Pumpkin Wild Curry

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An easy and delicious curry perfect for my nearly-wild curry mix, or any good homemade mix from wild or cultivated spices. I like to use this recipe to test out different combinations or variations on my wild or cultivated curry mixes, since it has a very simple set of ingredients that I almost always have on hand in the fall and winter. It’s the perfect test recipe to use for your own variations and experiments – the tartness of the tomatoes is softened by the sweetness of pumpkin (calabaza squash works great too), creating a perfect canvas for your spice combination!

This recipe works great on the stovetop, but can also be made in a slow-cooker. When I cook stews like this in a slow-cooker, I don’t simply add everything at once, but follow the basic procedure for stovetop cooking, adding the ingredients in stages to the slow-cooker set on high.

Combine in a pan or slow-cooker

2 tbs neutral vegetable oil

2 tbs ground curry powder, masala mix, or near-wild curry mix

4 oz onion, minced  (grated if using slow-cooker)

2 cloves garlic, crushed and minced

3/4 cup chopped canned tomatoes, strained of juice

Cook until onions are softened (10 minutes stovetop, 1 hour slow-cooker), then add:

1 lb. pumpkin or calabaza squash, cut into chunks

3/4 cup tomato juice or stock or nettle tea or water

1 1/2 cups vegetable stock or water

Cover and cook until pumpkin is softened and liquid is somewhat reduced (45 minutes stovetop, 3-4 hours slow cooker)

This is excellent served over brown rice or lentil dal. I like to add a little chopped fresh cilantro, wild chervil, pushkin or other aromatic herb leaf. I also recommend combining with tart fermented vegetables or torn bitter leaves of wild or cultivated greens, such as dames rocket, dandelion, or escarole. To tart things up a bit, dried coconut flakes (unsweetened), crushed cashews, fermented chile sauces, grated lemon zest, and thinly sliced thai basil leaves are all good options. But the beauty of this recipe is it is so simple it can be accompanied with whatever is handy.

Oyster Mushroom “Meatballs”

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Oyster Mushroom “Meatballs” with Acorn & Potato “Burgers” – two winter favorites

I love the humble Oyster Mushroom (Pleuratus ostreatus and others) : it appears in our area, in one incarnation or another, in almost every season. It’s dependability reduces it to a minor note in the logs of mushroom collectors – it can often assuage the hurt of not finding more esteemed mushrooms, such as morels in spring or maitake in fall, but few people seem to get excited about it. Some mushroom hunters seem to dismiss or even despise it, but I adore it. While it may not have the deep, rich flavor of a porcini it is a reliable workhorse mushroom and can stand in for more exotic or laudable fungi in spare seasons. More importantly for my needs, it serves admirably as the basis for rich stocks and essences, dries well, and appears in such quantity that it can be used to make mushroom ketchup or soy sauce or put up as mushroom pickles.

Beyond all these virtues, it has a quality that isn’t often celebrated even by its’ enthusiasts, at least not in Western food culture : oysters have a firm, dense texture. While they can be reduced down, or even rendered crisp or dry with enough cooking, the better option is to use them in recipes that celebrate this texture. This is just one such recipe, operating on the principle that finely chopped oysters resemble meat when cooked quickly, allowing their natural texture and moisture-retention to become a quality that assists in a dish with an excellent flavor and a remarkable similarity to meat-based polpette.

Conventionally-grown or home-grown oyster mushrooms can of course be substituted in this dish, you may also find it works with the conventional button mushroom of the supermarket. I recommend using the brown variety, often labelled “Cremini” as they have a bit more structure. If collecting wild oyster mushrooms or harvesting home-grown ones, you will want to collect them when they are firm and have attained at least most of their full growth, but before they become very dry, yellow, and fragile. You will also want to avoid collecting water-logged specimens, or if you do being sure to dry them and squeeze them of excess moisture first.

Combine in a mixing bowl :

5 oz oyster mushrooms, very finely chopped or pulsed in a food processor

3-4 oz onion, grated and squeezed free of liquid or pulsed in a food processor

1/2 cup breadcrumbs, preferably homemade

2 tbs mushroom powder or “bouillon of the woods” (see note)

1-2 eggs or equivalent egg substitute

salt to taste

dashes of mushroom soy, soy, maggi seasoning, or worchestershire sauce

herbs or dried herbs, if desired

freshly ground black pepper or american juniper, if desired

Mix the ingredients with your hands and shape into golf ball-sized “meatballs.” There should be about 12. This recipe can be doubled, tripled, etc. I have deliberately kept the size of the batch in this recipe small, so that you can experiment with the preparation of it and determine how best to process and cook the meatballs. I personally favor chopping the oyster mushrooms by hand, finding that the food processor renders far too uniform a product. If resemblance to meat is your goal with this recipe, however, that may be the route you want to go. I also recommend using both mushroom soy and a dash or two of maggi or worchestershire.

