Friday, July 30, 2010

West Indian Gherkin

At the market this morning, I spied some of these pointy beasts at Mark Bishop's stand. I haven't seen West Indian Gherkins (Cucumis anguria) in a long time, so I brought the little cucumber cousins home with me to share with the crew and with my blog readers. I'm sure they'll end up in the next batch of pickles that I put up, hopefully next week.

In the garden, you'll see that the vines are of similar size to common cucumber (C. sativus) vines, but that the leaves more closely resemble watermelon (Citrullus lanatus) leaves than cucumber leaves. They're prolific little guys too. One plant yields dozens of fruits. If you see some at a market near you, bring them home and give them a try.

Thursday, July 29, 2010


Sorry for the dearth of posts recently. Staffing and personal issues have taken a huge toll on my free time.

I've always been a fan of foraging for food: it's hard to beat the price of free food! Now that it is mid-summer, local purslane is in full swing and there happens to be a bunch growing in the crack where the asphalt of the parking lot meets the stucco of the restaurant. And how ironic that this wild Portulaca (P. oleracea) with its tiny yellow blooms is growing under the window boxes full of its showy cousins with the big pink and fuchsia blossoms.

But be careful when foraging anything whose identity you're not certain of. Growing in the same crack right next to the purslane is a Spotted Spurge (Euphorbia maculata) which I have seen people confuse with purslane and which is mildly toxic. Spotted spurge, as you can see, has very thin stems which exude a milky sap when broken and has tiny leaves that are opposite each other on the stems. This is an entirely different growth habit from the purslane with its large succulent stems and whorls of leaves, largely at the end of its stems.

Here in the United States, purslane is considered a weed; however, it finds favor as a salad and cooking herb around the world. In Mexico, purslane is called verdolaga and while it is often used in green chile and pork stews, I like it best when used raw on tacos. Nothing like carnitas on a fresh corn tortilla with a nice tart green tomatillo salsa and a sprig of purslane. And in the Mediterranean and Middle East, you'll see purslane leaves in all manner of chopped salads and often in tzatziki-style yogurt sauces and salads.

We use purslane in salads (just the leaves) where the crunchy and slightly tart leaves make a pleasant addition. We also toss some in sautés with spinach, garlic, and olive oil. The whole plant is edible, stems, leaves, and blooms, but I find the stems a bit much, so I just strip off the leaves. Also, because purslane is a succulent, it has a mucilaginous quality similar to okra. I like purslane best when raw or just slightly cooked: it becomes a bit slimy for me when cooked longer.

It's pretty neat and no doubt you have some growing in one of your gardens or flower beds. Give it a try.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Chef's Tasting

I finally managed to get some photos from last night's Chef's Table menu. It's often too busy to photo the food.

Leek and Potato Shooter. A shooter of classic Vichyssoise topped with an oca latke and micro onion greens. Oca is a rare Andean tuber that strikes me as a cross between a fingerling potato and a sunchoke/Jerusalem artichoke. Oca is an Oxalis (O. tuberosa), so it brings a little of that classic sweet-tart oxalic acid flavor to the party. The micro onion greens are from Chef's Garden and are not onions at all. What they are, I don't really know, but they have a small tomato-like leaf and a great onion flavor. The idea behind this dish is that you eat the latke in a single bite and chase it with the soup.

Cantaloupe Carpaccio. Mandoline-cut local cantaloupe topped with cubes of cantaloupe marinated in lime zest and agave nectar, Thai basil oil, micro Thai basil, purslane, and red ribbon (aka blood) sorrel. I'm so glad that cantaloupes are just starting to ripen here. Notice the generous grind of pepper on the dish; cantaloupe loves pepper: it brings out the sweetness in the melon. Wine pairing: Broadbent Vinho Verde NV.

Tomato. We should have tomatoes coming out of our ears by now what with all this scorching weather, but nobody can seem to get tomatoes to ripen this year. We have been hoarding and ripening a very few tomatoes just for this tasting. Here you see tomato ricotta gnocchi in a pool of pesto garnished with micro opal basil, a small tomato stuffed with yellow tomato granita, and a tomato taco suave. The tortilla is masa and tomato, the filling is tomato dice tossed in pesto, and the garnishes are sun-dried tomato sour cream and micro basil. I was very pleased with the amount of flavor we managed to pull from the yellow tomato granita, which we served with a grind of sea salt on top. Wine pairing: Château de Ségriès Tavel Rosé 2009.

Lamb Makisushi. This dish is the answer to the question, "How do we serve lamb like sushi?" You see a maki roll of grilled summer squash, Israeli couscous, and braised lamb shank. The green garnish is leek leaves. The wasabi is colored mashed potatoes, the gari (pickled ginger) is pickled zucchini, and the soy sauce is the lamb braising liquid. High cuisine? I don't know. Fun? Most definitely. Wine pairing: Fabbioli Cabernet Franc Virginia 2008.

Napoleon of Pulled Pork. This dish represents summer to us. We were looking for a way to showcase corn, squash, and tomatoes in the same dish. You see a napoleon whose layers are, from the bottom to the top, sinfully unctuous squash cake, pulled pork, pimentón- and cornmeal-crusted green tomato, pulled pork, and fresh corn cake. The pork is shoulder that we have braised in the Cuban style: classic puerco con mojo. Garnishes are micro cilantro, sweet corn sauce, charred corn, red and orange pepper confetti, and chipotle adobo. Wine pairing: Fabbioli Chambourcin Virginia 2008.

Blueberry Cheesecake. I'm starting to move away from the slice of dessert on a plate school and moving more to deconstructed desserts. Here you see bite-sized blueberry cheesecakes, fresh blueberries, blueberry sauce, crème anglaise, graham cracker crust, and micro lemon balm. I'm very happy with this dessert. Wine pairing: Di Lenardo Verduzzo Passito Venezia Giulia 2003.