Friday, October 22, 2021

 

“Wild” Mushrooms sautéed with Goat Cheese (and optional Ham) on a “Planche”
 

Suddenly, some people, including our son-in-law Jason, are growing shiitake mushrooms at home. Locally grown ones are also often available in Georgia in fancier supermarkets, produce markets, as well as Asian grocery shops. Here’s a way of serving them like the French prepare seasonal wild mushrooms, typically as a starter course.

The dish is patterned after a specialty of Louisiana-born and French-restaurant experienced Chef Joe Truex, formerly with Watershed, in Decatur, Georgia. It serves as a starter or a light lunch or supper. 

The “Planche” is a long, diagonally cut slice of French baguette buttered on both sides and fried until golden. English muffins split in half are a readily available substitute. The “wild” mushrooms are either fresh shiitake or a combination of shiitake and oyster mushrooms. But locally collected chanterelles, “Hen of the Forest,” or morels would be more authentic. The ham is optional, but makes the dish richer in flavor. Country ham was Joe Truex’s choice, but smoked ham from the deli counter works well. The ham is easily chopped finely, or minced, on a cutting board with a chef’s knife. 

The recipe serves 4 to 6, depending on how the dish is used in the meal. 

Mushrooms

1 pound shiitake mushrooms or a mixture of small fresh shiitake and oyster mushrooms

2 tablespoons minced country ham or smoked ham (1-2 slices from deli counter) -- optional

1 tablespoon minced shallot or green onion

2 tablespoons olive oil

3 tablespoons white wine

3 tablespoons water, plus more as needed

4-6 ounces soft goat cheese

Salt, if needed (may not be needed if using salty ham)

Juice of 1/2 of a small-medium lemon

Minced parsley for garnish 

Planches

4-6 slices baguette cut 1/2-inch thick on a long, flat bias to make oval slices 4 to 6 inches long (or split English muffins)

Butter for the bread

Prepare ingredients for mushrooms. Rinse mushrooms, and for shiitakes, cut off stems. Slice mushrooms about 1/2-inch wide. Mince the ham, if used. Mince shallot or green onion. Have other ingredients ready. 

Slice the bread into the number of
planches needed, or use one English muffin, split, per person. Lightly butter both sides. Fry them gently in a wide frying pan on both sides until golden. Set on serving plates. 

Reheat frying pan. Gently fry minced ham, if used, and shallot or green onion in olive oil until shallot is softened. Add mushrooms and stir and fry until looking slightly softened. Add wine and water, and simmer, stirring frequently, until liquid is reduced to half. 

Stir in goat cheese, until melted. If sauce is thick add a little water. Remove from heat. Taste for salt, and add a little if needed. Squeeze in lemon juice. Mix briefly. 

Spoon mixture onto the fried planches. Dust lightly with minced parsley. 

Sunday, August 29, 2021

 

French Lentil Salad

Here's a traditional salad from France, a “salade de lentilles” [sah-'lahd deh lawn-'tee]). Originally for winter when produce was scarce, the dish is tangy enough for any season. My updated recipe includes fresh vegetables for color and brighter taste. The red and green highlights beautify the dish for buffets, especially at Christmas. Lentil salad can serve as a side dish, or be offered as an appetizer if spooned onto lettuce leaves. It can even be spread onto toasted sliced baguette, bruschetta, or crackers as hors d'oevres.

Most supermarkets carry one-pound bags of tan-green lentils. These are fine for this salad. The recipe serves six or more as an appetizer or side dish. It’s best made ahead; leftovers keep well refrigerated for several days.

1/2 pound (1 cup) dry tan-green lentils

1 small bay leaf

1 medium clove of garlic, bruised

1 teaspoon salt, divided

1/4 teaspoon black pepper, divided

3 tablespoons wine vinegar or lemon juice

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 large scallion (green onion), or 2 tablespoons minced red onion

2 small-medium tomatoes or 1 cup grape tomatoes

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

1 extra tomato or 8-10 grape tomatoes plus parsley sprigs for garnish


Pick over lentils. Soak them in plenty of boiling water for 20 minutes. Drain.

Place lentils in a pot, add water to just cover, and return to a boil. Reduce to simmer. Skim off foam. Stir in bay leaf, garlic, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/8 teaspoon black pepper. Simmer, uncovered, just at the edge of a boil. Stir gently from time to time and add a little water, if needed, to keep the liquid level at the surface of the lentils. Cook just until just tender (15-20 minutes), testing a few lentils by biting them.

