Summer of ’18 First Harvest

Been a fairly good year in the gardens. I tried a lot of new varieties this year and was amazed with their success, in spite of the sporadic drought and deluge. I want to talk about some plants that I’ve already eaten.

Garlic A perennial favorite. This year marked the 15th year I’ve been cultivating my bulbs by natural selection. I’ve been reserving the largest cloved bulbs for planting each year and have developed a crop is red striped and  each has 4-6 large cloves. So beautiful to admire, so few to peel, so delicious to eat…..

 

Padrón peppers  – These small peppers from Galicia, Spain are like cracker jacks. 10 to 25% of them are hot, so you don’t know what the prize will be. Sweet and tasty or hot and sizzle. I’ve never had one I couldn’t handle but for some it might be too much. Just keep a baguette nearby.

Simply fry them in hot olive oil until they  turn dark. Thinned skin they are, so you can just grab them by the tail and eat. My Galician friends went wild over them.

Mizuna (ミズナ(水菜)Fun to read about,  beautiful to look at and delicious to eat.  Also called Japanese mustard green but the name doesn’t describe the taste. The characters are more so. Very easy to cultivate, grows fast and furious so you can start dining immediately. One plant would have been more than enough. Add it to salads or a salad on it’s own with simple dressing of rice vinegar, a tad of sweetener of choice ( Mirin is best ), roasted sesame oil and soy sauce.  I’m going to have some now.

Beets Tried a few new varieties and was very pleased. I really can’t grow enough to keep my son and I in beets; fortunately there is an abundance at the St. Paul Farmer’s Market.  Boiling or steaming seems too brutish so I rub them down with olive oil and roast at 375 till al dente.

Slice and serve with goat cheese and a honey dijon dressing on a bed of Mizuna.

Yellow San Marzanos – Didn’t yield as expected but very colorful and tasty. They don’t resemble San Marzanos so don’t expect a large, dense fruit.  Perhaps they didn’t get along with other family members planted close by.

Yukon Gold Potatoes  The sandy soil at the Rice Street Community Gardens is perfect for spuds. Very easy to grow. I grab a bag of organic from the coop making sure there is lots of ‘eyes’.  Let them get a start in the bright light, then cut, separating the eyes. Plant to depth of 4-6 inches. So fun to dig up and be surprised what happens in the darkness. A freshly dug potato is a wonder !

 

Soon I’ll have more as the winter squash start to roll in. Also I will be talking about pollinators and the role they play. Hope you enjoyed this bit of garden adventure in the Urban Landscape.

Anything we can grow organically, keeps us off the pesticide/herbicide/chemical fertilizer grid.

Gravlax

Gravlax is so succulent and wonderful that even squeamish folks who wouldn’t eat sashimi love it. I personally enjoy the fatty fish from Norwegian farms. It melts in your mouth.

A Norwegian native friend, Anne, showed me how to prepare it as it’s done at home. Of course there was no recipe ( written that is ).  Homemade is usually a little more rustic than restaurant prepared so experiment all you like with different flavors. I’ve even added a drop of fresh lime. Be bold but don’t drown the fish !!

Start with two filettes of the freshest salmon you can, sashimi grade if  available. This is of course the key ! You will also need salt, sugar, and a few stalks fresh dill. ( dried will be *ok* but fresh dill is the best )

Take equal amounts of salt and sugar, rub in a thin layer on each cut side of the fish, next, layer as much chopped dill as you can get on top of one piece.

Place the fillettes, rubbed sides together, wrap tightly with plastic wrap and place in a container with raised sides, it should be flat also. Refrigerate for at least one day. Pour off the liquid if you like.

Slice thinly, serve on thin rye bread with honey mustard. If there is any left, refrigerate. Will keep for a few days at least.

Aquavit is a fine accompaniment !

 

Praha and Plzeň, 2017

Praha ( Prague), June 2017

Pilsner Urquell tour pass, Tram and Rail passes. All you need !

I recently published a book recalling the stories of my Great Great Grandparents’ emigration from Bohemia in the late 19th century. While researching and writing their tales, I felt I was being directed by my Kubiček family spirits; I knew I had to complete the circle and make the return visit they were never able to.

