Category Archives: condiments

pomegranate molasses

Pomegranate Molasses

I’ve been thinking a lot about synergy lately. You know, how an apple is fantastic on its own but then you combine it with blackberries and a crumble topping and all of a sudden its elevated to new heights. Or turmeric, on its own is a fantastic anti-inflammatory and liver repairing herb but then if you add black pepper then all kinds of magical things happen and your body uses more of the turmeric. Or in people– I’m pretty cool on my own, but when I’m with Jam I’m slightly more adventurous and less stubborn. This is a good thing. Synergy. In some cases, things or people are fine as they are, but every now and then something comes along that helps it reach its potential.

Take pomegranates, for example. On Wednesday I was handed a big bag of pomegranates. I ate one right there, peeling off the thick skin with my fingers, and burying my face in it, pulling out the fruity seeds with my teeth. I walked around with a red mouth and nose and chin for hours before seeing myself in a mirror. And that was about it for pomegranates, for me– they’re not really the kinds of things I go out of my way to eat a million of when they’re in season (unlike peaches or apples or lemons).

I’ve been reading Ken Albala‘s new book The Lost Arts of Hearth & Home: The Happy Luddite’s Guide to Domestic Self-Sufficiency. It’s a good, solid book. One that you can open to any chapter and read for a bit and have something to think about or to want to experiment with, which is what happened when I turned to the Pomegranate Molasses section. He doesn’t write recipes so much as guides, which is good because that’s generally how I interpret recipes anyway. And this guide was pretty simple: peel the pomegranate, put all the seeds in a pot, add some vanilla, some sugar, then boil down for a few hours, straining the seeds out somewhere in the middle.

The most tedious part of this process is the peeling of the pomegranates, something which, if facing a big bag full, can be somewhat daunting. I have advice: put on a movie, take pot, bag of pomegranates and a bowl for the peels to the floor in front of TV (or computer in my case), take your time. I have another piece of advice: save the peels. Chop them up into small pieces, lay them out on paper or basket until they’re totally dry, then put them in a jar with a label: POMEGRANATE PEELS: MAKE TEA FOR DIARRHEA. Because these things happen, and it’s good to be prepared…

After 3 hours you’ll have a thick, gooey, dark dark red syrup. It’s tangy and sweet and fruity and everything a pomegranate should be. You can use it in Moroccan foods, in stews as a tangy flavouring, on meats (chicken= good), drizzled over yogurt or ice cream. Endless possibilities. As far as I’m concerned, this is synergy at its best: fire, vanilla and a bit of sugar have brought out the best possible qualities of the pomegranate. It may have reached its potential. And isn’t that all any of us could ever wish for?

A note on the sheer inconvenience of peeling so many pomegranates to get so little molasses at the end and why can’t you just use bottled pomegranate juice from the store: If you are gifted a big bag of pomegranates, it’d be cruel to let them go to waste. If you’re going to go and buy pomegranates to make this, I’d just skip the peeling part entirely and use bottled juice. Try 1 tb sugar to each cup of juice.

Pomegranate Molasses

Keep in mind that these measurements are approximate- thus, if you only end up with 3/4 quart of pomegranate seeds, just go with it, reduce the amount of sugar slightly.

1 quart pomegranate seeds

2 tb sugar

1/2 vanilla bean

Put everything in a pot and bring to low heat. In a while there’ll be some liquid there. Keep cooking it till there’s lots of liquid, and then, using a food mill or a sieve and a wooden spoon, strain out all the juice, extracting as much of the flesh as you can from the seeds. Extract the vanilla bean and throw it in with the liquid. Return to the heat. There’ll be a dramatic reduction in volume and you’ll want to cry after spending so long peeling the damn things. Its ok- you don’t use very much of it at a time. Keep on very low heat for 2-3 hours, until its reduced to a thick thick syrup. Taste it. Tangy and delicious? You has molasses. Put in a jar and keep in the fridge.

hawthorn rose syrup

Spiced Hawthorn-rose syrup

Photos by Marcia Coppess

Two wonderful things happened in the last month, and they both occurred over the same weekend. The first was the Traditions in Western Herbalism Conference. I’m sure if you’re up to date with my ramblings on Facebook you got sick of reading about it. A 3-day weekend gathering of Herbalists from all over the country (and beyond) in the mountains of Arizona. You might be picturing a bunch of long flowy-tie dye dresses and long hugs, but let me tell you folks, herbalists really know how to party. After days of classes, plant walks, interesting conversation, night descends and the bands roll in and the dancing starts. Herbalists, so used to being looked at strangely anyway (really, who else would stop and pet a tree in the middle of a city?), often lack the inhibitory function that prevents people from trying to embarrass themselves in public. In other words, when it comes to dancing, we just do it however we want to. Which turns out to be really fun, especially when people are handing around their home made infused concoctions. We danced late into the night, then woke up early for more classes. Classes on things like the Greek system, on Seizure disorders, on drug-herb interactions, on the chakra-endocrine link, on specific medicines, on aphrodesiacs.

