Sunday, June 22, 2014

World Peas: Go Green

I went to a potluck event last night where one of the main dishes was a gooey chicken pot pie whose only color and taste came from its fresh peas. Bright hit of bright green!  I don't think anybody else took as much note because peas are just another ho hum vegetable to most of us, and a pain to those who hate the time it takes to shell them.  This is seriously too bad. 

Peas are a wonder of the world, the ones we know as "English peas" actually a modernized version. They were hybridized out of those ancient, nutritious, treasured dhal "split" peas that so many rely on for protein and sustenance. Italians may have started what became “the fashion and madness” for fresh peas by inventing what we know as petit pois, which the 18th and 19th Century English turned into the larger, greener garden peas most commonly grown today. (They definitely cook quicker than dhal peas.) One of the most enthusiastic pea experimenters was Thomas Jefferson who grew dozens of varieties at Monticello. 

The upshot is that the shelling peas we now know are a mighty nutritious vegetable, like their dhal cousins. I tell you all this in my How to Fix a They are full of vitamins K, A, C and B6, folic acid and manganese. They provide protein and fiber because they’re legumes (dried, they become split peas). So as Mother says: eat your peas. (And don't be so quick to trash their pods: boil them in salted water to make a very flavorful, aromatic broth for, say, rice, pasta, vegetable soup.


Let me count the delicious ways: 
1. Fresh pea "hummus" with mint, recipe posted on this blog on May 1 after it was a huge hit garnishing my talk at New York City's Rubin Museum of HImalayan Art. 
2. A more exotic Argentinian Pea Pudding is in How to Fix a Leek...on the July peas page. 
3. A seriously tasty ancient Southern Italian recipe for Peas with Pasta is in my book Veggiyana, the Dharma of Cooking from Wisdom Publications and available in stores or via Amazon.
4. The cousin of that dish is the northern Italian risi e bisi: rice with peas, a soupy pea risotto. (Best recipe is probably from Mainer John Thorne in Simple Cooking but there are plenty all over the Internet)
5. The Indian favorite Aloo Mattar or Muttar is potatoes with peas.* 

6. British smashed peas, buttery mashed peas with mint, recipe in Veggiyana, the Dharma of Cooking
7. My own tribute to Maine's tradition of eating fresh salmon with new potatoes and peas on July 4 is potato salad with smoked salmon, dill and fresh peas.*
8. With chicken or turkey inside a pot pie
9. Just plain wonderful 3 minute steamed fresh peas with lettuce, mint and sea salt.*
10: a variation of that: peas and green garlic, two signs of spring into summer*

Aloo Mattar 
serves 4

3 medium boiled potatoes
3/4 cup green peas
2 tbsp corn, mustard or safflower oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
1" fresh ginger peeled and smashed into a paste
3 garlic cloves peeled and smashed and minced
1 green chili, minced
2 tbsp ground coriander
1 tsp fennel seeds
1/4 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp salt or to your taste
1/2 tsp garam masala
2 medium tomatoes, thinly sliced
1/4 cup freshly chopped cilantro leaves

Peal the potatoes cut into bite size pieces.
In a small bowl, mix ginger, garlic, green chili, coriander, fennel seed, turmeric, and paprika with ¼ cup of water.
Heat oil in a saucepan. (Test heat by adding 1 cumin seed. If tit cracks right away, the oil is ready.) Add all cumin seeds, once they crack, add the spice mix in the bowl. Cook about one minute or until spices start to separate from the oil.  Add green peas plus half a cup of water. Cook 3 minutes or until peas are tender.
Add potatoes and salt. Mix and try when you do to mash a few piece of potato to make the sauce thicken.
Add 1 cup of water. Bring to a boil then lower heat to medium and cook  about 5 minutes to release all flavors. Add garam masala, chopped cilantro and tomatoes.  Blend gently and continue cooking on low heat until gravy comes to boil.  Cover pot and  turn off heat. Let sit 10 minutes. Then it's ready to serve!

Maine Potato Salad with Salmon and Peas
 (not necessarily exact because it doesn't have to be and it will still be terrific)
serves 4

8-10 new potatoes: red bliss or Yukon gold, scrubbed and boiled until al dente (not mushy), drained and cut into bite-sized pieces
4 slices smoked salmon or 1/3 lb cooked fresh salmon, cut into bite sized pieces
1 cup (from 1lb in pod) cooked fresh peas (steamed 3 minutes in salted water with a sprig of mint)
1 tbsp fresh dill, minced
1 tsp celery seed
Freshly ground black pepper to your taste
2 tsp capers, without juice
1 sm red onion, peeled and minced (you can substitute 5 scallions but you'll lose a color in the bowl)
Salt to your taste (be careful as the capers and smoked salmon may be salty)
Combine all the above in a serving bowl and make the dressing:
1 tsp sherry or balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp plain Greek (thick and not watery) yogurt
pinch of salt
3 tbsp mayonnaise
1 tsp ketchup
 Whisk together and blend into the potato salad.

Top with 1 tbsp fresh parsley leaves, minced and serve or refrigerate covered until ready to serve.
Steamed Peas with Mint
Shell the peas you have and put the pods in a medium pot. Cover with water and boil on high heat for 5 minutes.  Remove pods, keep that water. Salt the water and add the peas plus 3 sprigs fresh mint and optionally, a piece of lettuce. Bring to a boil, cover, turn off the heat and let sit 3 minutes. The peas should just be al dente, not mushy, not hard. Remove peas, put in serving bowl, season with sea salt and serve with pride.

