Eggplant Relish

15 lbs of homegrown produce!

Harvest season is here! This has been our best gardening year yet. I owe it all to our bunnies actually. It was their little pellets, collected through the winter which has made our plants produce like crazy. Between that and the warmer, drier temperatures this summer, we are just awash with so many delicious fresh vegetables!

This year we are growing tomatoes (we have about 30 plants!), zucchini, ground cherries, carrots, cabbages, sugar snap peas, potatoes, cucumbers, eggplant, peppers, melons lettuces, Swiss chard and arugula and beans (hope I am not forgetting anything). We tried new varieties of tomatoes this year, German Pink, Black from Tula and Ukrainian Purple, all developed in colder climates. We also tried cold climate melons. All are doing great this year!

This year, so far we have preserved 25 lbs of cabbage (red and green), 11 lbs of greens, 15 lbs of stone fruits, 10 lbs of tomatoes, as well as assorted carrots, green beans, sugar snaps, onions, peppers, zucchini and eggplant. So it has been a busy couple of months. We are really going to enjoy this in the winter months. That taste of summer is always so welcomed when the snows are falling down all around us.

I want to share with you a delicious condiment that I made. One that I wanted to dig right into but will have to reserve a bit of will power to leave it on the shelf for the dead of winter when the taste of sun ripened tomatoes, peppers and eggplants will be just the right thing I need to lift my spirits!

Eggplant-Tomato Relish (from The Joy of Pickling – My VERY favorite cookbook for this time of year!)
Makes 2 pints

INGREDIENTS:

1 lb eggplant, peeled and cut into ¾ inch cubes
2 tsp sea salt
6 TBS olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 large red bell pepper, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
3 cups peeled and coarsely chopped tomatoes
¾ cup raw apple cider vinegar
1 bay leaf
1 tsp whole mustard seeds
1 TBS pine nuts
1 TBS capers
Black pepper to taste

METHOD: In a bowl, toss eggplant with salt, put in a colander and let drain for an hour or so. Rinse eggplant and drain it well. Heat the oil in a large non-reactive pot. Add eggplant and sauté about 5 minutes. Add onion and pepper and sauté another 10 minutes. Add remaining ingredients. Over medium heat bring mixture to a simmer. Simmer uncovered, stirring often for about an hour. Remove bay leaf and ladle mixture into pint or half pint mason jars, leaving ½ inch headspace. Close jars with 2-piece caps and process for 15 minutes in a boiling water bath. Store jars in a cool, dry, dark place.

Rose-Vanilla Syrup

 

Anyone who has known me for a long time knows how much I rely on herbs and plants to keep myself healthy. My interest in herbs began sometime in high school after reading The Mists of Avalon which is full of herbal lore and of course magic and just went on from there.

I don’t think herbal remedies are magic, per se, I think they are natural ways to keep our bodies in the best shape possible, mentally, physically and emotionally. Herbs are helpers who have evolved right along with us, our allies. As people that love to cook, we use herbs a lot in day to day life spicing up our dishes. But there are also healing properties behind the many culinary herbs we use.

If you have ever enjoyed Middle Eastern desserts you may have encountered rose water. Or if you watched the amazing movie, Like Water for Chocolate you will remember vividly the scene in which the protagonist cooks up a wooing meal using roses.

Roses, both wild and domesticated are edible, the darker the color, the stronger the flavor. I find roses to taste rather sweet (big surprise!) and they are also incredibly soothing. In herbal medicine they are considered to be cooling and dry, but there is a warmth to them to be sure. It is no coincidence that people have been using roses to tell people they love them for a very long time, because it has much to tell us about the properties of roses.

Roses are associated with the heart and are good for both cardiovascular issues and emotional well-being. They are good for keeping our bodies balanced. Rose petals are high in Vitamin C making it a good idea to use in staving off colds or other infections. Rose petals, because of the natural occurring acids they contain is good for keeping your GI tract in good condition. Rose petals have been known to expel toxins in the gut and helps support the good and friendly flora in the gut.

