Monday, September 27, 2010

Dry Okra Curry

This was my first favorite way to eat okra (now I usually just grill it). It reminds me of the okra curry I ate once in Fiji - possibly the first time I ever ate okra, in fact. The key is to fry the okra until it's no longer slimy.

I was on my way back from studying abroad in Perth, and I had the chance to stop over in Fiji, but I'd never been there and had no idea what to do. I started asking people about what it was like there, and an Indian friend said his mother had a friend who lived there! I called her from the airport in Nadi, not wanting to impose, but curious to see if I could meet her... and she immediately said "you can stay with us, when are you coming?" So I got on the bus to Suva, took a cab to her house, and was there by dinnertime. Amazing.  I was really only there for a day or two, because I only had five days in Fiji, and I went to two other islands before heading home. We went shopping, saw a Hindi movie, and had this okra dish along with a tasty goat curry for lunch. It made quite an impression.

2 Tbs oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 lb okra, cut into 1/2 inch chunks
1/2 medium onion, diced
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp ground ciriander
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp lemon juice

Heat the oil in a wide skillet on medium-high heat. When hot, add the cumin seeds and fry until lightly browned, about 10 seconds. Turn the heat down to medium and add the okra and onions, spreading them out in an even layer. Fry, stirring occasionally, for 15-20 minutes, until the pieces are browned and the okra has lost its sliminess. Add the spices and lemon juice and cook another 5 minutes, stirring gently. Serve hot, with rice and perhaps some dal, or a meat dish.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Watermelon Curry

Here's an unusual recipe for one last end-of-summer hurrah! You can still find watermelons at the growers' markets right now, and the ones in my garden are just getting ripe - this yellow variety is called Desert King.

I got this recipe from the Albuquerque Journal several years ago, but it comes from Rajasthan, and was originally published in The Great Curries of India, by Camellia Panjabi. It's hard to categorize – it could be an appetizer, a salad, a dessert a side dish, or even a main dish, because it is actually quite filling. It's sweet and refreshing, but watch out - when the watermelon juice runs down the back of your throat, it's spicy! You'll be addicted before you know it.

About 10 cups cubed watermelon (one small watermelon, like a Sugar Baby)
1/8 t. paprika
1/8 t. turmeric
1/2 t. ground coriander seed
1/2 t. salt
1 garlic clove, crushed/pureed
1 t. ground red chile or cayenne
Juice of one lime
1/2 T. sugar
2 t. oil
1/4 t. cumin seeds

After cutting the watermelon, pour the juice from the bottom of the bowl into a cup. Add the paprika, turmeric, coriander, salt, garlic, chile, lime juice and sugar to the watermelon juice. Heat the oil in a skillet over high heat and fry the cumin seeds until they begin to brown, about 20 seconds. Turn the heat to medium, add the juice, and simmer until the liquid is reduced by about half. Add the watermelon pieces, turning to coat them evenly with the syrup, and cook 3-4 more minutes, until heated through.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Antipodean Food Tour 2010

Ok, so here's my food-focused vacation slideshow from our recent trip New Zealand (and a little bit of Australia)!  I only wish we could have made it all the way out to Perth to see Peta.

Since meat pies and fish 'n' chips are about all that come to many people's minds when they think about cuisine from the land down under, you might be wondering - what would the veggie-obsessed find? Actually, they have an amazing range of Asian food that we don't often see in the US, and even everyday cookbooks there have more Asian and Middle Eastern influence than typical American cookbooks. I bought an awesome New Zealand Vegetable Cookbook!

Our first stop was Melbourne, to visit Dave's college friend, Ann. We spent a few days just wandering around the neighborhoods, checking out art galleries and restaurants in all the crazy laneways of the downtown area. We had an amazing lunch at Gingerboy, the more casual and affordable of two restaurants owned by celebrity chef Teage Ezard. The "upscale street hawker" menu included such delicacies as Crispy Chili Salt Cuttlefish with Lemon and Sesame, Soy-Cured Ocean Trout with Turmeric Coconut Caramel, Fried Whole Baby Snapper with Hot and Sour Banana Flower Salad,
and Bangalow Pork Belly with Salted Prawn and Fennel Salad. 