“Bouillon of the woods” is a simple preparation that I make as often as I find chicken of the woods fungi (Laetiporus spp.) that are just a bit too far gone to serve as is. A simple dried mushroom powder can be substituted – for which all you need to do is to grind dried mushrooms in a spice grinder. You may use wild mushrooms you have collected and dehydrated yourself, or dried mushrooms from the fancy or conventional supermarket (it’s actually a fantastic use for the dust or shake found in the bottom of bags of purchased dried mushrooms). For the preparation of my “bouillon of the woods,” I add a pinch or two of salt and a little crumbled wild bergamot, with perhaps another spice or two if desired, to a base of dried and ground chicken of the woods. It is meant to resemble the bouillon cubes found in supermarkets, but in a powder form and with much less salt. Another possible substitute if you don’t have any dried or powdered mushrooms is to use a purchased mushroom bouillon cube, such as the Telma brand from Israel. If a commercial product is used, you will likely want to reduce the amount of salt added.

Once assembled, these can be baked in hot oven, grilled or fried in vegetable oil or other fat. I prefer the latter two options, which tend to keep the insides moist while browning the outside nicely. You can also cook them in a sauce, but I would recommend rolling the shaped meatballs in either a little flour or extra breadcrumbs and then frying first before doing so. If you encounter difficulty in keeping the meatballs together, you may have had too much moisture in your mushrooms. I find that even conventionally-grown mushrooms require a little bit of drying before incorporating into polpette.

While these are quite tasty on their own, especially with a nice sauce for dipping as an appetizer (I love them with blackhaw ketchup), they can also be substituted for pork, beef, or veal meatballs in classic Italian, European, or Asian cuisine dishes. One of my personal favorite ways to serve them is in a dish inspired by Marcella Hazan’s recipe for winter pork meatballs smothered in savoy cabbage.

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the below recipe made with kale and cabbage greens and romaine lettuce

After cooking the meatballs, I cover them to keep them warm and then in a sautée pan heat a little oil or butter. To this I add whatever greens I have available, whether wild or conventionally cultivated, adding the firmer or denser greens first and the more fragile ones later. Cauliflower greens, cabbage, kale, collards and the like are cooked a bit longer, and then blanched wild mustards, wintercress, dandelion greens or even raw watercress or lettuce are added with minced garlic once the firmer greens have softened. A minute or two later, the “meatballs” are then returned to the pan with a little white wine, and perhaps a splash of balsamic or blackhaw vinegar, and the whole is covered until heated all the way through.

This is of course, just one way to do it…

Milkweed Stew

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This is a very simple vegetable stew, perfect for a summer evening when a hot meal that isn’t too heavy or complicated is needed. The milkweed can be either added to the stew as is (perhaps chopped into pieces if the pods are large) or briefly blanched first. The flavor of the stew will be perhaps a bit better if the pods are added without preparation, but the cooking time will be longer. Foraging books abound with instructions to boil milkweed in multiple changes of water for lengthy periods of time but all of that is really unnecessary, and usually serves only to ruin the taste and nutritional value of this delicious, wholesome vegetable.

When selecting milkweed pods for this dish, avoid any longer than 2 inches or so and any ones that have particularly tough exteriors. The pods should be firm but not rubbery. Avoid pods that are soft or have obvious slits or discolorations, as the material inside will be dark and bitter.

In a wide, deep sauté pan heat :

2 tbs vegetable oil or other neutral oil or fat

Add and cook until tender and slightly browned :

5 oz onions, diced

Add and cook for one minute or so :

2 tbs field garlic or minced garlic

Add and cook until tender :

2 oz celery, sliced thin

Add and cook until tender :

5 oz bell or sweet pepper, diced

1 chile, diced fine

Add and cook until juices are released :

5 oz tomato, chopped

Add :

1 tsp fennel seeds, toasted

1 tsp cumin seeds, toasted

1 tsp wild parsnip seeds, toasted (optional)

5 oz milkweed pods (see introductory note)

Cook for several minutes, then deglaze with :

1-2 tbs sherry, shao xing wine or cooking wine

Add :

1 cup stock or water

3/4 cup sweetcorn, raw or fermented

Lower heat to simmer and cook until done. Add thickeners or more liquid as necessary.

