There is always something left to love.
~Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Perhaps the latest entry here should have included words such as el amor or amorda instead of los amigos. Hopefully, no utterances there hastened his demise although he “did not care about glory, or money, or old age, because (he) was sure (he) was going to die very young, and in the street.” Thank you for fooling us, our magus of magical realism — Gabriel García Márquez — who died yesterday at a ripe age, exalted and monied enough, at his Mexico City home.

Márquez’s work is flat mesmerizing, conjuring up images of his inventive vision, mythologizing the human condition, meandering into so many dreamscapes, and interlacing epic tales of memory and love. There was a Proustian tone to his prose, but his style also stood on its own among such literary luminaries as Joyce, Faulkner, Kafka, Borges and the like. His stories voiced superb power yet were rife with delicious comedy, oozing humanity throughout.

A native of Colombia, born and raised in the remote Caribbean town of Aracataca, Márquez would draw on his experiences there to later pen the imaginary town of Macando in One Hundred Years of Solitude. In this classic novel, Macando becomes a place where the phenomenal and hideous mingle and where the borders between the real world and fantasy eloquently collide — a lost village where ghosts roam, exotic flowers fall from the sky, a galleon with dirty rags for sails lies listless in the jungle, a child is born with the tail of a pig. A transcendent tale which cast a spell upon this reader.

In Love in the Time of Cholera, Márquez aptly, yet eeriely, remarked about unrequited love: “…they no longer felt like newlyweds, and even less like belated lovers. It was if they had leapt over the arduous calvary of conjugal life and gone straight to the heart of love. They were together in silence like an old married couple wary of life, beyond the pitfalls of passion, beyond the brutal mockery of hope and the phantoms of disillusion; beyond love. For they had lived together long enough to know that love was always love, anytime and anyplace, but it was more solid the closer it came to death.” Time for another re-read. There are other spellbinding works, of course.

Márquez’s craft is adroitly honed, vibrant, evocative, deft, and humorous. See you later, el maestro, Gabo — you have spoken to us all.

Dr. Juvenal Urbino in Love in the Time of Cholera had an affinity for asparagus due to the aftereffect aromas (speaking of Proust), so it seemed à propos

ASPARAGUS WITH SAFFRON BEURRE BLANC

Saffron Beurre Blanc
2 C dry white wine
1 C champagne vinegar
Pinch of sea salt
Pinch of freshly ground white pepper
Pinch saffron

12 T (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into pieces

Boil wine, champagne vinegar, salt, pepper, and saffron in small saucepan over medium heat until liquid is reduced to 4 tablespoons, about 15 minutes. Whisk in half the butter, piece by piece, until it forms a creamy paste. Set saucepan over low heat and continue vigorously whisking in a piece of butter at a time just as the previous piece is almost fully incorporated. The sauce should have the consistency of a lighter hollandaise. Remove from heat, season to taste with salt and pepper. Keep warm, so the sauce does not separate.

Asparagus
Cold water
Sea salt
1+ lb medium asparagus spears, tough ends trimmed off

In the meantime, bring a large pot with cold water to a boil. Add the sea salt and then asparagus and cook until crisp, about 4-5 minutes. Drain and divide the spears evenly among smaller plates or platters. Tent loosely with foil, then remove and drizzle with the saffron beurre blanc.

Serve promptly and then just wait until the next morning. Dr. Urbino would be pleased.

Advertisements

Pad Thai Sans Nuts

December 7, 2011

Sitting by the roadside on a summer’s day
Chatting with my messmates, passing time away
Lying in the shadows underneath the trees
Goodness, how delicious, eatin’ goober peas
Peas! Peas! Peas! Peas! Eatin’ goober peas! Goodness how delicious, eatin’ goober peas!
~P. Nutt (A.E. Blackmar)

Earthnuts, ground nuts, monkey nuts, pygmy nuts, pig nuts—peanuts are not nuts.

Despite the name, peanuts (Arachis hypogaea) are a dehiscent legume in the family Fabaceae, related to peas, lentils, chickpeas and friends. They are composed of a curved single seed-bearing carpel that splits open along two seams.

Native to South America, peanuts were domesticated some 8,000 years ago when pre-Columbian cultures dined on and even depicted them in art. When Spanish conquistadors invaded Mesoamerica they found the Aztecs growing peanuts the locals called tlalcacahuatl.

