Maque Choux – A Cajun Twist on Succotash

The other day, Diane Whatley Nix, a friend on a social media cooking group called Wok Wednesdays, shared an image of Maque Choux made in a wok. Instantly, I was shown a flash of brilliance for the cooking method, and reminded of a delicious dish I hadn’t made since leaving Texas six years ago. Note: If you’re into wok cooking, then you need to check out the group – It’s dedicated to cooking our way through Grace Young’s The Breath of a Wok, and it’s a serious gas!

Maque Choux (AKA mack shoe, muck shoe, muck show, and so on), is the Cajun version of that venerable side dish, succotash. The name may sound French, but it’s probably a Creole derivation of a native term. This is a great side dish at any time of the year, but especially in summer, when all of the veggie constituents are right outside in the garden. 

Many folks know of succotash and assume it to be southern, but that would be incorrect – Succotash came from some of the original occupants of New England – The name derives from a native term, possibly the Wampanoag word msíckquatash, (boiled corn kernels), or the Narragansett sohquttahhash, (broken corn kernels).

Succotash was, and is, a base of fresh corn, some kind of shell bean, and a little protein – nowadays, most commonly bacon, but back then in New England, fish or game. Any number of additional veggies and herbs might be added, like tomatoes, sweet peppers, chiles, fresh herbs and other seasonings – all of which are New World foods and therefore likely as authentic as anything else. There are a dizzying number of ‘authentic’ succotash and maque choux recipes out there, but the truth is that damn near anything you feel like doing will be authentic enough – These are dishes designed to use what was ready at the time, and later down the line, to clean out a fridge, maybe.

Succotash was popular because it was filling and nutritious. That base mix of corn and beans is rich in protein, carbohydrates, essential amino acids, vitamins and minerals. It’s still a popular side dish at many a New England Thanksgiving dinner, and was likely a main course at that original dinner hosted by the locals, to which a ragtag band of Puritans and Strangers were invited. Those settlers quickly learned that the key base ingredients lent themselves readily to drying, which meant a lifesaving, year round food supply for a struggling population.

As us white usurpers spread across the new land, (including my direct ancestor, who arrived in 1636), succotash came along for the ride, morphed by local crops as it travelled. In the south, dang near any corn and bean combo that’s fried up in lard or butter is called succotash, albeit the vast majority of the time, the bean in question will be a lima, and there will almost always be okra.

Those migrants included the Acadiens, French people exiled to the Canadian Maritimes by the Seven Years war between Britain and France in the middle of the eighteenth century. While many Acadiens remain in the Maritimes, a sizable group made their way south to warmer climes, specifically, Louisiana, which was a French colonial holding since about the time the Puritans hit the beach at Plymouth. And of course, Cajuns are in Louisiana to this day, and from that many good things have come, including maque choux.

Study up some on maque choux, and you’ll see one glaring difference from traditional succotash – It don’t have no beans on board. That’s not to say you couldn’t, or that beans aren’t popular in that neck of the woods, because you could and they are -But, when you see how the dish morphed, you’ll understand right away – It’s because of the only aromatic base that we here in the colonies can lay claim to – The Holy Trinity.

We have the Cajun folk to thank for our only original combo – onion, celery, and green pepper, and really, nothing else, (albeit when used in soups and stews and whatnot, some folk do like to whip a little roux right in with it as it cooks, to kind of get a leg up on things). Now, the key to aromatic bases is the ratio, and in that regard, there are a couple of camps for the Trinity – those who do equal measures of each, and those who portion like mirepoix, 50% onion, 25% each pepper and celery. For my mind, it kinda depends on when you’re making it. If we’re talking the non-growing season, I’d go for the heavy onion version, but if you’re in the sweet spot, where those things are right out there in your garden, I’d absolutely opt for equal shares.

As for the protein, again, you can do what you like with no shame. I like local, smoky pepper bacon myself, but down south, a lot of folks are partial to andouille sausage, and you’d be hard pressed to go wrong there. Honestly, anything you’ve got that needs using would be lovely, from pulled pork to shredded chicken, (or even beans.)

Finally, the wok as a cooking method/vessel is simply brilliant. As Diane noted, making maque choux in one adds a perfect crispy crunch to the dish that you’d be hard pressed to get anywhere else. It’s also fast, and fun, and very pretty, so give that a go. This recipe will make enough for four, and maybe some leftovers

Maque Choux a la Urban

3 ears fresh Sweet Corn

4 strips Pepper Bacon

1/2 small sweet Onion

1-2 stalks fresh Celery, including leaves

2 Anaheim Chiles

1 fresh Tomato

2 cloves fresh Garlic

4-5 fresh Chives

1 sprig fresh Thyme

1 Tablespoon Avocado Oil

A few shakes Go To Seasoned Salt, (I prefer our smoky version)

A few twists fresh ground Pepper

Mise en place for maque choux
Mise en place for maque choux

Cut kernels off the corn in two passes – Take the first to roughly cut the kernels in half,then the second to get what’s left – This gets all the corn milk in play and adds a bit more moisture to the mix – Cut the corn into a plate or shallow bowl. If you’re shy getting to the base of the kernels, flip your knife around and use the spine to scrape out those last, sweet bits – And don’t friggin’ cut yourself.

Stack your bacon slices, cut them down the middle lengthwise, then into roughly 1/2” squares.

Dice the onion, celery, and chiles into roughly equal piles.

