Kohlrabi: That weird bulb-thing

“What is that?” asked a lady at the CSA last week, holding a purple bulb.  I replied, “Kohlrabi.” “This weird bulb-thing?  That’s a kohlrabi?  What do I do with it?”

I told her that a friend of mine, who grew up in Germany, passed along that her family would grow lots of them in their garden and they ate them raw, peeled and sliced with a little salt, almost every night in the summer.

But as I was driving home, I realized that we use kohlrabi in lots of ways, from lacto-fermented to Indian food (gaanth gobhi).  It tastes sweet, but a little broccoli/cabbage-like.  The consistency is crisp and is reminiscent of broccoli stems.  Sometimes we just slice them and eat them with dip or a little salt, or add them to cold salads.  But kohlrabi is extremely versatile.  It is also a crop that comes in twice in NJ, because it is a cooler weather crop.  My CSA distributes them in the spring and then again in the fall, so I have spring/summer recipes and uses and fall/winter recipes and uses.

This time of year, we tend to the raw and lacto-fermented recipes — things that don’t heat up the kitchen!  But in the fall and winter, we roast it in chunks, cube it and add it to curries, or even cut it like french fries and pop it in the deep fryer.

Here is a super easy lacto-fermentation recipe for kohlrabi:

Garlic Kohlrabi Pickles

  • 1 large kohlrabi, peeled and cut into 1/4″ sticks, a max of 1/4″ shorter than the jar you are using
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, halved
  • 2 T sea salt OR 1 T sea salt + 1 T whey from yogurt making, if you have it
  • 2 C filtered/unchlorinated water
  • horseradish leaf (optional)**
  1. In a scrupulously clean wide-mouth pint jar, mash the horseradish leaf into the bottom of the jar.
  2. Add the kohlrabi sticks and garlic.
  3. Combine the water and salt (and whey if you are using it) to make a brine.  Mix until the salt is completely dissolved.
  4. Add the brine to the jar, being sure to leave some space at the top.
  5. Secure the lid.
  6. Leave the jar on a counter, out of direct sunlight, for 2-3 days.  When you see bubbles, put it in the fridge. One of the bonuses of lacto-fermenting is that you can open the jar and not break a seal or wreck anything.  Open the jar and look at the pickles.  Sniff them.  Taste them.  If you like how they taste, put then in the fridge.  If you want them to be a little more “done,” leave them out for another 12 hours.  These will keep in the fridge for about 6 weeks.  After that, the texture begins to degrade.

**I use horseradish leaf in all of my pickle jars. Bruising the leaf in the bottom of the jar helps release the naturally occurring potassium and magnesium that help the pickles retain their crispness.

Why You Should and Can Cook at Home

Sometimes, an afternoon spent playing in the dirt with your son seems like a much better idea than cooking dinner.  In my eyes, practically any afternoon spent playing with my children was not time well spent, but time best spent.  When I speak to people about food, I get many defensive responses.  At the top of the list are: 1) I can’t cook, mostly because I never liked cooking and have grown to hate it, actually, which is very uncool these days because I can’t post a picture of what I just cooked on Instagram; 2) I can’t afford organic food.  It’s ridiculously expensive, and 3) I don’t have the time.  But there are many counterarguments for why you should and can cook at home.

Yes, You Can Cook

I am about to begin publishing a series of posts with recipes that are simple and straightforward, that even the most culinarily-impaired person can prepare.  I promise to include ingredients that most people use and eat on a regular basis.  No special kitchen tools, no ingredients that you have to buy at a specialty store or purchase online.  The goal is to encourage you to get into your kitchen.  Bring your children; bring your wife; bring your husband; bring your dog (ours are very good with clean-up when stuff “hits the deck”).  If you know how to turn on your stove, you are qualified to prepared these recipes.

Yes, You Can Afford Some Organic Food

Organic food is more expensive than conventional food.  I discuss this in another post.  But if you eat at a fast food place, and are feeding a family of four, you will probably spend about $25.  A pound of grass-fed organic beef runs about $6.50.  Add on $2.00 for rolls, $1.29 for organic leaf lettuce, less than a dollar for an organic tomato (less if you grow a tomato plant in a pot on your patio).  And maybe you get frozen fries for $2.50 (Not hard to make your own, but intimidating, so we’ll go with the frozen food section) and a bottle of soda for $1.99 (but you should drink water – it’s a lot better for you and much less expensive if it comes out of your tap and you filter it), you have spent less than $16, had some good bonding time with your family, and eaten organic food, and saved $9.00.

And you’re thinking, ‘Nine dollars?  All that for a nine-dollar savings?”  But let that add up.  Let’s say that you get fast food once a week.  Now it is $9 x 52 weeks a year, which is over $400.  Still not enough to get your attention? What if it also meant that your cholesterol levels returned to the normal zone and you could stop spending money on a prescription or two?  We tend to look at these kinds of things in a small context, but the truth is that what we eat and how we eat affects our physical and mental health.  So factor in time spent at the doctor – what is your time worth an hour?

