Thursday, August 28, 2014

Fish in Farmers' Market Mode

Sometimes in the heat of summer fresh fish is the appealing protein option. And at this point in time, it can be local. Even sold at your friendly neighborhood farmers' market. So if you get yourself some, a white fish especially (cod, haddock, hailbut, sole, bass, flounder, red snapper....), consider cooking it with a pile of vegetables and greens (e.g.herbs).

A good way to go for example is preheat your oven to 400º and then saute a large onion or two in butter, freshly ground black pepper and your favorite spice: for Moroccan flavor that would be cumin, ground ginger and turmeric, for hints of Greece that would be oregano, Turkey might be oregano with a pinch of cinnamon. At any rate, saute the onions maybe 7 minutes until they're soft and translucent and covered with the spice. Then toss the contents of the pot onto the bottom of a baking dish and spread it evenly around.

Now dice a juicy tomato and throw it with all its juice evenly over the onions.

Give the fish a good squirt of fresh lemon juice and a dash of salt and pepper before you lay it on the onions. Dice another juicy tomato and throw it with all its juice over the fish. Drizzle on a hit of olive oil.

You have two topping choices: cilantro with chili or dill/parsley with pistachios and feta.
For the first: in a food processor, chop up two bunches of cilantro with two large smashed garlic cloves, 1/2 tsp sea salt, 1 serrano chili minced, 1/2 tsp ground cumin, 1/2 tsp ground coriander, 2 tbsp paprika, 1/2 c olive oil and the juice of a large lime. Spread this all over the fish, drizzle atop a hit of olive oil and roast at 400º 10-20 minutes depending on thickness of fish.

For the second option: in a food processor, chop of a bunch of parsley with a bunch of dill and a few sprigs of mint, two large garlic cloves, 1/2 tsp sea salt, 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes, 1 tbsp roasted pistachios, 1/4 c crumbled feta, freshly ground black pepper and 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice.  Spread this on the fish, drizzle with olive oil and bake at 400º 10-20 minutes depending on thickness of the fish.

Now if you have a second rack in that oven, you can also make potatoes to go with your fish.
Thinly slice the freshest thin skinned tennis ball sized potatoes you can find at the market--maybe 2 per person. Lightly oil a baking sheet and spread the potatoes on in a single layer. Salt them and drizzle them with olive oil (which conducts the heat into them). Sprinkle on a tbsp of dried rosemary. If you have fresh wait to use it until the end so it doesn't burn.  Roast these potatoes at 400º about 20 minutes or until they are lightly brown and crispy.  Top with chopped fresh rosemary and a good pinch of sea salt.

Now all you need to complete a delicious, nutritious and stunningly colorful meal is a good ear of corn per person and/or a tart cucumber/red onion salad with fresh dill. 

What a way to say aloha and olé to summer. 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

It's Now Official: Farmers' Markets have better medicine than Pharmacies

My 95-year-old uncle just emailed me the latest post in his subscription to Harvard Medical's Health Beat because Harvard Medical has finally caught up to me. The doctors there who think they know medicine apparently just discovered there are, as the post title says, more vitamins on your dinner plate than in your medicine cabinet. Provided of course, they only hinted, that food is farm fresh.

Harvard wants to sell its subscribers more information about how to eat your meds, but it's really just good old fashioned common sense. Fruits, vegetables, roots, seeds, animals as well as their eggs and milk are all dynamic, living things, made just like us of cells and molecules continually shifting. What makes them better for us than, say, one element isolated into a manufactured tablet is the interaction of all their chemical parts with all our chemical parts. In other words, if you want to be healthy and stay that way, eat fresh food--early and often!

Crucially, eat different food everyday. Eating the same ingredient over and over turns its chemicals to poison because the body can't process the overload. Eat what Mother Nature is offering you when she offers it: greens in spring, juicy fruits in summer, roots and seeds in wintertime with a touch of fatty meat.
This is in fact the wisdom of traditional medicine going back at least 4,000 years. Food is traditional medicine. Our machine and manufacture based version is actually "alternative medicine."

Here at the end of August when vitamin rich bell peppers are vividly overflowing red, yellow, orange and green in farmers' market stalls, make yourself some Piperade, the popular Basque sauté of multi colored peppers with purple onion and garlic. It's perfect with a corn souffle or corn pudding right now, on an omelet, atop baked potatoes or with fresh sausages. Its uses are endless. A recipe is in my book Veggiyana, the Dharma of Cooking (Wisdom Publications: 2011) available at bookstores and from Amazon, although I hate to say that these days.

Another even more memorable and just as easy way to deploy all those peppers is Shakshuka, the popular Levantine way of serving poached farm fresh eggs in a spicy tomato sauce filled with colorful bell peppers.
Here's the recipe for what you see in that photo, although the photo was Shakshuka for two not four.

