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Southern Comfort for Strength

Southern Comfort for Strength

My absolute winter favorite is collard greens. I love eating them for their flavor but I love them even more for the irony that I associate with it. You see, for me, collard green is a distinctive Southern comfort. I don't get it often because I want to perpetuate the myth of its luxury that I have created for myself.  When I do, I inevitably slow cook it, overall hours, or even days, drawing out the flavors into the dish and building up the anticipation of that climactic first taste.

This dish here I cooked for 24 hours. No, that is not an exaggeration. My sincere gratitude to whoever invented the slow cooker. It is a cook's best companion any time of the year, but, particularly in winter. It is cheap, energy efficient and versatile. And, it is perfect for cooking collard greens. Your southern mama may not approve of this new fangled device but give her a taste of this Ham Hock Cured Collard Greens and I'll bet she will be wanting one of them cookers herself!

Read more and find out the story of this dish.

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Bracing...

Bracing...

It is old news now that Juno is here. But in New York we are not exactly hunkering down. The transit lines, or the blood lines of the city have been severed or blocked but the adults and children have decided it to game it on foot or skis! I always find it amusing that the cross country skis come out when we have any decent dump! I don't know whether that is adorable or silly or just simply urbanites wishfulness for the country.. :)

Meanwhile, in the kitchen, things have been moving. I have been experimenting the last couple of weeks with using tripods in my photo shoots. I am usually the minimal equipment kinda gal. So, my god-given-hands have been my tripod for the 6 years that I have been in this world.

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A bit of a Tahini Crush + Swordfish Experiment

It began rather innocently. 

With a dish I call Anarkali Rice cooked for a  dinner I hosted recently. If you are familiar with the story of Anarkali and Salim, an historical romance, you may suspect how this ends. You see, it was an Iranian style of pilaf/biriyani tossed abundantly with spices, saffron and, the pièce de résistance, sprinkled generously with pomegranate arils. The word for pomegranate in Urdu and Hindi is anar! Kali means bud or flower, which, is generously offered on all festive occasions. 

I served the rice with a side of tahini laced yogurt sauce. It was a combination, much like Salim and Anarkali, fraught with intense passion and rapport. Oh, that is where I may have slipped into an addiction. I have somehow become intensely infatuated with tahini!

I find myself lying awake in the middle of the night, plotting how I can involve said condiment into my lunch the next day. As soon as that is done, I find my mind wandering towards a similar goal with dinner. It gives me goosebumps when I think about how amazing it tastes with the most mundane of things. My current favorite snack is to slice up vegetables and stick them straight into the tahini jar and marveling at where this has been all this time!

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I must say, I have been rather productive (and prolific) in incorporating this intense, yet delicate sesame paste in more dishes than I would have thought of before this sudden obsession. Afore, my scope on the paste extended to as far and beyond as falafels and hummus. Really! I blush as I say this and cannot believe how daft I had been. But, there it is, the unpolished truth. 

If you have seen my Instagram lately, you would have caught a fair glimpse of it too. Yet, as I said, it has been a wonderful eye-opening experience. Have you ever tasted granola with a drizzle of it? No? Well, I have something for you coming up soon. Lately, I have been having a lot of simple sautés for my meals. It seems only too natural to finish with a quick drizzle of the sauce just as I would olive oil. Omelettes? I got you covered there. Soups? Oh yes, it's coming too. I mean really, name any dish category and I have dabbled with it in my 'explorations' over the last couple of weeks.

Ahem! So, I give you fair warning. You are going to see a fair few posts coming up with that particular ingredient sneaking in smoothly. By the time I finish, you'll wonder how one could even possibly consider having the dish without the sauce! ;-)

For the first installment, I am choosing a Fall inspired salad. I walked into Whole Foods and was told a story about them receiving and filleting whole swordfishes every day on premises. I don't know how true that story is but it made me give the fish a thought. It look really good and fresh. I normally do not choose swordfish, given a choice. In my mind, it has been relegated as the American fish steak choice. Meaning, if you don't eat meat but want a steak experience, you would get a swordfish steak. Who ever calls a fish slice, steak?!

Anyway, spying a rather prime looking filet, I picked it up with the thought that, well, if hell breaks loose, there is always tahini ;-) The piece I had picked up was good enough for two meals, which, was great as it let me experiment.

For the first, I cooked it as a steak and served on a  bed of greens, sautéed brussel sprouts and apples, topped with, you go it, tahini yogurt sauce and generous sprinkles of pomegranate arils. I had marinated the fish itself in a spice mix of aleppo pepper, z'atar, lemon juice and olive oil with a touch of salt. The sear was great, the flavors were lovely but I had underestimated the cooking time for such a thick slice. I had to slice it up and sauté again as I really did not like the raw taste.