Drain in colander (the juice can be used in soups or stews), shaking it gently. Transfer lentils to a large bowl to cool, and stir gently from time to time. Remove bay leaf and garlic.

Stir in vinegar or lemon juice, olive oil, about 1/4 teaspoon salt, plus 1/8 teaspoon pepper. For scallion, slice white and green portions very thinly; or use finely minced onion. Stir scallion or onion into lentils. Allow mixture to sit at least ten minutes. Taste, and add salt if needed. The salad is best if refrigerated 8 hours or more.

Before serving, taste again and add vinegar or lemon juice and/or salt if necessary. Cut tomatoes into small pieces and chop parsley. Stir both into lentils, plus a little salt for the tomato. Serve in shallow bowl or heaped up on platter. Garnish with the additional tomato, sliced, or grape tomatoes, halved, and sprigs of parsley.

Monday, July 12, 2021

 

Pork braised with Nectarines or Plums, a Summer Treat 

Bowl by Maria Dondero, Southern Star Studio, Athens GA 
Pork is certainly the meat that pairs best with fruit, or with sweetness, in cooking, with many great examples. A distant second meat for cooking with fruit would be duck (such as French Duck á l’Orange), but Americans don’t use duck much. In North Africa, lamb is sometimes braised with fruit and sweetness, as in Moroccan Tagines. Beef and chicken rarely go with fruit, in my experience. 

With nectarines becoming available in the summer, here’s one of my favorite dishes using pork with fruit, Pork braised with Nectarine. Plums, particularly dark colored prune plums in late summer, are also good. This delightful, and satisfyingly hearty, pork-fruit combination goes well with buttered noodles, potatoes or rice, set off with crisp-tender broccoli or a green salad. A chilled dry to off-dry rosé would be my choice of wine to have with this..

The recipe serves six. 

2 pounds lean pork, tenderloin, “country ribs,” or butt preferred

3/4 teaspoon salt for meat, plus 1/2 teaspoon for cooking

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1 small onion, finely diced

1/4 cup red wine

1 pound nectarines (or plums)

1/2 cup water, plus more as needed

1/2 teaspoon paprika

1/4 teaspoon oregano

Pinch of cayenne

Chopped or whole sprigs of parsley for garnish, optional

Sour cream, optional

Trim (but save) excess fat from pork. Cut meat in 1-1/4 inch chunks. Include bone if using “country ribs.” Season meat with salt and pepper. Wash nectarines or plums but do not peel them. Cut flesh off the pits and chop it finely by hand or in food processor. 

Render (melt) fat trimmings in cooking pot. Discard cracklings. Pour off (but save) all except 3 tablespoons grease, or add olive or vegetable oil as needed. Fry pork, half at a time, in the pot, until just starting to brown, adding a little more grease if needed. Remove to a bowl with slotted spoon. 

Fry diced onions in the pot, adding a little grease if needed, until softened and starting to brown. Add fried meat plus wine. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Add chopped nectarines or plums, water, 1/2 teaspoon salt, the paprika, oregano and cayenne. 

Simmer covered, stirring occasionally and pushing meat down into the liquid, until meat is tender, adding a little water if sauce becomes dry (15-20 minutes for tenderloin up to 30-45 minutes for country ribs or butt). Taste during cooking and add salt as needed. 

When serving, optionally garnish with chopped or whole sprigs of parsley. Top with a little sour cream, if desired.

Saturday, July 10, 2021

 

Thai Chili-Lime Fish (Pla Prik Manau) can be super-hot 

The hottest authentic dish I’ve ever encountered was in Thailand, where fried fish showed up coated thickly with what looked like chopped raw green chilies. 

Called “Prik Manao” [PRIK ma-NOW], the packed-on topping simply means hot pepper and lime. Raw green – or red – chilies and lime juice are two main ingredients, along with plentiful raw garlic, Thai fish sauce, cilantro leaves and a bit of sugar. It’s surprisingly delicious. I’ve toned down the heat in the recipe. 

The traditional fish for this would have been a white-fleshed ocean fish (I love grouper), but nowadays salmon shows up everywhere, and aside from the color seem just like delicious Thai fish. Once, in a hurry, I cheated and put the sauce over baked supermarket crunchy fish fingers -- with relative success. 

The recipe makes enough for six. Accompany this with unsalted white rice, preferably jasmine rice, and a stir-fried vegetable dish. A cold white wine with faint sweetness goes particularly well with the dish. 

