Bengali Charchari

“Iconic cuisine” could describe the food of Bengal. Among their many influential dishes, sweets are perhaps the most famous.  Yet, there are many preparations which have come to shape Indian cuisine as a whole.  Charchari is not merely a single dish, but a cooking style unique to Bengal.  Essentially, vegetables are cooked in a pan and covered without stirring until a close-to-burnt caramelized crust forms on the bottom of the pan, which is stirred in to finish the dish.  Unlike many vegetable dishes in India, spicing is simple, often only turmeric, chillies, salt and hing (onion-like asafetida powder).  The result is a deliciously rich tasting subji (vegetable) which can be used as an appetizer with crackers and bread, or as a show-stopping part of a bigger Indian meal.

One of my favorite cookbooks is The Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking by Jamuna devi. She is to Indian vegetarian cuisine what Julia Child was to French home-cooked cuisine.  Her book is an easy-to-understand look at Indian kitchens.  It was written a number of years ago and is a timeless must-have resource for those who wish to cook and enjoy Indian food as it is supposed to be.  Jamuna presents a number of charcharis in the book and her description and recipe is excerpted as follows:

“Charcharis are Bengali vegetable dishes that combine three cooking procedures: boiling, steaming and frying.  Though other cuisines of the world use the same procedures, and in a similar sequence, to my knowledge only charcharis are brought to the point of charring.  During the entire procedure, the vegetable is never stirred—not even once! They are succulent vegetables, often rich and served as side dishes, but take little attention while cooking and are really delicious.

The dividing line between the cooking procedures is blurry.  In the first stage, large pieces of vegetable are gently boiled in a seasoned liquid.  Sometimes sugar, tomatoes or lemon juice is added to provide a glaze, flavor or zest in the finished dish.  In the second stage, the vegetables are steamed by the concentrated liquids barely boiling in the bottom of the pan.  Srila Prabhupad described the final stages of cooking: ‘When the liquid is absorbed, there will be a little noise, a hhhzzzz sound, and then, just as the bottom crust browns, turn off the heat and it is done.’ The pan is covered and allowed to sit off the heat for a few minutes, until the crust softens and can be easily folded into the moist vegetables.

Since this final stage of cooking delicately borders on burning, it is important to convey that it should not come to that.  No one wants to serve or eat burned vegetables.  It is essential to use a very heavy, thick bottom pan such as enamel on steel, stainless steel or, better still, non-stick Silverstone on heavy aluminum.  With good non-stick cookware and attention to heat control, perfect charcharis are possible even the first time around.”

Here is a recipe I adapted from Jamuna’s cookbook by mixing it with my own experiences of charchari.  Many years ago I was able to sample some of her cooking and the exquisite flavors of her beautifully crafted dishes have inspired me ever since. I dedicate this recipe to her and the amazing foods that roll out of her kitchen.

 


Baigan Aloo Charchari

Serves 6

2 tablespoons oil

1 teaspoon black mustard seeds

1 tablespoon fresh ginger root, peeled and minced

2 finger hot green chilies, minced

1/4 teaspoon hing (yellow asafoetida powder)

6-8 fresh neem leaves

5 medium Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into one inch cubes

1 medium sized eggplant, cut into one inch cubes

1 2/3 cups water

1 cup spinach leaves, stemmed and coarsely chopped

1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder

1/4 teaspoon lemon zest

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1/2 inch piece of cinnamon stick

3 cloves

1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds, freshly ground

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, fresh ground

1 1/4 teaspoons sea salt

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a heavy-bottomed 4 quart pan over moderate heat.  When it is hot, but not smoking, add the black mustard seeds, ginger and chilies and fry until the mustard seeds sputter and turn gray.  Sprinkle in the hing and neem leaves and within 5 seconds, stir in the potatoes, tossing with a wooden spoon for 2 to 3 minutes.

Add the remaining ingredients and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to low, cover and cook about 30 minutes.  From time to time, check to see if the vegetables are drying up, and adjust the heat or liquid accordingly.  When the vegetables are fork-tender, all of the liquid should be absorbed and the vegetables left sizzling.

Raise the heat to moderately high and fry, without stirring, until a slightly charred crust forms on the bottom of the pan.  Turn off the heat and keep covered for 5 minutes.  Stir the crust into the soft vegetables before serving.

