Friday, February 27, 2015

New Year's Reasons to Treasure your Farmer's Market

Once again the courageous Environmental Working Group has released its list of the most pesticide infested foods you can buy in your supermarket.  Bless them. When you read it below (bold face type is mine), you'll see you can buy all the bad stuff in a good version from your local farmer.

The Shopper’s Guide, updated every year since 2004, is broken down into two easy-to-use lists, the Dirty DozenTM and the Clean FifteenTM. The Dirty Dozen list includes the top 12 fruits and vegetables with the highest amounts of pesticide residues, while the Clean 15 list has the 15 cleanest, or least contaminated produce. Apples tend to have the most pesticides because of the chemicals applied to the crop before and after harvest to preserve them longer, the analysts said.
Other produce items on the 2015 Dirty DozenTMlist are strawberries, grapes, celery, spinach, sweet bell peppers, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, imported snap peas and potatoes.
Since leafy greens and hot peppers were frequently contaminated with insecticides that are particularly toxic to human health, EWG highlights these items in its Dirty Dozen PlusTM category.
Avocados were the cleanest item on the list, with only one percent of samples showing any detectable pesticides. Other items on the 2015 Clean FifteenTM list include sweet corn, pineapples, cabbage, sweet peas (frozen), onions, asparagus, mangoes, papayas, kiwi, eggplant, grapefruit, cantaloupe, and cauliflower.
“We are saying, eat your fruits and vegetables,” said Sonya Lunder, EWG’s senior analyst. “But know which ones have the highest amounts of pesticides so you can opt for the organic versions, if available and affordable, or grab a snack off the Clean FifteenTM.”
A recent study shows people who buy organic produce have lower levels of organophosphate insecticides measured in their bodies even though they eat more produce than people who buy mostly conventional grown fruits and vegetables.

Monday, February 23, 2015

At least there's still fresh yogurt

In the freeze of this February, Farmers' Markets can be short of every plant we might want to eat, but there's still going to be dairy. And that includes fresh yogurt. Not such a bad idea right now when we could use all those good bacteria it wants to give us, and all the sunshine stored in that milk. Don't forget: cows have been sacred for over 2,000 years because uniquely they are able to take solar energy arisen as grass and convert it into a pure white substance that energizes us.  So think of yogurt, fermented milk--bacteria added, as enriched sunshine.

Last week, for the healthy snack session of my kids Cooking Matters class, we made lassi and smoothie and the children were really delighted.  They took the recipes home.  So here they are. The lassi, the purer of the two, comes from India where it's deemed particularly refreshing in blistering heat. Mango is the most traditional flavor and happily you can use frozen mango chunks if you can't find fresh in a market. Lassi is thinner than smoothie, which is usually thickened by banana, and ridiculously fast and easy to concoct. Smoothies tend of be served colder than lassi. Both of these recipes are ideal for vegetarians.

Mango Lassi
for 4

9 ounces plain yogurt
4 1/2 ounces milk
3 fresh mango, stoned and sliced
4 teaspoons sugar, to taste,

a pinch of cardamom or cinnamon, your choice
Optionally a pinch of salt

Put all the ingredients in a blender and whirl  2 minutes. Pour into individual glasses to serve or store in the refrigerator  up to 24 hours.

Strawberry Mango Smoothie

 2 cups mango chunks

1 cup strawberries

1 cup plain yogurt

1 cup milk

 1 banana
If not using frozen mango, then  3-4 ice cubes or ½ cup shaved ice
(smoothies are associated with "frozen" coolers.)  

 Place all ingredients in a blender.

 Run blender until contents are puréed smooth, scraping the sides if necessary as you go.
       Serve immediately or store in the freezer. Thaw slightly before serving. 

For something different, and something for kids too young to appreciate a lassi--the school class started at 3rd grade, here's a friend's recipe for Baked Yogurt that pleased her 3-year-old grandson.
Baked Yogurt with Pistachios and Cardamom

1/4 Cup Greek yogurt

1/4 Cup Condensed Milk

1/4 t. cardamom powder

2 T. chopped Pistachios.

Preheat the oven to 150º.

