Friday, July 18, 2014

Spicy zucchini pickles


Texans love pickles. For instance, it’s the rare gathering in Texas that doesn’t have a pickle plate on display. This platter of tangy vegetables and fruits is not only a satisfying way to get the party started, but also an excellent way to share the bounty of what you’ve put up in the past year.

Though it’s not just on social occasions that Texans enjoy pickles. Nope, Texans eat pickles all the time, as a pickle’s tangy, crisp nature is the perfect foil for many Texan dishes, anything from smoked brisket to chili con queso. Matter of fact, The First Texas Cook Book, which was published in 1887, has two whole chapters devoted to the subject.

While the season for eating pickles occurs year round, the best time to make them is in the summer, when your garden is overflowing with things that need to be eaten or preserved. Typically, when people think of pickles the first thing that comes to mind is a pickled cucumber, which is the most ubiquitous type of pickle. Of course, it has a reason for being so prominent in that a cucumber makes for a fine pickle with its tough skin and firm center. It absorbs the brine beautifully, managing to be crisp and juicy at the same time.

That said, one can pickle just about anything and if you’re like me, this time of year your refrigerator is overflowing with various jars stuffed with things that have been preserved in a brine—sometimes spicy, sometimes sour, and sometimes sweet. When it comes to pickling, I’m an equal-opportunity pickle maker.


If you’re a fan of cucumber pickles and you find yourself with an abundance of zucchini, allow me to present to you these spicy dill zucchini pickles, a fine way to use up some of the squash that is everywhere this time of year. You may be thinking that zucchini is too soft to pickle and I will admit that they are indeed not as firm as their cucumber counterparts. But don’t worry; zucchini pickles are still crunchy and refreshing with that familiar tangy bite.

Making pickles is not difficult. There are many ways to pickle, but for these zucchini pickles I opt for a quick and easy method. First, I put into my jars a mixture of dill, garlic, peppercorns, spices, and salt. Then I slice my zucchini and pack it into the jars. I boil some vinegar and water, pour it over the zucchini, put on the lid, and then place it in the refrigerator for a few hours.

Before you know it, you’ll have a jar or two of pickled zucchini that are fine enough for eating on their own but also add life to sandwiches, salads, hamburgers, hotdogs, or even tacos, if that’s your style. You can also toss the pickled zucchini with sour cream for a quick creamy side dish. And if you're feeling extra decadent, it would make for a fine basket of fried pickles, too.


If you’ve never had pickled zucchini, the concept may seem a little strange, I know. But once you take a cool, crisp bite and taste its sour, spicy flavor, I believe you’ll stick your fork in the jar and reach for more. After all, Texans love pickles.

Spicy dill zucchini pickles
1 pound zucchini
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 sprigs dill
4 tablespoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons black peppercorns
2 teaspoons mustard seeds
2 teaspoons crushed dried jalapeño or crushed red chile
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 cup water, plus more warm water as needed
1 1/2 cups white vinegar
2 sterilized quart-sized jars with lids and bands

Slice the zucchini into 1/4-inch round slices. Divide the garlic, dill, salt, peppercorns, mustard seeds, crushed jalapeño or red chile, and cumin seeds between the two jars. Pack the sliced zucchini into the jars.

In a medium saucepan, combine the water and vinegar and bring to a boil. Evenly pour the boiling liquid into each jar, filling any remaining space with warm water, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace. Put the lids on the jars and give them a good shake.

Place the jars in the refrigerator. The zucchini will be ready in 4 hours, though their flavor will only improve after a couple more days.

The zucchini will last refrigerated for 1 month.

Yield: 2 quarts

Notes: This recipe can be easily doubled, tripled, or cut in half. While I prefer round pickle slices, you could also cut the zucchini into spears, if you prefer.

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Thursday, July 10, 2014

Pinto bean and hominy salad

Since I don’t have a backyard in New York, I’ve always had to rely on the kindness of others when it comes to outdoor dining. Fortunately, however, I have friends with yards who enjoy inviting people to their homes for smoked briskets, sausage, and ribs. Since you can’t arrive empty handed I have long learned that a good side dish is always welcome, and this time of year I’m making them often.

