GRAINS, FLOWERS, LEAVES AND APPLES IN THE WONDERFUL MONTH OF MAY
Hello Princess Spring-To-Summer where are the tomatoes are growing green and the peppers are beginning to cross the line from sweet to heat. Surround your home with fragrant herbs, sweet lettuces, and flowers. The bounty of better boy and heritage tomatoes, of sweet bell peppers and life threatening habanera, the long strands of strawberry and stevia all growing upside in those topsy turvy pots, or right side up in cages and steps. It just does not matter where or how, this is the South, this is way we dress our home in all things edible and where they don’t grow then all things green and blossoming. Salads, the quick and the easy plucked from the yard. We are entering the salad times so let’s look at a few that are fast and easy, if not delicious and untamed.
I was caught surprise by a bogey message in my daily planner that photographs were due so I messaged Bryan Redding, editor and favorite photographer, and said that if pictures were necessary I was not ready. Then of course he called and asked if I wanted to do photographs today. I said, “Why not, let’s do salads. I have a pantry, yard and refrigerator ready except for tomatoes.” I lied. I had no idea what I was going to do so I purchased time by asking him to stop by Kroger, Publix or Earthfare to see if they had those tomatoes on the vine that they sell sometimes. Not the best but good when nothing is fruiting in the home patch.
He said, “Sure, I’ll be there in 30 minutes.” Haha!
And thus we have three nice salads: quinoa and pigeon peas with “pancetta” style seasoned hog jowl bacon; romaine with rose hips, dried fruits, almonds and sesame-wasabi dressing; purple and Yukon gold potatoes with apple, tomato, boiled egg, sweet William flowers and bleu cheese. There are many things that can be done in a hurry and as long as there are olive oils, seasoned oils, flavored vinegars, cheeses, some kind of lettuce and choice grains and legumes then anything can happen come surprise or planning.
Pigeon peas are a hot weather legume. They look like big sweet pea, green bean or soy bean pod. They are a meaty pea and can be used fresh or dried. They do not like frost, but they will grow strong for about five years. It takes three to four months from planting before they start to produce pods. They grow tall and require a trellis. Bees love the pea flowers. That’s for the gardeners in the bunch here. As with all legumes they are high in protein. They are used in India for making dhal. Western recipes prefer to say that dhal is made with lentils , soy beans and red beans but pigeon peas are the true source of this great dish.
When using the dried pea you can make flour out of them in a high speed Vita Prep style blender. I enjoy making my own flours out of beans, rice and grains. There is something great to be said for taking the few minutes to make your own flour. The proof is always in the flavor.
Pigeon peas must be cooked to soft but still round for our purposes here today. You can cook them like any pea to whatever your purpose is from soft to mash, it all depends on the purpose of the recipe.
I have written many times about quinoa and will continue to write about quinoa. This mother grain has more proteins than any other edible seed. It is grown from the Andes to Columbia and has been central to South American cuisine for centuries prior to the Spanish conquest of the Inca and Mayan cultures.
The Spanish suppressed this mighty grain for many reasons, one is that they considered it a food of lesser cultures. Because it was overlooked by the invading nationalities it took a while for quinoa to catch on in North American cookery. This is similar to the way that whole wheat bread and white bread alternated over the centuries. Whole wheat was a food for the workers during the building of the pyramids while white bread was for royalty and upper classes. We now know that whole wheat is much more healthy. It may also be possible that quinoa did not catch on because it was bitter to European tastes. After all, they did take the potato, corn and tomato and adapted them to gardens the world over.
Quinoa is good cooked like rice or ground to make flour for bread; it is used even in making beer and as a leaf substitute for spinach. It is always necessary to rinse quinoa before cooking to remove any bitter hull that may still be on the seeds. As with rinsing rice, rinsing quinoa is part of the cooking process, although it is not necessary to soak the quinoa before cooking. If you soak quinoa for a few hours it will begin to germinate and grow both softer and higher in protein. Along with proteins, quinoa is high in amino acid, phosphorous, magnesium, iron, and is gluten free so this is a preferred grain for vegetarian, gluten free and healthy diets.
Potatoes are native to the Andes of Chile and Peru. Potatoes were then taken to Europe and North America where they thrived. Purple potatoes are high in starch and sugars, and Yukon gold potatoes are high in sugars so that the two together on a plate make for delicious visual and flavor contrasts.