In the early 16th century, Portuguese traders took peanuts from South America to Africa where they became highly revered and flourished as a staple crop. Around colonial times, slave traders reversed the course and shipped them along with wretchedly stowed human cargo to North America. In one central African language, Kikongo, the word for peanut is nguba which morphed into the vernacular “goober” peas.

From the better half of the scientific name, hypogaea derives from Greek for underground, combining hypo “under” + gaia Greek “earth.” An annual herbaceous plant growing some 1′-2′ tall, peanuts begin as an above ground orange-veined, yellow-petaled flower. The flower is produced near the base of a slender pedicel (peduncle, stalk) that curves downward.

After pollination, the flower withers and cells beneath the ovary begin to develop a peg that helps force the ovary into the ground. The curved pedicel elongates, bends down to kiss the moist earth, and then forces the ovary underground. The peg has a cap of cells that protects the delicate ovary as the pedicle thrusts into the fertile soil. Continued growth then plunges the ovary under further where a tiny embryonic plant with two tender, fleshy halves develop, and the mature fruit becomes a legume pod. What a resplendent, albeit a bit forcible, act. Oh baby, oh baby.

Once the subterranean, seed-bearing pod matures, functional roots and photosynthetic leaves emerge. The pod coat changes color from white to a reddish brown with wrinkled, veined shells that are constricted between pairs of usually two seeds per pod. The entire bush, including root growth, is removed from the soil and the pods are allowed to dry. After the peanuts have dried sufficiently, they are threshed, removing the pods from the rest of the bush. The beans are then roasted to become those dried, wrinkled, vein-cloaked, seed bearing carpels we know and love.

Today, thousands of peanut cultivars are grown, with the more common groups being Spanish, Virginia, and Valencia. A source of monounsaturated fats, peanuts feature an array of other nutrients including vitamin E, niacin, folate, protein, manganese, and even lifespan extending resveratrol. Not only do peanuts contain oleic acid, they are rich in antioxidants.

Centuries old, now ubiquitous Pad Thai (“fried Thai style”) was originally made with a noodle brought by Vietnamese traders to the ancient Siamese kingdom of Ayutthaya. It became popularized in the 1930’s as part of a campaign of nationalist fervor and an effort to reduce rice consumption as the economy had become overly dependent on rice exports. The trendy dish has so many variants, particular as pertains to the progression of ingredients into the hot wok with timing being everything.

I might suggest you arrange the ingredients mise en place and not make too many servings at once until you find your dance steps.

PAD THAI

6 ozs rice stick noodles (banh pho)

3-4 T tamarind paste
1/4 C nước mắm Phú Quốc (fish sauce)
1/3 C honey
2 T rice vinegar
Pinch of red pepper flakes or Thai chile powder

3 T peanut oil
1/2 C chopped scallions, chopped
2-3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced
2-3 large eggs, beaten
1/2 small head Napa cabbage, cored and finely shredded
1 C mung bean sprouts
1/2 lb small shrimp, peeled
4-6 ozs tofu, cut into 1/2″ strips

1/2 C roasted peanuts, chopped
1/4 C fresh cilantro, stemmed and chopped
2 limes, quartered

Mix tamarind paste, fish sauce, honey and vinegar in a small saucepan over medium low heat and bring just to a simmer. Stir in red pepper flakes or Thai chile powder and set aside, keeping warm.

Put noodles in a large bowl and add hot water to cover. By far, the trickiest part is the soaked noodles. They should be just tender yet still solid, not completely expanded and soft. When in doubt, undersoak.

Put one tablespoon peanut oil in a large wok over high heat and when oil shimmers, add the tofu and cook until crisp and lightly brown, moving constantly, about 1 minute. Remove the tofu from the pan to a small bowl and set aside.

Keep wok hot, add the remainder of peanut oil, then scallions and garlic and cook for about a minute. Add eggs to pan, and once they begin to set, scramble until just barely done. Add cabbage, shrimp and bean sprouts and continue to cook until cabbage just begins to wilt and shrimp begins to turn pink.

Add drained noodles to pan along with tamarind sauce and tofu. Toss everything together to coat with sauce and combine well. When noodles are softened and warmed through, serve in shallow soup bowls, sprinkling each dish with peanuts and garnishing with cilantro and lime wedges.

Latin Turnovers—Empanadas

September 28, 2009

The belly rules the mind.
~Spanish proverb

From Africa to Iberia to Latin America.

