Beloved Slaw(s)

February 10, 2012

Everybody knew what she was called, but nobody anywhere knew her name. Disremembered and unaccounted for, she cannot be lost because no one is looking for her, and even if they were, how can they call her if they don’t know her name? Although she has claim, she is not claimed.
~Toni Morrison, Beloved

February is African American History Month, and the theme this year is “Black Women in American Culture and History,” honoring women who shaped the nation. Where to begin and to end? Ella Fitzgerald, Marian Anderson, Josephine Baker, Maya Angelou, Gwendolyn Brooks, Ruby Dee, Althea Gibson, Billie Holiday, Lena Horne, Rosa Parks, Leontyne Price, Angela Davis, Wilma Rudolph, Harriet Tubman, Alice Walker…and countless nameless, faceless sisters, mothers, cousins, daughters, aunts and grandmothers who steered, coddled and bettered their families and communities.

While all deserve deep praise, the eloquent and imaginative author, Toni Morrison, comes to my mind. The Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winner’s spellbinding stories are crafted with evocative prose that soars with poetic hues. Each of her novels are rich in character and unearth dense imagery. She is a writer’s writer whose works teem with passionate insight and vitality. Sula, The Bluest Eye, Song of Solomon, Tar Baby, Beloved, Jazz, Paradise, Love, A Mercy. And she reveres Paris, “a haven for the fastidious and ferocious and the smart,” and loves the “arrogance” of the city which also fostered a generation of post-colonial French-African thinkers.

While the term coleslaw derived from the Dutch koolsla, a shortening of koolsalade, which means “cabbage salad,” it has become a staple at barbeques and picnics across the states. Soulful slaw should be invited to the table more this month and later.

BEET & FENNEL SLAW

2 chioggia (candy-stripe) beets, peeled and julienned
2 yellow beets, peeled and julinned
1 medium carrot, peeled, julienned
1 small fennel bulb, cored and coarsely shredded
1 C napa cabbage, thinly sliced

Toss beets, carrot, fennel and cabbage in a large bowl. Add just enough dressing du jour to nicely coat, but not drench, the slaw. Taste and adjust seasoning to your liking.

Dressing I
2 T sugar
Sesame seeds or sliced almonds, toasted
1/2 C canola oil
2 T fresh lemon juice
3 T seasoned rice vinegar
1 T soy sauce
3 t sesame oil
1 t fresh ginger, peeled and minced

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a medium bowl, whisk together sugar, sesame seeds, canola oil, lemon juice, rice vinegar, soy sauce, sesame oil and ginger. Season with salt and pepper to your liking.

Dressing II
1/2 C plain Greek yogurt
2 t finely grated orange zest
6 T fresh orange juice
2 t fresh lemon juice
2 T finely chopped fresh dill

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a medium bowl, whisk together yogurt, zest, orange juice and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper to your liking.

Dressing III
2/3 cup mayonnaise, preferably homemade
1/4 C yellow onion, peeled and minced
3 T dill pickle, minced
2 T pickle juice
2 T white wine vinegar
1 T horseradish
1 T sugar
1/2 t celery seeds
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a medium bowl, whisk together mayonnaise, onion, pickle, pickle juice, wine vinegar, horseradish, sugar and celery seeds. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Pourboire: it should go without saying that a mix of traditional white and red cabbages with carrots is supreme.

Advertisements

Beet, Leek & Fennel Soup

March 19, 2011

A cool, rainy weekend, and our NCAA basketball tourney brackets are freely bleeding with early round exits. So, seems an ideal day for an earthy, crimson soup.

Roasting the beets teases out their natural sugars, and the wispy green fennel fronds lightly strewn over a dollop of crème fraîche or sour cream breaks the frank red monotony.

