Artisanal Fermentation

Each day, 30 to 40 minutes is usually spent cooking. Fast traditional cooking is wonderful, but the traditional slow and carefully prepared dishes add depth, perspective and an understanding of the true meaning of the food. I like to use traditionally prepared condiments, such as tamari, ume plum vinegar, unpasteurized miso, cured olives, salted capers and well aged balsamic vinegar to compliment my quickly prepared meals. Often these dishes are rooted in the climate and politics of the era they originated from, adding romanticized imagery of the times of yore. Many well crafted preparations depend on fermentation, something we are rarely exposed to since refrigeration came into the kitchen. These dishes often define flavors of a cuisine with the unique flavors of enzymatic growth. Often they were used in winter to add flavor and vital nutrients when the fresh harvest was not available. Along with preserving and salt curing, fermentation was used to keep perishable ingredients edible.
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Sauerkraut is one of those dishes. In Michigan, every Autumn during the abundant cabbage harvest, housewives and farmers would grate large amounts of the cruciferous vegetable on everything from hand graters to handyman crafted grating boxes which could shred an entire giant head at a time. The freshly shredded cabbage was placed with salt in crocks, barrels or bin, then pressed and covered to encapsulate the fermentation process. After a couple of weeks or so, the cabbage turned into sauerkraut and continued to ferment until canning. Today, a good amount of Michigan’s bountiful cabbage crop is turned into nutritious sauerkraut and donated to food banks.

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In India, nation culinary treasures such as Idli, Dosa, Jallebi and Dahi (yogurt) all depend on fermentation for unique flavors and health giving enzymes. Dosa has very ancient roots in South Indian Tamil culture that are at least 6,000 years old. This original “crepe” has maintained popularity and is one of the most recognized and cherished dishes in greater Indian cuisine. Thirty years ago, Indian dahi-walla shops were frequently a stove, a pot and a cook (sometimes with a couple of cows out back) who worked among clay vessels of all shapes and sizes made to hold yogurt as it cultured. Down the street, one would usually find a potter sitting on the ground with a throwing wheel, a pile of clay vessels and a pit for firing. For yogurt, the clay would insulate as well as remove whey from the yogurt as it turned to curd over a four to five hour period. Turning milk into yogurt, butter and sweets were a method of preservation before refrigeration and was practiced wherever cows, sheep, goats and buffalo were kept. I remember my Yia Yia (Greek grandmother) making her own yogurt, keeping a string of cultures from one batch to the next. She would culture the yogurt on top of her refrigerator wrapped in towels where it would stay warm enough to transform the milk into a very tangy yogurt.

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India also has a long history of pickle making, using sea salt, mustard, fenugreek, chillies and oils. I learned the craft from a Gujarati family and, over the years would make salty, hot, sour and often sweet pickles during the growing season. Pickles from eggplant, green beans, green mangos, lemons, limes and chillies accompanied the regional Indian cuisine we were preparing daily at the time.

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Garum, a fermented fish sauce, was used throughout the ancient Roman Empire, much the same way fish sauces are used in Korean, Thai, Cambodian, Fillipino and Vietnamese cuisines. Soy sauce, shoyu and tamari in Chinese and Japanese cuisines are rooted in similar traditions. Asian cuisines are full of fermented products, like Tempeh, Natto and Kimchee.

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Commonly acknowledged, products with long traditions of fermentation are beer and wine. The ancients became masters of wine and beer making, not just for the pleasing effects, but also because water could not be trusted. The armies of Alexander the Great marched to India using beer and wine instead of water. Bread baking as we have come to know it also started from the process of making beer and wine. The white coatings we sometimes see on grapes are a yeast that is also used for sourdough bread. Brewers yeast, the by-product of beer making, is also an old source of traditional bread yeast. Beer making is perhaps one of the oldest known fermenting traditions with archeological evidence from 9,000 years ago. Since it is made with grains, beer has kept a close relationship with bread. Ancient Egyptians had massive bakeries at the base of the Great Pyramid, capable of providing up to 30,000 loaves of bread a day and were conveniently located next to breweries. Up until the last 60 years, many people kept crocks with yeast starters in their kitchens to make bread with. With the exception of Prohibition, yeast was readily available from breweries throughout America. Packaged, and especially, active dry yeast are relatively new in the world of food.

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With the arrival of dependable refrigeration, many of these foodstuffs were relegated to the realm of cultural identity as they were no longer were necessary. Commercial manufacturers took over more difficult tasks such as bread baking, wine and beer making, yogurt and butter as well as anything else they could sell back to the public in order for to time to be saved in the kitchen. 19th and 20th century kitchens evolved so fast that many of the time honored culinary traditions have become very rare or even lost.

Growing up with my Greek Yia Yia’s cooking helped me to appreciate the deep connections between food, culture and environment. For this reason when the current culinary revolution recognized these same connections, I found a natural kinship with those who embraced it. Over the years, I have also discovered the remarkable role vegetarianism has played in human history. Often, it is associated with the visionary brilliance, notably such souls as Gandhi and Einstein. Every cuisine has some form of plant based food in it and I promote that every culture has vegetarian traditions. Commonly, fermented dishes and condiments are prominent in such repertoires.

