Reviving Salmagundi

Claiborne and All Who Sailed in him (honestly, I can’t count how often I’ve wanted to kick that pontifical old queen under the table) declared, “There is something about the word ‘salmagundi’ that has an unmistakable appeal for savants with a leaning toward gourmandism.”

I have no ambition of being a savant, much less one learning towards gourmandism. Like many others, I simply find salmagundi—like pettifoggery, kittywampus, or hullabaloo—a word I want to pick off the page, cuddle, and tease with a string.

The dish is just as playful, actually, not so much a dish as it is a presentation like an antipasto or a smorgasbord, of a selection of cold vegetables, pickles, meats, and fruit mounded on a tray.

By precedent, you want your meat, cold poached chicken atop salad greens ringed with pickles, cooked eggs, raw or blanched vegetables, citrus, nuts, sausages, and cold fish—anchovies are a classic addition, but I like smoked salmon, too.

Pretty much anything goes with the notable exception of cheese, which isn’t included in any reliable historic recipe.

Cold Sweet Potatoes with Lime Crema

Mix a cup of sour cream with a half cup of sweet cream. Add the juice of half a lime and a tablespoon of capers. Cover, keep at room temperature for a few hours, then refrigerate.

Coat sweet potatoes with vegetable oil and generous amounts of salt. Bake until cooked through. Cool thoroughly before slicing and topping with crema and black pepper.

Feta Melon Salad

Crumble feta and/or blue cheese and crisp lean bacon seasoned with black pepper over chilled melon and cucumber. Sprinkle with lime juice before serving.

Mississippi’s Ark of Taste

The Ark of Taste is an online catalogue developed and maintained by the Slow Food Foundation.

The catalogue records small-scale quality productions that belong to the cultures, history and traditions of our world, an extraordinary heritage of fruits, vegetables, animal breeds, cheeses, breads, sweets and cured meats. The Ark is growing day by day, gathering alerts from people who see the flavors of their childhood disappear, taking with them a piece of their culture and history.

Here are a selection of foods in the catalogue that most Mississippians will find familiar and some surprising. As a Calhoun County native, I’m of course including the two heirloom sweet potato varieties listed.

American Native Pecan
American Paddlefish
American Persimmon
Bradford Watermelon
Cotton Patch Goose
Hayman Sweet Potato
Louisiana Mirlitron
Mississippi Silver Hull Bean
Moon and Stars Watermelon
Nancy Hall Sweet Potato
New Orleans French Bread
Pawpaw
Piney Woods Cattle
Shagbark Hickory
Southern Field Peas
Traditional Sorghum Syrup
Tupelo Honey
Watermelon Pickles
White African Sorghum
White Velvet Okra
Wild Gulf Coast Shrimp
Yellow-Meated Watermelon

Parmesan Eggs

This recipe adds grated hard cheese—a Parmesan, Romano, or Asiago—to the mayo and egg yolks for a rich, melt-in-your-mouth nosh.

To the yolks of 6 soft-boiled eggs, add a half cup of grated hard cheese, a tablespoon of dry mustard, and mayonnaise to texture, usually a quarter cup or so.

Top with smoky paprika.

The Rainbow Cake

Jake saw an image of a rainbow cake somewhere and just had to make one. It wasn’t even called a rainbow cake in any sort of caption; it was just a random image on a blog somewhere, but he found it beautiful, and I did, too.

But when he said he wanted to make one, well, I kinda tingled in my toes. You’d never know it, but Jake is color-blind. I’m not sure how extensive it is, and he’s not either, but when he pointed to that gorgeous slice of multi-colored cake on the monitor and said he wanted to make it, I offered to help.

It was the least I could do.

Since this was such an experimental venture, we used a commercial white cake mix and a canned icing; after all, our objective was drag queen appearance over substance. The most indispensable element of the project was two (count ‘em, two!) boxes of McCormick’s assorted food coloring and egg dye. Each box has formulas for achieving eight colors (red, yellow, green and blue as well as pretty purple, orange sunset, teal, mint green and dusty rose).

Jake used two boxes of cake mix, split the batter into six equal amounts and then colored each bowl of batter. Because there was less batter per baking pan, oven time was reduced by at least five minutes.

Jake wanted to arrange the layers to his own satisfaction, but I told him that while that might be interesting, it might be better on this effort for us to stick to Roy G. Biv (less the “i” I think). After a brief discussion, the pans were numbered and labeled. Once cooled, we assembled the cake. It sat overnight in a white icing.

A few friends came over the next day, and with the first slice, everyone went “Ooo . . ! “ and we just grinned.

Steak for Two

Back in the ’50s and ’60s, the country was overrun with “Continental-style” restaurants offering Naugahyde banquettes, white table cloths, and tony, bastardzied Euro/American menus. One of these retro-glam dishes was steak Diane, a wonderful dish for two.

