Saturday, January 30, 2010

Papaya Seed Dressing

Just a little extra something.

This dressing is delicious with a mixture of greens, papaya, avocados or beets, and toasted nuts. I mix some of the dressing with the greens and place them on salad plates. Then I decorate the top of the greens with the papaya, avocado or beets, nuts, etc. and drizzle more the dressing over the top.

2 tablespoons papaya seeds
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons honey
2/3 cup olive oil
2 small garlic cloves
½ teaspoon ground cumin
1¼ teaspoon sweet or smoky sweet paprika
¼ teaspoon Aleppo pepper, optional
½ teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper

1. To make the dressing, combine all the dressing ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.
2. Taste for seasoning. Add more of anything if you desire.

Adapted from Cindy’s Pawlcyn’s Big Small Plates

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Part I: French cooking in 2009? Mais Non!

I didn’t use a single one of my 37 French cookbooks in 2009. As much as I loved the movie Julie and Julia, think of Julia Child as my fairy godmother cooking mentor, and am in awe of Julie Powell’s accomplishment, I didn’t cook French. Not once. In Part II, below, I’ll tell you how I know this astonishing fact.

What was going on? I’ve cooked plenty of French food in the past, including the months preceding Katherine’s and my trip to Paris, Burgundy and Provence in 2005. This last piece of information is, I believe, crucial. My relationship with France has grown pretty slack since 2005. It is off my radar. I have a stronger connection to other cuisines at the moment. Were I to make plans to vacation in Provence next summer, everything would change. France would be back on the screen, I would need to get my mouth ready for the trip and the French cookbooks would resurface.

What do I make of these yearnings in my mouth for particular flavors and the spurning of others? Based on the French experience, anecdotal as it is, I want to propose a theory: My tastebuds are relational. If I have a strong relationship with a place (historical, in the present moment, or in my imagination), I am more likely to want to cook from that place.
So let’s look at what I did cook.

1. The answer is Middle Eastern, North African, and Mediterranean food. Lots of it. I love that part of the world: since 2003 I have visited there five times. But I was intrigued by the flavors long before the travel. I bought my first Persian cookbook in the 60s. [Indulge me here. According to my National Geographic DNA study, my gene pool reached Europe via what is now the Middle East. Is anyone willing to speculate as to the food my gene pool ingested on the way? Might I still be influenced by it?] In 2009 I visited both Jordan and Israel and my cousin-in law, Rivka, visited Syria. In preparing for my trip and following hers vicariously, I cooked from The Arab Table by May S. Bsisu, used Joan Nathan’s The Foods of Israel Today and devoured Saha by Malouf and Malouf. I cooked more food from this part of the world than from any other.

2. I also purchased a slim book (used and without a dust jacket) called Sara Foster’s Casual Cooking and used it a bunch. Sara Foster opened a primarily take-out market in 1990 in Durham, North Carolina where I lived from 1975 to 1995. I was an avid supporter of the market and often went there for lunch or to pick up some dinner. I ate great Southern food (Magnolia Grill and Nana’s in Durham, Crook’s Corner in Chapel Hill) and acquired a fair number of Southern cookbooks (now up to 20). Last night we ate at Pican, a restaurant in Oakland specializing in sophisticated Southern fare. I love cooking from both of Sara’s cookbooks because they combine Southern hospitality with really good food, just like the market. Below you’ll find Southern-style recipes for Pimiento Cheese and Chilaquiles with Salsa Verde.

3. And finally I notice that my taste buds are pulling me in the direction of Thailand and Vietnam. Nancie McDermott’s Quick & Easy Vietnamese cookbook which I took with me to Hawaii has been getting quite a workout, along with a Thai soup that I love for its simplicity and delicious flavor. Check on next week's blog for some great recipes. Turns out I really want to visit Vietnam in the next couple of years and I’m getting my mouth ready to go. Fish sauce really didn’t do much for me until I got this hankering. Now I can’t seem to get enough.

