Earlier this month I was contacted by Austin-based Beetnik Foods to try a sampling of their foods. While I’m not one to turn down a free meal, it’s not often that I’m impressed enough to share products on my website (if you haven’t noticed yet, I’m a little obsessive about what makes it on my front page). I was happy to see that their food philosophy lines up with mine – start with great ingredients, then make great food – and the food was delicious and easy to make. So I thought I would take a second and share my experience.
With spring upon us, I’ve been looking to expand my grilling options. The idea of cooking and eating a cactus might sound intimidating, but the reality is much simpler than you’d think. All you have to do is scrape off their thorns, and grill them – it’s that easy.
Nopales are the paddles of oputina (prickly pear) cactus, commonly found in Mexico. They are a common vegetable in Mexico, and taste a little like green beans, but slightly more acidic. They are a great addition to grilled meat dishes, or tasty just on their own. They are also often sliced/diced and served with eggs or in salads.
I must be reverting to some sort of baby food phase, because lately I’ve been really into puréed veggies. I think it’s the idea of eating familiar foods in unfamiliar ways. Either way you look at it, this cauliflower purée recipe isn’t the most innovative recipe I’ve created, but it serves an excellent purpose as an easy and mild-tasting accompaniment to robust dishes (which you’ll see in a couple upcoming recipes!).
It’s unsurprising that cauliflower is a close relative to broccoli, but until recently I wasn’t aware that it is from the same family (Brassica oleracea) as cabbage, brussels sprouts, kale, and collard greens. It was first brought to mainstream attention by some French cookbooks in the 17th century, although the plant itself originally came from Genoa, Italy.
Who doesn’t love spinach? Besides kids, I mean. Actually, funny story, kids are more apt to eat vegetables if they watch Popeye. Personally, I despised it growing up, but now I love spinach in all forms – raw, blanched, or simmered (as in this recipe); it has a mild and unique taste with each preparation.
This recipe is modeled after the German dish Rahmspinat (“creamed spinach”), and it mostly true to the original except for the fact that this particular recipe is dairy-free. So I guess the more appropriate term for this dish would be Spinat. If you’d like to prepare it more true to the original dish, I’ve added instructions below!
We eat watermelon a few times a year, and usually throw the rinds into the compost pile. I figure that’s what most people do. But a while back I ran across the idea of pickling the rinds, and I was immediately hooked on the concept; I love the idea of using a quick, simple pickling process to render something that’s usually inedible into a delicious, tangy, and crunchy treat.
It might sound a little weird at first glance, but watermelon pickles have been around for a while. While in Germany and Eastern Europe they tend to pickle the red flesh of watermelon, there are a few Scandinavian recipes that focus on pickling the rinds. In the US, there are records of people making pickles of watermelon rinds dating back to the Civil War; those original recipes call for soaking the rinds in a salt brine, then boiling with sugar, vinegar, cloves, and cinnamon until clear and soft, which turns it into something resembling a sweet relish. I went with a Scandinavian approach, but left a little of the flesh on the rind in order to add a little natural sweetness to the pickle and to aid in the fermentation process (bacteria likes sugar!).
Ah, bratwurst. The German sausage has been around for a long time – the oldest recorded recipe is from the 15th Century, but it is mentioned in earlier texts. Germany (and Eastern Europe) in particular happened to be the perfect place to develop the sausages over time, because the cold winters and Northern winds were perfect conditions for testing out this cured meat. Historically, it’s also an excellent way to get nutrients into your system, as the sausages were full of parts that would have otherwise gone to waste (including some organ meats!).
Chowders made with bratwurst are popular in the United States, particularly in the Upper Midwest, but they are often full of beer and cheddar. Those aren’t bad things, mind you! But still, I wanted to make a recipe that captured the spirit and richness of those delicious chowders, but with some cleaner ingredients. Turns out a combination of chicken broth, cream, and a little aged cheddar did the trick nicely. I love this chowder in particular because it doesn’t take long to cook – about 45 minutes from start to finish – another benefit of cooking with sausage!
Takuan is a Japanese dish of fermented daikon radish. It is a form of Tsukemono (Japanese pickled veggies), which are served as side dishes or snacks, and are even part of the Japanese tea ceremony. Takuan in particular is often served at the end of meal to help digestion. The name “Takuan” is often attributed to Takuan Soho, a 17th century Zen Buddhist figure and the creative basis for the character Dakuan from the anime film Ninja Scroll. Korean cuisine has a similar pickled daikon radish dish, called Danmuji (단무지).
The daikon radish itself made its way to Japan from China about 2,000 years ago. Today, more land in Japan is used to grow daikon than any other vegetable. Takuan sold in many stores today is dyed yellow with food coloring; I was able to get a similar color by using a tiny bit of turmeric while pickling the radishes.
Kabees El Lift is a popular Lebanese dish, often served as a lighter side to heavy meat dishes. The dish sports a vibrant pink color, which is made by adding beets to the turnips as they ferment. Fermented foods are great for adding natural probiotics into your diet. And, as Paul Jaminet points out, there is evidence of fermented foods like kimchi helping against autoimmune diseases and allergies. Plus they’re tasty.
I’m not sure how long this dish has been around, but I do know that turnips have been around for a long, long time; the Romans talked about them, and some of their original names were in Greek, which suggests they were eaten in Ancient Greece. Beets have been around just as long, although early forms were only the beet greens, and the bulbous root was developed/cultivated later.
For Thanksgiving this year, we decided to make a traditional side dish instead of trying to invent something new that is in line with our dietary restrictions. What we settled on is not a traditional dish for Thanksgiving by any means, but it’s a traditional one nonetheless!
Risotto is a dish first served in Italy in the 16th century, when rice was first introduced from neighboring Mediterranean cuisines, and gained popularity in Milan. Risotto was served in the United States in the 1800s, but didn’t get popular until after WWII (along with pizza). The 1980s are also a time when this dish became really popular and faddish in the US.
Gnocchi are a type of dumpling most often made with potatoes, and like many Italian dishes, there is a lot of variability to the dish. It’s commonly believed that gnocchi have been around since the Roman times, and that they actually came from the Middle East. It’s unclear whether the word gnocchi comes from nocchio (a knot in wood) or from nocca (knuckle). The addition of potatoes is relatively new, since they came over to Europe in the 15th century; semolina was widely used before then, and still used in some recipes today.
My version of the little dudes is very simple, and similar to many mass-produced variations of the dish. Sure, you could add all sorts of neat stuff like herbs or spinach, but I prefer to leave my gnocchi as a blank canvas for other tastes/sauces.