Archive | July, 2011

Heirloom Tomatoes Get a Kick from Curry

25 Jul

A few weeks ago, heirloom tomatoes appeared in our Friday “Farm Fresh to You” veggie box. Usually this would be a happy surprise but given that it was the middle of June and I had yet to see tomatoes make an appearance at the farmer’s market, I was a bit suspicious.  While I love tomatoes, out-of-season tomatoes join peas and zucchini at the top of my produce sh**t list.  Yes, I realize that peas are beloved the world over and zucchini, according to many, many restaurants is beloved by every vegetarian ever to turn their nose up at a steak, but they both make me extremely unhappy. This is also the case with out-of-season tomatoes. Their mealy texture and bland flavor have ruined many a salad and bruschetta.  The tomatoes in question, red-orange with stripes, appeared fat and juicy and when I cut into them, they didn’t appear as if a vampire had sucked the red life out of them.  After some consideration, I decided that while I wasn’t ready to spring for some fancy mozzarella and do my first caprese salad of the season, I would give them a shot in a fresh tomato soup. And just in case the flavor was lacking, I’d be ready with some spice to save the day.

I have to give it to the farm–the tomatoes were good. And they played quite nicely in the pot with some ginger, chilies, curry powder and red lentils.  The result was a fast, easy, healthy and yummy dinner–probably one of my favorite things I’ve made this summer.


Curried Heirloom Tomato Soup

8 medium tomatoes, preferably heirloom (mine were red, orangey, stripey ones), peeled and chopped, juices reserved
1 large sweet onion (or yellow or white), chopped
1 large (2″ x 2″) piece fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
1 Thai chili, seeds removed and finely chopped
Few cloves garlic, minced
Small handful cilantro stems, minced
1 c red lentils
4 c light veggie broth or water
1 tbsp curry powder
1 tbsp canola oil
1 heaping tsp mustard seeds
1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds
Pinch asafetida (optional)
Fresh cilantro, minced

1) In a food processor, blitz onion, ginger, garlic, chili and cilantro stems until minced, almost a paste.

2) Heat 1 tbsp canola oil over med high and add onion mixture, cooking about 10 minutes.

3) Add tomatoes with their juices and lentils, stir to coat with the onion mixture and cook one minute.

4) Add broth and curry powder, bring to boil.

5) After the soup comes to boil, turn down to simmer and cook, partly covered, for about 20 minutes or until lentils are soft.

6) Make the spice oil: heat 1 tbsp canola oil in skillet. When hot, add mustard seeds, fenugreek and asafetida and heat until mustard seeds begin to pop, taking care not to burn the spices. Add to soup and take off the heat.

7) Garnish each bowl with minced cilantro and serve.

p.s. I didn’t have any yogurt, but that could make a nice garnish as well.


Corn Salad a la Rue Chifflet

10 Jul

Fourteen years ago, I spent my junior year abroad at the Universite de Franche Comte, in Besancon, France. While my year in Besancon lacked the wonder of my post-freshman year summer in Paris–where every turn around a corner produced another postcard moment of some monument or some cafe scene that I’d ogled in history books and travel magazines–it gave me a glimpse into everyday life in France. That was the year that I fell in love with the idea of visiting a city, any city, and just wandering, taking the time to get to know its random neighborhoods and absorb its vibe.  Travel can be shallow, ticking off famous sites on the checklist and at the end, winding up with a bunch of photos of old buildings, churches and columns that you can no longer identify (Europe has  A LOT of Roman ruins). Immersion means that you may return home wishing you’d had the time to visit X, Y, Z but that you also come back with memories that focus more on the essence of a place than of its transportation system.

One way my friends and immersed ourselves in the local life was by hosting dinners. When we weren’t terrorizing the poor neighbors with our loud parties, we would explore the local markets–the green grocer downstairs, the boulangerie next door, the corner market with its ample supply of affordable and drinkable Cotes du Rhone–and then cram into my tiny kitchen and create a delicious mess.

Between classes or on days following dinner parties or parties of the sort that terrorized the aforementioned neighbors, cooking was the last thing on my mind. I just wanted something quick, cheap, easy and healthy. Usually, that involved some combination of corn, mustard, tuna and chickpeas. Besancon is about 45 minutes from Dijon, home of the famous mustard. Our grocery store featured a giant wall of mustard and I quickly fell in love with it, the stronger, the better. For some reason–perhaps a French thing or perhaps a broke college student thing–I also ate a lot of canned corn.  Corn, mixed with mustard and some red wine vinegar, became a go-to lunch. Sometimes tuna joined the party and if I was getting fancy, some onion and tomato would go in as well.

This week, we got three fat ears of corn in our CSA (community supported agriculture) box. That, combined with the presence of a shiny new jar of strong French Dijon in my refrigerator led to a strong craving for my corn and mustard concoction from my days on Rue Chifflet. Here’s my interpretation, classed up a bit for an adult audience:

Corn Salad a La Rue Chifflet (influenced by Oakland)


1 1/2 tbsp Dijon mustard
3 tbsp red wine vinegar
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 small bunch chives, minced
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Note: I realize this is a lot more acid than oil. I prefer it that way as I like strong flavors but you could decrease the mustard, vinegar and/or lemon or increase the olive oil if you prefer a milder dressing.


3 big ears corn, boiled 5 min, kernels removed
1/3 c Vidalia or red onion, blanched a couple of minutes if you want to take the bite out, and diced
9 oz cherry, grape or strawberry tomatoes, halved if cherry or grape, quartered if strawberry
1 can tuna packed in olive oil (I recommend you spring for a good quality tuna if possible)
1 ball fresh mozzarella, diced
1 handful fresh basil, cut in ribbons

To serve:

4- 5 c baby argula, dressed with a little olive oil, salt and pepper
1) Mix the dressing ingredients in a large bowl, starting with the acidic ingredients (mustard, vinegar, lemon) and seasonings, then adding the chives, and finally drizzling in the olive oil.

2) Prepare the salad ingredients and toss all but the basil with the dressing. Refrigerate for an hour, if time allows, to let the flavors blend. If you don’t have time, it will still be good eaten straight away.

3) About 15 minutes before serving, add the basil. If you add it too early, the basil will wilt.

4) To serve, toss the arugula with a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper. Mound the arugula on a plate and top with the tuna and corn salad.

This is  great with some crusty bread–baguette or otherwise–and a glass of white wine.