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Turmeric Pesto and Other Ways to Brighten January

Who would have guessed? Fresh turmeric is a revelation! The boring yellow powder that mostly gives color to curry powder is actually a mouth-popping, I-can’t-stop-eating-this, delicious flavor when eaten fresh (the difference between powdered ginger and fresh ginger root, only more so…). And it can grow in North Carolina!!

hawaiian red turmeric (grown by biker dude)

hawaiian red turmeric (grown by biker dude)

I was very excited when a friend from Brasstown, NC, visited and brought a jar of her homemade turmeric pesto made with fresh turmeric grown in Clay County on Qualla Berry Farm. Turmeric (Zingiberaeae Curcuma longa) is a member of the ginger family and is known as “Indian saffron” because of its brilliant orange color. John Clarke and Karen Hurtubise grow both ginger and turmeric in a large hoophouse, harvest in October and November, and sell the fresh rhizomes at farmers’ markets as well as from their own farm. They advise that the rhizomes may be stored in a warm, dry, dark place for up to three weeks or sealed in zip-lock bags to store in the freezer for a year-long supply. Contact www.quallaberryfarm.com for more information.

Qualla Berry Farm Turmeric

The fresh turmeric pesto is amazing. Can something have a yellow flavor? The flavor is sharp and earthy and somehow lets you know that it is sending good energy to all the cells of your body. I have been using turmeric powder for its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and healing properties, but it is so much more fun to eat the vibrant fresh rhizomes. It’s like adding a burst of sunshine to your food.

My Thai cookbook by Su Mei Yu says that fresh orange turmeric is used for its color, aroma, sweet crunchy texture, and peppery taste. When fresh turmeric isn’t available, Yu suggests substituting 1 Tbs grated carrot, 1/2 tsp grated fresh ginger, and 1/2 tsp turmeric powder for 1 Tbs minced fresh turmeric. This gives you an idea of the taste—a rather subtle, wild carrot flavor with hints of black pepper and the woods. I didn’t want to substitute; I ordered some from Qualla Berry Farm right away.

turmeric grown at Qualla Berry Farm

turmeric grown at Qualla Berry Farm

When my order of fresh turmeric arrived , I cut some up into matchsticks and started eating. The fresh flavor is not just yellow, it is orange…like some crazy carrot. The rhizomes are easy to grate or slice and can be used raw to garnish or add to dishes for maximum color and texture impact… or pound into spice pastes or add with other aromatics like ginger, garlic, and fresh chiles to stir-fries or curry. Use minced fresh turmeric in soups, dips (try it in hummous, Romesco sauce, or mixed into yogurt or goat cheese), rice and other grain pilafs, vegetable or meat braises, lentils or beans, eggs…. or make tea.

Turmeric Infusion

This recipe for fresh turmeric tea is from Qualla Berry Farm. The addition of black pepper enhances the medicinal properties of turmeric by making its healing components more easily absorbed.

Ingredients: 2 oz fresh turmeric, 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper, 2 quarts water

Chop or grate the fresh turmeric. Coarsely grind the peppercorns with a mortar and pestle or spice grinder. Bring the water to a boil and pour over the turmeric and pepper in a glass or ceramic pitcher. Allow to steep overnight or until cool. Strain into glass jars and store in the refrigerator. Strained out turmeric may be used in cooking.

Add fresh lemon juice or honey to taste. Some people enjoy hot turmeric tea with milk.

Carla’s Spice Paste

Carla Owen of Murphy, NC, provided this recipe for the growers at Qualla Berry Farm. This is a generous amount that should keep you in turmeric heaven for a while. Carla advises to eat some every day…in any dish. You can use it as a condiment, stir it into slow-cooked stews or braises near the end of cooking, or add a bit to the oil before a quick-cooked stir-fry or sauté.

Ingredients: 1 lb fresh turmeric, 1/4 lb peeled fresh ginger (or fresh ginger in season), 1-6 oz peeled garlic cloves to suit your taste, zest and juice of 2 organic lemons, 1 tsp black pepper, 1 cup olive oil

Put all ingredients in a food processor and pulse until you get the consistency you want. Add salt if you like and adjust quantities to your own taste. Store in glass jars topped with olive oil in the refrigerator.

Turmeric Pesto

Turmeric Pesto

The pesto made by our friend Linda is a simplified version of Carla’s Spice Paste. It has a beautiful pale yellow color and subtle flavor. I loved it so much I ate it by the spoonful, spread it on toast and tortillas, and put it in everything until it was gone.

Ingredients: roughly equal parts fresh turmeric rhizomes and peeled garlic cloves—let’s say 4 oz of each, 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, 1/4 cup olive or sunflower oil, sea salt, fresh lemon juice

Put all the ingredients in a food processor and pulse to make a rough or smooth puree, as you wish. Add lemon juice and salt to taste.

Turmeric Pesto II

Turmeric Pesto II

I ran out of Linda’s pesto very quickly, so I had to make my own. I didn’t have any fresh turmeric rhizomes yet, but I did have a big jar of pickled fresh turmeric from India. It is pretty much just shreds of fresh turmeric in a salty brine, so I gave it a try. It was delicious, but on the salty side, so I mellowed it out with roasted red pepper. The color is even more joyful.