Flavorous hot pockets to go. Served with a variety of both savory and sweet fillings, the word empanada derives from the Spanish verb empanar, meaning to “wrap or coat in bread.” Empanadas may have descended from muaajanat bi sabaniq maa lahm, the pleasing spinach and meat stuffed pastries introduced to the Iberian peninsula during the lengthy Arab occupation which began in the 8th century. (See Paella, 02.13.09)

Usually, an empanada is made by folding a thin circular-shaped dough patty over a stuffing du jour, creating its typical half moon shape. It is probable that the Latin American empanadas were imported from Galicia, Spain, where they are prepared similar to pies that are cut in slices…making it a portable yet hearty meal for working stiffs. The Galician version is customarily prepared with cod fish or chicken, but empanadas have evolved to include fruits, meats, cheeses, fish, chiles, vegetables, beans, fruits, nuts, eggs—to name a few.

LAMB EMPANADAS

Dough
3 C unbleached all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons salt
5 T cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
1 large egg
2/3 C water

Filling
1 28 oz can San Marzano tomatoes
1 poblano chile, stemmed, seeded, roasted, and skin peeled
2 T extra virgin olive oil
1 yellow onion, peeled and finely diced
1 bay leaf
2 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced
2 lbs lamb, coarsely ground
1 t freshly ground black pepper
1 t ground cinnamon
1/2 t paprika
5 cloves, ground
1/2 C raisins
1/4 C black cured olives, pitted
1/2 T apple cider vinegar
1 bay leaf

1/4 C slivered almonds, toasted
3 T cilantro leaves, finely chopped
Sea salt, to taste

Canola oil for frying

Dough
Sift flour with salt into a large bowl and blend in butter with your fingertips or a pastry blender until mixture resembles coarse meal with some small butter lumps. Whisk together egg and water, and then add to flour mixture, stirring until just incorporated. Turn out mixture onto a lightly floured surface and gather together, then massage gently for a few minutes—just enough to bring the dough together and make it smooth. Form dough into two equally sized balls and chill them, each wrapped in plastic wrap, at least 1 hour to rest.

Filling
Place the tomatoes and chile in a food processor or blender and purée.

Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and bay leaf, and cook until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook 2 more minutes. Add the lamb to the pan and cook until browned. Drain off the rendered fat and discard the bay leaf.

To the skillet, add the pepper, cinnamon, paprika, cloves, raisins, olives, and vinegar. Simmer until thick, about 35-45 minutes. The filling should be firm in texture and moist but not runny. Then stir in the almonds and cilantro. Season to taste with salt and allow to cool to room temperature.

Assembly
Divide first dough and half of second dough into 12 equal pieces and form each into a disk. Keeping remaining pieces covered, roll out a portion of the dough on a lightly floured surface with a lightly floured rolling pin into a 6″ round (about 1/8″ thick).

Lightly brush the edges of the circle with water and spoon about 2-3 tablespoons filling onto one side. Then, fold dough in half, enclosing filling. Expell as much air as possible, and press the edges together to seal. Crimp decoratively with your fingers or tines of a fork. Transfer empanada to a baking sheet. Make remaining empanadas in same manner, arranging on a parchment lined baking sheet.

Pourboire: You may also use an empanada mold to create the pies.

Cooking
Pour canola oil to a depth of 1″ in frying pan and heat to 375 F. Fry the empanadas a few at a time until deep golden, about 2-3 minutes per side. Drain on paper towels and keep warm in an oven on low.

I could have a roomful of awards and it wouldn’t mean beans.
~Bobby Darin

Sometimes called turtle beans, black beans (Phaselous vulgaris) derived from a common legume ancestor that originated in Peru. From there, these hard, shiny, ovoid beans were spread throughout South and Central America by migrating indigeneous peoples. In the 15th and 16th centuries, Spanish explorers, returning from New World voyages, introduced these beans to Europe. They were subsequently strewn throughout Africa and Asia by Spanish and Portuguese traders and are now savory staples in cuisines throughout the world.

Like other legumes, black beans abound in dietary fiber and are rich in antioxidant compounds. They are also a fine source of protein, as well as calcium, iron, folic acid and potassium.

BLACK BEAN SOUP

16 ozs black beans, washed and picked over for stones. debris and damaged beans
2 qts water

2 T canola oil
1 T bacon drippings or duck fat
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
4 plump garlic cloves, peeled and minced
2 t lightly toasted cumin seeds
2 t chipotle chili powder

Sea salt, to taste
2 canned chipotle chiles in adobo, seeded and finely chopped

Lime juice, from 1 lime

6 green onions, chopped
Plain yogurt or queso fresca
1/2 C chopped cilantro

Soak the beans in the water overnight. Then rinse well with clean water. Grind cumin seeds in a spice grinder or coffee grinder assigned that kitchen function.

