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Monday, March 17, 2014

Spring Flings

Spring officially arrives this week but in we've been feeling it here in Northern California for a few days now.  Warm weather, green grass, and the juices are flowing.  A little restlessness is normal as it pushes us to get into gear, and move out the stagnation of winter.  Spring produce, like baby beets, fennel, arugula, asparagus, kumquats and the first strawberries, will support our desires to lighten up. So will making a batch of Green Soup.

Spring is also a great time to indulge in dairy products and eggs, which get more nutritious at this time of year from the new green grass the animals are eating.  This weekend, we enjoyed one of my favorite childhood desserts--the year's first strawberries, dipped in homemade crème fraîche and brown sugar.  The rest of the crème fraîche we are shaking into cultured butter and buttermilk tonight, to be made into Irish Soda Bread to enjoy along with our homemade corned beef and a glass of Guinness in honor of St. Patrick's day.  If you are still shy about enjoying full-fat dairy products, check out this new research that shows that full-fat dairy may actually  protect us against weight gain and heart disease.  And cultured dairy is a source of probiotics and less dampening to your system from the Chinese medical point of view (in fact it nourishes the yin).

Crème fraîche is wonderful stirred into braised leeks or sweet spring onions, creating a decadent tasting side dish for chicken or pork or something to crack a couple eggs into to cook up into a spring brunch.  You can also drain it, as in making yogurt cheese, to make your own marscapone.

Crème Fraîche
This easily made cultured cream has a wonderful mild flavor and will add probiotics, beneficial fats, and enzymes to any dish calling for cream, milk, yogurt, or sour cream. It can also be whipped and used as a dessert topping, or drained as in making yogurt cheese, above, to make your own mascarpone. Be sure to use cream from cows that have been fed on pasture, and enjoy it in the spring for the biggest concentration of fat-soluble vitamins such as A and D.  Recipe from Real Food All Year.

Makes about 1 1/2 cups
1 tablespoon organic buttermilk, crème fraîche, or plain yogurt
1 1/2 cups organic heavy (whipping) cream
Place the buttermilk in a pint jar, and add the cream. Gently stir together, cap, and allow to ferment in a warm place (such as on top of the refrigerator) for 1 to 2 days, until the crème fraîche begins to firm. Store in the refrigerator, and consume within 2 weeks.

Cultured Butter
(Recipe by Vanessa Barrington, adapted with permission from her wonderful book, DIY Delicious)
Cultured butter is really just crème fraîche whipped into butter and washed. It’s great fun to make flavored butters out of your own cultured butter. Add flaky sea salt, chopped anchovies, and/or garlic to top grilled fish or toss with vegetables or beans. Honey butter is wonderful for biscuits and muffins. All you do it work the flavorings into the butter to taste while it’s soft. Making small batches is best because homemade butter doesn’t keep as long as store bought.

1 1/2 cups crème fraîche
Sea salt or other flavorings as desired

Pour the crème fraîche into a medium bowl and, using a hand-held mixer, on medium-low speed; begin whipping the crème fraîche as if you were making whipped cream. Stop every now and then to scrape the sides of the bowl with a spatula. As the crème fraîche thickens, increase the speed to medium-high. When it’s just past the stage of a stiff whipped cream, the crème fraîche will become yellow and separate into clumps. At this point, decrease the speed to medium-low or you’ll run the risk of spraying buttermilk all over. After this point, the butter will quickly solidify and separate fully from the buttermilk. The whole process takes 8-10 minutes. When the butter seems to have given off all the buttermilk it is going to, pour off the buttermilk and save it. (It’s truly delicious to drink and it’s also great to use for baked goods). Push the butter against the sides of the bowl with a flexible spatula to get it to give up all the buttermilk possible, and pour it off.

Pour cool water into the bowl with the butter and work it around with a spatula. Pour off the water. Wash the butter two or three times until the water runs clear. This step is a must, as unwashed butter will spoil quickly.

