Garden Pesto + Job Hunting in Korea

To the minor detriment of finding time to write posts, I have been focusing on finding a teaching job in South Korea for the past few weeks. It’s been a little slow going because I’m being very picky and haven’t actually applied to many positions. Luckily, as ESL teaching positions are quite plentiful, I can afford to be somewhat picky, but a large portion of me just wants it over with. Job searching gives me ulcers. Gah.

 

 

Good things come in threes.
Good things come in threes.

Actually, this won’t be my first time out there. I will be returning to SoKo after a year away. I first left North America (as a dual citizen of the States and Canada, I claim North America as my home) in August 2008. My intention was to stay for a year, but it just ended up being too good an opportunity to leave then, so I stayed an extra 2 and a half years.

 

In that time, I made friends with people from all over the world, traveled to about 25 countries, paid off all of my school loans and ate a metric ton of kimchi. Maybe two. As a Seoulite, I always found plenty of things to do, see, eat and experience. Seoul, like any city, has its plusses and minuses.

#1 plus- the amount of people

#1 minus- the amount of people

I’ll let you ponder that.

 pesto makings 2

I look forward to experimenting with traditional Korean dishes (which is saying a lot- Korean food has such a wide array of strong flavours that experimentation could be extreme) as well as getting to know some more people in food circles upon my return to Seoul. I will keep you updated as things progress. Until then: Pesto!

 pesto bowl

This summer and fall, herbs were ridiculously plentiful in mum’s garden. It was difficult to find ways to use them all. We were stuck with excessive amounts of (among other things) basil, parsley, cilantro, arugula and yellow wood sorrel.

 

Oxalis stricta
Oxalis stricta

 

 

Yellow wood sorrel is a delightful, clover sized plant that happens to be extremely and surprisingly sour. It’s kind of like eating a flat, dry and green lemon. Well… kind of. It grows everywhere and chances are it is growing in a green space near you. You most likely think of it as a weed, but I can assure you of its usefulness. It is wonderful as an extra salad green, gorgeous as a garnish and a delightful addition to anything needing tang. The entire plant is edible (although the stems get harder later in the season) and loaded with Vitamin C. It has some medicinal properties and will help treat skin rashes, swelling and inflammation. It can also be used as an orange/yellow dye. Thanks yellow wood sorrel for being so fabulous and helping to flavour my pesto to perfection!

 pesto in jars

My recipe yielded a very large amount of pesto. Luckily, pesto freezes perfectly and months after making the stuff, I’ve still got containers full and it’s still gorgeous. It also makes wonderful gifts.

pesto makings

Garden Pesto

Ingredients

  • 10 cups basil, arugula, parsley, cilantro and yellow wood sorrel mixed
  • 3 ½ cups walnuts
  • 1 ½ cups grated parmesan cheese
  • 20 cloves of garlic
  • 1 ½ tbsp salt
  • 2 ¾ cups olive oil
  • water

or for those who lack freezer space

  • 2 cups basil, arugula, parsley, cilantro and yellow wood sorrel mixed
  • ½ cup walnuts
  • ¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 1/8 to ¼ tsp salt
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • water

Directions

Using a food processor, blend herbs, nuts, garlic, salt and olive oil in small batches. Add small amounts of water for extra blending lubrication. Blend until beautifully smooth with bits of green.

pesto spin

Once the ingredients have finished blending, mix the parmesan into the rest until well incorporated.

pesto bowl 2

Pesto can be frozen for many months and keeps well in the fridge.

garden pesto crackers 2

Variations

Omit parmesan for a vegan version and add a touch more salt. Or use a salty hard vegan cheese (any suggestions?).

Roast garlic if you’re garlic sensitive, although I would never recommend omitting garlic entirely.

Enjoy!

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Visualizing the Flavour Pairing of Cranberry Curry and Mint Cashew Butter

Firstly, here are a few photos of my hood: The Berkshires of New York. The colours at the moment are absolutely outrageous. My eyes are outraged by all this beauty.

