Friday, June 28, 2013

Beet Soup with Smoked Trout

June is an oddly slow time in the garden; it's gotten too hot for many lovely spring things, and the heat-loving summer vegetables aren't ready yet. Beets are one of the vegetables that fill the gap. This simple beet soup tastes great cold, on a hot day. I don't like to turn my oven on in the summer, so this is just the kind of recipe I like. If you've never tried smoking trout before, I highly recommend it! If you're not ready to smoke your own fish, I've seen smoked trout at La Montanita Co-Op recently.

This recipe is adapted from one in Barton Seaver's wonderful cookbook For Cod and Country, which features seasonal recipes for all kinds of sustainable fish and seafood. If you're a fisherman, you probably already know that fish have a season, just as vegetables do. I'd never thought much about it except knowing that different kinds of salmon run at different times of the year.

Hot-smoking a small fish is a great way to try your hand at the technique. If you really wanted to preserve fish for the winter, the method would be a bit more complicated, but a lightly-smoked fish to be eaten right away is a quick project. It's just as easy as grilling, using either a gas or charcoal grill. One of my favorite woods for smoking is mulberry - it's a fruit wood, and easy to find! Any type of fruit or nut wood will do, but hickory might be a bit too strong for fish. We just cut a few green twigs right off the tree, but dry twigs or chips work too. Brining the fish keeps it moist while cooking, and creates a sticky surface for the smoke to adhere to.

1 small trout, filleted (skin on preferred)
2 T. brown sugar
2 T. kosher salt
1/2 pound red beets
1/2 pound golden beets or carrots
1 large leek or small onion

1 t. salt
1/4 t. pepper
Dried or fresh dill for garnish
Sour cream for garnish
Sherry vinegar for drizzling

Place fillets in a large resealable plastic bag. Dissolve sugar and salt in 2 cups of water, and add to the bag. Marinate for an hour or so while you make the soup.

Chop the beets and onions coarsely. Combine them in a large stockpot with 4 cups water, salt, pepper, and bay leaf. Bring to a boil the reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes, until the vegetables are very tender. Puree with a hand blender, or in batches in a regular blender. Adjust seasoning as desired. Chill until ready to serve.

Pat the fish dry and leave uncovered in the refrigerator for another half hour while you fire up the grill.

If using charcoal, get a small pile of coals going on one side and place twigs at the edges of the pile. For gas, wrap twigs in a foil packet with holes poked in the top, and place directly onto the burner. Turn on high heat (use only one side if possible) just until the twigs begin to smoke, then turn the heat down so they don't ignite.

When the fish is ready, place it skin-side down, away from the fire for indirect heat. Close the lid and partially close all vents to keep the wood smoldering. For a gas grill, turn down the heat. The temperature inside the grill should be about 200-250°F. Cook fish to an internal temperature of 140°F, about 20-30 minutes.

Serve bowls of soup garnished with chunks of smoked trout, sour cream, dill, and a drizzle of sherry vinegar.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Garden Journal - the Midsummer Update

~the good~

Cucumber blossoms!! This is the first time I've really tried seriously to grow pickling cucumbers - very important because making pickles is becoming a much-anticipated end of summer event.

How many plants can you identify in this picture? I just can't resist letting volunteers grow wherever they come up. The beans, sunflowers, and cucumbers I planted - but look! A volunteer tomato plant, some very healthy purslane, and a hollyhock are there in the middle. I know they will compete for space later, but they are such a gift, I can't say no.
Stepping back a bit, you can see the plan. I have a re-mesh trellis for the Red Noodle beans at the back, Moulin Rouge sunflowers in the middle, and cucumbers at the front. On the left are Maximillian Sunflowers, a great perennial type of sunflower that blooms only in October! And a nasty Siberian elm in the back right. Not sure how I'm going to get that out of there, maybe just wait until winter to dig it out. All silhouetted against our beautiful new fence! The old one was literally falling down.

The Texas Hill Country Red okra I got from the Edible Santa Fe - Native Seeds/SEARCH sale is going strong.

I planted several different varieties this year, including Red Spray, Emerald, and the old standby, Clemson Spineless. Also, there are tons of volunteer zinnias coming up all over this bed!

My herb garden is finally in good shape, with proper irrigation to each plant. I suppose it's hard to really see here, but clockwise from the top left I've got mint, horseradish (I know, we'll see how long before they take over), French sorrel in the middle, rosemary, pineapple sage, regular culinary sage in the bottom right, then rue, thyme, yarrow, and on the far left in the middle is this pretty little variegated lemon thyme.

Lavender is in full bloom, growing long and loose in the shade behind the lilac tree.

And lovage, one of my favorite obscure herbs. Finally back in what will hopefully be a good spot, next to the lilac by the new fence. It can grow to be 4-5 feet tall! It's in the celery family, so it has lots of tiny umbelliferous flowers that attract many beneficial insects. It tastes like celery but extra-strong.

