Vegetables & Sides

Collard Greens

Collard Greens

 

Collard Greens can stir up some animated conversations about an otherwise unassuming bunch of braised field greens. Lordy me! Seems you either love them or hate them, depending on which side of the Mason-Dixon line you happen to come from. That said, collard greens are real comfort food here in the American south. Their legacy reaches way back to native American diets before Europeans ever set foot here in the new world. Wild greens such as purslane, sorrel, poke, lamb’s quarters, dandelion, and chicory were all staples in the native American diet long before the loose leaf cultivars we call collard greens were planted in fields throughout the American south well before the civil war.

 

Collard Greens

Collard Greens

 

Traditionally collards are slow cooked with bacon fat and ham hocks, which are optional, along with some dried red chile flakes. The resulting braised deep green collards are swathed in a savory broth affectionately called “potlikker” here in the south.

Collard greens are in fact one of the most nutritious greens you could ever eat, They are rich in protein, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, as well as being low in calories. So whatever your preconceptions may be about collard greens, you owe it to yourself to give them another try. Simple to prepare and ideal fare throughout the growing season. The aroma of braising collards as well as their rich earthy green flavor is sure to win you over.

I prefer omitting the animal fats and meats when I braise collards , but if you are traditionalist by all means include them.

 

Collard Greens aka …a mess of greens with potlikker (Basics)

Unlocking the deep flavors of collard greens is very straight forward. The secret couldn’t be simpler. By following the wisdom of generations of southern cooks, you want to braise these cut greens at at a very low simmer while being mindful of the texture of the greens as they braise.

Ingredients:

  • 2 ½ pounds collard greens, center ribs removed
  • 3 tablespoons bacon fat (optional), or olive + more for finishing
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • ½ to 1 teaspoon dried red chile flakes
  • 2 oz ham hock or bacon, chopped (optional) ,or substitute 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 ¾ quarts stock or water
  • freshly ground black pepper and salt to taste
  • lemon wedges for serving

Needed: A large deep braising pan with lid.

Prepare the collard leaves before you begin cooking.

Using a sharp knife, cut out the center rib from the leaves lengthwise and discard them. Stack the leaves lengthwise and then roll them up lengthwise. Slice the rolled up leaves crosswise into ¾ inch slices. Then unfurl the slices and toss them together in a large bowl and set aside.

Place the braising pan on the stove top set at medium heat. When the pan is hot add the bacon fat or olive oil. When the fat is hot add the onions and saute for several minutes until the onions are softened and translucent. Then add the ham hocks or bacon if using, or the smoked paprika. Season with salt, and chile flakes, and stir to combine, and saute for a minute or so.

Add the stock or water to the pan, raise the heat, and cook until the broth is simmering.

Then add the sliced collards . Once the broth returns to a boil, reduce the heat so the broth is barely simmering. Partially cover the pan with the lid. Adjust the heat to maintain a very low simmer and braise until the collards are well cooked but still retaining a slight firmness. Cooking time will vary depending on the age and size of the collard leaves used, but somewhere between 45 minutes to 1 ½ hours.

Serving:

Serve the collards hot out of the pot along with some potlikker.

Taste and season with salt and pepper, and a spritz of olive oil and lemon juice.

 

Alas, I have finally  found some beautiful plump fresh tomatillos at a local Mexican market here in the States. I doggedly attempted to grow tomatillos year after year in my garden in Thailand , but with very little success. The maturing tomatillos  always fell prey to marauding aphids or scummed to a feathery mold just about the time they were looking ripe and ready to pluck from the vine.

 

 

 

So I’ve been dreaming about making my favorite roasted tomtillo salsa for years on end. Nothing could be simpler really. A couple of ingredients thrown under the broiler or onto the grill, tossed into a blender and voila. You have a gorgeous tart fresh green salsa that enlivens so many loved regional Mexican dishes.

Tomatillos originate from Mexico and have been cultivated since pre-Columbian times by the Maya and Aztec cultures. Tomatillos are from the nightshade family with the fruit encased in a parchment like covering that is removed before use. Tomatillos, though larger, reassemble cape gooseberries, also a nightshade that has been cultivated by the Incas in Peru.

Fresh tomatillos are available in the US in Mexican markets, at Whole Foods, in some super markets, and online. They are also available canned, but I urge you to seek out the fresh tomatillos which have a decidedly more tantalizing zesty flavor of their very own.

