Okra. This rather strange vegetable (It traveled to America with the earliest slave ships), provokes strong emotions. Some love it. Some hate it. Count HG among the lovers of this rather slimy treat. In HG’s college days (at uptown CCNY), HG often supped at plain spoken Harlem eateries that served ribs, pork chops and fried catfish. They were not focused on “health” food. Three vegetables were offered: Onions (fried); Collard Greens (cooked with ham hocks); Okra (breaded and fried in sizzling lard). HG often ate pork chops smothered in caramelized onions and accompanied by delicious fried okra. The okra were doused with vinegar steeped with fiery Scotch Bonnet peppers. (Young HG’s appetite was honed by football practice at Lewisohn Stadium so HG filled out the meal with a big bowl of macaroni and cheese). HG’s love affair with okra continues. Texas pickled okra is great condiment. Okra is essential in a good gumbo. (SJ’s chicken gumbo, reigning king of all gumbos, contains mucho okra). HG is looking forwards to a favorite meal tonight. Fried pork chops dusted with Goya Adobo. Goya black beans topped with chopped sweet onions and a dab of sour cream. Sauteed peppers. And,of course, pan fried okra and onions (no breading) enhanced with plenty of Slap Yo Momma Louisiana Cajun spice. Anchor Steam Beer mixed with Guinness Stout will be the beverage.
HG’s followers will note that HG loves Goya products: Beans of every variety; Adobo and Sazon seasonings, green olives, chorizo, etc. Goya Foods, the largest Hispanic owned business in the United States (private and family owned) sells some $1.5 billion worth of their 2,200 (give or take) products annually and employs 3,500 persons. The company was founded by Prudencio Unanue Ortiz in 1936 after arrival in the United States from Puerto Rico. Born in Spain, Ortiz named the company after his favorite Spanish painter, the great Francisco Goya. In 1980, HG had the happy experience of working with the Unuanue family and Goya Foods as public relations counsel. HG admired the family’s unfailing courtesy and dedication to the quality of their products. The company was very philanthropic and was the sponsor of numerous events celebrating the Hispanic presence in America. Today, it is a prominent member of Michelle Obama’s “Eat Healthy” initiative. Also in 1980, a brash young man named Donald Trump was making his first big splash in New York real estate by announcing his ambitious renovation of the dowdy Hotel Commodore at New York’s Grand Central Terminal. Trump, fueled by his father Fred’s multi million dollar fortune, was eager for media visibility. HG handled public relations for the architectural firm designing the renovation. In that capacity, HG had many meetings with Donald. Though grotesquely self important and overbearing, HG found the outer borough youngster appealing. HG and others induced Mayor Ed Koch to participate in the press conference announcing the renovation. Koch, in his usual “haimish” manner, congratulated Trump but diminished the importance of Trump’s great endeavor compared to other things happening in New York at the time. (This was the beginning of mutual dislike between Trump and Koch that continued during their careers). HG has been thinking about the wonderful contribution to America made by the Hispanic family behind Goya Foods and the positive benefits brought to America by the latest wave of Hispanic immigrants from Mexico, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, etc.. Donald Trump’s disgraceful remarks about Mexican immigrants and his ludicrous immigration policy ought to disqualify him from any role in American political life. However, his presidential campaign goes on. It seems The Donald (like other nonsensical TV “reality” personalities) has captured the affection and attention of a considerable audience. HG can only hope that The Donald is a temporary aberration who will disappear while HG continues to sup on Goya black beans topped with chopped onions and a dollop of sour cream.