Ingredients: 1/2 cup pickled fresh turmeric, 1/2 cup peeled garlic cloves, 1/2 tsp black pepper, 1/4 cup olive oil, 1 or 2 roasted red peppers (canned are fine)

Put all the ingredients in a food processor and pulse to a rough or smooth puree. Enjoy!

Chershi Kara’a

Chershi are piquant condiments from the culinary traditions of the Jewish community of Tripoli, Libya. I learned this from Jerusalem a Cookbook, by Yotam Ottalenghi and Sami Tamimi. They made mention of a crushed pumpkin salad—chershi kara’a, which sounded like it could only be more delicious with an addition of turmeric pesto. Roasted winter squash chershi is traditional; I used wedges of roasted sweet potato.

Ingredients: 3 Tbs olive or sunflower oil, 1 large sweet potato ( 12 to 16 oz), 1 large white onion (1 1/2 cups finely chopped), 1 Tbs harissa, 2 Tbs turmeric pesto or spice paste, 1/2 tsp toasted and ground cumin seed, 1/2 tsp toasted and ground coriander seed, 2 Tbs fresh lemon juice, 1 cup chopped parsley leaves, salt

Peel the sweet potato and cut it into 3/4-inch wedges or chunks. Toss with 1 1/2 Tbs oil and sprinkle with coarse salt. Spread on a baking sheet and roast in a 400 degree oven for about 25 to 30 minutes, or until crusty brown outside and tender inside. Turn halfway through. Heat the other 1 1/2 Tbs oil in a skillet and cook the onion over medium heat until golden brown, about 10 minutes.

Scrape the onions into a bowl and stir in the harissa, turmeric pesto, cumin and caraway. Chop the roasted sweet potato into bite-size pieces and combine with the onion mixture. Add the parsley and lemon juice and toss to combine. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Allow the flavors to meld 1/2 hour or more before serving.

Turmeric Turkey Meatballs in Thai Curry Broth

Ingredients: 1 lb ground turkey or chicken (dark meat), 1/2 cup finely chopped onion, 1 large free-range egg, 2 Tbs chopped mint, 2 Tbs chopped cilantro, 2 Tbs grated fresh turmeric, 1 Tbs finely chopped garlic, 1/2 tsp freshly ground white or black pepper, 1 tsp toasted and ground cumin, 1 tsp toasted and ground coriander, 1 tsp salt, 2 Tbs sunflower or peanut oil for searing

Broth: 1/2 cup coconut milk, 2 tsp Thai curry paste, 2 thinly sliced shallots, 1 cup low-salt chicken broth, juice of 1 lime (about 1 1/2 Tbs), 2 tsp raw cane sugar, 2 tsp fish sauce, 1 cup grated carrot, fresh cilantro or mint leaves for garnish

Combine all the ingredients for the meatballs in a large bowl. Mix gently with your hands. Shape the mixture into about 16 balls. Heat 1 1/2 Tbs oil in a large frying pan over medium heat until shimmering. Add half the meatballs to the pan and sear on all sides, about 4 minutes total. Remove to a plate and sear the second batch, adding oil if needed.

Use the same pan to make the broth. Add the coconut milk and bring to a simmer. Whisk in the curry paste and cook 1 or 2 minutes. Add the shallots and cook 3 to 4 minutes. Add the broth and bring to a boil. Add the lime juice, sugar, fish sauce and reduce to a simmer. Return the meatballs to the pan, cover, and cook over low heat 15 minutes, or until cooked through. Stir in the carrots and sprinkle the top with fresh herbs before serving.

Turmeric Sambal

The perfect condiment/salad to accompany meatballs, especially if you eat them with rice or wrapped in a tortilla. This is an adaptation of a Chris Schlesinger-John Willoughby recipe, “Sambal in the style of Java.” If you have a stash of turmeric pesto or spice paste, you can jump-start the dressing. Best eaten freshly made.

Ingredients: 1 1/2 cups finely sliced or shredded green cabbage, 1 1/2 cups grated or matchstick-cut carrots, 1/2 cup bean sprouts, 1 Tbs minced fresh turmeric, 1/4 cup toasted and chopped peanuts or cashews

Dressing: 1 Tbs minced ginger, 1 Tbs minced fresh turmeric, 1 Tbs minced fresh chile, 2 tsp minced garlic, 1 tsp shrimp paste or 2 tsp fish sauce, 1 1/2 Tbs toasted and cracked coriander seeds, 1/4 cup fresh lime juice, 2 Tbs palm sugar or Mexican cane sugar, 2 Tbs soy sauce, 1 Tbs pomegranate molasses, 1/4 cup peanut or sunflower oil

In a large bowl, combine the cabbage, carrots, and bean sprouts. Use a whisk or blender to combine all the dressing ingredients. Adjust the seasonings to balance the flavors—hot, sweet, salty, and sour. Pour the dressing over the vegetables and mix well. Allow to sit 10 to 15 minutes. Sprinkle with minced turmeric and toasted nuts before serving.

