Slow Post For A Quick Stir-Fry

There is much talk these days about “slow food”, but this is about “slow posts”. I have been trying for over a week to get this posted. I didn’t have trouble getting to the Farmers’ Market to shop, that’s part of my Sunday routine. I bought the shiitake mushrooms, asparagus, scallions, and more green garlic so I could try a recipe I had found for Ginger Fried Rice. I made the recipe. It was delicious. I even got photos taken but what didn’t happen was finding the time to write and put the words and photos together. I’m sometimes amazed how long it takes.  Do you have weeks where it seems like you go from Monday to Friday in just one day instead of five?

Shiitake mushrooms are, in my opinion, simply the best. I love the flavor and the texture finding them even meatier than a Portabella. I guess the edge the Portabella has is its size. I’ve never seen a Shiitake that comes even close to the Portabella in size and I’ve never tasted a Portabella that comes close in flavor to the Shiitake.

Also known, as Chinese black mushroom and black forest mushroom, shiitake are the second most cultivated mushroom in the world. They also have an ancient history being recorded in Japan back to AD 199 and in China there are written records of them during the Sung Dynasty (AD 960-1127). During the Ming Dynasty (AD 1368-1644), they were prized not only as a food but also as a remedy for upper respiratory diseases, poor blood circulation, liver trouble, exhaustion and weakness, and to boost life energy and prevent premature aging. Today they are still touted for their curative properties and extracts from the mushroom and sometimes the whole dried mushroom, are used in herbal remedies.

Prior to 1972 it was thought by the USDA that the species was invasive so cultivation was not allowed in the United States. In 1982, Gary F. Leatham published an academic paper based on his research on the budding and growth of the Japan Islands variety; the work helped make commercial cultivation possible in United States.

Today,  mushrooms have become popular in many other countries as well. Russia produces and also consumes large amounts of them, mostly sold pickled, something I have never tried. There is a global industry in  production, with local farms in most western countries in addition to large-scale importation from China, Japan, Korea and elsewhere.  A lot of the imported mushrooms come to us dried. They have a very rich flavor but I prefer the texture of the fresh ones.

The fried rice recipe I made was a variation on one I found on epicurious.com.

Ginger Fried Rice with Shiittake Mushrooms and Asparagus

Makes 6 side-dish servings

2 tablespoons plus 1-teaspoon vegetable oil

2 large eggs, beaten with 2-tablespoons water

1 ½ tablespoons minced peeled fresh ginger (I recently read that you can freeze ginger root and just grate it into a recipe and that’s what I did this time and it works great. You don’t even need to fool around with peeling it)

3 scallions, white and green parts chopped separately

3 green garlic, white part and tender light green parts sliced thinly  (optional)

½ lb asparagus cut on the diagonal into 1” pieces

¾ teaspoons kosher salt

½ lb fresh shiitake mushrooms, stems discarded and caps thinly sliced (you could substitute dried shiitake that have been soaked and drained, or you could try crimini but the flavor and texture of either of these will be very different than the shiitake. I definitely wouldn’t recommend using the white mushrooms.)

3 cups cold cooked white rice (I use a short grain white which tends to stick together more than the long grain but it worked just fine.)

½ teaspoon Asian sesame oil

Toasted sesame seeds (not sure how many I added probably a tablespoon or two)

Heat a wok or a 12-inch nonstick skillet over moderate heat until hot. Then add ½ teaspoon vegetable oil and swirl around wok/pan. Add half of egg mixture and swirl pan to coat bottom with a thin layer about 5 inches in diameter. When egg crêpe is set, about 45 seconds, transfer with a wide metal spatula to a plate to cool. Make another egg crêpe with remaining egg mixture. Roll each crêpe into a cylinder, and cut crosswise into ¼ inch-wide strips, then unroll. (This was so simple to do and I loved the way it looked and tasted. If you don’t want to make the crêpes, scramble the egg and water mixture)

Heat remaining 2 tablespoons vegetable oil in wok over high heat until it begins to smoke. Add ginger, white part of scallions, garlic and salt and stir-fry until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add shiitakes and s and stir-fry until tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Crumble rice into wok add asparagus pieces and stir –fry until rice is lightly browned and asparagus is still crisp tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from heat and add scallion greens, egg strips, and sesame oil, tossing to combine.