For my second attempt then, I spent only a couple of hours thinking of flavors, presentation, styling and how to get the perfect dish. This time, the fish would be cubed and seared. I used the same marinade as it had been wonderful. This time though, I pickled the apples, overnight. That was a stroke! And, as for the tahini, I made a sauce with it, homemade pumpkin puree and yogurt kissed with some aleppo pepper, lemon juice and salt. The fish was seared on all sides, strategically placed, adorned by sautéed brussel sprouts and pickled apples.

This dish is a winner! You may wonder why the tahini. Well, let me tell you, it's the sauce that pulls everything together. The subtle spices on the fish are emboldened by their trusted cohort, the tahini. As for the sauce itself, without the sesame, it utterly lacks depth. When you pull together a forkful of fish, a sliver of the pickled apple, a piece of the sprout and drag it through the puree generously lapping it up into a bite, you will know what I mean. They just belong together and in no small measure is that to the credit of the behind-the-scenes role of the sesame paste.

And, thus, continues my adoration of the tahini.....

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Seared SwordFish Salad

with Pickled Apples + Tahini Pumpkin Puree

I made this dish for one and give you that recipe for proportion. It is easily scalable. The recipes for the puree and pickled apples, further below are for a larger quantity then you would need just for one serving. 

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1/4 lb fresh, firm sword fish filet

4 brussel sprouts, halved

3 T of tahini-pumpkin puree (recipe below)

7-8 slices pickled apples (recipe below)

a few slices of red onion

pomegranate arils for garnish

lemon juice

For the fish marinade:

1-1/2 tsp z'atar

3/4 tsp ground aleppo pepper

2 tsp olive oil

juice of half lemon

salt and pepper as needed

 

Start with dicing the sword fish into approximately 2 inch cubes.

Mix together the marinade ingredients and soak the fish cubes for atleast 10 minutes.

In a frying pan, sauté the brussel sprouts in oil, simply seasoning it with salt and pepper. When done, reserve.

Heat oil in a pan large enough to hold all the fish you are frying or make in batches. Do not overlap fish pieces.

When the oil is hot, arrange the fish in one layer and leave it on medium for 2 minutes. 

Turn the fish to sear on all sides, it will take about 5 minutes in all for each batch.

While the fish is cooking, arrange the salad starting with puree at the bottom and then layering with the remaining ingredients.

Place the hot fish cubes on top. Finish with a squirt of lemon juice and sprinkle of pomegranate arils.


Tahini Pumpkin Puree

This recipe makes enough for a 4 person salad of above. If you are making more or using less, it can be stored in the fridge for up to a week. Leftovers are great as a chip dip for appetizer or even sandwich spread!

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1/4 cup tahini sauce

1/2 cup homemade pumpkin puree (without any added spices)

1/2 cup greek yogurt

juice of 1 lemon

1 T aleppo pepper

salt as needed

Puree everything together to a cohesive paste.

I left mine, slightly coarse for texture but for a more restaurant style finish, make it a fine finish.


Pickled Apples

1 apple, cored, sliced thin

2 tsp white vinegar

1/2 tsp sugar

1/2 tsp salt 

Combine the vinegar, salt and sugar and pour into the bottom of a small shallow dish.

Place the apple slices on top, overlapping as needed.

Let it sit for a few hours or overnight, turning it occasionally to let the vinegar infuse all the slices.


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Husk Tomato Tart with Glutenfree Corn Crust

Ground Husk Tomato Corn Galette

I had not been to the Union Square market in over a year and I guiltily made my way through the stalls that I so regularly patronized only sometime back. I was half hoping the stall owners would not see me and half hoping they would remember me. Okay, I confess, I would have really liked one of them to have spotted me and given me a wide smile of recognition and the "It's good to see you again" cheer. But, hey, whom am I kidding! This is New York City, land of the fleeting, transient, and anonymous.

After the first five minutes, I realized I was not going to run the risk of accusatory stares of "Where the heck were you?!". Neither was I going to be enveloped in warm embraces of "Welcome back!". So, I huffed about it for a space of two minutes and then decided to simply accept it and move to leisurely engaging with the produce which has always been a more productive way of spending time anyway. Mooching along the aisles and dodging the crowds, I made my way through the various produce stands. More importantly, I was looking to prove that there was nothing here that was not in my own little weekend farmers' market, where, by now and by virtue of going there literally every week, the vendors said hello to me!

Ground Husk Tomato

I nearly made it to the end without anything really caught my eye. It was the same couple of great vegetable and fruit stands, the honestly, arrogant goat cheese guy, the lovely flower shop and the shop in the corner that has the best ricotta I have ever tasted outside Italy. Then I walked into a random vendor whose stall I don't remember ever buying anything from. There was a huge mound of what looked like gooseberries. I love them but I remember they are terribly pricey at my market. The sight of the large quantity here gave me hope that this may be more affordable.

