Friday, July 30, 2010

Fermented Cucumber Pickles

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Homemade pickles are so much better than store-bought ones, they are are really worth the effort. Mixed pickling spices add a subtle flavor that will surprise you. I love the taste of naturally fermented pickles, and they are easier to make than you might think – the process takes about three weeks.

This week, I purchased a huge sack of pickling cucumbers from Macias Farms, enough to fill up my five-gallon crock. And Bobby Bustamante of Crackpot Herbs gave me a great tour of his verdant backyard farm when I went to pick up some dill heads from him! He also was kind enough to let me take a few grape leaves from his vines, which can help to keep the pickles crisp.

You don't need to have an old-fashioned crock, although you can still buy them (check out You can use a food-grade plastic bucket such as those sold at brewing supply places, a big glass jar, or even just a big glass salad bowl. The idea is to use a clean, non-metallic container, with something to push down the cucumbers so they stay submerged in the brine. Here is a basic recipe, adapted from The Joy of Pickling, by Linda Ziedrich. You can scale it up or down based on the size of your container or the amount of cucumbers you have.

12 pounds very fresh, unwaxed pickling cucumbers
2 handfuls grape leaves (optional)
1 head of garlic, cloves peeled
6-8 fresh dill heads
2 T. mixed pickling spice (available at grocery stores)
6 quarts water
1 C. vinegar
1¼ C. pickling salt (non-iodized, with no additives)

Wash the cucumbers thoroughly and cut off the blossom ends (these contain enzymes that can make the pickles go soft). Sterilize the container by rinsing it with boiling water. If you are using the grape leaves, lay half of them in the bottom of the container; you'll use the rest to cover the top. Layer the cucumbers in the container with the garlic, dill and spices.

Combine the water, vinegar and salt, stirring until all the salt is dissolved, and pour this brine over the cucumbers. If your container has straight sides, set a plate on top of everything and weight it down with a zip-top bag filled with water or extra brine, to keep the pickles submerged. If your container has a neck, just use the water-filled bag to hold the pickles down. Make sure all the cucumbers are covered by at least an inch of brine – one protruding cucumber can spoil the whole batch.

Cover the container with a clean dishtowel and set it in a cool corner of your kitchen. After a few days, it should start to have a clean, pickly smell, and you should notice tiny bubbles rising. If any scum forms on the top of the water, scoop it off each day with a clean spoon, then rinse and replace the bag. As long as your cucumbers were fresh, your container was clean, and you skim it daily, no off-smells or flavors should develop. This method of fermentation is tried and true!

After two to three weeks, the bubbles should stop and the pickles should be sour. Pour the pickles and brine into a colander set on top of a large pot. Discard the leaves and spices. Rinse the pickles and pack them into glass jars. Bring the brine to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes, skimming off any foam, then let it cool to room temperature. If it looks a bit cloudy, don't worry – it's just the minerals from our hard water. Cover the pickles with brine, cap the jars, and refrigerate - they'll keep for up to six months.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Zucchini and Goat Cheese Pizza

This is a gorgeous way to use up a couple of zucchini, adapted from a recipe on Smitten Kitchen.

12-inch pizza crust (for recipe, see this post)
3 oz. soft goat cheese
1 clove garlic, minced
2 sprigs fresh lemon thyme (or 1/2 tsp dried, regular thyme is fine too)
Zest of 1 lemon
2 zucchini or other summer squash, thinly sliced
Salt and pepper

Chop or rub the leaves of the thyme, and add them to the goat cheese with the garlic and lemon zest. Spread this mixture all over the pizza crust. Arrange the thin slices of zucchini in concentric rings over the top, overlapping each other, and sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper. Bake at 450F for 20 minutes, or until the edges are golden-brown and the zucchini slices look cooked.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Fig, Basil and Goat Cheese Pizza

As seen on

Fresh figs are a rare treat, unless you happen to have a fig tree, because they are so delicate that they don't travel well. Last week I was lucky enough to buy some from Lloyd Kreitzer, "the fig man" at the Nob Hill Growers' Market. If you get up very early, you might be able to snag some at the Downtown Growers' Market, but he always sells out fast! Lloyd propagates and sells over 50 different varieties of fig trees. 

This pizza is based on one I had at Seattle's Cafe Flora, an amazing vegetarian restaurant. Fresh figs with basil, balsamic vinegar, and fresh goat cheese from our local Old Windmill Dairy combine for a taste sensation! I've included a quick recipe for pizza dough, but more often I just buy a dough ball from Il Vicino Pizzeria.

1 package active dry yeast
1 t. sugar
2/3 C warm water
1 2/3 C. all-purpose flour
3/4 t. salt
2 t. oil

Combine the yeast, sugar and warm water and let stand until foamy, about 10 minutes. Mix the flour and salt in a food processor or bowl. Add yeast mixture and mix thoroughly (or process for 45 seconds, until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl). Add oil and knead or process for about a minute. If the dough sticks to the sides of the bowl, add more flour. Roll out to about 12 inches on a floured surface. Place on a lightly oiled pizza pan.