I don’t see why you couldn’t substitute broccoli for the asparagus. Just keep the pieces cut into sizes that will cook uniformly, or steam the broccoli separately then add at the end with the scallion greens and egg strips. I think I would also like to try this with bok choy as the vegetable. This is an easy meal to prepare, as with most stir-fries the longest time will be spent in preparation.

If you give this one a try let me know how you liked it and what substitutions you made.

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Spring Garlic

You can see the cloves starting to form on this one.

Sunday I got to the Farmers’ Market later than usual, it was already packed with people but choices were still good. The first thing I wanted to do was find the egg guy and trade in my used cartons. It seems like the only time I remember that I’m going to take them back is when I am at the market buying more eggs. Very happy with myself for finally remembering. Egg cartons returned and a fresh dozen in my basket I was off to see what looked good as far as vegetables go. I bought a nice bunch of chard, a green that I much prefer to kale or mustard greens, some beautiful, thin asparagus, some very nice baby spinach, more Fuji apples, tangerines and the subject of this weeks post, green or Spring garlic.

Garlic is a species in the onion family and green garlic is simply immature garlic, which has been pulled to thin the crop. Garlic, onions, shallots, leeks and chives are close relatives. Since I love all garlic’s cousins I guess it isn’t any surprise I love garlic. I love it in its mature form and delight every spring when I can get it in its immature form.

Green garlic is much milder than mature garlic. To use it trim off the root ends and any tough part of the green leaves. Chop or slice the white, light green and the first few inches of the dark green leaves (using only the leaves that are tender).

I read that the sticky juice within the cloves of mature garlic is used as an adhesive in mending glass and porcelain in China and that garlic has been around for about 6,000 years and is native to Central Asia. I also read that it was highly prized in early Egypt where it was even used as currency.

Here’s a little dish I prepared tonight using some of my fresh Spring garlic, left over baked Japanese sweet potatoes (Satsumaimo), a little butter and baby spinach.

First I thinly sliced the garlic, then placed it in a fly pan with a little butter and let the garlic gently cook until it had browned and was a little crispy. This isn’t something you would want to do with clove garlic as the taste of the garlic would be bitter. That doesn’t happen with the young version.  I then added the cooked garlic and butter to the Japanese sweet potatoes that had been peeled and mashed with a fork. Once this was done I made some little patties from the mixture then added them back into the frypan with just a touch of butter and gently fried the patties until they were crispy and browned, then turned them and did the same to the other side. When they were browned on both sides I removed them added the spinach and a splash of chicken stock (you can use water) added a lid and cooked the spinach until it had just wilted. That’s it, another one-pan yummy treat. Perfect for a spring evening.

You can find a recipe for green garlic and baby Bok Choy from one of my March 2010 posts here if you’d like another idea on how I’ve used it. It’s also excellent in any egg dish, think cheese and bacon omelet with spring garlic. If you can find Spring or green garlic at your Farmers’ Market or market, give it a try. I think you’ll like it.

Santa Fe’s Other Little Pepper

New Mexico is known for their chili peppers. If you visit in the fall you will see ristras, or arrangements of drying chili pepper pods, hanging everywhere. These colorful ristras were available at the Santa Fe Farmers Market when I visited a week ago. But, this year I also learned that Santa Fe has another little chili pepper that has made quite a hit there.

The peppers are called Shishito. They are about two to three inches long with a wrinkled thin skin, and a sweet-hot taste. The ones I tasted straight from my friend’s garden (seeds included) were not HOT but my friend said that every once in a while you’d get one with a little kick. They were very tasty.

Saturday morning we headed down to the Santa Fe Farmers Market and while tasting my way through the local delicacies, I happened upon some freshly roasted Shishito. WOW, they were fantastic. They were stir-fried in olive oil with garlic until charred, then sprinkled with a little sea salt. You eat everything but the stem.

I was a little shocked by the price though. They were selling for $8. per lb. After thinking about what we went through harvesting my friend’s two small plants I realized that maybe that wasn’t such a high price. Harvesting them is a kin to harvesting Sweet 100 tomatoes. The peppers are small and there are lots of them hiding amongst the plants leaves.

When I got home from New Mexico I decided to poke around on the internet to see if I could find some seed for these little beauties and guess what, there is a seed company in nearby Oakland, CA, Kitazawa Seed Company. I’m thinking these would be great addition to my “mini” veggie garden.

If you get a chance to try these either at a restaurant, I hear they are great in tempura, or at a farmers market, give them a try. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

FINALLY!

