Saturday, July 31, 2010

Turning on the Oven in Summer

It's a transition day! When you try to eat with the seasons, the year becomes a series of phases: when you first get to eat wild weeds in the spring, the first blossoms on your veggie plants, the first ripe berries, the first fresh pesto, the first flower you pop into your mouth, the first bulb of garlic, the first pepper that turns red, the first watermelon, the first pumpkin, the first freeze, the first food out of the root cellar, the first window sill greens, and back around. To me, everything tastes new each time, like a revelation.

Today, this last day before August and after many meals of summer squash, we have produce we've been waiting for: tomatoes, eggplant, and corn. (That came out sounding like I don't marvel at the arrival of summer squash, which I do.) Surprisingly, it was also cool this morning (in the fifties!), so after I threw a peach raspberry tart in the oven to warm my shivering self, I got to work on roasting a batch of eggplants for baba ghannouj.

While everything was in the oven, I marveled for the umpteenth time about how The Joy of Cooking is not the mayonnaise-y casserole-y tome I sometimes think of it as. A re-read of the "Condiments, Marinades & Dry Rubs" section alone shows it's reach: Georgian garlic and walnut sauce, picada, harissa, chutneys, flavored oils, sambal, mojo, curry pastes, and recipes for ketchups that actually taste good—unlike those we're familiar with eating out of squeeze bottles.

I heartily welcome August with baba ghannouj, bruschetta, and pickled corn rounds.
Smoky Baba Ghannouj Recipe
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  • 10-12 Chinese eggplants
  • 1 1/2 T tahini
  • 2 T sesame oil that's gathered on top of tahini paste
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • Juice of 3 small lemons
  • 3/4 t smoked sea salt
Pierce eggplants and oven roast in a pan with a little water and little vegetable oil, approximately 45 minutes. Eggplants should be soft, and the flesh should separate from the skin relatively easily. Let cool, then scrape flesh into food processor, composting stems and skins. Yes, you can keep the seeds in. Add all other ingredients and pulse until smooth.
Now, to find a source for good local bread . . . .

Friday, July 30, 2010

Was Away

and now back....

Monday, July 19, 2010


I've said it before and I'll say it again: I'm not a great gardener. Still, growing dill shouldn't be difficult. My dill plants stay small, droop, and certainly never volunteer. This is a sad thing for a pickle maker. I'm plush with grape leaves from all the wild grape vines in the area. (Grape leaves keep cucumbers crunchy while pickling, especially in warm weather.) I'm okay with garlic, too. But great quantities of dill have been elusive.

So what happened this weekend is a great thing: I set up a dill barter.  I met a farmer who has lots of dill that grows perennially, like a weed, and the plants are more than five feet tall. In fact, he has too much dill, since it's spreading and taking over a bit. Both he and I think that a big jar of pickles for a load of unruly dill is a great trade.

Some things grow fantastically without any help from me. Take this plant that shot up amongst weeds in a neglected spot: it was eight feet tall before I noticed it. Now it's about ten feet tall, and it has a sibling coming up about twenty feet away. I'm not familiar with this plant—are you? For a minute I thought it's jagged, five-fingered leaves might be hemp, but a quick plant ID ruled that out. (Yeah, you can laugh at my naivete here.) Hemp's leaves have long, witch fingers, whereas this plant's leaves are more like paws, like classic maple leaves. And they're huge. One leaf is nearly a foot across.

If you know, help me out!

And, on a totally unrelated note, it's the time of year where I'm in awe every single day over hydrangeas. They're so plush and over the top!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Mary with Pickles

I ran into my friend Karen in the NYTimes the other day. She was in a video making bloody marys which was funny, because I'd just been making bloody mary mix with pickle brine. I don't see Karen that often, because she's always working—that's what happens when you're the manager at a schmancy restaurant, in this case one that has an extensive bloody mary menu. She reminded me how good pickles go with bloody marys, and the most important takeaway: don't forget the fresh lemon. Happy weekend!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Air & Water

For years, we've been feeling naive about having bought our house: a too-big fixer-upper that we'll never have the money or skills to fix up. It wasn't in the neighborhood we wanted, we thought it was ugly and run down with too many weird small rooms, and the yard a steep triangle, but, and that's a big but, it has three porches.* There's one glass porch with old paned windows, one screened porch that feels like a treehouse, and a huge open wraparound porch.

It's this third porch that is lately making the house feel like a genius move. It's been beautiful, with views of the mountains and lots of moving air and lots of cats. We've sat on the porch to watch the World Cup, to work, to eat meals, and to watch the moon rise. Getting to be on the porch during all the summer rainstorms has definitely been the kicker.

The old crumbling porch has proven to be more satisfying than the not so old, falling apart pool. Excuse me while I get back to patching.

*and a rootcellar!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Pictorial Tutorial

For my friend who wants cool summer rolls all the time, has the recipe, and still won't make them. LOOK, it's easy.

Everything won't always be perfect, if you're just learning to roll, for example, or if you stray from your regular brand of wrappers. But choose ingredients you like, and they'll taste great regardless. These were made late at night when I was exhausted, wrappers crumbling, and without perfect ingredients. They weren't beautiful, but we were really glad we had them to nibble on for the next couple of days.

