There’s a method to mix, match alternative grains

Gluten-free grains, from left: amaranth, chia, millet, quinoa, and teff. MCT photo

Gluten-free flour, specifically Tom Sawyer brand, is the basis for many recipes by a popular local food company.

There’s more than baking, though, in “The Sterling Silver Food Company Gluten Free Guide and Cookbook,” featured this week in A la Carte. Author Nancy Shulenberger appropriately is known for her baked goods, but she has years of experience devising gluten-free menus for her family. The book’s section on alternative grains is a nice primer for anyone embarking on this lifestyle.

Whole grains, gluten-free and otherwise, also are the focus of the new book “Amazing Grains: From Classic to Contemporary, Wholesome Recipes for Every Day,” by Ghillie James (Kyle Books, $29.95).

Tackling more than a dozen grains, James also includes amaranth, buckwheat, chia and quinoa, often called “pseudograins,” for their similar nutrient profile but also because they can be used in ways similar to cereals.

For whole-foods cooks, much of this is old hat. But I found a recent Chicago Tribune article on James’ book interesting for its explanation of how to combine more than one grain in a variety of dishes.

Turns out, there is a method to mixing and matching grains. Using a mix of whole and pearled grains or pseudograins makes a recipe lighter, delivers more flavor and maximizes nutrients, says James. She also likes to combine grains and legumes.

For example, James likes to mix mild, crunchy quinoa with the nutty, slightly malty amaranth in a salad with roasted pumpkin wedges and macadamia nuts. In another salad, she mixes nutty, earthy buckwheat with mild quinoa before adding green beans, arugula, peaches, mozzarella and prosciutto.

There are a few caveats. Follow grain-cooking instructions for precise results. If a number of grains are boiled together, you can risk a “stodgy mess!” This is why some recipes cook different grains separately before combining them, although quick-cooking grains can be added later to a pot of slow-cooking grains.

And pay attention to proportions of ingredients. “People often cook way too much grain and not enough added extras,” says James. “Think of the grains as the canvas and add a colorful variety of things to it.”

Here are a few more tips:

Make sure grains are not stale or rancid

Cooking times can vary from 10 minutes (buckwheat) to 60 minutes (rye berries).

Whole grains generally require longer cooking times than pearled (refined or processed) grains.

If you like grains with bite, keep testing so you don’t overcook them.

Toast grains for extra flavor: Place grains in a dry skillet; heat gently, stirring, until evenly toasted. Cook as usual.

Then combine grains in James’ five-step salad:

To cooked grains, add some fruit/vegetables (cucumber, scallions, radish, celery, peppers, tomato, corn, asparagus, apple, avocado, grapes, grated carrot, dried apricots, green beans, snow peas).

Throw in some crumbled feta, drained canned tuna, cold crispy bacon, leftover roasted meat or sausages, shrimp, goat cheese, white beans or chickpeas.

Sprinkle with some nuts and seeds (pumpkin, chia seeds, toasted almonds, pine nuts).

Drizzle with olive oil and lemon juice. Season well.

Here is a more in-depth guide to several gluten-free grains mentioned in both James’ and Shulenberger’s books:

AMARANTH

Color: Sand-colored seeds.

Taste: Mild, nutty, slightly malty.

Texture: Some crunch, slight oatmeal-like consistency. Can get gluey, so mix with a drier grain such as oats.

Use: Boil whole for salads or sides. Or toast in a dry skillet.

MILLET

Color: Cream to black.

Taste: Creamy; nutty if toasted.

Texture: Creamy when cooked longer.

Add: Cook whole for stews or salads. Add to breads or toast in a skillet.

QUINOA

Color: Usually white; also black or red.

Taste: Mild, slightly grassy flavor.

Texture: Slightly crunchy.

Use: In soups and stews. Works in salads. Add to fritters and burgers.

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Eggs make for economical, unconventional curry

The simplicity of Burmese cuisine, mentioned in a previous post, extends to its sparse use of protein.

Eggs are more commonly consumed in Burma than meat, according to a recent story in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. That works just fine for adapting this dish to my kitchen, where eggs are cooked almost every day.

As I noted before, Burmese food combines the culinary influences of all its neighbors. That’s particularly evident in this dish’s tamarind paste and fish sauce, often seen in Thai food, abutting Indian chili powder and turmeric.

