Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Vegetarian Borscht

Another recipe from the Mama files today, to expand the existing collection of eggplant ikra and farmer's cheese.

Today, we take on the classic Russian dish: borscht. This thick, deep-red soup features beets as the primary ingredient. I'll let Mama take it from here:

Before I share the recipe, a few notes.  The quality of beets you use is very important. You want very fresh ones. The ones we used while I visited Anna in Madison were from Harmony Valley, and were really fresh, with the greens still on them.  We also had light, young, crunchy cabbage, which really makes the difference.

For vegetarian borscht, I like to add beans. Kidney or white beans are fine, but former is tastier. Sometimes I also use baby lima beans frozen.

I usually boil the beets separately first, but these were so small that I just threw them in. The more beets the better, as it makes the borscht rich and concentrated. And I didn’t peel the beets, just washed them well, because a lot of pigment is in the skin. If you buy old ones in the store, you have to peel them.

Sometimes I sauté the onion first, but in this case, I just added it directly.

Borscht becomes even tastier after it stands in the fridge for a few days.

Finally, if it’s summer and you’d rather have a cold soup, you can make Cold Summer Borscht. You just boil the grated beets (grate with a food processor if you have one), with some salt, sugar, and a lemon squeezed into it. Boil, and then cool it until cold. Then add diced cucumber, hard boiled eggs, scallions, dill, and sour cream, salt to taste. It should be a few days old, so that it becomes concentrated, almost a sweet and sour soup. Very delicious when it’s hot outside. 

Vegetarian Borscht (for cooler weather)
4-5 beets, unpeeled if very fresh
3 medium potatoes, diced and peeled
2-3 carrots, sliced
1.5 cups kidney beans, pre-cooked (or one can, drained)
1 onion, diced
1 bay leaf
2 tomatoes, chopped
1-2 Tbsp tomato paste or ketchup
1 bunch beet greens, if still attached, washed and roughly chopped
½ head small cabbage, thinly sliced
Dill, garlic, salt, lemon juice, sugar to taste
Sour cream/yogurt (optional)

  1. In a large soup pot, bring 2-3 quarts water to boil. Add whole beets and let cook about 10 minutes. Then, add potatoes and return to boil. When potatoes are about halfway cooked, add carrots and kidney beans.
  2. Once carrots have cooked a few minutes, add the diced onion and the bay leaf. Salt to taste. Lower heat to medium or medium-low.
  3. When the beets are easily pierced with a fork, but still a little hard, remove them from the soup pot, cut them into pieces (grating some, if you’d like a thicker soup), and sauté the cut, cooked beets in a little oil in a separate skillet, to develop the flavor.
  4. To the same sauté pan, add the tomatoes and tomato paste or ketchup and stir to combine. Then, add the beet greens and cabbage. Sauté about five minutes.
  5. Add the contents of the sauté pan to the soup pot, stirring to combine.
  6. Taste the borscht and add any of the following, as needed: dill (fresh chopped or dried), minced fresh garlic, salt, and/or fresh lemon juice.
  7. Just before finishing your borscht, add a half-teaspoon of sugar. Bring it once more to boil and then remove from heat.
  8. Serve with sour cream, yogurt, or however you like. Even tastier in the next few days!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

What should we eat?

Friends: I need your help!

With the semester starting in full force next week, I'm in the middle of preparing for a 1-credit seminar I'll be teaching this fall, to a small group of undergrads who live in the GreenHouse environmental living community.

The class--in five two-hour sessions--will tackle the questions of "how do we decide what to eat?" and "what factors (environmental, sociological, personal) inform this choice?"

So, I'm trying to come up with two lists that will help frame the course. One will be a list of contrasts (eating at home vs. eating at restaurants, cooking from scratch vs. buying processed foods, eating meat vs. not eating meat, and so on). The other will be a list of values that some people consider when deciding what to eat (taste, cost, environmental impact, community, the status quo, etc.).

I'll try to take these lists and create some kind of coherent framework for leading 18- and 19-year olds through the thought processes of making food choices. For each class session, I'd also like to come up with an easy meal we can cook and enjoy together, which highlights some of the contrasts present in the week's theme.

