New Ideas for Dinner: Rice Wrappers

Our CSA shares are getting enormous.  The first few weeks of the season, we get a couple heads of lettuce, a variety of greens, like spinach and kale, and maybe a pint or two of strawberries.  But now, we leave with bags overflowing: napa cabbages, spring beets, kohlrabi, early cucumbers, garlic scapes, and early summer squash.  I love this bounty, but I also understand that it can be a little overwhelming for people who are accustomed to shopping in a supermarket and purchasing only the things with which they are familiar. New foods are scary.

New Foods

One bane of the parental existence is trying to get your children to try new foods.  We all succeed at some point or other, to some extent or other, otherwise we would have adults still drinking formula.  It’s like my pediatrician said about potty training, “Eventually they get it.  I have never had a patient go to college in diapers.”  We heavily influence our children’s eating based on our own preferences.  I worked with a woman years ago who was flabbergasted that my children ate fish.  She herself didn’t really like fish, didn’t serve it to her children, and so they grew up thinking that they didn’t like it.

Me?  I didn’t like beets or Brussel sprouts.  The beet thing didn’t bother me, but I always had this thing for Brussel sprouts – I desperately wanted to like them because they are so cute.  My husband made me roasted beets, and I love them.  Now I eat beets roasted, pickled, fermented, and raw.  Since then, I haven’t met a beet that I didn’t like.  The Brussel sprouts he made me were sautéed in bacon fat.  Bacon does make many things better, but it was the sauté, the caramelization, that made them so tasty, and now I love all kinds of brussel sprouts.  So, in my 30’s, I was still trying new foods.

In a weird way, once we are adults, we kind of retreat to toddlerhood when it comes to food.  We know what we like and then we don’t seem to stray from the course. We have a repertoire of dishes we make and we get into a rotation of those things.  Rarely do we venture out into new territory.  Ok, yes, the internet has a gazillion recipes that are available in a flash, but when people search recipes, they are searching for a way to prepare an ingredient with which they are familiar.  One of the beauties of CSA life, of Farmer’s Market life, is seeing new produce and learning what to do with it.

New Food May Mean New Cuisines

A key to meal and menu planning is to try and use ingredients that are in season at the time.  Right now, that means snow and snap peas, napa cabbage, spring onions, garlic scapes, kohlrabi, and early cucumbers.  The cuisines that come to mind for me are Asian.  This is the time of year for beef and snow peas, fermenting kimchee, and making roll-ups with rice paper wrappers.

At our house, we each make our own roll-ups at the table.  I put out a variety of fillings (recipes follow): sautéed napa cabbage, marinated cucumbers, sautéed shrimp; and a variety of raw veg: shredded carrots and kohlrabi, thinly sliced spring onions, snow peas (sometimes I steam these for about 1 minute), chopped cilantro, chopped Thai Basil* (or regular basil, if I can’t find Thai basil). I also add some fermented foods, like kim chee. Because everyone drips water all over the table, I usually put an old towel on the table.

To Make the Roll-ups:

Put a few of the stiff rice wrappers in a shallow pan of water that fits the entire wrapper.  We use a 9×13 pan.  After a couple of minutes, they soften.  Carefully remove the wrapper from the water, and put it on your plate.  Place the fillings of choice in the center of the wrapper, put the bottom of the wrapper up over the filling.  Then flip the sides in over the filling and roll it up.  Although this is a finger food, I always put forks on the table because we sometimes lose some filing in our dipping sauce (what we refer to as “Vietnamese Condiment” – an addictive balance of salty, sweet, sour and hot).

*Thai Basil has a different flavor from Genovese basil (what you commonly find at the grocery store).  If you have cinnamon basil, that is a better substitute than Genovese basil.

 

Sautéed Napa Cabbage

  • 1 Chinese or napa cabbage, shredded
  • 1-2 spring onions, sliced lengthwise
  • 1-2 garlic scapes, chopped fine (if you don’t have scapes, use one medium clove of garlic)
  • 1 T toasted sesame oil
  • 2 T fish sauce

Heat the oil in a large skillet.  Add the garlic scapes and stir around for about 30 seconds; Stir in the onions and saute for another 30 seconds.  Add ½ the cabbage and stir it around.  Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of fish sauce.  The cabbage will start to deflate.  Add the rest of the cabbage and fish sauce and stir around.  This can be made in advance and served at room temperature.

