Lacto-fermentation: Ginger Carrot Sticks

As I often do, I think about how people used to preserve the harvest before electricity. Drying, curing and fermenting are a few ways. While I’m interesting in all of the old fashioned ways of preserving, I have done the most experimenting with fermenting, lacto-fermentation to be exact.

Lacto-fermentation occurs when the starches and sugars in vegetables and fruit are converted to lactic acid by friendly bacteria, called lactobacilli. Lactic acid is a naturally occurring preservative. The science of it all may be complex, but the practice of it is super easy. Basically, all you need to do is provide the right environment for the process to happen and then it does it all by itself.

Lacto-fermented foods are rich in probiotics. You may already know about probiotic rich foods like yogurt. Probiotics are often called “friendly bacteria” or “good bacteria.” The Mayo Clinic’s website states that while more research is needed, there’s encouraging evidence that probiotics may help treat diarrhea, prevent infections, treat eczema, and reduce the severity of colds and flu.

While many ways of processing drops the food’s nutritional value, lacto-fermentation actually boosts it. In addition to helping digestion, fermentation increased the vitamin & mineral content of the food.

In “Nourishing Traditions”, Sally Fallon states that, “The proliferation of lactobacilli in fermented vegetables enhances their digestibility and increases vitamin levels. These beneficial organisms produce numerous helpful enzymes as well as antibiotic and anticarcinogenic substances. Their main by-product, lactic acid, not only keeps vegetables and fruits in a state of perfect preservation but also promotes the growth of healthy flora throughout the intestine.”

The great part about lacto-fermentation is that it is super easy and requires little equipment other than wide-mouth mason jars. Sure you can splurge on a $145 Harsch Gairtopf Fermenting Crock Pot (yes, this is a gift hint for anyone looking to spoil me with an expensive kitchen gadget) but I’ve done just fine with mason jars.

When picking out vegetables, go for organic or naturally grown, without pesticide. Pesticide residue can mess the whole thing up! It’s yet another on a long list of reasons to avoid chemicals on your food.

If you really want to get into fermenting, “Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods” by Sandor Ellix Katz is an excellent resource.

Recently I went a little crazy in the kitchen (nothing unusual). I naturally fermented carrots, beets, sauerkraut and kimchi. I don’t think I’m ready to stop. I’m going to have another fermenting session after my trip to the farmers market Saturday. So little time, so much to ferment!

Whey
Whey is often used to jump start the fermentation process. If you are a cheese maker, than you have plenty already. If you aren’t, It is super easy to make with yogurt.

Ingredients
8oz plain whole milk yogurt with live cultures (Around here RonnyBrook is a good choice and easy to find)

Method

  • Line a strainer with a double layer of cheesecloth.
  • Set over a bowl and pour in yogurt into strainer.
  • The liquid collected is whey. You’ll get about 2-3 tablespoons from each 8oz yogurt. The left over yogurt will be nice and thick.

Lacto-Fermented Ginger Carrot Sticks
You can whip this up in a flash. I’m guessing it will take you less than 10 minutes; if you are quick with a knife, maybe less than five.

This is the easiest way to ease into lacto-fermentation. The tasty and tangy carrots make an easy and healthy snack. I always try to keep a jar on hand.

Ingredients
3-5 medium carrots, peeled
1 tablespoon whey (homemade if you don’t have any, use extra salt; do not use commercial whey or dried whey)
2 teaspoons sea salt
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, grated
Filtered water, enough to cover the carrots

Method

  • Cut carrots into sticks. Size them so that they fit in a pint size jar with about an inch of headspace at the top. Place the carrot sticks into the jar. Make sure they fit snuggly. They should be wedged in tightly enough so that none float when the water is added.
  • Add the rest of the ingredients and enough water to cover the carrots. Leave about an inch of space at the top of the jar.
  • Put the lid on tightly and keep it at room temperature (72 degrees) for about three days. If it is cold, you may need to leave it out longer. You can taste to tell if they are done. If they aren’t as sour as you would like them, leave them out a little longer. The fermented carrots will last in your fridge for several months and will get better with age.

 

Fried Green Tomatoes with Shrimp Remoulade

There is only one thing that makes the first fall frost tolerable in my book and that is green tomatoes. In the fall I keep an eye on the weather. I hope for an extended season so we can get a few more red tomatoes from our garden. The tomatoes that we were getting in late September weren’t as delicious as the summer ones (I’m guessing that they don’t like the cool nights), but they were still garden-fresh tomatoes and I was happy to have them.

With a frost forecasted, my husband and I picked all of the green tomatoes. I have heard that some people don’t wait until the frost to pick green tomatoes. They pick them mid-season when they have too many tomatoes crowding each other. So far, we haven’t had that problem. We picked a bagful of small green pear tomatoes. I still haven’t decided what to do with them, though I’ve been eying green tomato relish recipes. We also snagged a few that were the perfect size for frying.

