If tomatoes are summer’s prom queens then peppers must be the practical jokers of the produce kingdom. Allow me to explain. Peppers, or shall we say chilies, like to be the center of attention. It takes careful skill, and occasionally some real gumption in tasting raw specimen to determine their spice factor (but more on this in a moment.) And with deft hand and careful placement the home cook can teach chiles to play nice with their veggie (and occasionally fruit) brethren and serve in a complementary, rather than a starring role.
But what makes them jokers in my mind is the way that peppers can lure you into a false sense of confidence one moment, and come through with a shocking wallop when you aren’t looking. In fact, I have found that home grown peppers in particular seem to vary WIDELY in their degree of spiciness. The same pepper plant may yield an early June crop of jalapeños that are mild and sweet and then give birth to fire breathing dragons of peppers just a few weeks later.
If fact, according to the obviously unassailable source of Wikipedia (insert snarky comment here) Jalapenos can range in spiciness from as little as 2,500 to as much as 8,000 Scoville Units. What are Scoville Units you may ask? Scoville Units represent a measurement of the amount of Capsacin present in a pepper. Capsacin is a chemical compound that stimulates nerve receptors in your body producing that oh so familiar burning feeling you might experience while eating spicy foods. To hone in on just what the Jalapeno’s wide ranging Capsacin content means for us the home cooks, allow me to paint an illustration. Mild Anaheim Chiles rank around the 2,500 Scoville measure, while heady Serranos typically chime in just above the Jalapenos at 10,000 Scoville Units. So selecting a Jalapeno to use in your favorite salsa can be a bit haphazard and the same measure in cups or weight or number of chiles can illicit quite different end products.
What, you may ask, does any of this have to do with corn salad? Reader, I assure you, this is not just another one of my tangents on food education (though every day in the Briggs-Limaye Kitchen is chock full of learning experiences.) Dustin and I have been working away to diligently test recipes for posting here and in doing so took a couple takes at making this corn salad (also its sort of addictive so it didn’t really hurt that we just couldn’t stop eating it.) The first was for a small get together/cookout in our back yard. The corn I had bought was large kernel corn, we used our favorite new microwave method for cooking the kernels and steamed them 2 at a time in the husks for 3 minutes before slicing off the stalk end and shaking the kernel out (its amazing, they come out silk free and the microwaving is just enough to barely cook the corn for the salad.) The end product was beautifully sweet from the peak season corn and had a nice balanced punch from the jalapenos.
Most recently the corn we used was a smaller kernel corn that was starchier and less sweet than the first batch, the 3 minute microwaving time proved far too long for the small kernels but when we reduced it to 2 minutes our favorite cut and shake trick didn’t work quite as well as it had previously. Additionally, though we used the same number of jalapenos the end product was FAR spicier than the first round had been.
From trial and error we learned two important lessons that will hopefully make this dish a winning success in your kitchen. First, use large ears of corn, with tight rows and fat kernels. Buy the corn with the husk on as these are typically the most fresh. Second, test the jalapenos and, especially if they are local and it has been a hot dry summer, proceed with caution. You can always increase the spice level by adding jalapenos to the final dish but its darn hard to dial down the heat if you knock the heat level through the roof. If you do, however, overdo the spiciness, don’t fret. Grab a bag of tortilla chips and call it salsa, everyone will love it.
Summery Sweet Corn Salad with Jicama
1 Medium Red Onion, Approximately 1/2 lb, Cut into Small Dice
2 Jalapenos, With Seeds, Sliced Very Thinly
3 Ounces Lime Juice
1 TSP Salt
9 Ears of Corn, Preferably with Large Plump Kernels, Husks On
1/2 Of a Jicama, Cut into 1/4″ Dice
2 TBSP Avocado Oil
1 TSP Agave
1/2-3/4 Cup Chopped Cilantro
Place onion, jalapenos, lime juice, and salt in the bottom of a large bowl and stir. Set aside until needed.
Place the corn, husks on, two ears at a time, in the microwave. Cut off the bottom of the ear (the stalk end) to expose the last row of kernels fully. Grasp the corn firmly by the silk end and shake until the ear slips free of the husk. Repeat this with the remaining ears.