Photo by Rosalee De La Foret

There was a marketplace where those of us vending set up our wares, where I met a bunch of really amazing people doing truly original things: Mountain Rose Herbs (which, if you don’t know about, you really should as their prices and quality are amazing); Learning Herbs (which, if you want to learn about herbalism this is surely the place to go. And also, I *may* have been interviewed for Herb Mentor Radio next month in the first ever interview done over a drink.); Blue Turtle Botanicals (which, if you don’t know Darcey and her fine creations then you are surely missing out); Super Salve Co (I may have spent a small fortune on face creams and masks); Winter Sun Trading Co (Turquoise earrings, juniper beads, magical Arizona herbalist who’s been in practice forEVER). I was hawking my wares- some hand made incense blends, some local flower elixirs and pine pitch salves and various things that are Southwest-ish. I may have sold out of almost everything within 24 hours (A few things back up in my Poppyswap shop HERE). It was wonderful to get to hang out with friends (like Rosalee, and Holly and Stephany and Kiva and Renee), learn as much as one can stuff in a rusty brain as possible, and dance, and dance, and dance…

Photos by Stephany Hoffett

The second good thing that happened to me was Lisa Rose Starner and her answering of a ‘hawthorn’ cry that went out on the interwebs. She lives in Grand Rapids, MI, and gathered a coupla bags of hawthorn berries for me before she flew out. Friends, when you’re as obsessed with these little faerie plants as I am, and someone you don’t get to hang out with nearly often enough brings you a bag of them, you might get a little teary. I’m not saying its, like, a requirement, but am warning you that it could happen.

And when it does happen (because, come on, we all get overwhelmed with joy about some things), the best thing to do is to sit and stare at them for hours, trying to decide what to do with them. And then upon realising that if you don’t use them they’ll just dry up and become like all the other hawthorn berries you have, you’ll leap into action, becoming a whir of flailing arms and cinnamon dust and droplets of spiced rum.

And when you’re done, and the smoke clears and the limbs settle, you’ll be left with this. Which, when it comes down to it, is as pretty darn perfect as a summer-fall syrup can get. Spicy, from the rum, sweet from the sugar and the hawthorn, tangy from the rosehips and lemon. As for what to do with it: drizzle it over pound cake, or add it to sparkling water with a dollop of cream (what I was drinking all day yesterday), over late-season peaches, or in a heart-healthy cocktail. In a cup of hot tea for a crying friend, or in your mouth directly for a broken heart. And what it does? Oh you guys… there are a million things one could say about hawthorn. Check out those links, and let it suffice for me to say right now that, when I describe it to clients, I describe it as a strong hand at the back of your ribcage, right behind where your heart sits in your chest cavity. Physically, it strengthens the heart and circulation, but emotionally, it provides that strength that one needs to face the world open-eyed, open-hearted and a little more awe-struck than usual.

Hawthorn-rose spiced syrup. 

2 cups hawthorn berries

1/2 cup rosehips

4 cups water

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp cardamom

2 cups sugar

1 cup spiced rum

juice of one lemon

Put everything but the rum, lemon and sugar in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Simmer for an hour, then leave to stand for another 2 hours. Remove from the heat, strain out all the plant bits, stir in the sugar and lemon. You might need to heat it again to dissolve it- that’s ok. Taste. It should be sweet, slightly tangy, a bit thick. Stir in the rum. Bottle and label (seriously- label it, otherwise in a month you’ll be like ‘what the hell is this again?’ and it’ll never get used).

 

PS. For another great write up of the conference, check out Stephany’s blog here.

 

basil 2

Santa Rosa Plum and Basil Jam

(…on basil. and India. and opening.)