A trip to the grocery store was fun - we checked out the selection of Greek yogurt (mmm, so thick and creamy), Devonshire cream, passionfruits - which are just coming into season...

and "Mexican food." Sadly, Mexicans have yet to conquer the Southern Hemisphere, although one of the most popular restaurants in Melbourne right now is a Mexican place called Mamasita, run by a New York-educated Aussie.

We also visited the famous Queen Victoria Market to revel in the glorious array of produce, meat and fish - I've never seen such huge cabbages and fennel!  Lemon myrtle-flavored macadamia nuts were one of the highlights.

Dave was brave enough to try driving on the left, so we could see some cool Aussie critters at the Healesville Sanctuary in the Upper Yarra Valley. On the way, we had a fantastic lunch and saw some great contemporary art at the TarraWarra Estate.  I can't wait to try recreating the Chestnut Linguini with Wild Mushroom Sauce, Jerusalem Artichoke Crisps and Pecorino, and this incredible Duck, Pinot and Prune Pie with Radicchio and Blood Orange Salad.

On the way out of Melbourne, we had some of the best airport food I've ever encountered - a Tandoori Chicken Pie, washed down with a Victoria Bitter and a Little Creatures Pale Ale.

Next, we visited New Mexico peeps Andy and Jordan in Auckland for some hiking, boating, and city funtimes. Within one block of their place, dining options included curry, sushi, Peking duck (at the excellently titled Love A Duck Restaurant), and Tokyo Ramen...

For a weekend adventure, we headed up to the Northland, a rural, agricultural area with miles of gorgeous coast on both sides, and a balmy subtropical climate. All kinds of citrus trees were fruiting everywhere, including some very odd-looking ones:

We took a cruise around the Bay of Islands (unfortunately no dolphins) and out to Russell, once known as "the hell-hole of the Pacific" for its abundance of whorehouses and shady dealings. We shared a kilo of New Zealand green-lipped mussels, before taking the ferry back to Paihia. Then we went out for a second dinner in Kerikeri, at The Black Olive, an upscale pizza place with such funky toppings as kumara (New Zealand sweet potato), pumpkin, banana, and roasted peach chutney!

On the way home, we accidentally stumbled upon New Zealand's oldest building, the Stone Store. And just up the way, we had a fabulous lunch on the beautiful garden patio of FOOD at Wharepuke. The spinach-ricotta gnocchi and locally caught fish and chips were absolutely perfect. The Lemongrass Panna Cotta with Stewed Tamarillo was spectacular.

We'd never heard of a tamarillo before, so we asked about it, and she brought us a plate of them to try!  It's a subtropical fruit, also called the "tree tomato" that's not commonly seen anywhere except New Zealand, and probably South America, where they originated.

They taste kind of like a combination of kiwifruit and tomato - odd, but good! They're dessertlike with sugar sprinkled on them, but I think they would be great as a sweet/savory sauce for meat.

The final leg of our journey was a visit to Wellington, where my college friend Ken lives with his wife (a Kiwi!) and 18-month old son. We had a wonderful time wandering around the waterfront, visiting the amazing Te Papa museum, and shopping on Cuba street. The pastry case at Fidel's was irresistible - the raspberry-custard brioche was amazing with a long black (down-under coffee lingo for an Americano), and a lovely fresh lemon and ginger tea.

Luckily for us, the first annual Wellington on a Plate festival was going on while we were there, with fine dining restaurants all over the city offering specials. We had some perfectly-cooked local fish at Ortega's Fish Shack, and on our way home from visiting Ken's bache (Kiwi for holiday house) we stopped at Bar Salute in Greytown for some tasty treats. The Moroccan lamb soup was delicious, the blue cheese pizza was great, as were the lemon fritters with pomegranate molasses, but the real showstopper was the Moroccan cabbage and chorizo slaw with blackcurrant and lemon dressing.

All in all, it was a pretty amazing food tour of the Southern Hemisphere!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Plum Torte

The plums are ripe. I've been waiting three years for our Green Gage plum tree to produce its first crop - and it finally does so, while we are on vacation. Ha!

It's hard to find good plums these days. In the grocery store, they're usually watery and bland, with very sour/bitter skins. Even at the farmers' market, I've bought beautiful tiny red plums that just aren't that sweet. But these, ooooh, they are perfect. Rich and sweet, with just enough tartness.

