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.

Red Wine Braised Octopus / Χταπόδι κρασάτο


I had been in the U.S. for probably a couple of months. I was a freshman in college and on that particular night, my new American friends and I were sitting around the lounge of our college dorm talking about the kinds of things only freshmen can find interesting. At some point, the discussion turned to food and more specifically, food people found disgusting. Liver, intestines, tongue, brains, anything with a head on it, anything with tentacles, all were things tossed around by everyone in their attempt to out-disgust each other.

Everyone but me, that is. Because, as I explained to my increasingly horrified audience, these were all things I grew up eating. As I described a few occasions when my family sat down for a special Sunday lunch and my sister and I each got a whole, roasted baby lamb’s head in our plates, how we used to spread the soft-like-butter brains on our piece of bread — “to get smarter” our dad told us with a wink while he ate the eyeballs, because even we had limits and wouldn’t eat the squishy orbs — and how we used our forks to scrape the melt-in-your-mouth cheeks off the lamb skull, I realized that a couple of people were ready to pass out.

So I kept going and described the traditional Easter dish of kokoretsi: liver, heart, lung, kidneys, and other organs wrapped in intestines and cooked on a skewer over hot coals.


I soon learned to accept the squeamishness of most Americans when it comes to a lot of food I have no problem eating. But there’s one case I still find baffling: those who don’t like to eat “things with tentacles.” That means octopus (or squid). How could you not love octopus? Nothing compares when it comes to texture and taste. If cooked properly, it’s tender with a tiny bit of chewiness, with the taste of the ocean along with a distinct meaty flavor that pairs so well with red wine or vinegar.

This recipe comes from my mom. It’s the way I always ate octopus growing up. Braised in red wine and vinegar for a long time, until it melts in your mouth. The toughest part about this recipe is cutting the octopus, which can be a little slippery, but once that is done, the rest is a piece of cake. Try it, even if you are not a fan of “things with tentacles.” I bet you’ll change your mind.


Red Wine Braised Octopus

Makes 3-4 servings

Note: I usually buy whole octopus frozen and defrost it in the fridge. It’s preferable to buy frozen octopus. In fact, freezing freshly caught octopus and then defrosting it is a good way to tenderize it. Do not add salt to the octopus when cooking it. It is naturally salty. In fact, most of the octopus is salt water that will evaporate in the first part of the recipe.


3 lbs octopus, cleaned and cut into 1.5″-2″ pieces
1 cup red wine
1 cup olive oil
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/2-3/4 cup water
1 bay leaf
black pepper


Place cut octopus in a large pot. Do not add anything else in the pot. Turn the heat on medium and cook octopus until almost all of its water has evaporated (or as my mom always says “until it drinks its water”). The octopus pieces will turn deep pink and shrink considerably.

When only a little bit of liquid remains in the pot, add remaining ingredients, bring to a boil and then simmer with a lid loosely covering the pot until the sauce is reduced and slightly thickened (1.5-2 hours). Taste and season with black pepper if necessary.

Serve with rice or pasta.

The Better With Lemon 2013 Holiday Gift Guide

Are you suffering from gift anxiety? Is the holiday season especially hard on you? Do you wish you could just give everyone a gift card to Amazon.com and be done with it all?

Now there’s hope. For all the people on your list (except those who eat hot pockets for dinner and those who are too young to know how to hold a fork), we present the first annual Better With Lemon Holiday Gift Guide. All of the suggestions listed here have been thoroughly tested by our team of experts (ok, it’s just Steve and I) and they are guaranteed to spread joy to all (at the very least, to you, if you decide to buy all of these gifts for yourself).

So, in no particular order, we present twelve gift suggestions for the 2013 holiday season (click on the title or photo for a link where you can buy them):

1. Hell’s Kitchen Peanut Butter


This is no ordinary peanut butter. It’s sweet and nutty, definitely crunchy, and absolutely irresistible. Spread it on bread and top with some honey and you have breakfast and dessert all rolled into one. Or roll one tablespoon of it at a time into a ball and the dip them in melted chocolate to create the easiest chocolate-peanut butter truffles you’ve ever made. Whoever you give this to will thank you and hate you, because no other peanut butter will ever measure up for them.

2. OXO Good Grips Grill Pan Brush

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This is for those on your list whose chores include washing the dishes. Perfect for scrubbing persistent stuck-on food from pots and pans. I use it on my cast iron skillet all the time.

3. OXO Good Grips Solid Stainless Steel Ice Cream Scoop

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As you probably guessed by now from reading this blog, Steve and I eat a lot of ice cream. We’ve gone through several ice cream scoops until we discovered this one. It cuts through ice cream better than any other one we’ve ever used. And the stainless steel scoop doesn’t chip or discolor, even after multiple washes in the dishwasher.

4. Absolute Beginner’s Cookbook, Revised 3rd Edition: Or How Long Do I Cook a 3 Minute Egg?

absolute beginners

More than two decades ago, when I was a freshman in college, I cooked my first dish: instant ramen noodles. That was enough to get me interested in cooking. But I needed some help. So, off I went to the bookstore (we still had those back then) and this cookbook caught my eye. I used it non-stop and made some of the recipes in it for years to come. So, for those on your list who need an introduction to cooking, this is the perfect gateway drug.

