Chef Monica Pope writes about eating & cooking where your food lives

“Sour, sweet, bitter, pungent, all must be tasted…” (Chinese Proverb) July 26, 2010

Bitter Melons...I can handle bitter.

Green Plum Cooking School – Saturday, June 26th, 2010

As I walked outside this morning to see what the growers had brought to the market today, The Secret Garden had an unusual but beautiful item:  bitter melon. I’ve never cooked bitter melon before but I want to use it for today’s class, so I get a quick schooling from the Leungs.  Apparently, the white melons are less bitter than the green ones.  I turn to Lisa and wisecrack, “I’m pretty bitter….”

We also get some amaranth — the leaves, not the seeds — and some pretty leaf spinach that is lighter in color than the spinach we are used to seeing.  Also, amongst the bounty of the day, a woman attending the class, named Carolyn, gifts me some beautiful eggplant, peppers and tomatoes from her garden.

What a gift! Thank you, Carolyn.

My plan was to make a cherry tomato dressing.  Now that I have eggplant, I am going to pan-fry breaded eggplant and top it with the tomato dressing.  Today, I have some young assistants helping me with the tomato prep.  At some point, Carolyn (who is sitting in the front row), asks if I ever need unskilled labor to help out.  I think about this for a second and respond, “That’s all I’ve got!,” and look over at my sous-chef/volunteers who are proceeding to smash the cherry tomatoes rather than cut them in sixths or eights as I had instructed.  The boys were having fun, though, so I changed the title to Crushed Cherry Tomato Dressing.  There’s always a bright side, right?



Simple As Socca… July 21, 2010

Socca - Chickpea "Crepe"

Green Plum Cooking School – Saturday, June 12th, 2010

Socca recipe, by Jackie Burdisso

125 g chickpea flour (grams, really, I can barely do American math; it’s 4.5oz)

1 ¼ cups water

3 tbls olive oil

salt & pepper

pinch of French attitude

I’ve dragged Jackie Burdisso upstairs to guest chef today’s class (Jackie is the owner of Maison Burdisso, home of the best Parisian macarons ever – available here at the Midtown Farmers Market).

A few months ago, I demonstrated our chickpea fries with red curry-sambal-ketchup.  During that class, Jackie came upstairs and we had this impromptu discussion about panisse.  Jackie described how to make it – you pour chickpea batter into a special saucer, let it firm up, and then turn it out; you then bread it with flour and fry it in olive oil.  That was interesting and all, but not what I was after.  What I wanted her to tell us about was something called socca — a flat, crispy chickpea cake, almost like a crepe or thin flatbread.  I asked Jackie what it’s served with and she repeated (more than once), just salt and pepper, and sometimes a little olive oil.  I pressed her and she finally said, “Rosé wine”….ah, that’s what I was looking for!

It all seemed so simple.  But I definitely wanted Jackie’s French expertise to help us through.  We are pouring a Texas Rosé today.  It would have been a good thing if my assistants had counted the glasses before pouring the wine.  Jackie abstains, which is one more reason I believe she isn’t really French.  We joke that her name and her family’s gravestones are all in Italian or in Italy and that she isn’t really French. While I am bitching about not getting a glass of wine, my daughter Lili shows up to tell the audience that I am allergic to Tequila, which never fails to get a laugh.  In actuality, if I drink Tequila, it is as if someone goes into my body’s breaker box and starts switching all the breakers off; I feel fine, but I can’t stand up.  The crowd is roaring.  It really isn’t that funny.  Jackie shares that she allergic to rosé, which I think is bullshit.

I think the socca might be too simple (and I’m not sure Jackie can carry an entire class on her own), so I am making something, too.  I have cranberry beans and amaranth from our new grower, The Secret Garden.  Apparently, it really is a secret garden because there is no way to get there but to follow someone.  It is 17 acres and the Leung family farms it by hand.  Amaranth is a weed, seed, leaf and plant with many varieties.  It is high in protein and grows in tropical and subtropical regions, ours being one.

Cranberry Beans with Amaranth




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