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Roasted Red Pepper Soup with Summer Corn

The sheer quantity of produce that passes through our small kitchen during the course of a week can be, well, unnerving – to say the least. But somewhere between the panic and exhaustion that comes from tackling such a mountain of fruits and veggies, something odd happens. In addition to the boxes of farm fresh produce from our CSA, and baskets I bring in from the garden, we have been buying produce by the case full from whole foods during their frequent summertime sales. Maybe we are just crazy (and I think there is a good likelihood of this being the case) but this undertaking has led to important changes in the way we cook, in the way we approach purchasing produce, and in our understanding of a whole slew of fruits and veggies.

Its no wonder that our Grandmothers, and their mothers before them, were/are such formidable cooks. There is a strange intimacy that comes from taking on 25 pounds of peaches, from tackling a bushel of peak summer tomatoes, or even from trying to keep pace with an ever growing population of summer squash. In peeling, dicing, pitting, skinning, shocking, jamming, baking, roasting, charring, etc, etc… you learn the many ways in which a fruit or vegetable can be used, and discover some of the subtle flavor and cooking nuances of the specific variety. Simply as a means of creating diversity in dealing with an unending and often unchanging wealth of summer crops, the seasonal chef must adapt different techniques and apply varied flavor profiles to a given fruit or veggie. With a wealth of information at our fingertips via the world wide web we are fortunate to have an amazing array of recipes to choose from at the click of a button. Our ancestors didn’t have it so easy.

Our grandmothers and their mothers, and their mothers before them relied on cooking techniques and preservation methods passed down through generations. Since the dawn of cultivation, farmers have worked throughout the harvest season to preserve peak season bounty for the colder months. In fact, practices of freezing (in cold glacial environments), fermenting, and drying date back to 10,000-12,000 BC. Practices of curing, with salt and then oil and sugar, followed these first preservation techniques. Canning was initially developed in Napoleonic wars when the French Royalty offered a bounty to anyone who could devise a method of preserving foods for long distance transport to the battlefields. Curiously it was not until Louis Pasteur made important discoveries about microbial organisms that the French understood why the canning technique developed earlier actually functioned to prevent food decay and food-born illness.

Indeed, we in the penchant for produce kitchen have turned to food preservation from time to time to tackle an unruly crop of cucumbers or glut of okra. But some vegetables are just too tempting to put up for later use. Enter the red bell pepper – one of my all-time favorite vegetables (second only to carrots, which hold a key corner in my veggie loving heart.) The red bell is a beauty to work with. It can be roasted and cured for sandwiches, charred and diced for salsa, it makes a keen addition to hummus, and all of that is, of course, considering you can resist the temptation to bite into its sweet crunchy flesh. OK, that sounded a bit morbid – but you get the point. These are the bells of the summer ball. Right up there in the running for Veggie Patch Prom Queen with the fan favorite, the tomato.

Both of the aforementioned contenders – tomato, and bell pepper, make an appearance in this delightful summer soup. The tomatoes and bells, once charred and roasted, are pureed to a beautifully smooth soup along with roasted shallots and garlic. The result is a soup that is creamy without the addition of any dairy. Sweet with no sugar, and beautifully smoky from the roasting and hint of paprika. It is topped off with a gremolata of sorts made from summer corn, shallots and herbs that gives the soup a sweet pop of summer flavor.

Roasted Red Pepper Soup with Summer Corn (adapted from a similar recipe found on Food 52)

4 Red Bell Peppers, Cut in Half and Seeded
1.5 Pounds Heirloom Tomatoes, Tough Parts of Stem End Removed, Quartered
8 Large Unpeeled Garlic Cloves
4 Shallots, Halved
2-3 Cups High Quality Chicken Stock (Preferably Home Made) At a Low Simmer (lid to keep from evaporating)
1/4 TSP Hot Smoked Paprika
1/2 TSP Aged Sherry Vinegar
2 Ears Sweet Summer Corn, Shucked, Hairs Removed, Cut From the Cob
1 Shallot Finely Minced
1 TBSP Chopped Fresh Thyme
1/4 Cup Chopped Fresh Cilantro
Salt and Pepper to Taste
High Quality Olive Oil for Serving

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Place Halved Peppers in a large mixing bowl along with tomatoes, garlic, and shallots and add just enough olive oil to give a light coat. Sprinkle with salt and a few grinds of pepper, mix well and place in a single layer on a sheet pan (use 2 if too crowded.) Roast in the oven for 45-60 mins, rotating every 15 minutes to ensure even roasting. At the 45 minute mark, if the shallots and garlic appear quite browned but the peppers are not yet well charred, remove the shallots and garlic from the pan and continue roasting for the last 15 minutes, or until the tomato and pepper skins are charred.

Once the tomatoes and peppers are sufficiently charred, remove the pan from the oven. Place the tomatoes and peppers in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap to steam. Steam the tomatoes and peppers for 5 minutes before peeling them. Reserve any juices that collect on the roasting pan (if not too charred) and in the bowl.

