Vegetables & Sides
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.
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.
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.
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.
Kabocha squash may not be as familiar as other varieties of squash, but well worth trying if they are available where you live. They are plentiful here in Asia where they are known as Japanese winter squash variety. Kabocha squash was brought into Japan from Cambodia by Portuguese sailors in the mid 1500’s. Kabocha squash is now widely available here in South East Asia as well as New Zealand, Hawaii, parts of the US, Jamaica, Mexico, and Chile.
Kabocha squash has a thick deep bluish green knobbly skin with celadon streaks. The flesh is a brilliant yellow orange with a pronounced sweet flavor, not unlike the sweet potatoes, when roasted. Kabocha squash is rich in beta carotene, iron, vitamins B and C, potassium, calcium, and folic acid.
kabocha squash’s appearance might be perceived as unattractive, but you can’t always judge a book by its cover. The shape and color of a kabocha squash reminds me a bit of the Japanese Mingei style in pottery that emerged in Japan in the 1920’s. The uneven surface and muddled coloration of a kabocha squash is not unlike the shapes of pots and the color palettes for glazes favored by potters at the time. The Mingei movement was based on bringing common, imperfect, and utilitarian objects into the realm of what was considered art. The idea that ordinary and utilitarian objects existed beyond a realm of beauty or ugliness was a radical idea that redefined what was art in a rapidly evolving modern Japan.
That said,the inner beauty of this squash is ravishingly revealed in the kitchen! Roasting squash is so easy it almost makes itself and the results are brilliantly colorful, comfortingly flavorful, and abundantly healthful to boot!
I particularly like to enlist roasted squash as as an alternative for sweet potatoes for holiday meals. The brilliant color alone should be persuasive enough for you to give it a try. A flourish of pomegranate syrup drizzled over the squash makes this a spectacular side dish for any holiday spread. I like to serve the squash with a lemony tabbouleh which compliments the sweetness of the squash beautifully.
Roasting Pumpkin and Squash: For recipe (click Here)
As mentioned, drizzling the roasted squash with pomegranate syrup adds a lovely sweet sour note to the squash. Pomegranate syrup is available at Greek and Middle Eastern shops and online.
Or make your own Pomegranate syrup. Simply slowly boil pomegranate juice in a non-reactive saucepan until reduced to a syrup. Be careful towards the end of the reduction. Once the syrup begins to bubble up begin swirling the pan. You do not want to syrup to caramelize which would make it bitter rather than tart and crisp.
When the squash is a beautiful golden color remove from the oven and transfer to a serving platter. Drizzle with Pomegranate syrup and serve along with a small bowl of the syrup placed on the table.
Tabbouleh: For recipe (click here)
Calabacitas is a traditional native squash dish that has been prepared throughout Central America and the American Southwest since ancient times. Today there are many regional variations, but the essential native ingredients that date back to pre-Columbian times include calabaza (pumpkin or squash), elote (corn), and chilies. Following the arrival of the Spanish in the 1400’s cows, sheep, and goats were imported from the old world and calabacitas evolved with the introduction of dairy by-products, including cream (crema) and cheeses.
Interestingly, Mennonite farmers who settled in Chihuahua in the late 1800’s, began producing semi soft cows milk cheeses known as queso Mennonita, which is officially recognized as an authentic Mexican cheese, and often tops calabacitas beautifully to this day.
The recipe that follows reflects various New Mexican and Mexican calabacitas I have encountered while living in Santa Fe and on frequent forays into Mexico over the years. As Mexican cheeses are not generally available outside of Mexico, alternative cheeses include a mild hard or soft goat cheese or fresh or soft mozzarella.
Calabacitas is a beautiful dish to consider for a truly traditional American holiday meal. Or, do as they do in Mexico, a calabacitas con pavo and transform your leftover turkey into a comida a la Mexicana.
Calabacitas: serves 4
- 3 tablespoon vegetable or olive oil
- 3 teaspoons butter
- 1 bunch fresh sage leaves, leaves only
- 3 medium size zucchini, ends trimmed, cut into ½ inch cubes
- 3 ears fresh sweet corn, kernels cut off the cob, cob scraped to extract the milk
- 1/2 cup whole milk
- 2 onions, peeled, quartered, and thinly sliced
- 3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
- 3-4 flame roasted jalapeno chilies, skin and seeds removed, cut into thin rajas (strips)
- 1 teaspoon dried marjoram or oregano leaves
- ¼ cup stock as needed
- 3 ½ oz sour cream
- pinch of cinnamon
- flaked sea salt to taste
- 1/2 cup fresh Mexican cheese (or optional cheeses mentioned above)
- poached chicken or leftover turkey (optional)
Ideally I like to use a cast iron iron skillet for even browning of the vegetables, but a large heavy bottomed frying pan should work equally well.
Place the skillet on the stove top over medium flame. When the pan is hot add a tablespoon of oil and a teaspoon of butter. When melted add the sage leaves and fry until crisp, 30 to 45 seconds should do it. Transfer the fried leaves to a plate and set aside to use later.
Promptly add cubed zucchini to the pan with out crowding. You may have to brown the zucchini in several batches. Turn the zucchini to be sure it browns on all sides, about 5 or 6 minutes. Transfer to a plate to use later. Continue, browning the remaining zucchini and set aside.
Add another tablespoon of oil and teaspoon butter to the pan and, when hot, add the whole corn kernels. Brown the corn on all sides, again about 5 or 6 minutes. Then transfer to another plate and set aside to use later
Once again, add 1 tablespoon oil and 1 teaspoon butter to the pan. When melted add the onions and saute until the onions are soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and continue to saute until the onions just begin to color, about 4 minutes.