Black and orangemisty treesorange treered leaf

Maybe it’s planetary or the fact that Halloween, hearty soups and pumpkin pie are imminent, but fall always gives me a feeling like something huge is happening in the world. It could be that nature’s insane peacock display of beauty is so overwhelming. Either way, I can practically taste the colours. I love the smell of cold that lingers on you after a crisp walk and the chill that draws us closer to others for warmth. What a super cool time of year. How lucky am I? So lucky.

cashew butter plate

Sometimes, to find inspiration when experimenting in the kitchen, I just set several different ingredients out on a table and see what feels right. Looking at the ingredients, I imagine their flavours and textures and see if they could be paired. On this particular occasion I chose cashews as my base.cashew butter2

cashew mintbutter

Cashews have impressed me so many times with their transformative flavour personalities. The vegan movement has spurred on some pretty ingenious ideas (as well as some truly awful ones) and cashews have been a champion in this process. Anyone who has had cream of broccoli soup with creamed cashews to replace dairy cream will know just how wonderful and surprising they can be. Not only did I not notice that it wasn’t dairy when I tried it, but I remarked on how complex and nuanced the soup was. Cashews are light, delicate and creamy and they combine very well with many flavours.

I futzed around with different ingredients (including a nauseating licorice and smoked salt combo) for a while until I found the winning team. Dried cranberries, Indian curry powder and garden fresh pineapple mint also happened to be on my ingredients table. The results were superbly balanced and sophisticated. No one flavour overpowered the other. The cashews saw to it that every player got along with the rest and played fairly. The sweetness of the dried cranberries, the earthy and spicy qualities of the curry powder and the vigor of the mint blended with the cashews in a glorious way. Imagine that.

cashew butter3

Cranberry Curry and Mint Cashew Butter

Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup cashews
  • 2 tbsp dried cranberries
  • 1 tbsp fresh chopped mint (I used pineapple mint but spearmint or apple mint will do. I do not recommend peppermint.)
  • 1 tsp Indian curry powder
  • 1-2 tbsp olive oil
  • a pinch of salt

Directions

Blend all ingredients until creamy. Add more olive oil for a smoother consistency.

Try the spread on a piece of toast with some fresh pesto.

Store in the refrigerator.

Benign Masochism and Harissa for the Naughty

I really love spicy food. I love the rush of the heat and the thrill of the burn. By the end of a spicy meal, I expect to be a dizzy, fevered and sweaty mess of a human being. Since childhood, I’ve always been partial to strong, bitter and spicy flavors but this preference has grown steadily over my adult life. I think I can pin-point the exact moment when I switched over from “dabbling with spice” to “this boring if I can still feel my tongue”. When I was in Thailand a few years ago, I ordered a green papaya salad because it sounded like a nice, refreshing break from the deliriously spicy meals I’d had there. When it arrived, it made my mouth water just to look at it. The shredded green papaya was mixed with a few vegetables, peanuts and a tasty sauce. Turns out that it also contained a few (dozen?) chilies and was the spiciest dish I’d eaten on that trip.

Harissa splash

I remember the pain distinctly. My mouth and throat burned like hell fire and all orifices on my face were dripping uncontrollably. Possibly bleeding (Well… maybe not). The thing was, I couldn’t manage to stop feeding myself with it. It tasted delicious, and I was actually enjoying the pain of it. Since then, I have become increasingly willing, if not eager, to immerse my senses in the pain of spicy food on a regular basis.

Harissa bowled

Why would I wish to subject myself to this torture intentionally? Do I love pain that much? Doctor Paul Rozin of the University of Pennsylvania theorizes that I, and countless others who share the same pleasure, are benign masochists.

