TND – Reinventing the WheelAugust 1, 2012
If you live in a major urban center in the US, or if you’ve watched the Food Network recently, you’ll have witnessed the explosion of the food truck movement. Boston is not exempt from this, and if you work in the downtown area you can have your pick of Southern-style barbeque, Silk Road-style barbeque, bahn-mi, noodle bowls, grilled cheese, popsicles, cupcakes, and (most excitingly) pickles. The grand daddy of all the Boston food trucks, however, is the Clover Food Lab truck. It didn’t quite start the movement in Boston, but it’s probably one of the best known, and with six trucks scattered around the city (Park Street, South Station, Longwood Medical Area, Kendall Square, BU and the South End) and two store front locations (Harvard Square, Inman Square, and theoretically coming soon to Hynes Convention Center) it’s also one of the most easily available.
The mission of Clover Food Lab is, in its own words, “to shrink the ecological footprint of the food industry by making fresh, local, sustainable vegetarian food as common and convenient as the fare at Burger King or McDonald’s.” The trucks are decommissioned and retrofitted cargo vehicles that use recycled vegetable oil to help them run. All of the utensils, napkins, and other items are compostable.
This would be so much more obnoxious if the food wasn’t so good. While they are, in fact, earthy, and crunchy, and desperately earnest, they’re also smart and don’t market themselves that way, because as Ayr Muir (Founder) acknowledges, “”no one will eat it if we do.” They’re popular because the food is really good and crazy cheap ($3-4 for a breakfast sandwich, $6 for a sandwich at lunch or dinner, $3 sides). They’re the foodie equivalent of finding that one article on post modern theory that’s actually well written and comprehensible, and employs sentences that don’t run to seven subclauses.
They have a more or less set menu that doesn’t change, and then they do seasonal/daily specials that do change. Currently they’re featuring a basil sandwich, and a 3pm special of blueberries & cream. Earlier this year they had rhubarb aqua fresca, and steamed asparagus with lemon. In the Fall they feature a butternut squash sandwich. What never changes is the two sandwiches (which you can also get as plates) that made them famous – the chickpea fritter sandwich, and the egg & eggplant sandwich.
The chickpea fritter is basically falafel, but really good fresh falafel. The egg & eggplant sandwich is a little more unique. It starts with fresh pita bread that gets slathered with hummus, and then layered up with a sliced hard boiled egg, slices of deep fried eggplant, tomato/cucumber salad, and finally topped with a generous drizzle of tahini sauce. The eggplant is somehow miraculously not greasy, and dissolves into creamy goo as soon as you bite into it. This is not a neat sandwich to eat – it’s the kind of sandwich where once you start eating it you can’t put it down until you’re done.
A little research turned up that, while I’d never heard of it before Clover Food Lab took over the Boston foodie world, the egg and eggplant sandwich is a traditional Israeli/Middle Eastern dish called a sabich. And, having checked out the Clover Food Lab site to figure out what goes into their sandwich, and surfed the interwebs to see if there’s anything else that should/could go into it, I decided to try my hand at making it at home.
– Hard Boiled Eggs
– Tahini Sauce
– Tomato/Cucumber/Pomegranate Shepherd’s Salad
– Roasted Eggplant
Mixed Pickle Plate
– Green Tomato
– Lemony Cauliflower
There are a lot of components to this sandwich which makes it time consuming to create. For a fast(er) and dirty version, buy your hummus, use slices of cucumbers and tomatoes instead of making Shepherd’s salad, and if you were really pressed for time you could just fry eggs instead of hard boiling them (and then having to wait for them to cool enough to shell & slice).
Hard Boiled Eggs (figure 1-2 per person)
Recently I’ve started using the America’s Test Kitchen method which has you cover the eggs in 1” of cold water, bring it to a boil, cover the pot, turn off the heat and let the eggs sit in the water for 10 minutes before draining & rinsing in cold water. This seems to work really well, but, you know, go with whatever it is you usually do.
Recipe previously given: Baby Shower
1/3 cup tahini paste
1/3 cup warm water
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
Handful of parsley, chopped
Small handful chives, chopped
Lemon zest & juice (to taste)
Whisk the warm water into the tahini paste a little at a time – it will go from a tan color to a creamy off-white color. Mix in the remaining ingredients and season to taste.
Tomato/Cucumber/Pomegranate Shepherd’s Salad
I don’t really have a set recipe for this, I kind of eyeball it and then season to taste. That said, you’re looking for about equal amounts of tomatoes & cucumbers. You want just enough onion to give it a little bite, but not so much it overwhelms the tomatoes/cucumber. And, you want enough pomegranate seeds that you get 1-2 airelles in each bite (the sweet tart pop is unexpectedly excellent with the tomatoes & cucumber). Dress it with mostly lemon juice and just a tiny drizzle of olive oil to bring it all together. The end result you’re aiming for is light and fresh.
1 pint cherry tomatoes (or an equivalent amount of ripe tomatoes), seeded & chopped
1 cucumber, seeded & diced (about the same size as the tomatoes)
¼ red onion, thinly sliced
Generous handful pomegranate seeds*
Zest & juice of a lemon
Large handful parsley, chopped
Tiniest drizzle olive oil
Sumac/salt/pepper (to taste)
Mix and let sit for 15-20 minutes to allow flavors time to blend.
I dithered about whether roasting or grilling would get me closer to the unctuously creamy texture of eggplant that Clover Food Lab achieves by deep frying. On Sunday afternoon I conducted a semi elaborate experiment to test various methods of cooking. One slice of eggplant I salted and drained for 30 minutes before grilling. One slice of eggplant I scored and grilled immediately. One slice of eggplant I roasted in a hot oven. Roasting (as is so often the case) beat everything else hands down. It is a different sort of creamy than the deep fried eggplant that Clover produces, but it was the best (also, healthier?) alternative that I could achieve in my kitchen. Conveniently, this is also the easiest way to cook eggplant in bulk.
1-2 small eggplants/person
Heat your oven to 400.
Slice eggplant about ½”-¾” thick and brush generously with olive oil. Season both sides with salt & pepper (and possibly garam masala if you like that sort of thing). Roast for 25-30 minutes, flipping the eggplant halfway through. It should come out of the oven crispy and golden brown on the outside, and creamy on the inside.
Mixed Pickle Plate (or well, bowls)
Pickled Green Tomatoes
Recipe previously given: The Experimental Pickle Edition
Lemony Pickled Cauliflower
1 lb cauliflower, cut into florets
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1 cup water
2 tsp salt
1 lemon, thinly sliced
2 clove garlic, thinly sliced
¼ tsp peppercorns
Place half of the lemon slices, the garlic and the peppercorns in the bottom of a 1 quart mason jar (or some other heat proof container).
In a large saucepan combine the vinegar, water and salt. Bring to a boil. Add the cauliflower to the pot and allow brine to return to the boil. Remove from heat immediately.
Pack the cauliflower into the prepared container, top with the brine, add the remaining slices of lemon. Allow to cool on counter until room temperature and then refrigerate.
Pickles will be ready to eat in 12 hours, but flavors will deepen if they have longer to marinate.
Salad / Melon