There also are tomatoes, so liberally used in Burma that it can bring to mind Mediterranean fare, said an Oregon chef for my February story on the subject. Aside from a few specialty ingredients, which can be omitted, this dish is an economical meal for four and requires little hands-on time.

Tribune News Service photo

Burmese Egg Curry

1 small bunch cilantro

3 medium onions, peeled

1 tablespoon peanut oil or other vegetable oil

1 (14.5-ounce) can chopped tomatoes

1 teaspoon tamarind paste, 1-inch cube of tamarind block or 1 teaspoon lemon juice (see note A)

6 curry leaves (optional)

1 tablespoon paprika

1 teaspoon turmeric

1 teaspoon Indian chili powder or cayenne (see note B)

1 teaspoon fish sauce (optional)

8 large eggs

Cucumber slices for garnish

Radishes, for garnish

Cut stems off the cilantro and mince them, reserving leaves for later. Dice the onions finely.

In a saucepan over medium heat, heat the oil; add minced cilantro stems and finely diced onions. Saute until onions become tender, for about 2 to 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes, tamarind paste, optional curry leaves, paprika, turmeric, chili powder and optional fish sauce.

Simmer lightly for 2 hours, until mixture reduces. Use a hand blender or potato masher to get rid of any lumps.

While curry simmers, place the eggs in a saucepan and cover by an inch or 2 of water. Bring to a boil, lower temperature to a hard simmer and cook 4 minutes. Run eggs under cold water to stop cooking. Peel eggs and slice in half; yolks should be creamy, somewhere between hard-boiled and soft-boiled.

Add egg halves to simmering sauce and stir until coated. Serve immediately over hot rice. Sprinkle some reserved cilantro leaves on top and serve the cucumbers and radishes as a garnish.

Makes 4 servings.

NOTE (a): If using a tamarind block, available at Asian markets, soak the cube overnight in 1/2 cup boiling water until it breaks down into a thick paste; remove stones and fibrous bits.

NOTE (b): Indian chili powder, which is always spelled “chilli,” can be found in international stores; do not use Mexican chili powder, which is not the same thing. Both Indian chili powder and the suggested substitution of cayenne are very hot; use less, or even much less, if desired.

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Green beans go global from gleaning garden

Returning home after a week away puts me in the mood for home cooking, despite the near-empty refrigerator.

In fall, of course, it isn’t such a hardship. Not when the garden is still producing enough kale, squash, tomatoes, even green beans to compose a meal. Foraging last night for pizza toppings, I managed to scavenge enough beans hidden among the vines to inspire the next evening’s dinner.

They could be the canvas for Salade Nicoise, a toothsome addition to Thai- or Indian-style curry, a study in green with pesto-tossed pasta, or sautéed for a simple side dish. This way with green beans is inspired by Burmese cuisine, the subject of a February story in A la Carte.

Simpler combinations of spices distinguish Burmese food from that of its more high-profile neighbor, Thailand. Combining Thai influences with Chinese, Indian, even Laotian and Bangladeshi, Burmese food recently captivated food writer Daniel Neman, who didn’t even have to leave St. Louis to try it.  This recipe accompanied Neman’s story for Tribune News Service.

Tribune News Service photo

Fried Green Beans

3/4 pound (12 ounces) green beans

1/2 teaspoon sesame seeds

1/2 tablespoon oil (not olive oil)

2 teaspoons chili-garlic sauce

2 teaspoons oyster sauce

1 teaspoon fish sauce

1/4 teaspoon sesame oil

Rinse and trim the green beans. Place paper towels on a plate and set aside.

Put a small skillet over medium heat. Add the sesame seeds and toast until golden-brown, stirring and tossing seeds frequently to keep them from burning. Set aside.

In a small bowl, mix together the chili-garlic sauce, oyster sauce and fish sauce. Set aside.

In a wok or large skillet over medium-high heat, heat the oil. Add green beans and saute for 5 minutes until done. Remove beans to prepared plate to drain on paper towels.

Return beans to wok or skillet on medium-high heat. Add chili-garlic sauce mixture and stir or toss to coat well. Add sesame oil for fragrance and immediately remove to serving platter. Sprinkle liberally with toasted sesame seeds.

Makes 4 servings.

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Battered, fried bhaji bring street food to the table

My mouth is still watering from the last post’s mention of Indian-style “battered and fried things.” This street food turned restaurant appetizer for Americans most definitely would fill the bill.

