Purple Cauliflower Pickles

I believe I have mentioned Michael Ruhlman's book, Ratio a number of times with regard to pickle making. Generally speaking,  it is quite a useful little cooking manual for some very basic preparations, just one of which is an extremely easy method for naturally fermented pickles. I keep trying various vegetables, of which the celery root was not successful.  Don't bother pickling that one.  However, I thought these purple cauliflower pickles deserving of their very own post.

Sometimes a vegetable will just call to me from the bins at our market.  Broccoli Romanesco was like that.  So beautiful and unusual, a natural approximation of a fractal.  The purple cauliflower stopped me in my tracks as well.

I decided to pickle the boy, combined with some wedges of daikon (large Japanese type of white radish).  In common with beets, this cauliflower will eventually turn the whole batch a brilliant burgundy color.  The good news is, that's not a dye of any sort. Purple cauliflower gets its beautiful hue, which can vary in depth, from the presence of the antioxidant anthocyanin, which is also found in red cabbage and red wine.  It has the same texture, and firmness as the white variety, with a mild, slightly sweet and nutty taste.

Here it is starting out, with the air-lock on the kitchen counter.

And, here you see the finished product, over a week later.  Just in time for the Holidays? 

I used my new air-lock for doing the fermenting, which makes the whole procedure a cinch.  The kits usually include, besides an air-lock for allowing gas to escape, a glass weight for holding the vegetables below the surface of your liquid brine.  Heartily recommended.  And, this recipe is fabulous, in my humble opinion.
                                         Naturally Pickled Vegetables
   Adapted from the recipe by Michael Ruhlman in Ratio

Basic brine:
20 oz. water (2 1/2 cups)  double the amounts for a large jar
1 oz. kosher salt (about 2 tablespoons Morton's)
1 teas. mustard seeds
1 tablespoon dill seeds
1 tablespoon peppercorns,  bruised
3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
dash red pepper flakes if desired
fresh dill if available
1/2 teas. cumin seeds (optional)  I used with the cauliflower

Suggested Vegetables:
small cucumbers
carrots in 1/4 inch slices or in sticks
daikon, in thick slices, or wedges
onion chunks
turnips, cut up
cauliflower, in florets
cabbage, shredded fine

To make and chill the basic brine, combine half the water and all the salt in a pan over high heat, stirring until the salt is dissolved.  Remove from the heat and add the remaining half of the water by weight in the form of ice cubes.  Stir until dissolved.  Add all the vegetables you're going to use to a quart or larger pickle jar, as well as the spices, then pour over the cooled brine.  Top with a weight and air-lock for escaping gas, (weight them down so that they are completely submerged) or cover with plastic wrap, then leave at room temperature (75F or lower) for about a week.  Here in Hawaii 4-5 days is about right.  Though, some folks recommend a longer room temperature fermenting period.

In the old method I would place the jar on a plate to catch any bubbling over.  You can top up with more brine then.  When you deem your pickles sour enough you might top off with a few tablespoons white vinegar before refrigerating (I do that just to discourage any potential bad bacteria on the surface).  For a DIY fermenting kit, try this link.

Tried them for lunch with my tabbouleh salad, which actually merits a post of its own.  Totally awesome!  I am so happy I got that pickle kit, which makes an easy recipe even easier.  Will send this along to the link-up at Beth Fish's Weekend Cooking.


Book Review - The Hundred-Foot Journey, by Richard C. Morais

Our current (October-November) Cook the Books Club selection, The Hundred-Foot Journey, a novel by Richard C. Morais, was titled for the very short distance between two eating establishments in his story, French and Indian, though the journey between cultures is much longer.

An Indian family flee their home and restaurant in Mumbai, after the mother's tragic death in a riot, though not without first selling their property and making that escape with some solid cash.  After a brief unhappy stay in England, they move again, this time (after some driving around Europe, looking for a future home, in three second-hand Mercedes), they finally settle in the little French mountain village of Lumière.

There, right across the street from a well-known (to epicures) classic French Inn and Restaurant, run by a snooty, unhappy woman, though an excellent chef, Papa decides to open a colorful, noisy, family style Indian Restaurant, Maison Mumbai  You can just imagine the fire-works.  Literally in the case of the troop from India, with classic Hindustani music blaring out over speakers in the garden.  Their new neighbor is not thrilled, to say the least.