I tasted one and it tasted nothing like a gooseberry. Confused, I queried the vendor and I discovered a whole other class of tomatoes! Ground Husk Tomatoes. Related to Cape Gooseberries, they are adorable tiny fruits fully encased in a dried leafy husk. They were entirely intriguing. The guy said he eats them on their own and I can see how that would happen. These are entirely addictive just to figure out the flavor and each one is a little different. Was that a berry like one? or a pineapple one? or perhaps a touch of mango? In any case, nothing like a tomato.

Ground Husk Tomato Corn Galette
Ground Husk Tomato Corn Galette

Obviously, as I mulled about it, I snacked on a fair few of them. But, I had bought a good amount of it as they were rather well priced for its exotic allure. I decided the best use other than eating it raw would be to bake it. I made muffins with them and then I decided to make the galette. That was a momentous decision. You see, since learning that I am wheat allergic, I have not had a tart. Now, that is a sacrifice. It is not just that I love this genre of meals, it is also the easiest full meal to make on any day. I was excited and slightly intimidated about the thought of creating a recipe that was completely gluten free.

I thought long and hard about it. Eventually, I decided to go completely grain free. I figured using any nut or quinoa or buckwheat would lend its own flavor to the tart and I wanted these intriguing berries to play the lead and only role. Cornmeal is both easily accessible and has the cleanest flavor palate for this purpose. It is also extremely crumbly. I thought google may offer some help but I found no recipe that used only corn meal. I decided I had to simple test and try my own.

Ground Husk Tomato Corn Galette

The important thing was to figure a way to overcome the rather crumbly texture of ground corn. It simply does not come together. Psyllium would not work here as it does not have enough fluid to bind to. It had to some form of starch. I settled on potato starch, which, I have at home and is not expensive. The first time I made this I followed standard tart making process of balling the dough, tamping and letting it rest in the fridge for 30 minutes. I learnt the hard way, that the dough seizes up quite a bit when cooled and it takes ages for it to thaw back. The next time, I just rolled it out immediately and it was just fine.

Also, even though the starch helps pull it together, the dough will still be crumbly. You can always just press it into a mold and that is really easy. If you want to make a galette, you will need a little patience, some gentle elbow grease and two sheets of parchment paper. Also, don't get angry with it when it tears as you try to fold it over the filling. Just smile and give it a hug and it will come together just fine. The real binding agent here is a butter, so, don't skimp on it and use it to advantage.

Ground Husk Tomato Corn Galette

I kept this tart clean and simple. Just the husk tomatoes, basil, olive oil, salt and pepper. You need nothing more. The corn crust comes out soft and so let it sit for a few minutes so it hardens into a crispy crunch. That against the sweet flesh of the roasted wrinkled tiny tomatoes is a delight!

Oh! On the question of, did Union Square have anything over my little market? Despite this happy find... Not at all! ;-)


Husk Tomato Tart

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For the Grain free Corn Crust:

1 cup corn flour, fine ground {I just used the blender to pulverize the coarse cornmeal I had}

4 tsp potato starch

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

4 T cold butter, in small dice

scant 2 T cold water

For the filling:

1-1/2 cups of de-husked tomatoes

few leaves of basil torn

olive oil to drizzle

salt and pepper as needed

Preheat oven to 400F.

Mix together the corn flour with potato starch with salt and baking soda.

Rub butter pieces into the corn mix.

Add the water and mix to just form a ball. Only if the butter feels melty (like if you are doing this in the middle of a heat wave), cool in fridge for a few minutes.

Place a sheet of parchment paper on the table and sprinkle potato starch on it.

Place the dough ball on the paper and top with another sheet. Gently roll out the dough into a rough circle about 1/4 inch thick.

Remove the first sheet of parchment. Pile the tomatoes in the center leaving a 1 inch border.

Gently fold the edge over the tomatoes. If it tears, simply press the edges to seal again.

Sprinkle the basil, salt, pepper and olive oil over.

Bake for 30 minutes at 400F and then lower to 350F and bake another 15 minutes.

The corn crust comes out soft and so let it sit for a few minutes so it hardens into a crispy crunch.

Garnish with a more basil and touch of oil or balsamic vinegar and serve.


13 Clam Chowder

13 Clams and Sweet Corn Chowder

It is the middle of the week and I have lovely soup for you.

And, there is more to this story. I could wax eloquent about these clams and how they are the local waters and caught by the fisherman who then sells it at the mid-week market a couple of blocks from me. Truth be told, I had never cooked them before.

