Monday, September 22, 2014

A Late Summer Ratatouille

Can't believe that fall is but a few days away.  I'm in complete denial.  Summer isn't over for me just yet.  Today, I've prepared a late summer ratatouille.  My way of saying: Summer, I'm not quite ready to say goodbye.  There are still plenty of summer vegetables to enjoy this time of year -- heirloom tomatoes, colorful bell peppers, summer squash, zucchini, eggplant, etc.  I've seen winter squash around, but refuse to acknowledge them for the time being.

What better way to enjoy the late summer bounty than with a simple and delicious ratatouille.  There are a good 10 pounds of vegetables that went into this ratatouille.  I may have gone a bit overboard on the veggies.  Nonetheless, have been enjoying the ratatouille for several days now.  And the best thing about a ratatouille is that it tastes even better reheated.

Making ratatouille is not difficult, though it does take a bit of preparation.  First, chop, slice, and/or mince the various vegetables.  Then, saute the vegetables, in stages, in a skillet with olive oil. Thereafter, into the oven until the vegetables are tender.  Most recipes call for a minimum of one hour cooking time, but this batch took several hours in the oven for the vegetables to soften to that perfect consistency and for the flavors to meld. The end result, tender to the bite, but still a bit chunky, and oh so delicious!

Ratatouille is an eminently versatile dish.  Serve it warm as the centerpiece of a meal, as an hors d'oeurve, or as an accompaniment to your favorite main dish.

I got a little fancy and put the ratatouille in a ring mold and piled monkfish on top...ratatouille with monkfish, a drizzle of reduced balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil, and fresh basil leaves. Yum!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Sumac and Thyme Salmon Burgers

If I left it up to Patrick, we'd be eating salmon most nights of the week.  A typical conversation often goes something like this, me: "What do you want to have for dinner?"  Him: "Salmon."  Me: "Salmon again?!" 

Patrick likes what he likes and salmon it is.  He's perfectly content with salmon (sockeye, preferably), be it grilled, smoked, cured, sashimi, ceviche, etc., accompanied by a big side of sauteed greens.  No complaints whatsoever.

Me on the other hand, I crave new experiences, new flavors, new tastes.  I definitely enjoy salmon, but don't want to eat it, or seafood for that matter, every night of the week.  I like to mix things up, some nights fish or seafood, some nights vegetarian, some nights red meat or poultry, some nights eggs.

So tonight, salmon it is...

But, instead of grilling a fillet of salmon, decided to turn the salmon into a burger.  Kept the preparation to a minimum, using fresh herbs and spices -- sumac (which imparts a nice fruity-tart, lemony flavor), thyme, and parsley -- and was judicious with the filler, just enough bread crumbs and egg to bind the ingredients together without detracting from the taste.  There's lettuce, tomato, cucumber, and tzatziki to accompany the salmon burger, which is served on a toasted, buttery brioche bun.

And finally, the salmon burger is topped with these beautiful spring onion and radish microgreens [that I proudly grew myself, the extent of my urban gardening].  The microgreens are incredibly flavorful and packed with nutrients -- 4x to 6x  the amount of nutrients [vitamins and other phytonutrients] as compared to mature leaves of the same plant.

Refer to this post for growing microgreens on your windowsill.

I love the vibrant color of wild sockeye salmon.  For the salmon burger, I removed the skin and pin bones, and coarsely chopped (with a few strokes of a cleaver).  You could briefly pulse the salmon in a food processor, but the fewer appliances to clean the better in my opinion.  Thereafter, I just mixed in the remaining ingredients and formed into burgers and pan-fried.

BTW, don't discard the salmon skin, it's delish crisped up in skillet.  Hmm, crispy salmon skin handrolls? Just added them to my to-do list.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Grilled Peach Salad with A Walnut Dressing

Am experiencing a twinge of sadness given that Labor Day has come and gone.  I love the summer.  I particularly love the summer when I'm at the beach.  I particularly love the summer when I'm at the beach and floating somewhere in Mediterranean waters.  Why don't I live near the beach?

Oh summer, it's my favorite time of year.  Summer is not over quite yet.  It's still hot and humid here in D.C. (although, no beach in site).  Nonetheless, peach season is in full swing.  Peaches galore.  Ahh, summer...

Do you have any favorite peach recipes?  Sweet?  Savory?

This is a delectable little summer salad of grilled peaches.

I've made several slightly different iterations of this salad.  I love the addition of speck, a lightly smoked cured ham; prosciutto or Serrano ham works well if you can't find speck.  Bitterness from endive, radicchio, or other chicories, and pepperiness from the arugula balance the sweetness of the peaches.