Slice the tomato – You can gut it if you like, (M is always offended when I leave the guts in…), or not as you please.

Mince the garlic, thyme, and chives.

Set the wok over a medium high flame and heat through –  A drop of water should vaporize pretty much instantaneously when it hits the wok, then you’re ready to go.

Stir fry bacon first - Your wok will thank you
Stir fry bacon first – Your wok will thank you

Stir fry the bacon, stirring steadily with a wooden spoon.

When the bacon is about 3/4 of the way you like it, turn the heat up to high and add the avocado oil. 

When the oil is shimmering, (not smoking – That’s too hot), add the onion, celery and chiles.

adding the Holy Trinity to maque choux
adding the Holy Trinity to maque choux

Stir fry, steadily working the mix to incorporate. When the onions start to turn translucent, add the garlic and stir fry for a minute or so until the raw garlic smell dissipates. 

Final ingredients
Final ingredients

Add the corn and stir fry steadily to heat through and incorporate – If things are getting a bit hot, turn heat down somewhat – I change heat constantly as I cook on a wok, and so can/should you.

Stir fry the mix until the corn starts to get a little crust and the smells are driving you nuts.

Add the tomato, chive and thyme, a few shakes of seasoned salt and a grew twists of pepper, and stir fry to incorporate all the seasonings.

Maque Choux a la Urban
Maque Choux a la Urban

Transfer to a bowl and serve hot.

A Couple of Rancho Gordo Tweaked Recipes

I wrote about RG beans not long ago, and frankly, they’re still on my mind, as is their stunningly good Pineapple Vinegar. That combo had me digging through old favorite summer recipes and tweaking them for these newfound delights. So here, for your reading and eating pleasure, are a revamped teriyaki marinade, and an incredible three bean salad. Enjoy!

Summer is grilling season, and it wouldn’t be right without teriyaki in the mix. That pineapple vinegar inspired me to alter my go to marinade thusly.

Rancho Gordo Pineapple Vinegar powered teriyaki marinade
Rancho Gordo Pineapple Vinegar powered teriyaki marinade

RG Pineapple Vinegar Teriyaki Marinade

1/2 Cup Chicken Stock, (Veggie stock or water are both fine too)

1/4 Cup Tamari

1/4 Cup Pineapple Vinegar

2 Tablespoons Agave Nectar

2 Tablespoons Rock Sugar (Dark Brown Sugar is fine too)

1 Tablespoon Toasted Sesame Oil

1 Tablespoon Arrowroot

2 Cloves fresh Garlic

1” fresh Ginger Root

Trim, peel, and mince garlic and ginger.

In a sauce pan over medium heat, combine tamari, vinegar, agave, sugar, sesame oil, garlic, and ginger.

Whisk to incorporate – When sauce begins to scale, reduce heat to low.

Combine arrowroot and stock, which to incorporate thoroughly.

Add stock mixture to sauce and whisk thoroughly. Allow sauce to heat through, whisking steadily, until it reaches the thickness you like, about 2-4 minutes.

Remove sauce from heat and transfer to a non-reactive bowl, allow to cool to room temperature before use – You can set up an ice bath in a second bowl to hasten that process if it’s hot where you are, like it was today where we is…

marinated skewers, full of summer goodness!
marinated skewers, full of summer goodness!

Separate some to use as a dipping sauce if desired.

That same stuff, along with dang near any or all RG beans, inspired this twist on Three Bean Salad.

Classic Three Bean Salad
Classic Three Bean Salad

Three bean salad is a delight in the dog days of summer – Cool, tangy, and hearty to boot. While I truly love the traditional base of pinto, wax, and green beans, you can and should do whatever mix you like – This is the perfect time of year to play with whatever is fresh at hand. The beauty of that freedom is that the dish really does change in very fundamental ways when you vary the bean trio, even with the same dressing. What I show below is my personal fave, but there too, you can and should go with what you’ve got fresh in the garden whenever possible. The mainstays to me are the rhythm section of that dressing – Rancho Gordo’s incredible Pineapple Vinegar, and fresh avocado oil – It creates a beautiful base to go just about anywhere from – I just got this stuff, and am absolutely enamored with it, so I re-did my go recipe, (which used live cider vinegar), to reflect same.

Bean salad should have whatever you love in it, period.
Bean salad should have whatever you love in it, period.

Speaking of Rancho Gordo, it’s there that a raft of stunningly delicious bean options await – Their heirloom stuff is so good, you can easily hop down the rabbit hole trying out different combinations. Their garbanzos, limas, and yellow woman beans make an incredible trio, with a delightful depth and breadth of flavors and textures, and again – That’s just one of many, many options. The quality of these beans is so far above anything else, you truly must try them.

Yet another combo...
Yet another combo…

Three bean salad definitely likes a little time for things to marry, so it’s a great dish to make ahead. And of course, if you have other veggies you love, that are ready to rock, add those too – You sure don’t need my permission!

Urban’s Go To Three Bean Salad

1 Cup Rancho Gordo Rio Zape Beans

1 Cup Fresh Green Beans

1 Cup Fresh Wax Beans

1 Cup Sweet Onion

1 stalk fresh Celery, with leaves

Sea Salt and fresh ground Grains of Paradise, to taste

For the Dressing

1/2 Cup Avocado Oil

1/3 Cup Pineapple Vinegar

2 Tablespoons fresh Shallot, minced

1-2 cloves fresh Garlic, minced

2 Tablespoons Agave Nectar

1 teaspoon fresh Thyme

1 teaspoon fresh Dill

1/4 teaspoon Chile flake

Rio Zape Beans should be cooked to al dente.

