Sweden's Ambassador of Cuisine

By Susan Able, Photography by Nicole Crowder

 Chef Frida Johansson, the Executive Chef to the Ambassador of Sweden to the U.S., makes holiday saffron buns.

Chef Frida Johansson, the Executive Chef to the Ambassador of Sweden to the U.S., makes holiday saffron buns.

The life of an embassy chef is a busy one. Just ask Chef Frida Johansson, the Executive Chef to the Ambassador of Sweden to the United States. We meet Frida where she spends her working hours: the kitchen in the residence of Ambassador Karin Olofsdotter, Sweden’s first female ambassador to the United States.

As I arrive, Chef Frida is prepping dessert, a white chocolate cheesecake with cloudberry sorbet. On the stove is the main course, a Swedish crawfish soup, where stock made with crawfish shells that have been roasted and torched with cognac is bubbling away; cream and crawfish meat will be added in before serving. Just another dinner at the Residence, that night for 16. She cooks for parties for two to 500; it varies week to week, and with big events it totals over 7,000 people a year. She laughs as she tells me, “You gotta remember that I’m only one person.”

Even in mid-October, Frida was already well underway with plans for her biggest party of the year, the St. Lucia’s Day celebration held at House of Sweden in Georgetown. And since Chef Frida has raised the bar on herself for this already popular event, she is committed to making each year even more magical and exciting than the ones before.

The 32-year-old culinary powerhouse tells me she is from a “super super small place in western Sweden, about 70 kilometers outside Gothenburg,” and decided to go to culinary school after thinking about fashion design. Her creative expressions are as strong as her chops in the kitchen and she tells me, “What is important to me is putting my signature on every dish from Sweden, taking something traditional and making it modern, or giving it something unexpected.”

Equally unexpected was her journey to the Embassy and the United States. Frida worked abroad after graduation, including a stint cooking in New Zealand. She returned home to Sweden for a month, only to be involved in a near-fatal car accident which required extensive recovery, waylaying other plans.

Frida laughs, “It was the right place at the right time. Because of the accident, I ended up staying in Sweden, cooking for a very well-known chef who was good friends with an even better-known chef, Leif Mannerström. The Ambassador [then-Ambassador Jonas Hafström] was friends with Chef Leif, and he recommended me from knowing my work. They trusted his opinion and hired me. I came to the U.S. in 2010 to spend what I thought would be one exciting year. As you see, it is now eight and a half years later.”

“I’ve stayed because I love my job. It is up to me to be creative, to come up with new ideas and try them. Obviously, I also like living in DC; this is such an interesting multicultural city. I take very seriously that I have a great opportunity to represent Sweden and Swedish cuisine. People think Swedish food and think ‘meatballs at IKEA,’ that is all that we have. But it is not. Our day-to-day food culture is so fabulous and healthy—the Nordic diet is just a healthy way of eating. Vegetables and lean protein, the way you should be eating. Sustainability is big for us and eating seasonally is just something we do. The winter for me means root vegetables and game, winter seafood.”

Frida talks about ingredients too. I taste a cloudberry marinating in a spiked punch; it looks like a golden raspberry but tastes so different. She explains, “I use things like produce and meats produced locally here all the time, but there are certain things that are only in Sweden, like cloudberries, tiny North Sea shrimp, sea buckthorn, crawfish, wild Norwegian salmon, and herring. These are things I have to bring over, mainly for the big holidays or in season, because they define our cuisine. For a Swede, what is a party without pickled herring?”

 

 Frida’s saffron buns make for an excellent shareable dessert.

Frida’s saffron buns make for an excellent shareable dessert.

Frida’s Saffron Buns
By Frida Johansson

Your journey to the world’s most delicious saffron buns starts the day before you actually put them in the oven by letting the saffron infuse the milk you will use in the sponge. This is my take on a traditional holiday bun that everybody makes at home and you will love it. Our cuisine has been very influenced by international trade for centuries, so that is why you will see spices from the Silk Road and Asia in our food like saffron, cardamom, ginger, and cinnamon.

Makes 40 buns.

Ingredients

Sponge

2⅛ cups milk
¼ cup fresh yeast
1.2 grams saffron (1 hearty pinch or 1 packet)
520 grams all-purpose flour (3.6 cups)

Dough

10½ tablespoons butter, at room temperature
¾ and 2 tablespoons sugar
2 grams salt (2 hearty pinches)
320 grams all-purpose flour (2.3 cups)

Almond filling

300 grams almond paste
2½ tablespoons sugar
1 vanilla bean OR 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
9 tablespoons butter, at room temperature

Topping

1 egg
1 tablespoon water
1 pinch salt
Sliced almonds
Swedish pearl sugar, available at Whole Foods (or regular sugar)

Instructions

Start with ¼ cup of milk, warming it gently without reaching a simmer. Add the saffron and let it infuse the milk for about 15 minutes. Then add the rest of the milk and put it in the fridge overnight, or for at least 12 hours.

The next day, warm up the milk to body temperature and dissolve the yeast into it. Add the flour and mix. Once it comes together, knead the dough for 5 minutes. Let it rest, covered by a dish towel, for about 15–20 minutes. If you are mixing with a stand mixer, you will want to use the dough hook for this. If you are mixing by hand, consider this recipe to be your cardio for the day!

Once the sponge has rested, add the ingredients listed under the “dough” section: butter, sugar, salt and more flour. Knead or mix until the dough is smooth, glossy and starts to release any hard edges. If you are kneading by hand, just keeping kneading until you can’t do it anymore!

Let the dough rest under a dish towel again for about 20–30 minutes.

While the dough rests, prepare the filling. Mix the almond paste with sugar and vanilla sugar. Add the butter gradually until you have a smooth and fully combined filling. Don’t forget that the butter needs to be room temperature.

Roll out the dough in a large rectangle on a lightly floured surface. It should be about 18  by 27 inches, and about .2 inch thick (half a centimeter). That’s about the size of a full-size sheet pan, for reference. Spread the filling evenly over the dough, all the way to the edges.

