Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A Fantastic Poblano Pepper for Home Gardens (and Kitchens): The Tiburon Pepper

Growing peppers in our Zone 4 garden zone is always dicey. If the tail end of our growing season has warm, sunny days and cooler nights, there will lots of fruit setting on our pepper plants. But if not, we will have lots of small fruit and definitely not an abundance of fruit.

With the Tiburon pepper, a dark green, glossy poblano variety, the rules were set on their ear. We got beautiful, sturdy plants with plenty of flowers and fruit, and they reached an unbelievable circumference of an inch or more at their stems. I had to put metal tomato cages around a couple of plants to hold them up when they started to tip over from their burden of fruit.

While the taste of these thin-walled peppers only had a mild kick, the oils from these peppers really made the skin on my hands burn so I used gloves after that experience and one time when I was chopping some up on a hot August night, I got a squirt of pepper juice on my forehead. I rubbed the offending juice off with a swipe of my hand and spread a burning ring of fire across my face that throbbed for the better part of an hour. So be forewarned! And use gloves. And maybe some eye protection if you don't wear eyeglasses like the Crispy Cook!

It's easy to preserve your Tiburon pepper harvest by dicing or slicing them up and slipping them into freezer bags. We also roasted some up and then froze them. They are too thin-skinned to peel, so I just roasted them whole in the oven, then pulled on the stem end to remove it and the seed core.

These gorgeous peppers were wonderful fried up with onions and garlic for omelettes and vegetable soups and stews and they kept on pumping out peppers through our abnormally long garden harvest season. They soldiered on through a light frost and didn't flag until we had a killing frost only a week and a half ago.

I'm sending this pepper post over to Weekend Herb Blogging, a weekly blog event started by Kalyn's Kitchen almost five years ago, and now headquartered by Haalo at Cook (Almost) Anything At Least Once. This week's host of WHB #257 is Almond Corner. She'll be putting up the WHB roundup after Sunday's deadline, so head on over there to see what other fantastic blog posts and recipes there will be featuring the edible members of the Vegetable Kingdom.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Eggplant and Zucchini Panini: Who Needs Bread in a Sandwich Anyway?

My kitchen counters and window sills are covered with bowls full of tomatoes, peppers, zucchini and eggplants from the Crispy garden. There are still some herbs, greens and cabbages that will last a while longer, but we finally had a killing frost last week, so I went out and did the last harvest of the tender vegetables.

The garden experiment of covering my eggplant seedlings with an old set of sheer window curtains (50 cents at my favorite local thrift shop) was just the trick for saving the leaves from being riddled with holes from flea beetles. The curtains let in the sun and rain but kept out the chompers so the plants were able to remain strong for the first month of their long growing season and we have been rewarded with several delicate-tasting, tender eggplants on each plant.

We've lately feasted on some eggplant parmigiana and this lemony cold salad with our beautiful black eggplants, but I wanted to try something new. I was poring through my all-too bountiful cookbook library and a recipe for Hot Eggplant Sandwiches (Panini Caldi di Melanzane) caught my eye in the toothsome cookbook "Sicilian Home Cooking" by Wanda and Giovanna Tornabene. There's no bread in these sandwiches, but rather some thick slices of fried eggplant make up the outside with a oozing mozzarella middle inside. With a few adaptations to make the recipe gluten-free, this turned out to be a terrific hit with my handsome, hungry husband.

Here's the first batch served with a side of slow-roasted plum tomatoes with garlic and basil. The time was 1:30 pm Eastern Standard Time.

And here is Dan's plate at 1:35 pm. A winner!

We also heated up some eggplant panini for another meal over some corn pasta with another slather of our roasted tomato concoction. Delicioso!

The dish also worked well with thick slices of zucchini, although they were a little moister and you had to be careful when they were fresh out of the oven because the juices were boiling hot.

Hot Eggplant (or Zucchini) Panini
-adapted from "Sicilian Home Cooking" by Wanda and Giovanna Tornabene, with Michele Evans, (NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 2001)

2 medium eggplants (or 2 medium zucchini), unpeeled and cut into 1/2 inch thick slices
(if using eggplants "of a certain age" from the market, you might want to lightly salt the eggplant slices and drain in a colander for a 1/2 hour to remove bitter juices. If using fresh market or garden eggplants, this step won't be necessary)

1/2 cup white rice flour

3 eggs, beaten lightly

Olive oil for frying

1/2 lb. mozzarella cheese, cut into small cubes

Dried oregano and kosher salt to taste

Coat eggplant slices with rice flour.

