Monday, August 31, 2009

Weekend Herb Blogging #198 Roundup

Welcome to the roundup of blog posts and recipes that showcase the bounty of the Vegetable Kingdom in Weekend Herb Blogging #198. I was honored to once again host this popular and mouthwatering event. Bloggers from various corners of the world submitted entries using plant ingredients from Malaysia, Italy, Canada, Scotland, the United States, and Australia.

From Italy, we got an entry from Graziele of the very informative herb blog Erbe in Cucina. She grew some shiny red Shishito peppers, which she used in a stir-fry with shrimp, peas, sprouts and rice. Her post has information about growing these mild chili peppers and suggests several other ways of cooking them while they are green as well.

Muneeba (and her handsome cat Ozzy) blogs from Connecticut, USA, at her lovely blog, An Edible Symphony and prepared a fresh Zucchini, Tomato and Herb Tart to share with us. Her recipe calls for layers of sliced vegetables over a puff pastry crust, topped with an egg and cream mixture that gets baked until golden brown. A perfect seasonal recipe for us in the Northern Hemisphere.

Nate and Annie just recently moved The House of Annie from San Jose, CA to Malaysia and I certainly got a geography lesson researching the various locales in their blog post. Their blog post describes a lovely home-cooked meal they were treated to when they flew with their many suitcases from Kuala Lumpur to Kuching, the capital city of the Malaysian state of Sarawak, on the northern coast of Borneo. Their WHB entry describes a local fiddlehead fern variety, Paku, which was stir-fried with shallots, garlic, and belacan (shrimp paste).

Kalyn, from Kalyn's Kitchen, the founder of Weekend Herb Blogging, shares a colorful Bulgur Salad with Tomatoes, Cucumbers, Parsley, Mint and Lemon. Bulgur is an easy grain to cook with, as it just needs to steep in boiling water to soften. For a gluten-free alternative to bulgur (bulgur is a form of cracked wheat), try quinoa, which is becoming more easily available in supermarkets and natural foods markets.

If you haven't yet had a chance to visit Brii's Blog in English, you are in for a treat. Brii is an herbalist who week after week prepares intriguing conserves, pickles, liqueurs and other wonders in the kitchen using a variety of garden grown plants. This week Brii shows us all how to make Aromatic Salt from a variety of herbs which she advises to "give away generously". Be sure to see her gorgeous blog with all of its photos from her many Italian Alpine treks.

Mint is the star ingredient in a Thai-inspired Spicy Chicken and Mint Salad made by Pam of Sidewalk Shoes. Pam is a Tennessee teacher by day and passionate home cook by night. My Crispy Cook heart was also warmed by her love of reading and the great book reviews she sprinkles throughout the recipes and cat photos on her blog.

Up north in Ontario, Canada, Jerry of Jerry's Thoughts, Musings, and Rants made an intriguing Peach, Prosciutto and Goat Cheese Pizza. This sounds like a great combination of flavors and the added smokiness from grilling the pizza outside sounds even more heavenly.

Healthy and delicious recipes abound on Joanne's Eats Well With Others blog and this week the sidewalk fruit vendors in New York City tempted her with their blueberries. Joanne sends us all a slice of Blueberry Muffin Cake to make use of these seasonal berries.

Hailing from Sydney, Australia, our wonderful Weekend Herb Blogging Head Master, Haalo, of Cook (Almost) Anything At Least Once, introduces us to the Lebanese Cucumber. She cured some baby Qukes in lemon sea salt, caster sugar, lemon juice and herbs and they look mighty tasty. As Haalo notes, they make "a refreshing snack for the warmest of days."

Katie in Michigan made use of an overflowing box of veggies from her share in a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm to make a spectacular looking Stuffed Pattypan Squash. Her blog Eat This, has lots of other fantastic gluten-free recipes using whole grains, with an emphasis on fresh produce, natural ingredients and sugar alternatives.

After submitting a lesson to WHB last week on how to can tomato sauce, Cinzia provides followup instruction for canning whole tomatoes with basil, or Pomodori Pelati. Her bilingual food blog, Cindystar, showcases many other glorious recipes and many great photos of life on shores of Lake Garda.

From her garden plot in Scotland, Mangocheeks offered up a delicious round of pakoras made with golden beetroot and coriander. Her blog, Allotment 2 Kitchen, has many other recipes featuring her homegrown produce and tasty bits about Scottish cooking.

