Friday, June 12, 2009

Edgy Veggie Meets Crackerman

Serendipity can happen in the kitchen, with a surprising but happy-making combination of flavors, or it can happen elsewhere, with a surprising but happy-making combination of people. With Crackerman, I got both.

Crackerman, aka Stefan Uch, has Michelin star chef creds and a gorgeous wife, Theresa. Together, they make Crackerman crackers (

Stefan and I met to discuss their crackers, which they're just launching, and wound up talk about everything -- global cuisine, literature, whackdoodle ideas about nutrition, food writers we like, how who you are plays out in what you cook (he's German, I'm mongrel, he purees, I'm into crunchy) and what we believe in.  For Stefan, that's science, his sense of smell and pheromones.  How could I not like the guy?  It was one of those wonderful coming togethers, meeting for the first time yet feeling we'd been friends for ages, realizing we were of the same tribe. 

It was after we spoke I finally tried the crackers -- big sheets of golden seed-flecked goodness, organic, of little yeast, big crunch and big flavor, great to crack apart, hence the name (I'd figured they'd named themselves after the Stone Temple Pilot song  ( and excellent as dip conduits.  Crackerman also makes a kickass organic whole bread, chewy and seed-studded, earthy and honest.  

Right now, Crackerman crackers and bread are sold online and at Miami farmers markets. Stefan and Theresa are working to get their products into local markets and beyond.  I hope they make it.  Of all the products I get pitched, this was the softest pitch with the biggest payoff.  Crackerman crackers and bread are as real deal and delicous as the couple who makes them.  I love when this happens.

To mark the occasion, I wanted something that showed off the coming together of bread and vegetables. It could be a sandwich, no brainer-y enough, but I wanted more, a melding of the two, an effortless affinity. So here it is, a Tunisian bread and pepper and tomato salad, freewheelingly adapted from Paula Wolfert's outstanding The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen.  The Italians do something similar called panzanella. It's popular in the Middle East made with pita and feta, tomatoes and cukes, in which case it is called fattoush (eating too much gives you one, says a punnish friend).  

I really like the combination of flavors in this salad, especially with Crackerman bread.  Puffy grocery store bread won't do for this.  It sops up the vegetable juices and turns immediately to mush.  You want bread with oomph and chew, produce deliciously full-flavored and ripe.  

This substantial salad must be started a day ahead, but time does the work, not you.  It employs the lazy roasting technique used in my June 4 blogspot and the final tossing together happens in minutes.  It's best served not straight from the fridge but edging towards room temperature.  This serves 4, but you can double or triple it for a party.  It's luscious, durable and looks impressive as hell.

Tunisian Bread Salad

3 or 4 handfuls of spinach or arugula
2 large ripe tomatoes
1 red pepper
1 green bell pepper
1 serrano pepper
4 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon dried mint (I love fresh herbs, but this goes into the dressing and using dried really works -- a serendipitous discovery)
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon cumin
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon capers
1 teaspoon harissa (Moroccan hot sauce) 
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
4 generous slices whole grain or country bread, cubed
kalamata olives for garnish
fresh chopped cilantro and mint for garnish
nonvegans can garnish with 2 hard-boiled eggs, halved
sea salt and freshly ground pepper to fininish 

The day before you enjoy your salad, preheat oven to 400. Tomatoes, peppers and garlic go into a large baking pan, the pan goes into the oven and you let the whole thing roast for 30 minutes, until vegetables are nice and soft.

Remove from oven and let cool.  Chop tomatoes and peppers.  This will let loose a torrent of juice. Save every drop to a large bowl. Mince garlic and place into the bowl.  Place colander atop bowl, fill with the chopped tomatoes and peppers.  Refrigerate overnight, allowing vegetable juices to drain.  Vegetables do not need to be covered.

The next day, take your roasted vegetables and veggie juice from the fridge.  Remove the colander of vegetables and set aside for a few minutes.  To the bowl of accumulated vegetable juices, add dried mint, caraway, coriander, olive oil harissa and vinegar.  Whisk together briefly.

Place greens on a serving platter or in a shallow bowl.  

Lightly and swiftly, dip bread cubes into dresssing, letting the flavor permeate, not the wetness.  Scatter bread cubes on top of greens, arrange peppers and tomatoes on top.   Garnish with olives, capers, chopped cilantro and mint (and for nonvegans, egg halves).  Drizzle any remaining dressing on top.  Sprinkle with a pinch of sea salt and a generous grinding of pepper and knock yourself out.

Next time: And yes I said yes I will yes.

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