Transfer the butter to a sheet of parchment and work it for a minute or so with the spatula to press out any additional water. Pat dry and then use the spatula to work in any salt or flavorings. Transfer to a clean dish, cover, and refrigerate for up to 5 days, or freeze for up to 2 months. Don’t leave the butter out at room temperature, as it will spoil.

COMING SOON: Delve deeper into nutrition with my day long class in Nutrition for the Summer Season, in Berkeley on March 29th, for acupuncturists, students and interested lay people.  Or try one of my hands-on fermentation classes in April and June (see sidebar for my 2014 calendar).  

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

A Cozy Dish for Late Winter

The warming weather here in California (punctuated by a welcome dash of rain) inspired me to get into the kitchen and cook a few more long-simmered stews to honor the warming food of winter before it's all over (earlier each year recently here in the West).  The mushrooms are a good way to boost your immune system to withstand the last tail of flu season, and the horseradish gives a spicy bite to keep the dish from being too cloying.  Admission: I pureed the cream a bit too long in my food processor, yielding horseradish butter, which was just as delicious and gave us an excuse to eat some steak with the butter the next night.  If you don't have any bone broth or vegetable stock on hand, go with the ale instead for rich flavor. The cultured cream in the sauce gives you boost in digesting the healthy fats in the dish. And it is good for your libido, too! 

My other favorite dishes for warming a Valentine heart and fighting the February blahs are the toothsome Grassfed Beef Tartare and the blushingly pink Rosehip Soup.  If you really need to stoke the fires, try a batch of Chocolate Truffles spiked with some aphrodisiacs like cinnamon, maca and damiana.

Beef and Mushroom Stew with Fresh Horseradish Cream

This wonderful concoction will warm you to the bone and encourage snuggling, but is both rich-tasting and easily digested. Ale and water make a good stand-in for bone broth if you are out. I adapted the stew from a recipe in the October 2013 issue of Sunset magazine and the cream is from Deborah Madison’s luscious and illuminating Vegetable Literacy.  You’ll have some of the horseradish cream leftover, and it is an enlivening condiment for tubers, root veggies, meats and soups.

Serves 3-4

For the stew:

3 strips pastured bacon

1-2 tsp bacon fat, ghee or olive oil

3 T white whole wheat or brown rice flour

½ t sea salt

½ t Ras el Hanout (see NOTE)

¼ tsp allspice

¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper

2 garlic cloves, sliced

1 bay leaf

1 pound pastured beef stew meat or chuck, cubed into 1 1/2 “ pieces

1 qt. bone broth* or 1 pt. ale such as Boont Amber and 1 pt water

1 oz dried shitake mushrooms

½ cup fresh mushrooms (try maitake for an immune boost or the humble crimini)

3-4 carrots or parsnips

1-2 large shallots

For the cream:

1ounce horseradish root

½ cup creme fraiche or sour cream

½ cup whole milk yogurt

1 T umeboshi plum vinegar, or apple cider vinegar with sea salt to taste

Cook the bacon in a heavy 5-6 qt. pot over medium heat until it begins to crisp. Meanwhile, prepare seasoned flour by mixing the flour, spices and salt in a medium bowl. Remove the bacon to a plate and melt in the additional bacon fat.  Dredge the beef cubes in the flour, and add to the pot, browning the pieces well all over.  Add the bone broth to the pot, scraping the bottom to loosen any brown bits at the bottom.  Chop the bacon into 1” strips and add to the beef, bring to a boil, then cover and reduce heat to a gentle simmer.  Boil 1 cup of water and pour over the dried mushrooms to soften, weighting them if necessary so they stay submerged.  Simmer the stew, stirring occasionally, about 1 ½ hours.  Meanwhile, peel shallots and separate into lobes if small, or slice if large. Slice the mushrooms and cut the carrots into chunks. 

Add mushrooms, carrots, mushroom soaking liquid, and shallots to the stew and simmer another hour, or until the beef is meltingly tender.  Meanwhile, make the cream by peeling the horseradish (I use a knife) and grating it on the fine holes of a box grater. This might make you cry, and will most assuredly clear your sinuses! Place the horseradish in a food processor with the crème fraiche, yogurt and ume vinegar and pulse to blend into a textured paste.