My son, who has for years listened to my tales was graduating from college in Rotterdam and we decided to take the opportunity to make the trip. In order to get the full Czech experience we booked a flight on Czech Airlines.

We landed at Vaclav Havel Airport just after dark, and after a rapid descent through immigration boarded a bus for the city. The bus deposited us at the entrance to the subway just to the northwest of Prague. The subway is impressive. Though constructed in the 1970’s, it hasn’t lost its polish and has none of the human scents found in other subterranean systems, We feel very secure. We had a rocky recollection of the stop we were looking for; there were three in a row that began with ‘M’, we chose the middle one, Mustek.

We emerged from the underground into a spectacular view of a zillion colored lights and statues. It was surreal, not the first time this word would come to mind. With no idea of where we were, we wandered briefly savoring the ambiance, before soliciting a cab for a ride to our hotel. We had been wandering about the infamous Wenceslas Square.

Not even attempting to use my primitive Czech, we booked into the Hotel Julian, a stunning, classic hotel. It was formerly the residence of a musician and his family until falling in the hands of the soviets. Several families occupied the building until the Velvet Revolution of 1989, after which, it was returned to the musician’s family. The tall screenless windows in the room opened to the street so we could hear late night voices and footsteps clicking on the cobblestones.

By the time we oriented ourselves, restaurants were closed as was the hotel food service. Up for a walk we passed an incredible lighted fountain; I was already so impressed with the city. We stumbled upon a corner store that sold pints of Czech beer and snacks. Loading up we sipped our pilsners and toasted our Bohemian ancestors for the opportunity.

After mammoth breakfast at the hotel, we followed directions given by the front desk to the Karlův Most, the Charles Bridge. Prague was one of the few cities not bombed in WW II, so the Gothic architecture dating back to the 12th Century remains intact. Although flooding of the Vltava River has eroded and destroyed parts of the bridge it has always been repaired back to its original appearance.It’s a massive structure, 33 feet wide, with arches and statues throughout; an entire book could be dedicated just to the history this bridge.

Passing the licensed street musicians and artists we entered the Old City, a maze of narrow streets, with frequent plazas and fountains and sculptures. Through this ancient architecture, the metro tram system weaves its way as if the city had been designed around it.  It is by far the best transportation system I have encountered. The subways and trams put the entire city at the tips of your toes and run so frequently you need not consult schedules.

Exiting through the Jewish Quarter we discovered the Čechův bridge that crosses the Vltava as it courses eastward. Now the word surreal takes on new energy. The pillars on the downstream side between the arches are adorned with six headed hydras. Words alone cannot describe this Kafkaesque scene.  Franz actually lived just down the road.

Hydra on Čechův Bridge

Across the bridge we encounter a switchback of stone stairs leading up a steep hill. If we had a better understanding of the language, we’d have know that this was the entrance to Letenské sady ( Letna Park ) As we finish the climb we discover a massive outdoor beer garden and park on the peak. We quench our thirst with a couple pilsners and savor the surprisingly big crowd. A short walk reveals a monument that had once been a huge statue of Stalin. When the cult of personality feel out of party favor, it was dynamited in 1962 before it was completed. It does provide, however, one of the finest vistas of the bridges of Praha. Jutting above the central skyline we spot an odd structure that looks like a building from Cloud City in Star Wars. Numerous antennas pop out from the top and sides. I make a mental note to Google this when I get back to the hotel.

Many Bridges of Praha

Emerging from the trail, we encounter a tram that glides us down the hill to the Malostranská metro station. From there it’s about a 8 block walk to our hotel. As we hike we notice a funicular train that carries park visitors to the top of Petřín, the great hill that extends itself along Vltava River with a 130 meter high view. It’s hot, so we note the location for a evening visit.

Cooling our heels back at the hotel, we survey the maps and Google to determine if a trip to the ancestral village if viable. The village,named Knížecí Pláně  ( princely plain) is located in the foothills of the Bohemian forest mountains about 80 miles southwest of Praha. There is nothing left of the village but a few tourist hotels and mountain bike trails. There are no trains that travel that direction and we would have to change several buses just to get within 10 miles. We decide that a trip to Plzeň, the home of pilsner beer, would give us a view of countryside our ancestors lived in. Touring the breweries that Czecha is famous for would give us a taste of modern culture.