Rose petals can also help with stress and emotions. One of my herbal teachers recently said that she uses Rose to help people create healthy boundaries, to give the person an ability to give and receive love without wearing their heart on their sleeve. Rose petals are physically almost see through when you hold them up to the light, but to the touch they are almost leathery, roses are beautiful but also thorny. Rose teaches us about balance, helps regulate the emotions and helps us navigate intimate relationships.

Roses are in full bloom right now, but if your roses are past their prime, don’t worry, just wait for them to give way to rose hips, their natural fruit!

I made my rose syrup the same day that I was blanching stone fruits for the freezer. I decided not to throw away the water I used for blanching and to use it for my syrup. I also added a star anise, a few cardamom pods and a vanilla bean to the brew in addition to following the recipe from A Girl’s Guide to Guns and Butter. The result is a delicious syrup, perfect for adding to fizzy water for a wonderful summertime drink. I also find it goes well in a cup of herbal tea as the sweetener. Check out the link to the original recipe and you will find more uses there for rose syrup.

Rose-Vanilla Syrup (adapted from A Girl’s Guide to Guns and Butter)

INGREDIENTS:

approximately 3 cups loose, unsprayed rose petals
5 cups cold water
3 cups granulated sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 star anise
A few cardamom pods
A vanilla bean

METHOD: Just pick a few handfuls of unsprayed rose petals, throw them in a pot with sugar and water (and additional spices, if desired), bring everything to a simmer and cook for about five minutes before adding lemon juice (important for both the color and the flavor!). Remove from heat, and allow everything to infuse overnight. All you have to do the next day is strain it and store it in the refrigerator (I also froze some).

Shakshouka: Eggs cooked in fragrant tomato sauce

 

Long time readers of this blog will know how much I love eggs. They are definitely one of my favorite foods and I have written about them often (this blog has almost 100 recipes featuring eggs!). In fact I have often bordered on waxing poetic about them. My one and only youtube video is all about eggs (from hen to pan) and one of my egg recipes was even featured in a cookbook on brain healthy foods, Think Food . So yeah, I am a big fan.

It is hard to say anything negative about eggs these days, especially now that people are hip to the understanding that eggs don’t increase your cholesterol or make you fat, more and more the egg is being praised again for its health benefits. It really is nature’s most perfect food and each day I marvel at the little miracles deposited in our hens’ nesting boxes. Studies are even speculating that those with egg allergies, really aren’t allergic to the eggs but to the soy  in the eggs from the feed chickens are given.

“Eggs are an amazing whole food. They are rich in choline, a key ingredient in the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which is necessary for the healthy communication between brain cells. Studies have shown that choline intake promotes recovery from learning memory disorders in the aging brain, and may even improve psychic function in those with senile dementia or Alzheimer’s. Egg yolks are also rich in omega-3 fatty acids, yielding additional brain benefits”.ThinkFood, Recipes for Brain Fitness

Now I have already mentioned many times that you should make sure to find a source of good quality, organic, pasture raised eggs (and soy free if you can find them). But it doesn’t hurt to say it again. When it comes to eggs, meat and dairy, organic, pasture raised is a must. These are foods I will never skimp on. It is the way nature intended and this is the only way to ensure you aren’t getting GMOs, added hormones or antibiotics in your food, all things that make naturally good and healthy food, unhealthy. It really is that simple. What the animals we eat, eat, is what we eat. Hence the famous cliché – You Are What You Eat. Well, you really are.

One of my favorite things about eggs is that they are so easy to raise yourself. It is a way of getting cheap, local, sustainable food right in your backyard (or front yard, in our case)! Many towns allow people to keep at least 3 hens, backyard layers are becoming as popular as gardening these days! And this is good – we could all be a little more sustainable and self-sufficient. And if you can’t raise hens yourself, check out localharvest.org to find a local farm near you that does! A great way to support your local economy and find out from the farmer exactly what went into those eggs.