Prepare the sauce before cooking the fish:

3 large green or red jalapeño peppers (use fewer, or remove part of seeds for milder sauce)

5 large cloves garlic

1/2 cup cilantro leaves, loosely packed and including a bit of stem

3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice, plus to taste

1 1/2 teaspoons Thai fish sauce, plus to taste

1 teaspoon sugar, plus to taste 

Cut stems off peppers and peel garlic. Mince peppers (including seeds and membranes for authenticity) and garlic finely on cutting board with chef’s knife or pulse them till finely minced, but not pureed, in food processor. (Be careful handling the chilies, or wear a plastic glove.) 

Place minced pepper and garlic in bowl. Chop, but do not mince, cilantro, and add it to mixture. Add remaining ingredients and mix well. 

Taste (it’s hot) and add lime juice, fish sauce (for salt) and/or sugar to taste. Let sauce rest, stirring occasionally, at least half an hour. 

Fish:

6 servings fish, such as grouper or tilapia (thawed just before cooking, if frozen), or salmon

Salt for fish

Flour or rice flour for dusting

Canola or vegetable (not olive) for frying 

Dry fish with paper towel. Sprinkle lightly with salt on both sides. Heat frying pan or griddle to medium hot. Add 1/8 inch of oil. 

Dust fish lightly on both sides with flour or rice flour. Fry half the fish at a time, turning carefully, until just cooked through. Place on platter and fry the remaining fish. 

Spoon most of the sauce over the fish pieces, evening it out to cover the fish. Serve leftover sauce in a side dish. Accompany with unsalted white rice.

Friday, June 25, 2021

 

Jerk Chicken is a savory Jamaican favorite

What could be more Jamaican than Jerk Chicken? Actually it dates only from the 1960s. As a student in the mid-60s, I spent two 3-month summers based at the University of the West Indies in Mona (Kingston), Jamaica. I didn’t encounter jerk and I didn’t hear Bob Marley or Reggae. These cultural phenomena were, in retrospect, already there, but not yet widely recognized. 

Jerk cooking, or “jerking,” evolved from the slow fire-roasting of meat practiced by Jamaica’s indigenous Taíno Indians. In its modern form, jerk emerged in rural Jamaica, where roadside vendors would rub meats, especially goat and pork, with spices and peppers, and grill them over smoldering wood or charcoal in halved oil drums. 

Allspice, the dried berry of the Jamaican “Bay” tree, is the only true spice native to the Western Hemisphere. It is nearly invariable as a jerk seasoning . The other constant is the fiery “Scotch Bonnet” pepper. I use cayenne for convenience. 

While whole chicken is traditional, I use leg quarters or just thighs. For moistness, the chicken should have the bones in. Removing the skin is optional, but healthier. The rub should be applied 12 to 24 hours before cooking. I roast in the oven rather than on the grill. 

The recipe serves six or more. 

Season chicken one day ahead:
6 large chicken leg quarters or 12 large thighs with skin and bone
1 tablespoon salt
2 teaspoons ground allspice
1 1/2 teaspoons paprika
1 1/2 teaspoons garlic salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
3/4 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1/2 teaspoon ground celery seed (not celery salt)
3/8 to 3/4 teaspoon (or more) cayenne
1-1/2 tablespoons vinegar or lime juice
3 tablespoons vegetable oil

Remove skin from chicken and trim off excess fat. Cut thighs from drumsticks if using leg quarters. Rinse chicken pieces and pat dry with paper towels. Slash flesh in a few places. Mix remaining ingredients other than the oil. Rub well into chicken on all surfaces.
 

Finally, rub everything with oil. Place chicken in zip-lock plastic bag and refrigerate 12 to 24 hours, squeezing bag from time to time to baste with the accumulated juices.

Set oven for 360 degrees. Arrange a “cake” rack on a sheet pan. Place chicken pieces upside down on rack. Discard marinade. Roast 20 minutes on upper shelf of oven.

Turn pieces over. Roast an additional 20-30 minutes, turning occasionally. The chicken should be well cooked, and show no pinkness when a knife tip is inserted and twisted.

Serve with a seasoned rice dish, and a slightly sweet shredded cabbage salad.