Use 2 6 oz. slices of tender beef, season with a smidgen of salt and plenty of freshly ground black pepper, dust with flour, and sauté in butter with two finely-diced shallots and a small clove of garlic to taste. Set the meat aside.

Working quickly, add a half stick butter to the pan, a hefty tablespoon of prepared mustard, and 2 cups sliced mushrooms. When cooked down,  add heavy cream, reduce, and stir in enough stock to make a smooth sauce. Spoon over beef, and serve with a love.

Country Fried Steak

The reality behind country fried steak is that it’s cube steak deep-fried after soaking in buttermilk, dipped in an egg wash made with the leftover milk, breaded in a seasoned mix of flour and corn starch (4:1), and stored in a warm oven before serving. All else is fantasy.

Shrimp and Eggplant Curry

Once as a very young man, I walked into a health food store that was run by one of those formidable New Age earth mother types whose moral superiority in the realm of nutrition–which she considered an extension of her deep-seated beliefs in The Great Mother and Her Bosom of Beneficence–was further exaggerated by just being an asshole herself.

When I asked her where she kept the curry, she literally sniffed, tilted her nose towards the tie-dyed bed sheets covering the ceiling and said, “I’m sure you mean to make your own. If you’ll give me your recipe, I’ll show you where you can find the ingredients.”

So I fumbled in my pockets and mumbled something about leaving the recipe my friend Rupta had given me at home before beating a retreat and hitting the books only to discover that curry is indeed not a singular spice or seasoning, but a combination of any given number of ingredients with endless variations.

Still, that experience cooled my tenuous relationship with curries, and though I have read Madhur Jaffre’s pontificates on the subject, I’ve never reached the degree of sophistication peers have by actually making my own blend. Granted, curry isn’t a spice mixture I use very often, either, but I love a curried chicken, particularly cold with sour cream, and it’s good with eggplant and okra, too.

Peel and halve (or cut into thick slices, depending on the size) six small or two large eggplants, brush liberally with oil (I don’t recommend olive oil for this recipe, nor ghee or what passes for it in your world; if you’re picky about it–and God help you if you are–use peanut oil), dust with pepper and place in a very hot oven until browned and soft. For this recipe you’ll need about three cups of cooked eggplant.

Saute about two pounds 26-30 count shrimp with a chopped a small onion and 2 small mild peppers. Don’t use a bell if you can help it; even a poblano is better. Saute with  two cloves of garlic until shrimp are cooked, then add eggplant. Season with a quarter cup of your favorite curry. Blend with a cup to two of weak stock to the consistency of a thick gumbo . Bake in a medium (350) oven until reduced by half.

The World’s Oldest Potato Salad

Dr. Amalia Andres-Pizarro, associate professor of Indigenous Peoples Studies at the University of Lima–and, we must add, a namesake of the conquistador who almost single-handedly wiped out the Incan Empire–discovered the world’s oldest recipe for potato salad in a manuscript uncovered from ruins at Lactapata.

“It is an important discovery in terms of Incan culture because it sheds light on the daily lives of the Incan people,” Andres-Pizarro said. “We know that the Incas cultivated potatoes hundreds of different varieties of potatoes, cooked them in stews, baked them in coals, and prepared them for storage. The Incas also invented chuno, the first freeze dried potatoes, a precursor to instant mashed potatoes.”

The manuscript, written in Spanish, was probably set down by a priest who accompanied the conquistadores and was held captive by the puppet emperor Manco. The text describes various dishes prepared by the Incas as well as details of their dress, games they played, housing, and sexual mores.

Andres-Pizarro said what are most certainly the bones of a European were found in the tomb with the manuscript, which she somehow finds significant.

What’s most impressive about the recipe is that the Incans actually had invented an early form of mayonnaise. “The text describes an emulsion made from the eggs of the great curassow (Crax rubra) and maize (corn) oil, which is practically identical to what we know as mayonnaise. The writer describes its preparation as a highly-guarded secret with religious overtones,” Andres-Pizarro said. “The recipe also incorporated chilis of various kinds in different amounts and boiled curassow eggs as well.”

Andres-Pizarro said that she is adapting other Incan recipes from the manuscript for the modern-day kitchen as the basis of a forthcoming Incan cookbook called The Kitchens of Manchu Picchu.

1 pound red potatoes
3 hard-cooked eggs
¼ cup vegetable oil
1 poblano chili finely chopped
¼ cup kernel corn
2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
½ cup mayonnaise
cayenne pepper and salt to taste

Peel potatoes, boil and cube, chop boiled eggs, add other ingredients, mix very well and chill overnight before serving.