May 30th, 2016

Heirloom Grains, and Moving Musings

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roasted cauliflower-vidalia onion ragu over blue corn grits and
sea island peas cooked in bay laurel over carolina gold rice

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Bins, boxes, bubble wrap,
newsprint, packing tape, Sharpies.

Bit by bit, over the past weeks, moving mode has taken over, as I prepare to leave our home of sixteen years. While my mind churns, What will come with us? What will we sell? What will we give away? shelves and drawers begin to empty. Closets shed their contents. Sturdy cardboard boxes bound in wide tape line up along the walls. Bit by bit, the life force of this house ebbs away.

It’s a process, and through most of it, I’ve felt detached. It’s the best way to plow through the stuff you’ve been living with forever, all snippets of a bigger story. My friend Vicki calls it the house diary, and reviewing it can bring moments of pleasure.

One afternoon clearing out the secretary I found the menu from a little walk-up eatery in Mendocino that served the freshest tasting vegetable burrito I’d ever had. In a flash, I’m on that breezy rise overlooking the Pacific, limitless blue. Another day, a cache of my daughter’s elementary school art work surfaced, like her sweet Thanksgiving drawing of our green planet with her message “I am thankful for the world.”

Sometimes it’s caught me off guard, tapped into feelings deep within, a gush of grief, a pang of regret. Wrapping the little urn that contains photos and ashes of our cats, beloved and long deceased. Or coming across a random catering picture of me and Bill from 1993. We were so young. And I looked so pretty. Why did I not believe that about myself then?

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Sorting through the house diary also entails closing out the kitchen pantry. My mission has been to use up those ingredients in the freezer or larder. Of late, I’ve been cooking with an assortment of heirloom grains and legumes I ordered from Anson Mills of Charleston South Carolina.

Do you know about this place, its mission and its products? Since the late ’90’s, Glenn Roberts has labored to repatriate the Southern pantry with heirloom grains once prominent and –due to corporate farming practices–passed over.

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Carolina Gold rice, a specialty of the region revered for its plump texture and nutlike taste, had all but vanished. So had different strains of dent corn, which made the best tasting cornmeal and grits. On the wane, too, was the drought-resistant, protein-rich small red peas grown by the Gullah people of the Sea Islands dotting the Carolina coast. Reviving these southern foodways for us to enjoy now, and preserving them for future generations has been monumental work.

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Treat yourself (they are pricey) to these heirlooms. The rice, which I cooked in a sofrito of onion, garlic, and sweet red bell pepper and vegetable broth was addictive. Each deep-flavored grain-separate- had satisfying mouth-feel. True gold. The Sea Island red peas, cooked simply as you would other dried beans in onion, garlic and bay leaf, had a delicate savory-sweet pop. Together, they rivaled any bowl of red beans and rice I’d ever dipped my spoon into.

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As for the blue corn grits, a native American strain, I took care to follow the Anson Mills directions. The grits really benefit from a long soak and cook. Coarsely ground, my batch yielded a rich pebbled yet creamy texture. And what a color! When I topped it with the caramelized cauliflower-vidalia onion mixture—a tower of candy-sweet tastes—the result was so delicious, Bill and I could have been at Husk. Almost.

BLUE CORN GRITS WITH ROASTED CAULIFLOWER-VIDALIA ONION RAGU

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ROASTED CAULIFLOWER-VIDALIA ONION RAGU
1 head cauliflower, washed, chopped or broken into florets
2 Vidalia sweet onions, peeled and cut lengthwise into eighths
several sprigs of fresh thyme
kosher or sea salt
coarse ground black pepper
olive oil

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Place cut pieces of cauliflower and onions in to a large bowl. Sprinkle with salt and black pepper. Liberally coat with olive oil and spread out onto a baking sheet.
Place into the oven and roast for 15-20 minutes, until pieces are browned and caramelized.