I wanted to make mussels in saffron broth for a dinner with a friend. For the record, I love mussels. I love picking out the flesh from a huge broth filled bowl and thoughtfully munching on them. I love cooking them too. So easy and delightful. I would tell you how when I went to the market and looked skeptically at these clams, because I really wanted mussels for a saffron broth, he tried to entice me with ways to cook them.

13 Clams and Sweet Corn Chowder

I would tell you how, as I remained undecided, the Japanese guy and the bread lady from the adjoining stalls joined in on the conversation and we all had a good chat about fish and clams and ideas and how I ended up buying the clams after all. Elated by all this camaraderie, conversation, I told my friend about the changed plans that was still going to be awesome and he snorted at my idea of substituting clams for mussels. So, I had to go back to the fish guy and guiltily buy a couple of slabs of blue fish for dinner.

Gently, though, he told me that the shell fish will wait in the fridge unspoiled for a week. They are clearly forgiving and patient creatures. And, I think we give them altogether little notice! They deserve more, I say.

Steamed Clams

Just for a bit I want to ruminate on this whole shell fish not being as popular thing. Oddly, I have found they do not have many takers in the circle of folks I eat with. They are by and large pleasured eaters, yet none find the joy in these creatures as I do. I think I just like the idea of getting my hands dirty, picking through their bones and shells to get to their sweet flesh. My favorite is crab and we cook it whole. It takes patience, nimble fingers and a lot of time to finish eating a carb served whole. I inordinately love the experience. My food would grow cold but I relished picking out the flesh from the nooks and crannies and popping them delightfully into my mouth. When I happen to look up from my plate, beaming with joy, I realize that my company rarely reflects the same expression. More than usual, I read a slight helplessness with the whole shell thing and how awkward it all is. So, in my cherubic happiness, I offer to help and I don't think that goes quite well. LOL.

So, my point is this. I think they deserve more love because as all things difficult, the result is delicious and sweeter, whether perceived or real! And, when someone offers help with coaxing that hard to get flesh of these sea creatures, I say, let them do it. Because, it ain't the shell's fault. It is an amazing lesson in patience. Of course, if you don't like someone touching your food, then there are always loads of helpful kitchen tool that aid in getting anything done!

13 Clams and Sweet Corn Chowder

On the subject of clams, they are prettier than mussels, for sure, but my verdict is still out. I think I need more acquaintance with them. Oh wait! It is market day ;-)

And with that, I will leave you with a generously chunky clam and corn chowder. This is not a New England clam chowder, it is simply my chowder. The market now has fresh fennel and I find them fragrant and warming and so much better than onions. So, I try and use it, for the few weeks they are around, as much as possible. I also use a fair bit of cabbage to this chowder for heft and of course the fiber helps. Finally, I used sweet potato for a touch of sweetness to offset the brine. You can always use a regular potato of course. Topped with fennel fronds and whatever herbs you have and it is a feast.

Oh! The 13 is because that is interesting number I had when I bought them. Odd number that but made for an even stew!

13 Clams and Sweet Corn Chowder

Clam and Corn Chowder

{You can clean the clams the same way as mussels. That is put them in a shallow pan with 1/4 cup of water and sprinkle some flour on them and toss. Leave for 15 minutes and the grit comes out}

1 lb clams, live

1/2 small fennel bulb

2 cloves of garlic, minced

2T of pancetta, cubed

1/2 cup chopped cabbage

1 good sized sweet potato, diced into half inch cubes

2 slivers of jalapeño {optional}

handful of fresh corn kernels

1/4 cup milk

1/4 cup + 1/4 cup heavy cream

3 cups of water

2 T potato starch

small bunch of thyme

1 T chopped fennel fronds, for garnish

chopped basil for garnish

salt, pepper and olive oil as needed

In a deep pot, place the cleaned clams in water. Close the lid and bring to a boil. Simmer the clams until the shells are fully opened. Remove the clams, strain and reserve the broth.

While the clams are cooking, heat a little oil in a soup pot and sauté the pancetta until the fat has rendered and the meat is crispy. Add the thyme, fennel, garlic and jalapeño (if using) and cook until soft.

Add cabbage and sweet potato and stir with seasoning. Close the pot and let the veggies sweat, about 4-5 minutes.

Remove the lid and sift the potato starch all over. Toss for a couple of minutes.

Add the reserved warm clam stock and quickly whisk, so the starch does not lump. Close the lid again and cook until the vegetables are just soft, about 7-8 minutes.

As they cook, pick the flesh out of the clam shells and chop into 1/2 inch pieces.

Add the corn, clams, milk and 1/4 cup cream. And bring to a quick boil.

Remove from heat and let steep for 30 minutes.

Just before serving, warm to appropriate temperature. Remove the thyme sticks.

Divide into bowls, swirl more cream in and top with fennel fronds and other herbs.

 
Long Island Clams
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