okra creole

okra creole

 
 
With the first of the summer’s okra arriving in my CSA, and my own first few pods ready from my okra plant, I was at a loss as to how to cook them. Fry them? Put them in a curry? Stewed them with tomatoes? Make gumbo? I ruled out the first two, as we’ve eaten several curries and a good share of fried vegetables so far this summer. Gumbo takes so long to cook that I didn’t find that very appealing in the heat of summer. That left stewed okra and tomatoes. Instead of playing it straight, I decided to give them a spicy treatment in a dish that resembles a vegetarian spin on shrimp creole. This can even be made vegan if you leave off the butter and increase the olive oil. Now, if that’s not your thing and you want to be truly decadent, you could always skip the butter and olive oil, render fat from a little bacon, and cook the vegetables in a couple tablespoons of that, then crumble the bacon over the top before serving.
 
okra creole
  • 1 T butter
  • 1-2 T olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped
  • 1/2 bell pepper, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 lbs okra, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 2 tsp Cajun or Creole seasoning
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 28 oz can diced tomatoes or 2 pounds diced fresh tomatoes
  • 1 T sugar, optional if using fresh tomatoes
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 C water
  • 1 T cayenne pepper sauce; Tabasco or Louisiana hot sauce, if you have it
  • sea salt and pepper
  • a handful of chopped parsley
  • a couple tablespoons minced green onions

Heat the butter and olive oil over medium high heat until the butter is melted and the oil is hot. Add the onion, celery, and bell pepper to the pan and season with salt and pepper. Cook this until they are soft, about 5-7 minutes. Reduce the flame a little and add the garlic. Saute all this together until the garlic is fragrant, about 2-3 minutes more. Then add the okra and turn the heat back to medium high. Season with the Cajun seasoning and cayenne pepper, and cook another 5-7 minutes. Pour in the tomatoes, and add the sugar, bay leaves, water, and cayenne pepper sauce. Simmer for about 10 minutes, then taste and check your seasonings. Add more salt, sugar, or hot sauce as needed, until sauce tastes full-bodied and well-rounded. Let simmer another few minutes, then stir in most of your chopped parsley. Serve over white or brown rice, and sprinkle each dish with a little more parsley and some green onions.

Serves 4-6.

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Chana Masala (Chickpea Curry)

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I have been spoiled, in that until recently I have always lived near at least one really good Indian restaurant. Now that the closest one with decent food is about 30 minutes away, I have been making do with a lot of Trader Joe’s frozen Indian dishes. That is, until about a month ago, when I decided that it was time to learn to make a few of my favorites myself. 
 
This recipe is the product of that project. I can’t speak to its authenticity, but it certainly tastes better than its frozen counterpart, and it’s made with ingredients that can be readily picked up at any grocery store, making substitutions like lemon juice for amchoor. In this recipe, I chose to use Penzey’s garam masala blend, but if you’re feeling ambitious, you can always try making your own from scratch. I have also used halved cherry tomatoes instead of canned diced tomatoes, and while the texture is different, the flavor is excellent. You can also tweak the heat by using any combination of hot curry powder, hot peppers, cayenne, or none depending on how much heat you want. Tonight, I used a jalapeno, the cayenne, and a half tablespoon of hot curry powder along with a half tablespoon of sweet, and it was enough to make your head sweat. Consider yourselves warned.
 