Blanch green and wax beans in boiling water until al dente, about 2-3 minutes – Have a bowl of ice water ready beside the stove, and plunge the beans into that as soon as they’re right.

Rinse and stem onion and celery, and then medium chop, (chiffonade celery leaf).

Rinse, stem and mince garlic, thyme, and dill.

In a large, non-reactive bowl, combine all beans, onion, and celery. Season with a three finger pinch of sea salt and a half dozen twists of grains of paradise – Gently toss to thoroughly incorporate.

In a second non-reactive bowl, combine all dressing ingredients and whisk to incorporate thoroughly.

Allow dressing to marry for 15 minutes, then dress salad with a steady drizzle – You may or may not want to use all of it, so stop when you’re happy with the ratio.

Allow salad to marinate, chilled, for at least 2 hours prior to serving.

Will do fine refrigerated for a couple days, if it lasts that long…

Boston Brown Bread

If you’re from New England, and specifically Boston, you know all about Boston Brown Bread – Pared with Boston baked beans and fresh cole slaw, it’s graced many a Saturday night supper throughout New England.

The B&M company, not to be confused with the huge British food conglomerate, has been making baked beans and brown bread for over 150 years, and there’s a reason they’re still around doing just that .

A lot of folks, even locals, think that B&M is a Massachusetts based enterprise, but it ain’t so. Way back in 1867, George Burnham, started a canning business, was then joined by Charles Morrill, and Burnham & Morrill was born. B&M has been a fixture in Portland, Maine at One Bean Pot Circle, ever since.

Their rightfully famous beans are still slow cooked in brick ovens, and their brown bread is the one, as far as I’m concerned. Their cans are filled with batter and the bread is baked in the cans, and that’s just how you do it.

In the 19th Century, Brown Bread was poverty food throughout the British Empire, although it eventually gained cache for the health benefits of the mixed flour used to make it. Brown Bread crossed the big pond, and became a staple for the colonists, then a sentimental favorite – Keep in kind, once upon a time, lobster was considered ‘poverty food,’ so there’s no stigma attached to liking brown bread.

Boston Brown Bread is a great recipe for folks who are nervous about bread baking – It’s easy, fast, and almost foolproof – Brown Bread is steamed, rather than baked, and requires very little prep time.

If you’ve never tried it, do. Served hot with fresh butter, ham, baked beans, and cole slaw, you got that legendary Saturday Night Suppah – And it’s great the next morning, too.

 

Boston Brown Bread

1 Cup Whole Milk

1/2 Cup Whole Wheat Flour

1/2 Cup Rye Flour

1/2 Cup Corn Meal

1/3 Cup Dark Molasses

1/2 teaspoon Baking Soda

1/2 teaspoon Baking Powder

1 teaspoon Vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon Allspice

1/2 teaspoon Orange Zest

1/2 teaspoon Sea Salt

1 Tablespoon Butter for greasing cans

NOTE: there are folks, (even B&M), who make this with raisins or currants within – I’m not one of them, but if you are, you can add a quarter cup to this recipe.

there are also purists who pull eschew the addition of flavorings such as vanilla, allspice, and orange zest – I’m not one of those, either.

 

Rinse and dry two 28 Ounce metal cans with one end of each cut off.

Move a rack to the bottom third of the oven and heat the oven to 325° F.

Choose an oven safe pot or dish deep enough so that you can fill it with water to about halfway up the sides of the cans. Boil enough water on the stove top to fill that pot or dish.

Lightly coat the insides of the cans with vegetable oil.

In a mixing bowl, combine wheat flour, rye flour, cornmeal, baking soda, baking powder, allspice, and salt.

Add the molasses, milk, vanilla and zest to the dry ingredients and thoroughly combine.

Divide the batter evenly between the prepared cans. Cover the top of each can with a double thickness of aluminum foil and tie securely with kitchen string. Place the cans in your deep pan and slide that into the preheated oven.

Carefully fill the pan with boiling water to about halfway up the sides of the cans.

Bake for 70 to 75 minutes. At seventy minutes, remove the foil tops. When the edges of the bread begin to pull away from the sides of the cans, you’re there.

Remove the cans from the oven, place on a wire rack to cool for 1 hour before sliding the bread out of the cans. If the bread is a bit sticky, a thin bladed knife run around the can will free it up.

Don’t forget to have plenty of fresh, local butter on hand…

Banh Mi

Asked for reflective advice shortly before he died, the venerable rocker Warren Zevon thought for a moment, and then replied, “enjoy every sandwich.” There’s sage advice in that simple thought. Few things tell more about a chef than what kind of sandwich they offer, and the same goes for the choice a diner makes. Given the incredible depth and breadth of options out there, I’ll just come straight out and say that you’d be absolutely hard pressed to do better than an authentic, house made Banh Mi sandwich.

When we dive into sandwich history, invariably we come to the old saw regarding John Montagu, the Fourth Earl of Sandwich, who lived in the seventeen hundreds, and reportedly ‘invented’ his namesake treat. Montagu, during an epic poker game in the winter of 1762, called for cold meat in between two slices of bread so that he wouldn’t have to break away from the game to eat. His culinary trick caught on, and subsequently, the thing began to be referred to as a sandwich – Now, all that said, there’s no doubt the dish has roots far deeper and broader than one game of five card draw.

