Ropa Vieja (Omelette)

ropa vieja (omelette)

Our typical American cuisine was inspired by the familiar recipes brought over by English, French, Spanish, and Dutch settlers, as well as those of Scotch-Irish and German colonists, who followed these early immigrants; all of this European influence merged with the available Native American foods.

African slaves played a broad part in fashioning our distinctive Southern cookery; the mistresses of these slaves initially taught these, our people, receipts recalled from their individual heritages; then, with the Africans’ natural appreciation of and aptitude for cooking, prized dishes were developed, which were used in the strong social competition among the plantations.  These delicacies, which in large part formed this region’s cuisine, were not initially compiled in books for the public, but rather closely safeguarded within each family, due to the rivalry among these established settlements; thus, there were no Southern cook books until the first quarter of the 19th century.  A few recipes from this geographic area were preserved, however, in some American cook books, mostly those published in and around Philadelphia.

Mrs. Mary Randolph’s The Virginia Housewife, printed in 1824, in Washington D.C., is an early example of a receipt book specializing in foods from the South.  It also includes some Northern recipes, as well as a few Spanish dishes, of which our Ropa Vieja omelette is one; this promising recipe boasts of only five ingredients-one of which is our garden tomato-and just a few succinct instructions; its simplicity makes it exceptional.

In On Food and Cooking, Harold McGee explains why this sweet-tart fruit tomato, which is used as a vegetable, has such great appeal.  (Note: any produce with seeds is considered a fruit!)  He attributes this attractiveness to the unique flavor brought about by its low sugar content (3%), as well as the large amount of savory glutamic acid (as much as 0.3% of its weight), and ample quantities of aromatic sulfur compounds.  These two latter ingredients, present in ripe tomatoes, predispose them to complement the flavor of meats; this is because these two substances exist more commonly in animal flesh than fruits; thus, their rich presence in tomatoes allows for added taste to meat dishes.  Savory glutamic acid and sulfur aromas likewise bring out great depth and complexity in sauces and other food combinations; therefore, this particular produce can even replace meat in flavoring vegan dishes.

The tomato originated as a weed in Central American fields of maize and beans; extensive varieties existed there, by the time Hernando Cortez and his 400 Spaniards discovered Mexico in 1519.  Tomatoes were incorporated in American (and later European) cookery in various ways.  At the time of Cortez’ arrival, Mexicans used thin shavings of this green, unripe fruit in many dishes; they also mixed ripe tomatoes with chillis in a sauce to top cooked beans.  Subsequently, the Spaniards in Europe readily adopted them in their cuisine.

When Francisco Pizarro began his bloody attacks in Peru in 1532, this South American land, with all its royal Incan wealth, was eating mostly a vegetarian diet of maize, potatoes (including sweet and manioc potatoes), squash, beans, peanuts, avocados, chillis, and our beloved tomato.

Some time later, the Italians were adding it to broths and soups, as noted by the Quaker merchant Peter Collinson, in 1742.  Tomato sauce for pasta followed several decades hence.

Britain lagged behind Italy, in accepting this item, due to their long-held mistaken viewpoint, which had originated on the Continent, connecting it with a deadly nightingshade, being it was of this same family.   Not until the 20th century did the English acquired a taste for tomatoes, particularly canned tomato soup.

North America was almost equally slow in receiving this fruit, probably due in part to these same European misconceptions; they considered it to be lacking in nourishment and substance, as well as a cause for gout.  During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the U.S began what was to become a wide acceptance of tomatoes, primarily due to the strong influence from the great Italian immigration then.  Nevertheless, their first appearance here was when Thomas Jefferson brought back seedlings from a diplomatic trip to Paris; there the Parisians had just accepted this “love apple”, believed to be an aphrodisiac; their acceptance directly resulted from the affect Italian cooking had on French troops during the French Revolution (see Spicy Sausages with Tomatoes & Turnips, 2017/09/25).

It is interesting to note that our third president had an extensive garden of 170 varieties of fruits and 330 varieties of vegetables and herbs; his grand kitchen utilized most of this produce, even producing tomato ketchup for our epicurean leader, who primarily chose a vegetarian diet.

Be sure to access my other tomato recipes: Parmesan Dover Sole (2017/03/27), Rosemary Eggs (2017/08/21), and Spicy Sausage with Tomatoes and Turnips (2017/09/25).