Chana Masala
  • 1 T oil or ghee
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 T garlic, minced
  • 1 T ginger, minced
  • 1 chile such as a jalapeno pepper, seeded and deveined, finely chopped (optional)
  • 1 T garam masala
  • 1 T curry powder
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
  • 1 tsp brown mustard seeds
  • 1 15 oz can diced tomatoes
  • a pinch of sugar
  • 1 15 oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 C water
  • juice of half a lemon
  • salt
  • scallions 
  • cilantro

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. When the oil is hot, add the onion, ginger, garlic, and chile pepper if using. Saute for about 5 minutes, until the onion is soft and beginning to brown a bit. Stir in the garam masala, curry powder, mustard seeds, and cayenne pepper. Let cook 1-2 minutes. Pour in the tomatoes and their juices, and use a wooden spoon to scrape any brown bits off the bottom of the pan. Stir in a pinch of sugar to the tomatoes, then add the chickpeas, water, and lemon juice. Bring to a boil, then reduce the temperature and let simmer uncovered for 10-15 minutes. Before serving, season with salt. Taste and add more salt or more lemon juice if a little more sharpness is needed. Garnish with chopped scallion greens and cilantro. Serve with naan, bhature, or rice.

Serves 4.

Lemongrass Grilled Pork Chops

Lemongrass Pork Chops

Ever feel stuck in a rut during grilling season? We often do, but the desire to use the grill often wins out over the lack of perceived options.  Since we don’t get to spend a lot of time at home these days, we tend to focus on how we can make the most of our weekends and be as lazy as possible at the same time.  I’m sure most of you feel the same.  However, this year our local farmer’s market has provided a shot in the arm to our usual Sunday night cookouts.

Since moving to Richmond just before the startup of the season, we’ve been frequenting the South of the James farmer’s market.  There we found a great local meat vendor – Ault’s Family Farm.  I admit, they caught my eye with their sign marketing pastured pork fed on non-GMO grains.  Did my eyes deceive?  The allure was too strong; I’d come to the market for veggies but found myself leaving with a pair of beautiful, bone-in pork loin chops.

I knew that I wanted to grill them, and I also knew that I didn’t want to give them the same dry rub treatment that I had our steaks of the prior week.  Enter the struggle with laziness.  I drowsed on the sofa that Saturday afternoon, daydreaming about grilled pork. I remembered a savory, grilled pork dish that I used to order on occasion at Just Pho – a favorite restaurant of ours when we lived in Athens. It was marinated with lemongrass, and it was aromatic, sweet, salty, savory.  It was a pork dish that arrested every part of the palate and demanded attention.  I knew then what I was setting out to recreate.

Lemongrass

Lemongrass is a legitimate grass – not in name only. It is used as an herb in many cuisines, particularly in Asian cooking. The flavor and fragrance have a delicate citrus quality with an earthy, spicy undertone reminscent of ginger.  Lemongrass is purported to have many health benefits, most notably as a cancer-fighting herb.  It also is said to reduce hypertension, lessen toxins in the blood – acting as a diuretic, and aid digestion.  It is also known as citronella, so if its scent is familiar, you might have some candles bearing its fragance on your patio!  Lemongrass is simple to prepare.  If the stalks are whole, the root and green parts are trimmed away.  Any tough outer leaves may also be trimmed.  The remaining stalk can be finely sliced. Or, you can smash it with the flat side of your knife asyou would garlic, then mince the smashed lemongrass.

In the end, I came up with this simple marinade.  You do a bit of chopping and mixing, then bathe your pork chops in it and let them rest while you heat the grill.  I won’t say that I perfectly recreated the chops from Just Pho, but they were excellent.  The flavor of the marinade paired with the fresh pork in a gentle duetto; they performed in concert perfectly.  With some rice and some grilled spring onions and asparagus, we had a harmonious ensemble.

I am submitting this recipe to Weekend Herb Blogging # 233 (hosted by Palachinka),  highlighting the star of the marinade: lemongrass.

Lemongrass Grilled Pork Chops

  • 1 T soy or fish sauce
  • 3 T peanut oil
  • 2 stalks lemongrass, smashed then chopped (about 3 T)
  • 1 1/2 T rice vinegar
  • 2 T honey
  • 1 tsp crushed red pepper
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 tsp ground ginger
  • 2-4 thick cut pork loin chops

In a non-reactive bowl, whisk all ingredients together until they are evenly combined.  Pour the marinade over the  chops and let them marinate for about 1 hour, making sure to reserve the marinade for basting the chops on the grill.  You can marinate for longer in the refrigerator if you wish, or do it for an hour on the counter so that the chops come to room temperature.

