Tuesday, April 19, 2011

An emergence of spring

This definitely is a good sign. A sign of tasty things to come and that this frosty winter could surely be in the rear view.

Started from seed just a week ago these arugula shoots are soaking up the April rays and though looking great, still quite a ways off from a staring  roll in my lunch salad plans. I wish I had started them in March but at least it's better than last year when I bought them already started in planters in May. That's just too late for these greens I soon found out. By the end of June they couldn't take the summer heat in my raised garden bed and the yield was minuscule before they went to seed and withered. Hopefully the extra month proves to be a bountiful decision. Not to be discouraged by the lack of garden greens, I decided to make due with a harvest of dandelion greens. Foraging is something that I've always had an interest in but, never took advantage of until recently and want to acquire more knowledge of in the future. One thing is for sure, know what you are picking or cutting. These particular weeds, as The Mrs. refers to them, were pesticide-free as I gave up any aspirations of a manicured lawn a decade ago.
To accompany the greens, some lentil sprouts that I started last week should fit the bill.

I wish I could say that I have a constant supply of fresh bean sprouts on hand but I don't. Good intentions is what I do have and they don't stir-fry well in the Pad Thai. I'll grow them for a while and then get tired of trying to come up with dishes to use them all up. I could certainly by them at the market when I  need them but, aside from being bigger than mine, they just don't have the fresh taste or the satisfaction of growing them yourself. And, they're so dam easy.
I love curry, mostly the South-East Asian, coconut variety but today I wanted to go with more of an Indian style. I didn't have a Garam Masala on hand, only a Jarred yellow curry and preferred a more fresh taste so I toasted & ground up a blend of whole spices I had available. I have allot of them already in ground form, and I do use them often, especially when rushed but when you can, you just cannot beat the flavor of freshly toasted and ground spices.

There needed to be more substance to the dish. If I just sauteed' the greens and sprouts, they would pretty much have just wilted to nothing in the pan. Hangin out in the pantry, were two red-bliss potatoes, that would nicely round out and balance the sharpness of the dandelions and beef up the dish, making it perfect for a light lunch entree or a suitable side for a larger meal.

Dandelion & Lentil Sprout Saute

2 Strips bacon - Diced
1 Small Onion - Diced
1-2 Garlic Cloves - Minced
2 Medium Red-Bliss Potatoes - Diced
2 tsp. Spice Blend - Recipe Below
1 to 1-1/2 Cups Lentil or Bean sprouts
1-1/2 to 2 Cups Washed Dandelion or other bitter greens
1/2 Cup Chicken stock or water
1 to 2 TBSP. Sherry Vinegar
Salt & Pepper

Cook potatoes in lightly salted water until tender but not mushy. Drain and set aside.

While potatoes are cooking, heat saute pan over low-medium heat. Add bacon and cook, stirring & shaking pan occasionally until bacon is not quite crispy. Remove bacon from pan with slotted spoon to paper towel lined plate and set aside. Add onions to pan and cook until they are starting to get golden and add garlic. Cook a minute or two then add potatoes and cook until they start to get some color, 3-5 minutes. Season with spice blend.

Add sprouts and dandelions to pan and saute until the greens wilt. Add 1/2 of the stock to the pan to deglaze and simmer for a few minutes. Add remaining stock if pan is too dry, and the vinegar.

Taste sauce and season with salt & pepper. At this point I like to plop a nugget of butter into the pan & stir it into the sauce just for a Little richness, olive oil works too. This step is purely optional. Also optional, when cooking bacon, you can drain off the fat and discard if you like but I think that's discarding flavor.

Spice Blend
1 TBSP Coriander
1 TBSP Cumin
1 TBSP Fennugreek
1 tsp. Whole Black Pepper
1 tsp. Fennel
1 tsp. Cardamom seeds
1 tsp. Mustard seeds
1/2 tsp. whole clove
1" piece cinnamon stick
1 small dried chipotle pepper seeded
1/2 tsp. Nutmeg - fresly grated
Toast all in dry saute pan over medium-high heat until slight wisps of smoke start to form and you can smell the spices, be careful not to burn, it happens fast. Grind with a mortar and pestle or a coffee grinder. if these are not available, you can use pre-ground spices. set aside let over in a small container and store in a cool, dark place for another use.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

A fermentation of a different sort

I am very familiar with the fermentation process. Introducing yeast to a sugar, in my case, malted barley and other grains to produce an alcoholic beverage, beer. Which I have done on dozens of occasions. I am in no way an expert or authority on the subject, it is however, a fairly simple procedure if you pay attention to sanitation practices and have fun. But this post is about a fermented product you can eat as apposed to drink.

Sauerkraut. You know, that stinky, shredded cabbage you buy in a can or bag and heat it up to serve with wieners. Now I don't have many  requests for serving it at parties, I do enjoy a nice snappy frank, piled with kraut and some whole-grain mustard but I wouldn't say that I go nuts for the stuff. That is until my last batch of kimchi got me thinkin about pickling & fermenting other types of veggies and around the same time I happened to catch a video on Basic Brewing with James and Steve making sauerkraut with sausage & beer. Wow, couldn't believe how easy it was, salt and cabbage, that's it. More important, I get that "Kid on Christmas Morning" feeling every time I start projects like this, no matter how simple or complex they are. Call me crazy, it's just fun!
Every recipe I found online, including the method used on Basic Brewing was simply to sprinkle salt onto the cabbage in layers in a large glass or ceramic container and pack it down well. The salt will pull the moisture from the vegetable and create a brine and in time will ferment it. OK, leave it to me to buck the trend(yes, I went with a Zune instead of the I-Pod). I decided to go with a recipe from the book "Charcuterie" by Michael Ruhlman which is in the "on-deck circle" on my stack of books to read.

His recipe calls for making a brine(just salt and water) and submerging the cabbage totally until fermentation is complete. I will definitely be trying the salt only method as well, to compare because my concern is that the water brine might dilute the flavor. My thinking is that when only salt is used, the liquid turning into brine is cabbage juice, producing more flavor. We'll see.
The hardest part is ahead of me, the wait. Patience doesn't agree with me. And right now I have this massive craving for smoked kielbasa sauteed' with onions, house-made kraut and a splash or two of my favorite brew.