Grilled Salsa

Grilled Salsa 10 2009-12

Toward the end of the harvest season chiles, tomatoes, onions, garlic and cilantro can be found in abundance. Inspired by the vibrant colors and pungent flavors of Mexico, I particularly like grilling the salsa vegetables to give them a rustic and earthy taste and feel. Easy to prepare and full of flavor, this is a salsa that stands out in a crowd.

Grilled Salsa 10 2009-3

Grilled  Salsa

Serves 4

3 hatch or Anaheim chiles, stemmed, seeded and halved lengthwise

2 torpeo or cipollini onions, peeled and trimmed

3 three inch diameter tomatoes, sliced in half

Cook the chiles, onions and tomatoes on a medium heat grill. When lightly blackened on one side, carefully turn the vegetables and use a flat spatula to turn the tomatoes. Blackened again and place in a bowl. Place ingredients on a cutting board and coarsley chop, then return them to the bowl.

Grilled Salsa 10 2009-4

1/2 cup cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped

1/4 cup fresh lime juice 1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 teaspoon garlic, minced

Mix cilantro, lime, sea salt and garlic together in a bowl. Add grilled vegetables. Serve after 1/2 hour to give time for the flavors to integrate. Serve at room temperature or hot.

Grilled Salsa 10 2009-10

The Yoga of Small Bites

Across the country, top chefs have adopted serving a series of small bites to their discerning customers in order to present food at its purest and freshest state.  In those culinary emporiums of the celebrity chef, the goal is to immerse the senses in the wonders of gastronomy.  Through visual presentation, tactile sensation, aromatic teases and tasting stimulating flavors chefs are wowing their guests with magnificent plates and anticipatory service.

stuffed okra

While the specific experience may be new, there is a long history for this kind of eating.  While the great cuisines of Europe are directly rooted to the indulgence of monks in abbeys of the middle ages (and indirectly in Roman high-society excesses), there are also culinary traditions from areas of the world less exposed to the American palate, such as China, Thailand, Vietnam and India.  One of these is the cuisine of Yogic India.  Entwined with the ancient medical science of Ayurveda, as well as religious philosophies which espouse spiritual cooking and distribution of food, the yoga of cooking has been refined over fifty centuries of recorded history.

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Many years ago, my personal culinary journey placed me in Vrindavan, one of the yoga epicenters of India.  This was Krishna’s hometown and continues to thrive as a philosophical retreat with over 5000 temples and numerous spiritual schools, particularly inclined toward bhakti-yoga.  I became enamored by the attention to detail placed on the food, not only in temples, but in households and street food as well.  With a different approach than Western chefs, the food not only had to look good and taste perfect, but it had to be cooked “a-la-minute” and more significantly, also digest well.

Govardhana Puja 2007

The Ayurvedic philosophy of balance was present everywhere, but especially noticeable in the traditional main lunch meal, called a thali.  This is where small bites came into play.  Originally served on banana leaves with clay cups or stainless steel trays for the common man, it was also served pure silver trays for the aristocrats.  Rice is placed in the center and small bowls of vegetables, savories, dahls, pickles, chutneys and raita surround it. In addition, freshly made pillow shaped chapatis are served with steam still spouting through a crack in the top.

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The meal balances the five tastes and five mellows of Ayurveda to create an ideal healthy meal with abundant complete proteins, phyto-nutrients and anti-oxidants.  Like the fine dining cooking in America, it is a complete sensual immersion, but unlike the West, one feels nourished and vitalized in body, mind and spirit with both sensual stimulation and dietary engagement.  The senses are wowed, but they are also brought on board as partners in health.  All ingredients were local and, without refrigeration, we shopped the market daily.  In my mind, this is the gold standard for us to strive for.  There were no leftovers and extras were shared with local sadhus and animals.

April 2009 photos (73)

While my explanations cannot do them justice, it can be said some of these meals were instances that created rare tears of joy as I ate.  The food was that good!  The cooks who prepared those meals are still my culinary heroes and inspire similar attention to detail in every meal I prepare.

Purslane–A Weed Or Seasonal Treasure?