I would love to know if you have any special relationships to the food you cook. My friend Karyn says that her relationship is with the place she gets her vegetables: The Farmers Markets and her own backyard. Once she has the produce in her care, she starts thinking about how to cook them and reaches for cookbooks that are organized by seasons or by the fruits and vegetables themselves. What about you? How do you choose what to cook?

Part II: My Cookbook Spreadsheet

How do I know that I didn’t cook French and ate a lot of Middle Eastern, you might ask?

Because I kept a list. At the beginning of 2009 I made a spreadsheet of about half of my cookbooks. I sorted the cookbooks into 29 categories, mostly by country or region. Every night after dinner when I wrote down what I ate in my little notebook, I would jot down on the spreadsheet the date next to the cookbooks I had used. At the end of this last year, I looked over the sheets to see if anything interesting showed up. It did—but maybe only interesting to me. You be the judge.

Turns out I cooked from 104 cookbooks in 2009, 39 of which I used for the first time, another way of saying that I acquired 39 new or used cookbooks. I prepared 202 recipes from these 104 cookbooks.
As I mentioned above, I cooked a lot of food from around the Middle East. Here are the numbers in terms of recipes: Middle Eastern (20), Turkish (2), Moroccan/Spanish (13), Persian (2) and Mediterranean (8). These flavor-related regions account for 45 recipes (22 percent of the recipes I used in 2009). I also used 33 recipes from cookbooks of the American West Coast (where I live) and 23 recipes from vegetarian and healthy cookbooks. Miscellaneous others: Indian (12), International (9), Italian (9), Mexican and Latin (7), and British (11).

The prize for the most used cookbook goes to Flatbreads and Flavors by Alford and Duguid. Eight times. I really do like that cookbook; it is simple and inviting. But I can’t say that it is my very favorite, even though I used it more than any other. Truth is, I can’t even imagine choosing a favorite—too reminiscent of Sophie’s Choice. I cooked from Sam and Sam Clark’s Casa Moro seven times. John Ash’s From the Earth to the Table and Niloufer Ichaporia King’s My Bombay Kitchen both came in at six. The Food of Israel Today, The Arab Table (both mentioned above) and Paula Wolfert’s Mediterranean Clay Pot Cooking all came in at five.

I should mention that three recipe sources don’t show up in this calculation: 1) the recipes I was testing for this blog (about 84), 2) those I make up on the spot which I call “my own devising”, and 3) those which I find in newspapers, on the internet or in my handwritten notebooks or are given by friends. I might add these to this year’s list which now includes all my cookbooks (523).

Southern Comfort Food from Foster's Market

Foster’s Pimiento Cheese Spread
Katherine’s mother who lives in Roanoke, Virginia always has a deli tub of this spread awaiting us in the fridge. The one she buys at her favorite place is really good. This one is even better.

1 cup (4 ounces) grated sharp Cheddar cheese
Note: You can grate the cheeses in a food processor if you wish.
1½ cups (6 ounces) grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup (4 ounces) grated smoked or regular Gouda cheese
2 roasted red bell peppers, peeled, cored, seeded, and chopped
     See note below for roasting instructions
1 cup mayonnaise
1 jalapeno, red is preferable but green is OK too, seeded and minced
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
½ teaspoon smoky sweet or regular paprika
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper

1. Mix together the cheeses and the roasted peppers in a large bowl.
2. Combine the mayonnaise, jalapeno, vinegar, honey, paprika, salt and pepper in a small bowl and stir to blend well.
3. Stir the mayonnaise mixture into the cheese mixture and mix well. Taste for salt, adding more if necessary. Refrigerate in an airtight contained until ready to use or up to 1 week.

There are lots of uses: on crackers, toasted bread, biscuits, English muffins, or chips; as a sandwich spread, a topping for baked potatoes, or an omelet filling. Great for breakfast, lunch, or a pre-dinner snack.

