Ukranian Cold Soup

This is kin to borscht, but a lot more accessible to people like me for whom a little bit of beet goes a long way. I’ve always been taken aback that cucumbers are so popular in northern Eurasia, which is typically all cabbage and turnips to me, but you’ll find okroshka in cuisines from the Baltic to the Black Sea. Despite its humble origins, okroshka is a colorful, appealing way to serve fresh summer vegetables.

Combine 2 cups diced lean cold meat (chicken, ham, beef, or fish), 2 cups diced cucumbers—use farmers’ market or “English” cucumbers, not those bloated, watery things in the supermarket—2 cups diced boiled potatoes, a small bunch of minced fresh dill, and one chopped bunch of bruised green onion. I usually peel the cucumbers but not the potatoes Add a diced boiled carrot and a couple of chopped or very thinly sliced radishes. If you have a beautiful right-out-of-the-garden tomato, slice it, drain it, dice it and throw it in. Everything should be in small pieces; think of a Nordic gazpacho. Boil six eggs, chop the whites, and add to the mix. Mash the yolks with a half cup of sour cream or yogurt, and mix with a cup of buttermilk. Add dairy mix to other ingredients along with two or three tablespoons of a Dijon or brown mustard. Add more buttermilk—kefir, if you happen to have some on hand—or rich (preferably jellied) broth and sour cream in parts to make a thick soup. Salt to taste, stir in the juice of half a lemon, and refrigerate for at least an hour or longer. Longer is better. Serve with garlic toast and sour cream. Keeps in the refrigerator for 3 days.

Alice’s Salmon Mousse

In my book (which got another rejection this week: “Your approach to Southern cooking is disturbingly pugnacious.”) Alice Brock is a bazillion times cooler than Alice Waters. Brock’s humor and ill regard for bullshit establishes her biography, My Life as a Restaurant, as the hands-on-hips precursor to Bourdain’s somewhat more cantankerous Kitchen Confidential. Not only that, but Waters never had a decent song written about her, much less an anthem.

Alice Brock and her staff up in Massachusetts had a thing with mousses/mooses. The drawing with this recipe has antlers, and they include a story of a moose falling into a vat of cocoa for the chocolate version. This fixation seems to be prevalent in New England where mooses live, but in this culinary reference, the homonym proves emphatic. This salmon mousse is great hot weather nosh and can be served either from your great-grandmother’s fish mold or if you’re just totally white trash as a dip.

Put a quarter cup diced onion and lemon juice in a blender with an envelope of gelatin and a half cup hot water. Blend at high speed for one minute, then add a half cup of mayonnaise and 16 ounces of canned salmon. (Red is best, leftover homecooked is wonderful, and pink will do.) Blend/pulse this mixture until smooth. Add a tablespoon paprika and a cup of heavy cream. Blend for about a half minute, and cool for at least 6 hours before serving.

About Limas

All butter beans are limas, but not all limas are butter beans. Got that?

Actually, it’s a lot more complicated. While lima beans and butter beans are usually thought of as two different types of beans, they are both varieties of Phaseolus lunatus (literally “moon bean”), which has a very complicated history of domestication in Meso- and South America. During the Spanish Viceroyalty of Peru (16th-19th centuries), when limas were exported to North America and Europe, the boxes of beans were stamped with their place of origin (“Lima, Peru“), and the beans got named as such. But of course, when referring to the bean, the word is pronounced LY-mah, while the Peruvian capital is (as you all know) pronounced LEE-mah.

As a rule, large, yellow/white/speckled limas are generally known as butter beans, while the smaller, green varieties are called, well, limas. The smallest may even be called “baby” limas. However, I have been told that “they call butter beans limas up North,” which puts another spin on it. Among the most popular varieties grown in Mississippi are ‘Thorogreen’ and ‘Henderson,’ both small green bush types; ‘Jackson Wonder,’ also a bush variety, is small and brown or speckled; ‘Florida Speckled’ is a larger pole variety, and the hard-to-find ‘Willow Leaf,’ also a pole variety, has something of a cult following. Butterpeas are also a type of limas. Limas are a warm-weather crop and come into season sometime around mid-June and, with the planting of second crops in late July and early August, stay in season well into October.

Fresh beans should be smooth and plump, somewhat tacky to the touch. Limas have a low glycemic index, are rich in fiber, iron, protein and B vitamins. Fresh beans should be washed and picked over for damage, dirt, or detritus, washed, and set to cook in water 2:1; fresh beans don’t need as much water as dried, and they don’t need pre-soaking. As with most beans, hambone is a classic addition, but many people simply use stock. Bring beans to a boil, then lower heat to simmer and cover until beans are soft. I always use white pepper instead of black to season, and rarely use anything more until the beans are cooked, at which point they become the basis for any number of wonderful dishes.