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BLUE CORN GRITS (recipe adapted from Anson Mills)
1 cup Anson Mills Blue Corn Grits (or coarse grain white or yellow)
2 1/2 cups filtered water
2 cups vegetable broth
Fine sea salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Place the grits in a 3 quart heavy-bottomed saucepan and add the water. Stir well and let the grits settle for a few minutes. The chaff and hulls will rise to the surface—skim and discard. Cover and let the grits soak at least an hour–or overnight at room temperature.

Set the saucepan over medium heat and bring the mixture to a simmer, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon for 5 to 8 minutes. Reduce the heat to the lowest possible setting and cover the pan. Meanwhile, warm 2 cups of broth in a small saucepan. Every 10 minutes or so, uncover the grits and stir them; each time you find them thick enough to hold the spoon upright, stir in a small amount of the hot water, adding about 1½ cups water or more in 4 or 5 additions. Cook until the grits are creamy and tender throughout, but not mushy, and hold their shape on a spoon, about 50 minutes if the grits were soaked or about 90 minutes if they weren’t. Add 1 teaspoon of salt halfway through the cooking time. To finish, season to taste with salt and pepper.

ASSEMBLY

Ladle grits into bowls. Mound each with roasted cauliflower-onion mixture. Sprinkle shredded pecorino and chives over the tops. Serves 4.

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Posted in Gluten Free, Recipes, Rice/Other Grains/Legumes, Vegan, Vegetarian Dishes | 26 Comments »




June 4th, 2014

Shrimp-Sweet Pea-Rice Croquettes

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Making those grand “never” statements can get you into trouble. Things will come along in life to prove otherwise. Like when I recently told a friend, “I never fry food.” In a blink, not one but two recipes caught my attention, very different from each another, yet both requiring a plunge into a skillet of hot oil.

Stay with me–they are worth it. In fact, they can be made at the same time and served together–making the most out of the oil-filled fry pan. I’ll amend my grand “never” statement to “I don’t usually fry food, but there are times when it is just the thing.”

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The first, Shrimp-Sweet Pea-Rice Croquettes, comes courtesy of Chef B J Dennis. Hailing from Charleston, South Carolina, B J is a personal chef and caterer whose focus is the food of the Gullah-Geechee people, his heritage. Descendants of enslaved West Africans who were brought to this country to work the rice plantations, they live mainly on the Sea Islands dotted along the South Carolina-Georgia coast.

In part, because of the isolation of the islands, in part, because the climate and growing conditions were similar to their coastal West African homes, the people were able to form their own communities, easily adapt their fishing and farming practices, continue their arts, rituals, and cuisine. Because the Africans came from different tribes, they formed their own language, a meld of various West African tongues and English. Over the centuries, the Gullah community evolved and endured.

But with “progress,” the communities have become threatened. Many adult children have the left the islands, seeking work elsewhere. And the islands themselves have seen the creep of gentrification, as land has been sold off for vacation places and resort homes.

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B J is seeking to preserve the Gullah culture through food. I attended a six-course tasting dinner here in Nashville where he partnered with chef Sean Brock to educate minds and palates to the cuisine, and its strong connection to West African cookery. His crispy shrimp-sweet pea-rice croquettes, our first tasting, were spectacular: rustic and sophisticated, chockful of shrimp, with green onion, ginger and nuanced heat in the mix.

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He happily shared his recipe, which uses Carolina Gold rice. This grain, once the main cash crop of South Carolina, almost vanished with the Great Depression. Post World War 2, rice production became industrialized, and corporately grown Uncle Ben’s took over the market. It wasn’t until the late ’90’s that Glen Roberts decided to repatriate the Southern pantry, and revive lost ingredients. Since 1998, his Anson Mills has brought back native cornmeal and grits, red peas, and the plump flavorful grains of Carolina Gold.