Now it’s time to knot your saffron buns. Step one: Looking at the rectangle of dough and filling in front of you, grasp the top edge of the dough and fold it toward you, so that you have a long, skinny rectangle in front of you. Try to fold it as smoothly as you can, with the edges from the top layer of dough matching the edges on the bottom. 

Step two: Cut the folded dough into long skinny strands about 1½ inches wide. You can cut the strips with a knife, a pizza cutter or scissors. 

Step three: Imagine you’re playing rock, paper, scissors. Make the “scissors” with your non-dominant hand, and then wrap a strand of dough around your 2 fingers twice. Then tie the dough into a loose knot by wrapping the dough around the middle of the loops you just created and tucking the middle into a loop. Overall, this action will remind you of wrapping up a pair of headphones.

 Wrap the strips of dough around two of your fingers as though they were a pair of headphones.

Wrap the strips of dough around two of your fingers as though they were a pair of headphones.

Repeat with the rest of your dough pieces, placing each knot onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Once you’ve finished making all of your knots, cover the buns with a dish towel and let them rise for about 1–2 hours.  

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Now that your buns have risen, beat the egg with the water and salt to make an egg wash and brush each bun with it. Sprinkle the sliced almonds and pearl sugar over the buns. Bake 13–15 minutes, or until your saffron buns are golden brown. Alternately, bake without the topping, let cool, then brush with melted butter and dip in sugar.

Spices & Cultural Traditions Blend at Yuletide

We’re sharing some of our favorite holiday recipes from around the world

From the staff of The Spice & Tea Exchange® of Alexandria, sponsored

 Borscht is a traditional Christmas Eve dish in Poland. Gorgeous red color from beets makes this soup a very festive course. Spice & Tea has all the ingredients to make a spectacular soup.

Borscht is a traditional Christmas Eve dish in Poland. Gorgeous red color from beets makes this soup a very festive course. Spice & Tea has all the ingredients to make a spectacular soup.

This year, we’ve been reflecting on our extended family’s diversity and how each of us has brought our own tradition to the larger group, changing the way we celebrate and what we look forward to eating. The holiday season is such a time of tradition and ritual, yet we’ve welcomed new cultures and cusines to our table and have made them our own. Whether you always share turkey and dressing, or never miss making a Christmas Eve favorite, the holiday recipes you prepare each year are a piece of your history and family legacy…the blending of these traditions around the table is what makes the season so incredibly memorable!

Shannon Rene, a retail associate at Spice & Tea of Alexandria, came to loving the richness of spices and her work at Spice & Tea naturally—her father is Creole and from Louisiana, her mother is from Ireland. Shannon’s father was in the Army and they traveled worldwide on his assignments. Her parent’s native cuisines could not have been more different, but they loved to host holiday gatherings.

  Shannon Rene, a salesperson at Spice & Tea of Alexandria holds one of her favorite holiday items—sweet and spicy cocoa mixes. Her father is from Lousiana and is Creole, her mother is from Ireland—Shannon’s love of the holidays and spices comes from growing up with blended traditions in the kitchen. Photo by Edible DC.

Shannon Rene, a salesperson at Spice & Tea of Alexandria holds one of her favorite holiday items—sweet and spicy cocoa mixes. Her father is from Lousiana and is Creole, her mother is from Ireland—Shannon’s love of the holidays and spices comes from growing up with blended traditions in the kitchen. Photo by Edible DC.

She says, “Cooking for the holidays was always an all day affair. I remember waking up and my first smells were a boiling ham, and then roast turkey with garlic, thyme, carrots, and onions roasting in the oven. Of course, being an Irish tradition and a must-have holiday dish, there would be several potato dishes because it was the holidays and everyone had a different favorite. This included butter-roasted, garlic mashed or my favorite-home fries with garlic, onion and paprika.

”Then, with what always seemed like magical timing, Army friends would start to arrive bringing with them the holiday foods that they had grown up with, such as bulgogi or tamales. These joined all of our dishes and there was no available space left on the kitchen counters. As the main meal came out of the oven in went dessert, one pecan pie and my Nan’s apple tart.”

In the that spirit of community and embracing diversity, we’re sharing a few of our favorite holiday recipes from around the world with some backstory on each, a link to the recipe and the ingredients you can find at our store to make it complete!

Polish Borscht (Barszcz)

While borscht (a hearty soup made of red beets pictured above) recipes vary across Europe, Polish adaptations have a distinctive and vibrant red hue. Polish borscht is often served as a broth soup during the first course of a Christmas Eve meal over uszka (porcini dumplings) or potatoes. For a heartier winter dish, vegetables are left in to add “meat” to this traditionally vegetarian dish. Onion, garlic, celery and carrots are a few other vegetables that add flavor to this Polish version of Borscht.

  Coquito!

Coquito!

Coquito Eggnog

Coquito in Spanish means “little coconut,” which is the highlight of this Puerto Rican eggnog. Often given as a gift, sweet and spiced coquito is a party favorite and decadent Spanish holiday tradition and also for the New Year.

However, coquito isn’t just for the holiday season. It can be consumed any time of year and is celebrated as a signature rum beverage in Puerto Rico, alongside famous Puerto Rican moonshine, pitorro. While coquito begins with the same ingredients, unique and different recipes can be found throughout Puerto Rico and the Caribbean as families perfect their “secret recipes” to share with friends and loved ones.

 A German tradition, these homey and humble cakes are almost like large, soft cookies and redolent of warm spices.

A German tradition, these homey and humble cakes are almost like large, soft cookies and redolent of warm spices.

Lebkuchen

German Lubkuchen (Elisenlebkuchen) is well known around the world as a traditional holiday dessert. Featuring honey and molasses, warm spices and candied fruit, this one-of-a-kind treat harkens back to the spice trade and “honey cakes” commonly enjoyed in monasteries as early as the Middle Ages. Often served with a strong beer, Lebkuchen also took the name of “pepper cakes,” as it was common to include all of your finest “peppers” (then an all-encompassing term used for spices that helped digestion).

 Cooking spiced meatballs in a tagine is both a flavorful and colorful way to ring in the winter holidays.

