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Yowza – Summery Sweet Corn Salad with a Kick

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.

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.

Summertime and the Living is Easy – Greek Salad with Wheat Berries and Bulgarian Feta

The last few weeks in Nashville have been riddled with sweltering hot afternoons and equally steaming evenings. With little respite from the heat our garden began to look depressed and tired, its little green stems drooping towards the ground, leaves yellowing. Water as we would the veggies protested the heat, our cucumbers became warped and deformed from a lack of moisture, pinching in at their “waist”to resemble barbells. The tomatoes cracked under the pressure.

At a canning class organized by Delvin Farms (who run our CSA) the farmers asked the participants to pray for rain. And perhaps the power of those prayers – palms to palms, foreheads to ground, or swishing feet in dance – brought down upon us the rain that so swiftly ensued, but not more than two days after that class entered the deluge. Days and days of rain, almost unsettling amounts of rain poured down upon our city, a city already a bit wary of copious downpour following the recent flood that took out much of its low lying tenements, burying entire malls in water, closing roadways and barring much of Nashville’s commerce for days on end.

As humans, we have an amazing ability to adapt to changes, our bodies adjust to temperature fluctuations with relative ease, we weather the rain and snow, inhabit barren desserts, and marshy wetlands, indeed we are capable of so much variety. It always amazes me that with such an uncanny ability to thrive in almost any climate, almost any area, that many people are downright unreceptive to change in their own lives. Rather then spending the sullen sweltering days standing over the stove or grill moaning about the heat, I try to target my cooking to techniques that suit the hotter climate, saving steamier projects for those unseasonably cold days that take us by surprise during the summer months.

In our kitchen, one of those rainy day projects typically involves cooking a large batch of whole grains. Rather then spending time boiling and cooking grains like farro or wheat berries for a salad, I typically cook a large batch once or twice a month and freeze cooled portions in bags for later use. They defrost fairly quickly and, provided you cool them completely before freezing they should keep well for 3-4 months (not that they will last that long 🙂 I would recommend running cold water over the grains or dunking them in an ice bath and then draining them well before freezing as this will keep them in the best condition possible throughout their time “on ice.” I do my very best to flush out as much air as possible before freezing the grains to keep them fresh.

With the grains cooked this salad is fairly easy to throw together on a sweltering summer day. It does require a fair bit of chopping, but I have a feeling that this is something that many produce lovers are well accustomed to – those veggies don’t chop themselves now do they. Personally, I would not used dried oregano in the stead of the fresh oregano listed here, if you cannot find it, I would reach for mint, or basil as a substitute before rummaging around for the dried oregano as it wont bring the zing that is needed to balance out the dressing. I love the sharp tang of Bulgarian feta in this dish, it is pungent and unctuous and adds a slightly gaminess to the otherwise straightforward dish. As the salad does follow fairly traditional “Greek salad” lines it would make a nice addition to a pot luck dinner or picnic, and may be a nice way to get new diners indoctrinated into the grain salad “movement” (I know its not really a movement but it should be!) So without further ado, I give you my new favorite grain salad – Greek style. Enjoy!

Greek Salad with Wheat Berries and Bulgarian Feta

This Recipe makes a large bowl – enough to feed a small picnic crowd or large family gathering, it can easily be halved for smaller get-togethers.

4 Cups Cooked Wheat Berries (Farro or other hearty whole grains may be substituted)
3 Cucumbers Cut into 1/2 inch Dice
2 Pints Cherry Tomatoes, Halved
1 1/2 Red Onions, Halved, Sliced Thinly, Slices Cut into Thirds or Quarters
2 TSP Sugar
Juice of 1 Lemon
1 TBSP White Balsamic or Good White Vinegar
4 Small Cloves of Garlic, Peeled and Sliced
1/2 Cup Olive Oil
1 TSP Salt
2 Green Bell Peppers, Diced
2 TBSP Fresh Oregano, Finely Chopped
1/2 Cup Roughly Chopped Parsley
About 20 Pitted Kalamata Olives, Rougly Chopped
1/2 Cup Crumbled Bulgarian Feta (or substitute another brined feta)
Salt and Pepper to Taste

Place the Cucumbers and Tomatoes in separate colanders and sprinkle liberally with kosher salt (don’t worry about the amount of salt, it will be rinsed off later) This salting helps draw some of the water out of the vegetables so they don’t make the dressing watery later on. Allow the cucumbers and tomatoes to sit and drain in the sink while chopping the other veggies.

Place the Onions in a large bowl with the sugar, lemon juice and vinegar and toss to combine. Allow to sit for at least 5 minutes to take the bite off of the onions. Add the garlic and slowly whisk in the olive oil, add salt and pepper to taste.

Rinse the tomatoes and cucumbers well with water and drain. Add to the bowl with the dressing along with the bell peppers, parsley, oregano, wheat berries and olives. Toss well, seasoning as you see fit, remember that the feta will add a bit of additional salt. Crumble the feta over the top just before serving and toss lightly (if combined too early the feta will color and look murky.) Serve to friends and enjoy!

A Classic – Early Summer Ratatouille

In a flash, a bang, and a pop, the wedding has come and gone. Was it everything I could have hoped for? Yes, absolutely but at the same time it was also so much more. I want so much to thank all who attended, and all of those who, in presence or in absence, have  supported and encouraged our union.  Your smiles, your embraces, and tears of joy have affirmed what I have always known in my heart – that I have found my best friend, my soul mate, my partner in life.