References:

  1. Esther B. Aresty, The Delectable Past (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1964), pp. 181-193.
  2. Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking (New York: Scribner, 1984, 2004), pp. 329, 330.
  3. On Food and Cooking (New York: Scribner, 1984, 2004), Reay Tannahill, Food in History (New York: The Three Rivers Press, 1988, 1973), pp. 30, 206, 207, 214.
  4. www.nellositaly.com/the-history-of-the-tomato-in-italy.html
  5. www.monticello.org/site/house-and-gardens/historic-gardens

ingredients for ropa vieja

Ropa Vieja (Omelette)  Adapted from an 1824 Southern recipe in Esther B. Aresty’s The Delectable Past (New York: Simon and Schuster, Inc., 1964).  Yields 2 servings.  Total prep time: 25 min.

2 large firm ripe tomatoes  (Cut these in eighths, removing seeds and juice.)

2/3 cup shredded leftover chicken, ham, or beef

4 large eggs, beaten lightly  (May use 3 duck eggs, which are bigger than chicken eggs; for egg history, see 2017/08/21.)

2 tbsp butter

1 tbsp chopped parsley, optional

Salt, to taste  (Real Salt is important for health; available in nutrition center at local supermarket.)

Fresh ground pepper, to taste

  1. cooked tomatoes

    Spay the optional parsley with a safe, inexpensive, effective produce spray-mix 97% distilled white vinegar and 3% hydrogen peroxide in a spray bottle; let sit while proceeding to the next step.

  2. Prep the above ingredients.  Cut the tomatoes in eighths, gently scoop out liquid and seeds with a spoon (it not necessary to peel the tomatoes), place in a bowl.  Shred and measure the leftover meat, set aside.  Beat the eggs, only until whites and yolks are lightly blended.  Rinse optional parsley well and chop fine.
  3. Over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons butter in a non-stick skillet.  Mix in meat, heating for 1 minute; add tomatoes; cook for 6 minutes, or until mixture is hot and tomatoes are somewhat softened, stirring occasionally (see above photo).
  4. Reduce heat to medium/low; sprinkle parsley over cooked tomatoes and meat; pour beaten eggs over this mixture, quickly distributing the meat and tomatoes evenly in eggs, using a spatula.
  5. finished product

    Salt and pepper generously before covering; cover and cook slowly, until eggs are set on top (see photo).

  6. When done, you may remove loose pieces of skin off tomato pieces, showing on top of omelette; fold it over; cut in half to serve two people.

The Best Zucchini Bread

zucchini loaves

It’s that time of year again for our proliferate zucchini.  Cucurbita pepo, a member of the cucumber/melon family, originated in Mexico; this was not only grown by Central and South Americans, but also by our own  Native Americans, long before the Europeans arrived.  Nonetheless, the version we know in the U.S. today is a variety of summer squash developed in Italy.

In actuality this is a fruit, not a vegetable, as it contains seeds.  While usually the male and female counterparts are present  in one plant, these components in this fruit exist in separate plants.  In the biological world, the female produces ovules, the equivalent of eggs, while the male produces pollen, which is like sperm in the animal kingdom.  Birds and especially bees transfer this pollen from the individual male to the female zucchini plants, producing abundant fruit, providing both these individual organisms reside together in any given garden.

I have a proven recipe to make use of this fertile squash, in which I suggest utilizing the health-promoting ingredients grapeseed oil and coconut sugar.

Grapeseed, along with coconut and avocado oils, can be heated to high temperatures without producing carcinogens; it is mild in flavor; thus, it is ideal for baking.

Comparing refined with coconut sugar, we see very little difference in their nutritional profiles on the surface; their caloric and carbohydrate content is very similar.  Such figures, however, don’t tell the hidden benefits of this healthier coconut sweetener which is barely processed; it is obtained by heating the sap of the coconut flower until most of the liquid is evaporated.  This alternative has a little more nutrition, as it contains small amounts of zinc, iron, calcium, and potassium, where the refined version holds empty calories.  More importantly, coconut sugar possesses a much lower glycemic index; this greatly reduces any tendency to spike the blood sugar, making it a possible substitute for those dealing with milder forms of blood sugar problems.  Always be sure to check with your healthcare specialist concerning your own personal diet!

