I just recently returned from a whirlwind trip through Europe and Southeast Asia, which included my first visit to Myanmar (previously known as Burma). I’d traveled with friends through Europe and Vietnam, but for Myanmar, I joined up on a culinary tour with Robert Carmack and Morrison Polkinghorne. In addition to operating their culinary tours as The Globetrotting Gourmet, they’re also the authors of The Burma Cookbook: Recipes from the Land of a Million Pagodas. It was amazing to get to try many new foods and walk through the markets with these seasoned experts, plus we had the added benefit of being accompanied by Ian Hemphill—author of The Spice and Herb Bible—and his wife Liz, who collectively own Herbie’s Spices, one of Australia’s preeminent spice shops.
I’m a pretty lucky guy. Just before heading back to southeast Asia last month, I got a new cookbook in the mail from my publisher called Asian Pickles: Sweet, Sour, Salty, Cured, and Fermented Preserves from Korea, Japan, China, India, and Beyond. (We’ll just call it Asian Pickles for the purposes of this blog post, though.) I’d met author Karen Solomon at a little author party Ten Speed Press threw for us at Omnivore Books in SF a while back, and I was immediately taken with the idea for her book! (more…)
Last July, I’d traveled to Spain for the very first time, getting to spend five wonderful days in Madrid. In addition to wanting to drink a ton of dry Spanish cider—aka sidra—and try countless tapas, I was also dying to get my hands on a tall glass of traditional horchata de chufa, the predecessor to the Mexican and Salvadoran versions of horchata I’ve come to know and love over the past few decades.
I’d written about horchata de chufa for Saveur magazine many moons ago, and had made it at home, but had always wanted to try it *in* Spain. Enter Horchatería Alboraya, a traditional producer of horchata de chufa that’s been open in the heart of Madrid since 1980. There are several traditional horchaterías in Valencia that are much older—like Horchatería El Siglo (since 1836) and Horchatería Santa Catalina—but I didn’t have time to get out of Madrid, so I was extremely glad to find Alboraya, as I’d long dreamed of trying this chufa magic in its home country.
So what is horchata de chufa and what makes it different? The horchata most commonly found in the U.S. is typically from Mexican restaurants: a rice-based drink that’s spiked with cinnamon and plenty of sugar. Salvadoran versions use morro seeds, sourced from an indigenous plant, that lend a slightly sweet, subtle licorice flavor of their own. Sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, cacao nibs, and other flavorings can make their way into other countries’ versions of horchata as well, but they’re all thought to be descended from the Spanish variation, which uses chufa nuts for its base. (more…)
Last Sunday, I took a trip to the Hollywood Farmers Market with my good friend Julia with the goal of getting some produce and making a vegetarian lunch together. Funny enough, Julia and I have actually known each other since I was in second grade… about 22 years? (Jeez. Now I feel old.) There was a gap over the last decade or so, but we’d bumped into each other a little over a year ago when she happened to be working at the Hollywood Farmers Market, of all places.
Since then, we’ve bonded over food over several visits to SQIRL, which is where Julia told me she’d been making meals from the farmers market for some of her co-workers, and blogging about it to boot! Since I’ve been focusing on posting recipes inspired by recent farmers market visits, we both had the same thought and decided to combine forces and cook together!
We shopped the market for a short while, scooping up all that spring has to offer. The English peas were too good to resist, even if it did mean I’d be doing a fair amount of shelling. (A few stands sell shelled peas, but they tend to run out very early in the morning, and alas, I operate on a slightly more relaxed schedule—especially on a Sunday AM—so it was quickly decided that I was on shelling duty.)
We discussed several possible options, the first of which was going to involve pea tendrils and burrata. As time went on, plans were adapting, we didn’t know where we’d find burrata, and then we bumped into her stepmother who suggested we grab some sheep’s milk cheese from a vendor that was there at the market. Right then, it dawned on me: let’s make a farmer’s plate!
