Thursday, September 5, 2013

Recipes For Dad's Birthday

Produce from The Sonnenhof

Today is my dad’s birthday. He would’ve been ninety. From him, I inherited, or maybe learned, my love of good, whole food. He was a cotton farmer in the Texas panhandle. We also had a big garden every summer. He reserved about an acre of ground right in the middle of the cotton patch and behind the house. Every April, while he still had the cotton seed planter on the tractor, we planted two long rows of sweet corn, okra, black eyed peas and green beans. The rest we planted by hand – yellow squash, cantaloupes, watermelons, tomato and pepper plants. By that time, the spring radishes and onions were ready to pull and the potatoes had been planted. There wasn’t much fresh produce available back then at supermarkets, especially in rural areas, and we ate really well from that simple garden. My dad loved all of it, and I mean LOVED it! We knew he was happy when he smacked his food loudly, or when sweat was rolling off his bald head while he ate jalapenos, one right after the other. Hot peppers were some of his favorites.

He also had a great fondness for Mexican food -- REAL Mexican food, even though that hadn’t really caught on in restaurants in Texas back then. We had Mexican hands on the cotton farm that prepared some wonderful dishes (especially homemade tortillas!) and my dad was always on the lookout for new varieties of seeds to try. A few years before he passed away, he managed to acquire some tomatilla seeds and they became his obsession as he had eaten them in Mexico years earlier. I don’t think he was ever terribly successful at growing them, but he was determined. Little did he know he probably tried too hard – I’ve found them to be a weed that’s almost impossible to control once they get loose on the farm! I always think of him whenever I make Salsa Verde, a treat he probably never had, but would’ve loved.

Here are a few recipes in his honor, made with the abundance we’ve been receiving from our garden this summer.  Enjoy!

Chicken Corn Chowder
We have a few too many chickens right now and far too many eggs. We also have too little freezer space, so I’ve started butchering some of the older hens and using them right away. Once a hen has been in egg production for a couple of years, she’s awfully small and there’s not much meat left on her, but you get some of the best flavored broth imaginable – very healthful because it’s so rich in gelatin. I used to believe one needed to pressure cook the older birds to get them tender, but I’ve found that a big oval crock pot will stew down two small birds at once. I always add a splash of cider vinegar to the pot to help extract as much of the wonderful gelatin as possible!

I bought and put up two bushels of sweet corn a couple months ago and there is an abundance of pepper and garlic varieties from the garden right now. This hearty soup makes the best use of everything. If you don’t have pumpkinseeds, you can substitute pecans or simply add a bit more corn grits for thickening.

*1/4 cup butter or olive oil
*1 large onion, chopped
*3-4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
*1 red bell pepper, diced
*2-3 poblano peppers, roasted, skinned, seeded and diced
*1 teaspoon ground coriander
*1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
*2 cups fresh or frozen corn
*2 cups chicken broth
*1/2 cup pumpkinseeds, pureed in the blender or food processor
*1/4 cup quick-cooking grits
*2 cups cooked chicken
*2 cups whole milk
*1/2 cup feta or farmer’s cheese, crumbled
*1 cup heavy cream
*chopped cilantro to taste

In a stockpot, sauté the butter/oil and the onion, garlic, peppers and spices until tender. Stir in the frozen corn and sauté until cooked, 2-3 minutes. Add the broth, pumpkinseeds and grits, then cook for about 5 minutes, or until the grits are thickened. Add the chicken, milk and cheese. Heat until the cheese is melted and the milk is scalded. Add the cream and cilantro and heat gently.

Chicken Corn Chowder

 Curried Okra
I find it sad that more people don’t love okra. It doesn’t have to be slimy and it doesn’t have to be a deep-fried nightmare. We grow the Louisiana and Emerald Green Velvet varieties of okra, which we like much better than the Clemson everyone else seems to grow. After dining at a Vietnamese/Thai restaurant in Fort Smith, this flavor combination has become one of our favorites. Be warned if you use Madras-style curry powder – it packs a lot of heat by itself without the addition of the hot peppers! Oh and, always start with dry okra pods – water activates the slime while cutting.

*1/4 cup sunflower or extra-light-tasting olive oil
*chopped garlic to taste
*fresh chopped or dried hot peppers to taste
*1 pound-ish of okra, cut on the diagonal into 1” pieces
*1 teaspoon sea salt
*2 tablespoons curry powder (more to taste)
*1 small can coconut milk (5.6 oz)
*a little sugar to taste, if needed
*2 hard-boiled, chopped eggs (optional)

Have everything ready before starting. Heat a wok or large heavy pan on high heat. Add the oil and wait for it to be almost to the point of smoking. (It should be VERY hot!) Quickly toss in the okra, garlic and peppers and stir like mad to coat the okra with the oil. (This method prevents the slime from forming.) Stir-fry the okra for about 5 minutes, or until tender. Reduce heat, then stir in the salt, curry powder and coconut milk. The mixture will thicken almost immediately. Turn off the heat and taste for sweetness, adding a sprinkle of sugar if necessary. Stir in the chopped eggs.

Salsa Verde
We love this stuff. Hans often orders it at Mexican restaurants instead of the standard salsa they usually bring you with chips. I use it by the pint-sized jar on chicken enchiladas. This is the simple version. It’s even better with some fire-roasted poblanos and if you can manage it, cook the tomatillas over an open fire as well.

In a deep saucepan or stockpot, cover your clean, whole tomatillas with water and bring to a boil. Turn off the heat and let them sit, covered, for 20 minutes. Gently (very gently!) lift them out with a slotted spoon or pour them through a colander. Transfer them to a blender or food processor and puree.

For each approximate quart of pureed tomatillas, prepare/add the following:

*1 large onion, finely chopped and cooked, covered, in the microwave for about 5 minutes
*3-4 cloves of garlic
*1 chopped Serrano pepper
*1 teaspoon salt
*1 tablespoon of lime juice (opt.)

Blend/puree thoroughly, then pour into a saucepan to heat until just boiling. Add a handful of chopped cilantro. Ladle into clean, sterilized jars and water bath for 20 minutes. If you don’t make much at a time, just cap the jars and put them in the fridge to eat fresh.
Salsa Verde
Five-Spice Honey Yogurt
This is a wonderful light dessert after a heavy or spicy meal. The spice mix is a digestive and the honey is carminative (soothing to the digestive tract). You can use most any kind of fruit. We keep gallon bags of blackberries in the freezer year round and when peaches are in season, those are great too.

*1 cup fresh chopped or frozen thawed fruit
*2 tablespoons sugar
*1 cup yogurt
*1 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
*1-2 tablespoons honey

Sprinkle the sugar over the fruit, mash it up a bit with a fork or pastry cutter and let the sugar draw out the liquid for at least 10 minutes. Stir in the remaining ingredients. Delicious at room temp, cold or even slightly frozen.
My first watermelon from Dad's garden