(Shakshouka served with gluten-free sourdough bread)

Now onto the recipe, I learned how to make Shakshouka from my best friend Liz. Shakshouka is an Israeli dish comprised of peppers, onions, garlic and eggs cooked in tomato sauce, spiced with cumin and it is absolutely delicious. In fact the first time we had it, her Israeli husband made it for us, for dinner. There were sweet and hot peppers in it and the flavors just popped! Combine that with perfectly poached eggs on top, breaking and releasing their delicious yolks and it is pretty much heaven on a dish (or in a bowl). They served it with pita and hummus. It was a satisfying and flavorful meal.

Wikipedia says that Shakshouka was introduced to Israeli cuisine by Tunisian Jews and so it is a popular dish in North Africa as well.

I don’t often have access to fresh peppers unless it is the height of summer. So I usually use roasted jarred peppers and a pinch of cayenne or hot smoked paprika to lend some heat to the dish. I use the best canned tomatoes I can find – usually that means home canned tomatoes. I also like Pomi brand tomatoes and Eden Organics (the cans are BPA free) and of course our farm fresh eggs! Sometimes if I have leftover potatoes, I will add them as well.

Add some spice to your morning eggs and get your day going with some delicious Shakshouka!

INGREDIENTS:

A nice glug of olive oil
1 roasted bell pepper (or fresh) cut into thin slices
½ a small onion
1 clove of garlic minced
2- 8 oz cans of diced tomatoes (or one box of Pomi)
Cumin, cayenne (or hot smoked paprika) salt and pepper to taste.
4 large farm fresh organic eggs

METHOD:
Heat a large skillet and add olive oil. Gently sauté peppers, onions and garlic on medium-low heat until tender. Add tomatoes and spices/seasoning and simmer over medium heat until much of the liquid is evaporated and you have a nice spiced sauce (about 10 minutes). Crack eggs over pan, season, place lid over pan and let cook until egg whites are cooked and yolks are still runny.

Eat Like a Dinosaur Book Review (and giveaway!)

Disclaimer: I received a copy of Eat Like a Dinosaur for free in exchange for a review of the book. This in no way influenced my review, which is true and honest.

CONGRATS to Kelly, the winner of the book giveaway!

I was very excited a few weeks ago to be contacted by the Paleo Parents asking if I would be interested in reviewing their new book, Eat Like a Dinosaur: Recipe & Guidebook for Gluten-free Kids. This is a cookbook geared towards gluten-free kids and their families. The recipes in this book are all free of grains, dairy and legumes. But it is so much more than that – it is a guide to helping parents navigate the murky waters of raising children with multiple food allergies, learning how to overhaul the SAD (Standard American Diet) as a family and having a great time preparing and eating good food at the same time!

I don’t often agree to do cookbook reviews because frankly, most cookbooks don’t cater to my dietary needs and the needs of many who read this blog. I don’t mind doing extra leg work to translate standard recipes into gluten-free, allergen-friendly, WAPF eating but I don’t expect that everyone who reads this blog has the time or inclination for that. So it was really fun for me to read through this book and realize that I could eat everything in it – and so can many of you! Not only that, but the recipes are interesting, simple, fresh and delicious looking. Although I do eat dairy, legumes and some grains, it is refreshing to have a cookbook where I don’t have to think; I can just make it, worry free.

So I am obviously not a kid, nor do I have young children living at home with me (yet!) but when it comes to food, there is a kid in all of us! We all enjoy comfort and nostalgic foods, so many of which come from our past and are not allergen or traditional food friendly. I think some of these recipes will hit that childlike sweet spot in all of us: spaghetti with meatballs (using spaghetti squash), shepherd’s pie, sweet potato fries, chocolate chip cookies, milkshakes, puddings and cupcakes as well as recipes for ketchup, barbecue sauce and mayonnaise. There is also something in each section for more mature tastes: lemon dill salmon, curried mussels (not muscles), black olive tapenade and several recipes for making jerky at home (how cool is that?).

