Plum the Depths

Growing up in New England, with its characteristically rocky soil, temperamental weather, and a deeply shaded backyard, I envied those who could grow their own fruits. Even mundane produce selections like lemons or apples seemed like an exotic rarity when they could be pulled straight from the tree. To bemoan such abundance was unthinkable, but mild complaints became inevitably woven into every conversation with such lucky gardeners. Irrepressibly messy, dropping fruit and attracting all manner of vermin, the problem sounded like one of laziness to me. Just don’t let the precious harvest fall in the first place!

Oh, how naive I was.

Now that I have a plum tree in my own backyard, that tiny square plot of land has turned into a battlefield overnight. Blood-red splatters stain the concrete while sticky pits cling to the tall grasses. Swarms of flies delight in the detritus, although they’re just as happy to follow me inside at the slightest provocation. Short of putting a net across the entire property, catching this downpour of plums would be impossible. While this was a mild irritation in summers past, the situation is considerably more exasperating now that Luka patrols the grounds.

Pouncing on these treats as soon as they’re within reach, he’ll happily eat himself sick, and then just keep on eating once again. He devours them whole, pits and all; a choking hazard that gives me regular panic attacks. The growing season has only just begun and I’m already dreading peak plum production.

Out of fear and frustration, I viciously pruned back the offending branches, ripping off every last plum I could get my hands on. Almost all of the fruit was still immature; bright green, hard, and unbearably sour. Though unpleasant to eat out of hand, I nonetheless struggled to simply pitch them into the compost bin. Sure, they could be pickled, but then what do you do with them? A bit of Google sleuthing pulled up a new flavor sensation I had never encountered before, hailing from the Eurasian country of Georgia.

Tart, tangy, warmly spiced, and herbaceous, tkemali can be found in both red and green varieties, depending on the plums themselves, but is always an assertive staple for both cooking and seasoning. Some use it at the table like ketchup, but I found it best as a marinade and sauce for cooking. Slather some seitan in this vibrant elixir, saute, and serve alongside rice pilaf for an effortless meal. Stir into soups and stew to instantly brighten up the flavor, no matter how long it’s been simmering. My favorite use so far has been with simple roasted potatoes, baked until crisp, bursting with the brightness of this distinctive sour blend.

Desperate measures never tasted so good.

Yield: 3 Cups

Green Tkemali (Georgian Sour Plum Sauce)

Green Tkemali (Georgian Sour Plum Sauce)
Tart, tangy, warmly spiced, and herbaceous, tkemali can be used at the table like ketchup, but truly excels as a marinade and sauce for cooking. Slather some seitan in this vibrant elixir, saute, and serve alongside rice pilaf for an effortless meal.
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 2 hours
Total Time 2 hours 30 minutes

Ingredients

  • 2 Pounds Unripe Green Plums
  • 1 Whole Meyer Lemon, Seeded
  • 1/3 Cup Fresh Cilantro
  • 1/4 Cup Fresh Dill
  • 8 Cloves Garlic
  • 2 Teaspoon Ground Coriander
  • 1 Teaspoon Salt
  • 3/4 Teaspoon Black Pepper
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cumin

Instructions

  1. Place the plums in a large stock pot and cover with cold water. Set over medium heat on the stove, cover with a lid, and bring to a boil. Cook for just about a minute before turning off the heat and uncovering. Let sit until cool enough to handle; about 30 minutes. Drain out the water and prepare to get messy.
  2. The plums will be very soft, so simply use your hands to squeeze out the pits and stems, removing the skin as well if it comes off easily. Transfer the flesh to your blender, along with all of the remaining ingredients. (Yes, you’re blending that lemon, skin, pith, and all!) Puree until smooth.
  3. Pour the mixture back into the stock pot and set over low heat. Simmer gently for 45 – 60 minutes, until thickened to the consistency of loose ketchup. Cool completely before storing in glass jars in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

3

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 167 Total Fat: 1g Saturated Fat: 0g Trans Fat: 0g Unsaturated Fat: 1g Cholesterol: 0mg Sodium: 709mg Carbohydrates: 41g Fiber: 6g Sugar: 31g Protein: 3g
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Sending Home the Bacon

What do you get for the man who has everything? More importantly, what do you make for the man who isn’t particularly thrilled by birthday cake, lives on the opposite side of the country, and would never so much as drop a hint about any particular wants or needs? This is the conundrum I face every time my dad’s birthday rolls around. Proving that the ones who give the most are terrible at accepting the same kindness, he’s notoriously impossible to shop for, even when it comes to the most basic necessities. Appreciative of the gesture, he will always accept the typical gifts of shirts, books, and ties with grace, but really, you shouldn’t have. Really.

