Friday, April 26, 2013

Preserved Lemons

Tara requested that I post this recipe for Preserved Lemons.  Even though there weren't any lemons in our box this week, there are plenty of lemon trees in the neighborhood and all over town, too.  Perhaps you or your neighbor has a tree laden with ripe fruit.  It's easy enough to squeeze and freeze the juice for later use, but this recipe requires only slightly more work and yields a beautiful and versatile product.

Preserved lemons, also called salt-cured lemons are frequently found in Moroccan cooking.  There are many wonderful recipes for chicken and lamb made with preserved lemons, olives, garlic, and spices.  But preserved lemons have many more uses.  Chef Ernie Miller, formerly of the Farmer's Kitchen, opened my eyes to the myriad uses of preserved lemons.  They're a tasty "secret" ingredient in tomato salsa, hummus, seviche, potato salad, tuna salad, and all manner of sauces and salad dressings.  More on that later.

The most important ingredient is time.  They get better and better the longer they age.  I like to put several jars in the back of my fridge and leave them for six months.  They keep for a very long time.  I've had some jars well over a year.

Below are two recipes for preserved lemons:  One is simply lemons, salt, and juice; the other, from Chef Miller, includes a few choice spices.

Simple Preserved Lemons

1 wide-mouth quart jar with non-reactive lid
6-10 lemons, enough to fill the jar snugly
1/2 C kosher salt
fresh-squeezed lemon juice

1.  Sterilize the quart jar by boiling it for 10 minutes.  Allow jar to cool enough to handle.

2.  Score lemons lengthwise in quarters, cutting through almost to the bottom, but leaving the bottom in tact so that the lemon can open up like a flower.

3.  Place 1 T salt in the bottom of the jar.

4.  Starting with the first lemon, pull open the quarters and place 1 T salt inside the lemon.  Place the lemon in the jar.  Repeat with the remaining lemons, pushing down on them gently until the jar is snugly packed with lemons.

5.  Pour in fresh-squeezed lemon juice leaving 1/2-inch headspace but making sure all the lemons are covered.  Add any remaining salt.

6.  Cover tightly and let sit on the counter for 1-2 weeks.  Then place the jar in the fridge and allow to age for 1 month or longer.

Chef Miller's Preserved Lemons:  Follow the recipe above, adding 1 t black peppercorns, 3 cinnamon sticks, and 2 bay leaves for flavoring.

Star anise and cloves are other flavors to consider.  Feel free to experiment.

One of my favorite recipes for preserved lemons is this very simple salad dressing:  1 t minced preserved lemons, 1 t juice from preserved lemons, 1 T white balsamic vinegar, and 2 T extra virgin olive oil.  Mix together until well-combined and toss with mixed greens.  Do not substitute dark balsamic vinegar for the white balsamic in this recipe.  If you don't have white balsamic vinegar, you can substitute cider vinegar.

This week's bounty included:

From County Line Harvest:  Spring onions, lettuce, carrots, fennel, beets, and collard greens;

From Rancho Santa Cecilia:  Golden Nugget mandarins and avocados;

From South Central Farmers Cooperative:  Rainbow chard and blue kale;

From Sun Coast Farms:  Asparagus and broccoli;

From Silver Lake Farms:  Mint, chives, and cilantro

And from farmer Dave in Silver Lake:  French sorrel.



Friday, April 19, 2013

Strawberry Lavender Smoothie

Smoothies are a perennial favorite.  They can be made with just about any fruit or vegetable if you have a strong enough blender.  I like adding herbs and spices to my smoothies to add a little zing.

Today's recipe for Strawberry Lavender Smoothies is simple, delicious, and healthy, too.  I used English lavender from my garden, and I pulverized it in spice grinder.  If you don't have a spice grinder, you can do this with a mortar and pestle.

Most varieties of lavender are edible, but not all of them taste great.  Some varieties of lavender contain camphor which may give off flavors to your dish.  English lavender is the most popular culinary variety, but there are many others, too.

For 2 generous servings:

1 generous C washed, hulled and coarsely chopped strawberries
2/3 C plain yogurt
3/4 C milk
6 ice cubes
1/4 t finely pulverized English lavender
2 T honey or to taste (optional)

Put all ingredients in a blender and blend on high until smooth.

For a thicker smoothie, use more yogurt and less milk; for a thinner smoothie, more milk and less yogurt.

I prefer to use plain yogurt, but vanilla yogurt would work fine, too.  There's probably no need to add any sweetener if you use vanilla yogurt.

