Watermelon Salsa

The passing of summer always makes me sad – not for the end of sultry days and blinding sun, of course, but for the end of market days and backyard harvests, of warm tomatoes and sweet corn.  Even so, I am made equally happy for the first sweet smell of autumn when I find it in the air of some cool September morn carting the promise of cooler days and warm cider.  But September is a teasing month, and those wafts of fall give way to still sultry, sunny afternoons that surprise me like a sudden slap.

It’s the contrast of these transitional days that make me think of Pablo Neruda.

If you don’t know Neruda’s poetry, it’s worth a trip to the library, particularly if you’re a food lover.  Neruda, a Chilean poet and the winner of the Nobel Prize in 1971, wrote a wide variety of verse including some fabulous odes to food.  My college roommate introduced me to the haunting Ode to Salt and, my favorite of all, the joyous Ode to Watermelon:

the throat
becomes thirsty,
the teeth,
the lips, the tongue:
we want to drink
waterfalls,
the dark blue night,
the South Pole,
and then
the coolest of all
the planets crosses
the sky,
the round, magnificent,
star-filled watermelon.

It’s the promise of autumnal breezes juxtaposed with the last cruel rays of sun that make me thirsty above all things and bring to mind my favorite line of the ode, “we want to drink/ waterfalls”.  And so I go in search of the melon, clinging to the sweet spot of the sunny season even as I grasp the joys of transition to the days of football fields and the first taste of fall flavors.

It’s an awfully romantic way to describe a food obsession, I grant you, but that’s just how I roll.

But that transition, particularly in terms of flavors isn’t always jarring – in fact, it’s harmonious in our kitchen.  That’s because when our thoughts run to tailgating we find that watermelon sneaks into many of our considerations of game-day nosh.  And one of the best ways to assuage all the feels that fill our hungry heart is to incorporate melon into dishes.  It keeps the flavor in our minds and mouths and makes for some pretty clever eating, too.

Ready to Eat

Consider the case of Watermelon Salsa.  At first, you’re thinking of the spice and heat and how odd that might seem with our beloved sweet fruit, or perhaps you know about the secret and sacred flavor connection between tomato and watermelon – if you do, you know that this salsa makes perfect sense.  The tomato at its finest is also a sweet treat, full of the same waterfalls that our friend Pablo imagined.  So it’s never hard for us to imagine a dish of salsa with watermelon in it – somedays, it’s hard to imagine salsa without it.

For any doubter’s out there, we’ll show you how it works right on your own TV – if you’ll tune in to WBIR’s Weekend Today, on Saturday morning, Mahasti will be making Watermelon Salsa just in time for when football time in Tennessee really heats up.

Try it, you’ll like it – even more so if you’re reading aloud a bit of poetry – like you do before college football games, right?  Or perhaps not – but you’ll be feeling it – maybe even just a bit like this….

Jewel box of water, phlegmatic
queen
of the fruitshops,
warehouse
of profundity, moon
on earth!
You are pure,
rubies fall apart
in your abundance,
and we
want
to bite into you,
to bury our
face
in you, and
our hair, and
the soul!

Thanks, Pablo – we feel you!

The ingredients

The ingredients coming together

Tomato Head’s Watermelon Salsa

8 cups watermelon, diced

1/3 cup cilantro, chopped

1/2 cup onion, diced

1 large  jalapeno, diced about 2 Tbls

1 tsp salt

2 Tbl fresh lime juice

Cut Watermelon in half, then cut into 1 inch segments.  Lay each segment on cutting board and carve out the flesh.  Cut the watermelon into ¼ inch cubes and place in a medium mixing bowl.  Add chopped cilantro, diced onion and jalapeno along with salt and lime juice.  Mix everything together with a large spoon until all the ingredients are distributed evenly.

Serve as a dip with Tortilla chips.  Also makes a great salsa for topping your favorite fish tacos or black bean nachos.

Fattoush

Unlike hummus, baklava or even falafel, fattoush is a word that hasn’t quite made it into the common food vocabulary.  Like the other foods mentioned, fattoush is an important dish in the cuisine of Levant – a broad and imprecise area that includes much of the eastern Mediterranean.  The word Levant doesn’t get used so much anymore in English – apparently the French still like it, though I didn’t actually ask them – and, according to an article on PRI.org, “It literally means “the rising,” referring to the land where the sun rises. If you’re in France, in the western Mediterranean, that would make sense as a way to describe the eastern Mediterranean.”