The only thing I know for sure is that my dad loves music, obscure movies, and ever-so-slightly burnt popcorn to enjoy with both. I have strong memories of working diligently upstairs in my room, only to smell the distinct aroma of toasted, vaguely blackened kernels wafting through the air, and I’d know it was time to take a break. That meant it was 9:00, our designated TV hour, which always came with a heaping handful of his homemade snack mix. Crowning this simple blend was a generous shake of bacon salt, the curiously vegetarian seasoning with a smoky, savory edge. It was a comforting routine, and one that I still miss almost three years since moving out.

If I can’t be there to share the flicks and snacks in person, then I had to find a way to send an edible understudy.

Vegans are making everything into bacon these days, from eggplant to coconut, but my unique blend goes back to a classic mixture of meaty tempeh and deeply umami mushrooms. It’s a simple yet remarkably satisfying seasoning that adds an extra punch to any dish, not just freshly popped corn. Think french fries, avocado toast, veggie burgers, roasted Brussels sprouts, corn on the cob, bar nuts, and so much more. It could quickly become the new savory staple that you suddenly can’t live without, even if you’ve never tasted the “real” thing.

Birthdays come and go, but the opportunity to treat loved ones to a special delicacy is fleeting. This successful, universally appealing formula may just be an ideal gift for equally discerning recipients in your life, too.

Yield: 1 Cup

Bacon Salt

Bacon Salt
A savory sprinkle of tempeh and mushrooms that's simple to make yet remarkably satisfying tor seasoning any dish.
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 25 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes

Ingredients

  • 3 Tablespoons Soy Sauce
  • 1 Tablespoon Liquid Smoke
  • 1 Tablespoon Maple Syrup
  • 1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
  • 1 Tablespoon Nutritional Yeast
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Smoked Paprika
  • 1/8 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
  • 1 8-Ounce Package Tempeh
  • 1/2 Cup Sliced Cremini Mushrooms
  • 1/4 Cup Dried, Sliced Shiitake Mushrooms
  • 1/4 Cup Coarse Sea Salt

Instructions

  1. Preheat your oven to 300 degrees and set aside an 8 x 8-inch baking pan.
  2. Stir together the soy sauce, liquid smoke, maple syrup, oil, nutritional yeast, paprika, and pepper in a large mixing bowl. Crumble the tempeh as finely as possible and toss it in, along with the mushrooms. Mix thoroughly, coating the pieces.
  3. Pour everything, including the excess marinade into your waiting pan. Bake for 2 1/2 – 3 hours, stirring every 15 – 25 minutes or so to keep the entire batch cooking evenly and preventing it from burning. The edges can go from soft to scorched surprisingly quickly, so standby and keep a close eye on it the entire time it’s in the oven.
  4. Cook until brown all over, dry to the touch, and highly aromatic. Be aware that your kitchen may smell like bacon for the rest of the day, but I would hardly consider that a problem.
  5. Let cool completely before transferring to your blender or food processor along with the salt. Pulse until the pieces are completely broken down. Strain through a fine mesh sieve if you would like a particularly even grind and re-blend any remaining large pieces. Store at room temperature in an airtight container.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

1

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 683 Total Fat: 40g Saturated Fat: 10g Trans Fat: 0g Unsaturated Fat: 26g Cholesterol: 0mg Sodium: 30965mg Carbohydrates: 39g Fiber: 3g Sugar: 13g Protein: 54g

Worth Its Salt

Considering my legacy of dessertfocused cookbooks, it might surprise some to know that my salt tooth often speaks louder than my sweet tooth. Call it an inevitable balancing act, brought on by years of saccharine excess, but it seems that there’s not enough salt in the world to compensate for my reckless, sugar-coated youth. I’ll still dive head-first into a bowl of ice cream or a plate of chocolate chip cookies, but there’s a good chance I’ll spike each serving with a pinch (or two) of coarse salt before indulging.

