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Sweet Corn and Sour Nectarine Rye-bouleh

September 12, 2013 1 comment

“I give you this to take with you:
Nothing remains as it was. If you know this, you can
begin again, with pure joy in the uprooting.”
― Judith Minty, Letters to My Daughters

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And so, dear readers, we have moved again. From Tennessee where so many life events (some good, and some bad,) have come and gone, the winds of change have filled our sails once again and we have embarked on a new journey. This time lady fortune has lured us further Westward to the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, just east of The City of Angels. Had you asked me in June, I would never have guessed that we would end up living in Greater Los Angeles. But here we are, with a new home, and new jobs, getting back into the swing of things. Its a new swing but it has a nice groove; and with my penchant for produce, I could certainly do much worse than to end up in LA.

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Though we were sad to leave behind our phenomenal CSA program in Tennessee, we are so fortunate to have moved to an area where high-quality farmers markets are abundant. We have tried three of the area’s local markets so far and have been overwhelmingly impressed by the variety of local ingredients and handmade goods. The knowledge and passion of the vendors and artisans gives the market its buzz and verve. Fruit vendors proudly pass out samples of their home grown produce and will gladly spend time with conscious consumers to explain their growing practices. Artisans offer up color on the inspiration for their wares which vary from market to market but include an immense variety of goods from beautiful handmade soaps, to aged balsamic vinegar, to home dried fruits, freshly popped kettle corn, local honey, and a multitude of baked goods. These are the markets I have been longing for – and with the scent of sweet summer fruit in the air and passion emanating from each booth, inspiration abounds.
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Now in its 13th year, The South Pasadena Farmers Market has a strong reputation as one of the best in Greater Los Angeles. Situated smack dab in the middle of what is arguably one of the most picture-perfect towns in the local area, the farmers market buzzes with activity every Thursday evening. The sense of community is immensely strong at this evening market. Parents bring their children to participate in sing-a-longs led by a local musician. Food stalls serve up dinner to hungry shoppers who set themselves down at communal picnic tables to enjoy their feast “en plein air.” Produce purveyors banter with their regulars while welcoming newcomers into the fold proffering up wedges of nectarines and samples of fresh pea pods for old and new shoppers alike, whetting their appetite for the weeks peak produce.

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It was one such sample of a tangy golden nectarine that seeded the inspiration for this salad. Only a stones throw from Georgia, we were plenty fortunate in Tennessee to be on the receiving end of the region’s well renown peaches. But despite Georgia’s claims of dominance in the production of peaches, I have been overwhelmingly impressed by the variety and quality of stone fruit for sale at the Pasadena Area’s farmers markets. To preserve their delicate flesh from bruising, most peaches, plums, and nectarines are picked, packed, and taken to market just a day or so before they fully ripen. Though I have traditionally found underripe fruits to be unpleasantly tart, or lacking in flavor, some of the semi-firm nectarines offered up for sample struck a cord. Tangy but sweet, firm but not crunchy, the nectarine shows a different color and new versatility when eaten just before it reaches the pinnacle of ripeness. In this salad that sweet yet tart flavor plays well with the zesty chiles, sweet summer corn, and punchy onion; and the fruit brings a citrusy brightness acting as a foil for the earthy rye berries that make up the bulk of this grain-based dish.

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The original recipe called for cucumbers but I have adapted it here to include some lovely golden zucchini in its stead. As we typically prepare dishes for Dustin’s packed lunches in advance, I wanted to use a vegetable that would keep well in the salad for a few days and not leach too much water into the dish, hence the swapping in of zucchini for cucumbers. For similar reasons, I would strongly suggest using a golden zucchini over a yellow summer squash. If you cannot find golden zucchini at your local market, feel free to substitute a the traditional green variety that is so insanely abundant during the summer season.

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From place to place, vendor to vendor, and varietal to varietal, I find there is so much variance in corn. Some summer corn is so sweet and tender that I will happily eat it “raw,” cut straight from the cob (or perhaps still on it.) If you are lucky enough to happen upon corn that is brilliant in its naked state, simply remove it from the cob and add it to the salad uncooked. At times I find corn to be too starchy to eat without at least some cooking. There are countless ways to cook corn and virtually all will work for this dish. If you happen to be lighting up the grill you can simply wrap the shucked corn in foil and let them steam in the foil for a 10 – 15 minutes, or until the kernels darken ever so slightly in color and become tender allow the corn to cool before severing the kernels  from the cob. Another method I like involves removing the kernels from the cob and briefly blanching these in boiling water. Once the water has returned to a boil, leave kernels to bubble away for about two minutes before removing them with a slotted spoon to a prepared ice bath. The ice bath will halt the cooking process and brighten the color of the corn slightly. If using this method, allow the kernels to drain well before adding them to the salad.

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Sweet Corn and Sour Nectarine Rye-bouleh (adapted from Kitchen Confidante)

128g (1 C) Cracked Rye
2 Ears of Sweet Corn, Raw, Steamed, or Boiled (See Note on Corn Above)
2 Slightly Firm Nectarines, Pitted and Diced
1/2 C Diced Red Onion
2 Small Golden Zucchini, Diced
1/2 Hatch Chile, Seeds Removed, Finely Sliced
1/2 C Chopped Cilantro
1/4 C Chopped Mint
Juice of 1/2 a Lemon, Strained
1 TBSP Sherry Vinegar
1/2 TSP Agave
1/4 Cup Good Olive Oil

In a medium saucepan (with a lid) bring 3 cups of water to a boil. While the water is coming to a boil, place the cracked rye in a fine mesh strainer. Rinse the rye in several “changes” of water, as you would rice before cooking. Once the water has boiled add a pinch of salt and the grains. Once the pot has returned to a boil, place the lid on the pot and remove it from the heat. Let it stand for at least 5 minutes before removing the lid and tasting one of the grains. The grains should no longer be crunchy but should still have a somewhat firm texture. If they are not soft enough, return the lid to the pot and let stand several more minutes before testing again. Once the grains are to your liking, drain in a fine mesh colander and rinse with cool water to stop the cooking process. Give the colander a few shakes to rid it of some of the excess water and leave the grains to drain while you prepare the remaining ingredients.

Place corn, nectarines, onion, zucchini, and chiles in a large bowl and toss to combine. Add cilantro, mint, lemon juice, sherry, agave, olive oil, a liberal pinch of salt and several cracks of pepper and toss again. Add the well drained rye berries and stir to combine. Taste for seasoning and adjust to your liking with salt, pepper, lemon juice, and olive oil.

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Grilling, Finally – Fish with Cucumber Salsa

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.

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