BEET, LEEK & FENNEL SOUP

6 medium red beets
Extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Water

3 medium leeks, rinsed, dried and thinly sliced
1/4 t fennel seeds
2 T extra virgin olive oil
3 fennel bulbs, thinly sliced, reserving fronds for garnish
1/4 C water
3 C chicken broth
1 bay leaf
1 thyme sprig
1 T freshly squeezed orange juice
1 T red wine vinegar

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Fennel fronds
Crème fraîche or sour cream

Preheat oven to 400 F

Trim ends off beets and rinse. Arrange them in a baking dish, lightly drizzle the beets with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Pour a small amount of water in the dish and cover tightly with foil. Roast until cooked through, about 45 minutes to one hour, depending on the size of the beets. They are done when easily pierced with a fork. Cool, then peel beets. Cut a single beet into 1″ matchsticks for garnish and chop the remaining beets.

In a large heavy saucepan heat oil over moderate heat until hot but not smoking and cook leeks with fennel seeds, stirring, until softened, about 15 minutes. Add sliced fennel and water and cook, covered, stirring occasionally, until fennel is very soft, about 15 to 20 minutes. Stir in chopped beets, broth, bay leaf, thyme sprig, orange juice and red wine vinegar. Simmer, uncovered, 20 minutes. Remove and discard bay leaf and thyme sprig. In a food processor or blender purée soup in batches, transferring it as puréed to another saucepan. Gently heat in saucepan and salt and pepper to taste.

Ladle soup into bowls and garnish with beet matchsticks, crème fraîche or sour cream and fennel fronds.

Beet Risotto

September 24, 2010

The beet is the most intense of vegetables. The radish, admittedly, is more feverish, but the fire of the radish is a cold fire, the fire of discontent, not of passion. Tomatoes are lusty enough, yet there runs through tomatoes an undercurrent of frivolity. Beets are deadly serious.
~Tom Robbins

Good food artfully crosses the full ambit of the senses: sights, scents, tastes, textures. Even the sounds of the kinetic kitchen, the quiet clamor of glasses and plates, and the hum and sometimes clamor of table commotion are part of the medium. These symphonic stimuli are perceived, processed and ordered by that vast network of cells, neurons, synapses, receptors and transmitters housed in our gray matter. They are basic impulses which are too often taken for granted. For some though, the eating experience differs…those that must see without sight, listen without hearing. Perception is gleaned from honing other senses to “see” that which cannot be “seen” and “hear” what cannot be “heard.” These so-called heightened senses are used to interpret the environment visually and aurally.

In an admittedly less than fluent fashion, this brings me to the advent of the latest iPhone gadget. The Color Identifier is an app which uses the iPhone camera to scan a subject(s) and then speaks the color. The visually impaired can click an image and then a color identifier made up of 6 hexadecimal digits reports the hues to the user. Sunsets/rises, flora, fauna, landscapes, paintings, autos, homes, clothing, you name it…from the banal to the spectacular. To one who is blessed with sight and is as technologically proficient as Moses, this seems almost surreally miraculous.

The earthiness of this vivid root couples well with the supple elegance of risotto. Frabjous fare.

ROASTED BEET RISOTTO

3 medium red beets, tops and roots trimmed off, and halved tranversely
Extra virgin olive oil
Red wine vinegar
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

6-7 C chicken stock, as needed

2 T extra virgin olive oil
1 cup yellow onions, peeled and finely chopped
1 1/2 C arborio rice
3/4 C dry white wine

2 T unsalted butter
1/2 C parmigiano reggiano, freshly grated
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 400 F

Line a large baking dish with aluminum foil. In a large bowl, toss together the beets, splashes of olive oil, red wine vinegar, and salt and pepper. Place beets in the dish and cover snugly with foil. Bake for 35 minutes, then uncover and bake until tender and golden around edges, about 10 minutes more. Check throughout the latter part of the cooking process to see if the beets are cooked until tender, but still al dente. They are done when easily penetrated with a fork. Pour excess beet juice into a bowl and reserve. Allow beets to cool uncovered, then peel or slip off skins with paper towels and cut into 1/2″ cubes.