And all of that makes perfect sense if you’ve ever eaten fattoush; it’s a simple, summery feast of color, flavor and texture that brings a lot of the rising sun into each bite.

Fattoush is part of a larger group of dishes, like panzanella, that are basically bread salads, all born of frugal food sense and a no-waste kitchen economy.  These dishes stretch the dough, literally and figuratively, to make stale bread not only useful but delicious.  The secret starts in the toasting, of course, but what happens after is the real magic – the kind that comes from sunshine.Fattoush1JustinFee

Good fattoush is simple and combines crispy pita, olive oil, tomatoes, and cucumber.  There are other ways to dress up the salad, but those four essentials are what make or break the dish.  The key is freshness – not only of the produce but of the composition itself.  Sure the pita can be stale, but it must be freshly toasted – and the whole salad has to be tossed together just before serving so the bread doesn’t turn to mush.

When it’s made correctly, it’s a dish that you can eat like nachos – picking up pieces of pita piled high with summer veg and dripping with olive oil.  The combination of cool, crisp cucumbers, and tomatoes ripe from the vine slick with the sun-packed flavor of oil makes for a textural match made in food heaven when joined in a single bite with the crunch of toasted pita.

It’s a remarkable dish that’s straightforward, pantry friendly, and simple but all the more elegant because of that.  It’s a feast for the eyes too: the colors are bright and shiny with oil and reflect the best rays of the summer sun.

If your appetite is activated now, just wait until Saturday when you tune in to WBIR’s Weekend Today.   Mahasti is back on the air after a brief sabbatical, and she’ll show us all her secrets for one of her favorite warm weather meals.  We hope you’ll tune in, and shortly thereafter, chow down!

Tomato Head’s Fattoush

2 cups quartered cucumbers

2 cups quartered or diced tomatoes

1/3 cup chopped onion

¾ cups crumbled feta cheese

1 TBL chopped mint

1 TBL fresh lemon juice

3 TBL olive oil

1 TBL Balsamic Vinegar

1.25 tsp salt

1.5 – 2 cups Stacy’s Pita Crisps

Place cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, feta, mint, lemon juice, olive oil, balsamic

vinegar, and salt in a large bowl and toss well. When ready to serve, add pita

crisps, toss and serve.

Serves 2-4 people

Strawberry Pie

Our fresh strawberry pie was featured in the Knoxville News Sentinel! To celebrate the official kick-off of strawberry season in East Tennessee, our very own Mahasti Vafaie shares the full recipe and explains what farmer’s markets mean to her.

INGREDIENTS

½ cup sugar

3 tablespoons cornstarch

1 cup frozen cranberry juice, thawed

¾ cup water

6 cups fresh strawberries, quartered

 

DIRECTIONS

1 Mix sugar, cornstarch, juice and water in a medium saucepan. Over medium heat whisk mixture until thickened and boiling. The mixture will be cloudy when you start and take on a deep rich color when done. Pour mixture into a medium bowl and allow to cool. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate 2-3 hours or overnight.

2 Prick bottom and sides of pie crust with a fork. Line with parchment paper or a few coffee filters. Fill with pie weights or beans and bake in a 400 degree oven for 15 minutes. Allow to cool a little and then remove the pie weights and parchment or coffee filters and bake an additional 5 minutes until the crust looks dry. Cool crust completely.

3 Remove the sugar and cranberry juice mixture from the refrigerator and whisk until smooth. Stir in the strawberries and pour all ingredients into pie crust. Refrigerate pie for 2-3 hours before serving. Serve with fresh whipped cream.

Jezebel Sauce

We give the devil his due.  I mean, everyone knows who the devil is whether he’s an ex-lover or ex-friend, a boss of special evilness or just a particularly vexing detail; even if we mean the angel of light or prince of darkness, we know about the devil in his more obvious guises.  So when we say deviled eggs or ham, we understand that we’re talking about food that’s zesty, piquant, or spicy.  Though if you ask me, most deviled eggs don’t truly earn the name. If I had my way, the only foods that would be called devilish would be ones that carried a Scoville rating for their inferno-like, spicy heat.