There are few foods that say “Southern” as much as fried green tomatoes. Turns out there’s a bit of a debate as to where fried green tomatoes originated. Food historian, Robert F. Moss, asserts that they were originally a Northern dish. Combing through cookbooks and newspaper articles, the first mention that he could find was in an 1873 Dayton, Ohio Presbyterian Cookbook. He also found recipes in several early 20th century Jewish cookbooks.

Mosses blames the 1992 movie “Fried Green Tomatoes” for the misplaced notion that this dish is Southern in origin. A quick trip around the blogosphere and you’ll see that everyone claims them, lots of people vehemently so. I enjoyed reading all of the accounts of people remembering their grandparents’ stories of eating fried green tomatoes. People traced their families fried green tomato lineage. I love when people get all up in arms over food origins.

I don’t remember the first time that I had them but I do remember the first time I really appreciated them. It was several years ago in New Orleans at Liuzza’s. As with many things, they do fried green tomatoes differently in New Orleans. The green tomatoes are lightly dusted with cornmeal, fried and topped with a tangy shrimp roumalade. Delicious. My husband does an excellent version and was kind enough to share his recipe.

Fried Green Tomatoes with Shrimp Remoulade
Use the largest, firmest green tomatoes you can find.

Ingredients

1 cup buttermilk
1 egg
A few dashes of hot sauce
Vegetable oil, enough to add about an inch in the bottom of your frying pan (we use coconut oil)
12 slices of green tomato, approximately 1/2-inch thick (3-4 tomatoes should do it)
1 cup cornstarch
1 cup cornmeal, lightly seasoned with Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning (or salt, black pepper and a dash of cayenne)
One pound small to medium shrimp, cooked, peeled and chilled (see below)

1 cup chilled remoulade sauce (see below)
Mixed greens

Method:

  • In a medium bowl, whisk together buttermilk, egg and hot sauce.
  • Heat oil in a large frying pan over moderate heat.
  • Lightly salt and peeper each tomato slice.
  • Dip each tomato slice first in cornstarch, then in the egg mixture, then coat with cornmeal. Be sure to coat both sides with all three dips. Place tomato slices in the pan with heated oil in a single layer. Do not crowd. Cook over moderate heat until golden brown on bottom. Turn and brown on other side. (Total cooking time is 3 to 4 minutes.) Exterior should be golden brown.
  • Place cooked tomatoes on a plate lined with paper towels.
  • Toss cooked shrimp with the remoulade.
  • On individual serving plates, place a handful of mixed green. Top with two slices of fried tomato and top with shrimp remoulade.

Makes 6 servings (as appetizer)

Remoulade Recipe

Ingredients
2 cups chopped celery
1 garlic clove
1/4 cup chopped scallions
2 tablespoons fresh parsley
2 tablespoons mustard
2 tablespoons white vinegar
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon horseradish, grated
1/2 cup ketchup

Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasonings to taste (or salt, black pepper and a dash of cayenne)

Method:

Place all ingredients in food processor and pulse until mixed. Cover and refrigerate until chilled.

Boiled Shrimp

Ingredients
4 tablespoons Old Bay seasoning
1 lemon, quartered
36 small-medium shrimp (about 1 pound)

Method:

  • Fill a pot with 4 quarts of water, add Old Bay seasoning and lemon quarters. Bring to a boil; add shrimp and cook 1 to 2 minutes. Drain and let cool. Once cool enough to handle, peel and devein. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Grilled Maple Salmon on a Cedar Plank

SalmonI’ve always found grilling fish to be a bit challenging. Lots of things can go wrong. Pick a fish that’s not firm enough and you are likely to lose it through the grates. If you don’t oil the grates enough, the fish sticks, falls apart and then slips into the flames. I seem to end up with more fish incinerating on the coals than on my plate.

There is always the old tinfoil stand by, but I don’t see the point. True, it is easy and fool proof, but if I’m going to cook in foil, I’ll opt for the convenience of my oven.

I was very happy when my sister-in-law, Tori, gave me a great way to grill fish.

Tori is an avid Facebook user. She often posts photos of their cute twin girls, passes on the latest funny videos and every now and then to my great pleasure, she throws in a recipe.

This from Tori:

Making dinner for friends involved a quick trip to Home Depot for some untreated cedar fence slats, which I soaked then threw on the grill to make some brown sugar cedar smoked salmon. Why pay $20+ at Williams-Sonoma when you can be resourceful and buy a $1.47 piece of lumber?

Then after my request for the recipe:

Easy peasey: soak the slats for about two hours, put them on the hot grill until they smoke, turn them over then immediately put on some salmon (skin side down) on which you’ve put some dijon mustard and heavily coated with brown sugar. Close the lid, turn down the heat and, voila! in 15 minutes you have a tasty dinner.

If you are shopping at the hardware store for the cedar planks, be sure to get untreated cedar slats. Ask to make sure. Nobody wants to cook chemicals into their salmon. If you want kitchen-grade cedar, I’ve seen the planks everywhere from fancy kitchen stores to Walmart. Yes, there now are cedar cooking planks for the masses.