For families that have children with allergies beyond grains, gluten and dairy, Eat Like a Dinosaur is super handy, there is a key for the top 8 allergens: fish, shellfish, tree nuts and eggs and although there is no dairy, wheat, peanuts or soy in any of the recipes, their icons have also been included on the side of each recipe just for reassurance! So you can see at a glance the recipes that are perfect for you and your family! There is also a helpful guide to ingredients at the front of the book explaining what various ingredients are and resources for getting them. Honestly, even if your kids don’t have allergies but you are a busy parent looking for healthy foods that your kids will eat, you should really consider this book as well. The farther away we can get from the SAD and start cooking more at home, the better off we will all be! This book takes the guesswork out for you.

Some other great features geared specifically towards the kids are a section in each recipe showing steps that kids can participate in to help create the meal, making mealtimes a true family event. There is also a very cute illustrated story about food allergies and health just for the kids – to help them understand in a fun way why eating like a dinosaur is super healthy!

I really like this book, not only do the recipes look great but you can tell that the Paleo Parents really care, not just about their own family but about yours as well. They know first-hand how difficult a transition from the SAD to a whole foods diet can be and they have made themselves a resource to you every step of the way, from how to talk to your kids about it, to ways to deal with family and friends that just don’t understand your new eating habits or maybe don’t understand how serious defaulting on that diet can be.

I thought about giving away my copy of Eat Like a Dinosaur to one lucky reader, but you can probably understand now why I want to keep it! But I do want to get this book out to more people and support the Paleo Parents and all their hard work in preparing this great resource for all of us. So I am going to give away a copy of this book to one of my readers. Please let me know why you need this book and I will pick a random winner!

How to Enter The Eat Like a Dinosaur Giveaway:

Anyone is welcome to enter, provided doing so does not violate any local laws of your place of residency. US entries only for this one, due to shipping restrictions, and all participants must be over the age of 18.

Please remember that for your entry to count, you must leave a separate comment for every entry you make and make sure to include your email address in the spot provided when you fill out the comment form so I can get in touch with you if you win.

1) DO THIS FIRST (REQUIRED): In the comments, tell me why you need this cookbook.

Optional ways to get more entries:

2) Blog about this giveaway describing why you want to win the book, and link your post to this giveaway. (1 extra entry)
3) Subscribe to The Leftover Queen RSS feed. (1 extra entry)
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8) Follow The Leftover Queen on Twitter and tweet @leftoverqueen and @PaleoParents with a link to the giveaway. (1 extra entry)

If you are already a fan of The Leftover Queen and have done all or some of the above, and wish to enter the contest just write that you already subscribe to the newsletter, facebook page or RSS feed, by email, etc. Make sure to leave a separate comment for every entry.

Why Enter?

1) Because it is free
2) This cookbook is awesome
3) To support bloggers!

The winner will be announced on this post Friday, March 16, 2012. The winner will be drawn at random and contacted on March 16th. The winner has until Monday, March 19, 2012 by 10 AM, EST to respond before another winner is chosen.

Versatile Smoothie Recipe

This recipe is kitty approved!

I have been posting a lot recently on my Facebook Page about my post workout Pumpkin Smoothies and those posts have created quite a buzz! I am a huge pumpkin freak and I enjoy it all year long – seems like a lot of you are too! I don’t know what I enjoy better, my workouts or these smoothies afterwards- the best of both worlds! This smoothie is great way to get in some extra grain-free carbohydrates, fat and protein post workout.

That said, many times when I post a specific recipe, I get a lot of great comments like: “can I substitute Y ingredient for X ingredient?” or “I wish I could make that, but I don’t consume X ingredient” or “I wish I could make this but I don’t know where to get X ingredient” or simply “I don’t like X ingredient”. You get the gist…so although I will post my awesome pumpkin smoothie with options and add ins, I will also give you ideas for entirely different smoothie recipes. This is mix and match folks! :)

This is your smoothie recipe – easy to tailor to your tastes and needs. I give some suggestions, but feel free to improvise. Like chocolate? Add a TBS or two of fair trade cocoa powder (no sugar added). Don’t do sugar? Try stevia, or fruit sweetened smoothies – dried dates are great for this. Want to make it a greenie? Add a handful of spinach or kale. The possibilities are endless!

