Condiments

Nasturtium "Capers"

In the Bay Area, and many other parts of the country, the nasturtium plant is ubiquitous. It grows quickly and easily in our climate, and produces beautiful flowers for much of the year. It also happens that every part of the plant is edible. 

The flowers and leaves can be eaten raw (they have a nice peppery taste that goes will in salads), and they can also be stir-fried. For this recipe, however, I used the seed pods. Like the rest of the plant, they have a strong peppery taste, and when pickled, are pretty similar to capers. If you have a nasturtium plant growing on your property, you'll be able to make a pretty much unlimited supply of these things. They're great in salads, on sandwiches, or as a late addition to sauces that need a little extra bite. You can also eat them by themselves.

You want to pick the seed pods when they're still green and fresh. When they dry out, they become hard, bitter, and inedible. Generally, you want the ones that look like this:

If they've lost their green color, they're too old, and will taste awful. 

Anyway, on to actually making them.

Nasturtium Capers

  • 1 cup freshly-picked nasturtium seeds
  • 1 cup white wine vinegar
  • 1 large pinch dried thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 4-6 peppercorns
  • 1 cup boiling hot water
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon salt

Rinse and drain the nasturtium seeds to remove any dirt or bugs that might be clinging to them. Pour the seeds into a 1-pint jar, and cover them with a mixture of 1 cup boiling water, and 1 1/2 tablespoons salt. 

Let them cure in the saltwater, covered and at room temperature, for 3 days.

After 3 days, drain and rinse the seed pods again, discarding the saltwater, and wash the jar. Return the seeds to the jar.

Bring the vinegar, sugar, thyme, pepper, and bay leaf to a boil in a small saucepan. Pour the hot mixture over the nasturtium seeds. Cover the jar, and allow it to come down to room temperature. Refrigerate the capers for 3 days before using. Refrigerated, they'll keep for several months.

Summer Peach and Cherry Chipotle Salsa

Peach and cherry Chipotle Salsa ingredients

While the rest of America is sweating and basking in the summertime sun, San Francisco is covered in a constant, depressing layer of fog.  The mornings are drizzly and windy, and if you're lucky the sun will peek its head out from behind the clouds for 5 minutes and tease you while you're slaving away in your cubicle, and then disappears just as quickly as it came.  San Francisco at this time of year is basically the antithesis of everything Summer should be.  

On days when I'm missing the sunshine I turn to warm weather inspired dishes to whisk me away to a sandy beach where even the word fog is non-existent.  This summertime salsa is made with the juiciest farm stand peaches and cherries you can find, spiced up with a kick of smoky chipotle peppers, and then finishes with a hint of lime juice and cilantro to balance out the sweetness of the fruit.  And they say there ain't no cure for the summertime blues!

Peach and Cherry Chipotle Salsa

Summer Peach and Cherry Chipotle Salsa

Ingredients:

2 large peaches

1 1/4 cup diced cherries

1/2 cup minced red onion

1/4 cup minced cilantro

2 pinches salt

1 chipotle chile, very finely minced

juice of 1/2 a lime

makes approximately 1 1/2-2 cups of salsa

Dice up the peaches and cherries into similar bite-sized pieces and put into a medium sized mixing bowl.  Mince the red onion, cilantro, and chipotle chile and then incorporate into the fruit mixture.  Season with 2 pinches of salt and the juice of half a lime.  Stir everything to combine.  Serve with your favorite tortilla chips and an ice cold beer.

Homemade Butter

John here.

I'm going to come right out and say it: you never, ever need to make your own butter. This is the 21st century, after all. The butter you buy from the store is perfectly good for any purpose. Really, making homemade butter is unnecessary to the point of absurdity.

But, homemade butter tastes better, and is just really satisfying to make. Also, it's pretty easy.

Butter

Ingredients

  • 2 cups heavy cream (Pasteurized or raw. Not "ultra-pasteurized.")
  • Salt

Equipment

  • 1 jar, with a secure, watertight lid. The jar should be several times larger than the total volume of cream that you're using.

The cream should be pasteurized or raw. Realistically, you're probably only going to be able to find pasteurized. This will work fine. What will not work, however, is "ultra-pasteurized" cream. Look at the container, and ensure that it is pasteurized, not ultra-pasteurized.