Simmer the stew uncovered to finish if you would like a thicker broth.  Correct the seasonings, and serve the stew in warmed bowls with a big dollop of the horseradish cream.

 *I used a combo chicken/pig’s trotters broth with some Huang Qi/Astragalus and Da Zao/jujube dates added in the last 8 hours of cooking.  Beef or vegetable stock will also be just fine.

NOTE: Ras el Hanout, or “top of the shop” is a stunning mix of paprika, cumin, ginger, cinnamon, grains of paradise, allspice, nutmeg, mace, cayenne and more that is used much in Moroccan cooking.  Find it in your local spice shop or improvise a mix of some of the above. 



Friday, January 10, 2014

The Five Elements of Movement

Moving into the New Year, I want to take the time to write about the most important determinant of health and happiness besides food—exercise. Working with thousands of clients over the years has given me countless examples of the exercise imperative: move it or lose it!  Moving our bodies consciously and regularly is truly the magic bullet of health, if there is one.  Five element theory provides a way to think about the diverse benefits of a truly balanced approach to movement.  Give your routine a tune-up now and you'll reap the benefits throughout 2014.

Metal-Lungs: The Lungs govern qi and to keep the lungs working well and our vitality strong we need to keep our qi and blood moving with regular aerobic exercise (you are breathing faster but are not out of breath) punctuated by bouts of anaerobic exercise (you get out of breath). You can pick a baseline aerobic activity—walking, hiking, running, biking, dancing, sports, and do it regularly. The health benefits of aerobic activity became popularized in the 70's (Ken Cooper’s book Aerobics made a huge impression on me as a kid), but new research has shown that the anaerobic activities we do can have a greater impact in shorter time on mood, cardiovascular health and metabolism than the old-style steady state aerobic workout. The easiest way is simply to incorporate sprints into your baseline aerobic workout. The runner’s practice of fartlek, or speed play, is an informal technique where you simply vary your pace throughout your run, adding short sprints as you see fit. Minimum is three times a week, 6-7 is optimal.

Wood—Liver: The liver rules the tendons and keeps us supple and flowing. The free and easy wanderer keeps moving easily by stretching, another key component of vital movement. Many newbie exercises and weekend warriors err by stretching a lot when muscles are cold—it’s less effective and likely to cause injury. Instead, incorporate a stretch break into the middle of your aerobic workout or make time to stretch at the end. Doing a lot of stretching once a week (i.e. a yoga or stretch class) can be as effective as stretching in shorter bouts more often. Minimum: once a week to daily.

Earth—Spleen: this element connects to our tissue and muscles and the way to support them is to do strength training. Women lose 1% of muscle mass per year starting in their 30’s, men in the 40’s, if they don’t make a concerted effort to maintain strength. Lifting heavy things as part of daily life is good, but most of us need to supplement that with some focused strength training, which doesn’t have to be at the gym, although the gym can be a quick and easy way to get your strength needs met. Body weight exercises like pushups, burpees, squats and wall sits can be done anywhere with just your good self as the weight. Yoga and Pilates can build strength (and alignment, and balance and suppleness) when designed with that intent. Research has shown health benefits beginning with just 1 strength session a week (and 1 set!) but 2-3 times a week is safer and less likely to cause injury. After years of doing free weights at the gym I’m totally bored with that, so my new favorite is body-sculpting classes at the Y—it’s a strength focused workout using body and hand weights that reminds me of muscles I had forgotten I had.

Water-Kidney: Our kidney energy is connected to willpower, longevity and development. It is supported by practices that require discipline to develop skill, particularly those movement practices derived from the ancient wisdom traditions of yoga, martial arts and some forms of dance. Working toward mastery in sports such as swimming, tennis or ping pong is another form of cultivation, and has been shown to be supportive in preventing cognitive decline.

