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My “I Love You All” Papaya Salad

Papaya salad on an Asian dressing

Blame it on the rain. – We were all set up at the market, us vendors, ready for the customers. But it was unusually grey and wet and unfriendly on that specific morning, and the clients very obviously were not in a rush. So we had time to walk between each others booths, and chat. And of course we talked (mostly) food. My friend from San Salvador told me about a meal a Chinese neighbor had fixed for her – a Thai version of green Papaya salad with chicken. She gave one of the green – not quite ripe – Papayas her neighbor is growing in Matlacha to me. I was fascinated and kept on tinkering about what I would be transforming my green gift into.

Later that day, my son came home from his farm job with a box of longish, yellow, beautifully glowing peppers I had never seen before. A little research made clear that they were Aji Amarillo. From Peru. – One more tempting country and cuisine. One that ignited my plan: I was going to make  salad of Floridian products that have their roots in South- and Central America, and an Asian style dressing. An ode to all of my international food and market friends.

unripe papaya

open papaya, with  seeds

Julienning the Papaya on a mandolin makes for a good crunch. I used Aji Amarillo, Serrano and Red Bell peppers, simply because I had those on hand. One can adjust the varieties to desire, creating a more or less spicy salad. I also added red and yellow Cherry Tomatoes, which turned out to be vibrant eye catchers. For more green speckles (besides the fine strips of Serrano), i put in fresh, chopped Cilantro and some green onions. Basil would work very well also, as would the addition of cooked green beans. By using sesame oil, lime juice, soy sauce and cooking rice wine, I kept the dressing simple yet tasty. This salad can be served as a light appetizer, a refreshing side dish or, complemented by fresh, grilled or dried shrimp, some cooked chicken, seared Tofu and a handful of toasted peanuts or cashews, as a healthy main dish.

Oh, and it works as a cooling meal on a sweltering hot day just as well as for a brightening and soothing bite on a rainy one. So no blaming here.

ingredients for papaya salad

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Grains of Good

kefir grains in milk

kefir grains in milk

kefir grains

There’s nothing spectacular about it. Nothing sensual. And nothing fancy, famous or fabulous. Most people aren’t even sure how to pronounce its name: Kefir.

Yet, it is fascinating. Very, very fascinating. And maybe more…

Kefir is cultured milk. It is thinner than Yogurt – to which it commonly is compared – and its taste is more acidic. The most significant difference though is that Kefir is produced without any heating of the milk, and therefore all enzymes and bacteria are preserved (which is especially precious when raw milk is used). The fermentations that turn milk into Kefir make all its nutrients – minerals, vitamins, etc. – very easy to absorb. Besides the many (really, really good for you) bacteria, Kefir also contains yeasts. The alcoholic fermentation they cause results in the fizzy, refreshing flavor so typical for Kefir.

kefir grains and milk before culturing

Most probably, Kefir has been produced and consumed in many, many centuries. It originates from the eurasian Caucasus mountains and was brought to the western hemispheres during the late 1800s only. Lately, the cultured milk drink has attracted the attention of researchers, who believe that there is a direct correlation between the extremely high life expectancy of the people in the Caucasus and the fact that they barely have access to fresh fruits and vegetables, but all regularly consume Kefir. It is proven that Kefir is one of – if not the – most efficient probiotics and strengthens the immune system, this mighty prohibitor of maladies.

Kefir can be enjoyed on its own, or mixed with fruits, honey, herbs and so forth, into all kinds of drinks. It can be part of cold soups, sauces, dressings. It can replace milk, yogurt and sour cream (by quantitatively adjusting the amount of solid ingredients) in recipes. But wait, Kefir also can be used in baking – and in the case of bread even act as the starter for a sour dough. Or it can be made into cheese. No rennet nor rocket science required. – Ha, now we are talking. And tickling the senses.

Make ice cream out of it. Or Gnocchi. Something unexpected! – Kefir might become spectacular and famous, after all. And sensual. Oh my…

two jars of kefir

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Carpe Diem #2 – Poached Egg on Avocado, Edamame & Parsley Salad

avocado salad and poached eggs

There were three perfectly ripe Avocaods on my kitchen counter and my mind was set to create a dish that would highlight them in the best (tasting and looking) possible way. And although I absolutely love Guacamole, this time I wanted something more unusual.

So I came up with this salad of avocado, edamame and parsley, simply dressed in a mixture of Sherry vinegar and fresh squeezed lemon juice, topped with two poached eggs. The edamame adds a crisp bite and contrasts the smoothness of the avocado. The parsley brings some bright zest into the butteriness. The Sherry vinegar keeps the acidity of the lemon juice in a range that does not interfere with the soft, almost neutral, sweet and creamy poached egg. The notes of green get accentuated by the shiny white and yellow, and altogether the appearance of this dish is cool and light, spring like and serene.

This salad is gorgeous to look at and even more satisfying to eat. – Ah, wanting the unusual always takes one a step farther. So let’s keep on exploring! (Maybe soon you will tell me where your next step with this has taken you?)

ingredients for avocado saladavocado saladavocado salad, about to be eaten

Sweet Beet

beet, potato and cheese stack

It must be the Virgo in me. Or my fascination with colors and what they can do to people. Perhaps also my motherly instinct that makes me want to protect who and what ever seems to be in a rather difficult situation. In any way: I am intrigued, absolutely intrigued, by beets.

I love its gnarly, anti uniform, rough look. The color, the flavor, the texture, the smell. I like its earthiness, which is kind of obvious, and I love its sweetness, which comes surprising. I love the gentle, versatile character that hides behind the beet’s stubborn facade. I love, love, love beets. Period.

bunches of red beet, plus greens

And while I try to pace myself – because not every one in my family is as fanatic as I am, to put it mildly – I could not resist to buy a few bunches of red beets yesterday at the market, when they smiled at me, crookedly as they do. So home we went, and while my mind was turning around some Gold Nugget tomatoes, all of a sudden I remembered those four sweet potatoes sitting somewhere in the dark for a while now. Rustic and robust just like the beets, but a total and bright contrast in every other aspect. They seemed like a perfect couple.

the beauty of a beet

And that’s how I came up with this savory Napoleon. The goat cheese is a classic pairing with beets; it is less common with sweet potatoes, but not less perfect, as it turned out. (I picked a small log of semi aged St.Maure, but any fresh goat cheese will work as well. As will other cheeses, like for instance a creamy blue or even a Raclette.) The idea to use the beet greens came naturally, while I was admiring the unusual yet stunning color combination of that dark, dark reddish purple, bright pink and vibrant green.

colorful beet stalks

I served the Napoleons baked, as an appetizer. They would also make a lovely side dish of any kind of protein though. And in the summer time I will try them unbaked, served at room temperature; simply drizzled with a bit of good oil, as an alternative to salad. There’s softness (in the veggies), crunch (in the greens) and creaminess (in the cheese). One gets earthiness, sweetness and tang. And all together finishes in a smooth, gooey harmony. – Even the non Virgos (four out of six at my table), the one color blind and those with no motherly instinct (all of my male family members) agreed that this was quite something and quite different. So home we will go together again, my sweet beets. Home, beet home. Continue reading “Sweet Beet” »