Mix all ingredients together and pour the mixture into ramekins.

Place them in a tray and fill the tray with water halfway up the ramekins.

Bake 35-45 minutes until set.
Let cool. Chill  in the refrigerator until serving time.

Moving more toward meals, here's a surprisingly tasty and very healthy Himalayan sandwich filling for a lavash/naan wrap or whole wheat pita. It's in Veggiyana, the Dharma of Cooking.

Mustang Yogurt and Spinach Spread 

1 lb. fresh spinach, stems off and washed clean
½ bunch cilantro leaves, cleaned (about 1 very loosely packed cup)
¼ tsp ground cayenne (heaping if you like heat)
¼ tsp salt
½ tsp timur (fragrant Nepali peppercorns) or their close but not so aromatic relative Szechuan peppercorns or black peppercorns soaked in 1/4 tsp rosewater or mixed with 1/8 tsp dried lavender. Each will provide a distinct taste.
16-17 oz thick plain yogurt (thick means it doesn’t move when you put a spoon in; drain thinner yogurt through a sieve lined with cheesecloth or paper towels.

Put spinach leaves in a large bowl and pour 2 cups boiling water over them. Cover bowl and let sit 1-2 minutes. Drain and rinse spinach under cold water. Drain again. Squeeze spinach into a ball, wrap it in a towel and squeeze it dry. Let it rest in the towel.
 Make a paste of the cilantro leaves, cayenne, salt and timur, or timur substitute, by grinding together in small processor or coffee grinder or mortar and pestle.
Blend this paste into the yogurt. Taste and adjust seasonings to preference.

Chop the spinach as finely as you can and stir into the spiced yogurt.

Serve immediately or store covered in the refrigerator up to 24 hours.

And finally, yogurt used as salad dressing. From the book How to Fix a Leek...and perfect for the 
ingredients you can find fresh right now.
Chicken and Lentil Salad with Yogurt Dill Dressing
for 6
 for the dressing
1 pt very thick yogurt
2 garlic cloves, minced
1-2 Persian or pickling cucumber, halved, seeded, sliced paper-thin or grated and drained
2 tbsp chopped dill
½ tsp salt
1 tbsp fruity olive oil and 1 tsp red wine vinegar or fresh lemon juice
Mix everything in a glass or ceramic bowl and chill overnight so flavors mingle

for the salad
2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts, poached, cooled, chopped
1½ cups red or brown lentils, cooked until tender, well drained
2 cups chopped broccoli, blanched until tender but still a bit crunchy
1 bunch scallions, cleaned and sliced in thin disks
1 cup grated carrots
1½ cup roasted cashews or pecans, chopped
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper and salt to taste

 Combine everything and stir in dressing. Blend. Garnish with chopped cilantro.


Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Stomachfill over Landfill: critical recycling efforts

I heard on the news the other night that the city of Seattle has decided to take recycling so seriously, it includes wasted food. Seattle is going to red tag garbage cans discovered to be filled with food when they are flipped over onto the truck.  The scarlet letter stands for our modern abomination of cavalierly wasting our most precious and vital resource when others nearby are sickened or dying from lack of it. Way to go Seattle Foodhawks!

Certainly besides your own compost pile, there are myriad ways to recycle food you can't use. Yes doing something more requires more effort than tossing it in the bin or grinding it in your disposal, but in this case more is not only less, it is a good karma deed. You can give food to a soup kitchen, homeless shelter, even a panhandler on the street since food is a far better offering than cash for drugs or drink. You can share your overflow with your neighbors--a prepayment against the moment you have to borrow a cup of sugar or ask for a favor.

You can recycle it in your own kitchen. The traditional term for food recycling is leftovers. Anyone who knows anything about them knows leftovers are generally the tastiest eating of all. Sometimes it's just that the flavors get more time to marinate, sometimes it's that new flavors mingle and explode. Leftovers do not have to mean reheating the same thing like instant replay. It can mean creating something entirely new, totally disguising a recycling effort.