Cooking spiced meatballs in a tagine is both a flavorful and colorful way to ring in the winter holidays.

Spiced Lamb Meatballs

Spiced Lamb Meatballs from Spice & Tea, are inspired by the blended Jewish traditions of Morocco, North Africa, and Arabic cultures. The presence of parsley, cinnamon, Baharat and ginger gives this dish a strong, authentic North African accent. Serve with warm couscous and naan bread.

Many North African dishes can be prepared in a traditional tagine to cook low and slow (shown in our recipe image). The holes in the tagine serve to release steam during the cooking process. Dishes can also be served in a tagine to add a beautiful display to the dinner table!

 Korean families have gathered around a traditional table at holidays for hundreds of years, and bulgogi is a popular favorite.

Korean families have gathered around a traditional table at holidays for hundreds of years, and bulgogi is a popular favorite.

Korean Beef Bulgogi

Bulgogi, a classic Korean grilled beef, is easy to make and traditionally made for sharing and gatherings. This year-round favorite makes its appearance during the holidays, as well as summertime barbecue menus. Bulgogi can be eaten over rice or wrapped in lettuce. However, it is prepared, this thinly sliced, marinated beef is a staple in any Korean cook’s repertoire.

 Hot cocoa is a traditional drink at Peruvian winter holidays.

Hot cocoa is a traditional drink at Peruvian winter holidays.

Peruvian Spiced Hot Chocolate
Spiced Hot Chocolate is the center of holiday gatherings in Peruvian culture, and stems from a long tradition of celebrating the country’s rich resource of cocoa. Made with heavy milk or “tres leches” (three types of milk), spices, and rich chocolate, it is often shared with panetón or sweet bread. Although it seems a bit strange, Christmas in Peru falls in the summer season. And while temperatures begin to rise, so does the heat on the saucepan to make this decadent beverage.


The Spice & Tea Exchange® of Alexandria has a wide selection of seasonings for any food lover and dozens of choices for any tea enthusiast. The store offers more than 140 spices, over 80 exclusive hand-mixed blends, 20+ naturally-flavored sugars, an array of salts from around the world and more than 40 exotic teas. We focus on providing high quality products and accessories to home cooks, chefs and tea lovers in an old-world spice traders’ atmosphere.

We enjoy swapping good recipes and fun stories, so stop on by! You’ll typically find us hand-mixing our custom blends and seasonings right in the store, bagging our teas, or putting together unique gifts for our guests.

Spice & Tea Exchange, 320 King Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 | 571-312-8505

Monday - Friday, 11:00 am – 9:00 pm
Saturday, 10:00 am – 9:00 pm
Sunday, 11:00 am – 7:00 pm

Winter Around a Campfire

By Kristen Noel, photography by Jennifer Chase

 Chicken with sweet potatoes and mushroom stuffing make for a fulfilling campfire meal.

Chicken with sweet potatoes and mushroom stuffing make for a fulfilling campfire meal.

In my mid-20s, I moved to Healdsburg, Calif., hardly knowing anyone and without much of a plan. Since Healdsburg sits at the point where three of Sonoma’s major wine regions meet, I thought I would try to get into the wine business.

At the time, I knew next to nothing about cooking and probably wouldn’t have known how to peel a garlic clove if you handed one to me. However, so close to the birthplace influential California cuisine, the appreciation of good food and cooking is a way of life there.

I ended up working in a bakery owned by two alumni of Chez Panisse and was fortunate to be introduced to a group of friends who cooked together often. I experienced the power of coming together around food, creating deeper connections and an improvement in our overall well-being. It made me fall madly in love with cooking, which forever changed the course of my life.

After attending culinary school in Portland, Ore., I came back home to Washington, DC, where I met my wife, Miranda. One of the first things we bonded over was our shared love of nature. We have a tradition of visiting a new national park every year, and we try to get out of the city for weekend “adventures” in the Shenandoah Valley at least every couple of months.

In the winter, we opt for the cozy cabins at Getaway in Stanardsville, Va. It’s set up like a campground, but you get to stay in the coolest tiny house that you won’t ever want to leave—think Scandinavian minimalism meets rustic log cabin. The comfy queen-size beds are next to a large window looking out into the woods. Each cabin comes with its own fire pit and everything you need for a campfire, including firewood. Inside there is a small kitchen with a couple of burners, a sink and a mini-fridge.

I wanted to bring my new friends in DC together around a meal like I had experienced in California. And what better way to do so than to host a feast by campfire? People have been gathering around fires since the beginning of time. So we invited a few friends along with us to Getaway for campfire feast.

I came up with a seasonal menu that would work for any holiday dinner, while taking flavor inspiration from the aromatic, earthy woods our region is known for. The dishes all have lots of woody herbs and I found a way to include local wild mushrooms.

 Rainbow carrots and sweet potatoes add a splash of color to this roast chicken.

Rainbow carrots and sweet potatoes add a splash of color to this roast chicken.

Since the campfire can be fickle, I didn’t want to risk everyone having to wait up all night for a turkey to cook. So, I opted for a Dutch-oven roast chicken, with sweet potatoes, carrots and fennel to be served on the side. Inside the chicken was a wild mushroom duxelles stuffing to complete three dishes in one pot. Alongside the Dutch-oven chicken, potatoes au gratin with rosemary cooked in a cast-iron pan with a lid. I also prepared a simple salad of winter greens and garlic chives with an herbed lemon vinaigrette to balance out all the heavy food.

To drink around the fire, I had a hot apple cider with cinnamon and some apple mint that I found at the farmers market the day before. Adults could add their own splash of bourbon to the cider, so our friends’ children could enjoy it too.

And, the next morning, cinnamon rolls were cooked in cast iron over the fire, then topped with cream cheese frosting.

I love cooking over a campfire because, just like camping, it allows you to unplug. In this case, from the controlled environment of the kitchen. Without temperature dials and timers, you have permission to let go of perfectionism and rely on your intuition and senses.

