thai hot and sour green tomato stirfry

One more green tomato dish, this one a delicious and gorgeous Thai hot and sour stirfry that goes particularly well with fish, shrimp, or pork.  The marinade is delicious on its own, but when you add chopped green tomatoes, it’s really quite something.  Some folks have an issue with eating partially cooked green tomatoes because they can be a bit slimy, but I find chopping them into smaller pieces and using a strong sauce, plus the contrasting textures of soft cherry tomatoes and fleshy fish, make that issue moot.

Whew!  My green tomatoes are done for the year, but here are all my ideas for green tomatoes. Try:

Thai Hot & Sour Green Tomato Stirfry

Serves 4 with another dish.  Great with grilled salmon — pour the sauce on top of cooked salmon and arrange tomatoes around fish for a beautiful presentation.

  • 1 lb. fillet of fresh salmon to grill (fatty Chinook is best; substitute shrimp or pork)
  • 1 lb. or as many green tomatoes as you like, cut into bite-sized chunks (err on the small side)
  • a handful of cherry tomatoes for color and sweetness, halved
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1/2 medium white onion, sliced pole-to-pole thinly
  • A couple of red Italian frying peppers (the long skinny sweet peppers), sliced thinly
  • 3 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • white pepper to taste

Prepare your ingredients before you start grilling the salmon (or shrimp or pork).  Chop the green tomatoes in bite-sized pieces and halve the cherry tomatoes; mince the garlic; slice the onion and peppers.  Mix together fish sauce, vinegar, and sugar in a small bowl, and use a bit to marinate your salmon.

Grill salmon.  As it is cooking:

Heat wok until very hot on high heat.  Add oil and wait a minute to pre-heat, then sear green tomatoes and onion.  Add garlic and peppers after onions and tomatoes brown a bit, cook a moment longer, then remove from heat.  Add fish sauce mixture and white pepper to taste.  Let sit and marinate while the fish finishes grilling.

Plate the grilled fish, and carefully pour sauce over fish.  Arrange tomatoes around fish and serve with jasmine rice and another dish for a complete meal.

for earth day: a most unnatural dish

“She was not fashioned to swim in Heaven, she is a Fish of Earth, she swims in Terra-firma.” – Djuna Barnes

I call it salmon déjeuner sur l’herbe.  And I celebrate the place on this earth for the unworldly, the out of place, the odd couples, the unnatural, the freakish, and the fish out of water.  We must remember there’s not just one way to celebrate the earth, and the earthlovers who don’t dance around under the moon may just swimming through the universe sauced, nestled in with colecrop and rosemary flowers, and crowned with Johnny Jump-up.

Édouard Manet’s painting “Déjeuner sur l’Herbe” (“The Luncheon on the Grass”) was the talk of the town in 1863 when it was refused by the Parisian Academy’s annual Salon exhibition for its uncanny and offensive content.  It was real and not real, familiar and outlandish.  It’s hard for us to imagine that these women were seen as prostitutes, for who else would be picnicking on the grass with two fully clothed men?  That they were students or artists was worse.

What I see when I look at this painting, though, is a look of boredom and longing.  The picnic basket overturned with fruit uneaten, a waste.  Every glance is distracted, away on a different trajectory.  It must have been a dreadful bore to listen to hours of mansplaining.  One woman picks flowers; at least she has been able to escape into the landscape and stretch her limbs.  But this one begs us, silent, to choose body over mind. We can read her as any number of allegories — youth, modernity, sexuality, art, even the earth. But most of all it’s about difference.  Manet went on to exhibit it in the Salon des Refusés (the Rejects Salon) in an annex of the sanctioned Salon.  And although it was booed and hissed, some people liked this fish out of water.  He wasn’t alone.

I’ve been thinking about this painting ever since the Nature Conservancy asked me to do a post for Earth Day as part of their picnic campaign this year.  The salmon was kind of an accident.  Even better for a fish of the earth.  I should remind you that the Earth provides food for 7 billion lovely, individual people and you can learn more about this year’s Earth Day on April 22, or even host your own Earth Day picnic along with thousands of others, if you so please.