Beyond obvious refrigeration issues, both ancient and modern medicinal wisdom recognize the potent nutrition and life giving value in fermented foods. Modern science has also recognized the hazards of improperly fermenting, requiring sterile environments and standardized cultures. While this has undoubtedly increased food safety, we have also lost many organic hand-crafted traditions. Often, much of the health benefit is diminished as well. I include as many of these dishes as possible in my culinary stable and even find that once a cultured product is made, it facilitates quick and easy meals while, at the same time, adding the depth of slowly developed flavors.

Bengali Charchari

“Iconic cuisine” could describe the food of Bengal. Among their many influential dishes, sweets are perhaps the most famous.  Yet, there are many preparations which have come to shape Indian cuisine as a whole.  Charchari is not merely a single dish, but a cooking style unique to Bengal.  Essentially, vegetables are cooked in a pan and covered without stirring until a close-to-burnt caramelized crust forms on the bottom of the pan, which is stirred in to finish the dish.  Unlike many vegetable dishes in India, spicing is simple, often only turmeric, chillies, salt and hing (onion-like asafetida powder).  The result is a deliciously rich tasting subji (vegetable) which can be used as an appetizer with crackers and bread, or as a show-stopping part of a bigger Indian meal.

One of my favorite cookbooks is The Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking by Jamuna devi. She is to Indian vegetarian cuisine what Julia Child was to French home-cooked cuisine.  Her book is an easy-to-understand look at Indian kitchens.  It was written a number of years ago and is a timeless must-have resource for those who wish to cook and enjoy Indian food as it is supposed to be.  Jamuna presents a number of charcharis in the book and her description and recipe is excerpted as follows:

“Charcharis are Bengali vegetable dishes that combine three cooking procedures: boiling, steaming and frying.  Though other cuisines of the world use the same procedures, and in a similar sequence, to my knowledge only charcharis are brought to the point of charring.  During the entire procedure, the vegetable is never stirred—not even once! They are succulent vegetables, often rich and served as side dishes, but take little attention while cooking and are really delicious.

The dividing line between the cooking procedures is blurry.  In the first stage, large pieces of vegetable are gently boiled in a seasoned liquid.  Sometimes sugar, tomatoes or lemon juice is added to provide a glaze, flavor or zest in the finished dish.  In the second stage, the vegetables are steamed by the concentrated liquids barely boiling in the bottom of the pan.  Srila Prabhupad described the final stages of cooking: ‘When the liquid is absorbed, there will be a little noise, a hhhzzzz sound, and then, just as the bottom crust browns, turn off the heat and it is done.’ The pan is covered and allowed to sit off the heat for a few minutes, until the crust softens and can be easily folded into the moist vegetables.

Since this final stage of cooking delicately borders on burning, it is important to convey that it should not come to that.  No one wants to serve or eat burned vegetables.  It is essential to use a very heavy, thick bottom pan such as enamel on steel, stainless steel or, better still, non-stick Silverstone on heavy aluminum.  With good non-stick cookware and attention to heat control, perfect charcharis are possible even the first time around.”

Here is a recipe I adapted from Jamuna’s cookbook by mixing it with my own experiences of charchari.  Many years ago I was able to sample some of her cooking and the exquisite flavors of her beautifully crafted dishes have inspired me ever since. I dedicate this recipe to her and the amazing foods that roll out of her kitchen.

 


Baigan Aloo Charchari

Serves 6

2 tablespoons oil

1 teaspoon black mustard seeds

1 tablespoon fresh ginger root, peeled and minced

2 finger hot green chilies, minced

1/4 teaspoon hing (yellow asafoetida powder)

6-8 fresh neem leaves

5 medium Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into one inch cubes

1 medium sized eggplant, cut into one inch cubes

1 2/3 cups water

1 cup spinach leaves, stemmed and coarsely chopped

1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder

1/4 teaspoon lemon zest

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1/2 inch piece of cinnamon stick

3 cloves

1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds, freshly ground

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, fresh ground

1 1/4 teaspoons sea salt

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a heavy-bottomed 4 quart pan over moderate heat.  When it is hot, but not smoking, add the black mustard seeds, ginger and chilies and fry until the mustard seeds sputter and turn gray.  Sprinkle in the hing and neem leaves and within 5 seconds, stir in the potatoes, tossing with a wooden spoon for 2 to 3 minutes.

Add the remaining ingredients and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to low, cover and cook about 30 minutes.  From time to time, check to see if the vegetables are drying up, and adjust the heat or liquid accordingly.  When the vegetables are fork-tender, all of the liquid should be absorbed and the vegetables left sizzling.

Raise the heat to moderately high and fry, without stirring, until a slightly charred crust forms on the bottom of the pan.  Turn off the heat and keep covered for 5 minutes.  Stir the crust into the soft vegetables before serving.

Grilled Salsa

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Toward the end of the harvest season chiles, tomatoes, onions, garlic and cilantro can be found in abundance. Inspired by the vibrant colors and pungent flavors of Mexico, I particularly like grilling the salsa vegetables to give them a rustic and earthy taste and feel. Easy to prepare and full of flavor, this is a salsa that stands out in a crowd.

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Grilled  Salsa

Serves 4

3 hatch or Anaheim chiles, stemmed, seeded and halved lengthwise

2 torpeo or cipollini onions, peeled and trimmed

3 three inch diameter tomatoes, sliced in half

Cook the chiles, onions and tomatoes on a medium heat grill. When lightly blackened on one side, carefully turn the vegetables and use a flat spatula to turn the tomatoes. Blackened again and place in a bowl. Place ingredients on a cutting board and coarsley chop, then return them to the bowl.

