Roasted Eggplant–a how-to guide for easy roasting, freezing and preparing

Eggplants Growing in a Container--Nubia VarietyHere in Southern Wisconsin, eggplant has enjoyed a great season but it is nearly at an end.  Get to the farmers market before it is all over–you still have time –and buy some beautiful, large American or Italian varieties.  Get a bunch—think 2 large eggplants per dish. Roast and freeze them now and for the rest of the year, you’ll be able to whip up some amazing tasting dishes lickety split using locally grown eggplants.  Baba ganoush is one of my favorite roasted eggplant dishes but so many world cuisines use this beautiful, meaty, veggie in so many creative ways. (Skip to the end for some inspiration and motivation to get you to the market.)

About: Eggplants come in many shapes and sizes, with the exception of Hmong Red and African varieties bred to be bitter, they all have a similar mild taste and meaty texture.  While any variety can be roasted, the fleshier Italian and American varieties work best.

How to Roast Eggplants: Charring the skin of the eggplant imparts a rich, smoky flavor to the flesh—an essential flavor to any roasted eggplant dish.  Eggplants can be roasted in a 400° F oven, but it takes an hour or more if the eggplant is large. Also, the skin doesn’t blister enough to create a strong smoky flavor.  Try one of the following methods instead:

Eggplant Roasting on the Grill

Grill Method 

  1. Place whole eggplant on a hot grill.
  2. Char each side of the eggplant for about 8 minutes; turn with metal tongs—about 30 minutes altogether.
  3. Once the eggplant is charred evenly, place in a bowl and cover with a plate or a non-reactive pot with a lid to steam. Allow the eggplant to steam and cool—at least 15 minutes.
  4. The eggplant should be completely caved in on itself and the flesh soft. Peal off the charred skin.  If there are a lot of seeds, remove some.  If the flesh does not seem to be completely tender, finish cooking in the microwave. Discard the liquid; it may be bitter.Eggplant Roasting & Steaming

Oven Broiler Method: Follow the steps above but #1.  Instead, place eggplant on a cookie sheet and place under the broiler.

Stove Top Method: Follow the steps above but #1.  Instead place eggplant directly on the grate of the stove top and turn gas to high.  This only works with gas stoves.

Storing in the Refrigerator: Roasted eggplants will keep for 3 days in a sealed container in the refrigerator.

Eggplant--Roasted in Freezer Bags Eggplant--Roasted in Freezer Bags Eggplant--Roasted in Freezer Bags

 

 

 

 

 

Storing in the Freezer:   Eggplant cannot be canned or dehydrated. You could peel, blanch, and freeze fresh eggplant, but why bother as it looses its texture and has a bland flavor.  Instead preserve it by storing roasted eggplant in sealed freezer bags; the difference between fresh and frozen roasted eggplant is indistinguishable. NOTE2 lbs. fresh eggplant yields about 1 cup roasted.

  1. Place 2 large, roasted and peeled eggplants in a freezer bag. (about 1 cup)
  2. Press flat removing all air.
  3. Label and date.
  4. Place stacked bags in the freezer.  They will keep for a year or more.

Cooking Methods:  Roasted eggplant is served mashed—from roughly chopped with a lot of text to a fine puree. Try pairing it  with various seasoning and spices for a great dip, spread, or sauce.  Add some stock and cream and you have a soup.

Add 1 cup roasted eggplant with the following seasonings:

  • Japanese: 1 Tablespoon soy sauce, 2 teaspoon sesame oil, 1 1/2 teaspoon sugar, 1 teaspoon mirin; garnish with 1 stalk green onion finely chopped
  • Korean: do the same as Japanese and add one small clove garlic mashed to paste and 2 teaspoon Korean chili pepper or 1 teaspoon paprika and a pinch of cayenne
  • Mediterranean: one small clove garlic mashed to paste, 1/2 cup Greek yogurt, 2 Tablespoon chopped mint or cilantro, and 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Greek: juice of half a lemon, one small clove garlic mashed to paste, 1 Tablespoon mince oregano, and 1/2 teaspoon salt

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Tomato Loki Curry–South Indian style Bottle Gourd

It has been just about 2 months since we returned from Kerala, India to visit the man’s family where we ate curries and saucy dishes like this one morning, noon, and night.  I have recovered from the deluge and can once again embrace curry. Absence, as they say, makes the heart grow fonder. This South Indian vegetarian curry is simple with just a handful of ingredients, but the flavor is tremendous.    After his dal, this recipe is the second most requested in the man’s small arsenal of old family favorites.South Indian Bottle Gourd Squash Curry

The star ingredient is calabash or bottle gourd squash.  As a vining member of the squash family, calabash goes by many names– cucuzza in Italy, opo in China, loki in India to name a few.  In fact, citizens from virtually every country and culture have a name and a use for this delicately flavored, silky textured vegetable which tastes and acts a lot like a zucchini or cucumber.

