I like to say I was born with a stainless steel thumb - my culinary equivalent of the green thumb - and that's a lucky thing for me since my passion in life is food and cooking, and everything that comes a long with it.
What do I do with my life? I dream food, think food, look at food, read about food, work in the food business, travel via food, talk about food, use food as my artistic muse, teach others about food, and clearly, cook, play with and EAT food!
Food is my compass.
Well, it's that time of year again - the days are getting shorter, the morning and nights are getting colder, and the winter squashes are starting to show up at the farmer's market. As much as I love pattypan and other summer squashes, and as much as I hate the fact that winter is coming, I do love me some winter squash! Blue Hubbard, Muscade de Provence, Fairytale, Long Island Cheese (seriously), and Jarrahdale squashes are coming into season - and most importantly the Kabocha! I absolutely love these squashes - they're sweet and flavorful, and actually a bit softer than most winter squashes - and I rarely come across them...especially orange-skinned ones (I almost always find them with green skin, so this was a treat!) I picked up a few at the market, in fear that everyone would find out they were available and buy them all up before I could get back to them!
First order of business - figure out how to use one of these guys since they've been hanging out in my kitchen watching me cook. I'll be making a soup next (I can't wait!) with my remaining kabocha, but the idea of a pilaf type situation seemed appropriate at the time, and it'll be a tasty dish for lunch tomorrow. I scrounged through my kitchen to see what I had on hand to use, and the black rice caught my eye.
If you see a bag of this, or any of they're wild rice blends at the store, purchase it! It's legitimate wild rice, not that "wild" rice that you usually find in stores. When real wild rice cooks up, the bran pops off and adds a little crunch, with a big hint of nuttiness. This rice is also gorgeous in color - it turns out a deep, purple-ish hue! With all my random ingredients in hand, I was ready to make a tasty rice dish!
Black Rice with Kabocha Squash & Preserved Meyer Lemons
1 c black rice
2 c water
1 cinnamon stick
1 bay leaf
1/2 preserved Meyer lemon (recipe to follow)
2 c Kabocha squash, or any winter squash
1 t Maharajah Curry Powder
1/2 c sprouts (anything besides bean sprouts)
Sea Salt and Pepper
Start your black rice off first - wild rice takes an extra long time to cook, so plan accordingly. Place the rice, water, cinnamon stick, and bay leaf in a saucepan (and a pat of butter or tablespoon of oil if you like), and bring to a boil. Once it's boiling, stir it once, reduce the heat to low, and simmer, covered, for about 50 minutes, until the rice is tender and the water has been soaked into the grains.
While the rice is cooking, you can start prepping the rest of your ingredients. First, preheat your oven to 350F. Peel, seed, slice and dice your squash into about 1/4 inch or so sized pieces - at least keep the size consistent so it all cooks uniformly. For an extra special something, you can also use the seeds from the squash. Remove them from the flesh and rinse in a colander to get them as clean as possible. Stick them on a baking sheet and into the oven until they are dried out - at this point you can really separate the remaining flesh from the seeds. Toast until golden.
all diced up
Place the squash pieces in a baking pan, coat with 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil, sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of curry powder, sea salt, and fresh ground pepper - toss it around to coat (be careful not to toss it on the floor!). Stick this in the oven, shaking occasionally, until the pieces are cooked through and have caramelized - once they look and smell nice and delicious, remove from the oven.
For the preserved lemons (if you don't have them, you can just use regular lemon peel and juice, it just won't be as exciting), take 1/2 of a preserved lemon, and rinse it under cold water for about 15 seconds. Take the flesh out, and mince the peel up. Reserve the flesh to squeeze over the rice later.
When the rice is through cooking, remove the cinnamon and bay leaf, fluff it with a fork and transfer to a large(r) mixing bowl. Toss in the squash and minced preserved lemon, squeeze some preserved lemon juice over top, and mix until combined. Finally, add in your sprouts (and toasted seeds if you have them - I highly recommend it!) and mix some more. Taste, and season with salt and pepper if you deem it necessary!
hearty, tasty goodness
This is a really healthy and flavorful dish, and it has great color and texture - the wild rice is a bit toothsome, and the Kabocha has a bit of sweetness from roasting it in the oven. If you can, add in the toasted squash seeds for crunch - those are really the kicker! If you don't want to make your own, you can just buy some pepitas and toss them in the mix. And then there are those preserved lemons - typical Middle Eastern fare, but so appropriate with everything else! If all else fails, just make these preserved lemons - they have so many uses and really have a flavor you can't find using anything else!
Preserved Meyer Lemons
6 whole Meyer lemons (or regular lemons if you can't find Meyers)
Massive amounts of kosher salt (I like David's)
Fresh lemon juice
1 LARGE jar or two jars to hold the lemons
Clean each of the lemons thoroughly, and pat each one dry. Make an X through the top of each lemon ALMOST all the way through, splitting them into four quarters, but being sure to keep the quarters intact. Pour an ample amount of salt into each lemon, and stuff them into the jar(s) as tight as you can. Cover the lemons with another layer of salt, cover, and let sit for two days. This should bring out the juice from the lemons, but if they're not submerged, squeeze enough lemon juice over top to do so. Let this sit in the jar for at LEAST one week before using (preferably two) to let the lemons really soak up the salt and preserve themselves. When you use the lemons, be sure to rinse them off so they aren't too ridiculously salty - you can use this for a variety of dishes from cous cous or pilaf, to chicken and seafood! There are a few recipes for "quick" preserved lemons if you look around for it, but the authentic way really takes the cake.
I'm making myself hungry again - Go out and by some squashes, and let me know what you've done with them!