Today's bounty included:

From County Line Harvest:  Romaine and Bloomsdale spinach;

From Jimenez Family Farm:  Carrots, strawberries, cilantro, dandelion greens, lacinato kale, beets, and cabbage;

From Rancho Santa Cecilia:  Golden Nugget mandarins;

From Sun Coast Farms:  Asparagus and dried pinto beans;

From Silver Lake Farms:  Chives, sage, rosemary, sorrel, mint, and cilantro.



Friday, April 12, 2013

Strawberries with Balsamic Vinegar

It's strawberry season in Southern California.  We're so lucky to have delicious local strawberries available for much of the year, but these are the first in our CSA box for 2013.  You may want to enjoy these berries completely unadulterated.  But if you'd like to dress them up just a little Strawberries with Balsamic Vinegar is a simply wonderful way to do it.

I must admit I was a skeptic about putting strong flavors such as vinegar and pepper on sweet little strawberries, so I was truly surprised at how inspired this combination of flavors turned out to be.  It's really not a surprise, though, when you think about it, since balsamic vinegar is made from grape juice reduced and aged to a thick and sweet syrup.  The pepper perks things up, but finely chopped fresh mint or basil can be equally perky substitutes if you're not fond of pepper.

Use the best, thickest, most syrup-y balsamic you have.  It makes a big difference in this recipe.  You only need 1 teaspoon per serving.  I like to use agave syrup in this recipe.  Granulated sugar may not dissolve well giving the dish a slightly gritty texture.  If you don't have (or don't like) agave syrup, use simple syrup instead.

It's easy to make simple syrup.  Just bring 1 C water and 1 C granulated sugar to a boil stirring occasionally until all the sugar is dissolved.  Then cool completely and store in a glass jar in the fridge.  It keeps for weeks.

For 2 servings:

1 C washed, hulled, and very coarsely chopped strawberries*
2 t aged balsamic vinegar
2 t agave syrup or simple syrup
freshly ground black pepper to taste

1.  Put the chopped strawberries in a bowl.

2.  Drizzle the balsamic and agave or simple syrup over the berries.

3.  Stir gently to coat.

4.  Let sit at room temperature for 30-60 minutes.

5.  Sprinkle with freshly ground pepper to taste and stir gently.

6.  Serve or refrigerate and serve within 3 hours.

This recipe can be easily doubled or triple.

*Very small strawberries can be left whole, and small strawberries can be halved.  Larger berries are best quartered or coarsely chopped.

Today's bounty included:

From Jimenez Family Farm:  Spinach, kale, wild arugula, red or green butter lettuce, dandelion greens, beets, strawberries, and mache;

From Country Line Harvest:  Baby fennel, white Tokyo turnips, red radishes, carrots, and spring onions;

From Rancho Santa Cecilia:  Navel oranges;

From Weiser Family Farm:  Parsnips and Russian banana baker potatoes;

From Silver Lake Farms: Chives, rosemary, thyme, cilantro, or French sorrel.



Friday, March 29, 2013

Raw Vegan Chocolate Pudding

I first tasted Raw Vegan Chocolate Pudding about a year ago at the Elf Cafe, a vegetarian restaurant on Sunset Blvd.  Since then, I've been experimenting with different versions of this simple, rich, and reasonably healthy dessert.  What I've discovered is it's all about the cocoa powder; so use the tastiest one you can find.  My personal favorite is Dagoba organic cocoa powder.  They make a variety flavored with cinnamon and chilies that's so full flavored, I don't even have to add vanilla extract.  If you like almond extract, it's a great addition to this pudding.  Feel free to flavor as you wish.  A little sea salt might be a great complement to a very dark cocoa powder.

The easiest way to make this pudding is in a blender, but you can do it with just a folk.  Make sure the avocados are super ripe to avoid lumps.  If your pudding is lumpy, you can press it through a sieve to make it smoother.

For 4 servings:

2 large or 3 medium very ripe avocados
1/3 C organic unsweetened cocoa powder
1/3 C agave syrup
1 t vanilla extract
1/4 T almond extract (optional)

1.  Cut the avocados in half lengthwise.  Remove the pit.  Score the flesh of each avocado half and scope out into a blender or a bowl.

2.  If you're working with a strong blender, put all the ingredients in the blender and blend until smooth. Taste and add more cocoa or sweetener or flavoring(s) if you prefer.  Otherwise, start by mashing the avocado with a fork until completely smooth.  Add the agave syrup and combine.  Then stir in the cocoa powder and mix until thoroughly combined and smooth.  Add flavorings.  Chill until ready to serve.

Today's bounty included:

From County Line Harvest South:  Spring onions, chard, baby fennel, and French breakfast radishes;

From Jimenez Family Farm:  Broccoli, carrots, red and green butter lettuce, spinach, russet potatoes, turnips, Lacinato kale, and arugula;

From Rancho Santa Cecilia:  Satsuma mandarins and avocados;

From Farmer Dave:  Arugula flowers;

From Silver Lake Farms:  Thyme, French sorrel, wood sorrel, baby leeks, or rosemary.