Garnish with a bit of chopped fresh herb such as parsley, cilantro, basil or monarda.

This is an extremely simple recipe, and benefits from the addition of a dash of this or that as befits your taste and pantry. A little bit of nice olive oil added to the finished dish is quite lovely, as is a little soy or other seasoning sauce drizzled in as the stew thickens. The delicate flavor of milkweed pods (think okra combined with green beans) is best enjoyed in such simple preparations, but can be ruined if too many seasonings are added, so taste before tampering!

Mugwort Soup, Potage or Cream

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This is a charming spring soup that can be prepared and served three different ways. It can be a rough country soup, a robust puree or a subtle and warming cream soup. Either way, it has a very unique flavor.

Blanch in boiling, salted water for one minute :

8 cups loosely packed mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) leaves, collected early to mid-spring

Drain, rinse immediately with cold water, then squeeze free of liquid and allow to dry.

Bring to a simmer :

8 cups chicken or strong (but not roasted) vegetable stock

2 fresh bay leaves (optional)

Add :

1 1/2 tsp ground coriander seed

1 tsp ground ginger or several thin slices of fresh ginger root

freshly ground white or black pepper to taste

4 oz celery, diced

Simmer for 5 minutes, then add :

12 oz potato, peeled (or not) and diced

Simmer for 20 minutes, then add :

The prepared mugwort, finely chopped

1 tsp salt (or to taste)

Simmer for 5 minutes, then remove from heat.

The soup can be served as is. If that is your plan, you may wish to make the chopping of the celery and potato more uniform. If I am serving it like this I will keep it more rustic, like a rough country soup made quickly at the end of the working day. In fact, that is exactly what this is, a soup that takes only an hour or so in total and most of that spent simmering.

Alternatively, you can puree it. Pureeing will give you a complex bright olive green soup that is an intriguing first course for a spring meal. It’s equally great as just plain eating, but it has a mysterious flavor that might have your local foodies scratching their beards to describe. I like to think of it as a mix between parsley and sage, but not quite that… although handling the plant itself also makes me think of those two herbs.

Another option would be to puree, then add :

2 tbs butter

1/2 cup light cream

This makes for an even more elusive tasting soup, which can be garnished very nicely with bright violet flowers and bittercress pods, if you like, or forsythia blossoms and chives. A perfect soup from early to mid-spring.

Tomato Masala Soup

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A simple, deeply-satisfying soup for the end of winter, spiced with a freshly made masala mix. You can use this same basic mix in other masala recipes, but this one is designed specifically for this soup. First, make the spice mix. Then grind the mix. Then begin the soup.

Masala Mix :

Heat a dry skillet over medium to medium-low heat.

Add :

1 tbs cumin seed

1 tbs coriander seed

1 cinnamon stick or few pieces of cassia

seeds from 6 pods of green cardamom

1 tsp black peppercorns

4 cloves

Toast the dry spices together for a few minutes, until strong and aromatic but not browned.

Grind spices together in mortar and pestle or spice grinder until no longer coarse.

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Heat a large saucepan or sauteuse over medium heat and add :

6 tbs butter or 4 tbs ghee or oil (you may substitute oil to make this dish vegan, otherwise butter is recommended)

Cook butter for one or two minutes and add :

Ground masala mix

Cook for one minute, then add :

9 oz onion, sliced thin

Cook for three minutes or until softened, then add :

4 oz shallots, sliced thin

Cook for three minutes or until softened, then add :

1/2 oz garlic, crushed and chopped fine

Cook for one minute then add :

3-4 oz carrot (about one medium carrot), grated

Cook for three minutes then reduce the heat to low.

Cook the vegetables for as long as possible over a low heat, uncovered, until they are mostly softened and succulent.

Add :

Tomatoes from one 28 oz. can of tomatoes

Break the tomatoes into the rest of the vegetables with a flat spatula or wooden spoon.

Bring the heat to medium.

Cook for a few minutes, breaking the tomatoes up as much as possible.

Bring the heat to medium-high and add :

Juice from one 28 oz. can of tomatoes

1 quart rich stock of any kind or water

Simmer slowly for at least 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.

This should cook down to make a little over a quart of really rich soup. You may also wish to add less liquid to save on cooking time, although some at least should be retained or what we have is a sauce, not a soup. As it stands, this is a nicely rich soup for winter or early spring, and can be mellowed out / lengthened with a little bit of fresh yogurt, stirred in just so. There is plenty heat for most in the pepper and spices, but for those who must always add chile, dried chiles can be added to the spice mix. You may also wish to add fresh herbs – though I am always a fan of that, I feel it tends to spoil some of the warm simplicity of the soup. A better direction to go in would be to stir in cooked lentils or rice or small pasta and make it more of a stew.