In my mind, other foods where something simple gets all dressed up – like the mild, but beloved stuffed eggs that grace my family reunions – should take their titular cues from a very special sauce that graces many a southern table, especially if there’s a ham on it: Jezebel Sauce.

The sauce is named for one of the Old Testament’s wicked royals who had a particularly sticky end that involved some harsh prophecy from Elijah, a crowd, a horse, and a pack of stray dogs.  You can read the whole story in the 1st and 2nd Book of Kings.  For our purposes, the important part of that story is that just before [spoiler alert] she was thrown out of the palace window, “she painted her eyes and adorned her head and looked out…”  And thus the name of Jezebel has forever been linked to women (of course) who are overly made-up, women of loose morals, or any poor gal who fall on the wrong side of the patriarchal standards for approved feminine demeanor and appearance.  Isn’t that nice?

In food terms, the word refers to a sauce base, usually something wholesome like apple, peach or pineapple preserves that gets all tarted up with the addition of lots of horseradish, yellow mustard, and some black pepper, too.  It functions much in the same way that chutney and other relishes do – it adds additional sweetness and savor along with a mighty kick.  In fact some original recipes call for so much mustard and horseradish that in addition to making your eyes water and your nose run, it was potent enough to make you spout steam from your ears.

We aren’t interested in seeing you spout steam from your ears, as fascinating as that might be. But we do think it’s a fine sauce to add to the roster of great Southern accents for living.  In fact, it’s essential to a very famous Southern hors d’oeuvres – a Triscuit smeared with cream cheese topped with a dollop of Jezebel.  But we’re more likely to recommend it with pork, especially in the form of breakfast sausage on biscuit with Monterey Jack cheese – which is exactly how we’ll be serving it at the Tomato Head this weekend.  If you’d like to learn more, Mahasti will be taking to the airwaves to share her own delicious take on Jezebel Sauce – so we invite all of you boys and girls to paint your eyes, fix your hair and tune in to WBIR’s Weekend Today to get saucy with us!

 

JEZEBEL SAUCE

4 cups Pineapple tidbits, drained

2 large granny smith apples, cored and diced

1 1/2 cups of the pineapple juice, (you can add apple juice to make up the difference if you don’t have enough apple juice)

2 Tbl prepared Horseradish

1/4 cup Yellow Mustard

3/4 cup Sugar

2 tsp Black Pepper

2 tsp Salt

1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

Place all ingredients in a pot over medium heat.  Bring to boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer until apples are soft.  Puree the mixture with an immersion blender or cool then puree in a blender.

You can serve the sauce hot, or chilled.  Will keep in the refrigerator for quite a while.

Banana Bread

As a child, I never liked the mushy texture of bananas unless, of course, my grandmother transformed them into a magical loaf of sweet bread that was as good to eat hot from the oven as it was toasted and bathed in butter the next day. Banana bread has all the qualities I require in a breakfast repast, a mid-morning snack, a treat for lunch and… honestly, banana bread knows no particular mealtime allegiance; it’s good all the live-long day.

Like muffins, biscuits, pancakes and scones, banana bread is a quick bread – one that gets a swift rise from a leavening agent like baking powder or baking soda that, unlike yeast, doesn’t require time to rise. In terms of baking, this means instant gratification. That the bread is quick is only an incidental pleasure where this treat is concerned. It’s also a great tool for the smart manager since it shows its finest qualities when made with fruit that’s over-ripe. So when little Ella, Stanly, Pat and Bing are mortified by the sudden appearance of big, black spots on the once cheerfully yellow fruit, the time for our favorite kind of recycling effort has come.

When the countenance of the banana changes, there’s something sweet going on beneath that darkening peel; all the fruit’s starch is mutating from complex carbohydrates into simple sugars. And not only is the fruit getting sweeter, it’s getting softer –thus, all the nasty mushiness, too gross to eat as it is, will go a long way to making a moist loaf of irresistibly and deliciously sweet character. Talk about sweet water from a foul well – this is it on a plate.

Banana bread makes a fine kitchen staple – it’s a reasonably healthy snack (even with a little butter), but it also makes a neat base for dessert – think a scoop of ice cream with a drizzle of honey or some warm pineapple preserves or cherry jam and a dollop of whipped cream. That assumes, of course, that you and yours don’t succumb to the very powerful temptation to eat it all just after it emerges warm and fragrant from the oven.