We are in the midst of a great American food revolution. Farmers markets around the country are the front lines of this cultural awakening directly connecting urban dwellers with regional farm and food producers.  Chefs have discovered farm-fresh produce as the secret to fine cuisine which has led to an increase in their patron’s culinary awareness and high expectations.

Community and markets go hand in hand. Farmers markets are places to learn about food, regions, farms and community events.  One of the simple pleasures in my life is discussing local foods and agricultural trends with small farmers who have a direct connection to the earth.

The communities of the ancient world situated their markets in town squares and city centers since this was where people gathered–these markets tended to be the seat of government as well.  Famously, democracy was created in the Agora (marketplace) of ancient Athens.

I shop two or three farmers markets weekly buying an exciting variety of seasonal produce.  Nature provides the nutritive balance with different plants maturing each week during the growing season. Traditional cultures around the world synchronized their lives around the cycles of indigenous growth and harvests.

However, in today’s markets, farmers have a tendency to grow what sells.  While this may make good business sense, the unfortunate result is that the educational aspects of the markets are lessened.  So, when I see unusual offerings, such as green amaranth, bitter melon or, one of my favorite culinary treasures, purslane, my mind begins to conjure up different ways to prepare dishes with the fresh delicacies before me.

 

Purslane is a nutritional powerhouse savored by most of the great food cultures of the world.  It is one of the highest plant sources in Omega 3 fatty acids and rich in vitamins A, C, Potassium and Alpha-Linoleic acid.  It was well known to ancient cultures in the Mideast and Asia and used in traditional Chinese medicine for bee stings and snake bites. Pliny advised wearing the plant as an amulet to expel all evil.

Here in a America, purslane was relegated to the status of a weed. Crop rows and sidewalks across the country are sprayed with herbicides to eradicate this perceived nuisance.  It thrives in harsh, dry climates and, as a companion plant, enables less hardy plants to survive by helping the root systems reach greater depths.  It also helps create a beneficial microclimate and stabilize moisture levels–not to mention, it is delicious!

This recipe takes about 30 minutes.  The sauteed purslane and lacinato kale rolls may be prepared individually, but I chose to combine them for complimentary flavor and drama of presentation.

Lacinato Kale Roll with Sautéed Purslane

Makes 8 rolls, serves 4 to 8

Sauteed Purslane

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

2 teaspoons minced garlic

1 ½ teaspoons crushed red pepper

1 cup spring onions, sliced

2 bunches, or 6 cups, purslane, washed, thick stems removed and coarsely chopped

½ teaspoon sea salt

In a 12 inch skillet on medium-high heat, cook the olive oil, garlic and crushed red pepper for 5 to 10 seconds or until the garlic and chiles sizzle. Add the onion, purslane and sea salt. Cook for 30 seconds, cover and turn down to a simmer.

Sauce

1/2 cup Vegenaise, vegan mayonnaise

2 1/2 tablespoons roasted red pepper

2 teaspoons organic tomato paste

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

In a separate bowl, whisk together all sauce ingredients.

Filling and assembly

1/2 cup chopped basil leaves

1/2 cup blanched almond flour

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

1 1/2 teaspoons dijon mustard

In another thoroughly fold together all filling ingredients.

Assembly

8 large lacinato kale leaves, stemmed

Place 1 heaping tablespoon at the top of the kale leaf and, while folding the

side edges in, roll the leaf into a stuffed grape leaf shape.  Steam for 12 minutes on medium high heat.  Place 1 cup purslane on plate, place one roll on top and top with 1 ½ tablespoons sauce.

Serve while hot.

 

Spring Risotto with Asparagus and Walnuts

asparagus-walnut-risotto

This is a simple, yet flavorful method of preparing risotto, more of a pilaf really. Good as a side dish or main course, this recipe is different from the traditional butter, wine and parmesan cheese approach, but every grain of rice maintains an inherent full and creamy flavor. I find asparagus at the local farmers market, thin or thick stalks are fine. The walnuts are from last year’s harvest.  Fresh nuts make a tremendous difference in flavor and texture.

