Sunday, June 28, 2015

Kk kould be for Kale, but let's go with Kohlrabi

"Superschmaltz, Gigante, Grand Duke."  If you know what those terms are referring to you win!  If not, here are a couple of clues; it's a vegetable, its name begins with letter Kk, and while the harvest season comes a bit later here in our planting zone, it is definitely in season further north of us.  Oregon to be exact.

Still no ideas?  Okay, I'll tell.  This week's Blog is about Kohlrabi, the literal translation being, "cabbage-turnip."  I must confess, while I have heard of this less common vegetable, of German descent, I had never thought of including it in any of my menus.  Until this week that is.  Nor have I ever come across any recipes instructing me to use it, or recommend it as a substitute for another ingredient.
My Produce basket - Filled with onions, sweet potatoes, kale and kohlrabi

Here's a close-up of the White Vienna variety - Kohlrabi 

I began my recent search for this knotty, light green relative of the turnip at my favourtie Farmers Market.  Since this is a specialty item, I figured I'd have better luck there.  But no, while all of the vendors I spoke to knew about Kohlrabi, only one had it in stock that day.  Alas, he only had delicate slivers of the Purple Vienna Kohlrabi as part of his micro greens mixture.  I was looking for the whole enchilada, or in this case the whole "tejano."

Fairly sure Whole Foods would stock Kohlrabi, but not wanting to pay their prices unless forced to, I decided to check out two other large grocery chains on the way.  When I arrived at the first store, I didn't see any thing resembling the descriptions I'd read, but wasn't completely sure what I was looking for.  So I did as I often instruct my students to do, I asked the produce guy.

"Oh we just stopped carrying that.  We used to have year round."

Hmmm, they just stopped carrying Kohlrabi?  That means this Potassium, vitamin C filled veggie has been right under my nose for who knows how long.  But I felt encouraged.  I asked why they no longer stock it.

"Not enough people bought it I guess," he answered.  "I can't even special order it for you.  They took it off my list.  Too bad too.  I like it.  I just slice it thin, drizzle some olive oil over it, sprinkle a little salt and pepper and it's ready."

I thanked him for the tip and left the store hopeful about my next stop.  I hurriedly passed the nectarines, apples and bananas.  Anxiously my eyes moved across the potatoes, onions, radishes and there!  There it was.  Nestled between the beets and turnips.  With over-sized, dark greed leaves looking much like those of the wild mustard plant attached to light green-whiteish bulbs with . . . things sticking out.  There was the Kohlrabi, patiently waiting to be discovered.  They were tied in groups of three and hardly cost more than $3.00 per bunch.  It felt as though this strange vegetable exuded a "well it's about time" energy as I approached to make my selection.

Feeling giddy, I stood in line to pay.  But the checkout clerk obviously was not familiar with my purchase, as I watched him struggle to find the bar code to ring it up.

"It's Kohlrabi," I stated in a most helpful manner.

"Oh, what's that?  I've never rung this up before."

For a brief second I considered going back to the produce section to buy out all they had, before this store, like the first, decided to discontinue selling it due to lack of buyer interest.  Instead, I took a few moments to share my new found knowledge. The taste, I was told, can best be described as a sweet radish, sometimes the bulbous stem, is as sweet and juicy as an apple.  Kohlrabi can be eaten raw or cooked in a variety of ways.  Even the leaves have plenty of vitamin K, and can be eaten steamed and served over rice or in soups. The clerk promised me he would give it a try.  With my change in one hand and my bag in the other, I exited the store happy in the knowledge I had perhaps inspired a new fan of Kohlrabi.

As soon as I entered the house I went to the kitchen and ran the three bulbs under water, leaves and all.  I then cut off the leaves and began peeling off the outer layer as instructed in my research.  The outer skin is so tough I had to put away my potato peeler and use a paring knife instead.  Once cleaned it up, I decided a quick taste was in order.  I took a bite . . . for some reason jicama came to mind.  But this wasn't as sweet as jicama, it still had more of a peppery, radish-like undertone.  I remembered the method of preparation the produce guy told me about.  I tried it . . . hmmm, not sure.  I took a few more bites.  I kind of liked it.  I finished slicing the rest of the first bulb, drizzled it with the olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper, then stored the slices in the fridge to take to work the following day.  So glad I did!  I shared with 3 friends.  One a vegetarian, the others not.  I grabbed a couple slices to sample again, and found I liked the flavor better the following day.  The vegetable, when eaten raw seems improved when cold.  My vegetarian friend loved it!  The other gal, she enjoyed the crisp, clean taste, even with olive oil and seasonings.  The last friend, not so much.  She felt it was rather bland.  Upon my second taste, I decided Kohlrabi would be great in a sliced julienne in a salad, or large shavings of Kohlrabi with slices of apples and some toasted nuts. would add a nice crunch and mild peppery taste to a sandwich.  Of course adding it to your favourite coleslaw recipe would be fun.  Easier yet, thickly sliced and incorporated on a platter of crudites!