Peas with Green Garlic
(adapted from Saveur 2011)
serves 4

4 tbsp. unsalted butter
5 small stalks green garlic, thinly sliced, or 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
Sea salt to your taste taste
1½ lbs fresh green peas, shelled
2 small heads butter lettuce (about 6 oz.), washed, cored, and torn into large pieces
Freshly ground black pepper to your taste
Heat 2 tbsp. butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and salt, and cook, stirring often, until garlic softens, maybe 3 minutes. Add peas and cook until they're bright and tender, about 4 minutes. Stir in remaining butter and lettuce plus 1 tbsp. water, more salt and the pepper. Immediately remove from heat and stir until lettuce is just wilted, about 1 minute.
Serve hot.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Perfect early summer farm to table salads

It's time to start weaning ourselves from all the lettuce that got us through the cooler months and move on to crisp, colorful summer vegetable salads like the superb panzanella when tomatoes and basil finally arrive and Middle Eastern fattoush, best described perhaps as a cross between Greek salad and Italian panzanella, or perhaps just described as absolutely delicious due to the delight of its different tastes (think mint against onion and salty olives against tomato). I think of it as a farewell to lettuce because there's still plenty in my American version recipe below.

My American Fattoush
Serves 4

2 sm pita breads, split, with each piece cut into 6 triangles
 1 head Romaine lettuce, washed and shredded
1 handful fresh arugula, washed and stemmed
1 bunch cilantro, leaves only chopped
4 sprigs fresh mint, leaves only minced
6 sprigs flat leaf parsley, leaves only coarsely chopped
8-10 cherry tomatoes, washed and thinly sliced
6 pitted Kalamata or similar olives, thinly sliced
1 small red onion, peeled and cut into thin rings, then cut rings in half to make strings
3-4 oz fresh Feta, crumbled or cut into small pieces
2-3 Persian cucumbers or 1 sm English cucumber, peeled, seeded, quartered and chopped
Salt to taste (remember olives and feta can be salty)

Put pita on a baking sheet and bake at 350ยบ until crisp and dry. Cool and break into smaller pieces.
 (BTW: You can totally leave out the bread and nobody will notice anything wrong.)
Toss all ingredients together in a large salad bowl.

1 clove garlic mashed
¼ tsp ground cumin
juice of ½ lg lemon
½ cup olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper

Last Friday night, as "guest chef" for a fundraising farm to table dinner that required using only what came from a local farm, I created this spring into summer farm salad with local buttermilk in the dressing. It's got crunch, color and crisp tastes. Folks asked for seconds so I think it's a keeper.

Spring into Summer Salad with Buttermilk Dressing

for 4-6
1 handful arugula
2-3 handfuls crisp mesclun greens
4 lg red radishes, cleaned and very thinly sliced
4 salad/Tokyo/Hakurei (they have all those names) turnips, stems off, washed, halved and thinly sliced into half moon pieces
1 med salad cucumber, quartered and sliced
1 med carrot, cleaned and grated
Freshly ground pepper to your taste
Sea salt to your taste 

Combine all the above in a serving bowl and make the dressing. (extra stores in the fridge up to a week)
Buttermilk Dressing
for 6 probably

1½ tsp dry mustard or 1/2 tsp wet
3 tbsp seasoned rice wine vinegar
6 tbsp good quality olive oil
1/2 cup + 2 tbsp buttermilk
1 tbsp finely chopped shallot or 1 tsp minced garlic
2 tbsp chopped fresh dill
freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Combine all the above and shake to blend.
Use lightly on the salad: it goes a long way.

P.S. Now that we are approaching panzanella season, it's time to start processing our day old baguettes and rolls into those fabulous garlicky croutons it calls for. Properly baked through, they'll store in a tightly closed tin or in the fridge for a month.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Oops A big forgot

I went through asparagus without mentioning a great recipe for asparagus bread pudding: a perfect brunch, or lunch dish. It's in Veggiyana, the Dharma of Cooking, my book from Wisdom Publications available in bookstores and from Amazon.  Here's a  photo:

Mon Petit Chou

Just a few quick thoughts about cabbage, which is coming from the farms now: green, red (aka purple) and Napa or Chinese as it's sometimes called. It's a world class vegetable, so beloved the French even call their dear ones "my little cabbage." So don't snub it.

It's a good companion on warm summer days, especially in a slaw which can be quick to prepare. Shred a small green and small red cabbage in a large bowl. Grate in three carrots and a large daikon radish. Now you've got four colors, a good looking dish. Grate in some kohlrabi if you have them or, yum, a small celeriac bulb. For the last blast of color, you can very thinly strip a red pepper and blend it in. I personally like to season my slaws with celery seed and lots of freshly ground black pepper, plus sea salt. Dress them with two parts cider vinegar to one part olive oil blended with a smashed garlic clove, a large pinch of dried tarragon and 1/4 tsp caraway seed to make it very tasty. Blend and serve. This will still be good for two more days.

There's a Vietnamese shredded cabbage salad in my book How to Fix a Leek... that's been wildly popular. Again it's shredded cabbage and carrots but this time with mint, poached chicken, marinated onions and a Vietnamese blend of fish sauce with chili and oil.

Whole cabbage. carefully hollowed out, makes great unbreakable bowls for dips.

If you need a hot dish easily done, try the cabbage crisp in my Veggiyana, the Dharma of Cooking book (available at many bookstores and from Amazon). I made this up years ago, using cabbage precooked with red onion and dill and a few raisins as the "fruit" of my crisp. I blended it with salt, pepper and sour cream, filled a pie dish with it and made a streusel topping out of basic Kashi mixed in clumps with butter and a pinch of nutmeg.  Bake as you would a crisp and serve hot, with a tomato salad or a slice of ham or grilled bacon.  It's very versatile. And great for potluck!

More on stuffed cabbage, perhaps with mushrooms, coming soon....gotta cook a big farm to table dinner for 64. Tickets sold out!