Whether it’s a Reuben in Omaha, a torta in Mexico, smoked meat in Canada, vada pav in India, katsu sando in Japan, medianoche in Cuba, chacarero in Chile, or doner kebabs in Turkey, they’re all variations on the sandwich theme, and they’re all delicious – And none more so than a perfectly constructed banh mi.

Banh Mi is, of course, Vietnamese, with some foreign influence integral to the sandwich. The foreign would be French, who, like so many other empire builders, (Us Merkans, for instance), were eventually drummed out of Vietnam, but if they left some good behind, their influence on Vietnamese cuisine was undoubtedly it. Bread was non-existent in Vietnam before the French – Now baguette shops are ubiquitous throughout the country, (In Vietnam, baguettes are made from rice flour, by the way, so a real Vietnamese baguette has a delightfully light taste and crumb). Onions, potatoes, asparagus, and meat broth were adopted heartily, the latter leading to arguable the most famous Vietnamese culinary export, the joy that is Pho.

That said, don’t by any means assume that Vietnam was a culinary backwater prior to colonization – Nothing could be farther from the truth. The Vietnamese have always excelled at not only surviving, but thriving in good times and bad – A key part of that adaptability is the willingness to try and adopt new things – especially true when it comes to food. Vietnam and their largest neighbor, China, have cross pollinated culinarily for thousands of years. Everything from noodles and won tons, to chiles and corn made their way south from China and were adopted heartily by the Vietnamese.

That said, there are key aspects of Vietnamese culinary philosophy that color everything there, including the banh mi. At the core of this cooking is the balance of distinct, strong flavor profiles – spicy, sour, bitter, salty, and sweet. Per the Vietnamese culinary tradition, each flavor corresponds with an organ in our bodies – gall bladder, small intestines, large intestines, stomach, and bladder, accordingly. The mantra of five continues further – Vietnamese cooks strive to include five essential nutrients in each meal – Powder (spice), water, minerals, protein, and fat. The visual element of cooking is also carefully considered; white, green, yellow, red, and black are presented in a well balanced Vietnamese dish. Finally, a balance between what is thought of as the heating or cooling properties of various ingredients is considered – The juxtaposition of jalapeño and mayonnaise in a classic banh mi, for example.

That classic banh mi is far simpler than what you probably have tasted. Banh mi thit nguoi, sometimes called the special, (Dac biet), is a baguette, sliced in two and given a hearty schmear of house made liver pate – That’s how it was for many decades and still is, in many Vietnamese deli’s. Banh mi has evolved, however, to our great fortune. Nowadays, you’ll find subtly complex sauces, pickled and fresh vegetables, and proteins from tofu, to char siu pork, roast chicken, or grilled pork, and of course, beef here in the states. Almost any protein you dig will work, which makes banh mi the perfect vehicle for leftovers. The veggies vary as well, but almost always include chiles, cilantro, cucumber, and a tart-sweet pickled daikon, carrot, or onion. That fancier, loaded version became popular in south Vietnam, especially in Saigon, and it’s that version that has spread around the globe more than any other.

Two of the things needed for a classic banh mi are things that you probably don’t have laying around your kitchens – One you’ll have to make, and the other buy, or sub for. They are the daikon or radish pickle, and Maggi seasoning. The pickle is easy as all get out to make, and we’ve got a recipe for you below. That’ll need at least an hour before you use them, and a couple to a few are even better, so consider making that ahead of meal time. The Maggi seasoning is, frankly, pretty much pure MSG and sodium, although the recipe varies depending on where it’s made, (Maggi is ubiquitous in Asian cooking, but it actually originated in Switzerland back in the 1800s). If you have an Asian grocery, you’ll find it there, and of course it can be bought from Amazon as well. It comes in various sizes, from around 5 ounces on up to 28 and 32 ounce bottles – If you decide to try it, get a small bottle – A little goes a long way. I’m going to assume you don’t have Maggi, and as such, I’ll offer a sub that’ll work just fine and taste delicious to boot. Finally, we like a light cabbage slaw on our banh mi, so I’ll shoot you a recipe for that as well.

Pickled daikon or radish is key to Banh mi
Pickled daikon or radish is key to Banh mi

For the Pickled Daikon.
You may sub regular radishes if your grocery doesn’t have decent daikon, as ours did not when I wrote this post.
5-6 Radishes
1/2 Cup White Vinegar
1/2 Cup cold Water
1/2 teaspoon Bakers Sugar
1 teaspoon Sea Salt
1/4 teaspoon Lemon Thyme

Rinse and stem radishes, then slice into 1/8″ thick rounds. If you use daikon, slice those into matchstick size, and the same goes for carrots if you decide to go that route – Use the same brine on all three options.

Combine all remaining ingredients and stir briskly to dissolve salt and sugar.

Place radishes in a non-reactive container, cover with the brine and allow to sit for 1 to 4 hours prior to use.

For the Slaw
2-3 1/4″ thick slices Green and Red Cabbage
1 small Carrot
1-2 slices Sweet Onion
2 Tablespoons Rice Vinegar
Pinch of Sea Salt

Slice the carrot and onion – Onion into thin slivers, and carrot into match stick size.

Rough chop the Cabbage slices.

Transfer all to a mixing bowl, add the vinegar and salt and toss to coat.