 Fire-Heart: The heart is much more than the engine of the cardiovascular system in Chinese medicine: it is the seat of spirit and all the functions of consciousness. The heart is affected by joy, and joyful movement is a tonic for the spirit. Movement in nature, movement that connects you to others (dance, partner yoga, team sports), movement to music, free from movement such as ecstatic dance and forms of qi gong and nei gong, or any type of movement that makes you happy counts.  The other side of joyful movement is conscious stillness, or intentional relaxation techniques.  Taking time for shivasana at the end of yoga class, progressive muscle relaxation, catnaps and receiving bodywork are ways to balance the joy of movement with the pleasure of intentional stillness--which is quite different from inertia.

The balance of these elements that is right of each of us depends on age, constitution, lifestyle and season, so we each need to find our own mix. And many activities incorporate several of the elements.  For me, lately a mix of running, Zumba, yoga, body sculpting and meditative dance has been keeping my body and soul humming along nicely.  A toast to finding your optimal mix for 2014!

And so as to not break my tradition of a recipe in every post, here is our current favorite dessert which is helping wean us off the sugar habit from the holidays.

Honeyed Oranges 
Adapted from The Jungle Effect by Daphne Miller

Peel and slice 3 oranges latitudinally into rounds, and lay on a plate.  Drizzle with 1 tsp. raw honey and sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon.  Chill and serve.

I've got a lot of great classes and continuing education opportunities coming up in 2014, check it out:

1.13.14 6:30-9pm Introduction to Fermentation: Hands-on class at 18 Reasons in San Francisco.

1.27.14 6:30-9pm Winter Fermentation: hands-on class at 18 Reasons in San Francisco

2.8-9.14 Integrative Nutrition through the seasons: continuing education course for licensed acupuncturists, nurses and TCM students.  AIMC Berkeley.

2.17.14 4:30-6pm Food and Pleasure: lecture and workshop at Three Stone Hearth, Berkeley.

2.23.14 Dairy Fermentation: hands-on workshop. Biofuel Oasis, Berkeley

2.27.14 7pm Cooking Demo and Booksigning, Laughing Buddha Acupuncture, Oakland FREE

3.3.14 6:30-9pm Spring Fermentation: Hands-on class at 18 Reasons, San Francisco

3.21-23.14 Spring into Greater Vitality: residential workshop at Harbin Hot Springs with Dennis von Elgg and Laurel Brody, L.Ac.s, continuing education for licensed acupuncturists and students.

3.29.14 Integrative Nutrition through the Seasons: Summer. Continuing education course for licensed acupuncturists, nurses and TCM students. AIMC Berkeley.

6.16.14 6:30-9pm Summer Fermentation: hands-on class at 18 Reasons in San Francisco

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Peak Eating, Moroccan Style

Duck and Apricot Tagine with Full Belly Farm New Potatoes, Cabbage Slaw and Fermented Beets and Turnips
A seminal experience of my adolescence was my first time dining at Marrakech, a Moroccan restaurant in San Francisco's Union Square.  I was on a sort of group date, with a half dozen fellow band geeks.  After entering the opulent, mirror-studded dining room, we settled onto cushions at a long low table and were each given a full size bath towel for a napkin across our laps.  Next we were handed a hot washcloth to clean our hands, which we used to eat the many wondrous courses that proceeded to appear.  I remember many salads, a big basket of bread and then the shocking juxtaposition of pastilla, creamy chicken fragrant with cinnamon, encased in thin flaky pastry layers, outrageously dusted with powdered sugar.  Rabbit in honey, lamb tagine with dried fruit, couscous, and then the belly dancers, both male and female, for good measure.  The daring pour of  sweet mint tea from several feet above our cups, more hot towels, and..memory fades here..dates for dessert?  It was likely the peak eating experience of my high school years, and has influenced me in many ways.