Finally, from upstate New York, your host, The Crispy Cook, blogged about my daughter's heartache at a recent soccer game and how she requested a most humble dish for dinner, Comfort Corn. Not my fanciest dish, but one which offered up a little solace on a plate.

Another interesting round of Weekend Herb Blogging and one which introduced me to a few new blogs, recipes and unusual plant ingredients. I now pass the torch on to Mele Cotte, who will be hosting Weekend Herb Blogging #199 from August 31st through September 6th. Thank you to everyone who contributed these great recipes. I have already bookmarked several to make soon. See you at Mele Cotte next week...

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Red Noodle Beans and Tofu

I've blogged about Noodle Beans before, since we grew them for the first time last year. They are a relative of the Black-Eyed Pea, though they taste like a string bean. They reach astonishing lengths, hence their other moniker, Yard Long Beans, though they still remain tender if you pick them before their girth exceeds 1/2 inch.

We grow the Noodle Beans on a pyramid-shaped trellis that Dan made me for a garden present several years ago out of some scrap oak flooring from his always-abundant hoard of scavenged building materials. They start slow but as soon as the air and soil temperatures hit tropical levels, the bean vines seem to grow several inches a day. When I am very still in the garden I am never sure if I am hearing the buzz of pollinating wasps or Noodle Bean tendrils unfurling.

We haven't been too experimental with our Noodle Bean harvests, other than steaming them and tossing them into stir fries, so when I found this recipe for Szechuan Green Beans and miraculously had all ingredients on hand, I gave it a test drive. I added a 10 oz. package of firm tofu, already cubed, (I drained it first) and tossed it into the wok to heat through for the last couple of minutes of cooking.

This was a luscious, rich and spicy double bean dish which I served over rice to accolades from the Crispy Crew.

I am sending a plateful of these tasty Red Noodle Beans and Tofu over to Susan, The Well-Seasoned Cook, who is the founder and this month's host of My Legume Love Affair. Susan will post the roundup of (no doubt) many dozens of bean recipes after September 1st so be sure to check out all that leguminous love.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Comfort Corn

The soccer game was tied and there was less than a minute left on the clock. The serious-faced girl warriors were intent on winning this first pre-season game to secure their position on the junior varsity team and show their new coach that they warranted their status as starting players in the upcoming season.

A tangle of elbows and shins spun the ball back toward the home team's goal. A burst of speed from the opponent's forward brought the ball back through the defensive line and now the action was just between the goalie and the opposing forward. They each readied for the eventual kick and it was a strong, hard one. The goal keeper sprang to block the ball and it looked like she would fend it off, but it deflected off her outstretched hands backwards into the goal in sickening slow motion. The goalie's team lost, 4-3.

It was my little sweetie, my youngest daughter, that was that heartsick goalie, and while her teammates gathered round her to comfort her on the bench while she sobbed in frustration, she would need love and time to get over this grand disappointment.

That night, after a restorative shower, nap, many hugs and many phone consultations with her soccer mates, she requested that I make "that really good corn". I was surprised that this humble sauteed corn was a favorite of hers. It's just a no-brainer "recipe" that I slap together in a hurry when I need a quick supper side dish. It's not a fancy dish and usually one I reserve for the winter when the garden season is but a memory, but you can be sure that I whipped some up to help ease the sting of the morning's defeat.

This is just a basic skillet corn recipe with some diced onion and red pepper. I threw in some chives for the green color and because I remembered the advice from "The Last Chinese Chef" by Nicole Mones, which I read recently for the Cook the Books Foodie Book Club: "For someone grieving, cook with chives, ginger, coriander, and rosemary. Theirs is the pungent flavor, which draws grief up and out of the body and releases it into the air"

You could certainly use fresh corn kernels or canned corn, but my family seems to like it best with frozen corn kernels. Something about the nubby texture, I guess. I find frozen corn and petit pois are the best frozen vegetables, as they don't get mushy or watery when you cook them up.

Here then is a scandalously easy recipe for Comfort Corn, which worked a small bit of ease into my youngest's innards and made the morning's burden somewhat lighter. The embrace she got from the classy girl who ended up as the second starter goalie on her team was even better mojo though.