For the Sauce
1 Cup Mayonnaise
2 teaspoons Dark Soy Sauce
1 teaspoon Cider Vinegar
3-5 drops Fish Sauce
1-2 drops Worcestershire

Combine and thoroughly whisk all ingredients together in a small bowl.

Cover and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes prior to use.

For the Banh Mi
1/2 Pound Protein of choice
Fresh Baguette
3-4 Jalapeño chiles
1 Cuccumber
5-6 sprig Cilantro
Banh Mi Sauce
slaw
Pickled Radishes

Banh mi - a study of balance and flavor
Banh mi – a study of balance and flavor

For whatever protein you decide on, (we used beef for ours), slice very thin.

Cut baguette into roughly 6-8″ long chunks, then slice in half. It’s customary to take the soft gut of the bread out, leaving more room for goodies.

Stem and seed Jalapeños, then slice into very thin rings.

Slice cucumber into very thin rings.

Rough chop cilantro.

Arrange all the goodies so that each person can load their own banh mi.

Put a generous amount of the sauce on both sides of the baguette, then layer up, starting with your protein and ending with the slaw.

Banh mi, final assembly
Banh mi, final assembly

Now, you’ve got your balance of flavors and colors, (The Soy in your Sauce handles the black, btw), and you’ll make all your organs happy!

Banh mi
Banh mi

Fold ’em up and dig in.

Goes great with a local lager or pilsner.

Giardiniera – The King of Pickled Veggies

My day job involves managing a bakery cafe for Panera Bread. We had, for a long time, a huge sandwich called an Italian Combo – It was, frankly, completely pedestrian – cold cuts, cheese, veggies – been there, done that, t-shirt is an oil rag… I was personally thrilled when that lead weight was replaced with a really good version this fall – With wine salami, hot sopressa, aged provolone, house made basil mayo, and a nice layer of Giardiniera, the King of pickled veggies, on a fresh baked hoagie roll – that’s a damn good sandwich, indeed.

And that got me thinking about that giardiniera, (Jar-dhi-nare-uh), a pickled vegetable mix, either done up as bite sized pieces or a relish. Redolent of fresh veggies and good olive oil, wrapped around lip smacking brininess that rivals a great cornichon – This is something we all need to be making at home.

Pickling foods to preserve them hardens back thousands of years and crosses numerous boundaries – almost every society does and has employed it. Everything from veggies, to meat, fish, fruit, nuts, and even eggs can end up in the pickle jar, much to our advantage. Pickling not only helps preserve things through the dark months, it adds a vital zip to what can otherwise be a rather bland time of year.

Giardiniera hails from Italy, and means literally, ‘from the garden, (also called sottacetto, or ‘under vinegar.’) While variants come from all over the boot, the versions we’re most familiar with has southern roots, down where the mild Mediterranean climate fosters a wide variety of veggies, the best olive oil, and great sea salt. That’s where those colorful jars filled with cauliflower, carrot, olives, onions, peppers, and chiles hailed from.

image

You’ll likely find jars of the bite sized version of giardiniera in your local grocery, with the fancy olives and other pickled goodies. While some of the commercial stuff is pretty good, none of it can match what you can make at home, and to top things off, it’s remarkably easy to do, (And frankly, the relish version of giardiniera is much more versatile, and rarely found in stores).

Seasoned with fresh herbs, maybe even touched with a little hot chile flake, giardiniera is fabulous on sandwiches, (including burgers and dogs), pizza, salads, and as a table condiment with more dishes than you can shake a stick at. Now is the time to be doing up a few batches of your own – it’s fairly traditional for giardiniera to be made in the fall, as a catch all for all those late season veggies we don’t want to lose to the first frost.

The American home of giardiniera is Chicago, where that famous Italian beef sandwich hails from. Slow roasted beef, cooked over its own jus, sliced thin and slapped onto a nice, dense roll, ladled with a generous spoon of giardiniera, a little jus, and eaten in the classic sloppy sandwich hunch – a little slice of heaven.

Italian Beef Sandwich, fueled by Giardiniera
Italian Beef Sandwich, fueled by Giardiniera

Making giardiniera is a real treat. Your first and foremost issue, naturally, is what to put into the mix. The blend I outlined earlier is generally recognized as the classic base mix, but pretty much anything goes, (I should note that peppers and chiles were not in the original Italian versions of the dish, as they didn’t show up in European cultivation until the 1700s.) firm veggies, like carrots, celeriac root, turnips, cauliflower, broccoli, and asparagus do well. Peppers and chiles will do well too, though really soft stuff like tomatoes tend to break down quickly.

Making giardiniera couldn’t be easier. While some recipes call for cooking or fermenting, (both processes are perfectly fine), the simplest version is, for my mind, best – Just brine your veggie mix for a day or two, until you reach the degrees of zip and bite that you like, and that’s it. You’ll find recipes that call for the mix to be stored in brine, oil, vinegar, and a simple vinaigrette – My money is in the latter option – that will provide a nice stable medium, and a great taste as well.

There are typically mild and spicy (AKA Hot) versions, and extensive regional variety, like the Chicago style that includes sport peppers and an accompanying degree of heat. Down south, the version that goes with a muffuletta sandwich is mild and heavier on the olives. Those are great, and worth your time to build, but really, look upon giardiniera as a launching pad for creativity – You really can’t go wrong if it’s made with stuff you love – For instance, I didn’t have celery when I made up the relish version, but I did have fresh celeriac root, and it turned out to be a wonderful substitution.

