Friday, October 7, 2011

In Praise of the Green Onion

It is hard for me to understand the horror of having onion (or garlic) breath. To swish your mouth with chemical liquids, you all know the blue stuff I am talking about, to eliminate the fact that you just have enjoyed one of the most ancient delicious vegetable known to man, is cruel taste punishment.

The onion is one of the earliest consumed bulbs by man dating back about 5000 years. The Egyptians treasured them immensely, Greek Olympian contenders and Roman doomed gladiators believed in the strengthening power of onion by rubbing their bodies with its juices.
Christopher Columbus on his 1492 expedition to the New World brought onions, not wanting to miss them away from home. However, strains of wild onions already grew throughout North America and Native American Indians ate wild onions raw or cooked, for seasoning or as a vegetable.
Here in Mexico the markets always have a large display of the green onion bundles, referred to as Mexican bulb onions (scallions in the US). In restaurants or street stalls where tacos are served, a plate of green grilled onions are served as a side with plenty of lime wedges for juice to squeeze over them. They are grilled without oil but take on an almost buttery taste. The green tops are usually used as a handle to hold on to the bulbs for munching on them, but not eaten.
As a person that hates waste, imagine my delight in finding this recipe from of our local state of Guanajuato. Indigenous and colonial food roots run deeper here than is generally known. I am out there exploring the culinary frontiers for you.
If you like authentic Mexican food, keep exploring with me.

Green Onion Soup
Sopa de rabos de cebolla
 Makes 8 servings

            6 cups                 onion greens, chopped coarsely
            ¼ stick                butter
            2 Tablespoons    vegetable oil
            6 cups                 chicken broth (or vegetable)
            1cup                    sour cream (crema)

For garnish:
            3                        white rolls (bolillos or firm white bread)
            ¼ stick               butter
            3 Tablespoons   vegetable oil

Melt the ¼ stick butter in a 4 -quart sauce pan, then add the chopped green onions and fry them until wilted. In a blender process the onions with 3 cups of the chicken (or vegetable) broth until very smooth. Press mixture through a strainer back into the saucepan and add the other 3 cups of chicken (or vegetable) broth. Bring to a boil and let simmer on a low flame for about 5 minutes. The soup can be made in advance up to this point and refrigerated. Just before serving reheat and add the cream. Do not let the soup boil after you have added the cream as it might curdle.

The Garnish:
Cut the bolillos or bread into ½ inch cubes and toast them in a large frying pan in the butter-vegetable oil mixture over medium heat, stirring often. The cubes should be crisp and golden on all sides. These can also be done in advance and kept in an airtight container until serving.
Place them in a serving bowl with a spoon and pass them with the soup.

Guia gastronómica méxico desconocido #11, comida guanajatense

You say Tomato and I say Tomahto.

We are so lucky to finally have local growers produce tasty, succulent heirloom tomatoes. Red and yellow cherry tomatoes, wrinkled dark red brandy wine, bright yellow ones and even a sprinkling of green zebra have been spotted. Since I am next to the Via Organica plant stand, I noticed a brisk sale in their tomato plants and customers stop by to report on the growing progress of their plants. The tomato is another gift from the New World and it is a tragedy to see what we are offered today on a commercial level. Tasteless and hard, prematurely picked green and gassed with ethylene to turn them red, all for the sake of long distance travel and year round availability. So, how can we make the most of our local crop as long as the season lasts? Tomato sauce is on top of my list because it can be added to so many dishes, pasta being the most favorite one. Homemade ketchup is another favorite. Dill pickled cherry tomatoes make a great accompaniment for meat dishes. However, these methods require canning, which is more effort than many are willing to invest in. Oven-dried tomatoes are absolutely delicious in salads and pastas, even in off-season winter guacamole. If you are in the habit of having afternoon tea (that’s the fancy one, high tea is the substantial savory fare for hard working folks), then here is an old-fashioned recipe for you that is absolutely delicious and you can keep several jars in the refrigerator for weeks. Tomatoes for the longest time had an identity crisis, is it a fruit or a vegetable? The use as a vegetable seems to have settled the dispute by cooks but this sweet recipe will have your friends coveting an invitation to your afternoon teas. Don’t forget to bake some fresh scones!

Tomato-Orange Jam
Mermelada de Jitomate y Naranja
Makes about 2-3 cups

2 lbs ripe tomatoes
2 medium navel oranges
1 slice of quarter coin size of fresh ginger (or ¼ teaspoon powdered)
2 inch strip of lime rind
1 cup sugar

Skin the tomatoes by dropping them into boiling water for a few seconds, and then plunging them into cold water, the peel will now come off very easily.
Cut the tomatoes across in half, and squeeze out the seeds if you wish, it is not necessary. Cut the tomatoes into ¼ inch cubes.
Make orange wedges by peeling the orange and then cutting out the “flesh” between the membranes.
Combine tomatoes, orange slices, ginger and sugar in heavy saucepan and cook covered for 20 minutes. Uncover, add lime rind and slowly boil for about 1- 1½ hours until the mixture has a thick syrupy (jammy) consistency.

Fill hot into a glass jar with a screw top lid, and then cool completely before refrigerating. This will keep in the refrigerator for 2-3 weeks, if you do not consume it faster.
If you like to can, you can multiply the recipe to your liking and preserve it with proper canning methods. This way it will keep for months without refrigeration

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Pesto - pronto!

Handy little containers of pesto in your freezer
 Right now is the height of the growing season for all things edible. The stalls at the Saturday organic market are brimming with all kinds of wonderful fruits and vegetables. Since there is a limit to how much we can eat, the thought of preserving some of the foods comes up. Canning, of course, is the most efficient way, however few are inclined to go though the efforts of doing so. Drying is a good way to save some items, especially fruits. Freezing is not much an option; except there is a terrific way of saving the flavor of basil for a long timemake pesto and freeze it. There is no cooking involved; all you need to do is switch on your food processor and pesto! There are many herbal pastes now calling themselves pesto but the original version is from Genoa in Italy. It is traditionally made in a mortar with a pestle, from which the sauce’s name is derived. The ingredients are basil, garlic, pine nuts, Parmesan cheese and olive oil, that’s it. Store your pesto in small containers, enough to have an instant seasoning for pasta, grilled vegetables, meats, seafood, sandwiches (mix it with mayo) or when extended with oil and vinegar you get a great salad dressing. Walnuts can be substituted for the pine nuts; in case of allergies you can leave out the nuts and still have a great sauce. The garlic, cheese and olive oil you can also buy right at the market with your basil. The pine nuts and handy containers you find at Bonanza. ¡Buen provecho!

6 1/2 cups         basil leaves, packed
3/4 cup             Parmesan (or pecorino), cut into chunks
6 tbsp.              extra-virgin olive oil
3 tbsp.               pine nuts, lightly toasted
3 cloves            garlic, minced 
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste 
Place the chunks of cheese in your food processor and pulse until it looks like grated. Remove it and set aside. Then place basil leaves, half of the olive oil, pine nuts and garlic in the food processor and pulse until you have a fine paste. Drizzle in the rest of the olive oil while the processor is running. Scrape down sides of the processor container, then add the grated cheese and pulse a few times. You should have a smooth paste by now, if not add more olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.