 

Well, that’s an interesting term. Synonyms of benign are good, kindly, benevolent, tender, humane, gentle and compassionate. Not malignant. NOT disposed to causing harm or suffering. If we look at the meaning of masochism, we discover that it is a condition in which pleasure (notably sexual pleasure) is derived from pain, humiliation or domination. So,… what? I’m a docile pain lover? A gentile who likes naughty time? A humane person who gets a kick out of inhumanity? Kinda confusing. Contradictory, even. But funny!

jalapenos

Hot peppers are all part of the Capsicum family and contain a substance called capsaicin, which is what gives us the burning sensation. Once the pain of capsaicin kicks in, the body releases morphine-like painkillers called endorphins. These pleasure-inducing neurotransmitters are basically nature’s way of making us not hate everything. The same release occurs when exercising. Without endorphins to entice and reward us with good feelings, most of us would probably never do it.

jalapenos 2 

So, if you want to have painfully wonderful day, go for a long run, get out the whips and chains and follow it up by eating some spicy harissa. I made some when I found myself with an excess of various chilies. Harissa is a northern African chili sauce. The recipes for harissa can vary from region to region and the style I made was particular to Morocco. The flavors are delightful and the heat is devilish. Beware. Contents may cause pain… and pleasure.

harissa splash

Spicy Moroccan Harissa

 Ingredients

  • 4-5 chilies (I mostly used jalapenos, but any will do)
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp coriander
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 lime

Directions

Blend all ingredients until it forms a paste. Spread onto toast with butter or pesto. Or add a dab to your rice. Or eat it with everything, like I do.

The Short Reign of the Zataar Tomato and Balsamic Reduction with Mushrooms

Happy Fall everyone! Fall in New England is glorious. It’s been years since I’ve experienced autumn in New York and I’m feeling very lucky to be here now. I like when things change, even if I’m not really ready for it. Part of me misses summer already, but part of me is ready to get snuggled up with winter.

Balsamic Zataar reduction

Making this zataar tomato and balsamic reduction with mushrooms gave me a real cozy feeling. It brought many different flavors together and filled my kitchen with a sweet and warm smell. Making a reduction is easy and very satisfying. It is done by rapidly boiling a liquid in an uncovered saucepan. Keeping it uncovered is important, that way the vapors escape thus thickening the liquid and intensifying the flavor. Sauces, glazes and gravies are traditionally made this way.

Zataar is a Middle Eastern mixture of dried savory herbs, sesame seeds and salt. It’s typically sprinkled on top of hummus or mixed with olive oil as a dip for bread. The very cheap zataar shop I went to in Montreal during my university years pretty much saved my life, so I have fond associations with zataar. There I would get a flatbread covered with zataar and filled with vegetables and yummy sauce.

Balsamic Zataar reduction
Savory, I had, but this reduction needed some sweetness. Tomatoes, balsamic vinegar and a pinch of sugar stepped up for the challenge, and boy did they work it out.
It’s got a slightly sweet and tangy flavor making it a perfect accompaniment to savory or meaty foods. Being a reduction sauce, it is rather bold. It has it’s own ideas about life and where it belongs. It much prefers being placed loftily atop a piece of meat or a bed of couscous than trivialized by many other flavors. It will not be eclipsed and will happily sabotage your meal if you try anything funny. Somehow, I survived my first attempt at using this reduction in a soup (but just barely). The soup was a hearty blended thing that was nice and mild on it’s own, and needed an extra kick to be interesting. I should’ve known better. The reduction does not accept such insolence. The soup was ruined. It was too complex and in the end my taste buds were retching.

Respect. That’s all the reduction wants. To be recognized for the zing that it brings to a meal. All it asks is to be complimented for complimenting so well. So, respect it received.  On top of beef burger it went, as if it were on a meaty throne. The reduction reigned mightily… also briefly as I ate it.

Zataar Tomato and Balsamic Reduction with Mushrooms

Ingredients

  • 1 large (or 2 medium) tomato, chopped
  • ¼ cup balsamic vinegar
  • ½ cup chopped yellow onions
  • ½ cup sliced mushrooms
  • 2 tbsp zataar
  • 1 tsp brown sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • pinch of pepper

Directions

Heat a saucepan on medium high heat and add some cooking oil.

Lightly brown the onions. Then add the tomato, vinegar, sugar and spices.

Once simmering, add the mushrooms.

Reduce heat to medium low when the mushrooms have released their juices (you will know that this has happened when suddenly it looks more like a sauce).

Let the sauce simmer uncovered for 20 minutes.

Eat and love.