Fruit, Quick Meals, Salad, Soup, Summer, Vegetables

Summer Food 2010: The Raw Edition

Quick meteorological fact: by this time last year, Washington, DC registered ten days with high temperatures over 90F. This year, so far, we’ve experienced forty, with more to come in August. Welcome to summer on the eastern seaboard. In the spirit of the season, I’m participating in the Summer Food 2010 Project, where other foodical types will write and podcast about the many foods of summer. Picnics, beach food, barbecues, putting up jam and pickles … if it’s about summer, we’ll be talking about it!

I don’t need to tell you that, once the temperatures rise, firing up the stove seems less and less appealing. On the hottest nights, I don’t cook anything at all. That doesn’t mean we don’t eat. After all, summer dinners are about simplicity and taking advantage of the season, and few things are easier or tastier in the summer than fresh produce.

Two things. First, complicated raw preparations are out of the question. Could you simulate cheese with raw cashews, or make a raw mushroom “burger”? You could, but it takes time, planning, and effort. Could you make some kind of kale-mint-broccoli drink? Yes, but it would be gross. Second, a number of foods aren’t edible or tasty when raw. Some, like most mushrooms and most beans that you usually find in a dry state, must be cooked to neutralize toxins before eating. (There exist some exceptions, like button, cremini, and porcini.) Others aren’t tasty without cooking. Raw potatoes and sweet potatoes possess an unpleasant crispness and starchy taste from the free water and starch. Raw plantain and okra are slimy. Eggplant/aubergine is astringent and bitter unless cooked; quince, usually used for preserves like membrillo, is mouth-puckeringly tart. To me, raw brassicas like cauliflower, broccoli, and kale, are unpleasantly cabbage-y, although I know some people who love uncooked kale.

Instead of trying your damnedest to whip up a raw potato salad, try these refreshing light dishes. Each one can be prepared in minutes, without heating up your kitchen. You can use the time you save to sit around doing nothing in particular.

Cantaloupe soup with mint

I came up with this one evening when I finally got tired of the half cantaloupe taking up space in the refrigerator. Coincidentally it was about 90F outside even though the sun had set, and I wasn’t interested in firing up the stove. This might be the easiest and most striking summer dish in your repertoire. Don’t limit yourself to cantaloupe – honeydew and watermelon work just as well. If you elect to use watermelon, you might consider a seedless variety to save time.

one cantaloupe (or other similar melon), halved, and seeds scooped out
one lime, halved
about 4-6 mint leaves
yoghurt, strained
sea salt
mint and basil leaves, chiffonade

Scoop the cantaloupe flesh – I use a giant metal serving spoon – into a Vitaprep or blender, add a pinch of salt, the mint leaves, and the juice of about half a lime (use less if the cantaloupe is not very sweet). The lime juice is not meant to make the soup tart – you want to bring out the flavors of the cantaloupe with a little acid. Add more if necessary. Purée until completely smooth.

Pour into cups or small bowls. Garnish with a quenelle of yoghurt, a little sea salt, and the chiffonade herbs.

Chilled cantaloupe soup. Mint, basil.

Zucchini, peach, ricotta salad

Strictly speaking this is not a “raw” dish. Ricotta cheese is made from whey or milk that has been heated before curdling. (Arguably, the same is true of the yoghurt garnish for the cantaloupe soup.) That said, most of you aren’t making your own ricotta – or yoghurt, for that matter – so don’t let this technicality bother you unless you are a raw food enthusiast.

1 zucchini/courgette, washed well
1 large peach, washed well
1/2 c ricotta cheese
one lemon, zested and halved
1 tsp green peppercorn mustard or Dijon mustard
olive oil
espelette pepper (if you have it) or sriracha chile sauce
salt and pepper

Slice the zucchini thinly, lengthwise. Halve the peach, remove the pit, and slice each half thinly. Squeeze the juice of half the lemon over the peach slices.

Whisk together the juice of the other lemon half with the mustard. Season with a pinch of salt and a little pepper. If you do not have espelette pepper, add two or three drips of sriracha. Slowly whisk in the olive oil to form an emulsion (you will use between 2-3 times the quantity of oil as you have lemon juice).