Lemongrass Pork Chops

Meanwhile, prepare the grill and heat the charcoal. When hot, grill the pork chops until they reach an internal temperature of 165°.  Brush the pork chops with the reserved marinade while they grill.  Remove from grill when done, and let rest for five minutes before slicing or serving.

Serves 2-4.

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Spice Crusted Steaks with Chimichurri Sauce

Spice Crusted Steak with Chimichurri Sauce

I’m willing to bet that most of you thought I forgot how to blog.  Well, I didn’t forget how – I just haven’t had much of a chance to do so.  Starting a little bit after my most recent post last autumn, I started a new job – a new job that requires me to travel out of town Monday – Friday each week.  As a result, I only have time on the weekends to cook.  I won’t lie.  I haven’t done much cooking on those weekends.  The small, country kitchen sans dishwasher coupled with not enough time at home didn’t exactly appeal to my domestic sensibilities.  Didn’t, I say, because I have moved into new digs this month.  I now have the nicest kitchen I’ve ever lived with.  I also live close to one of the largest farmer’s markets in Richmond (South of the James!), and I have a dishwasher.  A fancy, new dishwasher that begs for dishes to wash. Who am I to deny it that right?  Not to mention we have picked up a new grill just in time for grilling season.

The brass tacks: I’m excited by this kitchen, and I am dying to use it when I am home.  I figure, with a little bit of juggling, I can get a post up here about once a week.  So, let’s dispense with the explanatory chatter and get on with the food.

Last weekend we thought we would celebrate the first full-on meal cooked in this kitchen by grilling up some steaks.  My husband, being an eager grillmaster, was ready to work some charcoal magic out back.  I know a lot of purists out there like their steak rather plain, but I like to gussy mine up a bit.  Nothing too fancy, but I like a flavorful spice rub, liberally applied on the steaks and grilled to form a nice crust.  I also love chimichurri sauce, which brightens up the heaviness of steak and tastes likes spring.  Chimichurri sauce is Argentinean in origin, and is a parsley, garlic, and oil based sauce served with beef.  This is an opportunity to use your best olive oil.  Since the sauce isn’t cooked, the olive oil flavor is going to be prominent.

To keep the spring flavors going, we grilled asparagus to go on the side of our steak.  If you’re a fan of Penzey’s, I urge you to brush some fresh asparagus with olive oil, sprinkle on some Mural of Flavor, and grill it until tender.  Mural of Flavor is salt free, citrusy, and a great compliment to asparagus.  Yum.

Spice Crusted Steaks with Chimichurri Sauce

  • 4 NY strip steaks, about 9-10 oz. each

for the dry rub

  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • ½ tsp ancho chili powder
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • ½ tsp onion powder
  • ¼ tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp  coriander
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • dash allspice
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • ½ tsp black pepper

for the chimichurri sauce

  • 1 bunch flat leaf parsley
  • ½ bunch cilantro
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • ¼ C onion
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1 tsp Aleppo pepper
  • pinch of cayenne
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 4 T red wine vinegar
  • ½ C olive oil (use the good stuff!)

Combine all spices for the dry rub in a small bowl and mix well.  Remove the steaks from cold storage and press about a teaspoon of the dry rub onto each side of each steak.  Let the steaks come to room temperature before grilling.

Steak with dry rub

Meanwhile, make the chimichurri sauce.  In the bowl of a food processor, combine all ingredients except for the olive oil.  Pulse until the herbs are very finely chopped.  Remove the herb mixture from the processor to a serving bowl.  Pour the olive oil into the bowl and stir to combine well.  Do not add the oil to the processor, as it will emulsify and become thick and cloudy– like a salad dressing.