All cheese is made from some kind of milk be it cow, goat, sheep or ox. We make blue and green veined cheese by introducing flour yeast cultures to the cheese during the aging process. Because blue and green veined cheeses have bread mold/yeast added they are not gluten free. Parmesan cheese is high in umami of the five flavors hot, sour, salty, sweet and umami. Umami is in green tea, soy sauce, sea salt, red wine, various cheeses, seaweed and chocolate. It is called delicious in translation. That can be misleading, umami is what makes the mouth water and hence allowing flavors to be more acutely experienced. Parmesan, feta, burrata, fresh mozzarella and blue cheeses are favorites for salads because they truly do bring out the delicate flavors of raw and cooked ingredients in salads.
QUINOA AND PIGEON PEAS
Remember that all items except the tomato were present in my pantry, refrigerator and yard at the time of composition. This was truly hunting and gathering with what was at hand. I used hog jowl bacon for my take on instant pancetta. Curing rolled pork belly with whole allspice, whole peppercorns, sea salt, curing salt and sugar, makes pancetta. I made mine by slowly cooking hog jowl bacon with allspice, sorghum syrup, white peppercorns and coarse sea salt. Reserve the fat from the hog jowls for cooking the potatoes in the next recipe. I bought the sliced hog jowl at Publix. This kind of cut is also used in making many great Sichuan rice and ground meat dishes. The current fetishising of bacon is an interesting thing since fatty sections of pork are used wherever flavor and fat are required. I would never use bacon in a squash casserole but we Southerners certainly do use fat back in casseroles. Same for biscuits, we use lard but not bacon fat. The best and most fluffy potatoes are cooked in any kind of pork fat and
2 ounces quinoa (dry weight)
1 cup water to rinse and soak the quinoa for 10 minutes
5 ounces chicken stock
1/ 4 cup yellow onion, minced
1/3 teaspoon thyme leaves
1 tablespoon cilantro, chopped
1/3 teaspoon salt
2 black peppercorns, crushed
1 tablespoon butter
½ cup cooked pigeon peas (use canned, frozen or fresh, the best)
Sautee the onion on medium heat in butter and cook until they are clear. Add the quinoa and stir to coat the grains with the butter. Add the stock and all other ingredients. Bring to a boil. Turn down to low and cover. Add pigeon peas. Cook for 10 minutes. Check and stir. If stock has reduced then taste for softness and flavor. If not then stir and cook for about 3 more minutes, covered.
While the quinoa is cooking cook your hog jowl bacon in a large iron skillet
HOG JOWL “PANCETTA”
8 slices hog jowl bacon
3 allspice, whole (if no whole then pinch of ground allspice)
¼ teaspoon white pepper or 3 white peppercorns
1 tablespoon sorghum syrup or black strap molasses
1/3 teaspoon coarse sea salt
Place bacon in skillet and heat on medium heat. Add spices after it begins to sizzle. Turn and let cook until crisp, pour fat into another large iron skillet. Add sorghum to the bacon. Remove from pan and place on paper napkin to drain fat.
5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 leaves basil
3 tablespoons aged balsamic vinegar
½ teaspoon turbinado sugar
½ teaspoon yellow mustard
Whisk ingredients together before adding to dish.
Divide the quinoa and pigeon peas between two plates. Arrange in a line on the plate. Set the jowl pancetta in the middle of each line of quinoa. Drizzle the vinaigrette over each plate. Garnish with fresh edible nasturtium flowers or crisp violet petals.
ROMAINE WITH DRIED FRUITS AND WASABI-MISO VINAIGRETTE
Spicy, crunchy, fruity and sharp; how can you go wrong with this arrangement?
I used dried apricots because I had them on hand for my three salads in 30 minutes. Remember that for all of these I was racing against the clock as Bryan was coming over to photograph the plates! I always have wasabi and miso in the house because their flavors are so versatile. Do not think that the wasabi root is confined to raw fish, though surely the best place for it is with sparkling fresh wahoo we are using it for a sauce. Vinaigrette is a sauce. Miso, the product of fermented soy beans is a deep flavor that is used in dashi, soups and sauces. Almonds because they balance the crunchy aspect of this salad, and salads that have a bit of crunch just seem to taste better. I have a camellia and a rose hips tree/bush in my yard.
½ teaspoon wasabi powder or paste
1 teaspoon miso paste
10 leaves fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons sweet gherkin, or bread and butter pickles, minced
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
2/3 cup corn oil
Whisk wasabi, miso and corn oil to for semi thick, then add the pickle and cilantro. Slowly add the vinegar while whisking so that it thins the vinaigrette but does not separate. Chill. If it separates after you remove it from the refrigerator just shake it up or whip it in a mixing bowl. Sometimes a touch of mayonnaise or mustard will bind it together.