 

Marinated Cucumbers

  • 3-4 Kirby cucumbers (or 1 medium slicer), thinly sliced
  • 1 t salt
  • 1 T rice vinegar

In a medium bowl, toss the cucumber slices with the salt.  Transfer them to a colander, put a plate and a weight (a heavy can or something like that) on top and leave them to “sweat.”  After about an hour, most of the water should be pressed out of the cucumbers.  Toss with the rice vinegar.  You can also add some toasted sesame seeds for a garnish.

 

Sautéed Shrimp

  • 1-2 lbs. of shrimp (depending upon how many people you are feeding. I generally make 1 lb for the four of us)
  • 1 T sesame oil
  • 1-2 T fish sauce
  • The juice of 1 lime

Heat the oil in a large skillet.  Place the shrimp in a single layer in the skillet. Sprinkle with 1 T of the fish sauce.  When the shrimp starts to turn opaque, flip them over and sprinkle with the rest of the fish sauce.  Turn the heat off and cover for 5 minutes.  The residual heat in the pan will finish cooking the shrimp. When you are ready to take the shrimp to the table, add the lime juice and toss.

 

Vietnamese Condiment (We make triple recipes of this so we always have some on hand)

  • 1-2 garlic scapes, minced (or 1 clove garlic, minced)
  • 1 fresh hot chili (heat)
  • 2 t coconut sugar (or 1 t granulated sugar) (sweet)
  • 2 T fish sauce (salty)
  • The juice and pulp of one lime** (sour)

In a small food processor, or mini-blender, mince the scapes (or garlic).  If you like things super-hot, slice the chili pepper and add it to the processor.  If you like things more on the mild side, de-seed the pepper before you add it. Blend the pepper and garlic.  Add the rest of the ingredients and blend.  Adjust the sweet, salty, sour, hot balance to your liking!

** I squeeze the juice out of the lime first and then use a grapefruit spoon to scrape out the pulp.  Try not to get any membrane in there.

Living La Vita Locale: Plums

When I was little, I remember going to this farm stand on Route 130, on the North-bound side, that we accessed from a dirt driveway off of New Albany Rd.  I don’t know who owned the farm, but the driveway cut through fields of vegetables.  The thing I remember most was when the corn was there.  It could be the hottest of hot afternoons, and my mom would pull into that driveway and the corn towering up on either side created this shady lane.  There were trees toward the back of the property and at a certain point in the summer, there were little boxes of plums.  They were very dark red and the flesh was red on the very outside, but turned to bright yellow closer to the pit.  They were sweet and tart and I loved them.

One day, I was out walking one of the dogs and I saw all of these plums all over the ground and I thought, ‘Oh, how sad.  Someone dropped their plums.’  The next day, another neighbor asked me if I thought the guy who lived in the house was ever going to pick the plums.  I looked up from the fruit carnage and saw this little plum tree that was heavy with fruit.  We left a note in his mailbox, and he responded that we could pick the fruit.  So we did.

I dried some, made fruit leather out of some, and ate some fresh.  The next year, my neighbor had moved away, so I picked plums, more plums than I knew what to do with – dried a lot, made a lot of fruit leather, and then started experimenting with Plum Sauce.  This version is very good for quick Sweet and Sour sauce of an Asian-inspired flavor on chicken or pork, works as a dipping sauce for Chinese dumplings, and a base for Barbeque Sauce and Steak sauce (think that kind that has a letter and a number in the name).