So, what do you think? Can you help me come up with some contrasts and values? What else do you consider when deciding what you eat? What might other folks from different cultural or class backgrounds consider?

Oh, and I'm also looking for reading suggestions! Good, short articles that capture some of these issues?

I'd love your help! And I promise to post the syllabus once it's set to keep up the sharing...

Monday, August 29, 2011

Baked Penne Re-post

Check out my good friend's blog, The New Chef's Journal, to see a post about the Baked Penne with Roasted Vegetables that he and I made while he visited us in Madison last week.

He does a great job of recounting the recipe and our preparation--along with some great photos of us making this easy and versatile dish!

Check it out!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Ultimate Summer Meal

About six months ago, I wrote about our ultimate winter meal, which was full of starchy vegetables and preserved foods. Although we found a way to eat well then, in a reasonably seasonal manner, even in the depth of winter, I am SO HAPPY that it's summer and we can have the color and juiciness and freshness that comes with my favorite season.

So, today, an ultimate summer meal, from a few weeks back. Most of the dishes were made with produce from Harmony Valley Farm, the place that makes it all possible!

Homemade croutons from Batch Bakehouse foccacia; a summer panzanella with those croutons, tomatoes, cucumbers, white beans, and basil; and fresh Sweet Sarah Cantaloupe:

A creamy dill sauce; a plate of pan-roasted potatoes with the dill sauce, fresh corn on the cob with dill sauce, and a pesto eggplant dish; the eggplant on its own:

And the second round of meals that came from these dishes included (1) a pesto-orzo-eggplant salad that I made by combining the pesto eggplant above with orzo pasta, more homemade pesto, and sungold tomatoes from the garden, and (2) a corn-potato-cabbage salad, which I made by combining the roasted potatoes, corn kernels removed from the leftover cobs, and the leftover dill sauce with some sliced up cabbage.

I'm happy to report back with precise recipes, if there are any that anyone wants.

Happy summer!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Finding Fruit

After reading the urban foraging article I wrote about yesterday, I was thinking a lot about the joys of collecting fruit. And then, as is often the case, I discovered that one of my favorite bloggers, Sharon Astyk, had captured these joys as exuberantly and descriptively as I could ever hope to. Read her account here: The Fruit Olympiad

I love how Sharon describes each type of fruit-picking as having its own challenges, and a seasonal variation that ranges from simple (strawberry) to more challenging (cherries) to requiring endurance (blueberries) to being a true battle (fruit with thorns!) to the relatively easy late summer/fall fruits (peaches, apples, pears).

My dad is already finding wild pears and grapes in Atlanta, but we here in Madison have had a relatively fruit-less summer (at least in the literal sense). While last summer we were collecting strawberries and blueberries and raspberries (all cultivated) and foraged apples...

...this summer, all we've managed is some wild mulberries.

I still have hope that fall will bring apple-picking and applesauce-making and maybe even some apple-drying, but all that requires time. 

Where do I find that? What tree does time grow on?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Urban Foraging

Because my family lives in Atlanta, I often think about what it would be like to live there or in the vicinity. And although my vision of it is usually peopled by corporate, SUV-driving types who spend hours in traffic and on their bluetooth devices, I like seeking out more positive representations of that city and its people.

So I was especially excited to see this NYT piece about urban foraging in Atlanta, and about how some folks are making use of the produce growing in the yards of abandoned, foreclosed homes.

Gardens no longer tended, fruit trees left unpicked--all are left hanging with fruit and vegetables, wasted if not for folks who seek to salvage this free and local bounty.

Image from

I also liked the portrayal of the city itself, as one that has organizations like Concrete Jungle, which forages fruit that gets donated to food pantries, and which has built a database of untended fruit and nut trees on commercial and public land. A city vibrant with opportunities to engage with the kinds of things that excite me most, even if those things are not quite as central or visible as they are here in Madison.

Who knows what else in the food/agriculture/community sector may exist in all the many other cities in which we may end up? What exists in yours?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Video: Nut Milk!