Sunday, March 24, 2013

Stuffed Cabbage Rolls

Cabbage is a wonderful vegetable whose versatility goes way beyond the seasonal favorite, corned beef and cabbage.  It's great cooked in soups and stews as well as raw in a wide variety of slaws and salads.  One of my personal favorites is simply steaming wedges of cabbage and serving them with plenty of butter, salt, and pepper.

Raw heads of cabbage can be stored for long periods; and cabbage pickles easily, too.  With little more than cabbage and salt, you can make a tasty sauerkraut that will keep in the fridge for about 6 months (see recipe from 4-20-12, spices optional).

Today's recipe for stuffed cabbage rolls is an old family favorite that I've modified slightly over the years.  Though there are several steps, it's not difficult.  And you'll end up with enough to serve a hungry family.  Leftovers keep well in the fridge for about 3 days, or you can freeze stuffed cabbage rolls (after cooking them) for 3-6 months.

I like to use my own, home-made Slow-Cooked Tomato Sauce (see recipe from 9-24-10).  I keep quarts of it in the freezer.  But if you don't have any sauce of your own, canned tomato sauce is fine, though you may want to adjust the seasoning a bit.

For 12-16 rolls:

12-16 cabbage leaves, removed from the head*
1 t olive oil
2 small carrots, finely chopped
1/4 small onion, finely chopped
1 lb. ground beef
1 C cooked rice
1 egg
1/2 t salt, or to taste
1/4 t pepper, or to taste
1-1/2 C Slow Cooked Tomato Sauce + 1/2 C water OR 2 C canned tomato sauce

1.  Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F.

2.  Steam the cabbage leaves with a little water in a covered pot or vegetable steamer until the leaves are pliable, but not soggy.  Remove the leaves to a colander and set aside.

3.  In a small skillet, heat the oil and saute the finely chopped carrots and onions over low heat until just barely soft.  Turn off heat and set aside.

4.  In a bowl, mix together the ground beef, cooked rice, egg, salt, pepper, and sauteed onions and carrots until well combined.  You can do this with your hands, if you like.

5.  Test the seasoning of the meat mixture by making a tiny patty with a teaspoon of filling and cooking it (on both side) in a skillet (I use the same skillet that I cooked the carrots and onions in).  Add more salt and pepper to the meat mixture if necessary.**

6.  To assemble the cabbage rolls:  Working with one wilted leaf at a time, place a few tablespoons of the meat mixture in the center of the leaf.  Fold the sides of the leaf into the center, then roll up the leaf.  Place each rolled leaf in a non-reactive baking dish with a cover.***  Repeat with remaining cabbage leaves and meat mixture.

7.  If you're using a thick tomato sauce like the Slow-Cooked Tomato Sauce, you may need to thin it a bit with water:  Place the tomato sauce and water in a medium bowl and whisk together until well-combined.  If you're using canned tomato sauce you probably don't need the water, but taste and adjust the seasoning with salt, pepper, a pinch of sugar, or herbs, as desired.

8.  Pour 2 C tomato sauce over the cabbage rolls in the baking dish, spreading it evenly.  Cover and bake in a 350 degree F oven for 1-1/2 hrs or until the sauce is bubbling and the meat is cooked through.  Serve hot or cool and refrigerate for later use.  Re-heat before serving.

*Save the rest of the cabbage foe another use, like cole slaw.
**Feel free to add other seasonings if you like.  Hot red pepper gives this dish a spicy zing.  A little paprika is another nice addition.
***I like to use a glass baking dish or a baking dish with a glass cover so I can see what's going on inside, but any covered baking dish will do, as long as it's deep enough to hold the cabbage and the sauce snugly   If you don't have a covered baking dish, you can use any non-reactive baking dish and cover it with foil.

Friday's bounty included:

From Ranch Santa Cecilia:  Murcott tangerines;

From Jimenez Family Farms:  Broccoli, arugula, broccoli rabe, carrots, cabbage, spinach, butternut squash, and yellow onions; and

From County Line Harvest South:  Green bor kale, lettuce, baby beets, and spring onions.

By the way, fresh cabbage comes in several colors.  Here's a photo of a stunning head of red cabbage from a friend's garden.



Friday, March 15, 2013

Spicy Double Mustard Potato Salad

Here's another delicious potato salad, one that's full of spicy mustard flavor due to a lemony mustard dressing as well as the addition of finely chopped mustard greens.  I sometimes call this recipe green potato salad; and it's a perfect side for the St. Patrick's Day corned beef you might be cooking up this weekend.