The weather turning colder begs us to cook braises, meat on the bone, head to the spice shop to stock up on fresh stores for winter, and enjoy long lingering dinners.  Cooking Moroccan style fills the bill, giving an excuse to use the preserved lemons and bone broth that have been piling up in the pantry and freezer.  The spices in Ras el Hanout, literally "top of the [spice]shop" made hitting the right flavor notes easy.  A version I just picked up at Oaktown Spice Shop includes paprika, cumin, ginger, both ceylon and cassia cinnamon, turmeric, grains of paradise, allspice, nutmeg, mace, cayenne and more.  The result is complex, pungent but not hot, warm and sweet and easy to digest, harmonizing the flavors of the duck, parsnips and dried apricots.  It just might make you lean back on the cushions and let out a moan.

These days I usually skip the couscous (it is really a pasta, not a whole grain) and serve tagines, the fragrant sweet/savory stews of the region, with a starchy vegetable side like potatoes or a mash of turnip, cauliflower and/or celery root.  The traditional seven salads that start a Moroccan meal might be condensed to one or two.  Mint tea, dates, and yes, a hot hand towel, provide a lovely finish to linger over.

Duck Tagine with Dried Apricots
Serves two, with leftovers for one of you for lunch the next day. 

3 duck legs
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons schmaltz, ghee, duck fat, bacon grease or olive oil
1/2 red onion, diced
5 cloves garlic, sliced
1 cinnamon stick
1 1/2 tablespoons Ras al Hanout
2 stalks celery, diced
1 parsnip or carrot, diced
1 1/2 cups chicken or duck bone broth, stock, white wine or water
1/2 cup dried apricots, chopped
1/2 preserved lemon*, diced
3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

Score the skin on the duck legs all over, cutting just to the meat.  Rub with salt and freshly ground pepper.  Heat the fat in a large stew pot over medium-high heat, add the duck legs, skin side down, and brown the duck legs in the hot fat on both sides, for about 4-6 minutes per side.  Remove the duck to a plate and add the onion to the pan, sauteing it until it begins to turn golden, about 5-10 minuets.  Add the garlic, cinnamon stick and Ras al Hanout, and stir for about 1 minute, bringing out the flavors of the spices.  Add the celery and parnsip and stir together for a minute or two.  Add the duck and stock and bring to a boil, then put a lid on the pot and reduce the heat to a simmer.   Simmer for an hour or more, until the meat begins to pull away from the bone, then stir in the apricots and lemon, remove the lid, and continue simmering until all is tender, 15-30 minutes more.  Stir in fresh cilantro just before serving, reserving some for garnish.

*Note: It is worth waiting a week or two to preserve some lemons if you don't have any on hand--the flavor they bring to the dish really can't be duplicated.  Plus, preserved citrus is the easiest fermentation project you'll ever try.  Check out this post for the details:

Seeking peak eating experiences:  If you haven't had a chance to do so yet, there are a couple more days to take my Food and Pleasure Survey and anonymously share your most pleasurable eating experiences.  Help make nutrition more fun by following this link right now:

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Seeking Peak Eating

Gentle Reader,
I need your help. I am interested in a nearly taboo subject in the world of nutrition: pleasure. I am conducting a survey about food and pleasure, and need your stories and ideas about your most pleasurable eating experiences. If you'd like to participate in my doctoral research, just follow this link to take the survey online. It should only take a few minutes, and your information will be kept anonymous and confidential. I so appreciate it!
Speaking of highly pleasurable eating experiences, a recent dinner at my house featured whole local trout, filled with Green Charmoula, dusted with cornmeal and pan-fried in olive oil, served with fresh spinach fettuccine and pesto (2 green herb sauces in one meal, silly but wonderful), saladed by dry-farmed Early Girls and red and green Gypsy peppers, dusted with the fall's first toasted hazelnuts. The unctuous charmoula, oozing out of the center of the rich and crispy fish, was foodgasmic. I borrowed the idea, and modified the recipe, from Mourad Lahlou's wonderful book, Mourad: New Moroccan.

Green Charmoula

Yet another variation in the salsa verde/ pesto/chimichirri family, green sauce gives you the flavor and health benefits of a fresh herb condiment with superior keeping qualities and probiotics.  Try it on almost anything! This version goes especially well with lamb and fish, and the anchovies add the bass notes of umami to make it very satisfying.