We happened to have a cedar plank in the junk drawer in our kitchen. I picked it up at a food show a couple years ago but never used it. After making this dish, I have no idea why I haven’t.

The cedar gave the salmon a smoky, subtle flavor. The smoky cedar aroma was also nice to have wafting though our house.

If you have already printed out your handy pocket guide to sustainable seafood, then skip the next two paragraphs. If not, read on.

I know I’ve said it before but I’m a big fan of the pocket guide to seafood put out by the Monterey Bay Aquarium. I particularly like the “Super Green” list of seafood that is both healthy for you and caught or farmed in environmentally friendly ways. To make the list, fish must have low levels of contaminants, a minimum of 250 milligrams omega-3 fatty acids and be well-managed and caught or farmed in environmentally sustainable ways.

Sadly, there aren’t a lot of choices on this list. According to the guide, as of May 2010, the Best of the Best are Albacore Tuna (troll- or pole-caught, from the U.S. or British Columbia), Freshwater Coho Salmon (farmed in tank systems, from the U.S.), Mussels (farmed), Oysters (farmed), Pacific Sardines (wild-caught), Rainbow Trout (farmed), Salmon (wild-caught, from Alaska).

Luckily, the delicious sounding recipe from my sister-in-law called for salmon. She didn’t specify, but of course, I like to seek out Alaskan wild-caught salmon. It’s not hard to find, I’ve seen it at several local grocery stores.

I altered Tori’s recipe by using maple syrup rather than brown sugar. Brown sugar is something I only have around if I’m baking. Maple syrup is something I make a point to keep stocked.

I’m not going to return our cedar plank to the junk drawer just yet. We still have weeks of grill time and I have a few more things to try. Sea scallops are up next!


Grilled Maple Salmon on a Cedar Plank

Ingredients
1 cedar plank (large enough to fit the fillets)
2 medium-sized salmon fillets
1 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 1/2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Method

  • Soak the cedar plank in water for a couple of hours.
  • Mix, mustard, maple syrup and lemon juice and brush mixture on the top of the salmon (not the skin side). Generously salt and pepper the fillets and set aside.
  • Heat the grill to medium-high heat. Place the plank on the hot grill. Leave it until it starts to smoke. Turn the plank over and place the fish on top, skin side down. Brush again with mustard/maple syrup mixture.
  • Cover the grill, turn the heat down to medium and cook for about 10-15 minutes. I like my salmon medium rare, so I pull it off after 10 minutes. Keep it on the grill if you want it cooked more. Keep in mind, that it will continue to cook on the hot plank.

Ps. If the edges of the plank start to catch fire, mist with water.

Serves 2

Turning Mad Apples into Baba Ganoush

babaI like eggplant. I like the taste and look of them. They come in all kinds of cartoon-like balloon shapes and sizes. They can be purple, elegantly striped or creamy white.

Historically, eggplants and other nightshade vegetables, have suffered from bad press.  Sometimes called “mala insana” or “mad apple,” it was thought that eggplants caused many ailments including fever, epilepsy and insanity. It’s no wonder that Northern Europeans mainly used them ornamentally until the 1600s.

The PR for eggplants in Spain was certainly more favorable. Prizing eggplants for aphrodisiac qualities, the Spaniards dubbed them, “Berengenas” or “The Apple of Love.” It’s all in the branding.

India, Pakistan, the Middle East and China have been enjoying eggplant forever or there abouts.

The real nutritional winner in eggplant is a phytonutrient found in the skin called nasunin. Nasunin is a potent antioxidant and has antiangiogenic properties, which are purported to inhibit cancer growth.

Baba Ganoush
Next time I’m making a double batch of this Middle Eastern dish. My husband and I ate it in two days and I was sad to see the empty bowl. Luckily, it’s a breeze to make so I plan to pick up more eggplant at the farmers market this week. I may even triple the recipe and pop the extra (if there is any) in the freezer.  I’d pick baba ganoush over humus for a dip any day, but it is also delicious on roasted chicken or as a sandwich spread.

Tahini is a lightly roasted sesame paste. It’s usually found with other nut butters or in the international section of grocery stores.

Ingredients
2 large eggplants (about 1 1/2 pound)
1/2 cup tahini
2-3 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 1/4 teaspoons coarse salt
1/4 cup finely chopped parsley

Method

  • Preheat oven to 400º F.
  • Trim the stem of eggplant.
  • Prick eggplant with a fork in several places and place on a baking sheet. Bake the eggplant until it is soft and deflated, about 45 minutes.
  • Let the eggplant cool. Cut the eggplant in half lengthwise. You can scoop out the pulp, but I prefer to just put the whole shabang in the food processor. That way you get all the nutrients in the skin.
  • Add tahini, garlic, lemon juice and salt to food processor and process until smooth. You can also mash this with a potato masher
  • Stir in the parsley. Season with more salt, to taste.
  • Serve with homemade pita bread. Serves four to six.