Fresh Cut Turmeric

Cooking With Fire

“Maine…the Way Life Should be,” reads the sign as you drive into the state, and so it was in late September when we traveled there.

Coast of Maine

“The way life should be” includes the largest number of small farms of any state, and their contribution to vibrant farmers’ markets, country stores, and local eateries is easily apparent. Drew ate “the best pastrami sandwich ever” made with locally raised and cured meat and bread baked in a wood-fired oven from Maine-grown wheat at a tiny store on our way to nowhere. Maine also is the home of the renowned Common Ground Fair, held on fields owned by MOFGA (Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners) outside the town of Unity. The fair is overflowing with beautiful produce, cheeses and preserves, wool and yarn, crafts, Maine-grown food vendors, bread and pizza bakers, sheep and sheepdogs, oxen and draft horses, goats and llamas, and whole tent full of above-average chickens. As one native Mainer told me, “You can find a lot of organic people there.”

Farmer's Market Maine

I couldn’t help myself. I bought gorgeous red and yellow sweet peppers, shiny eggplants, voluptuous red and yellow onions, and fresh-from-the-ground potatoes. And lots of garlic. From more than a dozen varieties, I chose “Georgian Crystal” (rich slightly smoky flavor), “Music”(“very big, hot”), “Rosewood”(soft colors on large, fat cloves), “Bogatyr”(marbled purple stripe…on the hot side), and Hampshire Porcelain”(good strong flavor, long storing). If you want to order some garlic, email her at vegetablesdance@gmail.com.

Our friend Kenneth was our guide at the fair, and while I was ogling vegetables he attended a presentation on super-efficient woodstoves. When we reunited, I had bags of produce, and he had a newly purchased copy of “Cooking With Fire” by Paula Marcoux. Such serendipity! We headed back to the Pemaquid peninsula– a rocky spine of land sliding into the Atlantic Ocean, where Kenneth lives with his wife Angela and their son Conrad. They live in a clearing in the woods just big enough for their small hand-made house, a tiny garden, and an awesome fire pit made from an old cast iron cauldron.

For our first night of cooking with fire, Angela fried potatoes in a pan over the hot coals, we roasted hotdogs and sausages using green sticks whittled sharp by Conrad, and toasted buns on the grate. Then we slathered on kimchi, sauerkraut, and balsamic-onion jam from the Common Ground Fair. The feast was well seasoned with wood smoke and friendship.

Balsamic-Sweet Onion Marmalade

Red Onions

Inspired by a recipe for Balsamic-Cipollini Jam by True North Farms in Maine, this marmalade has a sweet-tart flavor and is great with anything cooked on a grill, in sandwiches or omelettes, or with cheese and crackers. Or, just eat it by the spoonful.

Ingredients: 2 large sweet onions (almost 2 #), 1 1/2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil, 1 tsp chopped fresh rosemary, 2 tsp chopped fresh sage, pinch red chile flakes, 1/2 tsp sea salt, freshly ground black pepper, 2 Tbs raw sugar, 6 Tbs balsamic vinegar

Cut the onions in quarters and slice them as thinly as possible. Warm the oil in a 10-inch skillet or sauté pan over medium heat and stir in the chopped herbs and chile (optional). Add the onions and sprinkle lightly with sea salt and black pepper. Toss well and reduce the heat to low. Cook, stirring occasionally, 15 to 20 minutes. When the onions are quite soft and beginning to color, add the sugar. Continue to cook another 15 to 20 minutes, stirring often, until the onions are golden brown and caramelized. Stir in the vinegar and cook until the liquid is absorbed and the onions are soft and jammy.

Ember-Roasted Onions — with thanks to Richard Miscovich and his tips for cooking with fire.

onions

You can make this delicious jam with ember-roasted onions, if you are so lucky to have them. They are easily made in a woodstove. Let your fire burn down to coals covered with gray ash, then arrange the coals in an even layer. Place unpeeled, whole medium-size onions on top of the coals. Turn the onions over several times as they roast, and adjust their positions in the coals so that they cook to the center without incinerating the outside. They are done when easily pierced with a kebab skewer.

Make the jam: Allow the onions to cool in their skins. Peel off the skins, saving all the juice and any bits of charred skin that may be stuck. Chop the roasted onion and put them and their juices into a saucepan with the other ingredients for the jam. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until the mixture is the consistency of marmalade.

Ember-roasted onions are a great addition to salsas, Harissa, or Romesco sauce.

Pine Needle Mussels

Maine Seaside

The next night we decided to get more adventurous and try a recipe from Paula Marcoux—Pine Needle Mussels. This required an excursion to Pemaquid Point at low tide, where the ancient rocks cradle tide pools that are home to colonies of mussels hiding in the seaweed. We scrambled down the ledges and fissures—the legacy of a long-ago time when the North American and European continents were torn apart and the rocks were up-ended in their struggle to stay with Maine. We eased our way along the slippery edges and reached into the cold water to pry the mussels from the rocks. They hold on tightly against the pounding of the Atlantic waves, but we managed to fill a bucket and headed for home.

