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.

Eggplant Pickle: Preserved Eggplant at its Best

I was at Fernbrook Farm’s CSA this morning, and much to my delight, there was a bounty of eggplant!  I love eggplant.  I love eggplant parm and this roasted eggplant dip my husband makes that has taken the place of baba ganoush on our table. I like eggplant that has been thick sliced, salted, and then cooked on the grill, dressed with a little olive oil.  But what to do when there is more eggplant than can be eaten fresh?  As far as I am concerned there is only one way to preserve eggplant and that is to pickle it.  Pickled eggplant is wonderful.  I have tried drying it, and while it did keep very well, I was never happy with the results I got using the rehydrated eggplant in recipes.

Here are my two favorite eggplant pickles.  One is a hot-water-bath processed pickle that can be kept in the pantry.  The other is a “raw pickle” and MUST BE REFRIGERATED!

Eggplant Pickles 1

  • 1 large eggplant, peeled and cut into 1/2″x 1/2″x3″ sticks
  • 2 T sea salt
  • 3 C white vinegar
  • 1 C balsamic vinegar
  • Basil leaves
  • 2 medium cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1 t whole peppercorns
  1. Salt the eggplant sticks, and toss them gently to distribute the salt.  Lay the sticks in one layer between on a cookie sheet covered with towels.  Cover with more towels and another cookie sheet, and put something heavy on top of the cookie sheet to press the excess water form the eggplant.  Let it rest for one hour.
  2. In a pan, heat both vinegars.
  3. Prepare jars.  In the bottom of the jar, add basil and garlic and peppercorns.  Add the eggplant sticks, being sure that the sticks are not taller than the 1/2 inch of head space needed.
  4. Cover the eggplant with the hot vinegar.
  5. Cover with lids and process in a hot-water bath for 10 minutes.
  6. Wait about three weeks before eating these!

Eggplant Pickles 2 (The Family Favorite)

  • About 2 lbs. eggplant, peeled and cut into 1″x1/2″x1/2″ pieces
  • 2t salt
  • 1/4 C red wine vinegar
  • 3 cloves of garlic thinly slices
  • 1/2 t hot pepper flakes
  • 12 basil leaves, torn
  • 1/4 c olive oil
  1. Toss the eggplant with the salt and let drain in a colander for 12 hours (or overnight).
  2. Gently press the pieces to remove anymore water.
  3. Toss the eggplant with the vinegar and let stand 1 hour.
  4. In a jar, layer the eggplant with the garlic, basil, and red pepper flakes, pressing down to fit as much as you can in the jar.  Cover the top with olive oil.
  5. Refrigerate overnight, and then check the oil level.  Add more oil if needed.
  6. Wait four to five days before eating, but 6 weeks is better.

Serve at room temperature.  These will keep in the refrigerator for a year.

Happy eggplant!!

In Support of the Family Farm

 

            Once upon a time in America, farms were family operations.  If a farmer was going to be successful, he had to know the best way to manage his land, extracting maximum profit for minimum expense.  Sustainability was a necessity! If a farmer didn’t want his family to starve, he needed to figure out how to make his farm sustainable.  Yes, some farmers failed.  But not all of them.  Not even most of them – otherwise we wouldn’t have any food to eat.  Or we would be living Soylent Green!

            How does this translate into successful farming?  First let’s consider the land. The concept of crop rotation is mentioned in Roman literature. The Hebrews used a form of crop rotation by giving fields a sabbatical year.  Obviously, this isn’t a new concept, and yet, it took the disaster of the Dust Bowl in this country to put the practice into use.  And we seem to have forgotten the lesson not eighty years later: industrial farming has farmers planting the same crop in the same field, season after season, fortifying the soil with chemical fertilizers; a wicked cycle. 