While I do have my old favorites that are always appreciated, I’m always looking for new ones to keep things interesting for both my friends and me. While I have a lot of recipes to choose from, sometimes I’ll find myself throwing stuff together at the last minute, hoping that it works. But this is the beauty with salads—as long as the components complement each other, it’s hard to go wrong.

One dish I love is a Texan standard made with black-eyed peas, peppers, and tomatoes. It’s commonly known as Texas caviar, a name bestowed upon it by the late, great Dallas chef and cookbook author Helen Corbitt. Last summer, however, I saw a black-eyed pea salad made with hominy, an addition that isn’t usually found. Since you don’t often see hominy in a cold preparation, I was intrigued.

That said, I soon learned that this wasn’t a completely new thing as hominy salads have been on record since the 1800s. In old cookbooks you’ll see hominy salads made like a potato salad, where instead of said tubers you toss the hominy with the dressings, aromatics, peppers, and eggs. Cold hominy salads mixed with proteins such as boiled chicken or lobster were also popular back in the day, as well.

Hominy, which is corn that has been treated with the mineral lime until it blooms and puff, has a distinct toasted flavor. And as this treated corn is also the same used in making masa for corn tortillas, I find that hominy pairs especially well with beans, so adding it to a black-eyed pea salad made sense. Yet I have to admit that I prefer hominy with pinto beans, so when I set out to make a salad with hominy, that’s what I chose to use instead.

To make my pinto bean and hominy salad, I took a few cups of leftover pinto beans, drained them, and then tossed them with some hominy. (While you could make the hominy from scratch, I took the easy route and used canned.) I then threw in some red bell pepper, jalapeño, tomatoes, red onion, garlic, cilantro, and lots of lime juice. For a bit of depth, I also stirred in a few dashes of earthy cumin and smoked paprika. To finish, I garnished the salad with salty, tangy Cotija cheese, though crumbles of feta cheese would work just as well.

My instincts were correct and the salad was very satisfying. Though I’m not surprised as it’s hard to go wrong with creamy beans, chewy hominy, and crunchy vegetables all tossed with a bright and lively dressing.

While I had a hard time stopping myself from sneaking bites, I did manage to bring most of it to a gathering and everyone concurred—this pinto bean and hominy salad was a keeper. And when you make this (and I think you should), you’ll have a fresh side dish that will be the hit of your next barbecue. Matter of fact, if you love pinto beans, this pinto bean and hominy salad might just become the main event.

Pinto bean and hominy salad

4 cups cooked pinto beans, drained or 2 (15-ounce) cans pinto beans, drained
1 (15-ounce) can hominy, drained
1/2 red onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup grape tomatoes, quartered or 2 ripe plum tomatoes, seeded and diced
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
1 small red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and diced
1 jalapeño, stemmed, seeded, and diced
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
4 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 cup Cotija cheese, crumbled or 1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled

In a large bowl, add the pinto beans, hominy, red onion, garlic, tomatoes, cilantro, red bell pepper, and jalapeño. Toss until well combined.

Whisk together the lime juice, olive oil, cumin, and smoked paprika. Pour over the beans and stir until evenly distributed. Stir in the Cotija or feta cheese. Add salt to taste.

While you can serve it immediately, it tastes better if covered and chilled for at least an hour.

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

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Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Blueberry buttermilk pie ice cream

blueberry buttermilk pie ice cream

First, let me say that it’s not my usual style to eat a whole pint of ice cream in one sitting, let alone contemplate how long it would take to make another batch of this particular flavor so I could have more of it that same evening. Yet the other night I did just that with this refreshing new flavor I’d made—blueberry buttermilk pie ice cream.