Clearly, I’m not alone on this impulse. Gourmet salts have taken off in a category all their own, exploring new territory with different flavors far more adventurous than the classic mixtures of herbs and spices. San Francisco Salt Co. is one of the leaders of that pack, blending gourmet ingredients with high quality sea salt for a luxurious finishing touch. While various flavors of smoked salts have been a mainstay of the brand for many years, their newest release offers something unique to this crowded, salty category. Whisky Smoked Sea Salt elevates the concept to a lofty new realm, utilizing empty barrels once employed to age Teeling’s Irish Whiskey to lend deep, oaky aromas to this most humble of seasonings.

Dusty grey and fine as soft beach sand, the powerful scent that emerges from the package is stunning. Earthy and downright primal, like a carefully tended campfire, there’s no liquid smoke nonsense going on here. It’s the truly natural, unmistakable aroma that even the most advanced flavor labs could only dream of synthesizing.

The flavor is naturally a bit more restrained when paired with food. Unless you add a heaping teaspoon of salt to every meal, it’s only natural that it would take a backseat to the taste of the food itself. That doesn’t mean that it disappears into the scenery by any means. As with any good finishing salt, it serves to accentuate those savory morsels, adding subtle notes of smoke that add depth and character otherwise impossible to achieve in a single bite.

Frosting the rim of a tall, icy glass of Bloody Mary, there’s no better way to get a full-frontal hit of this richly smoked salt. Regardless of your final destination on either sweet or savory route, it’s one unmistakable, inimitable condiment that’s definitely worth its salt, and then some.

Aquafab-ulous

“It’s made with WHAT?!” she reared back in a moment of candid horror and mild disgust, suddenly eyeing the open jar with suspicion.

It’s the not-so-secret ingredient taking the world by storm, dubbed a “miracle” by some and a food science breakthrough by others. Admittedly, to the uninitiated, it does take some careful explaining. In case you hadn’t heard, aquafaba is the excess liquid found in any ordinary can of chickpeas, just like the ones likely sitting in your pantry right now. Describing it simply as “bean water” hasn’t proven very effective in my experience, so be prepared for some serious questioning from the less adventurous eaters.

Beans in general are still a rather contentious ingredient in desserts, but even the most crunchy granola types give pause when considering more savory applications for this new baking staple. It takes a whole lot of moxy for a national brand to adopt such a potentially polarizing new concept, but Sir Kensington’s seems to have no qualms diving into the aquafaba deep end. Despite producing traditional, non-vegan mayonnaise options as well, their innovative Fabanaise is entirely eggless and plant-based.

Plain mayonnaise is a tricky thing to review. As a sandwich spread, it must have enough character to warrant an invite to the party, but not so much that it dominates every conversation in the room. No one is eating plain mayo on a spoon (at least, I hope not.) So to say that this creamy condiment is a great addition to other dishes, but doesn’t have much to say by itself, is a compliment by my estimation. Fairly neutral and mild in flavor, I’m happy to report that the Original Fabanaise nowhere near as sweet as something like Miracle Whip, while still retaining a well-rounded profile. My gold metal for mayo still goes to Vegenaise, but this is a very close second finisher.

Where Sir Kensington’s really excels is in their Chipotle Fabanaise. I simply couldn’t get enough of this creamy orange condiment, flecked with red and black pepper, sparkling with spices in every smear. Despite that threatening appearance, it delivers a more subtle warmth, rather than outright heat. Call it mild in terms of sheer scoville units, but the rich, smoky flavor infused throughout ensures that every bite will be boldly seasoned. Slathered on lightly charred corn on the cob, I couldn’t get enough, hitting the bottom of the glass jar before the grill could even cool down.

Consider Fabanaise another big win for one tiny bean. As if you need another excuse to enrich your own pantry, the aquafaba employed by Sir Kensington’s is diverted from an upstate New York hummus company, so your purchase helps reduce food waste, too. Sounds (and tastes) like a win-win-win situation to me.