The next ingredient (actually, the only other ingredient) is a bushel of dry pine needles. Drew and Kenneth headed into the woods to procure them while Angela and I lit a fire and tossed the Common Ground Fair vegetables in olive oil to make a roasted ratatouille over the coals.

The instructions for Pine Needle Mussels are to prepare a fire pit or cooking surface—a 3×3-foot board or large flat rock for the cooking surface (we used the cauldron). Place a potato with a slice cut off the end so that it stands up in the center of the cooking surface. Arrange the scrubbed mussels, pointy end up, so that they lean against the potato in concentric circles—a mussel mandala.

Cover the assembled mussels evenly with pine needles, as deeply as possible. Put a glowing coal or lit match in the center of the pile, on top of the potato, to light the fire. Stand back and let the fire burn; when it dies down, the mussels are ready!

That’s the theory, anyway. Our pine needles were wet from recent torrential rains, and refused to burn. After much smoldering, we piled dry twigs on top of the needles and succeeded in making a hot fire. Voila! The pine-scented, smoky mussels were the most delicious seafood we had ever tasted…even with bits of charred pine needle and assorted sea grit clinging to the shells.

After we had devoured the mussels, we ate ratatouille and bruschetta with spinach pesto. I think Conrad had a few more hot dogs.

Fall Pesto

Ingredients: 4 plump garlic cloves, 1 cup Italian parsley, 1 cup spinach or sorrel leaves, 2 Tbs fresh dill, 2 Tbs fresh chives, 1 Tbs fresh mint leaves, 2 tsp lemon zest, 1/2 cup toasted walnuts, 4 Tbs walnut oil, 4 Tbs extra virgin olive oil, 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Using a food processor, pulse the ingredients in stages to make a puree. Process the garlic and herbs, then zest and walnuts, then oils, and finally the Parmesan to make a rough paste.

Crepe au Ble Noir

French crepes

Crepe au Ble Noir

I read about buckwheat crepes, or galettes au sarrasin, before we went to France. I knew to search them out because they were so lovingly described by David Lebovitz in his book, My Paris Kitchen. First he explained the confusion of names: A crepe is made with white flour, but when made with buckwheat flour it is called galette au sarrasin in French (unless, of course, it is called a crepe au ble noir, or crepe of black flour). While a white-flour crepe may be served with either sweet or savory fillings, a galette au sarrasin is generally reserved for savory fare.

Although there are many corner creperies in Paris enticing diners with the smell of crepes frying in butter on a hot griddle, it was on a chilly morning at the Bastille out-door market that I was totally smitten by crepe, or more accurately, galette lust. Two young men of North African descent stood behind a long counter expertly flipping and folding crepes fried to order on giant griddles. They each had two griddles and a vat of crepe batter–one of white flour and one of the coveted ble noir– that they ladled onto the griddle, swirled to a perfect circle with a flat wooden rake, flipped onto a second griddle, and filled with various savory fillings (caramelized onions, sautéed mushrooms, grated cheese, ham, chorizo, sausage, and chopped tomato) chosen by the customer. The folded galette fried to fragrant perfection in a generous brushing of butter. Each sizzling galette was doused with black pepper and chopped chives before being wrapped in paper and delivered to an outstretched hand.

Making Crepes

Crepes and galettes are perfect street food, and they’re also perfect party food and lend themselves to ensemble cooking. Two people can work the griddles, and guests can decide which filling combinations to wrap up. The finished galette is sliced into rounds like sushi and passed around the room to sample with drinks.

Galette au Sarrasin

Crepe with Filling

Lebovitz has this advice on making crepes, or galettes: “A good crepe, or galette, should be thin and lacy. The batter is best made a few hours before you plan to use it and should have the consistency of heavy cream. As it hits the griddle, it should be thick enough to coat the bottom, but not too thick, or the galette will be rubbery. The griddle must be hot enough so that almost immediately lots of little holes will form on the surface of the galette. That’s the moment of satisfaction, when you know that you’ve got it just right, and then it’s a pleasure to just keep going.” He goes on to say that the first one or two are usually duds, until the griddle reaches just the right heat…so don’t despair. Official galette batter is made with buckwheat flour, salt, and water. Lebovitz adds eggs to make the batter more manageable for novices.

Batter ingredients for 12 galettes: 1 1/2 cups buckwheat flour, 1/2 tsp sea salt or kosher salt, 2 1/4 cups water (more if needed). Lebovitz adds 2 eggs; I sometimes add 1/2 cup sourdough starter

Put the buckwheat flour, water and salt in a bowl. Whisk well to combine, cover, and refrigerate a few hours to overnight. When ready to cook, whisk the batter and add more water if needed so that the consistency is of heavy cream–no thicker.

Heat two10-inch or larger crepe pans or skillets (I use two cast-iron griddles), if you have two cooks, over medium-high heat. Coat the pans with a small amount of melted butter or oil, using a wad of paper towel to apply it.

Pour about 1/4-cup batter onto the hot pan, rotating the pan to distribute the batter evenly. Wait for the bubbles to appear and the underside to turn golden brown–about one minute. Flip the galette and cook about 30 seconds longer. Transfer the galette to a plate (or turn it over to a second cook for filling), and continue to cook the rest of the batter to same way. Wipe more butter or oil onto the pan as needed.