Arrange the zucchini and peach on a platter. Drizzle with the emulsion and season with lemon zest, a little sea salt, and pepper. Spoon ricotta in 1 teaspoon bits over all.

Zucchini, peach, ricotta.

Sauce verte

Drizzle this sauce onto tomatoes, peaches, or nectarines, stir into steamed green beans, or use to sauce grilled or roasted meat. This sauce is equally at home with grilled chicken, halibut, and roast beef (or bison – see the photo below).

1 c watercress leaves
1 c arugula leaves
1 c basil leaves
1/2 c Italian parsley leaves
2 salt-packed anchovy filets
1 tbsp green peppercorn Dijon mustard
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 1/2 to 2 c extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper

Purée the herbs and greens in a Vitaprep or blender with anchovy, mustard, a grind or two of black pepper, and olive oil until completely smooth. You may need to turn off the blender from time to time and turn the contents to move the raw greens to the bottom, tamping everything down. When puréed, add half of the lemon juice and the vinegar and process again. Taste and add salt and additional lemon juice if necessary. The anchovies may make further salting unnecessary. Set aside in tightly sealed nonreactive container.

Sauce verte.

Roast bison trip-tip, sauce verte.

Tomato salad

This is a true summer salad – tomatoes out of season are no good. If you grow your own heirlooms or otherwise have access, this is the time to use them. The pictured dish used red zebras and Cherokee purples, but nearly any tomato will work. The only tomatoes to avoid are the paste tomatoes, like San Marzano – these are less juicy by nature and are too dry for use in salad.

2-4 heirloom tomatoes
Sauce verte
sea salt and pepper

Square off tomatoes and garnish with sauce verte, drizzle of olive oil, sea salt, and pepper. Retain tomato trimmings for another use (like saucemaking or just plain eating).

red zebra, cherokee purple.

A summer meal.

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Italian, Seafood, Soup, Squash, Vegetables

Summer squash.

Is zucchini anyone’s favorite vegetable? Too often, it’s shredded and disguised in quick bread, sauteed to a limp, soggy mess, steamed with carrots and broccoli as part of the ubiquitous “vegetable medley” that accompanies every protein at second-rate restaurants, or doused with balsamic vinaigrette – that turn of the century abomination – and thrown on the grill.

OK, so it’s not the most exciting vegetable. Zucchini isn’t tomato or sweet corn. People don’t queue outside farm stands hankering after the first ripe zucchini of the season and blog about it afterward. And it isn’t onion or carrot – versatile, indispensable, indestructible. If you overcook it, zucchini degrades into a floppy, tasteless mess. Still, zucchini has merit. It possesses a mild sweetness, with a slightly floral, melony quality when raw. Lemon and fresh green herbs like mint, basil, and oregano bring out its best qualities. A mild, delicate, green vegetable, it pairs perfectly with shellfish. And its blossoms are reason enough to grow a zucchini plant or two in the summer.

Zucchini and yellow summer squash are not identical, but for most purposes, you can use yellow squash in place of zucchini. It tends to be less sweet, with a slightly bitter edge. Don’t overcook these summer squashes – they can go from tender to mushy in a couple of minutes.

Blossoms straight from the garden.

Fiori di Zucca

Grow your own, cut them off the plants, and use immediately. Sometimes you can find blossoms with embryonic fruit (baby zucchini) attached … those are a special treat, and a great way to use up the squash before you wind up with dozens of giant ones.

Note – if you’re pressed for time, you can omit the egg white, but the filling will be heavier. In that case, just beat an egg or two with a little water and use it to coat the blossoms before dredging and frying. You don’t have to separate the eggs.

16 zucchini blossoms, preferably with small zucchini attached
1 c ricotta*
zest of one lemon
small handful flat leaf parsley, minced
6-8 mint leaves, chiffonade
pinch salt
3 eggs, separated (you will only use one yolk so use the other two for mayonnaise or something)
cake flour
olive oil
sea salt

Combine the ricotta, one egg yolk, lemon zest, herbs, and a pinch of salt.