It has been weeks since I have posted and I have felt bad that I haven’t had the time to devote to blogging. Two months ago I started working again after being retired for three years and while I love my job as coordinator for a K-12 environmental education program, my free time isn’t what it was. I am adjusting and with time getting better at managing “my time” vs “theirs”.

This weekend was wonderful. Everything seemed to flow easily and all my chores were accomplished yesterday (Sautrday). I even had time to kick back and watch a movie. Today two of my sisters visited and we started off, of course,  at the Farmers’ Market. That was followed by some serious bargain hunting at an antique faire and then lunch and more shopping at Ikea. We were done, literally, by about 4 this afternoon where upon the girls left to head home. Both had a couple hours drive.  As I was sitting at the kitchen table I started thinking about my blog again and wondering if I could muster up the inspiration for a post. And, then it happened. I looked at the light that was coming in low through the windows shinning across the table. It was very nice; warm and soft. I grabbed my camera, the tripod and two interesting Ya Li pears and it all came together within minutes. Especially good since natural light moves quickly at this time of the year. Happy with the photography I headed to my office to do some research and some writing. And, this is what I came up with. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did putting it all together.

YA LI PEARS

While wandering through the market this morning I stopped to buy some pears. I love French Butter pears and have been buying them for several weeks now. But, today, at the urging of the grower, I tasted a Ya Li Asian pear and immediately changed my mind. It was crisp, juicy and sweet. The crispness was evidently a nice change for my palette. The silky French Butter pears would not be going home with me today. Into my basket went the Ya Li.

According to the grower, Ya Li pears are ripened after picking, which allows the starches to convert to sugars, making them very sweet and juicy. He said they have a slight yellow color to the skin when they are ripe and ready to eat.

The best way to enjoy a Ya Li is simply to just bite into it. Or, if you are determined “to do something with them” you could slice them into salads or use slices in hot or cold sandwiches. They are also good gently poached in light syrup flavored with nutmeg and cinnamon and served over a good vanilla bean ice cream. Actually, you can substitute them in any recipe that calls for pears.

The Ya Li is prized in China. These however were not grown in China and shipped across the ocean, then sold to a wholesaler who sold them to a vendor who took them to a Farmers’ Market.  They were grown down river near Courtland, CA, about a-half hour’s drive from my market.  So, they are not only fresh, they are local. My kind of fruit.

See if you can find these at your market. The information I found was that they are grown in Fresno, Tulare, Kern, Placer and Sacramento Counties of California, Yakima and Wenatchee, Washington, Hood River and Willamette Valley, Oregon. They are also grown in the eastern and southeastern United States although I couldn’t find specific information for those areas. If you’re from those areas and you know specifically where Asian pears are grown, please let me know.  If you try them,  let me know how you like them. If you have a favorite way to use or enjoy Asian pears, please share it.

Abundance

Ichiban eggplant

Abundance, when defined in an ecologic way, refers to the relative representation of a species in a particular ecosystem. That’s what’s going on in the ecosystem that is my backyard. My Japanese eggplant is producing like crazy, which is good and bad at the same time. How much eggplant can one person eat? The other veggie that is producing heavily is a Butterstick zucchini. This abundance is one of the reasons I sometimes wish I didn’t’ have my own plants and could just buy what I really want at the Farmers’ Market. But then there’s that other part of me that just loves being able to pick something and then take it straight to the kitchen. This year that is the side that won out so, I’m dealing with my abundance by eating a lot of eggplant and zucchini and sharing with my friends for as long as they will accept. Abundance has brought about need, the need to find interesting ways to fix both zucchini and eggplant.

About three years ago I found this recipe in Bon Appetite and have been using it every summer since. But, while the recipe is only focused on eggplant preparation I want to recommend that you also try it on summer squash. For this version I used the Japanese eggplant and the Butterstick zucchini in almost equal amounts slicing them to ½-inch thickness then placing them in a zip-lock with the marinade and refrigerating it for the afternoon, if you can, for 1-hour minimum. Bring the package room temperature before you grill. I usually take it out about an hour before grilling time. Grill until they are browned nicely on one side then turn. As in the original these are good right off the grill or served at room temperature.

Enjoy your weekend and don’t forget that shopping your local Farmers’ Market is the best way to buy the freshest fruits and vegetables possible. The only way to get fresher is to grow your own. Another bonus of shopping the Farmers’ Market is you can  sample before you buy and you can’t do that at your local market.