2 tablespoons salt-cured capers

1 cup cilantro, coarsely chopped (stems OK)

1 cup parsley, coarsely chopped (stems OK)

1 tablespoon coarsely chopped anchovies

 1 tablespoon ground cumin

¼ tsp. (more if you like) cayenne pepper

 2 garlic cloves or 2 stalks green garlic, coarsely chopped

¼ preserved lemon (see my previous post for the recipe, or substitute 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice)

½ cup cold pressed olive oil

Soak the capers in water to cover for at least 20 minutes.  Drain, and combine the capers, cilantro, parsley, anchovies, cumin, cayenne and garlic in the bowl a food processor with the chopper blade, and pulse to chop into a coarse paste.  Add the lemon and olive oil and pulse briefly to combine.  Alternatively, chop all ingredients finely and mix to form a paste.  Place into a small jar with a lid, cover, and let sit at room temperature for 24 hours to ferment.  Refrigerate and enjoy for several weeks. 

Monday, September 2, 2013

Summer Ferments

Favorite summer rituals have been rolling back around—curing umeboshi plums, finding ways to use various produce gluts, seeking black raspberries in the hills, dreaming up new ways to make melon palatable—but I never seem to honor them the same way twice.  This year’s plum glut—in my town it’s plums, not oversize zucchini, that your neighbors surreptitiously leave on your front porch—has been turned into not Grandma’s freezer jam but plum sauce, made savory with the addition of salt koji and to be used with poultry or ribs instead of bread.  Less sugar, more savor.  I’d never heard of koji until this recent SF Chronicle article.  I found rice koji at my local produce market and fermented it into salt koji which is a wonderful seasoning and quick pickling agent, and apparently a hot ingredient among chefs.  Koji provides a hit of pure umami, the wonderful savory flavor that fills the mouth with deliciousness and makes foods tomatoes, anchovies, bacon, Parmesan cheese, miso, tamari, mushrooms, broths and fermented foods so important in cuisine. 
A new project for me this year has been making preserved lemons, an obvious hobby for a Berkeleyan, where Meyer lemon trees abound.  I’ve been using them in salad dressing, condiments and in my exploration of Moroccan cooking, the most sumptuous of Mediterranean cuisines and my latest passion. I used them in a batch of Harissa, the fiery Tunisian condiment important in North African cuisine.  Now that the weather is hotter, eating some spicy and pungent  foods helps keep the body temperature regulated, promote sweating and balance the cooling foods like cucumbers, summer squash and the nightshade vegetables (tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants)  that star in summer’s dishes.
Preserved Citrus
Extend your harvest and culinary repertoire by preserving citrus in salt and spices and you’ll also create a probiotic inoculant for many other dishes and ferments. Adapted from Real Food Fermentation by Alex Lewin. Check out this great fermenation resource here.  Makes 1 pint.
5-6 medium lemons or an equivalent amount of other citrus
¼ cup of sea salt
3 bay leaves
1 cinnamon stick
½ tsp coriander seeds
1-2 additional lemons, for juice, or whey
Soften the lemons by rolling them on the counter under your palm, then cut them into eighths, removing as many of the seeds as you can.  Put a layer of salt in the bottom of the jar, followed by a layer of lemons, a sprinkling of spices and so on, continuing to fill the jar and pressing the fruit down to eliminate air pockets and release the juice.  If there is not enough liquid to cover the lemons, you can add additional lemon juice or whey.  Make sure the liquid is covering the fruit then close the jar, leaving 1” of headroom at the top.  Store the jar at room temperature, away from direct sunlight.  For the first week, open the jar every day and press the fruit down so the liquid rises to cover.  You’ll see the fruit start to change character after week or two, and continue deepening in flavor for a year or more.  Store in the fridge at any time to stop the fermentation. 
I’ve adapted this recipe from Mourad: New Morrocan—The Cookbook (Mourad Lahlou, Artisan 2011).   Noting that the recipe called for a good dose of vinegar, I figured that in the past it was probably fermented instead to bring out the sour taste.  So I reduced the vinegar and changed the type to umbeboshi vinegar, which is one of the few vinegars commercially available that isn’t pasteurized.  Instead of fresh lemon juice, I used preserved lemons which also add fermentative bacteria.  Then I let it sit out at room temperature for a few days to ferment before storing in the fridge.  It should keep for several months.  Meanwhile, harissa is great with scrambled eggs, potatoes, stews and tagines, on soups or as a dip for pita or bread. 
3 oz. dried chiles (pasilla, New Mexico, chiles negros or other medium spicy chiles)
½ oz. dried chipotle chiles
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp. sea salt, or to taste
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1/8 tsp. cayenne
1 garlic cloves
2 tablespoons umeboshi plum vinegar
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons each coarsely chopped parsley and cilantro
½ preserved lemon
Put the chiles in a large bowl and add enough boiling water to cover.  Place a small plate or other weight over the chiles and push it down so the water covers the chiles.  Let it soak overnight.  Drain the chiles and reserve the soaking liquid.  Don a pair of rubber gloves and pull off the stems of the chiles, removing the membranes and seeds inside. You might need to run them under water to do this.  Puree the chiles with as much of the soaking liquid as you need to add to get a smooth paste.  With the motor running, drizzle in the olive oil and blend until smooth.  Add the other ingredients and continue blending to combine.  (Moraud’s recipe calls for forcing the harissa through a sieve to remove traces of chile skin, but I’m too lazy to do that.  You should try it, perhaps.  They were detectable in the finished harissa.)  A rubber spatula will help you scrape the paste into small jars.  Cap them and leave them to sit at room temperature for a day or more, then store the finished harissa in the fridge. 

