After a break for summer vacation, nostalgic meals preveail

Episode 10: Food as nostalgia past and present

August 10 - 16

In a strange way, this week's menu feels like a true representation of this household's collective memories. Well after further inspection, it seems it's more a reflection of my memories, both from childhood and present as José has become part of this narrative.

We start off the week with some super summer-forward salads. These remind me of the summers with my mother and her little "huertita" or community garden plot where she'd come home so proud of her locally grown lettuces, tomatoes, and beans. What I would give to run up to that plot and pick a few golden raspberries right now. But that's perhaps another recipe for another time.

Then there is a spin on a Japanese Okonomiyaki that brings me back to the Porter Exchange days. Although I never had the dish there, these are flavors and reminders back to the days I'd hang out in the supermarket (which is now long gone) looking at each ingredient and imagining the stories around them. In the end I'd taking home a few onigiri for comfort and then I'd pick up one thing that I couldn't imagine the flavor of to have a little exploration.

Starting on Thursday, we move from Boston down south to Buenos Aires. This dish pulls on memories of cannelloni, or "pelicanos" as we call them, from my grandmother's kitchen, but with a summery twist. It pulls on the memory of having a cheesy filling rolled up and baked off, but admittedly that's where the inspiration ends and my "experimentos" jump in. Right now we're having some beautiful zucchini in the supermarket and I was looking for delicious ways to use it up. But let's pause there, I feel this is the kind of dish that can prove divisive so hear me out. I'll admit that I've seen a version of this dish so many times as a "low-carb" or "vegan" option that ultimately feels kind of disappointing. That's absolutely not the intention of this recipe. The ricotta made from almonds is so smooth and rich that it feels more indulgent than the dairy-based version. The zucchini sliced thinly like this and then baked feels like a true celebration of zucchini rather than a pasta replacement, because really, that's the idea here.

By Friday, we've really landed squarely in our modern German tradition as we devour an incredible charcuterie plate on the balcony. Admittedly a lot of the products come from Italy, but I think it's fair game since Italy really isn't that far away.

For the weekend, we take a step back home - first to Mexico on Saturday where we have a super comforting baked dish of Enchiladas rojas, and then we go up past the northern boarder into the USA where we have some super simple throw-together nachos for a bit of a movie-night junk food end to the week.

Telling the story of this week feels divided and disconnected, but I think these kinds of memories are the experiences that are lived in cities. You meet people from around the world, maybe you yourself have experienced living in a place which isn't where you were born. And little by little, one creates memories around food. I think by now it's pretty clear that I'm not trying to claim authority on any of these recipes, I'm using them more of a way to recall memories from my experiences and to weave them into my present day. It's almost like bringing a photo of ancestors to the living room and having my grandparents tell me stories about the people in the photo.

When summer gives you zucchinis, make a refreshing salad

Zucchini, walnut, and lemon chicharron salad


Although Julia Child was absolutely a staple in my childhood years, maybe around the time of high school, Ottolenghi came into our kitchen and really planted his feet. The flavors of his recipes and the balance he creates in each dish is so spectacular that when I wanted a crisp zucchini salad, I knew he would have something great.

This recipe is very similar to Ottolenghi's original recipe. A major difference here is that I keep the lemon zest and garlic cloves from the oil being infused with flavors. I liked the idea of a chicharon, but making it out of the lemon skin rather than pork. I also was curious to keep the garlic chips in the oil after having made Bryant Terry's garlic oil where he didn't let these beautiful chips go to waste and they added a really delightful crunch.

Admittedly, I would have liked to use more of my summer squash, but when I cut into it, it was super woody, so I ended up using a vegetable peeler and just shaving off the outer-most layer to at least add a little color to the dish.

With the hot and humid summer days lately, this salad is perfect for a light summer dinner.

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A celebration of cabbage in a dish

Savory cabbage pancake stack inspired by okonomiyaki


The story behind this dinner recipe is pretty simple. The magic of Youtube's recommendations sent me to watch Eater's videos on Okonomiyaki in Tokyo. After a few days, both José and I were looking at each other craving this dish. I'm not sure if it's fair to call this dish Okonomiyaki since I've made some adjustments based on ingredients we had on hand, but essentially, it's a quick weeknight attempt at this Japanese dish.

Admittedly, neither of us has been to Japan or even had this dish in a restaurant, so the rendition below is a mashup of looking at quite a few recipes, eyeballing how we like flavors (seems fair game given the translation of the dish's name in English), and then attempting it with ingredients we could easily find in the grocery store downstairs.

