I like to think of the late food writer and novelist Laurie Colwin as the benefactress of food blogging. She died in 1992, a decade or so before blogging platforms and digital cameras provided us the medium and means to do what we do on sites like this one. But her sensibility and format—swift, poignant, funny essays dotted with what seem like off-the-cuff recipes, all relayed informally, as if over tea—is exactly what characterizes my favorite food blogs. I was late to discover her. My friend Lauren gave me a copy of More Home Cooking for my birthday a few years ago, which I read cover to cover one afternoon, and I’ve been lucky to become more acquainted through Colwin- (and now other cookbooks) themed dinner parties that my friends Emily, Sadie, Ruth and I have every month or so.
Her essays dispense kitchen wisdom, but in equal part they’re also dispatches of her culinary adventures. It’s worth noting that at the time she was writing, hummus and sushi and pico de gallo were unfamiliar enough to American audiences that they had to be italicized. She extols Chinese fermented black beans, “broccoli di rape,” and Latvian bread. And while not exactly cookbooks, Home Cooking and More Home Cooking have many wonderful recipes. Her recipe for biscuits is on heavy rotation at my house; the Creamed Spinach with Jalapeno Peppers is indulgent and special; Colwin made me appreciate gingerbread as a sophisticated afternoon snack (for which I even tracked down Steen’s Pure Ribbon Cane Syrup); and the Nantucket Cranberry Pie is extremely, extremely good. She advocates farmers markets and all things organic, includes a whole chapter on making yogurt, and several chapters on making bread—all this nearly 20 years before “locavore” entered the lexicon.
But while her enthusiasm is infectious, there are a not insignificant number of recipes that leave this reader, at least, feeling ambivalent. It could just be her vantage point of the 1980s. None of her recipes, for example, include salt, not even a pinch, a maddening omission until you realize eight-tenths of the way through that it’s because of her blood pressure. In an essay called “Kitchen Horrors”—which sets the tone, though doesn’t fully acquit her inclination to this recipe—she describes something called Suffolk Pond Pudding that she prepares for a dinner party. It consists of a crust of suet, which is filled with butter, sugar, and a whole lemon, and then the whole thing is wrapped and steamed. Then there are Yam Cakes with Hot Pepper and Fermented Black Beans, and an entire chapter called “Desserts that Quiver.”
However, I haven’t made anything of Colwin’s that I didn’t end up liking, and this is what leads me to the subject at hand: Jeannette Kossuth’s Green Sauce. We meet the Green Sauce in the essay “Feeding the Fussy,” where the fussy represent vegetarians, vegans, those that keep Kosher, those on diets, and picky eaters. Colwin was clearly an adventurous eater, and her broad curiosity toward food seems to have resulted in a view of dietary restrictions as problems in need of solutions. So when the solution wasn’t vegetarian chili (in a couple other instances, this is in fact the solution), it was this curious sauce, spooned over steamed vegetables. It’s made from watercress stems, the green parts of scallions, Dijon mustard, a garlic clove, and many glugs of olive oil. And yes, that’s what you’re supposed to serve your fussy dinner guests: steamed vegetables with Green Sauce. It honestly sounds a little bit like punishment.
But guess what. Jeannette Kossuth’s Green Sauce is absolutely delicious. I found a bunch of upland cress at a market near me, which isn’t the same as watercress—it’s slightly more pungent and the leaves are more delicate—but it was excellent here. The sauce, as Colwin advises, takes on the texture of mayonnaise—it’s somewhat light and fluffy, but velvety. Be careful not to cut your finger trying to wipe up the smudges stuck under the blender blade. I had to draw the line at plain steamed veggies, though, and turned it into a rice bowl. And obviously the sauce could go in any direction: I imagine it with cilantro stems, or using combinations of different types of greens. The rice bowl is a good context for it, but it would make for a great condiment as well, on sandwiches, or stirred into soup, or with eggs. And fine, I’d even eat it over steamed vegetables.
Green Sauce Rice Bowl
Adapted from Home Cooking
For the Green Sauce
1/3 to 1/2 cup good tasting olive oil
1 heaping tablespoon Dijon mustard
Stems from 1 bunch of watercress or upland cress, cleaned and dried
4 scallions, light and dark green parts only, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 large garlic clove
For the Rice Bowl
1 cup cooked medium-grain brown or white rice per serving
Cooked or uncooked vegetables as desired, such as broccoli, zucchini, yellow squash, asparagus, small waxy potatoes or sweet potatoes, snap peas, winter squash
Reserved watercress leaves
1/4 cup toasted walnuts or cashews per serving
Thinly sliced scallion, to garnish
1. Place 1/3 cup olive oil and the mustard in a blender, and top with the watercress stems, scallions, and garlic. Puree until very smooth, pouring in additional olive oil as needed to get the motor running, and until the sauce is smooth and fluffy.
2. Place the rice in a serving bowl. Arrange your vegetables, as well as a heaping tablespoonful of the sauce, on top of the rice. Crumble the nuts over, then garnish with the scallions, and serve.