Roasted Tomatillo Salsa Verde is delicious served with tortilla chips, with grilled meats, fish, and vegetables, tacos, enchiladas, tamales, empanadas, and quesadillas filled with Mexico’s renowned regional cheeses. 

This is a quick and easy recipe that you will find yourself making again and again.

Roasted Tomatillo Salsa Verde       

makes about 2 cups

  • 6 to 8 plump fresh tomatillos, husk removed, and rinsed
  • 1 large clove garlic, skin on
  • 3 to 4 fresh serrano chiles
  • 3 tablespoons finely diced onions
  • 2-3 tablespoons finely sliced cilantro leaves
  • ½ teaspoon flaked sea salt or more to taste

 

Position an oven rack about four inches below the broiler and preheat.

Place the tomatillos, garlic clove, and the serrano chiles centered on a baking tray and place under the preheated broiler. Broil for 4 to 5 minutes, or until the tomatillos, garlic, and chiles are beginning to char and deeply colored. Turn the tomatillos, garlic, and chiles over and broil another 4 or 5 minutes until deeply colored.

Promptly remove the tray from the oven and set aside. Transfer the chiles to a small bowl, cover with cling film, and set aside to sweat.

Remove the stems from the tomatillos and remove any loose chard skin and discard. Cut the tomatillos into pieces and place them in a blender or food processor.

Remove the charred skin from the garlic and discard. Mince the garlic and add it to the tomatillos in the blender or processor and pulse until the contents are relatively pureed, but still with some texture.

Once the chiles are cool enough to handle remove the chard skin and discard. Slice the chiles open lengthwise and scrape out most of the seeds and discard. Quarter the chiles and slice and dice them.

Add the diced chiles to the pureed toamatillo mixture and pulse until the chiles are combined.

Transfer the tomatillo mixture to a small bowl and add the diced onions and the sliced cilantro leaves. Stir to combine and then add salt to taste and stir until well combined.

You can add a small amount of cold water to thin the salsa if needed.

The salsa is then ready to serve or you can transfer the salsa to a non-reactive bowl or container, cover, and refrigerate for 3 or 4 days.

Serve the salsa chilled or at room temperature depending on the application.

Buen provecho!

 

Zucchini is the very essence of summer for me. The shades of deep to light greens along with tinges of yellows tease your memories of endless summer meals gone by where zucchini’s presence on the table defined the taste of unforgettable midsummer meals with family and friends.

Preparation of zucchini is a lesson in less is more. A recipe is hardy required, but keep in mind, a lightness of touch and just a scent of fresh herbs is all that is needed.

Serving this roasted zucchini with a creamy polenta is a match made in heaven! (click here for polenta)

 

 

Roasted Zucchini with a Lemon Vinaigrette

Roasted Zucchini with a Lemon Vinaigrette

 

Roasted Zucchini with a Lemon Vinaigrette     serves 4

Needed: large shallow oven baking tray

Preheat oven to 375 f/ 190 c Have oven rack placed in the middle position.

  • 3 or 4 plump garden fresh zucchini, ends trimmed and cut into ½ inch thick wedges
  • 2 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon thyme leaves
  • sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper

 

Place the wedges of zucchini in a large bowl. Drizzle the olive oil over the zucchini and toss to coat the wedges evenly.

Add the lemon thyme leaves, season with salt and pepper and toss until well combined.

Place the zucchini wedges in the baking tray in a single layer. Transfer the tray to the oven and roast for 6 to 8 minutes. Then reverse the tray and roast another 6 to 8 minutes. The zucchini should be very lightly colored and softened, but still firm around the edges.

If you like you can place the try under the broiler for a couple of minutes for added color.

Transfer the tray from the oven to a cooling rack and cool to room temperature.

 

Lemon Vinaigrette

  • 3 tablespoons minced shallot
  • 1 garlic clove, whole, peeled and pressed
  • ¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest
  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • pinch of sugar (optional)
  • freshly grated Parmigiano (optional)

In a non reactive bowl combine the shallots, garlic clove, lemon juice, lemon zest, white wine vinegar, salt, and pepper. Whisk until all the ingredients are combined.

Combine both oils in a pitcher. While whisking slowly begin adding the olive oils in a thin slow and steady stream while continuing to whisk vigorously. Once all the oil has been added and the vinaigrette has emulsified, taste the vinaigrette and add additional salt as needed. Adding just a pinch of sugar is optional. Cover and refrigerate the vinaigrette until you are ready to serve.