You all remember that beautiful and sunny-as-a-summer's-day video about how to make quinoa from My New Roots?

Well, the mastermind behind that one is out with a new video, about how to make nut milk.

So easy! So fun to watch! So light and happy!

Makes me want to go make some nut milk. Right now. I'll report back...

Monday, August 22, 2011

Sungold Tomatoes! Delight!

You want to know the one food I look forward to when summer comes, more than any other?

Hands-down, no-contest: the sungold tomato!  The sugary, glowing, orb of happiness! May its glory live on forever and ever!

Popping these whole into my mouth, warm from the vine, is summer in one bite.

Juicy, compact, with a flavor like no other tomato you've every tasted, oh the sungold tomato!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Dilly Beans

I had never even really heard of "dilly beans" before I came to Madison, but the sour little green beans now seem to pop up all over the place.

So, when my old friend NB--who was visiting from out of town (and whose birthday is today!)--and I saw piles of green beans at the farmer's market, we felt the call of the canned dilly bean. We picked up four pounds of beans, along with a couple bunches of flowering dill heads.

As with my previous canning adventures, we followed the directions for dilled beans from the National Center for Home Food Preservation: see them here.

We made pickling liquid from salt, vinegar, water, and hot pepper flakes, saving the beautiful pickling spice pictured below for the cucumber pickles we made later in the day.

After sterilizing the jars, we put two dill heads and a couple cloves of garlic in each of the hot jars:

And then packed in the washed and trimmed green beans. We found it much easier to get the beans in the jars in an upright fashion when we laid the jars on their sides. Though, as you can see in the photo, we weren't always that careful about keeping the beans upright:

And then after just five minutes of processing (for each pint), we had dilly beans!

On the whole, it's a super simple process, with the washing and trimming of the fresh beans being the most time-consuming part of the job.

Happy Birthday, dearest friend, NB!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Harvest Handouts

Although I've mentioned it a time or two, as one of my favorite parts of Madison summers F. H. King's Harvest Handouts deserves its own post.

I first discovered this joyous program in the summer of 2008, when I was hurriedly walking through the Library Mall on campus, on my way to teach a summer class, hungry and grumpy. But then, right there before my eyes, was a table full of beautiful vegetables with a sign that read "Free!" Free? I said. How could this be?  I didn't stop long to ask questions that time around, but grabbed a few carrots and cucumbers and went joyfully along my way, munching and chomping, happier than a bunny in springtime.

image from

Over the last few years, I've gotten to learn what this was all about, and to enjoy the fruits of F. H. King's labor every Friday, all summer long, from 1-3 (previously in Library Mall, this summer in East Campus Mall).

The F. H. King Student Farm, named after a Wisconsin agricultural scientist of the late nineteenth century, is a fully student-run, two-acre farm on the west side of campus, in the Eagle Heights Community Gardens. They use organic practices and give much of the produce they grow back to the student body. (Eek! I just realized that I wrote up almost this same description of FHK in my blog post about their Spring Kickoff earlier this year. But now that I've written all this, I'll leave it as is...)

So, every Friday, some cool garden intern or volunteer loads up the back of a bike trailer with crates of fresh, local produce and bikes it into main campus, to hand out to eager students and community members!

image from

Last week, there were the first of the season's tomatoes, plus cucumbers, swiss chard out the wazoo, three different kinds of hot peppers, kale, collards, basil and other herbs, carrots, potatoes, zucchini, squash, and probably lots more that I'm now forgetting. Who knows what will be there this week?!
image from

Can you believe all this goodness?  Man, I love Madison.

P.S. Happy Birthday, brother AJZ!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Skillet Enchilada Chilaquiles

One of my summer-time cooking challenges is to use the oven as little as possible, since it heats up the house so much to preheat the oven and have it on for an hour, or however long is needed to bake a dish of this or that.

But because enchiladas are one of our favorite go-to dishes, I decided to try my hand at stove-top enchiladas. I did a bit of googling around, and find an inspirational post or two, like this one at Delectably Yours.