Ever since writing about the farmer’s plate at a.o.c. (which was just named the best restaurant in L.A.) for an article about things on toast, I’ve been wanting to make my own. Chef-owner Suzanne Goin’s farmer’s plate acts as a hearty appetizer, matching a few slices of toasted bread with roasted vegetables and dips that are meant to reflect the freshest produce of the season, prepared in a simple fashion. Armed with these loose guidelines and all the goodies we picked up, we knew we’d have no problem doing the farmer’s plate justice.
Spring Farmer’s Plate with Pea Puree and Coriander-Scented Carrots
Makes 4 servings
For the crostini:
1 baguette, cut into 1/4-inch thick slices on the bias
Olive oil, for drizzling
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 clove garlic, peeled
For the pea puree:
2 cups shelled English peas
3 cloves garlic, peeled
1/2 medium lemon, juice and zest
1 to 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
For the carrots:
1 bunch small, colorful carrots (we used Black Knight carrots)
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
1/2 medium lemon, juiced
1/4 cup minced flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Additional optional components: hummus, fresh cheeses, mini frittatas, hard-boiled egg, pickled vegetables, raw or roasted nuts, crudités, etc.
Preheat the oven to 350F. Arrange the baguette slices on a sheet tray. Drizzle a little olive oil over them, making sure a little bit gets on each slice. Sprinkle a touch of salt and pepper over all of it and bake uncovered until golden and crispy, about 15 minutes. Once they come out of the oven, let them cool to the touch and carefully rub a clove of garlic over each piece. (The crispy exterior of the toast will act like a grater, getting little tiny pieces of fresh garlic on the crostini, which you’ll thank me for later.)
For the pea puree, place the shelled peas, garlic, lemon juice, zest, and 1 tablespoon olive oil into a food processor or blender. Pulse until well combined. This should be the consistency of hummus; adjust with additional olive oil or water if necessary or desired. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.
Remove the tops from the carrots. (Don’t discard them! You can use them to season homemade vegetable stock, in an interesting spin on pesto, or you can toss some of the thinner topmost fronds into a salad. If you can’t use them, toss them in the compost bin.) Using a mandoline slicer, carefully slice the carrots into thin ribbons. If you don’t have a mandoline, you may also just cut thin carrot “coins” on the bias with a chef’s knife.
In a dry skillet, toast the coriander, stirring over a medium flame until fragrant, about 2 minutes. (Don’t walk away as this can go from toasted to burnt in seconds.) In a large bowl, toss the carrots with the toasted coriander, garlic, lemon juice, parsley, and olive oil. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Plate the crostini with the carrot salad and pea puree. Arrange any extra accouterments you’d like to snack on, but try to keep it seasonal and simple! We topped the crostini with the sheep’s milk cheese, and got some crisp breakfast radishes to smear with a pat of cultured butter and a pinch of big flaky sea salt. Farmer’s plate complete!
* Check out the recipe for Suzanne Goin’s farmer’s plate from a.o.c,, which she calls “a vegetable antipasto through a Southern California lens.” It’s made with roasted vegetables, burrata, and a Middle Eastern red pepper-walnut dip called muhammara.
* Check out Julia’s post about our farmer’s plate, which includes notes on the pea tendril frittatas she made to accompany the meal for her co-workers.
Today’s visit to the Downtown Glendale Farmers Market was unique in that I didn’t walk over by myself! I was joined by Kimberly Beck, a new friend who I brought on as a personal assistant a few weeks ago. Personal assistant? Yep. For as much stuff as I’ve managed to crank out these past few years, I have to admit that I’m painfully unorganized and it’s begun to affect both my productivity and my level of satisfaction with my work. (It’s not that I’m not happy with my work, but it’s all too frequently borne out of last-minute chaos rather than actual planning and intention. So… enter Kimberly!) It’s been very part-time, which works well for both of us, and she’s been a great help to me thus far! I can’t wait to see how working smarter will benefit me in the long run! (more…)