Sure, your food may not come out precisely evenly cooked. You might burn something or have to throw an undercooked piece of meat back on the fire. But I guarantee everyone will happily eat what you serve. There is something deeply satisfying about coming together around a campfire to enjoy a good meal.

 A maple marinade helps this roast chicken achieve fantastic flavor and color.

A maple marinade helps this roast chicken achieve fantastic flavor and color.

Dutch-Oven Roast Chicken with Sweet Potatoes

Serves 6

This Dutch-Oven Roast Chicken can be a full meal in a one pot. The maple syrup marinade drips down into the sweet potatoes and carrots, gently enhancing their natural sweetness, and the juices from the chicken are absorbed by the vegetables making them moist and savory. It’s really an easy dish to pull off on a campfire with the right equipment (a cast-iron Dutch oven with a lid, charcoal and a shovel for placing the coals). When I do this dish for a campfire, I marinate the chicken the day before we leave. Then I transport it in a cooler, wrapped tightly in plastic wrap and sealed in a zip-top bag. If you opt to do the wild mushroom duxelle stuffing, you practically have a entire fantastic meal in one Dutch oven.

Ingredients

1 (5-pound) chicken
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons butter

Marinade
3 tablespoons maple syrup
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon minced thyme

Vegetables

3 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into large dice
1 large fennel bulb, julienned
1 bunch rainbow carrots, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces
1 pound pearl onions, peeled
6 to 8 sprigs fresh thyme
4 to 6 sprigs fresh rosemary
Zest of 1 lemon
Olive oil to drizzle
Kosher salt to taste

Whisk together all the ingredients for the marinade in a small bowl. Pat dry the chicken and brush it all over with the marinade, pouring any remaining marinade over it. Seal the chicken in a plastic bag or tightly lidded container and marinate in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours.

About an hour before cooking, remove the chicken from the refrigerator and its container and pat dry. Set it on a plate and allow to come to room temperature.

When ready to cook, completely pat dry the chicken once more and stuff the cavity with the Wild Mushroom Duxulles Stuffing (if you are making it). Tie the legs together with kitchen twine to seal in the stuffing.

If cooking this at home, preheat oven to 450°F.

Heat an 8- or 12-inch Dutch oven until very hot but not smoking (if cooking on the campfire, you’ll want to put about 11 hot coals under the Dutch oven). Add the 2 tablespoons olive oil and 2 tablespoons butter. When the oil has heated and the butter has melted, place the chicken in breast side down. Sear until the breast is golden brown, about 4 to 6 minutes.

Carefully flip the chicken over. Put the lid on the Dutch oven and roast at 450°F for 30 minutes (for cooking on the campfire, spread about 20 coals on top of the lid of the Dutch oven).

Meanwhile, toss the sweet potatoes, fennel, carrots and onions with olive oil, salt and the lemon zest in a large bowl. Mix well to make sure all the veggies are coated in the oil and seasonings.

After 30 minutes, remove the lid from the Dutch oven and arrange the vegetables around the chicken. Place around the thyme and rosemary sprigs.

Replace the lid (and place the coals back on top for campfire cooking). Cook for about another 30 minutes, until the chicken reaches an internal temperature of 165°F and all the vegetables are cooked through. Let the chicken rest for at least 15 minutes before carving.

 Wild mushrooms add flavor and depth to a traditional sage-centric stuffing.

Wild mushrooms add flavor and depth to a traditional sage-centric stuffing.

Wild Mushroom Duxelles Stuffing

Enough to stuff 1 chicken

This stuffing borrows from the classic French savory pastry filling duxelles, which is typically a cooked mixture of mushrooms, shallots and herbs. The wild mushrooms make it absolutely delicious, and the sage brings in a familiar taste most of us are used to in stuffing. I recommend cooking it inside the chicken because the flavor from the roasting juices moistening it are unparalleled.

Ingredients

1 tablespoon olive oil
½ pound wild mushrooms such as oyster, chanterelles, lion’s mane or morels, roughly chopped
¼ cup minced shallots
3 cloves garlic, minced
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
½ loaf crusty bread, cut into large dice
½ cup minced flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon sage, sliced thin horizontally
Chicken stock, if making on the stovetop

Heat a large sauté pan over medium-high heat and add the olive oil. When the olive oil heats up, add the mushrooms and stir to spread throughout the pan.

When the mushrooms begin to brown, add the shallots and garlic. Season with a pinch of salt and stir; cook until the mushrooms are completely browned and the shallots and garlic have softened.

Scrape the mushroom mixture into a medium bowl. Add the bread, parsley and sage and mix to combine. Stuff the cavity of the chicken with the stuffing. 

Alternatively, add the bread, parsley and sage into the pan with the mushroom mixture and moisten with about ½–1 cup chicken stock. Cook until hot.


 Lemon and rosemary brighten this classic French gratin.

Lemon and rosemary brighten this classic French gratin.

Potatoes au Gratin with Rosemary

Serves 6 (fits an 8-inch cast-iron pan)

I had to include this potatoes au gratin recipe because it is my wife, Miranda’s, favorite. It has the flavor of a classic French gratin with butter, cream and gruyere cheese. The addition of lemon zest brings a little brightness to it, and the rosemary gives it an earthy aroma reminiscent of a walk in the woods.

Ingredients

1 cup milk
1 cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons butter, plus more to butter the cast iron
1 bay leaf
Kosher salt, to taste
1 clove garlic, peeled and cut in half
1 pound russet potatoes, peeled and sliced very thin
1 tablespoon minced rosemary
Zest of 1 lemon
1 cup grated gruyere cheese

If making this at home, pre-heat oven to 425°F.

Combine the milk, heavy cream, butter, bay leaf and a generous pinch of salt in a small saucepan. Slowly bring to a boil, keeping an eye on it so it doesn’t boil over. (If you are tent-camping, you will need to use a camp stove or portable burner for this.) 

Thoroughly butter an 8-inch cast-iron pan and run the cut sides of the garlic clove all around the pan to impart a garlic flavor. Arrange the potato slices in the pan, season with salt and sprinkle the rosemary and lemon zest all around.