I largely relied on Just One Cookbook's recipe for both the Okonomiyaki and for a homemade version of the Okonomiyaki sauce, but then went off-book a bit. What I liked about Nami's recipe was the addition of mirin to the batter, but as I was adding the mirin while cooking, I realized, that if I used beer instead, it would be a really interesting combination of German and Japanese cuisines meeting. So I may try that next time. Something I did here which seemed a bit different from other recipes I've seen is I added fresh ginger to the pancake batter. I saw it pickled on top as a garnish, but for some reason the idea of adding it in fresh to the batter itself called me. Ultimately I found it to be really delicious.

Of course, when I went to the supermarket to pick up some scallions for the dish, they were cleared out of most produce, including these little alliums. So I decided to use chives, which they had and I quite liked the subtle flavor they gave to the dish, so I might go this route in the future regardless of availability.

One thing I'd really recommend to make this dish is to make sure you slice the cabbage as finely as possible. I've tried to make this in the past and probably shredded the cabbage a little thicker. What made dinner tonight really shine was how finely shredded the cabbage was, which I did with a mandoline slicer. This thing has moved to three cities with me and is nearly 10 years old so it seems like a good investment.

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When you want something delicious but can't bear the idea of cooking

Fresh tomato summer salad


This week has had me deeply craving a cabin in the woods, or an escape to a lake my family would visit in New Hampshire during the summers when I was little. Memories of swimming to turtle rock, making paper out of things we found in the forrest, and baking hot pink cupcakes flash before me and I admit that my heart aches a little for summers like those.

But as memories evolve, I also recalled this galavant one of my close friends and I had through Italy many years back. On one of the afternoons between rushing from one place to another, with nearly no money left in our wallets, we stumbled on this little café and ordered the tomato soup (it was likely the cheapest thing on the menu). What came out was this rich tomato-y stew with a bread base and a pitcher of this incredibly spicy olive oil we were supposed to drizzle on top. The soup was studded with these big chunks of basil and honestly, even to this day we talk about how spectacular that soup was. This was also the first time in my life that I had tried olive oil that felt tannic and almost spicy and it changed the breadth of what olive oil meant to me.

At the start of my current vacation, I picked up a very fancy, and necessarily spicy, olive oil. With this ingredient on hand, I figured why not find a way to fold it into a fresh summer salad on such a hot and sunny day. I've landed on something between a classic Tuscan panzanella and a caprese salad. If you have super fancy tomatoes, this is the time to use them. If you simply have good summer red tomatoes, this will be super tasty as well (it's what I had).

This recipe started from Kenji's recipe on Serious Eats for a classic Panzanella salad, but as most things, evolved a bit.

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Indulgence that happens to be vegan

Zucchini rollups with almond ricotta baked in tomato sauce


When it comes to personal habits, I'm seeing more and more that approaching change with an incremental and exploratory mindset suits me quite well.

I really like food (is that really surprising at this point) and part of the fun is it can feel like a low-stakes experiment, where at the end you get to eat it. Sounds pretty simple, but it's oddly quite a relief after a long day managing "stakeholders". I've been exploring ways to replace some of my favorite foods with some more plant-based versions. But not versions that give semblance to the original, but rather versions that can carry their own character and weight.

Many nut-based ricotta recipes online lean into the grainy aspect of ricotta by keeping the solids in the recipe. I couldn't seem to get over the fact that the ricotta I've had in Europe actually leans rather smooth and the grainyness of the almond solids jut didn't sit quite right.

In doing some research, I stumbled on a video for making ricotta, much in the same way, cows-milk ricotta is made - by curdling the milk and straining out the liquid. It kind of reminded me of those unhappy accidents of putting almond milk in coffee and seeing it curdle...it's like that but in a happy way.

And so then I was left with this incredibly creamy ricotta and was thinking of ways to use it up. I know zucchini is often seen as a low-carb pasta replacement, and yes, to some degree this dish is inspired by stuffed shells and my grandmother's cannelloni. But, I wouldn't think of this dish as a vegan-low carb version of a baked shells dish (although if that's what convinces you to make it, by all means justify it to yourself that way). I genuinely think it holds its own. Garlic, basil, and zucchini pair incredible well and that's where this dish was actually inspired from. I was thinking of ways to pair these ingredients and stumbled on these baked zucchini and almond ricotta rolls.

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A non-recipe dinner option filled with joy

Fancy summertime apéro


I don't think another apéro needs an introduction, but in case this is your first time visiting Meet the Meal, here goes.