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1/2 cup cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped

1/4 cup fresh lime juice 1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 teaspoon garlic, minced

Mix cilantro, lime, sea salt and garlic together in a bowl. Add grilled vegetables. Serve after 1/2 hour to give time for the flavors to integrate. Serve at room temperature or hot.

Grilled Salsa 10 2009-10

The Yoga of Small Bites

Across the country, top chefs have adopted serving a series of small bites to their discerning customers in order to present food at its purest and freshest state.  In those culinary emporiums of the celebrity chef, the goal is to immerse the senses in the wonders of gastronomy.  Through visual presentation, tactile sensation, aromatic teases and tasting stimulating flavors chefs are wowing their guests with magnificent plates and anticipatory service.

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While the specific experience may be new, there is a long history for this kind of eating.  While the great cuisines of Europe are directly rooted to the indulgence of monks in abbeys of the middle ages (and indirectly in Roman high-society excesses), there are also culinary traditions from areas of the world less exposed to the American palate, such as China, Thailand, Vietnam and India.  One of these is the cuisine of Yogic India.  Entwined with the ancient medical science of Ayurveda, as well as religious philosophies which espouse spiritual cooking and distribution of food, the yoga of cooking has been refined over fifty centuries of recorded history.

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Many years ago, my personal culinary journey placed me in Vrindavan, one of the yoga epicenters of India.  This was Krishna’s hometown and continues to thrive as a philosophical retreat with over 5000 temples and numerous spiritual schools, particularly inclined toward bhakti-yoga.  I became enamored by the attention to detail placed on the food, not only in temples, but in households and street food as well.  With a different approach than Western chefs, the food not only had to look good and taste perfect, but it had to be cooked “a-la-minute” and more significantly, also digest well.

Govardhana Puja 2007

The Ayurvedic philosophy of balance was present everywhere, but especially noticeable in the traditional main lunch meal, called a thali.  This is where small bites came into play.  Originally served on banana leaves with clay cups or stainless steel trays for the common man, it was also served pure silver trays for the aristocrats.  Rice is placed in the center and small bowls of vegetables, savories, dahls, pickles, chutneys and raita surround it. In addition, freshly made pillow shaped chapatis are served with steam still spouting through a crack in the top.

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The meal balances the five tastes and five mellows of Ayurveda to create an ideal healthy meal with abundant complete proteins, phyto-nutrients and anti-oxidants.  Like the fine dining cooking in America, it is a complete sensual immersion, but unlike the West, one feels nourished and vitalized in body, mind and spirit with both sensual stimulation and dietary engagement.  The senses are wowed, but they are also brought on board as partners in health.  All ingredients were local and, without refrigeration, we shopped the market daily.  In my mind, this is the gold standard for us to strive for.  There were no leftovers and extras were shared with local sadhus and animals.

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While my explanations cannot do them justice, it can be said some of these meals were instances that created rare tears of joy as I ate.  The food was that good!  The cooks who prepared those meals are still my culinary heroes and inspire similar attention to detail in every meal I prepare.

Purslane–A Weed Or Seasonal Treasure?

We are in the midst of a great American food revolution. Farmers markets around the country are the front lines of this cultural awakening directly connecting urban dwellers with regional farm and food producers.  Chefs have discovered farm-fresh produce as the secret to fine cuisine which has led to an increase in their patron’s culinary awareness and high expectations.

Community and markets go hand in hand. Farmers markets are places to learn about food, regions, farms and community events.  One of the simple pleasures in my life is discussing local foods and agricultural trends with small farmers who have a direct connection to the earth.

The communities of the ancient world situated their markets in town squares and city centers since this was where people gathered–these markets tended to be the seat of government as well.  Famously, democracy was created in the Agora (marketplace) of ancient Athens.

I shop two or three farmers markets weekly buying an exciting variety of seasonal produce.  Nature provides the nutritive balance with different plants maturing each week during the growing season. Traditional cultures around the world synchronized their lives around the cycles of indigenous growth and harvests.

However, in today’s markets, farmers have a tendency to grow what sells.  While this may make good business sense, the unfortunate result is that the educational aspects of the markets are lessened.  So, when I see unusual offerings, such as green amaranth, bitter melon or, one of my favorite culinary treasures, purslane, my mind begins to conjure up different ways to prepare dishes with the fresh delicacies before me.

 

Purslane is a nutritional powerhouse savored by most of the great food cultures of the world.  It is one of the highest plant sources in Omega 3 fatty acids and rich in vitamins A, C, Potassium and Alpha-Linoleic acid.  It was well known to ancient cultures in the Mideast and Asia and used in traditional Chinese medicine for bee stings and snake bites. Pliny advised wearing the plant as an amulet to expel all evil.

Here in a America, purslane was relegated to the status of a weed. Crop rows and sidewalks across the country are sprayed with herbicides to eradicate this perceived nuisance.  It thrives in harsh, dry climates and, as a companion plant, enables less hardy plants to survive by helping the root systems reach greater depths.  It also helps create a beneficial microclimate and stabilize moisture levels–not to mention, it is delicious!

This recipe takes about 30 minutes.  The sauteed purslane and lacinato kale rolls may be prepared individually, but I chose to combine them for complimentary flavor and drama of presentation.