Homemade Tortilla Chips

The first time I made homemade tortilla chips was out of necessity and laziness. I was too lazy to drive to the store and buy chips and needed them for the fresh bowl of guacamole I had just made. I know it was very poor planning to make guac and not have tortilla chips. I have no defense there.

I use to fry them, which works fine, but takes both a lot of time and a lot of oil. Now I bake them.

I love making my own tortilla chips for several reasons. First, I’ve never seen commercially available tortilla chips made with just olive oil (I’m sure they exist, I’ve just never found them). I’m not a fan of soy or canola oil, so I avoid them. Second, I always try to keep corn tortilla in my numberswiki.com

fridge, so the ingredients are on hand. Third, they are so doggone good!

Ingredients

8 corn tortillas
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt

Method

  • Heat oven to 375ºF
  • With a pastry brush or your hands, coat both sides of the tortillas with olive oil.
  • Stack the tortillas for easy cutting.
  • Cut the stack into eighths.
  • Separate the pieces and arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet and sprinkle with salt.
  • Bake the chips for about 8-12 minutes or until they are crisp and just beginning to brown slightly. Keep an eye on them and don’t let them burn!
  • Remove from oven and let cool 5 minutes. They should get crispier as they cool. If they still aren’t crisp enough, place them back in the oven. Again, keep an eye on them, since nobody wants burnt chips!
  • Serves four (or two if you eat as much as we do).

Salsa, the new sunscreen?

If you catch me smiling, it’s probably because I’m a little giddy thinking about tomatoes. Sure there are other things to be happy about in August, like corn, peaches and a cool dip in the creek, but fresh tomatoes are what I get excited about.

There are many reasons to love tomatoes: BLTs, panzanella, Caprese salad and gazpacho to name a few. Recently I’ve been hearing that eating tomatoes, especially cooked ones, can provide skin protection from the sun.

I have been interested in sunscreen ever since my high school science fair project. I tested the effectiveness of the sunscreen, based on the photosynthesis of isopropyl alcohol benzophenone (I didn’t make this up). I added alcohol and benzophenone to test tubes, sealed them, brushed them with sunscreen and set them under a sun lamp.

After a few hours, crystals formed. I then weighed the crystals. The more crystals, the more sunlight that got through and therefore the less effective the sunscreen was. I’m sure my 11th grade experiment may not have been completely accurate, but with the help from the art department who did an excellent job painting my beachscape backdrop, my project won first prize.

Sunday, I accidentally conducted another sunscreen test. My husband and I went to his company picnic. It was hot and sunny and due to an oversight, we didn’t have on a drop of sunscreen. However, we did drink a glass of tomato juice that morning. I can’t say exactly how long we were out in the sun, since I did try to stay in the shade, but I burn easily and the more than an hour of sunlight we certainly got would have normally turned my skin rather pink if not right out red.

No red, no pink, no tan, no nothing.

I came home and did a little research. Seems like everyone from USA Today to AccuWeather sourced a Universities of Newcastle and Manchester study more info

that showed eating tomato paste could help protect against sunburn.

Whenever I keep reading the same study cited over and over, I like to go to the source. PubMed (www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov) is the place to do this.

The study, titled “Tomato paste rich in lycopene protects against cutaneous photo damage in humans in vivo: a randomized controlled trial” was tiny, comprised of only 20 particpants. Over a 12-week period, one group ate 5 teaspoons of tomato paste a day and the control group did not. The people who ate the tomato paste were a third better protected against sunburn than the control group. According to the study, the conclusion was “Tomato paste containing lycopene provides protection against acute and potentially longer-term aspects of photo damage.”

Another study showed that using lycopene topically provides UV protection. I personally, would rather eat a tomato.

Raw and cooked tomatoes both contain the phytonutrient lycopene, but cooking seems to increase the amount of lycopene that can be absorbed by the body. Vitamin C decreases with cooking, so I like to include both cooked and raw tomatoes in my diet.

I wouldn’t take this study to mean that you can replace the sunscreen in your beach bag with a bottle of tomato juice, but it looks like eating tomatoes can boosts your skins own sun-protection.

My sun strategy: stay in the shade, wear a big hat, and eat plenty of tomatoes!

Fresh Homemade Salsa

No need to grab a jar of salsa this summer with all the fresh produce available. Throw in a ripe peach if you are feeling adventurous.

Ingredients

4 large tomatoes, chopped (I add a few yellow cherry tomatoes for color)
1-2 garlic cloves, minced
1 jalapeño or serrano peppers, stemmed, seeded and finely chopped
1/2 large onion, chopped (I like to use a sweet onion, but any will do)
2-3 tablespoons lime juice (about one lime)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Method

In a bowl, combine all ingredients. Let sit for about an hour for the flavors to meld.

Sesame Ginger Zucchini Salad

This is an easy no-cook summer salad.

