Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Good Herb - Sorrel

 I love sorrel. It has a sharp lemony flavor that might be a bit much if, say, one made a salad of just it, but a few leaves or shreds of leaves mixed with baby greens can add a nice, lively bite. It grows here as a perennial, though whether what I grow is actual French sorrel (Rumex scutatus, as opposed to Rumex acetosa), which is supposedly the more bitter variety, I'm not really sure. I've had this plant in the herb garden for several years, and it's survived being dug up and moved to other parts of the herb garden at least twice. I'm still waiting for blooms, tall stalks of whorled, reddish flowers (up to 30-36" high). My herb book says it likes full sun, but like many other plants it does best in part shade when grown here in the desert, and it does like at least moderate amounts of water.
        Apparently sorrel can be cooked just like spinach, but my favorite way to use it is in soup.There are a number of recipes out there, mostly French, but including at least one Russian one that I haven't tried yet. Below are the very simple ingredients for the easy-to-make version we like. The key thing to remember is that you don't actually "cook" the sorrel leaves. Putting them in at the end keeps both the color and flavor bright and fresh.
 SORREL SOUP - serves 4 to 6
2 cups sorrel leaves
2 T. butter
1/2 large or 1 smallish onion, chopped
1 potato (to yield 1 cup cubed)
4 cups broth (chicken or vegetable)
1/4 to 1/3 cup cream (fatfree half-and-half is fine)
1 T. sherry
salt and pepper to taste

In at least a 3-quart kettle, sauté the chopped onion in butter until translucent. Add potato and broth and simmer 20 minutes, until the potato cubes are very tender.
 Put the sorrel leaves into the blender container. With a slotted spoon, lift out all the solids from the soup pot and add to the blender, along with about half the liquid - enough to easily liquify everything else. Note that I've taken the center insert out of the lid and covered it with a cloth. Unpleasant things happen when you turn on the blender with a tight lid over hot liquids, so make sure it can get some air.
 Pour the newly liquified contents back into the pan, add the cream, sherry, and salt and pepper to taste, and serve. It tastes good cold, too, but this is winter, so I'm serving it hot.
        According to one book I read, juice from sorrel leaves can be used to bleach rust, mold, grass and ink stains from linen and wicker, and sorrel tea may soothe mouth ulcers and skin wounds. I haven't tried any of those uses yet. The same book also warns that sorrel shouldn't be eaten by those suffering from rheumatism or gout, a warning that's also been applied to spinach, rhubarb, and other foods rich in oxalic acid. Other sources just advise moderation, noting that sorrel is quite rich in Vitamin C, and that the addition of dairy (like the cream in this soup) counters any problems due to the oxalic acid.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Breakfast from the Garden

The garden is producing greens of various kinds like mad, including 3 kinds of kale: red, blue, and black (or Nero di Toscana). 
 This morning I picked a nice basketful for a recipe I'd seen on Serious Eats for cheesy mashed beans with kale and an egg I am a serious fan of putting poached or fried eggs on all sorts of things, so this immediately appealed. But I didn't want beans, and to be honest, I didn't even want to go to the trouble of looking up the recipe, so I decided to wing it. We're big fans of Korean food, and when I described it to Joe, he said it sounded like breakfast bibimbap, and that made him very happy. Anyway, I chopped off the kale stems - it's still so young and tender I didn't worry much about stripping out the midribs - and cut it into about 1/2" to 1" ribbons.
 Then, instead of beans, I cooked up a small pot of Quaker quick grits: 1/2 cup grits to 2 cups water and a pinch of salt. The recipes for grits and polenta always say to stir the grain into boiling water but I don't do that. I just put all the ingredients into the pan and bring it to the boil and, in the case of these quick grits, reduce the heat, cover it, and simmer 5 minutes, then turn it off but leave it on the burner.
 While that was going on I peeled and pressed a couple of big cloves of garlic and sautéed them for less than a minute in my trusty nonstick wok sprayed with pan spray and with a teaspoonful of olive oil for flavor. Don't let the garlic brown or it will turn bitter.
 Then I tossed in the kale, which was still damp from being washed before I cut it up, along with a couple of pinches of red chili flakes. It cooked quickly - 4 or 5 minutes, tops - because it's still so young. When it's older it may take a little longer and need a little added water, plus the lid to keep the steam in. That fairly good-sized pile of kale really reduced in size, so don't skimp on the kale. The original recipe called for 3 ounces of kale to serve 4 people.
 I took the kale out of the pan and kept it warm while I fried a couple of eggs, and then assembled the whole thing in bowls - I should have use colored bowls for the photos, I guess. It was a little bland because I'd forgotten about the Parmesan in the original recipe, but some salt and more pepper flakes and a sprinkle of Tajín, that wonderful combination of chile, salt, and dehydrated lime juice, took care of that. Next time, though, I may stir some grated cheese into the grits and grate some Parmesan over the top. Even without that, it was very tasty, and there will definitely be a next time!
 On an entirely different note, this year I followed the advice guaranteed to make Christmas cactus bloom at the right time, and guess what? It worked! At the beginning of October I moved my Christmas cactus into one of the darker corners of my north-facing study and cut waaaay back on watering it (as in every 3 weeks instead of every week). I brought it back out into the great room around the first of December, when it already had several buds on it. I took this picture today, December 16! There are many, many more buds, so I think it will put on a really good show until New Year's at least.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Of Rain and Radishes