Our male ancestors were either builders or brewery workers ( Schmidt Brewery, St. Paul) and in either case had a strong thirst for the barley brew. A trip to the most famous Czech brewery seemed like an appropriate tribute to their memories instead of staring at a nearly empty field that once was their village.

But first we had to take care of our hunger. So many street-side cafes to choose from we go for one that is funky but not overly and decide on the authentic meal. Roast pork, sweet and sour braised red cabbage and knedliky, traditionally prepared dumpling, a meal I was suckled on. The pork was succulent as was the red cabbage. The dumpling was not what I expected as it was a bread dumpling, I relished the potato knedlicky. Oh well, delicious nonetheless and perfectly paired with a pilsner.

We passed near the funicular and decided to give it a try. We rose to the top 130 meters high and exited into the amazing park planted with roses and other colorful plants. There is an observation tower built from cast steel that replicates the Eiffel Tower. Rather than climb the 800 stairs we opt for the elevator ride which is really a claustrophobic capsule made from cast iron, supporting up to three people. It reeked a peculiar smell and was very hot and humid; if we’d gotten hung up in there I would have died of  suffocation for sure. The view however is astounding; 360 degree views of the entire area warranted a good 30 minute viewing. We took the stairway down. As the sun settled we sat next to the lighted fountain meditating on the day’s adventures.

Up by 10 we grabbed the No. 9 tram that carried us all the way to the Central Station. Trains to Plzen run hourly so no need to rush and check schedules. The smooth electric ride pulled out of the station, circumventing the Vltava before heading up a steep grade into the valley bounded by the Brdy mountains. A small river full of yellow kayaks follows the train into the pointed spruce forest. The scenery is stunning and ancient castles occasionally pop into view. It took us approx. 90 min to make the trip.

We arrived in Plzeň, and counter to tourist horror stories, we were almost the only ones there. The Pilsner-Urquell brewery is just across from the train station via a pedestrian bridge. We enter the majestic gates and follow arrows to the tour building, signing up for the English tour which leaves in 20 minutes following the French and Spanish.

The first part of the tour is standard brewery, showing off how many bottles can be fillled in a day, etc. The pots where the brew is cooked is amazing; thousand gallon copper kettles boil the barley malt, hops and water before the yeast is added to the tanks. The yeast used today is grown from the original batch created in 1838. After viewing all the technological wonders, we descend down a set of slopes into a maze of sandstone caves built below the brewery a couple hundred years ago. It is very cool and we’re glad we wore hoodies. After a tour of the caves we arrive in a room full of larger wooden barrels where the brew served to tourists is resting. We are each given a pint of beer drawn individually from the casks. It is the most amazing tasting beer I’ve ever had. Creamy, unfiltered pilsner with a foamy head, each sip delivering a tasty mouthful. This part of the tour is alone worth the trip. We eat lunch in the brew house, dining on another traditional Czech meal and a Pilsner-Urquell of course. Once again we raise our glasses to the Kubiček ancestors.

We catch the 5 o’clock train back to Praha, a man enters our compartment covered from bald head to toe in bizarre tattoos; I’d never seen that before. Exhausted we watch tv, all that’s available is Russian language detective shows and reruns of Czech dubbed Rockford Files. Sorry no English, but there is library full of books in the hotel lobby; how civilized I remark to Dylan. I’ve never seen an American hotel with a library ! We read while a thunderstorm spanks the cobblestones below our window.

The morning breaks to cool blue skies and the feeling that we have a grip on the mental map of the city and decide to stretch out across the city. It seems everyone working at the hotel speaks English quite well. The Czech language is so foreign to my eyes and ears that struggle to grasp it; I applaud hotel people’s English skills.

After another full day of hikes; I read on the local events page about a latin music festival taking place across town featuring food, drink and song. Curious I am ! We exited the metro and rose into a park where a latin music festival was indeed  in progress. A full mariachi band held court from the stage and the scent of burning animal flesh filled the air. Brazilian churrasco, tacos, all that one desired could be had.