Ingredients
2 cups zucchini, grated or cut into small match-stick sized pieces
1 tablespoon of toasted sesame oil
1/2-1 tablespoon of lemon juice
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon fresh grated ginger
1/4 cup sesame seeds, toasted
salt and pepper to taste

Method
-Lightly salt the grated or cut zucchini and let drain for about 20 minutes
-Mix all ingredients (yes, it is that simple).
Enjoy!

Kale Salad…yes it IS delicious!

Last year, I bought kale seedlings for our garden. The kale that I was familiar with had large, medium green leaves with ruffled edges. The kale I was growing had very narrow, dark green leaves. I thought maybe I had mixed up my seedlings.

My friend Ellen tipped me off to the fact that I was growing the trendy Lacinato kale, also known as Tuscan kale, dinosaur kale or cavolo nero (black kale, since the leaves are such a dark green they are almost black). It’s slightly sweeter than curly leafed kale and has a more delicate flavor. It’s now my favorite type of kale.

I rarely see Lacinato at the grocery store, but often see it at farmers’ markets, so keep an eye out for it.

No question about it, kale is a nutritional superstar. One cup of cooked kale has almost 200 percent of your recommended daily allowance of vitamin A 88 percent of your vitamin C and is off the charts with vitamin K (1,327.62 percent to be exact). Vitamin K is needed for blood clotting and building bones.

Kale also contains many phytonutrients, a fancy word for a class of nutrients, other than vitamins, that is obtained from eating plants. Carotenoids, flavonoids, sulfides and a bunch of other things of which I’ve never heard (saponins for one) are phytonutrients. They are much touted for their health benefits and kale contains a boatload of them. Its organosulfur compounds are of particular note, as they are purported to lessen the occurrence of a variety of cancers.

The spring and the fall are the best times to get kale. Its leaves are a little sweeter in cooler weather. Kale is ninth on the Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen,” which is a list of the most pesticide contaminated fruits and vegetables. So talk to your farmer about his/her pesticide practices or pick up an organic bunch.

Jan’s Kale Salad
This is adapted from my friend Jan’s recipe. And she got it from a friend. No telling where the friend got it, but I’m guessing each person adjusted it a bit.

Ingredients
1 small bunch of kale (lacinato preferred)
1 cup bread crumbs (to make your own, crumble a piece of very dry toast)
1/4 cup sliced almonds (Jan uses pine nuts)
1/4 chopped dried figs
1/2 cup or more crumbled feta cheese

Dressing:
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons shallot, minced
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon honey
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper

Method

  • Wash kale and discard stems. (Toss them in your compost!)
  • Cut the kale into thin ribbons (chiffonade). Stack the leaves, roll them into a long tube, then slice into thin strips. If this sounds too fussy for you, just chop it.
  • For the dressing, whisk together the olive oil, shallots, lemon juice, honey, salt and pepper in a small bowl.
  • In a large bowl, toss kale with dressing to coat. Add the feta, figs, bread crumbs and almonds and toss. Salt and pepper to taste.

Shakshuka and Bell’s

Shakshuka at Bell'sWhen we moved to Catskill, NY, we had only been to the town three times. We didn’t research the area much. As foodies, you would have thought that we would have done our due diligence in the food department, but we didn’t. We were charmed by the town and in love with the house and that was enough for us.

As we got to know the area, we felt like we lucked out food-wise. The grocery store was much better than the one in our old Brooklyn neighborhood, there was a weekend farmers market and we could walk to Bell’s Café.

Bell’s Israeli inspired menu focuses on locally sourced ingredients. Their beef and poultry are sustainable, grass fed, antibiotic and hormone-free. That’s right up my ally, so I am happy it’s just a few blocks away from us.

The first time we went to Bell’s we decided to stop in for a quick bite before we went to the movies next door at the Community Theater. We learned that Bell’s isn’t the place to go for a quick bite. Once we got our dinner, we quickly forgot about the movie and focused on the delicious food. With dishes like duck tacos with a chipotle sofrito, mussels in a spicy basil and coconut broth, Moroccan spicy fish and brie & crispy shallot burgers, you want to savor it and you definitely want to stay for dessert!

Chefs Yael Manor-McMorrow and Keith McMorrow were nice enough to invite me into Bell’s kitchen and teach me how to make shakshuka.

Shakshuka is a classic Israeli dish of eggs poached in a spicy tomato sauce. It’s traditionally eaten for lunch or dinner. Yael told me that in Israel, hummus is more common for breakfast than eggs. Personally, I’d eat this delicious dish any time of the day.

Yael’s French Culinary school training started to show as soon as we stepped into the kitchen. She doesn’t measure ingredients, is quick with a knife and cleans as she goes. When I asked her what insider culinary graduate info she could pass on to the average cook, she paused, lifted her knife and said, “Start with a good knife.”

She also recommended a well-stocked pantry. She always stocks brown rice, coconut milk and curry paste. For produce, Yael buys what is fresh and in season, which ensures she is getting the best quality and the best price.

“Cook less and use the ingredients more,” she said. Fresh food does the work for you and is traditionally how people cook in Israel.

