As all cooks know, there are those times when you just have to buckle down and get on with making do with what you happen to have on hand. This time of year that means getting creative with the heartier autumn vegetables varieties that are available in your local farmers markets. As it happens I put this salad together on the day of the November full moon so aptly named an Autumn Moon Salad.
Maybe I’m taking some artistic license here, but indulge me. The cool weather and a brilliant full moon shimmering in the crisp autumn sky somehow seemed in sync with the earthy flavors of gold potatoes tossed with deep green Brussels sprouts and kale leaves spiked with chilies and fresh herbs. There are those times in the kitchen when everything seemingly just comes together effortlessly.
Autumn Moon Salad serves 4 to 6
- 4 gold potatoes aka Yukon gold potatoes
- 1 pound young Brussels sprouts
- 2 large bunches kale or collard greens
- 1 large onion, diced
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- ¾ cup sliced Spanish pickled red pimientos
- 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano ( marjoram or wild thyme)
- 2 teaspoons pepper corns, lightly toasted and coarsely crushed
- ½ teaspoon pure ground red chile powder
- flaked sea salt
- Greek yogurt
- za’atar (optional) For more information about za’atar and substitutes (click here)
Peel the potatoes and cut into bite size pieces. Place them in a sauce pan and cover with water. Add a pinch of salt, bring to a boil and reduce the heat and simmer. Cook until the potatoes are tender but not too soft. Transfer the potatoes to a colander, drain well, and set aside to cool.
Remove the outer leaves from the Brussels sprouts and discard. Then snap off a few layers of leaves and place them in a steamer basket. Divide the remaining more compact sprout heads into quarters lengthwise and place them on top of the sprout leaves in the steamer.
Cut the kale (or collard) leaves off the stems. Peel and thinly slice the stems and add them to the steamer basket. Using a very sharp knife, remove the central ribs of the leaves and discard. Slice the leaves in half and place them in the steamer basket.
Cover the steamer with the lid and place over medium heat. Once the water is boiling, reduce the heat to low and steam the contents until tender, but not limp. Then remove the steamer basket and set it aside to cool uncovered.
While the vegetables are steaming you can saute the onions and garlic. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil to a saute pan set over medium heat. When the oil is hot add the onions and reduce the heat a little bit. Saute until the onions are softened. Add the garlic and saute another couple of minutes and then set aside to cool.
In a large mixing bowl combine the cooked potatoes, steamed sprouts and kale (or collards) and toss. Add the sauteed onions and garlic and gently toss to evenly coat the potatoes and vegetables with the onions and garlic. Then fold in the pimientos.
Drizzle the vinegar and remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil over all and toss well. Scatter the oregano (marjoram or wild thyme), crushed pepper corns, ground red chile powder, and flaked sea salt over the surface. At this point I like to use my hands to combine the seasonings into the salad for a more even distribution without damaging the potatoes. Taste and add more salt if needed.
The salad is now ready to serve or it can be refrigerated for later use.
This salad is best served at near room temperature.
Place the salad in a shallow serving bowl or platter. Drizzle the surface with room temperature Greek yogurt and a good dusting of za.atar.
Dia de los Muertos and Halloween celebrations, albeit different, will both be in full swing next week on both sides of US Mexican border. I have many fond memories of Dia de los Muertos in Mexico as well as in the US sate of New Mexico. The custom of a gathering of family and friends to celebrate together with the spirits of the departed dates back to pre-Columbian cultures in Central America. Typically paths are lined with marigolds to guide the living and the departed to candle lit fiestas held in cemeteries where local foods abound, beer and tequila flows freely, and corridos ballads thread though the air until the wee hours of the morning.
For more on Dia de los Muertos and a recipe for a Mexican roasted Pumpkin Soup (click here).
This time of year is also chile harvest season and what better way to use freshly picked green chilies than in a hearty Sopa de Maiz y Chile Verde Con Pollo. Mexican in origin but also a classic in Northern New Mexico where the New Mexico chiles reign supreme. A perfect offering for a Dia de los Muertos supper!
In Mexico fresh green poblano chilies would be used for this soup. In New Mexico Roasted fresh green New Mexico chilies would be used. If neither are available where you live use fresh green jalapeños which, when flame roasted, have a wonderful full bodied flavor and robust heat.
If you live in the US frozen flame roasted New Mexico green chilies are an alternative, though expensive. They are available online
As tempting as canned green chilies might be, I would suggest avoiding them. They are virtually tasteless.
