Cooking straight out of cookbooks is full of pleasures and pain, particularly in New York City where residents are blessed with incredible grocers and international markets, world-class meat men, and poissonneries. Plus: All the ingredients needed to prepare a Sicilian, Korean or Mexican feast only a few subway stops away. But while the grocery shopping is pretty dope, many New Yorkers are held back by the burden of limited kitchen space. Raise your hand if you’ve rolled fresh gnocchi in your 4th floor walkup studio. Yeah, didn’t think so. In this feature, Matt Rodbard insists (demands) that you give your shitty galley setup a second look with an internationally flavored recipe that is pretty much doable in any kitchen setup. That is, his kitchen setup. Which kinda sucks.
This is the first Your Brooklyn Kitchen Isn’t Scary, so a little background is needed. When I moved into my Carroll Gardens brownstone over a decade ago, I loved everything about it. It was a parlor floor setup with light and high ceilings! But the kitchen bummed me out, particularly the fact that there was in essence zero counter space—less the 22” x 18” cutting board I had wedged between two free-standing cabinets. For years and years I avoided the kitchen, opting to dine out and, when iPhones got better and I got lazier, order Seamless. Of course I cooked a few times a month, awkwardly filling up the sink with every pan and plate I owned, but mostly I cursed our kitchen. Like, literally saying “fuck this kitchen” aloud when the subject of making dinner at home was approached.
But then three things happened:
- I started writing a Korean cookbook, which would require me to test something like 100 recipes. Yeah, lol.
- My wife signed us up for Blue Apron. Love that shit.
- The chef with whom I was writing the Korean cookbook came over one afternoon, looked at my kitchen and casually said he’d cooked service at a 150 cover/night restaurant with basically the same space. Same counter. Same four-burner setup. I really didn’t have much to say.
So, yeah, I started to cook in my scary (though not really scary) Brooklyn kitchen more and more. The Korean book’s recipes were tested, and then re-tested. I came to the not-so-genius realization that home cooking is not about Viking ranges and rich guy L-shaped islands. It’s about working with what you have and knowing your gear. About cleaning as you go and cooking more and more. Cooking is like a muscle. You can be toned, flabby or somewhere in-between. The more you cook, the better you feel in the kitchen.
But, more importantly, cooking is about knowing your limits, and selecting recipes that you can execute with the tools and space provided. And when cooking in a tiny city kitchen, one with limited counter top space and a minimal amount of gear (no gram scale, no pizza stone, no tangerine-colored stand mixer), that choice can mean the difference between breakfast or dinner getting on the table, and pure sadness.
In this feature, I select a recipe from a cookbook, both new and classic, and make it in my Brooklyn kitchen. If things go well, you’ll read about it here. The following recipe went really, really well.
Heidi Swanson’s Nori Granola
Swanson is a prolific recipe blogger and the author of the award-winning and best-selling cookbook Super Natural Every Day, a vegetarian/natural lifestyle book with an extremely clear point of view. The pictures are pretty, the voice hums along in a soothing whisper. After buying it, or so goes the pitch, you will likely feel optimistic about your healthful eating and cooking future. I didn’t really know that book, but plenty do—it’s a New York Times best seller. I do know her Super Natural follow-up, Near & Far. And here is proof that Swanson is not just a talented recipe developer, but a skilled photographer, and this edition flexes both of those muscles.
The premise is pretty cool. Five chapters are devoted to the foods of a country the author visited. These include Morocco, Italy, France, India, and Japan. That’s the “far.” The “near” is based around the author’s hometown, San Francisco. So, recipes for cara cara salads and red lentil hummus are adjacent to soft-focus sunsets of the Presidio. Super natural vegetarian food and SF. It all makes sense.
I’ve made a few things from the book—mostly from the Japan chapter—and I like the simplicity and relative ease of sourcing ingredients. The standout is this recipe for nori granola. Nori, also known as gim in Korea, are those thin sheets of dried seaweed you’ve likely picked up at Trader Joe’s at some point in your life. Nori is packed with umami and both salty and savory. Swanson’s recipe takes full advantage of this magical foodstuff and provides a recipe that is less breakfast granola than snack granola. I made a big batch and sprinkled it on Greek yogurt, and kept it around in a bowl for about a week.
And you’ll notice the recipe calls for togarashi. That’s a Japanese spice mixture found in small vials at the Asian grocery store. It consists mostly of finely ground dried pepper (black and white), but also shiso, Sichuan pepper, dried seaweed, sesame seeds, and the essence of orange peel. It’s great in this recipe, adding a little heat and Japanese character.
A couple notes from making this in my shitty (not shitty) Brooklyn kitchen: You might want to scale back on the fennel seeds, as they can be overpowering. And make sure your sesame seeds are fresh(ish). That is, haven’t been sitting in the back of your cabinet for two years. And don’t skip that togarashi. It’s cheap and you can use it in many other things, like sprinkling it on popcorn, worked into meat rubs, and dusting over raw fish. Like the next time your order sashimi delivery, shake a little togarashi on that piece of hamachi. Or, better yet, skip delivery, and do it yourself. Your Brooklyn kitchen is not scary.
1/4 cup runny honey
1/4 cup natural cane sugar
2 tablespoons water
3 1/2 cups rolled oats
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons whole fennel seeds
1/4 cup sesame seeds
1 tablespoon shichimi togarashi
1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped raw cashews
5 (8-inch) sheets of nori, torn and crumbled into irregular 1-inch pieces
1 1/2 teaspoons fine-grain sea salt
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1. Preheat the oven to 300°F. Line a large, rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. In a small saucepan, combine the honey, sugar, and water. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture bubbles at the edges and the sugar has dissolved, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly.
3. In a large bowl, combine the oats, black pepper, fennel seeds, sesame seeds, shichimi togarashi, chopped cashews, and nori. Drizzle with the honey mixture, sprinkle with the salt, and stir thoroughly to coat the oats. Add the olive oil and stir again.
4. Spread the oat mixture in an even, thin layer on the baking sheet, getting as close as you can to the edges. Toast the granola for 30 to 40 minutes, or until golden brown. After the first 20 minutes, give the granola a gentle stir every 10 minutes or so, paying special attention to the edges, to encourage even browning. Remove from the oven and let cool and crisp up completely before serving. Store in an airtight container for up to 1 week.
Reprinted with permission from Near & Far by Heidi Swanson, copyright © 2015. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.” Photography credit: Heidi Swanson © 2015