To accompany our shakshuka, Yael quickly made a chopped salad. In Israel, every meal, including breakfast is served with some type of fresh salad. For ours she used fresh grilled corn cut off the cob, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, fresh mint, basil, and dressed it lightly will lemon juice and a little olive oil. It tasted just like summertime and was the perfect cooling counterpart to the spicy shakshuka. Yum!

Shakshuka

This recipe is my interpretation of Yael’s version. I was taking notes but if it doesn’t taste as good as hers, you’ll know whom to blame.

Take this basic recipe and run with it. Add any vegetable or herb that you have on hand. Summer suggestions: add bell peppers and zucchini.

Note: Harissa is a mixture of hot peppers, coriander, red chili powder, caraway, and other spices. It can be found as a paste or powder. Look in the ethic section of your grocery store. It’s worth seeking out.

Ingredients
1 tablespoon olive oil
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
5-6 fresh large tomatoes, quartered, the juicier the better
2 tablespoons harissa (More or less depending on the amount of spice you want.)
1-2 teaspoon sea salt (more to taste)
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley (or other fresh herbs, divided)
4 large eggs

  • In a medium-sized frying pan heat oil, garlic and tomatoes over medium heat. Stir in harissa and salt. Continue to heat until tomatoes break down. You want a nice bubbly sauce. Turn heat down and continue to cook until the sauce has thickened, about 15 to 20 minutes depending on how much juice your tomatoes have.
  • Stir in half of the parsley. Taste and adjust seasoning. Gently crack eggs into the pan, giving each a bit of room. Simmer until eggs whites are set but yolks remain runny, about 8 to 12 minutes. Sprinkle remaining parsley. Divide into four bowls, each getting an egg and serve with warm pita bread or baguette.

Serves 4

Bell’s Café Bistro is at 387 Main Street in Catskill, New York. Hours are: Dinner from Thursday through Saturday 5 to 10 p.m.; Brunch from Friday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; and Sundays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. 518-943-4070

Squash Blossoms

A few weeks ago my sister-in-law Tori wrote this on my facebook wall: “Kara, if you’ve never tried them before, gently fry up some zucchini flowers–absolutely amazing….” Since then, several people have echoed her sentiments. My first thought was, “What about the zucchini?” I thought that if you picked all the blossoms than you wouldn’t get any squash. It is true. If you pick all of the blossoms on your plants you won’t get any squash. The trick is to only pick the male ones and even then, don’t pick them all. It takes two to tango and the plant needs some male blossoms to pollinate the female blossoms.

It’s fairly easy to spot the male blossoms. They are slightly smaller than the female ones and grow on the longer thinner stems. The female blossoms will often have a little squash growing at the base. Pick them in the morning while they are open. Once they are closed the delicate flower is harder to open. Picking them when they are open also insures that there aren’t any critters hiding inside.

If you aren’t growing squash, you may be able to find blossoms at the farmers market.

Ingredients
Squash blossoms (however many you have will do)
3/4 cup flour
2/3 cup ice water
1 egg
salt and pepper
3-4 tablespoons oil (I use coconut oil)

Method
-Cut stems off at the base and clip out stamens from the inside of the blossoms.
-Gently wash the squash blossoms and let dry.
-Mix egg, flour, water, salt and pepper until combined. The batter can be a little lumpy.
-Heat oil to just below the smoking point in a small sauté pan.
-Dip blossoms into batter and place in pan.
-Cook each side until crisp and lightly brown.
-Remove from pan, place on a paper-toweled lined plate and salt.
-Serve warm.

Note: you can also stuff the blossoms with cheese before frying. We recently used goat cheese.

Corn Maque Choux

My husband suggest that I try this Cajun dish (pronounced, “mock-shoe”). It’s delicious and is a great way to use extra corn if you get a little greedy like I did and over-buy at the farmers market!

Ingredients
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup onion, chopped
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 cup red or green bell peppers, chopped
1 tablespoon jalapeno, minced
4 cups corn (about 6 ears)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 teaspoons smoked paprika (regular paprika will work, but won’t be as good!)
1 cup milk
2 eggs

Method

  • Melt the butter in a large skillet or sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the corn, onions, garlic, bell peppers, jalapeno, and seasoning. Cook, stirring, until soft, for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to medium.
  • Whisk the milk and eggs together until frothy. Slowly add the mixture to skillet, stirring constantly. If you pour too fast, you’ll end up with scrambled eggs. Cook for 5 minutes.

Remove from the heat and serve hot.

Serves 6.

Mexican Grilled Corn

This is one of my favorite ways to prepare grilled corn. The recipe is adapted from www.marthastewart.com.