I enjoyed the story up until just after this point, when Madame Mallory, unbelievably, after nearly causing the death of their talented young, son, actually coerces the family into allowing that son to work for her, instead of for his own family.  What potential is lost as Hassan's rich Indian culinary heritage is abandoned, and the book degenerates into your typical chef on his way up, going from one apprenticeship to another, finally opening a French restaurant and three Michelin stars plot. Dragging along at that, any momentum totally lost.

I had hoped we would hear about how Hassan might develop creatively, using the flavors and cuisine of his own country, perhaps making a success of their family business, allowing the French to experience a fabulous taste of India.  But nooo.  Madame Mallory tells them:
"I want Hassan to come work in my kitchen.  I will teach him French cooking.  I will give him a proper education.....This is a chance for your son to become a truly great French chef, a man of taste, a proper artist, not just some curry cook working in an Indian bistro." 
 Of all the arrogance, as if French cooking were the epitome, the end and beginning of taste.  In my opinion, Indian food beats or is more than equal to anything else, hands down.  So there.

As you may have guessed, I did not care for the book, overall.  Though the beginning, in seaside Mumbai, was fine, especially the descriptions of food, their restaurant, and characters, such as Papa, boisterous and Falstaffian, lost too soon in the story.  That would be up to approximately 40 pages in.  Then the account of the family settling in Lumière was entertaining, with an over-the-top wicked Mallory.  Morais would have done better to keep his story in the French Alps, and further explore relationships between the two cultures, represented by a gifted young Indian man and a classically trained French chef, whose character thankfully changes for the better.

Thus, my cooking inspiration for our Club entry came from that first period in India, where Hassan muses:
"I suspect my destiny was written from the very start, for my first sensation of life was the smell of machli ka salan, a spicy fish curry, rising through the floorboards to the cot in my parents' room above the restaurant." 
And the end, when Hassan walking home from his just three-starred restaurant, passes a new Indian eatery in Paris and smells that particular fish stew his grandmother made all those years ago:
"But somewhere down the middle of the sloping lane of Rue Mouffetard, I stopped in my tracks.  I was not quite sure at first, not quite trusting my senses.  I again sniffed the moist midnight air.  Could it be?  But there it was, the unmistakable aroma of my youth, joyously coming down a cobblestone side passage to greet me, the smell of machli ka salan, the fish curry of home, from so long ago. ....And I was filled with an ache that hurt almost to breaking.  A sense of loss and longing, for Mummy and India... and for the family I never had, sacrificed on the altar of my ambition."
 I occasionally prepare curries, always with trepidation, as I know my own limitations with the complex cooking of India.  But, figure I can at least be inspired by that great tradition, and gain from the attempt.

This one, a recipe I found online and tinkered with, for that infamous fish curry.

          Machli ka  Salan

I used Hawaiian opah or moonfish, but you can use any firm white fleshed fish for the curry
that is locally available. I added the fish head to my curry for more depth of flavor and richness.  You can omit it or remove it before serving.  I removed mine.  He's rather cute though, don't you think?

1/2 kg (1.1 lb.) fish fillets and fish head
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 medium onion, sliced
3 or 4 okra, sliced into 1/2 inch pieces
4-5 cloves garlic
1 inch piece ginger,  cut into quarters
1 cup yogurt or coconut milk
1 teaspoon green cardamom seeds, crushed
1 teaspoon cumin
2-3 cloves
1 cluster curry leaves
1 teaspoon red chili powder
1 teaspoon garam masala powder
1/4 cup vegetable oil or ghee ( clarified butter)
handful of cherry tomatoes
green chili pepper, minced

Marinate fish in salt, 1/2 teaspoon turmeric and lemon juice for 15-20 minutes.

Heat oil in a deep pan. Fry onions till golden brown. Remove from oil and add to a blender or food processor with ginger, garlic and yogurt. Make a smooth paste.

Add the curry leaves and fry til crispy, lift out and drain on paper towel, then add in the okra and fry til cooked through.  Add the dry spices, green cardamom seeds, cloves, bay leaf, remaining turmeric, crushed curry leaves (stems removed) and chili powder to the oil in pan. Sauté for 2 minutes or till the spices no longer smell raw.

Add the yogurt paste to the pan. Keep cooking for 7-8 minutes or till the masala separates from oil.

Add the fish pieces and tomatoes to the masala.  Once the fish has been added to the masala, gently stir and turn it so the fish pieces won't break.

