Sunday, October 21, 2012

Beet Yourself Up

One of the best values at markets right now is beets. They're large, without greens, and generally sold loose by the pound. Since they're easy to preserve for winter eating, now's the time to buy a half dozen or more. Even if you can't get to preparing them right away, they'll hang on for weeks, waiting for you.

Beets are great with all other root vegetables equally available in bulk these October days: carrots, onions and potatoes. Also cabbage.  Just visualize those cheery colors adorning your counter as days grow darker: magenta, orange, white, red (those potatoes) and green.

Think about combining the beets with the carrots, onions, potatoes and cabbage into a hearty, healthy borscht, with or without beef. Think: great, not only is this super easy to make but I can freeze some and effortlessly enjoy the bounty later as a really heartwarming winter meal.

Without meat, here's the simple way to concoct thick, nutritious borscht, a Russian way for 4.

Thinly slice or dice 3-4 red potatoes (you can keep the skin on for its vitamins if you scrub it first) and grate 2-3 peeled beets. Put this in a saucepan, cover with water (or vegetable broth) and cook over medium heat until the vegetables are just tender.  Drain but SAVE the water.

In a heavy gauge casserole or soup pot, melt 2 tbsp unsalted butter and sauté 2 finely chopped onions until they are soft and translucent. Add 1 tsp caraway seed, 1 large carrot sliced into thin disks and 1/2 green cabbage finely shredded or chopped.  Add 2 tsp salt and 1 tsp black pepper. Cover this with the beet water or broth, and add more water to have enough for soup. Cover the pot and cook on low until the carrots and cabbage are tender.

Add the cooked potatoes and beets plus 1/2 cup chopped dill, 1 tbsp cider or wine vinegar and 1/2 cup tomato paste.  Stir to blend. Be sure you have enough liquid now for a soup, adding if you don't.
Cover the pot and simmer on lowest heat for 30-40 minutes.

Serve hot with sour cream and chopped dill. Or cool and freeze in plastic containers.

For meaty borscht, boil in salted water flavored with 1 tsp ground cumin 1 lb short ribs until tender, 60-90 minutes. Remove the meat and scoop off any impurities bubbling around the top. Mince 1 garlic clove and rub it into the meat when it's cool enough to handle.

Meanwhile in a medium skillet, heat up 2-3 tbsp olive oil. Sauté 2 chopped large onions until they are soft and translucent.  Pour the pot contents into the beef broth. Add 2 carrots thinly sliced in disks, 4 red potatoes in chunks, 3 beets peeled and grated, 1 small daikon peeled and sliced into disks, and 1/4 green cabbage shredded. Add 2 tsp salt, 1 tsp black pepper and 1/4 tsp ground allspice. Stir to blend, cover and cook over low heat until vegetables are tender--maybe 12-15 minutes. Stir in 1/2 cup chopped dill and 2 tbsp chopped parsley.

You can either shred the meat and return it to the soup or put it back whole and then dish it out first when you serve, putting it on a separate plate with horseradish. Your choice.  To freeze, it's easier with the meat shredded into the soup.

Beets are also famously pickled to preserve them for winter use. Normally the spices used are dill and mustard seeds but you might try the Persian way with whole cloves, cinnamon and ground allspice, which is in my book Veggiyana, the Dharma of Cooking.

And finally if you can't wait to eat those beets and want something right now, wrap them tightly in foil and bake at 400º until tender. Cool, peel and slice thinly or chop for a salad of beets, thinly sliced purple onion rings, fresh dill or ground up dill seed, and balsamic vinegar with a touch of olive oil, salt and pepper. You can also add very thinly sliced fennel rings (take the core out to do this).

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

October eating

What's freshest and most abundant just now as the harvest season slinks to a close are hearty crops that take a long time to mature: fennel, celeriac, celery, leeks, storage potatoes and of course winter squashes. Some of these vegetables may seem out of the ordinary to those used to standard supermarket fare, so what to do?

Well, here's a quick, easy heartwarming soup to introduce you to most of them. It will have a subtle anise (licorice) flavor. Think of it as October in a pot. Serves 4-5.