Sopa de Maiz y chile Verde con Pollo ( Corn and Green Chile Chicken Soup) makes 2 ½ quarts
For the chicken: Ideally, cook the chicken the day before you plan to make the soup.
- 1 whole chicken
- 1 large onion, peeled and diced
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
- 3 celery ribs, diced
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
Rinse the chicken and place it in a large stock pot. Add enough water to the pot to generously cover the chicken. Add the onions, garlic, celery, bay leaves, and black peppercorns.
Place the pot on the stove top over medium high heat and bring to a boil. Then lower the heat to a low simmer and cook the chicken for 45 minutes to 1 hour, depending on the size of the chicken.
Remove the chicken from the pot and set both the chicken and the stock aside to cool.
Once the chicken is cool enough to handle pull the meat off the bones in generous chunks and place them in a bowl. Leaving the chicken in larger pieces will give the soup a more substantial profile and tenderer meat when reheated.
Toss all the bones into the stock pot and return the pot to the heat. Bring the contents to a low boil and cook until the stock is reduced by half.
Remove the pot from the heat and set aside to cool for 20 minutes or so. Then strain the stock through a fine mesh strainer into a large container and set aside to cool to room temperature. Discard the bones and solids after straining the stock.
Once the stock is cooled, cover the container with the lid and refrigerate overnight.
The following morning skim off the fat that has solidified on the surface of the stock and save for another use or discard it.
For the soup:
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 large onion, finely diced
- 3 celery ribs, finely diced
- 1 head garlic, cloves separated, roasted in a dry skillet until lightly colored, skin removed, and minced
- 2 quarts prepared chicken stock
- 2 ears of corn, husks and silk removed, and grilled
- 4-5 fresh New Mexico green chilies ( or 3 large fresh green poblano chilies, or 6-8 fresh green jalapeno chilies) flame roasted, skin and seeds removed, and cut into thin strips and diced
- 2 cups home cooked white beans (or canned), drained
- ¼ teaspoon dried oregano leaves, crumbled
- ¼ teaspoon dried marjoram leaves, crumbled
- 1 teaspoon dried sage leaves crumbled
- 1 ¾ teaspoons sea salt + more to taste
- 1/3 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 3 tablespoons minced parsley leaves
Place the olive oil and butter in a stock pot set over medium heat. Swirl the pan until the butter is melted and combined with the oil. Add the onions and celery and lower the heat to medium low and cook, stirring now and again until the onions and celery are very soft and translucent, about, 20 minutes.
Add the garlic and continue to cook another 5 minutes. Then add the stock. Once the stock begins to boil, lower the heat to a simmer and cook for 45 minutes, adding the beans after 15 minutes. Be sure to stir from time to time so the beans do not stick to the bottom of the pot.
While the soup is simmering, grill the whole corn cobs over an open flame until the kernels are evenly colored and a deeper yellow. Then cut the kernels off the cob and set them aside in a bowl to use later.
Scrape the cobs with the back of a pairing knife to extract the corn milk from the cobs and transfer the scrapings to the simmering stock pot.
Likewise, while the soup continues to cook flame roast the chilies until the skins are evenly blistered. Transfer them to a bowl, seal with cling film, and let them sweat until cool enough to handle. Then slip off the blistered skin. Cut the chilies in half, remove the seeds and veins, slice into strips, and cut the strips into half inch pieces and set aside.
Once the ingredients in the stock pot are cooked remove the pot from the heat and cool for a few minutes. Then blend the contents of the pot with a hand held immersion blender until the mixture is smooth.
Return the pot to to the stove top set over medium heat and add the corn kernels, green chilies, oregano, marjoram, sage, sea salt, and freshly ground pepper. Stir and cook the soup for about 20 minutes, stirring frequently as the pureed beans would otherwise settle to the bottom of the pot and scorch.
Put the pulled boiled chicken in a pot with a cup or so of water and reheat until the chicken is hot.
Taste the soup broth and in the stock pot and add salt as needed. Stir in the parsley and cook another couple of minutes. Then add the hot pulled chicken to the pot and stir to combine. Bring to a low simmer just before you are ready to serve.
- dried red chile rajas (strips)
- tostada corn chips
- sour cream
- lime wedges
To make the dried red chile rajas, place 8 dried red chilies in a dry skillet set over medium low heat. Using a metal spatula, press the chilies
against the bottom of the skillet briefly then flip them and repeat, then promptly remove them from the skillet to a cutting board.