Pour stock into a pan and heat over low heat, keeping at a gentle simmer while you prepare the risotto.

Heat olive oil in a heavy pot or Dutch oven over medium low heat. Add onion and sauté until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Do not brown. Add the rice and cook, until fully coated and semi-translucent. Add the wine and continue stirring until absorbed, about 2 minutes. Add stock by ladles (about 1/2 cup) until each ladle has been absorbed, stirring gently yet constantly. Let each ladleful of stock be almost absorbed before adding the next, allowing the rice to be covered with a thin coating of stock. There is a rhythm to the process which is not too fast and not too slow. About halfway through the process of ladling the stock into the rice, add the beets and a tablespoon or so of the reserved beet juice.

Continue adding ladlefuls of stock, stirring frequently until the rice is almost tender but firm to the bite, about 18 minutes. Then, remove from heat and stir in the butter and parmigiano reggiano and season to taste with salt and pepper. The risotto should be smooth and creamy with the rice still retaining a slight al dente texture.

Divide the risotto among shallow soup bowls, grate some parmigiano reggiano over the top and serve.

Pourboire: Roast more beets than alloted in the recipe and refrigerate for salads, etc. later during the week.

Fear always springs from ignorance.
~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Enough already Sarah. She has gone from that Armani adorned, always ingénue and sometimes buffoonish, vice presidential candidate to now become the self anointed Delphic Oracle of conservatism. The former governor seems to envision her “new life” bespectacled, clad in khaki and jodfers, rough riding over Capitol Hill while spouting uninformed rhetoric on Twitter and Facebook.

On a recent Facebook page, Mrs. Palin entered this patently absurd comment:

“The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama’s ‘death panel’ so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their ‘level of productivity in society,’ whether they are worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil.”

Her harangue was at best, ignorance followed by paranoic rant—and at worst, an outright, mean-spirited lie. In typical fear mongering fashion, Mrs. Palin baselessly asserted that the health care plan proposed before Congress contains a provision providing for bureaucratic death squads to kill off the less productive members of society. Nowhere in any proposed health care legislation is there any such language, notion or innuendo. She should recant her outlandish misrepresentations which were aimed at poisoning a remedial bill meant to serve our citizens’ health care and well-being—seemingly for the selfish purpose of enhancing her political base. Don’t hold your breath because to some “never disavow, never apologize, never explain” is a lifelong mantra.

Some advice, Sarah: first read and comprehend, then attempt to grasp the issues, and finally talk openly (rationally and with proper use of your cradle language). Then, maybe we can have vigorous, informed and civil debate that addresses the true issues at hand.

As Ronald Reagan, Jr., wryly remarked, “Sarah Palin only needs a red rubber nose and some exploding shoes and she could go work for Barnum and Bailey. The fact that we give this clown any time at all is shocking and silly and a little bit stupid.”

A footnote—Urban Dictionary now has an entry for “Palinize”: To smear or mock someone using falsehoods, baseless accusations or unsubstantiated character assassinations for the purpose of blocking them from achieving a goal; to exaggerate the truth or lie by omission.

Now, back to something we know has substance and true essence.

This spring/summer soup, with its stunning range of deeply crimson to cerise to magenta red hues and earthy flavors, can be served warm or chilled.

BEET SOUP

3-4 medium red beets, roasted
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Extra virgin olive oil

1 T butter
1 leek (white and pale green parts), cleaned well and chopped
1 small onion, peeled and thinly sliced
1 celery stalk, chopped
1/8 t ground ginger

2 cups chicken stock
2 T red wine vinegar
1 small bay leaf
1 fresh thyme sprig
1 fresh parsley sprig

1/4 C whipping cream
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

2-3 T crème fraîche or sour cream
Dill fronds, for garnish

Preheat oven to 400 F

Trim ends off beets and rinse. Arrange them in a baking dish, season with salt and pepper, and lightly splash them with olive oil, and cover tightly with foil. Roast until cooked through, about 45 minutes to one hour, depending on the size of the beets. Cool, then peel beets. Cut 1/4 of one beet into 1/3″ cubes, and reserve for garnish. Cut remaining beets into 1/2″ pieces for use in the body of the soup.