2-3 tbsp olive oil (depending on width of your pot)
3 lg leeks, cleaned and finely chopped
5 celery stalks, cleaned and finely chopped
3 large onions, diced
1 lg fennel bulb, cored and finely chopped (you can save some of the fronds for garnish)
2 baking or 5 red potatoes, peeled and cut into bite-sized cubes
1 tbsp salt
1/8 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp ground coriander
pinch of red pepper flakes
8 cups vegetable or chicken broth
1/2 cup beluga or French green lentils (the black beluga will hold their shape and color better)

In a large heavy gauge casserole or soup pot, heat the oil over medium. When it's warm, add the leeks, celery, onion, fennel and potatoes. Sauté 12 minutes until soft and lightly colored, stirring from time to time so nothing sticks or burns.  Add 1 tbsp oil if necessary.

Add broth, salt, pepper, coriander and lentils. Bring to a boil, lower heat, cover and cook 20 minutes.
Garnish with chopped fennel fronds to serve. (Options: if you want to puree the soup, cook the lentils in a separate pot and add after pureeing the soup.)

Think about roasting some of the red peppers piled high in the market right now, dousing them with a fruity olive oil and pinch of sea salt, then serving them with soft goat cheese and black olives along side this soup for a very healthy, colorful and memorably delicious meal.

You can find more fennel thoughts and what to do with that yummy but ugly looking celeriac in my book How to Fix a Leek and Other Food from Your Farmers' Market, so I won't repeat here. But right now diced or sliced fennel can star in crunchy salads that refresh the palate after a heavy autumn meat meal. (That crunch is refreshing after the softness of meat and mashed vegetables.) To go with the season's first brisket, I chopped fennel and mixed it with pomegranate arils, minced shallot, and a little bit of diced red pepper--dressed in olive oil and balsamic vinegar. 

This is also the end of mushroom foraging season: time for mushroom paté or marinated mushrooms or yummiest of all, mushroom leek risotto (use mushroom broth in the recipe). I have recipes for the last two in my book: Veggiyana, the Dharma of Cooking, available on Amazon (with 5 star reviews).

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Pumpkins not in pie

Pumpkins are now piled high at farmers' markets, either sold by weight or piece. Understandably those who need a Jack O'Lantern for Halloween aren't rushing to buy just yet. And those who hate pumpkin pie--I've met four people in the last few months--aren't rushing to buy either. But they're missing out. Pumpkins are great for a lot more than pie.

For starters, a big one--even with a shape more cylindrical than round, when hollowed out makes a perfect container for displaying a pot of mums in the house. The combo is especially delightful as a buffet table centerpiece.

A hollowed out pumpkin with a good shape makes a terrific seasonal serving bowl. I use a very round one to pass marinated mushrooms around, because at a stand-up party, it's easy to stick the necessary toothpicks for grabbing them right into the exterior of the pumpkin. It's also eye-catching filled with chili, particularly black bean chili. and if you still have one at Thanksgiving, use it as a colorful bowl for the stuffing.

A hollowed out pumpkin makes a great cooking vessel. In South America stews are made in it.
Essentially on top of the stove, you make a beef stew almost to completion, then pour it into the cleaned pumpkin, put the top back on the pumpkin and bake it on a cookie sheet at 350º until the pumpkin is soft. When served, the pumpkin flesh comes out with the spoon, becoming part of the stew. A beef stew with raisins, cinnamon and onions, Greek style, works really well in the pumpkin.

You can also bake the pumpkin until it's soft, let it cool, hollow it out and fill it up with hearty corn chowder. Inevitably in serving, small pieces of cooked pumpkin will become part of the chowder.

A medium to large pumpkin, hollowed out, can also be used to cook bread pudding in the oven. Since the bread pudding needs as much time to cook as the pumpkin does, you can put it into a raw pumpkin and follow the pudding's baking instructions.

 In Thailand, a small pumpkin is hollowed out, filled with the simple makings of coconut custard and steamed on top of the stove. When the pumpkin is soft, the pudding should be firm. Sangaya, Thai coconut custard, is made from coconut milk, eggs and sugar--a boon to the lactose intolerant.

Finally,Turkish style, a large pumpkin or equal size red squash can be baked at 400º until it's almost soft, cooled, and stuffed with a cooked mixture of butter, rice, lamb, celery, raisins, pistachios, onions, parsley, dill and cinnamon.Then you bake it another 15 minutes until everything is warm. This is served by cutting 1/2" thick ring shaped slices from the pumpkin, putting one slice on each dinner plate and filling the ring's hollow center with the rice mixture. Vegetarians, there's a similar recipe in a blog post from last March about winter blahs.