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10 Ways Tuesday: Okra

Yotam Ottolenghi's recipe for Okra with Tomato, Lemon and Cilantro (c)2012 LaDomestique.com

I’ve got creative recipes for cooking with okra:

1.  Roasted Okra Mezze with Tomatoes, Bell Peppers, Olives, and Preserved Lemons

Mezze is to Middle Eastern cuisine what tapas is to Spanish cuisine- sexy little plates of appetizers with bold flavors to stimulate the appetite. In Plenty, Yotam Ottolenghi shares a recipe for Okra with Tomato, Lemon and Cilantro that’s not just good – it’s entertaining good, it’s give me more good, it’s I love okra good. For the recipe, he stews onions, bell peppers, red chile, tomatoes, and cilantro with coriander seeds and sweet paprika. While the vegetables simmer away on the stove, whole okra pods are tossed with olive oil and salt, then roasted in the oven for a few minutes until tender. To serve, stir the okra into the stewed vegetables, along with black olives, preserved lemons, and mint. I served the dish as a mezze with flatbread, but Yotam suggests it would be fantastic atop steamed bulgur wheat or couscous. This recipe is guaranteed to change your mind about okra.

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Ingredient of the Week: Okra

Okra (c)2012 LaDomestique.com

“What kind of peppers are these?” the cashier at the grocery store asked me. “Those aren’t peppers, they’re okra,” I replied. I couldn’t fault her. Growing up in the south, fried okra was a big part of my diet, but I had never actually seen the whole pod, naked, without a crisp coating of cornmeal or cloaked in stewed tomatoes. It wasn’t until I left home and began buying my own groceries at farmer’s markets that I saw the fresh pods, shaped like a “lady’s fingers” (as they’re called in India), covered in a fine fuzz and colored green or purple. Okra is such a staple in southern cooking that it’s hard for me to fathom how you feel about it, though I’m willing to bet you either love it, hate it, or have no idea what it is.

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s sentiment, “Vegetables are never rightfully hated, merely misunderstood.” especially rings true for okra. It’s human nature to fear things we don’t understand, such as okra, which doesn’t look like any other vegetable, nor does the flesh cook like any other vegetable. Okra is not easy to love; it requires thoughtful preparation and responds well only to very specific cooking techniques. Learning to love okra is no more difficult than eggplant, beets, or kale; it’s a matter of focusing on the vegetable’s positive attributes rather than trying to make it behave like something it’s not. Okra will never be easygoing like a tomato, or refreshing as a cucumber. To really get to know okra is to discover a taste reminiscent of asparagus, with a delightful texture that is both crunchy and juicy at the same time.

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Cook in the Moment: Tomato Salad with Grilled Corn, Shrimp, and Chili-Lime Vinaigrette

Tomato Salad with Grilled Corn, Shrimp, and Chili-Lime Vinaigrette (c)2012 LaDomestique.com

In Boulder, Colorado, the farmer’s market is at its peak for summer. I can’t believe my eyes – such a variety of produce! Our short growing season means it takes us awhile to catch up with the bounty everyone else is enjoying across the country. Up until August it’s all kale and swiss chard, salad greens and beets. For the few weeks in August when I can find every kind of chili pepper imaginable, beans (green, yellow, and purple!), tomatoes, corn, peaches, plums, okra, carrots, apples, and melons, I think, “This must be what it’s like to live in California.” Seeing all the colors, shapes, and textures is a major boost to my mood and I greedily fill my basket. At home, the challenge is to carefully store everything in the fridge and make plans for enjoying the glut before it starts to deteriorate. Salads are easy and satisfying, cherished during these last days of summer. Like Cinderella, I know the clock is ticking and soon the party will be over.

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10 Ways Tuesday: Sweet Corn

Elote Asado (c)2012 LaDomestique.com

I’ve got creative recipes for cooking with sweet corn during summer:

1.  Elote Asado

I just discovered Elote Asado this summer, and I’m completely obsessed with it. This traditional Mexican street food is simply grilled corn on the cob slathered in thick cream, coated in grated cheese, and sprinkled with ground red chile pepper. Rick Bayless includes the recipe for Elote Asado in his book, Authentic Mexican (a must for your cookbook collection). Many versions of this technique can be found across the web, but I’ve found my favorite method is to buy the freshest corn I can get my hands on at the local farmer’s market, remove the husk, brush the ears with olive oil and toss them on a grill for about 12 minutes, turning occasionally, until it’s nicely caramelized. Brush the corn with mayonnaise, roll in grated parmesan, then sprinkle with a mixture of smoked Spanish paprika and cayenne (I like it spicy). The combination of sweet corn, tangy mayo, salty cheese and spicy chile is just fantastic.

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Ingredient of the Week: Sweet Corn

Peaches and Cream Sweet Corn from Munson's Farm in Boulder (c)2012 LaDomestique

If you’ve been watching the news you may think there will be no sweet corn harvest this year due to extreme heat and drought across the “corn belt” of the United States. When I turn off the tv and head to the Boulder Farmer’s Market, I find Munson’s farm stand overflowing with large, vibrantly green ears of fresh peaches and cream corn. I asked one of the farm stand workers how their season is going, and he said it’s going to be a bountiful harvest. Though our dry summer in Colorado has been marked by fires and drought, Munson farm reports their access to irrigation water and the warm weather ensured a “long fruitiful season.” This makes me wonder, are big agriculture is feeling the devastation of parched crops more than the smaller operations selling at farmer’s markets? Corn prices at the farmer’s market in Boulder are unchanged from last year, and the corn is just as gorgeous as ever. So this week at la Domestique, we celebrate sweet corn as ingredient of the week.

