Friday, December 28, 2012

Celebrating Winter

Here is a gift for winter vegetables and hearty eating. Locro, as it's called, comes from South America and is essentially a vegetable stew that takes many forms. In Ecuador and Argentina it's made with potatoes and cheese. In Bolivia and Peru, it features local squash. No matter what's in the pot, locro celebrates indigenous plants. For us it's a reminder of how much we owe South American natives for what we get to grow and eat: squash, potatoes, corn, peppers, tomatoes, beans. Imagine life, or your local farmers' market, without them. And celebrate with this simple, tasty dish.

This is a Peruvian locro to which I've added a few spices that compensate for the unavailability of the local yellow chili pepper, aji amarillo. 

For vegetarians, this with an avocado salad and perhaps some pickled onions makes a meal. 
For carnivores, it can be served in smaller quantity beside roasted or grilled meat, particularly beef.

Happy New Year and Happy Eating.  Coming soon: Bean me up, Scotty! Great winter eating Italian style.

Peruvian Squash and Potato Stew, Locro de Zapallo

For 6-8

2 lbs winter squash like butternut, red kuri, sugar pumpkin,
1 lb. Yukon gold potatoes, scrubbed
3 tbsp corn oil
1 tbsp unsalted butter
1 lg red onion, diced
3 lg garlic cloves, minced
1 poblano pepper, roasted and diced
1 Serrano or other hot chili, minced
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp dried oregano leaves
¼ tsp smoked paprika
½ tsp ground Chipotle chili
2 cups vegetable or chicken broth
1 cup raw corn kernels, larger are better
salt to your taste
¼ tsp fresh black pepper
½ cup large peas, fresh or frozen
½ cup evaporated milk unsweetened, (this can be optional)
½ lb queso fresco or feta, cubed
½ cup cilantro leaves, chopped for garnish
¼ cup toasted pumpkin seeds, optional garnish

Peel the squash and cut into 1” cubes. Cube the potatoes.
Heat the oil and butter in a heavy gauge casserole or soup pot.
Add onion, garlic, and poblano pepper. Sauté on medium heat until onion is soft.
Add chili pepper, and spices. Blend well.
Add potatoes, squash and corn to the pot and stir to cover them with the spice/onion mix.
Add the vegetable broth. Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce heat to simmer. Cook until squash and potatoes are tender but not mushy, about 20-30 minutes.
Add salt, pepper and peas. Simmer 2 minutes to heat peas. Remove cover.
Add evaporated milk and cheese. Simmer just long enough to heat. Do not boil.

Serve over quinoa and sprinkle on cilantro. Top with pumpkin seeds.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Simple, Seasonal, Festive

Season's eatings are getting pretty slim so here's the time to celebrate root vegetables. They're festively colorful, insanely nutritious, simple to prepare and delicious. Here for the holidays is a great way to showcase them: a Root Vegetable Potpie.  The recipe is in my briskly selling, five-star rated book: Veggiyana, the Dharma of Cooking, Wisdom Publications, 2011. Enjoy this alone with a raw kale salad, also seasonal. Or serve it beside fried chicken or the traditional holiday ham.


Serves 6-8

1 lg onion, peeled
1 small rutabaga, peeled and coarsely chopped into bite-sized pieces
1 white turnip, peeled and chopped into bite-sized pieces
3 carrots, peeled and cut crosswise into 1” pieces
1 parsnip, peeled and cut into ½” disks
1 sweet potato, peeled and sliced into thin disks
1 leek, washed and cut into ½” disks
1 sm daikon, peeled and cut into thin disks
1 small celeriac bulb, peeled and coarsely chopped
6 purple or red round potatoes, washed and quartered
1 shallot, peeled and thinly sliced
2” piece of fresh ginger, peeled and minced
4 lg garlic cloves, peeled and minced
½ tsp ground turmeric (this is a rhizome)
3 tbsp olive or peanut (a ground nut) oil
1 tsp salt
¼ tsp ground chipotle powder or smoked paprika
2 tsp dried marjoram leaves
1 tsp ground coriander (this is the root of the plant)
1/8 tsp ground black pepper
1 ½ cups vegetable broth or water
½ cup chopped tomatoes
½ cup fresh parsley sprigs, chopped
1 cup dried polenta meal
½ cup buttermilk
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp plus 1 tsp butter
¼ cup grated parmesan, romano or asiago cheese
4 cups water
pinch of nutmeg

Slice the onion into thin disks, slice each disk in half and then in half again.
Heat the oil in a large casserole or small soup pot over medium heat.  Add the garlic, ginger, black pepper and turmeric and stir-fry for 30 seconds. Add the shallot slices, onion and leek. Sauté for 3-5 minutes until soft. They will be colored by the turmeric.
Stir in ground coriander, chipotle or smoked paprika and marjoram. Put remaining root vegetables in the pot. Add salt and broth or water. Raise heat to a boil. Cover, lower heat to simmer and cook 20 minutes.

