Monday, April 19, 2010

T'zik and the Southside Crew

I got in touch with my roots* this week, that is to say I made contact with Southside CSA through a friend who lives in Brooklyn. For those unsure if I'm referring to the Child Support Agency or Christian Schools Australia, I must make it very clear that I am most certainly not.

A CSA is a Community Supported Agriculture, generally a small organisation that provides weekly fruit and vegetable boxes of seasonal, locally grown products. It is most commonly the case that the products are grown sustainably and bio-organically. CSAs emerged in the 60's as a response to concerns about food quality and urbanisation of agricultural land. Though they are keenly known for socially equitable structures and small scale approach to production, CSAs are even better known–by those who use their services–as producers of super high-quality foods. Of course, it makes sense that farmers who produce seasonally, then send the goods from the field to your door are going to have the best gear around, but how quickly we forget.

Something Southside seems to have a good harvest of is radishes, which got me thinking about a Yucatecan salad of sorts which may have the coolest name going, t'zik (ts-eek). It is, I suppose, most reminiscent of a Thai beef salad minus the fish sauce and palm sugar. The original is a jumble of venison, radish, lime juice and coriander, often given a nice habanero kick. Served with a side of good guacamole and some steaming tortillas, it's a lovely fresh and clean meal that speaks well for the climate in which a radish is produced. No deer meat to be found, I made this with a bit of poached beef and added few spring onions, as follows.

T'zik | makes 4 portions

250g (8 oz.) flank steak
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 teaspoon salt
water to cover

4 radish
3 lime
3 spring onion
a handful of coriander leaves
1 chile habanero, seeds removed
salt, to taste
16 tortillas (the little ones are best)
  1. Place the flank steak in a small saucepan with garlic and salt, cover with water then bring to the boil. Turn down a little, then simmer for about half an hour. Remove from the poaching liquid, let cool a little then shred by hand–you can chop it up, but it tends not to absorb the flavours from the salad quite as well.
  2. Slice the spring onions finely, pick the coriander from the stalks, and chop the habanero finely. Wash the radishes, slice into rounds and then julienne (or simply grate them, there is no significant difference), then mix the whole lot together with the lime juice and a good amount of salt.
  3. Let sit for half an hour for the flavours to permeate, then serve with the warmed tortillas and a side of guacamole.

So if you are lucky enough to be in firing range of Southside CSA think about signing up, or just check out their blog (they have a great and very informative FAQ section which will explain things much better than I can). They may still have a few packages left for the season. If you are interested in how CSAs work and want to find one near you check out one of these: US, Australia, UK, Canada. If you live outside of these countries, you will probably speak the language relevant to your own country better than I, and be able to find your own CSA. I hope I have not been too anglocentric.

*Those who know me, know my proud Southside roots. I claim no equivalence or semblance to a Brooklynite, only boast a youth that was nestled in the leafy southern suburbs of Australia's capital. Any resemblance to cities living or dead is purely coincidental.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Super Seed

This week, since I was thinking about pumpkin flowers, seeds and all things squashy, I had a play around and came up with this. It's a snack, if somewhat elaborate, and it was quite good. Crisp squash blossoms stuffed with braised pork, on whipped crème fraîche with pumpkin seed sauce.

The pork shoulder was marinated mainly in thyme, garlic and orange juice for 24 hours, slow-cooked for five, pulled apart then cooked down in its juices with confit onion, tomato, raisins and a little olive oil. Stuffed in to the flowers, battered and fried then served with the crème fraîche and the pepian sauce: an emulsion of toasted pumpkin seeds, olive oil and herbs and a few other things.

This lovely nutty, smooth and bright sauce has a balance of the sweet roasted garlic, slight piney notes from the pumpkin seeds and a clean lingering finish from the crème fraîche and olive oil. I would think it a most appropriate accompaniment to simple grilled chicken or even fish such as John Dory or Blue Marlin. The simple recipe is as follows.