You will never find a cucumber, cooked, fresh or pickled, on an Italian menu. For some strange reason, Italians believe cucumbers have a near lethal effect on the digestive system. Oh, well, that only means more cucumbers for the rest of us. Cucumbers make a very superior cold soup, perfect for summer. Cucumber slices with lemon juice and dill are perfect with many German and Scandinavian dishes. Chopped cucumber (and radish) should always be added to cold beet borscht or cold sorrel soup (schav). Chopped cucumber, radish, scallions, lemon juice are added to Greek yogurt in order to make the Indian salad, Raita, which can cool down a blazing vindaloo curry. Cucumber slices with sour cream (or yogurt) and lots of dill is a happy companion of cold poached salmon. These are a few of the good things HG does with fresh cucumbers. But, it is when art is applied to cucumbers, the vegetable becomes a pickle, and few things in life are better than a good pickle. Sour (and half sour) Jewish pickles with their inimitable dill and garlic taste, are the necessary accompaniment to pastrami, corned beef, chopped liver and a host of other kosher (or kosher style) delicacies. French cornichons are a delight to consume with country pates, saucisson and other masterpieces of French charcuterie. Slightly sweet “bread and butter” pickles (the Bubbie’s brand is the best) are nice with sandwiches. In HG’s Bronx youth, the hungry lad evinced a passion for pickles. HG bought them straight from the barrel at the “appetizing” stores that were a fixture in all Jewish neighborhoods. HG never ate popcorn at the movies. Instead, HG munched a pair of sour pickles. Tasty. Healthy (low in calories). Cheap. They cost a nickel in HG’s youth.
New Mexico homecoming dinner with friends and neighbors: Karen K., Polly B. (and her visiting daughter from China, Jen); David F. New Mexico cuisine. BSK produced two sizable pork butts from the Pojoauque Super Market. These were scored with a paring knife and thin slivers of garlic were inserted in the slits; an SJ spice-rub followed (chile powder, cumin, smoked paprika, garlic powder, salt, pepper, brown sugar, mustard powder..and more) and finally the butts were roasted at a low temperature for more than 3 hours. Yes, autumn green chiles are roasting all over The Land of Enchantment and BSK picked up a few pounds at the Santa Fe Farmers Market. They were the basis (with onions, garlic, etc.) for BSK’s fiery green chile sauce. There are few things better than long roasted piggy doused with this killer sauce. Also on the kitchen buffet was a pot of Goya black beans (with accompanying chopped onions and sour cream); garlicky, sautéed Shishito peppers (now in season); sliced tomatoes and avocado; celeriac slaw (a non-mayonnaise BSK invention); big stack of warm tortillas. Vodka (Karen K.’s own pink infusion); red and white wine; ale and Guiness stout. Cookies and salted caramel ice cream for dessert. Brandy. A fun feast of local flavors.
Eggplant is the utility infielder. Eggplant is the sixth man. Eggplant is the triple threat. Okay, you get it. Eggplant is versatile. Best of all, eggplant is delicious. Eggplant is found in all of the world’s great cuisines–French, Chinese, Japanese, Middle Eastern, Russian, Italian, Spanish, etc. Last night, BSK did a Franco-Italian riff with eggplant. Cubed three small eggplants, Gave them a solid hit of olive oil and garlic and roasted them in the oven. Sauted tiny tomatoes. Warmed olive oil, anchovies and more garlic in a stovetop pan. Cooked some fusili (spiral shaped pasta) and when the pasta was just about done, put it in the pan with some pasta water and French goat cheese. While cooking on a low flame, gave it an active swirl to create a creamy sauce. Added the tomatoes and eggplant for a final mix. Dusted it with grated parmesan and hot pepper. Wonderful eating. Yes, it’s a variation on traditional Sicilian Pasta a la Norma. So, let’s dub this dish a la BSK. As part of a Chinese meal (maybe one involving a pork or chicken stir fry) HG likes to cook super spicy eggplant the Szechuan way. This involves oyster sauce, hot chili sauce, soy sauce, onions, sesame oil and crushed Szechuan peppercorns. Cooked stovetop for about 20-30 minutes. Rice and cold ale will tamp down the heat. HG does simple Japanese eggplant. Cuts small eggplants in half. Scores the fleshy tops with a knife. Brushes the eggplants with olive (or peanut) oil. Tops them with mucho finely chopped garlic. Roasts them unit mushy soft. When done, gives them a squirt of Japanese Bulldog sauce. Nice with fried fish. And, then there’s Baba Ganoush. HG scoops the soft flesh out of long roasted eggplant. Mixes it with olive oil, garlic (Can you sense a passionate love affair between HG/BSK and garlic ?), cumin, sumac. Aleppo pepper, zaatar (Middle Eastern spice), smoked Spanish paprika, sea salt and a dash of tahini. Chops it all up so the mix has integrity and isn’t a puree. HG/BSK often makes Baba Ganoush an integral part of a meal involving lamb kefta (cigar shaped barbecued or pan fried lamb burgers), Bulgarian feta cheese, Kalamata olives, scallions and warm pita flavored with olive oil and zaatar. And, then there’s eggplant parmigiano. The treats go on and on.