My picnic, my déjeuner sur l’herbe, is a beautiful Oregon chinook salmon on black rice with flowers and herbs plucked from my garden at the moment winter broke into spring.  Try it — a shower of herbflowers on any finished dish.  It’s such a joyful and simple way to celebrate the seasons and continuing bounty we receive from our planet.  The salmon itself was clothed in an aluminum foil packet and oven-poached in a broth made of white wine, fennel fronds, dill pickle juice, and butter, at 325 degrees.  When it was done, I blended a little of the broth in with a small head of frisée, chives, and walnuts to make a fresh green sauce. Can be eaten warm or cold.

Happy Earth Day!

digging your own gravlax

I’ve been trying lately to include food that is high in protein in my breakfasts.  I’m always trying to have delicious noshes in my refrigerator for cocktail hour.  It was inevitable that I should run smack into gravlax.

Gravlax is the most delicious, silken, salt-cured salmon served in Scandinavia.  It’s a less salty, less aggressive, dill-tinged, slightly sweet lox, which is cold-smoked, and much more subtle than the smoked salmon you find at your local bagelry.  And it’s wonderful with PNW salmon. Definitely don’t use Atlantic salmon, which is always farmed, and tastes muddy and yucky once you’ve dipped your toes in the sweet Pacific.  Save your Chinook/King salmon for the grill; gravlax is better with the stronger flavors and leaner meat of Sockeye or Coho.

Plan ahead — you’ll need to freeze fresh salmon for 3-7 days to ensure any parasites are killed, or use commercially frozen salmon.  All the recipes I’ve seen have called for skin-on fillets, but my fishmonger suggested she skin it, so I went with that.  It was just fine, and more convenient.  Look for a fillet that’s not too thick at the center, rather more even in thickness for most of the fillet.

For us, 1-1/2 lbs. is plenty, so really think about how much you’ll be eating.  It’s better to make less more frequently, since storage alters the flavor and it’s not something that keeps for a very long time.  You can freeze it, which dries it out, or keep in the refrigerator for about a week.

My recipe is based on several sources, including the base recipe and comments in this long, comprehensive post from Cooking for Engineers.  It’s very much worth the read for debates about how long to freeze and store, whether or not to weigh down the fillet, add-ons, etymology, and parasitology.

Mark Bittman published a collection of recipes that alter the ratio of salt to sugar and feature different spices, including citrus and a Moroccan-inspired rub.  He prefers a 2:1 ratio of sugar:salt, but I like 1:1 with my limited desire for sugar.  Next time, I’ll surely opt for a traditional splash of Aquavit (or most likely Herbsaint, which I have on hand right now) with the cure.

Simple Gravlax with Dill

Serves 4-6, or more.

  • 1.5 lb. fillet of wild Pacific salmon, a less fatty variety like Sockeye or Coho, skinned
  • 3 tablespoons coarse salt
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 2-3 tablespoons chopped dill or fennel fronds

Prepare the salmon by feeling the fillet for small pin bones; remove with tweezers.  Freeze salmon for at least 3 days to kill any parasites.

Combine salt and sugar in a small bowl.  Chop dill.

On a piece of plastic wrap or aluminum foil that is large enough to wrap the salmon, sprinkle half of the salt/sugar mixture.  Place the salmon, dark-fleshed (skin) side down, atop the mixture. Add the rest of the salt and sugar to cover the fish, and sprinkle the dill on top evenly.

Wrap the fish well in the plastic or foil, and then wrap it again in another piece of foil.  Place fish in gallon-sized Ziploc bag to reduce smells, and lay out the package on a baking sheet that fits the fillet without bending it.

Refrigerate for 48 hours, flipping over the package every 12 hours or so.