When Life Gives You Long Peppers…

The inability to simply say “no” or even “maybe not this time” has gotten me into a number of tricky situations, typically ending with an overload of extra work to contend with. This past weekend, however, was the first time that those missing words ended with an overload of hot long peppers.

Valley VegFest was winding down, my pie demo completed and the exhibitor’s hall quickly emptying out, when I chanced by a farm stand display of fresh produce. Picking through the remnants, two shiny, green peppers and three slightly bruised finger bananas satisfied my hunger for new ingredients. Already a dozen steps away, the proprietor flagged me down, practically foisting the whole box of perhaps 2 pounds of fresh, spicy capsicum into my arms. Okay, I’ll admit- That’s a gross exaggeration, but when asked to take the rest, I instantly felt compelled to oblige. Why would I accept such a dubious “gift,” knowing full well that I barely have a taste for spicy food beyond the most tame scoville level? That’s one I can’t begin to explain or understand, but here I was, saddled with more peppers than one person could ever consume.

Half of the bounty went towards making green sriracha, still fermenting quietly on the counter. Meanwhile, I had grander plans for the other half.

Pepper jam instantly came to mind, but most recipes called for a paltry two or three jalapenos at most, floating in a sea of food coloring. Packing the firepower of a full pound of hot long peppers, this rendition doesn’t mess around. Tempered by a good dose of sugar, it manages to balance the burn with grace, all while combining the nuanced notes of lemongrass, garlic, and ginger. Thai green curry inspired the blend, which means that it works beautifully in the place of traditional green curry paste. Softly set, the jam could be further thickened with the addition of a second pouch of pectin, but the slightly runny consistency is dynamite for drizzling over crostini or fine vegan cheeses. For the more adventurous palate, a sweet and spicy peanut butter and curry jam sandwich might be just the thing to shake off the weekday malaise. Once you start thinking about all the new possibilities, an extra pound or two of hot peppers may not seem like enough.

Yield: Makes 7 – 8 Cups

Sweet Green Curry Jam

Sweet Green Curry Jam
Pepper jam inspired by green Thai curry, this spicy spread packs some serious heat.
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 35 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 Pound Shallots
  • 1 Pound Hot Long Green Peppers
  • 1.5 Ounces (About 3 Inches) Peeled Fresh Ginger
  • 4 Large Cloves Garlic
  • 1/2 Cup Sliced Fresh Lemongrass
  • 4 Kaffir Lime Leaves
  • 1 Tablespoon Salt
  • 3 Teaspoons Ground Coriander
  • 1 1/2 Teaspoons Ground Cumin
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
  • 1/2 Cup Lime Juice
  • 1/2 Cup Lemon Juice
  • 1 Tablespoon Sesame Oil
  • 4 Cups Granulated Sugar
  • 3/4 Teaspoon Spirulina Powder (Optional, for Color)
  • 1* (3-Ounce) Pouch Liquid Pectin

Instructions

  1. For proper canning instructions, see the recommendations made by this very helpful .PDF right here. Otherwise, proceed as written to make a quick jam which will need to be kept refrigerated and last for no more than a month or two.
  2. Roughly chop the shallots and toss them into your food processor or blender. A high-speed blender would be best for achieving the smoothest consistency, but a coarser blend can be quite delicious, too. Stem the peppers, remove the seeds, and chop them into smaller pieces before adding them into the machine as well. Follow that with the ginger, garlic, lemongrass, and kaffir lime leaves. Pulse the machine a number of times to break down the vegetables into a coarse paste. Pause to introduce the salt and dry spices along with the lemon and lime juice, and then thoroughly puree, until the mixture is as smooth as desired. If you’re using a smaller food processor, plan to process the mixture in two batches, blending everything together in a larger vessel at the end.
  3. Have your jam jars out on the counter and ready to go. You’ll want enough containers to hold approximately 8 cups of jam total.
  4. Begin heating the sesame oil in a large pot over medium heat. When it begins to shimmer, pour in the green curry puree, stirring constantly but gently. Add in the sugar and spirulina (if using), and allow the mixture to come to a full boil. All the while, be sure to continuously run your spatula along the sides and bottom of the pan to prevent anything from burning. When the curry has reached a rapid bubble, pour in the liquid pectin and continue to cook for a full 10 minutes. It should significantly thicken in this time.
  5. Pour the hot, liquid jam into your prepared jars and quickly seal them or otherwise process for longer term storage. Let cool completely before refrigerating.