Rice noodles, rice wrappers, veggies, and herbs equal multiple tasty lunches, done cheap and easy.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Drinking and Smoking

I get obsessed with things that I can't explain.

One current obsession is smoked flavor, as in, smoked sea salt, smoked paprika, liquid smoke, smoked chipotles. Besides the chilies, I don't yet know how to use these flavors well, but am experimenting a lot.

The other thing that's come out of the blue is wanting to infuse vodka.

Now, I'm not a big drinker. When I do have a drink, vodka isn't usually my choice. I prefer old tequilas, rich ouzos, varieties of cachaça, and drinks that are like meals, such as rich dark beers with chili powder, salt and lime, or thick spicy bloody marias with tons of celery. But lately I want to see veggies, herbs, spices, and fruits floating in jars of vodka so that I can experiment with the outcomes.

I guess it's not entirely out of the blue: I've always liked a pretty cocktail, with frozen currants in place of ice, or with the lip of the glass spiced, or with a couple of raspberries muddled in for color. And, I've always loved seeing preserved things floating in liquid, which explains why I enjoy both fermentation and the Mütter Museum.

My first infused vodka experiment with be with these tiny local plums. They're sweet and tart and colorful, and so far haven't made it any further than getting popped in my mouth whole, making me smack like a horse in Brazil eating mangos.

Do you have any experience making infused liquor with homegrown ingredients?

Saturday, July 10, 2010


Some weeds are tastier than others, and the lemon crunch of purslane makes it really desirable to eat. Yeah, yeah, it's great for you and all that (more Omega 3s than any other land plant), and free and growing in the cracks of your sidewalk, but its flavor makes it one of those plants that makes you wonder why you haven't always been eating it.

Purslane is a succulent, like a jade plant or aloe or cactus. It's the kind of plant they tell Southern Californians to plant close to their house to help save it from wildfires. Succulents store a large amount of liquid in their leaves, or their stems or roots. The liquid in purslane can be used as a thickener in soups, similar to okra.

But the tastiest use of purslane by far is raw, in salads, or added after cooking, and the leaves, flowers, and stems can all be eaten. Greeks and North Africans have made use of purslane the longest, so its no wonder that the majority of purslane recipes combine it with cucumbers, mint, parsley, or yogurt. Mexico uses this plant as their parsley (called verdolagas), adding it raw to cooked foods for crunch, color, and tang.

Here are two recipes that make good use of mid-summer produce:

Grilled Zucchini Salad with Purslane and Tomato
Gourmet | August 2002

  • 1 t finely grated fresh lemon zest
  • 3 T fresh lemon juice
  • 1 T finely chopped shallot
  • 1/4 t Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 t salt
  • 1/3 c extra-virgin olive oil plus additional for brushing zucchini
  • 1/4 t black pepper
  • 3 T chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 4 zucchini (1 3/4 to 2 lb total), halved lengthwise
  • 12 oz purslane, thick stems removed (4 c)
  • 10 oz pear or cherry tomatoes, halved lengthwise
Prep Prepare grill for cooking. If using a charcoal grill, open vents on bottom of grill. Make dressing: Whisk together zest, lemon juice, shallot, mustard, and salt in a small bowl. Add oil in a slow stream, whisking until dressing is emulsified. Whisk in pepper and parsley. Grill zucchini: Lightly brush zucchini all over with oil. When fire is hot (you can hold your hand 5 inches above rack for 1 to 2 seconds), grill zucchini, cut sides down first, on lightly oiled grill rack, uncovered, turning once, until zucchini are just tender, 8 to 12 minutes total. Transfer to a cutting board and cool slightly, then cut diagonally into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Toss zucchini with purslane, tomatoes, and dressing in a large bowl. Serve immediately.

Chopped Arabic Salad
Gourmet | May 2004

  • 1 lemon
  • 3/4 t sea salt
  • 1/4 t freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 T olive oil
  • 2 (1/2-lb) cucumbers, peeled, halved lengthwise, seeded, and cut into 1/4-inch dice (2 1/3 c)
  • 1 lb tomatoes (3 medium), cut into 1/3-inch dice (2 1/2 cups)
  • 1 c finely chopped red onion (1 small) or 1 cup chopped scallions (about 5)
  • 1 c purslane leaves and flowers (break off with your hands rather than chopping to keep the visual appeal of the plant)
  • 1 c finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley (from 1 large bunch)
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh mint
prep Cut peel, including all white pith, from lemon with a sharp paring knife. Working over a bowl, cut segments from half of lemon free from membranes and transfer segments to a cutting board, then squeeze juice from membranes and remaining 1/2 lemon into bowl. Transfer 2 tablespoons juice to a large bowl, then finely chop segments and add to measured juice. Add salt, pepper, and oil, whisking to combine, then stir in remaining ingredients.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Dilly Susan K.

My friend Susan died this week after a six year struggle with cancer. Being who I am (and not knowing yet what other memorial will take place), I made her dilly beans. Or rather, made them in her honor.

Beans are high on the best anti-cancer foods lists because they act as protease inhibitors. All dark red and purple foods appear on that list, too, because of their flavenoids. Susan was a photographer and had an eye for beautiful things, so purple beans seem right.

Note that the purple color will disappear into the hot vinegar, turning the vinegar dark, but leaving the beans green.