I am forever curious about new types of food and ways to cook them.
Luckily as years go by, there never seems to be an end to the list of things I have yet to try. In fact, that list seems to expand. It is not so much because new foods are created through agricultural or other food innovation, though that does create opportunities for discovery. It is that the abundance this planet has been bestowed with, provides in itself, plenty to learn about and enjoy in one's lifetime. In fact, growing older makes that point clearer each year. It also shows, how restricted or narrow an average diet can be. Of course we all have our preferences, myself included; but I now regularly make a point in going out of my way to try a food, vegetable, grain that I have never tried before. And in so doing, I find I also connect with other cultures, other histories, other people and, to boot, have great fun learning about these foods and cooking them.
And so, in the past few months, I came across heirloom beans and corn varieties which were new to me at the Farmers Market: Hidatsa Shield, and Flint corn. Both are of Native American heritage. Hidatsa Shield is a North Dakotan heirloom which is typically grown in trio with corn and squash, and takes on a cream texture when cooked. Flint corn was cultivated by Native American tribes in New England and on the Great Plains, and the one I found had a beautiful ruby color.
Both the corn and the beans (found in separate markets and stalls) need to be soaked before cooking. And in the case of the corn, ground. There was actually a hand grinder at the Stall where the corn was sold, which I used for another heirloom variety, but on this run, I was too much in a rush. So I coarsely ground the corn with my blender. While the beans were fresh enough to only need 1-2 hour soaking before they doubled size, the corn required several hours (at least 6). And I had been told by Anabelle, the wonderful stall owner, that I should keep the soaking liquid and cook the corn in it for extra corny-ness and creaminess. Which I did.
I cooked the corn like I would typically cook polenta, though adding water regularly as it was quite "thirsty". I did not keep good track of the ratio of water to grain on this attempt, but there was a good one to 2 inches of water above the grain to start with. Once the corn was cooked and tender, which took about 1hr, it had the consistency of very coarse grit. I added olive oil, a bit of pecorino romano, salt and pepper. This was another tasty discovery, interesting both in flavor, which was distinctively nutty, and texture, tender, but with a little bite, at least on that first attempt.
To cook the beans, I used a rather conventional approach, more or less following the steps provided by theKitchn.
I sauteed a purple carrot, added a (purposely left) whole garlic clove, then the beans, aromatics (laurel, thyme, and a little rosemary), and covered with water (about 1 inch above the beans). I also added a strip of kombu, a sea vegetable known to make beans more easily digestible. The beans cooked rather quickly, about 1.5 to 2hrs, and I added a little water a couple of times. I seasoned them with pepper and smoked sea salt which gave them that rustic flavor I much enjoy with beans. They were indeed deliciously tender, creamy and plain tasty.
And on my last Farmers Market run before Christmas, I had also found some gorgeous Scarlet turnips with equally beautiful green tops. While I was no stranger to turnips, a favorite since childhood, I had actually never tried this particular type. So, catching up swiftly :) For me, a great way to eat turnips is to braise them. Well, I love braising veggies in general.
But back to the turnips, I simply cut three large ones in wedges, and did the same with a small red onion, which I sauteed for a minute or two in a dutch oven. I then added the turnip wedges, a little water (about 1/2c), salt, pepper, and thyme. I then put the lid on, turned the stove on to very low, and cooked for about 10'. I then added the greens of the turnips, sliced, and let cook for another 5' or so. Turnip greens are edible and quite tasty so it is really worth using them (and keeping waste low :)). Those braised veggies were not only delicious, they were also very pretty, having taken on lovely pink hues.
So the fruit of this labor led to a brunch of champion on a rather cool (by CA standards :)) New Year's day, with the beans providing a nice change from the typical lucky lentils (and certainly, luck and good fortunes in at least equal amounts :)). I served them with the cooked Flint corn, a fried egg, another type of heirloom corn, and sauteed mushrooms. And accompanied, following a tradition now well established (at least for me :)), with spiked eggnog.
With this happy and interesting start of the year, I am looking forward to more such times in the New Year. And certainly wishing you the same. :)
By the way:
- The beans were found at the Lonely Mountain Farm stall at the SF Ferry Building Farmers Market. The corn, was a heirloom from la Tercera Farm at the Berkeley Farmers Market ( stall now closed for the Winter and Spring).
- Braising is one of my favorite techniques for cooking veggies. A number of sites provide details on the technique, which you can adapt to your personal tastes. There is a good list of posts focused on braising on Saveur for more inspiration.
- For more reads on turnips, there is also a nice post on Edible Madison.
- These dishes are all gluten-free, can be made dairy free, and will satisfy all eaters :). The turnips will also be low in FODMAP.