Lots of things are sacred in India. Cows are sacred, milk is sacred, moments are sacred, life is sacred, and basil, most definitely, is considered sacred. The most potent varieties are referred to as ‘holy basil’, and a Hindu household is considered incomplete without a little plant somewhere. I cannot speak to the historical reasons for such a thing, but if the overall personality of the plant is anything to go by, it’s understandable. Basil is, simply put, opening and uplifting. It blasts things open, air passages, neurons, muscle fibers, digestive tracts, blockages. While all herbs by nature have more than just a physical effect, basil is one of those herbs that affects the higher reaches of the nervous system. In plain English, it can light up the synapses in your brain. In plainer English, basil opens passages you didn’t even know were stuck, and over time you will start to feel lighter, more connected to the world around you, and unreasonably content about it all. The Indian varieties (though technically basil is all native to India) are strong indeed, but garden basil opens things too, and it’s easy to come by.

A hot cup of basil tea can dispel the winter blues, or help you focus to study. It can wake you up in the morning, and help you sleep at night. Let the cup warm your hands and inhale the steam and it’ll wake up your senses. Throw in rose petals and a sprig of lavender for more happy, or mint and sage to aid digestion. The steam rising up out of a pot bubbling with basil leaves will do the same if you close your eyes and breathe deeply. It’s a subtle thing, these plants. You won’t get hit over the head by them (often), but they do work, gently and carefully, in a way that you won’t notice until its happened. Basil in a foot bath will warm your extremities and make you happy for no apparent reason. Throw in some rosemary to increase circulation and wake you up, or some lavender to make you relax a bit more. Its a good thing to have around. I make sure to always have some in the garden*.

Throwing it in with a batch of plum jam wasn’t an accident, but in the case of most happy experiments, it was just something I did because I had too much and it was passing its prime therefore I didn’t want to tincture it or put it in salads. And I don’t know if you’ve ever had plum and basil jam before, but, quite honestly, I don’t know why it isn’t done always. I used santa rosa plums because they were there, you can use the most delicious tasting variety you can find. And basil. Whatever basil you can come across. If you have Indian variety tulsi then use that, if you have Thai basil then use that, and if you have big-leaved Italian basil from a box at the grocery store, then use that. When you’ve used enough in jam, throw the rest in a mason jar and cover it with cheap brandy or vodka and, voila, your very own basil tincture to lift you up in times of need, or to slip in your miserable friend’s water when she’s not looking.

Or just cook it into things. Like jams and sauces. And when you dish it out you know its in there, and you can wink at it, conspiratorially, because you know what went in there and what its capable of.

*Tip: if you don’t have it in the garden, and buy a big bunch, keep it in a glass of water on the countertop, much like you would a bunch of flowers. It lasts longer and scents the air around it.

Santa Rosa Plum and Basil Jam

9 lbs plums, halved and pitted
15 cups sugar
juice of 2 lemons
15 basil leaves (fragrant ones)

De-pit all the plums. I’ve done this two ways- the first being the ‘proper’ way with a knife and abig bowl in front of me on the stoop. The second way is on teh kichen floor late at night with some plums nearing over-ripeness and a stonr set of hands, squeeezing oug the pits as I go. This way is messier. But its fun. And when you can’t be bothered with a knife it works.

Put them all in a big old pot. Add the sugar and lemon juice, then bring to a boil, and reduce to a simmer for about 15 minutes. Add the basil leaves, and simmer for another 10.

Can them as you would any jam- in clean, sterilised jars. Process in a hot water bath for 15 minutes. They’re good for a year.

elderberry 2

Elderberry Chutney

(in which I get a bit bossy)

Gathering with friends is only fun if its an enhancement of gathering alone. Because alone, gathering is a holy experience. You sink into a rhythm, a quiet calm. Snip, pluck, drop, move, repeat. That rhythm becomes a background humm, that turns into a moving meditation. By the time you emerge from it, your bag is full, and problems have resolved themselves in the recesses of your mind, and, most likely, your eyes are a shade brighter than they were before*. I do this so often that I had forgotten how nice it was to have company. Especially company that gets as excited about happening upon a bounty as I do. Like when Emily and I were out looking for currants a couple of weeks ago and just happened upon a big, heavy mama elder tree so laden with berries that the branches hung low to the ground.

By the time we left, my backpack was so full and heavy that the ones on top started crushing the ones on the bottom and the juice started seeping out the bottom of my backpack, down my back, onto my pants. The top of my pants, by the time our walk was over, were stained blue. I think this would go into the category of ‘forager and herbalist problems’. And I’d guess that, if you see someone out in the world and the back of their pants, from waistband to butt, have a slight purplish tinge, then you know what happened, and you can throw them a high five and say ‘what’s up, elderbutt!’.