Cook like this uncovered for 5 minutes or till the fish changes color. Add 1+1/2 cups of water, cover the pan, reduce heat to minimum. Let the broth simmer for another 5-7 minutes.

Garnish with minced green chili peppers, coriander and garam masala. Serve hot with steamed rice or roti.
Serves 4

I served the stew with a side of cucumber salad in kefir dressing, some salted lemon preserve and guava chutney.  The flavors of India come through so enticingly in this dish, it's just incredible. Love a good spicy curry.  Will share with Beth Fish and her Weekend Cooking link-up.


The Great Moringa, Miracle Tree, Project and Spicy Lentils

 Here is my moringa tree patch, right after a good pruning

My long awaited post.  The Moringa tree, also known as Drumstick tree, or the Miracle Tree, is said to have the ability to cure over 300 diseases.  Just quoting research here.  From a food point of view, Moringa leaves can be used like spinach, though they are far more nutritious. Sorry Popeye.  And I love the nutty, legume scent of the leaves when picked fresh.

The leaves can be used fresh or dried into a powder, are an excellent source of vitamin A and C, a good source of B vitamins, and among the best plant sources of minerals. The calcium content is very high, iron is good enough to treat anemia — three times that of spinach — and it’s an excellent source of protein while being low on fats and carbohydrates. Said another way, Moringa leaves have seven times the Vitamin C of oranges, four times the calcium of milk, four times the vitamin A of carrots, three times the potassium of bananas, and two times the protein of yogurt.

 That’s quite a line up. The leaves also have the sulfur-containing amino acids methionine and cystine. Medically it is antibiotic and research shows it can be used to treat high blood pressure. A leaf tea is used by diabetics to help regulate their blood sugar. It is full of antioxidants, is anti-cancerous, and when eaten by mothers they give birth to healthier, heavier babies.  A 28 December 2007 study said a root extract is very anti inflammatory.


Creamy Chicken and Grits

Just finished an intriguing novel by Margaret Maron, The Buzzard Table, a mystery set in the South, with lots of tantalizing food references, little known facts about vultures/buzzards, and the equally tantalizing murder puzzle for our heroines to solve. Deborah Knott and Sigrid Harald (visiting her grandmother), are here together (usually each stars in her own mystery series). A mysterious ornithologist is also staying at Mrs. Lattimore's Victorian home, doing research on Southern vultures, when murder strikes.

At one point Deborah is putting together a meal of Shrimp and Grits, which sounded extremely good.  And easy. So, we (in the Royal sense) started off with the idea of doing that well known recipe, slightly modified.  A dish which apparently originated in the low country of South Carolina, and has been a best seller and signature selection at Crook's Corner, especially since an article written for the NY Times by chef Craig Claiborne,  following his visit to the restaurant in 1985, and now a popular item in upscale restaurants around the country.

Modified because when I do anything with shrimp, there is the deal with Bob, who doesn't care for them or shellfish in general.  He might eat one, leaving me the rest, and given I am cooking for two, shrimp are usually reserved for eating OUT.  All of which brought me to left-over chicken, cut into pieces roughly shrimp size :)  What the hey?  Pharaoh's Chicken.


Pork Mofongo, Yes, Chef!

What a terrific choice was Yes, Chef, a Memoir, by Marcus Samuelsson, our current read for Cook the Books Club.  His journey is a fascinating one, beginning with a small boy, carried 75 miles from his village in Ethiopia to the capitol city of Addis Ababa, on his mother's back, as she and his sister walked the whole way.  All three of them with TB!  They make it to the hospital there, where his mother dies.  He goes from that world to adoption by a Swedish couple, and growing up in Sweden.

His journey continued, through a happy, protected childhood to a life fraught with set backs, difficulties, and challenges in pursuing his career of choice, all while maintaining an early enthusiasm for cooking, inspired by his grandmother, Helga.

Marcus then takes us from early cooking school experiences to his various apprenticeships and stints in some of the top restaurants of Europe, all the while "chasing flavors" with a driving ambition to get to the top of his field.  Which he does, and then some!

His ambition included a desire to be creative and original, finding unexplored, exotic flavors from one end of the globe to the other, and using them in new ways.  All of which found an answering cord in my own life. I love finding, growing and using new herbs, spices, fruits and vegetables.  There was so much in the way of inspiration here.  Hard to know where to begin as far as one preparation for our club.