I've been trying to re-create this plum pie/cake that I had once, a long time ago, in the first university laboratory I ever worked in, right after high school. This wonderful professor took our whole group backpacking (even the foreign students, who had probably never done anything like that in their lives!) And she made this plum pie that I never forgot, with small oval Italian prune-type plums from the tree in her backyard. It was amazing. And I finally discovered that it was simply this, the New York Times plum torte recipe that has been published every year since 1983.

1 cup flour
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
12 plums, cut in half
2 tsp sugar
1 tsp cinnamon (optional)

Preheat oven to 350F. Mix flour, salt and baking powder thoroughly. In another bowl, cream butter and sugar together. Stir in the eggs, then the flour mixture. Grease and flour a pie plate, then spread batter in the bottom. Arrange plum halves on top in a single layer. Sprinkle with sugar, and cinnamon if desired. Bake 50 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Sweet Frying Peppers

At the farmers' market this week, Jesse Daves of Amyo Farms had a gorgeous array of all kinds of sweet peppers. I bought some tiny green Shishito peppers for the first time - they are Japanese frying peppers, sweet and sometimes ever so slightly hot. Jesse's instructions were simply to toss the whole peppers into hot oil and fry them until they blister and brown, then sprinkle them with sea salt. They are heavenly as a simple appetizer or perhaps with some cold somen noodles as a light summer meal.

Every year I look forward to buying Amyo's beautiful “Jimmy Nardello” frying peppers - I've never seen them anywhere else. An heirloom variety, they are long, red and incredibly sweet.
The best way to eat these peppers is simply to fry them up and eat them on crusty baguettes, maybe with some fresh Italian sausages.

2 T. olive oil
1 C. water
2 fresh Italian sausages
One dozen Jimmy Nardello peppers
Half an onion
1 long baguette

Put sausages in a skillet with oil and water. Cook on medium heat 5-10 minutes, until the sausages look somewhat cooked on the bottom, then turn them over. Continue cooking until the water is evaporated and the sausages are browned. Meanwhile, slice off the tops of the peppers, then slice lengthwise down the middle and remove the seeds. Cut the peppers and onion into thin strips. Remove the sausages from the oil and fry the onions and peppers together on medium heat until the onion is caramelized and the peppers are lightly browned. Slice each sausage in half, cut the baguette in four pieces, and make four delicious sandwiches.

So if you live in Albuquerque, check out Amyo Farms - they are at the Downtown and Nob Hill Growers' Markets, and possibly others. And if you've been thinking about joining a CSA, they've just started one, so ask them about it!

Also published on

Monday, September 6, 2010

Simplest Eggplant Sauce, with Homemade Sundried Tomatoes

Eggplants abound at the farmers' markets this month – giant Black Beauties and fat Rosa Biancas, as well as the small, slender Asian varieties. Many of us are confused about the best way to cook this mysterious and beautiful vegetable. Here's the perfect recipe to start with, if you're afraid of eggplant - it brings out the silky texture and nutty flavor without much fuss.

One question I've often pondered is: To salt or not to salt? Some say salt removes bitterness by causing the cells to release water, which brings the bitter compounds with it. Some say it does nothing. Others say “female” eggplants are bitter while “male” ones are not. Well, after some research, I came to the following conclusions: There are no female or male eggplants. Most eggplants sold today are not bitter – if in doubt, just ask the farmer who sold it to you. If the eggplant is very bitter, salting will only help if you leave it to drain for a very long time (like 2-3 hours). However, salt can help balance bitter flavors, tricking your tastebuds into not noticing the bitterness as much. Most importantly, salting does play an important role in how the eggplant cooks. The salt causes the cells to collapse, releasing some of the water and air trapped inside. This helps to keep the eggplant from absorbing so much oil when you cook it (although once it is cooked, it will release the oil again).

This sauce may not win any beauty contests, but it is truly delicious. The recipe comes from the fabulous Francis Lam on, and it doesn't matter if you salt the eggplant, because the oil is an important part of the sauce. The delicate, nutty flavor and silky texture of the eggplant are only enhanced by sun-dried tomatoes and fresh herbs. I've even included instructions for making your own sun-dried tomatoes, since it's tomato season and our climate is perfect for it.

