Sqirl It Away
By Rachel Levin
Sqirl restaurant, located at the edge of Los Angeles’s funky Silver Lake neighborhood, is a Clean Plates pick for good reason. The five-year-old breakfast and lunch joint showcases seasonal produce, and clean meats and dairy sourced from small, family-owned California farms, along with the inventive, globally inspired cooking of chef Jessica Koslow. Now, with the publication of her cookbook Everything I Want to Eat: Sqirl and the New California Cooking, you can get a taste of Koslow’s trendsetting food no matter where you are in the country (or—if you’re in Los Angeles—without braving Sqirl’s notoriously long lines).
Sqirl started as a jam company, and finding a vehicle for serving that jam was Koslow’s initial impetus for opening the cafe. Thick slices of brioche toast slathered with elegant jams like raspberry-cardamom and strawberry rose-geranium put Sqirl on the map. In the book, Koslow reveals her secrets for not only making dynamite seasonal fruit conserves—try the spiced Gravenstein apple butter for a lip-smacking fall treat—but also for composing perfect toasts, topped with everything from fluffy ricotta to homemade nut butters to seared squid.
But Koslow developed Sqirl’s menu in obsessively health-conscious Los Angeles, after all—meaning there’s a whole lot more here than big slabs of bread. You’ll find recipes for Sqirl’s famed (and gluten-free) morning rice dishes, including brown rice porridge with vanilla bean and hazelnuts, and the out-of-this-world sorrel pesto rice bowl with lacto-fermented hot sauce, preserved Meyer lemon, feta and poached egg.
You’re probably catching on that this is comfort food with a fine-dining aesthetic, characterized by layered textures and tastes. It also exudes a kind of off-the-cuff healthiness that’s customizable for almost any dietary preference. Though the chapters on meat and fish are ambitious—with recipes for crafty stuff like home-cured bacon, rabbit ballotine and beet-cured salmon—most of the dishes in the book (and served at the restaurant) are vegetarian.
You definitely won’t miss the meat in satisfying veggie-driven dishes like socca cakes—chickpea pancakes infused with grated zucchini, carrot or winter squash—and “kabbouleh”—a riff on tabbouleh that swaps crispy brown rice for bulgur and shredded kale for parsley. The roasted pears and pomegranate seeds in this recipe for Brussels Sprouts Two Ways (shaved raw and pan-roasted) make it a pitch-perfect autumn dish—one that’s as colorful as the cast of Sqirl cafe regulars pictured throughout the book.
Brussels Sprouts Two Ways: Shaved Raw and Pan-Roasted with Roasted Pears
2 to 3 Warren or Red d'Anjou pears (1 pound 5 ounces total)
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons champagne vinegar or white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon honey
Fine sea salt
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 pounds 10 ounces Brussels sprouts, trimmed
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
¾ cup pomegranate arils (from ½ medium fruit)
¹⁄3 cup toasted chopped hazelnuts
¼ cup lightly packed fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, chopped, plus more for garnish
Cut the pears lengthwise into quarters, scoop out the cores, and trim off the stems.
Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a wide pan over medium-high heat. Add 1 pear (4 quarters), cut-sides down, to the pan and cook until lightly caramelized, about 2 minutes. Rotate and caramelize the other cut sides for another 1 to 2 minutes, until tender but not mushy.
Transfer to the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Add the champagne vinegar, honey, and ½ teaspoon salt. Blend until completely pureed. Then, with the motor running, slowly drizzle in the oil and continue blending until the dressing is emulsified.
Cut 1 pound of the Brussels sprouts in half. Doing so will cause some of the outermost leaves to fall off. Keep the loose leaves in a little pile on your cutting board.
Return the pan to the stove and heat over medium-high heat for 2 minutes. Add the remaining 4 tablespoons butter. As soon as the foam subsides, add the cut Brussels to the pan, arranging each one cut-side down. (It will ensure that the sprouts cook evenly.) Cook, without stirring the sprouts, for 2 to 3 minutes. Flip, season evenly with ½ teaspoon salt, and cook the rounded sides for another 2 minutes.
Add the reserved outer leaves and the sherry vinegar, and shake the pan to distribute. Cook for 10 more seconds, just to wilt the leaves, then transfer to a plate.
Shave the remaining raw Brussels sprouts thinly on a mandoline. (Fingers, be careful!) This takes forever with a knife, but a food processor fitted with a slicing/shredding blade would also work. Toss the shaved sprouts into a large bowl. Add the pomegranate seeds, hazelnuts, parsley, about three-quarters of the dressing, and ½ teaspoon salt. Toss to coat everything well. Taste, adding a bit more salt or dressing, if you want. Thinly slice the remaining pear quarters. Serve the salad with the pan-roasted Brussels and the sliced pears tucked in. Finish with a big squeeze of lemon juice, and a handful of parsley on top.