Ingredients
4 ears of corn in husk
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
2 ounces queso fresco (or feta cheese)

Method
– Soak corn, still in husks, in cold water for 10 minutes, turning once.
– Heat grill to high. Place corn on grill. Cover and cook until husks are charred. Turn to char all sides, about 10 minutes. Remove and let cool slightly.
– Using a kitchen towel (the ears will be hot), pull back the husks; remove and discard corn silks. Keep the husks attached. They will work as a nice holder for your corn.
– Return corn to the grill. Make sure the husks aren’t on direct heat, as they tend to catch on fire. Turn and cook just until kernels are slightly charred, 5 minutes or less.
– Mix mayonnaise, lime juice, chili powder and salt and brush on cooked corn. Sprinkle with queso fresco. Serve hot.

Serves 4

Corn!

Corn at the farmers market is a sure-fire signal that summer is in full swing. If you ignored the 90-degree weather, you could tell it was summer by the piles of sweet corn filling up the tables the farmers markets and roadside stands.

As a kid, I had to shuck bushels of corn. It was not my favorite chore. The worst part about it was not knowing if I would find a big fat worm at the top of the ear chomping away at the kernels. I only really minded the worms if I accidentally touched them. Yuck. I developed a technique that minimized that risk. I folded the long green husks over the sliks to provide a barrier before I would shuck the ear. Sometimes they still slimmed me. The sweet taste of corn was certainly worth any potential critter encounter. I guess the worms and I both knew a good thing when we tasted it.

The sugars in corn starts to turn to starch after it is picked, so eat it fresh. My mom always liked to start to boil the water before she picked the corn. Now, that is fresh corn!

Since I am a frugal gal, I was happy to see that you can use the whole ear of corn; the cob, husk, silks and all. I usually toss it all the leftovers in the compost, but here are a few ideas:
– save and dry the husk for tamales;
– use dried husk to make dolls, stuff a mattress or use as packing material;
– make corncob jelly;
– make a therapeutic tea out of the silks;
– whittle yourself, or next winter’s snowman, a corncob pipe.

My, my… and you thought corn was just a summer side dish.

My favorite way to prepare corn is to simply boil it. I like to give it a quick dip in boiling water for only three minutes. Then, of course, I slather it in butter, and often eat more than one ear. I always start with this straightforward approach, but as the summer progresses, I venture to other corn recipes.

Black Sour Cherry Vodka

Until we moved to the Hudson Valley, I had never heard of black sour cherries. Apparently they are a big deal. Last year, we went to Cherry Ridge Farms in Hudson to pick red sour cherries about a week before the black sours were ready. We were firmly warned to stay away from the black sour trees and that if any forbidden cherries found their way into our basket, we would be charged triple the price. I expected to see armed guards protecting the trees.

If their goal was to build hype about the black sour cherries, it worked on me. I had to have some. I marked opening day on my calendar and worked out our schedule around it. Unfortunately, we got there too late. I guess they weren’t kidding when they said they went fast. By 11:30 a.m. on opening day, Cherry Ridge Farms’ trees were bare.

While standing around with our empty pail, we heard that Fix Brothers still had some, so we raced over there. As we turned up the winding road to the orchard, we started noticing cars parked on the roadside, lots of cars.

There was a bit of a frenetic energy in the air. Scores of people were scurrying around the trees, loading their buckets. I happily joined in the frenzy.

The trees were dripping with big, dark-red cherries. I started grabbing handfuls. To me, it was like the opening scene to “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” — magical and gluttonous.

I asked people what they planned to do with the cherries. There were a few people, like us, who were just picking because it seemed like the thing to do. With this many people clamoring for the dark-red orbs, they must be something special. Others were picking with purpose and that purpose was black sour cherry liqueur. Prized as an elixir of sorts, the homemade beverage is a staple in many Eastern European countries, which explained all of the head scarves being worn and hard consonants being spoken.

Black sour cherries are more tart than the red ones. The tartness makes them perfect for baking or making brandy or liqueurs. Fix Brothers’ black sours are Morello cherries, which range from a medium red to a dark mahogany red. The longer they stay on the tree, the darker they get.

Like blueberries and other purplish-red fruits, sour cherries contain anthocyanins, which have powerful anti-inflammatory properties. The darker the cherries, the more anthocyanins they have. Cherries are purported to relieve painful inflammatory conditions such as gout and arthritis. Plus a cup of fresh sour cherries has 40 percent of your daily recommended allowance of vitamin A, 26 percent of vitamin C; 2 percent of calcium and 3 percent of iron. No wonder liqueur made from black sour cherries is prized!

My husband had to drag me out of the orchard. This year, I will try to remember that we will have to pit all of the cherries we pick. Maybe that will get me out of the orchard faster.

Sour cherries are easier to pit than sweet cherries. I don’t use a cherry pitter, mainly because I don’t have one, but I also don’t think it’s necessary. Pitting sour cherries is a little messy, since they are full of juice. Wear an apron and rubber gloves if you don’t want to have to scrub your cherry-stained fingers.

After I wash the cherries, I set out two large bowls. Over one bowl, I squeeze the pit out. With a little practice, you’ll be able to remove the pit without squirting yourself with cherry juice. Then I place the pitted cherry in the second bowl. Both bowls will accumulate lots of juice. Keep that! When I’m all done, I strain the juice from both the pits and the cherries, sweeten it a tad and drink it.

