Sunday, July 14, 2013

Galinsoga, Guasacas, and an Ajiaco Recipe

Our herb garden is full of a common weed called Galinsoga (Galinsoga sp.).  As it turns out Galinsoga itself is an herb--commonly called guasaca in South America.  Galinsoga can be eaten as one would cooked greens.  It is also the principal flavoring in ajiaco, a Colombian soup.

We first heard about ajiaco from our friend Arena.  Neither Thag nor I have had ajiaco before, so we do not know what the dish tastes like.  I spent a lot of time online looking for ajiaco recipes.  All Colombian ajiaco recipes use potatoes, corn and chicken.  In all the recipes adapted for use by non-Colombian restaurants and by famous American cooks, I found no galinsoga included.  However, in every recipe for ajiaco written by someone from Colombia, galinsoga was used.  Many cooks said it could not be called ajiaco without galinsoga.  Galinsoga/guasaca is almost impossible to buy in the US, but it grows wild throughout the Americas and is probably in your yard right now.

The recipe below is my version of ajiaco, based on several ajiaco recipes I found online written by Colombians.  It is more a stew than a soup, and it is fantastic.  The galinsoga has its own unique flavor I cannot describe, but if you chew a bit of raw galinsoga you will have an inkling of its flavor.  When I make the soup again, I plan to increase the galinsoga to 3/4 cup.

2 chicken breasts
garlic and onion, chopped fine
4 pounds potatoes, peeled and separated, 2 pounds cut into quarters, 2 pounds sliced thin
2 ears of corn, but into 4 pieces each
1 bunch scallions
1/2 cup guasacas/galinsoga leaves, rinsed and chopped fine
1/2 and 1/2, cream, or sour cream

The day before, press onion, garlic, and salt onto chicken breasts.  Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Cook chicken in stock pot with enough water to cover by 2 inches. When chicken is cooked, remove from soup.  Separate meat from bones.  Put bones back into pot. 

Add quartered potatoes to stock.  Cook until mushy.  Remove bones.  Puree soup in blender or with immersion blender.

While soup is cooking, remove skin from chicken and slice chicken into bite sized pieces.

Add sliced potatoes, corn, scallions (whole), galinsoga leaves.  Salt to taste.  Cook until potatoes are tender.

Remove scallions.  Add chicken.  Serve with cream, capers, and avocado in bowls.

Yum!  I'm not sure how you are supposed to eat the corn.  Every picture I found of ajiaco had the corn on the cob floating in the bowl.  When we ate the leftovers, we cut the corn from the cob before heating it up.  Anyone out there know why they might serve it on the cob or how one is supposed to eat the corn?

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Wood Sorrel Pesto

After our week long trip to Connecticut, Thag got out the lawn mower. Yub Yub pleaded, "Papa, please don't cut the grass!  It is so long, like a meadow.  I have dreamed of it being like this for three whole summers!"

Well, we own 25 acres, so he had plenty to mow and still leave the front yard long.  Yub Yub sat in the foot long grasses, making "soup" with weeds, mud, and water.  She brought in a few cups of wood sorrel she had gathered and asked if we could make real soup.  We've never cooked with wood sorrel before, only eaten it as a trailside nibble or in salads so the idea was intriguing.  Still, it was 93 degrees outside, so soup was out of the question.  Instead we turned it into pesto, and it was delightful.  The light lemony flavor of wood sorrel rang through.  This weed is very common, easy to gather, and tastes good well into the season.  Try this recipe the next time it is too hot to cook!

2 cups fresh wood sorrel
1 clove garlic
3 tbsp walnuts (almonds or pine nuts will work fine)
1/8 tsp salt
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

Pour wood sorrel, garlic, walnuts, and salt into a food processor.  Blend until fine.  Add oil.  Blend until smooth.  Add cheese.  Pulse breifly until incorporated.  All amounts in this recipe can be adjusted according to taste.  Enjoy!

Monday, July 1, 2013

Strawberry Fruit Leather

It has been an awesome berry year--even for wild strawberries. 
 I have picked more wild strawberries this year than I have ever picked before--so many that we were able to measure them in cups.  We've already harvested more raspberries than we harvested last year.  And we're already drooling what looks like it will be the largest crop of blackberries that we have ever seen.  What to do with all this berry wealth? 

Ooga has already canned about four gallons (yes, gallons) of strawberry jam and we still had plenty of berries for me to continue my experiments with drying.  Unfortunately, the wet weather has prohibited me from sun-drying, so I've moved my drying operation into our oven.  Theoretically, this would be faster than sun-drying, but our oven has no setting lower than 170 degrees F, a temperature that I worry would do more cooking than drying.  So I spent a lot of time babysitting the oven during this process turning it on and off throughout the day.  Even so, it was still a lot less work than canning the fruit.  Here's my process. 

Greasing the surface that the berries dried on made all the difference. 

  1. Puree:  I usually crush the washed and stemmed berries in a bowl with a potato masher.   I mash coarsely, leaving big chunks of fruit for that cave man feel.  Though next time I'm thinking about running them through a food processor to see if I can mimic the texture of the commercial leathers.
  2. Grease:  This was my big mistake last year.  I just poured the puree right onto some waxed paper and thought I was hot stuff because I wasn't pouring it right onto the baking sheet.  Then I spent almost an hour scraping the leather off the paper.  This year, I coated the paper with some butter and the leather can right off.  Awesome!  I've also seen some folks using plastic wrap.  I wonder if that would work without greasing, but I'm not so excited to use plastics through the higher drying temps. 
  3. Spread:  The trick here is to keep the layer of even thickness about 1/8 inch.  I take my time here to make sure it's really well spread before . . .
  4. Dry:  Sun-drying on a roof might seem like a good idea, but it only works if the pitch is very shallow.  Otherwise your leather slowly flows downhill.  Sun-drying takes time.  I like to start before 9:00 am on a day that will be sunny and hot all day.  Our oven is OK.  If I had my druthers, I'd find one that could go down to 120 degrees F, though. 
  5. Flip:  Once the leather is dry enough to peel off the waxed paper, I flip the whole thing and give the bottom side a little time so that it's not overly sticky. 
  6. Spreading the puree.
  7. Store:  I sandwich the finished leather between two fresh pieces of waxed paper.  Then I put them in a sealed container.  I once did not put them in a sealed container and ended up feeding some grubs.  You could also keep them in a freezer, if you could handle the irony. 
I don't sweeten my leathers at all.  Their flavor is tart and strong and not as sweet as the fresh berries.  And after a year like this one, we'll have that flavor all winter long. 

The finished product getting wrapped.