Time is Relative

And speaking of an hour, the biggest complaint/defense I hear is “I don’t have the time.”  This is also a matter of perspective.  Some days are ridiculous.  We have them, too.  But many days are not; they are more I’d-rather-crash-on-the-couch-than-cook.  Let’s see if we can start to change that.

We can start with

Simple Burgers

  • 1 lb. of ground meat (you choose what you want to use, beef, lamb, turkey, etc.)
  • 1 t salt
  • ¼ t ground pepper
  • ¼ t onion powder

Mix all of this together and form four patties.  Fry them in a pan over a medium heat, about 6 minutes a side.  Put them on a platter in a warm spot.

If there isn’t any fat in the pan, add 1 T olive oil or butter and heat it.  Add 1 T flour and stir it around in the fat.  Add ½ C of milk, and stir until it thickens.  If you have some Worcestershire sauce, you could add a dash of that, but it isn’t necessary. Pour the sauce over the patties and take it to the table.

You can serve this with a salad that you have one of your family members make, or just slice up a head of lettuce and put some dressing on.

Start to finish, this takes about 25 minutes.

Quick & Easy Tomato Soup

For many of us, nothing says homey comfort on a snowy winter day quite like a grilled cheese sandwich and a bowl of tomato soup.  I grew up on tomato soup that was made from the condensed stuff out of a can, like many of us did.  Here is something almost as quick and almost as easy as that condensed soup, but with a lot more flavor.  It calls for tomatoes that were canned in the summer, and homemade stock, but you can substitute.  Just be sure to read the labels and choose carefully!

Tomato Soup

  • 1 quart of homemade stock (Bone broth works really well)
  • 1 quart of tomato puree
  • 2 green onions, sliced
  • 1 rib celery, diced
  • 1/2 green pepper, diced
  • 2 T butter
  • 1 T sugar
  • 2 t salt
  • 1 T arrowroot powder***, dissolved in 2 T water
  1. Melt the butter in a large pot.  Add the onions, celery, green pepper, and salt.**  Saute until it is soft, about 10 minutes.
  2. Add the tomatoes, stock, and sugar and simmer for another ten minutes.  If you want that smooth consistency of the canned condensed soup, you can run an immersion (stick) blender through the soup.
  3. Bring the soup up to a boil and add the arrowroot, stirring constantly.
  4. Add salt and pepper to taste

This is also wonderful with some homemade pesto mixed in, or adding Taco Seasoning or Aged Inlet Seasoning

 

**Adding salt at the start of the saute helps to draw the moisture out of the vegetables and keeps the soup from getting too watery.

***If you do not have arrowroot, you can use corn starch or potato starch.

Living La Vita Locale 7/12: Peaches

Ok, FINE! I’ll give Georgia THEIR peaches, because if you live in Georgia, and can get those gems tree-ripened, they are wonderful.  But in mid-July in New Jersey? It is all about the Jersey peach, especially white peaches that squirt juice all over when you bite them.  We like to pick peaches at the same orchard where we pick our apples, Strawberry Hill.  We bring home about a bushel of peaches and I can some, and lacto-ferment some, and dry some, and make fruit leather out of some.  And yes, we eat the rest of them: peach cobbler, yogurt with peaches, or even just a plain peach as a snack.  While I will buy “bump-and-dent” tomatoes to can into sauce (because sometimes I do not get enough tomatoes from my garden even with what is supplemented by the CSA share), I will not skimp on peaches.   They must be perfect specimens and perfectly ripe.

Peaches are number two on the list of the “Dirty Dozen” foods as defined by the Environmental Working Group.  Because they are fuzzy, peach skins retain much of the topical fungicides and pesticides that farmers spray on the fruit.  And because they are fuzzy, it is nearly impossible to get all of the chemicals washed off of the fruit.  And it is very difficult to grow a soft fruit that is susceptible to a plethora of pests and fungi without the use of chemicals.  That is why organic peaches are hard to come by. Additionally, with peaches being publicized as part of the “Dirty Dozen” more people are choosing organic over conventional.  This is why organic peaches are so expensive.

Of course I went in search of a local organic orchard!  Did I find one?  Yes.  But they did not grown peaches.  As a matter of fact, I could not find one local organic peach.  Not one.  The organic orchard I found only grew organic apples — the soft fruit orchards were on another property they owned about a mile down the road, and were not organic.  They, like Strawberry Hill, use IPM (Integrated Pest Management) system that minimizes the use of chemicals.  They do not use antibiotics (Yes! There are some pesticides that are antibiotics!), they release lady bugs and parasitic wasps to manage insect pests, but they do have to spray sometimes. Usually fungicide, and usually when it has been very wet.  My advice is to call the orchard and ask questions.  Most farmers and orchardists will be very happy to talk to you — they will be surprised that you are interested.  So while Strawberry Hill is a conventional orchard, I still buy fruit there because I feel that their practices are environmentally sound.

