Printed word rituals + sandwich contemplation

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Little by little, shelf by shelf, my house is filling up with magazines. Piles of dogeared, coffee-stained New Yorkers and Atlantics, whole shelves crammed with food and fashion magazines of varying age and condition, and the prized bookbound Kinfolk issues neatly stacked under the coffee table.

There are plenty of books, too, though their numbers have leveled off considerably since I caved and got a Kindle.

My true printed love has always been magazines. Less fleeting than daily news with feature stories that can live far beyond the day or week of their release, though most are easily enough consumed in several minutes. Some stay with you–reflections from the survivor of a strange or cruel trial imbue a weird funk that you can’t shake. A powerful descriptor thrusts an everyday city street, meal or facial feature into the spotlight of an otherwise mundane routine.

Words can of course be as powerful on a screen, but print comes with a mini ritual that forces the reader to engage in a way that dragging a finger over a screen can’t replicate. Turning a page or creasing a newspaper, slipping an old train stub in between pages to serve as a makeshift bookmark. Such printed word rituals were on my mind this week after I watched an older man methodically read his newspaper on the crowded subway. Deft folds between spreads to keep the paper’s real estate to a minimum. A quick, clean rrrrip to remove the stock numbers page of the business section, which he then folded and tucked in his jacket pocket for later. Surpassing the entire “life” section with a “flip” after pinching the snubbed portion between his fingers and thumb.

As everyone else on the train stared down at their smartphones, it was impossible to tell who was reading something aside from that man with his paper.

All this print nostalgia has very little to do with this chicken sandwich, which I made for Sean one evening before meeting a friend for dinner. But like a New Yorker review I just read of Tina Fey’s new Netflix sitcom, “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” I contemplated each layer of this sandwich probably way longer than I should have.

To be fair, it is pretty damn complex for a chicken sandwich. The chicken is laced with citrus and warming Indian spices; blistered shishito peppers lend a grassy, smoky flavor brightened by a squirt of fresh lemon juice; the feta adds sharp saltiness; and fresh cilantro heightens the grassy, citrus flavors that permeate this dinner-worthy sandwich.

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Blistered shishito and chicken sandwich
serves 1

Ingredients

    1 chicken breast
    1 lemon, divided
    Extra virgin olive oil
    1 1/2 teaspoons garam masala
    1/8 teaspoon cayenne
    2 cloves garlic, minced
    Salt and pepper
    3 or 4 whole shishito peppers
    1 small shallot
    8-inch piece of crusty bread (ciabatta or a bolillo roll works well)
    Mayonnaise
    2 ounces feta cheese
    1/2 cup baby spinach leaves
    1/4 cup cilantro leaves

Method: Put the chicken breast in a quart-size freezer bag with the juice of half the lemon, 2 teaspoons of olive oil, the garam masala, cayenne, garlic and a generous sprinkling of salt and pepper. Close the bag and massage the marinade into the chicken until evenly coated. Marinate for about 1 hour in the refrigerator.

Meanwhile, heat a medium skillet over high heat. Add a drizzle of olive oil, the shishitos, shallot and a sprinkling of salt and pepper. Cook, tossing frequently, until the peppers are blistered on all sides and the shallots are caramelized, about 5 minutes. Squeeze the juice of the other half of the lemon over the vegetables, remove them from the heat and set aside. Wipe the skillet clean.

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Remove the chicken from the marinade bag, and slice it into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Toss it with a bit more salt and pepper. (As you can see, I marinaded three chicken breasts at once–so tripled the marinade amount–because this chicken is effing good in/on everything.)

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Heat about a tablespoon of olive oil in the skillet and add the chicken when the oil slides easily around the pan. Add the chicken and cook for about 5 minutes until just done. Remove, and set aside.

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To build the sandwich, slice the bread in half, and tear out a little of the inside if it seems too bready. Spread each side with a bit of mayo.

Slice the shishitos in half and remove the stems if you prefer. Layer on the chicken, feta, shishitos, shallots, spinach and cilantro leaves.

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Close and shovel in mouth immediately.

A cheerful summer salad

I love the little jar of harissa in my fridge. It cheers me up just looking at it. I love the orangey-red contents even more. Harissa is a Tunisian chili sauce made from piri piri peppers, coriander, garlic paste and caraway seeds. It was one of the first things I bought after I got back from Ireland this spring, where I had eaten it slathered on grilled sardines.

I have been smearing it on all kinds of grilled meat, vegetables and egg sandwiches. So last week I went looking for a raw salad that incorporates this fragrant paste and came across this one on Food52’s website. I was intrigued by the combination of harissa with turnip-like kohlrabi, salty feta, fennel seed, sweet carrots and bright lemon juice.

In my own version, I bumped up the feta amount and added finely chopped scallion for a little oniony bite.

Note: In case you aren’t familiar with kohlrabi, it’s a weird looking member of the cabbage family that tastes like a cross between a turnip, radish and cabbage. If you can’t find it, you can substitute with small turnips or daikon radish.

Kohlrabi and carrot salad with harissa and mint

    1 medium kohlrabi
    3 carrots
    Juice of 1 lemon, divided
    1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
    1 teaspoon harissa (or more if desired)
    1/4 teaspoon sugar
    1/2 cup chopped fresh mint
    1 large scallion, finely chopped
    4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
    Salt and pepper, to taste

Method: With a paring knife, generously peel away the rough skin of the kohlrabi, cutting away any woody bits.

Kohlrabi without his tentacles

Cut the remaining white root into thin slices. Then stack the slices, square off the ends and cut into roughly 2-inch matchsticks. Don’t worry if they’re not perfect, unless of course you’re preparing this salad for a chef. Toss the kohlrabi sticks in half of the lemon juice to prevent them from discoloring. Cut the carrot into similar matchsticks.

Toast the fennel seeds in a small dry skillet over medium heat until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Crush them with a mortar and pestle or place them in a sturdy plastic bag and pound several times with a heavy skillet.

In a small bowl, whisk together the rest of the lemon juice, along with harissa, crushed fennel seeds and sugar. Then slowly drizzle in the olive oil. Taste and season with salt, pepper, additional harissa or sugar, depending on your taste.

Add the kohlrabi and carrots to the harissa dressing. Fold in the mint leaves, scallion and feta. Check the seasoning and adjust as needed.

Serves 3-4 as a bright side salad.