Here are some of my recent combinations:

raw milk, pumpkin, 1/2 banana, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and a little stevia
raw milk, egg, pumpkin puree, almond butter, cinnamon and molasses
coconut milk, avocado, cocoa powder, cinnamon, maple
kefir, soaked almonds, dried dates/figs, frozen berries, vanilla extract

This smoothie recipe is so versatile you can enjoy it for breakfast, a snack, dessert or part of any meal when you need an extra boost.

INGREDIENTS: per smoothie (@ 16 oz)

Base liquid: 1 cup liquid – Kefir, Raw Milk, Coconut Milk are good choices
Thickener: 1 banana – I also like using instead 1/2 avocado
Nuts: 3 TBS almond butter – you can use any other nut butter or a handful of soaked nuts – I usually use almonds – click here to understand about the benefits of soaking nuts
Sweetener: 1 TBS 100% pure maple syrup, honey or molasses or 1/8 – ¼ tsp or one or two dried dates (optional)
Optional add ins: ¼ cup of pumpkin puree, 1/4 yogurt, 1/4 berries, 2 TBS cocoa powder, kale or spinach, dash of cinnamon, 1 shot of espresso or ¼ cup of coffee, 1 TBS coconut oil, raw pastured raised chicken egg (do not use conventional eggs from the grocery store), vanilla extract, powdered ginger, nutmeg, etc.
Ice

METHOD:
Place all the liquids in your blender first. Then add the fruit, butters, oils and nuts and then the cinnamon. Process on medium speed until well mixed, then start adding ice, a handful at a time, gradually, until the smoothie is at your desired consistency. I usually turn up the speed to high during the ice process. Pour and enjoy!

Turkish Eggs and A RANT!

Turkish Eggs: Simple, Healthy, Cost Effective Food. For Everyone.

The world of Real Food has become a very confusing environment lately. In fact, I am having a hard time keeping track of all the changes and frankly getting tired doing so because it all seems to be based on flight of fancy!

There is Paleo and Primal, Raw, Vegan, Vegetarian, Blood Type diet, Slow Carb, Low Carb and everything in between and everyone is fighting with each other about what you should eat! Some people say avoid carbs (they are in everything from fruits and veggies to grains), others say avoid sugar, even in fruit – or only eat fruit on an empty stomach, or only eat sugar with fat and protein to keep insulin levels in check! So which is it? Lately too, I see the demonizing of olive oil to endorse butter and lard- Olive oil which has been around as long as butter at least and a staple of all Mediterranean diets for millennia. Why can’t we just say they are all good fats? It is enough to make you completely crazy. I don’t believe in cutting out whole food groups. Our ancestors didn’t, why should we? I guess that is why I follow WAPF for the most part, because it is a very balanced diet that makes sense.

For my own example sometimes when I talk to people who are Paleo about health issues, they seem to immediately assume that because I eat dairy, that is my problem and negate all the other eating habits I follow that are virtually the same as theirs. But, I have 100% northern European DNA and because my ancestors have a long history with dairy animals (at least 10,000 years – as this is when cattle were domesticated) our genes actually mutated to be able to consume and digest dairy! So if I want to eat like my ancestors, dairy is going to be a cornerstone of that diet. It is literally my birthright to do so.

I have a gluten allergy and have a hard time digesting grains. So I don’t eat many of them, although the ones I do eat, I eat a good amount of, like buckwheat. If I could eat wheat I would (I can get wheat and spelt locally. But coconut flour, which I love and eat often, is not at all local – so I struggle with that).

I don’t think wheat it is killing the world. In fact, as I have been discussing all over the web in recent weeks, Italians (and likely others, although Italy is what I am familiar with) eat copious amounts of it in the 2 mainstays of their diet – pasta and bread and have a very healthy population. In fact, Sardinians, are some of the longest lived peoples in the world! So how does that jive with the whole wheat as the grim reaper argument? There has to be other factors, like variety of wheat, the co-mingling with GMO crops, pesticides and the like.

