Jars of sunshine (aka preserved lemons)

I am totally hooked on preserved lemons, adding them to everything from salad dressing, jeweled rice, marinade, sardine salad, and dips of all sorts. They are super easy to make, just requiring a bit of patience. Luckily, bright lemon quarters packed with garlic and spices make a lovely decoration while you wait.

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First clean or sterilize a large glass jar (running through the dishwasher is fine). Scrub your lemons, peel and slice a few garlic cloves, and assemble some kosher salt, bay leaves, pepper corns, cloves, and pepper flakes. You can just use kosher salt, and these would still taste great, but the other spices are fun to try.

Coat the bottom of the jar with kosher salt. Cut a few lemons into quarters and press firmly into the bottom of the jar. Sprinkle with some more kosher salt and add a bit of the spices and garlic. Continue layering in this way until the jar is nearly full. Juice the remainder of the lemons so that the lemon quarters are submerged. You may need to push down on the lemon quarters to really compact them. I will also drizzle a little olive oil over the top to further ensure that no lemons poke up into the air.

Next, wait. And wait. After about a month, the lemon rinds will become soft, the pulp will have a jelly like consistency, and the whole thing will smell tangy and funky and amazing. You can use the entire lemon, rind and all, to flavor all sorts of dishes.

Here are some lemons that have been hanging out in my cupboard for about 4 months.

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Coho Salmon Gravlax Handrolls

I love salty meats – cured or pickled or smoked. Gravlax is an easy do-at-home way to preserve fish and wow your friends. I made a big batch after our salmon haul last year in Washington and am still enjoying these bright orange jewels, pulled like treasure from the depths of my freezer.

This coho salmon gravlax was the recent star of a simple to make but fancy to look at supper of handrolls.

Coho Salmon Gravlax Handrolls

I sliced the gravlax thin and arranged it along with avocado, sushi rice, pickled ginger, sauerkraut (trust me, it works!), and wasabi. Small squares of nori serve as the base, and each person build their own little customized bite.

Gravlax
– 3lbs center cut salmon filet, skin on, pinbones removed (you want center cut so the filet is thick, but you can do it with whatever salmon you have, the thin part will just dry out to more like salmon jerky
– 1/4 cup vodka
– 1/2 cup sugar
– 1/2 cup kosher salt
– 1 tablespoon fennel seeds
– 1 tablespoon crushed peppercorns
– 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
– 1 bunch fresh dill, washed
– olive oil

Find a glass dish that is just slightly larger than the salmon filet. Pour the vodka over the fish in the dish and turn to coat. Leave it while you prep the rest.

Mix the sugar, salt, fennel, pepper, and coriander together. Drain the excess vodka off the fish and place 1/3 of the sugar/salt mixture under the salmon in the dish. Place the salmon skin side down back in the dish. Arrange the dill on the flesh side of the salmon and then cover with the remaining sugar/salt mixture. Cover tightly and place in the fridge for 2-3 days, depending on thickness of the fish. The fish will give off a lot of moisture and will take on a very firm texture. If the fish has taken on too much salt, you can soak it briefly in cold water to remove some of the salt. Just taste a bit (knowing that the edges will be the most salty part and knowing that gravlax should be a bit salty when done right) and soak for 10 minutes at at time until it has the right saltiness.

Remove the filet from the cure and rinse with cold water. Pat dry and place in a clean glass dish, drizzling with olive oil to coat generously. You can store the filet like this or sealed in a bag in the freezer. It is great on a bagel with cream cheese, or try the hand roll idea!

(Fake) Pink Pickled Onions

It’s the beginning of birthday season around my house, with my partner turning 4 decades old! To celebrate him, I am making his favorite cuisine – Mexican. We are hosting a taco bar party for several dozen folks, so I am making BIG batches of things: fermented jalapenos, hot sauce, giant shoulders of pork carnitas, and pink pickled onions as one of the garnishes.

I had sweet Texas onions on hand, but I wanted them to be pink (usually you start with red onions, so they provide their own dye). I added a sliced beet to the mix, and got a brilliant color.

Pink Pickled Onions

Here is the recipe for a smaller sized batch:

1/2 cups apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
5 black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
1 red onion, thinly sliced (or a white onion with a slice of red beet!)

Mix all ingredients in a small non-reactive (basically not aluminum) sauce pan over low heat until the salt and sugar are dissolved. Pack the sliced onion into a glass jar and pour the warm pickling liquid over, pushing down the onion to submerge. Allow the onions to pickle for a day or two, or for up to a month. They are beautiful on a salad, or roasted with green beans for a quick side. The pickling liquid makes a nice dressing.