But back to those berries. There are lots of reasons to go out and find some elderberries this year. The first is, of course, elderberry elixir (or syrup). You MUST make a batch (if you cant, then you should probably buy some, as a medicine cabinet devoid of elderberry preparations is like a fortress devoid of a wall). Your immune system will thank you, as will the rest of your family when they never get sick again. As will your cabinet, for finally feeling complete (cabinets are known to be very insecure).

The second is this chutney. There are plenty of other things you CAN do with a big batch of elderberries, from jams to wines, to pies, to juices, but as far as I’m concerned, this chutney is the business. Its best application is on top of something bread-like, like oat cakes, alongside something tangy, like goat cheese. It makes lovely hors d’ouvres when you have people over, but it’s even nicer for a summer lunch, with a bottle of something crisp and cold (Ginger beer. Definitely ginger beer.) and a nice shady spot outside. Bring some crackers, bring some cheese, and a knife, and a little container of chutney. Take a cracker, then a slice of cheese, then a dollop of chutney, and munch on it while you survey what’s around you and listen to the birds chirp and the bees buzz. And then lie back and relax, and let all those little elderberries go to work strengthening your immune system, improving your circulation, tonifying your blood, and generally making you stronger and more resilient. And reflect, with a full belly and a full heart, on how you are ingesting something from the land around you, and what that means for your soul, as a whole, to be connected to the earth, and a part of the life cycle. And if you feel like it, maybe even do all of this with a friend.

Elderberry Chutney

5 cups elderberries

1 cup elderberry juice

2 onions

1 cup raisins

1 apple, peeled and chopped into small cubes

2 cups apple cider vinegar

1 1/2 tsp coriander

1 1/2 tsp cumin seeds

1 inch ginger

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp turmeric

1/2 tsp mustard seed

2 tsp salt

2 cups sugar

1 1/3 cup sucanat

In a big pot, put all of the ingredients, then turn on the heat and bring it to a boil. Reduce to simmer immediately, and do so for about 3 hours. Once the liquid has reduced dramatically (you still want SOME, but not a soup), and the whole thing looks like a big mushy mess, sterilize your mason jars. Spoon the hot chutney into your hot jars, leaving a half inch space at the top. Seal with fresh lids, and process for 15 minutes in a hot water bath. They’ll keep for a year. Refrigerate once opened.

 

*Not to give too much of an impression that wildcrafting is an idyllic experience- it’s not. You get stratched up, scuff knees, ruin favourite skirts, break nails, get sharp things under nails, get whacked in the face by branches, bitten by ants and spiders and bugs and scared by rattlesnakes. You come home with dirt in places you didn’t think it could reach, and twigs in your hair. In other words, it’s really fun.

chocolate hazelnut spread

Chocolate Hazelnut Spread

In an ideal world, there would be a separate court system for left-brainers and right-brainers, so that the left-brainers could show up on the appointed date, at the appointed time (or ten minutes early) with all their paperwork in hand, and us right-brainers could show up when we feel like it, having forgotten most of what’s important. In an ideal world, however, everything would be relative, like ‘ah, young lady I see you holding your mobile telephone while driving, but I also acknowledge that you aren’t texting, merely looking at a map, and that the streets are empty so you are a danger to nobody’ or ‘ah, young lady, I see you are going fifteen MPH above the speed limit, but it’s also an empty stretch of freeway and your car is built to withstand such speeds beautifully’. In this ideal world, very old trees would be respected as would very old people. In this ideal world, a woman’s body would be her own, not the State’s, and in this world, nobody would have come up with the silly idea of calories. Yes, calories.

You see, I have recently discovered that you cannot, in Los Angeles, get anybody to take a jar of Chocolate-Hazelnut Spread*. People back away, terror sticken, holding their hands out in front of them to prevent you coming any closer. I usually pawn off my baked goods with the preface ‘it’s healthy’ or ‘it’s gluten-free’ after which people eat it gladly (note that I fail to mention the butter or sugar content for aforementioned reasons) but with something so similar to Nutella, everybody knows that it’s not healthy, and that you can’t just have one bite and put the jar away. No, there is no putting this jar away. It might be physiologically impossible.