The Washington Post adapted these Onion Bhaji from a recipe by chef Floyd Cardoz for a recent article on food’s starring role in “The Hundred-Foot Journey” and other culinary-inspired films. Serve them with this mint-cilantro chutney, “one of the most popular in India,” writes Monica Bhide in her book “Modern Spice: Inspired Indian Flavors for the Contemporary Kitchen.”

Onion Bhaji

1 1/2 to 2 quarts canola oil, for frying

2 to 3 red onions, cut into very thin slivers (about 4 cups total)

1 serrano chili, stemmed, seeded and minced

Leaves and tender stems from 10 cilantro stems, chopped

Pinch whole awajain seed, crushed (available at Asian markets; may substitute dried thyme)

1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric

Pinch salt

1 1/2 cups chickpea flour (also called besan or gram flour; available at Asian markets)

Pour the oil into a medium, heavy-bottomed pot to a depth of at least 3 inches and heat over medium-high heat to 350 F on an instant-read thermometer. Line a platter or baking sheet with several layers of paper towels.

Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl, combine the onions, serrano, cilantro, awajain seed, turmeric and salt; use clean hands to toss together.

Place the flour in a separate bowl. Add a little water at a time, using fingers to work just enough of it in to form a thick paste that does not move when bowl is briefly inverted. Add paste to onion mixture; use hands to make sure solids are evenly coated.

To test oil, drop in a good pinch of coated onion mixture; if it quickly bobs to surface with bubbles around it, oil is ready.

Working in 3 or 4 batches (keeping in mind the goal of 12 to 15 bhajis), drop small handfuls of onion mixture into hot oil; fry for a few minutes, until golden-brown. Bhajis will become crisped, crunchy tangles, soft on their insides. Transfer to paper towels to drain.

Serve hot, with chutney for dipping. Makes 4 to 5 servings (makes 12 to 15 fritters).

 

Mint-Cilantro Chutney

1 cup each, packed: cilantro leaves and mint leaves

1 green serrano chili (optional)

1/4 small red onion, peeled and sliced

1 tablespoon dried pomegranate seeds (optional)

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon salt

In a blender jar, blend all the ingredients to a smooth paste. Add up to 2 tablespoons water if needed. Taste; add more salt if needed. Transfer to a covered container; chill for about 30 minutes. Serve cool. Refrigerate up to 4 days.

Makes 1 cup.

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Cardamom makes proverbial pairing with pears

Pears and apples play together like peas and carrots, or so say the cooks behind this month’s recipes featuring both fruits at Ashland Food Co-op.

OK, the Co-op’s culinary education specialist, Mary Shaw, didn’t quite put it in those terms for this week’s story in A la Carte. But readers certainly should have gleaned plenty of reasons, along with several recipes, to pair apples and pears while both are freshly harvested.

But there’s another flavor that goes with pears like peanut butter goes with jelly, like bagels with lox, according to a recent story by Daniel Neman in the St. Louis Post Dispatch. That’s cardamom, a globe-trotting spice that elevates side dishes, main courses and desserts with its characteristic combination of astringency and subtle sweetness.

Cardamom is commonplace in chai tea and other staples of Indian cuisine. Indeed, a simple cake showcasing cardamom is the final course in an upcoming Co-op cooking class that hosts Niloufer King, James Bear Award-wining author of “My Bombay Kitchen.”

I was sorry to miss King’s visit to Southern Oregon, more so because the region would do well with more Indian restaurants. Her Oct. 10 sold-out class promises some greatest hits of her native fare, including masala prawns, green mango chutney, papadum, pickled turmeric and ginger and “battered and fried things,” said Shaw.

King suggests serving her cardamom cake with winter-fruit compote, said Shaw. Here’s a more involved take on that idea, courtesy of the Los Angeles Times, that could constitute a special-occasion dessert for months to come.

Pear and Cardamom Upside-Down Cake

MCT photo

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon cardamom (for better flavor, use freshly ground cardamom, from about 6 to 8 pods).

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter, room temperature, divided

3/4 cup packed golden-brown sugar

2 firm, ripe pears, preferably Anjou

1 tablespoon lemon juice

3/4 cup granulated sugar

2 eggs, at room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup milk, room temperature

Preheat oven to 350 F. Generously butter a 9-inch round cake pan.