While they are still warm and pliable, cut the chilies in to very thin strips lengthwise. Then halve the strips crosswise. Heat a little olive oil in a small pan and briefly fry the rajas and set them aside to cool.
Ladle the soup into shallow soup bowls, mounding the chicken in the center. Stick several tostatda chips around the chicken. Add a dollop of sour cream in the center and scatter the red chile rajas over the sour cream. Serve with fresh lime wedges placed on the table.
Clay pot cookery has been practised the world over ever since humans began cooking over open fires and sharing communal meals together. That seminal idea of shared one pot meals is still widely practised over much of the globe, even in our own modern 21st century home kitchens. In Asia particularly, clay pot cookery is still widely used at home as well as in restaurants. Japanese clay pot Shabu shabu and Sukiyaki restaurants are popular the world over, as are Cantonese clay pot chicken restaurants, and Korean Tubaegi Bulgogi shops.
Clay pot cookery in Asia has endured as a traditional way to prepare simple yet warming full bodied one pot meals during the fall and winter months. The donabe is one of Japan’s earliest traditional clay pot cooking vessels that is still used in most Japanese kitchens to this day. Likewise there are traditional clay pots used throughout South and Southeast Asia, China, Taiwan, and Korea. The flexibility of clay pot cookery is its appeal. The clay pot can be used directly over an open flame, on the stove top, in the oven, or set atop a portable gas burner placed on the dinning table which is a great way to involve everyone in cooking at the table during the meal, Asian style.
I acquired my first Japanese donabe nearly 40 years ago and I am still using it today as pictured. If you do not have a clay pot I urge you to go out and find one. Unlike the endless array of quirky unnecessary kitchen gadgets or the latest trending cooking equipment or appliances that you may use a couple of times and then shove to the back of a kitchen cabinet, a clay pot is a kitchen treasure you will use regularly. Clay pots are available in shops in Asian communities and online.
A few tips when purchasing a clay pot. As mentioned I prefer the Japanese donabe above all others. Donabes are heavy, durable, and they retain heat well. They are lightly glazed both inside and out. Some cooks prefer a more rustic unglazed clay pots, claiming they add flavor to what you are cooking. That claim is debatable. Unglazed pots are porous and require pre-soaking in water before each use to avoid cracking. Staining and durability is also continuing issue with unglazed clay pots.
If you are unable to find a retailer where you live you might check out Toiro Kitchen’s selection of Japanese donabes (click here) They are as beautiful as they are utilitarian.
When cooking with all clay pots, always begin cooking over a low flame at first with a little liquid, or oil if frying, in the bottom of the pot. Once the pot is heated you can then raise the flame gradually to the required temperature for cooking and simmering. To avoid cracking, always cool the pot after cooking and before submerging it in water for cleaning. Best to clean with warm water only, or at least avoid using soap in the interior of the pot.
The recipe that follows is one of my easy interpretations of a simple Chinese clay pot meal that includes cabbage, carrots, daikon radish, and lop cheong (Chinese hard sausage.) This is a basic combination of Asian vegetables infused with a beguiling slightly sweet smoky flavor of the sausage. Rice or noodles are often included in clay pot cooked meals as well. So throw caution to the wind and don’t worry too much about authenticity. There are endless possibilities at the discretion of the creative cook in all of us!
Asian Clay Pot Vegetables with Lop Cheong serves 4
- 4 to 6 lop cheong (dry Chinese sausage), casing removed,thinly sliced on the diagonal
- 1 tablespoon oil
- 1 large onion, peeled, quartered, and thinly sliced
- 1 large head Chinese or green cabbage, outer leaves removed, quartered, core removed, and very thinly sliced
- 1 large daikon radish, peeled, quartered, and cut into bite size pieces
- 2 carrots, peeled, thinly sliced and cut into thin batons
- 2 inch knob fresh ginger, peeled, thinly sliced, and finely diced
- hot stock to just cover ingredients
- 1 teaspoon honey
- 3 tablespoons light soy sauce + more to taste
- 1 to 2 teaspoons Szechuan pepper corns, lightly toasted and ground
- ¼ teaspoon five spice powder
- 1 teaspoon pure red chile powder or more to taste
As the lop cheong sausage is quite fatty I like to simmer the sliced sausage in a skillet with water for about 15 minutes to release some of the fat which you can spoon off the surface of the water and discard. Reserve the cooking liquid to add to the simmering pot later.