Unwrap the salmon and cut a piece off to make sure it is cured through the middle (it should be an even color).  Taste some. If it is too strong for your preparation, rinse off the cure, but you may opt to leave it on. Dry, then slice as thinly as possible on the bias.  Serve with brown bread and cream cheese, or in scrambled eggs with crème fraîche and scallions, as I did above.  Breakfast of champions.

salmon canning and hazel switches

I joined a fellow Master Food Preserver volunteer yesterday to teach salmon canning at the Siletz Confederated Tribes center in Eugene.  I was just the sidekick; Dale is our fish expert.  She teaches albacore tuna canning classes each year.  (Last year, with her help, I wrote up an illustrated guide to the process if you’re interested in trying tuna at home.)

Above: Dale in action and salmon, before and after (or after and before, rather).  When salmon is canned with the skin on, it can be layered in the jar to make really lovely patterns.  Some people made a checkerboard pattern, and others opted for their own creative designs.  Someone commented that it looked almost like a snake coiled in the jar.

Leaving the skin on can be kind of a pain if you want to de-skin the salmon before serving it, but the skin provides healthy fat and flavor.  Salmon doesn’t need to be deboned before canning, as the pinbones dissolve and the spinal column turns soft and edible, providing lots of calcium.  We left it up to the students to decide how they wanted to proceed, after learning how to fillet a hunk of salmon, for those interested in canning without the bones. Easy!

As far as canning classes go, it was probably the most plush gig I’ve taught at.  The organizer, Adrienne Crookes, had all the supplies arranged — from salmon to clean jars to cutting boards to newly sharpened knives — and she even taught the filleting process!  She did quite a bit of work to make this event a success, and it showed.  It’s always such a pleasure to be led by an organizational pro.

A lovely treat was a delicious lunch of salmon burgers made from previously canned fish, as we waited for the long processing to be completed.  The burgers were seasoned with parsley, onion, garlic, and bound with mayo and egg.

After lunch, we were joined by a project coordinator for health and cultural programming for the Federation, Sharla Robinson, who shared a presentation on native foods and reintegrating native plants into the diet.  She stated that Native Americans are particularly susceptible to diabetes and by returning to a more traditional diet, the risk would be reduced.  This is also suggested by a study cited in Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food, in which diabetes rates plummeted for aboriginal tribes who switched from so-called Western diets high in sugar and refined grains to traditional patterns of eating and living.

For the Siletz Federation, there has been great interest in educating youth at culture camps, but this year marks the first year food is included as part of culture, Sharla noted.  From her poster, replete with photos of food gathering and preparation, I could see that preservation is a crucial aspect of educating new generations about food traditions.  For example, eels are trapped among rocks at the bottom of waterfalls, then smoked like jerky so they’re available for year-round eating.  Huckleberries, salmon berries (and manzanita berries (?!)) are collected for drying.  Fruits like plums, game meat, and fish can be canned.

Pictured above are a lovely jar of beet-red plum halves, a basket of herbs, two jars of deer or elk stew meat, a baggie of what Sharla called “ocean tea” made of a local herb, canned salmon, and giant mussel shells.

What’s ready for traditional projects now?  Hazel branches!  Sharla brought a large armful of switches that had been just cut, and the group of students were persuaded to help peel them for basket weavers.  The Siletz Federation has a language teacher, Bud Lane, who teaches basket weaving.  You can see one white peeled switch in the middle of the leafy pile. While they peeled, I graded exams.  Party pooper, I know. But I did get to see some lovely photos of finished baskets and basket caps, used as part of the ceremonial regalia (thanks, Adrienne!).

Soon enough, the jars were ready and we lifted them out of the canner.  I think we had a 100% seal rate, which wasn’t too shabby at all for a first-time group.  All the students were able to take home a couple of jars.  It was a great group and really fun, plus I learned quite a bit about native flora, fauna, and people.  Thanks, Siletz Confederated!  I hope you have us back to teach more classes soon!

iron chef eugene winner: chef gabriel gil!

I had so much fun last weekend judging the final round of the Iron Chef Eugene competition at the Bite of Eugene festival at Alton Baker park.  Congratulations to the winner, Chef Gabriel Gil of The Rabbit Bistro!  Gabe gets to go on to compete for Eugene at Bite of Oregon in Portland on August 7. [ETA 8/11: HE WON.]