One of the most brilliant second acts in the kitchen is the Italian arancini.  On the surface a fried rice ball. It is actually last night's risotto blended with an egg so it can rolled into golf sized balls. A hole is poked to the center where a small piece of mozzarella is inserted; it's going to melt all over that rice. Then the ball is dipped into a beaten egg, rolled in seasoned breadcrumbs and deep fried. Drain, salt and pop into your mouth for a delicious gooey treat. Serve them on a bed of oiled arugula for visual pleasure.

Another stroke of genius is never tossing out a true Parmesan rind. Never! Put it in a long simmering minestrone or stew. You will be rewarded with the an elegantly mysterious smoky flavor of delight you could not create any other way. Besides, while cooking, the rind breaks down into deliciously salty tidbits.  Many upscale shops now cheat by cutting off the rinds before they sell the cheese, then selling the rinds separately to those who know what a terrific treat they are.

I have written in the past on this blog about turning yesterday's bread into tomorrow's croutons. It's as easy as cutting it in bite size pieces, rolling them in garlic laced olive oil and baking them at 325º until dried out. Store in a tin and use in Caesar or Fattoush salad and in creamy soups. Italians also cleverly recycle "crouton" bread into bread salad, the famous Panzanella: bread, basil, tomatoes, olives, capers --I posted the recipe a year ago.

If you don't want to be bothered turning yesterday's bread into croutons, turn it into Ribolitta, the tasty Italian bread and cabbage soup. I've also posted that recipe earlier on this blog. But here it is again because timing is perfect for March market produce:

For 4-6

3 tbsp and 2 tsp olive oil

1 med onion, peeled and diced

1 lg garlic clove, peeled and minced

½ tsp dried rosemary leaves

2 sm or 1 lg celery stalks, finely chopped

1 lg carrot, peeled and finely chopped

½ Savoy cabbage, shredded

4 stalks red chard, stems removed and chopped

1 bunch Tuscan/lacinto/blue kale, stems removed and chopped

6-7 cups broth or water

salt and freshly ground black pepper to your taste

2 cans (14 oz) cannellini (white kidney) beans, drained

1-2 tbsp tomato paste

6 slices day or two old (i.e.stale) Tuscan or other dense crusty Italian bread

Fruity olive oil for final garnish

Optional: 1 sm parmesan rind

Coat bottom of a large heavy-gauge pot with 3 tbsp olive oil and heat on medium flame.  Add onion, garlic, rosemary, celery and carrots. Sauté until soft, 5 minutes.  Season with freshly ground black pepper to your taste.

Add Savoy cabbage and chard, stirring to blend, and cook until they wilt.

Add broth, salt and kale. Bring to boil, reduce heat to simmer, cover pot and simmer 40-45 minutes, until vegetables are soft. Timing does not have to be precise.

Purée 1 can of beans. Add puréed and whole beans to the soup along with the tomato paste. (suit yourself with how much) Stir to blend everything. Continue to simmer with lid on pot 15 minutes. Stir from time to time so nothing sticks to the bottom.  Taste for salt and correct if necessary.

At this point, you can be very Tuscan and get out a large earthenware casserole pot, then layer the bread and soup in it. Or you can simply add the bread to the soup pot you’re already using, trying to “layer” it in. In either case, remove soup from heat and let cool. Refrigerate overnight so it sets up.

To serve: stir in 2 tsp olive oil. Reheat on low flame or in the oven until hot enough to eat. Garnish with fruity olive oil.

On February 4, I posted a squash pancake recipe as the way to recycle leftover winter squash. As for all those annoying squash/pumpkin seeds, don't discard them in the compost or garbage. Scrape them out, wash them off--okay, this is a pain but think of it as gaining merit for a good deed--dry thoroughly. These seeds are a treasure chest of vital and scarce nutrients like zinc. They provide fiber. You can simply and quickly roast them with your favorite spices. My preference is for Ethiopian berbere combo (published in a 2014 post) but here's a simple one with just chili and lots of it to heat up your taste buds in the middle of February.