South Indian Bottle Gourd Squash Curry--Bottle Gourd BirdhouseAmericans use it too, but instead of eating it, we like to dry it, paint it, and turn it into a birdhouse that we sell at a craft sale.  I bought the one pictured here about seven years ago at a farmers market in Cleveland.  The paint has faded, no bird has ever resided here, but it is a birdhouse nonetheless.   In defense of crafters everywhere, turning it into a birdhouse isn’t such a far-fetched notion as humans the world over have for 100’s and 1000’s of years used the dried gourd to make bowls, pitchers, and even musical instruments.

South Indian Bottle Gourd Squash Curry--opo in the Chinese marketI have never seen calabash at a supermarket, but Indian or Asian grocery stores with a produce section carry it.  No Indian or Asian grocery nearby?  No problem. This recipe works just fine with cucumber.  (Yes, you can cook a cucumber!)  But I admit I prefer the texture of the bottle gourd. So if substitutions won’t do and the Indian grocery seems too far, try planting some.  You still have time.

I have a tiny garden which I plan meticulously as space is at a premium.  I have grown both zucchini and bottle gourd in the past and have decided that only bottle gourd is worth the effort and space.  Calabash produces just as many squashes as a zucchini plant and any recipe calling for zucchini can easily substitute calabash.   The difference lies in that imperative to pick it.  Let a zucchini go and you have a giant watery squash best suited for the compost pile.  Let a calabash get carried away you you’ve got yourself a fine birdhouse.

Tomato Loki Curry--South Indian style Bottle Gourd
Author: 
Recipe type: Vegetarian Main dish
Cuisine: Indian
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Yield: 4 servings
 
Make this instead of a simple cucumber and tomato chopped salad, serve it with dal and rice, and you have a complete meal.
Ingredients
  • 1 medium bottle gourd (about 1 lb.), peeled, seeded, and diced in ¼ inch pieces
  • ½ cup water
  • ¼ t turmeric
  • ½ t paprika
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)
  • ½ t salt
  • 1 lb. plum tomatoes, cored, seeded, and chopped
  • ½ t cumin
  • 1 t salt
  • ⅔ cup yogurt
  • 2 T oil--coconut oil is best
  • 1 t mustard seeds
  • 1 – 2 whole dried chili
  • 10-15 curry leaves* (optional)
Instructions
  1. In a medium sauce pan, add diced squash and ½ cup water--the squash doesn't have to be fully submerged.
  2. Stir in turmeric, paprika, and salt. Cover with a lid and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer/steam squash until it become slightly translucent--about 5 minutes.
  3. Next add the tomatoes. Bring back to a boil; reduce heat and let simmer for about 10 minutes until the gourd becomes completely tender and the tomato cooks down. Do not let the curry dry out. It should remain soupy; add more water if necessary.
  4. Remove curry from heat. Add about ⅓ cup of the hot curry liquid to the yogurt and stir until smooth. Add the yogurt mixture back to the curry and gently stir.
  5. In a separate small sauce pan, heat coconut oil over a medium-high flame. Add mustard seeds and dried chili pepper and fry until the mustard seeds begin to pop. Next, toss in curry leaves, fry 10 more seconds and remove from heat. This is called tempering the spices. Pour this oil and spice mixture over the curry and serve.
Notes
Curry leaves come from the curry tree (a relative of the neem tree). It is native to India and grows in tropical and subtropical regions. The leaves have a smokey, aromatic flavor unlike anything I've tasted before. They are used a lot in west-coast and southern Indian cooking. I have only found fresh curry leaves at the Indian grocery store. (Don't bother with dry or frozen as the flavor is greatly diminished). If you find them, treat them like a bay leaf--they are a flavoring agent and people generally don't eat them. If you can't find them, try using a bit of smoked paprika to get that smokey flavor.

Cooking with Kids: Studies show that kids tend to eat what they cook, even never-before-seen veggies like calabash.  They also love to use tools.  The peeler is a good first-step “sharp” to teach your kids to use properly.Start with a good quality peeler–one that doesn’t have a fully exposed blade–like this Oxo.  Show your child to move the peeler away from her hands and body and go slowly.  This is my just-turned-5 year old peeling a bottle gourd squash while she listens to Led Zeplin.  That’s just how we roll here in the local global kitchen.

South Indian Bottle Gourd Squash Curry--Peeled Squash

Peel squash and scrape out the seeds.

South Indian Bottle Gourd Squash Curry--Simmering Loki in Spices

Simmer the squash for 5 minutes in a bit of water with turmeric, paprika and salt.

South Indian Bottle Gourd Squash Curry--Cooking Tomatoes Down

Add the chopped tomatoes and cook them down–about 10 minutes.

South Indian Bottle Gourd Squash Curry--mixing in yogurt

Add some of the hot liquid to the yogurt, mix well, and stir it back into the curry.South Indian Bottle Gourd Squash Curry--Tempering Spices

Temper the mustard seeds, dried chilies and curry leaves in coconut oil.