To roast the peppers: Place them on a shallow rimmed pan lined with aluminum foil. Place the pan under the broiler on the second shelf down from the top of the oven. Keep turning the peppers until they are blackened on all sides. Remove from the oven. Place them in a bowl and cover; when they are cool enough to handle, remove all the blackened skin, the seeds, and the stem. Refrain, if you can, from rinsing under water. I save the liquid that the peppers release for use in any situation calling for stock.

Makes about 4 cups
Adapted from Sara Foster’s The Foster’s Market Cookbook

Chilaquiles and Andouille Sausage Scramble with Salsa Verde

This makes a great dinner but it can also be served for breakfast.

4 corn tortillas, cut into 1-inch strips
1½ cups slightly crushed tortilla chips
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for brushing the tortillas
Salt and pepper
1 andouille sausage link (about 8 ounces), thinly sliced into rounds
6 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 ounces Monterey Jack or cheddar or a combination of the two (about ½ cup)
Salsa Verde, see recipe below, or you can purchase tomatillo salsa

1. Preheat oven to 400ºF.
2. Scatter the tortilla strips on a rimmed baking sheet and brush lightly with olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Bake for about 15 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally and turning over the strips, until they’re golden brown on both sides and crisp.
3. Heat the 2 tablespoons oil in a large non-stick or cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add the sausage slices and cook and stir them for 4 to 5 minutes, until brown and cooked through.
4. Pour the eggs into the skillet and cook, gently folding the eggs as they cook, until just done but still wet looking. Season the eggs with salt and pepper and turn off the heat.
5. Add the cheese and tortilla strips or chips to the skillet and fold them into the eggs until the cheese melts and the tortilla strips or chips soften slightly.
6. Drizzle the chilaquiles with ½ cup of the Salsa Verde and serve warm with the remaining salsa on the side.

4-6 servings
Adapted from Sara Foster’s Casual Cooking

Salsa Verde

4 medium tomatillos, paper covering removed, chopped
1 cup pureed canned tomatillos (with their juices)
½ cup fresh cilantro leaves
3 scallions, chopped (white and green parts)
2 garlic cloves, smashed
Juice of 1 lime
Salt and pepper

1. Combine the tomatillos, cilantro, scallions, garlic and lime juice in a blender and purée until smooth.
2. Serve immediately or refrigerate in an airtight contained until ready to serve.
3. Just before serving, season with salt and pepper.

Makes about 1½ cups
Adapted from Sara Foster’s Casual Cooking

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Big Island of Hawaii: Papaya Heaven

If you want big waves and papayas, this is the perfect season of the year to visit The Big Island of Hawaii. We just returned from nine days of feasting on papaya in multiple forms, hiking along lava rock-strewn coast, snorkeling (for me, the first time), watching waves crash against the cliffs, visiting historical sites like the City of Refuge, and soaking up the warmth. It was heavenly.

We stayed in a house overlooking the ocean. While the kitchen was not particularly well-equipped, the land on which the house was situated could not have been more suited to our culinary endeavors. Trees of papayas (fully ripe, medium ripe, and green), avocados (ripening), bananas, macadamia nuts, tangerines, mangoes (out of season) dotted the landscape adjoining the house. The papayas played the biggest role in our diet by far. One of our traveling companions ate a very large papaya every day—seeds scooped out and replaced with yogurt. Simple and, he reports, delicious. Because he was the biggest consumer, he took on the role of forager and harvester. Not a particularly onerous task given our proximity to the source.

Our adventure with papayas began at the Farmers Market in Kona where we picked up six of them for $5, along with a bag of macadamia nuts, lettuce from the other side of the island, and a grapefruit. At the supermarket later in the day we bought bacon, olive oil, and red wine vinegar. Our first dinner on the island featured all these ingredients in a salad that was one of the best we’d ever eaten. We swooned. I call it First Night Dinner Salad and have tried my best to recreate it in the recipe below. What I can’t recreate is the particular situation in which we ate it: our first night in the house, so ready for tropical fruit we could hardly stand it, and still pretty full from a large lunch next to the water in Kona. During the course of the week, we went on to fix Papaya Quesadillas, Papaya Salsa with Ahi Tuna, Vietnamese Green Papaya Salad, and nearly every day a Papaya-Banana Smoothie, a specialty of our second traveling companion.

