Green Plum Cooking School – Sat., April 10th
You might have heard me chant this mantra before: What Grows Together, Goes Together. Another of my mantras (this one from my old Boulevard Bistrot days) is Diversity is the Mother of Invention. I’m not sure that either statement could hit home with my class any more than it did on this Saturday.
I am sure you are familiar with the classic Middle Eastern tabouli salad made with bulgur and lots of parsley, mint, tomato, lemon juice and olive oil. Well, instead of doing that I am using what I have — which is red quinoa and beets. Quinoa is a super food: it has all eight essential amino acids, which makes it a complete protein. Pretty cool for a grass! Everyone thinks quinoa is a grain (because it eats like one) but it’s really a relative of beets, spinach, Swiss chard, and lamb’s quarters. But you can cook and use it just like a grain; we cook it for about 15 minutes, just like pasta. You have to rinse or soak it prior to cooking because it is coated with something called Saponin. Saponin has a purpose in nature — its bitterness repels insects and birds to protect the grass while it is growing. While Lisa is telling us all about quinoa, I am wondering what purpose my bitterness serves.
While the quinoa is boiling, I work on the beets (these have already been boiled for about 45 minutes to 1 hour). You know beets are ready when the skins come off easily as you rub it with your fingernail. I choose not to wear gloves to peel the beets to make a statement. Many of my customers have what I call family of origin beet trauma. Someone at some time made you eat a beet, probably a canned one at that, and you just didn’t, and still don’t, like them. In fact, you hate them! You think they taste dirty. And you certainly don’t want to get dirty (or pink as it is with me) from working with beets. But, if you do like them, typically you ask me to prep them for you anyway.
My red hands prompt me to do a horrible impersonation of my Vietnamese manicurist trying to convince me to “go get color for your nail.” I have to tell her every time to only “buff nail” because I am a chef. However, my toenails are a different story. I usually let Lili pick out my color. The last time, she chose black. It actually looked pretty good. But this time, I was by myself, so I chose a particular shade of red (the kind that rhymes with the word looker) and when she saw it, she said, “Oh Mommy, it’s a great color…just not on you!” How does she know what she knows?
On to the red tabouli. Stacey Roussel from All We Need Farm has gifted me with some red clover and some wonderful baby cilantro. I am going to put the red clover into the tabouli…well, because it’s red. Before I do, I realize I should probably taste it, since I’ve never actually eaten red clover. So I do. And I chew and chew (it’s very chewy) and nothing is coming to me. So, I ask Lisa to taste it. She describes its flavor as freshly mown grass. I love that smell, but I’m eating it and it’s starting to look and feel and taste like cud. I offer to spit it out so Andrea can photograph it. She declines. I put it in between my cheek and gum. Stacey did say it was edible, but she also said it makes a great tea. Now I feel like I have a tea bag in my mouth. Someone quips, “Yeah, well, isn’t Stacey the one whose baby chicks accidentally died?” Ouch. I think we’ll be OK.
To finish the tabouli, I heat our sweet soy mixture with the beets and some blossom butter. For my 4th Grade class (that I teach every month through Recipe for Success), we make a Quinoa Vegetable Salad that has five vegetables, all different colors, and at least one onion. This tabouli recipe is the kind of recipe you make with whatever vegetables you find at the local market — you go to the market, buy what you like or what inspires you and then retrofit it to this recipe.
We talk about umami, the fifth flavor (the other four: salty, sweet, bitter, sour). Umami (also called savoriness) is what gives food its depth and breadth, like how aged meats and cheeses, soy sauce, balsamic, confits, mushrooms and tomatoes taste; it is a deeply satisfying flavor. In the end, that’s the healthiest thing of all — to be satisfied.
Some people ask me about Top Chef Masters. The Top Chef Masters watch party is coming up and I tell them I’m going to wear my “Emotional Corn” t-shirt – since I bring the emotional corn on the show — but no one seems to get it, so I explain: “Emotional Corn” is a play on emotional porn, which is what television talk shows (like Oprah) and now most news format shows (like the Today show) and also “reality” TV shows are peddling. There has to be a story and, just like any good story, there has to be some drama, some intrigue, someone has to be mean, someone has to cry and someone is going to win. I tell them that the long hours of filming and the interviews under hot lights and the stress of cooking was like the movie, “The Hurt Locker.” If you haven’t seen it, the moral of the story is don’t feel! Well, sorry, I feel everything.
I feel the relationships in local food, especially. Every week at your local market, there are food stories being told, waiting for you to join the cast of characters. In the end, if we grow together, we might just go together…
NOTE: The recipes used in my Green Plum Cooking School classes can be found in my online cookbook, “Eat Where Your Food Lives,” available for purchase at http://www.ChefMonicaPope.com)