Sunday, October 19, 2008

That snaky Armenian cucumber!

Strolling by the Hmong family stand (Sunny Farm) at the Noe Valley Farmers market some Saturdays ago, I heard a woman rapture, "Are those Armenian cucumbers?!" The boyish purveyor of produce nodded, and, looking satisfied, she walked away without buying or even examining a single one. My weird veg antennae twangled violently in the direction of these slender, moon-pale cucumbers, which, I was told, are prized for being sweeter and having less seeds than their chunky, forest-hued cousins. (Yes, twangled is a made-up word, but you knew what motion I meant, right?)

Further research told me that these "cucumbers" are actually melons, also known as snake cucumbers or snake melons," and sometimes simply called uri. The Armenian connection has been harder to pin down, but Irina Petrosian and David Underwood trace its etymology back to Armenian immigrants who grew these cuke-ish melons after arriving in the U.S. in their book Armenian Food. Apparently, it's easier to find Armenian cucumbers in the states than in Armenia.

My delicately curved, burpless uri ("burpless" is greens-speak for "it doesn't give you gas," tee hee), fit right in as a sea cucumber eel at the bottom of my kitchen-wall seascape. It soon became restless, however, and cried out for the steely caress of my Global chef's knife.

A flurry of masterful slices worthy of Yan Can Cook (hint: smiling and going "mmm" while you chop increases your chopping velocity) resulted in the glorious pile you see below:

I put some in a salad and laid the rest in a bowl for grazing while walking past my kitchen counter. The slices were crisp and slightly sweet and did not last long in the bowl.

One last side note: I have been to the gourmet sandwich taco truck twice now but have not had the stamina to wait out the long, long line to actually get my hands on one. In my defense, I've been feeling like a mealy tomato lately due to a particularly virulent cold that has kept me confined to the couch, watching Rushmore for the 20th time while not going to people's birthday dance parties. I hope to meet the King Trumpet sandwich very soon...

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Rainbow chard: two ways

When you're feeling blue, or maybe a little green, whether behind the ears or with envy, it's time to broaden your palette and brighten your palate with some rainbow chard. The mute beauty of this Beta vulgaris, relative of the beet, will take you away from the world of ugly feelings and into the meditative pleasures of cooking as finger painting.

The other night, I adapted two chard recipes from our dear friend Alice to make the most of my patiently wilting bunch from Tomatero Organic Growers (whom I seem to be getting almost everything from lately).

The first recipe was sautéed chard with lemon. I folded the leaves in half lengthwise around the stems and detached them, separating leaves and stems into two bright piles. Then I chopped the leaves into a "rough chiffonade." This, I sautéed in olive oil with a pinch of salt and generous squeezes of lemon until they wilted down. I also threw in some sun gold cherry tomatoes from Tomatero and a cupful of pomegranate seeds, though next time I would toss the seeds in at the very end so as not to lose too much flavor in the heat.

The second recipe was a chard stem gratin. I chopped the stems into one-inch segments and forgot to parboil them (aka drop them briefly in boiling water) to soften them up but they still turned out tender enough. Next, I lay the fruity cuties down on top of a bit of olive oil in what I think of as my pie dish, now magically transformed into a gratin dish, as it were, and mixed in some bread crumbs, more sun gold tomatoes sliced in half, and some choice dollops of plain yogurt. The yogurt found its way in because I had run out of milk and my roommate had none that I could filch. The recipe calls for cream or bechamel sauce, but it was a weeknight and I couldn't be bothered with gourmet pride. The yogurt addition seemed all right, maybe a little weird, but not necessarily in a bad way. Below left is before broiling, and below right is after about 10 minutes under the broiler.

When both chard dishes were ready and the rice cooker button had popped up with a cheery click, I lay the dark lemony-bitter chard side by side with the tart yogurt-bready stems and rounded them out with brown rice cooked with raisins and parsley. The rainbow tasted bitter, sour, salty, and sweet.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Sandwich as Taco

Two seasons have turned since the big Chinese broccoli vs. bok choy debacle, and my roommate Rachel and I are once again speaking the same veggie language (thanks in part to Juan's refereeing in the comments section where he democratically determined that choys and broccolis are of the same family, and so the whole "choy" or "broccoli" thing is like "tomayto" or "tomahto," causing us to cool our burners and call the debate off). Last Thursday the VP debate was on, and after going our separate ways to bite our nails over politics as reality TV (the mavericky, wink-happy Tina Fey later lessened the pain of Palin not quite melting down as everyone had hoped), Rachel and I met up around the corner from our place to check out Bar Tartine line cook Anthony Myint's new 21st and Mission sandwich truck (see the last post).

Word had spread like that paraffin & jam fire I once started, wending its way through email forwards and local food blogs, so that the line was daunting, and Karen's homemade chocolate-chip cookies had run out (she's Anthony's wife). My belly was also still full from my friend Andrea's three-alarm chili, so we decided to hold off on sampling the sandwiches until the following Thursday. Rachel, who in addition to occasional stints as a stringer for Weird Vegetables works in food research, had her camera at the ready for data collecting and managed to snap the above picture of someone else's PB&J, a pork belly and jicama sandwich freshened up with a delightful splash of cilantro aioli sauce. Eater SF has more photos and more to say on the mobile food event.

I know those toppings are laid on scallion flat bread, and not tortillas, but these "sandwiches" look suspiciously like tacos. Is Anthony reaching across the aisle to bridge the divide and ease tensions between the sandwich vs. taco factions in San Francisco's Mission district? Is he saying "sandwich," "taco," "tomayto," "tomahto," "bok choy," "Chinese broccoli," let's just all vote Obama? Will Valencia St.'s Dosa restaurant suddenly toss in a third-party element with the Dosa "It's Like a Crepe" Mobile? Tune in Thursday for the next installment of Mission Street Food.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Hot sandwich tip

Breaking news on the gourmet sandwich front! One of our Weird Veg underground agents, codename Endive Haricot, slipped a note under my virtual doormat about a taco truck going sando for tonight and possibly every Thursday for the foreseeable future. If you're in S.F.'s Mission district and hungry for a "busty vegetarian King Trumpet" sandwich lovingly assembled by a wild 'n' crazy line cook at Bar Tartine, see the missive below. I'll be playing Palin bingo beforehand to work up an appetite...

TONIGHT (THURSDAY): High-falootin' line cook from Bar Tartine goes all nitty gritty and shit.

Anthony Myint of Anthony and the U.S. Myints is subletting an antojitos truck in what, hopefully, will become a recurring Thursday night event.

He'll be peddling an assortment of sandwiches, each served on a piece of homemade scallion flatbread. Among them, the highly anticipated PB&J (Pork Belly and Jicama) and the busty vegetarian King Trumpet (wild mushrooms and triple fried potato).

WHEN: Thursday night, 8pm-2am. Watch Biden dispense of Palin and then hop down to 21st and Mission to still your beating heart.

Um, prices are reasonable, dude. $3-$5.

Support local line cooks.