Serves 6

Risotto:

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1/2 teaspoon garlic, minced

3/4 cup shallots, peeled and thinly sliced

1/4 cup red bell peppers, finely chopped

1/2 cup garnet yams, peeled and cubed

1/2 cup peas, freshly podded

1 bay leaf

1/4 cup fresh fennel weed, finely chopped

1/2 teaspoon white pepper

1 cup organic Arborio rice

1 teaspoon sea salt

2 1/2 cups water

Separate pan:

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

2 cups asparagus, cut into 1 1/2 inch pieces

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1 teaspoon balsamic reduction (or 1/2 teaspoon balsamic vinegar)

1 cup walnut halves and pieces

1/2 tablespoon tamari

In a wide, thick-bottomed saucepan on medium heat, cook the oil, garlic, shallots, red bell peppers and yams until the shallots start to turn clear. Stir in the remaining ingredients and bring to a simmer, turn down and cover. Stirring frequently, cook for 20 minutes until the rice is tender and most of the water is absorbed.

While cooking the rice, heat a sauté pan on medium high heat, add oil and asparagus.Cook, turning frequently, until the asparagus starts to brown on the edges, add the red pepper flakes, stir in and add the balsamic reduction or vinegar.When the vinegar cooks out, add the walnuts, stir them around letting them toast lightly.Add the tamari, stir to coat the nuts and asparagus.Take off the flame and set aside.When the risotto is cooked, fold in the asparagus and nut just before serving.Save a few pieces of asparagus tips and walnut halves for garnish.Serve immediately.Optionally, one may garnish each dish with shaved organic asiago or parmesan, but I prefer ground toasted tamari walnuts sprinkled over the top.

Vegan Love Bites

A Lifestyle of Romance

This is the time of year to shake off the dust of distraction, polish our manners and look for creative ways to express ourselves romantically.   Often the centerpieces of these endeavors are built around sensual foods and, when wooing our loved ones on Valentines Day, chocolate rules supreme.

The roots of St Valentines Day lay in Rome with February marking the beginning of Spring on the Roman Calendar.  At that time, every household was swept out and  sprinkled with salt and spelt berries. The fertility festival, Lupercalia, began on the Ides of February (15th) and was celebrated throughout Rome by pairing unmarried youths until the following February, often resulted in marriages.

Roman culture had a great appreciation for earth’s beauty and those who inhabited it.  They celebrated the gifts of the land and the power of attraction which is intimately intertwined like a grape vine in an arbor. One could reason this had something to do with the word romance being derived from Roman.

In 485 A.D., the Catholic church sought to Christianize the Lupercalia festival by celebrating Saint Valentine, thought to be a martyred priest from two centuries prior.  As a result, the romantic aspect of the celebration does not appear again until the Middle Ages.  It was the mid 19th century when it began to resemble the phenomena it is today.

On Valentine’s Day, when the meal is emotionally charged, there is one ingredient that is a “must” on the menu–chocolate.  Chocolate has long been known as an all around sensual ingredient.  The Aztecs called it “Nourishment of the Gods.”  Not only does it enchant us with its dark seductive flavor, but it contains compounds which have an immediate sensual effect as well as long lasting health benefits.

This dessert, Hazelnut Love Bites, is a combination of three luscious flavors and textures–hazelnut, raspberry and chocolate–all making for a passionate dessert experience.

Love Bites

Makes 24 Love Bites

Bites

1/3 cup ground hazelnuts
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon unbleached wheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup evaporated cane juice (organic sugar)
1 1/2 teaspoons arrowroot powder
2/3 cups plain almond milk
1/4 block (3 ounces) firm silken-style tofu
1/8 cup raw cashew nuts, ground to a meal
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350º F. Using a 24 cup mini cupcake pan, line each cup with unbleached baking cups. Put hazelnuts, flour, baking powder, evaporated cane juice and arrowroot into a large bowl and whisk together with a French whip. In a blender, puree soy milk, tofu and cashews to a smooth consistency. Transfer to another large bowl and stir in canola oil and vanilla. Combine the two mixtures and stir vigorously for one minute to develop the gluten in the flour. Fill each cup to just below the rim and bake for 25 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean(a little sticky is Ok).  Allow to cool.

Raspberry Sauce

1 cup fresh or frozen raspberries
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 tablespoon evaporated cane juice
1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract

Heat a saucepan on medium heat. Add all ingredients and simmer for 5 minutes. Then strain by pushing through a fine wire strainer with a rubber spatula until only the seeds are left–really work it. Discard seeds. Return strained raspberries to pan and simmer for another 5 minutes. Reserve.