There are lots of variations on this particular quick bread, but if you tune in to WBIR’s Weekend Today, Mahasti will show you how to make her favorite version. Here’s the recipe in case you wanna have everything ready to bake along:

FLOUR HEAD BAKERY’S BANANA BREAD

1 ½ cups All Purpose Flour
1 tsp Baking Soda
1/4 tsp Cinnamon
1/8 tsp Clove
1/2 tsp Salt
1 cup plus 2 Tbl Sugar
2 eggs
½ cup Canola Oil
1 ½ cup Mashed Banana (about 3 bananas)
2 TBl Sour Cream
1 tsp Vanilla
1 cup Walnut pieces

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease a 9×5 inch loaf pan.

In a medium bowl, sift Flour, Baking Soda, Cinnamon and Salt – add the nuts, stir with a wooden spoon and set aside.

In another medium bowl whisk the eggs with the sugar, and canola oil. Add the mashed bananas, sour cream and vanilla and whisk well. Pour the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients all at once and stir with a wooden spoon just until thoroughly combined.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan, place the pan in the preheated oven and bake for 1 to 1 hour and 10 minutes (a toothpick inserted into the center should come out clean). Check the banana bread at 40 minutes, if it is getting too dark, tent it with some foil and continue baking.

Cool the banana bread for 30 minutes in the pan on a wire rack, and then remove it from the pan and allow to cool to room temperature.

Serve at room temperature or toasted with soft butter.

Tomato Head’s Quinoa Breakfast Bowl

A quick glance back over January used to distress me. The opening month of the New Year was littered with broken promises; all the assurances to myself that the New Year would bring a new me lay in ruin alongside the detritus of failed resolve: candy wrappers, self-help books, and, in one particularly ambitious year, a 15 pound dumbbell.

Happily, I wasn’t alone – according to a handful of articles I read to find out what was wrong with me I learned that only about 8% of resolution makers manage to make those resolutions stick for any length of time. For most of us, the first week is devastating, let alone the whole month, which is, as far as I can tell, really just a build up to more and more football parties and an endless parade of party food led by what may be the cruelest resolution wrecker of them all – cheesy Rotelle dip.

So at my house, we’ve given up the annual resolution game. We take a cue from a certain friend of ours who calls the month “Eff-it January.”  She eschews all the pressure to make a brand new start on January 1 and starts her return to healthy eating in February – though, admittedly, she is seemingly immune to the siren call of Super Bowl snacking.  Rather than try to strap ourselves to a new diet or reinvent our eating lives overnight, we do just what she does and start with a return to healthy eating – not for the whole year, but one meal at a time.

And the best meal with which to start that program is breakfast.

Folks who know better than I do will always tell you that eating a good and healthy breakfast is one of the simplest things that you can do to make your life better. Of course we all know that, but motivating ourselves is a whole different kettle of fish. That’s why we keep breakfast interesting. So during this week’s visit to WBIR’s Weekend Today, Mahasti will show you one of the ways that we like to make the first meal fun, filling, and worth just a little effort: Quinoa Breakfast Bowl.

It’s a great thing to make in quantity with the family on a weekend – that way you can easily assemble and reheat leftovers on the busier weekdays when the early morning rush to get out of the house can lead straight to the sugary start.

The bowl features a base of Quinoa, a beautiful and protein packed seed that comes from the same food family that contains spinach, Swiss chard, and beets. In addition to having plentiful protein, quinoa is generally nutrient rich with good levels of several B vitamins, vitamin E and dietary fiber along with calcium, magnesium and manganese.

After the quinoa, this breakfast of champions is one layer of good stuff after another with sautéed kale, mushrooms, luxurious slice of avocado and a fried egg topped as much Sriracha as makes you happy.

It’s a healthy, filling and luxe way to start the day. It might not be as fun as lifting a few sets with a 15 pound dumbbell, but it tastes good. And while it probably won’t ease the craving for snacking on cheesy dips when they appear before you, a good breakfast can help keep you from diving in headfirst with a spoon. And, to steal a phrase from a certain celebrity, that’s a good thing.

