April Market

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Purchases at the Hillcrest Farmers Market

With the blazing heat of summer peeking in and out of the weather pattern, we celebrate the last of hurrah of the tender greens of spring. In the heat, lettuces bolt and plants produce seeds as if they know wilting potential of the sun to come.

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On the other hand, young specimens of summer varieties show up in the stalls, such as the miniature heads of red cabbage, baby kohlrabi and radicchio from Sage Mountain Farm.

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Among the overflowing selections at La Milpa Organica were beautiful sweet Red Bordeaux spinach, Magenta Spring Lamb’s Quarters, edible calendula flowers and a colorful bounty of beets.  Even in the same season, every week brings new discoveries and treats from the gardens to the markets and the tables. Zucchini blossoms and baby zucchinis are in abundance and I am even starting to pick them in our garden. This time of year I often arise in the morning with new recipes in my head and proceed through the day making plans for preparation and serving. Working with sun-kissed fresh-picked vegetables one can feel the energy of the earth. This vitality is felt with every meal and often brings a rejuvenating joy in those we serve. When it is available, there is no substitution for freshness and quality of ingredients. Truly, there are few pleasures beyond that of a freshly picked heirloom tomato still warm from the sun.

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It is the peak of tomato planting season in San Diego and there are amazing varieties available to plant. I have a small row of San Marzano tomatoes planted and expect the beginning of the harvest in late May with high anticipation.

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Chapati Tales

All sorrows are less with bread.  ~Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote

 

 

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The chapati may be the original bread…flat, without yeast and prepared over open fires.  The technique has been used for millennia and is adaptable to many different cooking circumstances, such as hot stones, coals or open flame.  The art of chapati making is often meditative and conducive for simple, yet elegant meals that focus on fresh and local flavors.

My first exposure to Indian food started in Cleveland in 1972.  The marvelously flexible and flavorful bread was served at the Hare Krishna temple on Sundays.  Soon, I became a regular, helping to make hundreds of chapatis in the clean and unpretentious kitchen that once belonged to John D. Rockefeller’s daughter.  I was shown proper ratios of flour, water and oil along with the best methods for making the dough by hand.  Taking on the job of kneading, I also learned how the dough was similar to the clay I was working with in pottery class at school.  Kneading and resting the dough were important for good chapatis: Ten minutes of kneading, then fifteen minutes of resting.  Sometimes, we would change the technique and “age” the dough in water overnight, which made the dough elastic and with a slight tang.  Often, we would seek the help of Indian women who learned the art of chapati making in early childhood.  I marveled how they deftly handled the thin rolling pins, turning a ball of dough into evenly rolled, thin, flat and perfectly round breads in a matter of seconds.  A talent passed on from mother to daughter for millennia, vividly displayed with fluid hand movements and perfectly puffed breads.

Living in the Northern Indian town of Vrndavan, I was immersed in a culinary yoga which maintained a strong emphasis on the balance between chapatis, rice, dahls and subjis.  The total chapati experience was revealed with the invite to lunch in local homes where I was able to witness this sweet perfection of Indian hospitality.  First and foremost, Vaishnava Hindu households always made a small portion as an offering to Vishnu first, thus “spiritualizing” the food and stressing the importance role food play in a life.  In a social setting, this was rarely shared with company, as the guest was made to feel as they were the only object of attention.  In my case, a desire to learn about food often brought extra demonstrations and detailed information about the preparation of food.  The menu was usually simple local fare such as mung dahl, basmati rice studded with black cardamom, a subji such as begun sak (eggplant and spinach) and, of course, a steaming fresh chapati.  Not just warm, but cooked to perfection, puffed up with a small vent of steam pouring out the top, just at the very moment the bread was placed on my plate.  As my fingers lifted the last morsel of tender bread off the plate, another fresh, perfectly prepared chapati would be placed in front of me…the steam swirling and beckoning.  This gastronomical ritual would continue until my belly could consume no more.  The most amazing part was that these experiences were merely daily lunches.  The sophistication of the food, high etiquette and attention to detail were simply how life was lived.

From The Hare Krishna Cookbook, circa 1973
From The Hare Krishna Cookbook, circa 1973, Copyright BBT

A “white” whole wheat flour works well.  The best flour to use is the durum whole wheat “atta” flour sold at Indian import stores.

To make this recipe vegan, place the chapatis directly in a covered container to keep the steam in.  

The chapatis will retain moisture and be soft for serving.  

Orzo

Orzo means “barley” in Italian and undoubtedly derived the name from a similarity in shape to the ancient grain.  A rice-like pasta from Italy is often substituted in America for Arborio rice in risotto style dishes.  Similar pastas can be found in Greek cooking and are commonly seen in avgolemono soupa (egg and lemon soup).  Recently, certified organic orzo has become available here and this recipe takes advantage of this tender man made grain.

 

Orzo, Spinach and Leek Risotto

Serves 4

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 1/2 cups leeks, sliced thin

1 cup garnet yam, cut into 1/2 inch cubes

2 1/2 cups water

1 bay leaf

3/4 cup organic orzo

1 teaspoon sea salt

1 tablespoon lemon juice

4 cups packed baby spinach leaves

1 teaspoon dill weed

Heat a sauté pan on medium heat, cook oil, leeks and yams for 1 minute.  Add water and bay leaf, bring to a simmer and add orzo. Cover and simmer until orzo has absorbed most of the water.  Add remaining ingredients, cover and simmer again until water is absorbed.  Turn off and let rest for a few minutes before serving.  

