Grape Leaf Soup

April 6, 2013 § 2 Comments

We are lucky to have a Concord grapevine out in our garden that our landlords planted years and years ago. It didn’t have such a great year for grapes last year because of an infection, but a grapevine sure does produce a lot of leaves. And apparently it is good for grape vines to cut them back… way back… multiple times. I kept pretty much anything that didn’t seem gigantic and tough. So, we wound up with lots and lots of grape leaves. (P.S. the infection only affects the fruit, not the leaves, but thank you for your concern) We made stuffed grape leaves (dolmades) which were frankly amazing – I had never much liked most store bought ones, but fresh homemade ones completely changed my mind.

All that blanching and shocking and stuffing and rolling took care of maybe a fifth of our grape leaves. So I made my own water bath canned preserved grape leaves. But there were still more leaves. So I preserved them but skipped the canning and just kept them in the fridge. But there were more leaves. So I rolled them up in neat bundles and carefully placed them in the freezer. Still more leaves. So I wadded them up in a ziploc bag and shoved them in the back of the freezer until now. Heh.

Now, I’m just mad at myself for not trying this sooner. Ten times easier than making dolmades and with a delicious flavor that is a cross between dolmades and avgolemono soup:

Grape Leaf Soup

  • olive oil
  • one onion, coarsely chopped
  • 4-5 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
  • 3T preserved lemon – peel only, sliced or coarsely chopped – I did not rinse mine off
  • two bay leaves, in a muslin spice bag if you have one
  • one pound grape leaves, fresh or frozen or canned, blanched and shocked at some point in their lives
  • 10 cups of broth – I used somewhat dilute chicken broth
  • optional additions: browned ground meat, cooked rice, lightly poached egg

Spoiler alert: you will need a blender, preferably an immersion blender.

  1. Lightly brown the onion in the olive oil over medium heat. When the onions become translucent, add the garlic and preserved lemon. Make sure to smell at this point.
  2. When the garlic is lightly browned, add the bay leaves, grape leaves, and broth.
  3. Bring the soup to a boil over high heat then reduce to a simmer. Allow to simmer until the leaves are tender, which will depend on how young they were. I just let mine simmer for about an hour because that is what I always do with soup but I bet you could get away with much less.
  4. Fish out the bay leaves if you can find them – the spice bag makes this easier.
  5. Puree with your immersion blender, or transfer carefully to a regular blender, until the soup is uniform. Adjust the amount of water to get the texture you like. After you adjust the water, adjust the salt as needed (remember, your preserved lemons will add salt, so you may not need any more).
  6. At this point, you have a nice light springy/summery veggie soup. To make it a meal, add some browned ground beef or lamb, some cooked rice, and/or a poached egg (highly recommended!) You could always cook the meat or rice in the same pot with the soup but then they would get blended along with the rest of the soup so it would wind up as a thicker puree rather than a broth with discrete pieces of other things, it just depends on which texture you prefer.


Beverage recommendation: the Grecian Spring (yes, I’m making this up)

  • 1.5 oz date-infused vodka
  • 0.5 oz dry vermouth
  • 1-2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters

Shake with ice and strain into chilled glass.

This is a simple martini variation with the date and anise flavors I associate with Greece, made from what I happened to have in my bar. I’m sure you could use ouzo or another anise-flavored liqueur instead of or in addition to the Peychaud’s. Let me know what you come up with.

For date-infused vodka: Slice or coarsely chop some dates, a few ounces left over from making Christmas cookies for instance. In a resealable glass container, add vodka to cover the dates. Allow to infuse in a cool place out of direct sunlight. Mine sat for about five days, but taste yours periodically. When it’s done to your liking, strain through a coffee filter (I used a gold filter) lined with a paper towel and store in a clean sealable container. That’s it!


CSA Week 15: Tempura with Shiso Flowers

September 27, 2012 § 2 Comments

The haul:
butternut squash


This bouquet is for my mother. It’s aka shiso (a.k.a. red perilla) from my very own garden, for which she gave me the seeds as a birthday present! The flavor is hard to describe – like a cross between anise and basil, sort of fresh-tasting in the same way as daikon radish, and not really like anything else. This summer we have been sprinkling the leaves on Korean food. The plants are also beautiful on their own, but it’s started getting cooler here and they were all going to seed, so it was time for a shiso harvest.

