by Nancy Sweet, director, LLCC Culinary Program and Operations
This is the absolute best time of year for local produce in central Illinois. The farmers’ markets are brimming with beautiful fruits, vegetables and herbs, and the possibilities of summer meals are endless.
When I go to the market, I try to take the approach of buying what looks best to me, versus having a decided upon recipe and needing exactly those items. Of course, you may have a new recipe that you are dying to try out and desperately need eggplant, but if you can be flexible, it opens you up to buying things you may normally not purchase.
Below are several recipes that I love that are absolutely perfect for this time of year, highlighting okra, tomatoes, tomatillos, corn and beets. Enjoy!
Fried Okra with Roasted Red Pepper Aioli
Serves 2 – 4 appetizer portions
*2 cups okra, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
*2 cups buttermilk
*1 cup cornmeal
*1/3 cup flour
*Roasted Red Pepper Aioli (recipe below)
Heat oil in a cast iron pan on stove over medium heat. Use enough oil that the oil comes up the sides of the pan about a 1/2 inch or so.
Submerge okra in buttermilk for about 5 minutes. In meantime, combine cornmeal and flour in shallow dish with salt and pepper. Set up a breading station like so: on counter place okra in buttermilk, next to it a small pan with the seasoned flour, and next to that a cookie sheet or plate to place the breaded okra. Next to your pan with oil on the stove, set up either a cookie sheet or plate lined with a couple paper towels.
To bread okra, remove okra from buttermilk, let excess drip off, and drop in seasoned flour/cornmeal mixture. Toss around in this until coated, gently shake off any extra, and place on sheet pan. To keep things neater, use just your left hand for the “wet” and your right hand for the “dry” for the breading of the okra – this will keep you from ending up with two breaded hands!
Sprinkle tiny bit of flour in the oil. If it sizzles up nicely without burning immediately, it is at the right temp. Gently place okra in pan. Don’t over crowd pan because that will cause the temperature of the oil to drop and it won’t fry up as nice. Once okra has fried on one side for about 1 -2 minutes, turn over and fry another 1-2 minutes. Carefully remove them from the pan and place on the paper towel-lined pan and season with a light dusting of salt. Continue until all okra has been fried. Service with dipping sauce.
Roasted Red Pepper Aioli
*2 roasted red peppers
*1/2 cup mayonnaise
*1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
*1 teaspoon sugar
Put peppers in blender and blend up until pureed. Add mayonnaise, balsamic vinegar, sugar, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Blend up until fairly smooth and serve with okra.
Gazpacho with Avocado Cream
*8 tomatillos, halved
*5 medium sized tomatoes, rough chopped, set in a colander to drain for about 20 minutes
*2 green peppers, rough chopped
*3 jalapenos (remove seeds and ribs if you prefer less spice), chopped
*1 small red onion, rough chopped
*2 cloves garlic, smashed
*2 cucumbers, peeled, seeds scraped out, rough chopped
*1/2 cup cilantro, stems picked out, divided
*juice of 1 lime, divided
*2 tablespoon red wine vinegar, divided
*1/4 cup olive oil, divided
*1 tablespoon salt, divided
*Avocado Cream, recipe below
In a large bowl, combine tomatillos, tomatoes, green peppers, jalapenos, onion, garlic, and cucumber. Mix all up so evenly distributed. Add half of the vegetable mixture to food processor or blender. Process until somewhat smooth and frothy.
Add half of each of the cilantro, lime juice, vinegar, olive oil, and salt. Season. Transfer to serving bowl, and put remaining vegetable mixture and remaining cilantro, lime juice, vinegar, oil, and salt into processor and process again until smooth and frothy. Combine with other gazpacho. Taste for seasoning. Do note tomatoes need a good amount of salt to bring out their flavor.
Chill at least 20 minutes. Serve in bowls with a big dollop of avocado cream and a few sprigs of cilantro.
*1 avocado, removed from skin, pit removed
*2 heaping tablespoons sour cream
*juice of 1 lime
*2 tablespoons cilantro
*1 pinch of salt
Thoroughly smash avocado with a fork. Add in sour cream, lime juice, and cilantro. Season with just a bit of salt and pepper and serve with gazpacho.
Serves 4 side dishes
Adapted from Michael Symon’s “Live to Cook” cookbook.
*5 ears of corn
*2 teaspoons olive oil
*1/4 pound bacon, cut into 1/4 inch dice
*1 medium yellow onion, diced
*1 garlic clove minced
*2 1/2 to 3 cups Corn Cob Stock (recipe below)
*1/2 cup half and half
*2 tablespoons fresh sliced chives
Cut kernels from the cobs and set the kernels aside (save cobs to make the corn stock.)
Heat a large saucepan over medium heat and glaze the bottom with olive oil. Add bacon and cook, stirring as needed to render the fat and brown the pieces, about 3-4 minutes. Add onion to bacon and cook another 5 minutes or until soft and translucent. Add garlic and cook another minute.
Add reserved corn kernels and a pinch of salt and cook about 2 minutes. Pour in corn stock and bring to a simmer. Cook until liquid reduces to approximately 1 cup, or until corn looks somewhat thickened.
Using an immersion blender or regular blender, puree (a chunky puree, not completely smooth) about 1/3 of the corn mixture. (Return chunky corn puree to pot if you used regular blender.) Add half and half and continue to reduce down about 5 more minutes. Season with salt and pepper and add chives.
*corn cobs (without the kernels – use the reserved corn cobs from above)
*1/2 red onion
*2 garlic cloves, smashed up
*1/2 tablespoon black peppercorns
*6 cups chicken or vegetable stock (or water if you have neither on hand)
Put cobs into a large pot with the onion, garlic, peppercorns, stock, and a big pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer about 45 minutes. Strain, discarding the solids. Use leftover stock after making creamed corn for another use (like corn chowder, succotash or polenta).
Roasted Beets with Sautéed Beet Greens
*About 3/4 pound or so of beets with their greens (tops)
*2 tablespoon olive oil, divided
*1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
*Salt and pepper, to taste
Cut off beet tops/greens and chop into 1 inch pieces. Remove any stems that are very tough or thick. Wash and set aside to drain.
Scrub and trim off root ends of beets. Put in small roasting pan and add water until it comes up about ¼ inch from bottom. Cover tightly with foil and roast in a 400 degree oven about 45 minutes, or until you can easily pierce the beet with a knife. Remove from oven and let cool.
With a paper towel, wipe/rub away outer skin of beets. This gets messy, but using the paper towel will help.
After beets are peeled, chop them into bite-sized pieces.
For greens, heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil and then add beet greens and season with some salt and pepper. Sauté until beet greens become wilted, about 7-8 minutes. Add in the vinegar and the roasted beets and give another little drizzle of olive oil and check to see if any more seasoning is needed.
Want to know more?
Lincoln Land Community College offers associate degree programs in Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management and academic credit certificates in Culinary Arts and Baking/Pastry. For more information call 786-4613 or visit www.llcc.edu/hospitality-culinary-arts