Beat three egg whites to soft peaks. Fold half the egg white into the ricotta mixture and reserve the other half. Spoon in enough ricotta-white mixture to fill each blossom. Seal and twist at top. If you can’t get the filling in without ripping the blossoms, tear a seam down one side (between two petals) and fill. Then twist it to make sure the stuffing stays inside.

Stuffed blossoms.

Turn the remaining egg whites into a dredging pan and fill a second dredging pan with about 1 c flour. Heat a deep sauté pan and add olive oil 1/4″ deep. Dip each blossom completely in the foamed egg whites, shake off excess, dredge quickly in flour, shake off excess, and fry until golden. Turn over and fry on other side. Drain on towels and season with a little sea salt.

*If you’d like to make your own ricotta, stop back later this week for a lesson in making this most basic cheese.

Fiori di zucca.

Chilled Zucchini Soup

Cold soup in the summer is more refreshing than just about anything else you can eat. Don’t omit the lemon zest and yoghurt garniture – it adds brightness to the soup.

1 very large or 2 medium zucchini, ends removed, sliced
1 medium onion, peeled and sliced thinly
4 cloves garlic confit
olive oil
1 large or 2 small bay leaves
4 sprigs thyme
3 stems flat leaf parsley
6-12 leaves basil, 6-8 leaves mint (depending on size, strength)
2 c ice or 1 c cold water
1 lemon, zested and juiced
whole milk yoghurt or sour cream

Sweat the onion, and garlic confit in olive oil with the bouquet garni over very low heat until both are very tender. Add the zucchini, cover the pan, and sweat over the lowest heat until tender. The zucchini will give up a bit of liquid. Do not allow any of the components to take on color at any time, and stop cooking while the zucchini still is green. Remove the bouquet garni. Allow to cool until tepid. Pour zucchini mixture (liquid and all) in a Vitaprep or blender and add basil and mint.

Add about 2 c ice or 1 c cold water, and purée in Vitaprep. Add cold water to desired consistency if necessary. Press through tamis if necessary to achieve a smooth texture. Season with salt, pepper to taste (you will add acid just before serving to preserve the soup’s green color). Chill.

Before serving, add lemon juice and taste again for salt. Serve with lemon zest, basil chiffonade, and a quenelle of yoghurt or sour cream.

Zucchini soup, basil, lemon.

Farmstand salad

Try this one when you’ve just returned from the farmstand on the way home from the beach in summer. I do like to sauté the corn for just a minute, but you can skip that step and enjoy a completely raw salad, if you’re using very fresh corn.

1 medium zucchini
2 ears corn, shucked and scraped
1/4 lb cherry tomatoes (red and yellow if you can)
champagne vinegar (or white wine, or cider, or rice vinegar)
salt, pepper
espelette or cayenne pepper
olive oil

Slice zucchini into very thin rounds (1/16″) using a mandoline or benriner. Arrange in an overlapping layer. Saute the corn in olive oil for just a minute, until barely cooked through, unless you’re serving it raw. Season with salt/pepper, and a pinch of espelette. Arrange the corn beside the zucchini.

Quarter the cherry tomatoes and toss in a little vinegar with a pinch of salt. Arrange the tomatoes beside the corn. Whisk the juice/vinegar that remains in the tomato bowl with some olive oil; drizzle this over all.

Farmstand salad

Zucchini “pasta” with clams

There’s a great Portuguese soup called sopa de amêijoas – literally “clam soup” – in which clams, cooked in their own liquid with white wine and vegetables – are finished with olive oil and sopped up with crusty bread. Sometimes shredded zucchini is incorporated into the soup, thickening it slightly and soaking up the olive oil. This brothy dish of clams with raw zucchini, sliced to resemble linguine, reminds me of that dish.

Salting the zucchini and blotting dry helps to crisp the vegetable by removing some of its water content, and seasons it as well. Don’t go salt crazy – you don’t need much salt to remove moisture, and the clams are pretty salty.

