Posts Tagged ‘new mexico’

Still more greens, and notes on solar cooking


Since I got a solar oven, I no longer find it difficult to cook chickpeas, and so I’m looking for new ways to use them. I especially like combinations of greens and beans, partly because these primal and earthy dishes are found all over the world wherever people need healthy cheap food, and partly because they taste good. I’m cooking my way through a huge patch of lambs-quarters and amaranth (common pigweed) in my back yard, and getting healthy food from weedy places always satisfies my sense of economy. If you’re not a weed-eater, just use Swiss chard. I like a little smoked meat with greens, but if you don’t eat meat, just leave off the final garnish of bacon. This makes two large main-course servings with leftovers.

One pound young leaves and tender tips of lambs-quarters and amaranth, OR one large bunch of swiss chard, stems removed, chopped coarsely.
One pint cooked chickpeas, with just enough of the cooking liquid to cover them (see Solar Beans, below.)
3-4 tablespoons good flavorful olive oil
1 large onion, finely sliced
2 large cloves garlic, chopped finely
1 tablespoon of fresh thyme leaves
2 teaspoons Spanish Pimenton de la Vera, or smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon red chile flakes
salt and pepper to taste
a little of your best olive oil for drizzling
1 thick slice bacon, fried crisp and crumbled (optional)
Wash the greens very well, make sure to remove any remaining large stems, and blanch them in boiling water for 1 minute. Drain, press out extra water, and turn out on a cutting board and chop coarsely in both directions. Meanwhile, heat a heavy pot (I like an unglazed clay 3 quart pot) over medium heat, warm the olive oil, and saute the onions in the oil until translucent and cooked through but not browned more than a little. Add the chopped garlic and saute until garlic is cooked. Add the smoked paprika, thyme leaves, and chile flakes, saute a minute but no more, and promptly add the chickpeas and their liquid. When this mixture comes to a boil, add the blanched and chopped greens, salt to taste, turn the heat to low, and let it all mellow together for 10-15 minutes. Check the seasoning, add pepper to taste, and serve with a good drizzle of very good olive oil on each serving and the crumbled bacon on top if you’re using it. With a hunk of good baguette and a glass of full-bodied straightforward red wine, it couldn’t be better or healthier. Without its bacon topping it’s vegan and can be served to people of that persuasion, with the bacon fillip for the carnivores at the table. People who are vegetarian but not vegan will enjoy a pat of butter melted on top to give a little richness. Hedonists will like both a little butter and a little bacon.

Solar cooking is a natural here in New Mexico, where we have more sunlight than we know what to do with.
So, how do you cook solar beans? Fist you catch your solar oven. There are lots of easy plans on the internet for making them, but I chose to buy mine from the Solar Oven Society. Their solar ovens are capacious, lightweight, and every one you buy helps the society provide solar ovens to the third world, which avoids some deforestation and greenhouse gases from cooking fires. Their ovens are cleverly designed with two potential bases to provide a summer sun-catching angle and a winter sun-catching angle. Optional reflectors are available to achieve higher temperatures. You may want the optional reflectors for other purposes, but for cooking beans you won’t need them. Two graniteware pots are included with the oven, and you can put a pint of dry chickpeas in each one, cover with cold water by at least 2″, and set the oven up facing south in the morning with the two full pots inside. Then employ my special cooking technique: walk away, laughing a carefree laugh, and go to work or just get on with your life. On a reasonably sunny day, the oven without reflectors attached will reach a peak temperature of about 250 degrees and will stay in that range for much of the day. When you get home eight or nine hours later, you will find two steaming pots of perfectly cooked chickpeas, and you can salt them to taste, let them cool, and use immediately or freeze in pint containers with enough of their pot-liquor to cover. I love the oddly meaty-tasting cooking liquid and often use it as the broth for the finished dish, as I do above.
The directions that come with the oven imply that you need to turn it a few times to keep it facing the sun, but at least in summer I just point mine due south and forget about it. Other types of beans are also naturals for this solar slow-cooking, but they take less time, so I do them on weekends when I can check the oven in 4 hours or so to see how they’re coming along. For readers at lower altitudes than our 5500 feet, cooking times would tend to be much shorter. If the day clouds over, you may need to finish inside, or just put the pots in the refrigerator overnight and try again the next day. Don’t forget and leave the beans in the cool solar oven overnight, since some very nasty bacteria including botulinum could grow in room-temperature aqueous solutions. Cool them and pop them in the fridge or freezer when they’re cooked. Eat in the knowledge that you’re taking in all sorts of nutritive and cholesterol-lowering compounds that cost you no energy and very little trouble to cook. Beats canned, doesn’t it?

The Perfect Brunch, and notes on the Los Ranchos Farmers’ Market


For the gardener and urban homesteader weekend mornings are a busy worktime, with plenty to do and (usually) cool and pretty weather in which to do it. But after a few hours, it feels good to relax with a perfect brunch. To me, the essence of the perfect breakfast or lunch is simplicity. This is not the time for fuss. Its simpicity relies on perfect ingredients, and that gives me a chance to showcase some of my favorites. Please let these good suppliers know that Local Food Albuquerque sent you.