I love fresh mozzarella (perhaps, smoked mozzarella), burrata, a goat's milk chevre, or even fresh ricotta.  Basil, Thai or Italian, lends a fresh element.

The dressing -- walnuts in a mixture of walnut oil, olive oil, and white wine vinegar -- adds a unique twist.

Serve with slices of grilled wholegrain, country bread brushed with olive oil and grubbed with garlic. For my D.C. friends, have you checked out this spot?  They have a very nice selection of breads.

Stay in the moment.  Summer's not over just yet...

The yellow, more squat peaches are donut peaches (also known as Saturn peaches).  They have a tropical note and taste like a cross between a peach and a mango.

Radicchio is in the chicory family.  In its natural state, radicchio has a pronounced bitterness to it, which pairs nicely with the sweetness of the peaches.  Radicchio is also nice when grilled.  Grilling tames the bitterness and imparts a welcome smoky, charred flavor.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Callaloo Stew with Chesapeake Bay Blue Crab

Tired of the kale?  Try callaloo.  

What's callaloo you ask?

These are red callaloo leaves, a new discovery of mine, but not new by any stretch of the imagination. Picked up this bunch of callaloo from Next Step Produce at the Dupont Circle Farmers' Market in Washington, D.C.  Callaloo is a member of the amaranth family.  Callaloo dates back thousands of years and was a staple of the Mayans, Aztecs, and Incas.  Callaloo thrives in hot summer climates.  Use it as you would spinach, chard, or kale.

Amaranth grain (actually, a seed) is also edible and a complete source of protein (that is to say, it contains all the essential amino acids), unlike most other grains.

But today, I'm not focusing on the grain (which I have plans for at a later date).  Today is all about the leaves, beautiful purplish-red streaked leaves.  Aren't they striking?

I love discovering new edible plants.  In modern times, where the majority (i.e., more than 75%) of plant biodiversity has been lost (gone, finito, sayonara), it's good to see something other than the same old same old.  Hence my predilection for the unusual.  By growing, buying, and eating diverse crops, we can help to preserve the biodiversity of plants.  Plus, it's fun to experiment with them in the kitchen.

Today, a Trinidadian-inspired stew -- callaloo stew with crab -- is on the menu.

Now that I've gone on about callaloo, I realize it's a green that may not be readily available (although, never hurts to keep your eyes out for it), unless you live in a tropical climate (which D.C. often feels like in the summer).  Fear not.  No callaloo, no problem.  Simply substitute baby spinach or chard leaves for callaloo.

This rather unusual looking dish is based on a Trinidadian recipe of greens, onion, garlic, okra, coconut milk, chile, crab, herbs, and spices, which are simmered and then blended with a wooden stick called a swizzle stick (or food processor, blender, or immersion blender -- modern forms of the humble swizzle stick).

There's a habanero chile in the stew, so you'd think it would be super spicy, but surprisingly it's pretty tame from a heat standpoint.  The habanero is left whole to simmer in the stew.  When you leave the chile whole (vice chopping or mincing it), it imparts much less heat, but you still get that distinct fruitiness from the habanero.

Crab is often added to callaloo stew.  And being that I'm from the Maryland area, the home of the Chesapeake Bay blue crab, I have easy access to this delicacy.  Got up early and headed down to the Maine Avenue Fish Market, along the waterfront in southeast D.C., to pick up a handful of blue crabs. Alternatively, you can use other varietals of crab, picked lump crab meat, or go vegetarian and omit the crab altogether.

Be careful, blue crabs are feisty little guys...

I used chard and baby spinach in this version.  Also, added a couple of hard-shell blue crabs to the stew.

Anyone who has sat down for a crab feast knows that blue crabs are a bit of work and downright messy to eat.  If you don't mind getting your hands dirty, add the crabs straight into the stew.  Otherwise, you can pick the meat from the cooked crabs and then garnish each plate with a handful of lump crab (yum).

When you're ready to blend the stew, remove the habanero and set aside.  Be careful to fish the habanero out, you don't want your stew to be fiery.  Blend half the stew and then add it back to the pot.

For this version, I used the purplish callaloo leaves and topped with a soft-shelled crab that I lightly dusted with flour and pan-fried...the reddish callaloo leaves gives the stew a bit of a reddish hue.

Soft-shelled crabs, did you know?  

Soft-shelled crabs are crabs that have outgrown their shell and must shed it before growing a bigger one. This typically happens the first full moon in May and continues through October.