Monday, August 17, 2009

Vietnamese corn salad

Corn is one of those things that does not keep well in the fridge. It won't exactly go bad, but it just doesn't taste the same when you take it out again. Nope, corn has to be eaten as fresh as is humanly possible - it might be the ultimate seasonal food (although that could also go to tomatoes). Thus, the farmer's market is the logical destination, and ours has been absolutely brimming with corn for the past several weeks. We're talking pick-up trucks stuffed full of ears here. Of course, it's also a tricky thing to buy (you can't see the condition of the corn before you buy it), so getting those good ears is a matter of trial and error. We lucked out this week (although of course I didn't take any pictures) with six beautiful ears of a cultivar called "Montauk". We boiled two for corn-on-the-cob, and made the rest into Vietnamese corn salad - adapted from Viet World Kitchen's recipe.

I would have taken a picture, but it really just looks like a pile of corn. I promise.

Four ears of as-fresh-as-possible corn
1-2 fresh red chilies (we used Thai, but I'm sure cayenne work fine), seeds removed and chopped
1.5 tablespoons or so of dried shrimp (shrimp paste works too, or you can just use extra fish sauce), chopped
Fish sauce to taste
2 small onions or a few scallions, chopped

Use a large knife to cut the raw corn off the cobs, and scrape out all the remaining pulp and juices. Discard the cobs. Heat a few tablespoons of neutral cooking oil (not olive) in a large pan over high heat, and add the chilies, scallion/onion, and dried shrimp when it starts to shimmer. Stir-fry this mixture for 30-60 seconds, or until everything's aromatic and the scallion/onion becomes transparent. Turn the heat down to medium, add the corn, and stir everything together. Cook until most of the juice evaporates and the corn is cooked through - add the fish sauce until there's a nice balance of salty, sweet, and spicy.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Drying tomatoes

I love sun-dried tomatoes. They have all sorts of flavors that regular tomatoes just can't compare to - they're slightly bitter, very earthy, and have much more pure tomato flavor than a regular (80%+ water) tomato does. However, sun-dried tomatoes are very expensive. I can get regular tomatoes here for $2-3 per pound at the farmer's market, but if I could find sun-dried tomatoes anywhere for sale (which I can't), it would easily be several times that. Solution: dry my own! The oven works brilliantly for this. Simply slice your tomatoes through the middle (not through the stem connection), turn your oven to about 200 degrees, and put the tomatoes on a baking sheet or roasting pan. (Make sure to use parchment paper!) After 8-12 hours, they'll look like this:

I could have kept going, but by then it was about 11:30pm, and I had to go to sleep soon. These took ten hours - they weren't as dry as sun-dried tomatoes usually are, but they were chewy and delicious and homemade! We here at From Bach to Stock have a serious penchant for do-it-yourself cooking adventures: our current project is vanilla extract*, if that says anything. Here's another picture of a beautifully shriveled tomato.

I love how the skin deflates as the water evaporates. Several of these tomatoes were chopped up and thrown into baingan bharta the other night. There are no pictures of that, as I was too busy making sure my eggplants didn't burn up in the oven...although also, baingan bharta isn't really that pretty.

*We're infusing vanilla beans into a bottle of Bacardi. After two days it's already turning brown and smelling like vanilla! I've been told it takes several weeks to properly mature, though. I can't wait!