Pumpkin Seed Sauce | Makes 300ml

1/2 cup hulled pumpkin seeds
1 clove of garlic, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon oregano
3 black peppercorns
150ml chicken stock
1/3 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
100ml crème fraîche (or light sour cream)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon of salt
  1. Dry roast the pumpkin seeds and garlic in a pan on a medium heat, stirring or tossing until the seeds are puffed up and lightly golden. Add the peppercorns and oregano and toast lightly for a minute until fragrant.
  2. Add the chicken stock and parsley and bring to the boil, making sure the parsley is well softened. Quickly move the pan's contents to a blender and puree for a few minutes until very fine. Pass through a fine sieve to remove any graininess (if your blender doesn't get it fine enough to pass through the mesh, you can add a little of the crème fraîche to loosen it up, then re-blend and try again).
  3. Place the mix into a large bowl, season, then whisk in the crème fraîche then the olive oil. Leave at room temperature to serve.

So, let's talk a little history of the little seed and it's fruit. Pumpkin, winter squash, or calabaza is one of the more under-sung ingredients native to Mexico. I guess it's not as glamorous as vanilla, as exciting as chili, as addictive as chocolate, or as employable as tomato. Yet this flowering gourd is one of the largest crops in the US (production in 2008 in the major pumpkin growing states was over 1.1 billion pounds–half a billion kilograms), and it has become a staple in the diets of cultures worldwide. Middle eastern, Indian, Italian and Thai culinary idioms all now boast traditional preparations of pumpkin, in fact, it's even big in Japan, as Tom Waits might say.

The genus Cucurbita covers a family which includes pumpkin, zucchini, cucumber, melons and inedible gourds which have historically been dried and used as storage receptacles (or musical instruments). In pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, even the edible pumpkin were used for their fibrous flesh, thin long strips were sun-dried and woven into mats. Centuries later, American colonists in the north scooped the seeds from large pumpkins, filled them with milk, spices and honey before roasting them on open coals. This bit of guerrilla cookery would eventually evolve, and become one of the–nowadays fairly established–colony's most loved and traditional desserts: the humble pumpkin pie.

The discarded seeds from the first pumpkin pie might well have been put to good use. One can only imagine that a fledgling colony would value highly this rich source of protein, manganese and magnesium. Pepitas are often regarded as one of the world's healthiest foods, a category which rarely crosses over into the world's tastiest, but here we have a clear exception. The nutty, clean and sweet notes of the seed are so versatile, working as either a leading flavour or as a base for brighter or more pungent ones.

My introduction to Pepita's variety of applications came whilst living in Guatemala in the form of Salsa Pepian, one of Karin's favourite recipes and one we will cover a little later in the blog. Another Mayan preparation of the seed constitutes Xikil Pak, a dip made from the paste of toasted pumpkin seeds, tomato, lime and habanero chili. It's pretty amazing. For the moment, try the above sauce, as prescribed. It sings of both Spring and Autumn so it's perfect for this time of year regardless your hemisphere.

This is the first of my own recipes that I've posted here at the blog, and it should be noted that this is not a traditional Mexican dish. It is submitted as an entry to Weekend Herb Blogging, an event that focuses weekly on a different herb, fruit, vegetable, grain, nut, seed, spice, flower or plant. Hosting this week is Prof. Kitty, who is cooking and playing tunes from her Cabinet. Sounds cool? It is. Click here to find out more.

If you'd like the recipe for the braised pork filling for the flowers, drop me a line at
travis AT delatierra DOT com DOT au

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Semana Santa

We laid pretty low in Oaxaca the last few weeks. Though we met some lovely people who came though our cooking school, we avoided the throngs of tourists that visit the city during the biggest holiday period of the year when over 10,000 people pass through the city.

Still, we couldn't keep away from it all. Karin wandered around town on Easter Saturday, awaiting the famous Procession of Silence. The ritual involves four young men adorned in hooded purple robes, carrying a Jesus that looks like he's having quite a bad day. Given Mexico's bent towards the surreal and dramatic, I was surprised to discover that this ritual is in fact from Spain, where it is still performed today in facsimile. Other imported traditions include self-flagellation and nail-less crucifixions, but are not practiced in Oaxaca so do not appear here (our purple friends will have to suffice).

Of course, the catholic scene here serves as narrator to the festivities, and all the biblical depictions from macabre to cute are represented somewhere. Enjoy Karin's beautiful photos of the festivities, and our hopes you all had a happy and safe Easter.