Lots of paleo folks out there eat coconut oil and coconut flour, but what caveman was producing those items for their diet? So many questions and not enough answers.

I don’t have the answers, but I don’t think anyone does at this point.

So what the heck DO you eat? I eat whole FRESH foods, much of which I raise or grow myself or buy locally. I don’t eat packaged or processed foods or artificial sweeteners. I stay away from GMOs and MSG. I watch my sugar intake and if I have chips or something like that, I make sure they are organic. I make sure to have a balanced diet – I eat from all the food groups. I take care in cooking and preparing meals. I never eat fast food. I eat a lot of fermented and cultured foods to promote digestion and keep my gut healthy. I enjoy my food. I care about where is comes from, how the animal lived or how the plant or grain was grown before it came to my plate. I am a conscious consumer. I think these are all important things, in fact more important that the specific foods you are eating. So long as you are paying attention to the rest you are likely much healthier than the majority of the people out there.

It has come to me that a lot of people seem to treat food habits like religion these days. But the reality is, there is no simple answer, there is no magic bullet. Our world is so toxic these days from chemicals, pesticides, GMOs, additives, preservatives, pollution, etc. that we cannot expect to have the same health that our ancestors did and sometimes we cannot reach optimum health on food alone. Many in the Real Food culture give people the impression that if “you just do it right” you will be a perfect human, free of health issues, as energetic and strong as a superhero, popping out babies left and right, etc. But I don’t think that is reasonable for many of us. Some of us need extra help along the way – supplements and what not and there is no shame in that.

Some of us don’t do well with gluten or a lot of sugar and grains and for a lot of us it is because our bodies need to heal. Maybe in time we will be able to have those things again as part of a balanced diet. So please don’t be harsh with us about our choices, be compassionate, try to help but be kind, many people deal with all kinds of food issues and can easily be triggered by these kinds of arguments over what is “right”. Right for who? For you? Great, go with it, but please stop insinuating that your way is the only way or the BEST, because I can probably find just as many people who say it isn’t for them! Please get off your pulpit, preaching to everyone. There is DNA, environmental factors, stress, physiology, lifestyle to consider in every single person when trying to decide what is best to fuel their individual bodies.

STRESS is the real enemy and stressing about how to feed yourself, one of the fundamental blocks of life will be a struggle every day, several times a day if you can’t come to some sort of peace with it all. Provided that you don’t have an allergy, the stress of this will kill you faster than carbs, dairy or whatever is the taboo food of the day.

What do you think?

I want to finish this post on a high note and give a good example of simple, easy to prepare healthy food. This recipe comes from (but slightly modified) the cookbook Primal Blueprint Quick and Easy Meals. This just goes to show that although I don’t follow a particular diet, that I do find a lot of good recipes in the cookbooks! Plus, the original recipe calls for a dairy product which I find interesting! One thing I will never be is dogmatic about food! I love and adore food, but it is not my religion.

Turkish Eggs (adapted from Primal Blueprint: Quick and Easy Meals)

INGREDIENTS:
¼ cup plain full fat yogurt
1 large garlic clove, finely chopped
1 egg
2 TBS butter
Sprinkle of dry thyme
¼ tsp hot paprika
Pinch of salt

METHOD: Stir yogurt and garlic together and spread on serving plate. Fry the egg in 1 TBS of butter. At the same time in a small saucepan or butter warmer melt the other TBS of butter and add herbs and spices. Turn off heat when butter starts to sizzle and brown. Place fried egg on yogurt and drizzle with butter mixture.

Sardinian Purcavru in Agru Durci

Purcavru in Agru Durci garnished with mirto

I told you all I was going to be making things interesting on here with different recipes from a variety of different world cuisines!

With the first in this series, I am giving a nod to my husband’s Sardinian roots. Sardinia is a small island off the coast of Italy in the vicinity of Rome. I was lucky enough to go there this past year when Roberto and I went with our moms on the “roots tour” of Italy. Roberto was born in Sardinia to Sardinian parents, but grew up in Rome. On our visit there last fall, we spent time with the extended family. It was lovely.

