Saturday, June 30, 2012

Be Glad You Aren't in Phoenix!

At 6:25 am this morning, it was 91F in Phoenix, Arizona! (That's 33C for my non-US friends.) Don't you feel cooler already? 

Several weeks ago Grandma received an Advance Reader Copy of Michael Natkin's Herbivoracious: A Flavor Revolution with 150 Vibrant and Original Vegetarian Recipes.  Most of the time Grandma doesn't mind Advance Reader Copies of books, but as Grandma pointed out in her review, cookbooks are a different story.

There are so many things to consider when evaluating a cookbook other than the content of the recipes, things like the size of the book, the paper, the indexing system, the pictures - and none of those are included in an ARC, which is usually printed on newsprint and features "000" where a page number should be in statements like "see recipe page XXX.  When Grandma said as much in her review Michael was kind enough to send her the real thing.

Herbivoracious: A Flavor Revolution with 150 Vibrant and Original Vegetarian Recipes arrived a week ago and it is marvelous.  Grandma is cooking her way through a few recipes and will be updating her review soon, but meanwhile thought to give you all a sneak peek at the goodies!

Herbivoracious is downright lovely!  Michael does his own food photography and has included a picture for nearly every recipe.   The book is a nice size for reading, isn't too heavy to hold and is beautifully laid out for actually cooking from.  The ingredients are given in bold, making it much less likely to omit one. If Grandma has one complaint about the look and usefulness of the book, it is that the page numbers are in very small, fine yellow print (sideways down the margin!) and almost impossible to read.

While Grandma certainly isn't a vegetarian, she knows people who are and also knows that many vegetarian dishes can work perfectly well as part of a non-vegetarian meal.  Often, in fact, vegetarians make much more imaginative use of vegetables, their main event, than do omnivores, to whom vegetables are often little more than the garnish on the plate.   Michael's recipes show numerous Mexican and Asian influences, cuisines that Grandma adores, so Grandma found much to love, made a special trip to the grocery store for the required produce and has been rattling a few pots and pans.

Green Mango Salad

"Green Mango Salad" particularly caught Grandma's eye.  If you've never tried mango, you should.  Mango has the texture of a peach but an aroma that is strongly reminiscent of rosemary or pine trees.  It makes great desserts, but is also used in various savory dishes.  Green mangoes are mangoes that just aren't quite ripe yet, the state you usually find them in the grocery store.  Mangoes are seasonal and tropical.  Here in Vermont we seem to have a couple of "seasons" a year when mangoes are plentiful and low in price.  You may also see champagne mangoes, which are about half the size of the mangoes that you commonly see and almost an apricot yellow.

Mangoes are high in fiber, low in fat (only 1 gram in an average mango), have lots of Vitamins A & C, and are a good source of potassium.  Even better, an entire average mango has only about 110 calories!

Cutting a mango is much easier than you think.  This video illustrates the way that you'll need to cut the mango for Michael's  Green Mango Salad:

Rather than slice the "cheeks" into 3 pieces, you'll want to cut them in thin strips as the recipe indicates.  Some people peel the mango before they cut it.  Grandma finds that this turns cutting the mango into  a slippery, tricky operation. She peels the mango after it is off the seed.

Green Mango Salad

4 tablespoons palm sugar* or 2 tablespoons granulated sugar and 2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil*
2 underripe mangoes, peeled and cut into 2 x 1/4 x 1/4" batons
half a small red onion, cut into very thin rings and soaked briefly in cold water
1 small green chile*,stemmed, seeded and thinly sliced (optional)
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
1 handful fresh cilantro or mint leaves or a mixture, chopped

1.  If using palm sugar, crush it first in a mortar and pestle.  (It may help to microwave it a bit or moisten it first.)  Combine the sugar, lime juice, ginger, salt and sesame in a small container with a lid.  Shake well to dissolve the sugar.  Taste and adjust the balance of flavors.  The dressing should be fairly sweet.

2.  Just before serving combine the dressing with the mango, red onion, green chile and most of the sesame seeds and herbs.  Toss well to coat with dressing.

3.  Garnish with the remaining sesame seeds & herbs.

* Palm sugar can be found at most Indian and Asian groceries.  Nice if you have it but it is not necessary to this dish.  Toasted Sesame Oil can be found in the Asian section of your local grocery store, usually near the soy sauce.  Thai bird (very hot!), Jalapeño and Serrano chiles would all be appropriate here.

Grandma cut the recipe in half, since she was feeding only one.  She used 1 tablespoon granulated sugar, 1 tablespoon brown sugar, 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger, 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, 1/2 tablespoon toasted sesame oil, 1 mango, 1/4 of a small red onion, 1/2  of a Jalapeño chile, 1/2 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds and about 2 tablespoons of chopped fresh cilantro.

