Anyone who grew up in the South has some kind of fried chicken memory. Or maybe no particular, specific single event at all, because fried chicken is so ubiquitous. But it is one of the many food topics a true Southerner can weave a yarn around. Fried chicken a simple weekend supper, first choice for a picnic or dinner on the ground, someone’s favorite special occasion meal. Fried Chicken is served at big, noisy, sloppy family gatherings, packed into the car for road trips, served at summer camp, or for small Sunday after church lunches. That’s where I ate most of my fried chicken growing up.
Julia Child had dinner at my house when I was a kid. You may be wondering how this fits into a story about fried chicken, so here it goes. Julia and Paul Child were in Memphis raising funds for Planned Parenthood and my parents were selected to host a dinner party for the Childs and select guests (that is to say potential donors). People were scrambling for the opportunity to participate – to wash Julia’s plate, or serve Paul a drink.
The various committee members met to discuss plans and to decide, what exactly does one serve Julia Child at party? Ideas about hiring the chefs from the best restaurant in town to prepare a gourmet meal, or caterers to cook a menu made up of the fanciest ingredients available in Memphis were discussed. But my mom put out that maybe Julia gets that all the time, so why don’t we serve her something unique, that she might only be served in Memphis. So a caterer who specialized in Southern family weddings was brought in to prepare the classic Southern meal – collards, grits, biscuits and fried chicken. All the influential muckety-mucks invited to write checks filled their plates over and over again, thrilled to be served their favorite foods rather than the precious, overblown “gourmet” stuff they expected. Both Julia and Paul were noticed returning to the buffet for seconds. I must have been eight or nine, but I remember her, so tall and jovial. I still use the signed copy of The French Cook my mother gave me then.
Nowadays, like many things, most people have given up on frying their own chicken. There are so many places to buy it ready-fried, and some of them are not half-bad. From the Colonel to local joints, to grocery stores and even Wal-Mart, more often than not if you get fried chicken, it came from someplace else. I have it on authority that many a hostess has carefully arranged fried chicken on a nice napkin in a lovely basket then thrown the bucket in the neighbor’s garbage can. People will drive miles for a famous chicken joint, or pick it up just around the corner. The big iron skillet of chicken bubbling away in hot grease is just a memory for many people, something a grandmother or beloved housekeeper used to do. At the mention of frying chicken now, I hear people groan or sigh – it’s so messy, frying makes the house smell, all that grease all over the range. Yes, grease splatters. Yes, the smell of that grease tends to linger, but homemade, cooked-with-love fried chicken is such a special, special offering that everyone should have the opportunity to dig into a juicy, crispy piece at least once. It may not make you abandon the bought chicken forever, but it will create your own Fried Chicken memory.
I have watched and read and practiced and learned over the years to become a pretty good chicken fryer. I have my not so good batches every once in awhile, but that hasn’t put me off. It’s a fine meal that is always appreciated.
So here are my tips for some chicken fried love.
First, you must marinate the chicken in buttermilk so the meat is moist and tender.
You have to season the chicken well. I use an old method of making a chicken shake – my own seasoning blend that I mix up in batches and sprinkle on the chicken before flouring.
The grease needs to start hot and stay hot. And it should be shortening, maybe with some bacon grease thrown in. The chicken needs to be left alone with the grease to come to an understanding.
For the Chicken Shake:
This makes much more than is needed for one batch of chicken but will store in airtight container. It is also a great seasoning for hamburgers or for any chicken – grilled or oven-fried – that you make.
4 tablespoons sweet paprika
4 tablespoons kosher salt
4 teaspoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons ground black pepper
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Measure all the spices into a small bowl and whisk to combine. Store in an airtight jar, preferably one with a shaker top.
For the Chicken:
Feel free to cut up the chicken yourself, though I always get the folks at the store to do it for me. You can fry as many batches of chicken as you want, just clean out any bits from the grease, add more shortening and bring the grease back up to temperature
1 whole cut up fryer chicken, eight pieces of chicken
2 – 3 cups buttermilk
Several shakes of hot sauce
Place the chicken parts in a large ziptop bag (or two). Pour over the buttermilk to cover the chicken completely. Shake in some good hot sauce and lightly shake the bag around to cover all the chicken pieces and distribute the hot sauce. Place the bag on a tray or plate to catch any spills and refrigerate overnight.