Check for any remaining silks before slicing the kernels from the cobs. Add the kernels to the bowl containing the jalapenos and lime and add the jicama, avocado oil, agave, and cilantro. Toss to combine well and taste for seasoning adding additional lime, jalapeno, and salt as needed.
It has been a supremely exciting couple of weeks. My bridal shower sped by in a flash, our new house is finally, starting to feel like a home. Photos are up on the walls, our spices have finally found a new roost in the organizational challenge that is our kitchen. And our first garden is growing by leaps and bounds, some days I feel as though, if I sat outside and watched, I might actually catch a glimpse of the tomatoes inching up the posts that hold them upright. They have grown at least three feet in the last three weeks, maybe it’s all the love in the air.
In addition to sewing our first garden, Dustin and I recently purchased our first grill. Our little webber smokey joe may not measure up size wise to look like the biggest and baddest around, but what it lacks in surface area, it makes up with in ease of use and pure smokey grilling flavor. Since buying the little guy, we have been grilling a few times a week.
Recently we started experimenting with fish on the grill, first a few whole sardines made their way onto the fire and onto our plates. Spurred by this “tiny” fish success Dustin and I ventured to whole foods to try a fresh catch. when we arrived we were a bit overwhelmed by the choices (and a bit by the prices as well.) I knew that I wanted to pair the fish with a cucumber salsa I saw in Bon Apetit’s June 2012 issue – we had just received a gorgeous gaggle of hot house cucumbers in our first CSA allotment of the season, and the magazine had auspiciously featured them in their “Four Chefs One Ingredient” challenge, I took this as a sign.
Getting back to the market, I asked the fishmonger which fish he might pair with a cucumber salsa. “Cucumber salsa?” he remarked quizzically, something told me this might not be standard fare for fish but I was determined it would work, and he tried to keep an open mind as we walked through potential foils for said salsa.
Initially I had thought a tuna steak would pair nicely, but not only was the tuna obscenely expensive, but it just didn’t look quite as nice as its neighbors. Salmon was on sale and in season, but the fishmonger and I agreed it might be a bit, how shall we say this, odd, with cold cucumbers. We moved on, US caught mahi mahi was a strong contender, and I was ready to put in my chips when a man in rubberized overalls laid a vision of a fillet down before me. “What’s that?” I asked my new fish friend, whose patience with me was astounding, “Mackerel,” he replied. I asked him his thoughts on the mackerel with salsa, he paused, smiled, and replied that he thought it was a “real winner.” I was sold.
As it turns out, my fishmonger friend was right on the money. Not only does the mackerel pair well with the salsa from a textural perspective, but the slightly oily flavor of the fish stands up to the fresh zing of the salsa. These are nice together with a side of grilled veggies or grill roasted new potatoes. Dustin and I mused that, with the addition of some nice shredded cabbage and a zingy crema, the grilled fish and salsa would make for some excellent fish tacos. Leftover salsa can be used in a myriad of ways, but one worth mentioning is that the salsa is quite close to a cucumber gazpacho, in fact, with the addition of some nice olive oil, a slight splash of water, and a tad more lime, the salsa leftovers may be transformed into a nice (spicy) cold soup for lunch the following day.
Fish with Cucumber Salsa (From Bon Apetit)
1/2 C Finely Diced Red Onion
2 C Finely Diced Peeled Cucumber
1/4 C Chopped Cilantro
1/4 C Chopped Mint
1 Jalapeno, With Seeds, Finely Minced
3 TBSP Fresh Lime Juice
1 TBSP Vegetable Oil
Mix first five ingredients in a medium bowl. Stir in lime juice and oil. Season to taste with kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper, and more lime juice, if desired.
Set salsa aside and allow flavors to meld while you prepare the fish.
I didn’t specify a size or type of fish above because, really, a whole slew of fish would go nicely, pick a slightly oily and fairly flavorful fillet that looks fresh and will hold up to grilling. For grilling I prefer my fillets with skin on, but obviously with some fish, like tuna, this is not an option. The salsa in this recipe will easily provide for up to three pounds of fish, and, if you plan to make less fish, I think its highly unlikely that the cucumbery leftovers will go to waste.