I’ll keep taking it as is. Okay, maybe some yogurt…

Key : The key to this recipe is to take it slow, man.

Cream of Roasted Cauliflower Soup

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Cream of roasted cauliflower soup, garnished with roasted cauliflower florets, cilantro and scallion greens.

This is relatively complicated soup to prepare, but well worth the effort. It basically consists of three separate procedures : roasting the cauliflower, toasting and grinding the spices, and composing and pureeing the soup. You could just as well serve this soup rustic-style (without pureeing), but I think its’ worth the extra time and energy to puree for a more elegant soup, one that would happily grace the most sophisticated table. The fact that it is so simple, rich and creamy and also vegan may come as a surprise to some–it’s a great dish to introduce to people who may be skeptical about how deep a flavor one can get from healthy, vegetable-based cuisine.

First, prepare Roasted Cauliflower & Cauliflower Greens using a 2 pound head of cauliflower. This can be done ahead of time, as far in advance as a couple of days. You may try that, I usually can’t resist gobbling up the roast cauliflower as is, so I have to move quickly if I’m making the soup!

Second, make the spice mix.

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Spice mix for cream of roasted cauliflower soup : coriander, fennel, cumin, urad dal.

Place in a small skillet over medium-low heat :

1 tsp whole fennel seed

2 tsp whole cumin seed

1 tsp whole coriander seed

1 tsp urad dal (white gram bean) (optional)

Toast the spices until slightly colored and aromatic. Whole spice seeds burn easily, so keep a close eye on them and shake the pan occasionally. Allow to cool and then grind in a mortar and pestle or spice grinder.

Thirdly, assemble the soup.

In a large saucepan or deep sautée pan with raised sides, bring to heat over medium heat :

2-3 tbs olive oil

Add :

5 oz celery, chopped fine

6 oz onion, chopped fine

2 oz scallions (white parts only), chopped fine

(You could just as easily use another mix of onions here, providing they come out to about the same weight. A good option would be a mix of shallots and spanish onions, or mix of leeks and onions, or ramps and scallions, etc. Look for a total of 8-10 oz. for best flavor)

Sautée, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes or so, then add :

2 oz chiles, chopped fine

Sautée, stirring occasionally, for another ten minutes or so, or until all the vegetables are tender.

Add and quickly stir in :

2 tbs flour

Cook for one or two minutes to remove the raw flour taste.

Add, slowly, one half cup at a time, stirring all the while :

8 cups of vegetable stock (or whatever stock is handy/preferred)

Bring the soup to a simmer.

Add the ground spice mix to the soup. Add salt and freshly ground black pepper (optional) to taste.

Chop the roasted cauliflower and greens into small pieces, reserving any if desired to use as a garnish. Add to the soup.

Simmer at a low to medium simmer for 30 minutes or so, until all the vegetables are nicely tender and the liquid has reduced a bit.

Allow to cool.

Puree the soup in small batches. If a completely emulsified soup is desired, pass the soup through a metal strainer or cheesecloth.

Return the pureed soup to heat before serving. Adjust for seasonings. If the soup is too thin, cook to reduce to the desired consistency.

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Serve this soup as hot as possible. It can be prepared in advance and served days later if desired.

The spices used give this soup a mellow, complex flavor that accentuates the natural taste of the cauliflower. When serving, choose garnishes that add an element of sharpness or freshness to the soup. Of course, if you have reserved any small florets of roasted cauliflower, you can add those. I usually heap them in the center of the bowl and then add greenery around them. Thinly-sliced scallion greens or field garlic, cilantro or another fresh green herb, raw or prepared chiles are all excellent choices. A dusting of paprika or fresh ground chile powder will show up nicely against the creamy beige of the soup, as will black sesame or nigella seeds.

Though it seems deceptively simple (if somewhat elaborate in preparation) in terms of ingredients, this is really a very rich and hearty soup perfect for the end of winter. One can prepare many delicious “cream of” vegetable soups in a similar fashion, choosing spices and seasonings most appropriate to the vegetables involved, without ever desiring to add actual cream to the dish.

Tomato Sauce with Winter Vegetables

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Another extremely simple winter tomato sauce recipe, in which you can use whatever winter vegetables you might have around and canned tomatoes to make a sauce that can be served either thick and chunky or pureed.