Sardinia is an interesting place, I immediately loved it because it has a rich culture both with herding animals (sheep and goats) but is also the place in Europe which has the greatest amount of megalithic structures, making this farm girl and history buff very happy!

These megalithic structures, round tower-fortresses called nuraghi, which ancient villages were built around are over 35,000 years old and there are over 8,000 of them on Sardinia, an island that is about the size and shape as Vermont. So that is a lot of pre-history going on there! If you aren’t into history, Sardinia is home to some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, La Costa Smeralda- The Emerald Coast. There are also beautiful mountains (yes they get snow!) and lunar looking rock formations. There is an area towards the middle of the island that is called Valle Della Luna – The Valley of the Moon and looks just like Rohan from the Lord of the Rings movies. Fascinating landscape!

But the thing I loved about it most is that it is home to some of the oldest trees in Europe. We were able to visit 2 of these old olives, the oldest being 5,000 years old and the second oldest being around 3,000 – and still producing olives!!! For me, a nature worshiper it was akin to meeting Gandhi. The most amazing thing about Italy in general is that you can grow so much food! Nearly everyone that has even a small plot of land has fruit trees, some grapes to make homemade wine, nut and olive trees, veggie gardens, etc. I saw tons of pomegranate and fig trees. There is just so much abundance there!

Sardinia actually has its own language, Sardu, of which there are several dialects. Sardu has been influenced by Catalan, Spanish and indigenous Nuragic elements with some roots from Phoenician and Etruscan. So instead of the more familiar Italian “a” and “o” word endings, Sardinian words end with “u” and “s”, like our last name, Campus. This is because Sardinian is much like Latin. You can see this in the name of this dish Purcavru Agru Durci, which in Italian would be Cinghiale Agrodolce.

So what about the food? Well because of its location, Sardinian cuisine has been able to capture tastes from various Mediterranean influences: Catalan, Corsican, Spanish, Italian. The diet is rich in meats, like lamb, goat and pork, fresh vegetables, wonderful cheeses, fresh veggies and of course copious amounts of olive oil and rich red wine, famed for its high level of antioxidants- Cannonou. On the coast, where we didn’t spend much time, there is also a lot of fish and seafood consumed. And, like the rest of Italy the population consumes large amounts of pasta and bread. In fact as a gluten-intolerant, I had a hard time in Italy in general staying away from wheat as it is in almost everything from bread and pasta, to a thickener in sauces and a coating on vegetables and meats. I asked the question on facebook the other day after reading an article about how wheat is killing the world, how people like Italians, and especially Sardinians, known the world over as healthy and one of the longest living peoples could be in such a good state of health (the island has the world’s highest documented percentage of people who have passed the century threshold.) if wheat is the only factor. It was an interesting discussion, but none of us were able to really make sense of that!

But I digress. One thing which is very unique to Sardinian cuisine is the use of Mirto, or Myrtle. The plant is symbolic of love and immortality, and in Sardinia it is an essential plant. The berries (which look a bit like small blueberries, although there is a white version as well )are used to make a delicious aperitif, called “mirto”, which uses both varieties of berries separately, creating a red and white version and the leaves. Sardinians also use the leaves in cooking, similar in manner to bay leaves or other herbaceous plants. I was able to get some to bring home with me, and this is one of the ingredients that really makes this dish. The taste is very hard to place for me, but is most similar to a bay leaf.

I wasn’t able to get wild boar for this dish, but we did use meat from the half pig we bought this year (and butchered ourselves) from a local farmer.

Purcavru in Agru Durci (from Cooking in Sardinia)

INGREDIENTS:

4-5 TBS olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 tsp myrtle leaves (substitute bay leaf)
1 ½ lbs boneless boar or pork meat, cut into bite sized pieces
1 tsp sugar
1 TBS red wine vinegar
1 TBS tomato Paste
Salt to taste

METHOD:
Sauté onion in a pan (I used cast iron) with 4-5 TBS of olive oil. Add about a tsp of chopped myrtle leaves. Add the meat and a pinch of salt and brown over medium heat. Blend sugar and vinegar, stir and pour over the meat. Then dilute tomato paste in a cup of warm water, add to the pan, lower the heat, cover and simmer for 45 mins. You will have to add more water intermittently so the stew doesn’t dry out. During the last five minutes, uncover pan to reduce the sauce.