I took two cookbooks with me: Quick and Easy Vietnamese by Nancie McDermott and Aloha Days, Hula Nights by the Junior League of Honolulu, Hawaii. Both of them were excellent resources and provided us with a huge number of options for island eating. Ingredients were readily available at our ChoiceMart in Captain Cook.

Since returning, I haven’t been able to stop my island eating. I remembered Cindy Pawlcyn’s papaya salad in Big Small Plates with a salad dressing made with the papaya's round black seeds; I fixed it for dinner last evening. Let me know if you'd like the recipe for this salad. In addition to the First Night Dinner Salad, I’ve also cooked the Quesadillas, Tomato Relish, and the Salsa again, just to make sure they are as good here on the mainland as they were on the island. You’ll find the recipes below.

Now I must admit that the papayas I get in my supermarket here are not local and have no doubt accumulated a pretty large carbon footprint. From time to time I am willing to bend my local/sustainable/organic guidelines and this week, when I am still remembering and yearning for the foods we prepared in Hawaii, is one of those occasions. I bought myself three small papayas and have savored every bite. If you are yearning for a little tropical sunshine in your tummy, in the midst of the cold and rain, I recommend that you do the same.

Papaya Heaven Recipes

Papaya Salsa 

Serve as an accompaniment to enchiladas, tacos, molés, seared ahi tuna, or with chips.

1 medium ripe papaya, peeled, seeded, and diced
1 clove garlic, minced or pressed
¼ small red onion, finely diced
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice or more to taste
¼ cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
¼ teaspoon salt or more to taste
½ red or green jalapeno pepper, minced

1. Combine the papaya, garlic, onion, lime juice, cilantro, salt and jalapeno in a non-reactive bowl, stirring well to mix.
2. Cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour.
3. Taste for salt and lime juice. Add more as necessary.

4 servings
Adapted from The Junior League of Honolulu, Inc.’s Aloha Days, Hula Nights

First Night Dinner Salad

2 heads butter lettuce, washed, dried, and torn into pieces
1 pink grapefruit, sectioned
1 small papaya, seeded, peeled, and sliced
½ cup macadamia nuts, coarsely chopped
4-5 slices of bacon, cut crosswise into ½-inch strips
2 tablespoons finely chopped red onion or green onion
Coarse-grain Hawaiian salt, if available (white or pink), optional 

Red wine and paprika vinaigrette:
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
6 tablespoons olive oil
¼ teaspoon paprika, smoky or regular
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Place the sectioned grapefruit and sliced papaya in separate bowls.
2. Fry the bacon until it is slightly brown and a little crispy. (I like limp bacon but I may be alone in my preference.)
3. Make the vinaigrette by combining all the ingredients in a small bowl and stirring with a fork to mix well. Taste and adjust seasoning. You can add a touch of sugar if your vinegar is quite sour.
4. Mix the greens with the onions in a salad bowl. Add about half of the dressing and toss carefully.
5. Arrange the greens on four dinner plates. Distribute the papaya slices, grapefruit sections, bacon, and macadamia nuts over the greens. Spoon the remaining dressing over each plate to moisten the fruit and nuts. Sprinkle with the optional coarse salt.

You can also add avocado slices if you desire.