1 T. olive oil
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
6 fresh figs, quartered
1/4 C. fresh goat cheese
2 T. fresh basil, sliced into ribbons
1-2 T. balsamic vinegar
A few grinds of black pepper

Brush the olive oil on the pizza dough, then sprinkle the garlic over it. Arrange the figs on the dough, drop little bits of goat cheese all over, sprinkle the basil and balsamic vinegar over everything. Top with a few grinds of black pepper, and salt if desired. Bake at 450F for 20 minutes, or until crust is golden-brown.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Fresh Blueberry Pie

It's blueberry season, although not here (they just can't grow in our alkaline soil). This is the one time of year that they're not hideously expensive, so I always go crazy and buy them by the pound!

This pie is absolutely sublime. It always seems like such a shame to cook fresh blueberries when they are so crisp and perfect the way they are. So this pie uses just a little glaze to coat the berries without ruining their fresh taste.

3 cups blueberries
3/4 cup water
1 Tbs butter
1 cup (or maybe less) sugar
3 Tbs cornstarch
A dash of salt
1 Tbs lemon juice
1 baked pie crust, cooled

Combine 1 cup blueberries with the water, and boil gently for 4 minutes. Mix the sugar and cornstarch thoroughly, and add gradually to the berries over low heat, stirring briskly. Add the butter and salt, and continue cooking until thick and glossy. Remove from heat and add lemon. Allow this mixture to cool slightly, then very gently stir in the remaining blueberries and pour into the pie shell. Serve chilled or at room temperature with whipped cream.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Verdolagas and Tomatillos Stewed with Pork

I've always wanted to try this dish, and with the abundance of verdolagas (purslane) in our yard this week, I finally got around to it. It is fantastically delicious, even if it's not the prettiest. The recipe is really simple, although it does take a while. Tomatillos seem to be hard to find at regular supermarkets, but they are cheap and abundant at Mexican (or other international) grocers. They are also insanely easy to grow!

2 1/2 lbs pork spare ribs
2 Tbs olive oil
2 lbs tomatillos, husks removed
2 lbs verdolagas, coarsely chopped
4 cloves garlic
1 white onion
1 tsp chipotle (or dried green chile, or 1 chopped jalapeno or serrano)

Boil the pork ribs in 2 quarts of water with 2 cloves of garlic, half the onion, and the chile, for about 2 hours, until they are tender. Remove the ribs and skim or strain the broth. In a large skillet, heat the oil and brown the ribs on all sides. Boil the tomatillos in the broth for about 10 minutes until they are tender, then puree them in a blender with the rest of the onion and garlic. Add the puree to the skillet and cook until it is thickened somewhat. Add the pork and the tomatillo paste back into the broth and simmer, uncovered, until the meat is falling off the bone, about 30 minutes. Add the verdolagas and cook until they are tender, 5 to 10 minutes more.

Savory Purslane and Feta Pies

My latest recipe for

Think spinach is good for you? Try purslane! It contains more omega-3 fatty acids (normally found mostly in fish and flax seeds) than any other leafy vegetable. It is high in vitamin A, C and B, as well as magnesium, calcium, potassium and iron. Just one of the many kinds wild greens gathered in Greece, Turkey and Lebanon, purslane is sauteed with garlic and olive oil, chopped up in yogurt, baked into pies like spanakopita, or served as a salad. In Russia, its tangy, fleshy leaves add a little zing to potato salads. Known in Mexico as verdolagas, it is often stewed with pork and tomatillos. Purslane by many names is eaten all over the world, from France to Asia. You can find it at many farmers' markets, and if you don't see it, just ask a farmer if they might be able to bring some next week, because... guess what? It's one of the world's most common weeds, and there may even be some growing in your own yard!

I was out in my garden pulling weeds last week and came in with a healthy armload of purslane - I couldn't let this great stuff go to waste! These tasty little pies are sort of a cross between Greek spanakopita and Lebanese purslane pies, made with what I happened to have on hand. Lemon thyme, which I just planted this year, adds a wonderful floral note, but regular thyme would be great too. I am very lazy when it comes to baked goods, so I just used store-bought pie crust to contain the delicious filling.

6 oz. purslane with tender stems, well washed and torn into 1-2 inch bits
1 medium red onion, finely diced
3/4 cup feta
1/4 cup pine nuts or chopped almonds, toasted
3 T. olive oil
6 sprigs of thyme (or lemon thyme)
Juice of half a lemon
1 t. salt
freshly ground pepper
2 pie crusts

Mix all ingredients in a bowl. Roll out pie crusts and cut each one in half. Pile filling on one side of each half and fold over to seal (makes four pies). Bake at 450F for 15-20 minutes, until the crust is nicely browned.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Roasted Zucchini and Onions with Harissa

Well, we're heading into zucchini season, and it's time to start looking for recipes to jazz up this often-overabundant vegetable. Harissa is a fabulous blend of spices used in Moroccan cooking, which also happen to be easy to find here in NM. It tastes great on pretty much everything! Last week I made this amazing Carrot, Feta and Mint salad with it, so I thought I'd better try it out on zucchini.

For the harissa:
1/4 cup New Mexico red chile powder or caribe
1/4 cup boiling water
2 cloves garlic
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1/4 cup olive oil

Soak the chile in the water to soften it. Mix all ingredients to make a smooth paste.

Slice zucchini and onions into strips or chunks, and toss with olive oil and salt. Roast in a 400F oven for 25-30 minutes (or toss them on the grill for a few minutes) until they are tender and develop nice brown spots. If you want to do this quicker, you could also just saute them, but the idea is to get the onions very soft and sweet. Very gently, mix in about 1 tablespoon harissa to evenly coat the veggies.