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One of the beauties of the recipe is that it makes ideal use of leftover or overcooked rice. The combination of shrimp, onion, sweet peas, sweet bell pepper and ginger laced through the rice is fantastic. The juxtaposition of hot crisp exterior and delicate filling is very pleasing. Someone at the dinner mentioned that it reminded her of arancini, the Italian rice fritters. Yes, in a way. If you want to make the dish entirely gluten free, use a little rice flour instead of all purpose to help bind the mixture.

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B J calls his approach to food “Vibration Cooking.” That term was first coined around 1970 by Vertamae Smith-Grosvenor, a food writer, culinary anthropologist, and storyteller. No strict measurements or method, but rather the magical combination of a person’s intuition, attitude, energy, and the ingredients at hand are what make plate of food delicious.

Therefore, in his recipe, he gives a range of quantities. You could add more rice, use whatever kind of onion you prefer, spark it with more than salt and black pepper, serve the croquettes by themselves, or with a sauce of choice. He served his with a Geechee peanut sauce, which is inspired by Senegalese sauce of tomatoes, peanut butter, onions, and spices. He did not share his recipe, but this link to Cooking Light’s version is a close approximation.

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I’ll attempt that sauce another day, as I had another sauce to try. Part 2 of my oil-frying includes this simple Fried Broccoli Florets with Vegan Mustard-Shallot Aioli–adapted from a local restaurant, Pinewood Social. The florets are not battered, but simply fried until crispy. After frying, dust the florets with sea salt and lemon zest. So good!

Even better is this vegan dipping sauce, made with ground raw almonds, golden raisins, shallot, garlic, lemon, Dijon and olive oil.

Toss the whole shebang into a food processor and let it rip! The almonds eventually puree and thicken the mixture, but some terrific texture remains. The tang of the shallot and mustard is tempered with the sweetness of golden raisins.

You’d “never” believe there’s nary a speck of egg or dairy in this creamy aioli.

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B J DENNIS’ CRISPY SHRIMP-SWEET PEA-RICE CROQUETTES
2 cups overcooked rice or leftover rice,(Carolina Gold)
1 cup seasoned and cooked shrimp (wild American) coarsely chopped (about 1/2 pound shrimp or more)
½ cup cooked fresh sweet peas or thawed frozen peas
¼ cup minced spring onions (or any onion you like)
¼ cup minced red bell pepper
1-2 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon minced ginger
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper
2 tablespoons rice flour or all-purpose flour
cooking oil, such as canola or peanut

Pulse the cooked rice in a food processor.
Place all of the ingredients except flour into a large bowl and mix.
Add enough flour just to make sure the mixture binds together.
Roll out into little balls or cylinders, size depends on how big you like your fritter.
Place a skillet on medium heat. Add vegetable oil to 1 inch.
Shallow fry until golden brown and thoroughly cooked, rotating and turning the fritters so that they brown on all sides.

Makes approximately 20 croquettes.

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VEGAN MUSTARD-SHALLOT AIOLI (adapted from Josh Habiger, Pinewood Social)
1/2 cup raw almonds
1/4 cup golden raisins
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 shallot, chopped
1 garlic clove, chopped
juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup water
pinch salt

Place almonds, raisins, red wine vinegar, Dijon mustard, shallot, garlic, and lemon juice into the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Pulse and then process, pouring in the olive oil followed by the water. Process until smooth. Stir in a pinch of salt, if desired. Pour into a bowl and refrigerate until ready to serve. It will continue to thicken as it sets and chills.

Makes about 1 1/2 cups.

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FRIED BROCCOLI
Canola oil
1 head of fresh broccoli, cut into florets, cleaned and thoroughly dried
zest of one lemon
sea salt

Fill a saucepan or skillet with 2 inches oil. Heat to 375 degrees.
Fry broccoli until the edges appear crispy. This should take about a minute.
Remove and drain on a paper towel.
Sprinkle with lemon zest and sea salt.
Serve with Vegan Aioli.

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Posted in Appetizers/Hors D'oeuvres, Fish/Seafood, Gluten Free, Recipes, Rice/Other Grains/Legumes, Sauces, Vegan, Vegetables | 8 Comments »