by Peter Moore
It’s Mothers’ Day and that means a nice lunch buffet in Spring. Out in California anyway. My mom lives in Pittsburgh and they’re still thawing out from the winter that wouldn’t go away. But it’s Spring here so let’s eat.
We’ll start with some guacamole ‘cause we can.
Four ingredients. That’s it.
Avocados—I get mine from Wills Avocados
Put the avocado in a bowl and mash (not too much–you want some chunks and you’ll be mixing again after you add the juices and salt).
I use about twice as much lime juice as lemon. I use the juice of one lime per avocado and half that for the lemon juice.
Add the juice and mix again. Then add the salt to taste.
You can go fancy and get the lovely Cyprus Citron Lemon Flake Sea Salt from Oaktown Spice Shop, but regular Kosher salt will do the trick.
If you really feel the need to dump a jar of salsa in there, go ahead, it’s your guacamole, not mine. Filler has its uses, but I like to keep my guacamole pure.
A note on citrus; the heavier the fruit the more water/juice is in it. Always try to pick the heaviest limes.
Peas and Couscous
Visualize Whirled Peas. Got that? Sorry, it’ll have to wait. It got hot last week and I wasn’t up for making soup—though I’ve got a great recipe for pea soup that I’ll share before the season’s out. It uses a bit of white rice instead of dairy to give a nice creamy texture. But that’s for later. Now visualize fresh peas—because we’re going to do something with them that’s a little cooler and quicker.
There are plenty of peas at the markets now. I got mine from Avalos Organic Farms. I’ve got to make a confession of sorts here. I like to support local farmers and use their peas, but I there’s really not much difference between fresh and frozen at the best of times, and off-season frozen is the way to go.
2 cups fresh English Peas
1 cup couscous (I like M’hamsa Tunisian couscous from Les Moulins Mahjoub)
2 cups water
½ cup olive oil
1 shallot minced
4 green garlic shoots, minced
1 TBS Cultured preserved lemon
1 TBS sour cream or crème fraiche
1 TBS vinegar (I’m using the Navarro Winery vinegar)
4 mint leaves, chopped fine
½ tsp Zahtar from Oaktown
Shell the peas right before you make this. The longer they’re out of the pods, the more they lose sweetness.
Bring the water to a boil in a medium-sized sauce pan. When it boils, add the couscous. Bring back to a boil, cover and turn the heat to low. Cook for 10 minutes. About 8 minutes in, add the shelled peas and re-cover the pot. After 10 minutes, check to make sure the water has been absorbed. If not, cover for another minute or so.
While the couscous is cooking, make the dressing. Add the shallot, green garlic (if available), the preserved lemon, sour cream or crème fraiche, vinegar, mint leaves, and zahtar to the olive oil and whisk together.
When the peas and couscous are done, put in a bowl and add the dressing and salt to taste. Serve warm at room temperature.
A great way to dress this up is to add some salmon caviar. The best is home-made. Monterey Fish often has skeins of eggs and in Paul Johnson of Monterey Fish’s cookbook, Fish Forever, there is a recipe that is so dead easy that you can have fresh salmon caviar in under an hour with almost no work.
Or you could add some crumbled feta cheese.
Shrimp, Corn, and Nopales
I’m cheating a bit here as corn’s not really in season, but there was some California corn at the Berkeley Bowl, so I went for it. Kaki Farms did have fresh nopales. Nopales are the paddles from the Prickly Pear cactus and can be eaten raw or cooked (after you cut off the spines.) They tend to have a gooey texture like okra and are often parboiled to get rid of this. I find a hot oven will also do the trick. Kaki Farms has them right now. They also have asparagus and wonderful pastured eggs.
2 nopales paddles – spines removed and cut into ½ inch dice
Kernels from two ears of corn
1 bunch scallions, white and green part chopped about 4 inches
1 cup chopped cilantro
½ cup olive oil
½ tsp ground cumin
½ tsp Aleppo Chile Pepper (or to taste)
½ tsp Omani (dried Persian black limes) (optional)
¼ lb chopped pancetta from The Fifth Quarter (optional)
1 lb shrimp, peeled and de-veined
Preheat the oven to 425°. Pour the oil, spices, and juice of one of the limes into a bowl big enough to hold all the ingredients and mix well. Add the diced nopales, corn kernels, scallions, pancetta (if using) and mix well. Spread the contents onto a sheet pan covered with parchment paper and put in the oven for 22 minutes.
After 22 minutes, remove from the oven, and if it looks like it’s almost done, add the shrimp and cook for another 3 minutes.
Remove and place in a bowl. Add the chopped cilantro, salt, and, if needed, the juice of the other lime. If you’re not using the pancetta, you’ll need more salt.
Hey, it’s time for dessert, and while strawberries are in season and you could certainly use them, I saw the first cherries of the season this week and went for that instead. It’s also traditional to use whipped cream, but I like the tang of yogurt as a topping.
A couple of pounds of cherries
¼ cup sugar (more if the cherries are not quite sweet enough for you)
For the shortcakes:
10 oz (two cups) of all-purpose and cake flour—I like to go 60/40 cake
1 tsp salt
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 TBS sugar
6 TBS butter diced and stuck in the freezer for a bit
1 cup Goat’s Milk Kefir from Redwood Hill Farm
1 egg white whipped
For the topping:
2 cups Straus Greek yogurt
1/8 cup Grade B maple syrup
Note on ingredients: The grading system for maple syrup is based on color. Grade A is amber, grade B is darker. Use grade B because it tastes better.
Pit the cherries and mash them a bit in a bowl until they’re juicy and then add the sugar to taste (or don’t add at all).
Mix the yogurt and maple syrup together and put in the fridge until you’re ready.
Preheat the oven to 425°. Mix the flours and salt, baking powder and soda, and sugar together in a food processor or a bowl. Add the chilled butter and pulse the processor about ten times or work the butter into the dry ingredients in the bowl until crumbly. If you’re using the processor, put the butter flour mixture into a bowl and add the kefir, mixing until just combined and the batter sticks together. Pour it out onto a board and knead until it just comes together as a mass. Don’t work it too hard. Then pat it into a rectangle about ¾ inch thick. Using a biscuit cutter, cut out 2-inch circles and place the circles on a sheet pan covered with parchment paper. Brush the tops with the egg white and add a bit of sugar if you’d like. You can make ahead and refrigerate for up to two hours. Stick in the oven for 12 – 15 minutes until nicely browned. Remove and let cool for a few minutes before eating.
Split the shortcakes, put some of the Greek yogurt on, top with cherries and more yogurt and then put the top back on and serve.
Kiss your mom.
Peter Moore lives, shops, and cooks in Berkeley, California. A co-founder of San Francisco’s Roxie Cinema, he worked in the film world for many years until the lure of food drew him into the world of professional cooking. Shortly thereafter, the lure of day shifts and a medical plan drew him out of restaurants, but his love of cooking remained. He is currently an intern at The Crucible in Oakland and an Operations and Development Associate for the San Francisco Silent Film Festival.