Along the Grapevine


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Gazpacho with Purslane

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If you are looking for a gazpacho recipe which is smooth and creamy, spicy, and can be whipped up in a food processor in a few seconds, you’d better keep looking. There are plenty of those recipes out there, but when I make this traditional Andalusian soup, I make it as my Spanish professor’s wife taught me several decades ago, and as I saw it made when I lived in Spain shortly after that.

Since that time, gazpacho has become a popular ‘ethnic’ dish, with so many variations it seldom resembles the simple, cold vegetable soup I came to know and love in Spain. Its predecessor was a soup made of bread, olive oil and garlic, and only after the ‘conquista’ did tomatoes enter into the picture, and with them a few other local, seasonal ingredients like onion, cucumber and sweet pepper.

So for this week’s Fiesta Friday, I would like to share this recipe I have made over the years, a recipe which has a distinctively Spanish flavour but which I am able to replicate with ingredients from my own garden – the best of both worlds.

I was instructed that a good gazpacho starts with dried, crumbled bread. Into that, crushed garlic, salt and vinegar are rubbed together, and then a generous amount of olive oil added gradually, forming a creamy base which blends easily with the fresh chopped vegetables. This is not to say that you can’t ad-lib a bit, with sweet herbs or other seasonal vegetables. I made a couple of minor changes. I used homemade whole wheat bread because that’s what I had, and I substituted purslane for the green pepper.

I have written about purslane before. To learn how to identify it and about its nutritional properties, please visit this post. You will see that by adding purslane, I actually upped the omega-3 content, among other things. I gather purslane does grow in Spain, because in researching it, I found it grows pretty much everywhere. I have small patches of it throughout my garden, and one pot where it volunteered and smothered the pepper plants I was starting.DSC01053

So it is appropriate I chose to replace peppers with it.

Gazpacho with Purslane

  • Servings: 4
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Ingredients

2 lbs ripe tomatoes, peeled and seeded

1 slice dried bread, about 2 Tbsp

1/2 tsp salt

1/3 cup olive oil

3 Tbsp wine or sherry vinegar

3 cloves (or more) garlic

a handful of purslane, chopped

1 thick slice sweet onion (about 2 Tbsp once grated)

1 cucumber, peeled and seeded

Method

Grate the bread to make a fine crumb and rub in the crushed garlic, salt and vinegar. Gradually add the oil and mix it vigorously.

Chop the tomato and purslane very fine. In order not to waste any of the juice, I put the seeds in a colander and strained as much juice as I could to add to the tomatoes. Grate the onion and cucumber. Add all the vegetables and combine. Chill for a couple of hours, and garnish it with an ice cube if you want it really cold.

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It is -20 degrees C today and dropping, so I make no apologies for not foraging today. I didn’t even make it outside. What I am doing is figuring out what to do with my foraged bounty and which ingredients are worth gathering and which just don’t work that well, or do not survive storage.

One of my favourite and most useful harvests this year has been the sumac, especially in powdered form. I have noticed that it is one of those increasingly popular spices, although still under-used. And as for local sumac, there seems to be none used whatsoever, even though the red sumac we gather here is similar to the product bought in specialty spice shops. If you are not sure how to identify it, watch this clip.  Even those who are familiar with it sometimes need to know how they can use it. I usually just say ‘on anything at all’, but no doubt it would be more useful to give some actual recipes.

I have already commented on this spice in my original post, but certain points bear repeating.

  • make sure you have identified the plant correctly
  • remove the berries without any other bits of the plants and clean them well
  • make sure you are not allergic to it

If you don’t have any of your own, you can buy it in shops. The store-bought is not always organic, and sometimes salt is added to give it bulk, so the home-made is preferable, but not essential. It adds a fruity, lemony flavour to vegetables, dressings, fish, meat, in short, just about anything. I even added it my shortbread with excellent results. Today, taking refuge from the cold weather and icy roads, I made two vegetable recipes;  grilled portobello mushrooms and Brussels sprouts from the last remaining fresh sprouts from my garden.