Comfort Corn

2 Tbsp. butter

1 small diced onion
1/2 small red bell pepper, diced

2 Tbsp. snipped chives (or frozen from the freezer)
1 bag frozen corn kernels (4 cups worth)

Salt and pepper to taste

Melt butter in skillet. Add onion and red pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 4-5 minutes. Add corn and chives, and cook, stirring, until heated through. You can cover the pan once its warmed up and let it hang out until your other parts of dinner are cooked up.

Season with salt and pepper. My baby likes to add more onion powder over the top of her corn.

Serves 4.

This comforting veggie dish is my entry for Weekend Herb Blogging #198. It is not as as glamorous as the Pickled Cauliflower recipe I originally intended for my post as host of this week's WHB round, but it seemed more needed this week. Weekend Herb Blogging is the brainchild of Kalyn's Kitchen and is now headquartered by Haalo at Cook (Almost) Anything At Least Once. I am accepting submissions until tomorrow, August 30th, at 11 am Eastern Standard Time.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Weekend Herb Blogging #198 - Crispy Cook Style

This week I am hosting Weekend Herb Blogging #198, the weekly food blog event that showcases information and recipes about herbs, vegetables, fruits and other plant ingredients. The always educational Weekend Herb Blogging was first initiated by Kalyn's Kitchen in Utah, and now, in its third year, is headquartered at Haalo's ethereal food blog in Sydney, Australia, Cook (Almost) Anything At Least Once.

Last week's WHB roundup can be seen at The Cabinet of Prof. Kitty, and has an eclectic mix of posts from great home cooks around the world featuring rose petals, zucchini, mushrooms, cacao nibs, beets, mint, carrots, tomatoes, gooseberries, matcha, fennel, rosemary, salvia and laurel. Here are the rules for Weekend Herb Blogging as taken from Haalo's headquarters:

"1. Entries to Weekend Herb Blogging must be posts written specifically for Weekend Herb Blogging. This means they cannot be cross-posted in other events. Photos used in the posts however can be submitted to photo events like DMBLGIT.

2. Weekend Herb Blogging entries should have the goal of helping people learn about cooking with herbs or plant ingredients.

Only two types of entries will be accepted:
* Recipe posts where a herb or plant ingredient is one of the primary ingredients in the recipe
* Informative posts that spotlight one herb or plant ingredient, particularly including information about how they are used in cooking.
Naturally, posts can be a combination of both these criteria.

3. Posts must contain the phrase Weekend Herb Blogging with a link to the Crispy Cook for that week and to Haalo's WHB HQ.

4. The posts may be written anytime during the week (August 24-30) but you must email your host with WHB in the subject line by:
3pm Sunday - Utah Time
10pm Sunday - London Time
9am Monday - Melbourne (Aus) Time

5. In your email submission (to: oldsaratogabooks AT gmail DoTCoM) please include the following information:

* Your Name
* Your Blog Name/URL
* Your Post URL
* Your Location
* Attach a photo (250 px wide max)

This information will help your Crispy Cook host greatly as the recaps can be quite time consuming."

Looking forward to your wonderful submissions!

P.S. If you don't have a blog of your own, but would like to contribute a submission to Weekend Herb Blogging, I would be happy to post your blog entry at the Crispy Cook.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Cook the Books Club Feast for The Last Chinese Chef

Our current book selection for the Cook the Books foodie book club is Nicole Mones' novel "The Last Chinese Chef". I devoured this lyrically-written story in two sittings, and went back several times to savor the various passages I had festooned with bookmarks. It was a love story of many dimensions: between a man and a woman, between father and son, uncles and nephew, between old passions and new ones.

Mones introduced me to many things about Chinese culture. She weaves many concepts about cooking and history into her story of Maggie, a food journalist and recent widow, who comes to China to interview Sam, an American-born chef and son of classically-trained Chinese chef who escaped during the height of the Cultural Revolution. I learned that the imperial style of cooking, where chefs had to spend many years learning all manner of complicated dishes and regional specialties, was banned after the Communists took power. This was considered to be an elitist practice, though Sam points out that anyone (any male, at least) with talent could rise to become a famous and respected chef, a "weird democratic aspect of feudal China".