Curried Yogurt Dip with Chia Seeds and Pickled Beet Relish

My cooking adventures are often inspired by others’ recipes or dishes I’ve eaten out and about. This recipe comes purely from my own head and the ingredients (or lack thereof) in my fridge. I had a party to attend and needed an hors d’oeuvres to bring. I wanted to make a dip, but had just about ¼ cup of greek yogurt left. I knew I could thin it with milk to make a softer texture, but I added too much milk and ended up with more of the texture of a lassi. I had used chia seeds to make sweet pudding in the past, and I thought why not thicken this dip with chia seeds? It worked, and it was really really good.

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– ½ cup plain greek yogurt
– ½ cup milk
– 1/3 cup chia seeds
– 1 teaspoon curry powder
– 1 teaspoon brown mustard seeds
– 1 tablespoon lemon juice
– Salt and pepper to taste
Pickled beets, shredded

Whisk yogurt and milk together until it is uniform in texture. Add the chia, curry, mustard, and lemon and mix well. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve in a pretty bowl with the pickled beets mounded in the middle. As people drag their chip or crudité through the dip, pretty pink swirls will form across the white yogurt. This was lovely with carrot, celery and cucumber slices, but extra good with kettle potato chips (shocking I know).

Black Garlic (in a rice cooker)

As you may know, I have a condiment fetish. Half my fridge is filled with condiments, more if you count fermented things like kimchi, sauerkraut and various olives, pickles and capers. The times I’d had black garlic (on squash tacos at El Chucho down the street), the caramelly funkiness of it always captured me. I tried buying it online, but it was so expensive, and reviewers complained of quality. With a huge bag of garlic bulbs staring at me from my kitchen counter, I thought I should just try my hand at making some. I’d fermented lots of things, why not garlic?

Turns out, black garlic isn’t fermented, it’s just caramelized, low and slow, for a few weeks. The interwebs abound with different “recipes,” but the consensus seems to be to keep the garlic whole, in its skin, in an enclosed space at around 140 F for between 2-4 weeks (some said 40 days, but I got great results in 2 weeks). Many suggest a rice cooker, and that’s just what I used. After 2 days of our whole house smelling (delicious but overwhelmingly) like garlic, I moved the rice cooker to the porch.

Two weeks later, I put on some gloves and unwrapped my black gold! I can’t wait to add this funky, mysterious sweetness to everything from hot sauce to fried eggs!

After 2 weeks, the black garlic was stinky and ready!
After 2 weeks, the black garlic was stinky and ready!

My black garlic set up on the roof deck. Rice cooker and jar with black garlic and olive oil.
My black garlic set up on the roof deck. Rice cooker and jar with black garlic and olive oil.
Black garlic awaiting its destiny in many yummy creations!
Black garlic awaiting its destiny in many yummy creations!

Rainbow Chard Stem Pickles

Rainbow chard was buy two get one free at the sweet little farm stand we visit on Saturdays. I knew I wanted to saute the leaves with some garlic and chili and a splash of white wine vinegar, but I wanted to do something different with the stems. I thought about just chopping them up and freezing them for a soup later in the year, but then I remembered a recipe for pickled chard stems from bon appetite.  We just finished off the last of a large batch of kimchi, so I was also in need of more pickled things in my fridge.

Rainbow chard stems. So pretty!
Rainbow chard stems. So pretty!

1 lb chard stems

1/4 cup kosher salt

4-5 garlic cloves, sliced thin

2 tablespoons brown mustard seeds

1 tablespoon caraway seeds

1/2 cup sugar

1 cup unseasoned rice wine vinegar

1 cup water

Trim the green leaves from the stem and rib of each leaf. Wash well to remove all the grit and toss with about 1/4 cup of kosher salt.  Let sit for an hour or so, rinse under cold water and drain.

Meanwhile, toast the mustard and caraway seeds in a small saucepan over medium heat for about 2 minutes.  The mustard seeds will start to pop.  Add the vinegar, sugar and water to the saucepan and stir to dissolve the sugar. Remove from heat and add the garlic slices. I also added a pinch of red chili flakes, but that is optional.

Pack the chard stems into a large glass jar so they fit snugly. I cut most of mine in half to make them fit into a large jam jar. Pour the brine over the stems to cover. Screw the lid on and then store in the fridge for a day or two until they are pickled to your liking. I am thinking these will be great garnishes for a cheese platter or a brunch bloody mary bar.