Buckwheat Shortbread

I love shortbread.  I know some are less enamored with the dry, crumbly texture but when using great quality butter, the key ingredient; it brings this Scottish specialty to a new level.  Served with tea, its natural accompaniment, it is pure bliss.

I think now is a good time to discuss butter, we eat a lot of it in this house (and have very good cholesterol reports and excellent blood pressure), but it is of the highest quality – grassfed, organic, artisanal butter. Yes, it is more expensive, but if you spend the extra money, it turns into a virtual health food and you can eat more of it without getting sick!

I know some of you are probably shaking your heads right now in dis-belief, but you see, butter has gotten a bad rap over recent years because the quality of butter found in most grocery stores is dismal.  A lot of you may have seen the news that Paula Deen, known for her butter laden foods has finally come forward being diagnosed with Type II diabetes, many of you are probably not surprised and many of you might think butter is the culprit, or even fat for that matter. But really, it is all about quality. Just think about our great-grandparents who cooked with a lot of butter and were in good health.

Most “butter” these days has canola or other oils on the ingredient list, or “natural flavoring” (code word for MSG) – especially when you get into the realm of “light” “lowfat” or “spreadable butter”.  Just look at the ingredient list for Land O’ Lakes “light” butter: Ingredients: Butter (Cream, Salt), Water*, Buttermilk*, Contains Less Than 2% of Food Starch-Modified*, Tapioca Maltodextrin*, Salt, Distilled Monoglycerides*, Lactic Acid*, Potassium Sorbate* and Sodium Benzoate* (Preservatives), PGPR* (emulsifier), Natural Flavor*, Xanthan Gum*, Vitamin A Palmitate*, Beta Carotene* (color).  Sorry but that isn’t butter anymore, it is a chem lab.

Even if your butter just contains cream and salt, it is likely from cows fed on grain and pumped with hormones, probably living in terrible conditions and that really makes all the difference in terms of your health and your arteries. If you eat grassfed butter, you are basically eating a nutritious, body boosting food, made up of vitamins, minerals and healthy fats coming from healthy animals eating nutritious grass.

So please, use good quality, healthy butter when cooking. I recommend Kerrygold – which can actually be found in most grocery stores (usually in the gourmet cheese section, but ask your store’s customer service for more info). I also like Organic Valley’s Pasture butter (green package) and Vermont Butter & Cheese’s European style butter, in that order. In a pinch, go for Cabot – found in groceries all over the country! If you can’t afford good quality butter, use less of it and substitute in olive oil.

Now onto the shortbread- since we are celebrating all things Scottish in January , shortbread is a perfect addition to the subject. A traditional shortbread is nothing more than sugar, butter and flour- in a one to two to three ratio, respectively. That is it. Traditionally it was made with oat flour, but most modern versions are made with white flour.

This time I opted for buckwheat flour. I had some delicious buckwheat shortbread this past summer and decided to try my hand at making my own version! It is virtually the same taste as “normal” shortbread, although a bit nuttier – which just compliments the butter- and gives the shortbread a darker color.

 

 INGREDIENTS:

2 cups buckwheat flour

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/4 cup pure maple syrup (honey works also)

1 stick of cold butter, cut into small pieces

 

METHOD:

Preheat oven to 300 F.  Mix all dry ingredients together in a large bowl, then pour maple over top, using your hands, a pastry cutter or a fork, mix in the butter, a little at a time until you have a crumbly dough.

Press the dough into a prepared (greased with butter) 9-inch round pan. If you have a shortbread pan, even better! Bake for about 40 minutes or until golden in color. Let cool about 10 minutes, then flip pan over onto a dish and remove the shortbread. Cut into wedges while still warm. Serve with tea or coffee!