Meanwhile place the milk in a small sauce pan and add the scrapped corn with its milk. Place the pan over low heat and warm to nearly simmering. Stir in the pinch of cinnamon and turn off the heat.
When the onions are nicely colored add the browned zucchini, browned corn, and the roasted jalapeno strips to the skillet. Add the marjoram or oregano, and half of the sage leaves, crumbled over the other ingredients. Stir all the ingredients together and add just enough stock to moisten the calabacitas, about ¼ cup at the most should do it. Heat to a mere simmer, taste, and add sea salt to your liking. Simmer for about 5 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 325 F/170 c (if using)
Meanwhile stir the sour cream into the warm milk mixture with corn scrapings until well combined,
At this point you can place the skillet of calabacitas over very low heat on the stove top. Stir in the sour cream milk mixture, top with grated cheese if using, cover lightly with foil and warm for several minutes. Then turn off the heat and set aside.
Alternately you can transfer the calabacitas to baking dish, scatter grated cheeses over the surface if using, and place in the preheated oven to warm for about 15 minutes.
You can serve the calabacitas on the stove top in the skillet, or transfer to a serving bowl, top with the remaining fried sage leaves and serve.
Or, serve the calabacitas directly out of the oven garnished with the fried sage leaves.
“Sheet-pan” meals seem to be trending on the internet the last few weeks and for good reason. This is a sensible and easy way to turn out hearty nutritious midweek meals without spending a lot time or fuss. I’ve been doing this for years. Basically you toss a bunch of vegetables into a sheet or roasting pan, add some herbs, drizzle with olive oil, and pop them in the oven to roast them for the better part of an hour. Voila! You have a splendid meal to put on the table as well as enough makings for a couple of reincarnations as well.
This time around I’ve used late summer vegetables, with a nod towards some Indian seasonings, which are roasted and served atop garlic naan bread which I buy from a favorite local Indian restaurant. The next day I tossed the vegetables with pasta, and on the following day a hearty vegetable soup using homemade stock.
The possibilities are endless here with the added benefits of vegetable based meals that are both healthy and robust enough to even satisfy reluctant carnivores.
Sheet-pan Roasted Vegetables with Garlic Naan and Coriander Chutney
- 6 garlic naan or other flat bread of choice
- 4 medium size gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces
- 12 oz baby carrots, trimmed
- 1 head cauliflower, separated into florets
- ½ cup olive oil
- 2 large yellow onions, quartered and thinly sliced
- 4 bell peppers of various colors, seeded and sliced into thin strips
- 3 jalapeno peppers, seeded and cut into thin strips
- 4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- 6 oz small shiitake mushrooms, halved
- 1 tablespoon finely sliced fresh sage leaves
- 1 tablespoon sliced fresh marjoram leaves
- 1 teaspoon toasted cumin seeds
- 1 teaspoon toasted coriander seeds, coarsely ground ¼
- teaspoon turmeric powder
- 1 cup small cherry tomatoes
- 2 teaspoons sea salt + to taste
Place the cut potatoes in a sauce pan and cover with water. Bring the water to a boil, add a pinch of salt and parboil for about 12 minutes. Drain and set aside to cool.
Place the carrots and cauliflower in a steamer basket placed over simmering water and steam about 5 minutes. Set the basket of vegetables aside to cool.
Preheat the oven to 400 f/200 c rack set mid-level in the oven
Set a large skillet on the stove top over medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil to the skillet and heat until the oil is nearly smoking.
Add the onions and saute about 4 minutes until wilted. Add the bell peppers, jalapenos, garlic, and shiitake mushrooms and toss to combine. Turn up the heat to medium high and cook until the peppers have softened, about 3 minutes.
Add the sage, marjoram, cumin, coriander, turmeric, and 2 teaspoons salt. Toss until the ingredients are well combined. Then transfer the contents of the skillet into a sheet-pan or roasting pan along with the reserved potatoes, carrots, cauliflower, and the cherry tomatoes.
Add the remaining olive oil and toss all the ingredients until well combined. Place in the preheated oven and roast for about 1 hour, turning the vegetables over in the pan at 15 minute intervals.
While the vegetables are roasting you can make the Coriander chutney.
Coriander chutney is a standard condiment served in most Indian restaurants. The title Chutney may be a bit misleading as this chutney is more of a sauce rather than a mango or lime chutney you may be more familiar with. The coriander chutney adds a fresh aromatic and spicy note when splashed over the roasted vegetables.
Coriander chutney makes nearly a cup
- 1 ¼ cups fresh coriander leaves
- 2 two inch fresh green chilies, flame roasted, skin removed, seeded, and chopped
- 1 ½ teaspoon freshly grated young ginger root
- ½ teaspoon toasted cumin seeds, finely ground
- 2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lime juice
- 4 tablespoons cold water
- ¾ teaspoon sea salt
- a pinch of sugar
- 1 teaspoon neutral tasting vegetable oil
Place the coriander leaves, green chilies, ginger, cumin, and lime juice in a blender jar or mini food processor. Pulse until the coriander is pulverized, scraping down the sides of the blender or processor frequently.
Then add the water, sea salt and sugar and blend for several minutes, again scraping down the sides of the blender or processor as needed, until the sauce is very smooth. Then with the machine running add the oil in a slow steady stream.
Transfer the chutney to a jar with lid and refrigerate until needed.
Serving: The roasted vegetables are a perfect starter for a meal, as pictured.
Warm the garlic naan, or flat bread of choice, and generously mound the warm roasted vegetable on top. Spoon the Coriander chutney over the vegetables and serve.
The roasted vegetables can also be served as a side with a main course, or even better, as a main course with a side of couscous, rice, Bulgar, or quinoa.