Monday, April 29, 2013

Fava Bean Crostini

We have had the most amazing crop of fava beans already this year! We've harvested about a pound each weekend for the past 3 weeks, which is amazing considering about the only other thing even close to ready this early in spring is radishes.

It's a variety called Negreta from Territorial Seed that I planted in the fall, and the plants grew to about 6 inches, then lived through the winter like that. They started growing taller in February and in March already had pods. The beans are just getting big inside now.

My favorite thing to do with them so far is this simple mash on crostini. You just shell the beans, then boil them for a few minutes and chop them roughly and toss them with olive oil and salt. You can also peel off the skin from around each bean, but it's fine to eat, so I just leave it on. Honestly, if you harvest a pound of pods, only 1/4 of the weight is actual beans, so I don't want to throw away any more than I have to!

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Roasted Potatoes with Sumac and Spruce Tips

Roasted potatoes are so simple and good, they make a great canvas for all kinds of things. Such as... two of my favorite foraged treats, sumac and spruce tips!

Spruce tips are the tiny little bundles of bright green new leaves that grow on spruce trees in spring. They have a lovely citrusy flavor, especially if you harvest them in the spring, before they even break out of their papery brown husks. Around here, spruce trees only grow at the very top of the mountain, about 10,000 feet (the Sandias have seven different life zones from the bottom to the top!) Last year I cooked salmon with them, as well as making spruce salt and spruce sugar to use later.

Sumac is a spice commonly used in Middle Eastern cooking, made by grinding the berries of Rhus coriaria, or Tanner's Sumac. We have a different species here called Three-Leaf Sumac, which looks very different, but the berries have a similar tangy flavor. It's also called Lemonade Bush, or Skunkbush Sumac (which I don't understand, because it's really not stinky). It grows in the forest understory on the east side of the Sandias, at about 7000 feet. There's also a fine specimen in the native plant garden at our Natural History Museum for reference. The best time to harvest them is in the summer when the berries mature, but they keep!

Since sumac and spruce tips both have an oddly citrusy flavor, I thought I'd try them together:

1 lb potatoes, cut into 1-inch chunks
2 Tbs olive oil
1 tsp ground sumac berries (you could also just use the Middle Eastern sumac)
1 tsp spruce tip salt (or 1 tsp salt and 1 tsp chopped fresh spruce tips)

Preheat oven to 450F. Bring some water to boil in a 2-quart saucepan, add the potatoes, and cook about 10 minutes, until they are about half-done. There should still be a firm white spot in the middle if you cut one, so that they don't get overdone in the oven.

Drain the potatoes and shake them around in the colander a bit to rough up the outside (this makes for lovely crispy edges once they're roasted). Toss with oil in a rimmed baking sheet or cast iron skillet. Roast for about 40 minutes until they are golden brown, turning once during the cooking. Toss the potatoes with the salt, sumac, and spruce tips immediately after taking them out of the oven, so that the mixture sticks to them. Serves 2.

Huevos Rancheros, NM style

Aahh, huevos rancheros. One of the best breakfasts ever invented. At its best in my backyard with a fresh egg from our darling chickens, fresh pinto beans from Moriarty, and lots of NM green chile. It's so perfect, it doesn't even need cheese.

It's a simple combination of tortillas, beans, with an egg and some kind of chile or salsa on the top, and I can't say I've ever had bad huevos rancheros, but these specific ingredients make it special to me.
  1. I like them with corn tortillas, not flour. 
  2. Fresh pinto beans (they're still dried, it's just that they are this year's crop) really do taste better and cook up faster than the old dried-out ones you buy at grocery stores. I had no idea, until we started buying them from Schwebach Farms. They sell at a few places around town, and at their Moriarty farm.
  3. New Mexico green or red chile. It's a myth that the "best" or only authentic chile comes from Hatch. Great chile comes from all parts of the state. If you can't get fresh or frozen NM green chile, you still have many choices to make great NM-style huevos. You can often buy red chile powder at grocery stores in other parts of the country, and make a sauce from that. If you don't like hot food, you can make a fine green chile sauce from the mild Anaheim chiles that are widely available. In fact, you could actually use the red chile enchilada sauce that is commonly sold in grocery stores, and sometimes they even have green enchilada sauce! This is what my mom used to use to make rolled enchiladas in a big pan, growing up in Seattle (I never knew there was such a thing as flat enchiladas, or green enchilada sauce until I came to NM).
  4. Fresh eggs really do taste better than store-bought ones. I was never an egg-lover until we got our chickens. 
  5. Cheese is optional.
First you'll have to cook the beans, possibly the night before. This takes something like 4 hours in a crockpot on high (or overnight on low) or 30 minutes in a pressure cooker. I think it's a myth that you need to soak them overnight, although that does help them cook faster. Also contrary to popular belief, I think adding salt at the beginning helps them cook more evenly. Garlic and a whole red chile are nice additions.

Then, cook the chile. I chop up one whole onion, 1/2 pound green chile, and add a little chicken broth and salt. Simmer until the onions are very soft. Do NOT add cumin. I believe it is sick and wrong to put cumin in green or red chile sauce. I like it in other contexts, but not here.

Fry the eggs. I think fresh eggs are easier to fry, because their whites hold together better. If you're afraid to flip them, you can always just put the lid on to help the tops cook (just so the whites aren't runny). Or, as the Spanish do, and Dave's mom does, spoon the hot oil over the tops to cook them.

Finally, warm the tortillas directly on the burner. Spoon beans and chile over them, and top with fried eggs. A perfect start to Saturday!