Fridays are almost a sacred afternoon for us. It's the end of the workweek and both José and I really love the work we do, so by Friday afternoon we've given it our all and we're pretty beat. Weather permitting, we sit on the balcony, have a look over Berlin, watch the birds and planes, and chat about the world and life. It's a moment of total peace to punctuate the moment between the week and the weekend. When I lived in France both as a teenager, and then again when I came back post-college, apéro was this moment of pure joy. You'd snack on a little of this, a little of that. Chat with friends and family and laugh a lot. It's like a cocktail party without the stuffyness meets a dinner party's joy without the sit-downness.

Today's apéro is a truly luxurious one even if when a good friend of mine called in the middle, I told her I was having a platter of cold-cuts for dinner because I couldn't remember the word for "charcuterie". We had a good laugh, very appropriate for a perfect apéro.

One addition that is perhaps a bit remarkable to this apéro is the burrata with truffle honey, fresh olive oil, and smoked flaky sea salt. I'm not sure if it was this year or last, but one of my great friends (with whom I shared many a laugh over an apéro) came to Berlin around New Years and we met up at this lovely Italian restaurant, Al Contadino Sotto Le Stelle. I think I was still feeling the New Years festivities from the night before so I wasn't that hungry or quite frankly, amicable. But we ordered this incredible dish that blew my mind. It was a base of smoked salmon with a giant ball of burrata, nearly doused, but let's be nice and say drizzled, with this acacia honey that had been infused with black truffle, topped off with a little fresh olive oil and some salt. The idea of a fresh mozzarella with smoked fish sounded risky, add in honey, and I was a little worried about it all tasting like fish candy. Then on top, I'm not a big truffle person - I find the flavor overpowering rather than complimentary. But this dish ended up breaking all my assumptions of how it would taste. It was creamy and salty yet sweet. Rich in the most indulgent way, yet, almost light. Although tonight's plate doesn't have the smoked salmon, it uses the smoked flaky salt I had on hand that adds that dimension to the dish.

I'd say this really is more a reminder for types of things you might want to have, rather than a recipe per-say. They key really is to have something acidic or brined to cut through the richness of the cheeses and charcuterie. Plus a great rosé really reminds you you're in the middle of the summer and it's time to enjoy. If you're not drinking alcohol, I'd recommend making a hibiscus iced tea instead.

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A comforting tray bake

Enchiladas rojas with shredded chicken


Enchiladas are actually quite simple to make. It translates to something doused in chile sauce. Oftentimes to make the tortilla pliable and to bring out the flavor of the chile sauce, the tortillas are fried. This version is a bit lighter on the oil front, but still super tasty.

The more I dig into weeknight dinner recipes, the more I notice that these kinds of simplifications or substitutions. They seem to happen for a few reasons. One is obviously when a recipe is brought into another country via migration, substitutions happen for the sake of approximation (or sometimes it even happens that you like it more than the original).

With this recipe, you can see this being applied with the oven-roasted shishito peppers which recall the blistered jalapeños often served with meals in a Mexican cuisine. We simply can't find jalapeños here, but shishito peppers seems to be a staple, and their bitterness is really tasty.

Another reason these substitutions happen is because of busy people finding a way to still eat the foods they love, but in a way that fits their lifestyle. For us that's twofold - we're not big friers. Honestly yes, it's a great way to reduce the fat, and therefore the heaviness of the dish, but more-so, I'm just scared of frying and I always make a huge mess. I don't need that kind of stress in my life right now so these get baked off and that's it.

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Pantry staples make diner come together in a pinch

American-style nachos


Honestly, maybe you just need some junk food to close out the week. We just couldn't bring ourselves to cook and so American-style nachos it was. Are these chips high quality? Absolutely not. Are they the only corn chips we can easily get? Yep. If you're in the USA, you likely have access to much better tortilla chips that we can get at the supermarket, so bathe in that glory.

We had some homemade versions of normal store-bought ingredients so that's what you see here, but by all means, please use canned beans instead or use store-bought salsa instead. The reality is that we don't have easy access to high quality versions of these ingredients here in Berlin so we have to make them ourselves. You'll have leftover beans and salsa, which you could absolutely freeze for later use.

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Weekly dinner menus

Weekly Dinner Menu

September 21 - 27

Restaurant food can be home-cooked
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Every Sunday evening, I send out a newsletter with the following week's dinner menu, and the seasonal produce featured. The newsletter is free, and I won't share or sell your email address.

If it turns out it's not the content you're looking for, you can easily unsubscribe with a link at the bottom of the email. This project was originally a way to wrap my head around the evolving seasonal produce in the supermarkets.

I'm so excited to share the journey and learn from you as I go along!

- Julia Feld