A couple of hours before you are ready to fry, take the chicken out of the fridge and place the pieces on a rack over a sheet pan. Sprinkle both sides of the chicken liberally with the chicken shake. Be very generous. Let the chicken sit so it begins to come closer to room temperature. Shortly before frying, scoop a generous amount of flour into a paper sack or a plastic bag. Place each chicken piece in the flour and shake it around to coat it with flour. Get in there with your hands to sprinkle and press flour onto all the crevices and parts of the chicken. Pick up each piece and shake off any loose flour and place back on the rack. Flour all the chicken pieces.
Scoop the shortening into a large, high-sided cast iron skillet set over medium high heat. Allow the shortening to melt and the hot grease to heat to 325 degrees F. Increase the heat under the skillet slightly, then add the chicken pieces. Put the thighs in the middle of the pan and the breasts and the legs around the outside. Fry the chicken until golden brown on the first side, about 12 minutes before you even think about turning it over. Check a few times to make sure the oil is still around 325 degrees F., and adjust the heat accordingly. Flip the chicken – it should be easy to do with no resistance or sticking. If not, leave it another minute or so. Cook on the second side for another 12 minutes without moving. The chicken should be crispy and brown and cooked through – that’s 170 degrees F., internal temperature. Remove the cooked chicken to a clean rack set over a pan to drain. Do not use the same one you had the raw chicken on unless it has been thoroughly cleaned
Serve hot, at room temperature or cold.
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This past weekend, I had the pleasure of escaping with my husband to the most charming little place in the Catskills. We’d gone to celebrate the first wedding anniversary of my husband’s beautiful sister at the location she and her husband eloped to last August. Dear old friends, family, and new friends gathered at The Roxbury Motel for a truly blissful weekend.
This place is a polished gem with so many facets that you can’t help but gasp as you view each new angle. It’s hard to put into words and pictures don’t do it justice. It’s just magical. Every space on the property has been tended to with the same special care a momma gives her baby. You can feel the love in every unique little detail. During our time there, we encountered a family with two small children, a group of four women celebrating a bachelorette weekend, a couple on a romantic getaway, and a pair of outdoor sports enthusiasts. Oddly, The Roxbury Motel provides the perfect accommodations for each of these occasions. It’s definitely a special place.
My husband and I stayed in the room which is called ‘Maria’s Curtains’…as in the Maria from "The Sound of Music" and the curtains she used to create play clothes for the von Trapp children. Our room was swimming in the curtain’s pattern, from the bedding to the hand stenciling which crossed from the walls to the ceiling, to the custom tiling around the massive soaking tub. The lamps were made of brown paper packages tied up with strings. And two fantastically tiny, bright copper kettles sat on a small corner table. I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t spend half of the weekend singing "My Favorite Things" in my ridiculously out-of-tune voice.
We stayed up too late laughing with friends, old and new. We had massages. We soaked in the spa’s hot tub. And we dined at an amazing little restaurant, called the Peekamoose. The Peekamoose prides itself on its use of locally grown, seasonal ingredients with a menu which changes based on the day’s freshest available foods. Their execution is flawless in every way. I enjoyed a peppery arugula salad tossed in a light vinaigrette with fresh peaches, chevre, and toasted pine nuts, followed by tender goat cheese gnocchi and then the most decadent slow-cooked braised short ribs in a truffled bordelaise sauce. It was an amazing meal.
My husband enjoyed the same selections, with the exception of the first course. For his first course, he selected the chilled watermelon gazpacho. (I stole a taste, of course.) And when we arrived back home to find a box full of the most beautiful, perfectly ripe mangos on my doorstep (courtesy of the National Mango Board), I was instantly inspired. Mango gazpacho.
Traditionally, gazpacho is a chilled tomato-based soup accented with cucumbers, onion, and peppers. But, inspired by the sweet and savory watermelon gazpacho at Peekamoose and the box full of gorgeous mangos on my doorstep, I came up with this refreshing (and quite mangolicious) variation.
Mangos are just so perfectly versatile. They’re sweet, smooth, and bursting with fiber and vitamin C. Everyone in our family loves their flavor and I always feel good about feeding my family fresh, nutritious foods. When selecting mangos, focus more on the feel of the fruit, than the color. A ripe mango will feel slightly soft, like a peach. If your mangos are not quite ripe, store them on your countertop for a few days. Placing them in a brown paper bag can help speed the ripening process. Once they are ripe, you can store them in the fridge for up to five days. For a photo guide on how to cut mangos, check out my mango guide HERE or stop by www.mango.org for more tips and delicious mango recipes.