4 servings for a light dinner or 6 for a side salad
My own devising

Papaya Quesadillas with Spicy Tomato Relish

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 fresh jalapeno pepper, red or green, seeded and finely diced
1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 ripe large papaya, seeded, peeled, and diced
Salt and black pepper to taste
5 ounces Asiago cheese or other mild white cheese, shredded
10 10-inch flour tortillas
4 tablespoons butter, softened (or bacon fat if you have some)
Sour cream, for serving

1. Make the Spicy Tomato Relish before you begin the quesadillas. See recipe below.
2. Heat the oil in a skillet (metal or pottery) over medium heat. Add the jalapeno and onion. Sauté 5 to 10 minutes until wilted and slightly golden brown. Stir in the papaya. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Sauté briefly to warm the papaya. Set the pan aside.
3. Butter one side of each tortilla (or use the bacon fat if you’d like). Lay buttered side down in a hot skillet. Cover with one-fifth of the onion/papaya mixture. Sprinkle with about ¼ cup shredded cheese. Top with the second tortilla, buttered side up.
4. When browned on the bottom, carefully turn the quesadilla over to brown the other side using as wide a spatula as you have. If any of the filling falls out in the process, tuck it back inside. Remove from the pan and keep warm in a 250ºF oven on a rimmed baking pan.
5. Repeat with the remaining tortillas and filling, moving them to the oven as they are done.
6. When done, cut each of the quesadillas in half. Scissors work well. Serve warm with Spicy Tomato Relish and sour cream.

6 servings (if everyone eats about 1½ quesadilla halves)
You may have a little left over for lunch the next day. The cookbook suggests serving this as an appetizer, cutting the quesadillas into wedges, like a pie.
Adapted from The Junior League of Honolulu, Inc.’s Aloha Days Hula Nights

Spicy Tomato Relish

6 ripe tomatoes or 8 Roma tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes
2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger root
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon curry powder
1½ teaspoon cumin seed
¼ teaspoon fenugreek seed, optional
¼ teaspoon mustard seed
1 small dried hot red chile
Salt to taste

1. Put the chopped or canned tomatoes, ginger, garlic and curry powder in a saucepan, stirring to mix.
2. In a small skillet over medium heat, toast the cumin, fenugreek, mustard seed and chile pepper until the mustard starts to pop, about 30 seconds to a minute. Add to the tomato mixture.
3. Cook the tomato sauce on medium heat for 20 to 25 minutes, stirring often, until thickened. Season with salt to taste.
4. Remove from the heat. Scrape into a bowl and let cool. Serve warm or at room temperature.

If you have any leftover, you can use as a filling for an omelet.

 Adapted from The Junior League of Honolulu, Inc.’s Aloha Days Hula Nights

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Salvador Tinajero and the Organic Garden at Rancho la Puerta

I think it’s safe to say that most Mexican fruits and vegetables we find in our supermarkets are grown with chemical fertilizers, doused liberally with pesticides and herbicides, and have acquired a good-sized carbon footprint thanks to moving them from there to here. I want to tell you the story of a piece of land and the man who manages it that gives me hope for the future of Mexican produce. Like so many small organic farmers in the U.S., he is working against the odds. But unlike so many organic farmers, he has the support of an organization that in 1960 set aside a piece of land which continues to be a testament to the organic principles and practices I hold dear.

The organization is Rancho la Puerta, an amazing spa just south of San Diego, CA in Tecate, Mexico. Founded by Professor E. B. Szekeley, a Romanian-born philosopher and scholar and his young wife, Deborah, the Ranch welcomed its first guests in 1940 ($17.50/week; bring your own tent) and from the beginning offered organic food, a fitness regime, and lectures from people as diverse as Aldous Huxley and J. I. Rodale. The present accommodations are way more luxurious but the pioneering combination of fitness, nutrition, spiritual practice, hikes, and healthy living continues to this day. For four years, we have gone to the Ranch the week before Christmas. From Saturday to Saturday I unplug from my usual routine, take daily yoga classes, learn about nutrition, eat lots of organic fruits and vegetables, and have a spa treatment or two. I return to Berkeley feeling healthy and fit and perhaps a few pounds slimmer.