Lacinato Kale Roll with Sautéed Purslane

Makes 8 rolls, serves 4 to 8

Sauteed Purslane

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

2 teaspoons minced garlic

1 ½ teaspoons crushed red pepper

1 cup spring onions, sliced

2 bunches, or 6 cups, purslane, washed, thick stems removed and coarsely chopped

½ teaspoon sea salt

In a 12 inch skillet on medium-high heat, cook the olive oil, garlic and crushed red pepper for 5 to 10 seconds or until the garlic and chiles sizzle. Add the onion, purslane and sea salt. Cook for 30 seconds, cover and turn down to a simmer.

Sauce

1/2 cup Vegenaise, vegan mayonnaise

2 1/2 tablespoons roasted red pepper

2 teaspoons organic tomato paste

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

In a separate bowl, whisk together all sauce ingredients.

Filling and assembly

1/2 cup chopped basil leaves

1/2 cup blanched almond flour

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

1 1/2 teaspoons dijon mustard

In another thoroughly fold together all filling ingredients.

Assembly

8 large lacinato kale leaves, stemmed

Place 1 heaping tablespoon at the top of the kale leaf and, while folding the

side edges in, roll the leaf into a stuffed grape leaf shape.  Steam for 12 minutes on medium high heat.  Place 1 cup purslane on plate, place one roll on top and top with 1 ½ tablespoons sauce.

Serve while hot.

 

Vegan Love Bites

A Lifestyle of Romance

This is the time of year to shake off the dust of distraction, polish our manners and look for creative ways to express ourselves romantically.   Often the centerpieces of these endeavors are built around sensual foods and, when wooing our loved ones on Valentines Day, chocolate rules supreme.

The roots of St Valentines Day lay in Rome with February marking the beginning of Spring on the Roman Calendar.  At that time, every household was swept out and  sprinkled with salt and spelt berries. The fertility festival, Lupercalia, began on the Ides of February (15th) and was celebrated throughout Rome by pairing unmarried youths until the following February, often resulted in marriages.

Roman culture had a great appreciation for earth’s beauty and those who inhabited it.  They celebrated the gifts of the land and the power of attraction which is intimately intertwined like a grape vine in an arbor. One could reason this had something to do with the word romance being derived from Roman.

In 485 A.D., the Catholic church sought to Christianize the Lupercalia festival by celebrating Saint Valentine, thought to be a martyred priest from two centuries prior.  As a result, the romantic aspect of the celebration does not appear again until the Middle Ages.  It was the mid 19th century when it began to resemble the phenomena it is today.

On Valentine’s Day, when the meal is emotionally charged, there is one ingredient that is a “must” on the menu–chocolate.  Chocolate has long been known as an all around sensual ingredient.  The Aztecs called it “Nourishment of the Gods.”  Not only does it enchant us with its dark seductive flavor, but it contains compounds which have an immediate sensual effect as well as long lasting health benefits.

This dessert, Hazelnut Love Bites, is a combination of three luscious flavors and textures–hazelnut, raspberry and chocolate–all making for a passionate dessert experience.

Love Bites

Makes 24 Love Bites

Bites

1/3 cup ground hazelnuts
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon unbleached wheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup evaporated cane juice (organic sugar)
1 1/2 teaspoons arrowroot powder
2/3 cups plain almond milk
1/4 block (3 ounces) firm silken-style tofu
1/8 cup raw cashew nuts, ground to a meal
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350º F. Using a 24 cup mini cupcake pan, line each cup with unbleached baking cups. Put hazelnuts, flour, baking powder, evaporated cane juice and arrowroot into a large bowl and whisk together with a French whip. In a blender, puree soy milk, tofu and cashews to a smooth consistency. Transfer to another large bowl and stir in canola oil and vanilla. Combine the two mixtures and stir vigorously for one minute to develop the gluten in the flour. Fill each cup to just below the rim and bake for 25 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean(a little sticky is Ok).  Allow to cool.

Raspberry Sauce

1 cup fresh or frozen raspberries
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 tablespoon evaporated cane juice
1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract

Heat a saucepan on medium heat. Add all ingredients and simmer for 5 minutes. Then strain by pushing through a fine wire strainer with a rubber spatula until only the seeds are left–really work it. Discard seeds. Return strained raspberries to pan and simmer for another 5 minutes. Reserve.

Chocolate Ganache

3 ounces unsweetened chocolate
1/4 cup evaporated cane juice
1/2 cup plain almond milk
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a double boiler on medium heat, add all chocolate ganache ingredients. Stir periodically and cook for about 30 minutes until chocolate is melted and smooth. Test a drop on a cold plate, it should set up to a frosting consistency.  Allow to cool and reserve.

Assembly

When the cupcakes are cool, use a small pointed-tip knife to create a crater in the center of each cake, then pour in a small amount of raspberry sauce.  To frost, either use a flat knife to frost each cupcake or put frosting into a pastry bag and pipe.
Ready to serve.

Note:

I only use organic and unadulterated ingredients

Through personal example, my father inspired me to respect beauty and romance on a daily basis–one never knows when they will be encountered, often by chance.   He often expressed his inspirations through poetry.

 

 

 

 

Beauty

 

 

 

 

 

With the kindness of its weather,

San Diego has developed multiple forms of beauty.


(My words of enthusiasm are difficult to restrain.)


The soil harbors and embraces plants which give birth

to hundreds of varieties of flowers.


Their creative method of procreation is:

they make their flowers so fragrant and colorful

that the bees and other pertinent species

are attracted to visit,


To collect their nectar, and thereby leave tracks

from gathering visits to neighboring flowers.