This smooth, chilled soup makes a refreshing first course during a summer meal or an eager partner to a nice fresh salad. Sweet mango provides the main flavor base, combined with a bit of creamy Greek yogurt and vegetable broth. Fresh cucumber, added to both the soup and the garnish lends a cool, crisp flavor. We tend to like things spicy around here, but you can easily adjust the spiciness to your family’s liking by increasing or decreasing the cayenne and jalapeño pepper in the recipe.
Chilled Mango Cucumber Gazpacho
4-5 large mangos, skin and pit removed, cut into chunks*
1 (6-ounce) container plain Greek yogurt
1 (15-ounce) can vegetable broth
2-1/2 teaspoons lemon juice
3-inch segment seedless cucumber, peeled and chopped
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (plus more if desired)
For the garnish
6-inch segment of seedless cucumber, finely diced
1 jalapeño pepper, ribs and seeds removed, finely diced
1 shallot, finely diced
1 teaspoon lime juice
Basil oil, optional
Place the mango chunks in a blender. Blend until smooth. (You should have about 3-1/2 cups of mango puree.) Add the cucumber, vegetable broth, lemon juice, and yogurt. Blend until smooth. Add salt and cayenne pepper, as desired. Refrigerate until chilled.
For the garnish, combine the cucumber, jalapeño pepper, and shallot with the lime juice. Refrigerate until serving.
For the optional basil oil, blend about 1/2 cup fresh basil leaves with abut 1/4 cup of olive oil, then strain through a fine sieve or a piece of cheesecloth to remove large chunks of basil.
Related post on The Gourmand Mom: How to dice a mango
In celebration of the 100th anniversary of Julia Child’s birth on Aug. 15, PBS.org is inviting bloggers to cook one of her recipes, post it, and share the link on Facebook and Twitter with the hashtag #CookForJulia. Here is Blue Kitchen's contribution.
Each generation stands on the shoulders of the one before it. Our children use our experience and our knowledge as a foundation to see further than we can. To see things in a way that we can’t.
The same is true in cooking. In looking at some of Julia Child’s cookbooks, it’s easy to see them as a little old-fashioned, right down to the recipes. Chicken Marengo. Ham Steaks with Cream and Mushrooms. But home cooking is only where it is today because we stood on her shoulders.
We’ve cooked many things either from one of her cookbooks or in some way inspired by her cooking. Usually, we’ve relied on her seminal "Mastering the Art of French Cooking." For this recipe, though, I turned to "The Way to Cook."
First published in 1989, "The Way to Cook" isn’t just a collection of recipes – it does what the title promises, demonstrating a number of basic cooking techniques via master recipes. Julia then offers variations on the basic recipes and encourages readers to experiment with their own ideas. It’s not a French cookbook, but French technique is at the heart of the way Julia cooked, and it flows through the recipes here. And that’s fine with me. As much as Marion and I enjoy exploring the many cuisines in the world – both in restaurants and in our own kitchen – I am always struck by how the French unerringly choose just the right mix of ingredients and combine them with the perfect techniques to create not culinary fireworks, but something subtle, complex and sublime.
The book being 23 years old now, some of the recipes do feel a little dated. But some – like this one for a delicate, tarragon-seasoned fish stew – are timeless. As I began cooking it, sweating leeks, carrots, celery and onion in butter, the kitchen (and gradually, the entire apartment) filled with heavenly, French-accented aromas.
Regular readers here know that my recipes tend to fall into the quick and easy category. Real ingredients and real cooking, but dishes that more often than not, come together pretty quickly. And even those that require long cooking usually don’t call for much hands-on time in the kitchen.
This recipe is easy. No single step is in any way difficult or daunting. But there are lots of them, at least compared to my usual approach. From the time I started prepping vegetables until I ladled the finished stew into bowls, I was actively doing something. And as with just about all French cooking, every step, every ingredient is necessary. The very last ingredient in it is an egg yolk blended into sour cream. Even though I had already prepped it, I was skeptical that it was needed. The stew was smelling delicious already. But as I adjusted the seasonings as the recipe called for at this point – ”Carefully taste and correct seasonings” is how Julia put it – it wasn’t quite right. The egg yolk and sour cream brought it all together. The sour cream gave it a tangy richness; the egg yolk added a silky texture to the sauce. Now it was ready.