5. The Breakfast Book

breakfast book

Steve and I have given this book as a gift to so many of our friends, that we should really start getting paid as its official marketing team. It is so worth it. Recipe after recipe, we have marveled at the simplicity and brilliance of what Marion Cunningham has put together in this book. It’s worth it just for the raised waffles recipe alone.

6. Slow Cooker Revolution

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Do you have someone on your list who has in the past remarked that they have a slow cooker that they never use? Give them this book and be prepared to be served slow cooker meals by them every time they invite you to dinner for the next two years. Not that you will be complaining.

7. Trudeau Aroma Aerating Pourer with Stand

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Yeah, sure, the best way to aerate wine is to decant it and let it breathe for a while. But who has time for that on a Wednesday night, when you Must. Have. Wine. Now. This aerator does the job in seconds. And as an added benefit, it serves as a perfect pourer, guaranteeing that you will not end up with drops of red wine on your table or your lap.

8. Jerusalem: A Cookbook


What can I tell you? Just buy the damn thing for yourself and try to not eat a double portion of the stuffed eggplant the minute it comes out of the oven. Then, buy it as a gift for everyone you know.

9. La Tourangelle Toasted Pumpkin Seed Oil, 8.45-Ounce Tins (Pack of 2)

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The word “nutty” was invented for this oil. It is the king of seasoning oils (yeah, I went there, olive oil).

10. Minus 8 Vinegar

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So, here’s what you do. You buy a bottle of this vinegar for someone who is very special to you. You give it to them and make sure that you are there when they open it. When they look at you with a puzzled look (“are you really giving me vinegar for the holidays?”) tell them to open it and get a spoon. Watch their eyes light up when they taste a spoonful. Then you taste a spoonful. Then they taste a spoonful. Then you taste a spoonful. Then they taste a spoonful.

Yeah, it’s that good.

11. Kyocera Revolution Series 5-1/2-Inch Santoku Knife, Red Handle

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Perfectly sharp. Forever. No acid can corrode it. And things don’t stick to it when you slice them. It feels like a toy knife in your hand, but it can slice like crazy. Give it only to those who are careful with knives.

12. Craft Coffee Subscription

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Once a month you get three packets of carefully selected coffee. Each coffee is blind taste-tested by the people of Craft Coffee and each one is distinctly different. This one’s for the coffee lovers on your list.


There you have it. Twelve gift suggestions to ease your holiday buying a little bit. You’re welcome 🙂

Braised Endives

I’ve been visiting my family this week so I haven’t cooked at all. I’ve been eating my mom’s food, which is what primed me through childhood for a food-obsessed life. When I come to visit, she makes some of my favorites, like koupepia (grape leaves stuffed with meat and rice) and ttava (a meat stew with tomatoes, onions, and cumin, baked in a clay pot).

I’ve also been eating some of the sweets I remember fondly from my childhood. Just this morning, my sister, my mom and I went downtown for a coffee and we shared a big slice of shamali, a semolina-based cake that is flavored with mastique and soaked in a sugar syrup. It was cold and refreshing on a hot, sunny day and we ate it quickly, washing it down with frappés, the ubiquitous iced coffee drinks made with instant coffee.


Now that I’ve teased you with the descriptions of all of those delectable temptations, you’re probably expecting a recipe for something along those lines. I’m afraid I’ll disappoint you. The recipe I’m sharing today may not feature syrup-soaked cakes or cumin-scented stews, but I promise you that you’ll love it anyway.


There are a lot of people who are not big fans of endives. They can be bitter or bland at times. This is a very simple and quick way to turn then into something pretty extraordinary. A quick sear in hot oil caramelizes their surface and is followed by a relatively fast braise in stock and a little vinegar. The process is transformative. The resulting endives are sweet and tangy, with maybe hints of bitterness but not enough to cause displeasure to the palate. By leaving the core intact, the endive halves stay together but still cook soft enough to cut through them easily. They make a great side dish and a great way to use that fancy vinegar you got as a gift that one time, many as part of a gift basket, and never knew what to do with it.


Braised Endives

3 tablespoons olive oil
2 large endives (or 3 small ones)
1/2 cup chicken stock
2 tablespoons of your favorite vinegar (red wine, sherry, balsamic, cider, or any fruit vinegar)
salt and pepper

Cut the endives in two lengthwise, leaving the core intact. Sprinkle the cut sides with salt and pepper.

In large saute pan, add olive oil and heat over medium-high heat until the oil shimmers. Place the endives, cut side down, in the pan. Cook without stirring or moving them for about 4 minutes, until their surface has caramelized and turned dark golden brown. Turn endives on round side and cook for an additional 2 minutes.

Turn endives again on cut side and add stock (be careful, the stock will steam). Immediately reduce heat to medium-low and cover the pan. Cook covered for about 7 minutes. Uncover and add vinegar. Cover and cook for another 3 minutes.

Uncover the pan and turn the endives to coat them in sauce. Return them to cut side down. Turn the heat to medium-high and cook for another 5-7 minutes until the sauce has reduced and slightly thickened.

Serve immediately with additional salt and pepper on top, to taste.