Corn bread: All Southerners and a lot of other people feel strongly about cornbread. I’m no exception. I give my recipe below, but cornbread preferences are very individual, so use your own favorite. The quality of the cornmeal is essential, and in my opinion there is none better than the roasted blue cornmeal sold by Oracio and Lourdes Molina at the Los Ranchos Farmers Market. They grow the blue corn, shell the kernels off the cob, roast the kernels, and grind them finely. The result is full of toasty corn flavor and makes cornbread that fills the kitchen with irresistable scent as it bakes. Oracio also sells his self-published book Hidden Village, which contains some fascinating bits of old New Mexico. Incidentally, their cornmeal makes the best blue corn tortillas imaginable.

Scones: if you don’t happen to be a cornbread fan, or even if you are, visit Hand to Mouth Foods at the Los Ranchos farmers Market (they are at the Corrales market too.) Jeffrey has a great hand for pastry, and his scones are very delicious. I also love his date and pine nut tarts, and my husband is an addict of the cranberry-pecan biscotti. They make a perfect finish to a perfect brunch. Email Jeffrey and Elaine at handtomouth@zianet.com and ask to be on their email list; you’ll get useful reminders of market times and products available.

The Best Butter: Good cornbread deserves to be slathered with good butter, and I use the only completely grass-fed butter that I know of, Pastureland. It’s made by the Pastureland Dairy Co-op in Minnesota that makes butter and cheese only in the summer, when the cows are eating 100% grass and nothing else. It’s shipped frozen in styrofoam cartons, and a prepaid UPS label is included so that you can send back the carton for reuse, free of charge. They also offer 100% grassfed cheeses. Grassfed butter is a good source of CLA, and you’ll have to decide for yourself whether that’s important to you. I eat Pastureland butter because it’s wonderfully delicious and because the grass-fed life is best for the cows. To arguments that it isn’t local, I can only respond that if a local dairy changed to 100% grass-feeding in season, I’d buy their products.

Blood orange marmalade: my favorite thing to dress up hot or toasted bread. See my post for the recipe.

Freshly squeezed orange juice: I used the very last blood oranges of the season. Any very good orange makes very good juice. In my view, the idea of adulterating something so perfect with champagne is sacrilegious, but suit yourself.

Eggs: The Los Ranchos Farmers Market has at least three egg vendors, and these are real free range eggs, not the pale imitations sold as free-range in grocery stores. Fry them according to your favorite method. Like cornbread, preferences are very personal. I’ve seen directions in cookbooks about how to avoid “undesirable brown crusting” at the rims, while to others that delicate crispy rim is the best possible contrast to the sapidity of the rest of the egg. Again, suit yourself. Next year I hope to be eating home-produced eggs, but right now my future laying hens are bouncy little fluffballs, so thank goodness for the farmers markets.

Put it all together and you have a simple and perfect meal. Enjoy it with people you really care about, who can be counted on to contribute to the general harmony.

Corn bread:
2 cups fine cornmeal, preferably Oracio’s
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 scant tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup sugar (optional)
1 and 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
2 cups buttermilk
1/4 cup melted butter
3 large eggs

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Heat a 12-inch iron skillet in it (without a hot heavy pan, your crust will never be what it could be.) Mix all the dry ingredients thoroughly in one bowl and all the wet ingredients in another. When the oven and the skillet are thoroughly hot, mix the wet ingredients into the dry with a few quick strokes. Stirring too much activates the gluten and makes your cornbread tough. Pull the skillet out of the oven, swirl a couple of tablespoons of butter in it until melted and the skillet is greased all over, pour in the batter, and pop back in the oven. Bake until done, ie the top crust is browning and an inserted knife comes out clean. Take out of the oven, invert the skillet over a clean towel to turn out the cornbread, then use the towel to invert the cornbread again onto a rack. This requires dexterity and practice but is worth dooing because both the bottom and the top crust stay crisp. Let rest a couple of minutes, then cut into wedges and bring on the butter.

Planning Your Garden: the Weed Patch, and more on the Peruvian Purple Potato

Those of you who have been following my blog for a while know about my interest in useful weeds, ie plants which thrive on neglect, spread rapidly, and are often overlooked, but offer good eating. Now that I’m planning a brand-new garden from scratch, I’m planning a “weed patch” as part of it. This will be out of the path of garden traffic so that I can have milk thistles and nettles, and screened from the rest of the property with a row of sunflowers so that nobody but me has to look at it much, and there all my favorite edible thugs can slug it out together. If you have room for a weed corner, you might consider some of these:

1. Stinging nettle. The nettle offers some of the best early-spring greens to be found. You can start them from seed (try Johnny’s Selected Seeds) or from plants (Richter’s is the only source that I know of.) They spread like wildfire, so underground barriers or a spot that you can mow all the way around are essential. See my post for harvesting and cooking details, and treat this plant with great respect, because the sting is pretty painful.
2. Curly Mallow. I like the leaves as part of a mix of greens, and it thrives on heat and doesn’t need too much water. I got the seeds from Nichols Garden Nursery years ago, and it’s been happily self-seeding ever since.
3. Milk thistle. THis will be a new one for me, but I’m told that the young shoots make good cooked greens when the prickles are trimmed off, so I’ll give it a try.
4. Sorrel. This might not seem like a weed, but it’s a healthy, vigorous, weedy-looking plant, so it can stay in the weed patch, out of the way. You can get seed almost anywhere, even from seed racks. It’s best to let it grow the first year, just removing flower stalks as they appear, and then start harvesting in early spring the second year.
5. Curled dock. This comon roadside weed is sour and bitter at most stages of development, but in the late fall and very early spring it’s one of the best greens around. Like its relative sorrel, it turns brownish-green when cooked, so I use it in mixtures of cooked greens rather than by itself. I don’t know of any source for the seeds. I picked mine by the roadside years ago, and this robust perennial has been with me ever since.
6. Dandelions. Like dock, they are actively distasteful most of the year, but in very early spring they offer delicious lightly bitter leaves which give a wild tang to a mixed salad or a little zip to a cooked greens mixture.

An alert reader let me know recently that the source I gave for the Peruvian Purple Potato no longer offers them. I save my own starter potatoes from year to year, but you can get the Peruvian from Ronnigers. They also have a splendid assortment of garlics, and some other plants of interest.

Thanks Giving

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What a deeply joyful Thanksgiving I was privileged to have: here in New Mexico we had both a new president and a good long soaking rain, and in the high desert it’s a little hard to say which is more exciting. The garden is still providing some lettuce, arugula, herbs, and carrots, but I have more time to reflect on what I’m doing. This has led to thinking about what, exactly, my urban homestead means. It certainly doesn’t mean self-sufficiency. That won’t happen until I can grow coffee and olive oil. It doesn’t mean grimly making do. It’s a happy celebration of what one small piece of city dirt can produce. I have a medical practice and a number of hobbies, but growing my own food in the most space-intensive way possible is a lot of fun, and I have a website and blog to let other people know that, if they want to provide for themselves a little more, they don’t need to quit their job and move to the country. I don’t even think that’s the best way to start. Start where you are, with what you have. People with no land at all can bake sourdough bread and brew beer, and those are indoor “yeast gardens.” People with a balcony can grow herbs in pots. People with a tiny yard can utilize it. In the quest for local food, we can have the most local food of all, and if we have more garden space at other points in our lives, we’ll know more about how to use it if we’ve practiced in small ways. Please go to my website, www.localfoodalbuquerque.com, for more about urban gardening, and look at my blog entries on other pages for details about the many small pleasures that crop up along the way.

Most of my winter posts will be about canning, preserving, and using what was made during the summer. That’s also a way of remembering the abundant season and being grateful for what I received. So, here’s a fond look backward at

the colors of summer.   august-08-029

Si se puede! Starting to sum up my garden year.

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       The very last tomatoes of the season are simmering into a sauce on the stove, waiting to be canned later today. The freezer is full and the shelves are bending slightly under the weight of canned sauce, salsa, chutney, and broth. Carrots, leeks, chard, chervil, the last potatoes, and some herbs are still outside. Not bad, given that we live on about 1/8 acre.

       My interest is in encouraging more people to grow and cook at least a little of their own food. I have a website to promote “yard farming,” and I invite you to visit it at www.localfoodalbuquerque.com. The purpose of this blog is to explore and report some of the small pleasures that come up along the way.

 

Learning new things about familiar plants seemjs to have been the theme of my harvest season. Nasturtiums are high on the list. I started growing them because, in our fierce sun, they grow well in light shade. They go through a slightly ratty period in midsummer, but then come back strong in the fall and bloom until there’s a really hard frost. I’ve always loved the blossoms on salads, for their watercress sharpness with a sweet nectar twist as well as for their beauty. But until this year, I didn’t grasp the culinary possibilities of the leaves.

       They bear a strong resemblance to watercress, although with a thicker meatier texture. Raw, they add bite to a sandwich or can be slivered into chiffonade and dressed with a fairly strong vinaigrette to make a nice sharp small salad to lighten a plate of pasta or steak. Cooked, they mellow a lot. I love to cook extravagant mixtures of greens, and nasturtium leaves can be up to half the total as long as the other half is milder-flavored material like spinach or chard. They also make wonderful stuffed dolmas, and bring a fresher quality to the dish than brined grape leaves. I consider leafy greens some of the healthiest vegetables that you can eat, and the wider the variety the better. See the “recipes” page on my website and click “greens” for some simple and good recipes, and the not-so-simple Nasturtium leaf dolmas. Or, just see below for the simplest way you can use this versatile plant.october08-0051