The novel's narrative is seasoned with snippets of a book on imperial Chinese cuisine, "The Last Chinese Chef", purportedly written by Sam's paternal grandfather, who was sold as a boy by his impoverished Beijing family to become a kitchen boy in the palace kitchen of Empress Dowager Ci Xi. These pieces give vivid glimpses of the vast Forbidden City kitchens and teams of chefs churning out tidbits for the royal court as well as nuggets of wisdom about the medicinal properties of different foods: "For someone grieving, cook with chives, ginger, coriander, and rosemary. Theirs is the pungent flavor, which draws grief up and out of the body and releases it into the air".

Deb of Kahakai Kitchen, the current Cook the Books host, enlisted the author herself, Nicole Mones to serve as the guest judge of this round of blog posts and our esteemed author also graciously provided a list of Chinese recipes and photos on her website to further educate and tempt us. The bean jellies look absolutely wonderful and I wanted to find the time to scout out the mung bean starch but unfortunately, August has proven to be a busier month than most and I couldn't carve out a food expedition to the south.

In my ruminations about what to prepare for my culinary homage to Mones' fantastic book, I kept thinking about Sam and his three loving taskmaster "uncles", Jiang, Tan and Xie. I envisioned Sam patiently teaching me how to prepare various Chinese dishes, and then having the uncle chefs and food scholars scrutinize them. I imagined they would throw many of them back at me or swish their ghost hands through the air to cuff me on the back of the head, so I was not anxious to try out anything too complicated or which involved ingredients which I didn't already have on hand or was comfortable preparing.

And then I thought of the late Barbara Tropp. Last year, I got a copy of her "China Moon Cookbook", which features "homestyle" recipes from her 1980s San Francisco restaurant. Tropp was a New Jersey native and Rhodes Scholar, who went to Taiwan to study Chinese literature. While living with various host families, she was swept into a world of shopping for the freshest ingredients at local markets, cooking them up in her hosts' kitchens and then eating them slowly, all together at the table. When she returned to the United States, her literary studies became a secondary passion to the culinary arts. As she states in the China Moon Cookbook preface "What other activity in the sphere of human pleasure makes our dwellings aromatic and brings friends and family to our table? If we value these aspects of our lives, then we cook. If we savor the food we prepare and the environment in which it is presented, then we dine."

Like the fictional Sam, Tropp was American born and also of Jewish heritage, so that sealed the deal. Chef Tropp would also be at my side with Sam while I prepared my feast for my family and the imagined trio of Uncle critics.

I didn't want to copy out recipes from Tropp's wonderful "The China Moon Cookbook" without permission, so I limited myself to cooking up recipes that have already been circulated on the Internet. Hopefully, they will give you a feel for her delightful cooking style and set you off in search of your own copy to explore further. It is a fun cookbook to read, with many sidebars and Tropp's entertaining introductions to each dish. If you enjoy the invigorating format of the Silver Palate cookbooks, you will enjoy reading this cookbook all the way through, almost like a piece of fiction.

Further preparations involved renting Ang Lee's fantastic foodie film, "Eat Drink Man Woman" about a retired Taiwanese master chef who cooks up magnificent Sunday feasts for his three adult daughters, and taking a virtual tour of Hangzhou, which is where Sam and Maggie travel to in "The Last Chinese Chef" when they visit ailing Third Uncle Xie. After seeing the beautiful lake, the sweeping foliage, and rather a lot of photos of what the students at this website ate, I was determined to make the accompanying recipe for Fried Shrimp in Longjing Tea, which I prefer by its more poetic name of Dragon Well Shrimp.

Alas, the cornstarch coating on my crustaceans blackened from my inexpert wokking techniques and they looked more like "Dragged Up from the Bottom of the Well Shrimp". Despite the disgusted clacking from Sam's Three Uncles, I did not throw them to the kitchen hound and start afresh, but rather, soldiered on with my Shrimp dish, which, while it tasted delicate enough, was bathed in an unappetizing grey sludge sauce.

Previously, I had also conjured up a batch of China Moon Chili-Orange Oil. This recipe is one of many that Tropp has for homemade condiments and seasonings that are used in many of her recipes. The combination of citrus and heat is very heady, even if you do not have "shockingly pungent" red chili flakes in your pantry (mine are "of a certain age" and made my imaginary Tropp exclaim that they were instead "shockingly dusty". The Uncles agreed). I have to also make her Roasted Szechwan Pepper-Salt someday, but that will involve a trip down to one of Albany's Asian markets once my busy summer season is over.

