03 December 2011

Cooking In The Moment

We have been waiting years, literally years, for Andrea Reusing to get this cookbook published. Reusing is a transplanted Southerner (and lately we have seeing a lot of those crop up in the cooking world.) She owns one of the best restaurants in the entire country, Lantern Restaurant, in Chapel Hill North Carolina (and you don't have to take our work for it, the lofty and extinct Gourmet said so.) Reusing was recently named the Best Chef of the Southeast by the James Beard Foundation. And if all that wasn't enough, she is married to Mac McCaughan, the frontman of Superchunk and co-founder of Merge Records.

All that info aside, she is a great storyteller. The stories in this cookbook along with casual and innovative twists on classics are what make this book great. While Reusing has made somewhat of a name for herself in that fresh, seasonal, up-to-the-minute, alright, Farm-to-Table, she has the right attitude about it. She was quoted as saying:

"In that same vein, there is a sort of fatigue that has settled in around the ubiquity of the words "local" and "organic." For many home cooks, "farm-to-table" has nearly been weaponized. Cooking with food grown near home — which was just called "cooking" until recently — has come to signify something rigorous and philosophical. The idea behind most recipes in my book is to show how seasonal, local food is the most efficient path to satisfying meals."

For quite some time we have struggling with the exact way to describe the "farm-to-table" phenom and when we read the word"weaponized" we were very disappointed WE did not think of it.

In the end, however Reusing gets the ingredients, she has a way of making them shine. Her Asian spin on Southern staples breathes life into the often monotonous repetition of Southern fair. Here Reusing gives a Southern classic an new profile.

Fried Okra with Indian Spices and Hot Tomato Relish

1 teaspoon coriander seeds
¼ teaspoon fennel seeds
1 clove
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 large egg
¼ cup buttermilk
1 medium serrano chile, finely chopped
2 tablespoons chickpea flour
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 pints okra (just under a pound), stems removed
Sea salt, for serving
Hot Tomato Relish

In a small pan over medium heat, lightly toast the coriander, fennel, and clove until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Allow to cool completely; then grind and set aside. Toast the cumin seeds in the same fashion and add them to the ground spices.

Fill a deep, heavy stockpot with about 3 inches of oil. Heat the oil over medium-high heat until a deep-fat thermometer reads 350°F.

Beat the egg in a small bowl and whisk in the buttermilk and serrano chile. In a medium bowl, combine the chickpea flour, all-purpose flour, salt, pepper, and spice mixture.

Cut the okra on a sharp diagonal into long ¼-inch-thick slices. Put the okra slices into the bowl with the flour mixture and combine, leaving a light dusting on each piece. Pour the egg mixture on top and mix with your hands, making sure to coat all surfaces. In batches, use a large slotted spoon to carefully lay loosely formed handfuls of 6 to 8 slices into the hot oil and cook for about 2 minutes, turning as necessary until the okra is golden brown and uniformly crisp. Drain on a clean brown paper bag, season with sea salt, and serve with the tomato relish.

Hot Tomato Relish

1 tablespoon expeller-pressed vegetable oil
½ teaspoon brown mustard seeds
3 garlic cloves, slivered lengthwise
½ teaspoon cayenne
1¼ teaspoons ground turmeric
5 ripe plum tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and finely diced
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ cup distilled white vinegar
¼ teaspoon sugar

Heat the oil in a medium-size heavy nonreactive pot over medium-high heat. Add the mustard seeds and garlic, and cook until the garlic is turning light golden brown and the seeds are popping, about 2 minutes. Add the cayenne and turmeric. Cook for 10 to 20 seconds, and then add the tomatoes, salt, vinegar, and sugar. Simmer for 15 minutes, or until the tomatoes are soft and the relish has thickened slightly. Serve hot.

Pick out a recipe from Cooking In The Moment, throw No Pocky for Kitty on the turntable, grab a beer and crank up the volume and stove and get cooking.

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