Ponzu Pea Pods

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Simple is often better in the food world. Summer gardens are often full of pea pods and Asian markets stock them as vegetables commonlyused in Chinese cookery. Here is a simple recipe using Japanese ingredients which wonderfully compliment the fresh green flavor of the pea pods.

Serves 4

1 cup water
2 cups pea pods, trimmed and strings removed
1 tablespoon tamari
1/2 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon brown rice vinegar
1/2 teaspoon mirin

Heat water in a 2 quart saucepan at medium high heat. Add pea pods and cover. Cook for 30 to 45 seconds, blanching the pea pods. Turn off the burner and drain water. Add remaining ingredients. Toss pea pods together and serve immediately

Karela

Bitter melon is an Asian “super food” commonly found in high-end groceries. It is a summer harvest food not often seen in U.S. markets except in Korean, Chinese and Indian stores. Native to tropical Asia, Caribbean and Africa, it is commonly consumed as a digestive aid and is considered essential in cuisines that embrace the wrinkled gourd. In Korea, they are usually consumed raw, sliced and marinated with rice vinegar and a little salt. In China they are used in stir-fries, soups and teas. In West Bengal, a dish called shukta could almost be considered a state dish. It is a bitter tasting subji (mixed vegetable dish) made with karela (bitter melon) and is served at the beginning of a meal. Another method of preparation common in India is to simply add salt and turmeric to the sliced bitter gourd and pan fry or deep fry in clarified butter. A very effective Ayurvedic tea given to diabetic patients for lowering blood sugar is made from a combination of bitter melon and turmeric. I often serve turmeric and sea salt coated baked bitter melon as an appetizer. The unique bitter edge adds dimension to a meal as well as a topic of conversation.
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Spicy Almond Creamed Corn

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This year, the peak of the corn harvest has passed.  Still, just before frost, there are still fresh ears available that are a little tougher, but retain some of the sweetness.  This recipe is ideal with peak harvest corn, but is also a good way to use any fresh corn. The level of spiciness may be adjusted by the amount of jalapeno used, even to the point of removing it entirely.

Serves 6

2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon fresh jalapeno chile, seeded and minced

2 1/2 cups sweet corn, cut off the cob

1/2 cup sweet onions, finely diced

1 teaspoon sea salt

1 cup water

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 1/2 cups plain soy milk

1/2 cup almond flour

1/4 teaspoon white pepper, freshly ground

Heat oil in a saute pan on medium heat, then add jalapeno, cook for 10 seconds and add corn and onions.  Cook, stirring often, for 3 minutes until corn starts to lightly bown around the edges. Stir in salt, water, Dijon, soy milk, almond flour and white pepper.  Cook until liquid becomes creamy.  Serve hot as a side dish.

Swiss Chard

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Popular throughout the Mediterranean, Swiss chard is thought to originate in Sicily and is widely available throughout the U.S.

Swiss chard has a very specific taste that ends to take over any dish it is put in. While pleasant, sometimes a different flavor and use is desired.  This recipe is just that.  It is a variation of the Sicilian eggplant relish, caponata.  Onions, dried cherries and balsamic vinegar create a sweet and sour effect that works with the chard, making a delightful condiment or side dish.


Sicilian Swiss Chard

Serves 6

1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil

1 sweet onions, sliced

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (omit for a milder version)

1/4 cup dried cherries

1/4 cup slivered raw almonds

1 large bunch Swiss chard, stemmed and thinly sliced (4 cups packed)

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper 

In a saute pan on medium low heat cook oil, onions and crushed red pepper flakes until the onions are clear. Add almonds and cook another minute, then add remaining ingredients.  Cook, covered at a low temperature until the Swiss chard is tender and the liquid gone, about 8 to 10 minutes.  Serve warm or cold.  Will keep in a refrigerator up to 3 days and is excellent for antipasti or picnics.


Spicy Tomatillo Ketchup

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Reminiscent of handcrafted salsas of Mexico and inspired by the bounty of chiles available in local farm martkets, this is a fiery condiment, tempered with a sweet finish from local maple syrup.  It is a recipe that works well as a salsa, a dip or a spread.

Makes about 3 cups

A. 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

2 cloves garlic, sliced

3 anaheim chiles, stemmed, seeded and sliced

4 serrano chiles, stemmed, seeded and sliced

4 jalapeno chiles, stemmed, seeded and sliced

¾ cup thin sliced red onions

B.

1 pound tomatillos, peeled and quartered, about 3 cups ½ cup cider vinegar

1 ½ cups maple syrup

1 cup fresh squeezed lime juice

1 ½ teaspoons sea salt

½ cup fresh cilantro

In a 2 quart covered saucepan, simmer step A on medium-low heat until onions are clear. Add step B and simmer until the tomatillos have merged and are reduced by one half.  Turn off and allow to cool to warm, then puree in a food processor or blender. Transfer and serve hot or cold.