Month: September 2014

Harvest Moon: A Season Comes to Pass

The first full moon before the autumnal equinox on Sept 22nd is called the harvest moon, and this year it was also a perigean full moon or supermoon. When I told A. and N. of the harvest moon, they jokingly asked if it was anything like their old computer game. Unlike in the game with its four thirty-day seasons and the farmer’s day that ends at 6 pm, a real-life farmer appreciates the additional moonlight to harvest the crops. Harvest festivals, around the world, acknowledge the end of a rhythmic food cycle with gratitude and celebrations. This year, I decided to start a new celebratory food tradition and honor an old one.

In America, November’s Thanksgiving holiday marks the first harvest. Turkey with accompaniments of squash, potatoes, and vegetables is one of my favorite meals. However, I wanted to commemorate the end of a summer cycle of feasting as a locavore on one of my favorite foods, summer berries. A summer fruit pie would have been ideal. Unfortunately after an earlier botched attempt with pastry, I knew that a fail-proof crumble (also called crisp) recipe would be more forgiving. How hard could it be to mix together butter, brown sugar, and flour and sprinkle the crumble randomly over the fruits? It turned out to be one of the quickest and tastiest desserts that I have ever made – an easy new tradition to continue.

The end of summer also reminded me of a beloved tradition. When I was growing up, the harvest festival comprised a bountiful nine-course vegetarian meal (onasadhya). The vegetarian food, served on plantain leaf plates, covers a gamut of flavors and textures – impressing even a confirmed carnivore! Crisp banana chips and pappadum (lentil wafers) provide the crunch, and a spoonful of spicy pickles contributes a bitter and spicy hot element. A bevy of fresh beans, plantain, cabbage, carrots, summer squash, and lentils, lightly dressed with spices, are served alongside rice. Creamy rice and lentil puddings round out the meal. I have included one of the dishes,  Green Beans with Coconut, since fresh green beans are plentiful today. The dish translates well as a side salad, and can be easily incorporated into any other thanksgiving meals.

Berry Crumble

Mixed berries (blackcurrant, raspberry, blueberry, and strawberry) – 2 1/2  cups

Cinnamon stick – 1 (optional)

Flour – 6 tbsp

Dark brown sugar – 4 tbsp

Butter (room temperature) –1 stick

  • Heat the oven to 400°F.
  • Arrange the berries in a single layer in an ovenproof dish. (I did not add additional sugar, but you may want to if the berries are tart.)
  • Place the whole cinnamon stick among the berries.
  • In a bowl, cut the softened butter in to the flour and sugar mixture. Combine lightly using your fingers until it has a breadcrumb-like texture.
  • Spread the mixture over the berries.
  • Bake at 400°F, for 30-40 minutes, or until the crumble top is golden.
  • Eat immediately. Depending on the tartness of the fruits, you might want to serve the crumble with ice cream.

 

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Green Beans with Coconut

Green Beans – 12 oz

Grated Coconut – 4 tbsp

Turmeric powder – ¼ tsp

Shallots – 5, chopped finely

Green chilies – 4, chopped

Garlic cloves – 4, peeled and chopped

Vegetable oil – 3 tbsp

Mustard seeds – ¾ tsp

Cumin seeds – ¼ tsp

Curry leaves – 4 (optional)

Salt –1 tsp

  • Boil the beans in a pan with 1-2 tbsp of water, turmeric and 1tbsp. of grated coconut. Keep aside. This can be done in advance and frozen.
  • Heat the oil in a wok over high heat.
  • Add the mustard seeds to the hot oil.
  • When the seeds start to pop, add the cumin seeds, shallots and curry leaves.
  • Sauté until they shallots become translucent.
  • Add the green chilies, garlic and the remaining coconut. Sauté until the coconut turns golden brown.
  • Add the beans and sauté for a minute.
  • Cover the wok, reduce heat to low, and cook for another five minutes.
  • Season with salt

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What Is In A Name? Relish/Chutney/Pickles

I come from a culture that eats pickles and chutneys at every meal. As we snacked on samosas that I served with coriander chutney, A. voiced her curiosity about the difference between these two condiments. Chutney is a spiced condiment made with fresh herbs that are crushed in a mortar and pestle and usually eaten immediately. Indian pickles are made with fresh fruits and vegetables that are picked at their prime and preserved (with lemon, tamarind, or vinegar)  to be enjoyed well past the fruit’s season. As I explained the difference, I realized that relish, chutney, and pickles are different names for seasoned sauces. They all fit under the broader term of condiments.

Condiments balance out a meal’s bitter, hot, salty, sour, or sweet aspects. Sometimes, as in a salad dressing, they aid in bringing together disparate flavors of bitter greens, juicy tomato, and creamy avocado. Often, as in the case of mustard and coriander chutney, they add pungency that cuts into fatty sausage or spices up a samosa (a potato-filled pastry). Condiments in each culture may look different, but I am amazed at similarities in techniques that were used (such as the mortar and pestle to crush and release flavors), and the principal ingredients (like herbs and spices).

As I gathered the last of my basil and coriander from the garden, it was their fragrance that inspired me to make three enduring condiments: Pesto, Coriander Chutney, and Pico de Gallo. While cooking, the aromatic scent of crushed leaves and the texture of coriander chutney reminded me of pesto — before I had even made it!

Pesto

Basil – 4 cups

Garlic cloves – 4

Pine nuts – 1 cup

Olive oil – ¾ cup

Parmesan-Reggiano cheese – 1 cup

Salt and pepper – 1 tsp. each

 

  • Wash the basil and drain well. Remove the stalks.
  • In a food processor, mince the garlic, pine nuts, and cheese.
  • Keeping the food processor running, add the basil leaves and oil.
  • Stop intermittently to push the contents from the sides of the processor. Process until you have a grainy, semi-liquid paste.
  • Season with salt and pepper.