You can use any oil and vinegar you like for the base vinaigrette. Seasoning can be as easy as good salt, olive oil, and vinegar. When you feel like adding additional spices, be conservative in both number and ratio – The rule of three is a good thing here.

Unless you process your giardiniera in a hot water bath, keep in mind that this is basically a fridge pickle. If made carefully, and packed into sterilized glass jars, it will last a month or two refrigerated. Just keep in mind that they’re not shelf stable unless you go through the canning process. Accordingly, what we offer below are small batches that will make a couple of quart jars of finished product. There are cooked and fermented versions out there, and we’ll leave those for you to explore.

Giardiniera Relish

A quart of fresh Giardiniera will last a couple months in your fridge
A quart of fresh Giardiniera will last a couple months in your fridge

For the base mix

1 Green Bell Pepper
1 Red Pepper
1 small Sweet Onion
2-4 Jalapeño Chiles
1 medium Carrot
1 Stalk Celery
1/2 Cup Cauliflower florets
1/4 Cup Pickling Salt

For the final mix

1 Cup White Vinegar
1 Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
6-8 large Green Olives
1 Clove Garlic
1/2 teaspoon Chile Flake
1/2 teaspoon Lemon Thyme
1/4 teaspoon ground Black Pepper

Rinse all produce thoroughly.

Stem, seed, and devein the peppers and chiles, (leave the veins in the jalapeños if you want more heat).

Cut all veggies for the base mix into a uniform fine dice, about 1/4″ pieces. It’s not important to be exact, just get everything about the same size and you’ll be fine.

Transfer the mix to a glass or stainless steel mixing bowl. Cover the mix with fresh, cold water with an inch or so to spare.

Add the pickling salt and mix with a slotted spoon until the salt is thoroughly dissolved.

Cover with a tight fitting lid and refrigerate for 24 hours.

After 24 hours, take a spoon of the mix out, gently rinse it under cold water for a minute or so.

Test the degree of pickle and softness of the veggies. If you like what you’ve got, move on – If not, give it another day.
When you’re ready to prep the final mix –

Remove the base mix from the fridge and transfer to a single mesh strainer. Run cold water over and through the mix, using your hand to make sure that the salt solution is rinsed off.

fine dice the olives, peel, trim and mince the garlic.

Add all ingredients to a glass or stainless mixing bowl and stir with a slotted spoon to thoroughly incorporate.

Sanitize two quart mason jars either by boiling the jars, rings, and lids for 3-5 minutes in clean, fresh water, or running them through a cycle in your dishwasher.

Transfer the mix to the jars, and seal. Refrigerate for two days prior to use.

Giardiniera, bite size
Giardiniera, bite size

For the bite sized version, cut everything into roughly 1″ pieces, )or larger, depending on jar size and predilection), and process as per above. A bay leaf or two is a nice addition.

Classic Three Bean Salad

It’s the morning of Memorial Day, (Or any other summer holiday/weekend/event). You’ve just hung up the phone, agreeing to attend a dinner, and you asked what you can bring – ‘A salad,’ says your host, and there you are…

While potato, macaroni, or green might beckon, why not opt for a light but hearty Three Bean Salad instead? Where this veteran of many a picnic fares from is unclear. It’s been a staple since the 19th century in this country, and is certainly far older in others. When living in Texas, I heard multiple claims to Mexico as the origin point, but I’ve yet to find anything concrete to confirm that. Regardless, it’s delicious, super easy and fast to build, tastes like a million bucks when set beside typical summer fare, and best of all, it’ll be even better the next day. Here’s our swing at the classic.

UrbanMonique Three Bean Salad
1 15/16 Ounce can cut Green Beans
1 15/16 Ounce can cut Yellow Wax Beans
1 15/16 Ounce can Red Kidney Beans
1/2 Green Bell Pepper
1 small Purple Onion
1/2 Cup Raw Cider Vinegar
1/3 Cup Avocado Oil
1 Tablespoon Agave Nectar
1/4 fresh Lemon
1 teaspoon Celery Salt
1 teaspoon ground Grains of Paradise
Pinch of rubbed Sage
Pinch of granulated Garlic

In a single mesh roughly rinse all the beans, then transfer to a large non-reactive mixing bowl.

Rinse, core, seed pepper and onion. Chop both, and add 1/2 Cup of pepper and 1 Cup of onion to the beans.

In a small mixing bowl, whisk together oil, vinegar, celery salt, grains of paradise, garlic, sage, and juice of the quarter lemon.

Pour dressing over veggies and toss to incorporate thoroughly.

Refrigerate in an airtight container for at least 4 hours and up to overnight.

Classic Three Bean Salad
Classic Three Bean Salad

Serve cold.

Roasted Kale & Sofrito Relish

I heard a quip on NPR the other day to the effect that their listeners were fueled heavily by the ubiquitous ‘Super Food’, kale. When even McDonalds sports a kale salad offering, things are certainly reaching a saturation point, (granted, that salad sports more calories, fat, and sodium than a double Big Mac, so maybe the health benefits aren’t as evident there). They will be, however, with our wonderful kale and Sofrito relish.

That said, kale does indeed stack up pretty mightily in the Good For You scale. Kale is nutrient dense, sporting copious quantities of vitamins K, A, C, B1, B2, B3, and B6, as well as trace minerals like manganese, copper, calcium, potassium, magnesium, iron, and phosphorus. All of that at roughly 30 calories per cup, sporting 6 grams of carbs, (2 of which are fiber), and 3 grams of protein. What little fat kale contains is largely alpha linolenic acid, AKA Omega-3.
Kale, Brassica Oleracea, stems from the Cabbage family, and is cousin to other great veggies like broccoli, cauliflower, collard greens and Brussels sprouts. All those nutrients and that family tree point to the telltale metallic, slightly funky odor this wonderful stuff exudes.