Melt butter with oil in heavy medium saucepan over medium high heat. Add leek, onion, and celery and cook until beginning to brown, stirring frequently, about 12 minutes. Stir in ginger, salt and pepper, and beet pieces. Cook until vegetables begin to stick to bottom of pot, stirring gently and frequently, about 7 minutes. Add chicken stock, red wine vinegar, bay leaf, thyme sprig, and parsley sprig. Bring to a gentle boil. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer until vegetables are very tender, about 25 minutes. Remove bay leaf, thyme sprig, and parsley sprig and discard. Allow soup to cool slightly. Working in batches, purée soup by pulsing in food processor with cream. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Return to saucepan and reheat. Divide soup between bowls, adding reserved beet cubes. Garnish each bowl with a swirl of crème fraîche and dill fronds.

Ripeness is all.
~William Shakespeare, King Lear, Act V, Scene II

Even setting flavors aside, this presents a brilliantly hued palette—reds, yellows, greens, white.

Avocados (Persea americana), also known as palta or aguacate in Spanish, are evergreen trees native to South and Central America which are classified in the flowering plant family Lauraceae, joining cousins cinnamon and bay leaves.

The word “avocado” comes from the Nahuatl word āhuacatl (“testicle”) which is a reference to the shape of the fruit. So, there is little wonder that the avocado has long been said to have aphrodisiacal qualities. The avocado is colloquially known as the Alligator Pear, reflecting its shape and leathery skin.

While there a number of varieties of this fruit, the creamy, rich Hass cultivar, grown in California, makes up over 75% of the nationwide avocado crop. Their edible yellow-green flesh has the consistency of butter, and a subtle, nutty flavor. They are about the size of a pear and have pebbly brown-black-green skin when ripe.

Nutritionally, avocados are a robust source of vitamin K, dietary fiber, vitamin B6, vitamin C, folate copper and potassium. Avocados contain oleic acid, a monounsaturated fat that helps reduce cholesterol levels. They also greatly enhance your body’s ability to absorb those prized carotenoids that vegetables provide.

Lest I forget…tomorrow in the Tour, a deceptively difficult stage in the Vosges from the spa town of Vittel to the Alsatian wine capital of Colmar.

AVOCADO & BEETS WITH CHAMPAGNE VINAIGRETTE

3 medium red beets
3 medium golden beets
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Red wine vinegar
Extra virgin olive oil

1 C extra virgin olive oil
1/3 C champagne vinegar
2 T Dijon mustard
2 t honey
1/2 shallot, peeled and finely minced
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Endive or arugula

2 firm ripe avocados

Good quality fresh goat cheese, crumbled

Preheat oven to 400 F

Trim ends off beets, and rinse. Arrange them in a baking dish, season with salt and pepper, and lightly splash them with red wine vinegar and olive oil, and cover tightly with foil. Roast until cooked through, about 45 minutes to one hour, depending on the size of the beets. Allow beets to cool uncovered, then peel, slice into rounds and then halve the rounds.

In a bowl, whisk together the mustard, vinegar, honey, and shallot. While whisking constantly, slowly drizzle in the oil in a narrow, steady stream. While whisking, season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and chill at least 30 minutes or up to 3 days.

Toss the beets gently with the vinaigrette and arrange them on a plate with some endive or aurugula with the sliced avocado garnish with crumbled goat cheese and drizzle with the vinaigrette. Remember: dress lightly.

Pourboire: Avocados do not ripen on the tree, but only after they have been harvested. Ripen them for a few days before use, by putting them in a brown paper bag at room temperature, until there is some yield to a gentle touch. To hasten ripening, add an apple or tomato to the bag. A ripe, ready to eat avocado is slightly soft but should have no dark sunken spots or cracks.