Fish Stew with White Wine and Tarragon
Serves 2 generously as dinner, 3 as a light lunch
Julia made this with sole and charmingly called it Sole Food Stew. I couldn’t get fresh sole and substituted halibut. Any firm-fleshed, mild white fish will work.
1 medium tomato
1 carrot, peeled and sliced
1 leek, white and pale green parts only, halved lengthwise and sliced
1 celery stalk, preferably with leaves, sliced (leaves chopped)
1 medium onion, sliced
1-1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 generous teaspoon chopped fresh tarragon leaves (or 1/2 teaspoon dried)
1-1/4 cup chardonnay, plus 1 tablespoon (or other dry white wine)
3/4 cup chicken broth (preferably unsalted – see Kitchen Notes)
1/2 cup water
salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 tablespoon cornstarch
1/2 pound halibut sliced into bite-sized pieces
1 egg yolk
1/2 cup sour cream (I used Breakstone reduced fat)
Blanch the tomato. Drop tomato into a medium pot of water to a boil. After 10 seconds, remove with a strainer and set aside to cool. You need the tomato near the end of the recipe, so during a break in the action, core and peel it, scoop out the seeds using your fingers and gently squeeze out any liquid from the tomato. Then dice the tomato; you should have about 3/4 cup.
Melt butter in a large, heavy pot or Dutch oven over low to medium flame. Add carrot, leek, celery and onion and toss to coat with butter. Cover pot and sweat vegetables for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Do not allow to brown; reduce heat if necessary.
Add tarragon, 1-1/4 cup wine, broth and water. Season with salt and pepper and simmer uncovered for 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Combine cornstarch and remaining tablespoon of white wine in a small bowl, stirring until cornstarch is completely dissolved. Slowly drizzle 1/2 cup of heated broth/wine mixture into cornstarch and wine, stirring constantly to keep it from forming clumps. Blend back into pot and simmer over low heat for 2 minutes. Fold in fish and tomato and bring to a simmer. Taste and adjust seasonings.
Meanwhile, mix egg yolk and sour cream in a medium bowl. Slowly drizzle 1/2 cup of heated broth/wine mixture into it, stirring to combine. Gently fold into pot. Ladle stew into shallow soup plates and serve with a crusty bread.
Choose your chicken broth. Store-bought broth options have been improving greatly. You can now pick from organic, free range, low fat, fat-free or several combinations thereof. But until recently, your sodium choices were full salt bomb or reduced sodium (which was still pretty salty). Now, though, unsalted broth is showing up on supermarkets shelves everywhere. This is the best option, giving you complete control of the amount of salt in dishes. Of course, if you make your own chicken stock, that’s even better.
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Do you have a case of mid-summer tomato lust? Symptoms include: grabbing every bumpy, multicolored heirloom tomato you can get your hands on at the farmer’s market, engaging in long, earnest debates about the best methods of growing tomatoes in the garden (I am of the give-them-a-trellis-then-let-them-ramble school of thought), making entire meals out of sliced tomatoes, and those in the grip of a really serious case can be found burying their face in their tomato vines at dusk and breathing deep lung-fulls of that incomparable scent. Certain people may have even, upon occasion, rubbed tomato leaves on their wrists like perfume.
It’s a brief madness – just a summer romance, passing harmlessly away by fall.
I’ve been slow roasting tomatoes in olive oil. Cooked this way, their flavor is deepened and intensified. Swimming in a luxurious bath of olive oil, the deeply red tomatoes bring you nearly all the way to a finished pasta dish.
However, they are equally good simply layered on a big slice of crusty sourdough bread and topped with a few shavings of sharp white cheese. Breathe in the garlicky perfume before taking your first bite. Then lean over so your plate can catch the inevitable drips of olive oil instead of your lap. Lick your fingers with abandon.
Tomatoes can be messy. But they are worth it.
(adapted from Bon Appetit)
1/2 cup olive oil
1-1/2 pounds heirloom tomatoes, any combination
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons Italian parsley, chopped fine
Preheat oven to 250 degrees F. Cut tomatoes in half and remove pulp. Pour half of the olive oil into a 12x9x2-inch baking dish. Place tomatoes in single layer in baking dish, cut side up. Drizzle with remaining oil, then sprinkle with herbs, sugar and salt. Bake for one hour, then turn tomatoes over with tongs. Bake for another hour and turn again. Continue baking until soft – approximately 15-30 more minutes.
Place a single layer of tomatoes in a glass bowl, sprinkle with half the garlic and parsley, then repeat with second layer. Cover with the reserved oil from baking dish.