Friday, June 21, 2013

Easy Dill Pickles

Happy summer solstice!  Celebrate the solar max-out by starting an easy fermentation project today.  Dill pickles are one of the few fermented foods that survive in the Standard American Diet (SAD). And one of the few that most children will eat!  Now is the time to scoop up a bunch of cucumbers from your local farmers' market and make a batch yourself. Impress your friends at your next BBQ.  Since the news about keeping your gut microbiome happy has gone mainstream (check out Michael Pollan's recent article) in the New York Times, fermentation is getting its due as not just a culinary technique but a health-promoting practice more widely.  Plus pickles enhance the highlight of summer dining: picnics! Why is it any food that you eat outside is so much more delicious?

Wild Half Sour Dills
Based on a recipe by Vanessa Barrington, author of a fave book of mine, DIY Delicious, who says: “These taste like a classic deli dill, not too sour with a fresh, cucumber taste…These pickles will keep only a couple of weeks, so be generous with your guests.”

Makes 1 quart

¾ to 1 lb pickling or Persian cucumbers
2 garlic cloves
8 whole coriander seeds
1 small, dried red pepper
3-4 sprigs of fresh dill
1-2 grape leaves or other source of tannin*
2-2 ½ cups water
2 tablespoons fine sea salt or 2 tablespoons whey and 1 tablespoon salt

Put the spices into a 1 qt Mason jar.  Wash the cucumbers well, cut a very thin slice off the blossom end of each, and pack them vertically into a clean, wide-mouthed Mason jar.  If the cucumbers are large, cut them into spears before packing into the jar.  Dissolve the salt in the water and pour it over the pickles.  Place a small ramekin, bottle or pickle weight over the mouth of the jar, to weight down the pickles and make sure they stay submerged in brine. 
Let the jar sit at room temperature 2-5 days.  Skim off any scum that might form and make sure the pickles stay submerged.  The pickles are done when they are a bit tart but still crisp, according to your taste.  When the pickles taste good to you, fasten the lid and refrigerate. 

*Adding something with tannins will help the cucumbers stay crisp, but it’s not infallible.  Sandor Katz, in his epic Art of Fermentation, suggests “grape leaves, oak leaves, cherry leaves, horseradish leaves or other tannin-rich plant materials (even a tea bag or green banana peel)” p.123, added to cucumber pickles to keep things crispy.