After the initial cooking, a galette is folded or rolled around fillings and fried again in butter. The Paris galettes were filled rather like an envelope: filling ingredients distributed over the middle section and the two sides folded in to cover the filling. Galettes may also be rolled up around the filling, as for sushi, and flattened slightly before frying.

Add some butter to a hot skillet or griddle (medium heat) and place as many galettes as will fit in a single, uncrowded layer. Cook until the first side is crisp, then flip and cook the second side. It takes a few minutes for each side, and as Lebovitz says, it’s worth the wait. Transfer the hot galettes to a cutting board, slice into one or two-inch pieces, and serve with chopped herbs, pomegranate molasses, and harissa.

Filling suggestions:
Fresh pork or chicken sausage and roasted red peppers
Roasted winter squash with pomegranate seeds and Gorgonzola
Sautéed kale with ham and feta cheese
Caramelized onions with oven-dried tomatoes and black olives

Gallette

 

David’s Feast

French Cheese and Tomatos

On our way back north to Paris, we took a detour into a more austere and less populated region of France–a rocky land of forest, hilly pastures for beef herds, windy and narrow roads, and gray granite barns and houses. Our friends, David and Carrie, have referred to this region of central France as the “Ozarks of France,” and it is a difficult enough place to make a living that many of the farmers moved away and sold their old homes to people like David and Carrie. The thick-walled stone house has been renovated to make a comfortable country retreat where they tend a glorious summer garden and welcome visitors with warm hospitality. They shared with us all the best things–ripe plums picked from the community trees, mushrooms gathered in the fields, ancient stone ruins shrouded in mist, and a well-stocked wine cellar beneath the house. As if that were not enough, David cooked a feast! And he even let me help a little.

Cooking with the French

David cooks the way many good cooks in France cook–deeply connected to local and seasonal flavors and inspired by market or garden produce that looks, smells, and feels most alive. David shopped at the weekly farmers’ market in a nearby village and Carrie gathered beautiful fresh herbs and vegetables from the garden. The cool, rainy fall weather was perfect for a day of cuisine maison, or slow home cooking. Of course, we opened a bottle of good wine to sip with the meal.

 Goat Cheese with Honey

Goat Cheese Appetizers

For an aperatif, Carrie warmed small rounds of goat cheese and drizzled a little local honey on top. Cuisine du terroir of elegant simplicity.

Roast Leg of Lamb with Vegetable Gratin

Roast Leg of Lamb

David likes to cook from Bistro Cooking by Patricia Wells. This is based on one of her recipes.

Ingredients: 3 medium potatoes (2 lbs.), 3 medium or 2 large yellow onions, 5 medium tomatoes, 8 garlic cloves, 4 to 5 Tbs olive oil, several sprigs fresh thyme (1 Tbs. chopped leaves), 2 1/2 tsp sea salt, 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper, 2/3 cup dry white wine, 5 1/2 to 6-pound leg of lamb

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Rub the bottom of a large roasting pan or gratin dish with a split garlic clove.

Slice the potatoes, onions, and tomatoes about 1/4-inch thick. Thinly slice the peeled garlic cloves. Roughly chop the thyme leaves. Arrange the potatoes in a single layer in the bottom of the pan. Overlap slightly if necessary. Season with salt, pepper and thyme. Repeat with layers of onion followed by tomatoes. Pour on the wine and drizzle with olive oil.

Trim most of the fat from the leg of lamb, leaving only a thin layer. Season the lamb with salt and pepper. Place a rack over the pan of vegetables and set the leg of lamb, fat side up, on the rack. Roast for 1 hour and 15 minutes for rare lamb, longer if you prefer more well-cooked meat. Let the lamb sit 15 minutes before carving into thin slices. Arrange the lamb slices on a platter and serve the vegetable gratin from the pan.

Chard Tart

Chard Tart

This was really, really good. Leftovers make a great breakfast.

The dough: 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, 1/2 cup olive oil, 1/2-tsp salt, 1/2 cup water, 1/2 cup pine nuts

Place all the ingredients in a mixing bowl and stir them together until the dough comes together in a ball. Divide the dough into 2 balls, wrap in plastic, and set aside.

Filling: 1 1/2 lbs. chard leaves (no stems), 1 cup golden raisins, 2 beaten eggs, salt

Wash and dry the chard leaves. Chop them into narrow strips and place them in a large bowl. Season lightly with salt and stir in the beaten eggs. Add the raisins and mix well.

Roll out one ball of dough and press it into a tart pan. Spread the filling over the dough. Roll out the second ball of dough and cover the filling. Pinch the edges together.

Bake in a pre-heated 400 degree F oven for about 40 minutes, until golden brown.

Roasted Beet Salad

Another great way to eat those roasted beets from the street market…a lovely fall or winter salad and a great pairing of walnuts and beets. Roasted or boiled, the beets are delicious.