South Indian Bottle Gourd Squash Curry--add tempered spices

Pour the oil and tempered spices on top of the curry and serve.

South Indian Bottle Gourd Squash Curry

Serve hot or at room temperature. I like to serve it with dal, Basmati rice, a bit of yogurt and onion chutney.  Click on the links for these recipes.

 

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How to Make and Freeze Pumpkin Mash (Winter Squash Puree)

Pie Pumpkins

Pie Pumpkins

A month after the regular farmers markets closed for the season, I spied my pile of winter squashes sitting patiently, expectantly on my pantry floor.  They could probably wait unharmed another month or more, but with Christmas and a family-dinner-pumpkin-pie-commitment just days away, I thought that I should tackle the task of transforming them into pumpkin mash before the last-minute holiday frenzy begins.

Butternut Squash

Butternut Squash

When I first started preserving, I preferred freezing to canning or drying.  Freezing takes little time or effort and poses no food safety threat.  However, after years of the kids (actually me) accidentally leaving the freezer door open or losing valuable goods in the frosty depths only to be discovered years later covered in freezer burn,   I have turned to canning and drying whenever possible and  reserve freezing for those veggies that strictly require it.  Because canning pumpkin puree cannot be done safely in your kitchen even with a pressure canner, winter squash has become one of those few veggies that get frozen.

Acorn squash

Acorn squash

Carnival Squash

Carnival Squash

Pumpkin mash is a “must” for me as it enhances the texture and moisture of nearly all sweet  treats made with whole wheat flour.  If you remain unconvinced about the necessity of pumpkin mash because you still use white flour to make sweet treats, read this and then come back here for your pumpkin mash tutorial. Not into sweets? Pumpkin puree has other applications besides pumpkin pie and sweet treats.  You can slip it into all kinds of soups, stews and sauces to thicken them and secretly add more veggies to your diet.  I have a great squash soup recipe which requires mash.  I shall post it soon.

How to Freeze Pumpkin Mash:

  1. Choose an appropriate winter squash: pie pumpkins, hubbard squash, and butternut are all good choices.  Avoid large jack-o-lantern pumpkins as the flesh is too tough and stingy. Smaller squashes like acorn, carnival, and delicata have a good texture and flavor but have too little flesh to make it worth the effort.
  2. Wash the squash and peal the skin if it is a squash with smooth delicate skin like butternut, but leave it intact if it is tough-skinned like a hubbard. (Pealing isn’t necessary, it just makes mashing the cooked squash less messy).
  3. Cut squash in half and scrape out the seeds with a spoon.   Cut into smaller manageable hunks if necessary—the smaller the pieces the faster it cooks. If it is a large squash like a blue hubbard you may have to work a bit to get it open.  A farmer-friend of mine shared her technique with me, “Toss it down the basement stairs.  It cracks the squash wide open, and it is fun.”
  4. **Cook the squash until extremely tender with one of the following methods:     Oven:  Place hunks or halves in a baking dish.  Then fill the dish with about an inch of water.  Cover tightly with a lid or aluminum foil and bake at 350 F for 1 -2 hours—until the flesh is tender.       Roaster:  Cook in a counter-top roaster at 350 F with an inch or 2 of water covering the bottom. Cover the pan with aluminum foil to make sure that  the water doesn’t evaporate.     Crock Pot:  Cook about 2 hours on high or 4 hours on low—with an inch or 2 of water covering the bottom.     Stove-top: Steam or boil smaller chunks for about 30 – 40 minutes.       **For each method, cook time may vary depending on the size of the hunks of squash.
  5. Once tender set it aside and allow to cool. Tender flesh is important—a little over- cooked is okay but a little under-cooked is not.
  6. Drain excess water. Use a spoon to scrape cooked flesh from the skin if it was not already pealed.
  7. Mash flesh with a potato masher or fork right in the pan or pot—no need to dirty another dish.Pumpkin Mash--freezing
  8. Scoop out one cup portions onto plastic wrap or freezer paper.
  9. Wrap mash removing all air.
  10. Freeze wraps in a single layer on a cookie sheet.
  11. Transfer to a freezer bag or container and label.  It will keep for 1 year.Pumpkin Mash--Frozen Individually in 1 cup Portions

Miscellaneous Winter Squash Information

Yield:  about 1 cup of mash for every pound of butternut

Cooking: In pancake and waffle recipes, you can substitute about half of the milk required with pumpkin mash.  1 cup of pumpkin mush replaces 2/3 cup of milk.

Storing: Thin skin squashes like butternut can last up to 3 month and thick skinned squashes like hubbards can last up to 6 months if stored properly

Avoid washing the squash if possible until ready to cook. However, if you must, wash winter squash in 1 gallon of cool water with 1 teaspoon bleach.  Dry thoroughly and keep in a cool dark place like the basement. Do not allow the squashes to touch one another. Do not store near apples.