The portobello mushrooms are inspired by a recipe I found on line from Allrecipes, and it comes with a video. I made a few changes, mostly the sumac.

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3 portobello mushrooms

1/4 cup olive oil

3 Tbsp balsamic vinegar

1 shallot (or small onion)

1 Tbsp garlic

1 Tbsp sumac powder

1 tsp saltDSC00133

Clean the mushrooms, pat dry and remove the stems. Mix the oil, vinegar, onion garlic and salt in a bowl and pour over the turned up side of the mushrooms. Leave them to marinate for about an hour. Grill them on a lightly oiled grill gill side up until cooked through, about 10 minutes. You will see the sauce bubbling on top of the mushrooms when they are ready.

Brussels Sprouts with Sumac

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Brussels sprouts

olive oil (enough to coat)

sumac powder

salt to taste

Coat the sprouts with oil and salt. They can be roasted in the oven, but I sauteed them in a pan with the oil and salt and added the sumac just towards the end. If they are getting too browned but still too undercooked for your taste, add just a little water to barely cover the base of the pan, and continue to cook covered for a couple of minutes. Do not overcook!  DSC00131 This is a good method when the sprouts are not all the same size, even after halving the larger ones. I put the bigger pieces in first, then added the very small ones later.

This barely scratches the surface of things you can do with sumac powder, but as I work my way through my bag of red powder, I will post more of my experiments. Until then, I would be interested to know if anyone else has been using this spice in ways we have not yet thought of.

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Gardener’s Pizza

This recipe was inspired by one of David Lebowitz’s blogs where he described eating a pizza at a friend’s house which was made simply of fried vegetables on top of a layer of Dijon mustard spread on the dough before baking. I decided to try it using creeping Charlie, something I had never tried cooking with before. The result was very good, and will make that one again, perhaps using mushrooms, eggplant or some other vegetable I have in my garden. I might even consider using other mustards, but the mustard is a must. Its sharpness is a great substitute for cheese!

If you do a search for creeping Charlie, you will find it is something to be got rid of, the pestiest of pests known to gardeners. I am not about to start fighting this one – I would surely lose. It is not unattractive at all, and now that I understand that it has the superior nutritional value shared by many unwanted weeds, albeit not a lot of flavour, I will just remove it from where it interferes with my actual garden, and eat it! There’s a slogan: “If you can’t beat it, …”

It is another of those weeds which enjoys  popularity as a medicinal herb in many countries, and is most often taken as a tea. As with any new food, one should always approach it with caution, just in case of allergies or whatever. So the pizza is garnished with a few of the younger leaves to test flavour etc. I also tried a couple raw just to make sure.

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These pictures should help you identify it. If you have a super healthy lawn, you might have trouble finding it there, but otherwise it is everywhere. If you are in doubt, check with someone who knows, or search more pictures on the many sites covering this subject, such as the one here.

Gardener’s Pizza

Begin with any pizza dough of your choice. I used a whole wheat one for this recipe.

Fry some onions until soft, add zucchini, garlic, herbs, salt and pepper to taste and continue to fry until all the vegetables are soft.

Toss the creeping Charlie leaves in enough olive oil to coat.

Spread the dough with a layer of Dijon mustard. Arrange the vegetables on top, and cover with a layer of creeping Charlie leaves. Bake in the oven as you would for any other pizza (350 until it looks done).

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Wild Grape Ketchup

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The wild grapes are finally beginning to ripen in our area, so I am now able to work on some recipes which were the ‘raisin’ d’etre for this blog. The birds have already taken many, so I picked what I could should they disappear soon. I am not sure of the exact variety of the ones I picked. These ones, as you can see are very small, about the size of a blueberry. I hope to find some larger ones for other recipes, but these small ones are excellent for this one.

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I started making grape ketchup a few years ago, as finding myself with a good supply of wild grapes, and not wanting to make either wine or jelly, I decided if there was not such a thing as grape ketchup, there should be. Sure enough, I was not the first to think of it, and there are plenty of recipes out there. However, most use cultivated grapes, which are larger and sweeter, but do not have the strong flavour or the nutrients of the wild variety. Also, I do not add water, which reduces the cooking time – good for me and the quality of the end product. Most any grape would work with this recipe, but I would recommend a fairly sour variety with a thick skin, which will add enough pectin to the mixture for it to thicken nicely.