More interesting was that strange antenna structure we spied from Letna Park is just a block away. It is identified as Žižkov Television Tower built during the Russian years. It is reviled by many for its symbolic value but admired for the enhancements performed by the artist David Černý He created several crawling babies that are attached to the walls that make one do a double-take. Mark that word surreal again. The tower is illuminated at night by a cycling series of color schemes making an attractive artifice. We didn’t go to the bar at the top or check out the hotel, but the park was pleasant and the beer tasty.

Babies Crawl Tower

Dylan is craving pizza. We stumble upon a greek restaurant with the best goat cheese flat crust pizza I’ve had so far in my life. Perhaps the ambiance affected my taste.

9 days was just too short a time to absorb the city, but friends in Amsterdam are expecting me. I think I will need to spend at least a month there to leisurely explore to really capture a the sense of place. I hope this keeps my ancestor’s spirits engaged until I return.

 

Ajvar

This is another prepare ahead of time party delight from Turkey. It can be purchased in jar form but is so much better freshly prepared. The scent of roasting peppers,garlic and eggplant is like perfume…

Ajvar, pronounced, “eye – vahr ” is a vegetable dish made from roasted red peppers, eggplant, garlic, olive oil and any other things you might want to add. There are several local variations running around Romania, , Bulgaria, Serbia and other Balkan nations. For a party use the following recipe:
6 fresh red paprika (mild or medium-hot, to taste)
3 medium-size eggplants
1/4 – 1/2 cup olive oil
1 large onion, finely minced
3 large garlic cloves ( at least ) , chopped
1 to 2 tablespoons lemon juice

Salt and pepper to taste
Chopped fresh parsley for garnish

Roast the paprika and eggplants over charcoal or a gas flame until the skin is blistered and black. Place the roasted vegetables in a plastic bag and let them steam in their own heat for 10 – 15 minutes. Peel off and toss the burnt skin along with the steams and seeds.

Sautee the onions and garlic in some olive oil until soft. Add all ingredients together and run thru the food processor until you get the texture you like. It’s nice a little chunky.

I dress it up with a little chopped parsely or cilantro.

Serve with warm baguette or crackers.

Kimchi Chigae (Kim Chi Soup)

On a cold autumn evening, I re-visited my Korean cookbook; this recipe leapt out at me and begged to be cooked. In order to maintain a healthy body temperature during cold weather, folks around the world cook up hot soups and this pepper infused stew looked like the perfect cold weather elixir. It is so quick and easy to prepare I eat it a couple dinners a week. Aside from the delightful kimchi*, the main ingredient is called Kochujang, a tasty paste made from glutinous rice powder mixed with powdered fermented soybeans and red peppers. On a visit to my favorite Korean grocer, I found a red box of it made by CJ Foods. The ingredients also included malt syrup but it contained no preservatives except for some grain alchohol, I can deal with that. As soon as I got into the car I popped the lid and ran my finger through the vermillion paste and stuck the warm slightly sweet lump in my mouth. After two more fingers I put it away as a light warm mist developed on my forehead.

As soon as I got home, I put a pan on the fire and sauteed a few cloves of garlic in some Canola oil, olive somehow seemed foreign to the intention. I chopped up about a cup of kimchi and added it to the mixture. After pouring a half a box of chicken stock I added a couple tablespoons of the Kochujang. I let it come to a boil and tossed in half a block of tofu cubed. I had also purchased some frozen kim chee dumplings which I tossed in for the last 3 minutes. A litle garnish of chopped scallions and the feast was ready.

The basic recipe:

1 tsp light-flavored oil, like canola (cooking spray works, too)
3 cloves garlic, minced
handful of pork, sliced thin (if desired)
Kochujang to taste, start with a couple tablespoons
1 cup kimchee, cut into large bite-size pieces
1 tsp soy sauce
2 cups water or chicken stock
3 green onions, chopped for garnish
1/2 block FIRM tofu, cut into 1 in cubes
1/2 tsp toasted sesame oil for garnish

* kimchi is pickled napa cabbage with hot red pepper, fish sauce, sugar and garlic ( simply delcious! ) Google it if you would like read more….

