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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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Swiss Kiss #6 – Bramata

Polenta with vegetables and Sbrinz cheeseThere is cornmeal. There is polenta. And then there is Bramata.

Bramawhat? Bramata is a quality label for the coarsely ground Linth corn (Linthmais, in Swiss-German), “the” heirloom variety of corn in Switzerland, or original corn (Ur-Mais). And even though Bramata most probably is not listed in any Swiss travel or food guide and isn’t part of the cliché group of Swiss dishes – it is an authentic, unique and precious food. One that makes for absolutely delightful meals. Savory and sweet, simple and succulent. (Taken all of the above into consideration, Bramata clearly deserves to be presented as a “Swiss Kiss”.)

Coarse Polenta cor in its bag

In 1493, a certain Christopher Columbus brought corn, the holy grain of the Mayan, Aztec and Incas, to the Old World. From Spain and Portugal, via Italy, it made an appearance first in middle and later central Europe, plus – within just one century – literally, around the world. At that time the Linth valley (Linth Ebene) was an important and busy corridor between northern Europe and, across the mountain chains, Italy and the east. So when they gained access to corn, early in the 17th century, the people from Linth valley immediately started to grow it. The difficult climatic conditions of this north eastern Swiss area, high humidity and often dramatic temperature changes, requested creativity from the farmers and, over time, resulted in a kind of corn that thrived in just said environment. The Linth corn was born.

Swiss Bramata corn

After World War Two, when agriculture became highly mechanized, corn mostly was grown as animal feed anymore, and the precious Linth corn silently lost its existence. It took until just before the new millennium, when it finally could celebrate its renaissance. A son of the Linth valley, Christian Bruhin chose to study the history of this grain for the final exam of his agricultural degree. He became so fascinated that he decided to revive the Linth corn. Thanks to the cooperation and shared interest of a plant seed bank he could arrange to get six batches of corn stemming from five different, decades old crops. (Corn can not reproduce itself. So of each crop the nicest pieces are kept, in order to secure next year’s harvest.) In 1999, the first crops of “rescued” Linth corn could be brought into the husking and then drying rooms.

For Bramata the whole, unpeeled kernel goes into the mill. Which makes it a whole grain. It contains all its natural nutrients and fibers, and since this corn variety contains more fat than others it is more flavorful. Bramata is yellow to camel brown in color, and contains tiny black specks. These particles appear on the kernels that are perfectly ripe and are a sign of excellence (which commercial types of corn don’t develop). Linth corn can not be treated with insecticides or pesticides of any kinds, and is never genetically modified.

Swiss Linth corn

The name Bramata derives from the Italian verb sbramare, which means removing the husk, and refers to those times when the fine, outermost layer of all grains (including wheat, barley, rice, etc.) had to be taken off the kernels before they could be milled. By coincidence – or, I like to believe, not by coincidence – the adjective bramata in Italian also stands for “wildly desired”.  Which the Bramata definitely is (and not just in my opinion, I am certain).

Bramata is prepared just like corn meal or polenta. But it tastes much, much better. Be warned: After you have tasted Bramata, you will never want to go back to the two other ones again. Most likely, you will wildly desire it.

Bramata meal in plate

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Past Supper #5 – Chili

chili of beans, peppers and chicken

Black, small red & navy beans, red bell & jalapeño pepper, potato, tomato, onion, shredded chicken, cilantro, cumin. Best way to use up left overs and stay warm!

Spicy pickled eggs (or Last minute Holiday gift)

Spicy pickled eggs make for a quick Holiday gift

I love spicy foods. I love pickles and making them. I adore, absolutely adore eggs. And ever since I have had brunch at “The Old Fashioned” in Madison, WI – during the annual conference of the American Cheese Society (ACS) this past August – I am obsessed with spicy pickled eggs. They came as a separately ordered side dish at the restaurant and were divine. (The bold Bloody Mary I drank surely didn’t hurt the euphoric experience.)

Back home I started my quest for the ultimate spicy pickled eggs. I read and recreated some recipes and quickly realized that there only were slight nuances between most. So I decided to set out on my own and come up with my personal favorite version. And so should you!

The first step is to choose your vinegar. I love red wine vinegar for its fine flavors and at first was fascinated by the idea of pink hued eggs. For some reason though I didn’t like the very pale pink on the outside in combination with the white and yellow once I cut the egg in half. So I settled on apple cider vinegar, a staple in my kitchen not only for its round and robust flavor but also for apothecary qualities.

The ingredients that will make the eggs spicy

For the peppers I chose a combination that I hoped would result in a balanced flavor mix: Very hot Habanero, spicy Jalapeno and sweet red Bell pepper. Which turned out to not only add a deep but not numbing heat yet to also look very pretty in combination with the white eggs. The idea for some quick but delicious Holiday gifts was born.

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