When the milks come to a boil, remove the bay leaf and pour on top of the potatoes. If you are making it a home, place the pan into the oven and roast for 40 to 45 minutes. (If you are cooking it on a campfire, cover the cast iron with a lid and set on a grill grate over hot coals. Spread about 14 hot coals around the lid and roast for 40 to 45 minutes.)

Once it begins to brown on top, remove from the oven and top with the gruyere cheese. Return to the oven and cook for about 10 minutes more until the cheese melts and browns. (For cooking it on a campfire, carefully remove the lid and sprinkle on the gruyere cheese. Replace the lid and cook for about another 10 minutes, until the cheese melts.

Be sure to check out a campfire cinnamon roll recipe here.

Back to Our Roots

By Whitney Pipkin, photography by Jennifer Chase

 Kate Jacoby and Rich Landau of Philadelphia’s Vedge and DC’s Fancy Radish.

Kate Jacoby and Rich Landau of Philadelphia’s Vedge and DC’s Fancy Radish.

For the plant-based power couple behind H Street’s Fancy Radish, the holidays are another occasion to give vegetables their due. As if Kate Jacoby and Rich Landau of Philadelphia’s Vedge, V Street and Wiz Kid—lauded among the country’s best vegan restaurants—haven’t done enough for the food pyramid’s humblest roots, they can’t help but pay tribute through vividly seasonal dishes this time of year.

The pair has spent the year demonstrating in the District what they’ve already shown The City of Brotherly Love: how to make the most of the produce aisle. And it starts with dispelling the myth that every vegetable, particularly at the holiday table, needs to be basted with butter and cream. 

“When you really think about the natural flavor of what’s harvested seasonally—when you know how to cook it right—you don’t need to cover it up with anything,” says Landau. “If you’re going to eat a piece of cardboard, yeah, cover that up. But why not taste the vegetables?”

 This roasted acorn squash with black lentils is an excellent dish for guests. Get the recipe  here .

This roasted acorn squash with black lentils is an excellent dish for guests. Get the recipe here.

Landau started cooking vegetable-centric meals at the bar of a health food store in the Philadelphia suburbs back in 1994, when rejecting animal products to eat vegan was still more of a punchline than a trendy lifestyle. Jacoby joined him there in 2001, and caught a vision for sharing his approach to food more broadly.

“We had this second-level motivation to get this in front of people so they might think about their food in a different way. We wanted to offer a delicious version of vegan food,” Jacoby recalls. “Then it became, ‘How far can we take this?’”

The pair brought their upscale vegetable-centric dining to the District with the opening of Fancy Radish in March. Phone numbers with a 202 area code had been filling their reservations books at Vedge in Philly, and regular patrons had taken to begging: “We need you down here” in DC, they said. 

Jacoby, who went to Georgetown University, and Landau, who has family in the area, said the city has been a perfect fit, welcoming them at a time when vegetables are shining on more and more menus around town. 

At home, the couple and their son, Rio, who turns 11 this Thanksgiving, keep vegetables from getting sidelined at the holiday table, even if it means doing things a bit differently. Neither of them comes from a long line of vegans. They understand firsthand the conflicts that can surround the mixed traditions and dietary restrictions of a large family meal.

But Jacoby and Landau tend to skirt most of those tensions by hosting the meals (something that’s expected when you run a growing fleet of restaurants) and upping the vegetable ante until even the most devoted carnivores don’t miss the meat. 

One year, a gigantic roast squash stuffed with a vibrant cabbage slaw starred as the centerpiece. Another, grilled tofu rubbed with dried sage and drizzled with black pepper gravy left guests with plenty to carve and cut. Landau says the goal isn’t so much to mimic meat as it is to present a picture of abundance on the table.

 Carrot cake can bean attractive and tasty vegan dessert, and can be made ahead.

Carrot cake can bean attractive and tasty vegan dessert, and can be made ahead.

“Thanksgiving, for one, was never about the turkey,” says Landau. “It’s about the harvest, about all these incredible flavors and textures we have coming out of the ground, ready to be eaten before winter comes.” 

For those still squeamish about the idea of a vegan holiday—what, no butter?—Landau points to a killer Christmas party the family hosts one Sunday in December almost every year. Jacoby says she always wanted a big family gathering like the ones her grandmother remembered and this event, which draws 50 to 60 friends and family members, helps her scratch that itch. 

For Landau, it’s a chance to show that “vegans know how to live.” 

Christmas music from the 1940s plays in the background, alcohol flows—and a spread of food that goes well beyond vegetable crudités leaves guests satisfied. Brilliantly colored vegetable dishes fan out on the table to replace “all the brown, beige and tan” typical of holiday feasts, Jacoby says. To drive the point home one year, the couple’s Christmas party featured a carving station with white bread, horseradish and hunks of seasoned seitan for slicing. (Made from wheat gluten, seitan can closely mimic the look and flavor of roast meat).

 Trumpet mushroom fazzoletti makes for a hearty winter dish.

Trumpet mushroom fazzoletti makes for a hearty winter dish.

“Some people who see us as ‘the vegans’ think, ‘We better eat first, because if we go over there they’re gonna make us eat grass,’” Landau says with a grin. “But we’re not chanting Kumbaya in our underwear out back. We’re living life and celebrating it with food, and we’re not missing out on anything.” 

That said, Landau and Jacoby don’t insist that anyone else adopt their dietary preferences—though they do try to make them more tempting to the masses. They both cheered the way veganism, which could come off as cult-like in its earlier days, has opened the door to those dabbling in meatless meals, whether once a week or just once in a while. 

That means there’s never been a better time to be the one bringing a vegetable dish to the holiday table.

 

The Changs Give Thanks Around a Hot Pot

By Lani Furbank, photography by Jennifer Chase

 Peter Chang with his wife, Lisa, and his daughter, Lydia.

Peter Chang with his wife, Lisa, and his daughter, Lydia.

For one day each year, all of chef Peter Chang’s restaurants close for business.

“Thanksgiving Day is the day we show our staff how grateful we are for their hard work with us to build this brand,” Peter says, with his daughter, Lydia, interpreting. “Taking this day off is a great way to appreciate being in this community, being in this country, that enabled all of this to happen.”