Chili Roasted Pumpkin Seeds
3 cups pumpkin seeds
2 tablespoons corn oil
1 1/2 tablespoons ancho chili powder
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon arbol chili powder

Preheat oven to 350º.
Place the pumpkin seeds in a large bowl and toss with the oil, ancho powder, salt, and arbol powder. Spread evenly on a baking sheet and bake 8 to 10 minutes, shaking once to prevent sticking or burning. Let cool and store in an airtight container.

  Don't discard beet greens! You'll be cheating yourself out of vitamins, iron and calcium. The greens have far more nutrients than the beets at their root.  They are no hardship to cook. I like to roast the beets-- particularly the orange ones which seem sweeter, tightly foil wrapped with a drizzle of olive oil and sprinkle of sea salt, at 400º about 40 minutes until they are shiny and meltingly tender. I coarsely chop their greens. In olive oil flavored with a few fenugreek seeds and some freshly ground black pepper, I sauté a diced small red onion until it is wilted and add the beet greens with two minced garlic cloves. Over medium/low heat the greens cook about 5 minutes before they wilt. At this point, optionally I toss in a few walnut pieces for the crunch and protein and cook another minute or two. The greens should be soft and shiny. Now for the piece de resistance, I grate or chop in two of those lusciously roasted beets, heat everything, salt and serve as the perfect side dish for roast chicken, lentil soup or a vegetable frittata. 

Sometimes when you go to clean out your fridge you find wilted, unwanted carrot greens, flaccid celery and perhaps an onion you forgot about. Perhaps tomato skins or wilted herbs. Put them all in a medium pot of water with salt and a spritz of lemon juice and boil about 30 minutes. Strain out the veggies and you've got perfect vegetable stock to cook pasta or rice or start a soup. You've just saved yourself somewhere between $2.25 and $3.99 for vegetable stock sold in stores.

One great soup, invented by the French, is the potage. For this very forgiving soup, you take that stock above or any stock, put in any vegetables you have around, leftover beans and potatoes included as well as those now used carrot greens and celery. Add a few herbs like thyme, fresh parsley and perhaps a clove of garlic. Cook until the vegetables are soft and purée into a potage. Float a cheese topped crouton on top and serve with some freshly chopped cilantro or flat leaf parsley. 

I've recently read about one of the media darling whole hog chefs putting carrot greens in her pesto and then putting that pesto over cooked carrots with and without pasta. 

And finally there is what I love to call a "trash torte", an all greens pie. Spinach, chard, beet greens, turnip greens, radish greens, pea shoots, arugula, endive, radicchio--whatever you've got left that you can't figure out how to use: chop it all up in a large bowl. If you've got scallions around dice them in.  Add fresh dill and cilantro and mint, season with salt and pepper and a few red pepper flakes, crumble in some goat or feta cheese, bind it all up with an egg or two (depending on how many greens you have) and spread the mix out in a shallow oiled baking/quiche dish large or small enough so that the "pie" is no thicker than 1/2".  Top with a sprinkle of nutmeg and bake at 350º until it is firm enough to spring back to the touch (maybe 15-20 minutes). Slice in wedges and enjoy. 

Oh, and don't forget to pat yourself on the back for excellent recycling. Stomachfill over landfill!

Thursday, February 5, 2015

A Big Hit for Your Squash Game: Argentine Carbonada Criolla

Some say this southern winter comfort food from Argentina has roots in Belgian carbonade. It definitely has myriad versions, some even made with wheat beer.  I've added a few spices to mine.

Argentine Beef and Squash in a Pumpkin or large Squash
 6 hearty servings

If you want to serve this in a pumpkin or individual squashes, you will need a large field pumpkin or one medium red kuri, sugar pie pumpkin, hokkaido or chestnut squash per person. You must slice off a “lid” and clean out the interior. Brush melted butter and honey over the insides. Put the lid back on and bake in an oven preheated to 375º until starts to feel soft. Don’t go to mushy because you’re going to bake this again with the stew inside. You can bake while making the stew. The timing will work out perfectly.