Kale Varieties

There’s a myriad of variants, with a range of colors and leaf shapes from flat to quite curly. It’s pretty, frankly, and gets darn near as much attention for an ornamental plant as it does for human fodder. We’re going to offer a nice option for adding this stuff to your diet, and maybe even getting folks who think they don’t like kale to try it. The depth and breadth of favors here belay the simplicity of the dish.

Kale Varieties

Here’s our take on a roasted kale and sofrito blend. It makes a great side, or a topping for shredded pork, beef, or chicken, or can even be used as a sandwich stuffing. As a bonus, you’ve got a great classic sofrito recipe; this root of many a Spanish, Portuguese, South American, and Caribbean dishes is a star all by itself, and the recipe below will make more than enough to spare.

Classic Sofrito

For the Sofrito, (makes about a cup)
1 medium Tomato
1 medium sweet Onion
2-3 small sweet Peppers, (the miniatures are best)
1-2 Jalapeño Chiles
3 cloves Garlic
1/4 Cup Cilantro
Avocado Oil, (EVOO is fine too)

Stem, seed, and fine dice the onion, tomato, peppers and chiles.
Rough chop the cilantro.
Peel garlic, mince, then add a good pinch of salt and mash with the side of a chef’s knife.
In a heavy sauté pan over medium heat, add 2 tablespoons of avocado oil and allow to heat through.
Add the onion, chiles, and peppers and sauté until soft and the onions are translucent, about 5 minutes.
Add the garlic and sauté until the raw garlic smell has dissipated, about 1 minute.
Add the tomato, stir to incorporate.
Cover the pan with a tight fitting lid and allow the blend to cook until the free moisture has evaporated, about 3 to 5 minutes.
Remove from heat, transfer to a bowl, and stir the cilantro in well.
Allow to cool.
Sofrito will keep for a couple of days, refrigerated in an airtight container.
For the Roasted Kale
4 Cups Kale, chopped.
2 Tablespoons Avocado Oil, (again EVOO is fine)
Sea Salt
Fresh ground Pepper

Preheat oven to 350° F.
Rinse, trim ends and big stem pieces from the kale, then rough chop.
In a mixing bowl, combine kale with oil, a pinch of salt and a few twists of pepper; make sure the kale is nice and evenly coated with oil.
Mix well by hand, then spread evenly onto a baking sheet.
Slide the baking sheet into a middle rack in preheated oven.
Bake for about 10 to 12 minutes until kale is beginning to crisp.
Remove from oven and low to cool, tossing once or twice with a couple of forks.

Kale - Sofrito Relish

Combine the roasted kale with 1/2 cup sofrito and toss gently to incorporate.
You can add a bit more or less as you prefer.
Can be served hot, or chilled, as you prefer.

Basque Piperade

Basque Piperade, or more properly, Piperrada, is an absolutely fabulous tomato-pepper sauce from the Basque country; the name derives from the Basque word for pepper. As with so many signature dishes, everyone has a recipe and they’re all different. In broadest terms, piperrada contains green and or red, yellow, and orange sweet peppers, tomatoes, and onion. Like that, it may be served as a side dish like a salsa or a base for stews, more like the basque version of mire poix. With the addition of a protein, (Eggs, ham or sausage), it becomes a hearty main course. The generally agreed point is that any version should be powered by red Espelette peppers, Piment d’Espelette in the French, and Ezpeletako biperra in the Basque.

Pimente d'Espelette

That legendary chile comes from its namesake town and a few surrounding communes in the Pyrenees. For about 12 years now, they’ve had AOC status, meaning that just like Champagne and Dijon mustard, they gotta be grown there to be called the real deal Espelette. Introduced into France by explorers hundreds of years ago, they’ve become a veritable cornerstone of Basque cuisine, and a key ingredient in piperade. An pepper festival is held annually in October, with colorful ristras of drying chiles be decking the towns. Espelettes score around a 4,000 on the Scoville scale, making them about like a Jalapeño in heat output.

Fresh and dried Espelettes are available online, but caveat emptor, there are also a lot of fakes. I get mine ground from World Spice; they’re genuine AOC chiles and the quality is consistently high, https://www.worldspice.com/spices/piment-despelette. Be prepared if you decide to dive in; an ounce will set you back about twelve bucks. That said, if you want to make the authentic dish, you need the real chile; they have a fruity, earthy heat that reflects their terroir; like legendary grapes, that certain je ne sais quoi comes from nowhere else. Here’s my version.

Piperade

5-7 fresh, ripe Tomatoes

1 large Sweet Onion, chopped

1 Green Bell Pepper, seeded and chopped

5-6 small, sweet Yellow and Orange Peppers, seeded and chopped

1-2 Hatch Chiles, (Hot or Mild as you prefer)seeded and finely chopped

2-3 cloves Garlic, crushed and finely chopped

1 teaspoon ground Piment d’Espelette

1/2 teaspoon local Honey

1/2 teaspoon Sal de Mer

1/4 teaspoon ground Pepper Blend

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Sauté the onion, peppers, garlic, salt, paprika, black pepper, and sugar, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes, until the vegetables are cooked through.