Grandma had leftovers, so the following day she added some sliced English cucumber, cut in quarters and seeded, and a bit of chopped red pepper.  Yummy.

Grandma $0.02 - this recipe tastes wonderful, even the second day.  It does not need refrigeration and can be made at the very last minute, so consider taking the mangoes and the dressing along on your next picnic.

There is almost always more than one way to do something and many recipes require cubed mango rather than sticks of mango.  Here's the easy way:


Grandma did have one problem with one of Michael's recipes, specifically the recipe for Navajo Fry Bread that he uses for his Navajo Tacos. As some of you know, Grandma lived on the reservation for several years.  She's eaten Navajo Tacos at every restaurant, village market and roadside stand in the 185,000 square miles that make up the reservation and been shown how to make tortillas and frybread by a number of women, both young and old.   While Michael's toppings for the Navajo Tacos are fine - Grandma had something very similar in a burrito more than once - there is no milk in frybread!  (Much of the reservation has no electricity, so no way to store milk.)  Grandma promised Michael an authentic recipe for Navajo Frybread, so here it is!

Authentic Navajo Tacos

Frybread is most commonly seen as Navajo Tacos, though one very old restaurant serves a version of club sandwiches in split frybread and frybread sprinkled with cinnamon sugar or confectioner's sugar makes a frequent appearance at community festivals.  And by the way, the dough for Frybread is identical to the dough for flour tortillas!

Navajo Frybread

3 cups flour (the Bluebird brand is most common on the Navajo Reservation but almost impossible to get if you live outside of the Arizona/Colorado/Utah area)
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons baking powder
3 tablespoons lard or shortening (optional for frybread)
1 cup hot but not boiling water

Put the flour, salt and baking powder in a medium-sized bowl and stir to mix, then rub in the lard or shortening if you are using it.  (Lard is more authentic.)  Use a fork to stir in the water, then turn out onto a board and knead about 4-5 minutes until you have a smooth, soft dough.  Place the bowl over the dough and allow it to rest for 20 minutes.  Meanwhile, line a pan with about 2-inch sides (a 9 x 13 works) with paper towels.

Frybread dough after kneading

Divide the dough into 6-8 portions and roll out to about 1/4 inch thick for frybread or 1/8 inch thick (or even thinner) for tortillas.

Dough ready to be fried off in Grandma's very small kitchen!

Heat about 1 inch of lard (authentic) or oil in a heavy skillet to about 375 and fry each circle of dough until golden on both sides, turning halfway through.  Remove the frybread from the oil and place standing on edge in the pan that you previously lined with paper towels to drain.  (If you try to drain the frybread flat you will have puddles of oil and the dough will become soggy.)

In the hot oil . . . 

Navajo Tacos

Grandma's happy son-in-law.  He ate two!
The Watermelon Margarita Popsicles made a wonderful dessert.

For each person cover a warm frybread with chili or slightly soupy pinto beans.  Top with grated cheese (orange cheddar is typical), chopped tomato, diced onion, diced avocado tossed with a little lemon or lime juice, and shredded lettuce.  Finely diced jalapeno can be added for those who like things a bit on the spicier side, but better vendors will serve an entire raw jalapeno to be eaten like an apple.

Homemade Flour Tortillas

You have never had a flour tortilla until you have a homemade one!  Anything you can buy in the supermarket pales by comparison.  One of the fun, foodie things to do on the Navajo Reservation is to go to the weekly market day held in each of the little towns and villages.  There will always be numerous food vendors cooking up their specialties over a wood fire - mutton wrapped in tortillas, buffalo burgers, all kinds of burritos.  One vendor Grandma knew made her tortillas almost as big as a wagon wheel, entirely by hand!

Make the dough for Navajo Frybread exactly as described above, including the lard or shortening.  Portion out the dough and then roll each piece into a circle.  Tortillas typically served with a meal are usually rolled to about 6-8 inch squares.  If you intend your tortillas to be used for burritos, roll them as thinly as you can.   There are a couple of ways to cook them:

If you happen to have a charcoal grill or wood fire handy, place the ready-to-be-cooked tortilla directly on the grate for about 20-30 seconds per side.  The tortilla will puff and you'll have little char spots.  They are supposed to be there.

Otherwise heat up a large griddle or cast iron skillet and cook the tortillas on the surface of the hot pan.  Do not add oil!  You may need to cook them a little bit longer.

Next Up:  Dry Fried Green Beans and Tofu from Herbivoracious: A Flavor Revolution with 150 Vibrant and Original Vegetarian Recipes and a special tip from Michael for working with tofu!

Stay cool!

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