Tomato Head’s Quinoa Breakfast Bowl

To cook Quinoa:

½ cup Quinoa

¾ cup water

¼ tsp salt

Place quinoa in a strainer and rinse under cold water. In a small pot, over high heat, bring rinsed quinoa, salt and water to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer, place a lid on the pot and simmer the quinoa until all the water has evaporated, about 20 minutes.

4 cups Kale, rinsed and chopped

1 Tbl Vegetable Oil

¼ tsp Salt

1 tsp Balsamic Vinegar

In a large skillet over high heat, sauté kale with oil just until the kale begins to wilt. Add the salt and balsamic vinegar. Continue sautéing for one minute longer.

2 cups Button Mushrooms, washed and sliced thick

1 Tbl Vegetable Oil

½ tsp Salt

¼ tsp Black Pepper

In a large skillet over high heat, sauté mushrooms with oil, salt and black pepper. Continue sautéing for 3-4 minutes until mushrooms have browned and are starting to crisp.

2 Eggs

In a small skillet, over medium heat melt 1 Tbl of butter. Crack eggs into pan, and cook according to taste, over easy, medium or hard.

To assemble Dish:

1 Avocado

Cooked Quinoa

Cooked Kale

Cooked Mushrooms

Fried Egg

Sriracha

Divide cooked quinoa between 2 plates or bowls. Divide kale and mushrooms and place on top of quinoa. Divide avocado in half, remove pit and slice each avocado half; scoop avocado on top of quinoa. Place fried egg on top of pile of ingredients and serve with a bottle of Sriracha, and some additional salt and pepper for the egg.

 

Happy New Year!

Whenever I think about superstition, my mind almost always turns first to Tom Sawyer. He and his gang were fierce believers in this almost practical magic that relates certain behaviors to otherwise unrelated outcomes: dead cats and a special chant will cure warts, a dog’s howl signals death, and an inch worm found on the body brings the promise of a new suit. And it’s an enduring part of real life, too. Avoiding black cats, cracks in the sidewalk, and opening umbrellas indoors remain second thoughts in my mind even today despite Stevie Wonder’s admonition:

When you believe in things that you don’t understand,

Then we suffer,

Superstition ain’t the way.

Still, superstition is often rooted in practical elements; walking under a ladder, especially an occupied one, may not be unlucky, but it isn’t particularly smart. Similarly, a broken mirror may not really foretell 7 years of woe, but shattered glass seems to linger longer than the proverbial bad penny – and it’s certainly no fun to find a remaining shard in your big toe.

But with food superstitions, the practical element becomes more elusive. In my family we had the traditional Southern meal for January 1: black eyed peas, collard greens, and hog jowl. It was served without much commentary – it was just good luck for no good reason.

If you google New Year’s superstitions, though, you’ll learn that black eyed peas represent coins (albeit funny looking ones), or that they indicate coming prosperity because they plump when you cook’em. There are plenty of explanations to satisfy the curious. But it’s the money and wealth associations that seem to be the most enduring: greens, because they represent the color of our currency, indicate a flow of cash; and pork, owing to its richness or the pig’s habit of successful and forward rooting, foretells a year of wealth. So, eat lots and prosper.

Naturally, we’re not convinced of that relationship between a good luck meal and a growing bank account (primarily owing to 40-some years of experience), but are a couple of other elements of this superstition, particularly as it relates to black-eyed peas, that have some merit to our way of thinking.

The first associates good fortune with an absence of vanity. Black eyed peas and other pulses are humble foodstuffs that are often associated with the poor, at least that’s true before New Southern cooking elevated them to the food pantheon. My guess is that somebody decided that the meek would literally inherit the earth, so perhaps if you started the year with a little less swagger and ate like the meek then you, too, could qualify for a little piece of earth and a nugget of gold.

That sounds silly; but it’s true that if you’ll start eating better, then your fortunes will improve in a number of ways – even if your purse doesn’t swell up like a slow-cooked pea. Black-eyed peas are good for you.

The other origin story of this little legume’s magic rests in the miracle of gratitude. During and after the ravages of the Civil War, when any foodstuff worth eating was burned or taken, the humble cowpea and its cousins were left alone – by most accounts they weren’t considered fit for human consumption. But starving confederate soldiers, who were sometimes able to make a meal of them, counted themselves lucky to have them.