I use this “healthy” substitute in both my zucchini and banana breads; see Banana Bread (2017/05/29).

My larder perpetually boast of one or the other of these, both of which I make with fresh ground, organic, hard red spring wheat berries.  These specific berries contain a variety of nutrients including vitamin E, calcium, B vitamins, folate, and potassium; one serving also provides 20% of the daily value of dietary fiber, 8% of needed iron, and the same amount of protein as found in an egg, or 6 grams. Breads last for lengthy periods of time, when made with this fresh ground flour.

To easily bake these perfect loaves in the off-season months, I encourage you to freeze plenty of this grated “fruit/vegetable” in 1-cup packages, while the abundance lasts.

References:

https://www.thespruce.com/history-of-zucchini-1807689

http://www.motherearthnews.com/organic-gardening/all-about-zucchini-zbcz1405

biologicalthinking.blogspot.com/2011/07/birds-do-it-bees-do-iteven-zucchinis-do-it.html

grinding flour with attachment for Kitchen Aid mixer

Zucchini Bread  Yields: 2 loaves.  Total prep time: 1 1/2 hr/  active prep time: 30 min/  baking time: 1 hr.

3 cups flour  (Fresh-ground provides the highest quality; use 2 cups organic, hard red spring wheat berries to make 3 cups fresh ground flour; see photo.)

3 eggs

2 1/4 cups sugar  (Coconut sugar is best; always available at Trader’s and at times Costco.)

1 cup oil  (Grapeseed  or avocado oil is important here; these may be heated to high temperatures without damage.)

3 tsp vanilla extract  (Ask vacationers to bring a liter bottle back from Mexico; this is the highest quality and dirt cheap.)

1 tsp salt  (Real Salt is important for optimum health; available in health section at local supermarket.)

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

4 tsp cinnamon  (Our local Fred Meyer’s has an excellent, organic Korintje cinnamon in bulk inexpensively.)

thawing individual frozen zucchini packages

2 cups of zucchini  (If using frozen zucchini, remove 1 tbsp of liquid from each thawed 1-cup package; be sure to thaw in a dish to catch juices; it is best to freeze these ahead, while zucchini is available; see photo.)

1 cup nuts, optional

Spray oil  (Coconut spray oil is best; Pam is available in most supermarkets; our local Winco-brand, however, is far less expensive.)

Flour for dusting pans

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  2. If grinding fresh flour, do so now; see above photo.
  3. Beat eggs in a large bowl, add sugar, blend until creamy.  Beat in oil and vanilla well.
  4. Place flour in a large bowl; stir in salt, baking powder, baking soda, and cinnamon with a fork vigorously, or shake all well in a sealed gallon-size storage bag.
  5. Mix flour mixture into egg/sugar/oil; when adding flour, do not over-beat, as this toughens the bread.
  6. Fold in zucchini and optional nuts.
  7. Spray and lightly flour two 8 x 4 inch loaf pans (coconut spray oil is important for flavor); pour batter into prepared pans.
  8. cooling zucchini loaves in pans

    Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until the loaf responds when pressed with finger; may also test with a toothpick, which will come out clean when done.  Do not over-bake, as this will continue to cook some, while cooling for 15 minutes in the pan set on a rack; see photo.

  9. This is magnificent, health-giving bread!

Apple Pancake

baked apple pancake

baked apple pancake

Our pastor shared that her husband, our other pastor, made an apple pancake to bless her, when he returned home from the men’s advance this year.  (Note: my church goes on advances, not retreats!)  Her email said that she had really missed him during his absence.  His offering of this pancake was a sacrificial act to demonstrate his love, serving her promptly upon his return.

I have witnessed what holy matrimony is by watching the relationship between these two.  Here there is honor, respect, and mutual edification at all times.  They esteem one another, by submitting first to God and then to each other; in this way their individual needs are met so they can live fully in perfect peace.  Through watching them closely, I learn to joyously submit in my marriage to Jesus.  My gratitude to them is great.

This exceptional souffle is a great entrée or breakfast meal for special occasions; it pleases beyond words the sweet tooth of the child in each of us.  May we follow the example of my pastor and use this recipe as a tool to honor those special to us.  These directions are easy to follow; yet, the outcome is a work of art, a display of love.