Never refrigerate unripened avocados because they will not ripen in cold temperatures. Once ripe, keep them in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. But leaving them an extended time in the refrigerator will cause them to darken and lose their flavor.

To cut, grip the avocado on one side with one hand. With a large, sharp chef’s knife, cut the avocado lengthwise around the seed. Gently twist the two halves in opposite directions to expose the pit. Fold up a kitchen towel and use that to hold the avocado half with the pit. Firmly, yet gently tap the pit with a knife with enough force so that the knife edge wedges into the pit, but not so hard as to cut all the way through it. With the edge of the knife, twist the pit out of the avocado and discard.

Now, either scoop out the avocado flesh whole with a spoon and slice, or slice the avocado into segments. Gently make length long slices in the avocado flesh. Then use a spoon to scoop out the sliced avocado segments.

Beets & Radicchio

April 17, 2009

An appeasing and colorful aside to pizza…served on endive boats, you can jettison flatware entirely.

Despite our Fearless Leader’s aversion to them, beautifully hued beets boast a subtle, earthy flavor and are supremely nutritious. With the scientific name of Beta vulgaris, they are vegetables from the amaranth family which has been cultivated for some 4,000 years. Beets are herbaceous biennial plants with stems growing to 2-6 feet tall bearing nearly heart shaped leaves. They belong to the same family as swiss chard and spinach.

Beyond their divine flavor and ruby tint, beets are quite the health food—loaded with vitamins A, B1, B2, B6 and C. (By the way, besides the deep red variety, there are beautiful golden beets, and pink and white striated Chioggia beets.) The greens have a higher content of iron compared to spinach. They are also an excellent source of calcium, magnesium, copper, phosphorus, sodium and iron.

So far, of the 55 varieties of vegetables in the new White House garden, beets have yet to make the grade. Maybe, just maybe, Mr. Obama will convert.

The time to buy beets is June through October, when they are most tender. Look for unblemished bulbs with sturdy, unwilted greens.

Radicchio is a zesty and spicy leaf chicory which has been relished since ancient times. Consider using radicchio on the grill as it mellows with heat.

BEETS & RADICCHIO

2 pounds medium red beets, scrubbed, ends trimmed
Extra virgin olive oil, to toss
Red wine vinegar, to toss
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 fresh, plump garlic cloves, peeled, minced and mashed to a paste
1/2 C red wine vinegar
2 C extra virgin olive oil
2 t fresh tarragon, chopped
1 head radicchio, cored and roughly cut
1/4 C fresh parsley, chopped
1/4 C fresh beet leaves, chopped
4 ozs fresh firm goat cheese, roughly cut into cubes
2/3 C pine nuts, toasted

2 heads endive leaves, cleaned

Preheat oven to 400 F

Line an adequately sized baking dish with aluminum foil. In a large bowl, toss together the beets, some olive oil, red wine vinegar, and salt and pepper. Place beets in a the dish and cover with foil. Bake for 35 minutes, then uncover and bake until tender and golden around edges, about 10 minutes more. Check throughout the latter part of the cooking process to see if the beets are cooked until tender, but still al dente. They are done when easily penetrated with a fork. Slip off skins. Transfer to a small bowl and cool. Cut into thin half moons by cutting across transversely and then vertically.

In a small bowl, whisk together with 1/2 cup red wine vinegar with the mashed garlic and tarragon. In a narrow stream, add 2 cup olive oil to emulsify, making a vinaigrette. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Separately toss beets and endive leaves with vinaigrette to coat. Set both aside. In an open bowl, combine radicchio, parsley and beet leaves. Toss with vinaigrette so it is gently dressed. Add beets, goat cheese, pine nutes and toss gently. Serve on open endive leaves. If additional vinaigrette is needed, very sparingly drizzle over the top.