1 lb chunked sugar pie pumpkin or butternut squash
6-8 dried apricots plumped in warm water or even rosewater
1½ -2 lbs lean stewing beef cut into bite sized chunks
2-3 slices chorizo, minced
2 tbsp butter or ghee
1 tbsp corn, canola or olive oil
1 med/lg yellow onion, peeled and diced
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
2 lg carrots, sliced into thin disks
1 sm green pepper, diced
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground cumin
2 tbsp dried oregano leaves
Pinch red pepper flakes
2 cups chopped tomatoes (with their juice is okay)
3 cups beef or vegetable broth
8 sprigs flat leaf parsley
2 tsp salt
2-3 medium white potatoes, chunked into bite-size
1 medium sweet potato, peeled and chunked into bite-size
1 lg zucchini in ½ disks
2 large cobs of corn or 1½ cups kernels

In a large heavy gauge lidded casserole pot, heat butter and oil.
Brown the beef and remove it with a slotted spoon.
Put the chorizo, onions, garlic, carrots, green pepper and spices including pepper flakes into the pot. Stir to blend and sauté 5 minutes until veggies are soft.

Add the meat and mix. Pour in the tomatoes and broth. Add salt and parsley sprigs. Cover and simmer 15 minutes.

Add white and sweet potatoes and squash/pumpkin chunks. Blend in. Cover and simmer 30 minutes until everything is soft.

Remove about 6 vegetable/potato chunks and ½ cup liquid. Puree this with 1 tbsp corn kernels. Add this back to the pot to thicken the broth. Add the remaining corn, the apricots (drained) and zucchini. Cook uncovered on low for about 5 minutes. If you want thicker broth cook on medium heat another 2-3 minutes. Test for taste and adjust salt, pepper and other seasonings to yours.

 Put your serving pumpkin or squashes on a cookie sheet. Make sure they stand up straight. Fill with the stew. Bake at 350º 12-15 minutes. Be careful the container doesn’t get mushy and collapse.

Toss chopped flat leaf parsley leaves on top to serve.

P.S. This is traditional and beloved comfort food, which means everyone has their own way of making it. So you can too.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Amplification: Squash

I just wanted to clarify that if you want deep fried Buttercup squash wedges, you should bake or nuke this hard keeper just long enough to soften it so you can easily get a knife inside. Then cut it into 1/2" wedges and peel the wedges. Carefully scrap away all the seeds.  Crack an egg into a bowl with a tsp of milk and whisk. In another bowl combine about 2 cups cornmeal with a 1/2" of chickpea flour or whole wheat flour (depending on your gluten fear) and 1/4 cup of Panko (optionally for more crunchiness), freshly grated black pepper and a pinch of nutmeg.  Dip the squash wedges first into the egg, then the breading. Coat them carefully.  Deep fry in hot peanut or sunflower oil.  Drain and then salt. (Salt will burn them if you use it earlier). Serve with fresh salsa.

Also, if you find yourself with leftover cooked squash, you can mash or puree it and turn it into yummy, nutriitous   wheat-free breakfast pancakes.  Here's how: (about 8)

Beat an egg and blend in 1 cup mashed squash (not hot). Grate in about 1/2" fresh peeled ginger root, finely grated. In a separate bowl sift or strain or whisk together 1/2 cup chickpea flour, 1 tbsp brown sugar, 1/4 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp baking powder, 1/4 tsp cinnamon and 1/4 tsp nutmeg. Whisk this into the squash/egg blend.  Add 1 tbsp milk and 1 tbsp melted butter. Mix well and make pancakes.

Serve with thick vanilla yogurt and/or real maple syrup or sour cream and honey or even applesauce. You just can't go wrong. These orange pancakes will brighten your winter day.

Monday, February 2, 2015

No End to your Squash Game

Here are two more ways to jazz up winter squash right now at winter's midpoint because you're going to need that beta carotene for the weeks to come.

First up, comfort food from Peru, a melange of its iconic vegetables: squash, potatoes, hot peppers and corn served up with cheese and toasted pumpkin seeds, pepitas. It's got all the vitamins, minerals and  protein you need. Some recipes call for cream or evaporated milk. I've left it out because I don't like the way it makes the final stew appear. But feel free to add it at the end with the cheese.