The soaping and scrubbing of the oranges beforehand makes it much easier to peel thinner segments of zest from the fruit. I decided to make a half portion of this flavored oil since it was my first go at it, but it was so delicious that now I wish I had gone ahead for the full Monty. The little bits of minced orange zest and garlic dance in the sizzling oil and get a mellow taste that is wonderful drizzled over string beans and noodles. Inspired by Tropp's recipes for Paris Noodles and Chili-Orange Cold Noodles (two more reasons to buy a copy of this cookbook)I made up a batch of cold rice noodles dressed with this luscious oil and mixed with slivered garden vegetables of various rainbow hues. The result was sublime on a steamy summer night: cold slippery noodles and crunchy veggies in an aromatic dressing.

Here's my recipe for a beautiful Asian-style summer noodle salad:

Rainbow Vegetable-Noodle Salad with Chili-Orange Oil

1 (10 oz.) pkg. rice vermicelli

2-1/2 tsp. Chili Orange Oil
1 Tbsp. "goop" from bottom of Chili Orange Oil jar
2 Tbsp. soy sauce
2 Tbsp. rice vinegar
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 Tbsp. brown sugar

2 carrots, peeled and shredded on box grater
3 Tbsp. snipped chives
1 large daikon radish, peeled and cut into matchsticks
1 large Japanese cucumber (we grow Suyo Longs), cut into matchsticks
1 cup red cabbage, sliced thin
2 plum tomatoes, seeded and chopped
2 Tbsp. black sesame seeds

Cook vermicelli until al dente. Drain and rinse with cold water. Set aside.

Make a dressing out of chili orange oil, goop, soy sauce, rice vinegar, salt and brown sugar. Mix well and set aside.

Toss remaining ingredients together. Add in noodles and mix well. Dress with reserved dressing and mix well. Cover and chill at least 1-2 hours before serving.

Serves 6.

Another of Tropp's wonderful recipes can also be found here, for her Strange Flavor Eggplant. It is a wonderful mix of salty, sweet, spicy and smoky flavors mingled together that was served as an appetizer at her restaurant on garlic toasts garnished with scallion rings. For our gluten-free version, I toasted slices of a GF baguette (purchased from Saratoga Gluten-Free Goods at the Gansevoort Farmers Market) and then slathered them with this eggplant goodness, topped with some snipped chives. I can happily tell you that leftover Strange Flavor Eggplant is glorious mixed with cold pasta.

When all the components of my Mones and Tropp inspired Chinese banquet came together, we dined on:

Strange Flavor Eggplant on Toasted Baguettes

Rainbow Vegetable-Noodle Salad with Chili-Orange Oil

Steamed Rice

Sliced, Chilled Suyo Long Cucumbers

Dragon Well Shrimp (liberated from its grey sludge gravy for photo op)

Steamed Red Noodle Beans (despite their yard-long length, they remain tender if picked before they get too bulgy)

I hope that this blog post has inspired you to seek out Nicole Mones' wonderful novel "The Last Chinese Chef". I certainly enjoyed reading it and learning more about Chinese food and culture. Please join us back at Cook the Books after August 28th for a roundup of all the posts which Deb will be organizing.

And please do join us for our next biblio-culinary adventure. Jo from Food Junkie, Not Junk Food will be the host and has selected Peter Mayles' book "French Lessons: Adventures with Knife, Fork and Corkscrew". There's no other requirement to join us other than to read the book (buy a copy or borrow one from a friend or library), cook up something inspired by your reading and then blog about it. If you don't have a blog, Jo would be happy to have you as a guest blogger.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Grocery Shopping in the Garden

In an effort to keep cooking with stuff that's slinging out of the garden as fast as we can pick it, I came up with this tasty little number for Dan and I a few breakfasts ago. It's a colorful and low-cholesterol alternative to scrambled eggs and it makes use of some great seasonal veggies.

Tofu Garden Scramble

1 (8 oz.) pkg. firm tofu, pressed

1/2 tsp. your favorite curry powder blend
Juice of 1/2 lime
1/2 tsp. salt

2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 small hot pepper, diced
1 tsp. cumin seeds
2 plum tomatoes, seeded and diced

2 Tbsp. minced Italian parsley
Salt and pepper to taste

Wrap tofu in paper towels and weigh down with a heavy pan or canned good (a 28 oz. can of crushed tomatoes usually does the trick for me) to extract as much liquid as you can. This usually takes 20 minutes and at least two wrappings of the tofu block. About enough time as it takes to chop up all the veggies for this dish.

