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December 21, 2014
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community living

‘500 Sandwiches’ Free recipes for simple, outside-the-box foods

Kristofer Prepelica, holding a Korean radish called “Cheong Du,” develops his own recipes and posts them for free on blog called 500 Sandwiches.
TRR photos by Linda Drollinger

By Linda Drollinger

HORTONVILLE, NY — It started as a small labor of love. Kristofer Prepelica (prep-uh-LEET-sah) wanted to give his brother a one-of-kind birthday gift, the kind that keeps on giving. So he decided to produce a binder of vintage, classic, home-style cooking recipes. The resulting collection of recipes came mostly from recipe booklets published in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

In the kitchen of the beautifully restored Hortonville farmhouse he’s shared with his partner Sean and their pooch Rocco for the past 18 months, Prepelica showed me a binder similar to the one he gave his brother. He commented, “These booklets conjure nostalgia for what home cooking meant to the nuclear family of the mid-20th century.” Prepelica defines ethnic and period cuisine as a reflection of the cultures from which they derive.

As we toured the “pest-proof” vegetable garden (with a foot-deep, five-foot high fencing topped with Tibetan prayer flags), which the couple cultivates in the backyard of the farmhouse, he told me that the impetus for his “500 Sandwiches” blog (visit online at 500sandwiches.com/recipe-index) came from friends who had confided to him that they wanted to cook meals from scratch but were intimidated by coffee table cookbooks with recipes containing lots of exotic ingredients and preparation instructions that run on for pages. The blog’s misleading name is taken from the title of one of the booklets in his brother’s birthday gift binder. Recipes are not confined to sandwiches, but run the gamut from cocktails and appetizers to entrees and desserts, with special sections devoted to snacks as well as breads and pastas.

Prepelica’s idea was to make available on his blog ethnic and specialty food recipes as basic as the ones found in old-fashioned cookbooks. For the most part, his recipes would contain commonplace ingredients that could be substituted for more exotic ingredients found only in remote corners of the world. And preparation instructions would be kept to a minimum, usually no more than two to three paragraphs of everyday language. Each recipe would also include some fabulous contemporary food photography, a brief history of the dish and a short backstory of the region that produced it.

It’s hard to argue with Prepelica’s excellent credentials for the project. His background is, literally, in food production. A child prodigy who completed a Ph.D. while still in his teens, Prepelica is currently an oncology researcher at Memorial Sloan Kettering in New York City, but his academic training is in agronomy. The segue into medical research began while he was teaching local populations in Cuba, Mexico and Central America how to responsibly transform tropical rainforests into farmland capable of producing sustainable crops.

But Prepelica’s passion for ethnic cooking began at home. Of Czechoslovakian descent, his mother taught him about Slavic food and his Korean stepmother introduced him to Oriental food. He took it from there, recognizing no boundaries in his quest to find, savor, decode and reproduce recipes from every geographic region and ethnic group in the world, often adding his own special twist to classic ethnic dishes. Whenever possible, his ingredients are obtained from local farmers’ markets (the Callicoon Farmer’s Market, in particular) and his own vegetable garden, although he does occasionally resort to specialty markets and even Internet suppliers. Each recipe is then prepared in the test kitchen at the farmhouse prior to publication online.

A homemade gift was pressed into my hand as I left the farmhouse—peach jam with Earl Grey tea. As I type these words, a shriek comes from the kitchen of my mother’s house. I race to see if she’s cut or burned herself. She’s holding a slice of toast covered with the jam. She says, “This jam is delicious, indescribably delicious.”