Blessed Relief

It cooled off wonderfully last night, allowing for some actual cooking. And the variety of leftovers beckoned to be transformed into something other than themselves, lest monotony make for a sullen, listless dinner. So I pulled out a whole bunch of containers, made a pass through the garden, and got to work.

Since there were lots of lentils and a fair amount of the raw marinated kale (read back a couple of posts and you’ll see) I decided to make kofta in a sort of a saag kind of a thing. I had picked more collards to add volume to the greens, so I began by sautéeing onion, shredded collards, and seeds (coriander, fenugreek, mustard, and cumin) and then adding in the marinated kale along with grated ginger, minced lemongrass, lime leaf, and curry plant (not curry leaf, but the silvery, lavender-looking one that smells so strong and good). After some simmering, I puréed it all into an appealingly dense and creamy texture.

As I mixed an egg yolk and some panko into the lentils, the panko got me thinking. So instead of simmering lentil balls in the greens mixture, I instead rolled them in more crumbs and then browned them up good in a bit of canola oil. Less healthy, sure, but not by much. And so very wondrous tasting, with creamy insides wearing crunchy brown jackets. I strew radish thinnings around for some raw green and gentle bite, and we tucked in.

There was the vaguest of tensions between the dill–always an assertive flavor–and the more traditional curry spices, but the various complex overtones of all of the different pungent seeds were sufficient to reduce it to an artful dissonance rather than an off note. These greens were really good. And little fried cakes are hard to hate.

At Least I Didn’t Put A Fried Egg On Top

This hardly merits a post, but it’s one of those quintessential summer dishes that one feels obliged to document because it feels somehow like blogatorial malpractice to let summer pass without a post about pesto and tomatoes. Hell, maybe someone in Australia or Antarctica or Northern Canadia needs a provocative hot-weather pornocopia shot to get themselves off. I live to serve, after all.

So, herewith, pesto made from basil, walnuts, olive oil, and sherry vinegar (to pick up on the walnutty goodness) and tossed into whole wheat spaghetti and Sungold tomatoes (with a couple of Glaciers thrown in too; I bought the starts because they claimed to be very early-ripening, and indeed they are). We added crunchy salt at the table, since it makes both pesto and tomato flavos pop with hedonistic abandon. Most interesting in many ways was our salad, which I had made in the morning: chiffonaded kale marinated in more of that cream whey and salt until it got all soft and flavory. Part pickle, part salad, part coleslaw with ranch dressing, it was an instant favorite.

Pulse Points

A friend gave me some whey left from making the Persian cream cheese that she always has on hand; dilly and sharp, it’s a dreamy dressing for cucumbers. Having that combination in mind, I used it to make a sort of tzatziki, blending in cucumbers, lots of garlic, a bit of yogurt, and enough Ultratex 8 to keep it together as a sauce since it was pretty liquid. Now it sticks to everything, and it’s better than ranch dressing by a long shot.

We had some other friends over the other night, and smoked chickens were on the menu, so I had three smoky carcasses ready for the brothing. I simmered them in the big pot with fennel, onion, carrot and celery from the garden for a couple hours while I did other things far from the stove, then strained it into containers, cooled them in the sink, and put them in the chest freezer. 9 quarts in all. I saved one, though, and cooked up a big batch of lentils with it. More of the same aromatics, plus kale and lots of fresh herbs went in that pot, and once done I let it all cool before adding vinegars, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Serving it just warm with the whey sauce, sungold tomatoes, and borage flowers made for a refreshing departure from the recent barely-cooked summer routine: winter smoky stew techniques slathered with cooling summer sauce. The remainder was even better for lunch today, and there’s still a bit left for tomorrow.

Sockeyed

Notwithstanding the heat–which is under control lately, hovering in a dry and resplendent range that should be the summer default–it’s still hard for me to cook a beautiful piece of sockeye salmon. That was the idea buying it, and it ended up being the result, though not before I had my way with an uncooked portion because I couldn’t keep my hands off of it. So dinner ended up being sashimi and then curry, both heavy on the salmon.

“Making” sashimi is a pretty funny concept, but I did come up with a pretty skippy sauce that could replace ponzu in many applications: local soy sauce and local cider vinegar (the Monk’s Special Reserve, aged over a year). It doesn’t quite have the impact of yuzu, but the fruit and acid notes are fully present and it doesn’t require importing expensive little citrus fruits from Japan. And it was sublime with the fat, creamy slices of vermilion fish flesh.