Grill the steaks over direct heat for the first five to six minutes of cooking to form a nice crust, then move to indirect heat to finish to your desired doneness.  A good chart to reference temperatures for steak doneness can be found here.  Let steaks rest about 5 minutes before serving to allow juices to redistribute.  To serve, plate the steaks and spoon chimichurri sauce over them.

Serves 4.

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Spicy Carrot Soup with Cilantro-Lime Puree

Carrot Soup

It’s that time of year, friends. There’s a singular nip in the air most mornings. My cat wants to spend every waking moment roaming down by the river. I bought a long sleeved shirt and broke out an extra blanket for the bed. Finally, today, I turned the heat on. Autumn is here, and it’s soup time.

It’s also cold season. My husband caught a cold and passed it to me. I promptly passed it back to him, worse than I received it. Yes, soup was needed in this house. Still feeling lethargic, I wanted to make a soup that was easy, tasty, and packed with nutrients. Carrots, then! Carrots, besides bearing bright-orange beta carotinoids, are chock full of vitamins A, C (goodbye, colds!), K, potassium, thiamin, niacin, fiber, plus other good stuff. Coupled with ginger, which has anti-inflammatory properties and boosts immune system performance, I figured the carrots in this soup would hit my cold with a knockout punch.  I threw in some other warming spices, including a healthy amount of my garam masala to give the soup a gentle, warming spice. Yum! To contrast with the aromatic spices in the soup, I made a simple cilantro lime puree to drizzle on top. It was great, but if you’re not feeling the effort, just sprinkle on some chopped cilantro and a squeeze of lime.  Or drizzle on some sesame oil.  Whatever speaks to you.

Carrot Soup

The cilantro-lime purée spoke to me.

Both soup and purée tasted great too. I liked the minimal effort they took, and I loved getting to break out my immersion blender. Do you have one of those? Because if not, you must get one. I have had mine since last Christmas. I kept putting off using it, assuming it would be difficult to clean or a pain to use. Nay, nay – I was wrong. It was easy, it was fun, and it was so easy to clean. If you have one, use it. Use it often. If you don’t, then buy one. They range from $30-$100. It’s worth every penny. I use this Cuisinart (a $30 model), and I am already planning more soups just so I can use it more.

Since I figured this won’t be the only cold I get this season, I made a great big pot of this soup and froze half of it.  The great thing about too much soup is getting to put some away for when you need it again.  And next time, I’ll have nothing to do but warm it on the stove.

Carrot Soup

Spicy Carrot Soup with Cilantro-Lime Puree

  • 1 T peanut oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1″ piece of ginger, grated
  • 4 C water
  • 1 1/2 lbs carrots
  • 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
  • juice and zest of 1 lime
  • 1 T soy sauce
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 tsp garam masala

Wash carrots and peel if using conventional, non-organic carrots.  Cut the carrots in 1″ pieces and set aside.  Heat peanut oil in a large, heavy bottomed pot over medium-high heat.  When the oil is hot, add the onion, ginger, and garlic.  Saute until the onion is soft and translucent, stirring occasionally to keep the garlic from burning.  When the onions are soft, add the carrots to the pot and pour in the water.  Add the salt, red pepper, soy sauce, garam masala, lime juice and sesame oil– reserving the lime zest.  Bring the soup to a boil, then reduce the heat so that the soup stays at an active simmer.  Cook this way for 20-30 minutes, until the carrots are easily pierced with a fork and soft.  Remove from heat.  Using an immersion blender, puree the soup.  I like to leave a bit of texture but remove any chunks of solid vegetable.  If you want a silkier texture, puree the soup in batches in a conventional blender.  When the soup is blended, stir in the lime zest and taste for seasoning.  Add salt, if needed, until the carrot flavor is bright.  Serve drizzled with cilantro-lime puree.

Serves 4.