 

Pumpkin Mash--child measuringCooking with Kids:  Food preservation can be hot and heavy work, but this tasks is the exception.  Involve the kids all of the way through the process.   Takes the kids to the market with you to buy the squashes–ask the farmer about the varieties available so you and the kids can learn about them at the same time. (You can still get squash from the Winter Farmers Market, by the way).  Have the kids wash the outsides of the squashes, scrape out the seeds, and later they can mash and measure the cooked squash.  Nothing is more fun to a little kid than mashing mush with their bare hands.  Also don’t forget my farmer-friend’s technique.  If you get a giant hubbard squash, the kids can also chuck it down the basement stairs for fun.

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Spinach with Raisins and Pine Nuts—Espinacas a la Catalan

I discovered this delightful dish in a cozy little tapas restaurant on Newbury Street in Boston.  After one bite, I decided that I would try to replicate this recipe at home.  Later research revealed that the dish is called Espinacas a la Catalana and has been prepared in the Catalan region of Spain for at least 150 years.  I guess the appeal of the dish seems unremarkable in light of the fact that Spaniards have been vetting it for more than 150 years.Spinach with Raisins and Pine Nuts

Further research revealed that the number of recipes for Espinacas a la Catalana is equal to the number of Catalonians. While additional ingredients varied—lemon, tomato, wine, honey, paprika, and apples to name a few, the fundamental ingredients remained constant:  spinach, raisins, pine nuts, olive oil and garlic.  I tried several variations and this is the one we all liked best.  However, if you are like me and tend to cook creatively, please share the results.

Spinach--washing

Spinach with Raisins and Pine Nuts--Ingredients

Spinach with Raisins and Pine Nuts—Espinacas a la Catalan
Author: 
Recipe type: Side Dish
Cuisine: Spanish
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Yield: 6 - 8 servings
 
Ingredients
  • 8 oz. spinach* (8 – 10 cups)
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • ½ t kosher salt
  • 2 T pine nuts
  • 3 T golden raisins, chopped
  • ¼ cup dry white wine or sherry
  • ¼ t sugar
  • Juice of 1 small lemon (about 3 T spoons)
  • Black pepper to taste
Instructions
  1. Swish spinach in a cold water bath until all grit has fallen away. Spin leaves in the salad spinner until dry.
  2. Heat oil in a large deep skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and salt; sauté until the garlic just turns golden being careful not to burn—about 1 minute.
  3. Add pine nuts, raisins, sugar, and wine. Cover and allow raisins to plump and soften—2 minutes. Remove lid and reduce wine.
  4. Whisk in lemon juice until heated and incorporated fully.
  5. Add spinach, turn off heat and toss in the pan until all of the leaves are coated and slightly wilted. Add pepper, taste and adjust seasoning.
Notes
*If you use young and tender spinach, you may use the stem and leaf. However, if you are using more mature spinach, remove the stems and roughly chop the leaves.

Spinach with Raisins Collage

Spinach with Raisins and Pine Nuts--Tossing

Cooking and Eating with Kids:  I wilted the spinach ever so slightly due to the kids’ preference.  They willingly try salads so I told them that this was a wilted salad. If, on the other hand, I had told them that these were cooked greens, well, I can assure you that my ears would have been met with a chorus of wails and the battle over taking a single bite would have ensued.     Ask any political strategist, and they will tell you a good spin can change the minds and hearts of the people. I encourage you to use this strategy when feeding your kids something new.  Tell them it is really something they have eaten a million times before–in this case salad.  Once they have adopted it as an acceptable food you can start varying it slightly, like calling it by its real name.

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Fried Green Tomatoes–The Tasty Upside to the Coming Cold

For many years I did a weekly cooking show at a farmers market in an African American community that served not only the neighbors but also the many immigrant communities that call Milwaukee home.  I developed and demonstrated recipes each week that focused on seasonal produce.  I employed the spices and cooking techniques of various cuisines to demonstrate the range of the food and gave out samples to the customers.  The shows were popular and enjoyed a small but loyal fan-following.  Besides free samples, the shoppers seemed genuinely excited and curious to taste foods from around the world.

That all changed the day I did a show demonstrating how to make fried green tomatoes.   My one-time fans—the ones with Southern roots who considered themselves soul food aficionados, teased me endlessly about my choice of ingredients, cooking techniques and general credibility as a Southern food cooking instructor.Green Tomatoes--Fried

I reminded them that #1: the Indians, Koreans and all the other ethnic groups whose cuisines I borrowed from week-to-week seemed genuinely pleased that I had embraced the food of their native land, and they complimented me on my recipes. What happened to their Southern manners?  #2:  My connections were every bit as strong as theirs. Due to my father, I grew up watching Hee-Haw and listening to WMAQ.  His childhood was spent in Appalachia, and when his family moved to central Illinois, the school held him back a year because the teacher couldn’t understand his thick accent.