2 romaine hearts, center section
10 slices dried apricot
5 rose hips, or you can use rose petals and orange zest if not available
3 stalks green onion
1 tomato, sliced in small cubes
Rinse romaine leaves in cold water and shake off the water. Slice in fork sized pieces. Place in large bowl. Add apricot, rose, green onion, almonds and tomato. Add 4 ounces of the vinaigrette. Divide between two plates. You can also add large croutons to this to add to the crunchy goodness.
POTATO AND APPLE PLATE
A plate of food that is both salad and starch is a visual and flavorful pleasure. Peruvian purple potatoes are a rich purple color, very starchy and filling. Yukon gold potatoes are yellowish, light and airy, and sweet. The two potatoes contrast nicely with the apple, tomato, egg and blue cheese. We are using the oil from our bacon to cook the potatoes. Cage free, organic, farm eggs really do taste better, they make better custards, aioli and cakes. Rhode Island Red hens produce an incredible egg that you may not know, but you can bet your grandparents enjoyed them. Today, this kind of egg is being reintroduced to the market and it is not just a brown egg, it is an egg from a different kind of chicken who has been fed a different kind of food and the results are recognizable. Sweet Williams were blooming around my yard so they made it to the plate!
Best way to boil an egg? For two eggs in a small pot: cover with cold water, ½ teaspoon salt and ½ ounce apple cider vinegar. Turn up to boil. When it boils, turn down to medium and cook five minutes. Remove from heat and put pot under running cold water. Do not pour out the hot water, let the cold water force it out. After the water is cool take the egg and tap it onto the sides of the pan to crush the shell but not so hard that it breaks the film around the egg white. Under the slow cold water begin peeling the shell off of the egg until all is removed.
6, 1 ounce slices purple potato
6, 1 ounce slices yukon gold potato
2 eggs, boiled, peeled and sliced
8 slices red delicious apple
8 slices tomato
4 blossoms sweet William or whatever small edible flower is close by
2 ounces blue cheese crumbles
2 ounces Mexican crema fresca
¼ teaspoon coarse sea salt
¼ teaspoon Dukes mayonnaise
Heat a large iron skillet to medium high heat with the oil from the hog jowl bacon in the pan. When the oil is 350 degrees add the potato slices one by one. Gently shake the pan after each potato slice is added. Fry 3 minutes each side. They will be light brown on the outside and cooked on the inside. Remove from heat and drain on a paper towel to remove excess oil.
To make the dressing, combine the crema fresca, mayonnaise, blue cheese, salt and pepper. Spread this over the plate.
Arrange the potatoes on the plate, blue/white/blue then apple. Arrange the slices of tomato and egg to the corner away from the potato. Sprinkle with edible flower petals.
Thank you, always love the one you’re with and have a beautiful month of May. Visit me now in our new restaurant, The Iron Grill, On Mitchell Bridge Road, where wonderful things do happen.
It was like this last night:
Coming out of the rumble
That is the cattle call of all lovers past,
Watching Drive By Truckers on late night TV
Smiling with each note, bass line and slide solo,
They are ours here in Athens, The Classic City,
They belong to Alabama, to NASCAR and Muscle Shoals,
To rock to life to Nuci’s Space the DBTs of Ruth Street,
Yeah, they belong to us all and Everyday’s a Birthday.
Southern Rock Southern Soul Southern Poems
And Southern Food, as long as it tastes good
Sounds good in these sultry Summer Days.
The World turns to the South for love and inspiration.
There’s this thing that we are here, the way
We worship June tomatoes, yellow squash,
Ripe sweet melons, banana peppers and pork bbq.
So it goes. We all have our favorites.
We all have a need for that thing that makes us smile,
From food to song to lonesome days on the hill,
There is nothing better than a moment
That goes beyond the signal of touch and grace.
Yes, with a beloved. Yes, the moment shared.
Sometimes drifting in the mystery of 3 a.m.
I hear a modern country blues coming from within,
I hear Don Chambers +Goat (a modern Doc Boggs)
Singing High Water or Friars Lantern…
I want to wake her up and start the day,
I can taste her lips on the mist,
Hear her laughter trail on the call of dawn,
But for now in the mystery hours
There is just this assurance, this way of life
That is ours, this thing that is beautiful.
There it is, shining in the gospel light of a Georgia dawn,
She, like a batch of wild sweet peas and purple violets.
All I want to so is stand with her
By the stove on a Sunday morning.
Every flower blooms. Every pan sizzles.
Every romance has a meaning.
And today, yes, these things are true.
These are the things of Southern Song and Story.