Preparing the fish is quite simple. Run your fingers down the centerline to check for pin bones. Remove any pin bones with fish tweezers. Rub remaining fish with a very light coating of canola or other flavor neutral oil. Sprinkle with kosher salt and some good cracks of pepper.
Grill over high heat about 3-5 mins per side (depending on the thickness of the fillets, ours took about four mins per side and came out perfectly cooked.)
I like to serve my grilled fish with some grilled citrus, grilling lemons and limes mellows the flavor and allows it to zest up the fish (also great with grilled veggies like broccoli or zucchini) without completely overpowering it with acid, to grill the citrus simply slice it in half and place over medium heat on the grill until the flesh bears a slight char.
Another few weeks have breezed by without a post. Moving and traveling, and other general insanity have interfered with successful posting. But finally, we are moved in, mostly unpacked, and are getting back to the chopping block.
I was listening to a show in NPR last week – the host was holding a discussion on “Moms” in honor of the upcoming Mothers’ Day holiday. More specifically she was discussing how we remember our mothers – how so many of these memories are centered on family traditions and often take place in and around the kitchen. The host opined that kitchen memories are particularly strong as they are associated with sounds, tastes, textures, and scents, and put extra emphasis on how scent memories can be exceptionally stirring and long lasting.
I have always been enamored with tradition. Perhaps it is because, with a small family prone to constant change, we didn’t have many of our own. But the memories of the ones we had could not be stronger. I remember, like it was yesterday, watching my grandmother circling about the kitchen reading thanksgiving dinner. I have these vivid images of helping her cut apples into a baking pan for her family famous deep dish apple pie, which I can still whip up today simply by memory.
Today’s featured recipe is another from the pages of Ottolenghi’s “Plenty.” It has particular significance to me as it was prepared by my friend Julie and served at my bridal shower on the 5th of this month. The individual ingredients are so wild but it marries beautifully in this summery noodle salad. It is a flavor memory of a beautiful day that I am sure I will enjoy remembering for years to come.
Soba Noodles with Eggplant and Mango (adapted from Ottolenghi’s “Plenty”)
1/2 C Rice Vinegar
1/3 cup Brown Sugar
1/2 TSP Fine Grain Sea Salt
2 Garlic Cloves, Crushed
1 Fresh Red Chile, Minced
1 TSP Toasted Sesame Oil
Zest and Juice of One Lime
1/3 C Sunflower Oil
1 Large Eggplant Cut Into 1/2-Inch Cubes
8-9 Ounces Soba Noodles, Cooked According to Package Directions
1 Large Ripe Mango Cut into Small Chunks
1/2 Small Red Onion, Very Thinly Sliced
1/3 C Basil Leaves, Cut into a Chiffonade
1/2 C Cilantro, Chopped
1/3 C Roasted, Unsalted Peanuts, Chopped
To make the dressing place the vinegar, sugar, and salt in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring, about 1 minute, or until the sugar has dissolved. Remove the pan from the heat, add garlic, chile, and sesame oil. Allow the mixture to cool, then add the lime zest and juice.
Line a colander with a sheet or two of paper towels and set over a large plate next to the stove. In a large cast iron skillet heat the oil over medium high heat. Toss one eggplant cube in as a test. It should come out golden and crisp, not too dark, not too soggy, repeat test if needed. Once the oil is at the right temperature toss in about a third off the eggplant and fry, flipping once, until golden. Remove with a large slotted spoon or wire skimmer and place into the prepared colander. Add a bit of salt to season after removing each batch and toss to coat. Repeat the process with the remaining thirds, leaving about a minute or so for the oil to come back up to temp before adding the next batch.
Place cooked Soba noodles in a large bowl along with the red onion, mango, herbs and eggplant. Add dressing, a bit at a time until seasoned to your liking, add salt and pepper to taste. Toss, top with peanuts, and enjoy.
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!