Cilantro-Lime Purée

  • 1 1/2 C cilantro leaves, washed and packed
  • juice of 1/2 a lime
  • 2 T peanut or other neutral tasting oil
  • pinch of salt

Using an immersion blender, purée the ingredients together until they are smooth.  Add a bit more oil or water as needed to achieve a thin consistency that is easily drizzled.

Makes about 1 C of purée.

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Blackberry Cobbler

Blackberry Cobbler - 11

I admit it: I have been shameful in updating my blog.  Since it’s the American thing to do, I will offer up a bevy of excuses.  Almost one month ago, I quit taking Ambien.  I also quit ingesting caffeine of any kind.  And naps were straight out the window!  Needless to say– sleep deprived, I existed in some kind of trancelike stupor for a couple weeks.  I’ve since started sleeping again, but the transition was… rough.  During those first few weeks, I didn’t cook much, because I figured I might lose a finger in the process.  Then I stuck to old favorites.  Now I’m back to my usual messing around, and the camera has come back out.

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Lucky for all of you, I have a stockpile of recipes that are already photographed that just need written up.  So, we should back in full-swing shortly.  I rather expect that the carb coma that is coming from playing catch up with the Bread Baker’s Apprentice will be quite refreshing.

Blackberry Cobbler - 01

Anyway, enough of me: on to the food!  You may have seen my guest post on Blackberry Polenta Muffins over at HoneyB’s blog.  That same berry picking adventure yielded those muffins, seven jars of blackberry preserves, 2 pints of frozen berries, and this cobbler.  And oh, this cobbler!  It’s baking magic like my grandma used to make.  She usually made peach cobbler, but I had blackberries, so there you have it.  And why baking magic?  I always marveled over how you start a cobbler with batter on the bottom and fruit on top, but when it comes out the oven the fruit is on the bottom and the dough is on top!  It’s the miracle of baking powder.  The batter even begins to bubble up over the berries as you pour them in.

The other great thing about cobber? This recipe is dead easy.  The ingredients come together in mere minutes, and you get to make like Paula Deen and use an obscene amount of butter.  But hey, there’s fresh berries!  And, besides, we can all use lots of butter with impunity if it’s in the name of making real Southern desserts, right? Seriously.

Blackberry Cobbler - 06

And that’s really all there is to cobbler.  You mix up a simple batter, melt some butter in a pan, pour over the batter, dump the berries in and bake.  It’s so easy it’s criminal, and yet you get warm dough, gooey berries, and everyone swooning over your delicious dessert.  (If you want to go even lazier, use canned peaches like my Grandma. Not that it’s as good as fresh fruit, but it’s better than no dessert, right?)

Blackberry Cobbler - 08

Blackberry Cobbler

  • 1 C flour
  • 1  C sugar
  • 1  C milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 T baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 4 C fresh blackberries
  • 1/3 C sugar
  • 1/2 C butter (1 stick)

Preheat oven to 350º.  In a bowl, whisk together the flour, 1 C sugar, baking powder, milk, cinnamon, and vanilla.  In a separate bowl, sprinkle the 1/3 C sugar over the berries.  When the oven is hot, place the butter in a 9 x 13 glass baking dish.  Melt the butter in the oven.  When the butter is fully melted, remove the pan from the oven.  Pour the batter over the butter (love that phrase).  Next, spread the sugared berries over the batter evenly.  Bake the cobbler for 45 minutes or until golden brown.

Serves 6 – 8.

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Summer Barbeque Menu: A Fourth of July Fiesta Recap

Fiesta4

Fourth of July, you say?  But today is the first day of August!  Yes, yes.  However, I have been promising a recap of the menu for our Fourth of July Fiesta.  I keep my promises!  You’ve still got over a month of summer left, and this menu would be great for a cookout or barbecue whether with just your household or with several friends.  It would also be a great way to say farewell to summer on a long, lazy Labor Day weekend.

