summer

Pickling Summer: Watermelon Rinds

When September rolls around with its cool mornings, I start looking for ways to bottle up summer – to keep it around a little longer. Watermelon evokes summer; a slice of fruit with the red juice running down your forearms is the perfect dessert after a barbecue. When a friend recently brought pickled watermelon rinds to a party, I knew that the recipe would be another way to extend the season’s flavors (check out basil butter and oven dried sage and lavender).

Buying a whole watermelon is economical (see cocktail and granita), and now the whole fruit including the rind can be utilized. Pickling the rind creates instant gratification, as the pickled rinds are ready to eat in about 12 hours. The ingredients are commonplace items that are usually available in a well-stocked pantry. The process of combining the pickling spices (cloves, peppercorns, allspice, and cinnamon), aromatics (fresh ginger and lemon) with the pickling liquid of sugar-water-vinegar mix requires little effort. Pickling is more of an art form, and the ingredients can be varied according to your preferences. However, the pickling liquid has to be sufficiently acidic with enough of the liquid covering the rinds to prevent any mold growth.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Serve the pickled rinds as an accompaniment to burgers and hot dogs or as a side dish alongside hummus and olives.

Pickled Watermelon Rinds

Watermelon – 4 cups (about half of a medium-sized watermelon)

Water – 4 cups

Vinegar (plain or apple cider vinegar) – 3½ cups

Salt – 1½ tbsp

Sugar – ¾ cup

Whole cloves – 4-5

Peppercorns – 4-5

Whole Allspice – 4-5

Whole cinnamon stick – 1

Ginger – 6-7 slices

Lemon – 1, sliced

  • Cut the red flesh away from the rind, leaving behind just ¼-inch of the flesh close to the rind. Use the fruit to make granita or salad.
  • Peel the hard dark green, striped rind with a good strong peeler. Once the striped green rind has been peeled away and discarded, the paler green rind below is easy to remove. Scrape down until you have 1½-inch layer of the pale green rind left.
  • Cut the peeled rind into smaller cubes or slivers. Keep aside.
  • Boil 3½ cups of water. Add the salt to the boiling water.
  • Add the cut rinds to the boiling water and cook for about 5 minutes, until the rinds have softened. Remove and drain. Rinse the rinds with fresh water. Place the rinds in a fresh metal pan.
  • Meanwhile, mix the sugar with the vinegar and ½ cup of water until the sugar has dissolved. Heat the mixture.
  • Add cloves, peppercorns, allspice, cinnamon, and lemon and ginger slices. Boil the mixture for about 8 minutes.
  • Pour the vinegar mixture over the watermelon rinds. Place a plate (or weights) on the rinds to keep all of the rinds submerged in the pickling liquid. Cover.
  • Once the mixture has cooled, keep the pan in the refrigerator.
  • The pickled watermelon rinds are ready after 12 hours.
  • Pour the rinds and vinegar solution into a sterilized mason jar to store, making sure the rinds are submerged in the pickling liquid. Pickled watermelon rinds keep in the refrigerator for a week and longer.

img_6191

Advertisements

Chard: Summer’s Crop

Growing chard for the first time in my pocket-sized yard was exciting, as the leaves came up came up quickly and without much effort. This leafy vegetable (also known as Swiss chard) has a prominent colorful red or yellow stalk that runs through its 6-inch leaves. Chard’s beet-like leaves are tender when it is in season in July and August. After the first few leaves appeared, I cut them off around 2-inches from the ground. I was pleasantly surprised by the rapid growths, which easily gave me enough chard for a meal within a few days.

As we are currently in season, chard tastes less bitter than it does later in the year. Chard has many antioxidants, vitamins and nutrients. The leaves retain a touch of earthy mineral flavor, much like its close relatives, spinach and beets.

Choosing And Using Chard

  • The stalk should be firm with no bruises.
  • The leaves should be crisp green with no brown or white marks or holes.
  • Just before cooking, rinse the leaves with fresh cool water.
  • Otherwise, store unwashed chard in the refrigerator for 2-3 days. The leaves wilt quickly in the heat.