Add the tomatoes to the cooked vegetables and simmer the mixture, uncovered, for 15 minutes, until most of the liquid has evaporated and the sauce has thickened.

Transfer to a glass or stainless container and allow to cool thoroughly before serving.

Will last for a good week refrigerated in any air tight container.

Vas-y!

 

 

Super Bowl Chicken

 

Here in the great northwest, our beloved Seahawks are, miracle of miracles, poised to play their third Super Bowl and first back-to-back appearance therein. I was born and raised in New England, so I'm kinda tied to both contestants. That said, I find Tom Brady insufferable and Belichick a troll, so…

 

GO!

SEA!

HAWKS!

 

If you've not settled on your fare for Da Big Game, consider this: If a nicely grilled chicken is a thing of beauty, then a brined, butterflied bird wins every pageant. Chicken on the grill is hugely popular for good reason, but it’s also a common victim of overcooking, which results in a stringy, dried out final product. A brined, whole chicken stays plump and juicy, even on outdoor cookers.

The process can easily be done between morning coffee and kick off. Here's how.

Purchase a local, whole, free range chicken; fresh and local beats frozen every time. Read this piece through, check your spice cabinet, and head to the seasoning section of your market for anything you don't have, including pickling or canning salt. This non-iodized version has a very fine grain and dissolves readily, even in cold water. Add to your list a local Pilsner, Chardonnay, or a sparkling cider as an accompaniment. Grab some hearts of romaine, some Champagne vinegar, a few lemons, some sharp Asiago cheese, some butter, fresh sourdough, and a head of garlic as well.

 

Start your brine with a gallon of fresh, cold water under 40° F.

Weigh and then stir in 10 ounces of salt; stir to thoroughly dissolve. Toss in,

Juice and zest from 1 small lemon

1 Tablespoon whole Pepper corns

1 teaspoon Sage

1 teaspoon Savory

3 Bay Leaves

 

Pull all the guts out of your chicken, then set the bird in a bowl large enough to handle it and enough brine to cover completely. Weight the bird with a plate to keep it submerged. Brine the bird in the fridge, (or outside if it's cold enough), for 2-3 hours.

Pull the chicken out and discards the brine.

Let the bird rest uncovered in the fridge for 1 hour. Prepare this citrus powered wet rub while your chicken is resting, so the flavors have time to marry.

 

1 Tablespoon black Pepper

1 teaspoon Smoked Sweet Paprika

1/2 teaspoon granulated Garlic

1/2 teaspoon granulated Onion

1 Tablespoon extra virgin Olive Oil

Juice and zest of 1 small Lemon

Juice and zest of 1 small Lime

 

Making a chicken relatively flat is easy as all get out, and if, like Monica, (Sorry, Babe), you have a love-hate relationship with sharp knives, it’s a perfect process for you. A pair of decent kitchen shears is all you need, and here's how you do it.

 

flip your bird over so it’s breast side down.

Take your shears and line them up just to the right or left of the spine, and cut a straight line all the way through from one end to the other. Repeat on the other side of the spine.

That’s all the cutting you’ve got to do. Grab the spine and pull it free of the bird.

Now, turn the bird Breast side up, arrange it evenly, then give it a firm squish with your palms, as if you're giving it CPR. With a firm push or two, you’ll end up with a beautifully butterflied bird, ready to rub and cook. Tuck the wings in against the body, so they'll cook evenly.

Apply the rub liberally and allow it to rest for 15 minutes.

 

Preheat your grill.

 

While that's working, cut your romaine hearts in half, shave a generous pile of Asiago, quarter your lemons, and prepare this simple vinaigrette.

1/3 Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil

2 Tablespoons Champagne Vinegar

Juice and zest of 1 small lemon

Pinch of Sage, rubbed fine

Pinch of Sea Salt

A few twists of fresh ground black Pepper

Combine all ingredients and whisk briskly. Allow the dressing to sit so the flavors can marry while you cook.

 

Cut slices of sourdough roughly 1/2″ thick, then cut those into cubes. Mince a couple cloves of garlic. Melt 4 ounces of butter in a sauté pan over medium heat. Toss in the cubed sourdough and sauté until they start to brown. Add the garlic and continue to sauté until croutons are golden brown, taking care not to burn the garlic. Remove croutons to a clean paper towel and set aside.

 

Start the bird breast side down and grill for 15 minutes. This allows some of the fat to render and the skin to crisp up nicely. Using tongs, carefully flip the whole thing once, and grill for about 20 minutes more.

Check the internal temperature with a quick read thermometer, looking for 155° F.

Remove the bird from the fire and allow a 10 minute rest. The bird will continue to cook during the rest, ending up with an internal temp right around 165° F.

 

Lightly brush each half romaine heart with Olive oil, then squeeze a lemon quarter or two over them as well. Lightly season with sea salt and fresh ground pepper.

Set hearts sliced side down on a moderately hot grill and tend carefully for 1 minute. Flip and grill for another minute. You're not looking to cook the lettuce so much as you're adding a bit of grilled flavor and smoke, heating the oil and citrus somewhat while keeping the insides relatively cool.

Remove hearts from grill and arrange on a platter. Drizzle with the vinaigrette, and toss on some Asiago shavings. Arrange remaining lemon halves around hearts.

 

Portion chicken into breasts, wings, drums, and backs and serve with the salad, croutons and the beverage of your choice.

 

GO HAWKS!