Then mix lime juice, curry powder and salt together in a glass bowl. Crumble in tofu and stir to coat. Let sit 10 minutes.

Heat olive oil in skillet. Add garlic and onion, and cook, stirring often, 1-2 minutes. Add peppers, sweet and hot, cumin seeds and tomatoes and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened, about 5 minutes. Add tofu to heat through. Garnish with chopped parsley. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serve hot.

Serves 3-4 along with a side of GF toast.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Canning Spicy Zucchini Relish

While I missed Leave a Zucchini on Your Neighbor's Porch Day (August 8th), I have been able to unload some of our overflowing garden bounty on family, friends and bookstore customers. We only planted four zucchini plants, but as usual, once these gigantors sense a certain heat and humidity factor in the air, they bound out of their carefully tended plots and start shooting tendrils and umbrella leaves over their poor neighbor plants.

Even when we hack our zukes back they keep reproducing, so I've been cooking up lots of sauteed zucchini to pack away into the freezer and grating it into my homemade vats of tomato sauce (cooked down in the crockpot overnight to reduce some of the heat in my warm summer kitchen). It's been too steamy of late to do any baking of zucchini bread or muffins, so I turned to my cookbook collection to get some ideas for canning zucchini. I once made a batch of tasty yellow zucchini pickles, but nobody but me would eat them, so I needed inspiration.

I found a Zucchini and Green Chili Recipe in my copy of the Time-Life Good Cooks volume on Preserving and subbed in some of my own Busillus frying peppers and some hot red pepper flakes for the green chilies and cut the sugar. The result was a really nice hot and sweet relish that we sampled on our sandwiches and got preserved into pint jars for later use. Here's my recipe for:

Spicy Zucchini Relish

(Adapted from Time-Life Good Cooks volume "Preserving")

2-1/2 lbs. zucchini, trimmed and finely chopped
2 green frying peppers or ancho chilies, seeded and finely chopped
4 large onions, peeled and finely chopped

5 Tbsp. kosher salt

2-1/4 cups cider vinegar
1 tsp. dried red pepper flakes
3 cups sugar
1 Tbsp. dry mustard
1 Tbsp. turmeric
1 Tbsp. nutmeg
2 tsp. celery seeds

I used my trusty food processor to whizz up my zucchini, peppers and onions, and it had the added benefit of steering the onion fumes away from my tear ducts, but you can just chop up the veggies by hand if you like.

Toss vegetables with salt in a glass or ceramic bowl and cover and refrigerate over night.

The next day, rinse vegetables in a colander with cold water and squeeze out to draw out juices. Repeat again. Place vegetables and remaining ingredients in a non-aluminum pot and bring to a boil. Boil thirty minutes.

Pour into 4 hot pint canning jars and seal. Process in boiling hot water bath for 15 minutes. Let cool and seal. If your lids don't pop down, refrigerate them and use the relish within one month.

Makes 4 pints.

This recipe is being submitted to Weekend Herb Blogging, the weekly blog event that celebrates posts about vegetables, fruits, herbs and other plant ingredients that is headquartered at Haalo's lovely, tasty blog, Cook (Almost) Anything At Least Once. This week's guest host for WHB is The Cabinet of Prof. Kitty, a musical food blog (you'll have to check it out yourself for the fullest flavor....And a great salad recipe that can't be BEET.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Stuffed Grape Leaves with Zucchini and Cilantro

Earlier this summer I put up six quarts of preserved grape leaves from some wild vines around our pool fence and we've made two batches of dill and mint-scented stuffed grape leaves. With an abundance of zucchini now shooting from our four plants on a daily basis (when will I learn to only plant one or two summer squashes?) I try to cook up my zukes each night and stash some away in the freezer, but we always seem to have a bit of leftover sauteed zucchini hanging around in the fridge.

We tried a new zucchini variety this year, Bush Baby, which grows a shorter, rounder squash, with lovely dark and light green stripes. They are not very seedy and have a nutty flavor. Like all zucchinis, of course, they are reproductive champs, so I have been trying to pick them every day and cook some up in various ways for our summer suppers. The leftover cooked zucchini usually gets tucked into the freezer, but the other night I thought about chopping some up into some other leftovers: cooked rice and tomato sauce and making stuffed vine leaves. Untraditional they were, but TASTY! The fresh cilantro adds a nice green zing as a change from the traditional mint and dill.