Sour Cherry Infused Vodka

My husband made this last year. This year, we are tripling the recipe! If you are a teetotaler, just omit the vodka, add a bit of seltzer after straining and enjoy your homemade cherry soda!

This recipe is adapted from New York Magazine.

Ingredients:

2 pounds fresh black sour cherries, washed and pitted (you may add a few stems and leaves for flavor)
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/3 teaspoon grated nutmeg
3 cups vodka


Method

  • In a large jar with a lid, add cherries, sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. Crush the cherries with a wooden spoon. Seal the jar and store for a week in a dark, dry place.
  • Add vodka, reseal and shake well. Infuse for a month in a dark place, giving it a shake every three or four days.
  • Strain through a cheesecloth. Add a few cherries to a bottle or jar and fill with infused vodka.
  • Serve in small glasses, over ice or neat, either as an aperitif or a digestive.

Should keep for years, but ours didn’t last a month (which is why we’ll triple the batch this year).

To your health!

Bánh mì (Vietnamese sandwich)

When I told my friend Joan that I was going to make Vietnamese sandwiches or, bánh mì (pronounced bangh me), her eyes lit up and a big smile came across her face. “Oh, I would send you to Saigon to a tiny place that makes the most incredible sandwiches.”

Joan grew up in Vietnam and returns frequently, so she would know just where to send me. She fondly remembers the unique sandwich wrapped in newsprint that she would buy as a kid. And it’s also one of the things she looks forward to getting on her return trips.

This culture clash of a sandwich can be traced to the French colonization of Indochina. It combines ingredients from the French (baguettes) with the Vietnamese (pickled veggies) and results in a multi-culture match made in heaven.

Joan gave me enthusiastic but slightly vague details. She said that she loved the combination of the crispy bread, spicy sauce, tangy pickled vegetables and savory meat.

Her vagueness had to do with the meat. Joan told me that meatballs aren’t in an authentic Saigon bánh mì, but she couldn’t quite put her finger on exactly what the meat was. She and her husband finally decided that it was somewhere between pâté and bologna. Both agreed that whatever the meat is, the sandwich is delicious.

Turns out that there are lots of interpretations of the proper meat for the sandwiches, including roasted pork, ham, pork pâté, grilled chicken, meatballs and even tofu.

Joan has several Vietnamese cookbooks, but she wasn’t able to find the sandwich in any of them. The thought is that bánh mì is primarily street food and not something many home cooks make. I don’t think this is because it is difficult, but rather that the sandwich, at least in Vietnam, is ubiquitous and cheap.

Joan doesn’t know it, but I plan to sit in her kitchen, comb through her cookbooks and pick her brain about other delicious Vietnamese dishes. Stay tuned!

Ingredients

Quick Pickled Vegetables
1 carrot, julienne
1 cup coarsely grated peeled daikon (Japanese white radish, substitute a regular radish)
1/4 cup unseasoned rice vinegar
1/4 cup sugar (or honey)
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon sesame oil

Meatballs
1 pound ground pork
5 garlic cloves, minced
4 green onions, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon hot chili sauce (such as sriracha)
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 to 2 tablespoons of sesame oil for cooking the meatballs

Spicy Mayo
1 cup mayonnaise (I prefer homemade)
2 green onions, finely chopped
1 tablespoon hot chili sauce (such as sriracha)

Toppings

Cucumber slices
Jalapeño chiles, thinly sliced
Cilantro sprigs
2 large French baguettes (or four small baguettes)

Method

Quick Pickled Vegetables:

  • In a small saucepan, combine the water, sugar, salt and vinegar and bring to a boil.
  • Transfer the mixture to a bowl and add sesame oil, carrots and radishes, mix well.
  • Marinate for 30 minutes or store in the refrigerator overnight.

Meatballs

  • In a large bowl, mix all meatball ingredients, except the sesame oil. I roll up my sleeves and mix this with my hands.
  • Using a tablespoon on the mixture, form a one-inch meatball.
  • Heat the sesame oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add as many meatballs that will comfortably fit in the pan and sauté until they are cooked through, flipping occasionally. You want them browned, but not burnt. Repeat until all the meatballs are cooked.

Spicy Chili Mayo

  • Stir all ingredients in a small bowl. Cover and chill.

Sandwich Assembly

  • Heat oven to 400 degrees F.
  • Cut the baguettes in half; you will have four pieces. Slice the pieces length wise, but not all the way through. You want it to open like a hot dog bun. Hollow out some of the bread in the middle to make room for the meatballs (save for breadcrumbs or feed the birds).
  • Place baguettes on a baking sheet and bake until hot and crusty; about five minutes.
  • Slather the insides with the spicy mayonnaise. Place cucumber, jalapeños and cilantro on the bottom. Top each sandwich with a quarter of the meatballs, followed by the pickled vegetables (drained).

Serves four.