Preheat an oven to 350.  Get a large ovenproof casserole or deep-dish pie pan.

In a large saucepan, boil the 4 cups of water and salt. Stir in polenta and 2 tbsp of butter and stir rapidly to blend, so the polenta doesn’t lump up.  Continue stirring and cooking the polenta for 4-5 minutes, until it starts to release large bubbles.  Remove from heat and stir in buttermilk.

Stir tomatoes and chopped parsley into the vegetables.

Fill the casserole or pie dish with the vegetables and their juice, leaving about ¼” at the top. Using a large kitchen spoon, spoon the polenta over the top to create a crust, up to ½” thick is okay. Be sure to cover the edges and smooth the top.

Cut the tsp of butter into tiny pieces and scatter on top of the cooked polenta. Sprinkle on the cheese and the pinch of nutmeg.
Put the potpie in the center of the oven and put a large cookie sheet on the rack below it to catch any spills.  Cook for 20-30 minutes, until the top vaguely starts to brown and crisp.  Remove and let it cool for 5-10 minutes before serving.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Giving All You've Got

So now is the time to share your summer and fall collection with those you love.
Here's what the makings of my annual Season's Eatings looks like:
That's jam inside the green tissue paper (this year I have apricot, blueberry, strawberry and plum). I doubled the piece of tissue, put the jar in the center and gathered the tissue up over the top to tie it. It's easy to get a flower effect from the top after it's tied.
There's toasted spice pumpkin seeds in the little yellow tin.
Hiding under the glossy striped paper is a jar of blueberry apple chutney. It could've been cranberry walnut preserves or rhubarb ginger chutney.
Homemade cookies are in that paper tote.
The silver tin has vanilla spice walnuts, which with the pickled asparagus, are perfect hors d'oeuvres.

There are many ways to roast and spice pumpkin seeds. I put a lb. in a bowl with 1 tbsp corn oil and coated them. In another bowl I mixed together 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp ground chili powder, pinch of cayenne, 1/2 tsp ground cumin, 1/2 tsp. ground allspice and 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg. I rolled the oiled seeds in the spices to coat, then spread them on a heavy baking sheet and put them in  300º oven until they were dried and brown, about 30-40 minutes. You can use whatever spices you prefer: mostly I try for salt and heat.  These are great tossed on salads or served up as a snack.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Spoiler alert

Here's a holiday gift for you: a little know how. Know how to save your life by shopping for specific items at your winter farmers' market.

According to the EWG (Environmental Working Group), these fruits and vegetables should only be purchased from a trustworthy local source or only if branded "organic." The run of the mill, supermarket offerings of these items are in all likeliehood poisoned by pesticides.

Here are some of the  EWG's dirty dozen:

This is not the entire list, only what's still available at winter markets so you can avoid the potentially deadly supermarket stuff.

Blueberries are not available right now, but this is an alert to perhaps refrain from purchasing imported ones and waiting for your summer farmers' market in 2013. Better yet, eat the ones you froze from 2012.

Monday, December 3, 2012

The Farmers' Market as Pharmacy and Beauty Parlor

A farmers' market can come in rather handy at this time of year when we've put the heat on and dried out our hair and skin. It's got perfect remedies. One of them is olive oil which you can dab or pour on your scalp if it's dry and flaking. Leave it on overnight--use a shower cap to protect your pillow, if you want, or help it to sink in the skin faster with a hair dryer on low setting.

An egg, beaten with 1/2 tsp olive oil is a great cure for dry, lifeless hair. Brush or pour the beaten egg onto your hair and leave it there for at least an hour. Wash your hair and feel the difference in its texture.

If your face has become chapped and red, try spreading fresh yogurt on it like cold cream and leaving it on overnight. If the yogurt is the real deal, with its probiotics in tact, it's almost a miracle beauty treatment.

Honey is also very helpful at this point in time, not just because it is an antibiotic, but also because it will coat the throat and help you stop coughing, especially if you've got one of those dry winter coughs. A teaspoonful will do nicely. You can also try adding a teaspoon to your shampoo to fight scalp and hair dryness.

For pharmacy, keep cranberries--fresh or dried--handy as they're powerful thwarters of urinary tract infections. If you're traveling, take a small baggie full of dried ones because you never know. And they're full of Vitamin C, which helps protect you against colds.

Stock up on plain, fresh yogurt too. If you're headed to the sunshine and sand and happen to pick up some nasty gut bacteria, it'll tackle that and more in no time. And if you're taking antibiotics as the cure, you'll need the yogurt to put the "good" bacteria back in your stomach so you get well quickly.

One last thing: don't peel those potatoes! All the vitamins are in the skin and at this time of year when freshest vegetables aren't handy, you're going to need them. So scrub the skin, cook and enjoy it.