            What makes good practice when it comes to the land? Rotation.  The ancients knew that the fields needed to be changed up and that they needed to rest: that is what  “sabbatical year” means – a year of rest.  Every seventh year, a field rested.  A resting field was a growing field: the next year, it was full of grasses for the cows to graze.  And then they pooped in the field. And the next year, that field was ready to be planted, made fertile by some of the best fertilizer known to man (manure).  And best of all, that fertilizer was free.

            Rotation also refers to a system of interchanging crops so that what one plant uses, another puts back into the field.  George Washington Carver (of peanut fame) was the genius who figured out that plants could help to sustain one another.  That was back in the 1800’s.  Rather than spending money on chemical fertilizer, which does help increase yield, farmers could plant crops that could be sold, or used to feed farm animals, and prevent the soil from becoming depleted, all in one.  So what’s the problem?  Maybe it is just too simple. 

            Small family farms are nearly a lost culture in America. The good news is with more and more people seeking out sustainably produced food, the small family farm just might make a come back.  My son told me that he wants to be a farmer when he grows up.  He was seven at the time and I know he will change his mind about 17 million times between now and when he actually chooses what he wants to do with his life.  But it made me sad to think that the conventional odds are against him.  Luckily, we have good examples in our lives thanks to the farmers in our lives: the Nolts, the Fishers, Jeff Tober and our friends at the Fernbrook Farm CSA, and the writings of people like Joel Salatin, who have all made a success of farming. 

 

Anticipation

I am ready for this school year to end. I am tired of attempting to teach a bunch of high school seniors who are ready to graduate. It’s all about prom and dresses and limo and the week at the shore following. Yes, you read that correctly, week at the shore following. No matter that we will be finishing units, taking unit tests, and preparing for final exams (although we have taken to calling them assessments here). And I have piles to go before I sleep, so to speak. Much grading to do, much whining to listen to.

But that’s all OK. I can deal, because last week I received an email about opening day at our CSA at Fernbrook Farm. It is only a day away! Forget Memorial Day weekend. For me, the start of summer is marked by going to the farm for the first day of the season. We like to go early in the morning, when everything is still wet with dew, and the sun is not too strong. We pick our U-pick crops, get our produce from the “shop” and then mosey around to say hello to the animals. It is a slow time, and I enjoy that very much. My daughter sometimes gets frustrated because I chat with everyone who wants to chat (She reprimanded me once, about talking to strangers). Why is she in a rush? Because visiting the goats, sheep, and chickens always comes last.

After six years, the farm has become as comfortable as a second home, and tomorrow I look forward to a kind of homecoming. While I haven’t received the weekly email as to what I can expect this week, my guess is that my share will include bunches of greens, maybe some spring onions (scallions), and hopefully some “s-berries”! So what do I do with the abundance of greens? I start making Kim Chee, a spicy Korean ferment. It is an easy way to stretch the life of your greens. While most people think of Kim Chee that is made with Napa Cabbage, I have found that just about any firm green works well.

Kim Chee
Napa Cabbage, or other firm green (such as bok choy or mustard or collard greens), shredded
3-6 cloves garlic, chopped
3-4 T fresh ginger, grated
1-3 T Korean red pepper (or crushed red pepper flakes)
2-3 scallions, sliced
2 T salt (non-iodized), or 1 T salt and ¼ C whey

1. Put all of the ingredients in a large, sturdy, non-reactive bowl and mis thoroughly. Pound for 10 minutes. When I first started fermenting vegetables, I pounded with an old potato masher. You can use a boiled rock, or wooden block. I have a plunger from my Squeezo that works very well.
2. In a sterile quart canning jar, tightly pack the pounded ingredients. It is VERY important to leave one inch of space at the top of the jar. Do not try and squeeze in more than that. If you have too much to fit in the jar, use a second jar.
3. Secure the lid firmly, but not super tight.
4. Leave in a warm spot for 2 or 3 days, until bubbles start to form. Move to cold storage. This will keep in your refrigerator for months, if it lasts that long!