Sliced Kohlrabi with olive oil, salt & pepper - They look like apple slices don't they?
Next, how to cook it up.  This took a little research, but once I began looking, I can say, there are more than a few options out there.  Of course soups are big, think cream of mushroom or potato, using Kohlrabi instead.  Stuffed Kohlrabi, filled with chopped onion, ground pork and heavily seasoned with paprika, marjoram, and caraway seeds, will bring this homesick vegetable back to its roots in Germany.  Add it to a casserole with other root vegetables, some bacon and cheese.  There are also plenty of options for using the leaves, braised or steamed with fresh garlic and a nice finishing salt.  Think of using Kohlrabi leaves the way you would kale, (which also begins with Kk and is in season right now!).  But it's really hot here in Vegas these days so I went with a recipe I discovered on another site "acouplecooks."  Of course I modified it a bit, but I decided Kohlrabi fritters wouldn't heat up the kitchen too much and would be the perfect hot side dish to a large fresh summer salad.

Recipe for Kohlrabi Fritters

Ingredients; 2 kohlrabi - leaves removed and bulbs peeled
                  2 large carrots - washed and peeled & shredded            1 large egg
                   1/4 teaspoon salt            1/4 teaspoon pepper               1/8 teaspoon hot paprika
                   1 half onion - minced      1/4 cup matzo meal                  olive oil for frying
                   chopped fresh parsley or chives for garnish
Toppings; choice of, creme fraiche or sour cream, applesauce or guacamole

1) Using your box grater or food processor - grate kohlrabi
2) Place grated kohlrabi and shredded carrots in center of two paper towels and squeeze to remove as much of the natural liquid/water as possible
3) In medium mixing bowl, combine shredded carrots, grated kohlrabi, minced onion, the egg, salt, pepper, paprika and matzo.  Stir together until well mixed.
4) In large heavy skillet, heat enough olive oil to sufficiently coat bottom of pan, but not so much that you end up deep frying the fritters.
5) When oil is hot and shimmering, using a large scoop, spoon two to three scoopfuls of fritter mixture into pan.  Cook on both sides until golden brown.  Place on paper towel to absorb excess oil.

Serve immediately with your choice of toppings and garnish.   Makes about 4-6 Fritters

My son, who is my usual taste-tester, reported enjoying the taste and texture.  I personally liked the ones topped with creme fraiche and guacamole better than the creme and applesauce.  This is an easy to make vegetarian side-dish, so see what you think.

Kohlrabi Fritter with creme fraiche & applesauce
Kohlrabi Fritter with creme fraiche & guacamole 

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Are Jalapenos Hot, Hot Hot?

Can you see them?

Here's that crimson red one!

Hot Hot Hot! That’s the preliminary alarm that runs across the title line of some the more important emails received in one of our offices.  To be honest it’s an effective way of getting our attention and prompted those of us who are disinclined to open emails during the course of our work day to open and read immediately. 
Hot Hot Hot! Is also what has happened to our weather this week.  Vegas was enjoying an unusually cool May when suddenly we went from 60 degrees to 90-something.  Increased temperatures always mean changes in how we dress, which isnt’ much, and what we eat.  You’d think we would stick to lemonade and salads in our efforts to stay cool and stay fit to wear those short-shorts, lightweight dresses and strappy sandals, or shirtless as many men around here do.  But to be honest, you’ll find most of us standing around the barbecue with our hands wrapped around a refreshing Margarita on the rocks or an icy-cold beer.
Included on most of our summer menus here are chips and salsas of all combinations.  Which brings me to another kind of Hot, Hot, Hot – chili peppers.  Jalapenos are in season!  I have been growing my own in a small pot on the back patio for the last couple of years.  While my small plant has never grown to its potential, 28-35 inches tall,(mine’s more like 18”), or yielded the 25-35 pods,( I usually get about 5-8), the taste holds that high level of heat, flavor and pungency we’ve come to expect from the Jalapeno pepper. 
You’ll notice one of the pods on my plant is a crimson red.  This pepper was the first to appear and leaving it on the vine, allowed it to ripen even further.  Most jalapenos are picked and consumed when they’re still in their green phase.  Some people consider jalapenos to be quite hot.  But really they only hold from 2,500 – 8,000 scoville units.  A scoville unit is the measure used to distinguish how hot a chili is.  The higher the scoville unit the hotter the pepper.  To give you some comparisons, bell peppers have a scoville unit score of 0, Caribbean Habanero 300,000 – 475,000, the famous Ghost Pepper or Red Naga starts at 855,000 scoville units and the worlds hottest is the Carolina Reaper (HP22B), at 1,569,383 – 2,220,000 units!!!   Now that’s Hot, Hot, Hot!!  I don’t know how you could even eat that!

