Archive for herb recipe

A Perfectly Pretty Watermelon Salad

 watermelon salad, small

It took me a long time to accept the idea of fruit in my salads. Too gimmicky, if you had asked me! As a properly raised French child, the only acceptable fruit that was not dessert was an appetizer of charentais melon with port (or maybe Jambon de Bayonne, the French Basque version of Prosciutto).  But now? Now… I toss blueberries in massaged kale salad; I mix cantaloupes, canaries, and honeydews with purslane, shallots & jalapenos; I love peaches everywhere, including in salsa, or sliced thinly on a goat cheese open sandwich with black pepper & a drizzle of honey… and when it comes to watermelon, there is almost no limit.

Not only is this particular salad pretty, you can prepare all the ingredients ahead, keep them refrigerated in separate containers, and assemble at the last minute.. which makes it perfect for entertaining or even for potluck. Imagine the exclamations! Edible flowers bring a nice touch to the dish – in fact they are part of the WOW factor, something we can all relish occasionally. Read more

For the Love of Purslane

When my neighbor went to Turkey a few years ago, she was fortunate to spend time with a Turkish family, and taste true Turkish cuisine prepared at home. She also had a grand time at the Istanbul Bazaar and came back with amazingly fragrant spices, some of which she gifted me. She really enjoyed many vegetable dishes and was particularly intrigued by a vegetable she never had before… and had I ever heard of it? such a funny name:  purslane?

Basil & purslane both like hot summer weather

Purslane & basil both like hot summer weather

I burst out laughing, and told her I’d bring her a big basket the following morning, wanted to harvest it when it was cool. Which I did. Fair is fair: a basket of “weeds” for a basket of spice.

Because, as you know, many Americans consider purslane (Portulaca oleracea) a weed. In fact, many don’t even know it’s edible. It’s a cousin of the ornamental  moss rose (Portulaca grandiflora), sometime also called purslane. Don’t confuse the two  when buying seeds (you are unlikely to find Portulaca oleracea plants for sale)

Yet – it is. It’s also nutritious, mild (vaguely lemony) & crunchy – and for me it grows when lettuce does not. In the garden, it’s an annual succulent. It self-sows (and how!) but does not germinates until it is quite warm. In poor soil, it can look “weedy” indeed. But in good garden soil, it becomes a handsome plant that hugs the ground. Pick often to delay flowering and to encourage more leaves.

Leaves, stalks, buds, flowers and seeds are all edible. But the younger, firmer, leaves are preferable – so pinch out shoots to harvest (and encourage branching at the same time).  I dislike the texture of the tiny seeds, so I swish my harvest in a large bowl of cold water to dislodge the seeds that sink to the bottom of the bowl.

A cultivated “improved” version of purslane exists. The pale-golden green leaves are fleshier than the ones growing wild in my garden, but also more fragile and the plant is not as robust. I prefer the unimproved version.

So how do you eat purslane? Read more

Blackberries, Sweet & Tart

blackberry sherbet 001 comp

Blackberries are producing madly. They have been loving this more temperature summer. Me too! And so they have rewarded us with beaucoup berries since mid-July. For a few weeks in fact they were producing along the Saturn flat peach. ahhh…

flat peach & blackberries Loads just got bagged and tossed in the freezer. Lots got turned into jam, some mixed with blueberries. New to me this year was blackberry gastrique, an awful name if there ever was one: just hearing it makes me want to reach for the bottle of crème de menthe. But it is a homemade competitor to flavored balsamic vinegar — a syrupy blackberry vinegar akin to shrub that I like to drizzle on hard cheese, add to sparkling water, use for vinaigrette, baste ribs or chicken on the grill. I had heard of gastrique before but dismissed it , unjustly based on its name. I came across this video from Sherri Brooks Vinton and realized it was akin to shrub. I made it and I am hooked. I have since made Peach ginger gastrique and there is a tomato one in the works.

And then I have been having fun with sherbet using honey from our hives. This version came by accident: I wanted to make sherbet with buttermilk (something similar to this blueberry sherbet) but there was none in the fridge. There was however sour cream, so that is what I used. Instead of my usual vodka (used to prevent the sherbet from becoming too icy) I splashed in some crème de cassis. Wow! I was really pleased with the depth of flavors and the mouthful – it is, in fact, one of my favorite sherbet. Don’t sweat the proportions too much: let your taste buds guide you. I was reakky measuring when I was making it.

So without more ado, 2 recipes: Blackberry Gastrique and Blackberry Honey Sherbet. Read more

When The Garden Gives You Lots Of Greens…

… start a vegetable weekly subscription and make Mongolian-style sauce (lots and lots of it!)

