Banana Pepper Pickles

Late this past week I was offered a pile of banana peppers from another gardener.  They said they had too many.  This must be an added bonus of gardening: in addition to eating food from your own garden you get to eat food from other people’s too.  Of course I said yes, but it wasn’t until I got back to my apartment that I realized I had absolutely no idea what one does with banana peppers.  The only time I can remember eating them is on Subway sandwiches, in which case they taste rather like they’ve been pickled.  A quick google search confirmed my worry that no one else knows what to do with them either.  The few recipes with banana peppers as a main ingredient involve frying them, stuffing and frying them, putting them into a casserole, and pickling or fermenting them.  As I’m not a huge fan of fried food, the choice was rather obvious: banana pepper pickles.  Perusing Food in Jars, I found the following recipes for hot pepper pickles and jalapeno pickles.  I ended up going with a mixture of the two recipes, using the brine from the jalapeno pickles (white vinegar, water, and salt) and the peppers cut into rings as suggested in the hot pepper pickles recipe.  In addition to the banana peppers, I added a single jalapeno for an extra bit of heat.  The unflavored brine should make these peppers very versatile, perfect for sandwiches or as an addition to salsa or guacamole.

Banana Pepper Pickles
(Enough brine for 2 pint jars)
Banana peppers (enough to fill two pint jars when cut up, about 4-5 cups)
1 jalapeno pepper
2 cups distilled white vinegar (5% acidity)
2 cups water
2 tablespoons salt

To make the pickle:  Cut the stems off the peppers and cut the peppers into rings.  Don’t worry about removing the seeds.  Place the peppers in a bowl while you make the brine.  Mix the vinegar, water, and salt in a pot and bring to a boil.  As soon as the brine reaches a boil, add the cut up peppers.  As soon as the brine plus peppers reaches a boil again, turn off the heat and proceed with canning.

To can the pickle:  Follow the detailed instructions for canning in the dilly beans recipe, with the following specifications.  Fill the pint jars first with the peppers using a slotted spoon, and then fill in the space with brine using a ladle, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace at the top of the jar.  Process the pint jars of pickle in a hot water bath for 10 minutes.

Salsa Verde

Normally I’m not a huge fan of salsa verde.  I don’t know why, now that I think about it, so it was only a streak of crazy that led me to make salsa verde myself.  By streak of crazy, I mean: deciding to make every salsa recipe in Canning for a New Generation after trying the peach cilantro salsa from a few weeks ago and after reading the recipe for Roasted Tomato and Chile salsa (more about that later).  I love how no sooner have I uttered any plan of action aloud than I’m forced to eat my words or contend with the unknown.  As luck would have it, I chose the latter and decided to make salsa verde with absolutely no idea of what it should taste like (other than “good”).  Well, it was good.  It may even have been GOOD.  And easy!  I probably only mentally blackmailed myself into trying it because it involved no dicing of spicy peppers: the immersion blender does all the work!

Salsa Verde (from Canning for a New Generation)
(Makes 3-4 pint jars of salsa)
3 1/2 pounds tomatillos
1 medium onion (4 ounces)
5 large serrano chiles
5 large garlic cloves, peeled
1 cup of roughly chopped fresh cilantro
2/3 cup fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon salt

To make the salsa:  Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F.  Prepare the tomatillos by taking off the outer husk, twisting the stem off, and washing them well.  Cut the onion into cubes about one inch thick.  Cut off just the stems of the serrano chiles and whatever you do, DO NOT TOUCH YOUR EYES!  When the oven is preheated, place the tomatillos, onion cubes, serranos, and garlic on a rimmed baking sheet and bake for 20-30 minutes.  While the veggies are baking, squeeze the lime juice and chop the cilantro.  The veggies are done when the tomatillos are soft and oozing juices, at which point you should move all the roasted veggies into a largish pot and add the cilantro.  Now blend the heck out of that salsa using either an immersion blender (easy!) or a regular blender or food processor (made difficult by the hot liquid, so be careful).  With the blended salsa in the pot, add the lime juice and salt and bring the mixture to a boil.