At this point, either marinate tomatoes for a few hours at room temperature before serving, or cover and refrigerate for up to a week.
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Back in what feels like another lifetime, I was a second grade teacher. One portion of our daily routine included an activity we called Writers’ Workshop. It was a time of the day devoted towards writing, where my students could work independently or collaboratively on various forms of written expression. While they worked, I’d meet with individual students to help walk them through the editing process, while weaving lessons about writing technique, language, and grammar into our little discussions. Some students worked on personal narratives, others on poetry, and others on persuasive writing.
And then there was the group of boys who’d formed a rock band and spent their time during writers’ workshop writing song lyrics. Now, this rock band was no casual arrangement. Though not a one of them played a musical instrument, they took the idea of their band quite seriously. These boys waited all day to work on their writing. They put careful thought into their choice of words and worked cooperatively to fine tune their performance. I was feeling like a pretty awesome teacher for being able to get my students so actively engaged in the writing process and so motivated to develop their writing skills. And that’s right about went things went sour with the band.
You see, Diego kicked Joshua out of the band. It had something to do with not fully committing to his dance moves. Seriously. Joshua was crushed. Willis tried to remain neutral, but it was clear that he was also unimpressed by Joshua’s moves. I intervened and brought peace back to the band long enough for them to perform the song they’d been working so hard at.
It went something like this:
Oh, when am I gonna be a man?
I wanna be a man!
I’m gonna get a wallet.
I’m gonna go to the gym.
Ooo, when am I gonna be a man?
It was a type of rap song, and was very revealing about a second grader’s perspective on what makes a man: gym memberships and wallets, of course.
I was reminded of this memory when I walked into my living room to find my 5-year-old giving my 3-year-old lessons on how to be a man. They were as serious about these lessons as my former students were about their rock band. The lessons involved such behaviors as hopping on one foot, not crying, and toasting blueberry waffles. All very important man behaviors.
The kids and I went to the grocery store to pick up fresh strawberries and bananas for this Strawberry Banana Bread. This recipe is the result of not one, not two, not three, but four attempts. (We’ve been eating a lot of banana bread around here). Every batch was delicious in its own right. But, it wasn’t until the fourth batch that I nailed what I’d been trying to accomplish.
Doesn’t seem like making a loaf of strawberry banana bread should be such an issue, right? But here’s the problem: when baked, strawberries become undesirably mushy. So, in my first attempt, I tried incorporating freeze-dried strawberries to conquer the mushy dilemma. The result was acceptable. The freeze-dried strawberries rehydrated during baking, but there wasn’t enough strawberry flavor throughout the loaf. So, on attempts two and three, I made a strawberry glaze, which I attempted to swirl throughout the loaf using two different techniques. But, the banana bread was too dense to produce my intended result. Both of those loaves came out fantastically sweet and moist with a lovely caramelized crust, but I still wasn’t satisfied.
On my final attempt, I had the epiphany that I could purée fresh strawberries to replace all of the water and part of the vegetable oil in my normal banana bread recipe. This had the double effect of dispersing the sweet strawberry flavor throughout the bread as well as slightly lightening the recipe. Chopped dried strawberries lend additional strawberry flavor and a nice variety of texture to the loaf.
Strawberries and bananas are a classic flavor combination. And they’ve never been better combined than in this twist on banana bread. This is more than just a banana bread with a few strawberries mixed in. This bread pays equal homage to both the strawberries and the bananas. Definitely worth the four attempts it took to come around to this recipe!
Strawberry Banana Bread
1-3/4 cup flour
1 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup puréed strawberries
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 cup mashed ripe bananas
3/4 cup dried strawberries, chopped
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a loaf pan with baking spray.
In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Add the vegetable oil, pureed strawberries, vanilla, and eggs. Stir until well combined. Add the mashed banana and dried strawberries. Stir until well blended. Pour the banana bread mixture into the prepared pan.
Bake for 60-70 minutes.
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I'm always a bit skeptical whenever a recipe has a superlative in the title. We all have different tastes and someone's idea of the perfect or "best ever" cookie may not match someone else's. There's no one right set of taste buds.
That said, this really was an extremely good chocolate chip cookie. It didn't spread too much, the edges were crisp but not overly so, the texture of the cookie was chewy and stupendous and overall, I really liked it. It wasn't too sweet either, although I have a high tolerance for sugar. This is exactly the type of cookie with a great taste and texture that I like.