We were low on vegetables and ingredients, so I pulled some corn tortillas, pre-cooked kidney beans, and cooked greens out of the freezer. Then I sauteed up some onions, garlic, a jalapeno, and one big grated carrot. Once those had browned and I had added some cumin and chili powder, I threw in my freezer finds, and voila! Easy enchilada filling.

I warmed the corn tortillas slightly in the microwave, wrapped in a damp towel. I transferred the vegetable filling to a Pyrex dish, and then used the same pan to heat about half the sauce, which I had made by pureeing a can of diced tomatoes and a tablespoon of chipotle in adobo sauce in the food processor. I dipped each tortilla in some of the extra sauce (which I had in another dish to the side of the stove), then wrapped each around a scoop of filling. Once I'd used up my tortillas and my pan was full, I poured the remaining sauce over the top of the enchiladas, put the pan lid on, and let it all steam and cook for about 10 minutes.

These turned out really well--flavorful and comforting. But because corn tortillas are so crumbly, by the time we served our "enchiladas," they were way more like chilaquiles--a mess of tortilla pieces mixed in with sauce, vegetables, and beans. Either way, delicious!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Organic Farmers Sue Monsanto

What wonderful news!

"More than 270,000 organic farmers are taking on corporate agriculture giant Monsanto in a lawsuit filed March 30. Led by the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association, the family farmers are fighting for the right to keep a portion of the world food supply organic—and preemptively protecting themselves from accusations of stealing genetically modified seeds that drift on to their pristine crop fields."

The whole article here: Organic v. Monsanto

Monday, August 15, 2011

Celebrating Birthdays with Food

Last week, my husband JH marked the completion of another journey around the sun. But unfortunately, this year the birthday involved less celebration than is typical, because of a looming project deadline that has kept him almost chained to his desk for the last month.

But, I reasoned, a man's gotta eat. So, the meals of the day became the moments to pause and reflect and make him feel special through food. I think it worked.

The breakfast ingredients: basil and cherry tomatoes picked from our small garden moments before preparation; and eggs from our friend MH and her chickens Phoneix and Big Red.

The resulting breakfast, served on a tray, breakfast-in-bed style: omelets with sauteed onions, basil, and tomato; fresh-baked baguette and focaccia and a bite of salty caramel brownie, all from Batch Bakehouse; and juice and water and the ever-present sriracha.

After a lunch of taco salad and a dinner of Vientiane, our Madison nearest and dearest joined us in a little park off State Street for an event that has alternately been referred to as a "surprise dessert flash mob" and a "30 minute birthday party."

Such a spread of desserts! Cookies, lemon bars, ice cream sandwiches, chocolate zucchini muffins, chocolate chip cookies, zucchini bars, and double-chocolate cookies!

And we ended the day by sharing some smiles, along with a a bottle of JH's first batch of home-brewed beer, courtesy of Mr. Beer! (I'm hoping JH will report back and describe the process here on D&O).

Happy food-filled birthday!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Sweet Potato Fries

Did you guys read about that new nutrition study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in June? Jane Brody offered a good summary of it in the New York Times. The findings weren't all that surprising, but reinforced many of my thoughts on nutrition: the kinds of foods you eat matter more than the sheer number of calories, not all fats are bad for you, exercise is important but not enough on its own, etc.

The study also offered an analysis of specific foods that contribute the most to weight gain: "French fries led the list: Increased consumption of this food alone was linked to an average weight gain of 3.4 pounds in each four-year period."  Whoa. French fries are no good for you.

So, can I still admit that fries, and especially sweet potato fries, are one of my very favorite bad-for-me indulgence foods? Mmmm...the crispy fried outside with the soft warm sweet inside gets me every time.

And my favorite incarnation of all are the sweet potato fries at Alchemy, here in Madison ("Madison, Earth" as the menu reads):

They come piled high on a plate with two dipping sauces. I'm pretty sure the fries have evolved over time, and are cut differently every once in a while. This photo was captured on a night when the fries were very thin and crispy, almost chip-like. I actually prefer them a little fleshier, but was still happy to devour this plate.

