Monday, July 25, 2011

I'm in the mood for summer food

As the summer vegetables come into full production, I look for all kinds of recipes to use the zucchini, chard and other items we get weekly in our gardens and CSA. This week, I am especially craving Mediterranean foods. On what may have been my most relaxing vacation, my family rented a sailboat in Turkey. Included in the deal was the crew, including a cook. The food was really good. Try as I might, I cannot reproduce those tastes but the recipes I have put here are a start.

Diane Kochilas is one of my inspirations and the recipes below as well as the zucchini crescents in this week's newsletter are from her. I recommend her books Meze and The Glorious Foods of Greece.

Greek Zucchini Fritters
2 pounds large zucchini, trimmed and grated on the wide holes of a grater or food processor
2 eggs
1/2 c chopped mixed fresh herbs, such as fennel, dill, mint, parsley (I like to use mostly dill)
1 TBS ground cumin
1 c fresh or dry breadcrumbs, more as necessary
Freshly ground pepper
1 c crumbled feta cheese
All-purpose flour as needed and for dredging
Olive oil for frying

Salt the zucchini generously and leave to drain in a colander for one hour, tossing and squeezing the zucchini from time to time. Take up handfuls of zucchini, and squeeze out all of the moisture. Alternately, wrap in a clean dish towel, and squeeze out the water by twisting at both ends.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs and add the shredded zucchini, herbs, cumin, bread crumbs, salt and pepper to taste and feta. Mix together well. Take up a small handful of the mixture; if it presses neatly into a patty, it is the right consistency. If it seems wet, add more breadcrumbs or a few tablespoons of all-purpose flour. When the mixture has the right consistency, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for one hour or longer.

Heat 1 inch of olive oil in a large frying pan until rippling, or at about 275 degrees. Meanwhile, take up heaped tablespoons of the zucchini mixture, and form balls or patties. Lightly dredge in flour.

When the oil is very hot, add the patties in batches to the pan. Fry until golden brown, turning once with a spider or slotted spoon. Remove from the oil, and drain briefly on a rack. Serve with plain Greek style yogurt or with the carrot puree below if desired.

Spicy Carrot Puree with Mint-Flavored Yogurt
For the Carrots
4 large carrots, chopped
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp caraway seeds
2-3 TBS extra virgin olive oil
2 TBS fresh lemon juice
salt and cayenne pepper to taste

For the Yogurt
1/2 c Greek yogurt
1 TBS extra virgin olive oil to taste
1 TBS fresh lemon juice
3 garlic cloves, peeled
salt to taste
2 TBS fresh mint leaves, cut into very thin strips

Steam the carrots over medium heat until soft, about 25 minutes.

Pound the cumin and caraway seeds together in a mortar and pestle.

When the carrots are soft, transfer them to a food processor and pulse once or twice for a few seconds to mash. Add 2 TBS olive oil, lemon juice, salt and spices and pulse a few more times to puree until smooth.

Place the puree on a serving dish and make a well in the center.

Mix together the yogurt, olive oil, and lemon juice. Crush the garlic cloves in the mortar and pestle with a little salt and add them to the yogurt. Season to taste with additional salt. Place in the center of the serving plate encircled by the carrot puree. Sprinkle with the mint leaves and serve.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Crazy Weather and Farm Production

I have been out of California for a while. Driving home, middle of summer, I had the air conditioning on high through Nevada. I drove into the sunny eastern Sierra and once I topped Donner Pass, I looked into a bank of thick black clouds. In July. By the time I got to Sacramento, it was raining cats and dogs. It was still pouring when I arrived home.

How odd, I thought.

The few days before, temperatures were reaching 105 degrees. The days following the rainstorm were, again, hot and sunny. Stifling.

So, how does this unpredictable, unseasonable weather affect our food?

Globally, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that there will be, or already are, 30 countries in crisis and in need of external food aid. In January of this year, President Obama readied the military for widespread food rioting that was predicted for the spring. We witnessed the "Arab Spring" that many attributed to a desire for democracy and others to lack of food. In Tunisia,the protests that led to the downfall of the government began after an educated but unemployed 26-year-old man set himself on fire when police confiscated the fruits and vegetables he was selling without a permit.

On the home front, our weird weather may mean that cherries split in the late rains, peaches have brown rot, yields are low and what's left in the field and on the trees ripens all at once. The idea of planting for harvest over the entire season is just a memory and things need to get off the farm and onto the shelves fast and now.

As eaters, we may feel like we didn't get enough asparagus or cherries. Did anyone have apricots this year? The harbingers of summer have been less than perfect. Now, plums, plums, plums...and the figs ripen faster than we can eat them. It seems like the tomatoes in my garden have just stopped fruit production and my corn ears -- well, as close as I live to Brentwood, my corn is not an example of that great sweet corn region.

So, as much as I can complain about having too much of one thing and not enough of another, I just keep thinking how hard this must be for farmers. Their lives depend on some measure of predictability and on an expectation of yields. And farmers around our globe are facing unbelievable challenges feeding us.

I'll just keep buying local, whatever is available. At least I have that luxury.