It is good not only as a condiment but as a marinade for game and poultry, and I expect would go very well with lamb and pork too.

Apart from the picking, the ketchup is really very simple. Just wash the grapes and pick the berries off the stems, discarding any green ones. Place them in a pan, heat and simmer for about five minutes. Juice will begin to form at the bottom of the pan, but to help them along, use a potato masher to get as much juice out as possible.

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Then, strain the mixture through a food mill or sieve, measure, and return the juice to the pan.

For every cup of puree:

1/2 cup brown sugar (or more to taste)

1/2 cup wine vinegar

1/2 tsp. pepper

1 tsp. allspice

Simmer the mixture until it is the right consistency, a little over an hour. I test it by cooling a small spoonful. I make it less dense than a commercial ketchup, but about as thick as a creamy yogourt. I do not process the jars – just freeze them.

This is a fairly tart ketchup as I prefer it, but it could stand probably up to double the amount of sugar. You can easily add more as it cooks and taste it.

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I left a small amount in the bottom of a pan, and as a first use i deglazed it, added venison meatballs I had in the freezer and some quartered fresh plums. From that I deem the ketchup recipe a success.

One experiment often leads to another. Left with a pile of grape seeds, which are supposed to be highly nutritious and, I have noticed, are sold in granular form in health food stores, I decided to dry them and see what I could do. I rinsed and drained them, removing some of the skin that rose to the top, but certainly did not get it all. I then put the dripping seeds in the oven at 275 for about an hour, and as they were getting too hot and the water had mostly evaporated, I spread them out in the sun for another couple of hours. I don’t leave anything in the sun too long, for fear of botulism, but by that time they were sufficiently dry. I ground them in the coffee grinder – and then on to my next experiment.

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I mixed a large spoonful in some hot water. It was a creamy pinkish colour but the seeds at the bottom were not very appetizing. Next experiment was to simmer the same amount in a small pot of hot water for about an hour and strain. The colour was browner, but the taste was equally good and no junk at the bottom. All in all, a pleasant surprise as experiments go, and for anyone who wants to get all the goodness out of the grapes, might be worth trying.


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Purslane and Cabbage Salad

Purslane (portulaca oleracea) is yet another weed I have growing wildly in my garden, but only now have I decided to stop thinking of it as a pesky weed. I am even considering collecting some seeds in the fall, and growing some in its own little garden – away from my onions and leeks which it likes to snuggle up to. Image

Canadian Gardening says this about it:

Nutritionally, purslane is a powerhouse. It has more than double the omega-3s that kale has and, as far as I know, more than any other leafy green ever analyzed. It has over four times the vitamin E of turnip leaves, more than any other leafy green ever analyzed. It has glutathione and other antioxidants and about as much iron as spinach. It also has reasonable amounts of other nutrients as well as phytochemicals, like all these leafy greens. So purslane is no slouch, not a poison, and definitely worth eating.

Rich in omega-3s
Many people studying the Mediterranean diet think that it is foods like purslane and other omega-3 greens that give the Greeks their good balance of fats. Olive oil only contributes some of the omega-3s; the greens, walnuts, oily fish, and a few other foods give them the rest of what they need.

To help you identify it, it is a spreading plant, looks much like portulaca, and has reddish-green or purple tinted stems that are very fleshy. It has small, inconspicuous yellow flowers.Image

If you pick only the succulent stem tips, the plant will continue to grow. Remove flowers as they appear, unless you wish to collect seeds. The flavour is lemony-sweet, and they are crunchy when fresh.

As my first experiment in eating it, I decided to try it in its raw form to see how I liked the taste. This salad is not really a recipe – just an idea for using fresh purslane.100_0423

I used cabbage, shredded carrot, purslane, olive oil, salt and cider vinegar to keep it as simple as possible. Other herbs, shredded beets, jerusalem artichokes, or even a base of lettuce or some other greens would work just as well.100_0426