Pour the cream into the jar, and close the lid. Let it sit out, at room temperature, for about 8 hours, or overnight. This allows it to become slightly sour, which is important for the flavor of the butter. If it's very warm in your house (say, above 80 degrees), you should leave the cream out for less time, maybe 5 hours. It might take a few attempts before you figure out how long the cream needs to be left out to get the flavor you like. If the butter tastes flat and bland, it wasn't left out long enough. If it tastes cheesy, you left it out too long (unless you like cheesy butter). 

This should give you an idea of how big the jar needs to be, in relation to the amount of cream you're using.

When you're ready to make the butter, make sure the lid is tightly secured. Begin shaking the jar vigorously. You want to use a very large jar, because the process goes much faster when the cream has plenty of room to slosh around.

This can get tiring, and takes some time. It helps a lot if you have a friend who can take over for a few minutes, while you take a break. When the cream turns to whipped cream, it moves around the jar much less easily, and this is the most tiring part. 

But if you keep at it, the finished butter will very suddenly separate, and you'll have butter sitting in a thin, white liquid (buttermilk). 

The buttermilk is extremely perishable, however, so you need to remove any pockets of it that might be trapped in the butter. Pour off the buttermilk into another container. Save it for another use (buttermilk biscuits, waffles, etc.), or discard it.

Pour some ice cold water into the jar, and pour it out. Repeat until the water runs clear.

Place the butter in a large bowl, in some very cold water, so it doesn't melt. Gently knead it for a few minutes. This squeezes out the remaining buttermilk. You may have to change the water, if it becomes cloudy.

Take the butter out of the water, and gently knead about a teaspoon of salt into it. This isn't just for flavor. Homemade butter should have some salt in it, as a preservative. Place the butter in an airtight container, and refrigerate.

I wouldn't waste homemade butter by cooking with it. It's best spread onto toast, on waffles or pancakes, or melted onto potatoes. Basically, use it as a condiment, not an ingredient, if you want to get the most out of it.

Za'atar

John here. Looking at some of the recipes that I've got in the pipleine, it seems that quite a few of them call for ingredients which themselves call for some preparation. I figure I should get the ones I use most often right away, before I actually post recipes that use them.

I've always loved the flavors of Middle Eastern food, but for years, it was mostly a mystery - something to be ordered in a restaurant, and enjoyed without spending much time thinking about what goes into it. And for anyone other than an obnoxious, authenticity-fetishizing...ugh...foodie (God, even I hate that word. I'm calling a moratorium on its use.), that's probably perfectly fine. 

But if you're like me, I'm sorry. But, more to the point, you also probably aren't satisfied simply thinking to yourself "that was good." You want to figure out what's in it, recreate it, and, eventually, imporove upon it. Looking up recipes for various Middle Eastern dishes, I came across one ingredient more than almost any other: sumac

This spice comes from the dried and ground fruits of a small tree in the genus Rhus. It has a beautiful reddish-purple color. Its flavor is very bright and tangy, a lot like lemon. It's also salty, and has a deep, savory, almost meat-like aftertaste. It has plenty of uses by itself, but it's also the primary ingredient in a blend called Za'atar.

Za'atar is a blend consisting primarily of sumac and sesame seeds, as well as various herbs. It has a wide range of uses in Middle Eastern food. it can be used as a dry rub for meat, or it can be added to almost any soup or sauce. It's also very good mixed with olive oil, and used as a dip for bread.

Zaatar Spices

Clockwise from top: oregano, thyme, and marjoram, toasted sesame seeds, sumac, salt

Za'atar

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup sumac
  • 4 tablespoons dried thyme
  • 4 tablespoons dried oregano
  • 4 tablespoons dried marjoram
  • 2 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted
  • 2 teaspoons coarse salt

Heat a small skillet over medium-high heat. Add the sesame seeds, and heat until they take on a golden-brown color, and become more aromatic, stirring constantly. 2-4 minutes.

Remove the seeds to a small bowl and allow them to cool for a few minutes.

Place the seeds, and all the other ingredients, in a spice grinder or small food processor, and grind until the seeds are pulverized. You can also use a mortar and pestle.

Store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place, out of direct sunlight (In case you were considering using your jar of spice blend to decorate your windowsill? I don't know.)

Zaatar