I certainly grow more than we can eat – and we eat lots of veggies! Yet I don’t grow enough for selling at a Farmer’s Market or to a restaurant. But even with all the preserving I do, it’s too much just for us. And let’s face it: some things don’t preserve that well anyway (lettuce sauerkraut, anyone?). Or I have no need to preserve them, because I’ll be growing them through the cold months. Why preserve when you can eat fresh? You know: the mâche, arugula, mustards, lettuces, onions, kale, turnips, spinach, Swiss Chard, and other greens.

So, what’s a girl to do?

Find a few people who don’t have a garden, are interested in super fresh food, and are willing to receive whatever I grow. That’s what a girl does.

So my mini (or rather “nano”) subscription scheme started last year. I am not a professional grower, so I do not want to commit for the entire “growing” season, and I want to give myself, and my clients, a way out if  I can’t sustain it – or if they don’t like it. So I offer the  subscription in 7 to 8 weeks increment (Spring, early summer, high summer, fall) and only to a handful of clients. A chef’s CSA.

So far so good.  We are in week 2 of spring, and that’s what my Thursday subscriber got today:

csa-2010-spring-week-2-005

The Soups Of Summer

Hot. Muggy. Summer in Virginia. Finally. Sigh…

I can’t really complain, July having been relatively cool, but now it’s hot. It’s time for cold lemonade, lots of ice teas, dishes that do not heat up the kitchen (it’s being heated enough with canning)… like cold soups. You know, either the ones to which you never have to apply heat (think Gazpacho) or the ones that you can throw together from precooked ingredients, especially from left over, and a few garden fresh things – like my Sorrel Vichyssoise.

sorrel-vichyssoise-bastille-200918-by-bruce-jones

Many people are not familiar with sorrel in the United States. A shame really, because it is one of the few perennial vegetables for temperate climates, very easy to grow, and pretty much care free. Yes, it can look a little raggedy in the summer, but it’ll perk up in the fall providing nice tender leaves for salads again. In summer, the leaves get a little tougher faster than in cool weather, but are still eminently usable, especially when pureed for sauces or soup. I often use it in my cooking workshops, introducing a new taste to students, and every body opens big eyes at the taste, loving it. Read more

Lovely Lemony Sorrel

There are indubitable signs of springs out there (besides the 2 minutes of additional daily daytime we are getting now).

For once, the snowdrops are nodding their tiny white bells in the still blustery gusts of wind and then, then!, yellow IS swelling the buds of the early daffodils. But for the ever hopeful kitchen gardener, a much surer sign that spring is coming is what’s budding, swelling, germinating, pushing up or otherwise showing signs of life in the vegetable garden.

Is there something fresh I can sink my teeth in – or at least wake up my taste buds (pun intended) with? Something green? With a little bite? Something… live? I have talked about reliable mache growing outside in winter, but a few other denizens that grow happily enough in a cold frame provide fresh taste at this time of the year: spinach, cutting celery, parsley, arugula, and sorrel are among them. They do not need a cold frame per se, but the protection provided by a cold frame allows them to send forth new leaves much earlier than their unprotected brethren, left totally outside in what is otherwise a generally bleak landscape at this time of the year.

sorrel-2008-04-057

Sorrel might be less well known on the list, so let’s talk about it, a little, shall we? Read more

Of Summer Melon, Virginia Ham & Combava

Twice this past week-end, I prepared a simple dish combining a few very much local ingredients: easy, lots of flavors, nice colors, great smell, happy eaters… and no need to apply heat: as far as I am concerned, the perfect summer party dish. What was it? Melon & Virginia Country Ham Salad with Combava (Kaffir Lime) Leaf Dressing.

Both times guests were really intrigued by my “secret ingredient” and were trying – unsuccessfully to place it- until I told them what it was: Kaffir lime (aka Combava). The Oxford Companion To Food recommends that the traditional name “Kaffir lime” be replaced by “makhrut lime” or “makrud lime” (makhrut/makrud being the transliteration of the Thai word) because Kaffir is a derogatory term for a black person in South Africa . But very few people do it and Kaffir lime is by far the more common. However I have also seen Combava lime (which is one of its French name). Since I like the deep musical sound of “combava” and the word reminds me of my years in France, that’s the name I’ll be using to describe what is known botanically as Citrus hystrix.