The plants then “eat”, and become happily pregnant.


This is the intelligence of beauty!


Now the plants we call ‘trees’ reach high for the sky

and its sunshine.


Each family has its own leaf formation, and height,

their arms lissome to the winds,

as their hair of leaves is tousled.


And we humans too enjoy our views of them.

~Spyros Vutetakis 2007

Happy Valentines Day!

 

 


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A Garden Roulade – Kypo Pita

It all happens so quickly–rain, sun and warmth spawning explosions of green in the garden.  Finnochio begins to form tender bulbs as the deep green fronds of fennel weed thicken-up. Swiss chard leaves seem to double in size after one good rain and young leeks become perfectly tender.  A Midwestern garden in June can be a treasure trove of delicacies–one of the late spring joys which makes winter seem long ago.

This recipe is inspired by Michigan and San Diego gardens–not to mention my Cretan grandmother (Yia Yia).  Kypo (kee-poh) is the Greek word for garden.  I have fond memories of Yia Yia picking fennel and other herbs, which she used liberally.  She made several dishes using phyllo, often rolled by hand and devoid of the buttery residue, commonly found with most phyllo recipes.  My Kypo-pita follows this tradition–there is no butter and the phyllo is lightly oiled–the secret to our delicious phyllo dishes at Inn Season Cafe.

Recently, I was asked to demonstrate a Greek-style dish at the Opa Fest in Troy, Michigan. It was exciting for me to share my language of food with my fellow Greeks and discuss its history and my Cretan roots. Particularly gratifying was to reminisce about my father, Spyros, and his passion for our Greek heritage.

When making this recipe, keep in mind that other leafy vegetables from the garden, such as spinach, beet greens, purslane and sorrel, can be incorporated or substituted.

Once you try this technique with phyllo, you will say, as the Greeks do,  “Bravo!”

Please don’t hesitate to write, comment and ask questions below this post, through email, Twitter or my Facebook page.

Garden Roulades (Kypo-Pita)

Serves 8 to 10

Fennel

1 1/2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
1 cup leeks, finely diced
1/2 teaspoon garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups fennel root (finocchio), thinly sliced
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 1/4 cups water
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup blanched almond flour
3/4 cup fresh fennel weed, stemmed and finely chopped

In a small saucepan on medium heat, cook the oil, leeks and garlic until the leeks begin to turn clear on the edges.  Add the fennel root, lemon and water, cover and simmer until the fennel root is soft.  Stir-in the sea salt, almond flour and fennel weed and turn off the heat. Reserve.

Greens

6 cups Swiss chard leaves, stemmed and chopped (2 cups cooked)
4 cups Lacinato kale, stemmed and chopped (1 cup cooked)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, preferably Cretan

Steam Swiss chard and kale for 2 to 3 minutes until well wilted.  In a medium size bowl, mix together all ingredients. Reserve.

Caramelized Onion

1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
2 cups sweet onions (Vidalia-style), thinly sliced
1/2 cup water

Simmer all ingredients at low heat in a covered sauce pan until the onions caramelize in their own juices.  Reserve.

Maple Oil

1 cup organic expeller-pressed canola oil
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, preferably Cretan
3/4 cup maple syrup
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Mix together all ingredients, reserve.

Assembly

1 package organic phyllo dough (preferably whole wheat)
1 cup roasted red bell peppers, sliced into thin strips

Create a clear workspace for working with the phyllo dough.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Set up a parchment lined baking sheet.  Stir the oil mixture well and, using a pastry brush, lightly brush oil mixture on the parchment, add one sheet of phyllo and lightly brush the phyllo, continually stirring the oil mixture. Repeat until 6 layers have been laid out.

Place a string of red pepper strips along the edge of the long side of the phyllo. Place a ½ inch wide strip of caramelized onion next to the red peppers. Then, lay a 2 inch wide strip of the cooked greens evenly next to the caramelized onion.  Lastly, spread a 3 inch wide strip of the fennel-almond mixture evenly next to the greens.  Roll the phyllo roulade-style and, with a serrated knife, slice the top half of the roulade every inch or so.  Repeat to make a second roulade. Arrange them both on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake for 25 minutes until lightly browned on the edges.  Remove from the oven, let cool for 10 minutes and slice into individual pieces.  Serve warm.  If refrigerated, they should be re-baked at 300 degrees for 15 minutes before serving to bring back the crispness of the phyllo.

Socca and Poodla–Cross Continental Traditions

Ferndale, Michigan…

I stepped into my favorite coffee oasis Chazzano Coffee for an afternoon cappuccino.  Julie Marcos, barista extraordinaire, discussed the weather and specific attributes of the latest roasting of Brazilian Santos.  Because of my food “interests” she told me about a wonderful childhood memory. While living in Nice, France, her father made a dish called “Socca” and served it with fresh ground black pepper.

She seemed to disappear into her thoughts as she described the texture and flavor, reliving a moment in time that food can transport us to. I was intrigued because of my passion for a similar dish called Poodla, which some friends from Gujarat, India had shared with me many years ago.

The base of the Poodla is garbanzo flour–made from the versatile garbanzo bean or chick pea.  Archaeological evidence has shown cultivation originated in the Middle East at least 7500 years ago. Most of us know it from hummus, Mediterranean vegetable stews, salads and falafel–not so much as flour which can be used as a base for dessert or as a wheat substitute in gluten-free cooking.