Heat the oil and bacon drippings or duck fat over medium high heat in a large, heavy soup pot or Dutch oven, until hot and then add the onion. Cook, stirring, until it begins to soften, about three minutes, and add the garlic, cumin and chipotle powder. Continue cooking, until fragrant, about one minute, then add the beans and soaking water. The beans should be covered by about two inches of water. Add more water as needed, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, and skim off any foam that rises. Cover and simmer one hour.

Add the salt and chipotles. Continue to simmer another hour or so, until the beans are soft, and the broth is thick and fragrant.

Scoop out two cups of whole cooked beans with a straining spoon, then partially purée the remaining mixture using an immersion blender, or a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Return the purée and whole cooked beans to the pot or Dutch oven and bring to a simmer. Remove from the heat and add the lime juice. Ladle into shallow soup bowls and garnish with green onion, yogurt or queso fresco, and cilantro. Serve with warm corn tortillas.

Pourboire: To shorten the prep time, skip the overnight soak and boil the beans for two minutes. Remove the pan off the heat, cover and allow to stand for two hours.

Look, there’s no metaphysics on earth like chocolates.
~Fernando Pessoa

Records of chocolate use date back to the pre-Columbian Olmec culture, with evidence of the oldest known cultivation of cacao having been discovered at a site in the Honduras, dating from about 1100 to 1400 BC. Cacao beans from this tree native to lowland, tropical South America were used by the Aztecs to prepare a hot beverage with purported stimulant and restorative properties—with the white pulp around the cacao beans likely used as a source of fermentable sugars for an alcoholic drink. Chocolate was commonly reserved for the upper crust, such as warriors, nobility and priests for its reputed ability to confer wisdom and vitality. Offered as a drink, this chocolate concoction called xocoatl was also served during religious rites, and the sacred concoction was associated with Xochiquetzal, the goddess of fertility. Not surprisingly then, legend has it that each day emperor Montezuma II drank 50 golden goblets of frothy, sometimes bitter xocoatl. (Later, the nuns of a Mexican convent quietly made the bitter drink more palatable with the addition of vanilla and sugar.)

The Spanish conquistador, Hernán Cortés, had lavishly praised chocolate in a letter to Charles V of Spain, and brought an ample supply home in his galleons after the cruel conquest and colonization of the Aztec nation which was completed in 1521. He also established a cocoa plantation in honor of the king, and as he explored other tropical lands and islands, he planted cocoa beans in their native soils. It should be said that Cortés was far from a truly romantic hero, noble explorer or munificent soul—rather, he has been roundly accused of open brutality and heinous violence towards the Indians by many historians.

About a century after the Iberian iniation, the Spanish enthusiasm for chocolate was passed to the French court with the marriage of Marie Thérèse, a chocoholic of the first order, to Louis IV in 1660. Here, the drink was considered an aphrodisiac and happily imbibed by the court and members of the wealthy classes. The popular drink was also spread throughout Europe when the Spanish friars carried the beverage with them from monastery to monastery. Originally, the Europeans mixed their chocolate with water, coffee, wine and a number of fermented drinks, as well as with pepper and other spices. Remember, chocolate was only served as a beverage or used as a pastry ingredient until the 19th century, when the bar was invented.

Recent research has linked flavanols, especially epicatechin, to improved blood circulation, heart health and memory in mice, snails and humans. Besides improvements on certain memory tests, researchers also found increased memory function in an area of the brain’s hippocampus called the dentate gyrus, and the entorhinal cortex, which is often impaired in the early stages of Alzheimer’s.

These chocolate gems known as “truffles” are meant to mimic the highly prized edible fungi found in France and Italy which fetch such exhorbitant prices. Once the truffles are formed, they are often rolled in cocoa powder to simulate the “dirt” found on the real truffles.

CHOCOLATE TRUFFLES

6 oz quality semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, cut into small pieces
2 organic, free range egg yolks, room temperature
2 T heavy whipping cream
1 t strong coffee
1/3 stick butter, cut into small bits

1 t brandy, Grand Marnier, kirsch, rum (optional)

Coatings: quality cocoa powder, confectioners’ sugar, toasted coconut flakes

Melt the chocolate in a double boiler—a medium size bowl set over a large saucepan with simmering water. Remove bowl from heat, but allow the saucepan to continue to simmer. Add the egg yolks to the melted chocolate, slowly and constantly whisking for a few seconds to avoid curdling. Add the the cream, coffee (and alcohol), then place back over the simmering water for a few seconds until smooth, while constantly whisking. Remove the bowl from the heat again and add the butter bit by bit, whisking after each addition. Once all the butter has been fully assumed, whisk for 3 minutes or so to aerate the mixture. With a rubber spatula, spoon into another medium sized bowl. Cover with plastic and refrigerate for approximately 6 hours.