Ingredients: 4 medium beets, 3 shallots, 1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh dill, 2/3 cup coarsely chopped toasted walnuts, 1 Tbs walnut oil, 4 Tbs cider vinegar, 1/4 tsp red chile flakes, salt and freshly ground black pepper, 1 1/2 cups arugula leaves

To roast the beets, heat the oven to 425 degrees F. Wrap the beets in aluminum foil and roast for 1 hour or more, depending on size. Beets are done when they can be pierced easily with a thin knife blade. Cool and peel. While still warm, slice the beets into wedges, place them in a bowl, and drizzle with vinegar. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Finely chop the shallots and add them to the bowl. Add the dill, chile flakes, and walnut oil and toss to mix well. Put the arugula leaves on a platter, Scoop the beets over them, and distribute the toasted walnuts on top.

Joie de Vivre and Thanksgiving

Last summer, when I couldn’t cook, words I read in Su Mei Yu’s book, Cracking the Coconut, took on new meaning. She gives insight into the cooking of Thailand by explaining that “the Thai people are Buddhists who believe that life is marked by suffering, impermanence, and constant change. They seek and grasp at every chance to celebrate pleasure and happiness. Good food and the community spirits of sharing reflect this philosophy.”

The Thai philosophy of food can be summed up in two words, according to Yu: arroy, meaning delicious as well as “touching one’s heart”, and sanuk, meaning fun and spiritual joie de vivre. Sounds like they celebrate Thanksgiving every day.

We were in need of an infusion of joie de vivre, so we went with friends Joe and Suzy to France. As we traveled south into the Dordogne, I knew immediately that we were in the land of arroy and sanuk, as well as joie de vivre. This is a region of rich river valleys blessed with a temperate climate, ample sun and rain, and a coastline on the Atlantic Ocean. Contented cows and sheep dot deep green pastures, fields of vegetables and fruit and nut orchards thrive, and the wine is legendary. This is a land where almost every village gives it’s name to a kind of cheese, wine, or sausage–all you need to do is pop into the village baker, and you have a feast.

French Landscape

French Door

Our first stop was in Villaines les Rochers, a village of willow basket makers. We were the guests of David and Judy, who make their home in one of the cave houses common to the area. These houses are dug into the soft rock in the bluffs above the river to create a unique space that is open to light yet insulated from both the heat of summer and the cold of winter. The sun-facing rock wall has the added advantage of creating a superb microclimate for tomatoes and peppers and plants like grapevines and figs (even better, you can climb up on the roof and pick the figs!). David and Judy tend a garden that produces some of the most beautiful and delicious vegetables I have ever seen or tasted.

French Tomato Plate

One of the great things about being a traveler welcomed into someone’s home is that they know the flavors of their home terroir and want to share the best food possible. Our hosts gathered sun-ripened tomatoes and herbs from the garden, goat cheese from the near-by town of St. Maure, figs from the tree outside their door, mackerel from the Atlantic, and wine from a small neighboring vineyard to make a welcoming meal full of joie de vivre.

As you will see, this is not fussy cooking–not the image of the French chef. This is wonderful food staight from the earth and the sea, shared with good friends, and remembered forever with gratitude.

Appetizer of Goat Cheese and Figs

French Fig

Cut ripe, fresh figs in half and arrange on a baking pan. Place a 1/4-inch slice of goat cheese (Judy prefers the ash-coated Chevre de St. Maure) on top of each fig. Broil until the figs are softened and the cheese bubbles. Voila!

David’s Tomato Salad

French Tomato

David and Judy grow sweet, richly flavored heirloom tomatoes–Zebra and Corno-de- something, as well as the hybrid “Sungold” cherry tomato. Red, green, and gold create a spectacular mosaic of flavor and color. This is David’s speciality.

Arrange slices of red, green, and yellow tomatoes in a pleasing pattern on a large platter. Sprinkle with sea salt and pepper, finely chopped red onion, and fresh basil leaves. Drizzle fruity olive oil over the top. Enjoy!

Grilled Mackerel

We bought whole, fresh mackerel at the local grocery store (cleaned as we waited), and David prepared it for the grill, using fresh herbs from the garden.

Rub the mackerel with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and coat with finely chopped sage and rosemary leaves. Tuck a sprig of rosemary and a few sage leaves into the cavity of each fish and set aside in the fridge while you prepare the grill fire. Grill over medium heat until cooked through, about 3 to 4 minutes per side. Bon apetit!

Serve with a salad of lettuce and gorgeous red radicchio.

Mia’s Garden Gifts–The Best New Taste Treats

Fermented Garlic Clove

The best thing about running Country Workshops woodworking school classes is the interesting people we get to meet and the many friends we have made over the years. We met Ryo and Mia Iwasaki because they are neighbors of our mutual friends the late Marlin Mathiessen and his wife Kathy, and live just on the other side of the mountain from us in Tennessee. Marlin enticed Mia into coming to woodworking classes, and she soon became a good friend and even serves on the board of Country Workshops. Mia translates when we have Japanese visitors and is my go-to person for any Japanese cooking questions.