Cooking With Chard

  • Using a sharp knife, cut away the stalks from the leaves.
  • Bring enough water to boil so as to completely cover the leaves.
  • Once the water starts to boil, put the chard into the water.
  • Cook for 2 ½ minutes, just enough time for the leaves to blanch.
  • Remove and drain in a colander.
  • Cooked chard can be substituted in recipes that use spinach or kale. My current favorite uses are adding the cooked leaves to an omelet, replacing spinach in the Indian–style spicy potatoes with spinach, and mixing chard with cooked pasta and shavings of Parmesan cheese.

 

Mint Julep: Off To The Races

This has been a week of celebrations, from Cinco de Mayo and ending this weekend on what is known as two-minute sporting spectacle, the Kentucky Derby. Both celebrations feature great food as well as a signature cocktail. Margarita’s tequila and triple sec and mint julep’s bourbon base combine with simple syrup to make easy-to-down cocktails. Most people are familiar with making (and drinking!) margaritas, but the bourbon-based mint julep is just as easy.

The mint julep is associated with the American South, where a whiskey/bourbon and mint combination that is savored during the long hot months makes this cocktail a perennial favorite. At the Kentucky Derby, the drink is served in a special silver Julep cup. Using a metal container in the heat is practical as the frosted cup insulates the cocktail. A mint julep is easy to make: Use the best bourbon that you have available, fresh mint leaves for both aroma and aromatics, and simple syrup.

Mint Julep

Bourbon Whiskey – 2 oz

Simple Syrup (see below) – ½ –1 oz

Mint Sprigs – 5-6

Crushed ice – enough to fill the serving Julep glass

 

  • Mix 4 tsp of sugar and 4 tsp of water. Bring to a boil.
  • Remove from heat. Add 3-4 mint leaves. Keep aside until the simple syrup is cool.
  • When ready to serve, add the remaining mint leaves to the serving cup. Crush the leaves lightly (muddle) with a wooden spoon.
  • Fill the cup with crushed ice. Pour in the whiskey and simple syrup.
  • Garnish with a sprig of mint.

 

IMG_5122

Cheers to the winner!

Note: If you don’t own a metal cup or silver julep, chill a standard highball glass.

 

 

 

 

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.

IMG_1992IMG_1994

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.

 

IMG_1980

IMG_2007

 

 

Aperol Spritz in August

Strolling through cobbled streets in Rome and Naples this summer, I spotted bright red glasses on café tables. The color wasn’t a deep Chianti red, but more like the orange hue of a nine-o-clock sunset. I soon learned this refreshing aperitif, Aperol Spritz, is made with Prosecco, soda, and Aperol bitters. Recently at a restaurant near home, I was reminded of both my vacation and the popularity of aperitifs, as patrons at the table next to me ordered several rounds of Aperol Spritz.

An aperitif is drunk before a meal to stimulate the appetite (just as the digestif is had after a meal to aid digestion). Aperitifs are made either from fortified wine or from bitters (alcohol steeped with bitter orange peels, anise herb and spices). The intense flavor of bitters is tempered with Prosecco and soda. Aperitifs are usually served with mixed nuts, olives, chips, or tapas.

Alcoholic and nonalcoholic aperitifs exist in many cultures: In my travels, I have enjoyed English Pimm’s and Greek ouzo, and I also grew up with two non-alcoholic Indian versions made with cumin, jaljeera and jeera vellum. Jeera vellum is served before the spiced cardamom-scented meat biryani; like the early aperitifs, its original role is medicinal. (Some earlier aperitifs, such as vermouth, started out as a way to disguise the taste of quinine.) With clever marketing, they started popping up in local bars and high-end restaurants.

My two Aperol bottles, brought back from vacation, lasted for several parties this summer. I served the Spritz with a caramelized onion cream cheese dip and vegetables as well as an eggplant pate with toasted bread – creamy foods that absorb the alcohol! I made the watermelon spritz for those who wanted a non-alcoholic aperitif.

Cheers!

Aperol Spritz
Prosecco (4 parts): Soda (1 part): Aperol (1 part).
Mix and serve.

photo

Jeera Vellum
Boiling water (5 cups) : Cumin seeds (2 ½ tbsp).
Steep for 7 minutes. Serve warm.

IMG_1966

Watermelon Spritz
Strained juice of half a watermelon: Soda (½ cup) : Fresh lime juice (2 tbsp) : Sugar (1 tbsp) : Ice (1 cup). Mix and serve.

IMG_1957