By the same token, for most slaves sustenance came from food that wasn’t quite suited for wealthier white tables – so it was the likes of the black-eyed pea, along with things like collard greens, hog jowl, etc. that made up the meals of the enslaved. It may be that, like the Seder table, a meal of humble foods celebrates the good fortune of a people freed from bondage. That was especially true in January of 1863 when President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

This January, we’ll celebrate the opening of a New Year and all the hope it brings by filling our bean and rice bowls with black-eyed peas. We’ll also be serving Brunch from 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. so you can eat some superstition in style.  While we can’t guarantee any good luck for the entire year, we do promise good taste every day.

Edna Lewis’ Sweet Potato Pie

For children, this season of light and merriment brings earnest hopes that past deeds won’t diminish the quality or quantity of treats that they feel certain will appear in colorful wrapping paper with big, bright bows. In my experience adulthood comes with smaller and, often, fewer packages, a less frenzied unwrapping and tearing of that colorful paper and some careful efforts to preserve those big, bright bows. Of course, that’s not a bad thing, though I’ve always wanted one of those giant ribbons that shows up on gifts that get parked in the driveway; adulthood brings a different savor of memories, hopes, and all the gentle smiles of life – it also comes with a tacit understanding that pie is good for the soul and, therefore, exempt from calories counts and diet points and all other parsimonious and Grinch-like accounting.

A good pie is a thing of beauty especially during December – and since we believe in both good food and beautiful things, we’re happy to help you avoid the indignities that can come from an average crust with filling. After all, this is a season of celebration, and you’ll want a pie that matches the mood.

This month, as always, Tomato Head is chock-full of good things to eat in and take home, but right now we’re particularly proud of our pecan and sweet potato pies. Each comes with good memory associations (both from the past and from the ones currently in the making) and the kind of flavor that arises from real people baking things the right way with real food. In general, it’s always a healthier choice if your indulgence isn’t a highly processed food.  Of course, if Grandma is baking pies, that’s practically health food – at least for the soul. Tomato Head pies are the next best thing.

This coming Saturday, Mahasti will show you how to whip up our delicious sweet potato pie. We talked about this sweet thing in October for our celebrations of National Dessert Month, but what we didn’t mention is that our recipe is particularly special because it comes from one of angels of Southern Cuisine. If you’re not familiar with Edna Lewis, get thee to a cookery book right now.

In 2006 the New York Times wrote that Ms. Lewis “revived the nearly forgotten genre of refined Southern cooking while offering a glimpse into African-American farm life in the early 20th century.” By the time of her death in 2006, she had a list of honors as long as your arm, but to our minds the greatest tribute is the lasting legacy of good taste that endures in Lewis’ exceptional recipes from her cookbooks, including The Edna Lewis Cookbook, The Taste of Country Cooking, and In Pursuit of Flavor. Her sweet potato pie recipe is a perfect example of Lewis’s appreciation for good flavor and good technique – it has the traditional kind spices you expect, but her method brings a delightful lightness to the filling. The secret? Separating the eggs and adding the whites separately after beating them to a froth.

Just this year, writer Frances Lam revisited Lewis’ legacy in the Times (Edna Lewis and the Black Roots of American Cooking, October 28, 2015), and it’s a fascinating read. But there’s one observation that really strikes a chord with us: “Foods, Lewis argued, are always temporal, so all good tastes are special.” That seems particularly true for this time of year. Because sweet potatoes (and pecans, and apples, and cherries, etc) are available almost all year long, you can make pies any old time you want to do – but I’m pretty sure they don’t taste as good on Labor Day.

We’ll serve this pie as a special dessert on Saturday, December 19 at both locations. If you’d like us to make one for your holiday celebrations and family get-togethers, just stop by the bakery counter at either location, or call 12 Market Square at 637-4067 or 7240 Kingston Pike at 584-1075 by the close of business this Sunday to place your order.