Authenticity as a Southerner aside, in the end, they relented. You can’t argue with a tasty fried green tomato.  This recipe has a coating which is crisp and savory not thick and eggy.  In addition to flavor, it keeps oil use and mess to a minimum because the tomatoes are pan not deep fried.Green Tomatoes, Fried--ingredients

Fried Green Tomatoes
Author: 
Recipe type: Vegetable
Cuisine: Southern
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Yield: 6 servings
 
Leftovers make sandwiches--crisp lettuce, spicy remoulade and stacked fried green tomatoes on a lightly toasted bun.
Ingredients
  • 6 medium green tomatoes, cored and sliced into ½ inch slices
  • ⅓ cup all purpose flour
  • ⅔ cup fine ground cornmeal
  • 1 tsp regular salt
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • ½ tsp pepper
  • ½ cup yogurt or cultured *buttermilk
  • ½ cup oil
  • lemon for garnish
  • SIMPLE REMOULADE SAUCE
  • 2 Tbsp good mayonnaise
  • 1 tsp chili sauce
Instructions
  1. Prepare the tomatoes.
  2. Mix the flour, cornmeal and spices in a large bowl.
  3. Pour yogurt or buttermilk into a separate bowl.
  4. Dip each tomato slice in the buttermilk or yogurt to coat. Next, dredge the slice in the cornmeal mixture coating both sides well.
  5. Once all the tomatoes are coated, heat a large heavy skillet over medium heat and add oil.
  6. When the oil becomes hot, pan fry the tomatoes in batches. Fry until golden brown—about 1½ - 2 minutes on each side. Drain on a wire rack or paper towels.
  7. Make the remoulade dipping sauce by combining the mayo and chili sauce.
  8. Serve fried tomato slices with lemon wedges and remoulade.
Notes
*Make buttermilk by adding 1 t lemon juice to ½ cup milk. Stir and wait a few minutes for the milk to curdle and thicken.

Cooking & Eating with Kids: Fried green tomatoes are a treat of early fall when the green ones must be harvested before the frost comes and turns them to mush.   I serve them as part of meal I like to call “Southern Sides” –cheesy grits and  Southern-inspired vegetable side dishes.  No meat.  It’s a kid favorite.  Leftover fried green tomatoes also make great sandwiches.

I have my kids harvest the tomatoes, measure and mix the coating and then do all of the breading.  My kids are particularly fond of making cultured “buttermilk.”

Preserve It:  Enjoy them now as there is absolutely no way to preserve the green tomatoes for frying later.  I’ve tried with zero success.  If you have a way, please let me know because I miss them November to June and so will you once you have tried them.

Bread & Butter Freezer Pickles–Sandwich Toppers Made Easy

This time of year, when everything is in season, you will find me at the farmers market wringing my hands and looking a bit frantic—so many veggies and so little time.    Soon after, I will begin talking out loud to myself.  Naturally.  How else does one make plans and set priorities?  “Mid-September.  Okay, pickling cucumbers are on the way out, and I still have about a month before the first frost takes the tomatoes and even longer for the peppers, soooooo cucumbers it is…”

…which means pickles.”   I did the full ferment kosher sours long ago at the start of the season.  If you read this blog or know me even a little, you know that I am passionate about pickles and pickling. If you didn’t know, well, let me tell you that I’m kind of a big dill in the world of pickling.  Get it, kind of a “big dill.”   I even have a T-shirt that says so.

My tastes run toward salty, savory, garlicky, or hot when it comes to pickles.  However, another camp of pickle connoisseurs stand firmly in allegiance with the sweet pickle.  I don’t share that opinion, but a sweet pickle, I admit, does have its place on the plate. Tart, tangy, and sweet, a tuna fish or pulled pork sandwich wouldn’t be the same without an old-fashion bread & butter pickle on top.

Bread-n-Butter Freezer PicklesWhile I’m not a sweet pickle fan per se, this is no second-class bread & butter.  I’ve taste-tested it on bread & butter fans and have received rave reviews. The simplicity of the recipe with its consistent, flavorful, and crunchy results has led me to make this year after year.   Moreover, it takes just minutes of prep time and freezing allows me to store it in small and extra-small portion sizes.