The first thing to do is strain the tomatoes, reserving the liquid. You will want to use about 2 cups / 1 L. of tomatoes and juice, or the contents of a 35 oz can. I usually also squeeze or cut open the tomatoes to let the juice inside them out, but this isn’t strictly necessary. Keep the juice and drained tomatoes separate until needed.

Next, prepare your vegetables. I use between 4 and 5 ounces each of three different vegetables. You should shoot for roughly equal amounts of each vegetable. First I use either celery or onion, chopped into medium size dice. Then I peel and cut into medium dice either carrots or parsnips. Lastly I prepare either kohlrabi, turnip, long radish or celery root in pieces of the same size as the other ingredients. If you like garlic in this, add an ounce or so chopped very fine. Remember to keep all your vegetables separated, as they require different cooking times.

Add two to three tablespoons of olive oil to a wide sautée pan, preferably one with deep sides. Bring the oil to heat over medium heat. Add the vegetables one at a time and cook each until softened. The best order is onions or celery to start, then carrot or parsnip, then the last. Cook each vegetable just until softened, about 5-10 minutes for each. Add the garlic last of all, and cook for only a few minutes before proceeding. You may also wish to add bay or bayberry leaf or whole sprigs of thyme or rosemary at this point, taking care to remove them before pureeing or serving the sauce.

Once the garlic has been cooked, add the whole tomatoes to the pan, breaking them into chunks with a flat-ended wooden or plastic spatula. You may chop them prior to adding to the pan, but I always find that such a mess and prefer to simply break them into pieces while they sautée. Cook the tomatoes for at least five minutes, keeping the heat around medium.

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Add the reserved tomato juices to the sautée pan. At this point, you may wish to add stock or water to thin the sauce out. I would only recommend this if it is your intent to puree the sauce. With about 5 oz of each vegetable, this makes a substantial quantity of sauce, enough for more than one pound of pasta. I will often serve the sauce thick with some pasta, then puree whatever is leftover with added stock to make a sauce that I can put on eggs or a half-pound of spaghetti. One could also add chiles or cream or another ingredient to this newly-pureed sauce for the sake of variety.

Whether you add tomato juice with stock or water or nothing else, the liquids must be cooked down slightly. I usually leave the pan at a slow, steady simmer for about 45 minutes to an hour, stirring occasionally. Less can be fine, but the flavor will not be as rich. In any event, make sure before serving that all the vegetables are cooked through and as tender as you would like them. Finally, add salt, freshly ground black pepper, and dried or fresh herbs to taste. With a winter sauce like this I will often add a quick crumble of marjoram or oregano or sage, depending on what herbs I’ve added during the cooking stage.

Serve as-is or puree and serve over pasta, with or without cheese.

Tender Cabbage with Black Mustard & Turmeric

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In a very large skillet which you are able to cover, heat 3 tbs of neutral oil or ghee over medium-high heat.

When hot add :

1 tbs black mustard seed

Cover dish and allow black mustard seed to pop. When the seeds begin to settle, add:

8 oz onion, very thinly slice.

Reduce heat to medium and cook until softened, stirring occasionally.

Add :

1 lb 4 oz cabbage, thinly sliced

Salt to taste

Cook until wilted, stirring occasionally.

Add :

1 tbs sherry, white wine or shao xing wine

2-4 oz fresh chile, small dice

1 oz garlic, minced

1 tsp turmeric powder

Allow the alcohol to cook off, then reduce the heat to low and cover the pan.

Cook, covered, until the cabbage is tender and soft, usually 45 minutes or so.

Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve hot or keep warm, garnish with cilantro or parsely, chives or field garlic snips, fresh chiles or grated ginger.

An excellent side dish which highlights the tenderness of properly-cooked cabbage and the subtle flavors of black mustard seed and turmeric root. This dish can also be made with grated fresh turmeric, which can be added at the same point in cooking. Many people who claim not to like cabbage enjoy a tender cabbage dish like this, which brings out the natural sweetness in cabbage through slow cooking. The spices used are mild and complementary, rather than overwhelming. I would vary the level of chiles depending on what else I was serving this with–usual just a little chile for flavor, this dish is unassuming enough to be used as a side dish in a meal of almost any cuisine, vegetarian or not. More chiles can be added if the dish is to be served as accompaniment to a strong-flavored main course such as meat or oily fish.

Key : The key to this recipe is to cook the cabbage thoroughly until tender, for as long a time as it takes. This is a good dish to make a day ahead or earlier in your cooking, and will be just fine reheated or kept warm.