As with most recipes, there are traditions–Socca and Poodla have long rustic ones. Whether they were created independently or were the result of cultural recipe sharing, we will never know for sure; however, the story of Biryani comes to mind. Gypsies who migrated from India, across most Mediterranean and European cities, ended up in Spain where they reinvented this venerable rice dish as Paella. Socca from Nice was originally considered Genoese and is a popular dish relished up and down the Tuscan coast. Up until 1860, and for most of its history, Nice was part of Italy. Founded by the Greeks in 350 BC and named after the goddess of victory, Nike, it was a busy maritime port, visited by travellers from around the world during the age of exploration.

The cross-continental connection may not be as random as one may imagine. It is easy to fantasize how dried garbanzo flour could have travelled the Silk Road, or even across the seas, as a non-perishable and nutritious staple ingredient for a number of easy-to-prepare dishes.

These two recipes are steeped in the traditional fabric of the cultures they came from, Socca from Nice and Poodla from Gujarat–recipes which take us deep into Mediterranean culture or immerse us in the fantastic flavors, colors and textures of India. Whichever method of preparation is used, it is fun to meditate on the origins and associated culturally rich stories while making and enjoying these wonderful dishes.

Socca Niçoise

Makes about three seven-inch soccas.

1 cup chickpea flour
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 ¼ cups lukewarm water
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
coconut oil for cooking

In a large bowl mix the chickpea flour, salt, and pepper. Whisk in warm water and olive oil. Cover and let sit 2 to 4 hours.

Place a cast iron skillet in oven and preheat to 450 F.

Remove skillet from oven. Add 2 tablespoons coconut oil to the hot skillet and pour batter in a steady stream until it reaches the edges of the pan. Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until the pancake is firm and the edges are set.

Flip the socca or set it a few inches below your broiler for a couple minutes, just long enough for it to brown. Cut into wedges and serve hot with toppings of your choice.

-This recipe is gluten-free

Recipe adapted from WholeLiving .com, Posted by Sarah Britton

Gujarati Poodla 

1 cup besan chick pea flour
7 ounces of water
1/4  teaspoon turmeric powder
1 jalapeno chile, seeded and minced
1/2 teaspoon ajwain Seeds
1/2 cup sweet onion, minced
2 tablespoons fresh fenugreek leaves, minced
½ teaspoon fresh garlic, finely minced
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
coconut oil for cooking

Whisk flour and water together to make a smooth batter, then whisk in spices, onion, and garlic.  In a well-seasoned cast-iron skillet on medium-high heat,  add 2 tablespoons coconut oil.  Place several dollops of batter onto the hot skillet.  When golden brown on the bottom, flip and cook the second side until golden brown.  Repeat.

Notes:
-Besan flour is Indian black chick pea flour. Garbanzo flour can be substituted with less favorable results. Water may have to be adjusted.
-Ajwain, carom seed, has a similar flavor to Mexican oregano which can also be used.
-Fenugreek leaves, methi in Hindi, are one of the secret flavors of Gujarati cuisine. As a substitute, use an equal amount of chopped cilantro leaves and ¼ teaspoon of ground fenugreek seed.
-Besan, ajwain and fenugreek leaves are available at most Indian groceries.

-This recipe is gluten-free.

Recipe adapted from FoodieMomsCookbook.com, Recipes From a Gujarati Mom Who Loves Food

Kale Wrapped English Peas

I love spring in Michigan. During the first warm days, it seems that all of us are happy and celebrating the arrival of the earth’s transition as it awakes from its long winter slumber. Delicate flowering buds suddenly appear on trees which looked dormant only days earlier and bright green shoots begin to push through the soil as they reach for the sunlight.

For those of us who love to cook, these signs of spring let us know that soon the farmers are beginning to show up at the markets with the first of many tender harvests.

Like precious gems, the first baby greens, sweet and succulent, are quickly snatched up by those of us who treasure the flavors and textures which only occur this time of year.

Certified Organic Farmer Don Cinzori of Cinzori Farms in Ceresco, Michigan, has become a good friend over the years. This Spring Equinox week, his booth is my first stop at the Royal Oak Farmers Market, where I quickly survey his stall which is full of baby greens and a variety of potatoes, radishes and onions from the root cellar.

He directs me toward his wheat grass and soil-grown sweet pea sprouts–a sign that Michigan pea season is almost here

There are three kinds of peas commonly found in the local markets:  Sugar Snaps, Snow Peas and English Sweet Peas.  Sadly, the English peas are grown less because it is inconvenient to shell them and it seems to take forever to get enough for one or two people.  Thus, most of our experiences are canned, frozen or dried split peas.  To add insult to injury, when we finely muster up the courage to shell some peas, they come from a grocery store and were harvested at least a week or two before.

To appreciate the magnificience of fresh peas, grow your own or buy them from a local farmer, like Don Cinzori (Know your farmer, know your food!), who has brought them ripe and fresh to market that morning.  Cook as soon as possible, as the the sugars in peas turn into starch only hours after they have been picked.

This versatile legume can be prepared in so many ways that there is no possibility for boredom: fresh pea soups, in salads, sauteed with other vegetables, in whole grain pilafs and pulaos as well as in pasta dishes.  The recipe below is a little different and highlights the green flavor of the peas with fresh Indian spices and rich flavor of Lacinato kale.  Easy to prepare with simple spicing, a sure crowd pleaser!

