Friday, May 9, 2014

The Lee Brothers know how to do brunch

Making the rounds of the events in New York last weekend for the annual James Beard Foundation Awards, I knew I had to make room on my schedule for this invitation:

A Sunday taco brunch given by Matt and Ted Lee (aka The Lee Brothers) at the Brooklyn warehouse/studio/living space of Ted and his wife, sculptor E.V. Day.

The real agenda was the announcement that they're bringing the Cookbook Boot Camps they started in Charleston to New York. These are two-day retreats for chefs who want to write cookbooks but don't know where to start. They have two coming up, June 15-17 for chefs and June 18-21 for writers and others. For details and registration on that, go here.

But the other reason to be there was to relax at a smaller Sunday afternoon gathering in the middle of awards-weekend cacaphony and enjoy a quiet brunch. Even if you're not interested in writing a cookbook, you can always use advice on how to do that, so let me say: Taco brunch. Perfect.

They slow-cooked a pork shoulder using just the juice from a can of pickled jalepenos as the liquid, shredded it, and put it on the table with slow cookers of black beans and cilantro rice, a fresh and lively salad of paper-thin slices of cucumbers and radishes, bowls of red and green salsas and crumbled fresh cheese, and stacks of corn tortillas warmed on a griddle on the stove. Throw in some micheladas (they had the spicy tomato sauce already mixed in glasses, ready to top with ice and beer as people walked in) and a pitcher of sangria and you're ready to go.

For vegetarians, they had a pot of hominy and squash stew that made a good taco filling. Recipe? Why sure - they adapted it from their first book, "The Lee Brothers Southern Cooking."

Quick Squash and Hominy Stew

The original starts with 1/4 pound of bacon and a little olive oil. You could put that back, or go this way for a vegetarian version.

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 yellow onion, peeled and chopped
3 cups hominy (see note), cooked or canned, drained
1 cup hominy and bean cooking liquid, or water
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 cup cooked beans, preferably pinto, drained, cooking liquid saved
1 pound zucchini or other summer squash, cut into bite-size pieces
Lemon (optional)
2 to 3 ounces crumbled queso fresco or feta
Chopped cilantro
Corn tortillas (or serve it as a stew)

PLACE the olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion and saute until soft and transluscent, about 5 minutes. Add the hominy and saute 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the cup of liquid or water and the pepper and bring to a simmer. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer 5 minutes.

ADD the beans and squash, cover again and simmer until the squash is almost cooked through, 5 to 7 minutes. Uncover and simmer several minutes longer until the sauce reduces a bit and the squash is cooked through. Taste and adjust salt and pepper. Add a squeeze of lemon juice.

SERVE topped with crumbled cheese and cilantro and with warmed tortillas if desired.

YIELD: 4 servings, can easily be doubled or tripled if you're filling your space with a bunch of friends.