Heat large frying pan. Add olive to coat bottom by 1/4 inch. When hot, fry a batch of eggplant slices at a time. Dip the floured eggplant into the beaten egg and slip them right into the pan. You want them nice and eggy so the coating puffs up and gets a nice crunch from the rice flour at the edges. Fry about 2-3 minutes per side, until golden. Drain on paper towels and repeat with remaining eggplant slices.

Heat oven to 350 degrees F.

Place half of fried eggplant slices on a baking sheet. Top each with some mozzarella cubes, taking care to match eggplant slices of equal size. Secure each with a couple of toothpicks. Sprinkle with oregano and kosher salt to taste.

Bake 15 minutes or until cheese is melted and oozing out the sides.

Remove toothpicks and serve hot.

We enjoyed them separately with a little tangy roasted tomatoes on the side and over pasta too.

Makes 4-6 servings (hungry husbands skew the serving portions).

This has proven to be a real favorite with our family and I can't wait to share it with friends at our next party. I would use smaller eggplants for appetizer portions.

Even though this is not a traditional bready kind of sandwich, I am sending over these tasty panini to Deb at Kahakai Kitchen for Souper Sundays, her weekly roundup of soup, sandwich and salad recipes.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Chapchae: A Cellophane Noodle Stir-Fry, Gluten-Free and Tasty!

Shopping for naturally gluten-free ingredients in Albany's Asian markets has proven to be a fun and inexpensive way to try new foods and recipes. We try to get down once a month to stock up on rice varieties, spices, gorgeous fresh Asian produce and all kinds of exotic sauces, snacks and canned vegetables to experiment with.

On our last shopping trip I picked up a bag of gray-colored sweet potato noodles to play around with. They cost under $2 and looked intriguing. After a little research on Korean cuisine, I found this recipe for Chapchae (also known as Jabchae or Japchae) which is a traditional stir-fry of these noodles with sesame oil, sliced veggies, all slathered in a sweetened soy sauce. That would work!

The cooking directions on the back of the package were a little confusing, but I got them softened up for the pot by bringing a big pot of water to a boil and then soaking them in it, with the stove burner turned off, while I was busy chopping up my other Chapchae ingredients (about 15 minutes).

The cooked noodles turn absolutely clear, which is why they are also referred to as cellophane noodles or glass noodles. They also had a springy, gelatinous texture, kind of like Jello jigglers and would make a perfect bowl of "guts" for anyone's Halloween Haunted House.

We feasted on a delicious batch of Chapchae the first night and then had lots left over for the next day, when the noodles got even fatter and softer and absorbed more of the luscious sauce. While our package of cellophane noodles was made of sweet potato (actually botanically a yam) starch, other varieties of cellophane noodles are made of mung bean starch, but both would be good substitutes for wheat-based noodles in a gluten-free diet.

Here's my upstate New York version of Chapchae, which turned out great and can be adapted to use any other varieties of veggies you might want to add:


1 (12 oz.) pkg. sweet potato noodles (also called cellophane or glass noodles)

2 Tbsp. peanut oil

1 large onion, peeled and sliced thin
2 cloves garlic, peeled and rough chopped
1 bunch chives, snipped

3 cups tatsoi or boy choy, stems sliced and leaves rough chopped
1 lb. mushrooms, sliced
8 oz. firm tofu, drained and cubed

2 Tbsp. sesame oil
3 Tbsp. soy sauce (check ingredients to make sure it's gluten-free)
1 tsp. sugar

2 Tbsp. toasted sesame seeds (optional garnish)

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add noodles and turn off heat. Cover and let soak until softened, about 15 minutes.

Heat peanut oil in heated wok or large pot. Add onions, garlic and chives, and cook, stirring constantly, until onions are softened, 3-4 minutes. Add tatsoi and mushrooms and cook, stirring often, another 5 minutes.

Add tofu and stir in gently. Cook another 2-3 minutes to heat through.

Mix sesame oil, soy sauce and sugar together and stir to dissolve sugar. Add to wok and mix thoroughly. When heated through, remove from heat, sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve while hot.

Makes 6-8 servings.

I will be seeking out these cellophane or sweet potato noodles again on my next Asian market trip. I liked them clear and jiggly, while husband Dan preferred them when they were softer the next day, but both ways were really tasty. I can't wait to try them in my Cold Sesame Noodle salad recipe, as I think their texture will really give this great party dish a nice bite.

Am sending a bowl of this tasty Chapchae over to Cook, Eat, Play, Repeat, who is this week's host of Presto Pasta Nights, a long-running blog event where great cooks from around the world share their delicious posts and recipes about the World of Noodles. Check back with Cook, Eat, Play, Repeat after October 8 for a great roundup.