Once you have access to brined grape leaves, making dolmades is a breeze. The time-consuming part is the grape leaf harvest and selecting the perfect-sized leaves and leaves without Japanese beetle chomps. After washing the leaves, rolling them into bundles and brining them up took only short while. But if you have them brined up or purchase grape leaves already preserved, all you need to do is basically whip up a rice salad, stuff your grape leaves and bake them.

Here's what I did:

Stuffed Grape Leaves with Zucchini and Cilantro

1 cup tomato sauce (I had leftover homemade with lots of garlic and basil)
3 cups leftover cooked rice
1 cup sauteed zucchini (I had sauteed it with garlic, olive oil and fresh basil), coarsely chopped
3 Tbsp. finely chopped cilantro
36 preserved grape leaves in brine
Olive oil
Juice of 1/2 lemon

Drain leaves and unfurl. Pat dry and reserve.

Pour half of tomato sauce to cover bottom of a 1 quart baking dish. Place remaining tomato sauce in a mixing bowl with rice, chopped zucchini and cilantro. Don't add any salt and pepper as the salt from the brined grape leaves will seep in to season the filling during baking.

Place one teaspoon of this rice filling in the center of each grape leaf. Fold sides in first, then roll up and place, seam-side down, in saucy baking dish. I found that 36 stuffed grape rolls covered the bottom of my baking dish, but you may haved different results with differently-shaped baking dishes and differently-sized grape leaves. Any leftover rice stuffing can be seasoned with a little brine from the grape leaf jar and eaten as a refreshing rice salad later.

Drizzle a little olive oil over the top and cover with foil. Bake in preheated 350 degree F oven for 30 minutes.

Let cool 5 minutes. Then drizzle lemon juice over top and serve. Also great cold!


Makes 36 stuffed grape leaves.
A refreshing dinner on a hot and steamy summer's eve.

I am sending a platter of these delicious stuffed grape leaves over to Weekend Herb Blogging, a weekly food blogging event headquartered at Cook (Almost) Anything At Least Once. WHB is focused on the Vegetable Kingdom and posts which show how to grow and eat vegetables, fruits and herbs. This week, Weekend Herb Blogging is being hosted by A Food Lover's Journey. Stop by and check out the WHB roundup after the August 16 deadline. And start thinking about a great vegetable, herb or fruit recipe for the week of August 24-30, when I'll be your WHB host.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Our First Garlic Harvest

Last Fall Dan and I were casting about looking for seed garlic to plant with no luck after many calls to garden stores, when my wise friend Linda gave me rhetorical thump on the head and suggested I just find some garlic at a farmer's market and plant the cloves. Of course! That's how people have planted garlic for eons before garden stores were invented. Duh.

We were late getting our cloves in the ground (November) but almost all of the garlic we planted raised their pointy green heads this Spring and we hovered over them, snipping off their scapes and checking the state of their advancement from the green to the yellow leaf spectrum. Some of the garlics were flopping over entirely, so after some consultation with Linda and her love, Leo, my personal Garlic Guru, who lives one garden zone south, I yanked up a few bundles to see how the bulbs were filling out.

Some heads of garlic were small, some were plump, but all looked ready to cure. I yanked them all out, tied then into clumps of 7 or 8 with twine and have them hanging in our open-ended garden shed. It's been a week of curing time now, and their formerly damp, purplish skins are turning into the papery white heads that I am used to with store-bought garlic.

My garlic investment has been rewarded six times over from the initial sack of garlic we planted, so I am very happy. It's an easy crop to grow, as I didn't really need to weed or water it much and my most voracious garden pests (voles, Japanese beetles, flea beetles, cutworms) don't seem to mess with the Stinking Rose.

I found some good information about harvesting garlic here at this website, although the authors gave me frights with their warnings about treating garlic like eggs and having only up to a week to harvest the garlic to avoid ruining your crop. I tried to avoid bruising the garlic and will pick the fattest, healthiest cloves to replant later this Fall. As they adapt to my soil and micro-climate, I should have some even plumper, more spectacular garlic in the years to come.

To celebrate my homegrown garlic harvest, I'd love to hear about any recipes or special ways of preparing my favorite Allium. Garlic, yum..........