However, when he mentioned Camarones de Mofongo in a discussion of Puerto Rican foods, it hit me.  I had a large cooking banana, or plantain waiting for use, and some pork for braising, which could be subbed for the shrimp.  Actually a traditional Mofongo alternative.  Perfect.  I liked that the  pieces of pork nestle here in a delicious tomatoey broth with a little savory cake of plantain.


Under the Wide and Starry Sky, Fa'alifu Ulu (Breadfruit)

I've just finished Nancy Horan's wonderful novel, Under the Wide and Starry Sky, a fictionalized biography of Robert Lewis Stevenson and his wife Fanny Van de Grift Osbourne.  Their passionate love story with lots of adventure and travel.  In fact, Stevenson's and Fannys' lives beat anything fictional the well-known author ever came up with.

The book, inspired by actual events in the lives of both protagonists, is beautifully drawn from extant letters, journals and diaries by two prolific writers, as well as from the letters of their families and friends.  So, an excellent example of historical fiction.

Stevenson was plagued with illness for most all of his life, and the search for a place that would be most beneficial for both his writing and fragile health took them from one end of the earth to another, finally landing and settling in Samoa, where together they spent the remainder of his life.

Which brings me to the inspiration for my breadfruit recipe.  Here in Hawaii, as well as in Samoa and the rest of the Pacific islands it is known as ulu.  Easier on the mind, and tongue.  Anyway, Fanny at one point was bemoaning the amount of breadfruit in their diet.  Understandable if that is pretty much what you're limited to in the way of starch.   But I say if people don't like ulu they probably have not tried it at the right stage of ripeness, or with a good recipe.  Though, I also enjoy it just plain boiled and sliced with a bit of butter.   Something like saying you don't like potatoes??


Afghan Lamb Meatballs with Garlic and Mint

Really, it is the sauce that makes these tasty little meatballs extra special.  The contrast of a yogurt or kefir based, creamy sauce with added lemon, garlic and mint, just sets off the savory lamb so well.  The same sauce can be used for a salad of sliced cucumbers with extra mint  too.

I bought the book, The Silk Road Gourmet, by Laura Kelley, quite awhile ago, and as these things happen, only made two things from her book, both excellent - one recipe, was a Pomegranate- Cardamom Lamb Roast, and another, Meatballs with Lemon Sauce, though I did make that one several times, due to its excellence.  This is a re-visitation, and there is so much more in that book  needing to be cooked up.  Wonderful recipes from her travels following the ancient "Silk Road" through Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka, noting the connections and links between the different cuisines and cultures.


Pineapple Honey Pavlova with Fresh Mint and Dark Chocolate

Our Cook the Books Club read for June/July was The Wedding Bees, by Sarah Kate Lynch, an inspiring, charming romance and beekeeping mini-primer.  All about an escaped Southern Belle, who together with her queen bee and small colony of worker bees, take to a rooftop apartment in New York City, retaining from her background ample training in good manners, which are combined in Sugar's case with a large dose of kindness.

Sugar Wallace reaches out to all her needy, dysfunctional and semi-dysfunctional neighbors with that winning combination.  And what a terrific, mixed cast of  characters it is. From the shy, retiring cook in the apartment adjoining Sugar's, a sad, anorexic teen downstairs, and angry, terminally grumpy old landlords.  She even comes to see her own need for love in the end and does a healthy turn-around on some issues from her past.


Ranting with Iced Coffee

What we have here is a lovely bit of fluff, perfect for poolside or beach.  On What Grounds, by Cleo Coyle, is a cozy mystery revolving around and in a New York coffee house.  Up until page 105 anyway, where drinks orders are being taken in the coffee house.  We came to a shrieking halt right there.  And, I quote:
"Double tall cap, get the lead out!"
Sixteen-ounce cappuccino with decaf.
A shudder ran through me as I glanced up and saw the wane, (Typo note: do you think she means wan?? Wane being a verb?) pale, overanxious face of the man ordering the decaf.
Okay, I'm sorry, but decaf drinkers annoy me.
Expectant mothers I can understand, but lifelong decaf drinkers give me the creeps.  They're usually the sort who have a half-dozen imagined allergies, eat macrobiotic patties, and pop Rolaids like M&Ms when their acid reflux kicks in from anxiety over the Chinese restaurant's delivering white instead of brown rice."