Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Saag paneer enchiladas

saag paneer enchiladas

When I first moved to New York City and discovered that the Tex-Mex was seriously lacking in this town, I embraced Indian food. Now, if you’re not familiar with Indian cuisine that may seem bizarre. But Indian cuisine is rich with ingredients familiar to Texans, such as cumin, chiles and cilantro. And while Indian food doesn’t taste much like Mexican food, its base note flavors satisfied my needs.

I first fell in love with Indian food when I lived in Austin. On Sundays my friends and I would frequent an Indian buffet and load up on tandoori chicken, stewed vegetable dishes filled with okra, potatoes and cauliflower, puffy naan bread and my favorite Indian offering of all—saag paneer, a creamy spinach dish spiced with cumin, cinnamon and ginger, with cubes of paneer cheese dotted throughout.

This past weekend I was at the Southern Foodways Alliance’s (SFA) annual symposium held in Oxford, Mississippi. If you're not familiar with the SFA, it's mission is to document, study and celebrate the diverse food cultures of the changing American South. This year’s theme was the Global South and there were presentations on topics such as “Cajuns, Croats, Vietnamese: On Land and Sea in Biloxi,” “Havana to Alabama: Cuba through a Southern Lens" and “Houston: The South’s New Creole City.”

saag paneer

Robb Walsh delivered the Houston talk and he discussed how in Houston he sees a glorious evolution of Texan cuisine as new immigrants arrive and merge their native foods with what we already eat. So you’ll see, for instance, Lebanese-Mex fajitas, spicy beef wrapped in pitas or Armenian bean soups that taste like chili.

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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Buttermilk pie

buttermilk pie

“Two cups of sugar?” I said to myself as I read over my great-grandma Blanche’s recipe for buttermilk pie. That amount sounded outrageous! But when I mentioned this to a smart bunch of folks, they nodded their heads and said, “Ah, that must be a recipe for buttermilk pie.” And even though I was dubious, I decided to adhere to the wisdom of my elders and bake this sugar-loaded pie as apparently that is just how this pie is done.

Now, if you’re unfamiliar with this old Southern dessert you may be asking, “What is buttermilk pie?” Well, as the name implies, it’s a custard pie made with buttermilk. And while it may sound strange to the uninitiated, take note that Texans have long been resourceful with buttermilk, as for many years it was both inexpensive and widely available. But here’s where defining buttermilk pie becomes tricky, at least for me.

buttermilk pie

The interesting thing about my recipe is that Grandma Blanche titled it buttermilk chess pie, which begs the question: are chess pie and buttermilk pie the same thing? I used to think that they were not, as I have a chess pie recipe that does not include buttermilk. But perhaps it is simply a variation. I wish I had the answer to these questions, but I don’t. But as I wait patiently for one of you to shed light on this topic I will occupy myself by baking my great-grandma’s buttermilk pie.

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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Green chile hominy casserole with chorizo

green chile hominy casserole with chorizo

My grandma thinks I am incapable of making any recipe without chile peppers. And she finds this very amusing. Take our conversation about hominy casserole the other day. As she was telling me her recipe she paused and then said while laughing, “Say, I have an idea. Do you have any chile peppers? I bet that would make this recipe even better!”

Well, it’s no secret that I love chile peppers. So much that I’m pretty certain my grandma’s theory is true. But, hey, I’m a Texan, what can I say?

But back to this hominy casserole—when I was at my grandma’s house in July, she had provided me with a fat file of recipes she’s collected over the years. There were a bunch of gems and some strange ones as well. I will definitely be making her batch of apricot bread but Aunt Margaret’s meat concern casserole sort of gives me pause. No matter, I love recipes and made a ton of copies to bring back to New York. But I forgot to copy one I was very interested in cooking—grandma’s hominy casserole.

green chile hominy casserole

Hominy casserole, which at it’s most basic is simply a mixture of hominy with sour cream and cheddar cheese, is an old-fashioned Southern side dish you don’t see that often anymore. Grandma made hers often in the 50’s and 60’s as it was both hearty and a great portable dish to bring to potlucks. But when I asked her why she stopped making it she admitted that she’s not the biggest fan in the world of hominy.

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Thursday, October 07, 2010

Pickled green tomatoes

pickled green tomatoes

There was a day back in June when I was driving my mom’s car around the Brazos Valley. I didn’t have a destination, I was simply enjoying the quiet country roads, a big blue sky and those Texan clouds that look like fluffy dollops of whipped cream. It was a pleasure.

Back when I lived in Texas, driving wasn’t as fun, it was simply a means to an end. But since I don’t drive in New York City and probably get behind the wheel only four or five times a year, it’s become a peaceful pastime. And so whenever I’m home, I drive as much as I can.

That day I probably put over 200 miles on my mom’s car. But wear and tear on her car aside, I found those miles well spent. See, when you don’t really have much of a destination, driving can be soothing and meditative. And as I motored along, I thought a lot about Texan cuisine.

green tomatoes

“How would you define Texan food, exactly?” people will ask me. And I’ll reply that it’s Tex-Mex, barbecue, chili without beans and a plate of chicken-fried steak smothered in cream gravy. But it’s also gas-station beef jerky; a pot of freshly picked black-eyed peas; a kielbasa sausage smothered in sauerkraut; a bowl of carne guisada served with flour tortillas; A Viet-Cajun crawfish boil; and a corny dog eaten at the State Fair. I could continue, but I reckon my point is that the rich diversity of cultures that inhabit our state makes for a most unique regional cuisine.

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