Holding the tomatoes over the sink, remove the worst of the seeds and place them in a blender along with the red peppers. Remove any remaining peel from the roasted shallots and roughly chop. Peel the garlic and add to the blender along with the chopped shallots. Add any accumulated juices, and 2 cups of the stock, smoked paprika, and a pinch of salt, and blend until completely smooth. Taste, if too thick add additional broth as needed – remembering that the corn will be added in at the end. add sherry vinegar to taste and set aside.

Place shallot in a bowl along with the corn, thyme, and cilantro. Stir to combine. Pour soup into serving bowls and top with a spoonful or two of the corn mixture and a light drizzle of olive oil and serve.

Power Through It – Super Foods Salad

I apologize, ladies and gentlemen, for the lapse in our posting, but it has been a long week and a half. Since we last posted Dustin and I have packed virtually every item in our little home into boxes. We have meticulously planned our move, transferred utilities, found adequate transportation, and recruited assistance from very kind friends, only to find that on our planned moving day our road will be closed virtually all day for Nashville’s Music City Marathon. We will not have access to our street, or to the alley behind it, and will not be able to park within a 4 block radius of our current dwelling. So much for meticulous planning. After spending Saturday morning panic stricken, I came up with a slightly nutty plan B that will put our now free morning to use by installing the raised beds we have planned for our very first home vegetable garden.

A few weeks back I spent several hours perusing the Burpee catalog for the best possible array of organic seeds that could be direct sown into the garden. Just before ordering Dustin and I ventured out to Whole Foods, where we discovered that our local store had its own great selection of seeds, with no shipping required. Our current design is for four – four by four foot raised beds, arranged according to the length of the growing season (some we are hoping to get two seasons out of – be reaping, tilling, and resewing in late august) and the amount of water needed to grow the crops. We are also planning a salad table, a shallow, portable, and lightweight raised bed that can be used for growing delicate salad greens and have high hopes to grow “trash can” sweet potatoes.

I never used to be much of a fan of sweet potatoes. In my mind, they were part of the “potato” category, which I dismissed entirely as bland and starchy. It wasn’t until 2 years ago, on a camping trip in Kentucky, that I finally realized how wrong I had been to eschew this brilliant tuber. The powers that be that bestowed the name on this veggie got one thing right, they are indeed sweet, its hard to fathom that so many recipes for sweet potatoes call for additions of sugar, maple, or even, gasp, marshmallows. When roasted for long periods of time these bright orange gems literally ooze with sugary sweetness that is entirely their own.

In this dish, which was sparked by a sweet potato and quinoa side dish on Sprouted Kitchen, I combine sweet roasted sweet potato nuggets with smoky paprika, earthy lentils, nutty quinoa, and a zingy jalapeno dressing. The strong flavor components of the dish are inspired by the traditional smoky, hot and sweet notes of good southern barbeque. From a nutritional perspective this dish has it all covered. The sweet potatoes provide an almost unsurpassed source of Vitamin C which is best activated when combined with a small amount of fat, which can be found in the olive oil in our zingy vinaigrette. The lentils provide a great source of folate, iron, fiber, and protein. The quinoa is yet another great punch of fiber in this dish and a nice nutty and almost creamy texture to the salad. And I cannot even begin to sing the praises of Kale, it provides and excellent source of vitamins K, C, and A, as well as dietary fiber and has been hailed for its anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties. So don’t hesitate to dig in and enjoy this super healthy, super delicious salad.

Super Foods Salad

For the Salad Dressing
2 Jalapenos, Cut in Half (Seeds In)
3/4 C Chopped Cilantro
3 Large Cloves Garlic, Minced
2 Shallots, Minced
Zest (Minced) and Juice of 2 Limes
6 TBSP Olive Oil

For the Quinoa
1 Lg Onion, Diced
1/2 TSP Ground Corriander
1/2 TSP Ground Cumin
1/2 Cup Quinoa
1 C Water

For the Sweet Potatoes
2-3 Medium Sized Sweet Potatoes (1.5-2 lbs) Cut into 1 Inch Cubes
1 TSP Smoked Hot Paprika
1/2 TSP Kosher Salt
Olive Oil to Lightly Coat

For the Lentils
3/4 C. de Puy or Beluga Lentils
2 Bay Leaves
1 TSP Kosher Salt

1 Bunch of Kale Roughly Chopped

To make the Salad Dressing – preheat the oven to 425 degrees, rub the jalapenos lightly with salt, pepper, and olive oil and roast on a foil lined sheet pan for 15 mins, or until softened and slightly browned. Once roasted, place on a cutting board and allow to cool before mincing the jalapenos. Place the minced peppers in a small bowl along with the other dressing ingredients and mix well to combine, set aside.

To make the sweet potatoes toss the potato cubes with the spices and add just enough olive oil to lightly coat. Placed on a foil lined baking sheet and roast in the preheated oven for 20-25 mins, turning the potatoes over at least once during the roasting process.