Sift the flour, salt and baking powder together. Stir in the cardamom and set aside.

In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt 1/4 cup butter (1/2 stick). Add the brown sugar and stir for 2 to 3 minutes, until sugar has melted and combined with butter. Pour mixture into prepared cake pan, spreading it to reach the sides.

Peel the pears, cut in half and remove core and stem. Cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Arrange pear slices in a slightly overlapping circle around cake pan, starting at outer rim. Finish with several slices in center. Sprinkle pears with the lemon juice. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat remaining 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter until soft and fluffy. Add the granulated sugar and beat until smooth. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating after each addition. Beat in the vanilla, scraping down sides of bowl when needed. Add 1/3 of flour mixture, 1/2 of the milk, another 1/3 of flour, remaining milk, and remaining flour mixture, beating after each addition just until combined.

Gently spoon cake batter on top of pears, smoothing out to edge of pan and making sure cake batter fills in around pears.

Bake in preheated oven until top is a deep golden-brown and a skewer inserted in center comes out clean, for about 40 minutes. Place cake on a rack to cool for 5 minutes in pan.

Run a small spatula or knife around edge of pan and invert onto a cake plate, leaving pan on cake for 10 minutes. Carefully remove pan. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes 8 servings.

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Fermented or brined, pickles are paramount

Applegate residents Kirsten and Christopher Shockey have been fermenting vegetables for the past 15 years, long before home preserving or probiotics were trendy.

Their cookbook, “Fermenting Vegetables,” is hitting shelves as mainstream interest in the topic is peaking. Read more about it in this week’s food section.

The Shockeys’ is one of several new books in the genre, appealing, according to experts, because fermented foods have been missing from the American diet for so long. And chefs are tapping into the pungency and lively flavors of pickling.

Pickles, whether fermented or brined, are paramount within a good meal, says San Francisco cookbook author and instructor Karen Solomon. Balancers of flavors and textures, they are “bright, savory, deep, unctuous” condiments that add salt and contrast richness.

Solomon’s new book, “Asian Pickles: Sweet, Sour, Salty, Cured and Fermented Preserves” (Ten Speed Press, $19.99, 200 pages) is another DIY guide, albeit shorter than the Shockeys’. Five regions — Japan, Korea, China, India and Southeast Asia — are represented in 75 authentic recipes, according to a recent story from McClatchy News Service.

Now that I’ve quick-pickled some radishes from my garden with mouth-watering results, I may tackle fermenting the root vegetable. Solomon created this variation on the classic daikon kimchee with the smaller, yet fiery, pink radish, greens and roots attached.

More in the beginner’s repertoire is Thai Pickled Cabbage, Solomon’s canvas for the flavors of fish sauce, garlic, ginger and chili that cures in lime juice.

MCT photo

Summer Radish Kimchee

2 large bunches of salad radishes, greens and roots attached

2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon fine sea salt

3 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 cup gochujang (a fermented red chili paste), homemade or store-bought

Wash the radishes well, particularly greens. Slice each radish in half lengthwise, leaving some of greens attached to each half. In a large bowl, toss radishes with the salt, really rubbing it into radish bulbs and greens. Cover with a drop lid or a plate and place a 1 1/2 -pound weight on top; let sit for 1 hour.

Rinse radishes well under running water. Squeeze, squeeze, squeeze greens with all your might, getting out as much moisture as possible. Return radishes to bowl and, using your hands, massage in the garlic and gochujang evenly. Press down firmly on radishes to make them compact. Place a layer of plastic wrap directly, but loosely, on top of pickle, leaving room for air to come in along sides. Replace drop lid or plate and weight. Cover bowl loosely with a kitchen towel to allow air in, and keep out insects and debris. Let pickle sit in a cool, dark place for 2 to 3 days, until it has a pleasantly tangy, fermented aroma.

Toss pickle to coat with liquid. Pack it into a 1-pint jar. Your pickle is ready to eat. Refrigerated, it will keep for 3 months. Makes about 2 cups.

 

Thai Pickled Cabbage

1 1/2 pounds Napa cabbage

2 tablespoons kosher salt

1/2 cup lime juice

3 tablespoons fish sauce

1 tablespoon sugar

1 garlic clove, peeled and finely minced or put through a press

2/3-inch piece peeled, fresh ginger, finely minced

1 small jalapeno chili

Discard tough outer leaves of the cabbage. Quarter cabbage lengthwise and chop into 1-inch pieces. Place in a large colander. Sprinkle the salt over cabbage; combine thoroughly with your hands. Let it sit in sink for 20 minutes; stir it once halfway through — you’ll notice that cabbage has started to wilt and get wet.