It wasn’t always easy for the Chang family. Growing up, Peter lived an austere, rural life in the Hubei province in China. He rose through the ranks of society when he had the opportunity to attend culinary school and become a master of Sichuan cuisine while working on cruise ships, and then to cook at luxury hotels in China. In 2001, Peter moved to the U.S. to serve as the personal chef to the Chinese ambassador.

After two years at the embassy, Peter and his wife, Lisa, decided they wanted to stay in the U.S. and build a life here for their family and their teenage daughter. To do this required making a discreet exit before his contract ended. So, early one morning, Peter, Lisa and Lydia left the embassy and never returned.

 The Changs spend their Thanksgiving holiday with a morning spent skiing and a family hot pot in the evening.

The Changs spend their Thanksgiving holiday with a morning spent skiing and a family hot pot in the evening.

The chef then spent years moving from restaurant to restaurant, covering his tracks whenever he turned too many heads. “The longer he stayed at a place, the less secure he felt about the safety for the family,” Lydia recalls.

During that time, celebrating Thanksgiving was put on the back burner. “Other restaurants used to be open all the time, so that wasn’t a decision made by him; it was the owners or the partners,” Lydia says. “They wanted to open for business, and that basically meant we didn’t get the chance to celebrate—we’d be working.”

As time passed and his reputation grew, Peter found the right business partner and took the risk of opening his first restaurant under his own name. Today, he and his family run a culinary empire with 11 restaurants that stretch from Stamford, Connecticut, to Virginia Beach. Still, every Thanksgiving, they give their staff the day off. “Now we can make the call,” Peter says. “The business will be closed on Thanksgiving because we want to stay with our family … we want to give everyone the day off to embrace Thanksgiving and what it means.”

Over the past several years, the Changs formed their own Thanksgiving tradition with a unique Chinese flavor: a snowy day skiing, followed by a family hot pot. It’s the first chance each season for Peter and Lydia to ski and snowboard, respectively.

 Savory meats work perfectly for a hot pot, as do vegetables, seaweed, tofu, dumplings, and noodles.

Savory meats work perfectly for a hot pot, as do vegetables, seaweed, tofu, dumplings, and noodles.

“In the winter, we either work very hard because it’s the holiday season, the most busy season for restaurants, or we’ll be skiing on the mountain, which is more tiring than work. Can you imagine?” Lydia jokes.

“After a day of skiing, we’ll be exhausted. Nobody wants to spend hours and hours in the kitchen,” Lydia says. Their solution? Packing up a pot of broth and an assortment of ingredients in a cooler that comes with them.

The convivial group of family and friends comes in from the cold and gathers in the kitchen of their Vermont hotel room or rental house. With a portable burner, a pot of broth and an array of meats and vegetables, they are ready for an après-ski feast. “You don’t have to cook anything,” says Lydia. “You can just boil everything in the pot.”

Peter is a carnivore, and goes for strips of beef tenderloin dipped in the broth. Lisa, a seafood lover, cooks pieces of blue crab in the steaming pot and then extracts the meat from its shell. As the vegetarian of the family, Lydia enjoys any type of bean curd, as well as starchy items like Japanese pumpkin. In addition to all the standard ingredients that get dropped into the hot pot, the Changs add a taste of their hometown with a Hubei-style fish cake.

 Peter, the Changs’ resident carnivore, adds meat to the hot pot.

Peter, the Changs’ resident carnivore, adds meat to the hot pot.

“I think the fun in the hot pot is—whether you are having it with new friends or old friends or family members—it’s about sharing, eating from one pot,” Lydia says. Hot pot, like Thanksgiving, is about bringing people together.

For Lisa and Peter, hot pot and other food celebrations are a way to keep their family heritage alive for their daughter while living an ocean away from home. “Throughout my upbringing, they’ve tried their best to connect me to our culture, to our tradition,” Lydia says. “That’s the way of doing it, by embracing this Chinese tradition at home and spending time together.”

“My dad tells me every time, ‘The main reason we stayed here is for you,’” she says. “But I think the successful business is a side perk.” When she asks her dad why he chose to stay, his answer is simple: “The pursuit of happiness. This is the greatest country.”

Embracing American traditions hasn’t erased the pride the Changs feel for their home country, but Peter explains, “Thanksgiving is about being thankful for the family. Do we feel Westernized? We would be eating a turkey if we felt that way,” he says with a grin.

 

How to Make Your Own Hot Pot Happen

Start with a Rich Broth

The foundation for a great hot pot is the broth, which can take hours. The Changs’ chili oil broth recipe involves a triple chicken stock and lots of heat. Don’t skimp on the time it takes for the chicken stock to reduce.

You can also make a milder broth like mushroom or tomato and have them both boiling simultaneously using a pot that has a divider in the center.

 

Gather the Ingredients You Like

The beauty of hot pot is that it can be customized to suit your tastes. “When you think of it, it’s not just one dish, it’s the dish that could change into so many forms,” Lydia says. Their skiing group simply stops by the nearest supermarket and grabs whatever they find. “The only thing I would never put in a hot pot is cheese. Everything else is fine,” she adds.

 

Get the Guests Involved

With the broth made in advance, Lydia says you can have the hot pot ready to enjoy in under 30 minutes with the help of many sous chefs. “If you have a group of 20 people and everyone takes charge of one [ingredient], you can be done in, like, 10 minutes. Everyone is working on something and you enjoy your work.”

Once all the ingredients have been chopped and sliced, they go into the hot pot raw and unseasoned, and the boiling broth does all the work for you.

 

Use Tools That Will Get the Job Done

All you really need to pull this off is a portable burner, a heatproof bowl or pot and chopsticks. Don’t worry too much about the equipment. Lydia says you can get a gas or induction burner from an Asian supermarket or on Amazon. (Just don’t use a chafing-dish fuel can, as it likely won’t be able to bring the broth to a boil.) “It’s not about procedure. It’s not a ceremony,” Lydia says. “At end of the day, it’s food. It’s how you want to enjoy.”