Edna Lewis’ Sweet Potato Pie

Makes 2 – deep dish 9 inch pies

2 – deep dish 9 inch prepared pie crust

For the filling:

2 cups mashed sweet potato

1 cup sugar

1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp. fresh grated nutmeg

1/2 tsp salt

3 medium eggs, separated

2 tsp vanilla extract

2/3 cup melted unsalted butter

1 2/3 cup whole milk at room temperature

In mixing bowl combine the sweet potato, sugar, spices, salt and the egg yolks, vanilla and melted butter. Mix thoroughly. Beat the egg whites to the frothy stage and stir them into the batter. Divide the batter between the 2 pie crusts, and bake in a 350 degree oven for 40 – 45 minutes or until the filling is set.

Serve the pie at room temperature with some whipped cream.

Edna Lewis’ Sweet Potato Pie

Edna Lewis’ Sweet Potato Pie

Tomato Head’s Jamaican Pepper Pot

In anticipation of the inevitable dip in temperature, Mahasti is sharing a delicious way to warm up that comes with a bit of heartwarming history: Jamaican Pepper Pot Soup.

The name Pepper Pot probably entered the minds of most Americans more through Pop Art rather than a steaming bowl of the soup itself. Andy Warhol’s iconic depiction of the soup can called Small Torn Campbell Soup Can (Pepper Pot) sold for over $11 million dollars in 2006.

Like many dishes, this soup belongs to multiple regions each with its own variation on the recipe. Guyanese Pepper Pot, a traditional Christmas food, is distinguished by the addition of Cassareep – a thick sauce made from ground cassava root and spices. Around the West Indies the thickness, spiciness and the primary protein of the dish vary considerably. Jamacian Pepper Pot is traditionally made with Calloo, a unique Caribbean vegetable that tastes like a hybrid of spinach and broccoli, though spinach is a frequent substitute.

And closer to home Philadelphia, the Birthplace of Freedom, is also the birthplace of an American variety of Pepperpot.

According to legend, George Washington, while encamped at Valley Forge under the siege of a harsh winter, painful deprivation, and frequent desertions, was finally able to fortify his troops with a spicy version of this stew that was unique for its use of tripe – the muscle wall that lines a cow’s stomach. In the story the dish was an inspired and soldier-saving brain wave from the Baker General of the Continental Army, Christopher Ludwick. Of course, it’s far more likely that the dish came to Valley Forge by the same sad route that brought both rum and slaves to the colonies.

Pepper Pot is still available in some Philadelphia restaurants (and is also the name of the city’s Public Relation Awards), including the City Tavern Restaurant, though tripe has been replaced by beef shoulder.

Mahasti’s version, eschewing both tripe and beef shoulder, is vegetarian but hearty with lots of potato, sweet potato and spinach. It’s also spicy – in both senses of the word. The recipe includes a ½ teaspoon of allspice, which contributes a warming flavor and aroma that’s reminiscent of cinnamon, clove and nutmeg. Interestingly allspice has a number of aliases, including Jamaica Pepper.

The recipe also calls for habanero pepper, which is no shy violet, living, as it does, near the top quarter of the Scoville heat index. Depending on your taste, you can add or subtract as much of the pepper as you want – just make sure that you remove the seeds and take care to handle the pepper with caution. More than a few cooks have made the mistake of touching their eyes after handling the habanero without gloves or a thorough hand washing. The pain is unmistakable and dangerous; avoid it.

But don’t avoid the soup! It’s nourishing, filling and delicious. If you tune in to WBIR’s Weekend Today on Saturday (12/5) and Mahasti will help you put it all together.

Tomato Head’s Jamaican Pepper Pot Soup

2 Tbs Vegetable Oil

1 small onion, diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

Leaves from 3 Thyme sprigs

4 cups water

8 oz fresh spinach

1 small Yukon gold potato, rinsed, and diced

½ – 1 habanero pepper, seeds removed, chopped

1.5 tsp salt

½ tsp allspice

1 tsp Balsamic Vinegar

1 medium sweet potato, rinsed and shredded

Heat oil in a medium pot over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and sauté until onion is translucent. Add thyme leaves, water, spinach, potato, and habanero – bring mixture to a boil, and then reduce heat to simmer until potatoes are soft. Add Salt, Allspice, and Vinegar.  Puree the soup with an immersion blender until smooth – or allow soup to cool and puree in a traditional blender (do not blend hot soup in a traditional blender – it will splatter all over you) Add the shredded sweet potatoes to the pot and simmer until sweet potatoes are soft.

Serves 6-8

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