My Gram in Illinois used to grow these purple "balloon flowers" - the buds grow with the petals attached together to form this little balloon, then split open to reveal these beautiful flowers. I was always fascinated by them and last year I was surprised to find them at Lowe's. It turns out they are actually some kind of Chinese medicinal herb.
This shrub I've had growing in the front yard for several years is a mystery I finally solved. I bought it at Plants of the Southwest, and completely forgot what it was. So a couple of weeks ago, I went back there and asked somebody, and was surprised to find out it's Aloysia wrightii or possibly Lippia graveolens, one of several plants commonly known as Oreganillo or Mexican Oregano. It has incredibly tiny flowers and leaves, and the whole plant smells wonderful. It also attracts many beneficial insects.

The gooseberry bush in the front yard is fruiting for the first time! There are only a few berries, but I hope this means it's happy.


The fig tree is hanging in there, finally planted in the ground on the south side of the house. I hope it will really take off this summer - it gets about eight gallons of water from a couple of emitters, once a week.

All seven tomato plants have tons of blossoms! This one is called Punta Banda, and it's a paste tomato from Native Seed/SEARCH that's supposed to be really well adapted to hot, dry conditions.

Some of them have even set fruit already - both Nichols, a Native Seeds/SEARCH heirloom cherry tomato from Tucson, and Ace, a more common heirloom variety!

The Navajo Red-Seeded watermelon seems to be doing well.

And the Peñasco cheese squash, another Native Seeds/SEARCH heirloom collected from Peñasco, New Mexico. Let's keep our fingers crossed that it doesn't get squash bugs!

And last but not least... it looks like we will have a decent pomegranate crop this year!! The bush died back to the ground a couple of years ago when we had a record low of -10°F, and this is the first time it has bloomed since then.

~the bad~

The Meyer lemon tree almost died from a nasty infestation of Soft Brown Scale, even though I tried to scrape them off every couple weeks while it was inside over the winter. They are these horrible little insects that latch onto leaves or stems and just live like that, immobile, while steadily sucking the plant's precious bodily fluids!

Now it's outside getting lots of sun and I've been hosing them off each week, so hopefully this summer we'll finally beat it. 
The apple trees have set quite a lot of fruit, but unfortunately I didn't spray for codling moth, so I bet almost all of them will be full of worms.

~the weird~

The bees are doing their thing again in the tree. It makes me nervous that the tree is hollow and could fall down, but it is pretty cool to have the bees there.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

White Gazpacho

Photo by Sergio Salvador
Gazpacho takes many forms, but they are all refreshing on a blazing hot day!

The gazpacho we’re familiar with comes from the Andalusian region of Spain, where the inland cities of Seville and Cordoba have summers as scorching and dry as any in New Mexico. Tomatoes and peppers are a relatively recent addition, only becoming widely accepted a few centuries after Columbus introduced them. (For a more "normal" gazpacho, see my recipe on

Gazpacho actually traces its roots even further back, to an ancient Arab soup brought to Spain by the Moors or perhaps the Romans, which contained just garlic, almonds, bread, olive oil and salt. Be sure to use excellent olive oil and aged sherry vinegar to make it truly great. It’s nice to make the gazpacho the night before, allowing the flavors to mingle.

This is a very basic gazpacho, similar to the ancient Roman version, with the addition of almonds for a gently sweet taste. It can be made any time of the year - only the garnishes depend on the season!

Almond flour might also work instead of grinding whole almonds. You could also blend a handful of white grapes into the soup if you like. It's a wonderful blank canvas for all kinds of delicious seasonal garnishes, such as fresh figs, basil, grapes, baby greens, edible flowers, or anything that strikes your fancy. You could drizzle it with basil-infused olive oil, toasted walnut oil, cumin browned butter, red pepper puree, or even a little red chile sauce. The possibilities are endless.

2 C. cubed dry bread, crusts removed
1 C. almonds
1 garlic clove
1/2 t. salt
2 C. chilled water
1/4 C. fragrant extra virgin olive oil
2 T. sherry vinegar
Freshly ground black pepper

Soak the bread in just enough water to cover. After 5 to 10 minutes, when it is soft, drain and squeeze out most of the water. Combine with almonds, garlic, salt, and 1 cup chilled water in a food processor or blender. Puree until a smooth paste is formed, then drizzle in the olive oil until emulsified. Blend in vinegar and add more water as needed to make the consistency of unwhipped cream.

Add pepper and additional salt and vinegar as desired. If you like your gazpacho silky smooth, puree it once more in a blender at top speed. Chill thoroughly, at least 2 hours, to let the flavors develop. Serve with a big handful of garnish for each bowl. Serves 8.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Shrimp and Cucumber Salad with Spruce Tips

We hiked up to the top of Mt. Taylor last weekend, and I was excited to discover at least two different varieties of spruce tips! I've been working on all kinds of fabulous new ideas for using them.

I was inspired by these gorgeous little "Salt and Pepper" cucumbers we got from East Mountain Organics at the growers' market, and some lovely Gulf shrimp from the Co-Op. Spruce tip mayonnaise needs to be made ahead of time so the flavor can infuse, but if you make extra, I bet it would also be great on BLTs or with artichokes!