Chocolate Ganache

3 ounces unsweetened chocolate
1/4 cup evaporated cane juice
1/2 cup plain almond milk
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a double boiler on medium heat, add all chocolate ganache ingredients. Stir periodically and cook for about 30 minutes until chocolate is melted and smooth. Test a drop on a cold plate, it should set up to a frosting consistency.  Allow to cool and reserve.

Assembly

When the cupcakes are cool, use a small pointed-tip knife to create a crater in the center of each cake, then pour in a small amount of raspberry sauce.  To frost, either use a flat knife to frost each cupcake or put frosting into a pastry bag and pipe.
Ready to serve.

Note:

I only use organic and unadulterated ingredients

Through personal example, my father inspired me to respect beauty and romance on a daily basis–one never knows when they will be encountered, often by chance.   He often expressed his inspirations through poetry.

 

 

 

 

Beauty

 

 

 

 

 

With the kindness of its weather,

San Diego has developed multiple forms of beauty.


(My words of enthusiasm are difficult to restrain.)


The soil harbors and embraces plants which give birth

to hundreds of varieties of flowers.


Their creative method of procreation is:

they make their flowers so fragrant and colorful

that the bees and other pertinent species

are attracted to visit,


To collect their nectar, and thereby leave tracks

from gathering visits to neighboring flowers.


The plants then “eat”, and become happily pregnant.


This is the intelligence of beauty!


Now the plants we call ‘trees’ reach high for the sky

and its sunshine.


Each family has its own leaf formation, and height,

their arms lissome to the winds,

as their hair of leaves is tousled.


And we humans too enjoy our views of them.

~Spyros Vutetakis 2007

Happy Valentines Day!

 

 


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A Garden Roulade – Kypo Pita

It all happens so quickly–rain, sun and warmth spawning explosions of green in the garden.  Finnochio begins to form tender bulbs as the deep green fronds of fennel weed thicken-up. Swiss chard leaves seem to double in size after one good rain and young leeks become perfectly tender.  A Midwestern garden in June can be a treasure trove of delicacies–one of the late spring joys which makes winter seem long ago.

This recipe is inspired by Michigan and San Diego gardens–not to mention my Cretan grandmother (Yia Yia).  Kypo (kee-poh) is the Greek word for garden.  I have fond memories of Yia Yia picking fennel and other herbs, which she used liberally.  She made several dishes using phyllo, often rolled by hand and devoid of the buttery residue, commonly found with most phyllo recipes.  My Kypo-pita follows this tradition–there is no butter and the phyllo is lightly oiled–the secret to our delicious phyllo dishes at Inn Season Cafe.

Recently, I was asked to demonstrate a Greek-style dish at the Opa Fest in Troy, Michigan. It was exciting for me to share my language of food with my fellow Greeks and discuss its history and my Cretan roots. Particularly gratifying was to reminisce about my father, Spyros, and his passion for our Greek heritage.

When making this recipe, keep in mind that other leafy vegetables from the garden, such as spinach, beet greens, purslane and sorrel, can be incorporated or substituted.

Once you try this technique with phyllo, you will say, as the Greeks do,  “Bravo!”

Please don’t hesitate to write, comment and ask questions below this post, through email, Twitter or my Facebook page.

Garden Roulades (Kypo-Pita)

Serves 8 to 10

Fennel

1 1/2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
1 cup leeks, finely diced
1/2 teaspoon garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups fennel root (finocchio), thinly sliced
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 1/4 cups water
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup blanched almond flour
3/4 cup fresh fennel weed, stemmed and finely chopped

In a small saucepan on medium heat, cook the oil, leeks and garlic until the leeks begin to turn clear on the edges.  Add the fennel root, lemon and water, cover and simmer until the fennel root is soft.  Stir-in the sea salt, almond flour and fennel weed and turn off the heat. Reserve.

Greens

6 cups Swiss chard leaves, stemmed and chopped (2 cups cooked)
4 cups Lacinato kale, stemmed and chopped (1 cup cooked)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, preferably Cretan

Steam Swiss chard and kale for 2 to 3 minutes until well wilted.  In a medium size bowl, mix together all ingredients. Reserve.