Due to unforeseen technical difficulties, the entire competition got started a couple of hours late. Chef Adam Bernstein of Adam’s Sustainable Table battled and won against his competitor, Chef Scott Whitus of Café Zenon.  Gabe took on Chef Max Schwartz at Café Lucky Noodle…and reigned supreme.  By the end of the finals, it was pretty dark and the chefs could barely see.  Staff rustled up some lights for the stage and some charming Christmas lights for the judges’ table.  Unfortunately, a half-naked kid stood right in front of the table as we judged the dishes.  Rather unappetizing, sorry.  But I did like the mood lighting.

The final round began with the finalists, Gabe to the right and Adam second to the left, trash talking and getting ready to throw down.  (At least, that’s what I envisioned — I couldn’t hear what they were saying!  But they look particularly badass in this shot.)

Just as in the original Iron Chef competitions, the chefs had a secret ingredient: goat cheese.  The task was to integrate the ingredient into several dishes in 60 minutes as Steve, the emcee and festival organizer, chatted with the audience.  Then, the judges gobbled down as much of each dish as they could and tallied the results!

Two of my favorite dishes:  Gabe’s lamb “lollipops” with goat cheese pudding and sweet pepper purée.  The lamb was sauced with a fennel and port reduction, and garnished with shaved aged goat cheese.

The second photo is of Adam’s melted lavender goat cheese ice cream with berries and a black pepper tuile…”it’s become a crème anglaise!” he said.  (The delays meant that both of the chefs’ desserts didn’t take properly, and I didn’t critique “acts of god” in the judging.)  I’m a big fan of sabayon and similar sauces with berries, and really liked the combination of berry-pink, slightly sour goat cheese crottin, beautifully and saucily enhanced blackcap raspberries and currants, and the crème.

I didn’t get a shot of another favorite: Gabe’s dessert, a slightly droopy (again, technical difficulties) goat cheese panna cotta with a cilantro purée, a very light caramel sauce, orange segments, and strawberry Pop Rocks.  Yep, you heard it correctly.  And I was heard saying for the first and last time ever in public that I wanted even more Pop Rocks!

Gabe also pulled off a stunning salmon belly roulade on a salad of vinaigrette-dressed tomatoes and watermelon cubes. I have to say that he didn’t make much of the goat cheese on this dish (I think it was under the beautifully acidic tom-wat salad?) and that’s not a good thing in Iron Chef competitions, but as a food lover, I have to say that it was an inspired combination.  The fat in the succulent salmon roll and the meaty flesh of the fruit and the acid in the dressing, plus a few herbal leaves from the garnish, made me roll my eyes back in my head in joy.  THAT GOOD!  I hope this one ends up on the menu.

Sorry about the dreadful photos in the dark.  Here’s a cute one!  The daughter of my personable fellow judge, King Estate winery’s head winemaker Jeff Kandarian, watches little moths flit around the Christmas lights.

I had so much fun at the competition, and thanks to everyone who stayed until the bitter end.  Adam and Gabe both showed off their best for the competition, and I was so pleased to taste the results.  They’re very different chefs.  Adam aims for simple, more conservative, nearly 100% local fare (some of it from his garden, even).  His aesthetic would be at home at an upscale hotel restaurant or a place where well-heeled businessmen conscious of their food delight in his creations.  Gabe is more of a young Turk, experimental and whimsical.  His molecular gastronomy and odd flavor combinations are unlike anything else we have in Eugene.  Both chefs make me think there are changes afoot in the Eugene dining scene, and that things are getting better all the time.

And I can’t end this post without saying that judging an Iron Chef competition has been a fantasy of mine for my adult life.  My brother and I used to watch the Japanese version of Iron Chef together when he was little, and we’d pretend we were Chairman Kaga:

I have a disturbing number of photos of myself posed unintentionally (?) as an adult as Chairman Kaga, including this one:

See?  Dead ringer.

So now that I’ve been a judge, do I dare to ask to emcee next year?  Could I really fill those brocaded, 18th century Kitchen Stadium shoes?  It would be the pinnacle of my life’s ambition!  I’ll see what I can do.  Stay tuned…and ALLEZ CUISINE!