I also stacked the odds in its favor and instead of chocolate chips, I cut up a large milk chocolate bar my parents had brought me from Switzerland last year. I kept that chocolate block for months without even being tempted to open it, so it seemed like a good idea to use it for cookies. And it was.
"Best Ever" Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies
From Kelsey's Apple A Day
3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk chocolate chunks (or you can use milk chocolate chips or semisweet chips)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream together butter and sugars until fluffy and light in color. Add egg and vanilla and blend in.
Mix in flour, cornstarch, baking soda, and salt. Stir in chocolate chunks.
Using a standard-sized cookie scoop or tablespoon, drop dough onto a prepared baking sheet. Bake for 8-10 minutes until barely golden brown around the edges. (The tops will not brown, but do not cook longer than 10 minutes.)
Let cool on the sheet on a wire rack for five minutes. Remove from baking sheet and let cool completely.
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“You are going where?” This was the response I got when I told various friends and family that my boyfriend and I were going to take a one-day adventure from San Diego to Tijuana, Mexico. I admit that with the Mexican drug war at full bloom I had some trepidation about crossing the border – even if it was just a short drive from downtown San Diego.
But we were going on a Monday morning in May. While I don’t have a lot of experience with Mexico, Thomas, on the other hand, speaks Spanish and has traveled extensively in Central and South America. Despite the fact that he lives so close to the Mexican border he had never been to Tijuana, probably much in the same way that I’ve never actually walked the full extent of the Freedom Trail in downtown Boston. It’s just too close to qualify as an actual adventure – until you have out of town guests.
So off we went. After a 20 minute drive, we parked the car, got out, and walked across the border.
Seeing that it was a Monday morning, Tijuana’s streets were deserted of tourist throngs. While it was nice not to push through crowds, other than the locals going about their daily business, we attracted a lot of attention on nearly every street corner by shopkeepers. “Hey, senorita! Come in and see what I have!” (Not today, thanks.)
Being the only tourists for blocks on end got tiring. So after I posed for a photo in front of the restaurant where Cesar salad was invented, we were ready for a snack. A food cart appeared like an oasis of calm and order on the busy street. Its bright canopy and trim green-and-white gingham tablecloth held rows of inviting, fresh fruit in plastic cups. In the back, were elegant “straws” of fresh, raw coconut. Thomas focused in on those right away and bought us a cup to share.
The straws were expertly carved, sweet and crunchy with a hint of citrus and heat. We asked the vendors how they seasoned the coconut. The answer was three simple ingredients: lime juice, chili pepper, and salt. A perfect snack for our amble through Tijuana.
Back home in New England, when the temperature began to climb above 90 degrees F., this summer, I thought it would be a good time to recreate that Tijuana coconut treat.
I found a whole coconut at the grocery store but was quickly stumped on how to open the thing. Some instructions on its orange net casing said to use “an ice pick” to open the seam.
An ice pick? I even tried to watch a Gourmet Food magazine video demonstrating how to open a coconut, but that was no help either.
After a go with my Ryobi drill, I gave up on that coconut.
Then I stopped by Whole Foods, because sometimes they sell raw coconut alongside their prepared fruit. There was none on the shelf that day but a very helpful Produce Guy said “we have a hammer,” and took a whole coconut “out back.”
He returned in about 15 minutes with fresh coconut pieces. They certainly weren’t the elegantly carved straws that we enjoyed in Tijuana, but just as sweet and crunchy.
The next time you want a sweet (and nutrient rich) snack on a hot day, try this Tijuana treat. I used cayenne pepper and kosher salt because I like the crunch. I also added the zest of the lime for added color and flavor.
1 coconut, cut into strips or pieces (whatever you can manage)
Juice plus zest of one lime
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 pinches kosher salt
Combine all ingredients in a bowl and serve in a small glass, or refrigerate and serve chilled.
Having cooked lentils in my fridge has become a time management tool of mine. It allows me to put salads, soups and side dishes together in minutes. With lentils on hand, I can put super healthy meals together in less time than it takes to go through the drive thru.
For grilled peach, lentil, and parsley salad if you choose not to grill the peaches or toast the hazelnuts, this salad comes together in less than five minutes and is delicious. If you choose to grill the peaches and toast the hazelnuts on the grill, it’s still a fabulously nutritious meal that not only impresses but comes together in less than 15 minutes. Not bad, right?