My very favorite activity is the two-mile Breakfast Hike to the organic garden, Ranchos Tres Estrellas, which leaves the Ranch Lounge at 6:00a.m. You might wonder what on earth would get me out of bed at 5:30a.m. when I’m on vacation. For me, the answer is Salvador Tinajero, the manager of the organic garden. Even more than the delicious breakfast and hot chocolate awaiting us at Tres Estrellas, I look forward to his tour of the garden which I’ve taken six or eight times over the years. He never fails to amuse, delight, and instruct.

Salvador greets us with a smile, wearing a blue jacket and gray pants, with his knife and pruning shears in a leather holster attached to his waist. He can hardly contain his excitement in talking about the organic fruits, vegetables, and herbs he grows on six acres of land at the foot of sacred Mount Kuchumaa. He uproots a broccoli plant, shows us the root structure and the soil, and then hands around the beautifully developed head of broccoli so that everyone can have a bite. He harvests six or seven carrots, washes them and has us notice how sweet they are in winter as we chomp and chew. He talks about planting annuals between perennials in order to draw the good insects, about how the carnivorous spiders help with any potential aphid problem. He delivers this information in accented English, speaking so quickly that occasionally I fail to catch what he says. Never mind, I want to cram in as much as possible before we hike back to the Ranch.

Salvador started working at the Ranch when he was 19 years old and has been at the garden for 23 years, the last six years as manager. In addition to giving the tours, he does the planning, orders supplies, organizes work schedules for the seven guys on his team, and sells any crops that aren’t used by the Ranch. His primary job, he says, is “to grow the soil” and it is crucial to his enterprise. Growing soil involves building compost from organic matter gleaned from the garden itself and from manure. His crew produces about seven tons a year and returns it to the garden beds, year after year. Water is also crucial. Currently the nine inches of annual rainfall is sufficient to water his mostly drought-tolerant crops. But he worries about global warming and how it is already affecting the garden. Higher temperatures, unpredictable weather patterns, and less rain could all take their toll on the garden’s ability to produce.

He dreams of growing an even greater variety of produce and is always looking for new possibilities. The more diversity the better. He receives requests for new items from the Ranch chefs and from guest chefs who teach at the cooking school, La Cocina Que Canta. Chicago’s Rick Bayless, for example, requested “Mexican oregano.” At first Salvador was stumped. He discovered that Mexican oregano is actually lippia graveolens, a member of the verbena family, and is not related to our supermarket oregano. He found a source for the seeds and grew it successfully. He also dreams of being able to travel to trainings in Mexico or California to learn more about gardening, to meet like-minded growers, and to spread his knowledge about organic farming to farmers in Mexico.

Salvador is passionate, curious, patient, devoted to the land, and committed to doing the best job he can. I appreciate his infectious grin, the twinkle in his eye, and his irrepressible exuberance as he shows us the garden. He pours affection and real love into everything he grows; we at the Ranch, this plot of land, and the surrounding community are all healthier for it. We thank him for his efforts on our behalf and wish him well in reaching farmers in Mexico who might adopt the Ranch’s organic practices and principles.

Using Produce from the Organic Garden: Broccoli with Raisins and Pine Nuts

Broccoli with Raisins and Pine Nuts

1 bunch of broccoli, about 14 ounces
3 tablespoons olive oil
¼ cup water
¼ cup raisins or currents or more
3 tablespoons pine nuts or more
1 teaspoon salt or more to taste

1. Slice the stems of the broccoli into thin rounds. Cut the heads of the broccoli into bite-sized pieces.
2. Heat the oil in a wok or a frying pan large enough to hold the broccoli. Add 1 teaspoon salt to the oil.
3. Add the broccoli and stir to coat the broccoli with the oil.
4. Add ¼ cup water. Turn the heat down a bit and cover the pan for 3-5 minutes or until the broccoli is tender but still has a nice green color. Check to make sure the water doesn’t boil away. By the end of the cooking time, the water will be gone or almost gone.
5. Add the raisins or currents and the pine nuts and stir until they are hot and well combined with the broccoli. Taste for salt and serve.

4 servings
My own devising