So here it is, the middle of December, on a lovely rainy Saturday morning, and life is good. The garden's got things in it to harvest now, despite what seemed like a slow start but probably wasn't - I'm just impatient.
Yesterday I picked these radishes, and sliced the radishes themselves for one of my favorite breakfasts, a radish tartine. That's just a half of a toasted English muffin (or any bread you like), spread with goat cheese (my favorite) or cream cheese if you prefer (or don't have goat cheese on hand) and topped with thinly sliced radishes and a light sprinkling of salt - I love the contrast (and taste) of black Hawaiian salt.
I know I posted about tartines a while back, but since then I've made the discovery that it's super-easy to get thin, uniform radish slices by using the single slicing blade that's on one of the narrow sides of a box grater. Yes, that's probably a no-brainer, but I had never used that part of the grater for anything, ever, so it was sort of a revelation! I have those every now and then, and they always make me think, "This is so simple! Why didn't I ever consider doing this before?"

You'll notice that in the first picture the radishes are displayed on a big pile of radish greens. Radish greens are delicious, with the same spicy taste as the radishes themselves, and they're very nice cooked. Just slice them up and add them to all kinds of things: risotto or any kind of grain pilaf, for example, or stir-fries, or soup. A nice bowl of soup makes me very happy on a rainy day.
This is one of my favorite soups, adapted from a recipe from Eating Well magazine. It's got protein and veggies and is pretty much a meal in a bowl, quick and easy for an after-work dinner.

1 14 1/2 oz. can chickpeas, drained and rinsed (or 1 1/2 c. if you cook them from dry beans)
1 14 1/2 oz. can diced tomatoes, undrained
5 to 6 cups chicken or vegetable broth (start with 5 and add more if you want it thinner)
1 T. olive oil
1 or 2 large cloves garlic, minced or pressed
2 tsp. chopped fresh rosemary
Good-sized pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 tsp. salt, or to taste (if your tomatoes and/or broth are salty, you may not need this)
1/2 c. dried small pasta (stellini, ditalini, orzo, etc.)
A big handful (or 2 or 3) of greens of almost any kind, radish, chard, cilantro, parsley,        lettuce that's edible but has lost some of its mojo, some basil, whatever's handy
Parmesan or Romano cheese, grated (optional)

Combine chickpeas, tomatoes, broth, oil, garlic, rosemary, and crushed red pepper in a 4 to 6 quart pot. Bring to a boil over high heat; reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer for 20 minutes.

Bring back to a boil over high heat. Add pasta and greens, reduce heat a little, and cook, stirring occasionally to keep the pasta from sticking to the bottom, for however long your choice of pasta takes to become tender. Serve with some cheese grated over the top if you like.

And now I'm going to sit back and enjoy the music of the rain.