Kale Wrapped English Peas

Serves 4

1 teaspoon coconut oil

½  teaspoon cumin seeds

2 teaspoons ginger root, minced

1 teaspoon green chile, minced

1 tablespoon cilantro, minced

½ cup sweet onions, minced

½ teaspoon curry powder

1 tablespoon lime juice

2 tablespoons water

1 ¼ cups English peas, podded

¼ teaspoon sea salt

8 large Lacinato kale leaves, stemmed

½ teaspoon ume plum vinegar

In a small sauce pan, heat the coconut oil on medium high and cook the cumin seeds until they start to brown,  Add ginger, chile, cilantro, onions and curry powder.  Turn down to a simmer, add the lime juice, water, peas and sea salt.  Cover and cook for 10 minutes, stirring periodically then check to see if the peas are soft.  When soft, mash the peas and onions.  Separate into eight portions, place a portion on a kale leaf and roll until the entire leaf is wrapped around.  Carefully place in a steamer and cook for 5 minutes, or until the kale is tender.   Place 2 to 3 drops ume vinegar on top of each. Serve hot.

Four Days, Seven Farmers Markets and Two Farms in San Diego

Imperial Beach Farmers Market

As I step through the sliding doors of the San Diego Airport, the intense heat of the fall sun reminds me that San Diego is indeed a desert despite the numerous efforts to turn the ecosystem into one that is temperate and green. This is readily visible in any patch of land left to fend for itself without the aid of water and it plays into the seasonal abundance, or sometimes lack thereof, at the local Farmers Markets. Wherever I travel, I practice the burgeoning art of farmers market tourism.  Each market reflects the pulse and flavor of the neighborhood it is in. Markets are places where people bond over food with spontaneous discussions and interactions without pretense.  I’ve arrived in San Diego at the peak of the late summer harvest.

Frog Skinned Honeydew Melon From JR Organics

Thursday

My first market is the North Park Farmers Market. It reflects a neighborhood which has become a trendy destination and boasts the most vegan restaurants per capita in San Diego. Goyo Rodriguez of JR Organics has a table teeming with produce. I purchase some tender wax beans, candy sweet strawberries and a provocative Frog Skin honeydew melon.

Goyo Rodriguez of JR Organics

Next stop is Moncai Vegan. Donald Moncai tells me about the new vegan restaurant they are about to open around the corner as he plies me with samples of his vegan donuts and a thirst-quenching hibiscus iced tea.

Moncai Vegan

Friday 

Mel Lions, Wild Willow Farm mastermind and fearless leader, told me last time I was in town that they were selling produce from the community farm at the Imperial Beach Farmers Market.  It was the only all vegetarian market I was aware of, abundant with plant-based vendors offering prepared foods.  Since then, market management has changed and the direction with it.  While the vendors who offered vegan foods are gone, there is now a significant organic produce presence anchored by the Wild Willow Farm.  I am immediately drawn to the bright reddish-purple bunches of amaranth.

Red amaranth leaves from Wild Willow Farm

The location of this market is magical.  It is on Imperial Beach right next to the pier.  Whenever I’m here, I walk to the end of it where I frequently see schools of dolphins swimming and playing nearby.

Imperial Beach Pier

Saturday

The Little Italy Mercato is a must-visit market–a treasure trove of culinary gems located in one of the liveliest districts in downtown San Diego. The first farmer I speak with is Jeff Alves of Terra Bella Ranch, the go-to stall for fresh organic almonds, walnuts and ever-enticing red walnuts.  It is easy to become spoiled by the quality of his nuts, I have never found anything that comes close. The news from Jeff is their new mail-order and Farm-to-Office service for their products.  I am thrilled!  This is a great way for me to get his extraordinary organic nuts and fruits in Michigan.  Terra Bella also grows and prepares delicious unsulphured organic apricots, tangy sun dried tomatoes, fresh figs, avocados and a number of other crops.

Jeff Alves of Terra Bella Ranch

I continue through the market keenly aware of  the shimmering San Diego bay, swaying palm trees and nothing but blue skies smiling at me, not to mention the many wagging and sniffing dogs who are always welcome here.  Mark of Happy Pantry: T.G.I.F. Thank God Its Fermented stops me to offer samples of raw krauts, pickles and kimchi.  I opt for the Power Krautage, a super-green-food infused kraut with subtle notes and great flavor.

Happy Pantry Sauer Kraut

Suzie’s Farm can be found in markets throughout San Diego–always presenting a cornucopia of what the season is offering.  Today’s stall is full of micro greens, peppers, beans, zucchini and an abundance of heirloom tomatoes.

Indigo Rose Tomatoes from Suzie's Farm

The star of the day is their Indigo Rose tomato with a spicy plum-like flavor and a provocative dark color.  To my delight, they also have Shishito peppers, a mild Japanese sauteing pepper with tender skin and the wonderful flavor of spicier chiles.

Shishito Chiles

With my remarkable bounty in tow, I head over to the Wild Willow Farm in the the heart of the Tijuana estuary between the Mexican border and Imperial Beach. I have been visiting the farm and participating in events since its 2009 inception (see video here).  I’ve enjoyed watching their progress over the years as the people of this community are dedicated and full of energy. I arrive just as a fundraising 5k fun run ends and the volunteers are making their way through the fields to attend to the farm’s needs.

Amaranth at Wild Willow Farm

It is a pastoral scene with goats being fed, roosters crowing and amaranth swaying with the cool ocean breeze. The Wild Willow Farm & Education Center works with five school systems throughout San Diego County to help children understand the connections between the land and the food they eat.  San Diego is very fortunate to have them.