To can the salsa:  Follow the detailed instructions for hot water bath canning in the recipe for dilly beans, with the following specifications.  Fill the sterilized pint jars with salsa leaving 1/2 inch of headspace at the top of each jar.  Process the pint jars in a hot water bath for 5 minutes.

Red Ketchup

I had decided that I wasn’t going to try making ketchup this year, at least not in any reasonably large quantity.  You see, there are no more canning jars left.  I used them all up on more salsa (which I’ll tell you all about soon, I promise), and of course everything that came before that.  And between the grape jam, roasted fig preserves, and even more salsa that I made since running out of canning jars, there was no reason to even venture into what passes for a pantry in our miniscule kitchen: two shelves that are too narrow to hold anything more useful than a bunch of now-filled canning jars.  But then there were Roma tomatoes on sale for a dollar a pound last week at the farmer’s market.  SERIOUSLY?  And organic, to boot.  So that was the end of my resolve and the beginning of the game “what else can we put ketchup on?”

Luckily I have friends who point out extremely good (if not also extremely obvious… although clearly not obvious enough) ways to deal with too much ketchup.  Such as freezing it.  So now there is a pint plus two smaller (half-pint?) jars of ketchup in the freezer, and my only worry is remembering that they’re there.  As for the other pint of ketchup in the fridge, I have only two words: eggs and potatoes.  If you are not a fan of ketchup on eggs (with or without a stabilizing layer of toast underneath… cheese being optional) I can’t really help you, other than to suggest that you halve this recipe and freeze most of it.  Although to be honest, with only one egg in the fridge at present, other ketchup-consumption ideas would be more than welcome.

Important note:  this recipe has been altered from the original and is probably not safe to can in a hot water bath.

Red Ketchup (Adapted from Canning for a New Generation)
(Made 3 pints of fairly thick ketchup)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
5 large cloves garlic, chopped
6 pounds of Roma tomatoes, roughly chopped
1/2 cup mixed distilled white vinegar + apple cider vinegar (5% acidity) or more if desired
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon molasses
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

In a large pot, heat the olive oil and add the onions and garlic, cooking until the onion is soft and almost clear.  Add all the other ingredients and cook for about an hour.  If you have an immersion blender, get it out and blend that pot of rather runny ketchup-in-the-making into a perfectly smooth still rather runny sauce.  If you don’t have an immersion blender, use a regular blender or food processor, but be careful with the hot liquid.  Now comes the fun part: let the ketchup simmer on low for another 2-4 hours, until it reaches the thickness that you associate with any decent ketchup.  I surprised myself and managed to wait around 4 hours before declaring the ketchup done.  Keep a half-pint (or pint) of the ketchup in the fridge and freeze the rest in smallish glass jars (half-pint or pint) until the ketchup craving strikes!

So Many Greens!

I may have gotten a little carried away with the kale.  And the China choy Chinese cabbage.  And the swiss chard.   What on earth will I do with 13 kale plants in my garden?  At least the Chinese cabbage grows quickly so I feel less guilty eating the entire plant at once.  Just don’t remind Peter that there are also tons of beet greens too, because after over a week of eating greens almost every day, he may be ready to “accidentally” leave the garden fence open and let the bunnies have a holiday.  All of this is just to say that help is always appreciated in the eating greens department.

Here are some recipes for using up lots of leafy greens.  Many of them are untested, so if you get the chance to try them, let me know.  Or, if you have a brilliant idea of your own for transporting massive amounts of leafy greens into tummies, don’t keep it to yourself.

1.)  Spinach with olive oil, garlic, and lemon: Saute spinach (with water from washing still clinging to the leaves) in a bit of butter for ~10 min or so on med-low heat until cooked down completely.  Remove it to a serving dish and squeeze a little lemon juice over it.  In the pan, heat olive oil and garlic for a few min, until the garlic browns (but doesn’t burn).  Pour the olive oil and garlic over the spinach.  Whenever I make this I always think the 2 T. olive oil called for is too much, but it’s so delicious!  It also takes away that weird filmy feeling on ones teeth after eating spinach.  Salt and pepper to taste, of course.  Recipe from In Late Winter We Ate Pears.