Even without the corned beef, this potato salad is refreshingly tangy.  You can control the spiciness by choosing a mustard that's got just the right amount of zing for your taste.

I find it's easier to peel potatoes after boiling them.  Wait until they're cool enough to handle and you'll find the thin skin will peel off very easily.  Or you can leave the skins on if you prefer.

For 4 side servings:

2 large russet potatoes
3-4 purple scallions, finely chopped
2 T finely chopped fresh parsley
2/3 C loosely packed, finely chopped curly mustard greens
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 C Lemony Mustard Dressing (see recipe below)

1.  Scrub the potatoes.  Place them in a pot with cold water to cover.  Bring to a boil and boil over medium-low heat until they can be easily pierced through with a fork.  Drain and allow potatoes to cool.

2.  When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, peel off their thin skins and dice.  Place the diced potatoes in a bowl.

3.  Add the finely chopped scallions, parsley, and mustard greens as well as a little salt and pepper.  Pour the Lemony Mustard Dressing over and stir until well-mixed.  If you prefer, smash a few of the potato pieces to make a slightly smoother texture.

4.  Taste and adjust the seasoning and/or add more Lemony Mustard Dressing if you wish.

5.  Serve immediately or refrigerate until ready to serve.

Lemony Mustard Dressing (double this recipe if you wish)

1/4 C extra virgin olive oil
1/4 C fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 T Dijon mustard
1/4 t fine grated lemon peel
1/2 t agave syrup or sugar
pinch salt

Vigorously mix all of the ingredients together with a fork or small whisk until combined.  Use immediately or store in the fridge.

Today's bounty included:

From County Line Harvest South: Mixed baby lettuces, mixed mustard greens, French breakfast radishes, baby rainbow carrots, purple scallions, scarlet turnips, and red beets;

From Jimenez Family Farm:  Broccoli, Tuscan kale, potatoes, yellow onions, Chanteney carrots, cabbage, and purple curly kale.



Friday, March 8, 2013

Broccoli, Apple and Pecan Salad

Today's recipe is an easy-to-make salad that's attractive, refreshing, and a great way to use one of early spring's most nutritious vegetables - broccoli.

I like to steam or blanch my broccoli for a minute to lock in that bright green color.  It also keeps a little better in the fridge when blanched.  But you can skip this step if you prefer.

Broccoli, Apple and Pecan Salad is dressed with a lemony vinaigrette dressing.  I like to use preserved lemons for this dressing.  But if you don't have preserved lemons, you can use Eureka or Meyer lemons and grate a little peel onto the salad with a microplane grate (or not).  You can even use orange, if you prefer.

For about 4 side dish servings:

1/2 lb. broccoli
1 large Pink Lady or Fuji apple
1/4 C chopped toasted pecans
Lemon Vinaigrette Dressing (see below)
Salt and pepper to taste

1.  To blanch the broccoli:  Prepare a large bowl of ice water and set it aside in the sink.  Trim the bottom end and tough outer skin on the stem of the broccoli.  Cut into medium to large florets.  Place florets in the basket of a steamer with water on the bottom.  Cover.  Bring to a boil and steam for a minute or so, until florets are bright green but the broccoli still has its crunch.  Remove from heat.  Drain, then put broccoli florets into the ice water bath to stop the cooking and set the bright green color.  When cooled, drain the broccoli well and chop into small pieces.

2.  Cut the apple in quarters lengthwise.  Remove the core.  Cut each quarter into thirds or quarters lengthwise, then cut crosswise into small pieces.

3.  Place chopped broccoli and chopped apple in a large bowl.  Add the pecans.  Toss with Lemon Vinaigrette Dressing.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Serve or chill in the fridge until ready to serve.  Will keep in fridge for 2-3 days.

Lemon Vinaigrette Dressing

1 t finely minced preserved lemon peel
2-3 T olive oil
2 T apple cider vinegar
1 t agave syrup, simple syrup or 1/2 t honey

Mix all ingredients together until well-blended.  Use half or more of this recipe to dress the salad.  If you don't have preserved lemons, use 1 t fresh squeezed lemon juice and grate a little lemon peel over the salad before tossing.

I like to use a lot of freshly grated black pepper in this salad.

Today's bounty included:

From County Line Harvest South:  Baby red beets, radishes, purple scallions, purple curly kale, and mixed mustard greens;

From Jimenez Family Farm:  Broccoli, white turnips, Chantenay carrots, space spinach, cilantro, cabbage, onions, potatoes, and Tuscan kale; and

From K and K Ranch;  Navel oranges and Murcott honey tangerines.