Preserving warmth for winter
Summertime swaddles September in sunshine, goldenrod and a dappling of apples, but October edges into autumn, with cooler nights and crystal clear days that are perfect for “working” outdoors. With an average last frost date of October 15, in Central Virginia this is the time to harvest and preserve the last of your summertime treats—the sweet and hot peppers that have finally ripened, the omnipresent cherry tomatoes, and perhaps a last batch of lettuce.
If your pepper plants have been prolific this year, consider stringing hot peppers and hanging them in a cool, dry place—they’ll make beautiful, rustic holiday decorations or gifts, or you can crumble them into dust and boast your own chili powder. (That’s right, chili powder is ground-up chili peppers—and red pepper flakes are a mixture of crumbled sweet and hot red peppers!)
As a matter of fact, many items in your spice rack are simply the mature seeds of an edible herb or plant: Coriander is cilantro seed, mustards are the seeds from various mustard plants, sesame is a grass that fruits with sesame seeds, and on and on.
To capture and save tiny seeds, slip a plastic or paper bag over the top of the entire plant, then clip it, invert it and shake it. Make certain the seeds are dry before putting them in a glass spice jar; spreading them out on a cookie sheet and finding a warm, dark place will usually be sufficient.—Lisa Reeder
While the low-tech way to grind spices is a mortar and pestle, for the gadget girls and boys there is a sleek, electric machine that will pulverize your seeds into spices in no time flat. It’s called a coffee bean grinder, and if you have one for coffee you’ll know that these little mills are noisy; if you press a kitchen towel over the grinder while using it, the sound will be a bit muffled. For added flavor, try toasting spices before grinding them—in Indian cuisine, cooks fry their spices in oil or clarified butter before adding anything else to the pot.
When toasting spices, once you smell them, it’s time to get them off the heat and out of the pan before they burn. To clean your spice grinder, put in some small chunks of bread (stale is fine!) and press the button a few times.
Unfortunately, it is difficult to remove the remains of truly pungent spices, like pepper, so get a separate spice grinder and keep your coffee grinder unadulterated.—L.R.
Coconut Shrimp with Sweet Cilantro Dipping Sauce
Local chef Christian Trendel gave us this recipe for savory hors d’oeuvres.
For Dipping Sauce:
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. cornstarch
1 Tbs. rice vinegar
1 Tbs. chopped fresh cilantro
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp. minced red pepper with seeds
1 cup sweetened flaked coconut
1 cup panko (Japanese-style) breadcrumbs
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. cayenne
2 large eggs
6 cups vegetable oil
8 large 16-20 count shrimp, de-veined and peeled, leaving tail and first segment of shell intact
To make the sauce, combine cornstarch with small amount of water. Set aside. Heat rice vinegar to a boil. Whisk all ingredients except cornstarch mixture into rice vinegar. Add cornstarch mixture and whisk well. Remove from heat and let stand at least 30 minutes. Sauce can be made several days ahead. Cover; chill.
To prepare shrimp, mix together coconut, breadcrumbs, salt and cayenne. Separate egg yolk from egg white and whisk egg white. Heat oil to 350 degrees in a table fryer or a 4- to 6-quart deep, heavy pot over moderately high heat (use a high-temperature thermometer to ensure proper temp if heating over a stove).
While oil is heating, coat shrimp. One at a time, hold shrimp by tail and dip into cornstarch, shake excess off, and then dredge first in egg white, then in coconut-breadcrumb mix, coating completely and pressing gently to help mixture adhere. Transfer to plate. Fry shrimp in oil until golden, about 1-2 minutes. Transfer with a slotted spoon to paper towels to drain and season lightly with salt. Serve shrimp with sauce. Makes four hors d’oeuvres servings.