I want to extend a special thank you to the Reverend Doss, who gave such eloquent voice to the feelings that Dustin and I share – to Kathy and Mike for lending their ceremony to us and allowing us to make it our own. Dustin and I hope to follow in your footsteps as we share times of joy and sorrow, holding on to the good memories, and learning from our missteps. A true thank you as well to all of the attendees (particularly to Ken and Alicia and the Padalino family) who were so amazingly understanding and patient with us through the date change – through your support and kindness, and patience with our vision, we were able to enjoy a truly beautiful evening as a unified family. To those who traveled in from far away we appreciate you making the trek to join us, you presence helped make the day a truly memorable occasion. To Kristen, our patient photographer – thank you for making me smile, for your grace and poise and keen eye for detail.

To my new sisters and brother, thank you for the hugs and kisses, and for the amazing warmth and acceptance you have shown me. To my own sister a thousand thank yous for your patience with me, I know I can be a real trial. You showed amazing grace and support in the nerve biting moments before the big event. Thank you for loaning me some of your keen fashion insight, we both know how clueless I can be. To Peggy, thank you ever so much for your support with the flowers, you helped make our big day a beautiful success. To Gram, thank you for your endless support, for your wisdom and your prayers, we know we have angels looking out for us.

To my own parents, its hard to even begin. Thank you for your years of teaching. For thousands of hugs and kisses, and for the occasional tough love it took to keep me, your “head in the clouds” daughter, on track. It is through your guidance that I have learned to be loving, and your perseverance through times of adversity has taught me to stand tall, and above all – to never let the [bad guys] get me down.  Thank you both for giving me such a special day, to Mom for her beautifully executed vision (it truly was a Mid Summer Night’s Dream) and to Dilip for his beautiful toasts and for that – often silent but always felt – support. Thank you both for the gift of allowing us to all share this day together as a family.

Just as love, family, and friendship are timeless and fill us with warmth, this dish that follows is a true classic. It takes advantage of the plenty of the summer harvest and transforms it into a light stew, full of sustenance and comfort. Leftovers can be easily transformed into a wealth of different dishes – from tarts, to pot pies, to soups, to bruschetta. To all of those who have supported us, this one is for you. We hope that it warms your hearts as you have ours.

Early Summer Ratatouille

2 Small Eggplant Cut in Half and Cut into 1/2 Inch Slices
4 TBSP Olive Oil, Divided
3 Red or Yellow Bell Peppers
3 Bay Leaves
3 Sprigs Thyme
1 Sprig Rosemary
2 Red Onions, Cut in Half and Sliced Thinly
6 Cloves of Garlic, Peeled and Sliced
3-4 Zucchini or Yellow Squash (a Mix is Great Too!) Cut into 1-Inch Cubes
5 Plum Tomatoes, Scored with an X on the Bottom
At least 3 Cups Boiling Water
1/2 Cup Roughly Chopped Parsley
Small Splash of Good Balsamic Vinegar (optional)
Salt and Pepper to Taste

Heat the broiler to high. Place the eggplant in a single layer on a cooling rack atop a baking sheet (see the first photo above for an illustration.) Brush with 1 TBSP of Olive Oil, sprinkle with a spattering of salt and pepper and place beneath the broiler and grill until just browned (depending on the evenness of your broilers heat distribution you may want to rotate the pan half way though.) Remove the tray, flip the eggplant, brush the other side with another TBSP of olive oil, sprinkle on a bit more salt an pepper and repeat the broiling until just toasted and remove.

Set the cooling rack aside to cool and place the bell peppers on the baking tray. Pop the peppers in the oven under the broiler and cook until charred on all sides. Remove the peppers to a bowl, cover with saran wrap and allow to steam for 5 mins.

While the peppers steam place the remaining 2 TBSP of olive oil in a large sautee pan over the stove. Add the bay leaves, thyme, and rosemary, sautee one minute, stirring often. Once the herbs are very fragrant add the onions and sautee until very soft (about 5-7 mins) and almost translucent.

While the onions sautee place the tomatoes in a bowl and cover with 2-3 inches of boiling water. Allow to cool before removing them with a slotted spoon to a cutting board. Peel off the skins (these should slide off easily now.) Quarter the tomatoes and remove the worst of the seeds. Place seeded and skinned tomatoes on a cutting board and chop roughly. Transfer tomatoes along with their accumulated juices to a bowl and set aside.

When the onions have cooked for 5-7 mins add the sliced garlic to the onions in the pan and sautee another 2-3 mins, stirring often.

Remove the peppers from their bowl, leaving the accumulated juice inside. Peel and core the peppers. Slice thinly and return to the bowl with the juice.

Add the zucchini to the onion herb mixture and sautee stirring regularly for 4 mins. Add the peppers, tomatoes, and their juices and cook another 3 mins, stirring. If the dish appears too dry or starts to stick and brown on the bottom add a 1/4 cup of broth or water to loosen. Add the eggplant and cook until just heated through. Be careful not to overcook the zucchini.

Remove the pan from the heat. Scatter parsley over the dish and stir, taste and season as needed with salt and pepper adding a dash of balsamic if desired. Carefully fish out the bay leaves and what remains of the rosemary sprig and thyme (the parts that have cooked into the dish are fine to remain in place.) Serve warm, cool, or transform into a myriad of other dishes from tarts to bread soup.

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.

Coming Back to the Chopping Block – Soba Noodles with Mango and Eggplant

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.

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!

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