Preheat the oven to 350F/180c (if using the oven)
Place the clay pot on the stove top over low heat. Add the oil and after five minutes raise the heat to medium low and add the onions. Cook the onions until softened. Then add the cabbage and cook while tossing until the cabbage is wilted. Then add the daikon , carrots, and ginger. Cook while tossing the ingredients until slightly wilted. Then fold in the precooked sliced sausage until well combined.
Add the honey, 3 tablespoons light soy sauce, ground Szechuan pepper, five spice powder, and red chile powder. Toss until all the ingredients are well combined.
Add enough hot stock, including the reserved broth from the precooked sausage, to the pot to just reach the top of the ingredients. Cover the pot with the lid and simmer on the stove top, or transfer the pot to the oven, and cook for 30 minutes.
Check the level of the stock which should be just visible when a spoon is inserted into the vegetables. Add a little more stock if it is looking dry. Cover and continue to cook on the stove top, or return the pot to the oven, for another 30 minutes
Remove the lid and check the contents. The liquid should be reduced by about two thirds and the vegetables around the edges of the pot may just be beginning to color. If there is still excess liquid cook another 15 to 20 minutes. Taste and season with additional light soy sauce and red chile to taste and cover and set aside until you are ready to serve.
Transfer the clay pot to the table and serve with steamed rice.
Another lop Cheong recipe you might like to try (click here for recipe)
Ajvar is a traditional roasted sweet red bell pepper relish from the Balkan Peninsula with many regional variations. In the south eastern Balkans roasted eggplant is also included in the ajvar. Adding dried ground red chile is customary throughout the region although more as a flavor note than adding a discernible heat. Ajvar is slathered on local flat breads or served with grilled meats, sausages, fish, or just about any other application that strikes your fancy. It is a real favorite of mine and easy to prepare. Well… that is when flame roasting peppers and eggplants has become second nature. The roasting process is really not that difficult and a ritual I quite enjoy while taking in the intoxicating aroma of roasting peppers. That little extra effort turns out beautifully sweet and smoky flavored peppers and eggplants for a multitude of applications. Ajvar is very similar to an Eastern Mediterranean roasted red pepper Muhammara with walnuts and pomegranate which you also might like to try. (See recipe here) It’s always a big hit when served with drinks.
Imported traditional Balkan Ajvar is available at some specialty food shops and online, but why not make your own with locally grown organic peppers. It really does make a difference and you are free to veer from tradition using various other vinegars and chilies. Try using a Jerez sherry vinegar and a smoked paprika paired with grilled Spanish sausages. It’s a flavor bite you will not forget!
Ajvar makes about 3 cups
Ideally, make the Ajvar a day before you plan to use it. This allows the flavors to develop.
- 3 large vine ripe red bell peppers, roasted
- 2 to 3 small long eggplants, roasted
- 3 garlic cloves, finely grated (1 tablespoon)
- 1 ½ teaspoons flaked sea salt + more to taste
- 1 tablespoon + 2 teaspoons cider vinegar
- freshly ground black pepper
- 3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 to 2 teaspoons pure ground red chile powder
Blacken the red bell peppers and eggplant on an outdoor grill or over a gas flame on the stove top. For full instructions on flame roasting (click here) .
Once the peppers and eggplants are evenly charred and quite limp transfer them to a bowl and seal the top of the bowl with cling film and set aside.
Once the peppers and eggplants are cool enough to handle remove the charred skin and discard it.
Note: Do not be tempted to peel off the charred skin under running water. It may seem like a good idea, but you will be rinsing away all the flavor you developed during the charring. Better to rinse your hands instead.
It is fine if there are some bits of charred skin left behind here and there. It will add a nice smoked flavor to the ajvar.
Open up the peppers and eggplants and remove the seeds and membranes and discard. This will reduce the volume of the eggplant considerably but you should still end up with about a cup of flesh.
Tear the peppers apart into bits and place them in the food processor or use a mortar and pestle if you want a truly authentic ajvar. Add the eggplant, garlic, and salt and pulse or grind until the mixture is broken down. Add the vinegar, ground pepper, and a couple tablespoons of olive oil and pulse or continue grinding until the mixture is to the texture you prefer, either coarse or quite smooth. Then stir is the ground red chile powder and pulse or mix until combined.
Taste and make any adjustments needed. Transfer the ajvar to a glass jar and add a little olive oil to just cover the surface. Seal the jar with the lid and refrigerate.
Serve chilled or at room temperature.