Archive for June, 2009

My Southeast Asian Summer: Beef salad

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The hotter it gets, the more interested I am in the piquant and flavorful foods of southeast Asia. Recently I picked the last of my lettuce, and an Asian-inspired meat salad seemed like an obvious choice for a summer dinner on the patio. It’s hard to give an exact nationality for this salad, since I’m obsessed with Thai and Vietnamese food and this has some elements of each.
First, grow your lettuce and herbs. I plant a little lettuce every two weeks throughout the spring, and make sure that the last few plantings are in light shade. I haven’t yet been able to pick any lettuce in July or August, but it always does well through early June. This year I did best with romaines, including a beautiful maroon one called “Marshall” which I got from Territorial Seeds. It’s disease-resistant and was the last lettuce in my garden to bolt. Of course, you can buy the lettuce if you need to. For the herbs, you need a few sprigs each of cilantro, Thai basil, lemon basil, and rau ram. If you don’t grow herbs yourself, you may be limited to Thai basil and cilantro, but the salad will still be very good.
Next, catch your beef. I’m a firm believer in grass-fed beef. It may be better for us, and beyond question it’s better for the cows. For more discussion of grass-fed and sustainable meats and more sourcesd, see my website. I buy big sirloin steaks from our local Fishhuggers at the Corrales Farmers Market on Sunday morning. A single steak will always provide the two of us with three meals, often four, and sometimes five. Grill it plainly for the first meal, and you can take it in a lot of directions after that. It has a wonderful beefy flavor, and you don’t need much to have a flavor impact, so cold grass-fed steak in your refrigerator is a meal waiting to happen.
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The First Garlic

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I think it’s underappreciated that garlic is as seasonal as any other vegetable. Sure, you can obtain it throughout the year, and personally I’m never without it, but the great dishes of sheer garlic debauchery- aioli, roasted garlic, chicken with 40 cloves of garlic, etc.- were designed to be made with fresh garlic, the kind you harvest in early summer, before it develops the slight (sometimes pronounced) acridness that comes with storage.
I grow three kinds of garlic, and one of them is Chinese Pink, which I get from Territorial Seeds. It’s a nicely flavored hardneck type, and I grow it because it matures fully a month earlier than any other garlic that I’ve grown.

See my earlier posts on green garlic and using the scapes of hardneck garlic for other uses of the maturing garlic plant, but by June the Chinese Pink is mature and I’m ready for some garlic confit. The confit process involves long, slow cooking at low heat in fat, olive oil in this case. The result is soft, mellow, and intensely flavorful without the sharp punch of raw garlic. It will keep in the refrigerator for a good long time as long as you make sure the cloves are well covered with oil.

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The Jewels of Summer: Cherries

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The single best reason that I know of to grow a pie cherry tree is to stand and gawk at it in full fruit on a sunny day. Even my dwarf North Star cherry, which is only two years old and no taller than I am, looks so stunning in the summer sun, with cherries glowing like Russian enamels, that I spend some time just standing there taking it in. But once you’re ready to stop looking and start eating, there are the cherries. Sour or pie cherries are of course perfect for pies, and they also make excellent jams, cobblers, etc. If you want a lot of good well-tested recipes, get yourself a copy of the British classic Jane Grigson’s Fruit Book.  But I decided to make cherry liqueur this year, and so far the results are very promising. Remember, besides being economical and ecological and virtuous, this urban homesteading stuff is an awful lot of fun.

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