But really, the thing that makes these sweet potato fries better than all others is the dipping sauces: tarragon mayo and blackberry-jalapeno jam. Something about the contrast between the sweet salty fries with the spicy fruity jam and the fatty savory mayo creates a combination of flavors that is unbeatable. I crave these fries and sauces on a far too regular basis.

3.4 pounds every four years, you say?

Totally worth it.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Happiest Moment

One of my favorite short short stories:
“If you ask her what is a favorite story she has written, she will hesitate for a long time and then say it may be this story that she read in a book once: an English language teacher in China asked his Chinese student to say what was the happiest moment in his life. The student hesitated for a long time. At last he smiled with embarrassment and said that his wife had once gone to Beijing and eaten duck there, and she often told him about it, and he would have to say the happiest moment of his life was her trip, and the eating of the duck.”

"Happiest Moment" from Lydia Davis's Samuel Johnson is Indignant

I share this piece of fiction today in honor of Justin's birthday. Thank you, JH, for giving me my happiest moments--they are the ones that you share with me (except not usually when eating duck).

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Sometimes all I want to eat... this:

Especially in the summer, little appeals as much as fresh cherry tomatoes from the garden, accompanied by a cucumber and carrot all sliced up straight from the F. H. King student farm on campus, a piece of toasted bread with cheese, a juicy orange, and some fatty walnuts to round it off.

Summer on a plate (or at least one version of it).

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Refrigerator Pickles

Yesterday, I shared my methods for canning pickles, which is relatively easy and yields a delicious, crunchy pickle. But should you not have a good canning set-up, or just don't want to go to the trouble, and you think you'll eat all your pickles within about a month's time, you can just go with a batch of refrigerator pickles instead. No canning needed!

Here I'll share my parents' method of making pickles, but in Megan's comment on yesterday's post, she also referred to the brined pickles she had made from Wild Fermentation. I've heard great things about this book by Sandor Ellix Katz, and encourage you to check it out (I know Megan even found a recipe for homemade cherry ginger soda in this book!)

My mom's method for pickles is super easy:
  1. Collect cucumbers (hers this year came straight from their super-abundant garden)--any size will do, but you'll want to cut them down to uniform size. 
  2. Wash the cucumbers, and remove any bitter ends. 
  3. Find a container for your pickles. My mom sometimes uses a big jar (3 Liter) as pictured above, but she just as often uses a big enamel pot (best if it's non-reactive--avoid copper or aluminum pots). 
  4. Add the herbs and spices to your container. A bay leaf, lots of peeled garlic cloves, lots of fresh dill that has already gone to seed (so that it looks like a big flower--you can see some to the right of the above photo. If you don't have fresh dill, you can substitute dill seed), and some salt.  You can adjust salt later, after adding the water.
  5. Once the flavorings are in, insert your cucumbers vertically into your container. 
  6. Add room-temperature water until all your cucumbers are submerged. At this point, mix it all up a little and taste the water. You want it to be quite salty to the taste (noticeable, but not overpowering). Add salt as needed.
  7. Leave your cucumbers out overnight. They will lose some of their bright green color, and become a little yellower. The cooler your house, the longer you can leave them out before putting them in the refrigerator. But typically, you'll want to refrigerate them after about 24 hours.
  8.  These will last in the fridge for a month or even a month and a half, though they'll of course get more sour the longer they stand there. 
  9. You can also just keep adding fresh cucumbers to the same brine that's already in your fridge, and have any ever-present supply of refrigerator pickles!
Anyone else have good methods for pickles?

Monday, August 8, 2011

Making Pickles, Canning*

Pickles are one of those things that I grew up thinking of as a treat--a sour, salty, cool snack to gnaw on at the public swimming pool (where they were usually served soggy out of a sealed plastic package), or in front of the TV on a summer day.

Only recently, when I started to read more about the history of food preservation did it occur to me how functional and necessary pickles (and all their pickled brethren) might be. In earlier times, when there was no refrigeration, the only way to have green and crunchy things in the winter, alongside all those starchy storage vegetables that could last through the cold season--was to pack vegetables and fruits in as much salt or sugar or vinegar as possible, to keep the spoilage at bay.