Wheel barrows for volunteers at Wild Willow Farm

From here, I drive down the dusty lane to Suzie’s Farm on Sunset,  a single 140 acre parcel.  Suzie’s has been instrumental in bringing the culture of local organic food to the people of San Diego County.  Ideally situated near Wild Willow Farm, Suzie’s has a stand selling produce picked that day from their fields.  I stop by, chat and pick up some green beans, a small watermelon and a bottle of Jackie’s Cherry Bomb Jam created from the farm’s spicy cherry peppers–a delicious combination of sweet and hot!

Suzie's Organic Farm Stan

Sunday

This is the big farmer’s market day in San Diego County with lots of great ones to choose from. I decide on three of my favorites: Rancho Santa Fe Farmers Market, La Jolla Open Aire Farmers Market and Hillcrest Farmers Market.  The Rancho Santa Fe Farmers Market is sponsored by the Helen Woodward Animal Shelter.  Volunteers from the organization walk adorable and adoptable dogs through the market each week.  It is a mellow market with understated elegance.

San Diego 03 04 2012-9

Market master Raquel Pena has assembled a foodie’s paradise of vendors.  Akram Attie of Thyme of Essence makes fresh Manoushe sandwiches.  He deftly toasts flatbread on a Mongolian-style grill and fills each sandwich with slices of Persian cucumbers, vine-ripened local tomatoes, his personal brand of za’atar and a touch of his self-harvested California extra virgin olive oil.  I follow this culinary treat with Emilio’s Andalusian blended gazpacho.  It is bursting with a rich tomato flavor and has undertones of olive oil and spicy garlic–one or two spoonfuls will not do as it is deliciously addictive.

Akram Attie at the Rancho Santa Fe Farmers Market

I pick up a loaf of naturally fermented whole grain bread from the Prager Brothers Artisanal Bakery stall.  Handcrafted the way bread is supposed to be, this alone would be worth the drive to the market.

At Torrey Pines

From here, I drive down the coast past the vista of surf rolling against the bluffs of Torrey Pines to the La Jolla Open Aire Farmers Market.  This market has greatly expanded since my cooking-demo days here. Nicolina Alves has nurtured the market into a wonderful community center full of dedicated farmers and delicious food from a variety of vendors.  I find amazing Barhi dates from Futterman Farm which are dried right on the palm and taste like juicy caramel candy.  Dennis Stowell of Tom King Farms is selling large, succulent figs and giant bulbs of strong and spicy Georgian garlic which are begging to be sautéed.

Tom King Farm Stall at the La Jolla Open Aire Market

Next stop is the Hillcrest Farmers Market, which is the closest market to our home in Mission Hills and widely considered the go-to market in San Diego. People commonly  compare it to the Santa Monica market and those of San Francisco.  One of my favorite farmers, and certainly the liveliest, is Barry Koral of Koral’s Tropical Fruit Farm.  This week the sweet-incense of guavas and vibrant deep red pomegranates attract people to his small, but formidable, stall.

Pomegranates in San Diego

The market is open from 9 to 2 and he talks the entire time with passion about the health and vitality his fruits and raw foods provide.  I buy some Fallbrook macadamia nuts and set up a mail order shipment of his unparalleled Reed avocados.

Barry Koral's Reed Avocados

The farmer’s markets of San Diego are festive and full.  They are the new town centers, combining people and food into social sustenance.  The market energy is transferred home because market day meals are the best and most inspired meal of the week.

Soba noodles with amaranth, indigo rose tomatoes and

Wild Yam Soba Noodles with Indigo Rose Tomatoes, Amaranth and Walnuts

Serves 2

1 cup yellow wax beans, cut in 1/2 inch pieces

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1/2 pimiento pepper, finely diced

1 clove garlic, minced

1 teaspoon crushed red pepper

2 cups red amaranth leaves, coarsely chopped

4 cups Indigo Rose tomatoes, cut in half

1 teaspoon sea salt

2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1/2 package (4 ounces) Eden Foods Wild Yam Soba noodles, cooked per instructions and drained

In a medium-sized sauce pan, bring 2 cups of water to a boil.  Add wax beans and cook for approximately 30 seconds.  Drain in strainer then rinse beans with cold water.  Reserve. Heat large skillet on medium-high heat, add olive oil, garlic and crushed red pepper.  When sizzling, add the wax beans, amaranth, tomatoes and sea salt.  Saute until the tomatoes are tender and beginning to break down, then balsamic vinegar and oregano.

Place the noodles into a large serving bowl and gently stir in the tomato mixture.  Serve immediately.

Sauteed Shishito Chiles

Shishito Peppers

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

4 cups Shishito chiles, wash but don’t remove stems

1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt

Heat a 6 to 9 inch skillet on medium high heat (a cast iron skillet works well).  Add the oil, chiles and salt.  Saute and turn the chiles until blistered.  Serve immediately

Japanese Cucumber and Fresh Fig Salad

Japanese Cucumber Salad

1 cup Japanese cucumber, sliced into thin half moons

1/2 cup tomatoes, diced

1/2 cup fresh figs, cut into 1/2 inch pieces

2 teaspoons red onion, finely minced

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 teaspoons rice wine vinegar

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

Mix all ingredients in a bowl.  Allow to rest for 15 minutes before serving.