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Cook in the Moment: Watermelon Granita with Mint and Lime

Watermelon Granita with Mint and Lime (c)2012 LaDomestique.com

Recently, I took on a project for a client needing recipes and photography centered around the Cajun cuisine of Louisiana. Today, I live in Colorado, but I was born and raised in Arkansas, and made many trips through New Orleans en route to our family beach vacations on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico. As a child, I was spellbound by New Orleans. Growing up in the bible belt, I found the culture of New Orleans so different from my own. I sometimes felt like the black sheep of my family, with a tendency to be moody and rebellious. Sarcastic humor was (and still is) my favorite coping mechanism. I appreciated the way New Orleanians embraced both the light and the dark sides of life with their jazz funerals, magical thinking, and revelrous parades. Though they would probably be described as “characters,” I loved Louisiana because the people seemed so real – honest, straightforward, and true to themselves. Years have gone by since my childhood visits to New Orleans, and we’ve both been through a lot. While the city recovered from Hurricane Katrina, I recovered from leukemia. I like to think the ability to laugh when things couldn’t get any worse is what got each of us through.

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10 Ways Tuesday: Watermelon

Watermelon and Tomato Salad with Red Onion, Basil and Manchego (c)2012 LaDomestique.com

I’ve got creative recipes for cooking with watermelon during summer:

1.  Watermelon and Tomato Salad

Watermelon and tomato make for a shockingly good combination. Tomatoes have a meaty acidity that balances sweet and crisp slices of watermelon. I like to cut the watermelon into tomato-like shapes and toss it with yellow cherry tomatoes, red onions, and basil. Plenty of red wine vinegar, olive oil, sea salt, and freshly ground black pepper balance the sweet and fruity flavors. Instead of the traditional feta, I switch it up with shavings of semi-soft, nutty sheep’s milk cheese- like Manchego.

2.  Pickled Watermelon and Watermelon Rind

David Chang is an advocate for pickling. In the Momofuku cookbook, he writes, Pickling is practical and doesn’t need to be complicated…Pickling can be as easy as making a brine, pouring it over chopped vegetables packed into a container, and waiting the right amount of time to eat them.” Chang includes recipes for both pickled watermelon rind and a quick pickle for the pink watermelon flesh. The pickles can be served on a pickle plate with other pickled veg or incorporated into a meal. At Momofuku, watermelon pickles are served with noodle bowls and braised meat, or in a frisée salad with bacon and a poached egg.

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Ingredient of the Week: Watermelon

Watermelon (c)2012 LaDomestique.com

I grew up in the soupy heat of southern summers, and though each year takes me farther away from my childhood in Arkansas, biting into a slice of ice-cold, crisp and sweet watermelon brings me right back home. Watermelon is a simple, cheerful fruit, a symbol of the height of summer. A large oblong watermelon, with striped green rind and shockingly pink flesh, is reason enough to gather with friends in an effort to cool down on a breezeless summer day. It’s the simplest, most universal kind of entertaining. All you really need is a knife to divvy up the fruit and you can feed a crowd of hot, thirsty people. Watermelons come in a variety of sizes and shapes, from mini-round varieties weighing less than 5 pounds to huge oblong specimens up to 35 pounds. The rind is either solid green or striped light and dark green, with a flesh that ranges from hot pink to red, orange, or yellow. Seedless watermelons actually do have a few seeds, which tend to be softer, smaller, and edible. This week at la Domestique, you’ll find inspiration for cooking with all parts of the watermelon, from the flesh to the rind and even the seeds.

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Gone on a Holiday

Jess (c)2012 LaDomestique.com

Photo above taken by James Anderson

We’re taking a week off here at la Domestique to go on a holiday, kind of like the French do during the month of August. The husband and I are off to Seattle. If you have any recommendations for restaurants or fun things to do, please do share in the comments section. Follow la Domestique on Facebook, twitter, and instagram for a peek at what we’re up to on the road. We’ll be back next Monday, August 13, with a new ingredient of the week.

Thanks for reading la Domestique, and ciao for now!

Cook in the Moment: Gravlax

Gravlax with Rye Bread and Mustard-Dill Sauce (c)2012 LaDomestique.com

Remember when I said I was having a Nordic moment in the kitchen, back in the beginning of June? Well, I guess that moment has turned into a full on obsession that led me to making my own gravlax. In case you missed it, check out my step-by-step gravlax tutorial on Food52. Gravlax is a Scandinavian technique for preserving raw salmon with salt, sugar, and other ingredients for flavor. In its simplest form, the cure is salt, sugar, and dill, but you can get creative with spices like juniper, fennel seeds, and caraway seeds, or layer on grated beets for their earthy flavor and magenta color. A few drops of Aquavit or other clear spirit (gin, schnapps) infuses the salmon with a clean, spiced flavor.

There’s no better time to make gravlax at home than summer, since wild Alaskan salmon is in season from May to September. I used two wild Sockeye fillets because it was within my budget (King was out of my price range), and I like the leaner, clean-tasting flesh with its intense red color. After the pin bones are removed from the flesh and the cure is sprinkled over, the salmon goes in the fridge for a couple of days to do it’s thing (cure). Another great part of making gravlax in the heat of summer is you get to stay cool- no oven, no stove, no grill, no heat!

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About Jess

Jess O'Toole is La Domestique

Hi, I’m Jess, aka La Domestique. No matter how busy or cooking-challenged you are I can help you live the good life and enjoy fresh, healthy meals at home every day. Find out more

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