So pickles weren't always the frivolous treat I once imagined them to be. They served a crucial function--seasonally, nutritionally, culinarily. And these days, when we're trying to eat more locally, home-canned pickles (and pickled corn relish!) serve as really nice contrasts to the heavy potatoes and celeriac and turnips. Something bright and fresh-tasting!

Last year, the pickles we made were from cucumbers bought by the bushel at the farmer's market. I mostly followed the guidelines set by the National Center for Home Food Preservation, opting for the slightly more labor-intensive Low-Temperature Pasteurization Treatment (which cooks the cucumber at slightly lower and harder-to-maintain temperatures) because it promised a crunchier pickle. And it delivered!

Of course, you can make pickles without canning them, by just relying on the salt and/or vinegar to keep them preserved in the refrigerator for at least a few weeks. Tomorrow, I'll write about my mom's method for making pickles without canning, so stop back by for more pickled goodness!

From the National Center for Home Food Preservation

8 lbs of 3- to 5-inch pickling cucumbers
2 gals water
1¼ cups canning or pickling salt
1½ qts vinegar (5 percent)
¼ cup sugar
2 quarts water
2 tbsp whole mixed pickling spice
about 3 tbsp whole mustard seed (2 tsp to 1 tsp per pint jar)
4½ tbsp dill seed (1 tbsp to 1½ tsp per pint jar)
about 14 heads of fresh dill (3 heads to 1½ heads per pint jar)

Yield: 7 to 9 pints

  1. Please read Using Boiling Water Canners before beginning. If this is your first time canning, it is recommended that you read Principles of Home Canning.
  2. Procedure: Wash cucumbers. Cut 1/16-inch slice off blossom end and discard, but leave ¼-inch of stem attached. Dissolve ¾ cup salt in 2 gals water. Pour over cucumbers and let stand 12 hours. Drain.
  3. Combine vinegar, ½ cup salt, sugar and 2 quarts water. Add mixed pickling spices tied in a clean white cloth. [I didn't do this extra step, and just left the pickling spices in throughout the canning process. That seems not to have affected anything.] Heat to boiling. 
  4. Fill jars with cucumbers. Add 1 tsp mustard seed and 1½ heads fresh dill or dill seed per pint. 
  5. Cover with boiling pickling solution, leaving ½-inch headspace. Adjust lids and process according to the low- temperature pasteurization treatment (LTPT). 
  6. The LTPT results in a better texture but must be carefully managed to avoid possible spoilage. Place jars in a canner filled half way with warm (120º to 140º F) water. Then, add hot water to a level 1 inch above jars. Heat the water enough to maintain 180º to 185º F water temperature for 30 minutes. Check with a candy or jelly thermometer to be certain that the water temperature is at least 180ºF during the entire 30 minutes. Temperatures higher than 185ºF may cause unnecessary softening of pickles. 
  7. Remove jars from hot water, let them cool overnight, and you have canned pickles, good to eat at your leisure for up to a year (and probably longer)!

*A post for SMF, to help her figure out what to do with all those cucumbers popping off the vines.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Fresh Corn Salad

Part IV of "What to do with your CSA box?"

Summer corn!

Although the standard treatment for summer corn is to throw it on the grill, I actually most want to eat it cool and juicy and crunchy, straight from the cob, with no cooking at all.

Raw corn kernels go especially well with...hmm, what have we got in the fridge?  Some leftover basmati rice? A little cilantro on the verge of wilting? Some pre-cooked kidney beans in the freezer? Perfect!

Fresh Corn Salad

4 cobs corn, kernels cut off with a sharp knife
1.5 cups cooked kidney beans
1 bunch cilantro, chopped roughly
3/4 cup cooked [basmati] rice
1/2 small onion, minced
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 Tbsp light olive oil
2 Tbsp hot sauce or salsa
salt to taste

Combine all ingredients (in whatever proportions you have--these amounts are just guidelines) in a salad bowl, mix, and season to taste. That's it!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Italian Eggplant Salad

Part III of "What to do with my CSA box?"

