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.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Shishitos and Padróns

Padrón and shishtio peppers are two of my favorite summertime treats.  They look and taste fairly similar. Am slightly partial to Padróns, which have a thinner, more tender skin and smaller seeds than do shishitos.

In my neck of the woods, Padróns are difficult to come by, so I often substitute shishitos.  Not an exact substitute, but close enough.  I've read that shishitos are particularly good tempura battered and deep fried. Of course, what doesn't taste good after being tempura battered and deep fried?

As you can see in the above photo, Padróns (top) are wider and have a smoother texture, whereas shishitos (bottom) are more narrow and wrinkly.  They look rather similar, can you see the difference?

I spotted shishitos and Padróns at the Union Square Greenmarket while in NYC last weekend (and procured a few for the ride back to D.C.).  I've also seen Padróns at my favorite little Spanish market in Bethesda, Maryland as of late.  As for shishitos, I commonly find them at my local Asian market and, from time to time, have spotted them at Whole Foods.

Padron = aka pimientos de Padrón, a Spanish heirloom chile pepper.

Shishito = Japanese cousin of the Padrón.

They say that 1 in every 10 chiles is spicy.

"Os Pementos de Padrón, uns pican e outros non," a common  Galician saying that translate into, "Padrón peppers, some are hot and some are not."

Shishitos and Padróns are great simply pan-fried with a little olive oil and coarse sea salt.  I've devoured plate after plate of Padróns in Spain.  Just pop them in my mouth like candy.

Warning: Padróns are highly addictive.

For the shishitos, pictured below, I sprinkled the pan-fried shishitos with sea salt and a little ichimi togarashi (ground chile pepper -- red bottle) and yuzu shichimi (red pepper, sesame seeds, orange peel, yuzu peel, seaweed, and hempseed -- yellow bottle).  The spice blends are from a local Japanese grocery store.

All you need to do is pan fry the peppers in a little oil until browned and blistered in spots.  Then sprinkle with coarse sea salt.

Like I said, Padróns and shishitos are delicious on their own, but I had other plans for the Padróns...a tapa (or pintxo, if you're in Basque country) of grilled bread (rubbed with garlic) topped with either Spanish chorizo or Serrano ham, a fried quail egg, and a roasted Padrón.

Cute little quail eggs...they're so tiny, they cook in a manner of seconds.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Charred Okra, Corn, & Tomato Salad -- Enjoy the Summer!

Corn, Tomatoes, and Okra -- Oh yeah, summer is in full swing!

When I started this post, it was mid-July, but time seemed to get the best of me.  Yikes, it's now the middle of August.  Where or where has the summer gone?  I used all my favorite summer veggies to make a simple Charred Okra, Corn, & Tomato Salad.  Corn and tomatoes are at their peak.  Okra is still around, but probably not for too much longer.

Are you an okra lover or hater?

I've never had much love for okra.  Suspect that many of you out there can relate.  A big part of that has to do with the 'slime' or 'goo' that okra gives off.

The slime is a result of mucilage, a thick gooey substance produced by nearly all plants, to include okra, aloe vera, cactus, and marshmallow; okra just so happens to produce greater than average concentrations of mucilage.  That's why okra is commonly added to gumbo, the mucilage helps to thicken it.  That being said, if you're not making gumbo and want to eliminate the slime, there are several ways to do so.

You can roast okra in the oven, grill it, or simply char okra in a cast-iron pan.  Along with the okra, I composed a quick salad of corn, tomatoes, garlic, and fresh herbs -- a simple little salad to highlight the season.

Found some red and green okra at the market...

Charred the okra in a dry cast-iron skillet until nicely charred in spots.  Ditto for the corn.  You can remove the kernels from the cob and cook them in a dry cast-iron skillet until charred in spots. Alternatively, you can grill the corn -- with the kernels intact -- on an outdoor grill or grill pan, before removing and adding the kernels to the salad.

Can't go wrong with summer corn...look for organic or non-GMO corn.

A lovely assortment of summer tomatoes, simply chopped and added to the pan, along with the okra and corn, until just warmed through...

Voila, the finished dish -- simple and seasonal.  Serve with grilled fish, meat, chicken, etc.