Thursday, June 24, 2021

 

Gazpacho Andaluz -- cold Spanish summer soup


The origins of gazpacho go back to the Arab-Moorish period in Spain, long before tomatoes and peppers were introduced to Europe from the Americas. It appears to have been a cold soup made from cucumbers and onion, olive oil, lemon juice, herbs, plus ground almonds and stale bread to give it body. The recipe here retains much of the original, but includes the tomato and pepper that now seem to make gazpacho gazpacho. This recipe serves six generously.

1 medium-small red (preferred) or green sweet bell pepper

2 small pickling cucumbers or 1/2 of a regular cucumber

1 small onion or 3 scallions (green onions)

4-inch piece of celery

1 small clove garlic

3 large slices stale white bread, such as baguette

1 1/2 cups water

1 large (28-ounce) can whole or diced tomatoes in puree (without basil)

1/4 cup ground almonds or almond butter

1/4 teaspoon hot pepper sauce or to taste, or a large pinch of cayenne

1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, or to taste

1 1/2 teaspoons salt, or more to taste

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup ice cubes

Freshly diced tomato and minced parsley, and olive oil for garnish


Core and remove pith from pepper; cut flesh into coarse pieces. Peel cucumber if skin is tough or waxed, quarter it lengthwise and remove seeds if large. Cut flesh into chunks. Peel onion and cut it into chunks, or remove roots from scallions and cut white and green parts into roughly 1-inch lengths.

Place celery, cut in several pieces, and the garlic, peeled, in the food processor. Pulse on and off to chop. Scraping down inside of processor bowl from time to time. Add onion or scallion, cucumber, and red or green pepper. Pulse to chop finely. Tear bread in small pieces and add it and the water to the processor and run it briefly to puree the bread. Transfer to a mixing bowl. 

Add tomatoes, ground almonds, pepper sauce or cayenne, lemon juice, salt, pepper and olive oil to the processor. Run processor to make a coarse soupy mixture. Add ice and process again. Add this mixture to the bowl with the previous ingredients, and mix well. Taste and adjust salt and lemon juice and other seasonings to taste. If mixture is too thick, dilute with water to a creamy consistency. Refrigerate at least 1/2 hour (or up to 3 days). 

Before serving, stir well, taste again and adjust salt and lemon juice if necessary. Serve in individual bowls (or wine glasses) garnished with a little diced tomato and parsley, plus a drizzle of olive oil.

Sunday, June 13, 2021

 

Watermelon and Feta for a refreshing summer salad

Fresh, cool, watermelon dotted with salty feta cheese sets up taste sensations that stimulate even the heat-jaded palate. Drizzle it all with lemon- and jalapeño-infused dressing and add a little arugula, and all the tastes are covered: sweet, sour, bitter, salty and chili hot. Even better, it’s beautiful!

My first experience of watermelon paired with tangy cheese was Hugh Acheson’s summer salad of local watermelon wedges interspersed with locally made goat cheese at the Five and Ten, here in Athens, Georgia. I later learned that watermelon with feta cheese is an established Greek specialty, as is feta paired with fresh figs.

But whether an “unlikely” food pairing was already thought of is beside the point. What makes a particular chef’s dish unique is the sourcing and quality of the ingredients, the subtle extra touches and the presentation.

The availability of “seedless” watermelon makes dishes with the fruit simpler to prepare and easier to eat than in the old days. I find pure olive oil heavy for dressing this salad, and use predominantly sunflower or canola oil with a little olive oil. Lemon zest and a little hot pepper infused briefly into the oil add subtlety. Either lemon juice or balsamic vinegar can supply the tartness.

The recipe serves six, either using separate salad plates or a larger platter.

3 tablespoons sunflower or canola oil

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

3 lengthwise strips lemon zest, cut from lemon with vegetable peeler

8 thin slices jalapeño pepper

2 tablespoons lemon juice or balsamic vinegar

1/8 teaspoon salt

Approximately 3 pounds “seedless” watermelon (half of a medium-small one)

Approximately 1 1/2 cups arugula, rinsed and drained

1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese

 

In a bowl, make dressing by combining oils, zest and pepper slices. Bruise zest and pepper with back of a spoon. Stir in lemon juice or balsamic plus salt. After 20 minutes, lift out zest and pepper with fork.

Cut off rind and slice watermelon to desired thickness: 1/4 inch for triangles, 3/4 inch for chunks. Cut either into 2-by-3 inch triangles or 3/4-inch chunks.

Place bed of arugula on salad plates or serving platter. Stack up watermelon attractively on arugula. Sprinkle crumbled feta over and between watermelon pieces. Drizzle dressing evenly over the top.