I've found that eggplant is one of those vegetables that can be either outstanding or lackluster, depending on its preparation (and especially how long it's cooked).

As I wrote about before, my favorite eggplant dish (and the only eggplant dish I was familiar with) growing up, with my Mama's Eggplant Ikra, which blended eggplant up into a creamy spread with tomatoes, sauteed onions, and other goodies.

So, when I saw a beautiful, shiny purple eggplant in the CSA box this week, I wanted to do something similar, but Italian-style, so that I could make use of the rich harvest of basil in our garden these days.

Because the Enchanted Broccoli Forest had been such a win when it came to the Pickled Potato Salad, I once again turned to Mollie Katzen's wisdom to see what she had to offer.

And what did I find, but an Italian Eggplant Salad!

I made a few modifications, but mostly stuck with her guidelines, which produced a rich, delicious vegetable combo, which was good at room temperature as a salad, but which I think would also be good hot over pasta, or as a sandwich spread, or in so many other ways! Let me know what you end up doing with it...

Italian Eggplant Salad

1 medium eggplant
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, minced
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 green bell pepper, diced
1/2 pint home-canned tomatoes, with juice
2-3 Tbsp ketchup (or tomato paste)
4 Tbsp minced fresh basil (or 4 tsp dried)
2 Tbsp minced fresh parsley
freshly ground black pepper

  1. If your eggplant is fresh and the skin is still taut, don't peel it! Cut it into 1/2 inch cubes, and saute these in a little bit of oil in a medium pan until they start to soften and collapse, adding a little water if needed to keep things moist and to prevent sticking.
  2. Meanwhile, in another pan, heat the olive oil on medium heat. Add the onion, garlic and salt and saute for about 5 minutes. Add the bell pepper and tomatoes, and saute for another five minutes. Chop the tomatoes up roughly with your spatula. (Mollie Katzen uses 3 fresh tomatoes where I used jarred.  If you do this, she recommends coring, peeling, and seeding the tomatoes before adding them--but I can't imagine that this extra step would make that much of a difference, would it?)
  3. Once eggplant is soft, add it to the onions and tomatoes, and stir to combine. Add all the remaining ingredients and mix well.  Add seasonings to taste. 
  4. Eat!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Pickled Potato Salad

Part II of "What to do with your CSA box?"

Beautiful round new potatoes in summer time make me think of potato salad.

But lately, the kind of potato salad I've been craving leans more toward fresh herbs and bright acidic accents than towards the usual heavy mayo treatment.

And so, I decided to try out a version of Mollie Katzen's Dill Pickle Potatoes from The Enchanted Broccoli Forest, one of my favorite cookbooks. She pairs potatoes with pickles and lots of pickle juice, which first seems like it'll be overkill or too liquidy, but ends up being just right. And because we still have a couple jars of home-canned pickles(and pickle juice!) from last summer that we were looking to use up before making more pickles from this summer's cucumbers, this salad was perfect for us.

Pickled Potato Salad
adapted from Mollie Katzen's The Enchanted Broccoli Forest

  10 small new potatoes
1 cup diced onions
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1 large carrot, peeled and cut in thin rounds
1/2 green pepper, diced
3 large whole dill pickles, chopped
1 cup of dill pickle juice (straight from the jar)
~1 tsp of salt
fresh black pepper
cayenne pepper to taste

  1. Scrub the potatoes, unpeeled, and cut into 1" chunks. 
  2. Place potatoes into a large pot of water, bring to boil, and then lower the heat and cook until potatoes are soft to the bite (but not too soft!). Drain.
  3. Meanwhile, saute onions and garlic in a couple tablespoons of oil until begin to soften.  Add the carrots and peppers, along with a little salt, and cook until tender. 
  4. Combine potatoes and sauteed vegetables with remaining ingredients in a large bowl. 
  5. Ideally, let potato salad cool and marinate for at least an hour before serving, so that the pickle juice mixes with the potato starches and thickens up.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Freezing Greens

Part I of "What to do with your CSA box?"