And for the record, I think this backing away is utterly stupid behaviour. Because I firmly and fully believe that if something is eaten without a single shred of guilt, then it doesn’t end up stuck to hips and jowls and places we don’t want them. And that a stick of celery, when eaten stressfullythinkingaboutcaloriecontent will likely make you go up a clothing size, whereas an entire pizza and soda will not, if eaten properly**. Things eaten with pleasure in mind are usually hard to over eat. Relishing the aroma, flavour and texture of something, you actually experience it fully, not in the background while your brain does battle with your will. No. Battlegrounds are not for eating. In many herbal traditions, people are told to not eat while stressed or angry. It makes sense– all that mental stuff churning, not only do you not experience your food at all, but oftentimes your digestion isn’t even working properly when your body is in high stress mode. And a mental battle is stress mode.

So, my friends, if you are likely to feel nothing but immense guilt over indulging in something this deliciously fatty and sweet, it’s better not to make it at all. And if you do make it, promise me that you’ll eat it somewhere quiet, with closed eyes and ‘mmmm’s and ‘ooooooh’s and smiles and twinkling eyes and holding hands and warm blankets and glittering stars and all the good things in the world.

And it’s perfect. Perfect for spreading on toast and eating with a spoon and playfully putting on someone’s nose when they lean in to smell it. Perfect for mid-afternoon snacks and ‘oh, I’ll just check what’s going on in the fridge because it’s been a good hour since I last checked’. See, perfect.

ps. How nice is the word ‘filbert’. I have been saying it over and over again, all day, because it rolls around in the mouth so nicely.

 

Chocolate Hazelnut Spread

1 cup hazelnuts (filberts)

1/2 cup cream

1/2 cup whole milk

4 tb sugar (I use sucanat)

1/2 tsp salt

2 oz milk chocolate

3oz dark chocolate

Preheat oven to 350. Lay out your filberts on a baking tray, and roast for 10 minutes, until the papery shells come off easily when you rub them. You might not be able to get all of them off, and it’ll be fine, just try and get as much as you can.

Meanwhile, in a double boiler, melt the chocolates.

Put all the ingredients into a blender at the same time, and blend until very smooth.

Store in airtight jars. Use within 10 days.

*Eventually the lovely Amelia took one, because she’s not scared of food. Yay.

**by ‘properly’ I mean with attention and enjoyment

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Pickled Watermelon Rinds

I like watching people test for good watermelons, because it makes them look crazy. I know this, because I do it, and people look at me like I’m crazy. I learned the knocking technique from an Israeli woman who claimed to be the ‘queen of vegetables’, who would bustle around the grocery store, knocking on watermelons until she’d delightedly find the right one (about which she’d then shout across the store in her loudest voice, deafening those around her and embarrassing those who were with her).

I started doing it tentatively, and then enthusiastically, and now I end up teaching a couple of people how to do it each time.

It’s easy. All you do is put the watermelon to your ear, and knock on it like you’re knocking on somebody’s door. Knock like it’s a business meeting, not your sleeping neighbour. And listen for a dull throb, not a high pitched ding. The dullest throb you find is the watermelon for you. And then teach somebody else how to do it, because they’ll be looking at  you like you’re crazy. Conversely, you could just start replying to said watermelon, and you might clear a space for yourself in the line…

Pickled watermelon rinds have caught my curiosity for a couple of years, but I was always too lazy to make them. Then, when I was visiting Butter in Boulder, we went to The Pinyon- one of the restaurants she forages for, and on their {gorgeous} menu were pickled watermelon rinds. So we ordered them, and I ate the entire jar, and fell asleep thinking about them. Most recipes for pickled rinds use just the white part, but at The Pinyon, they leave some of the flesh attached. And I tell ya, I’ll never do it any other way- having that little bit of deliciousness is crazy good, and it means you don’t need to specifically find a watermelon with big white rinds.

They’re easy to make. Ridiculously easy. And delicious. Ridiculously delicious. Crisp, tart, sweet, wateremelony. Great served with a rare steak and a glass of wine. Great in a sandwich with chicken and arugula. Great on their own or with cheddar when you’re wandering aimlessly into the kitchen in the afternoon trying to figure out what to do next.

Pickled Watermelon Rinds

1 large watermelon

2 cups cider vinegar

2 cups water

1 cup sugar

 

Using a vegetable peeler, peel the watermelon as best as you can. Cut it in half first (so it doesn’t roll all over the place) and go at it. For hard to peel parts you can use a paring knife, but try to use a peeler as much as possible so you get as much rind as possible.

Cut the half in half. Then, delicately, cut out the flesh, leaving about an inch of red flesh attached to the white rind. Then, slice the flesh-deprived quarters into 2-inch-wide strips. You’ll have a little triangle left over. Slice each of those strips into thin strips that are 2-inches long. I made all of mine about 2 milimeters wide, but you can go thinner than that if you prefer them less crunchy.