Ryo and Mia tend a small, intensive garden full of wonderful Japanese vegetables like daikon, nira (garlic chives), and kabocha squash. They also planted a grove of bamboo in one corner of their yard to provide both beauty and a tasty spring harvest of bamboo shoots. Mia came over last week with a bag of freshly dug bamboo shoots, another bag of what looked like burnt locusts or grasshoppers, and a small tub of dark paste. She was very excited about what she had to share, so we took a leap and stuck some in our mouths. The bamboo shoots look prehistoric and have a crunchy and mildly wild taste. The unidentifiable black things turned out to be fermented garlic cloves–sweetly intense and can’t-stop-eating-them good. The little tub held fermented garlic butter, which we slathered on bread and everything else in sight.

These are very fun ingredients to play with, so I got the details of how to prepare them from Mia.

Bamboo Shoots

 Bamboo Shoots

Harvest bamboo shoots in early spring when the shoots are 3 to 5 inches tall. Older shoots will become tough and woody if allowed to grow taller. Cut the shoots off with a sharp knife or pruners at ground level, or slightly below if your soil is loose. Mia boils her shoots in water that has been used to rinse white rice. She says the residue that washes off the rice eliminates any bitterness in the shoots. Plain water is fine, also. Boil the shoots until tender, up to one hour for large ones. Let the shoots cool to room temperature in the water. Mia stores hers in the refrigerator in the cooking water until ready to use. Very young and tender shoots are delicious eaten raw.

The bamboo shoots were so beautiful to look at, I served them as they were, as an accompaniment to Thai curry. Here are more ideas from Mia:

* Slice them up and add them to stir-fry.

* Cook them with steamed rice: Wash and drain rice. Place in a pot or rice cooker and cover with slices of bamboo shoots. Add 2 Tbs soy sauce, 2 Tbs sake, 1 tsp dashi powder, and 1 cup water per cup of rice. Bring to a boil and allow the water to boil down to the surface of the rice over medium heat. Cover tightly and cook over very low heat until all the water is absorbed and the rice is tender, about 10 to 12 minutes. Allow to sit 10 minutes before serving.

* Spicy Bamboo Shoots: Sauté bamboo shoots in toasted sesame oil 2 to 3 minutes. Add 2 tsp minced ginger, 1/2 tsp red chile flakes (or to taste), and 1 Tbs. soy sauce (Mia adds a little Chinese soup broth powder instead of soy). Stir until the shoots have absorbed the flavors.

Fermented Garlic

Fermented Garlic

Mia made her batch of fermented garlic with 20 whole garlic bulbs. Separate the cloves but leave the peels on. Place the unpeeled cloves in rice cooker or slow cooker set to “keep warm”. Stir once a day for 3 weeks. The fermented garlic will turn very black, soft, and sweet. Peel the garlic before using, or just pop the whole thing in you mouth and enjoy.

We ate the peeled cloves straight, put them on crackers with goat cheese, used them in cilantro/sorrel pesto, and wrapped them up in grilled zucchini. All good.

Fermented Garlic Butter

Fermented Garlic Butter

Mash 1/4 lb best quality room temperature butter with enough peeled fermented garlic cloves to make an impact–12 to 24 cloves, depending on your taste. Use a fork or food processor, whichever you prefer.

We ate our blackened garlic butter on bruschetta and on cornbread, topped with watercress. I used some on top of salmon steaks, wrapped in rhubarb leaves and slow-roasted @ 250 degrees F for about 18 minutes. The butter would be equally good to top grilled steaks and is delicious to flavor plain rice.

Who needs truffle butter?

Cracking the Coconut

“Learning to crack open a coconut is essential to becoming a Thai cook.” Su-Mei Yu

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One good thing about winter is that people go to Florida, and they bring back coconuts. That’s how I happen to have a real live coconut–hairy husk and all–sitting on my kitchen counter. It’s an awesome package–a thick, fibrous outer covering and tough, hard inner shell protecting the sweet aromatic coconut meat. How do you turn this hairy ball into coconut milk?

Su-Mei yu’s book, Cracking the Coconut has the answer. I love reading this book about ancient Thai cooking traditions and the intricacies of Thai curry. Su-Mei writes that coconut is to the Thais what butter, cream, and oil are to Western cuisine, but more than that the coconut is the “spirit of Thai cooking.” The coconut tree spiritually and literally “anchors, protects, and secures the land” and is second only to rice as Thailand’s most important crop. The rich coconut cream extracted from the grated flesh is essential to the Thai way of stir-frying, and just one coconut can provide enough milk and cream for a sumptuous pot of curry.

Even though I often make Thai curry, I have always relied on canned coconut milk and cream. But Su-Mei says there is no comparison between the taste and aroma of fresh coconut cream and the canned product. I believe her, so I gather up the tools she says are necessary to the endeavor: heavy hammer, Phillips head screwdriver, regular screw driver, dish towel, potato ricer, 3 or 4 bowls, vegetable peeler, and a metal spoon. It sounds like preparation for major surgery, but Su-Mei considers it “coconut therapy.”

Once the outer packing is removed, you will see three indentations, or “eyes” on the top of the coconut. To extract the juice, position a Phillips head screwdriver in one of the eyes and tap it with the hammer to punch a hole. Repeat on a second eye. Drain the juice into a clean glass jar and refrigerate for drinking or other use.