There are a ton of shiso recipes if you search around on the internet (I wish I had tried this shiso gazpacho recipe!) but one thing I came across over and over again was shiso leaf and shiso flower tempura. Apparently I have a thing for eating flowers (and drinking them). I decided to preserve the shiso leaves for the winter by making shiso pesto (just a little canola oil and the leaves in a food processor, no pine nuts or parmesan!) and give the flowers pride of place in my first ever effort at making tempura.


Tempura with Shiso Flowers
From Mark Bittman’s tempura recipe. This is enough for sizable portions for at least four people… sadly tempura doesn’t make very good leftovers, so consider a half recipe.

lots of vegetables – I had string beans, butternut squash, eggplant, shishito peppers, and the shiso flowers
1.5 cups of flour plus 1 cup of flour
3 egg yolks
2 cups ice cold water
a neutral oil, enough to fill your pan an inch or so

  1. Get all your vegetables prepared before you do anything else. Slice the squash and eggplant 1/4 inch thick.
  2. 20120927-220433.jpg

  3. Mix the egg yolks and 1.5 cups flour. Put the 1 cup flour in a separate bowl. Add the ice water to the egg-and-flour mixture just before you’re ready to fry. Mix lightly – the batter will be thin and still lumpy.
  4. Heat the oil in a high-walled pan (I used my dutch oven, although it does seem to have stained the inside some so non-enameled cast iron might be better) to 350 degrees.
  5. Dredge each vegetable piece in flour then in the batter.
  6. 20120927-221926.jpg

  7. Fry until the flour has very lightly deepened in color, only a few minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon to a plate lined with a paper towel. Keep rechecking the oil temperature periodically as the food can cool it quickly.
  8. Serve as soon as possible with tempura dipping sauce (still fiddling with this recipe, but I used a combination of water, soy sauce, Chinese rice wine vinegar, sherry, sugar, and ginger, briefly boiled).


So yummy! The light herbal flavor of the shiso flowers is a really nice contrast with the oily batter. I’m still working on refining this recipe to just the way I like my tempura – I’ll try it with rice flour next time – but it was an awfully good start.

What would you do with shiso?

Apricot Sage Bread

September 22, 2012 § 1 Comment


Today was officially sage harvesting day (all those other days were just warm-ups). There was also a neighborhood potluck tonight, and I was planning to bring banana bread but it needed a friend. And I had apricots leftover from the Habanero Gold pepper jelly (except the 2/3 cup I already cut up to make a second and third batch, by Lester’s request). So,

Apricot Sage Bread
Loosely adapted from Bittman’s quick bread recipe, but made as follows instead of cutting the butter into the dry ingredients. Makes two loaves, or make muffins (probably about a dozen) and reduce the baking time.
about 6 loosely packed tablespoons of chopped fresh sage leaves
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1.5 cups milk
1.5 cups chopped dried apricots
4 cups flour
2 teaspoons almond extract
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons salt

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour two 8×5 bread pans.
  2. Cream together the butter, sugar, and sage. This releases some of the sage oils into the butter.
  3. 20120922-202110.jpg

  4. Mix in milk, eggs, and almond extract.
  5. In a separate bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
  6. Gently mix dry into wet ingredients in a few additions, adding more as soon as the last addition is moistened. Avoid over-mixing.
  7. Fold in apricots.
  8. Pour into prepared baking pans. Bake 50-55 minutes at 350 degrees.
  9. Allow to cool before slicing, unless you are pulling it out of the oven moments before the potluck (oops).
  10. This turned out to be a nice tea bread style. I actually doubled the sage in the recipe above, because I only put in half as much the first time around and it could use more (and would use up more of this overabundance of sage, haha). And the almond flavor did not come through strongly but I think it adds a nice additional flavor that plays well with apricots. Enjoy!