Now you have a pile of strips of watermelon rinds, stuff them into jars, however you want. You can be pretty about it or quick about it- I did some of both. The pretty ones have been given away, the quick ones are being devoured by the day…

Bring the water, cider and sugar to a boil. Remove from the heat, and start ladling the liquid into the jars filled with watermelon. The liquid must be boiling hot. Put the lids on- they should seal (if not, eat those ones first). Wait for them to cool, then refrigerate.

I’m sure you can pressure can these so that they’re shelf-stable but I figured we’d go through them all so fast it wasn’t entirely necessary. If giving them away as gifts, a little ‘please keep refrigerated’ label probably wouldn’t go amiss though.

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Aioli

It was my lovely brother Alex who pointed out that you cannot find good aioli in America. He pointed this out while filling our grocery cart with aioli, which is sold in little tubs for about a Euro apiece. I wondered how he’d ever go through it all, but it turns out that I underestimated the culinary genius of my little brother.

Which I should never do. This is the boy who, at age 8, demanded that mum pick up some Grand Marnier because he wanted to make crepes suzette for breakfast. Who at 9 made the best tiramisu north of Hadrian’s wall (and quite possibly south of it all the way until the Italian border). I’d just forgotten about this, ever since I visited him in college and he made me ‘pasta a la Alex’: a bowl full of fussili, drenched in canned marinara. You see why I forgot…

And it was only mid-way to Ibiza, when Alex disappeared below deck and re-appeared with a plate full of sandwiches that I started to realise that the whole ‘pasta a la Alex’ thing must have been a joke. A not-funny-to-anyone-but-him joke. An Altman joke. The kind of joke my dad would play when he’d cook us dinner, and we’d only realise halfway through eating it that he wasn’t eating any, and we’d get suspicious and look in the soup pot and find a sock and a banana peel floating there innocently… or like how I had friends over for a dinner party and only told them afterwards that they’d just eaten buffalo heart. Yep, pasta a la Alex was an Alex-ism. And boy, can my little brother cook.

Sandwich a la Alex is simple. You need good aioli. You need a nice crusty loaf of bread. Some nice prosciutto. And August tomatoes- August tomatoes are key because any other month of the year they’re just ok. It’s only in August that you (I?) wonder why people don’t write songs to the tomato, and start to compose your own while you’re (I’m?) doing the dishes. And that’s it. Four ingredients. Which brings me back to the grocery store, and aioli. It’s hard to find good aioli in America. The easiest way to find it is to make your own. And it’s really surprisingly simple. All you need is a blender or a mechanical whisk or some kind. Or if you’re brave and strong, a hand whisk, or even a fork. For the recipe, I turned to Elizabeth David, who always knows what to do when I don’t.


Aioli

From Elizabeth David. Serves, well, quite a lot. 

 

4 cloves garlic (fresh, not old and nasty and bitter)

juice of 1 lemon

1 tsp salt

1 1/2 cup olive oil

2 egg yolks.

 

If you have a blender, use it. If not then an electric whisk of some kind would do after mashing the garlic up really well. If not then I hope you have strong arms…

 

In a blender:

Throw in the garlic, lemon and salt. Blend until it’s completely pulverised, then add the egg yolks one at a time. Blend until it starts to thicken- this might be a couple of minutes, and you might have to scrape it down a lot- then start to add the olive oil, in a very thin stream. Keep stopping and scraping it down if you have to, and add oil until it won’t incorporate itself anymore (thin stream helps so you can stop it immediately after). Taste. Add more lemon juice or salt if you need to.

 

With a whisk or strong hand:

Make sure the garlic is completely pulverised then proceed as above. If you’re doing it by hand it might take quite a while to thicken. I’ve done this with whipping cream by gathering a group of unsuspecting people and handing it off for a few minutes at a time. If they get tired then insult their manhood and they’ll keep going…

 

Traditionally aioli is served with vegetables and bread for dipping. You can also use it to make an unconventional and seriously delicious tuna salad (you don’t need anything except tuna and aioli).


Sandwich a la Alex

1 chunk french bread

aioli

prosciutto

1 lovely ripe tomato

 

Cut the bread in half lengthways. Spread both sides thickly with aioli. On one side lay slices of tomatoes, and on the other lay a layer of prosciutto. Slap the two together and enjoy!

