Lions and Tigers and Horses and Flowers Oh My!

2008.Sep.29 Monday · 0 comments

in Casa SaltShaker, Food & Recipes

 In his hearth and home, in his palace, upon his soft and comfortable bed, day and night, the flower-girls scatter flower petals; but without the Lord’s Name, the body is miserable. Horses, elephants, lances, marching bands, armies, standard bearers, royal attendants and ostentatious displays – without the Lord of the Universe, these undertakings are all useless.”

– Atharva Veda

Buenos Aires – Okay, admittedly one of my more oddball themes, barely edging into the category of a theme at all. You remember that French Republican Calendar? Used by the French government for a whole twelve years in the late 1700s and early 1800s… each day dedicated to a fruit, flower, animal, foodstuff…? It seemed the appropriate place to turn when no other themes grabbed me for this last weekend – between the two days, “horses” and “impatiens”. Oh my indeed…

Oyster beignets with date chutney

You might not see them at a cocktail party today, but going back a few years, there were two regularly served hors d’oeuvres at many such a do – devils on horseback and angels on horseback – basically, smoked bacon wrapped oysters and smoked bacon wrapped dates – all broiled up and sitting on a toothpick ready to eat. It wasn’t a far leap from there to come up with the idea of oyster and smoked salmon beignets with date chutney. Really, it didn’t take that much leaping at all. A freshly shucked oyster, wrapped in a strip of smoked salmon, dusted with flour and then dipped in a batter of 1 cup flour, 1 egg, 2 teaspoons salt, 1 teaspoon nutmeg, and enough milk to make a pancake batter consistency (for me, a little less than a cup, but it will depend on the flour you use). Then, into a deep skillet with about an inch of hot oil, fried on both sides until golden brown, drained, and kept hot in the oven until I had enough ready for everyone. The chutney, a mix of chopped dates, oranges (peel and pulp, no seeds) in roughly equal quantity, some raisins, brown sugar, vinegar and a splash of water, all cooked down until it was… chutney-like. These may not be servable as an hors d’oeuvre, but darn they’re good!

Horse gram? Soup

Okay, fudging a bit on the whole play on words thing – horse gram is a sort of bean or lentil that isn’t used much outside of Indian cooking. I doubt that the real thing is available here. I went with the closest thing I could find, which were those little white beans with the black dot… cowpeas I think we called them when I was growing up. Here they call them porotos tapes, which is more or less an insult, tape being more or less the equivalent of a “f*ing dirt poor Indian”. Interestingly, Henry tells me that in Perú they call them porotos castillos, or “castle beans”, which clearly reflects a different social perspective. I sauteed chopped onions, a couple of hot chilies, and mustard seed in a little oil until lightly browned, then added the beans (soaked overnight and then drained), and I used the whey from making the ricotta below, but water or stock would be fine, plus a little additional water to fill the pot. Brought to a simmer and cooked until the beans were done. Meanwhile I made a paste (in the blender) of onion, garlic, ginger, coriander and cumin seed with just enough water to make the paste. I semi-pureed the soup with the hand blender and added the paste to it, just cooking it for about 15 minutes longer to incorporate the flavors. Salt to taste and served with a drizzle of mustard-turmeric oil for color.

Mackerel stuffed rocoto peppers

I needed to get in at least one play on words in Spanish, and luckily, it turned out to be one that works in both Spanish and English. Horse mackerel, normally in Spanish called jurel or surel, is here also called caballa, looking like the feminine of horse, or caballo. It was more or less out of the blue that I thought of stuffing rocoto peppers with some sort of mackerel mixture (cooked and flaked mackerel, rice, onion, tomato, green olives, hard boiled eggs, flavored with vinegar, sugar, salt, hot yellow pepper puree, cumin, salt and pepper). The peppers need to be seeded and de-veined and then blanched 2-3 times to soften them and temper the heat a little – a few of them were still a bit hot for some of the guests, but most ate them with gusto, as did we.

Horseradish crusted Grouper with Anchovy Mustard Polenta

I’d been thinking along the lines of fish already, so kept going – grouper fillets crusted with horseradish (3 parts breadcrumbs, 1 part freshly grated horseradish, some dried basil, salt, pepper, and enough butter to make a crumbly paste), baked in the oven, and placed atop polenta flavored with sauteed shallots, mashed anchovies, a little dijon mustard, and finished with cream. The presentation needs work, but the flavor combination was great.

Carob Orange Blossom Cheesecake

We had to get to the impatiens at some point – while the flowers are edible, they don’t really have any flavor to speak of, and they’re just coming into bloom, so not even all that interesting for some sort of presentation. I decided to just go with the flower idea, and made fresh ricotta cheesecake flavored with carob powder, orange juice, and orange blossom water. Not the finest cheesecake I’ve made, but quite good.


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