Caramelized Onion

1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
2 cups sweet onions (Vidalia-style), thinly sliced
1/2 cup water

Simmer all ingredients at low heat in a covered sauce pan until the onions caramelize in their own juices.  Reserve.

Maple Oil

1 cup organic expeller-pressed canola oil
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, preferably Cretan
3/4 cup maple syrup
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Mix together all ingredients, reserve.

Assembly

1 package organic phyllo dough (preferably whole wheat)
1 cup roasted red bell peppers, sliced into thin strips

Create a clear workspace for working with the phyllo dough.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Set up a parchment lined baking sheet.  Stir the oil mixture well and, using a pastry brush, lightly brush oil mixture on the parchment, add one sheet of phyllo and lightly brush the phyllo, continually stirring the oil mixture. Repeat until 6 layers have been laid out.

Place a string of red pepper strips along the edge of the long side of the phyllo. Place a ½ inch wide strip of caramelized onion next to the red peppers. Then, lay a 2 inch wide strip of the cooked greens evenly next to the caramelized onion.  Lastly, spread a 3 inch wide strip of the fennel-almond mixture evenly next to the greens.  Roll the phyllo roulade-style and, with a serrated knife, slice the top half of the roulade every inch or so.  Repeat to make a second roulade. Arrange them both on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake for 25 minutes until lightly browned on the edges.  Remove from the oven, let cool for 10 minutes and slice into individual pieces.  Serve warm.  If refrigerated, they should be re-baked at 300 degrees for 15 minutes before serving to bring back the crispness of the phyllo.

Socca and Poodla–Cross Continental Traditions

Ferndale, Michigan…

I stepped into my favorite coffee oasis Chazzano Coffee for an afternoon cappuccino.  Julie Marcos, barista extraordinaire, discussed the weather and specific attributes of the latest roasting of Brazilian Santos.  Because of my food “interests” she told me about a wonderful childhood memory. While living in Nice, France, her father made a dish called “Socca” and served it with fresh ground black pepper.

She seemed to disappear into her thoughts as she described the texture and flavor, reliving a moment in time that food can transport us to. I was intrigued because of my passion for a similar dish called Poodla, which some friends from Gujarat, India had shared with me many years ago.

The base of the Poodla is garbanzo flour–made from the versatile garbanzo bean or chick pea.  Archaeological evidence has shown cultivation originated in the Middle East at least 7500 years ago. Most of us know it from hummus, Mediterranean vegetable stews, salads and falafel–not so much as flour which can be used as a base for dessert or as a wheat substitute in gluten-free cooking.

As with most recipes, there are traditions–Socca and Poodla have long rustic ones. Whether they were created independently or were the result of cultural recipe sharing, we will never know for sure; however, the story of Biryani comes to mind. Gypsies who migrated from India, across most Mediterranean and European cities, ended up in Spain where they reinvented this venerable rice dish as Paella. Socca from Nice was originally considered Genoese and is a popular dish relished up and down the Tuscan coast. Up until 1860, and for most of its history, Nice was part of Italy. Founded by the Greeks in 350 BC and named after the goddess of victory, Nike, it was a busy maritime port, visited by travellers from around the world during the age of exploration.

The cross-continental connection may not be as random as one may imagine. It is easy to fantasize how dried garbanzo flour could have travelled the Silk Road, or even across the seas, as a non-perishable and nutritious staple ingredient for a number of easy-to-prepare dishes.

These two recipes are steeped in the traditional fabric of the cultures they came from, Socca from Nice and Poodla from Gujarat–recipes which take us deep into Mediterranean culture or immerse us in the fantastic flavors, colors and textures of India. Whichever method of preparation is used, it is fun to meditate on the origins and associated culturally rich stories while making and enjoying these wonderful dishes.

Socca Niçoise

Makes about three seven-inch soccas.

1 cup chickpea flour
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 ¼ cups lukewarm water
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
coconut oil for cooking

In a large bowl mix the chickpea flour, salt, and pepper. Whisk in warm water and olive oil. Cover and let sit 2 to 4 hours.