2.) Potatoes with spiced spinach (but couldn’t one use sweet potatoes here?  or some other root veggie?). This recipe calls for yogurt, but perhaps coconut milk would do?  The recipe for this in my Indian cookbook calls for only 3 T of cream, so perhaps you could also get away with a less creamy mixture in general?  Also, now that I think of it, a mixture of coconut milk, sweet potatoes, and spinach sounds really good.

3.) Spinach with raisins and pine nuts, in case you get tired of lemon and garlic…  Or  Spiced coconut spinach or sweet potato greens in coconut cream.

4.) Wilted spinach salad with caramelized onions and bacon: caramelize onions until sweet and golden, then put the washed spinach only briefly in the pan with the onions until a few leaves are wilted (literally seconds), then put onions and spinach into a bowl, sprinkle with pieces of bacon, and drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar (or perhaps red wine vinegar?).  This salad is great with a sprinkle of salty cheese, and doing a quick google, someone suggested putting a hard-boiled egg on top (in slices).  This is a great way to have an interesting spinach salad and a great balance of sweet from the onions, salty from the bacon, and sour from the vinegar.  This also makes me think that more bitter greens might do well just sauteed or steamed until nice and soft and served with caramelized onions and bacon (and maybe a pat of butter for good measure).

5.) Greens mixed with other veggies: Saute kale until soft and mix with cooked corn (or add raw corn to the pan and mix with the greens, cooking until soft); good with garlic, red pepper flakes, and olive oil for seasoning.  Or kale with roasted peppers and olives.

6.) Minestrone soup with greens: you can even leave out the noodles (my least favorite part anyways) and just call it vegetable soup.  Greens in soup with other veggies, especially the tomato-broth based soups, is one of my favorite things.  One of my favorite lentil soup recipes call for chopped up swiss chard added at the end — just eat the soup as soon as the swiss chard is tender (while not the recipe I use per se, here’s one example of lentil soup with swiss chard).

7.) Green soup with ginger or in the opposite direction Sweet potato soup with sausage.

8.) Quiche: I usually make my quiches without a crust (laziness is a huge factor).  In a related direction, there’s always a frittata.  It must also be said that sauteed greens in scrambled eggs is delicious, especially swiss chard or spinach.  Also, I should say that I never make quiche with cream or cream cheese as in the recipe I linked to, but usually use plain milk.  And finally, wouldn’t bacon be good in this too???

9.) Greens with garlic, soy sauce, and brown sugar: while this may seem strange because of the sugar, the sweetness wonderfully balances the salty soy sauce.  Begin by sauteing some garlic in olive oil in a pot.  You can add an onion to this too, although you’ll want to saute it a bit before adding the garlic.  Then add the greens to the garlic and olive oil and cook until nice and soft.  Depending on the green, you may want to add a tid bit of water to help things steam.  Once the greens are pretty much done, add a generous splash of soy sauce (I use low-sodium soy sauce and don’t shy away from salt in the first place) and between one teaspoon and one tablespoon of brown sugar.  Mix the greens with the sugar and soy sauce and cook another minute or two.  This is especially good eaten over rice because the salty-sweet juices flavor the rice too.

10.) And finally, how about braised chicken with kale.

September Garden Tour

Spoiler alert!  This post may be exceedingly boring for those of you who don’t garden, or don’t care to garden.  However, I promised my parents that I would eventually post pictures of my garden once it was less embarrassing than when they saw it in early August.  After procrastinating bringing the camera out to such a dangerously dirty and wet place, I finally relented this week and can now give you a virtual tour of the place where I spent most evenings weeding, occasionally watering, and routinely massacring my plant babies.  Enjoy!

The purple flowers are from my friend Anna who wanted to take them from her house when her landlord decided to give their place to young family members of just the right age to step on them while wildly drunk. They seem very happy in my garden and provide some much-needed color.  They have nasturtiums, basil, and pepper plants for company.

Two of the most perfectly red peppers we've grown all summer, right before they were roasted and stuffed. Gosh, I sound like a terrible person!  Now that bell peppers have successfully survived the garden, it's time to grow the spicy kind!