The absolute easiest thing to do with peaches is to lacto-ferment them.  Lacto-fermenting fruit can be a little tricky because the ferment can go “boozy” very quickly.  This is one I check about every 12 hours.  As soon as you feel a little effervescence on your tongue, it is time for this to go into the fridge!

Lacto-Fermented Peaches

2-3 ripe peaches, peeled and cut into chunks catching as much juice as possible

1/2 C fresh berries (blackberries and blueberries are usually coming in around the same time as the peaches)

1/4 C cilantro leaves

1 T salt

In a scrupulously clean quart jar, combine all of the ingredients.  Secure the lid and shake the jar until all of the ingredients are combined and the peaches and berries are broken up.  Leave this on your counter for 1-2 days, depending on the temperature of your kitchen.  This needs to be stored in the refrigerator, below 42° F.

This is delicious as is, or mixed with fresh chopped tomatoes and sweet onions as a salsa, spooned over grilled fish or chicken, or blended with a little balsamic vinegar and olive oil for salad dressing.

Not a fan of cilantro? Try some basil instead.  Don’t have blackberries?  Use strawberries.  This is just as wonderful without the berries.  If you want an amazing topping for ice-cream, leave out the herbs!  Have fun experimenting.  If you come up with a new combination, please share it in the Comments!

Channuka Favorite Foods

A friend once told me he could sum up Jewish holidays in a sentence: An enemy tried to destroy us, but didn’t, so now we eat.  This is definitely true for Channuka.  Favorite foods of mine are potato latkes and sufgonyiot (a sort of jelly donut affair).  I didn’t know how to make really great latkes until I got married and Greg explained that I needed to get the excess starch off of the potatoes and then drain them really well.  And sufgonyiot?  I learned a really easy, magical recipe from Allyse Mitchell, a friend from my synagogue.

Latkes (Potato pancakes)

  • 4-5 lbs. russet potatoes
  • 1 large onion, minced
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 1/4 C matzoh meal
  • 2 teaspoons salt

Oil for frying

  1. Peel the potatoes and then wash them.  Grate the potatoes and put the grated potatoes in a bowl of water immediately.  This prevents oxidation (discoloring) and helps extract the excess starch from the potatoes.
  2. Put the minced onion in a colander and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of the salt.  Let stand.
  3. Heat the oil in a pan.
  4. Drain the water from the potatoes and then mix in the onion.  Put the entire mixture into a clean towel and squeeze out all of the water that you can.  The drier this mixture is, the better.
  5. Put the potato and onion back in the bowl and mix in the eggs, matzoh meal and remaining teaspoon of salt.
  6. When the oil is hot (test it by dropping one potato shred in the pan), put a small scoop of potato mixture in the pan and flatten it to about 1/4 inch thick. When the first side has browned, flip it over to finish cooking.  Remove it form the pan and let it drain on brown paper, or paper towels.  When it is cool enough, taste it for seasoning.  Add more salt if needed.
  7. Place large spoonfuls of potato mixture in the oil, and flatten the mound to be about 1/4 inch thick.  Turn when the underside is browned.
  8. Drain on brown paper or paper towels.

I’m not sure how many latkes this makes because they get eaten as they come out of the pan.

 

Sufgonyiot

  • 4 C flour
  • 1 T baking powder
  • 1/4 t baking soda
  • 1 t salt
  • 1/4 C sugar
  • 1 pint sour cream
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 2 t vanilla

Oil for frying

  1. In a deep skillet, heat oil.
  2. In a large bowl, mix the dry ingredients.
  3. In another bowl, mix the eggs, sour cream, and vanilla, and then add it to the dry ingredients.  Mix well.
  4. When the oil is hot (check by putting a tiny bit of dough in the oil — if it sizzles, it’s ready), place heaping tablespoons** of dough in the hot oil.  Flip when the underside is brown.
  5. Drain on brown paper or paper towels.

These are great as-is, rolled in sugar or cinnamon-sugar, or filled with jelly.

Thin down the jelly with some water and mix it until it is smooth.  Fill the injector and shoot it in the donut.  Don’t be overzealous, though, or jelly ends up all over the kitchen.

**I use a trigger ice cream scoop for this.  It makes things much easier.

Each night, as we light one more candle, let it be a reminder that every day of our lives we should strive to bring a little more light into the world.  My friend Woody Pollock said that to me a long time ago.  Thanks Woody, for bringing so much light into my life.