Rainbow chard stem pickles. I can't get over those colors!
Rainbow chard stem pickles. I can’t get over those colors!

Return of the Blog (and Kimchi Stew)

I am back from vacation, and I picked up an awesome husband and some olive oil from Spain! Seriously, the wedding and honeymoon were amazing – thanks to everyone!

I of course was inspired by many things that I saw and ate while in Spain (tasting menu at Lasarte in Barcelona was a highlight, as were the fresh figs, vast array of seafood, and cured meats I’d never heard of). I returned and immediately made raviolis (with my new ravioli attachment for my mixer!). I am cooking for a beer tasting dinner this weekend (wine-braised pork shoulder with roasted potatoes and then butternut squash ravioli with miso-ginger butter and chives) and then making a special bday dinner for my mom next weekend. All this fancy cooking has made me realize how much I love really adventurous cooking, “special occasion” cooking.

To that end, I’ve decided to start the Underground Supper Club. For me, it will be an opportunity to stretch my culinary creativity beyond what I normally do. For diners, it will be an opportunity to get a great meal at a fair price and hopefully be surprised and delighted and sometimes shocked.

My partner asked, “why not just have more dinner parties.” Well, for me, when I invite someone into my house, I want them to be totally comfortable. If that means that I make fairly simple food because that is what they like, then that’s what I do. At dinner parties, I might make a dish or two that are a bit “out there” creatively, but I mostly stick to crowd pleasers, trying to make sure that there is something for everyone. With the supper club, I’d want people to attend knowing that they were in for a “food adventure.” I would feel free to take more risks, and my diners would be prepared to try something new.

More to come on this idea….but in the mean time – I’ve been making a lot of kimchi stew (kimchi cheegae, I think) – and it’s a recipe simple enough and delicious enough to be worth sharing.
Kimchi Stew

– 2 cups well fermented kimchi (if you’ve made it yourself – see “In A Pickle” for a recipe on this blog – it should be at least a month old)
– 4 cups broth (I’ve used chicken broth as well as homemade broth made from pork bones, the traditional Korean recipe has pieces of pork belly in it, but that’s optional)
– salt and vinegar to taste

Bring all ingredients to a boil and let simmer for at least 30 minutes. This is the basic, bare bones recipe – I have also added chopped onion, kale, extra garlic and jalapenos for heat, and even an egg added at the end for some body. So great on these cold winter evenings.

In A Pickle

Pickling is a great way to use up veggies from your farm-share. You may know by now that I love anything that is pickled (though I must admit that I have not yet had the pleasure of a pickled egg). Pickling is also a great way to:
1. Save veggies from going bad
2. Change the flavor/texture of veggies (and your relationship to them!)
3. Impress your friends

You don’t need to be intimidated by the process either – I personally don’t bother with the canning part of it all. I prefer easy-to-make refrigerated pickles. Although they cannot be stored in the cupboard for months, they are super easy to make and, in my house at least, get eaten so fast it doesn’t really matter.

The following recipe can be used for a variety of vegetables – ones you’ve probably thought of already, like cucumbers, beets and spring onions – and ones you may not have, like chard stems, summer squash and green tomatoes (or even under-ripe fruits! like peaches, plums, or pears).

For the brine:
Simmer together
– ½ cup apple cider or white vinegar (rice vinegar is great too for a more asian flavor)
– ½ cup water
– 1/3 cup sugar, honey, agave (more or less depending on if you like sweeter pickles or more sour/salty pickles)
– 1 bay leaf
– 2 whole cloves
– 3 cloves garlic, peeled, sliced thin (or more, if you like pickled garlic!)
– 4 whole pepper corns
– 4 whole allspice berries
– 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
– 1 teaspoon whole coriander seeds
– 1 pinch red chili flakes
– 1 to 2 tablespoons salt

With regards to the spices, you could use any combination of the above, adding more of one thing, leaving out another etc. You could also get creative and add in some cumin seeds, stalks of bruised lemongrass, or kafir lime leaves. The basic idea is that you are making a salty-sour-sweet brine, and you flavor it with stuff.

Once the mixture comes to a simmer and the sugar and salt are dissolved, you are good to go. Now for the veggies – I like to mix it up a bit here – cut things into rounds, spears, or even a small dice for more of a relish. Get yourself a large mason jar, or other glass storage container and pack in your pickling items. I like to layer veggies garlic and onion wedges to add flavor, and because I always love adding pickled onion and garlic to dishes. Pickled jalapenos are also especially good as a flavor boost in other dishes. I never cook the vegetables first, (except for beets) because I like them to stay as crisp as possible and the hot brine will cook them a bit.