Serves 4

3 tbsp fruity olive oil
3 lg garlic cloves, minced
1 lg red onion, diced
1 med green bell pepper, seeded and chunked
1 sm yellow bell pepper, seeded and chunked
1-2 hot chili peppers like Serrano or real jalapeno, seeded and minced
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
½ tsp caraway seeds, smashed or ground
1-2 tsp smoked paprika
¼ tsp dried mint leaves
¼ tsp turmeric
¼ tsp ground cayenne or arbol chili powder
pinch ground cinnamon
1 tsp wine/balsamic vinegar
½ tsp honey
1 tsp tomato paste
2-3 cups chopped tomatoes in their juice
black pepper to taste
8 eggs
1 bunch fresh cilantro, stemmed, washed and chopped for garnish

optional add ons: feta cheese, pitted black kalamata olives, chopped spinach

In a large heavy-gauge sauté pan that has a lid, heat olive oil. Sauté onions, bell and chili peppers and garlic over medium heat til soft, about 5 minutes.  Add the spices—cumin through cinnamon—and heat until fragrant, maybe 60-90 seconds.

Stir in vinegar, tomato paste, honey and tomatoes.  Season with salt and pepper.
Cook until the sauce thickens, maybe 10-12 minutes depending on how juicy the tomatoes were.  Taste for flavor and add seasonings to your taste.

Get the sauce very hot and bubbly over medium heat and have the pan lid handy.  Carefully create 8 small pockets in the sauce and crack an egg into each one. Try to nudge a little sauce into the eggwhites.  Cover and continue cooking to poach the eggs to your liking.

Uncover the pan. Add the optionals you desire. Let them heat up 1 minute. Remove pan from heat. Garnish with chopped cilantro and serve right out of the pan.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Mio Farro

It's tomato time again. One has to do one's best to glom in all the stomach can hold before they disappear in the chill of October: the heirlooms, the cheery cherries, the sun ripened that have cracks where the stem meets the fruit. One has to do one's best to let them ripen on the counter and never put them in the fridge until they're almost too soft to use. Only keep and eat a tomato at room temperature if you want to truly taste it.

So what to do right now?  I've provided plenty of recipes in the past including the great Italian bread and basil salad, Panzanella, tomato pie and in my How to Fix a Leek book the famed gazpacho. The traditional, yet unbeatable true Greek salad--farmers' salad to the Greeks-- is just luscious tomatoes chunked with equally chunked cucumber, green bell pepper, thin quarter moons of red onion (optional), kalamata olives pitted or not, and chunks of fresh feta cheese (I sometimes substitute great local goat cheese)--all dressed with good olive oil and a squirt of fresh lemon juice, Salt and pepper of course. Summer doesn't seem fresher than that. 

But I've been playing with mint lately and had to make a dinner party salad the other night and came up with this winner: Farro with Tomatoes and Mint.   For about 8 people (6 with leftovers is good), I cooked 1 c farro according to package instructions. While it was boiling, I chunked up 4 medium very ripe heirloom tomatoes (I'm foolish for Brandwines), and very thinly sliced a small farmers' market red onion into disks which I halved. I halved two small/medium pickling cucumbers, halved them again and sliced them into the mix. I diced 1/2 a medium green bell pepper and once it was in, I tossed in a handful of whole but pitted Kalamata olives plus 1/4 c drained capers. By now I could remove the farro from heat, drain and cold water rinse it. I tossed this into the salad mix, blending everything as evenly as possible. Then I chopped up about 1/2 c fresh parsley leaves--in this case curly parsley, and 1/3 c fresh mint leaves. Into the wooden bowl these went followed by plenty of freshly ground black pepper and good sea salt. The addition of the bright green herbs made the salad vividly eye catching. I dressed it with good fruity olive oil and a splash of balsamic vinegar, I'd say a ratio of 3 oil to 1 vinegar.
It was a fabulous foil to a lamb and date tagine. I just had the remainder for a refreshing summer lunch.

Using farro likely contrasts with the whole no gluten craze currently in progress. I have celiac friends for whom gluten and wheat are seriously deadly but they are few and far between the panicked legions looking for some excuse to explain why they don't feel well. I had this discussion earlier this week. Here's a gist: farro, if you buy the real Italian stuff, is the berry of a very old emmer wheat whose genetics haven't yet been messed with in Italy the way industrialists have rebred and rebred our American wheat have more and more gluten to withstand all the processing. So it's healthier.

Secondarily, there is a growing body of evidence that all those who feel holier and purer and healthier avoiding all gluten are actually feeling that way because by avoiding gluten they've simply cut back substantially on the normal American carb overload. Too much of anything is a bad thing where food is involved.

Friday, August 8, 2014

A last word about Parsley: Tabbouleh/Tabouli

However you wish to spell it, this is an Arab PARSLEY salad. Not the Bulghur salad that way too many thrifty people pass around at potlucks.  Genuine tabbouleh uses twice as much parsley as bulghur. In other words, to make this salad for, say, 6 people, you would use 1/2 c bulghur (raw before you plump it) and then at least 1 c fresh chopped parsley, at least.  You then toss in mint at 1/2 the amount of bulghur, which in this example would be 1/4 c fresh mint leaves minced. That's the essential core. This is a heat fighting, body cooling and moisturizing salad.  The customized optional add ons are tomatoes, cucumbers and chickpeas--but never in a quantity that surpasses the parsley. This is a parsley salad. And parsley is very helpful to your health. Much more than bulghur. So this really is an ingenious recipe: tasty, eye catching, easy to make, medicinal and seriously nutritious. Enjoy it!