Combava leaves (also known as Kaffir Lime or Makhrut Lime)

Combava is a citrus plant originating in South East Asia, where its leaves are used in cooking. Many people in the US have encountered Combava when eating at Thai restaurants. The leaves are roughly hour-glass shaped, or rather, one leaf looks like two leaves put together end-to-end. The fruit is small, green, round and has very little juice. I grate the rind (that is when I am lucky enough that my tree gives me fruit) and use it to flavor drinks and many dishes; slice the fruit very thinly and mix it with chili peepers, garlic and other spices to make a fresh chutney/salsa to serve with fish and rice. The fruit can also be candied producing an interesting sour/slightly bitter and yet sweet confection – a little like candied pomelo rind. The plant is tender here in the Northern Piedmont (and in most of the US), but as with many citrus, it can live happily in a large pot, that spends the winter in a cool sunny room.

The leaves are what I used for my dish. But although the flavors were similar, the presentation of the dish was not because there were two very different meals. Yes, I know, I am getting to specialize in “obscure leafy ingredients” in the words of David Lebovitz. But it’s easy to grow, you can buy it frozen in markets specializing in South East Asia ingredients and it is really good! By the way, don’t use dry leaves: they have a very different texture, the taste is fainter and they will not give you the appealing bright green flecks that you get with the fresh leaves.

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Lemon Verbena for Summer Fragrance

Lemon Verbena

Lemon Verbena Growing in a Container at Morninside Nursery

A small shrub from South America, lemon verbena (Aloysia triphylla) is a delightful plant in the garden. Because it is a tender perennial, I grow two mother plants in pots that come in the house or the greenhouse in winter, and make cuttings every spring that I plant in the garden once they have rooted. It’s amazing how fast they grow once they are planted out: they’ll give me plenty of leaves for all sorts of uses. I have trained my potted plants as topiaries, but in its natural habitat lemon-verbena grows as a multi-branched, airy shrub up to 10 foot tall. In a sheltered dry-in-winter place, I suspect lemon verbena would perennialize in Zone 7: the plant would die down but new shoots would come from the roots in spring. The plant itself looks better in the ground, healthier, darker green and lusher – one does not have too keep watering it as in pots. Last year, I left one of my containers out when the temperature dropped to below 20 degree F several night in the row. The top growth died, but new shoots came from the roots, and the plant is now perfectly healthy – still in it pot. The picture above is a healthy specimen growing in a container at Morningside Farm & Nursery in Griffinsburg, VA.

Close up of lemon verbena leaves

The white flowers are rather small and the sweet lemon fragrance come from the crushed or brushed leaves. Plant it where you can brush against it as you go by – it’s a wonderful, slightly haunting smell. Great for delicately scenting cloth, for pot pourri or for wreaths (the flexible fresh branches are easy to fashion into a wreath that will just dry over a few weeks), it also makes a pleasant tea and is wonderful to make into fragrant syrup to poach fruit. It can also be infused for sorbet, ice-cream, flan, custard etc. I understand that lemon-verbena marries very nicely with fish – something I have not yet tried.

What I have tried – with most delicious results – is to use lemon verbena for sorbet and to poach fruits. It’s particularly wonderful with peaches , and will come handy if you ever face some peaches that are slightly under ripe, that you don’t have time to ripen, and that you must serve now. A quick poaching in lemon verbena syrup will elevate them to another dimension. Using fully ripe peaches will yield commensurably tastier results. Guests are always intrigued by the taste. The two recipes provided below (Lemon-Verbena Poached Peaches and Lemon-Verbena Syrup) are more guidelines than recipes per se. The hardest part will be to locate a lemon verbena plant. I have noted that it’s becoming increasingly easier to find, many good herb plant shops carry it.

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When you Have Green Apples, Make Sorbet

Green Apple Sorbet

I love to the capture the essence of fruit in fruit based-desserts, but I don’t care to bake in summer – well, not too much. I also detest wasting food. So here we are, late June, and the apples need to be thinned, or they’ll thin themselves (and what a waste that will be!) or the fall harvest won’t be quite as good. In late June, those thinnings are of honorable size, perfectly good for apple sauce actually – but just not fully ripe. So what’s a girl to do (beside apple sauce?): Minty Green Apple Sorbet, a simple-to-make concoction, delicate and refreshing – definitively a summer dessert!

I normally make that sorbet in the fall with green apples (green as in color, not maturity) such as Granny Smith. They give the sorbet a faint green color that’s just lovely and the tartness that comes through is just wonderful. But this is June (well July, but I made the sorbet in June) and there is no local Granny Smith apples to get until the Fall. So big thinnings it will be. To be sure it worked, I made the sorbet three times. Since the household comments were positive, here is the recipe. (If you try it, let me know how you like it) Read more