Notes

*Use 2 pouches for a firmer, more spreadable jam.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

112

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 34 Total Fat: 0g Saturated Fat: 0g Trans Fat: 0g Unsaturated Fat: 0g Cholesterol: 0mg Sodium: 58mg Carbohydrates: 8g Fiber: 0g Sugar: 8g Protein: 0g

Salsa By Any Other Name

Typically conjuring up images of a raw, spicy, tomato-based condiment (or a spirited dance step, if you’re more of an active sort), salsa by any other parameters can be somewhat difficult to swallow. Divorced from the traditional fixings entirely, nouveau renditions may rely on unexpected bases such as corn, mango, or even coconut- Not a tomato or jalapeño in sight. Are these oddballs really salsa, or just another cold relish? Where is the line drawn, and where would my latest crazy concoction fall?

Composed of rich, creamy chunks of avocado, contrasted by crunchy cubes of jicama, the departure from traditional salsa is further reinforced by the herbaceous, acidic bite of chimichurri. Bold flavors define this gloriously green amalgamation; peppery, lemony, and vinegary all at once, the cooling vegetable backdrop proves to be an excellent canvas on which to paint the Argentinian marinade. It’s the Swiss army knife of toppings, perfectly suitable as a dip with chips, crowning soups and salads, or an hors d’oeuvre in and of itself. Filling the curved interior of endive leaves, a more elegant summer snack could not be served.

Thankfully, it turns out the “salsa” can be literally translated to “sauce” in Spanish, so it looks like anything goes for this expansive category. Although, I have to wonder how sauce-like my creation here is, considering the chunky texture and lack of liquid… But I suppose that’s a discussion for another day.

Yield: 3 Cups; 6 Servings

Chimichurri Avocado Salsa

Chimichurri Avocado Salsa
Composed of rich, creamy chunks of avocado, contrasted by crunchy cubes of jicama, the departure from traditional salsa is further reinforced by the herbaceous, acidic bite of chimichurri. Bold flavors define this gloriously green amalgamation; peppery, lemony, and vinegary all at once, the cooling vegetable backdrop proves to be an excellent canvas on which to paint the Argentinian marinade.

Ingredients

  • 1 Clove Garlic
  • 2 Scallions, Roughly Chopped
  • 1 (3-Ounce) Bunch Fresh Parsley
  • Zest of 1 Lemon
  • 1 Tablespoon Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1/4 Cup Red Wine Vinegar
  • 1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice Juice
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Salt
  • 3 Ripe, Firm Avocados
  • 1 1/2 Cups Finely Diced Jicama*

Instructions

  1. Pull out your food processor and toss in the garlic, scallions, parsley, and lemon zest. Pulse a few times to begin breaking down the herbs, pausing as need to scrape down the sides of the bowl and make sure that everything reaches to blades. With the motor running, stream in the oil, vinegar, and lemon juice, until well-combined. Add in the pepper flakes and salt, and continue processing until the herbs are extremely fine, but not completely smooth.
  2. Peel, pit, and dice the avocados, placing it in a large bowl along with the prepared jicama. Toss it with all of the herb mixture until evenly coated and distributed. Serve immediately, or chill for up to a day to allow the flavors to meld. The avocado may darken slightly when held overnight, so place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the salsa before sealing it in an air-tight container in the fridge to mitigate those effects.

Notes

*To prepare jicama, first slice it in half, pole to pole. Peel the tough brown exterior away and cut it into 1-cm slabs. Dice and toss into acidified water (1 tablespoon of vinegar in about 3 – 4 cups of water should do the trick) to prevent browning. Rinse, drain, and dry thoroughly before using.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

6

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 176 Total Fat: 13g Saturated Fat: 2g Trans Fat: 0g Unsaturated Fat: 10g Cholesterol: 0mg Sodium: 210mg Carbohydrates: 16g Fiber: 7g Sugar: 6g Protein: 2g