OPB’s “Superabundant” explores the stories behind the foods of the Pacific Northwest with videos, articles and this weekly newsletter. To keep you sated between episodes, Heather Arndt Anderson, a Portland-based culinary historian, food writer and ecologist, highlights different aspects of the region’s food ecosystem. This week she will convince you that an Indian fried chile (mirchi bajji) absolutely belongs in a gordita.
The air is changing. The juncos are returning to kick through the newly yellowed leaves, and the first shiny acorns, conkers, and chestnuts are once again making their appearance underfoot. The days may still be warm, but the bald-faced hornets buzzing around the boozy fruit on the ground know that autumn is just around the corner. We call it “fall” for a reason — after the summer’s bountiful climax, all things must relax their grip and let go. While apples and pears may be taking center stage, don’t forget that this is the best time for our favorite nightshades, too. Most of those crops were brought to Europe during the Age of Explorations, but which of the four common edible nightshades is not native to the Americas? Read on to find out!
Spicy stuff, a minty fresh problem, a sweet New Year, adieu to the apple pastor and good things in gardens and markets
Freshly picked morsels from the Pacific Northwest food universe:
Local sauce maker is a Hot One
Big news for local chileheads: Portland-based Marshall’s Haute Sauce’s Whiskey-Smoked Ghost sauce is in the lineup for Season 22 of the popular YouTube series Hot Ones, in which celebrity guests slog through a gauntlet of spicy chicken (or vegan) wings in attempt to survive “the Last Dab.” The new season begins Sept. 21.
Oregon peppermint farmers face off with fungus
Oregon is one of the top exporters of peppermint oil in the U.S., but as a fungal infection spreads through the Willamette Valley and threatens the aromatic crop, plant scientists are scrambling to find resistant varieties. On OPB’s “Think Out Loud” this week, Sage Van Wing learned more about the threat from Capital Press reporter Berit Thorson. Listen to that interview here.
Friday, Sept. 15 is the beginning of Rosh Hashanah, or Jewish New Year — a time for reflection and looking ahead to a sweet year with an array of desserts (and fish for abundance). Here are a few of our favorite “Superabundant” recipes for the holiday:
Reverend Nat’s packs up their press
After 12 years in operation, Rev. Nat’s Hard Cider has thrown in the towel, just six months after opening a new production space and taproom in North Portland. Read about it at the Beervana blog.
In the “Superabundant” garden this week
We continue to be buried in apples and figs, and seemingly out of nowhere, the white raspberry canes have begun producing loads of very flavorful fruit. The blackberries continue their steady stream into bowls of yogurt every morning, and we’re still getting enough cucumbers for salads and the pickle jar. We’ll harvest the kohlrabi soon (probably to serve with white sauce for Oktoberfest) and we’re stashing the black nightshade berries (Schwartzbeeren) in the freezer until we have enough for a custard pie. The squash plants — both summer and winter — seem to be producing only male flowers lately, but those are still delicious even if they’ll never turn into zucchini or pumpkins.
Now that the evenings are dipping into the 50s we’ll start moving the subtropical plants indoors — the tamarind, cherimoya and avocado trees that we started from seed will just have to limp along under grow lights until next May.
Good things in markets
It’s chile season! Peppers are in their absolute prime — look for sweet Jimmy Nardellos and frigitelli for roasting and pungent varieties like ajì limon and chocolate habaneros for hot sauces (or just gaze at them — they are aesthetically beautiful but will melt your face). Peppers’ culinary cousins, the Three Sisters (corn, squash and beans) are all in top form — look out for early winter squashes like delicata as well as the array of fresh summer squash. Tomatoes and cucumbers are still going strong, and plums, figs and pears are as fragrant and juicy as ever. This is also the ideal time to buy eggplants — the Old World’s Solanaceous analog to the New World’s chiles, potatoes and tomatoes. Kiyokawa Family Orchards’ honeycrisp apples are back — stop by their farm stand or U-pick in Hood River or look for them at farmers markets around Oregon.
Recipe: Desi-Mexican style fried chile gorditas
We chatted with Marshall’s Hot Sauce co-owner/Scoville siren Sarah Marshall about making hot sauces that reflect Oregon’s bounty across the seasons — but with so many fresh chiles available right now, we thought we’d explore different ways to enjoy peppers as a vegetable while they’re at their peak. These stuffed and fried peppers are kind of a mashup of Mexican chiles rellenos and Indian mirchi bajji — they’re filled with cheese and mashed potato, then dipped in spiced chickpea batter and then fried. We wrap them in a warm naan with cilantro, diced onion, and cooling lime yogurt (we also like it with a drizzle of habanero carrot curry Marshall’s Haute Sauce). It might sound odd, but think about it: These ingredients are already used in both Desi and Mexican cuisines (and Mesoamericans used chiles and potatoes for millennia before Spaniards “discovered” them). We use poblanos because they’re a good size and not too spicy, but you can use New Mexico (Hatch)-style chiles or other meaty green peppers. Makes 4.
Notes: To make this dish vegan, use 2 cups of cooked potato mashed with a little salt and leave out the cheese, and use nondairy yogurt for the sauce. You can fry spoonfuls of the leftover batter either mixed with shredded vegetables (like a pakora) or alone as simple fritters.
1 medium-sized red or Yukon gold potato, diced (no need to peel it first)
4 oz shredded jack or other melty white cheese
4 medium-large green chiles such as poblano or New Mex (Hatch)
Neutral oil for frying
½ cup plain (preferably whole milk) yogurt
½ tsp ground cumin
Juice from half a lime (2-3 tbsp)
4 tandoori naan (Greek pita will work)
Chopped cilantro and diced onion
1 cup chickpea flour (aka gram flour or besan)
¼ cup rice flour
1 tsp fine sea salt
¼ tsp turmeric powder
½ tsp red chile powder (cayenne or paprika)
½ tsp ajwain seeds (dried thyme will work in a pinch)
½ tsp onion powder
¼ tsp baking soda
½ cup cold water
- Bring enough salted water to cover the potatoes to a boil, then cook the potatoes until tender, about 10 minutes. Drain and mash (no need to add milk or butter), then stir in the grated cheese.
- While the potatoes are cooking, combine the batter ingredients in a shallow bowl or dish, adding just enough water to make a thick batter (the batter should be thin enough to dip the peppers but thick enough that it won’t run off quickly — you’re shooting for cornbread or pancake batter thickness). Set aside while you prep the peppers.
- Cut a slit in the chiles, lengthwise, and then use a small spoon or butter knife to scrape out the seeds and placenta (the white pithy stuff). Stuff ½ cup of the potato-cheese mix into each pepper, then dry them off with a paper towel and dip them into the batter, taking care to get a thick, even coating on each one. (If the pepper cracks open a bit you can secure it shut with a toothpick before dipping.)
- While you’re preparing the chiles, heat 3-4″ of oil in a medium sized pan to a temperature of 375º (or use a fryer if you have one).
- While the oil is coming up to temperature, stir together the yogurt, cumin and lime juice and set aside.
- Slide the stuffed and battered peppers into the hot oil one at a time, taking care not to crowd the pan (or burn yourself!). Fry until golden brown on all sides, then remove them with a slotted spoon and set them on a rack set over a rimmed baking sheet to drain. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt to finish.
- While the fried chiles are draining, warm the naan according to the directions on the package. Load the peppers into the warm naan, drizzle with the yogurt and hot sauce and sprinkle on the cilantro and onions.