Place a cast iron skillet in oven and preheat to 450 F.

Remove skillet from oven. Add 2 tablespoons coconut oil to the hot skillet and pour batter in a steady stream until it reaches the edges of the pan. Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until the pancake is firm and the edges are set.

Flip the socca or set it a few inches below your broiler for a couple minutes, just long enough for it to brown. Cut into wedges and serve hot with toppings of your choice.

-This recipe is gluten-free

Recipe adapted from WholeLiving .com, Posted by Sarah Britton

Gujarati Poodla 

1 cup besan chick pea flour
7 ounces of water
1/4  teaspoon turmeric powder
1 jalapeno chile, seeded and minced
1/2 teaspoon ajwain Seeds
1/2 cup sweet onion, minced
2 tablespoons fresh fenugreek leaves, minced
½ teaspoon fresh garlic, finely minced
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
coconut oil for cooking

Whisk flour and water together to make a smooth batter, then whisk in spices, onion, and garlic.  In a well-seasoned cast-iron skillet on medium-high heat,  add 2 tablespoons coconut oil.  Place several dollops of batter onto the hot skillet.  When golden brown on the bottom, flip and cook the second side until golden brown.  Repeat.

Notes:
-Besan flour is Indian black chick pea flour. Garbanzo flour can be substituted with less favorable results. Water may have to be adjusted.
-Ajwain, carom seed, has a similar flavor to Mexican oregano which can also be used.
-Fenugreek leaves, methi in Hindi, are one of the secret flavors of Gujarati cuisine. As a substitute, use an equal amount of chopped cilantro leaves and ¼ teaspoon of ground fenugreek seed.
-Besan, ajwain and fenugreek leaves are available at most Indian groceries.

-This recipe is gluten-free.

Recipe adapted from FoodieMomsCookbook.com, Recipes From a Gujarati Mom Who Loves Food

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness ~ John Keats

Royal Oak Farmers Market

Every fall at harvest time, I write about the Michigan farmers markets which are bursting with colorful fruits and vegetables.  Throngs of people converge on the markets to join in the harvest bonanza. The vibrant orange, red and yellow heirloom tomatoes, pure green zucchini, bright yellow summer squash and deep green kales, collards and chards entice the eye like a Jackson Pollock art exhibit.  My readers know how much I admire and respect the men and women who work so hard to grow this food as free from adulteration as possible.

Cinzori Farms Certified Organic Farm Okra

I’m never sure what I’ll find this time of the year at the market. The ripening of each vegetable is totally up to the predictably unpredictable Michigan weather. There are always pleasant surprises–tender young okra from Cinzori Farms one week, baby fennel from Nature’s Pace Organics the next. I realized early on in my cooking career that planning the week’s meals around seasonal crops is how life was lived before modern commercial farming–a rewarding and healthy way to nourish body and soul.

Natures Pace Organics

For me, shopping is only the beginning of the journey.  Upon arriving home, it is a pleasure to prepare dishes from vegetables harvested within twenty-four hours of reaching the market.  I then embellish the creations with tender herbs and greens right from my kitchen garden.

Kale after a Summer Rain

My dishes are prepared using simple techniques to allow the incredible flavor of each ingredient to speak for itself.  The meal reflects the colors and textures of the market and is contemplative and energizing to consume.

Heirloom Tomatoes at the Royal Oak Farmers Market

Below is a recipe good at any time of year, but best during the peak harvest of tomatoes and corn. It is a whole grain corn cake made in the style of a South Indian Uttapam or a Gujarati Poodla.

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Freshly Harvested Corn, Hemp and Chia Cakes with Fresh Tomato Relish

Serves 6

Corn Cakes

1 cup ground whole cornmeal with the germ

1/2 cup hulled hemp seeds

1/4 cup chia seeds

1 1/2 cups water

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

1 cup corn off the cob

1/4 cup red bell pepper, diced

1/4 cup fresh chives, chopped fine

1/2 cup cilantro, chopped

1 teaspoon sea salt

2 teaspoons baking powder

Coconut oil for cooking

For best results, mix the cornmeal, hemp, chia and water, let stand for at least one hour.   Then, mix remaining ingredients, except oil, in with cornmeal mixture.  In a preheated cast iron skillet on medium-high heat, add 2 teaspoons coconut oil and 1/2 cup batter.  Using a spatula, push in the sides to form a 4 inch disc. Cook until nicely browned and carefully turn over.  When other side is brown, remove from the pan and repeat until all are cooked. Serve hot.