Plum Sauce

  • 4 lbs. of plums, pitted and chopped
  • 1 C cider vinegar
  • 1 ½ C honey
  • ½ C molasses
  • 2-inch piece of fresh ginger, minced fine (you can cut back on this if you aren’t that fond of ginger)
  • 1 T salt
  • 1 t mustard
  • 2 jalapenos (seeded or not, depending on how hot you like things)
  • 1 C chopped onion
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  1. Combine all of the ingredients EXCEPT the plums in a large pot.  Bring to a boil and boil hard 1-2 minutes.  Reduce the heat and add the plums.  Cook until the mixture is thick and syrupy, about 1 ½ hours.
  2. Prepare canning jars according to manufacturer’s instructions.
  3. Ladle plum sauce into prepared jars and process for 20 minutes.

This yields about 4 pints, but I generally process it in ½ pint jars because I usually use a cup at a time.

How can I use this?

Chicken or pork glaze, mix the sauce with an equal amount of soy sauce.

Quick BBQ Sauce, use ½ C Plum sauce, ½ C ketchup, ¼ C soy sauce, and 1 T of bourbon.

Steak sauce, use ½ C Plum Sauce, ½ C ketchup and 1 T of Worcestershire Sauce.

While the Blueberries Continue

While the blueberries continue to ripen, I continue to freeze, dehydrate, and cook down preserves.  But there are still lovely lettuces being harvested and carrots and cucumbers and early peppers — all of the fixings for a lovely salad.  And yes, we add fruit to our salads: first come our strawberries, then the first harvest raspberries, followed by blueberries.  Soon, there will be grilled peaches, followed by August apples, thinly sliced.

We make our own salad dressing, which is really an easy thing to do, and it tastes so much better than bottled dressing.  A simple and delicious vinaigrette can be made from a  good olive oil, and your choice of vinegar, a little salt, and a pinch of sugar for balance.

But while the blueberries are flowing, this vinaigrette is on our table

Blueberry Vinaigrette

  • 1 cup fresh blueberries
  • 1/2 cup cider vinegar
  • 1/2 t salt
  • 2 T honey
  • 1/4 cup salad oil

Put the first four ingredients into a mini-processor and blend them all together.  Once the blueberries are liquified, begin to slowly drizzle the oil into the processor.  Serve immediately, or refrigerate.  This will keep in the refrigerator for 2-3 weeks.

Other uses:

  • Mix 1/4 cup with 1T of mustard and 1 T honey and use as a glaze on grilled chicken or pork.  When your chicken or pork chop is nearly done, brush it with the glaze.  Applying the glaze sooner, or toward the beginning of the grill time, may cause the glaze to burn, which will impart an acrid flavor to the meat.  Be sure to allow enough time for the glaze to cook onto the meat, about 8 minutes or so, depending upon how hot the grill is.
  • Mix 1 T with 1 T of mayo and spread on a turkey sandwich (or that leftover chicken).
  • Dress coleslaw with this instead of mayo.
  • Use as a dressing for potato salad.

 

Eating my Youth: Chex Mix

Every so often, I like to take stroll down Amnesia Lane.  My husband and I reminisce about by-gone days and ideas.  One night we were re-living our child’s-eye view of cocktail parties of the 60’s.  Both of our parents would entertain friends, set up a bar area, make hors d’oeuvres, and that staple munchie, Chex Mix.  All I could think about that night as I was trying to fall asleep was making some Chex Mix.  It would be like eating my youth.  Because if my youth had a flavor, it would be Chex Mix.  But not the stuff in a bag from the store.  And it turns out,  not following the recipes I found on the internet.  We did NOT have bagel chips in our Chex Mix in the 60’s  I mean, who even knew what a bagel chip was in 1969?  I had to scour images of Chex boxes until I found one that had the recipe on the back.  And one morning, I finally found it. The Holy Grail of Snacking.  So give yourself some love this weekend, and make some

Chex® Mix:

  • 6T Butter
  • 1 t seasoned salt (recipe follows)
  • 4 t worcestershire sauce
  • 2 C of each of Corn, Rice, and Wheat Chex (for gluten free, just omit the Wheat Chex, and increase each of the others so you have a total of 6 cups of cereal)
  • 1 ½ C mixed salted nuts
  1. Preheat the oven to 250⁰ F.
  2. Melt the butter in a shallow pan (a 9×12 baking dish works OK, but my roasting pan that has sides that are a little higher prevents spills)
  3. Mix in the seasoned salt and the worcestershire sauce.
  4. Add the cereal and nuts.  Toss well to coat evenly.
  5. Heat in the oven for 45 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes.