Sesame eggplant & zucchini

Sesame Eggplant with Green Onions

Bon Appetite, Jun 2007

½ cup olive oil

4 large green onions coarsely chopped

2 T soy sauce

2 t Asian sesame oil

2 t sesame seeds

2 eggplants (about 2 ½ lbs cut crosswise into ½-inch thick slices

Puree olive oil, chopped green onions, soy sauce, and sesame oil in blender. Transfer mixture to small bowl. Stir in sesame seeds; season mixture with pepper. Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill.

Prepare barbecue (medium-high heat). Generously brush 1 side each eggplant slice with green onion mixture. Cook until tender and charred in spots, about 4 minutes per side. Transfer to platter. Serve warm or at room temperature. Can be made 4 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature.

Serves 6

Satsumaimo or Japanese Sweet Potatoes

Strawberries weren’t the only things we bought at the Farmers’ Market on Sunday, although in Landon’s mind they were the only things that mattered. We also bought asparagus, snap peas, artichokes, green onions, Fuji apples and Japanese sweet potatoes.

Japanese sweet potatoes, or Satsumaimo, if you’re not familiar with them, have dark pink skin and cream-colored, slightly sweet flesh. I discovered these little gems at my local market a couple of years ago and have become a big fan, buying them whenever I find them. I like buying them when they are fairly small in size. I brought home four. Just enough for one meal of mashed potatoes and leftovers for fried potato cakes.

For dinner Sunday night, I paired the mashed Japanese sweet potatoes up with a nice steamed artichoke and a pork loin steak marinated with fresh sage leaves from my garden and rubbed with a little lemon and black pepper oil, then grilled to perfection.

To cook the sweet potatoes; I peel them and immerse them in water, to prevent them from browning, then cook them in simmering water until fork-tender, then mash them with some butter.  To fry the leftovers; make small 2 or 3” patties about ¼ “ thick and fry in olive oil until browned and crispy. These are so delicious. I love them paired up with grilled lamb chops and have converted quite a few fellow diners who were a little skeptical.

Next time you’re at the market look for Japanese sweet potatoes. You won’t be disappointed.

UPDATE:  12/14/2010

Here’s another way to use these beauties and this time it’s in pancakes for breakfast. Oh my were these good. Check out bitemekitchen.com for the recipe.

Green Garlic and Baby Bok Choy

Saturday, my sister Judy, who was visiting for the weekend, and I headed over to the Davis Farmers’ Market for some of Pilar’s famous tamales for breakfast and to look for some vegetable plants. The first thing on our agenda was to head on over to Pilar’s cart and get our pork tamales. It didn’t take us long to eat them, they’re so yummy it never does.  With satisfied tummies we meandered through the market to see what looked good and to find the best selection of vegetable plants, which was the other reason we ventured to Davis. We found a nice selection of healthy looking plants and Judy bought several varieties of tomato, a Japanese eggplant, and some herbs. On our way back towards the car we decided to shop for some veggies to accompany the steak we were planning to grill that evening for dinner. We picked up some very nice fingerling potatoes; some spring garlic and some baby bok choy.

For those of you who may not know what spring garlic or green garlic is, it is young garlic that is harvested before the cloves have begun to mature. It resembles scallions, with a deep green stalk and a pale white bulb. The flavor is still garlicky, but it’s milder with less of a bitter bite. When cooked, green garlic’s flavor sweetens. The whole plant, including the leaves, can be used. Some cooks use green garlic instead of mature garlic or scallions for a different flavor in a favorite dish. It can be used raw or cooked. I happen to love green garlic and look forward to its appearance each spring at the Farmers’ Market. This is the first week I have noticed it.

That evening Judy clopped the green garlic and sautéed it in a little olive oil, then she added the bok choy leaves that she had separated from the stalk, added a little chicken broth, covered the pan and let the veggies steam until just done. Meanwhile I steamed the little fingerlings until they were pierced easily with a fork then placed them on a clean cotton dish towel, covered the potatoes with part of the towel then smashed each potato with my hand until they were about ¼” thick. Then with a spatula I moved each potato pancake to an awaiting fry pan with hot olive and cooked them until they were browned and crisp on both sides. Both veggies were the perfect accompaniment to the grilled steak.

If you think you’d like to try green garlic watch for it at your Farmers’ Market now. The season is very short.