While the potatoes roast make the quinoa. Add about a tablespoon of oil to a saute pan, add onion and sautee until softened and beginning to brown, add quinoa and spices and stir, allow spices and grains to toast, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes before adding the water, bring to a boil, add a pinch of salt. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 15 mins, or until the liquid is just absorbed. Turn off the heat and set aside.

To cook the lentils, place lentils in a sauce pan and cover with 1-2 inches of water. Add bay leaves and salt and bring to a boil, reduce heat to simmer and cook for 20-25 minutes, or until just tender (be careful not to over cook them as they will turn to mush.) As soon as the lentils are cooked, place the lentils in a colander and rinse with cool water (or shock in an ice water bath) until the lentils are just cooled (this will stop the cooking) allow to drain completely.

To serve the salad combine the sweet potatoes with the lentils, quinoa, and kale in a large bowl. Toss gently to combine. Add the dressing, a bit at a time, until just dressed (the kale will wilt slightly reducing the body of the salad, so err on the side of under-dressing as more can be added later.) Allow to sit for 15-20 minutes for the flavors to meld. Taste and add additional dressing, salt, and pepper as needed. Serve and Enjoy!

The Sad Salad vs The Happy Salad

September 2, 2011 1 comment

Perhaps its just a habit but I make a salad or slaw to accompany every sit down dinner we have at home. They don’t need to be complex, in fact lately most of my salads consist of only 3 Ingredients and a dressing, but they need to be fresh, crisp, and refreshing. Generally I try to concoct a salad that will complement the flavors of the other dishes I am making that evening. If we make grilled steak tacos, I might reach for avocados, roasted poblanos, pepitas, and a lime cilantro vinaigrette, for roasted chicken I might whip up a  home made ranch and serve it atop a fresh bed of butter lettuce, studded with tiny nuggets of celery and home made croutons.

The other night, when making a spicy chicken curry, I somewhat instinctively started to chop some cucumber and celery and a big head of lettuce and – blue cheese. Why blue cheese, I have really no idea, but the little nugget of leftover creamy blue was calling to me from its roost in my cheese drawer and I decided to go for it. I am glad I did because the salad that I ended up with was simply sublime and brought an additional herbaceous punch and pungent cheesy element to the spicy and garlicky curry on the plate.

This salad is so simple, and yet so amazingly delicious. Use the crispest, freshest, heads of lettuce you can find. Make sure these are unbruised and have crisp tightly packed leaves. Apart from being a great low calorie vegetable, lettuces contain a good wealth of vitamins and minerals. Some lettuces (especially iceberg) have been specifically bred to remove the bitterness from their leaves. I highly recommend choosing romaine, frisee, or butter lettuces for your salads at home. Not only do I feel that these are superior from a flavor standpoint but these are more nutritionally balanced their their iceberg relative. Romaine and looseleaf lettuce contain five to six times the Vitamin C and five to ten times the vitamin A of iceberg. Romaine and butterhead lettuce are good sources of folate.

I recommend a pungent and creamy blue for this recipe. I like to slice it into bite sized chunks and place it on a plate to come up to room temperature while I prep the other ingredients. As the cucumbers I bought at the farmers market had a distinctly bitter peel, I removed the rind before slicing them into the salad. Feel free to include some celery leaves in this salad as they will give a nice light herbaceous bite to the salad. Feel free to make adjustments to the herbs in the dressing. Those included are a guideline but use your instinct to guide you in creating a balance you like best. As always taste as you go, adding salt and freshly cracked pepper to balance the other ingredients.

Simple Blue Cheese and Lettuce Salad with Herb Vinaigrette

For the Salad:
1 Large Head of Lettuce, Variety of Your Choice, Washed and Torn into Bite Sized Pieces
2 Medium Cucumbers Sliced Into Rounds
2-3 Stalks Celery Cut into 1/2 Inch Pieces
About 2 oz Really Good Slightly Soft Blue Cheese Cut into Bite Sizes Chunks

For the Dressing:
1 Clove Garlic, Smashed
1 Shallot, Peeled
1/4 Cup Water
1/3 Cup Sherry Vinegar
2/3 Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 TSP Honey
1/4 Cup Loosely Packed Tarragon
1 Cup Loosely Packed Cilantro
1 TBSP Thyme Leaves
1/3 Cup Loosely Packed Basil

Layer the salad ingredients in a large salad bowl and toss gently with your hands to mix.

Combine the Garlic, Shallot, Water, and Vinegar in a food processor and blitz till smooth. Add Honey and Olive Oil and mix until well combined. Add Herbs, a pinch of salt, and several grinds of pepper, mix until herbs are incorporated and appear in the dressing in small bits. Taste for balance and add salt and pepper as needed.

Drizzle dressing on the salad a little at a time and mix with your hands until leaves are just coated. Serve lightly dressed with additional dressing on the side.

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