 

Pay Attention to Cooking Times

After the broth is at a full boil, each ingredient only needs to stay submerged for a short period of time. “You have to be fast with that,” Lydia says. “You don’t want to overcook it; you don’t want to undercook it.”

There are general rules for the length of time each item should cook, but Lydia says that “the best way to test it is to use your chopsticks. Take it out to see the color; to feel the texture.” It should be firm, but not falling apart.

“The key to making a successful hot pot is not to put everything in and make it a swimming pool of ingredients,” she adds. Cook a few ingredients at a time and monitor how long they are in the broth.

Lydia shared a few guidelines for specific ingredients:

Meat: 30 seconds to 1 minute
Seafood: once it begins to turn color but before it becomes too tough
Mushrooms and seaweed: soak for as long as you’d like
Starchy vegetables: 1 to 2 minutes, but not so long that they dissolve in the broth
Firm tofu: 3 to 4 minutes, enough time for it to absorb the flavor (soft tofu is not ideal for hot pot)
Dumplings and noodles: pre-cook or soak these items and then dip them for 15 to 30 seconds so they can pick up flavor from the broth

 

Fight for Your Food

Lydia says eating hot pot with a large group can be like war. “You have to fight for the things you put in, but that’s where the fun is. You have to act fast. If you are on your phone for too long or if you are getting away with chatting, then forget about the meal,” she says with a laugh.

 

Spend Quality Time Together

Eating hot pot is a long process. Lydia says her family is known to spend at least an hour or two at the table, cooking and eating the ingredients. “You are there to enjoy, you are not cooking everything and finishing it at once.”

Gradually cooking and eating is an ideal meal for Peter. “For Chinese people, we love to eat food super hot,” he says.

Beware: Over the course of the meal, the broth will begin to cook away and reduce. Lydia says you can either add hot water or add a clear broth to keep the flavor from being diluted.

 

Hot Pot 火锅

Serves 4–6 

Chili Oil Broth

1 cup red chili oil

4 cups dry chili pepper

5 tablespoons Sichuan peppercorn seed

5 tablespoons finely chopped ginger

5 tablespoons finely chopped garlic

5 tablespoons fermented black beans

1 cup Pi’xian bean paste 

10 cups chicken stock

3 tablespoons Sichuan peppercorn oil

1 tablespoon Sichuan peppercorn powder

3 tablespoons sugar

Heat a 3- to 4-quart saucepan until hot, add red chili oil, dry chili pepper, Sichuan peppercorn seed, ginger, garlic, fermented black beans and bean paste.

Stir-fry evenly on medium heat for about 10 minutes. 

Pour in chicken stock. Over medium to low heat, cook for another 15 minutes. Drop the Sichuan peppercorn oil, powder and sugar into the boiling pot for 3 more minutes. 

Move the pot to a portable gas burner and let the liquid come to a boil. You are now ready to hot pot!

 

 There is no shortage of potential ingredients to use for your next hot pot; see the list below for inspiration.

There is no shortage of potential ingredients to use for your next hot pot; see the list below for inspiration.

Suggested ingredients (pictured): 

Dumplings

Vermicelli noodles

Pork belly

Sliced beef tenderloin

Beef meatballs (seasoned with soy sauce, mushroom powder, salt)

Shrimp

Scallops

Fishcake

Chinese yam, thinly sliced

Japanese pumpkin, thinly sliced

Beech mushrooms

Wood ear mushrooms

Broccoli, broken into florets

Pea shoots

Firm tofu, in thick slices

Bean curd skin

Here's to Life!: Georgia's Tradition of Toasts Is an Art Worth Practicing

By Susan Able, Photography by Jennifer Chase

 Supra means “feast” in Georgian, but that usage came from the name of traditional Georgian tablecloths, also called “supras” and pictured here. Used for over 300 years, the colorful cloths with graphic patterns are an important part of Georgian tradition and were recognized by UNESCO as a “material monument” in 2017.

Supra means “feast” in Georgian, but that usage came from the name of traditional Georgian tablecloths, also called “supras” and pictured here. Used for over 300 years, the colorful cloths with graphic patterns are an important part of Georgian tradition and were recognized by UNESCO as a “material monument” in 2017.

It’s funny where passion can take you. Consider Jonathan and Laura Nelms: an attorney and environmental scientist who lived in Russia, fell in love with Georgian culture and cuisine and now are the restaurateurs behind Supra, Washington’s first Georgian restaurant.

If you were connecting dots in the chain of events that led to a Georgian restaurant, the first dot would appear in 1989, where Florida high school student Jonathan Nelms meets a Georgian exchange student in his Russian class. The next year Jonathan became one of the first 50 Americans to be a high school exchange student in the Soviet Union, an experience that sparks his enduring interest in this part of the world.

Jonathan, fluent in Russian, builds a legal career with a Washington-based law firm and handles their business in the former Soviet Union, frequently traveling to Russia for business and then living in Moscow for three years with his wife, Laura, and their daughters. In Moscow, they enjoy eating out at Georgian restaurants and start traveling to Georgia on vacations.

 Lobio kotanshi, or red beans stewed with traditional spices, is served with pickled red cabbage and cornbread mchadi.

Lobio kotanshi, or red beans stewed with traditional spices, is served with pickled red cabbage and cornbread mchadi.

“During our time in Moscow, we went to Georgia as often as we could, exploring different parts of the country. It is about the size of West Virginia, and takes about eight hours to cross the county. It was such a contrast from Moscow daily life. The country is so beautiful and the people are so warm. I feel like unique is an overused word for a culture, but that it what it is, unique, it is like no place else I’ve ever been,” Jonathan says.

“Hospitality there is like a religion; they take hosting guests incredibly seriously. Visiting the Georgian wine regions was like being parachuted into Napa Valley 50 years ago. It is rustic and funky and relaxed, with wine dinners that go long into the night. The Georgian people cherish and honor their thousands of years of traditions and rootedness. And I loved that, having grown up in Florida where no one has roots.”