 

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Yucca syrup

I was out wandering in the hills at sunset the other night. The clouds were rolling in from the Pacific below me, blotting out most of the signs of civilisation.

And I climbed- up to the area that I call the dragon’s back, though it has another name that is much more boring. I much prefer to pretend that I’m clambering along the spines of some great big slumbering beast that could take off at any moment. Up at the top, the sandy rocks create these perfect seat spots, where you can watch the light go red, and the clouds rushing and turning, and feel the wind whip your hair around your face, and pretend to be alone even though there’s a big big city down there somewhere…

As I was walking up there, this aroma kept hitting me. Like grapefruit and lemon blossoms and sugar had a flowery baby. And I’d stand there in the middle of the trail sniffing at the air wondering where it was coming from. I happened upon a yucca plant close to the trail as I came around the corner. They’re everywhere here at this time of year- when you look out over a landscape you can see their tall white blossom-covered stalks standing out like alien sentinels, standing on guard.

And honestly, I had no idea that they smelled like this. I’ve seen them all the time. I knew that they were edible in entirety- I remember having a conversation with a Cahuilla Indian who told me that they’d dig up the root and build an underground fire pit and roast them for about 24 hours until they were sweet and soft, and that it was the most delicious thing ever. But it had never appealed to me; I was always much more interested in plants for medicine than for food. Until I smelled them.

What I wanted was to capture that smell. That delicate blossomy smell that made me want to roll around in a spiky plant like my cat does with catnip. The only recipes I found were savoury. I assume because the flowers taste slightly bitter, and have a meaty texture to them that would be awfully nice in savoury things. But I wanted something sweet. Because if you can’t tell by now, I have a sweet tooth.

I figured that if I started a syrup then I could do any number of things with it. Like drizzle it on french toast, or stir it through vanilla ice cream, or over fruit salad. So that’s what I’ve done. Since I’ve been getting into this whole alcohol thing lately, I think I might try some sort of cocktail with it. Maybe even tonight. I apologise in advance for anything funny that I say on twitter between now and tomorrow morning…

This couldn’t be easier. Once you’ve got the yucca blossoms, that is. Try and pick fresh young ones, as the older ones tend to collect bugs and get very sticky. And try and pick them from a short plant because that’s much easier- though you can always just pull the stalk towards you and pluck them off that way.

Yucca syrup

2 cups sugar

2 cups water

4 cups yucca blossoms

Bring the water and sugar to a boil, and boil for 3 minutes. Remove from the heat. Place the blossoms in a mason jar, and pour the syrup over the top. Cover and let sit for a couple of days. Strain and bottle. This should keep in the fridge for over 6 months, as the sugar is a great preservative.

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Prickly Pear Jelly

Prickly pear cactus grows all over the Southwestern US. It’s a big, beautiful plant, and the whole thing is edible, once you remove the thorns. In Mexico it’s as common to eat as eggs, but here it’s a relatively unknown food item, except in Mexican communities. In Mexico it’s called ‘nopales’, and the fruits are called ‘tunas’. I was delighted, when we were in Mexico for my birthday, to see it on the menu almost everywhere. The nopales leaves are fantastic medicinally– they’ve been shown in medical studies to reduce blood sugar levels, which is really helpful for diabetics. Unfortunately you’d have to drink about a gallon of nopales juice per day to get the full medicinal benefits…

My mum lives in an area that is covered with prickly pear plants, so a few weeks ago when I was visiting, I dragged her and my little sister out on a tuna-hunting mission. And I’m so glad I dragged them along, because my mum had the clever idea of handing me rubber gloves on the way out the door. My previous method, which, now that I think about it was most inconvenient, was to take my shoes off, put my hands in the shoes, and pull the tunas off that way, rubbing them back and forth between my hands to get all of the fuzzy prickly bits off. This was problematic for 2 main reasons:

1. Walking barefoot around cacti= I must be missing brain cells. Yes, I’ve stepped on thorny bits. Yes, it hurts like hell.

2. Sometimes you get prickly bits stuck in your shoes and don’t see them. Then you put your shoes back on. See above.

With thick rubber gloves on, the tunas come right off, and the little fuzzy thorns don’t get you. You can also rub them back and forth in your hands before throwing them in the bag. I collected as many as I could. The bag was heavy. Nobody else would carry it, and I felt like Sisyphus all the way home.

