicy burger, a cold beer, and a spectacle of colorful lights in the sky.


Black Sesame Carrot Cake – Adapted from Bon Appétit


1½ cups all-purpose flour
1½ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¾ cup granulated sugar
⅓ cup (packed) light brown sugar
½ cup vegetable oil
1 large egg
¼ cup whole milk
2 teaspoons finely grated peeled ginger
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
3 medium carrots (about 8 oz.), peeled, coarsely grated
2 tablespoons black sesame seeds


Preheat oven to 350°. Lightly grease a 8×4” loaf pan with vegetable oil. Whisk flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a medium bowl.

Whisk granulated sugar, brown sugar, oil, egg, milk, ginger, and vanilla in a large bowl. Gradually whisk in dry ingredients, then fold in carrots (be careful not to overmix). Scrape batter into prepared pan; smooth top and sprinkle with sesame seeds.

Bake cake until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 65-70 minutes. Transfer pan to a wire rack and let cake cool completely in pan before turning out.

Cake can be made 3 days ahead. Store wrapped tightly at room temperature.

The Perfect Roast Chicken


I am not a perfectionist. I never have been. Yes, it’s true that I can be a control freak, but that’s because I want things done in a certain way, not necessarily to be perfect. If you’ve ever worked with me in the kitchen, you know what I mean (and you have sworn never to set foot in a kitchen where I am cooking again). I’ve always believed that the amount of resources necessary to achieve that last sliver of perfection are proportionately much larger than the potential benefits gained.


So, in my work and my cooking, I’ve always believed that really good is as good as perfect. A few rough edges here and there add character. Especially when it comes to food. I’d rather spend my energy trying new recipes or heck, enjoying the food I made, than chasing the perfect crust or the quintessential balance of flavors.

But once in a while, perfection will just land in your lap, like a gift from the heavens. That’s the case with this recipe for the perfect roast chicken. It comes from the people who actually do look for perfection, experimenting with recipes again and again until they get them, well, perfect. I’m talking about the team behind Cooks Illustrated and America’s Test Kitchen. I’ll admit, sometimes I think they fall short of their goals. But in this case, they reached the summit of chicken-y perfection.


This isn’t a tough recipe, but it does require some planning. The chicken really needs to sit in the fridge for at least 12 hours, even better if it’s a full 24 hours. So, the night before you will be roasting it, you’ll need to prep it. It’s not tough. It’s a little icky at first (it involves separating the skin from the meat with your fingers) but after the first time, you’ll get used to it.

But here is the best part. The chicken comes out perfect. Every. Single. Time. The skin is unbelievably crisp and crackly, without even a hint of fat underneath it. The meat is incredibly juicy. And the potatoes and carrots that have been roasting in chicken fat almost outshine the chicken itself.

I’m not a perfectionist. But thank god other people are. Without them, we wouldn’t have this recipe for the perfect roast chicken.


The Perfect Roast Chicken – Slightly adapted from America’s Test Kitchen


1 chicken (3.5-4 lbs)
3/4 tablespoon table salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
3 medium potatoes
2 carrots
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves


Pat dry the chicken, inside and out. Using a sharp paring knife, cut four slits along the back of the bird.


Using your fingers, carefully loosen the skin from the breasts, thighs, and legs. Start by inserting your fingertips under the skin from the large cavity side. Keep moving your fingers side to side moving down the breast towards the neck. Move all the way to the leg and thighs and loosen as much of the skin as you can, being careful not to tear it.


Using the tip of the sharp paring knife, poke the skin of the chicken about 20 times. Do that all around, including the back, the legs and the thighs.


Tuck the wing tips under the bird.


In a small bowl, whisk together the salt, baking powder, and black pepper. Rub the mixture all over the chicken (over the skin; don’t rub the mixture under the skin). Make sure you rub it on the entire skin, including, the back, wings, legs, and thighs.


Place on a rack over a roasting pan and set in the fridge, uncovered for at least 12 hours, preferably 24 hours.


The next day, peel potatoes and carrots and slice in 1/4 inch slices. Mix with oil, salt and thyme.

Preheat the oven to 450º F. Put heavy duty foil in bottom of roasting pan. Spread potatoes and carrots evenly. Make sure you have enough potato and carrot slices to cover the bottom of the roasting pan.

When the oven is hot, flip the chicken breast-side down and roast on a rack on top of the roasting pan with the potatoes and carrots for 25 minutes.


Flip the chicken breast-side up. Roast for an additional 20 minutes.

Raise the heat to 500º F. Continue roasting another 10-15 minutes, until a thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the thigh registers 160º F.

Remove from the oven and let chicken rest for 5-10 minutes before carving. Serve alongside roasted potatoes and carrots.