2 medium zucchini, sliced into long, thin strands with mandoline or shaved with a y-shaped vegetable peeler
3 cloves garlic, sliced thinly
lemon zest, removed in 1 long strip
2 sprigs parsley
1 very small bay leaf
1 1/2 c dry white wine
4 lbs clams (cherrystone are best; manila are fine also), cleaned and desanded
1/4 tsp or more crushed red chile flakes
large handful flat leaf parsley, torn
juice and zest of 1 lemon
tiny basil leaves
black pepper
extra virgin olive oil

Very lightly salt the zucchini strands and toss well in a colander. Set over paper towels and leave to drain for about an hour.

Place clams in a large steamer. Set large pot over medium heat. Add olive oil; sweat garlic. Add bay leaves, lemon zest, and parsley; add wine. Place steamer basket over top; cover and steam until clams open. Strain liquid through chinois and return to simmer. Taste and correct with lemon.

Blot water from zucchini. Curl around large fork tines and place zucchini nests in each serving bowl. Add clams in shells (half in shells and half out makes for a great presentaton). Ladle broth over top. Sprinkle with chile flakes, pepper, and lemon zest, and garnish with parsley and basil leaves. Drizzle a little olive oil over top.

Serve with toasted ciabatta, rubbed with garlic and drizzled with olive oil.

Zucchini, clams, basil.

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Chicken, eggs, preserving, Quick Meals, Sandwich, Southeast Asian

Chicken tonight, Part 2

Recently, in response to the sausage burger post, a reader asked whether I plan what I’m going to cook every day, or just throw something together. This is where I admit that I’m not a morning person. It’s all I can do to get out of the house in one piece every day and menu planning just doesn’t happen. Sometimes we stop at the market on the way home from the office and I decide what to make based on what looks good that day. Other days, though, it’s a trip into the reach in freezer.

One night last week, my journey into the reach in yielded a vacuum package of boneless, skinless chicken thighs. These types of small boneless cuts of somewhat fatty meat are what I like to call “pre-sausage.” You can dice them while they’re still frozen, and run them through the meat grinder. The fact that they’re frozen is a boon, not a curse – frozen cuts yield a better ground product, at least using home grinders like the KitchenAid attachment – so you can dispense with thawing time. Once ground, you can season and patty them right up. Within 35 minutes of our arrival home, we were eating these burgers, with Vietnamese flavors of pickled carrot and radish, mint, and chili sauce, influenced by the delicious Vietnamese sandwich, báhn mi. Not bad for an impromptu weekday meal out of the freezer.

Chicken burger, carrot and daikon pickle, sriracha mayonnaise.

Chicken burgers “báhn mi”

You may wonder why I have added whole egg and panko to the chicken before pattying and cooking these burgers, since I never would recommend any such thing for a beef or pork sausage-type burger. Here’s the thing – I find that ground chicken cooked in a patty without any binder tends to form a somewhat solid puck. You need a little extra fat to keep things moist.

1 lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 large egg
3 tbsp panko
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp Vietnamese fish sauce
1/8 tsp ground white pepper
vegetable oil

4 soft buns
1 c carrot and daikon pickle, from below recipe
4-8 butter lettuce leaves (depending on size), washed and dried
1 c mint leaves, washed and spun dry
1/2 c cilantro (coriander) leaves, washed and spun dry (optional)
1/2 c sriracha mayonnaise (from below)

Freeze the chicken thighs until solid (but not rock-hard), and cut into 1″ chunks. If you’re using product straight from the freezer, let them thaw just slightly before cubing and grinding so they’re not like chicken boulders. Season with salt. Grind the chicken through a medium die.

Combine the panko and white pepper. Sprinkle the fish sauce over the chicken and add the panko mixture and egg. Mix with your hand until combined, but do not overwork.

Form four patties on a plate or cutting board. Do not stack, since these burgers will be very soft.