More dots connect. After coming back the States, Jonathan and Laura decided to get serious about bringing Georgian culture to DC, and started planning a restaurant and with Supra opening last fall. And now, Jonathan has left his career as an attorney to be at Supra full time. Laura says, “It’s been exciting. I will say it was definitely Jonathan’s brainchild. Sure, I thought it would be cool—but he followed it through and I knew he would make it a success. I was an environmental scientist; my only restaurant experience was as a waitress when I was young. So, I technically have more restaurant experience than Jonathan.”

 Bostneuli tolma, or grape leaves stuffed with rice, vegetables, and yogurt, make for an excellent opening dish.

Bostneuli tolma, or grape leaves stuffed with rice, vegetables, and yogurt, make for an excellent opening dish.

She laughs and continues, “You can’t underestimate what a huge career change it has been for both of us, but truly it’s been great. Raising two young girls, 6 and 9 years old, is a balancing act with a restaurant to run, but they share our love of Georgian culture.”

The restaurant’s name, supra, originally described traditional Georgian tablecloths, but now has also come to mean feast. Authentic touches are everywhere in the decor, and the local Georgian community has given Supra a very warm reception; the embassy staff are frequent visitors for lunch and dinner. It helps that one of the top chefs from Georgia, Malkhaz Maisashvili, was brought on as executive chef. It is a wonderful place to dive into a culture that you may not know much about: Traditional Georgian dishes abound, including favorites kupati (pork and beef sausages with fried pickles) and many variations on the famous Georgian baked khachapuri. Jonathan’s favorite is pkhlovani, a khachapuri with spinach and cheese. He also recommends cold yogurt soup with radishes and cucumbers and or trying roasted meat with fruit sauces, a Georgian style of preparation.

 Ajaruli, the most popular style of khachapuri served at Supra, features bubbling cheeses and a fried egg.

Ajaruli, the most popular style of khachapuri served at Supra, features bubbling cheeses and a fried egg.

And then there is the wine. Supra’s wine list is one of the best showcases for Georgian wine in the U.S. It doesn’t hurt that the top importer of Georgian wines is here in Washington, DC: Georgian Wine House. For wine geeks, Georgian wine has long been on the radar. The country is known for still producing wine in ancient way using qvevri, large clay jugs. Even though about only 3% of Georgian wine is produced in this traditional way that goes back 8,000 years, the country makes wines that are considered very fine. Jonathan loves seeing the wine industry grow and mature in Georgia and enjoys providing a home for small vintners on his wine list. He tells me about helping make wine at a family workshop in Akura in 2015, and now he has their wine, Blui’s Wine, at their restaurant.

Dots connected.

Supra, 1205 11th Street NW, Washington, DC (supradc.com)

 Georgian wine is famous for its traditional method of preparation, using qvevri, or large clay jugs.

Georgian wine is famous for its traditional method of preparation, using qvevri, or large clay jugs.

 

Georgian Wine & Toasting

“You can’t overstate the importance of wine in Georgian culture,” Noel Brockett of DC’s Georgian Wine House tells me. “It’s what every Georgian wants to be known for in the world. And there is a good reason for it. Georgia is recognized as the birthplace of wine, with 8,000 years of history in winemaking. The country has over 500 varietals of vinifera grapes. It has all the microclimates of the U.S.—the ocean, the mountains, the desert. The Black Sea with its humid and tropical air, the central Likhi mountain range and the very arid eastern region.”

Brockett is here to talk about the art of Georgian toasting and Georgian wine. In the Republic of Georgia, there is no time busier for toasting than the holidays. Georgia religion is Georgian Orthodox, and feasting happens constantly from December 25 to January 14, when people celebrate Georgian Christmas, the New Year and the old calendar New Year by gathering with friends and family.

No Georgian feast, or supra, is complete without a toastmaster, or tamada. The tamada’s role is to give unity to a feast by leading a series of toasts, always with wine. A tamada is almost always a man, usually an extroverted individual, a quick thinker with quick wit. They learn their role through practice and study. The tamada gives each supra structure—after always starting with three scripted toasts (the first is always to God), the tamada then goes on to full-on speeches. The tamada also opens topics and guides the conversation; a typical toast is on friendship. Then a discussion ensues on that topic by the guests and the tamada pays attention, closing the discussion and opening another one with expert flair.

A wedding may have 30 to 40 toasts; a family meal might have six to eight. By design, a typical Georgian feast brings together people who know each other and those who don’t, and it is also common to have guests come and go from the table, going from one supra to another supra.

 Noel Brockett of Georgian Wine House in Washington, D.C.

Noel Brockett of Georgian Wine House in Washington, D.C.

Noel Brockett knows the art of toasting intimately. He is married to a woman from Georgia and is a partner in Georgian Wine House with Dr. Mamuka Tsereteli, a lecturer at Johns Hopkins and president of the America Georgia Business Council, who founded the business with a group of friends who saw the possibilities of importing and promoting Georgian wine in the U.S. With the political changes in 2004, Georgian wine was no longer embargoed by Russia.

Brockett sees the opening of Supra as a great chance to educate people on Georgian wine culture; there are around 50 wines on the list at a time. Orange wine or amber wine production is the oldest way to preserve wine or make white wines. Amber wines from Georgia have become very popular. Sebastian Zutant of Primrose and Red Hen was an early adopter, and they are on the menu at Compass Rose and Maydan and, of course, at Supra.

How does one approach learning and tasting your way through a wine region that you do not know? Brockett suggests starting with a Telanvi Valley Wine Saperavi, which for a $10 price point will give you a young, fresh, red, medium-bodied, good everyday wine. For an amber wines, Orgo Dila-o Saperavi (which means morning in Georgia and is also a popular song), usually retails for about $15 a bottle. You can drink it with everything because, he explains, “After all it is a white wine made like a red, with tannins and dryness.”

“What’s really great is that because the vineyards are so small, they are very personal with so many stories and history. Importing wine has given a real tangible economic impact to Georgian agriculture. Small growers are reinvesting in expanding their operations. It’s also a place that is rediscovering itself. People are re-learning lost techniques and knowledge of the past.”

georgianwinehouse.com