Coming Next: The cousin from the west: Hungarian Sauerkraut Soup

Chick Pea Crepes ( Chilla )

Chick Pea Crepes ( Chilla )
I bought a bag of chickpea flour (besan)  to add to my roti, but while looking for recipes for that I hit on this one. So simple, so fast and so tasty. I’d say from prep to eat maybe 8 minutes. Mix a fairly loose batter of the chickpea flour and water. Shred some raw cauliflower, chop onions, garlic, cilantro, whatever you like and mix it into the batter. Lightly oil and heat a pan, when hot pour the desired size crepe into the pan, turn when one side is barely brown.  the EAT!  You may dip it in yogurt use it to create wrap sandwiches or grab ’em right off the fire.

The original recipe I found in an Indian cookbook used Methi which are fenugreek leaves, rather hard to come by except in Indian grocery stores. I planted some and it grows like a weed which of course all plants are. On other websites I discovered many fresh vegetable recipes from the Maharashtra region of Indian. I’ll post them as I try them.

Gajarachi Koshimbir

As I explore the cuisine of the Maharashtra region of India, I’m finding these wonderful veggie sides that are both delicious and colorful. This one in particular, a beet and carrot salad is refreshing and light and is best eaten with Chickpea Crepes ( see my recipe ) or other flat bread. The sweet sour lime dressing with the mustard seeds, jalapenos, garlic and Asafoetida topped with chopped peanuts and cilantro can be prepared from any combination of vegetables, cucumber, tomatoes and onions being my favorites.

Two large  grated carrots , one beet  and jalapenos to taste( I personally enjoy chopped into fine sticks) If you prefer tenderness, boil or roast the roots.
juice of  a lime juice and a pinch of ground cumin
½ tsp of sugar, raw is best
Salt,to taste
Chopped cilantro to taste
Chopped roasted peanuts for garnish

To temper, heat the following until seeds begin to pop and pour over vegetables

A tsp of oil
A tsp black mustard seeds
A pinch of Asafoetida

 

Charmoula

Don’t ya love that name. This is a Moroccan all purpose salsa used for marinades or as a finish to my favorite, Moroccan Fish Stew.

It should be used almost immediately after preparation. If not the spices seem to go limp. If used for a marinade it will be fine for a few days.

I use it as a marinade for chicken over couscous or for ANYTHING over couscous !

Combine the following:

  • 6 large cloves garlic
    1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
    Juice of 2 lemons
    1 small to medium onion, coarsely chopped
    1-2/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro with some stems
    1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley with stems
    1 1/2  tablespoons sweet paprika
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    1/2 teaspoon cumin
    1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

 

 

Tajin bi’l-Hut (Moroccan Fish Stew)

The first thing we need to do is to prepare a batch of Charmoula to be used a marinade and garnish. Get some fresh, white fleshed fish. A fish that is too oily will taste a little too strong for this meal

 

  • firm-fleshed white fish steaks such as halibut (about 1 1/2 pounds), cut about 1 1/4-inches thick
  • tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • medium-size boiling potatoes (about 1/2 pound), peeled and sliced 1/ 8 -inch thick
  • 2 green bell peppers, seeded and cut into thin strips
  • 2 large ripe tomatoes (about 1 pound), peeled, seeded, and thinly sliced
  • cup tomato purée (preferably fresh)
  • tablespoons finely chopped fresh coriander leaves
  • tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley leaves
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1. Prepare the charmoula. Coat the fish steaks with half of the charmoula and marinate 2 hours in a ceramic or glass.

2. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Lightly oil a tagine, Dutch oven, earthenware casserole, or enameled cast-iron casserole and arrange the potatoes on the bottom. Lightly salt and pepper the potatoes. Place the fish steaks on top of the potatoes. Cover the fish with the green peppers and then the tomato slices, arranging everything very neatly and decoratively. Lightly salt and pepper again. Spoon half of the remaining charmoula over the tomato slices. Pour the tomato purée over and sprinkle with the coriander, parsley, and more salt and pepper. Spoon the remaining charmoula over everything.

3. Bake the tagine, covered, until the potatoes are tender and the fish cooked, about 1 hour. Do not check until at least 40 minutes have passed. Serve.