Fiesta2

I chose the dishes for our spread becuase many of them can be made a day ahead or the morning before a get together.  All of the salsas are fair game.  You’ll probably grill while guests are over, so the only things that need prepared immediately before serving are the guacamole and the tostones.  The guacamole will turn brown over time, so it just gets unappetizing if you make it the day before.  I’ll eat slightly brown guacamole left over, but let’s keep it appealing the first go round, shall we?  The tostones are best served hot, although I’m known to nibble on them throughout an evening long after they’ve grown cold.

Fiesta3

Now, let’s say you have some kitchen-savvy friends that want to bring something.  Exercise those master delegation skills you picked up at work and have each friend bring one of the salsas listed below.  Have another bring some tortilla chips.  One can bring dessert, and one can bring margaritas/tequila.  And so on.  Then you’ve got even less to do, and you won’t have a hodge-podge of random foods that don’t go with your menu.  Personally, I would love it if I asked a friend “What can I bring?” and I got e-mailed a recipe.  Would love it.  Performance anxiety out the window!  If you’re not comfortable with this, go ahead and tell them “Paper plates” and commit to doing the cooking yourself.  Just a suggestion.

The Menu

Grilled Pork Tacos with Pineapple Salsa and Chunky Guacamole

Fiesta

The pork tenderloin filling is very spicy, but the sweetness of the pineapple salsa and creaminess of the guacamole tames it nicely.  No other condiments needed!  Plus, they’re great for dipping chips into so they serve double duty if you make extra.  The pork is tender and bursting with juices due to the pineapple in the marinade.  If you don’t grill with charcoal, it has a smokiness from the spice blend that lends it that complexity.  The pork held up beautifully the next day, sliced cold from the fridge.  If you have a nice, big grill, you can make a couple of tenderloins at the same time as well as your grilled corn.

Tostones with Salsa Criolla

Fiesta - 07

Tostones are fried and crisp…….

Fiesta - 05

Salsa criolla is fresh and tangy.  I like to keep them separate until just before serving so that the tostones stay as crisp as possible.  The salsa criolla is essentially a red onion quick-pickle, so the longer it sits the more mellow the onion flavor becomes and the more pickled the whole thing starts to taste.  This is great made the day before.  I like for it to come close to room temperature before serving.

Elote (Mexican Grilled Corn)

Fiesta - 08

I’ll go ahead and admit that I didn’t make a fully traditional recipe for Elote here.  I linked to Food Blogga’s, because if you want to go all out, that’s the way to go.  However, I just don’t eat mayo.  I also opted out of the sprinkle of cheese because I wanted the corn kept very, very light.  Still, if I were you, I’d make hers (unless you’re also in the Mayo-Free Club).  For the record, we soaked the corn with husks on for 30 minutes, rubbed it down with olive oil, grilled it, then sprinkled chili powder on it.  I served it with lime to squeeze over.  This is very tasty, but seriously – go check out Susan’s.

Tortilla Chips and Fresh Salsa

Fiesta - 03

This is my go-to recipe for fresh salsa.  It’s tangy, with lots of kick due to a healthy dose of lemon juice.  I love the texture, because while it’s not in big chunks, it’s not smooth either.  I use the food processor to mince this up.  Now, while I have amounts of tomatoes and onion listed on the recipe, keep this in mind: you want more tomato than onion.  So, if your onion is large and your tomatoes are small, adjust accordingly.  You don’t want this salsa more oniony than tomatoey, especially if you’re serving salsa criolla with the tostones.

Frozen Margaritas

Fiesta - 15

If you’re looking for a great margarita recipe, I’ve linked to a good basic one from The Kitchen Sink Recipes.  Please don’t buy the mix.  It’s full of high fructose corn syrup, and really – you can do better.  It’s not any harder at all.  If you’re blending, you might as well use triple sec.  Hell, maybe even toss in a little Cointreau.  And  by all means, serve it in your Cactus Stem Margarita glasses.

A good fiesta is nothing if not a little cheesy.

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