Locro de Zapallo
for 6 (over quinoa or rice)

1 lb winter squash like butternut, red kuri, sugar pumpkin, (don’t worry if you have more)
4 medium Yukon gold potatoes, scrubbed
3 tbsp corn oil
1 tbsp unsalted butter
1 lg onion, diced
3 lg garlic cloves, minced
1 poblano pepper, roasted and diced
1 Serrano or other hot chili, minced
1 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp dried oregano leaves
¼ tsp smoked paprika
1 tbsp ground “ahi Amarillo”, the Peruvian mildly hot pepper or 2 tsp. substitute
chipotle chili powder
1-2 cups vegetable or chicken broth
1 cup large corn kernels, (about two ears if you have fresh)
salt to your taste
1/2 tsp fresh black pepper
½ cup large peas, fresh or frozen
½ lb queso fresco or feta, cubed
½ bunch cilantro leaves, chopped for garnish
¼ cup toasted pumpkin seeds, 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 all spices. Blend well.
Add potatoes, squash and corn to the pot, stirring to cover them with the spice/onion mix.
Add just enough vegetable broth to be about ½-2/3 to the top of the vegetables. (How much depends on how soupy you want the final dish to be.)
Bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat to simmer. Cook until squash and potatoes are tender but not mushy, maybe 20-30 minutes.
Add salt, pepper and peas. Simmer 2 minutes to heat peas. Remove cover.
Add cheese. Simmer just long enough to heat. Do not boil.

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

NOTE: This is often served in Peru with Criolla, pickled onions. They add pungency and lots of nutrients.

  • 2 large red onions
  • 1 oz white wine vinegar
  • 1/2 oz  olive oil
  • 1 lime
  • salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp of oregano
  1. Slice onions into thin strips, put in a bowl, and wash with running water. Drain and set aside.
  2. In a cup, mix the vinegar, olive oil, lime juice, and spices.
  3. Pour this sauce over the onions and toss in the bowl.
  4. Cover and refrigerate for an hour before serving.
8 servings.

And here, hot off the internet--as yet untested by me--is a Mexican treatment for winter squash. Of course the people of Central and South America invented the stuff so they know what to do with it. In this case, a molé out of almonds and pumpkin seeds makes a thick sauce with plenty of chili in it.

Mexican Winter Squash Stew with Sour Cream
 for 4
  • 1/2 cup whole, skin-on almonds
  • 2 tbsp pumpkin seeds
  • 3 tablespoons ancho chile powder
  • 2 teaspoons dried Mexican oregano, crumbled
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 small butternut squash or other hard winter squash (about 1 1/2 pounds), peeled, halved, seeded, and cut into 3/4-inch cubes
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch cubes
  • 1 (15-ounce) can pinto beans, drained and rinsed wel
·       ·  ·  1 (28-ounce) can diced fire-roasted tomatoes
·       ·  2 1/2 cups vegetable broth or water
·       ·  1 cup frozen white or yellow corn kernels (optional)
·       ·  1/4 cup chopped cilantro leaves, plus more for garnishing
·       ·  Freshly ground black pepper
·       ·  Sour cream, for garnishing

Add the almonds, pumpkin seeds, chile powder, oregano, cumin, and measured salt to the bowl of a food processor and process to a fine meal. Set aside.

Warm the olive oil in a large Dutch oven or heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until it begins to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and ground almond-spice mixture and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes.

Add the squash, carrots, beans, tomatoes, and broth or water and bring to a boil, stirring to make sure the almond mixture doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan.

Lower the heat, partially cover the pan, and let the stew simmer, stirring occasionally, until the squash is very tender, about 30 to 40 minutes. If the stew threatens to dry out, add a bit more broth or water.

Add the corn, if using, and measured cilantro. Season with pepper and taste, adding more salt as needed. Continue to simmer until the corn is hot and the flavors combine, about 5 minutes.
Ladle into warmed serving bowls and garnish with sour cream and a sprinkling of cilantro leaves.