By Roberta Bailey
Hallelujah! We made it to the longer days of spring and the much yearned for warmth of the sun. I hope you are all faring well and that along with the sunshine comes an unlocking of our tightly bound, weary hearts.
Throughout the pandemic I have marveled over how I barely noticed the gray days of fall and early winter – days which usually wear me down. I barely knew what day it was for much of last year. There was too much else to pay closer attention to in the daily routines of staying safe. The pandemic was a heavy blanket over so many of life’s usual details. I have a vision of all of us holding so much emotion, so much hardship, just below the surface, which I imagine is similar to the top of the soil. As spring warms, the grass shoots push up through the duff: one piercing blade at a time. And therein lies the hope. We will get through this time; we will hold our loved ones again. We will meet with others and share meals, music, grunt work and creative ventures. We will work in the same spaces and see each other’s faces.
As New Englanders, we are practiced in patience. We know that the snow melts, the ground thaws; that March and April are never warm enough, never come fast enough; that we need to dig deep and pull up patience and optimism out of the dwindling dark of winter. So it goes with this pandemic – the grass-like shoots of hope are piercing the surface, one green blade unfurling after another.
Seeds and seedlings are ready for the ground. Some are already planted. May the rest of 2021 be an easier year for us all. Sweet weather, sweet rain, sweet sunshine, sweet healing.
Here is a collection of condiment recipes. I am guessing that we can all use a little spice, a little kick in our steps. I also included my neighbor’s recipe for rhubarb juice as it always reminds me that I am alive and life is delicious. Hang in there. We’ve got this.
Peter Fernald’s Rhubarb Juice
This recipe can easily be doubled, tripled, etc.
- 1½ quarts of rhubarb stalks, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 2 quarts water
- 1 cup sugar (You can also use honey to taste, about 1/2 to 2/3 c.)
Wash cut rhubarb and bring pieces to a boil in a non-reactive pot. Cover and simmer until mushy (about 10 minutes). Strain through a colander, sieve or cheesecloth. Sweeten with sugar or honey to your liking. Refrigerate.
To can: Bring juice to a boil then transfer to sterilized quart or pint jars, leaving ½-inch headspace. Seal and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.
To freeze: Cool juice and fill containers, leaving 1-inch headspace. Label and freeze.
Banana Chile Hot Sauce
I’m not a fan of bananas, but the combinations here blend quite magically. One can make a mild sauce by choosing milder peppers or by swapping half the hot peppers for sweet peppers, or by removing the peppers’ ribs as well as the seeds.
- 1 tsp. sunflower or vegetable oil
- 4 hot peppers, green or red, minced (seeds removed)
- 3 Tbsp. minced cilantro or parsley
- 3 large cloves garlic, chopped
- ½ c. rice vinegar (can substitute other mild vinegars)
- 1 c. under-ripe banana, peeled and chopped (about 1 large)
Heat the oil in a cast iron pan. Add the chiles and garlic and saute until soft, but not brown. Add the cilantro and stir to wilt. Add the vinegar, scraping the pan to loosen any stuck bits. Stir in the banana and cook until the vinegar is reduced to about half its volume, about 1 minute.
Cool and transfer to a blender or food processor. Puree until very smooth. Transfer to a jar. Store in refrigerator for up to 5 weeks. Shake before using.
Nutty Cilantro or Parsley Sauce
Makes 1 cup. Use with fish, or meat, or tofu, or salads, or toast (or just about anything)!
- 2 oz. walnuts, pecans or pine nuts
- ¼ tsp. salt
- ¼ to ½ tsp. Hungarian paprika (optional)
- ⅓ c. warm water
- 2 large cloves garlic, peeled and quartered
- 3 Tbsp. olive oil
- 1 packed c. chopped cilantro
- Juice of 1 lemon
In a food processor, grind nuts with salt and paprika (if using). Once the mixture is oily and paste-like, blend in enough warm water to make the puree turn creamy. Scrape the puree into a small bowl.
Using the flat edge of a knife, mash the garlic on a cutting board with a pinch of salt until it becomes a paste.
Heat the oil in a small frying pan. Add the garlic and cook for a minute. Add the cilantro or parsley and cook for another minute. Turn off heat. Add in the nut puree and lemon juice. Stir in water to make a smooth consistency. Adjust seasonings.
You may know this divine condiment from Indian restaurants. Now you can finally have enough!
- 2 c. fresh mint leaves
- 1 c. fresh cilantro (may substitute parsley leaves)
- 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 Tbsp. lemon juice
- 1 tsp. honey
- ½ tsp. sea salt
- 2 Tbsp. plain yogurt
- 2 Tbsp. warm water (or maybe a bit more)
Puree all ingredients until as smooth as you can make it. Add more water if you desire a thinner mixture. Taste and add more salt or lemon if desired. Serve chilled or room temperature.
Japanese Cold Noodle Sauce
This is a basic dipping sauce that can be stirred into any cold noodles: udon, soba, even spaghetti. Dashi is a Japanese soup stock made from kombu seaweed and bonito fish flakes. It is easiest to purchase dashi powder as a soup base, sometimes called hondashi. Mirin is a sweet cooking wine made from sake.
- 4 parts dashi broth
- 1 part soy sauce or tamari
- 1 part mirin
Stir all ingredients together. Mix with noodles or use as a dipping sauce.
Herbed Raspberry Currant Sauce
Makes 3 cups. Excellent for meats or added to yogurt or sour cream for a fruit salad topping. (Adapted from “The Complete Book of Small-Batch Preserving” by Ellie Topp and Margaret Howard)
- 2 c. fresh or frozen raspberries
- 2 c. fresh or frozen red currants (if not available, try subbing sour cherries or use more raspberries)
- ½ c. water
- 1½ c. sugar or 1 c. mild honey
- ¼ to ½ tsp. dried tarragon and thyme (or your preferred herbal flavors)
Combine berries and water in a medium stainless steel or enamel saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes. Strain the mixture through a fine sieve to remove seeds. Discard pulp.
Return the puree to saucepan and add the herbs. Simmer 5 minutes. Add the sugar or honey; once dissolved, remove from heat. Use immediately or refrigerate. Can be frozen or canned.
To can: Fill sterilized half-pint jars to within ½ inch of the top. Seal and process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes.
Verdurette Broth Base
A natural substitute for bouillon cubes. (Adapted from “Cook with Danielle.”)
- 1 part root vegetable (carrot, celeriac, parsnip)
- 1 part greens (spinach, kale, nettles, cress)
- 1 part fresh herbs (parsley, oregano, basil, thyme; avoid or sparingly use strongly flavored herbs like sage, rosemary, tarragon and garlic)
- 1 part kosher or sea salt (non-iodized)
Finely chop vegetables and herbs. For every four parts vegetables and herbs, add one part salt. The 20% salt ratio works to preserve the vegetable and herb mixture. Stir all ingredients together. Pack into a sterile glass jar. Cover with plastic wrap or parchment. Add jar lid. Store in refrigerator.
To use: Add 1-2 tsp. verdurette to a quart of water to make a vegetable soup stock. Stir into rice or other grains while cooking. Add to yogurt to make a simple dip. Use to season salad dressings, egg dishes, casseroles, gravies and soups. When cooking with verdurette, omit additional salt from recipe.