Need more flexibility? Don’t like peaches? Use nectarines or oranges. Don’t like hazelnuts? Leave them out or sub in another nut or seed? Don’t do dairy? No big deal. Just leave it out. Don’t cheer for lentils? That’s OK, white beans would be an easy sub in. Don’t have parsley on hand? Try it with spinach or arugula. The options are endless.
Grilled Peach, Lentil and Parsley Salad
Ingredients are per person, multiply accordingly.
1 cup cooked Puy or French Lentils
1 cup flat leaf parsley
2 tablespoon crumbled goat cheese
Heat the grill to 450-500 degrees F. Cut the peach in half and remove the pit. Brush the peach with oil and oil the grill (this is optional, but the grill marks won’t work out as well if you don’t).
While the peaches are grilling, put the hazelnuts on a foil pie plate and toast them on the grill (approximately 3-5 minutes, but also optional). Place the parsley on the plate.
Mix the lentils with the salad dressing. Season the lentils with salt and pepper to taste. Add the lentils on top of the parsley, sprinkle with goat cheese and hazelnuts.
Remove the peach from the grill. Slice the peach and arrange on top of the salad. Garnish with flowering lemon thyme (optional if you want to be fancy and all).
For the lentils:
Place 1 cup of French or Puy lentils with 3 cups of water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until tender, 22-25 minutes (makes appx 2 to 2-1/2 cups). If you’re really new to whole foods and cooking beans or lentils from scratch still seems like a bit of a stretch, you can start by buying them in a can.
Mix the oil, apple cider vinegar and honey together until honey has dissolved. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
For the chipotle oil:
In a small pan over low heat, gently warm the 1/2 cup of olive oil and one dried chipotle pepper, cut into 4 pieces. Be careful not to heat the olive oil too much, hot to the touch is what we’re after, but no hotter. Remove from the heat source and allow the chilies to soak in the oil. Taste the oil and adjust the spiciness by adding more oil if it’s too hot. If it’s not hot enough, return to the stove and warm it up one more time. The flavor will develop the longer it sits.
For the salad dressing:
1/2 tablespoon chipotle oil (or regular olive oil)
1/2 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1/2 tablespoon honey (raw is best)
salt and pepper to taste
Related post on: Beyond the Peel
While I was living in a town in eastern Kazakhstan, my next-door neighbor would invite me over to chat in her small, mostly sky-blue tiled Soviet-styled kitchen as she chopped and pounded and scraped and sloshed together all manner of exotic ingredients.
Whatever meal she was preparing would generally last her the week. Her wizened hands effortlessly moved from one task to the next as I sat there using up my limited Russian vocabulary, asking her questions and trying to follow along as she described what she was doing.
Her summer specialty was a Russian chilled dill soup, perfect for Kazakhstan’s sweltering summers, made from kefir (fermented mare's milk), cucumbers, and radishes. It was one of the few dishes she made that was meat-free, and I felt fortunate to have been introduced to it through this neighbor. Though she thought it was strange that I was a vegetarian, she was my guide on nonmeat foods to try.
When I saw that The New Middle Eastern Vegetarian: Modern Recipes from Veggiestan by Sally Butcher had a version of the Russian inspired shorba (Arabic for soup) I was both reminded of my neighbor guide, and eager to dive in on recipes from an area of the world, such as Kazakhstan, that I hadn’t previously considered veggie friendly. In fact, I learned, despite the traditional meat on kabobs, meat is used mostly for flavor or for special guests across the Middle East.
Butcher is the London-based owner of Persepolis, a Persian deli, which she runs with her Iranian husband. This is her second cookbook. Her first, “Persia in Peckham” (2008), drew wide acclaim. In "The New Middle Eastern Vegetarian," Butcher quickly shows her love for Middle Eastern flavors from Uzbekistan to Turkey to Iran. Leafing through the book, I was transported across the region with stories, fun facts, and recipes making use of rose petals, saffron, and tumeric.
Reading this book was like sitting down with a good, well traveled foodie friend – and a funny one at that. Through her frank, spunky pages, it’s easy to picture how she interacts with her deli customers. An entertaining element of Butcher's cookbook are her side notes, including “beguiling tales of how the eggplant got it’s hat” (hint: it’s in his looks). Yes, you read that right.