Place your chosen coatings for the truffles on a plate. Remove the truffle mixture from the refrigerator, and using a spoon, divide the mixture evenly to make small balls. With your hands, form the chocolate into rounds about 1″ to 1 1/4″ in diameter. Immediately roll the truffle in the coating and place them on a parchment lined baking sheet. Carefully cover and place in the refrigerator until firm.

…the taste of chocolate is a sensual pleasure in itself, existing in the same world as sex….For myself, I can enjoy the wicked pleasure of chocolate…entirely by myself. Furtiveness makes it better.
~Dr. Ruth Westheimer

Some misled foodies have asserted that mouse au chocolat has become hackneyed, banal, and instead opt for the more eccentric desserts on a menu. Check error on their box scores. This lustrous, chocolate-intense dessert has never become trite to me. No way, no how. We are talking chocolate.

Chocolate is made from the seeds of the tropical cacao tree, Theobroma cacao, named by the famed 17th century Swedish naturalist, Linnaeus who laid the foundations for the modern scheme of binomial nomenclature. Translated from the Greek theobroma, “food of the gods,” they are small, understory trees that demand rich, adequately drained soil and bear small white beans. These environmentally particular trees only grow within about 15 degrees of either side of the equator.

Most things sensual reside in the recesses of our gray matter. Because of chocolate’s reputation as a subtle aphrodisiac, the renowned Italian libertine, Giacomo Casanova, ate chocolate before bedding his many mistresses. Centuries later, a study of Harvard graduates showed that chocolate consumers lived longer than abstainers. Their longevity may be explained by the high polyphenol levels in chocolate which reduce the oxidation of low density lipoproteins and thus reduce the risk of heart disease and even cancer. So, the antioxidants produced by chocolate purportedly increase HDL (“good”) cholesteral levels, and release polyphenols which are a form of antioxidant. Chocolate is also rich in flavonoids, a compound shown to promote several beneficial effects in the cardiovascular system, including decreasing oxidation of LDL cholesterol (a harmful process that allows cholesterol to accumulate in blood vessels); inhibiting aggregation of blood platelets (which contributes to the risk of blood clots that produce stroke and heart attack); and decreasing the body’s inflammatory immune responses (which contribute to atherosclerosis).

Chocolate has also been described as a “psychoactive” food. It affects the brain by causing the release of particular neurotransmitters which are molecules that send signals between neurons.

Some trials have even suggested chocolate consumption may subtly enhance cognitive performance, increasing scores for verbal and visual memory. Eating chocolate also increases endorphin levels, lessening pain and decreasing stress. To go a step further, a chemical found in chocolate, trytophan, causes the release of serotonin which serves as an antidepressant. The ultimate comfort food?

Chocolate has a distinct tendency to absorb surrounding odors, so take care to store it well covered or sealed. Otherwise you will taste a mousse which is flavored with its disaffected food neighbors.

MOUSSE AU CHOCOLAT

8 oz high quality bittersweet chocolate (85% cocoa), coarsely chopped
1/4 C strong coffee

6 T unsalted butter, softened
4 large egg yolks

4 large egg whites
6 T confectioners’ sugar

2 C heavy cream, chilled
1 t vanilla extract

Melt chocolate and coffee in a double boiler over a pan of simmering water, stirring frequently. Beat the softened butter into the the melted chocolate, and then, one at a time, whisk in the egg yolks until thoroughly blended.

Beat the egg whites until they form soft peaks. While beating, stir in the sugar by tablespoonfuls. Beat them until shining and stiff peaks are formed. Fold the chocolate mixture and egg whites together.

Beat the cream and vanilla in a chilled bowl until stiff peaks form, and then gently fold into the chocolate, butter and egg mixture with a rubber spatula. Do not overmix, but make sure that the mixture is well blended and that white streaks have disappeared.

Spoon mousse into stemmed glasses, ramekins or a serving bowl and chill, covered, at least 8 hours. Serve atop crème anglaise or topped with freshly whipped cream.