 

Pesto can be mixed in with fresh pasta or used as a salad dressing.

 

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Coriander (Cilantro) Chutney

Coriander – 1 bunch

Jalapeno (Serrano) – 2

Lemon juice – from 1 lemon

Ginger – 1-inch

Cumin seeds – 1 tsp

Red onion – ¼

Vegetable oil – 1 tsp

Sugar – 1 tsp

Salt – 1 tsp

 

  • Wash the coriander and drain well. Remove the thick stalks.
  • Process the jalapeno, ginger, cumin, and red onion in a food processor.
  • Stop intermittently to push the contents from the sides of the processor.
  • Add the coriander and oil and continue processing, until you have a semi-liquid paste.
  • Add the lemon juice, sugar, and salt. Taste and adjust to balance the salt-sour-sweet flavors. Refrigerate.

 

Coriander chutney can be eaten with samosas and other snacks. It can be spread, like butter, on bread and served with thinly sliced tomatoes.

 

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Pico de Gallo

 

Juicy, heirloom tomatoes – 3, chopped

Garlic cloves – 3, chopped finely

Red onion – ½, chopped finely

Cilantro (Coriander) leaves – ¼ bunch, roughly chopped

Jalapeno – ½, chopped finely

Lemon juice – from ½ a lemon

Salt — 1 tsp

Cumin – ½ tsp. (optional)

 

  • Mix all the chopped ingredients in a large bowl.
  • Add the lemon juice and salt.
  • Refrigerate until needed.

 

This Mexican salsa, without avocado, is an easy side salad that works with meat or fish-based main dishes.

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When Life Gives You Lemons…

The moment I heard the weather predictions were for another dismal snow season, I immediately began thinking of ways to prolong summer. Lemon is a quintessential summer association. As A. (visiting this weekend) and I read through my mother’s lemon snow pudding recipe, we were both struck by how efficiently the one lemon in the recipe was used. Inspired by this economical use, I decided to craft a whole menu to highlight lemon’s unmistakably tart flavor.

Riffing off the refreshingly sweet-sour nimbu pani (lemonade) of my youth, I made the digestif Limoncello. Inspired by my travel to Sorrento’s lemon groves, where the large, bright-yellow lemons are used in making this distinctive liqueur, I bought 12 fresh lemons. Scraping the zest was tedious, but I knew to be patient – the rind-soaked spirit would be ready in five weeks. The digestif would be a delicious reminder of summer warmth, and would see me through any harsh winter.

Since I was now left with 12 rind-less lemons, I decided to use the fruit to stuff a whole chicken that I planned to roast. The roasted chicken had only a mild hint of lemon, but the acidity from the juice helped to tenderize the chicken and make it moist. However, the same lemon added to the fresh stock, made with the giblets, was one of the tastiest I’ve had. The tartness of the lemon offset the fat, making the stock light and aromatic. The lemon brightened up a winter dish, and we used the moist meat the next day for a light summer salad.

That feeling of lightness carried through to the delicate lemon snow pudding. I was inspired by the clever use of separating both the eggs (yolk and white) and lemons (juice and zest), and how both separate parts came together harmoniously in the final dish. The egg white meringue and the lemon juice formed an airy base, while the yolk and lemon rind in the custard rounded off the silky flavors in this lemon meringue-like pudding.

Roast Chicken with Lemon

Whole chicken – 1, (4 lb)

Lemon – 1

Fresh herbs (oregano, sage) – 1-2 sprigs

Butter – 1 tbsp

Salt and pepper – 1 tbsp. each

Oven temperature 375°F

  • Remove the chicken giblets (in a plastic bag) from the cavity of the chicken and wash the chicken well.
  • Pat the chicken dry with paper towels.
  • Slice the lemon into half and squeeze out the juice. Reserve.
  • Mix the butter, herbs, salt, and pepper together. Spread the mixture over the chicken.
  • Put the squeezed lemon half into the cavity of the chicken.
  • Bake for 80 minutes, (20 minutes per pound) in total, with the final 20 minutes at 425°F for a golden skin. Check with a meat thermometer to see it has reached an internal temperature of 170°F.

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Lemon Snow Pudding with Custard

Egg white – 1

Sugar – 1 tbsp

Lime – ½

Gelatin (unflavored) – 1 tsp

Lemon yellow food color – optional

  • Fill a large pan with water.
  • Mix the lime, sugar, and gelatin with one tablespoon of water in a saucepan that will fit in the large pan. Place it in the large pan.
  • Bring the water to a rolling boil, while continuously stirring the mixture in the smaller pan.
  • Once all the sugar and gelatin have dissolved, remove from heat. Cool.
  • Whisk the egg white in a bowl, either with a fork or an electric whisk. Continue until it becomes firm. Tip: when you tilt the bowl, the egg white should not slip out.
  • Add the cooled lemon mixture, whisking it carefully, into the egg white mixture.
  • Add a drop of the yellow coloring.
  • Refrigerate until ready to be served with custard.

For the Custard

Egg yolk – 1

Milk – 1 cup, warmed

Sugar – 1 tbsp.

  • Boil water in a larger pan.
  • Whisk the egg yolk in another pan.
  • Add sugar and warmed milk to the yolk. Mix.
  • Place the egg mixture pan in the larger pan. Stir continuously. This method, where the heat is not in direct contact with the ingredients, is called double boiling and prevents the egg mixture from curdling. In about 5-6 minutes, the mixture thickens. Tip: dip a metal spoon into the mixture. Run a finger on the back of the spoon.  If it leaves a mark, then the custard is ready.
  • Cool the custard.
  • Scrape zests into the custard.

 

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