In a large bowl, combine the lime juice, fish sauce, sugar, garlic and ginger. Stem the jalapeno, slice it into very thin rounds and add it to bowl.

Rinse cabbage with cool water to get rid of some salt. Squeeze it very firmly and repeatedly to expel as much moisture as you can, then let it drain well; if it is too wet, it will dilute your pickle.

Add drained cabbage to brine; toss to combine. This pickle can be eaten straight away, but it is much better the next day. Unused portions can be refrigerated for at least 3 weeks. Makes about 4 cups.

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Keep salmon succulent by smoking, poaching

The salmon ready for smoking, as shown on my Facebook page and Twitter, was just one of two fish my family enjoyed this past weekend.

Days spent fishing the various channels of Coos Bay finally yielded a sizable coho and a “jack,” or small chinook. Smoking has been a favorite method of enjoying salmon in my family for as far back as I can remember. A fishing trip to British Columbia when I was in high school, and our haul of nearly 100 pounds of salmon, compelled my dad to add a Big Chief smoker to share the load of his trusty Little Chief.

This electric smoker, made in Oregon for nearly 50 years, is rightfully beloved of salmon-smoking aficionados, as Ted Trujillo explains for a story in this week’s food section. He hopes the first Southern Oregon Smoked Salmon Festival will raise the stakes regionally on this popular form of backyard cooking.

If you’re not a prolific fisherman (a title that’s becoming almost as elusive as salmon), don’t be afraid to start with high-quality, store-bought salmon, says Trujillo. Smokehouse Products, which manufactures Little Chief, etc., has seeded its website with plenty of tips and recipes, including the classic brine my dad still uses for his smoked salmon, just with substitutions of honey for sugar and white wine for red.

My dad is similarly set in his ways when it comes to cooking fresh fillets. He likes a layer of spiced mayonnaise smothered over the flesh for oven-roasting.

While I don’t mind this oft-used method, I enjoy mayonnaise much more when it’s still creamy, not a curdled crust stuck to the fish. So I appreciate the herbed mayonnaise in the following recipe from McClatchy News Service. And poaching, to my mind, is a better safeguard than mere mayonnaise against drying out a nice bit of salmon.

MCT photo

Beer-Poached Salmon With Tarragon Mayonnaise  

1/2 cup mayonnaise (low-fat is OK)

1/4 teaspoon dried tarragon

1 teaspoon minced, fresh chives

1 teaspoon chopped scallions

1 teaspoon minced, fresh parsley

12 ounces beer

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 medium onion, peeled and chopped

1 celery stalk, chopped

1 teaspoon salt

1 bay leaf

4 whole peppercorns

4 (6-ounce) salmon fillets, 1 inch thick

In a small bowl, combine the mayonnaise, tarragon, chives, scallions and parsley. Chill until ready to serve.

In a large skillet, combine the beer, lemon juice, onion, celery, salt, bay leaf and peppercorns. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the salmon fillets. If liquid does not cover fish, add more beer or water to just cover. Lightly simmer for 10 minutes or until fish flakes easily with a fork.

Serve fish with a dollop of mayonnaise on each. Makes 4 servings.

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Low oven setting yields easy ‘sun-dried’ tomatoes

There are few meals more satisfying for a solo diner, usually sometime after 9 p.m., than spaghetti simply tossed with olive oil, garlic and tomatoes, garnished with lots of Parmesan cheese.

When it’s high tomato season, the pasta includes fresh-my-own-garden fruit, either diced beefsteak varieties, or halved cherry tomatoes. In winter and spring, I have no qualms about throwing in commercially prepared, oil-packed, sun-dried tomatoes from the jar that has perpetual status in my refrigerator.

The garden usually doesn’t yield enough tomatoes for drying, after we’ve consigned the paste varieties to sauce. But this year isn’t typical. My mother-in-law selected an Italian heirloom, with fruit about the size of a golf ball, that is recommended specifically for drying. Then she had to dig up the food dehydrator stashed in one of my closets to dry the first batch.