Every summer I make baked limas in sour cream. For a pound of cooked limas with about a half cup of the liquid, add a quarter cup of brown sugar, and a cup of sour cream mixed with a teaspoon corn starch to keep it from separating. Flour will work in a pinch. Mix well. Bake in a low oven until set. This dish goes with anything at all but is open to any number of frivolous variations.

Dolly’s Teacakes

For long afternoons when it’s too hot and buggy to play outside, and the teddy bears are hungry. Cream 1 cup softened butter with 1 ½ cups sugar. Add a tablespoon vanilla extract and 3 lightly beaten eggs. Mix very well. Sift 3 cups all-purpose flour with a tablespoon of baking powder and a teaspoon of salt. Using your favorite wooden spoon, mix flour with butter and eggs. Chill dough, roll out on a lightly-floured board, and cut into small rounds. Bake on a lightly-oiled cookie sheet in a medium oven for somewhere round 10 minutes. Serve with strawberry Kool-Aid.

Prelude to Grilling Season

You can still buy the grill that brought the American male out of house and onto the patio. The Weber original kettle charcoal 18” grill sells for $89 at weber.com. You can also buy the charcoal originally made from Henry Ford’s Model T production in Edison’s plant—Kingsford—at your local supermarket, though chances are you already have a far more sophisticated grill in your garage that uses a rack of gas burners and lava/porcelain briquettes.

In either case, for most people, summer is the grilling season, and while many (me among them) consider a pan-fried steak, simply seasoned and glossy with butter in and of itself transcendent for any carnivore, grilled meats provide a platform for dozens of sauces and condiments. Here are three you should try over the summer. Perhaps you’ll find one so much to your liking that it will become part of your repertoire.

Marchand du vin is a simple wine reduction, red wine and beef stock with butter and aromatics. In a saucepan, melt a stick of butter, increase heat to medium, add a half cup each finely-minced white onion or shallots, scallions and thinly sliced mushrooms. When vegetables are cooked through, increase heat and add three tablespoons plain flour. Cook until lightly browned, add two cups good beef stock and a scant cup of red wine, Cabernet, Merlot or your choice. Flavor with thyme, bay and Worcestershire. Serve as a side for grilled meats.

Americans devour tomato ketchup in untold gallons daily, but before tomato ketchup became popular, mushroom ketchup, a holdover from colonial days, was a popular standby. This is one of my favorite sides for grilled beef, and it makes a really good spread for sandwiches as well. My standard recipe involves two pounds of mushrooms—white button, portabella, oyster, shiitake, whatever you like—stewed in enough water to cover with a cheesecloth bag of pickling spices, about two tablespoons. Puree the mushrooms with a cup of red wine vinegar and season with ground ginger, nutmeg and allspice, about a half teaspoon of each. I like to add Coleman’s mustard for kick.

Finally, here is another favorite with ancho chilies. Soak a half dozen ancho chilis in warm water until soft. Remove the chilies (reserving the water), take off stems, chop coarsely and set aside. Sauté in vegetable oil one large chopped onion with four minced cloves garlic. Add a small can tomato sauce and a quarter cup or so of red wine vinegar. Let this mixture cool and place with chilies and puree until smooth. Place back on the heat, season with a tablespoon fresh ground cumin, Mexican oregano and cayenne to taste. A sweetener of some form is optional. Reduce to the desired thickness. You can serve this warm or cool.

Homemade Ice Cream Base

This rich custard makes a sumptuous base for any homemade ice cream, simply add flavorings to taste. Admittedly it is a little time-consuming and takes a bit of patience, but custards were most likely the basis for the rich, unforgettable ice creams your grandmother made on the porch when you were growing up.

Combine 1 cup sugar, 1 tablespoon cornstarch and a scant teaspoon salt in a saucepan. Gradually stir in a quart of half-and-half, stirring constantly and place over low heat. In a large bowl beat together 2 large eggs and a tablespoon of pure vanilla extract until whites and yolks are thoroughly blended. Add this mixture very slowly into the half and half, stirring constantly and gradually increasing heat until thickened. It should have the consistency of eggnog. Stir in a pint of whipping cream and remove from heat. Refrigerate for 45 minutes to cool, then add fruit, nuts and/or flavorings and sugar to taste, place in your ice cream freezer and process according to directions.