As for kefir, she writes: “Mmm. The original probiotic, if you like. It evolved as the famous horsemen of the region galloped the steppes: (mare's) milk, which they carried in saddle bags, would slowly ferment, forming a not unpleasant but entirely different drink. To this day kefir is a popular drink in places such as Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. In the West it is more often the bacteria itself for which we use the term. You can buy it as grains or already developed (when it looks like something that Fungus the Bodyeman might have dreamed up): it is self-propagating (my, how it grows), and enthusiast are usually happy to share their cultures (how nice). It is phenomenally good for you.”
But can a funny cook also be a good cook? I invited three friends over to test her recipes. Our menu: Swooning Imam, Persian Magazine Spinach balls, and Chilled Yogurt and Saffron Soup.
It took more time than just tossing together a salad or making a pizza, but it was easy enough to coordinate friends to do the sous chef jobs as I worked on the soup (recipe reprinted below). I felt inspired to add and mint where the recipe calls for just dill. The instructions were mostly clear, though I did have to look up what it meant to “score an eggplant.” (Where I come from we dice and chop and blend and microwave – “score” is a musical or sports term.)
After we supped, I asked my friends what they thought about the meal. One commented on the delicate flavors of the eggplant, another on how much she liked the Persian spinach, which we topped with Parmesan flakes, and another remarked how perfect the chilled soup was for a hot summer night. Then she said, “this food makes me feel loved.”
It’s clear that Butcher’s meals are meant to be savored with friends and family – like you would on vacation – instead of rushed and thrown together. Indeed, this is a cookbook that informs and delights the reader even as it surprises and enchants your dinner guests. And it's perfect for cooks who are tired of their go-to vegetarian meals.
“Veggiestan” may be a made up country, but once you get there, you will want to visit over and over again.
Recipe reprinted with permission from “The New Middle Eastern Vegetarian: Modern Recipes From Veggiestan” by Sally Butcher (Interlink Publishing, 2012).
Katyk Shurua va Zafaran or Chilled Yogurt and Saffron Soup
Makes a pleasant change from the delicious but rather more commonplace yogurt and cucumber soup. Serves 4.
3 cups (25 fluid ounces) plain yogurt
1/4 teaspoon ground saffron, steeped in a splash of boiling water
4 hard boiled egg yolks
2 teaspoons grainy mustard
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1 bunch of radishes, washed and diced real small
1/2 cucumber, washed and diced real small
2-3 scallions, sliced
1 large cooked potato (waxy is best)
2 tablespoons fresh (or dried) dill (or use other fresh herbs of choice – mint, parsley, cilantro)
salt and pepper
The yogurt should be of a fairly runny pouring consistency: you will need to dilute it with cold water, whisking vigorously, until it is well, soup-like.
Add the saffron, and mix well. Next mash the egg yolks with the mustard and vinegar, and beat this mixture into the yogurt. Put all the other ingredients in a bowl, and pour the yogurt on top, mixing thoroughly.
Season to taste, and then cover and chill well. Serve over ice cubes (optional – but great on a hot summer night) garnished with a sprig of fresh dill.
– Jenna Fisher is the Monitor's Asia editor.
Note: The UK version was published in 2011 and is titled “Veggiestan: A Vegetable Lover’s Tour of the Middle East.”
I generally think a cold slice of watermelon is the most refreshing treat on a hot summer’s day. I also cool myself off with a tall glass of water infused with cucumber. Blend these two together, add the summer taste of fresh mint, freeze it, and consider yourself refreshed on National Watermelon Day (Aug. 3).
Watermelon sorbet is just plain good, but this frosty summer treat also makes an elegant simple dessert for a dinner party.
This recipe sometimes yields more sorbet base than fits in my ice cream maker. If this happens to you, simply make another small batch, or mix it half-and-half with tea for a cool drink.
Watermelon, Cucumber, and Mint Sorbet
Makes about 1/2 gallon
3 cups water
1 cup sugar
Large bunch of fresh mint
3 cups seeded watermelon chunks
1 cup peeled cucumber chunks, seeded
Stir the sugar and water together in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Boil, stirring a few times, just until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from the heat and drop in 3 stems of mint. Leave to cool. Remove the mint stems.
Process the watermelon and cucumber chunks in a blender with the sugar syrup and 1/4 cup mint leaves. You may need to do this in several batches. Pour through a strainer into a bowl, pressing out as much pulp as possible. Chill for a couple of hours or until very cold. Pour the sorbet mixture into the bowl of an ice cream maker and freeze according to manufacturer instructions. Scoop into a freezer container and freeze for several hours until firm.
Thirsty for more from The Runaway Spoon? Try Freshly Minted Lemonade.