Serving:

Place the roasted zucchini in a bowl and lightly drizzle the lemon vinaigrette over the zucchini, toss, and serve.

As suggested above, serve roasted zucchini along with creamy polenta is a perfect summer meal in itself.

Dusting with Zucchini and polenta with Parmigiano is optional, but a nice compliment.

Red Sweetcorn Salsa Fresca on soft taco

Red Sweetcorn Salsa Fresca on soft taco

 

Siam red ruby sweet corn is once again showing up in the markets here in Chiang Mai. A real treat that reminds me of all the colorful native varieties of corn you find in markets all over Mexico. Yellow and blue corn are commonplace throughout the Americas these days, but there are as many as 60 colorful heirloom varieties of native Mexican corn that are still found in regional markets across the country. Unfortunately there is the looming threat of GMO conglomerates that are attempting to control seed distribution with exclusive patenting. This is a very contentious issue for farmers and consumers alike globally. Hopefully GMO conglomerates will be regulated and the patenting of seeds will be curtailed if heirloom seeds by right are to survive for future generations.

Siam Ruby Red Sweetcorn

Siam Ruby Red Sweetcorn

That said, having access to heirloom varieties of locally grown produce is every cooks ideal.
In this case I decided to make a simple salsa fresca that lets the crisp flavor and texture of the locally grown Siam Ruby Red sweetcorn shine while  pairing beautifully with  a variety of savory dishes.

 

Red Sweetcorn Salsa Fresca      makes about 2 cups

  • 2  ears red sweetcorn with husk intact (or other available variety)
  • 1 yellow onion
  • 2 cloves garlic, skin on
  • 2 plump jalapeno chiles
  • 2 vine ripe Roma tomatoes (or equal volume of ripe cherry tomatoes)
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds, toasted
  • 1 teaspoon dried sage leaves
  • ¼ cup freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon pure mild red chile powder or paprika
  • 3 tablespoons chopped cilantro leaves
  • 1 ½ teaspoon sea salt + more to taste
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

 

I like to steam the corn undisturbed in the husk for about 15 minutes. The husk encasing the corn preserves the flavor of the corn and softens the kernels just enough so that they still retain a crunch and bust with flavor when eaten.

teaming Ruby Red Sweetcorn

Steaming Ruby Red Sweetcorn

I use a bamboo steamer, but any steaming arrangement will do. Cover and steam the corn for about 15 minutes, and then set aside to cool.

When the corn is cool enough to handle remove the husks and silk and discard. If you are using red corn you will notice some staining on your hands, but not to worry, the stains will wash off with soap and water.

With one hand holding the corn upright centered in a deep bowl, cut the kernels off the cob using a serrated knife in the other hand. The kernels tend to fly about, so the deeper the bowl the better for containing straying kernels.

Remove outer layer of the onion and cut into thick rounds. Place a dry skillet on the stove top over medium heat. Brush the onion rounds with a little oil and place in the skillet along with the garlic. Turn both the onions and the garlic and cook until the onions are nicely colored on both sides and the garlic has softened. Set aside to cool.

When the onions and garlic are cool enough to handle dice the onions. Peel off the skin of the garlic and mince, and place both in the bowl with the corn.

Trim the tops off the jalapenos and quarter them lengthwise. Remove the seeds and discard. Cut into thin strips, dice the strips, and add to the bowl with the other ingredients.

If using Roma tomatoes, cut them in half, cut out the core and discard. Slice into strips, dice, and add to the bowl with the other ingredients.

If Roma tomatoes are not vine ripe, as is likely during the winter months, use cherry tomatoes instead, which will have a sweeter fresh flavor. Simply quarter and halve the quarters.

Coarsely grind the toasted cumin seeds and add to the bowl. Add the sage and several tablespoons of lime juice and give the ingredients a good stir. Then add the red chile powder, chopped cilantro, and salt. Toss until all the ingredients are well combined.

Taste and add more salt and lime juice to taste. Finally add the olive oil and fold into the salsa.

Cover and refrigerate the salsa until ready to serve.

Serving:

This salsa is ideal for tacos (as pictured), with grilled meat, fish, and poultry or as a garnish for soups, nachos, and of course with tostada chips along with your margaritas.

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