When you get home with your bag full of prickly pears, dump them straight in the sink, and don said rubber gloves again. Rub each one with a cloth, under running water. The prickles will all come right off. Like I told my sister, it’s not the little pricks you need to worry about…

Check out that COLOUR!! *swoon*

This jam is amazing. It’s sweet and slightly tart. It’s got a fresh flavour slightly remniscent of watermelon or Jolly Ranchers. It’s amazing. And unlike anything I’ve ever tasted before.

Prickly Pear Jelly

makes approx 3 8-oz jars

6 cups prickly pear fruit, mashed (peeled first, then mashed)

2 cups sugar

1/2 cup lemon juice

3 tb pectin

1 tb calcium water (both come in the pomona pectin packet– if using a different pectin, follow directions according to packet)

The prickly pear fruit is filled with seeds, so first off it’s necessary to strain the seeds out. Do this by pressing the mashed fruit through a sieve. You’ll have a bright pink liquid. About 4 cups of it or so. Bring it to a boil, and add the sugar and lemon juice. Boil for a couple of minutes, then remove from heat and allow to cool. Preheat the oven to 500, and put in the jars you’ll be using (without the lids). Once the jelly is room temperature, pour in the calcium water and pectin, and bring back to the boil. Remove from the heat, and immediately spoon into the boiling hot jars. Seal, and process in boiling water for ten minutes.

By the way, my friend Butter just wrote a post about tunas too. Check it out here!

This post is shared at Real Food Wednesday and Pennywise Platter Thursday.

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Balsamic roasted figs

Four years ago, I was living in a little house in south Palm Desert. It was summer, and… have you experienced a desert summer? It’s horrible. The unbearable, relentless heat that doesn’t ease up for months on end. The heat that radiates down from the sun and up from the pavement, that gets in your eyes and in your bones and in your blood, and makes you daydream about things like Alaska in December and plunges in the Mariana Trench.

There are, however, a few things that make it worthwhile:

1. The light traffic load– as everyone who can afford it has gone somewhere cool and green.

2. The silence at 4am that penetrates your soul. It nourishes your being right down to your toes. At 4am, it’s still hot, but at least cool enough that you can sit outside and drink a cup of coffee and listen to the world wake up, before the light stretches up over the mountains, before the sun peeks out, and before you’re sweating at 630. This desert silence doesn’t leave you, you know. Even in a busy city it still hums in your heart and, I believe, provides a small piece of sanity amid the madness.

3. Jackie’s figs. I don’t even know her last name. One summer she walked into Harvest Health Foods when I was buying my groceries, carrying a box of figs. They were the most divine figs I’d ever had. We got to chatting, and it turned out that she lived a block away from me. So inundated with figs was she, that I was welcome to stop by and pick as many as I wanted.

Every morning, on my way back home from yoga, I’d pull over at Jackie’s house, climb her enormous fig tree, and sit back on one of its big fat branches, under its cool foliage, and eat to my heart’s content. I’d eat until there was fig juice running down my arms and my chin. Until my clothes were stained and I looked like a mess. A happy mess. Figs that good make you want to be a happy mess.

When I moved to LA, I was ecstatic to find that there was a fig tree in our back garden. Come summer, I picked a whole bunch, and then sunk my teeth into the first one, expecting to be transported back to my happy desert days. Alas these figs were bitter and tasteless, and I was gutted.

This led me to ask a number of questions, namely:

1. Does Jackie feed her trees crack? (I am not sure but I intend to find out.)

2. What does my tree eat that makes it taste so bad? (Smog and opossum poo.)

3. Is there any way to feed my tree crack instead of smog and opossum poo? (No.)

When I finally dragged myself out of bed, I decided that even if I couldn’t eat these figs straight off the tree, I was going to find a way to make them edible. Because let’s face it, not everybody has mountains of crack to feed their trees.

I’ve been munching on these guys all day, as they’ve been sitting out on the counter while I experiment with different ways to dress them up. My favourites so far are with vanilla ice cream;  on toast with goat cheese; and with slices of cheddar as a between snack-snack.

Balsamic Roasted Figs

8 figs

1/4 cup sucanat (if your figs are super sweet, reduce the quantity, or cut it out entirely)

olive oil (to drizzle)

4 tsp balsamic vinegar

Preheat the oven to 200. In a roasting pan, quarter the figs, and lay out, skin side down.

Sprinkle a little sugar in the centre of each fig piece.

Drizzle with olive oil, then balsamic vinegar.

Roast in the oven for 2 hours, until the figs have shrunk and shriveled, and smell like something you most definitely want on top of vanilla ice cream.

Shared at Simple Lives and Pennywise Platter