This is the original bed of kale and bok chard. Unfortunately I over-planted (like one is urged to do on the back of the seed packet) and didn't have the heart to thin the seedlings as well as they should be thinned.   The result?  Massive amounts of greens, enough to fill two other beds with kale and bok chard transplants.  I had a similar problem with basil and have transplanted little Genovese basil plants all over the garden (such as in the lower right).

This is the bed of beets. I have lined up all the unwanted rocks from my garden around it in a useless attempt to keep the weeds from at least one more square inch of the garden. It turns out that it is indeed quite useless.  The beets are doing well though, and eventually I should have enough to make purple and candy-cane colored pickled beets.

These are the fava bean mounds.  I planted a few test fava beans from the pretty green and purple ones I saved from the fava plants Karina planted earlier this year.  This is the only bean I have succeeded in growing so far this summer.  The bush beans were a complete flop and I'm a bit worried that the pole beans I planted this week are too old as well.

This is the asparagus corner, one of my favorites in the garden.  It isn't really because of the asparagus, which I haven't cut even a single asparagus stalk from yet, but rather the juxtaposition of all the different kinds of leaves from the fava beans (left), asparagus and pretty pink flower, arugula (the clump of salad-sized leaves), green onions (bottom), and the winter squash (top right).  The pretty pink flower is also a rescue from my friend Anna's old house, and there used to two of them before one mysteriously disappeared.  My guess is that the flower-stealer is the stupid little rodent that keeps digging holes in my garden.

Mountain of broccoli rabe.  I have slowly been thinning it by eating entire plants.   The large brown dead plant sharing the mountain is cilantro, and I'm keeping it there out of laziness of not harvesting the cilantro (coriander) seeds.  Just behind the mountain is a tiny glimpse of the compost, which is just about as much as anyone would want to see.

Two tiny cucumber plants (and a misplaced lettuce with the lighter green leaves).  These babies are my only hope for homegrown cucumber pickles.  I doubt that they will actually grow cucumbers before it gets too cold, but one can hope!

The herb corner with oregano (also rescued from Anna's old house), lavender (hiding in the back), mystery flowering plant (in the middle and also from Anna), two basil plants, bonus arugula (in the front), lemon balm, and mint (right).  The bonus arugula just sprouted by itself in an area where Karina and I previously planted it.  This has made me very careful about where I plant arugula, but honestly, it's kind of a nice change to have a weed that's edible.

And finally, a better view of the three squash plants that are just going crazy by the asparagus. They are buttercup winter squash and had huge sprouts when they first came up, unlike the other squashes that have been a bit more confusing.  I planted some acorn squash in the mound directly to their right, but I'm going to have to transplant the acorn sprouts to give these guys some more room.  There are actually another two of these buttercup squash plants that I transplanted next to the compost.

To wrap up this e-tour, here are two shots of the left and right sides of the garden so you can put the previous shots in perspective.

Summer-Stuffed Peppers

Sometimes I selfishly use this blog to remind myself of some strange creation that might otherwise be lost and forgotten.  This could plausibly be said about the whole-wheat savory cake or the strawberry goat-cheese pizza, two very delicious concoctions that were only created out of a great need to eat something, anything, when food conditions were harsh.  This brings us to four very cute bell pepper plants in my garden that all decided to ripen their peppers at the same time, resulting in 6 perfectly red bell peppers that “had” to be picked at once before a natural disaster (mouse, mold, unfriendly human) could claim them as their own.  While there are a lot of things one can do with 6 red bell peppers, I was entirely consumed with the idea of roasting them.  Flipping through a Greek cookbook (by Rena Salaman and Jan Cutler) for roasting ideas, I was further consumed by the idea of roasting and stuffing them.  Unfortunately, I had almost none of the ingredients for any of the suggested stuffings and had to put my B.S. degree into action.  (While that could allude to a number of things, on a practical level, I did learn how to make stuffing in college…)

This stuffing is literally almost everything sitting on the counter at the time I decided to roast and stuff my bell peppers.  Amounts are approximate, but tasting the stuffing pre-stuffing is encouraged.  In fact, it was through extensive tasting that I determined that with a little less garlic, this stuffing would just make an excellent salad.  In place of the chicken broth, one could use water, or perhaps just slightly less-stale bread.  In the spirit of this recipe, almost every ingredient could be swapped for something else (except the salt and pepper maybe).  To get the creative juices flowing, excellent vegetable stuffing ingredients could include rice, quinoa, corn, nuts (almonds and pine nuts come to mind), raisins, summer squash, dill, leftover baked fish, and copious amounts of melty cheese (feta, pepper jack…).