Bread-n-Butter Freezer Pickles--Ingredients

Bread & Butter Freezer Pickles--Sandwich Toppers Made Easy
Author: 
Recipe type: Pickle
Cuisine: American
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Yield: 4 cups
 
Salt and sugar (for unknown reasons) keep cucumbers crisp even after freezing them. If you want them even crisper, dry soaking the cukes in ice cold water for 12 - 24 hours before cutting and preparing them.
Ingredients
  • 1 ½ lbs. pickling cucumbers (5 cups sliced)
  • 2 onions, peeled and thinly sliced (1 ½ cups)
  • 2 T pickling salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  • ½ t turmeric
  • ½ t paprika
  • 1 T whole mustard seeds
Instructions
  1. Wash and thinly slice the cucumbers removing the blossom end—do not peel.
  2. Combine cucumbers, onions, and salt in a large glass bowl and let stand for 2-4 hours.
  3. Meanwhile, combine the sugar, vinegar, and spices and allow the sugar to dissolve completely.
  4. Rinse and drain the vegetables well, drying and blotting them on a clean tea towel.
  5. Combine all ingredients and place in individual freezer containers leaving an inch of head space for expansion.
  6. To use, thaw for 4 hours in the refrigerator. Serve chilled.
Notes
Once thawed, these pickles will keep for several weeks in the refrigerator.

Blossom-EndCooking with Kids:  Let the kids slice the cucumbers while you slice the onions.  Use a steak knife if they are under 11.  They should still use safe knife skills especially tucking their fingers in on the hand that holds the cucumber.   Kids are also able to measure the salt, sugar, vinegar, and spices. (It’s not canning so you don’t have to get too panicked about precise measurements.)  Lastly, my kids really like to mix so let them toss the cukes with salt using their clean hands or mix the sugar into the vinegar.

Bread-n-Butter Freezer Pickles--Preparing

Bread-n-Butter Freezer Pickles--drying

Bread-n-Butter Freezer Pickles--freezer bags

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Curry Grilled Okra

Here’s a fun party trick to find out who has some ties to the South.  Do a free association exercise with them—say a word and have them say the first word that pops into their head.  Try a few so as not to be so obvious, then spring “okra” on them.  If they immediately counter with “slime” well you know they came from, lived in, or have family from the South.  Pure Northerners will simply shrug and stare at you blankly.

Whatever your negative association or non-association with okra may be, I encourage you to give this artfully-shaped, fuzzy green pod a try.  Higher in protein than nearly any other veggie with a meaty texture to match, okra has a lot more to offer than slime.  In fact the slime can all but be eliminated depending on the cooking technique you use.

Even if you already love okra and embrace the slime, the possibilities of this veggie are most likely greater than what you have experienced.  Japan, India, Latin America and most of Africa regularly include okra in their meals with flavorings and preparation methods that expand beyond fried or gumbo.  This recipe is Indian inspired.  Grilling the whole pod eliminates slime altogether.  The piquant masala paired with the smoky flavor from grilling make this dish highly addictive.  On hot summer nights, we eat these spicy little treats like popcorn washing them down with a cold fruity beer.Okra--Curry Grilled

Buying, Storing & Preparing:  Okra is available in Wisconsin from August to October.  Buy them at the farmers market when you can as they can be hard to find in the off season at the grocery store. Some varieties can grow up to 7 inches and still remain tender, but unless your farmer verifies that her variety grows that long, get pods no bigger than 3 inches long.

Okra is extremely sensitive to cold and the flesh will begin to blacken if exposed to temperatures below 45 degrees F, so store in a paper bag wrapped in a canvas bag in the warmest part of the fridge. Freshly harvested okra stored like this can last up to 10 days.

Slicing into the seed pod releases the thickening agent or “slime” so trim cap by cutting just above the pod.

Okra--Cap trimmed II

Curry Grilled Okra
Author: 
Recipe type: Vegetable
Cuisine: Indian
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Yield: 4 - 6 servings
 
Ingredients
  • 1 pound okra, 3 inches long; washed, caps trimmed
  • 1 t curry powder (or equal parts cumin, coriander, turmeric)
  • 1 t chili powder
  • ¼ t good garlic powder
  • ½ t regular salt
  • 1 T oil
  • 1 lime, sliced into wedges for garnish
Instructions
  1. In a large bowl, add curry powder, chili powder, garlic powder, salt and mix.
  2. Add okra and toss. Drizzle in oil and toss further so that all the pods are uniformly coated with spice and oil.
  3. Using a wooden skewer soaked in water or a metal skewer, thread 6 or 7 okra. Threading a 2nd skewer through the okra, will prevent the okra from spinning on the skewer and make it easier to turn. Alternatively, line the grill with *non-stick aluminum foil, poke holes in it, and place the pods on the foil skipping the skewers altogether.
  4. Place okra on a heated grill.
  5. Grill for 7 – 8 minutes on each side over medium heat. Serve immediately, garnishing with lime juice.
  6. *Do not use cast iron, aluminum or exposed copper pots for cooking (especially frying or stewing) okra; it will cause the okra to turn black.

 

Okra--Grilled Ingredients

Okra--MasalaOkra--Grilled SkewersOkra--GrilledCooking with Kids:  Have the kids measure out the spices and mix them.  They can even toss and coat the okra; just have them use a spoon to do the job or find a lid to cover the bowl.  I have learned the hard way that little kids (at least mine) are not coordinated enough to toss oil, spices and veggies in an open bowl no matter how large the bowl and how few the okra.