Fresh Tomato Relish

Fresh Tomato Relish

1 cup yellow pear tomatoes, halved

1 cup candy red cherry tomatoes, halved

1 cup San Marzano tomatoes, diced in 1/2 inch cubes

1/2 cup tropea red onions, finely diced

1 clove garlic, minced

1 red serrano chile, seeded and minced

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1/4 cup cilantro leaves, chopped

1 teaspoon sea salt

Mix all ingredients in a bowl and allow the flavors to meld for at least 30 minutes.

Note:  Cornmeal, hemp and chia mixture can be made the day before.

Once all ingredients are mixed together, immediately begin cooking in skillet.

Best to make Fresh Tomato Relish before making the corn cakes.

I recommend Hampshire Farms certified organic cornmeal, fresh ground, whole and fresh ground.

Kale Wrapped English Peas

I love spring in Michigan. During the first warm days, it seems that all of us are happy and celebrating the arrival of the earth’s transition as it awakes from its long winter slumber. Delicate flowering buds suddenly appear on trees which looked dormant only days earlier and bright green shoots begin to push through the soil as they reach for the sunlight.

For those of us who love to cook, these signs of spring let us know that soon the farmers are beginning to show up at the markets with the first of many tender harvests.

Like precious gems, the first baby greens, sweet and succulent, are quickly snatched up by those of us who treasure the flavors and textures which only occur this time of year.

Certified Organic Farmer Don Cinzori of Cinzori Farms in Ceresco, Michigan, has become a good friend over the years. This Spring Equinox week, his booth is my first stop at the Royal Oak Farmers Market, where I quickly survey his stall which is full of baby greens and a variety of potatoes, radishes and onions from the root cellar.

He directs me toward his wheat grass and soil-grown sweet pea sprouts–a sign that Michigan pea season is almost here

There are three kinds of peas commonly found in the local markets:  Sugar Snaps, Snow Peas and English Sweet Peas.  Sadly, the English peas are grown less because it is inconvenient to shell them and it seems to take forever to get enough for one or two people.  Thus, most of our experiences are canned, frozen or dried split peas.  To add insult to injury, when we finely muster up the courage to shell some peas, they come from a grocery store and were harvested at least a week or two before.

To appreciate the magnificience of fresh peas, grow your own or buy them from a local farmer, like Don Cinzori (Know your farmer, know your food!), who has brought them ripe and fresh to market that morning.  Cook as soon as possible, as the the sugars in peas turn into starch only hours after they have been picked.

This versatile legume can be prepared in so many ways that there is no possibility for boredom: fresh pea soups, in salads, sauteed with other vegetables, in whole grain pilafs and pulaos as well as in pasta dishes.  The recipe below is a little different and highlights the green flavor of the peas with fresh Indian spices and rich flavor of Lacinato kale.  Easy to prepare with simple spicing, a sure crowd pleaser!

Kale Wrapped English Peas

Serves 4

1 teaspoon coconut oil

½  teaspoon cumin seeds

2 teaspoons ginger root, minced

1 teaspoon green chile, minced

1 tablespoon cilantro, minced

½ cup sweet onions, minced

½ teaspoon curry powder

1 tablespoon lime juice

2 tablespoons water

1 ¼ cups English peas, podded

¼ teaspoon sea salt

8 large Lacinato kale leaves, stemmed

½ teaspoon ume plum vinegar

In a small sauce pan, heat the coconut oil on medium high and cook the cumin seeds until they start to brown,  Add ginger, chile, cilantro, onions and curry powder.  Turn down to a simmer, add the lime juice, water, peas and sea salt.  Cover and cook for 10 minutes, stirring periodically then check to see if the peas are soft.  When soft, mash the peas and onions.  Separate into eight portions, place a portion on a kale leaf and roll until the entire leaf is wrapped around.  Carefully place in a steamer and cook for 5 minutes, or until the kale is tender.   Place 2 to 3 drops ume vinegar on top of each. Serve hot.