Next up, the curry. I invented this years ago in Brooklyn, and it deserves its spot in the rotation. I sweat onion, carrot, minced preserved lemon, and some seeds (green coriander and mustard in this case) then stir in a bit of vindaloo paste, then add pieces of sweet potato. After a few minutes of softening, I add tomato purée and let it simmer for a bit. Then I add cubes of fish (skinned) and, here, beet greens. Then it simmers a bit more. I found a couple of garlic scapes in the back of the fridge so I minced them for a garnish, and unceremoniously dumped it onto brown rice.

Those beet-carrot pickles and sauerkraut from a couple posts back made a wonderful duo of condiments, given that chutneys and such seem to have run out. For wine, I wished for Riesling, which would have been good with both dishes, but there was none on hand. I did have a pretty astonishing white, though, that I need to learn more about before I put up a post about it.

Can I Get–If It’s Not Too Much Trouble, That Is–A Hell Yeah?

The makings of a pretty damn local (and very damn good) fajita:

1. Grass-fed, local faux hanger steak, marinated in white wine and gochujang, then seared in a very hot iron pan, turning frequently until well-crusted, then rested until a lovely deep pink throughout, then sliced thin against the grain

2. 100% local (and completely homegrown salsa: tomatoes, cucumber, serrano chili, cilantro (and coriander seeds), shallot, and Brother Victor-Antoine’s Special Reserve cider vinegar)

3. Sautéed homegrown greens (kale with fennel and shallot) in the meat skillet after meat removal

4. Meat marinade poured into the very hot iron pan and then stirred and poured into waiting bowl and mixed with the juices that have oozed off the meat while resting

5. Sprouted wheat tortillas warmed over the hot burner

That Pickles

I soaked some beans overnight, (for once) obviating the need for pressure-cooking, and allowing them to get extra soft and luscious over the course of two simmerings: the first, just with water and a piece of kombu, the second in the company of papaya juice, tomato paste, herbs, maple syrup, three different vinegars, salt, and smoked paprika. As I pondered the seasonings for stage two, I considered the spectrum of beans; a couple of spices make them Mexican, while some pork fat and the sweet/sour opposition yield the Bostonian variant. Since Mexican chorizo was on the menu, courtesy of the farmers’ market, I naturally chose the counterintuitive route and got all kinds of retahded with the beans. The result was handsome enough, with dense and toothsome legumes under fat, juicy sausage with wilted greens beside, but honestly I’m not really feeling it in the kitchen these days. My urge to experiment and take risky leaps of imagination has been sapped by the heat. Plus, it’s all I can do to keep up with the garden; pick, cook (as little as possible), and eat is the rule right now.

In this season of vegetable excess, even our gardenless neighbors are not sufficient to absorb the surfeit of green goodness that pours forth from within the hallowed fence out back. So I’ve been making jars of pickles, since they’re way more interesting than blanching and freezing. Which I’ll also be doing, as soon as standing in front of a huge boiling pot of water seems like a rational proposition.

My Grandfather made excellent dill pickles, and even though I wasn’t particularly attentive to the process a few key things took hold in my memory. Now that I’m pretty well acquainted with lacto-fermentation, I’ve been tinkering ever so gently with his master recipe. To start, I use a less-salty brine than he did. He used round rocks, boiled to sterilize them, as weights to keep the food submerged and away from any mold. I use ziptop bags filled with brine, unless I’m using the big crock which has its own weights. I leave them in the brine for a little less time so the result has a better crunch. But it’s the flavor of his that imprinted upon me, and which will always be the baseline for the genre.

The first cilantro planting has gone to seed, so I’ve been coming up with uses for green coriander. In this case, mixed in with shredded beets and carrots and the first ripe cayenne pepper. They’ll add complexity, sure, and help tug the resulting flavor towards places distant and exotic, but let’s face it: I really just put them in because they’re so pretty against the vivid roots.

Below, from left to right: The dill pickles with lots of garlic (which I just dug up), sauerkraut flavored with mustard, pepper, juniper, and caraway, and the beet-carrot mixture. I stuck them down in the crawl space under the house after a day or so at room temp to really kick-start the hot microbial action. The best thing about doing different batches in jars like this is that it frees up the big crock for another huge-ass batch of kimchi. Which is next in line.

sunday Sunday SUNDAY!

We had a birthday party to go to yesterday, so the afternoon was not as domestic as I wanted. It was leisurely, though, so when we did get home I had lots of energy and got right to work in the garden ripping out the spent peas and replanting the bed with radishes of all sorts. Some dried peas had already begun to sprout, so I gently moved them under the sunflowers at the end of the bed so they’ll have something to climb. Peas in the fall are nice, but daikon are better.