Sage Harvest Wreath

September 21, 2012 § Leave a comment

Here’s a quick end of the season project for those of us lucky enough to have abundant herb harvests. My sage went crazy this year, so I will have plenty for making sage butter (sage + butter, freezer then frying pan) with lots left over. I decided to dry it, but why not let it be decorative too?


You’ll need:

  • lots of sage sprigs, the longer the better
  • wreath form – I have a few made from last year’s grapevine, but you can get them at a craft store or even use a hanger bent into a ring
  • craft wire or twist ties
  • wire cutters if using wire
  • hanging wire if needed

I neglected to take photos of the assembly but there’s not much to it. Tie one sprig about 1/3 of the way from the tip to your wreath form with the twist tie or a short piece of wire; you can slide the wire down so it hides under some of the leaves. Add the next sprig overlapping the first, placing the tie so it holds down the top 1/3 of the new one and the bottom 1/3 of the previous one. Repeat like this around the ring, tucking the stems under each other and adjusting as needed until you have the look you like.

Hang and enjoy the wreath while it dries, then remove leaves as needed for cooking!

Anyone made dried herb wreaths from other herbs? How do you preserve your herb harvest at the end of the season?

CSA Week Four And a Half: Salade Nicoise

July 24, 2012 § 6 Comments

This makes me so, so happy. Straight from the garden to the dinner table.

Salade Nicoise
based on Julia’s, of course, proportions to taste

  • green beans – CSA
  • boiling/new potatoes – CSA
  • lettuce – would have been from the CSA if we didn’t buy romaine for something else and forget to use it! (that recipe = grill, eat with dressing and parmesan)
  • hard boiled eggs
  • cherry tomatoes – garden

Vinaigrette (1/2 cup)
Whisk or mix in food processor until emulsified:

  • 1 T white wine vinegar
  • 1 T lemon juice
  • 6 T olive oil
  • basil – garden
  • chives – garden

Blanch the beans in boiling salted water until they are fork-tender (just a few minutes) then shock in cold water. Boil the potatoes until easily pierced with a fork. When just cool enough to handle, slice and toss with the vinaigrette. Combine with all remaining ingredients and toss. Sprinkle with sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Serve with paté and cornichons.

Cornichons (and a Very Passable Paté)

July 24, 2012 § 2 Comments

I mentioned I was growing cucumbers in the garden, but these aren’t any run-of-the-mill, expect-to-be-inundated-from-the-CSA-soon cucumbers. These are Parisienne Cornichon de Bourbonne cucumbers (see? fancy!), seeds purchased from here, whose sole purpose in life is to be made into cornichon pickles.

We went to Paris last year and every day we went to the corner market and bought baguettes, cheese, hard cider, paté, and other goodies and ate it for lunch wherever we wandered to that day. Lester and I passed out in a food coma in front of the Eiffel Tower. It doesn’t get any better than that. We brought back an entire suitcase full of food, including a four-pound loaf of Poilane bread and lots of paté. When we got back I made my own too. It turns out there isn’t a whole lot to making at least a Very Passable Paté: buy chicken livers super cheap from the Asian grocery store, saute in butter with shallots and herbs, and blend with more butter as needed. I made a plain one with cognac and a cranberry sage one. Scoop into jars and cover the tops with melted butter to seal it over, or do the same in muffin tins and pop out and freeze little individual serving paté pucks. I’m sure there’s more to making a fancy paté, but this works for me and my baguettes. So all I needed was the cornichons. (Yes, you can buy them in stores. No, that is not the point.)

A word to the wise: keep an eye on your cucumber patch. I skipped a day of picking, and the previous two days I might have picked in the dark by flashlight because of getting home from work late. So I was surprised by these spiny monsters lurking in my tangle of a cucumber patch:

Yes, that is a penny. So while these cucumbers are designed to be cornichons, they won’t stay small forever! They also get to be the right size a few at a time, so this is a recipe based on picking a few every single day and throwing them into a batch already going in the fridge rather than water bath canning a bunch all at once. This is not shelf stable.