Eating okra can be a challenge for kids and many adults. It’s a texture thing as the taste is very subtle.  Let the lime garnish help.  Kids seem to love the sour of citrus and the acid cuts the slime.   Drench their okra in lime juice for their first taste.

South Indian Snap Beans–Everything is better with mustard seeds

My husband grew up on the spice coast of South India in Kerala and each Sunday night we are treated to a South India feast.  In general, South Indian cuisine is much quicker and easier to prepare than North Indian fare.  It uses flavors and cooking techniques similar to those in South East Asia in combination with the classic Indian spices.  My advice: If you have ever wanted to cook Indian at home, start in the South with a simple dish like this family favorite.South Indian-style Snap Beans

This is the Man’s quick and easy go-to side dish for our Sunday supers in Kerala. Coconut, mustard seeds, and curry leaves spice up the humble little snap beans and make it a Kerala classic.

South Indian Snap Beans
Author: 
Recipe type: Vegetable Side
Cuisine: Indian
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Yield: 6 servings
 
Chopped cabbage or grated kohlrabi make delicious substitutions for the snap beans.
Ingredients
  • 1 ½ lbs. snap beans, green or wax, chopped into bite-size pieces
  • 1 ½ T oil, canola or coconut
  • ½ t black mustard seeds
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped (about a ½ cup)
  • ½ t kosher salt
  • 10 – 15 fresh curry leaves (optional)
  • ¼ t turmeric
  • 1 t paprika
  • Pinch or more cayenne pepper (optional)
  • 2 T shredded coconut (unsweetened)
  • ⅔ cup water or more as needed
Instructions
  1. Using a 12 or 14-inch sauté pan or skillet with a lid, heat the oil until hot. Add mustard seeds and sauté until they just start to pop. This is called tempering the spices.
  2. Once they pop, immediately add the onion, salt, curry leaves, turmeric, paprika and cayenne. Saute until the onion just begins to brown—5 minutes.
  3. Add beans and ⅔ cup of water. Cover and let steam until the beans are tender—about 10 minutes. (Add more water if necessary).
  4. Remove lid, add coconut and continue sauteing until all the liquid evaporates about 1 minute longer.
  5. Serve with rice and yogurt.
Notes
Unsweetened grated coconut can be found in the freezer section of any Indian grocery store. While you're there, pick up a small bag of black mustard seeds which have a slightly different flavor than brown mustard seeds. lastly, fresh curry leaves are a sort of herb from a curry tree grown in tropical climates only. Find those in the fresh produce section of the Indian grocery store.

South Indian-style Snap Beans--chopping

 

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South Indian-style Snap Beans--finishingCooking with Kids

“Do you know what they call Indian food in India?…Food.  That is one of our long running little jokey admonishments to the kids. It comes up when they make a comment about not wanting to try some dish because it is new or unfamiliar.  What’s left out, but certainly implied and understood,  “Now try it.”  Rejecting food based on appearance or unfamiliarity is a strict no-no here and should be for you too.

From the age of about 2, kids have a natural impulse to reject any new food.  It is a self preservation instinct.  The first time a toddler experiences a new taste, they will only consume a little.  We evolved that way so as not to accidentally ingest a big bowl full of poisonous berries and die.  Instead, we eat a little, wait to see if there are any adverse effects.  None noted…let’s eat a little more of that food next time around and re-evaluate. It makes perfect evolutionary sense, doesn’t it?  Those of the species who threw caution to the wind and ate the big bowl of poisonous berries, well they didn’t last long enough to pro-create. Millions of years of natural selection have given rise to the picky eater.

So don’t hesitate to serve something new.  Even if it is rejected, serve it again and again if you liked it. Have the kids try at least one bite each time.  I guarantee that they will come around to eating it eventually.  Eighteen exposures to a new food is the rule. And the next time you’re in a conversation where you say or hear something like, “Little Bobby would never try anything like Indian food,”  remember what they call Indian food in India. One billion people can’t be wrong.

Tips

Snap Beans StorageSnap beans are prone to frost damage. To prevent this, store them in a paper bag placed in another plastic bag and placed in the warmest part of the fridge.  Do not wash them before storing.  They should keep up to a week like this.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

French-style New Potato Salad

IMG_5188No matter what the variety or color, when a potato is harvested in its tuber infancy, it becomes a new potato. New potatoes are low in starch, high in sugars, and range in size from golf ball to marble.   They have an incomparably smooth but firm texture and a skin so thin it may be missing in spots. Found only in backyard gardens and farmers markets, new potatoes represent one of summer’s fleeting joys.