I made three big jars of pickles, which I’ll post as soon as I photograph them. Dinner was a combination of several dishes prepared separately and eaten all together; a bit more time could have turned this into an elegant multi-course meal if the occasion had called for such. As it was, we enjoyed it out on the screened porch with the breezes and the chirping birds.

I started by seeding and mandolining a couple of cucumbers into a bowl, then kneading them with salt until they gave up their liquid. I squeezed them out, then dressed them with the local soy sauce and cider vinegar. I took a sweet potato and steamed it, then made a variation on our beloved tahini-miso sauce using black sesame paste, white miso, and raspberry vinegar in place of lemon juice. I used the same pan with the steamer in it to cook a small head of local cauliflower that a friend gave us since their CSA had given them too much. I tossed it in olive oil, cider vinegar, and a bit of leftover green mash once it was tender.

Keep reading sunday Sunday SUNDAY!…

What The Thunder Said

Our muggy heat broke rather dramatically this evening with a torrential downpour, accompanied by rollicking summer thunder. The rain was perfectly timed, coming as it did on the heels of several very hot days, and we’ll sleep better tonight as a result of the front’s passage. Such meteorological benedictions were sufficient to inspire me to actually cook something, though the cooking part was mercifully short. Most of the time was spent rolling out fettucine.

We’re lucky to live on a nice little road that is a lot like Sesame Street in terms of its child-friendliness, so when I realized that we had no eggs–right after dumping a bunch of flour in a bowl–I sent our small child to the neighbors’ house to ask for a couple of eggs. He came back a few minutes later, saying that they hadn’t had any so he just went to the next neighbors and got two eggs from them. Cute and smart–I may just keep him after all. I sent him back with a thank you zucchini, and once again thought about getting some chickens.

We mixed eggs and flour together, gave it a quick knead, and let the dough sit for a bit while we picked another zucchini (duh), salad, and basil for the sauce. Which was simple tomato and garlic, with chopped basil added periodically throughout its reduction and thickening to emphatically inflect the red purée with fat green flavor. (I find that adding basil in waves while a sauce cooks makes for a more complete and saturated basil flavor in the result). I sautéed the zucchini, sliced into rounds, in a bit of butter, then deglazed the pan with a drop of cider vinegar. I made a simple but ardently arresting vinaigrette of walnut oil, mustard, and sherry vinegar, and that was dinner.

There’s not much in the world that’s better than food like this, when the ingredients are perfect and the execution just gets out of their way. There were no leftovers.

Let Be Be Finale Of Seem

Another hot-weather dinner, and another round of homemade sushi for the clamoring tribe. Sockeyes are in season, and though very not local, they are sustainably caught and most delicious. This has become somewhat of a weekly ritual for us while our local-ish source is out of town; we get the best fish we can and I make a variety of sushi while the family sits and devours it all. I eat mine intermittently throughout, sometimes with a nice plate at the end after they’re sated.

Keep reading Let Be Be Finale Of Seem…

Baby, It’s Hot Outside

The combination of heat and burgeoning garden have made cooking pretty simple lately. I make the rounds, picking what needs it, and that’s what we eat, with as little actual cooking as possible. But I still feel motivated to mix it up a little, since it definitely makes the family happier and more engaged with dinner; heat saps appetites and the boy is obsessed with catching butterflies so he’ll dash from the table if he sees one out the window.

The humidity and temperature are creeping up again, and in a day or two we’ll be back at full swelter. I took maximum advantage of the cooler spell to do a bunch of outdoor chores, and now I’m back inside with the A/C on 77 (and on the economy setting) in my little office, working on the next article. Once it’s done, though, I have to clean out the wood shop, which is going to be an orgy of filthy misery. (It’s important that you all understand just how horribly hard it is to be me).

To begin, I took a cucumber, four small tomatoes (they’re coming in early), nasturtium leaves, a big purslane plant, and half a zucchini (every meal includes zucchini in some form or another; I’ve been picking them small to avoid overload) and blended them all smooth with a bit of Brother Victor’s sherry vinegar and a pinch of salt. I put the blender jar in the fridge for an hour to chill, then blasted it one more time before serving.

Keep reading Baby, It’s Hot Outside…

Yours Truly



I'm a painter who happens to also spend a lot of time growing, making, and writing about food. I'm particularly interested in the intersection of frugal peasant cooking techniques and haute improvisation. And I have a really great personality.

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