 

Eat the love!

 

Seasoned Salt

  • 2 T salt
  • 2 t sugar
  • ¼ t turmeric
  • ¼ t onion powder
  • ¼ t garlic powder
  • ¾ t paprika
  • ¼ t cornstarch (prevents caking)

Mix it all together in a jar.  Store in a dark place tightly lidded.

 

A General Word on Lacto-Fermentation

When I teach Lacto-Fermentation classes, one of the things I almost always make is Ginger Carrots. I refer to them as “Fermented Foods for Beginners.” It is a good name for them because carrots generally retain their texture and people are successful with a ferment. While L-F is a very easy food preservation technique, it still takes some time to get the hang of it and there are failures. There is a lot of conflicting information here on the internet, so it is easy to let things sit out for too long, and therefore, turn mushy, which is pretty objectionable.

How Long to Leave Things Out

People are talking about L-F because the people in the medical community are finally seeing that the consumption of probiotic foods and good gut health has a direct impact on overall health. So you took my class, or you read a bunch of blog posts. In one place you read to leave things out for 2 days. Another said leave it out for 7 days. And yet another said that you aren’t doing yourself any good if you do not leave the ferments out at room temperature for 12 weeks. In my 90° F summertime kitchen, that’s a disaster.

Here’s the deal: Lacto-fermentation, just like anything else, has optimal conditions. When I teach my class, I tell people that everything depends upon the condition in your kitchen. The beauty of lacto-fermentation is that you can taste and test your ferments, and leave them to ferment some more if they are not ready. When you like the results, you move them to cold storage (the refrigerator or a wine cooler), with the understanding that the fermentation process is not stopped by the cold, only slowed, and the colder then environment that the ferment is stored the slower the fermentation process goes.

I have tested my ferments for pH levels – I grabbed the litmus strips out of a kid’s chemistry kit that came our way, and tested my kraut. It isn’t very scientific, because I only did tested on two batches and only recorded the temperatures as high’s and low’s, no hourly variations. One had daily temperatures in the 60’s, and overnight lows in the high 40’s. The other had highs in the 50’s and overnight lows in the low 40’s. I was looking for a pH in the low 4’s or high 3’s. As expected, the first batch reached a pH of 4.0 days faster than the second batch that had the cooler temperatures with which to contend. So, for MY KITCHEN, that is not air-conditioned, and is not well insulated, the counter time for fermenting can vary by 4 or 5 days. When I tested these batches again, after being in the refrigerator for 4 weeks, the acidity had increased, lowering the pH to 3.8. Writing this post makes me want to get more litmus strips and test all of my ferments. I love watching those things change color!

If you test your ferments, remove a little liquid from the container – DO NOT DIP THE STRIP IN YOUR FERMENT!

Now you say, “Natalie, you haven’t answered the question.” I know. I can’t really answer the question because I am not fermenting at your house. Open it, sniff it, and taste it.

Back to those Ginger carrots. You can make these with shredded carrots (my preference), as carrot sticks, or as coins. They taste great in any shape. I like the shreds because they are nice to mix in with greens for salad and make a delicious salad dressing (recipe also follows) that tastes kind of like that orange dressing you get at Japanese restaurants.

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Ginger Carrots

2 C shredded carrots (or cut in other shapes)

1 2 inch piece of ginger, finely chopped or grated

1 C of filtered water

1 T sea salt

Combine the salt and water and stir until the salt is dissolved.

In a bowl, combine the carrots and the ginger and mix thoroughly. Stuff them in a scrupulously clean jar. Cover with the salt water. Be sure the carrots are below the level of the liquid. Secure a lid on the jar. Leave to ferment on a counter, out of direct sunlight. Usually this takes 2-3 days.

 

Ginger Salad Dressing

1 C Ginger Carrots (above)

½ C rice vinegar

½ C salad oil of choice

2 T toasted sesame oil

Combine all of the ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth and emulsified. Refrigerate for an hour before using.