Place a large skillet over medium-high heat and, when hot, add 1 tbsp oil. Use a large spatula to transfer each burger to the hot skillet and brown on the bottom side. Flip the burger over, cook until golden brown, and reduce the heat to the lowest setting to permit the burger to cook through. Remove the pan from heat. Burgers should have a moist texture and hold together well.

While burgers cook, toast the buns on a sheet pan, cut side up, under the broiler until just golden. Spread both halves of each bun with sriracha mayonnaise. Place a chicken burger atop each bottom bun, top with carrot and daikon pickle, lettuce leaf, and a generous quantity of mint leaves and coriander (if using).

Carrot and daikon pickle

2 large carrots, shredded
1 medium daikon, shredded
3/4 c filtered water
3/4 c distilled white vinegar
1/4 c granulated sugar
2 tbsp kosher salt

Bring 1/4 c each of the water and vinegar to a simmer with the sugar and salt, just to dissolve. Add it to the other liquid and combine well. Pour the vinegar-water mixture over the daikon and carrot in a nonreactive, sealable container and refrigerate at least two hours. You can leave the vegetables in the pickling liquid for a week or so. If you don’t have two hours – say because you got home late from work and you’re starving now – let them pickle at room temperature for about 30 minutes.

Sriracha mayonnaise

I’m not going to be one of these people who says “You must make your own mayonnaise! Don’t ever use mayonnaise from a jar!” because I live in the real world. People who flog home cooks to make their own mayonnaise every time they need a couple of tablespoons are prone to other ridiculous pronouncements, like “pesto must be made using a mortar and pestle,” and similar impractical nonsense. House-made mayonnaise is delicious, I do prefer it to the jarred product, and I do often make my own, but not always. For starters, it doesn’t keep that long. Unlike commercial product, made with pasteurized egg, a higher acid content, and, let’s face it, preservatives, house-made product will keep about a week. I don’t know about you, but I don’t eat much mayonnaise, jarred or house-made. Unless I’m feeding a crowd, house-made mayonnaise and aioli often go to waste, and I hate to waste food.

So if you need to use a jarred product, go ahead. Widely available products like Duke’s and Hellman’s are fine. Delouis Fils makes the best jarred mayonnaise I have tried, but it is more expensive and not as widely available. You can freshen up any jarred product with a few drops of lemon juice.

Having said all that, here’s the truth about making mayonnaise. It’s easy. Egg-based emulsions like mayonnaise can hold a ridiculous amount of oil before they begin to break – that is, before the oil separates. Harold McGee, food scientist extraordinaire, famously once emulsified one egg yolk with 100 cups of oil. (He added water to increase the ratio of oil to water-based product to 3:1, but that esoterica is not going to help you make mayonnaise you actually want to eat). Generally, though, 3/4 c oil per egg yolk provides a good guideline. The presence of mustard – which also contains lecithin, an emulsifier – helps stabilize the emulsion, as well as lending a piquant taste. If you have a strong arm, you can whisk the mayonnaise by hand, but I feel a more stable product emerges from the blender or food processor.

1 egg yolk
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
1/2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp Dijon mustard
large pinch salt
large pinch sugar
3/4 c sunflower or grapeseed oil (you can substitute up to 1/4 c of this with an equal quantity of olive oil)

Additionally, for sriracha mayonnaise: increase sugar to 1 tsp; 3 tbsp sriracha (chili sauce)

If preparing by hand, whisk together all the ingredients but the oil. Otherwise, blitz them in the blender or food processor until combined.

If preparing by hand, begin whisking in the oil, one drop at a time at first, and then more quickly in a thin stream (I find it helps to use a squeeze bottle to control flow). Otherwise, with the food processor or blender running, drip in oil one drop at a time, and then a little more quickly. Once the quantity of oil is equal to the quantity of egg yolk and other liquid, you should have a fairly stable emulsion – you will be able to tell because the mixture will be somewhat thick and not show any signs of separation. At this point, you can stop adding the oil drop by drop and increase the volume to a thin stream or even add the oil more quickly.

If making the sriracha mayonnaise, stir in the sriracha until well-combined. Cover and hold under refrigeration.

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