New Potatoes--French-Style New Potato Salad

My favorite way to showcase the new potato’s subtle flavor and creamy texture is to serve it in a salad…but not one of those sloppy American mayonnaise-y sorts of salads that you find in the deli aisle at the Piggly Wiggly. That would mask rather than enhance the potato’s flavor. Besides, too many people have an absolute aversion to mayonnaise stemming from a childhood experience like finding out too late that grandma used mayonnaise not Cool Whip in a Jell-O salad.  I have my own aversions. While I love mayonnaise any other time, added to potatoes it represents for me a major public health menace. As a student, I read one too many textbooks that used church potluck potato salad as the source of a food poisoning outbreak to illustrate the terms and tools of epidemiology. No thank you.

French potatoes salad, thankfully, eliminates all of those bad associations while taking advantage of foods from the early part of summer-—herbs, fresh spring onions, and new potatoes.  This vinaigrette is on the tangy side which enhances the flavor and texture of mild, creamy new potatoes. Small waxy potato varieties make a suitable substitute.

Selection & Storage:  Potatoes should be firm and should have no green skin or sprouts on them.  Green on a potato indicates sun exposure and the presence of a poison. DON’T EAT THE GREEN SPOTS—CUT THEM OUT.  Store new potatoes in a cool, dark place away from the onions. I find a cardboard box, a burlap sack, or a paper bag on the pantry floor works well—dry, breathable material wicks moisture away. Spread them out as much as possible and remove any bad one immediately. Do not store them in the refrigerator as they become oddly sweet and may even turn black.IMG_5203

Preparations: New potatoes are easy to cook whole because of their small size.  You do not need to remove the skin of the new potato because it is so thin.  After boiling they will easily peel off when rubbed. They are delicious when boiled (10 – 20 minutes simmer time), creamed, or pan-roasted (drizzle in oil and roasted at 375 F for 25 – 35 min).  They keep their shape well when cooked and cut, making them ideal for salads.

Cooking with Kids:  Herbs are a major part of my postage stamp garden.  Most are low maintenance perennials. The kids know the name and flavor of every herb in our garden. They sample them regularly and are in charge of harvesting them.  I keep a small pair of scissors in the kitchen just for this purpose.  Even if space is limited or you have black instead of green thumbs, try planting a container of herbs or placing a few in your landscaping.  Herbs grow like weeds generally speaking.  Moreover, they cost a fortune at the store and spoil quickly, so you’ll save money on groceries.  In this recipe, I have the kids measure and shake the vinaigrette in a mason jar while I boil the potatoes.

IMG_5201

French-style New Potato Salad
Author: 
Recipe type: Salad
Cuisine: French
Prep time: 
Total time: 
Yield: 8 servings
 
Ingredients
  • 2 lbs. new or waxy potatoes
  • ¼ cup white or red wine vinegar
  • 2 t Dijon mustard
  • 1 small clove garlic, minced
  • 1 small spring onion or shallot, mince
  • ¼ cup mix chopped herbs—thyme, tarragon, chives or parsley
  • ½ t salt
  • ¼ t pepper
  • 1 or 2 pinches of sugar
  • ⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil
Instructions
  1. Place washed but unpeeled new potatoes in a large pot with enough water to cover them. Salt water if desired. Bring to a boil then reduce to simmer. Simmer until tender—10 to 20 minutes depending on the size, drain and quarter if desired.
  2. In a large bowl whisk together the vinegar, mustard, garlic, onion, herbs, salt, sugar and pepper. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil until completely combined. Toss with the warm potatoes. Serve warm, room temperature or cold.

 

Sesame Roasted Sweet Potatoes

Canned “yams” smothered in marshmallows—the mention of the dish sends a chill up my spine.  They were a staple of my childhood Thanksgivings and for years I was convinced that I hated sweet potatoes.  I know many Americans especially Midwesterners who share this experience, and consequently  despise the sweet potato rejecting it in all forms.

But this dish with its complex sweet, spicy, and nutty flavor and creamy, crunchy texture convinced me to re-examine my opinion of the orange tuber.  In fact,  I have insisted on cooking these for family and friends on a single-woman crusade to change the minds of the many Midwesterners who share a sad and checkered past with those “candied yams.”  Just like Sam-I-Am I feel such joy when their eyes open wide in surprise and delight to at last discover that “They do! They do like sweet potatoes.  And they would eat them on a boat.  And they would eat them with a goat…”

 

Sesame Roasted Sweet Potatoes
Author: 
Recipe type: Side Dish
Cuisine: American
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Yield: 6
 
Ingredients
  • 2 lbs. sweet potatoes
  • 3 T neutral oil, canola or grapeseed
  • 1 t salt
  • 2 t chilli powder
  • 1 T honey
  • 1 T sesame seeds
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
  2. Peel the sweet potatoes and cut into even 1-inch cubes.
  3. In a bowl, toss all the ingredients together until the potatoes are evenly coated with oil and spices.
  4. Lay potatoes on a cookie sheet in a single layer and roast for 15 minutes.
  5. Turn the potatoes and roast another 15 minutes or until done.
  6. Serve immediately.

Cooking with Kids:

Have the kids mix and measure.  I also have the kids peel the potatoes…supervised of course.