HG has never been a fan of outdoor dining. Too hot. Too cold. Too windy. Friendly to insects. And, the sun has a habit of getting directly in HG’s eyes. Food magazines are always filled with photos of folks having a jolly time at long tables outdoors while the barbecue performs smoky, culinary wonders. Parisians, usually sensible, if demanding, in terms of food, go nuts with joy at the possibility of eating on a restaurant terrace. They brave cold, dampness, auto fumes and beggars for this dubious delight. The only outdoor dining HG has ever enjoyed has been a feast of freshly shucked Malpeque or Colville Bay oysters served on the ocean-facing deck of HG/BSK’s Prince Edward Island home. However, here in New Mexico where HG/BSK reside for most of the year, BSK has managed to create an outdoor dining experience that even HG, a stubborn curmudgeon, must admit is a delight. BSK has strung dozens of tiny lights in the shade tree that grows on the HG/BSK brick floored terrace. The light is soft and conducive to wine drinking. The view is of Las Barrancas (reddish colored cliffs and mesas). So, it’s cocktails on the portale (long, low porch) and dinner on the terrace. A few nights ago the menu was a filet of wild salmon cooked medium rare on the barbecue; tiny Ratte potatoes; a salad of fresh greens dotted with gently sautéed buttery oyster mushrooms. HG concocted a sauce that went beautifully with the salmon and potatoes: Mayonnaise (Hellman’s, of course); olive oil; finely chopped fresh garlic; Maille Dijon Mustard; lemon juice and lemon zest; salt; pepper; tarragon from BSK’s herb garden. Manchego cheese and quince jam as a finale. Perfect meal. Perfect setting. Big time mind change for HG.
HG/BSK are great fans of composed salads. Essentially, composed salads are constructed of greens plus a number of cooked and raw ingredients. Years ago HG tasted a composed salad featured at Jonathan Waxman’s trailblazing restaurant in New York: Jams. This was a salad of garden lettuces dressed with walnut oil and containing warm sautéed mushrooms and walnuts. A lovely, innovative California treat. This past summer, BSK and Lesley R. built a salad of local greens, radicchio, abundant sautéed South Lake scallops, mushrooms, farmers market green peas. A splendid array of seasonal Prince Edward Island ingredients. A worthy contender to HG’s favorite salad, one HG has enjoyed at a number of traditional Paris bistros: Frisee, lardons and a poached egg. Not exactly a salad endorsed by the cardiology police but mighty good. A glass of Brouilly. A baguette. Vive la France!!.
HG felt good last night after swimming 40 laps in HG’s sun dappled New Mexico indoor pool. Wanted to feel even better so drank two hearty glasses of vodka and orange bitters before dinner. HG’s turn to cook dinner. HG chose to sauté four pounds of Trader Joe’s free range chicken(there would be leftovers) in a mix of butter and Sicilian olive oil (Was HG’s choice of “chikin” spurred by the news that Chick-Fil-A was opening New York outlets ?). Anyway, HG browned the chicken parts to a savory mahogany shade. Removed them from the pan and cooked a lot of chopped garlic, shallots and fresh rosemary (from BSK’s herb garden) in the lush and buttery pan juices. The chicken went back in the pan with a glass of Pinot Grigio and left to simmer into tenderness. When finished, HG added Maille Dijon Mustard and lemon juice to the pan, gave it a swirl and poured it over the heated platter of chicken. A wow of a dish. HG also fried a bunch of tiny Ratte potatoes as an accompaniment. (BSK would add a green salad to the meal). Proud of the culinary accomplishment, HG toasted himself with a few glasses (size XL) of very good Chilean red wine (selected by BSK, HG’s favorite sommelier). Drank more wine with dinner. Following the splendid meal, HG relaxed with a snifter (XL) of grappa. And, then a second grappa (XL). HG arose to adjust the Bose. Took a noisy tumble. Fortunately, nothing was broken. Very minor bruises. BSK helped HG to HG’s feet. When assured that the mature gent was healthy, BSK (in a stern tone) noted that excessive alcohol contributed to the fall and that falling was one of the leading causes of demise in the senior citizen community. A point well taken. No pre-dinner vodka (except in dire circumstances). Two glasses of wine with dinner. A modest sip of brandy or grappa after dinner. HG vows: Austerity and Moderation. Says dubious BSK: “We shall see.”