Our prized pancake weds together flavors, that strengthen and embellish each other.  Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page inspired me with their helpful contribution concerning the enhancement of foods, one with another.  For instance, they list “food matches made in heaven” in Culinary Artistry.  This comprehensive list, with its apt name, includes superb parings for apples.  My favorite are: bacon, cheese, currants, maple syrup, oatmeal, nuts, raisins, rosemary, sausages, sour cream, and yogurt.1

Among Dornenburg and Page’s classic poetic unions for apples are: brown sugar, caramel, cinnamon, cream, custard, and vanilla.  Indeed, this dish is a testimony of the symphonic joining of these outstanding ingredients, for here they are baked together as one glorious whole.2

This book teaches beautiful truths about how foods work in harmony, by employing either specific techniques or adding various ingredients.  Our authors write: “One flavor can overwhelm another, while in smaller quantity, as an accent, the same flavor has the power to bring out the other.”  We supplement sweetness with a pinch of salt when making fudge, while a touch of sugar is required to complete tart balsamic vinaigrette (see balsamic vinaigrette, 2016/08/22).  Such small additions intensify the main ingredient, giving relative prominence to it. However, too much of them will destroy the finished food.3

The above made me think of my acting days in community theatre: there I learned not to upstage my fellow actor, or steal away from his critical moment.  However this truth transcends acting: we all need to uphold our partner’s performance by downplaying our own.

Much like salt used in cooking, we can augment each other tastefully in our relationships-whether this be in holy matrimony or God-given friendships; thus, we grow together.  Let us regard our loved ones carefully by being salt and light to them.  Begin practicing this principle, by entertaining someone sumptuously this Valentine’s Day, with this triumphant apple pancake.

  1. Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page, Culinary Artistry (Hoboken, N.J.: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1996), p. 88.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid., p. 47.
prepping ingredients for apple pancake

ingredients for apple pancake

Apple Pancake  Yields: 2-3 servings.  Total prep time: 1 hr & 10 min/  active prep time: 20 min/  baking time: 50 min.

Note: this is especially good served with Aidell’s natural sausage-their spicy mango with jalapeno gives a beautiful hot, spicy contrast; you may choose to double the recipe, providing you have 2 10-inch Pyrex pie plates, as cold left-overs are great with vanilla ice cream!)

10 inch Pyrex pie plate

5 tbsp of butter

1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour  (If desired, grind 1/3 cup organic,

soft winter white wheat berries to make 1/2 cup flour.)

1/2 cup unbleached white flour  (Bob’s Red Mill organic is my favorite; note you may choose to omit the whole wheat flour and use all unbleached white.)

1/2 tsp salt

5 large eggs, beaten

1 cup milk  (May use alternative milks, such as almond or soy; soy has estrogen-like qualities, important for women in menopause.)

1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract  (I use a high quality and terribly inexpensive Mexican vanilla, which I get through friends traveling there.)

 

1/2 cup brown sugar  (Organic is best; may be found at Trader Joe’s and at times Costco.)

1/2 cup granulated sugar  (Organic is available in a 2 lb package at Trader’s, or in a more economical 10 lb bag at Costco.)

2 tbsp cinnamon   (A superb, organic Korintje cinnamon is available in bulk, at Portland’s local Fred Meyer’s.)

2 granny smith apples, peeled, cored, and sliced very thin

 

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Grind flour, if you are using fresh-ground.
  3. Place butter in a 10-inch Pyrex pie plate.  Melt butter in oven.
  4. In a medium/large bowl, mix together flour and salt; blend in eggs and milk; stir in vanilla.  Set aside.
  5. When butter is melted, pour batter in pie plate.  Place in oven and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until edges are puffed up and golden brown.
  6. Immediately prepare apples: first blend sugars and cinnamon in a medium/large bowl, then cut and add apple slices; mix well.  Sugars will get wet (see photo).  Set aside.
  7. When pancake is puffed up after 20-25 minutes, quickly remove from oven and distribute apple mixture evenly in the hollow made by the edges.
  8. Return to oven as fast as possible and bake another 20-25 minutes, or until pancake is deep brown (see top photo).
  9. Serve immediately.  This is a heaven-sent treat!