22 September 2009

Pepper Paste

Thanks to a generous gift of hot red peppers from my mother-in-law I was able to embark on a first-time journey of making Turkish red pepper paste, or "biber salcasi". In the southeast of Turkey where I sojourned for a year, no kitchen is complete without a bucket of pepper paste handy. Yes, a bucket. In Gaziantep cuisine, food prepared without at least a spoonful of this rich, zesty red goo is pretty rare.

In high summer, when the spicy red bell peppers are peaking, Antepli housewives hunker down with their buckets and knives and pare loads and loads of peppers for grinding. Once ground, the peppers morph into an orangey "soup" that is poured into pans and set out in the hot sun to thicken over a period of days. Each day the pepper soup is worried over and stirred. It's color begins to brighten as water evaporates off. Finally, it is paste. Olive oil and salt are added as preservatives and the paste is stashed under the kitchen sink or another convenient location to be dipped into daily for soups, meat dishes, kofte, to spread on bread, you name it.

I was not so fortunate as to have a reliable stretch of hot, sunny days, so had to resort to using the oven, set at 200F, to make my pepper paste over a period of several hours (I did it along with my dried tomatoes). I was also not so fortunate as to end up with a whole bucket of it the lovely goo. Rather, from 12 hot peppers and two large sweet red bell peppers my labors yielded about two cups of this delightful stuff. It is so precious to me, that I even had a dream last night about one of my sisters shamelessly using up all but a few spoonfuls of it in a single day! I was happy to wake and discover my jar of pepper paste silently, calmly holding out on my fridge shelf, just where I'd left it.

The Peppers (and how they shrunk) . . .

orangey soup stage

Finally, biber salcasi!

13 September 2009

Dried Green Tomatoes

You've heard of fried green tomatoes, right? Slices of green tomato dipped in a milk/egg mixture, dredged in flour, and fried in oil . . . At least once a summer I sneak past the garden guards and heist a pre-ripe tomato or two for this treat. Oddly enough, I think they're good dipped in ketchup. A bit gruesome for the tomato perhaps.

But--as per post title--I'm not talking about fried green tomatoes, but DRIED green tomatoes. Yes, it was NOT a typo (though given the proximity of "f" and "d" on the keyboard and my sometimes-atrocious typing skills that could have been a definite possibility).

Thanks again to the in-laws for inspiration. I gathered the meager remaining ripe red tomatoes from our plants in anticipation of making some oven dried tomatoes. This process requires turning your oven on to a low heat and drying the fruit for 6 - 8 hours. I couldn't just do one tray! I had to put that energy to good use by drying something else. How about green tomatoes? It was worth a shot.

So, here's how it went down. I quartered and de-seeded the red tomatoes, placing them cut side up on a foil-lined baking sheet. I sprinkled them with coarse sea salt, some dried basil, oregano, and a little lavender, and gave everything a good glug of extra virgin olive oil (which I had to run to the grocer's for). I did the same for the green tomatoes, skipping the de-seeding since they weren't as juicy inside.

After slowly roasting for about 6 hours, the smallest pieces were done, a little leathery, but still succulent inside. Another hour or two and I pulled them all out. Delicious! Some of the red ones went right onto a pizza, and the rest were placed in a small baggie to be frozen. I've now been gifted with a bucket of cherry and roma tomatoes that will get dried in the same fashion. Yay!

10 September 2009

Late Summer Salsa

There is a tree just around the corner from my house whose leaves have turned yellow-brown and are falling at the slightest provocation. I've gotten out the sweater socks and swapped the summer quilt for a thicker one. Yep. All signs point towards fall. I've almost committed to this being my favorite season. I love the air nipping at me and getting cozy with warm blankets, hot tea, and hoodies. And scarves. I simply relish the smell of decaying leaves and the way cooler air seems to sharpen that sense of smell.

By winter, coziness has lost its charm, and I pine for spring. The thrill of crocuses and daffodils! The glory of budding dogwoods and redbuds! The delight at tossing off winter coats and daring to go barefoot again! And so I just can't quite commit completely to fall.

But it is one of my top seasonal loves. In Number One spot for the time being. For better or for worse, fall is about here and there's no chance to preserve any more of summer (unless I do some sun-dried tomatoes yet). Our four plants (yes, all tomatoes) are slowing production, and in a few short weeks a good frost is going to nip any remaining buds. This evening I was seized by a nostalgic urge to make the most of the time I had left with my backyard produce. Inspired by some in-laws, I decided to make salsa (sans cilantro), using just what I had in my own backyard.

Colander in hand, I headed out to the tomato patch for the main ingredient--green and red roma's and golden nugget tomatoes yielded to a slight tug. I added two small bell peppers (we did plant some peppers, they just got--literally--overshadowed by the tomato plants). Next stop: herb patch. Basil, chives, rosemary, lavender, and marigold. And in the front flower bed, a tiny jalepeno that survived a slug-crunching early in the growing season. A quick rinse, a shake, some dicing and chopping, and viola! Salsa. It doesn't get much more local than this, folks! Below is a rendering of what I came up with.

Anita's Late Summer Salsa

2 cups diced assorted tomatoes
1 small bell pepper, diced (about 1/3 cup)
2 tsp minced fresh chives
2 tsp minced fresh basil
1/4 tsp minced fresh rosemary (I don't like a strong rosemary flavor)
1/4 tsp lavender flowers (careful not to add too many of these!)
1 pathetically small jalepeno, minced
Petals of one marigold
not from the garden:
1 tsp olive oil
juice from 1/2 a lemon
salt/pepper to taste

Instructions: are any needed? Stir ingredients together. Eat.

Served up with some fried plantains
(also not from our garden!)

Happy Last Week of Summer!

Mini Cini's

Here's a fun, easy way to do cinnamon rolls. I made a batch of bread dough, then used one loaf's worth for cinnamon rolls. I wanted to make them small for camping, so I rolled them to about 3-in thickness, sliced, and placed them in well-greased muffin tins. So cute! They got a little glumpy after sitting in a container for three days, so I'd recommend eating them right away!