What is a scoville unit?  For years I’ve been asking this simple question and no one could answer me.  After some exhaustive research I found that the scoville unit is associated with how much sugar syrup it takes to completely lose the heat from a chili.  I’m still not sure exactly how that’s done, but at least I can say more than, “oh a scoville is a unit of measure regarding how hot a chili is.”

Besides having the capability of making our eyes burn and our faces red, and in some cases, causing us to break out in a sweat, chilies are rich in vitamins C and A, and are reported to help ease the discomfort of arthritis, sprains and strains as well as headache pain.  Years ago, I was told eating foods that were hot and spicy would help induce labor.  I decided to give this a test when pregnant with my first child.  Already expressing her stubborn nature she was more than two and a half weeks overdue and I was sick of feeling tired and fat.  My indigestion was unbearable and that other old wives tale of drinking Castor oil trick hadn’t worked the week before.   I was willing to try anything.  On my way home from work I stopped in a little hole in the wall Mexican restaurant and ordered a cheese enchilada, the spiciest one they had.  The free salad on the side was simply shredded iceberg topped with a few cherry tomatoes, but I was more interested in the rounds of greens, still flecked with seeds that adorned my enchilada.  They were sliced jalapeno.  The old woman behind the counter carefully wrapped my take-home pan with foil and sent me on my way.  She must have known what I was up to, judging by the half smile she wore on her face while ringing up and bagging my purchase. 
These enchiladas worked!!  

At 6:00 I carefully transferred my small meal to real dinner plate, mounded the salad on the side and poured myself a beer.  Sitting back further than usual due to my over sized belly, which also served as a wonderful tray upon which I balanced my plate, I sat down to watch Chuck Willery host Love Connection.  This was my favourite show at the time, I snuggled in and commenced eating.  Well it worked!  By 8:05 p.m. I was walking around my apartment in agony with labor pains that moved in slow motion from my belly to my lower back.  Yes, those Jalapenos did what they I had hoped.  At 12:04 a.m. Natalia Alyse was born.  And I might add, she has a love of all things Hot, Hot, Hot.

Now-a-days we can request to have jalapenos added to almost anything, burgers, hot dogs, vinaigrette, smoothies, you name it.  But I love the depth of flavor and heat they add to salsas.  Today I’m preparing a simple chicken dish topped with a cooked combination of roasted tomatillos, onions and jalapenos.  Of course there will be some cerveza to wash it down.  

There are countless recipes on line for jalapenos.  But I like to go beyond those Poppers or adding slices of them to my ham and pineapple pizza.  Here's a couple you may want to try;
A Jalapeno Margarita!  Start by slicing, 2 jalapenos lengthwise.  Remove the seeds and ribs, as that's where the HEAT is.  DON'T touch your face or eyes while handling the peppers.  Be sure to wash your hands after handling them or you may feel stinging should your hands come into contact with your face or eyes.  In a large bowl or other container, place the 4 halves of cleaned peppers then pour 2 cups of tequila over them.  Cover and place in fridge for at least 2 hours.  When you're ready to make your Margaritas, begin by rubbing the rim of two glasses with fresh lime juice and dip into a saucer filled with salt, unless you don't care for salt on your Margaritas.  Fill each glass with ice, then simply divide 2 ounces of Grand Marnier into the glasses.  Add a shot, or two, of your infused tequila, a squeeze of fresh lime juice and 1 ounce into each glass of Papaya, Pineapple or Mango nectar. Ready!!!  

Instead of interjecting chips and salsa or guacamole in with your tasty libation try this "kicked up" Grilled Cheese.  You'll need good sourdough bread, sliced, some Brie cheese, 2 roasted jalapenos, seeded and ribbed of course, 1/4 cup roasted, (or not) pumpkin seeds, a handful of cilantro and 1-2 cloves garlic.  This time before you slice and seed the jalapenos, using a pair of tongs, hold them over the open fire of your grill or stove.  If you're not out at the grill or you have an electric stove, then you'll need to rub the peppers with a bit of olive oil, place them on a foil lined cookie sheet and roast them in the oven at 425 degrees for about 5-10 minutes.  No matter which method you use to roast, the peppers should be singed and blistery.  Then cut in half, remove the seeds and throw the peppers into your food processor or blender.  Add the skinned cloves of garlic, juice of one fresh lime, pumpkin seeds, and the cilantro.  Blend until you have a nice paste.  You may need to add a bit olive oil if too thick.  But we want it pretty thick so this spread doesn't spill out of the sandwich when you take a bite.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Spread this delightfully spicy green mixture onto both sides of the bread, top with slices of Brie and grill in your Panini press or in a large skillet until cheese has melted.  
This sandwich shown here uses pistachios instead of pumpkin seeds, hence the shells.  I think pumpkin seeds make for a richer taste and they are generally less expensive.

Yum Yum Yum and Hot Hot Hot!