Every summer, there is an overwhelming load of greens all around. I feel crowded in on all sides by the collards and kale and spinach and swiss chard...

But then the winter comes, and all I see is a wasteland of starchy root vegetables with nothing green in sight. (except for Snug Haven's delicious, but pricy, overwintered spinach).

So, my solution?

Use the magic of food preservation to store those extra greens until winter.

But because I don't have a pressure canner, and because--no matter what Popeye says--canned spinach doesn't sound all that appetizing to me,* freezing is my food preservation method of choice for greens.

So, this particular go-round, I prepped my collards and amaranth and mustard greens (and beet greens, which aren't pictured) for freezing. In this case, I guess I should be discussing "freezing greens and purples," since I was treating the beautiful magenta amaranth leaves as a kind of green. Although the amaranth leaves need to be cooked, you can basically treat them like a mature spinach and substitute them into any recipe that calls for spinach or other greens.

Blanching the greens before freezing is recommended because "blanching slows or stops the action of enzymes which cause loss of flavor, color and texture. Blanching cleanses the surface of dirt and organisms, brightens the color and helps retard loss of vitamins. Blanching also wilts or softens vegetables and makes them easier to pack." (From the National Center for Home Food Preservation)

After washing my greens thoroughly, I separated the leaves from the stems. I did this because the stems need a little longer to cook than the leaves, and I wanted them to all be evenly cooked at the end. I diced the stems, and chopped the leaves into 1-2" squares. My method of chopping the leaves is to stack them atop one another (in stacks at least 5 leaves tall) and then make slices from top to bottom, and then from side to side.

Then, I brought a big pot of water to boil, and submerged all the chopped leaves in the boiling water. I brought the water back to boil and let it cook for about 3 minutes. Meanwhile, I steamed the chopped stems in another pot, for about 5-10 minutes, until mostly soft. I could've just boiled the stems in one large pot, and then thrown the leaves in after a few minutes, but I wasn't sure if I'd need to use the water over again (if there were so many greens that they demanded more than one round), and didn't want to have to go fishing out the little stem pieces with tongs (the leaves are somewhat easier to extract this way):

After boiling the greens and steaming the stems, I submerged all of it into a huge metal bowl filled with ice water. This stopped the cooking and cooled the greens off sufficiently so that I could bag them and put them in the freezer without using up all the energy of the freezer to cool them.  I used the same method for bagging that I used for beans after pressure-canning: put one serving in old bread bags that I've saved, then roll up each of these and combine them all in one large ziploc freezer bag. 

And into the freezer they went, to be unearthed next winter!

We'll use these greens for all kinds of things--tossing a batch into chilis, stews, lasagnas, enchiladas, etc. adds some much-need nutrition, color, and flavor during the cold winter months.

Any questions or suggestions?

*Ever wondered why the spinach Popeye is always eating is canned, rather than fresh?! You'll have to read my dissertation to find out...

Monday, August 1, 2011

What to do with CSA box?

We got a helluva CSA box from Harmony Valley this week.

A box overflowing with:

Green Top Carrots!
Patty Pan Squash and Zucchini!
Gold Potatoes!
Sweet Spanish Onions!
Green Top Beets!
Sweet Corn!
Green Bell Pepper!
Thai Basil!
Green Beans!

In addition to all that, I got more (free!) vegetables--collard greens, kale, mustard greens, salad greens, more cucumbers, yellow string beans, a hot pepper, cabbage-- from the student farm stand on campus.*

So what was I to do with all this bounty?

I'll give you a sneak peek of what I did end up doing:

This week, I'll be detailing what I did with a first round of cooking and eating my way through this overflowing goodness. So, be sure to stop back by to learn about processing and freezing greens, making pickled potato salad, Italian eggplant salad, and fresh corn salad.  And let me know if you have any questions!

* If you're in Madison this summer, be sure to check out F. H. King's Harvest Handouts in East Campus Mall every Friday from 1-3, for loads of free, local, organic vegetables, grown by student farmers. Perhaps a blog post on this coming soon....