Now, before I explain how I found myself on the couch scraping the edges of my container with my spoon in an attempt to get the every last bit of ice cream, let me say that this flavor was inspired by many things—namely pie and ice cream. Of course, with a name like blueberry buttermilk pie ice cream you’re probably nodding your head and saying, “Of course it was.” But here’s the thing—I set out to make a pie but ended up with ice cream. How often does that happen?

A few weeks ago, I spotted a recipe for blueberry buttermilk pie. Like all buttermilk pies, it was a custard-based dessert made with buttermilk, eggs, and sugar, but this one was dolled up for summer with a couple of handfuls of blueberries added to the mix. It sounded lovely. That said, this time of year when it’s sweltering outside, I prefer to eat cold things instead of hot. So instead of baking a pie, I wondered how the combination would taste if I turned it into ice cream instead.

It took a couple of experiments, but ultimately my hunch proved correct. Sweet and juicy blueberries, tangy buttermilk, and cinnamon-sugar flecked pieces of piecrust all frozen into a creamy cool treat make this a very satisfying summertime dessert. Not to mention, you don’t have to worry about having your oven on for hours. And when it’s this hot outside, that can be the very best thing.

Preparing the ice cream is a cinch. Yes, you’ll have your oven on for a few minutes to bake the piecrust and there is also some time spent over the stove making the base and the blueberry filling, but don’t worry, it’s not so bad. The worst part is waiting for the base to chill so you can finally churn it into ice cream. When experimenting with the recipe, I waffled between blending the berries into a puree or leaving some of them whole, and I highly recommend the latter, as the frozen berries pop with sweet, concentrated blueberry flavor. It’s very refreshing.

When I was a kid, one of the highlights of my family’s Fourth of July celebration was the anticipation of a big batch of freshly made homemade ice cream. Sure, we had half-gallons of Blue Bell in the freezer, but because it was a special day a special batch of ice cream was in order.

blueberry buttermilk pie ice cream

While I may be far from home, I’ve continued this tradition in New York. And yes, this blueberry buttermilk pie ice cream will be a welcome addition to my holiday table this year. That is, if I can keep myself from eating all of it first.

Blueberry buttermilk pie ice cream

For the buttermilk ice cream:
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
3/4 cup sugar
4 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the blueberries:
1 cup blueberries
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

For the pie crust pieces:
1/2 cup of flour
Pinch of kosher salt
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon whole milk
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

To make the custard base, in a pot cook the cream, buttermilk, and sugar on medium low heat until warm, about 3 minutes. Do not let it come to a boil.

While the base is heating, beat the egg yolks with the vanilla. Once the base is warmed, pour 1/4 cup of the base into the beaten eggs, stir until well combined, and then pour the egg mixture into the pot.

While stirring, continue to heat on low for 3 minutes or until the base gets slightly thick. Do not let it come to a boil. It’s ready when it coats the back of your spoon. Cool covered in the refrigerator from 4 hours.

While the custard is chilling, in a pot, stir together the blueberries, lemon juice, sugar, flour, and cinnamon. On low heat, while occasionally stirring, cook the berries until the sugar has melted, and the juices are running and beginning to thicken, about 5 minutes. As the berries are cooking, gently smash some of the berries with the back of the spoon though leave some of the berries intact. Remove from the heat and chill for 4 hours.

To make the piecrust, preheat the oven to 350°F. Mix together the flour, salt, oil, and milk until well combined. Let it rest for 10 minutes and then roll out on a parchment-paper lined sheet until flat; you don’t have to worry about it being perfectly round. Poke holes in it with a fork, sprinkle the top with sugar and cinnamon and bake for 20 minutes or until brown. Place in the refrigerator to cool for 4 hours.

After everything has chilled, prepare as per your ice-cream manufacturer’s instructions. When the ice cream is done, break the piecrust into small pieces and gently stir them into the ice cream until well distributed.

To make the blueberry swirl, layer 1/3 of the ice cream into an airtight 1-quart container and with a spoon evenly dollop 1/3 of the blueberry filling over the ice cream. Repeat the process until all of the ice cream and blueberry puree is in the container. Freeze covered for at least 2 hours before serving.

Yield: About a quart

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