But a standard oven also will do the job. My newer models even have a preset “drying” function. If yours doesn’t, here’s a step-by-step:

Remove the stems from the tomatoes. Rinse them under cool water and pat dry. Cut the tomatoes in half lengthwise. Core them and remove the seeds.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the tomatoes, skin side down, on the pan. Preheat the oven to 200 F, with the rack in the center. Bake the tomatoes for about 8 to 10 hours for tomatoes about 3 inches long and 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Smaller tomatoes will take less time; check after about 6 hours. The tomatoes will shrivel to small, flat, leathery pieces about 1 1/2 inches long.

Store the dried tomatoes in the refrigerator or freezer for up to six months. Because their leathery texture can make sun-dried tomatoes hard to slice with a knife, scissors may work best.

Drying your own locally grown tomatoes, rather than purchasing them, is just one more way to celebrate Eat Local Week. Try them in the Detroit Free Press’ fancier version of my plain-Jane spaghetti. It’s ready in 30 minutes.

MCT photo

Spaghetti With Creamy Sun-Dried Tomato Sauce

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup finely diced onion

3 tablespoons real bacon bits

2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

2/3 cup fat-free half-and-half

1/3 cup sun-dried tomatoes, sliced

1/4 cup red wine

1 (15-ounce) can no-salt-added tomato puree

1/2 teaspoon dried basil

5 cups hot, cooked, whole-wheat spaghetti

In a large stock pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat; add the onion, bacon bits, garlic, salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is softened, for about 5 minutes.

Add the half-and-half, sun-dried tomatoes, wine, tomato puree and basil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until sauce is slightly thickened, for 5 to 10 minutes. Remove sauce from heat.

While sauce is cooking, prepare the pasta according to package directions, omitting salt.

Toss sauce with cooked pasta and serve. Makes 5 servings.

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Taste cherry tomatoes to judge sweetness, acidity

The first of three Great Tomato Tastings drew plenty of appreciative palates, judging from social-media posts around Eat Local Week.

Tasting tomatoes isn’t just a gratuitous gimmick on the part of Eat Local Week organizers. The flavors, and varietal availability, change throughout the growing season. And one of the best ways to home in on the best fruit, of course, is by sampling and comparing as many as possible. More chances are planned Tuesday and Thursday at the Ashland and Medford Rogue Valley Growers and Crafters markets. See more Eat Local events on the Thrive website.

Talking to farmers also can confirm the characteristics of tomatoes. Low acidity used to be a selling point of yellow tomatoes, for example. But these days, tomatoes come in virtually all colors of the rainbow, with varying levels of acidity.

And although cherry tomatoes’ cute size suggests miniaturization techniques common in modern plant breeding, it’s interesting to note that their appearance is more in line with tomatoes of yore. More than five centuries ago, all the earliest tomatoes were tiny yellow, red and green specimens, according to a recent story by the Chicago Tribune.

Some of the most popular cherry-tomato varieties are: Yellow Mini grape tomato, Brandywine cherry tomato, Sunburst cherry tomato, Sweet Olive grape tomato, Gold Nugget cherry tomato and Sun Gold cherry tomato, which inspired this recipe from the Tribune, ready in about 20 minutes.

Likening Sun Golds to “liquid gold, distilled from sunshine,” Tribune Food Editor Joe Gray advises purchasing the cherry tomatoes from farmers markets. And if the fruit isn’t “intensely flavored and wonderfully sweet,” he says, move on to the next grower’s stall and keep looking.

Or maybe, like me, you already have Sun Golds growing in your garden or on a patio. Besides their sweetness, I love cherry tomatoes because they produce for so many months, even after larger varieties are spent. They’re also practically fool-proof to grow, even suited to large containers situated in full sun.

Eating cherry tomatoes out of hand is usually more satisfying than cooking them. But when there’s a bounty, they can be tossed whole into so many dishes, from salads and pastas, on top of bruschetta or pizza, or into a skillet that’s cooked fish fillets or meat cutlets to flavor pan juices. Roast them by tossing with olive oil, some crushed garlic, salt, pepper and a few herbs. Cook in a 375-degree oven for 20 to 25 minutes.