3 cloves garlic
1/3 C. olive oil
1 large eggplant
2 sprigs thyme
1 C. chicken or vegetable stock
1 t. salt
2 T. sun-dried tomatoes, coarsely chopped
A handful of fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced

½ pound pasta

Smash the garlic cloves with the side of a knife, and set them in a wide skillet with the olive oil over low heat. Cut the eggplant into half-inch cubes, and add it to the skillet, turning it rapidly to coat the pieces with oil. Strip the leaves from the thyme and add them to the eggplant. Cook on medium-high heat until the eggplant is turning translucent and starting to brown. Meanwhile, start boiling the water for the pasta, and cook as directed on the package. Add stock and simmer until the eggplant is very tender and most of the liquid is absorbed. Add the salt, sun-dried tomatoes, and basil, adjusting the salt as needed.

Make Your Own Sun-Dried Tomatoes!

Slice tomatoes ¼ inch thick, or just slice cherry tomatoes in half. Brush a baking dish lightly with olive oil, lay the tomato slices on it (individually, so they don't overlap) and sprinkle them with salt. Cover with cheesecloth or a clean piece of window screen, and set in full sun on a hot day. Turn the tomatoes over halfway through the day, and continue drying until they are leathery. This takes at least a full day - you may even need to bring them in at night and put them out the next day. Even easier, set the baking dish in a 200ยบ oven for 2 hours, then turn tomatoes over and check every 15 minutes until they are done.

Also published on


I've been on vacation for two weeks (more about that to come), but in the time we've been gone, the harvest season has come into full swing. There is so much wonderful produce in my garden and at the farmers' market that I'm bursting with recipes to post on the blog!

One of my favorite summer/fall dishes is panzanella, or bread salad. I know it sounds weird, but all I can say is, it's good. Just try it.  It's the simplest thing in the world, but it's only good if you use the freshest, ripest, juiciest tomatoes right off the vine. Don't use Roma-type tomatoes, because they're not juicy enough – they are paste tomatoes, meant for making sauces. And don't refrigerate tomatoes – it ruins the texture.

My tomato plants got a late start this year, so they're just now starting to produce, and the first ones ready are Rio Grande, a Roma-type that does really well in our climate - they have a dry texture just like a Roma, but they're much bigger! We're still waiting for our heirlooms to really get going - I think we've got a German Green or a Black Krim out there. One of them got the curly top virus, but I can't remember which - probably the Black Krim, because we always seem to have trouble with it, but it's our favorite. But we've been buying all kinds of juicy heirloom varieties at the farmers' market - I got a giant yellow Pineapple tomato this week from Jesse at Amyo Farms, some beautiful pink Ponderosas from Seth at Vida Verde a few weeks ago, and some fabulous deep red Beefsteaks from a couple of gals who came to the market for just a few weeks to sell nothing but tomatoes!

1 pound perfectly ripe tomatoes
2 C. diced stale bread (¾ inch chunks)
3 Tbs best-quality olive oil
1-2 Tbs balsamic or red wine vinegar
1 clove garlic, minced (optional)
2 Tbs chopped sweet onion
2 Tbs thinly sliced fresh basil
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Dice the tomatoes and put them in a bowl, with all their juice. Gently but thoroughly, mix in all the rest of the ingredients. The bread should soak up the tomato juice, oil and vinegar and become mostly soft, but it's nice if it still has a little bit of crunch. Let it sit for a few minutes to allow the flavors to mingle, and enjoy!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Grilled Okra

My okra plants are going crazy! So much so, that when we went on vacation for the last two weeks, I had to ask a friend to come over and pick the okra every other day while we were gone. Otherwise it gets huge and woody, and the plant stops producing because it feels it has done its job of producing seeds for next year. Okra grows unbelievably well here in our hot summers. Give it a reasonable amount of water and you'll have more okra than you know what to do with, before you know it! It's hard to find good okra at the grocery store, but it's easy to find it at the farmers' markets from now until frost.

One of my favorite things to do with okra, which I learned from some random stranger at the farmers' market a couple years ago, is just throw it on the grill. This cooking method really minimizes the sliminess that makes many people shy away from okra.

1 pound okra
2 T. olive oil
1/2 t. salt

Toss the okra with the olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Set on the hottest part of the grill and cook until it blisters and browns. Turn and cook until browned on the other side. Or, if you don't feel like firing up the grill, you can always roast it in the oven. Roast the okra on a baking sheet for 10-15 minutes at 450F, then flip and continue roasting until both sides are browned.

Here's a quick shot of my garden (in the front yard) - the okra is in the back, huge tomato plants in the front, and you can even see a couple pomegranates on the tree on the right!