1 t. spruce tips
1 T. mayonnaise
1 pound cucumbers
1/2 pound shrimp
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt and pepper to taste

First, make spruce tip mayo. Finely chop, or better yet, grind the spruce tips in a mortar and pestle. Mix with mayonnaise and refrigerate overnight or longer, in an airtight container.

Bring heavily salted water to boil in a medium-size saucepan. Cook the shrimp for just about 2 minutes, until they turn pink and firm. Drain and chill in ice water. Peel and chop into half-inch dice. Chop cucumbers into half-inch dice. Toss all ingredients in a pretty bowl. Serves 2.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Orecchiette with Garlic Scape Pesto and Peppers

Our Turkish Giant garlic, planted last fall, just finished shooting up its twisty green flower stalks, also known as scapes. Only hardneck garlic varieties do this, and you have to cut them so that the plant can put more energy into growing bigger cloves. They can be found at many growers' markets for just a precious few weeks in mid-June, a riot of crazy corkscrew curls that to me embodies the exuberance of spring. The really interesting thing about them is that they taste intensely garlicky when raw, without quite the bite of mature garlic cloves, but when cooked they simply become vegetable-like, with a delicate hint of garlic flavor.

I made a wonderful, creamy pesto that freezes well, so that we can enjoy a taste of this short-lived spring treat later in the year. I used pistachios for an interesting twist, but pinon nuts would be just as good, and both are local crops in NM. If you find the pesto too intense to eat raw, just toss it with hot pasta - it mellows quickly with even the slightest heat. I love it in cold pasta salads, especially since scape season always coincides with our June heat wave! I'm also thinking of trying it with steamed diced beets, in potato salad, in deviled eggs, or stirred into white bean puree.

Last week, we made a great pasta salad with some beautiful orange bell peppers that Skarsgard Farms is getting from their partners in Mexico now. Using just what's in season around here at the same time, you can't go wrong with peas or fava beans, arugula, or maybe even some thinly sliced fennel. See this week's pasta salad with peas and arugula at - we can't get enough!

Garlic Scape Pesto

10 large garlic scapes (about 1/4 pound)
1/3 cup roasted pistachios
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and black pepper to taste
1/3 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (leave out if freezing; just add it later when serving)

Chop or snap the scapes into about 1-inch pieces; blend all ingredients in a food processor. Adjust salt and pepper to taste.

Orecchiette with Garlic Scape Pesto and Peppers

1 pound orecchiette or other small, shapely pasta
1/4 C. Garlic Scape Pesto
2 sweet bell peppers
1/4 C. roasted pistachios

Cook pasta according to package directions. Slice the bell peppers lengthwise into about 6 pieces, then slice crosswise about 1/4 inch thick. For a cold pasta salad, rinse the pasta with cold water until completely cool. (Or you could make it a hot pasta dish) Toss with remaining ingredients and serve!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Mulberry Shrub

Another mulberry recipe? What can I say, I'm in love with mulberries. They are the one berry that thrives in ABQ's hot, dry climate - they're like blackberries, on a tree! 

You can make jam or all kinds of other sweet treats with them, but one of my favorite ways to enjoy them all summer is in a “drinking vinegar” or “shrub”. This is an old-fashioned way to preserve fruit, which is actually very trendy right now! The key here is to use really good vinegar, not white vinegar, or “apple cider flavored” vinegar.

1 cup water
1 cup real apple cider vinegar (such as Bragg's)
1/2 cup white sugar
1 1/2 cups mulberries

Shake all ingredients in an airtight non-metal container, then chill at least 4 hours and up to 1 week. 

Strain out the solids, pressing to get all the juice, and return to the container. This will keep for many months. To serve, just splash some into a tall glass of fizzy water, to taste.

This summer, I plan to try this mixed in cocktails with gin or maybe even whiskey! Of course, vodka is a safe bet, but why be cautious? 

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Mulberry and Anise Hyssop Sorbet

I've been meaning to make a mulberry sorbet for years now, and now finally I'm inspired! I bought some anise hyssop from Marjory (of Sterling Gardens) at the growers' market this weekend. It has a really nice clean, herbal licorice flavor, and I realized it would be great with mulberries. You could also try basil or lemon balm, or any soft herb, if you don't like licorice.

This is actually the easiest sorbet I've ever made - it didn't even require an ice cream maker! This is a great technique for any berry sorbet you might want to make.

2 cups frozen mulberries
1/2 cup sugar
2 T. lime juice
2 sprigs anise hyssop

Put all ingredients into a food processor and blend until smooth. Scoop into a pint container and freeze a few hours or overnight. Serve garnished with anise hyssop.

Note: If you don't have a food processor, you could try a blender but you'd probably have to add a bit of water, which will make the sorbet freeze more solid. A couple of ways to keep it from freezing so hard are to add more sugar, or to use corn syrup instead. Or you could just blend fresh mulberries and then freeze it in an ice cream maker.