Pack the veggies in as tightly as you can – they’ll shrink after sitting in the brine – then carefully pour over the hot brine. Jiggle the jar or poke a butter knife down the sides to get the air bubbles out, and top it off with more brine to cover the veggies completely. Put the lid on and let come to room temperature. Then, stick in the fridge until cool and they are ready to be eaten. I know I’m supposed to say that they’ll keep for a week in the fridge or something, but personally, I think they are probably ok in there for a while longer. I brought a gallon jar of freshly made bread and butter pickles to a bbq last summer and it was devoured in about 30 minutes – I think this just proves that pickles count as their own food group.

Can you feel the beat?

I love beets. I realize not everyone does, and I can understand that. They do taste a little bit like dirt, but they are also sweet and rich and lovely. My parents used to tell us that eating beets was what made our blood red, which somehow seemed cool to us. Roasted beets are my favorite. 100 times better than the canned variety, and a snap to make. I also like them raw, shredded over salad or pasta.

– 4 or 5 medium beets, scrubbed
– Olive oil
– Kosher salt

Spray a square sheet of tinfoil with olive oil and sprinkle with kosher salt. Place one beet (or two if small) in the center of the foil and wrap tightly. Place on a cookie sheet and bake in a 400 degree oven for about 1 hour, until beets are easily pierced with the tip of a knife.

Let beets cool, unwrap and with gloved hands (unless you don’t mind having magenta skin) slip the beet skin off. It should come off easily just by pushing with your fingertips. From this point, you can slice or dice for salads, pasta, or just by themselves. I find that roasting beets is the best way to enhance their sweet, rich flavor.

Pickled beets are an amazing addition to salads, sandwiches, as an accompaniment to pate, or a side dish to pork chops. We have been eating them on sandwiches with black bean hummus, roasted tofu, and lettuce – so good!

Slice the roasted beets and place in a large container (no metal). Next, make your brine.
– ½ cup apple cider vinegar
– ½ cup water
– 1/3 cup sugar or honey
– 1 bay leaf
– 4 whole cloves
– 1 cinnamon stick
– 3 cloves garlic, peeled, sliced thin
– 4 whole pepper corns
– 4 whole allspice berries
– 1 cardamom pod
– 1 pinch red chili flakes
– 1 tablespoon salt

Simmer all ingredients over medium heat until sugar and salt dissolve. Taste and adjust for sweet, sour and salt. I tend to like my pickled beets a bit sweeter and less sour, so just add ingredients until it tastes good to you. Keep in mind the natural sweetness of the beets. If the mixture is too strong, add a little more water.

Pour the warm liquid over the beets, pushing down beets to submerge. Let cool and place in the fridge. These will keep for a week or two (if they last that long!).

Kimchi

Possibly my most favorite fermented food, yes, even more than wine or beer, kimchi is amazing in so many ways. First of all, it supposedly cures everything from swine flu to cancer, but how could stinky, spicy cabbage not be good for you? Speaking of stinky, yes, it smells – some might say delicious, while others might say funky gym socks – either way it is definitely nostril clearing. It gets “better” with age, of course, taking on a life and charm all its own, just like many fermented foods. I used to worry about kimchi going bad in my fridge until I found out from my Korean classmate that the best restaurants in Korea serve kimchi aged up to 10 years! Mine never lasts that long, sadly, so I may have to actually go to Korea to try any that’s older than 2 months.

I used to buy kimchi from this great Korean grocery store in Raleigh, but after moving to DC and having no close-by asian grocery, I decided to try it myself. Looking through a few online recipes, I got a sense of what goes into it, and then I set out on my own. I had bought the Korean chili pepper flakes a long time ago, using them in soups, so I was ready there. After that, I used napa cabbage, carrots, green onions, ginger, garlic, salt, and a little fish sauce (some recipes called for anchovies). First, you let the cabbage sit in warm, salty water overnight, then you mix some brine with chili flakes, fish sauce, garlic ginger, and layer all the veggies together, pouring the liquid over.

Make sure to weigh down the veggies with a heavy plate to keep them submerged. At this point, you could bury it in your back yard in a clay urn (which is how it is traditionally done – I think) or put it in the back of your fridge (which is what I do). A friend told me that you have to “let it breathe” so that the right bacteria can work its magic. I’ve done it both ways (sealing it tight or leaving it open), so I think it can work either way- but leaving it open speeds things up. In a few weeks, you should notice that distinct kimchi scent. I, of course, can’t help tasting it….but I do try to wait until it is nice and sour before digging in.