MCT photo

Sauteed Tomatoes With Sausage and Goat Cheese

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 pint Sun Gold cherry tomatoes, sliced in half

1/4 teaspoon salt, about

4 precooked Italian sausages, about 9 ounces total, sliced crosswise in about 1/2-inch pieces (may substitute 2 fresh Italian sausages, cooking them before slicing into 1/2-inch rounds)

1/2 cup green olives, pitted, cut lengthwise in quarters

2 cups precooked brown rice, heated

1/2 cup fresh goat cheese or blue cheese crumbles

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat the olive oil. Add the tomatoes and season with a good pinch of the salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, just until tomatoes begin to soften, for about 2 minutes. (Tomatoes will continue to cook with other ingredients, so they should not cook too much at this stage.)

Stir in the sausage. Turn heat to medium. Cook until just heated through. Off the heat, stir in the olives. Serve in big bowls over the rice, topped with the crumbled cheese.

Makes 2 servings.

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Rise to challenge of eating more local tomatoes

Just when everyone should be sated on summer’s tomatoes, along comes Eat Local Week with several more reasons to fete this glorious fruit.

The Great Tomato Tasting has been a headlining event since Eat Local Week’s inception. And over the past nine years, chances have only grown for tasting why tomatoes epitomize the locavore movement. Read my story from the Thrive-sponsored event’s inaugural year for an explanation.

First up are Saturday, Sept. 13, farmers markets in downtown Ashland, Grants Pass and Medford. From 10 a.m. to noon, shoppers can sample a variety of heirloom, cherry, paste and hybrid tomatoes free of charge, as well as learn about tomato varieties and cooking ideas. Tomato fixes also can be had Tuesday and Thursday, Sept. 16 and 18, at Rogue Valley Growers & Crafters markets in Ashland and Medford, respectively.

As with so many truly fresh, peak-season ingredients, tomatoes often are best when most simply prepared. Thrive’s new cookbook, featured in this week’s A la Carte, presented straightforward recipes for tomato sauce and panzanella in its tomato section.

But tomato innovation also abounds this time of year. One of my favorite sources is The Washington Post’s Top Tomato reader recipe contest. Over my years as Mail Tribune food editor, I rounded up many of these recipes and paired them with a local story. In lieu of that format, I’ll seed this blog throughout Eat Local Week with some new summer tomato recipes from various sources.

Here’s the first, actually disqualified from the Post’s contest for exceeding the maximum number of ingredients allowed. Yet Sakunthala Seetharaman earned kudos from the paper’s food editor, Joe Yonan, who praised the 73-year-old’s Tomato and Tofu Salad for its “riot of flavors and textures.”

Balancing sweet, tart, earthy and spicy, this recipe almost could play as a vegan version of Caprese salad, particularly if the tofu was left in larger chunks or slabs to mimic slices of fresh mozzarella. And in the absence of richness from cheese, there are cashews in Seetharaman’s salad, along with mint and cilantro to intensify the herbaceous note of basil.

And as for tofu’s eligibility within a locavore diet, I’ve rationalized this by purchasing Surata Soyfoods tofu from Eugene. An organic bean curd made using traditional methods for almost 40 years, it’s stocked at several local grocers.

Tomato and Tofu Salad

Photo by Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post

4 ounces firm tofu, drained and cut into 1/2-inch cubes

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt, divided (more as needed)

6 medium tomatoes (about 1 1/2 to 2 pounds), thinly sliced

1 medium red onion, peeled and thinly sliced (about 1 cup)

1/2 cup chopped, fresh cilantro leaves

1/4 cup chopped, fresh basil leaves

1/4 cup chopped, fresh mint leaves

1 jalapeno pepper, stemmed, seeded and chopped

1 tablespoon ginger juice

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon light-brown sugar

1/2 cup roasted, unsalted cashews, for garnish

Preheat oven to 400 F. Have a rimmed baking sheet at hand, large enough to hold the tofu cubes in a single layer so they don’t touch.

Toss tofu cubes with the oil and 1/4 teaspoon of the salt on baking sheet so they are evenly coated. Roast in preheated oven until golden-brown, for 10 to 20 minutes, using a spatula to turn them every 5 minutes or so. Transfer to a large mixing bowl to cool. (Roasted tofu may be refrigerated for up to 1 week. Let come to room temperature before making salad.)

Add to bowl the tomatoes, onion, cilantro, basil, mint and jalapeno; toss to combine. Pour in the ginger juice and lemon juice, and sprinkle with the cumin, brown sugar and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt. Toss well.

Taste and add salt as needed. Top with the cashews; serve right away. Makes 4 servings.

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