Place the coconut on the center rack of a preheated 375 degrees F oven and bake for 20 minutes. Remove and cool to room temperature. Put the coconut on a hard surface (preferably concrete) and strike it with the hammer to crack it open. Break into four or five pieces. Hold a piece of coconut with a dishtowel to protect you hands and pry the meat loose with a flat-blade screwdriver. Use a vegetable peeler to peel the dark outer skin off the white meat (I saved these peelings and toasted them on the wood stove…they were delicious).

Now cut the coconut meat into 1-inch pieces and use a food processor with a metal blade to chop the chunks into very small pieces. Pulse and blend until the coconut turns to pulp. Add 1 cup warm water and process for 30 seconds. Transfer the pulp to a large mixing bowl and “milk” the coconut by squeezing and rubbing with your fingers. Massage and squeeze 89 times–this is the ritual number required to produce rich and creamy milk.

Cracked coconut

Put the pulp into a potato ricer or fine strainer over another bowl. Press to extract the liquid. Refrigerate the liquid at least one hour to allow the cream to rise to the top. Skim off the cream and refrigerate the cream and milk in separate containers. Meanwhile, put the coconut pulp back into a mixing bowl and add 3 cups warm water. Repeat the massaging and squeezing process 89 times. Strain, as before, and refrigerate the liquid at least one hour. Skim off the cream and add it to the first batch of cream. Refrigerate the thin milk separately.

Su-Mei Yu recommends cracking and extracting the meat from more than one coconut at a time. The extra coconut can be frozen up to a month for making more coconut milk or toasted coconut flakes. Once you make a batch of fresh coconut milk, you will be hooked and never want to go back to the canned stuff again.

Freshly grated coconut flakes: the pulp left over from making coconut milk may be saved for baking or dry-roasted to use for a topping on salads or stir-fry.  Flakes made from coconut before the milk is extracted have a richer flavor. Roast about 1 cup freshly grated coconut in a large dry skillet over medium heat, shaking and stirring until evenly browned. Cool completely before storing in a tightly sealed glass jar.

Coconut Snacks: Miang Kati and Miang Kum 

Coconut chutney in lettuce leaf

This snack from northeastern Thailand–a fresh chutney wrapped in leaves– is the perfect way to sample freshly made coconut flakes and cream. Traditionally, native bitter greens are used, but tender sorrel, spinach, radicchio, or even bib lettuce leaves all make good wrappers. The bundles make great appetizers or snack with afternoon tea.

Miang Kati

This version is adapted from Su-Mei Yu’s recipe (I used much less sugar). Miang means “leaf bundle” and Kati refers to the coconut cream drizzled on top.

Ingredients: 20 to 24 well-washed and dried spinach, radicchio, or lettuce leaves, sunflower or peanut oil, 1/2 cup thinly sliced shallots, 1/3 cup chopped dry-roasted peanuts, 2 Tbs palm or brown sugar, fine sea salt, 3.4 cup dry-roasted freshly grated coconut flakes, 1/3 cup fresh coconut cream, lime wedges, minced fresh chiles

Warm 2 Tbs oil in a skillet over medium low heat. Separate the shallots into rings and add them to the oil with a pinch of seas salt. Fry slowly, stirring occasionally, until golden brown. Transfer to a plate to cool. Add 1 or 2 tsp oil to the pan, if needed. Add the peanuts to the pan with 2 Tbs sugar and 1/4 tsp sea salt. Stir to coat the peanuts, 1 minute. Add the fried shallots and toasted coconut flakes and stir to combine. Transfer to a serving bowl.

Serving: Set out a platter of leaves of your choice next to the bowl of miang kati. Set small bowls of coconut cream, minced chile, and lime wedges nearby. To eat, place a spoonful of filling in the middle of a leaf, drizzle with coconut cream, add a pinch of chile and a squeeze of lime juice, wrap it up and pop in your mouth.

Miang Kum

This second recipe is adapted from a coconut-lime chutney found in Mollie Katzen’s Still Life with Menu Cookbook. Again, I decreased the sugar–feel free to re-instate it if your taste runs sweet.

Ingredients: 8 oz spinach or radicchio leaves, 1 small lime, 1/3 cup chopped sweet onion, 1/3 cup chopped dry-roasted peanuts, 1/3 cup toasted freshly grated coconut flakes, 2 Tbs palm or brown sugar (Mexican piloncillo cane sugar is very tasty), 1/4 tsp sea salt, 1 tsp red chile sauce, 2 tsp minced ginger, 1/4 tsp shrimp paste (optional)

Wash and cut the lime into small dice (remove seeds). Put the lime and all the other ingredients into a food processor and pulse to make a coarsely chopped mixture. Adjust the seasoning to suit your taste.

Serving: In addition to the chutney, Mollie sets out small bowl of finely chopped onion, lime, and ginger, as well as more roasted peanuts and coconut flakes. A pinch of each is placed on a leaf with the chutney before rolling it up to pop in your mouth. As usual, I would add a bowl of minced chiles to the assortment.

Coconut Sides