Sunday, September 14, 2008

Cabbage Poriyal

In Tamil, India's most southern state's language, Poriyal literally means stir-fry. This is a way to prepare any vegetable. The cooking method is fast and flashy. The lentils, mustard seeds and cumin seeds cook in a pool of coconut oil. The onion is added, sizzling and beating in a song of satisfaction. After just a minute you add with an extra bit of heat the onion, garlic, and chili powder. With the flair of a lounge singer, the cabbage is added with yet another turn of heat. No liquid should be allowed to escape and dissipate from the cabbage. Finally, cilantro and lemon juice are tossed into the mix, dessicated coconut finally ending the whole sultry affair.

If cabbage isn't to become kraut in the sourest of ways, it should become poriyal, crisp and tender at the same time.

Here's the recipe from the Noon book of authentic Indian cookery:
Heat 5 TB of coconut over low heat, add 1 tsp. urad dal (black gram beans), 1/2 tsp cumin seeds, and 1/2 tsp. mustard seeds. Let crackle for 15 seconds. Add 1/2 of a large onion chopped, stir-fry for 5 minutes. They should be limp but not colored.

Add 2 tsp. chopped ginger, 1 tsp. chopped garlic, 10-12 curry leaves,and 1 finely chopped green chili. Saute for 1 minute. Raise the heat and add 1 shredded, large white cabbage and some salt. Stir-fry until the cabbage is hot but still crisp.

Finally, add 8 TB of dessicated (shredded) coconut, 4 TB of chopped fresh cilantro, and 1 TB of lemon juice. Mix well. Add salt as necessary.

Thanks to my husband for cooking a delicious dinner tonight.

Saving Lettuce Seed

It's crazy how intimidating new things like saving seeds can seem. But perhaps it will be like many other things... once done, simple to repeat.

This year I let all my lettuce bolt (see varieties mentioned in the previous post. Also grown this spring was Italian Lacinato nero Toscana Kale, an heirloom variety). Sadly my hands were full with fermenting and canning projects, so gardening and growing were not on the top of the priority list. Instead we chose to enjoy the colors and shapes in the lettuces, allowing them to grow and flower once they were bitter and no longer edible.

These bolted adolescent lettuces seem to be seeking not only acceptance but a chance for the next generation to survive! I'm finding it difficult to find consistent information on saving lettuce seed. Any suggestions on how to save the seeds from our Butterhead Speckles lettuce?

The description on this Butterhead Speckles lettuce package from Botanical Interests, Inc. is appealing: An heirloom that originated from the Mennonites who brought it with them from Germany and Holland over 200 years ago.

Here's some info that I'm guessing is pretty accurate,
found on

Seed Saving Instructions for Lettuce
Self-pollinated. Lettuce varieties will not cross pollinate with each other even at short distances, but beware of any wild lettuce which can cross with lettuce. Allow plants to "bolt" and eventually flower. Under wet conditions lettuce plants may need to be covered with a rain cover or grown in a greenhouse to prevent fungus from infecting the plant and seed heads. Carefully shake the seedheads into a paper bag to allow the mature seeds to be collected while leaving the immature seeds and flowers to keep growing. Gather every few days until no more seeds remain. Also, you can simply harvest the entire plant when about half of the seeds are mature and allow the rest to mature inside by standing up the plants in a box and on a cloth or tarp. Use an 1/8" screen to help with cleaning. Lettuce seed can remain viable for 3 years under cool and dry storage conditions

Lettuce Plantings

Today was a day to not leave the house. When I looked at the weather on-line, trying to decide if I would overheat if I went jogging, there was a mass splotch of green plodding along towards Ann Arbor. I gauged that I had about three and a half minutes before the skies opened and I would be saturated. This meant no running, but a prime chance to plant the fall lettuce seeds that have been haunting me, secure in their packages. This week was somewhat dreadful, long and lame, mostly work with little play. So when I realized that the rain was marching forward, destined to drench, I grabbed the packets of seeds, pulled at the bolted spring lettuce, made shallow trenches, and planted four different greens: Bright Lights Swiss Chard, Correnta Spinach, Butterhead Speckles Lettuce, and Bon Vivant Spicy Mesclun.

Today was successful. I didn't leave the house, and finally the pestering seeds, anxious in their packets, were placed in the ground to grow tasty and colorful.

Friday, September 05, 2008

You Must Love Your Tomatoes

because your tomatoes love you. They are abundant little fruits, these juicy and colorful round orbits. So versatile, the tomato easily transforms a dry meal to saucy, a plain dip to special.

Tonight we were hungry. My desire was to cook, but not to think. I was leaning towards an Indian Vegetable and Paneer Biryani, but that conflicted too much with my desire to not think. Finally, sitting on my porch with cookbooks in tow, I saw my inspiration: the tomato plant. Neighbors have been heralding us with their ripe tomatoes, and the market tomatoes cat call us as we walk past. At some point we surrender. I'm not ready to make salsa or dedicate my evening to jarring homemade marinara. But tonight we were ready to peel and de-seed our pile of tomatoes, puree them into a rich pulp of sweet raw goodness. We were to eat pasta tonight.

First, we needed pasta. We ran to the store and bought fresh pasta made in Madison, WI at RP's Pastas. We also picked up a block of parmesean, some slices of side pork, and a pineapple for dessert. We started with frying the pork in a bit of olive oil. Even though it hadn't been aged like bacon, the fresh smokiness of it was reminiscent of hearty breakfasts around a campfire. We added some minced garlic and a small onion. These browned with the pork, and when they turned a sufficient shade of golden we tossed in chopped parsley and thyme from the front yard garden. My patience was waning at this point. It all smelled so good. Onto the stove went a pot of water. One by one we dropped our tomatoes, so at home on the windowsill, into the water, blanching them so the peels and seeds were easier to remove. They were chopped and then pureed in the CuisineArt, and slowly added to the sputtering pork mixture on the stove. The sauce started to thicken, we added salt and pepper, and before we could scoop up the whole darn mess with our tasting spoons, the pasta and sauce were ready to dish up. We grated the parmesean on top, mostly for good measure, and dug in, slurping the whole thing with great satisfaction. The flavor was surprisingly intense and savory, bite after bite seeming to fuse more fully.

Needless to say, there was no room for the pineapple. But we did accompany our food preparations with a large bottle of Jolly Pumpkin Bam Biere Farmhouse Ale. Oh so good.