For every jar:

  • teeny tiny cucumbers
  • white wine vinegar
  • a little bit of an allium: shallot, garlic, pearl onion, etc.
  • a sprig of thyme
  • a few peppercorns
  • a few mustard seeds
  • a few allspice
  • a few coriander seeds
  • a teaspoon of kosher salt for about every 4oz vinegar

I washed a few canning jars and lids (which can be previously used because they don’t need to seal), or you can even use some leftover other glass jars, in hot soapy water. Then I rinsed, then filled the jar with boiling water to overflowing and put the lid on loosely. In the meantime, I figured out that wearing kitchen/dishwashing gloves protected me from the cucumber’s spines while I rubbed them off with a vegetable brush (or just my gloved fingers on the really little ones). It is very fiddly and obsessive to get the spines off a bunch of tiny cucumbers one at a time, but you wouldn’t be growing your own cornichons if you weren’t fiddly and obsessive, now would you? I dumped the water from the jar, added the spices and salt and alliums, layered in the cucumbers, and poured in vinegar to cover. (This picture is an 8oz jar, so that is the goal size for these cucumbers or even a bit big!) Into the fridge, and no sampling for a whole week. They will turn from bright green to dull green.

If you were making this shelf stable, you would have to sterilize the jar and (new) lid, heat the brine, then pour the hot brine over the cukes in the sterilized jar, seal, and process for about ten minutes.

Et voila!

Worth the fiddling and obsession? I think so… How about you?

Cornichons (and a Very Passable Paté) on Punk Domestics

A Little Bit of Rhubarb-Plum-Vanilla Jam

July 24, 2012 § 2 Comments

I just planted my rhubarb this year (in the strawberry patch I planted last year after my landlords let me tear out a patch of grass – thanks landlords!), and you apparently aren’t supposed to pick it the first year to let it get established. But for some reason mine’s leaves are all floppy – maybe because it’s planted on a hill? any rhubarb experts out there want to weigh in? – and one of the stalks basically broke off by itself. I wasn’t about to waste it, but it seemed silly to go to the store for more when I have so much goodness from my own garden and the CSA. So, what to do with exactly one rhubarb stalk? Let it make friends with the four almost-overripe plums on the counter, and make the teeniest batch of…

Rhubarb-Plum-Vanilla Jam
Makes three 4oz jars

  • 1 oz rhubarb*, cut in 1/2 inch slices
  • 7.5 oz plums, not peeled, cut in 1/2 to 1 inch pieces
  • 8 oz sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla bean paste, or vanilla extract
  • candy thermometer and/or small plate stuck in the freezer

Mix the plums, rhubarb, and sugar and let it plump for a while on the counter or overnight in the refrigerator. If you don’t have time to do this I am pretty sure the world will not end. We’re working with what we’ve got here, and that includes time.


Bring the fruit and jam mixture to a boil in a fairly wide based pot or even a skillet, adding the vanilla towards the end of cooking. Bring it to 220 degrees Fahrenheit on the thermometer, and/or test for jelling by dropping a little onto the chilled plate and letting it cool then dragging a finger through it. It is done when the edges don’t run back together, or when it runs off your stirring spoon in a sheet rather than individual drops. I admit to not being super precise about this part but I am pretty accepting when it comes to jam consistencies. Pour into sterilized jars with 1/2 inch headspace and process for 10 minutes.


I am kind of obsessed with these little 4oz jelly jars, because you can make such small batches and you can water bath them in pretty much any pot (for me the pot height is the limiting factor when I don’t want to pull out my giant canner, since the bottom of the pressure cooker will just barely fit half-pints without boiling over…too much). I really liked the deep plummy and vanilla notes, and I love how vanilla bean paste (I get mine at W&S) gives you the speckles as well as the flavor. The brighter rhubarb flavor wasn’t super apparent. *Maybe I’ll “accidentally” break off one more stalk next time. Still, a fun little (really little) project and pretty tasty. Experimental jam-making does not have to be a big commitment so throw stuff together and see what happens!

What is your teeniest canning project?

A Little Bit of Rhubarb-Plum-Vanilla Jam on Punk Domestics

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