Garlic challenges HG’s atheism. Where did this indispensable member of the allium family come from? Is its origin celestial? Never mind. Garlic has been around for a long time. The Chinese were using garlic to enhance their cuisine as early as 2000 BC. Count Dracula doesn’t stand a chance of inducting HG into a cordon of vampires (It’s common knowledge that garlic and crucifixes chase away these guys who want to bite your neck). HG eats garlic incessantly, adding it to a variety of foods. Linguine with oil, garlic, anchovies and parsley is a favorite late night meal (It’s what Romans eat after a night of carousing). HG’s preferred snack is toasted baguette rubbed with crushed garlic, doused with Sicilian olive oil, dusted with cracked pepper and sea salt. Accompanied by a ripe, in season tomato and plenty of red wine. HG heaven. This week, HG is in charge of the evening meal since BSK is busily occupied creating a series of hand formed pots. With HG in charge, BSK will wind up smelling like an elegant garlic clove. Last night, HG used a New York Times recipe for garlic soup. Loads of garlic simmered in water with thyme and bay leaf. Enriched with three beaten eggs and frozen sweet peas. HG cooked Orechiette (pasta shaped like little ears) in a separate pot. Added it to the garlic soup. A very generous topping of grated Parmesan and ground black pepper. The bowls were lined with toasted, garlic-rubbed slices of baguette. More garlic croutons on the side. A great dish. And, healthy. Among garlic’s many health benefits is lowering blood pressure and shoring up the immune system.
Yes, HG is very much in favor of the new stress on local farm-to-table eating. Alice Waters started the trend at her immensely influential California restaurant, Chez Panisse. Marc Meyer, HG/BSK’s favorite chef, is a leading advocate of this philosophy at the four New York restaurants he owns with wife/partner Victoria Freeman (HG’s talented daughter) : Cookshop, Rosie’s, Vic’s and Hundred Acres. However, when dining at home, HG/BSK bend the locavore rules A LOT and certainly do utilize imports. Last night’s meal mixed local and imported foods and was outstanding. Started with a platter of tomatoes and basil (both from BSK’s New Mexico garden) plus mozzarella (An import, sadly, Not to be compared to the fresh made daily cheese HG would purchase at Belgiovine’s Grocery in Montclair, N.J.). Main dish was lamb chops (Featured at Trader Joe’s, they are a New Zealand import. Superb. Comparable to the chops HG/BSK would savor at the long closed Coach House Restaurant in New York’s Greenwich Village). Accompaniments were fingerling potatoes (local) and a big surprise, haricot verts imported from Guatemala. BSK steamed them and then gave them a quick sauté in Sicilian olive oil with a melange of herbs from BSK’s garden. These were the best haricot certs HG ever tasted, far superior to Paris’s best. (go figure). HG mixed a bowl of Fage Greek Yogurt (Despite the name, it’s made in the United States) with garlic, olive oil, sumac cumin, zaatar, smoked black pepper. All of these imported spices gave the yogurt a Middle Eastern flavor that enhanced the tastes of lamb and potatoes. Before the meal, HG drank Polish vodka. With the meal there was Spanish Garnacha red wine. International and local dining at its best.