Summer-Stuffed Peppers
6 medium bell peppers, cut in half, seeds and stem carefully removed
3-4 small slices of good bread that’s possibly quite stale
1/2 small red onion, chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, finely diced
Handful of cherry tomatoes, washed and quartered
Tablespoon of fresh oregano leaves, chopped if large
Tablespoon of fresh basil leaves, cut into ribbons
Generous drizzle of olive oil
1/2 cup or more grated parmesan cheese
1/4 cup of chicken/vegetable stock or water to give moisture to the bread
Small stack of arugula leaves, cut into thick ribbons
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.  Line a baking pan with parchment paper for easy cleanup (or skip this step if the dishwasher doesn’t protest).  Place the halved peppers on the baking tray, skin-side down (we’re making little pepper bowls after all).  Bake the peppers in the oven for 15 minutes while you put together the rest of the ingredients in a bowl.  Mix the rest of the ingredients well, and taste for salt and pepper and make sure that the bread has enough moisture from the chicken stock.  Once the peppers have had their 15 minutes in the oven, take them out and fill them with the stuffing.  The arugula and herbs may take up volume before they’ve been cooked, but they won’t after a romp in the oven, so make sure there’s plenty of stuffing in each pepper half.   Return the filled peppers to the oven and bake for another 20-30 minutes, until the bread is crispy and the kitchen smells AMAZING!

Cardamom Pluot Jam

In what has been a mad rush to can every fruit and vegetable in sight before the scary Santa Barbara winter drives us all inside (hoping we don’t drown in the impending winter floods), I somehow forgot about plum jam until last week and was a bit irked that there were no plums left to be had.  Fortunately, it was not a total loss, because one stall at the farmer’s market sells an absurdly large number of pluot varieties that seem to be available for nearly half the year.   What is a pluot and how is it different than a plumcot?  While wikipedia will tell you more about this than any sane person would like to know, the salient point is that, by combining plum and apricot genes, new fruit with a multitude of colors are possible.  New colors means awesome-looking jam.  I couldn’t pass up awesome-looking jam, now could I?  A very kind lady handing out samples of pluots pointed me toward the Dapple Dandy pluot variety, saying that they make a lovely pink jam.  I added two dark-skinned pluots to the mix, and the result was a deeply pink-purple jam with a serious kick of cardamom.

Cardamom Pluot Jam (adapted from Canning for a New Generation)
(Makes 5-6 half-pints of jam)
4 pounds of ripe pluots
2 cups sugar
3 tablespoons lime juice
1 tablespoon ground cardamom

To make the jam:  Prepare the pluots by pitting them and cutting them into small pieces.  Mix the plums and sugar in a large pot and bring to a simmer for 5 minutes.  You’ll probably want to stir the mixture frequently, as the fruit has an annoying tendency to stick to the bottom of the pot.  After 5 minutes, separate the pluot pieces from the juice by using a slotted spoon and transferring all the pluot pieces to a separate heat-proof bowl.  Try to keep as much of the juice in the pot as possible, perhaps spooning some back into the pot from the bowl of pluot pieces.  Bring the juices back to a simmer and cook for about 10 minutes to thicken the juices into a syrup.  Then add the pluot pieces back to the pot of syrup, along with the lime juice and cardamom and bring the jam to a simmer for about 15 minutes.  You can test to see when the jam is thick enough by putting some on a plate you’ve stashed in the freezer and then returning said dab of jam on said frozen plate back to the freezer for a minute; the dab of jam should be thickened.

To can the jam:  Follow the detailed canning instructions in the post on dilly beans, with the following specifications.  When the jam is done cooking, pour it into sterilized half-pint jars, leaving 1/4 inch of headspace.  Since jam is sticky and has a tendency to get everywhere, don’t forget to wipe the rims of the jars before putting on the lids.  To process the half-pints of jam, boil them in a hot-water bath for 5 minutes.